There Was a Curse upon Them

by Benjamin Woodard

Against the stream, the air thin and frigid: it is here that the loup-garou pins the man. Gone is the man’s wagon, his horse. Moonlight illuminates these two figures and the long shadows of wilderness. The beast’s bony limbs shuffle against the man’s body. Pelt musk drowns his nostrils.

“Demon, spare me,” the man pleads. He shuts his eyes and begins to pray.

But there is no blood, no tearing of limbs. The loup-garou liberates the man, and when he opens his eyes, he spots the short blade normally tucked in his left boot between the beast’s pointed teeth. The loup-garou spits the blade to the ground. Streaks of moon kiss the animal’s chest, and, crouching now, it gestures a paw at a small piece of parchment tied with cord around its neck. The man takes the slick blade in his right hand. He rises and bends close. He sees that the parchment is littered with letters, but the man cannot read, a disadvantage that brings him shame.

The man squeezes the blade’s hilt. His lungs shudder.

Meanwhile, the loup-garou waits, sure the message on the parchment is clear—Pleas free me of curs cut paw wit nife Save my sol. The animal gazes into the man’s eyes, looking for a hint of compliance. The man waves the blade. He points at the parchment around the beast’s neck. Yes, the loup-garou thinks, this man knows what he must do.

The creature extends one paw for cutting.

Yet the scared, illiterate man has merely pretended to read the parchment, out here in the middle of nowhere, the running water to his back. He notes the beast’s sharp nails and, rather than acknowledge the passive nature of the loup-garou’s actions, feeds off the panic coursing through his limbs. He first plunges the blade into the animal’s outstretched paw before slashing its arm, belly, neck, and finally sinking the weapon into the loup-garou’s heart.

The creature howls into the dim canopy; the parchment flutters to the ground, and the man runs. He sprints the thick forest until he finds his horse and wagon nearly a quarter mile away.

He tosses the short blade into the night.

He wipes his hands on his pant legs.

He thanks God for helping him flee this nightmare.

And soon, he will tell you and your mother of his bravery, while deep in the forest, the loup-garou will return to its human form and die there against the stream. It will remain in this resting spot until tomorrow, when a foraging teen will discover the corpse of a well-respected farmer. Locals will blame the farmer’s death on the creature, though the man, after learning of the body’s location, of the cut marks, will know better.

In response, he will drink more. He will yell for no apparent reason. He will break five plates. This fugue will last for exactly three weeks until, one night, awoken from incessant nightmares, he will march into your room and demand you teach him to read. You will comply, but he will continue to drink. He will continue to yell. Eventually, he will open the front door to an abandoned home.

You and your mother will have escaped.

The man will take your lessons in hand, return to the forest, and comb the earth. He will search for the severed parchment, and when he recovers it from layers of leaves and mud, he will parse out each word until he weeps.

You will never see him again.

This is all yet to come.

Presently, though, the man sits in his wagon, thanking God. He pictures your face, warmly lit by the evening fire, a tug of sleep lowering your eyelids as you wait for Papa’s return from a long day of labor. A feeling of calm washes over him as he conjures a tale of valor to tell you and your mother. An owl hoots above him. He shakes the reins.

The horse lets out a sigh; it trots a bit faster as it escorts the man home.

%d bloggers like this: