From the author: A trip to Transylvania after WWI leads a young Englishman to a horrifying encounter. The earliest of my stories still in my possession, dating from 1991. Offered here as an instructive example to aspiring writers.
The Howling Wind
C. L. Werner
They think me mad, these men of science and psychology, for how can their well-practiced and technical minds understand the metaphysical horror which stalked me a month past in those accursed Transylvanian Alps? They cannot, and so I sit locked in this little chamber, my only companion the twilight sky beyond my single-barred window. No, they will never believe my tale, but soon they must accept it.
It was in the autumn of the most glorious year, 1918, the year which saw the Hun's armies halted forever, that I decided to travel to the Continent and behold the nations so many of my countrymen had died fighting, both for and against. My travels took me to the grand French pageantry of Paris and Vichy, through the snow-swept Alpine mountains inhabited by the ancient Swiss, and to the time-lost glories that exist as omnipresent shadows in Rome and Vienna.
Though as one might expect after losing a war to us, the Austrian treatment of an Englishman in their country was something less than hospitable, I continued my travels through the new lands which had risen from the ashes of the Autro-Hungarian phoenix. At length, I found myself in the Slavic nation of Rumania, a nation steeped with the traditions and history of Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia. Here were fought the crusades against Mehmed and Murad's murderous empires, the front line in the battle betwixt Christendom and the faiths of the Orient. Here too were the sites of the bloody feuds between the Germans and the Rumanians for control of the region. And time after time, this land was the grave of princes and viziers of myriad legions who waged wars for the capture of the Wallachian crown.
Here too was the setting of countless tales of witchcraft and demonology, of the Strigoi and the Vrolok and of fallen Ördög known to civilized lands as cloven Lucifer. Dark Ördög, prince of evil, the blasphemous hellion who issues forth from the Abyss to tempt men's faith and then drag their souls screaming into the fiery pit, there to dwell evermore in never-ending agony. It was because of loathed Ördög that the native populace feared the past and chose to leave its silent sentinels, its rotting ruins, to the unclean creatures of the night.
Here also was the setting of Dracula, Bram Stoker's sanguinary novel of undeath and vampires and the homeland of the work's historical inspirator the Impaler Prince Vlad Tepes. Indeed, October found my form arriving in a small Slavic village not far from a minor fortress of his reign overlooking the Borgo Pass of Stoker's fiction.
At length I wearied of the Transylvanian hamlet and sought further adventures in the war-ravaged countryside of Rumania before continuing on to Bulgaria, then Serbia and Greece, and finally a return to my Welsh home. In order to save time and to view the decayed castle of Vlad the Impaler, I decided that travel upon the Borgo Pass would be in order, though I would later regret this rash decision.
Only one carriage driver in the village would agree to take my fare and even then he exploited the fears of his fellows and created the ridiculous price which accompanies the “only game in town”. The gentleman was a huge and brutish entity, more ape than human in stature, with long, dangling arms which were adorned with dirty black fingernails and tapered well below his knees. His face was, mercifully, covered by a thick, black beard and mustache. I say mercifully, for those features which had escaped the growth of hair were utterly repulsive to my senses. His nose belonged to some porcine creature and his eyes had the hungry stare of a feline predator. The thick, black brows which shaded his eyes were of a pillar-like shape akin only to those monstrous serpentine reptiles which claim only Peruvian jungles and Rhodesian deserts as their abodes.
The simian beast had an accolade, Janos and could converse equally well in Rumanian and German. It was in this latter language which we conversed, and I learned the price of his wonderful passage. Glancing at the dual dirty gray draft horses which were hitched to the decrepit and worm-infested carriage, I deduced that the services were not worth even a tenth of what Janos sought to extract from my purse, but I had no choice. So it was that I took my place within the aged coach, and Janos ascended to his place in the front, perching himself upon the seat as if he were some aberrant gargoyle-gorilla hybrid. Later, he crack his leather whip, and my over-priced sojourn was underway.
At the village gates, an ox-cart had lost its wheel, and we were forced to halt as the owners of the cart frantically attempted to move the toppled goods which lay strewn about the way. While they did this, a gaunt and filthy form emerged from an alley-way and slowly loped over to the coach. At one time, the creature may have been human, yet now the beast was so caked in filth and savagery that it was not readily apparent that it was indeed a man. Even when I decided that the apparition was human, it took a few moments to discern that he was Slavic and not a some gypsy or misplaced Turk.
