With Christmas approaching like a headless rider, I thought it would be nice to post something here a little more regularly (and a little more entertaining). I hope, Reader, you enjoy How Red Riding Hood Stole the Moon, if you do, drop me a line in the comment section. This story was firs published in Beyond Centauri in 2011. Enjoy!
How Red Riding Hood Stole the Moon
By Alexandra Seidel
Red Riding Hood, who was once a little girl, stole the moon.
Red Riding Hood was a child no more, she had grown into a young woman ingrained with the knowledge of the woods and with all the things she had learned from the old huntsman and from her beloved grandmother, who had passed on three years ago, come winter. The huntsman had told her about knives and how they cut down wolves. As a parting gift, he had given her one of his favorite knives, too, a knife that fit the young woman’s hand just perfectly.
Her grandmother had told her other tales, tales about old things and things that were almost forgotten, tales about things that people dared not speak about. Red Riding Hood had listened to both of them with much care and devotion. She knew that the wolves were vain creatures who took joy in hunting that which was beautiful, taking it into their foul muzzles and crushing it with their lightning sharp teeth. Her grandmother had once whispered into her ear that the wolves were enamored with nothing as much as with the moon, for no matter how they tried, they could not get to it and crush it in their jaws, which was why they howled out their frustration at the cream colored white ball.
Red Riding Hood also knew the bodiless voice at the bottom of the well.
“Oh why, oh why are there wolves in the woods?” Red Riding Hood would often say to herself when she wandered along the twilit forest paths, gathering wild berries, strange mushrooms, and rare herbs.
The woods would answer her only with a twinkling shadowplay of leaves moving in the breeze or with the countless sounds of things growing and dying one next to the other.
One day, when Red Riding Hood was again in the woods, she met an old crone who was wearing a shawl of dusty gray and faded lace. The old woman’s face was wrinkled and faded like weather-worn leather and her clothes looked like rags, patched and moth-eaten. She walked slowly as if on chicken legs and her back was all hunched, which made her look small and pitiable. The old woman’s voice was grating metal as she spoke.
“My beautiful young girl! Come here, help and old beggar woman.”
But Red Riding Hood was not a fool, and she had learned to see things for what they were.
“Keep you stories to yourself, old woman, you won’t fool me with an act,” Red Riding Hood said, eyes hard as the sky. “I’ll give you nothing and I’ll take nothing from you, but perhaps we can make a trade among equals, you and I.”
As the crone heard the girl speak so, she began to chuckle. She straightened her back and looked at Red Riding Hood.
“Well, my dear, forgive me, I just had to try. You would trade with me, you say?”
“If you have anything of worth to offer.”
The crone chuckled again.
“Oh, but I always have things of worth to offer, the only question is, of worth to whom? Well, let’s see,” she said and began to pad herself down and rummage around in the many pockets of her dirty skirts.
Red Riding Hood watched the crone with a dark frown on her forehead as she made a show of producing a simple and battered looking cup of bronze, an old quill, and a silver ring set with a black pearl and several white diamonds.
“This is what I have to offer you, child,” said the crone to Red Riding Hood. “What will it be?”
Now, Red Riding Hood was well aware that she could either leave the crone or trade with her. But leaving her would do little good, as chance meetings have a way of making you regret it if you didn’t venture anything in the first place. And so, the question was really not if to trade with the old woman but what to trade with her.
Red Riding Hood picked up the quill and felt the soft feather touch on her fingers.
“Ah. The quill that knew the voices of all the things and creatures. A rainbow bird once dropped it while cleaning her plumage in a mountain lake.”
Red Riding Hood turned the quill around in her long fingered hand, but it did not feel right there. She put it down again. She picked up the silver ring next.
“You might yet be happy with this ring,” the crone said. “The black pearl is actually the voice of a mermaid princess who wished she could fly just like a seagull. The diamonds are the tears her sisters cried when she left them to find her destiny, and the silver for the ring was made from the scale of an ancient sea serpent that could crush whole continents with the coils of her body.”
But Red Riding Hood put the ring back down again. It bit her hand with the freezing teeth of frozen sea water and crying wind. The only thing left was the old bronze cup. Red Riding Hood picked it up.
“The cup then. I should have known you’d take the cup. It once belonged to a beggar who wasn’t really a beggar. People thought they were dropping coins into his cup, but as you can imagine, the cup doesn’t really collect coins.”
“Of course not. What do you want for it?” Red Riding Hood asked. The bronze cup felt light in her hand, and the metal was soft to her touch as if her fingers knew every inch of its surface already.
