Thomas woke the following morning from a commotion downstairs. Light filtered through a screen in the attic causing him to blink in the semi-darkness. Every surface was covered in dust. There were collections of primitive arrowheads, mounted bugs, and assorted books on the shelves. From first impressions, he didn’t think Grace’s father to be the outdoors type. Teddy looked too sophisticated to be comfortable in the woods.
Thomas got out of bed and made his way downstairs. The animal heads were no longer frightening, but looked forlorn, as if they wanted to go home, but were trapped in the dingy corridor forever. When he reached the landing, he immediately encountered a hysterical scene.
Grace tended a girl lying prostrate on the dining table, changing bandages soaked in crimson blood. “Wolf attack, I’d wager,” diagnosed Alex Jorkins. “Not a common assault, but a grizzly affair. It looks like the beast mutilated her body deliberately.” Thomas was almost afraid to look at the chief magistrate’s daughter.
The doctor who would’ve attended to him the night before was inspecting the wounds. “I’m a student of the natural world, but I must say that nothing pertaining to this girl’s misfortune is natural. The beast that did this had the spite of a human and the power of a lion. It attacked the artery at the neck first, indicative of a wolf, but mutilated her remains without ingesting any of the flesh. All of the bite marks were inflicted by the same animal; also in contrast to wolves that usually hunt in packs. We are looking for a rogue; a brute that enjoys killing and slashing the remains after taking life. It’s probably a cunning animal because it kills with efficiency.” There was a hush from the onlookers who watched the naturalist physician examining the poor girl.
“We must catch the devil that did this to her!” screamed Mr. Pots.
“But how do you intend to track this creature down?” asked Mr. Jorkins. “We don’t know what it looks like and it appears to have some higher mental faculties. How else could it have snatched Angelica from her carriage while her father was driving? The commissioner didn’t notice she was taken until he opened the door to let her out at their residence.”
“I’m prepared to lead a hunting party for the brute if anyone will join me,” declared Teddy. At this moment, the townsfolk noticed Thomas for the first time. He awkwardly stood there not knowing how to react.
“What do you say, my boy,” asked Teddy?”
“Let’s not make any rash recruitment just yet.”
“But that thing is still out there!” demanded the chief magistrate in hysterics.
“We can’t do anything about that now. We must tend to the wounded,” said Mrs. Pots with an air of practicality.
Dr. Thurston stopped inspecting the body and sadly lowered his countenance. “I’m afraid the poor girl has expired. There’s nothing left for me to do. If you have further need of my services, you can find me at Wiliver’s Pub.” It was uncommon for the doctor to need a drink, but on this occasion he was willing to let the taps keep running until he was thoroughly drunk.
Teddy motioned for Thomas to meet him in the adjoining room. “This is just foolishness to do nothing when a beast is on the loose. It has a taste for human flesh now. We must orchestrate a town meeting. I know the commissioner is not up to the task.”
“But sir, most of the townspeople are not hunters; they’re shopkeepers. If we let them traipse across the countryside, they’re sure to meet the same fate as the commissioner’s daughter.”
“That’s why I’m relying on you, my boy. I can tell you are a cunning huntsman. I will only say it once; if you do not take up the task of killing the monster, I will never let you marry Grace.” Teddy knew how to strike the heart of any man. “The funeral will be held at the commissioner’s residence. They have a family burial site behind their lot. Be there at one o’clock and meet me for drinks at Wiliver’s Pub afterward. I want to have a talk with the good doctor.”
Thomas walked back to his room to contemplate what had just happened. Without thinking, he pulled one of the dusty volumes off the shelf. It read Werewolves and their Relations. Intrigued by the cover, he examined the text closer. It was a handwritten account of a hunter’s personal exploits with supernatural monsters authored by Tobias Kelly. The name was neatly inscribed on the binding and he wondered if Tobias was Teddy’s real name.
After opening the cover, he noticed the dedication page: To Elizabeth Kelly, My Darling Child. Thomas wondered if Teddy had already lost a daughter and was motivated by revenge.
It was impossible for him to sleep before the funeral. He knew Teddy was planning a hunt that could last for days, if not weeks.
Thomas had tracked monsters above the snow line before. During a storm he stayed in an ice cave at high elevation. An Albadorous Bear entered, intending to rip him apart. Reacting to the brute, he grabbed a nearby arrow, shoving it into the beast’s heart. He’d almost suffocated under the weight of the carcass. Now he was assigned to track a creature twice as fast, as silent as a deer, and certainly more cunning.
It was nearly one o’clock. He dressed himself and walked to the landing below. Teddy and his daughter waited for him. “Did you rest well young man?”
“Not particularly sir. I stumbled across your book and couldn’t help, but read the first few pages.”
“What book is that?” inquired Teddy. “Your journal or I’m assuming it’s your journal, since the author’s name is Tobias. Isn’t your last name, Kelly?”
“Oh, so you found my book on werewolves. I wouldn’t pay much attention to those writings; tall tales written by a blowhard who spent more time bragging to his friends than tracking monsters in the woods.”
“But Elizabeth; wasn’t she your daughter?”
“We don’t speak of my eldest child. She met a similar fate to that poor girl earlier this morning. It happened exactly ten years ago, when our town commissioner assumed office. He was a barman then, helping me track my daughter’s killer. He led the hunt with the help of Mr. Trufflesnout.
It was a large hunting party involving most of the town. The women made lunches for the men who hunted the monster like hounds. It was a bloodthirsty excursion. Nearly two dozen animals were killed. There was no telling which creature had done it.
I remember Commissioner Peppington managed to get himself into a bad scrap on one of his last tracking parties. Apparently, he followed a savage brute along a ravine, when he lost his footing and plunged into a briar patch. He came back to the hunting party oozing blood, looking as if he fought the monster single-handedly. Since that time, many of his scars never healed. Alan Peppington may not be a backwoodsman, but he’s held the position of town commissioner with distinction.”
“Sir, do you think the monster was slain ten years ago?”
“I can’t tell you, but I will say a creature that kills first and mutilates afterward is despicable.”
“Well sir, how do you suggest we capture or kill the devil that murdered Angelica?”
“It’ll take courage, cunning, and careful planning,” whispered Teddy. First, we must meet with the doctor, he being the expert on natural phenomena who undoubtedly can provide us with some answers regarding the unnatural kind. Can you ride, my boy?”
“Of course sir.” They immediately left on horseback for Wiliver’s Pub. ��՛�’