Memoirs of the Werewolf
by Janie Hofmann
The werewolf crouched on the precipice of the cliff. All around him the mountains were jagged, crumbling and cold; the trees stilted and leafless, their trunks clinging to the narrow crevices in the rocks where the life-giving ingredients of water and soil pooled. The sky was iron black, broken by stars that never twinkled and the hazy glow of the village.
The werewolf’s deep-set blue eyes narrowed as a breeze flicked his dark oily bangs. He was wiry, with unusually large shoulders and thick but elegant hands. His clothes were dark but faded on the elbows and knees and his boots were heavy, the black leather cracked from sun, rock paths and sand.
The village was eerily peaceful; how different it had been sixteen years ago as a sprawling, bustling hamlet reeking of raw back-alley sewage, penned animals and tightly packed bodies. The werewolf was seventeen the day the Horsemen arrived from the eastern plains. They were a shockingly heavy-set, square-jawed enemy, galloping to the village entrance at ferocious speed; their slaughter a hacking, jumbled and leaderless affair.
The werewolf, his father and several other werewolves were in a congested market square near the city center. His father swayed a little, his body dissolving into silver translucence that melted to mercury softness and then reformed like candle wax into solid texture. He was wolf now. The young werewolf and his kind followed. Their communal adrenaline snapping into action, the werewolves ran in different directions, shouting and herding people towards the rocky hills. All followed: the fine-tuned instincts of werewolves were beyond refute.
The werewolf ran to the village entrance then stopped and retched so hard his belly throbbed all the way to his back. The Horsemen were planting stakes at the main entrance, each one decorated with a head. The stakes were made from the young, fresh forest pine stripped of its bark, and the warm blood-looking paintbrush pretty pink as it streamed down the clean white wood made a bizarre fence. His first taste of war complete, the werewolf snorted and slobbered, his lower jaw quivering. Limbs numb, eyes green-glassy as swamp water, the werewolf tried to leave but could not.
Suddenly, a Horseman was beside the werewolf — he was a muscular, sloppy redhead reeking of sweat, mud and horse. The werewolf sniffed, looked up from his gagging and sprang, his jaws clamping the neck of the redhead.
The redhead gasped, cursed and flung the werewolf off, then raised his sword with his tree-trunk arms as the stunned werewolf lay on the ground. The werewolf saw the sword coming down and did a split-second pass-out and then awoke to suffocation across his ribcage and a warm wetness on his hindquarters.
I’ve pissed myself, the werewolf first thought, but then raised his half-closed eyes and saw the redhead’s neck, head and torso on top of him and his father on top of the redhead. The senior werewolf’s jaws were heartily dug into the redhead’s jugular, and the blood was pooling underneath the younger werewolf, who suddenly noticed noises previously unheard: a chicken squalling, a coarse voice crying mother, and somewhere, a most delightful bell was tinkling.
The werewolf’s father relaxed his jaw, dismounted the redhead and pulled his son out from under the bloodied mass by the scruff of his neck. The rest of the day passed as any harrowing nightmare should. By evening, the escaped were deep in the canyon lands, gathered on the rockiest point of the cliffs. No horse could ever survive such terrain, and as the village settled into the mountains and planned stratagem against the enemy, it came to light that the Horsemen were only fair warriors without their equines.
But the villagers were a chaotic mass, hysterical with shock and pain. The werewolf, still in wolf form, was soaked with his own sweat and the blood of the redhead. Dazed, he felt children clinging to him, crying their gratitude into his neck; men were voting the werewolves as platoon leaders and pressing the wolves to their thighs in comradeship while old women fussed over the wolves’ injuries.
Am I a hero? The werewolf felt light, and believed if he kept feeling light, and if everything would stay chaotic, that the flame of shock and horror in his head would burn itself out. He wanted another immediate act of violence, a chance to prove himself and thereby purge the sight of the staked heads and the weight of the redhead forever. And such chances he did receive.
The werewolf’s first assignment had been to infiltrate the village Hall, which the enemy chose as their military headquarters. He had entered the Hall, in wolf form, via an underground tunnel. He could see in the pitch black, but the pads of his feet were pinched from pink to bloody pulp in less than an hour by the uneven square stones.
He stopped to rest, salivating and panting; anything to stave off the feeling of compression. He had visions of the walls squeezing him, the stones coming loose, crushing his head as dust and mortar entered his mouth and clogged his insides until he choked.
The werewolf felt a shudder and jerked around. No one was there, but the tunnel walls and floor quivered and swayed violently as he lost his balance. Panicking, he wailed and curled up in a ball on the tunnel floor and stayed there long after the quaking stopped. It was the werewolf’s first earthquake and for thirty seconds he believed he was going to be buried alive and wondered if this was how it had been for his ancestors, who were often buried alive by the once ignorant villagers.
