Tag Archives: short

An Eve with Mr. Archer

Upon the otherwise blank wall hung Ophelia. I, myself, stood approximately seven feet before it, one hand casually buried in my trouser pocket, the other loosely gripping my ebony bag. I gazed at Millais’ masterpiece with silent solemnity. In my contemplation, I had not moved for the past two hours.

How sad it is, I thought. One of the great characters in literary history left to float forever, suspended in a wasteful death. Earlier, a curator had told a stuffy sightseeing crowd that the principle notion behind the work was principiis obsta; to serve as a reminder of what could be. That statement was correct, of course; for the depiction of failure, of wastefulness, was glaring. But it was also erroneous insofar as concerned the irony of the painting that swelled in its cool ferny hues, which the curator had evidently been blind to. It was not lost on me, however; no, to me it made itself known in a long, drawling moan that issued from the parted lips of the drowned girl and that rattled harshly the very borders of its confined space. I could hear the cry so distinctly that several times I winced and once I clapped my free hand to my ear in helplessness.

Poor Millais. Each day his oil-scream was passed over and over again by one so-called expert or another who would unwittingly act as a laudator temporis acti and fail to understand the horrific nature of the image. I must admit that, at first, it did frighten me (and every so often still succeeds in sending a shiver down my spine), but I have come now to feel a sort of uncomfortable pity that I believe was the Pre-Raphaelite’s intention. It served as a reminder of duty, a call to action that the painter himself could not answer. In this manner Millais had done as De Quincey had once written and “carried his art to a point of colossal sublimity,” for nothing I could fathom could produce the same squelching sensation that churned in the pit of my stomach.

The work would have served well as the cover for The Newgate Calendar–it was the epitome of what resided within that forlorn text. Worse still, the murders and deaths mentioned in that collection were of true origin; and yet they too suffered to relate little of importance to the reader. Hardly ever were the specifics of the killings mentioned, and more often than not they were allowed only a sentence or two. Of course, it must be noted that none (so far as I have read) of the acts in that text were committed by what one could truly consider an artist. I could only imagine Leo the Tenth’s appalled countenance after perusing these follies. Ha! the word resurfaced: wasteful.

“Excuse me, sir, we are closing in ten minutes.”

I turned my head toward the source of the interruption. There before me stood a young docent. She could not have been more than thirty; her dark hair was tied back neatly; the ivory of her skin glowed against the dark folds of her attire; and her large almond eyes were attentive. Her voice had been pleasant enough, but now that I could see her face I knew that my ears had deceived me.

What a longing face she had! The withering behind her eyes was palpable so as to put me in a mourning temper. Her smile was strained, stretching across her face in rigid agony. Oh, what a poor soul to be held down so! Was she not pleading, begging for release? A living Ophelia condemned, indeed, to loiter in this wretched existence until fate set her free. Shame, shame!

“Ah, yes, quite so. Thank you, miss–”

“White. Mrs. White.”

I was struck then with the white hot lightning of brilliance. Why should I not be the one to free her? Indeed, it already seemed a fait accompli! What a perfect notion, to not only enact artful justice, but to do so for an employee who worked in the same place as which was filled with the groans of Millais. This one would be for the Pre-Raphaelite, whose death seemed only too recent; his eternal call would be answered by a successive chef-d’œuvre.

“Good eve to you then, Mrs. White,” I said.

She smiled that austere smile. “A good night to you, sir. I do hope you enjoyed the art.”

Enjoyed? I smiled pitifully at her, then tipped my hat and strode out of the Tate Britain’s empty halls.

I was greeted at once by agreeable weather. The night was thick with fog so impregnable that it was difficult to see five feet ahead. God himself is on my side, I thought. The very hands of nature were to join in the wringing!

I cautiously made my way down the steps in front of the marble building, stopped in front of a fat post slightly off to the right side (because I am right-handed), took a small mallet from my ebony bag and pocketed it. Then I waited.

Before long I could hear the easily recognizable footfall of a woman descending the steps. I kept my peace just long enough (drawing my mallet), then–as she was coming around the post–I revealed myself and clubbed her down. She made a small yelp as she fell, but it was not loud and was most definitely swallowed by the fog. I wondered if even then she knew, and understood her destiny. Opening my bag and removing my sicae, I knelt down and began to work.

