George & The Werewolf, Pt. 4

This is the final installment in a four-part short story which we have been writing on Thousand Mile Walk.  For those of you just joining us, here are Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of “George & The Werewolf.”

George barely breathed, expecting any moment for the phantom panting to swell into a threatening, predatory growl, and the click-clicking to materialize as sharp, slashing claws. He clutched the knife tightly in his hand. It was his one childhood memento; Mr. Acton said George’s father had given it as a parting bequeathal. George prayed that the weapon would not fail him now. He adjusted its position in his hand slightly, and as he did so, the blade half-glinted in the faint starlight. Almost at once, the animal noises retreated, though whether they receded up the path or back down the mountain, George was still too disoriented to tell.

The seconds trickled by, and at last, George dared to sit up and try to get his bearings. Suddenly, the gruff, loud voice of a man rang out from somewhere among the rocks.

“Hello, Stranger. I am glad to see you are awake.” George reflexively started round. To his frantic eyes, every boulder seemed to be a crouching figure ready to spring, and even the trees, which he had so recently thought stunted bushes, appeared to be looming figures.

“Do not worry, Stranger. I am up on a rock above a little ways from you. You cannot get to me with that knife of yours, but neither can I easily get to you.”

“You could still shoot me,” George replied, “while I cannot see you.” Though, as he spoke, his eyes lighted on one boulder, a slight distance away, on top of which stood what he thought might be a human silhouette.

“That I could,” agreed the voice. “I do have excellent night vision. But had I wanted you dead, I would have shot you when first I smelled you.”

“Then why didn’t you?” George asked.

“You do not even say thank you!” the man exclaimed. “But, in answer to your question, I am not an animal. After I had gotten you out of the way, and now that I have obtained that which you sought for myself, I have no objection to you making your way out of this desert alive, if you are able. And, in fact, it is better that way. I have a message for your Mr. Acton.”

George did not ask how the man knew of his mission. Instead, he merely responded: “Or, I can catch up to you, recover what you have taken, and have no need to remember any such message.”

A surprisingly high laugh, almost a yip, cut through the night. “Despair of that now. I am much faster than you, and you are lost in the dark. So, instead, you are to tell Mr. Acton…well, tell him to give up. What the Spaniards had hidden in these dry mountains, I have taken. The thing greater than this, which he also seeks, I will likewise find. He is an old man, and after what has transpired here, I do not think much of you as a lackey, though there is silver laced into your quaint blade.”

“I have made it this far, with little direction save a map and a long dead guide,” George maintained.

This time, there was a snort. “A few experimentory wolf howls and a surprise crack on the back of the head, and you have been done for,” retorted the man. “Go back to the forests of your homeland, or better yet, keep to the cities, where the wolves do not sing. That is my advice. Goodbye.”

George had been correct about the source of the voice, for the shape he had guessed to be humanoid seemed to dissolve against the star-studded sky. He heard a faint pitter-patter, and then the night was silent once again.

After setting his back against a solid rock wall, he did not move until morning. He had feared a fall down the steep cliffs in the daytime; to attempt navigation in the near darkness with a pounding head would be suicidal, even if the mysterious man appeared to be attempting it.

In the hours that George rested, he had time to consider a few things about the man. By the time light crept over the mesa, George had come to two realizations. One, he had not asked about the wolf, nor had the man mentioned it. Two, the man, and George, in his replies, had been speaking in German.

To be continued by…the reader.

George & The Werewolf, Pt. 3

This is the third installment in a four-part short story which we have been writing on Thousand Mile Walk.  For those of you just joining us, here are Part 1 and Part 2 of “George & The Werewolf.”

Rounding a bend in the steep mountain track, George was temporarily blinded by the rays of morning sun that the shoulder of rock had hidden.  He tipped his hat brim down over his eyes and focused on his feet.  A misstep here would be fatal, for after days of scaling the mesa, he was acutely aware of the peril of the precipice on his right, and there would be no one to catch him if he stumbled.

A loosened pebble skittered off the path and into the expanse beyond, its pattering echo cracking the shell of silence that seemed to encase him and shut him off from the world of the living.  The hollow sound reminded him once more of how alone he was.  Or was he truly alone, George wondered, thinking about the nocturnal howl and the paw prints and boot marks he had noticed yesterday and this morning.  Did someone else know of his contract?

Head still tilted and hat limiting his vision beyond the next few paces, George suddenly saw a moving black shadow slice the path in front of him.  Glancing up in surprise, he was once again blinded, then shielded his eyes with his left hand—the other one sliding to the Wilhelm 56Z in his holster.  A tall figure was outlined at the head of the steep track, hands raised and palms out.

“Who are you?” George shouted, weapon at the ready.  “Why are you here?”

