Let me tell you a story, Little Red says, but she is not so little and the curve of her shiny red-purple bruise of a mouth makes me quiver. I turn an apple between my hands, the bite of snow on my pale skin, and I watch in the mirror as she strokes slender fingers tipped in burgundy through my long dark hair.
Tell me a story, I say and then, because I think I am far more clever than I am, far too clever for my own good, Does it begin with happily ever after?
No. She jerks sharp on my hair and tears sting my eyes, but I do not blink and I do not look away. It begins with white snow, wind-blown into twisted patterns capped with ice. It begins with black trees, rising straight into the air, bare trunks overhead until dark branches and sharp needles that pierce the sky. It begins with a girl in a red wool coat, hard black buttons down the front, and a matching hat over her short cap of black hair.
Her fingers slide down to my throat, caressing my cool, bare skin. Her palms feel strange, slick with hair, and her nails are sharp and bright against the hollow of my throat. She presses her thumbs against the curve of shoulder. In the mirror, her eyes are ever so large, black as a starless night, with the slightest glint of the moon deep in the center.
It begins with a wolf.
The wolf is a black shadow as it slinks through the snow.
Red wraps the fingers of her left hand around the strap of her bag. It will, she hopes, make everyone believe she is carrying treats to grandmother’s house -- to grandmother’s house she goes, over the hills and through the woods, so very dark and deep, miles to go before she sleeps -- but inside is red, raw meat.
It is the smell which brings the wolf, and she watches while she walks, each step deliberate and slow, and she waits.
When the wolf is close enough, the gleam of teeth whiter than the snow, she slips her hand into her bag and scatters meat behind her. It is warm and squishes between her fingers. It clumps when she drops it.
If she listens hard enough, she can hear the soft snap and gulp as the wolf follows her trail.
Her steps slow and soon the wolf pads almost at her heels. She gathers the last of the meat in the cup of her palm and takes a deep breath. She has her plan, she knows what to do to this wolf on this path on the way to grandmother’s house -- to grandmother’s house she goes and the woods are dark and deep and be careful, little girl, of the monsters in the trees -- but for a moment everything wavers, her world and her determination.
Then she spins and her coat swirls about her ankles. The wolf skips back, out of reach, but she is on her knees, hands held up in supplication, warm raw meat and her skin. The air is chilled and cuts her lungs when she breathes it in and after a minute, her muscles become like stone.
She waits and stares down the wolf.
When the wolf sneaks forward, belly to the ground, she remains still and its teeth close so gently on her fingers, mouth wet warm death and the transformation she craves so. The wolf chews and she lifts her face to the sky.
Her fingertips bleed and her coat spreads out from her body, a smear like blood on the snow.
It ends with a wolf as well, she says and I brace myself for the beginning of my story as her mouth comes down onto my throat.
Her claws pierce my shoulders, tear strips of flesh down my arms which burn like the fire of the woodcutters safe in their homes or miners in their cabins, men who will never miss the shy smile of the women nor see the monster lurking beneath her soft curves.
My skin is white as snow, my lips red as blood, my hair black as ebony, and soon a wolf will rage inside my breast. The woods will cradle us as we hunt, silent shadows through the winter nights, the feared red wolf, her beast, and me.