The Shoe had just come into sight when the cramp hit Miss Muffet. The calf on her right leg clenched itself rock hard and nearly dropped her to the ground. Biting hard on her lip, she ignored the pain and tried to force her leg to obey. Once she had made it inside with the little old lady and all her children, there would be time to soothe the aching muscle. Only then could she afford the luxury of stopping. Only then could she allow herself to rest, to catch her breath, to stop. Until then, all she had room for was terror.
Crazy with fear, she pounded her unbending right leg into the ground and hobbled forward as fast as she could. She could hear the rustle of the tall grass behind her as her pursuer followed. It could have overtaken her at any point, she realized, but it was enjoying the thrill of the hunt.
Even as she staggered forward another step, despair threatened to overwhelm her. There was no way she could make it. She bit down harder, blood as red as her hair coming from her lip, as she determined to give the old monster a run for it.
She knew she shouldn’t have gone into the woods, but it had been a hard winter for everyone, and with spring here at last, and the day so pleasant, it had seemed a harmless enough thing to gather a small meal and eat it outside. And when she had seen the woodland flowers in bloom, and thought how lovely they would be in the drab interior of her family’s kitchen, she had to pick some. Soon one thing and led into another, and she fell into the folly of Red Riding Hood. She left the safety of the path, enticed by the beauty of the flowers that grew in the forbidden parts of the forest.
Before she knew it, most of the afternoon had passed, and she had collected her flowers in abundance but had not eaten. So she sat on her tuffet, pulled out the meager curds and whey she had brought with her, and began to eat.
Trouble was, if it had been a hard winter for everyone in the village, it had been just as hard for the creatures that lived in the forest. And when fresh meat came walking straight to their lairs, it was only to be expected that they would do what came naturally and try to eat.
She saw the great spider sit down beside her just in the nick of time. Without wasting breath on a scream, she sprang to her feet and ran away as fast as her feet could carry her, back through the woods, as branches slapped her skin and tore her dress. She didn’t slow down when her breath began to come in sharp, painful gasps that tore her throat. She didn’t slow down when her side began to ache with every footfall that jostled her tiny frame. And all the while, too frightened to look back, she could hear the spider scuttling through brush and fern, and over creek and log as it followed her, letting her work her blood into a heat.
The Shoe was in sight now, but as her leg collapsed underneath her and she fell to the ground, Miss Muffet knew she would never make it. She closed her eyes in unexpected serenity, and waited for the end.
Copyright © 2007 by David Learn. Used with permission.