ONCE upon a time, there was a little village girl, the prettiest that had ever been seen. Her mother doted on her. Her grandmother was even fonder, and made her a little red hood, which became her so well that everywhere she went by the name of Little Red Riding Hood
One day her mother, who had just baked some cakes, said to her: “Go and see how your grandmother is, for I have been told that she is ill. Take her a cake and this little pot of butter.”
Red Riding Hood set off at once for the house of her grandmother, who lived in another village.
On her way through a wood she met old Father Wolf. He would have very much liked to eat her, but dared not to on account of some wood-cutters who were in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, not knowing that it was dangerous to stop and listen to a wolf, said: “I am going to see my grandmother, and I am taking her a cake and a pot of butter which my mother has sent to her.”
“Does she live far away?” asked the Wolf.
“Oh yes,” replied Little Red Riding Hood; “it is yonder by the mill which you can see right below there, and it is the first house in the village.”
“Well now,” said the Wolf, “I think I shall go and see her too. I will go by this path, and you by that path, and we will see who gets there first.”
The Wolf set off running with all his might by the shorter road, and the little girl continued on her way by the longer road. As she went she amused herself by gathering nuts, running after the butterflies, and making nosegays of the wild flowers she found.”
The Wolf was not long in reaching the grandmother’s house.
He knocked. Toc. Toc.
“Who is there?”
“It is your granddaughter, Red Riding Hood,” said the Wolf, disguising his voice, “and I bring you a cake and a little pot of butter as a present from my mother.”
The worthy grandmother was in bed, not being very well, and cried out to him: “Pull out the peg and the latch will fall.”
The Wolf drew the peg and the door flew open. Then he sprang upon the poor old lady and ate her up in less than no time, for he had been more than three days without food.
After that he shut the door, lay down in grandmother’s bed, and waited for Little Red Riding Hood.
Presently she came and knocked. Toc. Toc.
“Who is there?”
Now Little Red Riding Hood on hearing the Wolf’s gruff voice was at first frightened, but thinking that her grandmother had a bad cold, she replied:
“It is your granddaughter, Red Riding Hood, and I bring you a cake and a little pot of butter from my mother.”
Softening his voice, the Wolf called out to her: “Pull out the peg and the latch will fall.”
Little Red Riding Hood drew out the peg and the door flew open.
When he saw her enter, the Wolf hid himself in the bed beneath the counterpane.
“Put the cake and the little pot of butter on the bin,” he said, “and come up on the bed with me.”
Little Red Riding Hood took off her cloak, but when she climbed up on the bed she was astonished to see how her grandmother looked in her nightgown.
“Grandmother dear!” she exclaimed, “what big arms you have!”
“The better to embrace you, my child.”
“Grandmother dear, what big legs you have!”
“The better to run with, my child.”
“Grandmother dear, what big ears you have!”
“The better to hear with, my child.”
“Grandmother dear, what big eyes you have!”
“The better to see with, my child.”
“Grandmother dear, what big teeth you have!”
“The better to eat you with!”
With these words, the wicked Wolf leapt upon Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up.
– Little Red Riding Hood, Charles Perrault, 1697
Chapter 1: Grim Beginnings
I woke up to concrete brick walls and a single window blocked with iron bars. I rolled over in my cot; it was as hard as rocks. I sat up and pulled my knees against my chest. The room around me was bare; whitewashed walls, a porcelain sink, and a porcelain toilet. There was only one door, a large, green metal door, that was heavily locked from the outside. There was a little, square glass window in the door that allowed the doctors and guards to peer inside my cell. It wasn’t the first time I woken up in the asylum, but with any luck, it would the last.
I get out of my cot, slipped my feet in my pale green slippers, and started to stretched my arms and legs in my pale green jumpsuit. From outside my door, I heard the echoes of footsteps. Soon afterwards, the sound of a baton striking the metal door. “Wake up!” A female guard yelled through the door. A face appeared in the window of the door. It was the face of a dark-skinned woman, her black hair tied into a bun and brown eyes gazing at me through the glass. She scowled and then the sound of several locks being unlocked rang out.
