IN THIS EPISODE: …We meet our werewolf up close and personal…
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CHAPTER 3 – Paul S. Longmire
The Werewolf – Transylvania
The Night of the Full Moon
The man moved through the moonlit forest at what for him probably seemed a quick and silent pace.
But, to the beast, his every footstep and rustle of clothing echoed like thunder. The man was slow, too, and he reeked of body odor and something the werewolf’s animal nature could barely identify—cologne, a terrible, unnatural stench.
Involuntarily, the wolf’s black lips curled away from its sharp teeth, and it nearly growled. But then it remembered itself. This was no ordinary man; this was its foe—the being it had been created to kill. And the beast knew instinctively that the man sought to destroy it, as well.
The werewolf feared nothing. The full moon beamed all her occult fury into its hairy frame. The preternatural animal could sense its own power, its own near invulnerability. All the world was its prey, and its talons and teeth were sharp enough to rend the flesh of any mortal.
And, yet, somehow, the monster knew that this man had the means to destroy it: weapons of silver—proof against even the supernatural power of the beast—and a gun loaded with silver bullets.
Reflexively, the wolf-thing clutched at its shoulder; blood still trickled there.
The creature’s memory was brief and blurry, but it remembered the man wounding it, not long after moonrise. They’d skirmished briefly, before the shot had rung out and the fire of silver tore through the monster’s shoulder.
The wolf had fled then, seeking the safety of the deeper woods, leaving the battered hunter amid the corpses of his hounds, which would track the beast no longer.
But the man had recovered, and it seemed he could track, too, though not as effectively as his dogs.
Nor as effectively as the wolf, for the monster had recovered, as well.
The silver-inflicted wound still stung it, but the bullet had passed cleanly through.
And the creature was strong—even when wounded—far stronger than any man.
The time had come to prove it!
The hunter moved quickly and nearly silently past the tree where the wolf lay waiting. The beast had hidden in the upper canopy, leaping from tree to tree, to avoid leaving a blood trail on the ground.
The wolf-thing was clever—more clever than the man, as well as stronger.
The time had come!
The monster sprang.
The hunter turned, as if sensing his peril at the last instant.
He raised his gun toward the werewolf’s slavering jaws.
Paul Longmire – Llanwelly, Wales
More Than a Year Later
Paul Shaw Longmire woke with a start on a sweat-drenched bed.
He staggered to his feet and gazed out the window at the rising moon, fear clutching at his heart.
The pale orb hounded Paul, a nightly reminder of his own personal hell.
His entire body felt cold, but perspiration beaded on his skin. The hair on his arms and the nape of his neck prickled.
How long had it been? How long since the last full moon?
Paul couldn’t remember. He could never remember!
Was that part of the curse?
He thought it must be. Otherwise, no sane man would ever venture outside of an iron-barred cell during the three days of the full moon.
Am I insane?
Paul thought it likely—at least a little. But who wouldn’t be insane with what he had to go through month after month…?
The moon is rising!
He braced himself, leaning against the sill of the bedside window in the modest little inn.
Where were his chains? Could he get to them in time? Would they help?
They hadn’t helped the night he’d found that girl—that poor girl—in the forest. He’d killed her… he thought. Or rather he assumed he’d killed, because the beast’s memories were never very clear once he woke. They were more like dreams… dreams of blood and carnage… his own living nightmares.
Paul looked around the tiny room…
Where were those manacles? Why hadn’t he left them out, where they were needed? Why had he fallen asleep during the late afternoon in the first place?!
He needed to search… look everywhere… find those chains…
Under the bed! They must be under the bed, in his suitcase!
He got down on all fours… reached for it…
The moon had cleared the tops of the surrounding trees now. The silver orb beamed its cold, relentless illumination into Paul’s tiny bedroom.
Fear clutched at his heart.
He clawed his way to his knees and turned to face his nemesis.
Her light shone pale upon his trembling body.
Every muscle tense, every nerve tingling, Paul returned the gaze of his pale mistress.
“It’s not full…” he gasped.
Relief hit him like a shotgun blast to the belly, and he crumpled to the floor.
“It’s not full.”
A pale sliver of moon shone in the late-spring sky.
Tears of relief streamed down Paul’s ill-shaven face. It wasn’t the full moon, just another ordinary night—a night under the mounting threat of the new moon’s waxing crescent.
