The barkeep looked at the clock. It was well past three in the morning. He no longer cared what time it was. This Stranger, in black, celebrating his Birthday, so he says, was telling a remarkable story; true or untrue. He settled in to hear the rest.
Another bottle of “the good stuff” was opened.
The Stranger stared into his glass, then taking a deep breath, continued.
“The hunt is a sacred act between the hunter and the hunted. An understanding between the two deadly parties exists that builds a healthy respect. The survival of each participant is at stake and to the victor goes the spoils; life.
To disrespect that is to bring certain death. To die during a hunt is not shameful when both parties respect the rules. The wilderness provides no advantage to one or the other. The wilderness remains neutral. The battleground runs red with the blood of all who fight for life. Each creature is endowed with the gifts from the creator and with death comes a greater respect for the prey whose life has ended for the sake of the victor. Any tampering with this balance brings shame to both. Restoring the balance becomes paramount to all who share the wilderness or death will come to all.”
The tiny band of young men determined to bring balance back to their world knew nothing of their prey but the monster they hunted knew everything about them and gave no harbor to any who entered the dark woods. There would be no balance; only blood.
The young and inexperienced men who entered the forest that day never knew what hit them. Only one regained consciousness and discovered to his horror just what his fate would be. The other six were spared that knowledge. He envied their deaths. Why he was still alive was certainly a mystery. Was it because this creature knew he was different from the rest or was it a continuation of the tests his creator was determined to make him take?
“Please, just end this!”
The small prayer to no one echoed slightly in what appeared to be a cave. He was upright but not standing. His feet were not touching the ground. He was suspended by something. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he looked around. He could make out a small amount of light at one end. That would be the probable entrance. Directly below him was a pile of bones. Some with remnants of flesh still stuck to it. There were several small piles just like it all around the cave. He tried to turn his head to see more but something prevented him from doing that. He could not remember how he got here. His leg hurt and he tried to feel for a wound, but his arms would not work. They were stuck. He was completely wrapped in some sort of sticky rope only it wasn’t rope exactly. This felt more like. . .
“Wait just a minute. That’s enough. I have heard about all I care to. Webbing? Do you expect me to believe a spider caught you in a web? I got some schooling you know. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes.” The bartender got up, crossed his arms and headed for the front door.
He held it open and motioned for the stranger to mosey.
“This is where I get off Mister. Have a good day.”
The stranger nudged his hat up a little and his dark eyes peered at the man. He never left his seat.
He swirled what remained in his glass. Peering deeply into the dark, harsh, fluid, he remembered that remarkable moment in the cave.
The darkness of the cave could not disguise the sounds or smells that surrounded the young warrior. Death surrounded him on all sides. He knew his time was due.
But he still felt an undeniable need to save his people. But stuck here in this dark, vile, den of death, he could not see how. Without any means to defend himself, he could not help but feel totally incapable. When death came for him, he would pray to his ancestors for courage and guidance.
A soft moan came from his right.
“Hello?” His own voice echoed. “Is someone there?”
The small voice came back.
“Please, help. . . .me. . .”
Then a new sound.
“SCRITCH thump SCRITCH thump!”
It sounded like hoofs on rock. But he could not locate the sound.
“SCRITCH thump SCRITCH. Brrrrrr”
“NOOOOOOooooooooo. . . .”
“Squish, slurp, crunch.”
“moan. . . .”
“SCRITCH thump SCRITCH”
A shadow fell on him. Then something touched his head. Something heavy. Then a sharp pain in his leg clarified his senses. Something large, multilegged, and very hairy, held him and was biting his already sore leg. It felt warm, and then limp, almost pleasant. Something was injected into him.
“NO. This isn’t right.”
He screamed to the creature. “FACE ME, COWARD!!”
The creature slowly lowered itself from above him on a single, silvery, rope. He assumed this was the source of the webbing. A large head, covered in black orbs that blinked at him, centered itself right in front of him, and “spoke.”
He swallowed hard, but only dryness filled his mouth. His head was a little more mobile than moments ago due to all his struggling. His fear was replaced with something, something more animal. Yes, something savage and base, in the pit of his stomach, welling up, looking for focus.
He whispered. “Closer.”
“closer. . .”
The orbed head inched closer to his face. The stench of death nearly causing him to pass out.
Now both heads, practically touched each other.
He lurched his head into the creature’s. Mouth wide open, teeth flashing.
He bit down hard on something soft and furry. He tasted its blood as it rushed into his mouth.
It was horrible, vile, but he allowed the hot fluid to run down his throat but refused to release his jaw muscles. This was his only recourse, his last weapon.
The creature struggled mightily but could not remove itself. The webbing gave its victim a solid hold on the wall and provided strong leverage as he bit into the exposed neck. It was dying.
As the creature weakened, he could hear another commotion at the mouth of the cave. Several more creatures appeared.
“SCRITCH thump SCRITCH thump.”
They began to rush to the aid of their comrade, but just as they reached the struggling combatants, several arrows and a spear, found their marks. The beasts fell to the floor.
As the last ounces of life poured out of the creature, into his mouth, he noticed the three men enter as he passed out.
The bartender ran for the street and emptied his stomach.
The dark stranger chuckled to himself and downed the remnants of his birthday from the dirty glass. Then, with deliberate purpose, he put his hat back on, walked through the front door, and tipped his hat.
“Thank you for the drink.”
Then he walked out into the dust and felt the warmth of the rising sun.
