Red Hood

Short Story

Contains gore and violence. Readers are cautioned to use their own judgment about personal sensitives before reading.

Sometimes, it is best not to know the truth hidden in fairytales or the deities that caused this horror.

In the beginning, I believed my existence to be pointless. My senses felt muted, causing a lack of vibrancy and sophistication in my interpretation of the world. I couldn’t comprehend the bickering or behaviour of other deities. With their rationality easily shattered by strong emotions, they acted like slaves to their feelings. I never related to it. Yet, this was nothing compared to the complexities of humans which I discovered much later.

Humans existed to delight me. I became addicted to their deliciously intense emotions surrounding misfortune. I began to cause havoc so I could feast on their fury or sorrow. At first, I instigated false accusations of thievery, which turned violent, but then I began engineering betrayals between families which ended in bloodshed. That was why they called me the God of Misfortune and Terror, especially during the seventeenth century.

Back then, bonfires scented the air instead of toxic chemicals. Diseases spread rapidly and poverty caused ongoing misery among humans. I floated around the world, igniting horrific events and even dabbling in war on occasions. Eventually, I caused so much sorrow and despair that other deities intervened, ruining my fun. It was boring after that, for each death was matched with a new life and every tragedy was accompanied by hope. I hated it. I knew if I wanted true misfortune to rain on humans, I needed to choose communities where deities turned a blind eye. That was how I set my red eyes on the small village of Anderselt and achieved my greatest accomplishment.

Anderselt was a quaint village, with thirty-four houses sparsely arranged and surrounded by thick forest. The trees hugged the village, cradling the citizens whilst protecting them from the outside world. In the old days, I would have argued that the community was too small to entertain me but I became desperate to witness destructive emotions. Of course, my plan for this village had to be sophisticated. A smaller population meant any large-scale mischief and tragedy would destroy the people within a day. A disease was the better option.

Plagues were tricky; they were too effective, leaving few to suffer and mourn. I needed a challenge like that. Carefully, I manipulated the formula to slow the illness’ progress to ensure everyone survived a week. I anticipated suffering among the residents but didn’t expect newcomers to enter my domain.

The carriage arrived in Anderselt two days after I blew my plague onto the village. Inside was a five-year-old girl and I immediately clutched onto the window, intrigued. Most of the children present for the first phase of my disease would die within days. I had never considered travellers coming to this remote village, especially children, so I was excited to study her. What would she do after seeing the infected? How much would she cry? Would she scream out in fear at night? An exciting thrill coursed through my black form.

I learnt her name was Clarice Lalande. Humans called her beautiful because she had inherited the best features of both her parents, in particular, her maman’s bright blue doll eyes and her papa’s cheeky dimples. Adding to her beauty were brown ringlets framing her delicate face and teasing the pastel hues at the top of her dress. But no amount of aesthetic appeal could hide her stubbornness. I believe she inherited this unflattering behaviour from her grand-maman in Anderselt, whose grey hair was as wild as her personality.

As the carriage slowed, I decided what I wanted to do. Using the already infected, I foreshadowed the little girl’s demise; I wanted her parents to remember this moment and endlessly recall it when they were childless. Strategically, I led a few diseased children onto the dirt road beside the carriage. Bleeding sores covered their skin, they coughed up black mucus and had a sickly skinniness to their bodies. They were grotesque, but when Clarice blurted this out to her parents, they scolded her. 

Upon arrival at the family house, Clarice was reunited with her grand-maman, Florence. The number of hugs and kisses given to each family member nauseated me. Yet, I stayed to cause nightmares during the little girl’s late night slumber.

Clarice struggled to mimic the adults’ behaviour, as she’d been taught to do in high society, but soon began demanding food and toys. My interest in the child dwindled during the following hours while the adults drank tea and Clarice played happily. They discussed the sickly people by the road and the poverty in the larger cities Clarice’s parents came from. Alas, they did not stay further into the afternoon. Clarice begged the couple to remain but they refused, explaining why a child could neither travel for business nor stay alone in their house. Every single emotion, from anger to sorrow, was etched on the girl’s face as she listened to her parents’ excuses. The carriage departed shortly after and I was consumed with delight by the little girl’s heartbreak.

