11 min read
The woman took the lash of the wolf.
“Don’t go out into the woods”, they said. They were afraid for her. They were afraid of the woods, of what was different and dark. They heard the howling on the wind, they couldn’t tell if it was demons raging from the forest, cries of the unsettled dead, or the wild moans of creatures; they said it was the wolf, and that the wolf was always bad.
She had been born in the village, on a night as dark as this one. The moon did not hang high in the sky, casting its light over the town and casting long shadows. She had been born at the end of a very long labor, at night, on an unlucky day. Friday, Freya’s day, the 13th, the forbidden number. When she was taken from her mother’s womb, she was already screaming, her fist raised and her hands bloody.
Her mother raised her to be good, protecting her from everything that might harm her. But still, to her mother’s chagrin, she did not want to play with the dolls, she did not care for the things of little girls; she ran after frogs, sought out the dead things, played with the bones. She would get so filthy in the dirt that her mother stripped her of her clothes, and let her play naked as a child.
She was grown now.
There was no place and time for games like this.
And the people were afraid. They said the wolves would eat her. “Don’t go out, don’t go out!”
She had first heard the wolves howling when she was very, very young. She knew that she had heard them before, but this night, with the window open to let in the full moon, she heard them… calling out to each other. It was the first time she realized that their sound was her sound, their voice was calling to her. But she was not of their kind, and yet her heart sang with a fire so consuming that her blood ran hot and her skin burned with a desire to join them. She stripped down to nothing, and sat in the pool of moonlight, and sang herself to sleep.
“Why do you fear the wolves?” she asked.
“They kill our livestock!” one said.
“They eat young babes!” said another.
“They have teeth that can crush your bones!” another snarled. “They are animals, and they have no kind of soul at all, girl.”
When she heard these things… she began to hide inside herself. Though she couldn’t understand why, she knew then that she had to keep her moonlit baths secret, that her singing could never be too much like a howl, and that they must never see how well she slipped into shadows.
AAwwwooooo!!! The wolves were crying. She felt a pang in her heart, her stomach tightened, and she doubled over in pain.
“What’s the matter?” asked her mother, suspicious, but not really wanting to know the answer. She had eyes that wouldn’t see. If she couldn’t see her daughter’s pain, she couldn’t speak her daughter’s secret to the town.
“Nothing, mother, nothing. Just a pain.”
“Then go to bed and sleep. Rest up, and you’ll feel better.” And so the daughter went to bed.
In her sleep, she dreamt.
She was running through the darkness. The sky was black and endless, the stars glimmering above. Cold air filled her lungs and she stretched out, and the grasses and fields around her fell away as she picked up speed. She looked down and saw not human feet, but paws. She stopped, in shock. And with that jarring moment, she saw her hands and body were human once again.
The edge of the forest was in front of her, a wall of trees that made some strange and mystic barrier between her world and the unknown. She glanced behind, at the town, and only a few fires were burning; only a few candles in the houses; people were sleeping.
She turned to face the forest when, suddenly, a giant wolf leaped upon her!
The daughter woke abruptly, her heart pounding. The image of the wide open mouth of a wolf was seared into her mind.
“The wolf…” She whispered, and felt the howl, like a breeze, blow through her very soul.
She still felt like she was dreaming when she crawled out of her window. She barely felt the earth beneath her feet as she began to creep within the shadows, then to jog, and then to run. She ran towards the forest, closer.. Closer… closer and then, suddenly, she was within the trees.
It felt different here. Less like danger, and more like protection. She could hide amongst the trees, slip between them unnoticed, watch from afar.
AwwwooooOooOoo! The howl was pained.
She knew now where it was coming from and headed in that direction. Then she saw it, a lump of haggard, fur and muscles, wrapped in a metal trap. It’s eyes watched her with anger, and fear, and desperation. She smelled the blood before she reached him.
“My life is in your hands. My pack can’t find me. They are afraid of the traps.” The wolf said to her. He spoke in a language she did not know that she could understand. “Please, don’t kill me. Please, free me.”
