Little Red

Chapter 1

It was a cold day in October when Red got a call at work from his Mom saying that his Grandmother was sick. Not serious sick, she rushed to assure him as she heard, over the line, the crash as he dropped a pan onto the counter, but she had some kind of virus and had been told to stay home and take it easy. Problem was, Gramma hated taking things easy. Mom had work that evening and had an optician’s appointment she’d been waiting for for, like, six months the next day, so after a couple of ‘pretty pleases’, Red agreed to go on up to Gramma’s place and check on her. Because, you know, Gramma was cool and he was a good boy. And his Mom told him that he was a good boy, like always, and reminded him of the address again, even though he knew it by heart.

He finished work around two that afternoon, changed out of his kitchen clothes and drove home to take a shower and gather up a few things. He could go grocery shopping at the supermarket near to Gramma’s house once he got there if she needed anything, but she liked home cooking, his especially, so he got a few things he’d had in the freezer, dishes of casserole and lasagne and stuff, packed them into a cooler and put them in his car. Then he put a change of clothes into an over-night bag in case she wanted him to hang around, and put on one of the sweaters she’d knitted for him, a fire-truck red one that clashed with the more orange-red of his hair, but who cared. It kept him warm and she liked to see him in things she’d made for him.

He got a bottle of water and a pack of cookies for the journey, carried his stuff out to the car and set off. It was a little after three.

The drive to Gramma’s was a pretty long haul at the best of times. He and his Mom lived in the city, but Gramma hated big urban places. She’d grown up in the countryside and, after Granpa had passed away, she’d declared that she was going back there, and so had moved into a cosy little house on the outskirts of a cosy little town out in, as far as Red was concerned, the middle of nowhere. It was a pretty place, rural but modern, with well kept houses and lots of polite, friendly people who were always in each other’s business and never minded it. It reminded Red of Twin Peaks a little, but she was happy there.

To get there from the city, however, unfortunately involved a drive in excess of three hours, the first half on the highway, and from then on through heavily wooded countryside, often going a hell of a long way between signs of civilisation. There were two routes through the forest; one was pretty direct, but it was virtually unpopulated, an old logging road that was almost unused since the plant that had required it had shut down. Not only was it unlit and creepy, it was also entirely possible to overshoot your exit and end up going a hell of a distance out of your way. The second option was more round-about, but threaded its way through a number of smaller towns and villages along the route, which broke up the journey and made it easier to gauge where he was. Red generally took the latter route. What was another half-hour on the journey if he could avoid that miserable logging road?

Or rather, it was usually only another half hour. But as the autumn afternoon faded into darkness, a thick fog began to rise along the forest road, clinging to the windshield and clogging the streams of light from the headlamps. Red was a careful driver, he slowed the car down, hunkered over the wheel and squinted out at the gloomy road, vaguely aware that it was getting later and later. He knew that his Gramma wasn’t the type to worry over nothing, she wouldn’t be too upset if he was late, and he knew Mom wouldn’t have told her a definite time for him to arrive, so that should be okay. But he sure as hell didn’t want to be out all night if he didn’t have too, not on a night like this.

Just as he was beginning to really worry, the fog growing denser with every hundred yards and the reach of the lamps getting shorter and shorter, he glimpsed a lit sign at the side of the road. A ‘50s style poster advertising ‘Fantastic Food for all the Family’, two miles further along. Thank God, he was getting close to Hobart’s Field.

Hob’s Field, as the locals called it, was a little village, old fashioned looking with a handful of stores lining the road for a stretch of about half a mile, and half a dozen streets of smallish houses, with a few more homes scattered out just beyond. Quiet little place, most people there were either retired or worked nearby. They’d stopped here once, him and Mom. What had that been for? Oh yeah, he’d pestered her to go to the diner when he was a kid. It was cool looking, all shiny red paint and steel cladding, with a big neon sign above. Maybe he’d drop in there on the way back.

