Big Bad Wolf
Kate E Lore
To this day, the memory haunts her. When the big bad wolf had flown out of the woods, like the shadow of a specter caught in the light of a passing car. She couldn’t tell what the thing was a first; it had all happened so fast. In the few seconds it took to take, all Rose could discern was a mass of black fur, a dirty mess clumped and matted, here and there, into knots.
The monster had appeared abruptly, an apparition, before her. At the time, she had been sitting outside, on the carved wooden step of her log cabin home. She had been watching what she could of the sunset, from over the treetops, with a warm cup of tea in her hands. But the wolf took no mind of her. It took Rocky instead. Poor, poor Rocky. The cat had been a large brown Maine Coon. He was the kind of massive house cat that could hold his own outdoors. He had once killed a young raccoon, although admittedly he was much younger then. As time wore down on Rocky, it showed in his manners, his vitality, and the color of his coat, which had muted to a duller, faded brown. The older he got, the more time he would spend on Rose’s lap as she sat at the computer, following her from room to room; and less and less time outside where the woods around them was immense and filled with life. To the north was miles of hunting grounds where something was always in season. To the east was a national park. To the west, the vast property of Mr. Hollaid. While south was the property of Rose’s father, which went far enough to kiss the lake, rejoin the park, and which contained both camping grounds and a small pay-to-fish pond from which he made some additional income.
When the wolf took Rocky, Rose had no time to respond. She had opened her mouth in a silent gasp, no air, as the beast grabbed her only friend in its red, mean mouth and disappeared with Rocky screaming, evaporating back into the forest from which he came.
“Well actually, honey, it only haf woof,” Mr. Hollaid said. “It haf a dog, haf a woof. And actually, I reck’n it got mange. It just a stupid mutt with somethin’ wild in it that it can’t quite make sense of. The damn thing had a whole pack of mongrels following it all faithful, but I reck’n he got bored and killed ’em all too.”
Rose had been shaking and she struggled not to cry.
“I hears your dad is goin’ to be bringing you somethin’ special on the next visit.” Mr. Hollaid gave a wink, which made his eye disappear entirely. The whole side of his face looked like a mass of wrinkles—no discernable eyes or mouth to be found.
“I don’t want a new pet!” Rose yelled. “It will only be taken away just like everything else. This world is cruel and unfair and it’s mean and it’s horrible. I want nothing to do with it,” Rose said. Her throat felt tight, clogged, overwhelmed. She took a deep breath and dug her fingernails into her knee caps as though her life depended on clinging to the flesh. As though she might be swept away if she didn’t keep grasp of herself. “You can’t love anything; the world is too mean, it’s hungry for love so it eats your heart until there is nothing left. I’ll never love anything ever again. I’m done.”
“Rose,” Mr. Hollaid’s voice was soft and uncertain. He sounded as if he were speaking into the doorway to see if she was home. “Is this ’bout your motha’?”
She can hear them coming. Their voices stand out, seeming misplaced, amongst the natural rhythm of the forest.
“Rose?!” Mr. Windam calls into the log home. His heavy baritone voice sinks deep into the wood of the surrounding walls.
“I’m in the cat room, Dad.” Rose said. The cat room was originally called the observation room. The rectangular space had been an addition made shortly after Rocky’s death. Three walls of solid thick glass, and a hand-carved, long wooden bench for viewing that is basically a church pew. Mr. Windam had thought Rose might like to take up bird watching. He thought it might help her to ease back into the world, to the outside, if she were in some way surrounded by it in this room. Even back then it was becoming a concern.
The cats came later. Thing one and Thing two had been a birthday gift three years ago. Rose had started calling them both Thing because she was trying very hard to be stubborn and refuse the two sister kittens. She did her best to ignore them, keep her distance, and pretend she never saw them. It lasted for about a week. The moment she accepted them, Mr. Windam realized, was the moment she called to inform him that these two kitties were going to be indoor-only cats. And that they needed their own cat tower in the observation room, to better watch the birds.
