Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Boy Who Knew the Sheep and the Wolves

The herder of the sheep was small for his age, and pale, with dark eyes and a voice that nobody, save the sheep farmer himself, and his mother and father and sister, had ever heard. They all knew him well though, as the boy who walked to and from the fields twice a day, always along the same path, and always with the same frantic expression about him, darting his eyes this way and that as though startled by objects that appeared only to him. His mother and father were sociable, amiable creatures who, besides in sharing the boy’s same dark features, bared no likeness to the son they had together. When the townspeople gathered at the square for seasonal celebrations, or when a neighboring family came to visit, they’d ask, Where is the boy? Is he not well? and his mother would reply, Oh, he must be off somewhere, enjoying the outdoors no doubt. He has always been more fond of nature than of man. They were always contented by this explanation, until the next time came, and his mother would provide another.

It was true that the boy could most often be found roaming the hills, tending to the sheep in one way or another, but there were days when the forest that bordered the edge of the field would call him, and he would spend entire afternoons exploring its contents. The two landscapes, field and forest, felt to the boy like two worlds, each endlessly entertaining, and each evoking entirely different emotions in him. Out in the open, on the field, the sheep were soft and pleasant, and would often say to him, Boy, you are so kind to us. If only there were some way we could repay you for all the things you do. This would make him smile, and confide in them like he could do with no one else. He would tell them of his dreams, and bring them little trinkets or flowers he picked on his walks, to which they would always reply, Boy, you know we have no use for such things. We are simple creatures, who do not know the pleasures of man. But because we know kindness, we love your gifts nonetheless.

In the forest, the boy’s interest was of a different nature. An anxious feeling erupted within him the moment he stepped off the field and into the shadows of the trees. He always felt as though there were some voice calling him deeper into the forest, but whenever he followed it, a new, more distant voice would call from somewhere else. It did not scare the boy. It only raised his curiosity, compelling him to return to the forest each day in the hope of meeting the one who spoke to him.

One day, as the boy poured bags of coarse grain into a deep trough, and the sheep came rushing to feed, they brought a message: Boy, you mustn’t go in to the forest as you have been. The wolves, our enemy, know that you have been walking amongst them. If you continue seeking them out, they will kill you. But why? he asked. Because they are hunters, they said. That is what they do.

And so, that afternoon the boy avoided his most tempting urges to enter the forest, but allowed himself to walk leisurely along the edge so that he may gaze upon the trees in all their complexity and beauty. As he reached the clearing, where the forest ended and the path toward town began, a sharp and snarling voice halted him. Boy! It said. Why do you seek out that which does not belong to you? The boy turned and met two large yellow eyes, emerging from the darkness of the forest. He could barely make out the figure that addressed him, but the boy knew, from the warnings of the sheep not hours before, that the eyes belonged to a wolf. He did not reply, but only cried, Wolf! Wolf! as loud as he could, and the armed sheep farmer came running from his little shack to where the boy stood by the edge of the forest. But by the time the sheep farmer arrived, the wolf had returned to the darkness, and the boy, as he was accustomed, said nothing. He only walked on, leaving the sheep farmer speechless behind him, searching and searching for the terrible creature who dared threaten his livestock.

The next day the boy returned to the field as usual, and brought with him a tiny gold thimble he had found resting near a line of low shrubs near his house. When he presented it to the sheep, they said, Boy, you know we have no use for such things. You are beginning to make us restless, by reminding us of our limitations. We are sheep. We are meant to roam, and to keep ourselves healthy and docile; not to be burdened by the passions and problems of men. And they all fled from him, to the far end of the field and down the hill to the other side. The boy wept at the sudden loss of his friends, the only creatures who had ever let him speak of the things in his mind. He could not understand why his own flock had rejected him, after all this time.

While the boy lay in the grass alone for some time, searching his young mind for a remedy for his troubles, he was overcome with the feeling of being watched. A great fear came over the boy, and he made himself look to the forest, where he knew the fear must have had its source. A large grey wolf, allowing itself to appear plainly in the open sunlight, sauntered slowly toward the boy, rousing an uncontrollable interest in him that he did not understand. Boy, it said. Why do you wish to disturb the ways of things? It rested its harsh yellow eyes upon the boy, and seemed to hold him there with its gaze, until the boy began to whimper and shake as though cold. He did not know what to say. The wolf changed its focus from the boy onto the alluring sea of white sheep, shuffling about the hillside beyond them.

