Wolf Daughter



I first saw my daughter after I had gorged myself on her natural parents. My tongue still held traces of their blood; the hot, tangy taste of copper so satisfying after weeks of near starvation. She would have been the easier target – flesh so supple and soft – but they had hidden her away in their picnic basket, nestled in beside the cheese.

I tore open her swaddling clothes with my fangs, but she did not cry out. She just reached up with chubby arms to pat my muzzle, already wet with blood and bread and bone. Even then she had no fear. I think that was why I decided to keep her, regardless of what Grizelda said.

You’ve gotten soft since Adolphe died,” she sniffed. “Why, just last week Bernard and I had a break-in. Some wisp of a girl, blonde curls, gingham dress… just decided to help herself to our food and our furniture. Tore her limb from limb when we got home, I’ll tell you that much.”

I snorted. “You fashion yourself all the comforts of a human home yet I’m the one who’s gone soft.”

Well. The chairs are awfully comfortable.” She gave a disapproving look towards my relatively barren den, judging each mound of straw. “Is that her?”

It is.” The child was asleep in her picnic basket. I had cushioned it with her father’s cloak, stained with his blood. She didn’t seem to mind.

I suppose she is rather cute. And with no cubs of your own I can see the appeal. Still, I can’t imagine how you’ll raise her with nothing but a picnic basket and a red riding hood.”

We’ll manage.” I smiled as she turned over in her sleep. “I think Red suits her.”

***

Grizelda’s intruder was the first of many in our woods. At first there were only travelers and one elderly woman who lived in a cottage by the brook. Then the people built a mill upstream which brought woodcutters to chop down the forest. They were loud and easy to avoid, but scared off my prey. The rabbits and quail disappeared with the underbrush, leaving only gamey squirrels that kept to the trees out of reach.

Red was different than her loud, lumbering kinfolk. She was swift and silent as the night. Her fingers were nimble, crafting spears and slings that bludgeoned prey from a distance. It was not the wolf way, but then, I had almost died following the wolf way. She hunted with such skill that we never had to chase, never starve, though prey was scarcer than ever.

Grizelda couldn’t possibly understand. The bears were foragers. She had her husband and cub to rely on while my mate, Adolphe, left me with nothing. I was haunted by stories of his death: boiled alive in an iron cauldron by pigs. I could not imagine a worse death. In the woods your prey will get you just as often as you get them. It’s best to have someone to depend on, even if she happens to be a little girl.

Red laid out her latest kill before me. The squirrel carcass was hot and lean; she had skinned it, leaving only the succulent flesh.

Eat, Mama.”

“Cut it for me, would you? My teeth are not as sharp as they once were.”

Neither is my knife.” Red grunted as she tore the meat from bone, shaving it into more manageable chunks. “I could make it sharper…”

We are not having this discussion again.”

But Mama! I see them at the cottage all the time. He keeps the shed unlocked. As soon as they light the lamps—”

No!” I snarled. My lips pulled back over fangs more menacing than dangerous.

She kept her gaze steady, her eyes unyielding as my own. A daughter who did not fear was not a daughter who could be threatened. She would go whether I let her or not.

It’s dangerous, Red. What if they caught you?”

She smiled. “Then I won’t get caught.”

***

Red slipped into the shed while I waited behind the tree line. I had tried to keep her from the cottage for years, but she found it by following a woodsman one day.  She was craftier than I was, but I feared she lacked a true wolf’s cunning. A wolf would know when to stay away.

I paced, a whimper creeping from my throat when the cottage window opened. Pale, wrinkled hands put a dish out to cool on the sill.

Red poked her head from the door, snout first, just as I had taught her. There was a wicked gleam in her eye as she noted the pie.

A growl resonated in the back of my throat. “No…”

She licked her lips, her legs tensing.

Red, no!” I barked, but she ignored me, running instead towards window.

She was fast, but was she fast enough to steal?

She had one hand hovering above the pie when the cottage door opened. I wanted her to run, but she only turned towards the sound. An old woman stood on the step, shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

What is it, Granny?” a voice called.

Why, it’s a girl!” She stepped out into the snow to get a closer look. “Come here, child, you must be frozen!”

Red stepped towards her, one eye still on the pie.

The old woman smiled. “My, what big eyes you have!”

The better to see you with.”

I snorted a laugh. That’s my girl.

You remind me of my granddaughter. She’d be just about your age, I think, if she had lived.”

I had seen the old woman many 

times over the years but paid her very little attention. She had a vaguely familiar look that I could never quite place. Now that they were face to face I realized that it was Red’s natural mother whom she resembled.

Why don’t you come inside and warm yourself by the fire, my dear. There’s plenty to eat.”

A young man joined her at the threshold. He was one of the woodcutters I had seen lurking about the woods. He looked rather more skeptical about the invitation.

Red cast a glance over her shoulder into the woods. “I should probably get home.  My mother is waiting for me.”

