The Leader of the Pack

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Jacob Chandler, wagon master for the Smith & Hardin wagon train bound for California, was riding ahead when he saw a naked white man staked to the ground over a red ant hill.

His whole body was swollen with bites and burnt by the relentless July sun. Jacob rode up to him and dismounted from his horse warily, casting a practiced eye around the scene for any sign of danger. At first, when he bent over the man he thought he was dead. There were no apparent signs of life. But when he stood up, the man’s eyes suddenly opened and he groaned.

Taking a canteen of water from his horse, he bent over him and cut the rope holding his hands and tilted it slightly so a tiny stream poured out onto his cracked lips. After cutting the restraints from his feet he went over to his horse and pulled out some clothes from his saddlebag. It was an effort dressing him because he was uncooperative and delirious. By the time he finished the wagon train’s lead wagon, with old man Hardin and his family, pulled into view bringing a cloud of dust with them.

Jacob asked what the leaders wanted to do with the man he found, who was unconscious again and propped up against a boulder. There was no doubt they’d help him, it was just a matter of pulling straws to see whose wagon he would get a ride in. Once that was settled, they carried the stranger to Andrew Carter’s wagon. He was a bachelor carpenter who traveled with his brother and his wife. There was room for one more.

Later that night, after the wagon’s were circled, and sentries posted, Andrew Carter watched the stranger slowly regain consciousness. The stranger was stretched out and Andrew was sitting on a wooden pail when he came to.

“How ya feelin’ pilgrim?” Andrew asked.

“Right poorly, I’d say.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jesse…Jesse Stewart.

“Where ya from?”

“Ohio originally,” he answered as he struggled to sit up.

“I recon ya ran into some unfriendly Injuns,” Andrew observed.

“Sioux, I think. Maybe Blackfoot.”

“It’s one, or da other. Those tribes don’t cotton to each other. That’s what Jacob our scout said when we entered this territory. How’d ya end up so badly?” Andrew asked while dipping a ladle into a bucket of water and offering it to him.

Jesse sipped the water before answering. “My pard and I were looking for gold.

“Hereabouts?”

“No. We were heading for California and got ambushed. They kilt Dan outright. Scalped him and cut him up badly, so his ancestors wouldn’t recognize him. Had some fun with me. Sure grateful to you folks for savin my hide.”

“It was the Christian thing to do Mr. Stewart. Would you like to get up and stretch some?”

“I believe I will.

Andrew watched Jesse crawl out and stand up outside. He seemed steady enough. He followed him when he started into the brush, then thought better of it. He was probably taking a piss. A man don’t like being bothered when he’s doing that he realized.

He looked up into the clear sky and the half-moon. A wolf howled, sending shivers down his spine. Another answered its plaintive cry.

The next morning Jacob, Andrew, his brother Robert and his wife Daphne, and Jesse were drinking coffee around a campfire.

“You lost everything then?” Daphne said to Jesse.

“Yes mam. My horse, mule an supplies. Nearly my life too, cept you folks saved it.”

“Just you and your brother were traveling to California? Seems kinda risky,” Jacob observed while puffing on a cigar.

“We thought we could move faster than some wagon train,” Jesse admitted. “Didn’t really recon how sneaky those redskins were, I guess.”

Days turned to weeks, as the slow-moving wagon train lumbered on. Every night wolves howled nearby. It was Andrew who noticed that the wolves began following them when they took Jesse in. He didn’t say anything at first. What could he say? Maybe he hadn’t noticed their nightly cries before. He pondered on it and didn’t share his uneasiness with anyone. Jesse was a good man who readily volunteered to help with any task. Whether it was fixing a wagon wheel or standing guard at night, he proved to be a valuable asset to the expedition. Everyone seemed to like him.

As the wagon train prepared to draw up for the night in a narrow mountain pass, Indians attacked! Drivers tried to get their teams into a circle but the attack was coming from all angles. For nearly an hour the sound of gun fire and screams echoed in the pass. The attackers finally left as darkness descended upon the carnage. The survivors went about moving the still functioning wagons into a circle. The terrified cries of women and children pierced the chilly night as the men went about fortifying their defenses. The dead were drug to one side, outside the circle, and hastily buried in a mass grave. The wounded were treated. They posted double guards that night. In the chaos, Jesse disappeared. He wasn’t among the dead or wounded. Jacob and Andrew figured he ran away or was taken captive by the Indians.

That night there was a full moon.

It was just after midnight when the sentries alerted the wagon’s inhabitants that something strange was happening. The wolves sounded louder and more savage. They heard distant screams of surprise and horror. In the distance they could see flames skipping across the prairie like devils. Strong winds carried the flames east. Away from the wagon train.

In the early mornings hours before dawn Andrew woke up and peeked out from the canvas. He thought he heard something. Then he saw the strangest thing he’d ever seen! A man wolf was standing upright and motioning for the packs of wolves – there must have been hundreds as he watched their eyes glitter, to go south. His hairy arm waved and the wolves slipped off into the dawn yipping playfully.

Then the man wolf fell to the ground and writhed about until it’s hair was gone and only a naked Jesse remained. Just before the transformation was complete, Andrew pulled his head inside the wagon and took a deep breath. He had a weird feeling that the Indians weren’t going to bother them anymore.

