The flurry of activity in the family home created a deafening cacophony of sound. The clang of pots, the scrape of utensils against platters, and the voices – always the voices – as various conversations warred each other in a constant battle of volume: who can speak louder, who will be heard.
It was always this way. In a household of ten siblings, the bustling was a frequent and familiar companion, and so was the loneliness. David was surrounded by people, by family, yet more alone than if he were an only child.
David’s voice trailed off, aware that his question was carried off by the wind, unheard. He sighed and hung his head in surrender, unseen.
Most days, he felt as though he might as well be invisible. He had long ago resigned himself to the fact that he was simply destined to be lost. Lost to the sheer number of them. Lost to the responsibility of such a large family and so many mouths to feed. Lost to the noise and chaos of their full home. Lost to the group identity of their family, far from feeling like he was allowed to be his own person. And lost to the mundane routine of their daily lives – each of them carrying out their assigned duties to merely survive the harsh world of tending to their needy farm.
The farm, to David, seemed like the thirteenth member of their raucous family: requiring attention and maintenance, occasionally objecting, consuming and devouring their energies and efforts, but also yielding and contributing to their provisions. Itself a living and breathing thing with a mind of its own.
Sensing a rare break in the conversation, David cleared his throat and repeated his question, “will I be watching over the sheep in the field again today?”
He both dreaded and expected his father’s reply, “Yes, son. You will see to the sheep while your brothers man our market stand and attend to the more serious and important matters. Your sisters will assist your mother with the washing and cooking. There is much to be done to stock our winter reserves.”
David fought the urge to roll his eyes at the typical lecture regarding their stores of grain and salted meats. Another predictable day, another predictable conversation in which David felt less like a valued member of the family and more like a recluse simply wasting space.
He wanted to be among the people of the village, to belong to no one, to disappear into the crowd of strangers and, for once, intentionally get lost. At least, then, the ever-present loneliness would be warranted. Instead, he was cast out with the animals to perform the least desirable duty – certainly the dullest.
He saw no point delaying the inevitable. At that, he scarfed down the remainder of his buttered bread, took a swig of his ale, and headed for the door snatching the shepherd’s crook from its perch along the way.
He all but huffed and puffed as he stomped like a spoiled child through the dirt making his way to the herd. David opened the door of the sheepfold and was assaulted by the distinct and pungent odor of hay and dirt and manure mingling with the oily secretions of their wool. He begrudgingly counted each bleating beast as they clamored for the freedom of the pasture, the plodding of hooves adding indentations to the already well-worn path and raising a cloud of dirt in their wake.
Rearing the gregarious flock, David ushered the stragglers toward the grazing congregation already bored with the day ahead as he entertained the embittered thoughts swirling around in his mind.
He felt as though he was giving up pieces and pieces of himself until there were no pieces left to give. He’d given up his voice – continuously drowned out by what others had to say, too unimportant to be heard or acknowledged. He’d given up his aspirations – sacrificed to the greater goals of his family and their farm. He’d given up his time – dominated by his daily duties. He was sick of it.
As the day wore on, his resentment grew. When the sun was beginning to bow down to the impending moon, its fading rays casting a mauve haze over the fields, David looked out in the direction of their farm and found that most of his family were already gathering.
There, from such a distance, he could easily imagine that he didn’t belong with them at all. They seemed complete without him, laughing and sharing amongst each other. He could imagine his eldest brother making some self-important comment and the rest of them laughing along and encouraging his arrogance. He could imagine them hardly noticing his absence.
Them. The more he thought of them as them and himself as separate from them, the more his resentment grew until it took on a life of its own. Them versus him. Him versus them.
Suddenly, and not entirely of his own conscious volition, his mouth moved unbidden. “WOLF!” his scream echoed into the wide-open valley, “WOLF! WOLF!” He rasped again, his throat raw with the guttural emotion with which he’d blatantly lied.
In that moment, David didn’t wholly understand why he’d done it. Perhaps, if only to disrupt the merriment he’d witnessed among his siblings. It’s as if the resentment took possession of his voice like a puppeteer tugging on the strings attached to his puppet.
As though out-of-body, David watched as his brothers closed the distance between them, wielding pitchforks and axes and weapons in defense of the defenseless sheep. Even his aging father, whose joints ached and suffered, answered the call of distress.
For a brief second, David could imagine they were coming after him with those weapons. He quickly shook away the thought with the realization that he would have to answer for his false cries and so-called wolf.
When they stopped before him, panting and heaving for breath, yet still alert for any immediate danger, his eldest brother gasped, “Where is it? David! Where is the wolf?”
