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Excerpt for Apple by Gill McKnight by , available in its entirety at Smashwords








Apple

Gill McKnight



Copyright © 2017, Gill McKnight

Dirt Road Books, Inc


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, printouts, information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to business establishments or events is coincidental.




Apple


“You can’t eat that.”

Can too. It’s one of my five a day.” Snow White twirled the apple on a fingertip with the magical agility only a fairy princess could muster.

Your what?” Red Cap frowned, momentarily mesmerized by the spinning fruit.

My five a day. Five servings of fruit and veggies every day for an actively magical lifestyle. It’s the palace’s latest nutritional recommendation.” Snow White gave her apple a quick shine on her sleeve and eyed it with satisfaction.

It looks dangerous, all red and shiny like that. Like a sort of beacon, or warning.” All Red Cap’s suspicion genes were bleeping and blurting.

Snow White snorted rudely. “You are such an old woman, Red. I bet you’re wearing your grandma’s bloomers.”

Red Cap bit her lip. She knew she came over as a worrywart, but that was because she was. It was frustrating to be so suspicious about everything, but the magic kingdom was a dangerous place and her grandma instilled caution in her from an early age.

Where’d you get it?” she asked.

Honestly, Red Cap, stop droning on. It’s an apple, for goodness’ sake. I found it on the windowsill. It was probably a present from a passing bluebird or something.”

Red Cap’s frown deepened and she chewed harder on her lip. “A bluebird couldn’t carry an apple that size.”

A squirrel, then.” Snow White was running out of patience.

“Squirrels are too greedy to share.”

Red, you’re being a pain in the ass. Stop with the village bumpkin act and live a little!” Snow White bit deeply into the apple with great relish. “Mmm. This is so deli—ack!” She spasmed, grabbed at her throat, and to Red’s horror, and small thrill of justification, the fairy princess sank gracefully to the floor.

Oy vey!” Red Cap cried. “Poison! It’s always the poison. Oh, Snowie.” She sank to her knees and shook her friend. “Speak to me, Snowie.”

It was futile. Snow White was out for the count.

I’m going for help,” Red Cap announced to the empty room. She leapt to her feet and ran out the door.

The first living thing she met was a rabbit. This particular rabbit was a favourite of Snow White’s, so she waved it down. “Snow White has been poisoned. I need your help!”

“I’ll get the nearest prince!” And the rabbit ran off.

No, wait. Come back. I need help now,” Red Cap called after it, to no avail, though she did see it stop several times to impart the news to a passing hedgehog, a water shrew, and several field mice. Rabbits were such gossips.

Around the corner, she found a tortoise. “I need help!”

Oh! Oh, goodness gracious me. What can I do?” It took him five minutes to form and deliver his sentence.

“Nothing!” Red Cap was once again on her way and flew down the path towards the forest.

She ran on and literally bumped into a mole. “Please, you’ve got to help me. Snow White has been poisoned and—”

Good!” he said. “Not until these leaching autocrats relinquish supreme executive power will we see freedom and equality for all woodland species.” He rose on his hind legs and puffed up angrily. “The day the lands of the magic kingdom run blue with their blood will be a happy day for me. Death to all Royalists! You should be ashamed, betraying your commoner grassroots by working for them!”

“Oh, I don’t work for her, I’m just a friend,” Red Cap hastened to explain.

He snorted rudely and barrelled back into his tunnel without another word. Overhead she heard the tittering of blackcaps.

You may well laugh, but this is serious,” she told the naughty little birds.

Trust you to find the only revolutionary in the forest,” they warbled in unison. “Don’t you know a group of moles is called a labour? They’re all proletariats.”

“I’ve no time for this. I need to find help.”

Look for the Huntsman,” they trilled.

The Huntsman?” Red Cap frowned. She’d heard of him but had never met him. According to Grandma he was a mysterious, lonesome figure.

Yes. He’s in the copse. Go now!” The little birds danced excitedly around her head. “Go. Go now.” They were very annoying and Red Cap tried to flap them away but they continued to pester. “Yes! Go.” They pushed her along, deeper into the woods and off the path she was always told to stay on.

