Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Folk Tale

Once or twice upon a time there was a young man who lived in a village on a mountainside. He wasn’t the brightest or the strongest young man, so the village elders gave him the task of watching for wolves in the upper pastures.

“Keep an eye out,” they said, “and shout if you see any wolves”.

So two days later, the young man appeared in the center of the village, out of breath and frightened. He said there were wolves up in the upper pasture.

“Why didn’t you shout?” asked the villagers.

“No time,” said the lad. “Come, see!”

So the villagers trekked up to the upper pastures and found . . . nothing. There were no wolves.

“They must have moved on,” said the young man, but the villagers looked dubiously at him. Then he added, “You would not have heard me down in the village, anyway. Give me a horn and I can blow it, and you can come.”

The village elders thought this was a good idea, and gave him a horn. And two days later they heard the young man blowing the horn in the upper pastures, and all the male villagers ran up to the pastures.

“There,” said the boy, “By the tree line.” But the villagers searched but could find no trace of wolves.

“You know,” said the lad, “If you gave me a gun, I could shoot the wolves.”

The village elders were dubious, but after some discussion, decided to give the lad an old musket. And two days later, there was the sound of a gunshot and the horn blowing, and the villagers came up the mountain. They found no wolves, but one of the sheep was walking with a pronounced limp.

“This gun won’t stop a wolf,” said the lad, “I’ll need a better weapon to protect you.”

More discussion, and finally the village elders gave the lad the best gun in the village, and for most of the summer and into the fall, every couple days, there was the sound of the horn and a gunshot, and an ever-fewer number of villagers would tramp up to the upper pastures. And they would find no wolves. Only the promise of wolves, or the hint of wolves, or the suspicion of wolf-related activities. And the villagers adjusted to this.

Then came a hard, hard frost, and the wolves came down from the mountains. And the young man saw them entering the pasture from the tree line, a wave of grey fur and slavering jaws. Hunger incarnate, they came down out of the mountain.

And the young man dropped his horn and the best gun in the village and fled without even shouting a warning. And the wolves came into the village and killed every man, woman, and child.

And a week later, the young man, footsore, dirty, and hungry, stumbled into another village on the mountain. And the elders of this village looked at the lad and said, “You don’t look like the brightest or strongest young man we’ve ever seen. What can you bring to our village?”

The young man said, “I am a professional wolf-watcher. I worked for the next village over.”

“The next village over was killed by wolves, to the last man, woman, or child.” Said the village elders. “That does not reflect well on your abilities.”

“I know,” said the young man, letting out a deep sigh, “If only they had listened to me, they would still be alive.”

So they hired him as a consultant, and thereby sealed their fate.