“Midnight in the Presidential Palace” Historical Horror by Kevin DG Johnson

John Adams circa 1800-1815. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
John Adams circa 1800-1815. Portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Washington March 3, 1801

My Dearest Friend

Something has given the horses a startle. Their shrieks carry from the stables to the great room. Perhaps it was the young rider, whom I have just sent off with the last of the commissions. Lord willing he can navigate the dark and muddy streets at this late hour. No less than the future of our Federalist system hangs in the balance.

The full moon’s glow has vanished, blanketed by an angry squall approaching from the East. A damp, cold chill slices through the air. The servants are outside doing battle with the elements, calming the horses, making preparations for tomorrow’s damned inauguration.

And here I find myself alone. An old, defeated man, scribing with trembling hands, squinting with watery eyes, flinching with aching teeth. Alone, yes.

Painfully alone.

All I have for company is a meek fire and a thimble’s worth of Madeira. The flames do little to warm this room, nor the other twelve fireplaces across this empty sarcophagus they call a Palace. Some Palace, indeed, with its barren walls and stacks of dusty crates. If not for the clothesline you left behind, there would be no trace of civilization whatsoever in our Nation’s illustrious new capital. Oh! Curse the day I agreed to leave Philadelphia for this place. The 4 o’clock stage cannot come soon enough.

I believe it is time for rum. 

One bottle remains in the kitchen. I intend to finish it. Better to drink myself into a reunion with our poor Charles than live to see Thomas Jefferson enjoy a single drop of spirit left behind.

Oh Abigail, curse me for thinking such things. I do not know what has become of me, or why I write to you now. Surely, I will arrive home long before its delivery.

Perhaps a moment to vent is all I need, to scribble my thoughts on paper lest I go to sleep with a crowded mind. I already feel better, as is always the case when I think of you. But I fear sleep is not in store for me tonight. There is so much work to be done. I have packing to attend to and am running out of time to waste.

The sky has come to life with rolling thunder and harsh lightning. There is something else, too. A queer noise, one of a peculiar cadence. Distant, yet close. Disagreeable, yet enchanting. Foreign, yet familiar. I cannot place it. Some type of animal, no doubt. Lord only knows what creatures lurk in the vast, foul swamp.

No matter. My procrastination must come to an end. I cannot wait to be home, for good, forever more. Losing this election may well have been for the best. I shall see you soon, but not soon enough.

Most affectionately yours,

J.A.

March 3 1801. Tuesday. 10 O’clock.

The rum suits me well. Each sip gets smoother, more refreshing. It will serve as the fuel I need to make it through the evening. Most importantly, it will keep my thoughts from Charles.

I cannot recall the last time I recorded a journal entry, but tonight seems a fitting return. In years past, I could fill pages and pages with the day’s accomplishments. But alas, on my final night as President, I have nothing but the mundane to report.

Writing and packing. Packing and writing. That is what remains for me.

Walking, too. Less a vigorous walk of exercise and more an aimless wander, stalking the halls of this empty palace like a spirit, candelabra in hand, the flames clinging to life through every whistle of wind. I am less a President and more an echo of the past, a footprint left in muddy sand, waiting for time to erase me from existence.

Judging by the rumbling walls and blinding white flashes, the worst of the storm will be here soon. The brightest strike occurred mere moments ago, as I wandered into the great room. It brought forth the cobwebs on the ceiling, the soot along the walls, the garments hanging across the clothesline.

And it brought forth Him.

His portrait, fixed atop the fireplace, perfectly centered, with its regal gold frame and glossed finish. There he stands, the conquering hero, the father of the nation, in his finest blue-and-buff uniform, watching over me. Always watching.

Of all the things this blasted palace exists without – proper plumbing, furnishings, ventilation, finished windows – they made damn sure not to forget Him. Will there be a portrait of me, someday, I wonder? Doubtful. And if one should ever exist, it will be half the size and tucked away in a powder room.

Ay, President Washington, I see you now. I stoked the fire so we can sit face to face, like our days in the continental congress, two young revolutionaries with grand ambition and little sense.

Tell me, do you remember who convinced you to lead our newly formed army? Do you remember who provided you the men, the muskets, the powder, the blankets, the linen, the bandages? Do you remember who spoke on your behalf when your stoic face could not be bothered to move but an inch? Where are the songs about me, then? Where is my grand portrait? Nay, sir, you are the hero and I am but the man who followed the hero.

Of all the challenges of my Presidency, there were none greater than living under your shadow. And here you are, still, on my last night, to see me away. Here you–

That strange noise again. A scream? No, more of a wail. A howl. One of the servants, perhaps? They should all come inside. The storm is upon us. I shall call for them at once. The company would be most welcome anyhow.

10:34.

The servants have gone! Lost to the wilderness, to the twisted trees and moss-covered ground, the knee-high brush and icy marsh. I remained outside as long as I could bear it. There were footprints in the muck, leading into the swamp, scattered like an aimless stampede. I followed them as deep as I dared go, until the trees swallowed me whole and the grime caked my boots.

That is when I saw it.

A set of men’s clothes. A very tall man, by the looks of them. Wide in the shoulder and long in the leg. A suit of brown Hartford broadcloth with metal buttons in the shape of Eagles. Shoes with silver buckles and mud-stained stockings. But, what is most striking is the sword. Not a typical dress sword, no. Long and sharp, made from the finest steel I have ever felt. It left a cut on my right index finger with a simple touch.

Who would leave such an impressive uniform behind? Am I to believe a naked man is frolicking about in this weather? Braving the unknown swamp? Might that have been the source of the mysterious noise? Does a man lay dying at the footsteps of the Presidential Palace?

I have brought the clothes inside and locked the doors. The sky has unleashed a fierce tempest. I pity anyone outside in this weather. They are in for a wicked evening, without the comfort of rum.

10:48.

I am beginning to suspect something frightened the servants away. What could cause twenty able-bodied souls to run off in such a manner, I do not know, but I shall not venture outside again to find out.

As the skies have opened, so too, have the noises. Oh! These damnable noises! For every clap of thunder, every strike of lightning, every rush of rainfall, there is a scream, a wail, a guttural snarl, sounding less human with every passing minute.

The noises are all around me, echoing in this dark labyrinth of plaster and smoke. I swear, too, that I have seen a pair of eyes, orange and glowing, burning bright, roaming from window to window. As if they are watching me. As if something circles its prey.

Alas, there is a good chance this is only the rum speaking. I find myself a quarter into the bottle not one hour since opening it.

10:55.

As I think more on the matter, I am reminded of a story, one I heard aboard the Boston during my first voyage to France.

I recorded the tale in one of my prior entries. I shall go search for it now. The details could be of great assistance. Oh! The loudest crack of lightning yet. I must hurry. This night grows harsher.

11:22.

My hands are thick with dust. Cobwebs cover my fingers. I have inhaled enough indoor contaminants to make Benjamin Franklin wheeze in his grave. But I have found it. The journal entry from all those years ago. It is more striking than I remember and fills me with grave concern. Could this be what lurks beyond the walls?

I have included the entry below:

February 19 1778. Thursday.

The Heavens blessed us with strong winds today. Captain Tucker advises that we are back on course after that minor squabble with our British adversaries. But the seas remain rough, unforgiving. I do not know which is worse, the constant rocking or the stench of stagnant water. My stomach remains in a fragile state.

I write under a dripping wooden ceiling. It creaks and groans in slow, measured breaths. John Quincy is fast asleep beside me. I must admit, the boy’s bravery has surprised everyone onboard, his father most of all. I am so happy I brought him.

I am not certain how Charles would fare out here. He is younger, to be sure, but I do not think he has the disposition, nor the fortitude, to withstand a journey like this. I pray he is behaving himself while I am away. 

Despite the perils that lie ahead, I must admit to fearing very little. There is a peculiar French seaman on board who keeps us entertained, distracted. He will not share his full birth name and insists we refer to him only as “Henri.” His hair remains drenched with seawater, always, and what few teeth he has left are black and rotting.

But the man has a penchant for storytelling. He gathers the passengers below deck every evening and regales us with tales from his homeland. Tonight, he told the most fascinating tale yet, and though I had to cover John Quincey’s ears at parts, I will be damned if I should lose such a story to time and old age…

There once was a great French knight, handsome and noble, save for one curious flaw. Whenever the moon was full, he would vanish into the woods, never telling a soul of his whereabouts, or what kept drawing him in. He would return home days later, naked as Adam, soiled clothes at his side.

As the years pass, his wife grows incensed by his behavior. One night, she confronts him upon his return. The knight tells her:

My lady, I turn Bisclavret;

I plunge into that great forest.

In thick woods I like it best.

I live on what prey I can get.

The knight hides his clothes near an old chapel, for if they should disappear, he will become Bisclavret for eternity. Horrified by what she hears, his wife devises a plan to escape his wicked curse. She enlists the help of another knight, one with a keen eye for her, and steals her husband’s clothes during the next full moon, damning him to live out his days as the monster Bisclavret.

One year later, while the King is hunting in the woods, he comes across Bisclavret. The King is alarmed at first, but calms when Bisclavret drops to a knee and kisses his feet. The King spares his life and takes Bisclavret in his court.

All does not end well, however. Soon after, the King hosts a grand feast, and Bisclavret’s devious wife and new husband attend. Blinded by a feral rage, Bisclavret attacks, sinking his teeth into the knight’s throat, tearing his wife’s nose from her face.

The King sentences Bisclavret to death, but his wife confesses her misdeeds and returns his clothes. Horrified, Bisclavret refuses to dress in public. He waits until he is alone, ashamed now of his true form, damned to a life from public view, in absolute solitude…

When I inquired with Henri as to how Bisclavret translates to English, he paused, thought for many moments, touched a finger to his rugged chin. Finally, his lips pursed and curled, as if forcing the words from his mouth.

Werewolf. Bisclavret means Werewolf.

Washington March 3, 1801

Dear “Mr. President”

I must admit, good sir (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense), that you have taken me for a ride. Here you have me, at thirty minutes to midnight, locked in my study, scouring through old journal entries, jumping like a small child at the slightest bit of noise, drinking rum at a torrid pace, and working myself into a frenzied state.

Bravo, Thomas. Bravo.

It all makes perfect sense. How did I not arrive at this conclusion earlier? This is all your doing. Yet another Republican scheme to drive me to madness. You think you have me fooled, but you do not. It has always been you behind the scenes, has it not? The ultimate puppet master, twirling the strings of your Southern cronies while they do your putrid bidding. You might have fooled the Nation, but you will never fool John Adams!

It was your idea to have the capital moved to this godforsaken swamp. You insisted I move in before the end of my term, before the damned thing was even finished. Why? So you could torment me. How many of you are outside right now? How many Republicans dance around this house? Risking all manner of illness on this wet and frozen night, just so they can run back to you like dogs and get a pat on the head.

I remember the names, my old friend, every last one of them. I do not recall any protest from you when your Southern colleagues dubbed me, “His Rotundity.” I am all but certain you snickered under your breath.

And what about the others? Did you snicker at them, too? John Adams the warmonger, the monarchist, the repulsive pendant, the gross hypocrite, the egregious fool. And, my personal favorite, the hideous hermaphrodite. If my Harvard education is of any value, I do believe that a hermaphrodite possesses the sex organs of both male and female. And if that be the case, then I cannot think of a more apt description of you, good sir, as your flaccid demeanor and aversion to public opinion make it impossible to determine which side of any issue you stand!

Some Vice President, you have been. You spent the last four years so effectively separating yourself from my administration, and the duties of governing, that you could not be held accountable for anything that has disappointed, displeased, or infuriated anyone. Leave me to take all the arrows. Perhaps my memory fails me again, but I do not recall your private objection to the taxes, the standing army, the Alien act, the Sedition act, or anything else for that matter.

But perhaps the greatest ruse of your career was to convince a majority of delegates, and the citizens at large, that you are a champion of the people. Nay, a man of the people. Ha! I dare say there will never be another pied piper as effective as you, fooling the poor and working class that a wealthy land baron has their best interests at heart.

This is the same Thomas Jefferson who hails from a southern mansion, is it not? The same Thomas Jefferson who wears blue frock coats, abhors city life, and prefers to spend his days reading literature in his robust library while an army of slaves tends to his every want and need? No need left unfulfilled, right Thomas?

Perhaps that is where the servants have run off to. Did you round them up and herd them straight to Monticello to build yet another wing? Could you stand the sight of servants doing the bidding of anyone but yourself?

I shall leave you with this lovely poem from your dear southern friend, John Page, another insult I committed to memory that I have no doubt you endorsed:

I’ll tell in a trice–

‘Tis old Daddy Vice

Who carries of pride an ass-load;

Who turns up his nose,

Wherever he goes

With vanity swelled like a toad.

Well I, good sir, much prefer to be a toad than a swine.

Regards,

J.A.

P.S. – Oh! And one more thing, with reg–

11:47.

I am shaken to my very soul. How do I describe what has transpired? Best to lay out the facts, only the facts, state my case and let the jury decide – as I have done (quite well, I might add) throughout my career.

As I was finishing my formal welcome letter to our Nation’s new President, the great and admirable Thomas Jefferson of Montezillo Monticello, there was a loud, sudden noise. A grand thud, striking over and over, as if the Royal Army had landed again on our shores and taken a battering ram to the entrance.

I dropped my quill and, on unsteady legs, hurried over to investigate, forgetting for a moment about the creature that may or may not be roaming the grounds. I propelled my feet forward, one in front of the other, down the dark hallways of this unfinished monstrosity, the flickering light of the candelabra proving a questionable guide. The rain fell all around me, cascading from the roof, like a giant wave was preparing to sweep me away.

As I approached the great doors, the thudding continued, but weaker in strength. I paused for a moment, took a quick breath through my nostrils and out my aching mouth. Bang! One final blow sent the doors rattling.

That is when I heard it.

A scream. Not the same scream as before, no, this one more… human. Yes, I thought to myself, that scream belongs to a man. An ailing man.

I broached a timid step toward the great doors. A lightning strike charged the sky, its glow bathing through the windows. Time ceased to move.

