Little Red was taking the day off from her summer job. The deliveries would have to wait. Recovering from trauma was more important. She was so grateful that her uncle, a woodcutter, had come along to check on Grandma Hood. Things could have gone much worse. Her nightmares had made that very clear.
Mom knocked on the open bedroom door. Red rolled her eyes. “Come in,” she said.
“Are you doing okay?” Mom asked.
Red sighed. “I think so.”
“Do you think you could go and tell your brother that it’s lunch time?” Mom paused. “If you don’t think you’re up to it, I can go. You’d need to watch your sister.”
Red stood up and stretched. “No, that’s fine. He’s just up the road. I’ll go get him.”
Little Yellow was already in her highchair, smashing peas with a spoon. Red waved as she went by. Yellow giggled.
Red trudged uphill to Grandpa and Grandma Riding’s farm. Her brother Blue was working there over the summer. Red scrunched up her nose. Cows and sheep and pigs were a bit smelly. She preferred the delivery business, as long as it remained wolf free of course.
A dragonfly zoomed past her ear, glittering metallic blue in the sunlight. Red turned and watched its path as it flew over the crooked fence of the farm next to her grandparents.
Mr. Crook was hunched over, next to the fence, his hand inside his coat. His other hand held a shovel. He narrowed his eyes when he saw her looking at him. His angry gray cat hissed. It was walking with a limp. It had probably got into another fight with the neighborhood cats. “Hello, little Red,” Mr. Crook said.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Crook?” Red asked.
“Oh, yes, of course. In fact, I just found a sixpence. I’m going to bury it right here for luck. So I can’t have you watching me. Move along, move along,” Mr. Crook said.
“Bye, then,” Red said.
A few minutes later, she was crunching down her grandparents’ gravel driveway. It was nearing lunchtime, but the sheep were still in the meadow. Usually, by now, they were moved into the pasture that had more trees to shelter them from the afternoon sun. Blue was behind schedule.
Red groaned. She’d probably have to help him catch up before they could go home. It wasn’t fair. She stopped when she heard crashing sounds to the left. What was that? For a moment she imagined bright eyes and sharp teeth. She froze.
Then Bella stuck her nose out from the tangle of cornstalks and mooed. Red laughed. It was just the cows. But wait, how had they moved from the meadow into the cornfield? Someone had to have opened the gate. Where was Blue? Why hadn’t he blown his horn to call for help?
Red ran straight to the farmhouse. “Grandma! Grandpa! Blue is missing!”
Grandpa Riding ran out of the barn and met her in front of the house. “Red, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“It’s Blue. The sheep are still in the meadow and the cows are in the cornfield, but he didn’t blow his horn or you would be there to stop them. Where is Blue and why didn’t he blow his horn?” Red was starting to cry. Could the wolf have come this far? It felt like she was stuck back in her nightmares from last night.
“Calm down, Red. Let’s get Grandma and start looking. We’ll find him,” Grandpa said.
They started looking. It was Red who was the first to see his legs sticking out from under a haystack. She yelled for help and they brushed the hay off of him. He had a big bruised bump on the side of his head, and there was a loot of blood in his matted hair, but he was breathing.
Red wanted to shake him awake and ask what happened, but Grandma insisted that it was better to carry him inside and call for the doctor. “You both figure out what happened,” Grandma Riding said. “I’ll take care of Blue.”
Red and Grandpa Riding watched her leave. “We’d better catch whoever did this,” Red said. She was so angry it felt like her ears were ringing. No one was allowed to hurt her little brother. No one.
“We will,” Grandpa said. He looked around, and started digging through the hay. “Do you see the emergency horn?”
“No,” Red said. She started to dig through the hay. Then she sat back on her heels. “You know, I did see Mr. Crook burying something by his fence. His cat was limping, too.”
“But why would Mr. Crook take the horn and hit little Blue?” Grandpa Riding asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Someone also let the cows in the corn,” Red pointed out. “Perhaps he caused other mischief that we don’t know about and Blue saw him. If he thought he killed Blue, he might be trying to hide the murder weapon.”
“I don’t know,” Grandpa said.
“Let’s go dig up what he buried,” Red said. “If it’s the horn, then we’ll know.”
Grandpa Riding grabbed a shovel. They walked back down the driveway and found the patch up turned up earth. Grandpa started digging. Clink. They brushed away the dirt.
There was the horn, dented and splattered in blood. “Do you have a handkerchief, Grandpa?” Red asked. “There might be fingerprints.”
Grandpa took a clean white handkerchief from his pocket and gently picked up the horn. “I think it may be time to call the police,” he said.
Mr. Crook confessed to the crime. He’d actually stolen several cows and wanted to make it look like they’d escaped on their own. His cat had been injured helping him herd the cows to his property.
Blue had seen him, and Mr. Crook took the horn and hit him to stop him calling for help. He hadn’t planned on hurting anyone. Mr. Crook actually cried with relief when he heard that Blue hadn’t died.
Blue had a terrible headache for days, but he was otherwise all right. Red took over his summer job and was secretly relieved to drop the delivery business for a while. She was openly relieved that it didn’t take long to get used to the smell of the animals on the farm. The nightmares finally went away.