At the edge of the woods lay a small village. In the village lived a small girl who wore a scarlet red hood. Thus, the villagers dubbed the little girl Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood or Little Red as the villagers called her was known to travel through the woods to her grandmother's house. She would bring her grandmother food, books, and medicine once a week. The villagers never once worried when Red would skip into the woods. They knew anyone who traveled through the woods would be safe. As long as they stuck to the path and didn't venture off it.
For three years Red ventured into the forest, only to return the next day with sweets, gifts, and other assortments of goodies. For three years Red never once felt afraid as she traveled through the woods. However, that all changed in the fourth year. A month into the New Year children started to go missing. In the first few weeks, three children went missing from the village. As the months went on that number increased until the large wooden billboard at the town hall was covered in missing posters in hopes any of the traveling merchants who visited the town would have seen any of the missing children.
From then on, Red was accompanied by one of the villagers when she took goods to her grandmother. Usually, a farmer would travel with her, a rifle in his hands with a pitchfork strapped to his back should he need it. The farmer or whoever went with Red would stay with her and her grandmother for the night before traveling back to the village. Those who went with Red tried to persuade her grandmother to leave the cottage and travel with them to the village where she'd be safe, but Red's grandmother refused to leave the home she was born in. At one point, the village's blacksmith went with Red to her grandmother's cottage. Once there, the blacksmith reinforced Red's grandmother's cottage. He placed larger locks on her doors and windows so she would be safe.
In the fourth month of that year, a large hunter came from the woods carrying a large object under his right arm while he carried a much smaller object under his left. The hunter was a regular in the town. He would travel from his cottage in the woods to the village to get supplies and trade goods for his hand carved wood statues. He walked towards the town hall and threw the carcass of the large black wolf he held under his right arm at the front steps. He then gently placed the mangled, torn body of a child on one of the steps.
"Found this beast eating him. I remembered his missing poster from the billboard," the Hunter had said. He was given a large reward and had a feast in his honor as they sat around the burning corpse of the large wolf. After that, life in the village went back to normal. Red was still accompanied to her grandmother's by one of the villagers for several more weeks until now, when she waited for her mother to let her travel the woods, alone.
Red rocked from her heels to her toes as she waited for her mother to prepare the basket. She let out a frustrated sigh as her mother triple checked the basket to make sure everything was there. She stopped rocking and whined, "Come on mom, you've checked that basket like five times now."
"Just making sure everything is here Alice," her mother said. While all the villagers called her Red or little Red. Her mother called her by her real name. Her mother took the basket and brought it to Red before she knelt down to eye level with her daughter and added, "Now remember Alice."
"Stick to the path," Red said in unison with her mother. She folded her arms in front of her and added, "Mom, I've been going through that forest for how many years. I know the rules."
"I'm just worried," her mother said.
"I'll be fine," Red said as she grabbed the basket and skipped to the door. She stopped and spun back to her mother and added,
"And my name is Red." She then turned and skipped towards the forest and towards Grandmother's house.
She slowly stopped skipping and began to walk along the forest path. Normally she skipped halfway down the path before finding a rock to sit and rest before skipping the rest of the way. However, she slowly walked down the path with the basket close to her chest. Normally the forest was buzzing with birds, insects, and other critters calling to one another, but today the forest was dead quiet. The only sound was the rustling of trees and creaking of bark in the wind, and her shoes crunching the dirt of the path. Red was about to run down the path when she stopped dead in her tracks. Standing on the path in front of her was a large black wolf. Its crimson eyes stared at her.
"What are you doing so far in these woods' child?" the wolf asked. Red looked at the wolf in shock.
"You can talk?" Red said in awe.
"Every living creature can talk, but we choose not to speak human," the wolf said. Its crimson eyes narrowed and it continued, "These woods are no longer safe for a little thing like you." Red's awe turned to fear as she swallowed hard and slowly backed away.
"Because of you?" Red asked.
