I was dressed in all red, swathed by a long, hooded cloak that covered my raven hair, protecting me from the chilly air. My feet kept on a dirt path partially hidden by discarded autumn leaves. Laced boots reached well above my ankles, the kind lined with soft, warm fur. My arms swung at my sides, one hand clutching at a basket of aromatic treats. It was a real temptation not to stop and snack on the baked goods inside. But no. It would have to wait until the clearing of trees revealed itself, the one that led to Grandmother’s cozy home.
I was singing a merry tune as I stepped along the trail, something about melting rainbows and whiskered cattails. For you see, that’s what a solitary, naïve girl does in fairytales. As I started into a chorus about galloping pigs, a young man suddenly appeared on the trail in front of me, emerging from out of nowhere. I stopped singing at that point and stood in place.
He wore a heavy cloak, similar to mine though black in color. His boots were made of brown hide, frizzy fur spitting up from the rims. His pants were dark, his shirt as well, tucked behind a black leather belt. A fierce creature froze in a howling pose on the buckle. The boy’s face was too shadowed by his hood to discern.
I was a bit puzzled by his appearance. This wasn’t part of the story my teacher had read to our class. I didn’t know what to think.
The boy summoned me to him with his thin, young fingers. Apprehension gripped my stomach, but I reminded myself that this was only a dream. When I stepped up close enough to feel the warmth of his presence, his features came into view. He was a good-looking boy with round cheeks and a pointed chin. His lips were thinned into a crooked grin, pale pink against tanned skin. His eyes were brown like mine. A mess of dark curls framed his face, falling down his neck, barely missing his shoulders. We spoke at the exact same instant.
“Who are you?”
He cocked his head. “I asked you first.”
“No you didn’t,” I protested, shaking my red-hooded head. “I asked you at the same time you asked me.”
“Well, then,” he sighed, seeming to concur with my observation, “I suppose we’ll have to go with ‘girls first.’” His grin widened into a white smile.
“I’m Little Red Riding Hood.” My hand gestured to all of me dressed in red.
His eyebrows skewed. “Hmmm.” The sound he made was unimpressed.
“Actually,” I confessed, “I’m not really Red Riding Hood. My name is Annabelle, but I’m pretending to be her because……well……because this is my dream and that’s what I wish to dream about.”
“That’s what you want to dream about? Some girl in a red cloak?” His twisted expression seemed to question my sanity.
“It’s better than dreaming about some boy in a drab, black cloak,” I defended. Although the moment I said it I realized my statement was absurd. That’s exactly what I was dreaming about.
“I’m only wearing this black cloak because you’re wearing that red one.”
“You’re copying me?”
We stopped to stare suspiciously at one another. It was quiet through the long gaze. Leaves rustled overhead while a breeze managed to sweep beneath his hood, tousling his brown curls. He spoke up first.
“I like your name.”
My lips grinned involuntarily. I bit down on them. “You do?”
“I don’t care for your dream, though. It’s boring. Let’s do something else.”
“You don’t even know where my dream was headed,” I said defensively. “I’m off to Grandmother’s house with this basket of goodies.”
His dark eyes flickered to the basket in my grip and then back to me. He sniffed once at the air. “Boring.”
My gaze narrowed slightly as I revealed the kicker to my dream. “My grandmother won’t be there when I get to her house…”
“Can we eat those goodies then?” the boy asked, interrupting me.
“No!” I exclaimed. My hands brought the basket protectively behind me. “I need these goodies to feed to the wolf who’ll be lying in my grandmother’s bed. He’s probably already eaten her by now.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. He gawked at me, speechless.
“Not so boring?” I asked with a tiny hint of smugness.
“That depends,” he said. “When we get there, is this wolf going to eat you too?”
My eyebrows pulled together in a worried manner. “I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean you don’t think so? Haven’t you thought this out?” My gaze dropped, hearing how his boot tapped impatiently against the ground.
“Well, um,” I hemmed, “this isn’t actually my story. It’s a book my teacher read to our class.”
“So how does it end?”
“She hasn’t read the ending yet,” I admitted, “but it probably ends like every other fairytale.”
His foot stopped its tapping. “How’s that?”
“Well, the evil villain is defeated, and the hero runs off with the princess and lives happily ever after.”
The boy rolled his eyes. “Bor~ing. I think the girl should be eaten by the wolf.”
“But that can’t happen,” I argued. “Nobody would care for a story like that.”
“Because no one wants to read about a little girl who dies in the end. It’s too sad. It’s not how fairytales go. And besides, I really don’t want to be eaten by a wolf. It might hurt.” My face tightened with concern. I hoped he wouldn’t force me to be eaten.
“What if I let him eat me? When he’s done, we can sit down and share those goodies in your basket.”
I thought about it for a second and then shrugged one shoulder. “Okay.”
The boy pulled back his hood uncovering a thick mess of brown curls. He turned and stepped along the trail. His dark eyes sparkled as they peered over his shoulder at me.
“Come on, Annabelle. That hungry wolf isn’t going to wait around forever.”
I obeyed his order, hustling up beside him. Looking past the rim of red fringe above my eyes, I studied his dimpled profile. He was handsome. But most of all he was kind. It was fun to dream that people could be so friendly toward me. I loved dreaming for that very reason.
“What’s your name?” I finally asked the boy.
His pointed chin lifted proudly with his answer. “I’m Gavin. Key keeper of Dreamland.”