“Alas for those girls who’ve refused the truth: The sweetest tongue has the sharpest tooth.” ― Jack Zipes, Little Red Riding Hood and Other Classic French Fairy Tales
The various herbs and tinctures had been gathered, carefully measured and mixed into the recipe and when the baking was done, Mother asked her only daughter, Redalhia, to take the specially prepared galette and pot of cream to Grandmother’s forest cottage.
Redalhia didn’t quite feel up for the journey. Her body was undergoing a significant change and she found herself trapped betwixt and between being the girl she once was and the woman she would one day become. But she loved Grandmother so very dearly that she put her own cares aside and happily gathered the food into a basket before setting off for the forest.
How could she do any less? Her grandmother had fallen ill and the severity of her malady forced her to live apart from the family in a cottage deep within the forest, for fear of passing the sickness onto anyone else.
At the tree line of the forest, the road she walked split in two and at the fork stood the changeling-wolf known in the village as Bzou. The shapeshifter sensed her approach and quickly took the form of a man. When she grew close enough to benefit from the power of his bright smile, Bzou flashed his teeth and asked, “Excuse me, dear, where are you going?”
“To Grandmother’s house, sir,” Redalhia answered.
Bzou sniffed the air, “And what, fair creature, do you carry?” but it wasn’t the scent of the food in the basket that tempted his nostrils.
“Why, Mother’s cooking, of course. Bread and cream for Grandmother’s supper. She lives in the forest cottage.”
“And which path will you take?” Bzou asked, gesturing at both paths, one after the other. “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?”
Redalhia pondered this a moment. “The Path of Pins, I think, since it is the quickest.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, very. I have traveled both paths and Pins is the quickest.”
“Let us put your expertise to the test, shall we? I will take the Path of Needles, and we will see who gets there first.”
Redalhia shrugged for she knew she was right, but if the silly man wanted to waste his time, who was she to stop him? She set off down the Path of Pins and thought it strange that he simply stood there, grinning, and watched her walk.
Bzou knew the girl was right. Of course, the Path of Pins was quicker and she definitely would have reached the cottage first had the shapeshifter walked on two legs. But using all four? There was no way she would be faster than he. When the girl disappeared within the dense patch of trees, the wolfen shook off his human guise, trotted down the Path of Needles, and as he knew he would, reached Grandmother’s cottage first.
The cunning wolf altered his appearance to resemble Redalhia and rapped gently on the door. When Grandmother answered, her thrill at seeing her favorite grandchild was short lived as Bzou slaughtered her, quickly and efficiently as not to leave a mess. He gnawed her flesh, lapped up her blood and ate her bones to the marrow, leaving only a small portion of flesh that he placed on a little dish in the pantry, and a bit of blood that he drained into a little bottle. Then Bzou cleaned himself, took the form of Grandmother and dressed in her cap and shawl before climbing into bed.
When Redalhia finally knocked on the door, Bzou carefully disguised his guttural voice before calling out, “Come in, my child.”
“Grandmother,” the girl beamed, “Mother sent me here with a galette and a cream.”
“Put them in the pantry, child. Are you hungry and thirsty?”
“Yes, I am.”
“There is meat in the pantry for you to cook and wine beside it to drink.”
Redalhia cooked the meat and as she began to eat it, a little cat mewled, “You are eating the flesh of your grandmother!”
“Throw your shoe at that noisy cat,” said Bzou, and so the girl did.
As Redalhia washed the meat down with wine, a small bird cried, “You are drinking the blood of your grandmother!”
“Throw your other shoe at that noisy bird,” Bzou commanded, and the girl did so.
When Redalhia finished her meal, Bzou said, “You must be exhausted from your journey, child. Take off your clothes, come to bed, and I shall warm you up.”
It was true, after the meat and drink, her head did spin slightly. There was something in the flavor of the meal, a familiarity basted in sorrow. “Where shall I put my clothing, Grandmother?”
“Throw them on the fire, child, for you won’t need them anymore.”
Normally, Redalhia would have questioned this but a sudden weariness fogged her mind. She tossed her bodice, skirt, petticoat, and stockings on the fire, and climbed into bed.
The nearness of her, the smell of her budding womanhood, caused Bzou’s concentration to wander and his guise slipped a bit.
Even through the sleepy haze, Redalhia noticed the change. Her once frail grandmother was hairier, her arms stronger, ears larger, and her teeth — those teeth were familiar but they didn’t belong to the old woman’s face. Where had she seen them before?
Bzou spoke in gentle tones to allay the girl’s suspicions, “My hair is to keep you warm on cold nights, my arms to hold you close, my ears to better hear your sweet voice, and my teeth…”
Sharp teeth. Sharper than any human has ever had. “The better to eat me with?” Redalhia leapt from the bed. “Bizou!”
The wolf smiled and let the disguise fall away. “Yes, ’tis I.”
“But where is Grandmo–” the truth slowly dawning, “You ate her!”
“We share that sin, my dear. Now come and lie beside me.” Bzou patted the empty side of the bed.
The realization made Redalhia retch. “I — I feel ill…”
“Do it in the bed, my child, I do not mind.”
The girl staggered out the cottage door and vomited the undigested bits of her late grandmother against a plum tree.
Bzou followed her outside, shaking his canine head, “What a waste of good meat. Are you finished yet, deary, so that we may attend to our affairs?”
“My only affair is to see you dead!” the girl spat.
“You are welcomed to try after I take from you what is mine.”
Redalhia sprinted from the tree and took off down the Path of Pins.
“Nectar sweetened by the chase!” Bzou grinned as he darted down the Path of Needles, powerful legs carrying him to the fork in the road with a swiftness unmatched by any human. He braced himself for the girl to appear from the tree line. He would take her straight away, no more games. He waited. And waited. Until waiting turned to impatience and impatience turned to realization, “Clever girl. She…”
Doubled back once she heard Bzou on the Path of Needles. Her first instinct was to run to the safety of her home, but she quickly realized how foolish a thought that was. She couldn’t risk leading the wolf to her house, couldn’t afford to lose Mother as well.
Branches and thistles and thorns and bramble tore at Redalhia’s naked flesh as she ran past the cottage and through the woods which had no path.And when she thought she couldn’t run any further, she reached a river, swift and deep, where laundresses on both banks were hard at work.
“Help me cross,” she pleaded with them. The washer women took pity on the girl and spread a sheet over the water and held tightly to its ends. No sooner than when Redalhia had begun to cross the bridge of cloth, Bzou reached the river and jumped upon the sheet as well.
She too was on all fours now, scrambling to reach the other side of the river, and when the wolf was almost upon her, Redalhia dove off the sheet onto the river bank and yanked the linen from the laundresses’ hands and let it go.
Bizou’s paws clawed at the muddy river bank. looking for purchase but Redalhia kicked them away. He bobbed the surface a few times, shifting forms from wolf to the man in the road to Redalhia herself to Grandmother and finally back to his true wolf self, desperately trying to swim against the tide but was too badly tangled in the sheet. He let out one last pitiful howl before he drowned.
Sally forth and be shapeshiftingly but not grandmother-eatingly writeful.
– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys