Story by Teel James Glenn, Illustration by L.A. Spooner
The cold January wind that howled down from the Killiecrankie Pass sounded like the cries of the damned and almost masked the growls of the wolf pack trapped in the kirk-yard.
The bleakness of the sounds matched my mood as I stood in the bare stone great room of the rectory, the grimness of which was not relieved at all by the roaring fire in the large stone hearth.
I’m Jack Stone, Captain of the Royal Horse Guard and I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare. I’d felt that way for the last month, since, my sister Sarah had been killed, horribly slaughtered, by a beast while on holiday.
That was when my whole world, indeed my whole worldview, changed. The man I faced in the room was, in a large part, responsible for that.
“Be at ease, Captain,” he said to me in an irritatingly calm voice, “What we do here will matter.”
“How do you know that, Dr. Argent?” I shot back. “You have been telling me to be ‘at ease’ since Sarah’s –since she was killed in Invershin.”
He was fully as tall as I, this Dr. Augustus Argent and indeterminably older- with long silver hair, a mustachios and spade shaped goatee that gave him the aspect of some American frontiersman. When he found me grieving at my sister’s funeral he identified himself as an agent for The Crown,” and seemed a man of some substance, for he commanded a squad of troopers, though he himself was a civilian.
“Your sister’s death was not a tragic accident,” he said, “it was a deliberate act.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. “What do you mean by that? Sarah was killed by a dog pack,” I said.
“Wolves,” He said. “And they were an instrument of death, guided by a dark intelligence.”
“The last wolf in Scotland was killed by Sir Ewen Cameron in 1680 in Killiecrankie,” I said. A ghost of a smile flashed across his calm face.
“It was a wolf pack,’ he said softly, “And the pack had a most unnatural leader who used them as the weapon of deliberate murder!”
With that statement I felt as if I were spiraling down a rabbit hole or that a false façade had been ripped away from my comfortable regimented view of the world. He would answer none of my inquiries about how he could support so outrageous a statement, yet for some reason, I found myself trusting him. Such was his power that he was able to get me seconded to him to help with the wolf roundup.
For the last month I had accompanied the unusual Doctor as he mounted a wolf hunt with a squadron of soldiers that had been put at his disposal. They had indeed tracked and, using nets, trapped six wolves that had been ranging the desolate country by the Killiecrankie Pass.
“These creatures are of the Russian or arctic type,” the silver haired man said as he threw the bolt on the gated yard behind the rectory. “I suspect they were brought here.”
“But to what purpose?” I asked. I did not expect much of an answer-I had become accustomed to his evasive ‘non- answers’ to my inquiries since I met him.
“We shall see,” he said.
“I still see no reason to have captured those brutes and lock them in the yard rather than simply put them down,” I said for the third time in an hour. It was the evening of the full moon, a month after Sarah’s death and I had been listening to the snarling beasts all afternoon, indeed, they had been placed in the yard the day before, though then they were guarded by a squad of troopers.
“All will be made clear, lad,” Argent said in his usual evasive way.
Dr. Argent stood, brandy snifter in hand, staring into the roaring hearth. The mysterious Doctor had not confided any real information to me in the last month, always deflecting my questions with evasive answers that seemed to leave me more confused than ever.
“Why did you send the troopers off,” I asked.
“Because I thought you deserved to see this occurrence come to its conclusion.”
“What conclusion?” I asked, my patience at an end. “Why send the troops away? Why keep those beasts in that yard, locked behind bars rather than put down?”
The Doctor turned to face me then, his expression dark but his smile still genial. “Captain Stone,” he said, “I have not spoke in detail to you this month- caused you to be placed under my command- because I did not wish to give you false hope that we could find conclusion-justice of sorts- for your sister’s death.”
“I told you that the wolf pack was controlled, Captain,” he said. “But it was not by a human agency, at least not such as you have encountered before.”
“Stop talking in riddles, sir,” I spat. “What do you mean?”
“I had the troopers withdrawn so as not to scare off that agency,” Argent continued as if I had not spoken. “I have not told you my exact position, Jack, partially because I feared you would not be able to bear this truth-but I have observed you, your focus, your dedication and intelligence and feel I can tell you all; I am Minister without portfolio to the Crown for Occult Affairs.”
