What You Know
You don’t remember much about the feathered thing other than it spoke. At least you think it did. Or was that one of the tricks of memory that makes up stories to satisfy something else? It seemed real. And large–as large as a crow though certainly not the color of one. The feathers more iridescent, more purples and greens. Like a crow turned inside out. With a much longer tail.
But you get ahead of yourself. It is too easy for the mind to jump and wander. To meander through the woods as easily as you did in your new boots. Thought does not go in straight lines.
You pulled on the newly made, tan leather boots that had been lined in fur to keep you warm when the weather turned. To make the stalking more comfortable and softer for the hunt. To pad across the colored leaves without the sound of crunching. You do not want to frighten the game away, the much-needed deer and squirrel and rabbit that could fill the storehouses built into the hillsides. The coolers with nothing but a door and maybe some stone around the entrance to give them away. The doors wearing the carved symbols of their owners. Walking into the forest pleases as you find the leaves sparse and soft. The first snow will add padding for the stalking and allow the animal trails to become visible.
And then you hear a rustling, a noise that makes you stop to listen. To identify the source of a sound that feels just slightly off the familiar. A noise that is not completely recognizable to you, you who know every sound of every animal in all its scurrying and digging and flight.
Then a fluttering and you look up toward the trees to follow the sound. A flash of color that lands on a nearby branch. A bird.
Hello, he says.
A talking bird.
You respond with your own, Hello. After all, it’s only polite.
You look around for the rest of the flock but don’t see anything more. A lone creature. Perhaps a type of crow. Aren’t they the only ones that speak other than parrots? And the bird is certainly not a parrot; the colors are not separate like those that form patterns on a parrot. For this bird each feather appears multicolored. And it’s too crow-like as he sits pulling himself up on the branch, not squat as a parrot would settle. Although, there is that hook of a beak.
Where did you come from? You ask. Maybe that will give away the species.
Ha, the bird offers. Then, Over the river and through the trees.
You laugh. Interesting, but not helpful. Would you like to come with me? You ask and extend your hand, just in case it would be willing to land there. You are also prepared to withdraw quickly should it prefer to bite with that dangerously large and fat beak. You decide to think of the bird as a he; ‘it’ sounds so cold and removed, and there’s no way to determine the sex, at least not now, not that you know of.
He hops onto your hand and you consider what next to do. After deliberating for a moment you decide to walk and talk with him as you make your way back to the cabin. You think you might take him inside. And then you think no, no, that’s not the thing to do. The Wolfman could be there.
The Wolfman earned his name from his appearance. His head is not a man’s, but that of a wolf. From the neck up his massive head with the black and gray hair forms a magnificent mane. His nose points out from a mouth that is long and filled with many teeth. His mother had been frightened by a wolf when she was pregnant, and thus he was born a boy, beautifully formed and perfect in every way, except for his head. There he was a gorgeous wolf pup with intense blue eyes, sharp and clear as the lake. It has been that way for so long that no one remembers his real name, the one his mother gave him at birth. Everyone calls him by the name that identifies him: Wolfman.
Shish, you say to the bird and place him on a branch of the tree that stands just outside the cabin door, its branches reaching toward the shuttered window not yet open. You make a stomping noise when you enter the cabin just to assure anyone who might be inside that you are concealing nothing. There is nothing to hide.
And there he is, sitting at the table with his chair tipped back balancing it with his bare toes against the wood planks of the floor. A man, in a man’s clothing with a head the size of a fully grown male wolf. His large ears give him a keen hearing that causes him at times to hide his head from the sounds that assault. The rest–eyes, teeth, nose–together give him all of the senses of a wolf. You wonder, watching him, the same thing everyone has wondered. Is this a wolf with a man’s body? Or is it a man with a wolf’s head. Who can say?
You remove your boots and jacket and join him at the table. He has made coffee and pours a cup for you. Together you sit in silence and sip the hot liquid.
After a time of quiet nonchalance, you begin to tell him about finding the bird. You settle it among your words so that you could have seen the bird some days or weeks prior. Not that you say so directly. Is it your fault if someone deduces incorrectly? From what is said or not said?
The Wolf is very interested in your story and asks many questions. Of course, at that time there is little you can say. You describe the few words the bird said, his voice. The voice that sounded like that of a little old man: a bid quavery and slightly loud, in the same manner of magnification that the elderly and hard-of-hearing take on. Though in a low register. And the words slightly deformed, as if from one with a speech impediment. But and then too, sometimes it is difficult to tell a screech from an ill-formed word.
You smoothly transition to the woods and say, The leaves are not so bad. Pretty good. Not at all as dry as last year. We should have good hunting coming with the snow.
It’s coming soon, Wolf says. I can smell it. If you look at the sky, you’ll see that the color has lightened up. The clouds will be coming in soon and then they’ll disappear. In their place we’ll have the great whiteness that makes it so we can see the tracks and the blood where the animals cut their feet from the crust of the snow or their wounds. Blood red against the snow.
He gets up to leave.
Clean your gun so it’s ready. Keep an eye out for the bird. If you see him again, he pauses, looks at you steadily. Let me know. Right away. Not after.
