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Topic Subject:THE WERE-FATED WOODSMAN OF HELGENBERG - Story Thread
Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-23-06 15:36 EST (US)         
THE WERE-FATED WOODSMAN OF HELGENBERG

A STORY FOR ALL HALLOW EVE

By Civis Romanus


All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

All characters in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

This is a solo written story. Please do not post in this thread. Go here to the Comments thread to contact the author or post a comment. All comments welcome.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-01-2006 @ 11:28 AM).]

AuthorReplies:
Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-23-06 15:55 EST (US)     1 / 10       
A COTTAGE IN THE FOREST NEAR THE VILLAGE OF HELGENBERG

A soft knock on the door? Or am I hearing things. Ouch! Weary bones… Won’t let me rise out of this chair as easily as I could so many years ago. A little push here and a little push there. Good! Now my legs won’t straighten. One thing after another. There’s that soft knock again. “Just a minute, I’m coming. Who is it, please?” Must be a young girl. Pleasant voice, respectful. Asking permission to speak with me. “Certainly, fraulein, a moment to unlatch and open the door please.”

Squinting a little I can see she is a woman-child of no more than 15 years. She is dressed in traditional dirndl: colorful shirt, low tight black bodice and red ankle length skirt trimmed in black, green and white geometric designs. A small decorative apron completed her costume. Her deep blue eyes look at me and a smile forms on her pretty face. Nervously she brushes back a portion of her light brown hair that she imagines is out of position but really isn’t. Some noises to either side reveal the presence of a few other children of various ages who lack the courage to make themselves visible to me.

Of course she can enter my cottage, and why? To hear again the story of the Were-Fated Woodsman of Helgenberg? But I’ve told it so many times aren’t the children tired of it. She smiled when she told me ‘not really.’ They seem to renew their interest in it every year. Must be true, I surmise, as I’ve seen this young girl grow from a tender age with the accompanying changes from each prior visit to the next much in evidence. Her name is Elsa. Of course I remember her from the year before. My how pretty she’s become.

She is the oldest she said and the others asked her to ask for them as well. How many others? They total six it appears. Three boys of about 9 or 10, and three girls including herself. She is 15 and the others are 14 and 12 respectively. Of course they all can come in. The fire is warming and welcoming, and if they’d put a log on it now and then, I won’t have to interrupt the story at all. Elsa nodded her agreement enthusiastically and she motioned to the others to enter as I stood back well inside behind the wall and door while opening it wide to permit their passage into my cottage. When they all had entered I closed the door behind them, keeping the door between me and the light, but I didn’t latch it. There’s no need to frighten them by having them think they’re locked in. The story itself will do all the frightening necessary, though I really don’t mean to frighten them at all. It just seems to happen regardless.


All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-25-2006 @ 08:19 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-24-06 11:34 EST (US)     2 / 10       
Once they had seated themselves randomly about the living room of the cottage on chairs or benches of their choice, I surveyed my audience from my own comfortable, cushioned chair. Yes, young they all were, dressed in their respective versions of dirndl or lederhosen. Though I’d seen Elsa before, the others were new, or seemed to be. Actually, I saw resemblances in the children to those I knew in the past to whom I told the story once before. It seemed there were more of them in the past than ever before, the parents, their children and their children’s children. I brushed back the white hair on my head, hair that once had been brown, a shade darker than the light brown of Elsa’s neatly brushed long tresses, and spoke to them gently if only to put the nervous ones among them at ease.

Yes, it was so nice of them to come by and see an old man. I do get lonely out here and I do enjoy the company of you children, never having had any children of my own. Yes, Karl (a 10-year old boy) I have never had children of my own. Why? Because I wasn’t blessed with them, and because… Let’s say there just wasn’t time. I paused here because Elsa’s expression turned sad, and I didn’t want any of them to be sad; not quite yet anyway. That’s for the story to cause, not me. Foolish old man. Get to the story why don’t you. Quit teasing these nice children into distraction with your game of anticipation. Properly chastised, I decided it was time to proceed.


