-- January, 1952
Carl Neiderhaus carefully steered the ancient Studebaker pickup truck, once his grandfather’s pride and joy. The truck, born long before power steering was invented, had seen better days. Dark greenish-gray, it ghosted through the snowy night, slowly navigating the icy roads.
Carl squinted through the wind shield, peering intently at the road way as he drove steadily, if slowly, through the heavy snowfall.
Periodically the youngster who occupied the passenger seat of the truck, Sammy Johnstone, caught fleeting glimpses of Lake Erie, which seemed to stretch forever off to his right. The starkness of the view held his attention, and he imagined the frozen lake to be a windswept, barren desert, which stretched to the North Pole.
All of their equipment and food for the weekend was stowed inside the home built ice-fishing hut which filled the entire bed of the truck. It stood much higher than the cab, and made seeing through the rear view mirror impossible. Their equipment was simple, but adequate. Heavy, eider down sleeping bags for warmth, plenty of fishing line and hooks, and a change of clothes for each, completed the inventory. The rest of the space was taken up by food. Although both boys had spent a great deal of time out of doors in the severe winters of upstate New York, their mothers had packed enough food for them to spend the entire winter, let alone one weekend.
The two boys chattered excitedly about the coming weekend out on the ice covered lake. They competed in exaggerations of the size and number of fish each would catch, and argued about which would have to perform the backbreaking labor of cutting a hole through the thick ice. Sammy based his argument on the fact that he had swiped a bottle of his father’s best whiskey, and for that heroic feat, he felt that Carl should cut the hole. Carl won by reminding Sammy that the truck and the hut belonged to the Neiderhaus family, and he could just have well brought along his little brother, Paul, who would be more than happy to cut the hole through the ice just for the privilege of coming along. He had stressed the word privilege, and Sammy conceded the argument by remaining mute.
Carl steered the truck carefully off the highway, and
they jounced down to the beach. The truck’s aging motor shuddered to a halt, and the two donned scarves and hats, then stepped out into the swirling snow. They tugged at the fishing hut, but loaded with their supplies, it was too heavy for them to lift out. They carefully unloaded their food and other equipment, then grunting with exertion, they slid the heavy wooden structure out, tilting it downward until the ends of its wooden runners contacted the accumulated ice and snow on the beach. A few minutes later, they had re-stowed their supplies, and looped ropes around the fronts of the two-by-four runners. Bending into the wind, they set off across the frozen surface of Lake Erie. They were thankful that the snow had ceased and a bright, if waning, sun broke through the fleeing clouds.
The heavy snowfall had slowed them, forcing Carl to drive well below the speed limit, then the unexpected need to off-load their supplies before they could remove the shack from the truck had cost them well over an hour.
It had caught up with them.
It had been watching the old farmhouse on the outskirts of Buffalo for three days and nights. During the daylight hours, it had confined itself to an apple grove on top of a small hill a few hundred years from the Neiderhaus home. During the nights, it had stolen closer. Yet it did not get close enough for the bevy of large farm dogs to catch its scent and sound an alarm. It had been waiting, patiently, its chance.
It had watched the two boys struggle to load the heavy fishing hut into the bed of the Studebaker, and had drooled at the smell of the food which they seemed to pile endlessly into it. When the truck had left the farmhouse, turning south on Highway 5, the beast had followed. It stayed to the tree line alongside the little-used highway. and was, in the heavy snow, virtually invisible from the road. It was visible, however, to the numerous farmhouses fronting on the roadway, had anyone been peering out into the storm during it’s passage.
It had rarely before risked being seen in the open in daylight, for it knew from past experience that one brief sighting could bring men with guns. But it had risked it today, for its time was growing short, and the scent of the Neiderhaus had sent it into an upward spiraling blood frenzy.
From the edge of the snow covered pine woods lining this section of the lake, it watched as the two figures trailing the rectangular sledge behind them became tiny out on the ice. It bided its time, waiting for the last vestiges of sunlight to disappear from the clearing winter sky. It would not be long.
A half mile out onto the frozen surface, Carl called a halt. He looked back towards the distant shore. The dark gray, almost black color of the Studebaker had melded with the darker blur of the tree-lined shore, so Carl cast his gaze along the shoreline until he spotted the slate roof of a church steeple located in Waneka. He marked it in his mind as a reference point. It glinted in the waning sunlight, as the scales of a jumping fish will reflect in glistening, multi-colored flashes. In all other directions, he could see only white.
Both boys turned back into the howling north wind which, passing over a hundred unimpeded miles of the icy expanse of Lake Erie, was nearing gale proportions. They shivered as the wind cut through their clothing, and jabbed into their skins like a thousand tiny needles. Lowering their heads, they trudged on for another mile.
Finally, they could bear the brutal wind no longer. A bit short of their intended destination, they positioned the three-sided hut so that its closed back faced the wind. Even with the wooden runners turned sideways to the force of the gale, however, the hut still inched along over the ice; the wind pushing it back toward the shore. Carl poured a little hot coffee from his thermos over the runners while Sammy held the shack in place for the few moments it took for the coffee to freeze them fast to the surface of the lake.
