It was nearly done. Just a little more salt, a pinch would do, Carl Van Olstien admitted as he stood poised over the pot of steaming hot chili, his dark brown eyes glaring with extreme reverie into the bubbly mixture. And so, with that thought, Carl Van Olstien tossed a pinch of salt into the bubbling pot of chili–chili just isn’t chili without the extra salt to give it that mildly saliferous flavor. Lifting the tablespoon off the counter, Carl plunged it into the chili powder bag, dug out some more of that hellish spice, and tossed it into the pot. Sparks sprang upward as spice and bubbling liquid made contact. He dug into the bag again, this time the tablespoon was heaping with spice, and tossed it into the pot. Sparks flew upward again. There that should do it…
Wait! He had almost forgotten the secret ingredient. The chili just wouldn’t be right without it. Frantically, Carl spun around and opened the cabinet above the sink; however, he discovered it missing. Where the hell did I put it?
Suddenly a grand look of revelation emerged on his wrinkled face. Grinning sinfully, Carl bent down (his bones creaking) to open the cabinet under the sink, and found the bottle of his secret ingredient next to the Comet. I knew it was somewhere round the sink, He thought happily. He reached for it. The bottle was hot but nonetheless tangible.
“Ah,” Carl said in a pleasurable tone. “Won’t be a hunting trip without this hot stuff.” He dumped a quarter of the bottle into the pot of bubbling brown chili. More sparks flew as smoke rising from the pot seemed to form a simulative face of an animal.
“Good…good,” Carl happily commented, stirring the pot slowly with a long wooden spoon.
The hunting party would arrive tomorrow, which meant everything must be just right; everything ready for them. The chili would, should be, ready by the time they get here. And the drinks he had promised them in the advertisement too, a batch of his best home brew.
The hunting trip was something Carl did yearly, around mid-October. He’d organize a party of five, novice to experienced hunters; he’d promise them food (the chili) and free drink (the home brew) and a five day trek through the Montana Great Plains, everything free of charge. He’d promise the hunters the greatest and most fantastic hunting experience they would ever experience. The only thing he’d ask in return was the companionship of the hunting party, and that was all–he was a very lonely and a very rich old man.
And so, every October they would come.
Carl placed the heavy lid on the pot, then shut the fire below it off. He guzzled down the rest of his home brew, pulled the string hanging directly above his head; the once brightly lit kitchen turned black.
Yawning in the darkness, Carl turned toward his bedroom. “Time for this old man to get some sleep.”
The party arrived in a black mini-van; behind them descending gradually into the thickness of the Great Plains was the setting sun.
Rocking in his old oak chair outside his cabin on the porch, Carl waited patiently for the party to start disembarking before he got his lazy bones up off the rocker.
The first one off the van, Carl noted, eyes squinting, was an elderly man, very tall, husky figure of a man: the retired army colonel, Lt. Colonel Jason K. Alstate, one of the experienced hunters.
Carl strode up to the van, a breath of giddiness in his step, and reached out for The Colonel’s hand. The Colonel looked at him, happily, the wrinkles in his face forming as he smiled, and took Carl’s hand.
“Welcome to the Great Plains, Colonel. I hope the trip here was to your liking?”
“Yes,” the old soldier replied. “Very.”
“I’d have my porter escort you and your baggage to your room, but I haven’t one to do so,” Carl said, chuckling.
“That’s alright,” The Colonel replied. “I think I can handle my own.”
“Room 3, to the right of the bar, down the hallway,” Carl explained.
Carl watched as the old man hobbled up to the cabin.
Kathy Sunderland, a super model, was next to disembark. Carl’s eyes nearly popped out as they caught hold of her upper body pressed beneath her blue cotton blouse.
“Miss Sunderland, I must say, you look wonderful.”
She seemed a little embarrassed by his remark, smiling demurely. “Thank you,” she replied. She was toting a heavy nylon bag over her shoulder.
Feeling he should, that it would be the gentleman thing to do, Carl asked for her luggage. “Here,” he said taking hold of the strap, “let me help you with that bag, Miss Sunderland.”
