Red Hot Wolfie
What big teeth you have…a fairytale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a little bit of magick, a whole lot of wolf, and a howling good mystery!
I’m the witchy version of the Caped Crusader, and I have the red cloak to prove it.
The garment is magick and comes in handy when anyone is in need of healing. Neither it nor my personal magick, however, can treat the injured wolf I find on my doorstep.
While tending his wounds, I discover he’s the stuff of legends—a shifter who also happens to be the new town veterinarian I’ve been anxious to meet. His past, however, is as clouded as his memory.
As I teach him about his inner wolf, and discover his deepest secrets, our sleepy town is rocked by murder. All evidence points to a forest creature with sharp claws and big teeth…
The full moon is rising, and it looks like it’s up to me to make sure no further harm is done. Can I uncover the culprit behind the killings? Or will I end up a snack for a hungry wolf?
The early morning forest greets me with birdsong. A scattering of maple, birch, and oak leaves cover the trail.
I pull my cloak closer against the chill and swing the basket of homemade candies that I’ve brought for Nonni and Poppi. Their farm is on the other side of these woods and I make a daily run to check on them and collect eggs from their hens.
Lenore, my Raven familiar, chitters and caws as she chases Korbin, my cousin Snow’s omen hunter, through the high limbs of the trees. As I catch sight of Korbin’s blue-black feathers sweeping through the dappled sun, I pray he hasn’t appeared to warn me of brewing trouble. An involuntary shiver skitters down my spine at the thought.
We’ve had enough trouble this year. A peaceful Thanksgiving next week will be welcome.
The two birds enjoy entertaining each other and knock more leaves into my path, making me laugh, as they play tag among the branches. I put all thoughts of omens and trouble aside, and breathe the fresh pine scent deep into my lungs.
Squirrels are at work collecting acorns. Songbirds skedaddle out of Lenore and Korbin’s way.
A small mouse peeks at me from the trunk of a fallen tree several feet off the path. “Hello, my friend,” I call to the tiny creature. The face is familiar, a white patch under an eye. This is one of the mice my sister, Cinder, rescued in the early fall. The litter lost their mother, and we nursed them back to health, then returned them to the forest once they were big enough. “All is well?”
The mouse twitches her whiskers and scurries into the trunk. This late in the fall, many forest creatures are readying themselves for winter. In our area of Georgia, the season is fairly mild, compared to most of the country, but can still pack a punch.
A piece of litter near the trail catches my eye, and I frown. A candy bar wrapper. I pick it up and shove it in a pocket to dispose of later. It saddens me when those who use the woods throw trash in them.
Lenore flies low as she lands on a nearby boulder. Her claws click on the hard rock, her shifting weight and flapping wings attracting my attention. Three short caws signal an alert. I slip from the path, going around several trees to get to her.
The boulder is almost as large as I am. At the base is a track shoe someone left behind.
I wouldn’t want to traipse through here without shoes, but perhaps it fell from a backpack. I bet the person is missing it, nonetheless, but there’s no lost and found for the forest. “Looks like I need to bring a garbage bag and clean up,” I say to Lenore.
The shoe trembles, and I step back, wondering what magick is this? A tiny head with a pointed nose pops out, and I chuckle—another mouse. “I see you found an interesting home. I’ll leave it be, then, but if you’re responsible for this,”—I show him the wrapper—“I should warn you chocolate is bad for you.”
The miniature creature chatters and ducks back inside.
I’m fairly certain it’s a man’s, certainly large enough for more than a single mouse. I notice stains on the fabric on the side, several spots of rusty red.
Lenore flies down and pecks at the boulder. There are more stains there. Smears, really.
“Hello?” I call, hearing my voice echo amongst the evergreens. “Is anyone here? Are you hurt?”
The birdsong dies in response. I note Korbin has disappeared. The forest is eerily quiet.
Cautiously, I retrace my steps to the worn path, feeling my magick humming in my veins. As a witch who uses plants, trees, and herbs for many of my potions, recipes, and healing salves, I’ve grown up here; I do not fear these woods.
What I do fear are people.
Lenore skims past, her wings taking her up to the treetops once more. Mottled light hits my face as I step fully onto the trail, avoiding a large pinecone. Birds resume their singing, and I take a deep, reassuring breath.
Scanning the trees, I hesitate another moment, sending magickal feelers into the area. I sense no maleficence.
“Be on your way, Ruby.” A spectral body suddenly appears nearby.
I startle and then squint to see better. “Grandmother?”
“What’s done is done.”
She evaporates into the morning mist.
I’ve only seen the face of my fourth great-grandmother, Eunice, in vintage photos from the eighteen hundreds. She is the founder of The Enchanted Candle and Soap Company that my sisters and I now run. Although this spirit came and went so quickly I could barely get a good look at her, I suspect it was indeed her.
While I don’t interact with the spirits of deceased often, they do occasionally seek me out. I’m reading her journals we recently discovered, and since she’s blood kin, I have an unbreakable bond with her that can foster our link. The old books were hidden in a sealed-off room in the mansion that includes our home as well as our business. My connection with her at this moment is stronger because I’ve been delving into her life.