Suddenly a bright flicker of light overhead startled him, and he gripped the wheel, smacking the brake down so hard the car almost swerved. Leaning forward to try and spot the source of the light, he gasped and then felt a rush of relief. It was the moon. Christ knew how it was visible now, what with the fog and the trees, but he would have sworn that he hadn’t seen it before on the way there. And now, there it was, plain as the day. A big, fat, silvery near-full moon, right up high.

He could barely see anything else around him though. And now his heart was pounding. How late would Gramma stay up to wait for him? And would that diner still be open, because he sure as hell needed a break or he’d be a nervous wreck by the time he got to her. He checked his watch; 7.30. Seriously? The pitch dark was playing games with him, making him lose track of time. It was nowhere near as late as he’d thought.

He started moving again, still careful, still slow, and in less than a minute, he was pulling up outside the diner in Hob’s Field, its neon sign like a beacon in the overbearing darkness. Red shut off the car engine, and the sudden lack of noise in the confines of the car was eerie. He zipped up his coat and clambered out, stretching out his arms and legs in the empty parking lot, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck, before heading inside.

It was so warm in the diner that the windows were steaming up, and Red almost felt bad opening the door to go in, some strange notion affecting him, that maybe that fog would hitch a ride indoors with him and spread its chill around the cosy place. But no, once inside the cold was chased from his body by kitchen-warm air and the scent of coffee. There was hardly anyone there; a teenage boy and girl sitting opposite each other in a booth, picking at a shared plate of fries in between whispers of furtive conversation and glances out the window. A middle-aged man in a plaid coat and a trucker cap was hunched over a cup of coffee at the far end of the counter, an empty plate at his elbow. Another man, tallish and lanky in bad tan slacks and a windbreaker was working his way through a plate of spaghetti with intense determination. A foot, clad in a blue sneaker, stuck out from behind the counter, toe pressed against the shiny floor tiles, though he couldn’t see the person it belonged to.

He headed over to the counter, picked a seat somewhere near the middle and gave the trucker a nod as he slid onto the stool. Almost the second he sat down, a wiry guy in a red apron and black and white check pants popped up from nowhere and beamed at him, nearly making Red jump out of his skin.

“Hi kid, welcome! Shitter of a night, ain’t it?” The guy said brightly, as if nothing could make him happier than a foggy night and a complete stranger sat in front of him.

“Sure is.” Red replied, heart still thumping. He was on the verge of asking for a menu, when the guy carried on.

“I was just saying to the wife, oh, my dear lady is the one performing miracles on the soda machine, to my right,” he said with a gesture towards the woman who was half-sprawled on the floor behind the counter, her head and shoulders inside a hulking piece of machinery that appeared to be built into the wall back there. Blue sneaker lady.

“I was just saying, wasn’t I Ronnie honey, (she’s Ronnie, I’m Ron, ain’t that a sign from on high?) I said I feel for any poor creature got to drive on a night like this. I bet it’s like driving through smoke. I bet you could barely see ten feet in front, am I right?”

Red nodded, waited a moment to see if Ron would continue, but no, it seemed to be his turn now.

“I’m heading into Denebrook. And yeah, it’s a hell of a night to be driving. I sure was glad when I saw the sign for this place.” He glanced around inquisitively, hoping Ron would get the hint, and sure enough, a menu was whisked out from an apron pocket and stuck in his hand. He gave Ron a smile and glanced over the list of drinks on the back, wondering if a beer would perk him up or make him sleepy at this point.

“Hey Terry,” Ron called to the trucker, “You going much further tonight?”

“Just a little ways.” The trucker, Terry, replied. “Just back to the meadow. Not too far.”

The meadow, ironically, was the big industrial development about 30 miles away. Red had no idea what they did there, but he’d driven past it once or twice and it looked like a nightmare.

“Be sure you got your lights all working right Terry,” Ron advised, “This kid’s just been driving in it and he says it’s a real shitter of a night. Right kid?”

“Uh, yeah. It really is.” Red replied, feeling slightly useless.

“Damn.” Terry said, sounding bored.