“Who goes there?” I asked, perhaps louder than I needed. There may have been a crack in my voice, so I asked again. “Who goes there?”

Another scream. This one, worse than before. I leapt forward and reached for the handle, but another burst of lightning sent me stumbling backwards. The windows glowed in unison, a widening set of tarantula eyes.

And there he was.

The young rider from earlier, his bloody cheek pressed against the glass. He tried to speak, tried so hard, but nothing sensible came out.

“Good heavens!” I said, or something to that effect. With a rush of bravery, I gripped the door handles with all my might, pulled the blasted things open. A blast of wind, of cold air, of stabbing rain overtook me and almost knocked me off my feet. A lesser man (like Thomas Jefferson, for example) would have fallen, but I held my ground.

“Hurry,” I yelled. “Come inside at once!”

I do not know if the rider heard me, the storm was so loud, but he staggered forward and fell inside all the same. I tried to bring him to his feet, but at my advanced age, my strength is not what it used to be.

The poor boy, I thought. For that’s what he was, a boy. Fresh-faced. Clean shaven. Curly, brown hair. For a moment, with the glow of the candles at my side, I dare say the rider resembled Charles. My dear, departed Charles.

But I could not dwell on that thought. I bent over and dragged the ailing rider across the parlor and into the great room, the large fireplace roaring. The rider’s body left a crimson trail in its wake.

“Stay with me, son,” I kept saying, “stay with me!”

This next part, I admit, is difficult to write.

His throat was torn from chin to chest, the muscles visible when he tried to speak, pulling and tightening like splintered rope. I held my finger to his lips, tried to keep him quiet, so that he did not strain himself. I tried to reassure him. I tried to tell him everything would be fine.

My dear Charles. My sweet boy. 

His clothes clung to him in ribbons. I moved him close to the fireplace, propped him up against the wall, told him to wait for a moment, to try and breathe. Surely, I could have repurposed some of the hanging garments to stop the bleeding. I had enough rum left to dull his pain. There were other things I could have done, too. If he could just hold out until the morning, when the stage arrived, when the storm had passed, I could get him to the nearest town, get him proper medical care.

But it was all for naught.

He died in my arms.

I was too late. If only I had come to the door sooner, perhaps I could have saved him. If only my Presidential duties had not interfered. Why had I sent the rider out with such weather approaching? I saw the warning signs, but chose to ignore them.

Charles was dead. Killed by a horrible beast, a horrible beast that still roamed the Presidential Palace. I held him against my chest, his blood soaking my clothes There was nothing more to be done.

A rumble of thunder gave the roof a shake. The rain lightened, stopped, started all over again. I do not know what came over me, but I reared back my head and screamed. I cursed the beast, this palace, God himself, Thomas Jefferson, Republicans, Federalists, the lot of them. And myself. Myself, most of all. I screamed and screamed until I could scream no longer. Until my lungs set ablaze. 

Then the clock struck midnight, and I wept.

I still do.

I never stopped.

Washington March 4, 1801

Dear Charles

My son, I am so sorry. I have failed you again. I have wasted so much of my life fathering an ungrateful nation that I neglected my duties as a real father. And look what it did to you.

I learned of your death the morning of December 3, the day the electors convened. It is not as if the news did not strike me, but I admit to feeling a certain numbness. I took those feelings and buried them deep in my stomach, somewhere unseen, unfeeling, and carried on about my day. Channeling all that sorrow into the election. Channeling all that rage.

The rage that comes when a father knows he is to blame, for everything. For I knew the drink had grabbed hold of you, squeezing your life with every drop. I remember the last time I saw you, your constitution was so shaken, every movement a dreadful, painful chore. Your mind seemed so deranged. The vibrant, young boy I once knew was gone. A lost, pained man now stood in his place.

The pressures of being the son of John Adams, the younger brother of John Quincey, the heir apparent to the political throne, must have weighed on you so. And yet, I said nothing. You were a boy of many interests, a child so tender and amiable, yet I forced you to follow in my footsteps – to farm, to practice law, to be a statesman. It was all so natural for John Quincey, but not so for you. Rather than embrace your unique spirit, I ignored it, forced you down a path you did not wish to travel. And for that, I am ashamed.

What is worse, I saw the toll this life took on you, yet I demanded you get on with it, toughen up, as if I am one to speak on such things. There is too much of my own father, Deacon John, in me. God rest his soul.

When I learned that you had disappeared, gone bankrupt, lost your faith, and turned to the drink, I said such horrible things, thought such horrible things. I would do anything to take them back. I would do anything to see you again.

And now, as darkness settles over this horrid land, and the fireplace dampens in this horrid room, and the beast continues its horrid dance around this horrid palace, waiting for the moment to burst through the walls and finish what it started, I shall wait.

I shall wait for it to put me out of my misery. I shall wait for it to reunite us in eternity, where I will be in your debt, begging for forgiveness.

Your tender father

J.A.

March 4 1801. Wednesday. 12:30.

I have retreated to one of the guestrooms for the remainder of the night. I feel safer here. The fireplace provides good warmth in close quarters. I am writing on the floor, tucked away in the corner, with a small candle to my left and the rum to my right.

I fixed the bed against the door and pushed the wooden dresser in front of the window. My clothes have been stripped and tossed into the fire. If I should die, be ripped limb from limb, I would rather it be in my natural state than in clothes stained with the blood of my dead son. 

Outside, the rain has calmed, but the lightning and thunder continue, trading blows like two towering knights in and endless joust. The beast is circling the grounds. Always circling. Always howling. Whatever pleasure it got from killing Charles has not quenched its bloodlust.

I shall see what happens first. Daybreak, or the beast gaining access to the palace. I fear the latter is far more possible.

12:48.

The great grandfather clock ticks away, echoing down the mighty halls. That is how I am keeping time. An exact science, it is not. But it is helping to keep me sane. That and the rum, this sweet sweet rum that has numbed me to the point of total indifference. If the beast is to come inside, let it. I am ready.

12:55.

My mind has begun a tournament of cruel tricks. Across the room, a pulpit rose from the ground. Deacon John emerged, dressed in his finest cloth, arms raised to the sky. From under the bed came the pained tears of an infant. I would swear on my mother’s life that Susanna, our poor little girl, was suffering through her fatal illness all over again. Abigail appeared, too, weeping tears of blood, pointing at me, her arm a quivering arrow.

On and on these visions have come. I cannot stand this much longer.

1:03.

Oh! The sound of shattering glass, somewhere in the house. The beast is inside. It has come for me.

1:06.

Footsteps, marching along the floorboards. Two long shadows appeared beneath the door, moved away. Perhaps it has not heard me. Perhaps it is confused. Perhaps I am safe after all.

1:08.

Something has angered the beast. It is ripping open doors, one after the other, clawing at the walls, frothing at the mouth, howling its terrible howl. It is only a matter of time before it arrives again at my door. God be with me.

1:09.

It is here. God have mercy, it is here! Outside the door, the shadowed feet have returned.

1:10.

I cannot believe it.The beast laughed. In place of its animalistic howl, a deep belly laugh rang through the halls. Then, the beast continued on, resuming its destruction in the next room, tearing through the Presidential Palace like some kind of manic storm.

