The year was 1627, when Red Vitale was seen in a blur of scarlet.
The trail of red fluttered at her heels as she sped walked to the last place on the list that Mother provided her. Pulling down the scarlet hood over her cyan blue eyes, she fingered the coarse fabric between her delicate fingertips and immediately felt at ease. She just wanted this to be over with, to be home, and free from the prying eyes that burned their gaze into the back of her passing frame. Carefully maneuvering through crowds of villagers, she refused to meet those eyes that looked down at her from above as if she were a walking freak of nature. Ever since she was young, Red has always been able to understand what animals communicated to her, but at too young of an age she couldn't really join them in conversation until the age of 10. Word had gotten around the small town, word of an insane child who thought she could understand and talk to animals.
Maybe she is a freak?
Red quickly shook her head to rid herself of those thoughts, and looked down at the list. She released an exaggerated groan when she saw where she was heading.
The tailor. How wonderful. If anyone in the entire village could be more openly repulsed by the girl and her mother, it was him. He was a religious, older man who often called Red the "bloody witch," and her mother the "lowly whore" that sold her body and soul to the Devil. Red grimaced. She could handle all the nasty things others called her, but it would make her blood boil if someone were to utter obscenities about her mother. It was funny to Red actually, that even though these people play a major part in their unhappiness, the villagers still kept them around because, coincidently, Mother was the only baker around for miles. And, no matter how much she hate to admit it, they needed the money. Even if their bakery only received one or two customers per day, it was still money.
Nevertheless, Red soon found herself in front of the tailor's workshop. She stood there for a few moments and contemplated going back, telling Mother that the tailor had stepped out, and saying that he would not be back until the next day. And even though the thought seemed much more desirable, she knew she did not have a choice in the matter. Winter is just around the corner, and she could tell it's going to be the worst one yet, and if she and her mother wanted to survive the cold they were going to need warmer clothing.
With an agonizing sigh, Red opened the door and could only pray to make it out alive. She stepped in; the wood and cloth of her worn shoes tapping on the hardwood floors of the workplace, and stopped when she saw the tailor behind his workbench.
"Is that you, witch?" The tailor spat, his voice filled with vice and disdain.
Red didn't say anything and walked a few feet closer before stopping again. The man turned his head to look at the girl; his dark eyes did not hide his hatred for her, which did not surprise Red in the slightest. He stood and walked over to the girl in red. He snarled, snatching the list from her right hand and glancing at it. He then turned back while crumpling it up and tossing it to the floor, leaving Red to pick it up.
"Damn you witch! Why don't you conjure up the flames of hell to light your fire?" The tailor barked, coming back with articles of winter clothing in his arms. He stopped in front of Red, who was about to take the clothes from him, and dropped them on to the dusty floor.
"Tell me, Bloody witch, did your master lock you out at those gates too?" His voice was low and condescending, with a malicious smirk plastered across his pale face.
It took everything within Red, and more, not to wipe that smirk clean off. Instead, she bent down and picked up the clothes in the same manner she did earlier. She could feel the tailor's eyes boring into her skull as she dusted off the pieces of wool and placed them neatly into her basket. Quietly, she reached into the pocket of her personalized grey skirt to pull out three silver coins to pay the man. The tailor saw this, and reached out his hand to receive payment but only received the clattering sound of the same three silver coins hitting the dirty ground below.
A beat of silence passed; then a loud slap rang throughout the workshop.
"Disrespectful little wench." He growled.
Red could only hold her tongue; she felt the stinging sensation bestowed upon her left cheek, and turned away from the man, silently exiting the tailor's shop. She didn't cry but she would be lying if she said that it didn't hurt, however the feeling of finally showing a part of herself was exhilarating to say the least.
Red found herself thinking that the walk back home isn't as terrible than it was this morning. The sun is low in the sky, and crowds started to get thinner. As she walked, she heard low, hushed tones of those nearby. The girl turned her striking blue eyes to the sound and saw the village boys gather in the shadows of an alley; except for one. Some, too afraid to look Red in the eyes, turned their gaze and showed more interest in the rocks they held. Others, only made faces and scowled in her direction. Red didn't seem to mind though, this was a natural occurrence and didn't mean anything to her just like it wouldn't on any other day. She continues on home, completely forgetting the village youth.
