A wolf makes a world-changing promise...
One day, a farmer was tracking a wolf that had attacked his flock of sheep. Shot gun in hand, he followed the thin trail of wool and blood through the woods until he stood beneath a dead oak tree. Through the gold of the setting sun, he peered up into the black, leafless branches of the massive oak as it loomed over him. At its base, enormous roots opened into a big gaping cave.
The blood leads into there... The man took a cautious step towards the pitch-black cavern. A low growl crept from deep inside the cave. His heart quickened. Then through the dark of the den, a pair of bright yellow eyes glared at him.
Raising his gun, the man said in a country accent, "All right you slobbering beast, I've gotcha cornered. Come on out and maybe I'll make this less painful for ya."
As the wolf replied, the farmer could see its sharp white fangs glow in the dark. "I shall never come out on your terms human, for I did nothing wrong," came a very deep and gravelly voice.
"Nun' wrong?" the man asked the wolf. "You've got bees in your brain if you think you're innocent!" The wolf was getting angry. The man saw the faintest shadow of the animal's ears pin back against its head in fury.
"Sheep is food," the wolf said slowly in a low, threatening growl.
"But they're my sheep," the farmer retorted. He started trembling. "You stole from me." The wolf peeled his lips back in a snarl of rage.
"Sheep my food."
"But stealing-" before the man could finish, the wolf launched out of the cave and at the farmer, knocking him to the ground. The shotgun flew from his hands.
Planting a huge gray paw on the farmer's chest, the wolf snapped in his face, "I did and do not steal! I kill only to eat, for I was hungry!" Blood and drool dripped from the wolf's snout and onto the man's horrified face. The farmer couldn't snatch his eyes away from the beast's. He could smell the brute's foul breath as the wolf said, "You accuse me of a crime I never committed? I am no savage as I know you pathetic humans believe." The man could do nothing more than lay there due to the cold shock that still gripped him. Then an idea came to the wolf. His lips lowered slowly down over his fangs. Pricking his ears in thought, his head moved away from the farmer's face. His gaze now looking beyond the man, his paw was still pinning the man down. The wolf then leaned back towards the man digging his sharp claws into his chest. Baring his teeth, the wolf said, "I will show your kind once and for all that wolves are not vicious, bloodthirsty beasts who always seek death and blood." As the wolf saw the man's expression change from horror to genuine confusion, he continued, "When it comes time for me to find a mate and rear young, I will teach my pups the way of man. They will walk on two legs and live in large, red-stoned dens you call houses. They will speak human tongue as I do and few other wolves can. And they will have young of their own and then also teach them to live as humans do." The wolf then stepped back from the farmer who still lay on the forest floor. He stood there while the man propped himself on his elbows. "Now leave my forest home and never return. Spread the word of this great change." The wolf turned and began padding towards the hole in the tree, his gray fur a blazing silver in the twilight. At the mouth of the cave, he swung his head back towards the man, who had not moved. "You will see," the wolf growled darkly. And with that, he spun and stalked into the great gloom of his den, never to be seen again.
"Bye," Carrie called to her grandchildren Zack and Paige as they headed outside in the sun shine. The kids' mom, Rose, was getting them into the car about to head home.
"Thanks again mom for watching the kids while I was away this weekend," Rose said.
Carrie replied, "No problem, sweetheart. Any time." Rose climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out of the driveway. Watching them drive down the road, Carrie thought about how lucky her daughter was to have her own kids and how much she herself missed that life. With a sigh, she headed back inside her house. But as she was opening the front door, through the corner of her eye, she saw a figure in the window of the neighbor's house. She turned and looked to see who it was this time. Max; the Hawks' son, she thought. He smiled and waved at her. Carrie waved and smiled back. As she was still smiling at Max, his mom appeared behind him. Carrie's smile faded. She sighed as she knew what came next. Max's mother looked down at him and then to Carrie, frowning. She said something to her son, then pulled him away from the window. She gave one last look at Carrie and then drew the blinds. Crestfallen, she went inside and closed the door. She walked past the stairs and down the hallway until she reached the large oval mirror that was hung on the wall. As she looked at her reflection, she thought, why do humans always look at me like us wolves are beasts?
