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  • Shelley Dark

#11 Summer's Desire—a modern fairy tale by Shelley Dark

*Highly Commended in the 2023 Southern Cross Short Story Competition, judged by Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project, and written to the prompt :'Tracks of Desire'. This is a version I've refined a little since the competition.

Illustration for Summer's Desire by Shelley Dark (AI generated)

Summer lived with her granny in a tumbledown cottage at the underprivileged edge of town. Granny was once a promising young woman, destined for an office job in the city until an unplanned pregnancy with the butcher’s boy altered her course. Then her father forced her into an unhappy marriage. So it was almost a blessing when her husband died early, due to what Granny called ‘not looking after himself properly’.

This made Granny especially protective of her granddaughter Summer.

Granny would tell anyone within earshot, ‘Summer is different. She’s slightly sickly, but she’s brilliant at biology and she understands art.’

The villagers exchanged knowing glances, because they knew Granny was living vicariously through the child, to make up for her own wasted youth. But they admired her dedication to looking after Summer since her wayward daughter had wandered off to India, a country Granny considered too different.

‘And,’ said Granny, before the villagers could rush away, ‘Summer will go to university in the city and become a physiotherapist. She’ll marry a doctor and they will open a bulk billing practice in the village. And they will fix our carbuncles.’

The villagers agreed that Granny’s ambitious plan would be a good thing for the town. Carbuncles were big that year.

But Summer’s world was smaller than Granny’s dreams because Granny insisted that Summer stay inside studying, out of harm’s way. All went swimmingly until one day Summer said, ‘Granny I have a migraine from so many stale desires inside my head.’

Granny flinched, realising she might be overcooking her granddaughter. ‘Put on your thermals,’ she said. ‘You may go and frolic in the paddock at the end of the street but only until the breeze blows. But stay away from the tracks of strangers, or anyone different, do you hear? And if you say “desire” again I’ll wash your mouth out.’

Summer knew that Granny was referring specifically to some newcomers in the town, who would never amount to anything.

Summer forgot her headache and rushed down to the paddock, where wildflowers whispered secrets to the wind. She leapt and twirled through the air, tra-la-la-ing and generally tripping about. She caught and snipped the stems of fresh desires and poppies and wild roses and tossed them gaily into her basket.

Suddenly another shadow fused with her own.

She looked up into the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. Warm brown, with flecks of walnut and hazelnut and other nutty flavours.

‘What beautiful eyes you have,’ she said to the stranger, only then realising she was engaging with a wolf, when she should have been looking for tracks.

‘And so do you,’ he said in a voice as liquid as the golden honey she squeezed onto her toast each morning. ‘My name is Oswald. I roam here often, but I've never seen you before.’

This is no ordinary wolf, she thought, who will repeat anaphoric inanities like ‘all the better to see you with’, etcetera. This is a noble animal. A sophisticate in corduroy pants.

She inhaled his magnetism. ‘Where are you from?’

‘Over the sea. It's a diverse world, very different from yours,’ Oswald replied, pushing his cool glasses up to the bridge of his nose, his eyes twinkling.

‘In what way?’ Summer liked the word 'diverse' and her curiosity was piqued.

‘We feast on fruits that carry the wisdom of our ancestors.’

'How profound,' she said, longing to slide her fingers through his fur, yet wishing to show her intelligence. She couldn't help adding, 'And how glossy you are!'

Oswald nodded with a quiet dignity. ‘Nature has been kind. And I have a standing weekly appointment to be shampooed at my local veterinary clinic. And I always pay extra for an avocado oil treatment.’

She squinched her toes inside her joggers.

‘May I walk with you?’ he asked.

A million ants did a conga inside her legs. She kicked herself for not wearing her red hoodie with the pockets, but she devoured the lively earthy smell of him and almost lost her balance.

He was a medical student in the city. Studying at the same university where she would study physiotherapy. ‘Perhaps in the new year, we could visit a gallery together,’ he said.

Oh my giddy grandmother—he appreciated art too. She totally vibed him. When he smiled, he showed his beautiful even white teeth along with his fine aesthetic sense, and her sprinting heart tangled with her skipping feet.

When the wind became the forbidden breeze, the wolf offered to see her home.

Summer had imagined Granny would be impressed with the wolf’s chosen profession.

But no. Granny showed the whites of her eyes. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she hissed when she hauled Summer inside. ‘I told you not to talk to anyone different. That was a wolf!’

‘Granny, did you not see his ears? So alert! He’s studying medicine. And he’s so woke! I felt feverish when he talked about his culture!’