“What do I want? Well, you have an awfully pretty knife there in your basket and those mushrooms that you put on a string to dry are also very nice. But I cannot give you the cup for either.” The old woman scratched the bristles on her chin as if lost in deep thought. “Ah, I know! Give me your red red hood and we’ll be even!”
Red Riding Hood moved one hand absentmindedly to her red hood. It was no longer as bright and shining a red as it had been when her grandmother had given her the hood, but it was so much a part of her that giving it away would hurt her deeply. It would feel as if giving away some of the memory of her childhood and also of her grandmother.
Red Riding Hood sighed, but she took off her hood anyway and handed it to the old crone.
“Here, take it then, old woman. It was the first thing my grandmother ever gave me.”
“I know,” said the crone and took the red hood with hands that looked as gnarled as old tree branches. She nodded once to Red Riding Hood and left her standing alone in the woods, basket still in hand but red hood gone.
Red Riding Hood considered the cup in her hands and although she felt all wrong without her hood, she smiled because she now knew how she could make the wolves vanish from the woods.
That night, the moon was full.
That night, Red Riding Hood stole the moon. She pooled it into the bronze cup, well water filled, and then she hid the cup in the hollowed out trunk of an old and stunted tree of wild cherries. That tree of savage cherries stood in the depths of the woods where light was scarce and sound was plenty. When it had yet bloomed, it had done so only on a whim, to rival the flowers by its roots and shimmer brighter than the butterflies in the air. Wild cherry trees do not come with a humble predisposition. However, the tree had been dead for so long that both flowers and butterflies had forgotten the color and taste of its silken petals, its sharp sap. Red Riding Hood felt quite certain that her moon cup would be safely hidden inside the dead cherry tree’s trunk.
That night, Red Riding Hood, who had traded a battered cup for her hood of red, had stolen the moon from the night sky, and she had left only starshine behind.
Now, as all the wolves in the woods saw that the sky was hollow without the moon, they began to howl loudly. It was not their usual howling but far more violent and angry; the wolves couldn’t stand the thought that somebody else had crushed the moon in their jaws.
“Who ate the moon?” one chestnut furred wolf asked his ash gray companion. “Did you eat the moon and forgot to tell me about it?”
“Eat the moon! I could not have eaten the moon without you knowing that I did, but perhaps you snuck away and buried it somewhere! Did you not say a while ago that you would like to play a trick on all of us?” and the other wolves agreed, saying that they had indeed heard the chestnut wolf say so.
“I did not!” the chestnut wolf exclaimed with a loud growl and sprang at the ash gray wolf’s throat.
It did not take long before all the wolves were fighting like this among themselves and even quicker, they were piercing their fellow wolves’ skins with their teeth of dark thunder.
For the most part, they killed each other that night that Red Riding Hood had stolen the moon. The young woman of course watched them from hiding, watched them first quarrel, then attack, then spill their companions’ blood on the leaf-carpeted floor of the woods.
Sometimes when two or more wolves fought among themselves, one might survive, wounded deeply and bleeding from long gashes of claws and teeth. Red Riding Hood was very deft with the hunter’s knife, and always she would use it on those wounded wolves.
When morning finally came to the woods, Red Riding Hood, once more dressed in red, returned to her grandmother’s house that was now hers and sat down by the fire and sighed with happy relief.
“Finally, all the wolves are gone from the woods and from now on, there will be no more howling at night and their stinking breath will no longer make the air taste like bile and rotten corpses; finally, all is well.”
Red Riding Hood of course didn’t know that all the wolves were gone but one.
There was still one wolf left in the woods, a loner that had never liked to live with the pack. His fur was bright and white as clouds in the summer sky and his eyes were dark as cinnamon and when the sun hit them just right, they shone. The White Wolf lived not in the center of the woods but rather at the fringes to the north where hard mountains rose their heads to draw ragged edges along the sky. However, that night when Red Riding Hood had stolen the moon, the White Wolf had heard the other wolves’ howling, and he had gone back into the woods to find what was the matter with them.
He had returned to the sight of the young woman dyeing her knife blade scarlet in the throat of a huge brown wolf. He could have ambushed her and killed her then, but the White Wolf was not like all the others. So, he just watched.
When morning came, he followed Red Riding Hood to her house. His fine nose had picked up the scent from the well by the house, the putrid scent of bitter waters poisoning the earth.
When the young woman closed the door behind her, the White Wolf went back into the woods. He lay down on a patch of moss to rest and to think, but while he was dozing off, he thought he could almost smell something sweet. However, he fell asleep before his nose could tell him what that smell was.
