Søren Mikkelson: The Wendigo Hunt

Mikkel­son the hunter, cold and lost, crum­pled between the tall trees. Snow topped, they turned a black sky white and his world upside down. He gasped, and grasped for his water­skin, pulling the corked end free and swig­ging the last of the water within. There was lit­tle to quench his dry thirst, and for all the snow, he held onto his senses enough to war­rant the cau­tion of frost­bit­ten lips. The wind howled, and no doubt wolves within, and he knew, though dying, he had enough life left to find shel­ter;  some­thing, any­thing kept hid­den from the grip of win­ter cold.

He climbed and forged on, pulling the fedora tip to his nose. The snow bat­tered him, it hated him, it wanted to claim him for the wild for­est. Sim­patico:  the chil­dren car­ried the seed, and the Earth Mother gave them the means to do so. He fell though, no mind for phi­los­o­phy, and leant a bat­tered arm to hard bark. A moment’s breath: a sec­ond, a third, a blink or two, and some­thing in the dis­tance, out of place caught his ragged atten­tion: a light. He thought maybe a home, some lonely, snowy denizen hid­ing in nature for his refuge.

The heat of sur­vival drew his legs tighter, gave his back poise. Mikkel­son pushed on, invig­o­rated by this new, prefer­able option to untimely expi­ra­tion. Come to me, he prayed, be the fire-stoked home to rest by bro­ken body. As he neared though, he saw it; noth­ing but a cave, though a cave with light within meant some­thing more. The prize he’d left Europe and jour­neyed the Great Path for. Cocked pis­tol in hand, he slowed and stalked his way closer. Inside, a shadow painted itself upon the walls, flick­er­ing in mon­strous shapes of pointed joints and bony form. A step from one haz­ard to another and the black shape writhed, shrink­ing away and fad­ing, but no light died. Still the cave was illu­mi­nated, though Mikkel­son was not.

A moment more, with no pause on entry, and he was inside. A cor­ner waited, turn­ing him from the white behind; of sure and easy free­dom. Beyond the sight of snow out­side, some­thing new intro­duced itself. A woman, old, lay atop a pile of bro­ken bones bequeathed by past vis­i­tors. Her arms held a rifle, locked on a dark hole beyond: the exit, or entrance to deeper cav­erns beneath.

She turned. He paused. They aimed at one another.

Well? Are you here to save me, or kill me?” She said; thick accented words, hard to understand.

Mikkel­son raised his colt, though his rib cried louder than his threat. He winced, tak­ing a sharp intake and drop­ping his weak arm. “Hverken,” his frozen jaw rolled, “Eh, nei­ther. Here for the creature.”

Too many to name out here, but I’m guess­ing you mean the Wendigo?” The woman kept her aim trained.

He snorted. “I have no need for Indian names.  It is a sick­ness escaped from Nifl­heim, and back to Hel I should send it!” Bruised bones and an empty stom­ach left his patience vacant.

The woman, low­er­ing her rifle, sighed with blown-out cheeks. “Well alrighty then. Seen as you are most def­i­nitely not from around here, I’ll give you the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Now help me up.”

Cau­tious as he may have been, Mikkel­son saw she was more warn than he. The weath­ered cave gave pro­tec­tion, but lit­tle more. She would not last long, left alone atop the bonepile. Hol­ster­ing his pis­tol, he approached with care, see­ing that her legs were stained red.

What hap­pened?”

Straight to it, hmm? Not even going to ask for a pretty lady’s name?” She smiled. “Well, no wor­ries. I, this damsel you do not know, have bro­ken my leg – well, it were bro­ken for me.”

Mikkel­son, though expe­ri­enced with such a life as this and the lessons it tends to teach, paused. He looked her over, then down the black hole in back, and felt his own pains within still yelling for atten­tion. “The… Wendigo did this?”

She propped her­self up; an attempt to slide down the pile fol­lowed. “Well, it weren’t no wolves.”

…you attack, and yet you live?” He helped her away, find­ing tem­po­rary solace at a rock. “How so?”

You so,” she moaned, adjust­ing her pos­ture. “Wan­der­ing in when you did – wrong place, but sure as hell right time.” A water­skin appeared, taken from her belt. “Drink? You need it too.”

He nod­ded, tast­ing a bit­ter wash of rehy­dra­tion. A sleeve wiped red from his lips; a cut some­where within per­haps. His body thanked him, qui­eten­ing down their child­ish rants and being still for just a moment. Silence took them for a time, Mikkel­son let­ting tired eyes take in the cave’s entirety. It was lit well, by torches on low stands. Sev­eral bod­ies clut­tered the floor, most in half-dress: parts of cloth­ing miss­ing and some com­pletely naked, bar­ing bite marks where fatty meals resided.

Where are you from, stranger?”

Mikkel­son turned, look­ing her over also. “Den­mark,” he said, “across the seas.”

I didn’t think you meant Mass­a­chu­setts.” Her lips parted, she smiled. “You got a name?”

There was no rea­son to spend all this infor­ma­tion, and spill the bor­ders of per­sonal details to this stranger, in a cave, in the mid­dle of a frozen west­ern world miles beyond any town. Yet he did, and with­out care, per­haps he lacked con­vic­tion of mak­ing it beyond this craggy hell.

Søren Mikkel­son.” A stretch burned as he walked to the dark entrance. “It went down here?” The black was assault­ing; a crea­ture in and of itself. It pulled at him, swal­low­ing his face and fea­tures, tempt­ing him into its emptiness.

Aye,” she said. “You alone, Søren? No friends to sail with from Den­mark, no hired guns from the coast? I find that a mighty bit… irre­spon­si­ble, to come hunt­ing for some crea­ture by your­self, I mean.”

