A modern day Hansel and Gretel

Once upon a time there was a witch and she lived deep in the forest like witches do. And she was so old that even she had forgotten when she was born. Only she didn’t look old. In fact she looked surprisingly young. And that was because she was obsessed with youthful vitality, beauty and success and she helped others who were obsessed with these same qualities.


Not many people realised she was a witch of course. Long gone are the days when the witch was considered a hag. When you think of a hag do you think of a decrepit, bent old woman with a big wart on the end of her nose? Well, our witch didn’t look like that at all. In fact she was tall and lithe, strong and slender, with a face beautifully crafted from angles and planes, and eyes that glittered like steel. 

Her clothes matched the black of her hair and the steely grey of her eyes. She often wore an Armani suit made for the skinniest of men around which she’d wrap a black velvet cape with silver satin lining so you could hear her swish past. Her long straight midnight black hair flew behind her like a flag and you could fancy that there was something of the crow about her.

White lace licked at the inside of her designer cuffs hiding her wrists, which were so thin you’d never know she could squeeze the life out of a rat or a cat quicker than it took her to down a shot glass of flaming sambuca! 

You’re right of course – she was no white witch, but the darkest of the dark and she kept her secrets wrapped in shadow deep in the woods. 

Out in the world her public face was that of a powerful, skilful, creative cosmetic chemist and apothecary who had many of the most ambitious people in the world grace her emporium where she concocted the most sought after creams, lotions and elixirs which kept time and the ravages of age at bay. Little did the purveyors of these creations realise how they became addicts to her potions. And even less did they realise that when they asked her for something a bit more powerful, that she delved ever deeper in to her arcane wisdom producing tiny potent bottles to bring about the desire they had longed for – whether that was to become the owner of a Premier League football team, the CEO of a pharmaceutical conglomerate, buying a private island or even bagging one of the first commercial seats to fly to the moon, not to mention looking youthful at all costs. 

She never invited anyone to her house unless they were useful to her. However ‘useful’ was not a good thing to be considered by our witch as it meant you’d be reduced to your smallest component and be added to one of her most potent potions. You see over the endless years of her life she had perfected her dark art and knew exactly which bit of what creature did the best job in her ‘cocktails of power.’ 

Becoming such an adept had meant she’d closed her hearts warmth and compassion a long time previously – an imperative if you chose to be the only one of seven siblings to live past their 21st birthday. She had never any intention of sharing the wealth of her witches family and dynasty with anyone else and one by one her large and brilliant family dwindled as her power and ambition grew. 

It was not pleasant at her home in the woods, however enchanting you might expect such a place to be set in its green gilded glade with a nearby brook singing its happy song. Her sophistication and elegance were left in the city, her glamour and mesmerising charm, even though distinctly hard edged, was a fabrication not remotely necessary in the confines of her home or maybe we should call it her laboratory. 

She never seemed to stop working. Her need for ever more clever anti-aging concoctions drove her twenty four hours of every single day. And her need for ever more bits and pieces to test out in her unsavoury mixtures was endless. No wonder there was hardly a peep, squeak or chirp in the woods any more. Without a qualm an eye of toad, a wing of blackbird, a claw of bat, even a paw of cat was added to her modern day cauldron – a gleaming copper pan on top of her top of the range Rayburn. She was undoubtedly the most qualm-less person (if a witch is really a person) you could ever imagine, so much so that pain of any kind was irrelevant. 

One morning she received an enquiry through her website. It was the kind of enquiry which gave her a thrill because it tested her ability and that was one thing she loved more than almost anything else. She adored the experience of her mind reaching out to create new combinations of ingredients and then witnessing the efficacy of her creation, the feedback from another highly satisfied customer and the thought of a huge amount of money being happily deposited in to her Swiss bank account. 

