01 Jan The Silence of the North Woods
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"The Silence of the North Woods"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
The first thing I remember of my arrival in Ahtunowhiho, the small Native American village in the northern reaches of Minnesota, was the smell. The familiar aroma of soaked dirt permeated the air and was instantly noticeable as soon as the doors of the cramped, twelve-seater plane were opened. The runway that we landed on almost looked like it could have been constructed a month ago. Not at all because it looked new, but because it looked so…basic. Like it was built for my arrival only. The dirt runway stretched about 950 meters and was accompanied only by a small, one-story concrete building. I had come to this godforsaken no-mans land in order to do research for a book. I was an aspiring author and planned on writing a fictional story set in the wild and needed inspiration. I was also interested in the local legends of the area and the mysterious deaths that were rumored to have taken place near the town.
I was not excited about camping in the coldest regions of the country and being torn from my luxuries for 2 months, but I did it in the name of gathering useful information and becoming inspired. What I experienced though, is something I can barely bring myself to recollect.
A thick pine forest surrounded the runway entirely, with only one solitary trail leading to the main village. I could see patches of unmelted snow that punctuated the landscape and gave the entire area a perpetual moisture. I was still taking in the surroundings when my bags were stripped from my hands and loaded into a pickup truck by a thick, robust man who looked to be about 6’6. Just as my mouth opened to object, a much smaller man stepped out from the truck and came to meet me. “Patrick MacLaren?” He said curtly. “Y-Yes?” I was too startled by the bear of a man who had loaded my bags to give an articulate response. “Afternoon, I’ll be helping you settle in. As soon as your possessions are taken care of we’ll take a drive to the town.” The Bear never said a word and effortlessly tossed the rest of my luggage (which I had considered quite heavy) into the bed of the pickup. The shorter man motioned for me to get into the passenger seat of the truck and shut the door. The Bear hopped into the bed of the pickup and I swear to God the entire vehicle lurched like a boulder had been dropped in. The shorter man hopped into the driver’s side, and before I had time to say anything, hit the gas like he had no time to waste.
“Now that we’re off, I suppose we have time to give you the details. My name is Adrian, I’ll be showing you around and getting you settled in your new lodgings.” I continued scanning the forests. I could just barely make out small clearings that were spaced out every couple hundred yards. “Alright,” I responded “Hey, how did you know my na-” I stopped. Something had just briefly flashed through my peripheral vision. As I turned to look, I was greeted with the same comforting but somehow menacing pines. “Your name? Easy. You’re the only one who’s come here in weeks. We don’t get many tourists around these parts. There was only one name on the ledger and only one man on the plane. I put two and two together.” This left me unsettled, but it made sense. The town is secluded, and had little to offer a normal person.
We soon arrived at Ahtunowhiho and I was checked into the Inn. My room was a loft on the second floor and every item in it seemed to be cloaked in a thin layer of dust. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll only be staying here for one night” I was brought down to the lobby to meet my guide. The man I’d be sharing a tent with for a month. “Patrick,” the short man said “This is Abraham, he’ll be your guide in the wilderness and he’ll give you an insight to the more….in-depth aspects of our culture.” I extended a hand, which he firmly shook. “Nice to meet you.” Abraham said with a nearly expressionless face. “Well then. Now that the introductions are over, I’d say you both better get a good nights sleep. You’ll need it.”
The frigid morning air chilled me to the core. Even under 3 layers I was shivering and could barely feel my nose. Abe and I set out on a small trail and walked for about an hour before we got to our camp site. Something wasn’t right. My guide seemed tense. Overly so. Constantly whipping his head to face something that I never could see, never letting his guard down. Our camp site was in the middle of a large clearing next to a half-frozen lake. I didn’t like being in the dead-center of the meadow; it made me feel so..vulnerable. After the tent was pitched I went on a short walk around the vicinity. I couldn’t shake this feeling of being followed. This eerie veil hung over the very atmosphere of the place. Every time I was sure something would be behind me I would turn to find absolutely nothing. Yet every time I tried focusing on the beautiful scenery, the more haunting it became.
By nightfall I was already regretting this trip. In addition to the lingering paranoia, winds had picked up. Not strong, but just enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand upright. We made a fire and cooked some beans in a pot, but whenever I finally felt relaxed, i’d see something that would make my blood run cold. A figure just barely visible darting into the forest, a twig snapping a few yards behind me. Just something, that would put me on edge again. Abe and I climbed back into the tent and bundled ourselves into sleeping bags. It felt good to be out of the open, but the sobering reality that the only thing separating me from the outside was a thin piece of fabric settled in as well.
I fell asleep surprisingly soon but was woken up by the wind. It was no longer an eerie breeze, but a vehement, blustering storm. The tent was flapping and shaking wildly, and I could hear the trees and grass swaying and rustling violently. I tried to ignore it and buried myself in my sleeping bag, but several minutes later, I heard something that guaranteed me no sleep for the rest of the night. I could hear the wind calling something. The only way recognized this was because the wind had a pattern. The whistling repeated in a way that was unmistakably a voice. After listening for several minutes I could make out what it was calling. DeFago. I had no idea what it meant, but it sounded like a name. “De-FAAAay-go, De-FaaAAAAay-goooo.”
