Even the darkness of the night couldn’t disguise the dust. What had been a lake of mud and dung only a week ago was now a fly infested dust bowl. But most folks in town called it Main Street. He walked straight down the middle of the road carefully avoiding a pair of dogs fighting over a carcass. He didn’t recognize what manner of creature the dead thing had been previously, and he didn’t care. He was thirsty and more than a little annoyed.
The music from the saloon had ceased about an hour ago and the barkeep was attempting to close up when the stranger, dressed in black, walked in. He was so startled by the appearance of the stranger that he almost didn’t catch the silver dollar so casually tossed by the newcomer.
“Whisky!?” The stranger sort of asked, mostly demanded.
The barkeep briefly considered telling the stranger to go to hell but one look at the shiny Bowie knife changed his mind. That and the whisky was only a dime a shot, and the silver dollar was a down payment on a bottle. The money was good, even if the whisky wasn’t.
Of the two remaining drunks, only one had the misfortune of approaching the man with the large knife. The other stumbled out the front door and promptly passed out on the dusty street.
The stranger made no reply.
“I SAID . . . nice knife!” He made two steps toward the stranger.
The speed in which the small throwing knife moved could never be calculated. But the impact on anyone who saw it was said to be legendary. Trouble was, no one saw it. The hat, collected by the deadly steel blade as it flew over the head of the remaining drunk, found a new home on the wall right between the chalk board menu and a wanted poster. The hatless belligerent passed out for the night between two barstools.
“Sorry about that.” The stranger apologized.
“Not a problem. You handled Jed better than I could have. Next one is on me.” The barkeep detected a slight smile under the heavy black hat.
“Just passin through or are ya stayin?”
“Staying, but not for long. I hope. I need a room.”
“What’s the occasion? Business or pleasure?”
“Neither. It’s my birthday.”
The barkeep ducked under the bar for a moment.
“In that case . . . might as well use the good stuff.” He set a fresh bottle of whisky on the counter and opened it.
“Happy Birthday Mr. . . .?”
The man made no sound.
The man snapped out of a trance.
“Hmm? Oh, uh, you know what? I am so old now I don’t even remember my own name.” He smiled. Then he took off his hat. A cascade of black hair fell around his shoulders. The bartender laughed.
“Old? HAHAHA. That’s a good one. You ain’t a day over 30.”
The stranger’s face changed. His eyes held the barkeep and he froze. Something about the man gave him the impression that he really was looking at a very old person.
“Truly sir, I kid you not. Today is more a memorial for a life long forgotten than a celebration.” He paused and his eyes seemed to change color. They were as black as marble. “Can I bother you with a story? I promise it will be a good one.”
The barkeep was suddenly frightened, but a curiosity quickly overshadowed his fear. He had heard many a stranger spin fanciful yarns and he could tell that this stranger was about to tell a story that no one would believe, no doubt. He wasn’t about to miss it.
“I am all ears, sir. Just how old are you, if I might be so rude to ask?”
The stranger gave the room a passing glance as though someone uninvited might hear.
“Today is my 260th Birthday.”
The mist was heavy that morning. A cold snap had settled into the marshes well into spring. The remaining ice made it difficult for the paddlers to advance quietly, and quiet was important. They were on edge. The English settlers had become quiet, inactive. The elders wondered why. A party was sent to investigate. Each paddler was alert, their senses heightened. The lead boat stopped paddling suddenly. A hand rose. All canoes stopped, each man looking, listening, smelling; nothing. Not even smoke from fires. What evil had befallen the whites?
The heavy, cold, mist could hide a war party. Was that what happened? Did the weak members of the small colony succumb to a raid or worse, sickness? That was something everyone feared. Sickness could not be fought, a war party could. But the whites had guns and knew how to use them. Could they have been overcome even with such power?
Silently the canoes beached. Clubs replaced paddles. Footfall regarded no sounds. No shadows in the mist unveiled the slight walls of the compound. If a war party were here, they would have engaged by now. Now the men were more afraid. It must be sickness. But it didn’t smell like sickness. Yes, there was the smell of death hanging in the frigid air, but that smell had always surrounded the white strangers, like a blanket.
