Shuffling out of the movie theater, Debbie yawned and rubbed her eyes. It was nearing midnight and she had school the next day, so instead of stopping at an obscure 24 hour restaurant for a bite to eat she made her way up 60th Street toward Park Ave where her apartment was. For being so late at night, there were plenty of people out on the streets.
That’s what Debbie loved about New York City; there was always something to do no matter how late it was. She turned up an alley to take a shortcut that would lead her right to the back of her apartment. From there she could take the fire escape up to her bedroom window, and her mom would never know she was out so late on a school night. The alleyway, a route she didn’t take this late at night, was darker than the street since there were no lights. Debbie ran her hands along the brick walls that lined the alleyway, and kept her eyes locked on the distant apartment lights that stood at the end to guide her way. Suddenly, she tripped over a crate that sat in the middle of the alley and, being a klutz, he lost her balance and fell over the crate, slamming her head against the concrete.
Debbie’s eyes fluttered open, and she groaned as she sat up, holding her pounding head. Debbie stared bewildered at her surroundings. Instead of lying in the middle of the sidewalk where she had tripped, she was in the middle of a dim wood. She pinched herself, hard. Wincing at the pain, Debbie came to the conclusion that she was awake, and the fall she had just experienced did not knock her unconscious. A light breeze slid across her body and she shivered. Looking down, Debbie noticed that instead of the jeans and tee-shirt that she was wearing, she was in a knee length light blue cotton dress, with a white cotton apron covering the front from her waist to an inch above the bottom of the dress and black Mary Janes. Tied around her neck was a velvet red cape with a hood that was an inch longer than the dress. Her hair was no longer in a tight pony tail but curled and in pigtails.
“What’s going on here?” she said aloud. Stumbling around in the half darkness, Debbie tried to find some sign that told her where she was. Slipping down a small hill, she tumbled through the leaves and sticks that littered the ground. When she finally stopped she landed in the middle of a cross road where a wooden post stood with signs pointing in several different directions. To the left was ‘Marketplace’, to the right was ‘Village’, and the last sign that pointed back was so old that the words were faded and unreadable. Taking the right path, Debbie headed toward the village hoping she could get some answers. The path through the trees was short, but it wound around a bend and went on for miles. In the distance Debbie saw a little stone cottage with a thatched roof. She rushed toward it, ready to ask as many questions as it took to figure out where she was. Slowing down as she reached the brown picket fence that enclosed the cottage, she strolled up to the front door, trying to catch her breath. Debbie knocked. When no reply came she knocked harder. Turning the door handle, she realized it was open and invited herself in.
“Hello?” she called out. She gazed around the tiny room she stepped into. An old wood stove sat in the corner of the room with an ancient tea pot on top. In the center of the room was a long wooden table. Two doors led off from this room into tiny bedrooms. Stepping over to the fireplace, she peered into the giant pot that hung inside it. Picking up a giant wooden spoon that hung on the wall next to the fireplace, she dipped it into the pot, and stirred the contents. Ladling some out she took a sip. In the middle of savoring the delicious broth the front door opened and a woman came in.
“There you are!” the woman yelled at her.
Jumping, Debbie dropped the spoon on the ground. “I’m sorry! The door was open and I needed help so I thought…” Debbie trailed off when she noticed a confused look come over the woman’s face.
“What are you talking about, you silly girl?” Crossing the room, she placed the basket of herbs she was carrying on the wooden table and began to empty it. “Now I need you to take some of that soup and the loaf of bread in the oven to your grandmother. She’s been feeling a little ill recently and I know this will make her all better, especially if it was brought to her by her favorite granddaughter.”
The woman ignored her, rushing around the room filling up the wicker basket she just emptied with a loaf of warm bread she removed from the oven and a small makeshift container of hot soup. Debbie was more confused than she was before. This woman, whoever she was, seemed to think she knew her, but Debbie had no idea who she was. After the basket was packed and covered with a white handkerchief to keep the heat in, the woman handed it to Debbie and said, “There you go. You better hurry now so you get to your grandmother’s before dark.”
She stared at the basket and then at the woman. “Who are you?”
“Debra, is that any question to ask your mother?”
“You’re my mother?”
“Yes! What has gotten into you? Now take this basket to your grandmother’s.” Debbie hesitated then slowly took the basket. “Good, now you better hurry.” Ushering her to the door, she opened it and shoved her outside.
Before she had the chance to close it, Debbie turned and asked, “Where am I going again?”
The woman sighed, “Your grandmother’s.”
“Oh,” she hesitated, “and where’s that?”
“Honestly Debra?” she sighed and pointed back up the road toward the woods. “Just take the path back to the crossroads and turn where the words have been faded. The first house you come to is your grandmother’s.”
The woman went to close the door, but Debbie stopped her. “Do I have to walk there?”
