Wednesday, 15 May 2019
Onward Christian Soldiers by G. H. Finn - Part 6
Hello My Darkling,
In a desperate attempt to persuade you to pledge toward,
STRANGE DAYS - A BOOK OF CURIOUS FORGOTTEN LORE
I dribblingly present
ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
That was when the first man died.
There was no warning. No howls or growls. No sounds of struggle. Just a sudden, high-pitched scream from Jean-Pierre, one of the retired soldiers, cut short as his throat was savagely torn out.
I raised my lantern to shed more light and saw his mutilated body among the leaves. Or at least, I saw what was left of it.
Captain de Marran joined me, swiftly followed by Maurice, one of the other old men. We formed a circle, lifting our lanterns high and peering into the darkened forest. “Where’s Jacques?” the grey-haired old soldier asked François. Alarmed, we lowered the lanterns a little to view the ground around us. And that was when we noticed Jacques’ face, flayed from his skull and left resting on a fallen tree-stump. His body was no-where to be seen.
Maurice began to swear, angrily and fearfully, but de Marran hushed him. “Listen,” said the Captain. “it’s out there. Watching us.”
We held our breaths, straining our ears to hear anything moving in the quiet of the benighted forest, then the silence was torn apart by a demonic howl. But it was not the wolf-call that chilled me to the core. It was what came after. Half-way through an echoing chorus of lupine howling the sound changed into laughter. No wolf could have made a sound like that. Nor could any human throat. The awful, half-howled laugh contained no trace, no hint, of true humanity. It was made by a thing that was neither human nor wolf but somewhere in between.
And then, without warning, it stood before us. Out lanterns illuminated the woodland just enough to see the shadowy shape of the great Beast. Its yellow eyes glinted in the pale lamp-light.
I commended my soul unto God above, and stepped forward, toward the Were-Wolf. I held my crucifix high and showed it clearly to the devil-spawned monster, as I said, with the certainty of my faith, “Avaunt foul demon! In the Lord’s name I cast you out. In Jesus’ name, go back to the pits of Hell from which you sprang.”
I watched as the Were-Wolf shook. But not with terror. With laughter. It stood before me. And then it quietly grinned. The sign of the cross held no fear for the Were-Wolf. None at all.
The harsh crump of a rifle-shot almost deafened me. François had fired while the Beast was distracted. The monster spun around, and disappeared into the pitch black of the forest.
“Did you hit it?” I asked the Captain. François made a typically Gallic shrug and gestured dismissively. “I don’t know. Perhaps. I think so. But I am not sure. My hands were not as steady as they should have been. But I had a clear shot. I think I hit it, maybe in the shoulder.”
I nodded. “In that case, if it is injured, we must find it and finish it,” I said, “Heaven knows it was dangerous enough already. God alone knows what it may do if it is maddened by a wound...”
“I think I heard it moving, over that way.” said Maurice, pointing to the darkest part of the forest. We spread out in a line, myself in the middle, and moved slowly forward. With my lantern in one hand, and my evidently useless crucifix still clutched in the other, I scanned the ground for any sign of blood or paw-prints. We walked on. Slowly. Cautiously. Determined to track the monster and slay the beast once and for all. Hunting our prey. I felt this was a duty I had to perform. That I had indeed become a Christian soldier, sworn to obey the commands of God and destroy evil in his name. “Do you see anything, François?” I asked. “Non. Nothing.” He replied from my right hand side. “What about you Maurice? Ca va?”
Maurice, to my left, did not reply.
François and I looked at one another, then shone our lanterns behind us. In a few moments, on the ground we saw the steaming pile of bloody intestines. All that was left of Maurice. The Beast had taken the rest of him, dragging him away into the night.
François swallowed hard. It was all I could do not to be sick. “I thought we were hunting it...” I said, leaving the rest of my thought unspoken.
“We cannot fight such a monster on its own ground. We must get out of the forest.” François insisted. I nodded. Partly because I could see the good military logic in his suggestion. And partly because I desperately wanted to be anywhere but in those deep, dark woods.
I don’t know how long the journey back to the village took. We stumbled and half ran most of the way, stopping every so often to shine our lanterns into the darkness, or to listen, fearing to hear the diabolic Beast stalking us. Our clothes and skin were torn by brambles and thorns, but we forced our way onward. We came as Christian soldiers, but we fled like an army in terror before the Satanic horror of the Were-Wolf of Gévaudan.
At last we came to familiar ground. I recognised this part of the woods. We were almost within sight of the village. I breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief.
And that was when it struck.
It had been following us the whole time. Toying with us. Giving us hope, so that it would be all the more bitter when it snatched that chance away.
The Were-Wolf leapt out of the dense undergrowth. Straight at me. It raked its claws across my chest, almost playfully. It tore my clothes apart, but did not draw blood. I don’t think it intended to do so. It simply wanted me to know the taste of fear.
