A chap came upon the door of the woodcutter as the timely night darkly settled into a crisp evening awaiting with apprehension the arrival of winter like a failing autumn leaf awaiting its drop unto the cold floor beneath.
That is to say, someone knocked at someone else’s door on a cold autumn night.
The woodcutter, expecting no visitors and chiefly at this time of day, called out from behind his great wooden door before presuming to open it.
‘Yes?’ called he. ‘Who be it rapping at me front door at a time such as this? What business do ye have?’
‘Hello sir,’ came a foreboding voice from the other side of the door. It was a voice seemingly belonging to some dark creature of the night and no man at all. ‘My name is Walter. How are your spirits this evening?’
‘By spirits,’ the woodcutter called. ‘Do ye refer to me mood, or to t’ghosts kept in the jar in me kitchen?’
Being that the question was a good one and held much to consider, there was a moment’s pause on the other side of the door before Walter spoke. ‘Both,’ he said.
The woodcutter said: ‘I’m kept awake at night by ghostly moans accompanied by a feeling of unnerving dread making the very air go as cold as Earlingdale Lake in t’winter. The spirits in the jar’re fine mind. Now what business have ye?’
‘I am new in the neighbourhood and I have simply come to introduce myself to you,’ Walter said. ‘Perhaps you could open your door so that I may see your face and we could palaver some?’
‘That’s a bad idea,’ the woodcutter replied. ‘There’s bin speak of odd folk about: werewolves and vampires they say, no less.’
Walter chuckled softly. ‘My dear fellow. If I were a werewolf what would your disturbance with my presence here be? Hmm?’
The answer came quickly and plainly, as though it should have been obvious to Walter. ‘That ye may rip out my throat and spit it into me fireplace, so that every time me wife lights it she shall hear me last screams echo through the house and may it haunt her the rest o' her days.’
‘Sir,’ said Walter. ‘A significant and well founded concern that may have been if it weren’t for one simple thing. I implore you to gaze out of your window and into the clear sky above, and if you would, tell me what you see there.’
Thereupon came some sighing and grumbling, accompanied by some thumping as the woodcutter manoeuvred himself to the nearest window, where Walter could see him peel back his curtains and look upwards to the night sky.
‘Well?’ Walter asked brightly. ‘What is it that your eyes can tell you about the night sky?’
‘Nothin’ much,’ the woodcutter said with a squinted eye pointed narrowly upwards. ‘Same as always. Stars and the moon.’
‘What kind of moon?’ Walter inquired.
‘Crescent,’ the woodcutter said. ‘Or I don’t know me oakenwood from me wife’s frock.’
‘Indeed,’ Walter said. ‘And pray, tell me what kind of moon would implore you to watch out for werewolves?’
The woodcutter turned and eyed Walter out of his window now. ‘Aye, alright. But who’s to say yer not a vampire?’
‘I am a vampire,’ Walter simply returned.
‘Heathen!!’ the woodcutter cried. ‘Foul thing from the depths of hell! Be gone, or so help me I’ll…’
Walter calmly raised a hand. ‘Now, now! Please be civil. I am required by the mayor of Earlingdale to make myself known to my new neighbours. I have done as instructed. I’d rather you and I could be friendly with each other.’
‘Friendly!?’ the woodcutter cried in disbelief. ‘How do I know yer not going to change yerself into a bat and fly into me house to suck me blood until there’s nowt left?’
‘I must say,’ Walter said, remaining as calm as the flame from a candle burning in a windless room. ‘I don’t appreciate racist remarks such as these. I am a vampire, yes I suck the blood from innocent and peaceful civilians and damn their souls to a miserable afterlife in hell for all eternity, but I cannot turn into a bat. Viscous rumour.’
‘Well in any case,’ the woodcutter continued. ‘We don’t want your sort round ‘ere. Trouble’ll come of it, mark me words. Might see if I can’t have a word with the mayor meself.’
Walter remained remarkably calm, irritated as he was by this man’s unwelcoming and impolite attitude. ‘Look, sir. If you just remain indoors at night you’ll be fine; I can’t come out during daylight, as I’m sure you well know. The mayor has already given his approval for my tenancy here so your argument will fall on deaf ears, I’m afraid. There’s no reason you and I can’t be friends.’
The woodcutter, aghast, dropped his mouth open. ‘No reason? No reason! P’raps we can’t be friends, sir, because the moment me back’s turned to ye, yer fangs’ll find the side o’ me neck!’
‘You’ll have to be on your guard, I concede,’ Walter said.
‘On me guard!?’ the woodcutter hissed. ‘Now you listen ‘ere, vampire. This town has had enough o’ the likes o’ you and yer sort. We don’t want no vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghouls or goblins o’ any sort ‘ere. Just las’ year we had a shapeshifter eat poor ol’ Fatty Bainwright. Disguised itssel’ as a grand cake an’ when ee went over to inspect it it swallowed im up whole.’
‘Monsters are people too,’ Walter said. ‘But seeing as there doesn’t appear to be any reasoning with you, I’ll bid you a good evening and be on my way.’