She traveled to the far edge of the village, where she and her mother lived alone. Red’s father died when she was just turning two years old, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. She walked up to the white picket fence that ran around the perimeter of her small home and examined its fine lines and cracks. They began to show more as the years passed on, trading in its once pure shade of white for a dingy beige color. She placed her hand on the rusted gate and often wonders about the hands that built this fence, and her home, from the ground up. She also thought about the couple that lived here, years before she was even born, and how happy they must've been. Red’s eyes glaze over as she loses herself in her thoughts and hypothetical memories, but soon came to and pushed through the gate, cringing at the loud creak that leaked from it.
She then pulled open the front door, walking into the house. Red looked ahead, and off to the side, hunched over the kitchen table with a cleaning rag in hand, was her mother. Her once beautiful golden locks were now dirty, and her bright emerald irises had lost their shine. The woman looks up to her daughter's eyes, her own lines seeming to show and deepen with time, and Red couldn't help but compare her to the fence that her father built. Silence hang in the air as Red snaps out of her trance, and takes off her shoes and socks. She walks further into the kitchen and places her basket down on to the cherry wood table. The woman's gaze never left her daughter's face as she did this.
"Avez-vous tout sur la liste, Rouge?" (Do you have everything on the list, Red?)
"Oui Mère." (Yes Mother.)
Red unloaded her basket, handing the folded clothes to Mother without another word as she put away the meats, milk, and cheese in their respective places in the icebox. She could feel her mother's dull yet perceptive eyes still watching her movements, and inhaled sharply when Mother questioned her again,
"Est-ce que le tailleur vous cause des problèmes, Rouge?" (Does the tailor cause you problems, Red?)
Red sighed, "Non, il ne mère pas." (No, he does not Mother.)
The woman's eyes narrowed dangerously in suspicion and stalked over to the girl by the icebox, shoving her fawn brown hair aside and taking hold of Red's chin tightly to inspect her face. Her fingers were sandpaper against Red's soft skin, but Red didn't dare to jerk away and allowed her mother to do as she wished.
"Ne me mens pas, est-ce qu'il t'a fait ça?" (Do not lie to me, did he do that to you?)
Red stayed silent, as her mother spoke of the blistering red mark on her cheek that started to ache. However, her silence was enough for the older woman. She let go of Red's face, and tossed the cloth into her hands.
"Take the cloth, wet it and hold it to your cheek. You're not going to tailor again." She stated as she turned away to start dinner. If it weren’t for her monotonous reproach, and how she seemed to find it tiresome that she was tasked with something in which Red failed to do, Red would've been happy with the decision. And in any other event, she would've argued, but the look in her mother's eyes made her rethink the decision. Instead, she walked out the back door.
One of the bright sides of living on the outskirts of the small village was that they lived close to the river, the main source of water for the town. Their backyard was a large field of Baby's breath with the river running down the middle, and on the other side of the stream, a few yards away, was the start of the Black forest. Many rumors roamed around the town about the mysterious patch of land. The villagers believe that there’s a giant beast, which roams the woods at the dead of night, looking for its next meal.
Red moved closer to the river and sat by the bank, she wondered if any of the tales that were fed to her were true. She placed the cloth into the cool running water before wringing it out and applying it to her left cheek that calmed down to a numbing sensation.
She looked beyond the field into the abyss of black trees, and listened to the nature that surrounded her from all sides. The birds were chirping, trees were rustling, frogs were croaking, and many other animals joined the symphony as they played their part in the circle of life. Red's head was starting to spin at the many voices ringing in her ears, but she didn't complain. Admiring nature was the only time she felt as if she could be herself.
