Thirteen: A Gothic re-Telling of Red Riding Hood

To give you a flavor of my forthcoming YA novel Rosewolf, I have reprinted my short story Thirteen, originally published at Burial Day Books.

Red Riding Hood Leaves the Forest by Laura Anderson

*               *              *


A Gothic Faery Tale inspired by Little Red Riding Hood


Alyne de Winter


Thirteen girls were ready at winter’s end. All in our thirteenth year, we waited to find out which one of us was to be awarded the red cloak. Time stood still while we stood in a ring around the moon dial.  The grandmothers sang and changed our positions at every thirteenth measure until the moon rose and cast the shadow of the dial, like a long, pointing finger, upon the chosen one.

Madame Silvanus had offered our threadbare village a great deal of money for one of us. The chosen girl was to live in splendor at her great mansion in the forest, wear gowns of colored silks and sparkling jewels; attend Madame’s magnificent midnight feasts. Madame did not reveal why she wanted one of us, only that she did not care about our common origins. Rather, she was looking for a girl with mysterious qualities that only the moon would know.

So there we were on that thirteenth day, at the mercy of the moon.

We thirteen watched the lengthening shadow of the moon dial’s pointer with mounting fear, for everyone had heard the wild chants and howlings that blew through the forest in the night, had seen Madame shun the church as if it burned her. Watched her grow old and then, eerily, young again.

Thirteen girls of thirteen years stood in edgy silence around the moon dial, watching the shadows creep closer. Telepathic voices whispered our fears beneath the constant singing of the grandmothers. Shadows rippled through the budding trees, rustled the green shrubberies, padded across the clearings to glance at us, and move on. The moon looked over the wind-swept evergreens at the central stone of the dial, and cast its long bone of darkness.

A long red cloak was draped around my shoulders, the red hood pulled up and over my head.

*            *           *

Madame Silvanus sent payment to the village. It was my role to wear the red cloak and distribute the gifts of  gold, silver, clothing, and sweetmeats to every house. I was to be petted and spoiled until flowers filled the trees. Then I was to walk alone into the forest to the other side of a stream, there to await my patroness. Friends came to warn me with stories of dark huntsmen, virgin sacrifices, and barbaric rituals. Some said Madame’s mansion was guarded by wolves. I shivered in my bed every night after that, dreaming that wolves chased me over the stream, drawn by my smell and the redness of my cloak, fluid as blood spilling among the trees.

The moon beamed down, washing my windows with white brilliance. I heard them in the distance, howling down the night.

*             *            *

When the trees smelled of honey, I was sent alone into the forest. The long train of my cloak swept over last winter’s leaves with a susurrus sound along a thin and winding path trodden centuries ago by hunters. On my arm was a basket, a gift from my mother to Madame of red roses, blood pudding, and blackberry wine.

Soon the trees grew unfriendly. Dark, tapering spires and long, tangled limbs crowded the boundaries of the path. Twilight brought owls and lowering gloom. Gurgling water alerted me to the nearness of the stream before I saw it rippling like a silver ribbon through the screen of trees. On the other side, an opulent carriage, pulled by three white horses, waited. The driver wore a hat that obscured his face. A gust of wind opened the door, and I was suddenly inside, sitting against a blanket of grey-white fur. As we rattled off, darkness fell until all I could see were stars and the glittering night eyes of wolves racing along the ground. The path went steeply up between banks of lupins before we drove into the forecourt of the mansion, a looming turreted darkness against billowing moonlit clouds.

*               *               *

Madame sparkled with jewels in her high-backed chair near the fire. Her dark red hair, held in place with a furred wolf’s claw, was a like flame rising from the smooth, pale, oval of her face. She gazed at me down the length of her nose with narrowed green eyes.  I struggled to still my trembling limbs as I was seated across from her by a maid who was not much older than I, and rather gruff for such a grand household.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Madame. “I am not your enemy, but your benefactress. There are many wonders in store for you. What is your name?”

“Flora, Madame.”

“Flora, for a flower. A charming name. And flowers you shall have.”

Madame rang a little bell and the maid returned.