The female guard stepped inside my cell. She was dressed in a blue uniform that had white strips around the wrists her sleeves and around the bottom of her shirt. A brown belt that held up her pants and she wore a pair of black shoes. “Against the wall.” She ordered in a firm tone of voice.
I stepped towards the far and spend my arms and legs out against it. She patted down my legs and arms, checking for anytime that can be used as a weapon. Lucky for me, I wasn’t that crazy.
The female guard scoffed and yelled out: “Clear!” She forcedly pulled me away from the wall and motioned for me to walk forward. I stepped out of my cell and into the eerie, blue-walled hallway. “Move it!” Yelled the female guard as she shoved me in the shoulder. I start to walk down the hall.
Lockwood Asylum. According to the doctors and higher-ups, it was a happy place; a safe haven for those who suffering from antisocial behavior disorders. The façade of a happy and peaceful environment for patients is just that, a façade. Lockwood Asylum was, and will always be, heck. The place was stained with the blood and tears of their patients. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of beatings, riots, and other acts of violence that happened in this place.
Cobwebs decorated the cracked and crumbling walls; they really don’t take good enough care of the building. As I walked down the hallway, I passed the cell doors of the other patients; I tried to ignore the frantic screams, wails, and cries as I walked. I looked up towards one of the windows and for a moment I envisioned that I could fly out the window, but then I remember that they were barred with thick iron bars like the rest of the windows in this accursed place.
“Keep moving!” Yelled the female guard. She shoved me in the shoulder as she shouted, causing me to almost tumble forward onto the floor. Luckily, I was able to catch myself in time. “Walk!” She ordered again. I kept walking down the winding hallway. We passed orderlies in grey uniforms and other patients in jumpsuits and slippers. As hard as they tried to soften their whispers about me, I would still hear them.
“Is that her?” A male orderly asked.
“Yeah, that’s her.” Another male orderly said.
I stared forward, not bothering to look at the gossipers. I’ve been to Lockwood before; more times that I can count. For better or for worse, I was very well-known among the staff and doctors. Yet, in all my time in Lockwood, I never tried to befriend anyone; not the doctors, not the orderlies, not even the other patients. That was the way I liked it.
We arrived at a set of double doors. Standing beside them was a pair of two male guards dressed in the same uniform as the female guard. The guard on the left was sickly pale, bald, and has pale blue eyes that looked like they could stare into my soul; he looked to have several years’ experience in this place. The guard on the right has dark hair to his shoulder, gentle brown eyes, and looked as though he spent an hour under a sunbed; he might be youngest guard here.
The older guard sneered the moment he saw me. I shot draggers at him with my eyes. “This one’s transferring I presume?” He asked.
“Release.” Answered the female guard.
The older guard tried and failed to silence a laugh. The female guard laughed along with him. Meanwhile, the younger guard was flashing me a smile, but I could tell that he was torn. Over what, I didn’t know at the time.
After that exchange, the two guards opened the double doors and let us though. Next thing I knew, we were in a large room with white walls and leather chairs around a wooden coffee table with an elegant vase filled with bright yellow sunflowers. There was a painting of a beautiful, mountainous landscape with autumn trees placed on the far wall of the room. I guessed it was waiting room as it was in clear contrast to the rest of the complex. On the left side of the room was a large glass rectangular window. Behind it was a dark blue desk, and sitting beside the desk was a middle-aged man in a grey uniform, typing away on a computer.
“Face the window.” The female guard ordered me.
I came to face the clear window and waited for the man to notice my presence. The female guard came to stand behind me. Eventually, the man took note of me, and he grimaced. He turned back to his computer and started typing. “Rosebud Gingerroot Hood.” He said in a gruffly voice. “Age. Eighteen. Eye color. Brown. Hair color. Red. Height. Five feet and one inch. Weight. 91 pounds.” He shot me a sideway glance and snorted in laughter. I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth so hard that it hurt. Yeah, I was small. What of it?
