The Skinwalker

📅 Published on June 8, 2023

“The Skinwalker”

Written by J.C. Fields
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 31 minutes

Rating: 9.50/10. From 6 votes.
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Shorty Small, a man neither short nor small, drummed his fingers on the ornately carved oak bar. The location being a well-established watering hole on Bourbon Street. Fat Tuesdays only entertained a handful of tourists on this early spring afternoon. With the summer vacation season two months in the future, Small’s contact with the Tourism Board, Homer LaCroix, demanded they meet in the well-known tavern. The phone call indicated the matter was urgent. Unlike previous meetings, Homer was late. Very late. A serious display of disrespect in the eyes of Small.

The once ice-cold beer sat in front of him. Having nursed it for over thirty minutes, his frustration with LaCroix intensified with each passing second. At exactly thirty-five minutes past the agreed-upon time, noon, LaCroix slipped into the bar breathless.

Taking an empty bar stool next to Small, he said to the bartender. “Abita draft.”

With a nod the man moved to pour the brew.

Small growled. “Your late. That’s thirty-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”

“I’ve got a good excuse.”

“You’re the one who called for this meeting. Urgent, you said. So, guess what? You’ve got five minutes to convince me not to walk out of here.”

The beer appeared in front of LaCroix and he downed half of it in several gulps. “Wow, I needed that.”

Narrowing his eyes, Small snarled, “Four minutes.”

“Tourism Board is offering you 60K to find someone.”

“Who’s the someone.”

“Someone who could be over a hundred years old.”

“Oh, good grief, Homer. Make sense.”

“Have you ever heard of the Axeman of New Orleans?”

“No, but I’m sure you’re gonna tell me. You’re down to three minutes.”

“Right before World War I ended, a series of murders occurred here in New Orleans, by someone wielding an axe. That person was never caught.”

“That person is dead by now, Homer.”

“One would think so.”

“Oh, good grief, just tell me the damn story.”

LaCroix emptied his beer mug and waved it at the bartender. The man brought him a new cold brew and set it in front of the Cajun. He took a sip. “Ahhh, now the tale.

“Starting in May 1918, and lasting through October 1919, a serial killer stalked Italian immigrants here in New Orleans. He used an axe to attack and, in many cases, kill his victims. The press proclaimed him The Axeman of New Orleans.”

“Homer, like you said, that’s over one hundred years ago.”

“Exactly, Shorty.”

With a sigh, Small shook his head, “Go on.”

“Anyway, a suspect was never identified or caught. His killing spree stopped suddenly in October of 1919. However, before that date, March 13, 1919, newspapers published a letter supposedly from the Axeman.”

“If he was never identified, how do they know it was a male?”

“Surviving victims claim to have witnessed a shadowy man running away with an axe in his hand.”

“Huh. What about the letter?”

“The letter indicated he would kill again at fifteen minutes after midnight on the night of March 19. However, he would spare anyone playing or listening to jazz at that time.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. All the New Orleans dance halls and private parties had a jazz band playing that night. Every single professional and amateur jazz band in the city was booked. Also, no murders occurred.”

“How many victims were attributed to this guy?”

“Six dead and six wounded.”

“Homer, that’s eighteen months and only six dead.”

“Correct.”

“Okay, what’s happened?”

“There was another axe murder two nights ago and The New Orleans Tribune published a letter this morning from someone claiming to be The Axeman.”

Small rolled his eyes and then shook his head. “It’s a copycat, Homer.”

“That’s what the police are saying and are confident they will catch him. But the Tourism Board is nervous this will scare off tourists.”

“They’re always scared something will scare away tourists.”

“Keeps you and me employed.”

“True. What do they want me to do?”

“They believe you can catch this guy before the police do.”

Small folded his arms. “I’m not going to interfere with the police, Homer.”

“They don’t want you to. But you use, uh—let’s say—more unconventional methods than the police.”

“Unconventional isn’t going to work if this is a copycat killer.”

“What if it’s the real Axeman?”

“Oh, good grief.”

LaCroix handed Small a sheet of paper. “This is the letter The Axeman sent the newspapers on March 13, 1919.”

Small put his glasses on and read the letter to himself:

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortals:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is: I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fantasy.

-The Axeman

“Homer, this doesn’t prove anything. The guy obviously had a sense of humor. He was playing on the fears of the local citizens of New Orleans at the time. If there is a recent letter, it means someone new is messing with the police and the media.”

“I agree. But the Tourism Board is offering good money for you to stop whoever it might be. Why not take advantage of the situation?”

“Well, hell, 30K upfront and the rest when I finish. Regardless of the outcome.”

A large manilla envelope suddenly appeared on the bar. “Three stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills. That’s thirty thousand. Do your normal excellent job, Shorty, and there’ll be another three stacks.”

“What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Carry it around all day.”

“Take it home and put it in the safe you installed in your new home’s closet.”

“How’d you…” He paused. “Never mind.” He stood and left the bar without saying another word.

* * * * * *

Small walked out of the bedroom and found Claire standing just outside, her arms folded and tapping her foot. “How much this time, Shorty? And what do they have you doing?”

“Fool’s errand. They’ve got me chasing a hundred-year-old boogie man.”

“What’s his name?”

“Ever hear of The Axeman of New Orleans?”

“Vaguely. What’d he do?”

“Killed six people here in New Orleans with an axe around 1919.”

“Yuck.”

“Thought I’d go see Dr. Carmen Fowler, she might know something about him.”

“Can I go?”

“To see Dr. Fowler? Why would you want to do that?”

“I don’t. I need you to drop me off at the registrars.”

