Wolfsheim

 

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by Phil Slattery

 

Abstractions

As he stood in the growing twilight with cold rain dripping from the brim of his hat, Drake was nervous about continuing into the Alpine village of Wolfsheim about a kilometer ahead. Unfortunately, the only way to find the answers to his questions was to inquire at every village in this area¾no matter how much wrath and hatred those questions aroused. 

For this latest day of hitchhiking through the Bavarian Alps, the weather had been mostly cloudy with rain imminent. Within the last few hours, fog had settled onto the pastures and enveloped the evergreen-covered slopes surrounding Wolfsheim.  From this distance, the village impressed Drake as straight out of the Brothers Grimm.  White two-story houses with tile roofs and brown shutters had brown flower boxes with red flowers beneath each window.  An inn stood across the main street from a small train station, which lay next to the highway.  In the central square stood a white church with an onion-shaped dome atop its bell tower.

Drake needed a place for the night as well as to make the inquiries for his “thesis”, as he described it to strangers.  He would get dinner and a room at the inn and he would talk to the waitress, if no one else were in the inn’s dining room.  He would have to be subtler than in the last village, where he had inadvertently aroused such ire that he had thought for a moment that he might be given the German version of a lynching.  He had no idea what that might entail, but he felt certain it would have been professional, efficient, and painful.  

Drake looked up and down the two-lane highway weaving through the forest and saw not a car.  Nor did he see a single vehicle or even a person on the streets of Wolfsheim.  A light rain started just as Drake was watching the top rim of the sun descend below a peak through a small break in the clouds and the long mountain twilight began.  Drake was weary from a day that had started early and that had gotten him only a few short rides, so that he had spent most of the day walking.  He adjusted the straps on his backpack and started toward the town.

As Drake trudged through the darkening rain, he thought up a cover story and several responses that would extricate him from any verbal quagmire he could anticipate, as well as a series of subtle questions that would hopefully attain what he needed without angering anyone.  He would make it a point to sit near the door this time and, as he walked down the main street, he watched for potential hiding places and escape routes back to the highway.

As Drake entered the dining room, he glanced around.  It was empty except for the table second closest to the door.  There sat an older gentleman talking to a middle-aged man and a young man of Drake’s age.  Each man bore a resemblance to the other two and each had one hand on the handle of a half-empty liter mug of beer.  All three appeared to have lived good lives in the mountains, because they were in obviously robust health.  Drake set down his pack, took off his hat and raincoat, and took a seat at the table closest to the door.  In a minute, a dour waitress strode quickly up to Drake, who ordered a half-liter of beer and Jaegerschnitzel.  After she brought Drake’s beer and scurried off to check on the Jaegerschnitzel, Drake said to the youngest of the Bavarians, “Pardon me, but could you tell me if the rumors about wolves in this area are true?”

The three looked at Drake and then at each other with unspoken questions.  “What rumors have you heard?” the oldest asked.

“That there are lots of wolves in the mountains and that they sometimes prey upon hitchhikers.”

“There are a few mangy wolves in the mountains, but they are harmless, unless you are a poodle,” said the old man.  He and the other two laughed.  “Most of the wolves were all hunted out long ago.”

“But in the village down the road they say there have been disappearances

“True,” said the middle-aged man, “but that is more a comment on our tragic times, when violence is pervasive.  The police are investigating those disappearances, and I have no doubt that they will come up with a solution other than starving wolves.”   The three men laughed again. “You are American, right?  You speak German very well, but you still have a trace of an accent.  What’s your name?”

“Drake Hauptmann.”

“Ah, Hauptmann! A good German name! Is your family from Germany?”

“Yes, my great-grandfather came from Garmisch-Partenkirchen.”

“Bavarian as well!  I am Dieter Schultz and this is my father Dietrich and my son Dietl.  What brings you to Germany, Drake?”

“I’m working on my Master’s thesis in history.”  At this point Drake knew he had to start being cautious and he began choosing his words carefully.  “Specifically, I am studying post-war, uh, that is, recent German history.”

“So what is the subject of your thesis?”

Drake took a long draught of beer to take a moment to think.  “Well, it’s somewhat complex, but essentially it is about Bavaria in the late forties.”

