Once upon a time, there was a dear little wolf who was loved by the entirety of her pack. All her packmates loved her, with her kind nature and red-toned fur. She was known as Little Russet, for she was the runt of the litter. Of all the pack members, Little Russet was loved most by her Gramma, who lived alone outside of Russet’s enchanted home forest; her Gramma Wolf’s love was seconded only by her Mama Wolf’s love, and there was nothing she would not have given to Little Russet.
Before Gramma Wolf went to live alone, she gave Little Russet a gift: a basket given to her by a hunter who had helped her out of a trap, now passed down to the most worthy pup, as a token of luck. Dearest Little Russet carried this wide, woven basket around wherever she went, never once forgetting it.
One sunny forest day, Mama Wolf said to her, “Come, Little Russet, here is a prime piece of meat from our most fresh kill, and the pelt of that same animal. Take them to your Gramma, for she is old and weak, and they will do her well,” her Mama told her, placing the food and covering into Little Russet’s basket. “Set out before the sun rises, and keep to the underbrush. Avoid lights and humans, and don’t linger in the Human City long, for the fresh kill will grow bitter if you do. In the city, keep to the grey path made of rectangular stones. Mind the red-flowered Cypress Vines to find her den, and when you go into her den, don’t forget to announce yourself, else she might fright.”
“Yes of course, Mama,” said Little Russet, and lifted her basket laden with meat and warm furs. She raised her head high, basket handle clamped tight in her jaws, and stole away from her home forest at a brisk run. Gramma Wolf lived a good ways away from Little Russet’s enchanted forest, in the heart of a small forest, within a large Human City. The old wolf was always stubborn, refusing to leave the forest she grew up in even though a Human City intruded upon it.
In the dark of the nighttime, those ethereal lights glowed in the expanse of the gloomy landscape before Little Russet, and her amber eyes blinked in wonder at the sight. Oh, what bright glare! This must be the Human City, Little Russet thought and slowed as she reached the edge of the city’s glow. She paced outside of the radiant light, black claws scratching at the dirt, ears up and alert.
Mama said to not linger inside the Human City… but where is the grey stone path? Little Russet wondered, still standing in the darkness outside of the glittering city.
“A nice night isn’t it, Little Wolf?” came a voice to Little Russet’s side.
The little wolf startled, almost dropping the basket as she turned to face the voice. When her now-wide eyes settled on the figure that had spoken, her ears flattened. A human? But… it can talk just like me! These humans must be all well and fine, then! Her ears relaxed slightly, and she raised her lowered head. “A nice night it is indeed, human. I am Little Russet, who are you?”
“A pleasure, Little Russet. My name is Jax.” But young Little Russet did not know what a wicked creature he was, standing there, illuminated by a streetlight. “You’re traveling before the sunlight, Little Wolf. What motivates you so?”
“I am headed to my Gramma’s! She's in need of help,” she answered.
“What’s that you’ve got there? A basket?” the human asked, leaning a little towards the wolf, the light to reflecting off of his curiously bald head.
“Gifts for my Gramma! She is old and weak, and this fresh meat and warm fur covering will do her well.”
“Where does your Gramma live, Little Russet? Surely not inside the city? It is no place for a wolf.”
“My Gramma lives inside the forest in this city! Behind the pines, hidden by the sycamores, deep in the trees and behind the vines. Surely you must know it, Human Jax!” replied the small wolf, head tipped innocently to the side. She gazed curiously at Jax. He stood there in the light, while she stood in the dark.
The human thought to himself, What a tender young creature, and likely a nice plump mouthful. She would be much better in a stew than the old Gramma wolf… I must act tactfully, to ensure the capture of both of them. He paced into the darkness, a hand outstretched to the canine. “There are so many good things to eat in my city. Come, Little Russet, I can show you the way,” he offered, now barely a yard in front of the wolf.
So Russet and Jax walked into the Human City, and it wasn’t long before Little Russet found the grey stone path. For a short while the pair continued along this path, but it was barely a moment later that Jax diverged from the familiar rectangular stones.
“Come Little Russet, you walk gravely as if you were stalking prey, while the real target is just down this path,” Jax told her, and after a breath of hesitation the red-furred wolf moved after him, ground under her paws turning rougher as she did so. The young canine’s nose lifted, basket in her jaws shifting, as a curious, mouthwatering scent drifted towards her.
“Jax, what is that smell?” she asked around the basket’s handle, and her ears twitched upon hearing Jax’s laugh, tail stirring in a small wagging motion.
“ That is food, dear Little Russet,” he answered, and gestured with a hand to a brightly lit building. The doors parted for them, and within was a wonderland of scents that made Little Russet put down her basket. “The shiny packages that the food are in only need to be torn, and you can eat however much you want.”
At this, the little red-furred wolf snatched up her basket again and hurried off into the aisles of the brightly lit space, ears up and tail wagging. She set her basket down and began to tear into the first package she found, spilling meat-colored bits that smelled all too intriguing.
As the wolf ate and ate, Jax the bald human slipped back out of the store, watching for a moment to make sure Little Russet was sufficiently distracted before exiting the place. He returned to the alleyway he’d led Russet through earlier, finding two familiar figures there waiting for him.
“Rocco, Lars, you guys get my messages?” Jax asked them, stopping in front of them.
Rocco, a man with grey hair, spoke first. “Yes. What did you want these for?” he returned, holding up three big burlap sacks.
“Yea, Jax,” the other, with short black hair, Lars, spoke up. “It’s too early for any heists, whad’ya need these sacks for?”
“Fresh wolf stew, my friends. I’ve got a little wolf distracted in the pet store, and a grandmother wolf waiting for us in the city’s jungle. C’mon boys,” he informed them as Rocco gave him and Lars a sack, earning nods of interest as he began leading the party towards the city’s center.
“Hey, Jax… how did you know this is a grandmother wolf?” Rocco asked as they neared the heavily wooded area in the city’s heart.
“The little wolf can talk.” He looked back to the pair following him, and at their incredulous expressions he said, “No, seriously. Not even kidding, told me her name was Little Russet and she was bringing food and a fur blanket to her Gramma.”
“I mean… alright, Jax. Sure,” Rocco acceded, shaking his head.
“Sounds like somethin’ outta a fairy tale,” Lars mumbled, scratching his short black hair.
Jax only laughed a little but quieted quickly as they left a grove of Sycamore trees behind them, and were promptly met by what looked like three holes in the side of a gentle slope amidst the trees, covered in flowering vines.
“I’d say we’re here, boys,” Jax murmured to them, and he stepped a little closer to the floral vines, flowers of white and purple and red adorning them, Rocco and Lars hanging back. “Hello? Gramma? It’s Little Russet! I have meat and a fur covering for you!” Jax called, unsure of which entrance to go into.
Several seconds of silence followed before a wheezy, breathy call echoed out of one of the tunnels. “Little Russet? Come in, dear pup. Lift the Cypress Vines, I am too weak right now and cannot come meet you.” The three humans strained at the tunnels mouths, unable to discern which tunnel the voice of the grandmother wolf was coming from. The three of them exchanged glances, looking at the three distinctly different types of flowering vines with equally worried brows. Neither of the men made a move towards a tunnel, but after a considerable extent of silence, Jax spoke up.
“Pick a tunnel, fellas,” he grunted, and made for the right-most covered tunnel, moving through the drape of vines and red flowers. Rocco and Lars exchanged a glance, the grey-haired man picking the middle tunnel, obscured by numerous small bunches of white flowers amidst leafy vines, and the black-haired Lars took the final, left-most tunnel, pushing his way through the green leaves and purple flowers.
Little Russet, however, had been running about the pet store tearing open package after package of colorful pet foods, putting the most flavorful ones in her basket with the fresh kill. When she had gathered such a variety of tasty pet foods that she could carry no more, she remembered her Gramma, and immediately turned tail, skidding on her way out of the store.
Basket heavily laden with edible goodness, Little Russet barreled through the trees, crashing past the Sycamores and finding three strange scents. She whined, nosing her way through the red-flowering Cypress vines and through the tunnel to find the open space of her Gramma’s den. It was very, very dark, and Russet’s keen amber eyes squinted as she approached her Gramma’s nest. In the darkness, a shape lay there on its side, breathing heavily. The shape was severely unlike her Gramma, but in the darkness she could only make out certain features.
“Oh! Gramma,” she said, “What small ears you have!”
“Alas, shrunken with age, my dear.”
“But, Gramma, what small eyes you have!”
“Alas, closed by age, my dear.”
“I see… but Gramma, what strange paws you have!”
“Alas, gnarled by age, my dear.”
“B-but, Gramma! Why do you smell so strange, are you ill? Also, where is your muzzle?!” she asked loudly, and a ripping sound off to the corner of the den made the small wolf jump.
“L-little Russet, my dear, I am over here! That is a vile human, he tried to trap me,” came the growly, wheezy voice of Gramma Wolf, and Little Russet dashed over to the darkened corner of the den. The familiar, welcoming scent of her Gramma flooded over her and she dropped the basket beside her.
“Gramma, eat this fresh meat, I also have other tasty foods the humans showed me, and a fur covering made from the same prey animal as the fresh meat. Please eat and feel well, Gramma!” Little Russet told her Gramma as the elderly wolf struggled out of the burlap sack. She pushed the basket towards the old wolf, moving it back out of the way as the elder just picked out the fresh meat and began to eat it.
Suddenly, another scent came into the den. “Jax? What’s going on here! That other tunnel sent me all the way out of town-- some kind of escape tunnel,” he sputtered, lumbering a few steps into the room to Jax, who was just raising his head, somewhat dazed.
“Huh?” he grumbled, rolling to his hands and knees, one of his legs swept out as he tried to stand up, foot striking the basket. Before either man could say another word, a low, threatening growl rose from the corner of the den where Gramma Wolf and Little Russet were crouched. The humans looked, and found the grey-muzzled Gramma wolf standing, tense as a wire, with poor Little Russet curled up behind her, terrified.
“How dare you strike that basket, human! Such blatant disrespect! That has been passed down through my pack for generations!” Gramma Wolf snarled, baring her broken teeth, jaws shaking with righteous fury, fur bristled. “For this, you will pay!”
Before Little Russet or the humans could comprehend what was happening, Gramma had closed the short distance between her and Jax, and buried her teeth in the bald man’s neck, crimson blood splattering, his short-lived scream snapped off, much like his neck. “You come into my den, trap me , and then insult my very pack by terrifying my dear Little Russet and defiling the only good thing humans have given us!” Gramma all but shouted at the only remaining human, the grey-haired Rocco.
He didn’t even get the chance to speak in his defense before the elderly wolf sprang, startling him off his feet, and embedding her fangs into one leg mere seconds before doing the same thing to his throat, her grey muzzle painted with his blood then, as well.
“Hey guys! That last tunnel had just a big pile a’ bones and a buncha dead stuff-” Gramma Wolf’s ears twitched, and she looked up from where she stood in the middle of her den to see a very confused, very vile smelling Lars, who had stopped in his tracks before the bloody scene. His mouth hung open, but he didn’t say anything else. All the black-haired man did was turn on his heel and run, trailing a high pitched, “Nope, not happening!” behind him as he fled.
Gramma Wolf growled, but did not give chase. Little Russet, on the other hand, thought to herself, As long as I live, I will never accept food from humans, never again.