Little Red Riding Hood – Dark
I tell you, I love my granddaughter. I would do anything for her.
Last summer, they caught her as she was trying to make her way home unnoticed in the pre-dawn light. Her stealthy departure from the May Day festivities had been noticed, as well as her telling absence overnight.
She was brought before the town council but refused to name her accomplice in sin. Despite their coaxing and threats, she stood silent and defiant for days.
For that, they wanted to brand her, but I could not allow them to mar her perfect face. I used my charms to turn my voice honey-sweet and convinced them to accept my assistance. I would fashion a cape of scarlet wool and weave a spell into its fibers. Once she put it on, she would never be able to take it off. She would be a marked woman for all her days.
Just a few weeks before the trial I remembered weaving an elegant cloak of white when she was chosen as the Queen of May. I slowly unraveled my hope and dreams and marveled at how quickly the soft white threads took in the scarlet dye.
When finished, the cape was a startling red. Unmistakable and damning. The townsmen could feel the strength of the spells and would not touch it lest it catch and mark them for life. They stood in my forest cottage and murmured their sober approval.
But, little did they know I wove other spells into that cape. I could not take away her burden, but I could make it easier to bear.
When she put the cape on, she would forget all that had happened. She would even forget why she wore this cloak of red other than it was very fine, very pretty, and that it had been made by her dear grandmother’s hands.
She would become my beautiful, innocent, sweet granddaughter again, even if she was doomed to always wear her shame around her shoulders for everyone to see.
There was another part to this spell, one that would catch that rogue that sullied, then left my granddaughter to bear the wrath of the minister and townspeople alone. When my sweet girl would don that cape he too would change and bear a mark of his own.
The day finally arrived and all the town gathered for the spectacle.
We stood on the scaffolding in the middle of the town square. The minister and some of the town officials stood behind us as the town crier read the details of the charges and then the punishment for the crime.
When I put the cape around her shoulders, I felt the spells take. The darkness melted from her eyes, like clouds burning away to leave the clear blue sky.
Then, I began to feel weak and my vision grew hazy. I knew a spell like this would require a terrible price, but I loved my girl. I would do anything for her. I gasped and clenched my teeth at the pain, but I stood and looked over the crowd, waiting to see the rest of the spell take. But, all I could see were the jeering faces, mocking children, the heads turned slightly with vicious whispers on their lips.
I must have collapsed, for all I could faintly see were the worried faces of the minister and some of townsmen hovering over me. Then I heard it. An agonized howl from a distant part of town. The rogue must have thought he could hide his shame, but he could not hide from me. I smiled and knew no more.
When I finally awoke, the doctor told me of the illness that ravaged my body for weeks. I would never recover and would remain mostly invalid for the rest of my days. The doctor attributed my decline to the considerable stress I had been under. I knew it was not simple illness that had robbed me of my health, but when my granddaughter came to visit I knew that I would do it all over again.
At first I felt that her mother sent her to me out of shame. The whispers and sly looks from once-friendly neighbors were probably too much for her to bear. Eventually, as her heart softened and time passed, her mother sent my as a blessing and not as a curse; she sent my dear granddaughter to keep me company and to brighten my days.
Some, like the minister, would never forget, but I knew that despite her cape of red, others would also learn to forgive as well. She was so innocent and trusting and sweet, anyone who looked on her could not help but love her again.
It had been a hard winter. When the bitter cold drove the wolves and other predators to desperation, I begged my granddaughter to stay at home until the danger passed. Finally, spring came, bringing the sun and news that my granddaughter would come to visit soon.
It was a wonderful morning, I waited eagerly to catch a glimpse of the red cloak emerging from the forest’s edge, a sight that always buoyed my spirits.
So eager was I, that I failed to watch my own doorstep.
When I saw the shadowy form slink through the door, I knew that it was no ordinary wolf. It was him. Before I could scream, he threw himself upon me. My hands pulled and tore at his thick ash and charcoal fur. But, I knew as my struggles grew weaker, I was too feeble to stop him from smothering me. I gave into darkness, drowning on the scent wilderness.
When I came to, I was somewhere dark. I was still weak as ever, but when I ran my trembling hands over me I was still whole and unmarked. Slightly under-dressed, but whole nonetheless. As I moved, I realized where I was. The wolf had pulled me from my bed and hid me in the wardrobe on the other side of the room. If I could reach my hand high enough, I could tip the latch and free myself from this prison.
“Grandmother! I have come to visit again. Mother has packed a basket of honey cakes and country wine to help you feel better!”
Terror rushed coldly through me as I heard her. I struggled for voice to warn the dear girl, but I still choked on the wolf’s wild scent that lay thick on me. I heard her set the basket down by the door, her light steps crossing the room.
“Grandmother? Are you not feeling well? It is a beautiful day out. See? I have brought you flowers from the forest meadows.” I heard the bed curtains being drawn back and then her soft indrawn breath.
I felt the pull of something frantically trying to unweave my spell and I struggled to bind it tighter, willing my life into the battle.
She had stepped closer to the bed. My hands began to tremble. Run! Run you fool! I screamed to her in my mind. Couldn’t she see the danger?
“What big ears you have.”
“The better to hear you with, my dear.” the fiend replied with a voice like gravel.
Closer. My breath caught as the pain seeped into my bones.
“What big eyes you have.”
“The better to see you with, my dear.” he replied with a sweet whisper that masked his brutish nature.
Closer. I arched my back and clenched my hands. I felt like the magic was trying to draw and quarter me.
“What a big mouth you have!”
The devil answered her with a ravenous growl.
By then I was so overwrought, I could not tell if she fell willingly or not. When he let out a howl, it felt like something had burst in my head. I could see stars in the blackness and a numbness spread through me like quicksilver on glass.
In my deepening stupor I heard a cool voice.
“I’ve found you at last, sinner… I’ve been looking a long time.”
I distantly perceived the sounds of struggle. A gasp. A scream. A strangled growl and cry. Yelling. Tears. Silence.
After a while, I felt a little strength return and at last I was able to tip the latch and tumble into the room. A man stood on the threshold, shadowed by the setting sun that spilled through the doorway. When he entered, I recognized him as the huntsman, once-betrothed to my granddaughter before her ruin.
He rinsed his hands clean of his huntsman’s work in the basin before coming to gently lift me into a chair.
Even at my age, I felt a little thrill at being rescued and treated so delicately. A little glimmer of hope blossomed. Perhaps there was a chance of reconciliation between them.
“I’ve dispatched the devil.” The huntsman said in a low, cool voice. “He’ll bother us no more.”
Walking back to the kitchen, he brought back three cups. While his hands were clean, the turned-back cuffs of his shirt were saturated and crimson as the wine he poured for us.
I looked around the room again. My granddaughter was still perched on my bed, surrounded by crushed and bloody sheets, her once-white smock streaked scarlet as the cape that lay torn and crumpled on the floor. This had not been the clean and indifferent kill of a huntsman. There had been madness and passion in the act.
I looked at the huntsman and then at my granddaughter who stared, ashen-faced at the cup before her.
My excitement at their reunion was extinguished when I saw their eyes.
His eyes wereshadowed and filled with dark emotion and hers were dark and cloudy as they had ever been. I could see no hero and no hero worship between them.
I looked at the cape on the floor and realized that at some point in that encounter earlier today my spells had broken completely. A trace of unease settled in my mind.
Looking down at the cup I held in my hand, I drank deeply.
Silently I wondered at the question I wanted to ask. What did they, or who had they seen when the huntsman caught the devil in my bed?