PRW Runner-Up Tour: Red by Ryanne Kap
The first time it happened was on my sixth birthday.
According to Mama, that meant I was old enough to start helping with the chores and picking up odd jobs around the village. I was also old enough to know that birthdays were meant to be celebrated not as some silly little rite of passage, but because it meant you’d survived another year. This was a feat especially among the children. It was the worst time to be young. Times were hard, and having a multitude of mouths that couldn’t feed themselves was hardly ideal. Consequently, I was an only child.
In these days of darkness, I knew better than to expect a gift. Papa was a huntsman, and Mama was a weaver, so there wasn’t much in between for frivolities. The only other family we had was my grandmother, who lived deep in the woods, even farther away from the village than we were. But Mama was determined. When she wasn’t sewing fine gowns to trade with the rich for food, or knitting scarves and mittens for the coming winter, she tucked away scraps of cloth and began cobbling them together with her artist’s eye and mother’s heart.
That day is ingrained in my memory, every detail clear and crisp and unforgettable. Papa had left at dawn with a hunting party, leaving the celebrating to Mama. She woke me with a kiss, her lips brushing my forehead in her gentle, tender way.
“Marie,” she whispered into my hair. “Happy birthday.”
As my eyes fluttered open, she told me she had a gift for me, if I would be a good little girl and wait just a moment. I sat stock-still in bed, the covers flung away in anticipation.
Mama brought me the gift in a crude wooden box, clearly Papa’s contribution.
“It’s for you,” she said with a smile that lit up her face. “A little red riding hood.”
I took the box, my eyes wide and lips parted.
Then I opened the lid and promptly turned into a monstrous wolf. That’s what Mama told me after I came back into consciousness hours later. I didn’t remember a thing, and thought that it was all a dream, but the blood crusting on my fingernails and the bruises on my back verified Mama’s story.
I was a six-year-old monster.
Happy birthday to me.
I am breathing underwater. Or so it seems. The walls are draped with curtains soaked in ocean-blue dye; the faint light slipping through the tiny window creates the illusion of sunlight on waves. What’s more, I’m draped in blue myself. Royal blue ribbons tied in my hair and wrapped around my fingers, baby blue cotton dress rubbing at my skin, matching slippers curling around my feet. Dark blue blankets, bluebells in the corner. Everything in this room has been made as neutral and inoffensive as possible.
I am drowning.
I have not tasted fresh air in about a month. Mama and Papa do their best to let me out periodically, sometimes once a month and always at night to catch my own food and stretch my weary legs. I play along, because when all is said and done, I’m just as terrified of myself as they are. I am the dark secret, the freak of nature. The beast below. Before I can stop myself, rage is flooding my body and—
Exploding into being. Slipping on cold dirt. Musty smell, dark room. Must get out, must get out. Heart racing, blood pounding, blood everywhere. Must get out. Must get out. Heat. Angry. Frustrated. Must get out. Must get out. Must—
—suddenly I’m opening my eyes again, although I don’t remember closing them, and I’m stark naked on the ground. My dress lies in shreds, the bed is a mess, and the flowers in the corner have been crushed into sweet-smelling smithereens.
It’s happened again.
I hear Mama’s footsteps on the stairs, the sliding and clicking of keys and locks, and then she’s here. I smell her before I see her; the overpowering scent of dyes and cloth never fails to give me a headache.
Then I see her. Golden hair veined with grey frames a tight, unsmiling face. I can see the places where her bones connect, pushing against skin taut with hunger. Time and desperation have eaten her away, corroding her body until it is birdlike in its fragility. Still, if you look close enough, you can see that on the inside, she is made of steel.
I back into the corner, curling into a ball in a weak attempt to conceal my nakedness. I stare at the ribbons wound around my fingers, waiting for Mama to do what she usually does. I wait for her to come to me, eyes round with tears, and hug me to her until her eyes are dry and I am as calm as I’m ever going to get.
But there’s something different about today.
Mama gathers up the remains of my dress—with her, every scrap of cloth can and must be reused—and kisses me on the forehead.
I stare up at her, eyes burning with the memory of my sixth birthday.
Then she does the absolute miracle—she smiles.
Oh, how I’ve missed my mother’s smile.
“Come, Marie,” she says. “Today is your day.”
Once again awestruck, I wrap a blanket around me in a makeshift dress and follow her onto dry land.
As we leave the cellar and emerge into the cabin, my eyes take in every detail. I am ravenous in my curiosity, taking in the wooden floorboards that still smell like the trees they were cut from, the thatched roof up above, and the bareness of the room. It’s empty except for a bed that looks about the size of mine, but somehow holds two adults rather than one wolf-girl.
“Sit,” Mama instructs, pointing to the bed.