It was dark outside. The moon a claw scrape in the starry sky. Carrie was sitting in the living room reading a book when the phone rang.
"Hello?" Carrie answered.
"Hey mom," Rose said. "I was just calling to check up on you." But Carrie knew better.
"What's wrong sweetheart?"
Rose replied, startled, "What do you mean?"
Her mom told her, "I'm no fool, I know somethings up, I can hear it in your voice." Rose sighed.
"When me and the kids were leaving this afternoon, I saw the neighbors' son looking at us again."
Carrie answered with patience, "I know dear, that was Max. He's a nice boy. He waved and smiled at me right before I went inside." She continued, "But yes, the neighbors do need to stop staring."
"And teach their son not to as well," Rose added.
"Rose!" Carrie growled at her daughter. "Their son doesn't know any better; they're human." Rose sighed again.
"I understand that mom, but it's just so... so rude. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Zack and Paige looking out the window at them with their ears laid back." It was Carrie's turn to lay her ears back. She understood what Rose was saying and it bothered her, too. The thing was that she didn't want Rose thinking that all humans were bad.
"Look darling," Carrie said. "Some humans just don't look at all species the same, ok?" She heard her daughter blow out a breath of, "It's been a long day, now's not the time."
"Yeah." Rose told her mom. "Ok."
"Alright then," Carrie said.
"Goodnight mom," Rose said.
"Goodnight sweety." Carrie heard the line hang up. She hung up her side and replaced the phone on the holder sitting on her tabel beside her chair. Leaning back against her chair, she pushed her thin glasses up her long, ever-graying snout. Her neck fur bristled at the thought of how years ago, humans used to hunt and kill wolves. Today they don't, but some have a hard time accepting that they now live among people.
Well, Carrie thought. "Actual" people. She turned off the lamp sitting beside her reading chair. She let her keen wolf eyes adjust to the darkened room. Mhm, she thought silently. Not as sharp as they used to be. Carrie then stood up to head up stairs for the night.
The next morning, Carrie woke in a pleasant mood. From the kitchen, she walked into the living room and looked out the window.
"What a beautiful day," she said aloud. The sun was rising and she could hear the birds singing their wonderful songs. A very soft breeze ruffled the tops of the trees to cool down the heat of the coming summer sun. "I think," she began, thinking out loud. "I think I'll go on a walk in the woods this morning." So the old she wolf undressed, as she always did to go on a walk in the woods. The woods were her private property, and she liked to stay connected to her candid roots.
So no one could see her, she went out the kitchen door that faced the back yard were the woods met her back yard. She set her glasses on the kitchen counter before she headed outside. As she closed the door behind her, she dropped on all fours and padded down the steps and across the soft springy grass into the forest. Walking under the cool branches swaying above her, Carrie sighed in relief. She looked above her into the green tree tops.
The sun wasn't over the horizon yet, but the sky was a beautiful mixture of purple, orange, and a fiery red. Starlings and blue jays sang their welcome to the oncoming day. She could hear woodpeckers pounding against bark of old oak and dogwood trees. Carrie sniffed the fresh air. As a scuttling sound rustled the leaves in front of her, she stiffened and then went into a hunter's crouch. Careful not to let her thick tail brush the foliage on the forest floor and disturb her prey, she crept forward. Pricking her ears, she pinpointed her prey with incredible accuracy. She saw a fluffy gray tail whisk over some fallen leaves.
A squirrel! As she was about to pounce, a noise disturbed her concentration. She looked up, startled. The squirrel poked its head up, swung its ears around, and then scurried up a tree.
And there goes my breakfast... Sitting up, she looked around. The strange noise came again. Carrie tilted her head to the side in confusion. When the sound repeated once more, she angled her ears in that direction and followed it. She padded deeper into the forest. Crossing a narrow stream and hopping over a fallen log, she came upon an abandoned fox den. The sound was clearer now. Why does it sound so familiar? With a cautious sniff, she poked her head in the hole. Letting her eyes adjust to the dim light, a soft cooing sound came from the back of the den. She snapped her ears back with a gasp. A baby! She thought. But not just any baby, a human girl! The baby looked her right in the eyes unafraid. The infant was wrapped tightly in a bright red blanket with a matching red beanie that was two-sizes-too-big, looking like a hood. Taking her head out of the hole, she looked anxiously around. The sun was above the horizon and climbing up the brightening sky.
