Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror (5 page)

BOOK: Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror
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“You killed him,” the tall man said flatly, unblinking. Father recognized the voice as that of the muscular brute he had seen outside.
Timour
.

Father kept silent. He shifted on his feet, watching to see if Timour’s eyes followed him. He came to no conclusion; those sinister eyes seemed to be looking everywhere at once.

“And Simone?”

Father crouched. He offered no response.

“You need not answer. I can smell her blood upon you.”

Father circled slowly toward the cave’s mouth. Timour’s gaze followed. He raised his nose and sniffed at the air. Then he began to laugh.

“That is not all I smell, hunter. I smell a frightened little boy who ran away from his village all those years ago. That village is gone now, but what fun it was in its final years. So many playthings, like your baby sister. I smell
you
, hunter. I
made
you.”

What?
A peculiar allegation, but Father was too old and practiced to be slain by cheap tricks. He kept calm, though his mind transported him back to that beast-torn village and its ill-fated souls. He remembered that day in vivid detail, the day a pack of werewolves had feasted upon his family while he hid behind a false wall, helpless—weak. He watched them, did nothing to stop them from rending meat from bone, then bone from frame. One of them, the biggest of their brood, had seemed to sense his presence, staring long at the wall while Father shook in terror. Its eyes glimmering, twinkling pale yellow, laughed at his weakness.

Eyes like those Timour brandished now.

It cannot be
.

The strangers who had come to town with tongues as diverse among themselves as they were to the natives, who dwelled among the good folk and were accepted—Father long suspected them of having brokered deals with the Fallen One. When the beasts attacked, they were always absent. Never did one of their ilk meet his end. Never did one pack up and leave. Yet Father’s home had not been their home. It was not their brothers and sisters who had vanished in the night.

Could this Timour possibly have been one of them?
Another look at those eyes was all Father needed to convince his mind what his heart already knew to be true.

An overwhelming sadness, long since repressed, surfaced and reminded him that it had always been there. “Impossible,” he whispered, knowing he had foolishly relinquished his position.

Timour bellowed with laughter. The sound filled the cave, blocking out all else. Father covered his ears. He stood motionless, trying to comprehend life’s circular pattern and how he’d fallen victim to it.

“How does it feel to be hunted, hunter?”

“It cannot be.
You
cannot be. That was decades ago.”

“We live by the moon, hunter. I have fed on hundreds since then. Your pitiful notions of time, your laws of mortality, are principles meant for a weaker species. We are your superiors in every way. We are your gods. You should have learned that when you were just a whelp. You will learn it soon enough.”

Timour turned and dashed away. “But your son shall learn it first,” he yelled over his shoulder.

His mind clouded, Father gave chase. In his haste, he left behind his only weapon. But Timour was stronger and faster than Father had ever been. Outside the cave, he watched as the man-beast bounded upon a horse and rode away, his steed kicking up clouds of dust and dirt in its wake.

He is getting away. He is after my son!
Father’s frenzied mind grappled for solutions. Another horse, a speckled palfrey of a similar breed to that Timour had taken, grazed in a nearby field. Father guessed it had belonged to one of the recently deceased. A saddle sat across its back. Father grabbed the horse’s bridle and it jerked, but Father held it close. He climbed atop and kicked the animal hard in its sides.

The horse burst forward. Like Timour’s palfrey, it too was bred for riding. Speedy it was, but durable it was not. Neither his horse nor Timour’s would make half the distance in a single ride, whipped on as they were by their merciless masters.

As he galloped after Timour, Father slowly came to realize his error. Chasing after the man-beast with that unreliable steed, a mount that could fail him or fling him without warning, was a gamble at best. He needed a trustier horse, one that would overtake Timour when his horse failed him. He doubled back for Vulkan.

Father might have smiled when he came across his old friend exactly where he had left him by the river a kilometer south of the werewolves’ camp. But his worry for his son twisted his face into a constant grimace. Father stroked his faithful steed between his eyes. Vulkan leaned into his hand.

“I have to ask more of you, my friend. One more difficult ride. For Konrad.”

The sun was but an ant hill crumbling in the west. Father checked his supplies and found them lacking. It seemed a lifetime since his supply of silver—arrowheads and crossbow bolts laced with the metal, sturdy pikes and swords forged with silver tips, daggers aplenty—was never-ending, plucked from a mine gorged with the precious ore. Father had done well to stockpile what he could, but the mine dried out and the metal was never all that durable. Points dulled or broke; others missed their mark and were lost.