“Thank you Mr. Olstien,” she replied graciously, her shoulder dropping as Carl took hold of the bag.
“I’ve assigned you room number 4, it faces the lake. A beautiful scene of the surrounding, for such a beautiful thing as you.” Carl told her as he brought the bag over his shoulder.
“It’s past the bar, on the left, down the hall,” he said softly.
She smiled back at him and started for the cabin.
The two Hemmingway brothers were next to exit, Mr. Stan and Mr. Randy Hemmingway, partners in a small law firm. Stan, the larger one of the two, stepped off the van, nearly tripping. He was followed by his brother, Randy, a lanky man compared to Stan.
“Welcome to the Great Plains,” Carl said.
Stan looked at him strangely, “Hi.”
“So,” said Randy, squinting at the snow-peaked mountains rising above and to the right of the cabin, “that’s a mountain.” He sounded hardly impressed by the sight.
“We’ll be going up that very one on the trip, as a matter of fact,” Carl informed him with a smile.
Randy nodded, then asked, “You never did say what we’d be hunting? Deer? Bear? Rabbits?”
“You’ll find out soon enough, once we get started up Mt. Kilmore. It’s a surprise; believe me you’ll be surprised,” Carl snickered.
Randy didn’t seem too pleased with the comment. “I don’t like surprises too much, Mr. Olstien.”
“Oh, you’ll love this one Mr. Hemmingway.”
Grunting, Randy started towards the cabin.
“You and your brother will be staying in room 2, left of the bar, down the hall,” Carl called after him.
Randy nodded as he drew closer to the entrance of the cabin.
“Never mind my brother, Mr. Olstien. He’s really a great person, once you get to know him that is. Me, I love surprises, especially if free food is included,” Stan told Carl, rubbing and patting his stomach with a silly grin on his face.
Loud barking suddenly disrupted the peaceful air. Carl turned toward the barking, as did Stan, to see a large brown mutt yelping at the defenseless Randy who was trying his best to remain cool.
“Barky!” Hollered out Carl.
The dog instantly hearing his master’s voice ceased barking and scurried over to where Carl was, his tail wagging nearly invisible behind him.
“Leave the guest alone. Soon boy. Soon.” Carl told him as he rubbed at the mutt’s mangy fur. Barky returned his master’s kindness, lapping Carl’s face.
“Barky . . . I like that,” Stan said as he started towards the cabin.
The next person off the van was Mr. Pete Zander, a life insurance salesman. Carl said the usual things said when meeting a new person and directed the salesman to his room. Carl found it odd that the man didn’t try to sell him any policies–perhaps Mr. Zander, Carl speculated as he saw the last hunter enter the cabin, was truly vacationing?
“That will be five hundred and sixty bucks Mr. Olstien,” the driver informed Carl behind the steering wheel, sunshine glancing off his dark sunglasses.
“You’ve gone up just a little Bobby,” Carl informed him as he handed the driver six one hundred dollar bills from his wallet.
“Inflation, Mr. Olstein. It hits everywhere,” he said, taking the money from the old man’s hand.
“Keep the change,” Carl told him, smiling.
The driver smiled back.
The moon, nearly full now in the star studded sky, was flaring through the skylight directly above the entrance to the cabin, bathing the hunting party with moonshine as they sat around the table eating their dinner.
“Look Randy,” Stan said with a mouthful of chili, his fat finger pointing to the moon beaming through skylight above them, “isn’t that a lovely sight.”
“Sure,” the other replied, sounding disturbed. “It’s the moon. You act like you’ve never seen the freaking moon Stan.”
“It does look lovely,” the model responded; the bowl of chili beside her was barely touched.
Carl, smiling, spoke then, “How’s the chili?”
“Splendid, absolutely splendid, Mr. Olstien,” The Colonel answered as he stuffed some more chili in his mouth.
“I must agree,” Stan, with a smudge of brown on his chin, remarked; his bowl had been emptied (for the second time) some time ago.
