Horror story of a frightening creature terrorizing a frontier South Carolina town. Written by Norman Coulson.
(may be too intense for young children)
My name in Julius Smith. I used to be the sheriff in Saint James parish, a hamlet on the South Carolina frontier. My previous career was on the east coast of South Carolina, where I maintained law and order there with the King’s stamp for some time before coming to this eerie land to receive a promotion. One evening I was drinking in Jack William’s tavern my place of lodging for the night. My home was nearer to town but there were reports of outlaws in this area. The woods were invested with the vermin, people displaced by the war with the Cherokee. These brutes now plundered, poached, murdered and raped. My prey was gone by the time I came but hoping the fugitives would return, I stayed.
Jack William’s tavern was a new inn built but ten years ago, but by the look of things it seemed more like an ancient ruin. Most buildings seemed like that here on the edge of our blessed King George III’s country. The folks who live around here seemed rugged and harsh. This tavern was a frequent destination for locals and it stank of their presence.
It was a quiet night at the inn. The only two other guests were two sailors drinking at a table beside me. I think they came so far inland to avoid the crimps. Jack the innkeeper was busy with his lone tavern maid rinsing some glasses. In a few minutes he would be closing the inn and locking the door for the night. It was rare to see anybody enter the inn after darkness. Even the most indecent of men tried to avoid traveling on these treacherous roads at such a late hour. Thus it was shocking when the door was opened by none other than Sir Joseph Waverly.
Sir Joseph Waverly was a respected landowner in this parish. The owner of 5000 acres of land and a hundred slaves, he grew tobacco. I should say he used to be the owner of a hundred slaves because a month ago the most peculiar thing had happened. In town I was informed that two of Waverly’s slaves had been captured by a group of citizens. These runaways had been reportedly easy to catch. Most fugitive slaves fled deeper into the countryside to find refuge among Indians. There were also rumors that some of the slaves had formed their own communities in the swamps where our dogs could not so easily track them. These slaves, however, behaved entirely differently. The two of them ran directly into town. On the approach of a couple of citizens who demanded to see their passes they just kept running. They did not flee into the woods, but continued towards the main road. The only place that would have led them is to the next town and likely more people ready to capture them. That was unnecessary however, as they were quickly caught. I confronted them and told them I would bring them back to their master and let him punish them as he saw fit.
Upon my mentioning Waverly’s name the two slaves fell to their knees and begged not to be taken back to him. They pleaded with me to kill them or sell them to some other master far away from here, even to the sugar estates in the Caribbean, just not to take them back to Waverly. Waverly had never been known as a particularly severe guardian towards his slaves, but I assumed he must have changed his ways. I was somewhat moved by the slaves’ pleas, but I did the job the crown gave me, and took the two back to Waverly.
When I arrived at the estate I knocked on the door. A house servant opened it with a grim look and ushered me into the parlor. The slaves were left outside with my deputy. Almost immediately Waverly entered the room. He wore a huge grin and seemed delighted to see me. Perhaps any company was pleasant on an estate as remote as his. I told him about the two slaves. The moment I said that was why I had come his grin disappeared and his eyes faced the ground.
“Never mind them.” He said. “They are free, in fact all my slaves are now free. I shall write up the papers for all of them as soon as the opportunity presents itself.” I was shocked by this answer fearing that the man, though only in his late thirties, had gone mad with age. Nevertheless, it was not my way to question the decisions of distinguished men such as him.
When Waverly entered the doorway of the tavern that night, he did not seem to notice me. “What would be your pleasure sir?” Jack asked him in his usual humorous tone. Jack, like many in his profession, was an eager old man always interested in discussing the latest gossip and determined to make his customers feel jolly.
“A mug of rum” Waverly responded, sitting down at a table in the corner far away from the door. The tavern maid fetched him his request. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. The speed at which he drowned the rum made even the two sailors snicker. He quickly ordered another one. This one, too, he consumed at a rapid speed. I was shocked to see a man of his station behaving in such a manner, but I kept my distance.
Waverly was now beginning to sway a bit and asked the inn keeper to come over to his table. “Jack dear Jack, I have developed a craving for wolf’s meat, as have my wife and son. Do you have any for me? I want a lot. In fact,” he sighed, “in fact I will buy all you have. I will pay you double what you would get from any other customer.”
“Forgive me sir, but I have none, no customer that I can recall has ever made such a request,” said Jack.
Waverly smiled “How about triple then?” as if he had not heard what Jack just said.
“I am sorry sir I cannot.”
