• The Spartan Press

Splitting Path

By Julia Paes '25


(Based on the story, 'Red Riding Hood')

Dottie Collins was ten years old when she was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. However, she had no knowledge of this, as her mother, Susan Collins, convinced her it was only an active imagination. She feared that if Dottie knew of her illness, it would only worsen her condition. One morning, Susan had some muffins for Dottie and her blind little sister, Mary, to deliver to all their neighbors.

"Here," Susan said, handing Dottie a large basket, "take this and hand out one of these muffins to each house in the neighborhood."

"Yes, Mama." Dottie replied. "Don't forget your cloak and hold my hand," Dottie whispered a reminder to Mary.

Susan frowned, "Honey, don't drag your cloak on the ground."

"Yes, Mama." Mary complied obediently. The red cloak had been one of Dottie's hand-me-downs and was quite big on Mary. She let go of Dottie's hand to pick up the cloak where it was trailing behind her.

Being blind, Mary's free hand reached out again to grasp her sister's, but couldn't seem to find it.

Susan's look of concern deepened, walking over to two daughters, she rejoined their hands and said, "Now deliver these muffins to Miss Kipling."

"But Mama," Mary protested, "I want to go to Mr Kettleworth's house first!"

Susan ignored Mary; this was one of Susan's tactics to get her to behave, and so Mary was often ignored. Dottie teased that it was because she was the favorite. "Remember not to turn left when you reach the splitting path, or else you'll get lost. And don't speak to strangers. Most importantly, I don’t want you to end up missing like all those other kids; so please be careful," Susan warned.

"I will, Mama," Dottie promised. She and Mary took off to Miss Kipling's house. Miss Kipling's friendly face appeared at her door shortly after they rang the doorbell.

"What a pleasant surprise!" Miss Kipling exclaimed. “I'm guessing that the basket of muffins in your hand is the reason you've shown up unannounced?"

"Yep!" Dottie replied, grinning. "Mama wanted me to drop off one of these muffins to you."

"Well, don't mind if I do!" Miss Kipling exclaimed in a delighted voice, taking a goodie bag for herself.

"It was nice seeing you," Dottie said, wishing Miss Kipling farewell.

"Yes, now it's off to Mr. Kettleworth's house, yay!" Mary cheered, "You should ask Mr. Kettleworth for directions to Ms. Janica's house."

Dottie knitted her brows. "Why?" Dottie inquired, "We already know the way to Ms. Janica's."

"Yes, but it takes so long to get there. We should ask for a short cut." Mary suggested.

Dottie shrugged. "I guess… "

Mr. Kettleworth, as usual, answered the door with the crazed look of an asylum patient. "Come in, come in. No need to dawdle," he told them cheerfully as he stepped to the side and waved them in. Both girls stepped into the chaotic house. Barking and crashing noises came from the kitchen. "Don't mind my pups, they're just fooling around as always. So what was it that you wanted?" Mr. Kettleworth pressed.

“Well…” Dottie started, “Our mother wanted us to deliver some muffins to the neighbours.” She revealed the basket she had been holding behind her back.

Mr. Kettleworth stared at the muffins blankly. “Oh,” he said finally, holding his hand out for Dottie to hand him one and she complied quickly.

"Mr. Kettleworth, sir, we also had a question for you." Mary blurted out, nudging her sister.

"Oh, yes, we were looking for a shortcut to Ms. Janica's house." Dottie told Mr. Kettleworth.

"Well, the only shortcut I know of is the path that splits in two. You usually like to take the right path, don't you?" The girls nodded. "So this time, take the left." Mr. Kettleworth suggested.

“Mama says that we can’t take that path,” Mary explained to him with a frown. Dottie shook her head, “It’s too dangerous. We can’t take it.”

“Oh well, that’s too bad. I was only trying to help,” Mr. Kettleworth replied with a shrug.