He ached for open air and got up to turn back and report that the tunnel was impassable. To his surprise, he felt no guilt at having such thoughts. But he pressed on through the dark, terrified that his frayed nerves would be his undoing. In the end, he did complete his mission well.
And now, sleepless and moody, shifting from crouch to kneel on the outcropping, the werewolf felt the true weight of being a veteran. He missed the constant occupation of a war that had marked the end of his youth and birth of his bravery and the sweetness of war love — a rawness and purity he now longed for.
One night, under a shabby tent, the werewolf let the fire die and fell asleep, waiting for his love to return and lay her warmth beside him. At early morning he woke to cold emptiness and a quickening throb in his groin that spoke of her death. He led a search through the stretch of farmland that lay in between the village and the cliffs, where she would have passed through on her way back from her mission.
They reached a pillaged farm. The buildings had been torn apart and were still crumbling, and all that remained of a well was a gaping rough hole with stones strewn around it. Out of the corner of his eye, the werewolf saw his uncle approach the well, casually glance down and then stop. The werewolf felt as though a dull stake had been forced through his chest and something deep inside of himself broke to pieces as he ran towards the well.
“No, nephew, no!” his uncle cried. “You don’t need to see... Stop him!”
The werewolf felt hands grasping his arms and shoulders, holding him back; and he heard calm low voices speaking words his brain would not absorb as he sank to his knees, bowing his head.
The vision of her falling and drowning was the deepest stab his soul had received since that day he had taken a bath in the redhead’s jugular blood. The werewolf pieced together the events leading up to her death as follows: A beautiful, sleek she-werewolf patiently waited in the darkness to pounce on the unsuspecting party of Horseman officers. There were supposed to be only four of them, but there were six.
Undaunted, she waited until midnight, when the Horsemen would be tired, their weapons lowered but their minds active with dark dreams. For all humans expected their self-made fears to come true at midnight and this anxiety made them vulnerable and easier to kill.
She pounced, springy as a gazelle, breaking the first one’s neck in a single bite. He crumbled in silence. The second one took longer and by then the other four Horseman had awoken. They were wet from blood, scrambling, shaking and fearful of a darkness that spit the fanged form into their camp. The Horsemen had come from the plains, where wolves or any large game had not been seen for centuries. They had never learned how to defend against a wolf attack.
She finished the rest off quickly and sprinted home, cutting through the night like a silver knife, crossing the pillaged farm swiftly, then falling into the unseen watery tomb. And the stale and colorless well water swelled with shiny silver as she morphed back to human: her body floating, the blonde hair flowing out to frame her face, long limbs spreading outwards like an angel protecting the ill, weak and deformed.
Out of pride, the werewolf did not mourn for long. He had seen humans only rarely demonstrate the same stoicism; this was when he respected them most, as normally, like most werewolves, he had little patience with humans.
Still, the werewolf had felt some affinity with the humans he had fought alongside. He found their camaraderie and acceptance of him surprising in the early years when he was stationed with the troops to press the Horsemen away from the abandoned farmland where his love died. But one night, all brotherhood fell away and the werewolf never understood why. Perhaps the phantoms that humans create for themselves at the midnight hour had struck out at both human and werewolf.
The werewolf had been among a troop of seven werewolves and nine humans that made camp near a swampy area well hidden by weeping, mossy trees. They had successfully ambushed a party of over fifty Horsemen near the outskirts of the village, and their heads were swollen with their own success. The werewolf and the six other werewolves had done well, killing over thirty-five of the Horsemen, and the nine men had been very impressed.
Among the booty they had seized had been wine, and by midnight all were beautifully drunk, swaying from their hips, chanting songs about women, she-wolves and wild nights, when the werewolf felt a chest hit his.
The man glared at him and the werewolf was stunned — it was the human who had bumped into him. The first hurled insult came from nowhere and the free-for-all fight was on. Nobody was on anybody’s side, so the fight had been equally delicious for both the men and the werewolves — a harmless opportunity to relieve tension. By late dawn the werewolf woke, as they all did, paste-mouthed and pink-eyed with a thundering head.
One werewolf was missing, but they did not know it until they fell over him on the way to a muddy stream to wash out their overnight indulgence. He was a pink mass of deadness, with the color and texture of baby rat fresh out of the womb. He had been skinned alive; hopefully, while still in a drunken stupor. The thick gray coat of the wolf was never found and no one volunteered to search for it.