I sit and listen as she pours out her plan. She’s been taking in the sick and wounded on top of her regular duties, helping to mend wounds. Sewing fabric, she explains, isn’t so different from sewing skin. I begin to ask why there have been so many wounds—as far as I remember, we are a relatively cautious and peaceful people—but she goes on to describe the oppression from the rich traders. Since I was locked away, they have grown in number and established a permanent settlement uncomfortably close to ours. They overflowed into our territory, encroaching on our land and pestering our people. What’s worse, they have begun to think of us as theirs; they even snatch young children away to use as their slaves. The men of the village tried to fight back, and lost terribly.
They whispered their plans of war to my mother as she threaded a needle through their tortured flesh. She harboured their secrets and ruminated them, brewing up a plan to fight back and win.
I swallow dryly.
“I suppose I am a part of this plan?” I ask, my voice hoarse from disuse.
Mama’s eyes gleam. “You are our greatest weapon, Marie!” I flinch, but if she feels any discomfort at referring to her only daughter as nothing more than a force of violence, she doesn’t show it. “You could go out there, to their settlement, and turn. Don’t hurt anybody, just give them a good scare. Then maybe they’ll leave us alone.”
I struggle to quench the fury rising up in me. I can’t turn. Not now. I can see that she’s trying hard to convince me that this is a good idea, so maybe she can believe it herself. She’s desperate for me to agree. Which is exactly why I can’t.
“Why would I do that, when I’ve spent most of my life pushing that part of me away?” I retort. “Why, when you and Papa are the ones who locked me in there to keep me from doing just that?” I gesture to the blue blanket and ribbons and slippers. “All this is meant to keep me from turning, and it’s worked. Why would you want to undo all that?”
She frowns. This is not the answer she was expecting.
“But Marie, think of the village. People you’ve grown up with—”
She cuts herself short so I don’t have to. We both know that I have not grown up with anything but the ocean in the cellar and the cold, dark forest and the beast within.
Mama clears her throat and tries again. “You could save lives, Marie. Just think about it. All your life, this…this thing has been a curse. But what if now it can be used as a blessing? Perhaps this is why you were…why it happened to you. To save us all.”
“If they fall,” she says gravely, “we fall with them.”
“Fine,” I say. “But on one condition.”
Mama nods slowly. “Name your terms.”
“You have to let me out.”
Her eyes widen in a surge of fear and worry.
“Mama, please. Listen,” I say quickly. She looks only slightly more relaxed. I’m pulling words out of thin air, desperate to make my appeal while I still have control. I take three deep breaths. “I’m never going to make a life for myself. Not here. And if I stay here, living like this—” I gesture to my blanket-dress—“I’m going to go crazy. You will too, constantly worrying that I’m going to escape and ruin everything.” Unexpected tears bubble to the surface as I find myself voicing all the dark and fearful thoughts I’ve kept chained up in the back of my mind. “I have to go, Mama. I have to go far from here, where I can’t hurt anyone. Where maybe I can find others…like me.”
We gaze into each other’s eyes.
A long, comfortable silence falls as our thoughts run round and round.
Finally, Mama nods. We shake hands like strangers and she sets the plan into motion.
Over the years, my parents and I have remained mostly in the dark about my condition, but we know what triggers it. Out-of-control emotions, especially anger. Loud noises. The colour red. Our solutions were only temporary—deep breaths to keep myself calm, a cellar to block out noises, and drowning out the colour red with shades of blue.
Now, we do the exact opposite.
I close my eyes, think calm thoughts, wear the red cape, and let Papa and the other huntsmen lead me out into the cool night air. The idea of freedom curls around my thoughts, the shame of my secret overwhelmed by the anticipation of it all. They bring me to groups of traders scouting out our land, usually hunched around fires, laughing and joking about how soon, they’ll overcome these savage people and use them as their own. I stumble into their midst, open my eyes, and see the red. I wake up with Papa and Mama looking down at me, telling me how I made grown men scream like little children.
For a while, it works.
The villagers get in on the plan, spreading ghost stories to the enemy about “Little Red Riding Hood,” the wolf disguised in a little girl’s clothing. Mama and Papa simply let the villagers believe that Little Red is an illusion created by Papa and his huntsmen, and so they work hard to instill fear into the superstitious traders.
Then one day it goes too far.
I walk beneath the night sky, my eyes attuned to the dark. A cape rests on my shoulder, the same shade as the tiny hood stitched onto it. All I have to do is keep it together until I reach the settlement, then I take one quick look at my cape and burst into wolf-form. Easy.
We’ve done this so many times that I’m allowed to keep my eyes open, as long as I can keep myself from peeking, and only Papa is required to come with me. We walk wordlessly together on a well-worn path weaving through the forest, a labyrinth of tall trees whose branches block out the stars.