François raised his rifle, but the Beast knocked him aside, sending the gun flying from his hands.
It turned back to me, saliva dripping from its fangs. It’s long tongue licked its lips. Hungrily.
I raised my crucifix, even though I now knew it held no power over the Beast. The Were-Wolf smiled wickedly. It looked at me, and the sign of my faith, the holy symbol I held before me. And then it bit the hand that held the cross.
I gasped, more in shock than pain, and the Were-Wolf chuckled that evil, bestial, half-human howling laugh, the memory of which even now still chills the blood in my veins.
But its mirth was cut short as François pressed the barrel of his rifle against the Beast’s back. It tried to turn, it’s speed was inhuman, but the Captain had already pulled the trigger. The silver bullet punched through the monster’s ribs and exploded out of its chest – fired straight through the Were-Wolf’s heart.
It fell to the ground. The Beast of Gévaudan was dead at long last.
Even so, we determined to take no chances.
François took his heavy cavalry sabre and, with a few hard, well placed blows, hacked the monster’s shaggy head from it’s fallen body. “I may have this thing stuffed and mounted,” he said, with grim cheerfulness, as he wrapped the bloody trophy in his jacket, and slung the bundle over his shoulder.
I felt myself shaking. I think mostly with the shock of the night’s events. But also because I knew it was all finally was over. I was sure the silver bullet had killed the Were-Wolf. But then, I had also felt sure that my Crucifix would banish the demonic Beast, and I had nearly died because of my mistake. However, upon seeing the head removed from the monster, I was convinced that at last it had definitely and irrevocably been destroyed. I smiled, and said a prayer of thanks to God, glad that my body, my soul and my faith, had survived the long night.
The Captain and I walked on toward the village, casually now, exhausted but elated. I offered to carry the Were-Wolf’s head for a while, knowing that François must be at least as tired as I was. But he said there was no need, he could manage, and besides which, if anything the head seemed lighter now than when he had first slung it over his shoulder.
I frowned when he said that. His words… bothered me. A nagging thought played at the back of my mind. A suspicion was forming.
“François, wait a moment. Let me see the Were-Wolf’s head.” I asked.
“My dear fellow,” he replied, “We are nearly back. Let us get a drink at the inn, and there you can sit and look at it for as long as you like.”
He was about to walk on when he saw the look on my face. He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, very well, see it if you must.” He said, and dropped the bundle onto the ground.
I bent and unwrapped his jacket from around the severed head. We both looked at it.
We recognised the face at once. It was not that of a wolf.
It was the head of the mayor.
We buried the head, out there in the woods. And then we went back, to where we had left the decapitated body of the Were-Wolf, and found what had become the naked, headless corpse of a man, the village’s mayor. And then we buried that too.
François and I agreed that we would never speak of the events of that night to anyone. We knew no one would believe us. We could prove nothing. All we had to show for evidence were parts of the dead bodies of three retired soldiers, and the remains of a duly elected mayor, who by our own admission, we ourselves had killed. There was nothing to prove he had been the Were-Wolf. And he had said his uncle was a general… François and I both decided that discretion would be the better part of valour. We would simply leave and say nothing. There would be no more Were-Wolf attacks, only some missing people. And before their scant remains were discovered, we would be long gone. Captain de Marran set off to rejoin his regiment, with a request to be assigned a position overseas, and I to return my home in England, on the first available ship.
I clasped François warmly and firmly by the hand, and he kissed me on both cheeks, after the French custom. We parted close friends, comrades in arms, and fellow Christian soldiers who together had faced a Satanic foe, and lived to fight another day.
I never saw François again.
It took me far longer to reach the French coast than I would have liked or expected, for every livery horse I hired was unduly skittish and fearful. I think perhaps it was not entirely the fault of the steeds, maybe they could sense my own nervousness and my frantic desire to leave their native land.
When I arrived back in England I determinedly did my best to forget all about the terrible events of Gévaudan. I threw myself instead into completing my book on lycanthropy. I kept my promise never to speak of what had happened. For François’ sake. And my own. Neither of us would wish to defend a charge of murder. I certainly shall omit any mention of these occurrences from my book of Were-Wolves.
I have not lost my faith in the power of the cross, though I recognise that perhaps silver had more power over the beast in the end. But still even so, still I like to think that maybe it was the combination of both that put an end to the horror of the Beast.
Yesterday I bought myself a small silver crucifix, intending to wear it always, as a constant, silent reminder of what had happened that night in the forests of France, and how, by the Grace of God, I was lucky enough to escape unscathed, apart from the mere irritating graze where the Were-Wolf bit my hand.
But I find I cannot wear the cross against my skin.
The touch of its silver burnt me.
I cannot imagine why.
Dearest Darkest Reader-
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STRANGE DAYS - A BOOK OF CURIOUS FORGOTTEN LORE
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