March 19, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Top Secret; United States of America Navy – July 11th, 1980

The contents of this report are for A Level security status only; no portion of this document may be reproduced for any reason. Lower level security status personnel are not to be made aware of this document; nor is the public. This document may not be transferred into digital format and cannot be transmitted by electronic means. Failure to comply will be seen as an act of treason, punishable by death without standing trial in any form.

Submarine, codename: SCORPION

Statement: Johnny Davidson, Ensign

Captain Ritter ordered us to turn north to the Arctic Ocean near Greenland to run cold-water tests. We were to spend seven days under the ice before returning to warmer waters in the Atlantic. The purpose of these tests was not revealed to the crew before or after the voyage.
At approximately 0400 hours, 07-7-1980, the alarm sounded that a large unknown object was in the vicinity of the Scorpion. On radar, it appeared larger than any submarine currently in existence anywhere in the world. Captain Ritter order us to run-silently as we observed the anomaly. It became clear that the anomaly was approaching us. At approximately 0600 hours we made physical contact.
Radar reported that the anomaly had enveloped the Scorpion, gauges indicated that we descending deeper under the water. We reached and passed crush-depth minutes after we lost control of the submarine but the submarine showed no effects common with increased pressure on the hull. It appeared in the same condition as the day we departed from port.
Radar reported strange objects in the water, nothing that appeared dangerous to us. Ritter cancelled the silence; he saw no importance in it. Gauges indicated then that we were ascending to surface level. Once we reached periscope depth, Captain Ritter used the scope to look around. He did not say what he saw, but it was clear that we had surfaced.
With the Captain’s permission, several crew members exited the submarine to explore the area. I did not leave the submarine during this time.
Only two of the twelve man exploring team returned, they would not speak of their experiences. Soon after we were pulled back under the water in the reverse of what had happened. When we were finally released we were alone in our previous position in the arctic with no trace of the anomaly. Three days had passed.
We returned to port immediately.

Statement: Brian Cox, Petty Officer

We went into the arctic ocean and under the ice on 07-06-1980 without any issue. The following day, at approximately 0500 hours radar saw an unidentified underwater object in the vicinity of the Ghost. The UUO made contact with the Scorpion at approximately 0600 hours and dragged the submarine deep. Captain Ritter ordered silent running but the events prevented the men from carrying-out that order. Ritter cancelled the order before the submarine reached crush-depth.
When we began ascending, engineering reported that they weren’t able to power the propellers. Once we reached periscope depth Captain Ritter looked around. He didn’t say what exactly he saw, though he did say “Jesus Christ, what is this place?” With permission from the captain, a party including myself was able to explore the area around the submarine.
The unknown place had breathable air, though it was thin and sometimes hard to breath. Samuels, who had asthma, couldn’t do much. It was a humid place, reminiscent of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a place unlike anything I have ever seen; there was foliage that I did not recognize and the very landscape appeared alien to me. The sky was odd; it did not look like the same space seen from the surface of Earth.
I stayed with Samuels when his asthma slowed him down. I spent my time looking at the surrounding foliage as Samuels hid himself in a small cave. The plants were unlike anything I’d ever seen before, though I admit my experiences in the town of Moros didn’t make me very worldly. Still, I read National Geographic whenever I could and none of the green that surrounded our small camp was ever in those pages. What looked almost like a rose bush had the head of a Venus flytrap, which watched us like a snake hunting its prey before finally striking. And the vines that crawled up the rock wall behind me, around Samuels, shook as if nervous. It all seemed strange to me.
After what seemed like an eternity I saw Fielding running towards me; he was coming down a hill and from my position I could see him stumble as he ran, but he always kept his feet under him. I do not know what the others experienced. He was in a panic and ushered me to flee. My regret, Samuels was still alive when I left him, though those vines had moved closer to his hiding hole as though they intended to strangle him.
After we returned to the Scorpion, the submarine was dragged back under the water. It was much more violent than our original trip, and when we sunk deep I could feel the pressure building as if we’d really gone below crush depth. Once released, we were able to return to port. Three days had passed, though I can’t fathom where they had gone.

Statement: Cory Fielding, Petty Officer

Captain Ritter ordered us under the arctic ice to run drills, though he wasn’t specific. He armed the torpedoes, which I thought were dummies though he seemed confident that they were live. We made wide turns around the same area, as if circling something we couldn’t see. Ritter kept a keen eye on us, never retiring to his cabin as would be expected of him. At approximately 0300 hours on 07-07-1980, the Scorpion entered the vicinity of an unknown object. I say that we entered the vicinity because it remained stationary throughout the observation; the Scorpion moved into the object’s path. Ritter directed us towards it; I feared an imminent collision but nobody else on the crew appeared to share my nerves.
Whatever it was, it dragged the submarine deeper until we passed crush-depth. Despite several attempts, we were unable to get free of the object, like it wrapped itself around us in a tight hold; only later did I learn the truth. When we rose, it was not in the same place we had been. Captain Ritter used the periscope once we were at the appropriate depth, mumbling under his breath. I don’t wish to know what he saw, or what looked back at him through the scope. With the captain’s permission, a small group was formed to explore the unknown area around the Scorpion.
The first fact, we could breathe although the air was thinner like we were at a high altitude. It was also hot, though I would not say humid. I was joined by Cox, Samuels, Nero, O’Conner, Warden, Westbrook, Saluki, Mahoney, Ryder, Yaks, and Bishop. Cox and Samuels stopped halfway through our trip, Samuels complained of asthma though I’ve never seen him show any sign of asthma before; I think he feared climbing the hill before us.
It was like walking through a wild forest, with only a small path to follow. The submarine had risen in what looked like a pond, though oddly the water was frozen into ice. We’d brought the arctic with us, or so it seemed. I saw several large tentacles wrapped around the hull, holding it in place. It was like an octopus holding a fish, right before consuming it. At the time, I couldn’t see anything else of the object holding the submarine.
The ten of us followed the path until we came to a ruined city, like those built by the Mayans. It looked long abandoned, some humanoid skeletons were visible. I don’t want to say human because they weren’t, over seven feet tall with thick brows and long limbs; they were some twisted artist’s imagination of what we were beneath skin and muscle. We headed toward a high pyramid that seemed to be the center of the city. Like the rest of the city it looked abandoned, with those strange vines like those where Cox and Samuels had stopped growing up it, reclaiming it for the horrid jungle. We had to climb the steps to a small temple on the apex; it wasn’t easy. By the time we finally reached the temple we were covered in sweat, the walk took us several minutes.
Waiting inside was an elderly man. He had wild eyes and was covered in more tattoos than clothing. He spoke some language that I’ve never heard before and pointed to a balcony. He was in the act of performing an odd dance around a pit of fire, roasting a humanoid being. I was too disgusted to stay in the man’s presence, so willingly I followed my comrades onto the balcony. From it we could see the submarine in the pool, far in the distance more than ten miles I don’t recall walking. I noticed that the Scorpion seemed free, though the land just east of the pond was destroyed as if something large had passed through that way. The man started saying one word repeatedly loud and clear so we could understand. I never imagined that he was summoning something.
An indescribable horror wrapped itself around the pyramid, opening its jaws near the balcony. Those same octopus tentacles took hold of the stone structure as the wild man poured sand on the flaming pit. In some strange sense of ecstasy he heaved the corpse before the creature. Its tongue rolled from the gaping abyss like an anaconda, taking the offering though it was small compared to its girth. I don’t think that it was satisfied because the tongue lashed out at Warden, pulling him to the balcony’s edge. Before we could react, it pulled him in and swallowed him whole. While the man kept saying Leviathan, the abomination was eating the seamen one at a time. It bit down on Nero and O’Conner with a large hawkish beak and tossed them into the air before snatching them on their descent. It tried the same trick with Saluki but missed; the doomed man’s body crashed to the temple’s vine-cover stone surface and exploded. I can’t describe it any other way. We didn’t have weapons so our only chance was to escape.
Yaks was grabbed by one of the thing’s tentacles, its hooked suckers impaled him and dropped the dead body in the creature’s expectant mouth. When we’d run from the temple, it turned its attention to the old man. The crazed man cried out gleefully as the creature’s long tongue pulled him in. I wasn’t going to stay around any longer to see what else it would do; it let out a roar of anger once we’d passed from its immediate reach; though I imagine it still could’ve caught us with one of its larger tentacles. For some reason it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t hungry anymore.
At the bottom of the temple waited more humanoids; uncivilized monkeys wielding wooden spears. They attacked us, maiming several of the men. As the seamen fell to their wounds, which were by no means fatal, the humanoids descended on them and beat them with clubs made from stone. As the grass turned the color of blood they began crying out “Leviathan,” which made the unspeakable horror turn to them. It swallowed the sacrifices, as well as a few of the humanoids. But it spit their bones back out, knocking a couple of the warriors unconscious. The creature, which I’ve taken to be Leviathan, had a large head which was mostly a mouth with eyes; it had a snake-like body and the lower portion of it was split into more than a dozen tentacles longer than the Scorpion.
Four of us survived the initial attack by the monkeys, but three were taken down by the uncivilized brutal attacks before we’d reached the relative isolation of the forest. I couldn’t see the creature, though in my nightmares I think it chased us. When I reached Cox I pulled him back to the Scorpion; Samuels appeared alive but decayed like a skeleton; a few vines had grabbed hold of him and were leeching the life from the man. I never looked back to see if we were pursued, though I heard the crashing sound of something large breaking through the trees. I was stunned to see the monster already sliding back into the pond and grabbing the Scorpion, it had finished its meal and was returning the cold cylinder to the arctic. When we reached the submarine, it was pulled back under the water violently and returned to the arctic sea.
After we had control of the Scorpion, Ritter turned us back to port. Three days had passed during the incident.

