The girl glanced over her shoulder, her red sweatshirt clinging to her sweat-slicked back. Clutching her backpack closer to her, she turned in a circle, the naked trees cropping up around her like the fingers of corpses reaching out towards her. She glanced at her phone, the screen glistening like moonlight in the darkness. No signal.
“Lost, are we?”
Whirling around, the girl choked on a scream as an enormous wolf with yellowing teeth stretching over black lips and eyes as gray as a corpse’s skin lounged against an oak tree, cleaning its paw. The girl didn’t respond for she knew better. She knew not to talk to strangers—especially to even stranger monsters. The girl had been told all the stories, heard all the warnings of talking monsters lurking in the woods behind her town. The girl raised her chin, widening her stance.
“I can tell you where to go if you would just tell me where you are heading?” The wolf continued, eyeing the girl eyeing him right back.
“I’m not lost,” the girl said, raising her chin with false confidence.
“You best be on your way then,” the wolf answered with a lopsided grin that revealed half a mouth full of sharp, pointed teeth.
The girl harrumphed, gripping her backpack in her fists as she sidestepped the beast and began marching past the wolf and into the thickest and darkest part of the wood. But soon the forest wrapped itself around the girl and twisted her path until she was once again thoroughly lost between the thickening branches of the wood. Finally, the girl stumbled upon a field of poppies, their red petals rippling in the moonlight. The girl took a step towards them, entranced.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The girl froze, glaring over her shoulder at the wolf meandering between the tree trunks. “Are you stalking me?”
“Merely looking out for your best interests, my dear.”
“Alas, I can’t you see, not until I make sure you get wherever you’re going safely. Being a good Samaritan and all that.”
“I can find my way again without your help, thanks.”
“Ah, so you are lost.”
The girl cursed herself silently. “I was. But I’m not now.”
The wolf raised an eyebrow. “And you plan on cutting through the meadow of wandering fancies to be so intoxicated by the flowers’ sent that you hallucinate until you go insane?”
The girl’s eyes widened and she took a scurrying step away from the edge of the meadow. The girl’s mother had told her tales of this meadow, of little girls straying from the path and being so overcome with the beauty of the wildflowers they would tear out their eyes so that they wouldn’t have to look upon the ugliness of the world around them.
Glowering at the beast, the girl sighed. “If you must know I’m going to my grandmother’s.”
The wolf raised both his eyebrows at this. “Your grandmother’s?” he echoed, disbelieving.
“Yes,” the girl continued, clutching her backpack tighter. “She’s sick. I’m going to help her get better. She lives somewhere in these woods.”
“I see.” But from the wolf’s tone, the girl could tell he didn’t believe her lie.
“There is only one cottage in this woods that I know of,” said the wolf. “But it has been abandoned for quite some time now.”
The girl’s heart sank. “She just moved in,” she explained. “She had it renovated last month.”
The wolf harrumphed and turning on his heal began padding in the opposite direction of the meadow.
“Hey, where are you going?” The girl growled.
“To the cottage, of course,” the wolf replied without deigning to turn around.
“Wait, how do I know if I can trust you? That you aren’t going to take me deeper into the forest just so you can eat me?”
“You don’t,” the wolf laughed, flashing a grin at her from over his shoulder.
The girl didn’t move. He will find you, the girl thought to herself. The huntsman will find you. He knows you are coming. He will save you and slay this damned creature.
“There are many wolves in these woods, girl,” the wolf said, pausing. “But it is up to you to deem which are the monsters and which are just regular beasts.” The girl scowled at the wolf but began to follow him deeper and deeper into the wood.
The wolf led her to a little cabin in the thickest part of the wood, its windows broken, its roof half caved in. The girl’s backpack full of hurriedly packed t-shirt and jeans, protein bars, and a wad of bills wrapped up in a hairband began cutting into her shoulder blades. “Thank you for your assistance,” the girl said, stopping in front of the wolf who was looking back and forth between the abandoned cabin and the girl. “I don’t need your help anymore,” she continued.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright here?”
“Yes, but thank you,” the girl added, before turning her back on the wolf and entering the cabin. The girl shut the door before calling out. “Huntsman?”
“Red?” The huntsman appeared out of the darkness of the cabin. “Red!”
The girl ran to the him, wrapping her arms around him.
“Look at you, you’re freezing,” the huntsman said, letting the girl go. “I’ll go get you a coat.”
The huntsman disappeared into the darkness again.
The girl took out her phone and turned on the flashlight, illuminating the huntsman rifling through a closet full of red coats. “My, how many coats you have,” the girl said, running a hand over them. The huntsman smiled down at the girl as he took her sweat-slicked sweatshirt off her and hung it in the closet. “All the better to have when needed,” the huntsman replied, caressing his thumb over the girl’s elbow.
The girl then glanced over the huntsman’s shoulder at the wall covered in hunting rifles. “My, how many guns you have.”
“The better to hunt you with, my dear,” the huntsman replied, pointing the barrel of a rifle in the girl’s face.
The girl choked out a scream, slamming her backpack into the huntsman. The huntsman laughed as the girl dashed out of the cabin.
A shot fired past the girl’s head, gouging a hole into a tree beside her. The girl ducked, but before the huntsman could fire again, the wolf jumped out from behind the tree, lunging for the huntsman. The huntsman shot again, the bullet ripping through the wolf’s throat and splattering the girl with its blood. The girl screamed as she tripped on a root, her ankle twisting. The huntsman approached, laughing as the girl fell. “Didn’t anyone ever warn you, girl,” the huntsman sneered, his teeth glinting in the moonlight, “Not to go looking for monsters in the woods?”
The next morning, the huntsman returned to the town with a sweatshirt covered in blood and a wolf’s coat over his shoulder. He went to the mother’s house and told her how he had gone into the woods to find the girl but had been too late.
“At least the monster is dead,” the mother choked out. “If only she had listened to our warnings.”
The huntsman hid his grin, his teeth yellowing in the sunlight as he pulled out a knife from his belt. “Yes, if only you had both listened a bit more carefully,” he said, “that not all beasts have claws.”
About the Author: Emma Deimling is currently studying English, Creative Writing, and The Classics at the Ohio State University and works as a writing tutor in the university’s writing center. Her work has been published in The Ekphrastic Review (July 2019), The Voices Project (August 2020), Dark Lane Anthology (2021), and Teen Ink Magazine (March, May 2019).