‘Humph!’ said Granny, although she'd always wondered how to pronounce that interjection when she saw it in print.

‘Likely the ‘flu,' she said, catching a whiff of Oswald's fur floating off Summer's sleeve, and it was Granny who sneezed. 'I told you to stay out of the breeze, Summer. You aren't taking care of yourself, just like your grandfather.'

Granny was so worried that she took an antihistamine. Which was just as well—because the stranger visited the next day.

‘Now, Mister Wolf,’ Granny said, before he could speak, although she already knew his name was Oswald, ‘I know you come from far away, on one of those boats. But my Summer is a slightly sickly girl and your hairy coat will cause her allergies to flare up. She’s going to university. I can’t have her mixing with someone so...’ here she cleared her throat, ‘hirsute.’

Summer’s own throat blotched scarlet. She hadn’t known her granny was species conscious. Or had a word like that in her vocabulary. It was embarrassing.

'I understand your caution, honoured grandmother,' said Oswald, smiling at Summer.

Granny was momentarily diverted, and Oswald kept visiting. But his different perspectives, rich and enlightening, clashed with granny’s deep-seated apprehensions.

Granny constantly complained. ‘I understand it's in his nature to sniff the chair legs. And I know his urge to howl at the moon is in his DNA, and he prefers his steak raw. But... ‘and here she looked as if she had smelled something rotten, ‘Summer, you must stop Oswald from leaving tracks on the floor.’

‘Oh, Granny,’ said Summer, knowing Granny meant tracks of desire. ‘He’s only marking his territory.’

Imagine what Granny thought about that.

Illustration for Summer's Desire

While Summer savoured Oswald’s utterings like sips of champagne, Granny went to comedic lengths to keep them separate. She piled cushions between them when they sat on the sofa, and during meals, she said, ‘Oswald, keep your paws on the table.’

But Summer was increasingly captivated by Oswald's way of speaking, the timbre of his voice, his quiet patience.

One day, as Granny sipped her third glass of merlot, Oswald asked them to close their eyes. Although Granny smelled a wolfish rat, she did as she was told. Summer’s heart danced la Bamba as she closed hers.

‘Do not open them until I tell you,’ breathed Oswald.

Summer tried to recall the alternative endings for this fairy tale. Would Oswald jump into bed and impersonate Granny?

Eyes still tightly closed, she felt a tingling sensation. She cried out, ‘Oswald, what’s happening?’

Oswald replied: ‘My love, a wicked witch put a spell on me many years ago. He—the witch's preferred pronoun—said I would come to desire a beautiful but slightly sickly girl whose granny would suffer from carbuncles. Only when my lips touch the girl’s, will the spell be lifted.’

Summer felt Oswald place his paw behind her head, gently pulling her face towards his. His furry lips whispered across her rosebud mouth. Stars exploded inside her eyelids, and a cyclonic desire flamed inside her chest.

Granny clutched her dress. She was seeing stars too.

Ahhh, yes, I know how this fairy tale goes, thought Summer. Oswald is not the sort of wolf who would eat Granny. When I open my eyes, he will be a handsome prince.

Granny opened her eyes first. ‘My carbuncles are gone!’

Summer’s senses were ablaze. She felt the call of the wild, smelled an unfamiliar, primal energy coursing through her, and she tasted a gentle ferocity. But she didn’t understand what had happened until her eyes flew open and saw Oswald’s admiring gaze, reflecting their mutual understanding.

Granny's shriek sliced the cheesecake into eight neat wedges. ‘Summer! You’re a wolf!’

Summer looked down, then high-fived Oswald with her furry paw.

Granny wrestled with her emotions, and in the end, she got them in a headlock and accepted Summer’s striking transformation. But she made a mental note to add depilatory cream—maybe a retinol forte— to her shopping list.

So, in a twist that that no one saw coming, Oswald and Summer both became wolfish doctors, and they married and brought joy to Granny with a whole litter of beautiful grand-cubs. And the townspeople lived, perhaps not always one hundred percent happily—for the government stopped bulk billing—but they certainly lived ever after.


Hope you enjoyed it buddies... the comments are down under the flowers. ⬇︎

Please add to them!

I used DALL·E to create the AI images after the competition—the judge didn't see those.

I've fine-tuned it a bit since then too, and while Summer turned into a wolf in my first versions, since the competition I've expanded the ending to include what happened after her metamorphosis. That's what I love about writing, going back, and back, and back, and gradually making it better each time (or sometimes worse! 😂)

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy Christmas,

And as always, I wait you...

signoff of Shelley Dark

a hedgerow of wild flowers


shelley dark, writer 

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