The Little Red-Head

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    A strange padded noise outside the door made her pause. Who is pacing out on my doorstep this late at night? She thought, frowning. Walking slowly to the kitchen, her hand wrapped around a butcher knife and she backtracked towards the front door. The footfalls had not ceased, so she threw open the front door- closing it behind her- and held up the weapon, only to find a lone wolf ahead of her. The startled creature immediately became on defence and let out a vicious snarl, poising to attack. She stared back defiantly with the knife held in front threateningly, but the wolf just licked its lips in anticipation, as if mocking her pathetic attempts at protecting herself. A split second later, it lunged at her. Shrieking, she backed up and stumbled, swiping the blade at empty air, and fell hard onto her back where the wolf settled on top of her. Horrified, she watched as the wolf brought its head so close to her neck and started sniffing; she dared not raise the knife again and decided it was better to hold still. Then, the wolf raised its head into the air and let out a sickening howl that chilled her to the bones, and she saw it as her opportunity. Raising the knife again, she stabbed the beast deep in its abdomen and dragged it down. It howled again in agony and she pushed it off. She tried to get to her feet, but her stomach plummeted when she spotted more wolves arriving deep from the forest. When the pack saw a bleeding wolf by her side, they lunged at her and she couldn’t do anything to stop them- there were just too many.
    “Keep her alive. I will deal with her myself.” A deep voice gasped, and she realized, shocked, that it came from the injured wolf. The rest of the pack complied, and they started dragging her away into the forest. No, please don’t let them hurt my granddaughter, she thought. But before she could scream for help, the world around her went black.
    . . .
    Cerise jolted awake to the sound of intense screaming. That sounds like Grandma, she thought, panicked, as she jumped out of bed and walked downstairs. The house was eerily quiet and Cerise heard a man’s deep voice mumbling from outside. Shivering, she threw open the front door and gazed at the sight before her.
    “Grandma!?” She cried, running to the bloody body that lay in the pathway. No, this isn’t her. This carcass that’s covered in fur is not human. Cerise grimaced at the sight of the unconscious wolf and then her eyes flickered to a familiar butcher knife beside it. Where is Grandma? She almost screamed. Cerise tentatively placed a hand on the creature’s chest and felt a faint heartbeat. A long howl arose from deep in the forest into the night sky and she spurred into action. I will look for her in the morning. Right now, I can try saving this poor wolf. With that last thought, Cerise gently tugged its body into her arms and, by half-carrying and half-dragging it, left the blood stained knife and pool of red in her wake.
    . . .
    Darkness is everywhere. All around me are uncrackable walls of black. My soul is cast into oblivion in the vastness of space and time. It felt as if a peaceful death had claimed me… until the pain surfaced. So much pain. I feel a sudden pressure released on to me, and I’m startled back into my body with a broken howl of agony escaping my throat. My eyes open groggily a slit and the last thing I see are fiery red strands of hair before blackness consumes me again.
    . . .
    Cerise had never studied medical school, but her Grandma had taught her enough first aid that she could heal the wolf’s shattered abdomen. Thankfully, the knife hadn’t penetrated any vital parts, so Cerise just cleaned out the wound and set to stitching it up. She had taken the IV drip from the master bedroom that her grandmother rarely used, and attached it to the wolf to help keep it breathing. It appeared to have worked; day by day, its pulse grew stronger. She tried not to keep thinking of Grandma, who had been gone almost 4 weeks now. Cerise just knew that this animal in her care had something to do with it; her grandmother’s scream, the bloody knife, and then an injured wolf’s body were no coincidence. But, of course, wolves don’t talk, so she’ll have no way of communicating with it for the truth; she was on her own.
    After making sure that the wolf was in a stable condition, Cerise went out into the village everyday to purchase food and talk to everyone. It gave her something else to think about other than her missing family member- she refused to believe that Grandma was dead. Sadly, Cerise’s grief caught on again when every citizen started taking notice. “Where’s your grandmother, Little Red-Head?” “I don’t know. Grandma went missing a few weeks ago.” “Poor old woman. I’m sorry for your loss.” Suddenly the entire town knew about it, and it was driving Cerise crazy.
