Call me Red. Everybody else does. I'm pretty sure my real name has been forgotten by now; it probably doesn't matter at this point. Ever since the day I received this outfit (charming ensemble, really, red hood and cloak pulled over red shirt, with red skirt, stockings and shoes to match) everybody's just called me Little Red Riding Hood.
I guess you could say the trouble all started the day we learned my Grandmother was sick. Grandma had never seen fit to actually live with the rest of us in civilization; she much preferred to live a solitary life in a small cottage in the middle of the big, dark, scary woods. I'm pretty sure that the first few years after Grandpa died Grandma entertained lumberjacks and woodsmen in her cozy little hidden hideaway, but between you and me there's not a shred of evidence that'd convict the old woman. Just some very peculiar rhymes late at night when the Tavern's about to close up.
Mom had too much to do at home but wanted Grandma to remember she existed (and thus stay in the will) so she sent me along the big, dark, scary forest path to Grandma's house, with a picnic basket full of bread and wine. I can understand the bread, sure, as Grandma must've been so ill she hadn't the time to bake a proper loaf, but the wine really was just nothing but enabling, pure and simple. And there was a wax seal on the bottle, too, so I couldn't sneak off under a tree and have a pleasant afternoon before finishing the journey, either.
So off I went, down the forest path, under the big, dark, scary trees, basket under my arm and riding hood on my head just so somebody would recognize my waylaid corpse after the highwaymen got to me. "Why, that could be anyone's daughter," the townspeople (dumb as bricks, the entire lot of them) would say. "But, wait, here's a riding hood -- it must be Red! Oh woe, woe, gnash, wail, etc." Like I said. Dumb as bricks.
I pretty much knew the way by heart, after spending countless afternoons at Grandma's helping her boil the sheets, but there's still something about big, dark, scary woods that can unnerve a person. Like the trees, and the shadows, and the creeps who lurk in them. Like this one.
Get him. He's a wolf. I mean, seriously. Don't wolves have better things to do than hide behind trees and accost fair little girls on their way to perform a perfunctory familial errand? I guess not. Look at him -- waving his paws all menacing-like, drooling and slavering, eyeing me up with a lavicious leer I haven't seen since they took Reverend Dimmesdale away for whatever reason.
"Well hello little girl," the wolf said, in that high-pitched sing-song voice which they seem to think conveys absolutely no malice whatsoever. "And what have we here today, hmm? A basket of ... goodies? Where, pray tell, are you taking such... delicious morsels?"
It was clear the wolf wasn't talking about the food. Even so, I figured I had to humor the poor bastard. I mean, how the heck could I lie in this situation? "Nowhere, I just wanted to test this basket out to see how it feels swinging under my arm?" Get real. I told the wolf I was going to my grandma's house for to give her goodies and get my mom back on Grandma's good side. The wolf seemed to like that idea a lot.
"Your Grandma, now, where does she live?" he asked, innocently. "So that, uh, I too may pay my respects and provide her with, uh, medicine." I rolled my eyes.
"She's in the cottage." "What cottage?" "The cottage in the middle of the woods." "The cottage in the middle of the woods by the babbling brook?" "Yes, the cottage in the woods by the babbling brook." "The cottage in the woods by the babbling brook where nearby the mountain laurel grows?" "Well, actually, I think it's more of a Sumac, but -- damn, you're good."
The wolf's eyes gleamed a malevolent shade of crimson, and then he tipped his hat to me. "Good day, little girl. It was nice eating -- er, meeting you, heh, heh, heh."
"Oh don't give me that fake Freudian slip crack," I snapped. "If there's anything I hate worse than overbearing predator-types it's overbearing predator-types who think they're just too precious for words when they let slip menacing puns of foreshadowing." That shut him right up.
"I was only trying to set the mood," he whined, and slunk out of sight. No matter. I was pretty sure I'd make it to Grandma's house before he could; even if he knew the short cut, I knew the super-super short cut. And there was no way he could know the super-super-super short cut without having read ahead.
I arrived at Grandma's house in a half hour or so. Smoke was curling out of the chimney in the way that smoke likes to curl, and the glade surrounding the cottage seemed peaceful and quiet enough, but the door was slightly ajar. I cautiously knocked on the doorjamb and that's when the stupid voice started in.
"Hel-l-l-l-lo?" it creaked, full of age and weakness. Now I knew something was up. Grandma had once had a rich baritone voice, tempered with years of whiskey and cigarettes, and sounded nothing like the voice that desperately wanted to belong to the little old lady who keeps Tweety Bird in a cage.
"It's me, Grandma," I said politely, pushing the door in and entering the cottage. Oh, gawd. That stupid wolf had dressed up in Grandma's nightgown and was lying in bed, spectacles on his snout and nightcap perched innocently on his head.
"You have got to be kidding me," I said.
"What was that, dearie? I am old and feeble and hard of hearing."
