There once was a small family of a mother, a father, and a young daughter that lived deep in the woods, tucked far away from the rest of the world. They enjoyed a quiet and peaceful life for the most part, and while the forest was known to be home to some wicked creatures, the family never seemed to have any problems with them so long as they stuck to their own neck of the woods. Every morning, the mother and the father would go out foraging for food, gathering whatever berries and plants they could find and capturing whatever hapless critters wandered into their traps. As they were out, the daughter would tend to chores around the house such as cleaning, gathering wood, and preparing the kitchen as once her parents return, she would be the one to cook up whatever strange mishmash of food they would bring her. Whether it was mushrooms, roots, and mice, or berries, cloves, and badger, she would always find some way to make their meals delicious.
All was going well until one year when there was a particularly rough winter. The snows were harsh and buried all the bounties of the forest and the cold lasted long into the spring. Even though it did finally thaw, it would still take some time for the plants to grow and the animals to come out once more, meanwhile the family did not have enough food stored to last any longer. They needed to travel further and further from their home in search of food and they were bringing back less every time until one day the parents did not return home at all. The girl worried and watched out the front windows as the sun set, waiting for their return. The sun fell and the moon rose, but still there was no sight of them. The girl waited in a panic in the kitchen all night, at some point passing out due to exhaustion and not waking until around noon.
There was still no sign that her parents had returned in her sleep and the prospect of them returning that day grew bleaker as the hours passed. Just before the sun began to set again, the girl decided that she would go out and try to find where her missing parents had gone. As she traveled off the familiar trails, she eventually came across a frail old woman in a black cloak with a wart on her nose. The woman asked in an old raspy voice, “Why deary, what brings out to this neck of the woods? It can be very dangerous, especially once night falls.”
The girl replied, “I know, but my parents have gone missing and I need to find them. Have you seen them anywhere?”
“Ah well I have not seen them myself, but I believe I know where they are. Here take this,” The lady said as she handed the girl a small brass key. “If you want to see your parents once more, you will find a shack a short walk that way through the bushes, and this key will get you inside.”
The girl was wary, but she did not have any other clues as to where she may find her parents and so she gulped nervously, gave a brief “Thank you,” and heeded the words of the old crone going on her way. She found the shack shortly after. It was made of rusted metal, reeked horribly, the door was stained with something or other, and it had no windows. The girl thought of turning back, but the sun was beginning to set and the path home would be long and full of many dangers, so she tucked her nose into her shirt and approached the door. The lock had an old keyhole, but it was too dark inside for the girl to peer through; she took a deep breath and placed the key inside and twisted, and sure enough the door began to creak open, letting out a waft of putrid air.
The girl poked her head in. It was shadowy and the only light was the setting sun at her back, but once the door had been opened enough and she had stepped inside, she could see the source of the foul smell. From the ceiling hung chains and hooks with gutted cadavers. Two of them seemed familiar. At first she winced and closed her eyes tightly, but after a deep inhalation of wretched air, she looked again to face reality. Upon closer inspection her fears were confirmed. Their bodies were ruined and their faces were caked with dried blood, but there was no mistaking that those were her parents.
Grief took her but she had no time to mourn as soon there was a rustling of sheets and bed springs followed by the deep, gruff voice of a man “Wots wit all dis light.” The girl hid in a barrel full of something moist and squishy that she did not want to know what. From a bed in the corner, the man rose and shouted down a basement staircase, “Oi you left the door open you twat.” A simple “Sorry,” came from below in response. The man grumbled something about beauty sleep before getting back into the bed. The girl watched and waiting silently as the loud thuds of boots against wood came from the basement. A man so large he barely managed to not bump his head against the ceiling by ducking down last second came forth, made his way over to the door, and fiddled with the locks for a bit before returning back to the basement. The shack was dark once more.
The girl sat in the barrel until she heard the sound of snoring, assuring her that the man upstairs had fallen asleep. She crept out towards the door and put the key into the lock. She tried to twist it but it would not budge, whether she tried left or right or just jiggling it about frantically, the key would not budge. The old woman was telling the truth that it would get her in, but for some reason it was not able to get her out. She fumbled and fiddled about to no avail, all the while she was making noise. The snoring ceased, the sheets rustled, and the girl hid away in the barrel again, just in time before the man got up and lit a match. He grumbled something about the wind making a racket and then he shouted down the stairs “Oi, I can’t sleep, let’s have ourselves a dinner proper,” to which there was the response “Coming,” followed by the loud thuds of his footsteps up the stairs.
