It is more dangerous to talk with wolves today, even with feet planted firmly on the path. They used to cast clear and frightening shadows. Sinew and jaws presented boldly as threats. But now they stand, sheltered by the trees, whose heavy branches bow under the weighty tokens of just cause, and whisper soft rationalisations to those who pass them by.

In these treacherous sharp forests, a girl is as likely to be stoned by kin or a lawman as she is to fall foul of a wolf’s ravenous jaws. And so she did, this girl of ours. Despite all her efforts, and concealments, her screaming. Red could not win in the face of such cunning. She did not want to fight. Could not, when the tearing came.

But she would not cower, eyes down for their sake. She would be damned if she were bought low by creatures such as this. Her strength remained taut in her jaw, her hood held firm; a talisman, a shield against their sneers. She clung to it tightly, presented it unflinching, even as under the gaze of her judges it became incitement. They poured meaning on her hood then. Cursed its redness, called it brazen, made it a symbol of scarlet intent. She didn’t seek predation she told them. Only safety. She beat her truth against their callous, unwilling ears. No thought was given to the colour’s threat, its natural warning, or violent hue. Instead the voices raised. She heard the meaning twist in the air, become crippled, then fall discarded by those self-righteous ‘impartial’ men.

Red, they said, was wanton.

And now not even the Woodsman’s kindness could save her, so absorbed was he by adulation. He was become the Saviour. The Saint. The defender of virtue. The Liberator of Women. Their praise filled his ear and stilled his tongue, as each charge was levied against her. He basked and he preened as they built up the gallows. Still, she could not muster rage for his blind indulgence. How could he know she would be marred by his silence? How could he know that his rescue came too soon?

Her fingers were still knotted in the pelt you see. Certain proof to those decided before time: ‘She touches it still, she brought it to her own hands’ false confirmations for those pricked by guilt, and fearful of blame. Never mind that her grip was seized in fear. No thought of her need to be certain, to be sure over and again, that no breath came. That the beast would not stir to rend her flesh or smother her voice with terror. She clung to it with all her might. This last proof of freedom, the cold, bloodless flesh a comfort she could not describe.

And so the hangmen came, unknowing, mute in their cruelty all the while, wordlessly chiding, scolding, ripping peace from her grasp. Taking what little freedom remained and naming it guilt. Asking for it they said, begging for it. They knew. They saw. They quieted their own dread and uncertainty with dark thoughts, and she spat her hot tears in their faces.