Thing one had been the bigger kitten. She was always more fluffy, more chubby. She had a perfect balance of black and white fur, like the balance of yin yang, the nirvana of the cow. Thing two had been a scrawny little kitten, but over the course of a few years, she really took to growing. Thing two became long, sleek, and tall. Thing two is mostly black. She has one strip of white along her spine that blooms at the back of the neck. It almost looks like she had once been a white cat, but some blackness had begun slowly consuming her.
“Well, hey there, Rose. How ya doin’?” Mr. Hollaid said. He has his dentures out again. She can hear it in his voice and she can see it in the way his face squishes up without them, like a hand puppet when you clench your fist.
“Mr. Hollaid was just telling me about this big buck he got the other day,” Rose’s father said.
“It massif, big ol’ boy.” Rose is gazing up at the old man, watching his cloudy blue eyes, and wondering how close the deer had to be in order for him to shoot it.
“And he invited us over for dinner tonight. Venison that’s been in the smoker all day. I could smell it during my ride up here and just about drooled on myself, my mouth was watering so much.” Both the men are laughing as Rose watches them blankly.
“No,” she says.
“No?” Mr. Windam asks. Rose can see that his eyebrows read sad already; they read hesitation.
“No, I will not go. You can bring me some if you want or don’t if you don’t.” The two men exchange a look. Mr. Hollaid begins shuffling awkwardly. He reaches down to pet Thing one, the more affectionate cat. (Thing two will only let Rose touch her.)
“Well, I think that’s a real shame, Rose,” Mr. Windam said to his only child. “I think it would be good for you to get out. Mrs. Hollaid says she misses you, she said she wants to show you her garden.”
“I do not think it would good for me to go out. I think it would be very bad for me to go out.” Anger flickers across Mr. Windam’s face like an uncontrolled tick.
“Well na’, I reckon I oughts to be goin’,” Mr. Hollaid announces as he stands up. “Rose, ya take care now. Mr. Windam—”
“I’ll see you out.” The two men leave the room together. Rose stares out through the clear glass surface before her. All she can see is a wall of trees and thick bush. The push of the wind bobs the leaves up and down, like the flowing surface of the ocean.
“Rose, we need to talk.” Mr. Windam said from the doorway. The young woman turns to face her father. She cringes. There, with the light behind him, all she can see is his silhouette, his shape. His large, fat outline. Mr. Windam had gained all the weight shortly after his wife’s murder. His method of coping had turned out to be food. Rose’s means of coping had been the decision to live alone in the cabin, as far away from city streets as she could possibly go. She was over eighteen by that time already.
Rose had seen him. She’d gone looking for her mother. And she had found her, naked, brutalized, beaten to death, taken from Rose, taken from her husband, taken for her smile, taken for her beauty, taken away from all that; she was taken from her dreams, taken from her future and theirs, taken in every way possible, and that person, he took her.
The man stopped at the end of her scream. He had turned back to look at Rose. All she could see was his shape in the streetlight. A large man, big and bad. His gut was huge; it had looked almost pregnant, like the big bad wolf just after eating Grandma. And then, he was gone. Evaporating back into the city jungle from which he came.
The man is in jail now, but that doesn’t matter. There are thousands more like him, hundreds, maybe even millions. There are too many people who are greedy and mean; there are too many people who hurt others, too many big bad horrible monstrous people.
“I’m going on a trip that’ll have me gone for three months,” Mr. Windam said. Rose bolts upward at a tight, fixed attention. “Mr. Hollaid has offered to bring you groceries and whatever you need. You’ll be able to make a list and you can call him in case of emergencies.”
“What if I order something on the internet and there’s nobody to bring the package to me from the front office?”
“Well, Rose, couldn’t you go get it? It’s really not that far.”
“You know I can’t.”
