Short Story: The Wolves And The Blizzard

In their den under the fallen oak tree, the four young wolves stared out at the ever-moving wall of snow. Their warm breath puffed out their noses, turning into cold little clouds. It had not been their first winter storm, but this blizzard was rolling over the lands for many days and nights. Whenever the winds died down for a moment of reprieve, one could hear their growling stomachs. Laying in the darkness behind them were the elders; they had endured many winters before and knew this wouldn’t be their last. Then there were two young pups. They had only known summer all their lives, but now winter had been in these lands so long, they barely remembered the warmth of the sun. Here in their den, they were surrounded by dirt, rocks, and gnarly dead roots, reaching out to them like claws in the darkness. All of them dreamed of the day the rivers would thaw, and the world would explode into a lush green again. They dreamed of the hunt, of fresh meat, of blood still warm.

Firn was the biggest, the strongest and often the most brazen of the young wolves. His hunger grew as the snow had grown in front of their den, and he spoke into the darkness: “It has been many moons since we last had a meal. We are hungry and weary of waiting. Why don’t we go out and hunt a meal?” The other juveniles often looked at him for guidance, and now their eyes were fixed on him. They could hear only the wind. After a long time, one of the old voices echoed out to them from the darkness: “It is not the time, young one. We are patient. We wait.” And with that, the matter was settled, and they all returned to their dreams.

Another night passed, but the storm stayed with them. Their dreams were more vivid, their hunger more urgent. Firn rose again and said: “If we wait any longer, we will starve. Why don’t we go out and hunt a meal? Aren’t we fearsome hunters?“
Once again, they waited for the elders to reply. Some of the juveniles began panting. After a long pause, the old voice in the darkness spoke again: “It is not the time, young one. We are patient. We wait.”

“We are wolves, not cowards. Why are we starving ourselves when we should be hunting”, he asked them. There was no response, and all Firn could hear was the whimper of the hungry pups.
“I am not going to wait until we are nothing but bones and fur. I will hunt a meal for us,” Firn snarled back at them. Then without waiting for a response, he walked out into the storm. Shortly after, the three other young ones followed him outside, as they did not want to go hungry another night.

Sinking deeply into the snow and fighting against the harsh winds, they slowly made their way down the hill. They pushed ahead until they reached the woods. Firn tried to find a scent, but all there was, was the crisp smell of fresh snow and the sleeping trees around them. They wandered further into the woods until they were nearly ready to give up on their search for a meal. Then, finally, they spotted a herd of deer, treading through the snow, looking for shelter from the storm.

Like they had observed many times before, the young wolves began to spread out, trying to surround their prey. But the thick layer of snow made their steps clumsy, and the unceasing winds and flurries of snow made it hard to see. Lacking the foliage, they couldn’t hide their hungry shapes from the already wary prey. Then the deer spotted their stalkers and bounded away. Unable to herd them, Firn and the other three wolves started to give chase. The deep snow made it difficult for them to catch up. The deer seemed to bounce effortlessly through the woods. Driven by their hunger, the wolves kept after to a clearing in the woods. The deer had already made it to the other side and the wolves, unwilling to give up, kept following them with Firn bounding ahead. He only heard his heart beating, the wind howling, but not the ice cracking beneath his paws. When he felt the ground breaking, it was already too late, and Firn disappeared into the dark, cold waters.

The other three young wolves abandoned their hunt and carefully returned to the woods the way they had come. They made their way back to the den in silence. Then, when the pack learned what had happened, the cries of the old and the young were carried away by the wind through the valley.

After two mournful nights, the storm finally subsided. The elders emerged from the darkness and spoke to the young ones: “Now it is the time, young ones. Now we hunt again.”

The wolves roamed, and they hunted. They rested, and they mourned. Within time, the frozen landscape transformed into a lush green. The old and the young wandered the woods for many, many miles, until the world like it had done so many times before, turned amber, brown and eventually white again.

Now, whenever one of the young ones asks why they wouldn’t hunt during the storms, the Elders would tell them the tale of Firn. Then they would silently mourn. And the young ones would understand, and they would wait.

Copyright 2019 Sven Camrath

The Wolves And The Blizzard by Sven Camrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Short Story: Monsters Aren’t Real

Emilia was slowly drifting away into her dreams when she heard a faint whisper. It did not sound like her father, and her mother was not home tonight. It also seemed like it came from within her room. Another low whisper followed, and at that moment, she knew that she was not alone. With her plush cat Morning firmly held in one hand, she jumped out of bed and spurted towards the door. She reached up, turned the handle, and ran down the hallway to her father’s study. 

“Daddy! Daddy! There is something in my room,” she said, almost stumbling over her own words. “There is a monster in my room!” Setting down his newspaper, her father looked at her through his big, round reading glasses. Cecil, who was purring on his lap, yawned.

“It looks to me, that there is a little monster in my room,” he said with his eyebrows raised.

“No, really, really! I heard it!” she pleaded. For extra emphasis, she added, “I promise.”

“Alright then,” he said as he got up from his chair and Cecil jumped from his lap to the floor.

Emilia ran back to the door of her room and waited for her father to catch up with her. She held Morning close. When she had gotten him, he was the fluffiest plush she had ever touched. Ever since then, she carried him around everywhere she went. He had gotten less fluffy over time, but Emilia loved him just as much.

Her father walked past her and turned on the light. Emilia peered past him. Everything looked suspiciously normal. “Well, I don’t see any monsters,” he father said as he glanced at her room.

She didn’t know where precisely the voices had come from, but she was sure she had heard them. “Of course,” she told her father, “they are hiding.” She couldn’t believe that she had to say something so obvious.

He sauntered through her room, in a pace that seemed entirely too relaxed to Emilia. He walked over to her treasure chest, where she kept all her toys. It even had two scimitars engraved on it. She had asked her mother to paint a skull on the lid like in her favorite pirate book. Her mom had offered her to add some flowers as well, and Emilia had to explain to her that pirates wouldn’t have had flowers painted on their treasure chests. 

Her father opened the lid and peered inside. “Just your toys,” he said, and after seeing the look on Emilia’s face added, “Your treasure, I mean.”

Then he went over to her big, wooden dresser on which all her other plushes sat and opened each of the differently colored drawers. She and her mother had painted them together this summer and Emilia had adorned it with stickers of glittering cats. She didn’t think pirates had dressers, so she thought that was okay.,

When her father had looked into every drawer, he leaned over the little peace lily on Emilia’s desk, putting his ear close to to the tiny little white flower. 

“Mhm. Ah. Yes.” he said and nodded attentively. 

“Daaaad! Plants can’t talk!” Emilia protested. “You’re not doing it right!”

A little smile appeared on her fathers face that seemed entirely inappropriate to her. How could he smile at a time like this? Didn’t he know monsters were hiding in her room? 

He walked over to the closet and slowly pushed open the door. 

“Hello? Hello-o? Any monsters in here,” he said as he peered into her closet. After a pause, he added, “Well, I can’t see any sign of any monsters hiding in here, Emilia. Not even a single candy wrapper.” 

“But I heard it,” she protested “Look again!”

Her dad closed the door and turned around. Kneeling down in front of her, he held her gently by her arms and said, “You probably just heard the wind outside or the radiator. It’s an old house, and old houses make all kinds of funny noises. There is just you and Morning in here, sweetheart. How about you go lay back down?”

She knew the sounds their house made and even liked the groaning and cracking. She imagined the house as an ancient being, stretching and yawning after a long and deep nap. What she had heard sounded nothing like the house. She knew her father didn’t believe her, and without any proof, there was nothing she could say to convince him otherwise. He wouldn’t even believe there were monsters if he heard the whispers himself. 

Defeated, she walked back to her bed and climbed on it. Her father fluffed up her pillow and carefully pulled up the blanket over her and Morning. Then he sat down next to her, leaned down to her and whispered: “I’ll tell you a secret.”

He glanced back to the room as if to make sure that there was nobody else listening to them. Then he said, “When I was as young as you, I also believed in monsters.”

“Really?” she asked him with her eyes open wide.

“Yes, really,” he said with a big smile on his face. “I believed they lived in the basement, the closet, and under the bed.” 

She hadn’t even considered the bed.

“But after being scared of them for a long time, I noticed I had never seen any of them. I slowly realized monsters were not real and that nothing was lurking in the darkness. It was all just in my imagination.”

She eyed him suspiciously but didn’t know what to reply, so she just frowned at him.

“Now try to get some sleep,” he said. He gave Emilia a kiss on the forehead, and her frown got a little softer. Then he got up and walked to the door. 

“Good night, Emilia.”

“Good night, Daddy,” she replied.

He flicked off the light and slowly closed the door behind him.

