Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror (3 page)

BOOK: Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror
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6.

 

Father drove
poor Vulkan as fast as he could over the uneven terrain between Rattenberg and home. The cart creaked and jolted over every bump, threatening to break apart. But it held fast, and they made it home without incident.

As it turned out, they had little time to spare. A moan resonated through the blanket. The man beneath it stirred.

“Quickly,” Father said, as he came around to the back of the cart. “We must bind him before he wakes.”

Konrad jumped out. He and his father each grabbed one of Joren’s arms and yanked him from the cart. They dragged him into the house, his boots carving lines in the dirt.

“What?” Joren muttered, dazed and drooling. His hat was missing. Blood matted his hair, only partially concealing the shovel-made gash.

They pulled Joren next to the table. Father released his arm. Joren’s face smashed into the floor. Another moan trickled from his throat, and he started to cough. Konrad propped him against a table leg, while Father circled the board, making sure all clasps were open.

When he finished, Father helped Konrad roll Joren onto the table. They pushed him into its center. Joren’s eyes were open now, glossy and rolling. His moans grew louder.

“I will secure his neck first,” Father said. He lifted Joren’s head, positioned it over the open arms of the clasp and dropped it between them. Joren’s head hit the wood with a thud. He winced, and his head rocked from side-to-side, but his eyes filled with consciousness.

Father clasped the first shackle under Joren’s chin. It was too large to hold him, the metal spikes on its underside several centimeters away from Joren’s skin. Konrad was sure he could slide out of it. The shackles were meant to pin down a larger captive. If they waited a couple of days, perhaps they would have their chance.

Joren’s eyes opened wider. He seemed alert. Still, he did not resist. Father easily tugged his limp left arm toward the clasp in the board’s top-right corner and slammed it shut. Joren lurched. His face reddened, the veins in his temples pulsating while his eyes bulged from their sockets. From his mouth came a breathless wheeze. He tried to sit up. Then he screamed. The jagged pieces of metal stabbed at his wrist and neck as he struggled to free himself.

“Ball this up,” Father said, handing Konrad an unwashed rag. “Shove it into his mouth and hold it there until he quiets. Though the curse should be dormant now, it is safer not to let him bite you.”

The need for silence seemed dubious, their nearest neighbor several kilometers away. Still, Konrad followed his father’s orders without question. He did not want to hear Joren speak. He cared not for filth spewed from the mouth of an animal.

As he shoved the cloth into Joren’s mouth, his eyes met the man-beast’s. Joren’s irises were mostly yellow now, whirlpools of energy and awareness. His gaze was furtive, trying to comprehend his surroundings, no doubt. He gnashed at Konrad’s fingers and spat out the rag. Konrad forced it back in, only to have it spat out again. When Father drove his elbow into the bridge of Joren’s nose, the struggle was over.

“Never mind that now,” his father said. Blood gushed from Joren’s nostrils. “He will not be able to breathe if we gag him. We do not want him to choke . . . not yet, at least. He will be quieter now.”

It was true. Joren’s screaming and growling were replaced by coughing, spitting, and gurgling. But he thrashed fiercely as Father bound his right wrist, and he kicked feverishly as Konrad and his father secured each leg. Joren’s efforts only cost him additional suffering. His flesh was torn at the neck, wrists, and shins by the shackles’ barbaric underbellies.

With Joren bound, Konrad looked to his father for guidance. The malice in Father’s eyes told him that Joren’s suffering was only beginning. Father wanted to find the rest of the pack. He needed Joren alive. Since Joren had been given the menial task of spying on them, he was likely the runt of the litter. Yes, he probably dined on scraps of Konrad’s mother, but it would have been the alpha that savored the kill and fed on the choicest bits. And although they would have long since been digested, nothing would stop Father from trying to cut them out.

They had less than two days to find the pack, if Father’s calculations could be trusted. Once the moon rose two nights hence, full and fat, the pack would turn. It would come for them. Father set to work.

Fortunately, Father needed little more than an hour to obtain the information he sought. A bucket filled with parts served as a testament to his grit. Konrad stared at that bucket, horrified into silence by the ghastly mutilations he had witnessed. Most of Joren’s fingernails, pried loose by Father’s dagger, now resided in the bucket. A few were still attached to fingers. A couple of toes, several teeth, and most of an ear completed the collection.

Father never flinched.

An eye had been next for the bucket, but Joren betrayed his comrades before that could happen. Konrad was thankful for it. His stomach had weakened to a point where vomit threatened to rise at the mere mention of another cut. Halfway into the torture, he had looked away, no longer caring if his father thought him frail.

