Archived: Little Red: Rider of the Hood by Zoe Coats (Junior)

They called her ‘Little Red: Rider of the Hood.’ She was the leader of the Riders, the most fearsome gang in Cantum City. No one really knew what she looked like, but everyone said she wore a red cloak to hide her badly scarred face. No one entered or left the Hood without Little Red knowing and giving her permission. She had eyes everywhere. All the smaller gangs—the Vultures, the Brotherhood, and the Crimson Key—knew better than to enter her territory. If they had known that Little Red always took Sundays off to visit her grandmother, they might’ve been a bit more daring. They might’ve even laughed. The fearsome gang leader baking cookies for her elderly grandmother—ridiculous. If they’d met Little Red’s grandmother, however, they would know where Red had learned all the tricks of the trade.

Next to her tiger of a grandmother, Red was a mere housecat. Fortunately for Red, no one knew about her grandmother. Except the Wolves. Every Sunday morning, Red would fill an innocent-looking basket for her grandmother. It would be best to believe she filled it with freshly-baked cookies, as opposed to the grim alternative. Yes, we’ll just say Little Red liked to bake. Then, she would set out for the Woods. Most people avoided the Woods. They said the Woods were full of untold horrors. Larger-than-life wolves that would tear out your entrails before you could even think to scream. Little Red was not afraid of the Woods or the wolves that lurked within. After all, when you already know and have faced the most fearsome thing in the woods, you ain’t afraid of no wolves. And Red was taking a basket of “cookies” to that most fearsome of creatures.

A normal Sunday afternoon went like this: Red walked unhindered through the Woods until she arrived at a tall high-rise office building of steel and concrete. There were no other buildings for miles around. That was so no one would hear the screaming. She would walk right through the motion-sensing glass doors and straight to the front desk. The lobby would be abandoned except for the receptionist in a sequined purple suit jacket. He would silently hand Red a key, and she would then go over to the elevator. Little Red would press the button for floor number 37, then insert the key into the keyhole. The elevator would begin ascending slowly, then jerk to a sudden halt at number 37. The door would open slower than a turtle doing jumping jacks. All this would be done in dead silence, mind you. Not even the rumble of the elevator can be heard as it descends back to the ground floor.

On floor number 37, Little Red would walk to cubicle number 37, still carrying her basket of “cookies.” In cubicle number 37 would be a large antique desk of what was likely cherry wood. The spinning desk chair would be facing away from Red when she came in, but it would turn slowly and dramatically to reveal a woman in a tight red pencil skirt, her silver hair tied back into a severe bun. Little Red would then plant her feet to keep her legs from trembling.

Some Sunday afternoons, Red would bring a particularly irksome enemy of hers from Cantum City and leave them with her grandmother for the week. When she took them back to the city the next Sunday, they would have a fractured look in their eyes, blood running continually from one ear, and no voice left with which to scream. Problem solved. Red never asked what her grandmother did to them, but it cemented Red’s belief that her grandmother was the most fearsome creature in the Woods.

Once in the cubicle, they would converse in hushed tones, a conversation I wouldn’t repeat even if I knew it. Red would set her basket on the desk, making a loud thunking noise as it hit the wood, and the chair would turn slowly back around. Red was dismissed. She would go back down to the lobby, drop off the key with the secretary, and make her way back home just in time for a dinner of pot roast and apple pie. At least, this was how a normal Sunday was supposed to go.

This Sunday, however, was not a normal Sunday. As Little Red entered the Woods with her basket that was totally full of “cookies,” she encountered a man of average height in a nondescript but definitely government-issue black suit. “Where are you headed, little girl?” This just goes to show he was not from Cantum City, because everyone in Cantum City would know better than to call the girl in the red cloak ‘little girl.’ The man never saw Little Red’s supposedly scarred lips curve into a cruel smile. He should’ve known better than to mess with the second most dangerous creature in these woods.

“Why, I’m going to visit my grandmother. She’s very ill, so I’m bringing her some homemade cookies.” Little Red held up the basket innocently. Her sugary tone said ‘You wouldn’t hurt a kind, sweet child such as I.’ Unfortunately for Little Red, the man in the suit knew exactly who she was, and knew her sugary tone actually meant ‘Follow me and I’ll make sure you can’t scream as she burns you alive.’ The man was more interested in who ‘she’ was than the whole ‘burning alive’ part.

