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Short Story - Red


One of my creative resolutions this year was to get more of my writing out in front of people, so here's the latest!

This one was an exercise in reworking an established story. It was part of a writing challenge in one of my writing groups. The idea being to take a very well known story (in this case Riding Riding Hood (or Red Riding Cap in it's original form) from the Brothers Grimm. I wanted to try and create a different world from a story we all think we know so well ...




RED

Morning

The dawn’s breath was one with the mist. The first rays of the morning sun were lost, or diluted as they tried to bathe the forest in their soft glow.

The two young women left their vehicle at the edge of the woods. The fumes and heat from the steam engine disappearing into the mist. The rest of the journey would be completed on foot, as it had always been.

The dawn sky was awash with red, any other color would be a trespass on this day of truce.

The Red walked in front, her eponymous cloak falling to her ankles, hiding her slender frame. She reached back, tying her platinum blonde hair into a ponytail, before pulling her hood up over her head. Now only the mere hint of her pale skin was visible, framing her emerald eyes. She paused at the edge of the path.

The Huntswoman stood a full head taller. Her cloak, by contrast, crafted to blend in with the hues and patterns of the forest. Her darker features marked her as a Child of the Woods. The ceremonial knife hung sheathed by her side. She was still adjusting to its weight. It was far lighter than her trusty short sword. The blade that usually hung by her side, the one her mother had forged, had been left in the village as tradition dictated.

The jeweled ceremonial dagger was, for sure, still lethal in her hands, but it required she carry herself differently.

"It is time," she spoke quietly, yet firmly, gesturing towards the path before them.

The Red nodded, and they set off past the first of the tall grey oaks that marked the perimeter of the forest.

The narrow path forced them into single file, the Huntswoman leading the way in silence. She was aware that she could not look the Red in the eye. The morning's light already fighting harder and harder to penetrate the thick forest within the first hundred feet, so thick the trees grew. It was still cold. The heat that would stalk the sky later in the day still giving way to the last remnants of the night.

No number of previous hunts had removed the claustrophobia that nibbled at the fringe's of the Huntswoman's senses in this part of the forest. It made her uneasy. She had to be strong.

She waited for words that never came. They navigated the short creek, the first of the old pyres, and the twisting path around the ancient way-stone in a silence that clung to the cold air. The Red just stared forward. She didn’t even seem to need to look down to watch her footing. The forest granting her passage. Not a word spoken.

The first clearing was, at best estimates, for time was a suspicious concept in the forest, an hour or so into the forest. The pair slowly entering the glade known by all for it's white blossoms. The Huntswoman knew them as 'Virgin's tears', the Red as 'Bells of Snow', or by the telling of the older folk as 'Buds of Innocence'. The flora and the light, diffusely creeping through now, served to heighten the power of the dawn as they stepped out from the shadows.

The sight of the Great White Wolf, standing the full height of two men tall, greeted them from the center of the glade.

Expected, but none the less imposing for it.

A pair of his kin flanked the ancient beast, the smaller predators tracking the two women's approach. The Huntswoman was aware that yet more of the pack paced the edge of the clearing. Shadows stalking the periphery of her vision. They dare not enter, she knew that, yet her instincts curled her fingers that little bit tighter around the hilt of the dagger.

The Red walked right up to the mighty beast.

The Red drew breath, looked up at the wolf and spoke clearly, 'What big ears you have Forest Mother!'

'All the better to hear you with, my child,' the Great Wolf growled.

'But, Forest Mother, what big eyes you have!' The Red replied.

'All the better to see you with, my dear.'

'Oh! but, Forest Mother, what a terrible big mouth you have!'

'All the better to eat you with!' The wolf growled, but it did not move.

The Red bowed, and took a step backwards.

With that one of the two smaller wolves moved over to the Huntswoman and lay on it's side. It's belly facing her.

The Huntswoman took the dagger and carefully sliced open the beasts gut as she had been trained. If the beast felt any pain it did not show signs of it.

The Red bent down, kissed the beast almost reverently between it's eyes, and then thrust her hand into the now open gut. She felt around for a moment before withdrawing her hand slowly.

The Huntswoman did not see the Red clean her hand, but she must have done, for no blood, or other bodily fluid marred her skin as she got back to her feet.

The Great White Wolf nodded. The other wolf padded over and picked up the carcass of it's now dead brother by the neck. Holding it between her teeth as she would a rodent or some other smaller prey. The two beasts slipped off into the forest then, almost without so much as a foot fall, and the two women were again alone.

The huntswoman sheathed the dagger, the blood still drying on it's blade, for tradition dictated she could not clean it. They stepped backwards and turned back into the Forest.

Afternoon

The second clearing was several hours travel. Still no words were passed between them. Strangely the Huntswoman also felt that few words crossed her own mind. Her eyes watchful of the forest, even on this day of truce, but her mind seemingly scanning only blank pages.

They reached their destination sometime past the midday sun. The greens of the forest and the colors of the fauna bright and alive in the full light of the sun.

The Great Brown Wolf awaited them there. Again a pair of wolves from it's pack flanking the great beast.

Again the ritual was repeated.

The Red walked right up to the mighty beast, this time beginning without hesitation, 'What big ears you have Forest Mother!'

'All the better to hear you with, my child,' the Great Wolf growled.

'But, Forest Mother, what big eyes you have!' The Red replied.

'All the better to see you with, my dear.'

'Oh! but, Forest Mother, what a terrible big mouth you have!'

'All the better to eat you with!' The wolf growled, but it did not move.