Feeling he ought to add something, if only so Ron wasn’t the one doing all the work keeping the party bubbling, he added “You should see the moon though. I don’t know how it’s cutting through the fog, but it’s really bright tonight.”

For a moment, Ron stared evenly at him, looking slightly pensive, then his eyes widened. “Damn, nearly forgot.” He said, still sounding chipper. He turned to the door of a refrigerator underneath the counter and pulled out a package wrapped in greaseproof paper. By the look of it, Red guessed it contained a big block of hamburger or something similar, squashy looking and pink. Ron set it on the back counter, then turned back to him.

“So, what can I get you?”

At that moment, a creak and a whoosh of chilly air announced the arrival of another person, and Ron was immediately distracted, turning away again to pick up the parcel of meat and rapidly shuffle it into a paper lunch bag. Red heard footsteps thump across the floor to stop a few paces to his right, a rustling sound, which resolved itself to the noise of gloves being removed as he turned his head enough to see the newcomer’s hands. He glanced up briefly at the guy, then found himself doing a rapid double take; The man now standing a couple of feet away from him was huge. He had to be at least 6’6”, broad shouldered and deep chested, his now-bare hands big and long-fingered. Even with the heavy coat and loose jeans he wore, Red could see that his limbs were powerful and thick. God, just how he liked a guy built. He felt heat in his face, a little squirm low down between his legs, and stifled a sigh. It had been far too damn long; if he wasn’t careful he’d start getting weird.

Ron handed over the package of burger meat over to the newcomer with another beaming smile, accepting a handful of bills and a croaky-voiced word of thanks. Red took another quick look at the guy’s face as he turned to leave, catching a glimpse of light-coloured eyes and thick black hair lying over the pale forehead, before he hunched the hood of his coat back up, tugging his scarf up around his face. Shame. It would have been nice to get a decent look. Warm the cold nights a little until he found somebody new.

But the door creaked again as the visitor disappeared out into the dark and Red turned back to Ron. He was staring at the now closed door, a slightly uncomfortable look on his face. Then he blinked hard, once and was back to the big grin.

“What can I get you then, kid?” he asked, leaning on the counter across from Red.

“Can I get a beer please?” Hopeful tone to his voice that he wished hadn’t been in there, but he was sick of getting carded and his drivers license was out in the glove box.

“You got some ID son?”

Damn. “Yeah, I’ll go get it. Can I get a cheeseburger too please? I’ll be right back.”

Ron gave him an apologetic smile and nodded, turning to start the food as Red headed for the door. As he opened it the blast of damp, chilly air nearly made him say forget it, I’ll have a coffee. But he was already cold now, so he stepped out and headed for his car.

There was no streetlight out there, the lot being just a little beyond the rest of the village’s main street, so the only light was from the neon sign and the watery glow from the windows. Across the street he could just barely make out the shape of a truck, no containers, probably the property of Terry. His own car was just as hard to see, never mind that it was only a few yards away. The fog was still heavy, hardly any wind tonight. There seemed to be a faint glow in the sky, possibly where the moon was tucked behind a cloud, possibly a trick of his eyes. He crunched across the gravel and unlocked the passenger side door, settling on the edge of the seat to reach in the glove compartment and take out the little plastic folder that contained his license. The glove box made a satisfyingly loud snap in the quiet darkness as he shut it. Slamming and locking the car door, he took another glance up at the sky where he thought the moon might be and turned back towards the diner-

-and nearly shit his pants. A huge hooded figure was between him and the diner and he had a panicked second of thinking of slasher movies before he realised it was the guy who’d come into the diner for the burger meat.

“Oh jeez,” he gasped, “You really scared me.”

“Sorry.” A low voiced mumble, and the guy pushed back his hood. In the gloom, Red still couldn’t see much of his face.
“You got far to drive tonight?”

“Uh, no, not too far. Just over to Denebrook.”

The guy stared at him, silent.

“I’m going to visit my Grandmother. She’s sick so…I’m visiting her.” Weak. But the guy was still silent and it was starting to freak him out.

