→ BFA IL 2023
Close to the edge of a rocky cliff, whose head was overgrown with lush green every season but the winter, when its scalp was dull and dusty, there grew a limestone tower jutting up from the stone. In earlier days, a woman led her family to these cliffs, when they were jagged and barren and had no lushness nor any tower that sprung forth from them. There they built the tower, and they fished from the cliff and grew gardens and farms on the land surrounding it. The famil lived in the tower for many years, and in the winters it was cold and they huddled together for warmth, building fires in their hearth and sharing the comfort of each other.
So it was for many autumns and many springs, until one winter night—when the grass had withered, icicles clung to the sides of the tower, and the sea around the rocks froze over. The family was huddled together beside their hearth, the only sounds were their breathing and the low crackling of the fire. There was a thickness to the silence gathering around them that made no one speak. The youngest member of the family, a little boy, sat shivering by the fire with wide, dark eyes, clutching his knees as they shook. The moon was bright and full over the sea, which mimicked it in broad, silver strokes across the sloshing waves, and the boy peered at it out of the window of the tower.
All of a sudden, the silence was shattered by a terrible sound that echoed through the freezing air, a howling that though high in pitch carried with it an awful rumbling. It was a violent sound, a sound like thunder, one that evoked not fear, but submission. The family started from their huddle, all in a whirl, donned their coats and their boots and left their things and their farms and their tower.
The boy followed his parents and his brothers and sisters out of the door that creaked open and slammed shut with a thunderous sound behind him, his feet wrapped in layers of cloth to fit snugly into oversized boots. He wore his father’s old coat, the black and white stripes hanging down to his ankles. Over the water, the moon still shone brightly, lighting their way as they rushed along the rocks and past their farms, where they saw livestock piled in heaps, blood running from their necks. The boy’s mother bid him not to look and he saw that tears covered her face and the howling rang out again, this time a harrowing chorus. Along the side of the cliff, they followed a path carved into the stone to its end, where icy water crashed against juts of rock—there stood a short pier, anchoring a small sailboat which knocked against it, rhythmically beckoning the family onwards in defiance of the howl.
But standing there, silhouetted by the moonlight, in front of the pier, was a wolf. The family came to a sudden halt in front of it, and it stared at them; its eyes glowing green against the darkness of its fur, blood dripping from its snout and spattered on the ground beneath it. The boy’s father stepped forward and the beast growled, raising its head and snarling, and the boy’s father took another step towards it, raising a stone clutched in his fist. He hurled the stone at the wolf’s head and it stuck in the creature’s eye with a loud, unpleasant sound and the beast whimpered and cried and turned and fled along the rocks with its tail low. As the family all breathed again, scampering aboard the boat, they heard the howl once more. The boy, peering back at the cliff, saw many green eyes atop it staring back at him as the boat pushed off and sailed away towards the bright moon.
The family sailed north, to lands where it was cold all of the time, not just in winter, and they settled there; building another home amongst strangers. At first the strangers watched them with distrust and did not speak to them. The family’s appearance and their language and the melodies they sang and the stories they told were unknown in this land. Nevertheless, over the years the strangers saw that the family was hard working and honest, and thus they were acc-epted, and the boy grew up among the children of strangers.
A good deal of time later, when the boy was grown and his parents were old, and he and all his siblings lived apart from each other in the cities of strangers, he worked as a fisherman. He owned many fishing boats and he lived in a big house that stood at the edge of the land; and looking out from the window he saw the moon reflected on the sea, and thought of the tower where he was born. Now he was warm in his big house, his boots fit him well, and his father’s striped coat was tucked away in some dark closet. He wore beautiful clothes made of fine furs, and he had become very different from the boy who had sat shivering by the hearth so many years ago.
One night, in the dead of winter, he broke bread and drank wine at the home of a friend, a hunter by trade. He sat across the table from the man as they traded stories of long days spent in pursuit—the hunter deep in the woods with his hounds, and the fisherman out along the coast with his boats. Outside the sun was set and the room dimly lit by candles. As they burned low and the fisherman set down his empty cup with a dull clank, the hunter looked at him with one narrowed eye, the other covered by an eyepatch, and asked him a question.
“You have had success here, in our land, more than most of us, more than me, but what place did you come from?”
“I do not know what it was called, only that it was far across the sea to the south—we left when I was a boy.”
The hunter lowered his head to take another bite, and for a moment, the fisherman could swear that his single eye had glinted green. As he chewed his food, leaning back slowly in his chair, a chunk of red meat dropped from his mouth, past his beard, and splattered on the table. He scowled, swiping it to the ground, where his dogs quickly devoured it.