Waverly looked distraught. He pulled out the money he owed Jack, placed it on the table and staggered out the door. I thought I heard him mumble as he left, something about “death,” but I cannot be certain.
As the door closed behind him I could see Waverly get into his carriage. His coachman was a one legged-negro freedman by the name of Johnson. Rumors were that his master, in a fit of anger, had broken his leg which required that it be amputated and replaced with a wooden one, but feeling guilty about it afterwards had freed him. Later he had come to work for Waverly. I learned the next few details of that night from Johnson since I was not there.
Waverly’s carriage pulled up to his mansion. It was a large and ornate building, but it was on the very edge of civilization. On the edge of the estate were uncut woods thick as a swampy underbrush. What lay beyond was largely unknown. The crown posted a few forts with soldiers out in the wilderness on lands captured by the French, but we only heard occasional rumors of their exploits. Somewhere thousands of miles away I knew that the Spanish colonized a place called Alta California. What lay between our land and theirs was a mystery to me.
When I lived on the east coast I imagined all sorts of fantastic creatures lived in the endless wilderness which lurked beyond our borders. I enjoyed hearing the tales of trappers who told me fantastic stories of their journeys. They told me of antlered rabbits called jackalopes, the ferocious monster called the hidebehind which hides behind trees waiting to ambush men, to feast on their flesh. They had tales of wild, hairy, ape-like men, and Indians who could fly. One man even said he had seen the seven cities of gold which the conquistadors had once looked for, and offered to draw me a map to it for a substantial sum. Even back then I was not quite that gullible. Nevertheless, it was all so thrilling and I wanted to believe. Now, however, things were different.
When I moved out here the world seemed to become much darker. The world may be round, but I felt I was at the edge of it, with unknown horrors beyond. I had not the comfort of being surrounded by people, as I had in the port towns in the east. My reading material consisted of books such as the works of rational men, like Dr. Benjamin Franklin. They provided me a little comfort at night, but not as much as I hoped. If the reader will forgive my digression I shall return to the story at hand.
Without saying anything to Johnson, Waverly got out of his carriage and staggered to his front door. Johnson drove the carriage back to his cabin, but then got out and walked towards the mansion knowing he was now about to see the demise of his master. He walked along the right side of the house as quietly as he could with his wooden leg, to the kitchen window where he knew his employer was heading.
Waverly entered the door of the kitchen and saw what he prayed in vain was all just a hallucination. In the corner his now one-armed wife and young son lay. They were frozen with fear lacking even the strength and courage to beg for their lives. In the other corner of the room lay two eyes. They were bright and blue like two large sapphires. They had no visible lashes and blinked less than human eyes did. The eyes were fixed on Waverly’s throat.
“I am sorry, but I could not obtain any wolf’s meat, do with me what you want.” Waverly said boldly, courage increased by the amount of rum he had drunk. In a voice that sounded like nothing known to God or man, the eyes responded. “Then our dealings are complete. It is you, your wife and son who must feed me.” Unlike his wife and son Waverly did take the time to plead. “Take my wife and son, but do not eat me I have been a faithful servant to you.” The eyes however, proceeded to lunge at him.
I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by a knock at my door. “Who’s there” I asked.
In a moment I heard Jack’s voice “It is only me Mr. Smith, there is a young Negro boy here to see you. He says it is urgent.” I groaned and rolled out of bed. It took me a minute to locate a match to light the lantern, but I eventually did. Finding my clothes, I dressed, put on my wig, and went down the inn’s stairs where the boy awaited my arrival.
I recognized him immediately as young Anthony, Johnson’s twelve-year-old son. “Good day, sheriff sir” he said, with a child’s eagerness. “My father has sent me here to fetch you. He says our master is dead, brutally murdered.”
“Murdered?” I said with some alarm.
“Yes sir.” Anthony responded.
I sat down. Even though I was sheriff and had seen quite a few murders in the past, it was still a shock to hear somebody I just had seen alive the previous day was now dead. When I recovered I gave Anthony a penny and told him to fetch my deputy Trevelyan, who lived nearby.
When Anthony and Trevelyan appeared I gave him the news and the three of us set out towards Waverly’s manor. The King’s highway was well maintained although there were a couple of fallen logs obstructing our path. The woods around us were fresh from the morning dew, creating a pleasant aroma. We were nearing the house when the pleasant smell ceased, replaced by a foul odor like that of rotting flesh. The three of us stopped in our tracks.