"Hello?" Carrie called into forest. "Hello?" The only reply was the singing of countless birds. "Is anyone there?" She peered into the hole again. The baby was playing with roots hanging from the ceiling of the den. Glad it was busy, she began to pace in front of the hole. Could it be a hybrid? She pondered. Carrie's heard of wolves and humans having children, but it was rare. There aren't even any fresh scents saying that someone had placed the baby here in the forest, she thought.
Crying then erupted from the burrow. Looking inside, Carrie saw the small child had ripped the roots from the top of the hole and had nothing to play with. "Aww, you poor thing," Carrie sympathized. Leaning in the burrow, she licked the infants face gently. It stopped crying instantly and stared at her. She could tell the little girl wasn't afraid of wolves. That meant that it could be a hybrid. But then her heart sank. There was no taste of anything other than earth on her tongue. The baby then reached for her big black nose. Carrie looked at its tiny human hands and then at her big blue eyes. The baby looked right back, its gaze unwavering. Then it smiled and gave a delighted squeal. This overwhelming feeling of protectiveness swamped through Carrie. Snorting with amusement, she pushed her snout closer to the young infant and began to nuzzle her. The baby wrapped her tiny, chubby arms around Carrie's muzzle.
Meeting the baby's eyes, then looking at her over-sized beanie, she said, "I'll call you Little Red Riding Hood." Little Red Riding Hood cooed and laughed in delight. "Yes," she thought, overjoyed. "My Little Red." Closing her eyes, she drank in the baby's earthy scent. Carrie then snapped open her eyes as an idea struck her. She couldn't just leave Red out here all alone. But how would she get her home? What if the neighbors saw her? She'd putting herself in danger of looking like she stole a baby. Plus, if that happened and it was taken to court, it wouldn't help the case that so many humans believed wolves are filthy thieves and liars that are still "wild animals." What if I tried getting custody over her? The idea seemed like fantasy. No, it's impossible. She whimpered. Then, Is it?
Carrie crouched rigidly at the edge of the woods. In her jaws she held the red blanket that contained Little Red Riding Hood. She listened intently for the neighbors' voices. She then laid her ears back and crouched lower as Mr. Hawk walked through the front door and quickly scurried to his metallic-gray BMW. Opening the driver side, he climbed in and drove away in a hurry.
One down, the old she-wolf thought. Two more to go. It wasn't long before Mrs. Hawk opened the front door and called for Max to hurry up to go to school. Carrie's heart raced as Max's mom looked over in her direction. She stiffened and peered over her long snout at the baby. Red was staring right back with a big smile on her plump face. She then looked at something above Carrie. A brown and bright blue butterfly fluttered by her ear and landed on her muzzle.
Please don't laugh, little one, she begged silently, closing her eyes. When she opened them, Little Red was looking at her, her smile gone as though she understood the importance of the situation. As the butterfly lifted off Carrie's gray snout in a flurry of gleaming blue wings, she focused her attention back on Hawk's porch. Max's mother was no longer looking in her direction. Still holding the front door open, she called for her son. Max then came running out and leapt down the stairs. Closing and locking the door, Mrs. Hawk walked over to her silver Chevy pick-up truck. Max hopped in as his mom started it up. Driving away, Carrie stood up and watched them turn down a bend in the street. When she was sure they had gone, she cautiously crept across her yard, the baby gently swinging in her grip. When she reached her back kitchen door, she carefully set Red down on the top of the creaky wood steps beside her. Not being able to help it, she took a look around. No one's here, she reminded herself. Shaking her head to clear it, she stood up on her back two legs reaching for the door knob. Opening the door, she used her forepaw to pick up the blanket, carrying it inside. She shut the door behind her and headed straight for the living room. She set the child on the cream velvet Antoinette couch that sat in the middle of room. Dressing as quick as she could, she picked up the phone and dialed. The phone rang twice before she heard an answer.
"Hello?" a voice said.
"Hi honey," Carrie replied. "Hey, listen Rose," she said. "Can you come over right away, I've something very important to show you."
"Wait, what?" her daughter asked. "Why? Right now?"
