Little Red Riding Hood

Once upon a time there was a young woman who lived in a small village close to a wood. It was a very sleepy village, with few distractions, and a limited choice of men. To alleviate her boredom, she would go every Saturday night to take fresh bread to her grandmother, who lived deep in the heart of the forest. Her grandmother was always sympathetic to her grandchild's grumbling. She used to cheer her up by recollecting her own youth when she was a lady-in-waiting at court. She reminisced about the beautiful tapestries and fine food, the enchanting music and handsome lovers. Often she predicted that, one day, her granddaughter would meet a handsome prince and ride off to his majestic castle and live happily ever after. In the mean time it stopped them both from feeling lonely, but gave the impressionable young girl a rather elevated sense of her own importance.

At around this time there lived in the forest a wolf who was also very lonely. He was at that awkward age when he was too old to play with his friends, and too young to be respected by the pack. One afternoon, when he was feeling particularly sorry for himself, he saw the young woman on her way to her grandmother's house. She was wearing a red shawl and a long red cloak, and had a dreamy, far away look in her eyes. In fact she needed glasses but was too vain to wear them, which was foolish in a dangerous place like the forest. The wolf knew none of this, however, and fell in love almost instantly. Her elegant way of walking, and the gentle swaying of her cloak, left him hopelessly in awe.

"I must learn to speak with her," he said to himself, as the vision faded and Little Red Riding Hood moved on to the next part of the trail. In the months that followed, the wolf risked life and limb by staying as close to the village as he dared. In those days, as now, the wolves had as much to fear from people as the other way round. He would lie low and listen, trying to catch any snippets of English that he could. He found it very difficult to understand a word of it, but gradually the meaning became clear. He learned a lot about farming, and something which the villagers called "money." They used to get very excited about it, and for a while, the wolf thought it must be the word for the feeling that the young woman had inspired in him. But then, one day, he saw two villagers fighting over "money" which they seemed to think could be held in a little bag. The wolf was desolate. How can she think I "money" her when I don't have a bag like that? He was even tempted to try to steal such a bag, but thought that this would be a mistake. No true and lasting bond could begin with a lie.

Finally, late one night, two of the villagers, a man and a woman, crept out into the forest to be alone. This seemed odd to the wolf, since the man in question spent most of his time with a different woman, but they both seemed happy enough so he watched in silence. The man approached the woman and then kissed her. The wolf's heart almost stopped. He thought the man was going to eat her up- but he didn't, and when it was over she smiled back at him. A strange sort of eating, thought the wolf, but his own feelings were a bit like hunger so he understood. Then, at last, the thing the wolf had been waiting for happened.

"I love you," said the man.

"I love you too," said the woman, and they ate each other again. The wolf ran off into the forest. Now he knew what to say.

The next Saturday, the wolf waited on the trail for Little Red Riding Hood. The feeling was in his heart, and the words were on the tip of his tongue, but she didn't appear. This night, of all nights, was the annual dance in the village. As the young woman pirouetted the night away, the wolf went home disappointed. The following week, the wolf was less hopeful, but waited at the appointed place none-the-less. As the forest began to darken into twilight, he heard the swaying of his beloved's dress. He smelt her lavender scent on the wind, and then he saw her - more ravishing than ever, grumbling to herself about the dance.

"So many partners, but never the right one. Andrew's an oaf. Charles is a fool, and Peter can't dance to save his life. And not one drop of royal blood between them."

"I would be your prince," said the wolf.

"Who's there?" asked Red Riding Hood, not a little scared.

"Someone who loves you," said the wolf, trembling from head to foot.

"Come forward and show yourself," commanded the young woman, regaining her self control. The wolf did so, and appeared on the path before her. The young woman let out a scream.

"Save me from the wolf," she cried, to her imagined lover.

"I am the wolf," said the wolf, and for a moment the young woman was struck dumb.

"I fell in love with you, and learned your language so that I might tell you."

The woman let forth a wonderous smile as a thought crossed her mind.

"Are you a prince who was turned into a wolf by a wicked witch?" she asked.

"No I'm just a wolf," said the wolf, and her smile faded immediately. This was not going quite the way the wolf had planned.

"Well, in that case, I shouldn't be talking to you," said Little Red Riding Hood. "Everyone knows that wolves are not to be trusted."

"But I love you," said the wolf.

"That, if you don't mind me saying so, is just the sort of thing I was warned about. If you were a gentleman, you would approach a member of my family, and have us properly introduced."

