Short story: RED

Short story: RED

by Alex Thurley-Ratcliff.

The fairyland of movies is sterile…. but completely safe, sweet, pretty and non-threatening. It is therefore highly appealing for those who fear reality… The real world is not safe, not predictable. But it is infinitely more rewarding, satisfying and thrilling. It is authentic and scary and where we find the truth.


Everyone knows this tale, of the forest and the family, the wild and the wolfish, the lost girl and the ending that satisfies us all, that keeps us quiet and safe and innocent.

After the first attack, the woodcutter, to no-one’s surprise, comes to live with Grandma in the hut in the forest and they get along well, for them everything is honey cakes and sweet wine, birdsong and beauty. They fit well together – he to his wooden work and her to care for him.

Little Red Riding Hood still visits for a few years but there is something missing. Her Grandmother no longer tells her of the power of herbs and mushrooms which she once gathered, of hidden wells and weird ways, the minor deities and the starry magics, for the woodcutter is a deeply religious man, and superstitious to boot, so Little Red’s visits grow less frequent as her Grandmother seems caught up only in the woodcutter’s rough but steady love. To be honest, Little Red Riding Hood is jealous and angry and lonely.

One day, she spies a wooden cross nailed to the wall where a freshly-woven garland of green corn would herald spring… another visit and the sprigs of winter evergreen have been replaced by an austere icon of a thin face of cold holiness. She feels important things are slipping out of her grasp…

She had always trusted her Grandma, and now she is growing older, she wants to ask what will become of her as she grows into a young girl. Her mother-who-is-not-her-mother cares not to talk of such things and had always left Little Red to her own lonely paths… paths which had led through the forest to the wisdom of a powerful and wise woman, humorously appeased by the offerings of baked goods. But Little Red is outgrowing her hooded cape, her childish thoughts and fears, and anyway, whenever she visits the woodcutter always contrives to be there and so her mouth fumbles the words she wants to ask. She can tell he does not approve – her cape is too red, her lips are too full, her strong brown feet too bare, too naked. She is too much and too present, too much there for him to approve in any way – his absent god is the very opposite – for the woodcutter and Little Red to be compatible in any way.

A few more years pass, and one day, the now 16-year-old maid who used to be called Little Red Riding Hood, but is now just ‘Red’, is walking through the forest of a late autumn evening to see her Grandmother, carrying the required basket of currant buns, a ritual of the dying year, for she still aches for the happy love they once shared.

As she walks she thinks back to that day of terror of years past – of the fur and fang and fury, of a wide red maw and of being rescued from a monstrous wolf’s belly, of the wet blood and the mangy stench and she shudders with an indescribable feeling as she imagines she hears a wolf howling in the distance.

But is it her imagination?

She hears a soft pad, pad, pad behind her and turns. Nothing is there but she quickens her pace.

In her heart she knows that she is imagining too much; hormones or the bread she ate was mouldy, she suspects. Her head reassures her but her heart knows, knows better.

As she turns onto the last wide stretch of the Lord’s Chase, the forest run created for… hunting, the few hundred yards before she will reach the safety of the hut in the glade in the forest in the night, she feels a faintest breath on her neck which startles her as much as it, unexpectedly, attracts and entices her. Frozen to the spot, she feels warm and safe for no reason she can explain. She feels a wild and vast presence.

Now she dare not turn around, and drops her eyes in anticipation, where, in looking down, she is not at all surprised to see her bare feet have begun to sprout rough grey fur… She realises she knew this all along, this hidden hope and longing. That was why she strayed off the path all those years ago, that was why she didn’t listen to her mother-who-was-not-her-mother, her mother-who-cared-not… It is why she has felt so very lost and undecided about her own path into adulthood now.

She bends down to examine her feet and ends up on all fours, as across her back and round her belly, grey white silver black fur stretches and springs out from between her now useless human clothes and she sees the red cape slide from her shoulders into the damp grass.

A last girlish thought makes her shake her head, and she spots her own ear tip and her soft muzzle as she turns.

Now she can look up – and there standing in front of her is an old acquaintance.

“You,” she huffs in wolfish tones. “I’m ready now.” And he rips her ragged garments away. 

And together they run along the wide grassy path towards the old hut in the middle of the forest, tongues lolling and eyes blazing with hunger…

It is time to resume the story where they left off.

© Alex Thurley-Ratcliff 2022


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