Little Red Riding Hood’s Mission Impossible
A Fantasy Fairy Tale
About the book:
Little Red Riding Hood is in a bad mood, because
a) her name is a disgrace,
b) she toils from dawn to dusk on her father’s farm,
c) her mother is in prison.
To change anything about these dire circumstances seems impossible. Then she meets a True Wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood gets swept up in the struggle against the evil Queen.
“Get up, Little Red Riding Hood, and feed the chickens!”
I stay in bed. I have no desire to get up, to feed the chickens, to work on Father’s farm any longer, and I am also sick of being called Little Red Riding Hood.
I would rather be a warrior, the best and most feared swordswoman in the whole country. Little Red Riding Hood – avenger of widows and orphans! The glorious fist of justice!
Drat! That stupid name ruins it all.
Zora. That would be a good name, promising swords and adventures.
“Don’t dawdle any longer, Little Red Riding Hood!” Father shouts.
“Coming!” I jump out of bed, get dressed and hurry down the stairs into the kitchen. Father sits at the table, glowering at me. “Morning,” I murmur and rush out of the door before he starts showering me with insults. Reaching the henhouse, I start my daily work: collecting eggs, raking up the droppings and spreading chicken feed. Actually, I like the chickens, the way they cackle and stumble over one another getting to the grains, as if they hadn’t had anything to eat in ages. It just annoys me that they belong to Father.
“Where are you?” Father calls. “It’s time to milk the cows and drive them out to pasture!”
I walk over to the house, where Father stands in front of the door, waiting for me. I hand him the basket with the eggs. “That’s all?” he asks, frowning.
“I’ve looked everywhere! Really!” I defend myself.
Murmuring something about lazy hens, he hobbles back inside. Like every other morning, I wait for him instead of leaving this place once and for all.
I have tried that.
When he comes back, I follow him to the cowshed, grab the milking stool and the bucket, and begin to work. Everything made of milk is delicious: cream, butter, cheese. Thinking about it makes me hungry, but we have to milk all the cows and stow all the milk churns on the horse cart before I will be allowed to make breakfast.
It has been like this every single day since Mother left. She used to make breakfast and bake bread and pancakes for me. She used to take me in her arms before sending me off to school.
“You’re daydreaming again!” Father shouts. “Hurry up! The milk will turn sour in the udder if you carry on like this!”
“Yes, Father!” I reply and continue to milk.
Finally, Father leaves, heading for the butter churn. I watch him go, wishing he would never return. I wish for this every day, hitherto with no effect; he hasn’t been struck by lightning, neither has he stumbled across cutthroats. No wild animals have shied the horse, overturning the cart and breaking his neck. None of this has happened yet, but I don’t give up hope. I turn around and go back to the house. If the bread isn’t baked and the house cleaned when he returns, he will beat me again.
Milking, mucking out, cleaning, cooking, baking, scrubbing, picking, weeding, harvesting. Work on the farm never ends.
The work isn’t half as bad as eating dinner with Father.
It would be easier to bear if he were mute. I imagine him opening his mouth and not being able to utter a single sound, trying again and again until his face turns as red as fire, until all the mean words lace up his neck and choke him. With this happy thought in my mind, I cut myself a piece of cheese.
“You’re a bad girl, but the hard work will teach you to be obedient. Who knows? If you try hard, I might even find a husband for you one day,” Father says.
“Yes, Father,” I reply and take a big bite.
“You’ll be grateful to me, mark my words.”
“Sure, Father,” I murmur, chewing on.
“And don’t speak with your mouth full!” he reprimands me.
I nod and promptly take another bite of bread. I am Zora, and nothing he says can impress a Zora. I squint at the piece of bread that hasn’t disappeared into my mouth yet, and try to stretch my lips out far enough to see them. I don’t succeed, but it will probably annoy Father.
“Stop pulling faces and behave properly at my table! You don’t just look like your wretched mother, you’re as insane as she is too! March to your room! Now!”
But I am Zora, and I stay seated, casually buttering another slice of bread. Then I take the teapot and pour myself another cup. A glance at my father tells me that he is about to slap me, so I finally get up, take the slice of bread and the cup, and climb up the stairs.
“Get up, Little Red Riding Hood, and feed the chickens!”
I feel as though I haven’t closed my eyes all night, so I decide to sleep in a little longer, pulling the blanket up over my ears.
“Damn it! Do I have to shout the house down before you get up? You lazy good-for-nothing girl! Shall I beat you out of your bed?”
Uh-oh! That sounds close. “I’m coming!” I answer and jump out of bed.
“Hurry up! You’re going to visit your grandmother today!”
Grandma? I wish I could shout hurray, but if Father knew how much I love to spend a whole day away from him, how much I love the forest and Grandma, he would never let me go. “Must I? I’m so afraid of the forest. Can’t I stay and do my work?” I ask, hoping he will fall for it as usual.
“You’ll do as you’re told! And no more complaining!”
Feeling exceptionally cheerful, I get dressed, go to the henhouse and get to work. When I am done, Father is already standing beside the barn. “Be back before dusk,” he tells me, handing me a basket. “You can eat on the way.”
“Yes, Father,” I reply.
“Well, well. Seems you do know how to behave, after all. Yesterday evening I thought all my efforts to educate you were pointless. Now go!”
Still feeling cheerful, I set off. As soon as I am sure that I am too far away to be heard, I begin to sing a catchy melody everybody knows. I have just changed the words:
I just can’t wait for the day,
When my father will die.
Oh nay! Oh nay! Oh nay!
When that day will finally come,
I will dance on his grave.
Oh yay! Oh yay! Oh yay!
It is a good song. At home I can only hum it, which does help to cheer me up, but to belt it out loud is a delight.
