By George W. M. ReynoldsPART IPROLOGUE.It was the month of January, 1516.The night was dark and tempestuous; the thunder growled around; thelightning flashed at short intervals: and the wind swept furiously alongin sudden and fitful gusts.melody no more, but rushed on with deafening din, mingling their torrentThe streams of the great Black Forest of Germany babbled in playfulthe howling of the affrighted wolves, and the hollow voices of theroar with the wild creaking of the huge oaks, the rustling of the firs, storm.the vivid lightning gleamed forth with rapid and eccentric glare, itThe dense black clouds were driving restlessly athwart the sky; and when seemed as if the dark jaws of some hideous monster, floating high above,they raised strange echoes--as if the impervious mazes of that mightyopened to vomit flame. And as the abrupt but furious gusts of wind swept through the forest, wood were the abode of hideous fiends and evil spirits, who responded inAn old--old man sat in his cottage on the verge of the Black Forest.shrieks, moans, and lamentations to the fearful din of the tempest. It was, indeed, an appalling night! He had numbered ninety years; his head was completely bald--his mouthlast voyage, from which no traveler returns.was toothless--his long beard was white as snow, and his limbs were feeble and trembling. He was alone in the world; his wife, his children, his grandchildren, all his relations, in fine, _save one_, had preceded him on that long,discover him seated thus lonely in his poor cottage.And that _one_ was a grand-daughter, a beauteous girl of sixteen, who had hitherto been his solace and his comfort, but who had suddenly disappeared--he knew not how--a few days previously to the time when we But perhaps she also was dead! An accident might have snatched her awaymore--for he had sought her throughout the neighboring district of thefrom him, and sent her spirit to join those of her father and mother, her sisters and her brothers, whom a terrible pestilence--_the Black Death_--hurried to the tomb a few years before. No: the old man could not believe that his darling granddaughter was no Black Forest, and not a trace of her was to be seen. Had she fallen downthat the only being left to solace him on earth, had deserted him; anda precipice, or perished by the ruthless murderer's hand, he would have discovered her mangled corpse: had she become the prey of the ravenous wolves, certain signs of her fate would have doubtless somewhere appeared. The sad--the chilling conviction therefore, went to the old man's heart, his spirit was bowed down in despair. Who now would prepare his food, while he tended his little flock? whofollow some youthful lover, who will buoy thee up with bright hopes, andwas there to collect the dry branches in the forest, for the winter's fuel, while the aged shepherd watched a few sheep that he possessed? who would now spin him warm clothing to protect his weak and trembling limbs? "Oh! Agnes," he murmured, in a tone indicative of a breaking heart, "why couldst thou have thus abandoned me? Didst thou quit the old man to then deceive thee? O Agnes--my darling! hast thou left me to perish without a soul to close my eyes?"and intelligent, but fearful now to meet, so wild and wandering wereIt was painful how that ancient shepherd wept. Suddenly a loud knock at the door of the cottage aroused him from his painful reverie; and he hastened, as fast as his trembling limbs would permit him, to answer the summons. He opened the door; and a tall man, apparently about forty years of age, entered the humble dwelling. His light hair would have been magnificent indeed, were it not sorely neglected; his blue eyes were naturally fine their glances: his form was tall and admirably symmetrical, butSuddenly the thunder which had hitherto growled at a distance, burstprematurely bowed by the weight of sorrow, and his attire was of costly material, but indicative of inattention even more than it was travel-soiled. The old man closed the door, and courteously drew a stool near the fire for the stranger who had sought in his cottage a refuge against the fury of the storm. He also placed food before him; but the stranger touched it not--horror and dismay appearing to have taken possession of his soul. above the humble abode; and the wind swept by with so violent a gust,The roar of the thunder past--the