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Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

One only knows afterwards who were the saints and who were the madmen.

Coming of the Wolves

As a child, I met a Northman who spoke enough Anglish to tell me that the sun and the moon are being chased by wolves.  He was being led to the execution block, shouting about his religion as a form of defiance, I think:  something I have seen a great deal of in the years since.  That image, that the sun and the moon would be devoured by ravenous animals the size of mountains, terrified me far more than the sight of his severed head.  Such things were not uncommon in those days.

I told my parents, who laughed, and then I told the priest, who gave me a broken coin he said had belonged to St. Sebastian and told me that the power of the Redeemer would protect all his children from such pagan demons.  And I believed him, as I grew older, and took up the sword, and killed the enemies of my people, and my faith, and my king.  It was not until I had the blood of Thomas Beckett on my sword, a right and proper Bishop, that I heard the wolves for the first time, howling in the great expanse of night.

They say that the Jew who kicked Christ on the road to Calvary was cursed with eternal life in which to contemplate his crime.  We only think this is a fairy tale because there are so few holy men to kick, so few true redeemers.  I pity that Jew, because there is no test which can be applied to detect the grace of God before the fact:  one only knows afterwards who were the saints and who were the madmen.  Bishop Beckett, it seems, was a saint.

Though I had killed him on behalf of my king it was a crime against Christendom, and so I fled England, hearing the wolves snarl in the sky.

It has been a long time.  Since then I have heard many reassurances, and been given many tokens.  A philosopher in Amsterdam told me that mathematics could prove all the qualities in the world.  When the wolves howled I fled again, leaving him behind to die from the inhalation of too much glass dust in the lenses he carved.  In France, a revolutionary told me that the Brotherhood of Man would bring us salvation:  I left that night, leaving all my possessions, in order to escape the guillotine, though in fact he died of a dagger in the stomach from a political ally.  In Germany, I was assured of the power of electricity to make the world benign;  in Vienna, the power of Art to civilize all mankind;  in America, a biologist told me he had found the secret of immortality in the chemistry of human cells, and I heard the wolves again, celebrating as they crept closer to their prey.  I pity his soul.

Like the wandering Jew, I have lived in many lands, made many homes, staying only until faith is made and broken, and the sun darkens, and the monsters cry, and the world comes just so much closer to its end.  There is no sin worse than striking a holy man, but there is no crime punished more fiercely than declaring a false prophet.  For it always brings the wolves to the door once more.  This I testify, before I run.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.

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