“How else do you expect to get there?”
“Well, I could take a cab.”
The woman stared at her as if she was speaking a different language. “Where did you get such an imagination? A cab? What’s that?”
Debbie stared in disbelief, “I’ll walk.”
Just outside the gate, she heard the woman call after her, “Now keep on the path and remember to be aware of wolves.” This bit of advice almost made Debbie laugh aloud, but she turned the laughter into a cough. Dealing with the threat of rapists and murderers on a daily bases made the threat of wolves laughable. Debbie was positive if a wolf did cross her path, which she highly doubted, she would be able to handle the situation.
Strolling along the path, Debbie took her time, feeling the rays of the sun play across her skin and listening to the birds as they flew playfully around her head, sitting on her shoulders, and playing in her hair. She giggled as a chipmunk chased after her, weaving around her feet as she walked. When she reached the woods though, the playful creatures left her alone, which gave her an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach. Hesitating at the edge of the wood, she didn’t understand why she was afraid to go on. She had made it through once before without fear. Maybe it was because she didn’t know where she was going that made her hesitate, or the way the creatures scattered away looking afraid. Glancing into the semi-darkness Debbie thought she saw a figure move in the shadows, but as soon as she saw it the figure was gone. She took a deep breath to pull herself together before heading into the woods. Darkness engulfed the area surrounding the path immediately. The only part that could be clearly seen was the first row of trees that sat directly off the path. She looked around her, not knowing how she could ignore the exotic look her first time through. Vines with tiny pink flowers hugged the large oak trees and exotic flowers of every color imaginable lined the edge of the path. At first she gazed at them as she passed by, until she reached the cross roads where one particular flower caught her eye. It was baby blue, the color of the sky if it could be seen through the trees, with red lining around the stamen. The flower stem grew long, making the flower reach her knee. Debbie stepped just off the path to get a better look at the flower. She buried her nose in the flower and almost fainted from the stench of rotten eggs. It was the one flaw of this amazing beauty. Debbie stepped back onto the path to get away from the overpowering stink that seemed to follow her.
Her mind was taken off the stink when she heard a rustling from behind. She looked back, and saw a brave grey rabbit hop out of the underbrush, sniffing the air.
“Hello there,” Debbie said stepping slowly over to it with her hand out, hoping it would stay still long enough for her to touch it. She was an inch away when a voice behind her made her jump, and the rabbit scampered away.
“Well, well, well, hello there young lady.”
Debbie gasped when she saw a tall grey wolf, with yellow eyes and sharp yellow teeth that glinted as he smiled, standing on his hind legs leaning against an exceptionally thick oak tree that rested just behind the crossroad signs. “G-good day mister Wolf,” Debbie stuttered out, not believing her eyes. She figured the chances of running into a rapist or murderer in the city was higher than running into a wolf. She had survived in the city for the past 18 years; she wasn’t about to be killed by a wolf in a strange wood.
The wolf began to slink forward, but when Debbie started to back away he stopped. His smile disappeared and reappeared so suddenly Debbie barely noticed. Debbie continued down the path, hoping the wolf would see that she didn’t want to talk to him. Instead the wolf rushed forward, slid right in front of her, and dug his snout into the wicker basket.
“What, may I ask, is in your basket?”
Snatching the basket away, Debbie replied, “Bread and soup for my grandmother.” She stepped around him, but the wolf was quick and within seconds was at her side.
“And where does your grandmother live?”
Slipping out of his grasp, she replied, “Just on the other end of the woods.” Continuing on her way, the wolf kept in step with her.
“You know,” he said after a moment of silence, “there are beautiful flowers just off the path over there.” He pointed over to the right but Debbie couldn’t see much through the darkness.
“No there aren’t.”
“Yes there are,” he growled. When Debbie glared at him he cleared his throat and repeated, “Why, yes there are, my beauty. Why don’t you follow me, I can show you.” Taking hold of her arm the wolf began to lead her off the path, but Debbie pulled free, almost upsetting the basket in the process.
“I was told to beware of wolves.” Again she walked away from him and again he caught up with her. “My, you are persistent.”
“I don’t know who told you to beware of wolves, but whoever they were they must’ve never talked with one before. Why, all wolves are very helpful. Great tour guides for new comers too.” She turned to face him, and he flashed the most persuasive smile he could muster. “Come on,” he continued when she didn’t say anything. “It’s not even noon. I could show you a good time, and bring you right back to the path in time to reach granny’s house before nightfall.”
“I was told not to stray. Plus, I’m not stupid, you know. I can sense a bad idea when I hear one.” She turned from him for a fourth time and succeeded in continuing on without him following her.
Debbie was about a foot away when he called out, “There’s nothing dangerous out there. I should know; I live in the woods. And who better to show you around than a native?”
