The Crimson Child and The Ebony Beast
All animals take great pride in the fur on their backs. Grooming silky pelts with rough pink tongues, taking scratching out and smoothing out stripes and spots and scars, flattening tufts of hair, fluffing up tails. Sleek coats, wavy coats, curly coats, coats in every shade and colour imaginable; all have their place. Our fur protects us, defines us.
Apparently this is similar for humans.
They are very changeable, your kind. Even the rabbits, who are the most trend changing animals in the wood, only change their fur once a year, from white to brown and back again. Humans are so varied, switching their pelts from one shade to another, seemingly without any thought of camouflage or protection. My current target was proving to be no different in this regard.
I watched the small human cub come stumbling out of her nest, her furless white hands clutching a big wooden basket. Her mother emerged after her, yowling loving human instructions after her pup. The cub screeched back before tackling her mother affectionately, and then scurried off into the trees. Clad in the soft, gleaming crimson pelt she had not removed for weeks, she would be all too simple to follow. A young little cub, an innocent fawn; she had no place in the woods. I stretched luxuriously, claws digging into the soft earth before I trotted off after my quarry.
Paws padded silently over hidden trails of moss and sticks and stone. My black nose sniffed inquisitively at the air, picking up on my needed scent instantly. I was setting my trap today, and it required perfect timing. But I was a hunter, and I had no concerns on the matter. I moved steadily through the trees, rustling through bushes and branches on the edge of the wide trail carved out by the ever-exploring humans. I stuck my head out of the bracken and let my nose tell me the path’s tale; the three delectable deer who had passed by earlier, the homey and instinctively familiar scent of wild dog, the sneaky, sharp aroma of a fox. Wind blew softly through my fur, bringing with it the sickly sweet scent of Men. Breathing in the lighter perfume of man-cub, my tongue lolled out of my mouth at the teasing treat. My little morsel was on its way. Slinking out of the tree line, I plopped my lanky body down on the edge of the path.
Cheery humming heralded her arrival first. Pattering of leather clad hind paws followed soon after. Finally, the main course herself skipped around the corner, her red cape flashing brightly against the viridian leaves. When she saw my black form, she stopped short for a moment. “Good morning, Wolf,” she said warily, yet politely.
“Good morning, little cub,” I yawned, arching my back as I rose to my paws. I sauntered confidently to the centre of the path and sat in front of her. “What lovely red fur you have.”
“My mother made it for me. It’s so pretty, isn’t it?” she smiled happily, swishing her pelt back and forth.
“Where are you off to?” I inquired. Even wolves must follow etiquette.
“I am going to see my grandmother!” she yipped, clutching her basket tightly. “My mother wanted to give her some bread.”
I sniffed, warm steam curling into my nostrils from under the checkered cloth. It smelt like burning wheat, and I supressed a shudder of distaste. “Delightful,” I complimented sarcastically, a tone that was missed by the child. “Where does your grandmother live, little one?”
“In the dell down the East Path,” she revealed cheerfully. I, of course, already knew this information, but an appearance of sophisticated mannerisms needed to be maintained. The crimson child beamed, pleased with the attention. Such an innocent little fool, the crimson girl.
“Let’s make a game out of it, shall we?” I coaxed, my growling voice made soft and soothing by sheer will. “Shall we see which of us can reach your grandmother’s cottage first?”
My little prey nodded excitedly. “Very well, off you go, little cub,” I barked. With a swish of my tail, I vanished into the shadows. Even in the gloom beneath the trees, her scarlet cape glowed like a flame. I growled lowly, twitching my nose. I did not like flames. I kept pace with the unsuspecting fawn for a time before I bounded off into the trees, following the secret trails of the Wolves. For years I lived as a shadowy extension of the forest, moving like a ghost through brush and grasses, instilling terror in the souls of Men and teaching Mankind that they could never truly tame the wild. The paths lived in my mind and on the dappled patterns of my fur; the little girl never stood a chance.
Slowing my pace, I paused on the edge of the clearing, staring at the shining glass panes, the thatched roof, the bottle green door, and the curling wisps of smoke popping with rodent like hesitation from the chimney. Stalking across the crackling twigs and sprigs of pine and greenery, I ran my claws down the wood slats of the door, the wood screeching as the green was marred by slashes of deep brown. A muffled exclamation emanated from inside. Human paws scuffled with almost agonizing slowness across rough wooden floors. “Who’s there?” a weak voice wavered.
“It’s Little Red Riding Hood, your granddaughter!” I squeaked, my voice rasping with the effort of softening my growl.
There was a moment of silence. I waited patiently.
There was a click and a creak. Pricking up my ears, I let out a huff of laughter; she actually had fallen for it, the innocent old granny. The door swung inward on rusty iron hinges, the pins squealing like rats. A colourless face peered out of the crack. White skin, white hair, white, thin pelt. Even her eyes were pale, the irises light and unfocused. “Come in, dearie,” she said, stepping back and pulling the door open.
A growl rumbling triumphantly in my throat, I hunched my shoulders, my jet black and grey streaked fur rising up over my back, turning me from an intimidating wolf into a creature out of a nightmare. I snarled and lunged.
I shall spare you the details of my feast, but rest assured, not a single bit was wasted. I curled on the floor in front of the fire, my belly full and feeling peacefully content. Such an innocent fool, the white woman. The ivory of her pelt did not protect her from the force of my darkness.
It was with a scream of fright that the crimson child announced her presence in the open doorway. Her brown eyes flickered in horror from the open door to the broken furniture to the claw marks and pieces of shredded snow white scattered on the ground. Keening happily, I climbed to my feet and cocked my head at the scared little fawn. Red liquid trickled off my stained muzzle. Snarling, I took a step toward her. Her shriek of fright echoed hauntingly through the trees as she turned to run. I let her go, yearning for a chase. Once I had given her an adequate head start, I bounded into the forest after her, muscles burning with the thrill of a hunt. She was foolish, to take the trails, and even more foolish to keep on her scarlet fur. I caught up to her soon enough. Howling, I pounced and snagged my bloody teeth on the fabric, tearing through the pelt. Tripping, the little girl skidded across the forest floor. I crouched once more, and leapt into the air.
A bang shook the air, and I was thrown off my path. I bounced off the ground, fire racing red hot through my leg, whining angrily. A man stood in the trees, one of those inconvenient human fire sticks held aloft in his hands, pointed at me. I snarled and glared at the girl, who was struggling away. I lunged at her again, and sun-bright pain exploded in my chest. Howling, I rolled to the side and began to lope clumsily away. Another noise, and another, and another, each accompanied by flares of agony, until I was whimpering and lying like a scolded cub under the thick brown trunk of a tree. Heavy footsteps approached. Out of the corner of one golden eye I saw the man walking nearer, raising a shining axe in the air. Then there was nothing
My head must be mounted on the wall by now, my black fur torn neatly from my carcass and transformed into a human camouflage, warning off other predators when in the woods. Or they have made my head into part of the cloak, a hood of sorts. And it will look terrible, because humans have no fashion sense. What made me a wolf stripped away, leaving nothing but raw meat and bone, and that too will be devoured.
Now then, you have been sitting quietly for ever so long. Who was the bigger fool, hmm? The crimson child’s mother, for creating such a ridiculous ensemble for her pup to wear in the woods? The girl, for believing crimson fur would protect her from the world? Or is it I, for assuming that sharp claws and a midnight pelt made me an invincible force of darkness? What say you, little cubs? You too must shed your furs soon enough, and take up mantles of your own; will you ever learn that even the choicest camouflage cannot hide you from fate?