Small raised an eyebrow. “Did you finally decide to go back to school?”

She nodded. “I’m worried it might be my last chance.”

“I doubt that. But I’m glad you’ve made the decision, Claire.”

She moved closer and hugged him. “How much did you just put in the safe?”

“Thirty thousand.”

“We’re going to be okay financially, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, if I can figure this Axeman fellow out.”

* * * * * *

Carmen Fowler, PhD in Anthropology welcomed Shorty Small into her cluttered office. “Just move those books. I’m trying to clean the place and it’s going slow.”

After shifting a stack of old books, Small sat across from her at a small conference table.

“What trouble has the Tourism Board got you solving today, Shorty?”

“Tell me about The Axeman of New Orleans.”

Raising both of her eyebrows, the good doctor stood and went to a floor-to-ceiling bookcase stuffed with notebooks and reference material. It took her several minutes to find what she needed. Extracting it from the shelf, she returned and placed the volume down in front of Small, The Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story.

“The author’s name is Miriam C. Davis. She published it in 2017. She’s a Ph.D. and teaches history at a college in Alabama. She compares the Axeman to Jack the Ripper. Just like him, the Axeman has never been identified.”

“Have you read the letter published in the paper in 1919 supposedly from the man?”

“I have, but it’s been a while.”

Small handed her his copy received from LaCroix. She put her glasses on and studied the page.

When she handed the letter back to Small, she chuckled. “I take it you don’t buy what he says?”

Small shook his head. “No. He was playing to the fears of the citizens in New Orleans.”

“There was a lot of panic during those years and you’re right, he was.”

“Dr. Fowler, it happened over a century ago, the guy’s dead.”

With a smile, she continued. “Jack the Ripper was active in the fall of 1888 in a poor section of Whitechapel. Thirty years later, the Axeman appears in New Orleans. What if I told you there are numerous other unsolved serial killer incidents throughout recent history, also without having a suspect identified or caught?”

“I’d listen to what you have to say.”

“What I am going to tell you is not based in science or facts, it is based on the writings and opinions of several notable anthropologists.”

“Okay.”

She stood and went to the bookshelf again. After locating a loose-leaf volume, she returned to the table. “The trail starts in Austin, Texas from 1884 to 1885. Eight victims, all killed with an axe, were found. The killer was never identified and the murders suddenly stopped. Jack the Ripper appears in London in 1888. He mutilates five women. Scotland Yard never identified a suspect, and like in Texas, the killings suddenly stopped.”

Small displayed a slight smile. “Let me guess, the next one is the Axeman of New Orleans.”

“Yes, 1919 to 1920, six murders also with an axe. No suspects and the killings suddenly stop.”

“When’s the next one?”

“Cleveland, Ohio, 1935 to 1938, twelve definite victims, possibly twenty. All were beheaded and mutilated, some were never identified. Then we have the Zodiac Killer in Northern California with five confirmed deaths and thirty-seven possible. These occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s. Once again, the killer has never been identified.”

“Doctor, you’re suggesting a pattern here, aren’t you?”

“I am and so have some of my colleagues, but there’s more. In 1978 the Bible Belt Strangler killed eleven victims across Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. Many of the victims were never identified and the killer is still unknown.”

Small rubbed his temple, but remained quiet.

Fowler referred to her notebook again. “Colonial Parkway, Virginia, four couples disappeared. Three of them were found dead, their cars abandoned on the highway. The fourth couple’s bodies were never located. No persons of interest. These occurred between 1986 and 1989.

“Finally, there’s what police call, the Long Island Serial Killer. Sixteen victims were discovered between 1996 and 2013. All the bodies were found on Long Island, New York.” She paused. “The police have yet to identify a suspect.”

“Doctor, apparently you think there is a common link between all of these incidents?”

“There is. How do the survivors of the Axeman describe the killer?”

“A shadowy figure, no details were remembered.”

“Exactly, all of the cases I just mentioned include inconsistent recollections of the killers by witnesses. Many of the incidents left no one alive to give a description. The Axeman murders here in New Orleans are the key.”

“Okay, Doctor, you’ve got my attention. What’s the bottom line?”

“I personally don’t buy this, but many believe the killer is the same in all these cases.”

“Those murders go back one hundred and forty years, professor.”

“I’m aware of that. Like I said, I don’t agree with them. But, it’s hard to argue with the facts. The killers were never identified.”

“So, who do these colleagues of yours suspect?”

“They suspect the killer is an eternal demon who takes on human form to commit these gruesome murders.”

Pursing his lips, Small kept his gaze on Fowler. “Well, whoever this demon might be, he’s back.”

* * * * * *

Before returning to his parked vehicle, Small made a detour to Gibson Hall to check on Claire’s progress. When he arrived on the second floor, he saw her and a woman about her same age talking in the hall outside the Admissions Office. When Claire saw him, she smiled and waved him over.

“Shorty, this is Margaret Cossi, she’s with the admissions office.”

The woman offered her hand and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Shorty. Your name certainly does not describe you.” As they shook, she continued. “We certainly are looking forward to Claire attending the University.”

He nodded toward Claire, “She’s been talking about this for a long time.”

“Excellent. I have to run, but we will see you next week, Claire. I want to get your placement exams scheduled.”

The woman turned and re-entered the admissions office.

“Congratulations. Apparently, your meeting went well.”

Claire smiled, “Yes, it’s exciting and a little terrifying at the same time.”

He put his arm around her shoulder as they walked back to the stairs. “You’ll do great.”

Once outside, they strolled toward the parking lot. Claire looked up at the big man. “Are you going to talk with Madame Adriana? She might know more about this Axeman than an academic.”

