art by Kim Holm (@denungeherrholm)
The fall of 1932 began with a tornado in a storm. The town of Pine, Minnesota woke to find half of their town square torn to planks and rubble.
David Jensen and his grandfather were driving their dairy truck into town when they saw the damage. The people of Pine were scattered around cleaning up debris. They first passed the bar, which stood unaffected aside from a broken window. The town hall and schoolhouse stood on either side with only some missing planks and shingles and their own windows broken. But, on the left side of the truck, all the buildings were now just long pile of broken wood, glass, and gravel. The building site that was to be the future bank, but was only a complex scaffolding so far, was demolished and most of the lumber lay snapped like so many toothpicks. The general store and butcher shop grocery looked like a collapsed house of matchsticks and glass. The food, supplies and farm equipment that had been inside were now scattered around the main road. And at the road’s fork at the end of town stood what was left of the church. Half of the building was gone, exposing the roof scaffolding and brick inside. The stained glass windows were now just a glittering rainbow in the mud and grass.
Grandpa McLoren looked forward and slammed on the brakes, jolting David from his shock of the scene. Neither had been paying attention ahead and nearly hit the men in the road. They were lined up along a large oak tree that was laying across the road. The tree usually stood between the general store and grocery. David and his grandfather got out and joined the men against the tree as they all braced to push.
“Alright,” shouted the voice of Mr. Hampton on the other side of the oak. “On the count of three! One...two...THREE!” At once the men together strained and pushed all they could as the roar of five truck engines ripped through the morning air. The ropes tied around the trunk creaked and cracked, and dust and exhaust smoke rose up. Through the squeal of tires, Mr. Hampton screamed, “stop!” and the engines died down as the men pushing slumped down against the tree. Several mumbled and cursed the situation.
“We can’t just leave it here hoping it’ll rot away,” said Mr. Percival. “We’re lucky it didn’t hurt anyone. But leaving it here prevents us from clearing the town.” All the men grumbled in assent. Just as Mr. Lambis opened his mouth to speak, a blood curdling scream ripped through the air. Everyone jumped up, looking for the source. The women had stopped cleaning as well when another scream came and the men realized it came from the church’s remains.
“Sister Mary Kathryn,” Mr. Goodman shouted and led the men to the church rubble. At once, the rest of the town followed. They made their way searching through the glass and broken pews, thinking the nun had fallen and gotten hurt. As Mary Kathryn screamed again, everyone realized she was behind the church - in the cemetery on the hill. They ran out to see she had fallen to her knees in the dirt with her hands covering her face as she let out sobbing wails. As each person stepped from the torn remains of the old white church, their mouths fell open at the state of the hill.
Some damage from the tornado was to be expected - the ground slightly tossed and grass unearthed. Instead, it seemed as if each grave had been exhumed. Twenty graves had been dug, large holes surrounded by mounds of dirt and mud marking each one. Most of the headstones were standing cracked, crooked, or completely broken in two; some had even been torn out completely and lay on the ground. And among this wreckage were splintered planks of wood scattered everywhere.
The crowd slowly walked forward. Now more than ever, they dreaded to see what had caused the old nun to shriek like a banshee. Some of the men loosely waved their hands at the women nearby in a “stay put” motion, but that did not stop any of the women from following in toe. As they reached the graves, many of the people let out gasps and screams in horror.
Whatever had dug into the graves had reached the coffin below and ripped them apart. And the corpses inside were in even worse condition. No longer did they look like the peaceful sleepers the town had buried. The flesh of the recently deceased was torn as if by massive claws of an animal. The faces of some had been ripped completely off, leaving a scratched and broken skull exposed. Chests and stomachs were ripped open and the stench of the eviscerated and rotting organs filled the air. Any clothing on the bodies was torn to ribbons and flung everywhere.
Some of the men gathered around Sister Mary Kathryn. They stood at the grave of Father Mesker, who had died a month before.
“What kind of monster would do this?” sobbed Mary Kathryn. “Look at these poor people. What devil could do this?”
No one had an answer. They just looked down at the mutilated bodies and graves. Don Petrum, the town physician, stepped forward. He groaned as he bent his bad knee to get a better look at the dead priest.
