The Gingerbreadhouse Café by Melissa Miles

She was running, leaping, almost dancing. She was so excited, holding the door handle wrapped in her overskirt.

Her house, her marvellous house was finished. The bakers had told her that morning when they had with great ceremony, given her the final piece, the door handle. It was made of icing and painted gold.

She was so happy, running down the tow path by the river.

When she got to the clearing where her house stood, she stopped, her face fell, the door handle dropped from her skirts, and she slowly walked to the great gaping hole in the side of her beautiful gingerbread house.

Not again!

The tears coursed down her cheeks as she sank to the ground. This was the third time her brand-new house had been destroyed by the vermin. She had done everything the magical house brochures had said to do. She had tied herbs to the eaves to ward the creatures off, she had dug a small moat around her sweet house, and she had placed a living gargoyle on the eaves of the cake roof.

But to no avail. The vermin, the children, had been at it again.

The poor little witch gave herself up to her sobs.

She was a kindly witch, and her name was Beatrice, but she was a small witch who could never inhabit such a big name, so everyone called her Bea.

Her beautiful gingerbread house had cost her everything. Every enchanted spindle, every spare spell, every frog prince she could find in the marshes. The very last of her spells had been spent on her marvellous door handle, but the door stood ajar and was half eaten. The west wall had been shattered and nibbled, the spun sugar windows devoured.

Bea had a very soft heart. This was the third iteration of her house. The insurance had covered two rebuilds, but she was certain they wouldn’t cover another, not unless she was willing to trap the vermin.

She hated the idea. Not only was she soft hearted, but she was a little afraid of children. They had nasty sharp teeth and their skin felt cold, almost slimy to the touch.

But, she knew she was going to have to do it.

Bea made her way back to the main witch hall in her little town, where any magical inhabitant could call a meeting by ringing the large bell in the yard.

It was late afternoon by the time the hall was filled. There were bakers and trolls, leprechauns, fairies, witches, and a few unicorns at the very back of the hall.

“I’m sorry to call you all here,” said Bea, in a trembling voice, “but the vermin have destroyed my house again.”

An uproar ensued. Bea was a popular little hedge witch, supplying humans with healing potions and harmless little spells to redirect insects from their gardens and birds from their fields.

“I’m going to have to start a trap and release program. Can anyone help me?”

Most of the magical folk muttered and nodded and agreed to help. Even the unicorns, who were very frightened, agreed to carry the cages to and from the release site.

“Let’s begin in a week's time,” smiled Bea, much heartened by her community’s willingness to help.

Over the next week Bea spent a great deal of time in the village library, deciding on a salubrious site to release the creatures, the children, so they could survive in the wild.

She decided on a beautiful valley with a small lake and trees. After that, it was only a matter of baiting the traps with sweet things the bakers donated.

For three consecutive nights the magical folk laboured, trapping the noisy and aggressive creatures.

One of the bakers wiped the sweat from his forehead, and suggested it would be easier to poison them.

“I don’t want to hurt them,” said Bea.

The baker nodded, and baited another trap.

On the fourth night, there were no vermin to be found. Bea was so happy she hugged all her friends, and gave the unicorns a sugar cube each.

The helpful group departed, the unicorns bearing the empty traps back to the town.

Bea sank to the ground in the moonlight next to her damaged house. She stroked its gingerbread walls.

“We will fix you up again,” she whispered to the house, and fell into a sound sleep.

She was woken an hour later by a group of humans, carrying torches and pitchforks, baring their sharp teeth, and yelling obscenities at her, calling her wicked and accusing her of eating children.

Their children.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t hurt them, so I didn’t think that you would mind. They’re noisy and dirty and…feral.”

The humans shook their weapons in her face and tied her up with ropes.

“They were ours, and we loved them,” answered the head man.

“But why didn’t you tame them down and train them?” Bea was genuinely bewildered and very frightened.

The humans didn’t answer, knowing in their hearts that she was right, made them angrier still.

They dragged poor little Bea to their village and tied her to a stake.

“We’re going to burn you up and demolish your house.”

Their faces were contorted with anger and their voices rang in her ears. She was very, very, frightened.

Witches don’t die, but they can suffer immensely from pain, and burning is terribly painful. The townsfolk cheered when she screamed and waited until she was nothing but a charred lump in the hot ashes, then they went home to bed, pleased with themselves and their justice.

In the grey light of morning the gentle unicorns nosed in the cooled remains of the fire, and delicately pawed the blackened lump to the dew damp grass. As they disappeared into the morning mist, the other witches came and carefully rolled little Beatrice in a soft blanket and bore her away.

The rebirth of a witch so horribly tortured is equally painful, and can take a very long time.

Today, down a tow path by a river, there stands, in the centre of a city that has developed around it, a wonderful café. It is called "The Gingerbread House Café" and specialises in wonderful coffee and boasts the most marvellous patisserie. Aged bakers can be seen in the back, assembling their creations on trays.

The proprietress is called Bea. She is a small woman, and her only oddity is that she never serves the hot drinks, only the cold.

There is a small note on the counter that reads:

Please keep children under effective control

Today was the first day of the summer vacation, and two families had come in. Their children ran riot in her café, screaming and tearing around.

Bea asked the parents nicely to reign their children in, but the parents spoke rudely to her, and smiled indulgently at their running progeny.

Bea only smiled back and suggested some nice cake-of-the-house, on the house of course, some slices of delectable gingerbread might settle them down?

The parents greedily accepted.

Bea glanced back at her bakers. They nodded and iced the pieces of gingerbread with their special concoction.

The children gobbled up their free gingerbread cake and then sagged next to their parents.

The parents were happy to have gotten something for free, and doubly happy their children were quiet, that had, after all, been the point of coming to the famous café.

As they left they remarked to each other how nice and kind the proprietress was.

One by one, at different times and for different reasons, the children fell terribly ill. The only thing they had in common was that they all suffered from a raging fever, and in their burning dreams, they no longer cared for sugar.

When they woke, their parents barely recognised them. Each and everyone had been through a strange sea-change. They were quiet, considerate, and polite, they had ravenous appetites for fresh fruit and vegetables, and all had a peculiar penchant for believing the best of any fairytale villain. They never could explain the reason why, but they passed on their new attitudes to their own offspring, with gentle parental smiles.

The Gingerbread House Café has become famous throughout the world, not only for its marvellous cakes and pastries, its delectable confections, its perfect coffee, and its extraordinary door knob made of icing… but for its remarkable, peaceful and tranquil ambience.


Melissa Miles was born in the US, but now resides in New Zealand with her partner and menagerie. She has had many professional iterations, teacher, actor, film-maker, horse-rescuer. She holds an MFA in film from Canterbury University. She is now primarily focusing on writing.

Author's note

Carmina Magazine is not only beautifully produced (which is often enough incentive for any writer to wish to be part of it), but it’s also an important platform for the examination of present transitions. We need and love stories but our old folk tales don’t necessarily cater to our modern sensibilities. They must be revamped. When I was a child, Hansel and Gretel always seemed overly full of unfairness and cruelty, so, as an adult I decided to redress the situation somewhat. In the arena of writing we have the power to change the world, even if that world is just fictional. Fictional worlds both echo the real one, and allow the reverberation of new waves of meaning, into it.

A different version of this piece appeared in New American Legends in June 2021.