by Hy Conrad
Tim Johnson couldn’t believe he was actually here, in his ancestral village in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania. It was like something from an old horror movie, this rustic tavern, not to mention the four sturdy villagers sitting around him. “You all knew my grandpa?” the wide-eyed American asked. “What was he like?”
Tim’s cousin, Eric Havardi, was the local blacksmith. “Your mother’s father was longtime Party leader,” he said in a heavy Romanian accent. “Good man.”
Tim smiled. “Grandpa and I started corresponding back when I was a kid. I never found out. How did he die?”
The old beamed tavern was suddenly silent. The woman, Marie Pularis, finally spoke. “Werewolf,” she whispered. “Six years ago in the forest. Night of the full moon. His throat is slashed open.”
Dr. Ionescu saw the shock in Tim’s eyes. “It was a jagged knife, not a wolf,” he said, glaring at Marie. “We found Werner alive but could not stop the bleeding.”
“The werewolf strikes a wound that doesn’t heal,” said the last member of the group. Gregor Pularis was Marie’s brother and the village mayor. “Your grandfather killed a werewolf once. Now all of his line are cursed.”
“Wow. I guess I’d better watch my step.” Tim laughed nervously and changed the subject. Reaching into his backpack, he brought out a leather-bound book. “Grandpa sent me this. He had a premonition of doom. He said there were things in life he regretted and he wanted me to know. Trouble is, it’s in Romanian. It’s his diary. I was hoping one of you…”
“Diary?” Marie instantly held out her hand. “I am so happy to do translation.”
Eric Havardi stopped her. “Your English is no good, Marie. Maybe in morning we go to priest. He has good English and plenty of time. Yes?”
“Sounds like a good idea.” Tim put the diary back in his pack. “Well, it was a long drive.” He wished everyone a good night and headed out toward his grandfather’s cottage. The foursome watched him walk down the wooded lane, illuminated by the glow of a full moon.
“Poor fellow.” Gregor shook his head as a pack of wolves howled in the distance.
“You are superstitious fools,” Dr. Ionescu growled, then marched off in the direction of his own cottage. The others stayed on for several more drinks, toasting the misguided descendent of Werner Havardi. At 11:45, the torrential rains started, sending the three villagers scurrying back to their homes.
The church clock had just struck midnight when the wolves howled again. Two boys were on the road, returning from a dance in a nearby town. They saw three wolves prowling by the open cottage door. Partly out of concern and partly to get out of the rain, the boys threw rocks at the wolves then rushed inside.
“They were circling by the door,” one of the boys later testified. “Excited, like they wanted to go in. We pelted them with rocks and scared them off. Matthias and I were careful. Before going in, we checked the mud outside. There were no human footprints, just wolf prints. Between the moonlight and the glow from the fireplace, we could see well enough. The American was lying by the hearth. His throat was slashed open and he was dead. The blood surrounding the gash was still liquid, glistening in the firelight. We’re both hunters, so we knew the kill was fresh, no more than fifteen minutes, I’d say. We ran off to find the mayor and doctor.”
By the next morning, the skies had cleared. Gregor, the mayor, was leading an officer from the rural militia to the cottage. “The doctor and I made sure he was dead. Then we closed up and telephoned you,” Gregor said as he threw open the unlocked door. But the body was gone. Not even the blood remained. Only the stain of it on the floor.
The corpse was discovered later that morning in the river at the base of a small waterfall. When the townsfolk pulled the American to shore, they were shocked to find all the major veins and arteries slashed open. “The werewolf,” Marie Pularis hissed. “It wanted all of his blood.” And she made the sign of the cross.