There once was a time when birds talked as well as sang, wells granted wishes, and rainbows spied out pots of elven gold. In that time, magic, both great and small, was commonplace among mortals adept enough to believe, understand and use it.
One such person, a woman named Phaedra, dwelt at the edge of the woods, just past the tilled fields of the village, in a cozy cottage nestled under a grove of ancient trees. The villagers sought Phaedra out for cures, love potions, warding charms and her mastery of “the sight.”
Phaedra’s mother was ailing. Phaedra packed a basket of food and remedies, some magical, some simple herbs. Turning to her child, she said, “Daughter, take this to your grandmother as quick as ever you can.”
Her daughter, Morgan, wise beyond her ten years, snatched her scarlet cloak and hood from the hook. “Yes, mama.” As she turned to go, Phaedra pressed a small whistle into her hand. “In case of trouble, use this,” she commanded. “But remember, your wits are your true magic.” Her daughter nodded. She stepped out onto the stoop, surveyed the woods surrounding the path and set out at a trot. Her mother watched the forest shadows reach after the girl, dark forms that melted back into the woods as the girl hastened past.
Morgan paused for breath where the path forked three ways. As she pondered her choice, a big wolf sauntered up. “Lost, are you?” he asked. Grinning, he padded around the girl in an ever-shrinking circle. Morgan fumbled about in her basket. The wolf stopped directly in front of her, his hungry yellow eyes all a-glow. The girl held up a morsel of meat long enough for the wolf to get a sniff, then tossed it into the air. The wolf leapt up and snap! went his jaws. Morgan pulled another tidbit out of the basket, flinging it even higher. The wolf eagerly devoured this one too. But the clever girl had fed him one of her mother’s poultice ingredients: a bundle of shredded horseradish root!
The bad wolf’s eyes and nose gushed rivers. He howled in pain and dashed away, desperately seeking water. Morgan raced up the middle path. As she scampered, her hood flew back, revealing golden curls that sparkled in the sunlight.
Presently she came across a little house with a thatched roof. The door stood wide open. Morgan slipped inside, quickly bolting the door after her. She whirled around to find… an empty room. No one was home. Three chairs huddled around the fireplace. Three beds stood under the back window. And three bowls of warm porridge rested on the table, issuing steam that shimmered in the air.
As Morgan leaned over to sniff the porridge, the door rattled violently against the bolt. Outside, the wolf snarled, “Little girl, little girl, let me in, let me in!”
Morgan’s sudden fright turned to anger. She marched to the door and firmly said, “No! You are a bad wolf! Not a tooth, not a whisker, not even a hair of yours shall enter this house.”
The wolf gnashed his large teeth in rage. “Little girl,” he growled. “I can blow the leaves off the trees. I can blow the tufts off dandelions from a mile away. I will blow this door down and then gobble you up in three big bites!” He marched ten paces back from the door and began to huff and to puff.
As the wolf raged outside, Morgan put her mother’s whistle to her lips. She waited until a high, keening wind buffeted the door. It shook against its hinges and the bolt quivered sharply in the bolt-hole. Taking a deep breath, Morgan blew gently on the whistle. Out of nowhere, a counter-wind smothered the wolf’s effort. She heard him grunt with surprise. Here’s a surprise, she thought. She tooted on the whistle and a sharp gust knocked the wolf head over heels. He yelped as his head struck a rock.
Twice more the wolf attacked and twice more the girl beat him back. The third time, she spun in a circle, blowing the whistle as hard as she could. A whirlwind descended on the wolf, picking him up and flinging him against a tree.
Morgan opened the door and peered out. The big wolf lay face down, groaning and gasping for breath. “Oh, Mr. Wolf!” she called. “You won’t be dining on me today, but there is some nice porridge here you might enjoy.” She skipped on up the path until she was out of sight. Wanting to see what the wolf did next, she ducked into the forest and crept back to the little house.
Not feeling at all big or bad, the wolf crawled into the cabin. Famished, he gulped down the porridge, licking the bowls clean. Exhausted, with a full stomach, he curled up on the biggest bed and fell fast asleep.
The girl was about to continue on to Grandmother’s house when three enormous shadows loomed across the path. She shrank back and fearfully watched a family of grouchy bears lumber past. Papa Bear grumbled about how hungry he was. Baby Bear couldn’t stop whining. Mama Bear cuffed Baby Bear and gritted her teeth at Papa Bear.
Snarling at each other, the bears shoved through the door. Silence fell as they gazed around their home. Crouched outside the window, Morgan felt their anger spiral up until Mama Bear saw the muddy wolf on her clean bedsheets and shrieked, “You filthy beast!” The hungry bears fell on the wolf and gobbled him up.
Shortly thereafter, Morgan let herself into her grandmother’s house. There, on the loom, was a half-finished love blanket, with the letters M O R already woven in. Grandmother sat up in bed and grinned at her daughter’s daughter.
“Oh Grandmother, what a big smile you have!” said Morgan.
James Dodds has been published in 2100: A Health Odyssey and The Avenue magazine. He bides his time on a quiet plot of land just west of Spokane, Washington. He collects original Oz books and never wavers in his search for the perfect fried chicken recipe.