Minoa had never seen such people. He hadn’t considered them as people anyway. They were strange. They built homes that could not easily be moved and wore garments of heavy materials he had never seen. The fences didn’t prevent anything from getting in. They were white like Gods. But could they be Gods and yet be so vulnerable and stupid? They didn’t know how to grow crops for food and spent too much time hunting for meat that was scarce rather than set nets for plentiful fish. No, they could not be Gods. He concluded that they must be demons. They must have been sent here as some sort of punishment. They angered the Gods somehow and therefore were forced to suffer. Minoa made a mental note to increase his offerings to the Gods.
Robert knew his wife would not last the night. If he was lucky his newborn son would die as well. No child should have to endure the hardships of which they found themselves. This just wasn’t the plan. The colony wasn’t prepared for the conditions and when the resupply ship didn’t come as planned, they knew they were doomed. Even God had abandoned them.
Now, in the early morning hours, the cold seeped into his bones and he began to hope that they might all be spared more suffering. That death would bring comfort was now his only wish. His failure was total. Now he wanted to die because living with the shame of such failure was more than he could bear. It had occurred to him that taking a wife before leaving for the New World was selfish, and indeed it was, but Emily wouldn’t hear it. She would not only marry him, she would take the arduous trip gladly. The adventure excited her. She would be a torch bearer for the women who would follow her there, to Roanoke. They were both thrilled when she learned that she was expecting. Theirs would be the second born of the European families, the first being Virginia Dare. That milestone had already been breached.
Robert considered a final solution. The lives of the innocent should not pay the price for his ambition. If he could only muster the courage needed or the strength. They ran out of food weeks ago. The little they had managed to scavenge went to the weakest, Roberts’s young son included. He wasn’t sure if it was a miracle or a curse that no one had yet perished.
“I’ll sleep on it. Maybe a great shroud will befall us in our slumber. Maybe the Lord has not forsaken us and will call us home. Yes, I will sleep on it.”
Then, just as he closed his eyes, a twig snapped. Something was inside the walls of the compound.
The gate had no locking mechanism or even a rope tied to keep it shut. It was as if no one cared to keep it secure. Minoa and the other men had no trouble walking into the poorly defended encampment. They were shocked by what they found.
The whole area was littered with debris and carcasses of dead animals; mostly small birds and rodents. But there were no bodies. Maybe they buried their dead or perhaps they kept their dead indoors, or worse, they ate each other. The flies weren’t too bad because of the cold but were busy, nevertheless. It seems a garden had been planted but hastily and too late in the season to produce. These people were definitely not Gods. There were no fish bones anywhere. The river and marsh had much to provide and yet these people did not or could not take advantage of something so simple.
Most troubling was the lack of smoke. The small huts should have been sufficient to provide adequate shelter, especially with central fire pits for warmth. Minoa feared the worst, that these people had succumbed to a deadly sickness and that they too would become sick and die. But then something surprising happened. A small cry came from one of the huts. It sounded like the cry of a child.
The infant had refused to fall asleep. He had been unnaturally curious about things from the very first day of life. Even now with everyone asleep he was wide awake, listening for any sound, sniffing for any scent, looking for any light. He was hungry but he was used to being hungry. Any amount of crying didn’t seem to help. He stopped trying. But then he heard a new sound, at least one that he had not heard in a while. Someone was stirring outside. He wondered who it was. He let out a sound, just to get the attention of whoever it was. Just a little sound at first. No response came. So, he tried again, this time a little louder. Again, no response. So, he mustered up some strength and really wailed.
Minoa heard the cry and hastily made his way to the area of the camp where he thought the sound came from. It was a plea from an innocent and Minoa could not refuse the call. His children had all succumbed to disease and he did not wish to see another young life lost if he could help it; even if it was white.
He opened the door to a small hut; the smell nearly knocked him backwards. The crying was coming from a small bundle in a corner. A woman was lying in a heap on the opposite side of the room. Then he heard a grunting. A man in the middle of the room stirred under a blanket. Minoa unsheathed his knife and prepared for a possible battle. But the battle didn’t come. The man and woman both were seemingly incapable of movement.
