A Fairy Tale
Traveling alone—not yet having found his princess—a young prince once happened upon an old hut in the woods and, it being near twilight, decided to seek shelter there. The door was answered by an old woman, bent and wrinkled with age. She motioned him in, lit some candles against the approaching darkness, and began to tend the pot hanging over the fire.
“Mother,” the prince inquired, “How did you come to live alone here in the woods?” The old woman ignored him, busy with the meal. The prince noticed her hands were calloused, the hem of her garment torn and muddy, and the knees of her dress ragged. Unanswered, he sat dumbly in the shadows cast by the woman as she worked.
Eventually the old woman ladled soup into bowls and pulled a hunk of bread out of a cupboard, tearing it and giving half to the prince. They ate in silence and after the meal, he followed her by dragging his seat near the fire.
Sitting next to her, he stared into the flames which flicked and fell, heat washing over his face in waves. The embers glowed red, orange, and white. The prince was totally absorbed, heavy as if in a trance, when he began to hear the voice of a young woman, like light and silk, speaking as though he were in a dream.
In a forest long ago, a boy was abandoned by his parents as they fled the burning of their city. Just an infant, he was left in a wood very similar to this one. The animals of the forest took pity on him and cared for him, but most especially the wolves, for as he grew he began to display a savage and predatory nature much like their own.
For several years he lived among the wolves, like a wolf, and although his physical appearance and his movements were quite different, their natures were the same, and that is all that animals have eyes to see. In time, even their physical differences faded somewhat as the boy’s hair grew shaggy and his skin and eyes darkened to match his companions.
One day, as he and his pack shot through the woods, reckless and filled with the rush of the headlong dash, they ran into a group of human hunters who began to fire their weapons and cast nets to kill and ensnare the wolves. The pack scattered in every direction, each member seeking its own safety. Only the boy was not nimble enough to escape.
“What in God’s name… Hey! Get over here!” one man called to the other hunters, the boy caught in his nets.
“He snarls just like a beast. Boy, can you speak?” said another. Of course, the boy couldn’t understand a word of human speech. He responded only with all the wolfish curses that twist and darken men’s most violent dreams.
“Where d’you think he came from?” asked a third man.
“There isn’t a town around here for miles. Must be some witch’s boy,” remarked the second man. “Best let him go before she comes looking for him.”
“He’s no witch’s boy,” said the first man with vehemence. “There hasn’t been a witch in these woods for generations.” As he spoke, his heart softened towards the boy and, unconsciously, he began to feel a protective urge towards him. Without another word, the man hoisted the netted boy onto the back of his horse, mounted, and began riding home. The others, too curious to continue the hunt, followed.
In time, the commotion caused by the boy’s arrival died down. The man who took him found it necessary to keep him bound (as comfortably as possible) in order to prevent him from running away or attacking the members of the household. In the morning the boy was fed and set in a large, high-backed armchair in the den. In the evenings he was fed again and put to bed in a room by himself, which was then carefully locked, lest the boy break his bonds during the night.
This man had a son and daughter a year apart, bright blonde like their father, with fair complexions and joyful hearts. They appeared very close in age to the newcomer. When trying to come up with a name for him, these children had suggested the name David to their father because they had been learning about the shepherd-king, and so he became known as David. Their father then instructed the children’s tutor to conduct their lessons in David’s presence in the hopes that this would calm the boy’s tendencies to violence.
These children were kind and brave and so rather than shun David, they began to spend much of their play time indoors, playing in front of his chair and, often, speaking kindly to him.
Months passed, and David grew calm—calm, but gravely taciturn. In time, there was no longer a need to bind him, for all outward violence had ceased. As for him, he had known very little of life except a feeling of freedom before his capture. Now all that was like a primal memory as he began to be consciously aware of the household where he was staying. In fact, he had had so little conscious thought before his capture that he could neither remember that event nor his time in bonds. His conscious memories began with him sitting in a high-backed armchair listening to the childrens’ lessons.
The children began to play outside again, and David would follow them, never playing, merely staying in their presence as they chattered to him and each other and played at various games. It was soon after this pattern began that something strange and terrifying began to happen to David. One day, as he stood watching the children walk along the top of a low wall, the little girl turned and began to address him. As she did, a small vine emerged from somewhere near her heart, a tiny green thing, and began to twist and twine its way towards David. Curious and horrified he watched it grow longer and longer until it had reached him and began to slowly and gently feel its way around his chest. When it had encircled him, it wound back around itself, tying him to her. He yelped and swatted at the vine, but his hand passed through it. He could do nothing to harm it. Panicked, he ran home as fast as he could, but the vine remained, and it seemed to him that he could not run very well.
All evening David avoided the children, and all night he lay feverish and fearful of what the vine meant. He intended to go out with them again the next morning to find out more, but when he saw them at breakfast, he was horrified to see a knotted, twisting clump of vines connecting the two children. He avoided their eyes and their conversation until breakfast was done and then ran straight to his armchair, intending to stay there alone, but the children, concerned, followed him, and as the boy inquired if David was okay, there it was: a small vine emerged from the boy and began slowly creeping through the air towards David. David swiped at it, but to no avail. He stared at it with the most intense hatred he could muster and—a miracle! The vine halted, then browned, blackened, and crumbled to cinders. The young boy looked at David, puzzled by David’s look of hatred, then decided it was better to leave David alone for the time being and took his sister outside to play.
David watched them through the window, wondering how they could prance and play while encumbered by the vines connecting them to each other. He felt that even the little vine from the girl which still clung to him was a weight. Still he was exhilarated at his newfound defense and eager to use it again at the next opportunity.
The next day David went with the children to play, and this time, when they chattered happily to him and the vines emerged, he was ready. He fixed the vines with his fiercest, most hateful gaze and the vines stopped and began to brown. The children, concerned at David’s appearance, stepped towards him, asking if he was alright. The vines, in response, became vigorous, greening and reaching out for him once more. David stared and stared, willing the vines to die, wither, and leave him alone, but they would not. He stared as they wrapped around and around him. He felt belted with lead.
The next day he was too exhausted to leave the house. It was all he could do to reach his armchair and slump heavily into it. As the father and doctor and neighbors came to inquire after his health, he saw that they, too, were encased, shoulders to toes, in swaths of thick, bulbous vines. He had no strength to even attempt to resist as vines reached out from them and added to the already crippling weight on his body. He could only sit and wonder how they seemed to be totally unhindered by the same vines which were crushing him. By the end of the week, he could barely move under his own strength. He could only sit and watch as the children, who had again taken to playing in front of his chair in order to keep him company, frolicked around him in tandem with the vines weaving ever thicker and thicker coils. By the end of the month, he had been placed in his chair for the last time. He never rose from it again.
—The prince came to himself in cold and silent darkness. He shook himself. The fire had burned to embers. The old woman sat, stooped, face hidden in the gloom. He helped her down off of her chair and into bed, banked the fire, and lay down on the floor. Then he began to plan all the things he would do the next day: chopping wood, searching for wild vegetables and herbs, and repairing the cracks in the walls. “After all,” he thought to himself as he fell asleep, “there is enough to do here without worrying about princesses.”
Spencer Cullum has been alive since 1992. In that time, he has partnered in cultivating a blissful marriage with a courageous, kind, and enchantingly beautiful wife; written poems and stories; read many, many books; and is striving to become ever more humble and loving.
The Wolf Boy, A Fairy Tale: copyright 2020 by Spencer Cullum. All rights reserved.
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