A Story about the Brothers Grimm
When I began to think of what to do for the Classic Authors Challenge, I almost instantly though it would be fun to do a story about the Brothers Grimm, but to add a supernatural element to their personal lives and tie it into the stories they wrote. I know the idea has kind of been done before, but I have never seen it done with the actual brothers, and I thought it would be a really fun idea to make them sort of supernatural detectives. A favorite book series of mine is The Secret Journeys of Jack London by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, which is about Jack London and his actual adventures but with a supernatural flair added. I wanted to have the same kind of feel in this story. There’s not a lot of fact in this story at all, and obviously Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were writers and storytellers and not monster hunters, but I had a great time writing it, narrated by my original character, Hugh Sharpe. This story is actually going to be the first in a series of short stories I’m planning to continue the adventures of Hugh and the Brothers Grimm.
As for the skinwalkers, I took most of everything here from actual lore, and yes, this is a loose retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It actually really fits skinwalker lore strangely well. Skinwalkers are Native American folklore, but I’m sure the same principal can apply in Europe. And the part about how you kill them and everything is directly from folklore.
Most everyone now knows a good deal about the infamous Grimm brothers, but few know the truth of what they did. Stories circulated for a while, but now almost everyone has seemed to have forgotten what their real purpose was; apart from the few they helped, and myself, of course, their unnamed chronicler.
If one were to ask the average person of the brothers’ profession, they would likely smile indulgingly and say ‘writers of children’s tales, of course’, but they would never be so far from the truth.
No, the truth was that these ‘tales’ were not necessarily ‘tales’ at all. And my humble self, so young and innocent at the time I first met them, was, in fact, the original writer of those well-loved stories.
But the brothers themselves? Why, they were more a type of investigators or hunters.
Hunters of what, exactly? Well, that’s a question that needs a bit of explaining. The game they hunted was far more likely to hunt one back than your typical deer or pheasant.
What I’m getting at, dear readers, is that the stories they wrote about were all based upon some truth—a great bit more than the common reader would probably expect.
Of course, there was a good bit of embellishing on my part, and over the years we decided it prudent to take out names and certain events and make them what they are considered today—children’s tales. But it is to be reminded that all these stories did come from somewhere in old folklore and tradition, and as is so common in tradition and folklore, there is often more truth to the old tales than is let on. However, the real stories are no longer circulated and only abide in these, my personal journals, tucked away in the dusty catacombs of my library for future generations if they are bold enough to believe them.
But I suppose you would probably like to know how I, Hugh Sharpe, came into such a profession and to know these men so well.
It was many years ago now—many more than I wish to think about—and I was a young man of eighteen. My parents had died of a fever when I was twelve and I had been sent to live on the aunt and uncle’s estate where I went to school like a normal child and learned all the mundane things a boy should. But I grew bored of it, and languished for a year in University before I left on my Grand Tour to see the world. I had a good sum of money from my parents and was not what one could say ill-fitted for my venture, but as I traveled, seeing many wondrous and oftentimes strange things, I began to realize I could not go on like this forever, for soon my coffers would run out and I would be forced to return home to the mundane everyday life once again. I’ll be the first to say that such a thought didn’t appeal to me. I might have traveled a good portion of Britain and Europe, but I was looking for a real adventure and little did I know then that I would find all that I wanted and more.
It was one morning in Germany where I had been staying for a while, enjoying fully, the climate, culture and people, that I was sitting in the café across the street from my hotel, having breakfast and reading the day’s paper. I was casually looking for occupation in the advertisements, fancying that something must catch my eye one day, when I came across a curious add that instantly had my attention.
A young man for a secretarial position.
Must be good with words, strong, and above all courageous.
Contact Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
There was also an address and I eagerly took it down. It was true, that the idea of a secretarial position was less than interesting to me, but I suppose it was the idea that this particular secretary had to be strong and courageous. It seemed so strange that I found I had to find out exactly what it meant. In any case, I could always turn down the job if it was less than interesting and it would prove a diverting entertainment for the morning if nothing else.
So after breakfast, I went to the address listed in the advert and found a townhouse that was, in itself, rather less than extraordinary. I almost turned away then, thinking there was no way such a person living in a place quaint as that could offer me anything but pittance, but I had little else to do and my curiosity was still running against my better judgment, so I threw caution to the wind and rang the bell.
The door was opened a moment later, by a young man, not much older than myself, who I took to be a butler, though he did not hold himself as any servant I had ever seen and was dressed less than crisply.
“Good morning, can I help you?” the young man asked.
I took my hat off and offered the paper as explanation. “Yes, I am here in correlation with this advert I found in the paper. Is this the residence of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm?”
“Yes, I am Wilhelm, come right in.” I was a bit shocked to find this was to be one of my potential employers, and not their servant as I had thought, but I went in all the same and Wilhelm Grimm closed the door behind me, motioning through to the next room, which happened to be a sitting room. Cluttered and cozy, but not in a messy way, more in the way of a working house.
“Make yourself comfortable, I will go fetch my brother. Would you like some refreshment? Tea, coffee, chocolate?”
“Tea would be fine, thanks,” I replied and Wilhelm was already out the door, leaving me clutching my hat rather awkwardly. I looked around the small room and chose to sit in a chair by the fireplace. I glanced over at a stack of books on the hearth, wondering how long I would have to wait for my interview. I picked up one of the volumes and frowned at the title: The History of Fae in Western Europe. I picked up the next title and saw it just as strange: Shapeshifters, Skinwalkers and Bisclavret, and, perhaps even stranger, The Anthropological Study of Vampires from the Fall of Rome to Modern Times. A very strange taste in literature these men had.