I long to speak with her, but it doesn’t appear to be possible this morning. With another glance at the shoe and boulder, Lenore and I continue.
The grandfather oaks arching over the end of the path are draped in low hanging Spanish moss. They’re a welcome sight as we emerge from the dense forest.
Korbin rests on a fence post and Lenore settles not far from him. Nonni is coming from the hen house, a basket on her left arm. She’s dressed in fuchsia pink yoga pants, a thick woolen barn coat and red rubber boots the same color as my cloak. She waves. “Morning.”
I greet her, kissing her wrinkled cheek. “A mighty chilly one, but beautiful all the same.”
Poppi jogs down the porch steps, holding a steaming cup of what I assume is his already second dose of coffee. He’s dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, seemingly oblivious to the temperature. “Are there enough for omelets?” he asks her.
Nonni laces her arm through mine. Her white hair is neatly curled, and the blue of her coat matches her snapping, intelligent eyes. “Only if you intend on making them yourself, old man.”
She winks at me as Poppi blusters. I can tell by the way she leans into me that her arthritis is bugging her. “You two arguing?” I tease.
Poppi lends a hand to help her up the steps, taking the basket and eyeing the speckled prizes inside. His hair is the same color as hers. “She was out doing a silly moon ceremony last night and aggravated her hip. I warned her this would happen.”
“Ahh, the full moon in Taurus on Saturday only happens once in a, somewhat, blue moon,” she jokes, patting my arm. “I might not be here for the next. Gotta get in all the dancing and celebrating I can.”
Her mischievous gaze switches to her husband. “Besides, it’s not silly. The moon is incredibly powerful. Seeing her shining down on me in all her beauty makes me want to sing and frolic like I used to. You should try it. Might do you some good, crabbypants.”
Poppi makes a face, then holds the door open for all of us. “I can’t decide if that’s the witch or the gypsy in you.”
She laughs. “Does it matter?”
A lift of her chin in defiance gets her a smile from him. “Not one iota. I love you either way.”
I get her settled at the kitchen table. Poppi goes to work on whipping up omelets, and Nonni sneaks chocolate from the basket. “Everything okay?” she asks. “How are your sisters? Haven’t seen much of any of them since Halloween.”
“Cinder’s busy with the remodel.” I hang my cloak on a peg near the door. “But she’s made huge progress already. She wants to have the fireplace working as soon as possible, and definitely in time for Christmas Eve, and my commercial kitchen is nearly done. If I could keep Zelle from experimenting with the recipes Belle’s been feeding her, I might actually get to use it soon.”
“Zelle’s cooking?” Nonni’s astonishment is amusing. “That’s dangerous.”
“Not food, thank goodness. Her talents definitely don’t lend themselves to cuisine. I love her, but she burns toast, for heaven’s sake. She and Matilda would starve if it wasn’t for me. I can’t imagine either of them actually cooking a meal.” I straighten Nonni’s boots by the door, smiling to myself at my youngest sister’s, as well as my godmother’s, attempts to master the simple art of preparing food. “No, this is something else. With Belle gone so much, she seems a bit…lost.”
The twins are as close as any sisters could be, but Belle is spending a good chunk of time with her boyfriend, Leo, these days. “She’s been working on a secret project,” I continue, “using one of Eunice’s books. More times than not, however, she manages to blow up whatever she’s creating.”
“Just don’t let Matilda help her,” Nonni says dryly, “or they’ll take out the whole building.”
She’s not wrong. Both Zelle and Matilda possess some intense magick. Zelle’s is mostly contained, but my godmother’s is prone to going wonky and creating havoc.
“How did Zelle’s date with that Melton fellow work out?” Poppi queries.
Johnny Melton was at least two guys ago. “It didn’t.”
The eggs pop and sizzle as he adds a sprinkle of herbs. “She’s never going to get over what Sawyer did to her, is she?”
Nonni waves a hand, dismissing the idea my sister is still brokenhearted over her childhood love. “Zelle is strong, like the rest of you,” she says to me. “Give her time. Maybe she’s trying to concoct a potion to heal her heart.”
Could be. For a moment, I watch Lenore and Korbin flirting with each other. Cinder has found true love with Finn Starling; Belle with Leo Kingsley. Zelle found her soulmate at the age of eleven, but he left four years ago, and she’s never been the same.
I wonder if I’ll ever find mine, and the old saying it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all runs through my mind.
Magick could help me find true love, and I’ve come close a couple times to taking that plunge. But it seems like cheating in a way, and I always end up chickening out of using any kind of divination spell to assist me.
Feeling a bit unsettled about the whole thing, I tug the candy wrapper from my pocket, thinking about the culprit who discarded it so haphazardly. “There was a shoe in the woods near the giant boulder just off the path. Seems odd to find one there.”
