The Transformation Story Archive Strange Things and other Changes

A Matter of Taste

by Mark van Sciver

The sun settled lower. It would be dark soon. Greta hid under the low branches of a red oak tree and searched the house across the glade for some sign of life or activity. There was a smell of rain in the air, and the low rumble of thunder in the distance seemed to promise a storm sometime after dark. The house was dark, seemingly empty, only a lazy plume of smoke from the chimney gave any hint of life. As the long shadows of night fell across the woods, the darkness obscuring the unlit sign that hung from the eaves of the front porch that proclaimed:

Aliss Schwartz's
Black Forest Confections
"Irresistibly Good!"

The air surrounding Greta was awash with the odors of sweet confections. She could make out the individual smells of candies, cakes and fudges, along with cookies, pies and pastries. The smells were driving her crazy. The involuntary grumbling from her stomach betrayed her presence in the darkness - betrayed her hunger. She hadn't eaten in more than 48 hours. She hadn't eaten since he'd left her in the car two nights earlier.

Damn Ansel! The robbery was his idea!

The place was out in the middle of nowhere, he said. And there was little traffic after dark. Just a hike through the woods and he'd be in and out in just a few minutes, he said. After all, Mrs. Schwartz lived alone. Her business depended on the tourist trade, and once the last of the fall foliage was gone, the tourists who flocked to the Blue Ridge Mountains for the autumn leaves were gone until spring flowers began to bloom. Already, many of the local bed and breakfasts had closed for the season. Only old lady Schwartz went against conventional wisdom by staying open year-round.

It seemed perfect. At least at first glance. Greta half wondered, if it was such an easy target, why hadn't anybody else tried it before? But Greta was used to following Ansel's lead. They'd been slowly working they way up the East Coast, robbing small convenience stores and gas stations. Anse had even shot a guy - killed him - at a 'Pick and Go' convenience store outside some crossroad in Georgia, a few weeks back. Greta knew she was in way over her head, but Ansel was the first person in her all of her sixteen years that ever treated her like she was somebody. And so, thick and thin, she'd stick by her man.

Nobody treated her as good as Anse. Her mother hadn't. To her, Greta was just a means of cheating the government out of a few more food stamps. Once the laws had changed, and her mother had to work to get welfare money . . . well, the only thing that that changed was her mother drank more booze and beat Greta more often. That and a whole string of temporary 'daddies' coming in and out of the mother's mobile home, left Greta wise in the ways of the world by the time she entered her teens.

She met Ansel at the Dairy Queen. She was working the four-to-midnight shift when he pulled up in a car straight out of a Hollywood car chase movie. He was eighteen, big and heavy boned, but with a build already sliding toward fat. But to Greta, he was a god. Greta was Ansel's opposite. She was small - tiny, in fact - just over five feet tall and weighing less than 95 lbs. By midnight, the seventeen-year-old was in love. By one o'clock, she'd surrendered her body to him. By sunrise, they'd robbed her mother's trailer and torched it. As they rode off together in the early dawn, she knew she'd stick by Ansel to the death. To seal their love, he had a heart with Greta's name tattooed on his arm, while she had a smaller heart with his name tattooed over her right breast.

That was three months ago. In their travels, they'd gone as far North as Pennsylvania, as far south as the Florida Panhandle, and as far west as Arkansas and Kentucky. They were smart. They never stayed long, worked hard not to be noticed and always cased their targets before striking. They bypassed places that had security cameras or clerks that looked like they'd shoot back. Women made the easiest targets, especially at night. That's what made the present job so tempting.

They'd come across the Schwartz place just as the money from their last robbery was running out. They'd cased her place yesterday. The old woman ran the business out of her house. The entire bottom floor was filled with display cases crammed with every variety of sweet imaginable. A set of stairs led obviously to the living quarters above, just as a set of stairs in the center of the room went downward toward the basement kitchens.

Aliss Schwartz was handsome woman that Greta figured to be in her seventies. Her long gray hair was done up in a tight, neat bun on the top of her head. She greeted the two young people as they entered. She had a slight German accent with a singsong musical quality to it. As near as they could tell, their potential victim lived alone. At least there was no sign of a "Mr." Schwartz hanging around. Anse and Greta assumed she was a widow. What Greta remembered most was the smell of all the different sweets that nearly drove her nuts.

