Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror

BOOK: Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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WHERE WOLVES RUN

Copyright © 2016 by Jason Parent

All rights reserved.

FIRST EDITION

May 2016

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, unless explicit permission was granted for use. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This book or portions thereof may not be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the publisher. The author assumes responsibility for the content of his work.

 

Cover Illustration by
Tenebrae Studios
.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Wolves Run

 

 

 

 

1.

 

Konrad’s father
had been hunting the beasts since long before his birth. Father’s pursuit had brought him all across Europe, from the coldest wilderness of Muscovy, to the hidden glens of the French Alps. Weary feet had at last turned toward Rattenberg. Years of traveling had brought him home.

But it was not a happy return. Their quiet house sat beyond the outskirts of the declining town, its neighboring copper and silver mines picked clean. Lost souls seeking fortunes had been lured away by new mirages, leaving behind those who had sprouted from centuries-old Bavarian roots, never caring which empire claimed them.

Theirs was a simple home, a mixture of wood, wattle, and daub providing a safe haven for Konrad and his family. He and his mother worked the land, grew more than they needed to survive, and traded the surplus. Meat came from the hunt, and, at twelve years old, Konrad had already become quite good with the bow. He hunted rabbit and deer in the surrounding forest and protected the livestock from the occasional wolf. Thin and lithely, he pranced over rock and root with the grace of those indigenous to the forest.

Mostly, he and his mother lived alone, happy. Father was away much of the year, bartering or taking odd jobs in far off places. When he stopped home, it was never long before he left on some new adventure.

Konrad did not know much about Father, nor did he care to learn—the man had been no true father to him. In all the time Father spent away, Konrad worried that he had been the reason for his father’s absence, whether his father had ever loved him at all. After years of doubt and remorse, Konrad eventually stopped caring, and so died the last embers of affection he fostered for his kin.

Konrad knew as little of the world beyond his home’s border as he knew for the man who had abandoned him for it. Their land sat at the southern edge of a vast wilderness, and Konrad had come to know all the wild within it. The trees were his playground, the streams his pools. He felt at home there, free from daily chores and Mother’s orders.

Yet Konrad had never met or seen before the wild things that arrived on their doorstep. These beasts were worse than savage. They were evil.

When they came one night in late September, Mother seemed as though she knew what they were and why they were there. Father was away on some vague trip to mountains in the west. He had left Konrad and his mother alone to face an unspeakable brute and its cohorts in sin.

Mother shoved aside the wooden table upon which they had just finished their supper. Beneath it, the floor consisted of large flat stones arranged like puzzle pieces in dirt. The largest was irregularly shaped, nearly two meters long and less than a meter wide. Yanking a pickaxe from the wall, she drove it into the dirt and wedged it beneath the rock, prying it loose.

The rock covered a storage area as shallow as a coffin. “Get in,” Mother urged. She propped up the slab at an angle. Howling broke the silence outside: wolves. Their haunting refrains came from all directions.

“Quickly!” Her voice was low but sharp. She pulled him close, her wet cheek smearing against his. She assisted him into the hole.

A clever but unlearned boy, Konrad did not fully understand his mother’s apprehension. Still, he did as she commanded. His big brown eyes widened as his mother lowered the lid, blocking out all but a crack of the hearth’s warm glow. She told him, begged him, to stay quiet no matter what he might hear. He nodded, chin quivering, knowing something was terribly wrong, his imagination filling in the details.

Shock made him keep his promise of silence. He choked up in panic as terrifying sounds, growling and pounding, came from just outside. Scratching at the walls followed. The nauseating cacophony traveled through the dirt as if to mock Konrad for his cowardice as he lay in his sarcophagus. Is that what those demonic creatures were doing? Taunting them?

If so, the taunting stopped. A moment of silence gave life to hope. It shattered as easily as the door beneath some terrible force. Konrad peeked through the crack, but his view was limited. He heard a struggle above him. His mother spoke not a word; her screams said it all.