She stopped. He did have a point. Debbie still had no idea where she was, and having someone to show her the way would be a lot of help right now, even if it did mean taking a tiny detour. Turning around she jumped, surprised to see him standing right behind her.
“Well, I guess if I don’t go too far it will be fine.” A grin slowly spread on his muzzle, contorting his features. He looked dangerous. Slipping his big wolf paw around her neck and wrapping it around her shoulder, the wolf steered her through the nearest set of trees. He walked with her a few feet, paw on her shoulder. They walked for several miles, Debbie’s eyes adjusting very slowly as it became darker with each step.
“Where are they?” Debbie asked. “I can’t see.”
“They’re right in front of you,” he whispered in her ear. Suddenly his paw was gone and so was he.
“Mister Wolf? Mister Wolf come back!” Debbie called out but there was no reply. “Great,” she sighed. Trying to see was impossible. Debbie had no idea which way was the way they had come, so she turned in a direction and began to walk, hoping to find the path soon.
As she walked, Debbie thought about all the reasons why she trusted the wolf. There was something about him that felt comforting, but at the same time he gave off a vibe of fakeness. With no way to see anything, Debbie pictured the wolf in her mind. His fur, the shade and the way it stood up, and his persuasive smile reminded her of a boy back in her normal life. His name was Chris and he was the best looking guy in the school. He was also star quarterback of the football team, which made him the most popular as well. Debbie could not keep her heart still when he was around. Even now as he thought about him her heart was fluttering like a butterfly.
For some reason, something about Debbie caught his eye and he asked her out. They were nothing alike and made an odd couple, but Debbie didn’t mind. She agreed to go out with him and everything was perfect, for a while. Chris started to become agitated with her very easily. He would push and sometimes hit her when he was at his worst, but Debbie stayed. She knew that he loved her, he told her he did. She just had to try harder to please him. It worked.
As she compared the two in her head, Debbie noticed not only similarities in their appearances, but in the way they were both persuasive. The only reason she was lost was because the wolf persuaded her to stray from the path.
Suddenly, Debbie tripped over a fallen tree, and slammed to the ground, scraping her hands and knees. Taking a deep breath to block out the pain her nose filed with the sweetest scent she ever smelled. Opening her eyes wide, she had to blink away the darkness and the stars in her eyes so she could see what the source of the scent was. Right in front of her face, and under her body, was the ugliest flower she ever saw. The flower was slightly withered, the petals were sticking out in all directions, and the stem had tiny thorns on it. The color was hard to tell through the darkness but its shade was dark. The only beautiful trait about it was the scent. Debbie felt the scent of the beautiful blue flower she saw earlier should be switched with this one.
She moved carefully so she wouldn’t be pricked by the tiny thorns that surrounded her. Tears trickled down her cheeks. She wished she ignored the wolf and continued on the path. It was times like these when Debbie wished her best friend Jack was with her. Jack was always aware of what was going on and not gullible like Debbie. He would never have listened to the wolf and would never have ended up in this predicament. Debbie couldn’t stop the tears as they now cascaded down her face. “Why can’t I be more like Jack?” she asked aloud.
The cracking of a twig stopped her tears instantly. Her head snapped up and she searched for the source of the sound, forgetting about the darkness that engulfed her. Off in the distance she saw a shadow with a light coming closer. “Mister Wolf?” she whispered, wondering if he came back to help her. The light was held up higher and Debbie saw the face of a boy, not much older than her, searching through the darkness. As he drew near, she gasped because this boy was no stranger to her. It was Jack’s chocolate brown eyes that searched diligently in the darkness, and Jack’s warm smile that greeted her. It was a miracle. Jack appeared to Debbie when no one else would and when she needed him the most. He was the definition of a true friend.
He moved swiftly through the thorns and underbrush, reaching her within minutes. Crouched down next to her, he peered into her frightened eyes as if he were searching for something more.
“Are you okay?” he asked, sounding deeply concerned. A new set of tears overwhelmed her, but she was no longer crying because she was scared and alone, she was overwhelmed with happiness that someone had found her.
“I’m fine, I’m just lost.” Grabbing her hand, he helped her up and began leading her through the woods. “Who are you?” Debbie asked, not wanting to jump to conclusions. Just because he looked like Jack didn’t mean that he was Jack.
“I’m Jack the woodsman,” he said to Debbie’s surprise. “What were you doing so far out in the woods alone?”
“I was looking at the flowers.”
“In the dark?” Giving her an accusing look, Debbie knew Jack wasn’t buying her innocent ‘I-was-just-wandering-around’ story.
“Well, Mr. Wolf was showing me the flowers and we were separated by the darkness.”
Her response was followed by silence. Then, “Never trust a wolf.”