Further Recommendations:
The crew of the Scorpion saw things they weren’t authorized to witness, violating the code of clearance; forfeiting their lives. The Scorpion is to be decommissioned and destroyed, pieces are NOT to be sold or reused in the construction of future submarines or any other vessel. The crew of the Scorpion will be separated and they will be terminated in whichever ways are most convenient. No US vessel is to enter the region that the Scorpion reported the incident having occurred.

Credit: Michael Bertolini

Nice Neighbors

March 17, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Her family had lived in that house, on that street, for as long as Ivanna could remember.

She had her birthday parties in that backyard and swung from the big tree in the front yard until the rope wore down and the metal creaked. Every Christmas morning her and her brothers gathered on the floor before the tree and every Easter they sat on the back porch and dyed eggs to fill with confetti and glitter. Their walls were covered in both old and new photos; some black and white, some faded sepia and others from the weekend previous. It had always seemed to smell of her grandmother’s flowery perfume and smoke from their small wood burning fireplace. Not too big, but big enough, as her father always said.
It was home, serving as the backdrop for every fond memory she held dear.
Well, them and a less pleasant one.
Having lived in that neighborhood for so long they had come to be close with almost all their immediate neighbors. To their left lived an elderly couple Ivanna knew simply as Mr. and Mrs. Herrera, who always sat in rocking chairs in their netted enclosed porch, and to their right lived the Campbell family. The Campbell’s house was painted a lilac color and their back yards were separated by nothing more than a chain-link fence. It had a bigger front yard too, or at least it felt that way since they lacked bushes or trees, which in turn led to many afternoons spent playing tag there with the Campbell kids. The youngest of them was a girl two years older than Ivanna, named Alyssa. The two were very close, and often walked to school with their arms linked as they tried to stomp in every puddle or kick as much snow off the sidewalk as they could. Alyssa was at every one of those birthday parties without fail, and Ivanna climbed over the fence to join every one of her’s.
They agreed that nothing could ever separate them and someday they might even move away together.

The best thing was, in their minds, the fact that their bedroom windows were both on the sides of their respective house, facing each other. The two of them would sit in the windowsills, perched like birds, and spent many hours talking by writing on notebooks and holding them up for each other to see. They would get each other’s attention late at night with a few flickers of a flashlight and reveled in the disobedience and perceived danger of it all should they be found awake. Gossip, homework answers…anything to preoccupy each other until they were too tired to stay awake. Ivanna looked forward to it every night, especially on days when chores and schoolwork kept her out of the yard. Snowy and sick days were by far the worst and she sought comfort in leaning against the glass with her flashlight in hand.
Alyssa was her best friend, and she loved her.
Alyssa, unfortunately, didn’t stick around as long as she had planned.

That warm summer morning, when the moving truck pulled up in front of the lilac house, the two girls were heartbroken. Neither had known that far in advance and when the news had been broken to them it was taken with the hopeless sort of sadness that came with the inevitable. It rained that afternoon, and Alyssa stood in her window with her backpack over one shoulder, waving goodbye. She wasn’t crying, and Ivanna smiled back with as much reassurance as she could muster. After her friend had gotten into the car and drove away with all her family’s belongings in tow, however, all she could do was cry into her pillow so nobody would hear. She was a big girl after all.
“No, mommy…it’s okay. We’re gonna call and write letters. She’ll do it. She promised.”

The house was empty for a long while, growing weeds while remaining vacant and silent. They stayed out of the front yard and only went over to pick the FOR SALE sign back up when it would fall over. Winter blanketed the house in snow that was left untarnished by footsteps until spring. The lawn turned brown under the summer sun without someone to water in the evenings. School started back up again, and Ivanna had only received one letter and two phone calls from her old friend. They didn’t know what to talk about either time.

She wouldn’t have noticed the FOR SALE sign go down if it wasn’t for her brother Tomas’s suspicious tendencies.
Tomas had said multiple times he had seen people going in and out, but their parents insisted that they had been keeping an eye out and had seen nothing. When he pointed the now empty yard out to their father, he shrugged and suggested that maybe someone was moving in. They never saw a moving truck or the big spectacle that accompanied new tenants.
The red pickup truck was just there one day.
At first it appeared that only one person had moved it; a man with a thick white mustache and thinning silver-blonde hair would occasionally leave to go and buy groceries, and sometimes he would just pace the porch in the evenings with a beer can in one hand, wearing nothing but a wife-beater and a pair of grimy jeans. He introduced himself reluctantly in passing once as Douglas. Ivanna didn’t like the way his gaze lingered on her when he noticed her standing there. Sometimes she would go out and swing only to go inside promptly after noticing him in the window or looking out the screen door. He looked like he couldn’t figure out what she was, like she was some unidentifiable animal prowling about the property.
One late winter night, something else happened that she found unsettlingly odd.

She lay in bed, half awake, when something in the window of Alyssa’s old room caught her attention. It was a tiny flicker, not like a flashlight but more the reflection of light off something else. She sat up, convinced it was a trick of memory and light. The flickering was deliberate, a pattern of varying durations, and something was moving ever so slightly between the half-drawn curtains in the darkness of the supposedly vacant room. Sliding out from under the covers, she made her way to window and cupped her hands around her eyes for a clearer look.
The room wasn’t vacant at all; a girl a few years younger than her stood almost out of sight with a compact mirror in her hand. She was using the glow of the streetlamp, and waved excitedly when she was noticed. She moved forward and began to mouth something unintelligible, as Ivanna reached for her notebook in response.
Hey there, who are you?
The girl looked confused and didn’t appear to understand either what was written or what the question was. She stared blankly at her a moment before she mouthed a simple question.
Ivanna nodded, urging her to answer. She pointed to herself and mouthed Ivanna as well as she could before pointing to the girl for her response.
Marisa. After a few tries, Ivanna turned back to the notebook and held it up long enough for the girl to decipher.
Its nice to meet you, Marisa

Marisa nodded happily and smiled a wide toothy grin. She was missing a few front teeth, but didn’t seem to mind. Soon they would be back, seeing that adult teeth were beginning to peek out of her gums. It was nothing unusual for a child her age. She pointed out and then held up two fingers. The message was clear.
You too…
Before she could write anything more, Marisa’s head turned and she suddenly looked flustered. She turned back only to wave before slipping back out of sight. This left Ivanna slightly rattled, wondering if this was something normal or not. Some people were just shy, she knew, and she didn’t want to make mountains out of molehills…but the encounter left her uncomfortable.
It wasn’t the last time Marisa appeared in the window; she would stand there waiting for her new friend to notice and come to the window. She only appeared at night at first, which allowed the “I’m tired, gotta sleep” half-excuse to be used, only the sad look on Marisa’s face made her insides writhe with guilt. It was difficult to talk, since she never had any paper and wouldn’t open the window because there was a house alarm installed, so the conversations were quite brief. The girl’s voice was a mystery for the longest time.
Soon she was there during the day too, which made things less unsettling and more uncomfortable. The window would slide open at around nine in the morning and if she was anywhere in sight Marisa would call her name. Sometimes she threw little pebbles at the glass until she came to look. She spoke too fast and asked too many questions, which Ivanna politely answered until an excuse popped up. It made her feel like a horrible sort of friend.

“Do you have a dog? My dad’s allergic to pet fur or something.”
“What are you doing? Homework? Oh yeah spelling is hard. Really, really hard.”
“What took you so long to get home? Do you walk or ride a bus? I like the bus.”
“You wanna play something? I have lots of dolls.”
“You wanna come over and play? I have lots of games we could play.”

For someone with so many questions, however, there was one that she refused to answer herself, which made Ivanna even more suspicious. One afternoon, while unpacking the necessary supplies to complete her homework, Marisa asked her what she did at school and continued to pry at details. Swallowing hard to push back the apprehensiveness, she turned and asked, “Where do you go to school, Marisa? I never see you at mine.”
The girl in the window looked as if she were suddenly put on a stage with a spotlight on her face.
“I used to go to a private school by mom’s house, but daddy’s been…homeschooling me…or something.”
“Really? Is it fun staying home?”
“Sure, I guess.” She tilted her head as if listening, then her eyes widened in surprise.
“What’s wrong.”
“Nothing, my daddy’s calling. See you later.”

That evening at dinner, she brought up Marisa to her parents. She told them everything about her, all the questions and the weird feeling she got. She admitted how she had been actively avoiding her and sneaking around she wouldn’t see her. At first her parents didn’t seem to worry, saying that their new neighbor was just a little nosy. Tomas seemed more interested, and she could tell by his face he was as more curious than anything else. After dinner he asked if he could see Marisa, and there wasn’t any logical reason she should answer no.
But when they tried to get her attention they found that night she didn’t come to the window.
Tomas made sure the window was locked before going back to his own room. A week passed and they waited for the strange neighbor friend. A week passed and Marisa was nowhere in sight and neither of them had any desire to go knocking on the door with Douglas inside.
“Maybe she’s imaginary.”
“I’m too big for imaginary friends.”

Finally, on a particularly cold evening, she saw the flicker from the window once again. The window was indeed open, but only enough for Marisa to whisper through. She looked alright, albeit a little tired. “Hey, Ivanna? You wanna see something cool?!”
“What is it?”
“I made a pillow fort! It’s really fun, and it’s got multiple little rooms. If you’re sneaky you could come over and we can play in it.”
“Why do I have to be sneaky?”
“Daddy doesn’t like people coming over. They make messes. You won’t, but he thinks you will.”
“Where is the pillow fort?”
“It’s in the little crawlspace under the living room floor! You wanna?”
Ivanna swallowed hard. “It’s late, and I have school tomorrow. I gotta go to bed soon. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, I just never have any friends over. It’s like they forgot about me.”
“Oh, I bet they didn’t. Everyone’s in school and… I’ll ask my mom tomorrow.”
Marisa cracked a little smile, and for a while they sat in silence.
“Is Douglas your dad?” Ivanna asked slowly, as if she were tiptoeing around. The little girl in the window made a face she hadn’t before; her brow furrowed and she shook her head? “Douglas?”
“Yeah! He and my dad only talked a little. He doesn’t seem to like neighbors much.”
“That’s not my daddy’s name.”

Tomas wouldn’t let such new information go, and spent more time trying to encounter Marisa himself. He asked questions like, “does she look like him” or “what else did she say about him”. Still there was no response whenever Tomas was present, even if he hid so she couldn’t see him. This frustrated him greatly, and he continued to bring it up to their parents only to be told not to spy on neighbors. At one point he accused his sister of making it all up because she was upset about Alyssa.
On a chilly November morning, Ivanna proved she wasn’t making anything up.

It was about 4:30, before the sun had begun to rise up into the grey winter sky, the entire family was awoken by the sound of glass shattering. She was the first to get up and figure out what had caused the noise since all she had to do was peek out the window. The window Marisa had so frequently perched in had shattered outward, scattering shimmering shards of glass all over the weeds in the window well below. There the dark haired girl stood, her curly locks no longer in their neat braids and her eyes wide with fear, or at least what she perceived to be fear. She was shaking her head, and when Ivanna called her name she looked around frantically, her eyes unfocused.
“I can’t…I can’t see its too dark I don’t wanna… I don’t wanna be here please…”
“Marisa I’m right here, what happened?” She waved her arms but the girl only groped around blindly.
“I don’t wanna go back into to the dark place…its not fun. It’s not fun!”
There was another indistinct thud, and then her voice was gone. Everyone rushed in shortly after, but no body could figure out what had happened or what she was even talking about when she tried to articulate what she had seen.
That afternoon, Ivanna decided to call Alyssa out in hopes of telling someone who would better understand. She sat in her windowsill looking out as she listened to the ringing in anticipation. Alyssa’s mother answered after three attempts, sounding irritated before giving over the phone.
“Hey, Ivanna, how are you?!”
“Something weird is happening in your house.”

She went into detail explaining what was happening, from the first night to that morning, and her old friend only listened in a nervous silence. It was only after Ivanna mentioned Marisa’s offer to join her in the crawlspace pillow fort that Alyssa spoke up.
“Wait, she said she was playing in the crawlspace?”
“Mhmm, she wanted me to go and see it. It was under the living room floor.”
“You’ve been to my house though; we have a basement just like yours. No crawlspace.”
“Really? Oh yeah.”
It was then, while absentmindedly staring out the window, she noticed Douglas practically running from his house, hastily tossing ratty suitcases and bags into the back of his red truck. He was staring all around as if afraid someone would sneak up on him, then jumped in and drove away.

She went hopping down the stairs, eager to tell Tomas, only to find her father sitting on the couch leaning forward to focus all attention on the news report. “Hey, honey isn’t that…”
Her mother came running in, and they all stared in horror as the breaking news ribbon moved across the screen and a photo of a man with a thick white mustache and silver-blonde hair was put onscreen. The local reporter spoke with grim urgency.
“…police are searching for 55 year old Douglas Hume, who is the primary suspect in the murder of Sandra and Anthony Mitchell, as well as the abduction of their seven year old daughter… after neighbors reported a foul smell coming from the attached duplex where Hume had previously lived, police found the Mitchells’ remains buried in the crawlspace after having been missing for nearly four months…police believe that Hume is tied to multiple robberies and abductions all over the state. He is considered to be armed and very dangerous. If you have any information concerning the whereabouts of Mr. Hume, please contact call this number on screen…”

Ivanna watched in shock as her mother snatched the phone from her hands and darted to the kitchen to dial the number.

Credit: Ahnika Vigil

The Mummers

March 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

When I was a child, the mummers came to town.

It was not quite Solstice’s Eve yet. The nights were long and dark, and most nights a thin, jagged coat of haw frost would top the trees in glistening frigidity. What few horses the rich owned would stamp and whinny at their posts, billowing clouds of icy fog filling the air from their nostrils. The windows in the village had flickering tallow candles in the window, and the stores continued the custom of handing out sweets and cakes to the half-starved children. A thick, smoky fire was always lit in our house.