The Huntsman was not that far away. Red Cap found him slumped on a fallen log sullenly contemplating the gleaming edge of his axe. He looked tired and defeated and not at all like the great woodsman she’d aways heard stories about. As she haphazardly crashed through the foliage towards him, his posture changed and he straightened up, his thin face sharpening with interest at her blundering intrusion.

“What are you doing off the beaten track, little girl?” he asked.

Red Cap was confused by the question. She looked back over her shoulder, aware that the blackcaps had mysteriously disappeared. “I’m only a few yards off it. Look, it’s over there,” she answered politely.

A yard is sometimes enough,” he said, and looked cryptically at her.

There was an awkward pause as Red Cap digested this, then brushed off the strange comment as social ineptitude, and got straight to the point, “My friend has been poisoned. I need help.”

Has she been eating the wild berries?” he asked with interest.

“No—”

Ah-ha! Mushrooms, then. We get a lot of townies doing that, here in the woods.”

No.” Red Cap gave him a hard stare for the interruption. “She bit into a huge red apple. And she’s not a townie.”

He frowned. “The King’s orchards are miles from here. Where did she get an apple?”

It was left on her windowsill. She thinks by bluebirds, or maybe squirrels.”

Bluebirds?” He guffawed. “Never squirrels, they’re too greedy.”

Red Cap privately applauded this salient point.

Who exactly is this friend?” he asked.

Princess Snow White. I told you she wasn’t a townie. She’s my friend and I need help, and now!” None of this rescue was going the way she’d expected and precious time was being wasted. In her mind, the Huntsman should be running alongside her back to the dwarf’s cottage, and together they’d somehow save the princess, and the day.

His smile became twisted and bitter. “Sounds like the work of an evil stepmother to me.”

Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” Red Cap tightened her hands into angry fists. It was so obvious. “She’s got to the bluebirds.”

Where is your princess friend?” He rose to his feet. His smile softer and more genuine. He seemed willing to help.

Red Cap squinted. Something about the Huntsman didn’t add up. He was tall, and lean, and broad shouldered, but the leather breeches he wore curved in interesting places. His leather jerkin was a tad tantalising, too. As he stooped to collect his bow and quiver, a long plait of ebony hair spilled over his shoulder.

“You’re a woman!” Red Cap gawped.

“Indeed.”

“But I thought—”

Never mind what you thought. Nothing is as it seems in the deep, dark woods. Now, where is your friend?”

In her holiday home, a cottage by the silver mines in the deepest, darkest part of the forest.”

Ah. The silver mines. Are the dwarves at home?” There was a note of caution in her voice.

Red Cap checked her watch. “They’re still at work.”

I see.” The Huntsman relaxed. “After you.” With a cavalier wave of her hand she indicated Red Cap should lead the way.

Several times Red Cap checked over her shoulder to make sure the Huntsman was still following. She moved like liquid through the forest. Not even a twig snapped under the pad of her boot. Every time she looked back, the Huntsman was right behind her, smiling bemusedly at Red Cap’s anxious glances.

I’m still here,” she even whispered once.

They crossed a sunlit meadow, and Red Cap noticed how the Huntsman’s posture changed. She stood up straighter, her face raised to the sun, nostrils quivering.

What are you doing?” Red Cap asked.

Smelling the day and all the creatures in it. I am a hunter, after all.”

When they reentered the shadows, the Huntsman’s posture changed again, and she became more hunched. Her body tensed and her brow darkened. Her eyes slid this way and that, bright and alert. She smacked her lips often, as if hungry, and swallowed noisily.

What are you doing?” Red Cap asked again, a little nervously this time.

“Looking for company.”

Red Cap took this to mean that the Huntsman was making sure nothing dangerous was creeping up on them. The forest was a dangerous place, full of wolves, and unicorns, and wild boar. Though, being with the Huntsman somehow didn’t make Red Cap feel any safer.