    The dawn of the fifth week was approaching when Cerise arrived home from receiving yet another handful of condolences for her well-known grandmother’s disappearance. She entered her home and froze at the sound of a man’s voice. The voice seemed to be slurring non-sensible words, but there was no denying that it was the same one from a month ago. With great trepidation, Cerise forced one foot in front of the other and slowly made her way upstairs. The man’s probably hurt already if he’s talking like that. Cerise thought, but her frantic heartbeats didn’t slow and she grabbed a glass jar from her room as a weapon anyway. The wolf. She remembered suddenly, Could the wolf have attacked him?
    Tuning out her thoughts to focus, Cerise held her ear against the door of the room where the wolf was being kept, and again heard the voice. Taking a deep breath, she shoved open the door and raised her weapon to… an empty room. Well, empty except for the wolf that was now lying awake on a pile of blankets. Huh? I swear I heard a man talking. Cerise spun around, thinking for a moment that she had entered the wrong room, when it came again from right behind her. What the- wait…
    “Ugh, wh-what happened?” The wolf struggled to ask, and Cerise’s suspicions were confirmed.
    Cerise turned back around and stalked slowly towards the creature. “Oh, y-you can… you can talk.” She stammered. The wolf turned its glassy eyes in her direction, and Cerise could see them straining to focus, so she continued. “My name’s Cerise. I found you half dead with your stomach torn open in front of this house a month ago. My Grandma disappeared on the same night.” Cerise narrowed her eyes at this, but the wolf’s face betrayed no emotion. “I found a bloody butcher knife lying beside your body. Now, my theory is that my Grandma heard you outside and you pounced on her and she stabbed you in her defence. Can you tell me what really happened?”
    The wolf shifted its position and tried to stand up, but immediately grimaced in pain. It looked down its body as if noticing the line of stitches for the first time. It took a while for the wolf to process her words and realize that it was asked a question. “I… I don’t know. I can’t remember anything” It croaked.
    Cerise softened her face, realizing she was being rude to the creature that just woke up from visiting death and back. “I’m so sorry, you must be hungry. I’m being a terrible host, aren’t I?” Without waiting for it to respond, Cerise exited the room to cook a meat dish for the wolf to eat. I’ll wait until the wolf gets stronger. Then I’ll ask it again until I get an answer. I will make it remember what happened, one way or another, if it leads me closer to finding Grandma.
    . . .
    The days kept passing, and Wolf became more active (Cerise decided to give the wolf a name and assumed he was a male). Wolf sincerely didn’t remember anything about himself before the attack, so Cerise talked about herself instead. She told him that, after both her parents had passed due to an accident, she moved in with her Grandma. After living in this village for just two weeks, everyone took notice of her stark red hair and began calling her the irritating nickname ‘Little Red-Head’. Cerise was about to delve deeper into her life with Grandma, when Wolf suddenly pinned her under an intense gaze, making her next words falter.
    “I saw you in a dream a long time ago. Well, not your face, just strands of your hair. I think it was when you were fixing me up.” Wolf lowered his eyes, as if embarrassed. “Thank you for taking care of me.”
    Cerise was taken aback by this sudden gratitude, but she quickly smothered the start of a grin. This wolf had something to do with the disappearance of Grandma. I can’t trust it. But no matter how many times she assured herself of this, she realized how unbelievably stupid it sounded. This innocent wolf was stabbed almost to death and would have had no hope of living if I hadn’t come along. If this wolf had bad intentions, he would have attacked me by now. Cerise began to relax at the last notion. Surely, if Wolf had already taken her grandmother, he wouldn’t have hesitated to take her by now as well. Cerise looked over to her side and saw that Wolf had silently fallen asleep and, timidly, placed her hand on his back and stroked the fur gently. Besides, she thought as her eyelids started drooping heavily, how can I blame the animal now that I’ve already fallen in love with him?