The location stabilized, Sammy then knelt on the ice in the center of the hut. He hacked at the surface with a hand ax. The deeper he chipped into the surface, the denser and resistant the ice became. Finally, he came to the nearly obsidian ice beneath the layers of compacted snow, and began to cut into the upper strata of the actual lake water. He began to perspire profusely at the hard labor.
Carl started a fire in the partially covered sandbox set in the wall, near the center point of the hut. The wind sucked greedily at the smoke, pulling it up the chimney pipe exhaust with great ‘whooshing’ gulps. When the fire blazed to his satisfaction, Carl began adding lumps of shiny black coal to it. Already the shack was beginning to warm up. Later, when the hole cutting was complete, they would close the open side of the hut with two plywood doors they had fashioned for just such a night. The shack would remain comfortable no matter how bad it got outside.
All the preparatory tasks complete, they dropped baited hooks into the jagged-edged fishing hole, and settled on the hard wooden benches attached to each side of the hut to watch the last swirls of pink light leave the evening sky. Sammy dug the stolen bottle of whiskey out of his knapsack, and offered the first swig to Carl. Carl accepted, and tilted his head back, and allowed a large dollop of the fiery liquid to burn down his throat. He felt the whiskey washing down the inside walls of his stomach, heating him as it spread like warm syrup over a stack of his mother’s pancakes.
A yellowish-brown farm dog, deep-chested and rangy, had seen the queerly gaited creature leap the fence into its territory, scuttle across the property along the fence line, then disappear into the pine woods near the lake. The dog did not want to leave its warm haven in the barn, but it had its duty to perform. This was his territory, and the intruder must be banished from it. Silently, the big dog rose and bounded into the snow in pursuit.
At the edge of the pine woods, on the lake side, the dog halted, and silently watched the strange beast circle a pick-up truck standing on the beach. When the beast reached the far side of the truck, the dog began edging towards it; instinctively lowering itself to the ground. The strange creature stood upright, and limped around the front of the vehicle. Standing in front of the truck, it began to urinate on it. The dog bellowed, and charged the intruder, sinking his fangs into the thick fur of its leg.
The startled beast reacted with blinding speed, and with one swipe of its huge paw, decapitated the dog. It then knelt beside the convulsively jerking torso, and placed its arm around the dog’s midsection, and lapped at the warm blood spurting in pulsed gushes from its severed neck. Much of the blood coursed over the creature’s face, and cascaded onto its chest, to finally plop in startling red contrast in the pure white snow. When the beast was sated, it laid the now still body of the dog in the snow, and began moving out onto the ice. Its uneven, crablike scrabbling motion was even more apparent now that it was moving slowly, than when it had been running.
A full moon was breaking over the horizon when the beast finally got the fishing hut in sight. It could not yet make out the rectangular shape, but saw the red glow of the heating fire. The pinpoint of light seemed to flicker in the wind, alternately dimming and brightening. The beast went lower, closer to the ice. Shivering in the howling wind, it began to crawl at a leftward angle, circling the shack towards its blind side.
Sammy giggled uncontrollably. Usually he forced his voice into a more manly ‘huh-huhing’, but the whiskey had loosened his inhibitions, and he had just completed telling Carl how he had tricked Melissa Forntree into showing him her breasts. He described her rosy pink nipples in great detail.
Carl laughed with him, but he did not feel the gay abandon that his friend did. After the first gulp of whiskey, he had not wanted anymore. Something was bothering him tonight, and he could not put his finger on it. A slight tenseness, a bit of anxiety, colored his mood. At first he blamed it on the screaming wind, which was so loud that it obscured all other sounds, and interfered with his ability to think. He dismissed that argument on the grounds that there wasn’t a hell of a lot to hear two miles out on a frozen lake, anyway. It was as if only half his mind could concentrate on what Sammy was saying to him, the other half continuously searched the vast emptiness surrounding them. His mind was on full alert, and he could not figure out why. He tried to reason with himself, but just under the edge of his consciousness, something dark tingled and teased at his senses. It was not fear; he did not fear the wilderness. He could not bring it into focus, and the fact that something unknown niggled and worried at his mind made him uneasy.
“I’m going out to take a piss,” He told Sammy, “Then we’ll close up the hut for the night.”
“Right-O!” Sammy answered, tilting the bottle of whiskey back and letting another blast of liquid fire sear down his throat.
Carl walked about twenty feet from the hut, the wind pushing hard at his back. Carefully, he unbuttoned the front of his trousers, wincing when the arctic air made contact with his warm penis. He was concentrating on the steam curling off the yellow stream of his urine when, over the undulating roar of the wind, he heard Sammy yelp in surprise.
Carl looked over his shoulder, and saw the hut turning over, the open side going down onto the ice. A shower of sparks flurried from the fire. The rain cover off the stove pipe chimney came whirling toward him, the wind skewing it across the ice like a crazed hockey puck. Then he saw the figure clambering onto the overturned shack.
“What the hell is that?” He whispered, falling to the ice.
