“Honey...did you look at this?”
I smiled. The nature of the inflection in her voice meant that she did not like what she was seeing. Unfortunately she saw me smile and that seemed to irritate her a bit. The frown creased her forehead in an appalling manner and I hastened to apologize. She accepted complacently (she knew I would go to any lengths to make her smile). I have digressed. The reason why she was trying to gain my attention was a piece of news in the Evening Post. It read in a loud, bold typeface: “ANOTHER ONE FOUND. INSIDE THE RAILWAY STATION. FACE MARRED BEYOND RECOGNITION. IS THERE A WEREWOLF IN TOWN?”This time I laughed out loud much to her chagrin. “Really, my heart,” I guffawed, “you do not believe this blabberdash. It is some poor, neglected human being vying for attention from all susceptible folks. And getting it too. In rich measures.” She walked out of the room her head held high, her dark hair flowing like lush waves. She left behind a fragrance of lavender blossoms and anger.
I was to meet a few of my peers in the evening for cigars and maybe a game or two of billiards. As I retouched my attire I thought about what I’d read and about the events that had been ensuing for the past month. Close to five dead bodies had been found in the most frighteningly grotesque conditions in various parts of the town. It was mentioned that the persons who had the misfortune of laying their eyes on the bodies were still recovering from the trauma, so horrible was the sight. I frowned at my reflection. I’d laughed at my wife’s discomfort. And here I was feeling the familiar tingling on the nape of my neck. My mind went back to a night at a mansion. A night when I was confounded beyond all sciences and mathematics. A night when a seed was sown in the fertile soils of my mind. A seed that was slowly shrubbing and twig like thoughts were sprouting. Thoughts that veered towards the out of ordinary. What was the term that they were using these days? Yes. PARANORMAL. When I first heard of it I was astounded at the gross imbecility of men who proclaimed (in the same breath) that they were scientists who were testing the presence of spirits in a haunted house. With instruments and equipments that captured energies and nonsense. But after the tryst with a similar spirit in a mansion, I was a slightly altered human being. Not a believer, mind you. But the doubt that had taken root was slowly embedding and preparing itself to feel at home inside my mind. Therefore with uneasiness I walked outside my home and towards the Club.
It was not yet the chilling biting winter that brings with it a feeling of despondency and despair and also a certain sense of melancholy which sensitive souls attribute to the greyness in the weather. No tonight was not that kind of weather. Contrarily it was nippy and the wind was sharp bringing with it a sense of alertness that was actually heightened because of my earlier preoccupation with ‘that night’ and with the news that so disturbed my lovely wife. So my senses were extraordinarily acute and I swear I could even hear the hatchlings breathing in their nests. Strange though it may sound. In fact I almost did not recognize my friend who fell into step beside me because I was so alive to the sounds of nature. For a second I started and then I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it was him and not some unknown adversary with ill-intentions. Two more of my friends joined us and the atmosphere lightened a tad bit with all of us talking at the same time and trying to get our ideas through. Thus, laughing and in high spirits we made to enter the Club. I fell behind and just as I was about to step in I saw something flash past me in a blur. I looked to see what it was and I could just discern a pair of legs and a tail. No. Let me be specific. A pair of human legs and a tail. But I was completely sober and also quite alert. Yet I swear I saw this. I shook my head and went inside the Club. Enough, I decided then and there. I was not going to let an irrational thing like this mar my much-awaited evening of fun and cheer.
After a few drinks, a cigar and a game (which I won, of course), we sat down beside the fire and one of us broached upon the gruesome murders that were scaring and scarring the town. I wish he hadn’t. But unfortunately such topics create a very unwanted sensationalism which then gets quite contagious and then people are just not able to stop talking about it and inferring and reinferring and ruminating, quite unnecessarily, if I may add. But then the damage was done.
“So, Doctor, what does your grey matter have to say about this?” My friends called me Doctor because I had the tendency to dissect everything and verbalize my opinions in a particularly diagnostic and clinical manner.
“The foolishness of a neglected human being trying to gain attention and succeeding extremely well. Thanks to all of you who insist on giving him the unwanted attention that he is craving for.” I finished it with an expression that said how exasperated and disgusted I was with the whole bunch of them. Men of Science.
“Oh...what makes you think, he’s a he? He could be a she, you know.” This from the youngest amongst us. And also the one who had taken an extra glass or two, an action which had resulted in quite unfortunate outcomes.
