A Walter Ulric Story
By Ian Wilson (Rated G)
John Fogerty crooned on the jukebox as the scent of food and beer wafted through the air. It was a typical evening at Granny’s Bar, and the usual patrons sat in their usual spots just as they had five years ago; that was the last time I’d been here. All eyes rested on me as I swaggered in through the saloon doors. They looked like they’d just seen a ghost; in a way, I guess they had.
A cheerful man in a hawaiian shirt approached me grinning from ear to ear.
“Walter!” he cried, jovially. “You son of a gun! I ain’t seen you since they put your old man in the ground! How are ya? Where have you been? Everybody here thought you were dead!”
“I’m doin’ alright, Perry,” I replied. “I’ve been here and there. This is Conrad Lefontain, my traveling companion.”
“How do you do,” said Conrad, shaking Perry’s hand.
“Welcome to North Fork. I’m Perry Wankle, postman. Gonna be here long?”
“I don’t know yet,” I replied.
“You better not,” rumbled a voice from my left. Joey Reed, all six foot five inches, loomed up.
“Howdy Joey,” I responded. “Eat any good books lately?”
“What’re you doing back here?” he asked.
“Getting a beer,” I said. “What’s it to ya?”
“We thought you were dead,” continued the lummox.
“So I gathered,” I replied.
“You’re gonna wish you were!”
“Now wait a minute, men,” said Perry, “let’s have no undue fussing!”
Disregarding Perry, Joey came in for a right hook punch, which I ducked. Then I punched him in the gut. Joey doubled over.
“I’m gonna assume that name you made for yourself wasn’t a good one,” remarked Conrad.
Straightening up, Joey wound up for another strike; Conrad, however, stepped between us, holding up his hands.
“Listen man, I don’t know what y’all have been through,” he began, “but whatever it was is in the past now. Just gotta let it go.”
Joey grunted like an ape.
A short, white-haired woman scuttled out of the kitchen with a wooden spoon. There was a loud smacking sound as the spoon impacted Joey Reed’s hind parts.
“Shame on you, Joey Reed!” Granny chirped in her quaint Appalachian drawl. “Startin’ a fight with Walter on his first night back in town after five years! Now, get outta my bar before I call the sheriff!”
Joey hurried out of the bar with his tail between his legs.
“Welcome home, Walter,” said Granny.
“Thanks, Granny,” I replied. Everyone called her Granny. She was Granny for practically the whole darn town.
“This Conrad Lefontain,” I said, gesturing to my friend.
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am” said Conrad, smiling slightly.
“Everyone calls me Granny round these parts,” said the elderly woman. “Come! Sit down! Can I get you anything?”
“The usual,” I replied.
“I’ll have whatever he’s having,” said Conrad.
“Coming right up!”
I ambled to the bar and sat down on the stool. Conrad followed suit.
Sam was tending the bar, his eyeballs seemed like they were glued to me, wide as saucers.
“Sam,” I said, nodding.
“Walter,” returned Sam as he slid our beers across the bar.
The bell over the door jingled as the tall, broad-shouldered sheriff entered the bar. Removing his brown Stetson, Sheriff Donne greeted Granny as any Appalachian gentleman would. A pretty young woman entered behind the sheriff, wearing a deputy’s uniform. I recognized her, but I couldn’t place her. She looked like she was Native; probably Shawnee tribe, though I wasn’t sure. Her brown eyes locked on me with the intensity of a sniper.
“Walter,” said Sheriff Donne, “I heard you were back in town, but I almost didn’t believe it.”
“Howdy Sheriff,” I greeted. “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
Sheriff Donne chuckled. “This is my new deputy, Julia,” said the sheriff, gesturing to his deputy. “You know Walter Ulric, right? Must’ve met him in high school.”
“By reputation; we didn’t run in the same circles.” From her tone, she wasn’t all that impressed. “We heard there was a little disturbance here, came to check it out.”
“Everything’s all settled, Charlie,” said Granny. She was the only person in town allowed to call him Charlie.
