Moonlit Cave

by Jason Rimbaud

JasonRimbaud@live.com

The light the moon showed him that the tide had finally started to rise; the water had just started to enter the mouth of the cave where he had awakened hours earlier. He tugged absently at the shackle on his left wrist. After a few hours, he had given up the hope of removing the stake that was driven into the center of the small-cave floor. He peered off into the night sky and tried to judge how much time he had until the water swallowed him, leaving him to drown alone.

In the intervening hours from when he first woke up, he went back over the events of the last two days. Back to when it all changed, to the moment when the townsfolk realized something was dreadfully wrong with the newcomer to their sleepy little hamlet.

He had been riding hard all day trying to get to the next lodging before the setting of the sun. And when he topped the slow rise of the hill and saw the village glowing brightly in the setting sun, he urged his tired horse to go even faster. There was just enough time to procure a room and settle in for the night.

He had little trouble finding the small inn with a creaky sign that depicted a galloping horse; it was the largest building in the small hamlet. The moment he had stopped in front of the inn, a young stable boy quickly ran outside to grab his horse. Their eyes met, youthful blue and hardened green, and in that moment there seemed to be an instant connection between them.

The lad had long, flowing blond hair and couldn’t have seen more than sixteen years. An impetuous smile broke out on the lad’s face as he stared up at the newcomer. Youthfulness mixed with raw sexuality almost drove the rider to continue his journey. Then the wind shifted, and the boy’s scent filled his nostrils. Innocence and desire flooded his senses and made his blood run cold. The nightmares were always the strongest in the presence of such innocence. He would need to hurry if he was to keep the nightmares away this night.

The water had reached his bare feet now. He peered out into the sky, dreading that it was brighter now. The light of the full moon was pouring into the cave and only ten feet away from bathing him in its light. He took a step back, only to be stopped by the shackle on his arm. His eyes darted back and forth as he fought the panic that crept in with each wave that crashed into the mouth of the cave. He feared that he would run out of time before it was too late.

He looked down at the boy and demanded a room, the smallest room with no windows. The boy, Frederick, hinted that he could show the man a room if he were to only wait for him to stable the horse. But one glance at the sky, told the rider he would not have time. He almost ran into the inn, and after ordering the innkeeper to bar his door from without, he then instructed him to keep the door closed until daybreak no matter what he heard inside the room. He promised extra coin, enough coin that he could have purchased the small inn if the innkeeper would follow his instructions to the letter.

He closed the door, barricaded it from the inside and then quickly began preparing two full doses of nightshade. He remembered noticing the nightshade was old, the leaves brittle, and he was fearful the herbs were too old to provide him with the dreamless sleep he so craved. The night before, he had wakened an hour before daybreak and nearly had been consumed by the nightmares. This night he would take no chances, not with the youth so close by with the alluring scent that he could still sense faintly.

The water had reached his knees now, and the light of the moon was not yet upon him. He had moved back into the darkness as far as he could go, pulling so hard on the shackled hand that blood flowed freely into the rising water that was promising a gruesome death.

He couldn’t blame the townsfolk for their superstitions or their assumptions. After all, he had been found near the body of the murdered boy, naked and covered in blood. What were they suppose to think with the once-handsome youth lying there with deep gashes to his chest and his throat ripped open.

The townsfolk would never understand that he, even more than they, never wanted the boy to come to harm. He had done everything in his power to save the boy. But as had been for thirty years, he was not strong enough to stand up to his nightmares.

The water was at his chest now, it would only be minutes before the water would completely cover him and thus bring the death he feared, yet craved at the same time. The light of the moon was inches from his face, his green eyes almost glowing in the pale light. And for the first time since he had awakened in the cave, he felt hope. He was so close to finally finding peace from the nightmares.

He knew the signs. This had not been the first scent of a boy that drove his emotions raging like a river breaking free from its banks. But this was the first time he felt a chance that there was someone else to share in the burden of his nightmares.

And though the allure of the boy was almost unbearable, he instinctively knew he could never burden another human with the nightmares he experienced nightly. That is why he had taken a double dose of nightshade. He hoped that with the coming dawn, he could be away from the boy and his overwhelming scent.

A growl escaped his throat but he choked back the urge to raise his head and howl. The water was now splashing in his mouth, and he could feel his end approaching. He looked towards the opening of the cave, the water was now so high it almost cut off the light of the moon—almost. He began thrashing backwards in the moment he realized the light would hit his face at any moment. He was so close to freedom. Yet each time he pulled against the shackle, his head would dip below the surface of the water. He was openly growling now, the nightmares threatening to take hold no matter how hard he tried to suppress them.

And just as the water threatened to cover his head, the light of the moon hit him in the eye. His green eyes turned yellow as he slipped under the surface of the water. For a moment, the cave was silent except for the crashing of the waves into the walls. Then suddenly, the surface of the water erupted, and the source of his nightmare emerged with a howl.

His once handsome features were transformed into the snout of a wolf, his slender frame replaced with rippling muscles that were covered in hair, and long claws extended from his hands. All thought of the man he used to be was gone; now all he knew was a primal urge that he could no longer control. He howled loudly, the sound echoing off the walls of the cave; then he dived into the water and swam towards the opening of the cave.

His long arms and powerful legs propelled his body quickly out of the cave and onto the shore. Once there, he paused long enough to shake the water free from his body. He lifted his head and howled loudly into the face of the moon.

He heard the men approaching long before any human would. He growled; these were the same men that shackled him and left him for dead. He growled, low and menacing, before running on all fours toward the unsuspecting men who were coming to witness their handiwork.

He was upon them before they knew what was happening. Two of the men were down, their throats ripped out before they could utter a sound. The other three men were not so lucky. They lasted long enough to hear the screams as he ripped them to pieces.

He paused, licking the blood from his lips. Then he lifted his head and howled triumphantly into the night. He took a deep breath and tested the wind to see if there were any more humans lurking about. But as he lifted his long snout, he caught a familiar scent coming from the hill overlooking the hamlet. He whimpered softly before taking off with long strides towards the smell that had been haunting him all day.

He was running on instinct now. He bypassed the hamlet, ignoring the desire to descend on the inhabitants and exact his revenge for the way he was treated. Instead, he circled the hamlet and headed towards the hill on the far side of town.

The slope of the bluff did little to slow his stride, and once he arrived at the top, he stopped at the newly turned earth that was Frederick’s grave. He lifted his head and howled before he dropped on all fours and started digging fervently. His powerful claws ripped through the freshly turned earth, and in moments he had ripped open the box that trapped the boy inside.

The boy was laid out inside the coffin, wrapped in a single cloth that had been stained with blood. He tore open the fabric and paused as he peered into the face of the boy who had drawn him like a moth to a flame. The boy’s face was covered in slashes, his skin ashen and pale. He once again howled into the night before removing the body, and with a gentleness that he didn’t know he possessed, he walked towards the edge of the clearing before placing the body on the ground in the center of a beam of moonlight.

For a moment, he watched in curiosity as the boy was bathed in the light of the moon. He reached out with one clawed hand and gently pushed against the lifeless body. He believed he had been too late, and in sorrow that bore thirty years of pain, he raised his head and howled out in despair.

Suddenly Frederick’s eyes opened; eyes the color of the sun flashed in the moonlight. Once the transformation was complete, the beast sniffed Frederick and whined loudly. Frederick’s tongue lolled out and licked the face before him. Newly mated, they lifted their faces to the moon and howled in glee. They turned towards the trees and took off with a loping gait towards their future and the rest of their lives together.