Throughout the entire thing she hardly stirred. I had not hit her hard enough to kill her, rather just to daze her, and her eyes were open wide. Her mouth too, was open, and gaped soundlessly at me in silent appreciation. Her gaze unnerved me, and I thought of removing her eyes, but then I reconsidered upon the realization that it would be wrong to deny her access to the great act. She was, after all, part of the process. She moaned only after I had removed her liver, dusted it gently with my fingertips and set it beside a length of intestine; and I smiled because the sound was almost certainly her soul escaping, fleeing into the ether.

I stuck to the shadows and alleys on the way home, despite the shield fate had provided me with, for my hands and sleeves were smeared with the effort of my labour. Her name would appear in the papers tomorrow, just like the others. And just like the others, it would be unlikely that the mastery of the scene would be done justice by whichever prig wrote the column.

How lonely it is to be an artist, I thought. As I walked, I felt a sudden pang of jealousy for Mrs. White. It was true what they said, about art and about the artist himself: one is only appreciated–even noticed!–when he is dead.

Alexander (Halloween Short, 2015)

It is with much distaste that I am about to pen the tale with which I shall regale you. For involved heavily in it is none other than my own son, of whom you may have heard about on the radio recently. I expect you to believe not my tale, for I myself often find the events increasingly ludicrous as they replay in my mind’s eye. Indeed, it could be that I have unconsciously changed certain aspects of a day’s elements due to the overwhelming nausea that this tale arouses in my bosom. Yet of the events specifically concerning my son do I perfectly, frightfully hold in clearest memory. Oh, have we not time to dwell on his freckled cheeks? His vibrant blue eyes? His small fingers? Know once more that I wish not to record this for all of the disbelief it shall inevitably arouse amongst my neighbours and friends–these words shakily scratched come only at the request of our local police department.

My son, whose name was–is–Alexander, early on became infatuated with the concept of ventriloquism. Often would he sit before the television in wonder at the sight and performance of Paul Winchell. So too would he scan through daily newspapers, finding short columns regarding other schoolchildren and their talent shows–of which ventriloquism was rampant–and bring them to me for inspection.

It was shortly thereafter–in the midst of his plunge into the subject–that he came running to me one evening only just as I had begun making supper. His blue eyes twinkled as he entertained me with the apparently extravagant fact that his own school was to put on a talent show, just as he had seen in the papers. At length he proceeded to beg and grovel, admitting–with what must have been great difficulty–that he would sooner toss all of his worldly possessions into the sea than fail to give the grandest ventriloquist act ever witnessed by human eyes to his peers and mentors.

True it was that the idea repelled me. While I gave leave for sweet Alexander to revel in his interests, I myself had no affection for the art of anthropomorphizing carved wooden fiends. The very presence of such a thing brought an uncanny twitch to my eye and to my heart a knotting sensation. Breathing life into the already-dead is not a gift of humanity, nor shall it or should it ever be; and thus should I be absolved of having to witness its feeble attempts.

But the love for my son was and remains great, and so it was that I gave into him.

It was in a nearby independent shop that I found what I sought–a dummy of seemingly perfect countenance. Snuggly it wore a miniature suit–indeed the blazer was superior to my own–and white undergarments. Upon its head sat a Chaplin-esque bowler, and tufts of what the store owner cheerily told me were horse hair were slicked back atop its wooden scalp. Its face was one of pure bravado, with swaggering eyebrows and a pearly grin. Dead were its eyes and within them I could see plainly my own revolted expression.

In triumph did I came home that evening with the little man packaged under my arm. When I presented it to my son–who had been rooting through the latest Daily Herald–he gave me such an embrace and let loose such a squeal that still to this day have I never heard so melodious a sound. To his new friend he bestowed the name Alexander II, and then proceeded to begin practicing his craft at once.

Now, it must be noted that the talent show was still not for some time, as I had decided early on that if I was to buy my son such a foolish gift, he was to have mastered the hobby well before actually putting himself on display. And so it was that every night after supper young Alexander practiced–either in front of me or in a room nearby–and so quickly was he enraptured by the little man that he began to bring it with him wherever he went, school or otherwise.

It is only in recent days that I have mourned my fateful decision to let him do so. For at the time I thought nothing of it, and kept to my own daydreams and concerns. The practicing became so commonplace that I now hardly batted an eye at the thing when it was brought into the room, whereas before I had had reactionary cringes. I still did not find pleasure in looking at it, nor did I ever–EVER–wish to be left alone with it, but the mere presence of it in the house became something like owning a cat.

One evening Alexander II sat down with my son and I to sup. Ordinarily, I would never have allowed this, but the talent show was now a mere three days away, and Alexander had insisted that he spend every waking moment with his hand ingrained in the ligneous body. So it was that as I served him his soup–ah, I remember plainly, it was mushroom!–the dummy sat to his left, upon the table in such a way that it was impossible for me to see his hand or arm.