shrieking, whistling, gushing windthat it shook the little tenement to its foundation, and filled the neighboring forest with strange, unearthly noises. Then the countenance of the stranger expressed such ineffable horror, amounting to a fearful agony, that the old man was alarmed, and stretched out his hand to grasp a crucifix that hung over the chimney-piece; but his mysterious guest made a forbidding sign of so much earnestness mingled with such proud authority, that the aged shepherd sank back into his seat without touching the sacred symbol.The stranger listened abstractedly at first; but afterward he appearedbecame temporarily lulled into low moans and subdued lamentations, amid the mazes of the Black Forest; and the stranger grew more composed. "Dost thou tremble at the storm?" inquired the old man. "I am unhappy," was the evasive and somewhat impatient reply. "Seek not to know more of me--beware how you question me. But you, old man, are _not_ happy! The traces of care seem to mingle with the wrinkles of age upon your brow!" The shepherd narrated, in brief and touching terms, the unaccountable disappearance of his much-beloved granddaughter Agnes.breathed his last, the wolves from the forest would have entered andto reflect profoundly for several minutes. "Your lot is wretched, old man," said he at length: "if you live a few years longer, that period must be passed in solitude and cheerlessness:--if you suddenly fall ill you must die the lingering death of famine, without a soul to place a morsel of food, or the cooling cup to your lips; and when you shall be no more, who will follow you to the grave? There are no habitations nigh; the nearest village is half-a-day's journey distant; and ere the peasants of that hamlet, or some passing traveler, might discover that the inmate of this hut hadthe eyes and a ghastly change of the countenance--signs of a profoundlymangled your corpse." "Talk not thus!" cried the old man, with a visible shudder; then darting a half-terrified, half-curious glance at his guest, he said, "but who are you that speak in this awful strain--this warning voice?" Again the thunder rolled, with crashing sound, above the cottage; and once more the wind swept by, laden, as it seemed, with the shrieks and groans of human beings in the agonies of death. The stranger maintained a certain degree of composure only by means of a desperate effort, but he could not altogether subdue a wild flashing of felt terror.all human beings--belongs the means of giving thee new life--of"Again I say, ask me not who I am!" he exclaimed, when the thunder and the gust had passed. "My soul recoils from the bare idea of pronouncing my own accursed name! But--unhappy as you see me--crushed, overwhelmed with deep affliction as you behold me--anxious, but unable to repent for the past as I am, and filled with appalling dread for the future as I now proclaim myself to be, still is my power far, far beyond that limit which hems mortal energies within so small a sphere. Speak, old man--wouldst thou change thy condition? For to me--and to me alone of bestowing upon thee the vigor of youth, of rendering that stooping formproportion as a rapid glance at his helpless, wretched, desertedupright and strong, of restoring fire to those glazing eyes, and beauty to that wrinkled, sunken, withered countenance--of endowing thee, in a word, with a fresh tenure of existence and making that existence sweet by the aid of treasures so vast that no extravagance can dissipate them!" A strong though indefinite dread assailed the old man as this astounding proffer was rapidly opened, in all its alluring details, to his mind;--and various images of terror presented themselves to his imagination;--but these feelings were almost immediately dominated by a wild and ardent hope, which became the more attractive and exciting in condition led him to survey the contrast between what he then was, andtone. "The first is, that you become the companion of my wanderings forwhat, if the stranger spoke truly, he might so soon become. The stranger saw that he had made the desired impression; and he continued thus: "Give but your assent, old man, and not only will I render thee young, handsome, and wealthy; but I will endow thy mind with an intelligence to match that proud position. Thou shalt go forth into the world to enjoy all those pleasures, those delights, and those luxuries, the