by Kai Delmas
I skulk among the roots and fallen branches of ancient trees. My hackles rise at the scent of fungal growth and decay. This is my dark forest and I am its wicked wolf.
The mice and rabbits scurry from my presence. They know their fate if they dare linger when I’m hunting. But such tiny rodents would only satisfy the hunger I feel for a short time. I seek larger prey, for the pit of my stomach is deep and hollow.
My ears prick up and I raise my snout. The birds’ chirping falls silent and a different song fills the forest. And with it a current flows through the air. Sweet. Red. I can taste it.
My prey is near. My tongue lolls from between my teeth, my paws quicken, drawing me closer to that luring scent. Saliva drip, drip, drips as I make my way.
I find her path, follow the footsteps she’s left in the muddy track. I listen to her soft song and take in the rich smell of strawberries that linger where she treads. Her red cloak billows up ahead.
I rush down the path and prepare to pounce, to swallow her whole, to fill that hollow belly of mine and end the gnawing hunger within.
But something isn’t right.
She turns, freezing me in my tracks. Clear blue eyes and rosy cheeks greet me. She pops a strawberry into her mouth, chews and smiles, red dripping from her chin.
“Naughty, naughty wolf.” She wags her red-stained finger at me.
My jaw is ready to snap. Bite those little fingers right off. But all that I can muster is a guttural growl.
“This isn’t how our story goes.” She pulls another strawberry from her basket and bites down on its soft, red flesh.
My hunger grows and I want to lash out but I cannot. The clear blue sky above the treetops ripples and shimmers. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I…
I shake off the wrongness that comes over me and watch the girl place a large rock into her basket.
I try to open my mouth, to question the girl, but my throat tightens. My teeth clench as I stare at the girl.
Her lips stretch into a wide grin, more wicked than mine ever could.
“It’s simple, really. Off to grandmother’s house I go.” She lifts another rock into her basket. “We meet and you go on ahead. Then we meet again. That’s what happens every time. Forever and ever.”
A shiver runs down my spine; my fur bristles and I’m overcome with cold. A rushing sensation is all around me; everything I see is blue and I cannot move beneath the rushing stream.
I drag in deep lungfuls of air and look back at the girl, her fingers red and sticky. The endless pit that is my stomach growls in protest and dread. But there’s nothing I can do.
This isn’t how our story goes.
I turn to leave and bound into the woods.
Her voice trails behind me, “See you soon.”
* * *
I find grandmother’s house. My very own footprints lead me there. They always do.
The hollowness of my stomach has grown, yet I feel heavy and sluggish. I creep up to the open door, my belly dragging on the forest ground.
Before I can announce my presence to trick the old woman, the scent of strawberries rushes over me.
“There you are.” The girl sits at the kitchen table, her smile wide and full of teeth.
“We’ve been waiting for you.” Her grandmother’s mouth stretches dark and terrible, mirroring her granddaughter’s.
My legs quiver and I drop to the wooden floor. They grab my heavy body and lift me onto the bed, belly up.
Too overcome with wrongness to speak, I whimper.
They cackle as the girl heaves her basket onto the nightstand and her grandmother pulls large shears from beneath the bed.
The girl opens her basket to reveal dozens of stones. “This isn’t how our story went the first time.”
She takes the shears from her grandmother and jams them in my gut. She cuts — snip, snip, snip — as if my skin were nothing but cloth. I can only watch in shock as pain washes over me.
She digs around and removes her hands, red and sticky. The scent of strawberries becomes too much to bear. I retch to no avail.
“You see, this story of ours has long been over.” The girl begins lifting the stones from her basket to place them inside my stomach. “But it will never be over for you. You’re wicked and you must pay for your wicked ways.”
I squirm but cannot get off the bed.
Cold envelopes me and the stones in my belly drag me down, keeping me at the bottom of the stream. I cannot move. I can never leave my sins behind.
“You’ve done this to yourself.” Grandmother dons her glasses and sews my belly up with tight stitches made of red thread.
“You deserve every second of it.” The girl pulls me out of the bed. My limbs stiff, my belly heavy with stones.
She leads me outside to the stream behind the house. Brings me to the edge.
I don’t resist.
I know she’s right. It’s too late for me to change.
She shoves me into the rushing water.
I sink down, unable to swim or move at all.
I’m cold. The sky ripples above me through the rushing stream.
All I can do is dream.
Of my dark forest. Of my paws thudding along the damp earth. Of the sun setting through endless trees.
Of the girl’s footprints in the mud and how I follow her scent of strawberries.
* * *
About the Author
Kai Delmas loves creating worlds and magic systems and is a slush reader for Apex Magazine. He is a winner of the monthly Apex Microfiction Contest and his fiction can be found in Martian, Etherea, Tree And Stone, Wyldblood, and several Shacklebound anthologies. Find him on Twitter @KaiDelmas.