Impulsively, David continued the lie rather than admit his falsehoods. “It was there,” he pointed beyond them, towards the edge of the woods where he envisioned an imaginary wolf lurking in the dark brush. “My screams must have startled it because it ran off in the direction of the woods and got lost among the trees,” he concluded.
His brothers inspected the trees that lined the field for any movement or threat. Frustrated, but satisfied that they saw no sign of the wolf, they collectively grumbled and headed back to the farm.
David shook his head in disbelief that he had managed to convince them, and offended by how effortlessly they proceeded without him despite the potential of a wolf posing a threat to him. Again. He found himself alone and castaway, again.
It didn’t take long for the poison of his pervasive resentment to spread, blocking his rational thoughts. Independent of his good sense, once more he found himself crying one word, “WOLF!” That four-letter word seemed to be his only comprehensible thought, “WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!”
Tears flooded his eyes and streamed down his reddened cheeks as those intrusive emotions overwhelmed him: anger, resentment, loneliness, disillusionment, sadness. In his self-righteous indignation, he almost believed himself as he cried “WOLF!” and envisioned the imaginary predator just beyond the tree line.
Again, his brothers and father presented a united front before him, armed and ready to face the threat against their family flock. They circled in confusion, but unwilling to let their guard down.
This time, an unhinged laugh escaped Davids lips. Unreserved disdain shown on his face, at the brink of hysteria. David didn’t bother with any pretenses. He confessed, “There’s no wolf! The sight of you lot running with pitchforks in hand was too much to resist!” Uncontained mirth mocked them as he shook with the force of his absurd laughter.
His brothers protested amongst themselves once more but were too stunned to make sense of David’s reaction. Disgruntled and murmuring irritated insults, they turned and headed back in the direction of the farm with only a meager warning to David not to prank them again.
David, still amused with his own antics, reclined against a haybale feeling as though he’d opened the floodgates to his emotions. Resentment, if allowed to fester, begets more resentment. Misery, if dwelled upon too frequently, begets more misery. He’d allowed his emotions to rule him and now struggled to tamp them back down into the recesses of his being.
Just as he settled into the relative silence of the early evening, the unbelievable happened. A pack of four wolves burst through the trees, eyes locked unwaveringly on their kill. The flock. David leapt up and howled, “WOLF! WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!” as every ounce of panic left him paralyzed in place.
He uttered silent prayers that his brothers would arrive quickly to help protect the herd. But it was too late, the wolves were already dragging away several bleating - and bleeding - sheep. He watched in horror as blood soaked their woolly manes, their eyes frozen open, in death.
His brothers were nowhere in sight. His father was nowhere in sight. The remaining sheep scattered in every direction in manic terror. The wolves were gone. They’d done their damage and made easy prey of the flock. His flock. His only responsibility. Silly, defenseless beasts. This time, he truly meant his cries for help, yet none of them had believed him. None of them had come. And who could blame them?
Disgusted with himself, he pressed his wrists into his eye sockets until they hurt, until the pressure felt as though he’d pop his eyeballs. He wanted it to hurt. He deserved it to hurt.
Having noticed from the distance that the sheep were missing from the field, only then did his brothers finally show up. Panicked but in control, his eldest brother shouted orders at his brothers, animatedly pointing and gesturing with his hands. At his commanding confidence, they each unquestioningly dispersed in different directions to corral the surviving sheep and salvage the dire situation.
Their father approached David, looking years older in the span of an hour. David read the disappointment in his eyes, and it was too much for him to bear. Ashamed, he couldn’t meet his father’s steady gaze and cast his eyes downward.
“For so long you have distanced yourself from this family, believing that you’re too good for this farm. Your wish has now come true for you are no longer a son of mine,” he said calmly detached, “be gone by daybreak.” Then he hobbled away in that pained yet dignified manner of his.
David crumpled to the ground, rocks biting at his skin as his knees protested. David had always felt as though he didn’t belong and had so desperately wanted to be on his own; there he knelt – disowned. It dawned on him that his seemingly inconsequential prank acted as the catalyst for the ironic and self-fulfilling prophecy of being alone. David could do nothing but weep.
The flurry of activity in the village created a deafening cacophony of sound. The clang of market wares, the scrape of wheels against dusty roads as horse-drawn carts barreled through the streets, and the voices – always the voices – as various conversations warred each other, customers haggling with shop owners: who will negotiate the best price.
It was always this way. In a growing town, the bustling was a frequent and familiar companion. Friendly neighbors or disputing enemies alike, flooding the streets and public places with hurried purpose - each trying to arrive at their destination. Life taking place and moving on all around him.
David wrapped his head covering snuggly around his ears, protecting the back of his neck from the beating sun, and stepped into the crowd of strangers disappearing amongst the many people. Getting lost.