After seating myself and concentrating furiously on my boy rather than our guest for a number of moments in agonizing silence, I finally ventured to ask how his day at school had gone.

What followed was difficult to comprehend and remains even now a laborious struggle to relate to you. My logical mind still rejects the incident in the manner of which I recollect it, but my heart–oh, my poor heart!–chooses to succumb to what appeared to me to be the unshakable truth. So know that while I shall tell you what I will, even my own mind–which was present, indeed–refutes still the awful scene.

My son looked up at me in reaction to the question I had posed, but made no attempt to respond. Indeed, he appeared very weary and slack-jawed; perhaps even pale! I had not noticed, so busy had I been with my own trivial life.

I opened my mouth again to comment on this sight, but–alas!–before I was able, another voice answered my question. “Oh, very good indeed! We are doing quiet well.” This voice was one that had been drilled into my eardrums to an excruciating degree as of late–it was, of course, the voice of Alexander II! Alexander had altered his common voice in an effort to give life to his wooden friend, and had spent the weeks since the dummy arrived at home perfecting his sound.

With abject–yet concealed–horror my gaze gravitated to the little man. His black eyes stared soullessly into the invisible beyond, but in that moment I could feel his blindness vanish and his eyes follow the thick line of tension to my face. His already stretched grin unhinged like a snake’s when he spoke, his wooden mouth gaping and shutting in an unnatural swiftness. “Is something wrong, Father dear?”

I began to feel my appetite seep out of my pores and it must have been that if a mirror had been held up to me, I would have been exposed as a lucid white. Looking back to my son, there had been no change in his countenance–he blinked stupidly, his freckles no longer shined, and the first signs of drool were noticeable at his lip’s edge.

The single bulb hanging over the dining room seemed to me to be dying. The household darkness crept into the kitchen from empty rooms and stretched out thin tendrils to poke and prod at the normalcy of an everyday supper. I shuddered–at this the little man’s eyes seemed to shimmer in a manner almost akin to Alexander’s, though evidently more malicious.

With an effort I rose, strode around the girth of the table and snatched Alexander II from my son’s grasp. Instantly I knew I had made a miscalculation, as the exposed hand of Alexander shot up to latch onto my own arm–the one that held the dummy. My son’s face was suddenly one of enmity: wrinkled was his nose, bared were his teeth and venom exuded from his eyes. “Return him!” His voice was not its usual tone; instead it sounded raspy and worn, and contained nothing but the heavy-handed hammer of hate.

After a few ticks of silence–I was too shocked and frightful to respond–he let loose my arm, and his face fell to that same tired one which it had been before. He did not apologize, but sat still as if he had been drained now of all life. It was difficult to believe that he had only just held me with a grip so strong as to belong to a fully grown man.

“When the talent show comes, then again you shall have him,” I muttered. My son said nothing, and so I went to an empty closet in the hallway. There I stashed Alexander II on the lone shelf and shut the door as quickly as I could. It was only afterward I noticed my entire body quivering as one does when terribly excited or unintelligibly afraid.

The following day passed by with little disturbance, therefore I do not recall much of it. I remember only the despondent nature of my son, whom without his wooden accomplice seemed lost to the world. He stopped speaking almost entirely, and he no longer ventured to turn on the television or flip through the newspaper. Woe, indeed! My son seemed drained–my poor Alexander!–of all his hopes and enjoyments. His eyes no longer twinkled and the blue faded to a cloudy grey. His skin remained pale as if he were ill, but never once did he complain or admit to any discomfort.

No, it was I who felt the discomfort! If only I had realized sooner; if only I had thought to speak to him more directly. It is true what they say: aches within the bosom build, and until set free therein they live to torment and rot. But always–always!–must a tipping point come, and with it some explosive consequence. Forgive me, for here tear stains mark my page and I worry that emotion enough may end my tale without logic, who stands always outside and knocks.

But alas! How shall I tell you of that fateful night? The stars were high and bright within their velvet blanket when I was woken by a creak downstairs. At first I thought–hoped!–that perhaps I had dreamt it, and that such a terrible sound had not occurred. Creak. Ah! There it was again! Had there ever been a more horrific sound? So soft it seeped into my very bed, and there began such a midnight chill as I have never had. It was then that I knew where from the utterance issued–the hallway closet!

I staggered from my bed and crept down the stairs in a hunched manner, until I set foot on the main floor. Careening about a corner, I came into the lit hallway. And there stood my son–in his crimson silk pajamas–before the closet, the door flung wide open. He stood rigid and erect, with his legs spread wide as if to brace for impact.