“That’s what Doctor Fowler suggested.”

“She did?”

Small nodded. “I’m going to borrow Henri’s airboat tomorrow and go out and see her.”

Claire grew quiet.

“What’s the matter?”

“You need to be careful, Shorty. While the Tourism Board pays well, they don’t pay you enough to get killed. I worry about that.”

“We’ve had this discussion before. I’m not going to do anything stupid or dangerous.”

She chuckled. “Right. Like the time you got  bit by a Rougarou.”

“I didn’t get bit. It was a scratch from something else.”

“What about the ghost of George Russell?”

“You’re the one who got hurt. Me, I’m not worried about. You are a different matter. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and faced him. “You’re worried about me?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I be? You’re extremely important to me, Claire. You know that.”

She folded her arms. “You never tell me. A girl likes to hear the man she’s with cares about her.”

He rolled his eyes. “Claire, just because I don’t get mushy with you all the time, doesn’t me I don’t love you.”

She tilted her head slightly and blinked several times. “That’s the first time you’ve ever said you love me.”

“Claire.”

“No, Shorty, it is. It’s the first time. I love you, too.” She grabbed his arm with both of her hands and squeezed it. “Get me home so I can show you.”

He smiled and patted her hands. “Yes, ma’am.”

* * * * * *

The Next Day

“You going out to see, Madame Adriana again, Shorty?”

“Yes, Henri I am. Want to come with me?”

The lanky Cajun shivered. “Hell, no. You know I don’t like Gypsies.”

“You’re being a prejudiced old fart.”

“I am not. She creeps the bejesus out of me.”

Small stopped getting the airboat ready and turned to his friend. “She’s a wise woman, Henri. I’ve learned to respect her experience and knowledge. You’d do well to rethink your attitude.”

“I’ll tell you what, my friend. You don’t try to change me and I won’t charge you for borrowing the boat.”

With a chuckle, Small nodded. “That’s a deal, Henri.”

Starting the airboat, Small backed it away from the dock and headed out into the bayou toward the Gypsy camp deep within the swamp.

Thirty minutes later, Small eased the airboat onto the island in the middle of the Bayou. Madame Adriana, already waiting for him, watched him secure the boat to a tree.

“I sensed you might visit today, Shorty Small.”

He smiled and handed her an envelope. “I seek your advice, Madame Adriana. I hope this small token of my appreciation is acceptable.”

She slipped the package underneath her shawl without looking at the contents. “Let me guess. You seek knowledge about the demon who has returned to terrorize New Orleans.”

Unsurprised by the woman’s proclamation, he nodded.

“You have helped rid this bayou of a dangerous creature, so I will help you free the area from the grip of this new demon.”

“Thank you.”

The diminutive woman turned and led him back toward her cottage. As they walked, she said, “This one is more dangerous than any demon you have encountered before, Shorty Small.”

“How so?”

“It is old and can take on many shapes.”

“Is there a way to recognize it?”

She held up a hand, “Wait until we are inside.”

Once they were seated on floor pillows in the small house’s living room, she held her hand out. He placed his right hand, palm up, on hers. She studied the lines and released it. “I see a marriage in your future, Shorty Small.”

He frowned. “Marriage?”

She nodded.

“When?”

“Exact timing, I cannot sense, events within that period, I can.”

He gave her a slight smile. “Can you see to who?”

“You already know who.”

“Yes, I do. Thank you, Madame Adriana.”

“Now, my son, what do you wish to know about this new demon?”

“You mentioned it can take many shapes.”

She nodded.

“Can you foresee what shapes it will take?”

“No.”

“Do you know why it has returned?”

“It is said, it is eternal and represents the essence of man’s evil.”

“But you don’t think so.”

She shook her head. “At one time this demon may have been human. But it is caught in a nexus between now and the hereafter. It wanders the earth searching for a way to break out. My guess is it lashes out at people when it becomes desperate.”

“Does it inhabit the body of someone to do the killings?”

The woman shrugged. “It is too elusive, so I don’t think so. It can take human shape, maybe animal as well.”

“That would explain the lack of survivors being able to describe their attacker.”

“Yes.”

Small studied the space immediately in front of him. “Is there a way to release this demon from the nexus?”

“You mean set it free?”

“No, a way to be rid of it forever.”

“There is, but it puts your life and immortal soul in danger, Shorty Small.”

“What is it?”

She told him.

* * * * * *

Homer LaCroix sat in the tavern where he met Shorty Small a few days earlier. The big guy was late. Sipping on a cold beer, the Cajun figured this was payback for his being tardy at their last meeting. Looking down at his drink, the lanky man did not see or hear Small come up behind him.

Slapping the Cajun on the back, Small said, “How does it feel to seemingly wait an eternity for the person who called the meeting, Homer?”

LaCroix spit out the beer he had just sipped. “Damn, Shorty, that hurt. Hey, I apologized last time.”

“Yeah, but what you told me was an excuse, not a reason.” Sitting on the barstool next to LaCroix, Small got the attention of the bartender. “I’ll have what he’s having and put it on his tab.”

With a nod, the man behind the bar poured a beer. Small turned to the Cajun. “My price just doubled.”

LaCroix’s eyes grew round like saucers. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“They won’t go for that, Shorty. They’ll call it  extortion.”

The big man shrugged. “Fine. I’ve done some research and I know more now than I did the other day. It ain’t pretty, Homer.”

“What do you mean it ain’t pretty?”

“The police will never catch this guy. He’s been doing it for over a hundred and forty years.”

The lanky man just stared at Small, remaining quiet.