“Elspeth, bring us some tea and cakes. And the box with the lupins on the lid.”

“Yes, Madame,” said Elspeth. She curtseyed and hurried away.

So softly that I was not sure if I heard them or not, wolves howled. The full moon shone into the tall windows onto Madame’s face and for a brief second, perhaps due to a trick of the light, I thought she was one of them.  I must have looked quite startled because she smiled in such a way that I thought I might have seen true.

“Why do you laugh?” I blurted out.

“Because the moon in her ineffable wisdom has sent me child with rare gifts. Not everyone can see me as I am.”

I was startled again by the arrival of the tea tray. On its golden surface were china cups and saucers, a steaming silver pot, and a box filled with dried blue flowers that Madame sprinkled into our tea. Her fingers entranced me with their rings and long, sharp nails. She pushed the teacup towards me, but I did not drink.

“Who are you, Madame Silvanus?” I asked

“That you will discover soon enough.”

“What of me? What part am I to play?”

“You are my companion, and when I am gone, this house and all its grounds, shall be yours. My house is very old and has, like a small foreign country, many strange traditions that must be maintained. Traditions much misunderstood by the outside world.”

“Why me?”

“The moon chose you out of thirteen. That is good enough for me.”

I swallowed my sense of foreboding, not daring to ask the questions that quivered like a bow-string between us.

*               *              *

Elspeth showed me to a room at the top of the house. There was the bed, the carpets, a dressing table, and windows that opened out onto a wide balcony overlooking a garden. The moon had fallen low among the trees, and out of that mass of shadows stepped a tall, dark man. He raised a winding horn to his lips and blew a somber note. Suddenly a large white wolf sprang out of the shadows below my balcony, and dashed away into the forest.

   *                 *               *

I never saw Madame Silvanus during the day, but was expected to join her in the drawing room at twilight. As all the gowns in my wardrobe were red, it was in a red gown that I sat with her.  She wore a black gown blistering with diamonds and rubies.

We feasted alone every night on such foods as I had never dreamed of eating. So rich and savory, so sweet and fragrant were they, that I had all could do to not over-fill my stomach. I was fascinated watching Madame handle things gracefully with her long fingernails, never trying to conceal the fine white fur on her palms.

One night, before she handed me the wine, she pricked her finger and let fall three drops of blood into my goblet.

“Do not be afraid, Flora. That is one of our old traditions to celebrate the dark moon. Drink up. You will not taste my blood diluted in the wine, but it will form a bond of eternal friendship between us.”

I dutifully drank my wine and felt my stomach grow instantly hot. I fell into a fever that lasted for several days and when I came out of it, I learned that Madame Silvanus had died.

She lay in state on a red cushion  in a casket of glass wearing a pale, jeweled gown.  Lupins were gathered in vases around her. Tall candelabra, numerous and bright, gave the impression of a forest burning. As I marked the serenity and beauty of my late mistress’s face, the dark man stepped out from behind the curtains, pulling them away from the window and letting in the night. He was very handsome in the candlelight, magnetic, mysterious. Yet I drew back, and fled out into the yard. A pack of wolves drove me back inside straight into the arms of the huntsman.

 *                *               *

Rays from the full moon shone across the foot of my bed onto a girdle of soft, scarlet leather stamped with gold. I stood at the mirror and put it on, admiring how well it suited me. I heard the sound of the hunting horn and instantly lost all track of myself. In the morning I woke, exhausted, lying in a field of purple lupins.

It was not long before my true fate was revealed to me. I was sitting in the high-backed chair beside the fire when the huntsman appeared in the room.

“Having fallen into wickedness to acquire her great wealth, Madame Silvanus was fearful for her immortal soul. The only way to save herself was to transfer her obligations to an innocent, and thus freed, leave this world unstained. You were that innocent. You now have the dubious honor of redeeming the sins of a werewolf.”

I drew back, horrified. “She has damned me? But I’ve done nothing wrong.”

He smiled.

“You dined at Madame’s table on human flesh, and drank wine containing Madame’s blood. Of your own free will, you wore the girdle made of Madame’s skin. You, my child, were chosen by the moon to ascend to Madame’s place as Mistress of the Wolves.”

