The Taxidermist ~ The Conclusion
Hazel Rossi was awakened in the middle of the night by singing. A beautiful voice, to be sure, soprano and far off – or so it seemed.
It couldn’t be that she had left her old Zenith upright radio on, as the power was still out. Lifting her bedroom window, Hazel listened to the exquisite voice rising from the depths of the gorge to her cliff-top cabin.
Hazel wasted no time pulling on her trousers and parka and stepping outside. She walked out to the far edge of her porch, leaning out over the steep gorge below. She was just in time to hear the last few seconds of the siren’s song, and that was enough to pinpoint the location.
She arrived forty minutes later to a scene she was not expecting.
The young woman before her was shivering uncontrollably. Hazel untied her from the tree and wrapped the blanket around her. She gently massaged the area around the ligature marks, bringing warmth and blood back to Gisella’s wrists and hands.
It took an hour to walk the young woman up the gorge and back to Hazel’s cabin. She got Gisella onto her bed, covering her with several wool blankets. Then, she stoked the fire in the old potbellied stove and put on a kettle for tea.
This morning’s events signaled the start of a friendship between the two women, an alliance of kindred spirits. Together, they would destroy the monster that was Gisella’s father.
Early summer, six months later.
Hazel seemed intent on teaching everything she knew about herbal medicine and potions to Gisella, and the young woman was an extraordinary student.
She recognized Hazel as a strong woman – as Gisella aspired to be. Hazel was so unlike her reticent and timid mother.
Hazel was a striking seventy-something woman, her silvery gray hair extended down to her waist, often getting entangled in the knife and small hatchet she always carried on her belt.
Hazel’s eyes didn’t just look at you; they seemed to penetrate your inner thoughts, your intentions. She could see beyond whatever image you were attempting to portray.
She went straight to the resident character lying beneath the veneer. She remembered seeing Gisella’s father in town one day and immediately shuddered at the dark form that resided within him.
On the other hand, Hazel had seen evidence that Gisella was intelligent, caring and fearless. As a team, they would make right many wrongs, all with mother nature’s help.
Gisella diligently studied the curious properties of hundreds of plants and mushrooms. Few appreciate the power of nature’s best-kept secrets – effects still not appreciated by modern medicine.
Hazel’s mother was born and raised in the Italian Alps, where she learned about botanical medicine from an aunt. She, in turn, passed the skills on to Hazel.
An aunt some regarded as a witch, and Hazel added that some residents consider her to be a witch, even some whom she has helped.
Once, when the two were picking mushrooms, Gisella asked Hazel how the people here in the mountains regarded her unusual services.
Hazel thought a moment and said, “Most folks are friendly to me, even if they think I am strange, which is true. Some don’t pay much attention to me at all. They don’t even acknowledge my presence.
“That is, unless they are sick or someone is abusing them. And, even then, they don’t come to see me until it is dark. They don’t want to be seen coming to my door for help.
“I guess that, until needed, I am a persona non grata at best and a witch at worst,” she added, laughing.
Gisella knew well that her father must believe that he had killed her, or her life would be in great jeopardy.
Hazel remedied this by immediately returning to where Gisella was tied to the tree. She ripped and scattered Gisella’s clothes around and beyond the immediate area, hoping that Doctor Schreiber, should he return, would think that her body was dragged away and eaten by wild animals.
Hazel even remembered to return the wool blanket to the exact spot where Doctor S had placed it. Before leaving, Hazel tied the rope back on the tree, using the same knot that Gisella’s father used to bind her.
One winter day, Hazel, the proverbial “fly on the wall,” overheard a conversation at the hardware store about the Schreiber family. A young woman she knew to be a teacher told the clerk that the Schreiber boy had not been to school since classes resumed in late August.
The clerk mentioned the disappearance of the oldest daughter, Gisella, the previous winter. The teacher replied, “Well, the father is a creepy man. Who knows what he is doing to those kids? Somebody should do something about it, but everyone fears Doctor S.”
Not exactly everyone!
Hazel shared this piece of information with Gisella over dinner that evening. Gisella became silent, setting her fork down and staring out the window.
Hazel knew what Gisella was thinking and cautioned her not to take the chance of going back home. Although, she could tell that Gisella had already made up her mind.
“OK,” she said to Gisella, “If you are going to check on your mother and siblings, you must take certain precautions.”
Gisella assured Hazel that her father was methodical, a man of habit and that he went to town every Thursday afternoon around 1 p.m. She added that he always returned in less than two hours.
On the very next Thursday, Gisella was hiding in the woods when, true to his nature, her father rode his horse out of the barn. He went down the lane toward town. She watched until he rode out of sight.
Arriving at the house, she knocked on the door. There was no answer, so she knocked louder. Failing to get a response, she walked around the house, peering into the windows.
The house appeared deserted, although she could not get up high enough to see into the dining room. She could, however, make out a shadow of a human on the far wall.
Tapping on the glass failed to arouse the motionless figure.
Gisella cleverly got into the house through the coal chute. She went in backward, lowering herself down onto the coal pile.
She walked cautiously through the dark basement. As she passed her father’s taxidermy shop, she noticed the door was locked from the outside. She unlocked the door and slowly opened it to find her mother and sister huddled together on the concrete floor.
Gisella put a finger to her lips, warning them to be silent, and whispered that she was going upstairs to find Ansel and would be right back. Her mother jumped up, grabbing her arm and begging Gisella not to go upstairs.