Sweets were Greta's downfall. Her mother was the size of a hot air balloon and Greta was determined not to follow her example. And so, while Ansel stuffed his face with every type of junk food he could lay his hands on, Greta carefully watched and weighed every morsel that went in her mouth. She knew that if she didn't watch what she ate, she'd be as fat as her mother.

It was just after dark when Ansel and Greta left the main road and headed up an old logging trail. Anse waited until nearly ten o'clock before grabbing his gun and a flashlight and heading off through the woods. It would take him at least an hour to walk up and over the mountain to the Schwartz house. Anse had kissed her before he left, promising to bring her some candy as well as the money. It would be well after midnight before he returned. Greta wrapped herself up in a sleeping bag and waited. She must have dozed off because she awoke as the sun's glare hit the car's windshield.

Ansel hadn't come back!

She sat there frozen in panic for several hours, waiting against hope that Ansel would turn up. Her brain told her that he was probably already under arrest and in jail, but her heart wouldn't give up on him. She waited all day and another night before finally driving back toward town. As she passed the Schwartz place, all looked peaceful. There wasn't a sign of trouble or police activity. The shop was open as normal. Greta even saw Aliss Schwartz waiting on a customer. It was the same story in town. The town was just as quiet. She bought the local newspaper and scanned it for Ansel's name but there was nothing. She spent the rest of the day and evening driving around looking for some sign of her lost lover.

It was as if Ansel had dropped off the face of the earth. Eventually, without even realizing it, she found herself driving back to the spot where she and Anse had parked two nights earlier. She hid the car in the same location and started off through the woods. She hoped that by retracing Ansel's steps she'd either find him, or some sign of what had happened.

Greta knew the general direction he would have followed, but it took her most of the afternoon to hike the couple of miles to the Schwartz homestead. It was the smell that helped her home in on the place. Long before she got there, the air became filled with the sweet smells of candy. Her nose eventually led her to her destination.

The thunderstorm started just after sunset. She stood there in the darkness and the rain, her clothes and hair soaking wet, trying to make up her mind on what to do next. Finally hunger and her love for Ansel drove her toward the dark house. Not surprisingly, both the back and front doors were locked. In desperation, she pulled at the lid covering the cellar steps and found it opened. Trusting the noise of the storm to mask her entry, Greta slipped down the stairs.

The basement room was dimly lit with two night lamps. This was obviously the kitchen for the candy shop. Two long ovens lined one of the basement walls, with the center of the room dominated by preparation tables of various sizes and heights. Greta was enough of a country girl to deduce from a stack of cordwood by one wall that a wood stove of some sort was also in operation.

She noticed that one of the tabletops was covered in decorated gingerbread men. Greta snatched one up and greedily devoured it. Whether it was her acute hunger or the fact that cookies were on her self-imposed list of forbidden foods - the cookie tasted fantastic. She grabbed another and began eating before she'd even finished the first one. Within minutes she'd devoured six before moving to a pan of maple fudge.

Greta didn't even bother with a knife; she used her bare hand to claw out of large chunk of the sticky sweet candy before stuffing it in her mouth. As if possessed, she moved from table to table, grabbing and eating fistfuls of candy. Her face, hands and clothing were soon smeared with the remains of her eating orgy. Greta couldn't stop her gorging. Sweet after sweet went from hand to mouth as she literally ate her way across the room.

She was greedily reaching toward a tray of sticky buns when an accented voice whispered softly out of the darkness: "Knusper, Knusper, Knäuschen . . . wer knuspert an meinem Häuschen?"

Greta spun around to see Aliss Schwartz standing on the cellar steps. The woman had an odd smile on her face. Greta didn't know what to do other than stand there with a ring of melted chocolate around her mouth.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," the older woman clucked as she looked over Greta. "Such a mess you have made for me, little mouse. You didn't have to steal. I'd have fed you, if you vere so hungry," she said in a soft German accent.

Greta stood paralyzed in the presence of the older woman and made no protests or attempts at escape when Aliss took Greta's hand and led her to the kitchen's sink. She quickly filled one of the basins with warm soapy water and with a soft wash rag, she firmly washed the young woman's face and hands. After she cleaned the worst of the mess off the young girl's face, the older woman took Greta's chin in one of her hands and turned it left to right as if to study it.

