Wolf and Boy
Once upon a time, there was a wolf, and this wolf was all alone. All of the other wolves had been caught or killed or driven off. But this last wolf, he stayed. And he did all of the usual wolfish things. He lived in a cave high up in the hills. He raided the occasional flock for a stray sheep.
He also would appear from time to time late in the evening on a trail from the fields running down to the village to frighten some milk-maid or herds-boy coming home a little too late from the watch. And this gave rise to the stories of great, gnarled, bloody teeth and wet, long, lolling tongue and fiery, red, hungry eyes... the wolf had quite a reputation in the village.
But that was not the worst of it. The most horrible thing of all, the thing that froze the souls of the old men, and caused the red faces of the young people to blanche, and the heads of the children to go deep under bed covers at night was what the wolf would do from time to time, in the cold crackling air of the frosty silver moon, high on the stark peak of the stoney mountain near the village. He would sit up there and howl, howl with the sound of a thousand midnights down in a murky bog. Those who heard it swore it was a sound that only a beast could make whose soul was tortured and lost forever. And it chilled to the marrow everyone who heard it... everyone, that is, except one person.
For living in the village was a boy who had lived there all of his life. And yet no one really knew this boy. I mean, he spoke to folks, and they spoke to him. But no one really understood him or cared to. Even his parents were at a loss to understand his ways and his thoughts. So they mostly humored him. And the boy would lie awake in his bed at night wondering about his life and why he felt so lost among the villagers. And sometimes he would cry or sometimes he would be angry. But when he heard the call of the wolf on the mountain, right away he knew that here was a voice the like of which he'd not heard before. Here was a voice that spoke to him of feelings no one else knew that he had. And lying there and listening with every fiber of his body, he knew he had to seek out this wolf and know from it why it cried in the night. Oh, he'd heard the stories of the teeth, the tongue, the eyes so red and burning, but nothing would do except that he had to know that wolf for himself.
And so one day, before the sun rose, he set out on the road to the mountain where it was said the wolf made his den. It was a long road and a steep one, but the boy took no stick, nor wore no hat to guard him from the sun. And it was a dangerous journey to be sure, but the boy took no weapon to defend himself. And though the country was barren and rocky and not fruitful where he was going, the boy took no food nor drink to sustain him. And though he'd never been on this way before, he followed no map, but went the way of his heart, come what may. It was sometime at the end of a day's travel that he began to grow thirsty and the emptiness inside him began to make itself known in his stomach. He walked, becoming even more thirsty until darkness overcame him and he was forced to stop for the night in some trees near the road. And as he sat hungry and thirsty in the growing darkness, he thought for a moment about turning back and rushing blindly down the path and back to the village. But he knew that was not the way for him. So he sat for a long while shivering in the night and then lay down finally to sleep. In his dreams, the moon shone silver on the frosty stones, the air was clear and crisp, and the voice of the wolf rang out from the top of one of the peaks, calling out the way ahead, perhaps his way. He awoke in the dawn with a start, wondering if the dream had been real, and the wolf had actually called in the night.
He rose, still hungry, and continued on his way. Soon the path grew steeper and rockier. As the sun was moving high and the day was warming, the boy noticed ahead of him a flock of birds swooping and playing in a small pool beside the road.
The boy rushed to the water, fell on his belly and drank his fill. When he rose, the birds were watching him silently from a nearby tree limb. Realizing he had interrupted their play, he smiled and thanked them for letting him drink and continued on the path. Though his thirst was slaked, still an emptiness was burning deep in his belly. And as he walked, once again thoughts came to him of quitting, of just sitting down under a tree to wait for whatever might happen. And what if he never got up again? Would anyone miss him or come to find him? But something told him this was not the end of his journey. If he did not continue he would never know what was at the end of the path or why the wolf cried so in the night. And so he decided to continue walking knowing not what lay ahead of him.
You can imagine how relieved he was after several minutes to see beside the path a clump of bushes that were heavy and inviting with red, juicy berries. He rushed to them and began to pick and eat the sweet, ripe berries. But then he heard a noise. And looking up, he came face to face with a very large and hairy bear. The bear was only a few feet away in the bushes himself eating the tasty berries, The boy realized that those large arms were entirely capable of reaching out to catch at him and crush the life out of him. And so he did not move, but stood with the berries still sweet on his tongue, his lips red with juice, his cheeks now white with fright.
