What Became of Red Riding Hood

Submitted into Contest #16 in response to: Write a story in which characters are warned not to go into the woods.... view prompt

8 comments

Mystery

Don't go in the woods

The words pounded against her skull as she ran, stumbling over a stray tree root as she went. Ahead of her, drawing closer by the second, the forest's edge loomed. Tree branches waved in the air, beckoning her. Behind her, shouts of the mob chasing her echoed.

Don't go in the woods

Villagers knew the story well: those who entered the wood beyond the east edge of the village never returned. Less suspicious folks believed they had simply found a better settlement somewhere else. The rest believed, quite strongly, in the old tales of witches and werewolves hidden, sequestered in the shadowed wood.

Irritable mothers would threaten to leave their children to the mercy of the woods; diligent grandparents warned groups of wild children to keep their balls and their running games as close to town as they could. They all warned the children again and again: Don't go in the woods.

Sometimes, the woods would echo with the howls of wolves and the screeches of birds. Once in a while, someone would swear they could see swirls of smoke, as if from a chimney, somewhere beyond the treeline.

No one ever came out of the woods. No one ever went into them, either. Not in living memory, at least.

Don't go in the woods

Yet here she was, feet pounding against the dirt and grass, heading towards the trees. She knew, deep down, she wouldn't stop until she'd passed the point the mob would follow: beyond the trees.

Their shouts grew further and further away as she ran, losing a shoe somewhere along the way. The sky had deepened its hues by the time she came to a stop. Collapsing, panting, she drew her shaking appendages into herself and whimpered.

Don't go in the woods

A harsh laugh drew her out of her misery. Twisting around, scrambling to her feet, she sought the source of the sound. Nothing out of the ordinary appeared to her - no wizened old ladies, no rabid wolves. Not even a solitary rabbit.

Yet there it was again. Twirling on the spot, her eyes frantically scanned the area. Was it a witch? An ogre, perhaps?

Don't go in the woods

Heart pounding, blood rushing in her eardrums, she spun in circles. Her eyes darted wildly around. Unable to locate the source of the sound, she gathered her flagging strength and fled deeper into the wood.

Tree branches smacked her face, a few drawing blood. A startled squirrel chattered angrily at her when her foot caught its tail in her wake. Leaves crushed under her feet, crunching into the dirt below. She wished she could flee more quietly.

Don't go in the woods

A small clearing in the wood caught her attention. At the very edge, a cave-like structure protruded from beneath the branches. Desperate and exhausted, she scurried into it, ducking her head as she went.

It never occurred to her the structure may already have an occupant.

Several feet from the entrance, shrouded in shadows, a form huddled over the beginnings (or perhaps the remnants?) of a fire. Hearing her footsteps across the dirt floor, the figure turned towards her.

"What have we here?" The voice was ancient, dry as the leaves her feet had trampled. The figure started towards her. She turned to flee, but found she now lacked the strength to do so.

Don't go in the woods

A withered woman appeared in the dim light provided by the structure's opening. She was dressed in the remnants of what may once have been a dark red cloak and gown. "Don't fear me, girl," she croaked. "You come from the village, don't ye?"

Frozen in fear, she could only nod. The woman gestured with a gnarled hand. "Come, child. Warm yeself at my fire and tell me what has brought ye here."

Don't go in the woods

Heart pounding, stomach filled with lead, she followed the woman to the back of the small space. In moments, the fire came flaring to life. Atop it sat a small cauldron, which soon bubbled quite merrily.

Stew, the old woman said. "Now tell me, child, what has happened to ye that ye have found yeself here at my fire? By the brambles in thy hair and the blood on thy cheeks, I do not think ye came here willingly."

Dumbly, she shook her head. Finding her voice at last, she began her story.

Don't go in the woods

Only daughter of the village miller, she had caught the attention of the mayor's son. Her father had been delighted. He had always hoped she would marry well and not need to go the western village as other girls had done, or north to the kingdom's capital. There, other girls had found work; some had found marriage. She, however, had her own dreams.

She longed to be her own woman, free to do as she pleased. When she spurned the mayor's son, loudly informing him of her dreams, the town branded her a witch.

"I know we are all told not to go in the woods," she finished breathlessly, "but I'd nowhere else to go, ma'am. I didn't mean to intrude on your home."

Don't go in the woods

The old woman laughed, the sound like a nail across a chalkboard. "Do ye know, dear child, why they tell ye not to go in the woods?"

"They say there are wolves and witches here, ma'am," she whispered. Her father had once told her he suspected a settlement in the midst of the wood, but could never find the courage to explore it.

"Wolves, aye. Witches, now that depends upon yer definition of what makes a witch, I suppose." The woman stirred the stew over the open flame with a twig she'd grabbed from the earthen floor. "Most people would consider a woman a witch if she does not fit with their idea of who she should be. If a woman does not want a husband or children, why, she is a witch!"

