Based on the movie Red Riding Hood, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, and written by David Leslie Johnson.

The Tenderness of Wolves

by Diablo Priest

From the point where Peter returns, Valerie narrates our story...

I. Hunger

When I was picking herbs that were blooming in the early spring, I saw the large black wolf standing in the moonlit path; but I wasn't afraid. I knew by his eyes that he was Peter. I had grown up with those eyes adoring me. He wasn't a monster to me—he could never be that.

"Peter!" I cheered.

Something was wrong. The wolf lifted its head and howled. It was a wail of pain, as if the big animal were caught in a trap.

I became afraid. Had the curse warped Peter's mind? That wasn't possible. Peter wasn't like my father. Peter had never hurt me. He would never touch me when I didn't want to be touched.

The wolf gazed at me, but not maliciously. It was a longing, mournful gaze. Then suddenly, he sprang off into the dark forest.

I dropped my basket and ran after him, calling: "Peter! Come back!"

Running into the forest at night was not a wise action. The wolf was much faster than I. He vanished; and I was surrounded by darkness, for only a small amount of moonlight could penetrate the tall evergreens that grew tightly together. The ominous fangs of the pine trees were threatening to bite me.

I stopped running. It was futile to continue. I had no clue as to which direction Peter had even gone. As I turned to go back to the cottage, I saw another wolf standing in front of me. It was a large gray timber wolf, its tongue hanging out. With gleaming eyes it gazed at me. A hot fear burned me. I took a step back and became aware of other wolves on my flanks. Two to the right, and two or three to the left. And three more sets of gleaming eyes appeared behind the leader. I had only my little knife to defend myself. Before I could reach for it, a wolf was at my side!

It was Peter.

The pack leader growled. Peter was resolute. He stood by my side. The wolf pack would never get to me without killing him first. After running his long tongue over his fangs—causing a long string of slobber to hang for a moment, catch the moonlight, and then fall to ground—the leader took one step toward me. Peter growled loudly. The leader hesitated, and the confrontation was over. The wolf pack retreated and disappeared into the blackness of the forest.

I turned to Peter. He nodded his canine head in the direction of my grandmother's cottage, pointing with his muzzle. It was a silent, but imperious command. I felt powerless to disobey. He followed me, making sure I got back safely. When I reached the clearing around the cottage, I turned to plead with him to stay, but he was gone. I went inside and cried. I couldn't understand why he had left me. For years my father led a double life: he had at least controlled his murderous impulses. That was my answer. Bitter though it was to accept. My father had hurt Lucie and me in other ways. He had not truly loved us. Peter, however, truly loved me. He put me even before himself. That made me cry ever harder.