The Wolves Ben Black
Time Commitment: 4 minutes
Originally Published In:
New American Writing

When next the boy cried wolf, he was paid no heed in the village and when he returned to his fields the sheep had been massacred. Thus always to liars, the people said.

Afterwards he wept and gestured madly in a corner of the shepherd’s house, wracked with guilt, overcome with sorrow. The shepherd obliged the boy in his grief, but after several days was seized by an inescapable practicality. So he sent the boy out, giving him a few days' worth of food, to find his own way. The shepherd without his sheep made his way into the forest where he searched for wood-chopping work.

The boy in his dirty leggings and torn shirt made his way into the village and sat for many days on a whetstone in the street and told people his story.

He was raised in the shepherd’s house though he was not his son. He was charged with watching some of the sheep, a small flock made of small sheep. He was given a dog barely out of puppyhood to help herd them, and the two of them and the little sheep made a child’s play of adult work. Not a true shepherd, the boy did not stand on a hill and watch carefully. He sat with the sheep, stroked their greasy fur, played with lambs and with the dog to the extent that the dog almost forgot its vocation in the excitement of its play. The boy loved the sheep and the dog, he explained, spending every day alone with them in the heat of the field or the bitter wind of the field but always unprotected, exposed in that field.

And out of love, out of love! He cries, and the people stop and stare if they are immodest and shy away if they fear God, Out of love, I kept an eye out for wolves. There are few wolves around here, but I knew they were out there in the trees at the end of the meadow. The first wolf I saw was in a tree, the branch sagging heavily under him. You didn’t know wolves spent time in trees but you haven’t seen the wolf as I have, and I saw him in that tree, dark and heavy and shadowy and he had his eye on the sheep. And out of love, love! I left them and ran as fast as I could to warn you all and you saw my tears of gratitude when you came with me to save my flock. And my love scared the wolf away.

The wolves do not believe in love, they came closer and closer in the next weeks. I saw them in the grasses sometimes, and they saw me and hid, so that I only saw them once whenever I saw them but once was enough. Once glimpsed somewhere a wolf is present everywhere, and so again I came to you afraid, and a few of you came with me with your guns but with a sweeping gaze you flattened the field in your mind and saw no wolves within. That night I shook for fear of those grasses full of wolves.

And the next day I wept because I knew I was leading my flock to death. They calmly walked into the field, and when grass hid them or I happened to look away I knew I would not see them again, that each sheep would disappear one by one. I sat on a rock devastated, and my little dog jumped around me trying to rouse me. He was naïve, he did not see the wolves, having an eye in his innocence only for the sheep. I closed my eyes and I could feel the wolves in the grass, in the trees, leaping past me on the wind, and once I felt one brush against me without a sound, so stealthily that even the dog didn’t see him.

So again I came to you and though I pleaded you turned away from me, all of you, though I called on your duty to charity and though I promised you things I did not have. And when I came back to the field alone the sheep were gone.

He told this story many times in the street in a high voice and he spoke more than he ate and for this reason he was mad. When a group of monks came through the village they took the boy with them, and the people were grateful for this kindness.

The monks heard his story, could not help but hear it, and they listened carefully because they were afraid, because it was their holy duty to take in this liar or madman or maybe the devil himself, the way his eyes darted when he told the story. One monk who was braver asked the mad child questions:

How many wolves? Did they take the entire flock? Did you find pieces of them, evidence of the massacre? Have the other shepherds and farmers in the area encountered wolves?

And the boy said many and yes and no and no.