His eye shifted back to his computer. “Due to release under the conditions that she takes her medication, finds a suitable job, and does not get arrested. Now,” He turned back to me. “If it was up to me, well…” He paused. We shot cold looks at one another. “Just be glad that it isn’t up to me.” He turned back to his computer. “All your belongings, included her usual attire, will be brought out shortly.”
Sure enough, another orderly carrying a carboard box came out of a set of double doors that were adjacent to the glass window. He placed the box on the coffee table, his eyes never meeting mine. I approached the box and pick it up. Inside were all my stuff: my gray coin bag, my flower-patterned parasol, the same brown and beige backpack that I had since my nursery school time, the same pair of blue jeans, black top tank, and wore bronze-colored high tops I wore when I was committed to this place, and finally, my treasured red velvet cape with the hood. “Go on and get changed.” Said the man behind the window. “Then you can finally leave.”
The female guard escorted me to a nearby bathroom, where I changed into my regular clothing. I removed my jumpsuit and slippers and pulled my top tank over my head, then pulled my jeans onto my legs. When I was dressed, I looked at herself in the bathroom’s mirror. Eventhough I haven’t brushed in days, my cheek-length crimson hair still looked well-groomed. My doe eyes were as dark as dark chocolate, my lips were as pink as a pink pearl, and my skin was a pale as the moon. Finally, as a final touch, I wrapped my cape around my shoulders. My cape was long enough to cover my shoulders and arms, but not too long, as it stopped just shy of my waist. I loved that cape more than life itself.
There were a series of loud and rapid bangs on the bathroom door. “You done in there, rat?” Yelled the female guard. I stepped out the bathroom and was greeted by the guard quickly gasping my arm and pushing me toward the asylum’s front doors. The doors automated opened before us and I could at last see the outside world.
The bushes along the path to the asylum were neatly trimmed and cut into a variety of shapes. The tall and blacken cast iron gates that surrounded the complex, meant to separate the asylum from the rest of the world, lay beyond the path. The sun was shining, birds were singing, the flowers near the building were in full bloom, and the air felt fresher. Everything felt serene. I was just about to take a step, when the guard behind gasped my shoulder, and whispered into my ear: “By the way, the Woodsman said ‘hey’.” Then she shoved me outside. I looked back to see the doors closing behind me.
Chapter 2: Brother and Sister
I walked down the path toward the iron gate. Just beyond it was Gemstone. Gemstone was the capital city and pearl of the sovereignty of Fairyland, and my home for the last seven years. Fairyland, a country where science and magic coexist and intermix. Many of the devices and gadgets in Fairyland were invented by combining technology with arcane magic. Mystical creatures were kept as pets or livestock. Magic users and spell-casters lived among the general population. Magic was a common tool in Fairyland, granted most types of magic were outlawed.
Gemstone was a lovely city. The sun gleamed off the polished chrome of the geometrically-shaped skyscrapers, making them shine like real gemstones. Maybe that was why it was called ‘the brightest place in Fairytale’. Inside, though the clear blue windows, I could see the higher-class living their lives, surrounded by luxuries that only the middle-class could dream about having. Tall, sturdy oak trees stood alongside the manmade structures; their leaves a light shade of orange, a telltale sign of the coming of autumn.
I approached the gate and it open automatically. I stepped forward into the real world. I watched as the gates closed behind me with a loud metallic clank. Before me was a gravel road, which would lead me to the paved streets, which would lead me back to the city. I couldn’t tell you how happy I was to be out of that place. The first thing I wanted to do was go home, take a real bath, sleep in my own bed, and find my old friends. Yes, that was what I wanted to do. However, I knew in the back of my mind that there was something that I needed to do first.
