The Loup-Garou

Long ago, in a tiny Quebec village, a miller lived alone on the banks of the river. He did not like to mix with others. He loved his solitude, and he thought other people foolish and superstitious, too devoted to old-fashioned beliefs.

One day, a tall, bearded man knocked on the miller’s door. He smiled broadly, tipped his hat and asked the miller if he might have some work for a stranger.

The miller liked the stranger’s look, and if truth be known, he did need help. And so he hired the man.

The miller was pleased with Hubert, for that was the hired man’s name. Hubert was reliable and wasn’t greedy, and best of all, like the miller, he loved to play checkers and had little use for idle chat. Every evening after work the two men shared a game or two of checkers. Afterward, Hubert slipped away for a while and left the miller to himself. That suited the miller just fine.

One deep wintry night, when the trees creaked with the weight of the snow and the wind howled like wolves, the two men sat playing checkers when Hubert asked, “Have you heard the talk? People say a werewolf, a loup-garou, is about.”

The miller laughed. “Idle people’s dreams,” he sighed. “Anyone with sense knows there are no such creatures.”

“Idleness makes trouble,” Hubert agreed, grinning.

Rumors of a prowling loup-garou continued to spread all through that long winter. Many villagers swore they had seen the werewolf, and several sheep were badly mauled. People warned the miller. They feared for him, living so far from the village. The miller only laughed at their tales of a creature with coal-bright eyes and vicious teeth.

Still, now and then, he wondered where Hubert went during the night after their checker’s games. And sometimes, when he noticed Hubert’s large work boots caked in mud and snow or saw upon the sleeping man’s face a troubled look, the miller shivered. But then he laughed at himself. He knew better than to believe nonsense. Besides, the miller was not a fearful man. He was sensible and courageous.

One night, as the miller and Hubert sat over the checkers board, the mill suddenly stopped turning. “Do you hear that?” Hubert asked. The two men listened to the silence.

“We had better go check,” said the miller.

The two men stumbled outside, carrying a lantern for light. When they reached the mill, they began to work on the machinery, but no matter what they tried, the mill would not turn.

Suddenly the miller’s lantern went out, and the two men found themselves lying on the ground in the pitch dark. “I’m going in,” the miller said, but no answer came. Annoyed by the stubborn mill and by Hubert’s silence, he angrily made his way in the blackness back to the house. “Let Hubert find his own way back,” he said to himself. He was tired and cold. When he reached the house, he left the door slightly ajar so that the light from inside might help guide Hubert home.

The miller poured himself a glass of wine and had just taken a sip when he heard a groan behind him. Without turning, he said, “Good, Hubert, you’ve returned,” but the only response was another deep groan.

“What’s wrong?” the miller asked, and when he turned to look, he could not believe his eyes. A huge black creature, as tall as a man, with fangs as long as icicles and eyes as bright as burning coals, sat at the door.

“Who let this dog in here?” the miller asked. “Hubert, are you out there? Did you let this dog inside?”

The dog burst out laughing. The miller tried to step around him, and the dog advanced a step. “Hubert,” the miller cried. “Where are you?” His voice cracked with fear.

The dog leaned toward him, and just then church bells began to chime in the distance.

The miller gasped, “You are a werewolf!” And for the first time in his life, he knew he must pray. He fell to his knees, and as he did, the loup-garou leaped upon him.

Somehow the miller had the sense and strength to reach behind him and pull a sickle from the wall. With this he struck the beast on the ear, for everyone knows that that is one way to destroy a werewolf.

But just as the sickle hit the creature, the miller fainted away.

When he came to, someone was tossing cold water on his face. A familiar voice asked, “What happened?”

“Hubert?” the miller asked.

“Of course,” Hubert answered.

“Where has the werewolf gone?” the miller croaked.

“Werewolf?” Hubert laughed. “Have you gone mad?”

“Where have you come from?” the miller asked.

“From the mill, of course. I’ve fixed it. Can’t you hear it going now?”

The miller glanced up at his old friend and saw a gash upon his ear. “What’s that?” he asked, as calmly as he could, pointing to the wound.

“Oh, nothing,” Hubert said, fingering the spot. “I struck my ear against the mill and cut it. I’ll be fine.”

The miller sat straight up in bed and stared in horror at Hubert. “So it was you!” he cried, and he fell back upon his pillow and never regained his senses.

Hubert soon departed the place. As for the mill, the spring floods carried it away, and no one ever saw the werewolf again in those parts.