“Good,” said Sheriff Donne. He sat down at the bar to my left. “Now how about some of that lemon meringue pie?”
“Mighty peculiar things have been going on since you hit the road,” said Perry.
“Perry, let’s not have that,” said the Sheriff. “Walt’s only been back five whole minutes.”
The postman had piqued my interest. “What sorta peculiar things, Perry?” I asked.
“Well, folks have been seeing the Goat-Man again,” replied Perry.
The skin on my back crawled.
“Say what?” inquired Conrad.
“The Goat-Man,” said Perry.
“I have a feeling I wanna know this story,” said Conrad. Perry took a deep breath and began to repeat the tale just as he’d told me when I was just a 12-year-old boy.
“Well, the Goat-Man is a half-man, half-goat monster who lives in the woods here in Swaggart County. They say if you see the Goat-Man, death is certain to follow by the next new moon.”
“Where did it come from?” asked Conrad.
“Outside,” I replied.
“Outside of what?” inquired Deputy Julia, who’d been listening attentively.
“Some call it ‘Hell’,” I replied.
“Walter?” It was the familiar, booming voice of my uncle, Jimmy Craig.
“Uncle Jimmy,” I replied, swivelling around on my stool.
“Where the Sam Hill have you been, boy?” he inquired. His face puckered like he’d just bitten an extremely sour pickle.
“Here and there,” I replied.
My Aunt Mary stood next to him with her hands on her hips.
“Your mother has been worried sick!” she scolded. “Why didn’t you tell her you were back in town?”
“Well, I needed a beer,” I said, sheepishly.
“We’ve got beer back at the farm!” retorted Uncle Jimmy.
“Hello, I’m Conrad LeFontain, his travelling companion and distraction from awkward conversations.”
“Howdy,” said Uncle Jimmy, cordially before turning back to me. “Get yourself back to your mother before I tan your hide!”
We departed the bar as Uncle Jimmy requested, and started for the farmhouse.
The aggressive barking of two bull terriers greeted me as I dismounted my motorcycle and stepped onto the dimly lit gravel drive. I stood stock still as the canines sniffed me suspiciously. They each wore a leather collar studded with long spikes, a silver Celtic cross hanging from the ring. When I’d left the farm, we’d had a bullmastiff named Arnold; I figured he’d passed on, and Ma got these two to replace him.
“Smith! Wesson!” said Uncle Jimmy. “Stand down!”
The muscular dogs sat down quietly, allowing Conrad and I onto the front porch. I slowly ascended the steps, and, taking a deep breath, opened the front door.
“Ma, I’m home!”
Tears rolled down my mother’s cheeks as she wrapped her arms around me. For a long time, we held that embrace. This was the thing that I missed more than anything on this farm. As far as I’d roamed and as long as I’d been away, it was good to be back home. Ma finally pulled away and said: “Where have you been?”
“Been here and there,” I replied. “It doesn’t matter, now. I’m home and ain’t going away anytime soon.”
Conrad came in at this point and stood by, awkwardly waiting for my mother and I to take notice.
“Oh, this is Conrad LeFontain. We’ve been travelling together.”
“Hello, Mrs. Ulric,” said Conrad.
“Did you do anything with my old room?” I inquired.
“It’s almost exactly as you left it,” said Ma. “Most of the town thought you were dead, but I held out hope you’d come home.”
“No way!” said my cousin Katherine. She crossed her arms and slouched slightly in that irritating way teenage girls do.
“I am not spending another night next door to the thing that wouldn’t stop snoring!”
“Katherine, your cousin’s been away for a long time, you might mind your manners,” said Ma.
“Does your whole family live in this house?” asked Conrad.
“Not my father’s side, but you already knew that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Conrad, I don’t have another bed prepared for you,” said Ma. “But our couch is open if you need somewhere to crash.”
“I’m good,” replied Conrad. “I brought my camping trailer.”
“Lemme warm you boys some supper.”
“That’d be great, Ma.”
“I’m so glad you’re home!”
Next morning came in grey and cloudy. I rose just as breakfast was concluding for everyone else. It was the first good night’s sleep I’d had in five years.