What sounded like droplets of rain spattered upon the thin rock above him. Konrad envisioned ogres, demons, and other monsters of fables and lore come to life, come to rob him of his mother.

His bladder let go.

A great weight wobbled the lid as his mother’s agony grew louder. Konrad reached up and touched his fingertips against the cold rock, wanting to help his mother, knowing he could not. He was weak, just a boy. An incomprehensible power, one he could never hope to match, loomed over him.

Or was he just too frightened to try?

A thud hit the slab, then another, hammering it closer to Konrad as it chiseled into the dirt walls around him. Flakes of earth dusted his bushy hair and soiled his clothes. Claustrophobia sent his mind whirling. The walls of his grave spun with it. He would have battered that rock, pushed it up with all his might, but his arms had lost their range of motion. He was trapped, helpless, his mother’s dying screams echoing through his head.

The rock lid cracked beneath its heavy load. His mother’s woolen tunic filled the creases. Her screaming ended abruptly, then silence. Her shirt ran with blood. It dripped like spilled wine into the storage area.

For a moment, Mother was still. Her body began to shake. Demons he could not see, three maybe four of them, grunted and slurped. Through the sliver-thin opening, Konrad watched as his Mother lurched skyward, lifted as though she were light as the air itself. Something stepped over the crack. He thought it was a foot, maybe a paw, but no animal he knew had nails like that: sharp talons, hawk-like but as big as knives and jutting from toes covered with black hair.

As quickly as it came, it was gone, and Mother crashed down onto the lid. Whatever it was had flipped her over. Her dead, unblinking eye stared through the crevice.

Consciousness waned. The last sounds Konrad heard before blacking out were the ravenous gorging of the animals above and the tearing of human flesh.

 

2.

 

Konrad spent
two days pinned beneath rock and his mother’s corpse before someone came. He had stopped scratching at the slate early on in his confinement, realizing its futility. Retched vapors wafted in from the exposed entrails rotting above. Madness seeped into his mind until it threatened to unravel.

His consciousness fleeting, he could not be certain that the footsteps he heard outside were real. His fingertips had lost all sensation. His body, shivering so much his muscles ached, craved nourishment. His mouth had gone as dry as dead leaves. But he did not cry for help, wondering if he truly deserved it, not knowing if it was help that had come.

Shoes stomped upon the dirt above. They were real, he felt certain, but to whom did they belong? Would their owner beget his salvation or ruination? Despising his own feebleness, Konrad accepted his fate.

Fear rose once again in his throat as his mother’s decaying body was pulled from the rock. Had they returned for him?

Blinding light stabbed at his eyes, first through the crack, then from the world as it opened up before him. The silhouette of a man, blurry but certainly human, hovered above.

Konrad felt hands grasping his shirt. Someone called his name as he dragged Konrad from the filth—someone whose voice Konrad had once longed to hear, the person who had left him and his mother alone, defenseless, to die.

His mind darkened, his thoughts as black as oblivion.
Father
.

 

3.

 

When Konrad woke
, he found himself atop his bed, washed and clothed. His father sat beside him. Everything was warm, calm. A naïve hope that the last three days had been a nightmare was beaten into obscurity by the vivid memory of his mother’s final moments. Tears filled his eyes.

“Finally awake?”

The room came into focus. Konrad’s father sat beside him. Shadows danced upon his father’s face, the flickering light of the lantern casting mischievous black flames. Father looked old and worn, his skin like leather feuding with time. Chiseled troughs on his forehead and beside his deep-set eyes revealed the labors of his years. His ragged, unkempt beard, more gray than brown, looked like it had not been washed since the beginning of the long war. The man owning it, scarred and empty, looked as embattled as the war itself, all thirty years of it. Tissue hung upon his frame as if it had tired of shielding the skeleton beneath it.

Life had stopped favoring him years ago. He was not the man Konrad remembered, a feeble likeness, no longer worthy of Konrad’s fear or reverence, if ever he had been.

