The Grandmother with Enormous Eyes
A Little Red Riding Hood Short Story by A.G. Marshall
“Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”
Matilda Brown narrowed her eyes, which were admittedly enormous, at her granddaughter.
“It isn’t nice to comment on other people’s appearances, Red. I’ve told you that before.”
“You said it a thousand times when I was little, Granny, but I’m grown up enough now to say what I think, and your eyes really do look odd. Are you sure you’re feeling well?”
Granny. Matilda still felt strange every time someone called her granny. She didn’t feel that old. Not really. Not until Red said something that reminded her how much time had passed.
It wouldn’t do for Red to look too hard at Matilda’s eyes. That wouldn’t do at all.
“And what treats has your young woodsman sent this time?”
Red blushed until she was as crimson as the cloak she always wore.
“He’s a baker now, Granny, and he isn’t mine.”
“He would be if you let him.”
“Don’t be silly, Granny. I’m far too young for that. Besides, who would take care of you?”
Matilda took the muffin Red offered. She chewed the first bite more than necessary, giving her whirling mind a chance to settle.
“You refused him because of me?”
Red shook her head.
“It isn’t that simple, Granny.”
It was exactly that simple, and Red was a fool if she thought her granny believed otherwise. Matilda finished the muffin in silence. Red played with the edge of her cloak, folding the vibrant fabric into ruffles then smoothing it out again.
“I know that look, Granny. Don’t get any ideas.”
Matilda had more ideas than she knew what to do with, and most of them now centered on her granddaughter. Her enormous eyes watched Red the rest of the evening, searching for clues that could help with her plan.
“Grandmother, what big ears you have!”
Blast. Matilda had hoped her nightcap would cover them.
“All grannies have big ears, Red. It’s just part of getting old.”
“But they’ve grown since yesterday. I’m sure of it! Perhaps I should send for Doctor Jones.”
“No need for that, dear. It’s nothing serious.”
It was definitely something serious, and Matilda was running out of time. Where had it all gone? She stared out the window. The setting sun glowed pink against the freshly fallen snow. A few beams broke through the dense forest around the cottage, so the trees gleamed as well.
Red studied her grandmother for a moment, then busied herself slicing the loaf of bread in her basket and spreading strawberry preserves over it. Matilda pulled the nightcap further down over her ears.
“I think you should come back to town with me, Granny. Oh, don’t give me that look. I know you love living out here, but it isn’t safe! What if you get sick? What if the wolves attack?”
Matilda’s already enormous eyes widened.
“What’s this about wolves?”
“The pack is on the move again. A few people have seen them. They haven’t attacked anyone yet, but it could happen again. Granny-”
Her voice trailed away. Matilda knew what she was thinking, and thank goodness Red was too young to remember all the details.
Two humans and one wolf dead in the snow. Crimson blood scattered against white. A hunt gone horribly wrong.
And in the middle of it all, a baby left alone in the world. Too weak to cry. Too cold to crawl.
Matilda blinked back tears. That hunt had left her daughter dead. It was always risky to explore new territory, but she had never dreamed it would end like that.
Red sat on the edge of Matilda’s bed and patted her shoulder.
“They’re avoiding people so far, but you would be safer in town.”
Matilda swallowed. She wouldn’t be safer there. She wouldn’t be safe anywhere for much longer.
“I’m sure it’s not so serious as all that. This cottage is my home, Red. I won’t leave it as long as I have a choice. Now tell me all about your young man. Has he proposed yet?”
“Granny, this is serious! I want you to be safe!”
“And I want you to be happy.”
Red’s blush told Matilda all she needed to know.
“So he has proposed. Why didn’t you tell me, Red?”
“He asked a few days ago, but I can’t! I can’t leave you alone, Granny.”
Matilda’s ears twitched. She pulled her cap further down.
“You told him that? You refused him?”
“I told him I needed time. That I can’t leave you alone. He said he understands, Granny. He said you could live with us, but he has to stay in town to take care of his bakery. You would have your own room. We would make sure you were comfortable.”
“I won’t leave my cottage, Red, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get married.”
“But I would have new responsibilities, Granny. I couldn‘t come out and see you every day if I were married. What if the wolves attack?”
“The wolves won’t attack.”
Matilda said it with such certainty that Red didn’t question her. At least, not out loud.
A howl cut through the air. A wolf.
Matilda’s ears twitched again, and she frowned. Time was even shorter than she had realized. She would have to hurry her plan along.
“Very well, you win, Red. I’ll move to town if it will make you happy, but you must go back to your young man and accept him this very moment. It won’t do to keep him waiting.”
