• Victor Wolff sat in the bushes outside the little house. Smoke rose from the chimney in front of him, rising above the trees like a dark cloud. The only sign that there was any life besides the forest creatures out here. It would be dark soon, so no one would notice him entering. Not that anyone would be this far in the woods to see or care.
    The hut was hidden on all sides by the trees of the forest it was placed in. It was a small building that probably only had 3 or 4 rooms in it. Not that anyone had been in there before. The outside walls were covered in ivy and other creeping plants, making it look like it had been abandoned for years. But that was far from the truth.
    That hut was the home of the hermit. A grumpy, old man that had lived in that forest for as long as anyone could remember. Not much was known about him other than the stories the kids would make up and the rumors started by others. Some say he was a crazy old alchemist who was still searching for the philosopher’s stone. Others say he is an ex-convict hiding from the law. And others just say that he is a sad old widower living out his days in the house he build with his wife. All Victor knew was that if he took something from him, no one would care.
    No one ever comes out here, except for maybe some kids on a dare. Many say the woods were haunted or filled with terrible monsters. No one would be foolish enough to go into these woods, which made it perfect for the hermit and, in turn, perfect for Victor.
    You see, Victor is a thief. After he and his family had moved to California for the gold rush, when hard times struck. Victor found no gold, almost died twice in mine cave-ins, and lost his job. He tried to find another, but no one would hire him. There were just no jobs available. He only became a thief after his youngest daughter died. He didn’t have the money for the medicine when she got sick. He knew something had to change, so he began his life of thievery. At first, he was ashamed but soon realized that it was this or lose his whole family. So, he kept at it, but would only steal from those who wouldn’t notice or no one would care about, so that he wouldn’t get caught. That’s why, on this night, he is in the bushes outside the hermit’s house.
    The sun had just set when he made his move. He snuck over to the side of the house, careful not to make a sound, and crouched just under the window. He waited a second and then peered in. Inside, the hermit sat by the fire, his back to the window and his 3 dogs lying on the floor beside him. Victor could see the kitchen through a doorway opposite the fire and the backdoor beyond that. That is how he would get inside. Quietly as possible, he snuck around the building to the backdoor, listen carefully with each step. At one point he stepped on a twig with a loud snap. After a few seconds to see if he was heard, Victor continued his way around the house. He made it to the door and noticed it was slightly ajar. What luck! Victor thought. Smoothly he opened the door, so that it wouldn’t squeak and snuck in as close to the ground as possible. Once he was out of sight of the door, he stood up and looked around.
    There wasn’t much in there. Just some old pots, broken dishes, bent pans, and old bread on the counters, shelves covered in various jars, and a floor littered with dust, dirt, and food scraps. Just when he thought there was nothing, something caught his eye. Across the room, on the top shelf was a pitcher. But this wasn’t a regular pitcher, this one was solid gold. Being a miner for all those years, he recognized it right away. Victor had hit the jackpot.
    Quietly and swiftly, he made his way across the room. The shelf was high, but if he stood on his toes he could reach. He stretched his arms and pulled the pitcher off the shelf. The metal was cool in his hand. He glanced at his reflection in it for a second before getting ready to leave. Victor placed the pitcher in the bag over his shoulder and went to lower himself down. But, when he did, his bag snagged on the edge of a bowl and pulled it off the counter. The sound of it shattering reverberated throughout the whole house.
    “Who’s in there?” called the hermit from the other room. Victor could hear the hermit and his dogs start moving and, in a panic, he fled not caring how much noise he made in the process.
    He tore through the woods trying to get as far away from the house as possible. He could hear the dogs barking behind him, so he ran faster. Fatigue caught up with him faster than he had hoped, as hard as he tried he couldn’t go any faster. The dogs were catching up, he could hear them barking and the hermit yelling behind him. Closer and closer the sound got when suddenly, it stopped. Victor ran for a minute longer before slowing down. Had they given up?
    Suddenly, one of the dogs leapt out of the bush next to him. Victor tried to move but the dog slashed his thigh before he could, leaving 3 long gash marks in his flesh. He stumbled a few steps before falling at the base of a tree. Turning himself around to see the hermit. The hermit was now standing in front of him and the dogs had moved to flank the tree so that, even if he could move, he couldn’t run away. Terror filled his mind when he grasped his situation. He was helpless, immobile, and bleeding at the base of the tree.
    “Well now, what do we have here?” the hermit took one step closer a nasty sneer spreading across his face, “Looks like I had a thief in my house.”
    Victor tried to think of something, anything, to say to prove his innocence, but all he could think about was the pain in his leg. Not that much could prove he was innocent.
    “Actually, you can’t be a thief. If you were a thief you wouldn’t have gotten caught,” the hermit sneered down at him, “no, you’re not a thief, you‘re a dog.”
    “Please sir. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it honest. I-”
    “Of course you didn’t mean it. What thief means to get caught?” A chuckle left the hermit’s mouth, “So if you didn’t mean it then what did you mean?” He leaned in a little a small smile starting to appear.
    Victor stumbled over his words, “Sir please-”
    “You keep saying that. What are you so worried I’m going to do?”
    Victor was quiet for a second. “Tell the police,” he whispered.
    The hermit let out a loud laugh, “Police?! Why would I tell them?!” Victor looked confused and the hermit laughed harder. “Don’t worry boy I won’t tell the police.” Relief washed over Victor’s face. He let out a small sigh, but his fear came back when the hermit leaned closer, “Why would I tell them when I can do much worse?”
    Victor felt a lump rise into his throat, “W-w-worse?”
    The hermit smiled, “Yes, much worse. You see, I have a passion for what you would call ‘black magic.’ You know, witchcraft. So instead of turning you in I believe I will place a curse on you instead. But don’t worry, it won’t affect you, since I can tell you don’t have much time left.”
    It was true, Victor’s head was spinning and he was having a hard time seeing straight from all the blood he had lost. His vision was closing in; it took all his strength to keep his eyes open.
    The hermit pulled a hair off of one of the dogs and dipped his fingers in the blood that was now staining the ground. He put the hair on Victor’s forehead and began to draw on him with the blood. The whole time he was mumbling under his breath. Victor couldn’t tell if it was a different language or his lack of blood that caused him to not understand. The hermit straightened up.
    “There. Now one of your ancestors will be cursed to live as the dog you are. Years from now, one of you descendants will be born with a birthmark that looks just like the wound on your leg. That child will be cursed to live every night, from his 16th year on, as a dog.” Victor couldn’t fight it any longer and, with that, he lost consciousness and died. The hermit walked back home laughing, the dogs following along faithfully.
    What neither of them knew was that Victor’s son, Eric, had witnessed the whole thing from behind a tree. He had followed his father and waited outside the house, he wanted to prove that he could help. Eric had followed them into the woods, but was too scared to do anything.
    Eric walked over to where his father lay, tears streaming down his face. He moved him and began to dig a grave at the base of the tree. His thoughts were racing. Why didn’t he help? Why did his father get caught? What was he going to tell the rest of his family? It was almost light when he finished, but he kept working all the same. His arms ached and he had lost a few fingernails, but that didn’t stop him. Gently, he moved Victor into the grave. Then, he reached over and removed the pitcher from his father’s bag. Luckily, the hermit had forgotten to take it back with him. He broke the handle off the pitcher, stuck it in his pocket, and placed the rest with his father. After covering him up and saying a little prayer, he left to go tell his mother and sisters the news.
    About a month later, Eric went back to the tree where he had buried his father. He brought with him a small, leather-bound journal, in which he had written what happened the night his father died, and a plaque he had made from the handle of the golden pitcher. He placed the journal in a little box and buried it next to his father. Then he placed the plaque upon the base of the tree. It read:

    Here lies Victor Wolff.
    A father, miner, and great man.
    He is not a dog.