Saturday, July 07, 2012

Little Red Riding Hood

Way back in 2004-05, just after this blog began, I was obsessed with a site called east of the web. It was  a place for wannabe writers, where people posted stories, critiqued other people's stories and had their own stories critiqued in turn. And the best part was that there were some decent quality writers there, and you could actually find some well-written stories among the blah ones.

Inspired by some of the stuff I read on the site, I wrote a couple of stories as well, one of which was particularly well-received. But then, as usually happens, I lost interest, and stopped writing.

East of the web shut down that section of its site some time ago, and I thought I had lost those two stories, since the old desktop had also crashed. Recently, it struck me that I could just go to webarchive.org and find them. It took some searching, because I couldn't remember when exactly I had posted those stories, but I found them!

The first story wasn't that great, but I realized that the second one (the one that was well-received) was actually decent. Slightly wannabe, yes - but crisp sentences, a well-paced narrative, good descriptions. Seventeen-year-old me was actually a passable writer - much better than 25-year-old me, at any rate. Though I was reading it after a gap of seven years, there were very few sentences that I would have changed. 


So here it is, with only a couple of typos corrected. 


***


"Excuse me, Mr. Wolf, could you tell me the way to Grandma's house, please?"
"Of course, little girl. Take this right fork."
"Thank you, Mr. Wolf. Have a nice day."
"You too, young lady. You too."

I creep through the undergrowth to the bright light. The sunlight is warm on the two figures standing face-to-face on the wide path. They are different; yet complement each other – the tall, lean wolf in a morning coat and top hat and the small, chubby girl in her white frock and red cloak. The sight of her floods my mouth with anticipation. I can almost taste those white legs peaking out from beneath the folds of the cloak. The fair hair escapes the hood of her cloak and waves invitingly at me. It takes all of me to not jump on her that very second.

But now I have a decision to make. The wolf or the girl? Well, I've always hated the scenic route, so I choose the wolf. 

It is easier to follow the wolf than the girl. I know that as soon as he turns the first corner on the left-hand fork, he will make a straight dash for Grandma’s house. For that is how the story goes. 

I wait a few moments while she hesitates between the two forks in the road – the one dark and shaded by tall curving trees; the other sunlit and filled with flowers and butterflies and bees. Finally, the light wins her heart. She smiles suddenly and skips down the right fork. 

So. The two protagonists are on their way to their common final resting place. My face – the last thing they shall probably see in their lives – curves into a leer: the moment I have been waiting for is about to arrive. I set off along the grass flattened only a few moments before by the wolf’s greedy lope.

***

The wolf is standing by the edge of the woods. He is naked. His pretensions to sophistication have been torn away in his haste. He is staring at Grandma’s house. It rises above us on a hill; its white fencing and its green grass and its red roof and its cheerful yellow curtains are poignant gestures of defiance against the dark, unwholesome woods. 

Suddenly, he sniffs the air. I tense, wondering if he has sensed me. He turns his long snout in my direction and his yellow eyes gleam for a moment. Slowly, he pads towards me. 

Adrenalin pumps its way through me in a sudden rush. I ease the knife out of my pocket. 

The snick of the unfolding blade makes him hesitate a moment. But he still comes on, sure of his ground.

It is over in a few seconds. In a disappointingly short while, he has lunged at me, I have sliced his throat and his blood floods the grass. Like a true professional, I have sidestepped the spurt of blood and I am clean: no part of me brands me a murderer.

I look down upon his body. His rough fur is red. A gash splits his throat like a horrible leer. I feel no pity, for he would have done the same to me.

***

I have done my reconnaissance earlier and I know that approaching the house directly would be folly. Grandma, an invalid, has had her bed positioned so that she can see down the garden path. 

So, keeping well inside the woods, I circle to the back of the house. Here, the trees creep almost to the back door before being tamed. I have no trouble getting in. 

The kitchen is golden, warm and musty in the afternoon sunlight. Yellow cabinets line the whitewashed wall. Spoons and utensils hang from hooks below them. A small wooden table sits in the middle, adorned with a bowl of fruit. I pick up the carving knife placed conveniently on the sideboard.

The door to Grandma’s bedroom is open. I walk in. The knife lies casually in my hand. She is staring out the window, no doubt awaiting her little girl. 

The room, again, is warm and golden – as everything seems to be this afternoon. The overwhelming illusion is of flowers: the curtain and the bed linen and the wallpaper are patterned with white lilies; half a dozen vases full of flowers adorn every available surface; she is wearing a white nightdress with a gauze rose at the neck; an elusive scent of jasmine hangs heavy in the air. 

I clear my throat. She turns her head and sees me. Her eyes skim down to the knife in my hand. 

“Who are you?” 