    . . .
    Cerise chastised herself for spending so much time with Wolf that she wasn’t paying attention to the outside world. She had recently taken up a job at a small diner to continue earning the money that her Grandma was no longer here to make. Cerise kept running late every morning because she’d stay up long nights to feed Wolf. He’s still weak. It’s only normal to eat this much to get stronger. Cerise walked back home from another workday of her boss calling her ‘tardy’, when she spotted Wolf creeping out the front door. Horrified, she quickly ran the rest of the way and, making sure that no one was watching from behind, pushed him back inside and locked the door.
    “Wolf, what were you doing? You can’t go out into the open like that. I really wouldn’t want to have people knowing that I’m keeping a wild beast in my house; they’ll kill you.” Cerise scolded.
    “Cerise…” His voice was gruff, but filled with a different kind of pain. “You’re right. I am a wild beast, and I don’t belong here. I had a dream that my real home is somewhere in the forest, and I have a real family too. It’s not you, I just… this doesn’t feel like home. I want to go back to wherever it is, Cerise. Will you help me?”
    There was a distant whine in Wolf’s voice which Cerise thought was adorable, but as he turned and locked his expectant eyes with hers, Cerise knew he was being serious, so she wanted to give him a real answer. No matter how much she didn’t want to believe it, Cerise knew that Wolf was right. She had taken him in so long ago, without even knowing where he came from. And now here they were- friends. But Cerise didn’t even let Wolf go outside for fear that others would see him; that wasn’t fair. If Wolf really did have a home somewhere in the forest, he deserved to go back to it. He deserved more than being holed up in this house all the time.
    “Okay, I’ll help you. If that’s what you really want.” Cerise sighed, knowing that she’d be lonely again after Wolf left. First Grandma, now him. Wolf’s eyes widened a bit before he slowly smiled his first real smile, showing all his canine teeth; Cerise couldn’t help but smile back. She didn’t want to have to be alone again, but for Wolf, she would do anything.
    . . .
    The full moon shone brightly in the night sky and a lone owl hooted at the two passersby, deep in the forest. Every subtle noise made Cerise jump, though she was the one who insisted they leave at night so no one would spot them, but she was starting to regret that decision. Wolf padded along silently by her side and threw her concerned glances every now and then, but he seemed to be confident as they walked deeper into the woods. Cerise asked, just to be sure.
    “Do you know where we are going?” Cerise pulled her favourite red cloak tighter around herself, and she felt safer.
    “To a small, abandoned cabin. We should find it located beside a very hefty tree with the letters ‘WD’ engraved on it.”
    “What does the ‘WD’ stand for?” Cerise wanted to keep up some conversation; the silence cascading around them was more unsettling than peaceful. Wolf was about to make a remark on her question, when he abruptly froze. Cerise’s fear heightened, and she moved closer to Wolf as he sniffed longingly in the air.
    “What is it?” Cerise whispered, growing more agitated by the second.
    “I smell something. I don’t know why, but the scent is familiar…”
    Before Cerise could ask what he meant, she picked up on the sound of more than dozens of feet crushing plants and snapping twigs on the forest floor, and they were coming right towards them. A circle of shadows soon surrounded her and Wolf, and Cerise heard low growls escaping all of them. She didn’t notice a larger one emerging from behind and lunging towards her back. Cerise sensed a shift in the air from behind her, but was slow to react and she toppled to the ground, her forehead catching on a jagged rock. Rotating around on her knees, she was pushed flat on to her back and the large burly animal that had crashed into her had its leg on her throat, crushing her windpipe. Blackness crept at the edges of Cerise’s vision and she felt something warm trickle down her face.
    “We knew that was your scent, Arnie. ‘Bout time you came back home; we kept that old woman alive for ya. What do you want us to do with the girl?”