“I feel that there is something strange going on here. The wounds on all the bodies are scratches which are not made by a human being. These have been made by animal paws. And there are people who have sighted a half-man half animal like creature. Something is not quite right over here.” The person who said this was a very senior specialist in botanical testing. He had won several accolades for breakthrough findings in the realm of the plant world. “And...the second body. Which as you all maybe aware was the most mutilated, had also traces of bite marks which, beyond doubt, were the fangs of an animal, since the entire flesh of her thigh was torn apart from the bone.”
I shifted uneasily in my seat. The half-man, half-animal reference was creating the tingling nape feeling all over again. I tried to focus on the rest of the conversation but I couldn’t. That vision flashed again and again till I was convinced that yes, I had seen the creature who was responsible for all the murders. But what about my earlier dismissal of the entire event as something trivial and quite disgusting? And what was I going to tell my wife? I pushed these thoughts aside and strolled into the dining room. I stood gazing out of the large windows that faced the gentle slope of a hill. Just across the hill was a manor that belonged to an old family that had been living there for almost a century now. Four generations of scions had been born, raised there and had taken care of the manor. There were stories about one of the sons who had spent some time in Romania conducting a research in chemistry with another scientist there. This son retuned a year ago but suddenly disappeared. His old parents still lived in the manor and were in a constant state of wait. They still harboured hopes that their son will return some day. The poor souls. It was quite a sensation actually. I had seen the young man too. A dark, brooding looking man with a certain grimness in his demeanour. I never had the opportunity to speak with him about his research. I wondered at that time as to what might have happened to him. I wondered the same wonder at this moment. And as if in reply to my wonder, it flashed past me again.
I almost fainted. But, reader, I am not the weak man that you might think me to be. Even now at times I wonder what prompted me to act the way I did but, yes, I opened the window and jumped out with every intention of following the creature. In full speed I ran and ran. I could see it leaping over bushes (something which I obviously couldn’t do and which reduced my speed greatly). Suddenly it stopped and looked up at the sky. The sky was black. There was no moon that night and no stars even. How come there were no stars? And why was I thinking about stars? I looked at it’s profile. Good heavens, it had strange looking ears, like a dog, maybe. But the profile was that of a man. A familiar man. It was still looking at the sky as though waiting for something. I got the opportunity to reduce the distance between us stealthily so that I could get a better look. What makes me do such things? In all probabilities it might just tear my heart out of my body and leave me bleeding to death. Also i was quite far away from my friend’s cottage. And, reader, kindly add to it the fact that I had foolishly left the premises without telling anyone the nature of my enterprise. So I was literally on my own now. If anything were to happen to me it would be a very very long time before help would arrive.
The creature had not moved. The distance having reduced I could get a better look at its face. Good God, it was the son who had returned from Romania and had mysteriously disappeared. Was this a coincidence? There I was wondering about him and here he was, in front of me, in a frighteningly altered form. As I stood looking at him he turned and his eyes scanned the bushes where I was hidden. “Someone’s there. I can smell you. You’re a man. Come out please.” I almost spat my heart out of my mouth when I heard him. I had no choice. Recollections of the leaping over bushes came to my mind. He would easily overtake me and then...? I stood up and said, “I mean no harm. I know you. You’re a scientist. Just like me. I was wondering if you would like to talk to me. If not then I’ll leave and we can forget that we’d met.” He laughed. I did not like the sound of that laughter. But now it was too far gone to even think of escape attempts, leave alone try them. He sat down on a boulder and gestured that I do the same. I did and looked at him for further instructions.
He was silent for a long time. I noticed his ears and was debating whether or not to comment on them. “You must be knowing that I was in Romania for some time. Ten years in fact. I was called there by a university that wanted to employ me for a certain research that they were about to embark upon. I went there and found myself settling down into a comfortable routine almost immediately. It was strange because I am a most finicky fellow. Nothing would satisfy me. And here I was liking everything at first sight. I do not know what it was about that place. Was it the constant state of winter and snowfall? Was it the blue eyed women with an angular sharpness that was so intriguing? Was it the work which was so exciting? Was it my colleagues who were so fiery and active? Or was it a combination of all this?” He smiled when he said this. “Yes. I think it was a combination of all this. I wouldn’t have been so uncomplaining if it wasn’t. I would go out for walks every night in the woods. There is something about darkness and about nights, the mystery, the sounds, the smells, the unpredictability, the danger. I would savour such moments with the desperation of a man thirsting for water in a desert. Every night was a new night and I would feel like I was walking down the path for the first time. Then one night I was bitten by a wolf. I had accidently taken a wrong turn that led into dense woods. There I had stepped on its tail and it had lashed out at me. I remember that, strangely, I did not feel scared at all. In fact I stood there gazing at the wolf with a wide eyed wonderment while it gnashed and gnarled at me with ferocious eyes. A few seconds later I found myself standing alone there. The wolf had vanished. At that moment the moon chose to peek out from behind a cloud and a loud howl resounded in the woods. It seemed to echo endlessly and I think I might have waited there for a good ten minutes before the noise died down completely.”