“Actually, it isn’t human. It may have been at one time, but it isn’t now.”

“Hey, man, you don’t believe in that stuff. Why start now?”

After a sip of his beer, Small said, “Because I’ve seen things here in New Orleans that forced me to change my mind. Do they want me to rid them of this menace or do they want the police to try and fail?”

“The police say they have a suspect.”

“He may be a suspect, but he didn’t do it.”

“But…”

“Homer, the Tourism Board has sent me after witches, deadly walking sticks and a werewolf, I’ve stopped them all. Trust me when I say, the man the police suspect, didn’t do it.”

“We’ll soon find out. He’s being arrested this afternoon.”

Small stood. “Great, when someone else gets killed, give me a call.”

LaCroix watched as the big man walked out of the tavern.

* * * * * *

Joslynn Colbert, not her real name, worked for Madame Largesse’s Chaperon Service. Her day would normally conclude sometimes before, but most nights, after midnight. On this particular night she returned to her apartment a few minutes before eleven-thirty in the evening. Tired and growing weary of her current profession, she used her key to access her living quarters. It being a three-room efficiency loft above a retail shop ten blocks northeast of the French Quarter.

Close enough for her to work there, but far enough away her rent did not reflect the premium pricing of the famous section of New Orleans.

Her naturally brown hair, dyed fiery red, and her crystal blue eyes gave her an exotic look. A look in high demand by customers of Madame Largesse’s. Mondays were her normal day off and tomorrow was Monday.

After stripping off the tight dress she wore, she entered her bathroom for a quick shower. The last image she would ever see was the blurry outline of a man swinging an axe blade toward her forehead.

* * * * * *

Homer LaCroix handed Small a photo. They were meeting in a coffee shop not far from Claire and Shorty’s house.

Small examined the photograph. “Redhead, huh?”

“Color by Clairol.”

“What did she do for a living?”

“Escort Service.”

Looking over his new spectacles, Small almost grinned, but remembered he was looking at a recently deceased individual. “Sex worker?”

A nod from LaCroix.

“What about the first murder?”

Another photograph appeared from LaCroix’s sport coat. “Same profession. Also redhead.”

“Is the suspect you told me about still in jail?”

“He was until nine this morning. The police released him without comment or apology.”

“Is the Tourism Board prepared to meet my terms?”

Another nod and the appearance of a large manilla envelope.

“Can I keep these photos?”

“Yes.” LaCroix paused for a brief moment. “Uh, Shorty?”

“What?”

“The board would like for you to stop this before it gets picked up by the national news media. Bad for business.”

After draining his coffee cup, Small stood. “I’m sure the escort services aren’t too pleased about it either.”

“Where do you think the extra money came from?”

Small chuckled as he walked out of the coffee shop.

* * * * * *

After spending the day in the Tulane University library, Small visited the office of Carmen Fowler. She welcomed him and closed the door.

“This is a surprise, Shorty.”

“I hope you don’t mind my showing up without an appointment.”

“Nonsense. I enjoy our conversations. What can I do for you, today?”

“I need to run a few ideas past you.”

“Is this about the Axeman?”

He nodded.

“Please, sit.”

When they were both settled at her small conference table, Small clasped his hands in front of him and said, “I thought about what you told me the other day. After spending time in the university’s library, I have a theory I’d like to run past you.”

She smiled.

“Your theory the Axeman is a demon of some kind makes sense. Have you ever heard of the Navajo legend of the Skinwalker?”

“I’ve heard of it, but refresh my memory.”

“According to the Navajo, a Skinwalker is a witch that can change shape at will. As in most cultures, witches can be good or they can be bad. To the Navajo, the Skinwalker is a violent and extremely dangerous witch.”

The professor nodded.

“Now, in 1864 the U.S. government forced the tribe to relocate to New Mexico from their traditional lands in what was called the Long Walk of the Navajo. They met harsh conditions there, which many Navajo blamed on the Skinwalkers causing the gods to abandon them. In 1868 the government allowed them to return to their ancestral land. The tribe started hunting these so-called witches and in 1878 the Navajo Witch Purge took place. Forty suspected witches were killed so that the tribe could become more balanced with nature.”

“This is fascinating, Shorty. But where is it leading?”

“I’m getting there. Remember you told me that in Austin, Texas from 1884 to 1885, eight victims were killed with an axe.”

“Yes.”

“The killings stopped suddenly in 1885. One of the suspects in these murders was someone called Maurice. A last name did not get recorded. He was described as a Malaysian cook. He left Austin in 1885 and traveled to New Orleans where he boarded a ship bound for London.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Right, he might have called himself Malaysian to hide the fact he was a Navajo.”

Fowler said, “Jack the Ripper plagued London in August and September 1888. He was described as a butcher or surgeon.”

Small nodded. “Exactly, here’s the interesting part. This Maurice character, being a cook, would probably know how to butcher an animal. Particularly if he was from a Navajo tribe.”

“Why would he go to London?”

“Because he was a cook with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show that toured England for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1888. The troupe returned to the US in May of that year. My guess is Maurice stayed in London.”

“Shorty, that’s a lot of speculation.”

“But remember, Jack the Ripper used similar tactics as the Austin, Texas murderer.”

“So, if your theory is correct, the serial killers, who have never been identified, is a Skinwalker?”

“Crazy, I know.”

“No, it actually makes sense and explains a lot. Did you talk to Madame Adriana?”

“I did.”

“Did she tell you how to dispatch a Skinwalker?”

“She didn’t call it that, but she did tell me how to kill a shapeshifter.”

After a long silence, the professor asked. “What about the length of time between Jack the Ripper and the Axeman of New Orleans?”