With that, the two girls wished him farewell and were on their way. Dottie kept thinking about how absurd he was as she and Mary were walking. She was so caught up in her own thoughts, she didn’t realize that they had already reached the splitting path, until she saw that Mary was running down the left path. “No Mary! you’re running down the wrong path!” Dottie yelled, chasing after her. By the time she had caught up to Mary, they had almost reached the forest that began at the end of the left path. Dottie placed her hands on Mary’s shoulders. “You’re going to get me in trouble, Mary. This is the left path, not the right.” Dottie explained. “Really? Well, we’re already here, we might as well use it as a shortcut,” Mary suggested.

“No way! We are going back right now.” Dottie scolded in a stern tone.

“And go through all that trouble? Don’t be silly, it’ll be very quick.” Mary pressed.

After considering for a moment, Dottie nodded and followed her further down the path, eventually taking the lead. After a while of walking, Dottie realized how quiet it was and turned around in a panic, only to find that Mary was no longer behind her.

“Dang it!” Dottie exclaimed in exasperation. “Mama was right. I should have never listened to Mary!”

But before Dottie could call out for her little sister, a voice whispered in her ear, “Do you hear that sound?” Dottie jumped, scared half to death. Then, she clutched her chest in relief when she realized it was only Mary. “What sound?” Dottie asked.

“It sounds like someone’s following behind us.” Mary said in fear.

“No, I don’t hear anything,” Dottie said, grabbing Mary’s hand so that she couldn’t run off again, “Ms. Janica’s house is right ahead.”

The girls promptly gave Ms. Janica her muffinand ran back down the path again. But Dottie made the mistake of taking the same path back through the forest, thinking it would be so much easier than taking their usual route out. It was getting darker and colder outside by the minute; the wind was picking up, sweeping the hood of Mary’s red cloak off her head.

Mary wrapped her cloak tighter around herself and whispered, “It’s that sound again; It’s like someone’s walking behind us. I can hear them breathing.” And just like that, with the attention span of a goldfish, Mary forgot about the supposed stalker and ran off of the path to kneel next to a patch of flowers. “Flowers!” she exclaimed excitedly. Ever since she was little, Mary couldn’t resist adding to her flower collection every time she smelled some flowers. “Mother would love some, don’t you think?” She leaned further into the grass and began picking flowers.

SuddenlyDottie spotted what appeared to be a wolf crouched in the grass not far from Mary. “Mary get over here,” Dottie urged in a hushed voice. Mary felt the fur of the wolf, giggled, and crawled closer asking, “What’s your name ‘lil fella?”

“Mary, that’s a wolf,” Dottie warned, still speaking in a hushed voice.

“Don’t be silly, this is just one of Mr. Kettleworth’s pups. See?” Mary’s hand trailed over the wolf’s face. The wolf snarled at Mary’s touch.

MARY, Mr. Kettleworth lives far away from here. Why would his dog be near Ms. Janica’s?”

Mary ignored her, continuing to pet the wolf, until she was feeling its teeth, and that’s when it leapt. Mary’s laughter quickly turned into shrieks as the wolf was biting and clawing her, devouring her until nothing but red was left.

For a moment Dottie stood in complete silence, daring not to move. And suddenly, the reality kicked in and tears began streaming down her face before she knew it. “NO!” she cried, rushing toward the beast, throwing her basket at it, but missing lamely. Defeated, Dottie picked up the only thing left of her sister: the red cloak and chucked it at the wolf's face, shrouding its vision. She kicked the wretched wolf in its side and it whimpered pathetically as it took off deeper into the forest.

Dottie mustered all the energy she could to walk back home. When she finally reached her house, she ran in and hugged her mother. Even though she was startled by this, Susan was still stern with Dottie.

“What’s gotten into you? I just got a call from Ms. Janica saying that she heard noises shortly after you dropped off the muffins and when she went outside to investigate, she saw you assaulting someone’s harmless puppy.”

“I promise I won’t wander near the splitting path again.” Dottie sobbed uncontrollably.

Susan went silent and turned her back to Dottie, turning food in the frying pan for dinner. She seemed to be waiting for Dottie’s explanation of why she ‘assaulted a harmless puppy’.

“I’m sorry...I’m so so sorry,” Dottie apologized as tears pricked her eyes. “Oh, Mama, she’s dead. Mary’s dead!” Dottie blurted out hysterically. Dottie’s mother turned around slowly, confusion written all over her face..

Who?”