From within the sable darkness of the closet, I could see the still blacker eyes of the little man. It was then that the dummy raised its wooden head–without any help at all!–and met my gaze. In horror and error I stood in stunned silence, dread coursing through my veins. Alexander stepped forth into the closet, and just as the door swung shut I caught a glimpse of the little man’s arm–horror! oh, horror!–rising with stiff fingers outstretched towards my boy.

The slam of the door echoed in the quiescent house and spurred me into action. I leapt to it, wrenching and wringing and yanking–it had no lock!–upon the handle, but to no avail. I began pounding on the door, crying out in a voice that sounded, to my own ears, disillusioned.

It was moments–nay, hours?–later that the door yawned open and I was sent sprawling to the tile floor. From out of the shadows stepped my boy–oh, my Alexander!–and stood over me. No longer did he appear ill or frail. His colour had returned but with a cost. The twinkle in his eye, oh what been done?! It was now of something wretched and fell, and I feared to look upon it. At length a ghoulish grin spread upon his lips, and then he threw back his head and cackled–oh what sheer terror that sound! Horror! Horror!

Drained of strength, I remained crumpled on the floor as he tore by me and unclosed the front door. Out he went, and into the night he vanished.

Still lost is my son, somewhere in the hands of nature. I know not where he might have fled, nor indeed, why he fled in the first place. Hazy my mind feels when I recall the events of that awful night, but the memories themselves are sharp!

I have not removed Alexander II from the closet, nor have I looked at it since the evening my son left. I have left the closet to the abled fingers of the police, who have, since looking into that tiny room of horror, assured me that there is nothing out of the ordinary with the space nor so the dummy that resides within it. I did not ask, but it seems to me that they have left the little man there still.

It is now with great pain and sadness that I wait every day and every night for news about my son. In recent nights, I have sometimes been awoken by the small sound of a miserable whimper coming from the hallway closet. From it comes the repeated phrase, “Father! Still I live! Father! Still I live!”

I shudder to think of it, and wish no longer to speak of this most terrible business. That blackest sound of all things must reside within my broken imagination, for it seems to me to come from a wooden mouth.

Oh, my poor Alexander! My little boy! My son! Come back to me!

Genre Replay: Red Hood

(*Author’s Note: This short story was written in 2013, and is not recent. It was an assignment for a university course, in which we were asked to take the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood and put our own unique spin on it. This is mine.)

It was Red who called the Meeting of the Hoods.

For it was her grandmother, her kin, that was in need of immediate aid. She was the first to hear the news of Eurwen’s impending death and thus she had made haste to bring forth all of the Hoods at once within the sacred hollows of the Old Oak. For it concerned them all.

“Dying, you say?” Blue gazed at her from across the hewn table.

Red’s confirmation brought about a great murmur through the rest of the Hoods, all seated at various spots around the table.

Green and Yellow looked shocked while the colour had drained from White’s face, and Black and Orange directed their attention towards their laps, feeling lost.

Only Blue held Red’s stare and appeared to be unperturbed by the dire news. It made sense after all, since he was the most powerful of them; the most equipped to handle such situations. With the High Hood absent, he was the voice of reason, the voice of omnipotence.

“There is a way,” Red broke the deafening silence, “to go about solving this problem.”

Blue’s sapphire eyes bore into her own dark ones. “I would hear it.”

“My mother has forged an antidote. An elixir, as it were, with one of the recipes given to her by our very own White Hood.” Red paused and glanced at White, who’s wrinkled face quivered with surprise at her being mentioned. “She believes that this elixir will cure Golden Hood of her insidious illness.”

“That is all well and good, Miss Red Hood, but having simply created an antidote is ignominious if it shall not reach our target in time. For the High Hood lives a good ways distance from Seirian Village, you know this. If she is as ill as you say, could she survive the length of a two day’s journey?”

“She shan’t, Blue Hood,” Red admitted. “But you have not let me finish. I could reach Fychan Village within half that span of time if I take the path through Gethyn Wood.”

Another murmur broke out among the Hoods, this one more lively, with looks of surprise and wide-eyed terror blotting the faces half hidden under cloaks.

Blue himself winced at the suggestion and narrowed his gem-like eyes. “Red, you are foolish to bring such ideas to my table. You are far too young, too inexperienced to make such a journey. Furthermore, it is not your place as a young woman,” he pronounced this last word harshly, “to even suggest yourself as the traveller. There are many others we could send for, one of the Grey Hoods perhaps, to do such heroic grunt work. You are set to become such as your mother and White Hood, a healer, or more likely, follow in the High Hood’s footsteps.”

