France, 1914

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They didn’t wait.

I would have preferred a little more time to get the lay of the land. Hell, I would have preferred any amount of time, but I didn’t get it.

They struck as soon as we crossed the border.

Not the Germans.

No, something else entirely.

When we reached the station and got out to accept gifts from the locals, I overheard the conductor stating that we were a car short.

An entire car, stuffed with troops, was gone.

The car before it was there, and the caboose was where it should be, but forty men and their equipment had vanished.

As the conductor conferred with the Colonel responsible for ferrying us to the rest camp, I saw several of the local women looking nervously at one another. One of them, it seemed, understood what was being said, and she was sharing it with her neighbors.

Seeing as how we weren’t going to be leaving for a bit, I walked to the women and, in a soft voice, asked them in French where the car had gone.

The women all looked to one older dame, and she gave a short nod of her head.

There was a creature, I was told, that had the ability to change its shape, to transform itself into anything it wished. Even something so large as a railroad car.

It lived nearby, and it had slept for generations. The constant rumbling of engines had awakened it, and it had learned that it could eat its fill.

That was an assessment I disagreed with.

I asked for and was given instructions as to where the creature called home, and then I quietly took leave of the station.

It took me half an hour of walking to find the place, a cave nestled in the side of a hill, and the rank odor of fresh blood assailed me.

I entered the creature’s lair and found scattered equipment. I stepped around the items, frowned at the sight of bones broken and sucked dry of marrow, and drew my Bowie knife.

The creature, dull gray and cat-like in appearance, lay on its side, snoring.

Its muzzle was stained, and there were bits of flesh about its lips, and as it slept, I crept forward and sawed its head off as it bucked and writhed beneath my hand.

It was hard, good work, and I didn’t miss my train.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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