Thankfully, I did not have to wait long, for just as I was putting the books back, I heard footsteps and looked to see Wilhelm return with another man who could be his twin though he was a few inches taller and had darker hair. I stood to greet my interviewers and the second man, who must be Jacob Grimm, stepped forward to clasp my hand in a strong grip, smiling.
“Good morning, I am Jacob Grimm, and this one you have met is my brother, Will. I see you have come in answer to our add.”
“Yes, I saw it this morning, and since I have been looking for employment, I thought I would come and see what you had to offer,” I said, shaking back and trying not to wince at the hand crushing mine. “I am Hugh Sharpe.”
“Good to meet you, Hugh.” Jacob turned to his brother. “Put the kettle on, Will, we shall have tea for the interview.” He turned back to me and motioned for me to sit again as he too took a seat. “I see you are from England, Hugh. Might I ask what you are doing seeking work so far from home?”
“I got restless,” I said with a small wry smile and a shrug. “I had the misfortune to be born rich, so instead of squandering my money on cards, I traveled. Unfortunately, it’s been a while and my funds are running out. I wanted to find a place to roost for a while, and I like it here in Germany. It’s as good a place as any. Your add intrigued me, though I will admit it is a little vague.”
“You will see the reasons for that, soon enough,” Jacob told me as Wilhelm reappeared with a tea service of old and slightly chipped china cups. But the tea was hot and the cream fresh and there were pastries accompanying it, so I couldn’t complain. I sipped my tea as Wilhelm settled down in the chair next to his brother’s so they were both facing me.
“So, to business,” Jacob said efficiently, setting his cup to one side, and leaning eagerly forward with his elbows resting on his knees. “Tell me, Hugh Sharpe, what are your thoughts on the occult and things of the supernatural?”
I frowned slightly. “Why, I don’t rightly know. It’s admittedly not something I think about on a daily basis. I’ve heard my good share of ghost stories, sure enough. I notice you seem to find the subject interesting, if nothing else, from your collection of books here.” I motioned to the stack by the fireplace.
The brothers shared an amused look that caused me some indignation. “I don’t really understand how that correlates with the business of a personal secretary, however.”
“We meant not to deceive you in the advert, it’s only that it’s the type of thing one must explain in person,” Jacob said, taking up a pastry. “To start, I’ll inform you that it is not so much a secretarial position as that of journalist or chronicler, if you will.”
“And what is the nature of the chronicling?”
“Our cases.” Jacob put his cup down and pulled a worn leather journal out of his coat pocket, handing it over to me. “I do try to do it myself, but I have always been more the fantasist, and Will says I lie too much. Though he’s no better. But the real reason is that we have so little time with our jobs that we rarely get the chance to write down all that happens, and oftentimes forget the important bits. We need someone who is willing enough to accompany us on our cases, but who can also act as an observer, to properly chronicle the events as they happen.”
“And the nature of these cases,” I asked, as I flipped through the rather poor scratchings in the journal that I could only barely distinguish, “Are you some sort of investigators then?”
“Of a kind, yes,” Wilhelm affirmed. “Though we tend to take on the more…unnatural cases than the local constabulary do.”
“And by unnatural you mean…”
“Exactly what I mentioned earlier,” Jacob said, a small smile playing across his face. “Things of a supernatural nature.”
“Of course,” I said and gave a short laugh, handing his journal back to him. At the time I was nearly certain they were both mad. I was about to get up and walk out right then, when there was another ring at the door. Wilhelm stood to answer it and Jacob turned to me apologetically.
“I don’t know if that might not be another contender for the position, but don’t worry. I rather like you so far, Hugh.”
I certainly wasn’t sure enough about the Brothers Grimm yet to form an opinion either way, but I was soon distracted when Wilhelm returned with a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen years old, and dressed in a rather startlingly bright red cloak.
“A client, Jacob,” Wilhelm told him as he showed the girl into the sitting room. “Please make yourself comfortable, Miss.”
I stood to make my leave, but Jacob stopped me. “No, stay if you would, Hugh; if you wish to take the position, have a trial run. Stay to see what the young lady has to say.”
“I don’t want to be a bother,” I replied, rather torn, for I would be lying to say I wasn’t interested. “I have not necessarily made up my mind as to how I stand on the matter of the job.”
“This should decide it for you,” Jacob told me with a somewhat knowing smile that kept my feet from going any further from the room. He motioned me back to my vacated chair. “Please.”
“Very well,” I nodded to the girl who took a seat on the settee to the left of my chair and clasped her hands in her lap either in anxiety or nervousness. Wilhelm handed her a cup of tea and a pastry.
“There now, miss, I assume you have some sort of problem if you have come to see us,” Jacob said kindly to her. “Otherwise you have come for the secretarial position.”
“I do have a problem,” the girl insisted, clutching her tea in her hands as she looked between the two brothers. “No one will believe me, but I know something is wrong.”
“I do have a problem,” the girl insisted, clutching her tea in her hands as she looked between the two brothers. “No one will believe me, but I know something is wrong.”
“What’s your name?” Wilhelm asked her.
“Annabelle,” she replied and sipped the tea cautiously before setting it down on the small table next to her. “I heard that you two help with…well, strange things. And I do think my problem is rather strange.”
“We are quite good at strange,” Jacob told her with a smile. “What is this strange thing that is troubling you?”