"I'm afraid so, dear. Don't ask questions, just come, ok? And don't bring Paige and Zack." Carrie hung up the phone hoping her daughter would come. She will. She's a smart wolf.
Knocking at the front door interrupted Carrie's task at hand. She hurried over to the door and let Rose in.
"Mom, what's going on? Why do I hear crying?" Instead of replying, Rose's mom closed the door and went back her to search. "Mom-"
Carrie cut her off. "Start looking for any canned vegetables."
"Why?" Rose almost had to yell over the screaming coming from the living room. Setting her purse down, she jogged into the kitchen were her mom was busy rooting through cabinets.
"Just start looking!" Carrie growled back. Lying her ears back in agony of the shrieking that poured out of the living room, Rose also began digging through cabinets. As the wailing only grew louder, Carrie darted into the living room. Running on all fours for more speed, she raced up to the front of the couch and picked up the red bundle. "Shhhhh," she gently said. "Hush my Little red." As the bawling subsided, Rose pricked her ears.
"Little Red?" Looking up from the baby she held, Carrie told Rose what had happened that morning. "Not knowing what else to do," Carrie finished. "I called you." They were sitting now on the couch, Carrie holding Little Red while Rose sat next to her, listening intently. Being able to find the can of vegetables and feeding the baby, she was now quiet and fast asleep. No one spoke. Rose was staring down at the carpeted floor in deep thought.
Then Carrie broke the silence, "I'm going to get getting custody over her." Rose's eyes snapped back up to meet her mom's.
"What?" Rose demanded. "Do you know how many questions that'll arise? How will we explain to the court that you just found a baby in the woods without any scents, foot prints, witnesses, nothing?" Carrie tried to get a word in.
"Rose-" But Rose continued, ears glued to her head in panic.
"If they don't believe that you actually did find Little Red Riding Hood in the forest then they could question you about the possibility of you stealing her! Then what?" Rose's mom began to grow impatient. Getting up and leaving the living room, Carrie headed up the stairs, Rose following. They entered Carrie's bedroom. Rose began to growl and whine in wolf tongue.
"They could put you in jail!" she continued. "They could charge you with theft, kidnapping..." As her daughter kept babbling on, Carrie set Red gently on the bed. She then turned and excited the room and headed back downstairs, in no rush. "Even if you managed to get custody over her, how would you take care of her all by yourself?" Carrie and Rose walked back into the living room. "You live all by yourself-" Carrie turned on her daughter.
"ROSE!" she snarled in wolf. Rose stopped talking immediately and stared into her mother's eyes, ears flat. "We will sort things out when the time comes! So for now shut you're muzzle and calm down!" Rose lowered her gaze in shame.
"Sorry," she mumbled after a short silence. Sighing and taking a deep breath to calm herself, Carrie pulled her daughter into a hug.
"It's ok dear. We'll get through this."
"Paige!" Rose called to her daughter. "Paige, come here sweetie. Come help your grandma. Zack can look after Red." Paige came running in the kitchen from the living room. It had been almost a year since Carrie had found Little Red Riding Hood abandoned in the woods. She and Rose had successfully gained custody over Little Red and decided that they would share the responsibility of caring for her. Now, the happy family was celebrating Christmas.
"No, it's ok, Rose. Paige, you can go back to playing with the baby. Just be careful."
"But mom," Rose protested. "I don't want you to do everything." Carrie laughed. "I'm not, I've got you by my side helping me." She glanced at her daughter who looked back at her with a smile. Carrie winked. Rose just giggled and turned back to getting the plates out of the cabinet. Setting the table, she called her kids to the dining room. Placing the steaming food on the table, Carrie sat down with the rest of her family and had a wonderful dinner.
After they ate, everyone pitched in to clean up, all except Carrie who wanted to help but got shooed away by her grandkids.
"We can do it, grandma." Zack insisted.
"Yeah," Paige out in. "We've got it." Carrie gave a humorous look at Rose.
"Ok, ok," Carrie had finally said. While heading into the living room, Red gave a squeal of happiness at seeing Carrie. "Hi there, little one," she said. Picking the baby up and cradling her, she sat down on the couch. She looked out the window at the dark night, snow falling to the moon-lit ground. Looking back down at Little Red Riding Hood, she said, "Merry Christmas, my darling."