21.2.12 | By: Megan Langham

Wolves on the Moor

This is a Little Thing that came to me last night when I ought to have been sleeping. Perhaps that makes it akin to a dream. Or perhaps it only means that my mind works in mysterious ways and at ungodly hours. (But then I knew that already.)

the wolves

Maddie did not fear the bleakness of the moors. All her life she had known the swooping of the wind about her ears, the keening of the ravens in the brush, the desolate dance of the heather. The barren misted landscape was her home, her highest ideal of beauty—she had no other standard set to measure. But even sixteen years had not prepared her for the dull terror surrounding her now, all the more dark for its familiarity.

“They’re not wolves,” she said aloud, tightening her fingers around her brother’s hand. “Wolves aren’t evil, Geoffrey. Wolves don’t speak.”

Her brother glanced down at her, his face a mask of almost infuriating calm. “But wolves do speak in their own way. They howl." When she merely grimaced in reply he added, gently, "There’s no need to be frightened, Maddie. We’ve lived too long on the moors to lose our way while there’s light left to see by.”

“Perhaps we should not lose ourselves,” said Maddie. “But if there’s something trying to confuse us—several things, an army of things—then what chance have we got? We’re like dolls on strings.”

Geoffrey stopped walking abruptly and swung around to face her, his blue eyes dark. “You’re not to speak so,” he said. “Don’t let fear take root in you, or your nightmares will wake real.”

“But you’re a priest, Geoffrey!” She was almost crying. “You’re a man of God—surely you know evil.”

“I do,” Geoffrey replied. “If there were evil near us, evil of the kind you mean, then I should sense it. But there is none, Maddie. We only strayed too far. We took a wrong trail, and if we double back we’ll be home soon, simple as that. So why are you so afraid?”

Maddie choked back a sob. Her arms dangled at her sides, helpless. She wanted to turn and run, but her brother’s eyes held her. 

“Please,” said Geoffrey quietly. In the silvery twilight his hair shone black, almost blue against his pale face. He looked like an angel, like a spirit of the not-yet-darkness…and she, Maddie, had sunk lower than the earth.

“Forgive me, Father,” she whispered with down-bent gaze, “for I have sinned.”

Her fingers tingled in the cold of the air. Her curls twisted in the wrench of the wind. Across the far stretches of moorland the loudest of the wolves pronounced his judgment.

Geoffrey lifted her chin, gently forcing her to meet his searching eyes.

“I am not your priest now, Maddie. I am your brother. I am your protector… but I can’t protect you when I’m blind to your enemy. What is it turns the wolves to demons in your sight?”

“I cannot tell you.” Maddie ran her hand under her nose and stood up straighter on her heels. You wouldn't understand.

“Wouldn't I?”

“I said, I can't tell you if you're not my priest.”

Geoffrey ran his hand through his hair, sighing in unison with the wind. Very well, then. I'm your priest. Confess your sin, if that is the only way to ease your mind.

For a moment Maddie hesitated, gathering the right words together in her mind, taken from the air that snapped and stung. It was on the night— she began, and got no further before terror struck her dumb. 

Over Geoffrey's broad shoulder she saw a monstrous dark shape, leaping shaggy-grey from the grey-purpling heather, and the eyes glinted gold like the eyes of a demon, and the teeth shone white like an avenging angel. And then she was running, fleet as she had never known she could run, and her brother's voice was calling her name but the fear pounding in her ears like breathing drowned out all other sound.

The moor was dark, the air was dread, and there was nowhere for her to run. But still she fled like a fool until her heart, ready to break in her breast, forced her to a stop. Behind her she could still hear the wolf's heavy tread, but she was too spent even to scream.

My sins have caught up to me. Fresh sorrow is waiting to consume me, and it's right, it's good, it's the rightest thing in the world. I don't deserve to be rescued. I don't even deserve to confess.

She stood alone in the middle of the moorland, her dark head bowed, her trembling arms crossed over her chest. Through the strands of hair in her eyes she could see the wolf. It stood in front of her, watching her with cruel intent in its bright eyes. But for a few lingering traces the fear in her heart had gone now, replaced with crippling apathy. Geoffrey was nowhere to be seen.

“Come, she said aloud, holding out her hand to the wolf. “Why do you wait? Come and punish me.

The wolf took a step towards her, muscles rippling gracefully beneath the silvered fur. The gold glint in its eyes had softened to a shine. Maddie held her breath.

In one fluid movement the wolf swept its head in a bow, touching her feet. Though its mouth never moved, Maddie could have sworn it spoke.

Fool. I can't.

She gasped. The wolf looked up at her, wonder mingled with a strange sort of contempt gleaming in its eyes. Then it turned from her and moved away, swift and lithe as it had come.

Maddie stood staring after it. She did not move, not even when her brother caught her by the shoulder with a surprised exclamation.

“Good Lord, Maddie, what was that? I've never seen you run so wildly—it was as if Death himself were after you.”

“He was, said Maddie, turning slowly to face him. Didn't you see the wolf?

Geoffrey stared. What wolf? There was never a wolf. You and I were standing alone on the path together, and you were about to speak, and then without any warning you turned and fled across the moor like a woman possessed. Thank God you stopped when you did, for my legs were ready to give way beneath me.

Relief swept over Maddie. I think I'm going mad, she said, laughing. “Ought I to feel as glad as I do?”

“What you ought to do, said Geoffrey, with an answering smile of somewhat bewildered relief, is come home with me to your supper and your bed. I can't say what it is that happened to you, but I doubt it can't be cured in part with rest—and in the morning, if you're still troubled, you'll tell me everything. Now come.

Obediently Maddie took her brother's proffered hand. They walked for a few moments in silence before Maggie ventured, timidly: Have you—have you ever not wanted to be forgiven?

Geoffrey wrinkled his brow. Many times, yes. But I have had to remind myself that the decision to forgive my soul was not my choice to make. No man who has set himself up as the judge of his heart can know peace as it was meant to be known.

“Mmm, said Maddie, tucking the thought away to ponder. Then she added, looking up, I'm sorry I was so afraid.”

“No harm done, said Geoffrey. I won't tell anyone that you were frightened of the wolves on the moors.”

Maddie pinched his fingers. You needn't speak so pompous just because you're a priest, Brother Faol. You're not my priest, after all.

The rising round moon beamed down on their laughter, and the raw ravening wind drove their footsteps nearer together.

2 missives:

Rachel Heffington said...

Love it, Megan! I love stories that have danger *and* happy endings. :D My older brother and I have a relationship that sounds similar to Maggie and Geoffrey's, so I understood them right off the bat.

Lilly said...

Wow . . . Wow. That was amazing.

Post a Comment