by Howard Webb
A supernatural tale of suspense and horror, LOUP GAROU, takes the reader on a thrilling journey deep into a wilderness of swamps and bayous, of moss-draped trees in dark waters. A wilderness possessed of many veiled secrets- grave secrets- where voodoo is commonplace and whispers of demons and ghosts abound.
This fast-paced, debut novel dares to lift that veil of darkness exposing to light the supernatural reality behind this beautiful, deadly land during the mid-eighteenth century.
The reader is held in anticipation as the author weaves a web of romance and terror into a story of survival like none other. A tale about the one great legend which persists in this land- the lore (and lure) of the loup garou.
And of how one man who came to this new land yearning for an ordinary life and instead- becomes the stuff of legends.
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Here Gerard took in a deep breath and a long pause followed. Reliving his memories, and especially that particular night had obviously taken some emotional effort on his part. Emotions I am sure only I was permitted to see. He rose silently and stared vacantly into the dead coals in the fireplace. I firmly believed that if he stared at it long enough the fire would spring to life. Secretly, I actually wanted to see further demonstrations of his power.
However, it was hard for me to believe all he had told me. All that he had done. "Did you. . .participate?"
Gerard did not turn away from the mantel, but continued to stare at the non-existent fire. The clock struck one. "The bastard would not die. He kept slipping in and out of consciousness, but his ungodly stubborn will kept him alive even after he had no skin left, save for his face, hands and feet. He had even been scalped." Gerard's voice groaned with anger as he turned to face me. "So I struck the final fatal blow and plunged the dagger deep into his heart!"
At this admission, I rose and walked over to the window and looked out at the full moon. The beautiful full moon that usually caused me so much distress, but at that moment I welcomed it like an old friend. I wanted to transform- for us both to transform. And we would play and romp like we did the night before. Before I knew all of this; to try and forget his morbid tale full of witchcraft and murder after grisly murder.
The last part of his tale was the hardest for me to fathom. That night of the poor girl's death, Gerard's planning and plotting his father's slow demise- all seemed too horrible, beyond my simple imagining. One thing that I did realize now and completely, was that Gerard had truly been a callous murderer before he had become a werewolf.
"I know what you are thinking Henri."
"That was more than just cruel, Gerard. You knew that girl might die. You used her for your own purposes. You killed that little girl just as much as your father did!"
Not caring for my accusatory tone, he threw his brandy glass into the fireplace with a sharp crash and turned to me, fury blackening his already stormy dark-blue eyes. I calmly returned his glare. He dare not raise his hand to me, at least not yet. For I too, was probably part of his plans. Someone for him to use- a tool suitable for some future diabolical purpose of his?
Calm and poise returned to him and he turned back to the cakes and coffee and poured himself a cup. He called Mercutio over, who had been hiding and re-hiding his precious nuts all this time, and Gerard fed him a morsel of cake. The well-trained monkey then promptly curled upon a small pillow on the settee for a nap. "You know Henri- I am not a total monster. I can.. and do, love and care for others."
"Your story so far has not convinced me. Especially after such an unholy night as the one which you just now described.”
“True. That night was one of the unholiest of many unholy nights in my long life." He paced once around the room, then sat across from me and relit his cigar. "I assure you, I am not like my father. I do have a great capacity for love, and one day you will realize that. But what happened next was actually quite unexpected.
I did fall in love and it was this love which caused my ultimate break with Satine and why she placed her jealous 'curse' upon me." He paused and when he continued his voice contained the hint of a small plea for understanding. "Perhaps you will not judge me so harshly once you know my complete story. Shall I continue?"
I poured my own cup of hot black coffee and thought of the shelter of my tiny warm, poorly furnished cabin, the soft body of my Selena, a drink with Pierre and the shared laughter with grandmama. But I had to hear it all- I had to know everything. Certainly, I was not one to judge. After all, I too was guilty of many things, including murder. I settled back down into that comfortable leather chair. "Continue."
As I said, remarkable as it may seem, I met someone who I came to care for dearly. And as it happened, we met the very day after I had gone into town to report my father's death. However my first task was to dispose of the body and it needed to be done that very night and without a trace. My first thought was to leave him in the murky quicksand on Satine's property where so many others had been disposed of. Yet I thought better of it. For if (in the unlikely event) those bodies were ever discovered and my father's body dredged up with all the rest, it would automatically link me to their deaths. Satine just might try to convince the authorities, if it suited her, that I was a mass murderer. I put nothing beyond her capability. And of course, the actual truth would not possibly be believed.
No, I had to think of another way. And here Toussaint came through again for me with an excellent suggestion, however it was dangerous, especially at night- but we also would likely not be discovered. There was on the island, not very far from the plantation, a large and very uninhabitable swamp area, full of wild creatures, poisonous snakes, boars and crocodiles large enough to attack and eat a man. Occasionally, some of the more intrepid slaves (Toussaint included) would cautiously enter and hunt out there. Many runaway slaves had escaped into the swamp, knowing their white owners would not likely follow, but rather, just give them up for dead. Perhaps they managed to survive there or died- we never knew, for they were never to be seen or heard from again. Toussaint knew the exact area where the crocodiles slept and nested.
So he and I took my father's corpse out into the middle of that swamp that night. I insisted I go along because I had to make sure for myself that this one important thing was done correctly and completely without failure.
Careful not to be observed and by the light of one small lantern, we carried a canoe containing the covered and bleeding body to the swamp and quickly rowed to the area where the hungry large reptiles lived. Without hesitation, we threw the bloody thing over into the water and rowed away quickly, for their feeding began immediately and the water churned bloody with frenzy and we would have been overturned if we were not careful and quick. As we rowed away, I saw them fighting and turning in the swamp, tearing his limbs apart and devouring every scrape of flesh- and I felt an immense satisfaction flood my soul. The most difficult part of this episode was finished.
