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The Wolf

She would not smile, of course, for an ordinary wolf. But this is a wolf who leans upright against a tree, examining his paws, a wolf who runs a long tongue against his teeth as he glances up at her.
For this wolf, she smiles.
He runs a tongue along his teeth again. "And what brings you here, so deep into the woods?"
The voice is both rougher and more human than she expected. She wonders, for a moment, how he is forming the words, with a mouth that seems all teeth, and no lips, but does not wonder very long. "I must take these cakes and this butter to my grandmother," she explains.
"Alone? In these woods?"
"It is quite, quite urgent," she tells him. "My mother cannot leave the children--" that, at least, was true, with so many of them, and so many of them still so young--"and my grandmother has been ill."
"Can no one else care for her?"
"A woodcutter passes by from time to time, but otherwise, my grandmother lives quite, quite alone," she tells him. She runs her tongue along the edge of her lips. "She'll have left the door unlocked for me, so she doesn't have to get out of her bed. That's hard for her now, you know."
"I suppose that such a lonely woman receives many visitors," the wolf notes.
"Oh, no," she tells him. "Only a woodcutter, passing by from time to time. She's not expecting anyone but me today."
"Indeed." He takes a single step forward.
"Fortunately, it's not too far," she adds. "Just in the next village--well, right before the village, really. The first house after the mill. Though I must confess--I'd like to pick some berries along the way."
"Then I mustn't keep you waiting," the wolf says. He straightens up from the tree. "Perhaps I will see you, later."
"Perhaps," she says, still smiling.
She lingers in the woods, gathering berries--she had not lied about that, either--thinking of her mother, and her mother's warnings about what would happen if she touched a single crumb of the cakes in her basket, and of every trip to her grandmother's house.
By the time she reaches the house, the sun has nearly set. The door is unlocked, as she had described. She pushes it open.
The wolf is waiting for her in the bed.
"My, my grandmother, what big eyes you have," she says, teasingly, coming forward to perch on the side of the bed.
"The better to see you with, my dear," he tells her, placing a soft paw upon her hand.
"My, my grandmother, what big teeth you have," she says.
"The better to taste you with, my dear," he tells her.
She holds the cake out to him.
He shakes his head. "I'm quite satisfied."
She looks around the house. "You were... very clean."
"I do take pride in my work." His long tongue reaches out and touches her hand.
"But I must thank you, somehow."
"You will," he tells her, licking her hand once again, before rising from the bed and padding his way to the door. The door of a small, yet well built, snug home, with cabinets filled with food and a small garden and goats outside, and a small stash of coin somewhere beneath the floorboards. Her home now, or what will be her home, soon enough. She thinks. She hopes. At the very least she will have a chance to find the coins before her mother arrives, and take a few for her own.
A chance.
"But when?" she asks, following him to the door.
"Oh, when I return," he tells her. "Once you have a granddaughter."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 5th, 2019
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