Deep in the woods stood a little wooden cottage. It was grandmother’s cottage. The clump of tall trees surrounding her only allowed a few fine rays of sunlight to slip between the gaps. Otherwise the forest was shadowed and cold. Granny Rose didn’t mind. It was all she ever knew. She spent most of her days indoors, especially now that she was suffering from Type 2 Diabetes.
In walking distance from Granny Rose, lived her favourite and only grandchild, Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red and her mother, Ruby, had lived in the same house all their lives, which previously belonged to Granny Rose, but their surroundings had changed drastically over time. The land had been divided in two: The old Red Woods and the newly developed Red Town. In Red Town, the forest had been cut down and in its place stood high-rise buildings between roads that snaked over, under and around each other, all lit up by a string of streetlights. Little Red Riding Hood was nothing short of a city girl.
Granny Rose depended on her Little Red who washed her hair and brought her food into the woods every day. The food was not very healthy, but that’s because there was not much choice.
Every day when Little Red was about to walk through the dark woods, Ruby would repeat the same strict instructions that Little Red could recite by now, “Be careful where you step. Don’t go off the path and don’t stop to talk to any strangers.”
“Yes, Ruby.” Little Red sometimes called her mother by her first name to tease her.”
There were never any strangers. The dangers lay underground with the remaining landmines, which were placed long ago when dangerous wolves roamed the woods and threatened the people living there. Since the problem with the wolves was solved, many of the landmines had been removed. However, not all of them were found. This was the reason many locals owned a pet Hero Rat. The rats were trained to detect these explosives and Little Red was one of the who owned one. So far, it had proved to be the safest and most reliable way to pass through the woods.
One afternoon while Granny Rose was waiting for Little Red to arrive, she opened a packet of candy. “Just one”, she told herself. Granny knew that Little Red had to stop at the post office to pick up a very important parcel, which would delay her visit. She wondered what this parcel might be and while doing that she finished the whole package of candy. Then she started to think about the food that Little Red was due to bring and got even hungrier. But when Little Red didn’t knock on the door, Granny’s hunger turned to worry.
Ruby was adding leftover cooked meat to a container of raw meat when the phone rang. It was Granny Rose, asking her why Little Red hadn’t delivered her food. Terrified, Ruby dropped the phone and ran through the city asking all the neighbours if they’d seen Little Red. Her desperation grew and her hope shrank with each frantic knock on the neighbours’ doors.
A couple days passed after Little Red’s disappearance and the only sign of her was on the missing posters that were pinned up around the town. In the first two days of Ruby’s mourning, she didn’t welcome visitors and she didn’t leave her home. Granny Rose phoned Ruby to comfort her and to gently remind her that she still needed some food. Although Ruby couldn’t face grocery shopping, she knew that Granny Rose was not independent. Ruby also knew that any distraction would be a good distraction, so even though she was very sad, she walked to the nearest store, just a street away. It was the same store that Little Red used to buy groceries. It was a small shop, but it had everything they needed.
Ruby arrived, but the store was closed. A passer-by saw her looking through window of the dark, locked-up shop and said to her, “They closed yesterday after they ran out of supply. All the other nearby shops have the same problem. You’re going to have to go to the next town.”
“Nobody knows. Who would have expected a food shortage in a thriving city such as ours?”
Ruby eventually arrived at the store after taking a train and two connecting buses. This grocery store had a larger variety than she was familiar with so she stood in the aisles longer than she’d have liked, reading the different labels and comparing prices. First on Granny’s grocery list was a dozen eggs. Why are there so many types of eggs when they all look the same, Ruby wondered? There were Farm Fresh eggs, Cage Free, Free Range and Organic, each claiming to be the healthiest option. She even saw eggs for vegans, which looked nothing like eggs, but rather a bunch of bananas. She chose the organic eggs until she noticed the price, and then replaced them with the second-highest priced eggs, ignoring all of the labels. She always believed that higher priced items meant better quality, but she saw now that sometimes the highest priced item was daylight robbery. Ruby looked down at her long shopping list and decided she should better speed things up. She knew what Granny was like when she was hungry.
While walking towards Granny’s cottage, Ruby kept close behind Little Red’s pet Hero Rat. Every few steps she had to put down her parcels and stop for a breather; and with every stop, Hero Rat would start chewing ferociously, despite not having any food in his mouth. From a distance, Ruby saw Granny Rose standing at the front door with two friends. Mom is looking healthy and slim, she thought. When Ruby reached Granny Rose and her friends, she greeted Granny Rose with a kiss on the cheek and said, “What smooth skin you have, Ma.”