The Seven Dwarves’ cottage sat in a bright patch of sunlight that broke through the dense forest canopy. White cotton sheets flapped on the washing line. Pink roses festooned the door. Blue jays swooped around the wishing well, and the slope leading up to the cottage door was a thick carpet of wild flowers and lazy honey bees.

Here we are.” Red Cap ran ahead. Snow White was as she had left her, flat out on the floor. Some baby rabbits and a fawn had gathered around her in a concerned huddle. Red Cap chased the gawkers outside and brushed away their droppings. “Nosey little poopers.”

It’s not poison.” The Huntsman knelt over Snow White. “Part of the apple is lodged in her throat.”

Oh, thank goodness for that.”

“It’s not all good. Her lips are blue,” the Huntsman said. “She may have some brain damage.”

Red Cap shrugged. “She’s a fairy princess, she’ll get by all right.”

Okay. I’m going to do the Heimlich manoeuvre. I need you to go outside and stay there.”

“But why? It’s only the Hei—”

Move along, please. Nothing to see here.” And she began to usher Red Cap out the door to stand alongside the disgruntled rabbits and deer.

Red Cap did as she was told reluctantly, but she was fretful and uncertain. This was not the wonderful rescue she had expected. After a moment’s hesitation, she peeked through the window. The Huntsman did indeed have Snow White in the Heimlich manoeuvre, or some variant of it. Snowie was on all fours on the floor and the Huntsman was spooning her from behind. As she watched, the Huntsman growled and licked Snow White’s ear with a tongue that seemed abnormally long. Snow White moaned and then giggled. Her eyelids fluttered as she began to regain consciousness and wiggle her bottom back into the Huntsman’s groin. Red Cap ducked out of sight under the windowsill, repelled yet curiously excited at what she had seen. That was a twerk! She had heard of them before, and a twerk was certainly not in any first aid manual she had read.

The door opened and the Huntsman stepped out. From her crouched position under the window, Red Cap was level with her big black boots. She flushed, which she hated as her colouring clashed horribly with her cap, and yanked at some nearby flowers, pulling up roots and all.

I was picking some flowers for Snowie. How is she?” She tried to sound composed, but rising to stand face to face with the Huntsman did not help. The Huntsman’s features had altered slightly. Her jaw looked leaner, her eyebrows heavier, and her ears more pointed. She was still a very handsome woman, though her beauty now lurked behind a thin veneer of menace.

She’s fine. Needs to sleep, though. I put her to bed,” the Huntsman said.

I’ll…I’ll just give her these flowers. Thank you so much for saving her.” Red Cap backed into the cottage relieved the Huntsman stayed outside. The rabbits and fawns immediately scattered.

Snowie, are you all right?” she hissed in her friend’s ear. Snow White opened her eyes and stared up dreamily from her white gossamer pillow. A satisfied smile creased her lips.

“Mm. I’m fine, honey. Tell your friend thanks.”

“She’s not really my friend. I found her in the woods and asked her to come help.” Red Cap fretted. “I think there’s something odd about her.”

Snow White gave a croaky laugh, her hand fluttered to her throat and she gave a grimace of pain. “Hurts to talk.”

The baby rabbits were in the house again so I chased them outside,” Red Cap said anxiously. “One of them told me Prince Charming was on his way with a prescription. Oh, and I brought you flowers.” She held up the drooping blossoms complete with clods of earth sticking to their root balls.

Snow White gave a tiny nod and her eyelids drifted shut.

“Okay. I’ll leave you to rest. Maybe I’ll drop by tomorrow to see how you are.” There was no answer. “I’ll pop these in water, shall I?” Still no answer. Snow White was sleeping.

With a sigh, Red Cap plopped the flowers in a nearby water jug, the water immediately muddied. She smoothed the covers over Snow White, and having run out of things to delay her, turned slowly for the door.

As she feared, the Huntsman was waiting for her outside. Red Cap felt uneasy. She had no coins or charms to pay her with. There was no food in the cottage either--Snow White was an atrocious cook and relied on the dwarves to feed her with Chinese takeaway. How was she going to pay this sinister Huntsman? She had saved Snowie’s life, after all, and deserved some sort of reward.