The sun began to set, and Red spent the rest of her time just listening to the overlapping sounds, when she noticed a beautiful red butterfly fluttering by her side. The butterfly told Red of its hardships trying to find nectar without being caught or eaten. It also told her of its travels through the Black forest, which Red couldn't help but be drawn too. When Red asked, however, about the rumors that floated around the dark woods, she only received answers in cryptic messages that she had to decipher on her own.
The butterfly, which was now perched on her finger, suddenly flew off with a frantic flap of its wings.
Look out child!
The butterfly warned her, but it was too late. The minute Red turned around she felt her hair yanked and her body being dragged to the dirt. Her eyes flickered in every direction to see the village boys from earlier with the same rocks in their hands, while others held rope and pieces of bark. Horror filled her gem like eyes, but before she could scream one of them already held her down and covered her mouth. Two more boys took hold of her wrists and ankles and bound them together. Once they were finished, they casted their sticks and stones. The splinters and flints cut into her skin, while the sheer weight of it all bruised her. However, the onslaught didn't end when they ran out of things to throw at her. In actuality, they began beating her, kicking her, and laughing at her misery.
Red refused to cry. She refused to just lie there and take it as well. However, every time she tried to pull herself off the ground the boy on top of her slammed her back into the dirt. The rest dealt swift kicks to her stomach, ribs, chest, and legs. The boy on top of her reached for a stone and raised it high above her face to strike her, but before he could Red heard the angry and desperate yells from her mother. The village children began to flee, leaving the boy, the one holding down Red, to be the last one to run off but not without Red spitting on his shoe.
Mother ran to Red's side and made quick work of her hands, she untied the ropes binding her daughter's ankles and wrists and helped Red to her feet. She led the way back to the house, using her feet to open the gate and back door. She sat Red down on the bench beside the window, and went towards the back of the house to start a bath. The little girl sat limply in her seat, leaning against the window frame to support her. Her head felt fuzzy and her eyes began to get heavier and heavier. Though, in fear of never waking up again, Red forced herself to stay awake. It was then her mother had returned and helped Red shed her blouse and skirt, and took her to the tub. Instantly, the water became murky from the blood and dirt that fused with her skin. Mother made gentle work of bathing Red carefully, as if she were made of porcelain, and Red enjoyed the gentle touch of her mother's hands as they cleaned her body and washed her hair. Once again, the girl was tempted to close her eyes but she coaxed her eyelids to remain apart.
After the bath, Mother applies one of the special herbal pastes Red prepares for them since they were too poor to afford medicine and a visit to the doctor. Soon Red was being wrapped in white bandages around her legs, arms, and torso. She compares herself to mummies she often overheard travelers talking about but once her mother finished they both silently agreed to eat dinner and go straight to bed. And this is what they did.
The sun long since hidden itself behind the horizon when Red awoke. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the darkness when she saw her mother's back facing towards her. The steady rise and fall of the woman’s body told Red she was fast asleep. Taking this chance to slip out of bed and tiptoe out of their shared room, just as quiet as a mouse, Red walked out the back door and past the gate that, thankfully, wasn't as noisy as the front.
Just as she did earlier today, she gazed longingly at the black woods that only seemed to be shrouded in mystery. In fact, she stared so long she didn't notice the specks of light that flew around her line of vision until one landed on the tip of her nose. Red grinned as the insect flew off to join the rest in a dance. It was beautiful to say the very least, so she danced as well.
Her arms swayed gracefully with the wind, her nightgown twirled with the stars, and she enjoyed the light of the fireflies. The song they sang felt familiar and pleased Red, so, in the end, she sung along.
The Earth is alive
Sing out in pride
For Mother Nature will rise again
Come sing along
Join us in song
Listen to this wonderful lullaby
It felt like hours since Red started to sing and dance, and one by one the fireflies went to bed. She spun one last time before bowing respectfully and bidding the glowing insects a good night. Red turned to make her way back to the house but froze when a hair-raising howl echoed throughout the valley. Red quickly spun around to face the Black forest; she only saw darkness before her but uttered a prayer for the animal that was sacrificed to feed the great beast.
And even though she didn’t know it then, Little Red Riding Hood had been given the first taste of her Big Bad Wolf.