Blood Red

Don’t go into the forest at night.

That’s what the townspeople say.

It seems like common sense, or folksy wisdom, but there’s more to it than that. Nobody will say anything further.

Find a man in a tavern and buy him enough beer, and he’ll start to talk. He’ll tell you about the town and its secrets, of the mayor’s affair with the baker’s daughter and how nobody makes eye contact with Farmer Hill anymore, not after the rumors spread about the sounds that come out of his barn.

Buy him a few more beers and he’ll tell you about the girl. His eyes, though glazed with drunken pleasure, will show a flicker of fear. His voice, loud and jovial, will drop to a trembling whisper. He will beckon you closer and tell you about the red-hooded girl of the forest. Or at least, what appears to be a girl.

It’s believed that she is a spirit of some sort. She is definitely not of this world, and even her human guise is not without its flaws. Her eyes are too big, some say, and her teeth are too large. On nights when the moon is a pale shimmering disc in the sky, she is seen roaming the forests surrounded by wolves. They do not harm her and she does not mind them. They move as one.

He looks around, even though nobody is paying the old drunk any attention, then locks his glassy eyes on you. And if, he says, if you disregard the townsfolk’s warning, if you find yourself wandering through the trees in the darkness and you come face to face with the red-hooded apparition, tell her you’re going to grandma’s house.

She may let you live.

He runs a finger across the twisted scar running from his throat down to his chest and takes another swig from his beer mug. He will tell you no more.

As you leave the tavern, having paid for the old man’s booze, there is a sound of howling. The pale yellow moon shines down upon you, full and bright. Wolves. You turn away, but another sound follows the howls, a sound made by no man or beast of this earth. It is the sound of lost souls or vengeful demons or horrors yet unknown, wandering the land cloaked in a red hood.

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