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Authors: Tristan Egolf

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BOOK: Kornwolf
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Jarvik would hold the presses until almost five a.m., a record hour. Owen finished the piece at a booth in an all-night diner at 4:35—before the sightings had even trailed off—and drove it back to submit at the office. He didn't go home until after dawn. And, wired on caffeine, adrenaline, fatigue and momentum, he wouldn't be able to sleep before noon, when Roddy's training began.

As always, he got to the gym on time.

By four o'clock that afternoon, he hadn't slept in thirty-two hours.

The rest of his evening was now accounted for. That is to say: he needed sleep. His mind was beginning to fall apart. He couldn't go on at this rate effectively …

Thereby, it wasn't till Tuesday morning that he finally got a chance to look into some matters—a few things he hadn't been able to shake since Thursday. He walked to the library early.

In following up the bizarre claims of the Dogboy's beverage delivery man (the members of whose extended family, it turned out, were practicing Old Order Mennonites) Owen had searched the paper's cross-directory in search of a Jacob Speicher—one presumably born between 1935 and '57. There were ten of them, only three of whom had social security numbers listed. Only two had phones—both of which had been disconnected years earlier. And seeing how the paper's death records hadn't been updated since the early sixties, there was no telling who was even alive …

It certainly wasn't much of a start.

(And whoever heard of a Mennonite wolfman?)

Try soliciting door to door:

(The
Troweling
.)


Hello, does The Devil live here?

He needed more information than that.

So then he'd gone back to the articles written by Lindsey Cale in '74—the original Blue Ball Devil coverage, which seemed to have been less dramatic in scope than the present campaign, at least on record. Most of The Basin's trouble appeared to have centered on agricultural matters: record-low yields of corn at harvest, along with a handful of livestock “attacks.” There were very few entries for breaking and entering. No lynchings. And no one named Jacob Speicher …

Owen proceeded by contacting two known sources from the articles by Lindsey Cale.

The first name was “Sergeant Buster Highman,” which, one could hope, was unique in also belonging to the present-day sheriff of Lamepeter Township. Highman, presumably young at the time, had been quoted as having “serious doubts” when asked to remark on whether or not the Blue Ball Devil might be a cougar.

Unfortunately, he proved even less forthcoming when questioned as The Sheriff. He hung up on Owen.

The second name to catch his attention was Marcus Diller, veterinarian MD, whose comments had been solicited more in a humorous vein, one was tempted to guess, than his answer might have accommodated. “Yes,” he was quoted in whatever context: “There's more to this story than meets the eye.”

Dr. Diller, it turned out, was still in the business. Owen had managed to reach him, in person, by phone, at nine that morning. When asked to remark on the situation, the doctor had responded flatly, all posturing aside, strictly between the two of them: “
Do
mind your questions, Mr. Brynmor. You never know what you might turn up.”

Which could have been clarified, instead of compounded by: “They'll call you a madman. Don't be a fool.”

The warning had gotten to Owen, who suddenly felt overcome with a sense of embarrassment. In effect, however indirectly, the doctor had just assured him of one thing: there were
people
out there—maybe five or ten, maybe half of the Amish Basin—who must have been getting a kick (or not) out of watching him flounder about in this story. Even acknowledging artistic license—meaning: his less than objective intent—there were bound to be parties in awe over just how grievously wide of the mark he was shooting.

That was a bit more than Owen could bear. He needed to figure out what he was dealing with.
Now
… He couldn't rely on these contacts. He couldn't rely on the paper's archives. Most of this reference was obsolete. The microfiche slides were out of order—by years, sometimes. And the lighting was terrible.

Nothing would be resolved from this office.

Jarvik, by now in a lavender peacoat, granted him all the time he needed. A follow-up piece to the weekend's “trilogy” wasn't expected for two or three days. If necessary, Kegel would update the Sprawl Mart and Holtwood affairs, not to worry. Providing the scanners didn't go ape again, Owen was encouraged to put all he had into making his next installment a “scorcher.”