The motley form was, as I say, caked in filth. The hair was unkempt and the face unshaven. How grand the colonies of flea and louse upon the beggar's head; only God could say but surely had they been German soldiers, the Hun would have achieved complete victory. Ratty, torn rags of a grungy brown hung from the man's limbs, though huge pores in the clothing showed that the garments surely did not provide much protection from the cold. As the humanoid tatterdemalion loped towards the coach, I noted that an immodestly placed hole in the crotch of his pants exposed him at various points during his unshod stride.
When it reached the coach, the beggar (I can still recall the stench of excrement and unwashed humanity which served as his aura) extended a filthy limb and grasped my hand, turning my palm to his face. He stared at my palm for several moments with his homicidal blue eyes and then turned his face to the heavens and gave forth a low howl, a mockery of that made by a wolf or dog. It was at this point that Janos recognized my plight and whipped the mendicant with his leather lash, warning him to remove himself from the sight of his betters. The man complied with Janos's orders, though he paused to urinate upon the rear wheel of the coach, an act which unleashed a maelstrom of swearing from my coachman. Little did either of us know that we had now been marked for death and that a nocturnal nightmare would arise from the secreted scent.
“Mind not that one,” Janos began. “For he is a good-for-nothing and deficient in his wits. It is said that he with the wolves in the woods runs and that he is mad. He himself claims that he is a wolf only his fur is normally on the inside and that it is only during certain times that he assumed the guise of his brothers in the woods. someday, civilization will here come as well. Then we shall lock him away in an asylum where only the others, who are mad, can hear his tales and ravings.”
As we neared the ruins of Vlad's castle, I saw at once the splendor and glory that had accompanied its construction ages past. The silent bastion lay silhouetted in the snow, looking for all the world as if its foundations had been set in the clouds themselves. Great stone walls, broken and battered, yet standing, towers spiraling over the pass, such was the glory of Vlad's castle. I thought of Stoker's work and recounted the vulgar evil which he gave the looming structure as a place of residence, and dread filled my form. At once, the castle upon the clouds became a thing of malice and impending doom.
What evils, what nameless and timeless horrors lurk in these unclean halls? The seat of Satan, the command post of all the world's daemons and devils. The ballroom of dancing ghouls, corpulent from their blasphemous graveyard feasts. Such were the thoughts which ran through my brain as the coach advanced along the Borgo Pass. My jubilation that Janos was not one of the superstitious and feeble-minded peasants which are the inhabitants of so many adventurous novels and tales was no more, and I found myself wishing that there had been no one who would take me through the Borgo Pass.
I was about to encourage Janos to pick up the pace of the horses so that I might be spirited as far from that damnable fortress as quickly as possible, when tragedy struck. As I leaned out the coach window and tapped Janos's shoulder with my mahogany cane, its silver dragon grip firmly in my palm, the coach was jostled severely as it came to an abrupt halt, in the process of which, I struck my forehead upon the door and dropped my cane to the snow-covered ground below.
Soon, Janos came to the coach door holding the remains of the scattergun which served to protect him and his charges from the bandits which occasionally frequented the mountains. The gun had been crushed so as to render its dual barrels incapable of accepting shot and powder. Janos explained that the horses had been frightened by something and had torn loose from the coach. In order to keep the coach from leaving the road, Janos had pulled the brake, causing the jostling and knocking the gun from its place beside him to be crushed beneath the heavy wheels of the coach.
Janos extended a simian arm and held the coach door open as I exited the vehicle and retrieved my cane from its place upon the ground. The moon glistened off the silver dragon which formed its handle, a glistening which was reflected upon the polished mahogany surface. I turned to Janos and then simply shook my head.
“It would be best if we were to start walking back now,” spoke Janos in his crude German. “We must find shelter soon, for these hills are crawling with wolves - hungry from the lack of deer. I dare say they will not pass such morsels as ourselves.”
A cold shudder came upon me as I became aware for the first time of the lonely howls echoing in the distance as hordes of predatory canines bayed at the phosphorous orb high above in the sky. The howls bespake of death and seemed to communicate our plight so that all the wolves of the hills might know that two defenseless men had wandered into their kingdom and that they must hurry so that the men might remain forever in their gullets.
We decided to head along a path made by the gypsies through a lightly forested section which grew adjacent to the Borgo Pass. As our only protection from the musicians behind the now, ever-present baying would be my walking stick, we had decided to take our chances with the gypsies. The though of spending the night in the ruins of the castle had never entered either of our heads.