“Well,” he said, squinting through his spectacles, “this would have been a brutal and painful way to go.”
“No shit,” said a voice among the crowd. It was Mr. Torrin, the gruff bar owner. “Then it’s a good thing they were dead. What does it look like happened, doc?”
The doctor took a pen from his shirt pocket and leaned down into the grave. Reaching forward, he inspected the flesh, poking it with the end of the pen. Some muttered about desecrating the dead, but none stopped the doctor’s examination. After a few more minutes of probing and prodding, he tried to get up but nearly fell in the grave as his knee refused to take his weight. Two men nearest him dashed forward and helped him to his feet.
“Thanks, boys,” the doctor grunted, dusting off his pants. “Well, it looks like an animal attack. Luckily the blood wasn’t flowing so the cuts are clean, brutal and messy as it looks. I would say a large bear could have caused the damage, but as to why it would dig up one grave, let alone all of them, is beyond me.”
“Maybe it was mad with disease and smelled the bodies. Many of them were fresh in the ground,” someone piped up.
“It is possible. I’ve never seen it before, but there is possibility in everything. But,” he paused and looked around at the rest of the destroyed hill, “I think it is best we get these graves fixed and these poor people reburied before we have a whole host of scavengers come.” The crowd nodded and some went away to retrieve the tools for the job. And little by little, the townspeople walked away from the mutilated scene and set about cleaning the tornado’s mess once again. The men and trucks returned to their task and soon the tree was moved as far as they could get it off the road. Others hauled wood from the wrecked buildings and sorted them into piles of salvageability. And the rest returned to their homes, bringing back every cleaning tool they had to clear out broken glass and to save any food and supplies that hadn’t spoiled in the autumn morning.
When attention returned to the destroyed cemetery, they finished digging the holes and exhumed the broken coffins and bodies. The mostly intact coffins were roughly repaired and quickly reburied in their graves. But most of the coffins were beyond reasonable repair, so the bodies in these were wrapped in thin, old sheets and buried five feet deeper than normal. The men morbidly joked, “if this had happened a month or two later, the ground would have been too frozen. We would have had to break our backs and shovels, or just burn them.” The graves were filled and the headstones were propped back in place and repaired as best they could. Sister Mary Kathryn walked to each grave and prayed for the soul of the departed and for them to return to rest.
The mail courier from St. Paul arrived and word was sent out to the nearest lumber mill to come and get the fallen tree. Other letters were sent to relatives and other surrounding towns asking for any type of relief they could spare: money, food, first aid, anything. The hope was half-hearted, though, as there hadn’t been supplies to spare in any county of the country for some years. Nevertheless, the people worked to rebuild what they could.
In a town hall meeting a week after the storm, some people advocated for the church to be rebuild first and foremost. Hardly anyone wanted to object to that - everyone wanted the return of that peace and comfort. But Mayor Wilson spoke and said that for the town to have a chance of surviving the rapidly approaching winter, the general store needed to be repaired so any supplies salvaged and donated from around could be kept safe and stored properly.
“Church services will be held here until the church can be repaired. If that is alright with Sister Mary Kathryn,” he turned to look at the nun.
“Bless you, mayor. Thank you,” she said. The mayor nodded and returned to his address.
“So, we will make plans for how to progress and, God willing, return to normal. I thank everyone for their efforts, and we will reconvene tomor-,” his words were cut short by a large crack of thunder. Everyone jumped at the sound as the chorus of heavy rain falling on the roof filled the silent hall. “Well, we will come back tomorrow. And hoping the rain passes, we will move forward. Now I wish you all a safe trip home, and a good night.” With that, everyone departed and rushed home through the rain.
The rain continued for a week. The first roads and dying lawns of grass were flooded, and the hill of freshly filled graves became a muddy swamp, pooling around the town’s water spigots. Whenever they collected water from the spigot, everyone who drank it complained about the sour taste and iron aftertaste of the water. Not many people drank from it. The women would make tea and coffee at their homes and bring it into town during mealtimes. And most of the men insisted on drinking beer or whiskey instead. No one wanted to be working in the bone chilling cold, but with winter approaching, they braved it and worked. When the rains finally ceased, the people of Pine worked even harder - relishing the warm sun. The general store was restored to a basic building with rows of repaired shelves and counters inside. The butcher shop remains were picked through and any unspoiled meats were taken and either stored in cooling chests, or they were taken and cured with salt and jerkied. Mr. Gorman, the butcher, went around to each farm of the town and gave lessons on how to properly butcher, drain, and carve each type of animal. Those who had animals raised for meat could then provide for themselves and others and reduce the amount of waste.