When the fisherman returned home that night he was restless but did not know why, and stayed up late sitting by his fireplace, recollecting. The next morning he went to visit his father and mother who he had not seen in years, thinking perhaps he could find comfort in their wisdom. When he got to their home, however, he found a family of strangers. As he asked them what had become of his parents, they spoke to him with hostility at the back of their throats and their eyes flashed with a green glimmer when they looked at him. They told him his parents had passed the year previous and pointed in the direction of their nearby graves. The fisherman sensed that they were not telling him the truth. After visiting their burial site and placing stones atop their graves, as they had for their parents, he returned home, feeling uneasy and deeply regretful he had not been there during their final moments.
In the weeks that followed he wrote to his siblings, inquiring about their wellbeing, and sailed up and down the coast to visit them in the cities in which they had settled. Finding each of them successful in their own right, comfortable among the strangers of this land, he returned home. But with each passing day, his unease grew—he dreamt of green eyes staring at him from the darkness, and when he walked the city streets a silence fell between him and the strangers he lived amongst. Then, he began to notice wolves among them. At first it was just their eyes, he began seeing the green glint everywhere he looked. Furled brows lowered at him, and he heard the people spit and snarl as he passed them on their streets. Finally, he began to see the strangers around him walking on all fours, and one night, while he slept with his door thrice locked, he was woken abruptly by a howling and knew that he must leave.
Hastily he dug his father’s old striped coat out of its corner, strapped the long knife he used to clean fish to his belt, and bolted out the door into the rainy night. To his fishing boat he ran, his feet sinking into the muddy earth with each step. Through the dark, pluvious gloom green eyes smoldered, following his descent towards the dock. He was weary and cold, but the howl echoing behind him set him off into the sea, his white sail cutting through mist and rain. He sailed to the ports of each city where his siblings lived, crept through rank alleyways and back roads to knock furiously on their doors and rush them back to his boat, all the while his eyes were stretched wide and his hands shook.
↥ Illustration by the author
He had found all of his brothers and sisters but one, his eldest brother. As he brought his boat into the harbor, he saw that all the lights in the houses blazed green. With his palm upon the hilt of his knife, he stole through the streets towards his brother’s home, stepping lightly so his feet would not clatter on the wet stone beneath him. When he reached the corner, he saw his brother’s door broken down, and the bodies of his family piled in the street. With heavy steps he turned away and ran from this cursed place to his boat, feeling the hot breath of the wolves on the back of his neck and hearing their howl ring out all around him.
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The family sailed south for many days and many nights, and their tears mixed with the salt of the sea. There was rain, and wind, and thunder, and the boat was nearly swallowed several times, yet the light of the moon always emerged to guide them. At long last, the fisherman glimpsed the white tower through the mist, and felt a great weight lift from his heart.
It was dark when they landed. They climbed the path carved into the cliff, lit by shimmering moonlight. They walked past the overgrown remnants of their farms, and towards the tower; the fisherman leading the way. As they neared its ivory walls, he saw tufts of gray fur and large claw marks in the ground and his heart hardened with anger, his fist clenching around the hilt of the knife at his belt. Though he heard his sister’s voice behind him begging him to wait, he hurried on, ignoring her and quickening his steps until he reached the tower’s threshold. Throwing the door wide he saw before him a litter of wolf pups, sleeping, huddled together for warmth. Without breaking a step, he lunged and slit their throats one by one. As he held his blade against the fur of the last pup, it awoke and looked at him with wide, dark, frightened eyes for a moment before blood poured from its throat and it whimpered and died.
He slept in the tower with one eye open that night, and the very next morning he cut poles out of the wood of his boat, upon which he hung the bodies of the young wolves, staking them around the tower. A silence lingered between him and his siblings as they sat around the hearth that night.
In the weeks that followed, his siblings spread around the land as they built new homes for themselves, rebuilt the farms, and began to tend them. The fisherman, however, stayed alone in the tower, and slept with one eye open every night. Weeks turned to months, and months to years; the family mingled with the other people of their homeland and grew. A town sprouted up around the tower and the people took comfort in each other, telling their children stories of wolves to frighten them before bed. The fisherman, now wrinkled and old, remained in the tower by himself, still slept with one eye open, kept his knife beside his bed, and often woke amidst dreams of wolves. Though his people were safe here in their home, he knew that one night he might wake to the sound of howling, and so he spent his days teaching the children to sail.
Jacob Davidson really likes eating oysters with his friends.