The wolf wasn't altogether sure what a "gentleman" was, but he would have rather died than admit it.

"I must go now," said Little Red Riding Hood, "and if you try to follow me I shall scream and scream, until the hunters come and kill you."

"How brave she is," thought the wolf, "and such elegance of phrasing. To have actually talked to her, I'm in heaven." He watched with tears in his eyes, as Little Red Riding Hood disappeared along the path. He could never talk to his love again. He was only a wolf, and she wanted a prince. He would need this language no longer. He must force himself to forget it. But try as he might, one thought kept ringing in his ears "a member of my family, a member of my family." Then he had it. The grandmother! Maybe he could be a gentleman after all.

He bounded off through the forest as fast as his legs would carry him. He knew all the short cuts to the grandmother's house and would be there half an hour before Little Red Riding Hood. That should be enough time to win over the old woman. Almost completely out of breath he arrived at the tiny wooden house and scratched at the window with his claw.

"Grandmother let me in. I must talk with you." The grandmother opened the door a fraction and stared down at the wolf. At first she was afraid, but then grew less alarmed as his story unfolded.

"I saw your granddaughter in the forest, and fell in love with her. But she won't talk to me. She says I'm not a gentleman, and that we should be introduced. Can you help me grandmother?"

The grandmother realised the wolf was a rather pathetic character and opened the door wider.

"How dare you come here like this? Do you really expect me to help a wolf to meet my own granddaughter? She is a princess in the making. Only the best is good enough for her."

"I will bring her the best. The reddest berries, the most succulent shrubs, the brownest nuts. I will hunt deer for her. I will keep her safe from harm. I love her and long only to be at her side."

The grandmother, who was vain on her granddaughter's behalf, became furious.

"She deserves rubies, and diamonds and royal banquets - a king for a husband, and a palace for a home. You can only give her what she already has, a boring forest, a country diet, and leaves for a bed."

"But I'm more devoted than a prince would ever be."

"You are not even fit to be her dog."

Well, the wolf was, after all, a wolf and this last insult was too much to stand. He glared at the grandmother with murder in his eyes and bared his teeth.

"I could kill you for that," he growled.

The grandmother, realising it was true, was suddenly terrified. Her heart stopped beating, and she fell lifeless to the floor.

The wolf was devastated. He only meant to frighten her a little. This was terrible.

"What do I do now?" he wondered. "Little Red Riding Hood will be here any minute. If she sees her dead grandmother she's bound to think I did it, taking my revenge on her family. I must get the old lady out of the way." He dragged the body inside the house. Luckily there was a closet that was open, and big enough for the old lady to be hidden in. The wolf decided that he would pretend to have the grandmother's voice and tell the young woman to go away. The wolf was about to shut the door of the closet with his nose, when he thought, "What if Little Red Riding Hood comes inside the house. She is very willful and would never leave her grandmother if she was ill. I know," thought the wolf "I must pretend to be the grandmother." He slipped off the grandmother's bonnet and, after much difficultly, managed to wiggle it onto his own head.

"The things we do for love," he muttered to himself, and crawled into bed. He had never been in a human bed before, and, he had to admit that it was rather pleasant, being both springy and warm at the same time. He was just beginning a fun game of trampoline when there was a knock at the door.

"Can I come in grandmother?"

"Go away child," croaked the wolf, "I have a terrible cold, and I don't want to give it to you."

"But grandmother, if you're ill, I must come in."

"Just as I feared," sighed the wolf. "Here comes trouble."

"You'll never guess what happened to me in the forest today."

"I think I might," thought the wolf, and let out a sickly cough.

"You do look peculiar" said Little Red Riding Hood.

"Don't come closer," said the wolf. "It might be catching." He tried to summon up a contagious-sounding wheeze, but it came out more as a hollow whistle.

"And you do look a funny color." Little Red Riding Hood squinted up her eyes and cursed her vanity for not wearing glasses. The wolf didn't answer.

"And what big ears you have."

"That's it," thought the wolf. "She's onto me."

He racked his brain for something to say. "All the better to hear you with, my dear." It was a lame attempt, but he had to try something.

"And what big eyes you have."

"All the better to see you with, my dear." He mustered a sheepish grin, which is difficult for a wolf, but things went from bad to worse.

"And what big teeth you have."

"All the better to eat you with, my dear." He was speaking metaphorically, of course, thinking of the couple from the village, but he realised it was a mistake almost as soon as he said it. Little Red Riding Hood stuck out her chin, as if really angry, and then flounced over to the open door and started screaming.

