[I have previously written out about half of Thomas’ backstory as a short story and that is what I’m using here – or finishing here. The novella style background story will end with Part Two: John]
The year was 1710. Thomas had just gotten married to his sweetheart Jane. They were both living in the Oregon Territory together by 1723. Thomas was spending his free time, which he had plenty of as a friend of the nearby Tillamook tribe, building cabins for future settlers. Thomas and his wife bickered constantly about why they moved all the way to the Oregon Territory only to live by themselves. After a few more years they had a son that they named John after Jane’s father.
“Take John with you to the still. I want some time to myself!” Jane yelled out the door before Thomas could take off. She put the four-year old up on the seat of the homemade wagon that Thomas was pulling and went back into the house. She didn’t appreciate always dealing with the four-year old running around at her feet while Thomas was out.
As Thomas was pulling the wagon John got more and more tired. “I gonna sleep papa,” John managed to say just before he drifted off.
It didn’t take long to get to the still and John began to put it back together. He had made the still by hand with stone and wood with the help of some members of the Tillamook tribe. He took the pieces that he made the night prior and replaced the parts that had shown wear and tear then started working on the next batch. The alcohol traded well with the locals and they were going to need extra food for the upcoming winter. The leftover didn’t hurt for keeping warm either.
John was sleeping rather soundly which didn’t surprise Thomas as he was kept up by John all the previous night. Jane was kept awake all night as well and if John was home right now he definitely would have been under his mother’s feet making her even more cranky.
Thomas was thinking about how keeping parents up all night couldn’t have possibly come from his side of the family he heard the loud snap of a twig being stepped on. Thomas swung the bow from his back and notched an arrow as a habit. He had plenty of time to learn to be a decent shot, and he was better than some of the older Tillamook women.
“Put down your bow, I mean you no harm.” A figure stepped out of the shadows behind a tree, presumably where he stepped on the twig. He was wearing leather garments with feathers sticking out of it seemingly at random.
“You speak english, you’re definitely not of the Tillamook tribe. Who are you?” Thomas lowered the bow slightly.
The indian looked over towards the sleeping John. “Shh, we don’t want to wake your son.” The man’s voice was as quiet as a whisper yet Thomas could hear him. “Whisper and I will still hear you. My name’s Andali Windspeaker and you are Thomas. I am a Penobscot shaman, or warlocke if that’s more to your taste. My tribe is to far to the east from here.”
“Why have you come?”
“The four Wind Brothers sent me to speak to you. I have traveled from across the ocean to speak with you. This is the closest I have been to my homeland in many a year.” Andali took a deep breath and a gentle breeze flowed through the grass. “There are creatures from the legends of my people nearby and are spreading throughout this land. I work with a group that watches over these things and we have found that a foreign man asking questions is less suspicious than a native asking about things he should already know.”
“What should I be asking?”
Another figure entered Thomas’ view. “Why, about the wolf-skin wearers of course. It’s good to see you old friend.”
“Corran? What are you doing here?” Thomas stared at his friend. “You don’t look a moment older than the last time I saw you.”
Corran embraced Thomas with a clasp to the forearm. “I’m working with Andali and a group called the Guardians of Humanity. We monitor strange things around the world in places known and unknown.”
Corran had saved Thomas’ life many times and Thomas trusted him because of that. “So, I ask about the men in the wolf-skin and report to you. When and where will we meet?”
“I’ll be back at the end of the winter. Andali won’t be here, but I will report anything you have to him. We aren’t sure what these men are, so try to keep your head down as much as possible while investigating.” Corran gave Thomas another embrace and turned to leave with Andali.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Oh, and tell Jane I say hello and I wish I could stay around.”
– – –
Thomas pulled John up towards the house with a load of fresh moonshine near to dusk. Outside the house were some of the indians that usually traded with them.
“Thomas, your woman won’t trade with us until you get home. Let her know you’re home so we can trade!” The man spoke in the local dialect of salish that Thomas couldn’t speak very well, but could understand most of the words.
“Jane, I’m home. Unlock the cabin please.” Thomas patted John on the head. “We’re home bud. You don’t have to pretend like you’re asleep now.”
“Andali interesting.” John said as he went into the house to annoy his mother.
“What do you have to trade?” Thomas turned and asked the men in salish.
– – –
A few short weeks into winter Thomas took John with him to the Tillamook village. The winter wasn’t bad just yet and he wanted to stock up on more supplies if he could. Jane was at home chopping some small wood for the fire, no place for a young child to be in the way. Thomas brought some of the alcohol from his still with him to trade as well as some clothes that he and Jane had worked on together.
“Greetings Thomas, how are you doing so far? The winter isn’t too bad yet so I would hope you’re doing well.”
“John, go run along and play with the other children, would you?” Thomas shooed John towards a group of small children playing. “So, I came to trade for goods, but I’d also like some information.” Thomas turned back to the indian behind him. “I’d like to speak with the chief if he’ll allow me.”
“One who has spoken with the Windspeaker is welcome to talk with the chief.” The man led him to the longhouse the chief was staying warm. “Thomas the fire-water man wishes to speak with you my chief.”