This was an audacious request which whet her appetite keenly. An ageing Hollywood beauty wanted a potion to make her appear youthful enough to take on the leading role opposite one of the hottest young male actors who was a mere 28 yrs old. Even though she was well known and this was clearly a crazy idea, she was besotted by the young man and enamoured with the part. Could this be done? Of course, was the response sent with a flourish and after pressing the send button the witch strode out in to the wintry woods to begin this new creation. In fact she thought of it more as an adventure – an adventure in chemistry, in ingredient combination and in the power of nature over which she had dominion. 

Her power in her neighbourhood was such that even though every single creature knew their time had come when she wanted their ‘usefulness’ they were too terrified to run away. Even the leaves on the ground, when whisked up by the wind, seemed to lose their impetus and fall at her feet. But one thing she had not been able to do was bring new wildlife to her forest and her stock was running low. And as she was not known for her patience, the forest held its breath that morning as it wondered what, and who she would seek out.

She was not the kind of individual who left anything to chance. So building a fire outside in the chill air, and placing an ancient black cauldron over it was something of a departure from her normal perfectionism. But she was toying with the concept of serendipity today… that extraordinary sense that something would end up in the mix that was unexpected and that this unexpectedness would be the most harmonious of ingredients. A strange and strangled laugh escaped her lips as she clapped her hands in delighted anticipation. 

Before long the delight in her face diminished. Something was not quite right. She’d added the right herbs, the correct combination and amount of spice, the oldest and smelliest of the rabbits entrails she’d kept in a dark glass jar. She’d increased the drops of frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, vanilla and coconut oil, she’d stirred in the youngest leaves from her holy basil, she’d seen a mossy bit of bark slowly descend on the thermals from the fire and swirl in to the bubbling mixture but still there was something missing. Even the dropping from an eagle which swept through the glade did not do the trick. Her parfumiers sense of smell told her this wasn’t perfect yet… there were some delicious scents, heady and seductive aroma’s, but they didn’t quite cover up the decomposing stink of the rabbit entrails, and for this to weave its magic it had to delight the nose. She knew this was already a potent brew but just not potent enough to fit the brief she’d been given and she never ever short changed any one of her clients.

It was time for a little bit of guidance from the mushroom kingdom and the powerful red fly agaric with its tell tale white polka dots. She always had a small supply of unguent stashed away. Smearing a little on her lips she allowed herself to ingest tiny amounts bit by bit and soon she found herself communicating with the deeper aspects of nature and demanding she be shown the missing ingredient. She stamped her feet on the hard earth, watching the sparks from the fire drift upwards in the darkening day, and a red spot on each of her cheeks got redder and redder as her anger flared. Why was she not receiving an answer? Her demands got louder, her language more vehement and her vocabulary more blue. 

All of a sudden she had a vision of exactly the ingredient missing. She shouted in triumph as she also realised that this was the expected unexpected element. She looked around wildly and saw her wood chopping axe with its head neatly tucked in a log. Running over she grabbed the handle with both hands and pulled it clear. Then she propped it by her knee, rolled the cuffs of her jacket and shirt up over her left elbow, placed her forearm on the wooden outdoor table and with one swift movement picked up the axe with her right hand and brought it down with such force it severed her left arm neatly in half. Dropping the axe she picked up her forearm by the thumb and threw it in to the cauldron where it sank out of sight with a huge burping of bubbles.

Only then did she notice the blood pumping from her terrible wound. She sank down on to the bench by the table and groaned as her bright red blood spilled on to the earth and sank darkly in to the ground. She gritted her teeth as she began to feel the pain – a pain so intense it took her breath away as it swept through the remains of her arm. Pain had never meant anything to her before – her pain, someone else’s pain was nothing. She could never understand why people cared about pain, theirs or anothers. But now she felt herself weaken through the searing excruciating sensation which centred on the bloodied messy stump of her left arm and flared along every single nerve throughout her entire body. Surely this wasn’t pain? Surely this was something altogether different? But what if this was pain? And what if the encroaching blackness she felt in her head was death? 