As both Red Riding Hood and the White Wolf were resting, day finally bled out its light and night came, taking its place.
The moon meanwhile shimmered broodingly in its well water chalice and the stunted tree that was its prison started to bloom from the muted shine. Hundreds of rose colored wild cherry blossoms sprang from its withered bark and branches, and when they bloomed, they smelled of realms fallen and crumbled to sand, of longing and forgetfulness, and of the silent solace of dream. A soft breeze uncoiled itself from the midnight black and it gently kissed the blooming tree and took the petals in its arms, high and away, spilling scent and luminous color everywhere.
Both Red Riding Hood and the White Wolf woke to the scent of dream on the air.
While the White Wolf rose from his bed of moss, Red Riding Hood likewise ran from her house; she recognized the scent for what it was, and so she took the straightest way to the wild cherry tree that was no longer quite as stunted as before. She found it in full bloom, and the flowing petals had covered everything in so much rose-white that it was almost as if fresh snow had fallen beneath the thick branches of the trees.
Red Riding Hood was now afraid that the moon would no longer be safely hidden in the cherry tree and so she took the shimmering bronze cup with the moon inside it out of the tree’s trunk. In her hands she carried it back home with her, pondering all the while what she should do with the moon now.
The White Wolf took a winding road to follow the scent, and it led him not to the cherry tree but to the house in the woods Red Riding Hood lived in. He arrived as Red Riding Hood was just walking past the well, moon cup carried before her in both hands.
At the sounds of fur-brushing low-hanging tree branches from behind her, Red Riding Hood turned around. Her eyes went as wide as two rivers finding the sea when she saw the White Wolf.
“There’s still a wolf!” she whispered.
“Yes,” said the White Wolf.
“Have you come to crush the moon and grind it to fine dust now that it is no longer fixed in the sky?” Red Riding Hood asked.
“I don’t care to crush the moon, or even possess the moon,” said the White Wolf. “The moon is not there to be taken.”
But Red Riding Hood had known the wolves in the woods and she knew that they had been liars.
“I do not trust you, wolf! I know your kind, you cheat and lie, and once you’ve shattered the moon between your teeth of ice, you’ll swallow me and dress in my clothes and lie in my bed and live my life, but I won’t let you!” and she held the cup with the moon in it over the well’s darkly gazing eye, so as to threaten that she would drop it in, should the wolf come any closer.
“Go back where you came from, wolf, and just leave me be!”
“I can’t;” the White Wolf simply said and took a step forward.
Seeing this, Red Riding Hood dropped the bronze cup that held the moon into the well, and it fell, and fell a long way.
The White Wolf came closer still and was soon close enough for Red Riding Hood to touch him.
“Feel my fur,” he told her, and sure that she would be eaten anyway, Red Riding Hood touched her palm to his fur. It was soft as white-woven silk and shone like robes fit for a prince.
“I will not eat you,” said the White Wolf.
“But that is what wolves do! Don’t tell me that you have never eaten anyone!”
The White Wolf lifted his cinnamon eyes to the young woman’s and said, “Can you tell me that you never drowned anyone in that well, or that you didn’t replace your hood of red with rubies and fur?” and at that, Red Riding Hood was silent.
“Take my paw,” the White Wolf told her, and Red Riding Hood took his right paw into her hand. It felt warm and soft but also a little rough, like the hands of one who has left his home to see the world and find all the wonders in it.
“Now, smell my breath,” said the White Wolf, and Red Riding Hood--reluctantly, for she feared to smell the foulness in him--smelled the White Wolf’s breath.
But on the White Wolf’s breath, there was nothing foul or rotten. He smelled like dark spices and like the high places of stone and wind, like sleep, found in the company of stars.
And as Red Riding Hood kissed the White Wolf, the cup with which she had stolen the moon, hit the bottom of the well with a loud clanking of metal. The moon spilled from the cup and from the water surface at the bottom of the well, it was reflected upwards again, rose from the well’s belly to take back its place among the stars.
The cup remained at the bottom of the well and from that night onward, the well’s waters were bitter and poisoned no longer, but sweet and rich and they had the power to bestow a long sleep with the most colorful dreams on anyone who drank from them.
Red Riding Hood left the woods with the White Wolf. First, they went back north to where the trees faded and the mountains began, and soon enough, they were climbing high and higher. It is not known where they went after that, perhaps a palace with a tower room that they made theirs so they could always watch the moon when night rose, but that is just a guess.