“I don’t have an explanation.”

“Maybe I do.”

“I’m listening.”

“The British Empire started having major conflicts in the early 1900s up until and including World War I. If this Skinwalker stayed in England, there would be an opportunity for a bloodthirsty witch to hide his appetite.”

“And the Axeman of New Orleans got active right after that war ended.”

“You know Shorty, you just might be onto something here.”

After a sigh, he placed his head in his hands. “Why do I get myself into these situations?”

* * * * * *

Eight days and nights elapsed without the Skinwalker making an appearance. Small spent each of them from five in the afternoon until two in the morning patrolling the streets of the French Quarter listening to a police scanner. Several false alarms occurred, but the phantom never materialized. He spent multiple hours sitting in French Quarter parking lots talking to various police officers in their patrol cars. From previous encounters, the cops knew Shorty Small and appreciated his contributions. He, on the other hand, never revealed his sordid past.

On the eighth night of his vigil, he stopped his SUV next to a patrol car in a parking area close to Jackson Square. Just before he stopped, he turned down the volume on his police scanner. With his driver-side window down, he greeted the two police officers.

“Evening guys. Are you two having a quiet night?”

William Bennet and Roger Sharp, patrol officers, had worked with Small before. Both nodded.

Bennet asked. “Hey, Shorty. What’s the Tourism Board got you doing now?”

“Looking for ways to improve visitor experience.”

Sharp chuckled and leaned over so he could see Small. “Sounds boring.”

With a shrug, the big man said, “It’s a living.” He paused for a moment. “Any developments on the murders of the two hookers?”

The driver, Bennet, shook his head. “Detectives thought we might have another crazy on our hands, but things have been quiet for over a week.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

Their radio suddenly came alive. “All units, all units. We have a report of a 10-32 at Bourbon and St. Louis, respond 10-39, repeat 10-39.”

Sharp responded to the call, “Roger, Unit 19 in route.”

“Copy Unit 19.”

Bennet turned to Small, “Guess I spoke too soon, got a go, Shorty.”

“You two take care.”

The Ford Police Interceptor’s emergency lights came on as the siren spooled up. When the vehicle accelerated away, Small watched it recede in his rearview mirror. He turned the police scanner volume up and listened to the chatter. Whatever the problem was, the police were taking it seriously.

Since moving to the Big Easy, he now knew his way around the French Quarter. Small decided to move north on Toulouse toward Bourbon Street. He had to pull over several times as Police SUVs screamed past him, their emergency lights flashing and sirens blaring.

He slowed as his Ford approached Bourbon Street. Pulling to the curb, he grabbed his flashlight and exited the vehicle.

The first indication something was amiss in the area occurred as he saw multiple couples frantically running south, away from Bourbon Street. In normal times, crowds strolled toward it.

Out of the corner of his eye, he detected movement darting in and out of darkened alcoves. He trained his high-powered flashlight toward the image. The light illuminated an indistinguishable figure that held an axe. As he adjusted the aim of his light, he caught a glimpse of the being’s face. An inhuman scream pierced the darkness and the creature threw the axe at him.

Dodging the hurtled object caused Small to hurriedly step sideways. The axe flashed past and fell harmlessly to the pavement. Training the light back on the spot where he saw the figure, the beast had vanished.

* * * * * *

Officer William Bennet spoke to Small as forensic technicians took photos of the axe and the area where it fell. The policeman asked, “What’d he look like, Shorty?”

“Couldn’t really tell, he was dressed in black and melted into the shadows. Never saw his face. He might have had a balaclava on, I’m not sure. He was tall, almost to the top of the door frame of that building.” He pointed to the structure across the street. “I ducked when he threw the axe at me and lost sight of him.”

Bennet wrote this down and chuckled. “Don’t blame you for ducking. You’re the first person to give any kind of description of this guy.”

“What happened on Bourbon Street?”

“Another hooker and her date. They were, uh, engaged in an alleyway. Both dead from blunt force trauma.”

Grimacing, Small inquired. “Axe?”

The policeman only nodded.

“How many now?”

“Four. The chief says they can’t keep this one out of the media anymore, it’s a matter of public safety. The techs said there was blood on the axe he threw at you. Which means they can match it to the victims. They’re hoping to get prints off the handle. Did you see if he had gloves on?”

“To be honest with you, Bill, when I pointed the flashlight at him and he threw the axe, I really didn’t pay too much attention to his hands. Sorry.”

“Don’t blame you. Okay, you’re free to go.”

Small returned to his SUV and continued to watch the police activity around the fallen axe. He mumbled to himself, “No, Bill, you won’t get prints off the axe handle. Even if you do, no records will exist.”

* * * * * *

After spending another afternoon in the Tulane library, he photocopied several pages and two drawings. Satisfied with his afternoon labor, instead of patrolling the streets of the French Quarter, he returned to the house he shared with Claire.

Sitting on the back deck an hour after sunset, the sound of tree frogs and cicadas provided a background symphony. Neither spoke as Small watched a satellite cross the northern sky.

Finally, Claire said, “When did Madame Adriana say this wedding would occur?”

“She didn’t. All she said was it would happen.”

“So, how does that make you feel, Shorty?”

With a grim smile on his face, he turned his head to look at her. “I’m not much of a catch, Claire. You can do better.”

“Not how I see it.”

Small did not comment.

Claire continued. “Shorty, I’m not going to push you about marriage, but when you’re ready, just let me know.”

He nodded and remained quiet for a few moments. “I’m flying to Santa Fe, New Mexico, tomorrow.”

“I figured you would. Do you have an appointment?”

