OOOOH nerve inducing! Here’s a short, original story by yours truly. I hope you’ll like it or if not, ignore the more glaring problems. After all, I don’t have a publishing company with a team of editors to check out any problems when my mind is working on my dissertation or my copywriting work – but neither does Hamilton, so we’re fairly equal. This is ‘The Forest of the Wolves’ because god-damn it, I can write supernatural stuff too.
Jakub had first learnt about the wolves five years ago.
His home was situated on the edge of a great Carpathian forest, a tiny speck of humanity against the dark rustling of life hidden in the trees and over the hills. His farmhouse stood alone on the outskirts of a dilapidated village, isolated in the fields handed down from father-to-son since the days of Adam. He had a wife, a son and a few skinny dogs. Jakub had supposed he was happy. It was not something he often considered. He tilled the soil, measured time by the growing and flowering of plants, and thought little of a life beyond the acres of his land. His mind was the earth and there was room for little else.
It had been the depths of winter, and the snows laid across the land like a second skin. The night was dark, thick, impenetrable. Jakub’s family had bolted themselves into their home, wary of the dangers that came in the night – the cold, the vampir, the bear, the wolf. They would stay safe by the fire’s glow, with salted meat and potato to sustain them through the long and bitter winter months. One night, when the moon shone clear and full, bright white with rings of ice, his wife had woken him. The dogs had been howling outside, a fearful guttural noise that sounded as if it had come from Hell itself. She had clutched him in fear; her mother had always told her that terrors stalked the forests on nights like these, unholy horrors that would kill and damn. Jakub had bundled himself up, taken up his shotgun, and ventured outside.
The clearing echoed with the screams of his dogs. All that was familiar and well-known was alien in the light of the ice moon; the snow gleamed abnormally bright, a deep blue gaze sucking out each colour and shade to be found in the sunlight. The moonlight was barely enough for Jakub to make his way to his animals, following the crazed sounds of the dogs. He held tight to his shotgun, scouting through the shadows, right to the edge of the imposing trees and to his traps.
Meat was precious this time of year. Jakub kept a few traps where the trees met the bare ground, in the hopes of catching a few treats for the cooking pot. If he was lucky, he might catch a slow squirrel. If he was very lucky, he might catch a starved rabbit. The reactions of the dogs suggested to him it was something more than an unlucky rat. He crept closer and closer, the thick snow muffling his footsteps, his breath misting and half-blinding him, and he found a miracle. Here, a foot caught in the trap, was a wolf. It snarled as he came close, biting the empty air, trying to lunge for the dogs who danced away from the snapping jaws, only for the metal teeth of the snare to bite down harder. The trap had gone right through the flesh and held the bone. Drops of bright red blood shone on the snow but the pain had only made it angrier.
Jakub had shot it, once, in the chest and it had died instantly. He was not a picky man; fresh meat was fresh meat, and a wolf would be very welcome fare. He had knelt next to it and felt the muscle, felt for the fat, checking the quality of the hide – it was plump, unusually so for the season. But all the better! He pulled out his hunting knife and with one chop, lopped off the trapped foot of the wolf. He decided to throw it to his dogs, a small reward for letting him know of the trapped beast.
Where a paw had laid in the iron jaws of the trap, there was now a foot. A human foot. It lay in a pool of half-frozen blood, perfect, five toes and five nails, a sliver of bone reflecting the moonlight.
Jakub looked to the body of the wolf, but now there was only him, the quiet dogs, and the corpse of a dead woman. It was impossible and yet, her leg lay mangled and bloody, the gunshot wounds leaking rivulets of blood into the now pink snow. She had been the wolf. Her body was sprawled and nude, undignified in death, her limbs slack, her skin grey in the blue light. Her belly was round and scarred from where it had once stretched to grow life; her hair was a tangled blonde mane; her blue eyes were open, and they stared at him dolefully. She had not died angry at him. She seemed more disappointed, if a corpse could express such an emotion.
He had not known what to do. He went back into his home, to warm by the fire, and to think about what he had seen, about what he had done. In the morning, when the snow had freshly renewed it’s hold upon the world, Jakub had taken the body to the local priest. A night in the snow had plumped her flesh, gilded the greyness of death with a fresh pink, and as he dragged her to the village, she looked as if she would wake up, sit up, and accuse him of having stolen her foot.