"I want Maman and Papa!" Clarice cried into her pillow late that night.

Florence offered her famous sweet grain biscuits to stop the child from crying. The warm smile that accompanied this offer was disgusting. Clarice sat up and greedily gobbled each lumpy baked good. The mood change astounded me. While she licked the crumbs off her fingers and scavenged for any fallen pieces on the patchwork quilt, Florence seized a book hidden among sewn dolls and a glass menagerie on the antique bookshelf. It had a vibrant, red leather cover with stamped gold writing beyond the ability of Clarice to decipher. The child snuggled under her blankets, waiting for her grand-maman to tell the story.

"The Hunter and the Forest Wolves," Florence read the title and opened the book. A few puffs of dust rolled from the pages but Clarice did not care. "Once upon a time, in a land far away—"

"How far?" Clarice asked.

"Further than you can imagine."

Clarice tried to hold her tongue but blurted out, "I can see very far."

"I am sure you can. Let us continue … there lived a young boy with the courage of a king—"

"Like our King?"

"Yes, dear."

The old woman read the book slowly, pausing and waiting for more of Clarice’s questions. The story was a classic in the land, depicting hungry wolves, cowardly humans and an outcast boy who saved the day. It gave me a terribly grand idea. This plague needed more horrific characteristics. What if the humans’ sores and coughs progressed into something more sophisticated and terrifying? What if I made this story come to life?

A knock on the door broke the book’s spell. A second knock followed, louder and more urgent. By the time Florence ran downstairs, a group of men had barged inside and were muttering their apologies for the sudden intrusion. There were five in total, all burly and around the same age as Clarice’s papa, but one was carried over the shoulder by a friend.

‘Put him on the table,’ Florence instructed, unperturbed as she pointed towards the kitchen. "What happened?"

The man on the table had to be restrained with leather belts and rope. The groans escaping his lips every few minutes sounded like a mix of agony and pleasure. Everyone’s focus was on his ghastly yellowed skin. The best bit—or worst, if you were a human seeing this—was the blood-shot eyes that revealed themselves as he drifted in and out of consciousness, staring hungrily at the people. Florence shoved a concoction down the man’s throat to quell his violent spasms.

My creation was beautiful. The human was covered in rabbit’s blood. I had watched him eat the live animal, ripping the limbs apart and ravenously guzzling its blood. The rabbit’s shrill screams were barely audible over the man’s feral growls. Even now, his eyes hinted at his true mindless state: hollow, drained and colourless. I’d turned him into a savage creature. It was my best work in centuries, but slow to progress.

Florence was my main problem. The herbs she flung around and ground together spoke of her trade as a healer. I’d never liked people who studied medicine. Those educated always interfered with my fun, especially when other deities whispered antidotes in their ears. I wouldn’t allow it this time. I’d chosen a small town to avoid such troubles. At least, Florence was the only healer; I doubted she could cater for the dozens of infected, ferocious humans about to bombard her.

More people turned rabid over the next few days. They tore animals apart or ripped at their own flesh. Florence’s kitchen was stained red. Each time someone new arrived, I filled Clarice’s head with cravings for biscuits so she ventured down to the kitchen where she became captivated by the scenes of terror. After witnessing the gore, she ran back up to bed but even in her sleep, the deranged people rampaged. She woke up screaming throughout the night. The only way to ensure Clarice had peace was for her to sleep with her grand-maman. The warmth and musky scent provided the little girl with great comfort, and I was too disgusted to go near them. It irritated me. I refused to sit idly and let this small peace last. It was time to finish my story.

The next night, I called out to Florence early, causing noises and havoc to lure her outside. It was easy when she was exhausted and near-mindless from lack of sleep. After I removed her, I stirred Clarice awake. She reached at the empty space where her grand-maman had been and panicked. I inhaled the sickly sweet fear that radiated from her as she searched futilely for her wrinkly comfort.