My father took me one night to the tavern. I myself was young, not yet a man but old enough to be trusted to drink without the barkeep watering the beer down. As we crossed the threshold, the thick wave of village chatter washed over me, and I remember feeling the rich acceptance that only a homely community can extend to you. In one corner of the squat, one-storey building, a performer strummed his instrument carefully, leaning against the black, ancient oak beam that supported the white plaster wall. Although he had a half-finished cup of strong liquor within arm’s reach, his fingers were not dulled by the alcohol, and the fast rhythms and leaping melodies comfortable backed up the incessant murmur of the village gossips.

I remember standing at my father’s side, sipping gently at the drink in my little hands as he talked to Arem, the local farmer who owned the barely fields up on the crest of the hill. He often did business with the next village across, set deep into the rolling chalk valleys, and it was gossip from the next village over which he was talking to my father about.

“You know, Gure, there have been whispers of strange folk around.”

“From beyond the valleys?”

He shook his head. “More foreign still than that. They apparently hail from across the sea, came over on strange filigreed boats from the Silk Isles. They don’t even follow the Great One.”

My father gulped down another mouthful of beer, his eyes widening in shock. “What? Dear One, what is upon us? What faith do these foreigners have?”

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s something stranger, something…” the farmer dropped his voice to a coarse whisper, years of dusty farm work evident in its low harshness, “older.”

My father hurried me away, rushing me off. I found a couple of similarly aged children to play with, dancing around between the legs of our elders, getting yelled at and cuffed on the ear more than once as we collided with people’s pints and knocked their drinks to the floor. Soon though, we were brought still by the hush that descended over the townsfolk. Quietly, I snaked my way through the crowd and found myself at my father’s side. I tried to advance forwards, but my father caught me, and held me tight at his side.

The door of the tavern opened, and a troop of men and women came through. They wore thick, dark cloaks, dusted on the top with a thin patchwork of fresh fallen snow that melted as they came into the warm room. They had on cowls of thin, near translucent silky material that shifted over their forms as they moved, thin golden threads in the fabric casting long shadows on their features. As they trod in a thin column into the pub, they gently removed their cloaks, and people gasped at their clothes. You have to understand, we were country folk, simple people whose aspirations didn’t extend beyond the next village over. To see the rich, imported vermillions, purples, blues, and golds that were daubed liberally over their gay costumes left us dumbfounded. Outside of the pretty birds that the Great One had made for us, we never thought to have seen such colours, much less shaped by the hands of man.

The leader of the troupe was a vaguely androgynous character, the hood dangling limply around his neck like a slack noose. He approached Stryor, the barman, and produced a thin purse. From this, he drew curiously imprinted gold leafs, hexagonal in shape, and wordlessly gave them over to him. Stryor examined them briefly, testing their weight in his hand, and then nodded, finding them acceptable. He disappeared into a back room, leaving us alone with the Mummers.

I heard whispers from my own folk, growing in aggression as they stood there, looking blankly at us from their hidden eyes in perfect silence. Another member, a woman, moved over to the fireplace and gazed into it quietly. She reached deep into a pocket and drew out a strange, patterned pouch that stunk pungently of mysterious herbs and spices. She held it to her nose, inhaling deeply of the scent, before tossing it into the flames, watching the fire spit teal and violet hues. As she returned to her own people, the leader gave a simple hand gesture, and what few Mummers had kept their cloaks on threw them off, revealing wind instruments and stringed implements that left the poor old lutenist in the corner wide-mouthed in envy. Then, without even looking at each other, they began to play.

The melody was mournful and slow. High, descant drones were complimented with chromatic bass scales and chords, terrible, important notes. My father gasped and gripped my shoulder tighter as we saw things come from the fire. The colours and sounds became more vivid in hue and pitch, the emotions of fear we all felt more powerful. I watched fearfully as things stalked forwards out of the flames. They were not human in shape, nor form, for they were purely shadow, dark creatures that flickered over us all. What they were human in, though, was the careful thoughtfulness with which they scanned over everyone, seeking something, someone. All too soon, the Mummers were finished with their song, and the fire had died out, leaving us in stony, dark silence as they trooped out, donning their thickly layered cloaks as they dissolved into the night.

For a little while afterwards, I searched for the children I had played with earlier, desperately searching for people whose names I now cannot remember. The screams of their parents filled up the nights, for no one knew what had happened to them. I wonder if anyone other than me counted the Mummers in and out. There were nine who entered, and eleven who left.

