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Bane of the Wolf

Re-Imagining Red Riding Hood (Short Story).

(Image credit: ItNeverEnds on Pixabay. Edited by author).

I began life in distant times, but my memory is long. I recall the day my parents told me of my birth and how special I was — so different from my siblings — an early developer with a natural, refined survival instinct. They recalled how, soon after my birth, I could balance so well, discovering the ability to move on all fours and explore my surroundings well before the others. They noted how I appeared to possess a well-defined sense of smell and a keener ability to taste my food than my brothers and sisters. I always knew what was wholesome and safe to eat; my mother telling me, with affection, how hard I would suckle on her nipples for the life-nourishing milk they provided.

My father would recall for me the way my infant whining developed into a language they could understand well ahead of all others; how, when distressed or knocked about in rough play fighting, I would not yelp and make a fuss like my siblings. A lover of life, he often howled at such fond memories. As I grew in stature and age, I never forgot those early days in the country when we were all one — packed together in our warm domestic den on the outskirts of the forest.

I grew fast, they said, gaining over two-and-a-half pounds in weight every week for the first fourteen weeks of my life. It was not long before I could remain upright and walk; although a gangly youth at first, like all others, I was sure-footed sooner than most. My development was rapid. My hearing grew acute. The blue eyes of my birth changed to a lustrous yellow-gold hue; my hair grew longer and thicker, and I was lean and muscular like my sisters; no, more like my brothers, the rippling embodiment of power and agility. Rapid development meant I could leave my birthplace and find a home of my choosing, joining the adults when they went in search of food for the community. At first, I was carefree, oblivious to the dangers of the world, disregarding much of the training and advice of my elders, who often rebuked me, urging more caution and concealment. But the merry and untroubled times of our youth soon fade, like the green-hued spectral lights I would sometimes see floating over the local marsh — mist phantoms I would attempt to catch, but without success despite my canny craft.

My elders would tell me stories, as we gathered under the silver starred light of the night sky, of evil things that stalked the nearby forest. Of upright, pale creatures with multicoloured skins who would prowl alone or in packs to lure our kind into traps in their lust to slaughter us, their strange speech alien and garbled to our ears. But the tone of their voices we knew, if not the words; in their cries, we could detect danger; in their presence we could smell and almost taste it; we feared their cunning, wicked craft.

Chief of all evil, said the elders, was the creature with the red skin — a skin with which the fiend would sometimes also cover its head, to aid its disguise. This made no sense, as all could see the creature’s red skin from afar, contrasted in stark relief with the trees and vegetation of the forest. Perhaps it delighted in the challenge of capturing and killing us, even though disadvantaged by its bright skin? I do not know. It was guileful beyond measure. Our elders warned us often that it — and others like it — were to be avoided at all costs, a warning I was most content to heed. However, fate often has plans contrary to our own. My path was to cross with that of the red-skinned creature; here is my tale, such as the pain of memory will allow me…

It was at the start of the turning season, when the trees had begun wearing their gold-leaf raiment and showering the forest floor with their soft gilt gifts. It had been some time since I had visited my Great Mother — the mother of my mother, who lived by a glade deeper into the forest, preferring her own company in her golden years. I knew well the way to her home, although a journey of some toil; it was always a joy, as it was on that day, when I first arrived at the place where my Great Mother lived.

Emerging from beneath the forest canopy, I watched in wonderment the shafts of sunlight breaching the passing clouds and dancing across the glade like playful fire sprites. The air was still and suffused with the lingering scent of late blooming, fragrant meadow flowers. Sounds were muted, as though a mischievous spirit had stolen them all away, save for the drone of passing bees in the last throws of their seasonal labours, and the far-off cry of a woodpecker, its echoes reverberating across time and space. I felt carefree and joyful as I approached my Great Mother’s home — an ancient, lichen adorned cave in a mass of rock that spanned one side of the glade.

As I approached and trod the compacted, leaf-strewn earth of the cave entrance, a pungent waft of warm air greeted me, as though breathed out of the bowels of the earth by some slumbering stone giant. It was the familiar smell of cave confinement I recalled from previous visits, although different somehow. There was a non-discernible, intermingled, and lingering scent with which I was unacquainted, but I paid it little heed. A freshly killed hare lay at the entrance to the cave, staring up at me with one visible opaque eye, the creature’s life force still oozing from a gaping neck wound.

I continued into the depths of the cave, my eyesight adjusting to the encroaching darkness, which seemed more impenetrable than I had ever known it to be, challenging even my exceptional ability to see; and then I discovered the cause. It was strange, I thought, that an opening low down in the cave’s roof that allowed light to penetrate the interior was covered with something I could not make out, accounting for the reduced visibility.

I called to my Great Mother, and she gave a short, guttural reply from within the obsidian darkness, alarming me a little as I suspected she was unwell, her voice seeming so strained and strange. When I approached the place where she slept, I touched her familiar skin. She felt cold, wet, and somewhat stiff — not her usual soft, warm, all-encompassing self. As I nuzzled against her, I could smell blood. Taste blood. Her blood.

I yelped and leapt backwards, dislodging, as I did so, the thing that had been covering the opening in the roof; it fell to the cave floor, allowing light to stream in and illuminate it. I took a deep intake of breath as I recognised the all-too-familiar red skin of the pale creature. There was movement from the place of my Great Mother, who was now increasingly visible as my eyesight strained to adjust. I watched horrified as the pale creature, saturated and dripping with blood, emerged from within her, rending her skin apart down the length of her middle as it did so.

By instinct I lunged forward, sinking my fanged teeth into the creature’s neck before it could launch its attack, causing it to bellow in great anguish at the searing pain. Its arms flailed wildly, and it fought back with vicious force, but I tore at its throat again and, severing its blood vessels, it gurgled its death rattle, its eyes widening as it drew its last breath.

With profound sadness, I buried my Great Mother in the glade as well as I was able and sealed the pale creature in the cave for all time, to rot alongside its red skin.

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