Gisella gently removed her mother’s hand and told her to stay with Bertina.
She went first to the kitchen at the top of the stairs, grabbing a knife. She then slowly proceeded to the dining room, where she had seen the shadow. Nothing in her life could have prepared her for the shock she found in that room.
The person sitting motionless at the dining room table was her brother, Ansel. The figure with a table set before it would never dine again – he had been mounted by their horrific father.
How to kill a monster.
Gisella arrived back at Hazel’s cabin with her mother and Bertina in tow. Hazel had anticipated this moment, so she immediately set about making a place for the two new guests to stay.
Studying Gisella’s family, Hazel said, “These two have been traumatized, Gisella; they will need all of our help. One of us will always have to be with them so your mother doesn’t try to go back.”
Stockholm syndrome was not yet a term, but Hazel knew that the premise of the condition existed.
Gisella agreed and asked her mother why her father had done such a thing to Ansel. Her mother lowered her head and said he couldn’t tolerate Ansel’s constant stuttering.
Tenderly lifting her mother’s head, Gisella looked deeply into her eyes and asked, “Mother, was he going to do that to you and Bertina as well?” This broken woman, who kept glancing at Hazel’s door in abject fear, shook her head yes.
“Did he force you and Bertina to sit at the table with Ansel’s body during dinner? Gisella asked.
Tears began flowing from her mother’s eyes, and she said, “Yes. Yes, he did.”
Hazel and Gisella looked at each other, and they understood that the psychopath planned on arranging them all around the table in an eternal scene of what he regarded as a perfect family, a silent and obedient one.
Rather than wait for the monster to come to them, they would go to him.
Time was of the essence, so Hazel and Gisella got to work. Hazel gave her a list of herbs, roots and dried mushrooms to fetch from the root cellar, telling Gisella that she had to borrow a wolf.
Gisella looked up in disbelief. Hazel said, “I’ll tell you more when I get back.” And with that, she left.
Hazel returned several hours later, leading a wolf across the porch and into her house. She told Gisella that the wolf would not harm them, assuring her that it was tame.
While Lina and Bertina watched, Hazel went through the herbals with Gisella. She explained that success depended on using the precise amount of each item and delivering an exact dosage.
“Into the wolf?” Gisella asked.
“Of course, dear, the wolf,” Hazel replied.
Hazel assured Gisella the wolf would not be harmed if, and only if, they timed things right. Although Gisella did not yet understand how the concoction of mandrake, nightshade, hemlock and Amanita muscaria worked, she completely trusted that Hazel did.
Hazel then mixed the resultant powder into a bowl of warm chicken stock. The hungry wolf lapped it up and lay back down in front of the fire. He was soon in a deep form of sleep, one that bordered on coma.
Seeing that Gisella was concerned for the wolf, Hazel said, “His spirit has already left his body.”
“Where is it now?” asked Gisella.
“In your father’s house, waiting for the right moment.”
It was a dark and stormy night
After depositing the wolf on Doctor Schreiber’s porch, Gisella walked through the snow, returning to the forest. Glancing back, she saw the look of fear on her father’s face, making her feel good.
If she and Hazel’s efforts worked, it would be the last time any human would ever see his cruel eyes again, which would make her family safe.
Doctor S waited until daylight to bring the wolf into the house. He was still baffled that the body was still warm even though it had no vital signs– this unexplained anomaly caused him considerable confusion and trepidation.
He placed the wolf on a rug, dragged it down the basement steps, across the concrete floor, and into his taxidermy shop. Bending over, he lifted the supple body onto the stainless steel preparation cart, the animal’s head hanging over the rim.
Doctor S then turned and began arranging the scalpels and fleshing tools on his workbench. Hearing a drip on the concrete floor, he looked back toward the skinning cart. His fear heightened when he saw saliva dripping from the wolf’s mouth.
Slowly turning back to the workbench, Schreiber reached for his largest scalpel, then froze. The sound of rapid canine panting nearly paralyzed the Doctor with dread. His hands started shaking, and the scalpel dropped to the floor with a clatter.
He slowly turned around. The wolf was standing on all four legs on the cart and baring its teeth. The animal’s piercing amber eyes penetrated the Doctor’s black soul.
The connection between the animal’s innocence and the evil of the human was the trigger that Hazel referred to. The return of the wolf’s spirit back into his muscular body was now complete.
In a vain attempt to find shelter, the Doctor scrambled across the floor, pushing himself back into a corner. His entire body convulsed in fright. The butcher of so many innocent people now faced the long glistening fangs of his own demise.
His screams of agony fell only upon the wolf’s ears.
In one graceful leap, the wolf soared across the room, its teeth clamping down on the Doctor’s neck, crushing his trachea. The Doctor slid down the wall gasping for air. As the creature withdrew his fangs, they ripped through the man’s carotid artery, spewing blood onto the wolf and beyond.
The house of horrors fell as silent as the young, innocent boy who perpetually waited for his dinner.
Shortly after that, a single spine-tingling howl arose, reverberating through the forest and across the Greenbrier River Valley.
The blood-spattered wolf returned to Hazel’s cabin just before dark, curling up in front of the old potbellied stove as though nothing had happened.
Lina’s eyes showed relief and hope. Bertina, entranced by the beautiful wolf, smiled. Gisella and Hazel looked at each other in silent acknowledgment that they had much work yet to do.
Happy Halloween to all of the faithful readers of The Pocahontas Times!
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