Granny Hood was nobody’s fool. She knew all the stories and she wasn’t born yesterday.
They’d stuck her out there in the middle of that God-forsaken woods, where the wind wasn’t the only thing that howled. Every night she had to battle her way to sleep through a cacophony of nocturnal noises. Some way to treat your elders, she’d think to herself, as she pulled the hulking mass of her one quilted duvet up over the skin-and-bones of her octogenarian body.
In the old days of mythology and lore, it was the children they abandoned, up on those craggy exposed peaks of Olympus or Pelion, or wherever it was. These days it was the old that were pushed out to the margins, shoved out into the wilderness, or out here into the knotted tangles of the deep dark wood.
“We’ll send our Little Red,” she remembered her dearest offspring telling her. “She’ll bring you wine and cakes once a week.”
Wine and cakes! How was she to get from week to week living off wine and cakes?
And to think they intended to send her poor grand-daughter, naïve and foolish at the best of times, out into the unknown depths of that darkest of woods, and dress her in a blood-scarlet cape. All the better for you to see her in, they said. Yes, she saw that one coming. What were they thinking? Like a red rag to a bu…
To a wolf; the ones she heard sniffing and whining outside her wooden walls at night, so she could almost imagine their wettened snouts and drool-spittled fangs poking around under the floorboards. Granny Hood wasn’t born yesterday. She’d been around long enough to know how the stories ended . This modern generation thought a wolf could eat a human alive; that a wolf’s belly could be sliced from nave to chin and the little old lady be extracted unscathed; that stones in a wolf’s belly would send it packing.
Flim-flam. Hokum. Bunk. Baloney.
Granny read her Fate in the roots of the old tales: death, dismemberment, grisly cupboard love. Not for her. She wasn’t about to hang around in some damp-riddled shack, leaving her future in the hands of incompetent family members.
So it was that that morning she turned the story on its head. ‘Re-write the narrative’, that was her motto. She would set out herself on a journey out of the woods to find Little Red Riding Hood in her bed.
Eschewing the ridiculous garb of ‘come-and-eat-me’ cape, she wrapped herself in old pelts of sable and grey, of animals she’d trapped and flayed herself. There was a stench of rotting carcass as she pulled the skins across her shoulders, but it wasn’t the stink of her own.
She knew the path out well enough. She had remembered certain plants and shrubs along the way when they had brought her out here, telling her tall tales of how the forest air would do wonders for her health; how they’d miss her terribly, but they’d be sure to invest her pension wisely as she lived out her days in the simple manner they said she’d always wanted. She’d bitten her tongue. Life had taught her there was plenty of wisdom in silence.
Where three spines of vivid purple foxglove rose to the height of her shoulder, she knew she must take the left fork. Then at a clump of yellow pilewort, she wound her way to the right, and then left again where some springs of deadly belladonna laid out their wares for the unsuspecting traveller. To think they always thought that beautiful women were the danger, she mused, and at that moment she heard the distant strain of a singing male voice, punctuated by the thwack! Of metal into wood. Here was the fabled axeman.
Take away the axe and I suspect he’s not all that, thought Granny Hood.
The hunter seemed surprised as he turned and saw the wizened old lady, her white head floating in a sea of black and grey fur. His get-up suggested he was suspecting someone else entirely, someone a little younger, a little more nubile. He had folded his shirt sleeves suspiciously far up his biceps, in Granny Hood’s opinion. ‘Flaunting’ was the word that sprang to mind. And was there really such a need for an axeman’s hair to be quite so perfectly coifed if his sole intention was merely to chop wood in the forest?
Yes, his face had certainly fallen when he’d seen old Granny going on her way. He must have read all the stories as well.
He did his best to hide his disappointment. But his best wasn’t good enough.
“Were you expecting somebody else, bold axeman, sir?” inquired Granny Hood, a playful smile etching itself on her lips.
“Oh, no, no, dear old lady,” replied the axeman, not missing a beat, but stuffing his mobile ‘phone back into his trouser pocket. “Not by the hair on my chi…”
“Wrong tale,” interjected Granny Hood.
“Quite right,” said the hunter, abashed.
“And why the ‘phone, my fine young man?” Granny went on in a way that belied her knowledge of the world.
“I…I…,” the rumbled hunter stumbled.
“The perfect selfie with a certain Little Red?”
The axeman caved in and conceded to Granny that he had rather hoped such a picture might bolster his online presence. He’d made a recent foray into Instagram, he explained. They were all at it, he said, perhaps by way of validation: the magic bean seller; the second ugly sister; two of the three little pigs; and at least four of the seven dwarves. Minor players, like you and me, the axeman had tried to explain to her, just trying to eke a living.
“Cashing in!” boomed Granny in uncompromising style. “If you don’t like the cards you’ve been dealt, throw them in and make yourself new ones.”
Most of the hunter’s intellectual prowess had been exhausted by the folding of his shirt-sleeves and the slicking back of his bouffant fringe, it seemed, for he had little idea what Granny Hood was driving at, and showed little to no inclination to leave behind his mindless chopping.