“Morning, Walt,” said Ma as I entered the kitchen. “Sleep well?”
“Mighty fine,” I replied. “Conrad around?”
“He’s been out on the lawn doing some kinda weird dance,” said Uncle Jimmy.
Conrad was religious about his martial arts training, and practiced his forms nearly every morning.
“So what do you plan on doing now that you’re back in town?” said Aunt Mary.
“I don’t rightly know, Aunt Mary” I replied, taking a bite of sausage. “Maybe work the farm for a while.”
“Could use an extra set of hands,” added Uncle Jimmy.
There was a knock at the door. Ma turned the knob and drew it open for a red-haired, bearded man in his late 20s, wearing black clothing and clerical collar.
“Steve!” I said, jumping from my seat. “Come on in! You finally made it through seminary I see. Congratulations!”
I pulled out a chair for the priest.
“Where have you been, Walter?” he asked.
“Here and there,” I replied.
“That was specific,” said Father Steve sarcastically.
“He’s been that detailed with everyone,” said Katherine.
“When I heard you were back in town I almost didn’t believe it,” said Steve. “Everyone assumed you were dead.”
“Never called, never wrote,” said my Ma as she went out the door to tend the land.
“I even had a prayer vigil for you,” added Steve.
“Well, I’ve been pretty much everywhere in the continental US and part of Canada,” I said with a shrug. “We’ll have to have a word about that.”
“We will,” said Steve. “But I didn’t come here to goad you into coming to church.”
“Come into my office,” I said, leading the minister out to the front porch. Conrad was stretching his legs nearby and I called him over. I had a feeling I knew what the minister was here to talk with me about.
“This is Conrad LeFontain,” I said. “He’s a member of the Fraternity of St. Michael.”
The two shook hands.
“This is about the Goat-Man isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yup,” replied Steve. “He’s definitely back again. And people are dying.”
“How many?” I asked.
“Three, thus far.”
“That’s bad,” I said. The understatement of the century.
“I’m getting the feeling y’all have dealt with this Goat-Man before,” said Conrad.
“We did,” said the minister.
“We sent it back to where it came from for a time,” I said, “but apparently it’s back again and stirring up trouble.”
“What exactly is it?” asked Conrad.
“I believe it to be a type of demonic entity of uninhabited places,” said Steve. “It feeds on human life-force.”
“I see,” said Conrad. “Do either of you know how it came in?”
“We were just kids when it happened last,” said Steve. “We didn’t know about the point of entry and all that stuff.”
Conrad nodded. “Where is it seen most frequently?”
“Near Devil’s Holler,” I replied.
“A fitting name. Take me there.”
The foetid scent of rotting leaves and something I couldn’t identify enshrouded the holler as we entered. Conrad looked around.
“Yup,” he said. “We’re getting close.”
“How… how do you know?” asked the minister.
“It’s a gift,” said Conrad, “or a curse.”
Conrad is sort of a human geiger counter for preternatural energy. He can sense the spiritual realm better than anyone I’ve ever met.
We followed him through the dead leaves and briars until we came to an old shack. Conrad approached the structure.
“Um, Conrad,” I said, “I don’t think that’s a smart idea.”
Ignoring me, Conrad opened the door of the shack with a loud creaking noise. The foul stench of death and decay emanated from within. Choking slightly, Conrad entered the wooden structure. We crept quietly and carefully around the small kitchen. Insects droned in the next room. I followed my ears to a gruesome sight; the rotting body of a man seated in an old rocking chair, an old sickle lodged between his ribs. The minister nearly vomited.
“We need to call the sheriff,” I said in a monotone voice.
Soon enough, Sheriff Donne and all three of his deputies, plus the county coroner swarmed the shack, taking evidence and asking us questions.
“And you have no idea who this man was?” asked Julia.
“Nope,” I responded. “Never seen him before. Of course some of his face ain’t there anymore, so it’s hard to tell. Plus I’ve been away five years.”
“And why was it you were in his shack?”