Now I had to obtain a death certificate from the local prefect, in order to legitimately take over my father's affairs and collect the inheritance. When Toussaint and I got back to the plantation, we rested until dawn, then we saddled up and rode to the nearest prefect’s office.
I really did not know what to expect; how this scene would play itself out. It might be hard to convince the official that we were night fishing in the middle of a deadly swamp and my drunken father had carelessly fallen in. I was prepared to use my magic and hypnotism to obtain the proper document. But as it was, fortunate favored the bold, for luck was on my side because this particular official knew my father from when they both worked on the other island in their different governmental capacities, and he knew well of my father's fondness for drink (and he probably knew of his other appetites also!) He just kept shaking his head, as he filled out the paperwork, saying what a horrible way to die. Of course, I played the part of a mournful and shocked son in an appropriate manner. He didn't ask any questions, but simply handed me the document, shook my hand and expressed his condolences.
Much of the time an investigation of sorts is conducted with a death, especially with no body, but at that time the officials on the island had their hands full with a slave uprising on a distant shore and what was one more man's death when the devil had the islands by the throat.
Plus the fact that I worked for the youngest, wealthiest woman on the island, surely helped my matters for she had carte blanche with local government. Outside the office, I gave Toussaint the certificate and told him to deliver it to our family's legal attorney along with a note which I quickly wrote, requesting his presence that evening at my plantation home. Then in a few days, it would be mine- legally and in total and my plans were to sell it soon; take the money and proceeds and move here- to this even newer French settlement on the nearby continent, alongside the great river I had heard so much about; where land and wildlife were plentiful and affordable and I could easily triple my fortune.
Back at home, I poured myself a satisfying drink, sat down at my desk and prepared the papers of freedom I had promised the night before. Toussaint arrived just as I was finishing and I had him take the papers, along with a few gold coins for each, and deliver them to the slaves involved. I was confident they would remain silent.
After he left, I went up to my room, washed up, changed into fresh clothes and laid myself down for a well deserved sleep. Toussaint would take care of the plantations for one day.
I was at the dining table, finishing an early supper, when my attorney arrived. But it was not the elderly man I had expected- the one whom my father and I had always dealt with before. This man was young, about my age (maybe a little younger) and well-dressed as befitting a professional man, but not in a 'dandy’ manner which I detested, particularly here on the island. His short hair was blond, his eyes the lightest blue. He no doubt, was descended from French Normandy yet very tan and rugged to a healthy degree. I could tell immediately, even past his clothing, that he was most likely an active sports- and horseman. His day old beard attracted me.
We shook hands and he said he was from the legal offices of our attorney and I wondered out loud where the other gentleman was that I knew. His reply was that he was the youngest son, newly arrived from France and taking over the practice for his father who was about to retire soon. He seemed slightly nervous- obviously new at this. Or perhaps it was because I might have stared too long at his beauty.
I welcomed him in and we sat down at the desk where he withdrew a packet of papers from his satchel and expressed his sympathy at my father's passing. He looked at me intently for a moment, perhaps searching for that pain and sorrow which usually accompanies the passing of a loved one. But seeing no more than my tired, fatigued look which I am sure showed, he began leafing through the papers for me to read and sign.
I reached for his hand, "And you are..?"
"Oh, Pardon-moi, monsieur. My name is Andre."
"And I am Gerard." I squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. It was a masculin rough hand; a hand more familiar to the reins of a horse than the paperwork of a solicitor. I looked directly into his clear blue eyes and the gaze was confidently returned, all his nervousness gone. We smiled brightly at one another, our hands slowly releasing their grip on each other and we both knew without words that we were interested in the same thing. And that was the beginning of our friendship which grew into romance.
I signed the papers to start the process of my receiving the inheritance. He said he would bring the documented copies by tomorrow after he had filed them with the proper office of records. I asked if he would like to come by tomorrow night and join me for a late supper. He readily accepted.
Our love affair was immediate and intense. We spent as much time together as possible. Any leisure time was consumed with one another. Whatever we were doing- hunting, drinking, playing cards, gambling- we were constant companions, pursuing pleasure as we pursued each other. And we were as equals.
I want you to understand Henri, I am quite capable of love and loving well.
Unfortunately, my one regret with Andre was that it was necessary to keep secrets from him, which troubled me deeply. I never spoke of my dealings with witchcraft and the black arts nor of my relations with Satine and the victims we collected and sacrificed. And, of course, I never mentioned my father or the truth of how he died.
I had already made up my mind to leave the island and Satine- now thatI was with Andre, I was doubly determined. I would take him with me. However Satine must never know of my plans (or that I had given my love to another). I therefore had to plan my exit carefully.
Of course, she surmised that my father's death was no accident, but she could only guess as to what really happened. She was becoming ever more impatient and commanding with me. We no longer had sexual relations, even though she would occasionally make the casual gesture for me to stay the night. I always found an excuse or some reason to politely refuse her offer, though all the while feigning total devotion to her.
The months went by quickly and, as Andre and I grew closer, I was not so readily available for Satine as I once was. During the day I would see her, for I still worked managing her lands, but at night we seldom met or spoke and I almost never had dinner with her anymore. Now when she needed me to help with her sacrifices, she was, nearly always, forced to summon me.
She did pay me a visit at my plantation once during this time- one late humid afternoon. That day I learned, she had indeed guessed that I had someone special in my life.
