The Girl Who Cried Wolf
A Short Story
ILLUSTRATION BY JUNGYEON ROH
Help! Help! she cried. Wolf! Wolf!
The wolf had bitten off her hand. There was a stump. Things hung from it, red, stringy, drippy—dripping like the underside of a tree ripped by its heart. There was purple-black stuff that coursed and would coagulate as if toward "healing" (a favorite word these days). Also, something or things white or whitish in the middle. Help! Help, she cried, Help! Help!
Now, now, another said, for she was not alone. Settle down, dear, what is it this time?
Wolf, she cried again. Help! Help!
Again? another sighed, for this had all been heard before.
I don't see any wolf.
The others were there to help.
Does anyone else see a wolf?
There was the shaking of many heads, the rolling of many eyes, the weary smiles of almost near-affection.
Or lions and tigers and bears? (Here there was a little laugh.) Oh my! (Har-har.) Is there something you're trying to share with us?
Now there was another wolf. It had come from behind. Its teeth grabbed her left calf. (The hand that was gone was the right one. Maybe they were going for her kitty-corner this time, a kind of asymmetrical look?) This one felt smaller. She twisted her head to see. It was. Was it the other's cub? Was the mama wolf trying to teach the baby wolf? Its teeth were sloppy, almost tentative in her calf. This wound would not be clean. Was the baby learning? She hoped so. She hoped it wasn't doing this sloppily intentionally to prolong this. That wouldn't be nice. Should she sympathize with its trying to learn but only doing things sloppy and wrong? She tried to be sympathetic.
Oh, wolf, she cried again. Wolf! Help! The big one was still there, gnawing on her hand, which was no longer attached to her, as one would gnaw a barbecued rib. (Not me, however—I'm vegetarian.) She was glad she didn't feel that one anymore. She did feel the other, though.
Its teeth were in the skin and then muscle and then against the bone of her calf. (Why "calf"? How did "the fleshy part at the back of a person's leg below the knee" [New Oxford American Dictionary] relate to "a young bovine animal, esp., a domestic cow or bull in its first year" or "the young of some other large mammals, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, large deer, antelopes, and whales," and/or "a floating piece of ice detached from an iceberg"? The calf being detached from her would not "float"; it was being rent from her by teeth, not global warming. Though iceberg calves might be considered similar in that they too "drip" in a manner of speaking, though whether they are all or mostly these days caused by global warming—excuse me—"climate change" or "natural" phenomena or combinations thereof to whatever degree[s] is/are matter[s] of debate. Are melting ice caps a sign of the world's impending doom? What is the responsibility of a concerned citizen in the face of such dripping calving?)
It pulled the calf apart, almost away, until it hung by a string of a sprig of flesh until that was bitten free, whereupon there was the searing, the gushing of blood, the dizziness, the blacking out almost, the almost falling, etc. It usually happened similarly.
Wolf, wolf, she sputtered, help help help wolf.
I'm afraid I don't see any wolf, dear. And I'm afraid (eye-rollingly, head-shakingly) none of the rest of us do, either. Her mouth was a rictus. She was tired of her shenanigans.
I... I'm... not making this up. She lifted, to show them, her bloody stump.
All right... Another pursed her lips, exasperated, and took the hand or not hand or stump to shake as if it were there to shake.
The hand went on then around the end of the stump or hand or not-hand or air, fingers gripping heartily where the wolf had bitten it off. It would have felt, if one could feel it, like those old homemade Halloween haunted house bowls of spaghetti with grapes but with the additional ingredients of bitten-off ends of a forearm, carpus, and metacarpus. She shook the stump that was not a hand as if in friendliness. For the others were "friendly"; they were there to "help."
She wanted to scream when the other's hand went on and then around and then shook the bloody stump, but she didn't. She still tried very hard to be polite.
There was another once, who was a friend. He'd seen it, too, and now had a prosthesis where his hand was bitten off. She'd been there when it happened, and she had helped to tear that biting wolf off and away (an act which was not, I assure you, whistling "Dixie"). She asked what he remembered.
About what? he asked.
The wolf, she said, nodding at his prosthesis.
It should be explained here that she did not have such prostheses. She grew her bitten-off things back like a lizard. Her things grew back slightly wrinkled, slightly scarred, it's true, but darker, the kind of thing looking at her you wouldn't notice you noticed; she just seemed a little off, uncomfortable to look at though not enough to actually look away from. The burn- and scar-like-ness of the grown-back parts made her look weird, though not much weirder than she already was.
Pardon me, he said, like, What was she insinuating?
He didn't like when people looked at it. It made him feel weird. She tried not to see his prosthesis anymore, but that made it hard to look at him.
He looked at her like she wasn't there.
She felt like she wasn't there.
She felt like she was standing in a crowd—like Grand Central Terminal at rush hour or some other place she'd never actually been in real life, but it was the only way she could think of—screaming her screaming head off and zillions of people were walking by but nobody heard her or acted like they did, she couldn't tell, which made her feel crazy, which maybe she was or maybe that was an excuse, but she was past caring.
Help, help, she muttered, quietly not to anyone anymore, help help help help help help.
"A cry for help," they often whispered sadly, tearfully, sorrowfully, after the fact. As if one had not cried for help before. Although one had. One often had. One had cried many, many times. One had cried Help! and Help! and Wolf! and one was told (eye-rollingly, head-shakingly) to get oneself together, to not be so self- absorbed and oversensitive and whiny, to just get the hell over oneself, until one finally did.