As It Stands, it seems man-wolves can be as loyal as a pack of dogs.

Interview With A Werewolf

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I double-checked the padlock on the cage while waiting for the werewolf to appear.

It took over a year to arrange this interview. As you can imagine finding a werewolf is one thing. Getting a werewolf to talk is quite another. A footnote prior to the interview; werewolves can talk. Who would have guessed?

Full disclosure. I’m a writer for International Horror magazine. I’ll be taping this interview to make sure I record it faithfully.

Since I’m just waiting for the prearranged time, I might as well give you some back story information. For starters, my connection to a friend of the werewolf’s, Conrad Standish, is what made this possible. I met him quite by accident while traveling in the West Yorkshire area of England. My rented car broke down and I had it towed to the nearest mechanic’s shop in Blackshaw, a little town of less than 900 people. Conrad was the only mechanic in town.

My Renault Mégane sputtered and died as I was driving on a country road towards a friend’s house. As I waited for Conrad to even look at it, I decided to get a pint at the local pub. After ordering a Guinness, I took a seat at a small table near the north wall and people-watched while I sipped on it. It was noon and I was hungry, so I ordered some bangers and mash. By the time I left at 2:00 o’clock, I was feeling the effects of the three beers I drank.

It was a short walk across town to Conrad’s shop. I was relieved to see he was looking under the hood. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I stood quietly nearby and waited. I could hear him grumbling about something, but couldn’t quit make out what it was. When he popped his shaggy head out from underneath the hood I suddenly felt a shiver down my spine. It made no sense. It wasn’t because he was so big. The only thing I could think of was his eyes were strangely bright and golden in color.

He said he had to wait for a part tomorrow and closed up his shop. I asked him where a good place was to eat dinner?

“That pub,” he answered, pointing at the one where I had lunch.

“Will you join me then?” I asked, expecting to be turned down.

“Will ya be buying mate?” he asked with a big smile.

We started with a couple of Guinness’, moved on to some quality Irish whiskey and stayed until the pub closed and we were as drunk as a couple of lords. We talked about everything under the sun, including werewolves. I told him about my job writing for the magazine. He found the subject of werewolves to be fascinating, so much so, that he shared a secret with me. He knew a werewolf!

I poured us both another tot of whiskey when he told me that. My excitement grew as he shared the werewolf’s tale.

“He was once a proper English gentleman,” Conrad explained. “But he was bitten by a wounded werewolf when he went outside his house one night to investigate a racket that woke him up in alarm.

“He shot the beast with his double-barreled shotgun and it howled in rage and attacked him. It was a friend who saved his life when he plunged a silver candlestick into the werewolf’s back and it came out in front – piercing it’s fierce heart. Sadly, the beasts’ bite made him a werewolf.”

“Pardon me mate,” I injected, “but is this werewolf, nearby?”

“Aye,” Conrad assured me.

He poured us both another shot and went on with his story. It turned out that the werewolf was his boyhood friend.

“We didn’t talk about his affliction after the attack, but every full moon he asked me to chain him up in the cellar of his house. This fateful attack happened many years ago. There were times when he either forgot to ask me to lock him up, or he chose to roam free as a beast for his own reasons. But we have remained mates through thick and thin.”

Hoping against all hope, I asked Conrad if there was a way I could interview his friend without him tearing me to pieces? More importantly, I wanted to know if werewolf’s could talk?

“Aye, they can talk all right. I’ve never had trouble understanding him when he was chained up and we were having a conversation. I always keep in mind however that he’s part beast, and like any wild thing he could turn on a dime and attack if unshackled. It’s part of his terrible affliction and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“Can I ask you for a favor? “I’ve nowhere to stay tonight. Might I sleep on your couch?

“Aye! I’m a bachelor and don’t have some missus to break our balls when we stumble through the front door!” he roared, laughing so hard that his face turned beet red.

I admit that I have some trouble remembering everything that was said last night. Conrad was up early and having a cup of tea when I rolled off the couch and stretched. After greeting me he went to the stove in the kitchen and broke a couple of eggs into a frying pan. Our breakfast of fried eggs, black pudding, and baked beans was accompanied with orange juice. 

As we walked over to his shop I asked him how soon he could set up an interview? He informed me that tonight was a full moon and he could set something up at his place if I wanted. Of course, I eagerly agreed. That night he revealed how the interview could be safely conducted. Long ago he built a steel cage in his root cellar so that his friend could visit him on full moons for a change of pace.

Which brings me to the big night. After checking that the padlock is secure, I’m ready for the interview of a lifetime. My cassette is loaded with a three-hour tape and is recording now. That should be more than enough time.

Wait! Do you hear that? (deep growl) The trap door is opening. My God! Look at the size of that beast! (The werewolf approaches the cage)

“So, you want to talk with me?” it growled in barely audible English.

“Yes, I have so many questions to ask…what’s your name?”

“Conrad,” the werewolf snarled as he slipped the key into the padlock! “You’ve already had your interview, now it’s play time.”

As It Stands, some writers will do anything for a good story.