She looked very much the refined genteel plantation mistress that day,wearing a fine long dress (with high collar and crinoline)of white taffeta and lace, which made its distinct rustle as she roamed about the parlor, seemingly to admire my possessions and art. A large cameo on a long necklace accented her abundant bosom. Her ensemble was completed with a large bonnet and bow; she sported a delicate parasol. She was her youthful, beautiful self. "So all this is yours now? Completely?" She waved her arm taking in the whole room and more.
"Yes. All mine. Completely." She sat down and made herself comfortable. "Would you like something to drink?" I asked her. "Something cool perhaps?"
"Sherry, would be nice. Thank you." She was still gazing about at the furnishings, even though she had seen the parlor many times before. I poured us both a sherry, gave one to her and I sat down opposite her.
"And to what do I owe this visit? I was just at your plantation this morning. Are you here on business or do you require me for... some other service?"
Her soft laughter reminded me of when we had first met, when she held such mystery for me. "Why so formal, Gerard? Cannot I pay a visit to an old friend and neighbor without it being for a particular reason?"
"I have never known you to act on anything without some reason or motive behind it."
She looked at me directly for a moment in silence, her green cat eyes as mysterious and unreadable as ever. "You misjudge me. I am hurt." She feigned a look of sorrow.
"I think not."
She rose and glided over to the open plantation doors and looked out; sipping her sherry in silence for a moment before speaking. "These last two or so years I have taught you much. Yes, mon cher?" She looked back at me. "You have become quite knowledgeable in the black arts. Proficient even." She started to walk about. I wondered just what she getting at. "I would think that you could be— one day- a formidable force.” She was now standing exactly over the spot where the little girl had met her untimely fate.
"I doubt that. You overestimate me."
"I think not." She laughed again, but stopped suddenly, glancing down at the floor where she stood. "Strange. I have a strong sensation that a horrible tragedy occurred here. Right on this very spot. A child died here and..." She paused and looked at me, her feline eyes searching for the tinniest reaction in me. "And there was more, much more. Not so very long ago either." I said nothing, making sure I did not allow any surprise or acknowledgement to register with me. I returned her look with one of complete calmness. She began strolling about the room again. "You do not deny it?"
I had grown weary of her cat and mouse game. I stood. "Just what are you after Satine?"
"Does he know?"
"Does who know what?"
She avoided my direct gaze. "Your paramour." She ran a white gloved finger over my desk. "I believe his name is Andre." She then turned to me, the eyes showing her true intent slowly rising to the surface. "Have you told him about your black magic practices or your father's death? Does he know about...us?"
"What possible difference could it mean to you?"
"It doesn't." She sat down at my desk facing me, her voice taking on a deliberately meaningful tome. "Then again..it may mean a great deal of difference." I started to speak, but she continued. "Discretion is absolutely vital Gerard."
"Have I not been discreet? Let me remind you it is I who has been hiding the dead handiwork you have been leaving behind."
"True." She began thumbing through some of my papers on the desk. I did not like that. In fact, I did not care for this conversation and was eager for her to leave, but I held my tongue in check for the moment. She continued, "But we must also be discreet with love. Witches and warlocks cannot fall in love for therein lies their detriment."
"Simply put- we lose our powers and we again become..human." She emphasized the last word. "I know, for I loved once." Her gaze grew distant. "For my gods are jealous gods.”
"And you became human?"
Her next words were spoken in an evil hiss. "I became a two-hundred year old woman and only the blood and seed of the young man whom I loved could replenish me; and now- this is my curse, to carry for all time. To replay that horrid scene over and over again." She walked over to me and, softly cupping my chin with her gloved hand, looked directly into my eyes. "And I must never allow myself to fall in love again, because this time it would be the final end for me."
I suddenly realized why she had been getting weaker and weaker; her craft having less and less potency. It was just as I had supposed. She had been falling in love with me! Settling in her seat again back at my desk, she continued, "And that is why you must not fall in love either."
"That could not possibly apply to me. I made no pact with the devil."
"Every murderer has a pact with some devil," she replied bluntly. I sat back down, trying to think clearly. Surely she was trying to trick me, but to what purpose? What she said could not possibly be true- she was just a constant and habitual liar. Jealous! "Think about it Gerard. Have your powers been..waning?"
Perhaps, but I dismissed the thought. "It is of no consequence. If need be, I will relinquish my powers absolutely and assume a normal, human life. With Andre... and without witchcraft."
"If only it were that simple, mon cher. And even if it was, what if your precious found out what you were, what you have done. Would he love you still?"
I understood that as a threat. I stood up again, saying nothing; my physical stance telling her this conversation was over. She had made her point and now it was time for her to leave.
Realizing my attitude, she rose without speaking, taking her delicate genteel manner with her to the door as I followed. Outside, on the veranda she turned back to me. "Give him up Gerard. For his sake, if you truly love him, you must give him up. Both of us are governed by forces beyond our control." She then quickly left, getting into her waiting carriage.
I knew she was delivering more than a mere warning. Whatever drove her- a pact with some devil or god, her so-called curse or her extreme desire for eternal youth, a necessity or perhaps just plain jealous scorn- whatever it was, I (and Andre) were in danger as long as we remained in these islands.
It would be easy enough for me to leave. My solicitors at Andre's firm could sell everything- the land, the home, the slaves- and send the proceeds to me, wherever I happen to be. I thought again of that French colony on the continent by a large river so wide and deep it is like a moving lake.
But it was different now, with my involvement with Andre. Would he be able to go with me? Would he want to? What believable reasons could I possibly give for this sudden move? I would think of something. After all, it could be most profitable for two enterprising French gentlemen with money to invest. The vast limitless land, marshes and bayous afforded an abundance of wildlife for food and trade. Perhaps there, Andre and I could live and love freely. Much different than from so confining an area as this island.
