Short Story: Silverweed Muffins by Dorlana Vann
Below is the short story, “Silverweed Muffins”, which was inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood”, which in turn inspired my YA novel, Silverweed. I used some of the same background and plotlines for the book that I had used in the short story. In addition, when I drafted the longer version, I added a theme that I’d interpreted from the original Grimm Brother’s version of the fairy tale. And to me, “Little Red Riding Hood” is all about fear, the message being, “Don’t talk to strangers,” and “Don’t stray from the path.” So Silverweed’s theme ended up being: The real monster is fear. Here is the short story, I believe from 2008. Side Note: I don’t remember why I picked Swiss as the character’s name – it didn’t make it to the book though …
Silverweed Muffins by Dorlana Vann
Swiss drove like mad in his little red car, down into the valley, down the narrow winding roads, and away from the gravesite, but he would never be able to travel fast enough to escape his guilty thoughts. He should have never shooed those birds away. He should have heeded his mothers other countless warnings of bad luck, dark omens, and words of wisdom that he had only seen as silly superstition. But now she was dead, and he was alone in the world, except for his ailing grandmother.
He sped into his driveway and made an abrupt stop, hitting the steering wheel as he finally allowed his required tears to fall. He was eighteen-years-old and thought he was too old to cry, at least in front of people. No one could see him now.
After awhile, he began to think about the last conversation he had with his mother. A conversation he put to the back of his mind because he didn’t want to believe she was going to die. His mother loved her legends and fairy tales, and at the time, Swiss figured she was just getting some of her stories confused with reality. Still, her last words fought to be remembered. “Protect your grandmother. Don’t ever talk to strangers. You must carry on the tradition by making her muffins and taking them to her every day … every day by noon, without fail. They must always be the silverweed muffins.”
His mother had delivered a basket of silverweed muffins to his grandmother every day, for as long as he could remember. When Swiss was ten, he’d asked his mother why she didn’t just make a whole bunch and leave them there. His mother had said, “This reminds me to visit her. If I didn’t go one day, perhaps I would fail to remember the next, and soon I would completely forget. Now we can’t go and forget to take care of grandmother, can we?”
As he opened the front door to his house, he was still thinking about his mothers last dying words, which was her last dying wish, the realization that he had inherited this daunting job depressed him even more. His grandmother had outlasted his mother, and could possibly outlast him, so this task would be his, forever. Make and feed her muffins every day…
He wasn’t as sure about what his mother had meant when she told him to protect his grandmother. She lived far into the remote woods away from civilization. She didn’t even have a telephone. No one was going to call her and scam her out of her money, if she even had any. Perhaps his mother meant, take care of, instead of protect. Just get her the muffins, he thought, that was all he was capable of doing that day anyway. Maybe later he could ask his grandmother about what his mother had intended.
Swiss stood in the kitchen and mixed the ingredients to the recipe he had known by heart since he was six years old:
2 c flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
1 c milk
¼ c silverweed leaves
After he had baked the muffins, he put them in the lined red basket and covered them with a white linen napkin. This first muffin delivery venture wasn’t going to come close to the noon deadline his mother had requested. Oh well, he thought, as long as she receives her muffins today, all will be well.
He didn’t drive to his grandmother’s house as fast as he had driven away from his mother’s funeral. He actually turned on the music, hummed along, and had lovelier thoughts of happier times. He began to remember the trips he and his mother used to make to his grandmother’s when he was a child. It wasn’t just the visit that had been pleasant, but also the car ride. They would play games, their favorite being, I Spy.
Swiss’s thoughts turned gloomy when he remembered the last time they had played. He spied something red and his mother guessed, a car, a leaf on a tree, a bird, and so on, until finally she gave up. And then he told her, “I saw a little red man, right there beside the road. Didn’t you see him? He had horns like a goat and a long tail.” Curiously he didn’t remember her saying anything to the contrary like, “You saw no such thing,” or “You must have been mistaken.” No, she had said, “I didn’t see him.” And that was the last time they ever played the game, because neither one of them ever suggested it again. He had forgotten all about it, until that very moment. He shrugged off the strange mood it gave him; silly little boy’s imagination, that was all. His mother had filled his head with her foolishness.
There had been a furious thunderstorm the night before that left water standing in the ditches beside the road. Swiss’s grandmother lived in the dense woods. The road was barely a road much less paved, and he knew it would be a long drive of large puddles and fallen limbs. He didn’t want to tear up his little red car. So he parked it, put on his jacket and grabbed the basket of muffins. Dusk had already arrived and he did think twice about leaving the shelter of his car behind; the walk back would be a dark one.