Slowly and silently, I advance to the bed. 

Her eyes widen with fear and helplessness. They flutter around the room, seeking to escape this horrible reality. But they cannot escape the knife. They keep coming back to pierce themselves on its sharp edge, gleaming golden in the light. 

“Please… Take anything you want… I won’t even tell anyone… my silver is in the sideboard….”

Her voice is squeaky with terror. She is speaking to the knife: she cannot take her eyes away from it. 

Finally, my silence draws her gaze my way. She looks up at my face. What she sees there makes her eyes flee back to the comfort of the knife. 

The certainty of death makes a person less selfish. She suddenly thinks of her grandchild. I can almost see the thought being processed by her brain: the fear in her eyes is replaced by the initial shock as the thought strikes her; then cunning comes on, as she wonders how to draw this assailant away from her precious. Should she tell me about the child and hope that I have some grain of mercy left in me? Or should she strike out at me, so that I kill her quickly and take whatever I have to take and run before the child arrives?

The look in my eyes has left her with no doubts as to the amount of mercy I have in my soul. She steals a quick look up at my face. That is her undoing. 

The acrid stench of human excreta fills the room. I curse under my breath. Her head lolls against the flowery pillow. At least, there is no blood. 

I smile to myself as I lift her feather-light body and stuff it into the closet. Look at me: I kill old wolves with knives and old women with smiles. 

I change the bedcovers, open the window wide and find the air-freshener. The things we murderers have to do. 

I slip on another nightdress and a cap and I settle down in the bed to wait.

***

She skips up the garden, showing off to her grandmother. Her path zigzags, as she runs after bees and stops to sniff flowers. She shrieks with delight as a butterfly brushes its wings against her face. She turns up her face at the sun and lets down her hood so that the wind can brush her hair.


Somehow, she finally makes it to the door.

“Grandma! I’m home!” The words echo through the house. 

She hums a nursery rhyme as, out of sight, she sheds her cloak.

“Grandma! Look what I’ve…” The childish voice stops mid sentence as she steps into the room. 

I wonder if she can smell her dead grandmother’s pee. Or did she recognize me under the cap? 

“So, you’ve finally found me,” her voice is sultry. The warmth in the room increases tenfold. 

“How… how did you recognize me?” 

My confidence has drained away and my voice is sweaty with fear. Now that the element of surprise is lost, my fate is certain. 

“That old bitch would never have bed linen that didn’t match the curtains,” she says dismissively. 

“Did He send you?”

“Who else?”

“Why?”

“Because you weren’t doing anything, you lazy old prick!”

“Well, I was sent only sixteen human years ago, you know,” I try without success to keep the wail out of my voice. 

“Sixteen years! I’ve been here only six years and look at what I’ve done!”

“So it WAS you.”

“Didn’t you recognize my style, darling? You prey on old women. I prey on young men,” she laughs a hoary laugh.

She sits on the bed and places her hand on my knee. It is strange to be in a flowery nightdress and cap and have my old partner, in a six-year-old human body, place her chubby hand on my knee. But we have been in more ridiculous situations before, far back into the millions of years we have been together. 

But that was long ages ago: back when I was hers and she was mine and we roamed the world together in elaborate disguises, wrecking havoc and spreading evil among unsuspecting animals.

Now she is His and she has more powers than me. And she is about to vanquish me like she would crush an irritating fly. 

I shudder, thinking of the pain. The pain of death is much worse than the pain of birth. Though I have experienced it many times before, it still fills me with fear. 

“You KNOW there is barely room for one here.”

Is that compassion I hear in her voice – compassion for an old fool who has outlived his usefulness and who refuses to change with the times? 

I look down at my pink nightgown and wish for a simple life. 

She too looks down at me. Contempt replaces the compassion. Her eyes give lie to the small frame and the golden hair and the pudgy cheeks and the white dress and the red shoes. She raises her hand. My eyes fill with tears.



***


Original story with all the comments here on Web Archive.
• • •

4 comments:

Ninja a.k.a. Talli said...

WOW!

I like 17 year ol' you!

V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

WOW! JUST WOW!!!

HEY DEVIKA,

HOW R YU DOING?
GREAT PIECE OF WRITING, BTW. WELL, I AM NOT AT ALL SURPRISED THAT D 17YR OLD YU CREATED THIS PIECE.
I REMEMBER READING UR POEMS WHEN BACK IN SCHOOL. THEY WERE EQUALLY FRESH N BEAUTIFUL.

I WAS BROWSING THRU THE WEB THE OTHER DAY WEN I STUMBLED UPON UR BLOG. WAT A BLOG, CHERIE!!!

KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.... :)

Devika Rajeev said...

@Anon: Thanks, but I'd really like to know who you are! :)