Red felt anger and contempt for Blue’s words begin to rise in her belly, the fire spreading throughout her limbs and making her face hot. “I am the only one who should be making this journey, Blue Hood. Your Grey Hoods be damned. They cannot do this job half as well as I can. They do not have the ferocity to compete with the dangers of-”

“And that’s the other thing!” Blue interrupted loudly. “The dangers! You have never stepped foot in Gethyn Wood! Indeed, none of us have for a very long time. The High Hood banished all sorts of hellish creatures there, the likes of which you have never seen. There are goblins that could trick you, vampires that could seduce you, werewolves that could kill you and so much more!”

Red leapt to her feet, slamming her hands down on the table. “They will all perish before me. None shall stand in my way. I am going to make this trip, Blue!”

“They will kill you!” He barked back.

“They will try!” Red roared.

“The High Hood-”

“EURWEN! My grandmother! She may be just the High Hood or Golden Hood to you, but not to me! Not to my mother! To us she is kin! To us she is sacred!”

Silence.

The other Hoods all sat stock-still, mouths agape and hands wringing under table.

Red fumed, the entirety of her body shaking, her nails digging into the susceptible table. In her rage, her hood had fallen back, dark hair spilling around her shoulders and contrasting with her pale skin. She kept her wild gaze locked on Blue, who was receding into his chair, his collected composure returning almost as swiftly as it had vanished.

He remained quiet for a long moment. All eyes slowly turned to him.

“Due to the fact,” he began quietly, “that you are her granddaughter and wish for this so profusely, I shall grant your request. You may enter Gethyn Wood this once, and go as quick as your feet will take you to Fychan Village.”

Red Hood nodded and straightened herself.

“Know that the forces of the Hoods are behind you. But I cannot guarantee your safety.”

“I can,” Red said, becoming conscious of the twin daggers below her cloak, strapped to her waist. She turned to leave, already thinking of fetching her mother’s elixir.

“Red,” Blue spoke from behind her.

She turned to face him.

His calm expression had changed just enough that she could see the hint of genuine worry behind his eyes. “Stay true to the worn path in the woods. Going astray will certainly bring you peril.”

She nodded again, flipped her hood up over her head and strode away.

Once she had exited the Old Oak, Red bolted home, her crimson cloak billowing behind her. She reached her mother and told her of the news, seeing that it brought both a smile and tears to her face.

“My beautiful Glenys,” her mother said, embracing her warmly, “you have taken up a very noble and yet dangerous quest. You must promise me that you shall return alive and do as Blue Hood said and remain on the path.”

Red reassured her mother that she would and, taking the elixir from her, turned to leave.

“One more thing my dear,” her mother called. “You are no longer a girl. This is both a boon and a burden.”

Red paused for only a moment, considering her words before thanking her for her wisdom and taking her leave.

She stowed the elixir away inside of her cloak so that none should see it, for it was very obvious that it was no ordinary medicine. The bottle glowed dully with a greenish-blue light from the contents inside that, through the see-through glass, swirled and gurgled with unnatural quality.

Coming to the edge of the wood, Red stopped and marveled at its enormity. The gnarled trees stood fathoms upon fathoms high, jutting out into the sky like wicked hands. The leaves upon the branches were all dead, yet remained clinging there still as if afraid of fluttering away from their stagnant purgatory. Wind whistled through the cracks and crevices in the brush, bending foliage and causing the forbidden place to groan with centuries of fatigue. A well worn path was visible several paces from where Red stood.

Deep within the wood, she heard the faint howl of an indescribable pain.

Steeling herself, Red Hood walked briskly onto the path and set out into Gethyn Wood as the portal to her world grew smaller and smaller behind her.

She walked on for hours, focusing solely on the path before her, doing her best not to let her eyes stray. She kept her hands buried in her cloak pockets, poised to whip out her weapons for the slightest rustle in the bushes.

Just as she was about to pause to look skyward and see if she could tell the passage of time, she heard the sound of soft footsteps creeping up from behind.

Whirling around, she unsheathed her daggers in a fluid motion and held them before her steadily as a large figure came into focus.

“A Hood? Can it be?” the figure said in a deep voice.

Red said nothing.

“Indeed it is! Happy day!”

