“Could I use your phone to call my parents?” The man glanced up at him, the fire dancing in his eyes.
“I do not have a phone here. I traveled a distance once I had you safe and warmed. We will not be able to do the same in the snow, so you parents will have to be content to know you are safe here with me.”
“Am I safe?” Scott asked the question before he could think about it leaving his lips. He ducked his head, but looked back up when he felt the man stare at him. “Am I safe here with you?”
“I will do nothing to you against your will,” said the man. “Take some comfort in that. Though I dare say there mayhap be a few things I could do you would not object to.”
“And what would those things be?” Scott inquired, staring into his soup bowl.
“Finish your soup, and then you must rest again, no doubt you are already feeling tired.” It was only when the man said it, that Scott realized that he was beginning to nod off over the meal. The man’s fingers came beneath his bowl and lifted it to Scott’s lips, and Scott drank deeply swallowing the broth, and chewing the soft pieces of meat. When he drank down the last bit of broth, he could hardly keep his eyes open, and fell back against the wood floors.
The man’s hands grazed him and undressed him, but this time only until he was down to his pants, lifting him up to tuck him beneath the blankets.
“I’m not tired,” Scott protested, though even to his own ears, his words were garbled and slurred. He had not been before the man had mentioned it and it all seemed so strange. The more he drank of the broth, the more he wanted to sleep.
“Shh, little one, rest now, I shall be right beside you.” To prove his point, the man lay down next to him, and wrapped his arm around Scott, and began singing softly in words Scott could not understand.
It was not an often thing he did, dreaming. His Auntie Chandra once told him, her unmoving, clouded eyes staring holes into him as she spoke, that their family did special things sometimes. They knew how to magic people well, use herbs and oils and belief to cure everything from a cough to a hex. And they knew how to make people sick, how to keep them away, and how to make sure they would never rise up again. But knowing doesn’t mean you should do, Auntie Chandra would say. But there was one thing some of the special family did. Occasionally, some of them could dream. The strong ones could dream while they were awake and the powerful ones could make themselves dream.
Scott dreamed, though he knew not how he did it, and he only ever dreamed while he was asleep.
But in this dream, he saw himself, growing cold and tired, collapsing, and sleeping in the curvy roots of a tree. Clouds covered the moon, and brought thin flakes of snow. His dream self shivered and thrashed, seeing something Scott did not remember knowing. And then he cried, “Help,” softly at first, but growing louder and louder, as his limbs flailed about, bound by the roots of the tree.
And then, something amazing, even for a dream, happened. A wolf, brown in color, completely brown, dark, like Scott had never seen a wolf colored before, raced up to him, but when the wolf stopped at Scott’s feet, he was no longer a wolf, but a man, wearing a long, dark coat. The man brushed his cheek, and held back his arms shushing him and speaking the soft words Scott could not understand. He lifted Scott into his arms, and ran off into the forest, as quickly as his two legs would carry him.
He was fast for a man; he knew the complex paths of the forest, so they soon found themselves at a cabin. The man laid him on a pallet, and stoked a dying fire to a roaring blaze. Then, with gentle fingers, he pried off Scott’s cold clothes. He could feel the sweat on Scott’s skin, clinging to him. So, he laid him beneath the blankets of the pallet while he heated some water, and then washed Scott down from head to toe. He piled blankets onto the top of the pallet and over Scott’s body. Then he stripped off his own clothes and wrapped himself around the dark skinned boy.
Scott woke with a strong breath, still covered by the many blankets of the pallet. But the man did not lie around him like he normally did. Instead, he wore no shirt, sitting in front of the fire. Scott sat up, letting the coverings pool around his waist.
“You drugged me,” Scott accused. The dream had not shown him that, but it seemed infinitely clearer now that he was properly awake.
“You have a gift you know not how to use rattling around in your head,” the man retorted, not looking away from the fire. He did not speak for a time, but played with the fraying ends of his pant leg. “What did you see?” he asked, when the time had finished.
“How you saved me from the cold,” Scott said. “I cried out and you came, and brought me here. But you weren’t you at first. You were a wolf.” The man said nothing for a while, again. “I…I know there are strange things in the world,” Scott began. “Or at least, there are things that happen that men do not understand, that can’t be explained by science or whatever. And I accept that. I always have, I’ve been raised to believe it. I don’t care if you are something I can’t explain right away.”
The man glanced back at him, and Scott froze right where he was. The man pointed to his red hoodie, hanging up next to the dark coat, just to the left of the fire place.