“Yes, please leave us to talk alone. A man who has talked with a Windspeaker deserves privacy.” The other residents of the longhouse other than the chief’s wife left. “Anything you have to ask me my wife can hear.”
“I wish to know of the wolf-skin wearers. Ancient stories of your people and encounters in more recent times. Anything you know. I will thank you by leaving you fire-water twice of what I pay for.” Saying he would pay them for this knowledge wouldn’t be accepted, but wording it as a gift might.
“I accept the gift only because I know it is the way of your people to trade for information, but I would tell you this freely without a ‘gift’.
“The wolf-skin wearers originate in an ancient story shared by many peoples in this region. The prevalent story is of the curse of a powerful shaman, or what your people would call a warlocke.
“A man went to the shaman to ask about the whereabouts of a great wolf spirit. He said he wanted to gain knowledge from the spirit and the shaman believed him. The shaman told the man where to find the spirit, but warned him saying, ‘do not betray the spirit of the wolf for if you do then you will be cursed forever.’ As the shaman said this he asked the spirits to bind this man to his word. Your people would call this a spell I believe.
“The man, not knowing that the shaman was asking spirits to bind the man to his word spoke with his second tongue, promising something he did not intend to keep. Then, unknowing he was bound to his word, the man left the shaman. He gathered his bow and arrows and knife with him to begin the journey to the wolf spirit.
“On his way to the wolf spirit the man got his left hand crushed under a rock. The rock had seemed sturdy until he tried to lift himself up onto it. If he were a wise man he may have realized there what he was doing, but he was not wise. He continued up the side of a mountain to meet with the great wolf spirit, discarding his bow and arrows along the way, but keeping his knife with him.
“When he finally reached the top of the mountain the wolf spirit commended him for his perseverance and tried to talk him out of what was in his heart.
“While the spirit was talking the man threw his knife into the wolf spirit’s eye then grabbed the knife and stabbed the wolf spirit in the heart with such force it was torn to shreds. The man then skinned the wolf spirit and took the hide home.
“The man began to treat the hide to fashion clothes out of it but didn’t finish by the next full moon. That is when the curse of the shaman took hold. The man was turned into a corrupt wolf spirit that night and went on a rampage. He bit every man he saw, spreading the curse, until one man stood against him and slew him.
“That is our story. I have not seen the wolf-skin wearers become wolves, but the act of wearing the skins of wolves may prevent them from transforming.”
Thomas had pulled out a journal at the beginning of the story and had written down most of what the chief had said. “Today you decide what you want to give me and I’ll leave all the fire-water here for you to do with what you will.”
– – –
Thomas and John were out hunting. John wasn’t exactly helpful with the hunt yet, but it was more fun for both of them with him there. Thomas hadn’t gotten much of a lead on the wolf-skin wearers in a while and was glad to have a break. John was having fun playing in the snow and he was probably scaring what little animals were out at the time.
“Well, how long should we be hunting, John?” Thomas knew that John would want to stay out all day ‘hunting’ but was secretly hoping he would want to go home.
“All day! All day!” John rolled a ball of snow across the ground making a big ball, then he jumped on it and squished it. “It’s fun to hunt in winter!”
By the end of the day Thomas had actually managed to shoot two rabbits that were currently tied to the sled. John didn’t like riding next to the dead animals so he was helping Thomas pull the sled when they got to the house.
The first thing that Thomas noticed as they got closer was that there was no smoke coming out of the chimney. That was odd, but maybe Jane just didn’t notice the fire had gone out yet. The second thing he noticed as he got close crushed his hope. The door was no longer hanging on the frame, it was lying on the ground.
Thomas turned to John and said, “stay here, I’ll be back for you later.”
John stared wide-eyed at the door and nodded. “Make sure mama’s ok.”
Thomas fair to flew into that house. He was glad that he had left John by the sled when he saw the scene inside. His wife was lying in a pile of her own blood with an obsidian knife in her back. On the floor next to her written in blood was a message in english. “Stop asking about us or the child is next.”
Thomas returned to John and started pulling the sled to the TIllamook village. John caught the somberness of the mood, sat on the sled next to the dead rabbits and cried. After Thomas dropped off John at the village he went back and buried Jane. After that he took all the valuables out of the house and burned it to the ground. They would be staying at another cabin now.
– – –
“Look Thomas, we can’t tell you anything else. It’s for your own good.” The chief sounded sad, like he had this argument many times over the last month.
“They killed Jane and you won’t tell me where they are? They just stabbed her. There were no signs of a struggle; they took her by surprise and stabbed her in the back. You say not telling me is for my own good, but I say I need closure. I don’t want to die, but that is a small price to pay for justice.”
“Think of John. He can’t lose two parents in one winter, it would destroy him. I would tell you more about these wolf-skin wearers but I’ve already told you all I know.”
“All you know except where I can go to avenge my wife!” Thomas started picking up things and throwing them. “Where can I find them?!”
The chief said something to his wife who ran out of the longhouse door. “I can’t tell you. You wouldn’t be the only one affected by finding out where they are; they would come after the whole tribe.”