Three weeks after the storm, the town began to look and feel normal again. Some supplies had finally come from neighboring towns: a few crates of bread loaves, tools to repair the buildings, and a dozen first aid kits of medical supplies. Sister Mary Kathryn took the children and some mothers into the schoolhouse and they all wrote thank you letters to those who had sent provisions. “It is a miracle, and we must be grateful,” she said when the children asked why.
The full moon was bright through the window as David was sitting at the table in his grandfather’s cabin.
“David, lad,” his grandfather said in his wheezy Scottish brogue as he entered. “Be a good lad and go fetch some water. I was wanting to make some tea before turning in. Would you like some?”
“Yes, please, sir.,” David said, getting up.
“Good lad. Well, better grab a full bucket then,” Grandpa McLoren went over to the counter by the wash basin and grabbed a pair of mugs and saucers. David grabbed the water pail by the door and went outside.
The spigot wasn’t very far from the house - a handful of his grandfather’s limping paces - on the edge of the pale darkness around the cabin’s lantern light. The moonlight illuminated the fields and the roofs of the farm buildings in the distance. They looked like ghosts. And beyond them was the forest that was a wall of black shadow underneath the blue-grey sky. The crickets chirped in a chorus of nighttime serenity as David pumped the spigot’s arm steadily. When a large gush of water splashed into the bucket, he started counting. It would take about 30 steady pumps to fill it.
It was on the 20th stroke when he heard it. A loud roaring howl ripped through the still night. It sounded like a scream being eaten by a deep wolf-howl. David stopped pumping when a second howl joined the first, then a third. Soon, an entire chorus of monstrous howls filled the autumn night. David began pumping hard and fast. Each pump only brought up half the volume, but once he counted thirty. He grabbed the bucket and ran. He prayed he couldn’t be heard by whatever was howling. He crashed into the cabin, clutching a stitch in his side with his heart pounding in his ears. His grandfather looked over at David.
“What is it, Danny Boy,” he asked. “What’s got you so turned?”
Catching his breath, David stuttered, “w...w...wolves. H...howling w...wolves.” Grandpa McLoren came over and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and chuckled.
“Danny Boy, you do not need to fear wolves. They do not come close enough to the house to be a worry. Come sit down, and we’ll have a drink. Fire’s just about hot enough.” He guided David to the table and sat him on the bench. He filled and put the kettle on the stove top then went and sat across from his grandson. “Now, tell me about the wolves.”
“They,” David gulped, his throat like sandpaper, and started again. “They sounded like men. I mean, they were wolf howls, but they sounded like men screaming too. It was just...horrible.” He saw his hands were shaking and clasped them together in his lap.
“Aye,” his grandfather nodded. “I’ve heard of howls like that. Back in the old country, there were tales of wolves that roamed the moors. They told of men who would turn into wolves at night. The wolves would be the size of bears and more vicious than any animal or man would possibly be. They would prowl the misty hills - usually hunting down the flocks and taking a couple for a meal. But if they ever found a man wandering about under the full moon light, then man would never see the sunrise.” The sound of the kettle rattling and whistling made David jump. Grandpa McLoren rose and talked as he made the tea. “My old grandmother said she had seen one wandering our old family farm when she was a girl. Its hair was matted with mud and wet blood, anf its teeth, claws, and eyes glistened red.” He looked over his shoulder at his grandson’s wide-eyed face and smiled. His bushy beard crinkled. “But that was an old wive’s tale. A fantasy made from the mist of the moors,” he came and sat down. Leaning forward he lowered his voice. “But there was hope. It was said that if a man becomes a beast when the moon shines bright, that he can be saved by the scar of sharpened moonlight. But if the curse is too far gone, and the silver tip falls short, that fire as hot as the devil’s flame will send his from this world.” He sat back and stirred his tea.
