01 Feb Over the River and Through the Woods
“Oh my little one, what big eyes you have.”
The Witch in the crimson red hood said as she tenderly caressed the cheek of my infant son in her arms.
It might have been a touching sight, were she not standing over the savagely mutilated corpse of my wife. From where I laid grievously injured on the dirt cabin floor I tried to plead with the witch who wore the face of a young girl to take whatever she wanted, even kill me if it pleased her, as long as she spared my son.
She paid me no mind though, didn’t seem to notice me at all. She seemed to be off in her own world, completely detached from the atrocity she had just committed upon my family.
” I just know that Grandma is going to love you.”
She cooed as she carefully placed my only son in the wicker basket she carried at her side and covered him in a blue wool blanket. She then cast me a backward glance with her deep maroon colored eyes as I struggled to crawl towards her despite the deep wounds she’d inflicted on me with her dark magic.
She took only a moment to laugh at my suffering before turning and walking out the front cabin door into the blistering cold winter night with my son at her side, and vanishing between the trees like a shadow.
If I had been anyone else, my story might have ended here. The pain I felt was excruciating, and I could barely feel limbs, my vision blurred and every breath I took was shallow and labored. I have no doubt that If I had been a normal human being, I would have succumbed to the agony and expired on that dirt cabin floor. I think the witch had been counting on that.
What she did not count on was that I was no normal human being. I had a weapon that most humans did not. Summoning the last reserves of my strength, I crawled along the dirt floor slowly as blood seeped from my wounds, until I finally made it through the open cabin door, and into the pale silver glow of the moonlight that awaited me outside.
Moonlight had always been the bane of my existence. It was the reason I could never have a life in civilized society, Why I chose I life of seclusion for my family out in these woods, where I thought we would be safe. Moonlight had always been my curse.
But now, in my greatest time of need, I saw that the moonlight was my only weapon in the fight to save my boy from the evil that had snatched him from me, and so for the first time in my life, I embraced it.
The full moon shined against the black sky with unbridled brilliance that night, so the change came quickly. I felt my bones snapping and stretching as my body became larger, and my muscles expanded to nearly three times their normal size.
Sharp carnivore’s teeth grew out from under my regular ones, pushing them out of my gums and causing me to spit them out into the snow along with thick droplets of my blood.
My fingers grew long as wicked looking claws sprouted out from where my fingernails had been and my raven black hair became thicker and thicker, until it was a mane of jet black fur that covered the entirety of my body. I felt the wounds across my body shrink and close as the pain melted away with the transformation.
Before I knew it the man I was had completely disappeared, replaced by the Wolf and tonight, that suited me just fine. For I knew that where the man had failed to protect his family, the Wolf would not.
It is difficult to describe what it’s like to inhabit the form of the Wolf. I was myself and at the same time someone else altogether. My human thoughts were intact but they were quiet whispers compared to the primal cries of my animal instincts, specifically the ones that commanded me to track, hunt, and kill.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been a disaster. But these were not normal circumstances. Tonight I needed to hunt, and there was no doubt in my mind that by this hunt’s end, there would be plenty of killing to satisfy the Wolf.
The Witch’s scent still hung thickly in the frigid winter air like a miasma. It smelled like lavender, incredibly distinct, but fading fast. I had to move quickly to catch up with her. I bounded after that lavender scent through the dark, unforgiving forest with wild abandon, the mournful howls of the other wolves that roamed the forest filling my ears as I went. The they might not have seen me, but they knew I was on the Hunt, they always did.
The first time I caught up with the Witch was on the banks of the river that divided the northern part of the woods from the south.
She had stopped, seemingly to pick flowers from a nearby bush that grew along the water’s edge despite the harsh winter cold. She had the most carefree look on her face as she brought the flowers to her nose and inhaled their scent. She looked like a young woman on a joyful evening stroll rather than the murderer and kidnapper she was and even if my half-mad state of transformation it infuriated me.
