Welcome back for another week of stories! Today we have three fun takes on Little Red Riding Hood to share with you.
This week’s prompt was: Retell the story of Little Red Riding Hood from a new angle–try any genre you like, such as science fiction, romance or horror.
R.A. Gates has the beginning of a new Laney and Kody story, characters you’ve met on this blog before.
“Are you busy next Saturday?” Kody asked Laney as they walked home from school on a crisp October evening.
“Of course,” Laney said absently, trying to recast a warming spell on her sweater. The one she cast as they left school had already worn off, and they’d only walked five blocks. Once she had feeling back in her arms, she glanced over at her friend. “You know I work at the bookstore every weekend. Why?”
Kody shrugged as he kept his gaze forward as they walked. “I was just wondering if you wanted to go to a party with me, that’s all.”
“A party?” Laney had never been asked to go to a party before, except for the occasional birthday party back in primary school. Most kids in high school kept their distance from her, for fear of one of her magical misfires. But she’d been dreaming of going to a real high school party since she was a freshman. The idea both excited and terrorized her. “Whose party?”
“Donna Marks,” he said so casually, as if Donna Marks wasn’t the most popular witch in the Senior class. She was also the prettiest and most talented Charms student. Only the elite students were fortunate to get to hang around her.
Laney didn’t even think Donna knew she existed. “How did you hear about the party? Did you overhear some kids talking about it in the men’s room?”
Kody chuckled. “Nothing like that.” He pulled a folded-up piece of paper out of the side pocket of his black trench coat. He unfolded it and then handed it to Laney. “She invited me.”
Laney stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, paper held loosely between her fingers as she gaped at Kody. “Get out! She invited you? As in she actually spoke to you?” He had to be joking with her. Laney turned over the flyer to make sure he wasn’t trying to pull her leg. “It’s a Halloween party.”
“Yeah, I know. There’s a contest for the best costume, including best couples costume so I thought you might want to partner up with me.” Kody touched her elbow and nudged her to start walking again. “I figured you’d have some great ideas as to what we could go as.”
“What’s the theme?” Laney asked out loud as she held up the flyer. All of Donna’s parties had a theme. Or so she’d heard. “Gruesome fairy tales. Hmmm…” Laney tapped the paper to her chin as she thought about all the fairy tales she knew, and which would be best for them.
“Oh!” Kody piped up. “What about Hansel and Gretal? We could be all gross and burnt like we just escaped out of the witch’s oven?”
“That’s good, but I’m not sure I can make the burnt effect without actually catching us on fire. What else? Let’s gather a few ideas.”
“So, does this mean you’re going to the party with me?” Kody asked with a sly grin on his face. He tapped the button for the cross walk when they reached the main street.
Laney bit her bottom lip as she waited for the light to change. “I’ll ask Ms. Burns if I can have the day off. Or at least get off early.”
When the crosswalk light lit up, Kody stepped off the curb right beside Laney, using his cane for support. “Great, then it’s a date.”
Again, Laney stopped in her tracks, right in the middle of the road. “I’ve got it!”
Kody pulled her along to keep her from blocking traffic. “Better than a crispy Hansel?”
“Much.” Laney waited until they had reached the other side before she burst out, “Little Red Riding Hood! It’s perfect because, you know, you’re a werewolf and I look great in red.”
Kody frowned as he walked down the street without her. Laney had to jog to catch up. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Kody glanced around to make sure no one else could overhear before saying, “I’m trying to keep my condition a secret, remember? You’re the only person I’ve told.”
Laney’s heart thumped a little harder at his admission. He trusted her enough to tell his secret, but only her. “I haven’t told a soul, not even my mom.” She touched his arm to get his attention before she continued. “But rumors are flying at school about why you’re in Salmagundi. And you being a werewolf is a frequent assumption. So why not just come out of the closet? On your terms.”
Silence hung over them as they continued their trek home. Laney stomach twisted as she waited for him to say something. Did she offend him?
Finally, just when she thought he might never speak to her again, he said, “You know I’m not gay, right?”
“And you don’t think the Big Bad Wolf is too…cliché?”
Laney shrugged. “Would you rather be Red?”
Kody shook his head. “Unlike you, the color red is unflattering to my skin tone.”
“Of course,” Laney laughed. “What color would you prefer for the nightgown? I have one that will be perfect. I can change the color to whatever you feel will be most flattering.”
“Nightgown?” Kody asked. “Why would I need a night…Oh, right. Because the wolf pretends to be Gramma in order to get Red. Why can’t we do the Three Little Pigs instead? I won’t have to dress like a girl then.”