“I have two more weeks,” he muttered to himself, “or close to it.” He knew he must keep better track, somehow. He’d had a notebook once, jotting down each day, each phase of the moon…
But he couldn’t find that notebook any longer; the curse had taken it—or rather, made him lose or destroy it. He had to come up with a better system… somehow.
“Two more weeks to end this curse forever,” he mumbled.
If he could find the key, the way out, the thing he’d been searching for so long…
With the fear of the moon lifting, Paul’s memories came flooding back… He’d come to England seeking a treatment, the cure he’d traveled the world over trying to find ever since that awful night in the Carpathians…
He tried not to think about what had happened, but memories of the incident still haunted his nightmares. How could it not?
“Concentrate,” he told himself. “Concentrate on your goal!”
If it was this hard for him to hold himself together now, how hard would it be during the next full moon?
It’s only fear, he told himself. The full moon is still two weeks away.
“Get a grip! You came here for a reason—to talk with those gypsies. If anyone can help you, they can.”
That’s what he hoped, anyway. And if they failed him—as all the rest had, from Tibet to Saskatchewan—he prayed that this would not be his last hope.
Forcing himself to breathe deeply and calmly, Paul stripped off his sweat-soaked shirt and retrieved a clean one from his battered suitcase. As he pulled the valise out from under the bed, he tried not to look at the destination stamps plastered on the outside—tried not to think of all the places he’d been, all the failures…
This time it will work, he prayed. This time, I’ll find what I need.
The stainless steel chains secreted in the bottom of his luggage gave a reassuring clink.
They were still there—and the key with them.
They’ll be ready when you need them… In three weeks.
No! Not three weeks—two!
He pounded his fist on the rough-painted window frame, gazing at his pale, implacable enemy arcing into the night sky.
He’d slept too long; it was time to go. The night was wasting.
“You didn’t chase these gypsies across half of Europe and most of England just to lose them now,” he told himself.
Shirt changed, Paul Longmire fled his rented room, pausing only long enough to lock the door behind him.
The lodgings he’d chosen weren’t the best he’d stayed in, nor by any means the worst. The wood and plaster interior was worn but well-tended to. He felt grateful to make it out the door without being accosted by the affable landlady.
Hospitable locals, welcoming even to strangers, waved at Paul as he left the inn, but he ignored them. It wouldn’t do for him to make friends, not even briefly. He—or rather the wolf—was a danger to everyone he came in contact with. So he couldn’t linger, couldn’t put down even the tiniest roots.
He hurried past the stone-and-timber houses to the edge of the village, where the long-sought gypsy camp lay.
The rag-tag gypsy wagons—most of them still horse drawn, rather than pulled by automobiles, Paul noted—lay settled in a rough circle in a field at on the town’s south-westernmost outskirts. Colorful tents of various sizes and shapes stood scattered amid the site, as well. The caravans varied in their states of repair, from well-worn to newly trimmed and painted, and a large bonfire burned in the middle of the cluster. The aromas of sawdust, burning wood, and simmering stews filled Paul’s nose.
The sounds of music and laughter—a reminder that not everyone in the world had doom hanging over their heads—drifted to Paul as he approached. A teenage girl with black hair and a flashing smile was dancing for tips around the blaze as other gypsies played the violin, guitar, and drums.
The girl caught Paul’s eye and danced over toward him as he approached, but Paul turned away.
She laughed, a light, musical sound.
“Come back to the fire, Jaelle!” a gypsy man called. “We’ve paying customers here!”
The girl did as she was told.
Paul faded into the shadows between the ramshackle structures, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. Some of the townsfolk sneaking into the fortune-telling tents nearby seemed to be embarrassed to be seen here as well. Others walked boldly through the tent flaps, laughing and joking about “gypsy superstitions.”
Paul hoped that he’d find more here than just old wives’ tales.
They must have the secret to the cure. They must!
He didn’t know what he’d do if he’d spent all this time searching only to come up empty—again.
“Is there a woman named Maria in this camp?” he asked a gypsy man tending some horses. “Maria Alekseyevna?”
“Oh, sure,” the man said, “everybody knows Maria. The caravan with the red wheels and the blue trim—nicest in the camp.” He pointed. “Right over there. You can’t miss it.”
Paul’s heart soared, feeling hope for the first time in what seemed like ages. “Thank you,” he said, heading for the wagon in question.
“I’m not sure she’s telling any more fortunes today, though,” the man called . He frowned and walked away, scratching his head as though worried, as Paul hurried off.
