13 Jun Wolves
“Wolves”Written by Blair Daniels Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 7 minutes
James was an eight-year-old boy with the heart of a dog and the energy of a hummingbird. His mother died when he was only five, so he lived with his grandmother, Babcia. They were very poor: their house was a tiny, dilapidated thing, with a dirt floor and a crumbling chimney. It sat at the foot of a snowy mountain range, next to a deep, dark forest that held all kinds of dangers. Thankfully, between them and the trees lay a wide river, protecting them from all the forest held.
Despite their poverty, they were happy. James diligently helped Babcia with the chores; she cooked him hearty dinners and read him many books. James was a good boy, who loved his grandmother very much.
One cold, January night, Babcia was sitting in her rocking chair by the fire. “James!” she called. “Will you feed the chickens before dinner?”
James immediately obliged. But when he came back in, his face was screwed up in a frown. “The chickens are very cold, Babcia,” he said. “And the river is almost frozen.”
Babcia’s face fell.
“Don’t worry, Babcia,” James said, giving her a smile. “They will be okay.”
She shook her head. “It’s not the chickens I worry about.” She rocked faster, fidgeting with the blanket on her lap. “Now that you are almost a man, James, I will tell you. On the coldest nights, when the river freezes over… all of the bad things in the forest are able to cross into the village.”
“Bad things? What do you mean, Babcia?”
She turned to the fire, the orange light flickering over her face. “The wolves, my boy. The wolves come from the forest, over the river, and into town. They smell our suppers and treats, try to dig their way into our homes all night.” She motioned to the dirt floor of their tiny house. “If any poor soul ventures out, he is attacked. Nothing but his bones are found in the morning.”
James shivered, despite the warm glow of the fire.
“You must not open that door. No matter what you hear on the other side.” She stood up, hobbled over to the door, and checked the locks. They clicked in the darkness.
James had trouble falling asleep that night. The wind howled, and he imagined it was instead a dozen wolves, howling at the orange moon hanging in the black sky. He pulled the blankets around him tighter – and that’s when he heard it.
Scrtch. Scrtch. Scrtch.
The sound of claws scratching against wood, right outside his window. Scrtch, scrtch, scrtch. He sat up in bed, heart pounding, and stared at the window. Through the thin cloth pinned to the windows, he could make out a large shadow, shifting and swaying right outside.
“Babcia!” He ran into her bedroom.
It was empty.
Then he heard her voice, calling down the hall: “I’m here, James!”
Babcia was back in her rocking chair. The tiny room was washed in dancing firelight, and the shadows jumped and twitched. “I heard them! The wolves! There was one right outside my window!”
“I know, my boy. The fire will deter them.”
Thump, thump. Scrtch.
James jumped, and clung to Babcia. “Ssssshhh,” she replied, holding him close. She undid her shawl and wrapped it around James’s shoulders.
Scrtch, scrtch, scrtch!
The sound of vigorous pawing. Clawing. Digging. Right outside the door. James stared at the dirt floor, beginning to tremble. “Babcia, what if they –”
The seam of dirt next to the front door shifted, buckled, roiled. James clung to Babcia with all his strength. Scrtch, scrtch, scrtch. In seconds, the dirt fell away. The hole grew wider by the second. James saw a flash of gray-and-white fur, heard a guttural growl.
“They’re getting in!” he whispered. Babcia held him tight.
But then, as suddenly as it started, the digging stopped. A soft whimpering sound filled the air, followed by rapid footfalls of the wolves. The hole was empty; the scratching was gone. For a few moments, James and Babcia silently held each other – the fire hot on their backs, the icy wind coming in through the hole.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
Someone was knocking on the door.
Babcia stood up, then slowly stepped towards the door. In the flickering light, James could see her widened eyes, her shaking hands. He had never seen her scared or nervous before – Babcia was fearless, courageous, stoic.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
“Hello?” Babcia called out.
Pause. Then a voice, muffled and soft, from the other side of the door:
James froze. His heart thrummed in his chest; he pulled Babcia’s shawl tighter around himself.
It was his mother’s voice.
Babcia leapt back from the door. “No, no,” she muttered under her breath. In seconds her strong hands were on James’s shoulders.
“James?” the voice continued. “Are you in there? I’ve missed you… so, so much.” The voice swelled and broke with emotion, like a wave crashing on the shore.
Tears welled in James’s eyes. Before he could stop himself, he was calling out: “Mom? Mom?”
Babcia clamped her hand over his mouth. “Sssshhh! You know that’s not your mother… my daughter. It can’t be.”
