That Which Devours
The wind howled as the door to the cabin swung open, snow blowing in, as if the snow were desperately trying to get into the cabin to get warm. Ben came in followed by another who was bundled up in a thick wolf skin jacket, hood drawn. The door was swiftly shut to keep out the invading cold. Ben walked to the fireplace at the back of the single room cabin, hands thrust toward the fire to restore the flow of blood to his half-frozen fingers. The lively dance of the blazing fire cast its welcome warmth and Ben massaged his hands to help it in its work.
The other men in the cabin looked up at the second man who still stood by the door. Harry Williams was standing in the corner, leaning as if holding up the wall. There were six men at the table, gathered around a map spread on the table like a table cloth, some of the edges hanging off the edges. The man standing in the middle of the group, a husky man in his early forties with unruly brown hair, slightly turned his head to talk to Ben who was now behind him while still keeping his eye on the man by the door.
“That him?” Scott Hansen asked.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Ben answered, vigorously rubbing feeling back into his numb fingers. He turned and gestured to the man standing quietly by the door. “Scott, I’d like you to meet Tommy Bear Shadow. Tommy, Scott Hansen.” Scott walked around the table and extended his hand. The old Indian took his hand in a surprisingly iron vise-like grip and turned his hand palm up, then turning it over one then the other, his eyes examining every contour. When satisfied, he released his iron-like grip. Scott was shocked. He looked at the Indian, whose face was mostly covered in shadow cast from the hood of his wolf hide coat. The firelight would only push the shadows back far enough to reveal a very old, leathery-skinned face, lined from time, the elements, and a hard-won wisdom. The old man’s eyes seemed to peer into Scott’s soul.
“You’ve never shed man’s blood, but your future isn’t going to be your past. But you will do so without blame. Your soul, though not pure, is full of a hunger for rightness. You will need that for what you will face, White Man, if you wish to survive.”
Scott blinked at the Indian and just looked blankly at him as he paused. Ben turned from the fire and looked at Scott.
“He’s like that. He came out of the woods to meet me and said I was to bring him to you, before I ever said a word to him. He said he’d been waiting for me for four winters, and that my youth was my saving grace.”
Everybody turned to look at the old man. Scott regained his composure and walked closer to the Indian.
“Care for a seat?” he asked, pulling an old wooden chair from the table. The Indian looked at him and smiled amused. He sat in the chair proffered him.
“You’re the medicine man we were told about in town? The Cree?” The old man pulled out a long-stem pipe from the inside of his coat. He then produced a pouch of tobacco from the same source and started packing his pipe as if he hadn’t heard Scott’s question. His gnarled fingers deftly packed the bowl with the brown, shredded leaves, each movement slow, precise. Bob Staley, nicknamed Smiley, was an impatient man.
“Hey, old man! Did you hear Scott?” Smiley asked harshly. Scott put a restraining hand on Smiley’s arm. The old man never even looked up from his task. Scott looked at Smiley, then the others there.
“My grand dad was like this,” he explained. “He always had to finish what he was doing before he would acknowledge your presence… He said it built character for younger people to wait a minute or two.” The Indian still moved methodically while the others waited. Smiley and Daryl Shandly were antsy and nervously shifting their weight from one foot to the other, restless. The old man neither sped up his pace nor slowed it down, but continued until he had finished. Then, satisfied, he lit the pipe with a stick he lit from the fireplace, puffing until the thick, rich aroma filled the room. He sat back down, and looked up at Scott.
“Your grandfather was a very wise man, White Man. Very wise. And you have learned from that wisdom.” He smiled a partly toothless smile, then drew deeply on his pipe, the rich aroma wafting around the room, seeming to emanate from the old man himself. The cabin was soon filled with the scent of his pipe, the aroma seeming to calm everybody there, soothing them. Including Smiley.
“To answer your question, yes. I am the Cree medicine man Tommy Bear Shadow. I heard of you seeking me, so I came to meet you here. I knew some years ago you would be here. The winds tell many things, if you know how to listen to them. I heard you were finally coming, so I came out here to meet you. What is it you need from an old man like me?” he asked, though his face appeared as if he already knew the answer.
“We’re looking for a mad animal. A bear murdered my father, and even though the game wardens are looking for it, I want to catch the bastard myself!” Scott replied, his words full of venom and bile, as if he would vomit them out.
“He was murdered? I thought you said a bear killed him. Bears do not understand the concept of murder,” replied the Indian, puffing on his pipe. Scott looked down, shook his head, not able to speak. He was trembling.
“Man, like he was ripped to shreds!” exclaimed Billy Raymond, Scott’s cousin and best friend. “It even ate part of him. But it ran off when Uncle Lou fired at it. We heard the shot and came running. Uncle Lou was ghost white, and he was sitting on the ground next to Scott’s pa’s body. He had a wild look in his eyes when we got there. Said some sorta bear just killed his brother. We looked for the body of the bear, but couldn’t see anything, just the bare-footed footprints of a large man in the snow and some blood speckled here and there. Uncle Lou said he knew he’d shot it at least three, maybe four times, but it didn’t even slow the damn thing down. It took off into the woods with one of Uncle Jack’s legs. Found it later, most if it eaten. We followed the trail into the woods, but lost it at night, after it started to snow again.” Billy’s eyes shown with a feral, hate-filled fire. “He was like my own pa!” he exclaimed.
Tommy Bear Shadow’s face seemed to close in on itself as he sat quietly, furiously puffing on his pipe. “The game wardens are looking for it, too, you said?” he asked after several minutes. “They are not looking. I know this. That which killed your kinsman is something that the wardens in these parts won’t follow. It’s more than they know what to deal with.”