Once he left the initial clearing in the woods, the night seemed to grow by a couple of hours. The chilled wind blew its breath on the back of Swiss’s neck, making him wish he had worn his jacket with the hood. When he began to wonder if he had become lost on the straight stretch of road, he stopped and turned several times. That’s when he thought he saw someone in the woods, right off the road. He figured it was merely shadows and the suggestive surroundings but decided he would walk faster at any rate. When he dared to investigate again, he was positive he saw someone, this time behind a slender tree. Glancing behind every couple of feet, Swiss walked as fast as he could trying not to let on that he knew he had a tail. But when it seemed this person wasn’t going to give up, he stopped and waited until he heard a rustling that was most likely his follower. He didn’t enjoy being scared, so if this person was going to attack him anyway, he would rather it was not an ambush.
“Hello?” Swiss turned around after a few seconds. “Excuse me, why are you following me?”
At this, a man stepped out of the bush, and Swiss wished he would had run to his grandmother’s instead of challenging a stranger. The man wore a cowboy hat and dirty boots. He looked big, rough, and hairy. In his left hand he carried a massive rusty ax.
Swiss took a giant step back and cleared his throat as he looked around for a weapon. He knew his basket of muffins wouldn’t do him much good, even if he had cooked them a bit longer than usual. Swiss stood as tall as possible. His voice didn’t hold much authority on its own, so he gave it a beat of deepness when he said, “You’re trespassing. Please leave this land immediately.”
“Trespassing?” the man said with the volume of a jackhammer. “I’m just doing my job, son.”
“And what job would that be?” Swiss was thinking, murderer, assassin, bear hunter…
“I’m a woodsman.” He squinted his already hard to see eyes under the massive entanglement of hair on his face. “I cut down trees.”
“Why would a woodsman be following me?”
The man laughed a vigorous belly laugh. “Following you? I am not interested in your whereabouts.”
Immediately, Swiss felt a bit foolish. His total day had been eerie, which must have left him jumpy and paranoid. Swiss thought that perhaps there were more of these woodsmen about.
“Right,” Swiss said. “I’ll be on my way.”
“Need some help? You lost?”
“No, this is my grandmother’s property. She lives just down the way.”
“I see. What’s there in that basket?” the man asked and took a step toward Swiss.
“Just some muffins for my grandmother.”
“Wouldn’t happen to be able to spare one, would you?”
Swiss didn’t doubt that the grubby man actually lived in the woods, as well as worked, and most likely starving. Besides, he had accused him of being a stalker. “I’m sure my grandmother can spare one.”
After the man was handed the muffin, he took an enormous bite and then picked it up to examine it. “Kind of odd tasting. What’s in here?”
“Family secret,” Swiss said and smiled. “Well, I must be getting on my way. My grandmother is waiting.”
Swiss walked on, checking behind him periodically to make sure the man wasn’t following him. He saw no sign and was satisfied after awhile that the man was who he’d said he was.
Finally, he made it to the clearing that started the yard. It was much brighter there, the full moon blared like a spotlight on his grandmother’s house. Trimmed hedges and flower gardens decorated the skillfully manicured grounds. Swiss thought about how his grandmother, being practically bed ridden, employed people to work in her yard. She also owned most of the woods for many miles and therefore must have hired the woodsman to cut down some trees on the path to her house.
He dreaded walking into the house that he once looked forward to visiting. It felt different now. Today it would be especially painful. She would ask about the funeral, be sorry she wasn’t able to make it, and make him relive the entire event. Not only that, he knew that this was only the beginning of many countless trips he would be taking to see her. Every day he would have to bring her the muffins.
He opened the door. “Grandmother,” he called, “it’s me, Swiss.” He snapped on the lamp in the living room and saw the familiar cozy furnishings draped with homemade quilts and afghans. The smell of cinnamon tea filled his nostrils as he walked into the kitchen and set the muffins down on the counter. He took a muffin out of the basket and set it on a small saucer.
“Grandmother,” he said again, wondering now if he had come too late, and she had gone to bed.
He hesitated at her bedroom door, not wanting to disturb an old lady and her sleep. Except his mother’s words came to mind: every day… every day. He tapped lightly on the door and then opened it.
The room was dark, but he could hear his grandmother’s grunts and snores from the back of the room. Aware of the light next to her bed, he made his way, muffin in hand, toward the lamp. He snapped it on.
At first the brightness blinded him. “I’m sorry I’m so late. It’s just that it’s been an aw—” He stopped with his mouth open, stared, and then heard the crash of the plate as it hit the floor. For there in his grandmother’s bed was a huge, hairy wolf. And the wolf was awake now, looking at him.
The wolf had big eyes, a big nose, and what big teeth it had. It growled, saliva gathering at the corners of its mouth like a mad dog. Swiss stood petrified, but only for a second, because the wolf then leaped out from underneath the cozy blankets. Swiss found his feet and scrambled backwards, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the wolf because it actually wore one of his grandmothers long pink nightgowns.
“Grandmother,” Swiss yelled, and then quickly scanned the room for any sign of her. Perhaps she hid under the bed or maybe in the closet. He didn’t want to even think of the obvious, but he didn’t have time to have a good look, because in the next instant, the wolf had lunged and pinned him to the hardwood floor.