The wicker basket that held my son lay beside her in the snow where she knelt and the Wolf’s keen ears could make out his steady breathing and the rhythm of his tiny heartbeat, it tipped me over the edge from fury into frenzy and with one of the most savage hate-filled growls I’ve ever given I abandoned all caution and lunged at the witch with the sole intention of sinking my fangs into her throat and tearing her head from her body.
That had been a mistake. She turned and saw me at the last second, utter shock and fear painting her features very briefly before she evaporated into a cloud of red mist, taking my son with her and leaving me to claw at snow and branches.
I looked around for her frantically, terrified that I had lost her, when I saw her materialize on the opposite side of the River. Thankfully, whatever sorcery she employed to turn herself into mist didn’t seem to be able to carry her very far.
She gawked at me from across the river for a moment, before that look of confident amusement she’d had at my cabin spread back across her face. I rose to my full height and howled at her, if for no other reason than to show her that she would not get away with her crimes, that tonight she would face bloody retribution.
She laughed at me mockingly before taking a deep breath and exhaling a huge black cloud of what I thought was smoke at first, before it drifted towards me over the water with rapid speed as the buzz of a thousand angry black hornets reached my ears.
The swarm attacked me with vicious ferocity, each sting burning like hot fire. I swatted and clawed at them as best I could, but they evaded my claws with ease. Seeing no other option I dove into the freezing waters of the river to avoid the swarm, catching a glimpse of the Witch fleeing into the woods beyond the river as I did.
I allowed myself to drift downstream long enough for the swarm to dissipate before I swam ashore. Had I been in my human form, I might have chastised myself for being so careless at such a critical moment, but the Wolf had no mind for such things, the Wolf only had a mind for hunting, and the Witch’s scent was still strong.
She seemed to be moving away at a much quicker pace now which came as no surprise, because now she knew she was being hunted and though she apparently moved much faster than most people, she wasn’t fast enough to get me off her trail.
I pursued her scent doggedly through the dark woods for hours before she slowed down long enough for me to catch sight of her and that crimson cloak of hers again. This time she seemed to be in the company of someone else.
He was a Woodsman by the look of him. Big and burly with a thick red beard hanging from his chin and he carried a sharp-looking axe at his side. He sat on a stump across from a campfire with a concerned look on his face while he spoke to the Red-Hooded Witch who clutched the basket holding my son close to her breast.
I went low as I approached the campsite, determined not to make the same mistake I had at the River. This time I would be quiet until it was time to strike. I moved in slowly and silently until I was close enough to make out the words they spoke to each other.
” Calm down my dear, there is no need to cry, what do you mean a beast?”
A stream of crocodile tears flowed down the Witch’s face as she replied.
” A Wolf! Fur as black as night and fangs like razors! It’s following me through the Forest, it wants to devour my baby!” She cried.
I understood her game immediately, and it made my blood boil. How dare she claim my son as her own, when his real mother lay dead and rotting by her hands! I wanted to leap out and rip her apart, but I restrained myself and kept listening.
” Why are you wandering the woods this late alone dear? Where is the child’s father?” He asked her.
The Witch let out a sharp sob at his question, as if it pained her to hear it.
” The boy’s father is a miserable lout who will have nothing to do with us! We only have my grandma!” She wailed.
It was quite the performance on her part. I could tell the Woodsman was utterly convinced.
“Where does your Grandma live dear? If it’s not far, I can travel with you until we get there if it makes you feel safe.”
The Witch cleared her throat.
” She lives in a cottage at the Forest’s edge, I swear it isn’t far.”
” Then let’s get going, you and the little one stay close to me.” He said standing up.
” Are you sure? The Wolf is so big and frightening.”
She asked him in a tone that sounded genuinely scared.
” I haven’t met a wolf yet that I couldn’t put down with this”
He said as he brandished his axe, letting the moonlight reflect of it’s silver edge.
” Thank you so much!”
She said as she put my son down long enough to wrap the Woodsman in an embrace that was more than a bit provocative.
This was a problem. I didn’t doubt that I could take on the hapless Woodsman if I needed to, but I was not in the habit of hurting innocent people, and I couldn’t risk the Witch making another escape while I was distracted with him. That silver axe he carried could do me serious harm as well, so attacking outright seemed out of the question.