I sniffed for the source of the smell. It seemed to be coming off from the left. I told Trevelyan to follow me and ordered Antony to remain on the road. We crept slowly pistols drawn through the underbrush. Ahead of us was a large clearing which looked like a meadow. Trevelyan moving slightly ahead of me entered the clearing, but then stopped in his tracks. I followed. Right under Trevelyan’s boot was a small weed covered in dried blood. My eyes shifted slightly to the right and saw that it was part of a trail of blood that lead just a few inches away to a severed human arm. Looking up I saw a sight that sickened even my stomach.
There were scattered limbs everywhere, they were from several people, I couldn’t tell how many. All were men as far as I could see, black and white, young and old. There were heads, arm, legs, and feet. Many of the parts were severed open with their contents slowly leaking out. Ravenous flies were everywhere having a feast. Blood trails leading in all directions indicated that many of the limbs had already been dragged off by scavengers but such a feast had been prepared that it seems the few predatory animals in this area were having trouble finishing off this massacre.
Off to our left there was a cracking of leaves. Trevelyan and I turned swiftly our weapons pointed at the potential threat. It was only John Mason, Waverly’s neighbor and a landowner of almost as much means. When we pointed our pistols at him he did not stop or try to talk to us, he just kept walking, though he did give us a stare. In his eyes was a glazed exhausted look. I noticed that he had just come back from a hunting trip. Over one shoulder he held a blunderbuss. Over the other he was carrying a dead wolf. It was an old-looking creature. Its scrawny appearance suggested that in life its meals were irregular. The people of Saint James Parish are not in the custom of making wolves’ lives easy. Mason passed us by and continued on the way back to his manor.
Trevelyan and I did not say another word to each other. We just walked back to the road where we found Anthony and continued with him back to the Waverly house. When we got there, I decided to talk to Johnson before examining the house. When we entered his cabin Johnson was sitting before a small fire. He turned his chair around and bade us hello, but otherwise did not move. I forgave him for not rising in my presence due to his injury and the horror of what had just happened.
“Alright Johnson, please tell me from the beginning what has happened here.” He stared off into space for a moment before beginning his story.
“Well sir, one month ago life on this plantation changed forever, for our master became no longer a master, but a slave like us. A horrible monster came here out of the deepest reaches of that dark wood outside of our plantation. The creature was strong enough to break through locks and force open doors. It was also intelligent and had apparently been observing us from the shadows, living our lives, for some time. It knew English only too well. It also knew who was in charge on this plantation and that it was him who should be its target. It killed the white overseers and the slave drivers and left their corpses in a big heap just outside the boundaries of this plantation. Then as the master was the only leader left, the monster made him its personal servant. It took the master’s wife and son hostage, holding them in the master’s kitchen which it made its own den, and demanded that the master feed it or see them eaten. The master tried to shoot the creature, but this beast is immune to bullets and for challenging it, the beast ate one of the mistress’ arms. In the end Master Waverly had to comply.
“The monster was not like any animal I have ever known. Most predators are happy to have a meal and do not care too much what it is. This animal, however, wanted specific forms of meat. The monster’s first target was the plantation’s supply of hogs. He ate every one of them. Next he quickly finished off what cattle the master possessed. If the creature had not been meat eater only we all would have starved, it was such a glutton. Two days ago the creature requested wolf’s meat. The master went out hunting but could not find any. Men have already killed the wolves who used to live in this area.”
Johnson then proceeded to tell me about the previous night when Waverly visited to the tavern. Normally I might have been able to dismiss such a story as the ramblings of a superstitious Negro. What I had seen earlier that day, however, left me uncertain. I did not let either Trevelyan or Johnson see it, but I was trembling throughout my whole body.
“What does the creature look like?” I asked trying to sound as calm as possible.
“I never actually saw its shape.” he responded, “I only saw its outline looking through the window on that last night. After it killed the overseers, it never left the kitchen. Most animals like the freedom to move around. This monster, however, lingers in one place like a fungus, staying with its victims at all times” Johnson said with disgust. “I can only tell you that the monster is huge.”
Johnson shifted in his chair and sighed. “Since the master freed the slaves me and my boy are the only ones still alive here, his strength gives me strength. Children are odd, they fear the dark when there is nothing to fear, but somehow when faced with a real threat they seem to forget it’s there.”
“Is the creature still here?” Trevelyan asked.
“I don’t think so, I heard trampling in the woods early this morning. I suspect the creature was leaving here, moving on to its next victim. Its appetite for man’s flesh seems to have dulled and plainly it doesn’t think a one-legged man and his twelve year old son will make good providers, so it has spared us.”