Wolf! Wolf! the boy cried, knowing that the sheep farmer’s gun was the only defense he could provide against such a powerful creature. But the wolf was far faster than the sheep farmer, and disappeared into the depths of the forest before the sheep farmer could even reach the second hill. The sheep farmer scolded the boy for having tricked him. When the boy began to cry at the farmer’s severity, he mistook the boy’s tears for remorse, and gently instructed him to go home early and return the next day.

That night, the boy dreamt of a strange place he had never been. He stood alone at the top of a great precipice, where a powerful wind pricked at the flesh of his arms and face. Below, he could see all the places he had ever known: the town, the field, the forest and the path, like a thin piece of pale thread, separating and winding around each part. He could see tiny figures moving about in all directions, but for a long while none of them ever crossed the path into other sections. Suddenly, the wind stopped and everything was calm, and the boy watched as a swarm of black figures moved quickly from the forest into the field. They obliterated the white figures and then returned to the forest as quickly as they had come. The boy watched this scene silently and without emotion.

When he awoke, and began his short journey along the path from his house to work, the boy recalled the dream over and over in his mind, picturing the blood-stained field, empty of sheep, as vividly as though it were right before his eyes. By the time he arrived the sheep were already gone, and the farmer sat on the ground just as the boy had done the day before, crying and pounding his fists into the grass. Why, boy? Why has this happened? The boy said nothing in return, and felt no sadness. He only looked down at the sheep farmer, and out onto the green expanse of the hills, and then beyond, to the forest, which called him more powerfully than it ever had. Leaving the sheep farmer behind, he ran, as fast as he could, to the forest, and allowed the profound darkness of its unknown depths to swallow him whole.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Darkness: Chapter 2

That night, when the man and his wife sat in silence at their rugged wooden table, a dreadful feeling came over the man. He knew what must be done, but feared that the demon's power had grown beyond the priest's control. He watched his wife's slow and sulky movements as she hunched in her rocking chair. He could bear the sight of his possessed wife no longer. He pushed his supper away and joined their small sleeping dog on the porch.

As the last of the light disappeared from the sky, and all but the dog's steady breathing was still and quiet, the man detected a strange sound coming from within the house. It gradually grew in volume until he could decipher a distant string of words resembling the language he knew. The words ran together in low whispers, belonging to a voice unknown to the man. He scanned the surroundings of their small home, searching for the one who spoke to him.

Turning his head to peer into the house, he saw his wife standing before the open window, looking out onto the dark hills.

"Who is speaking?" she asked. It was the first sign of recognition she gave to her husband all day.
"I do not know. I thought it was you." He replied sadly.
"How could I be the one to utter such words?" She turned her back to him and let the breeze gently catch her long graying hair.
"I do not know, my wife. You have been acting strangely."
"How dare you!" She screamed, slamming the window shut and allowing her glaring eyes to penetrate through the glass at him until he could no longer look.

* * * * * * * *

The boy awoke to a profound darkness all around him. The air had grown colder while he slept, and he could sense a sort of dampness only characteristic of enclosed space. He was comforted to find the horse continuing its steady pace, but knew he must not allow sleep to overcome him again. He lightly tugged on the leather reins, stopping to explore his surroundings. He could see nothing but a narrow view of stars, and the dim light they shone on the path below him. Directing the horse right and left, he reached out in darkness and found that walls of stone surrounded him on both sides. Although he wished to stretch his sore legs, the boy knew there was no hope of lifting himself back onto the saddle without help. He patted the horse and it started again down the lonely path between the two hills.

Soon the boy could see a thread of light break through the blackness ahead. The walls gradually parted to reveal the beginnings of the town to the North. At first, only clusters of small huts could be seen scattered along the path. When the hills were long behind them, and the boy's anticipation could grow no greater, they reached the threshold of a great valley. The town before them was circular in shape, with small houses along the outskirts and buildings growing in size and stature toward the center. At the far end stood a massive tower resembling a lighthouse, and beyond that the sea, stretching infinitely gray under the rising moon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Darkness

He could sense that a demon was living inside his wife. Her sweat smelled different lately, like sour milk, and her hair grew stringy and oily, despite not ever skipping her daily wash. She had taken to eating more meat and heavy foods, and bitterly rejecting the herbal soup and bread she and her husband often shared. Dark circles appeared under her eyes, accompanied by a growing paleness and hollowing of the cheeks.