Credit: HulloThere

The Banshee

March 11, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I consider myself to be a logical being. My experiences in life have led me to such a conclusion that approaching problems from a skeptical and logical viewpoint is in my best interest and is, as far as I understand it, the best way to live one’s life. Not to say that those who place a greater self interest and reliance in supernatural and spiritual matters are lesser in any way, but I am solely attempting to say that such beliefs haven’t appeared necessary to myself in my many years of experience as a lawyer (a career that I have practiced for more than 23 years). There has only been one episode in my life that I could with any certainty deem “supernatural” in nature, and that is the episode which I will attempt to recount to you, dear reader, from the best of my memory at this time.
The year was 1955, I was a young man at the time and had just begun my postgraduate studies in law at Yale University in Connecticut. I was a particularly adventurous youth, oftentimes to my own detriment, and sought out any and all excuses to travel, have adventures (as I liked to think of them) and escape from my studies, something which I now regret, though my experiences have provided me with plenty of knowledge for which I will forever be grateful. It was at one of these times, when my adventuring spirit was at a high point that my brother Josiah invited me to spend a few weeks with him in Brazil. Josiah had moved recently there to teach English at the Catholic University of Petropolis in the state of Rio de Janeiro, I assume he suffered from the same adventurous spirit as myself, a curse that no doubt impelled him to take up the venture in the first place. The thought of traveling to Brazil seized my spirits, and though I would certainly miss a period of classes, the trip would be brief and I felt confident that I could both complete any assignments while in Brazil, and catch up upon my return if necessary.
After some debate, it was decided that perhaps a period of only one week would be better for my vacation, and my brother wasted no time in purchasing the airline tickets and making the necessary arrangements. I felt that the pricing must have been expensive and I offered to pay for some of the expense, but he declined, insisting that his recent employment had given him more money than he and his young family needed and he was anxious to use some of his newly acquired funds for some good cause and that he was looking forward to seeing me.
The day of the trip arrived. I brought with me only a midsize suitcase with clothes for the week and a few school supplies. The plane ride was comfortable enough, although I couldn’t sleep to save my life. I never could sleep on planes, and the length of the journey was enough to exhaust one’s spirits. After what seemed hours of fitful tossing and turning, I drifted off.
When I awoke, day had already broken and it was almost time for our descent. I was served a small breakfast of something or other, and the plane landed in Rio de Janeiro. Josiah had spoken very highly of Brazil, so my expectations were somewhat heightened. My first impression of Brazil was that the landscape was very beautiful, and I found myself constantly looking around at the immense cliffs and green hills that seemed to roll forth from the ocean and out of the earth like something from a dream. The city itself was small, I thought, at least compared to the other great cities of the world that I had visited, but set against this tropical and gorgeous coastline one couldn’t deny that this was a desireable place to be. I can only imagine the kind of nightlife that took place here, the parties being somewhat legendary. I myself never got to see these for myself, perhaps one day I’ll return. I count myself blessed for simply having been there and seen the natural beauty of Rio de Janeiro.
The people I found extremely friendly, if lacking in fluent English. Many of them, I think, were overconfident in their ability to speak the language, but I guessed that they got by with what they knew in order to make ends meet, and as my bus took me through the sprawling brick suburbs I saw people peddling goods and selling food to the tourists, so it seems to me my hunch was correct in that regard.
The bus ride to Petropolis was easy enough, and there I did manage to fall asleep. When I awoke I looked out the window to see a sheer drop of several hundred feet. We were climbing a mountain on a thin stretch of road that clung to the side of the mountain. One more foot to the left and our bus would hurtle down to our certain doom! I closed my eyes until the terror had passed. Heights are something that even a logical man can be afraid of, I think, without anyone judging him for it.
Petropolis, I learned, is also known as “the Imperial City”. Back when Brazil still had emperors, this is where they had their summer homes, a fairly common practice at the time for aristocrats and important persons. The city was established by the Germans in the 18th century, and the cultural and architectural effects of the motherland are extremely evident. As soon as we entered Petropolis I felt as if we were in a different country. The streets were cobblestone, the buildings were constructed in semi-timber architecture, with the wooden cross beams exposed over white plaster, as is common in Germany. It reminded me of my trip to Europe and I must confess and I had not anticipated finding this level of sophistication and culture in Brazil.
Josiah met me at the bus station and we boarded a bus back to his home. Petropolis I found was constructed of individual neighborhoods, or bairros, as they are called here. Josiah lived in the bairro Coronel Veiga, outside of the city. The ride wasn’t long, and I found that Petropolis too was a city built into the mountains, with enormous, rising hillsides that stretched up into the clouds. It rained often here, in fact it was one of the rainiest cities on Earth, and the constant rain and humidity caused an almost constant fog to fall upon the hill, giving it a haunted and mystical quality. The rising hills seemed to disappear in the clouds. The houses were constructed in such a way that they were almost stacked, one on top of the other, built into the hills themselves. Long, straight stair cases climbed up the hills, providing the only access to the houses that weren’t directly on the street, which was most of them. It seemed a rather poor system, according to my judgement, and the thought of those poor people having to climb enormous staircases everyday just to arrive at their homes made my heart weep for them. No one had yards or actual property. To my eternal disappointment, I discovered that Josiah was one of those who lived on the middle level of one of these hills, so in order to reach his home, we had to climb up half a mountain to get there, up a long and steep staircase made of stone.
The home in which they lived was divided into two parts: the lower home, which was comprised of two floors and on the interior was very American in style, and the upper section which served as an extra apartment that they could rent out or lend to guests, and it was this section of the house that I was given as my quarters during my stay. The apartment had a separate entrance, and one had to step outside and climb the stone steps up to the next level to find the door to the apartment, as the apartment itself actually rested upon my brother’s home.
Now I’ve spent a great deal of time lecturing, it feels, upon the wonders of Brazil and of my journey and impressions of the country. I assure you, reader, my tale does take a darker turn. My first evening there was spent in good company, and Josiah and myself spent a good deal of time talking and reminiscing until long after dinner was over into the late hours of the night, as siblings often do after long separations. His wife retired the children, and rejoined us as we were finishing our second bottle of wine. As she entered the room, the clock on the wall signaled the hour. Midnight! How quickly the time had passed! Josiah was quick to apologize as he would have to excuse himself from my company, the college awaited him in the morning. I too, was exhausted from my journey, and wasted no time in bidding adieu to my family and heading out onto the dark staircase and into my chambers.
I lit several candles, but somehow that only seemed intensify my isolation. It may have been the elongated shadows, or the constant flickering of the flame that made me feel as if someone were in the room with me. My quarters were small, consisting of a sloped ceiling, a feather bed, a bathroom and a kitchen. There was even a desk that looked out a set of glass doors and a small balcony. Josiah had warned me not to use the balcony, as it was in repair and the railing was not yet sturdy enough to use. Frankly, I had no desire to use the balcony, as my previous description of my bus ride might have led you to guess, I am afraid of heights, though the view from the window was striking enough, looking out over the hills and valley below. I was content to view it all from behind the glass barrier.
I had hardly lay myself down upon my mattress when I heard a haunting sound. My first instinct was that it was the wind, howling around the jagged houses perched along the mountain. But the noise seemed to grow louder, as if it were growing closer. It was a woman, I realized, sobbing, somewhere outside. She must be hurt! I jumped from my bed and looked out the small glass pane above my bed. What I saw as I looked from that window was an image that is forever engraved in my mind. A ghostly apparition, it seemed, was climbing the stairs just outside my chambers. A woman wrapped in a ragged shawl, climbed, wailing quite loudly. Surely the whole neighborhood must be awake! Slowly, she climbed, until eventually her cries began to fade. For a long while I could not move. I was frozen in place, it seemed her cries had the effect of casting fear throughout my whole body so that I was stiff and unable to do anything. I do not know how long I stood there, watching, unable to move. At some point I must have, as I woke up the next morning in my bed feeling far from refreshed, the memory of last night still burning in my mind.
I dressed and went downstairs to join my family. In the light of day, the stairs seemed ordinary, plain. There was no sign or signal that this was a place where spirits walked and wailed during the night. A haunted place.
I could not resist the urge to bring up the subject over breakfast, though some might frown upon my engaging such a topic in the presence of children, I feel that it was not a sin, as they too must be victims of the woman’s nighttime visit.
“How are you this morning, Brother?” Josiah asked, that young and jovial smile of his ever present across his face. “Did you sleep well?”
“I wish I could say that I have, but it seems there was some ungodly creature who decided to scream the night away right outside my window.”
At my mention of the woman, Josiah and his wife shared a frightened glance. The look might have been looked over by some, but not by myself, a student of the law. They knew something.
“Ah yes. It’s a neighborhood drunk, no more. She does that from time to time. I’m sorry I didn’t mention it.”
“Mention it! My good brother, all is forgiven. She is not your doing? Then all is well. Tonight I shall retire a little more prepared. Though I can’t imagine what happened to that poor wretch to make her so dreadfully sad. Poor, girl.”
And that was that on the subject. A common drunk. Though I sensed she might be more than that, I dare not suggest it, logic constrained me. And what could she be, other than a drunk? A memory swam into my mind, of something Josiah told me when I was younger. There is such a thing as a banshee, he said, a woman who wails and cries warning of a death to come. A banshee! The lawyer inside me scoffed at the idea. Children’s stories, to keep them good and in their beds. But my memory of the night before would not leave my mind. It haunted me all the day long.