I blew open the window, letting the cool air and outside noises invade the room. The little girl’s frightened reaction was hilarious; she screamed and dashed to the safe haven of the wardrobe in her own room, convinced the tiny space offered more protection than her grand-maman’s blankets.

"I want Maman and Papa," Clarice cried to herself.

I formed images of monsters, wolves and sick people in the shadows on the floor and listened to Clarice’s heartbeat grow louder as she watched from the crack in the wardrobe. The silhouettes attacked each other and the muffled noises from outside added to my performance. 

"I want Grand-maman!"

It was the need to be held and comforted that forced Clarice to emerge from the wardrobe. Just as her feet touched the cold floor, I knocked a few books off the shelf to escalate her fear. The girl dived back into the cupboard. Ninety-seven heartbeats later, she reappeared. Her eyes sought the cover of her favourite book. Greedily, she embraced the story about wolves and the hunter. I wish I was as fearless as the hunter. How was he so brave?

You can be, I whispered in her mind. Go and find your precious grand-maman.

Clarice obediently ran downstairs and I followed the pathetic child. She hesitated before stepping outside into the eerie night and glanced at the coat rack beside the door. Hanging on it was Florence’s white, outing cloak. It was too big for the little girl and when she wore it, half of the material flowed on the ground like early morning fog.

"I am brave, I am brave, I am brave," Clarice muttered and pulled the hood over her head. Filled with bravado, she ventured outside. 

I followed and inhaled the intoxicating scent of suffering. The humans were pushed beyond their self-preservation instincts, ignoring their own wellbeing to grab fresh meat. They tore limbs off each other and bit with so much force their teeth broke. I laughed uproariously, watching chunks of flesh fly and pools of blood run in red rivers. This plague was a masterpiece unlike any other.

One of my diseased humans grabbed at Clarice’s foot and she screamed so loudly it rattled me. My mindless puppet nipped at her ankles, following the scent of blood that had stained Clarice’s cloak red. She stumbled away, consumed by fear. In that moment, Clarice realised she wasn’t the brave hunter from the storybook but a terrified child. Unfortunately for her, it was too late to turn back and hide in the wardrobe.

This was the finale I had anticipated. My shrivelled heart beat almost as loudly as Clarice’s. Her end was near. I’d worked tirelessly to create a monstrous plague and now the little girl was experiencing my full potential. I salivated over the blood and gore surrounding me.

Suddenly, a huge shape blocked the child’s path. In the dark, it looked like a mountain. But the full moon revealed the horrifying truth. The heap was a disfigured graveyard of fresh and bloodied bodies.

Florence emerged from this gruesome mound, as if crawling out of a beast that had swallowed her whole. An arm hung limply by her side, attached by a few shreds of skin. Blood oozed from torn flesh. Her red eyes searched the area, looking for new prey. She grinned at the sight of Clarice.

The little girl shook and struggled to breathe. Her fear was overwhelming. A ghostly chill seeped into her skin when Florence approached. Clarice saw bloody crevices on the woman’s head, surrounded by strewn grey hair.

"Grand-maman! Y-y-your ears! Can you hear me?"

 

"Oh, quite well," the hoarse voice rumbled.

"Why do you have big, red eyes?" Clarice squeaked, retreating.

 

"It is to help me see you better, my dear."

"What sharp teeth you have!" Clarice blurted, staring at the blood around her grand-maman’s mouth.

The child shook her head in denial. Tears streamed down her face and I enjoyed drinking every single one, letting the flavour of disbelief, horror and betrayal linger on my snake-like tongue.

Florence cackled. "All the better to eat you with!"

Ecstatic, I watched the gruesome death of the little girl. My skin tingled. Hysteria gripped me. Clarice screamed. Florence clawed at her face and ripped her throat apart. Blood spurted. I, the God of Misfortune and Terror, inhaled the divine smell of death.