    Cerise kept blinking in order to dispel the black spots that were overcoming her. She tried turning her head to look for Wolf, but her mind and body were growing weaker. “Take her to the den and lock her in the room” Wolf stated, sounding like a leader. It was the last thing Cerise heard before her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and unconsciousness finally claimed her.
    . . .
    “Cav, you stay here and keep guard over those two. The rest of us are going hunting. Call us if there’s trouble.” “Chill, Arnou. Those humans ain’t going anywhere.”
    Cerise’s eyes snapped open to a blaringly bright light above her. She hissed as her head throbbed painfully, and her hand came away with a deep red when she brushed it on her forehead. She sat up unsteadily against the wall behind her, and shut her eyes again when a headache was making her extremely dizzy. Breathing deeply, Cerise wearily opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. She was sitting in the corner of a meagre, windowless room with a wooden floor and white paint peeling from the walls. She then dropped her head to examine herself; there were small cuts and scratches up and down her arms, and a large, deep gash on her right leg that she hadn’t felt. Cerise’s cloak was caked with dirt and dried mud, as if she were dragged around on the forest floor. There was a strange musty smell masking the room that reminded Cerise of Wolf.
    Her head snapped up and banged on to the back wall, but Cerise barely felt the pain as her thoughts came to focus. Wolf. She remembered how, just before she passed out after being attacked by another creature, Wolf had ordered the bunch of them to lock her in here, as if he were already their boss. Her heart clenched as she felt the stinging sense of betrayal, when her eyes latched on to a lump on the other side of the room. It looked like a person, thin and frail, who was not moving. Cerise crawled slowly towards the person and realized it was a woman with a vaguely familiar face. We kept that old woman alive for you. Cerise crawled faster in insurmountable joy as she knew who was lying ahead of her.
    “Grandma!” Cerise reached her, and her heart plunged when she didn’t wake from her nudging. Shakily, Cerise placed her hand on her grandmother’s wrist, and cried in relief when there was a very light pulse. Her Grandma took the journey through the woods much worse than Cerise had; her clothes were in tatters, every inch of her skin was caked in dirt and small scrapes, And her gray hair was coloured brown with grime. Cerise opened up her dry, cracked lips in a panic and bowed low to do some mouth to mouth; since her grandmother’s eyes were closed, Cerise was afraid they’d never open again. Sealing their lips together, Cerise blew out as much air as her body would allow, and filled her lungs to do it again, and again. Her arm slightly twitched in Cerise’s peripheral vision, and she stopped and pulled back, waiting. After what seemed like forever, the lime green eyes that Cerise was all too familiar with lifted up a slit. Her eyes were heavy and bloodshot, but Cerise held her breath as recognition began to shine through.
    “C… Cerise?” Her voice was brittle and hoarse, but hearing it again filled Cerise with warmth all the same.
    “Gra-and-ma!” Cerise was overtaken by such happiness that thick tears started pouring down her face, and her voice hiccupped at each syllable. She forced herself to stop crying and found control over her voice again. “I thought you were dead! Oh Grandma, you were gone so long; Almost 2 months, you hear me? Two months. I found this bleeding wolf outside on our doorstep on the night you went missing, and I took care of him all this time. The wolf couldn’t remember anything before he got attacked so we went into the forest together and we were surrounded by a bunch of other wolves and I got knocked to the ground where I hit my head! I realized that the wolf I took care of was actually the lead wolf of this wolf pack and he decided to take me and lock me in here! I felt so betrayed, we were friends. And then I saw you lying here, and I found you, Grandma! Oh, I missed you so much…!” Tears had started building up behind Cerise’s eyes again, so she let them silently fall. She recalled that she had said everything in such a fast blur, her Grandma probably understood none of it. But she didn’t care, because here she was, right in front of her.