All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-25-2006 @ 08:22 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-25-06 20:47 EST (US)     3 / 10       
I looked at the girls among the children and asked them if they believed in true love at first sight. The younger among them nodded cautiously, but Elsa blushed. Ah! So it’s happened to you. Elsa cast her eyes down and wouldn’t let any see the blue of her eyes as they floated above a sea of pink forming on her cheeks. It does happen you know. I heard one of the boys let out a snort. No, that wasn’t Fritz, one of the 10-year-olds. It was another. Just you wait long enough, young Eric (9-year old) and sure enough it could happen to you. It might be Lise there, or perhaps Gretchen over here, or perhaps… No, Johann, not likely to be you with Elsa. I think another may make that claim. I saw Johann’s embarrassed look and Elsa’s quick smile. Good girl, she didn’t make it worse for Johann by saying something to truly mortify him.

Indeed, it was love at first sight for lovely Katrina when she saw the young man of her dreams. Katrina lived with her father in these woods many years ago. He was a woodsman, someone who chopped wood for a living and did other tasks for the village with his other skills when needed. Katrina was but 18 years old, just barely, and they lived plainly but happily in a cottage just like this one. She was slender, but strong enough to carry her weight in wood and often accompanied her father on his woodsy chores. She wore a peasants dress over her young frame, making her womanhood very plain, but very properly so. She looked… Well, she looked very much like Elsa, but a few years older. She too had blue eyes and light brown hair, and pink would come to her cheeks just as readily from hearty laughter as from the effect of carrying wood from the forest or large baskets of goods from the village. She was a delight and everyone, especially the young men, would stop what they were doing and look her way when she passed. But she found nothing about the young men of the village to interest her. Not that she thought ill of them, really. It was just that she never saw among them her one true love, simple as that.

Things remained simple for her that way until one day a man a few years older, perhaps four or five, strolled by the cottage on his way into the forest. The man was black-haired and his clothing was of the kind worn in the village for every day affairs. No, not lederhosen, just everyday woolens, shirt and pants both. Katrina was outside of the cottage sweeping the wooden porch with a straw broom when she heard him in the distance call out to her a hello or some such greeting. Looking up she saw him, but her eyes were drawn downwards promptly to something near him. It was furry and it had something else about it that caught her attention more than could the man who traveled with the beast. Its eyes… They were… Such a strange compelling animal. Hello, she called back. Thus encouraged, the stranger took advantage of her friendliness to turn from the path and walk to the cottage porch. The beast stayed close by matching him step for step until both were only a few paces from the porch. Here the man stopped and he permitted his eyes to carefully appraise the girl who now shyly held the broom tightly with perhaps just a modicum of alarm at the man’s unbidden brazen approach.

The stranger with the dog said he recognized her as being Katrina, the girl they spoke of in the village who lived out here in the woods. He lived in the woods too, not very far, recently having moved into the old, abandoned Gruber cottage. His name was Rudolph. Katrina said nothing, but nodded to show she heard what he said. He intended to call on her again in the future. Katrina’s gaze moved from man to dog and back again. This time she didn’t nod. The dog moved suddenly and captured her attention completely. It stepped forward, free do so because it was not on a leash of any kind.


All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-26-06 15:41 EST (US)     4 / 10       
Katrina tensed a little. The dog hesitated, lowering its head, its tail dropping with its tip pointing to the ground. The dog’s head was remarkable for its breadth. This was no shepherd dog, though its variegated light and dark brown coloration suggested the breed. Its muzzle was strongly built and gave emphasis to its wider, flatter face with fur that seemed to grow straight out and not back. Why the creature was almost wolf-like, more so than dog-like. Yet it behaved very much like a dog as it cautiously stepped forward again, its expressionless face giving no clue to its intent.

The stranger said nothing. He merely watched. Did he want the dog to approach the girl? Had he given the dog a silent command? The beast didn’t seem menacing, but its wolfness was enough to suggest Katrina should be cautious. Yet, there was the creature’s eyes: icy blue rings, dark pupil center, all resting in white with hints of yellow. She wondered out loud, ‘was this a dog or a wolf?’ ‘Both’ she was told by the stranger who was the master of the beast. A crossbreed. But he was safe enough, friendly enough…’usually’ was added after a brief pause. The dog ceased its cautious approach just within reach of Katrina’s hand, that is, if she decided to lower it and reach for the animal. Without much thought of the risk she lowered her hand and gently touched the wolf-dog on the top of its head. It looked up at her with what seemed to be a question in its eyes. She answered with another touch, then a rub and finally a petting of its head, shoulders and then its head again. The beast seemed pleased and totally absorbed. It disregarded the stranger’s harsh command to return to his side and was rewarded with a swat that made it turn about and silently face its master, the one who was now its tormentor.

The wolf-dog’s tail lowered, but wasn’t tucked between its legs. There was no fear evident, but the beast did not advance. Instead, its head level, not lowered, it moved to the side and began to walk back towards the path from which they both entered the cottage grounds. Hmm? What’s that, Gretchen? Yes it was cruel and unnecessary. That’s exactly what Katrina thought too. She told Rudolph that. His brow knitted into a fierce frown. It seems nobody would be permitted to tell him anything, least of all a girl about his animal. He reaffirmed demandingly that he would call again at a time of his choosing and then bid her a perfunctory farewell. He turned about and followed the dog, now on the path, to the Gruber cottage. Very disturbed, Katrina stared after them and then entered her own cottage to wait for her father’s return to tell him about the man and his animal.

Barend the Woodsman was a moderately sized man, not tall and not short. He had blond hair streaked with gray so as to make it seem paler than it already was. His blue eyes danced with the light of the fire in the hearth, as they also danced on a night when the moon was full. Katrina often found herself lost in them until her father would ask her what she was thinking about so hard. Nothing, she’d tell him. He’d laugh while saying she pondered ‘nothing’ more than the greatest living thinkers. Katrina would at first be offended, but that would melt into humor as the twinkle in her father’s eye would salve any possible wound his teasing left on her feelings. But this particular night there was no laughter in the cottage as Barend listened intently and with some degree of anger to Katrina’s description of the day’s events. This ‘Rudolph’ would not be welcome in their cottage, he told Katrina, much to her great relief. That night as the moon rose above the tree tops of the forest, the first of the howlings began.

All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-26-2006 @ 09:26 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-27-06 15:27 EST (US)     5 / 10       
Yes, Karl? Indeed they were wolf howlings. Very loud, very clear and very close. Katrina thought for sure she heard movement in the night around the cottage. These weren’t the usual noises of typical nocturnal creatures. Those creatures were strangely silent. No screeches from owls, no shuffling noises from any of the kinds of creatures with big shiny night eyes she sometimes saw from the window when she pulled back the curtain and opened the shutters and looked. In fact during this night the distinct, bone-chilling howls were so loudly penetrating that Katrina refused to pull back the curtains and look out of her window at all. The howlings happened a few days a month for three consecutive months, when the moon was full or almost full. On those nights she made it a point to stay in the cottage and never venture outside, until one day, late in an afternoon still alight and the moon showing on the horizon opposite to the setting sun, she found it necessary to collect a vegetable or two for supper from the garden at the far side of the cottage. That was the day her life changed in a way she never expected.

A young man stood by the bean vines simply staring at her. She took in a rapid breath from surprise, some fright and because to her he looked in real life almost the way in her daydreams she imagined he might look. He was taller than her, muscular, but not a towering giant. His dark brown hair was much lighter where the sun caught its ends and lengths. Longish, it covered his ears and framed his bright blue eyes. It was swept over to one side as if the wind had formed it that way and he had accepted the outcome of its ministrations. Strong arms ended in broad hands that easily could till a field, chop down a tree or hold her firmly. She blushed at that thought. Eric? What do I mean? Why did she blush and why hold her? Well, never mind, Eric. Let’s just move along before it gets to be too late in the day. The story will turn stone cold before I can explain all of that to you.

As she backed away from the garden and the stranger, her eyes never leaving the young man in front of her, he raised his hand as if to tell her to stop and wait a moment or two. The look in his eyes pleaded for her to stay and the melancholy expression on his face, intermingled with his pleading gesture convinced her, and even compelled her to retreat no farther. He lowered his hand and the melancholy expression became a gentle smile. He still took no step towards her. Instead he spoke a rough version, even a throaty version of her dialect and asked her if she would stay and talk with him. Then he simply and unceremoniously sat down on the ground and folded his hands on his knees and waited.

Varick, he called himself, and spoke to her (as she sat at a safe but nearby distance on a piece of fence railing) of the forest, the village and the people. No, he was not of the village but was newly arrived. That was why she had never seen him before. His origin lay somewhere distant, on the far side of the forest, in a place she had never seen. They talked more and more, the light of the day growing dim and her father soon to return. Soon to return! She jumped to her feet and told the young man he must leave. She had supper to prepare and many other chores to do and proceeded directly to the garden to gather the vegetables she wanted. Varick smiled and nodded, then stood up as well. With his worker’s hands he brushed the soil from his dark brown woolen clothing. Could he see her again if just to talk? She halted, a freshly pulled carrot in hand, and turned her head. ‘Yes’ she told him and with that he smiled and began to walk towards the path, but at the last moment veered slightly and entered the edge of the nearby forest instead. He disappeared from sight as quickly as he appeared to her that day. Almost immediately a dreadful howling coming from the forest suddenly pierced the air. Terrified, she clutched her harvest to her apron and hurried into the cottage. All of that night she waited in vain for her father to return.

All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-28-06 22:27 EST (US)     6 / 10       
Strong as he was, Barend was no match for the beast that tore out his throat, concluded the villagers, when their search party found his bloody corpse in the forest that had been his almost daily workshop. Village mothers and young women friends of Katrina’s tried their best to console her, but nothing would stem the flood of tears that streamed down her face whenever her thoughts turned to her father and their shattered lives. Come to the village, they advised her. Stay with them, one friend or another said to her. Katrina would have none of it. Her father’s cottage was her home and there she would stay. If you’d like, said her friends, but don’t go back to your cottage until after your father is buried in the village, they suggested. To this she reluctantly agreed.

Yes, Lise, it was a very sad day for Katrina. That day and the day of the burial. Rudolph was there near the gravesite and the dog too. The beast made no sound at all but simply sat where he was ordered to by his master while looking towards Katrina with what seemed like sorrowful eyes. Katrina avoided Rudolph every way she could. His presence disturbed her. She couldn’t say why exactly, but it did. At times she looked among those who had gathered at the burial site for the face of the young man she had met the day her father was killed. Varick was nowhere to be seen. This added greatly to her sadness, for a little comforting word or two from him would have helped her through the day more than anything else she could think of.

The nights became darker as she returned to the cottage. To her relief the howlings abruptly ceased after the night her father died. She heard no shuffling around her cottage, at least not for awhile. Some rain came that moistened the soil. Her vegetables grew, now far too plentiful for her alone. She harvested some of them and sold them to the villagers from time to time. She pondered what she would do as she spent almost a month alone in the cottage with only a visitor or two or three to see her. To Katrina’s dismay, one of the visitors was Rudolph.

And why would she not marry him? He declared that she should and expected that she would accept. Lise? Yes, Katrina did not like him any more now than she did before. Gretchen? Well, he hadn’t actually done anything bad to her, but she just didn’t trust him. He seemed unfriendly and unpleasant, and he was not a kind master to his gentle dog who accompanied him everywhere. Why, one time the dog actually turned and growled when Rudolph pulled him back by its newly buckled leather collar instead of allowing the animal to greet and be petted by Katrina. Rudolph’s reaction to the growling was immediate. He struck the dog with his walking stick and silenced it; but Katrina saw the look in the beast’s eye. It was a look far different from the look she saw in those same blue eyes when she petted its variegated brown fur.