Swiss shielded his face with his arms as the wolf tore at him with its claws, ripping Swiss’s clothing open like a candy wrapper. The sharp nails dug deep into his flesh causing Swiss to cry out in pain. His mind desperately analyzed the situation. He had two choices: keep fighting and prolong the agony or die a just as painful but perhaps quicker death. At the very moment Swiss had decided to move his arms and let the wolf finish him off, the heaviness of the animal lifted, and he heard it howl out in pain. He didn’t dare move. His entire body felt like it was on the spin cycle as hard adrenaline pumped through his heart. Finally, with large breaths, he sat up.
The wolf lay on the floor with an ax in its side. Swiss stood up, but not wanting to take any chances that the wolf would attack him again, he kept his distance.
Swiss flinched, ready to run, when the woodsman he had talked to earlier stepped out of the shadows and retrieved his ax. The red blood of the wolf poured out onto the floorboards.
“My grandmother,” Swiss managed to get out of his dry mouth. “Have you seen my grandmother?”
The woodsman frowned at him and then subtly motioned with his eyes for Swiss to look at the wolf.
When Swiss looked, his head did a spin and a swoon. There on the floor in the place of the wolf lay his grandmother.
“I’ve been tracking her for years,” the woodsman said.
Panic wrapped itself around Swiss’s reason. His whole world swirled around in his head. “I thought I saw… There was a wolf. My mind, in the darkness, my eyes… I’ve been so upset today.” He looked up at the woodsman who still held the bloody ax. “Why would you kill my grandmother?” He could feel anger and guilt rising to his face. Protect your grandmother. He had not been able to protect her for a single day. Don’t ever talk to strangers. What had he done?
“That was not your grandmother, son,” the woodsman said. He turned from Swiss and yelled, “She’s over here.”
Three men in army uniforms entered his grandmother’s room. Two of them carried a stretcher. They put it down beside his grandmother. The other man had on plastic gloves, and he touched her neck. “She’s dead,” he said, like he had solved a great mystery, and then placed a white sheet over her body. The first two men picked her up.
“Wait,” Swiss said. “What do you think you’re doing? Stop… STOP!”
They paid no mind to him but continued their job and placed her on the stretcher. They picked up the stretcher just as Swiss ran in front of them, blocking them from going any further.
“Did you hear me? Put her down.”
The woodsman nodded to the men who had looked to him for answers. “It’s all right,” he said.
“Just give us a few moments.”
The men placed the stretcher back on the floor, and then walked out of the bedroom.
Swiss said, “I don’t know what’s going on. But I do know that you just chopped my grandmother with an ax. I’m calling the police.” But as he said the words, he did understand that all was not normal.
“She is the property of the United States Government. Thirty years ago, she traded her citizenship for compensation and help. She’s werewolf, the real deal, and she needed help to stop killing people. After she signed her life over to us, the scientists found that silverweed kept the symptoms of the disease in check. Only, as soon as she was better she reneged on her deal and fled with outside help. I have been tracking her ever since. It seems I found her just in time.”
Swiss sat on the edge of his grandmother’s bed. None of it made sense, but yet, things began to make more sense than ever. The muffins. “Still,” Swiss whispered, feeling the sting of his slashes shouting something else at the same time. “She wouldn’t have hurt me.”
“She had no control once she changed. But I don’t think she has changed much over the years, though,” the woodsman said thoughtfully. “I always check out the stories where there’s been an animal mauling. Until a year ago, there wasn’t any that had signs of werewolf. But that’s how I ended up here. She must have missed a dose of silverweed. I’ve been watching her place for over six months now.”
Changed, Swiss thought. His grandmother changed into a wolf and then tried to eat him.
“I’m really glad you spied me in the woods today,” the woodsman continued, “If not, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try those muffins. The taste of parsnips confirmed my suspicions, and since there was a full moon, I feared for your safety. I really hoped I’d be able to take her in alive.” The woodsman shook his head. “I’m really sorry about your grandma. You do realize that more than just your life was in jeopardy tonight. She was a wild animal, and there would have been no way to tame her, no matter how much silverweed she ate.” With that, the woodsman stuck his head out the door and told the men to come back in.
This time Swiss didn’t say anything; he just let them take her away.
“Here’s my number.” The woodsman handed Swiss a card. “You can have her in a couple of days so you can give her a proper burial.”
Alone in his grandmothers room, Swiss put his face in his hands and cried for the second time that day. He ached all over, especially on his right side. He reached down and held it. “Ouch,” he said, as lifted up his shirt to look. He saw his blood pooling at surface of a wicked bite. Swiss knew too well what it meant. His mother had told him countless stories of vampires and werewolves.
This meant he would share in his grandmother’s fate.
He thought that perhaps he should stop the man to tell him, and show him and ask what he should do. No, he already knew what to do.
Silverweed muffins every day… every day.
Buy the YA novel – Silverweed: a supernatural fairy tale
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