Out of pity, Granny Hood did accede to his request for a quick snap, and thus it was that in a parallel world she had no care for, she could have found herself trending globally under the hashtags #cronezone and #battleaxe, to name but two, all traceable back to the dubiously monikered account of @woodchopper. Had Granny Hood known all this, she would have considered it yet more younger generational bunk , but she would have at least then been made aware that a certain @MrWolf had also picked up on this rapid spiral of a viral image, and had intuited from the unlikely picture of axeman and granny that while Granny Hood’s bed was now almost certainly lying empty, Little Red’s most certainly might not be.
Thus it was that Mr Wolf’s beguiling of Little Red began.
No surprise really that Granny Hood’s suspicions had been correct: Little Red harboured no intention of yomping her way through some deep dark forest, where the wi-fi signal would be patchy at best, and probably non-existent once she got to its dense heart where Granny Hood lived.
Little Red had turned sixteen. She had graduated into the world of the adult. In her own mind, she was nobody’s fool. There was little doubt she knew it all. In the forests of online dating, she certainly considered herself no lamb. That was why she had no idea she was at serious risk of slaughter.
There was a special dating app for those who lived around the fringes of the great wood. They called it ‘Timber’, and on this Little Red first set eyes on the strange young man with whom she became so instantly enamoured. He called himself Lou Pine, and lupine he was indeed to the outside observer, with his strangely elongated nose and somewhat hairy pointed ears, but love, of course, is blind, and that is what Little Red had fallen into.
He flattered her with flirtatious messages that set her heart a-flutter. Alongside what she considered his rugged and exotic features, he was also incredibly wealthy. His profile said he was ‘big in sheep’s clothing’, a business which seemed to entail the manufacturing and selling of myriad wool products to a global market place. Little Red had no idea that it was her who was being fleeced.
After the titillation of a mid-morning online ‘Timber’ chit-chat (that very same morning that Granny Hood had unwittingly gone viral with the axeman), it was inevitable that they should arrange to finally meet each other in the flesh.
The online Lou Pine suggested a one o’clock meet by the statue of some old brothers named Grimm, who had apparently been famous writers in those parts, which lay on the path leading out towards the woods. Little Red, of course, agreed.
Mr Wolf licked his lips. He always had a good appetite in the early afternoon.
Just after lunch-time, Little Red donned the scarlet cloak that the family had clubbed together to purchase for her cakes-and-wine trip to Granny’s. Before she left the house, she made one last check of her ‘Timber’ account, and to her surprise, there was the image of her handsome beau with his wonderfully enormous eyes and that dental work to die for. He had sent a new message: “Forget the statue. Stay in bed. I’ll come to you. Lou.”
How wonderfully exciting.
Little Red tore off her cape and threw it to the floor. She jumped back into her bed, pulled the duvet up to her chin, and waited in anticipation for her Prince Charming. How would he find his way in she wondered?
Mr Wolf had also read a tale or two. No huffing and puffing around for him, but straight up to the chimney he decided to go. This being a tale of Little Red Hiding Hood, there should be no danger of a huge steaming cauldron of boiling oil awaiting in the hearth below, he thought. This is why one should never jump so readily to conclusions.
For who should spy the hirsute hood-winker scrambling up the eaves of Little Red’s house, but Granny Hood herself. She had left the facile axeman in her wake, and come tramping out of the forest’s depths, only to see a wolfish figure scaling the walls of her very own daughter and grand-daughter’s humble abode. Granny Hood cooked up a plan immediately.
She shot to the front door, whipped out the key that her daughter always kept under the plant pot on the left-hand side, careered through the door to the kitchen, dragged out the largest of the family pans, filled it with oil and heaved it up onto the wood and coals that she found already burning in the living room fireplace.
As luck would have it, Mr Wolf had paused mid-stride with one leg dangling over the side of the largest chimney pot of the Hood roof. A wave of doubt had crashed across the sands of his vanity, and he had stopped to pull the mobile from his pocket so as to re-assure himself of his hairy handsomeness and to adjust his fringe a little so he looked as similarly as he could to his online alias, Lou Pine. Had he plunged straight down that fateful chimney, he might have missed the pan altogether, or at least landed in the oil while its unctuousness was still cold. Alas, this is the price that must be paid for lupine lasciviousness.
Down he plunged, straight into Granny Hood’s scorching broth.
Granny Hood was nobody’s foo. She knew it was best to let old wolfy simmer a little before extracting him from the stew. She threw in a couple of tomatoes, and a clove or two of the wild garlic she had gathered on her way through the woods.
The watched pot kept on boiling until, in her own sweet time, Granny strained the bedraggled body of Mr Wolf from the steaming gloop and lugged him up the stairs behind her to Little Red’s bedroom, Mr Wolf’s chin thwacking each step as they went.
“Expecting someone?” asked Granny in a knowing voice, as she shouldered her way through the bedroom door to where Little Red lay in her best ‘pretend asleep’ pose. What a shock the young girl had as Granny slapped the casseroled body of her online paramour on the carpet before her bed.
“He’s a lot older than he looked online!” observed Little Red, incredulous.
“Maybe,” replied Granny, “but he’s twice as tasty in the flesh.”