"No, it's because of," the wolf began before a hatchet cut through the darkness of the forest and slammed into the ground in front of the wolf. The wolf jumped back and growled before it looked towards Red. It narrowed its eyes before it ran off the path and into the darkness of the forest. A twig snapped and Red tensed as she turned towards the noise. She relaxed when she saw the Hunter in his usual blue and black flannel shirt and brown slacks walk onto the path.
"Damn wolves have gotten more aggressive since I killed their Alpha," the Hunter said in his gravelly voice before he added, "Why are you traveling alone? Don't you usually travel with one of the villagers?" Red nodded.
"I use to, but a while after you brought us that massive wolf. Mom said it was safe to travel alone," Red said.
"These wolves are very crafty. They've waited until someone traveled alone to attack," the Hunter said before he walked over to his hatchet and ripped it from the ground. He placed it in its holder and added, "I'll take you to your grandmother's house."
"Thank you," Red said before they both went down the path to Red's grandmother's cottage. The wolf watched the two in the darkness of the forest. He let out a low growl as he glared at the Hunter before he turned and ran deeper into the forest.
Red resumed skipping happily down the path, knowing that the Hunter was with her. She would occasionally turn and skip backward to make sure the Hunter was still there. The Hunter was always a few feet away from Red, surveying the edge of the path. She'd smile, wave to him, and turned back around to continue skipping. She never saw how when she turned to him. He'd look away to look at the edges of the path, but when she turned forward and continued skipping. He'd look back at her and lick his lips.
By the time the sun was near the edge of the mountains to the west. Red and the Hunter reached her grandmother's cottage. Red bounded into the home and startled her grandmother who was knitting in her large easy chair. She placed her hand on her chest and exhaled, "my dear you nearly gave me a heart attack."
"Sorry grandma," Red said before she placed the large basket on the table next to her. Red's grandma looked towards the door to where the large Hunter stood.
"And who's this strapping young lad," her grandmother asked.
"This is the Hunter I told you about," Red said cheerily.
"Oh, so you're the man who made the path here safe again. Thank you so much, without you. I'd still fear my granddaughter traveling here from the village," Red's grandmother said before she turned to Red and added, "There's freshly made lemonade on the table in the kitchen for you and your friend."
"I'll get it for you," the Hunter said before he proceeded from the doorway to the kitchen.
"Thank you, dear, could you also pour me a glass of water while you're out there," Red's grandma said.
"Will do," the Hunter said from the kitchen. After a few seconds, the Hunter returned with a tray with two glasses of pink lemonade and a glass of water. The Hunter gave Red's grandmother the glass of water before giving Red one of the glasses of pink lemonade. He took the last glass and brought it to his lips as he silently drank. Red's grandmother sipped at her water while Red greedily chugged the pink lemonade.
"Slow down child. You'll give yourself a stomach ache," Red's grandmother said. Red placed the empty glass on the small stand next to her grandmother and smacked her lips.
"Don't worry, I'll be fine," Red said.
"Until the sugar rush dies down," the Hunter said before he took a few more gulps from his glass. Red's grandmother laughed before she drank more of her water. All the while, the Hunter never took his eyes off Red or her grandmother. He was like a hawk, waiting for the right moment to strike.
"Oh, my. I think all this excitement is taking its toll," Red's grandmother said as she placed her glass of water on the table and sat back into her chair. Her eyelids were heavy and with one long breath. She was softly snoring in her lazy chair. Red was about to shake her grandmother awake when a wave of exhaustion hit her as she stumbled and then fell to the ground. Her eyelids felt heavy and she too fell into a deep sleep. The Hunter sipped at his pink lemonade and gulped loudly before a smile etched its way on his face.
Little Red groggily opened her eyes. Her head was pounding like her skull was going to pop. She went to stand, but when she tried to use her arms to push herself from the floor. She found they were bound behind her back. She then heard the crackling of flames and moved her head to see she was lying in front of a roaring fireplace. She followed the stone chimney up and her blood ran cold. Mounted on the wall like trophies, were human heads. A pit formed in her stomach as she recognized one of the heads belonged to one of the missing children. In fact, she found that all the heads mounted on the wall belonged to the missing children from her village.
