Dink ducked into the alley and waited for the killer to pass. He could see his own breath in the cold night air, but he hoped no one could hear his heart thumping against the brick wall. “Lady, please protect me, keep me from the terrors of this world,” he whispered, closing his eyes and straining to listen for movement along the main street.
He gathered up enough courage to look back into the darkness and saw a malformed figure hunched over a prone body, the corpse of a woman Dink had laughed with over a spilled drink with only an hour before.
Something howled at the low-hanging yellow moon, and he knew what it was: The Wolf-Man.
The hunched figure whipped its head around and Dink darted back into the alley, hoping it hadn’t seen him.
He couldn’t do anything now for poor Sally. Maybe the Sheriff could stop the beast, but Dink had no chance against such a monster. He slunk off down the alley and slipped into the night, hoping the Lady would protect him from the terrors lurking there.
The next day, the tavern buzzed with talk of Sally’s death.
“Sliced her up right good, like slaughterin’ a lamb.”
“Razor claws, sharp as knives, I heard.”
“I saw her, her insides were gone, ate them right there.”
“Just like the others.”
Dink downed another mug without breathing. He’d liked Sally; she’d been nice to him. Rare enough around these parts, especially for a someone like him.
“We all know what it was,” said Piney, the barkeep, narrowing his good eye and hiding the glass one with a turn of his head.
“Someone needs to do something.”
“The Sheriff is supposed to protect us.”
“The Sheriff isn’t going into those woods,” said Piney, peering hard at each of them with that lone good eye. “An’ which one a youse is gonna do it?”
No one said anything, except for Dink. Perhaps because he’d been so invested in the bottom of his mug, and perhaps because of his grief over Sally or maybe just because he was tired of working so hard and going nowhere, Dink spoke up. “I’ll go.”
Chairs shifted, and a gasp or two echoed across the room.
“Why would you stick your neck out for this town?”
“Don’t discourage him. Let the fool pup get on with it.”
“Are you sure, lad?” Piney asked him, refilling his mug. “You know what’s waiting out there, don’cha?”
“I’d be the monster if I did nothing,” he said, pushing the mug away and walking out of the swinging wooden doors.
Dink was no tracker, but it wasn’t hard to find the trail of the monster in the forest. Normally Dink wouldn’t so much as leave a muddy footprint here, but he’d committed himself to this quest.
The forest felt like a foggy shadow the farther he waded into its midst, every creak jerking his head side to side, every cracking branch halting his progress for a few moments of breathless searching with his ears.
The farther he went, the thicker the growth, the darker the path, and the more the unexplained noises. He heard something take off screeching when he snapped a twig, jolting several trees in its wake; a swarm of cawing and black feathers covered him as he bumped a tree, and a low growling caused him to readjust course several times.
Perhaps he should turn back. The Wolf-Man had killed at least a dozen people; what could he hope to accomplish? His liquid courage began subsiding, and the cold ache of realization crowded out the cold in his bones as he looked around at the ambiguous forest growing ever darker.
He stumbled, his legs barely able to push him forward for their shaking, but he knew he could not stop here. He’d been so stupid. He needed to get out.
Then he saw the clearing and crashed ahead; and just before the edge of the forest, he felt something crunch under his feet. Dink reached down and picked up the cracked white skull of a wolf. He dropped it and ran headlong into the clearing. Bones and skulls clattered and crunched beneath his feet. Bathed in moonlight stood a log cabin, smoke rising from the chimney, firelight flickering out of a lonely window.
Dink ran across the boneyard entrance to the front door, pounding until the door creaked inwards, as if the Wolf-Man had been waiting on an honored guest to arrive. He stood at the entrance, looked back at the bones as if they were an avalanche, and stepped through the door. “Hello? I knocked, but your door is open,” he called as he tiptoed in, scanning the room.
To his immediate left, in the corner of the house, he saw a wolf chained up, cowering, voiceless. In the next corner, he saw another wolf chained and still. In the third corner, a wolf lay whimpering; and then he pushed the door back to see the final corner of the room and there, hunched over a prone corpse in the same manner as with Sally, a feral man-thing with the head of a wolf was shaking its head violently, spattering blood from the body of the wolf across the walls.
As the old door groaned open, the figure stood, but it wasn’t half-man and half-wolf; instead, a man with two long knives held downward and a face covered in blood stood there, with the pelt of a wolf draped over his head.
“I am the hunter, I am the killer, I am death,” said the man.
Dink wanted to run, but there were no alleys to duck into this time. There would be no vengeance for Sally, no acceptance by the town.
“Lady, please protect me from the horrors of this world; and the next.”