                                                         *              *              *

The moon shines down full and bright. Thirteen blasts of the hunting horn, and thirteen wolves encircle the huntsman. Our paws beat a spiral into the snow. White and shaggy, I am the strongest and most eager. I lead them through the forest, to the lanes of villages unknown to me, and do the biddings of my lover, the huntsman.

By day, human though I appear, and ever so lovely, I will let no one see me. Elspeth must go with baskets of food and coins of pure gold to the village, leaving them under the moon dial as a gift from the Lady in the Great House. My people will not starve as they did when Madam Silvanus held sway. I made no devil’s bargain willingly. I repent every day.

I no longer wear the red cloak with the red hood, for it must be saved for another. Every thirteen years I shall seek my replacement. Pray she comes in the first round! For every year that passes unredeemed, my soul shall grow red with my deeds.


The End

THIRTEEN was originally published at Burial Day

Rosewolf, by Aline deWinter

The  following are the first two chapters of my YA novel, Rosewolf,  about a twelve year old girl,  Rose Tamlin, who is gradually transformed into a werewolf.  Her fate is sealed when she voluntarily opens the gate to Winterslewe, a strange mansion in the Forest of Wonders where Grandma invites her  in for tea…


Part One

Nether End, England 1931

The Gift

Rose had not seen herself for the last four years.
The last memory she had of her face was in August on her thirteenth birthday. She traced her loss of reflection to the previous Christmas when she woke very early in the morning to find a large box at the end of her bed tied with a wide silk ribbon. The box looked old and was made of crinkled golden paper. When she undid the ribbon and opened the box, the dark, musty smell of old roses rose up out of it like a messenger.  Underneath the delicate ivory tissue she found a coat of blood red velvet.
She lifted the coat out of its box. It was as fine as silk and very wide and much too long for her. It had a deep, soft hood lined with fur. When she put the coat on, it floated around her, swinging in a wide circle as she spun around, and falling gracefully to her sides when she stopped.
There was something in one of the pockets. Rose felt around and pulled out a heavy parchment letter with a red seal. The seal was stamped the image of a woman in a long cloak. Rose opened it carefully, for it was very old; the writing faded to pale sepia and the parchment had grown soft and crumbly.

My dearest Childe, (the letter began…)
This coat is a gift for the time of your first blood moon. It is your inheritance. As time goes on, you will learn why it has come to you. Wear it on the night  of the full moon. Keep it in a secret place. Away from the others.
I love you, all blessings Childe,

Rose did not understand what was meant by first blood moon, but she did understand that she had to hide the coat. But until when? And from whom? Her parents, she imagined. Rose felt around in the other pocket and her hand fell upon a small book-like object. It was covered in fine black leather crossed with a silver hinge and clasp. Inside were the portraits of two women. The images were very old, for both were wearing gowns with high Elizabethan neck ruffs. Jewels glinted in their elaborate hairstyles.
One of the Ladies had high, pale hair and hard eyes. She was beautiful, but looked very haughty to Rose with her aquiline nose and long neck. In the background was a wall of white roses. The woman was pointing at something with her long, jeweled finger. The forefinger was longer than it should be. Her red lips smiled enigmatically.
The other Lady wore a red bodice with a white, jeweled ruff that framed her rosy face. Her auburn hair was coiled in an intricate style with rubies and pearls woven in. Rose’s impression of this Lady was of fiery brilliance. Golden symbols floated in the air around her. She looked wise and playful holding a branch of red roses against her face. Her hand was long-fingered like the other one’s, the one with the hard eyes.
Rose also found in the same pocket, a large black key.
She lay the key and portraits on her bed with a sigh. Outside, snow was falling, the dawn light making it sparkle like motes of iridescence swirling at the casement windows. Rose looked again at the pictures of the Ladies and shivered. What did they want? Who were they? Daddy must know. He knows about all the ghosts and things.
Rose stood gazing at her reflection in a the tall, gilt framed mirror that filled a niche in the wall above her dressing table. The sun shone in at the window, rays streaming over the horizon and scattering prisms on the walls. The cat came in, curled around her legs, looking at her in the glass. This was her cue to quickly take off the coat, wrap in back into the box, and hide it. She put in the drawer under her bed and covered it with her nightgowns for now.
When she went downstairs, the Christmas tree was gleaming brightly in the half light. Her father was sitting beside the tree, an animated expression on his face. Her mother was in the kitchen making tea. They were excited about her new presents that they still pretended were brought by fairies in the night.
She could tell they had no idea about her other present…

