Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Scarlett Hood. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
Her flat jet-black boots disturbed the otherwise pristine dirt trail as she, Scarlett, traipsed through the woods. As she did, the gentle spring breeze blew off her red hood which revealed her short raven hair and blithe face. Her right arm was wrapped around the handle of a beige picnic basket.
The radiant sun, along with providing warmth and comfort, sparkled in the white misty haze that had descended upon the scene. A mixture of flora and fauna not typically found in a single woodland or any woodland surrounded her augmenting the magical aura already in the air. Scarlett’s olfactory nerves were treated with a pleasant cacophony of smells. Her nose was attuned to smells, pleasant or not, a skill bestowed at birth and honed with time and practice.
Forest creatures frittered oblivious to her trek. Squirrels and chipmunks chattered while birds sang loudly above. Deer trotted to and fro and only paused to nibble on some tulips before resuming their gallop in the woods.
Along the path, she glimpsed a flower. A lovely violet. She reached down and plucked it from the ground and held it underneath her nose. The young woman closed her eyes and inhaled. It had an exquisite smell.
A loud cracking noise, presumably a branch, turned her head sideways. Something landed with a resounding thud causing a small tremor. A feral rumble was then heard along with the breaking apart of bushes and shrubs. A gigantic entity of some sort now approached with its eyes focused on Scarlett. He followed her every move.
Then suddenly, he moved elsewhere. Trees and other foliage, along with poor unfortunate creatures who happened to be in his path, became victims of his rapid and noisy departure. His erratic movements and activity reminded Scarlett of stories she heard as a child of banshees and ghouls. However, she felt she was above such fairytales. With her head still high, she gave a dismissive shrug in the direction of the forest creatures before continuing her hike through the forest.
As the trail led her deeper into the woods, the bright sunshine gradually gave way to thin rays of light. The open sky was supplanted with long thin branches that weaved together like hands and fingers. Dark clouds rolled in and brought with them cool air. The mystic haze had disappeared.
Scarlett trembled slightly. Her skin-tight leather top and bottom, both dyed black, along with a brown belt, worn underneath her hood only moments before made her sweat. Now, it struggled to provide her warmth against the changing weather. She clutched her hood tightly near the neck with her free hand to combat the sudden chill. Her eyes darted as she continued her travels, as was her habit. Her eyes then happened to land upon another flower, or to be more accurate, a series of flowers, an entire rose bush. Her head jerked with delight.
Scarlett then reached in, carefully, and plucked one from the bush. She took another sniff. With a sigh, she thought to herself, what a pleasant smell. The young woman then carefully placed the flower in her hair just above her ear.
Another series of branch-cracking sounds once again emerged from the forest. This time it was accompanied by a low series of growls.
Scarlett turned her head to the source. He had returned, the ominous shadow, with his everpresent stare. His eyes met with hers for but a moment. She did not notice this but he certainly did. He suddenly slunk away with the same reckless abandon as earlier. Now was not the time to strike. Not until all avenues of escape had been removed, metaphorically or otherwise.
Scarlett, in the meantime, continued to stare even after the figurative specter had vanished. Her mind raced with thoughts of who that was and what were his or her desires. She went through all of her suppositions, some better than others, and eventually thought of a satisfactory answer. Then, the young girl shrugged and proceeded with her walk.
At some point, something caught her eye yet again, this time a rather large club-like branch about half her height and pointed at the end. Scarlett set her basket down momentarily to grab it with her right hand. She then transferred it to her left hand and resumed carrying the basket with her right. The young woman swung her newly acquired item from side to side playfully as she continued on the trail.
Sunlight dwindled even further as she wandered deeper into the heart of the forest. The branches were thicker and more snarled. Finding a path to sneak through proved nigh-impossible for most of the rays of light. Still, enough found their way through to provide a minimal amount of illumination though nothing more. True, Scarlett could still see but just barely. Several times she nearly walked into a tree.
Once more on her journey, a flower caught her eye and compelled her to take a short reprieve. It was a daisy sitting near the edge of the woods on the right-hand side of the trail, wilted and desperately trying to survive, a feat proving to be impossible due to the current nature of the woods. Upon seeing it, she immediately dropped her branch and reached into her basket. Scarlett pulled from it out a canteen which she opened and then all but emptied. Yet, if she intended to water the plant, she did a rather poor job. Almost none of the water found its intended location. The young woman had instead created a muddy pile a few inches in front of the flower.
All of a sudden, what little sounds remained ceased. More branches broke. The looming shadow returned. He hid in the darkness as he peered at the young woman from behind a row of bushes. All he could see was the red hood. The creature was biding his time awaiting the perfect time to strike.
Not that Scarlett seemed to have noticed. Something about the flower appeared to have captured her attention. She had placed her knees in the mud and was leaning forward on her elbows and continued to do so until her head was beside the plant. Minutes passed. Scarlett continued to kneel and almost bow seemingly oblivious to the beast’s presence.
Though he could not quite decipher what she was doing from his perspective, it did not matter to him. What was important was that her attention was diverted elsewhere. This meant she was vulnerable. That is all he wanted or needed to know.
The beast leaped from the bushes and through the woods with his right paw raised high while his left paw aimed. His hand came down with the ferocity of a thousand hammers landing at once. Sickening cracking noises were emitted from the hood with his every strike. The werewolf’s paws moved rapidly in succession making them seem like nothing more than a blur. Each attack was more fierce than the last. His talon-like claws ripped the cloth loudly apart. One of these blows would have been fatal. Several of them would have turned anyone, especially a woman of her diminutive size, into ground beef. Yet, his bloodlust remained unsatiated. There was only one thing that could sate his depraved appetite. More and more he continued the assault. It provided him great pleasure. He howled with satisfaction.