“Yes, Dr. Fowler made it for me. It’s with an anthropologist she knows at the University of New Mexico in Los Alamos.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“Depends on what I learn.”

“You’ll be careful, right?”

“Yes, Claire, I’ll be careful.”

* * * * * *

Los Alamos, New Mexico

Shorty Small shook the hand of Dr. Clayton Benally as he was greeted in the academic’s office. After he closed the door, the professor said, “It is nice to meet you, Mr. Small. Carmen Fowler speaks very highly of you.”

“She has been extremely helpful to me over the past year. It’s nice to meet you as well, Professor.”

“Please sit.” He motioned toward a small conference table similar to the one in  Carmen Fowler’s office. When they were seated, Benally tilted his head. “Carmen said you have questions about the Navajo Skinwalker.”

Small produced one of the photocopied sketches of a Skinwalker he found in the Tulane library. The picture depicted a medium-sized man walking on two legs, the feet were elongated, with dark hair and toes ending in sharpened nails. The hands were also long with hair and pointed claws. On the figure’s head, it wore the skin of what looked like a large coyote. The eyes were narrowed and the creature bared fangs.

“It is called yee naaldlooshii, which translates to, with it, he goes on all fours. In the Navajo culture, the Skinwalker is a harmful witch that has the ability to change into an animal at night.”

“How dangerous are they, Professor?”

Benally smiled. “They are a legend, Mr. Small. Witchcraft has been part of the Navajo spirituality since our ancestors settled in this part of the continent centuries ago. Why are you so curious about these creatures?”

“Doctor Benally, I am a skeptic by nature. But I have seen things in the  Bayous of Louisiana that cause me to question my skepticism.” Small tapped the picture with his finger. “I saw this creature the other night on the streets of the French Quarter and it threw an axe at me.”

Instead of laughing, Benally did just the opposite. He frowned. “You saw this creature?”

“Yes. I used a high-intensity flashlight on it. It had just used the axe on two individuals on Bourbon Street.”

“I see.”

“What can you tell me about it?”

“Are you a religious man, Mr. Small?”

“Not particularly.”

“Good, because the Skinwalker will cause you to question your beliefs.” He gave Small a grim smile. “There are many legends about Skinwalkers, most are just that, myths. Many of those stories revolve around fallen medicine men who have turned to causing harm and, in many instances, unprovoked killing.”

“What about the man called Maurice in Austin who was suspected of the Servant Girl Murders? I’ve read he may have traveled overseas and became Jack the Ripper.”

The academic’s eyes grew wide. “You read my paper?”

“I did.”

“Not many have. I wrote it over three decades ago.”

“Yes, I know.” Small showed him a sketch of Jack the Ripper. “If you take away the felt top hat and cloak, you have a picture of a Skinwalker.”

The professor studied the two images and slowly nodded. “Yes, I can see that.”

“Now, how do you kill a Skinwalker?”

Looking up, Benally took his glasses off and pinched his nose. “Have you ever heard of the plant Aconitum Napellus?”

Small shook his head.

“Maybe you’ve heard of it under the name Wolf’s Bane?”

“Yes.”

“It is said, Skinwalkers are hard to kill, almost impossible. But they are susceptible to the Wolf’s Bane plant’s toxicity. There are no studies to confirm this, but the assumption is if shot in their neck or head with a bullet dipped in the ash of the plant, the creature will die.”

“What about a hollow point bullet filled with Wolf’s Bane powder?”

The professor blinked. “I’m not following you.”

“The bullet is designed to mushroom when it strikes a target. If there’s Wolf’s Bane in the hollow cavity, it would be dispersed more rapidly.”

Benally placed his elbows on the table and made a steeple with his hands. He nodded several times, tapped his lips and stared at the tabletop. “Yes, I think that would suffice. But do not miss.”

“I have no  intentions of missing.”

“If you do, making a Skinwalker mad is not good for one’s family or the shooter.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” He paused. “Where can I find Wolf’s Bane?”

* * * * * *

Over the next few days, Small sequestered himself in his workshop in the backyard of their home. He came out to eat dinner and to sleep, but when the sun arose the next morning, he could be found hunched over his workbench.

On the third afternoon, Claire brought him an iced tea and watched him loading ammunition for his Glock 21. “Can I ask what you are doing, Shorty?”

He straightened, removed the dust mask he wore, and accepted the offered glass of tea. “Sure. I’m hand-loading bullets.”

“For what?”

“For the Skinwalker.”

She frowned and closed her eyes. “Oh, Shorty. Why?”

“Because I was asked to get it off the streets. Plus, the additional sixty thousand dollars they will owe me.”

“Sixty thousand?”

He nodded.

“I can pay for Tulane with…” She stopped and brought her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry, Shorty. I had no business thinking you’d use the money for my college tuition.”

“But that’s what it’s for. You won’t have to take out a student loan. We can pay cash.”

“So, you think this Skinwalker is real?”

“Not only do I think it’s real, I know it’s real. I saw it.”

“Did you tell the police what you saw?”

“Hell, no. They’re looking for a tall dude dressed in black. The creature I saw was about five foot eight or so and hunched over.”

“When are you going to start looking for him?”

“As soon as I get back from Madame Adriana’s tomorrow.”

* * * * * *

The metal canister handed to Shorty Small by the Gypsy weighed less than a pound and looked to be the size of a ground pepper can. She pointed at it. “The powder is extremely fine. You must wear protective clothing when you handle it, Shorty.”

“I understand. How concentrated is this stuff?”

“One gram is all you will need per bullet.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

She folded her arms. “Have you proposed marriage to this woman, yet?”