First Moon

The night of the full moon came after a storm. The wind had blown some branches down and piled snow drifts against the outside walls of the garden. Rose looked out on the garden from the window seat in her bedroom at the top of the tower. The white roses she had planted beside the wall refused to fade, rather they bloomed more brightly against the snow, like fairy lights.
Rose rummaged in the drawer under her bed for the box with the coat inside and pulled it out. As the musty aroma struck her face, she flushed with anticipation. She put the coat on and twirled around in front of the mirror, trying the hood that framed her face with brownish fur. She was startled to see herself looking so wild! She thought her eyes looked different somehow, greener, more slanted, brighter than before. She laughed.
Moonlight spilled into over the garden wall and through the window where it reflected in the mirror above Rose’s head. It was time to go! She pulled her boots on and drew the crimson hood over her dark hair, pushing the straggling tendrils inside and fastening the clasp at her throat. She closed her door quietly and tiptoed down the spiral stair to the landing. The house was dark and very quiet. She hoped her parents had gone to bed. The house was so large, they could be anywhere and she must not be seen in Grandma’s coat! There was a line of light beneath their closed bedroom door. She heard them talking. Holding her breath, Rose hurried down the stairs to the bottom floor, into the entryway, and pushed open the door.  A gust of cold air hit her face with the smell of snow. The ground sparkled darkly in the moonlight. Suddenly the cat dashed in, almost knocking into her. It was crying and cold, arching its back when it saw her.
“What’s wrong, Shadow? Be quiet now! Shhhh!” she admonished.
Rose felt annoyed that her mother had not let the cat in earlier. The way it was purring, rubbing her legs, and clinging to her coat, it must have been very upset and cold. She detached the little claws carefully and put the cat in the lounge. Then she let herself out quickly into the night, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Once out in the frosty air, Rose headed for the forest. Flying over the snow, she was amazed at how warm the coat was; she hardly felt the chill. In the distance, the trees stood black and stark, fretting the pale, moon stricken clouds that floated above the horizon. When she arrived at the edge of the trees, a bright path lit up over the snow, leading into the forest where she was forbidden to go.
Rose moved away and went down a known path to the lake. It shone like a milky opal in its ring of bare trees and dark shrubberies. Her sister had been lost in the Forest of Wonders long ago. Remembering that, how could she disobey her worried parents and follow the bright path that she knew Grandma meant for her take into the Forest on this night of the full moon?  She might never return again!
Rose gazed across the lake. It was frozen and riddled with snow drifts and black patches where water ran cold beneath the ice. Mist rose on the other side like veils before the moon. A dog howled far away and sad. Then everything fell silent and as still as the crystalline shimmer of ice among the trees.
Filled with a sense of strange desolation, Rose  decided to go home. The forest loomed, the shadows gathered in the depths of the trees, and the bright path shone like a magic thread. It  pulled on her somehow, seemed to wind her in.
“It can’t hurt to go into the woods. Not just this once,” she reasoned. “Grandma wouldn’t harm me. She gave me this coat, after all.”
Rose still stood very still, glancing around and listening. She heard bells ringing.  She stepped on the path.
She walked for a long time before the woods opened up to a clearing. The path ended abruptly in front of a tall, black, wrought iron gate. Beyond the bars, a large manor house loomed, high and noble looking, with carved window frames, gables and turrets. The windows were dark. The house seemed to be sleeping, dreaming like a living thing. Suddenly, everything was turned about; the house, and the wood were skewed so that Rose looked down on herself from high above, standing small and lost in her red coat the color of blood on the snow.