“Thank you for your help, Johnson,” I said.
As I turned to leave, Johnson called out to me “Sir, there is one other thing you should know. The monster is a very perceptive creature. It probably sensed you that day you came to return the two runaways. It knows of your existence.”
That was the worst thing Johnson could have said to my terrified mind at that moment.
Trevelyan and I walked to the front door of the mansion. I knocked, hoping that someone would answer, telling me that this was all just some joke. There was no answer, but the door creaked open. We entered. Inside there was some smashed china, but most of the furniture seemed to be in place. We walked down to the kitchen. Opening the door fully, I immediately turned my head away. What I saw there was a picture I simply could not bear to look at and can’t bear to describe to you now. The smell of rotting flesh was again in the air. Trevelyan stood there, his eyes wide with fear at the sight. Tugging on his sleeve I led him away from the kitchen towards the parlor.
“I think I know where the creature is going next, if such a creature exists,” I said to Trevelyan as we reached the parlor.
“I do too,” he responded. “The Mason house.”
Strange as it may seem, my fear gave me an inexhaustible urge to go to the Mason House. I hoped desperately that the creature wasn’t real, and I longed to prove it. In addition, it was getting late in the day. I dared not go back to the inn without knowing whether the creature existed or not, for I did not want to be alone for even a moment at this point. I could not even imagine going back to my home closer to town. All had to be settled here and now. I told Trevelyan to go to the rifle house and grab as many pistols as he could find. Perhaps with enough fire power the creature, if it was real, could be slain.
The two of us started on our way towards the Mason house. As we walked along the road every tree looked menacing. Every bush hid the creature, ready to pounce on us. Trevelyan, I could tell, was just as scared. The autumn sun was lowering in the sky, darkening South Carolina as we reached the Mason property. I could not enter the main mansion without either Mr. Mason’s permission or a search warrant. The nearest magistrate was a hundred miles away and I doubt I could have convinced him to grant me one for this. I decided to check the slave quarters to see if the slaves would confirm our suspicions. As sheriff, I needed no one’s permission to enter the slave quarters to search for weapons or contraband. If they did confirm our fears, I intended to move on the house warrant or not.
As we entered, the slaves looked startled and terrified for a moment, but then they relaxed slightly when they saw we were not the creature. They were all staring out a window which faced the Mason House. The house was barely visible from here, but they seemed intent on seeing anything which approached from it. The look of pure horror on their faces was the greatest confirmation I had that we had come to the right place. I addressed them, asking if any of them wanted to help us get rid of the creature. We managed to get five men among them to volunteer. Trevelyan passed out pistols to them. As Sheriff, for me to arm slaves verged on an act of rebellion against the crown. Right now, however, the hangman’s noose wasn’t any concern to me at all. Men, I think, fear fates they cannot understand far more than fates that they do.
Our pistols cocked and at the ready, the seven of us walked towards the house. I asked one of the slaves and he told me where the window of the kitchen was. As we approached I heard what sounded like loud gargling. When we looked inside I saw a spectacle that was beyond any nightmare I have ever had.
Kneeling, prostate, in a corner was Mr. Mason a look of horror on his face. He seemed frozen in his spot unable even to breathe. Then looking a little to the right in the dimness of the twilight I saw the monster. It stood on all fours, but even then it was almost as tall as a man. Its entire body was covered with black fur. The creature was long too, longer than a horse. The head was round, its small ears shaped like squares extended directly outward from its head. Its eyes were the brightest shade of blue I had ever seen, they were nothing less than glittering gemstones in their brightness. No nose was apparent on the creature’s fur covered face. The paws it possessed were shaped like those of a lion, extending from which were the sharpest set of claws I have ever seen. They were not curved like most animals rather they extended straight out. In all ways they resembled vertical knives. The creature used them to cut the carcass. Below its claws lay the remains of the small wolf Mason had hunted earlier that day. I could see it was nearly finished.
Besides cutting the meat the creature used its claws like forks, skewering portions of the meal and lifting them to its mouth. When its mouth opened I expected to see a horrible set of teeth to match its claws. Instead I saw nothing. The creature’s mouth was a wide gaping hole with no teeth at all. It must have broken down its food completely with its claws, leaving its mouth ready to swallow. This method, however, was not foolproof, for I could see the creature drool its meat a great deal.
