The Red Path

‘What finer life could a girl wish for, than one of beauty and esteem?’ thought Red’s mother.

And beautiful her daughter was, though she possessed a fiery disposition matched only by the flame of curls that swept across her dainty brow. Red was a fair-faced girl who cut a striking figure, and as such she drew a great deal of attention. But of all her admirers, none loved her more than her own mother.

Red’s mother was a dreamer, with a great many plans for her daughter’s future: where she would live, the career she would have, and even the kind of man that she might marry.

‘A teacher or nurse you shall be,’ she said, ‘with a house in the suburbs. And he shall be a great provider for your children.’

But Red was a headstrong girl, and thought little of these plans. She had her own ideas for marriage in particular, and alas for her mother there was not a man among them.

‘It’s but a phase,’ her mother said, and waved her hand away.

Red would not be dismissed. She insisted upon it, and allowed no other conversation, until finally her mother’s patience broke:

‘You have made me sick and weak with this behaviour. I will say but this: if you stray from the path you will find only misery before you.’

And with that she bade her daughter go, and spend the evening at her grandmother’s. The old woman was a battle-axe, and would surely set the young girl straight. Red’s mother knew that she herself had never dared to cross the witch. Strange that a trait borne of fear should be so encouraged in her own child.

But Red was not often one for doing as she was told, and went instead to her mother’s cabinet. She pilfered a goodly bottle of wine and added this to a batch of cakes that she had baked that day using only the finest of hash butters. Her mother had since fled to her chamber and knew nought of it, for all she was blind to what was right before her.

Red then raised her hood against the night and set out for the park gardens, for there was to be a party that evening. Her hope was that her lover, Hazel, would be there, and that they could spend the night together. Their love was but a new bud, yet Red felt the blossom in her chest was near to bloom.

*

As Red was passing through the trees she caught the eye of young Hunter, and he called out to her:

‘Where are you off to in such a hurry, and what is it that you carry?’

Red stopped and threw back the napkin from her basket, presenting her wares.

‘Some wine and cakes. Freshly baked and with good strength.’

Hunter licked his lips, but with a different kind of hunger, for he possessed a lascivious mind and was less interested in the hash cakes than he was in Red herself. His desire was to eat her up, but he dared not. He had heard that she was a woodcutter, and he feared that she may strip him of his favourite sprig.

‘I’m looking for Hazel,’ said Red. ‘Have you seen her?’

‘She’s not far off. I’ll go and see her too.’

And so the two set off together in search of Hazel.

They walked in silence for a time, but then Hunter’s mouth got the better of his mind.

‘I’d thought that Hazel’s preference was for sausage over fish,’ he mused. ‘But then, that is the flavour of the day, and Hazel always had a taste for trends.’

Red’s anger bridled and her lip curled in disgust. She bared her teeth, but Hunter only laughed.

‘You are walking along as if you are on your way to school,’ he said. ‘Look around you, is the bush not a beautiful thing to behold?’

And with that the companions stepped out of the trees and into a clearing. There they found Hazel, draped across the lap of another boy, and Red’s heart melted at the sight of her.

Hazel felt the warmth of a good many laps that night, but knew that two heads are better than one, and that the wood would rise only higher if she were to give her consorts a show. She leapt up at once, and wrapped her slender arms around her girlfriend’s neck, and their companions fell to cheering as the two girls pressed their lips together.

Red ignored the noise. She knew the exhibition only added to her lover’s pleasure, and was she not still in need of a bed for the evening? Recalling this, Red took Hazel by the hand and led her away.

‘My mother has cast me from her sight,’ she said. ‘She bade me go to my grandmother’s, but could I not share your bed?’

Hazel’s answer was a pout.

‘Dear Red, whatever would my parents think? They’d name me a woodcutter, and then where would I be?’

Red blinked, her hurt writ clear upon her face. The flame was lit, but Hunter, who had stayed nearby throughout the telling, stepped in before the smouldering embers turned to fire.