Dread aside, the day was rather pleasant. There was much laughter, as there often is when families come together. I took advantage of my visit to see some of the sights of Petropolis including the Palacio de Cristal, a building made entirely of glass for the sole purpose of demonstrating engineering prowess. It was quite remarkable, and reminded of me of the larger structure that had once stood in Chicago and I very much wished that I could have seen it. After exploring the city for the afternoon I found myself at the Imperial Museum, where the Emperor himself once lived. The most impressive structure to me, however was the church. St. Peter’s of Alcantara, an enormous Cathedral that overlooks the city square. I never would have thought coming to Brazil that I would find impressive Gothic architecture, yet here it was standing right before my eyes.
The interior of the church was just as impressive, and after exploring I found myself below ground, reading inscriptions on the ancient tombs in the burial crypt. This is where the last Emperor himself was buried, and as I looked around I found myself suddenly alone. Alone with the dead, I thought, how perfect. It seemed that death was following me everywhere I went. Well, seeing as I could not stay here by myself any longer I quickly made my way to the stairs and as I was reaching the top, the door swung closed all by itself. I tried the handle, but the door was locked tight! Minutes passed, I was alone in the dark and no amount of banging or shouting seemed to be doing me any good. Terror soon began to set in, and I began to think this trip was entirely a mistake. I had just about given up hope and resolved to die here in the dark when I heard footsteps. I resumed my pounding on the door. Evidently, this time someone heard me and the door was thrown open, light poured in.
“Desculpa, amigo. Quanto tempo voce estive aqui?”
“I’m sorry, I speak English. I’m an American.”
“Ah, American! English.”
The man before me was short, balding, with a long, single twisting eyebrow. I don’t want to seem judgemental or rude, but he was not a pleasant man to look upon. His eyes seemed to bulge out of his head, giving him a bug like quality to him. However, he was kind enough and he escorted me back to the chapel where we engaged in a friendly conversation. His name was Vagna, I learned, and he was a bus driver here in the city. His English was poor, but he seemed eager to talk to me and even more eager to learn about America. When I told him that I was a student at Yale, his eyes seemed to grow even larger “Yale…rich, your family, lots of money!”
“Well, I suppose you could say that. Yale isn’t cheap.”
“No…lots of money…to learn at university.”
And so our conversation went. Eventually I grew tired of trying to decipher what the man was getting at and the time was growing late, so I bid him adieu and caught the next bus back to Josiah’s house.
As I was walking down the foggy street to the long staircase, I saw something ahead of me on the side of the road. It looked almost like an animal, digging, but it was large and for a moment I was seized with fear. An animal that large could be dangerous. What kind of animals did they have here in Brazil? I felt a wave of uncertainty wash over me, I felt a stranger here, in a strange land. I assume most travellers at one point or another feel some level of this as they come to terms with a foreign place. But the fog cleared somewhat and I was able to distinguish that the creature was actually a person, digging in a pile of trash. I approached the person, their face was covered in filthy rags, ridden with holes. As I neared, the thing turned its head in my direction and I saw the face that was hidden from me the night before. The woman’s face from the stairs! It was a face that was completely unforgettable, insane pale eyes, a scarred face covered in dirt and warts, and hair that shot out in all directions from discare. This was no human, this was an animal!
I quickly turned and continued on my way, not daring to look back. As I reached the stairs, I felt impelled to run, which resulted in my walking at a slightly quicker pace just in case anyone was watching. I had almost reached Josiah’s house when I decided to look back and much to my surprise I found the woman standing at the foot of the stair, looking up at me, as if she were waiting to see which house I entered! Terrified, and unable to stay where I was under the foul woman’s gaze, I ran up the rest of the stairs and into Josiah’s house.
For the rest of the evening I was considerably shaken up, and Josiah could tell from my silence that something was off, but he could not get out of me what it was, and I could not bring myself to tell him what was causing me such anguish and paranoia. “I’m simply tired from running about all day, I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the journey.” Such excuses continued until I almost believed them myself, and I excused myself much earlier than the night previous and left for my apartment. As I exited Josiah’s house, I carried a lantern with me, and looked both ways on the stairs to see if the woman was there, waiting for me. I could not see her, but it was a considerably foggy night and I could not see the bottom of the stairs. I quickly ran up to my apartment door, unlocked it, and slammed it behind me! Only once I was inside with the door locked did I feel safe, though it took a moment for my heart to calm.
I had to do something to distract my cursed imagination! Never had I felt this level of terror since I was a child! This was no spirit, no banshee! This was a human being, tormented, yes, but nothing more! I decided to try some reading to distract myself. I had to keep up on my schoolwork anyways, so I took out one of my textbooks and began to read. For the first while I couldn’t concentrate, my mind kept wandering to the woman on the stairs. But I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember I heard a sobbing and my head shot up, back to consciousness.
It was her! She had once again begun her nightly climb! I took up my lantern and rushed to the glass doors to the porch overlooking the valley. Down below, I could see her on the stairs, climbing and wailing, heading my direction! Chills began to run down my spine, I did not like the idea of her coming this way, or standing outside my door! But what could she do? Logic argued inside me, she was simply a drunk woman, the city was full of them! Then why was my heart pounding inside my chest? Why was I fixating on her and why did she terrify me? Soon the woman grew near, I could hear her feet shuffling outside on the stone steps. She was outside my apartment now, I could hear her cries. I could hardly take it, I just wanted her to be gone!
And soon she was. She continued to climb, upwards, into the fog, finishing her nightly ascent to heaven knows where! I decided that I was being a coward. She was just a woman, and soon a new curiosity took hold me of. I found myself crossing the room and unlocking my door. Where did this new bravery spring from? Where was it taking me? But I knew the answer. It was taking me to the woman. Up the stairs. My ascent was quick, and I carried the lantern with me into the fog, soon the mist enveloped me, and I could see nothing but the stairs in front of me. Before long, I found myself once again on level ground. I had reached the top of the stairs. The mist was somewhat clearer up here, and I could see that I was standing in a road, more houses were built on up either side of me. So this is where the woman climbed to each night. It seemed silly now, to have followed her here. Whatever her reasons for climbing those stairs, it was none of my business. I looked around for her, without success. She seemed to have vanished, perhaps into one of the houses. Perhaps this is where she lived. I suddenly felt very alone and vulnerable. Why had I come here? I was a fool! I turned to return the way I came, and there she was! Standing right behind me in the night! The woman! She screamed, and I’ll never forget the way my heart grew cold, those terrible eyes staring right into my soul!
The next thing I knew I was lying in my bed, caught in a terrible sweat. Had it really happened? I could not say. But I knew that the woman was real, and I was still in my apartment in Brazil. The memory or dream stood burning like a fire in my mind. I rose and looked out the wide window. The day was overcast and raining, clouds as far as I could see.
That day was spent indoors, as the weather would not allow me to leave. Somehow being close to the stairs was the worst thing for me, and I found myself dreading having to climb up to my apartment alone. After too much schoolwork and many card games with my niece, Josiah returned from the University and preparations began for dinner. We were short one ingredient, and I volunteered to go down to the bakery and fetch it. Some fresh air would do me some good, I reasoned. I put on a poncho and descended the wet, slippery steps to the street below. The walk was a brisk one, and the wind was howling the entire way to the end of the street. It seemed an ill omen, as if I could not escape the woman’s howling, even now during the day. The rain followed me wherever I went, and despite my poncho, I found myself soaked from head to foot by the time I stepped into the bakery.
Using my basic understanding of Portuguese, I was able to conduct a transaction for some additional flour, and as I about to walk out the door, who should I run into but Vagna from the day before! He seemed glad to see me, and though I didn’t want to stay and talk, I indulged the poor chap for a moment, mostly as a favor for my rescue the other day. He invited me to come with him to his place for dinner, I politely refused, some other time perhaps, I suggested. It seems he didn’t like my refusal of his invitation, I’m not familiar with the customs of Brazil, it may be that I offended his honor and broke some sort of cultural custom, but I did not trust the man and I would risk offending one villager for the exchange of my own safety. I quickly walked home and this time on the stairs I did not look back.
The evening seemed to pass too quickly. Dinner ended, conversation began, but once again I found myself distracted. All I could think about was the woman. What if she was a banshee? I wondered. Was she trying to warn me? Was someone going to die? I suddenly began to feel very ill, and paranoia set in. Who could it be. My brother? His wife? Myself? I returned to my apartment and no sooner had I entered then I heard the woman on the stairs, howling and wailing. I stepped back out to watch. I wanted to see her. There she was on the stairs below, howling and sobbing, making her way towards me. I stepped back inside, the rain was still pounding down and I wondered at how she was able to stay brave the elements. I stayed in the doorway for what seemed like an eternity. The sobbing had stopped, I realized. She was gone. Had I missed her? Perhaps she turned back because of the weather? I opened the door to see what had become of her only to find her standing right before me. She looked into my eyes and emitted the most terrible shriek I’ve ever heard. I felt like my bones had turned to glass and were about to shatter into a thousand pieces.
I fell back inside, stumbling and falling onto the ground. To my terror, the woman entered, she looked around, lifted a white, ghostly hand and pointed into the darkness of my bedchamber. She wailed again, breaking into a fit of sobbing. I turned to where she was pointing and was shocked again to find a man standing there in the dim light. He stepped forward, his hiding place revealed. It was Vagna, waiting for me in my own house! He carried a sharp metal pole in his hands, no doubt to be used with malicious intent. He wasted no time, swinging the stick at me, trying to impale me! I rolled out of the way, backing up towards the far end of the room. He was trapping me, soon I would have nowhere to go! Vagna wound up for one final swing, I dodged it, falling and rolling on the ground. But Vagna had put too much force into his swing, he lost his balance and fell forward. A heavy gust of wind swept through the house, pulling the glass doors open as he fell upon them. The balcony broke underneath his weight, and Vagna fell from sight. I looked out the window to see his body on the stairs below. I turned, but the wailing woman was gone. I ran to the door and looked up and down the stairs, but it was as if she had vanished into thin air!
To this day, I cannot say what became of the woman. But I do know what I saw, and I admit I cannot explain it. Some things cannot be explained away by ration, that much I have learned and am able to admit. And even if I live my life as a rational man, ruled by logic and facts, I will never be able to deny my own supernatural experience of the woman on the stairs.