“Gonna… take her some food, you know, make sure she’s okay. You know?” The guy…sniffed. Leaned forward and sniffed at the air. Red felt the hairs on the back of his neck lift up, and at the same time there was heat gathering in his stomach, in his groin. Okay, so he was sick.

“Be careful.” The big guy said. His voice, despite the harsh, croaky edge to it, was deep and soft. Red couldn’t help getting a little turned on. The guy glanced around, at the road, at the parking lot. It was hard to see much further than that. “It’s a bad night to be out.”

“The fog, right. I’ll be careful. Thanks man.”

The guy stared at him a moment longer and Red wished, really wished, that he could see his face properly. Then he just turned and left, striding quickly off the gravel and onto a barely visible dirt path leading into the trees, the paper bag tucked in the crook of one big arm.

Red stared after him for a moment, then shivered, and turned to go back inside.

The warmth in the diner was a hell of a shock this time, the sudden blast of it making the skin on his face prickle. This time he took his coat and scarf off and laid them over the stool next to his as he sat down. Ron popped up and he presented the license for inspection, picking the scent of his burger cooking out of the rest of the food smells in there.

“Rufus Brennard. Hey, you any relation of Louise Brennard? That why you going to Denebrook?”

“Yeah, she’s my Grandmother. I’m just taking some stuff to her and-“

“Twenty six? Seriously?” Ron cried, astonished. “You’re kidding me!”

Red sighed. “Nope. Apparently I don’t look it.” Ronnie had wandered over by now, and was looking over her husband’s shoulder at the ID, at Red’s face, and back.

“I woulda’ said about nineteen.” She interjected. Red stifled another sigh.

He heard a squeak as a chair was pushed back a little way away, footsteps coming towards him, and he turned to see the guy who had the spaghetti walking over to the counter, his windbreaker now flapping open to show a state trooper uniform. Ron straightened, giving the guy an annoyed look, which was when Red realised that the guy wasn’t heading for the counter, he was heading for him.

With a click of his shoes on the tile, the guy stopped right next to him and leaned down, got in his face just a little. Oh crap.

“Kid, you know where you’re going this evening? Where you’re driving to?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m gonna go see my Gramma. I’ve driven there a load of times. It’s no problem. I mean, I know the fog’s pretty bad, but I’m driving slow. I’m doing fine.”

The guy cut his eyes towards Ron, who was still looking a bit peeved, then leaned in closer and stared right at Red, like he was trying to hypnotise him almost. He’d thought the look the guy was giving his spaghetti was intense, but this was just a little scary. Oh crap, was he going to get on his case about the beer?

“Listen kid, there’s worse than fog out there. Especially tonight.”

“Um…alright. What?”

The guy smiled, just slightly. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Just be careful. Don’t go in the woods, you got me?”

“Dave, how long you been awake now bud?” Ron asked in a tone of false cheer.

“It…it’s not that, Ron. I’m trying to warn the kid here.” Suddenly the guy wasn’t the least bit frightening. Ronnie gave Red a conspiratorial smile, then headed back into the chasm of the soda machine. Ron and the trooper, Dave, bickered in hushed voices for a minute, then Dave turned and stomped out the door, letting another draft of chilly air swoop in. That had been…really strange.

But then Ron put a beer on the counter for him, followed it a few minutes later with what turned out to be a really good cheeseburger and all in all he was glad he’d dropped by.

He’d been at the diner for around forty minutes by the time he finished his food. In that time the two teenagers had been picked up by the boy’s mother, who didn’t approve of their relationship, and Terry had gone out to get a newspaper from the cab of his truck and had started reading out crossword clues to the world at large. Red had gotten two right.

He paid his bill, said goodnight and headed back out to his car. The fog was still heavy and a penetrating chill had settled, but he felt a little more together after his food and, sparing a glance at the narrow path he’d seen the stranger take earlier, he got into his car. It took a couple of minutes from turning the engine over for the heaters to get going, so he was huddled as far as he could get into his coat as he set off, still crawling along through the fog.