“I see you’ve barely touched your chili, Ms. Sunderland. Do you not like it?” Carl asked her, there was a sympathetic look on his face.
She seemed embarrassed; she shook her head and began to eat the chili again. “No, no,” she told him. “I’m trying to watch my figure. I hope I haven’t offended you, sir?”
“No. Of course not, Ms. Sunderland,” Carl replied.
“Please, call me Kathy,” the model said with a huge smile; she scooped up some chili and put it in her mouth.
“I didn’t know ladies like to go hunting,” Mr. Zander remarked.
“My father used to take me hunting almost every Sunday morning,” she replied. “I didn’t like it a first, but eventually I grew accustomed to it. It got to the point where I would beg my father to take me hunting.”
“I asked my wife once, to go hunting with me. She just laughed and laughed,” Stan remarked. “I never asked her again.”
Carl stood from the table and stretched. “Tomorrow we head out hunting. I’m going to get some sleep.” He gulped down the rest of his brew, said goodnight, then went to bed.
Randy watched, interestedly, as the old man disappeared down the hallway. And when he saw that the old man had finally entered his room, confident that Carl would not be able to hear the conversation at the dinner table, he then said, “Funny? He didn’t eat. He just drank that silly brew of his.”
“He probably wasn’t hungry,” Stan, who was sitting by his brother, replied.
“Mr. Olstein might have eaten earlier, Mr. Hemmingway” The Colonel interjected, sounding alarmed by the way Randy was talking behind their most generous host’s back; sighing heavily, he got up. “I’m going to bed too. The trip here was a long one.”
“Goodnight Colonel,” Stan said.
“I’m going to read; nothing like a good book after a hearty meal,” Mr. Zander said, rising from the table.
Stan, stuffing another spoonful in his mouth, his eyebrows rising, turned to his brother. “Why did you mention that?”
Randy replied gruffly, “Mention what?”
“That comment about Mr. Olstein not eating? Do you have some sort of sinister explanation in that messed up head of yours?”
“I just found it peculiar . . . is that so wrong?”
Stan shrugged. “I guess not.” He then added whisperingly, “You’ve got something to say, say it.”
Randy turned to his brother and, with a stern look on his face, grumbled softly, “He might be trying to poison us.”
Stan’s eyes opened widely as he let loose what seemed a belly full of laughter, distracting the model from her food for a few seconds.
“Randy . . . Randy, you are a character.” The brother still laughing, got up from the table, patted his stomach, and said; “I’m going to bed, Randy.” He turned to the model, “Goodnight Ms. Sunderland.”
She replied with a smile. “Goodnight, Mr. Hemmingway.”
“Please, call me Stan.”
“Ok,” she replied with another smile, “sure.”
“That’s the reason,” (refering to the laughter), “I don’t tell you anything Stan. I’ll be up in a minute,” he told him.
“You’re a good man, Randy. A little strange, but nonetheless, a good man.” With that said, Stan started for the apartment.
Down the hall, The Colonel jumped up in bed, startled by a woman screaming. “Ms. Sunderland,” he grumbled, flinging himself out of bed.
He was down the hall in an instant. “Ms. Sunderland! Open the door!”
He could hear, as he tried to break the door down, something growling inside the room. An animal of some kind.
Stan and Randy had awakened and were now heading down the hallway.
Zander was right behind them.
“Colonel, what the hell is going on?” Randy asked as he rubbed at his sleepy eyes.
The old soldier didn’t reply, but continued to ram the door with his body. With a loud crack, the door finally flung open, followed by the toppling Colonel.
The Colonel got up quickly. Pulling his pistol out, he aimed it at a large thing growling in the dark. The thing lunged for The Colonel. With shaking hands, The Colonel fired at it, sending the thing to the ground and back a few feet. Strangely it leaped to its feet, still growling, and lunged for The Colonel again.
The Colonel, flabbergasted, horrified, covered his eyes with the cross of his arms as an another shot exploded from behind him.
The thing was sent flying backwards and to the floor; only this time it didn’t get up.
