Wednesday, 14 July 2010

All the Better to Cheat You With

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Another twist on a traditional fairy story. This time transferring the role of villain... (wolves always get such a bad press!)
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(Twisted Fairytales II)

All the Better to Cheat You With


Althea examined her patient. She pressed lightly on his stomach and he whimpered; a little firmer pressing and his whimper changed almost to a howl. As she had suspected, he was suffering from severe stomach cramps: nothing serious or life threatening, but painful and unpleasant none the less.

In less informed, more superstitious times, people would have called Althea a witch. It wasn’t that she practised the occult in any form of course, but more because of who she was and where she lived.

She’d been brought up in this very cottage, deep in the woods. Althea’s mother had taught her all about the wild flowers and forest herbs and what they could do. Ever since being a child she’d managed to keep herself healthy by relying on what she knew; it was very rare that she had to visit a proper doctor even now, in her seventies.

Her life had been very different for a time. She’d moved to town and joined the ‘real’ world when she’d reached her teenage years, and eventually she’d settled in town and raised a family there.

Once her family had grown up she’d longed for a life like the one she’d experienced in her childhood. She’d had two children of her own. Her daughter had emigrated, so when she’d retired, she’d signed over the family home in town to her son and his wife, and had decided to move back into her mother’s old cottage, here deep in the woods.

Of course her son and daughter-in-law had objected to that. They wanted her to live with them, they said; but she knew that probably wasn’t true, and even if it was, she knew them both well enough to be sure that their opinion would change in time. Anyway, she didn’t feel old, she wasn’t an invalid, and she wanted her independence.

Everyone had said that it wasn’t safe for an old lady to live in the forest, so far away from the rest of civilization, but she knew her way around the woods, and knew that she was in no danger. They’d warned her about wolves, and she’d laughed and told them that there were no wolves in the forest these days.

She’d lied, but only to stop them worrying. Of course there were wolves in the forest, but they were harmless. The reputation of wolves was much worse than the animals themselves. She liked the wolves; she got on rather well with them. With some more than most, she thought as she looked down at her patient lying on her parlour floor.

She helped the large overweight wolf gently to his feet, and led him into her bedroom. She couldn’t leave him lying on the floor, and she was sure he was too big to feel comfortable lying on any of her furniture other than her bed.

He cautiously jumped onto her bed, and lay stretched out on her mattress. She’d had the foresight to remove the bedding, because she knew that wild wolves were crawling with fleas, but then, when his groans and howls got a little worse, she pulled an old blanket from the chest at the foot of the bed and covered him over with it.

When she’d first moved back here, she’d soon heard the pack amongst the trees. She didn’t seek them out; she just left them to themselves, but they were obviously aware of her presence, and eventually they came closer to the cottage to investigate. She’d leave kitchen scraps out for them. After a month or two, their visits became more frequent, and they began to supplement their diet of woodland mice, rats and rabbits, with whatever she felt she could spare from her larder.

The majority of them were timid and cautious even after months, but a few were a little braver, coming really close to the house. One such wolf was the one that was now lying on her bed. He had been the most forward of them all, actually scraping at her back door, and standing his ground when she opened it to feed him.

After a short while, she noticed that he was seriously putting on weight, and she realised that he was consuming almost all the scraps she put out for the pack. She decided to cut off his supply for a while, but each day he would paw at her kitchen door, or stand on his hind legs with his forepaws on her sill, looking through her window with a pleading expression on his face. How could she resist?

For the past month he’d actually been coming into her cottage on cold nights. She found this unusual, until she realised that the rest of the wolves had probably expelled him from the pack, and he was now relying on her more and more. He was grossly overweight, and couldn’t hunt for himself, which was probably why the pack didn’t want him. She decided to do her best to get him back into shape. It had been a setback when he’d raided her food store this morning and had eaten the entire contents, hence the terrible stomach ache he was experiencing right now. She looked down on the now sleeping wolf on her bed and smiled. You might be big, she thought, but you’re not bad.

She knew what she had to do. She’d make a herbal brew that would put him right. She thought about what she’d need: marjoram she could find just a few paces from her cottage door, and she knew of a nearby woodland meadow where she could find wild yarrow. For the brew to work effectively though, she knew that she also needed calendula, and she would probably have to walk over to the other side of the forest to find that; there were no paths going that way, so the trip would take her at least an hour.

It was Monday: pension day. Today was the one day of the week when she expected a visitor. Usually she’d be undisturbed here, so far off the beaten track; even her son and his wife refused to visit. They felt so strongly about not wanting her to live here, plus there was no way they could get their car close enough to her cottage to park, so they just didn’t visit. She would occasionally visit their home from time to time, when she went into town shopping, but she was happier being left alone most of the time and living here away from town suited her, so even those trips out were rare.

Her granddaughter, Leticia did visit her regularly though, every week. Leticia held her pension book, and would devotedly collect her grandmother’s pension every Monday and then do some shopping for her on her way home from school. Without fail at about five o’ clock she’d turn up carrying a basket of groceries, and also hand over the pension money.