1:12.

 If only Thomas Jefferson could see me now. He and all his Republican cohorts. Alexander Hamilton, too, that damnable villain with the devil’s eyes, and all the Federalist minions he bamboozled. If all of my enemies could see me, they would undoubtedly join with laughter of their own. Perhaps louder than the beast!

Here sits President John Adams, cowering in fear, a naked old fool of a man, counting down the minutes until his inevitable demise. A mere boil on the hindquarters of George Washington. Just like they all suspected. I have become the myth they made me out to be.

But no longer.

While I still remain in the Presidential Palace, I intend to act like the President. I will not sit idly by while some abominable beast runs amuck, destroying the People’s property, waiting to be killed like some ailing pig!

I shall avenge Charles’s death. Or I shall die trying.

Washington March 4, 1801

My Fellow Americans

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one person to dissolve a ruthless monster from its own head, so it must be done. For we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights (Benjamin Franklin’s idea, it should be noted), that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Anything that stands in the way of these rights, be it of earthly or supernatural origin, shall be dealt with in the most absolute manner, using the full power of the Presidency. And until Thomas Jefferson rides up from his sprawling estate at Montezillo Monticello, I am still the President, and I will do my duty.

Yes, I, John Adams, having never fought in battle, having never donned a uniform of war, having never fired a musket at the enemy nor manned a cannon, will lead the charge. For even though I lack the experience (and youth) of a soldier, I have served this nation with something far greater. My mind.

Though I was not granted a second term, I am filled with Pride. I am prideful of the new navy of more than 50 ships and 5,000 officers, prideful of our peace with France, prideful of an administration without a hint of scandal or corruption (my eyes to you, Mr. Hamilton), prideful to have staved off the warmongers who would lead us to ruin, prideful to have secured the backing of powerful allies during the Revolutionary War, prideful of the part I played in the first Continental Congress, the second Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the founding of this very nation.

I accept the decision of the electors, of the American people, and will take my defeat with grace. The American people do not deserve a broken and bitter President, incessantly airing their grievances and blaming others for their misgivings. For that is the ultimate sign of weakness. And I am done being weak.

As I write this, a beast runs rampant through the Presidential Palace. It wishes to destroy me and wreak untold havoc across our lands. But I shall not stand for it. I will march out of this room with my shoulders back and my chin high. I will take up arms against it. I will defend this land, as I have done throughout my life. I will defend my people.

I, therefore, President John Adams of the United States of America, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of my intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, that I will kill the beast.

You’re Welcome

J.A.

3:22.

My body is covered in all manner of blood, viscera, brains, the messy coating of a man who has been reborn. I will describe what has transpired in real time, exactly as it happened:

The Hunt.

Rum splashes across my lips, the last drops trickling from an empty bottle. I toss it on the floor but the glass does not break. I will need to show more strength than that in my duel with the beast.

I clear my throat, swallowing back a lump, another lump, my body protesting what is about to transpire. On wobbly knees and aching feet, I march forward. The fireplace crackles behind me, washing the walls in shadowed flame, breathing against my naked back. I inch forward, closing and opening my fists, knuckles cracking with the flames.

The bed is easy to move, easier than I thought, for it was not as secure against the door as I intended. The beast could have breached it, gained access to the room, and killed me in an instant. But that was before, when courage evaded me. Now, it is firmly in my grasp.

I crack the door ajar and peer into the hallway. Darkness shrouds my view, but the Palace is alive with noise. Howls, heavy footsteps, scratching along the walls, froth and drool swirling inside a cauldron-like mouth. The beast is close, yes, somewhere in the black abyss. I have a small window to act. And act, I shall.

The floor is cold against my feet. I walk with a measured pace, careful not to slip and fall, which would all but seal my fate. My skin comes alive with gooseflesh.

Deep scratches run along the walls. The floor is rife with holes. Sharp gusts of wind whip down the hallway from every direction. The windows have been shattered.

The weather worsens, but it is not unwelcome. The lightning guides me forward. The thunder steadies my heart. Raindrops run down my back, keeping me alert.

The bedroom door seems so far away now. I think of turning back, of locking myself away again. This was a horrible mistake, the ludicrous idea of an old, drunken fool. Yes, I must turn back.

But something emerges in the distance. Two glowing orbs at the end of the hall, close together, narrowing. A flash of lightning reveals the lupine creature, crouching on four legs, thick with black fur, baring talons for teeth.

I have reached the point of no return. My mission shall proceed.

I turn back towards the great room and press forward, my pace quickening. A gallop starts behind me, gaining in speed. But this is the Presidential Palace, and I know it as well as the farms of Braintree. I can throw the beast off my tail.

I bank hard to the right, through the kitchen, past the servants’ quarters, feeling my way through a blackened fog. My sudden movements have confused the beast, taken it by surprise, just as intended. It crashes from wall to wall, its large body struggling through unfamiliar terrain. The woods are its natural element. But it is in my element now.

With the time I have afforded myself, I hurry into the great room, the fireplace still alive, the portrait of George Washington watching over me. The clothes are right where I left them, the only thing in the house the beast has not disturbed. It howls, somewhere in a nearby room. I must be quick.

The sword is awash with red flame, glistening near the fire. I raise it from the ground, the handle hot to the touch. I hold it high in the air, studying the blade, attempting to stab at the electric sky.

I think of Abigail, the children, the grandchildren. I think of plunging my hands into fresh tilled soil. I think of the mosquito-filled days of Summer in Philadelphia, spending countless hours in cramped quarters with wig-clad statesmen, forming this nation which we are fortunate to now reside. I smile. Perhaps my first of the night. Perhaps my first in ages. I close my eyes tight, imagining it all.

Then I hear it.

The approaching footsteps, fast at first, but slowing. Slowing until they come to a full stop. There is a deep breathing, a few inches from my face, pouring out of wicked nostrils. A foul odor fills the room.

I open my eyes to the beast, so close we stand nose-to-snout. It sits back on its hind legs, straightening its back, until it towers over me, blotting out the room. The fireplace, the clothes, George Washington, all of it gone.

We stare at each other, our unspoken game, neither backing down. No clap of thunder, no strike of lightning, no whisk of wind, nothing will break our concentration. Not even the tick of the grandfather clock. The hour turns to three.

The beast stands tall, proudly, blood coating its mouth. It has the body of a bloated wolf, stretched to unimaginable limits, the physique of a fierce Hessian mercenary. Its face, a terrible face, with burning eyes and a serpentine tongue, curling its mouth into a demented smile, no doubt waiting for me to attempt the first blow.

“You do not scare me,” I say, as if it speaks American English. “I have faced worse enemies than you.” I tighten my grip on the sword. “In fact, one will be here tomorrow. And he is much uglier.”

The beast cocks its head, trying to understand. It drops its claws for a moment.

That is when I strike.

Sparks erupt, the sword’s blade colliding with raised claws. The beast blocks my first swing, but I do not give in. I strike again, harder, but the beast follows the blade with its paw. Strike and block, strike and block, two great fencing partners engaged in a delicate dance. The beast roars after another block, lowering its face towards mine. I roar back, not giving an inch.