“It’s my grandmother,” Annabelle replied slowly. “I, well, she hasn’t been herself at all lately. And she’s not just ill or old, I know there’s something really wrong! Mother and Father won’t believe me, they just say she’s not feeling well, but it’s not just the way she acts, it’s…I don’t know how to describe it but that I do not think it’s my grandmother at all.”
Jacob nodded and leaned forward to speak with her. “And why would you say that? What led you to think that it was not your grandmother?”
“Well, she doesn’t really look different,” Annabelle conceded. “But her eyes, they—well—they don’t look like hers; if I stare at them too long, they make me feel strange, and on the outside, she appears to be just as warm and kind as she always was, but it all seems false. And the way she carries herself is different. That’s why I know she’s not sick, because she seems to walk better than normal if anything.”
“How long has this been going on?” Jacob asked her.
“Nearly a week now. I’m just afraid of what might be wrong with her.”
“Has anything else strange happened?” Wilhelm asked. “Have you seen anything out of the ordinary lately?”
“Has anything else strange happened?” Wilhelm asked. “Have you seen anything out of the ordinary lately?”
Annabelle shook her head, but then seemed to turn to another thought. “Well, nothing really. The only odd thing that has happened recently is that I did see a wolf when I was going to her house last, but I don’t see how that could tie into the problem at all. And it’s not terribly uncommon to see them. She lives outside the town in the woods, you see. My parents keep trying to get her to move in with us, but she refuses. She loves it out there.”
The brothers took in the information while I looked on, becoming more and more baffled by the second. Were they actually taking all this seriously? A girl claiming her grandmother was not her grandmother? To be fair, Annabelle did look like a sensible girl, but it was utterly ridiculous all the same. They couldn’t possibly think there was something supernatural at hand here.
“Can we go and visit your grandmother?” Jacob asked her.
Annabelle nodded. “I’m going out there tomorrow. You can come with me.”
“Good, that should give us enough time to do a little research.” Jacob stood and held his hand out to Annabelle as she stood and took his hand. “We will do our best to figure out what is going on with your grandmother. Let me show you to the door. We will see you first thing tomorrow morning, Miss Annabelle.”
“Thank you very much,” she said as she left the room.
Jacob returned shortly and looked over at me.
“Well?” he asked. “Are you ready to start your first case?”
“I suppose,” I said against my better judgment. I was quite convinced of the fact that the brothers were insane, but I didn’t think it would hurt to work one case with them either. It would be entertaining if nothing else.
“Good!” Jacob said briskly. “To the armory then.”
“The…armory?” I asked but had no choice but to follow.
The next thing I learned was that the house looked a lot smaller on the outside than it did inside. I followed Jacob through the kitchen and what looked like a pantry door, but actually went down into a basement. Jacob pulled a lucifer from his pocket and lit an oil lantern that hung from the wall before he descended into the room. I followed hesitantly, almost afraid of what I would fine down there and what I did find left me speechless and frozen at the foot of the stairs.
Jacob lit several more lanterns to light the place up, and with each one, more of the room was revealed. On one wall sat shelves of books. More heavy volumes with odd titles and pamphlets, and folders with tattered papers spilling out of them. The wall connected to that at the end of the room held more shelves but these were full of bottles and boxes of heaven knows what; some looked ancient or nearly so. But the third wall was what stopped me because it held countless pieces of weaponry from all eras, as well as some things I had no name for. There was everything from swords and pistols to crossbows and strangely shaped knives and weapons that looked to be a mixture of many things. Between the weapons hung various charms and amulets that I assumed were to ward evil and the like.
I eventually realized that Wilhelm was still at my back and he chuckled. “It’s a bit much to take in at first, I imagine. Sorry for the lack of warning. I do hope it won’t scare you off.”
“What is all this?” I asked in awe as I forced myself to move forward into the room.
“The tools of our trade,” Jacob told me, picking up a dagger from the wall and tossing it in a shining arc in the air. “Our business is oftentimes dangerous. That’s another thing that you will have to keep in mind.”
“You’re investigators?” I asked suspiciously.
Jacob shrugged. “More hunters, but I prefer the more sophisticated title of investigator. It sounds more professional on paper.”
Wilhelm was already dragging out several volumes from the shelves and setting them on the table in the middle of the room before taking a seat himself. “Research is an even bigger part of our job though. Have any ideas yet, Jacob?”
Jacob took a seat and pulled a folder towards him, flipping through what I saw to be newspaper clippings. “There’s several possibilities, but I’m thinking it’s likely a shapeshifter of some sort. We won’t know what variety exactly until we see what we’re dealing with first hand.” He turned to me as I was still standing and looking around the room. “Sit, Hugh. You’ll have to learn this part of the job as well.”
I sat reluctantly and tried to keep my attention on Jacob as he began talking.
“If this is a shapeshifter we’re dealing with, Will, I have a feeling it might not be the only one in town, or Miss Annabelle’s grandmother might not be the first victim. Do you remember the story a few days back about the man accused of murdering his wife and swearing he didn’t, that he was gone all day? There were even witnesses who could testify to the fact that he wasn’t there, but also ones that said quite firmly that they watched him go into the house and then come out again, after which his wife was dead.”
“I read that story,” I said, looking down at the clipping that Jacob had produced from the folder. “I remember thinking it was a bit odd.”
Jacob grinned. “There, see, you’re off to a good start, Hugh! That’s why I saved it. There was another incident a couple weeks back as well, if I recall, that was similar.”
“The butcher?” Wilhelm asked.