“So, it’s just a ghost story? Like a banshee or the Jack Man?” David asked, taking a sip of the bitter tea. He used to not like tea much, but he started to enjoy it a bit when he moved here with his grandfather.
“Aye, lad,” Grandpa McLoren said, “just like that. Now, off to bed and I’ll wake you when it’s time to milk the cows.” David couldn’t fall right to sleep when he laid in bed. The story echoed in his head as he turned it over. He wanted to believe it was a ghost story, and not real. But the more he thought of the poem his grandfather had said, the more he thought of the sudden silence of the crickets as the howls died away. And as he fell asleep, he saw his grandfather stirring his tea with a bright silver spoon.
Mrs. Atwood was found laying on the dirt road outside the bar next to a truck. The farmers bringing in their last truckloads of produce for the season screeched to a halt and everyone ran over. Dr. Pertrum limped over and went immediately to help the woman. He checked her pulse. “She’s okay. Just fainted,” he announced. But when everyone was silent, he looked up and saw what they were staring at. His jaw dropped and he nearly dropped Mrs. Atwood. He lay her down and slowly got up. Staring wide-eyed, the doctor limped forward to look inside the truck.
The blue Chevrolet was shredded - by something that left huge, streaking gouges in the metal. Jagged edges curled up from the holes like the Red Sea in Exodus. But what had made the school teacher faint was the man in the truck - or what was left of him. His stomach and chest were torn open, the frayed edges of skin were like torn burlap. His neck was just a ragged stump and his head lay in a red stain on the passenger side. Everything in the truck was soaked with congealed blood, and his clothes and the seats were torn to ribbons. His organs spilled out from the maw of his torso - each shredded, punctures, or crushed. Yellow bile and acids pooled in his lap with the deep red of clotted blood. The steering wheel was crumpled like a tin can, and the truck’s door sat on the other side of the road.
Dr. Pertrum stepped through the broken glass, examining what looked like bites taken out of the flesh and organs. “Holy mother of God,” he gasped as he looked at the head on the seat. “It’s Ted Harris.”
“The bartender was always the last one in town after closing. It was usually past two in the morning when he finally got to his truck. “This looks like the bodies from last month,” said Mr. Greene, the general store clerk.
“Do you really think a bear could do this?” asked the doctor, “I know they are strong, but this kind of damage?”
“Well, what else could have done it? Some sort of dragon or something?” No one in the crowd could answer. As much as they couldn’t believe a bear could do this, they had no other alternatives. Mayor Wilson then shoved his way to the truck.
“Folks,: he said, “as of today, I will be issuing a curfew on this town. No one is to be outside after dusk. Any able-bodied man will be asked to station themselves, armed, outside their home. Any large animal seen will be shot and killed on sight.” The crowd murmured assent as they dispersed. That evening, another town hall meeting was called. The mayor repeated his order. “And any suspicious activity should be reported to me or Sheriff Cobb. I know we are all a little shook up from Mr. Harris’ passing. Funerary services will be held tomorrow. If there is no other news -.”
“Half of my cows were slaughtered last night,” Mr. Tomas shouted from his seat. “All that was left were the heads and bones.”
“Yeah,” Mr. Woods said, “my wife found our entire flock of chickens gone. What’s going on? How can my family make it through the winter now? What the fuck is going on, Mayor? Are we safe?”
“All those who have lost livestock,” Mayor Wilson said over the outbreak of shouts, “will please meet with me after the meeting and we will make arrangements. Now, if there is nothing else, we will conclude.” The following month in Pine was tense. All work was done before nightfall, and every man sat by his front door cradling a shotgun or pistol. As the month wore on and no attacks on human nor animal occurred, some began to ease their worries. Against curfew, the bar in town began staying open later and later. By the night of the full moon, the bar was back to it’s old schedule.
David and his grandfather were in town late on the evening of the full moon. Grandpa McLoren had spent the day dropping off their dairy stock, and in the afternoon, went around the town looking at things. He went back to the hill behind the church and didn’t return for some time. He had told David to go and help Mr. Torrin, the bartender. Grandpa McLoren came in a little before sunset.