“I don’t do pig.” Laney’s brow furrowed as she looked at the date of the party again. “Wait, isn’t the party the night of the full moon?”
“Is it?” He thought for a second. “Well, maybe we can just make an appearance, win the contest, and then leave early before I transform.”
“If you really want to win the contest, you should wolf-out at the party. You’ll be all right if you take Wolfsbane before we go, right?” Wolfsbane was a key ingredient in a potion werewolves took to keep their human consciousness in charge even when they transformed into their wolfish forms. According to the Magical Accords between the witches and werewolves signed a few centuries ago, it was a requirement to keep the population safe.
“Um,” Kody tapped the ground with his cane as he thought of the best way to explain his dilemma. “For most werewolves, that would be fine. My problem is that I’m allergic to Wolfsbane. So, leaving early will be our best bet.”
“You’re allergic to Wolfsbane? That sucks.”
“Tell me about it. The stuff is supposed to lessen the pain of the transformations, too. But not for me.” Bitterness edged his tone.
They stopped in front of Laney’s house. Sympathy for her friend ached in her chest. She hated the thought of him being in so much pain every full moon. If only there was something she could do for him.
An idea slammed into her brain. Maybe there was something she could do. She was a witch, wasn’t she? There was a lot of research she needed to do just to see if her idea had merit, but research was what she did best. She didn’t want to tell Kody about her idea just yet and get his hopes up in case she found out it wouldn’t work. She had work to do. “Okay. I’ll get started on the costumes. See ya.” Laney waved goodbye as she practically ran into her house, leaving a perplexed Kody on the sidewalk.
This was the best idea she ever had!
“Let me tie that cloak up for you, Little Red,” Mother said with her usual fuss, reaching to tie the trailing ribbons. “You never tie it close enough, and you know you’re subject to colds.”
“I’m not a child, Mother, I can handle my own cloak,” Red said through gritted teeth. She didn’t bother objecting to the diminutive nickname. You can only object to something a thousand or so times before it becomes too exhausting. As it was, her mother ignored the comment she made anyway.
“And you will go straight to your grandmother’s house?” Mother persisted, giving the ribbons a final tug.
“Yes, Mother,” Red said, pulling away and snatching up the picnic basket sitting by the door. As if a short walk to her grandmother’s house was an expedition across the world!
“And you’ll be very careful—” her mother began, and Red pushed open the door and stepped out. She wasn’t quite fast enough to miss her mother saying, “—to stay on the path and avoid that wolf in the woods!”
The door banged shut and Red hurried away from the house. It was a relief to breathe in the fresh air, away from her mother’s worrying and babying.
The woods began practically at their doorstep, and she was soon under the shade of the trees, walking down the narrow path with her basket hanging from one arm.
She wasn’t surprised to see the wolf fall into step beside her. She had met him in the woods before.
“Good afternoon, Little Red,” the wolf said in his charming voice.
She tossed her head, knowing her red hair would catch the light. “Only my mother calls me Little, and don’t forget it. She warned me off of you, you know.”
The wolf shook his head with a sigh. “Still misunderstood, I see. I’m just trying to make an honest living in the woods. I don’t see what’s so terrible about that. But you must be on your way to your grandmother’s house?”
“Of course,” Red said, hoisting the picnic basket a little higher. “And I expect you’re off to pick flowers or something equally harmless?”
“Naturally,” the wolf said with a bow, light glinting from his teeth as he smiled. “You’ve taken the words right from my mouth.”
“Go on then,” Red said, with a wave of her free hand.
The wolf faded into the trees and Red continued down the path to her grandmother’s. She let herself in at the front door, and called, “Grandmother? Are you here?”
“And where else would I be, my pet?” her grandmother answered, coming out of the bedroom.
Something looked decidedly strange, and Red stared at her grandmother with a frown. “What big eyes you have.”
Her grandmother sighed. “Oh, I know. It’s these new reading glasses. They make my eyes look enormous.” She took them off as she joined Red at the table, helping to unpack the picnic basket. “I imagine James will be along soon?”
“I expect so. I saw him on the path,” Red said with a smile, and had hardly said the words before a thunk and clatter outside announced their visitor.
James stepped in the door a moment later, and presented a bouquet of flowers to Red with a flourish. “I assume that was a hint earlier,” he said as she took them. “I also stocked up your wood pile, Mrs. Madison.”
“Thank you,” Red said, and now that they weren’t out on the forest path where they might be observed, leaned in to kiss his cheek. “You’re so sweet, I don’t know why my mother thinks you’re such a wolf.”
“She just doesn’t want anyone romancing her baby,” Red’s grandmother said with a snort. “I’m in favor of young love, especially with very helpful woodcutters.”