The massive man emerged as the smaller, though still quite sizeable, one lit a candle on a small table. They grabbed randomly at all the different meats from the barrels and hooks they had and piled it up on the table and began eating it all raw. They stomached it with only a few gags. They kept eating more and more until finally the smaller of the two said, “Grab me some of dem bladders,” and the larger went over to the barrel the girl was hiding in. He looked down at her and she looked up and tried to scream, but his hand was over her mouth too quickly as he pulled her out into the open. “Fresh meat,” he said with slight excitement. The other clapped his hands together, “Great we needed somethin fresh, hate eatin this day ole garbage.”
“Wait!” The girl exclaimed, “If you don’t eat me, I can make you something better to eat, I promise.” The two men paused and looked at each other. The larger shrugged and the smaller nodded to the girl, “Sure, we can give ya a shot.” The girl quickly started going through the barrels of meat looking for ingredients. Intestines, spleens, livers, hearts, she grabbed them and a pot and brought them over to the fire pit which appeared to have not been used in months. She lit the fire with the candle and the two men seemed to cower away from the light for a moment before settling down. The girl paid them no mind as she kept searching the house for ingredients, finding fungus on clothing left on the floor and moss growing on the walls. Soon enough the girl had a nice stew coming along and the men smelled it hungrily. Seeing as neither of them knew how to cook even a little and were accustomed to eating their meals raw, while the stew was quite basic, they thought it was the greatest meal on the planet. They let her live and kept her living with them as their personal cook. The girl had no place else to go and while she found the prospect of needing to cook up her own family disturbing, she endured it in order to survive.
One day, the butcher men had arranged a party for all the ne’erdowells of the woods. Wolfmen, vampires, all sorts of deranged and demonic beings, as well as the old lady that had given the girl the key. They sat down to eat the meal that the girl had made, having heard many words of praise from the men and letting their hopes get quite high. When another basic stew was presented before them, they asked the men if it was a joke. “Wot, a joke? Ya don’t mean… Oh yes of course it’s a joke, let me just have a small word with the chef,” he pulled the girl into the corner, “Can’t ya make somethin better,”
“I did the best I could with what you brought me. If you let me go scavenge the woods, I could get some better ingredients.”
The man had did not trust her to not run off, but the old woman overheard them. She plucked a hair from the girl and pulled out her crystal ball and said, “Well I think it is a splendid idea darlings. And with this we will be able to watch her to make sure she gets those ingredients and comes straight home,” The woman smiled as she held the hair to the ball and an image of the girl looking at the ball was shown on the ball. The man accepted this insurance and sent the girl on her way.
The girl went out. At first she was looking for the best ingredients, but then she came across a type of mushroom that her parents had taught her to never eat and then she was given an idea. She plucked that mushroom and recalled all the other plants that her parents had warned her were deadly. She gathered as many as she could and brought them back to the shack. While many of the poisonous ingredients had distinct scents, the girl was a good enough of a cook to mask them beneath others. Before long, it was ready.
She brought out her dish on fancy platters, at least fancier compared to the rest of the plates the men had in their shack, and set it before the many frightful guests. The smaller of the two butcher men gave a toast and they all began to eat. Within a minute all the guests had fallen over off their chairs or their faces slammed into their meals. All except the old woman who chuckled and clapped. “Very clever of you, but you know the just because something is deadly to humans does not mean it will kill monsters too, but don’t worry, I brought a few ingredients of my own and snuck them into the pot,” She said as she pulled out some half empty, bubbling silver and purple potions from beneath her cloak. The girl was uncertain how to feel. “Come now little one. You need a new home now yes? I have always wanted a daughter…” The old woman stuck out her wrinkled hand. The girl looked at the hand, gulped nervously, then grabbed hold. The two of them walked away from the hut which began to burn in a black fire as they disappeared into the woods.