Short stories are not my best thing. I want to do too much in too little space and usually end up writing 10.o00 and more words.
About a month ago, I decided to do something to attack that issue: take an existing short story and then retell it. Sometimes within my own future history, some other times maybe in some other kind of reality.
What I found
I left a lot unexplained in the story. Also, the sparse elements I introduce in the story are used more strictly than usual. In short: it is very sober for my doing.
Also: the stories have nice details I would have overlooked otherwise. The custard, the flowers and the sweet singing of the birds are almost directly taken from the Grimm version as is most of the main dialog.
Taking on red-riding hood
I did not intend to take Red riding hood first, or at all. It is one of the most well-known and most used and re-told stories. But a spark flung two days ago and that spark caught fire. And oh: I really like what happened with the wolves while writing the story.
Note that this (and the other stories) are intended as finger-practice. How do I solve specific problems? How do I remix existing ideas? How can I create that fresh feeling even when that story has been told many times before? Can I make it my own?
You can find more info about the choices I made in this same post: after the story.
The dark-hooded girl
[STATUS: First rough version, some minor edits done]
1: the journey begins
All the children of the village called her a bastard. Once her great-great grandmother had befriended a local man and given birth to a baby girl with a dark skin and curly hair.
Her own face, her own hair and her own skin still showed the traces of that blood, even though that girl had given birth to other boys and girls from several fathers: three in total, and none of these had been black.
They also called her a witch because Christianity had taken on more strongly in the past century and people from African blood were feared for many things of which reality had nothing to do with witchcraft at all.
And yes: there were many strange things to her, she discovered as her consciousness developed. For instance: she remembered everything. Everything tracing back through the generations until that great-great grandmother, over 200 years ago. And all these memories made her very wise for her age.
It was a beautiful morning in May when her mother said to her: “Come Catharina. Here is a nice piece of meat, a custard and a bottle of wine. Take these to your grandmother. And please, take the long road. You know the forest is full of wolves and they will try to distract you.”
And Catharina said: “Yes mom,” and went out with the basket under her arm and dressed in the long dark cape with the big dark hood, which she loved so much and suited her so well: making her look older and somehow more mature than her ten years.
Morning dew was still on the grass and the orange morning light bathed everything in its soft, golden glow. Flowers and long grass waved gently in the wind and as she went on her way she sung a sad song about a girl that had been almost forgotten by time.
Time itself seemed to have almost forgotten the village Catharina lived in, close to the coast of Bretagne, in the middle of the mountains where nature was wild and abandoned villages had been scattered over the stretch of the flatlands. Where the forest had claimed many of the lands that had once been cultivated for cabbage and carrots and cattle.
Time, but not the government. And so drones still floated in the air, some way past their life-span, but still operational: living on the light of the sun that fed their batteries and kept them floating in the air, observing the people in these stretched lands.
Her parents were poor. Her grandmother was poor. The cape she wore had been made from smart fabric that had been passed to her from her grandmother from a bed sheet that had been worn by decades of use.
Her body was an antenna. Her bones were ingrained by crystalline processors, able to do many things. And as she walked, she expanded the scope of her vision, tapping into the drones that floated above her, that went unseen for most of the people she knew. And they gave her a birds view of the forest and the road. They gave her the pointers of where the wolves were.
Where the people were.
Where the kids were.
When the first stone hit her, she turned around and looked up.
“Suck my balls, Cedrique, Marq, Evengaline. Cowards! You want me to come over there and hit you?”
Even though the kids were two years older than she was, they feared her. Even though they were hidden, she could see them.
There was just one dilemma. To kick their asses she would have to leave the basket on the floor and there was another kid, Pierre, lurking on the other side.
She looked up at the wall: grown by moss and saw the hands of one of the kids being withdrawn. There once had been a garden on the other side of that wall: two meters higher. Now it was wilderness with apples and pears and peaches growing from wild trees when fall would come.
Against the warnings of her mother, she decided to take the short cut. There was more trouble coming over the long road and most people avoided the woods.
She spit in the direction of Pierre, who was hiding behind another wall on the same level as the path she was walking and flipped him the finger when he looked around the corner.
The forest started almost immediately on the border of the village on the south-side. Fertile ground had given sufficient food for the trees and people had long given up to maintain that part of the village more than was needed to keep the forest from obscuring the human footprint of stone and tarmac.
Not many people went there. The ones who did were the wood-choppers who would go down to fell the trees to build and repair houses and build the stock for the winter.
The road through the forest had once been filled with cars. As had been the custom a long time ago, concrete slabs had been put first and in later times covered by layers of tarmac. It was one of the main reasons that the forest had been unable to reclaim that path and now it cut through that forest like a scar.
“I am going through the woods,” she said to her mother as she stood on the edge.
Her mother sighed as Catharina showed her the people on the long road.
“Very well. Be careful though. I feel something bad might happen today.”
“I will keep a line open,” Catharina said and flipped open the exo-skeleton.
