MONSTER FEATURE! FIENDS OF ALBION. THIS WEEK: BALVERINES.
Albion’s leading newspaper is proud to present the fourth, and last, in a series of interviews with noted historian and monster expert Atticus Croddle. Investigative reporter Penelope Chumley speaks with the eccentric creaturologist.
I arrive for my last interview with the fascinating and enigmatic Mr Croddle on a crisp, clear night. Standing outside the door, I can’t escape the feeling that the garden gnomes peering out of the tall grass are watching me. Have they moved since I was last here? Before I can fully wonder whether this is a trick of the moonlight or if Mr Croddle has recently rearranged them, the door opens. My host seems much less agitated this time, and even hums a little tune as he leads me to the living room. My gaze immediately falls on the mysterious cupboard door and I’m surprised to find it wide open. Most of the interior is in shadow, but the floor looks clean of both blood and jam. There is, however, a set of heavy chains resting there.
My first nervous thought as we sit down: what has broken loose?
Penelope Chumley: Did you hear that?
Atticus Croddle: What’s that, my dear?
PC: It sounded like howling. In the distance.
AC: A mere trick of the mind. I think the subject of our final interview has unnerved you. Perhaps you would like a soothing cup of tea?
PC: That’s all right. Tell me about werewolves.
AC: You mean balverines, surely?
PC: Of course, I’m sorry. Balverines.
AC: Werewolves are pure fiction. Balverines, on the other hand, are very real. They are the most pitiable and forlorn of all creatures, for they are men, cursed to change shape. To become rapacious beasts. To lose their humanity. To be consumed with a desire for death and flesh.
PC: Like werewolves.
AC: No, no! Balverines are completely different! They have no snouts. They are far less hairy. No one could ever confuse the two.
PC: If they’re cursed humans, who did the cursing?
AC: Though we have no way of verifying it, the legend goes that a wholly beastly creature known as the Balvorn was the first to wound and infect a man, who then became the first balverine. Since then, the curse has passed down through generations, from bite to bite.
PC: That sounds a lot like wer-
AC: It’s nothing like that! Have you ever heard of a white werewolf? Of course not. Yet, the most fierce and feared balverine is the white balverine. Cursed on a full moon, even other balverines bow to its will.
PC: What can you tell us about their habits?
AC: They tend to form packs and attack in groups, pouncing on their victims from the shadows then jumping out of sight again. They are vicious and breathtakingly fast.
PC: Is it true they are susceptible to silver weapons, just like w-?
AC: Yes! Silver can indeed make the task of killing these beautiful creatures much easier. But fire is just as lethal. Those terrible, terrible flames…
As he says this, his gaze becomes lost in the lantern flickering on a nearby table.
PC: Well, I think that’s all the questions I have. I want to thank you for your time and for sharing your knowledge over these past few weeks. I’ll just let myself out.
AC: Wait. I thought, since you have expressed such curiosity about my jam cupboard in the past, you would like to step inside and take a closer look.
As I look into the shadows of the cupboard, taking, I will admit, one or two steps back towards the exit, there is a sudden burst of moonlight through the windows. It glints off the thick chains, which I see now are connected to manacles.
PC: I appreciate it, but I really should be leaving.
I look at Atticus Croddle, taking another step back. He seems transfixed by the moon, wisps of cloud still hanging to its edges.
AC: So beautiful, so majestic. Do you not hear its siren song, Ms Chumley?
The twitch in his eye confirms what I had long begun to suspect, and what many of our readers will have also begun to suspect, creating a sort of vortex of suspicion, or at the very least, the beginnings of one.
PC: I knew it. You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re a werewolf.
AC: I am not a werewolf! I’m a BALVER—
The word is lost in a terrifying roar as the most extraordinary transformation takes place before me. The weak, buttoned down body of Mr Croddle bursts out into a dark, snarling shape. It draws its monstrous head back and lets out a howl that curdles my blood, which I suspect will continue curdling until the day I die.
As the balverine begins to move towards me, I take out a silver dagger from my handbag, placed there for just such an eventuality. I close my eyes and hold it out, falling backwards on to the armchair I’ve been conducting all my interviews from. The balverine’s claws miss my head by inches. The dagger slices into its chest and it recoils with another terrible howl. Before it can come back at me, I grab the lantern and throw it at its feet, where it smashes and sets the floor on fire. The flames take on a life of their own, forcing the balverine towards the cupboard where it has imprisoned who knows how many victims. For a moment, I think I can shove it into the small enclosure and lock it inside. But before I can react, the beast leaps through the window and into the night.
And that, dear readers, was how my series of interviews with Mr Atticus Croddle ended. The creaturologist hasn’t been seen since. His home, heavily damaged by the fire, is being kept under guard, and who knows what grisly mysteries it still holds. As for me, I sleep with a silver dagger under my pillow. I suggest you do the same.
Coming soon: a new investigative series on the enigmatic and elusive seer Theresa! We speak to those who know her! Dig up dirt from her past! Uncover her secrets! Engage in idle gossip and scandalous speculation! Only in the Bowerstone Times!