The Taxidermist ~ A Pocahontas County
Prologue: Dear readers, there are two times each year when you should be skeptical of every word I write. Just consider anything penned by me on or about the first of April and the Halloween season as something that falls considerably short of factual. Perhaps not so much factual, as believable.
Just saying or thinking that a strange event is unbelievable does not make it impossible. Weird things frequent- ly happen that, on the surface, seem improbable.
The following story could be considered non-fiction in days such as these when truth itself has been made malleable in the fires of demagoguery. And then there are the demands of the new omnipresent god, the Internet, and its many voices that too often play fast and loose with the facts.
Although truth is a light that may be dimmed by deceit, it cannot be extinguished altogether.
Fear not, if you seek the truth in its rawest form. Truth does not die the eternal death of the flesh, it eventually rises as a phoenix of humanity’s enlightenment. However, many of us are light- years from even recognizing fact from fiction, let alone achieving illumination.
With that in mind, what you are about to read – should you decide to do so – is alleged to have happened here in Pocahontas County during the cold and snowy winter of 1952.
I will leave the final determination of this tale’s merit and veracity entirely up to you. If, at its conclusion, you choose to find this story far-fetched, so be it.
Nevertheless, I can assure you that there are those alive who still carry the scars and trauma perpetrated by a psychopathic madman who cast his dark shadow on our mountain community.
His deeds were so dreadful that the tale is only whispered by the few living who remember it.
Consider yourself forewarned.
It was a dark and stormy night.
I trust that you will forgive my use of this dusty writing cliché. But, it just happened to be a dark and stormy night when a mysterious hooded figure with a wolf over one shoulder visited Doctor S’s rural house late on a winter evening in 1952.
This is somewhat bizarre, considering that the last wolf killed in West Virginia was a gray wolf shot in Webster County in 1897. But we’ll not quibble further about historical fact because improbable events often operate outside the constraints of time and space as we know it.
Doctor S, as everyone in the area called him, had a dreadful past that sent him fleeing to this rural part of West Virginia. This, and the fact that he had once been a doctor, was about all most people here in Pocahontas County knew about him and his sad and battered family. It wasn’t until a gruesome discovery some years later that the community learned of his shocking and wicked deeds.
Not satisfied with whispered rumors that bordered on the paranormal, I began digging into other sources of information that might shed some light on this doctor-turned-taxidermist.
I called in some favors from friends and acquaintances who are, or were, in positions to access information not available to most of us.
I was shocked to learn that our Doctor S and his odd family came to the United States compliments of a post-World War II program called Operation Paper Clip. If you have never heard of this involuntary brain drain, it existed both here and in the Soviet Union as a way to steal as many scientists, professors and doctors as possible from Nazi Germany.
This was done for our own benefit, not as a gesture of goodwill or a humanitarian offer of asylum – for most of these individuals were Nazis. Many of these collaborators had quite willingly and enthusiastically committed unspeakable atrocities.
In addition to his many cruel, disfiguring and often deadly experiments on Jews and Roma, Doctor S, better known in Germany as Dr. Werner Schreiber, was one of the infamous medical doctors alleged to have made lampshades out of the skin of holocaust victims.
However, Doctor S was respected and sought after for one skill of which he was singularly peerless. Unable to practice medicine, he turned his surgical talents learned in 1930s Germany and during World War II into a thriving taxidermy business.
His mounts of stags and boars’ heads lined the cavernous halls of many of Great Britain’s landed gentry. Here in America, Doctor S had clients ranging from presidents to oil industry magnates. Americans who can afford it generally prefer mounts of African big game, whereas Europeans have always been a bit less ostentatious.
And that brings us back to the bitter cold and dark evening when Doctor S was summoned to his heavily bolted door by a single loud knock.
The doctor opened the door to see a shrouded figure bearing a large wolf over the right shoulder. Glancing beyond the form, he saw that the tracks in the deep snow came not from the gravel drive as one would expect, but straight out of the depths of the forbidding forest.
Even holding an oil lamp in one hand, the doctor could not make out a single feature on the face hidden in the recesses of the dark woolen hood. This soulless man, who had caused so much pain and horror, suddenly felt a strange rush of unease.
The doctor jumped back, almost dropping the lamp when the figure suddenly released the still-warm body of the wolf onto the snow-covered porch.
His voice shaking, he asked the figure what it was he wanted. The specter retrieved a leather bag of gold coins from within the heavy cloak, dropping them unceremoniously on the porch beside the wolf’s body.
Then, just as silently as he arrived, he left without so much as a word, retreating back into the darkness of the woods.
The blowing snow covered his tracks within seconds. If not for the silent and stilled wolf and the bag of coins lying on the doctor’s porch, there was nothing to show that the mysterious entity was ever there.
The incident shook Doctor S, but he quickly grabbed the coins, shutting and bolting his door for the night, leaving the wolf on the porch. He would attend to preserving the wild beast when the sun rose again.
A shock awaited him when he opened the heavy oaken door the following day. The snow of the previous night under and around the wolf had melted down to bare oak boards.
He cautiously kneeled beside the still-warm body. The animal had not frozen overnight, nor had rigor mortis set in. The wolf had no pulse or respiration. Surely, it was dead, the doctor thought, but this defies everything known about death.
He stood up and stared into the forest’s darkness from whence the stranger came.
Doctor S knew fear and trepidation for the first time in his life.
To be continued…