January 23, 1853
For three days in a row, William West had gone out in the morning to check his livestock and found at least one animal dead. The frozen ground made it almost impossible to find the tracks of the culprit, but William knew it had to be wolves. There simply wasn’t anything else anyone had seen in the Osage River Valley that could take down a large steer like that. Then, to see the sheer amount of damage that had been done to the poor animal.
On the third morning, they had struck and killed a heifer that was expecting her first calf in a few weeks. Not only had the heifer been brutally killed, the unborn calf had been ripped from her stomach and mostly devoured on the spot. To make it even worse, his best stock dog had tried to defend the heifer and met a similar fate. The only difference is that the dog hadn’t been fed upon. It had been ripped to shreds, but all of its pieces could be found strewn about the area. From the amount of blood and the condition of the body, it was clear that the dog had gone down fighting. Not that it had done it any good.
With the losses growing expensive to both the herd and William’s pocketbook, he decided it was time to do something about it. After he finished dragging the biggest pieces of the carcasses down by the riverbank and well-away from the rest of the herd, William quickly finished the morning chores and hurried back to the house. He gathered up his hunting rifle and his powder horn and extra lead shot and slung them over his shoulder.
“Where are you off to, William?” asked his young bride Amelia.
“We had another one of the cattle killed last night,” he explained. “They got the pregnant heifer. My stock dog Roscoe was killed, too. I’ve got to put a stop to this killing before we lose everything.”
“So, what are you doing right now?” she asked, nodding at his rifle.
“I’m going to ride down the valley to your brother’s place and see if he’ll help me track and kill this wolf pack,” said William. “Micah is a better hunter than I am and a crack shot. Between the two of us, we’ll kill enough of the pack that they won’t come back.”
“Has he lost any of his herd?” she asked.
“Last I spoke to him,” said William, “he’d lost two calves and a few chickens. I’m sure he’s going to want this pack put down as much as I do.”
“I’ll put on a good supper for this evening,” said Amelia. “I expect Micah will bring at least one of his sons with him. I’ll be ready to feed you all before you go out hunting.”
Kissing his wife, William went out and saddled his mule. Once he was set, he headed down the river road. It was only five miles to Micah’s farm and they could be back by early afternoon. That would give them time to try and locate tracks or a possible den in the area before the sun set.
The sun was warm on his face despite the chill to the air as he rode down the river road. It was a beautiful winter’s day and he felt confident that they could end the threat to his livestock by morning. That would mean that every farmer along the river valley could sleep easier knowing that his livestock were safe. It might also put some much needed money in his own pocket if they could collect a few wolf pelts in good condition. Money that they could use to recoup the losses from the dead livestock and maybe some to spare. He’d had his eye on a new plow for a few months, now.
It was just after midday when William, Micah and his oldest son Jonah arrived back at his homestead. He could see the smoke rising from the chimney and smell fresh bread as he started putting his mule back in the barn. Micah helped put away the mules while Jonah went inside to see his Aunt Amelia.
Once the mules were put away, Micah and William headed down to the field to search for tracks. They found indistinct impressions in the frozen ground, but nothing that they could identify or follow for any distance. The tracks that they were able to locate were odd and shaped differently than they had ever seen before. It also looked almost like whatever it had been had been walking on two legs. They both laughed when they discussed that, knowing how preposterous that had to be. No man could do the things that had been done to these animals.
By supper time, they returned to the house and sat down for a meal of Amelia’s famous chicken and dumplings with fresh baked bread and apple pie. They laughed and caught up on the doings of both families. It had been a few weeks since Micah had been to visit and Amelia was excited to send back some fresh eggs and bread with him.
Once the food had been consumed, the laughter seemed to fade away. Micah and William got up and started checking over their rifles and equipment. Micah loaded a rifle for Jonah and set out the extra ball and powder that he would have with him.
“We’re putting you up on the roof of the barn,” said Micah, “where the flat side meets the corral. From there, you should have a good view of the pasture. Take your time and aim like I taught you. Most importantly though, don’t shoot me or your uncle.”
“I won’t, papa,” he assured him.
“Well, at least don’t shoot me,” said William. “Micah isn’t as pretty as I am.”
That drew a round of chuckles.
“Alright,” said William. “Let’s head out to the field. Jonah, once you’re in position I want you to make an owl call if you see anything moving near the stock.”
“Yessir,” said Jonah. “I’ll be watching.”
Grabbing his own powder and extra lead ball shot, William headed for the door. Amelia kissed him and put his hat on his head.
“You be careful out there,” she said, smiling. “Don’t let the wolves get you.”
“We’ll be careful,” William assured her.
Heading out into the darkness, she watched as they helped Jonah up onto the flat section of the barn roof, then headed out into the field. She suddenly had a strange feeling of impending danger. There was a full moon in the sky and the cattle were already acting nervous. Shutting the door, she dropped the locking bar in place and then sat by the fireplace to say a prayer for their safety. After a moment’s thought, she started praying for the safety of them all.
Moving away from the barn, Micah and William stopped at the edge of the field. William pointed to the far side near the river and leaned close to Micah.
“That’s where they’ve been coming into the fields from,” whispered William.
“I’ll set up near those willow trees,” whispered Micah. “You set up near the big trough. That way we can both shoot without getting in each other’s way.”
William nodded and headed for the trough. He watched as Micah moved quietly along the edge of the field, disappearing into the shadows beneath the willows. The cattle were already acting nervous and were starting to group up near the center of the field. They were circling around the few calves in the herd, protecting them from whatever threat they were sensing.
