Should’ve Learned the First Time

red_ridinghoodby Camille Atebe, Illustrated by Jess Olsen

Chapter 1

Little Red Riding Hood walked home through the woods wearily, her beautiful red cloak matted and sticky with wolf saliva. She had had a rough day, as anyone familiar with her story well knows. Her empty picnic basket knocked against her knees as she walked, and her fist clenched the bunch of flowers she had picked for her Granny, now withered and limp (not her Granny, the flowers. Although, come to think of it, her Granny was looking a little withered and limp too, after the day she’d had.) Red finally reached her own front door and pushed it open. There in the front entrance stood her mother, arms crossed, mouth pursed with disapproval, eyes blazing. Uh-oh, thought Red.

Of course Red got in trouble. She was horribly late, and hadn’t called. The fact that the Big Bad Wolf had eaten the phone did not absolve her, since it was her fault that the Big Bad Wolf was in Granny’s house in the first place. Red’s mom sent Red’s dad out to make sure Granny was okay (she was) and yelled at Red quite extensively.

Red sat on the sofa and apologized over and over. It did no good. Her mom kept yelling. What Red didn’t know was that Red’s mom was yelling because she was getting over being scared witless that she may never see her daughter again, and she was also more than a little upset at herself for letting her daughter go out into the woods on her own, even with such instruction as she did have.

That night Red lay in bed, tears staining her cheeks. She was still a little shaken, as being eaten by and then rescued from the belly of a wolf is wont to leave one, and she was hurt that her mother had yelled at her rather than gather her up in her arms and weep tears of relief.

As she lay there, thinking about the unfairness of life and the meanness of mothers, she came to a distinct and sudden conclusion: She, Little Red Riding Hood, was unloved. After all, what loving parent fails to rejoice in their daughter’s safe return from the jaws of mortal danger? And what loving parent forgets their own child’s name and calls them by the article of clothing they wear most often?

Red finally drifted off to sleep, resolving that the next day she would run away, and that would show them. Little did she know that down the hall her mother was offering up silent prayers of thanks that her only daughter was safe and well, and resolving to apologize for all the yelling come morning time.

Chapter 2

At the crack of dawn the next day, Red climbed silently out of bed and, packing a few things into a small suitcase, leaped swiftly out of her bedroom window. Luckily her bedroom was on the ground floor, or there would have been a certain amount of injury involved. Brushing off her knees, she slung her case over her shoulder and ran off into the woods.

By noon she was hungry and a bit cold. She had failed to pack any food, which was an appalling lack of foresight on her part (for which she can be forgiven, I suppose, as she was only young, and running away in the heat of passion). She had also failed to bring her ubiquitous Red Riding Hood. It was the middle of summer, but it can be cool deep in the woods. Red looked around her, and realized that she was completely, totally, and irredeemably lost. Plonking herself down on an available moss-covered rock, she burst into tears.

Meanwhile, not far from where Red was watering the local flora with her salty tears, a small house was in chaos. Two bears were trying madly to find the honey.

“I know we had at least half a jar left!” Mama Bear wailed, as Papa Bear banged through the cupboards, growling. “Baby, did you eat the honey?” Baby Bear squirmed in his seat. He had indeed eaten the rest of the honey, just as he had eaten the rest of the strawberries the week before. But seeing his father’s fur standing tetchily on end as he tore apart the kitchen, Baby again chose to silently deny any involvement.

The search continued in vain, until Papa Bear finally gave up the search in a huff, and Mama, trying valiantly to appease her grumpy husband, put his now-cold porridge in the microwave to warm it up. Baby, who had wisely covered his porridge with a plate to keep it warm, sat quietly in his chair, trying not to look sticky.

After a minute or two of nuking, Mama placed Papa’s bowl in front of him and sat opposite, nervously. Papa took a mouthful of porridge, and howled. His mouth blistering from the heat, he leapt from the table, grabbed his hat, and declared, “That’s it! We’re going for a walk!” Mama made moves to put the food away, but Papa bellowed, “Now!” Off they scurried, leaving lunch sitting on the table.

This brings us back to dear little Red, whom we last saw weeping disconsolately on a rock not far away. Having run out of tears at this point, she decided to forge on and maybe find some food. Off she went, and soon came upon the small house recently vacated by the bears. The front door stood slightly ajar, and the smell of porridge wafted out. Now Red had been in a terrible situation the day before, and one would think that a girl once bitten (literally) would be twice shy, as the saying goes.

But Red was young, impulsive, and hadn’t eaten since lunchtime the previous day. So, going against all learned etiquette and moral training, Red pushed the door open, and after a tentative “Hello” which went unanswered, she stepped inside and hotfooted it to the kitchen table, where lay three bowls of porridge. Her tummy rumbling, Red reached for the biggest bowl. After finding Papa’s too hot and Mama’s too cold (she had left it standing while looking for the honey), Red lifted the plate off of Baby’s and had herself a lovely meal. And after that… well, I think you know what transpired. I shan’t bore you with the details.

