Being a wizard's apprentice was not as glamorous a vocation as Hansel had envisioned when is poor, dirt-farming mother and father had tried to convince him it was when they had sold him to the old sorcerer, though it did have its moments.
For the most part, Hansel ran errands for the gruff conjurer: making the long trek into the village through the haunted woods; fending off the vengeful spirits that dwelt within with the heavy iron pipe the wizard had given him for when one of the shaky warding spells gave out.
Once he had finally made it through the treacherous woods, he had learned to ignore the villagers' shouts for him to go back to his 'Devil-master', though not so with being pelted by the rotten fruits and vegetables they threw at him.
Gathering the different items needed for the specific spells was always interesting since most were toxic to the skin or eyes, and so would leave him with terrible rashes to which the wizard would apply some stinking salve concoction that usually stung worse that the skin abrasion.
Then there was the endless chores the wizard would have him do: sledging out the remnants of the unused potions from the huge cauldron in back behind their modest shack of a house; fixing the countless repairs on the shack's leaky roof, walls, and floor; taking the sorcerer's pet demon out for its daily exercises always proved a challenge for its tiny but powerful wings could lift them both fairly high up before the gave out, sending them plummeting down to the muddy ground in a heap of gnashing teeth and claws.
However, the worse part of the apprentice life was the days he spent in the shape of some horrid creature or other when the wizard's spell experiments went wrong.
Hansel had been a rat, a bat, a toad, a fruit fly, and most retched of all, a cockroach; scurrying out of the light and having to hide with the teeming masses of other roaches that infested the seedier recesses of the latrine.
Thankfully, he would always return to his regular form, with the wizard chastising him for not being around for days as if he was shirking his duties.
And yet, all the trials and tribulations were worth it when, late at night, as the old wizard lay snoring in his bed, Hansel was able to practice spells on his own in the dark of his corner bed of straw.
It would always begin with a tiny spark of light, barely bright enough to see, and then, as he concentrated, the spark would grow bright and brighter into a glowing ball of light in his hand.
Letting the light tumble through his fingers he had learnedto deftly move the glowing ball from one hand to the other, like a jester's juggling. His eyes shimmered with the delight of being able to conjure the ball of energy out of thin air, though the wizard had said something about the energy actually coming from some 'nether dimension' or something in one of his droning speeches on the proper use of magic.
But what the old fool did not know could not hurt him, thought Hansel as he marvelled at the glowing light bouncing to and fro in his hands.
So enthralled at his own magical prowess was he, that on this night, the second spark of light coming into existencebehind him went unnoticed.
It too grew into a glowing ball of radiant light, yet it kept on growing rapidly until it was a sphere half of the size of Hansel that then started to flicker from within.
Hansel noticed his shadow dancing in front of him on the freshly swept floor and turned to see the orb of light hanging in the air behind him. His concentration lost, the small ball of light was sucked from his hand into the bigger sphere with a hissing sound.
Peering into the light, which was somehow not harsh on his eyes, Hansel saw the flickering and leaned in closer to examine the shifting darkness that began to crackle through the ball's core.
Moving closer still, he saw the cracks in the light were actually letting out shafts of darkness as if there was something behind the shell of light; something void of light.
Suddenly, the cracks broke open and monstrous claws reached out from the darkness within and grabbed hold of Hansel's face and before he could utter a scream, pulled him wholly through the gap. The gap being slightly too small for his shape, caused his flesh to be ripped off as he was dragged through.
Once his bloody feet had disappeared through the dimensional opening, the glowing light collapsed in on itself and blinked out of existence, leaving only the pulpy mess of Hansel's hair, clothes, and skin on the straw covering the floor that had been his bed.
Awaking in the morning to find the mass of gore that was once his bumbling apprentice, the wizard grunted to himself and went to get the shovel to casually clean up. That had been his fifth apprentice in as many years; the fools never listened to his teachings.
Oh well, he thought as he hummed a happy little tune while scooping up the muck, he only had cost two bricks of manure and a hen, which had happened to be his last apprentice anyway.