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 maintained 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. Over the years, countless people had gone missing while travelling through the forest, by day and by night; and their grieving family members whispered tales of the terror that lurked behind the trees, stalking his unwary, hapless victims and pouncing on them when they least expected it.
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, set out for her grandmother’s house, 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. It happened that way sometimes; after hearing a tale of terror, every sound and every sight was wont to seem strange and make one jump out of one’s skin, at the slightest provocation. Maybe she was experiencing the same thing. It just might be a rabbit or a fox that had caused that sound, she reasoned with herself. But soon her ears happened to make out the sound of a strange, heavy breathing that seemed to come from all directions at once and to send shivers down the very trees around her. 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 very 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, etched 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, in spite of her fear that her grandmother was probably already beyond help, 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, carelessly 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 with the intention of tearing her young and supple flesh off her bones and into shreds. At that very moment, without even pausing to think, Red, who was very adept in sports and therefore, had excellent reflexes, pointed the shovel at the Wolf’s throat and thrust it up at him just as he pounced on her with the full force of his massive weight aiding him. The impact was such that Red was sent crashing into the undergrowth behind her as the Wolf’s head flew high into the air, and moments later, both the head and the body of the beast landed squarely at the spot where she had been standing only moments before, with a tremendous 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, and badly shocked to boot. 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 hurt and troubled, in equal measures, to hear about her father, and when at night they went to bed with agonised hearts, Red had a very strange dream.
She dreamed that her father was speaking to her, as he lay dying. “Whatever have you done, child? You’ve made the same mistake that I made so many years ago. You know nothing about the dangerous magic of the forest. The Big Bad Wolf is a cursed brute; he can never die. He lives on in his killer…” A shiver ran down Red’s spine as she seemed to hear her father say these words to her in her sleep, and her heart was gripped by a strange fear. Soon she woke up with a growing feeling of intense discomfort. It felt as if something weird was happening inside her body, and no matter how hard she tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, the discomfort continued to mount, until Red was forced to leave her bed. 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 abject horror – her body was covered with a thick coat of red fur and her face and limbs were slowly changing into those of a wolf, the earlier discomfort fast changing into an ever-increasing agony, as the very bones in her body began to bend, break and distort into a terrifying new shape, before her own eyes. The inside of her head seemed fit to burst as her skull began to adjust itself into a new shape, and her eyes seemed as if they were being drawn back into her head while her nose and jaws elongated to match a wolf’s snout. As she tried to fight the agony building inside her head by trying to clasp it between her hands, which no longer resembled human hands but the paws of a beast, the long and sharp claws dug into her now-hairy snout, causing blood to spurt from the wounds left behind. And when she screamed in horror, the sound that came out was very like the howl of a gigantic wolf in beastly pain.
As the sound of the howl reverberated through the house and the town as well, every living soul around jumped out of his skin in horrified wonder, even while sleeping. As the people sat shaking in their beds in terror, and still later, started to come out of their houses in ones and twos, looking for the source of the sound, Chad and his mother jumped out of their beds and ran pell-mell towards Red’s room upstairs; but when they reached there, they found the sturdy wooden door fastened from the inside, and strange sounds – the heavy breathing of a massive creature and a sound that seemed very like the sound of bones breaking under pressure – coming from beyond. As they started to beat upon the door like crazy, calling Red’s name and asking her to open the door, inside the room, Red – who, by now, had completely transformed into a wolf, her huge new hairy body filling the room, so much so that it seemed as if she was going to burst out of it at any moment – started to feel very angry and disoriented at the noise outside and the continuous ringing of her cell phone inside, as her mother and Chad tried to call her again and again in desperation, while her mouth started to water at the smell of human flesh and blood so near her. For a few moments, greed and distress fought tooth and nail to gain control over her, until at last distress won, when, at the sound of Chad shoving and kicking at the door to break in, Red was driven so crazy that she struck at the door with a massive paw, sending both Chad and the heavy door, along with that part of the wall, flying through the opposite wall into the room beyond. Just before losing consciousness, Chad saw a huge red hairy snout and a pair of huge eyes, burning red-hot, emerge from the wreck.
As Red shoved her head through the wreck, trying to frighten the humans away, a ravenous hunger assailed her senses and she stuck out her huge pink tongue and licked her mother’s body – inert with shock – hungrily, while her teeth ached to bite into the warm flesh. But Red still had a little bit of humanity left in her, and so, summoning that last bit with all her might, she pushed her mother out of harm’s way with her warm snout, and then, turning, clawed her way through the outer wall of the house, leaped down to the ground with a huge thud, so that the ground shook beneath her weight and the dust rose around her in a massive cloud, and bounded away through the familiar streets, past the gaping, terrified people, into the green darkness of the forest. And that is how the reign of the She-Wolf began.