“Is everyone alright?” Carl asked as he stepped into the room and lowered his rifle.
Randy had flipped on the light, exposing the thing, a man with blood pouring from his stomach and head. The smell in the apartment was horrendous.
The model was in a sorrowful state, sobbing, sucking in air, her eyes burning red.
“Are you alright, ma’am?” Carl asked her. “I am truly embarrassed that you had to go through this. I haven’t much in the means of security, here, and occasionally, I am forced to confront such crazies. I usually handle this type of situation myself.”
She nodded, still sobbing, softly. “I thought I heard an animal in here with me?”
The Colonel regained his composure, looking strangely at his pistol. “I thought I heard an animal too?” He added, still looking at his pistol.
“The madman perhaps believed he was some sort of beast. You get all kinds, Colonel.” Carl replied.
“Yes, of course,” the old soldier replied. “But I swear I shot the man in the head. I’m sure I aimed for his head. I don’t see how a man, no matter how raving mad, could have gotten up from a shot to the head?”
“You were nervous, Colonel,” Carl told him. “This here rifle of mine,” Carl sported to the Colonel, “has laser guidance. I aimed it at the crazy’s head and fired. You must of hit him in the stomach.”
Still in a state of disbelief, The Colonel slowly shook his head.
“It stinks in here,” Randy said, with a look of disgust on his face.
“It’s that man,” his brother informed him, pointing at the dead man in the pool of blood.
“You all get back to bed. The hike’s going to be a long one. I’ll take care of this mess. Ms. Sunderland, you can sleep in my chamber, and I’ll stay here.” He handed her his rifle. “Take this, it should help you sleep better.”
“Thank you,” she replied, taking the gun from him.
Sweat was pouring heavily off Stan Hemmingway’s face as he drug behind him a bundle of wood that he and Randy had gathered together for the camp. He stopped, took in a deep breathe, wiping sweat from his brow as he did, and heaved at the bundle again. Twigs broke and leaves slid as the bundle passed over them.
Randy, his eyes studying the thickness of the forest, lead the way, his rifle held steadfast in the direction ahead.
Stan stopped again, huffing. “Why don’t you do some dragging now, Randy. I’m getting tired.”
Randy turned around, angrily. “You know very well about my bad hip. I can’t be dragging shit like that around.”
Stan nodded. “Yeah, I forgot. Sorry.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for whatever made that howl and you do the dragging.”
“For what howl . . ?” A howling animal suddenly pierced the air.
Randy grimaced, aiming his rifle in the direction of the howling. “That. Are you deaf?”
“It’s just a wolf,” Stan replied jadedly; his breathing had become harsher. “I’m ready for a break.” He dropped the cord. Locating a log–unaware it was infested with termites–he sat down on it.
“Just a wolf? What made you Tarzan all of a sudden? Just a wolf. Wolves come in packs; did that ever occur to you, Stan? Hungry packs. You’d make a perfect meal for a pack of hungry wolves. Me, they might refuse. But you. . .” Randy said with a smirk.
“You need to lay off the horror movies, Randy,” Stan told him as he took a bite of his beef jerky.
“It’s getting dark and cold and the others are waiting for this wood,” Randy grumbled as he sat down next to his brother. The log proved to weak as Randy’s bottom broke through the wood.
Stan started to laugh.
“It’s not funny, Stanley. I could have injured my hip,” Randy growled back.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, trying his best not to seem amused.
Suddenly, exploding from the thick bush to the right of them, was the huge figure of a beast (wolf? dog?), its pointy, sharp teeth clinched and glistening, slobber slopping from the sides of its mouth, growling passionately. It jumped at them.
Stan, startled, started to choke on the jerky he’d been chewing on. A quick swipe to his back by his brother quickly cured him.
“Oh God!” Stan said as he jumped up from the log.
Randy reacted quickly, raising his rifle at the–he could see what it was now–large wolf; he fired at it.
The beast jumped to the left and scurried away into the woods.
“I missed it!” Randy hollered angrily.