“I had feared the worst,” he said solemnly, fiddling with what appeared to be a cross tied around his neck. He tucked it beneath his shirt. “I checked your body, but found no bite or scratch.”

His shoulders drooped, and he sagged forward on his stool, his gaze cast upon the floor. “Your mother did well, God bless her.”

“Mother?”

Father shook his head. “She is at rest now.”

Konrad had guessed as much, but his father’s words still stung. “What were they, Father?”

“Werewolves.” He spat the word. “Foul creatures . . . the Devil’s answer to wicked men who serve him and the blight of the innocent to whom they spread their vile curse.”

Werewolves?
The word bore Konrad no meaning. The Bavarian forests had their share of wolves. Konrad had lost a piglet to one last spring. But wolves did not hunt humans in their homes. Wolves did not have paws like that he had seen.

A deep sigh passed Father’s lips. “It is time you learned God’s plan for us. It is time you learned your father’s true purpose and, God willing, your own.”

Over the next hour, Konrad listened with disdain as his father wove a tale so incredible that had Konrad not heard his mother’s evisceration, he would not have believed it. His father explained that he had come from a small village north of Rattenberg, a place where good people had lived good lives, purposefully cut off from the land’s politics and warfare. Their isolation, however, had led to their demise.

When the beasts came, monsters as big as those that dwelled in nightmares, they were too few to fight them off. One by one, the villagers had disappeared, dragged into the forests under the pitiless round eye of the moon. Sometimes, torn scraps of clothing were found, but more often, the only evidence of abduction was the loud cries for help across an otherwise silent night.

“Wolves!” those who were not there would later place blame. Those who had seen the beasts and had lived to tell tales never spoke them, their dread sealing their mouths shut. Neighbor had turned his back to neighbor. They huddled behind doors of false security . . . until their time came.

Father had seen them. He had seen them pluck the limbs from his sister as easily as feathers from a bird. He had seen their primeval claws shred through his own father like a finely whetted axe through soft pine. He had seen their monstrous fangs, drooling gleaming sickles, tear out his mother’s throat and their long, winding tongues lap up her blood.

Father had seen them for what they were: not quite man, not quite beast, but comprising the worst of both. They had been led by one, bigger and more sinister than the rest, the alpha among alphas, with pale yellow eyes burned into Father’s memories. It was those eyes that haunted his sleep.

After the werewolves had devoured his family, Father had to learn to fend for himself. A boy not much younger than Konrad, he had fled then, but never since. Under the pretext of righteousness and duty, sometimes believing it true, he had spent the greater part of his life tracking and destroying them for no reason more complex than revenge.

Konrad understood his father’s contempt. The beasts had killed his mother. He would see them dead for what they had done, even if that meant teaming with Father.

“So what do we do?” he asked.

“We kill them,” his father murmured behind his wall of hands. “We keep killing them until there is none left of them or none left of us.”

Father raised his head and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. Konrad shrunk away from the contact and crossed his arms.

“When do we begin?”

“As soon as you are ready.” Father again looked away, his gaze bouncing from one object to another, never landing on Konrad. “We won’t need to hunt them,” he said softly. “As beasts, they are fearless, but they are cowards as men. They will come for us, but they will wait until the next full moon. For three nights, when the moon is fullest, their power is strongest. Only then can they change into the monsters that killed your mother. Only then will they attack.”

A spark ignited within his father as he spoke. Perhaps he was not the useless old man Konrad had believed him to be. Perhaps he could avenge Mother.

“How do we kill them?”

“With silver,” Father said, unsheathing a long dagger from a scabbard by his side. “It was not chance that I built my home near the mines. I have been taking what I can from them for the greater part of my life and having it forged into weapons. The Elector would have my hands if he knew what I have stolen.”

He held out his hands before his face and examined them. Konrad wondered if the Elector would have done him and his mother a service had Father been caught. Father had gained his title by the mere fact of Konrad’s birth. But time and absence had stripped the man of that title as easily as stewed pork from a bone.