Don't go in the woods

She spoke with such passion, the girl couldn't help but lean away fearfully. "Are you a witch, ma'am?" she heard herself ask, almost before she'd even registered the question in her mind.

The woman turned towards her again, her dull grey eyes creasing as she laughed again. "Aye, I suppose I've been called that before. I was much like ye, child. Perhaps ye have heard the story of young Red Riding Hood?"

She nodded. It was the closest tale of a girl gone missing in the woods in living memory. Her grandmother's mother had been a girl at the time. A young village girl, known by her dark red cloak and gown, had gone into the woods one day, carrying a basket, and had never returned.

Don't go in the woods

"They say she was eaten by wolves, ma'am. That she had carried a basket to gather herbs for her grandmother and was never seen again." She had heard variations of the tale - that the girl had been seeking her grandmother in the woods, for instance - but this was the one her grandmother had told her.

"Aye, that bit is true, child. But I can promise ye, I was not eaten by wolves."

The girl started. "But - but you can't be her!" she cried. "Even if she'd survived in the woods, she would have died of old age long ago! My great grandmother was a child when she vanished, and she died long before I was born!"

Don't go in the woods

The woman nodded sadly. "I know, child. Tell me, did ye never wonder why the trees never seem to wither at the edge of the wood? Why no creatures left the forest to hunt the village crops? Did ye never wonder why even those from the north know not to come near these woods that end our kingdom?"

She shook her head. "No, I never did. I suppose it is just the way of the world, ma'am."

"No, child. The world would as soon forget this place."

Don't go in the woods

"Ye see, child, once ye enter these woods, ye become a part of them, as cursed as the lands the trees grow from. Ye cannot leave, for if ye do, ye will wither and die. It matters not how long ye have been here. 'Tis what happened to my mother, who tried to follow me in and coax me out."

She gasped. "But why? Why would this be?" She didn't understand.

"Time does not follow the same rules here, my girl. It took me a very long time to realize that. Once I did, it was far too late. Mother found me, told me she'd been searching for a way to locate me in these woods for nigh on five years. For me, it had been only one solitary month."

Mind whirling, she realized what had been a single day and night of running for her may very well have been a week for her father. How could this be? "How do you survive here?" she asked suddenly.

Don't go in the woods

"Now and then, child, a straggler will come through and I'll find myself with provisions for a time. When these lack, I hunt the game in the forest."

"What happens to these stragglers?" She could feel her throat tightening with fear. There was something about the way the woman had said it that frightened her.

Don't go in the woods

"The same thing that would have happened to me, child, if I had not been clever enough to outwit the witch that lived here first."

"What's that, ma'am?" She could feel it in her belly: she didn't want to know the answer.

It was the last thought that crossed her mind before a flash of silver stung her throat.

As the old woman wiped the bloodied blade of her knife across the tattered remains of her dress, she cackled:

"I am why you don't go in the woods."


November 16, 2019 23:34

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8 comments

Megan De Rouin
23:24 Nov 28, 2019

Hi, I have been matched with your story for the new Critique circle and thought I would give it a go. Following is my feedback divided into what I liked and what I thought could use improvement. What I liked: There is a fantastic rhythm that is carried through the story almost like a heartbeat that keeps you on tempo. I liked the way it falls into the fairy tale troupe without bing overdone or boring. It is gripping in its emotion and even though the ending isn’t unexpected it is satisfying. What I thought could be improved: There were ...

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Destinee Jenkins
01:37 Nov 29, 2019

Thanks so much for taking the time to read, review, and offer constructive criticism! I really appreciate it. I had a bit of a hard time with this, as I had written it out...and it was too short to submit :( So, there was a bit of filler just to get it long enough to submit. I hadn't realized I'd used flee so much, though!

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Rima El Boustani
00:48 Nov 28, 2019

Wow! I really really loved this story. There was a lot of movement in the plot and the end was an homage in itself. I would read this story again and again. I love the way you repeated don't go in the woods to create some drama an the way you closed the loop with your final line was chilling. Truly excellent, I will be reading more of your work and shating this story on my facebook!

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Rima El Boustani
01:11 Nov 28, 2019

Sorry, I meant to write *sharing this story on my facebook*

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Destinee Jenkins
13:29 Nov 28, 2019

Thank you so much for your kind comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the story - I had fun writing it! :)

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Rima El Boustani
16:01 Nov 28, 2019

Have you considered turning it into a film? I know that I would watch it!

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Destinee Jenkins
01:38 Nov 29, 2019

I hadn't, no. I'm not even sure how to do such a thing, but would be open to it if someone were interested!

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Rima El Boustani
12:48 Nov 30, 2019

Atm I cant help you with that but if I ever can I will be sure to let you know!

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