“What?!” asked Scott. “More than the wardens can deal with? What are you talking about?”
“Have you seen any sign of them since you left your home?” Tommy asked. “You don’t think they can track well enough?”
All stood silently, waiting for the aged man to continue. “What you seek is not a bear. It’s not a man either… or it isn’t anymore. What you seek shall soon seek you. And if you aren’t prepared, you will soon be the prey, not the hunter.” He again puffed on his pipe, gazing at the roaring fire in the hearth. The flames danced in their fashion, sparks suddenly rising and disappearing into the chimney as the oak crackled.
“My grandfather was cousin to Jack Fiddler, a warrior who knew full well the thing which you hunt. Jack died having killed fourteen of these murderous beasts. My father was a young brave back then, and I came into this life only one winter after his last killing. I grew up knowing the tales and great deeds of my kinsman. He had killed the last of their kind, and this region was at peace for many years. Then about three years ago, one of your airplanes went down in the middle of a strong snow storm. Only one survived. It’s that one which you now seek.” He puffed on his pipe as if there was nothing more to be said. Smiley was antsy again. The Indian smiled to himself and puffed a few more times.
“The survivor,” he began again, “was trapped in the machine. Everyone around him had died in the crash. The snows were relentless for three weeks. He had no food, only water from the snow he melted. He became hungry, and the melted snow didn’t help him kill that pain. The snow had buried him, making rescue difficult. He broke windows out of the plane, but had been buried under so much snow he wasn’t able to dig his way out. Plus the windows were too small. He was there for probably two weeks before he did that which in these parts draws a curse upon you. He started to eat the remains of his dead companions. Eating to survive. Eating to live. That was when he was no longer a man.”
“Yeah, he was a dad-gone ghoul!” barked Sonny Litman, the oldest in the group, next to the Indian. The Indian looked at Sonny for a moment.
“Of sorts, only more damned,” Tommy said. “He became a Wendigo.”
“A WHAT?!” Smiley barked. “You gotta be kiddin’ me, man! We’re here on serious business and here you go regaling us with stories of childhood bogeymen!”
“A wendy what?” Scott asked.
“Wendigo, Scott,” Smiley snapped. “It’s like the Canadian Bogeyman, or something. It likes to eat people, and attacks like some sort of starvin’ animal.”
“It’s that and much more, Fiery White Man,” Tommy said. “And it’s no bedtime story. It’s real, and it’s out there now. Its appetite is ever more insatiable. With each killing, it needs to eat more, and more….”
“It’s a buncha crap, is what it is, Injun!” Smiley spat. “It’s just some psycho out there, and WE’RE gonna nail him!”
Tommy puffed on his pipe, looking into the crackling embers. Scott looked at Smiley, then at the old man. It was obvious to Scott that the old man believed in what he was saying, but it was equally obvious that Smiley didn’t. Scott had to side with Smiley. Monsters eating people did seem like a bedtime story to scare children.
“It’s OK if you don’t believe, for that has no bearing,” Tommy said while looking into the fire, “but whether you believe or not doesn’t make a thing real or unreal. What is, IS. Your belief doesn’t change that. But unbelief always pays a higher price on the path to belief than if you simply yield to it from the beginning. But so how it is with men! Boys learn these lessons early for they believe much more easily. However, you are not boys. You have gained some wisdom from life, but hear this --- don’t believe, but carry yourselves with the caution of men that do. This will help you survive. And if the Wendigo does not exist, what harm could come from a being a little more aware of the world around you?” The men looked at each other , some rolling their eyes in disbelief, while others nodded the heads at the old man’s wisdom.
Scott was thoughtful. Smiley walked in front of him, a little arrogance in his stride. He looked at Scott, bending until he could peer up into Scott’s face. Smiley looked Scott dead in the eye, then stood up and back.
“Your buyin’ this load of crap, ain’t ya?” a sneer spread across his rough features. There were times when Smiley could be an ass, and this was definitely one of them. Smiley would soon start in on the old Indian, and Scott didn’t want that. After all, he had asked for the old man’s help and so Tommy was his guest. He decided to stop the problem before it began.
“Smiley,” Scott said softly, “I think that we need to be cautious. I personally find the Wendigo bit hard to swallow, but we ARE dealing with something that’s extremely dangerous. So I feel a good, well thought out strategy would be a good idea, that’s all. Mr. Bear Shadow brought up a good point about being cautious, and I think we should plan our methods a little better than if we were hunting squirrels. Don’t you?”
Smiley glared at him a long moment, his squinty blue eyes rife with anger. The large wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek danced as he chewed furiously on it. He stood up and zipped his jacket.
“I’m going out for some air. You can make your plans without me.” He headed for the door. “You busy-asses can fill me in on the details later.” With that, he left and slammed the door behind him.
A moment of silence, then Scott turned to look at the others there. “Shall we figure out what we are going to do?” he asked. Daryl was still looking at the door.
“You think it’s OK if Smiley’s out there alone? I mean what if that thing finds him?”
“Then that’s what he gets for being such an asshole,” Mark Dunford said. Mark was a young man in his late twenties. He was normally quiet, calm, and seldom ever spoke out. Tommy chuckled while still looking into the flames dancing in the hearth. Scott even found himself smiling. He’d been friends with Smiley for better than ten years and he knew how difficult Smiley could be at times. But a more loyal friend you could never ask for. When all else failed, Smiley was always there.
“OK, now let’s figure out just what we’re going to do and how,” Scott said. “Harry, how many bear traps do you bring?”
