“Tell me another one,” she asked. It was a mistake to bring this girl here.
Leviathan had begged me bring more people to her, tell more stories. She ached to hear them. I don’t know if it was my voice, or the hard beating of my heart, that offered a reprieve to her loneliness, but when I brought people to her and told them of her surroundings, it made her happy and gave peace to my love. For this reason, I had come that night, but with a woman unworthy.
A group of us had driven out into the dark and wild of the abandoned road, out to the warm summer and the soft kiss of air. But almost instantly, I had regretted bringing this girl.
She had dropped down to a crouch on the center of the bridge, had hiked up her skirt and jerked down her panties. With a giggle and a roll of her eyes, she had pissed on the center of the bridge. I watched in horror at the defilement and I tried to figure out what I would do, how I would defend this place. I had told of the noose and the fire, had told of the criminal and the outcast. I had whipped darkness around me like a cord around a neck. I had but to pull and this girl would never come back.
“We had better leave,” I told Tony. “We should go to the pool hall. We should go now.”
But Tony had his eye on another prize. His young, eager eyes had delved into the friend of this girl, and he wanted more time in the dark. He wanted to draw her closer, so he flashed me a pleading glance. He knew the magic of this place as much as anyone. He knew what it was to be here. The girl on his arm pulled closer to him and whispered.
“Have him tell us another one,” she drawled in his ear. “I would really like another story. The first one was so creepy.”
I shook my head. He looked at me pleadingly. “Tell them of the last time you were here,” he said.
But he knew not what he asked for. “No, you don’t want that.”
Something solid hit the water, and he grinned.
“Come on, tell it like you told me,” he said.
“That was not the last time I came here. You don’t want that story,” I told him.
Tony’s face changed. He knew me. He knew me well, and he knew we were talking about two different stories. He nodded solemnly. He knew what this place meant to me. He looked at me with a deathly serious gaze. “I would like to hear it.”
I looked him in the eyes and I nodded. “Okay then,” I said, walking to the edge of the bridge and looking down. I could not see Leviathan, but I could hear her tail swishing back and forth as she waited. “Fine. Would you have me tell it?”
No one answered, for they knew instinctively that I was not talking to them. I heard a splash of water and the vile girl jumped. “What was that?”
“It was an answer,” I said.
“I want to go,” she said.
“No, you want another story, and I agreed to give it to you. We go nowhere until it is told. The pact has been spoken. The tale must be told,” I said.
The girl in Tony’s arms laughed. But the look my friend gave me was not one of jest. He knew I was angered, and he knew not what to expect next. The girl in his arms stroked his chest and kissed his neck, but she was far away now. He looked at me and nodded.
“You want to hear about the last time I was here?” I asked. The terrible girl seemed scared to agree.
“If you want to tell it, I would hear,” Tony said.
“It was winter,” I said. “And suddenly there was no one left on the bridge. Suddenly, I had come to this place alone, after the longest walk through cold and darkness…
When I arrived, I had found her gone, hunting and eating no doubt. This happened more often than I would like to admit, and I grabbed the supports of the bridge and scurried up. Few people had seen me do this before, but often when I came here, I craved the sky. I craved the night, open and horrible above me, and I would crawl out of the cage and atop it to howl.
And that night, howl I did. I threw my head back and poured my loneliness and my turmoil onto the air. It was a low, mournful thing. It rose above me to shatter in the cold of the night’s wind. When I heard it returned, I knew real terror for the first time in my life, for what rose out of the darkness to greet me was a howl of such magnitude, the beast that loosed it must have been a creature of immense power. I almost fell right off the trusses, and I dropped to grip the steel as the howl lifted into the night once more.
This time it was clear this was not a howl of rage or even hunger. This was a howl of pain so pure as to wither a heart. I stared up at the source, at a cliff above me with a great rock atop it. Poised there, horrifying and potent, was the figure of a monster of nightmares….
I looked across the darkness at Tony, and he stared back at me in fear and wonder. He had not heard this tale. Many times, I had taken him here. Many times, I had told of the wonders of this place, but he had not glimpsed into this darkness. He seemed about to walk away, go back to his car and take us from this scene, yet he was rooted in place, a great oak unable to move and unyielding. He would stay, though something asked him to leave. He looked me in the eye, and my glance told him what I tell you now.
That which follows is utter truth as I understand the word….
It was powerful in trunk and legs, and when it reached out its terrible arms to its sides as it loosed its next cry, I saw that its hands were great indeed, and its fingers ended in long claws. When it cried out, it bellowed a gust of frosty breath, and it turned its massive head my way. With one impossible leap, it arched in the air, falling free, to bring its arms into a perfect dive in the Big Piney river. The splash was titanic, and filled me with such crippling fear as it lock me in place. I saw the arms of the beast wave as they devoured the water in his swim. When he reached the bridge, he gripped the very stone and clawed his way up.
When the powerful moon cast its full gaze upon him, it was very clear to me, as it is now becoming to you, that I was looking at a beast comprised of man and wolf. It shook itself and water flew wild. It lowered its gaze on me, and it roared.
