This story is by Iseult Murphy and won an Honorable Mention in our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Iseult Murphy lives on the east coast of Ireland with three cats, five dogs and a couple of humans. She writes horror, fantasy, and science fiction short stories and novels. Her work has appeared in over a dozen venues, including Alban Lake’s Drabble Harvest. Find out more at iseultmurphy.com.
Granny sat heavy in my stomach. She tasted of garlic and pickles, not unpleasant, but I knew she’d give me indigestion later. I was still hungry, and after the savouriness of Granny, I was looking forward to the sweetness of Red. There’s nothing like finishing off a big meal with a sweet treat.
I was still picking my teeth when I heard her skipping up to the front door, so I had to think of something quick to keep Red in the house long enough to corner her.
I slipped on one of Granny’s bonnets, threw a shawl around my hairy shoulders and jumped into the bed, pulling the blankets over my face so that I was completely covered.
“Come in, my darling granddaughter,” I said, in my best imitation of Granny, which was pretty good.
The door swung open and Red entered, her hood pushed down on her shoulders and her basket of goodies on her arm.
“My, Granny, you must be very ill. You don’t sound like yourself at all,” she said.
I growled, but managed to turn it into a cough before I gave myself away. “Yes, I’m very ill. Close the door and come give your granny a kiss,” I said.
Red set her basket on the table, obediently closed the door and approached the bed. She smelled so good that I couldn’t resist licking my lips.
“My, Granny, what big teeth you have,” she said.
“All the better to eat you with, my dear.”
I mistimed my pounce. She managed to jump away from me, and by the time I’d recovered from colliding with the wall and extricated myself from Granny’s clothes, the little menace had run screaming out of the cabin.
I ran after her, but no sooner had I exited the cabin than the shadow of a tall man fell over me, I felt a sharp pain in my head, and I knew no more.
I woke on the stony riverbank, a small distance from the cabin. I had the mother of all headaches, and there was something very strange going on inside me. At first I thought it was Granny disagreeing with me, but then I realised that the heaviness in my stomach felt, well, heavy, and it rumbled when I moved. Sniffing my abdomen revealed that I’d been opened and stitched back together with strong cord. I bit at the stitches, but no matter how I worried at them, I couldn’t get the knots undone.
I was thirsty, so I went to the river to drink, but my heavy stomach caused me to overbalance and fall into the water. I was quickly caught by the current and swept downstream, fighting to keep my head above the surface. I soon tired, the weight of my belly dragging me down, and was just about to give up, when I got tangled in something hard and sharp, was lifted out of the water and deposited on the riverbank.
I lay flat on my side, panting, relieved that I was still alive. Beside me stood my rescuer, a large moose, glaring at me with an angry expression on his face.
“Thank you for pulling me out of the water,” I said.
The moose snorted. “I should kick the living daylights out of you for trying to kill me like that. Since when do wolves jump out of the water to capture their prey?”
My tongue lolled out of my mouth. “Rest assured, if I’d wanted to kill you, you would be dead.”
“Just like the way you killed that little girl and her granny, I suppose,” the moose said.
“How did you hear about that?”
“The whole forest is buzzing with it. I heard from some sparrows that the woodsman cut the old woman out of your stomach and filled it with rocks.”
That’s why my belly felt so uncomfortable. “Well, I was hungry. What do you expect me to do? I’m a wolf. If humans want to live in the woods, they should have better security. The old woman didn’t even have a lock on her door.”
“Nobody wants to be eaten,” the moose said. “You should think about that the next time you go hunting, if you can go hunting again with all those rocks in your belly.” The thought seemed to amuse him, for he walked off chuckling.
The next few days were the worst of my life. I was uncomfortable, and the forest animals constantly heckled me and called me “rocks in wolf clothing.”
Finally, I’d had enough. I decided to go to the village and get revenge on Red and Granny.
Once I got to the village, it took me no time at all to discover both the sweet and sour scents I was looking for. I followed the smells to a cluster of shacks on the outskirts of the village, near the garbage pile. Red and Granny were haggling with a large black rat over the rental price of his hovel.
“It’s close to all amenities, has scenic views and is in a safe neighbourhood,” the rat said.
I didn’t know what amenities he meant, unless he was talking about the open sewer running past the front door. There were no views, because the hut didn’t have any windows, and the neighbourhood was full of rats. I saw one with a child’s toe in its mouth.
Granny leaned into Red and whispered to her, “I much prefer my cabin in the woods.”
“I know, Granny,” Red said. “But I’d feel happier if you were close by, and this is all you can afford.”
I thought of Granny’s cabin. It was clean, surrounded by a sweet-smelling meadow, and had wonderful views of the forest.
I was struck with a terrible thought, one which was almost as painful as the rocks in my stomach. Was I the reason she was no longer at home in the forest?
I knew what it was like to be unwelcome, and I didn’t want to be responsible for Granny losing her home. I shuffled up to the black rat and growled at him. The two women screamed when they saw me, and even the rat let out a squeak of surprise.
“How dare you charge so much for this stinky hovel,” I said. “Reduce the price immediately, and block up all those holes that let your rat friends come and go as they please, or you’ll have me to deal with.”
To reinforce my threat, I snapped my jaws together loudly, making sure he got a good look at how big my teeth were. My negotiation went no further, however, as the effort was too much for me, and I collapsed.
When I woke, I was lying on a soft bed in front of a fire. My abdomen felt sore, but no longer heavy. I caught the smell of stew and licked my lips. For the first time in days, my stomach grumbled with hunger, not rocks grinding together.
I lifted my head and saw Red and Granny watching me. Granny looked a bit stern, but Red was smiling. She knelt beside me and stroked my head.
“You’re not such a bad wolf after all, are you?” she said.
I moved away from her and hid my head between my paws. “I wanted to eat you, and I ate your grandmother. I’m so sorry for driving her out of her lovely home.”
“I hope you don’t have any more ideas about eating us,” Granny said.
“No!” I said.
“Thank you for helping us get such a good deal from the rat,” Red said. “When you fell on him, with all those stones in your belly, he totally caved on the price. He’s making the adjustments to the house, and Granny can move in tomorrow.”
“It doesn’t seem right that Granny’s afraid to live in her cabin just because of me,” I said. “I promise I won’t eat her again, and if she moves back to the forest, I’ll make sure none of the other animals eat her either.”
I peeked at Granny from under my paw. She wasn’t exactly smiling, but there were fewer lines around her eyes and mouth. She went to the fire and filled a dish with stew from the pot that was bubbling over the flames. It smelled delicious.
“Do you really mean it?” Red said.
“Yes, I promise,” I said.
Granny set the bowl of stew in front of me. She looked me in the eye, and then she nodded.
“Thank you,” she said.
She patted me on the head. I closed my eyes and leaned into her touch. I felt that, as well as the rocks, my guilt had been removed.
“Eat up,” she said, pointing to the bowl of stew.
I started to eat, and was surprised to find it was a vegetable stew. I finished the whole bowl and asked for seconds. It was the best thing I’d ever tasted.