The hard knock on my door stopped me from wallowing in my self-pity any longer. Joe Dexter, my long-lost friend from college, stood in the doorway of my beach bungalow. He was wearing a white shirt with an open neck and dirty khaki pants.

“Olsen! It has been so long. When did we last see each other, in Boston?”

“Yes, by God, it was Boston in 1917. Just as the war started.”

Joe pointed to my head. “That’s some steel trap up there.”

I invited Joe into my humble bungalow. He immediately noticed my Underwood typewriter and the mountain of crumpled papers beside it.

“Still writing, I see. Anything I might have read?”

“I hardly think so.” What I didn’t tell Joe was that I had been getting nothing but rejection slips from the pulps and the slicks for a year now. My inheritance was almost tapped, and at least one of the papers at my desk was a job application for a local insurance company.

“Yes, I must admit that I haven’t had much time to read over the past few years. Been very busy.”

“Last I heard was that you decided to stay in Europe after being discharged from the AEF.”

“Right you are. Worked for a while in the dives of Paris, but then decided to put the uniform back on. Went to Morocco and joined the Spanish Foreign Legion. I fought in that recent war against the mountaineers of the Rif. Won a few medals, then ditched the Legion for the British South African Police in Southern Rhodesia. Now I’m a freelance gun, a mercenary.”

“Is that why you’re in Key West? I must admit that I see no war going on around here.”

“No, sir. The only reason I’m here is because of you.”


“Yes, I need you for this job, Olsen. It pays well, and it pays in good old American greenbacks.”

I grew nervous. I was never cut out to do the type of work that Joe excelled in. Even in the Army, I was a typist for the company newspaper. I shook my head.

“No, I’m afraid I’m not much of a gunman.”

“Who said I was hiring you to be a gunman? All I need is your boat and your knowledge of the Virgin Islands. Your people come from there, right?”

I nodded. My parents had both been born in Christiansted when the city and the island belonged to the Danish crown. My parents were odd people: two pale-skinned Scandinavians who could never bring themselves to leave the tropics. Even when my father was forced to relocate due to a major business failure, he decided to land at the nearest American port-of-call: Key West. The only time I ever left the island myself was to attend university in Boston alongside Joe.

“Could you please tell me what I’m needed for on the islands? Is there some shooting going on there?”

“Not quite. Say, how about I cut you a deal right now? I’ll pay you some dough upfront so long as you promise not to ask me any questions until we get to Charlotte Amelie. Deal?”

Joe handed me $200. It was the most money I had seen all year. I readily agreed to his conditions.

We spent the rest of the day buying provisions that would last us for a week. I bought a pound of flour, a pound of beans, two pounds of sausage, and some beef jerky. Joe also bought several bottles of rum from an old Cuban grocer. We put our sizable haul in to my family’s boat, the Louise. The boat had been named after my parents’ favorite Danish queen.

It was around five o’clock when we cast off. Joe suggested that we steer the boat in shifts. I agreed to take the first shift. After checking the engine for a second time, Joe went below deck and fell asleep.

While I was all alone at the wheel, my mind went into a frenzy. I thought about all the reasons why Joe Dexter, a rakish man of action, would want to go to the tranquil Virgin Islands with a serious bundle of cash on his person. I also thought all about the changes that had befallen my old friend in the years since we were undergraduates at Boston University.

Joe was originally from Maryland. This fact marked him as an outcast in our class, for most of the boys were true-blue Yankees. Even worse for Joe was the fact that he was a farmer’s son and a Catholic. Despite all of his proclamations of ancient English ancestry stretching back to the Norman Conquest, and despite his grandstanding about the fact that one of his ancestors had fought against the Puritans at the Battle of the Severn, Joe was treated like an outcast by our peers. They never invited him to any drinking parties, and Joe was the one freshman who was not pressured into joining a fraternity.

Well, that was not quite true. I, a fellow Southerner and a Lutheran, was also excluded from all the clubs. As a result, Joe and I struck up a natural friendship, albeit one initially predicated on our shared loneliness.

Eventually, by sophomore year, Joe and I said to hell with the Boston Brahmins and created our own club: the Pariahs. The club was only us, and we mostly drank beer with each other and talked about our futures. I wanted to be a writer; Joe wanted to be a soldier. At least one of us managed to make his dream a reality.