“Then it should be interesting,” said Dietrich.  “I lived here then.  Those were hard times.  But then stories about a phoenix rising from an ash-heap are always interesting.”

“So, you are here to conduct research for your thesis,” said Dieter.  “What exactly is its subject then? The rebirth of Bavaria?” 

“No, actually, I am focusing on, uh, plans that were, uh, never realized.”  Drake took another drink.

“Never realized?  Then you are focusing on failures?  What is the point of that?  What is to be learned?”

Then Dietrich cautiously posed a question.  “Or are you focusing on one failure…or the failure of one group…perhaps the failure of a political party?”

“Yes,” Drake confessed, “I am focusing on the failure of one political party.”

At that moment the door opened and in walked six more Bavarians, all young or early middle-aged, all strong and robust.  When they saw the Schultz family, they greeted them, and then moved on to a large table on the opposite side of the dining room.  Drake sighed with relief when he saw they didn’t sit near the door. 

Dieter became quite serious and fixed an unblinking gaze on Drake.  “What exactly is the subject of your thesis?”

Drake became nervous.  “Well, let me say first that for a long time I have been fascinated with not only history, but also with theology and different belief systems and, consequently, some time back, my love of German history and theology sort of…became intertwined and I became interested in…the occult.  A couple of years ago, I found out that at the end of the Second World War there was a group of former soldiers that decided to fight on as guerrillas after the war was over hoping to one day restore the Third Reich.  They called themselves ‘Werewolves—”

“We know all that,” said Dietrich, now visibly irritated and very solemn.  “Go on.  What is the subject of your thesis?

“Well, my theory is that the Werewolves were more than just guerrillas—”

“My God,” said Dieter, “don’t say what I think you are going to say.”

“Well, Hitler was very much into the occult and a lot of the emblems and practices of the Third Reich did were rooted very deeply in the occult.  So, I believe that Hitler actually formed a group of real werewolves to carry on the war

“And you came snooping around here to find the werewolves!  You are mad, boy! Yes, the few fanatics that remained did operate down here as the Werewolves, but any that remain are very tight-lipped about it.  And they are still very serious about protecting their identities even decades later.  So are their families and descendants.  Asking the wrong questions may cause you to disappear¾

“Like that Englishman!” blurted out Dietl.

“Be quiet!” said Dieter.  “And why would you want to find real werewolves?  Even if they existed, they would tear you into smaller bits than real wolves would.”

 Out of the corner of his eye, Drake noticed that the men at the far table had turned around and were now watching him very closely.

“What have you learned so far?” asked Dietrich, eyeing Drake.

“Very little

“But you have learned something?” asked Dieter.

“No, no, not really.”

“What do you know?” asked Dietl.

“Nothing, really.  Just a lot of rumors in some of the other villages—”

“Like what?” asked Dietrich.

“Nothing really

“Like what?”

“There are some rumors and stories, and some government records support this, that…during the war…Wolfsheim was a center of, uh, werewolf activity.”  Drake paused and tried to think of something else to say, but he knew he had already gotten in too deep. 

“Were any names ever mentioned?” asked Dietrich sternly. 

“None.”

“Are you certain?”

“None.  I swear!”  For a moment Drake paused, sweating and glancing nervously around him at the Schultz family and the men at the far table.  Almost everything he had told had been the truth, but he sensed strongly that no one believed him.  “It’s getting late,” said Drake rising, putting on his hat and coat, and picking up his backpack. ‘I must be moving on.  I’ll just catch a train and be out of here¾

“The last train left an hour ago.”

Drake laid some cash on the table to cover the beer.  “Then I’ll have to hitchhike.”

“Be very careful on the highway,” said Dietrich, glaring at Drake.  “Some say there are wolves in the forest.”

“Thanks.  I’ll be careful.”  Drake looked over the room again.   Every man was still and staring menacingly at Drake.  “Auf Wiedersehen,” said Drake.  Then he remembered that meant literally “Until we meet again.”  He didn’t want that, but could not take it back.

Auf Wiederschauen,” said Dieter, using the customary Bavarian response. 

Dieter’s tone frightened Drake, who turned and exited. 