The Red bowed, again taking a step backwards, the Huntswoman aware of being watched intently as she sliced the belly of the brown wolf that presented itself as sacrifice. Again the Red imparted a soft kiss, and again her hands remained clean after feeling around inside the guts of the beast.

Again the beasts returned to the forest without a sound.

Evening

The third clearing came into sight as the light of the sun started to draw itself out into reds, purples and the deep blues of the twilight. It lay at the base of a steep hill. The huntswoman walked in front, providing balance that the Red perhaps did not need, for she seemed as sure footed as one of the forest might be.

The Great Grey Wolf had dominion over the twilight, and awaited them there in the glade of silver birch.

Again the ritual flowed with the now familiar rhythm. It was almost mechanical.

'What big ears you have Forest Mother!' The Red began again.

'All the better to hear you with, my child,' the Great Wolf growled.

'But, Forest Mother, what big eyes you have!' The Red replied.

'All the better to see you with, my dear.'

'Oh! but, Forest Mother, what a terrible big mouth you have!'

'All the better to eat you with!' The wolf growled, but it did not move.

The Red once again bowed and stepped backwards.

The Huntswoman once again parted the skin of the sacrificial wolf, and again the Red's hand was not bloodied by the ritual.

Night

The Forest was all the more imposing in the absence of the sun. The Huntswoman knew that the last of the forest lords, the Great Black Wolf, was the most reluctant of their hosts. The most skeptical of the traditions.

The path narrowed again as it wound up through the more rocky terrain of this part of the forest. The trees here larger, older, yet fewer and further between.

They cast long shadows, deeper shadows, shadows that threatened to not just touch you, but envelop you whole.

Still they walked in silence until they reached the rocky clearing.

The Great Black Wolf seemed more impatient. The Huntswoman aware that this beast's pack were reluctantly observing their ancient obligations. Their blood lust palpable. Their growls sharper, hungrier.

The pace of the ritual seemed tighter, more snapped than growled when the great beast replied.

'All the better to hear you with, my child,' it almost barked to the first question.

'But, Forest Mother, what big eyes you have!'

'All the better to see you with, my dear.'

'Oh! but, Forest Mother, what a terrible big mouth you have!'

'All the better to eat you with!' The Great Wolf snarled.

The Huntswoman gripped the hilt of the dagger that little bit tighter again. Unsure the great beast wasn't inclined to leap forward and just devour them both in that moment. It did not, and again a wolf sacrifice padded forward.

Again the Red remained unbloodied.

Midnight

The final path was wider, allowing them to walk side by side with ease for the first time since they entered the forest. Still, the Huntswoman paced herself a step behind.

She glanced up at the stars, the clouds having parted sufficiently to reveal a large track of the celestial sky. "I can see your constellation, The Red." she remarked. The six stars might have been a little bit brighter in the sky, or maybe that was just in her mind, in that moment.

The Red stopped and looked up slowly.

"Yours as well," she replied, pointing a little further westward, "always at my back … my protector." There was a flash of a soft smile that quickly faded back into her quiet resolve. 

They walked again in silence.

The final clearing was the largest yet, for the three great concentric circles of standing stones pushed the forest back from the center. The stones, it was said, were older than time itself, and marked the passage of the old ones, and told the gift of the forest where to grow. The stories of their youth revealing that all the energies of the Forest Mother were channeled through here.

It was larger than the Huntswoman had imagined. This sacred place. Almost impossibly so. As you weaved between the great granite stones, the runes and glyphs carved upon their surface dancing with the shadows of the moonlight, the circles gave the sense that you were closing in upon an almost claustrophobically tight space. Yet, when she finally stepped through, when her feet found themselves walking that sacred earth, she discovered an expansive theatre of nature and stone.

Those who had come before her claimed that the sensation would repeat itself upon every visit, even when you knew to expect it.

The four great beasts were assembled there, each on a dais of what may have been stone, but could just as easily have been wood. Three short steps lead up to each platform. From east to west sat the Great Wolves in the order that they had encountered them.

Two runes were burnt into the grass before them.

"For the village," The Red whispered, or at least the Huntswoman thought she did, but she also could not see the girl's lips move.

The Hunstwoman took her place on the Red's left and knelt. She unsheathed the dagger, still dark from the blood of four wolves, and placed it reverently on the forest floor before her. She incanted the words that she had been taught, and bowed her head.

"Rise," intoned the Red, "for it is time. I have chosen."

The Huntswoman got to her feet. The Ritual done. The ritual born from the same tradition that dictated she could not allow a tear to escape her there. The first time was always the hardest. She had been warned.

The Red stepped forward from her rune, and reaching to her neck, released the platinum clasp that secured her cloak.

The moonlight cast her pale skin, for she was now as naked as the day the Forest Mother delivered her, in a diffuse glow. Cleansing her of all but her link to the Forest. In that moment she appeared as perfection might in the mind's eye of a young lover.

"I have chosen the dawn," she stated, loudly and firmly, a new timbre to her voice. She stepped forward and walked towards the dais of the Great White Wolf.

There were howls from the forest. Pained, agonizing, howls. A sudden cacophony lamenting something lost.

The huntswoman fought the instinct to pick up the dagger again. She knew there was no danger here, yet she knew the pain of the beasts was tinged with anger, she could feel it. Three clans now without the blessing, bitter and envious. Until the next time they are chosen.

The Great White wolf nodded and lay down, it's head at the top of the steps.

As the Red ascended those three short steps, the wolf's maw expanded to greet her, until, as she took her final step forward, it swallowed her whole.

With that, the Red, the girl formerly known as Samantha … Sam ... was gone.



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This one was an interesting exercise. Hope you enjoy it, and feel free to comment below. I'd love to know what people think.
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