names of which are even now scarcely known to thee!" "And what is the price of this glorious boon?" asked the old man, trembling with mingled joy and terror through every limb. "There are two conditions," answered the stranger, in a low, mysterious one year and a half from the present time, until the hour of sunset, onworld I alone am so deeply, so terribly accurst!" was the ominouslythe 30th of July, 1517, when we must part forever, you to go whithersoever your inclinations may guide you, and I---- But of _that_, no matter!" he added, hastily, with a sudden motion as if of deep mental agony, and with wildly flashing eyes. The old man shrank back in dismay from his mysterious guest: the thunder rolled again, the rude gust swept fiercely by, the dark forest rustled awfully, and the stranger's torturing feelings were evidently prolonged by the voices of the storm. A pause ensued; and the silence was at length broken by the old man, who said, in a hollow and tremulous tone, "To the first condition I would willingly accede. But the second?" "That you prey upon the human race, whom I hate; because of all the fearful yet only dimly significant reply.must invoke to effect the promised change in thee, and by whose aid youThe old man shook his head, scarcely comprehending the words of his guest, and yet daring not to ask to be more enlightened. "Listen!" said the stranger, in a hasty but impressive voice: "I require a companion, one who has no human ties, and who still ministers to my caprices,--who will devote himself wholly and solely to watch me in my dark hours, and endeavor to recall me back to enjoyment and pleasure, who, when he shall be acquainted with my power, will devise new means in which to exercise it, for the purpose of conjuring up those scenes of enchantment and delight that may for a season win me away from thought. Such a companion do I need for a period of one year and a half; and you are, of all men, the best suited to my design. But the Spirit whom I can be given back to youth and comeliness, will demand some fearfulparticular seasons certain doomed men throw off the human shape and takesacrifice at your hands. And the nature of that sacrifice--the nature of the condition to be imposed--I can well divine!" "Name the sacrifice--name the condition!" cried the old man, eagerly. "I am so miserable--so spirit-broken--so totally without hope in this world, that I greedily long to enter upon that new existence which you promised me! Say, then, what is the condition?" "That you prey upon the human race, whom _he_ hates as well as I," answered the stranger. "Again these awful words!" ejaculated the old man, casting trembling glances around him. "Yes--again those words," echoed the mysterious guest, looking with his fierce burning eyes into the glazed orbs of the aged shepherd. "And now learn their import!" he continued, in a solemn tone. "Knowest thou not that there is a belief in many parts of our native land that at that of ravenous wolves?"which---- But hesitate not," added the stranger, hastily: "I have no"Oh, yes--yes--I have indeed heard of those strange legends in which the Wehr-Wolf is represented in such appalling colors!" exclaimed the old man, a terrible suspicion crossing his mind. "'Tis said that at sunset on the last day of every month the mortal, to whom belongs the destiny of the Wehr-Wolf, must exchange his natural form for that of the savage animal; in which horrible shape he must remain until the moment when the morrow's sun dawns upon the earth." "The legend that told thee this spoke truly," said the stranger. "And now dost thou comprehend the condition which must be imposed upon thee?" "I do--I do!" murmured the old man with a fearful shudder. "But he who accepts that condition makes a compact with the evil one, and thereby endangers his immortal soul!" "Not so," was the reply. "There is naught involved in this condition time to waste in bandying words. Consider all I offer you: in anotherallowing his now uncurbed fancy to change the one single room of thehour you shall be another man!" "I accept the boon--and on the conditions stipulated!" exclaimed the shepherd. "'Tis well, Wagner----" "What! you know my name!" cried the old man. "And yet, meseems, I did not mention it to thee." "Canst thou not already perceive that I am no common mortal?" demanded the stranger, bitterly. "And who I am, and whence I derive