“At least you spooked it, Randy. I don’t think it’ll come back this way again.”
“Did you see its eyes, Stanley?”
Stan’s eyebrows went up. “See what?”
“I don’t know. They seemed unnatural.”
“It was probably starving. I really think you watch too many horror movies.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s getting dark and we need to be get back to camp.”
Nodding, Stan grabbed the cord and began to pull.
Sitting on a stump, near the dwindling fire, her slim shadow on the tree beside her, the model studiously read her book.
Stan and Randy emerged from the woods; Stan, panting, sauntered over to where the fire was and set a couple logs on it.
At the other side of the campsite sitting face to face were Mr. Zander and The Colonel playing a game of checkers.
“What took you two so long?” Carl asked Randy.
“We were detained by a wolf,” Randy replied non-chalantly.
“A wolf?” Carl replied. “Haven’t seen a wolf in these woods in ages. Must have been a lone one, right? Or?”
“Yes,” Randy replied. “Just one.”
Stan was rubbing his shoulder, grimacing.
Carl, noting Stan’s discomfort, asked, “Is something the matter Stan?”
“It’s not so easy dragging a bunch of wood for half a mile through the woods,” he said with a grin.
The Colonel jumped up from where he was sitting. “Yee-ha! I win again.”
“You sure did,” Mr. Zander replied.
“I know I’ve asked you this before, Mr. Olstein, but when and what will we be hunting?”
The old man grinned, starring up through the trees and into the darkening sky; his hand went down to pat Barky who was tied to a tree and sleeping peacefully just inches from his feet. “Soon the moon will be bright and full. Then I’ll start the hunt.”
“Why when the moon is bright and full?” Asked the Colonel.
“That’s the best time to go hunting,” Carl replied. “Trust me.”
“Hunting werewolves are we, Mr. Olstein?” Randy said in a smart-alecky tone.
This comment drew laughter from the old man who was still rubbing the sleeping dog’s head. “No, most certainly not. No,” he replied still laughing.
The model giggled.
A large smile was emerging on the Colonel’s wrinkled face.
The comment had seemed to have an effect on the insurance salesman because he was cracking a smile too.
“You must excuse Randy, Sir. He watches too many horror flicks,” Stan said laughingly.
“That’s understandable, Mr. Hemmingway,” Carl said; the dog opened its eyes, softly whined, and looked up at his master. “The woods do seem to have an effect on most people.”
Randy grunted, giving his brother a mean look.
“You’re going to scare Ms. Sunderland,” Stan whispered in his brother’s ear.
“I don’t trust the old goat,” Randy whispered back.
The woods had gotten darker. The moon was out, full and bright as Carl had hoped; its beams were bathing the ground, the trees, and the hunting party.
“Ah, moonlight,” Carl sighed, his eyes closed, his head tilted upwards, moonshine paling his face. “Soon the hunting will begin.”
“About time,” grunted Randy as he brought his rifle over his shoulder.
“Hush up man,” The Colonel said angrily.
“What’s wrong with her?” Mr. Zander asked, pointing at Ms. Sunderland.
Everyone turned to see Ms. Sunderland thrashing and jerking about, growling; she was foaming at the mouth, her eyes rolling.
The Colonel and Stan, quickly, went to help her.
“Ms. Sunderland, what’s the matter?” Stan asked her, grabbing her arms. She looked up at him. It was not her face anymore, but the face of a wolf. Her teeth were shining brightly. He let go of her and jumped back.
The Colonel started to shake and tremble next, howling like an animal in pain.
Mr. Zander was growling, howling, and thrashing at the air.
Randy was grasping his throat; he started to shake, tremble, beat his chest, scream, howl, growl, and grow hair and sharp long canine teeth.
Watching this all, with a playful look on his face, was Carl, prodding his teeth with a piece of whittled wood, his rifle cocked and ready in his other hand. Barky was wide awake now, his tail wagging wildly, his mouth, with its coal black tongue hanging out, wide open and slobbering.