“I’ve only got seven, but I got another dozen smaller-jawed traps for wolves,” the short, balding man replied.
“Excellent! We’ll track this guy down, but we’ll set traps around our campsite at night. I’ve got some trip-flares also, so sneaking into our camp at night will be extremely difficult. Now we…”
Two gunshots followed by a scream outside the cabin interrupted the meeting. Another blood-curdling scream. Everyone in the cabin froze for just a moment. Then chairs hit the floor, jackets were thrown on, and weapons grabbed in quick order as each man hurriedly ran out of the cabin into the frigid Canadian winter air. The cabin was in a small clearing and the area surrounding it had a few trees here and there.
Soon, though, the area was heavily wooded. The group started following the only fresh set of tracks that led into the woods for about thirty yards. Crimson splotches in the snow were all over the tracks, which led behind a particularly large oak. The party advanced cautiously, every sense heightened, hearts hammering like tribal drums in the breasts of the men. Slowly they advanced, and when they were a scant fifteen feet away, something flew from behind the tree. Ben Johnson and Harry Williams fired simultaneously, blowing the body of the rabbit to pieces, the scarlet spray as the body was ripped apart painting the snow on the trees and ground.
Laughter could be heard from behind the tree. Scott flipped the safety of his shotgun to “on” and lowered the barrel. Everyone else kept on the ready.
“You know, Smiley, sometimes you can be such a pain in my hind end!” Scott spoke loudly. Smiley laughed even harder. Scott turned in irritation and stormed back to the cabin. The rest looked as Smiley came from behind the tree, still laughing heartily.
Harry and Daryl started laughing, also, as they turned and headed back to the cabin. The rest muttered very unflattering comments.
Tommy was still seated by the fire, his eyes never leaving the flames and their dance as the men came back into the cabin. Scott looked at the back of the old man’s still-hooded head.
“Strange humor your friend has,” he said, never turning his gaze from the fire.
“Yeah, but he’s a good man to have around where there’s trouble,” Scott replied, “even though he can be a royal pain in the fanny.”
“I wish he’d grow up at least a little,” Billy commented.
“Anyway, guys,” Scott said, “let’s get back to the business of killin’ us a bear. No offense Mr. Bear Shadow, but I find it easier to believe.”
“I understand,” Tommy replied.
“But I know you’ve seen these kinds of killings before, and probably know something in the way of how to hunt this beast.”
“There’s no need to hunt it.” The Indian sat impassively after saying this, just puffing on his pipe.
“WHAT?” Scott asked in surprise, a touch of anger in his exclamation.
“You don’t need to hunt it. It will come hunting for you, White Man. You and all of your friends, then for me. So you don’t need to hunt it, for you are not the hunter, but the prey.”
Another shotgun blast, another scream. All froze, not sure if it were real or another joke. As if in answer to their thoughts, a large thump was heard against the outside of the cabin, close to the sole window in the place. All eyes looked at the wall, then the window. Smiley seemed to just appear in the window, his face twisted in agony. Blood started oozing from the corner of his mouth. Then his eyes opened wide, bugged out even, and he let out a sound that was more the cry of a damned soul than something from a human’s living throat. He was sliding up the window a little and then Smiley’s chest and the window it pressed on exploded into the room.
Two sets of giant claws stuck out from the middle of Smiley’s chest and pulled outward, brutally ripping his body into pieces. A huge misshapen head was seen behind the torn body of their friend. Matted fur, huge serrated teeth - fangs actually, large wild, hungry eyes that gleamed with an intelligence far above most animals. Its mouth opened and it bit Smiley’s head cleanly from his shoulders. It let out a horrifying roar, then swiftly turned and ran, just as shotgun blasts blew the rest of the window out. The screams and angry shouts from the men could barely be heard over the thunder of the shotguns.
Quickly running out the door, Scott and his friends were fumbling in their pockets for more rounds and loading their guns on the run. Smiley’s body was gone, but the crimson-stained snow and cabin wall were testimony of the horror they had just witnessed. The path of the beast was easy to follow, at least at first. The path led into the woods and soon became almost invisible, the occasional dripping of blood often the only indicator they were on the right trail. Whatever they were tracking could really move! The trail was the only sign of the beast… no sounds of running, breathing, branches breaking.
Soon they came upon grim evidence of Smiley’s fate – a piece of hand, an ear, torn clothing saturated in blood. At one area they found Smiley’s left boot, his foot still inside. Daryl bit down hard on the bile that wanted to explode from his stomach. Ben wasn’t so successful. He emptied his stomach on the snow, melting it only to freeze, itself, in mere moments. Billy came up behind him and pulled him to his feet.
“This AIN’T the time for that, Son!” he breathed harshly into Ben’s ear.
“Shut up!!!” Billy rasped, grabbing the face of the frightened youth to make him look straight into his eyes. “You are making enough noise to alert every animal in this part of the world… every animal,” he said meaningfully. “You want to bring that thing back here?”
Ben’s eyes were wide, his face paste-white. He shook his head no nervously.
“Me neither,” whispered Billy, more gently. “Get a grip on yourself and let’s kick some bear behind.” Quietly the two caught up with the group. Scott looked at Billy inquisitively. Billy only winked. Scott nodded slightly and turned back around.
Daryl was walking point man in front, partly because of his eagerness to kill the beast, and partly to hide the tears that squeezed from the corners of his eyes despite his attempts to stop their coming. His mind was thick with blackness, thoughts of tearing this creature to pieces, extracting every bit of pain he could from it before it died. Smiley may have had his faults, and a lot of them at that, but he was Daryl’s friend! And NOBODY should die like Smiley had. Nobody!