"Too thin, too thin," Aliss muttered. "Vell, we fix that up!"

"Are you going to turn me into the cops?" Greta asked, her voice trembling much more than she realized.

"No, I'm going to get you dried off and something to eat." Aliss replied. The old woman went back up the stairs and returned a few minutes later with some towels and a white cotton nightgown. Greta made no move to stop the older woman when she produced a key ring and locked the deadbolt on the cellar doors.

Aliss ordered Greta to strip off her wet and soiled clothing. Greta, to her surprise, complied without a fuss. Aliss Schwartz was several inches taller than Greta and built much more solidly. As the girl removed the last of her undergarments, Aliss Schwartz draped a blanket across Greta's bare shoulders.

The younger woman stood uncertainly on the bare floor for a few moments. Without her clothes and with most of her makeup wiped off already, she looked much younger than her seventeen years. The fact that she was cold, wet and afraid only underscored her youth. On top of that, her nudity and Aliss' more dominant personality increased Greta's feelings of vulnerability. The older woman shook out the folded nightgown and held it open over Greta's head. Greta let the blanket fall to the floor and she pushed her head through the neckhole and her arms down the sleeves.

Despite her diminutive size, it was immediately obvious that the nightgown belonged to a much younger girl. The sleeves barely reached past her elbows and the hem was above her knees. Although Greta was by no means a busty girl, even she felt constricted in the garment.

Aliss, noting the poor fit, apologized and commented that the cotton would "stretch a little" as she wore it. Then she led Greta to a small table and chair. Aliss went upstairs and returned with a pot of cocoa and some plates. Soon Greta was eating her fill of cinnamon buns and hot chocolate. Aliss watched intently as the girl ravenously devoured her food.

"Knusper, Knusper, Knäuschen," she whispered to herself.

Greta asked her what she had said.

"It's German, my dear," Mrs. Schwartz replied with a crooked smile. "An old verse from my youth. I said you were nibbling at your food like a little mouse.'"

Summoning up her courage, Greta asked if she'd caught Ansel when he'd broken in the other night. Aliss Schwartz nodded her head affirmatively.

"Ja. Ja. I caught him stealing from me, too. He vas a bad boy, your young man. He vasn't nearly as nice as you. He gave me a very hard time before I got him settled down."

"Where is he? Where's Ansel? You've got to let me see him!" she demanded with tears in her eyes.

"Him I had to lock up in da furnace room he vas so bad," she said, pointing to a door with a large padlock on it. "You see him soon, I promise. You I keep looked up here in the kitchen. You try to steal but if you help me make new sweets and clean up and we be friends, ja?"

Greta didn't think she had much of a choice so she agreed. Aliss handed her an apron, which the young woman put on over her nightgown. Over the next several hours, Greta washed and scrubbed all the baking trays and pans that had accumulated over the day. She was used to hard work and wasn't too bothered by the tasks Mrs. Schwartz laid out for her. While Greta rolled up the sleeves of her gown and washed dishes, Aliss prepared pastries. The younger woman marveled at the artistry of the old woman's handiwork. At any one time, Aliss had three or four different projects in preparation. While pies baked, she created elaborate frostings on cakes or rolled out dough for the oven. Still, Greta kept a close eye on both Schwartz and the door that AnseL was supposedly behind.

Greta finished the dishes just after midnight. She'd noticed some feelings of lightheadedness for the past hour or so, but assumed it was the byproduct of all the stress she'd been under. She lifted a stack of clean pans and carried them to the table. She misjudged the height of the table somehow and nearly dropped them on the floor. Mrs. Schwartz stooped over to help her.

Greta was puzzled - the tabletop seemed higher than it ought to be. She unrolled the sleeves of the nightgown but failed to notice that the once too-short cuffs now reached her wrists. Mrs. Schwartz leaned over slightly to brush a wisp of hair from Greta's face. All the work and exertions of the evening had caused the small nightgown, confined by the apron, to ride up higher on her legs. The young woman excused herself to use the restroom.

