Ezra T. Gray
The young man saw the wolf. It was not a particularly large wolf, but it was a wolf, nevertheless. One thing the youth knew, even in his short thirteen years of life, there was no such thing as a lone wolf. Where there was one, there were more—kind of like rats.
The wolves had been very busy of late, devastating farmers’ sheep herds, cattle herds, and the sort, you know, the things that wolves do. They had even eaten a child or two. It was rumored—rumored mind you—that Old Lady Boskidell had been eaten while walking home from church.
Now, in the broadest sense, I guess you couldn’t prove it, you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt and all. The truth was Old Lady Boskidell’s body had not been found, only her shawl, which was covered with blood. Coincidentally, there was blood all over the area where her shawl had been located. There were wolf tracks too, lots of them—oh, wait, alleged wolf tracks. That’s how the mayor referred to the incident.
The young man thought back a fortnight, when the mayor gave his speech in the town hall meeting.
“Now, now, folks,” the mayor began, “there is no need to panic. Yes, the Widow Boskidell’s wrap was found with blood on it, and tracks were found, however we have no evidence that wolves did it, none at all. Why,” he continued, “we don’t know that a wolf has even been in this district for years—forever, for that matter.”
Well, that’s a bunch of crap, the boy remembered thinking. They had a wolf pelt tacked on the wall of his farmhouse. His dad had killed it when the boy was four, and he remembered it well.
The mayor went on to tout, “We must keep our heads about us! Now,” he drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, “we have had a number of livestock deaths. But can we emphatically say these were the result of wolf attacks? I say nay, nay! I believe that they are more than likely wild dogs, or something else—bears perhaps, but not wolves. This rancid prejudice against wolves cannot be tolerated in our society!
“Everyone knows that wolves are peaceable creatures that have never attacked a human, ever!” His speech went on, “We also know that wolves rarely eat meat. Well, it comes to me on the good authority of our expert that wolves normally eat grass. Now, yes, there is an occasional radical that will eat meat, but we cannot, I repeat, cannot allow the actions of a few to hijack the reputation and tarnish the image of such a noble and peaceful species.”
“So,” an old man stood up in the back of the crowd, “you want us to believe that all this wickedness, the livestock attacks, the people killin’, and the like, is not being perpetrated by wolves? Well, I believe—”
“That’s just what I am talking about!” the mayor shot back. “Belief! Youbelieve. Well, your beliefs are wrong! You, sir, are old and biased. You have never understood the wolves. You are blinded by your own hatred.”
The old man shook his head and gave a dismissive wave toward the politician. “You are dumber than a post,” he muttered as he walked away.
“See? Wolf haters,” the mayor spat. “I realize that there are canines about causing some problems, but we must take care not to label things…”
About that point in the speech the lad’s father grabbed him by the sleeve and whispered, “Let’s go. It’s getting too deep in here for me.”
As they were exiting the scene, the young man noticed that most of the crowd was breaking up. However, a few devotees remained behind to listen to the mayor’s spiel, and they were hanging on his every word.
But now the young man was sure of one thing. He knew there were wolves in the district, because he had seen one. What he did not realize was that before the sun rose again he would see a lot more.
The young man hurried faster, trying to get home from school. He looked toward the western horizon where the sun was rapidly making a descent. He had many chores to complete and much to do before he could lay down his head to rest this night.
He knew there was another big meeting planned for this weekend, one the mayor had organized, a summit if you will, on the recent attacks in the district. He sat at the table, supposedly doing his homework, and listened to his grandfather, father, uncles, and many other local men, as they discussed the upcoming summit. They sat around the fire and, even from the table—which was some distance away from the fireplace—the young lad could hear their conversation clearly.
The young man’s father was, as always, quite outspoken. “Well,” he bellowed, “how does he expect to eradicate a wolf population when the Lilly-livered sap-sucker won’t even use the word wolf! We have need to mount a campaign now, to eradicate this menace! That involves setting traps, organizing hunts, calling out the dogs! What we need,” he spat, “is boots on the ground, not more rhetoric. We are obviously facing a clear and present danger, a threat to our free society and our way of life. If we do not act now, we will be, within a year or two, slaves to the wolves. They will not compromise, they will not stop, until they have achieved total domination. That is their creed.”