“That’s the second time I heard that today. Why shouldn’t I trust a wolf? He was the only one helping me at the time.” Jack didn’t respond, and their walk remained quiet. Debbie’s trip out of the wood didn’t seem to last as long as it did when she was going into the woods because she had Jack with her to help out. While she was lost for at least an hour, she was back on the path within minutes.
“Thank you so much!” she exclaimed, happy to be back on the pat.
“It’s what I’m here for. Where are you off to now?”
“To my grandmother’s house.”
“I’ll escort you,” and Jack began to walk along the path.
“No it’s okay,” Debbie said catching up to him. “You really don’t have to.”
Jack faced her. “It’s fine. I enjoy a nature walk.” Turning his back to her he continued up the path, leaving her to follow behind. Debbie didn’t understand why Jack needed to go with her. While she was glad that he did come along she wanted to finish this journey alone so she wouldn’t have to explain her story to her grandmother. The rest of the trip the two made small talk, but Jack didn’t seem to be paying much attention. He was constantly looking around as they went, as if he was waiting for someone to creep up on them. At the edge of the wood was a single cottage, the first cottage they had seen for a while. From what the woman who claimed to be her mother had told her, Debbie figured it had to be the cottage she was looking for. Jack stopped when she did. “That’s it,” Debbie announced.
“You’ll be OK from here?” he asked.
“I’m pretty sure I can manage the last mile.” Stepping past him she headed toward the cottage. Realizing how rude she must’ve seemed she looked back. “Thank-“ the words were halfway out of her mouth when she stopped. He was gone, just as fast as the wolf was. Shaking the eerie feeling she had off, Debbie continued toward her grandmother’s cottage. Once on the doorstep she knocked softly, dreading the meeting. By now the sun was starting to set and the bread and soup were cold. She knew her grandmother would be angry that she took so long. When there was no answer she knocked again harder.
“Come in,” a voice called out. Entering the cottage, Debbie was greeted by darkness because no candles were lit. Her grandmother was under a handmade quilt that was up to her chin. Debbie was shocked because, while everyone she had met resembled someone from the real world, her grandmother didn’t look like her real grandmother at all. Her skin was grey, her hands were big and hairy with sharp nails, and her teeth were beginning to yellow.
“Grandmother?” she asked sounding intimidated.
“Yes? Young granddaughter, is that you?” she replied. Her voice was deep and hoarse, as if she was losing it.
“Yes, grandma, sorry I’m late.” Debbie left the doorway and crossed the room over to the table to place the basket down feeling relieved. Her grandmother didn’t sound angry at all, even though she was sick and Debbie was several hours late. “Your food’s a little cold, but I could heat it up for you if you want.”
“That’s alright dear. You smell delicious anyway.”
Debbie stopped unpacking the basket and faced her grandmother. “What did you say?”
“It smells delicious dear.” Her grandmother flashed a polite smile. Debbie was positive she heard her grandmother tell her she smelled delicious. Getting nervous her breath came out faster and her hands began to shake. “Please bring my food to me my dear. I’m very hungry.” Debbie didn’t move. She was frozen to the spot in fright. “Hurry dear, I’m very hungry.” Picking up the cup of soup Debbie shuffled forward. As she came closer her grandmother’s features became a bit clearer.
“Why grandmother what big eyes you have,” she said.
“All the better to see you with, my dear.”
“Why grandmother what big ears you have.”
“All the better to hear you with, my dear.”
“But grandmother what a big mouth you have.” By this point Debbie was at the side of the bed. Her grandmother smiled, revealing her sharp yellow teeth once more.
“All the better to eat you with!”
The cup of soup clattered to the ground as Debbie screamed and covered her face when the wolf tore off his disguise and lunged at her. A shot pierced the air and a load clatter made Debbie frantically look up. The wolf lay on the table, which had collapsed under his weight, bleeding, with a bullet hole in his arm. She turned around as Jack came rushing through the door, a semi-automatic in his hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked, touching her shoulder affectionately.
“How did you know?”
“I had a hunch,” he explained. Before anything else could be explained, Jack was knocked out of the way by the wolf, who had recovered and attacked him when he least expected it. Debbie backed away as the two scuffled on the floor. Scrambling onto the bed, she covered her eyes, praying for the worst to be over. There were three loud bangs and all sounds of struggle stopped. Letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding, Debbie uncovered her eyes. She gasped as a horrible sight met her eyes. Jack lay on the floor, three bullet holes in his chest. His face was unrecognizable from the deep gashes the wolf’s claws had left. The wolf was standing over his body, breathing heavy, and staring hungrily at her. The gun clattered to the hardwood floor. His cold yellow eyes gleamed menacingly at her, not once leaving her eyes. A low growl escaped his lips as he pounced. Debbie screamed once again, but this time there was no one to rescue her. The wolf slit her throat before swallowing her in one bite, preferring a dead meal this time around. Her grandmother had squirmed a little more than he liked.