Greta was tired. On top of the excitement of the past two days, she had been working very hard for more than six hours. It was well after one in the morning and she was getting sleepy. As she sat on the commode, she tiredly pulled the string loose that held on the apron. She knotted the dirty apron in a ball and tossed it in the hamper that was stored in the bathroom.

She stood up and pulled her nightgown back in place. It was wet in spots and a little damp, but just as promised, it seemed to have stretched a little - stretched a lot, in fact. Not only did the sleeves seem long enough to reach her wrists, Greta noticed the hem of the gown now fell below her knees.

"Maybe I'm shrinking," she thought with a shrug.

"I must be tired," she muttered because her whole body felt a little "off," as if nothing seemed or felt quite right. The old woman was still working when Greta came out of the rest room. She was using a large mixer to make dough. She looked up to see Greta rubbing her eyes and yawning. She smiled and took the younger woman hand. Even Aliss Schwartz seemed taller to Greta than she had earlier.

"You're tired, my child. Time for you to rest."

Greta couldn't argue with her. She let the old woman half guided her into a small office off the kitchen. There, on one of the walls, was a day couch. Greta almost fell over as she tried to lie down she was so tired. She was only vaguely aware when Aliss Schwartz draped a worn comforter over her curled up form. Just before dropping off to a deep and dreamless sleep, Greta saw Aliss pull a ring of keys from the pocket of her apron and put them in the top drawer of her desk.

"Ansel . . ." she thought muzzily. "I'll rest a bit and then get the keys. When Ansel's free, we'll get out of here."

Greta woke up just before dawn. The room she was dark but she could make out the light from the kitchen through a crack in the door. It seemed quiet out there. Maybe the old woman had gone to bed, she thought. She swung her legs over the edge of the couch and stood up. At least she attempted to stand. Something was caught on the end of her foot as she stood she stumbled forward on her hands and knees.

Greta felt like she was caught up on an oversized net. She fumbled around in the darkness trying to untangled herself from her clothing. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she noticed how oddly distorted the room seemed. It was bigger than it should be. She finally got to her feet and looked down at herself and gasped.

The little nightgown, so tight on her just a few hours ago, had grown to an enormous size! Her hands were lost inside the sleeves, with three or more inches between the tips of her fingers and the inside of the cuff. And the hem was now lying bunched up on the floor, her feet treading on it every time she tried to move forward. All around her, the furniture seemed big enough for giants. The doorknob was now just below her eye level. She pulled it open and let the light from the kitchen enter the room.

"My God! I've shrunk!" she exclaimed, clutching herself in disbelief.

She hiked up the hem of her nightgown and entered the kitchen. Everything seemed twice its normal size. She had to stand on her tiptoes to see on top of the tables, and she was no longer tall enough to turn on the faucet of the sink she'd washed dishes in just a few hours ago. Almost in shock, Greta entered the small bathroom. The toilet seemed impossible high to her now. She placed her hand over her breast, trying to find some rational explanation for what was happening to her.

She noticed that something else was missing. She patted the bust of her nightgown in disbelief. Then, in panic, she reached over and hauled the hem of the gown over her head and stared at herself. In the place of the moderately sized female breasts she loved Ansel to nuzzle were the pale and limp nipples of an undeveloped child. She stared in disbelief at her tattoo - it was still there - although it was much smaller and no longer had the firm young breast flesh to support it. She ran a hand across her stomach. Yesterday, it had been sleek and flat, now it was thrust out with the pot-bellied roundness of a child. Her hips and thighs had lost their feminine flair and curves as well. She was literally as sexless as a child. Only the pink folds of her bare labia and shoulder-length hair gave any indication of her possible gender.

Greta didn't know how, but somehow Aliss Schwartz had reduced her to a child - not much more than five- or six-years-old! To make matters worse, she seemed to be getting even smaller. Already, tabletops were getting above her eye level and she had lost most of her adult teeth. If she was to escape and get help, she was going to have to try soon. She remembered Ansel. The old woman said she had captured him, too. She went to the locked door and called out his Anse's name, but got no reply.

"She shrunk him, too," she thought.

She remembered the keys that the old woman put in the desk the night before. As quiet as she could (she didn't want to wake Aliss who she assumed was asleep upstairs), she stole back to the office and pulled out the key ring. She was so small by now that she was forced to slide a chair over to the door to stand on. She was now too short to reach the padlock.