The brisk, frigid wind clawed at my face as I walked along the little path, my boots crunching in the snow with every step. Janos walked behind me, repeatedly apologizing for the horrible inconvenience that had been thrust upon me. He droned on and on of his previous record and how rare such an accident was this was. I realized that his incessant talking was his way of maintaining a courage which was melting as though it were made of butter and set outdoors upon a warm summer day, for the howls of the wolves had been sounding closer to us with each new yowl.
For my own part, I remained silent, my eyes darting from side to side seeking to dispel the spectres which my mind summoned forth to inhabit every shadow of the midnight forest. As we reached a break in the trees, the clouds passed over the moon and, like the eye of some gargantuan cyclops, the celestial entity peered down upon us, bathing the world in soft blue rays. It was as though the moon were showing its howling worshipers the position of their near-frozen prey.
I had but taken my third step into the clearing when I became aware of a change in my environment. Janos had ceased speaking. Spinning around, i found the coachman nowhere to be found. I called his name twice with no reply save the howling of a wolf which sounded uncomfortably close.
Then I heard it, the dripping of some unseen liquid upon the soft white snow. My eyes and my ears scanned the area searching for the source of the noise. I found the droplets emanating from something concealed within the snow-covered branches of one of the great trees which bordered the clearing. With mounting horror, I discovered the droplets to be crimson of color and that as they struck the snow beneath the tree, it lost its pristine qualities and was transformed to the richest of reds.
Then a new sound assailed my ears as I advanced upon the bleeding tree. It was not the methodical dripping nor even the terrifying howling of the distant wolves but the low guttural growl of some ghastly beast concealed within the plant's branches. Something fell within the branches, and there was a sickening thud as a large simian form struck the red snow and remained upon its side, unmoving.
My attention did not remain long upon Janos's still corpse, for the low growl had broken into a hellish bark as a nightmare shape leaped from the branches of the great tree. There was fur and fangs and blood-shot eyes. The stench of brimstone and death. I turned and fled, running with an energy I had never before dreamed possible of a mortal. I turned my head once to see if I was being pursued and beheld a nightmarish sight: an enormous wolf right upon my heels, not more than five feet separating predator and prey. Soon the hairs upon my neck were warmed by the creature's fetid breath, and its undulating panting expunged all other sounds from my ears. Horror such as unknown to me in four years of war assailed me, and I produced for but an instant an additional burst of speed, my fear-wracked body seemingly immune to the effects of fatigue.
My momentary acceleration had caught my savage pursuer by surprise, for it had evidently been in mid leap when i had suddenly moved forward. I heard the crushing of snow as the beast plowed into the ground a scant two steps behind me.
Ahead, I noted a small structure's dark silhouette upon the edge of the clearing. In the past it was, perhaps, a woodsman's hut or the hovel of some gypsy trapper, yet now it simply stood as a somber guardian which i prayed would offer sanctuary from the heinous terror to my rear. Twenty feet lay between myself and the structure. As I glanced over my shoulder, I beheld my canine foe rise from the ground and shake the snow from its furred form. I prayed that I might reach the wooden shanty. Behind me, a howl such as possible only of Cerberus shook the heavens and padded paws struck the pale frozen ground with a new rapidity born of animalistic rage.
I reached the worm-eaten hut and fastened the door as I entered just as a powerful body battered itself against the portal, causing a small section to crack open. Soon a furry paw was thrust through the hole groping for the iron bar which held the door fast. My eyes adjusted to the diminished light of the shanty and viewed a sight at once as vulgar and vile as all the demons of hell. The appendage which had been stabbed through the door was indeed furred and clawed, but, God help me, it was not a paw but a hand of five digits, one an opposing thumb.
My eyes searched the hovel for a weapon, a shield - something with which to ward off the grotesque piece of a nightmare clawing for the iron bar. At last I found a workman's bench in the center of the single room hut and thrust it upon the door, crushing the horrible hand upon the worm-eaten wood. A bestial cry of agony followed by the splintering of wood rewarded my efforts, and, for the moment, my attacker had withdrawn.
Like some damnable serpent, i crept along the floor, my eyes never leaving the ravaged door, seeking softly in the darker corners of the shack. I had reached the farthest corner of the chamber when I heard the near silent sound of clumps of snow falling upon the shanty's aged roof from a tree whose branches hung over it. Gazing up, I watched in horror as a feral shape burst through the ceiling landing upon its padded feet in a murderous crunch.
