The quaint, yellow cottage near the edge of Dire Forest was quiet except for the sound of crows cawing over sunflower seeds scattered across the pebbled grounds. A feral, black cat crouched behind a wheelbarrow, ready to pounce if a crow strayed and forgot where it was.
After pulling out her favorite red cape, Emily gently closed the armoire door, careful not to make a sound. She tiptoed to the bathroom on the balls of her feet like a ballerina on stage. As she stood in front of the mirror, she frowned at the pale creature staring back at her. Emily had always been deathly pale, hence the nickname, ghost, but she tried her best to add some life to her appearance. A dab of rouge on the lips and cheeks and she was good for the day. With a weak smile, she turned and quickly made her way down the stairs.
Just one more step to go.
She reached for the woven basket by the door, then bolted outside, towards the wild forest ahead. I hope I can find that patch of wild strawberries again. Mother will be so pleased and we can enjoy another serving of her delicious tart after supper.
As she trudged through the woods, the sound of twigs snapping and leaves crunching surrounded her. She stopped and listened. Birds chirped above in the canopy of trees but other than that, not a sound.
Shrugging her shoulders, she decided to skip along the dirt path to speed things along. She had to get back to the cottage as soon as possible, before mother returned from work. Her red cape billowed softly behind her as she skipped and seemed to float across the ground like a scarlet sail.
After what seemed like miles, she finally came to a clearing and knew this was the place. Peering to her right, she spotted the small, red patch of berries. There you are. She quickly began picking the strawberries, stuffing some of them into her mouth as the juices ran down her chin. Mmm…you are so delicious but you are making a mess. Off came the red cape as she set it on a nearby boulder.
Emily lost track of time and soon fell asleep. An hour later, when she woke, the basket of berries was gone…and so was her lovely, red cape. Oh no! Mother’s going to kill me. She looked all around her, in every direction, peeked between branches and behind the boulder. Nothing. Whimpering, she set off towards the cottage, her stomach twisting and turning with worry. She’s going to ground me for weeks. Who would have done such a thing?
As she neared the cottage, the wail of sirens became louder and louder. She spotted her mother near a patrolman. She was crying frantically and pleading with one of the officers. “Please! Tell me! Is it my Emily?”
A faint reply echoed from the officer’s lips but Emily heard it. “The body was mangled beyond recognition, we just don’t know.”
She watched her mother crumple like tissue paper.
“Mother? What’s happened here?” she shouted.
“Emily? Oh dear God!” Emily’s mother sprinted to her, swooping her into her arms, squeezing her so tight she could barely breathe.
“Mother, what’s going on?”
“I…it’s all right, baby. You’re here with me now. Everything is going to be okay.”
Emily pulled away from her mother’s grip. “Tell me,” she begged.
Her mother wiped her eyes and slowly exhaled. “Some hunters found a girl’s body in the woods. She was wearing a red cape.”
Before either of them could utter another word, they heard growling from the opposite path that Emily walked. Two officers appeared, holding a naked man in handcuffs. He was covered in something red and it ran down his body in maroon rivulets.
Emily froze. Goosebumps sprouted on her arms.
Suddenly, the stained man shriveled as he pointed at Emily. “That’s her! She’s the monster! Arrest her now before she kills someone else.”
Hours later, as the darkness enveloped the pale, yellow glow of the cottage, Emily’s mother worked on a blueberry tart in the kitchen. Emily stood in front of her armoire and sighed at the row of red capes inside. I really wanted a strawberry tart. She looked out the window and wished for the next full moon.
Soon, she whispered.
Sandy Benitez writes poetry & fiction, sometimes dark, magical, or mysterious. Her fondest memories of childhood are from her years in Germany, playing in the vast woods behind her home which contributed to her lifelong love of fairy tales, magical realism, and the paranormal. Sandy currently resides in Southern California with her husband and two children.