Of course, dear. Another time then. You are always welcome.” She unwrapped her shawl and placed it around Red’s shoulders. “In the meantime, take this. You’ll catch your death in that flimsy riding hood.”

Red nodded and sprinted off towards the wood. I could hear the rest of the conversation as she ran.

Do you think that was the same girl?” asked the woodcutter.

I’m sure of it. Poor urchin, likely.”

You should’ve insisted she stay. It isn’t safe for her out there. I see wolves sometimes. Wilhelm killed a family of bears today.”

You worry too much, Friedrich. She’ll be back soon enough.”

Red sidled up to me in a hush. “What’s wrong, Mama?”

You stay away from them. Find another place to grind your knife.”

They seemed nice.” She took off for home, leaving me behind. Arguing would’ve been pointless, even if I had the desire to. Instead I headed in the opposite direction, towards Grizelda’s cottage.

I could smell the smoke long before I arrived - a dark plume rose from the ashes of what had once been Grizelda’s cottage. The windows were shattered, their precious furniture smashed to splinters and used for kindling.

Pools of blood dotted the clearing, hot and pink where it met the melting snow. I could not bring myself to sniff the mangled tufts of fur, knowing all too well whose pelts they had come from. I resisted the urge to howl my grief, choosing instead to double back to my daughter and our own inconspicuous den in the woods.

They seemed nice.

Nice” indeed.

I had always attributed Red’s ruthlessness to my upbringing, but perhaps she did not learn that from me after all.

***

My daughter’s stubborn streak, however, was wholly hers. Red snuck off to the old woman’s cottage the next day, and the next.  Again and again, always without my permission. She did not know that I followed her from a distance, my ears picking up conversations well beyond her own range of hearing.

The old woman grew bolder too, leaving sweets and garments on the stoop when she left the cottage, and standing by the window when she was home. She was always tempting Red to come inside, like a witch of the wood. Grizelda once told me she knew of a crone who turned her whole house to gingerbread to better lure in the village children. It lasted for all of a week before the ants devoured it whole.

Serves her right, we had laughed.

I didn’t find it funny anymore.

Are you sure you won’t join me?” The old woman stood on her stoop while Red dawdled in the snow, looking in at the fire.

“I should really be getting home.”

Oh, but it’s nearly dark now! Please, do stay the night. You wouldn’t want to run into any wolves on your way home now, would you?”

Red frowned. “What’s wrong with wolves?”

It isn’t safe, dear. Now, not another word about it. I’ll go make up the guest bed.”

I paced the woods. Did I dare howl for her? Perhaps I should rush the cottage instead, dragging her back by the scruff of her neck. What was it about girls that made them more hassle than cubs? If I’d have known that one day she’d be this much trouble I’d have eaten her from the start.

I was so caught up in my distress that I failed to hear the woodcutter sneak up behind me. A twig snapped to my left – I jumped, ducking just in time to miss the swing of his axe. I snarled at him, dodging around his slow gait. He twisted, his limbs bundled in layers of clothing too thick to allow for any agility. If I could just get an opening I could tear his throat out and be done with them once and for all. I lunged at him, knocking him backwards, his axe tumbling down the hill and out of reach.

I reared back to strike but something stopped me. Red’s voice was shrieking at me to stop, please stop. The old woman was trembling in Red’s arms, having nearly fainted away. For once I saw true fear in my daughter’s eyes.

I leapt from the woodcutter and fled into the woods, disgusted at myself for how she saw me, and for hesitating when I wanted nothing more than to taste his blood on my tongue.

***

Red did not come home that night.

***

Some weeks later I sat in the underbrush, my tail flicking impatiently as I watched my daughter crest the hill to my hiding spot.

I sniffed at the paper bag she laid down, filled with bones and gristle. “Well. If it isn’t the princess, come down from on high to visit the little people.”

Mama, please. Not this again.”

What? I never see you. I raised you from a whelp and this is the thanks I get.” I circled her, sniffing her fine new clothes, smelling of cinnamon and cloves. “You’ve gotten fat.”

Because I eat more than squirrel now.” She bared her teeth, a trait she no doubt picked up from me.

You’re soft,” I insisted. “They’ve made you into something you are not.”

I’m not a wolf, Mama. I’m a girl.”

I wanted to be mad but I couldn’t. I missed her too much. I nuzzled her hand, letting her scratch the soft fur between my ears. “Come home, Red. Please.”

I…I can’t. This is my home now.”

I pulled back, snarling at her, contempt dripping from my fangs. “Your home is with me!” I bolted into the woods, leaving her behind.

My rage grew with each passing step. What did that woman have that I did not? A cottage and a fire… I could get those things and more. The people had taken my woods, my prey, my friends… I would not let them take the only family I had left.

Just you wait, Red. You’ll have to leave the cottage sooner or later, and that’s when I shall pay dear old Granny a visit of my own. Then you’ll see. I’ll be just as good a Granny as I was a mother. The better to love you, my dear.



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