The men built a shelter on the beach that night, not for protection while they slept, but because Mother Tundra liked to sleep late in the mornings and didn’t want the sun to wake her. The shelter was constructed with debris that had washed up on the shore: sheets of corrugated steel, sea rotted blue tarps, bits of lumber and glass smoothed by the ocean’s unrelenting pitch.
They had fire that night. The men lounged and drank coconut wine while Mother Homily entertained the children with fairy tales of when the world was new. In those days the beaches were only sand, instead of an endless museum full of half-buried oddities. The children always listened, with eyes wide, to the fabulous stories of a world where shelters made of crystal and metal touched the clouds, and metal birds ferried men in their bellies back and forth across the sea so fast the sky would boom.
Mother Tundra shucked clams with her clever hands. She passed them to the children who ate them raw and still tasting of the sea and sand.
“Which story tonight?” Mother Tundra asked.
“The Wolf of the West,” Child Dormouse said. She was the bravest of the children and loved the delicate shiver that Mother Homily’s stories brought.
So Mother Homily began, “For five seasons the great Wolf of the West fought fiercely against the Empire Three. Finally, he bested them by tearing a chunk from the sun with his teeth, and then he blew it down in a rain of fire. Some of the sun got caught in his throat, and he swallowed it. The fire caused a hunger so deep he began to devour everything he could see. First the Wolf ate all the cattle, then all the birds, then all the meat he could find. He grew so thirsty from his feast, he drank up the lakes and rivers. But still he felt empty — such is the nature of some victories — so he devoured all the trees and grass and jungles. Inside his belly it all turned to ash, and he belched out smoke that chased the clouds away. With no clouds to shade the world it grew warmer and warmer still. Until finally, winter did not come, and the ice at the edge of the world melted. The oceans grew and grew, and all that was left was sand and sea. Then the Tribes of Many were Tribes of Few — ”
“And the colors? Tell us about all the colors,” Child Dormouse interrupted.
“The Tribes of Many were like the slicks in the tidal pools,” Mother Homily said, “some yellow, some brown, some red, some pink, and some black. Some were tall, and some were short and of course, all sizes and colors in between, but when the Wolf of the West ate everything, so few survived. Those who were strong lived together and mixed their spirits until all became like us, all the same, the wandering Tribes of Few.”
Child Dormouse nodded and whispered, “And what became of the Wolf of the West?”
“Some say he is sleeping at the roots of the Buried Mountains, they say he will wake tormented with a new kind of hunger and he will eat the moon and the stars,” Mother Homily smiled and touched Child Dormouse’s nose. “But I don’t believe it, little one, even the great Wolf of the West could not eat the moon.”
Child Dormouse looked up at the yellow circle in the sky, and thought for just a moment, she saw the shadow of the Wolf of the West cover her precious jewel, but it was only a cloud and she exhaled in relief. She took another clam from Mother Tundra and put it in her mouth and chewed as she listened to the tide, then spat grit from the clam onto the beach.
“It’s just a story isn’t it?” Child Dormouse said.
Mother Homily did not reply, Mother Tundra shucked another clam, and all were silent but the sea.
Bosley Gravel, eclectic hack writer, was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas and southern New Mexico. He writes in a variety of genres. His fiction focuses on the absurdly tragic, and the tragically absurd. He likes good black coffee, nightmares, Billie Holiday, and that hour just before the sun comes up.