THE COTTAGE IN THE WOODS • by Sarah Hilary

At the police station, the first thing we did was call in a cluster of experts. That’s by-the-book.

The psychologist said, “Test case. Extraordinary. Unheard of.”

“Appalling,” was the dentist’s verdict. “The most horrendous neglect.”

The doctor sided with the dentist.

My boss, DI Turnball, put me in charge. “WPC Kelly’s got wet wipes, and she’s not afraid to use them.” He winked at me, but he was a shade away from puke-green.

Turnball’s a desk jockey, not what you’d call a real copper. He hates getting his hands dirty: “That’s why I have you, WPC Kelly.” He’d like to say, “Mess is women’s work,” but he’s scared of the tribunal.

This case? Was his worst nightmare.

“Come on, kids,” I pleaded. “Give the walls a break. Spongebob’s on the telly and I’ve a couple of bananas going begging.”

The two kids, a boy and a girl, were shrieking themselves sick. Racing from one side of the interview room to the other, diving under and over the table as they went. Tumbling and scrabbling, pulling faces and hair, snapping teeth at any ankle daft enough to come within range.

“Social dysfunction,” said the psychologist. “The lack of parental input, the isolation from behaviour-forming norms — ”

“Rotted right down to the gums.” The dentist shook her head. “Worst decay I’ve ever seen.”

“They gave DI Turnball a nasty nip,” I said, watching the kids’ antics through the glass window in the door. “Little buggers.”

“This is what happens when society breaks down.” The psychologist made complacent notes, scritch-scratch in his pad. “They’re exhibiting feral patterns of behaviour.”

“They’re peeing on the floor.” I shouted down the corridor: “We’re going to need a bucket and mop in here!”

“You say they bit a colleague?” The dentist looked dubious.

“To the bone.”

“It’s the sugar,” the doctor said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Not a question of how much sugar’s in their blood, more how much blood is in the sugar. I shouldn’t be surprised if the incontinence is linked to diabetes.”

“They ate a house.” I consulted my notes. “Roof tiles, chimney pots, the lot.”

“It was a cottage,” the psychologist corrected. “I feel it’s important we make that distinction. House implies permanency, structure. This was little more than a shack in the woods.”

“They ate roof tiles?” The dentist boggled.

“Made of gingerbread, with icing scallops.” I demonstrated the wavy lines with my pen. “Barley sugar for joists, liquorice lintels. No wonder they’re a bit giddy.”

In the room, the kids were slithering about in the mess they’d made, whooping, walloping the walls with their fists.

“There was something else in the blood.” The doctor sounded uneasy. “Protein. Rather a lot of it. And the calcium levels were off the chart.”

That would be the bones, I thought.

I wasn’t about to say it in front of the experts, especially not the psychologist, pompous sod, but they’d found half a skeleton in the cottage fireplace.

Female. Elderly. The kids had cooked and eaten her, as far as forensics could tell. Well, what kind of woman kept children locked up in her house like that? Old witch. I felt sorrier for the kiddies. Besides which, they’d bitten my boss on his arse. I smiled at them through the glass window. “Soon as they come down from the sugar high, we’ll see what they’ve got to say.”

“A terrible business,” the dentist said, shaking her head all over again.

“Grim,” I agreed.


Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author. Her fiction is published in Smokelong Quarterly, the Fish Anthology, and by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). In 2010 she was shortlisted and Highly Commended in the Seán Ó Faoláin contest. In 2011, she received an Honourable Mention in the Tom-Gallon Trust Award. Her debut novel attracted the attention of literary agent Jane Gregory, who signed Sarah as a client in 2010. Sarah blogs at sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Very funny.

    A little repetitive in places, but otherwise a very humorous retelling of…….

  • LOL That was some story. Even though this is a retelling or rethinking, it is quite original and well written,in my opinion. Five grim stars. 🙂

  • Highly amusing. Though I do have to disagree with the psychologist – homosexual usage aside, a cottage is a house and is meant to endure – his reasoning and the involvement of the police reminded me of something I was once told, but cannot vouch for, is still an offence in English law: “unlawfully demolishing a hovel” (it reminds me of Monty Python’s “wilfully being a foreigner”).

  • Rose Gardener

    Love it! Truly original takes on fairy tales are rare, but this is modern and topical too.

  • Haha, wasn’t sure at first but loved it in the end!

  • Haha. Grim 🙂 Love it.

  • Thank you for the kind comments, glad it’s going down so well!

  • Claudia L

    Brilliant! I’m generally a fan of retelling famous story lines through a new POV, and this was very original and clever.

  • Mary J

    This was excellent. I started off thinking it was going in a similar direction as the novel “Room” for some reason. Very clever and funny. The ending was great.

  • ajcap

    So glad I caught this one. Very funny, laugh out loud funny. I had no idea until “They ate a house.”

    Great voice, will definitely be checking out blog and books of this author.

    I have a cousin Sarah and a cousin Hilary. Best e-mail them, see if they’re leading a double life.

  • J

    What a last line! One of those killer ones that take a story from ‘enjoyable’ to ‘grinning all over my face’. WPC Kelly deserves her own series.

  • JenM

    What a great fariytale twist, I wasn’t expecting it at all!

  • An excellent flash. So very droll and just loved that last line. 🙂

  • Not much to add here. A well written, amusing and clever play off the classic. I particularly love the homage in the final line.

    Well done!

  • I had a hard time getting into this story (couldn’t quite get the drift of what was happening) but perseverance does pay off. As it slowly dawned on me what I was witnessing, the smile began, as it got to the “house” explanation, the smile became a grin (not Grimm), and by the end, laughter rolled out of my study.

    Wonderful, just wonderful. Four pushing five stars really hard….+

  • genius as always.

  • Really funny. A good satire of the witch and the ginger-bread house.
    But also a metaphor for the way we live now: making simple things into massive issues – or,alternatively, denying the impact of horror.

    At first, I had difficulty placing where we were. I think the one-way mirror is introduced just a shade too late in the piece because I have to do a quick double-take about the surroundings mid-paragraph.

    very entertaining
    thank you

  • Kit

    Smart, funny, and well written. Loved the tone the author maintained.

  • Hee! Very cute.

  • Elle Marie Gray

    I agree with many who have posted–excellent remake of an old fairy tale. It took me a while to catch on. Thanks for an excellent start to my morning.

  • Douglas Campbell

    Wonderful, wacky, imaginative retelling of the old tale. Super job!

  • Saw right off where you were headed, Sarah, but I loved it all the way through. I giggled at the last line and then wondered why I hadn’t written that. Five stars.

  • Nick Lewandowski

    Quite funny. Brightened up my Monday.

  • Yes, the “going Down” must be really gratifying for the author. But in the next chapter will the kids truly have something to say in their feral language? I, for one, truly enjoy the image of them “shrieking themselves sick,” but at the same time I’m relieved that all those authorities are standing around to pull them (maybe us) to safety.

  • Sarah Ann Watts

    Love it! Grim indeed 🙂

  • Thanks, everyone!

  • Grimmily hilarious.

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