by ADAM MCOMBER
Language is a closed system. It bears no relationship to reality.
I write about a prince. But I do not mean a prince. Instead, I mean a figure rendered.
I render this particular figure (out of all possible figures) because I saw a play in Los Angeles last night in which actors pretended to be princes. The concept of a prince remains in my mind. A portrait in a gallery.
I am from Ohio. My father is a farmer. I will never meet a prince. But I can, of course, render a prince.
The mind is a closed system. It bears no relationship to reality.
I render a prince. He becomes my prince.
Therefore [the prince comes down from the castle].
I have seen castles in Europe. But I do not imagine those castles here. Nor do I imagine the castles I have seen in films. I do not imagine a castle at all, in fact. The castle remains an ambiguous object.
Then [the prince wanders in the forest. He experiences a sensation like hunger. But he knows he is not hungry. On a dark path, the prince encounters a wolf.]
I have seen wolves in reality. Perhaps at a zoo. I don’t remember. Regardless, the figure the prince encounters in the forest isn’t meant to represent an actual wolf. The figure is, instead, meant to represent what is known in a nearby village as the Loup-Garout. The Loup-Garout is a creature from folklore.
Folklore is a closed system. It bears no relationship to reality.
I will record two facts about this creature. The first fact is that the Loup-Garout is a man who has the ability to change himself into a wolf at will. The second fact is that, if someone encounters a Loup-Garout, he must not say anything about the encounter to anyone, or he himself will be transformed into a wolf for the rest of his days.
Furthermore [the prince knows the lore about the creature. One of the knights in the castle told the prince the story. The knight heard it in the village.]
I imagine this knight to be handsome. He has blonde hair on his chest. He is clean-limbed and pale. The knight and the prince have been together in the dark halls of the castle, unbeknownst to the prince’s wife. The knight and the prince have made love. They have made love a great many times, in fact. Once, the castle dogs came to lick the semen from the bellies of the knight and prince. The two men laughed. After that, the knight told the prince about the Loup-Garout while they held each other on a secret bed of straw in a long empty chamber of the castle.
Now [in the forest, the prince sees the creature. Only the creature isn’t what the prince imagined when the knight told the story. The Loup-Garout looks nothing like a wolf or even a dog. Instead, it looks like a man, a tall and muscular man, with a dark thatch of hair on his chest and another thatch of hair around his cock. The Loup-Garout has a long cock and full-looking testicles. His thighs are flanks of muscle.
A question could be asked: how does the prince recognized the figure in the forest as the Loup-Garout if the Loup-Garout looks nothing like what the prince imagined? How does the prince know this isn’t simply a naked man? In order to answer that question, it is important to remember that the Loup-Garout is a creature from folklore, a figure rendered. It is also important to remember that I am not actually sure I like sex. I enjoy imagining sex, most definitely. I enjoyed imagining the sex between the prince and the knight, for instance. I liked picturing the two of them together in the dark rooms of the castle. I liked picturing the two men kissing and stroking one another and promising never to leave each other’s sides.
My intention, when I began this story, was for the prince and the Loup-Garout to have sex in the forest. It was going to be rough sex. The kind of sex one might have with a wolf from folklore. But now, instead of imagining sex between the prince and the Loup-Garout, I’m thinking about my actual relationship to sex. I don’t think the prince and the Loup-Garout are going to have sex. Perhaps the prince imagines sex in the forest, but he doesn’t actually have sex with the Loup-Garout.
I want to say: Sex between two men is a closed system. It bears no relationship to reality.
However, I’m not sure if any such statements are true.
So [the prince and the Loup-Garout stare at one another on a dim-lit path in the woods. The Loup-Garout has menacing yellow eyes. The prince realizes he must escape. He longs to see the blonde knight again. He longs to see the castle. Simultaneously, however, he realizes that, if he escapes, he can never mention this encounter to the knight or to anyone else because, if he does, he’ll be transformed into a wolf for the rest of his days.
Neither the prince nor the Loup-Garout moves from their spots in the forest.
The prince realizes that if he does not move, there will be no chance that he could accidently mention this encounter to anyone. He will not risk the possibility of being turned into a wolf. He will not risk the possibility that his wife will discover his affair with the knight. He will not risk the possibly that the knight will discover his imagined affair with the Loup-Garout.
A question could be asked: Why does the Loup-Garout remain frozen on the forest path along with the prince? Why doesn’t this creature lunge at the prince and sink his teeth into the man’s soft flesh? Why doesn’t the Loup-Garout, who is neither a man nor a wolf nor a figure in reality, simply devour the prince? Does he know something about the system that we do not?
Does he understand its relationship to reality? Does the Loup-Garout shift his yellow eyes, from time to time, to look at us? Does he see us standing here at the edge of the path? Does he see how we are frozen too?
Adam McOmber is the author of The White Forest: A Novel (Touchstone) as well as two collections of queer short stories, My House Gathers Desires and This New & Poisonous Air (BOA). Adam’s new novel, Jesus and John, is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2020. Adam’s work has been included in The Year’s Best Speculative Gay Fiction, Best Microfiction and shortlisted for Best American Fantasy and Best Horror of the Year. Adam’s stories have appeared recently in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions and Fairy Tale Review. Adam teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.