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LISTEN CLOSE my grandchild dear,
and I will tell of far and near,
of how to conquer death and fear,
of little girls and wicked witches,
of empty chests without their stitches,
of rivers deep and forests wide,
and wolves that on the West Wind ride
of how our family came to be,
the story ours, both you and me,
and of another.

This is the tale of Ash:
she of the grey cloak,
who tasted the blood of the wolf,
and found strange powers,
who knew the color of the wooden sky,
and could smell, upon the wind
a lie.

Once upon a time,
in lands untouched by song or rhyme,
there lay a cottage in the woods,
where lived daughter and grandchild,
of the surname Riding Hood.
Her I think you will remember,
and in a dark and drear December,
grandchild grande dame went to see,
out in the darkness of the trees.

With scarves thick her mother wrapped her tight,
in every layer the dust of firelight.
For luck she spun her three times round,
then pushed her out into empty sound,
a wood of silence, dark and deep,
where she daren’t stop to sleep,
full of rustles but no noise,
not a place of children’s toys.

Long she walked and in dusk took seat,
eager to rest long-aching feet,
when suddenly to her surprise,
she caught a glimpse of brilliant eyes.

She followed far into the trees,
through roses dense that scratched her knees,
over a river with ice so thin, so very thin
that in she fell, as down a well,
and down
and down
and down
she sunk, ’til with a thunk,
she landed upon solid ground,
with air to breathe and all around,
a soft sound,
as of the wind sweetly soughing
as of a dust mite gently coughing.

Above her ran the rushing river,
down below a silver sliver,
a mirror of reflected sky,
sleek as satin, a blue velvet sigh,
and still within gold eyes’ sway,
she found her way in stolen twilight.

“Well isn’t this a sight to see.
I thought you came to visit me?”

In the dimness she spun worried,
the spell broken, her movements hurried.
She remembered she could not
breathe.
There was no way,
no way to leave.

She unwrapped her water-weighted cloak,
and from it brilliant firelight woke,
that burned away the water creeping,
that kindled eyes ’til now just sleeping.
She found that she could take a breath.
She thought that she had tasted death.
But still her way had yet to learn,
amidst the winding Windworld’s turns.
There was no back or up to go,
so through she fought with progress slow.
Awake the wind is hard to ride,
but she could do it if she tried.

At last the path turned to stone
or was that marble
or was that bone?
A vertebrae,
a cage of ribs,
a jaw that stretched her whole height,
a carcass of tremendous might,
a beast to freeze one’s very soul
that little girls could swallow…
could swallow…
That soughing
sighing
sickly
sound,
almost like,
breathing?
And all around…

Unsure if demon, god, or ghost,
Ash searched the tomb for her host.
When at her nape, she felt a prickle,
an icy creeping shivery tickle,
and in the water’s reflection saw
something rising from the maw,
a quickly coalescing cloud
that shook from the bones like a shroud.
She saw rows of teeth wide, agape,
and soon a furry, canine shape.

Lithely round her slunk the creature,
hunger in his every feature–
his silver mouth dripping fog,
in his stomach seething smog.
She felt small, a petty feast,
before so great a ghostly beast.
Smoky whiskers kissed her skin,
and at her scowl, the great wolf grinned.

She listened to his voice red velvet, cream
thick, warm like a shiver
of nighttime rain in jungles naked and unseen,
richer for their obscurity.
It was a growl possessing
sweetness to bend the very soul,
that promised (as no man could promise)
to be heard by her alone.

Starlight flowered around them.
They sat in pooling silver
and she let the night pass in stories,
and if he on occasion asked too probing a question,
“And where does your grandmother live?”
she would reply, “Oh, in the woods,
but that’s enough about me. Tell me about wolves.”
And then the wolf would tell her of lost things,
of wolves who chased the moon and sun,
of witches, winds, wolves and once,
of cheating death.

“Cut out the heart,
a pinkie bone,
nothing smaller,
and hide it in a sunless place,
or on the highest peak.
Death and love are stubborn wolves,
and eat their prey in one gulp
or not at all.”

“And can you conquer love also,
by cutting out your heart?”
The wolf considers.

“Both heart and host will decay
if left unwatered even a day.
Hearts cannot be kept
under lock and key, but put in earth,
like bulbs below frozen ground.
If anything, hearts alone call
for greater care than those in chests.
But the sun rises, and you will be missed.”

“Let me stay longer,” she asked,
until you have told me every story
Or if not, promise only that we shall meet again.”

“Lies are the domain of men and Gods,” the wolf replied.
“Why would a wolf make promises?”

Whilst passing the wolf’s bones,
she took off her scarlet cloak
and wrapped it around his cage of ribs,
tucking it in on either side.

“I would not see my mother’s or my brother’s bones
lie naked in the wind,” she said.

“The sun is rising,” said the wolf.

And missed she was,
if not by those the wolf intended.