I took a long drag on my cigarillo.
“Conrad sensed something weren’t right.” I replied.
“You’re acting like it was me that killed him!” I said, exasperated. “I just got to town last night, and that feller’s been dead for a week or more!”
“I’m trying to find the truth, Mr. Ulric,” replied Julia. “Now if you won’t tell me what the devil you were doing in the shack then I’ll just ask Mr. LeFontain, or Father Steven.”
“They’ll tell you the same story.”
If I’m being honest, I sort of enjoyed being grilled by Julia; I’ve always been attracted to intelligent women. However, we had more important things to focus our attention on.
“Julia,” said Sheriff Donne, “take it easy on Walter. There’s no way they had anything to do with this.”
With that, the interview was over. They carried the body to the morgue along with the evidence they’d gathered. Conrad, Steve and I were free to go.
“What now?” asked Steve.
“We come back,” I replied. “Tonight.”
The cool, dark forest yielded no sound that night. Not even a cricket. The only audible sound was our boots in the autumn leaf litter. Steve carried a bright flashlight, and a water gun filled with holy water. Conrad also had a small flashlight; who knows what all else he was carrying. I had my trusty revolver loaded with silver bullets, plus a few other things. Thanks to being a werewolf, my night vision is good enough that I don’t need a flashlight.
A putrid odor filled my nostrils as we neared Devil’s Holler. Conrad staggered.
“You alright?” asked Steve.
“I’ll be okay,” replied Conrad, leaning against an oak. “There’s just a lot of evil energy here.”
“Need a minute?” I asked.
I scanned the shadows, searching for whatever might be lurking in those haunted woods. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, but whatever it was melted into the night.
“Walt!” hissed Steve, his eyes transfixed on a point somewhere behind me.
Two points of light burned out of the black like twin candle flames, staring at us with predatory intensity. I drew my revolver and aimed it at the creature; whether it was the Goat Man I didn’t know; could’ve been a black bear or a wild hog. Either way, it posed a threat.
Whatever it was darted away into the dark. Paying no attention to the branches and briars in our way, we chased after the thing. A tree root decided to place itself conveniently in my way, causing me to fall flat in my face. The thing, whether it was actually the Goat-Man or not, had vanished.
“You alright?” asked Steve as he helped me off the forest floor. I responded in the affirmative.
“It’s gone now,” said Conrad.
“Was it… him?” asked Steve.
“Definitely,” replied Conrad.
“We’ll have to strategize before he kills again,” I stated.
The alpacas made their strange bleating noises from the next pasture over as I slung hay into the trailer. I had been surprised that Ma had sold the cattle for those weird camel-sheep, but apparently it was a good investment. They were lower maintenance than cows, and the fur was warm. Conrad sneezed.
“Hay fever?” I inquired.
“Yeah,” replied Conrad.
He produced one of those middle-eastern scarves and wrapped it around his face.
“Better,” he said, slinging another bale into the trailer.
“We ain’t got all day!” said Uncle Jimmy from his seat in the tractor, straw hat drooping over his eyes.
“I don’t see you lifting a finger,” I replied.
“Someone’s got to supervise.”
“Walter!” called Ma from the other side of the fence.
I smiled, placing my hands on my hips. Ma looked at me with an expression that was not quite a scowl, but it wasn’t a smile either. My lips drooped.
“Deputy Julia is here to see you,” she said.
“What about?” I asked.
“She didn’t say,” responded Ma. “You better not be getting into trouble again.”
“I ain’t in trouble, least not that I know of.”
I approached the front porch, where the deputy sheriff stood. She looked at me with a concerned expression. I couldn’t picture what could’ve made her look that way.
“Deputy,” I said, nodding my head.
“Mr. Ulric,” she said.
“Call me Walter,” I stated.
“Mr. Ulric, I saw something last night that I can’t quite explain.”
“Sit down,” I said, indicating an old wooden chair. She took her seat, and I settled in an adjacent chair, leaning forward attentively.
“I believe I saw the Goat-Man last night,” she said hesitantly.