The Satanic shadow before me was at once both wolf and man. Its hands, for I can no longer call them paws, were attached to muscular arms which were able to bend at the elbow and possessed socket motion. Its torso, too, was decidedly human in shape, yet the abdomen and legs belonged not to a human nor an ape nor even one of the lower primates; they were the loath lower sections of a canine. While the creature had hands which were not paws, its legs ended in paws which were not feet.
Its head was the beast's most horrible portion. Set upon a thick, muscular neck, the head was of the same shape as that of an enormous wolf. Its dominating feature, a vulgar muzzle which extended some 5 inches from its face, bare curled lips which revealed ivory daggers set in a blood-stained mouth. Its heinous eyes, neither wolf nor man, but belonging to some infernal demon, glared at me with gory anticipation.
It was stark terror and not the cold cunning of a hunter which caused me to capitalize on the wolf-creature's momentary disorientation which had set upon its canine mind ever since it had burst through the rotted ceiling. Flying past the wolfish form, I leaped through the worm-rotten door, feeling my chest buckle as my flesh smacked against the botanical corpse. the effort had exhausted me, and I lay upon the unfeeling snow ten feet from the hut.
My rest was not to be long for this world, for the darkening horror to my rear reasserted itself in my fatigued and feverish mind. The terror, momentarily forgotten in the throes of sanity-wracking delirium, gave forth a high-pitched howl from the shadowy interior of the rotten shack. Slowly, I turned my head and beheld the hellish animal striding out of the shadows and through the shattered door. New fear created new flight, and soon I was again fleeing down snow-covered scape in the same manner as the object of my anguish had used to stride out of the hut, upon two legs.
The panting and crunch of snow filled my ears again, a diabolic deja vu of the race which had been run - but scant minutes before: between I, a mere mortal, and the nocturnal demon at my heels. The blood-curdling snarls and vile gnashing of teeth uttered by the metaphysical invader seemed to bespeak of death and of aberrant things best left to the halls of the lunatic asylums. In my mind, a voice I horribly realized to be my own repeated over and over “Now I am to die. Now I am to die.”
The voice within my skull was to see its words nearly realized in the moments which followed. In my unguided flight, my eyes failed to see the black shape which jutted out of the ground. In an instant later, my mass was upon the ground beside a great fallen tree, the slashing shadow of an upward jutting branch shielding my optics from the radiating moon. The fall succeeded in doing what my frenzied mind had not. My death-grip upon the black walking stick with its shiny knob was broken, the staff lay embedded in the snow to my right.
What unholy prose or poem can describe the abhorrent vision of savage terror whose shadow fell across my body as it again leaped off the ground to lunge at my defenseless throat? And what words can express the complete revulsion when the two shadows which covered me like a blanket merged as one, both in the two-dimensional world of shadow and the three-dimensional world of substance?
The nightmare should have ended then, with my canine pursuer's impalement upon the broken pillar of wood. Yet the worst was still to come, for the hellish predator bled no wolfish ichor, not did a wound betray itself in its loathsome gut. The branch had punctured the canine as though the beast were made of gelatin or clay. The demon's flesh had simply congealed around the impaling spike, not a drop of crimson staining the dead tree.
Even with the shaft of wood in its form, the monster's lust for my blood goaded it onward, causing the beast to slide its body down the jutting branch to my own toppled shape. The nearness of horror paralyzed me with fear, a paralysis unbroken until the wolf's wicked fangs worried my right shoulder.
My life's blood stained the snow and fallen tree beneath the all-seeing lunar cyclops. Soon, I knew death would claim me. Frantically, I groped about my surroundings for something with which to defend my failing life. At length and near to unconsciousness, I found my dropped cane, and, clutching it by the base, I smashed it time and again into the head of my would-be assassin - each bludgeoning blow forging crimson trenches about which the terror's flesh did not congeal. After an eternity of smashing and crushing, the worrying ceased, and a lupine body slumped upon the ground. I then slipped away into the sleep which was the end of my fatiguing sojourn into unfathomable horror.
They found me in the morning, the gory corpse of the mad beggar who was given to running with the wolves beside me. The coating of blood upon my silver cane and my own insane story were enough to send me to this Swiss institution for the mad one month ago.
My month here has taught me much, for I have been able to think upon all that has happened. I know now the terrible curse the mad beggar was victim to and the bloody manner in which the curse is transmitted. I know that I am now a possessor of that curse. But soon they too shall all know. The ebony cyclops shall tonight open its single eye full agape, and my forest brothers shall sing their prayers to our radiant goddess. Soon they shall see me for what I am. Soon all shall know the glorious gift the mad beggar bestowed upon me in the queer manner which is our way, the way of the werewolf.