“Hi, thanks again for helping,” she said, unsure what to do next.

The Huntsman shrugged. “Happy to help. What are you doing now?”

“I suppose I’ll go over to Grandma’s. I was on my way there when I dropped by to see Snow White.”

“Anyone else we could help? I sort of liked being useful,” the Huntsman asked hopefully.

Well…um.” Red Cap was surprised she was even contemplating an answer. Part of her wanted to be rid of the Huntsman as soon as possible. Another part, the bigger part, was fascinated by her and wanted her to stick around. The Huntsman was bold and exciting, but then she was a hunter by trade and everyone knew hunters lived in the deepest parts of the wildest woods and had a very dangerous job.

My friend Rappers is sort of agoraphobic. She’s not been out of her tower for months. She just sits around washing her hair,” she heard herself say.

“Weird,” said the Huntsman. “Shall we go see if she needs anything?”

“Okay. But her tower is well off the beaten track.”

“Excellent.”

I mean, Grandma always tells me not to go there.”

But you do anyway.” The Huntsman smiled slyly. “And this time, you’ll be with a Huntsman, so that’s got to be safe.”

They took off again towards the heart of the forest and Rapunzel’s tower, where only the eagles flew high enough to see the turrets looming over the treetops. This time, the Huntsman’s spine curved and she stooped more and more as they wove their way under the gloomy trees. Her breathing became heavy and she stopped every so often to make crude scratches on the tree trunks with her nails.

What are you doing?” Red Cap asked, fascinated at the claw marks. Her nails would rip off and her fingers be torn to the bone if she had tried to gouge the wood like that.

“Marking our way.”

“So we won’t get lost? I know the way back, I’ve come this way before.”

The Huntsman laughed. “So we’ll be respected,” she answered.

They came to a sunny meadow and as Red Cap made to continue across, the Huntsman grabbed her. Her grip was strong and her fingers bit into the scrawny muscles in Red Cap’s arm.

Let’s go around.” The Huntsman indicated they keep to the edge of the forest and avoid the clearing.

It’s quicker to go straight across.” Red Cap said. The Huntsman’s eyes gleamed from the shadows she had retreated into. Her smile was tight and her teeth showed white and long against blood red lips.

“The light will hurt my eyes,” she said, almost apologetically.

We walked in the sunlight before.” Though, it was later in the day and the bright afternoon was slowly fading into long summer shadows.

Things change. Here, it’s best to keep to the dark side.”

Okay.” Red Cap conceded out of good manners. She gazed at the sky anxiously. In a few hours, night would fall, and she had better get to Grandma’s house long before then.

Wow, that’s tall,” the Huntsman said, a note of surprise in her voice. They cranked their heads back as far as possible until their necks began to crick, but still the top of the tower was lost in the clouds.

Told you it was a big tower. It scrapes the sky,” Red Cap said.

“How do we get in?” The Huntsman looked for a door.

Depends if Rappers wants company. She can be moody sometimes.” Red Cap cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Rappers! Rappers!”

Above them, a blonde head peeped out of a small turret window.

It’s me!” Red Cap waved her arms and continued to holler. “Guess what happened to Snow White? She nearly choked to death on an apple!”

The head disappeared and a coil of hair as thick as a galleon’s mooring rope tumbled down the side of the tower towards them. The Huntsman looked at Red Cap enquiringly.

Red Cap waved a hand at the enormous plait of hair. “After you. We have to go up one at a time.”

“We climb this?”

“Yes. She’s been growing out her bob forever.”

The Huntsman shook her head in disbelief but took a fistful of hair and heaved herself up anyway.

Oh,” Red Cap called after the rapidly ascending body, “when you reach the top, remember to compliment her on the shine and silkiness.”

The Huntsman arrived at the small window in no time at all and disappeared inside. Red Cap reached for the hair to begin her own climb to the top, when the plait suddenly whisked upwards and was hauled inside the tower.

Hey,” she called out, hurt at being excluded. The Huntsman was her friend…sort of.

