The sun was low in the west and Heidi drew her red cloak around her shoulders, protection from the autumn chill. She sauntered along the trail with her basket through the colourful carpet of leaves, paying no mind to reports of the awful wolf attack that had the countryside frightened. The victim was a mess, beyond recognition, but no one in Wolverton was unaccounted for, so it might have been a traveller, or just a tall tale.

The near-full moon was coming up in the east, and she caught glimpses of it through the bare branches of the trees. It was only by chance that she turned her head and saw a man in the woods, who froze in his tracks when their eyes met. There was a moment of stillness and silence, then the man stepped forth.

“Hello,” said the girl, keeping to the trail.

“Hello,” returned the stranger. He was dishevelled, unshaven, with a wild aspect to his countenance. “I was setting snares...for rabbits.”

“Perhaps you should wait for snow,” said Heidi.

“I'm hungry now,” said the man. “Are you from the village?”

“Yes. I'm picking wolf's-bane and ginger.”

The stranger grimaced. “What do you need wolf's-bane for?”

“Medicine,” the girl replied. She pulled a metal flask from her bodice and took a swig, wiping her lips on her sleeve. “Do you live in these woods?”

“I'm visiting my grandmother. She lives at the end of this trail.” The man paused, then said, “I understand the village has little to do with strangers; still, I wouldn't mind sampling the local ale, sometime.”

“It's your hide,” said the girl. It was getting dark and she had to get home. They said their farewells and went their separate ways.

Heidi rose late the next day and set to work on the wolf's-bane. The roots and flowers were ground, and mixed with ginger and rum. The concoction was then poured into a large bottle, and some filled her flask.

A few days later, Heidi espied the stranger in town. She grabbed her basket and followed him at a distance, watching as he sampled cheese and meat from the ill-mannered grocers. Finally, he went into the town's only saloon.

She followed him inside. The stranger ordered a drink and sat at a table in the centre of the room, but drank alone and brooded. Heidi chose a corner to be inconspicuous, and sipped from her flask. She kept an eye on the stranger.

As the evening wore on, the patrons became rowdier. Lars, a well-known pugilist, turned in his seat and reviled the stranger without provocation. Perhaps the stranger's wilder features and larger size were an affront to Lars, a challenge. The brawler went to the stranger's table and leaned into his face, insulting him openly.

The barkeep, a tall, wiry fellow, spat through his moustache and gave Lars a warning. He then scolded Heidi for her furtive use of a flask, and told her to buy a drink or leave. She got up, but went towards the door slowly, eager to see how the situation would play out. It got worse. The stranger struck Lars and sent him crashing through a table, scattering men like bowling pins.

In an instant, an angry mob fell upon the stranger but were repelled by a surge of great might as he swept them aside. He was bestial now, with fangs and grotesque claws, and when he took a swipe at one of his assailants, all but tearing his face off, the crowd fell back.

The stranger was changing before their eyes. He began ripping off his clothes as though they were a source of agony, and all could see the tufts of fur sprouting everywhere. Someone cried “Werewolf!” and the stranger roared and ran out the door. The men, fearing for their families, chased after him, armed with knives and clubs, and Heidi could see the werewolf making for the woods to lose the posse. But she knew where he would go, and so ran off with her basket in another direction.

Some hours later the werewolf reached his grandmother's house. He burst through the door and fell to his hands and knees, tongue lolling. He gained his composure after a minute and tore off the last shreds of his garment. He saw his grandmother in bed with her nightcap, gown and glasses, reading by the dim light of a single candle.

“Grandma,” he gasped, “they're after me. We have to flee!”

Grandmother turned a page in her book and muttered, “Don't worry, they won't come here.”

“Grandma,” said the werewolf, “your voice – it's so weak. You need to eat. I should have killed the girl in the woods.”

It was then he noticed something strange about his grandmother, and he slowly moved toward the bed for a closer look. “Grandma,” said he, “the moon is full. Why haven't you changed?”

She took a metal flask from the basket on the bed and, with head thrown back, drank from it in great gulps. It was plain to see now that the figure in bed was not his grandmother, but the girl, Heidi.

“You!” cried the werewolf. “What are you doing here? Where is my grandmother?”

Heidi got out of the bed and casually removed her disguise, and was left with only her blouse, bodice and knee-length bloomers. “Granny's in the closet. My, what big teeth she has!” She finished off the flask and threw it aside. “She tried to rip my throat out, so I killed her.”

The werewolf roared and hurled himself at Heidi with tremendous fury. Her right hand shot out and gripped his throat and, using his momentum, she threw him violently against the wall. Beams shattered from the impact and the werewolf crumpled to the floor, stunned. He shook the stars from his eyes and exclaimed: “That's impossible! Who are you, girl?”

“Someone who was bitten by one of your foul kind,” answered Heidi. “Now I'm forced to drink wolf's-bane and rum every full moon. The wolf's-bane dulls my feelings and the rum counteracts the poison. I have to admit, I'm a little drunk.”

The werewolf staggered to his feet. “You're a werewolf! – or at least you would be if you didn't suppress your demon with those damned flowers.” He scowled and added grimly, “You've hunted werewolves before, haven't you?”

Heidi drew a huge bowie knife from its sheath. “I've licked a few.”

With powerful limbs and blinding quickness the beast lunged at Heidi again, to rend her with his claws. She ducked aside and slashed with her knife, leaving a ghastly wound across his ribs. Before he could turn she leapt upon his back, one leg over his shoulder and, swinging forward, drove the blade into his chest with both hands. In a painful frenzy he sunk his talons deep into Heidi's soft flesh and threw her to the floor with enough force to shatter the spine of the hardiest man.

But Heidi was more than human. Battered, bleeding, she looked up from the floor to see the wounded werewolf dashing towards the door. In his blind haste he caromed off the jamb, then reeled out the doorway, the hilt of her blade still protruding from his chest. She caught her second wind and got up. Securing another knife from the basket, she went after the werewolf, running through the dewy grass in her bare feet.

Her senses heightened by the influence of the moon, she followed his trail by the scent of blood spattered in the grass and fallen leaves. She caught up to him in a clearing well lit by the glowing satellite, and he turned to face his stalker.

“Set yourself free, woman,” said he, panting. “The wilderness is your heritage; the moon, your lover. How long would you deny your natural state? With you at my side – ”

Alas, his sentence went unfinished. A flash of steel shot through the air and another knife was buried hilt-deep in the werewolf's chest. This time it struck true, impaling his heart. He stood on trembling legs gazing at the moon; whether in defiance of his ultimate fate, or a last glimpse of that heavenly object, Heidi couldn't tell. Then the beast collapsed in the long grass and lay still.

She went to him and retrieved her weapons. A foreboding overcame her, a certain chill in the marrow, and she hurried home to get another drink.


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