Since Thomas walked through town the other day, things had changed; windows were boarded up, the mortician crafted a surplus of coffins, and the townsfolk no longer chatted cheerily. Everyone moved quickly from one store or residence to the other. Weapons were sold from Mr. Pot’s Cookery and Truffelsnout’s Hardware Store. Diminutive townsfolk swung pickaxes at imaginary monsters, testing their weapons. The werewolf would be quicker and more powerful than any of them.

Only one man behaved reasonably; Dr. Thurston sat at the bar. Wiliver was also there, getting just as drunk as he could on his own imported rum. He was a tall man, unusually fat, light on his feet and the fountain of town gossip. Everyone felt comfortable talking to him. Wiliver was nearly bald, except for a wisp of curly grey hair protruding from his shiny head.

He was worried now, glancing quickly at the Doctor who sat patiently sipping a tonic and lime. “How can you just sit there doing nothing while a monster is on the loose?” he demanded.

The doctor surveyed his companion who perspired and twitched around the jowls. “Sometimes during crisis, the best course of action is to do nothing.”

 “But someone must do something; the commissioner’s daughter has been murdered!” This latest outburst caused the bartender’s brow to furrow; a continuous eyebrow, with grey streaks running from one end to the other. Soon afterward, Teddy and Thomas entered the pub. Both gentlemen looked like they needed a stiff drink.

“What will it be?” gurgled Wiliver.

“It’ll be two single malt whiskeys; one for me and the other for the man who’s going to slay the monster.”

“How can you be certain he’s capable?” asked the Doctor. “I’m sure he’s a decent hunter, but this shape shifter we’re after isn’t a normal dog.”

“Are you suggesting we’re dealing with a werewolf?”

“I’m not suggesting it; I’m telling you.”

Thomas looked at Teddy and Doctor Thurston in disbelief. Did they really intend to hunt a werewolf in the mountains he grew up in? He was aware of these devils, but always took precautions to avoid them. He didn’t think it was possible to kill one.

Then another idea occurred to him. “Wait a minute, Angelica wasn’t murdered or mutilated under the full moon. We must be dealing with a madman who’s framed the murder to look like a werewolf killing.”

Doctor Thurston gave Thomas a wry smile. “I’m afraid the myth concerning the werewolf is nothing more than man’s speculation. Evidence from these hideous murders suggests a man who willfully transforms. Though an ordinary man may be bitten and turned by accident; once saliva enters the bloodstream it gives him power to make the transformation at any time. The nature of man doesn’t change, but the inner beast becomes his master.”

“But can werewolves be killed?” demanded Mr. Wiliver. “I thought they were immortal.”

“We know wolves can be killed, along with men. It may be difficult to identify the man who has savagery in his soul. We must figure-out the monster’s identity and strike when it’s most vulnerable.” The doctor finished his statement and downed his drink.

“Wiliver, could you fry me up a rare steak behind the bar?” The bartender mumbled something about “eating during times of crisis,” but hustled back to the grill to cook the beef.

Thomas looked at both of his companions. “How do you propose we discover the identity of the werewolf?”

“People who become werewolves undergo specific changes in their physical appearance of a canine nature. They’ll have hair growing under their skin and their pupils may become dilated during daytime hours. A werewolf masquerading as an ordinary man will have oddly shaped fingers. They’ll develop an insatiable appetite and desire to eat raw meat.” Teddy relayed his mastery of the subject like a tenured professor.

“But we can’t arrest everyone we suspect to be a werewolf. Even if we do arrest the right man, it’ll be difficult to legally confine him. If I was a werewolf, I’d eat any arresting officer faster than he could say, ‘you’re under arrest.’”

“That’s why we must have a fool proof plan,” suggested Teddy.

“You mean a foolish plan. How can you prepare to face an invisible monster? He could be me or you, possibly even Dr. Thurston who just ordered a steak extra rare.” This comment pricked the Doctor’s countenance and a thin smile spread across his face. “Or perhaps the wolf is not a man at all, but a woman? Can you imagine kissing your wife goodnight, only to realize she had whiskers and a tail? How can any man know how to face the monster?” Thomas pointed toward Main Street. “You know as well as I, this village has a habit of forgetting past tales of horror.”

“Your steak is ready sir.” Wiliver handed Dr. Thurston a sizzling t-bone with blood boiling in the middle.

Teddy eyed his companions seriously. “I intended to meet with you for a reason. I already have a plan.”

The three men became deathly quiet. “All of the women abducted, killed, and mutilated were between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five. They were exquisitely beautiful, had blonde hair, and radiant eyes. The beast has gone undetected for years and I’m certain it’s the same animal that killed every time. My Elizabeth was torn from her carriage on the day of her wedding. I’ve not talked about her death because it upsets my wife. My daughter fell in love with Wiliver. I hope you don’t mind me saying that you were much better looking in those days and quite robust.” Teddy gave Wiliver a kind smile as the bartender shed a tear.

“As I was saying, my daughter and Angelica met the same fate under similar circumstances. I’m convinced the beast attacks young women who’ve found true love. Elizabeth loved Wiliver and Angelica had a whirlwind romance with Edmond Trufflesnout. They were going to be married within the month. All of these coincidences are not the labor of fate. They’re the work of something evil that must kill love before it can flourish.”

“We know the modus operandi of the creature, but we must find a way to trick, capture, and slay the beast. Dr. Thurston, I believe you know about natural animals and something of the unnatural kind.”

“I do, but you must realize preternatural occurrences of magic are unique and open to speculation. Most living things can be killed with modern weapons. This werewolf, if that is indeed what we are dealing with, will be vicious in close quarters. Undoubtedly, Mr. Trufflesnout is doing a fine business at his hardware store selling gardening tools as weapons, but they only enforce a false sense of security. The best method used to eradicate mythological monsters is one that allows killing from a distance.”

“Your latest point is precisely what I had in mind,” cried Teddy with enthusiasm. “I convened our meeting in a hub of social gossip. Wiliver will put the bait in the open faster than anyone. I’ve already sent a messenger to call on Madam Bane. She’s purportedly an expert on werewolf attacks and will be traveling by carriage, just like the other victims. Dr. Thurston, I trust you’ll be able to design a weapon capable of slaying a burly, swift, and indistinguishable monster from a distance. Our ambush must be ready within three days.”

Thomas and Teddy left Dr. Thurston at the bar with Wiliver. “Sir, I’m sorry I’ve fallen in love with your daughter. I can’t bear if anything happens to her.”

“I know my boy, but don’t worry. Nothing can stop true love and it’s as plain as mint pie the two of you are destined to be together.” �����z�_J

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