Back in the Hood
by Kate Maxwell
Imagine if she’d been wearing a blue hood. Wafting through the woods in her floaty blue coat, a sweet girl on her way to assist a sick relative. Fragile, pretty as a cornflower, and doe-eyed dopey enough to fall straight into the putrid-fanged mouth of an opportunistic canine. It was a good thing then, that Hood knew to wear a shade of kickass red on her journey through the wild woods. Signaling a two-finger salute to all those sylvan gangsters lurking in the shadows, it gave her cheeks flush and her attitude heat. And, after the buzz of sinking some stimulants washed down with Sarsaparilla, Hood was ready for anything.
Hood was no fool. She was fifteen and knew a thing or two about the world. Gran had been in lockdown for months, smack-bang in the worst of the backcountry. Bloody rednecks everywhere, sprouting Jesus, bullets, and Deep State. Hood knew Gran was a tough old bird, but she needed supplies and some family support. Well, if she had to fight her way through a forest of lowlife fauna to get to Gran, she would. Bring it on.
“Take the main drag. Don’t get suckered into back paths where they advertise cheap drinks or phones. Keep straight, Hoodie. Don’t let them lure you in,” Mom reminded her as she slipped a set of knuckle dusters and can of mace into Hood’s pocket. “Gran’s got your back when you get there.”
Hood nodded, stuck in her earbuds, and cranked up the volume. She shifted her backpack, full of Tylenol, Lean Cuisines, ammunition, and hemorrhoid treatments, and set off.
It was when she stopped by the Backwoods Ammo shop to adjust her boot, that she saw him. She’d been warned, but there was no denying it, he was damn hot. Thick brown fringe dipping over dark eyes, and, oh, man! What a smile! Big flashy American teeth that almost took her breath away.
“Haven’t seen you around these parts.” He licked his lips.
She locked eyes with him, almost fell into cornflower blue, before she remembered she was Red. “You either,” she replied, forcing herself to focus on how Gran desperately needed her hemorrhoid treatment.
“Hey, hungry? How about a bite?” He pawed her arm.
“Thanks, but I’ve got to run,” she cried as she booted him in the groin, shot him with a blast of pepper spray, and pelted into the trees.
A few miles from Gran’s house, she sensed someone following her. She caught peripheral glimpses of a large prowling figure, and the scent of sweaty dog tickled her nostrils. That’s why Mom hadn’t gone to Gran’s in the first place; she was way too well-known in this district. Implicated in some undercover work, Mom would have been tracked for sure. Nobody knew Hood, who’d been studying at her mom’s old college, ‘Resistance Education Department’ in Australia, and had only come back home for the holiday. The lockdown meant she couldn’t get back to school so she thought she’d try and be helpful instead.
Now Hood’s heart hammered, not with fear, but excitement. The Sarsaparilla had started to kick in, and the rich crimson rhythms of the hunt pulsed through her veins. She slipped on her knuckle dusters and set her senses to high alert. But he didn’t show. He slunk into the shadows, and she lost his scent. Right up to the moment she squeaked the rusty front gate open then rang the doorbell, she thought he may have given up.
But there he was. He opened the door, raised a dirty finger to his lips as he pressed a gun into Gran’s plump side, and motioned Hood inside. His eyes, red from the pepper spray, had a murderous glint. He rammed Gran, gagged and bound, into the hallway cupboard. Hood remembered Mom telling her that Gran ‘had her back’. She hadn’t seen Gran in a while and, although she’d obviously put on weight and was having issues with her sensitive regions, Hood assumed Gran could still live up to her old badass reputation. How else could she have survived in the lowlands like this?
Now, the mangy dog bared his bright white teeth and shoved the gun under Hood’s chin.
“Should have accepted my dinner invitation, little girl.”
“Thanks, but I don’t eat cold horsemeat from a can,” she rasped through a stiff jaw.
“Ha, you’re a scream. You’ve got five minutes to convince Gran here to give me her passwords. If not, I just get my hacker on to it. Oh, and then enjoy some hacking of my own while I’m here.”
He opened the hall closet. Gran’s eyes, steel blue and serious, caught hers in a knowing gaze. Mom was right. Gran always had a plan.
“Gran, I’ve missed you,” Hood said. “Dogface here says you need to provide him with bank passwords because apparently he’s too lazy and stupid to look after himself and has chosen a career of scavenging, instead of contributing in any way to the community.”
He pistol-whipped her. She licked up the scarlet spill trickling down her mouth but thought she saw a twinkle in Gran’s eye. The doorbell rang. Two sets of eyes widened. He thrust his hairy hand over Hood’s mouth. With the other hand he pushed Gran back into the closet and kicked the door shut. Hood had to admit, he had skills.
The doorbell rang again. They stood in this silent, frozen embrace for what seemed like forever. A small green business card slid under the door and footsteps faded away. He picked up the card, still holding her tight.
“Arborist, Tree Lopping, and Pruning Services,” he breathed in her ear. “Oh, and they’ve written a note: Nobody home at scheduled time. Please make another appointment. Silly old Gran, hey? Can’t even remember her appointments anymore.”
Now or never, Hood thought. He’d loosened the pressure on her mouth, so she curled back her lip and bit down as hard as she could into flesh. He released, howling in pain, and she quickly rolled out of his grasp, squatting into a facing attack position. Then, a deafening roar, a groaning crack, and splinters of wooden closet door were scattered all over the hallway.
Hood shielded her eyes. She heard a thwack and a strange guttural whimper. When she opened her eyes all she saw was red. Red everywhere.
Gran stood smiling at her, panting, bloody chainsaw clutched in her right hand.
“Hoodie, sweetheart. It’s so wonderful to see you. Did you bring me my meds?”
Hood stepped over the mangled corpse and hugged her Gran.
“I sure did, Gran. I knew you had something up your sleeve, or in this case, the cupboard. Pity, he really was quite cute.”
Gran frowned at her. “Oh, rubbish. Every dog has his day.”
Then the doorbell rang again. Gran waddled over to the door.
“Well, you’re a bit late. I’ve already done the job,” she said.
A tall, smooth faced boy stood at the door. Arborist, Tree Lopping, and Pruning Services was printed on his overalls.
“Sorry, Mrs. Red, Dad was called off to an emergency at Ms. White’s place. He said you’d have it all under control, but I’ve got the mulcher round the back, so I’ll start the clean-up.”
He spotted Hood, blood splattered and bright-eyed, behind Gran.
“Haven’t seen you around these parts.” He smiled a shy braces-filled smile.
She locked eyes with him and completely melted into cornflower blue.
“You either.” Hood smiled back. “Maybe I can help you clean up. I’m sure Gran needs a rest.”
“Fabulous,” he grinned.
Gran rolled her eyes. But Hood knew she could be kickass red again another day. Right now, she was happy to be doe-eyed dopey blue.
Kate Maxwell is yet another teacher with writing aspirations. She’s been published and awarded in Australian and international literary magazines, such as Cordite, Hecate, fourW, Meniscus, Social Alternatives, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Blood and Bourbon, and Fiction Kitchen Berlin. Kate’s interests include film, wine, and sleeping. Her first poetry anthology, Never Good at Maths, is published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane. She can be found at https://kateswritingplace.com/