One thing I knew for certain- we must go soon and it would be a permanent move. If I lost my powers, then so be it. If she followed or eventually searched us out, I would deal with her then. Perhaps I could prepare some type of careful defense in anticipation of her threatening us. Though I honestly believed she would not follow us- not immediately anyway and hopefully not for some time. She apparently had lived many lives, in many different places- wherever there was the scent of money and gullible old men. And of course, a steady supply of sailors, settlers and other adventurous young men such as are found in colonies like this island. Men without ties. One day (and I knew it would be inevitable), when Satine and I clash, I shall at least be able to choose the battleground.
As it turned out, all this was useless worry. For the furies or the devil- whoever ruled my fate- took matters into their own hands.
It happened only two nights after I had that last conversation with Satine.
I had learned that a ship was sailing to a major port on the colonial coast in five or six days and I was going to broach the subject of us leaving to Andre tonight.
However, I never got the chance to speak to him about it. As it happens, wewere in the midst of our passion, and because of that, we did not hear anyone come in and approach the bedchamber. If we had paid attention, we would have heard her shuffling slowly, struggling- even dragging her dying old withered and wrinkled body up the stairs. Two days ago she was vital and young! Usually her need for a sacrifice was predictable and most of the time corresponded with the new moon. But that night, with a full moon, was different and I will always regret not having been more on my guard.
Andre and I were lying together in our naked embrace, while the door slowly crept open. He had the extreme misfortune of being the first to glance over to see her kneeling there watching us. I saw a look of breathless bewilderment pass over his face and then absolute shock. I knew what he must be gazing at- the dangerous witch searching for her sacrifice. And I knew not to look at her face.
But Andre did not know. I heard the hiss of the snakes and before I could utter a warning my poor, poor Andre- a love that I have never known since- turned to stone in my very arms! I felt his body grow heavy and rough. It cracked out loud, as he slowly and completely became a statue from head to toe.
My anger knew no hesitation. I jumped from the bed and grabbed the first object at hand that would serve as a weapon- a letter opener. Shielding my eyes, I flailed about, blindly lunging for her throat, but with the raise of one hand, she stayed me. I was completely blocked by some force, an invisible wall that prevented me from attacking her.
The gorgon was gone and she was Satine- dressed in the same Egyptian costume, I had seen her in at her masquerade ball. Only this time it hung heavy upon her frail, decrepit body in thick folds like drapes over a window. Her shriveled arms were but bones of a skeleton. Then in a flash of red fiery lightning, she was her youthful self again- beautiful and glowing, enticing and powerful. She magically levitated up into the air and floated above me.
Raising her head and arms to the ceiling, she summoned forth a wind- a torrential whirlwind- immediately there in my room. All my possessions and furniture began spinning about me, slamming into the walls and throwing themselves against me and crashing into each other, while her demented, evil laughter filled the room. Her wind's force was so strong, it caused the bed, carrying the heavy stone corpse of Andre, to slide across the room and slam into me. The impact fell me to my knees and I could only crawl on the floor, heading towards the balcony doors, as items buffeted me and broken shards of glass and other objects cut my naked body. I fortunately came across a pair of trousers as I struggled, cut and bleeding, outside. I glanced back at her. She was still floating high, her green eyes wide and wild with power, her dark hair flying wildly about her head as if it had a life of its own.
I managed to make it out onto the balcony where there was no wind; but there was smoke- and a lot of it. Mon Dieu! What else has she done! I heard all my things smashing about in the room, being broken, but I did not look back. I hurriedly put on the trousers and went down the back stairs. Once out on the patio, I stopped to look back up at my room, but it was downstairs where my attention was directed. The house was on fire and it was growing quickly and fiercely, flowing out the downstair windows, traveling from room to room. I tried to approach the house, but the heat was already intensely unbearable and increasing every second. The witch was deliberately burning down my plantation home!
I started towards the stables for escape. The witch's chaos had reached outside as well, with my people racing all about in panic, screaming in their African dialects, but I understood the universal language of fear. I ignored them all, for I had to find Toussaint and a horse.
As I neared the stables, it suddenly grew quiet. I could see my home was now totally engulfed in flames. It lit up the night sky like a thousand beacons. The eerie quietness was close, full and heavy with some near threat. I must be quick and saddle up. Find Toussaint, ride to the port city and eventually escape from this island.
Then I heard it. It was soft at first, a slight breeze high overhead riding gently on the tops of the trees. She was coming! I tried to hurry, but in the next few seconds fury was all about me. The wind this time was accompanied by rain, torrents of stinging rain. Suddenly, I was in the very midst of a cyclone! I heard that loud laughter again, mingled with the howling winds and driving rains.
Devil sounds surrounded me! In pain, I put my hands over my ears, but the laughter seemed to echo even louder in my mind. Her power and torments must have no bounds.
I tried to make it into the nearest stable, but could not. The winds and storm were too intense and all I could do was cling to a nearby tree. Through the rain streaming into my eyes, I could see in the distance that my mansion had been completely consumed. Over there, it seemed to be no storm raging. It was centered upon me! I managed to get down on all fours and struggled slowly, crawling towards shelter in the stable. But as if by magic, it had disappeared; all the stables had completely vanished, torn apart in the gales!
I had to make my way into town and I knew a short route, if only I could survive this storm's onslaught. Then I saw her. It was her face up above in the sky. Her face as large as a cloud, towering over me, coming fast at me! She appeared as some angry Olympian goddess, taking out her jealous wrath upon her poor subjects below. The face and eyes grew closer, ever larger, until it consumed the whole sky! I fell into the mud, lying on my back, closed my eyes and tried to shelter my face from her bewitching evil glare. I thought all was lost!
