There was once an ugly old witch who lived all by herself on the edge of a forest. She hadn’t asked to be ugly, or old, or a witch, but that’s how she had ended up and she intended to make the best of it. She dutifully stirred her cauldron, which simmered and hissed appropriately. She stroked her black cat, who purred happily. She hummed to herself and wondered what to make for dinner.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. The witch opened it to find two rosy-cheeked children looking quite anxious.
“Excuse us,” said one of the children, maybe it was a boy, the witch never could really tell with children, “it’s getting dark and we’re a long way from home and we were wondering if we could stop here for a while? This forest houses many dangerous creatures and we wouldn’t want to be caught out with them at night.”
The witch had absolutely no idea what to do about children, but she opened the door wider. “Of course, my dears,” she said. “I was just about to start making supper. You’re welcome to stay.”
The children came in and the witch closed the door behind them. They noticed the cauldron simmering and hissing. They spotted the black cat.
“Oh no,” one of them said, looking at the other one, “I think we’ve gone and stumbled into a witch’s house!”
“Well of course you have,” said the witch. “Didn’t you know that’s where you were?”
The two children shook their heads. “Are you going to eat us?” one of them asked.
“Eat you?” exclaimed the witch. “Whatever for? Are you volunteering to be my supper? No, of course I’m not going to eat you. Come on now, sit down and I’ll see about getting something together that we can all enjoy.”
The witch flicked through her grimoire, hoping to find a spell that would tell her how to make a roast pheasant or something. “Sorry,” she said, “looks like the best I’ll be able to do is stew.” She spoke the incantation, and three bowls of stew appeared.
The children took the stew hesitantly, wondering if it was a trap. “I promise, it’s not poisoned,” the witch said. “Look, I’ll go first.” She took a bite.
Seeing that the witch wasn’t poisoned, the children both began to eat.
“So why were you children out in the forest in the first place?” the witch asked.
The children shrugged. “We’re children in a forest in a story about a witch,” one of them explained. “Wandering around and getting lost is kind of what we do.”
“Oh,” the witch replied, thinking. “Is it fulfilling, that line of work?”
The children shook their heads. “Not really.”
“No, mine either, if I’m honest,” the witch said. “Well, look, I’m a witch. Why don’t I just cast us a spell to stop being a witch and children lost in a forest, and make us something else instead?”
“That sounds great!” the children both replied, clapping their hands.
The witch consulted her grimoire and waved her wand. With a poof! and a cloud of emerald smoke, the children became mice. “Is that better?” she asked.
The mice squeaked shrilly and shook their heads.
“Hm,” murmured the witch, flipping a few pages in her grimoire. She waved her wand again. Poof! A pair of wolves stood where the mice had been, snarling and baring their fangs.
“Nope, no good,” said the witch, quickly scanning the grimoire.
Poof! The wolves were replaced with snakes. “Better?” A forked tongue hissed disagreement.
“Look, I just don’t know what you want,” said the witch. A wave of her wand turned them back into children.
One of the children asked the witch, “What do you want to be? Maybe that will help us figure all this out.”
The witch tapped her warty chin with a gnarled finger. “Honestly, I just want to be left alone. Not hunted by knights or sought by princesses or thrown into an oven by frightened children.”
“Thrown into an oven?”
“It happened to my old friend Maude. Kids can be really terrible, you really have no idea.”
The children looked dismayed. Then one of them brightened. “What if we stay here and call you Granny? And we can help with the cooking, and feeding the chickens, and we’ll cut firewood and tend the well.”
“Call me Granny, eh? So I wouldn’t be the witch in the forest, I’d be the nice Granny to the wayward children. Now that’s an idea.”
So the children stayed with the old witch and did their best to earn their keep. She didn’t really need their help with the chores, but it was nice to have someone to talk to, and pretty soon knights and hunters and other fairytale heroes stopped dropping in unexpectedly to try to slay the villain witch. Before long even the nearby village had heard about the nice foundling children in the forest and their kind old Granny who looked after them all by herself. They worried slightly that she could be eaten by a great wolf, but the children assured them that the only wolves nearby were quite pleasant and really only came around to chew the stew bones Granny tossed out.
And they all lived happily ever after, without anybody having to be shut in an oven.