“You alright?” I asked after a brief pause.
“I don’t know yet,” she replied. “I don’t know what to think yet. I’m still trying to find a rational explanation.”
“There ain’t one,” I stated, glibly. “Where did you see it?”
“Out on McDougal’s Road,” she replied.
“Sounds about right. What time?”
“I saw it on my jog at daybreak.”
I scratched my short, stubbly beard, and pondered the implications.
“You’ve been marked for death,” I said.
Julia rang her hands.
“I thought it was just some made-up story to scare children.”
“That’s what they all think,” I said.
“Is it true, then?” asked Julia, changing her tone.
“Is what true?” I inquired, not sure to what she was referring.
“That you’re a werewolf?”
I paused for a moment; it was sort of a badly kept secret that I was a werewolf. Few folks in North Fork hadn’t heard about it, and about half of them didn’t believe it.
“Yes,” I said at last.
Julia seemed a bit taken aback.
“How do you handle it?” she asked.
“I just do,” I replied. “Everyone has a burden to bear; mine just happens to have big teeth, lots of hair and a taste for red meat.”
“What do I do now?” asked Julia, getting back to the problem at hand.
“You help me send that thing back where it came from for good.”
The nearly full moon rose into a naked sky, illuminating the lawn outside Julia’s home when we arrived. I stepped up on the front porch, pressed the bell with my index finger and waited. A rather stout woman wearing a pink robe, her hair wrapped in a purple towel. Her eyes practically popped out of her head when she saw me.
“Howdy, Cassandra,” I said amiably. “What’s new?”
“W-Walter?!” she exclaimed.
“Yeah, I know, you thought I was dead.”
Leaning on the doorpost, she placed her hand on her hip and asked: “What are you doing here?”
“He’s here to help me.”
Julia emerged from the interior of the house, dressed in blue jeans with holes in the knees and a West Virginia State Police Academy tee shirt. Her hair was down for once. Cassandra turned around, tilting her head to one side.
“Julia?! What the heck?”
“I need his help for something,” said Julia.
Marching over to Julia, Cassandra took the deputy by the arm and ushered her into the next room.
“What’s going on?” asked Conrad. He, of course, didn’t know our history.
“Cassandra and I dated in high school.” I replied.
“Do you have this effect on most women?”
“Cassandra was one of the first people to find out I was a werewolf.”
Cassandra and Julia emerged from the next room.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” said Cassandra, wagging her finger in my face. “Anything happens to her, you’re dead.”
“Nothing’s going to happen, Cass,” said Julia as she put an elastic around her hair and a pistol on her hip.
“That ain’t gonna do you much good,” said Conrad.
“Besides, you’re staying in here,” I added.
“No I’m not,” retorted Julia.
I squinted at her.
“It’s my life that’s in danger, Mr. Ulric, and I’m the one that’ll defend it.”
“Then you ain’t going out there unarmed,” said Father Steve as he handed her a water gun.
Julia looked up at him like he was out of his mind.
“It’s loaded with holy water,” said the clergyman.
Rolling her eyes, she took the gun and placed it in her back pocket.
The hours passed in silence as Julia and I sat on the porch, drinking coffee and breathing in the cool air. Cassandra came out through the screen door, holding a large bowl.
“I made popcorn,” she said, handing the bowl to Julia. “Reckoned you might get hungry.”
“Thanks, Cass,” I said. She said nothing in reply to me, returning to the house.
“What all happened between you two?”
“We dated in high school. She found out I’m a werewolf. Some bad crap happened.”
“You are by far the most tight-lipped person I have ever met,” said Julia, drawing legs up on the porch and leaning her chin on her knees.
“I value my privacy,” I responded through a mouthful of popcorn.
“You went to the State Police academy?” I asked.
“Yup,” she replied.
“Now who’s being tight-lipped?”
She glared back at me. I gathered that this wasn’t a discussion she wanted to have, and let it rest. Taking my walkie-talkie from my belt, I pressed the call button and said:
“Getting anything, Conrad?”