By the time he had driven through the main street of Hob’s Field, it’s weak street lamps allowing him to speed up a little, through the dark void of uninhabited woodland (throughout which he couldn’t shake off the unnerving feeling that there was something in the trees nearby, damn you Dave-the-trooper), and then into Denebrook, it was nearly nine thirty. He felt a little edgy, tired and slightly spooked. He knew Gramma would still be awake though, she was kind of a night owl anyway, and she always had trouble sleeping when she was ill, so he wasn’t too worried about being late. The trouble was that her little house lay at the end of one of the more remote streets at the edge of town, a narrow little strip of asphalt that wound in between forest-deep clusters of shadow.

He’d never noticed before how creepy it was down there. At every glint of light from a house, he nearly slammed to a halt, thinking it was the right one, but no, keep going keep going. And again, that strange feeling that he’d had out in the woods before, that there was something out in the trees, beyond his sight, watching him. He knew he was being ridiculous, that he’d just been on the road too long, taken trooper Dave’s ranting too seriously, but still, every now and then, he was sure he’d glimpsed something, just for a second. Some great, shadowy shape, keeping pace with his car.

It was a huge relief when he got to Gramma’s driveway. He recognised it right away from the sign stuck in the lawn near the road’s edge, a sign that he’d made and painted for her a couple of years before; ‘Trespassers Will Be Given a Darn Good Talking To.’ He pulled onto the paved drive, pulling up to the doors of the garage where her car was stored and turning the engine off. His lower back was sore from being in the car for so long, he couldn’t wait to get indoors and chill out a little.

There was a creak in the trees, out past the house, and he nearly jumped out of his skin, reaching up to switch on the dashboard light and grab the wrench he kept in the car from the door pocket. But nothing happened, nobody was around. Just forest noises. Jeez, he’d been here enough times, he should have gotten used to it by now. Before getting out of the car, he sorted through his key-chain to make sure he had the right key to hand, and pulled the strap of his bag over his shoulder, then swung out of the car and walked as fast as he could, refusing to break into a run, to the front door.

It wasn’t until he had the key in the lock that he realised there were no lights on in the house. That was…really weird. Even when she went to bed, Gramma usually left the hall light on, but now nothing. The windows were dark as pitch. He turned the key and went into the hall, reaching out to switch on the light. It was warm, the heating had been on, maybe was still running.

“Gramma? Gramma it’s me, Red.” Nothing.

“Gramma, you home? Are you okay?” Silence.

The door to her bedroom, right at the other end of the hall, was open, she’d have heard him if she was awake, woken up if she’d been asleep. He was starting to feel very worried. Into the living room, where she usually sat in the evenings, and there was no sign of her. The kitchen, and no sign, other than a used coffee cup and an empty glass on the drainer, waiting to be washed. Back out into the hall and he was just about to go look in the bedroom when the door of the hall closet caught his eye. It was slightly open, just barely off the latch, and a little scrap of blue fabric was poking out of the gap near the bottom. He wasn’t sure why, but the sight gave him a chill.

He reached out a hand towards the door handle, his heart pounding against his ribs, that awful cold trickling through his muscles as his hand moved slowly, his fingertips touched the metal-

beep! you have ONE new message


With a sudden lunge, he grabbed the closet door open. A blue raincoat fell onto the floor with a soft thump. That was…pretty much it. Nothing to report. He reached in to put the coat back on a hanger, heart still thumping, then turned to the little ornate pedestal table by the kitchen door to check out the answer machine, feeling like a complete dick. The display told him a message had been left about an hour ago. He pressed play.

first new message beep! Hello Red sweetheart, I hope you get this. I’m sorry I’m not there to meet you, but Rhonda drove me into town late this afternoon so I could get groceries, and by the time we were done this fog had come down and, well, neither of us felt quite up to driving in it. So I’m staying the night at her house and she’s going to drop me back home in the morning. I hope you got there okay sweetie, you’re a good boy coming all the way out here. Now, there’s food in the kitchen and the spare bedroom is all ready for you, so you get a good night’s sleep and I’ll be over there in the morning to get you chopping wood and mending pipes and all kinds of other nasty jobs! Love you Red, kisses! beep!”