The cattle started lowing with more intensity. From the higher pitch, William could tell they were sensing trouble coming closer. Although he had yet to see anything, he was starting to feel the tension. He saw a dark shadow flit from one bunch of bushes to another, near the river. Whatever it was, it moved impossibly fast. It moved on all fours, so it had to be a wolf. No bear moved that fast.
Slowly, William cocked back the hammer on his rifle to avoid making too much noise. Even with the precautions, it seemed deafeningly loud in the stillness of the night. The moon was peeking intermittently through the scattered clouds, casting its cold, silvery light on the field in front of him. When the beast stepped out from behind the bushes to slip closer to the fence, William got his first clear look at the creature.
It looked like a wolf, but far larger than any he’d ever seen before. It was also the deep black that one only sees in a cave or when the clouds were thick enough to blot out even the light of the stars. It could be seen moving in the shadows as a darker shadow. Only the feral yellow eyes seemed to glow with a light all their own, made all the clearer by the cold silvery-blue of the moonlight.
Raising his rifle, he sighted in on the beast, placing his sights squarely on the spot just behind the front legs. He wanted to destroy the heart and drop the beast as quickly as possible. A wolf of that size could do considerable damage before it died. If he merely wounded it, the beast could turn on one of them or vanish into the night only to die somewhere deep in the wilds. If that happened, he would never collect on the pelt and he needed that money.
Closing one eye, he was just easing his breathing to take up the slack on the trigger when the resounding boom of a gunshot roared out through the darkness. William saw the muzzle-flash and knew it had been Micah. At a range of less than fifty yards, there was no way that Micah had missed his target. William had seen him drop a deer at twice the range with a single shot.
From the reaction of the beast, William knew that Micah had struck his target. Only, instead of falling, the beast whirled around and headed directly at Micah. Taking careful aim, William knew he had to drop the beast before it could make it to Micah. Otherwise, it would likely tear out his throat before it died.
The boom of Micah’s pistol roared in the darkness and the creature stumbled but didn’t fall. William fired and saw the creature twist and hit the ground, rolling to a stop a few yards short of where Micah sat hidden in the willows. To William’s surprise, the beast got back up and leapt into the willows. That’s when the screaming started.
Getting to his feet, William sprinted towards the willows, drawing his pistol as he ran. Ahead, he could see a black liquid that seemed to coat the ground and the willow leaves, but there was no sign of Micah or the beast. The screaming sounded once more, only this time it gurgled and ceased with a wet crunching sound. The beast had dragged Micah down the embankment near the river.
Just before William reached the edge of the embankment, the creature jumped up in front of him. The beast’s fur glistened an oily black in the moonlight, but William knew it had to be Micah’s blood. Raising his pistol, he shot the beast at almost pointblank range directly in the head. He heard the grunt of pain as the beast fell to the ground. Stepping around the beast, William looked down at the riverbank and saw Micah. His head had been torn from his shoulders and one arm was ripped off at the elbow. Behind him, he heard a strange popping sound, almost like the sound made when you wrung the neck of a chicken.
“Dear God,” cried William.
He started to head down the embankment when he felt hot breath on the back of his neck. The fetid smell of blood and rotten meat enveloped him and his stomach almost emptied its contents.
“Oh no,” he whispered.
He expected to feel the sharp teeth of the beast sink into his skin, but was shocked when a pair of massive hands gripped his neck and lifted him from the ground as if he didn’t weigh an ounce. As the beast turned him around, William could see directly into the beast’s hellish yellow eyes and knew that his feet were dangling over two feet from the ground below him.
“What the hell are you?” he wheezed.
“What… the… hell… are… you?” rumbled the voice of the beast, deep and menacing.
William wasn’t certain if it was an actual question or if it had just repeated what he’d said. Either way, the beast spoke and that thought was terrifying beyond words. He felt his bladder release as he stared into the maw of the beast. It was leaning closer, as if to bite his face off when William heard the gunshot. Jonah had fired his rifle.
William heard the beast grunt softly, but seemed to make no other reaction. It was as if the bullets had done no real damage. William was certain that he was staring into the eyes of the devil himself. With a crunch of bone, the beast tossed William against the embankment. His neck was broken and he couldn’t move, but he wasn’t dead yet. He knew that was only a matter of time.
He watched in horror as the beast turned around and ran on two legs directly at Jonah. He tried to scream for Jonah to run, but his voice would not work. Only a soft moan escaped his lips. He saw Jonah get to his feet and look for a place to run, but the beast was too fast. In a single leap, it was on the roof of the barn and bearing Jonah to the ground. William was grateful that he was far enough away that he couldn’t hear the breaking of the boy’s neck. There was short scream of pain, then the beast stood up holding Jonah’s head. It looked into the eyes for a moment before tossing the head aside like it no longer mattered.
Then, William saw the beast slowly turn its gaze to the small farmhouse. It was going after his beloved Amelia. He tried to scream but words would not come. He tried to force his body to move, but it would not listen. His vision was beginning to fade as he saw the front door smashed open with one massive blow of the beast’s fist. That was the last thing he saw in this world. As the light faded away, the last sounds he heard was the screaming of his wife. Then all sensation was gone.
Days later, when neighbors came to check on the farm because a number of their stock had gotten out and wandered to other farms, they were greeted with a gruesome sight. The house and been completely ransacked and there was blood everywhere. More blood was found on the side of the barn, the roof of the barn, in the field and near the river but no bodies were ever found. No trace of the four missing settlers was ever found.
The stories traveled up and down the river valley. The beast had claimed more victims.
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