Once there was a little girl whose family had no lamp oil. Every night, when darkness fell, her father kicked the dog when he went outside to pee, and her brother stole the blanket, and the little girl couldn’t get any sleep.
So one day she ventured into the woods. Upon meeting a fox she exclaimed, “Please, kindly fox, give me your lamp oil! For, every night, when darkness falls, I fear that which I cannot see!”
To which the fox replied, “I will share my lamp oil, little girl, but first you must give me a kiss.”
Shutting her eyes, the little girl kissed the fox on the snout. In return he provided her with a cupful of lamp oil.
That night, when he stumbled outside to pee, the little girl’s father didn’t kick the dog. Her brother brother moved closer to the fire and didn't steal the blanket, and finally the little girl could sleep.
But the next day there was no lamp oil left, so the little girl returned to the woods. When she found the fox, she exclaimed, “Please, kindly fox, I need more lamp oil!” To which he replied, “I’ll share my lamp oil with you, little girl, but only for a kiss.” Closing her eyes, she kissed him a second time on the snout. In return, the fox provided her with another cupful of lamp oil.
That night, she was able to sleep. But there was no lamp oil the following morning, and the little girl began to question her allowance of one cupful at a time. Returning to the woods, she said to the fox, “Kindly fox, every evening I come home with one cupful of lamp oil, and every morning there’s no lamp oil left. Can you spare more lamp oil?”
The fox made a face. “Little girl,” he said. “Every day I travel deep into the woods to find the toad, from whom I receive my lamp oil -- and then you come along. It gets dark here, too, little girl. Tonight you will receive no lamp oil. We’ll see how much is enough.”
That night, everything went back to normal and the little girl couldn’t sleep. She knew things couldn’t carry on this way –-- so in the morning she ventured deeper into the woods than she ever had before. There she discovered the toad. “Kindly toad,” she said, “I require many cupfuls of lamp oil.”
To which the toad replied, “If I give you all the lamp oil you need, will you live with me and be my wife?”
The little girl thought it over and said, “Sure.”
That night, when darkness fell, she splashed lamp oil everywhere. Lamp oil on the floor and lamp oil on the walls. Lamp oil on the chairs and lamp oil on the table. Lamp oil on the sides of the house and lamp oil underneath the house. Finally, she threw the remaining lamp oil through her bedroom window -- because, without air, a fire can’t breathe.
Then she struck a match. When she could no longer hear the screams of her father and her brother, the little girl entered the woods to join her husband, the toad.
(This story originally appeared in Underneath the Juniper Tree.)
On the edge of a town, three witches made their camp -- gathering wood and drawing water from a nearby stream. No sooner had the cauldron begun to boil than they were spotted by a young farmer. While the witches prepared their meal, he ran to town to share the news.
When the dairy farmer had reported the size of the cauldron, the mood among the townspeople was grim. They agreed they couldn’t make the witches leave. What they could do, one woman suggested, was offer a bribe. So the townspeople collected eggs, salt, and a goat, and placed everything where the dairy farmer had told them, trusting that the goat’s constant bleating would draw the witches near.
At dusk, the townspeople heard a strange noise. The witches were singing! Their song didn’t have any words, but it sounded familiar nonetheless. People debated whether it meant the witches had accepted their bribe -- but the song was so lovely that everyone fell asleep feeling optimistic.
In the morning a third of the male population was gone (including the young farmer). The witches had lured the men away from their homes, through the woods, to the lip of the cauldron … and that was the last anyone ever saw of them. Somewhere in the distance, the goat brayed inconsolably.
Still, the townspeople couldn’t make the witches leave, so the remaining men barricaded their doors and tied their feet together. They told their wives to stuff cotton in their ears, and swore they wouldn’t be seduced. But, that night, the three witches sang their song, and by dawn of the second day another third of the male population was gone.
What could the surviving third do? They smashed their toes with hammers! They slashed their tendons with knives! And still, on the third morning, there wasn’t a single man left. In groups of four or five, the townswomen toured all the houses, checking under beds and inside closets. Finally, they gathered at a crooked shack that stood far apart from anything else. Inside, they found an old man lying on the floor. He, too, had injured both his legs.
The old man said, “You shan’t have me.”
Lifting him up by his rug, the townswomen carried him to the singing witches. They'd turned their cauldron upside-down to drain and were sitting in its shadow, cradling their bellies and sharpening their teeth.
“You shan’t have me,” growled the old man, when they set him down.
One of the townswomen stepped forward to address the witches. “You said all,” she complained. “You said all, and there’s still one left.”
“YOU SHAN’T HAVE ME!”
A little girl ran up and kicked the old man in the ribs. Whimpering, he buried his face in his hands.
“Make good on your promise,” the spokeswoman demanded. “Or else give us something in return.”
“A refund?” said the first witch.
“You can’t have the goat,” replied the second witch. “We already ate him.”
The third witch craned her neck and belched. “The pail of salt,” she bargained. “Keep however much is left. Your menfolk tasted like dirt.”
So the townswomen accepted the pail of salt and returned to their homes. And the old man wished he could hear the witches’ singing one more time.