His name is Eli Hoffman, and I have chosen him to be the hero.
It was something I considered when he picked his sister daffodils after her bunny died. I wrote his name on my list and circled it when he chased off a fox who attacked the family’s chickens. However, it was when his father’s horse was bucking and kicked him down, and he got up anyway despite the broken ribs, that I opened my magic book and etched his prophecy in my blood.
He will be the one to kill me.
Of course, he is too young now. Only a child. Hair that shines like raven feathers in the sun and eyes that are as black and deep as ink pools. Eight-years-old. He won’t grow to be tall or exceptionally handsome. He’ll have to study hard with books, but he’ll learn the most by scratching down others’ stories and struggling to train himself. There’s not an ounce of magic in his bones, but he has grit and fire in his blood.
He’s hardly the description of a knight who will one day slay the dragon, but maybe that is why I like him.
Even now, he follows me towards the river.
Eli wraps his hand around my wrinkled fingers.
“Almost there, Auntie.”
We walk past the city gates and down the forest trail. It is dusk, and wolf howls echo into the sky. Eli’s grip on my hand tightens.
“Perhaps we should go back.”
“No, child. We are almost to the river.”
Before we can reach the banks, a wolf with luminous yellow eyes leaps in front of us. Eli screams.
“Run child!” I cry, releasing his hand as the wolf sinks its teeth into my arm. Crimson blood falls to the forest floor. Eli is motionless, dumbfounded for a few seconds. The wolf growls and claws at my neck as Eli picks up a stick and tosses it at the beast, tears streaming down his face.
The wolf rushes towards him, a black shadow of mangled fur, baring sharp teeth as yellow as the harvest moon.
“Run!” I call out again, more weakly this time. Eli finally turns and flees.
We watch him disappear down the forest path. The setting sun casts a red glow on the leaves.
I peel back the skin on my arms, revealing my scales. The ancient wolf sits down beside me. His once arrogant head is bent low, and his eyes are dull with weariness. He does not even glance at the human flesh and blood I’ve shed beside him.
“You know, he will kill you too,” I say. “You will die before me.”
Eli would return as a young man to take vengeance for the death of Auntie Luka. Even now, he mourns his cowardice, though none blame him. He is only a child.
The wolf blinks as if to disclose his indifference.
“I am tired too, old friend.”
In ten years, Eli will return for the wolf, where he will almost lose an eye and receive a signature scar from his ear to chest. In another eight years, he will face the ancient bear of the north and the lion of the west. It will take another twenty years before he is ready to face me.
I close my eyes and see myself dying. My scales fade and fall away, and my vision grows dim. Eli stands over me with a sword, once held defiantly against my chest, now fallen slack in his hand. A sad expression lines his face as he watches me bleed out.
I will take many forms in Eli’s future: his departed mother, a beggar, a lost woman in the woods, an apothecary, and his lover. It is likely that I will lose my shapeshifting powers at my death, but I cannot be sure.
His expression haunts me. What will he see me as when I die?
I rise up to leave, and the wolf lays his head down on his paws and closes his eyes. He too longs for rest, to sleep beneath the soft brown earth, to forget time and forgive life. To finally be at peace.
The wolf yawns and lets out a whining sound. He will try to rest, but he cannot sleep. None of us can sleep.
The monsters of old, as they call us, once tried to rid the world of humans. We thought they were dangerous. But now, we want nothing more than to return to the earth who once summoned us to slay them.
Mankind as a whole may be cancerous, but each individual is… peculiar. And their numbers grow so quickly. There will be no ridding the world of humans, so we will leave them to their devices and hope that they will not destroy what we have long watched over.
My old friend opens a lazy eye towards me. He knows as well as I that we cannot simply lay down and die. If we are to leave the world to the humans, some of them must rise up to prove themselves. We will only depart at the hands of one bold enough to face us, and capable enough to defeat us in at least some of our might.
It seems the humans are content to leave us weary and purposeless. They do not see the necessity to have a leader, to be brave, or to rid the earth of us, even as they take our land and suffer our wrath. So, I have chosen one from among them. Perhaps it is us ancient creatures who need a hero. Someone to finally give us peace. And we will have it, soon enough.
He just needs a little more work.
Photo by Ricardo Cruz