Outside Drake found that the rain had stopped, the clouds were breaking up, and he could see a few stars and the moon.  Drake debated with himself whether he should let a room at the inn, but he reasoned that the innkeeper would probably be a friend of Dietrich and his family, and Drake did not want Dietrich to know where he was sleeping. He would rather take his chances on the highway, where he could run, if necessary, and he could find a secluded spot to sleep.

When he was about fifty meters from the inn, Drake checked behind him to see if anyone was following.  Dietl stood in front of the inn’s entrance watching Drake.  He did not move.  He only stood and stared.  After another ten meters, Drake checked again and Dietl was still staring.  Drake checked about every ten meters and Dietl continued to stare.

At that moment a black Audi pulled up with its driver’s door alongside Drake.  A tall, wizened Catholic priest sat behind the wheel and was the only occupant.  The man appeared well over eighty, and weighed no more than 150 lbs.  Underneath his frock, Drake guessed the priest resembled the lanky Christ seen on many crucifixes.   The priest rolled down his window and asked,  “Was there no room at the inn?”

“I did not ask.  I felt uneasy there, and decided I would rather take my chances at the next village.”  Drake nodded in the direction of the next village along the highway.

“But that is so far and the weather tonight will be awful.  You would have to hitchhike tonight because the last train has already left.  Come.  I have a small room in the church you can use.  It has only a cot, but that is better than sleeping in the forest, especially on a rainy night.  I even have an extra bottle of communion wine that I can let you have.”

Drake mulled over his options before replying, “okay.”

The priest opened the passenger’s door and Drake ran around and hopped in, tossing his backpack into the rear seat next to the Father’s communion kit.  As Drake closed the door, he asked, “What’s your name?”

“Father Hoffmann.”

Drake shook the father’s hand and introduced himself.

“So, what brings you to Wolfsheim?”

Drake did not want to lie to a priest.  As the priest started down the street, Drake told his story as diplomatically as he could while watching Dietl continually staring at him.

“Does Dietl frighten you?” asked Father Hoffmann.

Drake shook his head.  “Not really.”

Father Hoffmann smiled.  “Dietl is a little peculiar.  I can understand why you would be uneasy staying in the inn his grandfather owns.”

Drake silently thanked his lucky stars that he had made the right decision.

When they arrived at the church and Father Hoffman turned off the engine, he said, “Yes, here your thesis would certainly stir up many old feelings that are perhaps best left dormant.”  The Father shook his head as if resigning himself to something and said, “Come inside.”

Both Father Hoffmann and Drake were silent as they went up to the church doors and entered.  After they were inside, Drake followed Father Hoffmann through the church.  Neither said a word.  When they reached a small office in the back, Father Hoffmann set his communion kit on his desk and pointed to a door.   “Your cot is in that storage room as well as a few blankets and a small pillow.  In the morning, leave everything as it is and I will wash it. You may sleep in this office.  You will find a toilet through that door,” he said, pointing to another door behind his desk.  He reached over to a cabinet and pulled out a bottle of red wine, a glass, and a corkscrew.  “And here is the wine I promised.”

“I sense that I have said something that disturbs you, Father.”

“As I said, your thesis will arouse many strong emotions here.  That includes mine.”  Father Hoffmann took out the wine decanter from his communion kit and began filling it from a bottle on a rack near his desk.

“I am guessing that you lived here during the war?”

“Yes.  I was thirty years old when the war ended.  I had been a pastor here for only a short while when the first werewolves appeared.”

“Did you ever see anything supernatural after they arrived?”

“I am a priest.  In a sense, you could say that everything I do touches on the supernatural and that I see the supernatural in everything.”

“Yes, but what I meant was—”

“I know what you meant.  What I meant was that the world is as nebulous as the mists that surround this church tonight.”

Drake was surprised by how quickly the pastor’s tone had changed to rudeness verging on hostility.  He looked out a window next to the pastor’s desk.  The streets were well lit by the town’s streetlights and Drake could see Dietl standing next to the entrance to a dark alley across the street.  Dietl was staring at Drake and continued to stare at Drake for several seconds before walking back toward the inn and disappearing around a corner. 

“Dietl is outside watching us,” said Drake.

“That is not good for you.  His grandfather is perhaps the most fervent and most paranoid Nazi in this town.  He would personally murder every Jew, Frenchman, and Russian alive today, if it would bring back the Reich.” Father Hoffmann looked Drake straight in the eyes.  “He would even murder Americans.”