It was now clear to Minoa that these people weren’t sick, they were starving. He was relieved for only a moment. Now he and his kinsmen had decisions to make. What were they going to do with these people?
Robert knew they were not alone, but he was too weak to do anything about it. He hoped that maybe this was the end he had dared to wish for. He immediately regretted that wish.
“I am a coward.” He mumbled.
Then a strong hand rolled him over and he was staring at the face of a stranger. Was this the face of death? The face was painted and the sounds that came from this being were unintelligible. Maybe this was a demon sent to prepare Robert for the afterlife; an afterlife he believed deserved to be an eternity in Hell.
But then he felt himself lifted, carried, by surprisingly gentle hands of the stranger. He made a plea for mercy.
“Mm. .my. . .my. . boy. . .” Then he passed out.
“These are the words my father and Minoa told me 5 years after the day of my birth.” He took a swig of his whiskey. “They never tired of telling that story.”
He didn’t see any recognition in the eyes of the barkeep. “Yes, the baby was me. If that was unclear. . .”
The dubious bartender refilled the empty glass. “Interesting history lesson, stranger.”
“A lesson is not my intent. I am merely allowing myself a bit of aggrandizement. That and I am sure you do not believe me anyway.”
The bartender said nothing. He sat back in his chair and waited for more of the story.
“No worries my friend. It matters not to me. But I do appreciate your ear. Shall I continue?”
The old man motioned for him to do so.
After a week of care, the English Settlers began to emerge from the huts in the Indian village. Each bleary eyed but no longer consumed by hunger. Robert decided to call a meeting.
“We have been abandoned by England, I’m afraid. Left to our destinies and this dreary land. But it seems divine providence has seen us through. These fine savages have shown a greater Christian charity than they even know exists. As much as we fear each other, today my son, my wife, my colleagues, all live because these strangers saw fit to provide. We owe them many thanks.”
He received many nods in agreement.
“Now we have a decision to make. It seems we have been invited to join our rescuers and abandon our useless hovels and perhaps England herself. We can expect no provisioning nor can we expect our feeble skills to raise us to victory over this land we know nothing about. These fine natives have a need as well. Their numbers are dwindling due to sickness. We seem immune, thank merciful God. We can all find strength in greater numbers. We can learn from each other and prosper together.”
More nods in agreement from everyone. This surprised Robert. He expected some debate or talk of mutiny over the Crown. His merry band of colonists, it seemed, had overcome enough hardship and refused to trust England now.
Again, the Stranger regarded the old man and the disbelief on his face. He chuckled.
“We are known now as ‘The Lost Colony.’ No one ever came for us and what happened to us remains an official mystery. We like to keep it that way. Not that it matters now. So much time has passed.”
“Coexistence became easy for the people of Europe and our new family of American natives. Intermarriages were blessed and children born of mixed race were accepted by all. A few of the remaining white settlers didn’t fare well in the harsh environment while others seemed to flourish. Robert’s wife, my mother, who had bravely clung to life just a few years before, succumbed to a mysterious illness. My father took on a new wife; a woman recently widowed when a war party returned a few warriors short. She became my new mother.”
He looked away wistfully.
“Everything was fine, until we were “discovered.”
A new evil had arrived in the wilds of New England. No one knows when it arrived exactly. But more and more evidence, bloodshed, death, grief, and horror followed all who wandered off without care. Entire villages would disappear without any trace.
Hunting parties were dispatched to end the terror but only a small handful of warriors would return. Those that did were no longer warriors. The faces of men whose only goal in life was to be strong and prosperous warriors, men among men, glorified in the hunt, providers of life and glories of war, all drowning in sorrow and unspeakable fear; useless shells of their former selves.
This evil in the woods did not just destroy flesh, it destroyed spirit.
The Stranger paused for some time. The barkeep didn’t dare make a sound. After a spell the Stranger looked up. The barkeep saw nothing on his face to indicate the man’s mood. He was emotionless; empty.
“And that is how it was for several years.” The stranger tossed back another shot. “We never saw what was killing our people. But we did find gruesome remains after every hunting party came home with fewer and fewer of us.”