Time passed and the forest grew cool as the violet hour approached. Red Cap hunkered by the base of the tower glumly drawing circles in the dust. This was not how she had planned the visit to go. Rappers had always been self-centred and rather spiteful, but she had no right to steal Red Cap’s new friend.

Was she a friend? Red Cap thought about the Huntsman, or was it Huntswoman? She barely knew her and, to be honest, sometimes found her scary. Okay, perhaps she wasn’t a friend, then. Perhaps she was more like a companion on their little quest? Wasn’t that what the Huntsman had said earlier when she was sniffing the forest air, that she was looking for company, too? Perhaps she was lonely? Red Cap knew what that felt like. She had often been the outsider. She was a simple village girl in a world full of fairy princesses, Prince Charmings, and magic carriages. She had tried to be a good friend but often felt left out. Red Cap had never set foot inside a crystal palace, nor had she been invited to any banquets or balls.

Before she could slide into more self-pity, the plait thumped to the ground inches from where she sat, making her jump. She watched the puff of dirt it threw up with alarm, and tutted.

That could have given me a nasty concussion. Rappers needs to look before she throws. She stood and smoothed down her peasant dress. High above she could just make out the Huntsman climbing out the window and beginning to descend the plait. Rapunzel’s head stuck out the window after her, watching her descent.

“You beast!” she screeched.

Oh no. What’s happened now?” Red Cap muttered.

“Come back here this minute!” Rapunzel continued to shout. “I never said you could go!”

Red Cap watched in disbelief as Rapunzel produced a huge kitchen knife and began to saw through her plait of hair.

Oh, Rappers, no!” Red Cap’s hands cupped her face in horror. “There’ll be hell to pay with your stylist.”

And as for you, Red CRAP! You can shut up, you soppy little milk cow!”

Wow. Rude. Red Cap blinked in surprise as Rapunzel continued her uncouth tirade directed towards both her and the Huntsman. What on earth had happened up there?

Rapunzel sawed at her hair like crazy until the last few strands gave way and the plait fell to the ground with such a crash, it silenced the birds, flattened a sapling, and created a huge cloud of dust. The Huntsman, only halfway down, leapt free and landed barefoot several yards away, as agilely as a cat.

Red Cap was amazed. “You fell on your feet from about fifty feet up?” And where are your boots?

The Huntsman gave the tower a calculating look then grinned smugly. “Only twenty.” Her teeth were long and sharp. Her ears pointed and furry. The nails on her hands and bare feet were twisted into huge claws. Red Cap could hear the small bones of her fingers and toes snap and grind.

She sighed. “You’re a werewolf, aren’t you.” It was a statement, not a question. She looked away disappointed.

I’m afraid so.” The Huntsman came over and they fell into step beside each other, moving out of earshot of Rapunzel’s profanities. The Huntsman was very hunched now, and plucked at her clothes every so often as if they annoyed her. Around them, the forest melted into the dusk, while above, the sun set in a blaze of scarlet ribbons.

I guess I sort of knew,” Red Cap muttered. She was angry at herself for being so stupid…again. Why hadn’t she gone with her gut feel when they’d first met? She’d known something was off.

Why didn’t you run away? Most people would.”

I suppose I was so frantic about Snow White, and you were the only one actually prepared to help me.”

You’ve a good, tasty heart.”

This alarmed Red Cap, more than a little. “How did you become one?” She tried to guide the conversation away from her tastiness.

Become what? I’m a Huntsman because my father was one and taught me his trade. I’m a werewolf because I was bitten by one while out hunting many, many years ago.”

“Do you like being one?”

Being what? A Huntsman’s life is a lonely one. Trailing game can take you away from home for weeks at a time. And a werewolf has no home. Werewolves are unnatural and shunned by humankind and the creatures of the forest alike. Werewolves are always alone, unless one is lucky enough to find a mate.”

That’s so sad.” Red Cap felt momentarily sorry for the Huntsman, then remembered her own plight. “Are you going to eat me now?” Grandma will be so pissed with me. I didn’t listen to a word she said.

“Not necessarily.”

