It was unnerving to think that the city was over two hours away by truck. The man he had hired to drive him to his destination, a little village not on any map, had been adamant about leaving before nightfall despite saying the place was ‘free of witches and ghosts’, meaning that there was a deadline.
It was almost as if the driver knew, but that was impossible.
Then again, if you had asked him just a few years ago if werewolves were real he would have laughed. In those years between then and now he had learned a great deal, come to accept that there were many things in the world that were, by nature beyond, understanding.
A camping trip in Germany had been the start of it, or he thought it was. They’d been attacked by something, wild dogs he’d assumed at the time, but the nightmares hadn’t started until months afterwards.
Nightmares and half remembered dreams of great, shaggy beasts baying at the moon and hunting things through dark forests and alleyways.
He dismissed them as trauma from the attack and sought help.
Pills and psychologists helped, made the nightmares into dreams, but they never vanished.
He learned to live with them.
At the advice of his doctor he started tracking when they happened, see if there was a pattern, specific triggers.
It took another year, looking at the pattern of ‘x’s on the calendar for it to fall into place.
He’d laughed because it was so unbelievable.
Then a month, maybe two, later he woke up with blood under his nails.
It was something that had happened before.
That time he didn’t assume that it was because he’d scratched himself in his sleep.
He started giving serious consideration that the doctors might be wrong.
Research in other directions, far less rational directions, yielded results.
The depression and nightmares were tied to the waxing and waning of the moon, but it was more complex than that.
In the days leading up to the full moon there was dread, subconsciously knowing that the nightmares would happen, even before he had first seen the pattern, yet there was a paradoxical euphoria, am inexplicable feeling of vigor and wellbeing that grew to restless energy as the full moon drew steadily nearer. It would linger for a few days afterwards and then fade, lethargy and a sense of deep depression coinciding with the new moon.
It was a terrible thing to realize, but not knowing had been far worse.
Knowing that it was lycanthropy meant that he could look for a cure, impossible as that might seem.
He returned to the site of the attack, seeking answers there, and when he found nothing, he widened his search, eventually traveling across Europe in the hope of finding something.
More often than not leads proved false, or ended in disappointment or violence in the worst cases, when hope got the better of rationality and he took chances that he shouldn’t have, though there was little place for rationality in the places that his efforts took him. He learned of werewolves, the making of them and the killing of them, but precious little of curing them.
All across Europe there were dark places where werewolves were a problem and those who knew of them were as dangerous to him as the wolves themselves.
Werewolves had always been present and always would be. No one had ever cured or tamed one, save for perhaps a scant handful of saints, all long dead.
Yet hope remained, there may have been something he had overlooked, some truth amid the layers of myth that surrounded the monster that had cursed him.
Everywhere he went he found stories of the monsters, but that was the nature of his search. Disappointment after disappointment, realization dawning with agonizing slowness – his search had been doomed from the start. Everywhere he went he went because he knew that werewolves could be found there.
The answer then was to seek a place where they weren’t.
If there was a cure it would surely be there.
And so a certain fact eventually presented itself; that there were no werewolves in Africa.
There should have been, the continent having no shortage of either wolves or witches who might inflict such a curse, but there weren’t.
Which was how it had come to this, crouched in a hut in a nameless village, telling his story to an old witch woman in a place otherwise free of witches. A young woman with fierce, dark eyes who claimed to be the woman’s daughter translated for him. All this took place under the watchful eye of a slack-jawed, albinoid young man that the young woman said was her ‘idiot twin who had inherited powerful magic from his father as well as their mother’, despite the two of them looking nothing alike.
The albino, as well as the young woman, were far too young to be the children of the crone, which made him briefly doubt the woman’s skill as a translator, though she was clever enough that he wondered if it was out of deference that she called the witch mother. Though that did nothing to explain why the albino would be her brother.
The crone listened as the young woman relayed the story to her, occasionally smiling, revealing a set of shockingly white teeth that had been filed to points, or nodding.
Questions were asked, some small points needing clarifying, for trying to explain what a werewolf was, through a translator to someone who had no concept of such a beast was difficult at best. At the least he was determined to make it clear that he had been cursed and sought a cure.
Somewhere in the relaying of that aspect of the situation a disagreement arose between the young woman and the crone. The nature of the argument was lost on him, but it was fierce, the young woman standing and yelling while her supposed mother laughed at her, which only served to further her outrage.
It continued until, faster than the eye could follow, the crone was on her feet and struck the young woman across the face.
The young woman scowled, spat on the ground and then stormed out of the tent, leaving him alone with the crone who was looking at him with a sly expression.
With no translator there was nothing he could say, no way to ask what had transpired.
All he could do was wait.
During this time the albino spoke for the first time, muttering something that earned him an affectionate smile from the old woman. The albino smiled back, shifting anxiously in place as a commotion arose outside of the hut, human voices raised in howling and whooping that made the wolf in him anxious.
These were not words, but sounds and they resonated with something deep and evil inside of him.
Had they started a ritual to drag the wolf out? Force it to show itself despite the moon not being full?
Not that it mattered he had learned, in times of desperation the wolf would come out regardless of the moon’s cycle. There were times when he could feel it clawing at the back of his mind, raging and howling to be let free.
That wasn’t the worst part though.
The worst part was that there were times when he wanted to give in, to let the monster out so that he could run wild and free, engaging in whatever cruel whim it cared to. During those times he felt the same elation that came with the waxing moon.
Now though, the wolf was nervous, an animal sensing some predator greater than it. It had caught some scent that was lost to him.
The albino sniffed loudly, his expression suddenly too knowing.
Something inhuman joined the cacophony outside, for no human mouth could have ever formed such sounds.
A shadow filled the door of the hut, the young woman had returned.
She said something in her own language to the crone and the albino, then turned to him and spoke in a haughty, “Mother was right. The ancestors are willing to eat the filthy curse that you brought here, as they have the demons and witches that inhabited this place before us.”
The wolf understood before he did, tearing free to lunge at the crone.
A howl died to a whimper as jaws closed around his throat, a massive white hyena stepping between him and the old woman.
He tore free, leaving flesh and fur behind as he ran from the hut, but the hyena pursued, baying and whooping behind him.
Others joined, human voices blending with the cackling and snarls of beasts.
The wolf ran as the inhabitants village pursued on two and four legs alike.
Those that were human were quickly left behind, but the hyenas were far more persistent, even if the wolf was faster.
Fear the likes of which it had never known filled it, and in the corner of its mind that was still human, that was still him, there was dread.
The wolf was faster, but the hyenas’ laughter made it clear that this was sport to them. They had no doubts that they would catch him and everything before that was simply a game.
For when the wolf looked back he saw through its eyes.
Leading the chase was a hyena, lanky and gray with age, right behind it was the massive white beast that was her albino son and the others only stayed farther behind out of respect.
When the time came the crone would give the word and the pack would overtake him.
Until then the wolf ran with animal desperation, just human enough to know that it was doomed, but just animal enough to try and flee anyway.