Life in the wilderness was hard, yet in my heart, I never felt so free. Kinder Falls of Northern Oregon was a beautiful place; remote and unabated. I never imagined such darkness could live there. Sometimes I think what happened to me was just a dream; a nightmare, as I huddled in the corner of our cabin with whatever I could find to survive the terrible night when the darkness came.
Nevertheless, I survived. Jessie Ann Noon…you were lucky.
Not long after the Civil War ended, Paw acquired our plot of land from President, Abraham Lincoln as part of the Homestead Act commemorating all veterans of the war. Our wagon was nearing collapse, and our stomachs hungered for anything other than stale corn bread when we arrived.
“Jessie,” Paw said, while on one bent knee checking the mule for burs. “Would you grab me that elixir from Doc Stewart?”
“Sure, Paw,” I replied, looking across at Ma’ Sue, my mother.
She never lent a hand since she became mute. It happened a few years back, when the Confederates stormed our home, and shot my older brother, Samuel, to death. He was nineteen; I was barely over knee-high. I didn’t know he was a deserter or even what that meant. Without his body to bury, and our house in flames, Ma’ Sue refused to speak again.
Several months later, we left for Kinder Falls with a new beginning in mind. Ma’ Sue was still not talking, although she did produce a crooked smile for Paw each time they passed one another. Paw completed our home, a two-room cabin made from the best pines he could find and tilled the small vegetable garden Ma’ Sue always wanted.
For leisure, Paw took me out with him to hunt. He liked the company. Even though I was just a girl, still wet-behind-the-ears, as he called it: I had my own pocketknife. Paw said, “That’s all you’ll keep for now, Jessie, and maybe someday, I’ll let you handle this rifle.”
Rabbits, geese and other foul were Paw’s favorite prey to hunt, probably because they were the easiest to catch, unlike the elusive, white-tailed deer. The last one Paw shot; we had to track its wounded body for nearly a good long mile before it fell to its death. It was good eating for months.
Although, life in the wilderness was hard, we made due and kept good company.
A few summers had passed since we settled in. One Saturday morning, about 9 a.m. Paw and I headed back to the cabin, tallying up our kills; Paw sporting my old pocketknife, along with a few rabbits and geese over the top of his shoulders. And me, I finally earned that rifle. I couldn’t feel more proud of myself knowing that everything we’d be eating for the next week or so, I had killed all on my own.
Something, however, was about to transpire that morning. It would change our life forever. My child’s innocence was about to fade away. It all began when Paw noticed bear tracks on the way back to the cabin.
“Come on, let’s go, Jessie,” Paw urged. We dropped everything and headed as fast as we could toward the cabin.
When we arrived, the front door was wide open and there were claw marks everywhere. “Now you stay here, Jessie,” Paw whispered as he snatched the rifle out from my hands and headed inside. My attention was suddenly drawn to a partially eaten boysenberry pie sitting plainly on the windowsill along the gable end of the cabin.
Paw told her not to leave food out...
Just then, I heard a loud gunshot from inside. Paw stumbled out of the door with Ma’ Sue in his arms—her left leg all the way up to the kneecap was chewed off, and her left index and middle finger, stripped clean of skin. Paw fell to the ground grunting. He was badly cut, yet he managed to tell me how to dress his and Ma’ Sue’s wounds, right before he fainted.
They survived the bear, but we all lost something that day. Paw could not hunt anymore and Ma’ Sue was forced to stay indoors; that tasked me to hunt for food.
I began to get pretty good at foraging. I really enjoyed it. One afternoon, I wandered a bit farther into the woods. New territory meant new bestiary to hunt—I concluded as I trekked along the uncharted wilderness.
It began to snow and a bitter cold came billowing through the wind. I lost track of time. The sun sank low. I realized I needed to get back to the cabin. I had found enough for us to eat for the next few days: a pygmy rabbit, grey fox, and handful of wild turnips I found down by a river.
Best be enjoying these, the thick of the winter is coming.
Upon my way back I felt uneasy, as if I was being followed. Just up ahead, I saw a cluster of yellow poplars. I headed over, climbed up a few branches and sat silent; I was going to catch whoever was following me. A minute later, I saw it—I nearly fell from shock. It was unearthly. It walked on two legs yet had a wolf’s face.