You want to be certain that he has left so you go over to the window and push the shutters open. You watch and wait until he is well out of sight. You want to know that his eyes will not search for the bird who is surprisingly and obediently quiet.
Then you go back outside and raise your arm in the direction of the tree. As you expect, the bird floats down.
Without a preamble, you decide you’ll get right to the heart of it. What is your name? And What do you want? You ask.
Ha, ha, ha, he says.
Ha, ha, ha.
Okay. So if you have a name, you’re not telling? Well then, why are you here?
Here, here, here, he repeats.
Why, why, why? You mock, suspecting the bird will not have a very good sense of the ironic.
Warning, he says.
Again you laugh. Of what?
Three, three, three.
Three what? Three creatures? Other than you? Are there others that speak? Or three things I should know?
But the bird gives no response, only makes kissing noises and bobs his head up and down. You decide to try questioning the bird about others that talk. Maybe that will work.
All right then. I take it there will be others who can speak? Creatures who will tell me more? About what this means? What?
But the bird with no name says nothing. He just makes kissing noises and continues bobbing. For emphasis? You wait and cajole and repeat but again he says nothing. Until you ask him if he wants something to eat.
Eat, eat, eat, he screams.
You tell him to be quiet as you don’t want the sound to carry so far that the Wolfman will hear him. Shish, you say, and the bird repeats it after you.
Shish, shish, shish, he says, bobbing his whole body up and down from where he sits on your forearm.
You take him inside the cabin and feed him an apple and some cheese, which he immediately grabs out of your hand. He turns up his beak at the offer of any vegetables. You don’t blame him; the wilted greens that you have washed off at the pump look equally distasteful to you.
Once he is full, which you know because he takes the food you offer, then drops it on the floor. He screams, Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, in a loud and insistent voice.
Look, you say, you could say some things quietly. And you don’t have to repeat everything. I get it the first time around.
Ha, ha, ha, he says.
You take him to the door and open it for him. Without another goodbye he flies off into the forest. You watch until you can no longer see the splash of color undulating through the trees.
The next morning, after you fix a quick but warming breakfast of oats and honey, you pull on the tan boots, grab the jacket from the hook by the door, and once again walk off from the cabin to the woods. It’s cool enough so that you are grateful for the lining in the boots and the heaviness of the jacket.
At the edge of the wood you pause and look around. You look back at the cabin and down the road that leads away from it. Nothing. No one is coming. You listen and wait. You take a path into the woods and call out a Hello, each time you see a movement. Each time a leaf flutters. Large mule-deer ears appear on the other side of a tree stand. Hello. Do you speak?
The foolishness of addressing all of the woodland creatures you see does not escape you. And there is no bird, at least not one that looks like a parrot or a crow and yet neither. Nothing speaks. Nothing whispers. No deer or rabbit or fox. You watch and walk and test the leaves under your feet. Then you return to the edge of the woods and the clearing that leads back to the cabin.
It is late morning by the time you reach it, and the window facing the woods and the tree where the bird had waited is letting the sunlight into the cottage. The white wood boards for shutters are thrown open. There is smoke curling out through the chimney to the lightened sky. You know from those signs and the intense stillness that the Wolfman is there, waiting.
Well? He asks when you stomp in.
Did you find it?
The bird. Or the others. The ones he spoke of.
Had you said that? Had you told him you thought there could be others? No, you say and sit down at the table. He pours coffee into the cup that sits in front of your place across from him. The coffee is cool which means he has been there for some while. But you say nothing. You wait to see if he will speak first.
You get up and take your boots, feeling the soft leather, the leather so soft it could melt in your hands, and place them in front of the fireplace. You turn and look at him sitting there. You watch, the form of him magnificent in the khaki pants and the denim shirt partially unbuttoned and open. Never in need of a jacket or boots. Barefoot as always. The wolf head held high in the air, as if a howl could erupt at any moment. The large ears tall and pointed, the pink insides with the hairs lining them waving slightly to some soft invisible wind. His tongue is long and loose inside his mouth, falling off to the side when he opens it. The long muzzle and black nose, the teeth huge and white. The hair on his head and face and neck so long and full, many shades of onyx and golden tan.
You return to the table and take your place again. You sit in silence. Both of you finish the coffee. The sun begins to move across the sky, past the tree that is closest to the cabin, one long limb almost touching the outside wall.
What do you think? He asks at last.
Will the bird come back? Will you find the others?
Do you know what he was here for?
All right then. He stands up and his chair scrapes against the wood floor. You feel the sound move through your body where it becomes electric, pulses through the blood and bone of you. You feel his hand reach for yours, warm and powerful, his mind touching the body that is no longer yours. You follow as he leads you to the cot where you sleep at night, the quilts warmed from the fire.
He pulls them back and gets in first, pulling you down so that you are cradled by his body, your back pressed against him. You cannot move. You are caught in some spell, the web of it from something charged and wild, and soft as velvet.
You feel his muzzle against your neck, teeth against skin. His breath is warm and sweet, the scent of the woods, of grass and pine trees.
The snow is coming, he whispers. In the morning we’ll be able to hunt.