Daryl shivered. People that survived shipwrecks only to be savagely ripped apart was the whole reason he had never gone on the ocean. Silly reason, he knew, but just that fear that it was a possibility was enough to keep him land-bound. And now, he had just watched his best friend die just like that… and on the ground! He felt an unconscious shiver crawl up his spine.
He stopped short, raising his right hand. All of the men behind stopped, looked around. Daryl had caught a hint of a scent on the mild wind. He wasn’t sure what he had smelled, it being little more than a hint of an odor. But he was a hunter among hunters, and trusted his instincts. He scanned the path ahead of him, looking for a veering away from the game trail this thing was following. It had forged straight ahead through a thicket that was off to the side. Daryl looked hard at the brush, the snow around it spattered with droplets of blood. A patch of white fur was hanging from one of the branches, dancing lightly in the breeze.
All ears strained to hear the slightest sound that might betray the presence of the monster they followed. Nothing but the sound of the wind through the forest, which had been steadily picking up as the morning had waned, could be heard, moaning its lonesome wail.
Then, the wind was not alone. A long, animalistic wail, like that of a lost soul could be heard rising beyond the brush, a good half mile or so beyond. All froze and stood straight up, the nape hairs on all of them standing straight on end. Scott looked around for some kind of concealment from which to hide and wait. There were patches of undergrowth here and there, but they weren’t enough to conceal as well as he would have liked.
Sonny made a bird sound, quite convincingly at that. Scott and the others looked to see a huge grin on his smug face. He pointed up the trunk to the oak he was standing next to. Thirty feet above him was a platform permanently fixed to the tree. Deer stands! Looking around, they found several more in the immediate proximity. They were small, one-person stands, so they needed three more.
Another wail, only this time closer sent people scrambling up trees. Harry stood calmly, looking around for other stands. He didn’t see any, but he did see a tree with easy branches to scale. The other two still on the ground, Ben and Daryl, were looking frantically for cover, since another wail, even closer than before was even now echoing on the wind. Harry cleared his throat in an exaggerated way, and Ben and Daryl looked. He pointed at the tree, and started climbing. They ran up to the tree and scrambled up the trunk behind him. The tree was an old, majestic oak, and its branches were large and many. The trunk was easy enough to climb, since someone had made a ladder on it by hammering some boards to the trunk to make a nature deer stand.
As soon as everyone had scrambled up the trees, and had their weapons at the ready, the wind died, and a strange fog rolled in. The fog was extremely thick, and rolled in like a living thing, engulfing everything in its path. Sonny cast a wild-eyed look at Scott, who was in the stand nearest his. Scott saw him, and understood. Fog at twelve o’clock in the afternoon?! That just didn’t make sense. Their eyes spoke to each other, each understanding the strangeness of this. Then the fog rolled over them, a cold, ultra-moist, preternaturally thick fog. They could only barely see each other’s silhouettes, and those were almost completely obscured. Scott looked to the ground, barely able to the see base of the trunk of his tree. He pulled his shotgun to the ready, and waited with the patience of the hunter. Cold sweat stood on the back of his neck.
Silence, like a palpable thing, settled in the area. Every ear strained to hear the slightest sound that may betray the presence of the beast they sought. Ben could only hear the pounding of his own heart as it hammered in his chest. His eyes were wild with fear. His eyes darted from here to there, looking for the monster that killed Smiley. His mouth was dry, and swallowing was almost impossible.
Then, they heard a sound like a large twig breaking, but from same height as the deer stands. Sonny snorted. Didn’t he have enough sense not to play with the branches? Did he want to spook their prey? He was getting angry, especially since he knew everybody here had been hunting enough to know better! Sonny was gonna have his way with the IDIOT who…
Something flew out of the fog and hit Sonny square in the chest. The suddenness of it made him slip and fall out of his perch to land in the soft snow below. He looked at what had hit him, and fear gripped him like nothing he had ever known. He was looking into the surprised dead eyes of Billy Raymond. The head had been cleanly ripped off. Then Sonny’s mind started working fast enough to take action.
“It’s in the TREES! IT’S IN THE TREES! IT GOT BILLY! IT GOT…,” the warning was cut short by the apparition that dropped from the trees above to land before him. It had matted fur, blood all over its taloned hands and fang-filled mouth. Its head was huge, misshapen. It was seven feet tall, thin, yet powerfully muscled. What registered most to Sonny at that moment, though, was the intelligence that showed in its yellowed eyes. Sonny turned his shotgun, which he managed to hold on to during his fall, and fired into the face of the beast. The thunder of the blast ripped through the area, and the others were dropping out of their perches. The blast hit fully into the face of the creature, which fell back into the snow.
“I hit him!” Sonny yelled. Scott dropped out of his perch and Sonny turned as Scott approached. Scott very swiftly raised his shotgun.
“DROP!” he yelled, and Sonny instantly obeyed. The shotgun blast ripped the air and hit the creature again, this time in the chest. It had stood up behind Sonny and was about to grab him. The creature writhed on the ground, loud howling coming out of its malformed throat. But they weren’t the sounds of a wounded animal. Rather, they sounded to Scott more like angry cursing.
“RUN!” Scott yelled, and took off toward the cabin at a dead run. Sonny was right on his tail, looking back over his shoulder. The beast was shaking its massive head, jaws snapping. Sonny looked with disbelief, knowing he had hit the thing with a lethal shot at such close range. The others were ahead of them, running as fast as they could.