my power, all shall be revealed to thee so soon as the bond is formed that must link us for eighteen months together! In the meantime, await me here!" And the mysterious stranger quitted the cottage abruptly, and plunged into the depths of the Black Forest. One hour elapsed ere he returned--one mortal hour, during which Wagner sat bowed over his miserably scanty fire, dreaming of pleasure, youth, riches, and enjoyment; converting, in imagination, the myriad sparks which shone upon the extinguishing embers into piles of gold, andHe immediately fell back upon the seat, in a state of complete lethargy.wretched hovel into a splendid saloon, surrounded by resplendent mirrors and costly hangings, while the untasted fare for the stranger on the rude fir-table, became transformed, in his idea, into a magnificent banquet laid out, on a board glittering with plate, lustrous with innumerable lamps, and surrounded by an atmosphere fragrant with the most exquisite perfumes. The return of the stranger awoke the old man from his charming dream, during which he had never once thought of the conditions whereby he was to purchase the complete realization of the vision. "Oh! what a glorious reverie you have dissipated!" exclaimed Wagner. "Fulfill but one tenth part of that delightful dream----" "I will fulfill it all!" interrupted the stranger: then, producing a small vial from the bosom of his doublet, he said, "Drink!" The old man seized the bottle, and speedily drained it to the dregs. But it lasted not for many minutes; and when he awoke again, hethou hast conferred upon me!"experienced new and extraordinary sensations. His limbs were vigorous, his form was upright as an arrow; his eyes, for many years dim and failing, seemed gifted with the sight of an eagle, his head was warm with a natural covering; not a wrinkle remained upon his brow nor on his cheeks; and, as he smiled with mingled wonderment and delight, the parting lips revealed a set of brilliant teeth. And it seemed, too, as if by one magic touch the long fading tree of his intellect had suddenly burst into full foliage, and every cell of his brain was instantaneously stored with an amount of knowledge, the accumulation of which stunned him for an instant, and in the next appeared as familiar to him as if he had never been without it. "Oh! great and powerful being, whomsoever thou art," exclaimed Wagner, in the full, melodious voice of a young man of twenty-one, "how can I manifest to thee my deep, my boundless gratitude for this boon which "By thinking no more of thy lost grand-child Agnes, but by preparing tobeckoned him imperiously away from the humble cottage.follow me whither I shall now lead thee," replied the stranger. "Command me: I am ready to obey in all things," cried Wagner. "But one word ere we set forth--who art thou, wondrous man?" "Henceforth I have no secrets from thee, Wagner," was the answer, while the stranger's eyes gleamed with unearthly luster; then, bending forward, he whispered a few words in the other's ear. Wagner started with a cold and fearful shudder as if at some appallingannouncement; but he uttered not a word of reply--for his masterbeckoned him imperiously away from the humble cottage.
De Richard Christian Matherson
Búsqueda. Hambre. Enfermo.
Radio. Noticias. Pantallas. Policía. Emisión.
Llegada. Aparcar. Vigilancia.
Cuerpos. Sangre. Multitud. Sirenas.
Hora. Sentarse. Dolor. Cigarrillo. Termo. Café.
Semáforos. Ojos. Camillas. Sábanas.
Coche. Peste. Cigarrillo.
Ambulancia. Gemido. Grúa. Cuerpos. Llevados.
Multitud. Policía. Fotógrafos. Borrachos. Marcha.
Lluvia. Oscuro. Humedad.
Puerta. Fuera. De pie. Camino. Dolor. Mira. Más cerca.
Edificios. Silencio. Calle. Muerte.
Sangre. Tiza. Contornos. Más cerca.
Paso. Dentro. Contornos. Mitad.
Inhalar. Ojos. Cerrados.
Pensar. Inhalar. Concentrar. Sentir. Respirar.
Muerte. Colisión. Mujer. Gritos. Parabrisas. Expresión.
Energía. Concentrar. Imágenes. Explotando.
Mujer. Coche. Camión. Explosión.
Metal. Ardiendo. Gritos. Sangre. Muerte.
Momento. Colisión. Imágenes. Más rápido.
Imágenes. Colisión. Más fuerte. Ver. Muerte.
Momento. Cura. Momento.
Droga. Prisa. Cuerpo. Más cálido.
Muerte. Concentrándose. Curándose. Adicción. Droga.
Coche. Motor. Conducción. Lluvia. Calles. Autopista. Mapa.
Conducción. Relax. A salvo. Calor. Prisa. Bien.
Radio. Cigarrillo. Brisa.
Búsqueda. Accidente. Muerte.
Energía. Reloj. Espera.