EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a continuing series of updated fairy tales, for the new millennium. Think of them as “living tales,” where we adjust the story – and the moral – to suit the times in which we live.
Once upon a time, there was a young man, who lived in a village. The lad came from a very traditional household – family values, church, traditions, belief in self-reliance, and all that jazz. But he grew up in an era where the old ways were looked upon first as “old fashioned,” and now “outdated,” “outmoded,” and flat-out “wrong.” Day after day, he was chided, criticized, and even mocked for his beliefs. The peer pressure was almost unimaginable. He couldn’t walk the streets of the village, go into an inn, or attend school without hearing his values torn down. He felt ostracized and unwelcome everywhere but his home.
As luck would have it, the young man (we’ll call him “Horton,” for that was his name), had a job that was actually very important, yet considered menial and ridiculous by most of the village folk. He was a town watchman. It was his job to watch the gates of the town, and when he wasn’t on guard duty, watch the town itself, for anything amiss. He took this job very seriously, which made things even more difficult for him, for the villagers mocked him for that, too. “Why do we even need a watchman?” they would ask. “We’re safer than we’ve ever been. We don’t even keep the village gate closed any more.”
“Idiots,” thought Horton. “They just don’t get it. past results are no indicator of future performance.” He liked that phrase. He’d read it once, in a brochure for money-lender, but he felt it apt for his situation. Horton knew a lot about security. But he knew very little about human nature. And this deficit in his knowledge was about to prove…unfortunate in both his life and his life’s work.
Unbeknownst to Horton and the rest of the village, several families of wolves had moved in. Now, villages typically build walls to keep predators out, but these wolves were clever. They changed their appearance and their behavior so as to not appear dangerous to the villagers. They spent a great deal of time – years, really, working to learn the local lingo, pass as humans, adopt human habits, and such. Now mind you, they still looked like wolves. And they still liked to eat humans. But these wolves were intent on playing the long game. So they began a concerted campaign to change their image. This meshed perfectly with the “enlightened” attitude of the villagers, who considered themselves more sophisticated and learned than your average, run-of-the-mill townsfolk. So with little hesitation, they welcomed these newly-civilized wolves into their village.
Now, of course, the wolves, never having lived in a village before, were lacking in a lot of things, not the least of which were money and work. The villagers did help – some – but the wolves found there was a limit to their largesse, as the villagers were more than eager to pay lip service to their enlightened ideals, but less so to actually sacrifice much in the way of money, goods, or property. So the wolves lived in the poorest section of the village. They eked out their existence in menial jobs, most of them. And of course, like other wild animals, they bred like crazy. Soon, the wolf population was growing out of control. Naturally, the enlightened villagers ignored the problem. Naturally, Horton raised an alarm.
“We need to look at this…the wolf neighborhood is growing fast, and if we’re not careful, they’ll outnumber us,” he warned.
“Horton, don’t be an alarmist!” replied the town council.
“Um…but that’s my job,” replied Horton.
“Well it won’t be, if you keep annoying us with useless information,” warned the mayor.
So Horton went back to watching the wall. Now the wolves had a master plan. Part of their plan was to grow from within. But part of it involved growing by importing their kind from outside the wall. And frankly, it looked like easy pickings, save for what to do about Horton. But, resourceful as always, the wolves had a plan. The wolves began a neighborhood organization, ostensibly to promote their contributions to the village, encourage hiring wolf workers, and such. They called it “CLAIR” – Canis Lupis Association of Independent Reformers. Clair had regular meetings, put out a newsletter, and established themselves quickly as the “voice of reason” in the village, and a vocal representative of the wolf population. The wolves soon began to use CLAIR as a way to take on Horton, and neuter his every move.
The village council meetings were largely boring affairs, and seldom well-attended by the townspeople. But CLAIR always had a spokesman there, and he was always prepared to speak on any topic before the council that involved wolves. He was there so often, the rest of council almost considered him one of their own. No so with Horton, who was charged with giving a report on town security at every meeting. The CLAIR representative was always respectful, but always seemed to have something to say about Horton’s reports, and that something was always critical, and said in such a way as to cast doubts on Horton. These statements were mild and flip at first, eliciting chuckles from the council. But as time went on, they became more pointed, yet oblique, so that Horton never felt he was being criticized directly, yet the council began looking at him as something less than they had in the past.
For his part, Horton was professional, thorough, and always had ample documentation ready to prove his point. This was not particularly helpful to his cause, for the council voted with their emotions and eschewed logic and reason. They looked at Horton’s reports as a necessary evil, and Horton as a big bore. Yet, they didn’t simply dismiss him, more as a way to give themselves cover, should something go wrong – Horton would be a convenient person upon which they could lay blame.
The wolves had been patient, but they felt a strong desire in their bellies to move their project along a bit faster. So they went to the town criers and worked on them, along with the editor of the village paper. Now, getting the media on your side is a neat trick, and the wolves had the criers and editor wrapped around their dew claw of their right forelegs. Every issue of the paper had stories praising the civilized wolves, despite the fact that the wolves largely kept to themselves, and didn’t interact with humans, aside from work or school. The town criers spun their reports to smile favorably on the wolves, and openly criticize and second-guess Horton.
