The Watchers: Short Story, Part Three
Val’s declaration that the course of history had somehow been changed by what had happened on this bluff overlooking Lake Michigan a century and a half before was obviously leading up to something, but Will did not know what to expect. The ground fell away and the surrounding landscape blurred to the clarity of an impressionist painting.
When the ascent halted and the landscape cleared, Will was prepared to believe anything these…men…vampires….beings told him. The wide swath of open hilltop was gone. In its place was dense forest with small clearings for homes and other buildings including the church. There was no cemetery. Villagers were coming and going. In the distance, small patches of cleared ground sprouted with food crops.
“After these people settled on this land, they lived the kind of peaceful existence you see now,” said Val. “In the minds of the native people, this land was common hunting ground and belonged to no one. They gathered together one day to discuss how to rid themselves of the interlopers.
Day became night, and Will could hear the cries of the settlers when Indians broke into their homes with arrows, knives, spears and tomahawks. The white men responded and the darkness was filled with flashes of light and the explosion of black powder in the barrels of modern rifles. Young men who were needed for hunting and fishing cried out when the balls slammed into their arms, legs and chests.
“The shaman of the native people, an old man, asked for a meeting of the local leaders. His plan to drive out the settlers was adopted. A single wolf was captured on which two spells were cast. The first, unique to the original wolf, would drive it to nip other wolves, thereby infecting them with the second spell which would compel them to attack the the white people of the settlement. It did not take long for the entire pack to fall under the spell of the shaman.”
It was daylight again. Will heard the snarling and howling of the wolves. They followed the ridge above Lake Michigan to approach the village and outlying homes of the settlers. Men were busy outside working on their farms. Children played in the forest clearings and women hung laundry out to dry. The attack was swift and vicious.
"The people who lived at the center of the settlement took refuge in the church. Many of these survived the initial attack, but the families further out were annihilated. This is where the story takes a very nasty turn, Will. Something happened that even the shaman had not anticipated. The humans who survived a wolf attack were infected with the magic and became horribly vicious creatures with a reasoning mind. The wolves congregated around the church, but there was no way for them to get inside. There was a standoff, a siege, if you will. And then this…”
For a moment, Will heard only the growling of the wolves. Then a single, new call came from the surrounding darkness which multiplied until the whole forest resounded with a call that was between the huffing of a bear and the roar of a lion cut short. They came from every direction and gathered beneath the trees before advancing. When they did so, the wolves fled, and the people in the church watched in horror as the creatures ran across the terrain and climbed through the homesteads they had inhabited only a few hours earlier.
Will and Val watched the human-wolf hybrids storm across the landscape. Their heads were large with long, broad snouts that opened wide enough to envelop a human head and were strong enough to crush it. Tongues hung out in anticipation of the killing. Unlike the wolves, which had run around the perimeter of the building, barking and howling, the hybrids went directly for the doors and ripped them off, hinges, boards and locks. They poured inside and the massacre was over within minutes.
“I already told you how the wolves had inadvertently allowed some humans to live, who then became hybrids.The magic worked the same on the hybrids so that anyone left alive became one of them.
“But the vampires were able to deal with them, right?” said Will.
“One on one, the hybrids were a match for any vampire and there were only two of our people in the region at the time. Instead of battling with the wolf-men, the vampires paid a visit to the shaman. He refused to cooperate with the two vampires. In his way of thinking, the hybrids would eventually wipe out all the white people in their world, which to him was a good thing. The vampires threatened to come back and take his grandchildren while they slept, and in the end, he capitulated.”
“Did the shaman undo his magic and destroy the hybrids?” said Will.
“The transferability of the magic from wolf to human with the resultant hybrid was either an oversight on the part of the shaman when he cast the original spell or it was a mutation of the magic. He was not able to simply recall his spell or otherwise have any direct effect on the hybrids with magic.”
“Then what happened to the hybrids? Where did they go?” said Will.
Val turned his face toward the cemetery. “The shaman could not directly control or stop the hybrids, but the land itself would do his bidding. At great risk to themselves, the two vampires stood in the center of a chosen plot of ground and the hybrids attacked. Watch and see.”
Val and Will watched below as the two vampires of a century and a half in the past took their position in an open piece of ground near the church. The hybrids had been staying close to the former settlement and attacked what they believed to be two humans.
“The vampires fought valiantly and fiercely until all the hybrids were within the boundaries of the plot of ground. In an instant, the vampires shot into the sky, leaving the wolf-men in confusion, and the shaman cast his spell, calling on the earth to take and hold the hybrids. Roots of the surrounding trees exploded from beneath the surface and wrapped themselves around the wolf-men, restraining them against the hard earth.
The vampires walked among the bound creatures and chose one for an experiment. One of the two aimed a rifle at the head of the hybrid and pulled the trigger. The beast died instantly. Seconds later, its eyes opened and it struggled even more fiercely than before against the binding roots. They repeated the experiment on several more of the hybrids and the results were the same. They would always rise again. Val, and Will descended to the ground near the cemetery.
“Over the ensuing days, the hybrids were held by the roots of the trees, and the vampires built coffins out of wood from the barns and houses of the settlement,” said Val. “This was vitally important because the shaman’s magic was impotent against the hybrids themselves, but he could cast a powerful spell on the coffins, one from which the wolf-men would never escape.”
The trees, using their roots, placed each hybrid in a coffin and the vampires nailed the lids closed. The shaman cast his spell on each box which was then buried. The magic was strong when applied to this small piece of land. If the shaman had tried to cast it on a broader area, it would have been diluted. For this reason, the coffins and the hybrids inside them could never be moved. If they were, the magic would fail and the beasts would be released.
“You asked us once what it was that we were here to watch over as guardians. Do you understand now, Will?”
“I understand that none of us really has a choice. We must never allow the cemetery to be moved by the development company or by anyone else.”
“We could try turning them,” said Val. “We have considered that option. But what hideous creature might the shaman’s magic create from a third element being added to the hybridization of these creatures. Human, wolf, vampire. The result might be even more horrible than what lies now in that cemetery.”
“You are asking me to help raise awareness among the general population of the area about keeping the cemetery intact. I will do as much as I can, but don’t you think the Native American community would have an interest in what’s going on here? Even a responsibility? That might add an intriguing angle to the story.”
“In the past there has been no immediate threat that the coffins would be dug up and moved, so we have not had any contact with the tribes,” said Val. “But in light of the current circumstances, it would be prudent for us to see if this lore has been passed along to the present generation.”