My breath fell heavy and I trembled with fear. I cuffed my mouth with my hand. It began to sense me. It went on all fours and started to sniff the ground. I slowly reached over to my rifle, leaned it up against the tree branch, and cocked the primer.
The creature heard it, growled and its blackened, soulless eyes turned to me. The tree limb began to sway back and forth. I held on for dear life. The unearthly creature shook the tree with demon-like strength.
I’m going to fall if I don’t do something quick.
I mustered up every bit of courage, hopped off the tree and brought my sites onto the creature and squeezed the trigger. It lunged towards me; at the same time the bullet flew into its chest. I heard it yelp! I had got off a clean shot.
It fell face down in the snow, just three feet away from me. Out of curiosity, I walked over to the creature, carefully bent down, and turned it over to face me. Its aged old furry hands then suddenly grabbed my arm; I reactively took the blunt edge of my rifle and knocked it unconscious. I wasn’t going to have this monster follow me around anymore, I bound its arms and legs with a bit of leftover twine and rope I had stored in my hip pocket.
Paw is going to have a fit once he sees this thing. I decided to put it in the large critter cage behind the cabin until I knew what to do with it next.
About six days went by and every day, Paw and Ma’ Sue pleaded with me to just shoot it. I refused. I was compelled to keep it. Something about the unearthly creature intrigued me. It was unsightly looking, but in other ways; it shared many human characteristics. It had human hands and feet, human nose, eyes, ears, human face, yet all of its body was covered in gnarled black hair. The pads of its feet looked aged, much old like shoe leather. Its teeth were pointy and irregular. Its eyes, once wild and evil, were now sad and innocent, like in a child.
I remembered Paw telling me about a legend he had heard while in the army about these unearthly creatures. He called it a Blutbaden: a wolf/human hybrid. His lieutenant ran across one, sometime ago. He couldn’t kill it, but he chased it away from his plantation. It destroyed all his livestock and a favorite horse.
With the recent events, I now had to provide food for the three of us plus, the Blutbaden too and that meant much more hunting. My pet (as I began to call it) desired a lot of meat. When it became hungry, it would growl and moan at me, much like a baby whimpering for its feeding time.
When I delivered the food, I sat and watched the beast eat. The bloodier the carcasses I brought, the better. It had a ritual to suck out all the blood from within and then finally, devour the rest. I fed it the exact way I put my prey down, fully intact. I reckoned it couldn’t decipher a prepared piece of meat from one with feathers or fur anyway.
A few weeks had passed. The time came to take my pet out of its cage and give it a bath. I hoped that splashing down the cage with water would be enough to kill the stench, but it wasn’t. I dreaded the chore all day. What I didn’t know was, my relationship with the Blutbaden was about to change forever.
I came back home from hunting that night, tired. I came round to the back of the cabin to find the cage empty; and then discovered the front door to the cabin slightly cracked open. It was my worst nightmare all over again.
I looked at the lock. It was broken. I rushed in the front door. Rifle loaded. I found the Blutbaden hovering over Paw and Ma’ Sue. They looked scared as can be. To my surprise, the unearthly creature showed no signs of attacking them.
“Do something, Jessie!” Paw shrieked.
Just as it turned to me, I attempted to knock it over the head with my rifle, but something held me off. The Blutbaden suddenly grew still as a statue, looking past me as if I was invisible. It had become enamored with an old family picture hanging on the wall, taken years back. Strangely enough, something or someone in that picture seemed to calm it down.
There in the reflection of it its eyes, I saw it had focused on a familiar face, that of my brother.
Ma’ Sue saw it too. The Blutbaden’s soulless eyes suddenly turned peaceful as a blue sky. She stood up, walked right over to the Blutbaden, and softly said, “Samuel…”
I stopped dead in my tracks. Paw was stunned. I unstrapped my rifle, placed it down onto the floor and then came over to Ma’ Sue, who was standing almost face-to-face with the beast. Remarkably, its facial features began to change.
I felt a tingle run up and down my spine, as the Blutbaden started to transform. I couldn’t believe that this unearthly monster was my brother.
Paw couldn’t contain himself and yelled, “You look at that picture, boy! YOU KEEP LOOKING—YOU HEAR ME?”
He then grabbed my hand along with Ma’ Sue to sing a hymnal, almost as if it were a chant exorcising the evil out from Samuels’s body.