“Mr. Olstein!” Stan cried. But before he could utter another word, Stan buckled to the ground, moaning and growling, his fingers grabbing the dirt; hair was growing from his hands, face, fingers, his arms. And then, his head jutted up towards the moon, and he let out a piteous howl.
The first changeling to speak was the Colonel: “What’s happened to us?” He growled angrily at Carl over the miserable howling of the other changelings around him.
Casually, Carl spat, and replied, “Lycanthropy has happened, my dear Colonel. You and the others of the party have been transformed into werewolves. I know what you’re thinking, and no, you haven’t lost your marbles. Welcome, all of you, to the world of wolf and man. Wolfmen,” Carl paused, “I’m sorry, and wolfwoman,” he said, directing his comment to the model who seemed to be crying instead of growling.
“You’re one sick bastard. You did this to us, I know it!” Randy-wolf growled, lunging for Carl, his new sharp claws aimed at the old man.
Barky instinctually started to bark.
The old man responded swiftly, raising his laser guided rifle at the falling wolfman. He fired and the bullet struck Randy-wolf in the forehead, sending him backwards a good five feet and crashing into a tree stump. The wolfman hit the stump with a loud, bone-breaking crack, his eyes wide open and staring into dark sky above him. His wolf form, in mere seconds, was vanishing; his unfortunate death returning him to the man that he was.
“I’ll kill you!” Stan cried and, like his brother, was about to attack the old man.
Carl quickly aimed his rifle at the other. “Now, now, you know what that did for your brother Mr. Hemmingway. I’ve got a near unlimited supply of silver bullets on me. And enough in this rifle to kill all of you three times over,” the old man informed him and the others with a vile smirk on his face.
Stan, angrily, held back.
“How did you do this Mr. Olstein?” The Colonel asked, his voice calm now.
“Secret ingredient in the chili. Turns people into werewolves when the moon is full. My great granddaddy stole the potion from an old Gypsy woman when he went hunting in Europe.”
“The next question would be why did you do this to us?” The Colonel asked him.
“For the hunt of course,” the old man replied coldly.
“The hunt?” Stan responded with a growl.
“Yes, of course. I’m going to hunt werewolf this week. I do this every year, just around this time.
“Werewolves are so much more fun to hunt. They’re a lot more amusing than deer or bear.”
“That’s preposterous!” The insurance salesman blurted out. “Werewolves don’t exist. He’s given us some sort of drug, we’re seeing things that’s all.”
“Ah but they do, Mr. Zander. They most certainly do. Have you looked at yourself lately in a mirror? You look like a werewolf to me.”
Startled by the cocking of a rifle, Carl spun to find The Colonel aiming his rifle at him. The Colonel grinned and fired.
There was a loud bang, yet that was all. No bloodshed, no pieces of Carl flying through the night air, nothing. Carl was still standing, his dog, at his side, barking and begging to be set free.
“Sorry Colonel, no, not real. I knew someone would try a stunt like that. Just blanks. I replaced your real bullets with blanks last night.”
The old soldier grunted.
“What are you going to do when we change back to humans, Mr. Olstien?” The model sobbed.
“Change back?” He chuckled. “No, that won’t happen. None of you will ever return to your former selves. Ever. It’s not like in the horror movie,” Carl smiled at Stan, “where the werewolf changes back into a human. The potion doesn’t work that way,” Carl explained.
“Mind you I am a fair hunter and will allow the four of you a ten minute head start. Werewolves can run fast, so that should help with your escape. Starting,” Carl looked at his watch and continued, “now.”
A minute had gone by as well as a warning that he was not joking about what would happen after the ten minutes were up before they scurried away into the forest.
Carl sniffed the air. His free hand went down to the collar around Barky’s neck, opening the lock to the chain. The dog instantly shot into the forest, barking madly. “They’re a good two miles away now,” he started talking to himself, “due North it smells like it.” He smiled and closed his eyes, taking in a breath of cold forest air. “Boy, do I love hunting.” And walked on into the howling forest.
Copyright © 1998 by Arturo Hernandez