It was too late for Granny. I knew it even as I slid down the wolf’s throat, suffocating like the passage of an egg through the body of a serpent. The film of his esophagus plastered over my face, squeezing breath from my body. I stopped for a moment, and I thought I would die—,. But he gulped, and down I slid, into his belly.
The darkness was absolute, but I could breathe again, even in the dank, humid air.
No Granny, though. Not a hair ribbon or her spectacles. She was gone.
I cried and I beat my fist against the walls and I called her name over and over. The wolf’s laugh shook his belly, knocking me off my feet.
I had spoken to the wolf. I had dawdled in the dappled sunshine, picking flowers to bring to my grandmother’s house. The scruffy bunches of goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace were likely the last flowers of the season; already the air was sharp and cool in the mornings. Soon there would be frost and everything would wither and blacken. But this afternoon was so warm and hazy, it seemed unending. I could not help but linger.
But the smell of the goodies my mother’s narrow hands had tucked into my basket under a clean dishcloth became nearly irresistible. She had sent me on my way with strict instructions not to touch them. She wanted them fresh when I arrived at Granny’s. I had to continue walking.
The wolf slunk out from between the trees, huge shaggy paws crushing the wildflowers. He snapped at a bee that hovered at his shoulder, before turning his grinning mouth to me.
Where are you going, little girl? To Granny’s house.
Better not linger, then.
I spoke to the wolf. I told him where I was going. I was the one who gave him the idea, to pad off into the woods, rap against her door with his great paw, and sink his teeth into my grandmother, tearing through her nightie. I shuddered at the thought of the wet crack of bones.
But I am small. I am only a morsel for the beast. He hooked one claw into the collar of my red hood and, lifting me with ease, swallowed me whole. I sat, in the thick, moldering darkness, alone. Above me, somewhere in the vaulted eaves of the wolf’s ribs, came the unrelenting beat of his heart—the heart of a beast, a hulking monster, an animal of sinew and slyness.
I knew about wolves. I knew how in the deep snows, when I was tucked beneath the quilt my mother’s capable hands made for me, they prowled and snarled. Their howls slipped past my windowpane, and ran like a fluid shiver down my spine.
They lived in the winter woods unseen, insatiable. We awoke often to a smear of blood and chicken feathers across our frosty yard.
But I could not burn with shame in the belly of this beast, waiting for the walls to close in, for the unspeakable secretions to dissolve me. My red cape, my dark hair, my
stockings, my toes. My grandmother had gone into the dark and I could not will her back to being. I was alone, and no one was coming for me.
My grandmother, and her clever hands. Her kitchen, where she crushed the cloves of garlic, each one pale and sleek as a tooth. Fat tomatoes waiting for the plunge of her knife, carrots ripped fresh from their moorings in the earth. The steam that rose from the pot on the stove where she boiled a marrow bone drifted against the windows. Meat diced for a stew, simmering onions, their skins discarded—and a wooden spoon lifted to my mouth, urging me to taste.
I was seized with a great hunger. I was as beastly and wide and dark. I stood, from where I had lain curled on my side, and dug my hands into the wolf’s belly. He twitched, perhaps suspecting (only?) indigestion from swallowing a little girl whole. I persisted, digging my fingers in, pulling, pulling, until I felt the walls rip apart. A whimper from the wolf. I reached deeper, for a handful of flesh, and brought it to my mouth.
Gristle and gore, the slick muscle and the soft fat. I ate. I ate, and ate, and all the while the wolf howled. The howl filled the chamber of his chest and reverberated through him. He was clutching his stomach, I could feel his claws dimpling his skin from the outside. I bore through the wolf, ravenous, blood-drunk. He fell still at last. The skin tore and at last I emerged from the slit in his fur, my hair slicked with blood.
I slid from the wolf’s body, followed by a glut of his shining intestines. I lay curled in a pool of his, fecund blood.
I hunt the wolf now. My appetite is as wide and dark as the woods. My hair is no longer black, but red as my riding cape, stained forever. I walk among the trees, in the deep snows, and his blood ripples through me; I am a sentinel, a warning, a guardian. Little girls pass safely through the woods now, for if I meet them, I tell them—run.
Kelsey E. Moore is a poet and scholar. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Maine Farmington and is pursuing a Masters degree in English Literature at Trinity College. Her work has previously appeared in The Sandy River Review and in the Riverteeth “Beautiful Things” column. She climbs mountains and knits things.