The conversation concluded, Walter sauntered serenely away from the woodcutter’s house. Even as he did, he heard the man call to his wife.
‘Bridget! Let’s have mutton for tea! And put plenty o’ garlic in it!’
How very discourteous, Walter thought.
A rap similar in nature and equal in vigour came upon another door on the succeeding morn betwixt Lake Earlingdale and the town hall some length from the woodcutter’s dwellings on a day clear and bitter as a fresh and thin slice of lemon.
That is to say, the next morning someone else knocked on someone else’s door on the other side of Earlingdale.
The door to the cottage, which happened to be owned by a hunter of great renown, opened more widely than that of the woodcutter’s door, being that the hunter feared very little in the way of man or beast. Standing in front of the woodcutter was a large man with a great beard, unkempt and unwashed. He made no eye contact with the hunter, his eyes remaining instead fixed upon a faded piece of parchment grasped in both hands.
‘Hello,’ the man read in a mechanical sort of manner. ‘My name is Joseph and I have just made… erm… I can’t read the nex' word…’
‘Spell it,’ the hunter helpfully suggested.
Joseph squinted at the parchment. ‘A… C… C… O… M… M...’
‘Accommodation?’ the hunter asked.
‘Tha’s the one,’ Joseph said with gratitude. ‘I have just made accommodation in one of the cottages betwixt the town hall and Lake… Sorry, I can’t read the nex’ one either.’
‘Earlingdale,’ the hunter said.
Joseph looked up at this, bewildered. ‘How did ye know that? I didn’t even start spellin’ it! Yer not a witch are ye? I’m not livin’ nex’ door to a spellcaster!’
The hunter, perplexed by the foolishness and absurdity of the accusation and eager to move the conversation to its conclusion, shook his head. ‘Ye don’t get man witches. Least not in these parts. Now go on.’
Joseph returned his eyes to the parchment. ‘I have been in-struc-ted by the mayor of… erm…’
‘Earlingdale,’ the hunter said, and motioned with his hand for Joseph to continue.
‘Aye, Earlingdale,’ Joseph said. ‘To inform you that I am a… Blast it I can’t read this one neither.’
‘Spell it,’ the hunter said with a roll of the eye and a deep sigh.
‘W… E… R… E… W… O… L… F.’
The hunter stood upright and suddenly on his guard. ‘A what!?’
‘I dunno,’ Joseph said. ‘What’s it spell?’
‘A damned beast of the night!!’ the hunter shrieked. ‘A murderous miscreation spawned from the devil hisself!! A moon howler!!’
‘Oh,’ Joseph nodded. ‘It says werewolf. Course it does.’
‘Now you listen ‘ere!’ the hunter said, pointing an aggressive finger towards Joseph. ‘We don’t want yer sort round ‘ere. A hunter as renowned as me, this town has seen to rely on me for everything from killin’ banshees to trolls. Paid handsomely for it I was too, I was. But me next door werewolf neighbour I’ll kill for free.’
‘What sort o’ welcome is that for yer new neighbour?’ Joseph asked, aghast.
‘You ain’t welcome!’ the hunter returned.
‘Look ‘ere!’ Joseph cried. ‘I’ve got rights same as any man. It’s not my fault I was tricked by a gnome into drinkin’ a magical potion that he said was to make me filthy rich an’ handsome.’
‘Ye fell for a gnome scam?’ the hunter asked with a certain amount of conceit. ‘Everyone knows the ol’ bait n’ switch. It’s usually a sleepin’ potion they’ll give ye though – so they can rob ye o’ yer fortunes.’
‘Aye, well,’ Joseph said with little shame. ‘Seems someone slipped this gnome a werewolf potion. Bad luck for him – he gave me it on a full moon, rest his little soul.’
‘Well in any case,’ the hunter said, attempting to bring the conversation back on point. ‘I can’t promise ye I won’t use me musket on ye. Got to keep meself and me family safe. I’m sure ye’ll understand.’
‘Oh, that reminds me,’ Joseph said, and he fumbled around in his jacket pocket for a moment before producing another small piece of parchment which he handed to the hunter, who upon taking it from the werewolf and reading it became irate once again.
‘Orders from the mayor!? Nobody is to harm Joseph the werewolf while he remains in human form. Only once he has transformed into his wolf state, and only if your life is in peril may you use force to subdue – not kill – under penalty of death by hanging!’
‘I like yer mayor,’ Joseph said, and then added with a chuckle: ‘Well, our mayor. He’s very… what’s that word in… in...’
‘Inclusive,’ the hunter said. ‘Aye well he can include my name on what I’m sure will be a substantial list of complainers from this town.’
‘I have to say,’ Joseph said. ‘This is the worst welcome I’ve received in a place since I was chased out o’ West Yarlington by a crowd o’ villagers carryin' silver pitchforks! They needn’t o’ had the silver blades, I was in me human form, but I was unimpressed all the same. If I’ve got to write to me union representative to solve this I will.’
‘Union!?’ the hunter exclaimed. ‘Wha’ union?’
‘The Society of Defenders for Folk of Magical or Unwanted Dark Properties,’ Joseph said. ‘Stood by me for these last six years. Even when I ripped the head off one o’ their members during a meetin’ we accidentally scheduled for a night with a full moon. Silly mistake. Ye live and learn.’