    Cerise continued crying until her eyes eventually dried up, and she wiped mucus on to her hood and pulled herself together. “Don’t worry, Grandma. I’m getting us out of this place. ” She determined. Her Grandma parted her lips, but was too weak to respond. Cerise attempted to stand, but howled in pain from the gash in her leg. The deep scratch was still wet with blood, and Cerise’s eyes widened at the small yellowish spots- a sign of oncoming infection. She cursed under her breath and ripped out a wide strip from her red cloak, and gently wrapped it around her calf. It’ll do for now. Clenching her teeth at the pain, Cerise managed to stand and bent down to scoop up her Grandma. Her grandmother had almost fallen unconscious again, but Cerise’s attempts at lifting her made her cry out.
    “Cerise… I… I’m too weak. Save yourself” She croaked. Cerise narrowed her eyes and looked around the room, desperate for another option. There was no way she was going to leave her here.
    Cerise stumbled to the wooden door at the end of the room and tried the doorknob. Locked. An idea sparked into her mind, and she reached up to the back of her head to pull out the hairpin that was still tucked atop her messy braid. Settling down on to her knees, Cerise recalled the instructions her Grandma had taught her long ago of picking a lock. It`s basic survival skills that you’ll need one day, she had insisted. Thanks for the tip, Grandma, Cerise thought as she finished picking through the weak lock easily. She turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open, but it was creaking loudly to her dismay. It’s alright, they’re all gone hunting. This thought fuelled her, and she shoved the door the rest of the way and looked straight ahead… where a very menacing wolf stood, staring right back at her. Its mouth calmly curled into a twisted grin, and its tongue licked across its upper lip where the fur was already tinted red with dried blood.
    . . .
    “And where do you think you’re going, little red-headed girl?” The wolf asked in a deep, threatening voice, the smile staying plastered to his face.
    “I’m getting out of here.” Cerise replied, pointedly. The wolf’s smile only grew wider, amused by her snarky tone. But, in her head at the moment, Cerise was scolding herself for being such an idiot. Cav, you stay here and guard those two, she thought, irritated. How could Cerise neglect to realize the first part of that conversation? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
    “Well it’s too bad you aren’t gonna make it that far.” Cav squared up and bared his white fangs, taking a step forward; Goosebumps spread over Cerise’s body and she took a step back. He cocked his head at her. “Not so confident now, are we? I don’t know why boss kept both of you alive; I should just finish the job.” Another step forward equalled another shaky step back. They both continued that same procedure until Cerise had her back pressed up against the wall, and Cav stood a foot away. “You smell… delicious” Cav told Cerise, a bright glint in his eyes. Cerise shivered and tapped into her mind, desperate to think of an escape, when a hunched figure caught her eye. Cerise struggled to keep her mouth shut and slide down from the wall a bit and leaned over; Cav smirked and then let out a laugh, assuming that she was contemplating her defeat. By being so distracted from Cerise’s scent and continuing to sniff around, Cav didn’t take notice in the fact that someone had walked up behind him. Cerise looked ahead of her and nodded slightly; when their eyes locked, her Grandma lifted the metal rod in her frail hands and swung.
    The impact was short-lived; Cav hadn’t even budged from his spot. Cerise’s Grandma was still too weak to swing the rod properly; instead, she had gone down from the small force of it. Cav’s face was screwed up in annoyance, and he turned around to face the form on the floor.
    “What’s this? Is the old woman trying to save this little girl? Does she think she’s strong enough?” Cav smirked, ferociously. “Well, I suppose it’s better to save the young, healthier blood for last.”
    “Leave her alone.” Cerise managed with as much confidence as she could muster, but Cav was already on the move.
    “Don’t worry, Cerise. He won’t hurt you. He’s just going to follow his master’s orders like a good little dog.” Her Grandma wheezed. Cav snarled and pounced.