An idea had come to him as he listened in on poor Red’s tale, and he thought to himself:

‘This Hazel seems a willing morsel. She would taste much better than the tough woodcutter. But I must tread cleverly, that I might make a meal of them both.’

‘My house is but a quarter-hour from here,’ he said, ‘and my parents are away on business. It would be no trouble for you to take my bed.’

The two girls leapt at the offer. Hazel dotted his face with grateful kisses and the three set off at once for Hunter’s cottage.

They went as fast as he could lead them, taking the shortest path, and it was not long before they arrived at the home of his parents. Once inside he took them straight to his chamber, and there they ate the cakes and drank the wine that Red had brought, and they were happy.

When they had finished their meal, Hazel turned to Red with a glint in her eye and said:

‘Poor child, are you cold and tired from your journey to grandmother’s house? Then come and lie beside me on the bed and I shall warm you up.’

Red went willingly, for with her belly full of wine and hash, and her anger gone, she found herself in quite the mood for play.

‘Grandmother, what big eyes you have!’ she cried, and Hazel batted her lashes.

‘All the better to see you with, my child.’

‘Grandmother, what long arms you have!’ she cried, and Hazel gripped her tightly.

‘All the better to lutch you with, my child.’

‘Grandmother, what a wicked tongue you have!’

‘All the better to eat you with, my child!’

And, saying these words, she leapt on top of our Red and gave her quite the licking.

Content for the moment to serve as spectator, Hunter positioned a stool in the corner from which vantage he could best enjoy the show. And show it was, for Hazel took great pleasure in the effect that it had on the fit of his trousers. The twinkle in her eye gleamed ever brighter.

‘I say,’ she said, ‘what if we were to dress this Hunter in our petticoats? Then he could be one with us.’

And with that she began to strip off her garments. Around and around she twirled, removing first her bonnet, and then her bodice, skirt, and stockings. Hunter was quick to follow suit, and one might note that there was barely a hair on the boy’s body, for all he thought himself a wolf.

As pleasing as she found the sight of girlish flesh, Red began to feel uncomfortable. She excused herself from the frivolities, murmuring:

‘First I must go and relieve myself.’

‘Mind that you come back again quick,’ teased Hazel, pulling taut a nylon stocking, ‘or I’ll be forced to tie your ankle to the bed so I’ll know just where you are.’

No sooner had Red closed the door behind her than Hunter fell upon her Hazel, for it had been a good while since he had last eaten. The two fell into bed and pulled the sheets up over them.

Poor Red’s heart was pins and needles. She thought it strange that Hazel was breathing so loudly, so she decided to take a look. She returned from the bathroom and pulled back the covers.

What she saw between the sheets was more hideous than she could ever have imagined: Hunter’s teeth nipping at her Hazel’s neck, and his sprig planted deep within her bloody bush. And no matter how Hazel begged for her to take off her clothes and join the ride, all she heard were the hungry growls of a predator.

The gust was too strong: the fire flared, then guttered, and went out.

‘I am too stoned,’ Red declared, and fled the house.

She ran for home, her heart so heavy that she thought that she may fall down dead.

*

Her mother’s arms met her readily, for though tainted with fear, her love proved true. She shushed her crying child and smoothed her hair, and shook her head with disappointment.

‘I warned this path would lead you only to despair,’ she said. ‘It is a hard life you are choosing.’

Red removed herself at once from this embrace, and stood on her own two feet. She dried her eyes and said:

‘It would be harder still to choose a life where I could not be myself.’

And then she smiled, for she knew that this was the truth of it. She thought to herself:

‘As long as I live I will never stray from the path of my choosing, and though there may be forks in the road, I will find my way.’

Image: Zaqqy

headshotJaine N Eira is a prize-winning screenwriter who dabbles in prose, with works included in publications such as Mildred Magazine, Writers Bloc, and Other States of Mind by Rag and Bone Man Press. For more information, please visit her website.

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