"So you're finally awake," a voice said. Red swallowed hard as she slowly turned her head towards the voice. She began to hyperventilate as she stared up at the Hunter. He smiled and walked towards her. He walked past her and sat in a large chair near the fireplace. He sat forward and clasped his hands together and added, "You know I've had my eye on you." Red looked at him quizzically. A pounding headache caused her vision to pulse and be blurry at the edges.
"For a while, I watched as you walked the path to your grandmother's. I was going to make my move, but the next time I saw you. You were traveling with one of the villagers. I figured it was a simple coincidence. Then I saw you with another villager, and another, and another. So, the next time I went to the village. I found out why. The kids that went missing caused your dear mother to make you travel with a villager for safety. So I hunted the biggest wolf I could find and killed it. I brought it to the village and well, you know the rest," the Hunter explained. He got up and walked to the wall mounted with heads. He ran his hands over an empty plaque and continued, "I wanted to mount his head here, but knew I needed his mangled body to prove the wolf had killed him. However, now I can fill it with your head." He turned to Red and a wicked smile formed on his face.
"Why?" Red asked.
"Boredom really," the Hunter admitted before he continued, "I've lived in these woods since I was born. My father was a hunter and so was my mother. I've hunted in these woods my whole life. After a while, I got bored with hunting the local wildlife here. Then I found an intruder in my home. I chased him through the woods and finally caught up to him. The thrill of the chase, the fear, and the inevitable swing of my hatchet was invigorating. Nothing I'd ever felt when I hunted the animals in these woods." The Hunter walked over to a mounted head. This one was a much older man with a small cut over his right eye.
"He was my first of many, but after I hunted three more people. That thrill was gone. That was until I found a lost child in the woods. I silently stalked him for hours, that thrill came back with a vengeance and was replaced with pure ecstasy. Young fear is so tantalizingly good that I didn't know how to recreate it. That's when I knew what I needed to do: kidnap the children in the village and hunt them," the Hunter said before he walked over to Red. He grabbed the rope that bounded Red's arms. He lifted her up and stomped towards the front door.
"Where are you taking me, where's my grandmother!" Red cried as tears welled up in her eyes.
"You'll soon find out," the Hunter cooed. He opened the front door and planted Red on her feet. She felt cold steel between her wrists before she felt the bindings disappear. She moved her arms in front of her and rubbed the chafed skin around her wrists before she looked back at the Hunter. He was slowly closing the front door. He stopped and gave her a toothy grin before he uttered, "Run" before closing the door.
Red bolted away from the cottage and through the dark forest. Tears streaming down her cheeks as she tried to find the path back to the village. The trees whipped past her as she raced through the forest not wanting to look back to see the Hunter behind her. She suddenly skidded to a halt as she stared at the large barbed wired fence. It towered over her standing sixteen feet tall. She was about to climb the fence when a voice barked, "Stop!" Red stopped and looked around before she looked forward and saw two crimson eyes staring at her from the darkness.
From the shadows, the wolf from before walked out and sat down on the other side of the fence. The wolf kicked a stone towards the fence and electricity sparked from the rocks contact. The wolf looked from the smoking rock to Red and added, "The fence is electrified. You touch it, you die. Keep running, stay alive. And watch your footing" The wolf then submerged back into the shadows.
Red looked through the fence into the darkness before she heard the Hunter far back behind her yell, "Where are you puppet?" she tensed and suddenly bolted away from the fence and tried to find a place to hide. She stopped once again, her foot hovering in mid-air. She held her breath as her foot hovered over a bear trap. If the wolf hadn't warned her: the teeth of the trap would chomp into her flesh and left her paralyzed for the Hunter to find. She slowly backed away before she felt something under her right foot. She looked down to see a large tree branch lying on the ground. She picked it up before she looked at the bear trap. She turned away from it and ran in the opposite direction. When she was a few feet away, she turned and threw the tree branch into the bear trap. She turned and heard a metal clang and a creaking coming from the bear trap.