The men said the werewolves did it to one of their own to gain sympathy with the superiors. Most superior officers, though human, favored werewolves and saw them as crucial to military success, and some lazy and less skilled werewolves had been known to take advantage of such favoritism.
In turn, the werewolves accused the men of skinning the werewolf in revenge for his bedding a human female. In the end, drums pounding their temples, their bodies dehydrated and sluggish, they sauntered back to headquarters and reported the wolf as dead in battle. What could be done, anyway? They had all been drunk and were unwilling to confess — so silence prevailed.
Years later, while on mission in the West Mountains with his father, the werewolf leaned against a wizened tree and surveyed the rockscape. This side of the ridge was rougher than the werewolf was used to; dryer and colder, rocks blood red in the sunset.
Suddenly, the inside of his head cartwheeled to a vision of a wolf with amputated legs — and the werewolf saw the amputators. They were an army of small beetles whose pinchers were more than half their body size. And they were black and hairy-legged with red bellies that glowed like rubies when they reared up on their hind legs and waved their front limbs.
There were five herds of the vicious beasts, four shouldering a wolf limb and one a head that bobbed on their crisply round exoskeleton backs. The werewolf tried so hard to swallow his chest tightened to dry pain. He could not morph, and he ached more than anything to change form and run — he could stop this nightmare, this vision that never happened but did.
The werewolf’s father had been studying the ground near a stagnant, algae ridden pool of water when he felt his son’s horror trance. The senior werewolf looked up and stared at his son. The werewolf felt his father’s eyes, then blinked and relayed the whole story of the skinned wolf to his father, who was philosophical and without sympathy.
His son and the other werewolves had let their guard down and mistaken human gratitude as acceptance, and had paid the price. Humans were generally not capable of accepting werewolves or, for that matter, anything they could never completely control. Though wounded by his father’s gruffness, the werewolf agreed.
The Horsemen had been a far easier species of human to understand. They could only invade as cavalry and were nervous when on foot in mountain or forest terrain. For years, hundreds of them kept arriving from the plains, but one werewolf could often take up to ten Horsemen in a night ambush.
And one evening in August, the people of the village finally marched out of the hills flanked by wolves, and the last of the Horsemen, tired and demoralized, offered no resistance. Most of their horses, long rendered useless, had been abandoned or killed for food.
The werewolf mused at the irony. He had expected the reclamation of the village to be a barbarous spectacle, the best chance to squeeze the blood of vengeance. Yet, human and werewolf watched, silent and expressionless, as the Horsemen listlessly exited, dust rising behind them as they strode onto the plains in the hazy orange glow of the late August sunset.
Such were the events in the werewolf’s fourteen-year long career. And though the excitement seemed to die a little at the end, he longed for the cauldron to boil again. Two years had passed since the reclaiming, and his military career over, he was fatigued from restlessness and wondering. He had never given a thought to any other career. Serving on village council as most werewolves now did was out of the question as he was too restless a creature.
Now, when the werewolf would return to the rough stone cabin he shared with his father, the sight of the older werewolf dozing by the fire was a comfort. Neither he nor his father returned to the village after the Horsemen left, preferring the quiet of the hills to the clamor of village life.
Midnight, the undoing hour for humans, was approaching at no particular speed. The werewolf maintained his stoic but self-neurotic stance on the outcropping, feeling the pulse of untwisting memories in his bowel, loins and groin. He was unsettled, thirsting for action and unable to quell or exercise his desire.
High above the gauzy sheen of the village, the midnight half-moon softened the hard darkness of the plains. Then, below the dull pinprick stars, the blackness quivered like sight through heat waves, bubbling to a fiery orange strip that ran parallel to the horizon. The werewolf’s nostrils flared, but he relaxed the muscles in his back and thighs, and widened his eyes. What new enemy could make so much orange-gray light at such a distance? Perhaps it was a thousand more Horsemen, revived and strong again, each carrying a lit torch in his hand as they rode their light-footed steeds to new victory.
The orange glow fooled the eyes, appearing solid, unmoving. But the werewolf knew its approach was as swift as the light of torches and dull moonlight would allow. Still, there would be a chance to prevent the staking of heads. And if there should not be such a chance, then it would be his turn to save some novice werewolf foolish enough to get too close to the enemy.
The werewolf knew his father was already in wolf form, speeding towards the village. The werewolf changed to wolf. Morphing had never felt so sweet, scintillating as the taste of new love. The werewolf sprang from the outcropping like a striking cobra and bulleted down the mountain to the village, aching to greet the midnight guests with the cool nonchalance of a veteran.
Copyright © 2009 by Janie Hofmann