Red

She clutched the subway pass tightly in her right hand, left carelessly trailing down the strap of the worn messenger bag hanging loosely from her shoulder. Her eyes perused the map of the U-Bahn intently, trying to decipher the different routes. She needed Karlsplatz Stachus, but where was Neuperlach-Süd? People pressed against her, rushing to get to the next subway car before it took off, down into the deep tunnels of the Munich system, weaving intricate patterns only noticeable on a map. The smell of the subway filled her nose; so different and exotic, full of fairytales long since forgotten by the myopic tourists, drunken street gangs, and everyday citizens of the city.

She nervously nibbled on the end of a piece of her brown hair as she backed into a wall, her chocolate eyes calmed as she softly stroked a button on her red coat. Red. Her favorite word, her namesake. All of the children at the orphanage had a nickname, one given to him or her by the others. They were family, at least more family than the grown-ups who had left them.

Her mother had been sick, very sick. Finally her father sent her to the orphanage "to have a better life" than what he could afford to give her.

The day he dropped her off at the orphanage, she asked him, "When can I come back and be with Mutti?"

He knelt down, the smell of sherry emanating off of his tongue. "When you outgrow all of your clothing, then you can come home."

With that he placed her mother's worn out red hat on her head, too big for a five year old so it fell down over her eyes. He unbent his knees, which creaked and cracked loudly, and walked away, out of the door.

"Papa!" She called after, "ich liebe dich!"

He paused for a moment, raised a hand, and walked away, out of her life forever.

She wore her mother's hat everyday. Sometimes the older children in the orphanage would tease her, trying to take her hat away from her, and when they couldn't they would call her Rotkäppchen, little red-cap. It was the boys her age who fought for her honor and brought her back her precious hat. They were the ones who christened her with her nickname. Very solemnly they poured a coup of water over her and traced her new name on her forehead with their fingers. "Red," they whispered softly. "Your name is now Red."

Thirteen years later, when she had finally outgrown all of her clothing and was legally an adult, the orphanage kicked her out. The old caretaker of the grounds was the only one to see her off, giving her a new red coat and some snacks in a messenger bag. Stoically she set off down the road towards the forest of tall buildings and subway stations, determined to go back home and finally see her mother after so many years.

She pushed herself away from the wall and walked towards the map of the U-Bahn again. Everyone had left with the last train to come through, and there was only her. She traced a finger along one of the many lines, crisscrossing over to another. Maybe that was the route?

"Wohin willst du gehen? Where do you want to go"

She shuddered, her shoulders coming up defensively as she felt warm breath against her neck. "Home," she replied.

She turned around to see a boy her age right in front of her. His hair, an odd combination of blond and fire engine red, brushed against the upturned collar of his black trench coat. He grinned wolfishly and bowed.

"My name is Wolfgang, but you can call me Wolf. I couldn't help but notice that you seemed a little lost. Might I offer my help? I am an expert navigator when it comes to the U-Bahn."

She blushed, "Danke. I believe I know the way home, but it's been a long while since I've been there. I'm trying to get to the station Neuperlach-Süd, my mother lives just a block away from it."

"Ah, I now that house well! Isn't it the red colored one?"

"Yes, it was the only red painted house on the street back in the day."

"And still is."

She smiled happily, at least the house was the same.

"What's your name?"

"Oh," she stuttered, "I'm Red."

"Well then, Red, which path will you take; the path of pins, or the path of needles?" He grinned again, stroking something in his pocket.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm sorry, there's some street slang for you," he winked. "What I meant was, will you take the path of pins, or the subway until Giesing and take a bus to your house, or will you take the path of needles, the U-Bahn the entire way?"

"Oh, I never thought about that. I guess I'll take… the path of pins," she grinned at him. "I might as well get some flower for Mutti, I haven't seen her in a while."

"Then here's your train."

She looked at him as a train pulled in. A mass of people circulated the underground station as speakers politely spoke Einsteigen bitte. Zurük bleiben bitte.

"Danke sehr sehr viel," she stepped into a car. "Auf wiedersehen."

The door closed behind her and the train moved speedily down the track into the darkness. Wolf bared his teeth and pulled out the blue butterfly knife he had been playing with in his pocket.

"Then the wolf ran quickly down the path of needles and ate up the little girl's mother."

He boarded the next train.

Red stood in front of the house, still the only one painted red on the street. She held a bouquet of yellow roses and lavender in front of her like a shield, her hand trembled as she rang the doorbell. Nothing. She rang again. A scratchy voice spoke over the intercom.

"Wer ist es?"

"Mutti, it's me, your daughter. Red." She remembered the letters she had written to her mother over the years, each one signed affectionately "love, Red."

"Red, is that you? Komm rein, komm rein! The door is open." She heard coughing on the other end.

But the door was locked. Red looked around for a way to get in, she didn't want to mother get up from where she was resting. A window was open, so she climbed in and looked around. It was her old playroom, toys and books still scattered everywhere. A copy of Little Red Riding Hood lay on her small desk. She touched it softly, then walked out of the room to the front door where she unlocked it, opened it, where she closed it loudly so her mother knew she was inside.

"I'm going to the kitchen, Mutti," she called.

"Okay. I'm in my bedroom if you want to see me," was the reply.

Red put the bouquet of flowers in a vase she found by the sink then set her messenger bag on the table and opened it.

"Are you hungry at all, Mutti? I have a loaf of bread, some butter, and some cheese with me."

"I'm not, but there's some meat and red wine in the refrigerator for you if you want."

Her stomach grumbled. "I think I'll take you up on that offer."

She reached into the refrigerator and brought out a wine bottle and a package of meat. As she sat down at the table with a freshly made sandwich, a tabby cat jumped up onto the table, sniffed at the package of meat, and jumped back with its tail bristled. That's not meat you're eating, that's your mother's flesh!

Red blinked and set down the sandwich. Where did that come from? She reached for the glass of wine she had poured and took a sip. The taste was dry and coppery, like pfenigs. A bird squawked in the background. That's not wine you're drinking. You're drinking your mother's blood!

Red got up, set down the glass, and paced. Where was that sound coming from? She walked into her mother's bedroom; it was so dark she could only see her mother's silhouette in the bed. She heard the rustle of bedcovers and of a book being closed.

"Mutti, what are you doing?"

"I was reading a book out loud, my child. Come closer and let me take a look at you." The voice was silenced and rough.

She walked closer and peered into the shadows. "Mutti, what big piercings you have."

"I'm trying the two-gauge type right now. What crazy fads you kids have these days!"

"Mutti, what big pupils you have."

"My optometrist gave me this set of contacts to try out, aren't they nice?"

"Mutti, what big hands you have."

"A result from being sick for so long, my dear, but they're great for knitting."

Red squinted, "Mutti, what a shiny knife you have!"

Wolf lunged forward out of the shadows, stabbing her deeply in the chest. "All the better to kill you with, my dear!"

A copy of Little Red Riding Hood fell onto the floor next to Red. Wolf carelessly ripped his knife out of her, flinging blood everywhere. Red slowly turned her head and saw her mother's body laying, face-down, next to her. She looked back up at Wolf, then saw no more.

Wolf walked into the kitchen and picked up Red's unfinished sandwich. He walked out of the house, trench coat billowing in the wind. He looked at the only house on the street painted red.

"And then the wolf ate up Little Red Riding Hood."