Little Red Riding Witch
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a large forest stretching out as far as the eyes could see. Its lumbers were of the highest quality in all the lands, while the meat from its wild animals was tastier than anything that a regular farm could produce. Thanks to the forest’s blessings, its outskirts were the promised land for many settlements, and many villages were born around that large area.
Naturally, the people in such villages were expert hunters and gatherers, able to slay ferocious beasts as well as forage delicacies with ease. And among the hunters, none could hold a candle to the famed Dario Starling.
Though the burden of age had dulled his agility and an accident in the past had taken his left eye away from him, Dario’s experience more than made up for his shortcomings. In all of the village’s hunts, he was often the only name uttered among the people for his great hauls. Thus, he had earned for himself a number of respectful gazes, as well as quite a few envious ones from the blue bloods with the (dis)pleasure to work with him.
However, neither jealousy nor respect was the extent of their feelings, as Dario’s intimidating look and hot temper also struck fear into most people that had the misfortune to personally experience them. The biggest proof, and also his greatest victim, was his foster daughter – Lucy Starling.
That morning, like any other day, Lucy rushed to the kitchen as soon as the first rays of sunlight hit her eyes. With her green hair still messy as a wild bush, Lucy scourged to put on her stained apron and began to prepare her father’s daily meal.
Soon enough, the entire house was filled with a mouth-watering aroma of delicious steak and the sweet, soothing scent of apple pie. Contrary to the calm and comfy air, however, Lucy herself was practically pouring as she struggled to flip the steak and maintain the scorching kitchen heat under control.
The melting sap from the firewood was like sizzling lava, and the cast-iron pan had nearly changed color to a bright orange. Yet, Lucy had no choice but to get close to the pan and try to handle the gigantic piece of steak – nearly as big as her head – while steadying the pan with nothing but her bare hands. Her grip tightened with pain as Lucy felt the flames eating through her skin, but she dared not to even make a mildly loud noise, for her father would certainly unleash his fury if she were to wake him up.
Gritting her teeth in pain, the young girl continued. And in the end, just as the birds started chirping and the sun rose high enough to signal a beautiful morning, the meal was completed.
Lucy hurriedly put the steak in a large basket and the pie in a smaller one, then rushed towards the corner of the room to take out two bottles of finely-aged wine and put them according to their sizes also – the large bottle went with the steak, while the smaller one accompanied the pie. When everything was done, it was just in time for Lucy to hear her father’s deafening shout:
“I-In a minute, Father!” Lucy panicked before Dario’s booming voice – something that she could never get used to, even after fourteen years of being raised by him. The poor girl had already run out of breath when she was in that suffocating kitchen, but she still had to run as fast as her legs could take her, since she knew her father would not tolerate even a second of tardiness.
When she appeared before Dario’s hulking figure, Lucy was on her knees desperately gasping for air.
“H…Here you go… Father,” the girl struggled to make a cohesive sentence.
Dario, however, didn’t show so much as a lick of sympathy. Faster than the eye could see, the seasoned hunter delivered a full-powered slap towards his daughter, along with another shout like crackling thunder:
“I… I’m sorry…” Lucy stumbled, but her feet still stood, even if on one side of her face was a reddened mark in the shape of a hand.
However, she did not get to stand for long, as Dario had already landed another slap on the other side of her face as soon as he got a peek in the basket.
“I told you! Medium-rare! Does this look medium-rare to you?”
“Don’t talk back to me!”
This time, it wasn’t a slap, but a full-blown kick straight at Lucy’s stomach, knocking her back to the kitchen door which she came out of. The kick was strong enough to knock an adult unconscious, but Lucy was all too used to this kind of treatment. Wiping the bit of saliva dripping from the corner of her mouth, she took a deep breath and stepped forward again, with her head down low as a token of apology.
Before she could say anything, however, Dario had already given her another earful:
“Don’t you dare look down! Now where’s the wine?!”
“I… I already put it in…”
“Not for me, bitch! For the hag!” Dario’s eyes flared with blood as he grabbed Lucy by the hair and slammed her head down to the floor.
As the familiar taste of metal and dirt invaded her mouth, and the crimson tears started to flow out of her eyes, Lucy could only answer in a sobbing voice:
“I… I packed it… already…”
Finally, a satisfied look appeared on Dario’s face as he lifted Lucy’s head so her eyes meet his. “Don’t you ever forget it.”
The hunter then dropped the girl to the ground and left the premise, leaving his daughter behind like she was another person’s business.