Why not?” Red Cap was alarmed. This was breaking all the rules according to Granny.

The Huntsman shrugged. “I’ve had fun today. Please don’t be offended if I don’t rip you asunder.” Laughter bubbled under her words.

“You didn’t worry when you offended Rappers enough for her to cut off her hair,” Red Cap pointed out. “Now she’ll never have visitors.”

Then she’ll have to go out and meet people in the normal way, won’t she?”

Was that your plan?” If it was, then it was a terrible, brash plan.

“No.”

“So, what did you do to upset her so much?”

I did nothing but leave. I wanted to check on you. Otherwise, I’d be in that damned tower forever. Rapunzel is lonely, too, but hard-hearted and selfish with it.”

No Heimlich manoeuvres, then?” Red Cap asked, not quite innocently.

“So, you peeked.”

“I always peek. I was worried.”

“Worried that I’d harm her?”

They were walking in darkness now. The sun had set. Through the branches above, stars began to twinkle coldly in the night sky. And in the west, the moon rose slowly over the Glass Mountains.

Yes, I was worried…worried,” Red Cap took a deep breath, “I was worried you’d like her more than me.” There. She’d said it.

“Why would you think that?” The Huntsman sounded mystified.

“Because I saw you lick her…and other stuff.”

Ah. The taste test.” The Huntsman nodded wisely. “She failed. Fairy princesses always fail. They taste bitter and nasty.” She stuck her tongue out in distaste. It was a long, rude, healthy pink, and Red Cap was fascinated by it.

Rappers failed, too?” she asked.

“She tasted like goat’s feet.”

Red Cap giggled at that. “What do you look for in a taste test?”

A companion.” The Huntsman’s spine and leg bones crunched with every step.

Red Cap considered this. “I’ve seen you sniff for them before. Earlier, in the woods, and again in the meadow.” Her brow creased. “And you can tell by just one lick?”

Uh-huh.” This came out as a growl. Red Cap looked. The Huntsman was now a full werewolf. She had pulled off her clothes and stood immense and naked in the moonlight. Her skin was dark and leathery and covered with a soft brown pelt. She had a short muzzle with huge fangs, and amber eyes that glowed with energy.

Hesitantly, Red Cap held out her hand and stroked the shaggy maw.

“Taste me,” she said quietly.

“I hoped you’d ask. I would love to taste you.”

Gently, the Huntsman laid her down on a mossy bank and cut away the ties and laces of her blouse and skirt with a singularly sharp claw. Red Cap’s clothes fell away until she lay naked and quivering under the stars. Talons as sharp as blades carefully drew across her nipples. They tightened until they throbbed with a delicious ache. Red Cap arched. Granny had never mentioned this. Her thighs were damp, and involuntarily they spread in supplication before the werewolf. The Huntsman moved down her body and paused over her sex momentarily breathing in her scent. Then, the long, coveted tongue drew along her exposed flesh and plunged deeply inside of her, hard and swirling and totally commanding. Red Cap cried out in surprise and delight as the tongue danced, and whipped, and drove her into a frenzy that all too quickly dissipated in a starburst of pleasure she had never known the like of.

Breathless she lay, spread-eagled and totally done for.

I’ve never—” she began, gasping out the words when she could find them. “I’ve never…I mean…what was that?”

An orgasm.” The werewolf lay beside her, slowly transmuting back into naked female form. She sounded very smug. “You were incredibly quick. First time, maybe?”

Red Cap nodded. “You mean it can go on for longer?” She wondered how people coped.

For as long as you want it to.”

Red Cap lay silently, contemplating this. It was very exciting. Then a thought occurred. “How did I taste?” Maybe this would never happen again? Maybe she was sour and salty and worse than a fairy princess. After all, she was only a village girl.

The Huntsman rolled over onto her side and looked at her thoughtfully. She drew a cold fingertip from Red Cap’s lips, down to the pulse point at her throat, across her breasts, circling each nipple, on down, dipping into her navel, before finally resting lightly on the tip of her clitoris.

You,” the Huntsman said, “taste like happily ever after.”


The End



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