“I know you can,” Mr. Windam takes a deep breath. “You can, but you won’t. Jesus Christ, it’s been years, years, since you stepped a foot outside this house. It’s not normal. It’s not healthy. This is not what I want for my daughter. You’re going to be turning thirty in a year. You’re supposed to be starting your own family. I know it’s been really hard for you to deal with what happened, but you need to have a life outside of this house and the fucking internet. Your mother would be so sad to see—”
“Don’t you bring her into this!” Rose is standing stiff with her fists clenched. Her nostrils flare, her face is flushed. “She would be sad to see how fat and stupid you’ve become!”
Rose slams the door behind her. She marches to her bedroom and slams that door, too. She locks it and she takes a seat before her computer. It’s a slow connection via cable, but no Wi-Fi or cell phone reception is just part of the deal when escaping humanity.
The IM opens instantly. Cartman69 wants to know what Rose is up to. Snowboarder_Jake still hasn’t responded to the last message she sent him. Cory_Burns1988 tells Rose that he loves her, that he wants to marry her, that they should be together, and that five years of chatting is long enough; they ought to meet. They need to see if this is real or stop wasting each other’s time.
Rose clicks on the image of Cory’s face. He is smiling, looking up. He looks handsome and mischievous, sweet and wild all simultaneously.
Hey, Rose types, Guess what? My dad will be out of town for a while. I’m thinking maybe it’s finally time. I think it’s time you come up for a visit.
Every morning starts the same for Rose Windam. Coffee over Netflix, while her afternoons and evenings consist of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr visits interwoven with various forms of instant messaging and several forums she’s been a part of for years. Occasionally, Rose plays online games for dessert, but mostly it’s more Netflix.
Today is different. Today is going to be special, life changing—Rose just knows it. First, she finds a website that streams sports games. Cory loves football. They would always watch games online together, typing comments between passes, and now they can really watch a game together. Rose feels a tightness in her stomach as she angles the projector behind the couch to face a wall now hidden beneath a white sheet.
Rose finds a tablecloth and sets the table. She cleaned yesterday, so all that needs done today is a little spot sweeping. She brushes the cats. She makes sure every trash can has a fresh, empty trash bag. Every toilet paper roll is full. The napkins are stocked and everything is neatly arranged. Rose has dinner all ready to go in the slow cooker by noon and suddenly she realizes she had prepared too early. Everything is done.
Rose sits down at her computer. All the usual sites say the same things they always say. Nothing new. How suddenly this vast internet that had occupied and consumed her for so many years now turns insufficient. She clicks on the IM dashboard. There is Cory with his playful smile. She clicks on his image, slowly rolling the mouse, dragging the curser across his face as if to reach out and caress the stubble on his cheek. She presses down and his words open up before her. On my way, the last message read. Those three words send her heart racing. He’s going to want to see the woods, and the lake. He’s going to want a tour of the property, to meet the legendary Mr. Hollaid. He’s going to want to go out to crowded football games and sit on the hard metal bleachers, he’s mentioned it before. He wants to show her his home city, their stadium, and some building that’s supposed to be famous. He’s going to find out her limitations. But he is already on his way. It’s too late:
It says I should get there right at 6pm. There being no cell reception out there I won’t be able to warn you if I hit traffic ok.
I’m so excited to finally meet you. To hold you in my arms at long last. For so long now I was starting to wonder if you were real.
I’m excited too!! and a little nervous.
Nervous about what?
I don’t know. What if you get bored? I literally live in the middle of nowhere.
Anywhere you stand is beautiful to me J We’ll take it slow not put too much pressure on ourselves. It’s just a hangout. It’s going to be fine. I do need to pack. See you soon love Xoxo
On my way.
Rose reads over their last conversation again and again. She tries out, each time, a different voice for Cory reading it out loud in her mind, and wonders what he’ll really sound like. She smiles when she realizes that, after today, she will never read his messages the same way again. After today she will hear his real voice.
It’s 3 p.m., how is it only 3 p.m.? Time is passing impossibly slow. Rose is staring at the clock on the wall. The ticking hand appears to be in slow motion. Six o’clock seems like years away.
