The Big Bad

Stewart Dickson
illustration by Hope Hanni Eva

It was dark inside the Wolf. So dark that no matter which way Red turned her head, her eyes met the same unrelenting blackness. It was a kind of dark that Red had never experienced before. A dark that only ever existed in the deepest recesses of the ocean, or the furthest corners of outer space. A crushing absence of light that made everything the same chilling black when she opened her eyes as when she had them closed. Dark and wet. Red tried to extend her hands in front of her, but they only managed a few inches before being met with a slimy wall that surrounded her on all sides; a fleshy sarcophagus that completely cut her off from the outside world. Her fingers traced the ridges of the wall that curved around her. Each was a uniform distance apart from one another – hard and smooth, warm and sticky, gently pulsating with the normal internal movements of the Wolf. Dark, wet and quiet. It was the silence which frightened Red the most. Her own panicked, shallow breaths were the only thing that kept her company as each echoed off Wolf’s pulsating stomach walls. With every breath, she was reminded of just how little space she had to move and how little time she had left before certain death. The Wolf had unhinged his mammoth jaw and swallowed Red whole a few minutes earlier, tearing a chunk out of her right leg in the process. It was only a matter of time before he would start to digest her. Red had to think quickly, or it would be all over. 

 

Full and satisfied with his latest meal, the Wolf licked his bloody chops and looked for a quiet area in the forest to settle down in, where he could finally digest Red in peace. Lying down to rest here would leave him vulnerable to attack, so it was important the Wolf found safety. He removed the round, gold-rimmed spectacles and white satin bonnet which belonged to the young girl’s grandmother, who he had eaten a few days earlier. Her flesh was old, withered, and tough to chew. Though filling, Grandmother was nothing compared to the satisfaction of eating the young girl. The small piece of her leg that got caught in his teeth when swallowing was succulent and delicious. The taste was delicate and sweet, like the cured meats wealthy men would eat off a wooden charcuterie board. Indeed, the flesh of an innocent young girl of bright mind and kind spirit was a rare delicacy to the Wolf. He had survived on the scraps of lost travellers for many years now. He could not believe his luck when he saw her skipping through the forest with a wicker basket full of treats for her ailing grandmother, red cloak trailing behind her.

‘Stupid girl’, he laughed to himself.
‘You are the treat’. 

 

Having been on his hind legs when he swallowed Red, Wolf lowered himself back down onto all fours and put his nose to the damp, earthy forest floor, sniffing out whether anything or anyone had come by these parts recently. He did not notice any of the tell-tale footprints that would have been squelched into the soil from people walking around the forest. He was safe, or so he thought. 

 

Red knew she was running out of time. Her new cramped and dark world was turning sideways as the Wolf lowered himself to the ground and laid himself in the best position to finally digest her. She would have only a couple of hours to get herself out of the Wolf before it was all over. Red had to think fast. Maybe she could force him to vomit her out? Or, perhaps even choke on her if she crushed his windpipe? Even if she managed to get the Wolf to vomit, she couldn’t risk bringing up his stomach acid which would have killed her just as easily. She also couldn’t see her own hand in front of her face, let alone manoeuvre herself to be in a position where she could be lodged in the Wolf’s windpipe to choke him to death. The Wolf swallowed. The walls around Red began to move and she could feel herself being pushed slowly down, down, down. Her death was imminent, and she started to panic, kicking out her legs and pushing her arms out against the ridged walls on all sides. She tried to scream, but the air in her lungs could not force its way out, as if it too was trapped in a similar prison of flesh. This desperate internal struggle woke the Wolf from his sleep with sharp, shooting pains in his chest. His eyes, large as saucers, opened and blinked harshly to reveal yellow eyes that glowed a bright amber in the last light of the setting sun. His eyes were open and highly expressive, almost like that of a human – his greatest asset. Despite his initial discomfort, the Wolf smiled to himself as he realised that this brief pain wouldn’t last, offset by the intense pleasure of devouring the little girl in the red riding hood.

As the night grew darker, the Wolf’s insides became intensely suffocating. Red grabbed at her neck, hoping to relieve the sharp pressure inflicted by the brooch that fastened her cloak. The pointed end of the brooch pricked her neck, which caused Red to wince. That’s when she realised. The grin that spread from one side of her face to the other matched the grin the Wolf had grinned when he first swallowed her whole. Like the fearless heroes who slashed their way through thick jungle in the adventure stories her grandmother had read to her, Red could use the sharp end of the brooch to cut her way to freedom from the Wolf, from the inside out. Taking a second to compose herself, Red unclasped the brooch from her cloak and held it like a sword, the sharp end sticking out from between her fingers. With a short, sharp breath, she thrust her makeshift weapon forward, piercing through thick ridged wall of the Wolf’s intestine and out into the now moonlit forest through his abdomen. The Wolf cried out and howled into the night in unimaginable pain, as he looked down and saw the bloody, glinting end of the brooch sticking out of him. All he could do was look on in horror as blood spurted and streamed out from his abdomen, spattering the trees and forest floor. Red withdrew her sword and repeated her stabbing motion, piercing through the Wolf’s insides once again. She could finally see freedom in front of her as moonlight and cool air began to stream in. The Wolf thrashed and let out blood curdling screams that echoed out through the forest, but that did not stop Red, who was determined to claw her way out of the Wolf and towards safety. Having now made a big enough hole, she poked one hand through and continued stabbing the Wolf’s insides with the other. He was now lying on his back on the padded forest floor, the life slowly draining out of him as Red began to burst through his stomach. First, one arm, then the other, then her head and shoulders as she screamed in bloody triumph. 

 

Removing the Wolf’s large intestine which had coiled itself round her throat, Red put her hands down on the forest floor either side of her and pushed herself up and out of him. A blood-spattered new-born, Red emerged into the night and looked up at the full moon that rested low and bright in the sky above her. She hung her head back and howled loudly into the night.

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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol