things have been so difficult lately that i remember why we humans need stories.
worlds, myths, legends we create and inhabit in order to make sense of our own world, our own hurt, our own infinite questions posed to the universe.
this idea of the two wolves- the light and dark wolf, the white and black wolf, sometimes the good and bad wolf- has brought me comfort today.
spilling into another startling period of darkness, i imagined being accompanied by this dark wolf. part of the life-death-life cycle (à la ‘women who run with the wolves’) – all things have to travel with both and not just one.
i had traveled with the white wolf for months. and now that it was time to trade- they did not growl or bare teeth- they just acknowledged.
the dark wolf showed up, and it was time for me to go.
writing this brought me comfort like nothing else has over the past days.
delving into this story, processing my grief and anxiety in this way rather than through direct, experiential words the way i usually do.
who’s to say i haven’t experienced this..?
thanks for reading.
* * *
i am standing on the bridge.
the light is piercing. blue, pervading.
can i just be here? i whisper. can i just stay?
i stare across the bridge, the river roiling on the other side. it begins to rain and all i can hear- is that. the black wolf is standing before me. waiting. completely calm. thunder cracks but even in such a way that it does not startle him. the wind rustles his fur but he stands, inert.
you must come with me, he says.
i walk to the middle of the bridge, ghostly.
i do not want to go, i whisper.
tears welling. balled, quiet fists.
you must come with me, he repeats.
the rain falling harder.
get your lantern, we must go.
i turn back towards the white wolf.
there are blue feathers tied into his fur, the same ones tied tight under my shoulder. he nods, and i feel the weight of the lantern handle on my fingers. i open the glass window, press my fingers against the wick. it lights.
the black wolf’s eyes are not unkind.
there are rusty remnants of flame there, discolorations of his skin and paws.
it is the nature of this life, child, he says, looking past me to the white wolf. you must spend your time walking with us both.
i closed the window, holding the lantern up so close that i could feel its warmth against my skin.
you know that when i go with you- i am almost never able to return, i said, inhaling sharply to dissolve the emotion welling in my throat.
you know that every time feels longer than the last. the candle flickering wildly.
i looked at him through the rain and the silence. the licks of lightning in the distance, the wind trembling the bridge.
you do not trust me the way you trust the other.
the white wolf did not move at this acknowledgement, blue and turquoise feathers dancing wave-like around its face.
you do not trust what this is, the black wolf offered again, motioning to the storming landscape with his dark, strong head.
how can i trust, i offered explosively, nearly flinging the lamp, when it never seems i’ll make it out again? i forget everything about myself, i forget my hands are for anything but digging to disappear.
the thunder rumbled low.
i outstretched my hand.
my fingers are still dirty from the last time. still tired. still split.
the black wolf smiled, fangs startling white in his shock of ashen fur.
you are afraid this story has an ending, he whispered, moving closer, touching the end of his snout to my palm.
i pulled my hand away. it burned.
i thought you were the fire, my child. his amber eyes narrowed.
it doesn’t matter what i thought i was, i said quickly. all the stories burn away where you are. none of the stories end they just burn and burn and burn it’s why i–
i steadied myself against the mind-spin.
the black wolf bowed and began walking in the opposite direction. he paused, and in a moment, he turned.
it’s why- what?
i looked at the burn mark on my palm, glowing like an alchemical brand.
i took a breath, opened the lamp window, and blew on the fire. it surged with light, with anger. with hope.
i watched it flashing then closed the door.
i turned back to the white wolf, then once more to the black wolf. the rain slicked off of me like i had a second skin.
it is why i must go.
the creature of amber and wildlight curled his jaw slightly, blinked slow in that way only animals do to say things to each other without words.
i will see you again, the white wolf said from behind me. know that i will see you again. the you that is true beyond all this, beyond this story, beyond the light we throw, the shadow we cast, how high we climb, how deep we dig.
i raised my lantern to him, shining like a beacon in the downpour.
i turned away and took a step.
i was on my way.