"I'VE COME TO BRING YOU SOME BREAD AND WINE, GRANDMA," I yelled, slowly stepping around the perimeter of the room. The closet door was open, there seemed to be nothing under the bed. I wondered what happened to Grandma.
"Come closer so I can see you, as again I am old and feeble and my eyes, they don't work so good."
I sighed. There was no use pussyfooting around. I was gonna have to do this, wasn't I? I was going to have lower myself to his level and play his stupid little game. Oh well. Anything for a laugh, really.
"My, grandma," I remarked, taking hold of his paw (God damn! Did he really think I was this stupid not to notice all the fur?!) "What big hands you have."
"Well," the wolf demurred, "You know what they say about people with large hands..."
I swear to god if he finished that sentence I would've thrown something at him.
"And, er, not to change the subject, but what big eyes you have!"
"Oh, they're all the better to, uh, see you with, my dear."
"And those ears! What big ears you have!"
"All the better to... hear you with, my dear."
"And your belly! What, did you get knocked up or something? I mean, seriously, it looks you swallowed a pumpkin."
"Hello?" the wolf said. "It's called retaining water. Get used to it in your old age. If you live to see it, that is." And then he laughed, and I laughed, and we shared a king-sized awkward moment.
"Teeth," he finally said, after the awkward silence had played itself out.
"Teeth. Mention my teeth."
"Oh, yeah. Big teeth there, Grandma. Real big."
"Ah ha," he roared, leaping out of bed, "All the more better to eat you with, my dear!" Then I smashed him over the head with the wine bottle.
"Could you have telegraphed that any more?" I shrieked, as he shook himself out of the daze. "There are kids in India, you know, who've never heard this story -- they don't even know what a wolf is -- and they still knew where you were going with this!"
The wolf snarled and gave chase, at least, as best a chase as can be had inside a tiny cottage. Have you tried it? There's really not much you can do other than run in circles, overturning the same chairs and tables and whatnot. My advantage was that I was young and cute and lithsome, while the Wolf was big and bulgy and running for two, as it were.
I figured I was going to have to do something to drop him, and something soon, but he batted every ladle I brandished, bit off the broom handle I wielded, and kept me from getting to the cleaning closet where the good stuff was kept.
Finally, after losing all available weaponry save carving little tiny ninja stars out of the wicker of the basket, I realized I was going to have to rush him bare-handed and apply the techniques of Jeet-Kun-Jo, as taught by the village martial arts master, and as I planted my feet down in the WIndswept Crane position and angled myself to counter his charge, the door of the cottage flew open again, revealing a strapping young woodsman with his shirt open all the way and his trousers half-buttoned.
"Edna!" he bellowed lustily. "It's Thursday and you know what that means! Ready the sponges!"
The wolf and I looked at each other. "Oh, gross," we said in unison. The woodsman finally took stock of his surroundings (such a clever lad.)
"Egads!" he cried. "A wolf in Edna clothing! That's terrible -- but fetching -- no, terrible -- and slightly arousing -- but more terrible than arousing! You fiend!"
He picked up his axe and swung it wildly at the wolf, who was doing his best now to run like mad in the footy pajamas. The first swing caught him underneath his chin with the flat side of the axe (it's amazing our woodsmen can chop down trees what with their horrible axe skills) and sent him sprawling. The second swing, which I still maintain was a lucky swing, split his belly all the way down the middle. And out popped Grandma, wet and naked and covered in gore.
"Halleluia!" she cried. "I have been born again!"
"Oh, HOT," the woodsman drooled.
"Gross," I reiterated, tossing the bread at Woody to keep him preoccupied. "But effective. You've subdued the wolf and returned my grandma to the mortal world, so I guess we owe you our thanks. Um, thanks."
"Any time!" the woodsman intoned, not taking his eyes off my grandmother. "So I'll just be... staying around to collect my thanks?"
"No," I said, "You'll be going. Grandma and I have important things to discuss. Like how she allowed herself to be eaten by a wolf in the first place."
"Oh yes," the woodsman said. "I was kind of wondering that, myself. Well, no biggie, I suspect I'll get the full story or one just like it at the tavern soon enough. Good night, my sweet emaciated ladybug!" And with a bow to my Grandma he took his axe and the bread (greedy!) and left.
Well it's pretty much all denouement after that. Grandma got better, the wolf got buried, the woodsman got drinks on the house for having performed such a heroic deed. And me? Well, I got nothin but trouble after that. Everybody wanted to stop by and see the "little girl who was menaced by the big bad wolf." Never mind the fact that I really had him, honest, I could've taken him down if Woody hadn't shown up when he had.
But apparently that's not to be. Apparently I am to be the victim, the defenseless little wood flower nearly plucked before her prime by the predatory wolf-man-id. Shrug. I mean, I know the story and Grandma knows the story and Woody thinks he knows the story and that's what counts.
At least I didn't go round suckin down porridge and sleepin' round in strange beds like that harlot Goldie.