For the moment at least, the Witch seemed to have outsmarted me, and as hard as it was I restrained myself from obeying my instincts, and came up with a plan.
It dawned on me fairly quickly that though this Witch was out of my reach for the moment, her Grandmother, surely a witch herself, was not. If I could get to the cottage before them, I could dispose of the Grandmother. That way I would both eliminate whatever threat to my son she posed, and also attain the perfect point of ambush to save my boy when they arrived.
That would mean I would have to find her cottage though, and “At the edge of the forest” wasn’t much to go on. I had my nose though, and since it was safe to assume that the two witches lived together, if I could find I scent like hers and follow it to it’s source, I would find their lair.
After putting some distance between myself, the Woodsman, and the Witch I put my nose to the air and searched for a scent to follow. It didn’t take me long to find it once I started heading south. The scent was like lavender, unmistakable. I followed it through the thinning treeline for what felt like an eternity before I came upon the cottage.
It was innocent looking enough from a distance, just a single story little wooden house with some potted plants scattered about on the porch and what at first I thought were people gathered in the front yard. Once I got closer though, the house took on a much more eerie appearance.
Skins and hides from various animals like foxes, bears, cats, boars, and even wolves hung all around the house, some attached to the building itself, others stretched over straw filled scarecrows that filled the yard. It looked as if a pack of beast like men stood guard over the house, and the human part of me found that deeply ironic. Handmade charms that appeared to have been made from the bones of small animals hung over the front door doorway and once I was close enough, I could hear the chanting.
It sounded low and wicked, spoken in a language I did not recognize. The voice chanting sounded like that of an old woman, the Witch’s mysterious Grandmother I guessed. It might have scared a human, but I was not human, and after everything that had happened to me tonight, I was ready to spill blood.
In my haste, I hardly noticed how the hollow eye sockets of the scarecrows seemed to follow me as I approached. I didn’t care. I burst through the front door and braced myself for a battle, but was meet with only the steady crackling sound of a fire.
What I saw within the cottage sickened me more than anything I saw outside. Strange runes drawn in blood covered the walls, and bones littered the otherwise bare floor. Tiny bones. They were unmistakable as the bones of small children. There were hundreds of them. Some were intact, woven into some kind of handmade dolls or charms not unlike the ones outside. Others had been broken open with a crude hammer and had the marrow scooped out of them for purposes I couldn’t even begin to imagine.
At the very back of the cottage, a fire burned within some kind of large bronze bowl that looked like the remnants of another age. A decrepit old woman clothed in the skin and fur of a large wolf Sat on a chair in front of the bowl. She chanted over the fire, her pale and cloudy eyes focused on the bones that burned within the bowl’s center
She spoke in a raspy, hoarse voice that made my skin crawl.
” There you are Monster.” She said with a smile.
” Your coming was foretold by the bones.”
I didn’t want to hear her speak. I stepped forward to rip the evil old hag apart, but she spoke as I approached nevertheless, laughing as she did.
” My death will be a hollow victory for you Monster! you will never hold that boy again!”
She said in between her fits of maniac laughter.
I didn’t let her say another word. After all I had gone through with the Red-hooded Witch, I expected this one to put up a fight, but she didn’t. She sat perfectly still as I wrapped my claws around her throat and broke her neck, stopping her dreadful laughter for good.
Now all that remained was to ambush the Red hooded Witch and her hapless protector and save my son. I stuffed the Witch’s corpse in a cupboard I found in her bed chamber to the left of the main parlour where she had been sitting, and took her place on the chair. The waiting in that den of evil was torture.
I waited until I started to see the first signs of dawn in the sky through the window outside. I was starting to worry that the moonlight would fade and I would lose the blessing of the Wolf before they arrived when I finally heard the fimilar flutter of that crimson cloak, and innocent sounding voice of my most hated enemy outside.
” Grandma? Grandma? I’m home! and you’ll just love what I brought you!”
I forced myself to remain still in that chair as she walked through the door with the Woodsman in tow. He seemed different somehow, the concerned look that painted his face at the campsite was gone, replaced with a distant and vacant expression, as if he were unaware of anything happening around him at all. I suspected that the Witch had done something to him between there and here.