Jacob nodded. “Killed by his apprentice. The boy hadn’t been working there long; I only met him myself once, but he seemed a kind enough lad. I didn’t mark anything strange about him. No one believed that he would have done something but he was never found after the murder.”
“But isn’t it natural to run away after you have killed someone?” I asked.
Jacob shrugged. “Yes, but killing someone without reason is not. There was no fathomable reason the apprentice killed the butcher, thus it is strange.”
“This is really all you have to go on?” I asked. “A few somewhat odd murders?”
“Hugh,” Jacob said, his voice darkly serious for the first time. It made me instantly silent. “My brother and I have saved countless lives because of our caution and knowledge of the supernatural. I know there are many skeptics in this world, but all I ask is that you wait to see how this case plays out before you judge, and above all else, do exactly what I or Will say, because it will cost you your life.”
I swallowed hard, but nodded. “I understand.”
Jacob smiled, cheery again and turned back to his work. “Good. Now, it looks like it’s going to be a long day of looking through books. Take down notes, Hugh.”
And I did. I took down so many notes, my hand cramped, and they were about the most ridiculous things that I could ever have imagined. I was beginning to wonder about my sanity as a proper Englishman, getting into this seemingly insane business. But I had never been what one would call a proper Englishman, so for whatever reason, I stuck with it until it was nearly dark.
“You do have a place to stay, Hugh?” Jacob asked and I nodded, folding away the notes I had taken down. “Good, you will meet us back here first thing in the morning, if you are so inclined.”
“I’ll be there,” I replied rather resignedly. My interest was peaked beyond help now. There was nothing more to do than see this one case through. That couldn’t hurt anything, surely?
The next morning, I woke before dawn and looked to dress in something that might work better for hiking through the woods. I chose sturdy boots, and a thick brown jacket to go over my waistcoat. I didn’t have anything in the way of the weapons the Grimm brothers owned, but I had a blackjack, which I put in my pocket, and a practical knife that I slid into the top of my boot. I waited around, not wanting to arrive too early, but not wanting to be late either, so as soon as the first glow of the rising sun came over the horizon, I decided to set out to the house of my potential employers.
I shouldn’t have been worried, because I found them already up and awake and having breakfast when I knocked on the door.
“Have you eaten?” Wilhelm asked to which I sheepishly replied I had not and was swiftly interred into a chair and given a plate full of breakfast.
“So you did come back,” Jacob stated with a small smile. “I knew I saw the right thing in your eyes, Hugh. A curiosity; a sense of adventure. Perfect for this job.”
“So let me ask,” I said, setting down my fork. “How many of these strange cases have you worked?”
“Oh, at least twenty by now,” Jacob said, reaching for the sugar for his coffee. “Though, granted not all were a complete success, and several ended up being nothing odd at all. It’s bound to happen every once in a while. But we’ve been all over Europe. It seems to be a gathering place for things of the supernatural. I bet you would be surprised to find exactly how many things you came across in Britain that were strange but you either didn’t notice them or thought nothing of it.”
“It is possible,” I conceded. “I grew up on stories of haunted castles and faeries and other things.”
“There’s more truth to folklore than we are often led to believe,” Wilhelm added. “If this case goes the way we predict, you will be face to face with your first strange beastie very soon.”
I smiled in reply, but still wasn’t entirely sure of what to think of it all.
Not long after we had finished eating, the doorbell rang and Annabelle was admitted a few seconds later. She was once again dressed in her bright red cloak and Jacob frowned a bit at it.
“I don’t know if that’s the right garment to wear into the forest.”
She clutched it around herself indignantly. “My grandmother gave it to me, I always wear it when I visit her, even if she isn’t…her. Besides, it’s not like we’re hiding.”
“Um…” I spoke up and the brothers turned to me questioningly. “Do we have a cover story about going with Miss Annabelle to visit her grandmother? Isn’t that a little strange?”
“Her roof needs to be repaired,” Annabelle said helpfully. “I told her a while back, before this happened, that I would find someone to fix it for her.”
“Well, whatever works,” Jacob said with a shrug and grabbed a jacket from the back of a chair. I could see that it had many pockets on the inside that held various weaponry and charms and other things I couldn’t hazard a guess about. Wilhelm suited up likewise and went to fetch a tool chest to keep up appearances. He also handed me a pistol and I nearly dropped it on my foot as I took it. It was far heavier than I expected. I had hunted before on my aunt and uncle’s property, but this was like no gun I had ever seen. It had four barrels on it. Two large ones and two small underneath.
Wilhelm pressed a small button on the side and I flinched as a knife folded out over the barrels like a tiny bayonet.
“It’s not as hard to fire as it looks, and it’s only for emergencies,” the younger brother explained. “Just in case.”
I wasn’t convinced, but I tucked it into my jacket and we set off.
As we went, Jacob explained calmly to Annabelle about what they thought had happened to her grandmother after the research we had done the night before.
“But if that thing is not my grandmother,” Annabelle protested. “Then where is she?”
“I don’t know,” Jacob told her gently. “Shapeshifters will sometimes keep the people they are impersonating imprisoned. I assume this is what it has done with your grandmother.”
“Because no one has found a body,” Annabelle said blandly.
“Yes,” Jacob admitted. “But do not give up hope yet. We’re going to go and scope out the area. Hugh and I will stay with you while Will goes and checks the surrounding woods to see if they might have a lair where they’re keeping your grandmother.”
Annabelle didn’t look entirely convinced. I wasn’t sure I was either. For all I knew we could just be dealing with a lunatic murderer who just happened to be a master of disguise.
