The Trouble With Candy Houses, By Heather Talty

This is the thing people do not seem to understand: it is never okay to eat someone else’s house. There is just no excuse for it, okay? I mean, I don’t go around gnawing on bricks or vinyl siding, right? Chewing on my house is no different, even though it might be made of gingerbread and gumdrops and peppermint candies. I still live here. I still have to clean up the mess if it rains after someone has chewed through my walls.

Not to say that makes it right, what I do. It isn’t nice, I know. Maybe I am a little bit of a witch, after all.

How did it start? With children, of course. Maybe I had them in mind once upon a time, when I first drew the plans, when I selected my building materials, when I watched the house erected in front of me. For children, yes. For my children. Not strange freeloading children. So I had my candy house built deep into the wood, where no one else could find it. Where I and my family, when I had one, would live in peace.

But somehow, the other ones found it. I would hear them in the morning while the birds chirped, crunching, licking, breaking, chewing, just outside my window. I would listen to the floors creak and crack as I fell asleep, wondering if this would be the night my walls collapsed around me.

The animals knew to stay away, knew not to disturb my home. Why then, did the children, supposedly intelligent and sympathetic beings, have to be reminded? Once I heard a great crack, and through the hole that formed in my living room, an angelic face stared at me for just a moment before she opened her mouth and crammed my door knocker into it.

Sometimes I would run to the door, my hair wild, my nightgown askew, my broom waving wildly in my hands, and they would run screaming. Witch, they’d cry, as their footsteps died away.

But they would come back.

In the night, in the early morning, I would hear them again, chomping and chewing and gnashing and smacking. And then some part of my home would be gone forever, because a candy foundation is not as easy to replace as one might think.

I had to do something, and I will admit I was a bit uninspired at first. Making it up as I went along, really.

During a particularly loud and obnoxious visit, I slammed my door wide open, and was surprised to see just one boy, but one with the audacity to give my window treatments another lick as I watched him.

“Why don’t you come in, boy?” I asked. He shrugged and followed me inside.

I started with a scolding, your usual, “How dare you disturb someone else’s home, your mother would be so disappointed,” that sort of thing. He did not look at me as I spoke, and was back bright and early the next day to sample my flowerbeds. Sometime during that second scolding, I had the idea: I would scare him, the way only a witch could.

While he sat at my table and stared blankly at the wall, I fed him the most full, fattening things I could find and heat up. A slice of chocolate cake. A pork sandwich with a generous helping of cheese slathered over it. A potato with a stick of butter melted inside. He simply ate, said thanks, and went to leave.

“Come back later if you feel hungry,” I told him. “I would love to have you for dinner.” I tried to put as much emphasis as I could on the word you and on the word dinner. He left rather quickly. But if I thought my plan could work that fast, I was mistaken. He did indeed show up that very night for dinner. Luckily I had a fair amount of leftovers available, and he left stuffed.

After a few nights of the same routine, I knew I had to be even more direct. I refused to let him leave. I fed him all day. I made repeated statements about getting him nice and plump, until finally I had to throw a pan of broiled ham on the floor and ask him to stick his head in my oven to see if the other one was done.

Luckily the oven was off, because he did it without question.

Finally, I grabbed him, shook him by the shoulders and said, “I eat children, okay! Boys like you. I am going to eat you for dinner, soon!”

“Literally?” he asked.

“Literally,” I replied. He thanked me for a lovely time, and I never saw him again.

After him, there were, of course, others, and over time, I refined my technique. I started dropping hints right away, from the moment the children came in for their first snack. I noted daily progress in weight gain in a small black book, and left unclaimed toys and clothes strewn about the house. Later on, I would try for two children, and only feed one, hoping to arouse suspicion in the one not chosen. I kept several in cages during their stay.

Eventually, it worked. Word spread about the witch, the monster, the cannibal, the horror who used her candy house to ensnare tasty children to eat. They stayed away long enough for me to do the work I needed, to re-build, re-glaze.

Until today. Today, a boy and girl sit just outside, picking sour candies off of my new windowsill. I wonder, if things had turned out differently, if I would have had a boy or a girl, or one of each.

I decide to start with the boy.

They look up at me when the door swings open, sticky sweetness smeared across their mouths, grubby hands hiding their spoils behind their backs. “Dear children,” I say. “Would you like to come in?”

Heather Talty is a school librarian living in New York City. Currently recovering from summer vacation, she spends as much time as she can re-doing her website of twisted fairy tales  and working on what she thinks are middle grade novels. Visit her alter ego at www.beatrixcottonpants.com.

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