After several tries, she found a key to fit the lock. The door opened into another, larger room with two more doors. She could smell a wood fire burning. One of the doors had a latch like the entrance to food locker at the Dairy Queen. She perched on her tiptoes and pulled at the handle. In her reduced condition, it was very difficult to get both the strength and leverage to open the door. After two or three tries, Greta succeeded in opening the door. As she suspected, it was a food locker. A single light bulb with a string hung from the ceiling, but Greta was by now much too small to grab the string to turn on the light.

She called out Ansel's name. She was horrified at the sound of her own voice. Her voice had lost every bit of its adult timbre and she now possessed the soft lisp of a child. She couldn't make out much in the darkness but it was obvious that Aliss Schwartz stored meat and produce in here. She could make out a number of strings of sausage hanging from hooks as well as hams and other cuts of meat she couldn't recognize. The cool air on her diminished, naked form finally drove her out of the locker. Ansel's obviously wasn't here.

The other door seemed more promising. Inside were several cords of wood stacked up next to an oversized woodstove and cooker similar to the kind that firehouses and churches used for community barbecues. Aliss Schwartz was preparing something, she could smell it cooking. In the middle of the floor was a pile of clothes and a tray with half-eaten food. Greta immediately recognized the clothes as Ansel's. Her heart was beating rapidly. If only she could find her Ansel, everything would be all right. But he was nowhere to be found. She grabbed his Marilyn

Manson tee shirt and pulled over her head. It hung on her like a dress.

It was just as well, Greta took a look at herself just before putting on the shirt. She wasn't more than three feet tall by now. The soft pliant flesh of her arms and legs advertised her returning baby fat. She wasn't more than four now.

She felt unbidden tears forming in her eyes. She felt as helpless as the child she had now become. Unable to stop herself, she began a childish blubber, rubbing her eyes with her tiny, balled fists. She could feel herself shrinking even further. And the more she shrunk, the harder she cried. Soon one her tiny shoulders poked through the neck opening of the tee-shirt as she progressively grew younger. Greta had cried to the point of hyperventilating. She swayed and stumbled forward on her hands. She squatted into a seated position in front of the half-eaten tray. She used her shirt to wipe her eyes and blow her little nose. She ran her hand across her head and found her hair was now not much more than an inch or more in length.

With her small pudgy hands, she grabbed a cruller from the tray on the floor. She was so young now, it took both her hands to hold it. She put the soft round end into her mouth and tried to bite, but without most of her teeth, it was more of a pacifier than a meal. And like a pacifier, gnawing it calmed little Greta.

She was almost dozing when a voice behind her murmured, "Knusper, Knusper, Knäuschen . . . wer knuspert an meinem Häuschen?"

On hearing the voice, Greta struggled to get to her feet and run. To her horror, her legs no longer seemed strong enough to support her. The ankles of two giant legs loomed out of the shadows into her vision and giant hands that completely encircled her chest lifted her into the air. Greta screamed uncontrollably, swinging her tiny arms and legs in a futile effort to strike at the giant face of Aliss Schwartz.

"Nibble, nibble, like a mouse . . . who is nibbling at my house," said Aliss Schwartz in a sing-song voice that frightened Greta even more when she caught the odd smile on the old woman's face. The front of the Greta's shirt was soaked with urine; she hadn't even been aware that she'd wet herself.

The old woman nestled tiny Greta into the crook of her left arm and carried the infant back into the kitchen. She laid the baby on the draining board of the sink and filled it with warm water. Then she slipped Greta out of her makeshift clothes and sat her in the water. Then, with great care, she bathed the now infant Greta and then dried her with soft towels.

Greta struggled ineffectively. She no longer seemed capable of coherent speech and her stunted arms and legs no longer obeyed the dictates of her brain. Her adult mind and memories were no longer in sync with her infant body's lack of coordination and speech. In less than twelve hours, Greta had gone from a seventeen-year-old woman to a six-month old baby.

For her part, Aliss Schwartz ignored the protests of the infant Greta. She carried the baby over to one of the giant table and unceremoniously laid the naked child on her back. The cold metal on her bare skin made the infant cry even harder.

