Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Paco José Madden: Rev 2: Little Red Riding Hood, Wolf Killer

Name: Paco José Madden
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Little Red Riding Hood, Wolf Killer

His breathing labors, as he stumbles on four legs.  From a large gash at his side, blood falls dying the last of the winter snows crimson.

I’m not doing much better.  His paws have torn flesh from my arm.  A bite on my thigh leaves me limping.  But I’m steadier, more determined.

Normally, his kind doesn't come out during the day.  But he surprised me.  Before fear or alarm could register, I was in the thick of battle—tooth and claw.

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’s a wolf.

We lurch around each other, leaving a trail of dirt, snow, and blood in our wake, each waiting for the other to make a move or let down one’s guard.  It is only a matter of time before the wolf or I bleeds to death, and thankfully, the lupine’s wounds are worse than mine.

The wolf retreats.  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.

Then the creature lunges.  As I fall to the ground, I thrust my sword forward.  He is upon me, maniacally shrieking in rage, his jowls mere inches from my face.  I’m going to die.  I know it.  I’m going to—

The animal stops.  He lets out one last breath of fetid air and slumps to the ground with my sword protruding from his neck.

In the distance, a howl rises.

I must return to the village post haste if I hope not to become wolf’s meat.  I scramble to my feet, ripping strips of cloth from the bottom of my cloak and hurriedly bind my wounds.  My sword sheathed, I grab a branch to use as a walking stick and shuffle toward the village.  It is less than a mile away, but a pack is on my tail.
In the village, I’m known as Wolf Killer, a position held in each settlement of the realm.  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 touched 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. 

That was a long time ago.  I suppose anything over the passing of a few months seems ages for a girl of sixteen.  It is a year from the time when my father passed.  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.  My keen eyes pick her out in her bonnet and apron, waving a kerchief in my direction.  I’m only a few hundred feet from safety.

Wolf Killer may be my title, but around here I’ve always been Little Red Riding Hood.  Since the day I could walk, I wore a red hooded cloak, which falls over my shoulders to this day.  Somehow the name stuck, though I’m barely little anymore.  I’m taller than all the village women and half the men.  However, once a sobriquet has been bestowed, it is near impossible to lose.  In fact, I doubt anyone in the village, save Mother, knows my real name—Abigail.

I hasten my pace.  The caterwauling 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 standing 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.  How can I be so clumsy at a time like this?      

“Come quick.  Hurry, Little Red, run,” pleads Mother.  “They’re nipping at your heels.”

The pain in my leg is unbearable.  I bite down on the insides of my cheek and pull myself up with the tree branch.  The drumbeat of the racing paws are gaining on me.  I return to my tottering gait when something tugs on my cloak, nearly tossing me backward.  I pull, but can’t break free.

Something whiffs by my face.  It’s followed by a yelp and a heavy thump on the rugged plains.  I’m free and stumble several feet forward.  Behind me I see the creature who moments ago had my cape its mouth.  An arrow shaft protrudes from his left eye.  One of the archers must have struck him down.  I look back toward the wall.  Among the bowmen, I glimpse a fringe of yellow hair disappear behind the barricade. 

With my cloak free, I face my snarling predators, whose thick hides are the color of ash or the burnished brown of chestnuts.  They halt several feet behind their fallen comrade.

“Back off, cretins or you’ll discover the same fate as your friend.” I hold my stick out as if that can possibly defend me.  But the wolves are not foolish enough to face a hail of arrows and bark at me in defiance.  Their grumbling 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 compatriot by the scruff of his tawny neck and withdraw into The Woods.

As I reach the gates, I catch my breath.  However, I don’t feel safe until the great timber doors open and slam shut behind me.  I made it.  I’m alive.

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’ve nearly killed you,” she appraises.

“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’ll 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 in the front.  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. 

I never knew what the last half of my father’s statement meant.  What was the greatest good a shepherd is supposed to do beside protect the flock?  When I asked, he said it was something I had to figure out for myself.  I ponder my father’s words, as my head sways to the rhythm of the jouncing cart.  Soon, I’m rocked to sleep. 


  1. Hi Paco. Oh, I love the work that you've put into this. Abigail's thoughts and feelings are really woven into the action now and it feels like we're in the scene with her. It all feels much more organic and the pacing runs smoothly.

    I don't have a lot of suggestions. Mainly, I think some of the writing and proofreading could be tightened up. I would also watch some of the sentence constructions that you use consistently. In the first paragraph, there are two inanimate things as the subject of verbs (breathing is laboring and blood is falling): there's nothing wrong with this but it takes focus away from the agency of the beings involved (the wolf and girl). There are also a number of instances of the "___ of ___" construction ("the rhythm of the jouncing cart" "the point of my sword"). Again, nothing wrong with this sentence construction and it is sometimes the best choice, but you can usually say in fewer words "my sword's point" or "the jouncing cart's rhythm," which will read more smoothly....again just something to mix up to vary the prose. I also really like the short, simple, staccato sentences during the fight, but I think some of the language could be stronger and more evocative. "The wolf retreats" says very little and doesn't help me picture what is happening physically, but "The wolf padded backwards through the snow," is more visually stimulating and gives a sense of tie and space.

    The very last paragraph might be too telling, I'm not sure sure. I like the paragraph before and the reflection about being a shepherd, and wonder if it could end with that? Just a thought.

    I really enjoy this piece and the role reversal of putting her in the predatory position, as well as the depth of the relationship with her father. Good luck with your further revising and thank you for sharing!

  2. To be honest I can't find anything wrong with this, it was smooth and intrigued me to read on. Though the issue I had was the first paragraph, I got confused with the spelling error "His breathing labors, as he stumbles on four legs. From a large gash at his side, blood falls dying the last of the winter snows crimson." You meant dyeing right? It's quite a beautiful line. Besides that good luck with this piece.

  3. The dialogue is much better and smoother! You have such a lyrical way with some of the phrases, I'm impressed. I do agree about the last paragraph. Maybe a little too much telling?
    Overall, I really like this piece and hope to see it published, so I CAN READ IT soon:)
    Thank you for your advice and suggestions on my five pages. I was visiting family last week and didn't have a lot of free time to implement all the advice, but I wanted to let you know I appreciated all the time you put into editing and critiquing.
    Thank you!

  4. This is really compelling! You've done a nice job making everything flow smoothly, still giving us lots of action right off the bat but also providing the right amount of backstory.

    The only comments I have are really small things, just a couple sentences that stuck out to me. "The drumbeat of the racing paws are gaining on me": I like the sensory imagery of the first part of the sentence, but it's the racing paws that are gaining on her, not the sound of them, and the way the sentence is constructed makes this ambiguous.

    And the sentence where Little Red downplays her wounds: "The bite is not deep and the cuts on my arm are nothing but a scratch" -- the end of the sentence should be revised to "the cuts on my arm are nothing but scratches." Although, I'm actually not sure this sentence and the following remark by her mother are necessary--I think you could cut these and go straight from "You are certainly not alright" to "Mother undoes the bindings on my arm and thigh."

    But again, those are just minor details. Overall it is a strong piece and I wish you the best of luck with it!