from a fairy-tale village
There was a beast in the woods.
Every night, its chilling cries soared above the trees to claw at the moon, and every night the townspeople shuddered with fear. “Stay inside,” said the mother to her child, or the young man to his lover. “Stay inside when the sun dips below the horizon. Stay inside and be wary of that which lies in the darkness.”
The people heeded this, for the most part. But sometimes, sometimes, someone would grow careless, or reckless, or simply forget.
“I will slay the wolf,” said the young woodcutter to his master. “I have grown strong and my axe is sharp. I will release us from the clutches of fear.”
And his master shook his head and begged him to stay, but his apprentice would not be swayed. He entered the woods as the sun dipped low, the world cast into shades of purple and gold, and that is the last he was ever seen. His mother wept at his loss and the townspeople held their children close.
“Do not go into the woods,” warned the baker of the young woman who planned to go searching for berries that day. “Stay in the meadows, and be home before dark.”
“I know,” said the young woman, and did as she was bade, but as the day lengthened and her basket filled with the bright red of berries, she lost track of time and found herself alone at the edge of the wood as the sun began to set.
The next morning, her lover found her basket lying solitary at the edge of the meadow, stained with a red that was not just berry juice.
“Do not go into the woods,” said the townspeople. “Beware the wolf.”
She came at the end of summer. She was old and wizened, her face lined like a canyon and her hair like woven silver, but she carried herself with a dignity that belied her wisdom and experience. The townspeople welcomed her honorably and offered her a place to spend the night, but she merely smiled at them and told them she had business to attend to.
“Surely not at night,” said the townspeople, and when her smile did not falter, they hastened to warn her. Stay inside. Do not go into the forest. There’s a monster in that forest.
“I have business to attend to,” repeated the woman, and she would not be stopped.
The people watched her go with sadness, for they knew they would never see her again. But the woods did not ring with wolf-song that night, and the moon was pale instead of yellow.
“Come home,” whispered the woman, unafraid of the snarling beast that poised to strike before her. “It’s been too long already. Please, it’s time to go home.”
The shadows lengthened and an owl called in the distance, and as the night filled with magic the beast faded away.
The woman held out her hand and the fingers that met it were human. She looked into the deep eyes of man she had once called her son and smiled a small, sad smile.
When morning came, the townspeople opened their doors with heavy hearts, but the sight they were met with was a remarkable one. The woman was alive, untouched and smiling, and she was hand in hand with a tired man whose eyes were ringed with purple shadow.
“What did you do?” asked the townspeople. “What about the wolf?”
The woman bowed her head and squeezed her son’s hand tightly. “Oh,” she said. “You will no longer need to worry about the wolf.”
And her words rang with truth, for the wolf’s cry was never heard again.