“Such a sweet child you are,” he patted her on the head for good measure, “but it’s not safe for a little girl to go walking alone in these Woods. After all, there are wolves about.” He grinned, showing off his perfect white teeth. His saccharine tone matched Little Red’s, and she began to get a slight feeling of unease. “Let me walk you to your grandmother’s house. I can protect you.”

Red thought frantically. How was she to get rid of this persistent man? “You’re too kind. Of course you can accompany me. But…” here she gave an embarrassed smile, “I have to take care of business first, if you know what I mean.” The man looked confused, and Red huffed. “I have to pee. It’ll just take a minute. If you could wait over there.” She pointed to a tree several yards away. Her plan was to duck behind a bush then silently creep away. After all, she knew the Woods better than anyone. Too bad for Red that he wasn’t just anyone.

“Of course I’ll wait for you. However, I think I should know the location of your grandmother’s house. Just in case we accidentally get separated. After all, you never know what accidents might befall us in these Woods.” Red had no good excuse not to tell him, so she did. Besides, even if he went there without Red, her grandmother was more than capable of disposing of him.

As Red slunk off alone into the Woods, the unease in the pit of her stomach grew. Something was not right here. When she arrived at the high-rise office building in the middle of the woods 20 minutes later, she noticed something different: the secretary was asleep at his desk. He was never asleep. However, the key was just where it had always been, so Red took it over to the elevator like normal. The secretary must’ve just had a busy day and was exhausted. After all, a lot of people went into the building but not a lot came out. The elevator dinged at floor 37, and Little Red made her way to cubicle number 37. The chair turned dramatically.

Red didn’t notice what was wrong immediately. After all, floor 37 had very dim lighting (it was hard to get quality electricity way out here). Usually, Red’s grandmother remained hidden in shadow, just how she liked it. Red only got flashes of color—red skirt, silver hair. That’s why Little Red didn’t notice that same grin with the same perfect, blindingly white teeth as they had their hushed conversation. She did, however, hear a subtle change in her grandmother’s voice. She remarked, “Grandmother, your voice sounds deeper. Is anything the matter?”

Her grandmother responded, “I’m just getting a bit of a cold is all,” and coughed for good measure. As they continued talking, Red’s grandmother turned her head, and the light illuminated one ear.

“Grandmother, what big ears you have!” Red remarked.

“All the better to hear you with, Dearie.” And that was that. When Red pulled out the basket to set on the desk, one of her grandmother’s hands snaked out to grab it.

“Grandmother, what big hands you have!” Red exclaimed.

“All the better to hug you with, Dearie,” her grandmother retorted. Red knew this person was definitely not her grandmother. Her grandmother never hugged her. As her not-grandmother swiveled back around in her desk chair, the light fell across something silver.

“Grandmother, how silver your hair is.” The chair stopped moving.

“That’s not my hair, that’s the silver of handcuffs you see. All the better to arrest you with, Dearie!” Little Red gasped. She had been so careful to cover her tracks. What could they possibly have on her to arrest her for? The person behind the desk stood up, and Red recognized the man from the woods, wearing her grandmother’s red pencil skirt. He looked ridiculous, and she told him so. “Hey, I’m not the imbecile who actually thought I was their grandmother. I look nothing like her,” he retorted. Red realized she had forgotten to put in her contacts that morning. Oops.

The man pulled a wallet from God-knows-where and flipped it open, revealing a badge that identified him as an agent of the IRS. “Little Red, you are clever. They wanted to arrest you for murder, arson, and general harassment, but we had no evidence and everyone was too scared to testify against you. In the end, the only thing we could get you on was tax evasion, so here I am. Still, you’re looking forward to 5 years in prison. All us government boys know about the murders your grandmother has committed, but we don’t have any evidence on her either. Luckily, she hasn’t filed a tax return in 20 years, so she’s going away for a long time. Of course, this building was rather hard to find, but you led us right to it.” Yes, thought Red, a giant high-rise in the middle of the woods is hard to find. Why should I pay taxes when they’re wasted on employing people this stupid?

Little Red knew she was done for, and she was debating whether to make a break for the secret escape tunnels in the basement or the helicopter on the roof when a pair of strong arms seized her from behind. Several more IRS agents filed in, and they snapped handcuffs onto Red’s wrists.

And that, kids, is how Little Red: Rider of the Hood was defeated. You can get away with murder, arson, and even general harassment, but the IRS will always get you for tax evasion. They are the biggest, baddest Wolves in the Woods, and they are always watching, so pay your taxes. (And never forget your contacts, because the scariest Wolves are the ones you can’t see.)