Crimson Cowl (excerpt)

Crimson Cowl

     Crimson Cowl had just turned 13 and become a woman. That’s how her mother explained menarche, but in Crimson’s naïve mind the word was distorted into malarkey. “Not malarkey,” her mother said. “Malarkey is nonsense and menarche is…is…” “Is what?” Crimson pressed. “It’s when you become a woman.” “You already said that.” “Oh, never mind. “We’ll talk about it some other time.”

“I want to see Grandma,” Crimson said later. “I haven’t seen her in such a long time.” Her mother rubbed her hands together like a magician, the way she did when she was nervous. “Well, all right. But be sure to stay on the main roads.” So Mrs. Cowl packed Crimson a basket containing a sandwich, a blood orange, and a cherry box drink. “Be careful,” she said, “and call me the second you get there.” “I will, Mom.”

Crimson set out for her grandmother’s house. She stuck to the main roads as her mother told her, but as she walked she spied some beautiful flowers in the forest away from the road. She forgot her mother’s instructions and peered into the trees, and seeing nothing dangerous she pranced to the flowers and picked some: balsamroot, buttercups, lupine, and some lush green plants. She thought her grandma would love them. She picked the flowers and put them in her basket, then picked the leaves of the lush plants. She absently took a few leaves and put them in her mouth and chewed them. They were bitter but she liked how they made her feel. She soon felt woozy and everything started to spin. She plopped down on the ground in a lush spot of greenery. Her basket overturned and everything spilled out.

Later she got up and thought she heard a rustling in the trees and the mournful howl of a dog. She spun on her heels and saw a large dog running toward her. It was grey and black with a bushy tail. Its head was down as it loped her way. Crimson’s first instinct was to run but she stood still. She knew she couldn’t outrun this dog. As it drew closer she saw it wasn’t a dog at all. It was a wolf! It stopped next to her. To her amazement it talked.

“What are you doing out here all alone, little girl?” the wolf spoke in a growling yet pleasant voice.

“I’m on my way to grandmother’s house,” she replied innocently.

“The forest is no place for a little girl.”

“I know. My mother told me to stick to the main roads.”

The wolf licked his lips. “I tell you what. I’ll escort you to your grandmother’s. I’ll be your protector.”

Crimson curtsied. “That’s awfully kind of you, Mr. Wolf. But if you simply show me the way back to the road I can make my own way.”

“I won’t hear of it. Come. Follow me.”

So the wolf trotted along. Crimson gathered up her basket and flowers and followed. The wolf led her off a well-worn path into the darkest part of the forest. “Where are you taking me?” Crimson said with a hint of fear. “This isn’t the way to Grandma’s.” “I know a shortcut,” the wolf said. Crimson grew fearful but by now she was lost and she could never find grandmother’s house alone, so she had no choice but to follow the wolf. She followed and followed and grew tired. “I must stop and rest, Mr. Wolf,” she panted. “If you must,” he said in a raspy voice. She drank the cherry drink her mother had packed for her. Some of it dribbled down her chin. “Would you like some?” she offered the wolf. He took the box from her and tasted it, then spat it out. “Too sweet.”

They continued on until it grew dark. “This can’t be the way,” Crimson said. “This doesn’t look familiar.” “Not much further,” the wolf said and suddenly darted ahead and Crimson lost sight of him. Now she couldn’t see very much and she walked fearfully through the dark forest. She walked forward for a spell and then suddenly felt a force push her down, like a strong gust of wind, and pin her down. She struggled with whatever it was. The furry creature bit her near what her mother called her miffkin and she started to bleed down her leg. She could see the blood ooze in the moon’s light.

“Surrender!” the creature growled and Crimson realized it was the wolf. Not knowing what she was supposed to surrender, the girl kicked and clawed and screamed and somehow managed to get away. She threw down her basket and ran back to where she had come from. Through briars and witch’s burrs she managed to find her way out of the forest and onto the road leading to her grandmother’s house. She finally found her house and went up to the door and knocked. Hearing no answer she checked the door and found it open. “Grandma!” she called as she entered. But there was no answer. “Grandma?” She heard a slight sound coming from the bedroom. Crimson walked tentatively toward it. “Grandma?” “Here I am,” she said in a cracking voice. The girl walked to the side of the bed. “Aren’t you feeling well, Granny? Your voice sounds strange.” “Oh, I must be coming down with something, dear,” her grandma said in a gruff tone. “And your ears. They’re large and hairy.” “I can hear you just fine.” “How about your eyes? They’re yellow and beady.” “I see better than ever.” Crimson studied her grandmother’s mouth. “You teeth are long and sharp.” Just then the wolf threw off the covers. “The better to eat you with,” he howled. “Ahh!” Crimson yelled and grabbed a lampstand and bashed the wolf over the head with it. It fell to the floor with a thud. Crimson searched the house and found her grandma tied up in the bathroom. She quickly untied her. When they went back into the bedroom the wolf was gone. “Where has he gone, Grandma?” Crimson asked. “Not to worry, child. He’s gone for now but rest assured he’ll return as sure as the next moon. You rest now and I’ll make you some hot chocolate. Crimson fell asleep as her grandma swished in her slippers in the kitchen.”

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