“You know, this story could make you famous. I hope you brought along paper and something to write with.”

Joe’s voice had broken my thoughts. He had changed his shirt, but he still wore the greasy khaki pants and scuffed leather boots.

“I did something even better: I brought my Underwood.”

“Haha, always a writer.”

“Maybe, but this writer desperately needs to sell something. You say that this little adventure of ours could be my meal ticket?”

By this point, the sun had already set. The blue-black sky cast a weird shadow on Joe’s scarred face. It made him look malevolent.

“I guess I can clue you in now with some of the particulars. We’re going on a hunt, Olsen.”

“What are we hunting?”

“A wolf.”

“That’s absurd. There are no wolves on the island.”

“That’s not what the locals think, and that’s not what the J.B. Stewart Company thinks, either.”

J.B. Stewart owned the largest rum distillery on St. John Island. Their rum was consumed in all the bars from Tampa to Tampico. I quickly figured out that the large sum Joe had mentioned in regards to this little hunt must have come from their main office in Savannah.

“The company boys are scared silly because some of their workers are at the point of revolt.”


“Nobody wants to go into the sugarcane fields anymore. Not after a wolf, or what they say is a wolf, ate five workers alive this past Christmas. And if nobody is going into the fields, then no rum is being produced. That makes for an unhappy company willing to pay a modest fortune for the wolf’s hide.”

“I’m telling you that there are no wolves on St. John.”

“I know, but something or somebody is out there killing off native workers. It’s my job to stop the killings, and I need you to help guide me through the trees.”

“So there is a chance of danger, then?”

“Maybe, but don’t worry. I brought along a Savage pistol for you, plus I’ll be lugging around a Lee-Enfield Speed Sporter. The 8mm cartridges in that beauty will stop any threat born on the island, I’m sure of it.”

I nodded once again. Joe then took the wheel from my hands, and I went below deck to rest. I did not wake up again until we had already arrived at Charlotte Amelie.

We walked around the sleepy port during the morning. Joe seemed to be killing time, and he made sure to constantly check his military-style wristwatch. We drank coffee at a street café until 9 a.m. Then, without saying a word, Joe rose and made me to follow him.

Our destination was Skytsborg, better known as Blackbeard’s Castle. The old Danish watchtower had once been part of Fort Christian before it became a favorite haunt for Edward Teach, alias Blackbeard, the famous pirate. The place still had a whiff of outlawry about it, and the man that Joe met at the tower, a mixed-raced man wearing a straw hat and a white suit, could have certainly sailed with Teach. The man handed Joe a small package and an envelope. Joe opened the small box, cringed a little, and then shook the strange man’s hand. I could not see what was in the box, and Joe refused to tell me.

We walked in silence down to the docks. Here we boarded another boat captained by a Dane named Larsen. He greeted me in Danish; I returned the favor. Joe told me to relax until we got to St. John. I did as I was told and lit up one of the Cuban cigars that Larsen offered us. Joe did not smoke. Instead, he kept his eyes downcast on the strange box and its unknown contents.

“We have to make one stop first.” These were the first words that Joe had said to me all day, and they came after we had already spent an hour walking across St. John.

“Where are we going?”

“To the local office of J.B. Stewart. The manager there, Cyrus O’Neal, needs to talk to us. It was part of the deal that I made.”

“I do wish you’d clue me in on the particulars of this deal.”

“In good time, my friend, in good time.”

The office was nothing more than a canvass tent built on four wooden poles. Inside we found O’Neal, a plump and red-faced man originally from the Irish Channel section of New Orleans. He apologized to us for the poor state of his office. He swore to us that his private home, from which he conducted most of his business, was much better and up to “Anglo-Saxon standards.”

“I’m so glad you gentlemen are here. Frankly, I’m at wit’s end trying to calm down these superstitious natives. Most have been bought off with a slight wage increase and the promise that a great white hunter was coming down to slay the beast. The only holdouts are the men who used to work deep in the jungle beyond Coral Bay. If you can bring these men back to reason, then the company would be in your debt.”

“What do you exactly mean by ‘reason,’ Mr. O’Neal?” Joe’s voice was slightly intimidating. It even gave me a chill up my spine.