It was several days before he woke from his deadly ordeal. Back home, in the safety of his mother’s house, he appeared to everyone as a sickly youth with a bad leg. He felt sickly. But he also felt grateful to be alive and to have given his people, his family, an extended life expectancy.
There had been no more sightings of the wolfish, spidery, creatures in the woods since his return. But that didn’t mean they were all gone. They all must remain vigilant. And, even more important, they needed to recover their losses. So many men had vanished in the last 10 years. It was time to grow the tribe.
He was ready to do his part, but his recovery seemed to take longer than expected. He was terribly hungry but no matter what his mother brought him, he just couldn’t stomach it. Even his favorites, roasted rabbit with mixed herbs and fresh greens made him sick to his stomach.
But something DID catch his interest. He sensed something near, just a short distance from the village, disguised by the darkness of the woods. His nose and his ears told him much. A deer. He gathered what remaining strength he had when no one was watching him. Then he sneaked out of the small hut, and noiselessly walked into the woods, empty handed.
The woods had never been as vibrant or alive as they were that afternoon. He knew every sound and smell, he saw every change in light and sensed creatures large and small doing their best to avoid the hunter. These sensations were new to him, but he didn’t question any of it. The deer was close.
A heartbeat, not his own, was pounding in his head. Leading him. Nearly in a mad frenzy of hunger, he found strength and focus. Only the animal mattered. The chase was quick. The deer, it seems, never stood a chance. It was a hunt but not the usual hunt. He used no weapons of any sort. Only his senses and his hands were necessary. And one other difference, as he reached for his prey, a change came over him. Not just his senses, but something else physical. He felt his teeth grow and sharpen and a strange sensation in his neck. He also seemed to grow taller, larger. The moment he wrapped the deer in his arms, he opened his mouth very wide, wider than normal, flashing his fangs. Then in a smooth, unforced motion, he bit down on the neck of the deer. Instinctively he allowed his neck muscles to contract and a venomous fluid entered the deer through his fangs. There was no struggle.
After a moment, he released the animal. It wasn’t dead, but it could not move. The eyes of the deer glazed white. He sat by it and allowed his sharpened senses to reach out into the forest surrounding him. This defensive posture allowed for a few more moments in time. Time to allow a strange and unusual process to take place deep within the deer.
In a matter of minutes, only the skin of the now dead animal kept it from completely falling apart. Its insides had been turned into a loose mixture, some of which oozed out of its mouth. This signaled him to return and once again, with his mouth wide open, fangs flashing, he plunged them into the deer and drank deeply.
In time, his hunger abated, he released the animal, now a mere carcass of skin. Then he sat down and closed his eyes. Feeling the newfound energy of the animal coursing through him, he reared back his head and let out a blood curdling howl. This informed the inhabitants of the forest that something new had arrived. Beware all who hear.
When he returned to the village, everyone wondered what had happened. He had been gone so suddenly, leaving no trace, they had worried for his safety. His mother clearly upset ran to him.
“Where did you go? We thought the creatures had come for you.”
He looked at her reassuringly and said to all, “No, I am fine. Better now. And no one will come to harm anyone in this place, ever again. I swear it.”
The conviction in his voice and manner seemed to convince them. They had never seen him so completely comfortable and confident. They assumed the events in the cave had changed him somehow. He allowed this to continue. They could never know his new truth. His strange and terrible truth.
A year passed in this way. His hunts continued and the village grew. But something began to bother him. His hunger, while not as intense as that first day, had been increasingly festering deep in him. Even though he easily killed and drained many, there was a new hunger, one he felt wasn’t right. A dark, lingering hunger. His usual meals were no longer enough. But what would it take to ease this he wondered?
And then, without warning, he made a startling discovery. One that would change him and the village forever.
While on a typical afternoon hunt, he sensed something new in the woods. He immediately took to the shelter of a high perch in a tree. He heard someone whistling in the distance. He waited for the new arrival to appear. While he waited a new sensation filled his whole being. A deep and cruel hunger.
The anticipation of a meal narrowed his focus tightly. His fangs flared and his neck engorged before the stranger appeared. Then a man walked into view. A lone white man, musket over his shoulder, casually walking the well-worn trail. Clearly a new settlement had been established somewhere near. But this was of no interest, this newcomer was prey.
The kill was fast. He feasted and disposed of the man quickly and quietly. It was easy. Too easy. And then another new sensation; shame. He had never killed another human being. He had sworn to only kill in defense of himself and his family. This was not a defensive kill. He could have easily killed an animal. But this time his instinct was too strong.
This disturbed him greatly. “I have become my enemy.”
Something else occurred to him. This man would be missed. A new settlement of whites would bring danger to his people and his flagrant behavior would only drive the newcomers to seek and possibly destroy everything he held dear.
And one other possibility frightened him even more. “I am now a danger to my own people as well. Human flesh is now a principle food for me. How can I live with this, or even as one of them?” The answer was obvious.
He would leave the tribe, he would leave his family. But that didn’t mean he would stop being their protector. The Spider Wolves could return, and his people would be helpless. And, not out of guilt or even prejudice, he resolved to protect ALL people from the creatures.
So, in 1610, the man known as The Savior of the People, disappeared into the woods of Virginia, and a legend was born.
My name is Dante Sauveur and I am the first of my kind in North America. I hunt the spider wolves and protect our secret. Sure, I just told you everything, but you don’t believe me. You never do. I can always count on that. I like to tell the story anyway. You like to call us Vampires and Werewolves and, you know, we are fine with that. Sure, on occasion, you get a detail right, but, for the most part, you really have no idea. And that is just the way I like it. – D.S. New Orleans, LA. 1875.