But the bear only stared and waited too... for a moment. And then the long white teeth showed in his fuzzy face, and one massive set of claws moved... and he began to pick and munch more of the ripe berries. The boy, realizing that the bear was hungry only for berries, smiled and began to breathe again, and went back to eating as well. After several minutes of filling himself, the boy was ready to move along, and, smiling and waving to his friend, he left the bushes and continued on the path.
A way up the path the boy noticed it was becoming steeper and so much harder to travel. And he was beginning to wonder when or how or if he would ever see his wolf and meet his wolf and know his wolf and be able to answer the strange desire he held within him to feel what the wolf felt deep in the night. Suddenly he heard a noise;
A stone tumbled; and the clatter echoed as the boy froze on the trail. His eyes darted left and right, looking for the source of the movement when something large moved and leaped into the path. His heart stopped, then began to beat again as he saw the visitor clearly. It wasn't the wolf at all, but a small deer, a yearling, a young male whose nubbish horns were just beginning to show on the top of his head. The two of them stared at one another for a moment, curious, fearless, silent.
The deer gazed at the boy wide-eyed. The boy gazed back, and suddenly he was concerned that the young fellow might be in danger. And he spoke quietly to the young deer.
"Oh, do be careful here. There's a bear down the path a way. And a wolf about, I think. I'm searching for that wolf myself, but you? I don't think you are ready to meet him."
The deer stared back in wonder and listening." Be careful, little man. Up here all alone and so friendly. Be wary of those who would hurt you."
And with that the boy walked on slowly toward the deer who started and scampered away into the rocks. The boy walked smiling to himself as he thought of the deer now safely hidden in the rocks. Hiding until he grew strong and large enough to defend himself against a bear or a wolf.
As he was thinking of this, he noticed the darkening sky and the cold chill of the deepening night air as it gathered about him. He continued along the bare path, trying not too look too far to left or right, trying to keep his footing, wondering if he had been wise in coming here, if he had been right in seeking the wolf in such a lonely and desolate place. He was growing more unsure of each step as he moved carefully and slowly up the path. When suddenly... he saw something... no felt something ahead. It might have been nothing. It might have been a shadow crossing the moon. It might have been everything he sought.
His heart beat faster. His head grew light, but his eyes stayed sharp as he stared ahead of him up the trail. He waited quietly for another sign, and soon came his reward as the shadows moved up ahead and became living and breathing flesh. There on four paws, eyes reflecting his own bright gaze, head still as stone and pointing down the trail toward him, was the wolf.
He could not move. The red eyes, the great tongue, the huge claws flashed in his memory. But as he stared, he saw none of them. He could also recall the song that had drawn him here, the singer from the distant night, now only yards from him, breathing in the cold night, and exhaling hot steam.
And as he stood, peering into the wild eyes before him, remembering that sad, sweet song, he felt his heart soften and his fear evaporate. His eyes filled and, without warning, he knew why he had come here. He knew in that instant what he had traveled to find, what he had heard in that song, what he had embraced in his lonely bed as he had lain awake, listening and wanting. He knew that the song had been a cry for an end to solitude. The cry was to banish aloneness. It had reached out across the miles and the years and touched him. And it had guided him. He knew this now.
And so with his heart full and his eyes afire with understanding, the boy faced the wolf and he spoke back... with his smile. And in that instant, the two... boy and wolf... were one heart.
It is said the boy never returned to the life he had known in the village. No one there could really be sure of his fate. No one would ever go looking. But there is one tale, told by a brave hunter who became lost after chasing a large deer up the mountain one day. When he returned, he told a wild and unbelievable story of seeing a boy and a wolf through the trees, lying asleep together under a tree some distance away. But as he made his way thrashing and crashing through the forest to where he thought he would rescue the lad, he became lost, and could no longer see nor find them. And so he returned to his safe villager's life, speaking in hushed tones of his brief glimpse of another life he could never understand. And as the people listened to his story told over and over again until the words were worn, and as the long years passed, some who listened would laugh, some would weep quietly, a few would cross themselves in disgust, and, once and again, some few would take heart and lie awake at night listening with hope to the strange and wolfish duet, sung high upon a distant peak in the silver moonlight.
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