She reached for his fur, spiky with blood, and his lips pulled back into a pained growl, teeth flashing.
She remembered what the villagers said: “The wolf will eat you! They are cruel! Monsters! They have no soul.” And for a moment, she felt afraid.
“You will eat me… if I let you go.” It was a statement. It was a question.
“It is true, I could kill you. You would be a delicious snack for me and my children. You have seen the strength of my jaw, the sharpness of my fangs.”
“So you will eat me?” she asked.
“That is not the right question. If I tell you no, you won’t believe me. If I tell you yes, you’ll leave me to die.” said the wolf. Pain wracked his body. “You speak our language. You have to decide what to do on your own.”
The girl contemplated what to do. Her mind raced, and her thoughts made her dizzy. Then, realizing her hand was still on his bloody chest, she felt his heart beating. Looking into his eyes, she said, “I’m going to free you, wolf.” As she pulled the metal trap off his body, the trap tore at her hands and made her bleed, but she ignored the pain and freed him. She staunched the blood with the earth and leaves, tending to his wounds, and ripped her dress to shreds to tie his bandages.
Throughout the night she tended to him. She could hear the stream, though she had never gone there, and brought him water. She found a rabbit in another trap, and brought him food. And as the light came up from the mountains and night turned into day, the wolf was better, and stood on all four paws.
They walked together in silence, padding through the forest and listening to the sounds of the this new world waking up. The wolf did not look so scary, nor did the forest.
As they walked, she did not realize where he was taking her. A hut had been hidden deep in the woods. She had never heard of anyone living here before, and yet here was a home, as familiar as those she had grown up around.
“Why am I here, wolf?” she asked, confused.
“I have brought you here so you might live in the forest.”
“I must go home, I’m sure the village is worried about me.” She did not want to go back, but a sense of duty pulled at her.
“I am sorry... but you can never return. Not the same, anyway.” The wolf looked sad. “I have indeed killed you.” The girl did not understand; she felt alive, better than before. “When you helped me, you pulled the trap away from me, but cut open your skin in the process. My blood is in you now, mingling with yours.”
“I … I don’t understand.” She stammered, suddenly afraid.
“Please, come inside. Let me show you.” The wolf led her to the door, but waited for her to open it. He needed her to choose to enter on her own.
Inside the hut it was warm, and looked like someone had been living here recently.
She turned to face the wolf, but instead saw a man standing where the wolf had stood. Taller than she, he covered himself in a robe nearby before stepping towards her. She saw his skin, covered with scars from the forest, claws and bites. His dark hair fell across his face, but his deep, brown eyes were those same eyes she had seen in the wolf.
They were gentle, and kind as he said, “The you that you knew is dead. My blood has killed her.” He stepped to take her hand, and bowed his head to kiss it in gratitude. “But you have saved my life, and I will not abandon you when you change for the first time.”
“Change?” she said, nervous, and exhilerated.
“You will be like me, and run under the moonlight, if you choose. You will transform into a wolf.”
The girl was stunned. Torn between horror and excitement, she knew that the life the had tried to make for so long in the village was soon ending, but that the mask she had been wearing would no longer need to be worn. She was going to be given the chance to sing, to howl, to be free.
But her old life was going to die… and this saddened her. The villagers and the town had been her home, and though they lived in fear and shelter, there were still those she loved and cared for. She needed to return to them, even if it was not forever.
“Wolf… I cannot just leave my home.” She placed her hand upon his cheek, felt the warmth of his skin. He looked at her with eyes that held no secrets, no reservations, no judgement. As human as he looked, he still had the steady gaze of the wolf. “I must go back.”
“Then I will give you a lash from my eye, so that you can see as I do, and be able to make your decisions clearly with this newfound sight.” He plucked a lash from his eye and held it out to her to take. “And I will wait for you to come to me, and I will howl every night until you do.”
She gazed at him, a new understanding developing. Should she believe him? Should she leave now and never return? Was this all a dream?
The woman looked into his eyes, held out her hand, and took the lash of the wolf.