Credit: D. M. Hutchins

The Coldest Day

March 7, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Bitter cold was nothing new for Northern Alberta, especially not for January, and the cacophony of wind that tore through the woodlands was nothing if not wholly familiar and almost comforting to the one that huddled in the tree line, obliterated from vision by the pitch of night and the swaying arm of evergreen trees. The figure stood there for a time and simply watched, waiting, head canted ever so subtly to the left and listened, staring into the dullness of the dimly illuminated window no more than fifty feet across the crisp layer of hardening snow that stood without a single scar, nothing to mar its pristine surface. Much like other homes throughout the reserve a family was nestled within and the figure could smell the promise of stew and bannock, could feel the sudden violent clench of hunger from the depths of its belly and touched the length of flesh that gurgled so very audibly that it was near impossible to ignore and the being halted peering still through the window to see if they had heard the noise, the ominous growl of need its traitorous body had emitted. Life continued as per normal within those heated walls, a family sitting down to dinner. A family blissfully unaware they were being watched… evaluated.

From the window it appeared as though the house was the same as any other, that the people inside were just like every other family. However there was something different about this family. A sense of dread and impending doom so thick that the Grandmother naturally assumed she could not only smell it in the air but see its lingering webs in the shadows of her home. Six families in the last month, six that were missing with little more than a struggle and vitae born finger painting that had decorated the walls and there was no one on the reserve that wasn’t talking about it. Six families to each bag a deer from the very interior of the forest. So far into the interior that the most experienced of hunters avoided it not to mention the average white man but times were tough and the pickings were slim. With so many out of work it became harder and harder to feed families and those with the proper knowledge and hunting rights were not about to let their own family let alone people of their community starve; such was the Aboriginal way of life. The issue however was not in the hunting so much as what happened within a few moons of the original kill. The deer caught and cleaned and then brought back home to be butchered and divided among those that needed it most. It was the third night after this when those that lived in the home went missing. Elders, parents, children and grandchildren… No one was accounted for and thinking of this caused the old woman to shudder. “Kokum? You okay?” A small voice asked and the woman turned her attention down to the small child standing by the family table and nodded, forcing a smile and patted the girl on the head.

“You go on my girl,” She said, not feeling nearly as confident as she sounded. “Everything is just fine and we have some time before dinner is ready. Go watch your show.” It was with a gapped tooth smile that the girl kissed her grandmother’s hip and fled, braid bouncing in the air behind her and in that moment the grandmother knew true fear. The ominous air felt positively heavy as did the heart that beat in frantic rhythm in her chest. “You’re sure about this?”

“Not in the slightest but what else can we do? Six whole families? What else could it have been?” Her son replied setting plates upon the table as his wife entered behind him with silverware and glasses. The table itself was filled reminding the woman of the last meal allowed to a prisoner before their time in front of The Creator. “You said yourself that something had to be done.”

“I didn’t realize that we’d be keeping the children here instead of sending them to your wife’s family.” In that moment fear sharpened her tone, anger causing her hands to tremble. “They shouldn’t be here.” The wife looked from mother to son, swallowing and set the utensils upon the tabletop.
“We had no choice and you know it.” She began slowly. “It waits for the most bountiful haul of meat it can take in one hunt, what were we supposed to do? Allow another family to disappear? At least we’re prepared. The others certainly weren’t.”
“That’s not the point!”
“It doesn’t matter what the point is, it’s too late.” In that moment her son ended the conversation and went back to the kitchen. It was time to bring food to the table for what could possibly be the last evening they would ever spend together.

In the treeline hungry eyes watched the three converse among themselves, the ever present gurgle of its belly becoming all the more impatient. It didn’t want to wait for the family to eat, the grandmother was plump and the children would be tender, succulent. It moved, taking a half step forward and could taste something bitter in its mouth with a rush of saliva. Vomit threatened to rise up, a sudden reaction the ravenous hunger that pulled at the creature’s very being. Its soul if it could be argued that the beast still had one. For a moment there was a sudden rush of dizziness and its hand rested upon the tree to its left, allowing it the briefest second of respite. A moment to shake away any other thoughts that weren’t related to the hunt and it was hard to focus on anything else. Ordinarily the beast would have allowed them to dine first but tonight would be different, the last family had been sick and the meat worthless. The creature starved and could not think strait, could not consider a thing beyond the next meal presented to it. Tentatively the first step came, foot breaking through the pristine layer of hardened snow with a subtle crunching and it paused for just a moment while cast in the darkness of winters early evening and when nothing else stirred it was followed by another and yet another. It crept closer still, impatient.

They sat at the table, said their thanks and began to eat. The deer was delicious but was hard to swallow for the old woman was not hungry but could not alarm the children whom ate with gusto. “Kokum? Kokum!” Cried the small girl. “You’re not eating.” The child frowned and to set aside her worry the old woman took a larger mouthful of potato that tasted no better than dirt in her mouth and chewed pointedly. The child watched her steadily seemingly now suspicious of her meat and leaned forward to sniff her dinner.

“Eat your supper.” The girl’s mother chided. “There are plenty of people in our community who have nothing to eat tonig…” It was then that first crack sounded, far louder than the sound of a car back firing and the child screamed in terror, grabbed by her grandmother and brought under the table with the command to hide with her younger brothers soon joining her. Two small children and a baby hiding in plain sight while their father jumped from the table and all but flew to the door pausing only to grab the hunting rifle that lay propped up by the frame their grandmother unable to ignore the sound of her own terrified heartbeat in her ears.

The creature had all but sprinted across the snow when the noise came, gunfire – a single shot. In that moment the beast froze and turned sharply, a figure in the darkness with two illuminated and pallid blue eyes that all but glowed in piss poor light. Darkness was the friend of this creature and over cast evenings were favored for this very reason and there while it stood hunched its head lifted and a single wet snuffling sound filled the deafening silence that had followed the shot. Gasoline. It had been so eager to feast that it hadn’t bothered to scent the air around it and had been trapped. In that moment a horrific, beastly roar filled the air before the sound of gasoline catching from a single match could whisper through the interrupted stillness. In that very moment it was as though the temperature dropped further from a considerable cold to something both bitter and angry when the line of fire began to close in in rapid succession. The beast bolted and howled when the circle of flames closed around it, illuminating the beast that stalked with rapid purpose in its trap glaring hatefully at the men that emerged from the woods with their guns and lights. The promising meal was stolen from it and rage tore at its breast, ripping from its throat with anger so great it staggered the men save for one… One that sang, a deeply and throaty sound accompanied by a painted hand drum that seemed to drive the beast back to the very edge of its prison. Rage seemed to give way to fear and this bolstered the men into believing that perhaps their shaman could keep the creature at bay with nothing more than song, the Creator and his magic.

