Little Red Riding Hood

by N.M. Guerra

 

“Be careful, ma chere,” Jean Labasillier warned his customer and motioned toward the bayou outside his shop with a nod. “The Loup Garou might be out there.” He winked, the corners of his mouth turning up into a teasing grin as he handed the young woman her basket of goods. She chuckled softly and shook her head at the man.
“That old beast would have nothing on Grand-Mère Babet! Just let him try!” Delphine teased back with a smile. “I’ll tell Grand-Mère you say hello,” she added, as she fastened her red velvet cloak around her shoulders and swiftly turned out of the shop.
The air was much cooler now as the late autumn sun began to set on Louisiana, and Delphine hastened her steps down the path through the darkening bayou. It worried her that Grand-Mère Babet insisted on living in the shabby cabin of her childhood, nestled deep in the eerie swamp.
She shivered and pulled her cloak close as she hurried down the path, cool mist from the river swirling around her ankles.
Moments later a rustling in the forest caught her attention, and with a gasp, she whipped her head to the left, eyes wide and darting back and forth over the area the sound came from.
Noting nothing but a few swaying branches, she picked up her pace and carried on, inwardly chastising herself for being so tense. She’d walked this path a thousand times without issue; today would be no different.
Delphine repeated those last two comforting thoughts to herself over and over as she quietly padded through the bayou, until she felt the tiny hairs on the nape of her neck stand at attention.
Next came the goosebumps, quickly washing over her arms like a wave rushing the shore.
Slowing her pace, she took in her surroundings, her breath ragged. Not a single movement could be detected by the naked eye as her gaze swept high and low. With the sun dipping further behind the trees, the pair of glowing red orbs that watched her from the bushes were suddenly visible, and the sight sent a shock through her veins.
Delphine instinctively screamed once, her hand covering her mouth as the sound of her sudden terror pierced the air, and the orbs disappeared. The bushes shook briefly and Delphine stood frozen on the path, only her eyes moving as she traced the sound of a creature rapidly traversing in the direction of Babet’s home. Her memory replayed the legends she’d been told as a child, and there was only one thing she could think of that would possess crimson flame eyes.
“No!” she gasped, and hurtled herself forward, nearly tripping over her own feet as her base instinct willed her body to move. “Grand-Mère!” she called out in a panic as she darted through the bayou. “Grand-Mère! The loup garou!”
A scream in the distance echoed through the bayou and turned her blood to ice. Dropping the basket, she willed her legs to run faster as she called out to Babet again. “Grand-Mère! I’m coming!”
Breathless, she arrived at the near-dilapidated cabin, the front door already flung wide open, a bright full moon rising over the tin roof. The scraping and rustling of an ongoing struggle greeted her as she ran onto the porch. Rushing inside, she gasped, unprepared for the sight that met her. There, in the middle of the single room, stood Babet, her face and chest splattered with red, the knife in her hand dripping blood onto the floor. At her feet lay the hairy half-wolf, a snarl still on its face though the life had been drained from it.
Babet smiled at Delphine as she entered. “There you are, dear!” she cooed sweetly, a wild smile crossing her lips. “I was afraid you’d panic and pass out! But you make your old Grand-Mère proud.”
Placing the knife on the kitchen table and turning to a nearby cabinet, Babet pulled out a small glass bottle and crouched beside the loup garou to collect the blood dribbling from the gaping wound in its chest. “Have to bottle it from the source, you know. It’s no good if I take it from the pool,” she said calmly as she stood, then motioned to the red puddle forming around the monster. “It’s tainted once it hits the floor.”
Simultaneously terrified and confused, Delphine nearly jumped out of her skin as the thud of booted footsteps entered the cabin from behind her, and two strong hands grasped her shoulders. “Well done, ma chere,” said the gravelly voice of Jean Labasillier. “I told Babet we could rely on you.” He gently patted her arms and stepped around her towards Babet, who reached out to Jean to hand him the petite bottle.
“I don’t understand,” Delphine muttered as the two elders continued to speak.
“I figured he’d follow her once he discovered I had placed the curse upon him,” Babet shrugged at Jean. “She’s young and pretty. Tender. I’d want to eat her if I were a loup garou, too.”
“And it’s a full moon tonight. The timing was perfect!” Jean added.
Wiping her hands on a dish towel, obviously pleased with herself, Babet finally turned her attention to her granddaughter.
Incredulous, Delphine gaped at the two of them. “You…you used me? To lure in a loup garou?”
“Of course, ma chere. And it worked beautifully! You should be proud of aiding the coven this way. Now Papa Labasillier can harness the power of the loup garou and we will become the most respected coven this side of the Mason-Dixon!” Clasping her hands excitedly, Babet carried on. “Oh, this is so exciting! Jean! Go on, you must drink the blood while the full moon is still over us.”
Smirking, Jean turned and exited the house, stopping and turning around to face the moon once his feet hit the dirt. He raised the bottle to the moon in a toast and knocked back the contents like a shot. “Ah!” he exclaimed with a chuckle, shaking his head as if he’d just downed tequila instead of werewolf blood. “Should have brought a chaser!”
Laughing, Babet joined him in the moonlight, Delphine following her only as far as the porch, watching them silently, her heart pounding like mad in her chest as she clutched her cloak so tightly her knuckles turned white.
Suddenly Jean’s laughter ceased and he began to cough repeatedly, stumbling, the coughing turning into canid yips, his body convulsing and contorting as the transformation began. His muscles rippled as they doubled, then tripled in size under his shirt, tearing the fabric at the seams. His shrieks of pain seared through the night as a snout grew from where his nose once was, and fangs pierced through his gums. Claws ripped through his fingers as a layer of sleek black fur coated his body. The transformation complete, Papa Labasillier curved his spine backwards and let loose a fearsome howl that silenced the swamp choir of crickets and frogs.
Not a single chirp could be heard, for now all the bayou creatures knew who was their master.