“Whiskey for you, McLoren?” asked Mr. Torrin, already reaching for the shelves behind the bar.
“Nah,” grumbled Grandpa McLoren. “Just some water, if you don’t mind. I need my wits about me for the drive.”
“You sure?” Mr. Torrin said. “Tastes like pus covered pennies if you ask me.”
“Aye, but I’ve drank worse in my days. Just a glass of water please.” Mr. Torrin shrugged and grabbed a glass. He dunked it in the water barrel and wiped off the outside walls before putting it in front of the old man. Grandpa McLoren thanked him and drank half in one go. He grimaced slightly but didn’t complain. David walked over, holding a tray of glasses. The old man reached out and pulled his grandson closer. “Take care to be home before midnight, okay lad?”
“Yes, sir,” David said. Grandpa McLoren nodded and David went back to his task. Grandpa McLoren drank the last of his water and walked out. As the sun began to set, David was tasked with lighting the lanterns. He had lit as many as he could before he ran out of oil.
“Go up the ladder and get some from storage,” Mr. Torrin said, pointing to the loft above the back wall. “Should be marked. Be quick, the sun’s already down.” David hurried over and climbed up to the loft. He squeezed in between stacks of crates with large black labels of alcohol and bar supplies when there was a large crash below. He stood up and peered down to see.
Todd Garrison, the potato farmer from Indiana, had collapsed carrying a couple pints back to his friends - two of which were already passed out and sprawled across the table. A couple men laughed and joked about people who couldn’t hold their liquor as Mr. Torrin and another man went to check on Mr. Garrison. “Jesus,” Mr. Torrin laughed, “this guy’s out cold. Getting heavier by the second! Help me get him to the chair would -.” He stopped short as Mr. Garrison was stood upright. Both men fell backwards, trying to get away. Todd Garrison wasn’t drunk. Bristley hair was growing thick and fast everywhere. He grew to tower over everything as his hands twisted and black claws grew from his nails - which he used to rip off the clothes off his enormous frame.
His eyes glowed like amber and the monster’s lips curled around it long snout - showing its mouthful of canines. Everyone screamed and scrambled to get away. The beast roared, saliva flying like shrapnel. Mr. Torrin bolted to grab the gun from above the bar mirror, but the monstrous wolf was faster. It slammed Mr. Torrin into the shelves causing nearly every bottle to crash on the floor. With a wide swipe of a clawed hand, the bar was splattered with blood and Mr. Torrin’s body slid to the floor. The beast howled and bent down to feast on its kill.
If there was just one monster, everyone else might have had enough time to escape. But while the attention was on Mr. Garrison’s transformation, his two friends that were passed out at their table also changed. The two darker haired wolves leapt up and attacked. Tables and chairs flew and smashed like so many matchsticks, and the rest of the men scrambled to run away. But the wolves pounced from one man to another, sinking their fangs in some and ripping a chunk of ragged flesh out, while others they sunk their claws in just use as a springboard to leap to the next man. Every shriek was cut short into a garbled, wet moan as claws sank into their stomachs and their guts spilled onto the sawdust covered floor. Then, the wolves began to feast. They ripped into some with relish, while others they just took single bites. The three wolves stood tall on their hindlegs and howled.
David had to cover his ears as the howls threatened to destroy his hearing. The wolves went back to their gluttonous meal and David looked around for a way out. And then he saw it. A small window a few paces back was half blocked by a stack of crates. Slowly, he started to shuffle back.
Suddenly, the wolf nearest below stood up. Its ears twitched as they listened. David realized how heavy he had been breathing and clamped a hand over his mouth. But it was too late. The wolf dropped the body it was eating and took several long, deep sniffs. It looked up at the loft and its haunches tensed to jump. There came a growl and a bark as the wold that was Mr. Garrison jerked its head back. Apparently, it had licked up some of the alcohol that had spilled and mixed with Mr. Torrin’s blood. In anger of the burn from the alcohol, it swung a large around and brought the rest of the bottles crashing down. At the end of its arc, its claws caught the lantern lit behind the bar and it too fell. There was a WHOOSH as lit wick and hot oil mixed with the hard liquor and engulfed the wolf and bar in flames. The wolf lept from the flames and crashed into more bottles of beer and whiskeys went up in flames. The fire spread quickly, the sawdust acting as tinder. The other wolves barked and howled as they ran away from the spreading flames and all three crashed out of the front door.
