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A Sheriff Examines a Body
“What do you observe?” the elder sheriff asks his apprentice. He holds his lantern over the dismembered corpse.
She responds professionally. “Young adult male. Mutilated.”
“His extremities have been dismembered or broken to prohibit any type of defense. His abdomen has been opened and his internal organs savagely removed.”
“Keen observations. What do you ascertain from this evidence?”
“Are you asking me?”
“So you believe a werewolf did this.”
“The young man’s father said he heard growling.”
“Pigs growl. Maybe a pig did this.”
“A pig wouldn’t leave this much meat behind.” She glances up. “Apologies. I meant no disrespect to the deceased.”
The sheriff smiles reassuringly. “It’s what we call ‘gallows humor’. Continue with your observation.”
“We know that werewolves are incredibly strong. We know that werewolves have voracious appetites. We know that not all victims survive the attack of a werewolf.”
He doesn’t look at his apprentice yet he feels her eyes on him. She waits for his response.
“I was, indeed, fortunate. The apprentice I was training that night quickly cauterized my wounds by heating the tip of his silver blade.”
“Whatever happened to Jernod Bixby?”
“He became a sheriff in a fishing village by the sea.”
“He didn’t want to be sheriff here?”
“Shoreville paid better. You’re fortunate I agreed to your apprenticeship. After Bixby left, I was resigned to never take on another trainee. Now tell me. Do you have any other evidence that a lycanthrope could have done this?”
“The young man’s father reported several of the sheep from his flock have been found in a similar manner.”
“So a few dead, mutilated sheep found on the property, a growling noise in the night, and a mutilated corpse lead you to conclude there is a lycanthrope on the prowl in the village.”
“It is certainly a lead I would consider following.”
“You would be wasting your time. Look closer.”
It takes a moment for her to turn her eyes away from the sheriff’s determination. The sheriff knows she wants him to show her what he sees so that she doesn’t waste any time. So that she doesn’t make the same mistake. So that she doesn’t get it wrong.
The sheriff sighs. Until he finds the right apprentice, he is unable to give up his position. He longs for more relaxing days of a cabin in the hilly forests outside the castle’s jurisdiction. Days where he can roam about freely. Hunt at his leisure. Sleep whenever he wishes. The day he longs for eludes him.
He is about to point to the tell-all clue when she stops him.
“It’s a dragon,” she says.
“How do you know?” He senses the uncanny eagerness of hope.
She pinches a triangular fleck the color of raw copper ore out of the sinew of the mutilated corpse. The tip bends a tiny bit under the press of her finger. “A dragon sheds its scales under duress.”
“What if the lad owned that scale? What if it were part of an ornamental necklace he wore?”
“If he possessed such a necklace, he wouldn’t be herding sheep in the country.”
“You say the scales shed under duress. What does that indicate to you?”
“The young man suspected a dragon killed some of his family’s flock. He set out to hunt the beast.”
The sheriff swings his lantern. “I see no weapon near the body.”
“A dragon always collects a trophy.”
“Whereas a lycanthrope does not. It must kill and eat quickly before it reverts back to its human form. Anything else that indicates a dragon killed this young man?”
He saw deduction come alive within her. Saw that she recognized a dragon could have caused the death. The apprentice elaborates on her observations. The body was not burned so it was more than likely a swamp dragon. They were known to have a rusty, turquoise patina to their scales. Though she has never seen a live swamp dragon, she has seen the skeletal remains of one in the Hall of Fauna.
“Perhaps I could ride into the village. Ask the museum curator if I might borrow a talon to see if it compares to the wounds in the flesh. It won’t be exact but it might provide a lead.”
“Brilliant idea! You go and I will stay here with the body.” He drinks from his waterskin, then drags the back of his hand over his wet lips.
The apprentice rides off into the night.
The sheriff hears the crunch of someone approaching.
“I thought she’d never leave,” a cloaked man says.
“You made a mess of it this time, Bixby. You’re lucky I still have some of those old dragon scales to throw her off track.”
“Am I lucky, Jenks?” The man in the cloak drops his hood. His snout remains somewhat extended. The fur on his face could pass for a heavy beard. It is his lower jaw jutting out beneath his upper lip that gives him away. That and the fangs.
The cloaked man rips off one of the arms from the dead young shepherd and sinks his canine teeth into the flesh.
Jenks folds his arms defensively. “I have that young woman chasing dragons and not us.”
“I would think you’d be a little more grateful to me.”
“Grateful? You bit me. I had a good thing going as the sheriff off this burg. Now I’m cursed and can’t leave it.”
“And I’m cursed to be the sheriff in your stead until I can find someone we can easily dupe into chasing dragons and not us.”
Bixby rips off the left leg of the dead man. “I should have killed you that night.”
The sheriff reaches for the dead man. Bixby snarls. The sheriff capitulates.
“We’ve had this discussion before. If you want, I can end it. I still have your sword. It’ll burn my hand to wield it but if it’s the price I must pay to end your eternal damnation, so be it.”
“Shut up and eat.” Bixby tosses the sheriff a thigh.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
The two man-wolves strip bare the bones of the dead man. They growl and howl as they gorge themselves into a frenzy thus destroying any possibility the village will believe the apprentice’s story of a country dragon feasting on sheep and humans in their midst.