What was he saying? Is he a werewolf? But he still had his face. Only the ears were changed. Maybe his metamorphosis would occur on a full moon night. I remember reading with derision about lycans and their lot. But here I was sitting with a potential one. Thankfully full moon was not due for a very long time now. But it still needed to be understood that it will occur some day and so will his metamorphosis. And what about the murders? Did he commit them?I shivered. It was getting colder and colder. But he did not seem to mind the cold. I suddenly realized that my thoughts had run away in a completely different direction because he had started talking again.
“I came back to the quarters and told my friends about what had happened. There was one of us who was quite a strange person. He would keep to himself and not interact unless absolutely necessary. Even his way of greeting another person was just a nod. No eye contact whatsoever. In all probabilities the nod might not even have been directed at you as a form of an acknowledgement. He seemed to be listening very intently to me. One by one everyone left until it was just him and me. I looked up to find that he was gazing at me with a searching look. I stared back and then I raised my eyebrows. He got up and came to me. He peered at my wound (it was on my left forearm) and nodded his head. “You’re lucky,” he said. “For having been bitten by a wolf?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied nonchalantly, “and in the process, having acquired extraordinary powers. Powers that will astound you, confound you. Powers that will make you invincible. Powers that will make you feel like God.” His eyes were shining with a strange light when he said this. I got a little scared. I had never seen him so responsive ever before. And what he said scared me even more. What did he mean by powers? And what use are these powers to me? But I gradually started realizing that I was indeed starting to become a little altered. I was having an extremely heightened sense of smell and hearing. At times I would hear the wolves walking in the woods while I was sitting inside my room. And I would smell Mischa’s orange blossomed hair from a mile away. How I loved this feeling! I returned home from Romania after my work was done. And suddenly one night when the moon shone like a globe of light inside a black sky, I couldn’t sleep. I got out of my bed and walked towards the moon. I climbed this very hill where we are sitting right now and I found myself howling at the moon. A man came from somewhere (I don’t know where) and he hit me with a stick. I lashed out at him and tore him apart. This happened till the moon rose like a beacon and beckoned me to her. Creamy and naked, like a temptress, she would beckon me and I would crave to possess a woman creamier and even barer than her. I found such a woman too, but the woman took one look at me and started as though she was disgusted. This angered me and I tore her apart too.”
He paused and looked at me. I was gaping at him in astonishment. I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t even think, leave alone move. He smiled at my reaction. “You’re the murderer then?” I asked in a strangled whisper. “Yes,” he said, “I killed all of them. The powers that made me feel invincible have also released a demon from inside of me. This demon is a part of me. This demon thirsts for blood and does not rest until he gets it. I realized it long back. Hence I did what I felt was the best thing to do. For me and for the rest of the world too. I have been administering dosages of a drug which I cannot name. This drug has been slowly acting upon all the systems within me. Today I’m here because today is the day I die. I’m glad you’re with me. I was not too keen on dying alone.”
As he said this, he slowly started sinking. I held him and made his head rest on my arm. I looked at his face. At his mouth. I noticed that his canines were unnaturally developed. His eyes too were inhuman. Why? Why does this happen to me? How will I explain this to the world? What will I say to them? I suddenly felt that he was getting heavier and heavier and then I realized that he was no more. At that moment I decided that I will not tell anyone about what had occurred at the hill between him and me. Not even to my wife. I let him down gently and covered his face with his kerchief. As I was returning back to the club i thought about what he had narrated. Did he really turn into a wolf because he was bitten by one? How on earth can one explain the logic behind this? Heightened senses of smell and hearing! Mischa’s orange blossomed hair! Well ... at least there won’t be any more murders. But that does not negate the fact that it was indeed not a human being (not a complete human being, to be more specific) who was responsible for the killings. And it was also not some ‘poor neglected human being who was doing this just to gain attention’... No.