Which gave him a chance, at last, to find out what a corn wolf was—although only at random,
after
he'd tried and given up. It was really a fluke that he found it at all. Having settled on browsing
Bad Moon: An Unabridged History of Urban Legends
, by Ronald Stoner, he stumbled onto it:
Kornwolf
—spelled with a K. It was German.

Centuries back, at the time of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), an age when wolves had still roamed the forests of Germany, farmers had grown to refer to the outlaws, deserters and fugitives hiding in fields all over Europe as kornwolves. Often, these “heretics” were able to live off the land until harvest without being spotted.

Currently, the term had survived in some older, primarily German-American communities. In parts of the rural Midwest, the Kornwolf was still reviled as a spirit of vengeance, a curse of the fields, a “blight,” a “pariah.”

The term was included in Stoner's history owing to “The Kornwolf of Dole, Indiana”—also known by the people of Blessinger County as “The Werewolf of Possum Turn.” This creature had first been spotted roaming the Hoosier Forest in 1970. One person claimed to have witnessed it mauling a goat on the side of the road at dusk. Another reported horrible screams from the forest. Three dozen chickens were murdered … For over a month, it had wandered the region—then, just as unexpectedly, vanished. In appearance, it was said to have bridged the gap between Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, and Nixon …

Owen looked up from the book with a start.

It had taken him almost seven hours, but, finally, he'd stumbled onto something.

Dr. Diller had been on the money.

Now, for gazing into the abyss …

By the next afternoon, he had narrowed his definition of “werewolf” down accordingly. Every mythology, every belief, every culture, tradition and creed in history recognized some basic manifestation of the shape-shifter. It was a universal.

Typically, a person assumed the form of the most deadly beast in that part of the world—the wolf or bear in Europe and northern Asia, the leopard or hyena in Africa, the lion or tiger in China and India—each to its own inherent embodiment. The Romans had the
Versipellis
. Italy had the
Lupo Manero
. Portugal had the
Lobo homem
. Mexico, the
Nahual
. France, the
Loup Garou
. And
Werewolf
came from the German.

The modern (Christian) image of the werewolf, culled from the fire and brimstone of medieval Europe, had gelled to its current form in the sixteenth century's Reformation.

Between the years of 1520 and 1630, over thirty thousand individuals were condemned as werewolves—not witches, but
werewolves—most of whom were burned, beheaded, dismembered or otherwise put to death.

In 1540, Rainer Yokelman, a friar from Cologne, had devised a key to identifying werewolves in human form.

Indications included:

Pale skin.
Sensitivity to light.
An absence of tears or saliva.
Bad breath.
Excessive thirst.
Cuts and abrasions on arms and legs that do not heal.
An extended ring finger.
Glands that emit foul odors.
Hypersexuality—including a drive toward incest, bestiality and rape.
Speaking in tongues.
Purple or bluish urine.
Intense cravings for meat.
The ability to sense—or “see”—events happening miles away, or even beforehand.
Massive intake of wine or spirits, used to catalyze demonic possession.
Irritability.
Drastic mood swings—spells of lethargy erupting in outbreaks of wild violence.
A bent for long, nocturnal meanderings.
Extreme sensitivity to lunar conditions.
Steadily darkening skin throughout the day preceding a transformation
.

According to Yokelman, the “blighted” or cursed individual could also exercise powers of mind control over those around them—particularly those affected by intoxicants.

Continuing, Yokelman ardently maintained that, while most werewolves, or
lycanthropes
(from the Greek:
lykoi
, wolf, and
anthropos
, man), were commonly given to work their mischief by light of the full moon, lunar conditions, in fact, continued to influence not just their behavior, but their overall psychological and physical dispositions, throughout the cycle. The dual natures of human and beast were not at all mutually exclusive. They waxed and waned in flux with one another as much as they did with the
moon. The “blighted” was subject to transformation at any time, with varying severity.

Other means of inducing the blight included wearing a “wolf pelt” or “girdle”—one granted by the devil in exchange for the individual's soul—wearing an article of clothing obtained from a werewolf, eating the heart of a wolf, chanting a series of incantations while dancing around a ritual fire, “carnal indulgence” and last, sustaining excessive mental and physical trauma.