“They are in a cave,” Joren blurted, blood from toothless gums spouting as he spoke. “Less than a day’s ride north of here. The river bends at their location. The shore is rocky, smooth flat rocks that lead up to the cave. They are there, I swear it. Follow the river, and you will find them.”

“I know the place,” Father said. He rose and exited the house.

When he returned, he was holding what looked like a smaller version of Vulkan’s bridle. He jammed its bit into Joren’s mouth, the tortured man too weak to protest. When Father fastened it around Joren’s head, Konrad could see that it had been crafted for that very purpose.
Another of Father’s wicked designs?

“Keep him alive,” Father said, kneeling before his son. “If he is lying, I will be back for that eye. But son, listen to me carefully. Do not talk to him. Do not unchain any part of him. Do not pity him. He will show you none if given the opportunity. Only evil men choose to live with this curse.”

Father stood. “If I am not back by dusk on the second day, drive your dagger through his heart. Do not wait for nightfall. Be strong, my son.” He stank of blood and musk as he leaned in to kiss Konrad’s head. “We do this for your mother.”

He walked out the door, leaving his son to fend for himself. Konrad crept over to his bed and passed out.

 

7.

 

Father shivered.
Frost prickled his skin, while the wind beat it raw. Yet it was not the cold that made his body tremble. The thought of leaving his only son with that spawn of Satan, chained though it may have been, battered his conscience. The world was a terrible place, filled with horrors that prowled in shadow. Konrad was learning it quickly, but he still had a lot to learn about evil.

Be strong, my boy
.

It was
for
Konrad that he left. Should the werewolves come, a near certainty, he and Konrad would be lambs for the slaughter. Father had to reach the pack first. He had to slay them while they were yet men.

He rode until his legs ached. Then he rode until they bruised. Only when Vulkan’s breath had run out did Father stop his mad gallop. Following the muddy river bank for kilometers on end was proving more than the horse could manage. Still, Vulkan carried on. He did not falter. Father could not have asked for a more faithful, fearless steed.

The sun’s warm glow sparkled over the eastern tree line when Father finally halted. He led Vulkan to the river and waited impatiently for the horse to drink his fill. He wanted to press on, to do his righteous work—the Lord’s good work—and be home before Konrad had to do the same alone, a burden thrust upon him by the fate or folly of a foolish old man.

Pushing Vulkan beyond the animal’s limits would have done more harm than good, he knew. Like all life, the horse was a victim to its biological limitations. Father could not make run that which could no longer walk. Should he succeed in driving Vulkan without compassion all the way to the cave’s mouth, his mount would never accomplish the trip home.

Not in time.

Father hobbled the horse in the shade of the tall grass, a bed softer than hay. Within moments, Vulkan slept like the dead.

And should I fail?
Father forced himself to consider the possibility. He rested beside Vulkan, nibbling on some jerky despite having no appetite.
God be with me
, he prayed. He closed his eyes.

But Father did not sleep. His thoughts plagued him, an insatiable succubus, depriving him of sleep since that day he had first fled the beasts, the day he had failed to avenge his family. Those savages had robbed him of one family. Now they sought to claim another. They had succeeded in taking his wife. They would not have his son.

Enough of this. I must be off
. Father leapt to his feet. Barely an hour had passed since he had offered Vulkan a reprieve. His sudden movement startled the horse awake.

“Good. You are up. I am sorry to wake you, old friend, but we must continue on.” He urged Vulkan to his feet. “Up, Vulkan. The cave is not much further. I will let you rest then, I promise.”

Father glanced at the sun.
Time is yet on our side
. He estimated five, perhaps six, more hours of hard riding. The last leg of the trip would be on foot. Even in their human form, the man-beasts had heightened senses. He would need all his stealth to find the camp without being seen . . . or smelled.

And if the pack is not where Joren said it would be?
Another possibility Father forced himself to consider. He shook his head. His hands shook on their own accord.

Then all would be lost
.

Father gritted his teeth. Relying on a devil not to lie was a fool’s mistake. It left a sour taste in his mouth. The stakes were high, though, and his options were limited. Joren’s deception would bring death. Konrad would die, while Father wandered aimlessly in the woods, too far away to protect his son.

He prayed to God he could rely on the Devil, if only just this once.

 

8.

 

When Konrad woke
, the sun beat in through the window. Ignoring his fear—and the man chained to his table—he went about his day as if it were any other. Outside was beautiful and bright, warm for October. But a storm raged within Konrad. He tended to the livestock and his other chores, going through routine as he fought against the darkness.

In the late afternoon, he hunted, his favorite pastime. He snagged a fine rabbit, which he skinned and cooked for dinner out in the field. Remembering his unwanted houseguest, Konrad imagined himself tearing into the rabbit while its heart pumped warm blood into his mouth.

