Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

“There is a castle of strong stone on top of the hill, but it is not any safer.”

There is no moral

She saw the cottage from a long way off, and wondered if this was a bad sign:  if she could see it, other things could too.  But it offered shelter.  If offered protection.  Maybe there would be something inside to use as a weapon.  She ran.  Ran over uneven forest ground, over tree roots and muddy patches, and didn’t dare fall:  fear kept one foot in the air at all times.  She reached the wooden door:  it was creaky, not very sturdy, but it was open.  She pulled on it, stepped in, and closed it behind her.  The first thing she saw was a latch.  She closed it.

Then she gasped for air.

Her lungs were on fire.  Her legs were wobbly.  Her tendons were in revolt.  She couldn’t help herself, she leaned back into the door, panting and heaving and crying:  but as soon as she could stand up again, she would.  She had to.

Across the room was a little girl in a red dress, staring at her.

“There’s a …” she gasped.  “There’s a …” she stopped trying to talk, for a moment.  She needed to breathe first.  Breathe first.  That’s the only way it works.

“Do you have any weapons?” she finally asked.

The girl pointed to the cold fireplace.  There were pokers.  The girl pointed to the kitchen, where there were knives.

“Good,” she said.  “There’s a … there’s a …” she waited for her breath to catch up with her.  “There’s a big, bad wolf out there.”  They were the only words she had to describe it.

“Yes,” said the little girl.

She walked over to the fireplace, and picked up the heaviest poker.  She walked over to the kitchen, and picked up the longest knife.  “Are your parents around?”

“You’ve led it here?” asked the little girl.

“Maybe.  It was chasing me.  Is there a phone?  I don’t get any cell reception out here.”

“No,” said the girl.  “There is no phone.  These walls won’t protect us.”

“I know.”  She wanted to lie down, to sleep for a hundred years.  “Is there a safe place?  Should we keep moving?”

“No,” said the little girl.  “There is a castle of strong stone on top of the hill, but it is not any safer.”

She nodded.  “What’s there?”

The little girl thought about how to explain this.  “A man who kills his wives, and uses them as bait for more wives.”

“Dammit.”  She didn’t know which was worse.  “Is there anything else?”

“There is a poison lake where the sea serpents play.”

No good.  No good.  “Where are your parents?”

“They are leading my step-brother and step-sister out to die.  There is not enough food to feed all of us, and they would prefer to give it to their child, rather than his children from his other wife.”

She nodded, and straightened up.  Tested the heft of her weapons.  Not nearly good enough, but all she had.  “All right,” she said.  “I’m going to make a run for it.”

“Good luck.”

She looked at the peculiar child in her red dress.  “Do you want to come with me?”


“Do you want to try to escape?”


She shook her head.  Leaned against the creaky wooden door again.  “Why?  How can you not want to escape?”

The girl in the red dress smiled.  “When I grow up, I’m going to be a very bad wolf.”

She didn’t take another breath:  she unlatched the door and ran, ran onward, ran as fast as she could, knife in one hand, poker in the other.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media,, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at

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