Everyone except for Harry. Harry was unsnapping the security strap on the sheath which held his silver inlaid Bowie knife. Scott stopped for only a second, Sonny passing him.
“Come ON, you two!” Sonny yelled, fear in his voice.
“You go,” Harry said. “I’ll give you some time, if I don’t kill the bastard first.”
“Don’t be a fool, Harry! Two shotgun blasts didn’t even do more than slow that thing down…”
“Which is why I need to do this! Scott, you know me. I’ll do my best to join you and the rest as soon as I can. Now go. It’s coming.” Scott saw this was true. The creature was barreling on all fours, jaws agape. Scott took one more shot at it, as did Harry. The beast fell face first in the snow, again screaming murderously.
“Now GO!” Harry yelled. Scott hesitated, then ran. Harry was a very large man, but extremely agile. A former Navy SEAL, Harry was more than able to defend himself. If anyone could survive this, he would. Scott ran.
Harry fired another shot into the beast when it scrambled to get up. It knocked it back down. He did this again and again until his shells were spent. He noticed that the creature was able to recover more quickly after each shot, so Harry’s plan of shooting it and advancing to safety was over. He’d have to fight this thing. After his last shell was fired, he threw the weapon down, and pulled out his knife. The cold silver inlay in the handle was reassuring to him somehow. It took his mind off of the part of him that was screaming how impossible this was.
The monster stood erect now, as a man would, and looked balefully at the man before him. Its eyes were feral, full of hatred and malice, yet sparkled with an unnatural intelligence. Harry took a fighting stance, knife at the ready. The beast looked at him curiously, at why the man didn’t run. Then a noise came out of its throat that did more to unnerve Harry than could several thousand death wails. It was laughing. No doubt about it, this thing was laughing at him.
“So it’s true, then,” Harry said, “you were the one that got trapped in that plane, and ate the bodies of those that had died. It’s true, isn’t it?” The beast stopped its laughing and it pupils dilated very widely. It let out the wail of a damned soul, and then launched itself at Harry. Harry swiftly rolled out of the way, slicing the creature’s underbelly as he did so. The beast let out a roar of rage. Again it jumped toward Harry, and again it was cut, this time in the armpit region. Again the beast roared its fury. But it stayed still a moment, as if concentrating.
Harry was cautious, his mind searching furiously for a way out of this. The Wendigo the gaped its jaws widely, revealing row upon murderous row of serrated teeth. It roared a queer kind of roar, and was answered by a roar with which Harry was familiar. The gale force wind slammed into Harry, knocking him off balance just a little bit. But that was enough.
The Wendigo launched its bulk at Harry, and though Harry tried and almost successfully evaded the attack, the beast caught hold of him with one of its razor-clawed hands. The two rolled in the snow, Harry stabbing again and again into beast. The monster took its other hand and tried to grab the man’s arm. Harry held that arm at bay, and stabbed again, this time into the left side of its chest. The Wendigo bellowed in pain, and responded with a renewed burst of fury. Its mouth closed on Harry’s left shoulder as Harry was stabbing it with his right arm. The pain drove the knife deeper than before, driving part of the silvered handle into the wound.
The beast roared in horrible pain, agony from which tortured souls wail. It flung Harry like a rag doll into the nearest tree, smacking his head and knocking him unconscious. The beast dug at the blade that bit him, but every contact with the ornate metal brought bellows of pain from it. It looked around and saw a broken branch that was thin enough to get where it was needed but stout enough not to break. It wedged the end of the stick into the wound until the tip of the stick was on the other side of the blade guard, and popped the knife out. The burning ceased, as well as the painful bellowing.
It then looked at the unconscious man in the snow, sat on its haunches and waited for him to awaken. Harry came to several minutes later, but didn’t move. He only barely opened an eye enough to see the beast looking at him. His shoulder was on fire where the thing had bitten him, and he knew he had lost much blood. His body was racked with pain and his head was pounding like someone was beating him in the head with a hammer. Still he didn’t move. He knew he’d die from loss of blood if he just stayed there. Better than being ripped apart.
But then his body betrayed him. A spasm of coughing caught him he could not stop, and when he coughed, the pain amplified in his shoulder and caused him to grimace and moan in pain. The Wendigo pounced on its victim, lifted him up effortlessly with one arm, and drove the other taloned hand deeply into Harry’s abdomen. Harry screamed. The creature then grabbed one of Harry’s kidneys, crushed it, then ripped it out and stuffed it into its mouth. Harry screamed again as his organ was crushed. Then he passed out again, for the last time. The monster totally shredded the body of the man that had dared to defy it, roaring in anger. The man that had even caused real pain to bite deeply into its consciousness, to where the Wendigo knew the fear of death. It savagely rent the body of Harry Williams until there were only shreds of bloodied meat spattered on the snow. Then it went back to devour the body of Billy Raymond.
Scott reached the clearing where the cabin was sitting, smoke still coming out of the chimney in a lazy, lackadaisical way as if all was right with the world. But Scott knew that wasn’t the case. He stopped and listened. He heard the monster’s screams, and his heart skipped, for he knew that the creature had been hurt. The bellowing was different than before. Maybe Harry did it. Maybe he had killed the beast. Hope started to rise in his heart. He stood there for a few moments, straining his ears.
He started to walk back into the woods when he heard Harry’s screams of pain. He froze. For Harry to cry out in pain would be like hearing Billy Graham cursing like a sailor and telling of his sexual exploits with prostitutes. A chill ran along his spine. He knew Harry was dead. Then he heard the angry screaming of the beast, and he turned and ran to the cabin.