Just then a wolf howled.  It sounded as if it were nearby, perhaps as near as the inn and definitely from that direction. 

“Do not be frightened,” said Father Hoffmann.  “A wolf must have wandered into the square.”

“Who said I was frightened?  I find their howling beautiful.  That is one of the many things that fascinate me about them.  I grew up in an area of the Rocky Mountains where wolves are being reintroduced.  Many times I have fallen asleep listening to their songs.”

“Perhaps you have a wolven heart.”

“Perhaps.”

After the pastor finished filling his wine decanter, he took some wafers from a box on a shelf and placed them in the communion kit before closing it and setting it aside.

“Isn’t it a bit late to come to the church just to refill your kit?”

“No, not at all.  I had to give the last rites to a parishioner who lives—lived down the valley and thought I would refill everything before going home.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why should you be sorry?  It was her time to go.”

“What did she die of?”

Father Hoffmann smiled a little as he closed his kit.  “I hadn’t realized the irony of it until now.  She was apparently killed by a wolf.”

“That is ironic.”  Drake thought for a moment.  “You said, ‘apparently’?”

“As I said, it is a nebulous world.  Things are not always what they seem.  It was most definitely a wild animal of some type.  But no one saw the attack and her throat was injured so she could tell no one what had happened before she passed away.”

“Could it have been—”

“A werewolf?  Who knows?  Do you believe in werewolves?”

“Yes.  Shakespeare said, ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.”

“Shakespeare must have been very astute.”

“Is there another window somewhere that I can use to watch outside?  I think all the windows I saw were stained glass.”

“You did not notice that there are clear windows in the main entrance doors?”

“Oh, that’s true!  They are clear, aren’t they?”

“I fear you will not get much sleep tonight, if you keep watching the street.”

“I may have to if I want to survive the night.”

“You sound as if you were trapped.”

“I feel trapped.  I feel like a wolf in a trap and I hear the hunters approaching.”

Just then several wolves howled together.  They were not far away. 

Drake ran through the church to the main entrance and peeked out the windows.  He saw the three men of the Schultz family loitering in the shadows at the entrance of an alley across the street and watching the church entrance.  Drake glanced to the other side of the church and saw the other six men from the inn walking down the sidewalk, one dropping out of the group now and then to stop and start watching the church entrance. 

Father Hoffmann came out of his office and walked up to Drake. “Is anyone out there?”

“Yes.  I see several men.  They are surrounding the church.  Can we call the police?”

“It would do no good.  Dietl’s father is the Chief of Police.”

“This gets better and better.  Would you talk to them?  Tell them I meant no harm?”

Father Hoffmann paused, thinking for a moment.  “Yes.  I will do that.”  He stepped outside and walked over to the Schultz family, who were gathered on a street corner.   He spoke with them for a few minutes, and then Dieter Schultz waved to the others, summoning them over.  When all nine had gathered, Father Hoffmann began speaking at length.  Occasionally, someone would interrupt, but Father Hoffmann continued.  Drake opened the door a little and tried to hear their conversation, but they were too far off and the wind in the trees was a little too high for Drake to discern most of their words.  He caught only “wolves”, “tradition”, “the past”, “murder”, and a few prepositions.  After about ten minutes, the Schultzes and their friends started going back to the inn, a few looking back at the church every now and then as they walked.  In a minute, they had all disappeared around a corner, and Father Hoffmann was walking back to the church.

As the pastor entered the church, Drake asked, “they are gone?”

“They are gone.”

“Thank you very much, Father.  What did you say to them?”

“I simply appealed to their sense of reason.  They are all good men at heart.  I reassured them that you know nothing about Hitler’s Werewolves and that whatever thesis you write would most likely go no farther than to the half-witted professor who assigned it.  Most people believe the entire concept of a werewolf is preposterous anyway, and certainly any scholar worth his salt would look at your thesis as good only to line the floor of his birdcage.”

Drake was dismayed at the pastor’s argument.  “Well, that is not the argument I would have chosen, but it worked.  That is the only thing important now.”