“Who first dressed you in red?” he asked.
“My mother, I guess,” Scott said. “Red was my color when I was little. Blue was my brother’s. It kept our things from getting mixed up.”
“And why do you still wear it?” the man asked.
“Because I like it, I guess,” Scott said. “And I’ve always worn it.”
“And your mother dressed you,” the man concluded. Scott nodded, though the words did not feel like a question. “There is a story of a child, who went out into the woods, dressed in a red hood and cloak.”
“Little Red Riding Hood,” Scott said.
“Yes,” the man replied softly. “Come and sit with me.” Scott crawled from where he sat in the blankets to where the man was before the fire. “Do you know what happens in the story?”
“A little girl gets sent to her grandmother’s house,” Scott replied.
“But how do you know it was a little girl?” asked the man. “It could have been a boy.”
“Well, a boy then. His mother sent him to his grandmother’s house, because the grandmother was sick, and she needed some food to make her well,” Scott said.
“And he wore a red hood with a red cape,” the man said.
“Yes,” Scott replied.
“And do you know why he did that?” the man asked.
“Because it was his special cloak?”
“And why was it special?” Scott shrugged. He had never paid so much attention to the fairytales before to know why a cloak was so important. “It was special, because it helped keep all of the bad things away from him. His mother made him wear it. His father might have said that it was nonsense, but men are the sort who can be easily foolish, even you and I. We charge into things, thinking that they need to be fixed and that we can fix them. But women, they keep their ears to the ground. They don’t think of the ways to fix things, but how to compliment them, and make sure things are happening naturally. The bad things in the woods did not like the color red. But though the boy was covered in red, he still met a bad someone in the woods, didn’t he?”
“Who did he meet?”
“And what did he tell the wolf?”
“He told the wolf that he was going to his grandmother’s.”
“And what did the wolf do?”
“He ran ahead on the path and got to the grandmother’s ahead of the boy. And then he ate the grandmother in one swallow. And then he got into the grandmother’s bed.”
“And then what happened?” The man had leaned back, and some time when they had been talking, Scott had moved so that he straddled the man’s lap, and the man was running his thumbs up and down Scott’s arms, pressing into the veins and muscles there.
“The boy came to the cottage, and the wolf ate him up, after they said things like, ‘My grandmother, what big eyes you have,’ and ‘all the better to see you with my dear.’” The man looked him in the eye, and Scott wanted to squirm and look away, but he did not.
“There is another version of events that happens in the cottage. Would you like to hear it?” Scott did not have a breath in him which could force out the air and sound to say no. “The boy arrives at the grandmother’s cottage, and snow is beginning to fall all around in the wood. And the wolf is there in the grandmother’s bed, but the boy is not fooled for even a single moment. But he knows that he cannot fight the wolf. Maybe, he does not want to. And so the boy asks:
“‘What am I to do?’
“And the wolf replies, ‘Take off your cloak.’ The boy takes off his cloak which protects him from the magic that could hurt him, magic the likes of the wolf was born with, running through his veins. But when he goes to hang it up the wolf tells him, ‘No.’
“So the boy asks, ‘Well, what shall I do with it?’
“And the wolf says, ‘Throw it on the fire, you won’t need it anymore.’ And the boy does it, because he is curious, and he sees the wildness in the wolf’s eyes, and he thinks he wants a taste of the wolf’s lips, and he might like to be eaten up by this creature that excites him. So the boy asks what to do next and the wolf tells him to take of his shirt, and throw it on the fire, because he won’t need it anymore. Slowly, with the boy’s own hands, the wolf strips him, baring his soft, untouched, innocent flesh to the small cottage, only fed by the fire. And the wolf drinks in the appearance of this innocent boy.
“When the boy is naked, the story diverges. Some say he is eaten. Others say he tricks the wolf and runs away. Others still say the wolf takes him to bed, and shows him some of the great mysteries shared to someone still innocent.”
The man looked up at him, cupping his face with one hand, and caressing his bare flesh with the other. “You are innocent,” breathed the man, “you are still untouched by one who could share those great mysteries with you. And I have taken in so much of your innocence, and tried so hard not to get drunk off of it. But your eyes! I felt not compelled until I saw those eyes. Your eyes have such a curiosity in them, a yearning to learn, wanting me to teach you. Do you want me to?”
“Oh yes,” Scott sighed. The man leaned up, pressing them together, as he meshed their lips as one, making Scott wonder what great mystery he would be shown first.