Seoti used to work as an editorial assistant in a reputed publishing house in Kolkata; currently at the same time as enjoying her married self, she is preparing herself for PhD entrance while pursuing her second Master’s degree, in English. Writing short stories, poems and essays on various topics is her artistic pursuit; blogging is her way of making herself heard. She started writing when she was twenty-five and since then, she has adhered to it seriously. She finds that writing helps her reach out and connect to people; she thinks of writing as her purpose in life. An avid reader of horror, fantasy and detective/thriller fiction, she has just started working on her first novel and finds it a mixed experience.
Not very long ago, there lived a girl called Red, with her brother, Chad, and her mother, in a small house in a very small town situated near a dense forest. Notwithstanding the fact that her father had gone missing when she was still a baby and, therefore, she hardly remembered anything about him except what he had looked like, she was a happy girl who loved to spend her days helping others.
To all those who knew her, it was no great mystery why she had such a strange name – for she had a head of bright auburn hair that really looked quite red. In fact, the winter she was born, her father had given her a bright red poncho, which she had preserved safely as the only gift she had ever had from her father, who had gone missing shortly thereafter.
One winter morning, Red’s mother called her into the kitchen and handing her a basket, which contained some fresh fruits, a jar of home-made cookies and some bread, asked her to go and visit her ailing grandmother who lived alone in a small house in another small town situated on the other side of the forest.
“Start early, keep to the main road and come back while there’s still daylight,” her mother cautioned her. For popular belief had it that the forest was the home of the Big Bad Wolf, who prowled the length and breadth of it by day and by night, carrying people away in his ever-hungry jaws to their death.
So Red put on the red muffler and gloves that her mother had woven for her the previous winter, as well as her red coat and a matching pair of boots, took the basket and getting on her bike, went off, merry as a lark.
As she paddled away through the forest as fast as she could, she couldn’t help gaping in surprise at her surroundings. The snow was frequently cleared away in her town to keep the roads and lanes passable; in contrast, nature was at her wildest and most beautiful here – the trees and the ground were covered in snow, as far as the eye could see. There were perks to there being nobody around to clear away the snow in the forest, she thought to herself, smiling. She got down from her bike, and taking out her cell phone from her coat-pocket, started shooting a video of her surroundings.
She was thus employed when she first heard the sound. It was very faint – that of a twig breaking under some unseen weight – and she stood still for a few moments, waiting for it to be repeated and wondering whether her imagination was playing tricks with her. But soon her ears happened to make out the sound of a strange, heavy breathing that seemed to come from all directions at once. So, losing no time, she got on her bike and paddled away for dear life.
Now, it really was the Big Bad Wolf whose breathing Red had heard. He was trying to be discreet while following her through the dense undergrowth, awaiting the proper chance to pounce on her, but his advancing age and ever-expanding body made him grow heavier with time (the magic of the forest was such that every time he killed, he grew physically and so did the forest), making it impossible for him to move with his former stealth. He was so hungry – he hadn’t killed anybody in a long, long time, for nobody ever came this way these days, not since that puny man so many years ago, the one who had tried to kill him – and now his prey had just been warned of his presence and had fled; it made him so angry that he wanted to tear the trees up by their roots, every last one of them. Yet he knew that anger was useless, and so, focused on his cunning instead. Soon he had a plan to lure his prey back to him.
When Red reached her grandmother’s house, quite out of breath, she knocked on the door and finding it open, went inside, expecting to find the old lady resting in her chair by the fireplace; but though she looked up and down the house, she couldn’t find her anywhere. So she went round to the backyard where all the firewood was stored, and it was here that she saw the crooked letters, written in blood on the door, which read, “Granny is waiting in the forest, little girl!” The blood was fresh and drops of it could be seen leading away from the house towards the forest.
Now, in a like situation, any other girl would have tried to save her own life. But Red loved her grandmother too much to lose her to Big Bad Wolf. So she grabbed the sturdiest shovel that she could find and followed the trail of blood to the Wolf’s lair. Here she found him waiting for her – a huge grey hairy presence that seemed to fill the forest. In front of him, clumsily laid across the huge stump of an oak-tree, was her grandmother, dead but still bleeding from her neck where the Wolf had sunk his teeth in while carrying her away.
“Don’t you worry, little girl. She doesn’t feel pain anymore. As for you, don’t grieve, for you are just about to join her,” said the Wolf and, crouching, leapt towards Red. At that very moment, without even pausing to think, Red, who had excellent reflexes, pointed the shovel at the Wolf’s throat and thrust it up at him just as he pounced on her. The impact was such that Red was sent crashing into the undergrowth behind her as the Wolf’s head flew into the air, and moments later, both the head and body of the beast landed squarely at the spot where she had been standing only moments before, with a heavy thud. Then, before her eyes, the head and body of the Wolf transformed into the head and body of a human – her long-lost father in fact – before turning into dust.
It was late in the evening when Red finally returned home, covered in blood and dirt from her adventure and from having buried her grandmother in the forest. Her mother and Chad positively panicked when they saw her until she assured them that she was unhurt and told them of her adventure. They were especially troubled to hear about her father and when at night they went to bed with troubled hearts, Red had a strange dream.
She dreamed that her father was speaking to her, as he lay dying. “What’ve you done, child? You don’t know the magic of the forest. The Big Bad Wolf can never die. He lives on in his killer…” A shiver ran down Red’s spine as she seemed to hear these words in her sleep and soon she woke up with a growing feeling of discomfort. Then, as she switched on the light to grab a glass of water from the table, her eyes caught her reflection in the mirror and she stared at it in horror – her body was covered with a thick coat of grey fur and her face and limbs were slowly changing into those of a wolf, before her own eyes. When she screamed in horror, the sound that came out was very like a howl, and her mother and Chad came bursting in at the door and stood there, staring at her in horror.
Chad soon recovered his senses, however. As he came towards Red, his hands extended, an overpowering hunger seemed to fill her being, so much so that she just wanted to tear these two people apart with her teeth, limb from limb. Yet, with all the self-restraint that she could muster, she forced herself to turn away from them towards the window, and with a wail of dismay, that sounded like a terrified growl, she crashed through the window into the garden below and ran off into the darkness and the fog, in the direction of the forest.
Chad, too, descended through the broken window after her and following closely at her heels, reached the border of the forest, and as Red scampered away deeper into the forest, crashing through the vegetation and trying not to howl in pain as her transformation continued, he cried after her, “Red, don’t be afraid. Nobody will ever know what happened today. We’ll have a story ready for the neighbours by morning. Just take care of yourself. We can get through this together and we will. We’ll find a way. Just remember that we love you and are always here for you.” As his cry faded away into the surrounding darkness, Chad stood there waiting for an answer, but not a growl, nor even the faint sound of a twig breaking under pressure, was heard in response.