Monday, February 1, 2010

Prompt 8: where you go

So sorry, dears! Life interrupted my posting schedule; plus, I was working on this longer piece.

Prompt 8: Due to the ___ that follows ___ wherever s/he goes, a ____ is convinced that something terrible is about to happen.

As always, I invite you to respond to this prompt in the comments, your journal (please link back!), or the privacy of your own imagination.

PhotobucketRed saw the wolf before she set out. He crouched high on her father's rampart, etched in stone, hunkering beside the little watchtower in which Father passed the nights before battle. It was tradition in this township for a bridal bed to be sanctified with wolf teeth or laid with a pelt, but Red's mother had given her king the whole animal in permanent form. Grandmother lived in the hunting chateau a day's walk away. No one was left to go fetch her at the little, abandoned cottage and she was needed because God would not release Stepmother's baby from inside her.

Red's basket of provisions from Cook slapped her hip as her feet slapped and clopped through the mud of the newly cleared path. The air was cool on her nose but too weak to penetrate her warm woolen underclothes. She had all day.

A shadow fell across the path. Red looked up, squinting, at the suddenly grey sky. A dark cloud had covered the sun. Piercing light shone like eye-dots and just below, a triangular maw hung open, lighter clouds surrounding a dark gullet. Red reached into her basket and found the hard, cold, rough stone she had placed there as she had passed the castle wall. She pressed it into her palm and squeezed, hard. The wind whistled far away over the mouth of some unseen cave in the hills beyond. A spiky line of ducks passed at the jaw.

Father was an old man, his son would need a proxy, and a full blooded mother had more claim than a half-sister.

Grandmother could fix things.

Red knew when she stepped on the edges of Grandmother's property by dint of the elegant, manicured trees. Grandmother kept a tree surgeon who knew the ways of maple and pine, oak and dogwood, and could coax a lilac and a holly to bloom in the same month. Red delicately stepped through the tree branch gate in the woven fence of dense pine trees and a stepped into the kitchen garden marred by neither boar nor gopher.

The sky was pinking as Red left her boots at the door and entered Grandmother's cottage. There was no servant to announce her because Grandmother did not like being made a fuss of, so the scullery took Red's basket and overthings and made herself invisible.

After Red had freshened up in her room, she came down the front staircase to the only room she knew would be lighted, the hunter's parlor Grandmother had made into her little den. A wolf's pelt lay in front of the enormous hearth, and Grandmother sat in her enormous chair. Grandmother's hand beckoned and Red sat on the soft, thick fur and laid her head on her knee like a child, while Grandmother worked out the snarls the wind had blown into her hair.

"What shall we do, Grandmother?" Red closed her eyes and breathed in the damp wool and woodsmoke from Grandmother's serge skirt.

Grandmother reached into her knitted vest and handed Red a vial. Red shook it and the contents mixed up green.

"For whom?" Red asked.

It was then she looked up at her Grandmother, and reeled across the wolf's pelt in horror. The dear woman's face was criss-crossed in deep gashes. Of her eyes were two dark wells made. Her grandmother's head bobbed low so that what remained of her chin pressed to her chest. The whole front of her dress glistened brick-red.

"Grandmother, what has happened to you!"

Beneath her, the fox pelt rumbled and roiled and took on the form of a man. Horrified, Red pressed herself against the wall. Before her, nude, stood a tall and handsome man with that same smile she'd seen in the rainclouds as she'd walked from the castle. The smile of one who had caught his quarry.

"Have you eaten my grandmother?" Red found her voice at last.

"Do not fear him," said a voice from the chair.

"Grandmother!" Red gasped. "I thought you were dead for sure."

"Not completely." Grandmother's head lolled so that her empty sockets pointed in the direction of Red and the strange wolf-pelt man.

"What is this creature?" Red asked.

"Take the foxglove," Grandmother said, "and this bit of poppy seed. A bit in very sweet chamomile tea will not be detected. The young man is my tree surgeon, and my living room rug. He has served me well and has earned his reward. I told him many years ago that when my life was over, he would be king."

"I grew impatient," the man said sheepishly.

Red reeled on him in shock -- to find the man arraigned in vestments to befit a prince.

"I will not have this!" Red said. "It is my turn, my time. Who served my father for sixteen years? Who advised him, who learned the languages of all the local chieftains in this patchwork country? Who sat at your table and learned composure and debate? A woman cannot not rule when a man is there to usurp her!"

Grandmother's leathery skull bobbed. "Don't you bark at the wolf, missy. He's been a good tree surgeon and my rheumatism hasn't felt so good in decades."

"That's because you're missing your hands," Red said to the embers.

"You will have your kingdom, Red," Grandmother said. "The werewolf can turn himself into any creature it wishes, from dragon to the smallest of unborn babes. You will return home and soon a foreign suitor will come to claim you. Your father will agree if you press the poppy into his pipe first, especially in his grief over the sudden death of his second wife and only son."

Red stared at the way the shreds of tongue in Grandmother's tongue ululated as guttural words burbled up from her slashed throat.

"Soon after the wedding, your father will die similarly, and then your husband will go on a hunting trip and never return. But a peddler will come to sell you a vial which you much take with you to bed. And then -- ah! You will be with child."

Red slumped onto the coal scuttle, thinking. "I will have my kingdom . . ."

"And when you are ready to give it up, your son will have his."

"Mind you don't wait too long," the wolfman said.

*Prompt source: The Writer's Book of Matches, by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2005.
Photo: Gargoyles at Notre Dame, Paris, by Viollet-le-Duc and Eugene Emmanuel (1814-79). 
More on "to see the wolf": French folklore and virginity.

No comments: