The Lycanthrope (2)

by Ngozi Janet Akalonu

The two little girls were returning from the wood hunt when they first heard it. The bush path was rickety and surrounded on both sides by low hanging shrubs and far spreading oak trees. The morning mist floated peacefully in the still air and hung heavily like thick clouds against the background of the forest, giving it a somewhat foreboding look. The full moon was still visible and stood majestically against a background of mushy clouds, its slivery brilliance spreading all over the forest in a blanket of dazzling peace.

The two girls, aged twelve and nine, had gone to fetch the early morning brittle woods for the fireplace at home. Their father had always said it was best to get the sticks when they were still wet and soaked in dew, as this would give them a strength to last at least a couple of days against the crippling heat of the fireplace. He would have gone himself but he had being told by the doctor to administer the drugs to his wife every first cock crow himself. She was already in her second trimester and he couldn’t risk making any mistake, which would be a possibility if any of his little angels had been left to do it themselves.

The sound the heard that early morning was like a groan, a painful one, and it was coming from one of the nearby shrubs. The children stood uncertain and listened. The hair on their body standing on end, their home was just the next turn and they knew they should dart to safety. It was common knowledge that all sorts of evil lurked in the darkness of the Romanian forest, but before they could make up their mind, another whimper escaped the air again, followed closely by a sharp scream. It appeared someone was in great discomfort. The little girls were devout Christians, and had always been taught to help anyone in difficulty and this seemed like a delicate situation, though one with a tinge of danger.

Eventually, their curiosity got the better of them and they tiptoed carefully towards the direction of the noise, the noise got even more nerve-racking as they got closer, till finally, they located its source: a full grown man curled up in a fetal position. His body was glistening with sweat and his veins standing taut against his pale skin. He was naked and in obvious pain. The girls noticed large gashes on his body that looked suspiciously like thorn marks possibly inflicted as he ran through the bush paths. The morning was still very cold and the stranger was shivering. He would die if they didn’t get help soon. They didn’t know how long he had been there but he looked way too sick. Anabelle signaled Cherry to hurry home and get their papa while she stayed watched over the man.

In an hour, they had cleaned the man up, attended to his wounds (which had healed miraculously) and wrapped him up in warm clothes. Now, he sat at the table with them, wrapped in a blanket and sipping hot tea, his eyes carefully averted. The family of four watched him closely, trying to have a light conversation with him. They had never seen him before but his accent suggested he was not only from the town but also from an aristocratic background, probably the governor’s or a sheriff’s son. He had repeatedly told them he was robbed on his way, beaten up and left for dead, but the way he kept his eyes from staring at them indicated he was lying.

Something else bothered the young farmer, this man’s wound had healed so completely in 30 minutes that even scars were barely visible. That was a miracle at worst and voodoo at best, and when they confronted him with this piece of disturbing news, he feigned shock yet once again, his eyes betrayed him. Something was off about him that soon, the farmer wished he would be on his way. He didn’t want any trouble.

After a short while, the daily newspaper showed up at the doorstep and the farmer went to pick it up. The headline news nearly knocked the breath off his chest: 23 people brutally murdered, gored and maimed till they were beyond recognition! The photo gallery showed several blood curdling images of bodies mangled in such inhumane way, the farmer felt his bile rise up to his stomach. Some corpses had half their faces chopped off, some were torn from inside out, their organs strewn all over the floor. Some had limbs ripped off and some skulls crushed till the brains spilled out. People had seen the culprit – a man-like beast that moved with great speed, the darkness had obscured most of its features. It was later a man would come up with a clearer description: it was a werewolf. But this wasn’t any ordinary werewolf; this was bigger, stronger, more hairy and faster, and it had claws and fangs that could rip out the soul from the devil himself.

When the farmer showed the young stranger the paper, he began choking and his skin turned pale, his eyes rolled over and before they could grasp what was going on, he collapsed unconscious on the floor. The farmer had expected a reaction but definitely not this. The young man woke up when it was dark. Most of his fever and weakness was gone, having taken a nap after regaining consciousness. He thanked the farmer and his wife profusely and left the house in a haste. He needed to get home and be in the safety of his room before the full moon hung openly in the sky. The curse had befallen him heavily and he couldn’t believe just a few weeks ago, he was mountain climbing somewhere in Romania and now, he was a monster. The only way to keep this demon in check was to safely lock himself away every full moon, that way, no one got hurt.

He must have miscalculated because just as he was half way through the forest, a hot wave washed through him and he stopped suddenly. His eyes instinctively looked up at the sky and he was dismayed to see the moon coming out concealed behind the clouds. A bolt of frustration shot through him as he screamed and began running like a mad man through the forest towards the path that led to his home. He couldn’t afford to be caught in such mayhem again. No more souls will be condemned tonight.
Not if he could help it.

But unfortunately, he had barely gone a few steps when a mind numbing stomach cramp tore through his insides, as he dropped to the floor with an alarmed yelp, then with deepening dread, he heard his bones cracking in various places as they began reforming. He gave out a painful scream and clutched his head.

It was starting all over again.

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