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 1, Part 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.