NOTE: Due to the closure of Drollerie Press, this book is no longer available. I have the returned rights to my story, so please check back to see what I do with it in the future.
Fall 2009, Drollerie Press
(contains violence, the threat of sexual violence and strong language. Please also note that the anthology as a whole contains strong violence including sexual violence, and is not suitable for children)
Scented Danger is part of this anthology which re-tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood in poetry and prose. In these stories, Red is sometimes innocent, sometimes less so; and the wolf is sometimes a monster, and most often human.
The Path glowed. It floated three feet from the ground, a flat silver ribbon winding off into the dusty grey tangle of city streets, and its edges flickered: fuzzy, faint blue, a ghost of colour.
Elli stood on the rough, dusty ground, the pass-chip cool against the hollow of her throat. She lifted her chin a little, so as not to impede the sensors, and put her right hand up to where the forcefield shimmered, a wavering as of rising heat above the edge of the Path. It thrummed against her palm, not at all painful, but completely impenetrable. Then, as the chip registered, as the remote scanners raced through her body, checking her gene- and hormone-patterns against the city memory-banks, the thrum quickened to a buzz. She felt the unyielding texture of the forcefield dissolve, the vibration melting to non-existence—first around her hand then farther, leaving a gap just wide enough for her to slip through.
She scrambled up onto the Path. As she stood, the motion shook flakes of damp, dark grey dust off the edge of her cloak. They fell to the silver surface of the Path, then instantly spun away off the edges. Part of what made the Path seem like something from another world, a bridge to a fairy tale: amongst the dust-drowned city, it was the only thing that stayed clean.
“Put your hood up,” said her mother, Marianne. In contrast to her figure, a little blurred through the reactivated forcefield, her voice came sharp, urgent.
Elli drew the hood of the cloak over her head. The cloak itself came to her feet, thick brown folds falling all around her, obscuring every line of her body. Once she tied the strings that kept it close around her face, shadowing her eyes, no one would be able to tell whether she was a young woman, an old woman, a man—except that, of course, a man wouldn’t need to cover up in the first place.
“Remember,” said Marianne, “don’t speak to anyone who’s not on the Path.”
Elli stooped to check all the buttons were fastened. They went all the way down to the hem of the cloak, ensuring not even a glimpse of ankle showed. “I know.” She straightened. “But wait—what if it’s a law officer? What if he speaks to me?”
“Refuse to speak to the law? I’ll get arrested!”
“If he’s a real law officer, and he wants to talk to you, he’ll get up onto the Path. I mean it, Elli. You’ve never been through the badlands; you don’t know what the people are like. Once you’re on the Path you can’t afford to do anything it might read as criminal activity—or consent to criminal activity. It protects you from violence or illegal solicitation from other Path-users. But people have been tricked before—someone’s called to them and they’ve said ‘yes?’ and the Path read that as consent. It’s conditional protection—it won’t work if it decides you don’t deserve it.
“That’s why you keep the cloak on, leave the hood up. You can’t afford to make eye contact, smile, even show your face if you’re young and pretty. If you’re going through Pimp Alley and the sensors decide you’re giving a come-on—”
Marianne opened her mouth, and then shut it. She looked up at Elli. There might have been tears on her face, or it might have been just the transparent wavering of the forcefield. “It’s dangerous,” she said. “That’s all. Be careful.”
“Okay.” This time Elli held back the irritated emphasis. But inside—for heaven’s sake, I’m eighteen. I might not have been to the badlands before, but I’ve grown up in the city, I’ve done salvage since I was nine—I can handle myself.
“Thank you,” said Marianne. Beside her, Elli’s father, Bren, smiled up at her. “You’ll do fine,” he said.
She grinned at him, buoyed by a fizz of excitement that seemed part of the vibrating forcefield. She was on the Path. The Path. She was on her own adventure, her own quest, to save them all. “I know!” she said, giving the words a half-joking arrogance. “Grandmother won’t be able to resist me. I’ll bring back everything we need!”
Bren put his arm around Marianne, gave her a little shake. “She’s joking. It’s okay. Let her go or she’ll never get back by dark.”
Well, that did the trick. Elli grinned down at them both through the forcefield’s shimmer. Then she turned north and took her first step along the Path. One step closer to the central city—and her grandmother’s house.
The grandmother she’d never seen. The grandmother whom, twenty years ago, Marianne had used this same Path to escape.