Aliss looked over Greta with a judicious eye, softly pinching the babe's arms, legs, stomach and chin. She stroked the tip of her chin in thought for a moment before declaring that Greta was "too thin . . . too thin."

The old woman went upstairs for several minutes before returning with several long strips of soft cloth. She took a piece of cloth about eighteen inches long and eight inches wide and folded it in half. She tucked one end under Greta's tiny buttocks and twisted the cloth over where it met her labia and laid the other end on top of her round tummy to act as a diaper. Then she used the strips of soft cloth to form a swaddling cloth. Before Greta knew what was happening, she had been wrapped from head to feet, securely immobilized by the bands of cloth.

She lifted the wrapped baby in her arms and carried her to a pantry room. The shelves were stacked with bottles and jars. The old woman seemed to be looking for something in particular because she grunted affirmatively when she put her hands on a jar holding a dark green salve. Aliss then took Greta back into the room with the stove. With the baby in one arm, she opened the stove and thrust several pieces on wood on the fire.

The old woman carried little Greta and the jar upstairs for the first time. In a small sitting room was a wooden rocker. Aliss sat down and placed the swaddled babe across her knees. With her hands free, the woman began to unbutton the front of her dress. She exposed her old and withered left breast. She opened the small jar and scooped out a portion of the salve on the tips of her fingers. With her right hand she spread the salve over her breast and methodically massaged it into her sagging flesh. She looked down at the baby on her lap and began to speak.

"Now you're not so much trouble, ja? People always want to steal from old people. An old woman all alone . . . needs protection. My sweets and cakes protect me. Just to smell them makes you hungry. Then . . . a little nibble, nibble and soon even the biggest, strongest man is a child in my hands. Like the sign says . . . I make my sweets irresistible. One taste and I can make someone change. I can make you old, young - big, small - I even can make a man an animal. It is all the same. In my country, a woman with the 'power' has many talents. But only the best Witch can change people - just like I change you. I am very good Witch. Very old. Very smart. But mostly, very, very good Witch."

As she spoke, Greta could see that Aliss' breast was changing shape. The withered, sagging sack of the old woman's breast seemed to be pulling up tighter. As the infant watched, the breast rose higher and firmer on the old woman's chest. It began to fill out. The crumpled brown nipple filled out and slowly faded into red and then pink. Within minutes, the seventy-plus woman had the left breast of young woman.

But the breast had not yet finished its changes. After a moment, it began to change again. This time, it became fuller. The nipple enlarged and then engorged changing from pink to full red. Breast and nipple were swollen to twice normal size. Greta watched in a mix of horror and fascination as Aliss Schwartz massaged the nipple until a small bead of white fluid appeared. Greta opened her mouth to scream but the old woman clapped the infant's mouth to her breast first.

When Greta tried to refuse the nipple, Aliss pinched the infant's nose shut and threatened to hold it until the baby suckled. Greta reluctantly pulled the knob of the nipple into her mouth and sucked in with her cheeks. Her mouth immediately filled with hot milk. Almost reflexively, Greta found herself trapped in a routine of suck and swallow, suck and swallow.

Aliss kept her captive at her breast for nearly a half-hour before the young infant dropped off to sleep. She then took a long scarf and fashioned a sling across her back in which she dropped the swaddled child. Asleep or awake, there Greta stayed for the rest of the day. From her perch, she was able to look over the old woman's shoulder while the Witch cooked or waited on customers.

What few people stopped by the shop hardly paid attention to the small infant obviously being minded by her grandmother. One young couple even asked why she had the baby trussed up in such a manner.

"In my country, when I was a girl and young mother, all babies were wrapped like this. They do not fuss and squirm as much and stay much more quiet while mama works."

This seemed to satisfy the couple who never even noticed look of pleading terror in the young infant's eyes.

"Help me!" Greta's mind screamed, but only the coos and gurgles on an infant escaped her lips.

Her only moments of freedom the whole day occurred when Aliss was forced to change her. Greta had been force fed at Aliss' breast at least once every hour. Although she could hardly believe it possible, every time the nipple was offered, Greta found herself able to nurse. Around six in the evening, the old woman closed up the shop for the night and carried infant Greta back down to the kitchen. She carefully undressed the baby and inspected her. She seemed pleased with what she observed.