The late afternoons and evenings once again saw the rise of a nearly full moon. Near dusk Katrina heard footsteps on the cottage’s front deck and a knock on the door. No, not Rudolph. To her relief it was Varick. Yes he could come in, but be quick about visiting and then leave. Turning to the opposite wall, her back to Varick, she noted he might as well be here and then be gone, just like he was gone when her father was buried. Varick smiled gently. If he could have been there he would have, but there was no help for it, is what he told her, and it was then that Katrina turned around to see if his face showed sincerity or guile.

All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-28-2006 @ 10:28 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-29-06 19:07 EST (US)     7 / 10       
Sincerity radiated from every inch of his face, wherever his brown hair allowed it to be seen. Katrina then did something she had never done before in her short life. She hurried towards him as he opened his arms to receive her. Pressing closely to him, she buried her face in the space where his shoulder and neck joined, and there she cried out her heart, draining it of all of the woe pent up from the day her father left her world. He had supper with her that evening and then left. Moments later, she again heard the howling that had for many days prior been absent from the forest. Shuffling outside her window again awoke her in the night. And something unseen bumped against the door she bolted tight before retiring. Bumped again more forcefully. Then bumped one more time making the door strain against its lock bolt. The stout door groaned but did not collapse inwards. The loudest most blood-curdling howl she ever heard rang out from the cottage landing near the front door. This was followed by a diminishing series of bestial howls as the unknown beast outside pawed its way back into the forest from where it had come.

The next day Varick visited once more. Yes, he too was a woodsman. Hadn’t he ever said so? No? Well he was, or would like to be once again. Varick displayed the first hint of anger Katrina had ever seen in him when she described her experience with the animal that had come the night before. His forehead creased into a frown, his eyes narrowed and he became suddenly very, very silent with an intensity in his silence that was unlike anything Katrina had ever seen in a person. She was not safe there he said to warn her, but of course she would not listen. This was her home and here she would stay. Stupid women, Eric? Sometimes, I suppose. Now take that look off your face Elsa. Don’t you agree she would have been safer in the village? Yes, it’s obvious she’s in love. Women do strange things when they are in love.

So Katrina stayed in her cottage. On those nights when the moon was bright, she would hear the knock on the door and Varick would call to her to say he would like to visit, if it would be acceptable to her. It always was. Then the howlings would start again, but never when Varick was there. Always afterwards. Some days Rudolph would visit too, Each visit he seemed more insistent on their marriage and the joining of their cottages. They met for the last time in the village when Katrina ventured there to trade some of her father’s stored wood for supplies she needed. She lowered the wheelbarrow of wood and rested a moment on the steps of the village store. Rudolph appeared from nowhere, the wolf-dog on a leash this time, and greeted her perfunctorily. ‘No more waiting and no more asking,’ he said to Katrina. The moment for their marriage was now. He was compelled. Needful. This day and no other. She promptly refused him.


All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-30-06 12:53 EST (US)     8 / 10       
His fury was without precedent. The look in his eyes was vicious, wild. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to her feet. ‘Now! No other time! This moment!’ Rudolph shouted at her. Katrina let out a cry of pain. Villagers stopped in their tracks to see what was amiss. Most were too far away to offer immediate help. Some of the men dropped what they were holding or stopped what they were doing and began to run towards Katrina and Rudolph. The wolf-dog responded first. Turning on Rudolph it growled with a ferocity it had never displayed before. Teeth bared, eyes blazing with cold blue fury it advanced on Rudolph. The black-haired man roughly released Katrina, stepped sideways, and yanked on the leash. The wolf-dog was thrown off balance, recovered quickly and was back on its paws just in time to receive Rudolph’s vicious kick into its side. The wolf-dog was knocked sideways again and yelped in pain. It then spun around and barred its teeth to the fullest. Growling, it glanced to the side and saw that other masters were arriving and taking up positions between Rudolph and the nice mistress. One was helping the mistress, who had fallen when Rudolph released her arm. The wolf-dog advanced once more and Rudolph backed away. Then the beast stopped, but in two swift chomps of its powerful jaws, it seized and severed the leash. Free now, it turned about and raced towards the woods where Katrina’s cottage stood and disappeared into its hidden depths.

