From “Oh, Deer! A Tiger!”
Gretchen’s cousin Hans was a fourth-year botany student at Grimmsworld University and for his senior project he decided to visit her in the Big, Scary Forest to collect leaf samples.
On the day of his arrival, Gretchen watched from inside her step-mother’s cottage’s window as he stepped off Big Scary Forest Bus #71. With a bearish growl, the bus drove off into the trees, leaving behind a heavy cloud of exhaust.
Gretchen watched as Hans took stock of his luggage. He had his suitcase, his knapsack, a small fanny pack, and–most importantly–his leaf book and magnifying glass, both of which he kept in his front shirt pocket.
Gretchen laughed. He was paler than the underbelly of a fish. He wore circle-rimmed glasses and a neat bow tie. He wore a safari hat that in an odd way complemented his comfortable, new hiking shoes.
Halfway to the cottage door, the student spotted a leaf. He set down his luggage, picked up the leaf, studied it with his magnifying glass, and then pressed it into his book.
For a moment, Gretchen wavered between running outside and waiting for Hans to knock. But she couldn’t help herself. The cottage door flew open and she ran out, her brown hair trailing behind her. She threw her arms around Hans and shouted, “You’re here! You’re here!”
Hans dropped his magnifying glass and hugged her back. “Greetings, Cousin! It’s good to see you!”
Gretchen pulled stray hairs out of her mouth and as she set them back behind her neck, she said, “You’re tall!”
“I suppose I am! It’s been a time since I left for school after the family reunion.”
At the reunion several years ago, Gretchen had been eleven–six years younger than Hans. That had all been before Gretchen and her father had moved into the Big, Scary Forest. Since then, her father had married Aggy, bringing her and her daughter Ethel into the family. Then he had died fourteen months ago leaving Gretchen alone with those two.
Hans smiled at her. “How have you been, Cousin? Have you been brushing your teeth?”
“Of course, I have! Have you been getting good grades?”
“Of course I have–indubitably. Where should I put my things?”
“I’ll show you your room.”
Gretchen grabbed the suitcase and led Hans into the cottage. Inside they found Ethel and Aggy sitting in the living room. When they saw Hans, Aggy sprang up and gave Hans a singularly motherly hug.
“Gretchen’s told me so much about you. I’m Agatha but you can call me Aggy. It’s so good to finally meet you. How was your trip?” The woman had dark hair and a marble-sized wart on the right side of her nose. She was about fifteen pounds over “comfortably plump” and wore pointed shoes.
Gretchen hurried further into the house and set Hans’s suitcase in his room and then came back.
When she returned, she heard Agatha say, “Oh, Ethel, get up, girl, and come meet your step-cousin, Hans.”
Ethel did so, television remote still in her right hand. She stood by her mother and said to Hans’s shoes, “Nice to meet you, Step-Cousin Hans.” She was miserably thin and had no wart, but her hair was blacker than her mother’s.
“It’s a delight to meet you too, Ethel.”
“Her friends call her Ethy. You can call her Ethy too,” Aggy said smiling.
Ethel rolled her eyes, turned around, and went back to her couch. She turned the volume up on the TV.
Gretchen interrupted, “Come on, Hans. I’ll show you your room.”
“I’ll come too,” said Aggy. “Come on Ethy. You come too. You can show Hans our humble home.”
As Ethel sighed and pulled herself up from the couch, Gretchen led them on to Hans’s room. Agatha and Ethel crowded in to help him order his things. . . .
Finally, Agatha asked him if he needed a few minutes to finish unpacking by himself and before he could answer, she ordered both the other two girls out and she herself left.
As they left, Hans called after them, “Thank you for your beneficent help. I shall finish here and rejoin you presently.”
As the three females were leaving, Hans barely heard Aggy say to Gretchen, “Girl! Does he always speak like that?”
“Sometimes worse, Mrs. Aggy,” Gretchen murmured.
While Gretchen began preparing dinner, Aggy kept talking to Hans in the living room and asking him questions. “You know, Ethy wants to go to Grimmsworld University too. She’s very smart. I’m thinking she’d do best in nuclear physics. What do you think?”
“It’s a good program,” Hans said. “Though I don’t quite have the patience for that sort of thing myself. My GPA would take ‘a-tomble’ if I tried that major.”
Gretchen noticed what Hans had done and smiled at Hans, but Agatha continued talking and Ethel continued being silent.
“So how were you able to afford it, Hans? You see, that’s my worry mainly. I know my dear is quite intelligent enough to learn on that level. She started reading when she was five, you know. But I just don’t know how we’ll afford it. I suppose there are scholarships and things like that but it’s always so difficult to find them. And I’m sure they’re made to favor richer families. Could you give her some tips on essay writing? Maybe show her some scholarships she could win?”
“I received several scholarships myself and I’ve been working as a research assistant for approximately six months now.” Hans unzipped his fanny pack revealing insulin and a blood sugar monitor. He listened as he checked his blood sugar.
“But do you know of any scholarships that would suit Ethy here?”
Gretchen listened with horror as the talk continued. She saw that Agatha was doing something to the already prepared pot of spaghetti sauce and she was worried for her cousin. But she could say nothing at that point. Agatha would get very angry if she interfered.
Simple family drama? I’m a frayed knot! Find out what’s really going on in Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age, arriving to online bookshelves July 15. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!