by Douglas Watson
Wolves by Douglas Watson

There once was a boy who loved his mother very much and was loved by her very much. Every night she sang him to sleep in a quavering voice that was, in the boy’s opinion, the best voice in the world. There were other things he loved about her, too, but the point is, one day she went out and didn’t come home. The boy sat in the cottage he and his mother shared, watching the shadows lengthen across the dirt floor. Finally, at dusk, he went out to look for his mother.

He said to the first person he saw—an old man sitting on a block of wood in front of the tobacconist’s and strumming a guitar—“Have you seen my mother?” The old man said the boy should look for his mother behind every door in the world until he found her, for doors were the key to existence. “But what is the key that will open the right door?” said the boy. “Let me sing you a song,” said the old man, and he struck up a ponderous rhythm on his guitar and started singing a song about love. The boy had heard the song before; it was a sad song, and he didn’t like it, especially the part that went, “To be alone forevermore is a chore.” He didn’t like the old man’s voice, either. It made him think of rotten fruit.

The boy left the old man and went in search of a door to open. He found one at the front of the town’s sole church. He had never been inside, and he couldn’t get in now, for the door was locked. He pulled and pulled on the cold, iron knob, but all he did was hurt his shoulder. “This probably isn’t the right door anyway,” he said, though there was no one there to hear him. Off went the boy down the street, rubbing the spot where his shoulder hurt. If his mother had been there, she would have made his shoulder feel better, or made him feel better about having hurt his shoulder.

The boy walked until he found another door, this one the door to the library at the edge of town. It too was locked. But it was nighttime now—what did the boy expect? And what was he doing alone at the edge of town after dark? Okay, he was looking for his mother, but wasn’t he also looking for trouble? And didn’t trouble find him, in the form of a pack of wolves that appeared suddenly around a bend in the deserted road and moved toward the boy with a swiftness and silence that were terrible and beautiful?

Douglas Watson is a graduate of the MFA program in fiction at Ohio State. He is the author of an unpublished short story collection, an unfinished novel, and a life, also unfinished. He edits copy for TIME.