Rudolph saw the gathering against him growing and drew his knife, a hunter’s weapon. He bellowed at the village men to back away. He would not permit them to touch him he screamed at the crowd. Eyes flaming, face red, spittle on his chin, Rudolph declared he would have her one way or another, and there would be nobody who could stop him, not them or the girl. Walking backwards, brandishing his blade, he turned and ran swifter than any man the villagers had ever seen. None could have caught him even if the fastest among the villagers had tried. Rudolph ran straight for the forest into which his wolf-dog had taken refuge.

Some of the village men accompanied Katrina while she completed her original errand all the while pleading with her to not go back to the cottage. She would not listen. They stayed with her in the cottage as long as they could before darkness fell. Before leaving they checked that her cottage was secure. Outside on the cottage landing they listened for the metallic clunk of the bolt sliding into its locked position on the cottage door before they left for their own homes and comforting families. It wasn’t something comforting that came for Katrina in the fading light of that day.

All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-30-2006 @ 03:27 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 10-31-06 11:00 EST (US)     9 / 10       
The light of the full moon brought forth the beast, darkly furred, murderous eyes, plentiful teeth with incisors sharp enough to sever rawhide straps, and claws that could tear the skin off a living bear. It howled its fury at the elements and as it howled it ran purposefully for the cottage in which Katrina, awakened and in her night clothes, waited near the hearth with a club, the only weapon she had. Nothing would divert its attention from its intended mate. The beast of the night saw the cottage just ahead framed by the setting moon and quickened its pace. At full speed the beast crashed its body into the door of the cottage in a painful collision, its fevered mind pushing aside the pain as the door bent and nearly collapsed inward from the collision. Katrina screamed.

Already in fear from the howling and panicked by the near shattering of the cottage door, Katrina ran to her bedroom and slammed its door shut, stepping away from it until her back was firmly planted against the wall of her bedroom opposite of its shuttered window. Suddenly, a bestial body hurtled into and through the shuttered window of her room. It was wolf-like, bigger than any wolf she had ever seen, snarling and black. Its red eyes locked onto her as its head collided with the nearest thickly hewn wood bed post. Dazed, the beast sprawled on the floor, its musky stench instantaneously reaching Katrina’s nostrils and nearly causing her to retch. Katrina recovered from her shock only a short moment before the beast began to rise to its clawed paws. Realizing her club was a useless defense, Katrina ran out of the room slamming the bedroom door behind her. Unfortunately, her bedroom door was not stout like the front door of the cottage. It was thinner, designed for privacy not security, and the howl of the beast was so loud it penetrated through the bedroom door as if there were no door there at all. Katrina ran for the front door the beast’s howl nearly deafening her. She threw back the bolt and opened the front door wide just as the beast crashed through her bedroom door.

In the doorway stood something bigger than Katrina, the light of the moon illuminating its outline but nothing else about it clearly. She screamed as it grasped her and threw her aside onto the floor. Then she saw it step into the cottage and saw the beast of the night hesitate for just an instant as if it recognized this newly arrived thing on two strong legs. The beast crouched, growled a deep, ominous, purposeful growl, and leaped at the throat of the brown-haired man who rivaled him for his prize and who wielded the sharp, broad blade of a hunter’s knife.

In the fury of its attack, the beast could think of nothing else but tearing flesh and spewing blood. In its fury it did not anticipate the calm of a prepared human adversary. As the beast bore down on him, Varick plunged the hunter’s knife deeply into the chest of the beast and felt the jarring impact of blade on rib bone, and then felt the satisfying slide of the knife’s curved tip as it slipped past bone and sliced vital organs within the beast’s body. Blood poured down Varick’s knife hand as the blade pierced the creature’s heart.