We go back and forth like this for an eternity, working our way around the room. I am fatigued, but I try to push through it. My form is looser now, sloppy, as the strength in my arm recedes. My shoulder wails in pain with each strike. I stab at the beast, straight ahead, wildly, but it jumps backwards, causing me to stumble.

This is my fatal error, for the beast strikes a crushing blow, cutting me from wrist to elbow. The sword falls to the ground. I reach for it, but the beast digs its claws into my chest and, with a swift, upward motion, sends me hurling across the room.

I hit the floor knees first, wrapped in a painful cocoon. I tumble against the wall. The portrait of George Washington rattles above me.

My thoughts again turn to Abigail as the beast approaches, its long shadow working across the floor, climbing up the wall. Oh Abigail, how I wish to have seen you one last time. How I regret to leave you in such a manner. Perhaps you will rest easy knowing your husband fought until the bitter end. That he died defending his country.

The beast plants its monstrous feet in front of me, claws plunging into the floor. It crouches back again on its hind legs, mouth wide open. The laughter returns, rattling the walls. The portrait swings back and forth, bringing George Washington to life, like he is ready to burst through the brushstrokes and charge into battle. An idea strikes me.

As the beast rears back its foul head one last time, I summon whatever strength I have left and spring to my feet. I bring my fists back against the wall as hard as I can. The portrait falls, loosened by a night of commotion. I catch it on its way to the ground, the great frame heavier than I anticipated, but I cannot let that stop me. I raise the portrait in the air, leap off the balls of my feet, and smash it on top of the creature’s head.

By the sounds that come from its mouth, the beast does not appreciate the warm embrace from General Washington. I sympathize. Its arms are fixed at its sides, struggling to break free from the golden frame. I do not have much time. I must make my move.

The sword glistens in the distance, showing me the way, leading me to it. I maneuver around the beast and pick it off the ground. I return, weapon in tow.

The beast howls, shrieks. Dare I say, a look of panic crosses its face. I have it now.

I lose count of the strikes to its neck. More than ten. Less than fifty. Blood splatters along the walls, coats the floor, covers my face, dampens the fire, but I do not stop. I think of all my enemies, standing in front of me, with one collective neck. I strike and strike and strike until a severed head hits my feet and the monstrous body follows suit.

My shoulders slump. I take in measured gulps of cool, night air until the flames on my lungs are extinguished. I holster the sword in an invisible sheath.

I lean forward, hands fixed to my knees, and wretch. It all comes out of me, the Madeira, the rum, this morning’s hard cider, all of it. With the contents of my stomach empty, I catch my breath.

The severed head has the size and girth of a young bull. It begins to shrink, to change form. The black fur peels off, the eyes expand, the snout disintegrates. The face of a beast washes away. The face of a human emerges.

My face. By God, it is my own face! It stares back at me with dead, lifeless eyes. The head of John Adams. Bidding one final adieu to the Presidential Palace.

And then it melts away, until it is nothing more than a festering puddle of muck. The night is over. The beast is dead. 

Washington March 4, 1801

My Dearest Friend

Though it is still too early for sunrise, I feel the day beginning anew. I am writing as a man ready to embrace the next chapter of my life, ready to leave the past where it belongs, and to let historians be my judge. Most of all, I am ready to be the husband, father, and grandfather that my family deserves. It is what Charles would want.

The crates are packed, but please do not be disappointed if I have forgotten a thing or two. I am an aging man, after all. So much so, that I had a minor fall in the wilderness which left me with many cuts and bruises. Do not be alarmed, I shall recover. And as for my loose-fitting clothing, well, that is a long affair to recount.

I bid farewell to the Presidential Palace with a smile across my face. This is a residence more suited for a man like Thomas Jefferson anyway. I made sure to leave behind a letter congratulating him on a hard-earned victory. I also left him a special gift in the main bedroom. It is sure to give him a frightful surprise.

The stage is approaching now, emerging from the rain-soaked swamp, clearing the fog as it goes. Despite tonight’s turbulent weather, it appears I shall be leaving on time. I cannot wait to be with you again. I cannot wait to tend the land, to read, to be amongst my countrymen as a citizen of this great Nation. Oh Abigail, I am ready to be home.

Most affectionately yours,

J.A.


Kevin Johnson is a Product Manager by day and a writer of creepy tales by night. He grew up in the horror aisles of Blockbuster Video and lives by the creed, “what if you added a monster?” You can find him on Twitter @KevinDGJohnson.


If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy “The Thwarted Kingdom” dark fiction by Titus Green.

While you’re here, why not drop by The Chamber’s bookshop?

“Thin Skin” Horror by Kilmo

The tall figure in the drab olive parka grimaced as another gust of freezing drizzle slapped into his face. Five hundred miles from the Scottish Highlands and the weather had followed him like an old friend. Ben gave the whistle he’d borrowed from the P.E. department a blast mildly surprised it still worked with all the water in it.

“You, Jaxon, isn’t it?” he scraped wet hair out of his eyes. “Play by the rules, or I’ll send you off.”

The youth who’d just thrown a punch at his opponent gave the teacher a surly look and went back to chasing the ball.

“Sir?”

Ben felt a tug on his arm.

“Wait son. Not everyone can be on at the same time. You’ll get your turn.”

“No, sir. That’s not what I meant. Whose dog is that? Is it one of those fighting breeds?”

“What dog? Where?”

Ben peered through the rain. Sat at the edge of the sodden playing fields was a dog, a very big black dog, staring at the pitch and Ben got the feeling it wasn’t the ball it was interested in. He strode toward the mutt making flapping motions as he tried to imitate something large and dangerous.

The stray didn’t budge.

“Go on shoo. Get out of it.” For a moment Ben’s feet slowed. “I said shoo. Go find your owner.”

A growl began deep in the animal’s chest and Ben glanced back. The teams on the pitch had come to a halt. He supposed even footie paled in comparison to watching the new teacher get ripped to shreds.

“Right,” muttered Ben under his breath. “Think a wee jessie like you’se going to scare me? Where I come from, you’re nothing but a poodle.”

He was close enough by then to make a grab for the hound’s neck and he was just debating his next move when it made it for him.

“Agh, gerroff,” screamed Ben as what felt like a beartrap closed around his knee. “Help! Call the police!”

The dog was really getting stuck into its work now worrying at his leg like it was trying to snap it in half.

“Teacher, teacher, you Ok?”

The sound of stampeding feet reached Ben’s ears and with a last snarl the dog let go. As Ben finally toppled over, he saw his attacker’s eyes. They were the green of jade in an emperor’s tomb, and they did not belong in a dog like that’s face.

Sprawled on the sodden grass Ben gingerly peeled up his trousers.

‘You little . . ..’

Ben finished with a few choice words that weren’t intended for underage ears and was surprised to hear no answering giggles. For a rare moment, his group of inner-city hoodlums had been struck dumb. As his fingers traced the ragged edges of the wound the dog had left, Ben realized he was clutching something. He flung the broken collar to one side. There was going to be hell to pay when he caught up with the hound’s owner.