Still, it wasn’t enough. The wolves knew that they would have to completely discredit Horton in order to achieve their goals. Soon, they had their opportunity. A young wolf club brought a project to school. It was a device that was at it’s heart, innocent enough. It was a cookbook. But the recipes inside looked suspiciously like those involving humans as the main ingredient. The enlightened language arts teacher thought the book was brilliant, but cautioned the student not to show it about, for “lesser minds might get the wrong idea.” But the wolf cub couldn’t resist, and he showed it about the school. One of the newer teachers who hadn’t completed her indoctrination in the curriculum and pedagogic process (dubbed “Common Bore” by those in the know) raised an objection, since her own parents had been eaten by wolves. The principal, caught between the risk of being seen as doing nothing, and the risk of actually doing something, did what bureaucrats always do – he shoved off the responsibility for making a decision to Horton.
Horton realized the sensitivity of the situation. He interviewed the wolf cub, and noted that when others were around, effected a look of naivety and and a “golly-gee-whiz, I don’t know why anybody would be upset with me” attitude, but while alone with Horton, became a smug little whelp with a cocky demeanor. He ran the kid’s name through the town registry, and discovered that his sire was the head spokeswolf of CLAIR, and was a perpetual candidate for the head of the wolf pack council of the wild, country wolves, for years after moving into the village. He also noted the title of the cookbook, scrawled on the cover: “How to Serve Man,” complete with what looked like bloody hand prints.
Horton realized he was being set up, both by the wolves, the school, and the council. If he did nothing and a disaster occurred, it would be his fault. If he threw the kid in prison and arrested his folks as accessories, he’d call down the wrath of all the ‘enlightened’ folk on his head, lose his job, and get sued…and it would STILL be his fault. He had a pretty good feeling this wolf cub was up to no good, but he also realized the cub himself might be a pawn of his parents and CLAIR. So he made a command decision. He put the cub in cuffs and took let him stew for the afternoon. He then wrote a very carefully-worded letter to the cub’s parents, expressing his understanding that, while the cub had not technically broken the law, his actions were needlessly provocative and caused untold amounts of angst at the school, not to mention tying him up for the day. Horton thought that he’d come up with a Soloman-like solution to the problem…let the wolves know he was on to them, scare the wolf cub straight, and leave it at that. He was, of course, wrong.
From the wolves point of view, Horton had just stepped in it. Big time. They paraded the letter about the town as proof positive that Horton was on a witch hunt, unredeemable prejudiced against the wolves, and was out to destroy a young, innocent cub’s life and reputation.
“He’s just a boy!” they exclaimed. “Why should he be in a position of authority?” they demanded. And when anyone pointed out Horton’s successes they brooked no interference. “Shut up!” they explained.
The press, of course, had a field day. Nothing like running ump-teen stories of police brutality, inept policing, executive overreach, and prejudice to boost circulation. “The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf’!” – the stories practically wrote themselves. Seemingly overnight, the villagers saw tags attached to their plates of hash (a village staple) at the inn, which read “#wolf-lives-matter.” Horton was soundly vilified, mocked, hounded, shunned, and soon found himself dodging a near-constant volley of rocks, small objects, and some not-so-small objects flung in his direction.
The final straw was when a royal messenger showed up in the village, with an invitation to the wolf cub and his family to journey to the king’s castle and dine with him and dialog about wolf lives. (In a way, this made sense, since the King himself had fought rumors all his life that he was a half-breed, and had been born outside the country.)
Horton decided he’d had enough. He called a press conference at the city gates. The entire town turned out to jeer. Horton stepped up on a soapbox to speak. “My fellow villagers,” he began. “I’ve spent my entire professional life trying to keep this village safe. I think I’ve done a pretty fair job. Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. I fully understand that you expect to hold a person in my position to a higher standard. I feel the same way. And I’ve always tried to live up to your – and my – expectations. But now, I find myself in a situation that has no easy answers. Things have degenerated to the point where doing this job to the best of my ability is no longer an option. So let me save you all the trouble – I quit. And in order to save us all the embarrassment of looking me in the eye as you pass me on the street, I’m leaving town tonight. For your sakes, I hope you are right and I am wrong. But I can’t work when the people I serve think I’m an idiot. So this village is now officially shy one “idiot.” You’ve felt like you didn’t need me before. Now you can find out if that’s true. And you can turn your attention to helping raise that wolf cub, and show him all the love and respect you never had for me. If it takes a village to raise a cub, now’s your chance. As for me, I’m outta here.” And with that, Horton picked up his bag, and walked briskly out of the city gate, to parts beyond.
The townspeople stood in shocked silence. Nobody moved, just shifted back and forth, one foot to the other, with a sense of deep unease. Some small voice in the backs of their heads screamed that they’d made a terrible mistake. But since they’d spent years ignoring this voice, it sounded to them like an annoying whisper.
It was then they heard a voice from the back of the crowd. It wasn’t words. It was a…howl. Soon, it was joined by another voice, and another, and then more. And as the villagers turned away from the gate, they realized they were surrounded by the now-very large wolf population. They were all there. Howling. And hungry. Very hungry. And in a blinding flash of comprehension, they realized that Horton had been right all along. But of course, by then, it was too late, for it was feeding time.