Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
December 2018 - Volume 18, No. 12
Tale for a Winter Holiday Evening
This is a writing experiment I’ve never done before. All of this came from a single dream. Upon awaking, I reviewed the dream and decided to try making it into a story, one that could be told out loud, in the old storytelling tradition. What follows is the result. It may not be a good story, but almost everything in it came from the dream itself. I hope you enjoy.
It was a long time ago, when things were simpler.
I’m the story teller, the one who speaks here in the first person. It doesn’t mean I’m superior, or better, or wiser (though sometimes perhaps in some ways). It’s just a way of holding the story together so that what’s in my heart, then in my brain and on my tongue can make it’s way across this room or place into your ears and through your own brain into your own heart. That’s what stories are supposed to do anyway. That’s the rule. I learned it back in Kindergarten or Sunday School, or at my mother’s knee - the original storytelling place in my own life. Anyway…
It was long ago, when things were simpler (though I’m tempted to think that’s not true).
A long while ago - back when holidays were only a day long, and important enough for everybody to gather in one place. A time for family, ritual, merriment, feasting and what we today would call ‘adult beverages.’
We were all in a community gathering building - I’m tempted to call it a longhouse.
And it was a place of safety. Our homes were usually close by, the farther outlying territory a place to avoid after nightfall. In some fairy tales it’s called the woods.
On this occasion, it was an unusually tense twilight. Somehow we knew there we others out there. And somehow we knew who they were - they were the wulves. They weren’t the animal wolves, they were humans (at least almost) but had the name nonetheless. Nor did they even look like wolves. I think it was because of the legendary ferocity by which we heard they tracked, killed and consumed their meat. They were shadowy, their faces hard to keep in focus.
Now in the normal world of goodfolks, twilight is a relatively brief time, a time when day becomes night, and the change in light is noticeable. But on this night, the twilight was somehow frozen. An interminable going-nowhere grey. We also paid more attention to the strength of the walls of our gathering-house. Were the doors locked and strong enough to keep us safe? The fire in the hearth was well-enough stocked, and the lamps had sufficient fuel. There was plenty of food left over from the feast. The children had places to sleep if they needed.
But still we knew that the grey twilight outside was standing still. And our ghostly visitors mingled about almost soundlessly.
Word somehow came to us that one of us needed to go outside and deal with them.
And yours truly, the story teller, was through some necessity chosen.
One of the benefits of being the storyteller is that when you yourself are sent on an adventure, it’s already pre-known you survive by your presence in telling it afterwards.
And so the door was opened for me just enough that when I exhaled, I could slip out sidewards - then heard it close behind me. The wulves gathered around me, but didn’t seem to impede me. Never touching me. Yet what they were doing seemed purposeful. And so with myself - as I moved crabwise (an elusive skill learned long before from a crab brother) along the outer wall till the end of our building. Then I noticed a particularly busy gathering of about a half dozen wulves forward to my left about 30 yards away - focusing on something in a depression of land in their midst. I found myself freely able to move in that direction. Their circle opened, and in the midst was one of them - perhaps a leader, I couldn’t tell, but he was the focus of their attention.
He looked right at me - his face more defined than the others. I recognized him as if I’d met him before, but having no recall of any event. He spoke to me directly “I am Wulf.” I wondered at the power of having been given a name, of the power of the name itself, and of an implied assumption that this was not our first meeting. With the same courtesy of power and trust, I gave him mine.
He was right, there was a memory, very faint, though it could not emerge into clarity.
Then we were alone to speak.
He spoke at length of many things that he carried in his heart. And especially at his sadness for the long enmity between our peoples - which brought him to the specific of our visit. The strength of his years-long quest was waning severely, and he feared very soon losing it completely. Two things were of immanent importance.
The first was there had been somehow placed within our celebration hall a small bundle of moss, about two handsbreadth in size - which would replenish his life-force for the furtherance of his quest. Could I find a way in which he could enter our hall on this sacred night that he could place his own hands on it to take it with him.
All at once I did recall seeing a small bundle of moss leaning up against a leg of one of the banquet tables. Would it still be there? How could I to help him find it and be able to take it?
In story-telling tradition, you ask a question, you hear an answer.
The twilight - what or who provided the frozen twilight? It certainly wasn’t my people inside. Then I realized also it was only by my crab-like sidestepping that I personally had escaped being captive of it, unlike my people inside. (Never doubt the power of a story-teller to sidestep.)
Wulf agreed, also knowing the power that maintained the frozen twilight was itself limited, and we had to hurry. He reminded me that he could only enter my own territory by invitation, which was why the friendship between us was necessary for his final accomplishment.
And so it was. I needn’t bother you with smaller details which are only secondary to my story. But I will mention that some of the children in the hall were awake enough to see a strange man with the storyteller putting a finger in front of his closed lips. In later years they would only account for it as their imagination.
The years are still not yet enough for some of the gifts the wulves have for the goodpeople to take hold, and the goodness of the goodpeople to take hold among the wulves; and the mysterious silence of Winter Holiday darkness still remains rich beyond our understanding.
Later that night, when the frozen twilight and its guests were fully gone, and his people safely asleep, the storyteller stepped out, and spoke a few words of his own into the deep and holy darkness, and then himself slept.
As always, Pay Attention
By the way, you may recall that Wulf had a second request - which is actually for us, here. If we find this story worthy, that we will store it in our own hearts, and keep it alive by living and sharing it with others.
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