Something electronic was being tortured next to Ben’s ear. He groaned as the sound resolved into the rattle of his telephone and flung out an arm.

“Hallo?”

Memories of yesterday’s events began to crowd through Ben’s mind – the hospital, the concerned face of the principal telling him to go home and rest. He groaned louder, there’d been a policeman too, and last but not least, the bloody wound he’d hidden under a blanket when he’d collapsed on the couch.

“It’s me laddie, you Ok? You don’t sound very good.”

Ben snapped back to the present. It was Gran, ever the early riser she’d phoned to check up on his big move to live with the sassenach’s.

“Gran . . .? I’m fine.”

Ben blinked the last of the sleep away momentarily surprised. He really was fine; he even felt quite good as he realized a glorious day was beaming in through the flat’s windows.

“That’s a relief. How are you settling in? Been mugged yet?”

Ben grinned. As far as Gran was concerned anyone from the city was a dangerous criminal, or worse.

“Not yet Gran.”

“Well don’t you go doing anything stupid. You’re my favourite grandson.”

“I’m your only grandson.”

The sound of laughter echoed down the line.

“Ah, but I’d liked to have had more. Much more.”

When Ben had finished placating the woman who’d raised him from infancy, he replaced the phone. He’d carefully avoided telling her anything about the attack. The last thing he wanted was the old dear bouncing around her cottage pulling her hair out over tetanus and rabies.

Ben stared at the end of the couch and the lump where his leg was hidden under the blanket.

“One, two, three.”

He whipped it back half expecting to see a stump, but after all the fuss and bother the bandage looked embarrassingly small. There wasn’t even a hint of blood.

“Plenty yesterday though.”

Ben reached gingerly for the gauze. A stern looking nurse had told him to leave well alone, but Ben was an inveterate fiddler. He couldn’t resist taking a peek at the damage.

“Oh.”

Ben stared at the spot where the dog had dug its teeth in in a neat row of nearly identical puncture marks.

“That was quick.”

Where there should have been scabs, or puss, or anything that showed evidence of how much it had hurt, there was just a row of silver scars. Carefully Ben put his foot on the floor and raised himself off the couch. He had a bit of a limp, but that was all. He hobbled to the window. Below him the city’s rooftops spread into the distance. The principal had said a week off, and there was a whole city to explore.

It was getting dark by the time Ben returned from browsing the record shops and second-hand stalls and the lights on the tower block’s walkways had just clicked on when he stepped inside.

“Lift’s out again bud,” said a Rasta with grey dreadlocks jammed underneath his woolly hat. “Third time this week.”

Ben finished stabbing at the lift’s buttons and looked around despairingly.

“Stairs are that way. Hope you haven’t got far to go.”

The man disappeared outside as Ben hobbled toward a fire door marked “stairs” pushing it open to find a nearly lightless shaft decorated in industrial grey paint. He waved his hand in front of the motion sensor and cursed when nothing happened.

Halfway up his wound finally decided it had had enough.

“Damnit,” Ben wiped his brow as he struggled past another landing. Maybe he should sit down for a moment? He hadn’t seen anyone during the whole climb although occasionally voices reached him from below. He’d just let his eyelids close as he tried to ignore the dull thud of pain when he was stepped on.

“Oh my God!” said a woman’s voice before Ben’s hand shot out and grabbed the figure about to continue her journey downwards at a much faster pace.

“Get off me. What the hell are you doing sitting there in the dark? Don’t you know it’s dangerous?”

“I’m really really sorry,” said Ben clambering to his feet. “I had an accident yesterday and I’m having a bit of trouble climbing these stairs.”

There was a pause and the sound of panicked breathing calmed.

“I nearly went down the lot, all at once.”

“I know, like I say I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.”

“Trainers,” said the woman absently. “I’m going for a jog. You’re the new guy, aren’t you? The teacher that’s just moved in?”

“That’s right.”

“Do all people from Scotland like lurking around in unlit stairwells then?”

“Only the troglodytes like me.”

There was a small chuckle that quickly stopped.

“Well . . . no harm no foul, I suppose. Hope you get better quick.”

She was already moving off, but before Ben could stop himself his mouth had opened, and words were coming out.

“Let me make it up to you. Come round for a brew. I don’t know anyone yet in town.”

He still couldn’t see her face, but her back had stopped a few steps down.

“How do I know you’re not a weirdo? There’s plenty of them round here.”

“Ermmm, we could leave the front door open?”

There was another chuckle, longer this time.

“Ok new boy.”

“I’m in flat . . ..”

“Don’t worry. I already know.”

“Great,” Ben’s mouth flapped as he tried to think of something to say. “Give me a shout this evening?”

“Bye Ben.”

He felt his cheeks grow hot.

“Bye . . . wait. What’s your name?”

“Eden.”

It had been a success Ben decided as he finished clearing away the last of the plates. Ok, they hadn’t fallen into bed, although that had been exactly what was on his mind when he’d opened the door and seen the woman standing outside. Eden was beautiful, from the tips of her fingers to her clear blue eyes. She was everything her name implied. She was also nobody’s fool, and it looked like she wanted to know what she was dealing with before she decided where she wanted it to go. Besides, decided Ben, it was nice just to know someone on the block.

He flicked out the kitchen light, drying his hands on his jeans as he crossed the front room and stopped. It was nearly midnight and the place should have been in darkness, but outside the moon sailed fat and silent and so huge it seemed to fill the window from side to side. Even the walls were painted silver. Ben felt a vein in his temple begin to throb. What was up with him? He could barely tear his eyes away from the sight.

He looked at his foot. It had begun to throb too.

A second later he was doubled over as pain seared up his back. A second after that and Ben began to scream.

Ben was starting to get used to waking up confused, but it soon became obvious something was badly amiss this time. He was lying curled up in the middle of the room, and there was no sign of his clothes. His eyes travelled round his devastated flat as he stood up trying to avoid broken glass. It looked like every stick of furniture had been smashed and there were gouges in the walls big enough to lose your finger in.

A knocking began to fill the air that quickly turned into pounding. Ben grabbed his dressing gown before his front door could fly off its hinges half expecting armed police to come bursting in.

“What was it then? A party?”

He squinted blearily at the short gray-haired man vibrating with rage in the hall.

“Kept me up half the night you did. Howling and moaning and carrying on. Who’d you think you are?”

“I . . . I . . .,” stammered Ben.

The man stuck his finger under Ben’s nose and leaned in.

“One more night like that and I’m coming down here mob handed.”

Before Ben could say anything else his neighbour was striding down the corridor leaving him to retreat into what had been the safety of his flat. It felt like returning to a war zone.

By the time Ben had managed to deal with the worst of the mess he needed to talk. He eyed the phone and sat on the one unshattered stick of furniture he still possessed.

“Eden?”

“Ben, I was wondering if you’d call.”

“Do you fancy going for a drink? I could do with a friend right now.”

There was a pause and then Eden’s voice returned.

“Sure.”

They’d walked into the city centre at dusk, or in Ben’s case limped, with him growing increasingly worried he was losing it. He’d never been a paranoid person but every time he looked over his shoulder, he got the feeling something had ducked out of sight, and beyond the street lights the shadows were full of movement.