The barkeep tossed one back too. “Let’s just suppose I believe you, which isn’t too likely, what was it? What was killin’ you folk?”
The stranger turned to face the old man. Their eyes locked.
“What was killing us became my life’s ambition. But not right away.”
As the young man grew, he found that he became more and more isolated. After his father died, he became even more dependent on his adopted mother. They adored each other and were fiercely protective of their small but tight bond.
So many of the original Roanoke Colonists had died, either from disease, tribal warfare, or by whatever it was that was killing them slowly, year by year. Now the remaining people of the tribe were living in terror.
Fear became the norm and that meant little to no patience or toleration amongst the remaining tribe members. Tempers were short, prejudices became pronounced, and arguments sometimes turned violent.
When a group of young hunters returned from a rare successful hunt, the young settler watched their glee with a hint of jealousy.
Their leader, carrying a freshly killed buck, sneered at the young white colonist.
“Look, the white girl wants me. For I am the most desirable hunter in the tribe.”
The others laughed and praised his hubris. The young hunter- in- waiting was so angry his vision blurred. He owned no weapons. He had no skill with a blade or bow. He picked up a rock and reared back to hurl it at an unsuspecting head. Just as he was ready to release the small missile, his adopted mother grabbed his arm.
“This is NOT the way of a warrior! We cannot afford to fight amongst ourselves. Yes, they are stupid and full of themselves, but that is because they are frightened.”
“Frightened? By what? Didn’t you hear them?” His hot tears streamed down his face.
“Yes, I heard them. They fear what we all fear. The unknown. The force in the woods. Each other. You. Me. The creator has abandoned them. They fear death. They act out with cowardice. YOU will not! You are my SON!”
“I forced myself to become stronger, braver, faster; a warrior. No one would help me, so I had to do it myself.”
“After a couple of years, I was ready. At least I thought I was. Without permission from the elders I took a knife and a spear, both from my adoptive mother’s dead husband, and walked into the darkness of the woods. My mother wept.”
“The creature, or creatures, was out there and I was either going to destroy it and therefore make my family’s legacy strong and honored for all time, or I would die without memorial. Either was fine with me. One way or the other the bleeding was going to stop.”
The barkeep was wide awake now and his attention was unwavering. He still couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but it was a good story.
He didn’t get very far when a small band of young warriors intercepted him. “Where do you think you are going?”
He grasped his spear tightly.
“I intend to destroy our enemy.” He chose his words carefully.
“All by yourself?” They chuckled.
He glared and felt the heat of hatred well up in his throat. “I figure I must since none of you have been able to do it.” His eyes never left the leader.
The tension was obvious, and the other warriors reddened with anger and a little fear for what they thought might happen next. This show of strength and lack of respect would not go unanswered.
The leader paused a moment and without any attempt to defend his honor laid his spear aside and thrust out a hand, not in challenge.
“We will come with you. You have shown bravery. We die together.”
They shook hands all around and smiled. Their spirits soaring.
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. 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. He had never killed another human being. It was wonderful.
But still, he hungered.
This man would be missed. A new settlement of Europeans would bring danger to his people and his flagrant behavior would only drive the newcomers to seek and possibly destroy everything he knew. So, he immediately traced the man’s trail and followed it back to where he had come from. Further than he had guessed.
As the hunger continued.
It had been many years since he last approached the sea. Now, a small village appeared. A ship was anchored offshore. It was mesmerizing. Livestock in corrals feasted on the grasses of tilled fields. Rows of corn, large gardens, comfortable homes with wisps of smoke curled up from chimneys. Dogs barked. A bell tolled the hour and men and women, well dressed, filed into a larger building with a strange roof. After several moments he heard a chorus of voices in unison. “What is this?” His own people would make chants and incantations for special offerings to the Gods at regular times during the year, but this sound was new. Yet, somehow, he knew it was similar.
Just to his left, at the edge of the forest, a good distance away from the busy village, a large area surrounded by a low fence had been cleared and maintained. A lot of the area was empty but at intervals there were stones. Not natural stones, but shaped stones, with markings that he didn’t understand. Something told him this was a sacred place. He smelled death.
His unquenchable hunger returned.
