The forest was forbidden, but she was the fairest of them all, and if that had taught her anything at all over the years, it was that nothing stayed forbidden for very long.
Remember what happened to your sister, warned her parents, but frankly her sister had been an idiot, and on the fairest scale, a six at best.
It was unreasonable to say that something is a certain way all of the time. Sometimes the sky is blue, sometimes black, gold or purple. Sometimes her parents were kind, sometimes they were idiots and cruel and stupid and horrid. Therefore, it stood to reason that sometimes the forest was forbidden and sometimes it wasn’t, and all that stood in the way of seeing that was a little imagination.
She woke up and assessed the day. Is the sky blue? Yes. Am I the fairest of them all? Yes. Is the forest forbidden? No, not today. And off she went.
She couldn’t understand why her parents feared the forest. The trees were tall as the sky and decorated all the way up with emerald moss and leaves that were golden brown. The streams were cool and the warmth of the air was gentle on her skin.
As she walked deeper into the forest, she began to hear music. A soft flute melody played between the trees. She couldn’t see exactly where it came from, but plucked an apple from a low-hanging branch and chomped into its skin, before wiping the juice from her lips and skipping off to find it the source of the song.
She climbed banks, crept under stone bridges, pushed her way through waist-high bracken, hoisted up her dress and paddled barefoot across shallow rivers, until she found the clearing.
It was huge and full of every creature imaginable. Foxes and bears with hats and coats, rabbits and woodcutters sharing cigarettes, a house-sized dragon whispering in the ear of an old woman wrapped in rags, fairies dancing a round in the air above them, and, in the middle of them all, a wolf in a tuxedo, playing the flute, bobbing up and down on his furry legs. He looked up and his eyes, small and black, met hers and the music instantly stopped.
Silence. The creatures turned to the wolf in surprise, then followed his line of sight to her. Every mighty beast and man and woman and littlest thing gazed at her.
“A fairest of them all!” howled the wolf. “Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine up!!”
With that, the silence burst and there was a huge flurry of voices, laughter and rushing feet. Animals vaulted over each other, organising themselves into groups and organising those groups into lines. She just stood and watched, a smile on her lips, hearing them shout things like You’re the wrong pig, dammit! and Is the tower clean?! Who cleaned the tower last?
Finally they were all assembled, rows and rows of furry creatures, men and women. The wolf was at the head of the crowd, and stepped forward. He stood before her, then smiled with all twenty of his teeth and bowed with a silken grace. “Welcome, my dear.”
She giggled and returned a small curtsey.
“Who are you?” she said.
“A very good question to begin with,” replied the wolf. “A very bright girl. And fair too. An Of Them All calibre of fairness, don’t you think everyone?”
The hoard of animals muttered in agreement, nodding and smiling.
“And you,” she said, smiling “are a very bright wolf.”
“Oh my dear, what a golden tongue,” said the wolf. “How lucky-”
“Does she like porridge?” called out a voice from the crowd. The wolf turned quick as a flash and threw his flute in the direction of the interruptor. The metal tube caught a bear, adorned in waistcoat and slippers, flush on the nose and he yelped in pain.
“I will not be rushed,” said the wolf, slowly, quietly, gently. “I simply will not be rushed.” He turned back to her. “Forgive me.”
The girl nodded. “I have parents,” she said.
“Then you understand,” said the wolf. “Now, in your own time and in your own way, would you like to meet everybody?”
She nodded and held out her hand. The wolf took it, placed his wet nose against the back of it and, taking her arm in his, led her to the assembled mass.
She spent hours meeting the creatures. She was taken on guided tours of gingerbread houses by an old woman, beaming at her with broken teeth, offering her bits of skirting board and desk corner for later. She shook hands with tiny fairies, five at a time, each of them shaking a finger, leaving specks of gold dust behind that made her fingernails tingle. She was given a bowl of porridge from a bear with a bleeding nose, which was too cold however, so she didn’t spend very long talking to them, to their immense sadness. She spoke with dragons and pigs and dishes and spoons, she spoke with old trees and young trees and wizards and swords trapped in stone. She examined the view from a tower and was told rude jokes by a genie. She held a scarlet cloak in her hands. The material felt sublime.
“This is one of mine,” winked the wolf, who had stayed a few paces behind her at all times. “You wear it to visit your grandmother.”
“My grandmother is dead,” replied the little girl.
“Now now, my dear,” said the wolf, his eyes flashing golden for just a moment. “Let us not be rushed. Let it happen in its own time.”
She was invited to tea by so many creatures, mice and rats and trolls with huge warty backs. She had treats upon treats pressed in her hands, promises of wishes and gold and a family that truly appreciated her.
She saw a wooden wheel, sat varnished and shining in the sun.
“What’s that?” she asked of the wolf.
“A spinning wheel, my dear” he replied. “A prick of the finger, a quick doze, then awoken by a kiss from your true and forever love.”
She liked the sound of that.
“But, alas,” said the wolf, eyes big and mournful. “This tale is already being used.”
He gestured to a stone altar, not ten paces away. On it lay a girl, dead asleep, near lifeless. Her chest barely moved and she lay with a bunch of roses clasped in her pale hands. She was a girl that some might consider beautiful, but to the girl currently looking upon her, frankly, she was a six at best.
“That’s my -”
“Yes, she is indisputably fair, but not a patch on your own good graces.”
“And she gets true love’s first kiss,” she asked, pouting slightly.
“Well, yes,” said the wolf, “but we have many other-”
“No,” spat the girl, a hot tantrum rising in her chest. “No, I don’t want to see anymore.”
The animals were murmuring to each other now, concerned. The wolf tried a quick conciliatory bow.
“Don’t,” she said, hotly, voice rising now. “I’m not your dear.”
“As you wish,” said the wolf, apologetic. “Have you chosen your tale?”
“I don’t want a tale!” she screamed, and the mice began to cry. “You’re all stupid and you have no taste and I don’t want any of you!”
“Well, you are still wearing the cloak” said the wolf, avoiding her gaze in shame. “Perhaps that is the tale you-”
“You’re talking nonsense! I’ve had enough and I’m going home. Do you hear-”
“Walking through the woods on her way home,” the wolf was mumbling to himself now, under the drone of the squealing girl. “Yes yes, wearing the cloak, close enough to one of mine. Decided then.”
The wolf produced a picnic basket and held it out to the girl.
“If you’d like to begin by walking-”
The girl knocked the basket from his furry grip. Cream buns and plastic forks and grapes went everywhere. The creatures gasped and looked away.
“No!” screamed the girl, blood in her cheeks. “It’s over now! I’m done with you!”
Silence in the forest.
“Very well,” said the wolf, slowly, quietly, gently. “We’ll skip to the end. But I do hate to be rushed.”
The little girl fell quiet as the wolf began to growl, grinning wider and wider, revealing all twenty, forty, sixty of his teeth.
Screaming. Chewing. The End.