I never left the town much. It’s safe there, warm, especially in the winter. But we were in trouble now. The well had frozen up, and the rest of the animals were hibernating. The Król appointed me to hunt in the forest, so I had to accept.
I tightened my bowstring as I entered the forest. When I was a child, I would hear stories and fairy tales about this place. One that particularly came to mind was the Wilkołak, a creature that dwelled in the forest because the foliage would block out the sun. It was said to be half-man, half-wolf, and when you were bitten, you would instantly start to become one. My good friend from when I was in school, Marcel, told me that. Today when I left, he said, “Vladek! Be careful of the Wilkołak!”
I knew he was joking, but as I walked in, it felt real. As far as the eye could see, there were trees. I walked a few meters and heard a rustling noise. I jumped and scraped my hand on the sharp and coarse bark. I looked and saw a small rabbit bounding along. The leaves from the trees must have been so thickly woven together that the snow barely got through.
The further I walked, the darker it got. The separations from the trees became more varied, making the light harder to get through. I dug around in my pocket and pulled out a box of matches. I lit one and carried through.
As it got darker, the wildlife and animals seemed to get more sparse, with more fallen leaves than before. I sniffed the air and picked up the scent of blood. Looking around with my match in my hand, I saw it. It was a boar, dead, with its stomach torn out by a beast far stronger than anything else I’ve ever seen. I tried to get some meat and carried on.
One thing about this part of the forest was that sticks and fallen leaves piled up, making traversing it extremely difficult. I was crawling over a fallen log when I heard a large growling. I immediately dropped my match and drew an arrow. Frantically looking around, I waited for another sound. Rustling came from the pile of fallen leaves.
I slowly walked forward, until I stepped on a broken branch. I heard another growl and the sounds of an animal running. I quickly pulled back the drawstring and let go the arrow. Fwing! It quickly left my hand and went forward into the darkness. I lit another match and went forward to see what I had hit. With a snail’s pace, I stepped over. I smelt blood and heard the slow heavy breathing of the animal. Looking over, I was horrified at what I saw. It was the Wilkołak.
It looked up, with its bright yellow eyes and stained claws. Its breath smelled of blood, not because of the wound, but because of its prey. Marcel told me more about the Wilkołak, namely its metal-like fur that was stronger than iron, but as soft as a dog’s. It was impenetrable, but only by a single material. Srebro. Argentum. Silver.
When my father was still alive, and I was nine, he gave me a small knife after he came back from his journey around Europe. He said to me: “Vladek. Remember this. Keep this with you at all times. It might save your life one day.” It was an Italian switchblade, made by a great cutler from Istanbul. I knew it cost him much, so I always carried it with me. But the one part that always stuck out to me was the material: Ottoman Silver.
Slowly, not to provoke it, I slid the dagger out from my pocket. My palms were sweaty while trying to flip open the blade. Knees weak, it finally flipped open. With all my might, I stabbed that foul beast! And it howled, oh it howled! The depths of the Piekło opened up and swallowed it. It was gone.
I picked up my blade and walked back. Light seemed to fly through the leaves, and wildlife sprang to life. It was like a demon was expelled from this place. My arms were heavy, but I manage to get some game. I was tired. It was late. But I had to get back home. This forest was a maze, but I had killed its monster.
I finally reached the exit. My face was gaunt and sleepy. Marcel greeted me at the gate.
“Bóg! What happened to you?”
I managed to softly say, “Wilkołak,” but he didn’t hear me. No one would believe me. No one else questioned. They were all just happy I brought meat back. The Król crowned me a hero. I was not a hero. I just did what I had to do to survive.
I was on my porch, watching the town bustle around. I was also reading a book about history and the Roman Empire. After that hunt, I tried to make my leisure activities more intellectual. Even though it had only been a day or so from then, my hair seemed to gray. My face was paler, more gaunt. My jacket looked more worn. My boots looked ages old. The town crowned me as a hero now, but they did not know of what actually happened. Even though we were still in deep winter, they held a feast in my honor. Bah! What a waste. I saw the hunters on their way. Bows, knives, torches, everything the town had to offer on their backs. Of course they’ll come back fine, for as far as I knew, there wasn’t another Wilkołak out there, but who knows? Maybe someone else will know what I’ve seen.
It’s been quite a while since I killed the Wilkołak, maybe three or four months, but it still haunts me. There hasn’t been another sighting yet. Every hunt I am invited to, I always decline. I cannot go back there. I will never go back there. I will never leave the town again.