I had heard, as many of you have, the roar of a lion. Both caged in a zoo or recorded to a tape, the sound is nothing to balk at. But when I looked upon this monster and heard its bray out into the air, I lost control of myself and urine ran down my leg. I dropped to the ground on my knees, laying my forehead on the bridge itself, and I begged for my life. For there is nothing left to do when in the face of such power but to beg….
“He pissed his pants,” the girl said with a snicker.
I looked away and Tony snapped, “Shut the fuck up. Just shut up. Let him talk. Keep your mouth shut.” The girl in his arms whispered to him and he shook her off. “No, tell her to be quiet. I need to hear this.” He looked at me and nodded. “Please, Jesse, finish.”
“His paw gripped me by the back of the neck and he lifted me into the air. The foul beast’s stinking breath gusted in my face before it dropped me to my feet and collapsed. It sobbed and rolled in on itself. It wept openly. I stared down at its utter despair and my heart broke. Instantly, there was no fear. Instantly, there was nothing in the world of terror and horror. The monster that had driven me to panic moments before lay huddled on the ground at my feet….”
When my pity became too great, I dropped to gather his head up in my lap and pet his frozen fur.
I held him for hours as the cold night air gusted around us. My urine-soaked pants clung to my leg, but the immense heat that billowed from this mighty creature kept me from frost. I held him until he started to talk, then the terrible weight of sorrow fell upon me.
He had been out the night before. He had been hunting with his pack, and they had found much game. The forest of the surrounding area had given of itself freely, and the harvest had been bountiful. On such nights as those, when the hunt is so prosperous and full, it is the herald of great things, or terrible.
“I carried my deer over my shoulder and still in my arms,” he pointed to the cliff he had leapt from and he sobbed. “I climbed home and to the mighty stone you see there. For under that stone, my home laid. When I had crawled into my den, it was but a scant moment before I smelled blood.
“I carried a slaughtered deer over my shoulder, so I told myself weakly that it was this blood I smelled, but I could not deceive myself. I knew the blood of the beast I killed. And I knew my own blood when it greeted my nostrils.”
The girl in Tony’s arms gasped. “Was it his family?” she asked. She seemed at the point of tears. The vile girl she had come with stayed silent.
I nodded. “His wife and children had been slain. He said hunters had followed him home the night before and had destroyed everything he loved….”
The beast in my arms confessed to horrid deeds, bloody and foul, that he committed to the men that had raided his den and crushed his life. He had come home to wail out in misery, when he heard my cry of loneliness.
I asked him what was next. I asked him what I could do. He sobbed and shook his head. “There is no love for me. I am of the wolf, and when I mate, I mate for life. No life is for me beyond this point. I am cursed. I am damned to loneliness and sorrow.”
Solemnly and quietly, I pulled my knife. It was cold as ice in the winter wind, and when I opened the folding blade, his eyes glinted in the light. He nodded.
I held the weapon high over my head. When I had spoken a prayer and begged for forgiveness, I plunged the wicked blade into his chest. He howled in pain, but it housed the hope of an afterlife with her and his young.
Then I heard the first of their claws.
I looked up. Glowing yellow eyes glared at me, hateful and filled with wrath. A wolf, huge and mighty, stared at me, its breath escaping its maw with the gusting of frosty air. I looked beyond it and found another, and beside him, another. The dying beast in my arms fought to hold them back, but could not speak. It grunted and snapped, but it could not stop its pack, no matter how it tried….
“I was surrounded by wolves. More than a dozen poised around me. I looked up at the sky and wailed in fear as they fell upon me in that moment.”
I looked across the darkness at Tony and saw him holding the question dear. He wanted to believe, as you want to believe. But this story cannot be, for the man stands before you now, speaking the tale of his death.
The best part is not yet told.
What I tell you now, I have patched together after scraps of memory have come back, through nights of sleep and nights of hunting. Frames and fractures of the rest of the story came to me, and I know what happened….
“The pack came to their master. They fell in around him and wept, and he looked up at them in rage. For he had seen the face of his deliverer, and he had thanked it, only to watch his pack devour the one who had set him free. As the mighty beast died, it gave its last command, and the pack was absolute in its obedience.
“The wolf that devoured my heart was told to devour the wolf that ate my throat. That which fed on my legs was told to devour that animal that snapped up in its maw my hands. On and on, one wolf after the next ate his brethren, until the last wolf stood swaying, my entire body within its gullet. It dropped to the ground and rested, and in its rest, I came back to the land of man.”
Tony said nothing. What was there to say? He did not know, as you don’t, whether this tale is fiction or fact. Sitting now before your screen, you cannot fathom the idea as fact. But you have not trod my bridge, nor seen what the light of the moon does to me. You have not seen me climb the cage, and you have not heard me howl. There are those who have. And if you ask them, they will not answer. If you ask them if my story is true, they will not be able to tell you for certain.
But somewhere inside of them, they know.