Walking with the Wolf
The wolf watched the old lady in her garden. Desiring her to come closer that he may sink his teeth into her throat.
She was the witch that had hunted his pack until he alone remained. Now he had hunted her and had found her lair. A cottage in a hollow deep in the dark forest. But how to get close enough to take her without her using her magic against him.
He looked around.
He saw a figure in red coming up the path. He was curious why would anyone come close to the witch.
Staying carefully out of sight he loped through the forest and found a girl walking carefully on the path carrying a basket and a long thin stick she was sweeping the ground in front of her with. He stopped near a large tree and dropped his haunches to the leave covered ground, snapping a twig in the process.
“G-grandma, I-is that you?”
He snarled at himself berating at himself.
The girl’s hooded head swiveled around to where he was.
“I-I know your there. Please say something. Who are you?”
He thought to have a bit of fun with her and answer, humans always ran once they knew a wolf was close.
“I am Runner in Storms.”
The girl stood still, shivering.
“Y-you’re w-who?” asked the girl in a shaking voice.
“You… understand me?”
“Um, yeah, but you sound strange. What are you?”
“Can you not see I am a wolf?” He stood and walked closer to the girl.
She pulled back her hood and he could see the milky whites that were her eyes. There was a exhalation of breathe, “Can you not see that I am blind?” The bitterness in that voice smacked him in the snout.
Then she chuckled ruefully.
“What amuses you?” he asked.
“Everything. Nothing. Here am I trading witty barbs with a wolf in the forest on my way to my own death so that my village may buy another year of peace and prosperity.”
“The witch desires payment for services and her payment is a young man or woman of eighteen each year.”
“What happens to them?”
“What do you think?”
“That is wrong.”
The girl shrugged.
“Is you pack so weak that they cannot protect their own?”
“I know not, but I do know they didn’t want me. I am blind and useless. They may be sacrificing me to the witch, but I am no sacrifice for them.”
“Do not even your parents love you?”
“No…well maybe, a little, but not lately. They knew and they withdrew from me. It doesn’t matter.” She paused, her voice was thick. “They couldn’t even stay with me last night. They left me all alone, when I really wanted someone to be with me. Mother gave me this basket of food for lunch and they gave me hugs before…. They were crying. Their tears have dried on my cheeks.” She sighed. “I wish I could have my thing, I would feel braver with it. Some children stole it and I miss it so, it was comforting.”
“Your…thing?” The wolf asked.
“It didn’t have a name or anything. At best it was a…toy. It was hard and soft, rough and smooth. Father made it for me and it was mine. But it is gone and so is my life. It doesn’t matter anymore, nothing does.”
“But it is right there in your basket.” The wolf said.
The girl went totally still.
“That thing you describe is in your basket.”
She sat heavily on the ground and with shaking hands she rummaged through the basket and pulled out the thing. She moved her hands all over it, she brought it to her face and touched it to her cheeks and lips and she smelled it.
“I think, I understand now. They were gone looking for it, so I would have it. It was in the swamp, and they cleaned it and made it beautiful again.” Tears leaked down her cheeks.
The wolf cocked his head, trying to understand. It looked like a stick with some bark on one side and smooth wood on another wrapped with some old rabbit fur.
“You humans are strange.”
She laughed, a laugh that had actual joy in it. “I am stranger then strange.”
“So what would you do now? Do you still wish to die?”
Her smiled faded. “I never wanted to die. My life may be full of pain but I do not wish to leave just yet., not when I know my parents love me so much.”
“The witch feeds on your pack. She has fed on mine as well, until only I remain. I would feed on her.” He growled.
“The witch should be stopped but what can a blind girl and a lone wolf do against such power.”
The wolf paced back and forth. “I know not. I do know that my fangs in her throat will stop her magic, but I do not know how to get close enough.”
“I will be close enough but I have no fangs.”
The wolf growled in frustration then curled onto the forest floor next to the girl.
Red Riding Hood paused as she could heard the shape of the forest change. She must have reached the hollow of the witch. She took a breathe to prepare herself. What she was prepared to do was far beyond anything she had ever tried. She was very scared, but she was going to try to do this for her family.
She felt the path turn under her switch and followed it. Her steps crunched under the fallen leaves. She walked like she had always done, careful of her balance, but as she heard the shape of the cottage come up before her and the clang of a wooden spoon on an iron pot she deliberately missed her step and fell.
The crunch of leaves reached around the hollow and she knew more of the shape of the place.
“Grandma, Grandma! Please. I’ve fallen. I need help.”
She heard steps and the creak of a door, then footsteps. The was a voice coming from above her as she groped around in the leaves.
“So it’s you. Why am I not surprised they foisted you off as soon as they could.”
Red felt a cold hand on hers. As she rose up into a crowch Red waved with the other and it was caught too.
That gave her all the location information she needed.
Red lowered her head pushed off with all the power of the legs and smashed the top of her head into the witches face.
For the first time Red saw lights but amid the pain she held on tight to the cursing witch.
Red spun and dropped so the two of them were on the ground on their backs. The witch grunted from the impacts.
Then there was a low growl
“No! Don’t! Let Go!”
The witch’s hands pulled but Red held on for all she was worth. There was a scream, a crunch and gurgling sounds. She could smell what was happening, glad for the first time that she could not see.
The hands jerked, then weakened, and finally stopped.
There was a hot breathe on her cheek, then a lick on her cheek.
“It is over. You can let go now.” Said the wolf gently.
It took some time for her to unclench her hands but finally she sat up.
“You are brave, young one.”
“Thank you.” She reached out and she felt the wolf put his head under her hand and she scratched his head.
“It is dark now.” The wolf told her.
“So? It is always dark for me.”
It was quiet for a moment then something dropped into her lap. He had given her back her thing.
“I will guide you home.”
“Thank you, again.”
She stood and they began to walk. With small motions and touches, he guided her. Walking with the wolf Red Riding Hood returned home.