When she heard the click of the door, she quickly pulled the blanket over her head and pressed Morning close to her chest. When she had asked her father about Santa Clause, he had told her that he was real, despite nobody ever seeing him either. Why would it be different with monsters? She held her breath and then listened.  She couldn’t hear anything, except the ticks of her purple, grinning Cheshire Cat clock. Then, when she couldn’t hold it any longer, she let the air out.

“I can’t believe it,” she heard a deep voice saying from somewhere in her room. This time there was no mistaking it. She clearly heard words, not just whispers. She froze in fear under her blanket.

“Psst! You’ll wake her,” another, brighter voice in a hushed tone spoke up. This one was closer to her and made her arms ripple with goosebumps.

“What difference does it make?” the voice from across the room shot back. “You heard her father. We aren’t real.” 

The voice said that last word, like it, had just swallowed a big, slimy worm.

“You know how adults are,” the voice close to her replied, “you can’t take these things personally.”

“Well, how else am I going to take it?”

Then she heard a creak coming from the closet door. Then she slowly peered out from underneath her blanket. Even with the small nightlight on the floor, she couldn’t make out anything. She thought about screaming, but then they would hear her and hide again. Her dad would just come back to her room, pretend to look, and once again not believe her. Maybe if she sat completely still, she would be okay.

“Great. You woke her up, Herold.” the brighter voice said. It sounded like it came from underneath her, under the bed. She could feel the heart in her chest skip a beat.

“Oh, so now that’s my fault. She probably wasn’t sleeping in the first place. All those sugary drinks and that damned TV. Kids these days, can’t properly sleep anymore,” Herold said.

“Since when are you an expert on children?” the voice under her bed asked.

“I’ve been here ever since they built this house and I’ll have you know that I’ve seen quite a few children grow up. So excuse me for-”

“H-hello?” Emilia said, trembling.

Silence. “I-I-I can hear you,” she continued.

“We can hear you too, little girl. What of it?” Herold replied. 

“Are you going to eat me?” she asked him.

“Oh great, look what you’ve done, Herold,” the voice from underneath the bed said, “Now she thinks we are going to eat her.”

“I said nothing about eating children, did I? She probably read that in one of these comic books,” Herold shot back. Then with a softer tone, “Of course not, little girl. Why would you think such horrible things?”

“B-b-because… because Monsters eat children,” Emilia said, “Tommy down the street told me.”

“Well, I have no idea who that Tommy guy is, but he positively doesn’t know what he is talking about,” Herold said, “and frankly I’d be careful about listening to such a hoodwinker if I was you.”

“So … you don’t eat children?” she asked carefully. 

“Of course not. Why would we eat children?” Herold asked and then after he cleared his throat the continued. “We eat the forgotten things. The things that fall between cracks, the things that roll under the dresser, the things that you put together with the old keys, the screws, and hairbands,” Herold told her, “and sometimes we eat what remains of your dreams after you wake up.”

“And dust bunnies.” added the voice underneath the bed.

“And dust bunnies. Sure.” Herold sighed. He felt his speech was rather impressive, until this point.

With a hearty chuckle, the voice under her bed said: “I am Simon by the way, and that grouch over in your closet is Herold.”

“Those are not very … monsterly names.” Emilia replied.

“They are perfectly fine names,” Herold retorted “and who gets to decide what’s a … monsterly name?”

“It’s not very scary, is it?” she pointed out.

“Your parents didn’t give you a scary name,” Simon replied.

“Because you don’t give children scary names,” she said.

“Say’s who?” Herold said.

She thought about that for a moment but had no answer.

“You just don’t. It is not right,” she said firmly and then after a short pause added, “Are you going to … kidnap me or something?” 

“What? Why would we want to kidnap you?” Herold asked with genuine surprise in his voice. 

“Where would we even kidnap you to?” Simon added helpfully “Into the closet or under the bed? That’s hardly a kidnappin’ if you ask me.”

“Right.” Herold agreed.

“But if you aren’t going to eat me or kidnap me… what are you doing here?” she asked them.

“What are you doing here?” Herold asked back.

“I live here,” she said.

“So do we,” they replied in unison.

“Well, can’t you live somewhere else?” she asked them.

“Can’t you live somewhere else?” Simon asked back.

“Hm… suppose not.” and after a moment of silent reflection, “You know, my dad says you aren’t real.”

“I feel quite real,” Herold exclaimed. “What about you, Simon?”

She heard crunching from under the bed, followed by chewing sounds.

“M fertainly real,” Simon said and then swallowed with an audible gulp. “You are talking to us right now, are you not ?”

“But I cannot see you,” she argued.

