“Looks can be deceiving…”
Raeesa was a small town girl with an innocent outlook on the world. Where she came from, the world didn’t look so big, bad and full of trouble. All of that would change, however on one unfateful day: “Relax Ma, I can do this. It’s just to Dadi’s house across the bridge, I’ll be back before you know it.” Her mother hesitated, but then thought better of it. After all, Raeesa was already 13 years old, it was time she started looking out for herself.
“You’re sure you know the way?” her mother asked for the 10th time that day.
“Gee Ma, for the last time, I know where it is, I’ve been there a ton of times before, if I get lost, I’ll find someone trusting and ask for directions.”
“Okay,” Her mother said giving her a kiss on the forehead. “But be careful, and DON’T talk to strangers.”
“Promise. I’ll be back in 2 hours tops,” Raeesa said.
She grabbed her signature red coat and skipped out of the door. She waved goodbye to her mother and started off down the path. She breathed the fresh country air; it was plentiful in a small town like Dreamland. She waved to all the shopkeepers, who she knew by name. She waved at the passers-by and dropped a coin into the Jamaat’s charity tin. She was so happy and felt so free. She wished she could be let out on her own more often but she knew why she wasn’t; the big city was a dangerous place, even her Pa would choose the town over the city and he was one of the bravest men she knew. She walked out of the town square and came to The Bridge.
Across the bridge was the big city. Raeesa had never been there by herself and now that she’d seen it, she started to have second thoughts. She pulled her red coat tighter, it was only a few more steps, she just had to cross the bridge, follow the directions and she would be at Dadi’s house, she’d deliver Dadi’s wool to knit the beautiful sweaters she always made for them for winter. Just the thought of being in Dadi’s warm kitchen, eating something delicious that she never failed to surprise Raeesa with, made her feel better. She was a big girl now, she could do this. She walked across the bridge. Just a few more turns and she’d be at Dadi’s house.
She walked left, right, left, left, right. She had a feeling she missed something or took a wrong turn along the way, but just as she was about to go back, she noticed a small patch of flowers a little way down the path just at the mouth of a very dark alley, they looked so pretty and so colourful, she just knew Dadi would love them, so she walked towards them, bent down and started picking them up ignoring the hammering in her chest. She had scarcely picked up enough to make a bunch when her 6th sense began tingling and she had the horrible feeling that someone was standing behind her.
“Hello, Little Red,” Raeesa looked up sharply to the sound of the dark, raspy voice. She screamed in fright and jumped back, dropping her basket. The voice, which she now identified as a haggardly old man, had only one eye open while the other obediently stayed shut. His clothes were dirty and torn and he looked like he desperately needed a bath, he smelled like it too, the only other thing she could smell was the horrible smell of drink coming from his nearly toothless mouth. He smiled his crooked smile and picked up her basket and gave it to her. She grabbed it from his hand and hastily stood up, pulling her coat around her tighter.
“Th..thank you,” she stammered and started walking away quickly when the old man called out to her again.
“You should be more careful, Little Red, this part of town is full of wolves, one wrong step and you might end up way more lost than you are now.” He pulled out a pipe from his filthy coat, lit it, and walked off down the alley.
Raeesa took a deep breath, steadied herself and ran down the path, she took a sharp turn. She recognized the city square signpost and feeling relieved, rushed to the square, there were plenty of people milling around and she took a seat on a nearby bench, breathing in and out. She hadn’t been sitting for long when a shadow passed over her. Her heart leaped in her chest again and she gripped hard on the side of the bench as she heard a voice behind her:
“Hey, are you ok?” she breathed a sigh of relief as a young boy, of about 2 years older than her, came around the bench. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he continued.
“I’ve had a really hectic day,” she said.
As he sat down next to her, she got a good look at him. He was tall, fair and handsome, he had a sweet face that made him look like he could do no harm but there was something about him, something she couldn’t quite place that seemed off. It wasn’t his clothes; they were rugged but not threatening. It wasn’t his way of speaking; it was charming but not dangerous. She shook her head as he smiled and she chastised herself for being so untrusting. She was just a bit shaken up and here was a nice boy who surely couldn’t mean her any harm. She steadied herself and smiled back.
“Where are you off to?” he asked, his voice friendly.
“To my grandmother,” she said. “I’ve got to deliver this to her.” She held up the basket.
“Where does she live?” he asked concerned.
“She lives just down the road, but it’s my first time alone in the city so I got a bit lost,” she said embarrassed. “The street’s called Fairsten ave.”