Her anger, her pride, even her sense of herself bled away with her blood and was replaced by a feeling so alien she couldn’t even name it for a moment. With the greatest fatigue making her limbs feel like lead, she understood it was regret and hard on the heels came an overwhelming sadness at what she had done. The fly agaric showed her visions of her life and how she had assumed she had power over nature, that she could do anything without repercussion, and that she would do anything to be successful even to the point of severing her own arm and surrendering her own life. Every thoughtless act she’d committed, every dismemberment she’s perpetrated on an animal, child or pretend friend, every life-ending act, marched through her memory, causing a deeper pain to be felt. It was as if that organ in the centre of her body, which was used to pump the fast-leaking blood through her limbs, was being torn apart, and with shock she found she was weeping. 

As her tears ran so did her blood. Life was leaking away in to the hard soil. The fire nearby gave her face a rosy glow even as it paled. The cauldron still bubbled. And as she neared that bridge between life and death there was a murmuring and a rustling and a whispering in the branches above and around her. As the gloom of the day gave way to the dark of night the light from the fire glittered in hundreds of eyes… which watched her on this final journey. On the smoky air you could feel the collective sigh of relief like the last puff from a bellows. The old witch is dead…

Or very nearly.

Out of the dark shadows under the step to the front door limped a little curly coated dog which may once have been white, and may once have had four legs instead of three. Cautiously it crossed the few steps to where the witch was slumped. A little pink tongue came out and gave a tiny tentative lick on the knuckles of the witches right hand, which hung near the bloody edge of the axe’s blade. 

Of all the words ever expected to issue out of the beautifully cruel mouth of their witch these were the last the creatures of the forest had ever imagined they’d hear,

‘I’m sorry’. 

And as creatures who knew truth when they felt it and saw it, they knew without a doubt the witch had rediscovered her heart. And they knew what they had to do.

The murmuring, the rustling and the whispering increased and out of the branches and from behind the tree trunks, and from out of holes in the ground came an avalanche of animals and birds and insects all focusing in on what needed to happen next…

Somehow between them they got the witch if not to her feet at least to her knees. They encouraged her to shuffle over to the fire so she was within inches of the red hot bed of glowing twigs and branches.

‘Cauterize the wound!’, they chanted in unison. 

Without a second thought the witch understanding that she needed to act fast to flow the stem of those last few pints of blood, swung her sodden sticky stump in to the embers. 

The forest and all its inhabitants knew right there and then that she could indeed now feel pain. Her scream tore at their hearts and every act of cruelty she ever engaged in was forgiven on the strength of that scream. It reverberated through the trees, its vibration cleansed the land of her terrible tyranny, and released the tight control she had over every thing.

As the scream flew it took with it every last ounce of her strength. She lay on the ground with her essence hovering on that bridge between here and there.

Between them the creatures of the forest bound her burnt stump with clean cloth, banked up the fire, brought comfort and warmth from inside her home and buried her in a cosy nest within reach of its heat. As the night wore on and her breathing became deeper, they all folded themselves up for sleep, weaving their hearts healing energies together like an ethereal egg around her. 

A few days later she emerged from the deepest of sleeps.  She looked around her astonished at the surrounding array of animals and they looked back. She no longer looked young exactly, her hair had become a bright silver mane, and although her face had lines where you’d expect them to be, her countenance was suffused with such innocence she radiated a youthfulness as if she had been reborn and that made them all feel like smiling. It made her feel like smiling too and weeping both at the same time.

‘Why did you help me?’ She asked.

The little curly haired dog limped forward, sat down in front of her and cocking its head to one side gave her a long hard stare. 

‘There is a law of nature that we have to obey, which says that when any creature is following their heart we collaborate to help them. We saw and heard your heart break open and knew that if we helped you, you could then follow it.’ 

‘Even though I used one of your legs in one of my potions?’ 

‘Even though you used one of my legs in one of your potions.’ the little dog replied.

Over the course of the next few weeks an extraordinary transformation occurred because the collaboration between the witch and the creatures around her continued – in fact it had to continue in order for her to do her work.