Red heard the Hunter laugh, "Someone found my present." She bolted away from the bear trap and continued to watch for more traps. She saw glinting on either side of her as she ran. She saw a bear trap in front of her and leaped over it. She landed on the ground and felt it give way behind her. She waved her arms to try to balance herself before she fell forward to her knees. She was breathing heavily and let out a sigh of relief. She stood back up and looked back. Her eyes widened as her heart started to beat faster. The ground behind her had caved in to reveal a large hole. At the bottom of the hole were large wooden spikes that protruded out of the ground. She just stood there staring at the spikes before the Hunters yelling voice brought her back to the real world. She turned and ran now looking for not only bear traps but any indication the earth would give way."Little Red," the Hunter sang as he continued, "Come out, come out wherever you are. You can't hide forever." Red pushed her body to run faster as her lungs and legs burned and cried for her to stop. She slowed down and stopped before hunching over to catch her breath. That's when she saw it: a stone pathway. She looked to her left and saw the back door of the cottage. She cursed herself for running back to the cottage, but she looked to the right and saw the Stone pathway stretched into the darkness. She ran down the path away from the cottage and her heart skipped a beat. There, in the fence was a large door. If she could burst through it, she could escape and run home. She slammed her body into the door, but the surrounding fence stretched, recoiled, and finally bounced her back to the ground. She groaned as she sat up and looked at the door. She saw four large padlocks on the door. She willed her body back up and started to run along the fence, trying to find a way out.
She skidded to a stop as a hatchet flew from the darkness and slammed into the ground in front of her. She looked to where the hatchet had come from and her blood ran cold. She saw a large silhouette coming towards her. She turned and fled in the way she just came. Tears streamed down her face as she gave up keeping quiet and screamed, "HELP!" She ran past the door in the fence and continued to cry for help. She screamed so loud that her throat burned and her voice became hoarse. She continued to run and cry as she tried to call for help. Through blurry eyes, she saw a bear trap in front of her. She leaped over it but didn't see the second bear trap a few inches next to the first. She cleared the two traps, but part of her long red coat fell on the bear trap. It snapped shut and Red let out a wheezing gasp as her legs were taken from under her and she slammed into the ground. She gasped for air several times before she began to try to remove her red hood.
"Well isn't this a shame," the Hunter said. Red stopped, not wanting to move or even breathe. She heard footsteps to her left get closer to her. Her eyes welled up with more tears as she knew there was nothing she could do. Her legs wouldn't move, her lungs desperately wanted air, and her throat burned from screaming. She saw the Hunter standing over her with a Chester cat smile on his face. He knelt down close to her and added, "To think your downfall was your own fashion sense." He laughed and stood back up and took a hatchet from its holder on his belt. He ran his finger along the side of the hatchet's blade before he looked down at Red.
"What to do, what to do?" the Hunter mused as he looked around at the darkness surrounding them. He knelt down again and moved his hatchet down her stomach and added, "Cut you down the middle and watch you bleed out?" he hovered the hatchet over her right thigh and continued, "cut off each limb and see how long you stay awake screaming before you pass out?" he moved the hatchet back up her stomach and towards her right arm, "maybe cut off each digit of your hands and feet and feed them to you?" He moved the hatchet over her neck and added, "Or maybe I just decapitate you here and now? So many choices." Red stared at him as more tears poured from her eyes. All she could do was watch him as he contemplated what he was going to do next.
Something moved behind the Hunter that caught Red's eye. She looked behind him into the darkness and thought she saw a shape circle around before disappearing. She didn't know if she really saw something or it was her mind playing tricks on her through her blurry, tear-filled eyes. The Hunter let out a sigh and Red's eyes were pulled back to him. He shook his head and looked at her before he said, "I can't come up with anything. So I guess I'm done." The Hunter lifted the hatchet over his head and Red closed her eyes waiting for the impact.
