In the Beginning
I had the great fortune to meet and speak with my great-grandmother. I was young at the time and I would never see her again after that first meeting. But I still remember.
I remember the red velvet couch. It had smelt strongly of peppermint and cigarette smoke, of pine trees after rain.
It was just past dusk when I met her. She was all smiles, and wrinkles, and brown eyes the same color as mine. She had mischief on her lips and a secret in her voice. And when mother had walked down the hall, she leaned in real close and whispered.
"My what big eyes you have!"
At eight years old I had been brought up on manners. And so I had responded with a polite "thank you" and a smile. I realize now what I hadn't then. She had spoken those words like a code. An inside joke I hadn't understood. I'm not sure if I even understand them now.
"Would you like to hear a story?" She whispered next. It felt very much like we were sharing secrets. And I had been such a good secret keeper then. So I had nodded with excitement at the prospect.
"Stories," She had said, "are simply magic put to words. It's purest form."
She had such beautiful white teeth behind her lips painted red, and her grin spoke of truth buried between the words she spoke.
Years later, I would remember this story. I would remember that she spoke of how it had been passed down to her from her great-grandmother. And that she hoped one day, when I was old I, too, would pass it down. How one day I too would lean forward to my great-granddaughter, with mischief on my red painted lips and a secret in my voice. How I would lean forward and begin…
"Once upon a time, a long time ago…
Her coat flared out behind her as she ran. She raced between the trees, flying over downed logs, and dancing around large boulders in her path. She was breathing heavily and despite the fact she was running for her life, she carried a grin nearly as wide as her face. The sounds of dogs, and gunshots, yelling and whistles chased her through the shadows of the dark woods. She paused at the top of a small hill. Breath escaping her in short, fast pants. Quick brown eyes glanced behind her. Checking on her pursuers. When the call came that her hunters caught sight of her red hood, a small nearly breathless giggle bubbled out passed her red lips.
She really was having way too much fun for her current situation.
As the hunters and their dogs came within a few hundred feet of the bottom of her hill, she quickly disappeared down the other side. And the chase began again. The hunters were bearing down on her, and as she skidded to a stop on the far side of a clearing, they thought they had their victory in hand. She spun to face them in a fan of her red cloak and dark brown hair. Her shoulders heaved with her breathing, but she didn't look afraid. If anything she looked amused at their victory.
"Tell us where they are, girl!" One hunter called across the clearing. Anger dark as rain clouds on his face.
Her laughter carried across the clearing to ring mockingly in the hunter's ears. They were getting sick of her laughter.
"Why would I do that?" She replied, "When they're already here?"
The hunting dogs began barking and cowering behind their masters in fear. The shadows behind her started to move. A dark, inky, shadow crept out and wrapped around her silently. It was massive, with a face full of white sharp teeth, blood dark eyes and a snarl they could all feel reverberate. It stood shoulder to shoulder with the girl in red. Snarling at the hunters that threatened her. Half behind her and half beside her, it's presence wrapped around her like smoke, thick and dark and toxic. Wolf. The word whispered and shouted and screamed amongst the hunters. It was said in fear and hatred.
"You think you've WON?" Little Red called again, a lightening crack, piercing and sharp, above the thunder of the wolf's snarl. The black wolfs growl began to echo as more and more eyes glowed amongst the shadows behind her. Like stars in a black sky. Wolves. The pack. They rallied behind the girl in red like worshipers behind their patron goddess. The battle lines were drawn.
It was the girl who runs with wolves, against the fear of mankind.
A flash of white teeth against her red lips was the only warning they got. One hand placed heavily on the shoulder of the wolf beside her. Fingers tangled in ink dark fur. Two fingers of her other hand came up to rest on her bottom lip. The edges curled up as she lowered her face until she was looking at them from under dark full lashes.
A whistle, low and haunting, danced across the clearing.
And then fog came creeping in. Thick and heavy, it grasped at their clothing like a small child's hands. It filled the clearing quickly until all they could see was white-gray and they felt choked in their blindness. Muffled shouts and cries could barely be heard over the deafening silence of the fog.
A sharp breath was taken in between teeth.
The fog slowly crept out of the clearing, like an ocean tide receding. When the hunters could see again they focused quickly, weapons in hand, towards the other side of the clearing.
The wolves and the girl they had named Little Red Riding Hood, were gone.
As if they had never been there at all.
Later. Some would call her witch; some would name her enchantress. And even more would claim that the girl was simply a young child lost in the woods. Lured away by a beast. But one detail was most known. It was a universal kind of knowledge, fact, even.
She always wore red.