RED: A FAIRY TALE RETOLD

red

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.

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“This story is written as part of A Winter in Storyland contest on Tell-A-Tale – Bringing stories back into lives.”

FAMILY

The sound of a nasty drunken brawl from downstairs – accompanied by the noise of breaking glass -awakened Myra. She hurriedly got out of bed, groaning inwardly at the thought that such a fine, sunny winter morning had just become really sour for her, just like so many other such fine mornings before it. She was way too tired of playing grown-up to two other grown-ups who always seemed to be after each other’s lives, to say nothing of the fact that neither of them cared the least bit about her. Truth be told, her mom and her step-dad didn’t want her around at all, because she always seemed to be getting in the way of things that they wanted to do, like drinking and aiming for each other’s throats all day long. Myra couldn’t remember a time when they had lived like a normal family, let alone a happy one. When she was still a kid, sometimes the neighbours had taken care of her and sometimes it had been her grandparents. But since she was fourteen, she had learnt to take care of herself and her ‘parents’ by taking up various jobs from time to time. She had even completed her Master’s from the local university. While problems at home had escalated over the years, they hadn’t been able to stop her from trying to get the life she wanted. It was equally true that her ‘parents’ hadn’t helped her any in her efforts to make their life more bearable.

When she came downstairs, she found her step-dad holding her mom against the wall by her throat, a nasty snarl across his face. Her mom, on the other hand, was pressing the jagged edges of a broken wine-bottle against his chest, holding him at bay. The place where the jagged edges had cut through the shirt fabric and into the skin had started to bleed. Yet both seemed oblivious of the pain they were inflicting upon each other in the face of the feeling of mutual loathing that was being displayed.

Myra’s continual exposure to such incidents of violence since childhood still hadn’t inured her to it. Yet, much as she disliked it, she always had to intervene at such times and at no little risk to herself. This time, as she fell between them, trying to pry them apart so that they wouldn’t hurt themselves any further, they focused their loathing on her instead.

“Oh! Here comes our saviour, looking out for her mommy and daddy. Are your plain stupid or do you deliberately ignore the fact that nobody wants you here? Takes after her daddy, saviour senior, doesn’t she?” cackled her mom sardonically.

“Yep! I’m just glad that, between the two of us, we managed to drive her daddy to his death. That makes one pest less to deal with,” replied her step-dad, and the pair of them started to laugh like maniacs.

What followed next was a blur to Myra. The blood started pounding in her head and before she knew it, she had punched both of them in their faces and stomped out of the house and into her car, tears flowing freely from her eyes.

As she drove away from the house, wiping her eyes frequently on the sleeve of her sweater, she hardly noticed the quizzical glances of her neighbours, who had gathered outside with shovels to clear away the snow. She held the memories of her dad sacred, as she had enjoyed his company for a very short time, as an infant, before he had died of heartbreak at the infidelity of his wife and his best friend. All that she had left of him were some photographs and a pair of old boots that had belonged to him. And today these two remorseless people had derided his memory and gloated about how they had rid themselves of his presence. So, though she felt miserable for having punched them, yet a part of her couldn’t deny that they had it coming all along.

She drove furiously for a couple of hours and when she finally stopped, she realised with a start that she had parked in front of her grandparents’ home in Reacher Town. As she got out of the car, she could hear the sound of an axe hacking through wood from the backyard. So drying her swollen eyes, as best she could, she made her way around the house to the back, expecting to find her grandpa there. Instead, she was mildly surprised to see a young man gathering firewood in the yard. As he looked up from his work, hearing her footsteps, she saw that he was very good-looking. More importantly, though, there was something about him that seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t really place him. Just then, her gran came out with a steaming mug of hot chocolate for him and stopped short upon finding her there.

“What a pleasant surprise, child! Why didn’t you let us know that you were coming?”  cried the elderly woman, smiling and handing the mug over to the young man, so that her hands were free to embrace her granddaughter. “What’s wrong?” she added with concern, noting Myra’s swollen eyes. “Come on in and I’ll fix you something to eat. You look miserable. Dae, that’s enough firewood for a couple of days. Why don’t you come in from the cold as well, son, and we can sit round the fire and talk,” she continued, addressing the young man.

“Is that-” Myra started to ask. Her gran cut her short, saying, “Yeah, that’s your Dae, back home after all these years.” Myra managed to give him a weak smile before she was hustled inside.

For the next fifteen minutes, Myra sat beside a warm fire and talked with her grandpa, while her gran puttered about the small but tidy kitchen, fixing her a late breakfast of sandwiches, scrambled eggs and hot chocolate. This house, with its old-fashioned fireplace and chimney, had always been Myra’s idea of a dream home. As she tearfully told her grandparents about the day’s events, her eyes lingered lovingly over every nook and corner, every cobweb and every stain of this favourite old haunt of hers. Dae, meanwhile, having brought in the firewood, was leaning against the fireplace listening to her story with a serious face. When, at the end of her story, Myra broke down in tears, he silently came and sat beside her and held her while she cried, just like old times.

When her grief had subsided somewhat, she looked up into his face and asked, amid hiccups, “Do you remember?” And holding her tighter, he whispered, “I do.” For Damon, or Dae as Myra preferred to call him, and she had been best friends and comrades in joy and grief for years. They had attended the same school, had played together since they were children and shared secrets that nobody else knew. Damon’s parents had loved her like a daughter and they had been the closest thing to a family that she had ever had, besides her grandparents. When they had both died in a car accident, Myra had felt their loss deeply; yet, for Damon’s sake, she had tried hard to hide her own grief so that he could give vent to his. And then, Damon had gone away to another part of the world with his uncle, his only relative, after the funeral, while she had returned to the misery of her own town.

Now, though, he was back again, as if he had known somehow that she needed him; and they passed the rest of the day with her grandparents, remembering and talking about their lost loved ones, and in the evening, they walked together to their favourite sunset point. On the way, it started to snow and one of Myra’s neighbours called her cell-phone to let her know that after she had left, her mom had stabbed her step-dad during an ugly fight, that he had died while being taken to the hospital and that the police had taken her mom away. She listened calmly and promised that she would return the next morning. Damon guessed from her strange calm that something bad had happened but he didn’t feel like ruining the moment by asking her. Nor did Myra tell him anything just then, for she knew that she would have enough time later to tell him and her grandparents everything. She had realised long ago that life was never free of problems, but that, with Dae and her grandparents beside her, she would never have to feel weak or alone. And she knew, somehow, that this time Dae had come to stay, that he wasn’t going away. So she let him take her hand in his, and they stood side by side in the glow of the carmine evening, watching the snowflakes blend into the sunset.

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“This story is written as part of A Winter in Storyland contest on Tell-A-Tale – Bringing stories back into lives.”

A Long-awaited Update

I have been very busy throughout January writing stories for A WINTER IN STORYLAND, a short story writing contest organised by Tell-A-Tale. After a long, nail-biting wait, I’m finally glad to share with you the news that both my stories have been shortlisted for the final round. The two stories I wrote are Red, a re-telling of the fairy tale, Red Riding Hood, and Family, a story about the two ends of the spectrum. You can visit the following link in order to read all the shortlisted stories and share your comments :

https://www.tell-a-tale.com/category/awinterinstoryland/

I’ll shortly be sharing both stories on my blog as well. Looking forward to your support and inspiration.