“While most people on this island claim to be Christians, they all practice hoodoo when the moon rises. African memories die hard, especially in a place like this where white faces are so rarely seen. To cut to the chase, sir, the workers out there have reverted to barbarism. One of our spies came back and said that they practice ancient rites in order to chase the demon wolf away.”

I mumbled “ridiculous” under my breath.

“I quite agree, but it remains true that so long as they are hoodoo mad, these men will not go back to work. It is up to you, Mr. Dexter, to convince them to return to civilization.”

Joe shook O’Neal’s hand and agreed to the company’s request.

“You can really kill two birds at once. Kill the wolf, or whatever the hell it is, and the men will surely stop with all the mumbo-jumbo. By the way, will you need a guide? We have a man here…”

“No, Mr. Olsen will be my guide. His people grew up here. He knows the islands well.”

O’Neal made a face that said that he did not believe Joe.

“That settles that, then. When will you be leaving for the interior?”

“Now,” Joe said with finality.

After we passed the second sugarcane field, I finally voiced my concern to Joe.

“Joe, you know that I have no knowledge of St. John, right? This is foreign country to me.”

“Does not matter.”

“Then why take me along?”

“I prefer to work without direct supervision from my employers. Besides, I knew that my old pal Olsen would not want to miss out on this story.”

Joe gave me a friendly wink, but I remained worried.

“Cheer up; I’m the one who will be doing all the heavy lifting. You just take notes for your million-dollar story.”

”Joe, are we really after an animal?”

My question shocked him into silence.

“It has to be an animal. No man could do that to those poor workers. They were ripped apart, Olsen. Be thankful that you never saw the pictures. They were horrible, absolutely horrible.”

Joe let off a heavy sigh that saw his strong shoulder lift and fall.

“No, it has to be an animal. I just do not know what kind.”

“It’s a mystery, then. Lucky for me.” I tried to lighten the mood, but Joe’s weak smile revealed that he was lost in horrific memories. I decided to keep quiet.

We walked in the sweltering heat for days. I lost track of time, and each day bled into the other. Joe admitted that he got us lost at one point, but he swore that he corrected course. It was easy to get lost in that green hell. The trees all hummed with audible, but unmentionable threats, and each drop of sweat was like a salty dagger slicing into my skin. The monotony only broke when, in the middle of a torrential downpour, Joe yelled “There!”

I followed Joe’s finger. It pointed to a dilapidated church that was painted a sick yellow. Its roof was made of pink tile, while its door was a shocking red. I instinctively loathed the building.

“There it is: the haunted church.”

“‘Haunted church?’”

“People around here have long thought that this church, which was built by Bohemian immigrants in the 1790’s, is haunted. All that matters to us now is that that church is now a hoodoo shrine.”

The church, as it turned out, was devoid of all humans, but it certainly wasn’t empty. The once Christian church had been turned into a paean to sacrilege. There, in the center near what had been an altar, was a decapitated black chicken. Dried blood was pooled near its frayed neck. Although the cross still hung in the air, beneath it were a series of fetishes or idols, some of which were nothing but death heads. There were live chickens somewhere, for the smell of their feces in the enclosed church was nauseatingly strong. The mass of flowers in the pews could not hide the stench.

“They must have heard us coming. They’re scattered somewhere in the hills. That’s okay; I’ll drop the wolf’s carcass right here in this terrible place.”

Joe made the sign of the cross and left the church. I bowed at the waist and said a brief prayer before leaving as well.

I followed Joe through the trees until, once again, the sun set. We crossed several hills thanks to the light of the moon, which was full. We did not stop our trek until we reached a small and stagnant pool. Joe motioned over to a clutch of bushes.

“He’ll come through here, I’d wager. This is a nice, hidden water source for him.”

“So, what? We’re just going to wait?”

“Patience, Olsen. He will come to us.”

“How are you sure?”

“A hunter always knows. Sleep for now. I’ll wake you for your shift.”

Sleep did not come easily to me that night. I had my first nightmare in a long time. I dreamt that I was standing on a train platform somewhere. It was foggy, and for some reason, my dream self felt like a hunted animal. I kept checking my pocket watch and fingering my valise. There was something important in that case, and it was imperative that I catch the next train out of that town. The only problem was that the train never came, and yet my mind told me that I had already missed several trains.