Paul’s stomach clenched. “She’ll see me,” Paul muttered to himself. “She has to!”
Maria’s caravan was the nicest he’d seen: freshly painted in blue, yellow, white, and red and with a big sign blazoned “Fortunes” hanging over the door in the back.
Paul’s heart sank, though, as he noticed a smaller sign below: “Closed.”
He went to knock on the door anyway. He had to try, and he couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
But before his knuckles could rap on the wood, a mellifluous voice from inside said:
Paul mounted the short flight of steps at the back of the wagon, opened the door, and went inside. The smells of exotic spices, homespun wool, and burning wax brimmed in the air as he entered.
The caravan was dark, lit by only a single candle in the middle of a small table draped in calico cloth. At the far side of the table sat a woman in a silken gypsy dress with a scarf over her head.
Paul couldn’t tell her age. In this light, she might be anywhere from thirty-eight to eighty, but her voice came to him strong and clear, and her dark eyes glinted in the candlelight. “Please… Take a seat.”
“My name is Paul Longmire,” he began, too nervous to sit.
“I know who you are,” said the woman. “And I am Maria—the one you’ve been seeking.”
“How did you—?”
“We gypsies are a clannish people, Mr. Longmire,” she said. “You shouldn’t be surprised, when asking from camp to camp for Maria, that she would hear about you before you eventually found her. Please… Sit.”
Despite his nerves, Paul took the stool opposite her.
“I have questions—a problem—and I’ve been told… that is, I hoped you might help.”
“You carry the mark of the wolf,” the old gypsy said matter-of-factly. “I sensed your curse the moment you entered the camp. Others will have noticed it, too. Ask your questions, Mr. Longmire, because now that you are here, my people will not stay in this place for even a single night more.”
So many things swirled through Paul’s head that he could barely think straight. The gypsies knew he was coming; Maria knew of his curse, but they were leaving… This might be his only chance to get the answers he needed!
Paul prayed that the curse wouldn’t cloud his mind—that he’d be able to find the right questions…
“Is there a cure?” he asked. “Can I be free of this curse, once and for all?”
“Show me your palms,” Maria said.
Paul reached across the table toward her and turned his hands palm up.
Maria’s wizened hands appeared out of the folds of her silk dress, and she grasped his wrists firmly, carefully examining each of his palms. Her slender fingers felt warm—almost hot—to his touch.
“The left hand shows your past, the right hand your future,” she began. “You have had a difficult life, Paul Longmire—suffering much loss—”
Images flashed through Paul’s head: his parents, long gone now… his dead wife and child, and the fire that had taken them from him… And then the hunt—that awful hunt…! He tried to push all the nightmarish memories aside and concentrate on her words. He didn’t want to miss a single thing that the gypsy witch might tell him.
“—And the road ahead of you remains thorny, Mr. Longmire… Though there is hope.”
“Please,” Paul said, “what is it? What must I do to break this curse?”
“The doom that courses through your veins is very ancient. It descends from the fabled Beast of Gevaudan. To break its scourge, you must destroy the progenitor of the line.”
“The Beast of…” Paul began. He seemed to remember hearing about such a monster during his long months of looking for the cure; he didn’t like what he remembered.
“But the Beast lived hundreds of years ago,” he said forlornly. “It must be long dead by now. That doesn’t help me at all!” He felt as though victory had been snatched from his grasp—and just when he’d been so close! “How can I destroy something that’s already dead? How can I break this curse? Please! You must tell me! In just a few days, the moon will be full again, and…”
He trailed off, unable to bring himself to say the words: “…And I’ll kill again!”
“Calm yourself, Mr. Longmire,” the gypsy witch said. “All is not as hopeless as you believe. Though the beast itself is long dead, it was no ordinary creature. It was an enchantment, a spell woven through dark magicks into a wolf skin. If you can destroy that pelt, your curse will be broken.”
“So, that wolf skin still exists!’ Paul said, his emotions roller-coastering between hope and despair. “Where?”
“I cannot say for certain,” Maria replied. “Though I do remember once hearing something during my travels…”
“What did you hear? You must tell me: Where should I look? Where can I start? Please! I have so little time…!”
“I noticed an article in a newspaper when our caravan passed through Lyon,” Maria said. “I believe it mentioned something about the pelt of the beast being exhibited… in London.”
Paul’s heart pounded in his chest. London!
“Then that’s where I have to go!”
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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