During interrogations, suspected werewolves were beaten, often to death, instead of being questioned properly. The verdict was simply a flogging away, went the logic—as long as the suspect was chained to the floor, that is. The old: “
If-she-floats-she's-a-witch, if-she-doesn't-she's-dead
” routine.

Today, a handful of explanations had begun to account for this age of hysteria. Foremost among them, and not to be underestimated, being the fact that Europe had been enmeshed, at the time, in a comprehensive religious cataclysm: many accepted, seemingly harmless sects like the Anabaptists—and even the Quakers—had been lumped in with all manner of heretics, killers and social outlaws, each to be hounded with equal tenacity. Modern physicians would now place anyone afflicted with schizophrenia, rabies, porphyria (the “hairy gene”), psychomotor epilepsy, manic depressive psychosis and hysterical neurosis of the dissociative type—to say nothing of everyday quirks and foibles,
or
an alternative sexual lifestyle—at risk of being accused and condemned as a werewolf by sixteenth-century standards. Most of the people Owen considered worth a damn would not have survived it. In likelihood, he himself would have burned at the stake on a dozen occasions already—and he wasn't even a creep, ho ho.

He
never
would have made it through adolescence.

He checked out
Bad Moon
at 8:45, just before the library closed, and adjourned to
The Plea
to catch up on his basket, the scanner and Jarvik's latest wardrobe.

Through his window, the old man appeared to be lost in thought.
He was seated with his feet on the desktop, staring absently into space. A rose had been tucked into one of his pockets.

Owen decided to leave him alone.

Nothing new had come over the scanner. A couple of vaguely similar calls had filtered in on Monday evening—one from an angry Soddersburg resident claiming to have been pulled over, searched and questioned by “heavily armed Dutchies,” the other from Bird-in-Hand, someone complaining of having been tailgated clear from Ronks to New Holland by a Sprawl Mart wagon with high beams.

Little had happened as yet this evening. A call had come in from the Intercourse Getaway's desk clerk, reporting a “posse of vampire types” who were scaring his regular customers.

Otherwise, nothing was cooking out there. No livestock attacks. No kornwolf sightings.

Feeling no less unwelcome in the newsroom than ever, he stopped by the kitchen, filled up on coffee and made for the microfiche vault.

For the next few hours, he read through Stoner's
Bad Moon
. It was organized alphabetically. Owen would make it to H by midnight. Along the way he would read about the Adlet; the blood-thirsty Inuit weredogs that still hunt the icelands in search of human flesh; the Navajo Coyote People, who were able to travel for miles in the blink of an eye; Gilles Garnier, the Hermit of Dole, burned as a werewolf in the 1570s; and more from Germany, the Greifswald werewolves, who plundered that city in 1640.

The last entry he was able to read that evening concerned the “Harvest Sabbath.” Dating back, again, to the sixteenth century, this ritual event was defined as the culmination of a seasonal curse. When a group or community lost its faith, or was errant in performing the will of the Lord, “
a blight would overcome their fields, as a madness would overtake their young, as a devil would grow to appear among them, enticing their gentlest hearts to murder
.” This devil, this spirit of vengeance, would “bury its seed among them by light of the moon,” from which would grow their undoing, in time. The Sabbath itself was a rite of destruction.

Reeling, bewildered, exhausted and drifting in oversuspended disbelief, Owen emerged from the microfiche vault a few hours later to check the scanner.

Someone from Paradise had phoned in complaining of too many locals seated with guns on their porches all over The Basin of late, and how it was ruining the tourist season.

Otherwise, nothing. Still no sightings.

The lull was increasingly disconcerting.

Owen left the building and walked up the street to the empty central plaza. The fountains were still. He leaned on the edge of one basin, sitting beneath a walk light. His temples were throbbing. He rubbed them. The evening was quiet. The air was crisp and clear.

He looked up, into the sky, as framed by an outline of darkened department buildings—and spotted the moon in a solid crescent, as centerpiece, hanging directly above him. A
waxing
crescent, if memory served—working its way to the first quarter. Or was that a gibbous, he wondered. He couldn't remember the order. How did it go?

BOOK: Kornwolf
10.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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