    “No! Grandma!” Cerise screamed, diving in to tackle the wolf. Cav laughed menacingly and shoved her away, then snapped his enormous jaw into the flesh of her Grandma’s throat. Cerise rolled to the end of the room and sprinted to reach the metal rod that had flew from her Grandma’s hands, but she was already too late. Cav had teared open the skin at her throat, and Cerise watched in horror as blood seeped out on to her clothes and Cav’s neck. Cerise’s hand flew to her mouth and screamed silently into it as hot tears dripped down her face. Grandma. I found her, only to lose her again. And I couldn’t even say goodbye. Bile rose in Cerise’s mouth from the sight of the still-eating wolf, and she leaned far to the side and retched until nothing was left. She grew dizzy and noticed that Cav had almost finished his gory meal. Cerise had no more energy left to do anything, so she sat, welcoming the moment when he would turn to her. No, this isn’t what she would have wanted, Cerise argued with herself, I can never bring Grandma back, but the least I can do is avenge her. Cerise straightened and narrowed her eyes vengefully as the simplest word of a plan came to mind. Run. Cerise complied and got up on to shaky legs, just as Cav turned to her with a deep red matting his fur. He had the eyes of a madman, but Cerise didn’t back down when he started towards her. She only thought of her grandmother, whose body she dared not look at now, and broke into a run with a guttural cry escaping her. Cav wasn’t expecting this sudden reaction, and froze to the spot. Cerise raised the rod to her shoulder, and swung at Cav with all the power she had left. She didn’t stay to watch as Cav’s body was flung across the room and his back crashed into the weak wall, a giant crack forming under the force as his body slid down to the floor. Cerise had already spun away and ran out through the open door.
    The old cabin may have been small, but Cerise still had trouble finding a way out. She panicked and ran faster when she heard footfalls behind her; the metal rod had had no effect on Cav whatsoever. Cerise was becoming weaker and began to slow; Cav’s growls sounded a lot closer. She stopped and turned to her left, wrenching open the door and hiding just shy of the doorway. It was a bathroom, but Cerise didn’t have time to observe it more closely as she heard the wolf coming closer. Cerise was sure that Cav could just smell her hiding, but was once again too slow as she lashed out with the metal rod, sending him smashing through the very back closet door. Cerise was already on the move again, and sighed in relief when she spotted a staircase that led down to the main floor. She was on the fourth step down, when a vicious figure rose up to the top railing and jumped down, crashing into her. They tumbled down the rest of the stairs and Cerise landed on the bottom with Cav glaring down on top of her. Cerise screamed like a terrified little child, knowing that it was over, and Cav let out another sickening smile, his teeth glowing red.
    “Well, well, well. Your little game is over now, Red-Head. Did you really think you could defeat me, the strongest wolf in the whole pack? Now, I’ll show you what happens to those who mess with me, just like your poor, old Grandma.” Cav grinned wickedly and Cerise closed her eyes in defeat as he started to close the gap, when his body suddenly convulsed and he howled in agony.
    Cerise recoiled and gasped when she reopened her eyes to see what happened. It was Wolf. He had appeared out of nowhere and had his teeth planted in Cav’s neck. Cav tried to fight back, but the amount of blood leaking from the wound meant the inevitable. Once the light from his eyes were gone, Wolf shoved him off of Cerise and nudged her side. Cerise was too weak to even think about his betrayal and inhaled a painful breath. When Wolf informed her that he was taking her home, she nodded gratefully and followed him out.
    . . .
    Months passed since Cerise had returned to her village after the incident. The empty space that used to be occupied by her Grandma was too much to bear, and Cerise had cried and cried until her eyes became red and puffy. The space was soon filled up by Wolf, who had left his role of alpha male in his wolf pack to stay by her side. No matter how much she was mad at him, Cerise definitely did enjoy his company; she never really forgave him though, and Wolf decided not to bring it up anymore. Cerise felt guilty that she couldn’t do more at the thought of her Grandma, but she was resolved at the thought that her killer was dead too. And so, Cerise continued to live her small life, in her small house, with her very not-small wolf friend by her side. So now, obviously, every fairytale ends with a happily ever after, right? But in Cerise’s case, the ending of her story is far from being ‘happy’.

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