Red’s smile made Matilda’s heart swell. Her daughter had smiled like that when she had told Matilda of her own engagement.
The wolf howled again. Red’s smile slipped a little, but Matilda’s didn’t waver.
“Go back to town and tell your young man the news. The wolf is too far away to bother you.”
Red kissed her grandmother’s cheek and left in such a hurry that she forgot her basket. Matilda eased out of her bed and watched the red cloak disappear into the shadows of the woods. She stood in the doorway and stared at the path long after Red had gone.
The sun slipped below the horizon, and the nearly full moon cast a silver glow over the snow. Something moved at the edge of the trees, and enormous yellow eyes watched Matilda from the shadows. She could just make out the silhouette of a large gray wolf with a white muzzle.
Her heartbeat quickened, but she didn’t move. She didn’t speak. She and the wolf simply stared at each other until dusk swallowed his shape and he melted back into the forest.
“Grandmother, what big teeth you have!”
Matilda fought the urge to cover her mouth. It was true. She did have big teeth.
“Don’t be rude, Red. Hand me a cookie and tell me how it went with your young man yesterday.”
“But, Granny! You aren’t well. Your teeth are enormous!”
“The better to eat all the treats you brought.”
“And your eyes?”
“The better to see your smiling face.”
“And your ears?”
Matilda sighed. Even her frilliest cap couldn’t cover the bump of her ears now.
“The better to hear your story. Did you accept him?”
Something in Matilda’s expression kept Red from commenting further on her teeth.
“I did. Granny, why the sudden interest in my getting married? I have plenty of time.”
“You never have as much time as you think you do, Red.”
“We’re already making plans for your room. Most of the living quarters are above the shop, but we thought the stairs might be difficult for you. We’re going to empty a storeroom.”
Matilda raised an eyebrow, and Red flushed.
“It’s nicer than it sounds. You’ll have your own fireplace.”
“That sounds lovely, dear.”
It did sound lovely. Matilda could picture herself sitting in a chair by the fire, listening to Red and her young man baking and taking care of customers. Their cheerfulness would do her heart good.
It was a shame it would never happen. She needed to act before they moved supplies out of the storeroom. No need to make unnecessary work for them.
“Grandmother, what’s wrong?”
Matilda blinked back tears she hadn’t realized she was crying.
“Your mother was just as happy when she married. I am so glad that you’ll be settled and comfortable.”
“We both will, Granny. This will be good for both of us.”
Matilda took a bite of the cookie. A bigger bite than she intended because of her enormous teeth. It took her a few moments to chew and swallow it.
“Yes, we will both be happy very soon, Red. You should get back to the village before it gets dark.”
A wolf howled in the distance as if it agreed with her. Red frowned.
“I don’t want to leave you alone, Granny. Maybe I should stay with you tonight. We could pack up your things.”
Matilda glanced around the cottage.
“There isn’t much to pack.”
“You’re almost out of firewood. I don’t want you to be cold.”
“I have all I need for tonight. Go back and have dinner with your young man. You don’t want to waste a moment of time with the people you love.”
“But I love you, Granny.”
“And I love you, Red. Don’t forget your basket this time.”
Red leaned forward and kissed her grandmother on the cheek. Matilda’s enormous eyes filled with tears as she watched her granddaughter leave. She leaned against her pillows and marveled at the bright young woman Red had become. Shadows lengthened in the cottage as the sun set. The moon would rise soon.
The full moon.
A wolf’s howl interrupted her musings. Enormous yellow eyes peered in her window, and Matilda scowled.
“Yes, yes. I’m coming.”
The wolf huffed, leaving a cloud of condensation on the glass. Then he pressed his nose against the window and whined.
Normally, Matilda would be upset about the nose print, but that window was no longer her concern.
She pulled a piece of paper from her desk and stared at it. What should she tell Red? She had always meant to tell her the whole truth, but she had waited too long. There wasn’t time for that.
Matilda dipped her pen in the inkwell and wrote as fast as she could. The words came more easily than she had expected.
My Dearest Granddaughter,
I am so proud of the woman you have become and so happy that you have found your young man and made a life for yourself. Thank you for offering to include me in that life, but I am afraid it cannot be. I have another love, and he needs me more than you do now. I wish you all the best, my darling Red. Please do not fret about me. I am rejoining my
Moonlight filled the room, and a spasm rocked Matilda’s body. She dropped the pen as memories and magic overcame her.
