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Bound to the Red

By Chris Carroll All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Bound to the Red

You should have stayed on the path. That much is clear. They give us the rules for a reason. They whisper them to us at night as we try to sleep and they remind us of them as we set out on our adventures and they even stake badly painted boards with them to the trees to remind us.

You should have stayed on the path.

I am watching you limp; one hand holding your bare belly, one hand limp against a thigh.

There is blood pouring from your mouth, one of your ears and down your thighs. The red clock is in shreds, barely staying on your bare, dirty and bruised shoulders.

The woods are deep and the woods are dark and there are dangerous things in them these days.

Your mother had warned you. You should have listened.

But you had wandered off the path because you are young and you are stupid: that childish fearlessness that most equate to a magic of some kind.

Now the woods are filling with the scent of your blood. It is getting everywhere. It isn't hard to follow this smell to the source. He's coming for you girl. No one gets away from him. This I know. 

This is why your mother told you to stay on the path.

She gave you her thick cloak, the bright red one, so that I could see you. She called out to me and called down the stars to pay me for looking out for you. She has some power, your mother. 

Diminished now, most of her skills and reserves lost when she lost her hand, her eye and her heart to him.

But she still carries some hints of the power and I, being the cheap addict that I am, did not need her to call down a lot of stars to enlist me.

There had been days and times when the entire world could bend to her words.

I remember her, before she lost her way in the woods.

I remember her, before I could see the color of her cloak.

I remember her as the one I could not save.

And she remembered me; and what I was; and what I am.

So she gave me the stars.

And she gave you the basket and told you to get to your Nan's as fast as you could. She told you to stay on the path and that you had to get there before the sun sunk behind the trees.

It was good advice that.

Nothing survives in the woods at night.

You needed to get to your Nan's and you needed to give her the basket. That old witch was working on something, something important. We all knew it. We could all feel it. The energy of this place was shifting towards her cottage.

The sunlight flared when that old crone laughed.

Stay on the path.

Stay on the path and move fast.

He is out there tonight. He is out there tonight and he is hunting.

She was not wrong.

He is out here tonight.

He is always out here.

He makes me nervous. The woods used to be a quiet place. The woods used to alternate from sunlight to deep darkness. There weren't a lot of people around. The witches on the edges of it kept things in balance; your mother and your grandmother. Even you, in your simple ways, caring for broken birds and breaking apart the trees felled into the creeks that diverted the waters we all needed to live here.

You were a simple girl with simple magic for making friends, and helping them against their enemies.

The woods used to be a quiet place.

The woods used to be a place where a fellow could just lie under a tree and watch the sun track across the sky.

The woods used to be a place of deep, soul filling harmony. The witches on the edges of it kept everything in balance and we could all sleep through the night in peace and wake in the morning refreshed.

Then he came.

Now I am never still.

Now I never sleep.

He moves so quietly amongst the trees. He moves so quietly and he pounces so fast and there is a strength in him that I have never felt before. He growls like thunder and a single blow from him can take one off of their feet.

And his eyes glow yellow, letting him see far better in the dark than anyone should.

I wish there weren't rules.

I wish there weren't rules about my behavior. I wish I could talk to your mother. I wish I could talk to your grandmother. There is something about him. There is something about him that is just so damn unsettling. It is unnatural how he hunts.

It is unnatural how he feeds.

He is always here, always moving.

So now I never sleep.

And now you're running, trailing blood and stink and the life of you along the path as you try to 

get home before he comes back at you. You are trying to remember the words your father told you. 

You are trying to remember the lessons your father told you about the woods, about when to run, when to fight, when to hide, how not to die. You try to pull the power of him up. You run with your eyes half closed and the screen in your head showing you his grave. You run with a hand stretched out and you are chanting something and you are trying to pull him up trying to pull him up trying to pull him up to help you but all you get is a tingling in your fingers and the overwhelming urge to scream.

I see flashes of the cloak.

I smell your blood.

I know, I know.

I am not him. I cannot help you as surely as he could. I am not your father. But I run parallel to the path and I try to remember the things I know about the woods. I try to remember where the hides are. I try to remember where the cubs are. I try to remember where the weapons are stored.

I watch you, bleeding, stumbling, running as hard as you can. There is a smell in the air. There is a smell in the air that is stronger than the smell of blood. It is a smell that makes all the hair on me stand up on edge. It is a smell that heralds angry gods,  or mad fucking witches.

I smell the fire long before I see the smoke.

You don't smell anything. All you are thinking is that you are bleeding, and he's coming, and the cloak isn't enough, and daddy isn't listening and you don't think you're going to quite make it and...

__

It had been hot, and warm.

Humid.

The wet air clung to the ground of the forest and could not escape past the leaves. All the animals lay in the shade and in their holes. No one could really move around much except for the dispossessed, the furious and the hungry; in short, the lovers.

