“You didn’t answer my letters,” she said.
“I don’t check the mail often.”
She squinted up at him in a way you could only do if it was your face and not somebody else’s. That relived him, even though there was reproach in her voice.
“Your mailbox was empty.”
He clucked his tongue. “You checked my mailbox?”
“The first time that you didn’t answer the door. I wondered if you’d been home recently. Sometimes lumberjacks spend several days in the woods.”
“I just got back in, and I’m very tired from the trip.”
“Did you read the letters, sir? If it’s a matter of money, I’ll pay you. I can sell my cow.”
He looked away. Her letters were on the end table, opened and stuffed back into their envelopes.
“Madame, I’m very tired. Come back another time.”
“I know your story, sir. I thought if I came….”
She trailed off at the hurt in his face.
“Sir, I understand that once upon a time you saved a little girl from a wolf.”
He shook his head. “I’m just a lumberjack.”
She said a name, then asked if it was his. He couldn’t deny that it was.
“I understand that the wolf killed that little girl’s grandmother, skinned her, then wore her as he waited for the girl.” When he didn’t deny that, she added, “That was no regular wolf. That was a monster.”
“Perhaps it was.”
“And you’re a hero to have saved her from it.”
“I’m done with wolf business, madame. I appreciate your attention, but would like--”
“My town is very nearby. I live with my grandson – orphaned at birth. He’s been seeing things, sir. Every day he goes up on the hill and guards the sheep alone. Every day he sees a lone wolf and cries his head off, but by the time the men arrive, the wolf is gone.”
The lumberjack drew in a slow breath. “He could be making it up. Boys play stupid games sometimes.”
“That’s what the local men think. But he’s not a bad boy, sir. I raised him. And you couldn’t make up the wolf he describes. It’s in his nightmares now. It’s huge, and smart enough to play him so that soon no one will come to save him anymore.”
The lumberjack moved towards her until their toes touched. Normally a person would back up in intimidation, but she saw his hand on the door and knew he’d close it if she budged. She didn’t.
“Fewer answer his cry every day, sir. Today, perhaps one man will come up and check on him. Tomorrow, none will come at all. Then it will be just him and that monster.” She reached up and grabbed at his tunic. “Please, sir. You’ve fought these things before to save a little girl. This is a little boy. My little grandson.”
“Excuse me a moment.”
The lumberjack brushed her hands off of him and retreated back into his cottage. He left the door open, and she stayed on the stoop.
He padded to the rear of his cottage. He washed his hands in the sink, then splashed a palm full of water into his face. When he looked up, he saw the wig dangling from the edge of the cupboard. The grandmother wig a wolf had once worn. No matter how many nightmares he had, he couldn’t throw it away.
He got his axe and returned to the door. The grandmother was still there, blocking the door from closing.
“You say your town is close?”
John has been published by Weird Tales, Flash Fiction Online and Untied Shoelaces. He writes daily at http://johnwiswell.blogspot.