"I'm frightened by what I see. But somehow I know that there's much more to come." --Whisper, Evanescence

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Prologue

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You know, I really got to hand it to those many storytellers out there. Right now, I'm clapping my hands real hard, though it kind of hurts with the arthritis and all. But I must say, they're good. They've fabricated a web of lies and forced them down your sorry throats. You're all naïve, the lot of you but you're young and I've got a forgiving heart. I've been quiet for far too long. I'm just an inch away from drawing my last breath. I'm going to leave this world knowing I've cleared your wooly eyes and opened up your closed minds. I'm going to tell the truth.

Little Red Riding Hood's about to be rewritten and it's going to blow you away.

Yep. I can be cool too, even if I'm old enough to be your great-great grandma.

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Chapter One: The Unimaginable

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"Strawberries, biscuits, cookies, pitcher of lemonade, chocolate pudding, empty pitcher for water…" I read off, occasionally glancing in the basket on the kitchen table, making sure everything was where it should be. "Spread, knives forks, glasses….check, check, check, check. Apple pie—wait where's my apple pie?"

I scanned the small wooden kitchen with the meager wares. Mildew had gotten a good half of the kitchen while the other half was littered with all sorts of dirty cloths. No, I wouldn't dare leave my apple pie in here. I'd put it to cool on the windowsill in the—

"Living room, yes."

I rearranged everything in the basket, made room for the apple pie then left the kitchen. I spotted my pie where I'd put it but on arriving, something was evidently wrong. A good chunk of it had disappeared, its insides spewing out messily, testament that it had either been grabbed in haste or the attacker had not cared.

No animal had done this. If so, I would not have met any of the pie on the windowsill.

"Jane!" I hollered angrily because I knew she was somewhere near. Jane was my mother, an alcoholic one to boot. She'd been a slave to ale ever since my father had ran off with Goldilocks (yes that Goldilocks) when I was three. I can only vaguely remember my mother being sober and healthy and pretty but these days, haggardness was the reign of things.

"Jane! Where are you?!" I shouted in vexation, marching about. The stench of stale ale caught my nose and I stomped my way from the living room to the back of the house. Here was our sorry excuse for a garden, where all the flowers had since long wilted and dried up from lack of care and where the only surviving thing was stinging weeds and a tomato tree I tried in vain to nourish.

I spotted my mother lying among the weeds. In three quick strides I was standing over and glaring down at her. I no longer called her 'mum' or any variation of that word ever since she'd slapped me silly in one of her drunken stupors. I had been eleven at the time, home alone at night and scared stiff with all sorts of horror stories about children being taken away by monsters. When she'd finally come home (in the wee hours of the morning), I'd flung myself at her and wailed in hurt and relief. She in turn had kicked me from her skirts, grabbed my neck and slapped me six times then walked away. From that day, she was no longer 'mum' but Jane.

She grinned up at me, I glared down at her. Once again she was ruining my plans. Any time I decided to take a day off from housework and attending to her, she made it her business to disrupt it. To be fair, not all the time but she'd done it so often I felt had no resting day. But no, not tonight. Tonight was special to me and she was certainly not going to ruin it. Even though she'd already begun.

"How could you do that to my pie, Jane?" I said in stern tones.

She continued to grin, obviously too intoxicated to understand what I was saying. Once upon a time, sixteen years ago, my mother had been a true beauty. Big chocolate eyes, button nose, caramel coloured skin, and a figure that had many village men envying my father. Now, sixteen years forward, it was hard to see any remnants of that time. She was only thirty-four yet she looked fifty. Her eyes were dull, no larger sparkling, the skin beneath them dark and sagging. She had more gray than black in her hair and she'd relinquished neat dressing and self respect for dirty clothes and poor hygiene.

I loved my mother but I pitied her more. Any attempt I'd made to help her had resulted in fights. I felt ashamed of her and guilty for being ashamed of her. Her cheating, good-for-nothing ex-husband, who'd ran off with a thief and housebreaker, had not done this to her. My mother had done this to herself.

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After helping her up and dusting the weeds from her, I carried her inside to take a shower. I persuaded her to lie down, made her some tea and stayed by her side until she fell asleep. My heart settled better within my chest and the guilt eased. She would sleep for the rest of the day and I would be free of duties.

