Once upon a time

The Wolf can remember a time when the huntsman did not come, when Red Riding Hood slipped down his throat limbs wriggling and flailing like eels to join her granddame there. She did not walk through his woods again.

Once Upon a Time

The Wolf remembers crushing a pig's skull between his powerful jaws amid scattered bales of straw, remembers squealing screams as he tore into another pig's belly and limbs torn loose and flapping against broken sticks --I'll huff and I'll puff-- remembers licking the blood from his muzzle and smiling his red-tongued, white-fanged smile. He left one alive. A warning, a moral, an acknowledgement of limitations.

Once Upon a Time

The children used to play in the woods, searching for the Wolf. They would sing to him with false bravado, calling Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Their fear was sweet and thick on the air, and the Wolf would wait patiently, patiently, growing strong on his own name until their caution and readiness to run became confidence, until they became bold, became foolish.

--the Big Bad Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf?--

Child flesh is tender, succulent and sweet.

Once Upon a Time

There was a time when a sweet voice and flour-dusted paws had fooled the goat's kids, and he had hunted among the house, overturning tables and breaking into closets in hungry joy, seeking out and eating all seven, not a live one remaining to bleat to its mother about their foolishness.

Once Upon a Time

He played with the fox for his amusement. Sometime the fox's cunning bested him, sometimes his fangs and speed and ability to smile his gap-toothed grin without the flicker of a lie brought down the fox.

Once Upon a Time

He was ruler of the Wild Wood once. His teeth were the strongest and his legs were swift, and those were the criterion that mattered then. Humans had yet to meet the Wild Wood, its ruler and its dark, secret places, and the few that did met his sharp teeth, by and by. None travelled there without his tacit knowledge and approval.

He let them pass when they walked like they belonged there, when they hunted for what they needed and took no more. They were just another animal after all.

They multiplied faster than rabbits, and smelled ten times as badly and made ten times as much noise, and were so quick to anger, so quick to forget the rules of fang and claw. He forgave this for a while - he supposes if he had to guard helpless cubs for years he'd be defensive too.

They found the Wild Wood and brought with them their kings and queens and foolishness, took over his woods because of his pity for their pale, furless limbs and weak white teeth. They paid him back for his pity with fire and swords, with the heads of his brethern mounted on walls and the fur of his kin made into cloaks. The tales left the Greenwood. The stories were no longer about the wild places, the green places, but were about the changes men could make in those places. The tales became about the hunted, not the hunter.

Once Upon a Time

Man writes the stories. So the Wolf has felt the axe edge more often than he has tasted human flesh. The pigs run too fast now, for all he could leap upon them in a single bound once. His games with the fox turn from quick-witted to murderous, and the fox, cousin to the dog that he is, always seems to be bringing him to the farmer and his nets and guns and knives. It seems that his belly always being emptied these days, and being refilled with rocks and sewn up. He spends much time at the bottom of rivers, places where wolves do not commonly belong, but he is the Wolf and they need him to fear, to feel superior to, and he has never drowned for longer than the breath it takes to say 'once upon a time' yet.

He has died a hundred times, though he is faster, bigger, bolder, braver. That his teeth are strong and his legs swift and he can blow down buildings with huff and a puff means very little against pens and words, against the things that tell the story.

Once Upon a Time

The Wolf is adaptable. He slips into the stories almost unnoticed, a dark shape here and there, a wise guide for an idiot prince, a lesson in lies for a boastful boy, a scornful voice for shepherds feasting on mutton. He is fierce and proud and contemptuous --your chain! you mean you are not free to come and go as you please?-- though he gets little scope for any of those qualities, forced to shrink into a fool, a buffoon, one step away from a dog, doting upon pitiable man --little frog--

--What's the time, Mr. Wolf?--

He finds himself helping a prince, perhaps called Ivan, perhaps without a name. He carries Ivan upon his back to his tasks, wins him bride, horse and bird, brings him back to life. It is his voice, his thick-pelted presence that keeps the story going.

A boy cries wolf, over and over, and he obeys the call and comes and feasts. They do not bring him back to life.

--the BigBadWolf--

Living is living.

--Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?--

Nobody is anymore.