The figure took a few steps closer, but hesitated once he realized the threat Red posed. He bowed his shaggy head and she could see that his hair was matted and tough. He was grimy from head to toe, but a pair of striking blue eyes pushed that thought away almost immediately. Other than his filthiness and torn clothes, he was rather handsome. He had a strong jaw and a straight face, and everything about him seemed genuine and kind. Though at the moment, his eyes were trained on the daggers.

“Please, Miss, tell me I am not wrong. You are a Hood, aren’t you?”

She hesitated. “Who wants to know?”

“I do.” He paused and bowed his head again. “I am Blethyn.”

Red studied him as he bowed and she slowly lowered her weapons, but did not sheathe them.

“I do not know why you have travelled through these forsaken woods, but if you are truly a Hood, then I must tell you of the doom that has fallen upon the one called Golden Hood,” he said.

Red tried to hold back surprise at this but couldn’t help speaking up. “I already know of this, for she is my grandmother. The news of her illness reached me only recently. That’s why I’ve set out through these woods, to reach her and deliver her an antidote.”

Blethyn looked confused and shook his messy head. “Ill? No, I do not speak of illness. I did not know that Golden Hood was ailing.”

Red blinked and furrowed her brow. “Then what do you speak of?”

“I speak of the attack.”

“Attack?”

“Aye.” Blethyn’s face became grave. “The werewolves of this corrupt wood are plotting to seal her fate late tonight, while she is asleep. They are, as you can imagine, displeased that she has condemned them to live forever in this place. They are going to surround her home and assault it all at once, bringing her to an early demise.”

His expression became more sympathetic and Red thought he must have seen the look on her face.

“How do you know this to be true?” she asked.

“Because, Miss,” he grumbled, “I am a werewolf.”

Her fingers twitched on the daggers’ hilts. “If you are one of them, why tell me this?”

He fixed his powerful blue gaze on her and spoke with a hidden resentment in his voice. “Golden Hood is right. We deserve to be contained in this wood, for we are monsters. There is no denying it. And many of us act the part.” There seemed to be something sad about his expression, even his posture as he stood there before her, muscled body glinting in the dim haze.

“I shall go at once then,” Red said. “I have already started and am only wasting time talking to you here. I must reach my grandmother before your brethren.”

“Ah, but that is why I have stopped you!” Blethyn exclaimed. “There is no way you shall reach her in time on this path! You must follow me, through the woods. It is much quicker to cut across and I know the way.”

But Red shook her head. “I cannot do so. I promised my mother and other Hoods that I shan’t leave the path. Besides, I cannot trust one such as you.”

Blethyn began to look desperate. “Listen to me. If you shan’t leave the path, I shall hurry on ahead of you and reach Golden Hood’s house in time to warn and defend her of the impending attack. It will be the only way to assure her survival. Then, when you arrive, you may steal away with her.”

“But I cannot trust one such as you. I’ve only just met you! And you’re one of them,” Red said.

He nodded. “Then I shall take an oath so that you may place your trust in me.”

“And how shall we seal this oath?”

“Take one of your daggers and carve a symbol on my arm. I shall let you do this, let you spill my blood, if you shall place your faith in me.”

Red pondered this for a moment and finally consented, sheathing one of her daggers and taking a step closer to him. She tried not to breathe as he extended his right arm, for he smelled of expired flesh.

With great care she carved a crude image of a lamb into his skin, the blood from the wound making the animal almost seem to come to life.

“I drew a lamb,” she said, “so that you shall not forget how precious and delicate my grandmother is. She is not to be the feast of werewolves.”

He winced when she was done, but other than that he showed no signs of discomfort. “I give you my honest word that I will do all I can to protect her, even if it costs me everything I have.”

And with that, Blethyn turned and bounded away into the brush and just before he hit a patch of shadow, Red swore she saw the wisp of a tail materialize out of thin air.

“Message?”

Red whirled around again at the sound of a new voice. She raised the dagger she still had in her hand.

“Message?”

She tossed her head back and forth but saw no one. The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.

“Message?”

Finally she spotted it. A little bird sat on a branch above her head, staring down at her and tilting its head. It blinked every few moments but its eyes seemed more intelligent than those of a normal bird.

“Message?” Red repeated.

“Message?” the bird squawked back.

“Can you … deliver a message?”

“I can deliver a message,” it said.

Red was delighted. Of all the luck! She had never heard of such creatures as these living in Glethyn Wood. Ones that might actually be useful, that was.

“I need you to take a message to Blue Hood in Seirian Village. Tell him that he is to gather the Grey Hoods and make his way to the High Hood’s as soon as possible. She is going to be attacked by werewolves tonight,” Red said.

