by Christopher Owen
“Here,” said Red’s mother, a half-smoked and ash-laden cigarette dangling from her well glossed lips, “take this basket of ennui to your grandmother.”
Red took the basket with both hands. It was quite heavy. Her mother had been busy.
“Are you quite sure grandma will want this?” Red asked.
“I don’t care if she wants it,” said Red’s mother. “I simply want it gone. And there’s a woodsman coming by later, and I’d like you gone as well. Two birds with one stone, eh?”
“Quite smart there, mother,” said Red, and she took the basket, left her house and started down the path through the woods to her grandmother’s house.
Red walked for a time through the woods, but the basket was quite heavy, and she was quite lethargic, so she decided to sit for a while with her back against a tree alongside the path. Soon she was slumbering hard.
When she awoke, it was pitch black around her. A pair of yellow eyes stared at her through the darkness. She heard the slightest hint of a wolf’s growl.
“Well, if it isn’t a little girl,” said the wolf.
“Well, if it isn’t a hungry wolf,” said Red.
“How do you know I’m hungry?” asked the wolf.
“Aren’t you always?”
“Yes, that’s usually true. And a little girl would probably subdue my appetite quite nicely, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so,” said Red. “Though why eat me when I’ve a basket of fresh meat here by my side that you could have.”
“Fresh meat?” asked the wolf.
“Yes, it’s quite rare and bloody. Prime and well marbled. A carnivore like you should love it.”
Red’s description had the wolf’s mouth watering. Before he could think better of it, he plunged his snout into the basket and gorged himself. Red laughed. At length the wolf pulled back from the basket, which was now empty.
“Hey, that wasn’t meat,” said the wolf. “That was your mother’s ennui.”
“It was,” said Red.
“You lied to me? Why?”
“Well, it could be because I am full of malice, or malevolence, or rancor. Or perhaps I merely wished to save my skin. Or both.”
“This is terrible,” said the wolf. “Now I don’t feel like eating any more. Or running through the forest, or howling at the moon–-or anything.”
“Perhaps you could write poetry,” said Red.
“Now you’re just being facetious.”
“I’m terribly sorry. But you were planning on eating me.”
“That is the way of wolves. There is nothing wrong with it.”
“And I have beguiled you, and that is the way of humans, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
The wolf slowly nodded, then wandered listlessly off into the woods. Red collected her basket and, deciding it was too late for a visit to her grandmother’s house, returned to her own.
When Red reached her house, she could hear loud snores coming from within. One of her mother’s woodsmen, she surmised, spending the night. Red sighed, then took out a crumpled pack of cigarettes which she had stolen from her mother’s purse. She lit one and took a long drag, then blew the smoke out into the night air. She looked down at her empty basket, and thought of the many times she had ferried things of her mother’s to her grandmother. Sadness, melancholy, guilt, anger, despondency– they had all been sent by her mother to her grandmother over the years.
“Grandmother is getting too old for this,” Red thought as she stared at the basket. “And I certainly don’t want any of mother’s cast offs.”
She looked back toward the path that led into the woods.
“Perhaps I can find some more hungry wolves,” she mused as she smoked the last of the cigarette, then flicked it to the ground, where she crushed it out with the heel of her small shoe.
CHRISTOPHER OWEN lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. After recently retiring from a long career in aviation, he now writes full time. He has fiction forthcoming at Daily Science Fiction and Mystic Signals. He has previously appeared in Perspectives and The Zephyr.