by Melissa Ostrom
Should she have ignored him? He smiled. Should she not have smiled back? He asked her where her friends were. Should she have lied? Should she have said somewhere around here, somewhere nearby? Should she not have been alone in the first place? Was a girl allowed to walk in these woods alone? He said he liked her outfit. She said thank you. Should she not have worn this outfit? Not have worn red? When he asked her where she was going, should she have said to visit her boyfriend the cop, her father the pastor, her grandfather the judge? And when she opened the door to the house in the woods, should she have locked it behind her? Should she have realized a lock would make no difference? That safety, happiness, and hope were already gone? Should she have noticed the fruit flies over the bowl of Winesaps, how the flies weren’t burrowing but hovering, disturbed, and traveling fast? And what about her grandmother? When Grandma didn’t answer her hello, should she have left? Should she have grabbed the poker by the hearth, just in case? Should she have cleared her throat and prepared to scream, just in case? Should she have shouted out the window for help, for an eyewitness, for someone to believe her, just in case? Like the hunter she saw in the hunting blind by the stream. Would he hear her? Would he help her? Would he hurt her, too? And what about the stranger? Should she confront him? Fight him? Try to escape him? Would she stand a chance? Would she even see him coming? Would she notice his shadow in the uncertain, soft light that pooled across the floor?
Fairy tales are interesting, not because of their happy endings, but because of their murky middles, those nightmare passages the protagonist travels on the way to romance, riches, and revenge—or, in the case of “Little Red Riding Hood,” simply survival. This flash is one of a handful of “Little Red Riding Hood”-inspired pieces I’ve written.
Melissa Ostrom is the author of The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, 2018), a Junior Library Guild book and an Amelia Bloomer Award selection, and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, 2019). Her short stories have appeared in The Florida Review, Fourteen Hills, Passages North, and Ruminate, among other journals, and been selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019 and The Best Microfiction 2020. She teaches English at Genesee Community College and lives with her husband and children in Holley, New York. Learn more at www.melissaostrom.com or find her on Twitter @melostrom.