The Wendigo, Part 3

C.W. Thornton’s final installment of the classic campfire retelling, The Wendigo, is here! If you haven’t read any of them yet, start at part 1. Part 2 can be found here. If you’re all caught up, continue reading to see what happens to the men who are now stranded in the cold, Canadian forest.

The Wendigo, Part 3

We all slept in one tent for warmth. Jeremy tossed and turned all night, waking me on multiple occasions. I went out about midnight to urinate and saw the green aurora overhead. I felt the extreme cold as the temperature continued to fall over night. My breath hung in a cloud well after I went back into the tent.

I awoke again a few hours later, freezing cold wind whipping the open flap of the tent, and Jeremy gone. Red was shivering, awake, wide eyed in the far corner of the tent.

‘Where’d Jeremy go?’ I asked, whispering despite our isolation. Red just shook his head no and drew a sleeping bag around his cowering form. My heart began to pound inside my rib cage.

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I put on my boots, grabbed a rifle and a flashlight, and went out into the night. The aurora was still overhead, the moon a faint sliver through the trees. I saw Jeremy’s footprints leading away from the tent, heading north between Akaitcho’s faded tracks. I followed them once again through the woods until I came to the meadow. Jeremy’s boot prints continued past the snowmobile lines that stopped abruptly, but began appearing at wider intervals, as if he had been running. Jeremy was much bigger than me, but I was soon requiring three steps for every one of his left in the snow. The space between footprints continued to expand. Ten feet, twelve feet… the final two boot prints were twenty feet apart and ended in the middle of the meadow, the faint fog of breath still hanging in the frigid air. Jeremy, like Akaitcho, had disappeared.

I gripped the rifle tightly in one hand and the flashlight in the other and began walking as quickly as the snow allowed back toward our camp. The wind had ceased and a deathly calm descended on the forest.

When I arrived at our clearing my stomach fell out beneath me. Our tent was in shambles. Canvas torn and poles snapped and poking out in all directions. Red was nowhere to be seen. The snowmobiles were parked where we left them, but neither engine turned over. The snow showed no sign of tracks or a struggle.

As I sat on a broken snowmobile, shivering in the subarctic cold and wondering how I would survive the night, I heard a familiar panting noise from the trees behind me. I turned and pointed my flashlight at the shadows and saw the green flicker of animal eyes. The same wolf as before, intestines steaming and hanging beneath it in the snow, whimpered and loped off into the woods. For some unknown reason, I felt a compulsion to follow.

The wolf stayed within view, stopping when I fell behind, and led me on for what seemed like hours. The moon never moved from overhead, and the aurora kept dancing, as I followed my new guide, using the ruby-red drops of blood it left behind as breadcrumbs through the trees. I lost sight of the wolf, and when I followed the blood I came to another, smaller meadow with a single trees, blackened and hollowed by fire, standing in the middle. The sky was dazzling green and reflected off the fresh snow that was beginning to fall. I approached meadow cautiously, rifle held before me, toward the entrance through the trees. As I got closer I began to hear sloppy noises and the occasional crunch, intermingled with dampened screams and moans and the intense thumping of my heart.

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I shined my light in the tree and saw Red, eyes closed and barely conscious, head falling to the side, mouth open and stuffed with twigs and dirt and pine needles, unable to speak, arms bound behind him. Jeremy was hunched over Red’s legs. I fired the rifle at Jeremy and the bullet cracked into the tree behind him. My brother-in-law’s body rose from his friend’s mutilated legs. He was naked except for a caribou carcass draped about his shoulders, head and antlers resting upon his own filthy hair. Gone were his powerful muscles and shoulders, and his skin seemed to hang from unnaturally long limbs. His face was his own, but gaunt and smeared with the blood and bits of his best friend. His chest was covered in ancient runes cut into his flesh. In his left hand he held Red’s meatless tibia. He opened his mouth wide, his jaw seemingly unhinged, and let out a horrendous scream. The sound of many tortured voiced rose from his gullet, high pitched and painful. I closed my eyes and fired the rifle again. The .300 magnum round found its mark on Jeremy’s chest and I heard his body crumple against the burned out tree. I rushed forward and dragged Red by the arms a dozen yards away.

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Jeremy lay where I shot him in the hollowed out tree. I bent down and began pulling dirt and debris from Red’s mouth before realizing he was not responsive. His legs were missing from the knee down, blood staining the snow, and his face was sickly green reflecting the aurora off its pale whiteness. I felt for a pulse, but there was none. When I looked up, Jeremy’s body was gone. I left Red’s corpse and ran back through the trees, trying to remember the way I came. I spent rounds firing into the woods at lanky forms, real or imagined, and heard the Wendigo’s scream in the distance behind me as I ran.

I made it back to our camp and collapsed in the snow in front of our snowmobiles. The wind was whipping through the trees once again and I held the rifle up before me, pointing into the woods where I had just emerged. The smaller of the trees began to shake, and the sound of breaking branches and crunching snow came closer. I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger again, but the rifle was out of ammunition. When I opened them again I saw a half dozen flashlights amongst the trees.

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I dropped the rifle and ran forward into a group of hunters who were drawn by the frantic firing of a gun, telling them we needed to leave the area, that I was being chased by the Wendigo. They thought I was insane, and looked around in awe at our destroyed camp. They took me back through the woods to their own camp and over the next two days drove me back to the lodge.

Red and Jeremy’s bodies were never recovered. A search party spent days scouring the area we had been in. They found the destroyed camp and attributed it to bears. They attributed my story of the Wendigo to post traumatic stress. Before they flew me down to Winnipeg to be seen at the hospital, I remembered our guide, Akaitcho. I told them he, too, was missing, and that they needed to find him, or his corpse. The ranger I told this to gave me a skeptical look and walked me back into the lodge and pointed across the room to the bar. Seated with a tumbler of whiskey before him was Akaitcho. He seemed to be in conversation with a group of young men in expensive hunting gear. He turned to me, a smile barely marking the corner of his mouth, and raised his eyebrows knowingly before turning back to the bar.

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