Then again- all became quiet. I cautiously opened my eyes and saw only the night sky- starry and cloudless. Her laughter and face were gone with the storm. The distant fire was diminishing. Had I passed out? Why had she not finished me? Had she overextended her powers? Or was there something other that she had planned for me?
I hurriedly got up and found the quicker path. It was through a nearby slave cemetery- the shortest route to town where clothes, safety and subsequent escape from her and this island, awaited. I looked around. No one was about. I am sure all the slaves had by now run away into the mountains. But where was my Toussaint? Surely he would not have deserted me? Had she disposed of him as she had my other possessions?
Her power had completely overwhelmed me. I had never conceived that she could possibly be so strong. If I survived this, I would most certainly never underestimate her again. I tried not to think of my Andre, now dead- nothing but a burnt statue. I vowed to myself, there and then, to avenge his death and that I would destroy her one day, even if I had to sell my own soul to the devil in order to accomplish the task.
So barefoot and shirtless, I ventured through the dark, ghostly cemetery full of the unmarked graves of dead slaves, my only light that of the full moon. Many of the dead there had been buried without Christian ceremony. Most in a simple pine box, many in no coffin at all. I believe a great many to have been buried together in the same plot. Mass graves! Such was the horrendous condition of this French colony. It will be little wonder when, inevitably, that rebellion occurs which the white man so fears, ultimatelyresulting in their destruction.
I tried to hurry, but it was difficult to find my way among the crowded, unkempt graves; falling in the mud and tripping over the dead limbs of fallen trees numerous times. At one point, I stopped to rest and sat atop a somewhat handsome engraved tombstone- one of the few in that cemetery. Some white owner obviously thought highly enough, or kindly enough, to recognize the poor dead black bastard. I thought of Toussaint. Where was he? Would I, too, have to lay my favorite slave to rest?
It was then I sensed that something was terribly wrong. I had guessed right. The she-devil had prepared a particularly ghoulish trick for me. Beneath my bare muddy feet, a rotten fleshed hand reached up from its earthly grave, clasping my ankle in a tight grip. I was so stunned, I could not move for a moment. Then as horror quickly filled my pounding heart, I watched as it raised itself out of the rocky earth. First an arm appeared, then its ghastlyskeleton head peered at me with no eyes or lips, remnants of flesh hanging on its foul smelling corpse. The grasp it had on me was inhuman, strong and relentless, like a bear trap, far beyond normal human strength. I instinctively reached about for some sort of club or weapon and my hand found a heavy solid tree limb and I started to beat the living dead thing over the head with all the strength I had left, yet no matter how hard I bludgeoned it, its grip would not lessen. Finally, with its head bashed to pulp, it stopped struggling- but, half-in and half-out of its grave, the hand nonetheless gripped me like a vise! I forcefully brought the limb down upon the arm and it broke in two with a loud crack- and still the hand held on to my ankle! I tried to pry the fingers loose, but the only way to release myself was to snap each finger in two like a tough twig.
I tossed the rest of the hand away and ran towards where I knew the cemetery to end, the forest to begin and the road into town beyond that. Soon it would be daylight but I must hurry, for I knew she would raise more of these ghouls and one bite from any one of them and I would be as they- some type of deathless, senseless creature driven only by the need for human flesh and brains.
Just before I reached the edge of the cemetery, I was overcome by the sickening and stifling stench of the dead. They had risen! I stopped and glanced about. They were all around me! I counted, two, four, ten, a dozen more, all stumbling slowly towards me; their arms outstretched, their hollow eye sockets not seeing- driven by the power of the ungodly witch.
I swung the thick branch (which I had somehow miraculously kept with me) about, keeping them at bay, but I knew it would be only a matter of moments until they gathered themselves together and latched upon me with their skeleton hands. Some were just bones- walking skeletons- dead a long while. Others were freshly buried and still had on the rags they had been put to rest in. Some had no arms, some no feet or legs- crawling and creeping, pulling and propelling themselves along with their hands and bodies- all with a relentless hunger for my flesh. My only chance was to somehow run for it.
I noticed one was smaller than the rest, perhaps it had once been a child. Worms and maggots covered it, eating what little flesh remained. I smashed the limb hard into its chest and crushed the entire diaphragm, yet it still came at me. They were all getting dangerously near- almost within arms reach. I swung hard at its head and it lopped off like a ball. The corpse crumpled into a heap and I quickly jumped over it and ran for my life, past the others, swinging the branch wildly all the while.
At the forests edge, I turned to look back, expecting them to be following behind, progressing steadily forward in their cursed dead state. To myamazement, I saw no movement- the zombies were apparently gone! Had they been sent back to their graves? I stood quite still and listened intently. There was no sound of them either- just the noise of my heart beating furiously in my ears.
What was she planning now? What else was at her beck and call? Perhaps ghosts or some other type of undead demons. I quickly entered into the forest. Once daylight dawned and I was near town, I should be safe. Surely Toussaint would be searching for me. Hopefully her vengeful power had not reached out to touch him. Actually, I thought he was probably safe; she had one main objective this night and it was to destroy my life in some fashion or another. Right she was toying with me and I felt like a small mouse being tormented by a gigantic cat.
I made my way through the forest. The tall trees sent down ghostly shadows in the moonlight. I thought one of them moved, its limbs and trunk acting as a human would, and I stopped. But it must have been my overwrought imagination. I needed to get through these trees quickly, for I knew well that a witch's power was enhanced in deep dark forests. I also realized she was not done with me yet and something else was most likely waiting in ambush for me.