“I don’t know,” James said, and grinned. “I kind of like ‘Wolf’ as a nickname.”
Karen Blakely is working on a Little Red Riding Hood-inspired novella, and has offered the first scene.
It was our favorite bar, not too trendy, a bit edgy. I’d found it with my best friend Elli – Ellinora Aileen Garrett, self-proclaimed empath, 7th daughter of a 7th daughter. It was a quirky and slightly off the beaten path type of place, and no one we knew ever went there. Which made it the perfect spot after a hard day at work.
It wasn’t the type of bar you’d associate with two mid-twenties professional women. But Elli always said she could read everyone around her and knew when it was safe or time to get out. And as for me, I knew how to handle myself. Fellow humans would never scare me. Very little did anymore.
Elli and I had been best friends since the first day of college. We’d been assigned as roommates, shown up at the exact same time, in the exact same shirt, then pointed at each other and said, “Awesome shirt,” at the exact same moment. After that, we’d both laughed until we could barely stand. And every time we’d looked at each other, it set us off again.
Later, we admitted we’d been terrified that we’d be stuck with the roommate from hell. Instead, it was the perfect start to a perfect friendship.
Tonight, Elli was already sitting at our usual table when I got there; a beer and a plate of nachos in front of her. I grabbed a beer at the bar, then dropped into my chair with a grunt. I guess I was visibly upset, or maybe Elli could just read me really well. In any case, she made the mistake of asking me what was wrong.
“They’d better keep Nick away from me,” I said, gripping my beer so tightly I thought the glass might shatter. I let go and shook out my hands, then attempted, unsuccessfully, to roll the tension out of my shoulders. “I swear if he calls me sweetheart in that condescending tone one more time, I’m going to deck him.”
“It sucks there’s nothing you can do other than ignore him,” Elli commiserated.
“It does suck! I hate how he treats me, like I’m some stupid little girl who needs to get out of the way of the men.” I tipped my head back and drank half my beer before slamming the mug back on the table. “Why can’t he see me as a competent, capable control officer just like him. I swear, he has half the Unit treating women like second class members.”
“He really is a creep!”
I glanced around. No one was sitting near us, and there was enough noise to disguise anything I said as long as I kept my voice down. I leaned toward her and added, “You don’t know the half of it. He talks about the paranormals like they’re monsters. Like he thinks all paranormals should be shot on sight, even the ones that are law abiding and leave humans alone.”
“Ah, you’ve mentioned him before,” Elli said. “So, what’s he like?”
I let out a bark of laughter. This really wasn’t the right time for her to ask that question, because my normal filters had been washed away by anger and too much beer. “He’s stupid, rude, obnoxious, prejudiced, and egotistical. He’s a racist, species-ist, chauvinist, misogynist, bigot, who thinks he’s God’s gift to the world.”
Elli choked, then she laughed. And laughed. I waited patiently. I knew she’d have something to say. “Oh, my God, Red.” She laughed again, then paused to wipe her eyes. “You really shouldn’t hold back like that. It’s just not healthy.”
“Okay, okay.” I rolled my eyes, then grinned weakly. “But, Elli, he always calls women ‘girls’. He doesn’t think we’re cut out for ‘the hard stuff’.”
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll give you misogynist.”
“Well, you’ll have to give me species-ist, too. His kill ratio is so far above everyone else, I swear he must kill every paranormal he sees. He even likes to brag about it, like it’s a good thing.” I shook my head, uncomfortable with my jumbled thoughts on this issue. “I mean, we’re supposed to be there to protect humanity, not to exterminate paranormals.”
Elli’s gaze narrowed on my face. “It’s not like you’re a huge fan of paranormals, Red. It’s why you became a Paranormal Species Control Officer to begin with.”
I shrugged. “You of all people know why. You were with me when we were attacked that night going to our dorm. We never should have taken that shortcut through the alley that night. We were tasty targets, even if we didn’t know it at the time.”
“I’ve told you—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I clenched my teeth to bite back the heated words that wanted to escape and said instead, “I know. You think that half-human/half-leopard shifter was afraid of us. But it leapt out with its claws extended and its teeth bared. And it growled at us.”
Elli glared at me. Probably because of my pejorative use of ‘it’. I knew I was right when she said, “She was in that alley because she thought she would be safe. She was trying to hide.”
“You keep saying that, but you can’t really know—”
Elli interrupted, voice rising. “I do know!” She glanced around and lowered the volume though not the intensity of her words. “I felt her emotions. She was afraid of humans. She thought we were hunting her, and she was merely trying to protect herself.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back in my chair. “That’s not what the officers from the Unit thought.”
“They were like your co-worker, Nick. They believed the only good paranormal is a dead paranormal. They kept referring to her as an it. And I swear to you, I couldn’t feel any real danger from her. I was never afraid of her; she was just trying to scare us off.”
“You don’t always have to act like your name, just because it means full of sympathy.” I snorted. “You know I don’t buy into that empath crap. And the Unit thinks I was right. They took that attack very seriously.”
“You just liked to have someone believe you after the security guard and the police acted like we were nuts. That’s why you asked for a way to contact them. And that’s why you decided to become a Paranormal Species Control Officer.”
I snapped out, “I’m good at my job!” Then I tried to dial back my reaction; I didn’t yell at Elli like that. Where had that come from? “Look, someone needs to protect humans from dangerous paranormals. The world would go crazy if people knew that they really exist. And I do try to give paranormals the benefit of the doubt. You know that. I mean, they’re not all bad. Most maybe, but not all of them.”
Elli grinned at me. “I know you try. We’ll never be on exactly the same page on this one, but you do try. I guess this is a good time for me to admit that I’m now working with a shifter. I really like them. I’ve been thinking about accepting their invitation for coffee.”
I nearly spit out the sip of beer I’d just taken and stared at her in shock. Go out with a shifter? “Um…that’s just not something I could do. I mean, it would be career suicide for me. Besides, they aren’t like us. That’s the first thing they teach you in the Unit.”
Elli glared down at the nacho’s congealing on her plate. “I don’t understand what’s the big deal. What’s wrong with inter-species relationships? Why does everyone believe in humans first?”
I straightened in my seat, feeling strangely defensive. Elli was asking a rhetorical question, not trying to attack me personally. But I still felt like I had to apologize for something. “I don’t believe in humans first. Exactly. I believe in right and wrong, and that someone needs to stand between humans and the paranormals who have gone rogue. It’s not like I distrust all paranormals, no matter what the Unit preaches.”
“Give me an example.” For a moment it looked like Elli was going to cry. I told myself it was just the dim lighting. That had to be it.
And even though I normally followed the rules, especially the one that prohibited sharing things that happened in the Unit, I had to convince her that I wasn’t like Nick. “Fine. This happened just a couple weeks ago, in fact. I found a little boy, not more than five. He was a bear shifter. He’d gotten stuck up a tree trying to steal some honey. He’d lost control over his shape – that happens sometimes when they’re young. He was cute and sweet and so very frightened.”
I sat back in my chair and gulped the rest of my beer. It was getting warm and I made a face before continuing. “I helped him down and took him home. I read his mother the riot act for letting him out of her sight. She was terrified. She acted like she expected me to harm her or that cute little kid. When I turned to leave, she thanked me so fervently it was embarrassing.”
I considered having another beer but really didn’t want to risk driving drunk. And if I got caught, Nick would never let me live it down. I leaned forward and put my elbows on the table, cupping my chin in my hands. “It was weird,” I told Elli. “The next day I mentioned that encounter at roll call. Nick told me I should have killed ‘it’. I asked him why I should kill an innocent child, and Nick said there is no such thing as an innocent shifter. You should have seen the expression on his face. He was disgusted. He said now it would grow up to be a monster, and he’d have to deal with it.”
I dropped my hands and clasped my fingers together so tightly that my knuckles ached. “I swear, Elli, when I looked around that room, at least half of the people in there agreed with him. That I should have killed that little boy.”
I looked up in time to see a pensive smile on her face. She reached across the narrow table and grasped my hands, giving them a quick squeeze before letting go. Her voice was gentle as she said, “Now you know why paranormals assume members of the Unit, and especially PSCOs, are out to get them. It’s why they react so defensively and feel like they need to defend themselves. Just like that girl in the alley.”
I stared at her, shaken. Could I really be part of something that made paranormals act like they did? I opened my mouth to say…what? But before I could get my thoughts together, Nick Ratchet walked in. He shot me a strange look; a mix of triumph and offense and…something.
Elli’s eyes were huge as she leaned over and whispered, “What did you ever do to that guy?”
“I turned him down when he asked me out.” I dropped my hands to my lap where they involuntarily clenched into fists. “That’s Nick.”
“The species-ist, chauvinist, misogynist bigot?” When I nodded, she said, “I’ve never met someone who’s God’s gift to the world before.”
“You’re not going to meet him today, either.” I said. I grabbed my napkin off my lap, crumpled it, and tossed it on the table.
“I’m okay with that,” Elli said and shivered. “It feels like there’s something off about him.” She stared at me intently, holding my eyes as she said, “You should watch your back around him, Red.”
I got to my feet and laughed. “You don’t need to worry about me,” I said. “I can take care of myself”