The voice only grew louder. “Mom? Is that you?” it asked, muffled through the wood. “Mom, let me in. Please. It’s so cold out here.”
A gust of wind blew through the hole the wolves had dug. The fire flickered; the shadows danced and shifted. “Do not open that door,” Babcia growled in James’s ear. “Whatever you do, do not open that door.” She gripped his shoulders so tight, he thought he might faint.
“Please, let me in. I’m so cold.” The voice was soft, pleading.
“But it’s Mom!” James said. The tears were flowing freely now, and he wriggled against Babcia’s iron grip. “What if they made a mistake? What if the body they found wasn’t her? Maybe she’s been alive this whole time, living in the woods, waiting for the river to freeze over so she could come home –”
“You fool!” It was the first time Babcia ever said an unkind word to James, and it stung as if she’d just slapped him. “That’s not her! It can’t be. We both know that.” Her tone softened, and she hugged him tightly. “I wish it were her… I miss her just as much as you do. She was my daughter, after all. But it can’t be.”
James sobbed into her shoulder. “I want to see her again. To open the door, and –”
“Don’t do it. Promise me.”
After a pause, he nodded. “I won’t, Babcia.”
As if it sensed their resolve, the voice did not continue. Eventually, the two stood up. Babcia laid a few blankets across the dirt, right next to the fire. “Go to sleep,” she said, gingerly placing the pillow. “I’ll keep watch until dawn. You get your rest.”
James needed to stay awake. If the voice came back… he wanted to hear it again, even if it wasn’t really her. But he was also so incredibly tired. His body felt twice as heavy as usual; it took an immense amount of effort just to stay upright. “I’ll just lie down for a little while,” he told Babcia.
The blazing, roaring fire had faded to a crackling, dim glow. James set his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. Just lie down, for a little while…
He fell asleep within seconds.
When he woke up again, it was cold. Very cold. The fire had died to just a few glowing embers, and the house was a mess of dark shadows. “Babcia?” he called.
A gust of cold wind blew over his body, chilling him to the bone. He pulled the covers up to his neck and squinted in the shadows.
The front door was hanging open.
He bolted up, ran over to the door. Shut it and locked it tight. “Babcia, the door!” he yelled, finally recognizing her dark silhouette in the rocking chair. “It was open! Did you fall asleep, or –”
His hands touched hers.
They were cold.
“Babcia, are you okay?” His hands moved up to her shoulders; he touched her face. “Babcia, wake up! Wake up!”
The voice came from the corner of the room. Quiet, soft, with that musical quality he always loved. The voice that always made him feel safe.
His mother’s voice.
James backed away. He heard something rustling in the darkness; then the sound of footsteps, lightly padding across the soft dirt. “She let me in,” it continued. “She missed her daughter… more than you missed your mother.”
He backed away, until he hit the wall. The cold wood scraped his back.
“Why didn’t you let me in?”
He saw her, now. A faint shadow, barely discernible against the darkness, standing on the other side of the room. James’s heart pounded in his chest; he groped at the wall behind him, searching for the doorknob.
“I missed you so much.” Soft, sad, imploring. “Come over here. Let me hold you again.”
His hand hit the cold metal of the doorknob.
But he didn’t turn it.
She took a few steps forward. Thump, thump. “I love you, James.”
He took a deep breath.
And swung the door open.
But he was too late. A cold, wet hand grabbed his wrist. He screamed and thrashed. The voice turned from his mother’s beautiful voice to a rasping whisper, repeating the same word over and over and over –
Another hand grabbed his ankle. Then his other wrist. Every limb was held in place by the creature, as if it had several arms. He screamed and thrashed. “Help! Somebody, help!” The village below him lay still, silent, dark. The moonlight glanced off the bare snow.
There was no one to hear his cries.
Except the wolves.
Thump, thump, thump. Their footsteps pounded across the snow from all directions, like the beat of a thousand drums. Low snarls and howls filled the air. Behind him, the creature hissed in surprise. For just a moment, the grip loosened.
He pulled free and flew across the snow. No doubt the wolves, and it, were chasing – but he was small and quick. He ran as fast as he could down the hill. He didn’t stop until he was at the first house, pounding at the door.
The door creaked open; a girl pulled him inside.
Many years later, James married that girl. They had children of their own, and moved to a nicer house in the village that didn’t have dirt floors. In the winter, he often lights a fire, and tells his family the story of that night. Warning them to never open the door.
But sometimes, on a cold, winter night – when the river has frozen over – he hears a voice, calling to him from outside.
“James, it’s Babcia. Let me in.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available