Leticia had no idea about the wolves, and certainly didn’t know that one of them was sharing her grandmother’s house; she’d be here in a couple of hours, so if Althea was to gather her herbs, prepare and administer the medicine, and get the wolf out of the cottage before her granddaughter arrived, she’d have to be quick.

It was a little chilly outside, so Althea grabbed her coat, picked up a bag, and left the house, hurrying as quickly as she could.

~o~O~o~

Leticia looked into the basket: honey, apples, tea, breakfast cereal, a couple of cans of soup and assorted vegetables. That hadn’t cost very much. So once she’d given Gran half her pension money which was all she’d grown to expect, that would leave a nice bit of extra pocket money for herself.

Holding Gran’s pension book had been a brilliant idea. Gran appreciated it, and Mum and Dad were ok with it too. The letters from the pensions department always came to their house, because it was the last address they had for Gran, so Leticia dealt with them. She also dealt with collecting Gran’s pension every week, and unknown to Gran, she also dealt with keeping almost half of it for herself.

To begin with, she had felt a little guilty, but Gran seemed to manage very well on what little money she passed her way, and Leticia really struggled to buy make-up and clothes on the allowance that her parents gave her. The ‘granny money’ as she thought of it, came in really handy.

On Saturday she’d bought herself a new pair of jeans and a really cool hoodie. Together they looked really good. She told Gran that she was planning to buy the hoodie and would wear it today; she hoped her Gran liked it; if she did, it would ease Leticia’s conscience in a way.

She walked along the path through the forest toward Gran’s house. This would have to be a short visit: the nights were beginning to pull in early this time of year, and she didn’t want to be walking back through the trees in the dark.

She approached Gran’s house and called out: “Hello Gran. It’s me, Leticia.”

There was no answer. Gran was probably snoozing in her armchair. Never mind, she never locked her door during the day. Leticia would let herself in.

She let herself through the kitchen door, and walked through to the parlour. No sign of Gran: where could she be? Then she heard a muffled groan coming from the bedroom and realised that Gran was in bed. I hope she’s not ill, she thought, Bloody hell, if she dies, I’ll have to get a part-time job!

Leticia put the basket of groceries down on the kitchen table. She realised that she still had Gran’s pension book in her hand, so she stuffed it hurriedly into the pocket in her hoodie. She walked over to Gran’s bedroom and knocked. “Hello Gran,” she called softly, “Are you ok?”

She slowly opened the door. It was quite dark in the bedroom because the curtains were closed. She could see movement on Gran’s bed, the blanket moving up and down as she breathed heavily in her sleep.

Leticia put her hand on the sleeping form of her grandmother and gently shook her. The blanket slipped a little. She looked down on the grey haired head lying there and thought about how much fuller Gran’s hair looked in the dim light. Then one thing occurred to her: she noticed how for some reason, Gran’s ears seemed to be big, hairy and pointed. She took a step back as the head on the pillow rose slowly.

Leticia noticed a couple of other things apart from the unexpectedly large ears. She didn’t have time to remark about the eyes, considerably larger than she expected, or the enormous teeth that surprised her as the wolf in Grandma’s bed yawned quietly.

Leticia turned and ran from the room. As she ran, her hip caught the armchair in the parlour and she fell, full-length onto the floor. The thought of an enormous wolf behind her was enough to make sure that she regained her footing almost immediately and she ran from the cottage, as quickly as she could and raced through the woods back into town.

~o~O~o~

Althea returned soon after. As soon as she walked in, she noticed the basket of groceries on the table. Leticia must have been.  The bedroom door was wide open and the old lady realised that her granddaughter had probably discovered the wolf. She hurried into her bedroom. The wolf was still sleeping soundly. Althea wondered what would happen now. Leticia would have probably run straight home, thinking that her grandmother had been eaten by a wolf.

It would be best to brew the herbal tea right away and get the wolf up and fit and out of the cottage before the girl’s parents or the police or goodness knows whoever arrived. She turned and walked out of the bedroom and back to the kitchen.

On the way, she noticed something on the floor. She picked it up. It was her pension book. Leticia must have dropped it as she left. She studied it. So THAT’S how much I’m supposed to get is it? She thought to herself. She knew that Leticia had been leaving her short, but didn’t know by how much, and to be honest, she didn’t really mind. She welcomed her granddaughter’s visits; a little embezzlement was a small price to pay. Anyway, she had her other pension: the private pension that went straight into her bank account. The state pension that Leticia collected for her didn’t really make much of a difference.

She thought about what to say when her son arrived. Of course she’d deny any knowledge of a wolf; she’d even tell anyone who asked, that as far as she knew there were no wolves in the area. That should keep them happy.

Of course Leticia wouldn’t ever visit again, partly out of fear, and partly because sooner or later she’d realise that her little scheme had been discovered. That was a shame. She’d been looking forward to seeing her granddaughter this week. She’d promised to wear that new red hooded top she was going to buy at the weekend.

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