Attacking from the blind side of the hut, the creature had not noticed Carl walking out onto the ice to relieve himself. Carl, on hands and knees, began crawling backwards away from the scene. There was nothing he could do against the monster bare-handed, he knew, and Sammy’s only chance was for Carl to get to shore and summon help from one of the farmhouses near the lake. He hoped that his friend could hold out under the overturned hut until he could return.
Carl made steady, but slow, progress; and watched with horror the display of frustration of the monstrous beast. It jumped up and down on the hut, tore at it, and roared at it. Twice during Carl’s escape, the beast had looked in his direction, its massive head haloed by the full moon, and he thought the head looked more like that of a man than a bear. Both times that Carl had seen the beast’s red eyes probing in his direction; he had fallen quickly prone to the ice. The second time Carl fell, he realized when a searing pain shot through him, that his penis was still hanging out of his pants. He examined the appendage, and saw that a razor sharp spicule of ice had lacerated it deeply, from its hairy base to its bulbous tip. It did not just bleed, it gushed, quickly staining a large, red circle on the ice.
A penis is an amazingly uncomplicated organ, surrounded by empty bags for blood to rush into when stimulated. Carl, although certainly not sexually aroused, had nevertheless stimulated the organ when he lacerated it. His body obeyed the command, and began pumping his life force, at an alarming rate, out the side of his torn organ.
Carl came up on his knees, and fumbled the bleeding, distended appendage back into his pants. It continued to pump hot blood down his legs. He wiped his hands as best he could on the frozen lake, then stood and began to run towards the distant shore. He knew that he was in danger as well as Sammy, now.
With a mighty heave, the beast righted the hut, setting it tottering on its runners. Sammy scrambled out, his legs pumping furiously before they even touched the ice. The creature lunged at him, and sank its claws into the scant flesh covering Sammy’s ribs. The teen-ager’s high pitched scream of agony rode on the howling wind, spiraling higher and higher, as the beast’s claws dug deeper and deeper into his rib cage; cracking the frail bones, and pushing the splintered shards aside. The yellowed claws gouged into the soft tissue of Sammy’s lungs and liver. When the sharp points penetrated his pounding heart, Sammy’s legs pumped convulsively a few more times, then abruptly ceased their jerky running motions.
The beast shook the dead body off its arm, and began to snuffle around the hut. Where was the other one, The important one, the Neiderhaus? It began casting about in ever larger semi-circles down wind from the shack. Soon, it found the pungent blob of yellow ice where Carl had urinated. It looked off in the direction of the shore. It could detect no movement against the dark back drop of trees along the shoreline, but intuitively it knew which way to go.
Carl could see the dark, elongated shape of the Studebaker against the line of trees on the shore now, but felt himself weakening quickly. He kept slipping and falling on the ice, and each time it became more difficult to get back onto his feet. When he did finally manage to stagger to his feet, he noticed that he left an ever larger puddle of blood each time he fell. His entire front was soaked, and the blood which had seeped through to the outer layers of his clothing had begun to freeze. Carl realized that the injury to his penis was far more serious than he had imagined, and the race he was engaged in was as much for his life as for Sammy’s. He had stopped only once since injuring himself, and that was when a piercing shriek from Sammy had sounded above the howling wind. The scream had not been repeated, so Carl had turned and ran on.
The first blot of blood confirmed its instinct, and it slowed only long enough to fill its nostrils with the hated smell. Increasingly large and more frequent deposits of the boy’s blood spurred it onward toward the shoreline.
Now it could see the prey, slipping and falling, then gamely getting up and running again. It noticed that once in awhile the boy would stagger sideways, as if off balance, or tiring; but would then right himself, and continue on towards the now visible shoreline.
Its clawed side got slightly better traction than the other, so it moved almost sideways, pushing with the claws; scrabbling like a giant crab across the slippery ice.
Carl could feel it gaining on him, and a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed it. He felt panic rising in him, for he had no more speed, no more strength, to expend. He was weakening fast. “Never seen a bear move like that before,” he thought, as he scrambled up the bank, onto the beach, and lurched on towards the safety of the pick-up truck.
Carl reached the passenger side of the Studebaker, and latched onto the door handle for support. He could barely stand, and his knees kept buckling. His breath came in rapid, short gasps, as he rummaged in his blood-soaked pocket for the keys to open the door. He could see the monster starting up the bank to the beach, so he began edging along the side of the truck, trying to put it between the beast and himself while he searched for the key.
He had it in his hand now, slippery with blood, and stepped around the front fender. Two more steps and he would insert the key in the door. His eyes were riveted on the oncoming beast, now only a dozen feet from him. Carl took the final step toward the door, and tripped over something large in the snow. He fell over it, and landed heavily.
The beast did not follow Carl around the truck; it leaped onto the top of the cab. With one more bound, it would be on top of the boy.
Carl was groggy, and found he could not rise. He brushed at the snow which had drifted over the object that had tripped him. A dog! A dog with its head ripped off! The bulging eyes of the dog’s severed head stared blankly at Carl from its gory red nest in the pure white snow. Carl would have vomited, had he still been alive.