“Yes.” The silver haired man continued, “And the reason I have had those brutes held in that enclosed yard is because I hope that the thing that led them in the murder of your sister—and of three other young women over the last six months-will come for them.”
“Leader?” I was barely able to speak at his statement.
“Yes,” he said. “A foul individual that has made a pack with dark forces that allows him to assume a lupine form in the light of the full moon.”
“A—a-w-“I could not even bring myself to say the word, such was the assault on my Presbyterian upbringing.
“A werewolf.” He completed. “A sorcerer who has made a deal with the devil to become a skin walker; shape changer…a thing from legend.”
I was about to call him mad, to scream denial of the very concept, when there was a sound outside, from the front of the church. The door handle moved, as if someone was trying it to see if it were locked.
I stepped toward the door just as the portal exploded inward and the strangest figure I have ever seen entered.
It was a man, but with a wild aspect to him, long dark hair, wide eyes and a long, loose coat that was dirty and splattered with what must have been blood; some was still fresh and dripping.
I went for the pistol in my belt holster, but the man sprang at me with a speed and ferocity I had never seen in a human. He slammed into me and we tumbled backward over a chair near the door.
He was as strong as any three men, though the form beneath the coat was neither burly nor broad, indeed he seemed slight and wiry- yet I, at sixteen stone, could barely keep his long fingered hands from my neck.
We rolled over several times on the hard stone floor, a flailing mass of arms and legs till I was able to shove him off of me. We separated, but he had grabbed my gun and was on his feet in an eye blink, the weapon pointed at me.
“Stop!” Doctor Argent said in a commanding voice. The intruder did, his feral eyes darting from me to the Doctor and back.
“You are the leader of the pack?” The silver haired Doctor asked.
The dark haired stranger’s answer was as much a snarl as it was speech. “I am Melchior; I am leader.”
“You found them in the wilds of this island, did you not?” Argent said.
“Yes, the last of their kind living in the deepest forest and avoiding man,” Melchior said. “I went to them in the wild when I was bathed in the moon’s light- when I wore the skin in the Master’s service- and became their leader to teach them to hunt the meat of men.”
I staggered to my feet but there was no opportunity to jump the armed man, his reactions were too quick, his vigilance too complete. I stood frozen and helpless while the intruder stood tense and ready.
“I suspected you would come for them,” Doctor Argent said. He stood relaxed and seemingly at ease though his eyes were burning coals, focused into the eyes of the gunman.
“You think you could trap me?” Melchior asked.
“If you came,” The Doctor said. “It was a hope we could talk and I could learn about you. What happens now- that is up to you.”
“Yes it is.” The wolf master said. “I shall step into the moon’s light- it should be up now- and then my wolf brothers and I will hunt and feed.”
“You have to do something, Doctor Argent,” I protested. “He’s as much as admitted he killed Sarah!” I felt my Celtic soul calling me to action and the tension of keeping myself from leaping at Melchior.
“No, Jack,” Argent ordered, “Don’t try it. Let him go-“
The intruder looked at the silver haired agent of the crown with a curious expression then and said, “You are not like the others-not just sheep. You have ‘the Knowledge!”
“I know the arts, both dark and light,” Argent said. “I am charged under the Solomon Doctrine to protect this isle.”
“Yet you stand aside while I go to my wolf brothers,” Melchior said. “You know I will lead them here then hunt the town; for now I am ready to spread my pack by my bite.”
“No, Jack.” Doctor Argent spoke quietly as he looked at his pocket watch as casually as if he were waiting for a trolley. “Stay where you are. We can do nothing now; let him go- we must accept what is about to occur.”
“You wish to join me, eh?” The wolf master asked. “…to feel the power of the transformation, to be the hunter instead of the prey?”
Doctor Argent looked at the man with an inscrutable face and then said, “I can learn from you,” he said in a flat voice. “Life is learning.”
I was once more stunned by the silver haired man, so much so, that when Melchior backed to the door, the Webley still pointed at us, I did nothing.
“It is time,” the killer said, “ the moon will be up, and when I bathe in its light I will take command of my pack and begin the night’s hunt-“ He gave a wolfish smile. “And I shall start in here; then-“he said as he looked at the Doctor, “I will bring you into the pack as my follower.”
He pulled the door open behind him and stepped back through it, letting it slam.
