Friday, April 8, 2016

A Russian Werewolf Story by Elliott O'Donnell 1911

Were-wolves by Elliott O'Donnell 1911

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Closely allied to the vampire is the were-wolf, which, however, instead of devouring the intellect of human beings, feeds only on their flesh. Like the vampire, the were-wolf belongs to the order of elementals; but, unlike the vampire, it is confined to a very limited sphere—the wilds of Norway, Sweden, and Russia, and only appears in two guises, that of a human being in the daytime and a wolf at night. I have closely questioned many people who have travelled in those regions, but very few of them—one or two at the most—have actually come in contact with those to whom the existence of the were-wolf is not a fable but a fact. One of these travellers, a mere acquaintance whom I met in an hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris, assured me that the authenticity of a story he would tell me, relating to the were-wolf, was, in the neighbourhood through which he travelled, never for a single moment doubted.

My informant, a highly cultured Russian, spoke English, French, German, and Italian with as great fluency as I spoke my native tongue, and I believed him to be perfectly genuine. The incident he told me, to which unanimous belief was accredited, happened to two young men (whom I will call Hans and Carl), who were travelling to Nijni Novgorod, a city in the province of Tobolsk. The route they took was off the beaten track, and led them through a singularly wild and desolate tract of country. One evening, when they were trotting mechanically along, their horses suddenly came to a standstill and appeared to be very much frightened. They inquired of the driver the reason of such strange behaviour, and he pointed with his whip to a spot on the ice—they were then crossing a frozen lake—a few feet ahead of them. They got out of the sleigh, and, approaching the spot indicated, found the body of a peasant lying on his back, his throat gnawed away and all his entrails gone. "A wolf without a doubt," they said, and getting back into the sleigh, they drove on, taking good care to see that their rifles were ready for instant action. They had barely gone a mile when the horses again halted, and a second corpse was discovered, the corpse of a child with its face and thighs entirely eaten away. Again they drove on, and had progressed a few more miles when the horses stopped so abruptly that the driver was pitched bodily out; and before Carl and Hans could dismount, the brutes started off at a wild gallop. They were eventually got under control, but it was with the greatest difficulty that they were forced to turn round and go back, in order to pick up the unfortunate driver. The farther they went, the more restless they became, and when, at length, they approached the place where the driver had been thrown, they came to a sudden and resolute standstill. As no amount of whipping would now make them go on, Hans got out, and advancing a few steps, espied something lying across the track some little distance ahead of them. Gun in hand, he advanced a few more steps, when he suddenly stopped. To his utter amazement he saw, bending over a body, which he at once identified as that of their driver, the figure of a woman. She started as he approached, and, hastily springing up, turned towards him. The strange beauty of her face, her long, lithe limbs (she stood fully six feet high) and slender body,—the beauty of the latter enhanced by the white woollen costume in which she was clad,—had an extraordinary effect upon Hans. Her shining masses of golden hair, that curled in thick clusters over her forehead and about her ears; the perfect regularity of her features, and the lustrous blue of her eyes, enraptured him; whilst the expression both in her face and figure—in her sparkling eyes and firmly modelled mouth; in her red lips, and even in her pearly teeth, repulsed and almost frightened him. He gazed steadily at her, and, as he did so, the hold on his rifle involuntarily tightened. He then glanced from her face to her hands, and noticed with a spasm of horror that the tips of her long and beautifully shaped nails were dripping with blood, and that there was blood, too, on her knees and feet, blood all over her. He then looked at the driver and saw the wretched man's clothes had been partially stripped off, and that there were great gory holes in his throat and abdomen.

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"Oh, I am so glad you have come!" the woman cried, addressing him in a strangely peculiar voice, that thrilled him to the marrow of his bones. "It is the wolves. Do come and see what they have done. I saw them, from a distance, attack this poor man, and leaving my sleigh, for my horses came to a dead halt, and nothing I could do would induce them to move, I ran to his assistance. But, alas! I was too late!" Then, looking at her dress, from which Hans could scarcely remove his eyes, she cried out: "Ugh! How disgusting—blood! My hands and clothes are covered with it. I tried to stop the bleeding, but it was no use"; and she proceeded to wipe her fingers on the snow.

"But why did you venture here alone?" Hans inquired, "and why unarmed? How foolhardy! The wolves would have made short work of you had you encountered them!"

"Then you cannot have heard the report of my gun!" the woman cried, in well-feigned astonishment. "How strange! I fired at the wolves from over there"; and she pointed with one of her slender, milky-white fingers to a spot on the ice some fifty yards away. "Fortunately, they all made off," she continued, "and I hastened hither, dropping my gun that I might run the faster."

"I can see no gun," Hans exclaimed, shading his eyes with his hand and staring hard.

The woman laughed. "What a disbelieving Jew it is!" she said. "The gun is there; I can see it plainly. You must be short-sighted." And then, straining her eyes on the far distance, she shrieked: "Great Heavens! My sleigh has gone! Oh! what shall I do? What shall I do?"

Giving way to every gesture of despair, she looked so forlorn and beautiful that Hans would have been full of pity for her, had not certain vague suspicions, which he could neither account for nor overcome, entered his heart. Sorely perplexed, he did not know what to do, and stood looking at her in critical silence.