Red chuckled, relieved. Rhonda was Gramma’s favourite crony. They gossiped and went to community meetings together, where they pressed the knowledge of their years on the younger generation and had a huge laugh at their expense. She’d be fine, nothing to worry about. His heart starting to slow back to normal, he decided to get the food in from his car, then get an early night. Even though he had the next few days off, he wanted to get home before dark tomorrow. This evening had been enough creepy night-time travelling for a lifetime.

He’d hang around as long as she needed though, even if she wasn’t kidding about all the horrible jobs. He adored Gramma, she was the greatest. A few years ago, when he was nineteen and he decided to come out to his family, she’d been such a huge comfort. His Mom, she wasn’t homophobic, or not really, not now anyway, but it was a surprise to her and not one she was too happy with. She’d gotten a little distant with him for a while, but when he told Gramma, she had just asked if he was happy, and if he was being safe. He’d told her yes, and she’d kissed him on the cheek and sent him up on the roof to unblock the gutters, business as usual. He had a sneaking suspicion that Gramma had had words with Mom too, because she made more of an effort and started talking to him again, properly talking, not long after and it was all back to good between them now. She was also about the only member of his family who called him Red, which he couldn’t help but appreciate. Rufus? Jeez, thanks Mom.

Back out to the driveway, and the night was quiet now, only the occasional slight breeze in the branches making any sound. He took the cooler out of the trunk and carried it inside, locking and bolting the door behind him. Switching on the light in the kitchen, he made room in the freezer for some of the food, put the rest in the fridge to defrost, then checked the locks on the window and turned the light out.

His bag went on the bed in the little spare room, and he took off his coat and scarf and his shoes, then got his toothbrush out of his bag and went to wash up in the bathroom. It was very still in the house, some kind of sensation that he couldn’t quite place hanging in the air. The fog against the windows made the usually-cosy little house seem isolated, unwelcoming. Feeling on edge, he went into the living room, and then the study and checked the windows in both rooms, made sure they were locked. Then he headed down the hallway to check the kitchen window.

The only lights he had on in the house now were those in the spare room, and Gramma’s room was hidden in deep darkness. He slid his hand over the wall, hunting for the light switch, couldn’t find it. He stepped over the threshold, heading for the nightstand and the little lamp there. There were shapes between him and the stark sheen of the window, strange shapes. What the hell did Gramma have in her bedroom? One might have been a hat tree, skinny and branching, another was huge and vaguely shaggy looking. Had she been to the carnival and got a giant teddy bear? It didn’t look that much like a bear though.

And then that huge, shaggy shape over by the window shifted, and leapt towards him with a grunt.

He opened his mouth to scream, but the thing cleared the bed in one leap and bore him to the floor, the impact knocking the air from his lungs. Red squirmed, shoved with his forearms and managed to get his feet underneath himself, scrambling out into the hall. Nearest neighbours were 300 yards away. Would they hear it if he screamed? Only one way to find out, and he dragged in a deep breath.

A thump behind him, and he turned as the thing lunged, hairy forepaws hitting him solidly in the chest and knocking him back down. The back of his head jarred against the floor and, stunned, he could barely move as the creature crawled over him.

Creature? No, there were hands, fingers, gripping the front of his sweater, it was a guy. His vision was blurry, his head swimming. He could feel hot breath on his face, the weight on top of him shifted and he forced his eyes to focus. Inches away from his own, another pair of eyes stared, silvery gray and big, too big.

Again he heaved in a deep breath, and this time found his voice, letting loose with a loud, hoarse yell, his ribs protesting painfully as the guy lifted himself away from him a few inches.