The Hunter let out a scream of both shock and pain before it sounded like he was stumbling back. Red cracked open her eyes and then opened them fully as she saw the Hunter was gone. She looked around and was shocked to see that the black wolf was biting into Hunter's right shoulder. It thrashed back and forth as blood began to stain his shirt. The Hunter was able to grab the wolf and throw it off his body. The wolf bounced on the ground before it was able to stand back to its feet.
"God damn mutt!" the Hunter yelled before he lifted his hatchet and a smile formed on his face before he added, "Guess I'll carve into you first." The wolf lowered its body ready to strike, but then stood back up and gave the Hunter a toothy smile.
"You forget," the wolf said before it hissed, "We wolves hunt in packs." From the shadows, wolves stalked closer towards the Hunter. All snarled as saliva dripped from their jaws. Red looked around and counted twenty wolves in total. The Hunter looked at all the wolves, but his smile never faltered.
"I'll carve you all!" the Hunter yelled before charging headlong towards the black wolf. The other wolves around them charged. The Hunter swung at any wolf close to him, but one bit down onto his hand causing him to lose his grip on the handle of the hatchet. With his weapon gone, the wolves pounced and tore into his clothing to get at his flesh.
The black wolf stepped in front of Red blocking her from the slaughter behind him. The wolf looked down at Red and stated, "A young thing like yourself does not need to see such a gruesome scene." Red winced as she heard the Hunters blood-curdling screams that soon turned to gurgling. Once the gurgling had ceased, the Wolf took the part of Red's coat that was caught in the bear trap and ripped it to free her. Red lay on the ground not knowing if she should move or not. The wolf nudged his wet snout on Red's shoulder as he said, "Get up, we need to take you home."
Red nodded as she sat up and then got to her feet. She was about to turn towards were the Hunter was, but the Wolf quickly grabbed the torn part of her coat and pulled. She stumbled before she looked back at the wolf as it said, "Don't, you don't need to see what has transpired." Red was about to respond when a second black wolf walked up to them. It looked from the wolf next to Red and then at Red herself. Its maw was covered in blood and part of the flannel shirt that the Hunter wore was between its sharp teeth. The second wolf walked over to Red and placed a rusty key at her feet before it slowly backed away. Red slowly reached down and picked it up. She felt the wolf's slobber on the key and the smell of copper coming from it.
"Come," the black wolf said before it turned and started to trot away. Red quickly caught up with the wolf and the two walked towards the door within the fence. The wolf would occasionally stop, sniff the ground, and then lead red around a hidden trap within the ground. Once at the door Red placed the key in each lock and turned. Each padlock popped open and fell to the ground with a thud. Red pushed the door and it creaked open.
As Red and the wolf traveled down the path towards the village, the forest seemed to come alive. Crickets called to one another, bats screeched above them. Red looked down at the wolf and asked, "My grandmother?"
"Dead," the wolf said flatly as it continued, "After he drugged you, he cut up your grandmother and buried her in her own garden." Tears started to form in Red's eyes before she fell to her knees and began to sob. The black wolf stopped and looked back, waiting for her to get back on her feet. The wolf walked back to Red and nudged his snout against her face. Red suddenly embraced the wolf and sobbed into its fur. They stayed like this for a full hour before Red was able to get back to her feet and follow the wolf back to her village.
Red and the wolf emerged from the forest and walked into the village. Red's mother quickly ran to them, grabbed Red, and pulled her away from the Wolf. The villagers started to surround the wolf with their pitchforks and axes. Red squirmed and got away from her mother's grasp before she pushed through the crowd and stood between the crowd and the wolf. She yelled at them to stop and explained what had happened. Once she had finished, the villagers laid their weapons on the ground and regarded the wolf as a hero. When the rest of the pack emerged from the forest, they too were regarded as heroes and for their bravery: the villagers supplied the wolf pack with a feast.
As night fell, the villagers let the wolves sleep in the village as thanks for saving not only Red, but future children from the Hunters twisted game. As the full moon hung over the little village black shapes slowly slithered throughout the village and into each cottage. As the sun began to peak over the mountains to the east the wolf pack slowly trotted back into the forest. One wolf turned back to the village, with a piece of red fabric in its bloody maw.