As she gazed at the house, the front door opened, and a tall woman emerged shrouded in fur. She had a regal bearing. She stood on the walkway for a moment looking back at Rose. Her eyes were large and luminous in her delicate, heart shaped face; her scarlet lips turned up at the corners in a smile that did not reach her eyes.  She wore her pale ivory hair piled high on her head, held in place with an elaborate tarnished comb like a claw. Rose thought she must be very old, but she did not look old. Her hair was glossy, her complexion was brilliant, clear ,and empty of lines. When she spoke her voice was sweet, but hollow, and sent shivers down Rose’s spine.
“At last you arrive at Winterslewe. welcome. I have waited a long time for you to come. Your name is Rose. Am I not mistaken, my little one?”
Rose gripped the bars of the gate. She wanted to run, but the gaze of the mysterious woman held her. Her struggle must been apparent to the Lady who smiled a trifle mockingly. Her teeth were long and yellow.
“Cat got your tongue?”?    “Y-y-yes,” Rose cleared her throat. “Did you give me that letter? And this c-c-coat, Ma’am?”
“Yes, I did. Now you have come, it is up to you whether you let yourself in, Rose. Remember the key? It fits the lock to the gate you grip so tightly. Let yourself in, Rose, for I am not allowed beyond the gate. Use the key and come inside. We shall have tea. I have already prepared it.”
Rose felt around in the coat pocket and took out the key. It was heavy and carved the same as the gate and the tall railings of the fence. The lock was huge and groaned loudly as she turned the key and opened it. The gate suddenly swung wide as if caught by a strong wind. The way forward shone brightly. Rose felt a shock go through her as she got closer to the Lady who smelled like bark and fur as if she were a wild animal from the wood. Once Rose was over the threshold, the gate clanged shut behind her of its own accord…
“Yes, Rose. Now you enter my humble home of Winterslewe. It is named so because here it is always winter. Do you know who I am Rose?” The Lady walked slowly towards the house as she spoke. She seemed to drift above the ground, so smooth was her step.
“No, I don’t. Who are you, Ma’am?” Rose felt her throat tighten as if she was afraid to know the answer.
“I am your grandmother, Lianna, Rose. Have you not heard about me?”
“The Grandma who gave me this coat?”
“Yes, Rose.”
Rose felt her skin prickle as Grandma opened the door and let her inside. She knew she should not go in, but she followed her grandmother in through the dark door anyway. Grandma seemed so kind, smiling at Rose, and bending graciously to help her find her way in the dimness of the long passageway. They passed under an arch and down a hallway that led to a formal drawing room. When Grandma pushed the door open, Rose gasped in astonishment.
The far end of the long room was taken up by an ornately carved fireplace the size of a small room. An inviting, warm fire raged in the grate. The furniture was very old and a bit tatty, the Persian carpets worn, the ceilings were lofty, and the walls! — the walls were buried under trellises of climbing white roses. They grew unchecked, twining around the windows, spreading across the ceiling, weaving round the chandelier, and sprouting shoots over the floor. Rose felt enveloped in a sweet, narcotic scent so heavy that she could hardly breathe. The cloying air, and the twilight blueness, lit only by the fire and a few flaring candles in tall, treelike stands, made her feel weak and light headed so that she longed to sit down.
Grandma motioned to Rose to sit in an wing chair that faced the fire, and she sank into it with the last of her strength. On a delicate round table in front of her, a silver tea service was placed, its shiny surface glinting with firelight.  Steam wafted from the teapot with a vapor as sweet smelling as the white roses. Grandma sat across from her pouring tea into china cups. Rose huddled deep into the chair, and the warmth of the ruby red coat. She felt drowsy, but alert. The room was hazy, seen through the vapor. Grandma looked like an image in a steamy mirror as she hand the teacup and saucer to Rose.
“Now you shall have my special tea and cakes. It is brewed from the very same flowers you see all around you, Rose. I brought them indoors as it so cold outside always. They make a wonderful tea. It is for this that I invited you here, and I want you to come every month on the full moon so we can enjoy tea together. Imagine! I have never met my own grandchild in all these years! How old are you, Rose?”
Grandma handed Rose a small cake in a porcelain plate.
Rose looked at her with wide eyes. “Twelve. Grandma? How come you never came to visit us? I am sure my dad misses you. You are Daddy’s mother aren’t you? He told me you were all witches…”
Grandma shook her head as if get cobwebs out. “Twelve! What and excellent age! An interesting time in a young girl’s life.” Grandma smiled, her eyes bright and piercing. “Wait for the first blood moon. That is the magic time. That is what I am preparing you for. Drink up! The tea will help you grow oh, so strong.”