“Your weapons are useless against this creature,” Tommy said. “I tried to tell you, but you left too quickly.” The old man puffed on his pipe. “But it can be killed. In fact, your friend may have discovered the secret of causing true injury to it, but not in time.”
“But how?” Scott asked. “All he had was his shotgun, and his knife.”
“Silver will cause harm to the creature. Did he have anything with silver that he may have used?” Scott thought a moment, and shook his head. Sonny sat at the table not seeming to pay any mind. He was busy cleaning his shotgun and looking down the barrel to make sure it was clean. But after Scott shook his head, he said something almost unintelligible.
“What was that?” Tommy asked Sonny.
“His knife was all fancied up. The handle had silver designs on it. Real proud of that thing he was. Said he got it off some Cuban in Granada. Don’t think it was a gift, neither.” Sonny spat some brown spit on the floor of the old cabin while he shifted the wad of chewing tobacco around in his cheek.
“And so what?” exclaimed Daryl. “This ain’t no werewolf we’re huntin’, and it damned sure ain’t no bear! This silly crap you’re talkin’ about makes neither hide nor hair difference on killin’ that, that THING out there!” Daryl was losing self-control, which was nothing new, but this wasn’t really a good time for it, either. He never could control his anger when he was drunk or afraid, and he always got himself in trouble when he became angry.
“Come, on, Daryl! We’re just trying to figure out what to do. We’re all upset over what’s happened. Right now, after all we saw, ANYTHING seems like a good idea.” Scott looked hard at Daryl, knowing in his heart he was every bit as scared as his friend. But when Daryl lost his temper, he was dangerous. Not just to others, but to himself. And this was no time for more danger than they already were in.
Daryl stood there wild-eyed and breathing heavily, but he said nothing.
“Why don’t you and Ben grab some of those loose boards over in the corner and cover that window somehow. The fire isn’t quite doing the job we made it for,” Scott said, not unkindly. Daryl looked at the boards scattered in a corner at the back of the cabin, and grunted his assent. Ben met him in the corner, and started to carry over some of the wood to the broken pane. They didn’t have nails, but Daryl was very resourceful. He reached in his backpack, which he always kept with him when leaving his house, and pulled out some stout rope. He pulled out a screwdriver, and started digging between the timbers of the cabin to make holes with which to feed the rope and tie the wood to the wall. Not as effective as the window, but it would serve its purposes, both in keeping out the cold, and in keeping Daryl calm and occupied. Ben watched and did as he was told. Satisfied, Scott turned his attention to the old Indian, who was looking at him approvingly.
“Why silver? It doesn’t make sense. NONE of this makes sense!” Scott said, feeling a little of the hysteria Daryl was showing, but couldn’t hold back.
“Silver is a pure metal, and its purity is like poison to that which is profane, unholy,” Tommy said. “The trick is, though, the silver must penetrate the Wendigo’s heart. For in the heart is the root of its evil, and the silver’s purity will kill that evil.”
“Where’s the Lone Ranger when you need him?” Sonny chuckled.
“Yeah, really,” Scott agreed, though not even smiling.
“Do any of you have a bow?” Tommy asked, as he produced seven arrows. Each arrow was hand-made, fletched with black feathers on a smooth oaken shaft. The tips of each arrow were shiny, and silvery-white.
“You know me,” Sonny said, smiling. “If it’s used to hunt with, I carry it. I’ll be right back,” he said and went out the door before anyone knew he was leaving. Scott ran to the door, opened it, and looked over the area, making sure that if the Wendigo showed up, he could at least slow it down for a few moments until Sonny got back inside. Sonny went straight to his pickup truck, opened the door, and pulled a massive compound bow off the rack on his back window. He swiftly closed the door of the small truck, and ran back to the cabin. Scott closed the door swiftly behind them.
“One thing bothers me about what happened, Mr. Bear Shadow,” Scott said after he came back to the table and sat down on one of the small wooden chairs. “Right before the thing attacked us in the woods, a thick fog rolled in. I know morning fogs are common here, but not after eleven o’clock. It was thick as pea soup and so cold.” He shivered at the remembrance of it. So did the others. Daryl cast a wild eye at him for a moment and went back to his task. Ben was pale as a ghost.
“Ah, yes. The Wendigo is able to control the weather somewhat, and the fog is a favorite, as it conceals the monster so well.” Tommy stopped for a moment and puffed on his pipe. “It also can make strong winds, rain, snow, and if it’s powerful enough, it can make a lightning storm.”
Sonny was proffering his bow to the Indian who looked at it critically. He drew the bow and loosed the tension slowly. After a moment, he handed it back.
“Strong bow, but not made for the normal man,” he said after he handed it back.
“Yeah, I know. It’s for lefties. I do everything right-handed except shooting a bow,” Sonny grinned.
“It’s a darn shame we didn’t bring Harry’s truck. He keeps his bow in there, and it’s a right-handed bow,” Mark said, “or should I say a ‘normal’ bow,” he winked at Sonny. Tommy smiled also. Sonny scowled a little, but wasn’t really upset.
“So how do we get to use these?” Mark asked, indicating the arrows. “I mean, this thing is something else! We didn’t see it coming!”
“That, White Man, is the problem. If you solve that riddle, you will be able to kill the creature. One thing I will offer you, though. The Wendigo will not enter the inside of this dwelling place. It’s too confining, and not a natural structure. The Wendigo dwells outside or in caves, and will never enter the den of Man. My father said it has to do with the fact that they used to be men also, and the pain of that thought is more than the Wendigo can bear.”