“We have twenty-eight days to find them in their human form. We kill the man, and the beast dies with him.”

“How will we know the monster if all we see is the man?”

“Our hamlet is small. Rattenberg is a shell of what it used to be. Outsiders do not pass through unnoticed. And a pack did this, likely seeking revenge for what I did to its brethren, or for what I will do if I have the chance. I have been hunting since I was your age, son. My deeds became known among their brood soon after, and the werewolves have been hunting me since. They have my scent. They have tracked me here, and they want my blood. But we shall see who is better at the hunt.”

“Wait,” Konrad said, his brow furrowing. An idea hit him hard and fast, difficult to process. He collapsed under its weight. “You brought them here?”

Father buried his face in his hands, a proud man broken. But Konrad had no pity for him. At that moment, the flame of hatred he carried for his father exploded into wildfire, Konrad blaming the man as much as the beasts for his mother’s death.

He waited in silence. The shame that had weakened his father’s resolve would lift—the man was as cold and firm as stone. Konrad was content to let it linger as long as it would. He sneered as his father bellowed out apologies he would never accept. His own tears had dried, consumed by the fire within, burning hate. He clenched his fists, his knuckles whitening. Letting out a breath, he set his jaw and numbed his sadness with quiet rage.

First, the beasts . . .

Konrad had many questions, but he kept silent and listened intently. All that mattered then was that the beasts died. He had to focus, to shift his resentment for his father’s mistake to the monsters that had ravaged his mother. The more pain he and Father could inflict, the better.

“Finding the first of them,” Father continued, “will be easy. When they came here and found me absent, one stayed behind. He has been watching us, reporting back to his kind. He has yet to notice the eyes I placed on him.”

Konrad jumped up. He started for the door, wondering why his despicable father had not already slaughtered the man. “Where?” he asked behind gritting teeth.

“He is staying at Linhart’s Inn. But be still, boy. What we must do must be done in secret. We must plan. And you must be ready. When the time comes, your hand cannot hesitate, lest you find it removed from your body.”

Konrad stood tall, if tall could be measured by presence rather than stature. “I am ready.”

His father snapped. “You are
not
ready! You are an impulsive boy filled with thoughts of vengeance that will only leave you buried under dirt. Do you think I charged at the werewolves that killed my parents, that ate my sister before my very eyes? I have killed many since, ten for every one they have taken from me. It would not have been so had I thrown my life away in some brash, impulsive attack.”

Konrad scowled. He had heard enough talk. Who was Father to lecture, he who had failed to protect his family when they needed him most? He was a coward, a hypocrite who only failed to act so that he could save his own hide. Those who killed his mother had to be made accountable.

But the sullen voice of logic whispered inside his head.
They will kill you
. Konrad’s body may have been small, but his mind’s strength surpassed its age. His father was right, as bitter as admitting it tasted. Konrad closed his eyes and let the rage fester.

When his mind went cold, Konrad dissected his father’s plan. “You said you saw this spy. What makes you so sure he is one of them?”

“His eyes. The beasts may appear human, but their eyes are wild, as feral as any of the creatures of the woods.”

“That is all? You would condemn a man to death by the quality of his eyes?”

Father scoffed. “You will come to understand when you are face-to-face with the monster.”

“How many men have you killed for having these eyes?”

His father stiffened. “I have hunted and slain dozens of beasts.”

“And have you never been wrong? Have you ever killed someone who was not a werewolf?”

“Best to leave certain questions unanswered, boy.” Father bore down upon Konrad, but took a deep breath before he let his fist fly. He returned to his seat.

“Besides, you will know this man’s true nature without doubt. The manner in which he glared at me as I entered town . . . it was as if he were baiting me. I might have killed him then, and the town would have seen me executed for murder. Make no mistake: most of those who would witness our acts would not understand. We must be swift but also patient. Above all, we must be discreet.”

Father threw his dagger. It stuck into the wall beside Konrad.

“First, you must train.”

BOOK: Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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