We stared at the scene unable to move for a few minutes. Every so often the creature would flick scraps at Mason’s wife and daughter who cowered in the corner. When there was nothing left of the wolf carcass but bones the creature’s mouth curled in to what I am certain was a grin. Then in that disgusting voice which sounded like buzzing and hissing at the same time it asked “Any more of this wolf’s meat on hand?”
Mason did not respond, he simply remained on his knees eyes half closed. The creature licked its lips with a black tongue and turned its head slightly. We were on the right side of the window so it is possible the creature did not see us at that moment, nevertheless we all lost our wits.
The slaves quickly moved to get a good aim and then fired. Trevelyan and I did the same. I do not believe a single shot missed the creature. It reeled in pain from the force of the bullets, but did not fall. The creature’s hide was so thick that the bullets failed to injure its anatomy. It let out a roar more of anger than of pain and came for us. The creature was too large to get through the window so it knocked Mason aside and rushed out the door heading for the main entrance so it could come around to us. We fled in all directions. I followed in the same direction as Trevelyan, while all the slaves went their own way. Mason had a small apple orchard near his home, and we both headed towards it. Since the creature could not smell, I hoped we could hide behind a thick apple tree and not be detected.
The monster was fast. We had only made it a few paces when it was already out the door. Fortunately for Trevelyan and myself the creature pursued the slaves first. We made it to the orchard where we both crotched down behind trees within sight of each other. I could not see anything but I heard the slaves’ cries of pain as the creature caught them one by one. When it was finished with them it galloped toward the orchard. Stopping at the entrance it looked for any sign of us. I was too scared to move, but Trevelyan reached out and picked up a rock. The creature I fear, noticed his hand and it rushed towards him. As the monster neared my deputy’s hiding space he jumped up, the rock in his right hand. With it he moved to strike what looked like the one vulnerable place on the creature’s body; its blue eyes. The creature however, knew of Trevelyan’s presence and was too quick for him. It held up one of its paws and skewered him with one of those terrible claws. From my vantage point I saw my deputy’s blood and bodily matter seep from his chest. He fell to the ground stone cold dead. Now I was certain the creature would soon find me and I would meet my fate, all was lost for me.
For about thirty seconds, the creature resumed looking around; for me, no doubt. All of a sudden however, the creature threw up. The contents of its vomit I will never describe to you. It vomited a second time, after which, resigned, it walked weakly and sickly out of the orchard and back towards the woods. No doubt it wanted the comfort of its own nest somewhere in those deep woods to recover from its sudden illness. I remained in my position, unable to move, petrified with my fear for the entire night. I was terrified that the creature would soon come back for me. Laying on the ground I wept a few tears for Trevelyan. He was my best deputy, and also, I would say, my friend. In a world with such dangers as I had just encountered good friends are priceless.
Dawn was beginning to break, when I felt a gentle nudge on my leg. I looked up to see Mr. Mason his blunderbuss in hand staring down at me.
“You still alive?” he asked.
I chuckled and nodded. Mason looked a little bruised but surprisingly quite healthy considering the way the creature had thrown him about. He asked me to return to his house for tea. As a slave prepared some for us, he explained my sudden good fortune with the creature.
“I poisoned the wolf. While I was out hunting for it I found some white berries. I had previously been told not to eat or even touch berries of that color. I could not poison the meat too strongly or the creature likely would have tasted it.” He sighed and looked down. “If only I had found more wolves than maybe I could have killed the thing.”
“Do you think it will return?” I asked him as I sipped my brew. “I don’t know. I only hope that this experience has taught the creature to look for easier prey than man,” he said, in a bold voice. The thought occurred to me that this creature might not be one of a kind, perhaps there was an entire species of these monsters living out in the endless American wilderness. Perhaps this one had simply drifted too far east. I kept this fear to myself.
I no longer live in Saint James. I bribed a respected physician to write a letter to the governor’s office on my behalf, saying that my health required a change in climate. I managed to receive a reassignment to a post in Florida, recently captured from the Spanish. My fears tell me that I have not moved far enough away. Perhaps this creature possesses not only an ability for man’s speech, but also a hunger for one of his vices; revenge. I wonder whether the creature will come for me, even here.
From that day to this I have had trouble sleeping at night. At home I have even considered asking one of my servants to sleep at my bedside for the company. Such an arrangement was quite common in the past. Since our people discovered the New World however, we have become much more independent. Servants have their own quarters now, and my pride does not permit me to change that arrangement. This incident, however, has made me wonder whether we Christian men have entered a world we are not prepared for. Perhaps we simply should have stayed on our side of the ocean. That dark wilderness contains things we cannot learn to endure.
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