Cry Wolf, Lauren Parker
Updated: Mar 8
The old woman saw them along the tree line, tails sweeping through the brush, the coals of their eyes clouded by the spring fog. She lived alone outside of town; It made sense she would see them first. When she was eaten, no one made a fuss.
They would howl at night, creeping past windows, rubbing up against doors.
“What’s going to be done about this,” the baker’s wife asked.
“About what?” Her husband loaded his truck with loaves, her voice background noise, musings that he often skipped.
“The wolves. They’re a problem. That old woman already disappeared.”
“Oh, she was old. She probably wandered off and got lost.”
“She was eaten.”
“We can’t prove that. You’re overreacting. Now help me finish loading up the truck.”
Business wasn’t good. Another baker had come to town and prices had to be slashed. The wallpaper was falling down and they hadn’t the money to plant flowers in the garden that year. So the baker’s wife didn’t argue. Things were hard enough.
But women talked amongst themselves, the way women do. They started staying in at night. They set a curfew for their visits so everyone could get home before sunset. They got used to it.
“I get to bed so early now,” the midwife said. She urged her friends to do the same.
The men rather appreciated this.
“We want you to feel safe, so if you feel that you should stay in, then do,” the Mayor said to the crowd. The speech was given after sundown. The women listened to it by pressing their ears to the windows.
The baker’s wife went missing six months after the old woman, three weeks after the young girl who slept in the doorways of the church disappeared. Giving up the night had not been enough. The wolves had started coming out in the daytime.
The men saw them now, but didn’t think there were that many of them.
“It’s normal to have this sort of problem. They live here, the same as us,” the mayor said.
The midwife’s right arm was scarred from a mauling. It made it hard to leave her house. She asked her clients to come to her. Some did, some stayed home and took their chances.
“You know, you have to face your fear. You can’t let it eat you,” the pastor’s wife said. She’d been very busy, helping. “Perhaps you smelled like blood, and they were confused. If anything they protect the town from raiders.”
“It can’t really be that big a problem. Some of those don’t even look like wolf bites,” the doctor said. “Was it, maybe, an ordinary dog, and you were too ashamed to admit it?”
The police chief got a wolf. He roamed through the town, the monster at his heels. The midwife forgot where the man ended and the wolf began.
“Remember when the wolves were something we made up?” The bar owner said. She limped from a bite that hadn’t healed correctly.
“You can’t blame all wolves for this,” a patron insisted. “The world is dangerous. What sort of coddled life are you proposing?” His speech was slurred but others in the bar mumbled in agreement.
The bar owner was attacked in the town square the next night by the policeman’s wolf.
“A terrible accident,” the mayor insisted. “We’re putting him on administrative duty and we’ll give the incident a thorough investigation.”
Signs were posted on trees, gates, and doors suggesting women travel in groups and to avoid making themselves easy targets for the bad wolves.
The men sat on their porches, watching the gaggles of women hurry home, and chuckled.
“Women are such nervous creatures,” the pastor observed.
His wife nodded and topped off his scotch.
“Poor things clearly don’t believe their men will protect them. Frankly, I’m offended. Nothing has happened to my wife, and if she were carrying on like this I’d think she didn’t trust me.”
The pastor’s wife hadn’t left her house at night in months. She pulled her sleeve down over the curved breaks in the skin, two incisors and four teeth between.
“The honest women aren’t disappearing. Why are these women out and about if not to misbehave or rebel against nature? Don’t they understand wolves are dangerous? That they keep us in check so we don’t run wild?” The pastor had had several scotches now, and the mayor clinked his glass.
No one asked the baker what he thought. He was loading the bread truck by himself now.
The mayor and pastor each got their own wolves as well, letting them into the public buildings and the church. Not all wolves were bad. The pastor railed against the baiting of the wolf.
“It’s useless to resist wolves, you see. They’re serving their true purpose. Don’t make life harder for them. Stay in at night, wear clothes that cover your ankles, and don’t cook too much meat. Take care of yourself and this noble creature will take care of you,” he said, spittle flying and landing on wood of the podium. “The best protection against wolves is a wolf of your own.” The congregation was mostly men now. They would go home and tell their wives what they needed to know.
The pastor’s wife was eaten on a Monday, after the sermon, the Sunday lunch, and cleaning the house. The mopped floor dried without even her footprints on it. She faded into the walls.
“How could this happen?” The men were scandalized.
There weren’t any women left to be scandalized.
“Where did this wellspring of violence come from?” The pastor couldn’t remember. He wept to the mayor. The mayor called for the wolves to be round up and shot. But no one could find them. They were still there, of course. They just couldn’t see them. Their good dogs licked their chops.
All they saw when they looked out through town was each other.
Lauren Parker is a writer and visual artist based in Oakland. She’s a graduate of Hiram College’s Creative Writing program and has written for the Toast, The Bold Italic, Daily Xtra, and Autostraddle. She’s the winner of the Summer of Love essay contest in the Daily Californian, the Vachel Lindsay poetry prize, and the author of the zines My Side of Our Story and Cottagekink: Naughty Pastoral Fantasies for City Slickers. She produces a monthly reading series in the Bay Area called Cliterary Salon, and embarrasses her family on Twitter @laurenink.