It wrapped from the package on her back, hidden under her cape around her arms and legs like a spider about to wrap its prey and clicked into place on her wrists and hips and ankles and knees.
Then she started running, using her second sight to see past the fabric of her hood.
Running like the wolves did.
Running through the forest.
And it was not long when a globule descended, sending several warning signs through her system.
“Where are you going, little girl?”
“To my grandmother,” she said.
“What do you have in that basket?”
“Meat and bread and wine,” she said, “as you can see for yourself.”
She jumped over the log of a fallen tree.
“Why are your bringing that?” the globule asked.
“It is her birthday tomorrow. We baked the meat yesterday.”
It resisted the calls from the system that was ingrained in her bones. It used several encrypted lines she could not hack into easily.
“And where does your grandmother live?”
“Forty minutes from here with this speed, beyond the mills, the first hous in the next village, but I think you know already,” she said. “Who do you represent?”
“That is not of your concern,” the globule said.
She avoided branches hanging over the road, jumped over several cracks where the slabs had been moved up and apart by the roots of the trees.
She came to a halt.
She tried to contact her grandmother, triggered by the feeling that something was amiss.
Grandmother did not respond.
“Do you have a human operator?” she asked.
“That is not of your concern,” the globule said.
She closed her eyes and looked at the status of the deep-hack that was going on, reached out to her mother and subvocalized her concern.
“Yes,” her mother said. “Something is amiss.”
She tapped into the network of drones, knowing she was losing time. More than the usual drones were collected around the area where her grandmother lived: a small village like hers with less than a thousand people living there.
“So why do you want to know about my grandmother?” she asked.
“We want to see her as well,” the globule said.
“That is not of your concern,” the globule said.
“Very well,” Catharina said. “You better be on your way then.”
The globule hesitated, then shot up again.
“What do I do?” she asked mother.
“Stay in the forest as I find out what is going on.”
And so she did. She wandered from the path into the direction of a small lake, knowing she would run into the wolves at some point.
2: Meeting the other wolves
It was not long for the wolves started running alongside, their breaths and the crackle of leaves and branches reaching her ears as they drew nearer. Their furs grey and striped with black, their faces white and grey.
“Hi Catharine,” one said when they reached the lake. “Where are you heading?” the crude voice barking and guttering.
“To my grandmother,” she said.
“Yess,” the bitch said. “We figured. Will you be running with us?”
She shook her head.
“This time not. Something is amiss and I am waiting for my mother to find out what.”
“A pity,” the she-wolf said disappointed.
She slowed down to a walk, slowed down to a full stop.
The lake was surrounded by an open space of grass and rocks and flowers. Birds sang sweetly and cheerful. Bright flowers were all around her.
The se-wolf sniffed the basket as the other wolves slowly gathered
“The meat smells delicious,” she growled.
“I wish I could give you some, but my grandmother has run out of meat herself. It would be unfair.”
“Yes. We hunt. We do not steal.”
“I know,” Catharina said and flapped back the dark hood to bare her head and her face.
“You sure you do not want to run with us?” one of the other wolves said.
“No,” she said. “I really need to go to my grandmother.”
“The one living on the outside of the other village.”
“We can run with you.”
“I like that,” Catharine said. “But I fear there is danger.”
“Danger,” the wolves repeated.
“I do not know. I hope not.”
There were these stories about government officials that made her shiver.
She walked to the edge of the water, where some late lilies were blooming: purple and white flowers shaped as chalices. She plucked some daisies and walked to a wild bush of pink roses.
The wolves walked around her, talking among themselves and sometimes addressing her.
“No running?” was the most repeated question and she continued to say: “No, not this time.”
Then they took off.
“We will be around,” the she-wolf said before turning herself and running off after the others.
“I will smell your scent downwind,” Catharina said. “I will call you when needed.”
She knew that would not happen, but it was good to have friends.
3: Grandmothers house
Catharine ran. She ran and she saw the wolves following her on the right side of her, running along with her. She barked something that was a greeting and heard the barking that was an acknowledgement.
She ran past the hills where high in the sky the three fingers of wind mills no longer turned on the wind. Where the white had turned into grey as nobody no longer cared about the antique turbines. Where nobody had ever taken the effort to take them down as it was easier to let them rot and fall down on their own.
When she reached grandmothers house, she knew that danger was afoot.
The cottage-door was open.
From inside came the sweet smell of meat and on the edge of the bed was a man: the official from the city further down the old road.
“Hello Catharina,” he said, his voice sweet.
“Where is my grandmother?”
“Out for a while.”
She looked at his face while her software continued to scan the environment, her surroundings, this man.
There were signs of struggle.
His smile was wide. His eyes cold. His hands big. His teeth perfect rows of white.
“Now put that basket on the table and take off your exo-skeleton and your cape,” he said.
She walked over to the pot, which was the biggest her grandmother had had. Chunks of meat were cooking in it. She opened the fridge where fresh meat was sitting on each shelf. Right in front of her a big fresh liver, smaller than that of a cow, but bigger than that of a sheep was resting on a plate.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“To see you,” he said. “To see your grand mother.”