“The bolt!” I cried as I sprang for the door and threw the metal rod home.
“No need for that,” Dr. Argent said, “In any case, in his transformed state he could easily smash the door in.”
“We have to do something,” I cried.”
“All is happening as it should,” the Silver Fox said.
Suddenly out in the kirk yard there was a terrible din as the growls of the pack became howls. Then we heard Melchior’s voice cry out, “no, no!” and the Webley fired once.
The wolf master’s horrible screams ended abruptly followed by the sounds of wolves tearing flesh.
I looked at the Doctor with shock and he just gave a gently nod of his head.
“What is happening?” I asked while I leaned against the door and listened to the horrible carnage going on beyond it.
“You have earned my full confidence, Captain Stone,” He said. “Henceforth I will confide in you; I suspected that sorcerer would come for his follower; which is why I moved the troopers to a wide perimeter to allow him in—I did not wish anyone else to be hurt.”
“But why did-“
“He may have been a sorcerer,” Dr. Argent said. “But he was a fool and not much of an astronomer.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look out the window- do you see the moon light?”
I did look and saw nothing. When I glanced back at him with confusion he once more gave a genial smile.
“If he had paid attention to the calendar he would have seen that tonight is the rare night of a full lunar eclipse.”
“But the wolf pack—it—it attacked him!”
“Once a month he ran with the pack, Jack, but it was in his animal form and that scent was very different. He had encouraged them to hunt the flesh of humans and now, his scent was all human and to a starved pack like that, he was nothing but- meat!”
Doctor Argent placed a gentle hand on my shoulder and I felt great strength somehow flow to me from it. “Come, Captain we will call the troopers down now to put these beasts down then you and I shall talk of the future.”
I allowed the silver haired guv to lead me out of the rectory into the cold night air. The darkened moon’s place in the sky seemed empty as I looked. “What future is there, Doctor Argent?” I asked. “That monster that killed my Sarah and now he’s dead. No future there.”
“Not for that beast, no,” Argent said. “But there are- others.”
“The world is wider perhaps…Captain,” he said, “And with more shadows than you have known before. Or that you will ever be able to ignore.”
“Yes,” I said. “I can never forget that things like- like that are out there.”
“That is why I wish to talk to you, Jack; I have watched you these past weeks and I think your skills could serve your queen better fighting those shadows than with the barracks duty you were on before all this.”
“First, you know that all I tell you- all you have seen- can never be spoken of to anyone.”
“But people need to know about-“
“No, Captain, they do not, “Argent’s voice was cold as ice. “Since this sacred island rose from the ocean there have been dark forces coveting it.”
I felt a chill then that had nothing to do with the night air. “But people need to know,” I said. “They have to be able to defend themselves. “ Even as I said it I realized it was an absurd statement. How could anyone be prepared to fight something like that thing in he courtyard? He saw my change of expression.
“That is what I do, Captain Stone. It is what a Minister without portfolio to the Crown for Occult Affairs-my position- has done since the reign of Elizabeth. That was when that Minister organized the witches and druids of this island to create a spell- using the very formulae that Solomon used to tame the Jinn so long ago and imprison demons. This Solomon Doctrine is what has kept us from occult invasion- it was what stopped the Armada.”
“But that—that were beast-“
“Yes, no screen is perfect. Individual evil –pools of shadows if you will- seep through now and then and then there is the native born manifestations of the occult as well, that need to have the light of justice shone on them. I am the fellow who holds that lantern of truth. In the name of the Crown I am the shield for the populace so they can sleep at night secure in the fact that their government will protect them,” the imposing gentleman smiled enigmatically. “I have certain-uh- skills – and knowledge that I have acquired over many years that make me suited for this task- but for some time I have thought that I could use some help.”
He focused his piercing eyes on me that, even in the dim starlight seemed to reflect illumination directly at me. “I think you would be just right for that position. What do you say, Jack?
Just then the shadow of the Earth slipped off the moon and I knew what my answer had to be. “When to we start, sir?”
“Directly after we remove ourselves to a pub, boy,” Argent said. “I always need a pint after work like this.”
Eddie was used to danger, thrived on it even. He knows that if you’ve only got one bullet, you better make it a bullet for the bad guys. Be sure to catch it next week.