In this twist on "Little Red Riding Hood," a gifted young woman named "Red" is the protector of a small mountain village. They have grown to depend on her superhuman abilities to answer any threats. In this first scene, a housewife converses with the young shopkeeper in the general store.
Mrs. Garrity clucked her tongue. "Well, young Junior isn't quite sleeping through the night yet, but Henny--bless her soul! She's been a great help to me, tending after Dot and Fred while they're ill, so I can take care of the housework."
Wendy nodded at the peculiar array of fresh stains on the apron. "Doing the week's baking, I see."
Mrs. Garrity blinked absently. The two dark men dipped their dirty fingers in the barrels of sugar, fiddled with a few of the children's toys. They seemed to be waiting for something--Wendy wasn't sure what it could be.
"What? Oh," The goodwife glanced down. "Yes, I'm afraid I've undertaken the bread and cakes for the school social--it's the least I can do for Schoolmaster Theo, what with the time and energy he invests in teaching our young ones! That being said, I've run out of flour. Can I have a pound of it please, and some vanilla if you still have it?"
Retrieving the two ingredients would put her closer to the two men who gave her such unease. Wendy shook her head; if they meant no harm, she had no business assuming they did!
"Of course, Mrs. Garrity. Right away."
Wendy moved toward the flour barrel. She offered the dark men a hopeful smile. One of them nodded blankly, while the other turned his back as soon as he caught her looking at them. Wendy fought to keep her hands steady as she measured out the flour and selected the last small vial of vanilla extract.
"You're in luck, Mrs. Garrity!" Her voice came a bit louder than she intended. "We happen to have one more bottle of--"
One of the men moved a hand to his side, causing Wendy to flinch. The little bottle fairly jumped out of her hand and shattered on the floor. Wendy stared numbly at the small brown pool as the smell of it permeated the shop.
Mrs. Garrity clucked her tongue. "Oh, Wendy, I'm so sorry; I'll just take the flour, that's all right." She dug the coins out of a small pouch and paid for the pound of flour. For good measure, Wendy tucked in a small sweet as well. "For Henny," she said, earning a smile from the overworked woman.
The two men hadn't moved from the corner of the store. Wendy tended to a few more customers, keeping a wary eye in case the men tried something, but it came time that the last customer left and no new customers had come in--and still the men waited.
Wendy finally found the sticking point for her courage. She came around the corner and marched up to the man who had turned his back.
"Can I help you, gentlemen?" she asked.
At last, the two men grinned at her, but there was no mirth in their smiles. A series of clicks, and Wendy saw the barrels of two guns aimed at her.
"We'll be needing a few things, yeah," grunted the first man. "Let's start with the money in the cashbox behind the counter."
Wendy opened her mouth, but the other man raised his gun. "Not a sound, lass; it's not worth the trouble, trust us."
The young woman clapped her mouth shut and yielded the cash box. One man kept his gun aimed at her while the other actually walked around to the back of the counter, grabbed a two-yard swath of cloth, and piled things into it: tools, bullets, bottles of liquor, kerosene, and some rope. Once they had what they wanted, as a last deed, both men selected a handful of candies and backed out of the store.
"Pleasure doing business with ya!" hollered the second man as he left.
The minute they were gone, Wendy dashed for the back door of the shop. She picked up the red flag stored just by the door, and slid the pole into a bracket over the stoop. The townspeople wouldn't blink twice at a couple of rag-tag men coming out of the store with all that merchandise--sure, it was more than anyone in Queston could afford in one transaction, but signing bills of credit promising to pay Wendy back later was fairly common practice. Only one person could apprehend the thieves before they got too far. All she could do now was wait.
The sun set, and at last Wendy could close up shop for the night. She shuttered the windows and barred the door. When she reached the back door, she took one look at the figure in the shadows and jumped so bad she nearly dropped the lantern in her hand.
The figure--a female--stepped forward, dropping a cloth-wrapped bundle at her feet.
"Stolen items?" she asked.
Wendy nodded, shining her light over the retrieved goods. Everything was still there, even the cashbox. She tried not to gaze too closely at the dark stains that now adorned the fabric.
"You were right to summon me," the figure declared. "Those men won't be stealing anytime soon."
The young shopkeeper dragged the bundle inside. "Thank you, Red," she said.
"Have a good night," Red replied, and disappeared into the darkness.
Wendy sighed, and began replacing all that had been taken to its proper place.
On the other side of the village, a husband and wife waited under a red flag hanging from the upstairs window behind their house. They trembled as the cold night closed in, but they clutched a small tunic between them, muttering prayers underneath their breath. Sure enough, their shadowy protector came.
"What has happened?"
The man spoke first. "It's our son, Charlie. He asked to play after supper, and he has not returned."
"Please," begged his wife, holding the tunic out to her. "We need the Wolf to find him."
Red took the tunic from the woman's hand. She held it to her face and inhaled deeply.
"I have his scent," she said. "The Wolf will find him."