Heavy breaths echoed as he tore him­self from the pulling dark­ness. Look­ing to her across the cave, Mikkel­son rubbed his eyes; shook his head. “No more but me, I had a friend.” A guilty weight tried to suf­fo­cate his words. “Lars…” he whis­pered. “It is not important.”

Fair enough, I’d hate to pry.” She smiled again, sin­cer­ity lost. “I have a ques­tion for you, a one you might find mun­dane, but enter­tain me. It’s important.”

Mikkel­son tilted his head; a line begun with loss of warmth gave him no desire to pon­der. He flicked his wrist, the colt un-holstered, lev­elled at his hip. “What do you want from me?”

Well, I don’t want to die here, that’s for sure.” She waved a hand. “My ques­tion is sim­ple: If you left this cave and headed back, could you make it into town? I, most obvi­ously can­not, but your wounds seem fright­fully less dire.”

Pis­tol unwa­ver­ing, he let his eyes roam again. The cave seemed brighter, though unlikely so, and yet he felt capa­ble. Doubt had tri­umphed out­side, and extin­guished his abil­i­ties to con­duct the hunt. But inside, warm and watered, he knew it quite pos­si­ble. He nod­ded, under­stand­ing more than just curi­ous questions.

Mikkel­son, with expe­ri­enced hands, pulled a twin colt from a hol­ster and raised it, fir­ing it down the dim tun­nel beyond. Bang and whoop fol­lowed: no attack, no rep­ri­mand. Just silence.

He turned back. “You are the Wendigo.” He knew it to be true, fear­ing no fool for mis­placed guesswork.

Her smile went to pout, eyes loos­ing reflec­tion. “Quick, I’ll give you that. Most of these boys stum­ble in, all bravado, want­ing to help a lady fallen on bad luck… my heroes. Not you though, Søren. Hmm?”

You are no lady.” Pis­tols and words; all fell on her. “Where is the death form, where is the body Hel gave you, creature?”

Harsh words, mis­ter. You might just hurt my feel­ings going on like that.” She stood from the rock, awk­wardly so, her manip­u­la­tion of body not beyond the wounds. “What gave my show away, Nord man?”

Air shiv­ered; the light adjust­ing to her unseen build. Mikkel­son chinned the fiery torches. “They are mounted low, and these dead are miss­ing cloth­ing.” Eyes met. “You are wear­ing them; their mem­o­ries, and their warmth.” He rounded the cen­tre, mov­ing to exit. “And the bite marks, they are yours.”

She, the it-thing Wendigo, snarled. Body shook and earth beneath, and all around the cave con­stricted. “You know of noth­ing, fool. You come here, near death, and I save you! I will take that price, too.” An unseen hand tweaked its mar­i­onette with mas­tered skills. The body fell, limp and cool, and the shadow appeared; realised in his presence.

Price?” Mikkel­son coolly con­sid­ered its words. His strides even, his calm con­trolled. “Ah, you need me, my body? Loki made you flawed, Lofn bred you sick? A broken-legged ser­vant is no ser­vant at all. You are a syg­dom… a sickness.”

Be quiet your Norse rant­ing, this is my home!” Spat the Wendigo. “You tres­pass, you die. I take you, and you are mine, and with it and your loss, I will leave this place and travel to the com­mu­nity, and exact my will on them!” The black shape grew, wash­ing the ceil­ing with its pres­ence: a new sky of black.

Mikkel­son unloaded both colts, bring­ing war on him­self. They bounced inad­e­quately, caus­ing not blood­shed but frown upon his cau­tious face. He turned to run, but found the snow-white exit snuffed out by shad­owy suf­fo­ca­tion. “Take me…” his lips repeated, “take… me.”

Bab­bled words from a soul gone mad,” the Wendigo crowed.

How?” He asked, to all and noth­ing; the cave as was the Wendigo’s pres­ence. “I am no can­ni­bal; I knelt not to that taboo for gain.”

The tex­tured wall of ravens-black laughed. “Drank plen­ti­ful though, of my water did you not? Though water… or blood, in quan­tity of another’s, or indeed of many oth­ers. In good con­science, you used them to sur­vive. Now your skin and bones and body heal. Did you not, Nord man… did you not?”

He growled, calm gone, armour pierced: a chink found by an untouch­able demon. Mikkel­son returned one pis­tol to his waist, prac­tic­ing the other to his tem­ple. “You will not win.” He pulled the trig­ger, blast­ing hot round through soft flesh; an eye sprout­ing above his check. His body collapsed.

NO!” The Wendigo screamed. Rock shook and stone fell, and all about dust filled the cave. Bony shadow with­drew, giv­ing way once more to the form of the bro­ken woman. She hob­bled to him, to roll affront his gap­ing maw, to see the hor­ror of sui­ci­dal fea­tures. A click announced a draw­ing back of steel hammer…

…and with a pol­ished bang, the colt fired.

Re-animated senses blinked as one, and then the body folded onto burn­ing torches. The flames licked, tast­ing old-fibred cloth­ing and evil soul. The Wendigo howled, trapped in the phys­i­cal, unable to sprout its shad­ows and dance away. Smoky clouds drifted as dead flesh burned.

The new white sky out­side the cave had turned to warmest blue. The sun brought warmth, the trees gave way, and rays col­lected at booted feet once more. He wiped off his colt, and hol­stered the weapon still; for another day, another place it would be recalled. Mikkel­son, though not the finest medic, wrapped the dry cloth thick, and tied it tightly across hol­low socket. His eye was gone, but his life was ripe. Just as Odin: half-blind but wiser, wait­ing for his next Ragnarök.

He walked on, back to the Great Path.

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