Wolfish words: How the wolf has influenced common sayings

Humans and wolves have a long and storied past. These majestic, fearsome creatures have influenced our folklore as well as our common language.

In celebrating the release of The Wolf at War, the final book in my werewolf trilogy, I look at a few sayings derived from our relationship with wolves.

Keep the Wolves at Bay

The phrase “to keep the wolves at bay” refers to a time when baying wolves were a sign that wolves were still in the distance. The idea is that when wolves are still in pursuit, they are not yet ready to attack. Sometimes shorted to keeping something “at bay,” this also refers to hunting dogs that bay while in pursuit of quarry. Keeping something “at bay” is a temporary measure of safety.

Lone Wolf

Lone wolf is an American expression that began in the early 1900s. A “lone wolf” is a person who acts alone or enjoys his or her own company—and not being part of the pack. The phrase persists in popular culture today. Lone Wolf is the title of a 1988 horror film, and Lone Wolf McQuade is the title of a Chuck Norris action flick from 1983. The phrase is used in the title of numerous books, many quite recent.

NOTE: While not the original meaning, it’s important to note that “lone wolf’ has political meaning as well. A “lone wolf” can be a member of a terrorist group that acts alone, such as a member of the KKK.

Cry Wolf

The phrase, which means to cause undue alarm, is derived from the Aesop fable, The boy who cried wolf, in which a young herded cries ‘wolf’ repeatedly because he is lonely. When the real wolf shows, no one believes him, and he’s …in trouble.

Cry wolf is a common phrase today and has inspired the names of at least three films: the 1947-murder-mystery Cry Wolf, the 1983 film Never Cry Wolf (based on an autobiography of the same name), and Cry Wolf, a slasher from 2005.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The idiom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” has Biblical origins. Ancient Greek fables offer warnings similar to those offered in the Bible. Today, the phrase serves as a warning against anyone with a friendly face and malicious intent.

The popular phrase has its own Tumblr page and is a popular inspiration for tattoos.


Human fear of wolves has driven this relative of the much-beloved dog from large swaths of its former range. In fact, the wolf was completely driven from the UK during the 19th Century. However, much of the danger of wolves is mythology, akin to the werewolf. Wolf fact can be found here.

Ilene Rune has lived with a secret for 21 years that threatens to destroy her marriage, her life, and all of humanity. But how can she tell her son, Alec, that his new boyfriend, Jared, may be part of that secret?
Investigating a brutal murder, Detective Lance Herald enters a dark world of fairy tales and fantasy—that shakes his belief in what is possible and imagined.
Lucy Rune cannot fathom what happened the night one brother was slaughtered and the other critically wounded—but she does know, her boyfriend, Rene, who was also attacked is changing.
Geraldine Bloom, Alec’s grandmother, has the gift of foresight, and has waited for years for the evil that wants her grandson to come for him.
Alec Rune wakes from a coma to learn his twin brother has been murdered—and that he is the only witness. But he remembers nothing of the night.
Werewolves, genetics, and a thrilling murder mystery intertwine in this “multi-layered and unpredictable” (Christine Coretti) horror novel that builds to “an absolutely epic ending” (thegayUK.com).

Excerpt from The Wolf at His Door:

“Sam, did you hear something,” Celeste’s urgent voice echoed to him through his valley of sleep.

He shook his head, his eyes still closed and voice groggy. “Nope.” Outside, something grunted. At least, it seemed like a grunt. Sam leaned up on an elbow. Celeste’s urgency now washing over into him. “Shhh.”He whispered. He lay still in the bed, listening. The lake clawed at the shore, desperate to pull the rocks under the surface. The wind picked up, rattling across the cabin. March could be brutal.

“I think it’s just the wind,” he offered.

“No,” Celeste whispered to him. “Listen.” Again, they fell quiet. The grunting sound returned but with labored breathing. The sound intensified, as if the origin of the sound were much closer now—perhaps just outside the window by which they lay. The motion-sensor security light broke the night, and chalky light seeped under the closed curtains, dripping down the wall. Sam cast his eyes up, aching to see beyond the pulled curtains.

Sam clenched Celeste’s arm and mouthed Don’t Move.

Celeste held her position.