Now, the last of his stash was jammed in a dead monster and tucked within his son’s belt. Father had nothing but the cross around his neck, a small emblem of his faith only a few centimeters long. It was no weapon.

As the sun set, so did Father’s chances of picking up Timour’s trail. With no means to fight or follow, he journeyed along the river toward home.

 

10.

 

Konrad rose early
the next morning. Lingering dreams filled with fangs and mutilation left him sullen and anxious. He rubbed his eyes. The room was empty except for Joren, whose snores whistled through his nostrils. His father had not returned.

He still has hours before he is due back
, he thought, trying to calm his fears with the blandness of rationality. Sunset was many hours off. The full moon would rise in due course, no sooner.

Konrad passed his prisoner on his way out of the house. Joren’s breathing had gone silent, still as the dead. Konrad was content enough that the man-beast’s eyes were closed, those shimmering golden orbs that worked their feral nature into Konrad’s soul. God, how he hated those eyes! Just then, he wished Father had cut them out.

As he went about his tasks, Konrad’s thoughts were always upon that revolving ball of fire the sky. It rose too high, too quickly. He plodded along methodically, willing his father’s speedy return. His mind conjured disturbing images of what he would have to do should Father not return before dusk.

His dagger hung heavy at his hip. Sheathed in leather, the silver blade hid untarnished, at least not by Konrad. He loathed the thought of using it and wondered how many times it had already been used.

Revenge was a universal desire. But enacting it, murdering someone, was a man’s game. As much as Konrad liked to think himself grown up, his father was right: his growing had some growing to do. More than ever, he felt like a boy, scared of what he must do and terrified of the consequences should he fail to do it. His fate would be determined that night. The moon would make him a man, or it would make him dead.

Where have you gone, Father? Why have you abandoned me . . . again?

 

11.

 

Without light
by which to search for Timour’s tracks, Father allowed Vulkan to govern the pace at which they traveled throughout the night. He even permitted his eyes some rest as he sat in the saddle. He conserved his strength. Timour would never make it on his palfrey such a great distance, and even if he did, he would wait until nightfall to attack. Father would easily make it home before then. He would need all his strength to face the beast that would come for them, the man he had failed to kill.

The trail was as good as lost. His hope might as well have been. His toughest battle in a lifetime full of them was soon to come.

Father realized the constraints of the night had finally fallen away as he felt the warm rays of the rising sun tickling his face. He basked in them, eyes closed, letting Heaven’s light cleanse his tormented soul. Was this what it felt like to be in the presence of his Maker? Was God Almighty calling him home?

Soon
, he thought.
I will be with You soon
.

He opened his eyes and snapped Vulkan to a halt.
Perhaps it is not yet my time
. There, imprinted in the mud off to Father’s right, a rider’s tracks carried far off before him. The length of the stride told of a horse driven at lightning speed. The depth of the prints revealed the challenging time made of it.

The fool! So close to the river, knowing I would follow. Too close. He is running that horse into an early grave.
Even Vulkan, a strong and sturdy workhorse, would have had difficulty traversing earth that soft. It was almost as if the man-beast wanted Father to catch him, or to at least know where he was heading. Father needed no tracks to tell him that. Ignoring his cautioning mind, Father prodded Vulkan onward, ever following the tracks from drier land.

By the time he came upon Timour’s palfrey, the horse was as good as dead. Its leg was broken; Father wished he had the tools to put the animal out of its misery. It writhed upon the ground, unable to stand. Judging by the markings left in the mud, its rider had taken quite the tumble. Yet he was strong enough to stand and walk away from the fall. Footprints as big as Father’s forearm led out of the mud and toward the tree line.

I have you.
Father could taste the bitter steel tang of revenge cultivating in his saliva. He swallowed hard.
But what if I do not find him? What about my son?

Father hung his head. He had left his son without a father too often. Mother was gone, and each was the only family the other had left. Father knew well what it was like to be a child alone in a world full of beasts.
How I could do that to my son . . .

But he had been given a chance, and it was a far better chance than he could have wished for. He had run away once before. He would not flee a second time. God had seen fit to guide him to Timour. God would finally let him make amends for his weakness those many years ago, when he had abandoned family and friends to the bellies of beasts.

Konrad was smart. Konrad was strong. He could survive without Father for a few more hours.

