She noticed something seeping out from beneath the curtain. A red fluid which her brain registered as "blood," but her mind couldn't comprehend. She could hear a strange sound coming from just beyond the curtain, a squelching noise, like a pair of feet stomping in the mud, and the occasional sound of something cracking. Her hand moved toward the curtain as if it was pulled by the strings of a puppeteer, and as she grasped the cloth, her fingers felt numb as she slowly drew the curtain to the side.
Once upon a time, a young woman in a blood-red riding cloak was walking through the woods to her grandmother's house...
The rich colors of autumn painted the trees in delightful dues of pink, orange, red and gold. A faint tinge of emerald clung to some leaves like the last whispers of summer. There was a faint chill in the air, and a thin carpet of wrinkled brown leaves coated the forest floor. The dirt path was damp from the previous night's rain, and the young woman's sheepskin shoes sunk slightly into the path.
An enchanting smile blossomed on the woman's beautiful face, like a blooming flower defying the march of the seasons. Her amber eyes shone like tiny stars as she breathed in the cool air and admired the fall colors. A wicker basket holding bread and wine hung on one arm, and a scarlet hood was pulled over her head, letting only a few strands of raven hair come tumbling out. The cloak she habitually wore gave the woman the nickname "Little Red Riding Hood" when she a girl, and even now that she was a grown woman, the moniker stuck.
I can see why grandmother doesn't want to move out of the woods, the woman thought as she basked in the tranquil atmosphere of the forest.
Little Red's grandfather had been a woodcutter who made his living by the bounty of the forest, and after he passed away, her grandmother refused to leave the house he built for her in the forest, despite frequent badgering from her daughter, who had married a farmer on the outskirts of the forest. Little Red often made the trip into the woods to deliver food- and occasionally wool for sowing- to her grandmother, along with a stern admonition from her mother that an old woman oughtn't be living in the woods as it was far to dangerous; she could freeze to death or be devoured by wolves in the winter without anyone knowing. Little Red habitually neglected to pass along her mother's warning due to her grandmother's firm declarations of "the love of my life built this house, I bore my children in it, raised them here, and one day I'll die here." Despite occaisionally threatening to stop sending food, Little Red's mother always delivered some, or sent Little Red to do it.
As Little Red switched the arm she was carrying the basket on, she heard a friendly voice call out to her.
"G'day miss, what brings you out here?"
Little Red's eyes searched for the source of the voice, and saw a woodcutter walking down a narrow game trail. He wore an old woolen vest and a forester's hat folded into a triangular shape, pulled down low to keep the sun out of his eyes, and carried an axe over his shoulder, which he lowered while giving a wave with his free hand.
Little Red returned the man's smile despite not knowing him; although everyone knew everyone in the village, she rarely got the chance to speak with the people living in the woods. The woodcutter, who seemed to be getting on in the years, reminded her of her grandfather.
I wonder if he built a house for his family, just like grandfather?
"I'm headed to my grandmother's house."
"Oh, there's a good lass. I hope my grandkids care enough to travel through the woods to visit me," he chuckled. "Say, its quite the journey through these woods, are you sure your going to be okay?"
"It's alright, my grandmother's house isn't to far from here, she lives in the forest."
"Huh, is that so."
The woodcutter seemed to ponder something for a moment before speaking.
"Your grandmother, does she live more than five minutes down the road?"
"Um... Yes, why?"
The young woman felt a prickle of unease, but brushed it off.
I usually never meet anyone on the way to grandmother's house, so I guess I'm just not used to it.
Strangers rarely came to the village, so running to a forester was an unusually exciting event for Red Riding Hood's daily life.
A look of sympathy came across the woodcutter's face.
"Unfortunately, last night's rain ruined the path ahead. It's practically a swamp."
Little Red frowned. She took this path every time she went to her grandmother's house, and didn't know any alternative routes.
"If you take this path," the woodcutter pointed with his thumb behind him, "it'll take a bit longer, but it'll get you past the muck."
Little Red beamed in response to the rope tossed down into her pit of despair.
"Haha, it's nothing," the woodcutter said sheepishly as he straightened his hat.
Am I imagining a tinge of red on his cheeks?
"Safe travels," the woodcutter said with a smile as he walked past Little Red.
"Oh, and make sure you get back home before dark, there are beasts prowling around here lately, but you should be fine if you make it out of the woods while the sun's up."
"Thank you, I will!"
The wooodcutter raised his hand in a parting gesture over his shoulder, and Little Red gave a small wave to his back.
"He's right, I better pick up my pace."
The late afternoon sun sent golden rays flittering through the treetops as the young woman in red made her way along a game trail that was just wide enough to walk on comfortably. The ground felt firm underfoot. The trees on either side of the trail were so thick that she could no longer see the road she usually took, but she strode on purposefuly, trusting in the woodcutter's words. She didn't see any of the deer that had made the trail, but she did hear a crow cackling overhead, and caught a glimpse of black feathers in the trees. The detour extended her trip by a few minutes, but she returned to the main path at a point she recognized as five minutes away from her grandmother's house. She strode onto a well-trodden side path at a brisk pace, and before long she came to a small cottage that was more of a log cabin. It didn't look particularly impressive, but the sight of it filled the young woman's heart with warmth. This cottage had deep ties to her family, and occupied a place of great fondness in her heart.
She raised a fist to the sturdy oak door, and her brows drew together when she saw that the door was slightly ajar. She gave it a light push, and it swung open easily, accompanied by a drawn out creak. Little Red stepped into the cottage, her footsteps practically soundless on the hard earthen floor.
"Hello? Grandmother?" she called out.
There was no reply.
The cottage was split into a living area, which had a spinning wheel, a hearth with a cooking pot suspended over a pile of wood, a table and some chairs, and a sleeping area separated by a patchwork cloth curtain, which was drawn shut.
Is she outside? Little Red wondered.
However; in all the trips she had made to grandmother's house, the old woman had always been waiting for her with a smile on her face and a warm embrace.
Little Red walked over to the curtain, a distance that for some reason felt farther than a jouney through the entire forest, and paused. She noticed something seeping out from beneath the curtain. A red fluid which her brain registered as "blood," but her mind couldn't comprehend. She could hear a strange sound coming from just beyond the curtain, a squelching noise, like a pair of feet stomping in the mud, and the occasional sound of something cracking. Her hand moved toward the curtain as if it was pulled by the strings of a puppeteer, and as she grasped the cloth, her fingers felt numb as she slowly drew the curtain to the side.
The sight that greeted her behind the curtain made the blood freeze in her veins.