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Snow, Blood, Fur

Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014); and debut novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (2017). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List, and her work has been translated into eleven languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at TheodoraGoss.com.

She looks at herself in the full-length mirror of the bridal salon. She resembles a winter landscape, hills and hollows covered with snow, white and sparkling. She is the essence of purity, as though all that has ever blown through her is a chill wind. The veil falls and falls to her feet. She shivers.
"Are you cold, Rosie?" her mother asks.
She shakes her head, but she is cold, or rather she is Cold, a Snow Queen. If she breathed on the mirror, it would frost.
"Well, you look beautiful. Just beautiful. Nana would have been so proud."
When she gets home, she goes up to her bedroom and opens the closet door. In one corner, in a wooden toy box she has kept from her childhood, is the wolf skin. She puts it on, draping it around her shoulders, then steps into the closet, pulls the door closed behind her, and sits down beside a parade of high-heeled shoes.
It is dark, as dark as she imagines it must have been in the belly of the wolf.
Sometimes she still has nightmares.
She is walking through the forest. Pine needles and oak leaves crunch under her boots. Once in a while, blackberry bushes pull at her dress so she has to stop and untangle the canes. She is wearing the red cloak her grandmother knit and felted. In it, she looks like a Swiss girl, demure, flaxen-haired: a Christmas angel. Her grandmother gave it to her for her sixteenth birthday.
Suddenly, on the path ahead of her is the wolf. Dark fur, slavering red mouth. Sharp, pricked ears, yellow eyes as wild as undiscovered countries. Or it is a young man, a hunter by his clothing. He has a tweed cap on his head with a feather in it, and is carrying a rifle. When he sees her, he bows, although she cannot tell if he is serious or mocking.
"Aren't you afraid of the wolf, Mistress Rose? He has been seen in this forest. Perhaps I should escort you, wherever you might be going."
In her basket is a bottle of blackberry cordial, a small cake with currants. She is taking them to her grandmother, who has rheumatism. She has been told to beware wolves... and young men.
She shakes her head, eyes down. Hurriedly, she passes him, but as she is about to reach the bend in the path that will take her out of his sight, she turns back, just once, to look.
The wolf is standing in the middle of the path. Then, he disappears through the trees, off the path, where she is not allowed to go.
When she reaches her grandmother's house--small, tidy, with green shutters, apples ripening on the crooked tree, bees dancing around the skep--she knocks on the door. Hearing no answer, she opens it. There is no one in the parlor. She puts the cordial and cake in the pantry, leaves the basket on the kitchen table.
"Nana!" she calls. Could her grandmother be asleep?
In the bedroom, which smells of lavender, all she sees on the bed is the young man, naked. She has never seen a naked man before. He is beautiful, and grotesque, and frightening.
"Rosie Red, come to bed," he says. "You see, I have gotten here before you."
She takes off the red cloak.
"Rosie!" her mother calls. "The florist is here with the centerpiece. Rosie, where are you?"
She knows what it will look like: lilies and gladiolas, so perfect they seem to be artificial. Scentless.
It is very quiet in the closet. It is very dark. She draws up her knees and puts her arms around them.
When she wakes up, the wolf is lying next to her. Where she lay, the sheets are spotted with blood. He has left his rifle on the chair, beside his discarded clothing.
She rises, still naked. Her father taught her how to use a rifle. One shot, and his body jumps on the bed. He yelps, although she does not know if he has woken up or passed directly from dreams into death. Two shots, and he lies still.
Her fiancee works for an accounting firm.
"Leroy has such a good job," says her mother. "He'll take care of you, Rosie. What more could any woman want?"
When he touches her, she shudders, as though his fingers were made of ice.
The police say she is very brave. Did they not find the remains of her grandmother at the edge of the woods, buried under oak leaves? Mauled--that is the only word. Mauled, gnawed, half-eaten.
They make her sit and drink a glass of blackberry cordial--for the shock, they say.
There is blood on the bed, a great deal of blood. It is the wolf's blood, they say, and she nods.
Later, her mother will bleach the sheets, but whenever she looks at them, she will think there was blood here, and here, and here.
"Rosie, the cake has arrived!" It has tiers and tiers of vanilla sponge iced with fondant, topped with sugar roses.
She imagines the table downstairs, in the dining room. The cake, the flowers, the gifts on display: Limoges dessert plates, engraved demitasse spoons.
Wearing the wolf skin, she does not have to be herself anymore. She does not have to be Rose. She can be something else entirely: pain, longing, anger. She can be silence if she wants to. She can be the word "no."
And what about Leroy? He is no wolf.
But wolves, she has learned, are not the dangerous ones after all.
This is a fairy tale, so all times are the same time: all times are now. She is always walking down the path, letting the white silk slip fall to her feet, pointing the rifle at the sleeping wolf, telling the story--the only story that makes sense--to the policeman. She is always trying on her wedding dress. It is always the season for blackberries and small red apples. She is always sitting in the darkness, warm and safe. She is always running through the forest, under oaks and pines.
All she wants is the wolf's pelt, made into a cloak. Her mother does not think it is suitable, but her father consults the furrier. The red cloak has grown too small for her; she will wear the fur cloak, so much warmer in winter.
She wears it to visit her grandmother's grave, in the parish churchyard. "Nana," she says to the headstone. "Nana, I'm so sorry."
She is fairly certain that if she wears the white dress, the one that makes her look immaculate, the one she may someday be buried in, drops of blood will appear on the bodice. Then streaks will run down the skirt. It will turn as red as a poppy among the wheat, as a flame on a match.
She rises, opens the closet door, and climbs out the window into the branches of the linden tree, then drops down on all fours and lopes, slowly, knowing that no one is watching, toward the forest.
She only stops once, to howl.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 17th, 2017

Author Comments

I've loved fairy tales as long as I can remember. For the last few years, I've taught a class on fairy tales, and the first tale we start with is "Little Red Riding Hood." We read several traditional versions, including the French folktale "Story of Grandmother," Charles Perrault's "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge," and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's "Rotkappchen." As modern readers, we're using to seeing this fairy tale as a parable about obedience--Little Red must stay on the path and ignore the big bad wolf. But the Perrault version is a veiled message to adolescent girls about men who might seduce them off the path of maidenly virtue. I wanted to do something with that message, something that played with fairy tale tropes in the short space of a traditional tale. What does my version mean? I have no idea. Fairy tales may have morals, but they work the way dreams work, speaking to the subconscious. Hopefully, my story has something to say on that level.

- Theodora Goss
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