I made my way to the bedroom door and paused at the call of my name.

"Jade…oh Jade…good girl…good, good girl."

Her eyes were closed and a minute later, the even rise and fall of her chest told me she had slipped away from consciousness into sleep.

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I'm very late. I hope he's there still.

I walked faster, the tail of my red cape swishing about my feet. My basket load was holding me back slightly and I began to regret packing so much to eat but quenched the thought. Once again, tonight was going to be a special night for me; I wanted everything to be perfect.

You see, I had a very close friend; a male friend. We'd met an afternoon I had gone out to get some water from the well. Ever since then, we've been good friends and of late, close friends. No, we were not lovers and even if we were it wouldn't matter. My mother had basically ruined any suitable marrying prospects for me in the village and that was one thing I was grateful to her for.

My friend was not an option either, despite the fact that he knew that I was perfectly virginal and proper unlike what the other villagers thought. He was to wed soon and when that day came, I could no longer enjoy his company. But an idea had struck. Yes I could see myself dying a spinster for I had no plans or no wants to marry but that didn't mean I was going to die a virginal spinster.

I glanced at the full moon, high and round. I was an hour later than the appointed meeting time. Andrew, my friend, had not been pleased with my ridiculous and improper idea but after much pleading and persuasion and empty threats (known only to me) that I would spread my legs for the next available male, be it man or beast, he capitulated. He'd offered marriage but I'd declined. I just wanted his…ahem…services.

I finally arrived at the start of the woods and squinted into the darkness. Involuntary shivers raced up and down my spine and I straightened my back. I was not afraid of the dark. Not since I was eleven on that fateful day. I marched ahead, thankful for the soft light the moon cast in my way.

All sorts of stories were told about the woods. About the magical creatures that abounded within it and of the evil ones that lurked in the darkness for unsuspecting prey. I didn't believe in such superstitious nonsense. Something could only be as real as what you believed it to be.

I spotted some flowers, pretty yellow things.

Hmm, I'll pick these and tell Jane that grandma sent them.

I'd left a note on the kitchen table, along with slices of the apple pie, stating that I had gone to visit grandmother (her mother). The guilt rose again and I ignored it. I had to do what I had to do.

"Andrew…Andrew?" I called softly for I'd arrived near our designated meeting spot and wanted to make sure he was there. "Andrew?"

"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" A deep growl said behind me. I felt as though my heart had been held like a stone in a slingshot and an invisible hand had released it, catapulting my organ way past my throat, out of my mouth, off to never be found again. I spun quickly, my cape flapping about, my basket held defensively.

Well, I thought my heart had left me but I was wrong. This time it screeched to a halt. Standing before me was the most horrifying nightmare made into reality. A wolf, towering above me and twice my size to boot.

"Hmm…cat got your tongue?"

It can talk?! My brain screamed. It was also screaming to run like demons were on my heels, which ironically, might be true because this beastly thing could surely not be of this world.

"Am I talking to thin air here? Should I growl dangerously to jump start speech?"

It growled, deep and menacing and the sound awakened something in me. I opened my mouth wide and screamed louder than was humanly possibly.

"Shut up! Shut up before I bite your damn head off!"

Oh that shutme up.

Calmly, "Not the kind of sound I was looking for, love."

I knew my eyes were wide; I could feel the strain in the corners and feel the tears mounting from lack of blinking but I dared not do so. I could only stare in horrified awe, all rational sense having deserted me ages ago. The primitive need to run for survival had run from me. I was going to die at the hands of this ghastly creature and was not doing anything to help myself.

"Here we go again, the old silent treatment." It rolled its eyes; at least that's what I thought it did. How could a wolf have the ability to speak? How could it be so tall? Was this a production of a sickly and disgusting union between human and beast?

This wolf was twice the average size for a normal wolf. It towered at a height of eight feet, its ears large, its snout long, teeth sharp and pointy its entire body furry. It stood on two legs and its claws were long and curved and extremely intimidating. Claws aside, its eyes was the most unnerving feature entirely. They looked like human eyes, at odds with the rest of its body which was obviously a beast's.

"W-what are you?" I croaked, my throat hoarse from screaming and fear.

