Woolly

Woolly’s steps were large enough to cover more ground than me, but how I worked my little legs to keep with him. He passed by my house on my tenth birthday, as gramps said he would, and I followed him as was prophesied. Now, the gold had not appeared then, mind you. I was doing it to make my mark as the good son.
At first, it was only little bits of tin, and the occasional nugget of shapeless nickel, that came from Woolly’s fur as he walked. It took a few months for Woolly to get used to me enough that he would really try and impress. It started off with him pushing copper coins out, and that’s how he’d talk with me. The little pictures on the coins told me all about my gramps, and about the years he’d followed Woolly through the homeland in his youth. I gathered that Woolly missed him terribly and, reading between the carved lines, that Woolly wished he would return.
I tried to be like gramps, in that I would tell Woolly meandering stories through all hours of the night as we walked through the trees. I did my best to wade the streams and leap the ditches without Woolly’s help, but I needed him to pull me along often early on. He never said a word, I don’t think he could, but he had the most expressive face I’d ever seen. I could tell if he was cross with me, and he would stop making precious stones and metals as well.
Come spring, though, I was doing alright. The ache had gone from my feet, and I could even walk backwards in front of him and chatter as we went. He had really grown to enjoy showing off. There were hand-carved and polished watches glazed in diamonds and rubies and pearls, statues of Woolly himself and me and gramps, and ornate little boxes carved with faces in profile.
All of it was pushed from the depths of his fur. Some days it was sparse, or even nothing at all, but other days it was like water. I kept all I could, but the bulk of it I left in the dirt. I always admired Woolly’s creativity, and consistency, too. Every carved little stroke was so beautifully finished and clean when it left his matted back, and the prints he would expel depicted scenes nearly too beautiful to describe. All hammered and carved into vibrant, glittering metal and stone.
At some point, though, the course of his communication took a darker tone. I think it was the season of rain, or the darkness during those hours in the north. His big brow would stay furrowed, and nothing I could say would raise it. My face began to blossom with stubble, and my hair to wrap around my feet as I walked, and I think we both could feel the coming of the end. I kept many treasures in my satchel and my pockets, but Woolly’s bounty began to grow heavier.
His materials of choice were mercury, solid gold, lead. The images were as vivid and compelling as ever but began to be warped into pictures of brutal bloodshed. Of broken men, the blood streaming on their face, amethyst bruises and deep red enamel blood, twisted bodies with open wounds. Woolly, I’d say, why do you seek to shock me so? But he’d keep his eyes ahead and staring. The little boys in the images began to resemble me.
I was seventeen by my count, but my count was likely wrong. I caught Woolly glancing at me out of the corner of my eye, and he would jerk away if I tried to look at him. The sky began to stay darker in those days. The ground rougher and rougher upon my feet. It is not right, I think, for a child to be so consumed by one thing. You could see it in my gaunt eyes, in Woolly’s jittery gait, the closing on this chapter was coming to claim us.
And just like that, I saw it. The sun had risen on a longsword protruding from Woolly’s hide. For the first time in seven years, I stopped. Woolly stopped as well and turned to me. The sword freed itself from between his massive shoulders and stuck in the dirt with a muffled clang. Prophecy buzzed in my ears in the forest’s stillness. The nakedness brought by the absence of footstep noise. When the sword came, I was to take it in my hands and slay him.
We waited in the green light. As our gazes met, Woolly’s old face took a pleading form. Coins began to pour from his eminence, began to click on the dirt and the roots surrounding, and the cadence of their thumps was like the footstep sounds had been. Copper, rough-carved, like the beginning of our wandering.
It is a trap, I said to him. I said it aloud for my own sake. You will not lure me with nostalgia. I feel anguish inside me when I think of killing you, my old friend. But it must be done to protect the lot of man.
Woolly shook his head. He did not speak, could not, but tears welled in his yellow eyes. You are the bringer of death, I tried to say. I tried, but the words did not come. I was crying, sobbing, pleading to gramps and to God and to myself, do not let me raise my hands to take him away. I turned to face the wilderness I had crossed, the infinity of time I had pushed through like a pit of mud. And I walked.
It was only a few steps before I reached my home again. There was the dog, running in the yard, grayer and fatter and unaware of my voice. A headstone for gramps, lined about in a little wall of rock, stood resolute by the treeline. I turned to Woolly again, but he was still the many miles away. So easy to return, but it would cost my soul to reach him again.
When I went to my mother and my father, they embraced me, tearful. Did you do it, they said, did you destroy death? And, the pit growing inside me, I could only shake my head. No. I have failed to put it down, as those before me.
Seven years have passed again. I think often of that time, and am grateful now for comfortable feet. I have grown content with my lot, as all do of my lineage, as gramps had said I would before I set out. I have grown beyond the fear of Woolly, even longing to see him again. When I am old and tired, when I am sick of the world and it’s ways, when my descendant knows of the prophecy, he will come for me. Woolly will come by my home again, and I will greet him with open arms.

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