“We bring him to…thy Lord’s great door to remove His evil and make him a Christian once more. All praise, together; all praise together.”
Samuel’s face and body began to form back into his young and innocent self. The transformation was so overwhelming; he fell to the floor, naked, his skin white as a ghost.
I ran out, grabbed a bucket of water then splashed it on his face, urging him to awake. Ma’ Sue brought in some proper clothes for him to wear. His eyes opened a moment later and he said, “They are coming…” and then passed out again.
I hit him hard, desperately trying to keep him coherent.
“What are you saying, Samuel—who’s coming?”
Just then, I heard a knock on the door. I reactively grabbed the rifle and knelt on the floor. Paw held his hand out to stop me. “I’ll handle this.” He said with his raspy voice.
I sat next to Samuel, ready to shoot if need be, and watched Paw walk over to the door.
As soon as I saw the dark and shadowy figure at the doorstep, I sensed a foul and eerie presence. The beast at the door faired the same unsightly human trapped in a wolf’s body as Samuel. He was dressed in an old tattered confederate uniform. His heavy animal panting was loud and creepy. At the sight of Samuel, shockingly the monster’s appearance began to revert into his human form.
“Outsider, ‘yuus got a lot of nerve showing up here. Why have you come?” Paw clamored.
“I come for Samuel,” he retorted bitterly.
“IT’S HIM!” Ma’ Sue shouted, “He’s the one who took our boy!”
Paw looked hard at him and said, “All you’re going to do now, is leave here, and forget about ever coming to Kinder Falls.” Paw had brandished a cocked and ready-rifle from behind his back.
“So be it,” the dark and shadowy figure said gravely, “but as you can tell, you best have a lot more bullets in that gun to take us all down.” He pointed out across the yard at nearly twenty or more glowing eyes staring at the cabin.
Paw slammed the door and broke into sweat. Samuel woke up in time to hear the conversation. He sighed and muttered, “I’m going to’ have to turn you all if we are to survive this.”
“Do it then boy,” Paw said walking over to Ma’ Sue.
Samuel replied, “Don’t be mad, at me Paw—honest, I didn’t bring them, I swear. They must have followed me when I deserted them earlier—all I wanted was to find my family.”
“Who are they?” Paw asked.
“The one at the door—his name is Norvel. He is the leader and those outside, they call themselves the bru-hands. They think they can just finish the war singlehandedly.”
“I don’t understand…you was dead, son,” Ma’ Sue was looking at him as if she could see for the first time. Something struck her and she frowned. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them take you from me, again!”
Samuel asked for my pocketknife and then he punctured a small hole in his wrist. The blood trickled up and out like a fountain.
“You must drink it,” he said, “Then we will unite as a family.
We all took a taste. It felt vile on my lips.
“We are one now,” he said.
Before I managed to ask how long it would take, I suddenly felt a surge of energy flow through my veins. I felt strong and powerful like I could move a mountain. I looked down at my hands, and I still looked normal, but it wasn’t until I glanced over at the mirror when I realized we’d all changed. Ma’ Sues leg impairment had healed. Paw’s scars were now gone.
“Don’t anyone seek themselves in pictures that lie about.” Samuel urged.
He then nodded, signaling me to open the front door. By then, I felt thirsty for revenge. I was going to kill Norvel for what he had done to my brother.
Samuel let out a piercing howl and we all joined him. It was uncontrollable.
Once the front door opened, we bolted out like a strike of lightning. A meaningful rage festered inside me; a fury I had never felt before. I ferociously bit and chewed off limbs and ligaments as if the bru-hands were toys. I thought they were all gone, until I felt an overwhelming pain strike me in the middle of my chest. Paw was dying and I could not save him. I looked over as the remaining bru-hands overcame him.
“Get—inside!!” he shouted. Then they pulverized him
Norvel, who stayed hidden the whole time, suddenly appeared out of nowhere and shoved an old cavalry saber into, Ma’ Sues stomach. I looked around in panic. Samuel was nowhere to be found. I howled out for him as I ran towards the cabin. Once we make cover, we will ambush them when they come through the door.
In the darkness of the house, I waited for the bru-hands to burst inside. By the grace of serendipity, I recognized an old photograph beside the mirror, close to the wall. It was Samuel in his uniform standing proud with the local Infantry # 412. I knew right at the moment, how I would beat them.