What was ahead for me was something even I would have never expected. I thought it to be just another tree among the many, straight ahead in my path, then suddenly it moved to block my way. It was a man, yet for some inexplicable reason, I could tell it was not one of those senseless creatures I had just encountered. Then the moon passed over the strange figure and I saw its face clearly.
Or rather what was left of the face, for the skin had been peeled away leaving only a bloody visage. In fact, the whole naked body had been skinned and I knew whom she had sent to undo me. It was my dead father!
This was impossible! For I had seen, first hand, his body ripped apart in the crocodile pond. It had to be an illusion. That despicable witch had conjured up his apparition to torment me!
The thing reached out its hand towards me and in an eerie, guttural voice called my name. I swung at him, but he vanished in an instant, only to reappear even closer behind me. He grabbed my shoulder and I instinctively jumped away; I heard a loud scream, but realized it was mine. I swung at him again and again, but he would simply disappear and then reappear in an instant somewhere else. Moving frantically in circles, my head was becoming dizzy, my body increasingly tired with weariness. Then he was not there anymore and I was alone. Dropping down to my knees, I yelled out loud at the witch. Go ahead! I screamed. Finish it, Satine! Do your worst- kill me now and get it over with. I wanted to sob, but I would not give her the satisfaction.
Suddenly, my father's flayed figure was standing there before me. He grabbed my head with both of his bloody hands and I knew that this would be my end and I even imagined hearing my head snap. Instead he spoke to me, in tortured speech like he was in great pain and from somewhere far distant. Why myson, why did you kill me? I loved you so, mon fils. Why?
You never loved me, I pitifully yelled back like a child. He then laughed showing teeth with no lips, showing wide eyes with no lids. Then, in the most bizarre macabre manner, his laughter changed into that of a woman's and Satine was again laughing at me. She spoke, using my father's ghost as her vessel, his mouth forming the words for her voice. His hands still held my head tight.
"You will not escape me, Gerard. You will not escape the curse I have planned for you. You are destined to be human, but not human. You will live among them, but be none of them. My curse will be fulfilled."
I yelled at her to kill me now or let me go. That tormenting me wouldnot work, that I would not break- even though I thought to myself that I was already near the verge of insanity and if she continued, I would surely end up in the mad house.
My father's face grimaced wide with bloody teeth and Satine's sick laughter issued forth from it and then they were gone. Only the echo of that mischievous, evil-ridden laugh remained.
I wanted to collapse, faint dead away on the forest floor and let whatever it was she was sending have me. Take me without the benefit of a struggle. Ghosts, ghouls or flying beasts- I did not care anymore.
But the instinct for self-preservation is strong in me (as you well know), and I struggled to my feet and proceeded cautiously onward through the trees. I had made it thus far, perhaps I could make it all the way into town safely. Ahead was a clearing, bathed in full moonlight and I knew the road was just beyond.
I silently summoned the last bit of strength in me and ran across the open field, hoping beyond hope, I would make it to the other side. Midway through some thing made me stop and listen. I was able to see clearly in the night light but saw nothing, yet I thought I had heard something or someone moving about in the surrounding trees. I started to continue on, but stopped short- for this time I distinctly heard a noise, only I could not make out the source.
Then there it was again- louder this time and I recognized the sound as the deep growl of a wild animal. Most likely a wildcat or wolf and from the sound of it, a very large one.
I started to run again, hoping to reach the road and maybe some help on the way. There was a plantation close by, the owner of which I knew. I heard the beast burst through the brush and trees to chase after me. I had little hope of out running it and thought perhaps my one chance of escape was to scale a tree. If I only had the time.
I remember thinking that it must be very huge and heavy, for it sounded like a galloping horse, snarling and snapping, yet I dared not look back. It was drawing closer and closer with every step I ran. I leaped over dead trees, fumbling through the last of the woods. I imagined I felt its hot breath upon the back of my neck. Noticing a large oak near the edge of the forest, next to the dirt road, I sprinted for it.But I did not make it. Just as I was about to make a leap for the tree, the monster reached out a giant paw and caught my foot. I tripped and fell, immediately rolling over on my back started to raise the stick I had, only to find my hand was empty- I had lost it somewhere in the woods! I felt a huge rock next to me, grabbed it and raised it with one hand, but it was slapped out of my grasp like a pebble! And I saw the thing fully for the first time.
It was an enormous wolf, larger than a lion, more like the size of a bear. It had pounced on me- its strong thick limbs pinning my shoulders down to the ground. His eyes burned red and fierce, the teeth showing sharp and slick as it snarled down at me with foul breath. He put his large wet snout close to my neck, sniffing, taking in my scent; smelling the blood pulsing, coursing radically through my veins, bursting my heart. Was the wolf making sure it had the right victim?
Then he struck! Immense jaws clamped deep into my shoulder and chest almost completely engulfing that side of my torso. My blood spurted like a fountain as, with its monstrous strength, he picked my whole body up in his mouth and shook me fiercely about like a tiny plaything and then tossed me aside, slamming me hard against the oak that I had been running towards. My body hit it with a heavy thud and I slid to the ground. Before passing out from the unbearable pain and shock, I remember thinking that this time my world was over and I would be devoured by this creature, just as my father's body had been devoured before. Only I would still be alive when it happens! A fitting retribution only a witch like she could make possible in her twisted demonic way. I was to be food for this pet of Satine's!
When I woke, it was still night and the moon was bright and high. Was this the same night? It couldn't possibly be! It would be daylight by now. How long had I laid there? I even briefly thought that perhaps I had died and wasnow in limbo (or some such place) because hell would surely not be so earthly and peaceful. Yet the sharp stabbing pains throbbing through my body told me I was very much alive. I started myself up, frightened, looking for the beast. I did not see him. I listened- I did not hear him. He had gone! But why? Why did the wolf creature leave me alive? Something could have interrupted his attack and scared him away, but only the witch herself, was capable of that. Why had she allowed me to live?