“Ah.” Poppi motions for me to sit then places plates in front of me and Nonni. The scent of warm buttered biscuits and the herb omelet makes my stomach growl. “People have been traipsing through there constantly after what happened during the book fair. Did you know there are paranormal investigators from TV in town? I heard they’re searching for the creatures who attacked Leo and the others.”
This is news to me. I shove the trash back in my pocket. “That’s not good.”
One of the books my sisters and I discovered in Eunice’s library was a grimoire full of spells to bind wild creatures. An unscrupulous man got hold of the volume, then used them to cause animals to attack folks in town. While he’s now in jail, few know that magick was involved, or that the book came from our great-grandmother’s private collection.
We’d prefer to keep it that way, and these days, we’re careful to store all the editions under lock and key.
“Those poor creatures,” Nonni says. “Imagine having all those people harassing you and messing up your home. They’re irresponsible and thoughtless. Don’t they know the woods are full of wild animals that might harm them?”
The food is delicious and I eat another bite. “What do they hope to discover, Poppi?”
He returns to the stove and plates his own breakfast. “Who knows? Footage for their show, I suppose. They have some kind of web blog and a podcast. I was curious the other day, so I pulled up a few episodes. They wouldn’t know a real paranormal case if it punched them in the nose.”
“You watch videos and listen to podcasts?”
Nonni rolls her eyes, and Poppi refills her cup and his before he sits. “I might be old, but I’m not dead. I’ve got to keep up with what’s going on in the world, don’t I?” He digs into his omelet. “Like Nonni said, those dingbats better be careful, running around out there, though. I heard the wolf pack howling last night. Probably having their own lunar—or looney—ceremony.”
Nonni bristles and points her fork at him, as she starts to retort, but he winks at her and places a hand over hers to lower her weapon. “They keep disturbing the woods and the creatures in it,”—he chews and returns to cutting another piece—“they’ll get themselves into trouble, you can count on it.”
Trouble. My gaze strays to the window, even though I can’t see Korbin or Lenore.
Nonni sighs and deliberately changes the conversation. “Do you have a booth at the last farmer’s market this Saturday?”
“I heard the new veterinarian has a grand opening that day.” She shuffles a newspaper in front of me and points at the photo of a handsome man on the front page. “You should make him a gift basket of your candies. Introduce yourself.”
I’ve been secretly looking forward to having someone new in town who loves animals as much as I do. Story Cove is so small, we don’t get new blood too often. It doesn’t hurt that he’s cute. “That’s a great idea. Very neighborly.”
Poppi and Nonni share a covert smile. “I hear he’s single,” Nonni adds.
I ignore the innuendo behind the statement. “That’s nice.”
Poppi shakes his head. “Good grief, woman. You don’t even know the fellow and you’re playing matchmaker. He’s probably too busy to date, and I’m sure Ruby would appreciate you staying out of her personal business.”
“No one’s too busy for love,” she counters, “and I want to see all our granddaughters happy before I die.”
“While I appreciate your concern and I value your wishes, you’re not leaving us anytime soon,” I insist. “No more talk of dying, okay?”
She pretends to read, ignoring me, as the three of us finish our meal in silence.
“I’ll clean up,” I tell Poppi when we’re done. “I know you have chores.”
“Brodin is stopping over in an hour to help with the fence. A section of the north pasture needs repair.” He pulls on a coat and reaches inside the pockets for his gloves. “He’s a good farmhand. I’m glad Snow hired him. After that, I thought I might mosey over to your place and see if Cinder wants some assistance.”
“She’d love to see you,” I tell him, filling the sink with warm, sudsy water. “I’ll let her know you’re coming.”
After he walks out, I start washing. Nonni retrieves a dishcloth and wipes off the table. “You’re right,” she says. “It’s not my time yet, but I do want to see you girls settled before I go.”
All this talk about death makes my skin crawl. At least Korbin is nowhere in sight. “Don’t worry, Nonni. We have each other, and I know my sisters will always be there for me.”
After we’re done, I accept the rest of the eggs from Nonni and she walks me out. Brodin has arrived and he and Poppi are loading the old pickup with tools and new fencing.
“Morning,” Brodin calls.
“Be careful going home,” Poppi says to me. “Steer clear of those paranormal investigators.”
I tap my cape, feeling the magick flowing through it and into me. Lenore appears, cawing to me from an oak. “I’ll be fine,” I assure him.
The woods are welcoming on my way home. Nothing bothers me, and soon, I’m mentally planning my day. I’m experimenting with a new candle scent I’ve named Autumn Reading Nook that combines the scents of books, a cracking fireplace, and a faint aroma of spiced cider. I also have an order for Finn’s mother to fill.
I’m happy and ready for the day, until I approach the rear entrance to the shop. “Oh no,” I mutter as Lenore circles overhead, her call sharp and brittle.
Lying on the bottom step of our back porch is an unmoving form—long gray and black hair, a protruding snout, and a bushy tail.
The beautiful fur is marred with blood. The chest barely rises and falls with the animal’s breathing, the eyes closed.
A wolf, at least six feet in length, lies unconscious and bleeding at my feet.