‘There’s a union for filth like you!?’ the hunter said with an expression akin to one who has, upon intending to take a large bite out of an apple has instead sunk his teeth into a peeled lemon.
‘Right,’ Joseph said hotly. ‘I’m goin’ to be the bigger man an’ walk away. I’ve done me duty by the mayor. If ye’ve never lived next door to a werewolf before here’s my advice: jus’ take a holiday once every month, during the night o’ the full moon. Ye should be fine unless I catch a good whiff o’ yer scent. If ye want, I’ve made scones. Drop by any time.’
Being that the townsfolk of Earlingdale made no attempt to suppress their looks of scorn as they passed Joseph in the marketplace or on the streets, and being that tonight was the last before the next full moon, the werewolf decided to freely take a slow walk in the woods on the other side of town.
The crisp and colourful autumn leaves crunched satisfactorily underfoot and Joseph heard no other sound besides the occasional flutter of a night bird or bat overhead, and the branches of the trees swaying gently as the cold breeze whispered through them. As he walked he enjoyed thoughts of what he was going to cook for dinner, causing his stomach to grumble. He became slightly disturbed as thoughts of human flesh became mixed in with fantasies of vale stew, but with a shrug of the shoulder and an admission to himself that these thoughts were only natural being that he had now been living as a werewolf for some eight years, he continued his walk merrily.
A flutter among some of the branches above brought into his view one of the bats he’d been hearing, and he watched it now as it gracefully sailed through the brisk air and turning, came in flight back towards Joseph. Preparing to duck (as it looked as though the bat had somehow lost its bearings and was like to crash awkwardly into his head), Joseph watched a most peculiar sight: as it neared him, the bat grew larger and swiftly turned before Joseph’s very eyes into a tall, thin and pale man who now purposely crashed into him, and pinning him to the forest floor bared his long white fangs and prepared to sink them deep into Joseph’s neck.
To both the werewolf and the vampire’s surprise, Joseph chuckled. ‘A vampire! Yer jus’ like me!’
Pausing in his assault and confused by this statement, the vampire looked all around the face of Joseph before saying: ‘You are no vampire…’
The odd pair sat side by side on one of the wooden benches close to the middle of the forest and discussed the troubles of being a creature of the night in a town largely unaccepting of such people.
‘I must feed, like anybody else,’ Walter lamented. ‘The deer of this forest do not show any objection to the presence of humans in their dwellings, yet are they not hunted? And yet do the human children not cry out in joy to see one galloping through the trees?’
‘Exactly!’ Joseph agreed. ‘It’s jus’ once a month I’m found to be on the prowl. The rest o’ the time could be spent in friendship. Aye, I migh’ rip out yer throat one night, but that’s not the real me. I don’t get the chance to show the real me. It’s all silver bullets this an’ burned at the stake in yer human from that.’
‘Stake!’ Walter gasped. ‘Don’t mention stakes! I’m threatened by one of those nearly every day. I’ll drive a stake through your heart as you sleep during the day they say. I mean, can you imagine if I went about my day telling them all that I’ll be drinking their blood as soon as their backs are turned? The outrage it would cause!’
The conversation was interrupted by a sudden rush of footsteps, and looking slightly to their left, the vampire and the werewolf observed the woodcutter and the hunter as they rushed forwards with a stake and a musket (no doubt containing a silver bullet despite his human form, Joseph thought) respectively. Neither Walter nor Joseph made any attempt to defend themselves, for they saw that within the shadows a mere foot away from the rushing humans was all the protection they needed.
The humans were stopped by a tall figure which shot spikes out from within its wrists which penetrated the backs of their heads. They dropped their weapons and indeed collapsed to the floor of the cold forest, lifeless. After a moment where it appeared to be somehow feeding on the downed pair, the tall figure shortened its spikes and walked calmly towards Walter and Joseph.
‘Good evening,’ Walter greeted. ‘It’s good to see a wraith in action.’
The wraith smiled, and observing that Walter was sitting affably with Joseph remarked: ‘Ah, I see the two of you have met. Very good.’
‘Aye, albeit we nearly had a misunderstanding upon our meeting,’ Joseph said with a smirk. ‘Almos’ had two holes in the side o’ me neck. Is it possible to be a vampire and a werewolf d’ye think?’
The trio laughed heartily. Indicating towards the human pair on the floor ahead of them, Walter asked: ‘What will come of them?’
‘They’ll be like me soon,’ the wraith said. ‘And then I’m sure we can convince them to join our cause.’
‘Aye,’ Joseph said. ‘We’ll turn all of Earlingdale into a town made for people like us. Never have to convince people it’s okay to have someone the likes o’ us living next door t’them again.’
‘Because they will be us,’ Walter agreed enthusiastically.
‘Yes,’ the wraith said. ‘In time we will make that dream come true. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make myself scarce before anyone happens upon us. We don’t want too many questions, do we?’
‘No, of course not.’ Walter said. ‘We’ll be on our way too. Speak to you again very soon, Mister Mayor.’