The Girl left her home one day and went out into the world. She went west, into the sunset, where a land of dark forest waves crested across the landscape as far as the eye could see. She remembered gazing across the endless expanses for hours from the castle windows, hearing the stories and legends from the other girls that all lived there as well. So the Girl had filled a suitcase with all her underthings and her clothes and walked away from that stone building with a grim determination. Her feet were bare- the Matron had taken her shoes when the Girl announced she would leave- so, she sunk her toes into the earth and strode on. When she reached it, the forest was low and the twisted twigs of canopy dragged through the Girl’s brown locks, tangling her hair up and around itself. She stumbled, half blind in the green dimness, walking through thin spiderwebs that dressed her in gray lace, and getting grass and leaves woven into her dress. The cloth of her skirts wound constantly around her legs, tripping her up and ripping with harsh cries in the thorns and brambles beside her makeshift path. Her feet were soon cut up and bleeding into the undergrowth and she hadn’t a clue to where she struggled, but a sense of rightness filled her.
All this combined, in a terribly beautiful way, to make a wild beast of the Girl- and this, exactly, is what the Wolf thought when she found her. The Wolf was an ancient thing, walking on two long, bowed legs, tail hanging between them. Her torso was long, bare and lean, her body covered in only the pelt of her Mother Wolf as cloak and hood. She watched the Girl at first, studying the futile push at the forest’s walls. The Girl had long ago abandoned her suitcase, somewhere on the path behind her, and was struggling on in her torn rags. She panted harshly, nearly crying, as her bloody hands ripped at the wooden fortress. For a day the Wolf followed the Girl. Even as the Girl collapsed into a heap of rags and spiderweb, the Wolf sat on her haunches, observing. Soon, though, with the rise of the full moon to light a silver halo about her, the Wolf moved toward the Girl.
“You should go home, Girl,” said the Wolf. “You do not understand the animal way, you are lost. Go back to the Castle and live as a human should.” But the Girl just lay, looking at the creature that stood above her, too stubborn to return, too weary to be afraid. She was half mad with pain. The Wolf lay down beside her, touching close to the pale face, their noses pressed. “You must go home.” She shook her small, human head slowly, silent grey eyes never blinking, until the Wolf looked away and when she looked back the Girl was asleep. The Wolf kept her close as the night grew darker and sheltered the Girl until she too gave into sleep.
When the Wolf woke she was alone. The Girl, up since dawn, had pushed another long swathe into the forest, though it was a slow business and she was so near to exhaustion. Feeling a degree of pity for the lost thing, and admiration to equal it, the Wolf took the Girl’s tiny bleeding palm into her paw and led the Girl away. The Girl, amazed, followed the Wolf through seemingly solid undergrowth and deep into the shadowy world the Wolf knew best. “This is Wolf Magic,” said the Wolf and grinned toothily back at the Girl as she swept aside branches and leaped over mossy stones, logs, streams. The forest was a live thing, teeming with life force, and the Wolf whispered this to the Girl as she led her through. Eventually they came across a cliff face, sheer and impassable- however, the Wolf merely walked along it a way, until the Girl realised they were following a rocky path up the stone wall, past the trees and branches and birds. They came out, above the canopy, and found themselves on a shelf in the rock, which served as a doorstep to a deep cave. The Wolf led the Girl inside, showing her the moss bed for her to sleep on, the fresh spring for her to drink and the places deep inside for treasured things. “A home,” said the Wolf, “for us to share.”
The Wolf grasped the hands of the Girl, cleaning the palms with her tongue and laying her on the moss to sleep. As the Girl dreamed, the Wolf ran back into the forest, collecting honey and herbs and other medicines. While she was collecting, the Wolf stumbled upon the old, beaten suitcase, full of clothes and collected it as well. Then, along with a handful of long weeds, the Wolf ran back to the cave. Long into the next night, the Wolf cleaned the Girl, binding her wounds with poultice and weed. Using her claws, she drew them through the Girl’s hair, combing it neat, and washed away the sweat and dirt. She piled the underthings and clothing in the case up over the Girl, making her warm- so that when the Wolf was done the Girl lay on the floor of the cave, serene, with the Wolf curled gently around her.
Their life in the cave was a beautiful thing. The Girl, over the long months, collected stones and logs and fashioned furniture out of forest debris, while the Wolf hunted the byways of the forest, bringing home meat and mushrooms and other greens for the Girl to cook. At the Girl’s request, the Wolf built a wooden and river rock front to the cave, so that their home appeared to be a cottage merging into the cliff face. The Girl took comfort in the human additions, though she ensured the Wolf did not feel domesticated by her few creature comforts. The meat she cooked rare, and the bed remained a pile of soft moss to which they both retired, happily curled around each other. When the light grew long, the Girl would light a fire. The Wolf and the Girl lay in their bed while it died, and the Girl would spin tales of nostalgia and beauty for the Wolf, the characters played out in the shadows and light on the cave roof, or with the blood from the Wolf’s kills, and pigments from the things she collected in the forest, the Girl painted her stories across the cave walls. At times she would even draw the inks across her thighs and the Wolf’s stomach, painting the both of them as the story grew. In the day, the Wolf would teach Wolf Magic and the ways of the forest to the Girl, so that soon they would hunt together, and the forest truly was their home.
