C.W. Thornton has written a retelling of the classic campfire story, The Wendigo. We’ve broke it up into three parts since it’s a bit longer. Each part will come out on a Sunday, with the last part publishing the Sunday before Halloween. Here’s what he has to say about the story: “Growing up I went camping every summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the tale of the Wendigo was always my favorite scary campfire story. I’ve kept all of the original details that I found so creepy as a kid, particularly the ending… Happy Halloween!”
The Wendigo, Part 1
We stepped off of the plane at the Tadoule Lake Airport in northern Manitoba and onto tarmac crusty with ice and snow. We unloaded our backpacks and guns from the chartered plane in the perpetual twilight of the far northern latitudes, the sun already dipping behind silhouetted taiga in the late afternoon. We piled our bags into the back of a four-by-four streaked with muddy ice. It was me, my brother-in-law Jeremy, and his friend Red. We were to meet our Chipewyan guide that evening at the lodge. Jeremy and Red were both corporate lawyers in New York, and my wife suggested I join them on their winter hunting trip to ‘get to know them’ better – I didn’t want to get to know Jeremy and Red. They were assholes, but she thought if I spent more time with her brother, I might learn to like him. In her grief she refused believe me when I returned home weeks later and told her I’d seen her brother eat his best friend alive in the northern Canadian woods.
We arrived at the large timber lodge after a bumpy jeep ride, Jeremy and Red talking old hunting stories, admiring each other’s expensive LL Bean jackets, and bitching about the two caribou limit on their hunting permits. They interjected jabs at me, subtly disparaging my line of work, the size of my bank account (amongst other things), and my inexperience with shooting animals in the wilderness, saying they would ‘make a man out of me this week.’
The lobby was empty this late in the season, and we had no trouble finding our guide, Akaitcho, at the bar. Much to my disgust, and Jeremy’s amusement, Akaitcho was already drunk on well whiskey, and my doubts about this trip were multiplied. Should I stay behind at the lodge? Let the boys hunt while I took the shittiest weeks vacation in recorded history? I would never live it down, and every Thanksgiving I would suffer the retelling of how I stayed behind while the ‘men’ ventured forth to battle nature herself.
Jeremy and Red went to their rooms soon after the sun went down after getting sufficiently drunk themselves, and I stayed behind with Akaitcho in front of the fire. He was still drinking whiskey. I had a mug of decaf.
‘I never understand you white people,’ Akaitcho said unexpectedly. He was taciturn while the others laughed at his inebriation and his short stature (Jeremy played lacrosse in college – he was a beast). ‘You pay thousands and thousands to freeze your dicks off for a week. Why not come in August? It’s beautiful here in August. Not so dangerous.’
‘I’m not too thrilled to go out there, myself.’
Akaitcho grunted in response. The building was all but empty of visitors, the staff was scarce, and the shadows encroached from hallways and corners. Outside it was snowing. We sat in front of the fireplace for a while longer in silence until Akaitcho broke it again like crunchy ice.
‘Do you know about the Wendigo?’ His voice had dropped in volume and pitch to a throaty rumble. He placed his empty glass on the floor beside his chair.
‘No… is it like, Chinook winds or something?’
‘Haha,’ he barked, and a log shifted on the fire, throwing sparks. ‘No. Not weather, but ancient like the winds. My people tell of a demon in the woods. The Wendigo. It has not been seen for many years. It inhabits men, drives them mad, uses them like puppets to satiate itself.’
‘So it’s like a campfire story? Maybe you should tell it some night. I’d love to see Jeremy piss his pants out in the woods.’
‘No. No story. I don’t mention the Wendigo out there. And your brother, he is the type the Wendigo seeks. I tell you this to give you fair warning – the nights have been cold and the aurora has been lively. These are the conditions the beast favors.’
‘Wait, your just pulling my leg. Scare the white guy before his trip sort of thing. There isn’t such thing as a Windy whatever it is.’
‘The stories don’t reach you in the far south. Murder, cannibalism… the forest keeps its secrets. It hides the blood. We know. Chipewyan know. But suit yourself.’
He rose and left me alone in the drafty lodge.
The next morning we rose early and packed our gear onto snowmobiles. Akaitcho led us from the wide clearing around the lodge to a path that wound its way through the woods. We were all covered head to toe, but still the wind was biting through my layers. I wondered if Jeremy and Red’s fancy jackets kept them much warmer.
That first night we made camp in a meadow and gathered around a fire while Akaitcho prepared a simple meal. Red produced a flask and passed it between himself and Jeremy. He offered it to me and I declined, earning a chuckle from Jeremy before he took the final swig. Above us the aurora danced like green ribbons in the sky. Akaitcho looked up and raised his eyebrows at me before retiring to his tent.
‘So you and the Eskimo guy buddies?’ Red asked. ‘You going to have some north-woods romance or something?’ Jeremy laughed.
‘No, we just talked last night after you two went to bed.’
‘Ah, so just pillow talk. I get it.’
‘Yeah, sure.’ I sat poking the fire for a long minute. ‘He told me about some legend his people have, about some demon called the Wendigo.’
‘Ooooh, spooky,’ Jeremy said and laughed again.
‘He really believes in it, apparently. He says that it possess people out in the woods. Makes them kill each other.’
‘Sounds like a load of bullshit. Probably told you cause he thought you were the easiest target. Sounds like it worked too.’ Red said. More laughter.
‘Probably right. I’m going to bed.’ I was sick of them already.
About midnight my tent shook violently and Jeremy stuck his head, face illuminated by flashlight from below, through the zippered flap while Red snickered out of view. ‘Ooooo,’ Jeremy went on with a terrible Dracula accent. ‘It is I, the Windy-Woo! Oooooo! Come to suck your blooood!’
Red was hysterical. I rolled over and ignored them.
That night the winds picked up, the temperature continued to drop, and the aurora danced.
What’s your favorite classic scary story or campfire story?