The Lycanthropous Flower

From the book Werwolves, by Elliott O’Donnell, first published in 1912, we have this account of the case of the family of Kloska and the Lycanthropous flower.

In the mountainous regions of Austria-Hungary and the Balkan Peninsula are certain flowers credited with the property of converting into werewolves whoever plucks and wears them. Needless to say, these flowers are very rare, but I have heard of their having been found, comparatively recently, both in the Transylvanian Alps and the Balkans.

A story a propos of one of these discoveries was told me last summer.

Ivan and Olga were the children of Otto and Vera Kloska – the former a storekeeper of Kerovitch, a village on the Roumanian side of the Transylvanian Alps. One morning they were out with their mother, watching her wash clothes in a brook at the back of their house, when, getting tired of their occupation, they wandered into a thicket.

“Let’s make a chaplet of flowers,” Olga said, plucking a daisy. “You gather the flowers and I’ll weave them together.”

“It’s not much of a game,” Ivan grumbled, “but I can’t think of anything more exciting just now, so I’ll play it. But let’s both make wreaths and see which makes the best.”

To this Olga agreed, and they were soon busily hunting amidst the grass and undergrowth, and scrambling into all sorts of possible and impossible places.

Presently Ivan heard a scream, followed by a heavy thud, and running in the direction of the noise, narrowly avoided falling into a pit, the sides of which were partly overgrown with weeds and brambles.

“It’s all right,” Olga shouted; “I’m not hurt. I landed on soft ground. It’s not very deep, and there’s such a queer flower here – I don’t know what it is; I’ve never seen one like it before.”

Ivan’s curiosity thus aroused, he carefully examined the sides of the pit, and, selecting the shallowest spot, lowered himself slowly over and then dropped. It was nothing of a distance, seven or eight feet at the most, and he alighted without mishap on a clump of rank, luxuriant grass. “See! here it is,” his sister cried, pointing to a large, very vivid white flower, shaped something like a sunflower, but soft and pulpy, and full of a sweet, nauseating odour. “It’s too big to put in a wreath, so I’ll wear it in my buttonhole.”

“Better not,” Ivan said, snatching it from her; “I don’t like it. It’s a nasty-looking thing. I believe it’s a sort of fungus.”

Olga then began to cry, and as Ivan was desirous of keeping the peace, he gave her back the flower. She was a prepossessing child, with black hair and large dark eyes, pretty teeth and plump, sunburnt cheeks. Nor was she altogether unaware of her attractions, for even at so early an age she had a goodly share of the inordinate vanity common to her sex, and liked nothing better than appearing out-of-doors in a new frock plentifully besprinkled with rosettes and ribbons.

The flower, she told herself, would look well on her scarlet bodice, and would be a good set-off to her black hair and olive complexion. All this was, of course, beyond the comprehension of Ivan, who regarded his sister’s weakness with the most supreme contempt, and for his own part was never so happy as when skylarking with other boys and getting into every conceivable kind of mischief. Yet for all that he was in the main sensible, almost beyond his years, and extremely fond, and – though he would not admit it – proud of Olga.

She fixed the flower in her dress, and imitating to the best of her knowledge the carriage of royalty, strutted up and down, saying “Am I not grand? Don’t I look nice? Ivan – salute me!”

And Ivan was preparing to salute her in the proper military style, taught him by a great friend of his in the village, a soldier in the carabineers for whom he had an intense admiration, when his jaw suddenly fell and his eyes bulged.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” Olga asked.

“There’s nothing the matter with me,” Ivan cried, shrinking away from her; “but there is with you. Don’t! don’t make such faces – they frighten me,” and turning round, he ran to the place where he had made his descent and tried to climb up.

Some minutes later the mother of the children, hearing piercing shrieks for help, flew to the pit, and, missing her footing, slipped over the brink, and falling some ten or more feet, broke one of her legs and otherwise bruised herself.

For some seconds she was unconscious, and the first sight that met her eyes on coming to was Ivan kneeling on the ground, feebly endeavoring to hold at bay a gaunt grey wolf that had already bitten him about the legs and thigh, and was now trying hard to fix its wicked white fangs into his throat.

“Help me, mother!” Ivan gasped; “I’m getting exhausted. It’s Olga.”

“Olga!” the mother screamed, making frantic efforts to come to his assistance. “Olga! what do you mean?”

“It’s all owing to a flower – a white flower,” Ivan panted; “Olga would pluck it, and no sooner had she fixed it on her dress than she turned into a wolf! Quick, quick! I can’t hold it off any longer.”

Thus adjured the wretched woman made a terrific effort to rise, and failing in this, clenched her teeth, and, lying down, rolled over and over till she arrived at the spot where the struggle was taking place. By this time, however, the wolf had broken through Ivan’s guard, and he was now on his back with his right arm in the grip of his ferocious enemy.

The mother had not a knife, but she had a long steel skewer she used for sticking into a tree as a means of fastening one end of her washing line. She wore it hanging to her girdle, and it was quite by a miracle it had not run into her when she fell.

“Take care, mother,” Ivan cried, as she raised it ready to strike; “remember, it is Olga.”

This indeed was an ugly fact that the woman in her anxiety to save the boy had forgotten. What should she do? To merely wound the animal would be to make it ten times more savage, in which case it would almost inevitably destroy them both. To kill it would mean killing Olga. Which did she love the most, the boy or the girl?

Never was a mother placed in such a dilemma. And she had no time to deliberate, not even a second. God help her, she chose. And like ninety-nine out of a hundred mothers would have done, she chose the boy; he – he at all costs must be saved. She struck, struck with all the pent-up energy of despair, and in her blind, mad zeal she struck again.

The first blow, penetrating the werewolf’s eye, sank deep into its brain, but the second blow missed – missed, and falling aslant, alighted on the form beneath.

An hour later a villager on his way home, hearing extraordinary sounds of mirth, went to the side of the pit and peeped over.

“Vera Kloska!” he screamed; “Heaven have mercy on us, what have you there?”

“He! he! he!” came the answer. “He! he! he! My children! Don’t they look funny? Olga has such a pretty white flower in her buttonhole, and Ivan a red stain on his forehead. They are deaf – they won’t reply when I speak to them. See if you can make them hear.”

But the villager shook his head. “They’ll never hear again in this world, mad soul,” he muttered. “You’ve murdered them.”

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