Before I had any more time to doubt why I was there, we reached the little cabin. It was a cozy place, and I didn’t blame the old woman for wanting to stay out there. Even if it put you in danger to be taken by a shapeshifter.
Annabelle knocked on the door and it was opened a minute later by an old woman with a scowl on her face. It lightened somewhat when she saw the girl, but darkened again as she looked past her to us.
“Who are they, Annabelle?” she asked.
Annabelle motioned vaguely behind her. “I told you I would find someone to fix your roof, Grandmother. These men have come to do that. Papa found them.”
The old woman looked us over suspiciously, and I saw instantly that there was definitely something wrong with her eyes. They didn’t look…human, for want of a better description. I found myself both wanting to cover my own so I didn’t have to look any more and to gaze all the deeper. I shook my head, and finally willed myself to break the contact, feeling strangely empty afterward. I glanced at the brothers to see if they were feeling the same effects and they had a strange knowing look on their faces.
“Well, get to it then, boys. Come in when you’re done for some cake.”
Annabelle gave us one slightly worried look before the door closed behind her. Jacob instantly turned to Wilhelm and I and took the tool chest, handing it to me.
“Go look in the woods, Will,” he said. “Hugh and I will stay here and fix the roof so we can be close if Annabelle needs us.”
Wilhelm nodded and instantly trotted off into the woods. Jacob turned to me and nodded to the shed that was off of the cottage.
“Let’s see if there’s a ladder in there,” he said.
After we found one and climbed onto the roof, I nearly catastrophically lugging the tool chest, we crouched there and looked to see the damage done.
“That looks like it,” Jacob said, pointing to a rotted spot. “We can at least do something useful while we’re waiting for Will to get back. But that is definitely a shapeshifter in there, and I would guess, more specifically, a skinwalker.”
“A skinwalker?” I asked, not really liking the sound of that.
“It’s a type of shapeshifter, it comes from Native American folklore. Unlike your traditional shapeshifter that can take any form it wants with a look, the skinwalker, as its name denotes, needs something from the person it is impersonating to bind the spell. For them it’s more of a magic than a natural impulse.”
“So, please tell me that Annabelle’s grandmother has not been skinned somewhere,” I said, cringing.
“Oh, they wouldn’t skin a human. They only take the pelts from animals. No, in order to impersonate a human, a skinwalker, needs something from them, such as an article of clothing, or a piece of jewelry. Then they need to make eye contact with the person in order to take on their form, and while doing so, they read their mind so that they can fool even their closest relations.”
“That’s why its eyes are so strange. So hard to look away from,” I said, shuddering as I remembered the eyes of Annabelle’s grandmother. And then I realized I was actually believing this. Because I was, wasn’t I?
Jacob nodded. “Yes. You should never look one in the eye if you can help it. I’ve heard that using a mirror as Perseus did fighting Medusa works. It takes a powerful skinwalker to change into a human though. Usually they are only able to take on animal forms.”
“And those murders you were mentioning yesterday, you think they’re all connected?”
“I’ll have to do a little more investigating to know for sure, but I believe so. We need to work on finding a connection between the three cases. If we can, then we should be able to find out what their motive is.”
“It has a motive?” I asked, somewhat incredulous.
Jacob turned to me very seriously. “Oh, yes, Hugh. Even monsters have motives.”
I started to work on the roof with Jacob when I looked over and saw something odd. “What’s that?” I asked.
Jacob turned around and inspected the spot on the roof closer. He frowned, tracing his finger in the four identical grooves that were dug into the roof, looking quite a bit like claw marks.
“That’s strange,” he mused and reached into his pocket, taking out a paper and a charcoal pencil and making a rubbing of the marks. “Looks large. Maybe like a wolf.”
“Like what Annabelle said she saw?” I asked.
“Quite possibly. And also quite possibly the skinwalker who took her grandmother captive.”
“But that would mean there’s more than one, if the wolf she saw is also a skinwalker,” I said, staring at the size of the claw marks and feeling glad I had the gun in my pocket now. “How does one go about, well, getting rid of a skinwalker?”
“I’m a bit rusty on that angle,” Jacob said. “We’ll have to take a look later when we get back home.”
We were nearly done when I looked up to see Wilhelm coming back out of the woods. Jacob hailed him and we climbed down from the roof.
“Well?” Jacob asked.
Wilhelm shook his head, still looking off into the woods. “Nothing. You?”
Jacob showed him the rubbing. “I think skinwalker.”
Wilhelm nodded and started off back to the door of the cottage. “Well, we should get some research done then so we know exactly what we’re up against.”
We fetched Annabelle from the house, and she bid farewell to her grandmother after we were paid for our ‘services’ and we made it back to town just after midday.
“Let’s split up and see what we can find out,” Jacob said. “Will, you go back to the house with Hugh and do some research into skinwalkers.”
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“I’m going to take a look at the sites of the murders and see what I can find out about them. Look for similarities.”
I nodded and followed Wilhelm back to the Grimms’ place.
“Get the door, please?” he asked, still holding the tool chest.
I opened the door and he followed me inside, setting the chest down behind the door. He made us something to eat before we headed down into the basement or armory, as Jacob had called it. The younger Grimm brother seemed quieter than usual, but I didn’t know him all that well yet either. Maybe he was just more talkative around his brother.
I pulled out several books that looked like they might have the information we would need. One was about Native American folklore and I found myself instantly fascinated with the stories and myth—or history—behind skinwalkers. I had always loved fairy tales when I was a boy, the more frightening the better, and I suppose I had not changed since.