The priest had pronounced her werewolf. She was cursed to take the shape of the animal when the moon was full and her soul eternally damned. Werewolves, he had told Jakub, always became vampires after death. Their empty bodies were perfect vessels for the devil’s magic. It was lucky that she had not risen to kill the entire village. And so, he had made Jakub cut off her head, stuff her mouth with all the garlic they could find, and bury the body at the crossroads, pinned into the grave with a stake through her chest. He had watched her dumped in the hole, black earth poured over her pale flesh and thought that it was finally over.
Unfortunately for Jakub, the story of how he had killed the werewolf had spread from village to village, crossing across many miles and infecting the towns. He could never return to his farm now, not now that people wanted him to hunt the wolves that became men and were willing to pay money for his apparently expert services. He had spent five long, hard years in the business of hunting wolves. He had killed fifteen of them but none had struck a chord inside him as that first woman. Each of the other wolves he had killed had been brutish man-killers, with breath rancid from the grave, stealing lifestock and attacking children at play. The beast had overtaken the man in them, and they were easy to kill remorselessly.
One village, close to Jakub’s home, reported that they were haunted by a most unusual wolf. It had pale fur and seemed to be possessed of a terrifying intelligence. It had broken into a house – flicked the latch open with a paw, snuck into a home of an old woman, and stolen her dinner. It had been seen running back into the forest carrying the bundle in its’ jaws. The story had intrigued Jakub, and as he was tired and starved for home, he travelled back to hunt this clever wolf. He camped out in the village square for a month, waiting for the moon to rise full and proud, the sign that the werewolves were amongst the trees. He was crouched by the village hall, a battered old building more often used to keep cattle in winter, when he had seen the glint of an eye reflecting the moon.
There, prowling between the buildings, was the most beautiful ashy wolf. The animal trod lightly, flitting gracefully, a swinging bundle held in the jaws. He leapt up and fired one shot. The sound echoed across the valley and the night erupted into screams and howls in response. The wolf cried – he had shot it in the flank, not the head, and it fled into the night, leaking blood. Jakub followed after it, relying on the trail of blood to guide him.
The bundle had been a loaf of bread, wrapped in a threadbare shawl. Why had it stolen that, when it could hunt to eat?
He did not know how long he followed the tracks. The blood shone dully on the ground, black in the moonlight, smudges and spots on the mulch of the forest floor. He began to sweat inside his jacket, his breathing laboured, his sides aching. He refused to give into his body’s pain and forced himself onwards, one step at a time, until he saw a flicker of movement amongst the trees. There it was, the wolf ahead, limping, too injured to run anymore.
“Stop!” He did not know why he cried out. His voice was coarse, more of a croak, refusing to come from his throat. The wolf’s head swished back, to acknowledge his presence, but his cry only seemed to give it strength as it struggled forwards. Jakub lifted his gun and shot again, deliberately high. “If you do not stop, I will shoot again. I will shoot again and I will kill you.”
The wolf stopped. The two stared at each other, both unsure what to do know the roles of hunter and hunted had stopped. The animal whined and sat down, nuzzling the injured right leg. He was struck with a sudden, inexplicable urge to help it. He was meant to kill it, why should he want to help it? Perhaps it wasn’t dangerous. It had sought bread and cooked meat, after all; it hadn’t wanted to hunt and to kill. As slowly and as carefully as he could, Jakub walked towards the injured wolf. It snapped at him as he grew closer but could not move on the injured leg. He raised his hands to show he meant no harm.
“Let me look at your leg, please. I can help.” Did it even understand him? Could it understand him? It must have, for it stayed still, watching him with wary eyes. It flinched as he laid his hands upon the injured leg but it did not move. The blood flow had stopped, at least, and the wound did not seem to be serious, just a smooth cut, straight through the flesh. “It will heal, I think.” The fur beneath his hands was smooth and pale and warm, and underneath his fingertips it began to change. From where his hand had laid, the fur was disappearing and retreating, leaving only skin behind. Before his eyes, the fur was retreating while skin rushed up the body of the wolf, limbs lengthening, the muzzle receding into the face and a mane of hair descending. The last things to change were her eyes, the amber being swallowed up by the blue.