Her work? But surely that wasn’t her hearts work, I hear you ask.

No it wasn’t. What she did now was her true hearts work – creating all the creams and lotions and elixirs for the same ambitious greedy self-serving people but adding in all the spices and herbs required to align them all with their own hearts so they became happier as did the world around them. 

I guess you want to know what happened to the ageing Hollywood star who longed to be a starlet? Her potion was perfectly harmonious because the witches severed arm was the perfect ingredient. But rather than make her look like a woman in her 20’s it gave her something far more powerful – a new-found vigour, passion and access to a wild and wonderful part of herself, which landed her a far more interesting role and captivated the ardent young actor far more than the starlet the film company chose. 

And in case you are wondering how the creatures of the forest continued to collaborate with the witch – well, have you ever tried creating creams, potions and elixirs with only one arm? 



A modern day Jack and the Beanstalk


Once upon a time there was a grown up. He’d listened and learned from his parents, his teachers and the media and following their expert advice he’d done well in the big wide world. He’d started a company, worked hard every day, and built himself a good little earner. He knew how to navigate the terrain of business, of finance, of trade, in fact he excelled. After a while he had enough money to buy his ‘castle’. He bought the very best penthouse at the top of a very high building overlooking the city he worked in. He clapped his hands as he realised he’d ‘made it’. He had the home, the fine furniture, the car, the swimming pool, the hot tub, the view…. This was his domain. What an accomplished man he was. A success. A man to be looked up to. A man to inspire.

Parable 7

A little while later he found the missing part of the jigsaw puzzle – the wife. She was beautiful, intelligent, elegant. She was a great conversationalist, an excellent hostess and the perfect partner. They travelled the world in style, visiting every capital city and even extending their visits to incorporate all the top ancient sites. All around their apartment were photographs taken at the top of the Eiffel Tower, the top of the Shanghai Tower and even at the top of the Burj Khalifa. Other photographs were displayed of the couple at the top of Uluru, the top of Machu Picchu and the top of Table Mountain. He even paid a guard to look the other way while they climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid on Egypt’s Giza Plateau to see the sun rise over the horizon.You see he was a man who insisted on getting to the top of everything.

Parable 9

He wasn’t the most tolerant of men. His quick thinking left many trailing in his mental wake and he had little patience for those who were slower-witted than himself. He could understand a problem in the snap of the fingers, point out the fault line, and instigate a plan of action.

After sampling the delights of every country in the world, after triumphing in every business deal, after trying every kind of cuisine, after realising he could do anything he ever wanted, the colour of the sky began to dim, the taste of the food on his expensive plates began to wane, the touch of his wife’s silky skin began to pall.

Even his bright young son’s light diminished in his eyes and in his heart.

You see his son flummoxed him. He’d wanted a boy who was a ‘chip off the old block’, who would listen to his father, absorb his wisdom and grow to be a powerfully successful man just like him. But the boy showed no interest in his fathers words or his business. He preferred to gaze out of the window as the clouds drifted by and watch raindrops trickle down the glass. Sometimes he found his son sitting by the pool on the roof terrace sharing his morning toast with a tribe of birds. He didn’t know the boy wondered why his parents never spent time out there with him enjoying the fruits of their success.

Healing through the Window

One weekend morning Jack was sitting out by the pool sharing his toast with the birds, when his Dad came out still in his pyjama’s. He had a big bowl of coffee from which the steam spiralled up and then slid away on the warm, light summer breeze.
‘Mind if I join you?’ he asked his son with his usual polite and distant manner.
‘Of course Dad, be my guest,’ Jack replied.
His Dad pulled out a chair, sat down heavily, placed his coffee bowl on the table and gazed blankly in to the distance. The birds retreated to the wall edging the terrace and Jack tore up the last of his toast throwing the crumbs towards them.

