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by Tara Campbell

It was another damn cottage, another damn grandmother, frail and helpless, waiting for a handout sent via grandchild. The wolf knocked, ate the grandmother, choking down her stringy, slightly rank flesh. He left a leg, not wanting to fill his belly up. He wanted the soft, fatty flesh of a child to top it off, that plump taste lingering on his tongue. He looked out the window, saw a flash of red in the forest, licked his lips.

It was another damn wolf, another damn axe, heavy and rusty. Red grabbed the weathered handle and levered it out of the tree stump in front of the cottage. She sucked in a breath and jammed her thumb into her mouth, new splinter stinging. Another wolf pelt, another mess to clean up, another dead grandmother. But this time, at least, something left over to bury.

It was another bungled case, another damn vigilante stealing the show. The knight threw down his sword as Red shuffled out of the cottage, a granny’s withered leg slung over her shoulder, deepening the red of her cloak. The knight’s chin quivered and he dropped to his knees, holding his hands out toward the poor child. She stumbled over to him and slid the weight off her shoulder into his arms.

“Take this over to the Andersens would you?” She patted the leg. “Tell them I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time.”

The knight stared slack-jawed at the puckered limb, then back up at Red.

“I’d do it myself,” she said, “but I’ve got another call. And this time, I can’t be late.”

Red tightened the string of her cloak and ran off into the forest. Another damn cottage, another damn grandmother, and ever since losing both of her own, always another damn thing to prove.

(With thanks to Little Red Riding Hood and Joyce Carol Oates.)

Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a Washington, D.C.-based writer. With a BA in English and an MA in German, she has a demonstrated an aversion to money and power. Tara is an assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse and volunteers with children’s literacy organization 826DC. Prior publication credits include McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Establishment, Barrelhouse, Masters Review, Punchnel’s and Queen Mob’s Teahouse, among others. Her debut novel, TreeVolution, was released in November.