I looked cautiously about again. The beast was nowhere to be seen. Its huge paw prints though, were everywhere around me in the dirt beneath the oak showing the struggle, but I didn't observe any prints directly leading away from the scene. It was as if the wolf-creature had disappeared into thin air. But why bite me only once and disappear? Why had it not finished what it began and deliver a fatal blow?
Of course, in the back of my mind I knew the answer. The monster had accomplished what it had set out to do. It was not sent to destroy me, only to deliver Satine's curse. She had mentioned a curse and now it must be set to begin. That was no ordinary wolf- it was the houndfrom hell, called forth by her and the curse was that of the loup garou!
Pulling my wounded and bloody body off the ground, I left the protected shadow of the oak and entered the wide road. The moon bathed me completely with its bright white light and suddenly- shockingly- I felt a strong powerful energy flood over and through my body, much more forceful and enduring than any witches potion could possibly achieve. No more pain and weariness; the wounds utterly and completely gone. I gazed up at the moon and recognized it was now a source of tremendous power for me! And, I want you to know Henri, that all during that first transformation into a werewolf, only one predominant thought was within me- that of the revenge I would ultimately wreak on Satine. I now possessed a superhuman power within me and that witch had just made the biggest mistake of her long and evil life!
That first transformation was the only one that ever caused me any pain or discomfort. It lasted for only a moment and was more similar to a giant thunderbolt than anything else. Or what I would imagine a lightning strike to feel like. That is the best description that I can think of.
In a flash, I turned from a man into a man-wolf. I was not distressed, as you might think, as others who might have gone through this transformation would probably be. I do not know for I have never met another, only you Henri. And I know you must have been very distressed, non, mon ami? It was painful for you because you resisted.
I took it as an adventure and I still do after all this time. I was grateful to be alive (that was my main relief), but I slowly started to think she had actually done me a favor, with her so-called curse. I realized immediately, I had powers beyond that of a warlock, including the strength of twenty men. I felt all this surging within me, like a smoldering volcano. I could tear apart any man or beast;sunder an army into pieces! What great speed I had- all my senses super heightened- smell, sight, night vision. I was invincible and felt- immortal. And I was!
The one thing that did amaze and surprise me the most however, was my thoughts were still very much that of a man with logical reasoning. I was, inwardly, Gerard Mereaux, acting with purpose and forethought, yet outwardly I had the appearance of a beast. And one of my first rational thoughts was that I knew- as surely as I breathed- that if I could only get the witch within my grasp, she would not be able to control me any longer and I would be able to tear her centuries-old heart right out of her chest and she would be gone forever.
However, my first need was bestial- I had to feed! Intense hunger gnawed at me; racking my brain and slowly dominating my primary thoughts. In this one respect, the beast controlled the man. Instead of following the road into town, I traveled back towards my burnt shell of a plantation. It took only a few minutes. The ruins were desolate; the heaping embers hot and still smoking; my sadness immeasurable. Satine had certainly been thorough- destroying in one night my home, my lover, my life. I kept to the shadows even though, strangely, no one was about- no authorities, no neighbors, no curious onlookers- all the slaves having run away. I still believed that Toussaint would remain faithful and hoped tomorrow I should find him in town. Besides he had no where else to go.
I detected voices at a great distance; my newly acquired senses ‘hearing’ them miles away. I was upon them in minutes; but when close, I silently crept towards them. There were a dozen or so of them, slaves (some of mine I had no doubt) and they were traveling together escaping into the hills. They carried their meager pitiful belongings with them. One strong young man took up the rear and hung slightly back behind the others. Their voices were many and varied,very confusing to me, until I realized I was hearing their thoughts as well as their speech!
My first idea was to leap into the very midst of them, (literally frightening them to death), and slaughter them all like swine- men, women, and even the few children that accompanied their families! I could kill them all in mere minutes and still my ravenous hunger would probably be unsatisfied! But why do so? These people held no threat to me; they carried no weapons, except sticks and stones. My next thought was to spirit the young slave away without the others noticing- quickly and with stealth.
And that is precisely what I did! I snatched him from the road with lightning speed, (no one being the wiser), drug him into the forest and began to rip him apart- all before he could even utter a scream! Tearing off the limbs, I gnawed on them; my sharp claws cut open his torso and I fed on the intestines. For the tiniest moment, his fear had been tangible; I had felt it in the air; and I believe I fed on that too! It only serving to increase my desire for flesh and blood.
After feeding, as I viewed the carnage, I did not feel pleased necessarily but I did feel… supreme. Supreme over humankind! And I will tell you right now, Henri-
I did not, I repeat- I did not feel evil. It just felt natural, like as if I were
A lion and they were the antelope. I was simply a predator and they- the prey. And I have felt that same way about my victims ever since. I did learn, of course, to pick and choose the victim- if it were to my advantage or if it benefited me financially in some way. But much of the time my victims were simply just in the wrong place at the right time.
After feasting, I could now turn my complete attention to the next important task- revenge. And immediacy was important! I needed to find Satine before the full moon set, so that its powers would be at my aid. This was perhaps the one and only chance I would have to take her unawares and defeat the witch now and forever. Bloody and determined, I set out for her plantation.