David sighed with relief then gasped again. He was standing on a loft willed with alcohol and dry straw while flames below were engulfing everything below, getting higher and higher. He said a prayer of thanks as he squeezed through the window and onto the roof. It sloped down to about ten feet off the ground. He looked back and saw flames starting to reach the loft. The heat from inside was intense as he readied and then jumped down. He toppled over and rolled to a stop. He didn’t think he broke anything as he got up and dusted himself off. He looked up and stumbled out to the street, watching the roof smoke and then erupt in fire. He looked around and saw nothing. No one lived within a mile or two of the town center. So the building would burn down by the morning. He didn’t dare try to walk home, one of those things knew his scent. He hoped the burning building would keep them at bay as he looked around for a place to hide. The schoolhouse was unlocked and he went inside and hid in a corner. And soon, he was asleep.
David woke up a little after sunrise. His body ached from sleeping in the cold schoolhouse. The burlap sack he found to use as a blanket slid off him as he shifted. He lazily blinked a couple times and in mid-stretch, he realized there was a commotion outside. Instantly, he remembered the carnage and fire from the night before. He jumped up and ran to the schoolhouse door. The door creaked as he slowly opened it and peaked outside.
The people of Pine were all gathered around the smouldering remains of the bar. Each had a look of confusion mixed with fear, anger, and more confusion. David snuck out and doubled back to join the crowd.
“What the hell happened?” someone shouted. No one answered, but Sheriff Cobb strode forward. He pushed open the charred door and went in. The crowd watched as he walked through the rubble. Clouds of ash and cold smoke rose from the officer’s steps. He bent down to inspect in some spots, and kicked smoking logs and cinders out of his way. He stopped, tilted his head, and squatted down. He dug around and stood up, holding a long black stick in one hand, and a flaking round thing in the other. He turned them over, and when the round thing was flipped, the crowd gasped. It was a skull. A human skull blackened to a scaly cinder with wide eye sockets, and a grinning mouth.
“There’s about a dozen more as I count it,” Sheriff Cobb said. “At least a dozen. And it looks like they didn’t die in the fire.” There was a collective gasp from the meeting hall. The whole town was gathered to hear what happened to the bar. They had been blocked off from learning anything new about the scene until that night’s last minute meeting. But everyone had witnessed the sheriff’s silent investigation among the burned down bar. “I did, however, find scratches in the wood as well as on the skeletons. They are in parallel sets, similar to Mr. Harris. And they couldn’t have been caused by fire damage. Some skeletons were dismembered or decapitated before the fire.” An outbreak of shocked muttering followed the officer’s words. He raised his hands and the noise died down immediately. “And as many of you reported, but I will repeat it: it seems that every farm has been attacked last night. And every animal has been reported missing or killed. In addition, there have been reports of broken wells and water spigots on many properties. Times are hard, and with the winter almost here, we can not focus on replacing them until the spring. In the meantime, the town water wells and spigots are available.”
“Yeah, and the water tastes like shit. Is it even safe?” someone shouted from the assembly.
“We know this. But we can assure you the water is not a health risk. Now, Mayor Wilson and I have talked, and we are reinstating the curfew. In addition, all men are tasked with fishing on Lake Nokis every day until the frost and ice set in. We must prepare for the winter as it is coming fast. We are all worried, but these precautions and preparations can not go by the wayside again until we are sure the danger has passed.” The meeting ended soon after. Everyone’s minds swam with worry and fear.
The day after, David Jensen was sitting in his grandfather’s cabin. His thoughts raced as the beginnings of a plan formed. The images of the bar room slaughter and the story his grandfather told converged in his mind’s eye. He decided to rid the town of Pine of these monsters come the next full moon. The only livestock alive in the town were his grandfather’s milk cows, which slept in the barn with the old horse. With them in his mind, David set to work.