As she said that she squinted and tried to make out a shape in the open closet, but could only see the dark. She remembered a story about pirates from school and how they had an eye-flap, so they could see better under the deck, where it was dark. She held a hand in front of one of her eyes, but that didn’t help at all.

“When you talk to your grandmother on the phone, you only hear her, too,” Herold said, “but you wouldn’t tell her, that she wasn’t real, would you?”

Emilia thought about this. No, that wouldn’t be proper to tell her Gran that she did not exist. She suspected that if she did, she might just get knitted socks again for her birthday.

Tommy had told her about the monsters, about their growls that made the ground shake. They would grab you, and they would eat you with their many, many, many teeth that would shine in the moonlight. It seemed to her that this must be a quite different kind of monster. She relaxed a bit.

“If you live here, why don’t I see you around? Like when the sun is up and about,” she asked them.

“You can hardly expect us to stay awake all the time. Everyone needs some sleep,” Herold said and then added with a tinge of resentment in his voice, “Humans don’t really want to see us anyway.”

“Except in movies or in books!”, Simon quickly interjected, “Then, all of a sudden, it’s all good fun.”

“Right.” agreed Herold. “I mean, have you heard about what happened to Sasquatch? Let’s his guard down and showed himself. Just a few seconds, mind you. Minding his own business and suddenly everyone calls him Big Foot, and he’s a celebrity, with all these shows and whatnot.”

“Too much excitement, if you ask me,” said Simon. “I prefer a quiet, simple life. Much easier on my hearts.” 

Emilia heard more rustling coming from underneath the bed. “You know, while we are talking, would you mind cleaning your room a little less? I am quite hungry,” Simon said.

“You are always hungry,” Herold said. “Don’t listen to him, girl. I for one commend your cleanliness. Don’t see that often with kids these days. It’s nice and roomy in your closet here with everything properly hung up and stored away in boxes. Also, we can always go to the washing machine, there’s bound to be a few lost things.”

“Or socks,” Simon said excitedly.

“Or socks,” Herold grunted back.

Emilia wondered, if they would eat the socks her grandmother knitted her.

“So where are you from?” Emilia asked into the darkness.

“We told you, we’ve always been here,” Herold said.

“But before that?” she asked them.

“We don’t know,” Simon said.

“How do you not know?” Emilia asked, surprised.

“Oh, -excuse- me,” Herold replied, “but do you know where you are from?”

“I’m… from my parents,” she replied, but she knew that this wasn’t quite the right answer.

“Of course you have parents, little girl. But before that,” Herold said, “Do you remember the time before you had parents?”

Emilia thought long and hard about this. She didn’t, so she shook her head.

“See? Same here. Not the faintest clue. Sometimes Simon and I talk about these things for hours and hours, but we never came up with a good answer. Maybe one day.”

Now less afraid, Emilia glanced around the room.

“So … are there other monsters in here?” she asked them.

“Nah, it’s just Gumo and us,” said Simon.

“Who’s Gumo?” Emilia asked them, and before either of the two monsters could answer her, she heard a tiny, tiny voice from above her. If tiny, tiny voices could be booming, this one was positively booming.

“I am Tsuchigumo, Lord Of The Vault, Ruler Of The Space Above,…”

Emilia looked up and tried to make out where the high-pitched voice was coming from.

“…, King Of The Heights, Master Of The Cei-” 

“Yup, that would be him,” Harold grunted from the closet.

“Good Ol’ Gumo,” Simon added with a chuckle.

“No, not Gumo! It is -Tsuchi-gumo, Lord Of The Vault, Ruler-”

“You are a little spider.” Emilia interrupted. 

She could hear a tiny little sigh, and the small black dot skittered away on it’s eight tiny legs.

“He’s quite formal, but otherwise a really nice guy once you get to know him,” Simon said helpfully “He couldn’t even kidnap you if he wanted to!”

“Oh and there is Brian,” Herold said.

“Oh yeah, Brian! Right. Totally forgot about him. He mostly hangs out in the basement, not a fan of the upstairs. He has a rather unhealthy obsession with the boiler, I think,” said Simon. “Too warm for me, if you ask me.”

“Mhm,” agreed Herold.” Nice fella, always joking around. He does make quite a ruckus sometimes.”

Emilia remembered when the radiator in her room would clank, pop and rattle seemingly at random. Her dad told her it was air, but he also said monsters weren’t real. And where did that get her?

“What do you do all night?” Emilia asked into the room.