I have never understood why some people are afraid of the woods. As long as you don’t come between a wild sow and her young, there is no danger. This morning the forest is particularly beautiful. The sun is still low on the horizon, but the dew on the leaves is already reflecting the sunbeams, and the whole forest has a beautiful green sheen.
All of a sudden, I know: there is something behind me! Slowly, I turn around.
Right before my eyes stands a wolf.
He is only a couple of steps away, staring at me with his dark eyes. He is bigger than me, so huge that he could easily bite my head off.
The wolf doesn’t move.
Not yet, I think, trying to swallow the fear. Dogs can smell fear, I know that, and my mind is racing. When the bull in the pasture is angry, we distract him with food.
I squat down slowly, putting the basket beside me. I look inside and, seeing a hard cured sausage, I take a knife, cut off a couple of big pieces and lay them on the ground in front of me. Then I crawl backwards on all fours, keeping an eye on the wolf without looking directly into his eyes. That might bother him, just like it annoys Father’s bull.
The wolf is still standing on the same spot, watching me.
He is beautiful. His black fur has a blue shimmer in the early sunlight. On his forehead, a narrow, pale triangle reaches down to his muzzle. Two silver stripes run along his back, and his eyes are black with a silver frame.
Our bull is a gorgeous animal too. That doesn’t make him any less dangerous.
The wolf still doesn’t stir. Why doesn’t he eat the food? I take a piece of the sausage, smell it and put it into my mouth. He watches me eat it, then he jumps forward and takes a bite, and a second, and a third.
He seems to like it. Although I know my way around dogs and bulls, I am at a complete loss as to wolves. I didn’t even know such big wolves existed. Suddenly, I wonder why I am not afraid any more.
It is a well-known fact that dogs want to sniff you. Slowly, my hand stretches forward.
The huge wolf approaches, closes his eyes and snuggles his head into my hand. The fur is soft and silky, and smells of leaves and fir trees and grass. Carefully, ever so slowly, I get up and move my hand to the lower part of his jaw to stroke him there.
In the middle of the movement I pause, frightened. Then I let my hand sink and take a step back. He lowers his head as if nodding to me. “Can you speak?” I ask him, feeling silly, actually posing a question to a wolf.
“You’re weird,” I answer, relieved about the No, and at the same time confused at having received an answer at all.
He nudges me with his muzzle, runs into the woods, jerks to a halt and turns around.
Come with me!
“I can’t. I’m on my way to Grandma,” I explain.
Come with me!
I have to give up pretending that I am not talking to a wolf. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t,” I say. “I’ve got to go to Grandma, and I can’t come with you.”
COME WITH ME!
The words roar in my head, and I get scared. Growling, he jumps at me, puts his paws onto my shoulders and pushes me down.
Just a moment later he stops growling and licks my hand with his raspy tongue. It tickles. He doesn’t want to hurt me, I know now, but he definitely won’t let me go. As if he had heard my thoughts, he pulls away from me and lies flat on the ground.
I get up and sit astride his back. Then I lean forward, embracing his neck. Surprised, I realize that it feels good, that it seems right to go with him, even though I should be on my way to Grandma. I look around, my gaze falling on the basket in the middle of the path. I won’t be able to take it with me.
He growls softly.
Something is still amiss. I shift my weight and let my arms drop a little farther down so that they embrace his chest rather than his neck. That seems to be better, because the wolf straightens up and takes a couple of steps forward.
“I’m all right,” I say, and he starts running, slowly and carefully at first, but then he gets faster and faster, and the world turns into a blur.
When he finally slows down, I have no idea how long we have been chasing through the woods. He perks up his ears and sniffs.
It is like a whisper in my head. The wolf moves forward. Now and then he stops, sniffs again, and then continues on his way. I wonder what he is looking for and what he wants from me, but I am not afraid.
Zora and the wolf. That sounds good, like an exciting story full of adventures.
The wolf stops, and I climb off and stand beside him. I have never been in this part of the forest before. On my own I would lose my way, and I wonder if he will bring me back. He looks at me, and the way he inclines his head tells me that he won’t leave me here. Then he puts a paw on my left shoulder, pressing gently.
I nod. He wants me to be quiet. Crouching and being careful not to step on any dry branches, I sneak along. Finally he stops, looks at me first, then points his head forward and waits.
I crawl forward on all fours until I reach a small clearing, and I see a man in uniform, sleeping in a chair in front of a hut.
The wolf nudges me.
I shake my head. I don’t want to go any farther. Mother always scolded about the soldiers of the Queen. They are evil men. I am scared.
Come on, Zora!
Did the wolf just call me Zora? Or am I just trying to bolster myself up? Zora would go, I think, and clench my fists. Zora never fears. Zora is the avenger of widows and orphans, the glorious fist of justice. Sleeping soldiers can’t stop a Zora.
My heart beats faster with excitement. I won’t be Little Red Riding Hood any longer. I will be Zora. I get up, take off the red hood and hide it in a bush.
Psst! It whispers in my head again, and the wolf and I approach the sleeping soldier, who snores and smells of wine. That is a smell I know. When Father drank wine, neither thunder nor yelling could wake him up. I hope the soldier is sleeping just as deeply.
The wolf touches the pocket of the soldier’s jacket with his nose, looks at the soldier, then at me, and finally at the house. I follow his gaze and realize that the windows of the hut are barred.
It is quiet in the clearing. Slowly, carefully, I reach into the soldier’s pocket.
There is nothing there.
I take my hand out of the pocket and show the wolf that I haven’t found anything. Then I sneak around the chair and stand next to him. The silence bothers me, but I let my hand slide into the other pocket of the jacket.
I realize that it is so quiet because the snoring has stopped. My hand starts to tremble. I want to remove it from the man’s pocket before he wakes up, but he has already opened his eyes and is looking at me with a glassy glare.