The lazy sun stroked my back. It felt good to relax on such a beautiful day. The air was calm and cool and yet the sun made me feel warm. I stood up and stretched my legs on the forest floor, allowing the warmth of my blood to return to all of my limbs. I started off with no real destination in mind.
The sun peeked through the cracks in the leaves and the wind spread whispers through the trees touches. If I listened carefully, I could almost make out the secrets the wind possessed. Birds flew on its gentle breath and landed in their homes high above me. On the floor of the forest, creatures scampered about, finding food and enjoying the calm of the day, much like I was.
My wanderings took me to the edge of the forest. I stopped just short of the final line of trees and looked down in the valley and fields. A small village lay cradled in the arms of the valley, hidden by mountains on either side. That didn’t make it safe though. I watched as a flock of birds flew over the rolling green grass. I envied them. They were free to go and live their lives, free to leave the prison that I was forever bound to.
I heard the whistle, a high shriek that soared over the trees and pierced my ears. They immediately flattened to the unwelcome noise. I knew what it meant, and, like the bound slave I was, I was forced to answer the call. I bounded through the forest, eager to reach my destination, knowing what punishment awaited me if I was late.
The house appeared quickly, and I skirted to stop in front of the stone pathway that led to the red front door. The house was small in size, with a little garden of herbs and flowers right below the two windows. Butterflies landed on the open blooms, seemingly unaware of whose plants they drained nectar from. A thatched wooden roof sat atop the log cabin house and it held up a chimney that on cold winter nights could be seen putting out puffs of smoke. I pushed open the white picket fence and crept down the stone path to the bottom of the stairs and waited.
“On time today are we?” She stepped out from the door and into the sun. She was wearing a white cotton nightgown adorned with faded flowers from years of wear. Grey wisps of hair peeked out from underneath her granny cap. Wrinkles covered every part of her body, making her small frame and age seem even weaker. Yet underneath the bags of skin, there were sharp blue eyes that saw everything.
“I have another job for you, and don’t worry, you’ll like this one,” she laughed, a high shrill noise that cut deep into my soul. She walked around me and scratched my head, digging her claw like fingers into my matted gray fur. “My dear, my dear, it’s that time of the year again. Bring me back my sacrifice or,” she lifted my chin with her finger so our eyes would meet, “the consequences will be severe. Do we have an understanding?”
I closed my eyes and nodded my head in agreement.
“Good. Now go and bring it to me. The ritual must be done tonight.” She scratched my head once more and went back into the house, no doubt to prepare for the upcoming night.
I sprinted off in to the forest, detesting myself for the job I had to commit, knowing that I had no choice. My job was to make sure that the sacrifice went to the house, to keep him/her safe until the witch could do away with him/her. That was how it was. Once a year, the witch needed blood to rejuvenate herself. She swore it kept her in good condition. “Blood is the elixir of life,” she once told me.
Every year, the small nameless village that dwelled in the valley would send a victim carrying cakes to the old hag. And, every year, the witch ate the cake and the poor soul who brought it. It was a terrible thing to see and hear, yet no matter how far I drove myself away from that little house, I could always hear the victim’s terrified screams as she murdered them and ate their flesh.
As I was running, I caught sight of the red hood and cloak that marked all of the sacrifices. I slowed down and knelt behind some bushes to see who the village had chosen.
She was a small girl, no more than eight, with a tiny frame and curly brown hair that was pushed back in the red hood of the cloak. She had dazzling blue eyes and a gentle smile that reeked of youth and innocence. The young girl was carrying the straw basket, and I knew that I had not made a mistake. She was the one.
I stayed hunched to the ground and followed her down the path, watching as she stopped to smell the flowers or wave at the birds. My heart panged with pity. She was a beautiful child and reminded me of the daughter I once had, long ago, before the witch came to village and destroyed my life. The memories flooded back when I looked at the young girl. I closed my eyes and remembered my wife in the village far below, singing as she made bread, teaching our young daughter how to knead. It was that day that the witch came, demanding blood for her ritual, taking my daughter and wife for her own insatiable appetite. I begged for her not to take them, to take my life instead, but she only laughed and devoured them, tearing them apart in small pieces, making them suffer. I tried to kill her that night, but she caught me and turned me into this creature, loyal only to her. My punishment for my revenge was to serve her for eternity.
Anger swelled inside of me as I watched the small child. She didn’t deserve to die, and it was at that moment that I realized what I had to do.
I walked out in front of her and she stopped short, trying to decide whether or not I was going to eat her. She must have decided that I wasn’t going to kill her because she said, “Good afternoon Mr. Wolf.”
“Good afternoon child. Where are you going today?”
“To grandmother’s house. She is very sick, so I am bringing her cakes to make her feel better.”
“That is very kind of you, but you know, if you stay on this path it will take you all day to get to your grandmother’s. Why don’t you try this one?” I pointed with my muzzle to another path next to me.
“Ok,” she said and started down the path.
I sprinted down the one that the girl had strayed from. I had purposely told the child to go down the longer path so I could beat her to the house.
When I arrived at the house I knocked softly on the door, like a child.
“Who is it?” I heard the witch answer kindly.
“It is I, your granddaughter,” I said, mocking the child’s high pitched voice as best as I could. “I have brought you some cakes to make you feel better.”
“Come in dear.”
I knew the scene well, and pushed the door open with my muzzle. She was lying on her bed in the back, covers drawn tightly around her, her cap resting on the bedpost. She saw me and gasped.
“Where is the child?” she hissed.
I didn’t answer. Instead, I lunged at her. My claws pinned her to the bed and I devoured her whole. I felt no remorse for what I had done. I was about to leave when I heard the young girl’s singing. I scrambled under the covers, hoping not to be seen.
“Grandmother,” I heard her say at the open door. “I have brought you cake to make you feel better.” She walked in. “Grandmother?”
The covers couldn’t hide my bulk, and I felt her put a small hand on my body. I snaked my head out from under the covers and the granny cap slipped over my head.
“Grandmother I have brought you the cakes to make you feel better,” she smiled sweetly at me, obviously proud of her accomplishment. “Grandmother,” there was curiosity in her voice, “what big ears you have!”
I racked my brain for a response, trying to play off as the sweet grandmother she thought I was. “The better to hear you with my dear,” I croaked.
“Grandmother what big eyes you have!”
“The better to see you with my dear.”
“Grandmother what big teeth you have!”
I was at a loss. I wanted to get her away from this house and back to the safety of the village. I made a snap decision.
“The better to eat you with my dear!” I screamed and jumped out from under the covers. I thought this would scare her away, make her run back to where she came from, but instead she stood there screaming, terror flashing across her face. I sighed and scooped her up in my mouth. She was resting in the pocket of my cheek. I knew I could take her far away from here, where she would never have to worry about witches or woods. I headed for the front door when a man showed up.
I had seen him before. He lived on the outskirts of forest, and was a kind enough man. He was a huntsman, with broad, strong shoulders and a bulky, muscular build. The man had black curly hair and a bushy black mustache. He was carrying an axe.
I could only guess that it was the girl’s screams that brought him here. He must have been passing through the woods and heard her. There was anger in his eyes, and I knew what he was thinking. There was nothing I could do. I didn’t want the girl to die.
I tried to charge past him, in some hopes of escaping the inevitable. The man was fast for his size and I found myself being wrestled to the ground by his strong arms. I saw him lift his heavy axe and I felt it pierce my flesh. Please let her be okay…