This victory came at a price, for at the same time the hunter’s knife sliced into the beast’s body, the beast’s extended front claws missed Varick’s throat and raked Varick’s shoulders viciously while the beast’s hind claws buried themselves deeply into his thighs. The weight of the animal bore Varick backwards and down onto the floor of the cottage, and slammed his head onto its wooden planks. The room spun faster and faster as he pressed the blade’s handle harder and twisted the knife in the beast’s chest. Its bestial howling now nothing but gurgling, the beast weakly clawed him once more and then went stiff and silent. Varick lost consciousness at the same moment the beast’s life passed on.

Before Katrina’s eyes the sprawled bodies on the floor went through a metamorphosis she could never have expected. On the floor of the cottage, with the setting moon dimly illuminating the room through the open cottage door, Katrina saw the bodies of the beast and Varick transform themselves: the beast of the night into the dead form of Rudolph, and the unconscious Varick into Rudolph’s wolf-dog.

All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

Civis Romanus
Earl
posted 11-01-06 11:25 EST (US)     10 / 10       
Secretly, some of the village men did not return home that evening and instead were camped during the night in the forest. They hid themselves so Katrina wouldn’t see them there and be angry with them. Under the light of the waning moon, they heard the howling and then the reverberation of the nearly fractured door followed by Katrina’s distant terrified screams. Rousing themselves, makeshift weapons in hand, they hurried to her cottage; but the speed of the sudden attack left them no chance to help. Instead, they arrived only in time to find the grisly blood-splattered scene. One of the villagers carried an axe and in a rage raised it to strike at the unconscious wolf-dog thinking it was the cause of the slaughter. NO! DON’T HURT HIM! Katrina cried out. She told him it was the dog who had saved her life from Rudolph. The man was evil, she told them through streaming tears, and would have harmed her badly and then maybe killed her in his rage if she refused him again as she had earlier in the day. Then she told her lie.

Lise? No, that’s correct, it is not right to lie; but sometimes there is nothing else one can do. How could she tell the village men that the wolf-dog was really a man and had wielded the knife against Rudolph? Or that Rudolph was himself a beast who roamed the forest in the night? Instead, she told the men she stabbed Rudolph with his own knife when the dog attacked Rudolph and made him drop his knife. The wounds on the dog? By Rudolph’s hand. This was true enough. As for the hunter’s knife, when Rudolph became the beast of the night he could no longer hold the knife in his clawed paws. It was Varick who found it by scent as a wolf-dog, remained by the weapon and brought it with him after becoming Varick. Yes, the hunter’s knife wielded by Varick was the very same knife the men saw in Rudolph’s hand in the village that day when he threatened Katrina and kicked his wolf-dog. Satisfied that the worst the night could bring had now passed, the village men took Rudolph’s body away and burned it. Katrina spent day and night caring for the wolf-dog and when the moonlight was bright enough to bring him out of the form of the wolf-dog, Varick was cared for too. Both recovered from their wounds.

Months passed which were the happiest in Katrina’s life so far as I ever knew. The faithful wolf-dog accompanied her everywhere; but Varick was with her in the cottage only when the light of the moon was exceptionally bright and the orb was mostly or totally full. Then she could live those moments as husband and wife, in the way her mother and father had lived when she was a child.

Came a time though when Varick became agitated, worried and distant. He told her he feared becoming like Rudolph and felt it was increasingly unsafe for Katrina if he were there. She disputed his words but she couldn’t change his mind. There was something she planned to tell him the next day, but he never gave her the chance. Nobody, not I or anyone else knew what it was because Varick left her cottage during the night and never returned and she never saw him again. The howling returned late that night, but it came from a beast filled with melancholy. The howling faded away and ceased to be heard in the woods from that night forward.

Fritz spoke up at that moment. Was it true that Katrina married and lived in the village afterwards? Yes, almost immediately a suitor came to her who she accepted and she was married. Villagers were quite surprised, but Katrina would not respond to their curious questionings. Yes, it’s true she had a child very soon afterwards. A boy. Her only child. When did I come to this cottage? As an older man, Fritz, a few years after I learned that Katrina had passed on. Her boy was full grown with a family of his own, I believe, but I never saw or spoke to him.