“Gather the Grey Hoods. Go to High Hood’s. Werewolf attack tonight.” The bird blinked and then took off, soaring up and away through the dark trees.

Red Hood watched him go, feeling proud of herself. She did not trust Blethyn. He was a werewolf just the same as the others. As ill as she was, Red was sure her grandmother would be able to hold off a single werewolf if truly necessary. She had dabbled in the art of magic before.

With this reassuring thought, Red raced down the path and deeper into the depths of Glethyn Wood.

Blethyn reached Fychan Village much faster than Red did, just as he had predicted he would. Locating the house he knew to be that of Golden Hood, he shifted back into his human form so as not to attract attention from passers by.

He rapped on the door three times.

“Yes?” a weak voice answered.

Blethyn cleared his voice and raised it as high as he could, so as to sound somewhat like Red Hood. “Grandmother, it is I, Red Hood! May I enter?”

“Red?” the voice sounded confused for a moment but then continued on. “Of course, dear one. Lift the latch, it can be a bit tricky.”

Blethyn did so without issue and shut the door quietly behind him. Stepping into the small house, he saw the one called Golden Hood laying withered and breathless in a bed near the corner of the main room. Her white hair and white sheets made it seem as though she were sleeping in a bed of snow.

She squinted up at him as he approached. “You … are not my granddaughter.”

“No,” he admitted, “I am not. But I had to come inside. I am called Blethyn, I reside in Gethyn Wood.”

The old woman seemed to hold no fear, for she quickly realized that the werewolf meant no harm. Instead, she smiled a wrinkly smile. “What brings you here?”

“Golden Hood,” he began hurriedly, “a dread attack has been plotted against you. The werewolves of the wood are going to emerge in only a few hours time to try and murder you. They are angry with you for forcing them to reside there.”

“And you are not?”

He was taken aback for only a moment at being discovered so swiftly as one of his kind without revealing it to her. “No. We are monsters,” he said simply. “I have promised your granddaughter that I would warn and defend you from my kin. I gave an oath and she in turn placed her trust in me by carving this symbol on my arm.” He showed it to her, the wound still fresh.

“Ah,” the High Hood said.

“There shall be many,” Blethyn said, turning to face the door through which he had entered. “I hope Red Hood arrives soon.”

“As do I, my child,” Eurwen said sadly, “as do I.”

As Red Hood charged down the path towards the widening opening, she could hear snarls and growls emanating from the village beyond. She picked up her pace, sprinting full tilt as the edge of the wood came ever closer.

She had thought she’d made good time. She had been rushing ever since leaving the message bird behind and was hopeful that perhaps the werewolf had been wrong and that she would arrive at her grandmother’s house before or at the same time as him.

But now she knew that her hopes were dashed. She had never heard such horrific sounds as those that came from outside the wood before her. They could be converging on her grandmother’s house even as she ran! Who was to say that Blethyn had honoured his oath?

As she burst from Gethyn Wood, Red stopped short as if instantly rooted to the ground.

At least two dozen gigantic wolves stood before her grandmother’s house at the edge of Fychan Village. They ranged in colour, varying from brown to black to white, each gnashing their teeth and shaking their furry heads.

Yet, they weren’t attacking the house.

Indeed, one of the monstrosities was at the head of the pack, facing another that stood with its back to the house. It was no question that the one guarding the house was Blethyn. His matted fur and brilliant blue eyes were the same as when Red had met him, and he now appeared to be in some sort of silent conversation with the opposing demon, whose fur was utterly pitch.

Tearing herself from the scene, Red hurried along the edge of the wood until she was out of the immediate range of the werewolves. Just as she moved behind the house, she saw the pitch wolf bare its teeth and dart towards Blethyn.

The noise level elevated at once to a frightening height, most assuredly awakening all of the other villagers. Red made her way to the back door of the house and entered without knocking, shutting the door behind her.

The noise carried directly through the place as if the fight was inside and Red did her best to block it out as she raced to her grandmother’s side.

“Glenys, my dear,” her grandmother cooed.

“I have come, grandmother. And I’ve brought you an elixir. Look!”

She drew the glowing bottle from her cloak and pulled the cork from the top, handing it to her grandmother, who took it with a shuddering hand.

No sooner had Golden Hood drained the bottle than she met her granddaughter’s eyes. “That werewolf you made an oath with has been protecting me for some time while you’ve been gone. I believe he is trying to reason with the others but it has given way to violence. Oh, he has helped me so! I would be long dead if not for his presence. We must help him.”

Red shook her head as she pulled the covers back from her grandmother. “If we have time, grandmother, I shall do my best. But first we must get you out of here! One only knows how long those beasts will be kept at bay.”