“Well it sure didn’t stop it when it killed Smiley!” Daryl retorted.
“Your friend was slain outside,” Tommy corrected.
“Inside, outside… it was still HERE!” Daryl retorted. “I am sick of listening to all of your stories, old man! I’m SICK of it! Daryl walked from the window, which he had finished tying the boards to, and advanced toward Tommy menacingly. Sonny jumped up and stood between Daryl and the Indian. Daryl, in full rage, grabbed Sonny by the shoulders and spun, flinging Sonny against the wall, his back slapping on the newly boarded-up window. Sonny was angry now, and Daryl didn’t wait for him to respond. Daryl was a scrapper, and because of this was bailed out of jail many times because of his lack of self-control. But Sonny was no slouch either. The two crashed into each other and traded blows while interlocking arms of legs to gain an advantage at such close fighting.
“STOP IT!” Scott shouted, jumping up and running to break up the melee. He had to dodge one punch that Daryl threw at him, and almost caught Sonny’s elbow on his chin. But he did pry them enough apart to get them to stop and listen a moment. All three were panting, Sonny again with his back to the newly patched window. Daryl was glaring straight into Sonny’s eyes, as if trying to see into the back of Sonny’s head.
“Stop it!” Scott yelled again. “We NEED each other now! We have a bad enough time ahead of us with the Wendigo, and here you two go tearing at each other. So knock it off!” Scott glared at each of them in turn. All three were quivering with the adrenaline that had been released, and soon Sonny’s eyes softened. But not Daryl’s. He just kept glaring at Sonny. But he let his grasp on Sonny’s jacket loose. Scott breathed a relaxed breath, and smiled.
“That’s better. Now let’s try to work through some solutions, instead of making more problems. Is that OK with you?” Scott asked. Both men nodded.
“I still say that the Injun here is our biggest problem,” Daryl growled. “I say we tell him to go …” Daryl was silenced by a cracking sound in front of him. Sonny’s eyes went wide and his mouth gaped open, unable to form words. Blood started streaming out of the corner of his mouth. Another crack and a clawed hand exploded out of Sonny’s chest and wrapped it fingers around Daryl’s face. They squeezed and Daryl started screaming in mortal agony. Chairs were hitting the floor, guns grabbed. Daryl screamed harder as the vise grip strengthened. In a moment, his head cracked and blew apart, like an egg that hit the floor, his brains falling out to make a sickening “splot” sound when they hit the floor. One of his eyes popped out also, an oblong orb that rolled like a warped basketball on the ground, some of the optic nerve still attached. Daryl’s body spasmed violently, his nervous system going haywire from the massive stimulation caused by the destruction of his brain. Sonny was croaking, pink froth on his lips, both hands grabbing the arm that stuck out so impossibly from his chest.
Scott and Mark ran to their friends’ aid. Mark started beating the creature’s hand which still held the wreckage of what had been Daryl’s head. Scott shot at the boarded window, splintering the board there, then fire through the hole into the monster’s chest. Ben was panicking, looking for something to help. Tommy handed him an arrow, and Ben ran to his friends. He stabbed the Wendigo in the arm where it came out of Sonny’s chest.
The second the metal bit into the monster’s arm, a horrifying howl of unearthly pain resounded from outside. The Wendigo pulled violently to withdraw his arm. Ben stabbed again, this time pushing the arrow clean through, and it stuck. The Wendigo howled worse than before, and ripped his arm back, totally obliterating what was left of Daryl’s skull, and ripping a huge hole in Sonny. Sonny fell to the ground, twitching slightly, his breath coming in short gasps that sprayed pink froth all over his face. His eyes were wild with pain and fear.
“Scott,” he gasped, “it hurts…” Sonny then coughed a dark crimson spray, and then lie still. Daryl’s body was still twitching spastically.
“Did you see that?!” Ben asked. “Did you? I hurt that thing, I mean really hurt it! The Indian wasn’t lyin’ to us.”
Scott didn’t answer, but bent down and gently touched Sonny’s face, a tear running down his cheek. He choked back a sob, then stood up and face Tommy. His face made everyone step back, even Tommy. His face was so full of fury, so absolutely feral, that no shred of sanity could be seen there. He stormed to the table, picked up Sonny’s bow and the arrows on the table. He looked at the others.
“It’s payback time!” He walked out the door. Mark and Ben followed right behind him. Even Tommy fell in step behind them this time, knowing if they failed, he was a doomed man anyway, and he would rather face death fighting it in the midst of brave friends than dying alone, hiding from the inevitable. The trail led as before, straight out the back toward the woods. But this time, tracking was easier. The trail of black fluid which was the creature’s blood was all over the snow, so following it wasn’t difficult.
But all of them knew how cunning this beast was, and everyone knows there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal that’s cornered. The path wound in exactly the same path as before. In fact, Scott could see the area ahead where he last saw Harry. He raised a hand to stop everyone. He could see red snow everywhere, but couldn’t see anything that even looked human.
Something hard under his boot made Ben look down, and almost got sick. He’d stepped on a now frozen piece of ear. The little cauliflower patch on it told him was Harry’s. His stomach lurched, and he had a difficult holding his stomach down. Ben looked up to see where Scott and Mark were. The aged Indian came up quietly from behind, and gently put his hand on Ben’s shoulder, a thing that seemed to comfort him for some unknown reason.
He walked up to Scott and Mark, very cautiously. They were standing very still, Mark with his gun at the ready, Scott with an arrow nocked. The two older men were staring at an object directly in front of them, about twenty-five feet in the clearing. Ben saw Billy’s head had been stuck on top of a stick driven into the ground. Ben vomited.