This time, instead of wrapping her back up, Aliss left the babe free. Once more she exposed her one engorged breast and forced the girl to feed. Once finished, she left the infant naked and exposed on one of the countertops. Greta was much too small and weak to move on her own. As it was, she was hard pressed to even roll over. Aliss left Greta and continued to work around the kitchen. Obviously she was preparing a meal. She went into the locker and returned with vegetables, which she chopped and diced. She brought out a large deep-dish pan and greased it. Then she rolled out a thick crust of dough and placed it lined the pan with it.

She walked over to Greta and lifted the baby high in the air and then pushed her nose into the infant's soft tummy and rubbed it back and forth, while blowing puffs of air on her. Despite herself, Greta laughed.

"You are my little piggy, now, ja?" she said to the baby she held before her face.

"Little piggy?" Greta puzzled.

As if reading her mind, Aliss Schwartz turned Greta toward her reflection in one of the stainless steel refrigerators. The infant gasped at her reflection. Great rolls of baby fat clung to her pudgy arms and legs. Her belly was rotund and she had, at least, three chins. Greta was the fattest baby she'd ever seen! With glee, the old woman held the infant over her head and swung her around crying, "wheeeee." Then, just as quickly, she placed the infant back on the counter.

"Time I get you wrapped up. I don't vant you catching cold."

Aliss laid Greta onto her stomach and, without warning, poured a warm, oily liquid over her small back and fanny. With great care, the old woman massaged and kneaded the oil all over the baby's back and legs before flipping her over and doing the same to her front. Greta was even more surprised when Aliss applied the same mixture to her head and face.

The baby noticed Aliss had another swatch of cloth. She assumed the Witch meant to swaddle her again. She didn't like it, but she was much too small to protest.

Aliss grasped the infant's tiny feet in one hand and began to wrap her tightly. The Witch had her wrapped up to her knees so tightly that the blood was being cut off. Greta whimpered but the old woman ignored her.

"I tell you. I am a very smart Witch. In the old days, a child or two goes missing and everyone blames the wolves. Now, they put children's pictures on milk boxes. Too dangerous. Too many people looking for missing children. Too many questions. So, being old and smart Witch, I think police always look for children, but hardly never bother about grown people."

This was no swaddling; Greta was wrapped as tight as a mummy. Her arms were pinned to her side. The cloth felt funny, too. Not soft like before, but coarse and oddly woven. She finally recognized it as cheesecloth. When she finished wrapping the baby, the Witch laid her to the side and took several lengths of string and tied Greta at the

ankles, knees, waist and shoulders.

"So I think - no more children only grown folks. But grown people not the same. Whole different dish. So . . . I think, Aliss, if I can't have real children, why not make some, ja?"

The Witch carried Greta to the counter where she had been working earlier. She could hear Aliss banging a few trays together, but she had no idea what the Witch had planned. Without warning, Aliss snatched her up again and pushed a round ball that tasted of cloves into her tiny mouth. Before the infant could spit it out, the Witch pulled a gauzy strip of cheesecloth down over her face. Then she laid Greta down on something soft and pliant. Within a moment, she could feel the Witch dropping handfuls of something all over and around her. It was diced potatoes, carrots, onions and peas mixed together.

"So I set myself up here in America and let people come to me. Just like I did in the old days. But instead of luring little boys and girls with candy. I lure bad men and women to rob me. I catch them and I make them into little piggies, or chickens, or goats, and sometimes, I make them into little children. It works just as well. And no one ever seems to miss these bad people. Is good idea, ja?"

The Witch looked down and smiled at the tiny figure wiggling like a little white worm among the vegetables. She sprinkled a liberal dose of salt and pepper over Greta before ladling in a mixture of warm cream and chicken stock that covered the baby up to her nose. Greta's last glimpse of the world was the sight of Aliss Schwartz putting the top layer of piecrust over the pan. A few minutes later, she could feel herself being lifted and carried. She heard a familiar sound - an oven door opening - and felt herself being slid forward. Then she heard the door close. She sloshed around a little in the pan. Greta knew now what had happened to Ansel. Her last thoughts were how hot it had already gotten in her tiny prison.

It would get a lot hotter.

A Matter of Taste copyright 2001 by Mark van Sciver.

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