“Can I ask you a question Jack?’
‘Sure Dad.’
‘What do you like about your life?’
It was a very unusual question coming from his Dad. He normally asked him if he’d done his homework or how well he was doing at school, if he asked questions at all. Thinking about it his Dad was more the sort of person to tell you things rather than ask you things. So he paused before he spoke because he wanted to make sure he did the question justice.

‘I love the feel, the smell and the taste of the wind. I love the feel, the smell and the taste of the rain. When I smell and taste them they tell me where they’ve been and I can see the places they’ve flown across like the ocean or the mountains. I love their ever changing personalities and when they come here together, well, we have great conversations.’ He paused for a moment to take a quick look at his Dad who sat transfixed with a crease across his forehead staring at his son as if he was some strange unknown creature. Jack knew this was going to be hard for his Dad to hear but he was going to share his heart come what may. After all, the breeze had whispered to him to share the warmth of his love for life with this man who had become more steel and stone than heart and bone.

Stunning blue landscape


‘I love the smell and feel of soil in my fingers. I love learning how well it loves to grow things like flowers and herbs. I love bringing seeds to life watching new flowers crawl and climb out of the soil to share their beautiful shapes and colours with me. I love the way herbs grow to help heal us and when I rub them between my fingers the scent makes me feel so well and happy.’

‘When do you do all that, Jack?’ asked his Dad.
‘Look around you Dad. I grew all of this….’
As if for the first time his father looked around the terrace and saw planters and pots all overflowing with life. Tall sunflowers nodded their proud heads, geraniums radiated their reds and oranges, small fields of lavender shivered in troughs. Among the colours were shrubs of thyme and oregano.

Parable 10

‘What about you Dad? What do you like about your life?’

There was a long silence but Jack knew to wait.

‘I have it all Jack. Look around you. I created all this. With the money I’ve made I’ve bought the best and most expensive of everything. We want for nothing.’ He paused again, shook his head and looked sad. Jack thought how little life flowed through his father. When he looked at his plants, or at the little birds who shared his breakfast, he could sense their aliveness vibrating through every tiny cell of their being. But when he looked at his father he was like a lion without his roar, a dragon without his fire, or even a champagne bottle without its cork.

His Dad leaned forward putting his elbows on the table and lacing his fingers together propped his chin upon his thumbs.
‘I have conquered every challenge Jack. There isn’t anything left for me to do. And I have found out this awful truth. That for all my striving, and all my success, when you get it all, life becomes a dry and dismal desert. And all the things which cost a fortune seem to have no value whatsoever. You have disappointed me too Jack, because I wanted you to be like me, but you refused. Now I realise that I have forgotten how to see the world and I need you to remind me how.’

Parable 2

‘Okay,’ said Jack
‘What do I have to learn son?’
‘You have to unlearn Dad. So tell me why you became a business man?’
‘My teachers and your Granddad told me that what I wanted was impossible. I’d never be able to have a good life if I did what I really wanted. So I decided to show them that nothing is impossible. I thought when I became successful I could do what I wanted which was have a great home, a cool car, a beautiful wife, travel the world, buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and have a son to carry on the business…..’
‘Of course I wanted all those things but I think there was something else I can’t quite remember…’
‘Yes you can Dad,’ whispered the boy

His Dad sniffed. Frowned. Looked around. And as if for the first time noticed the air was laden with the scent of flowers and herbs and the buzzing of bees. He looked strangely shy for a moment before saying, ‘It sounds silly but I wanted to look after bees and photograph them.’

“Let me show you something Dad,’ said Jack and taking him by the hand led him around a corner from the pool to a little hidden space.

And there was a bee hive…

‘But how did this happen?’ asked his astonished father.

‘I heard that if we lose our bees then we can’t survive. So I thought I better try and save them. Trouble is although I’ve managed to set up the hive, get a swarm of bees, I’m worried about the next steps even though I’ve read all I can on the internet.’