“That’s because I protect myself from the sun, darling.”
Ruby said, “And what a good posture you have.”
“That’s because I do yoga everyday.”
Ruby was very confused as this was not the mother she knew. Ruby then said, “You are looking so strong, Mother.”
“That’s because I eat so well.” “You are not my mother, are you?”
Scarlet shook her head, “You haven’t met me before. I am your great-grandmother and these are my two friends, Bamboo Queen and Quelin.”
When they were inside Granny’s house, Scarlet explained the reason for their journey and everything they’d been through so far. “We are feeling defeated and doubting our efforts. We foolishly believed that life would be just as we left it. Our first stop, not too far from here, was Pig Town...”
Ruby nodded, “Yes, I know the Three Little Pigs.” Scarlet continued, “We planned to save the pigs from being eaten by the wolf, but our friends,the Three Old Pigs, were instead taken by the wolf.” Ruby sat still; her body didn’t look like it was filling with air. Scarlet mentioned that their next stop was in the wild where Tusker was from. “Now you understand why we’re in the Red Woods. The wolf has always eaten weak and sick grandmothers. So we’re here to make Granny strong and healthy so he doesn’t eat her too.”
Ruby laughed. “The wolf? We haven’t had any problems with wolves in decades, ever since the landmines were planted.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow, “Landmines?”
“Yes, they were planted to chase away the wolves”, said Ruby.
Quelin asked her, “Where is Little Red now?” Ruby’s shoulders and her head dropped low. The palms of her hands were lying limp in her lap. “Little Red is missing.”
And then ... TAP TAP TAP on the front door.
They all hid behind the door, armed with kitchen appliances and Granny’s walking stick. The door slowly creaked open. Ruby, who was closest to the opening, saw two small hooves step in.
"Excuse me for bothering you. I’m Little Tree Pig and I live not too far away from here. I was just wondering if you have seen any bees?” He shook his empty jar.
“Little Tree Pig! Why are you walking through the woods alone?” asked Ruby. The others realised they were still holding their breath and exhaled loudly.
Little Tree Pig came in and waited patiently under Ruby’s instruction to not walk back alone. Ruby first had to cook for Granny Rose and then she could take Little Pig home. Ruby started deep frying potato chips then dropped the crumbed fish into the oil. The fat was spitting everywhere. Granny Rose felt a meal was never complete without gravy on top, no matter what the dish. Scarlet, who was watching Ruby prepare the oily meal, thought she could help her learn about healthy cooking. She also thought about how Ruby had to travel far to get food, so Scarlet knew it would be a good idea to start a self-sustainable vegetable garden outside Granny Rose’s front door.
Bamboo Queen was standing over Quelin’s shoulder squinting at their map he was looking at. Their next stop was in Bamboo’s hometown. They stood up to leave but Scarlet said, “I’m going to stay and help Ruby look after Granny Rose. I will meet up with you later.”
“You know where to find us”, said Quelin, waving his map in the air. He looked at Bamboo Queen and said, “From a group of eight, it’s down to just you and me.” He smiled, pulled his red poncho tight around his face before he and Bamboo Queen walked out into the cold, leaving the others inside Granny Rose’s warm cottage.
Little Tree Pig was still waiting patiently for Granny to finish eating before being walked home. He only hoped for her left overs, but she left noting on her plate. In fact, the only evidence that she had eaten was the greasy layer around her lips, where there was enough oil to fry up another portion of potatoes.
Then, Little Tree Pig heard the other two little pigs running towards Granny’s house shouting something to them. Little Tree Pig opened the door and saw Little Mole Pig and Little Water Pig tearing through the woods while waving a piece of paper in hand.
The two pigs arrived out of breath and buckled over, hands on their knees. They were huffing and puffing. Little Mole Pig, who was holding the Missing poster of Little Red, pointed to it and said, “We’ve just seen Little Red! She’s on the other side of the woods.”
Ruby grabbed her coat.
“Wait”, said Scarlet. “Don’t forget to take the Hero Rat with you.”
“You’re not coming?”
“I’ll look after Granny. I’ve also got some garden work to do around here. You go with the pigs.”
Ruby was so grateful that Scarlet was there to help, even though she didn’t understand what she meant by ‘garden work’. She didn’t have time to ask so she raced out the front door.
Ruby, the Three Little Pigs and the Hero Rat rushed out of the room, slamming the door behind them.