Father Hoffmann smiled.  “Do not be hurt by what I said about your thesis.  I am sure it will be a fine thesis, but to get them to leave, I had to say something that was logical and apparently true, even though it might not have been entirely true or even what I believe.”

Drake let out a sigh of relief.  “Thank you, Father.”

“Now, how about we open that bottle of wine in celebration?”

“Certainly.  I think I could use a drink now.  I will go get it.”  Drake went into the back office for a moment, but when he returned with the opened bottle and two glasses, he did not see Father Hoffmann. 

Drake walked up the center aisle and called for him, but he could not be found.  He walked toward the doors, thinking Father Hoffmann must have stepped outside, but heard something snarling on the right.  Drake froze, listening carefully.  From behind the last pew came a large wolf, fangs bared, growling.  The wolf crept forward with his head lowered, ready to pounce.  Drake slowly set the glasses on the floor, trying not to make any sudden movement or noise.  He rose a little and crouched, holding the open wine bottle by the neck, its contents gurgling as they spilled onto the floor.  He suddenly understood what had happened and said to the wolf, “Wait.  Do not do this, Fath—”

The wolf sprung at Drake’s throat.  Drake quickly raised the wine bottle to crush the wolf’s skull, but a hail of shots came from the entrance, splinters flew from the nearby pews, and Drake heard glass breaking behind him.  The wolf fell onto the floor a meter in front of Drake and slid up against his feet.  Drake raised his face to the doors, and saw the Schultzes standing there with smoking Glocks in their fists.

“This is why it is not good to snoop into the past,” said Dieter, changing clips.  Dietrich and Dietl changed clips as well, and the three walked up to Drake.  They all looked at the body, which was now the naked body of Father Hoffmann, pierced with over a dozen bullet holes. “Are you okay?” asked Dieter.

“Yeah,” said Drake.  “Sure.”  Drake held the bottle upright and saw that a little wine remained.  He chugged it down.  “I’ll be okay.”

“We had always suspected that Father Hoffmann was the last of the Wolfsheim Werewolves, but we were never certain.  That is why we did our best to scare you off and that is why we sent Dietl out to watch and make certain you got to the highway safely.  We knew Father Hoffmann would be returning soon.  When Dietl told us that Father Hoffmann had driven you to the church, we thought that if he saw us standing outside the church, he would leave you alone.”

“But you left.”

“We only retreated farther back into the shadows, so that he could not see us.  The rest of our group is still outside, watching the back doors and windows.  We had to make him think we were gone, so that he would drop his guard.  As soon as your faces left the windows, we moved up to peek inside.”

“But I heard wolves outside—”

“Like I said earlier, a pack comes down periodically to raid our trash cans and pets.  It was coincidence, but that is all.” 

“Your nerves must be frayed,” said Dietrich.  “Come.  You may stay at my inn at no charge.”

Drake hesitated in answering. 

“Did Father Hoffmann tell you I was a werewolf?”

“He alluded to that.”

Dietrich chuckled a little.  “I was in the army, but I served on the eastern front, and spent most of the war and a few years afterwards as a guest of the Russians.  Father Hoffmann may have exaggerated things so that you would feel safe with him.  Now, would you like that room?  And I believe that you never got that Jaegerschnitzel you ordered.”

“Yes, I would like both very much, but I am too tense to relax right now.  I think I will go for a walk first.”

“Very well.  We will be looking for you at the inn in a while.  We have to clean up here first.”

“Thank you.  Auf Wiedersehen.”

“Auf Wiederschauen,” said Dietrich.

“Auf Wiederschauen,” said Dieter and Dietl.

After Drake left the church he headed for the nearest edge of town and found a trail that led into the mountains.  The clouds and mist were dissipating and a gibbous moon gave the landscape a pale wash.  Drake looked around and saw no one watching.  He moved off the trail and into the black shadow of an evergreen.  He looked back at the lights of the town.  He could see police cars arriving at the church. 

“What a shame,” he said to himself.  “I find one of the last remaining werewolves, and he is gunned down before my eyes.  Oh, well.  Maybe there will be more in the villages up the road.”  Drake heard his stomach growl and rubbed it.  “I need to find something to eat and then to find some company I can relax with.  I wonder if I can find that pack Dietrich mentioned.”  Drake removed his clothes, changed into a wolf, and loped along the trail into the mountains.