It’s bitter cold as I leave camp in the middle of the night. My men are huddled together around fires, wrapping their feet to try and protect their toes, while I trample out into the woods following a different kind of footprint.
I had to wait until all of them were asleep, didn’t want to give any of them the idea that their general was abandoning them. And the moon is so full and bright above me, there is little darkness to conceal my movements, or the movements of my prey.
Because there is a bitter consequence to this war for our freedom. Our mother England brought more than troops and guns with them, they brought a curse, carried by those bastards the Hessians. A disease that had somehow remained trapped with their borders, now runs rampant across my wintry battlefield, and I am the only equipped to fight it.
My prey’s tracks have grown close together and I wonder with a chill deeper than the snow if he has sensed me. The winds are silent, but the nose of this beast is more powerful than a thousand bloodhounds.
A low growl indicates my fears were correct.
If he had still been a man he would have seen as the prize prisoner I would surely be. Now I am merely food, something for him to consume.
The Hessian Beast jumps out from my right and I am temporarily knocked off balance. My gun is back at the camp, it is too clumsy and slow a weapon to attempt to fight off this beast.
I kick hard at the beast’s stomach, creating distance between us while I regain my wits. This hessian must be new to the curse as he is cautious, uncertain of his strength. He’s not my prey, not the one I’m looking for, but I won’t become his dinner tonight either.
“I never tell a lie. Tonight you breathe your last foul beast!”
My right arm flashes forward, straight for the beast’s chest. At the last moment I bend my wrist and a silver blade flies out, impaling the creature in an instant. Benjamin’s done fine work with this weapon. Before the beast has even hit the ground he is no longer a creature, just a boy no more than 15, looking back at me with surprised blue eyes. I don’t like killing someone so young, but this curse is brutal, and I have saved him from a lifetime of killing.
A howl not twenty paces ahead of me indicates I cannot yet safely return to camp. This new beast is wiser, more aware of their own strength and doesn’t feel it needs to rely on surprise to attack me. It’s charging me even through the thick grove of trees, jumping from side to side as if nothing was there. If these had been proper wolves I would have assumed this was the Hessian’s mate, but just before the beast was on top of me I saw the telltale scrap of fabric.
I shove my bladed arm up against this new beast’s neck, trying to hold it’s mouth away from my throat, while its claws tear at my thin jacket. The blade snaps off, falling useless into the snow. Somehow I bring my other arm up, from underneath it’s relentless arms and stun the beast with a blow to the head.
“Martha, it’s me.”
I know the words are useless. I’ve said them countless times before as I’ve tried to sooth her in her confinement. It’s been nearly a year since the curse first arrived, and every month my wife has chained herself in our home, waiting for the day when I can find the beast who changed her, and bring an end to her monthly transformation.
I pull a loop of thick silver rope from behind my shirt. In these times of war it had not been an easy thing to come by, but now it was my only hope of stopping her.
Martha charges again, but this time I’m ready. I sidestep her advance and throw a loop of the rope over her head. This pins her arms to her sides, and she screams in pain in a terrible howl that is some cruel blend of her sweet voice and the beast’s rage. I push down my emotions as I wrap the rope tighter, running in a tight loop to confine her, before watching her collapse from the pain. These bonds are strong and ones she will not be able to break as they burn her with every touch.
In the morning I will wrap her in my jacket and try to find a way to keep her safe these next two nights. For the moment I slump against a tree about twenty paces away, pull out a piece of hardtack, and wait.
Thanks to M.S. Fowle for the challenging story idea.