But how can I best him?
Even weaponless, Father could overcome his adversary, for Father was not alone. Vulkan could ride Timour down as easy as he had others like him in the past. Father would find a way to kill Timour. There were always ways to kill a man.

His mind made up, Father rode into the woods. He followed a trail of broken twigs, snapped branches and the occasional footprint. Deeper and deeper into the forest he went, veering from the pathway home.

The first hour into the woods, Father was sure he had made considerable progress. Still, the tracks carried on farther. The trees there grew closer together. They blotted out the sunlight. He looked up, expecting the find sunlight sprinkling through the trees to the east, but instead found it high above.
When did it get so high?

The lowest limbs of massive trees clawed at Father’s face. The undergrowth entangled his horse’s hooves. Vulkan’s gallop became a trot. The trot became a walk. Still, Father pressed on.

A low growl came from his left. Father reached for his blade, then remembered it was no longer with him.
You are a damn fool
, he scolded himself. He glanced left and saw a wolf of the common variety snarling his way. Father did not see the rest of its pack, but did not dare make the mistake of thinking it alone. The wolf snorted and turned, letting Father continue past it.

Father reached for the cross around his neck and kissed it. As the sun began its downward arc, he considered turning back. He could still make it home before sunset. But Timour would turn. He and Konrad were no match for a beast his size. So he did the only thing left for him to do: he found Timour.

Rather, Timour found him.

He sprang upon Father as he passed beneath a low hanging branch. Knocked from his horse, Father began to realize how much his desire for revenge had made him careless.
He must have smelled you coming ages ago.

Father landed on a bed of leaves. If only they had provided a soft bed. His head slammed into the ground and his vision blurred. Blood soaked into his shirt at his shoulder. He staggered to his feet, jogging his eyes and mind back into focus.

Timour leapt onto Vulkan. Father smiled.

When Timour kicked, Vulkan bucked. He threw the man-beast off his back as though he were weightless.

Timour jumped up quickly. He glanced at Father, who was still half dazed, and took off running.

Father gave pursuit, zigzagging at first. He whistled for Vulkan to follow.

Again, Timour was too fast. In that thick underbrush, both Father and Vulkan were outmatched. The werewolf had thrown out a lure, and Father had willingly gobbled the bait. Now, he was deep in the forest with night bearing down on him. As if he were born to run through those woods, Timour vanished in the distance, his every step bringing him closer to the coming moon.

Another hour passed before Vulkan’s walk became a trot. An hour more ticked by before that trot became a gallop. In that time, dusk had settled upon the forest. Father had long ago lost Timour’s trail.

That did not matter. He knew exactly where Timour was heading. He was too late to stop it.

Forgive me, son. I have failed you
.

A howl echoed through the forest and shook his very bones. It boomed like Timour’s laughter had in the cave, except here, no tricky acoustics aided its amplification. The howl’s owner conveyed power and madness with volume and pitch that was unnatural.

Man had become beast. The beast wanted Father to know it.

His eyes filled with tears as he spurred Vulkan through the woods. He broke the tree line, hooves landing surefooted on short grass, much closer to home than he had thought himself.

Timour, the werewolf, was waiting.

The beast was monstrous, nearly as big as Vulkan. Its fangs were like swords. Its fur looked as thick as leather armor. The aberration was built for aggression, a vicious, man-eating devil. A long pink tongue drooped from the corner of its massive mouth, wide enough to bite around Father’s head and take it clean off.

But with all the terror its visage evoked, the beast offered no violence. It sat on its haunches, its upper torso heaving with each breath. Its yellow eyes, dancing like candle flames, watched Father as Vulkan reared. Was the man-wolf smiling?

Father showed no fear, but Vulkan treaded backward. “Hold, old friend,” Father whispered as he stroked the side of his horse’s neck. He squinted at the beast, awaiting its move, readying himself for a battle he knew he could not win.

The werewolf rose. It stepped forward. But instead of charging as Father had expected, it turned and ran, straight toward Father’s home.

He means for me to suffer
. The thought iced Father’s veins. Rage filled his brain, fueled his body. He roared as he impelled Vulkan into motion. Together, they charged straight at the beast.

Anger merged with desperation, and Father drove his horse faster. Somewhere in the darker recesses of his mind, he knew his actions were suicide. But he had to try! With a smidgeon of luck, perhaps he could slow the beast down long enough for Konrad to give up hope of his father’s return and flee their home . . .  just as he had escaped with his life all those years ago.

