Name: Paco José Madden
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Little Red Riding Hood, Wolf Killer
Chapter One: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
His breathing labors, as he stumbles on four legs. He circles. Blood falls from a large gash at his side, which dyes the last of the winter snows crimson.
I’m not doing much better myself. His claws have torn flesh from my arm, and a bite on my thigh leaves me limping. But I’m steadier, more determined.
The animal gnashes his teeth and growls. Tufts of thick black fur stand on end. Red hot coals glow in his eyes, eyes like those found in fairy tales of monsters and mythical beasts. But this is no monster, no dragon or ogre out of lore. It is a wolf.
We lurch around each other, leaving a trail of dirt and blood in our wake, each waiting for the other to make a move or let one’s guard down. It is only a matter of time before the wolf or I bleeds to death, and thankfully, the canine’s wounds are far worse than mine.
The wolf backs off in retreat. Perhaps, he thinks best not to fight but to wander into some thicket and die. I drop the point of my sword to the ground but continue to hold the grip tight.
The creature turns and lunges with a quickness and ferocity I didn’t expect. As I fall to the ground, I thrust my sword forward. The beast is upon me—his jowls mere inches from my face. The animal shrieks in pain, then lets out one last breath of foul air that fills my nostrils. He slumps to the ground, my sword protruding from his neck. The wolf is dead.
In the distance, a howl rises.
I must return to the village post haste if I hope not to become wolf’s meat. I rip strips of cloth from the bottom of my cloak and bind my wounds. I sheath my sword and grab a branch to use as a walking stick. I start making my way towards the village. It is less than a mile away, but a pack is on my tail.
In the village, I am known as Wolf Killer. It was my father’s title before me and my father’s father’s title before him. He wanted a boy, a male progeny that could carry on his name and profession. Instead, he got me. A girl.
It wasn’t easy convincing my father that I could fight as well as any man. Barely out of diapers, I escaped from home to follow him when he practiced swordsmanship or was on the hunt. I used a stick for a sword and imitated his every move—smelled the ground or tracks in the earth as he did. This amused him at first. But when I proved I fought better than the local village boys and disarmed the Wolf Killer himself, he took me under his wing and trained me in the art of tracking and killing wolves as his father had trained him and his father’s father had done.
That was a long time ago. I suppose anything over the passing of a few months seems long ago for a girl of sixteen. I has been a year since my father passed away. Ever since, I’ve been on the hunt for the wolf that killed him, the one the village people call Big Bad.
“Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red Riding Hood, hurry inside,” Mother exclaims from the parapets beside the gatehouse. She is in her bonnet and apron and waves a kerchief in my direction. I am only a few hundred feet from safety.
Wolf Killer may be my title, but around here I have always been Little Red Riding Hood. Since the day I could walk, I wore a red hooded cloak. I still wear one to this day. Somehow the name stuck, though I am barely little anymore. I am taller than all the village women and half the men. However, once a sobriquet has been bestowed upon a person, it is near impossible to lose. In fact, I doubt anyone in the village, save Mother, knows my real name—Abigail.
I quicken my pace, as I approach the gates. The whoops and hollers of the wolves trail behind me. I dare not turn back and lose an inch of ground. Soon I will be in range of the archers, who stand guard along the wooden stretch of fence that surrounds the village. They will protect me as long as I can make it past the—
I trip and land face first into a clump of grass.
“Come quick. Hurry, Little Red, run,” pleads Mother. “They’re nipping at your heels.”
Biting down on the pain in my leg, I pull myself up with the stick. The drumbeat of the racing paws gain on me. The marauders close for the kill. Something tugs on my cloak, nearly throwing me backwards. Then an arrow whiffs by, followed by a yelp and a heavy thump on the plains. An archer must have struck down the beast that snagged my cape. I look up. Among the bowmen, I see a fringe of yellow hair disappear behind the barricade.
With my cloak free, I turn to face the snarling predators. They halt several feet behind their fallen comrade. The wolves are not foolish enough to face a hail of arrows and bark at me in defiance. Their caviling is interrupted by a howl, one deeper and more guttural than the others, which echoes from beyond the tree line. The surviving wolves drag their dead brother by the scruff of his tawny neck and withdraw into The Woods.
As I reach the gates, I catch my breath. The great timber doors open and slam shut behind me. I am safe.
Mother descends the tower and grouses, “Oh, what have those monsters done to you now?”
“I’m all right, Mother.”
“You are certainly not all right.”
“The bite is not deep and the cuts on my arm are nothing but a scratch.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Mother undoes the bindings on my arm and thigh.
“You look as pale as a ghost, and these wounds could have nearly killed you,” she apprises.
“You always make things sound worse then they really are.”
Mother turns to one of the guardsmen. “Get the cart. I will take her home.”
“I can walk.”
“You will not take another step while I still breathe.” She stands with her feet set wide and her hands on her hips, the picture of immovability. It’s no use arguing.
Two guardsmen help me onto the wooden cart. An old heifer with a coat of mud brown hair is hitched to the rickety wagon.
“Now you just lie back and relax. We’ll be home in no time,” Mother says from the seat at the front of the cart. She slaps the reins, and the wagon jolts to a start.
I lay my head against a sack of grain and stare at the sky.
Puffy white clouds pass overhead like a herd of sheep, and my mind wanders to the days when my father and I saved a boy or a farm animal from the wanton clutches of a lupine. I remember him saying that in this world there are sheep, there are wolves, and there are shepherds. Always be a shepherd, he would say. Never a sheep or a wolf. For it is the shepherd who protects the flock. It is the shepherd who can do the greatest good in this world.