For many years the Girl and the Wolf enjoyed the beauty of the forest, and nothing disturbed their idyll.
However, the Matron at the castle spent the same years watching the shoes she’d taken from the Girl collect dust on her huge mahogany desk. She sent many a serving man into the forest, looking for the Girl she’d lost, and though they followed the path the Girl had made right to the end they never saw a sign of her. The local peasants shared many legends of the Girl, whispers that she’d become wild and hunted their children amongst the trees. Some even traded stories of a Wolf that she rode, a massive creature from hell, whose drooling jaws and burning red eyes haunted their nightmares. Still others told of a house that had grown like a tree from the side of a rock face, that it was a witch’s hut and the Girl had made a pact with the Devil to create it. Then one year the crops failed and the peasants whispered louder. Then the ewes all had stillbirths, and the peasants whispered louder still. Then, in the depths of winter, with the howls of wolves on their very doorsteps, the peasant’s whispers reached the castle and the Matron’s ears. Determined to either recover the Girl, or discover her for the demon she’d become, the Matron ordered the peasants to begin clearing the forest. She promised them the land to farm, and the money for equipment. She hired men from nearby villages to hunt the forest as the trees were felled, killing the wolves they uncovered and using their pelts for warmth.
The Girl and the Wolf remained in their home, secure in the idea that Wolf Magic would allow the forest to protect them. Although their hunting grounds grew smaller, and the humans roaming the Forest often scared away game, they stayed in the cave and ignored the tree cutters. Until, one spring day, a wolf hunter spotted the Wolf and shot at her. The man, half terrified by the Wolf, missed a killing shot completely, hitting her thigh instead. The Wolf howled in pain, taking a limping run through the undergrowth and away. When she arrived at the cave the Girl screamed in outrage. Her Wolf was badly wounded, and the castle she’d long ago left was to blame. Once she’d bound the wound, after cleaning it as best she could, the Girl took the knife from the Wolf, and the bow she herself used to hunt, and left to find revenge. First, though, she stripped herself of all human clothes and took up the wolf pelt that her Wolf wore, dressing the Wolf in the clothes from her suitcase for warmth. She left the cave, striding through the forest. While the Wolf slept, the Girl aimed her bow, once, twice, thrice, killing the humans that invaded their world. And yet, even though she exhausted her quiver, and the knife stained the forest floor with rivers of blood, still hunters walked her forest paths, and the peasants cut her trees. The forest had allowed her entrance and home through the Wolf and the humans she’d had to run from were taking it from her. As the moon rose that night, the Girl returned to the Wolf and slept along side her.
In the morning, the hunters found the trails of blood both the Girl and the Wolf had left in the forest. They came, like demons, through the dawn light and followed the dull red splashes with their swords and their boots and their human righteousness. And they came upon the cave, where the Wolf and the Girl slept. In the light, they saw the Girl in the Wolf’s pelt, curled around her love, and they pulled her away. They carved her open, slitting her throat and skinning the beast- but the Girl, she smiled through her screams and let it happen.
That night the hunters, they brought in the Wolf, with her long hair and yellow eyes before the Matron. “We have found the Girl,” they said, proud of their triumph. “The Wolf, she had wounded her legs so the Girl could not run. But we killed the Wolf, and now we have brought the Girl back to you.”
And the Matron said, “Who is this? This is not the Girl.”
And then the Wolf, she looked at the Matron, and smiled her fanged smile, and revealed her long claws from within the human skirts the Girl had dressed her in.
“That is the Wolf!” Screamed the Matron.
“The Wolf!” Yelled the hunters.
“Yes, the Wolf!” Yelled the Wolf, and before a man could move to stop her, the Wolf leapt forward and gobbled the Matron up. Then, quick as the wind, the Wolf broke through a window of the castle and ran away into the night. Although the hunters ran after her, no man came close to her speed. When they came upon the cave, they found it burnt to the bedrock, a funeral bier for the Girl inside. The Wolf was never seen by the peasants of the castle again.
Far away, through the byways and trails of the forest, people often whispered of a wolf on two legs, who had stolen a cottage deep in a forest and had eaten the woman who lived there, using the house as her own. After all, how else would a wolf have a fine river-rock home to live in?
By Danielle K. Day
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