For the next few hours Jack and his Dad sat cross-legged discussing and sharing everything they knew about bee-keeping and honey production. Over the weekend out came the camera and his Dad took photo after photo of the bees as they busied themselves among the greenery. By the time they got to Sunday evening, the pallor of his fathers face had been replaced by a blush from the sun and a surge of life-force.

Parable 5

Jacks Dad realised that his son was a ‘chip off the old block’ after all!

Over the next year they worked side by side every moment they could and eventually collected their first harvest of honey. They called it Roof Terrace Honey, made a logo and filled glass jars with the golden nectar rich in nutrients and imbued with their love. Then they gave it away to people in their block of apartments, to Jacks Dad’s employees as well as to some of his Clients.

What happened next was a big surprise. It seemed that Jacks Dad’s business empire was built on very shaky foundations and all of a sudden the whole enterprise collapsed and he lost everything. The company closed, the apartment had to go, the flash cars were taken away and they were left with very little. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. His face was plastered across the news and for a while he was ‘public enemy number one’.

‘Son, I’ve messed up badly. We’ve lost everything. I am so sorry. I don’t know what to do.’
‘But Dad, we are still alive, we have air to breath, water to drink, photographs to take and bees to look after.’
‘That is never going to be enough…’ came the gloomy response. Jacks Dad had changed quite a lot since doing what he’d always wanted to do. He was less tyrannical and far more open but right then had lost his ability to think on his feet, no quick solutions had come to stop the catastrophe and he was shackled by shame.
‘It’s going to be okay Dad. We have each other and we’ll get by I’m sure of it.’
And for some reason the innocent words of the boy touched the grown up’s heart and he felt a teeny weeny bit lighter.

They found somewhere else to live. A small house with a garden not far from the city. The mother, no longer simply a symbol of Jacks Dads success became the mother and wife she’d always wanted to be. Father and son brought all the plants to their new garden as well as the hive and carried on with their united passion, pouring their hearts and souls in to the little buzzing colony. While Jack was at school his father communed with the bees via the lens of his camera and some extraordinary images emerged.

Parable 11

What happened next was a big surprise. They received messages that their honey was curing people of their hay fever. It was a very bad year for hay fever, but their honey was doing the trick. Before long a local newspaper ran the story and a TV crew came and interviewed them. They were the only bee-keepers for miles and became a local sensation. Local artisan shops and health food stores begged for their product, art galleries begged for the bee photographs and before they knew it they had a thriving honey industry and had to buy more hives for their extraordinarily productive bees. Jacks Dad realised that he had conquered something new – failure! And he also had everything he’d ever wanted. His shackles fell away and the colours and textures of life returned in abundance.

Of course they had to change the name of the honey as they no longer lived on top of the world. Following their hearts come what may, they’d tapped in to the collaborative essence of nature and discovered that nothing is impossible. So they decided to call their beautiful healing nectar Happy Heart Honey – and it was as good as its word.

Francesca Cassini

Many thanks to Unsplash and Pixabay for their wonderful photographs


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12 Responses

  1. Francesca

    How lovely – and how was the honey when it came from your own bees?

  2. carol

    what an amazing story – so beautiful, thank you 🙂 This reminded me why I left the Uk and moved to Bulgaria, one of the poorest countries in the EU – and everything you have written here in this story is what I now have in abundance available to me every single day 🙂

  3. Dawn

    Wonderful story Francesca. Thank you for sharing the message.

  4. Pamela Collard

    BeautiFull and insightful ~ Thank You Francesca for sharing ~ This is very special

  5. Carlos Urbina

    Lovely stories. Thanks for making them available. By looking at your tags, we seem to share the same interests. Do you have the bandwidth to read a few chapters of my latest story? It’s about apotheosis.

  6. Carlos Urbina

    My favorite part was the photo of a young person looking through a window, coupled with your line:
    ‘He preferred to gaze out the window as the clouds drifted by and watch the raindrops trickle down the glass’.
    You captured in Hemingwayesque simplicity the essence of being sentient.

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