Once upon a time, there lived a husband and wife with two small children, a girl with long white hair and a boy with wild violet locks. Theirs was not a happy family, however, as the parents were often cruel to their children: shouting at them for no reason and locking them in their room. The children could never understand what they did wrong, for they were always well-behaved.
One day, after the mother and father had finished their shouting, they went out for the night, leaving the brother and sister alone in their house, locked in their room with no dinner.
“I can’t take this anymore!” the sister cried to her brother. “Let’s leave from here, and go to the forest.”
The brother was skeptical at first. There were rumored to be dark things in the forest - but seeing that his sister’s mind was made up, he agreed. They quickly picked the lock to their room and headed out of the cottage, taking a bag of pebbles along to mark their way, in case they got lost.
They left in the dead of night, with the pebbles and enough food to last them three days. Arriving at the edge of the woods, they started down a winding path, lined by trees with branches like wizened old hands and shadows that felt as if they were watching them. The sister and brother were frightened and clung to each other for courage, but they continued down the path without pause. The brother started dropping pebbles to mark their way.
After a little while, the children came upon a fur trapper making his way down the forest path in the opposite direction, his belt lined with rabbit skins. Seeing the children, he stopped. “What are you doing here, little ones?” he asked. “Where are your parents?”
“We don’t have any parents,” the brother replied.
The trapper furrowed his brows. “I’m sure you have parents. Best you return to them now. It’s not safe to wander these woods at night.”
Patting the boy on the head, the trapper continued on his way, his rabbit pelts swaying as he walked.
The children kept on along the path, trying to ignore the muted cries echoing in the darkness all around them, still dropping their pebbles to mark their way.
A little while later, they came upon a merchant pulling a small wooden cart, making her way in the same direction as the trapper. “It’s not safe to wander these woods,” she called out to the children. “They say there’s a witch who lives at its center, in a cottage made from gingerbread. They say he cooks up and eats little morsels like you.”
She hurried past the two children, the wheels of her cart squeaking against the bumpy road.
The children glanced at each other, but continued on their way, their hands linked tightly.
A while later, they crossed paths with a monk in long, flowing robes. Glancing at the children from the corner of his eye, he hunched his shoulders and hurried on his way. “I’m sure someone will be along soon to help them,” he muttered under his breath.
The brother and sister tightened their grip on each other’s hands and continued on.
After a long while of walking, the children finally reached the end of the forest path. The moon hung high over the treetops, illuminating a small cottage nestled in a clearing straight ahead of them. The cottage was finely decorated, with carved wooden filigree edges and intricate patterns woven into its facade. The children were frightened, but they desperately needed somewhere to stay for the night. Making their way to the door, the two children gave it a tentative knock.
The door opened, revealing a man with long, tangled black hair and a tired face lined with stubble.
“A-are you the witch?” the sister asked. “The one who lives in a gingerbread house?”
“And cooks up and eats children?” the brother added.
The man looked at them. “Is that what they say about me?” He glanced at the ornate carving on his door. “Does this look like gingerbread to you?”
The children shook their heads.
The man sighed. “I’m not a witch, but I am a doctor. Or I was, before they drove me out of the village. Where are your parents?”
“We have no parents,” the brother said. “We are alone in the world.”
Looking from one child to the other, the man sighed again. “Then I suppose you can stay here, at least for the night.”
He opened the door and welcomed the two weary children inside, giving them tea and folding makeshift beds out of old quilts. The children slept soundly that night, for the first time in years.
After a few days, the bleak memories of the children’s old family drifted away, and they settled into a new life with the doctor, helping him around the cottage and learning how to carve just as intricately as he did. Despite the warnings, the children had found refuge in the woods, living out a peaceful life with their new father and helping any sick traveler brave enough to look past the rumors surrounding their ‘gingerbread’ cottage.
And they all lived happily ever after.