Sat amongst the dead leaves and the bracken was a beautiful girl, pale skinned, with ash blonde hair, nude in the moonlight. Her eyes were cold with anger and pain, and they were so familiar. They were the same as the first wolf he had killed. Her face was pinched, with thin lips, and she glared at him. He did not know what to do with her. He could not kill her, he knew that. Almost unknowingly, he raised a hand to touch her face, to stroke her cheek. He saw only a injured girl, lost in the forest.
She had been waiting for what he would do next and she did not disappoint her species. Jakub’s hand went first to her cheek and before he could stop her, she grabbed the web between finger and thumb between her teeth and sunk them deeply into his flesh. Jakub screamed and swore but she did not let go. She dug her teeth in further, shaking and worrying the wound until her teeth met together. Blood was pouring from the wound, snaking across his arm and over her face like a living animal, caking into the lines of her face and dripping down her chin. Finally, with a tearing noise, his hand fell loose from her mouth, a chunk missing. He fell to the floor, clutching the bite as it spurted blood across the ground and his face, and the wolf girl ran off wildly. She was hobbling – she would not travel far – but it did not matter, he could not chase after her. He would have to lick his wounds and return home, tail between his legs.
Jakub returned to his home, back to the farm, unable to do anything until his hand healed. It did so slowly, a rust coloured scab forming over the scoop of flesh missing. He languished around the home for a month; what had once been all his world was not enough. He yearned for the tracks of the forest, for the pure thrill of the chase between man and beast. He felt trapped in four stone walls, and he paced them over and over, willing the bite to heal.
On the night of the full moon, the wound split open and gushed blood. It was agony, raw and enflamed. It throbbed, spreading waves of pain down his arm and through his body. The torture of it spread out over the family – they were nothing but an irritant to him, grit in an open wound being ground in further. Jakub fled the house. He wanted to be out of there, to be free, to tear away the pain from his body. He just wanted to run. Running felt perfect inside his mind. He just wanted to run and run, driving his anger and his pain and his failure into each step, forcing himself onwards and over the horizon.
He ran all night – no, he presumed that he had ran all night, because he woke up collapsed by the trunk of a fallen oak. He couldn’t remember what had happened last night. He had no memory of how he had got here. He had no idea why he was nude. He tried to sit up but the pain in his hand stopped him. He clutched it close to his chest, cradling it, and tried to work out where he’d gotten himself.
A prickling spread over his back. He was being watched. Two feet landed next to his head and he looked up into the face of the female werewolf. She had found him. She looked terrifying and beautiful in the early morning light, confident and natural in her nudity, hair matted with sticks and thorns, blood dried across her face. It had dripped from her mouth, rolling in thick streams down her chin and neck, trickling down her chest and belly; a few errant drops had rolled into her bellybutton and into her pubic hair.
She made no move towards him, just stood and stared at him. How pitiful he must look! Nothing more than a man, huddled up to protect himself from the cold and the hurt. She was unaffected by anything around her; she was mistress of all that her blue eyes surveyed.
“Why did you steal the bread?” It was a ridiculous thing to say but it was the first thing that came into Jakub’s head.
“Because man cannot live on meat alone.” Her voice was raspy and harsh, as if from ill use.
“What did you do to me?”
She didn’t answer him. She started to lick her hands clean of the blood upon them. It started to shed from her skin, falling in patches like snowflakes and landing on his shoulder. He found it disgusting. He found it to be the most captivating action he had ever seen. He was repelled by the coarseness of her skin, the blood she wore freely upon her, her true form, but he had never wanted anything or anyone more than as now. His desire mingled with his fear. He never wanted to go home. He wanted to be wild in the forests with the wolf.
“Stand.” She said and he obeyed instantly. On her perch she stood a head taller than him. “Give me your hand.”
He placed his injured hand, the hand that she bit, in hers. She lifted it up, examining it closely and then she began to lick it. She began to clean the bite gently, as carefully as she could, and the pain seemed to lessen. There was something deeply maternal in her actions. She had made him and now she was claiming him.
And now the wolf and her mate run through the forests together. They are free in their true skins.