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The Language of Wolves

Maggie Damken is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and a librarian-in-training, whose work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Cease Cows, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, Ghost Proposal, and others.

Sometime around midnight, the collies started barking like war-dogs in the pasture. Daddy'd left me alone for the night and the rule was always the same: if I so much as thought I needed the gun, I'd get the gun. Pulling on my red coat and readying the shotgun, I barged into the moon-bright yard and saw the wolf with its bloody teeth around the throat of one of our dogs.
I set my sight and shot.
It hit the wolf in the shoulder, and its silver body tumbled down off the collie to the earth. The sheep clotted together on the opposite corner of the field, cotton-thick as cauliflower. Racking the shotgun, I came upon my dead dog and the dying wolf and put my finger on the trigger.
I knew you'd come, said the wolf. It had a voice as viscous as syrup, thick and slow and rich.
I didn't know I could speak the language of wolves. What? I asked.
You always come, said the wolf. Forget this human business, now. Let's run away together.
My hands were shaking. Why didn't you run from me?
I've never run from you, said the wolf. I'm always running toward you. Don't you know that?
What are you talking about?
Oh, my darling, you don't remember yet, it said. We go way back, you and I. To the beginning, when we were both wolves.
Sweat pinpricked the back of my neck, under my arms. My palms grew damp. My finger shook on the trigger. Looking into the yellow eye of the wolf was no different from looking into the sun in the glorious moment of its immaculate conception. I pressed the gun to its ear.
Do you think a little death can stop me? it asked. I hunt you across every lifetime. In death I hunt you out of the dark. I will hunt you until you forget our language. I will hunt you until you're no longer a wolf.
I pulled the trigger.
That night, I dreamed I was a girl inside a wolf, wearing its skin, its body, unable to escape--and then I was a wolf inside a girl, wearing her skin, her body, unable to escape, and howling.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Author Comments

Red Riding Hood is one of those fairytales that I never stop thinking about and never stop wanting to retell. In this version, I wanted to tackle a scene where Red knows from the beginning what the wolf is: there's no question about it, or about what she has to do. The question ends up being about her own concept of self. Retellings are sort of like reincarnations--different lives, but the same soul--so I wanted this version to include that idea as well.

- Maggie Damken
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