Twisted from Red Riding Hood
It was one of those days where you couldn’t see the sun. The sky was entirely gray, unbearably gray, the color that made Radley almost claustrophobic. The gravel crunched underneath her feet as she walked, miserably, down the path from her cottage through the forest. It was a tedious trip she had grown to despise years ago, and continued to despise eternally.
But here she walked, every single day, with a basket of food, food she could devour to sustain herself.
Pressing a hand wistfully against her stomach, she tried not to think about the contents of the basket to the best of her ability.
No, this was for her grandmother.
If anyone needs the energy, it’s her.
Radley thought to herself, needing motivation more than food. If she could just not think about, if she could just not smell it, Radley would make it. She wouldn’t take even a bite of the bread her mother baked with the last of the flour. Or the fruit purchased with the remains of last month’s income.
“It’s hard, isn’t it?” a rough voice called, and although Radley looked, she didn’t fully expect the voice to be addressing her. But the source, a silhouette of a man leaning against the sturdy support of a tree, was the only soul in sight. “I see you go by here every evening,” he continued, trailing off and approaching carefully.
There was a certain precision in the way he moved, a cautiousness that captivated every one of Radley’s senses. As he stepped out from the shade cast down from the canopy of trees, impossibly thick against the evening sky, his features came into view.
Radley gasped. This man was almost … animalistic. His raven eyes glinted with a savage light, and his fingers were adorned with claws rather than nails. The way his muscles tensed under his skin made him threatening, infinitely ready to pounce.
“What’s in the basket?” he asked, but something in his voice assured Radley he already knew.
“Nothing for either of us,” she replied bitterly, continuing down the path. He followed close behind, and the scent of the woods was intensified with his presence. Radley trembled with fear.
“Ah, that’s a shame,” he sighed, his voice clear and rumbling. “We could have a lovely picnic.”
“I’m surprised. I wouldn’t have expected the word lovely to be in your vocabulary,” she replied, allowing him to walk by her side, internally craving the new unpredictability.
“Well, there’s your lesson on assumptions,” he grinned, exposing a set of enormous and menacing canines. “It must be hard, though, taking that basket filled with a delicious meal, unable to even touch it.”
“Yes, well, it’s for a good cause,” she replied, but her stomach felt suddenly hollow.
“So good that you can’t just have,” he began, swiftly sliding behind her and swiping something from the basket. The scent of bread wafted out, and Radley’s mouth watered. “One apple?”
“Yes,” she sighed, reaching for the fruit he playfully held from her grasp. A head taller than her, his arm extended and successfully kept the apple far out of her clutch.
“Not even one bite?” he challenged, raising a dark eyebrow.
Just one bite. Radley felt a shiver climb up her spine and through her body.
“No, not even one bite,” she snapped, and opened the wicker flap of the basket expectantly. He dropped it, and she slammed the basket closed once again after it safely landed within the checkered cloth covering the other food. The other delicious food. “And would you stop trying to make me do what I’m obviously not supposed to?”
“Oh, you idolize the temptation,” he rolled his eyes as if she were terribly annoying. By instinct, Radley glared at him, but when she turned to face him, she saw his eyes had taken on a far more intense glow. “It makes you feel strong, doesn’t it?”
“Only when I win,” she responded evenly, and they halted for just a moment.
“What is this ‘good cause’ anyway?” he asked lightly, trotting alongside her once again. They continued through the thicket, Radley’s rich garnet cloak billowing behind her in the slight breeze. The one luxury she had, her very favorite thing she possessed, was the only thing that dismissed her hunger and kept her strong. The only thing that made her victorious on her nightly struggle with the wicked basket.
“My grandmother,” she stated simply, pulling the richly colored fabric tighter around her body.
“A noble cause indeed,” he nodded in pleasant acknowledgment, but there was an undefinable malice in his voice. “But don’t forget about the noble cause of self-interest. What do I know? I don’t know you. But here’s some advice. If you want to stay alive, my friend, you need to do what it takes to survive.”
“What about the other people in the world who don’t have what it takes to get by, huh? Should we not help them?” she demanded, furious at him for planting the selfish seed in her mind. Selfish, it was selfish. Nothing noble about it.
But yet it seemed so fair.
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, isn’t it?” he teased, chuckling at his own joke with laughter that sounded more like a growl than anything else. “But you have exactly what it takes and, yet, you’re withering away. So, just stay alive, all right?”
Opening her basket once more, he took the apple back into his clawed hands. All Radley could do was watch, paralyzed by the weight of her empty stomach. Taking her wrist, he flipped her hand and pressed the fruit firmly into her palm. Then, as quickly as he had come, he vanished back into the woods.
The way its red skin glistened in the evening sun, the way the smooth surface felt beneath her fingertips, not even her hood could remind her to be strong. No luxury seemed to be as fine as the apple in her hand, glimmering like a ruby, and so Radley lifted it to her lips and took a bite.
The sweetness, the texture, everything about it exploded through her senses. And Radley couldn’t stop.
If anyone needs the energy, it’s her.
The need to save the rest weighed unbearably on her, but not as heavily as the wolfish stranger’s statement.
Stay alive, all right?
Radley deserved this. Radley deserved life. Of course she did. But, as she feasted hungrily on the picnic, she knew how terribly wrong it was. After devouring the last bite, the last crumb, she knew she had failed.
Her grandmother needed this, and she was terribly late in delivering it to her.
She had to at least go to tell her what she had done even if the sun had sunk long ago, as she savored the meal that shouldn’t have been hers in the first place.
“What have I done?” Radley cried aloud, but the worst part was waiting for the remorse that would never come.
When she arrived at her grandmother’s cottage, a nearly identical copy to her own, she felt the uneasy atmosphere before she crossed the threshold.
“Grandma?” she called, but received no answer as she stepped carefully through the house. But in the wooden rocking chair, her grandmother’s usual place, she only found the strange man, blinking at her amiably. A smear of blood was scarlet across his face and she gasped in horrified realization.
“She was dead just after I arrived. I hope you don’t mind. Why waste such a nice snack?” He began rising from the rocker, sending it into a frenzied series of ominous creaks. Radley was either too late, and her grandmother was too feeble with the small rations of yesterday’s food to last any longer, or she was just old and weak, or the man was lying to her. It could have been any of the three. But deeply, the truth resonated, and the blame rooted itself deeply in her chest.
She waited a moment, contemplating what he had done to her. This was his fault. If he hadn’t put the idea of food into her mind, her grandmother would still be alive. He preyed on her weakness and then he finished off her grandmother’s remains like she was nothing more than a rabbit.
Something changed within her, something dreadful. She knew she could never go back to the life of starvation now that she knew the deep feeling of satisfaction, and she hated herself knowing the feeling came at the cost of her weak grandmother’s life. But there was a plaguing idea in the back of her mind, knowing that now she could provide for herself.
Two parts of her battled for dominance, and for a moment, she stood conflicted. Her grandmother had been selfish in a way too, right? Seeing her granddaughter become a canvas of skin stretched tautly over bones and not doing a thing about it? So maybe it was good she was gone, maybe she should just let the wolf go. But her other half had different ideas. He had told her to stay alive, he had told her to do what it took to survive. Maybe he should have a chance to try these suggestions himself.
The choice was a simple one.
This man would die for what he had done to her, for taking away the desperation that kept her sane.
Radley felt nothing but an insatiable hunger as she tightened her cloak and lunged for the two sterling needles on the tiny table beside the rocking chair. A bloodthirsty drive overtook her as she lunged toward the creature, an impenetrable goal to kill.
He immediately threw her off, and the knitting needles flew helplessly from her grasp, but she used the momentum to stumble back into the kitchen. She could see it in his eyes; the wolf had every intention of eating her now.
But the knife drawer was nearby, and she quickly armed herself with the sharpest, most jagged one she could find before he reached the kitchen. Hiding it behind her back, she waited, enraged and terrified. Her heart beat wildly, and for once, she identified the adrenaline pulsing through her veins. She relished the foreignness of the sensation and waited impatiently for him to come.
“Oh, Radley,” the wolf aggressively burst through the kitchen door, knocking it clean off its hinges. “What bloody hands you have.”
She waited for him to approach, before revealing the knife clutched tightly in her hand and plunging it savagely into his chest.
“All the better to kill you with.” She snarled, dragging the blade down and then burying it into his stomach. Weakened, he stumbled, a shocked expression permanently frozen onto his face.
Radley watched as he bled out, fatally wounded, seconds away from death, and breathed raggedly.
As he finally fell, she stared on, feeling nothing at all.
And then, her stomach growled.