Editor’s note: This unusual and thought-provoking take on “Little Red Riding Hood” proves that even commonly retold fairy tales can surprise you. It’s by Alethea Kontis, who is both very successful and talented. I’m proud of the level of talent this zine continues to attract, all of these years later. This was originally published in 2011. (KW)
To: Mister Jack Woodcutter
From: Miss Sonya Vasili
Dear Mister Woodcutter,
My grandmother bade me pen this letter. She says that when someone saves your life, especially a legend such as yourself, the least you can do is write them a proper thank you note. We also mention you in our prayers to the gods every night. Sorry if that sounds a little creepy, but if it weren't for you, Baba Vasili and I wouldn't have any more prayers--or any more nights, for that matter.
"Thank You" doesn't seem a big enough phrase to fit all the meaning I need it to, but as I haven't been able to think of another, more appropriate gesture in the last few weeks, Baba Vasili handed me the quill and parchment, and here I am. Please forgive as well my utter lack of eloquence, as this is a tradition to which I am not yet accustomed.
And lest this silly little note (if it even finds you on your Grand Wanderings) finish without saying: THANK YOU. Thank you, Mister Jack Woodcutter, again and again. Thank you for my life.
All the best,
Sonya "Red" Vasili
To: Jack Woodcutter
From: S. Vasili
I hope this letter finds you as successfully as my previous pitiful note, but even if it doesn't, that's all right. The writing of it alone is enough. I can close my eyes and imagine you're right there in the settee listening to me, the only person in the world who believes me. Yes, Baba Vasili was there, but she is tired of listening. She doesn't want to hear about the nightmares (I see the wolf's teeth, I feel the brush of his fur, I smell his breath, and I scream for you). She is tired of me jumping at shadows in the forest. The other girls at school have started calling me "Little Red," as if I am just another silly baby telling tales.
Baba Vasili will not tell the tale because she does not believe in spreading evil out into the universe, so no one believes me. No one will listen. No one will stand beside me. I am alone. I have no one. No one but you. And I don't even have you, as you gallivant off on your adventures. But I will write to you often and share my pain. I know you won't mind. It eases my heart a little.
I wonder if you dream of the wolf, if he haunts your head with his darkness as he haunts mine.
I wonder if you dream of me.
I miss you. Does that sound stupid? We met during one of the worst moments of my entire life, but I miss you. You shone like the sun, did you know that? Such a bright light against the darkness of the wolf. Against my darkness.
But of course you know. Everyone knows of your beauty, your confidence, your ability to bear impossible burdens, perform impossible tasks, and beat unbeatable foes. The bards sing your praises from mountain to ocean side. I'm sure you never sleep in a cold bed.
You must think of me sometimes, the in-between moments before sleeping and waking. Do you see me, my wide eyes, my long auburn hair, my pale arms desperately reaching for you as I did in that moment? So very innocent and frightened and powerless in your strong embrace.
Most days, I sit on this hillside and pluck the petals of daisy after daisy. (You love me every time.) I see your eyes in the cloudless sky and your hair in the sunshine. Your chest is the tree trunk supporting me as I lean back against it. I inhale and the breeze is your breath, and in those moments we are together and I know--I know, with all my heart and mind and soul--that you can feel me too.
I miss you, Jack. I miss you.
And I love you.
My Dearest Jack,
A troubadour came through town last night, singing for his supper. Once his belly was full of Baba Vasili's rabbit stew, he indulged me with hours upon hours of The Adventures o the Illustrious Jack Woodcutter.
I never tire of hearing the trials and triumphs of my one true love, however great or small, for I know that one day those songs will hearken your return to my pale young arms and pining heart.
But as the evening drew to a close (and the singer was so far into his cups that I was forced to tie him to the chair), he related to me a silly, bawdy shanty about The Great and Powerful Jack running afoul of a basket of poisoned pastries.
I cannot apologize enough, for I know those pastries could only have been mine. (Did you recognize the basket from that fateful night so long ago? I shed blood, sweat and tears over that basket then; I thought it only fitting to do so again, for you.)
I can only think that the messenger crossed paths with a vengeful fairy, or that some of the ingredients spoiled in this unnatural autumn heat we've been having. You know that I certainly never meant to harm you in any way!
However, in the event that you had taken a turn for the worse, I would have sensed it immediately and been fast by your side to nurse you back to health. You never need call, my Jack, for my heart knows you. I believe in your absence that I am developing the ability to sense when you are in real danger. (Obviously, had the pastries been a real threat, I would have known about them long before that soused balladeer.)
The gods brought us together, Jack. We are a matched set, cut from the same cloth. Who am I to deny the gods?
I only hope they see you safely home soon, my dearest. I will be waiting. As always.
Ever Your Girl,
This will be my last missive to you. The pain cuts me deeply, and soon I will return to the nightmare mouth of the wolf, where I was always meant to be. There is no world without you. There is no me without you. And soon, there will be no world at all.
Forgive the stains on the page, red as my hair, but the quill grows heavy in my hand, heavy as my stone heart. The beats are slower now, and the breaths are faint.
My soul is crying out to yours, growing ever blacker with the night. You will hear it and come to me soon, my love. Look to the stars--they will guide you to me. Perhaps you are already here, with your ax at the door. I only hope it is not too late.
To: Mister Jack Woodcutter
From: Anastazia Yaga Vasili
My dear Mister Woodcutter,
Sir, it pains me to bring such news to you, after the incredible good deed you did my granddaughter and me so long ago, but in the event that any--or all--of Sonya's letters have found you on your travels, I thought you would want to know.
Red is safe. It was I who dragged her back from the jaws of death this time, but the eyes and ears and hands of the enemy were her own. Its teeth were the penknife I keep in the writing desk.
It was I who encouraged my granddaughter's correspondence to you, so it is only fitting that I must bear the burden of its outcome. You and I only saved Sonya's body from the wolf that night--the part we could see and touch and feel. Her mind, I fear, never recovered from that darkness, and I did not recognize the signs until it was almost too late.
Our little Red is recovering in the care of my spinster sister, high in the remote reaches of the white mountains. Perhaps you might have heard of it in your wanderings. Cinderella's blind and mutilated stepsisters convalesce there. So, too, do the young girl with the donkey's tail on her forehead, and the one who spits snakes and toads when she speaks. I believe Red is in the best hands possible. If my sister cannot save her from the wolf, no one can.
As much as I hate to burden you with this information, I thought it best that you should know. You are a great man, sir, and you once did my family a kindness that will never be forgotten. May your road be straight and your skies be blue. May the gods lift you to their breasts and find you worthy enough to be rid of your burdens. Many blessings to you.
To: Miss Sonya Vasili, c/o Baba Yaga's Traveling Home for Unfortunate Young Women with Magical Maladies
Get well soon.
Bio, from 2011: Alethea Kontis is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter Companion, as well as the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her debut YA fairy tale novel Enchanted, was released from Harcourt Books in 2012.
Update: In 2024, Alethea continues to be a successful, award-winning, and well regarded writer. Learn more about her work here.
Image by Jean Jacques Henner.