Straying from the Path Charity Tahmaseb
It was a wolf, rather than an ailing grandmother, that tempted Red into the woods. All day his cries echoed, small, plaintive sounding things that filled the forest. By the time she found him, night had fallen and the blood on the snow looked black.
By moonlight, she pried his paw from the rusted jaws of the trap. He ran from her. And why wouldn’t he? It was her kind that set the trap to begin with. The wolf limped through the underbrush, tail between his legs. Later, if you asked her at what point she fell in love, she would’ve said that night. At the time, all she knew was how his injured gait made her heart lurch.
That night, Red spied his yellow eyes from well beyond the woodpile at the edge of the forest. The next evening, she left a meat pie on the lowest stack of wood. By morning, the tin had been licked clean.
And so went the winter. As the days grew colder and her supplies dwindled, she cut back on her own portion of meat. She could go without, but the wolf was still healing. Now when she walked in the forest, she never feared brigands or the overly-friendly woodcutters. When men called on her, they found the howl of a single male wolf so unnerving, they left their teacups half full, crumb cake uneaten.
When at last the snow melted, and the sun heated the earth, Red took to bathing in the stream behind the house. No one dared disturb her. Every night, she set out a meat pie. Every morning, she collected the empty tin.
Except for the morning, she didn’t. Flies buzzed around the remains, chewed and pilfered by tiny mouths and claws. She threw on her cape and ventured into the forest–alone.
The trail was easy enough to follow. Drops of blood, tufts of gray fur, the farther into the forest she walked, the slower her steps. What was done was done. All she could do was delay her own knowledge of it, spend a few more minutes in a world where, every time she closed her eyes, all she saw was blooded fur and severed paws–far too many to count.
That night, for the first time in months, she did not bake a meat pie.
The scratching came when the coals in the fireplace were mere embers. There, at the door, sat her wolf, bloodied but no weaker for his fight. He cocked his head as if to say: Where’s my meat pie?
She buried her face in his fur, arms tight around his neck, and cried until the dirt in his fur became streams of mud.
When the townsfolk came, bearing axes and ropes, she threw open the door for them.
Why no, she hadn’t seen any wolves at all lately. In fact, she’d stopped her treks through the forest for fear of them. Instead, she now cared for her grandmother here, in her very own cottage.
The men tiptoed from the room, not wishing to wake the old lady. The women rubbed their chins, hoping old age would not bring such a crop of whiskers.
After that, suitors stopped visiting. Although Red always sent them on their way with a meat pie, they found her grandmother’s beady eyes unsettling.
People forgot about Red, her grandmother, who while always ailing, never departed this world for the next. But on moonlit nights, townsfolk stumbling from the tavern swore they saw a streak of silver gray and a flutter of red in the woods beyond the town square, laughter and howls echoing in the night air.
Charity Tahmaseb has slung corn on the cob for Green Giant and jumped out of airplanes (but not at the same time). She’s worn both Girl Scout and Army green. These days, she writes fiction and works as a technical writer.
Her short speculative fiction has appeared in UFO Publishing’s Unidentified Funny Objects and Coffee anthologies, Kazka Press, with forthcoming stories in Cast of Wonders and Sucker Literary Magazine.
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