Suddenly a laugh rang out from somewhere in the house.
Grandma rose from her chair and looked over Rose’s chair toward the drawing room door and shouted,”Isabella! Stop it now!”
Whoever it was giggled and came right behind Rose’ s chair. Rose jumped! Little fingers were creeping over the wing of the chair. Rose looked from the fingers to Grandma with alarm!
“What are you worried about Rose? It is only Isabella. Come, Isabella, meet Rose. Rose, this is my other granddaughter, Isabella.”
A little girl stood before Rose, grinning and giggling. She had pale crinkly hair that hung down to her ankles. She wore a small ivory satin gown that made her look like a doll. Rose smiled at the girl who smiled back.  Her teeth were long and sharp looking, like Grandma’s.
“Would you like some tea, Isabella?” Grandma asked pouring her some as she settled into a brocade chair.
Isabella sipped her tea with a stiff smile.
“Why is she here, Lady Lianna?”
“I invited her, Isabella. She is my granddaughter and was born with a caul. That makes her one of us, darling.”
“What?” Rose asked, not sure of what she heard. Isabella was glaring at her.
Unnerved, Rose drank more tea, and munched the very sweet cake. Moonlight streamed in through one of the tall French windows that stood in a row along the eastern wall. Its eerie rays lit up the roses as it touched them so that the walls glowed with myriad orbs of white light. Outside, wolves were howling.
A shadow floated up behind Grandma. Grandma stood up and opened the casement window. The howling sounded much closer then. Rose wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw the wolves come into the room and swarm around her grandmother whose eyes lit up at the sight of them, glinting with cold fire. Rose blinked the vision away. It was only smoke from the hearth, after all, not wolves. Isabella was playing in the smoke. She and Grandma were laughing. Grandma tilted her head back and, when she laughed, and her mouth was wide.
Rose heard a snuffling sound beside her, below the wing of the chair. She squeezed her eyes shut, her heart pounding with fright. A hot breath brushed her face. When she opened her eyes, the face of a wolf was at her shoulder, looking at her intently.
“Ah!” she jumped and then froze.
It was staring at her over the arm of the chair, smiling, snarling, smiling. Rose squeezed her eyes shut again and shivered. A cold nose touching her neck. She screamed, but as in a nightmare, could make no sound. When Rose opened her eyes again, the wolf was slowly vanishing into a swirling mist.
Smiling, Grandma swayed toward Rose holding out a delicate china plate with a cake on it.
“Rose, here, eat this cake. It is time to go now.”
Rose obediently held her mouth open for the cake. As she chewed, the room began to clear and energy returned to her body.  Suddenly, Grandma lifted her out up and escorted her to the door. She opened it, and Isabella pushed her out.
Rose stood shivering on the front step. The sky was gray with pre-dawn light. She wasn’t sure if she was awake or dreaming until she heard a voice behind her calling.
“Rose, when you leave, don’t forget to lock the gate. Thank you for visiting your old Grandma. Come again next month, when the moon is full. It has been a great pleasure to have you. Goodbye for now.”
Rose walked down the walkway, her feet crunching over the snow, and went out of the gate. When she turned to lock it, she saw Grandma and Isabella standing in the doorway, waving at her. It was uncanny how much alike they looked, one smaller than the other, but the same.
“Goodbye,” she said softly, still unsure whether she dreamed or not.
The heavy gate closed with a loud clang, almost catching her fingers so that she snapped awake. And indeed, Winterslewe, Grandma, and Isabella, were still there.

This is a work in progress. let me know what you think and if you want more. I might be able to serialize it, but it is a novel and therefore very long.

Please comment! I love to hear what you think.