When the globules rose around her, she knew she had made a huge mistake.
“Why don’t you sit next to me?” he said.
She no longer was able to reach her mother. It was as if all lines had fallen dead.
She looked at him again, looked at his eyes and felt deep fear for the first time of her life. Dread. It was impossible to resist.
So this is how he did it, she thought. And deeply regretted her boldness.
“You deep-hacked my system,” she said.
“So that I can see you better,” he said.
She started to undress further, looking desperately up at him. Looking desperately at that face that no longer reflected any humane feelings. It was the face of a predator. The face of a killer. The face of a man without conscience.
“Did you kill my grandmother?”
“I did,” he said.
“Because you are an abomination,” he said.
“I might kill your mother too,” he added after a brief pause.
“You see, it has been a while since I ate human flesh and the mind gets hungry.”
She now noticed the cap in his hand, the one her grandmother used to wear to cover her hair.
She cried as she dropped her shirt.
She shivered as his hands touched her shoulders.
“So young,” he said and she knew she would not die immediately when he directed her to the bed.
As he readied himself to mount her, the globules dropped down and a figure appeared in the opening of the door. Her body started responding again and one knee hit him in his solar plexus while her elbow tried to crush his larynx, barely missing it as he moved aside.
“Wrench!” he shouted as he rolled aside, quicker than expected, facing the woman in the doorway: face black as the night.
“You! You are dead,” he said and she shook her head, advancing.
He reclined, his face becoming pale, sweat forming on his forehead as all of his trickery had failed.
She raised one hand, twisted it and looked as he dropped to the floor: dead. Then she shifted her attention to Catharina.
“Are you OK?”
Catharina nodded, crying, moved herself from the bed, grabbing her clothing from the bed.
“How could you be so foolish?” she said, then checked, shook her head, unweaving the infections that had taken over the system of Catharina.
She took Catharina in her arms.
“You were hacked from the moment you met the first globule,” she said. “By trying to access it you opened yourself for attack. We will address this later.”
She turned the dead body around, so it faced up. The stench of faeces and piss came from the man on the floor.
“How pitiful. How corrupted. How sad.”
She looked at the pot on the fire.
Catharina worked herself loose from her great-great grand mother, ran outside, stepped off the pavement and puked in the bushes. Then she started crying out loud, sobbing and heaving as the full scope of what happened finally reached her conscious mind.
Behind the scenes
Red riding hood has several versions. In one, from my youth, she is eaten by the wolf and rescued as the wolf sleeps by a wood-chopper who happens to pass by. Freed from the wolf her grand mother, the hunter and red riding hood put stones in the wolfs belly and when he wakes up thirsty to drink the push him either in the well (sub version 1) or the pond (sub version 2)
In the Grimm-telling, the story has two other possible endings. In one, he eats Red riding hood and gets killed by a passing huntsman. In the other ending Red riding hood reaches grandmother before the wolf and they trick him and he falls from the roof and drowns to death in the “stone through”
In the Charles Perrault version of the Mother Goose stories: “The wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding hood and ate her all up”.
A much earlier version from the French telling is more cruel. There the wolf kills and cooks grandmother. When Red riding hood arrives, the meat is already on the fire, cooking, spreading a lovely sweet scent. The wolf is the wolf and Red riding hood asks the same questions about the eyes and the claws but scared shitless as the wolf asks her to undress and get into the bed. Red riding hood is killed and eaten as well.
Backgrounds to the story
I mixed several elements. I used dialog from both the Grimm and Mother Goose story. I used the ending of the earlier French version where grandma is killed and cooked and the Wolf does not pretend to be grandmother.
Deus ex machina – I used a similar “Dues ex machina” ending as in the versions more known. In my case not the hunter or the lumberjack, but her great-great grandmother appears and kills the “wolf”.
The element of warning – Red riding hood heeds a warning that is in most versions. It is this: “Little girl, do not listen to strangers. Do not go with strangers. Be aware because they might have evil in mind.”
Keeping the dark hooded girl alive – It might have been more shocking to kill Red riding hood as in some of the versions. However: such ending touches another more grim aspect of these kind of stories about little girls and wolves. I have nothing to add of value to the kind of stories where the child dies and the child molester wins. It is not written or intended to warn and refer to like the original is: “Do you remember the story of Red riding hood? Yes? So don’t go with strangers!”
Note that the happy ending is a wrong choice. In many if not all cases the last minute rescue will not happen.
Why does she go in grand mothers house alone? – I followed the story as true as possible, including Red riding hood wondering off in the woods to pick flowers as happens in one, and taking a longer road in the other. The character of Red riding hood in my story is all but naive. So I used a trick to solve the conflict of common sense.
Her great-great grandmother – Well: she is supposed to be dead, but is not. She is close to immortal as this is the future, for Pete’s sake! And she lives close-by enough (60 minutes by air) to be in time to prevent even bigger wrongdoing.