“Oh, you know… the usual. Some nights I misplace things or make a hinge squeak,” Herold said in thought and then added rather excitedly “I like playing with your cat. Cecil is good fun. Oh, that reminds me…” Suddenly Emilia heard the distinct clicking and clacking of knitting needles.

“I for myself, like to read quite a bit,” Simon added. “Say, maybe you could borrow some new books from the library? I like the ones with the pictures the most.”

Emilia nodded and made a mental note to ask her dad to take her to the library.

Suddenly she heard a tinkling bell and out of the closet bounced a little mouse made out of colorful yarn. It was expertly knitted and even had little black eyes and whiskers.

“Cecil likes these quite a bit!” Herold said.

“How did you do that?” Emilia asked.

“Oh, that’s nothing, really,” Herold said with a little pride in his voice “It doesn’t take very long to make them when you have 12 arms. I just wish Simon would stop eating them.”

“It’s not my fault that Cecil paws them under here!” Simon said defensively. “You know, I could use a scarf for the winter.”

“You don’t have a neck,” Herold said flatly.

“Right, but I could still wrap it around me. It gets a bit nippy down here.”

“What do you say, we let the girl sleep? She has to be up early tomorrow.” Herold suggested.

“Fair enough,” Simon agreed, “I haven’t even looked for dust bunnies yet.”

“But… but I am not tired,” Emilia protested. “We could play some games, couldn’t we? Maybe I could show you-”

A click and light spilled into every corner of the room. Emilia’s father was standing in the door, one hand on the door handle, one of the light switch. 

“Are you still up?” he asked her, one eyebrow raised and without waiting for her reply, he added,” You are going to be so grouchy in the morning.” Cecil had followed her father and quickly pounced on the cat toy inside the room.

“Daddy, daddy, I talked to the monsters!” she told him. “Their names are Simon and Herold, and there is Gumo. He-”

“Emilia,” her father told her in a gentle, but firm voice, “it is time to sleep.” Cecil tried to frantically to swat at the new toy he had just discovered, as Emilia’s father scooped him up.” The only sound I want to hear from you tonight, is you sawing logs.” He said as he turned off the light and closed the door behind him.

Once she heard his footsteps disappear, she quietly whispered into the room: “He’s gone!” 

There was only the ticking of Chesire Cat next to her.

“You can come back out.” Nothing. She sat expectantly on her bed, but nothing happened. She looked up at the little spider. “What about you Gumo?” She said, but the little spider did not react to her. It just sat motionless in its small web, waiting for even tinier prey.

Had she just imagined the voices? After all, she hadn’t seen any of them. 

“Simon? … Herold?” She quietly called out once more and then waited. As she waited, she could feel the sleep tugging at her. Her eyelids got heavier and felt like weights were hanging from them. She slid back under the covers, holding Morning close to her. Then she closed her eyes. Maybe she had dreamed it all and had been talking in her sleep.

As she felt sleep slowly wrapping itself around her, she heard chewing and the subtle clicker clacker of knitting needles. Then she fell asleep with a smile on her face.

Copyright 2019 Sven Camrath (When past-me was still naive and completelty unprepared for what 2020 would have in store.)

Monsters Aren't Real by Sven Camrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Where do you start?

Putting yourself “out there” as a writer can be a scary step to take. A writer with no published work under his belt. A cheat, a trickster, someone with the audacity to call himself a writer. A collector of documents rotting away in boxes, notebooks or hard-drives. Eventually, you’ll have to show your work to others, unless you just want to write stories for yourself.

It’s an easy mistake to compare yourself with the successful and published authors you have read and feel utterly unqualified by comparison. But even they started out, putting their first stories to paper and letting others read them, learning what works and what doesn’t. Telling stories is a skill that requires practice. And one of the best ways to learn is to make mistakes.

There is nothing new or unique to these thoughts and I am certain, everyone has experienced these feelings in one way or another. Being afraid of judgment seems to be one of those experiences of being human. Especially if something is close to our heart like a story, we easily forget the universal nature of this fear. Most can recall a moment in their life, where they had to take that first step and open themselves up to the world.

The first time I uploaded a video of myself onto the internet, talking to a then non-existent audience was very scary and I repeatedly refreshed the browser, anxiously awaiting the first comment. You’d think that I would remember every single letter, but I can’t even recall what it said.

Over the years I have received thousands of comments, ranging from being incredibly supportive to highly toxic. I listened to the critique and there were moments where I became defensive or discouraged, but even they passed eventually. And you know what? I stopped being afraid of them. Because like the monster in your closet, it’s not so scary once you get to know it.