The husband noticed a gradual decline in his spouse's appetite for conversation. When he called to his wife from the field, or from another room of their small house, he would hear no response. When he located her, most often resting in their bedroom, he would ask, Why didn't you reply to my calls? Did you not hear me shouting for you? She only answered, No, without otherwise acknowledging his presence in the room. She only sat still in the darkness of the room, gazing intently at nothing in particular, as though absorbed in some important inner dialogue she couldn't part with.

The husband, when weeks of his wife's symptoms had not diminished, decided to call upon the priest, who lived in a neighboring town to the North. He found the quiet boy who lived at the end of the short row of cottages, drawing pictures with wooden sticks in the dirt.

"Boy. Go inside and tell your mother you must fetch a priest from the town to the North. Tell her I have prepared a horse for you. You need only be gone one night. I have arranged for you to lodge at the dwelling place of the priests. He will have his own horse, and tomorrow he will accompany you on your ride back."

When the husband finished his instructions, the boy went inside to gather some bread and apples to take along with him on his short journey. He emerged with a cloth bundle, which he tied to his waste.

The man and boy walked in silence toward the stable. The descending sun was nearly touching the distant hills by the time they reached the horse, who was tied outside the stable doors, standing erect in her saddle.

"You must stay on the path. It is dangerous for a young boy to ride during the night." The man warned. The boy looked down at his feet. He did not want the man to see that he had begun to cry.

"Do not worry," he gripped the boy's narrow shoulder. "The horse knows the way. She has been on this path many times." Upon saying this, the man withdrew a rusting canteen from his coarse shawl and presented it to the boy.
"This canteen is lucky. Do you see the picture of the little rabbit?" The boy took the canteen, but said nothing.
"You must go now." The man reached down and cupped his large hands under the boy's armpits, lifting his limp body and positioning it on the horse's back. The boy's legs were barely long enough to reach the foot straps.

The man patted the horse and said, "Let her take you, boy. Do not be afraid."

He watched them advance slowly toward the darkening hills until the boy was a small lump on the horse's back.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Once upon a time there was a spider named Andrew Lloyd Webber. He was not named after the composer. His father, Pappa spider, heard it from the street while scaling the brick wall of a grocery store, and thought his newborn son, sure to be his favorite, ought to have a longer name than the others. One day Andy was spinning a nice web of fine silk, up in the corner of a dying old woman's hospital room, when a baby mosquito haplessly flew into his web. The mosquito began shouting, "Oh no! You're that spider with the hunchback I've heard about, who kills every creature smaller than it! Please don't stick me with your venom fangs!"
Andy stared at the annoying mosquito. "It's not a hunchback you fucking idiot. It's an egg sack (you see, in rare spider communities in the Eastern United States, it is common for male spiders to carry the eggs of his mate). And I'm not hungry right now. Even if I were, I wouldn't eat a beastly thing like you. I'd get a stomach ache." Andy turned away and continued spinning.
"Hey Mister! I can't get out of here. It's too sticky!"
"That's your own fault. You flew into a spider web."
"But I didn't mean to! I was hurrying to catch the sleeping baby in the next room! I could smell its blood from 3 rooms away."
"There's your problem. You're too eager."
Just then, the old woman began a terrible coughing fit. She bent over the bed, spitting phlegm into her wastebasket. She lay back down, exhausted, peed herself, and stopped breathing.
"What does eager mean?"
"It means you're young and stupid."
"No it doesn't!"
"Yes it does."
"Okay, you're right. It doesn't."
A smiling male nurse in lavender scrubs entered the room. From the doorway, he stood on his tip toes to peer at the old lady's face. Her eyes and mouth were wide open. He lowered his head and closed the door.
"Well what does it mean then?"
"Listen kid. If you don't leave me alone, I am going to eat you."
"But I thought you said..."
"Yeah well, all this talking is making me hungry." Andy stretched out to stroke the mosquito. Its thread-like legs and dopey eyes disgusted Andy, but he pretended to enjoy the feeling of petting his prey. The mosquito shrieked and dislodged itself from the web, falling directly onto the woman's cold thy. After regaining what little strength it possessed, it staggered to the other room to gather some baby's blood. Andy spun himself down so he could hover above the woman's face. He studied her wrinkles and her bony hands and her oily, wiry hair. He had never had such a good look at a human. They always swatted at him. But she was dead. She didn't care.