Slowly, through their disbelief, the sound became distinguishable. The heaves were the heavy breathing of a large animal—but there were no large predators in the area. No cougars. No bears. Certainly no lions. Not even alligators. Sam’s mind muddled with thoughts of what it could not be. Maybe it’s a stray dog. A fox? At best a coyote.

A shadow moved outside the window. Sam could not discern the shape of the animal; it appeared to stand on two feet. His first thought was of a mutant creature from the nuclear power plant, but decided that ridiculous. Mostly, anyway.

Celeste clamped her hand around Sam’s forearm. A mammoth shadow fell across the window. She felt fear growing inside her like a strangling vine, unyielding no matter how hard she tried to cut it back.

The shadow passed.

“Shit,” Sam muttered.

Celeste felt the vine wither, releasing her chest, and she breathed. “Fuck.”

Sam tossed the covers off and turned to face the window. If the thing was still around, he wanted to get a good look.

“Careful, Sam,” Celeste whispered.

Sam inched the curtains apart. The security light illuminated the yard. Beyond that the gray sky shed little ambient light. He could see nothing in the yard. At the edge of the yard, he heard the lake crash against the rocks. Sam turned to face Celeste. “I can’t see anything. It’s gone.”

“Good. Want a beer?”

“Sure. I can’t sleep anyway.” Sam watched Celeste as she crossed the bedroom to grab her shirt.

“Sam,” she said then bit off her sentence. Her jaw slacked and her eyes rounded. Sam sensed the presence of the beast behind him even before he felt the window glass pelt his bare back. He felt the claws shred the flesh and muscle of his shoulders as he was lifted off the bed and pulled through the shattered window into the cold night air.

“Sam!” Celeste screamed, looking through the vortex of broken glass, broken wood, and blood. The curtain was torn from the wall, the rod dangling like a broken limb. The darkness swirled as cold air met the damp warm air from the house and steam formed a momentary, translucent window.

“Jesus Christ,” Sam pleaded from outside. Heinous growls followed his shrill screams. “Oh, fuck! Help me.”

Celeste backed toward the kitchen then spun and bolted across the floor. She grabbed the telephone. She tapped out 9-1-

“Oh, no, no, no,” she cried as the beast appeared in front of the large bay window, dangling Sam from one large paw. Fear and pain bled his face of life, making him mannequin-like, though he still moaned and slapped at the beast holding him.

Celeste tapped the final one. She heard a reply, “9-1-1 what is your—”

The voice was drowned out by the sound of crashing glass as the beast hurtled Sam through the large bay window and retreated into the darkness.

“Sam,” Celeste screeched. His body landed in a contorted heap on the kitchen floor. Celeste stepped toward him. She heard a small voice beside her.

“Hello? Do you need help?”

Celeste placed the phone on the counter and stepped toward Sam. “Help me,” he muttered. “God, it hurts.”

“Oh no,” Celeste moaned as her eyes fell on Sam’s torn body. Both of his arms were nearly severed from his torso. Deep claw marks formed chasms across his chest and stomach. Half of his face dangled from the bone. How can I stop the bleeding? She stumbled to him and knelt by his side. A thunderous howl pierced the night. Celeste turned her eyes to the broken bay window. She stood slowly. Celeste backed away from Sam, casting her eyes down to him, pleading forgiveness, as she left him bleeding and tortured on the floor. From a knife rack on the counter, she grabbed a butcher knife.

With her other hand, Celeste grabbed the phone. “Send help…”

“Miss, I have dispatched police. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Fuckmotherfuck.” Celeste replied and dropped the phone.

For the first time, the beast came into full view as it leaped through the bay window. Amid the spraying glass, Celeste caught glimpses of fur and fang. The creature ducked behind the counter, out of sight.

With Sam.

“Sam?” Celeste choked.

The beast raised into view, dragging Sam by his neck. Blood flowed down the length of his body. His jeans had turned dirty red with blood. He neared unconsciousness. “Drop him, you fuck.” Celeste ordered, pointing the knife toward the beast.

In defiance, the beast lifted Sam, bringing his neck closer to its jaws. Its long snout gaped open, revealing spiked teeth. The teeth clamped around Sam’s neck. A geyser of blood erupted from his neck, spraying the beast’s face. Sam gurgled once, before the skin on his neck split, and his head fell backward, dangling by one sinew.

Celeste whipped the knife across the room and bolted for the bedroom. Slamming the door, Celeste hopped onto the bed and out the broken window. Her first thought was to dart toward the car. After one step she froze. The idea was flawed on two counts: she had no keys and she would have to run past the bay window.