The figure turned and disappeared around a turn in the track.  George yelled and sprinted up the path.

“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

Reaching the turn in the path where the figure had vanished, George halted abruptly.  The person had disappeared.  Listening, George realized the silence of moments before had resumed.  He heard no running steps or scattering rocks.  The early morning chill had already evaporated, and even this brief exertion had left him sweating and out of breath in the unusually thin air.  For a moment, George felt dizzy.  Had he merely imagined the figure?  Was he hallucinating?  When was the last time he had spoken to another living soul?  He had lost count of the days since he had buried his guide.  Had it been days, or weeks?  George shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.  Holstering his Wilhelm, he tugged a water canteen from his pack and drank.

Yes, surely he had been hallucinating.  His mind felt much clearer now, and George tried to forget the disturbing occurrence and refocus on the path and his mission.  In all this solitude, he needed to keep his mind active if he wanted to retain his sanity.

George began to sort through possible internal conversation topics.  He pictured a hearty German breakfast, with link sausage, poached eggs, and cider, and quickly regretted the thought, as his stomach began to grumble.  Dry bread, water, jerky, and tinned food was all the fare he had eaten since the journey began, and even once he completed his mission, he would have to subsist on the same until he returned to the seaport to board his ship home.  He would be able to enjoy a good meal soon enough—once he finished Mr. Acton’s contract, that is.

To try to forget about breakfast, George surveyed the barren scene around him.  He thought of the beautiful mountains of Germany that were nothing like this desert of rock and aridity and glaring sun.  Had these mesas ever raised a real tree, not one of these scraggly bushes that barely resembled its German cousins?  George snapped off a dry twig as he passed a “tree” and broke the branch into pieces with his restless fingers, scattering the splinters as he walked.  Dusting his hands off, George refocused on the path and quickened his pace.  He squinted far up the path and realized his destination was in sight.

Distracted by what he saw at the top of the path, George passed the boot prints in the sandy ground without a glance or a moment’s thought.  Neither did he hear the quiet steps behind him which his own scramble up the rocky path had muffled.  For a second, George felt the coolness on the back of his neck of a passing shadow, but as he began to turn to discover the source, a breeze followed, and with it, a hand and the butt of a gun.

Cold, darkness, a pain in his neck and head, biting wind, and a faint tapping sound.  As George pried his stiff eyelids open, at first he thought he was in a dark room.  Or was he blind?  He blinked, and his eyes began to water, then to clear and focus.  Pinpricks of starlight appeared, and he realized it was night and he was on his back.  What had happened?  His blurred thoughts began to clear, then awoke with freezing clarity as he heard a snarl, and then the first low notes of a howl.  A howl that was louder and closer than it had ever been in all his nightmares, and George knew without a doubt that this was no nightmare.  His fingers twitched softly toward his hunting knife; his Wilhelm would be no use from the ground against an opponent that had the close quarters advantages of claws and teeth.  Gripping the knife handle, George slipped it silently from its sheath.  He heard faint panting and a quiet click-click-clicking circling him and coming nearer.

…To be continued and concluded by Catdust19.

George & The Werewolf, Pt. 2

Previously on George & The Werewolf

Cold perspiration beaded on George’s brow as he squinted out into the inky night. The moon appeared briefly from behind a smoky cloud, casting a cold sterile light on the rock formations all around him, and then blinked out like a snuffed candle. He listened intently, but the cool whistle of wind between the rocks and his own racing heartbeat were the only sounds that greeted his straining ears. After squatting in silence for what seemed like an eternity at the edge of the crevice, he quietly crept back to the embers of his fire. Pulling a warm blanket around his shoulders, and wiping the sweat from his clammy hands, he set his back against the darkest wall, and resolved to keep watch until morning when it would be safe to move again. As he sat in the gloom, hour after hour creeping by, his mind turned to the horrible sound that had awakened him earlier—and it filled him with a cold dread.

George was not actually his given name. Being a stray from rural Germany, nobody actually knew what his parents had called him, or where they were. He had some memories of life before Mr. Acton, a wealthy merchant from Hessle, had taken him under his wing: brief glimpses of playful romps in the great green forests around his parents’ home, and times spent with nameless childhood friends. He also remembered the day that father had come home worried, and his parents’ hurried discussion was quickly followed by the family retreating from their secluded home to the town church some many miles away. Most of the small town had gathered that night, and he remembered not so much the faces—but the sounds: children whimpering, women pleading, and men both angry and fearful. But then there was THE sound, that terrible howl not quite human or animal, so unnatural it would make the blood of the stoutest human turn to ice. They had called it a ‘werwolf.’ Not many people believed in werewolves, George had found out. Mr. Acton had scoffed at George’s accounts of his childhood terror, and his classmates in school had written it off as attention seeking. Still, even as an adult, he could not escape the memories, and they haunted his steps—especially at night.