“Nothing, yet. What’s that crunching sound?”
“Do you have snacks?” I heard Father Steve ask.
“You really shouldn’t lie to a priest!”
“Fine. Yes, we have snacks!”
“Not sharing because…?”
“I’ll take them some popcorn,” said Julia. “Good grief! You’re just like children!”
Several minutes passed. I figured she’d just gotten to chatting, but she didn’t seem the chatty type.
“Hey, I thought you were coming with snacks?” said Conrad through the walkie.
“Uh… Julia was supposed to bring it.”
My heart pounded through my chest. Leaping from the porch, I raced to the side of the house where I last saw Julia. A single, white, canvas shoe, the one Julia had been wearing, lay on the lawn. Conrad and Steve joined me by the discarded footwear.
“Well… Crap,” I said.
Conrad led the way into the woods, following the trail of dark energy as fast as he could. The putrid scent of the congealed malice overwhelmed my nostrils, growing stronger by the minute. Finally, we arrived at Devil’s Holler. There he was: Goat-Man, half-dragging, half-carrying Julia, a look of absolute terror on her face. The creature turned its vile head back to look at me, eyes full of spite. Drawing my six-shooter, I trained the weapon on the demon. Instantly, the Goat-Man vanished, taking Julia with him. Hissing a curse under my breath, I bounded after him.
Down in the deepest part of the holler, I caught him. The Goat-Man lowered the struggling Julia into the a large, perfectly circular hole opened in the earth: a hell-hole.
I loosed two silver bullets from my weapon.The hell-beast buckled, melting into a puddle of black slime, and oozed into the hole. I ran to the edge of the hell-hole. Julia held onto the edge for dear life. Taking hold of her arms, I pulled her out of the hole onto solid ground. She threw her arms around my neck, crying like a baby.
Father Steve stood at the edge of the hell-hole, chanting Psalms and swinging a thurible, while Conrad circled around the circumference sprinkling blessed salt and chanting the responses. Slowly, the aperture closed, cutting off the world of the living from the realm of darkness. Julia, trembling silently, sat on a log next to me. I placed my jacket over her shoulders.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Welcome,” I grunted.
“What… was that thing?”
“Evil,” I replied.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep for a year.”
“That’s kinda how I felt when I saw him the first time.”
“Will it come back again?” she inquired.
“Nope,” I said. “He’s gone back to where he belongs.”
“There will be others, though,” I stated.
“But I’ll send them back, too.”
The power drill whirred as it screwed my home-made sign into the fencepost nearest the road.
“‘Ulric and LeFontain Paranormal Private Investigators’?” read Uncle Jimmy. “What the Sam Hill?”
“I figure if I’m gonna stick around here, I might as well do some good,” I said.
“Will you have an office? Like a real office?” asked Katherine.
“Yup,” I replied. “Gonna be in the old shed.”
“Great. Just great.”
Uncle Jimmy raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and walked away, followed by his daughter. I ambled back to the old barn, where the masked Conrad swept up dirt and debris.
“We’ll have this place ship-shape in no time,” I said as I entered.
“If by ‘no time’ you mean six months, then yes,” replied Conrad.
“Don’t be a wet blanket. Between our technical skills we should have this place looking like a real office.”
I sat down in an old wicker chair. The old barn door opened with a loud creak, revealing Deputy Julia.
“Julia!” I said.
It was at that moment that the old chair collapsed.
“Your mother told me I’d find you here,” she said, offering her hand to help me up. “Nice job on the sign.”
“Thank you,” said Conrad. “Some of my best work.”
“You alright after what happened?” I inquired.
“I’ll be okay, I think,” she replied. “How do you sleep at night, knowing those… things are out there?”
“With a revolver and a crucifix under my pillow,” I replied.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
For the first time since I’d come back to town, she smiled.
“Anyway,” I continued, “it might not look like it, but we’re open for business.”
“No we ain’t!” said Conrad. “I still gotta open a business account with the bank, and you need a PI license.”
“Right, well, if you need anything, be sure and let us know.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” said the deputy.