She walks into the cat room. The windows here have never been so clean, so clear. This glass, thick enough to stop a bullet, now looks as transparent as air. If it weren’t for the wooden framework, this room might look like an odd little porch.
Rose takes a seat at the end of the pew. Before her sunlight bursts through the tree canopy above, creating bursts of light on the ground at battle with the dark clunks of shadow, and it all looks like splattered paint from enough of a distance, except it’s all moving as the wind pushes through. And the wind is aggressive today.
Rose notices, on the tree before her, leaves flipping up with the wind, flashing that lighter shade of green and the connecting under veins. The wind is blowing them in all different directions; left, right, up, and down. Every time the leaves are helpless against the force of it, their pale side flashing again and again. Some leaves are beaten too hard, they slip from the tree and are knocked about by the wind before finding their way to the ground, where a thin layer has already begun collecting.
“When the leaves flip up like that from the wind,” Rose’s mother had said, “That means a storm is coming.”
Somehow time has managed to crawl forward. Six o’clock is here at last. Rose is waiting in the cat room. She is standing on top of the viewing bench, to the far right in order to see the road. Her hands are clenched tightly together as though in a tense, painful prayer.
She sits down at seven. By seven thirty the sun has fully set. Now she looks for headlights, for the bright bursts of light to see her at last. At eight fifteen a loud crack of lightening breaks across the sky. She can hear the thunders boom and the forest before her is temporarily illuminated. From the corner of her eye, she sees him. The big bad wolf watching her with hungry yellow eyes. With tensely held breath, she watches that spot as the darkness returns, which she is locked on target to when the next lightning cracks. The light flares from above like the flash of a camera, but there is no image to capture—the wolf is gone and she is wondering if she had imagined it all along.
At eight twenty it starts raining. It is a steady, thick pour that consumes the world from ten feet back, cutting away from her view, which had been limited to begin with.
At nine o’clock she sees a man in the woods. Rose leaps forward toward the surface of the glass. There is a figure walking through the woods, coming from the direction of Mr. Hollaid’s property. He is walking slowly so her first thought is of Mr. Hollaid himself. The figure stops to stable itself against a tree. There is a sound of explosion from the sky above. The light erupts around her, and she can see him, and she is screaming. The flash of white light reveals the shape of a large man. A big bad large man whom she does not recognize. This person is clutching his side as though injured, and he is looking straight at her with dark mean eyes. He starts to come forward, as the darkness returns; he is moving faster now, more aggressively.
Rose steps back from the window quickly. The walls surrounding her are completely transparent, seemingly not there, except for the small cloud of breath she’d left behind from being so close to the cool surface.
The strange man continues forward and she begins to realize he is yelling something. He stops to steady himself yet again. He seems to be out of breath, but why must be come steal hers, and why today of all days? The one day that happens to stand apart from year after year of the same. Such a brief moment of different; why today, why at all, this small moment as temporary in time as her breath on the glass. He takes a step forward, then falls down. She cannot see him from behind the bushes.
“Help!” She can hear his scream now. “Help!” he screams again. She can see a large hand reach up out of the bushes like a downing man trying to make his location known. Rose takes a shaky inhale of breath. Her whole body feels like it is hovering off the ground. She feels lightheaded and yet everything is racing. A moment passes and the hand dissolves back into the darkness from where it came. Another moment passes and there is no sound. She feels a moment of relief, but then suddenly the hand reappears. It reaches out for a tree, and then another hand, and finally the whole big bad body is pulling itself up against the sturdy trunk.
A loud burst from above illuminates the world once again. Rose can see that this stranger isn’t so old. He is wearing a Cleveland Browns coat and holding his side where something dark has stained him, and it could be blood, but it could be a trick. Bad people often pretend to need help in order to get into the house of a girl alone. But Cory likes the Cleveland Browns, and that guy sort of looks like Cory, in a way, if he’d gained eighty pounds or so.