She was left with one option: the lake.

The frosty grass chilled her feet as she bolted across the wet lawn, her eyes and mind focused on the lake. Celeste spun to face the cabin. The silhouette of the beast was illuminated in the bay window. It held Sam’s torn torso between its two great paws. Its head cocked, eyes locking on Celeste. Burning like twin green comets, its eyes glimmered and blurred as it tore toward her, its enormous, muscular body springing through the window. As Celeste turned, she saw the faint outline of a car—a large black sedan—that did not belong. It was parked in the edge of the trees by the lake, nearly hidden. The image just whirred past her eyes as she spun and refocused her attention on the lake.

Falling over the rocks, Celeste flung herself into the cold lake waters. The shock pulled the breath from her lungs and her skin felt—for an instant—as though it burned. She choked in a breath and forced her limbs to move, swimming from shore. The beast lunged into sight, alighting on the rocky shore; it crouched, watching her paddle just beyond its reach. Celeste took shallow, quick breaths in the cold water. She felt the cold seeping into her.

She prayed for the police to arrive. How long could it take? A cramp contorted her feet. Celeste continued her labored paddling. She knew she couldn’t stay in the water for long. Hysteria swirled in her mind like a fog: Sam is dead. I’m facing a monster. She lost the sensation in her fingers. How long had it been?

Splitting the night with a howl, the beast bounded from the rocks, disappearing over the edge of the rocky shore. Waves splashed over her face, and Celeste realized she was slowly sinking. Her lethargic arms beat against the icy waters. The cramp in her foot crawled up her calf; she wouldn’t be able to swim for long. The cold was winning. Celeste wasn’t sure how long she waited, but in the burning cold water, it felt like an eternity.

Like mist settling over the water, Celeste heard the distant cry of sirens. She forced her burning arms to pull her toward the shore. She treaded water for a moment, forcing her mind to forget the terrible cold and focus. Were the sirens really coming?

Certain she heard sirens in the distance, Celeste stroked toward the shore. She could not feel the sharp edges as she clasped her rigid fingers to the rocks. She laid her head against one of the large, gray rocks. Arms stiff, she hoisted herself onto the slippery rocks. Her chest heaved, coloring the night gray. She would wait for the police, she told herself, safely near the water.

In a brown blur, the beast leaped from beyond the rocks, lashing its massive paw at her. Celeste felt its claws snag her arm. Fighting, she pulled away. She heard the ripping, not totally aware what was happening as she fell backward into the icy waters.

Searing pain shot through her shoulder and across her chest. She felt her warm blood flow into the water. It was too dark, but she knew the water was painted red with her blood. The beast looked at her a moment, its lips snarled in what she perceived as a smile. It vanished again, dropping her twitching arm on the rocky shore.

As the police lights came into view, Celeste’s eyes sank beneath the lake surface. She bobbed up, whispering weakly, “Over here,” before her face slide beneath the water a final time.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Wolf-Door-Runes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00DR4H7QG
Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-wolf-at-his-door
Barnes& Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-wolf-at-his-door-adrian-lilly/1116068410
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/332148
iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-wolf-at-his-door/id671203804?mt=11
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Wolf-Door-Runes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00DR4H7QG

Author Bio:

2014_head_shot_smallAdrian W. Lilly is the author of the novels The Devil You Know, Red Haze, and The Runes Trilogy: The Wolf at His Door, The Wolf in His Arms, and The Wolf at War. His short fiction and poetry have been published in Hello Horror, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Nervehouse and The Weekly among other publications. He can be found online at www.adrianlilly.com.

He is a fan of Gothic suspense movies and novels, which greatly influence his writing. Adrian’s writing focuses on strong character development and the nuances of fear that build toward horror. The mansion in his first novel, The Devil You Know, was inspired by the grand mansions in the Victorian neighborhood where he lives.

Adrian writes novels, short stories, and poetry and has spent many years as a copywriter in the advertising industry. In addition, Adrian has directed two short films and co-directed a feature-length sci-fi comedy.

My website: www.adrianlilly.com

Facebook: facebook.com/adrianwlilly

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AdrianLilly

Twitter: @AdrianLilly1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6545875.Adrian_Lilly

About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs the websites on the JournalStone Network

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