“What’s wrong Ben? You seem jumpy.”

For a moment he was at a loss for words.

“You’ve lived round here a long time, haven’t you?”

“Since I was a kid, yeah.’

“So, you’d know if anything bad had happened locally?”

Ben had kept the TV on all day, but there’d been nothing he could find on the news.

Eden gave him a look.

“Like what?”

“An attack? A mugging maybe?”

“Well, all sorts of things go down round here. It used to be much worse, but it’s still a rough neighbourhood. Not everything gets reported. What’s happened Ben? I like you, but I need to know. I don’t want to have to point out we’ve only just met . . . but . . . well . . . we’ve only just met. You know?”

She looked away and Ben felt a twinge of guilt. He’d no right to get her mixed up in whatever was happening to him, but he was far away from home in a strange city, and he had nowhere else to turn.

“The bite.”

“The dog bite?”

“Yeah, I think it might be infected.”

“Then go to the hospital.”

“I’ve been. This . . . this . . . is something different.”

Now it was him having trouble looking Eden in the eye and for a moment he was distracted by movement on the street’s far side. A dog was sitting on the kerb watching him. Soon it was joined by another.

“We have to go.”

“But we’re nearly there. What’s wrong Ben?”

“I don’t know. Something’s up.”

For a moment Eden didn’t move, and then she shook her head and raised her eyes to heaven.

“Why is it always the loonies? Why?”

Ben might have laughed, but where there’d been two dogs now there were three.

“Come on I’ll tell you what I mean back at the flat.”

He talked a mile a minute on the return journey. Ben couldn’t help himself as the words poured out. He’d covered everything from politics to religion before even coming within sight of home. Anything to avoid the thought that was growing at the back of his mind. When they reached the underpass, he paused. The lights were out.

“What’s the matter Ben? Scared of the dark?”

Eden’s eyes flashed in the streetlights before they stuttered and died, a minute later and they were back.

“No,” he shuffled in the tunnel’s direction with a feeling like something had walked over his grave and glanced at the sky. But there were only clouds overhead, no moon, and the sight made him feel happier than he wanted to admit.

They were halfway down when the first silhouette appeared.

“Eden. . .”

“It’s just a stray. There’s loads of them round here these days.”

The dog growled and filled the air with frantic yapping.

“Don’t go near it,” Ben sounded like he was looking at an unexploded bomb. “It might have something nasty.”

But Eden was already bending down with her hand outstretched.

“Hush now,” said his neighbour. “Who’s a good boy?”

They were still waiting to see what Eden’s new friend would do when more dogs began to stream down the grass. Before long there were so many they’d blocked the footpath completely.

“Erm, Ben?”

“I see them. Let’s go a different way.”

The pack began to run, but as Ben pushed Eden behind him the lead dog’s ears flattened.

There was a pop, and the underpass lights flickered on.

“What the hell’s it doing?” said Eden peering over his shoulder.

“It’s submitting,” answered Ben watching the dog lying on its back with its paws in the air. It was looking at him and whining. The others had stopped too, and at the pack’s edges the first were slipping into the night.

“That was because of you, wasn’t it? They were going to attack. You stopped them.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about.”

The next day Ben was looking at a squat concrete building on the edge of an industrial estate. A river curled round its side and across the black water stood the sort of forest whose trees looked like they’d be better suited for hangings than the tiresome business of growing and putting forth leaves. Ben checked the ID tag on the collar again as litter swirled past his feet.

“City pound.”

Next to the title was a number and a barcode. If the dog had had a name, they hadn’t known it. Ben let himself through the security door as distant howling reached his ears. Inside cheerful pictures of puppies and smiling children were everywhere. There was even a poster made from multicoloured handprints intermixed with paws. Only the security glass in front of reception let you in on the lie. Ben supposed some dog owners must get pretty upset when they learned their pet’s fate.

“Hallo?” said Ben leaning toward the grill.

There was silence and then the sound of muffled barking grew louder for a moment. A woman with the pale skin of a Russian princess and jet-black hair framing a face with barely any wrinkles had appeared from the murky interior. She gave Ben the sort of predatory smile that made him think of crocodiles.

“Can I help you?”

“Well, yes. Is this one of yours?”

Ben deposited the torn collar in the security draw and watched her slide it over.

“Ah.”

“That’s right hen, ah. That dog took a chunk out of me the other day. What’s it doing loose?”

The woman behind the glass had taken a step back to examine the evidence and when she looked up her eyes stayed in the shadows.

“I’m sorry you were troubled. That particular dog managed to escape. But it’s recently returned. I’m afraid she has a mind of her own.”

“Are you in charge here?”

“I run this place now, yes. My name’s Lykania Holyhead.”

“Well Miss Holyhead I want her put down. She’s dangerous.”

“Of course, it’s natural you should feel that way.”

The woman must have taken another step back, thought Ben although he hadn’t seen her do it, and for a moment he felt like he was talking to something in an aquarium. Only her face floated in the darkness lapping at the window’s far side.

“If you’d wait there a moment. I’d like you to identify the miscreant. We wouldn’t want to destroy the wrong animal, would we?”

Ben nodded and propped himself against the counter as he surveyed the room. Before long, a frown grew on his face. The tracks he could see must have been there weeks, and as he looked other things began to leap out at him. Why was the date on the calendar from the month before? Even the plants were in the last stages of their death throes. Ben took a step forward. The marks on the floor . . . he peered closer. At first, he’d taken them for mud but there was something else he knew of that dried to that colour. He followed them round a corner where they ended at an office marked: “Manager”.

The hairs on the back of Ben’s neck rose, and when he pushed the door wide, he knew why as the smell hit him like he’d been punched in the gut. A corpse was examining a spot on the ceiling from its position tied to a chair.

“Jesus.”

“No Ben. Not here.”

Slowly Ben turned around. Lykania Holyhead had appeared behind him and up close he could see what he hadn’t noticed before. It hadn’t been the feeble lighting that had meant he couldn’t see her eyes. They were black, not a shred of colour existed in those sockets. By her side was the dog from the sports fields.

“Who are you? I mean who are you really?” said Ben searching the room for a weapon and finding none.

“An agent of change. A catalyst for a return to the natural order. Don’t tell me you haven’t felt it, Ben. What was it like for you when you saw the moon was full?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Denial’s not good for you. You should know that. How about I help you remember?”

The woman had brought the darkness with her and it began to leak through the doorway like mist with Lykania Holyhead following after. When her fingers brushed his it was like an explosion had gone off in his head and in its wake came images. Images Ben knew had been lurking at the bottom of his mind since that night at the flat, only now they’d been stirred up.

The first was of the moon, big, and fat, and somehow nearer than it had ever been before. The next was a confused welter of views from the high rise, stairs, and concrete, badly lit corridors, and doors that only yielded to his paws when he jumped up. Ben frowned . . . paws? But then he was outside and the homeless tramp clutching his bottle of cheap rot gut in a shop doorway took any conscious thought away. Ben knew what he’d been trying so hard to forget then: blood, so much blood he thought he could swim in it and never be clean again.

