The old woman struggled through several shallow, painful breaths as she poured hot chocolate into the cups of her grandson and granddaughter. Simple movements had become more difficult of late, so she intentionally slowed down putting the ladle back on its hook by the wood burning stove. Then she turned to the children and smiled a toothless smile.
“So,” she finally said, “You’ve learned of the Wildmen in school?”
“Yes, Grandmama.” Adam took a sip of his chocolate, but immediately regretted not waiting for it to cool. “Our teacher said it is folklore.”
Gretta, to keep Grandmama informed, added “Yes, that means it is a made up story and isn’t true.”
“Isn’t true?” Grandmama huffed. “Isn’t true? My own grandpapa has dealt with them... often.” She listened to her old bones creak as she tried to settle into her rocking chair. “It’s no legend, children. The Wildmen are real. At least, they were real many years ago, before they got mad and left us. Listen, children, and I will tell the truth that your teacher will never tell. I’ll tell you what happened 119 years ago on this very farm."
In 1890 nobody had reason to doubt the reality of the Wildmen. They visited the farmers frequently, always coming at night. When they came, they always finished work on the farm that had be left for the next day. Sometimes they would feed the sheep, sometimes clean the goat stalls. But always... always, they would leave some proof that they had visited.
My Grandpapa was one that often received help from them. To thank them, he would leave some needed supply; eggs, or flour, or some such simple thing. Perhaps that is why they finally chose to show themselves to him. He had won their trust.
Grandpapa had heard the noise as they worked before, but this night seemed different. They stayed longer. Their voices were less subdued than usual. But more importantly, they were doing something right outside of the house; not in the barn or the stable, but right outside the door to the cottage.
The only weapon Grandpapa could find was a broom, so he grabbed it and slowly opened the door to peek out. What he saw amazed him. There were three of them outside, stacking firewood in a neat pile by the cottage. Each one had matted, reddish hair over most of the showing parts of the body, with crude skin garments over the more private areas. Their foreheads were high and sharply slanted, with huge, grissel-like mounds above their eyebrows. The smallest stood only three feet tall and the tallest only towered a few inches over the small one. It was that taller one who heard the door creak open and turned quickly to see Grandpapa’s shocked expression.
The other two fled immediately but the third, the one who had first seen Grandpapa, stood firmly and gazed into the human’s eyes. He was looking for any signs of danger, which Grandpapa understood perfectly since he was, himself, looking for the same thing. After a short while, the Wildman slowly put down the fire log that was in his hand. His eyes shifted focus to the broom Grandpapa had in his hand. Slowly, the broom was lowered and relief swept over the little man.
“I mean you no harm.” Grandpapa said softly. “Thank you for the help you have given me over the years.”
The little man smiled, as if he understood, and turned his body to face Grandpapa directly. Then Grandpapa got an unexpected shock and treat: the little Wildman spoke.
“More cold come.” He said in almost understandable Liechtensteinian German. “Need much wood. Must go now.”
With that brief communication, the Wildman turned and ran into the dark, following after his two friends.
“That was the coldest winter in Liechtensteinian history, and the Wildmen knew it was coming. My Grandpapa never talked to them after that, but he saw them often. He would always wave at them and the short tall one always waved back.”
“Why aren’t they seen anymore, Grandmama?” Adam asked, as he swallowed the last of his hot chocolate.
“They left. All of them. Nobody knows why, but at the turn of the twentieth century they just stopped showing up.”
“Maybe,” Gretta ventured, “Maybe they got a better job somewhere else.”
“Maybe.” Grandmama said. “One can always hope.”
(Author’s note: These mysterious men were evidently real. In 1661 one of them was captured and presented to the Queen of Poland. She trained him to do simple chores for her in the palace. None, though, have been seen in modern times.)
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