“Really?’ he asked, his eyes wide. “What a coincidence! That’s exactly where I’m headed. I can show you the way.” He held out his hand beckoning her. She looked at his outstretched hand and could hear his friendly voice but she still felt that slightly uneasy feeling that told her there was something off about him. The fact that he was going to the same place as her was obviously just a coincidence right? She had to stop being so paranoid. She was a big girl and here was a nice, charming boy offering his help. He smiled even wider and she banished all bad thoughts about him, got up, dusted off her coat, and took his hand.
“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction?” she asked as they took another turn 10min later.
“Definitely,” he said without looking back. “We’re almost there.”
He was still gripping her hand and she pulled it free as they passed through a dark alleyway.
“By the way,” she said shakily. “You didn’t tell me your name.”
The alley seemed to go on forever and she started to get a horrible smell of something that died a long time ago. She thought, not for the first time that day, that she was hopelessly lost.
“My name’s Wolf,’ he said. His voice sounded gruffer and he suddenly looked a lot bigger and taller than he had a little while ago.
“I really think we’re going in the wrong direction,” she said, walking slowly backward. “Thank you for your help, but I think I’ll find it on my own.”
She turned to walk away but he grabbed out at her wrist and yanked hard so she stood right in front of him in the claustrophobic alley. A harsh sliver of fear crept through her spine, she had a strong feeling that she had gravely miscalculated her friend.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he said through clenched teeth and she realized what was off about him, and this time she wasn’t imagining it. It was his eyes. They were grey and ice cold, the kind that would never show mercy and although they were beautiful, they had a hardness to them that kept you rooted to the spot in fear.
“Poor little girl, didn’t your mommy ever teach you not to talk to strangers?” He smiled again, but this time, there was nothing friendly about it. He reached up to touch her face and took her jawline in his hand. “Yes, you’ll do very nicely,” he said and tapped her lip with his index finger.
She seized her moment and bit down hard on his finger. He screamed in pain as she stamped on his foot and started off running back through the alley. She wasn’t fast enough and felt him pull at her coat, the buttons choked her as she kicked and punched in every direction. She screamed for help but her voice echoed uselessly through the deserted alley. She stopped thrashing and pulled open her coat buttons. They popped and they rolled to the floor, soundlessly. She pulled herself out of the coat and attempted to run but he pulled her back by her scarf and she fell down on the cold bricks, her body tired and bruised.
“Please, help me!” she cried one last time as Wolf loomed over her.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Red,” he says. “Now you’ll have to deal the punishment for girls who run.”
She heard the vague sound of a belt being opened but was too tired to register it. She closed her eyes and waited for what would happen next when she heard a loud clanging of metal against someone’s head and Wolf fell down in a heap next to her. Her eyes opened wide in surprise as she heaved herself onto her back and looked up to find the stinky, haggard man looking down at her with a bin lid in his hand. “Looks like I caught him with his pants down!” he said laughing, but she didn’t get the joke. She pushed herself up and picked up her soiled, torn and buttonless coat and looked for her basket.
“Here,” said the old man, picking up from a corner where it fell, battered and bent out of shape but still holding the wool for Dadi.
“Thank you,” she said warily.
“It’s ok,” he says. “You can be afraid of Axe, almost everybody is”.
“I’m sorry,’ she said. “I don’t know how to know who’s good and who’s bad anymore.” She began to sob, not feeling at all like the brave woman she’d hoped to become.
“I told you to watch out for the wolves. They’re very dangerous. There, there” he said handing her a white handkerchief that was white and crumpled, but thankfully clean.
“Y…you’re not one of them, are you?” she asked tensely, feeling stupid even as she asked.
“Naw, I’m more of a squirrel,” he said. “Fuzzy and furry and really nuts.”
She laughed, feeling a little better. “Thank you, again,” she said walking to the mouth of the alley.
“You take a right and a left, and keep walking straight and you’ll be at Fairsten ave.” The man called out.
“How did you…” she turned back to look for him, but he’d vanished. She shivered as a cold chill suddenly went through the air and she ran out of the tunnel into the sunlight.
She took a right, left and kept on straight, and sure enough, she made it to Fairsten ave. She made a solemn promise right there that she was not returning to the city by herself anytime soon. Being a brave, independent woman could wait.
She rushed to Dadi’s house and had never been happier to see a face she knew for certain was a friend and not foe.
‘Oh my pancakes Raeesa! What happened to you?!?” Dadi exclaimed looking at her torn coat and bruised basket.
“I learned what the city’s really like,” she said and walked, at last, into Dadi’s house.
“Looks can be deceiving…”