Deep in the dark forest was a crumbling old cottage. The wind howled in through the cracks in the frames like a pack of hungry Wolves. A tiny fire was the only warmth in the house and this barely gave out enough heat for the small living room, never mind the rest of the house. The rotten window frames and damaged tiles did nothing to help the bleak atmosphere. The life and love had long since left the house; the crumbling exterior looked like a silhouette of a previous existence.
“I’m fffreezing” Howard stammered, he was only eight years old and he was shaking so much his teeth were chattering.
“Put on another jumper then. It`s not cold in here” his bossy stepmother Divina lied. She was wearing a long fur coat made from various dead animals and a frightening foxes head rested on her shoulders. It gave poor Howard nightmares.
“Come on Howard I'll help you find another jumper” his big sister Angela, who was thirteen put her arm around him and took him to the bedroom.
“Can't you do something with these kids David?” Divina moaned, ”If we didn't have to feed and clothe them we could afford some repairs to this house”. Divina had plenty of money hidden away but she only wanted to spend it on herself. David was a weak and pathetic man.
“I know my love, but we can't just throw them out into the forest. A few years and they'll be old enough to leave home.”
The children returned with more layers on, poor Howard was looking like a sumo wrestler and moving stiffly because his clothing restrained him so much.
“You two need to go and get some more wood for the fire”. Divina shouted irritated by their very presence, “Come with me and I'll show you where to look.” Her face twisted into a wicked grin.
Divina took the children along the dark path ,deep into the forest. As they walked further in following the twisted, snaking path, the atmosphere appeared to change, becoming strangely eerie and foreboding. The air heavy and thick. Their feet crunched and cracked the lifeless branches which punctuated the silence then crumbled beneath him. The sky vanished completely underneath the rich overhanging canopy of the interwoven branches. The occasional scrabble of insects burrowing beneath the leafy carpet of tangled vegetation contrasted with the stillness of the forest.
She stopped when she got to the large black and yellow sign on the barbed wire fence. It read danger keep out. She pointed her long, bony finger.
“You need to look for wood in there”.
“But it says danger keep out”. Howard replied looking scared.
“Don't be silly, that sign has been up for years, there's no danger anymore.” She looked around hoping that no one else heard her blatant lie. She lifted up the corner of the wire fence and there was a space small enough for a child to crawl through.
“Off you go and don't come back until you've got enough firewood for a week.”
“But, but … “Howard started.
“But nothing! You need to earn your keep.” She pushed Howard with an almighty shove and he ended up under the fence. Angela followed him dutifully.
Divina barely got out of earshot before letting out a loud, evil cackle. The children struggled through the brambles and the overgrown bushes, both of them tore their clothing on the sharp thorns.
“I want to go home.” Howard whined “Let's turn around.”
“Divina and dad will be cross with us if we don't bring the firewood back and the house will be warmer if we get it, come on, keep going.” Angela urged.
After an hour of slow progress, they were both tired hungry. Angela stopped “I grabbed us some biscuits on the way out, let's sit down and eat them, get our energy back.”
They sat in silence and ate the biscuits quickly and hungrily.
“Look over there!” Angela shouted excitedly,” I think I can see a light on, it must be a house”.
“Where?” Howard stood on his tip toes.” I see it, I see it.”
They both set off in the direction of the light, every step they took brought them closer to the light until finally they were at the gate. The warm glow of the kitchen was like a lighthouse calling them home from the rough seas.
Angela knocked boldly on the door using the weird brass knocker shaped like some sort of demon. She gave an involuntary shiver, while Howard stood shyly behind her. There was no answer. Angela knocked again. “I think it's open” she whispered .She turned the handle and the door opened.
“Hello, is anyone home?” Angela shouted. No answer
“Let's go in.” Angela suggested and timidly stepped over the threshold, down the neat hall and into the kitchen. The table was set for lunch with three steaming bowls of soup on the place-mats cooling. “I'm so hungry” moaned Howard. He sat down and tasted the hearty soup, within the minutes he had finished the lot.
“This house is so warm and cozy and I'm so tired. Could we just rest here for a while?”
Howard pleaded. Angela looked at his tired little face and nodded. He went upstairs and opened the first bedroom door and went into it and sunk onto the bed.
“This bed is too hard” he said and he got up quickly. He walked into the second bedroom sinking into the bed. “Aw this bed is perfect” he announced and promptly fell asleep. Angela sat quietly on the bed beside him, keeping watch and listening for the house occupier’s return.
The door slamming made Angela jump. She must have fallen asleep. “Quick Howard, wake up.” she whispered. They crept to the stairs and heard voices; one said “Someone's been eating our soup.” The second voice shouted “Come out wherever you are or we will banish you to kingdom come”. The third voice shouted “This is your last chance”.
Angela stepped warily into the kitchen and nearly fainted in horror when she came face to face with three witches. The women were all very different in height, weight and shape, an odder looking bunch you would be hard pressed to find. “We're so sorry it was us, my brother was so hungry and tired he ate your soup.” She bowed her head in shame.
“That soup was special soup with magical powers; it gives the person who eats it three wishes. You need to use them very carefully”. The three witches warned.
“Now you'd better go home before its dark”.
Angela and Howard chatted excitedly as they left about what wishes they should ask for. Howard looked at all the brambles and the long way ahead and said loudly,
”I wish we were already home with lots of firewood”. There was a rumbling sound and a loud whoosh and the children were outside their door with one hundred logs of firewood at their feet. Divina heard them at the door. “What are you two doing back?” she hissed and spat at them, then noticed David behind her “Err so soon.” She added
“We've got the firewood”. David said pleased with himself “and two wishes”.
“Two wishes” Divina repeated, “I don't believe you”. Which was ironic because she was the liar.
“It’s true” Angela said.
Divina said “You're always saying you're cold, fix this house, make it warm and cozy”
Howard closed his eyes and said his wish, “I wish this house could be warm and cozy and all repaired.”
Suddenly the house changed, everything looked brand new, the fire burned brightly in the hearth and the room was cozy and warm. Divina`s eyes lit up.
“So you have one more wish left, wish for ten bags of gold, no wait, a hundred bags of gold, no make me the most beautiful woman in the world . Wait, I need to think about this.”
Divina scratched her chin in thought.
“But it's my wish” Howard whined
Divina clipped his ear “Don't be so ungrateful I've always looked after you and you're not even my child”.
Howard shouted “I wish you were gone” before putting his hand over his mouth.
She disappeared in a puff of smoke. The house was cozy and warm, Divina had disappeared and they all lived happily ever after, except for Divina of course, but she didn't deserve to did she?