Then everything was chaos. The Wendigo dropped down from above, and with a powerful swipe of its arm knocked Ben about fifteen feet away. The young man was unconscious. Mark turned and fired, and Scott drew the bow and loosed the arrow. The shotgun shell made the monster reel and turn just enough for the arrow to miss and fly off into the woods. Five arrows left. He quickly reached for another arrow, which he had placed in the small quiver attached to the bow. Mark fired another blast, hitting the monster in the eyes. It roared in anger, reacting more like it had sand thrown in its eyes instead of shotgun pellets. Scott drew and loosed another arrow. It went wide of the beast again, Scott being a right-hander at everything he did. The bow was difficult for him to shoot well with.
Mark gave Scott a quick exasperated look. He swiftly cocked his shotgun and blasted it again. Angry, the Wendigo moved with such swiftness it stunned the men still standing. It hit Mark with its shoulder and swatted at Scott, roaring as it did. Scott dodged the blow, but still caught the edge of its paw. He spun violently around dropping the bow and sending the arrows into all different directions in the snow.
The Wendigo immediately jumped to where Scott lie and roared its anger and hatred. Its fetid breath wafted over Scott and he felt a wave of nausea pass over him. The monster opened its jaws wide, and Scott knew this was it. But the bite didn’t happen. Mark had jumped up and immediately swung his shotgun over his head to bring the butt of it down on the back of the Wendigo’s neck with every ounce of strength he could muster. The Wendigo responded by turning its head to the side and then bite savagely into Mark’s abdomen. It ripped its head back and dragged Mark’s intestines out, spilling into the snow. Mark went down to his knees, his eyes transfixed in disbelief at the sight of his bowels in the creature’s mouth and on the snow.
The Wendigo swiftly followed up by biting the gaping wound in Mark’s belly. The jaws closed, and Mark’s ribcage audibly snapped in a series of pops and snaps. Mark screamed in agony. The Wendigo then shook its head from side to side, like a dog with a plaything, and Mark went silent.
Scott was scrambling to stand in the frozen snow, and he slipped once. His hand fell on something small and instinctively his fingers curled around it. At the same time, he was scanning the snow for the arrows that had scattered when he fell. He couldn’t see any. Then the Wendigo turned to look at Scott.
Scott’s hand gripped the object he’d grabbed in the snow, and he looked at it quickly. It was Harry’s bowie knife! He looked back up at the monster that seemed to be grinning at him. It slowly advanced, like a cat playing with a rat in the corner of the garage. Scott’s mouth went bone dry. He braced himself for the onslaught of the monster, knowing only too well the outcome of that moment.
Then it pounced. Its massive body lifted off the ground with ease and its mouth was agape in anticipation of its victim’s blood. But partway through its attack, it twisted radically and writhed on the ground. Howlings of rage and agony screamed from its throat. It rolled, trying to grab at something in its back. Another sudden lurching and the beast twisted, jaws snapping spasmodically in the air. It turned around and saw Tommy Bear Shadow, nocking a third arrow. This one sailed through the air and hit it square in the left eye. The beast was insane with the fire of burning pain that coursed throughout its body. Yet, in its writhing, Scott saw it was moving purposefully toward the Indian that was tormenting it so. He looked at the knife in his hand and wondered how he could use it against the beast. He looked up at the monster getting ever closer to the old man that stood his ground, trying to get the shot to its heart. The Wendigo knocked over the large stick on which it had stuck Billy’s head, knocking the ghastly trophy onto the ground, and the stake toppled away from the monster.
Scott swiftly rummaged through Harry’s pack which was still where Harry had left it, and pulled out some thin cording. He then ran up and grabbed the stake, placed the knife against the end of the stick, and wound the cord around it, leaving the handle as exposed as he could. He saw Tommy had spent his last arrow into the Wendigo’s left shoulder, just high and to the left of the heart. The monster was about to tear the Indian to pieces, its talons exposed and ready to shred the old man. Scott ran up behind it, and drove the stake up and under its left shoulder blade, pushing the blade to the guard. Then the knife stuck, the silver inlaid handle still outside the body. The Wendigo, feeling the blade penetrate its back looked behind it to the smaller man, and it roared an ear-shattering roar. It turned to attack the human behind, but that very action dislodged the knife where it had caught on its shoulder blade and the makeshift spear slid in. The silver disappeared under the monster’s thick hide, and straight through the Wendigo’s heart.
The Wendigo arched its back in agony, and screamed the scream of the damned. A few futile attempts to dislodge the offending metal only made it bite deeper. The creature roared one last time, stiffened up, and fell face-first in the snow. Silence descended on the area, broken only by the panting of the old man and Scott. As they watched, the Wendigo’s body seemed to shimmer and soon a young man in his late twenties lie naked in the snow, the spear still stuck in his back. A look of peace seemed to drift over his stiffening features as if to say he was grateful for the release from his monstrous existence. Tommy came over to Scott and placed his right hand warmly on Scott’s shoulder.
“Well done, White Man. Well done. I knew you would defeat the monster,” he said kindly. “My tribe and I are in your debt.”
Ben moaned as he regained consciousness and both Scott and Tommy went to the young man and helped him sit up.
“Oh my head!” he moaned. Then he straightened up. “Is it…”
“Yes. It’s dead, Ben. You don’t know how happy I am to see your not!” Scott said. He helped the younger man stand up, and together the three of them walked back to the cabin to get tools with which to bury their dead.
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