“‘Oh! But, grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!’ said Little Red Riding Hood.
“‘All the better to eat you with!’
“And scarcely had the wolf said this, then with one bound he was out of bed and swallowed up Red Riding Hood,” read Margo, putting the book down.
Margo stood up and walked over to her daughter’s bed. “You can read the book yourself. Why do you still insist I read you a bedtime story?”
“I like it when you read to me, Mom. It’s a tradition I miss. The only thing that ever made me want to go to bed was a bedtime story. You don’t do it anymore since I learned to read,” Susan said.
Margo ran her hand through Susan’s hair. “I like reading to you too. You’re growing up so fast, dear. I just thought you had grown out of our bedtime ritual. I dread when you hit puberty and want nothing to do with your mother anymore. Regardless, you’ll always be my baby girl.”
Susan sat up in bed and gave her mother a hug. She couldn’t imagine ever pushing her mother away. “That won’t ever happen, Mommy. Don’t be silly.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Margo said, pinching Susan’s nose.
Margo tucked Susan into bed by sliding her hands along the length of Susan’s body, making the blankets tightly snug around her child.
Susan looked at the book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that her mother held. “Mom, is there a point to Little Red Riding Hood? I know it’s old, but it’s pretty violent for a fairy tale.”
Margo smiled. “These fairy tales are essentially warnings and life lessons. Children weren’t always sheltered from the horrors of reality. Red Riding Hood learned that she shouldn’t trust anyone based on their appearance. Some people in this world look normal, but on the inside, they have sinister thoughts and feelings.”
Susan understood, but could only picture monsters being so mischievous. “Even grandmas?”
“Well, not your grandma, honey. Just keep in mind that if you ever sense anything out of the ordinary about someone, you should be very cautious. You never know when you’ll meet a wolf wearing grandmother’s clothing.”
As Margo grabbed the door knob to leave, she stopped and turned around. “Do you want the door open or closed?”
“You can close it. I know you’re going to be drinking wine and getting loud because Bill’s over.”
Bill, Margo’s boyfriend for the past two months, slipped his head in the doorway. “Sleep tight little one, and have sweet dreams.”
“Thank you, Bill. You have a good night too.”
“Good night, honey,” Margo said, shutting the door as she left.
Susan closed her eyes and imagined herself as Red Riding Hood. Her imagination produced a much different outcome. Red Riding Hood herself was not tricked by the wolf in grandma’s clothing. She did not require a hunter to rescue her. Before the wolf could pounce, she hit the wolf over his head with a log she had picked up outside. Susan considered herself smarter than Red and would not allow herself to be fooled.
Drifting off into dreamland, little, eight-year-old Susan lay in her bed sound asleep. Her bed comforter was adorned with the cartoon princesses that she had cherished since being a toddler. Dolls and toy ponies lay scattered around the room, glowing from the light cast by her nightlight that also illuminated glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Any home containing a young girl would have a similar room. The exception with hers being that darkness lurked outside her bedroom door.
Well into the middle of the night, Susan was having a vivid and pleasant dream. In it, Susan wore a glamorous gown; silky smooth to the touch and sparkling like glitter in the moonlight. A jewel studded crown rested on top of her braided hair that would be the envy of every girl in the kingdom.
Climbing atop her well-groomed pony, she gripped handfuls of its soft and fluffy, white mane. All it took was a gentle tap with her glass slippers to get the pony galloping towards the enchanting castle on a distant hill. She could feel the breeze against her face as the pony raced through the countryside, aromas of the thousands of flowers that were quilted along the hillside wafting into her nostrils. It was like nothing she had experienced before.
Arriving at the castle and riding across the drawbridge, her prince charming was there at the entrance to greet her. He was a young prince, being the same age as herself. He was cute and polite, helping her off her pony by reaching out his hand. Mesmerized by his trusting eyes, she barely noticed that he had an irregularly large mouth.
At that moment, the prince began to grow taller, looming over her. Dark clouds rushed in to fill the sky as his face transformed into that of a wolf. Sharp teeth protruded from his mouth and his claws grew sharp like steel blades.
Back in reality, the door to Susan’s room slowly opened as Bill poked his head inside. He was very careful to silently creep in, his footsteps silenced by the carpet as he slowly closed the door behind himself. The only sound that could be heard within a few feet of the bedroom was the creaking of the door hinges.