"Finally, the lady of the hour doth speaks," it replied in sarcasm. The wolf stared me down and I looked away feeling uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny. Then it spoke, "Why haven't you run away?"

I looked up again. "I-I don't know…I w-want to…"

"Why are you here alone?"

Memory came rushing back to me and I gasped aloud. "Andrew!" Then the terrible idea that this thing might have sent Andrew to his untimely death with a bite to the throat and then gorging on Andrew's remains came to mind. The vision was sickening but not impossible.

I took two shaking steps back then gauged how I was going to escape this evil thing. I would've rather made an attempt to save my own life and, if luck should befall me, be able to tell the villagers what had happened to Andrew and to warn them of this thing.

"Andrew, eh, a lover perhaps?" its gaze was contemplative and I took the chance to hike up my skirts and launch myself forward. I swung the basket as hard as I could into its stomach and continued running. The sound of its cry of pain was music to my ears and I picked up pace, my cape flapping away behind me.

I was going to make it. I'd advanced pretty quickly and I wasn't hearing the tell tale sounds of when one was being chased. Dodging low hanging branches and sharp, pointy sticks, I could just see the start of the forest. I was almost there when an unforeseen force yanked me backwards and I crashed into something strong, solid and…furry.

I let loose a blood-curdling scream. I was going to die and damned if I wasn't going to alert someone to where my poor corpse would be. But a furry paw clamped my mouth shut and the feel of claws scraping my cheek silenced me. Terror was never so real.

"Good. I'm glad you're so quick to co-operate." Its growl resonated in its chest, I could feel it against the back of my head. "Now, my dearest, I am going to ask you some questions and you are going to answer. If not, I will kill you. I will tear your limbs one by one and eat each and every single one while you watch in agony. When I am finished questioning you, depending on your answers, you may go.

"If I decide that you must come with me and you struggle or try to escape. I will kill you. I will rip your heart out of your chest and rip out your throat and feast on them. Now, to be fair, you may ask questions of your own but I'm not entirely a just man and should I feel inclined not to answer, I will not." It spun me around and I shook in my boots at the hard and dangerous look it gave me. "Do we have an understanding?"

I nodded quickly and was relieved when it released me and stepped backwards. It saddened me that this creature could be so allowing, testament that my speed was no match for its. I was doomed to death if I behaved stubbornly or made any efforts to escape. What a hole I'd dug for myself.

"First, your name and your station?" Its features were impassive.

I cleared my throat. "Jade As—just Jade." I hoped it hadn't heard my stammer. "I am just a farmer of animal produce."

Its eyes seemed to glow and its snout twitched. "I smell that you tell the truth."

I tried to appear as though that didn't scare me a bit more. If it got a whiff of a lie no doubt it'd dismember me in some gruesome fashion.

"Family, alive and dead?"

I gave the wolf an incredulous look. "What if I am of a large family?"

It grinned and the sight was disturbing. Its teeth were too deadly to be so white. "I've got whole night, so get on with it."

"I've only got my mother. I don't know if my father's alive but his mother is. My mother's mother is alive as well."

"Ahh, so if or when I kill you, you won't be missed my much." It chuckled.

I remained quiet, silently hating this monster with all my being. It was relishing my fear and taking advantage of my weakness as a human. It was obviously faster than me, stronger than me so wasn't that enough? Inciting terror was beyond mean, it was evil and malicious.

"No answer, love? There, there, don't take it to heart. Follow my instructions and I guarantee you live to see your firstborn." It tapped a claw against its chin. "Now, I've been searching for a special someone for a long time. I've grown weary and frustrated and I've oft been driven to excessive rage when my leads have proven to be dead ends."

I did not like the sound of this and when it grinned broadly, I was even more convinced it was going to bad news.

"But today, tonight, this very night has shown me how rewarding patience and determination can be. Fate has granted me a gift when I least expected it. Don't you see Jade Ascot? Don't you see how this is destiny my dear Princess of Ascotia? For you are the one I've been searching for, for three long tiring years."

I was already creeping slowly backwards not quite believing my ears, my mind not processing the lightning thoughts fast enough, the shock too great, when it grabbed my arm and flashed those disturbingly sharp pearly whites again.

"And, alas, my search has come to an end."

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AN: So what do you think? Drop me a line! Critiques, of course, are welcome.