Manfred sat smoking his pipe on the stump of the old beech in the early morning mist. Uncle Adelhard named the beech tree, Velten, meaning “healthy, strong” when Uncle was a boy. When Velten was needed for Uncle’s first clock, he cried. Years later, Uncle Adelhard built the cottage next to Velten‘s stump, and every morning that the Schwarzwald’s weather allowed, he sat and smoked his pipe and drank his morning tea.
Manfred lived with Uncle Adelhard from the time he was a boy. The Schwarzwald was denser and blacker then and the young Manfred imagined wolves lying in wait behind every tree, ready to pounce on him and kill and eat him. Most said the Schwarzwald was dangerous and the darkest evil accounted for the blackness of the forest. Others said it was an enchanted place where animals spoke, fairies and dwarves dwelled, and beautiful maidens waited in enchanted sleep for a kiss to wake them.
Manfred wanted to believe in the latter but he knew that deep in the forest, fury partnered with legend and an abomination lived. Manfred’s father had been killed by a wolf–no ordinary wolf, but a werewolf with the intelligence and cunning of a man and the strength and ruthlessness of a skilled predator. Evil was the harsh reality of the ancient forest. Most people lived on the outskirts of the forest–some on the mountains of the Schwarzwald. Manfred and his Uncle lived just inside the forest and avoided the areas that were masked in lore and legend.
Manfred was alone at the cottage. Uncle Adelhard was in the Village delivering the finished clocks to their shop where many of their clocks were sold to people passing through the Village to the spa town of Baden-Baden in the foothills of the Schwarzwald. Manfred ran out of the wood he needed to finish off a very ornate cuckoo clock. He knew exactly where to find the wood and decided to go up the mountain to get it.
A few hours later, Manfred was on the mountain preparing to return home with the small amount of wood he needed in his rucksack. He sat back against a tree and closed his eyes, just for a few minutes….
He woke slowly. He didn’t move, he didn’t open his eyes. Manfred could smell it and hear its almost imperceptible guttural growl. It was very close. Too close to use his rifle. His knife was in his boot, covered by his pant leg. Manfred tried to picture where he had put the ax. He hoped his memory was accurate. Then he felt its warm breath and it stank. The wolf was nearly on top of him–no time to waste. Manfred counted to three. He grabbed the ax and rolled away from the prominent fangs and mouth filled with flesh-tearing teeth. He was on his back holding the head of the ax, waiting for the wolf to spring. He waited. Still the wolf just stood there with teeth bared. Then Manfred heard a man’s voice:
“Axel. Stand down.”
The wolf backed off and sat on his haunches, no longer baring his teeth. His whole aspect changed from fierce wolf, to a benign pet. The man who commanded the wolf, first scratched Axel behind the ear and spoke softly to him. Then he put out his hand and helped Manfred to his feet. He apologized for Axel’s threatening behavior and introduced himself as Ambros Liebrecht. They talked for a while. He seemed pleasant enough, but Manfred was suspicious of someone who would have a wolf, and controlled it so aptly. Liebrecht told him that the wolf now knew Manfred’s scent and would always recognize him as a friend. Manfred did not find that bit of information at all consoling but kept his misgivings to himself. Manfred needed to leave to get home before dark, so bid Liebrecht farewell.
The next months were busy ones for the clock makers. Summer came and went and Manfred and his Uncle were preparing to return to the Village for the Winter. Manfred gave little thought to his encounter with the wolf and its master. All he could think about was the comfort of being in the Village. Uncle Adelhard was on his way to the Village with part of the Winter’s supply of wood and would not return for a few days. Manfred remained behind.
It was a cool evening. Manfred sat on Velten’s stump, and smoked his pipe. The forest was unseasonably wrapped in heavy fog. It was to be a full moon that night but Manfred doubted he would be able to see it through the fog and mist. He sat there daydreaming of nothing important, then realized the fog had thinned and he could see the full moon. He was puzzled by how long he sat there without noticing. He removed his watch from his pocket. Four hours had passed! Manfred felt panic filling his chest.
Manfred spotted something on the ground, gleaming with moonlight. A silver bullet? Shell casings from a shotgun–not the type he and Uncle use. There was something else on the ground. He went inside the cottage to get a lantern and felt that something was different. He looked around but nothing stood out. Manfred went back outside and began going over the area with the light. There were a few things on the ground–someone had been there. Then he saw it, a large canine, that looked more human than wolf. Manfred knew who he needed to see.
Ambros and his wolf stood before Manfred, waiting for him to ask his questions. Manfred held out his hand. In his palm was the silver bullet and the tooth. Ambros opened Axel’s mouth and showed Manfred his teeth. None missing and they didn’t match. Ambros smiled and showed his teeth. Again none missing and no match. Finally Manfred spoke and asked Ambros if he wasn’t the werewolf, who was? Ambros answered him:
“Ask your Uncle.”
Once More With Feeling #18 @ Cognitive Reflection
Photo Prompt: Credit Hengki24
Word Count: <1000