Our prompts here were: The red box, the blue-edged side of darkness, and the white moon of winter. To Orion, under the influence of reading Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series of fractured fairy tales, the prompts suggested a dark fairy tale. She started with the setting and let the character lead the way. This Little Red Riding Hood, though, doesn’t need a woodsman to save her.
A COLD WINTER’S NIGHT
The white moon of winter, its old man’s face sharply drawn, shone brightly on the dappled landscape. Sometimes it hid from the girl among the branches of the winter-bare trees. The snow underfoot squeaked with her every step. She longed for color, any color to prove she hadn’t fallen into a black-and-white illustration from one of her storybooks.
Stumbling over a tree root, she almost dropped the long narrow box she carried. Darkness painted it ebony, though she knew its stain was bright red, its carved lid inlaid with abalone shell that winked at her as she fumbled with it.
When she’d set out on her mission, the sky was shading into that cobalt blue edge of darkness that came at the end of winter’s brief twilight, turning rapidly into the black night now surrounding her. Shivering, she pulled the fur-lined hood closer about her head, hiding her pale face from the eyes of Old Man Moon.
One last step before a clearing spread out in front of her. In the center, a cabin hunkered against the cold, dark save for one window leaking a yellow glow across the snow. As the girl approached, the heavy wooden door swung open, warmth and light and welcome rushing out to engulf her, backlighting the form of her grandmother.
“Come in, child, you must be frozen!” Her voice was low, gravelly.
The girl stepped inside, moving gratefully toward the stone fireplace and its leaping flames. Setting the red box on the floor, she shed her outer garments, while watching Granny bustle about the kitchen table in one corner. The shadows the woman cast on the rough-hewn walls danced, changing shape in an endless pattern that mesmerized the girl, as she snatched the package up and clutched it back to her chest. The shadow dance slowly wound down, until all that was left was a dog-like shape stalking its prey.
The old woman shuffled toward her, cradling a steaming mug. The girl’s mouth watered, imagining its warmth inside her, spreading to thaw the ice that had taken hold there. But she knew that wasn’t to be.
Taking a deep breath, she deftly opened the box as the woman held the pottery mug out to her.
“Here you are, dearie, a nice cuppa to thaw you out on a cold winter’s night.”
The words had barely left the old woman’s mouth when the girl sprang, snatching the knife from the box and raising it high. The mug shattered on the slate hearth.
“What have you done with my granny?” the child cried, stabbing at the monster.
“My, my, what a sharp knife you have.” Evading the girl’s attack, the old woman began to shift, becoming taller, darker, hairier. “All the better to chop you up into bite-sized pieces!”
Desperation gripped the girl. Slashing through the air, her blade found its target. The wolf screamed, then fell, bleeding, onto the braided rag rug. Its legs thrashed once, then went still.
Behind her, she heard a thump, thump, thump. Following the sound, the girl flung aside the chair blocking the pantry door and fell sobbing into the arms of her real granny.
“There, there, dearie,” the old woman said, stroking the girl’s hair. “Thanks to you, we’re safe now.”
Feeling her granny’s arms around her, the last knot of cold thawed within her. She was safe.