Raising his eyebrows, Small then shook his head. “No, but we’ve discussed it.”

“And?”

“Madame Adriana, I am not someone any woman should marry. I have a past that may someday catch up with me.”

“Come here. Sit.”

He sat on the floor using pillows to cushion his bulk. She held her hand out. He placed his right one in it with the palm up. She studied the lines in his hand for an extended amount of time. Finally, she released it and looked up. “Your past has disappeared from your lifeline. You are free because of the good you have done.”

“I’ve done little good in my life, Madame Adriana.”

“Nonsense. Look around you, Shorty Small. If you had not helped my people, we would no longer be here or perhaps even alive.”

“I don’t…”

She held her hand up, palm toward him. “Shhh. The Rougarou would have attacked our village by now. You saved us from its evil. The creature you now chase will kill many people if you do not stop it. Because the police do not believe in it, they will not be successful. Only you, Shorty Small, have the knowledge and the means to prevent it from causing further harm.”

He chose not to argue with her.

“Good, you are wise not to question me. Your destiny is with the woman you love. Make sure you take advantage of this knowledge. Most individuals never know the true direction their life should follow. Consider yourself fortunate. Now go.”

“Yes, Madame Adriana.” He stood and walked toward the cottage door. Before exiting, he turned. “Thank you.”

She nodded and smiled.

* * * * * *

Two nights passed without incident as Small resumed his French Quarter patrol. This time he avoided talking to police officers. He kept his Glock 21 secured in a shoulder holster hidden by a light windbreaker. Even though he possessed a concealed carry permit in Louisiana, he figured the police did not need to know he was carrying.

For a weeknight evening, the police scanner remained relatively quiet. Other than the occasional driving under the influence call, the French Quarter remained calm.

On his third night, the time approached eleven p.m. when the police scanner went berserk. A report of shots fired near the southeast corner of Jackson Square tempted Small to move his position, but he hesitated. Something felt off about the report. His current location at the corner of St. Ann and Burgundy streets placed him at the northwestern end of the area.

After checking for oncoming traffic, he put the Escape in gear and eased forward turning left on Burgundy Street and headed toward Dumaine Street. Here, he once again turned left. Louis Armstrong Park lay dead ahead as he traveled northwest. When he got to the corner of Dumaine and North Rampart Street, he heard a woman’s desperate scream. It came from within the park. Checking traffic, he accelerated across the four lanes of Rampart. Screeching to a halt before hitting the concrete posts blocking the entrance to the park. He slammed the Ford into park and started running toward the sound.

Another more desperate cry for help emerged from his left causing him to sprint in that direction. Within fifty yards, he saw a shadowy figure bending over a prone woman. The black-clad individual appeared to be raising an axe. Small withdrew his Glock, took a Weaver stance and yelled, “Stop.” The figure turned and the inhuman scream could be heard again. With its plans interrupted, the specter took off running into the gloom of the park.

Small lowered his weapon, not trusting his ability to make a headshot in the dim light. Returning the weapon to its holster, he rushed to the aid of the woman.

She looked up at him, her eyes bulging, her breathing irregular. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. As the call rang, he asked her. “Are you hurt?”

She shook her head. “No. He was going to hit me with an axe. Why?”

“I don’t know.”

By then the emergency operator answered and he informed her about the assault. Within twenty minutes, the location swarmed with police officers and the woman sat in the back of an EMT vehicle being treated for scratches on her arm and a bruise on her head. Small stood next to her and asked. “How’d you get those scratches?”

“His fingernails were so long, they looked like claws. I guess he scratched me.”

Raising an eyebrow, he motioned for one of the EMT techs to follow him. When they were out of earshot, he said, “The guy didn’t look too clean, she might want to get a tetanus shot.”

“Good idea, Shorty, I’ll suggest it.”

As the tech hurried back to the ambulance, Small watched Patrol Officer William Bennet walking toward him. “Well, Shorty, you seem to be the only one who’s seen this creep.”

“Glad I was close.”

“Yeah, she’s lucky.” Bennet used his finger to open Small’s windbreaker and look at the Glock. “Did you get a shot off?”

“No. Too dark and I didn’t know what was behind him.”

The officer nodded. “I guess you heard the report about shots fired.”

The big man shrugged.

“It was nothing, a false alarm. They checked the source of the call and it came from this area. The guy pulled us away so he could attack someone.”

“Did anyone ask what the caller sounded like?”

With a frown, Bennet shook his head and keyed his radio. “Unit 19, requesting a recording for the shots fired call.”

“Copy, Unit 19.”

Bennet returned his attention to Small. “What are you thinking?”

“Wondering if the guy had an accent?”

The radio came back on. “Unit 19.”

“Copy.”

“Recording is of a male.”

“Did the caller have an accent?”

“Wait one.”

Silence ensued. Finally, they heard, “Affirmative.”

“Could they identify?”

“No, indeterminate, almost Asian.”

“Roger. Unit 19 out.”

Bennet looked at Small. “You heard, is that significant?”

“Don’t know. Maybe.” He looked at the officer. “I gotta go, am I free to leave?”

“Sure, talk to you soon, Shorty.”

Returning to his SUV, Small turned up the volume on his scanner and headed toward his home. The question of the accent bothered him. Looking at the clock on the vehicle’s dashboard, he determined it was close to eleven in New Mexico. He asked the Ford SYNC connect system to call Clayton Benally. A hesitant voice answered. “Hello.”

“Professor Benally, this is Shorty Small, sorry to bother you so late. I need to ask a question.”

“Ahh, yes, Mr. Small, go ahead.”

“Can you give me an example of the Navajo language?”