"Won't you come with me?" she said, clasping her hands beseechingly. "Come with me to look for it. The horses may only have strayed a short distance, and we might overtake them without much difficulty."

As she spoke thus, her piercing, earnest gaze thrilled him to the very soul, and his heart rose in rebellion against his reason. He had seen many fair women, but assuredly none as fair as this one. What eyes! What hair! What a complexion! What limbs! It seemed to him that she was not like ordinary women, that she was not of the same flesh and blood as any of the women he had ever met, and that she was in reality something far superior; something generated by the primitive glamour of the starry night, of the great, sparkling, ice-covered lake, and the lone, snow-capped peaks beyond. And all the while he was thinking thus, and unconsciously coming under the spell of her weird beauty, the woman continued to gaze entreatingly at him from under the long lashes which swept her cheeks. At last he could refuse her no longer—he would have gone to hell with her had she asked it—and shouting to Carl to remain where he was, he bade her lead the way. Setting off with long, quick strides that made Hans wonder anew, she soon put a considerable distance between herself and companion, and Carl. Hans now perceived a change; the sky grew dark, the clouds heavy, and the farther they went, the more perceptible this change became. The brightness and sense of joy in the air vanished, and, with its dissipation, came a chill and melancholy wind that rose from the bosom of the lake and swept all around them, moaning and sighing like a legion of lost souls.

But Hans, who came of a military stock, feared little, and, with his beautiful guide beside him, would cheerfully have faced a thousand devils. He had no eyes for anything save her, no thought of anything but her, and when she sidled up to him, playfully fingering his gun, he allowed her to take it from him and do what she liked with it. Indeed, he was so absorbed in the contemplation of her marvellous beauty, that he did not perceive her deftly unload his rifle and throw it from her on the ice; nor did he take any other notice than to think it a very pretty, playful trick when she laughingly caught his two hands, and bound them securely together behind his back. He was still drinking in the wondrous beauty of her eyes, when she suddenly slipped one of her pretty, shapely feet between his, and with a quick, subtle movement, tripped him and threw him to the ground. There was a dull crash, and, amid the hundred and one sounds that echoed and re-echoed through his head as it came in contact with the ice, he seemed to hear the far-off patter of horses' hoofs. Then something deliciously soft and cool touched his throat, and opening his eyes, he found his beautiful companion bending over him and undoing the folds of his woollen neckerchief with her shapely fingers. For such an experience he would fall and faint till further orders. He sought her eyes, and all but fainted again—the expression in them appalled him. They were no longer those of a woman but a devil, a horrible, sordid devil that hungered not merely for his soul, but for his flesh and blood. Then, in a second, he understood it all—she was a were-wolf, one of those ghastly creatures he had hitherto scoffingly attributed to the idle superstitions of the peasants. It was she who had mutilated the bodies they had passed on the road; it was she who had killed and half-eaten their driver; it was she—but he could think no more, it was all too horrible, and the revulsion of his feelings towards her clogged his brain. He longed to grapple with her, strangle her, and he could do nothing. The bare touch of those fingers—those cool, white, tapering fingers, with their long, shining filbert nails, all ready and eager to tear and rend his flesh to pieces—had taken all the life from his limbs, and he could only gaze feebly at her and damn her from the very bottom of his soul. One by one, more swiftly now, she unfastened the buttons of his coat and vest and then, baring her cruel teeth with a soft gurgle of excitement, and a smack of her red glistening lips, she prepared to eat him. Strangely enough, he experienced no pain as her nails sank into the flesh of his throat and chest and clawed it asunder. He was numb, numb with the numbness produced by hypnotism or paralysis—only some of his faculties were awake, vividly, startlingly awake. He was abruptly roused from this state by the dull crack of a rifle, and an agonising, blood-curdling scream, after which he knew no more till he found himself sitting upright on the ice, gulping down brandy, his throat a mass of bandages, and Carl kneeling beside him.

"Where is she?" he asked, and Carl pointed to an object on the ice. It was the body of a huge white wolf, with half its head blown away.

"An explosive bullet," Carl said grimly. "I thought I would make certain of the beast, even at the risk of hurting you; and, mein Gott! it was a near shave! You have lost some of your hair, but nothing more. When I saw you go away with the woman, I guessed something was up. I did not like the look of her at all; she was a giantess, taller than any woman I have ever seen; and the way she had you in tow made me decidedly uncomfortable. Consequently, I followed you at a distance, and when I saw her trip you, I lashed up our horses and came to your rescue as fast as I could. Unfortunately, I had to dismount when I was still some distance off, as no amount of lashing would induce the horses to approach you nearer, and after arriving within range, it took me some seconds to get my rifle ready and select the best position for a shot. But, thank God! I was just in time, and, beyond a few scratches, you are all right. Shall we leave the beast here or take it with us?"

"We will do neither," Hans said, with a shudder, whilst a new and sad expression stole into his eyes. "I cannot forget it was once a woman! and, my God! what a woman! We will bury her here in the ice."

The story here terminated, and from the fact that I have heard other stories of a similar nature, I am led to believe that there is in this one some substratum of truth. Were-wolves are not, of course, always prepossessing; they vary considerably. Moreover, they are not restricted to one sex, but are just as likely to be met with in the guise of boys and men as of girls and women.

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