Elsa said yes, all of it was true, for she knew Katrina’s son very well. He was her father. This stunned me. I hadn’t known Elsa was Katrina’s granddaughter. No wonder the resemblance to Katrina I saw in her seemed so uncannily real. The other children stared at Elsa as if they had seen a ghost. They too were shocked. They hadn’t known either. At least they hadn’t connected the Katrina of my story to the Katrina who was her grandmother. Not until that moment anyway.

Awash in emotion I could think of nothing but one thing only to say to them. As gently as I could, I said it was time for them to leave. Thank you ever so much for visiting. I hope you enjoyed the story. I held the door open widely as the young boys bowed and left, and the young girls curtsied and left the cottage too. The forest hid them from my view as they ran or skipped back to the village. Only Elsa lingered just outside of the cottage as if something more were on her mind. I was given no time to consider what it might be.

FOOLISH OLD MAN! There was no moonlight of any consequence and I had thrown the door open too wide. The old tearing feeling and nausea coursed through my aged body. I fell to my knees unable to stand on bending legs and shrinking feet that no longer had toes, just growing claws. Fur pushed through my skin and I felt my teeth press my mouth open and my jawbones elongating. As this transformation began, Elsa seemed not at all shocked or afraid. Instead she ran back into the cottage and knelt by me as I became the gray streaked, ancient wolf-dog of my very own story. I fought like I had never fought before to keep my human senses instead of succumbing to the mind of a mixed breed beast.

‘Grandfather!’ Elsa cried out to me. I heard her say ‘I knew it was you’. You must know this, Grandfather.’ Grandfather? A child of mine sometime? How? Elsa’s pleading voice, her words and my understanding of them were increasingly mixed and muddled in my mind. ‘My father is your son, Grandfather. Grandmother Katrina told my father this and he told me this too. That’s what Grandmother wanted to tell you. But you ran away and stayed away so long. See, I am your granddaughter. I wanted you to know. Look at me Grandfather!’ Weary, the words seeming more and more indecipherable, I managed this little bit of understanding and looked up at her with dimming eyes. I was too old a wolf, simply too old and I knew I could not last but a minute more.

‘Grandfather! Look at me!’ the girl pleaded anew. I labored to focus them on her lovely face. It was covered with soft light brown fur and her eyes, her blue eyes were like mine; and if an animal could mimic a human, I saw before me the wolfen image of what Katrina would have appeared if she had been like me. ‘We learned how to change at will, Grandfather, my father and I. Only when necessary and only what part of us we want to change. I wish you had known how. You would never have left Grandmother.’ Tears streamed down her face. ‘Your leaving me now, I know it. Please don’t.’ What humanity was left in my tired, worn body seized hold of my wolfen vocal cords and helped me to utter a deep throated, almost growl-like three last words: ‘Love you, Granddaughter.’ Involuntarily, I let a long breath follow.

Then before me appeared a glorious forest of golden trunked and branched trees, with leaves of silver reflecting the light of the most brilliant moon I had ever seen. Standing at the foot of the foremost tree was beautiful Katrina. Young again she was, just like the day I first saw her through a beast’s eyes and then through my human eyes as she approached the garden to pick vegetables. She opened her arms to me in happy welcome. I ran to her on human legs now equally young and strong again, to forever be with her in this wonderful mystical forest bathed in perpetual moonlight streaming from an orb that would stay risen for all eternity.

THE END

All text copyright © 2006 by Civis Romanus. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.


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SNEAK PREVIEW


Sir Sheldon Kittrick of Victorian England had everything-rank, nobility, wealth-except the one thing he wanted more than anything else: eternal life. Then he happened upon a solution, something that would fulfill his greatest want. Seeking its blessing, unaware of its consequences, Sir Sheldon Kittrick ladled himself a generous draught from...


THE ELIXIR OF ETERNAL LIFE


Coming October 2007 for All Hallow Eve.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-01-2006 @ 11:28 AM).]

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