All the Better

By Jason L. Langlois

It wasn't the walk through the woods that Relena found intimidating. She had taken the path before. In fact, it was her favorite path to take when she visited her grandmother. She had done so since she'd been a little girl, and the peaceful sounds of the breeze in the trees, and the small animals that she spotted along the way, were soothing, and sometimes even exciting.

But she had gotten a late start today, and, it being the beginning of autumn, the sun had set quickly. In the day time, this path had been a path through the forest full of comforting sounds and sights Tonight, it seemed to lead only into a dark abyss in which each and every scurry and scratch sent her heart racing and caused her palms to sweat.

She gripped the basket in her hands tightly. The entire reason that she'd left so late was that her grandmother had come ill. Yes, she could have sent a doctor, but her grandmother was a sweet lady who hardly had visitors and couldn't trust anyone outside of family. Despite her nervousness, she did not mind going to care for her grandmother.

She looked from side to side as she walked, her imagination filling in gaps that her other senses left unknown. The limb that suddenly bobbed into her path from the side was the claw of a bird demon trying to grab her. The scurrying to the side was a fox waiting to ambush her when the path curved deeper into the woods. The screech in the distance was a banshee predicting her death.

She told herself that such thoughts were childish, and did her best to ignore them. When the noises sounded, she forced herself to look ahead and not react. They were animals, and the wind, and tricks of the light. Nothing would harm her so long as she stayed on the path. She pulled the red hooded cloak around her for warmth, smiling at the memory of her grandmother presenting it to her years ago.

"Well, well, well, what do we have here?"

Relena gasped and spun. There, just at the edge of the moonlight, stood a large man. He was dressed in jeans, a torn denim jacket, and combat boots. His thumbs were hooked into a large, thick black belt, and he was leaning against a tree.

"Kind of late for a city sprite like you to be in the woods, don't you think?"

Relena swallowed thickly. "Wh-who are you?" She pressed her lips together, cursing her stammer. The man chuckled and pushed off of the tree, coming more fully into the light. His bald head reflected lightly in the moonlight, and his pointed chin and wide mouth gave him a feral, hungry look. He grinned, showing a mouth full of yellowed, large teeth.

"They call me Wolf. Don't know why." He stepped toward her, and Relena tensed, watching as Wolf stepped closer, circling her. She could swear she heard sniffing, rapid and soft, like that of a dog.

"Ain't a good night for a young girl to be alone in the forest," Wolf said, grinning. "Food gets scarce 'round this time o' year. Beasts get hungry. And morsels shouldn't walk alone in the woods at night. Bad idea, that is."

Relena lifted her head. "I'll be fine," she said, swallowing thickly. The man merely grinned wider.

"Says you."

Relena looked around, then back at him. The man, fully lit by the moonlight, wasn't bad looking at all, but some of his features seemed out of place, oddly large and conspicuous. His eyes, for example, seemed to shine with a light of their own, reflecting the light of the moon.

"M-my, Wolf," Relena said, swallowing, "what big eyes you have."

Wolf smiled widely, showing his large teeth again. "All the better to see you with," he grinned.

They walked, and before long, there was a screech, seeming to come from right next to Relena. She screamed and fell, and Wolf laughed. Looking down at her, he tsked and shook his head, holding out a hand to her. The hand was large in and of itself, and the perspective only served to make it seem larger.

Taking the hand, which felt just as large as it seemed, Relena allowed her heart to calm as she was hauled to her feet. "Goodness, Wolf! What big hands you have!"

"All the better," Wolf said, with his over sized grin, "to touch you with."

Relena shuddered, and then those hands were on her shoulders, and he was pulling her back into the woods, a growl coming from deep within his throat, and she couldn't scream, she couldn't even think. It was sudden. It was so jarring and sudden, all she could think to say when he pushed her back into the tree, smiling that slasher smile that she now knew meant her death, was, "Wolf! What big teeth you have!"

Wolf smiled, his eyes flashing, his over large hands gripping her shoulders, nails digging in like claws. "Oh, I think we both know my answer to that, love..."

"Good heavens, Relena," Grandmother started. Relena stood there, looking shell shocked, bloodied, and trembling. Grandmother only hesitated for a moment, and then reached for her, dragging the girl inside by her arm.

"I'm fine, Grandmother," Relena said, softly, disjointed at first, then repeated it more firmly, pulling her arm away. The older woman stumbled back, and Relena then moved to her, helping the matriarch to sit.

"I'm sorry, I'm still..." Relena trailed off, then swallowed.

"It's all right, dear, it's all right," her grandmother said, patting her hand. "Are you hurt?"

"What?" Relena looked at herself, as if noticing the blood for the first time. She rushed to the sink to scrub it off. "None of this is mine... I'm sure."

She looked, however, at the arced series of uneven, rectangular marks on her hand. She didn't have to turn it to see that there was a similar curve on her palm. In two places of each arc there was a circular dent, which, she knew, had been wounds before. Her hand shook, and she washed, watching with each scrub as the indents faded and finally disappeared. Much, much faster than they should have.

"What happened, Relena, dear?" her grandmother called from the table. Relena looked up, blinking out the window that was above the sink.

She smiled as she turned to her grandmother. "It's later than I thought. A strong animal attacked a weaker one... it was quite surprising." She allowed her smile to widen, and her grandmother blinked. "I've brought some meat for a stew. I know you're not feeling well."

"Thank you, dear," her grandmother said, settling back in her chair. "Some stew sounds lovely.

As the stew cooked, and then thickened, the two women exchanged small talk, but Relena was quite distracted, looking out of the window at the moon, which was very near full. Finally, as it was done, Relena served them two large bowls, along with bread, and sat to eat.

At the first bite, Relena's grandmother's eyes widened. "This is delicious, Relena! What kind of meat is this?"

Relena smiled, a wide smile that made her grandmother blink, startled. "It's Wolf, grandmother." She continued to look at her grandmother, her eyes wide, grinning.

Finally, after a few moments, the matriarch swallowed and said, quietly, "Why, Relena... what big eyes you have."

Relena felt her mouth stretch as her grin widened, showing the full effect of her teeth. "All the better to see you with, Grandmother."