"Help! Help!" she cried. "There's a wolf here, and he's trying to eat me. Help! Help!"

The wolf finally saw the error of his ways. He got out of bed very slowly, took off the grandmother's bonnet, and then went over and stood right next to Little Red Riding Hood.
"If I was really going to eat you, I could have done it by now."

"Well you ate my grandmother!" protested Red Riding Hood.

"No I didn't! She is dead, but I didn't even take a bite."

"That's not the point."

"What is the point?" asked the wolf, his ardor turning to exasperation.

"You're a horrid, nasty wolf, and I want you dead!"

"Do you really have so many admirers that you can afford to have one killed?" asked the wolf.

"I do, actually" sniffed Little Red Riding Hood. "The men in the village are all mad about me."

"But," said the wolf, "Andrew is an oaf. Charles is a fool, and Peter can't dance to save his life."

"At least they have a house, with a roof over their heads, and a clean bed to sleep in. What have you got?"

"All the forest is my home - and if it's sleep you want, I'll take you to the secret cove where waves will sing you lullabies and all the stars will be your canopy."

"But men have curtains, and fine clothes - and a fire to keep away the cold."

"I would keep you warm", said the wolf as he brushed his soft fur against the woman's naked arm.

"I'm sure you would," said Red Riding Hood, her frown at last softening a little. "I suppose I might survive, if you didn't eat me," she added, with laughter in her voice.

"But I would die, if you didn't love me" purred the wolf, as he caressed her elbow with his ears, and nuzzled his nose into her hand.

"Well we can't have that," whispered Red Riding Hood, as a tingle of pleasure shot up her arm.

"Do I get a hug then?" asked the wolf, with great big pleading eyes.

"Yes," said Red Riding Hood smiling, and she knelt down and wrapped her arms around his neck. The wolf was just beginning to think he would die of bliss when a strident cry came out of the forest.

"Don't worry Miss, I'll rescue you!"

"Oh no," said Little Red Riding Hood, "It's the gamekeeper. He must have come to kill you."

"Well if you will cry wolf . . ." grumbled the wolf.

"I know. I'm sorry."

"I should go then," said the wolf.

"No, he'll see you. You must hide."

"But where?" asked the wolf.

"In the closet of course!"

The wolf's heart skipped a beat.

"But your grandmother's in there!" he exclaimed.

"Don't mind that now," said Little Red Riding Hood. "Apologies can wait. In you go." And before he knew what was happening, the wolf was swept up into the cupboard and sitting on top of the grandmother's body.
The gamekeeper arrived puffing at the door.

"Here I am Miss. Nothing to worry about now. I'll save you." The gamekeeper finally got his breath back. "Where is it, then?"

"Where's what?" asked Little Red Riding Hood.

"The wolf, of course."

"It ran away, when I started shouting."

"It might come back miss.They're not usually scared for long."

"I don't think so."

"Well I'll wait here with you, just to be sure." And wait he did. To the wolf, in the dark, the silence seemed to last for hours. He was laying his head down to make himself more comfortable, when his mouth came in contact with one of the grandmother's hands. Because of his love-sick heart, the wolf hadn't eaten for days - but now that he had been hugged, his appetite reappeared with a vengeance. He knew that it wasn't really polite, but he couldn't resist taking a little nibble at one of the fingers.

Unfortunately, the flesh was thin and sinewy. The wolf bit down harder until, suddenly, the bones collapsed in his mouth with a loud crack. The gamekeeper threw open the door, and the wolf stared straight down the barrel of his gun. In the frozen stillness of that moment, the wolf knew two things with perfect clarity. One was that he loved Red Riding Hood, and the other was that hand of grandmother doesn't taste very good even when fresh. A single bullet passed through the wolf's heart, stopping it instantly. Little Red Riding Hood let out a primal scream, which later she was somewhat at a loss to explain. The gamekeeper went home well satisfied, and Little Red Riding Hood returned to the village, strangely subdued.

Some months later, news reached the royal court of a brave young woman who had tricked a murderous wolf into hiding in a closet. When the young prince learned that the girl in question was very beautiful, he summoned her to the palace. Within a year they were married, and all the kingdom told the story to their children. It was like a fairy tale. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a happy one. The prince often went hunting or drinking for days on end, leaving Red Riding Hood quite alone. At such times, she would lay down on her favourite rug and run her fingers through its fur. She then dreamt about a secret cove where the sky was heavy with stars, and the glistening waves sang lullabies.

© 1995 Gavin Miller. All rights reserved.