A wolf and two humans dead in the snow. Matilda smelled the blood long before she found them. She couldn’t help the low whine that escaped her throat when she saw her daughter’s body. That sound roused the baby, and the young wolf whimpered. Matilda hurried over to her granddaughter and sniffed. The cub was injured as well. What had happened? Matilda knew her daughter would never attack humans without cause. Had the humans attacked her?
It was always dangerous to hunt in new territory, but they had been desperate for prey. And humans rarely bothered wolves. Had they threatened the baby? That would have been reason enough for her daughter to fight.
The baby needed help. Her injuries were beyond what the pack healer could treat, and she wouldn’t survive the journey to him.
Matilda stared for a moment, blinking her enormous golden eyes at the moonlight sparkling on the snow. She smelled other humans nearby. A village. There would be a doctor there.
But the baby was too young to handle the magic. If she shifted now, she would never turn back to a wolf. She would be human for the rest of her life.
If she didn’t shift now, the rest of her life wouldn’t be very long.
Matilda gathered her magic and began to change. Moonlight brightened into a white glow around her. As soon as her paws turned into hands, she picked up the wolf cub and wrapped her granddaughter in the magic as well. Their teeth flattened. Their ears pulled in towards their heads. Their eyes shrank and dimmed.
The smell of humans faded, but Matilda knew which way to go. Her fur had turned into a dress in the transformation, but the baby was naked. Matilda removed the dead woman’s bright red headscarf and wrapped it around her granddaughter. It was speckled with blood, but the color hid the stains.
Red. The doctor would expect a human baby to have a human name. Matilda tried to think of something else, but the color filled her senses. Red would have to do.
She hurried through the moonlit snow, not slowing down when an enormous wolf with a gray muzzle joined her. The light around him began to brighten, but Matilda shook her head.
“The pack needs you, dearest.”
He whimpered. Matilda patted his head.
“Of course I’ll miss you, and I’ll rejoin you as soon as I’m able. As soon as our granddaughter is established and can take care of herself.”
Matilda’s mate stared at her with gleaming yellow eyes. Then he nodded once and melted into the forest. Matilda saw lights from the village twinkling in the distance and began to run.
The pen rolled off the desk and clattered to the floor. Matilda reached for it and overturned the inkwell. It spilled all over her shaking paw. She tried to move the paper away from the pool of ink, but it was too late. She left a large, black footprint on the page. Matilda growled. She had more she wanted to say. It was unfair to leave Red with half a note. It would make her worry.
Matilda tried to shift back, but her magic was spent. She had spent far too long in human form. She thumped her tail, trying to think of a solution.
Her cottage window shattered as the large wolf jumped through. Matilda glared at him, but he lolled his tongue unapologetically and licked her face. She huffed, but her wagging tail betrayed how pleased she was to see him. He bent down and growled playfully. She growled back. He tilted his head towards the window, and she tilted her head towards the note. It was unfinished and covered with spilled ink and a wolf footprint. What would Red think?
Matilda’s mate nuzzled her shoulder to comfort her. She sat there for a moment, soaking in his warmth and nuzzling him back. It had been so long. Was her muzzle as white as his now?
Outside the cottage, a faint voice floated on the breeze.
“Thank you for coming with me. She said she has enough firewood for the night, but I know she doesn’t. She can be so stubborn.”
“I know you worry about her, dearest, but I’m sure she’s fine. We’ll empty the storeroom first thing tomorrow morning.”
And her young man.
Matilda’s mate jumped out the window and howled a warning to the pack. Matilda’s ears twitched as she took one last look at the unfinished note. Then she leaped through the window and bared her teeth in warning at her mate. Whatever else happened, they would not harm Red or that young man.
Red burst into the clearing and screamed when she saw two wolves and the broken window. The woodsman-turned-baker froze in surprise for a moment. Then he put an arm around Red and raised his axe.
Matilda stared at Red with her enormous yellow eyes. Red stared back. Then she put her hand on her fiancée’s arm and pulled it down until his axe hung in the snow.
She squeezed his arm and stepped towards the wolves. He pulled her back but didn’t raise the axe again. Matilda’s mate studied Red’s young man quite thoroughly before he huffed his approval.
A wolf howl in the distance broke the spell. The pack asking if they needed help. The young man lifted the axe again, looking between the wolves and the shattered window with an anguished expression.
Matilda’s mate raised his hackles, ready to defend her against the threat.
She leaned against him and huffed. He met her gaze, and she shook her head. His yellow eyes softened, and he turned towards the woods.
“Wait!” Red said.
But Matilda couldn’t wait any longer. She followed her mate through the snow and disappeared into the forest.
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