Two large men came into the longhouse. “These two will escort you and John home, but I can offer no assistance beyond that. Once you’re home they will return to the village. I hope you stay safe. I really do.”
Later that night Thomas heard strange sounds coming from outside the cabin. He pulled his flintlock from under the bed, checked on John, and made his way outside. Once outside he followed the sound south. He glanced up towards the stars once and noticed the moon was full but he made no connection.
He found the source of the noise when he found himself surrounded by six large wolves.
“So, the legend is true then.” Thomas said as he shot the closest wolf in the head. The other wolves bit him multiple times and the six of them left him to die. Humans are weak during the first few days after they’re bit before they become werewolves, then very few things will kill them. Leaving Thomas out in the wilderness was their way of saying he was unworthy of joining them.
– – –
John heard a gunshot go off and he jumped out of bed. Thomas almost never shot that old gun but he had shown it off to John once and he remembered the sound. John dressed hurriedly and rushed outside. He saw the tracks leading from the cabin south and started to pull the sled. It wasn’t easy to do but he was worried that he was going to lose his father shortly after his mother.
When John arrived on the scene his father had many slowly oozing wounds all over. John pulled the knife out of its sheathe and cut strips off of the cloth on the bottom of the sled. He couldn’t get the bandages very tight but he figured it was better than nothing. The hardest part would be getting his father onto the sled itself.
John looked through the contents and found a few piece of rope and a couple sets of tent poles. He tied a couple of the poles together at one end and used some of the rope to tie what was left of the fabric to the travoy. He had seen some of the indians make things like this but he didn’t know what they were called. He rolled his father onto the travoy and pulled it like a sled to the house. He got his father inside where it was warm and went back for the sled.
By the time John was done moving all of the heavy things around the adrenaline had work off and he was barely able to force himself to put firewood on the fire. He didn’t know how to build one and it didn’t look like his father would be making another fire for a few days.
– – –
Thomas weakly cried out to his son. “John, water. I need water.” John ran over to his father. “Icicles from roof. Melt them.”
John grabbed the small cooking pot and went outside to fill it with the icicles clinging to the edge of the roof. He put as many as he could reach into the pot then went back inside with it. He put some more wood on the fire and grabbed one of the icicles. He wrapped one end of it in a clean cloth and held the other end just above his father’s mouth. His mother had done that for him one winter when he was sick.
“Thankyou.” Thomas sounded a little better with moisture in his mouth. “Now I think you might need to replace these bandages. Use my bed sheets. They’re cleaner than whatever you used before, but good job. Not many adults would think on their feet like that.”
John started to cut strips from the blanket that was still on his father’s bed. He had covered Thomas with the other one on the floor. “I didn’t think, I just did.” There was a hint of pride in John’s voice.
“Well, we aren’t through this yet. I’ll be weak for a couple more days at least. Maybe I can get on the be-” Thomas passed out. John ran back over to him and checked that he was still breathing by first holding his hand out to see if he could feel his breath on his hand then when he couldn’t feel it he held a small scrap of cloth in front of his nose.
John let out a sigh of relief as he went back to cutting bandages and replacing the old ones.
– – –
A few days later Thomas finally convinced John that he felt completely fine. “I can jump without any problems.” Thomas jumped and hit his head on the oil lamp. “Ouch! Well, at least no problems caused by my wounds.”
“Ok, but I’m coming with you.” John tried his best to look stern, but it looked cute to his father.
“Fine, squirt.” Thomas handed him his coat and opened the door. “You first.” John didn’t move forward out of the door. Thomas turned back to see someone standing in the door.
“Hello,” Corran said. “I know we were supposed to meet after winter but I heard somebody was asking too many questions about the wolf-skin wearers. Are you alright?”
“They’re werewolves,” Thomas replied curtly. “They killed Jane and expected me to just sit tight and not find out who they were. Then, when I kept trying to find out where they’re staying they mauled me under a full moon. I would’ve died if it wasn’t for John here. I’m not sure how many days ago it was, I was pretty sick for a while there.”
“You think you got infected?”
“That’s what I said.”
Corran threw a lavender plant at Thomas. “Here, catch.”
Thomas grabbed the flowered end and felt an immediate burning sensation. “Gah!” He dropped the plant as quickly as he had caught it. “What is that stuff!?”
“It’s call wolfsbane. You’re one now, but it sounds like they wanted you to die in the wilderness. Come with me you two, once they know you survived they will come back to finish the job.” Corran started pouring water on the fire. “Pack up whatever you want to keep and leave everything else.”
Thomas and John hurriedly packed what they wanted to keep and joined Corran outside of the cabin.
“How are we traveling,” asked Thomas, “the wind of Andali?”
“Pick up John and try to keep up. You’re new so that’ll probably slow us some.” Corran started off in a sprint and when Thomas matched his speed he started going faster.
He repeated this several times until the world was a blur and Thomas was just barely keeping up with him. Thomas tried to ask how this was happening but the wind kept whipping the words out of his mouth.
~Part One: Thomas End~