Chapter 3

Back at Red’s house, the police were busy taking down details. Red’s mother wept as she described her daughter’s golden curls and rosy cheeks. The attending constable handed her a handkerchief, and Red’s brother set his tiny face into a mask of resolution. He hated to see his mother in such a state. Though he was younger than Red, he was a sensible boy, and mature for his years. As the police reassured his distraught mother, he put on his sturdy boots and his cloak, wrote a brief explanatory note, and slipped out the door. He would find his troublesome sister himself.

We rejoin Red as she wakes to find three irate bears standing over her. Well, Papa Bear was irate. Mama Bear was more shocked, and Baby Bear was a little glad to have someone to blame his broken chair on (he had destroyed it the previous day whilst playing SuperBear, and had stuck it back together with chewing gum, which he knew was only a temporary fix, but he had hoped to buy some time until he could come up with a good excuse). When Red opened her eyes she thought for a half-second that she might be dreaming. Then Papa Bear’s paw descended, en route to grabbing her by the scruff of the neck, and her survival instincts kicked in. With an almost supernatural speed and agility, she leapt sideways from the bed, sprinted across the room and flung herself through the open window.

goldilocksNow, her earlier self-defenestration had proven harmless, but this time, being two floors above ground level, she fell a bit more of a distance, and were it not for the cushioning powers of Baby Bear’s cousin Desmond Wolverine, come just that moment to visit, Red may well have found herself with a broken ankle or two. As it was, she was just a little winded (so was Desmond, lucky for her) and she recovered quickly. Disentangling herself from the startled and increasingly angry wolverine, Red made good her escape on feet so fleet that Mercury himself would have been left far behind (you’ll have to look up Mercury yourself, I have more story left to tell, and not enough time for extended side notes).

Let’s check in on Red’s intrepid brother, who had by this time wandered the forest quite extensively. He was growing weary, but, unlike his sister, he had had the foresight to pack a few things to eat. He sat down on a rock and nibbled quietly away, all the while taking stock of his surroundings.

He had explored as much of the forest as he knew, and was about to enter unknown territory. A clever and resourceful child, he ate most of his food, but left one piece of bread. This he broke into small crumbs, and as he set off further into the forest, he took care to drop a crumb every few metres, so that he might follow them back home, and not get lost. Well, it wasn’t long before he found his sister: dirty, frantic, and at her wits’ end.

girl_boyShe was very glad to see her little brother. After some joyous embraces, a lecture from the brother and a rolled eye or two from Red, they set off towards home. Well, they tried to. The crumbs were nowhere in sight. They searched and searched, but nary a crumb could be found. I think you know why. So they were lost.

Chapter 4

It was beginning to get dark when they came upon the little cottage. It was a pretty little cottage, but it was not the look which attracted the two children. It was the smell. The sweet smell of sugar drew them to it, and as they peered at it in the growing dusk, they could see that it was built entirely out of gingerbread and assorted candy.

Hesitating only a fraction of a second, they flung themselves upon the fence posts, greedily gobbling as much as they could stuff into their mouths. They had nearly demolished the front gate when two small children came flying out the front door. Shrieks could be heard from inside the house, and Red and her brother froze, their mouths full of gingerbread, their eyes wide as the kids dashed past them and off into the forest.

“Hey, whuf habnin?” Red asked in a shower of crumbs. Her brother shrugged, and, smart kid that he was, picked up his things and made to follow the kids. But Red, who really, really ought to have known better by now, headed toward the house. Inside she found an old woman, half in and half out of a blazing oven, screaming like crazy. Being a reasonably good-hearted child, Red took her by the legs and yanked her out. The old woman, once out of the oven, was remarkably unscathed, though she did smell peculiarly of gingerbread. Red helped her to her feet, and got her a glass of water. “Are you alright?” she asked.

“Do I look alright?” the crone threw the glass of water at Red. “Get me my wand! I’m gonna turn those kids into marionettes and throw them in the ocean!” She rubbed her beady little eyes, which must have been stinging a fair bit from the fire. Red looked around in confusion. “Wand?” She couldn’t see anything very wand-like. But she did notice her brother slipping in, and snatching up a twisted old stick leaning against the far wall. Good thing he did, too.

The old woman (whom the more perceptive of you will have identified as a rather mean witch) began muttering imprecations and feeling around for her wand. “Get out of the way, Red!” her brother hissed, and Red, somewhat confused, stepped aside. At least she had the good sense to listen. The witch heard too, and lunged towards the boy. At the same time he shook the wand at her, and she was changed into a toad mid-air. Red’s brother, who really was quite clever, took Red by the hand, said a few words, shook the stick at himself, and POOF! They were home.

“Hansel! Gretel!” Red’s mother was shocked to see her kids materialize in the middle of the living room, but didn’t stop for questions. As she gathered them up in her arms with relief, squeezing them and kissing them, Red realized two things: It was good to be home, where someone loves you, and it was really not so bad being called Red instead of Gretel, after all.   THE END


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