As she leaned down to scoop the High Hood into her arms, the old woman spoke with downcast eyes. “I believe I have made a mistake, banishing them all …”

But the rest Red did not hear, for she had already kicked open the back door and was tearing across the open grass towards the wood. She reached the edge again and set her grandmother down against the trunk of a massive tree, pausing to catch her breath.

“They believe me still inside,” Golden Hood said. “I know you are a brave girl. Go and tell Blethyn to flee! He cannot stand forever against such a number.”

Red gazed at her kin for a long moment, her chest heaving. “What a big heart you have, grandmother.”

“The better to love you with, sweet one. Now go.” She smiled.

Finally Red nodded and turned, running back towards the house. As she got closer, she noticed rustling from the far side of the wood, behind the shadowy movements of the werewolves.

Then her eyes widened with understanding as suddenly dozens and dozens of Grey Hoods streamed out from the foliage, equipped to the teeth with swords, daggers and axes. They roared in unison as they launched towards the surprised werewolves, who had all been gathered in a giant circle, each trying to get a piece of Blethyn for themselves.

Blue Hood led the charge, rising above the rest of the Hoods, his own cloak billowing in the breeze as he floated in the air above the fray. His eyes were ablaze with sapphire, no pupils to be found. With a great calm he directed his hand toward each werewolf that he saw, smiting them with a blinding light that saw them drop to the ground at once, motionless.

Red looked around frantically, trying to discern Blethyn in the chaos. She could see nothing but cloaks and fur, blades and fangs, and the flashing brilliance of Blue’s power. She called out but her words were drowned in the thundering of battle.

Strong hands took her by the shoulders and turned her to face one of the Grey Hoods. He had a disapproving look on his face and led her forcefully from the skirmish.

“You’re not safe here, Red Hood!” He shouted over the noise. “Where is the High Hood? Stay with me, here!”

They stopped just behind her grandmother’s house as she responded. “She’s over by the edge of the woods. She’s safe.”

“She is now,” he answered.

Red felt numb. She closed her eyes and let the sound around her become nothing but just that. Sound.

“Open your eyes, Miss. It is done.”

Red slowly opened her eyes as instructed and saw the Grey Hood that had been with her striding back towards the front of the house, the noise now ended.

She rose unsteadily and ran gracelessly after him.

Stopping at the site of the fight, she tried her best not to vomit. Her body began shivering involuntarily as she scanned the mass of bodies, Hoods and werewolves alike, trying to locate the matted fur of the one who had kept his oath.

“Red Hood! You are well?” Blue appeared beside her, looking tired but otherwise perfectly sound.

Red ignored him, still looking.

“Where is the High Hood? Did you remove her from the house? A few of the devils got inside, it was impossible to stop them. They smashed the windows. Red?”

“She saved her,” she heard her Grey Hood say. “She has placed her along the edge of the forest, back this way. Come, I will show you.”

Without hesitation, Blue and the other Hoods took off after him, leaving Red alone in front of the still warm bodies.

With anguish she continued to sweep her gaze over the ground until she saw a familiar matted fur. Her eyes widened and she leaped and zig-zagged between corpses, finally reaching the werewolf and kneeling beside him.

“Blethyn?” she murmured.

He shifted and she felt her heart erupt with joy until she saw his mangled body. One of his legs had been clearly broken, there was blood all over his chest and back, and a large gash was spread across his left cheek. But his eyes were still the same striking blue as they fluttered open to lock onto Red. No sooner had they opened then he reverted to his human form before her, now just a broken man lying on blood soaked earth.

“Is she alive?” he gasped, his voice a strained tremor.

Red tried to respond but no sound would come out of her mouth, instead she just swallowed down the lump in her throat and nodded.

“I am glad … glad I made something … of myself.” A sort of half smile crossed his handsome face and even as Red watched, the light faded from his eyes.

Tears she had been trying to restrain now fell freely, splashing into the blood below. Her eyes moved from his face to his wounds once more, and she noticed with a start that his back was in fact steaming; had been burned.

The death blow had been by Blue Hood.

Red Hood’s shoulders shook with sobs as she knelt there, until they were steadied by a new pair of hands.

“Come, Red. It is time to leave. The High Hood is secured. You’ve done a brave thing today,” the voice of Blue Hood said.

He helped her to her feet, and with her still quaking, led her from the scene of destruction.

As she passed Blethyn, her foot grazed his right arm, jostling it so that the carving of a crudely drawn lamb faced skyward.

And the wound was still fresh.