But it doesn’t matter. I have all the fresh air in the world and the freedom to, after my mission has been completed, set off in search of a new and better life. So when I hear the men’s voices from a mile away and smell the smoke of a campfire, I’m not afraid. I’m smiling.
I fill my lungs again and again with the cold, crisp air, taking care to silence every step as I approach the fire. One more deep breath. Behind me, Papa rubs my shoulder comfortingly, and then disappears into the underbrush, waiting with clothes for afterwards. I burst into the clearing and ten pairs of eyes land on me. But this is different. This time, they are ready, aiming metal sticks at me.
“It’s her!” one shouts, his voice loud and roaring in my ears. “The girl in the red hood!”
They recognize me. I am a ghost story come to life, but I am the one who is afraid. Fear rips through me; I take the cloak in my hands and I just have time to take in the pure, deep red and then—
Exploding out of shell, into trueself, finally, finally, free.
Rearing on legs, paws high in the air.
Shouting. Screaming. Men everywhere. Red cloak beside me, on the ground.
High above their heads, smelling the fire—
Pain, pain. Hot, searing pain. The Man has fire in his hands, heat coming closer, brushing fur. Sparks. Pain. Pain. Anger. Must fight, must get them, they’ll regret it.
Pouncing on Fire-Man, pushing him down to the ground, claws sinking in, teeth ripping, warm blood dripping.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Men with firesticks in their hands, holding up and pointing out BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
Then pain again, something is broken, pain is everywhere. Must fight. Must fight back.
From the back, more Men. Claws swiping, Men falling. Biting arms, legs.
The Men don’t move—
—I’m lying on the cold, hard ground. I sit up and realize that there are bodies surrounding me, bodies drenched in red, red blood—
—but I must move.
Running through the trees, stars above, ground below.
Air pumping through lungs, tastes good, smells good. Jaws open, head reared back, power rushing out into the air
Into the wind. The moon up above, glowing. Power. Power. Power.
Must go faster. Leaves cracking, bones cracking, blood spilling.
Hungry. Hungry. Hungry. Sharp scent, blood coming, fresh blood, fresh meat.
Goodsmellgoodsmellcomingcloser shh, be silent. Be silent.
Down on belly, tail wagging, fur is rising.
Man turns its head, ears up, my ears are up, I hear it. Sounds good, good smell.
—I see his face, it’s Papa’s face, but I can feel the beast rising in me and all I can do is scream “Run” but—
Jump, power, speed.
Paws pushing down, neck snapping.
Eat. Blood on my tongue, down my throat, rip. Rip and pull, back down again, swallow. Don’t forget to swallow. Swipe until Man stops struggling, shouting sounds that rumble into one another, Man falls silent. No noise.
Breathing in, breathing out, running through the forest.
Light. Light in the woods.
Hands up, calling into the darkness
Face is a memory deep in the darkness of my mind
—Papa is gone and my throat is slick with blood. What have I done? What have I done? Then I become aware of the staggering pain in my side and I close my eyes just as a familiar voice calls my name.
I wake up and this time, Mama and Papa’s faces have been replaced with another.
“Grandmother,” I croak. I slowly take in my surroundings. I’m tucked in a bed that feels like heaven, in a small, humble cabin much like my own. My fingers stray to a bandage around my waist, but the dull pain is barely noticeable. I look around and bite my lip. I haven’t been here in forever. Tears spring to my eyes as the confusion and horror of the night sink in.
“Marie, dear, you’re going to be alright,” she whispers soothingly to me.
No, she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t know what I did. I don’t know what I did.
“Grandmother,” I say, fighting to get the words out. I have to warn her, before it’s too late, before I do what I suspect I did to Papa. “You don’t understand. I have to get out of here, I have to go—”
“I haven’t seen you in ten years,” Grandmother says. She shakes her head. The room sways.
I frown. Doesn’t she know? Didn’t she see me turn?
Then I think she knows, she knows the monster that I am and panic surges through me. I push the blankets aside and push her helping hands away and push until I’m at the door.
Then something in me splits and I feel the flesh break and I look down and there is a hole in my skin and blood is pouring through the white bandage and the last thing I see is red.Order cheap Zoloft online store and you will feel the benefits and results of your treatment. You cannot always be in a bad mood, do not deprive buy zoloft online cheap. Delivery of the Order from 3 Days, generic Zoloft are sold Without Prescriptions. Quickly and Conveniently. If you are under than the age of twenty-four, when you first start taking Zoloft you could have buy Tramadol No Prescription thoughts of suicide. Zoloft is not buy zoloft online without prescription. Best Price for High Quality Zoloft and Guaranteed Effect! Delivery of the Order from 3 Days, generic Zoloft are sold Without Prescriptions…