Approaching Susan’s bed, he slowly pulled the covers off her, causing her body to shift as the cool air reached her skin. His mouth began to salivate as his hand squeezed the soft flesh of her right calf.
She tried to curl into a ball for warmth, but Bill held her leg tightly. As her eyes slowly opened from the resistance, she became startled upon seeing Bill’s dark silhouette sitting at the foot of her bed. Before she could scream, Bill’s large, strong hand covered her mouth. He then grabbed her throat with his other hand, lightly tightening his grip. She felt her breath become shortened, despite inhaling more rapidly due to fear. She instantly realized the severity of the situation.
Terrified, her eyes stretched wide and began tearing up as a result. She was also in shock because Bill had not given her any reason to be frightened since he began dating her mother. He had taken Susan and her mother to the movies, had been a guest at her imaginary tea party, played board games as a family, and made her mother happier than she had seen in years. She had never been given any reason to be afraid of Bill, until now.
Susan, the innocent child she was, had no idea what was going to happen. She felt scared and defenseless against him. She whimpered beneath his hand, desperately wanting to scream out for her mother.
Bill leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “Don’t make any noise or you will never see your mother again. And if you EVER tell anyone about this, I will kill you both.”
Susan didn’t make a sound, nor did she put up a fight against the Big Bad Wolf like she thought she would.
Susan wiped a puddle of tears from her eyes as she squinted toward the morning sunlight beaming through her bedroom window. Her pillow was wet from the tears that she had cried through most of the night, preventing her from getting any sleep. The whole time she questioned why Bill had touched her the way he did, and she felt disgusted by being forced to touch him.
She didn’t know how to deal with her strong emotions. She was confused about what had happened, knowing only how angry she was at Bill for making her feel this way. She kept thinking about how her mother had told her never to let anyone touch her private parts. She hadn’t explained why, but was very adamant about it.
Susan climbed out of bed and into the shower before her mother could come in to wake her up for school. She took longer than usual, scrubbing her whole body multiple times. She still swore that she could smell Bill’s aftershave. It made her nauseous.
She walked toward the kitchen, constantly looking over her shoulder from paranoia that Bill was creeping up behind her, just as he did into her room the night before. The aroma produced by frying butter and eggs flowed through the hallway and into her nostrils, causing her stomach to growl as if screaming at her to feed it.
Susan carefully peeked around the kitchen corner and felt relieved to see her mom alone in the kitchen, overwhelming her with a feeling of safety. She couldn’t resist showing her appreciation by giving her mother a large hug, hesitating to let go.
“What’s this all about, Susan?”
“I couldn’t sleep last night. I wanted to tell you that—”
Bill entered the kitchen and boisterously interrupted Susan. “Good morning you two beautiful ladies. Breakfast smells delicious. I’m starving.” He sat down at the table and stared at Susan.
“—I had a bad dream.” Susan was afraid that Bill would keep his promise of murder if she told her mother the truth. As much as she wanted to, she felt there was no other choice but to keep his secret.
She took a seat at the table furthest away from Bill while avoiding eye contact with him. Sensing that his eyes were focused on her, she noticed a creepy smirk on his face out of the corner of her eye. Her skin crawled knowing that he was relishing the same moment that had turned her world upside down. Her body quivered while sitting in the same room with him.
“Your eyes are very red, honey. You look sick. Maybe you should stay home today,” her mother said, scooping two fried eggs onto her plate.
“Your mother’s right, Susan. You should stay home today.” Bill reached over to grab Susan’s hand, but she pulled her hand off the table. “I don’t have to work today, so I could stay over and take care of you. It would be fun.”
“I’m fine, Mom. I just didn’t sleep well last night. I can’t miss school today because I have a big test.”
Susan’s mother poured her a glass of orange juice. “Okay, honey. If you’re sure you’re alright.”
Susan inhaled her breakfast within minutes to escape Bill’s presence. Once in her room, she quickly shut the door behind herself. She couldn’t wait to get to school because Bill could not reach her there. Yet, she was still terrified. Terrified of the next time she wouldn’t be able to escape from Bill. Terrified of the next time he would touch her. Terrified that she might not survive any further advances.