A lightbulb popped showering him with glass and Ben was back in the room with Lykania Holyhead’s eyes an inch from his own.

“I’ve got a friend who wants to talk to you.”

She clamped a phone to his ear and although Ben’s mind was screaming, he knew the wolves he could hear were real.

“Ben?”

It was his grandma and Ben thought of the lochs beneath the louring Scottish hills, how dark it got up there in winter, and how the pine forests looked like they could swallow you alive.

“Yes.”

Howling surged in the background.

“I haven’t got long sweetheart. This time I’m not coming back. My job’s done. You’re a grown man now. You don’t need me.”

“Gran . . ..”

“Hush bairn. You should listen to her.” Ben watched his face swim in Lykania’s black marble stare. “She wants what you want. What we want. Listen to your heart Ben. You were always happiest running free.”

Then the rest of the memories burst through Ben’s head like a tsunami, and he could see it all. The moon riding high amongst the clouds as he and the pack called to it and down below the huddled yellow light of towns glimmering in the night.

“You’re . . . you’re not my real Gran, are you?”

“No lad. But you are my blood.”

For a moment, the howling grew louder and the wet snap of bones breaking reached his ears. Then the phone went dead.

“Well Ben?” said Lykania Holyhead and as more of the bulbs fused the air rippled like the surface of a pond and he was left looking at not one woman, but three, with a beautiful green eyed brunette crouched panting at their feet.

It was a week before Eden went looking for her neighbour. Not that she hadn’t been worried. Her days at work had been spent with her only half in the room and when Friday had finally drawn to a close, she’d nearly run out the door. Eden stared at the dog pound. There was a sign tacked over its entrance.

“Closed for necessary repairs.”

“Must be pretty serious with you loose,” said Eden taking in the dogs watching from their spots amongst the parked cars and empty warehouses. It felt like they were waiting for something, and Eden had a feeling she knew what as she pushed the door open half wishing it didn’t swing back so easily through the dust.

“Anyone here?”

Eden’s lip curled with distaste. The place smelt foul. Dog food and excrement were all mixed together in the stale air, and the spot behind reception was empty. She headed for a corridor where the light was marginally brighter, and a draught stirred the dead leaves of a plant.

“Hallo?”

Soon Eden found herself in a large room lit by grimy skylights that shone on rows of cages. As the animals inside caught sight of her, baying erupted from every direction and they began to thrash against their prisons – one was by far the loudest. Metal sang as it slammed against the wire mesh.

“A temporary measure, trust me,” said a woman’s voice from the shadows of a doorway. “I want to make sure when I release them there’ll be no going back.”

The barking was so loud it was making Eden’s headache, but the stranger didn’t sound even slightly bothered.

“Where is he? I know he came here.”

Eden threw the note Ben had slid under her door in the woman’s face. After the incident in the underpass, he’d left her on her doorstep with hardly a word. The next morning she’d noticed the message.

“You’re looking at him Eden. Looking at him in all his glory.”

The huge dog . . . Eden stared. The beast slamming against the cage was no dog, she’d seen enough nature programs to know the difference between a wolf and man’s best friend. Eden’s eyes narrowed, but somewhere deep inside an unfamiliar voice was starting up.

“What are you saying?”

“He warned you, Eden, or he tried to, at least.”

“Ben? BENNNNN? Where are you?”

Eden’s attention was on the building’s depths, and with the dogs going wild, at first, she missed what was happening to the woman. But when she looked again, determined to get the real truth out of her, she was having some sort of fit. Her head was between her knees with her arms twisted up behind her spine like someone was trying to hang her from a meat hook and as she jerked and thrashed Eden heard the pop of dislocating joints and tearing gristle. At last, she tumbled out of sight still caught in the seizure’s throws and Eden stared at the space she’d left behind with her ears full of howls and barking. The wolf was watching her. It scraped one paw against the cage’s lock and whined softly in the back of its throat.

From somewhere far above Eden watched herself slide the cage’s deadbolt back before a roar that silenced every animal in the room split the air.

Slowly, Eden turned to the spot where she’d last seen the woman. A shadow was unfolding on the wall back there, an impossible inky stain stretching jaws so wide they looked like they could swallow worlds. She was still watching it when the wolf flew past at shoulder height. As it disappeared from view Eden snapped into movement and her fingers tore at its companions latches until the floor was awash with snarling canine backs. Not one of them headed toward the sound of the battle painting the smooth enamel tiles with contorted snarling demons.

Eden risked one more glance as the noise of a woman’s agony filled the room. The wolf had something by the throat that snapped and slid between forms like oil. Then she was running, and it was only when she was outside that she dared look behind.

“Ben.”

The sweet fresh air she gulped down helped but it still didn’t stop the sight of the pound beginning to collapse like an origami trick seen in reverse. It was still shedding dogs as its walls came down and when she eventually saw the hulking shape of the wolf appear amongst the collapsing brick, she took a half step forward.

“That you?”

Eden felt ridiculous although she knew she shouldn’t after what she’d seen, and the animal had fought to protect her, hadn’t it?

As the last masonry sucked into the void that had opened like a hole punched through the night the wolf’s eyes travelled over her. But although she could see the traces of blood round its mouth Eden felt no fear. When it turned to watch the shapes swimming in the river before disappearing among the gnarled trees, Eden felt a shudder run through her. What was climbing the bank on the other side were its twins, ragged, and starved, but wolves nonetheless. Eden turned to her protector, but he’d gone. A moment later a splash reached her ears as another black shadow followed the pack.

Eden raised her middle finger at the taxi that had just sent a wall of water sluicing over her legs and ducked into a short cut. It was night-time and winter had turned the city into an assault course of snow and freezing ice that matched her mood ever since the night on the industrial estate. She’d picked up a local newspaper the next day to find the words “Gas Explosion Levels City Pound – Dogs Freed” plastered across the front page and when the cops had inevitably appeared at her door, she’d kept her mouth firmly shut.

“Must think I’m stupid,” muttered Eden as a rent in the clouds revealed a fleeting glimpse of the moon riding full in the sky. She hadn’t realized so much time had passed.

The shape waiting for her at the alley’s end far end stayed invisible until far too late.

“What do you want?” said Eden as she finally caught sight of the huge dog with startling green eyes. “If you’re looking for him, I’d imagine you have a much better idea of where he’s gone than me.”

The dog got up, stretched, and yawned, for all the world like it had been taking a nap in the sun not on a freezing British street. As Eden watched the creature pad toward her, she knew there was nowhere to go. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape what it intended and as it opened its jaws wide, she realized she didn’t care.

“You win, take me to him then.”


Kilmo writes. He brought it from squatting in Bristol, to a pub car park, to Dark Fire Magazine, CC&D Magazine, Feed Your Monster Magazine, Blood Moon Rising, Aphelion, The Wyrd, Sirens Call, and The Chamber Magazine. He also has a story published in the anthology One Hundred Voices entitled ‘Closest’.


Werewolf in Action (theoretically)

I came across this video while surfing Twitter today. Dare to say this is the closest you will ever come to seeing an actual werewolf in action. Now you can understand why the people of the 16th-17th centuries were terrified of the thought of werewolves.