It seemed that skinwalkers were men who had done something to offend the tribe, such as murder a kinsman or perform other sins. They would then turn into these dark sorcerers, and sometimes acquire the ability to take different forms, thus making them skinwalkers. I didn’t know if that was exactly what we were dealing with here, for obviously, we were in Germany and not the Americas, but I knew well enough that most cultures shared folklore. I supposed now, if the Grimm brothers were right and not insane, that it wouldn’t be so odd for different peoples to collect traits and monsters from other cultures as they did customs and fashion and food and drink.
I finally found what I was looking for though, and turned to Wilhelm with the information.
“It says here that skinwalkers can only be killed when in their human form; their true form,” I said. “And they must be shot with a bullet dipped in white ash.”
“Good job,” Wilhelm said, offering me a small smile, before he turned back to his book. I frowned, something really did seem strange.
Just at that moment, Jacob came clattering down the stairs and threw his jacket onto the table.
“I think I have a lead, lads,” he said, as he sat down and helped himself to the tea on the service we had brought down. “I went round to the butcher’s shop, and found his brother there who had come in to take over the business. Apparently it was left to him. But that’s not all. The man who murdered his wife was also left a lucrative tannery in town when his father-in-law died just two months back. And I also found out from Annabelle that her father owns an import business that makes good money, and that he has only recently willed it out to his brother-in-law should something happen to him. These three businesses are the richest in town. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
“But why would skinwalkers want businesses?” I asked.
“They’re people just like us,” Wilhelm said. “They want money same as the rest.”
“So they disguise themselves as members of the family?” I asked. “I could understand if one played the part of the man who was set to inherit, and the butcher’s brother, but why the apprentice and Annabelle’s grandmother?”
“For one,” Jacob said, “The butcher’s brother wasn’t from town. He just came in, supposedly, yesterday. But I talked to him, and I think he’s a skinwalker. There’s just something…off about him. And also, there’s a fact about skinwalkers that I remember reading a while ago. They can only enter a house if they are invited because they are cursed beings.”
“I read that,” I said.
“So it would make sense,” Jacob continued. “If they disguised themselves as people who would be certain to get into these establishments, like the husband, the apprentice butcher and Annabell’s grandmother, so they could do their dirty work and then take on the form of the person set to inherit instead.”
“Clever,” I said.
“Isn’t it?” Wilhelm said with a small smile touching his lips.
Jacob turned to him for the first time, and looked him in the face. I opened my mouth to say something, but Jacob’s expression suddenly balked and he whipped a gun from the back of his belt.
“You. What have you done with my brother?” he said in a low, dangerous voice.
Wilhelm, or the thing that was wearing his face, smiled in a ghastly way. “Oh, he’s locked away somewhere you won’t find him. It was foolish of you to let him go into the woods alone.”
My heart was hammering in my chest and I too fumbled for my gun, hoping that a bullet might work even if it didn’t have white ash on it. I remembered then, how the Not-Wilhelm had asked me to open the door. I had invited him in, just like Jacob had said. And he was wearing the younger Grimm’s clothing to bind the spell, not just one article. I didn’t think he would be obliged to change for us.
“You’ll tell us where he is,” Jacob told the skinwalker, still leveling the pistol at him.
“You won’t do any damage to me with that,” the skinwalker said with disdain.
“He’s right,” I said quietly to Jacob. “He needs to be in his true form and the bullet needs to be covered in white ash.”
Jacob cursed and made as if to lower his gun before he lunged at the skinwalker. But the creature seemed to be ready and threw Jacob backwards into the bookshelves with inhuman strength. Jacob slumped to the ground with a groan and then it came after me, leaping the table like a hurdle.
I backed up and cocked the pistol, shooting it off; even if it wasn’t going to do anything, I hoped it might slow him down a bit. The bullet hit him low in the right side and he staggered, but then just grinned at me and struck me a blow to the face that left my ears ringing and I felt blood dripping down my chin from my nose. Before I could recover, it had me by the throat and was slamming me up against the wall, my feet only scraping the floor. I gagged, trying to get air into my lungs. I had dropped the pistol too.
“Pathetic,” the skinwalker sneered. “I do not miss the days I was human. You’re all so weak. I can be anything, anyone I want to be. Right now, my brothers and I are making a name for ourselves here, but who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be the King of England.” He laughed but it was cut short by a gunshot and he staggered forward, letting me go, just as I thought I would pass out from lack of air. I slumped to the floor, seeing blood flowing from the skinwalker’s shoulder. Jacob was standing behind it and kicked it to the floor, wasting no time in tying the skinwalker’s hands behind its back and then thrusting it into a chair and winding more rope around it. I saw a small pile of ash on the floor and realized that Jacob must have quickly gathered enough white ash to make a bullet. It didn’t kill the skinwalker as he was still not in his true form, but it still seemed to wound it at least.
I drug myself up, rubbing my throat, still trying to get my breath back. Jacob was favoring one arm, but he was angry, and he wasn’t going to let it stop him. He pulled a knife from inside his jacket and leaned over the skinwalker dangerously.
“You will tell me where you are keeping my brother and the others now,” he said coldly and started slicing the shirt and waistcoat down the middle. The skinwalker growled defiantly, but Jacob just tore the sleeves and pulled it all off of him. I blinked as something akin to mist seemed to flutter over the figure that looked like Wilhelm until there was a middle-aged man with a beard and long, black hair sitting there, a feral snarl on his lips. I gasped and shook my head, wondering what I had just seen.
