Everyone assumed it was a work of fiction, a story. It certainly was a good tale for a dark night. I can picture Arthur, wide-eyed and snarling, gesticulating wildly as he told it in front of a roaring fire at the Buckfastleigh Tavern; the shadows of his lean frame dancing spookily on the bar room walls. His reputation as a skilled raconteur grew with every telling, and his story certainly left many young men as well as ladies ensuring that they had company for the walk home, lest something lurked in the mist that inevitably roamed Dartmoor on a Winter's night.
At least once a week the whisky would flow, the evening wear on, and the crowd would start badgering him for "the story." He would begin, and the snickers of laughter would gradually give way to small gasps of terror as Arthur kept the audience spellbound with his dark descriptions. The fog, the car, the beast, the gun - to hear the tale three or four times even was no remedy for the tingling on the back of the listeners' necks as the horror unfolded. What always amazed me was his face, rather than his words - his face told the story so vividly, as if he really had been there. Arthur was a wonderful story-teller.
I think he picked me because I owned a car, and I'd been present at his recitations on several occasions, yet never laughed at him. We were more acquaintances than good chums, and, as I think about it now, I can't remember one person who would have called themselves a good friend of Arthur. He was somewhat of a loner, although a friendly enough sort of chap, if a bit strange in some ways. I remember his smile, under that pencil moustache. I would describe it as a nervous smile, like someone who has looked the Devil in the face, and knows that he's real, and possibly waiting in the shadows.
Arthur gave me directions and we drove out on to the moors that night, following ill-used tracks as the mist gathered around us. I had no clue as to our destination, but he seemed to know exactly where we were going, and I drove slowly over the ruts, thankful that it hadn't rained for several days. Occasionally a fitful full moon would glare through a break in the fog, and then be swallowed again almost immediately. It was eerie.
He bade me stop and I reluctantly killed the engine, which left a silence so thick that I jumped when he suddenly barked "Wait here!" and got out of the car. I had no idea where we were and told him so. He pulled a pistol from his pocket, but, as I cringed in terror, he said, "I cannot endure their looks of ridicule. I will find it, and show them all that it was real!"
The mist enveloped him as he strode away, and I was left with the fog and the sporadic moonlight. I found myself keeping as silent as possible, and I wondered why. I had no timepiece, so no idea of how long he had been gone, but I did realize that the alternating of the moonlight's haze and the fog's shadow was making me imagine things in the dark. I could swear I saw movements out there in the brush. It was freezing.
I confess that I had all the windows closed. I told myself at the time it was from the cold, but it was probably more from nervousness. My breath gradually spread its own fog across the glass and I had trouble making out the scrubby bushes of the moor. Then the howl echoed through the damp air, a mournful, hungry sound, and I felt my blood slow down in my veins. I had to rub the window and try to see through the wet streaks. It was surreal, like an abstract painting, a Dante perhaps. I thought I could make out a faint movement in the fog but, as my hand went to the door handle, a menacing growl froze my heart, and paralyzed my arm with fear. I sat there shaking in terror, straining my eyes to see what was out there in the swirling miasma of moonlight, and then I heard the howl again. I admit that I cowered, more afraid than I had ever been in my life.
A blood-curdling scream galvanized me into action. I was about to leap from the car to see clearly, when I made out a figure that looked like Arthur coming towards me, drunkenly crawling on all fours, then rising, then crawling again. I sat there, paralyzed and afraid, and then heard a snarling, a guttural animal growl, and I wound the window down as he reached me. Enormous yellow eyes came at me and I instinctively held my hands up for protection. Sharp teeth ripped the flesh of my fingers, and then I felt the gun, gripped it tightly, and pulled it to me. The teeth seemed to turn into Arthur's face. "Kill it, kill it!" Then it was the fangs again, snarling and dripping with saliva. I smelt a foul beast-like breath, and then looked into the face of the Devil. I closed my eyes and fired, once, twice, and the noise echoed across the moor, bouncing off the pockets of fog.
They say I was lucky, that an angel was on my shoulder that night, as I fired that gun, and killed the beast. The ones who believe say it was a one in a million chance to kill the werewolf in both his forms at the exact instant as he changed, the only time he is vulnerable. I had a few scratches on my hands, but otherwise I was unharmed. The coroner's report, of course, says that Arthur was already dead from bite wounds and blood loss, and that the "wolf" was rabid. It was kept from the newspapers and I was never charged with any offence.
I see tonight's moon will be the same as on that night, and you have a car...would you like to see where it all happened...?