December 15, 2011

Wolf Slayer, By John Wiswell

hen she knocked a third time, the lumberjack finally got up and answered the door. His pest was a gnarled old lady, half his height and a little greater than his width. He drew away, hand moving to the shut the door, but she moved to block it.

“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


A.M. Harte said...

Very clever combination of two fairy tales - I like it! Keeping the grandmother's wig is a creepy touch.

Tony Noland said...

Terrific pathos here. I loved the insight into one of the more peripheral characters in our fairy tales.

Craig Smith said...

Superb as always John! And combining the two tales like that, a very clever move.

And the sounds of it he will have a tough time against this new and even more cunning wolf.

Quinn Smythwood said...

Great combination here and I love the way you've twisted 'the boy who cried wolf' to a new form.

Tom Gillespie said...

This is smart John. Well-written, as always and very inventive. It could run as a series (the peripherals!)

Jack Holt said...

A modest, reluctant hero. A strong, stubborn old lady. I love these characters already. I could read a lot more of this.

Douglas MacIlroy said...

Dear John,

When I get off the mountain, dawn is creeping over the land and I am ready for breakfast and then sleep. Your story was so well conceived and rendered that I found myself lost in that perfect spot that writer's want their readers to be. Fork in hand, French toast waiting, I finished your tale and smiled. I love good writing that is fueled by an even better imagination. Your story fit the bill nicely.

Now I can eat.


Aloha and Mahalo,


Robin Hawke said...

I forgot to read as I followed the tale.

Wonderful, Robin

Siobhan Muir said...

Great story, John. I loved the mixture of Red Riding Hood and The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Talk about an unlikely hero. Thanks for sharing. :)

Anonymous said...

John what a skillful segue from one story into another. Enjoyed it immensely, especially because he gave in to the grandmother's plea.

Unknown said...

Some good imagery and characterization, and especially loved the 'until their toes touched' one. Interestingly, at those words, I pictured their noses touching as well. Amazing.

Sonia Lal said...

Excellent way of combining the two stories! ;)

Katrina said...

Oh, I liked this. The combination of two stories was brilliant. Absolutely wonderful.

Steve Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Green said...

An entertainingly new slant on both tales, nicely done John.

liminalfiction said...

Very well done, John. I particularly enjoyed the grandmother's description of the boy's situation, and how the wolf is toying with him, setting him up so that eventually no one will answer his cry. Excellent crossover between the 2grandmother's classic tales.

Chuck Allen said...

A brilliant twist on two old tales! The interaction between this persistent grandmother and the reluctant hero was a lot of fun to read.

Unknown said...

A fun mix of little red riding hood and the boy who cried wolf. I like how you've captured the grandmother's voice in this tale.r

Teresa Robeson said...

Like the other readers, I enjoyed the combinations of the two tales...nicely combined.

Mandy said...

A few years late reading this. Fantastically done! The wig was creepy! But I loved it!