* * *
the silence is the loudest thing, sometimes.
he said to the wind, not turning back to look at me as we walked.
i had already begun to feel uneasy.
just hold the lantern, i told myself.
one foot in front of the other.
i didn’t say anything.
do you want some fire tea? he asked, stopping short so i almost walked over his hind paws.
i looked down. the lamp was slung around my waist on a braided rope, a small, steaming wooden cup in my hands. i sipped.
you have to say goodbye to the one you’ve never said goodbye to.
i tried not to hear him, to focus on the heat pervading my mouth, my tongue.
i looked up.
there was a crystalline room grown out of a glittering, wet cave, half covered in vines.
the man i had loved for longer than any other was inside.
the black wolf watched the sharpness of my reaction, did not blink as the cup clattered to the ground.
i neared the room, felt the rawness of its edges under my fingers. i searched for his eyes but he paced, shouting and shouting at nothing. he was still so beautiful. beautiful always in madness, the wolf repeated, plucking a strand from my thoughts.
he is here on his own volition, he whispered, looking into the crystal.
not because of you.
i raised a hand and placed it against the clearest part in the wall.
it’s me, i breathed into the hollowness.
circling and shouting, i could see he was crying. i remembered that sound like an echo i thought would never stop reverberating.
i caught his eyes.
then realized i couldn’t hear anything.
i looked down at the wolf, startled. all the sound sucked from the air besides the motion of the creature’s breath, and mine.
he is going to stay here, the wolf said finally. he will go when it is time to, but not because of anything you can say, or do.
my eyes welled up with tears. salt from those i thought would never, could never, end.
i pressed my forehead to the crystal wall. his head was against it, leaning back, exasperated. i ran my hand down it, felt the smoothness of his hair again, in the ways only memory makes real.
i am letting you go, i whispered, wanting to leave a kiss on the wall between us, but stopping myself.
this now has nothing to do with me, my heart said, quietly.
slowly i ran my fingers off the wall. the black wolf stood standing a few paces away, smoldering.
onward, his face said without words.
and i went.
* * *
i like that sound.
of pages turning in the wind.
the sky was more blue than i had remembered it.
my perception was changing.
the deeper we went, fading.
it was hard to recall.
only the painful things surfaced.
even the sky hurt to look at.
didn’t think this side could be so blinding, did you? the black wolf said, half smiling, sitting beside me.
we could see the bridge from here. high up, further away than i thought we’d be so soon.
i wasn’t sure how much time had passed- if any, at all.
will you always find me if i get lost?
i asked out loud, not sure to whom. perhaps talking to all the ghosts that had gathered around the hill, touching my hair and fingers, their hearts glowing from inside the folds of their ragged garments.
i didn’t have to look at them to know who they were.
i knew them all better than i knew myself.
you are not lost, the black wolf said, his breath scattering the spirits over the ridge and out along the horizon.
small strings of smoke floated from his fur, softly filling the air around us.
you are applying the laws of the white wolf to this land.
he stared out into the distance, the tips of his ears lighting up like embers in the belly of a fire.
you are not in the same place, child, he said, turning to look at me.
we write our own laws here.
and that’s what scares people the most.
i listened again to the notebook pages flicking in the wind.
i couldn’t remember when it appeared or when the ink dipped shard of wood was pressed into my hand but i wrote down his words without breathing, got up, and exhaled.
come, he said, starkly earthen against the piercing blue.
there is more for us to do, i said nodding, reaching up to flake off a few shards of the sky to keep in my pocket.
birds called from the distance and i looked inside the darkened folds at them, blazing.
yes. i know.
* * *
the next thing i knew i was waking up, curled inside a ghost.
my palm was gripped around the beating heart, words in some other language scrawled all over my arms, my hands.
a flapping of wings came from above us and i shot up, dizzy.
the spirit felt warm and heavy, the languidness of sunshine on a silver roof, a memory from far away. a shadow on the page, a heart i couldn’t keep. i kept kissing and kissing his face in the sunlight. he didn’t know where i was the night before, the anniversary of his grandmother dying. he sang the song about sunshine to me, the way my own grandmother had. i pressed my face into the crook of his arm, not crying.
everything was dark all of a sudden. searchlights swinging in the night, blinking through tall trees.
i was alone in a clearing but before i had a chance to acclimate my eyes caught the smolder of the black wolf.
i hate being here, i said in his direction.
i felt his breath behind me, the quivering flame inside the lantern again in my palm.
i gripped the handle and let my bare feet slowly maneuver the gnarled roots burning with words and incantations, snaking across the ground.
they shot up through the bark and into the boughs, igniting the leaves in bursts of flame, one by one by one.
these are all the promises you’ve ever made, the voice of the black wolf said from somewhere i couldn’t place.
i watched the letters pulsing, heard my own voice- split, earnest, crying.
don’t you remember? he whispered, tender.
the whole world caught on fire and everyone turned into birds.