A grassy path leading into a forest.

Picture by Irina Iriser at Unsplash

A girl walks alone into the forest and is never seen again – everybody knows this story.

The sky is a velvet purse. A young woman is walking steadily through a ramshackle town which lurks within foraging distance of a great forest. Past the inn where her father drinks, in celebration this time. Past the bakery where she is expected to knead fat loaves as the next sun rises. Past the cemetery where the baker’s first wife rests, freed from his fists at last. Everybody knows this.

There are wolves in the woods, and they eat young women alive. Particularly those who wear bright cloaks, have ailing grandmothers or do not obey the careful instructions set before them. Everybody knows this.

The woman feeds her dowry to the earth – a trail of tiny moons for the removal of any doubt. She passes through gloomy streets until the households peter out and the soft fronds of the forest shift before her. The scents of wet fern and badger must settle warm around her shoulders. She slips off her russet cloak, repaired many times over. There is a stump marking the juncture where the wild takes hold and sensible people fear to tread – everybody knows this. The woman hangs her cloak on it and steps through the boles.

If you walk among the trees at night, you will hear the wolves singing. You might be safe, if you stay on the path. Everybody knows this.

The woman licks her arm from elbow to fingertip. She applies a sharpening nail to the centre seam of her plain brown dress, undoes her tightly woven plait, dun-coloured hair shifting against naked shoulders.  She runs her tongue over the back of her burnt hand, gulping pain into her oesophagus. She circumnavigates the ringless third finger.  Takes a bite. Her gleaming teeth work against flesh and bone. The woman opens wide her jaw and tears into the flesh of her thigh.

The wolf springs into the waiting trees, her voice entwining with her sisters’.

A girl walks alone into the forest and is never seen again. Everybody knows this.

Fay Brown is a teacher who lives on the south coast of England. She discovered the joy of flash fiction during lockdown and is often inspired by seafront walks, her geriatric dog, and the weird things teenagers say when they think you can’t hear them.