Your parents had been naked laying on the floor of the cabin you would call your home every day of 

your life. Your parents lay on the floor, your mother straddling your father, moving with him in a kind of magical ecstasy. You were at that time sitting in a cabin on the other side of the woods talking to a frog with a bad attitude. No word of a lie. That is the story they keep telling of what happened. You had shown up with a frog in your hand, had sat him on your grandmother's table and scolded him every time you kissed him and he refused to transform into a prince.

I don't blame him. Not really.

You had a lot of attitude packed into that pudgy little frame of yours. If it hadn't been for the golden hair and the blue angel eyes I am fairly certain your Nan would have traded you away to the woman in the candy house. That crone was always looking for cheap, good looking labor.

He could smell them.

And, like lovers, they were too entranced with one another to even notice the shadow circling the cabin.

He came in the door as your father rolled your mother onto her back, pinned her hands down and let his sweat fall in her eyes and his seed fill her sex.

The day was won, but there was a cost.

Your mother hadn't been in possession of the cloak yet and I was not yet bound to the color. I was lazing under a tree, watching the sun slowly track across the sky.

He set upon them as they climaxed and the smell must have driven him crazy. The day was won, but not before your father was a bleeding, savaged heap of meat on the cabin floor (where the rug you often lay on to read now lay...) and your mother was a half blind, gimped and broken woman. She managed to fight it off but not before teeth tore her face and the jaw crushed her hand and the claws tore at every bit of flesh she could not defend.

He came after prey every day.

He was so quiet. He never stopped moving. He hunted and killed and fed but there was no denying one simple fact.

He had tasted your kin. He was bound to your kin.

He became entranced to the scent of you and yours. The scent of you, the touch of you. The power that crackles beneath your skin. Oh Little Red, keep running little girl. Keep running hard.

He's coming for you.

He's not done with you.

Run hard little girl run hard...

__

They knelt beside me one day and lay their hands on me. Your mother, your grandmother. Those that kept balance in the forest.

They knelt beside me one day and whispered words in my ears.

I had been laying there, dreaming, watching the sun track across the sky. Things had been quiet for a few days. The exhaustion had caught up to me. So I lay there, ears perked, but drifting... letting my mind go... to run along the sky beside the sun.

Your grandmother kept whispering words and your mother slowly parted the cloak, revealing the scarred flesh underneath. Your grandmother kept whispering words as her hands worked on me, readying me.

Your mother lowered herself down onto me.

With four hands on me and two separate mouths chanting words in my ears my eyes opened.

And I saw the color red for the very first time.

And as she kissed me she tore my soul from my chest. As she kissed me she tore out all sense of purpose I had. No more lazing under the tree. No more watching the sun track across the sky. She bound me to the color of the cloak. She bound me to the color of the blood she spilled on me. She bound me to the soil under my feet.

They bound me to the forest.

They bound me to the idea of balance.

They gave me a weapon.

And told me I had no purpose left but to protect the girl, and hunt the monster.

And she pulled my soul out of me and I howled like a mad man as your grandmother drove a thumb into my eye tainting it forever with the ability to see the color red.

Crazy fucking witches.

__

I lose sight of the cloak.

The fire, the fire, there is so much RED in a fire. I lose sight of her as she runs into the clearing towards the cabin. She is screaming for her Grandmother and I follow that sound until the roar of the flames drowns even that out. I circle around, frantic, trying to find some sign of her but there is so much red in the fire and the smell of her is lost to the smoke.

I see it moving, a long black shadow, moving through the fire almost immune to it. He hasn't lost the scent of you. A long tongue licks towards you.

I scream something like what I howled that day under the tree and charge at him. He has torn the cloak off of you. You crash through the front door of the cabin dragging your grandmother's body behind you.

It crashes through the door after you.

It almost gets his hands on you. It is as naked as he was the day he fell upon your kin the first time and got himself tainted by the taste of you. It is still engorged and it is still hungry. It had some of you little girl but nowhere near enough.

It had some of the older, riper taste of your Nan but that was nowhere near enough. It wants your mother, the perfect porridge, but it knows it won’t be able to take her until it severs from her all that keeps her in this world.

So you are going to die.

It is going to feed on you.

You scream as he lumbers after you.

Your clothes are torn, and smoldering.

You're covered in blood and soot.

The basket is lost to the fire.

The witch is broken at your feet.

The balance is now broken and almost immediately I can feel things changing, altering around us.

The fire goes dark.

I lose the color red.

The fire is burning black.

Things are changing.

I throw myself at him and knock him back into the flames.

I sink my fangs into his neck.

I am no longer bound to the red.

I am no longer bound to protecting you.

I have found the monster. I take the huntsman by surprise. His rifle sits across the burning room by his smoldering clothes.

I sink my teeth into him and I taste a blood that smells so much stronger than yours.

I revel in it as I claw him to pieces and feel my fur begin to burn.

I have lost the color red and I am beginning to burn.

But so is he.

And I still remember, and cherish, the idea of balance.

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