“So,” one of the men said as he rose up, taking a deep draw on his long-stemmed clay pipe. He exhaled the smoke and it gathered around his face for a brief moment as he began his oration. “What can we do? What should we do? If we take matters into our own hands, we will be branded radicals and terrorists. If we speak out against the mayor, then his pundits will simply accuse us of being wolf haters. I suppose my ultimate question is, is the mayor not one of us? And if so, why isn’t he doing more instead of just talking? I think—”
The young man’s grandfather cleared his throat deep and loud, cutting off the speaker in mid-sentence. “Well, lads,” the old man began, “when I was a boy….”
There was silence in the room except for the deep rich voice of the elder. Half a head taller than the loftiest man in the room, the lad’s grandfather still sported shoulders that would have shamed an ogre. He had fought in half a dozen wars and had the scars to prove it. To put it mildly, he was well respected and when he spoke, folks shut up and listened.
“Well, back then we had a wolf problem. Some of you older gents may remember?”
“Aye, Aye. Aye, sir,” agreed several gray haired men.
“We fought the wolves,” the big man said, “but…it was more than that. Some, not all, the wolves were…well, they were different.”
“How sir?” one younger man queried.
“How? Well, they were wolves all right, wolves sure enough, but by night only. By day they were men.”
“Men?” the younger man gasped.
“Yes,” the elder said, “Men. It was a strange thing and if I had not seen it with my own eyes, well, I’d ‘a not believed it!”
“It was so!” an old timer shouted out from the back of the room. “It’s God’s own truth he tells! True, true….” His voice trailed off, remembering a horror long gone.
The young man’s grandfather continued. “I was a young lad, about the same years as my grand boy in yonder room. Well, sirs, I was out hunting way up on McDougal’s ridge. I took out about dark, hot on the trail of a big red fox. I had with me my two best foxhounds. July foxhounds, they were, bred by old man Gray. Best dogs ever.”
“Aye, aye,” came a second interruption from around the room.
“Anyhow, I got the big red okay, but I was after him all night. Well, lads, I was in a hurry home—two reasons. One, my pap was gonna be hotter than the coals of hell knowing I’d been out all night, and two, it was Sunday. Now, the old man would let it go if all night I’d hunted, but some of you remember my pap—if I was late for Sunday meeting….
“Well, I was hurrying when both those dogs took to growling, hackles set high, they were. Well, men, about thirty feet ahead on the path was three wolves, except one of them was rolling around on the ground, wallowing something awful. Then it rolled off its back and onto its feet, and that’s when it began to change—change into a man.
“So I did what any reasonable young God-fearing lad would do. I raised my rifle and let go. The bullet took the beast square between the eyes, dropped it dead right there. It was half man, half wolf when it died, and there it stayed, just like that. I cocked that old Henry rifle back and cut down on the other two wolves. I was not sure if they were normal or not, but I was not taking any chances—and besides, wolf pelts were at a premium, like now. I reckon the other two were so surprised that they couldn’t or wouldn’t move, because I killed them both dead, right there on the spot. In retrospect, I think the two were guarding over the one while he changed.”
“Who was he?” one of the younger men asked.
“His name was Bob Chancey,” came a voice from the back of the room. “His name was Bob and he was my oldest daughter’s husband to be.”
Everyone’s attention was now on the short white-haired man who stood against the back wall.
“He was the local banker and I thank God for this man here.” He pointed to the young man’s grandpa. “God only knows what would have happened. My grandbabies could have been an abomination!”
“Aye,” the elder continued. “Well, I ran back to the house and got my old man. We took the wagon back and jumpin’ jiminy’ was there a ruckus when we hauled that carcass into town. Well, needless to say, that ended the wolf problem. Every last pure wolf in the district was hunted down or run till they didn’t come back. And, strangely enough, several folks just up and left.”
“Left!” snorted one old duffer in the front. “Sure enough left!”
The young man’s grandpa nodded. “The point is, here we are again, and in my own lifetime!”
“So you think there is one of these wolf-men among us?” a loud voice piped up from near the door of the abode.
The young man had long stopped doing his school work and now, hearing the all too familiar voice, he rose to his feet. He knew this voice, this man, well—as did every man there. It seemed he had slipped in the back door unnoticed.