“Certainly, I’ll recite what I tell my students.” The man proceeded to talk in Navajo for about a minute. He paused and asked, “Does that help?”

“Yes. How would you describe the intonations.”

“Hmmm. Never thought of it that way. Possibly, Pacific Rim, perhaps.”

“That’s what I thought. Thank you, Professor.”

“Can I ask what’s happened?”

“Our Skinwalker used a cell phone and his voice was recorded.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Yeah, oh, dear.”

“Can you get me a copy of the recording?”

“I think I can. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

* * * * * *

The Next Day

“The Navajo and the Apache descended from a single group of indigenous peoples who scholars believe migrated from Canada somewhere around A.D. 1450. There is some debate about the exact timing, however, both Navajo and Apache languages belong to a language family called Athabaskan. This language has a similar linguistic pattern spoken by native peoples in Alaska and west-central Canada.”

Small listened on his cell phone as the professor lectured. “So, you recognized the caller’s accent?”

“Oh, yes. Definitely Navajo. But it is more formal than current speakers.”

“What does that mean?”

“Probably someone who learned the language a long time ago. Languages evolve, Mr. Small.”

“Huh.”

“Do you suspect this to be the Skinwalker we discussed?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fascinating. Will you keep me informed about him?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Claire stuck her head into his office and said, “I’m leaving for the university. I’m getting ready for my placement tests. What are your plans today?”

“Not sure. I’ll send you a text when I figure it out.”

She smiled, entered the room and gave him a kiss. He watched her leave and then stood. Restless with the thought of not being able to do anything until evening, he headed toward the back door and his shop.

* * * * * *

Dinner that evening consisted of grilled chicken and a Caesar salad, which Small prepared. As they sat on the deck eating, Claire said, “I need to spend some time at the library tonight.”

“Good, I’ll take you.”

“No need, Shorty, I don’t know how long I’ll be and I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“Not a problem. I really don’t mind.”

“But Shorty, there’s no need for you to hang around campus waiting for me.”

“Claire, it gets dark around eight this time of year. Will you be done by then?”

“Probably not.”

“Then it’s settled, you’re not going to walk around campus after dark. I’ll take you and pick you up when you’re ready.”

She smiled and patted his arm. “Thank you.”

The police scanner indicated a busy night in the Big Easy. With the citizens of the city on edge due to reports about the Axeman, multiple false alarms occurred all over the city. Small listened, but did not get the feeling any were credible.

He drove around the campus with his flashlight on the seat next to him and his Glock hidden by the windbreaker.

At 9:15, Claire sent a text message she would be waiting outside the library on Freret Street. He headed toward her location.

As he approached the corner where she stood, he slowed. He watched as she crossed the street. Suddenly, a shadow appeared behind her. He put the Ford in park and leapt out of the vehicle, his Glock drawn as he rushed toward the shadow.

He yelled, “Claire, run. Get in the Escape and call 911.”

She stared at him, then glanced behind her. Realizing the dilemma, she sprinted toward the Ford.

They passed each other and he illuminated the shadow with the flashlight. It was the same creature he had encountered on the streets of the French Quarter and in Louis Armstrong Park. The Skinwalker did not run this time, but bared its teeth and snarled.

Noting there was a brick wall behind the specter, he dropped the flashlight, took a Weaver stance and aimed for its head. The loud crack of gunshots from the Glock echoed off the buildings as the specter raised its hand with the axe. It charged at Small.

With his aim true, the big man pulled the trigger as fast as possible.

* * * * * *

“They asked me to take your statement, Shorty.”

“Better you, than someone I don’t know.”

Officer William Bennet smiled. “Did you know we found a body behind the library?”

“No.”

“Female student. Looks like she was murdered just before you had your encounter with him.”

“Shit.”

“Glad your girlfriend wasn’t his second victim of the night.”

All Small could do was nod and stare at the pile of clothes in the street where the creature had fallen. No body, just a black cape, shirt and pants. The axe lay several feet from the pile. He could see the blood stains on it, even from where he leaned against the hood of his SUV.

“How many shots did you get off?”

“One in the chamber and a thirteen-round magazine. So, fourteen.”

“We counted eleven holes in the clothes.”

“I was aiming at the head.”

“No blood either.”

“No, I didn’t think there would be.”

Bennet stopped taking notes. “Shorty, what happened to the body?”

“I have no idea, Bill. Once it fell, I went to make sure Claire was okay. When I returned,” he pointed at the pile of garments and the axe, “all I found were those lying there.”

“What the hell was it?”

“You’re a native of New Orleans, what do you think?”

“Shit, I have no idea. But it wasn’t human, was it?”

“No, I don’t suppose it was.”

* * * * * *

Homer LaCroix handed Small a large envelope with six stacks of hundred-dollar bills. “It’s been a month without an appearance by the Axeman.”

Small just nodded.

“Tourism Board is extremely pleased. Police are saying the suspect was killed in a gunfight with police, but the Board knows it was you. Apparently, they have a source within the police department.”

With a chuckle, Small looked at LaCroix. “Are you just now figuring that out?”

“I also heard they’re planning to award you special status as a police consultant.”

“In other words, a cop.”

“Yeah, guess you could call it that.”

“That’ll be weird.”

“What do you mean?”

Shorty Small shook his head. “I’ve always tried to avoid the police. The thought of me being a cop is just plain bizarre.”

Rating: 9.50/10. From 6 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by J.C. Fields
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: J.C. Fields


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Mr Grey
6 months ago

I would love the opportunity to narrate and build a world for this story in the form of audio drama. Please let me know if this would be possible. Thank you.

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