“That…” I stammered.
“This is his true form,” Jacob explained, and took a bullet out of his pocket and went around the table to cover it in the white ash that he had made. He held it up for the shifter to see. “This time I will not miss. I will do it too; I’ll kill you if you don’t agree to take us to where you are keeping the people you have turned into. And tell me how many of you there are and where you are hiding.”
The skinwalker glared at Jacob and I shuddered at the thought that the eldest Grimm brother might actually have to shoot him. He loaded the pistol deliberately, and as the silence continued, he finally cocked it and pointed it right between the skinwalker’s eyes.
The skinwalker scrunched up his face, seeming to brace himself before he sighed and shook his head. “Fine. I’ll take you there myself. It’s deep in the woods and you’ll get lost if you don’t know where you’re going.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Jacob said. He turned to me. “We’ll make more of the proper bullets and get them loaded up. Then we’ll see if we can’t find out where he’s keeping the victims. And if he’s lying,” Jacob turned back to the skinwalker, a cold ring to his voice. “Then I’ll just keep shooting bits of you until you do tell.”
I went up to the parlor to make a fire in the hearth and once there was enough white ash, I covered the bullets in it and settled them gently into a cartridge box. Jacob was gathering what we would need. Half way through, I found myself trembling. It was actually real. All of it. It was going to take me a while to come to terms with it, I knew, but now wasn’t the time. We had to go rescue the people. I touched my throat gingerly. I thought there must certainly be bruises there.
After I had finished, I went back to find Jacob readying the skinwalker for our journey. He handed me his pistol and I held it on the creature, hoping he didn’t see the shaking of my hands, while Jacob trussed him up tightly with his hands behind his back and his arms tight against his sides. He took the pistol back and shoved it between the skinwalker’s shoulder blades as he took hold of a lead rope.
“Come on then. Let’s go.”
We went out the back of the house so as not to draw unwanted attention to ourselves, and began on the way to the forest. I could see a new tenseness in Jacob’s shoulders as he grumbled at the skinwalker to get a move on. He wasn’t showing it, but I knew he was worried about his brother. I was too. I was afraid of what we would find when we got to the skinwalkers’ hide. What if they had just decided that keeping prisoners was too much work and they just did away with them? I kept my own pistol in my palm, having loaded each barrel with an ash-covered bullet. I was ready should we be surprised.
We passed the cottage that belonged to Annabelle’s grandmother and Jacob pressed his pistol warningly against the base of the skinwalker’s skull lest he cry out and warn his companion. I wasn’t willing to bet that just because that one was in the form of an old women it couldn’t beat the devil out of us like our captive had.
It was getting darker, and Jacob pulled a small lantern from his belt and handed it to me. I lit it and took the lead to light the way, wary of every shadow that I caught out of the corner of my eye.
“How much farther?” Jacob asked our prisoner.
“Only a little bit,” he growled.
I caught sight of it first, though just barely for it was a well hidden place, but someone had been burning a fire and the smoke drifting up alerted me to the place’s existence.
“Is that it?” Jacob asked the skinwalker.
The creature nodded. “Yes, that’s it.”
“Call out to them,” Jacob told him, pressing the pistol into the skinwalker’s side.
“Hey!” he called. “You there, Franz?”
There was no answer. Jacob and I exchanged a look. It might be a trap, some sort of code. Jacob finally turned back to the skinwalker and pushed him against a tree, quickly tying him to it before shoving a handkerchief into his mouth.
“If this is a trap, I will still kill you,” Jacob said firmly. He turned to me and motioned for us to go forward. He took the lantern from me and led the way to the small hovel that was cleverly hidden with downed foliage. I gripped my pistol tighter, licking my lips in anticipation.
Jacob grabbed the door and threw it open, jumping inside with his pistol leveled. I was right at his back in case he was attacked, but there was only a group of figures at the far end of the hovel, flinching back at the sudden light.
“Will?” Jacob called, and there was a muffled reply. He ran inside and set the lantern down, pulling his knife out and started to cut his brother loose. Wilhelm was shivering in only his shirt and trousers and he had crusted blood on the side of his face, but he was obviously relieved to see his brother. Jacob took off his gag and once he had cut his bonds he pulled him into a strong embrace. I sighed in relief, then started to help the other captives, beginning with who I took to be Annabelle’s grandmother.
“Don’t ever do that to me again,” Jacob told his younger brother as he started on another prisoner who I thought might be the butcher’s assistant.
“I know I should have kept a better lookout,” Wilhelm said and rubbed life back into his hands with a wince. “How long did it take you to figure out it wasn’t me?”
“Not long,” Jacob replied with a smile as I released the last prisoner.
“What now?” I asked, helping Annabelle’s grandmother to her feet and taking off my jacket to wrap around her. “It’s not like we can go to the police with this.”
Before Jacob could reply, there was a shout outside the hovel and we shared a look.
“They’re here,” Jacob said and took a pistol out of his coat to give to Wilhelm. “Protect the people here, Will, Hugh and I will go hold them off.”
I wasn’t sure I could do that very well, but I didn’t have much choice but to try my best. When we got outside we saw another skinwalker untying our prisoner and at his heels was a wolf, who was obviously not an actual wolf. It still had the teeth and claws of one though, and it wasted no time in attacking.