“Little Red Riding Hood.”
I snapped my head to the left. There, leaning against the iron bars with his back, was a brown-haired boy with hazel eyes. He was much taller than me, but was as thin and pale as I was. His short chocolate hair came to stop behind his ears and his fringe sat coolly on his forehead. His hands were in the pocket of his grey hoodie, which was sewed onto the lower portion of the hoodie. His blue jeans ripped at the knees, probably due to the style, but then again, he could had ripped them himself. His white sneakers were torn and ragged, as though he didn’t take good care of them.
Instinctually, I stepped back and shouted: “Who the heck are you?!” It came out much less venomous than I wanted it to be due to my soft voice. He started walking toward me. He came to stand in front of me, towering over me. He looked me square in the eyes, a smile on his lips. He pulled his left hand out of his pocket and extended toward me. “The name’s Ivan. Ivan Nikolaeva.”
I didn’t shake his hand. Instead I stared at his hand for a while, before I shifted my gaze to him. I placed both of my hands on my hips and gave him the best skeptical look I could produce. “‘Ivan Nikolaeva’?” I scoffed. “Are you serious?”
Awkwardly, he retracted his hand and combed his hair with it. His smile faltered a small bit before coming back in full force. “Yes.” He said. “Why?”
I laughed vivaciously; it was the most I ever laughed in months. Judging by the dumbfounded expression on his face, the guy in front of me was surely taken aback, so I explained. “‘Ivan Nikolaeva’.” I repeated. “You can’t be Ivan Nikolaeva. If you were Ivan Nikolaeva, then you could be related to Aly Nikolaeva.”
“I am related to Aly Nikolaeva.” He said.
“Yeah, right! Then where’s-”
He interrupted me by pulling up the hem of his hoodie, revealing his well-toned abs. He pulled the hem of the hoodie so far up that he revealed his muscular pecs. My eyes went wide when I saw the brownish hoof mark of a fully-grown deer on the right side of his chest. “See?” He said as he chuckled softly.
I hurriedly ripped my stare away from his chest. My hands went to rub at my unbelieving eyes. I still couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I couldn’t believe that the boy in front of me was both a member of the most infamous group of mercenaries in the country, also known as the royal army, and the brother of one of my best friends in the entire world. I stopped massaging my temple and looked his in the eye again. “Did Aly sent you?” I asked.
He lowered the hem of his hoodie, covering his chest once again. His hands returned to the inside of his hoodie pocket. “Yeah, my sis sent me. She wants to see you.”
Believe me when I say that I would like nothing more than to catch up with Aly. She and her family might have been mercenaries, but she also was the friendliest person I met since moving to the city. She was like an older sister to me for so long and I really looked up to her. However, like I said before, there was something I needed to do first. “I would love to see her. But I can’t.” I told him. “I’ll contract you as soon as I’m free.”
“Ok.” Said Ivan. “I’ll let my sis know that you love to meet up.”
“Alright then.” I said as I turned away from him, ready to leave. A cool breeze blew pass us and I pulled the hood of my cape over my head. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for laughing at Ivan. No, wait, it wasn’t guilt, it was fear. In my line of work, anything you say or do can, and will, be used against you in the future. I turned back to face Ivan. “Sorry for not believing you earlier, and for laughing in your face.” I said.
He chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. I know my sis doesn’t like to talk about our family.”
“Not hard to believe.”
I started walking down the beaten gravel path toward the road. I was halfway gone when he stopped me. “Hey!” He shouted. “If you want I can drive you to the Woodsman’s hideout.”
I turned back to him and called out: “No thanks. I prefer to walk.” I turned away and continued down the path. The path before was covered with fallen leaves and randomly scattered twigs. The crunching sound of gravel and leaves rung in my ears, accompanied by the musical songs of the birds in the trees. The cool air rushed over me, making me shiver slightly. It was still better than being locked in an insane asylum.