It was Joe’s sharp elbow that woke me up.

“By God, Olsen. Look at it!”

There, in the moonlight, was a type of wild dog drinking from the pool. It had the large head and pointed ears of a wolf, but its body was too slender. Its coat looked black, but that may have just been because of the night’s darkness. As the creature bent down for another drink, I noticed something unusual: it did not have a tail.

“What is it, Joe? A dog?”

Joe did not answer. Instead, he went prone on the ground and tucked the rifle’s wooden stock into his shoulder. He aimed the gun at the creature and, before pulling the trigger, took three deep breaths to calm his hands. The shot, when it was released, reverberated like an explosion in the quiet jungle.

The shot struck the creature in its right breast. It howled with unimaginable rage, but did not collapse. Instead, it lunged forward.

Joe cycled another round and shot the creature again, this time in the forehead. The creature kept coming forward. One of its paws struck Joe in the face, leaving three parallel red scratches on his sunburnt cheek. In a panic, I pulled out the Savage automatic that Joe had given me and fired an untold number of shots into the creature’s back. It howled again, turned towards me, and lunged for my throat.

“Help! Joe, kill the damned thing!”

Joe raised the rifle once again to his shoulder, but then dropped it. Seeing this, I began to panic even more. Had Joe just fed me to the wolf?

No: what Joe did was open up the strange box. He pulled out a single object and placed the object in his rifle.

Joe aimed and fired. This time the creature, which was so close to me that its drool had coated my shirt, dropped dead. In an instant, it gave off a terrible smell of putrefaction. Nauseous gasses escaped the hound, emitting a faintly green vapor that smelled, Joe later told me, like a cadaver that been left to rot in the sun.

The stench of the creature forced me to walk away in order to catch my breath. I sucked in the hot, humid, but clean night air for a minute. Joe did not follow me; he stood by the corpse, transfixed.

“It’s not a wolf.”


“It’s not a wolf.”

“Is it a dog?”


Intrigued by Joe’s tone of voice, I returned to the corpse. I was shocked to see that Joe was right: the corpse belonged to neither a dog nor a wolf. Instead, where an animal had once been was now a man. He was a white man, with large, hairy hands and a thin torso. He looked emaciated, and except for the hair on his hands and eyebrows, he was completely smooth. His face was exceptionally ugly, with diagonal scares across his nose and cheeks.

“Joe, who is that?”

“I do not know.”

“But, but…I saw a wolf or a dog just a second ago.”

“I did, too.”

“Well, who’s this then? And what did you shoot the creature with?”

“A silver bullet.”

Joe’s admission struck me like a bolt of lightning. I did not want to say aloud what I now knew to be true. The thing that we had killed was no creature of God, but something else, something infernal.

The next few hours were a blur. I watched silently as Joe hacked off the man’s head, hands, and feet. He placed these grisly objects in a burlap sack and motioned for me to follow him. We walked back to the haunted church. Here, underneath the sacred cross of crucifixion, Joe deposited his unholy trophies.

When he reached O’Neal days later, he congratulated us on a great hunt.

“By golly, you boys did it! The natives have gone back to work, and the company could not be happier. I have already wired Savannah to send both of you an extra $350 for your troubles. You really saved our hides.”

In the distance, behind the corpulent O’Neal, I spied several sweaty workers who had haunted eyes. They knew or had heard about what Joe and I had killed. One of their number rubbed a small crucifix that he wore around his thin neck.

“By the way, what was it that you shot? I asked some of the more trusted workers, but they kept mum. Seems they’re still afraid of the beast.”

“I do not know for sure what we shot, and I do not want to know. Just count yourself lucky and pray that you never need to call us again.”

O’Neal raised an eyebrow at the laconic hunter and famous mercenary. He looked at me, but I looked away. I did not know what to tell him, either. I couldn’t fully believe my own story.

When he returned to the Louise, Joe asked about my typewriter.

“When will you start writing?”

I hesitated for a while before answering, “I don’t think I will be ready to write about this story for a long time, Joe.”

Joe said nothing. He merely looked ahead across the blue waters of the Caribbean towards Key West, towards a world that at least made sense.