The day dwindled.
He spotted a man, alone, tending a goat. His heart raced at the sight of this new prey. It was dusk, so he allowed the light to dim even further before he ventured out from his protected spot near the tree line. He felt his neck begin to engorge. His teeth sharpened as he approached the lone man.
He was within seconds of a strike when another emerged. Something from the shadows moving very fast.
Feeling competition for prey, he would fight for it. Taking a defensive stance, he moved to intercept the new threat. As it moved swiftly into the moonlight, he saw very clearly that this was a Spider-Wolf.
“SCRITCH SCRITCH. . .ROOOAAAAR!!”
He had assumed they were all gone. A shift in his motives. No longer did he hunger for the human. Now only the creature. He turned quickly to the man and his frightened goat.
The creature slammed into him and they rolled in a heap on the muddy ground. They quickly recovered and stood, facing each other. Fangs flashing, they roared. The creature’s multiple arms wide and menacing. They rushed at each other and landed several blows. Now, bloodied and battered, the opponents made a last deadly attack. This time only one recovered. The creature whimpered and relented as fangs pierced its neck, venom flowed.
There was no time to sit and wait for the venom to do its work. The people of the town would not sit idly in fear. A bell rang out. Dogs barked again. So, he mustered his strength and lifted the limp creature, carrying it back to the relative safety of the trees. There, he drained his prey and gathered strength. He must not leave any evidence of the creature, so he used his knife and shredded the remains and scattered it through the forest.
Wasting no time, he started back to his own village.
The hunger was gone.
As he wandered back home through the dense forest, he could feel it. Not dirt and branches and twigs and leaves, but the forest as a living collection of souls. He noticed things. All manner of things. A snail inched along a predetermined trial. A worm, sprinted across an exposed spot, hoping the Cardinal didn’t notice. Chipmunks returned home in high lofty places after a long day gathering winter vitals.
Not once in his life had he noticed all the colors and smells. Rich tapestries surrounded him and provided comfort, like a mother’s arms. The trees breathed. Yes, breathed, as though they had lungs. Ferns danced in the breeze. Songs floated but no words spoken. Urgency removed, he felt unity. He was one with everything.
The village at dusk was a welcome site. He always loved this time of the day. Families reunited after all the daily chores. Smoke lifting high into the sunset sky from each little hut brought him joy. He just stood and watched.
It was his mother who spotted him. “Where have you been? I worried.” She rushed into his waiting arms only to find them unfamiliar.
She stepped back, as though embarrassed by a stranger. He saw this and said “It is good to see you Mother. Everything is well.”
She sensed he had much more to tell.
“Please gather the elders. I have news.”
He told them all about the new settlement. But he left out his fight with the creature. News of the colony would be enough. This colony was strong and would grow. It must grow. The peace of the forest would be destroyed and his village, his family, would have to find a new home. A new and powerful enemy would change the land. It would change everything.
But, instead of mourning, this hearty band gathered its own formidable strength and found courage. When the men from the new colony arrived months later, there was no trace of anyone having ever been there. In time a township grew out of the ruins of his village.
Providence provided and his people flourished. Far south and west they settled. Others had arrived there as well, and families merged with families. Occasionally he would take one of his “long walks,” as his mother called them. He would return tired but at peace knowing he had destroyed more creatures who, for years, continued to pester his people. But none were the wiser. He made sure of that. His dark secret remained buried as he fulfilled his own sinister hunger.
That is until his hunger turned against him.
Not long after his mother had succumbed to old age, his hunger began to change once again. He had managed to fulfil his needs with the hunting of the ever-encroaching Spider-Wolves. But, time and his own distance from those he lived with, changed his dark agenda. Now, instead of protecting his people, he began to hunger for them. He desperately tried to dispel his craving by taking longer and longer “walks” but every time he returned, so did his secret desire.
Of course, he knew this day would come. How could it not? He was delivered from death by an evil that could not be explained. His only salvation came by his belief and his will to protect the people who had protected him and his dying colony all those years ago.
“I am now a danger to my own people. Hunger for Human flesh has captured 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 1627, the man known as The Savior of the People, disappeared into the swamps of the south, 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.