It started as a joke, but Caro couldn't know that. Caro hadn't grown up with a house haunting the edge of a preserve. One that people claimed was filled with angry ghosts. Caro didn't know who lived there or why a trip to the house while dressed in red might have been funny in the least.
What Caro did know a sense of terror that cramped the stomach and stole away a steady hand. Clutching the gifted red cloak - who wore a cloak these days? - between shaking fingers, Caro had faithfully wound the way through town with a basket clutched in tense arms. The mothers' had been specific - the path was to go down town, through the park, and across a set of very specific streets (Oak, Chestnut, Rowan, and onwards).
Someone started watching when Caro reached to the park. A large, bulky someone perched on the fence, sitting there until he eyes caught on that rich red cloak. The man flashed teeth in what might have been an evil smile and Caro thought his teeth were sharp and his ears too large. Caro tried not to look too closely, felt an instant dislike. His big eyes stared, watched the red swirl of the cloak.
Caro hunched already-tight shoulders closer over the precious basket. The mothers' had said the basket was important. Caro wondered if there had to be a cloak, why not in a nice, dull color. The red stood out so.
Caro didn't get why the Mothers couldn't have just dropped her off if this was a someone she had to meet. Why was the bike forbidden in favor of slow feet. Caro hated this whole weird thing with walking to the house over the meadow and through the woods.
Caro was careful not to curse the family's decision to move. Curses were powerful things after all and even an unprepared curse could have consequences. That didn't mean Caro had to like being uprooted and forced to do strange things. Only a day after moving into a new home and the Mothers wrapped Caro in a ruby-red satin cloak, ribbon tied under the chin and hood pulled over curls, accompanied by a basket over the arm. They informed Caro not to wander, not to dawdle, but to go straight to "granny's house". They showed Caro a local map, programmed the path and destination into a phone. Informed Caro under no circumstances to get lost and decidedly not talk to anyone along the way.
Caro walked on, tried to ignore the sharp eyes that followed the cloak, payed no mind when the man hopped down off the fence and used long strides to catch and then match Caro's quick pace. Caro had already been trying to ignore how all the adults previously passed shuddered noticeably when they saw the red cloak and looked quickly away again. No one else had tried to talk. Caro began to wonder if maybe they couldn't. But then one child had stilled and begun to point, only to be shushed and pulled away by its guardian figure. Part of Caro had wanted to stop and force them to speak. To see. But the Mothers had been so very adamant this morning about the whole talking to strangers thing. And Caro was trying to be good this week. Caro was dong it to. Had been. Didn't know if success was possible with this terrible trip.
But now there was a man who wouldn't stop looking. Who smiled with a mouth full of teeth. Who seemed to be inclined to walk next to Caro instead of letting Caro pass by.
Caro studiously ignored him, tried to peer at the other people - progressively fewer of them - but they seemed just as intent on avoiding the man as well.
"Going to granny's?" the man finally asked when there was a not a soul left to hear Caro scream. Or maybe not. That house might have had a twitch in the curtains. Who knew what might be in the area. Although when they had moved here, the Mothers had claimed that they were going to a safe place. That this was going to be a good thing.
Caro had never been so terrified. Safe places were evidently terrifying.
Caro kept face forward, chin up, and wondered what the man was. If he was human, Caro could probably slice his carotid artery without too much of a problem if he tried anything. If he was something else Caro didn't quite know what possibilities there were. Caro hadn't learned enough yet and really, really wished more attention had been paid to what the Mothers were always trying to teach.
Caro vowed to pay more attention if there was a tomorrow.
The man walked with a few blocks further and then turned off the path and was gone.
Caro breathed out in relief. Felt as if the sun was just a bit brighter. Or did until the house was actually reached and Caro had to ignore the Oak standing outside the door in order to knock. The tree had glints of white in the branches that Caro imagined might be bones.
A voice, honey sweet, called out that it was ok to open the door and Caro gathered the courage to oblige. This was the reason, after all, for the trek over the meadow and through the woods. Inside, sitting on the couch that appeared to be made of twigs, was the man, a laughing grin on his face. Caro stood terrified in the doorway, afraid that this might be granny. Caro was sure he was going to swallow the cloak and everything in it whole.
Until another voice spoke "Scott stop terrifying the child. You're supposed to be good with kids" and Caro noticed a thin old man with almost translucent skin sitting next to the wolf of a man.