Over the month following the barn fire, David worked to secure his plan. He took all the Scottish silver cutlery his grandfather used for tea. They would be missed, he reasoned, but better to sacrifice some heirlooms than to allow evil to rule their town. He found it odd the drawer, which was usually locked, opened . But his drive overpowered his curiosity and he went ahead. Over the course of the month, the only time he spent with his grandfather were the early mornings of milking, and dinner times. Both were spent in quiet contemplation, with very little interrupting the silence.
It was the evening of the November full moon. David’s heart was pounding faster and faster as he watched the sun sink. The sunset was a wash of gold, orange, red and purple. He silently prayed he would see the sunrise. Fleeting thoughts of doubt flashed in his mind as more of the sky became dark. But he pushed them away and focused on repeating the steps in his head. Making sure he wouldn’t make a mistake.
“You okay, Danny boy?” asked Grandpa McLoren. He sat down at the table and passed David a mug of tea. “You feeling alright?”
“Y-ah-no, sir,” David said, snapping out of his thoughts. “I-uh-my stomach isn’t right. I think I’m going to turn in early. If that’s okay, sir.”
“Ay, lad,” the old man nodded. “Best to let a troubled stomach and mind lay. Get off to bed. I will wake you when it’s time to milk the cows.” With that, David got up and went to his bed. He didn’t sleep, though. He laid quiet and still, listening for the sounds of his grandfather turning into the room next door. After what must have been two or three hours, he heard the sounds of the old man’s shuffles and grunts as he got into bed. David lay there for an extra half an hour, hoping it was enough time to let the old man fall asleep. But with every passing minute, his heart pounded faster, and worries the monstrous wolves had left town grew in David’s mind. When he could no longer wait, and his heart seemed to be about to give up or jump out of his throat, he hurriedly got up and left. He took the lantern, still burning, from the table. The darkness was pale blue under the full moon. David swallowed and quickly made his way to the barn.
He went through the barn, checking everything one last time. The pitchforks and shovels were buried well enough in the straw that the silver wrapped edges barely glimmered in the light. The black and white cows mooed softly at his approach. He ran a hand along their sides as a silent apology. Then he went to the old chestnut brown mare in her stall. He flung the basic leather saddle and reins on her and climbed up. She obeyed unquestioningly at his tugged commands. He guided her to the back door and hung the lantern on the hook to the right, then led the horse through the barn, checking the final, most vital part of his plan. If this failed, he did not wish to imagine the consequences.
The ride toward town was silent. He knew the crickets were hibernating for the winter, but the eerie silence still unnerved him. The silence warned of danger. And into the ripping claws of danger, he rode.
David stopped as he saw the roofs of the town, the evening frost seeming to make them glow. He didn’t want to get any closer than he had to. He squinted, searching for movement in the pale darkness. After a few minutes, he saw one.
The beast was scaling the steep slant of the schoolhouse. The edges of its fur glowed silver in the moonlight. It stood up on its haunches as it straddled the a-line of the roof. Its topaz eyes glowed like green flames in the wolf shaped shadow. David put his hand on the mare’s neck and stroked a warning to it not to be startled. Then, taking a full lung’s worth of winterly cold air, he bellowed.
“HEEEEEYYYY,” he roared. The beast stood straight, towering a good ten feet. “HEEEYYYY,” David screamed again, gripping the reins. He felt the horse tense as he shouted, but he kept his hand on its neck to assure her. The wolf’s head cocked as it assessed the direction of David’s echoing voice. After a minute, its eyes turned and stared directly at him. It stared for a moment, a beat, and then its body swelled, it raised its head to the moon.
Its howl was long, loud, and like a rasping scream. More howls joined in as David counted to three as the howl grew in volume. On three, he clenched his legs against the horse’s flanks and yanked the reins. The horse reared up, whinnying, and pivoted to face back towards the farm. Not hesitating, David yelled and the horse screamed as it fled at a full gallop. David didn’t look back to check if the wolves would follow. He just hoped they all would come. The howls faded, and then he heard them.
Through the pounding beat of the horse’s gallop and his own heart pounding in his ears, the sound of many, many angry wolves running came from behind. David and the horse’s breath clouded like a locomotive’s smoke as they raced the wolves. Howls and roars grew closer and closer and David prayed the horse had enough of a headstart to beat them.
