by Eric Poirier
The girl in the red cape and hood half ran and half jogged as she cut through the veil of winter. A basket hung from her left arm. It wasn’t a blizzard but the snowfall was steady. It was a gray, peaceful and isolating afternoon. The crunching of the girl’s footfalls echoed. The sound of each step lingered before it gave way to the crunch of her next one.
‘I should’ve stayed on the path,’ the girl whispered to herself.
The air was interrupted by an axe hacking at the base of a tree in the distance. It persisted a while then was replaced by the crash of a tree falling to the earth.
It was the woodcutter.
Villagers always disappeared when travelling alone. For years the girl walked to her grandmother’s home with her mother. The woodcutter never bothered them. But today was different. Today, mother was really sick and the girl was desperate.
The woodcutter’s axing fell silent. The girl stopped to listen, looking all around her. Something that felt like a stone fell hard on her shoulder. She spun around. A large, hairy hand weighed down and pulled her close to the bearded giant it was attached to. An axe hung by his side in his other hand. Wood chips clung to his body; stuck in his hat and hanging off his beard. The girl was in awe of the woodcutter’s authoritative presence.
A deep growl startled them. The woodcutter pushed the girl away and raised his axe at the ready. He spun around.
‘Run child,’ the woodcutter yelled.
On command, the girl bolted in a random direction. She thought to run until she became tired. She struggled to take stable steps in the snow, pushing off of the trees for balance. She continued until she was halted by her grandmother’s cabin.
Fire and candle light danced in the windows while smoke rose from the chimney. The girl let her shoulders drop. The basket dangled at her side. She stood there until her breathing slowed. When it did, she ran towards the cabin’s door, pushed it open and slammed it behind her.
‘Grandmother?’ the girl called out.
‘In here darling,’ a soft voice responded.
The girl ran through the sitting area and burst into her grandmother’s bedroom. An enormous wolf was lounging comfortably on the bed. Its mouth was bloody with red clumps stuck at the edges. It stared at her.
Her grandmother was rocking in a chair next to the bed.
‘Grandmother,’ the girl whimpered, ‘what strange company you keep.’
The old lady rose from the chair and walked over to the girl, placing a hand on her cheek.
‘Oh my child,’ the grandmother spoke softly. ‘Why did you come here alone?’
‘Mother is really sick.’
‘Why did you bring your basket?’
‘You always tell me never to come without my basket.’
‘So obedient,’ the grandmother said, still cuddling the girl’s cheek. ‘The woodcutter can longer hurt you.’ She paused for a moment. ‘Well, he never really hurt anyone. It was the wolf.’
The grandmother turned to look behind her at the wolf who was still lounging on the bed watching them.
‘All these years and the villagers still believe it is the lonely woodcutter taking people. The wolf keeps him alive for that purpose. But I’ve always known. I made an arrangement with this beast.’
The girl tried to step back but her grandmother held her in place by her cheek.
‘You will go with the wolf. You belong to him now. He promised to never harm you, your mother or the villagers, in exchange for your companionship to begin today because you ventured into the woods alone.’
The grandmother released the girl’s cheek and left the room. The wolf jumped off the bed and stood in front of her.
‘Will you obey?’ the wolf asked. ‘If not, your mother and grandmother will no longer be safe.’
The girl thought about her unflinching obedience to her loved ones. Before she lost her voice, her mother had pleaded with her not to fetch grandmother alone. And now her family’s life depended on the surrender of her innocence.
‘Yes,’ the young woman replied, ‘for now.’
Copyright Eric Poirier 2013