Chapter One: The Package

About six weeks ago, I received a package through the post that anyone else would have ignored or thrown out with the garbage. Getting ‘snail mail’ is rare, and when I do it’s usually from the fringe elements of society who claim to have dated Bigfoot, seen alien bases on the Moon, and the like. A UK nursing home listed on the return address caught my attention. On opening the package, I discovered a hand-written letter and a voluminous journal; attached to which was a first-class, round-trip ticket to Britain and two thousand US dollars in cash. This was uncommon to say the least. Intrigued, I began reading the attached letter.

In the latter part of my waning career I had met and interviewed more than my share of crazies, weirdoes, and conspiracy theorists, but what I read in the letter and journal went beyond the pale. If this was a hoax it was a very expensive one on behalf of the perpetrator. Was it the ramblings of an unsound mind? Possibly. What the letter and journal divulged was inconceivable to say the least, but my journalistic instinct and curiosity got the better of me and so I determined to look further into it to see how far this particular rabbit hole went.

They were written by one Lucian Dragomir. The introductory letter was merely a precis of what I would find in his journal, in which he recounted the history of his battle against malevolent forces whose activities went largely undetected and unopposed. He has entrusted me to share this knowledge with the world and has assured me that were I to accept his offer irrefutable evidence awaited me in the UK to remove any doubts I had regarding the veracity of his tale.

According to what he had written, Lucian was born into a large family of humble origins on a small farm in Romania shortly after the hostilities of the Great War had come to an end. Life was challenging for the poverty-stricken Dragomir family during the post-war years, but they confronted each test with an unwavering fealty borne of a close-knit family. Despite their impoverishment, he grew up to be a happy child. With the passing of the seasons, however, he had his first confrontation with death. A harsh and prolonged winter held the country in an icy grip. Enfeebled by a long illness, his mother finally succumbed to her infirmity and passed away. Her passing was to have a profound effect on the carefree Lucian whom, in his naivety, had believed she would always be there for him. As the years passed the harsh realities of life struck yet again with the untimely death of his childhood sweetheart, Ileana Ardelean.

Romania is home to many myths and legends concerning all manners of assorted horrors that are said to hide in the shadows. Almost from the time they could walk Lucian and Ileana had been versed in their country’s traditions and folklore, and as children heeded the warnings never to go into the forest unaccompanied by an adult. But things took an unexpected turn on reaching adolescence when their long-term friendship changed course and they became lovers. Following a brief courtship, they were betrothed to one another and the date for their wedding was set well in advance of the expected happy event.

For Ileana and Lucian that date seemed an eternity away and, as is the case in many love affairs, they were feeling an overpowering and ever-present need to consummate their relationship. That opportunity was to present itself at an annual folk dance festival being held in the village that year. Motivated by powerful hormonal changes, Lucian snuck from the celebrations into the forest and waited for Ileana. It was an ill-fated assignation from the outset and one which would alter the course of Lucian’s life forever. For Ileana, they would be the last horrifying moments of her life.

Here, in Lucian’s own words, is an extract taken from his journal of that fateful night.

Resting beneath the beech tree where we had carved our names, I closed my eyes and listened to the sprightly tones of the fiddle and backing accompaniment rising up from the village. Time seemed to slow as I waited patiently beneath a full moon for Ileana to appear at our designated rendezvous spot in the forest. She was late, and I began to wonder if she had been waylaid by someone at the festival and was waiting for an opportune moment to slip away unnoticed.

There are many different scents in the forest; most of which I was accustomed to on a daily basis. That night, however, I smelt a strong musty odour drifting on the night breeze. I knew instantly what it was. Born with an eidetic memory, I recalled with crystal clarity an incident that had taken place when I was no more than five years old. The event involved the shooting of a wolf that had attacked and killed one of my father’s sheep. Having shot the animal, he dragged its carcass back to the farm to show to family and friends. Its pelt bore the same pungent smell; like that of a wet dog. Shortly thereafter a hunting party was quickly set up by neighbouring farmers who had suffered similar attacks on their livestock. Over the next four days the entire wolf pack was hunted down and killed.

Though I knew wolf attacks on humans were rare, I wasn’t about to take the risk of Ileana accidentally coming upon them. Fearing for her safety, I hurriedly began retracing my steps to the village in the hope of meeting her along the way. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard a commotion in the undergrowth and a familiar voice scream my name.

Plunging wildly through the underbrush, I entered a small clearing and came across her. The look on her face was one of unbridled terror. Seizing me by the arms she screamed for me to run. Before I could respond I heard a deep-throated growl coming from the treeline. Just beyond the clearing I could make out a dark, ill-defined silhouette and a pair of bright yellow eyes that made my skin crawl. Momentarily paralyzed with fear, I watched as it rose up on its hind legs. Only when it stepped out into the open did I fully comprehend why Ileana was so terrified – I was gazing into the bestial eyes of a werewolf.

Instinctively, I looked around for a weapon. Less than ten yards from where I stood lay a fallen branch. Releasing my grip on Ileana, I made a frantic dash for it. With phenomenal speed the creature bounded across the clearing, hurtling headlong into Ileana and dragging her deeper into the forest. Caring little for my own safety, and with club in hand, I pursued the beast.

To my dying day, I will never forget the scene I came across on reaching the bridal path: slumped against a felled tree lay Ileana’s body, her life’s blood oozing from multiple savage wounds. Of the beast, there was no sign. Cradling her in my arms I tried desperately to staunch the flow of blood, but her injuries were far too many. For one brief moment, she regained consciousness, her hand reaching to my cheek and stroking it feebly. She smiled and mouthed an ‘I love you’ before succumbing to her wounds. With bitter tears, I held her one last time to my breast.

Then I caught the odour of the foul beast again. It was skulking nearby, watching, waiting in the darkness. Off to my left I heard a menacing throaty growl. An adrenalin fuelled rage began swelling in my breast. Laying Ileana gently to the ground, I stood and turned to face the hirsute abomination.

It crouched low and snarled, exposing its blood-soaked teeth. Caring little whether I lived or died, I raised the makeshift club and waited. Those few brief seconds before its attack felt like an eternity to me. The eyes which had regarded me unwaveringly suddenly narrowed. The moment was at hand. Screaming like a banshee, I rushed forward determined to give a good account of myself. What next happened came so suddenly that my brain was barely able to register it.

A shot rang out and the creature crashed to the ground. Spinning on my heels in the direction it had come from I saw a figure emerge from behind a tree. This was my first encounter with Francisc Servruasa – and it wasn’t to be my last. Without uttering a word, he strode forward with a woodman’s axe in hand and severed the creature’s head from its body in one powerful blow. Stuffing it into a hessian sack hanging from his waistband, he walked over to Ileana and knelt by her side. Finding no signs of life, he rose to his feet and crossed himself.

During the Great War I was witness to many acts of bravery’, he said, turning to me and wiping the gore from his axe, ‘but rarely have I seen such courage from one so young. This girl obviously meant a great deal to you; enough for you to put yourself in harm’s way.’

Holding back the tears that threatened to engulf me, I spoke briefly of our love and betrothal.

‘You showed great courage boy. If we had more like you among our ranks, we could rid the world of these godforsaken monsters’, he said.

At the time his words were of little consolation to me. I wished that I too had died that night; as did Ileana’s parents who, in their grief, blamed me for her untimely death. Had they not heard the gunshot that drew them into the forest and seen with their own eyes the decapitated corpse revert to its human form, I would have undoubtedly found myself at the end of a rope before sunrise.

 

Chapter Two: The Darkening