And that made everything worse. Because now Red could see the whole of his face. His hairy, long-snouted face. The long ears, Christ, like dog ears.
This time it was a real scream, like a chick in a horror movie, but he didn’t care, he had to get help, had to get away from this thing…

The scream died in his throat as its lips drew back in a snarl, letting him get a good look at its teeth. Long, curved carnivore teeth strung with saliva, nothing remotely like a human there. A low growl trickled from its throat as it stared intently into his eyes. Red froze, his muscles locked, the back of his skull pressed to the floor, ancient instincts that had no place here in his Gramma’s hallway, except that there was a…a monster, pinning him there.

Its damp nose snuffled the hair at his temple, then his neck, its muzzle pushing his chin up and tilting his head back, baring his throat. Oh God, it was going to kill him, Gramma was going to find him there in the morning with his neck torn open, bled out on the rug…

His mind whited out as its hot, slimy tongue slid across his clavicles, one paw-hand tugging down the collar of his sweater, its nose pushing down towards his armpit, snuffling and grunting, and that was it. Red lost it.

He couldn’t move, could barely breathe, but he felt every nerve in his body like they were burning, his mouth dried out, his vision sharpened. Terror overwhelmed him, bore him along helplessly in its waves. Unable to move, barely breathing, it was like he was shutting down. He’d never felt anything like it.

The thing lifted its head, peered at his frozen face, then heaved itself to its feet, lowering its head to lick at his hair, slicking it flat against his scalp, and he looked down along its heavy body and felt himself chill further. The thing was aroused, its penis hung huge and hard, skin glossy with fluid. Oh hell, what was it going do to him before he died?

With a sudden surge of energy, he curled his legs, rolled his weight back towards his shoulders and thrust his feet up into the thing’s stomach. It must have surprised it, the force enough to make it lurch to one side, and Red scrabbled back on the carpet, screaming as loud as he was able, grabbing blindly for a weapon, anything.

The creature paced towards him, slowly, stalking. Now he could see it properly, he could barely believe his eyes. Dog-like, but too big for a dog. Too broad in the torso and limbs, the eyes too large and clear. Its tail flickered behind it as it moved, thick black fur rippling along its back, wide flat paws with stubby, claw-tipped fingers.

Red’s hand closed around something solid and he grabbed hold, swinging it around to strike at the thing’s face. It skittered back from him as the object, the little round table that the phone had been on, smacked down onto the floor in front of it, and Red hauled the table up to try again, holding it like a bat by it’s stand. He was still sitting on the floor, he could feel the muscles in his legs trembling, and he didn’t know if it was adrenaline or shock. If he had to run to save himself, he was probably finished.

The creature stood still, regarding him silently with those cold silver eyes. It hunkered down a little, as if ready to pounce, and he tensed to take a swing at it, last resort. And it…it sniffed again. Lifted its nose to the air. Stared at his face for a moment, sliding its gaze down his body.

Then it turned, and fled.

The back door made an almighty crash as it flew open, and the darkness beyond swallowed the creature up, muffling its footfalls as it ran from the house.

Red had no idea how long he sat there, on the floor of the hall, the ornate table clutched in his hands. It was only when it started to rain, water spattering through the open doorway, that he moved. The table fell from his grip, crashing onto the floor. Grabbing the kitchen doorframe, he heaved himself to his feet, every muscle in his body trembling. His skin flushed with painful heat and he staggered. Was this shock?

He made his way unsteadily to the back door and, gathering his courage, peered out. Rain and darkness, bare tree branches waving gently. Nothing else.

It took him several tries before he managed to grip the door handle, then an astonishing amount of effort to get the door closed. He turned the key and rattled the bolt into place, then settled his forehead against the cool wood for a moment. The air felt thick in his lungs, he couldn’t get enough breath. The room spun. He could feel his stomach churning and staggered away from the door and into the bathroom, thudding to his knees in front of the toilet just in time to throw up. It wouldn’t stop, vomit and bile searing his throat, until he was dry heaving, agony in his stomach, clenching his ribs.

Finally it seemed to be over. He was cold now. He washed his face, dried it, switched off the lights. Went into the spare room, stripped to his underwear, and got into the bed. Eventually, he fell asleep. 


                ~~~~~~~~ Back to Red Riding Hood ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 2


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