The children were terrified, clinging to one another and sobbing their mother climbing under the table after them to soothe and hold them. Afraid to take them from the house to the safety of the car and a house far, far from this one in which they lived. “Stay here.” The grandmother was soon moving to follow her son though at a much slowed pace. The rear of their house and the field behind it were nothing if not surreal for the shadows dancing from flame and the figure that twisted itself from the man working his medicine. She moved closer to it yet, holding her heart through her breast and willed as best she could for the pace to finally slow when she came around her boy and looked upon the face of the beast. “…The family that disappeared last winter?” She was the only one who spoke while he sang and the others looked to their elder in surprise. “White family,” She spoke as though distracted, looking with pity upon the beast. “Husband, wife, and young boy if I remember correctly. The Sheriff came to borrow some of our people to find them in the woods. All we could find was the car, we said prayers for them.”
“I wonder which of them she ate…” Said one voice.
“Could have been both.” Another chimed in.
“She must have been the reason that party of hunters went missing a few months ago, hungry girl.”
“They’re always hungry.” The old woman was bitter, the men realizing their impropriety in that moment and falling silent as she moved forward and cocked her head to the side. The woman, at one point, had been a dark haired beauty. One that had had her son later in life and had been easily in her mid-thirties with her husband who was still yet older and a son no more than three at the time. “If they were lucky they died before she ate them.” A frown formed upon that wrinkled mouth, deep set ebon eyes meeting the frigid blue of the emaciated bestial version of this woman. Twisted and malnourished, fingernails little more than claws and teeth broken so they could tear meat that much more effectively, gone was the pallor of humanity in her flesh and instead it was replaced with a grey that was reserved usually for mushrooms only. An impressive sight even as it began to lie in the snow, covering its ears and whimpering as best an abomination could it was strange to feel pity for the beast that had killed so many but it too had once been human, had once been loved and for that the old woman could feel pain and look at the creature with tears obscuring her regard.
“…Well I think we need to discuss what to do with it.”
“What do you think we do? We kill it!”
“Yeah, seems like the only way to know for sure that it’s gone.”
“We can’t kill it.” The son interrupted, sighing. “It’s not the flesh we need to fear, that only holds the spirit. You can’t kill the Wendigo, the spirit lives forever and is always hungry. If we kill it then it will go free and torment another.” He looked to his mother, resting a large and calloused hand on her shoulder. “It will go with the others.” It was then the tears fell, the old woman crying openly and turning from the thing before her, turning away from her son, and fled to the safety of the house behind her. The others had fallen silent in that moment, out of respect for their elder and looked to one another.
“Do we even have room for another?”
“Just this one, we need to build another place to house them.”
“Jesus Christ, Frank. We can’t keep them caged. Someone is going to die when they get loose.”
“If they get loose.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re trying to end the spirit here.” The man, Frank, said sounding as though exhausted and watched his mother enter the house to be with his wife and children. “Damn woman wouldn’t listen when we told them not to go that way. We were just stupid Indians that didn’t know as much as her GPS and now she learned the hard way and we have to clean up her mess.” Headlights could be seen from the front of the house, someone arriving at the house, and feet crunching in the snow while another elder emerged carrying a cast iron collar on a length of iron wood. They would collar the creature and lead her much like cattle. A secondary staff was in his left hand fashioned with a hook that would secure to another loop in order to have two men lead the exceptionally willful and quick beast to where they wanted it to go.
Frank stepped away from the others and tried to block out the sounds of the captured creature being collared and ready for transportation through the woods to the cave where it would be kept from this day forward. The shaman stopped his song instead handing an iPod to the young man who would fit the ear buds into the ear of the creature to listen to songs that had been recorded for this reason exactly. It had happened so many times that now they could stop thinking, could simply go through the motions and for that Frank was grateful remembering the first time he had done exactly this. Back in those days the Shaman stayed and there was comfort to be had in that. “You alright, boy?” He was asked and looked at Paul. Paul had been there for his first and now looked so old.
“I will be, go stay with Mom and Nadine. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He forced a smile, patted the old man on the shoulder and stepped away to take up the second staff and lock it into place. “Let’s go.” He nodded his partner ahead, taking up the left rear of the beast.

It seemed like they walked for hours in the frigid cold to the locked gate that sat upon a naturally formed cave. One that was dug clearly into the wall of the mountain and had no exit, hopefully still had no exit as no one could enter to check. A sigil was painted above the cave, a malformed skull of sorts with Cree glyphs painted along with it. She, the creature he corrected himself, recoiled from it as he opened the gate and released his staff from the lock. “Push it in.” It was easier if you didn’t think of them as being human once upon a time. Always easier. He took up the remaining staff with the other man and shoved hard, pushing this poor white woman through the cage door as shrieked and convulsed only to fall to the ground and begin vomiting a foul smelling bile upon the stone. Frank kicked the cell door closed and fashioned the lock into place. The warding would work for only so long before someday failing and when it did be damned if the reservation wasn’t going to have at least some time to evacuate.
“May the Creator ease your pain and forgive your mistake. Hunger does strange things to people.” He whispered, looking at the snow beneath his feet. “I hope it wasn’t your son that made you this way.” A growl was heard, weak from the depths of the cage. Another set of pale eyes staring from the darkness before the now desiccated creature moved forward and hissed lazily at him. A face much like his own if it had been born from a nightmare. “Hi Dad.” Thirty years almost to the day and the monster hadn’t aged a year. Not one year.
“I don’t know how you can manage to come out here every time. It’s like he knows you’re coming and is trying to figure out where he wants to bite first.” The other man – Trevor? – shuddered despite himself.
“Thirty years of starving, why else would it look like that at me? It’s not like he knew me, I was just a baby.” Frank shrugged; maybe this guy wasn’t named Trevor. He couldn’t really bring himself to care to be honest. “Now I’m just dinner. You accept it, deal with it and move on. Eventually they’ll die. Maybe. Who knows?” It was bleak to think about and even worse when he turned to look at his father, the woman now rousing herself and realizing what had happened almost instantly began throwing herself at the cage door with a shriek. Angry, fearful… Nothing that was new to him. “Just like they all do this. It’s like watching old shows; you know what’s going to happen because they never deviate. Never.” A shake of his head and he sighed, stepping back. “You know it shouldn’t bother me at all, I didn’t know the guy but it broke my mother. She still misses him; sometimes she comes to look at his face… I keep telling her not to but she does. Old woman is never going to learn but she says he was the love of her life. If it were Nadine I’d want her to move on, you know?” Frank rambled, he always rambled it was just how he coped with what he saw. With what he volunteered to do.
“Sometimes you just can’t fucking win, am I right or am I right?” He turned away then and saw the darkness on the snow first, brow furrowing in confusion. There was enough light to make sure that they didn’t have these shadows and they shouldn’t have appeared like splatter patterns. “Trev?” His eyes scanned ahead to the fallen man on the ground, his throat having been ripped out so quickly he hadn’t had time for a death rattle and upon his chest? A small figure no bigger than his own son of about two and a half, suddenly he felt sick and acceptance all at once. Frank was trapped; he would never be able to outrun this tiny creature that would likely tire him before he could make it that kilometer home. In this moment he knew he was done, he knew there was nothing he could do and the sound of hungry screams did nothing to lessen the blow behind him.
One cry however was almost… Joyous? Relieved? It was hard to describe as the female threw herself against the cage door to no avail time and time again. “…Well kid, I wish she had loved you enough to eat you.” The immortal wendigo child turned to him, a mouth full of blood and meat dripping from his small and broken maw while he stared at Frank. For a moment it was as though a stalemate began to declare itself and then… It pounced.

Wet slurping filled the cold night; the child ate like he had never eaten before. The meat was good. Healthy. It felt good between his teeth and sliding down his throat. He played with his meal as all children do, beaming at his mother when he turned to show her the puppet he’d made out of his second kills skull before pushing it forward with a soft croon, his mother whistling softly in the night to him. A lullaby that was for him only while trying to push a hand out from between the bars and found that she could not, so close and yet to so far from the son she’d kept alive for this long. The song turned sad and she found herself lying down, face pressed to the stone and her son soon mimicking the pose she held but out in the snow where she could not reach him. His tiny hand reaching for her but paused mere inches from her own and together they lay, singing softly to one another, waiting for the mark above the cave to simply wear with time.

Credit: Krys Rudderham


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