I approached the house in the open, under the moon’s bright light, quite able to be seen. A monster wolf coming for the powerful witch. Only oneroom was lit, her bedroom upstairs. I silently, deftly, scaled up to her balcony and peered inside through the thin curtains. By the light of a single lantern, she was packing up her clothes and belongings into three very large trunks. She was obviously planning a long and extended stay somewhere. I saw a label on one trunk addressed to a villa in Italy. She was in quite a rush, hurriedly and carelessly throwing things about. She knew she had little time before I would recover and seek her out. I always wondered how she had miscalculated the result of her curse. I imagine that, more than likely, in her jealous and egotistical need to exert her power and will over me, she had not thought of any real and subsequent danger to herself. That overconfidence would be her downfall!
She paused in mid-step between two of the trunks and looked quickly about as if she had heard something, though I had made no sound. She started to return to her packing, but again stopped and looked out towards the balcony in my direction. She had sensed my presence and I must now make my move.
I moved out of the shadows and entered the room, standing clearly in the light where she could see the handiwork she had wrought. A distinct look of surprise crossed her face for a moment (was a little fear mixed with it?), but it was quickly replaced with her usual composure. She giggled, daintily, at my sight- trousers bloody and torn; my body covered in the thick hair of an animal; the large feet, hands and claws; my face only slightly recognizable.
My how you have changed, Gerard. She had not spoken out loud, but I could hear her voice nonetheless, as she calmly turned back to her tasks. But you are still handsome- in a brutish sort of way. Her laugh that time was loud and slightly maniacal. I took a step towards her and she immediately got behind one of her trunks. Though she would not show it, my animal instinct sensed her mounting anxiety.
You ask me why, Gerard and I will tell you. She could read my mind, as I could read hers. Because you only used me to learn my secrets, to gain my power. You who knew only amateurish tricks and backwater voodoo! Yes, I taught you and I grew weaker while you grew stronger. Well, now I am no longer weak, Gerard. I am as the Phoenix and will rise again and again and again!
Turning her attention back to her packing, she slammed one trunk shut and proceeded to rearrange another. And now you have power too- within a curse, of course.
A curse not too unlike mine. You always wanted such grand and unique powers and now you have them- thanks to me! In combination with what I have taught you, you are now that significant force I once spoke of. She slammed another trunk shut and stared straight at me, with defiance and pride, with no regret for having destroyed my life and love.
But these powers do not come without a cost, Gerard.
For your curse is not just that of a loup-garou. Your true curse is eternal loneliness. Now and forever. As long as you live, you will never know love or true happiness. For centuries, Gerard, for centuries you will experience suchloneliness, night after eternal night, that you will wish for merciful death, yet it will not come. The next words, she spoke out loud to spew forth her venomous hate. "Of course, no man or woman could possibly love you, for you are a freak. A freak of nature!"
Her mean laughter ceased, when I took a few more steps closer to her. She raised her hand to me and I immediately felt her witch’s power. But unlike the time previously- this time I could overcome her. For, just as she had said- I was not a mere human, not at that moment- and the moon's power was with me!
"Do not come closer, Gerard. I am warning you."
It surprised both of us when I spoke. "You cannot stop me, Satine. You madean error in your calculations." My voice issued forth with a deep growl, familiar yet unfamiliar. "You have no control over me now." I took another step forward.
She raised both her hands. Her power was palpable- an invisible wall between us. But I could break it! She laughed. "That voice! Coming from such a hideous façade. It is truly comical.” I took her attempt to insult me as proof of her nervousness.
I crept forward. She moved slightly back, keeping her hands outstretched before her. I sensed her mounting fear- and shock that her witchcraft had scarcely any effect on me. Yet, I had one more question.
"Andre?" Her laugh this time was fully and unabashedly evil. "Please, Gerard! Do you really think I would ever- ever! play second to another. Especially to a man!”
She laughed again. At me she laughed. At Andre and myself she laughed. I would make sure it would be the last time she ever did so. I’d choke that laugh right out of her!
I leapt and she could not prevent me. I threw the heavy trunks aside like they were so much bags of feathers and managed to tear her dress, leaving a deep aaascratched her scratch on her shoulder. The witch could bleed! I was going to rip her heart out while she watched, helpless to stop me. I wanted her to see with her own eyes- for a few seconds- her very heart beating in my giant hand!
Then, expectedly, she summoned forth the wind, thunder and lightning again, right there in her very room and she herself became the whirlwind! She rose up into mid-air, spinning wildly like a top. I leapt again at her and succeeded at grabbing her feet and so we both were spinning around the room. Then, unexpectedly, she started to scream like a banshee and it pierced the night, extremely hurting my sensitive hearing. The lantern had fallen over and the place was catching on fire. Her wild wind fanned the flame.
Still her voice screeched and wailed, becoming ever louder and more painful, and still I clung onto her with my sharp claws digging deep into her, crushing her ankles and causing her to bleed and scream more. If only I could drag her down, I could slit open that throat with my fangs- the very throat that I had once kissed in a mimic of passion.
Her screech reached an ultra-high pitched crescendo as my ears bled and felt as if they were rupturing. I wanted to cover them but dared not let go. However, eventually I had to, for they were bursting with pain. As soon as I released my grasp, the balcony doors flew open and she spun out of the room. I rushed to catch her, but in seconds she was floating high over the treetops, her banshee wail and the gale following after her. She had escaped my revenge! Her house and possessions were in flames. She had lost those- as I had. Not much consolation; for I had so wanted more- her life, her blood- her death!
I watched her disappear into the horizon, as I cried a tremendous unearthly howl into the ending night, at the disappearing moon. I howled and howled again after her- my pain, my anguish, my disappointment at not having succeeded- all pouredforth from me. Anyone hearing me, would recognize the sound of deep pain in my long and lonesome howl. She had escaped my wrath! And I have never seen her since.
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