They ran for ten minutes, each second felt like a lifetime, each growl, bark and howl coming closer and closer. Finally, David saw the barn. He gripped reins harder and yelled for more speed. The horse nearly flew the last few yards into the barn. He pulled up and they stumbled to a stop in the dim barn. The few lanterns on the walls burned low, giving just enough light to guide David to the rope. He grabbed it, turned the horse, and watched the wolves pour in.
The beasts were taken aback by the barn they now found themselves in. The orange light from the lanterns gave their black and brown fur a rusty glow. David guessed the smaller, thinner wolves were the females. But they all looked strong, muscular, and mad. Their eyes shone with a fierce, hungry desire and their tongues licked their long teeth - aching to taste blood. They crept cautiously forward, more coming in. David lost count after two dozen, but as soon as the stream of monsters seemed to end, he pulled hard on the rope. In a rush of rolling pulleys and smoking fibers, the doors slammed shut. David was now shut in with the wolves.
When the doors shut, the wolves went mad. They barked and some nearest the doors clawed at the heavy two by four that slammed into its pocket. The drew back yelping and David grinned. Faint smoke rose from the bent silver cutlery around the wood as the monsters drew back, nursing their burned skin.
One of the cows let out a loud bellow - the door slam waking it. A handful of wolves howled joyously and lept into the stall. The cow cries mixed with wet sounds of the live slaughter. Blood flew in struggling bursts and seeped in a thick pool under the stall door. The last moo was cut short by a roar and a squelching crunch.
When the doors closed, David knew he only had seconds. He pulled the reins and the horse stumbled backwards. They hit the back wall and David crouched on the horse’s back. The door was barely ajar and he leapt through the opening. The horse screamed in shock and the force of the jump pushed it forward a couple steps. The wolves leapt with claws outstretched and the door slammed shut with the weight of the attack.
David’s legs crumpled beneath him and he felt one foot twist on a sharp bend. Pain shot up his leg and he instinctively yelled in pain. That was answered by a thud on the door and the two by four fell across the door, shutting the wolves completely in. David grimaced with relief and pain as he sat down. Then, his heart sank. The plan, he thought, the lantern on the hook.
He had forgotten to break the lantern as he escaped. He only had moments to consider his blunder when, among the sounds of wolves ripping open a horse, he heard the sound of breaking glass. The howls turned into barks and yelps as a faint orange light quickly grew inside. Through cracks in the wood, David watched as it grew brighter and brighter until the entire barn was filled, and smoke billowed out.
He hobbled to his feet, his ankle throbbing as it gingerly took his weight. He stood there and watched as the barn burned, and the monsters howled and screamed in agony. The wolf howls slowly changed into the agonizing screams of human voices which echoed on and on. David turned away from the inferno and limped to the cabin. He pushed the door open. The room was now dimly lit from the fire light coming from the window and open door. On the table was a note that David had not noticed before. He went over and read it.
It’s in the groundwater.
David looked up, confused. He limped across to his grandfather’s bedroom door. The handle was stiff, as if blocked, but he forced it and the door creaked open.
The bed was torn apart. Stuffing, feathers, and sheets torn to ribbons were everywhere. There were huge parallel gouges carved in the wood of the floor and walls. As he let go of the doorknob, there was a clatter as metal hit the floor. David looked down and saw the tangled wire and handful of bent silver spoons. And David Jensen took his final step forward and a low growl came from the far corner of the room.
Authorities from Minneapolis came in the summer of 1934 and found the town of Pine seemingly abandoned. The general store showed signs of being pillaged by scavengers. Piles of fish bones littered the aisles. There was the charcoal remains of a large building in the small town center. All farm buildings were abandoned with, the investigators noted, large claw marks around the windows of each home.
The last farm they checked was the strangest. There was evidence of a large fire on the property, possibly a barn. Though what remained of the building was mostly mud and black planks of wood. Inside the farm house, they found more scratches all over the interior, and in the larger of the two bedrooms they found the skeletal remains of a juvenile male. Laying on the floor, partially brown from dried and rotted blood, was a piece of paper. In a hurried scrawl it read:
It’s in the groundwater.