Guilty finishing off a shortbread biscuit, I glanced over my shoulder. The path had already disappeared in a cluster of pine trees and scrub plants, which nicely obscured my grandparents’ cabin. If it wasn’t for the grey smoke trail in the darkening blue sky, you wouldn’t haven know anything was there. I turned back, rubbing the crumbles off my fingers and leaving them for the birds.
Heaving up the big wicker basket on my arm, I let the hood of my red cape fall down and my sun coloured hair loose. My boots slurped along the damp, muddy path with the occasionally twig snapping and stone crunching. Whilst my long red dress and white pinafore glided just above the floor and swirled around me.
Stepping over a twisted tree root, I licked sugar from my lips and wondered if I could get away with eating another one. I stopped and lifted the flap. A most wonderful smell escaped, encircling me before mingling with the forest scents and the breeze. Inside, nestled together was a collection of different foods and my mouth watered at the gingerbread men, carrot cake, chocolates, sugared fruits, forest berry pie and of course the shortbread biscuits.
Biting my lip, I set the basket down and unwrapped the gingerbread men from their wax paper. No one will notice, I thought. Grandma always makes extras and anyway, won’t she be making more for Christmas in a few weeks? Picking up the top gingerbread man, I looked at his neatly iced smiling face and blob chocolate buttons.
‘No one’s going to know,’ I whispered to him and sunk my teeth into the side of his head.
Still warm gingerbread flooded my mouth and I sighed deeply. Chewing caused a soft moan to escape and I fell into wonder over the glorious taste. A soft rustling from the undergrown tickled my ears and turning, I thought it was just a bird or small animal drawn out by the sweet aromas.
Staring, I frowned and looked harder, but couldn’t see anything there. Animals could conceal themselves to near invisible levels. That I knew because I’d been brought up in this forest and had never been afraid. I shrugged and went for another bite as a soft growl came to me. I stopped, teeth and mouth retracted from the gingerbread man pinched in my fingers and I looked probably. My eyes made out a dark shadow, which shouldn’t have been there, crouched inside a bush.
Slowly, I placed the gingerbread back, re-wrapped the wax and closed the basket. Another soft growl admitted and I stood up with the basket. Walking slowly away, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise and I realised that this was the halfway point between my house and my grandparents. The spot was marked by a dead tree trunk that had been carved into an owl by my grandfather in his youth.
I stopped next to this and made the mistake of looking over my shoulder. Standing in the place I’d just left was a large grey wolf. He was sniffing the ground where the basket had been. I gasped loudly and he turned large yellow eyes towards me. A tremble shot through me, but I held my tongue and tried to turn away. I had never seen a wolf so close before and though he was handsome, I feared his power.
‘Where are you going?’ a harsh, rumbling voice called out.
I whipped back around. He looked at me and growled, ‘a talking wolf is the least of your problems.’
‘W-what?’ I stuttered.
He sat down, the tip of his tail twitching and fixed me with a downcast look, ‘I’ll explain later. You must come with me now, forest child. It’s important.’
I had become so mesmerised by his moving mouth and human tongue, that I couldn’t form my own words. I was also torn between trusting him and not. The basket shook in my hands and I placed it down at my feet before I dropped it.
‘What do they call you?’ he asked.
‘Call? Oh! It’s Ruby…erm…Mr Wolf,’ I replied and curtsied.
He bowed his head, then stood up, ‘you must come, Ruby. Follow me,’ he added before he turned around and began padding away.
‘I…don’t…can’t…Wait!’ I shouted and grabbing the basket, went after him.
(To Be Continued.)