Stay alive, my boy, and fight them when the tides have changed
.

Father tightened his jaw to keep it from quivering.
He will run when he sees I have not returned
. He forced himself to believe it.
He will hide. My boy will be safe. As for me, I go to his mother now
.

By God, the beast was fast! It sprinted on all fours, each paw landing with conviction, propelling it onward, a blur in the night. But driven by his tyrannical lord, Vulkan was faster. His horse bore down upon the werewolf.

The animals collided side-long. Father had hoped to run the beast down, accepting whatever fate would come to himself and his trusted friend. But the beast had seen him coming. Vulkan’s momentum transferred into the monster’s side, and the beast rolled with the blow out of harm’s way. When it popped back onto its feet, it turned to fight.

Father had succeeded only in provoking the beast. He needed to devise a plan quickly, or he would be the briefest diversion on the hell spawn’s path to Konrad.
Lead it away

Covering what seemed like impossible ground within a split second, the werewolf struck. Its sickle-shaped claws sliced at Vulkan’s throat. Vulkan nickered and teetered onto his hind legs just in time to avoid certain death. But the claws yet tore hide. Four gashes, pinkish and fleshy like simmering bacon, streaked in parallel lines across the horse’s underside.

Vulkan whinnied and went berserk. Father could not bring the horse under his control. His grip on the reigns slipped. Vulkan unseated him. He tumbled onto the wet grass.

When he rose, Father found the beast glowering over him.

And Vulkan kicking.

A sickening crunch came from the werewolf’s mouth as Vulkan’s back legs kicked through it. Though the impact drove the beast up, somehow the werewolf kept its footing. Its once-great fangs fell in broken shards from a mutilated, dislodged jaw. The man-beast stared, bewildered, pawing at its face as though it could somehow mold it back into its undamaged form.

It could not, Father knew, but time would. He had his first momentary advantage, but without weapons, he could not make it count.

The beast whimpered like a beaten dog, too stunned by its own fallibility to recognize that it was not yet out of danger. Vulkan kicked in circles with the spirit of the mad and their nightmarish delusions. Father dove out of the way as hooves streaked across his peripheral vision. The man-beast was not so lucky.

Vulkan’s next kick connected with the werewolf’s right eye. The eyeball burst into jelly. The socket crumbled like grain beneath a millstone. A huge portion of its head caved in as if it were the helm of some unlucky knight who had parried into the path of another’s mace.

The werewolf reeled on its paws. Its good eye blinked. The beast fell over.

It is not dead
. Father could be certain of that. He had killed enough of them to know that they always reverted to their human forms when their earthly existences had met their ends. This particular werewolf had the strength of a dozen of its kind. By sheer luck or the grace of God, Vulkan had managed to pacify it, but the beast would rejuvenate. And when it did, it would seek a satisfying revenge.

Father seized upon the idea that his good fortune, this incredible stroke of luck, was nothing short of a miracle. God-fearing men would always prevail over the Devil, he believed. If this unimaginable triumph, this victory of David over Goliath, was not proof of His existence and His glory and blessing upon those who kept the faith, what was? He kissed the cross around his neck and prayed for the means to finish the battle, once and for all.

Vulkan’s hysterics had led him away from Father. If he could calm the horse, he might be able to trample the life out of the beast. But Vulkan was crazed; he might as well have been unbroken. In his present state, the normally faithful steed was of no help to Father.

Drowning might work, but the beast was too far from the river to drag him into it. Father doubted he could tow the beast more than a meter or two without his horse’s help.
Fire?
He shook his head. By the time he worked up a spark, the beast would be slurping upon his bone marrow.

As Father racked his brain for an answer, the beast twitched beside him. Sinuous tendons wove and braided, reconnecting tissue that had once been whole. Bone cemented itself together, a dark sorcery at work. The unholy creature was a little closer to reviving with every second Father wasted. Each tick of the clock brought Konrad closer to his demise.

Father scurried about in the dark, again praying for God to guide him. A large rock was the only salvation offered. The rock was big.
Too big
. It was as round as his waist and stood as tall as his knee.
Lord, give me the strength to lift it
.

On his first attempt, Father’s prayers went unanswered. He crouched and tried to wrap his arms around it, but he had no leverage. The rock’s thick base did not budge.

BOOK: Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror
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