“Well?” the voice demanded.
The room suddenly opened. Men pressed themselves against the walls, leaving an open path between the newcomer and the lad’s grandpa.
“I do,” the elder spat. He stood alone, and he looked twenty years younger with his big shoulders squared and a look on his face the boy had never seen. He knew now why no one ever messed with the elder. “I do, and you are IT!” The old man pointed a huge finger at the newcomer. It was the mayor.
“So I am,” the mayor growled, “so I am. I came here, lied through my teeth to you all, won the support of the majority, and all the while I was a wolf. I was born a wolf, born to wolf parents. I was elected your leader under false pretenses and now, when this is through, you will all be wolves.” His voice softened considerably and took on a calmer tone as he added. “Except, of course, those of you who will not live under Wolfen law will be killed.
“And you, old man,” the mayor pointed a finger at the lad’s grandfather, “you will be the first to die! It was you who killed my parents. I hate you and all this republic stands for!”
The mayor had begun to change. His face was turning from that of a man to that of a wolf. His eyebrows magically thickened. His nose grew from a man’s to the snout of a beast. Though he still stood upright, he looked much more lupine than human. Suddenly he rushed forward, straight toward the young man’s grandfather. Everyone gasped.
The next several seconds moved in surreal slow motion. As the wolf-man mayor rushed toward his grandpa, the young man noticed it was almost dark outside. He saw that the fingers of the attacker had elongated into grotesque paws sporting dangerously sharp talons. The distance between the two closed quickly, but the old man made no effort to move, he just stood there waiting for the wolf to take him. Then a peculiar grin spread across the elder’s face. A half a heartbeat before the wolf-man would have slashed his throat with the wicked claws, the old-timer’s hand shot out, grasping the mayor by his hairy throat.
A dog-like yelp issued from the wolf-mayor’s snout. In one quick and phenomenal motion the old warrior raised the dog high and then slammed it to the floor. The air gushed from the would-be killer with a sickening whoosh. Before it could gasp again, the young man’s grandpa put the boots to him. After kicking him first in the chest and then in the head, the old man grabbed a poker from the fireplace and proceeded to beat the usurper, who had now changed completely into a wolf, until the lad was sure the beast was dead. The old man raised the poker high above his head like a spear and the lad was sure he was about to see the thing impaled. However, at the last moment the elder stopped.
“No, no,” he snapped. “I will not kill ye. You do not deserve to be killed by a free man.”
Instead, the old warrior took the poker and placed it behind the mayor’s neck, bending it into a neat and tight collar.
Several men in the room gasped. The lad would never forget the strength it took to execute such a feat.
“Now, you dirty usurper,” the old warrior announced, “so you will be.” He looked around the room. “You see, men, as long as that iron collar stays on, he cannot change. A wolf he is and a wolf he will be. Oh, he will have the mind of a man, but he will have the body of the beast.” He looked down and spoke to the now awakening beast. “You will be locked in a cage for the rest of your days. You will live as the filthy varmint that you are.”
The elder looked up. “Lad,” he snapped, pointing a finger at his grandson, “pull the wagon around, and bring that big cage along.”
By the time the young man had completed his task, the men had dragged the ex-mayor into the yard. Some of the younger men had bound his forelegs with chains and tied his snout closed. The lad’s grandpa slammed shut the door of the cage, which sat in the bed of the wagon.
“There,” he said, “that should hold him until we can get back and place him in a more proper prison. I suppose a big iron enclosure in the town square should do, since he was so fond of giving speeches there.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” the crowd roared with laughter.
“Okay men!” the elder shouted. “We have much to do before daylight! There will not be another wolf left in this district!”
“Hip, hip, hooray!” the men hollered.
And so it was that the remainder of the night the young man hunted down wolf after wolf, shoulder to shoulder with his grandfather. He fought until the last wolf was dead. And the ones the men of the land could not round up, they ran out of the district, until the land was at peace again.
So it’s a fable, huh?
Or do you know a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Maybe a Muslim in a Christian-born land? An impostor who claims to be one of us, but is not? A man who says he knows Jesus, but takes the side of the child molesting founder of a filthy, dark, evil religion?
Oh, you think, you have never seen anyone like that.
Turn on your TV.