As the sky began to change from shades of navy blue to aqua, George stirred slightly beneath his blanket. He hurt all over, back and legs stiffly cramped from a long night without sleep. When he tried to set down his revolver, he realized that his hand had fixed itself around the grip, and only with slow painful motions could he gingerly pry each finger open. He stirred up the fire and put a small can of water on to boil. As he slowly cooked his meal, his mind turned back to the howl he had heard the previous night—it seemed so long ago, like a dream. “Maybe it was just a timber wolf? You let your childhood traumas color everything,” his exhausted mind thought. Staggering to his feet, he was resolved to finish out his contract this day for Mr. Acton, for according to the map he had received before crossing the Atlantic, his destination was very close.

The sun had risen slightly over the peaks of the mountains by the time George finished his breakfast and reloaded all of his gear in his backpack. Stepping out from the crevice, he felt the warmth of yellow light spill over him, and his spirits immediately lifted. Walking briskly, he continued up a narrow rock-fall that cascaded over the side of the cliff-face. Nearing the top, he found a small pool of clear water fed by a spring, and bending down he began to refill his canteen. As he rose and prepared to go—some tracks in the mud caught his eye: they were the tracks of a man, and next to them the tracks of what appeared to be a large wolf.


To be continued by Arrietty…

George & The Werewolf

George climbed higher towards the apex of the mesa. Stopping at a bend in the rocky upwards path, he sat down stiffly on a nearby rock, and, shaded from the sun by a brambly tree, took a long gulp of water from his flask. Then, reaching down, he tightened the laces on his left shoe, hoping to reduce the chance of further blistering on his heel.

Sitting back again, George surveyed the landscape. From his perch halfway up the steep face of the mesa, he could see rocky mountains on all sides, towering to lazy peaks above his head—he was scaling the baby peak of the bunch, the child surrounded by its bigger siblings. But, George thought, It holds a secret its older brothers do not. Rising, George shouldered his pack once again, and resumed his slow climb. Keeping out of the sunlight was impossible on this climb, though he had a large hat, khaki pants, and a long-sleeved shirt on to protect his skin from roasting.

But it was hot. Sweat evaporated at the arid, high elevation, and a pin-pricking needle-like sensation was the only indication that he was expending sweat to cool himself. He needed to reach the top soon—it would be unbearable come nightfall, and also cold. In addition, George did not know what creatures might come out at night. He had seen deer tracks earlier on his climb, but no deer were foolish enough to venture this high. More recently, he had seen a set of bootprints appear—and only a day or two old. This baffled him, and he felt an anxiety at the uncertainty. Who might this other person be?

George’s guide had not made it—after the first week, when the sun-browned native had become weakened and quickly sickened, George had stopped and set up camp and cared for the man—soaking a rag in cool water and laying it to the man’s forehead. But it was not enough—the man had died. And now George was alone. There was no point but to continue; so after improvising a burial for the loyal guide, George had continued on. But a dread had been slowly building in his heart—what had begun as a grand adventure, here at the end, had become almost dreamlike—and dark.

The sun was lowering, until it finally was only partly peeking over the mountaintops, catching its last glimpse of George, bidding him good night. For his part, George found a secluded crevice beneath an overhang of rock and set up a simple camp for the night—a wood fire assembled from a bone-dry tree he hacked to pieces with a hatchet.

As George arranged the logs for the fire, he thought of how hardy this tree must have been to withstand the harshness of the wild. He even felt a strange sympathy for the tree as it began to crackle and burn. The tree, clinging so fiercely to life, sending its roots deep, around and between and across the rock, finding a way to subsist on the scant light and water it received.

Being alone made George strangely introspective. It was worrisome, slightly, how much thought he was giving a simple tree. He reiterated the truth to himself, for the sake of his sanity: he needed a fire to cook his food, provide warmth, and potentially ward off the creatures of the night, and the tree was the closest available source of fuel; so he had to use it. That was all.

The meal was simple—a dry biscuit, heated slightly, as well as warm soup from a can. He was trying to conserve his supplies, in case his quest took longer than expected. Finishing his meal, he unrolled his sleeping bag and climbed inside. It was going to be a chilly night—not cold, but uncomfortably chilly. A strong breeze blew fitfully along the side of the mesa, threatening at times to snuff out George’s fire. However, George placed a few larger rocks around the windward side of his fire, and it flickered more brightly, then crawled back into his bag.

George’s sleep was wakeful and dark. About midnight, he was startled awake by a guttural howl. Rolling instinctively towards his bag, he pulled out his revolver and squinted out from his crevice in the rocks—he knew the sound well. It was a werewolf.

To be continued by Joseph…

This is part 1 in a 4-part series.