He was so engrossed with his attack that he did not notice it at first. There was something off, something about his latest victim that differed from the rest. The beast was not particularly bright so it took him several dozen strikes and for a few minutes to pass until he finally noticed things were amiss. When he did, his paws abruptly stopped and he tilted his head. After a minute or two of further pondering, the beast finally realized what was wrong.
The satisfying crunch was missing. His strikes did not have the usual satisfying impact when colliding with human flesh. Most noticeably missing were the screams, the begging, the cries of pain, and the screams of anguish. There wasn’t even a whimper. Such absences made his attack less than satisfying.
For a moment, the beast thought that perhaps she was missing but then dismissed it as impossible. After all, there was nowhere could she have gone. She must have died immediately and did not have time to shriek. How very disappointing.
With almost a shrug, the beast then sunk his teeth into the hood. If she did not squeal in agony or terror, the least she could do was provide him an adequate meal. He noticed upon impact that his prey was much smaller than he expected and tasted funny. The cloth had a familiar flavor but the rest of her did not. It was more like mud and bark than any human he had ever ground his teeth into.
He spat the contents onto the ground. Amongst the saliva-ridden items was the red hood which was now mostly ribbons. Next to it was a bifurcated branch whose bottom part was covered by a large helping of mud. Had the beast been more observant, he would have noticed that it was the same branch Scarlett had been playing with earlier. Eventually, it dawned on the creature. He had attacked an empty hood.
The werewolf frantically searched for where she was hidden. He looked into the woods to the right. Nobody was there. His attention turned back to where he had initially been. Then he looked forward in a dumbfounded gaze hoping to see where his quarry had run off.
His thoughts suddenly turned elsewhere.
A sharp pain in the werewolf’s kidneys brought the creature to his knees. He turned his head, though the pain made it difficult, to see the assailant. At the other end of the knife was Scarlett no longer brandishing the red hood.
Blood spurted as the knife was removed. It served as a crimson polish on its silver blade. She then plunged the knife again this time into the creature’s other kidney. The pain caused the werewolf to fall to his knees. After he did, she removed the weapon only to stab him once again just below his neck. Her quick hands then penetrated the beast a multitude of times, most often near the creature’s spine. As a result, his back was sliced open from dozens of deep lacerations, all of which hemorrhaged blood, sometimes quite literally.
During this violent attack, the werewolf desperately attempted to flee. It was too late to survive but perhaps he could escape further pain, or so he believed. Instead, he exposed his front and side. It afforded Scarlett the chance to thrust her knife into the beast’s chest, arms, and legs along with his side.
With his life fading, the creature still managed to make a few anemic attempts to strike while writhing in agony. Each was dodged with ease. There was nothing the beast could do to stop the young woman’s brutal and relentless assault. Those strikes, then, eventually took their toll. Blood poured from the beast like a spigot from his numerous slashes. By the end of the assault, he had barely managed to shift to his side. From there, he stared at the young woman with accusing eyes. He gurgled pathetically as he struggled to breathe.
Feeling pity for her assailant, Scarlett hopped over to him before placing the knife to his throat. He closed his eyes. The beast knew what was happening and was ready for the end. With a quick flick of her wrist, the creature was no more.
Scarlett exhaled a heavy sigh and landed on her posterior with a resonant thud. She gasped desperately to regain her breath. It had been quite the ordeal and she needed to recuperate.
After several minutes, her composure had returned and her breath went back to normal. She then rose and wiped the mud off her focusing especially on the knees and elbows. Afterward, she walked to where she had hidden only moments before in the woods. It was near the muddy pile, where the creature had pounced.
Moments before, when she bent down apparently fascinated with the dying daisy, Scarlett had instead taken action, all of which she hid inside her hood. She had placed the stick between her ankles while bent over and rooted it in the mud. The tip was then placed into a hook in her hood a tailor in a previous town sewed into it. Scarlett made it so that from behind it looked like she was still bent over even as she crawled into the woods to hide from her stalker. When the beast attacked, she was long gone.
Had he looked a bit deeper he would have found her. Her plan relied on the creature’s lack of intelligence and poor perception and eyesight. Despite the high percentage in her favor that it would work, it was still a bit of a gamble on her part as her scheme had deep potential repercussions had she been wrong. There was no need to think about that now, though. Everything worked out well for her in the end.
Scarlett picked up the remnants of her hood and sighed. It was mostly strips of cloth at this point. However, there was still a piece that could be saved. The young woman laughed when she noticed that the hook was still there. She then wrapped what was salvageable around her shoulders making it look as if she was wearing a small cap that barely reached the nape of her neck. Everything else was discarded.
Then she reached into the picnic basket still next to the muddy pile and retrieved from inside it a brown cloth that Scarlett used to clean her silver dagger. Her holster and canteen were also removed from the basket and placed onto her belt. With one swift kick, she then booted the basket into the forest. It was no longer needed. While the plan wasn’t a failure, it wasn’t the success she hoped it would be.
Acting as the ingénue did not produce the expected results. Perhaps it was something that could be used in a desperate situation, but otherwise, it wasn’t a viable strategy to use against her adversaries. Remaining hidden remained the more practical option in such scenarios.
The woods would act as cover for the remainder of her trip. A town was nearby which was fortunate. She needed to resupply and determine whether a tailor was available to stitch together a new hood.
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