There was never any red hood or hat or cape or anything in this story. I actually prefer green or purple – in fact when most of the important stuff happened, I was wearing my favorite cloak. It was spring green with purple flowers that I embroidered myself around the hood. Took me all winter to do.
The red cap moniker came from my Auntie Ophelia (we always called her Aunt Oafie… not in her hearing, of course), who upon seeing my hair days after my birth proclaimed, “My word! Look at the red cap on that one!”
Red hair. I have red hair. Red hair, redhead, red cap. There you are.
In light of the rest of the story, the color of my hair seems sort of irrelevant, but time doesn’t always choose the most relevant details.
Some of the details were correct. My grandmother did live in the woods, down a ways from the village where I grew up. She was really attached to the cabin where she and Grandpa raised my mother and Auntie Oafie- er, Ophelia. So even after Grandpa passed away, she insisted on staying, even though Mother gave her a two hour lecture. And that was a short lecture.
Grandma insisted that the cabin in the woods was her home, and she raised her children there, and Grandpa had died there, and there was no reason she shouldn’t get to die there as well. Mother finally have to give up her case, but not without swearing up and down to Grandma that she’d send me at least once a week, if not more.
That was sort of a silly promise to make, because I would go into the woods to see Grandma and Grandpa every chance I got. I loved the cabin, too, and I was secretly glad that Grandma refused to leave. She was too ornery to live in town anyway. I loved how ornery she was. She was the one who taught me the word ornery, and it’s still one of my favorite words in the world.
So that part of the story was true. My grandmother lived in the woods and I would travel a path to get there. The woods could certainly be treacherous – there were actual wolves in the woods, but any dolt knows that wolves stay hidden during the daytime, and they sure as hell don’t come near as well-traveled road as that one. They’re awfully shy of civilization, even the bare minimum we displayed in the town.
And on the other side of that coin, there were the “wolves” – in other words, the men who thought a girl traveling a road alone had earned herself some trouble. I won’t say I wasn’t scared a few times. I sure was. But I also carried a nice sharp dagger and generally once a man sees that you’re carrying steel, he’ll lose his nerve.
What the story didn’t tell is what was really in those woods. There were two things. Let me tell you about the first.
I turned twelve the week after Grandpa died. That was pretty well grown for our part of the world, though since Mother and Father did well in town I would get to go to school until I was at least sixteen. I liked school. I liked numbers and maths especially. Father was really proud of that, and said I had a knack for business. He was pretty keen on me staying in school until I was old enough to help him run the shop, since I was the only child we had. It would have gone to the boy, but he didn’t survive long after Mother had him so early. Mother and Father both were a little more quiet after that happened.
Anyway, I was as happy as one could be while missing her grandfather and going to school. I would have a fine day at school, then I’d get home and see Mother with red eyes and feel a little guilty for being happy. Those were the days I’d offer right away to take something to Grandma.
It was one of those days when I took a loaf of good rye bread and a jug of fresh milk to Grandma. I got started a little late because I’d been asking my teacher some numbers questions after school. There was plenty of daylight on the way to Grandma’s, but I wouldn’t be able to stay very long if I wanted to get back to town before dusk (which was a good idea, because while I said the wolves didn’t come around town much, there’s no point in tempting fate, especially after dark). Grandma liked to carry on talking; I guess that’s where Mother got it, too.
That afternoon Grandma had a lot to say, and I didn’t get to leave until the sun was setting. That put a wiggle in my britches and I was hurrying along the forest path so fast that I didn’t see the boy until I nearly stepped on him.
I thought he was a boy for a while, until I figured out his secret. That took me weeks, and that should go to show you how convincing his disguise was – I’m not stupid, after all.
Anyway, I nearly bowled over this kid right in the middle of the path. I stopped in such a hurry that I fell over my own feet and just tumbled off to the side. I groaned at a bruised shoulder and glanced up at the boy, still standing there, smiling blithely.
“Hey! What are you doing out here?”
He didn’t answer me that evening, just smiled and turned around, melting into the foliage at the edge of the path. I think I sort of sat there and gaped for a moment. It was getting darker by the moment so I got up and brushed my rear off and kept going. All the way home I was trying to make sense of the really weird disappearance, and by the time I got home I’d convinced myself that I’d just imagined the kid and tripped over my quickly growing legs.
The next time I saw him was at night. This time I wasn’t by myself; Mother and Father and I had hitched up the wagon to our little pony and taken out a load of supplies to Grandmother. It was just the usual: lamp oil, coal for the stove (Grandmother was getting far too old to haul around firewood, despite her protests to the contrary), and some calico Mother had bought for me. I was to ask Grandmother to make me a dress, even though I would have vastly preferred breeches and a shirt, but even Father said a girl getting on thirteen needed a proper dress. It was still a pretty pattern, green on green on green, a tangle of slender vines and leaves climbing across the fabric.
Anyway, we got there about sunset and of course we had to unload the wagon and Grandmother insisted on feeding us supper before we left. It was a good venison stew, which surprised Mother, because the last meat we’d brought out to the cabin the week before was a goose. Grandmother said she’d traded some sewing work to a huntsman who’d been ambling around the area, and he’d brought the venison as his payment. Mother was scandalized and that started a heated argument about how this was the last straw and Grandmother needed to come back into town right now and Grandmother snarled back like the devil she would there was nothing in these woods that would dare harm an old woman and even if there were she could wallop a young man these days just as well as she could when she was my age.
Father and I went outside under the pretense of checking on the well.
[Background by Lenabem-Anna J.]