With her father out of the house, Lucy finally had time to pick herself up again. A seething anger boiled in her as she wiped off the tears and blood on her face, but unfortunately for her, there was nothing that she could do to let it all out. In the end, Lucy just gritted her teeth and continued her daily routine.
Finally, after all the time she spent cooking, Lucy could return and actually fix herself up. Bandages to cover her injuries, a frayed-out green dress to replace her sleeping garb, and an equally old red hood to cover up her face and hide the messy hair she had. The whole process took hours to get done thanks to the injuries, and so Lucy only managed to leave the house when the sun was near its peak. Unfortunately for her, it was also the moment when the village was the most crowded.
“Look, it’s that girl again…” a murmur from the crowd as soon as Lucy showed herself in the square.
“I bet she was beaten again… She is living with that monster after all…”
“I wonder who’s the real monster here? After all, there has to be some reason for Dario to be doing that every day…”
Words like these could be heard every time Lucy encountered someone. While none of the villagers were bold enough to make the rumors be heard directly, Lucy had always had a keener sense of hearing than most, so even whispers in the wind were as loud as regular day-to-day talk for her. And whenever it happened, her head lowered and her steps were faster, as the poor girl tried her best to outrun the dreaded words aimed at her.
However, the faster she tried to run, the more the rumors spread. And Lucy would soon be drowned in those words, unable to advance, yet unable to back away.
They don’t know anything. None of them do, she tightened her grip on the basket and bit her lower lip. But the words didn’t stop.
Why can’t everyone just shut up for once? Her mouth began to bleed once more, and the sight of red dripping was enough to stop the villagers from saying anything further. With a fearful look, they retreated back to their shops and quarters, leaving the young girl alone once more. Finally, with all obstacles behind her, Lucy could continue on her task.
Delivering food to her senile grandmother deep within the forest, that was what Lucy had to do every day. From the start, it was already a suspicious task, but she dared not to ask her father ever again after the latter gave her a beating the first time she attempted to. The villagers weren’t any better, as they all avoided her when she actively went to them. And so, Lucy had no choice but to continue this job, even if she hadn’t a clue why her grandmother was senile, and why would a person like that live completely separated from the others.
With the thick leaves blocking out most of the summer sun, Lucy could finally remove her hood and enjoyed the rare breath of fresh air she could receive – one of the few reasons why she even continued this ridiculous task in the first place. And now, having this wide, quiet space to herself, Lucy could, at last, do what she had wanted to do ever since she woke up.
“I! Have! Had it!” The young girl delivered a punch with all her might towards a nearby tree. “Day after day! Always being beaten! Always being talked about behind my back! All of them can go to hell already! The village, the stupid old man! Just die, all of you!”
It was a fine way to relieve her anger, but Lucy’s hands were still that of a maiden, and when faced with the rough exterior of tree bark, they would inevitably bleed just as much as when Dario hit her. Only that this time, the wounds were inflicted by herself, and when Lucy was high on adrenaline, she did not feel any pain even if the skin on her knuckles had practically been scraped off.
However, there was one thing that Lucy didn’t respect. The ruckus she had caused was the perfect way to gather attention, and while no humans were near her enough to notice, the forest’s beasts were another story. Hidden deep within the brushes was a lean wolf attracted by the noise, and before it lay the perfect meal. One jump, and its hunger would be satisfied.
Unbeknownst to its prey, the animal closed in, readying itself for a pounce of a lifetime. And by the time Lucy had noticed a difference in the air, it was already too late. The beast leapt out of its hiding spot, pinning down the girl with its paws while letting out a menacing growl.
As for Lucy, she never knew what hit her. All of a sudden, she was being pushed down, and no matter how much she struggled, she couldn’t find a way to break free. Only as the wolf’s growl caught her ear and its drooling saliva dripped on her neck did Lucy realize the perpetrator. All of the anger and frustration in her disappeared without a trace, leaving room for only fear and panic.
“P-Please, spare me…” Lucy pleaded in hopelessness. But to her surprise, the beast seemed to understand her. A glimpse of its dark green fur caught her eyes as Lucy saw the beast slowly leaving her back and stepping forward, digging its mouth inside her basket to search for food.
In the end, the apple pie was completely eaten clean, but Lucy could breathe a sigh of relief when she knew that her life was safe. No worries, Father would never track Nana to know, she thought. There were similar instances when she nibbled some of the food before getting to her grandmother’s place, even times when she just finished the food entirely, and Dario was none the wiser.
Lucy’s relief, however, soon turned into absolute surprise as the wolf turned to her and spoke:
“Thank you, kind girl.”
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