Grade: 7th Grade
Age:

Red

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7th Grade
Middle School Grand Prize
Ashley X.

The silver moon hung against the dark speckled sky, casting beams of light that illuminated the road. There was something magnetic about it, pulling me in like a tide. I watched the moon slowly float across the sky until it disappeared behind a cloud. I sighed and turned my attention back to my stepmother’s interminable rambling in the driver’s seat next to me.
A foreign ambassador was throwing a three-day party to introduce his son Chad to the city. Tonight would be the second dance, and my step-mother didn’t want me to get in the way of Chad noticing my step sisters Anna and Drizzy first.
What she didn’t know was that I had snuck into the first party last night, determined to disguise myself in a hooded red dress of flowing silk that swished around my ankles as I walked. I could still feel the brilliance of the scintillating crystal chandeliers that had hung from the ceiling reflecting light in a thousand different directions.
“Red, did you hear me?” My stepmother said.
“What?” I said, trying to sound genuinely curious.
Then she continued on, as if she was talking to herself and not to me: “As long as you follow the rules, you might have a chance to marry into a decent family.” Her voice suddenly became sticky sweet like syrup, and she gave me her thin, forced smile.
“Alright.” I stayed focused on the moon. It flickered like a lantern in a dark room.
Then my step-mother’s phone rang. I watched as she answered it, putting a finger to her lips. I heard my stepsister Drizzy’s screeching voice as she sobbed into the phone, though I couldn’t make out what she was saying.
Suddenly, my step-mother hung up and veered onto a long narrow road that led into a forest. As we drove, the trees seemed unnaturally tall, blocking out the moonlight. In the silence, I thought maybe she was thinking of some awful chore for me to do in the pitch-black darkness. I wondered how much she knew about the dance last night, if Drizzy had detected me even beneath my red hood.
The deeper we drove, the darker it got. Every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of a sliver of pale moonlight that slipped through the trees swaying in the wind. I clung to the light like a lantern, trying to stay calm as a thick fog swirled around the car. I kept my focus on the sliver of moonlight shining through the trees.

The car stopped abruptly. As my stepmother turned to me, her eyes were wild with rage. “You think I don’t know what you did? You snuck out…” her fingers shook, “and stole from us,” she said. “My silk!”.
She was speaking rapidly, eyes red and bulging.
“Look at you,” she said, lips quivering. “You and your thin black hair and flat face. No curves!” Her hands shook uncontrollably over the steering wheel.
I felt my hands tighten around the edges of the seat like claws. I was surprised by my ebbing rage.
“You’re not even any good at cooking and cleaning,” she went on. “Can’t patch a sock!” She was more hysterical now, tears streaming down her face, her breath ragged.
“You’re just like your father. So stubborn and idealistic. You’re a girl, for goodness sake! Your father actually thought you could make a life for yourself if we saved our money for your college! When that money was for Drizzy and Anna, not you. So I got rid of him,” she said, tears still streaming. “Just like how I’m gonna get rid of you.”
Suddenly I could see my father. How he used to take me to the library as a child, to read together every day, telling me about all the places I could go. I remembered the night my father never came home, and my stepmother had claimed he was on a business trip. I remember every night after that, how I’d stayed up waiting for him, and how heartbroken I was the moment I realized he wasn’t coming back.
I felt my own breath become heavy, something burning inside of my chest, a fire that my obedient side couldn’t contain.
I lunged forward and sank my teeth into my stepmother’s neck.

I don’t remember those last moments in the car, just this blur of knowing my belly had expanded and my teeth had tightened, as if willed by the moon and the force of its hunger. As I ran, I breathed in the scent of my stepmother’s blood and the dampness of the forest.
I bounded across the dusty mountains. The trees rocked back and forth in the wind.
I threw my head up to the sky and howled triumphantly.
I am no one’s property. I am a wolf. Independent, wild, and free.

“That’s the end of the story,” the mother told her daughter, adjusting several blankets around her in her bed of pink covers.
“What?” the child, her eyes glazed with tears. “What about ‘happily ever after’?”
“Nobody knows for sure,” the mother said, stroking her cheek. “We only know that a story is never as simple as we want it to be at first.”
When the girl asked more questions, her mother gave her different possibilities, how Red might have decided to make a home in the wilderness, or had sought out her prince in another universe. But whatever the case, she told her daughter that on the last day of October, when the moon shines the brightest, if she listened closely, she could hear a wolf howling in the distance.
The little girl had smiled as her mother quietly left her room, closing the lights and shutting the door even more softly. She turned over, to look out the window nearest her bed. The silver moon hung against the dark speckled sky, casting beams of light that illuminated the distant horizon. She could almost make out a dark shape hurtling across the mountains.