Jacob shot his pistol and hit the one shifter high in the chest. I didn’t know if it was a fatal shot or not, but it would slow him down providing he was in his true form. I had little time to think of it though because the wolf skinwalker had decided to go after me. I got off one shot which did about as much as if I had tried to stop a ship with my hand, and found myself bourn to the ground by the furry maniac.
I lost my pistol in the impact and brought both hands up just in time to keep its fangs from my throat. Not that the pistol would have done any good if I had had it because the skinwalker was still wearing its skin. That was when I remembered the knife in my boot. I slammed a fist into the beast’s nose and bought a second to reach down and grab my blade. I tore it up the wolf’s belly and as it yelped, I threw it off me, and tore at the skin. It came off nearly instantly in my hand as a pelt and left a feral looking man lying there, growling at me. He lunged, his hands going for my throat, but I reached back and grabbed my pistol, leveling a shot right in his chest. The skinwalker’s eyes rolled up in his head and he fell over me, pinning me to the ground.
Jacob was standing over the other two skinwalkers who also seemed to be dead, and he turned back to me, coming to my aid. He hauled the skinwalker off of me and helped me to my feet, slapping me on the back. I was panting and unable to form two words together.
“You did good for your first time, Hugh,” he said simply.
I just nodded, having to bend over and get my head back. There was blood all over the front of my shirt, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be sick or not. I felt all together rather giddy. Exhilarated almost. I had honestly never felt so alive.
Wilhelm came up wearily with the victims and nodded to Jacob.
“Good job, brother. Now how about we get these people home?”
We went cautiously back to the cottage that belonged to Annabelle’s grandmother, hoping that the shifter wasn’t there, but all we found was a bonnet and shawl lying on the ground, and we figured that one of the skinwalkers we had killed had been the one masquerading as the old woman. All the victims had confirmed that the three men now lying dead in the woods were the ones who had attacked them, and it seemed we had gotten them all.
After seeing the old woman settled in with a hot kettle of tea, we made our way back to town to bring the other victims home before heading back to the Grimms’ house. We were all exhausted and sore, having sustained multiple bruises, but I felt strangely good. As if I had accomplished something. I had never felt that way before. I don’t think I had ever done something that really mattered.
Jacob sat Wilhelm in front of the fire and cleaned his head up before making us all a pot of strong tea. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever remembered drinking.
“So, Hugh Sharpe,” Jacob said with a small smile as he settled into a chair and stretched his feet out toward the fire. “What did you think of your first case?”
I shook my head. “I fear it will take me a while to realize it all really happened.”
“Will you consider taking another one?”
I was silent for a long time. Part of me, a rational part, said to run far away and never look back, but what good would that do me? Once you knew the kinds of things that lived in the dark of night, you couldn’t really go back from that. And I knew skinwalkers weren’t the worst there was either. Besides, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t liked it. I had been the one who said I wanted an adventure. Well, one had certainly fallen onto my plate!
“I think I would enjoy being your chronicler,” I said truthfully.
Jacob and his brother grinned and raised their tea cups to me. “Welcome to the business.”
I smiled back and somehow, the next thing I knew, it was morning and I was still sitting in the chair by the fireplace. I blinked blearily and realized I must have fallen asleep, exhausted from the previous night’s events.
There was no one else in the parlor, but I smelled food coming from the kitchen so I got up and bit back a groan as my body protested, and all the bruises made themselves known quite frantically. I found Jacob and Wilhelm sitting at the table with their normal large breakfast, and I suddenly realized how starving I was. Hunting monsters must give you an incredible appetite.
“Good morning,” I said with a sheepish grin. “I apologize for falling asleep in your chair.”
“No worries,” Jacob said, waving his hand dismissively. “I was going to tell you that there is an extra bedroom for you. It would be the most convenient lodgings with the long nights and strange hours this job comes with. If you are still willing to take the job.”
“I believe I am,” I said truthfully. “I don’t really know how one would go back from that.”
“That is the truth,” Wilhelm said with a wry smile.
We finished the breakfast just as there was a knock at the door. Jacob went to answer it and came back with Annabelle, still wearing her red cloak. She smiled happily at us.
“Thank you so much for saving my grandmother, and it seems my father as well. I’ve brought your payment.”
“We’ll call this one a public service,” Jacob told her, waving away the money she handed him. “I’m just glad we could get your grandmother back for you.”
She smiled and nodded. “If there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know. And if I ever find anything strange going on again, you’re the first ones I will come to.”
“That is a wise choice,” I told her and gained a smile from the brothers.
Annabelle turned to me. “Good luck with your new job,” she said.
I thanked her and then she said she had to leave.
After breakfast was cleared up, I decided to go back to the hotel I had been staying at and check out. I gathered my things and carried them back to the Grimms’ house, thinking it strange that the odd place would now be my home. It felt right somehow.
Jacob led me to the room that would be mine and left me to see to my unpacking. I dropped my bags to the floor and had a look around. It was in the attic, so the ceiling was sloped on one side, but it was cozy, with a bed covered in a patchwork quilt and a dresser of drawers on the other end of the room and a rag rug in the center. There was an arched window and tucked beneath it was a desk. I went over to that first. There was already pen and ink there and when I opened the drawer, I found parchment.
I sat in the chair and took up the pen. I smiled as I dipped it into the inkwell for the first time, pausing a moment, before I set pen to paper and began to write.
©Copyright 2014 by Hazel B. West
Next week I will posting the full details of the Dictionary Word Challenge, so definitely check back for that if you are interested!
Next week I will posting the full details of the Dictionary Word Challenge, so definitely check back for that if you are interested!