He returned home with leftovers. Joren watched him as he entered. He stared down his broken nose as Konrad unloaded his kill.

Konrad avoided his gaze, but he could feel those yellow spiraling eyes upon him. They delved through his illusion of bravery, penetrating to the depths of his fear. As he propped his bow and quiver against the wall, his legs began to tremble, losing their strength.
They are just eyes
, he lied to himself. But he could not deny their power over him.

Father said to keep him alive
, Konrad remembered.
But only for another day
.

He approached his prisoner. Those yellow eyes followed his every move. He examined the stubs where Joren’s pinky and ring finger had been. Black striations spread from the nubs into the hand. His unblemished parts had gone milky pale.

He will need his strength to fight off sickness
. Konrad glanced at the remains of the rabbit, a meaty thigh he had intended to place in a stew.
What if he tricked father, and I need to keep him alive longer?

“Are you hungry?”

Joren nodded. The bit scraped against his remaining teeth.

“I will remove the bit, but do not speak to me,” Konrad warned, trying to sound like Father. “Do not try to bite me either. I will kill you if I have to.”

Joren nodded again. Konrad stepped closer. He loosened the straps around Joren’s head and slid the bit onto his chin. Joren drew in a deep breath but did not speak.

Konrad retrieved the charred rabbit. He carried it to Joren and held the hindquarter over his mouth. Joren hesitated, then took a large bite. His eyes rolled back into his head, a look of ecstasy washing over him as if the rabbit were the best thing he had ever tasted. Red streamlets ran down the tender meat, Joren’s gums leaking grotesquely. Konrad wondered how he could manage the pain as Joren went back for more.

When Joren had eaten as much as Konrad would chance, his fingers moving ever closer to chomping teeth, he withdrew what little food remained. He tossed the leg into the bucket that still held pieces of Joren. “I will fetch some water,” he said, heading outside to the well.

As soon as Konrad returned with a full pail, Joren broke his first rule. He spoke.

“Your father is mad,” he said. “You must see this.”

“Shut up!” Konrad shouted, losing all composure. With so few words, Joren had nurtured a seed of doubt festering in his subconscious. The bucket sloshed in his hands, shaking with anger. Waves splashed over the lip.

“You are a cruel, twisted monster. You deserve everything that has happened and will happen to you for what you did to my mother.”

His tears fell freely. Konrad wiped them on his sleeve.

“Konrad? That is your name, is it not? I did not hurt your mother. What cause would I have to hurt her? I do not know her.”

“Liar!” Konrad had heard enough. Spit seethed between the cracks of his snarling teeth. He charged at Joren.

“Wait,” Joren sputtered. “Listen—”

But Konrad was already atop him, his thighs straddling Joren’s chest. He upended the bucket, dumping its frigid contents all over Joren’s face.

Joren gasped. A sudden deluge rushed down his throat. Water dribbled from the corners of his mouth.

Konrad tossed the bucket aside. He seized upon Joren’s confusion and jammed the bit back into his mouth. Joren squirmed, but Konrad was too quick. He drew the straps tight before Joren could tell another lie.

And they were lies. They had to be. Father had done awful things to this man, terrible things of which Konrad, even with all his misgivings toward his father, would not have believed him capable a month prior. But Father’s cause was just, virtuous even. Violent crimes called for violent retribution. Brutes deserved no benevolence.

But werewolves? Creatures that were half-man, half-beast?

It did sound mad. Konrad had not seen what had killed his mother. He had caught of glimpse of something furry and big, not necessarily unnatural. He had heard enough to know them wicked beasts, but perhaps his terror had transformed them from animals into monsters. Bears, with their broad jaws and massive claws, could have ripped his mother apart as easily as a loaf of bread.

No
, he scolded himself. He scowled at Joren. “You
are
a monster. Your death cannot come soon enough.”

He leapt from the table and got into bed where he sobbed quietly, wishing Father were there, wishing he had not left him alone with their captive. He was a farmer’s son and had known nothing of the darkness. And dark actions bred darkness within him. It begged for retribution.

Why had his father failed to prepare him for these creatures? Why was his mother the only one willing to sacrifice herself so that he might live? All that had occurred—Mother’s death, the demons now hunting Konrad, all his fear and suffering—had been his father’s doing. And the bastard was not even there to see it through.

Konrad buried his face in his hands, afraid of the way his life had so abruptly changed, horrified of what he might be becoming: his father—not that frigid, absent man he had known most of his life, but the sadistic torturer who chopped off fingers and toes as if doing so were as natural as the grass and rivers and forests of the daylight world, a world without nightmares.

Konrad closed his eyes. Hours passed before he drifted to sleep, paving the way for the nightmares to come.

BOOK: Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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