Red Riding Hood and Little Golden Eyes / Amalie N. Ingham

Double-exposure photo of a young woman and blooming pink flowers.
 

CONTENT WARNING: references to assault.

***

Little Red met the wolf, as you have heard, on her way to Grandmother’s house in the deep woods. She was young, then, and full of potatoes and onions and didn’t know what she wanted. It was easy for the wolf to coax her away from the path, with promises of four-leafed clovers and flowers to pick. She knew not to step into fairy circles, but the flowers he showed her grew in uneven whorls and patches, and so she thought she was safe.

She picked daisies and clover, cowslips and foxgloves, tucking them into her basket beside the loaf of bread and pot of cream for Grandmother. Even years later, she remembered the loveliness of those flowers, wishing she could divorce them from what came after.

And yes, she found the wolf in Grandmother’s clothes, and yes, she threw her garments each upon the fire as he bade her, and yes, she tried to slip away into the night, pleading her bladder. But the wolf would not relent, and pulled her close and gobbled her up.

For three long days and nights, she lay in the wolf’s belly, Grandmother’s arms around her, feeling his stomach burn her skin. Her own belly grew emptier and emptier, and she cried until she had no more tears. When the wood cutter, who had come to look in after Grandmother, saw the wolf sleeping in her bed and cut him open, Red thought he would gobble her up in turn, and she flinched from him. The wood cutter did no such thing, instead tanning the wolf’s hide and returning it to Red’s Grandmother alongside a gamey and inexpertly made meat pie which the two of them ate together with a feeling of grim necessity.

Grandmother mended Red’s half-burnt cloak, trimming it with thick grey wolf’s fur, and from then on Red held it close around herself when she passed through the woods.

All this you know.

After Grandmother passed, the house became Red’s—her mother was too well situated in the town, but a strange and distant girl like Red fit perfectly in a strange and distant house like the one in the deep woods. Red learnt to hunt with bow and arrow, and as the woods began to encroach again upon the path to the house she let them, giving up her occasional loaf of bread and pot of cream from mother for the sake of peace and quiet. Her garden was laden with things that grew well in light shade—beetroot, leeks, potatoes, spinach. She did not grow flowers in the garden, because the wild ones were always lovelier and she did not want to compete.

Red grew well, there, and was a woman of twenty-some summers when she found Little Golden Eyes.

She had gone out shooting, meaning to bring home a deer or a few rabbits as the day’s contribution to her game cellar for the approaching winter, when she came across another path. It was a lively one, a clean one, from one village to another, and had likely never touched the overgrown one Red used to walk. On it was a woman—small, like a girl, but surely Red’s age by the spilling-over fullness of her body and the wisdom in her gold eyes. She was an earthen brown, her hair dark and curly, wrapped in a blue cloak.

Red watched Little Golden Eyes head down the path with calm, purposeful steps, and followed her, in the cover of the brush. She carried a basket with her, like Red used to, and her nose was a little flushed from the cold. She was beautiful—so beautiful. She sang to herself in a language Red did not speak, but wanted to.

Little Golden Eyes came down that path every week, Red learned. She watched her in silence twice, then slid onto the dry dirt beside her as calmly as she could, and greeted her with an uncommon eagerness. Her heart thudded in her chest as Golden Eyes told her about her village, about the older sister she was off to visit, who’d moved away from home for her husband. She was a weaver and dyer, and had made her own blue cloak. Red gawped at its fine workmanship, took the proffered corner in her hands and felt it.

Her hands caught against the fabric, fingers calloused from the bow. Her shoulders were broad and muscled from carrying game, drawing water from the well, fixing the cottage in the woods when something went awry. She knew she had power, now, and the way her hands trembled against the fabric, jittering faster even than her racing heart, filled her with a sinking dread that she would lose control of it. She saw the wolf’s fur at the edge of her cloak, brushing her wrist as she reached out and, fearing it was her own, drew back.

I have become what I hate,” she thought.

Red Riding Hood ran back into the woods and went home, lying on her back in the bed where once she had died. She thought of Golden Eyes’ full lips, her laughter, her warm heart, and wondered if this was what the wolf had felt, when he saw her upon the path so long before. She thought of her own appled cheeks, her straw-coloured curls, and saw herself through a wolf’s eyes. The kisses she wanted to lay upon Golden Eyes’ skin thrilled her mind at first, then were cut away by thoughts of the wolf’s tongue upon her as he swallowed her down. She wanted to warm Golden Eyes by the hearth, hang that beautiful blue cloak by the door, see the firelight flicker in those eyes, but she thought then of the wolf bidding her to throw her petticoats into the flames.

Red did not sleep that night.

And yet she returned, the next week, to the path where she had met Golden Eyes, apologizing for her sudden departure, meaning to watch her own behaviour, to hold herself at a distance. Golden Eyes embraced her, crowing about how glad she was her forest angel had returned—for she had seen Red in the woods before she ever approached her, and had admired her, and wanted to be her friend. She’d been impressed by the strength in her, she said, had been intrigued by those calloused hands. Red felt her face warm, and Golden Eyes teased her for matching her cloak.

She wondered if she did match her cloak, the fur there tainting her, making her into something wicked and hungry. If she slid away into the woods again, would she be followed? If she stayed on the path with Golden Eyes, would she be betraying her by gaining her trust, only to consume her as she once had been consumed?

Golden Eyes shook her from her reverie by presenting her with a hand-full of wildflowers, clover and cowslips and foxgloves.

“Where did you find these?” Red asked, mouth so dry.

“I picked them,” Golden Eyes said. “The woods are not so dangerous, if you know your way.”

***

Amalie N. Ingham has been writing all her life, from short stories and poetry to essays, songs and lately, novels. She is currently working on a YA about the monstrous feminine and corruption in the music industry. She is passionate about history, minority representation (especially queer and neurodiverse), and above all, engaging, character-driven stories.

See more: @amalie_writes