I expected her to attack as soon as she saw me, but to my utter amazement with only the dim light from the fire illuminating the cottage, she seemed unable to tell the difference between me and the fur-wrapped old woman she had been expecting, at least for the moment.
I said nothing as she approached.
She asked as she came closer with growing concern in her voice. She was close now, but I needed her to get just a little closer.
” Is something the matter?”
She asked stepping in close. Then, for the first time that night, my son started crying from where he lay in the wicker basket she carried. The sound caused her to take her eyes off me for only a moment, and I took the opportunity to sink my teeth into her throat.
The metallic taste of warm blood coated my lips as I bit down hard, determined to kill that Red hooded harpy once and for all. Her face was twisted in a mixture of shock and agony and I could make out the gurgling sounds she made as air escaped her lungs. She crumpled to the ground as I grabbed the wicker basket from her hands.
Never in my life have I handled anything with such care in the form of the Wolf as I did that basket. My son’s cries had become all the more hysterical, but I didn’t care, the fact that I had him in my arms again after all that had transpired tonight made all of it worth it.
The Woodsman seemed to have snapped out of whatever trance the Witch had placed over him, because he stared at everything before him with his mouth open in horror, as if he were seeing it for the first time.
” Lord above…” He started to say before going pale as something behind me caught his attention.
Before I could turn to see what it was, sharp, stabbing pain shot up my back as long, pitch black claws pierced through my side.
” My, My, Grandma. What sharp teeth you have.”
Said the Witch, her voice now distorted and demonic. I turned my head to see her more than just alive, but seemingly undergoing a transformation of her own. Her once maroon eyes now burned ruby red, her fair skin had turned grey, and her hair began to writhe and twist beneath that hood of hers, as if it were alive. Black blood seeped from the wound on her neck I had given her, and maggots poured from her open mouth as she spoke.
Without thinking, I began pummeling the Witch with my free claw as a cold numbness began to spread throughout my body.
No matter how much I struck her, No matter how much flesh I raked off her face with my claws, she did not let go. She pulled the claw she had lodged in my side upward, cutting into my stomach and chest. The pain was unbearable.
As my eyesight grew dark I could see the Witch reaching for the basket with one of her wicked black claws, before I saw the silver head of an axe plant squarely in her skull and the voice of the Woodsman, which sounded in equal parts terrified and brave.
He was swinging at her wildly in a state of panic, and the sight made me grateful that at least for the moment, he seemed much more terrified of her than of me.
The Witch screamed out in agony, sputtering out half formed threats and curses at the both of us as we worked in unison to destroy her.
As the first rays of dawn streamed in through the window, she finally went still.
For a brief moment, I feared the Woodsman might turn his axe on me, but he stood transfixed, staring at me as the form of the Wolf began to fall away with the rising sun. I felt myself shrinking as I clutched the wicker basket and made my way over to the chair where that horrible witch had been sitting when I first came to the cottage, and felt a wave of satisfaction wash over me as I realized I had proven her wrong.
Despite the undoubtedly fatal wounds that had been inflicted on me, I was holding my son in my arms again.
When my human hands had returned to me, I reached into the basket and gently pulled him into my arms and pulled the blanket from his face.
Big, beautiful brown eyes looked up at me in recognition, and his hysterical cries faded away. He smiled and reached for me with his tiny little hands. I’d never seen anything more precious.
” What… are you?”
The Woodsman finally got up the courage to ask in a timid voice.
I didn’t answer his question. Instead I just gestured to the baby in my arms and gave the most desperate plea I had ever given in my life.
“He’s my son, please, when I am gone, take him away from this awful place” I choked out.
For a long time, he said nothing. Just looked looked between and my son in total silence, before he nodded reassuringly.
No other words were spoken between us. I may have lost my life tonight, but I had saved my boy from whatever horrible fate the witches had planned for him, and that was enough for me.
I cradled him in my arms, listening to the warm, soothing rhythm of his heart beat as numbness spread over me, and when death finally came to embrace me,
I met it without regret.