The stranger is moving forward slowly. Each step appears to be a struggle. Rose watches him, feeling torn about what she should do. The young man is yelling something to her, it could be flat tire, gun shot, no reception, need help, or it could be let me in to use your phone, but really so I can rape and murder you; it could be you’re just my type; it could be I’ll take you. Whatever he had said was swallowed by the howl of the wind. He moves a few steps forward, still yelling but his voice is growing weaker. He takes a wobbly step and then collapses yet again.
Rose races to the front of the house. Her silhouette is caught in the light of the projector as she charges across the living room. She runs as fast as her body is capable. She flings open the front door.
“Cory, is that you?!” Rose screams out the doorway. She leans forward and it is like peeking into another world. The roaring wind smacks her hair across her face and in her eyes; it blinds her. The sound of the air howls deep into her eardrums, seeming to clog them with vibration. She is leaning her whole body forward, arms stretched out behind her, clinging, keeping her grounded to the doorway of the cabin. Her feet are planted against the threshold, against the lift of the wood securing her invisible wall.
Lightning flashes like god taking a picture. Rose can see him lying in the bushes. Almost totally submerged. She can see his arm, that brown sleeve, and a red stained hand stretching out, fingers loosely clinging to a broken bouquet of flowers.
Rose tries to step forward, but the light disappears before she is out the door, and her feet are stuck in that doorway, refusing to move.
“Cory? Is that you?!” She screams into the wind trying to howl the louder. “Are you Cory Burns 1988?!!” Rose looks down at her feet. She lifts a foot and it hovers inches above the ground.
It might not be Cory. It could be someone else. It could be some stranger from the campground. It could be a big bad man wanting to take and consume what little she had.
“Are you Cory Burns 1988?!” She screams into the wind. “I have to know for sure. Just say yes if it is you!”
“If you are somebody else I could call help for you!” Rose subconsciously slips her foot back behind the threshold, back against that small lift of wood as though it were a railing.
“Say something!” She slides down against the door frame watching the shape of an arm that isn’t moving.
“Are you Cory Burns 1988?!!! Cory Burns 1988!! Cory Burns 1988!!!” Still there is no response, and for a moment the wind calms a little; some pause of the storm, maybe the center of it, held its breath overhead.
Thing one runs out the door, slipping past Rose like a gust of wind. She charges straight toward the arm on the ground as if on a rescue mission. Rose can feel Thing two coming up from behind. She closes the door, locking herself inside with that dark second thing.
Rose goes back to the looking glass cat room to wait and see what the stranger will do. She holds Thing two tight in her arms. The man does not move.
Over the course of the month leaves continue to fall, leaving the trees naked and bare. Cory never came, never spoke to her again. But Rose can see the body, when standing on the far corner of the pew. She watches the big brown sports coat slowly deflate like a balloon. She watches it buried in leaves, buried in snow, and finally buried in green.
Where the bouquet had been a small flower now grew. Rose watches this, too. But it is a hot summer and a drought hits quickly, consuming all the green, and the little flower dies long before it had a chance to bloom.
In the summer, the big bad wolf begins to make regular visits. He likes to sit at the edge of the tree line, at the threshold of the forest. He watches Rose looking in the same way she’s always looking out. The world around them is growing dry, and it’s dying thirsty, as the summer sun rains down like fire.
And all the while the wolf sits there day after day, watching her, panting, head bobbing up and down, as though nodding his approval.
Kate E Lore is the pen name of Katherine Isaacs. A recent graduate of The Ohio State University, Kate has been published in Panopoly zine, Orsum, Helenpresents, Weirderary, and soon to include *82 review. Kate has written over 17 articles for Dayton City Paper and Dayton Most Metro. Kate's worked as a copy editor and an occasional contributor to Clarion, the Sinclair College student newspaper. Kate has a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and an associate’s degree in creative writing from Sinclair Community College. Kate has a blog and art portfolio website at: http://kateelore.com