I could barely contain myself. I rolled onto my other side to face Abe. “Do you fucking hear tha-” When I looked over at him, he was huddled in the corner of the tent, shaking, with his head buried in his knees. “Abraham, What the hell is this?!” He didn’t look up. “Hey, you alright? what the fuck is going on?!” Still nothing. I moved toward him and touched his shoulder, which caused him to snap his head up at me, with a look of the most genuine terror I have ever seen. “W-We have to go, have to go now. Now. Have to go. We have to go now.” He stammered. “It’s not safe, we have to go.” As he said this he began to get up and move toward the tent flap.
“Stop, no! We are not going out there. I don’t know what the hell is happening but going out there is the last thing I am doing.” He was not phased by this whatsoever and continued crawling over me. As he reached for the zipper, I grabbed his arm. “Abe! You cannot leave me out here!” He continued to wrestle with the zipper and I grabbed his other shoulder and tried to keep him settled. He grew even more frantic and delivered a strong kick to my chest. I let go of him and fell back down to the tent floor. He opened the tent flap and ran off into the night. “Are you insane?! You can’t leave me out here!” I screamed out at him. I quickly lost sight of him. When I looked out into the night, I was stunned by what I saw. The air was still. The trees and grass were motionless.
“This is impossible.” I thought. Seconds ago the entire tent was being ravaged by a windstorm. Even worse, the wind became silent. I heard screaming, and identified it as Abe. It drew off into the distance and became inaudible. I wanted to cry. I zipped the tent flap up faster than I had ever done anything in my life and huddled in the corner, listening to the intense silence that hung over the outside.
I awoke surprised. Not startled by anything, but surprised. Surprised that I somehow fell asleep, even while gripped by the most intense fear I have ever felt in my life. After making sure that there was nothing outside waiting for me, I gathered my courage and stepped outside. The morning air was crisp and as freezing as ever. My mission was to make it back to Ahtunowhiho. I didn’t bother getting the tent. I simply did not care. All I grabbed was my knife, a jacket, and a few granola bars before heading out. I noticed that, in the patches of snow, there were foot prints. At first resembling human footsteps, but then becoming…distorted. They became longer, more stretched out. After a while I was sure that they were not foot prints coming from a human, not even an animal. The longest set of these prints I saw was roughly five feet. In fact, my own imagination couldn’t create a monster with feet of this caliber.
Then it dawned on me. They weren’t foot prints. I mean they were at first; I could see the pattern of the bottom of Abe’s boots imprinted in the snow. But the long ones? Absolutely not. No, they were drag marks.
The long tracks in the snow were evidence of Abraham’s futile resistance of being pulled and dragged by something. “Oh my God,” I whispered to myself. I sprinted out of the meadow with a pace that would rival olympic. I turned what was once an hour long hike into a 35 minute dash. I wanted to throw my guts up by the time I reached the village. I was greeted by several caring townspeople and was escorted to the local tavern for some hot food and a drink.
An older native of the town sat down with me and listened to my account of the events. “I swear to God, my life, and every dead ancestor I have ever had, that what I am saying is true.” I expected skepticism, but received genuine concern from the man. I think this may have troubled me even more.
“I see.” He responded. “The- the name. What was the name being called?” I tried to recollect what I had heard. “I don’t know. Defay- something? DeFayg..DeFago. DeFago! That’s it.” The look on the man’s face told a story on it’s own. “Why? Does that mean something? Is it important at all?” The man remained silent for a few seconds before responding. “DeFago…was a prominent hunter. He lived many years ago. Before I was born. One night, he never returned. The same night, a horrible storm came over the entire region.” He quickly ended the sentence and looked down at the table, looking as though he had made a mistake. I was frustrated at this horribly vague and seemingly useless information. I could tell he was hold something back. Something important. “And? What happened? How is that important? What the hell does this all mean?” I responded rather aggressively. The old man sat still as a statue for what seemed like ages, but finally whispered “The Wendigo…” Every head in the tavern simultaneously turned and glared at the back of the man’s head. And then turned to me.
“What the hell is the Wendigo?” The tavern patrons continued glaring at the both of us with a twisted look of suspicion and fear. Even The Bear looked worried. Reluctantly, the old man responded “It is something we try to escape…” My look of confusion at his answer must have spurred him into elaborating, “The legend holds that it survives on the flesh of humans. It may have even been human once before, but no longer. It is a vile creature that stands taller than any man and can strip the flesh from bones. It grows stronger with the very acknowledgement of it’s existence, and seems to have returned from whatever darkness it has hidden in for so long.” He paused, “Before, the Wendigo only took several people a year. We simply accepted it as life.” The man turned to face the rest of the tavern goers, “Over time, the town vowed to adopt a silence. Never to speak of or even acknowledge the Wendigo, and soon, miraculously, the abductions waned.”
I looked up form my food, trying to process what I was hearing “And DeFago?” The man nodded, “DeFago was the one man who attempted to conquer the Wendigo. Like I said, he never returned.” But there was one more thing. One thing that didn’t add up. Abraham.
Why was he so disturbed? Why was he driven insane by the wind and why did he frantically dart into the night like a madman? “What did Abraham have to do with any of this?” A somber look came over the man’s face. “It’s time for you to go home. Adrian can arrange for your flight to be rescheduled for tomorrow morning.” I got up to leave and as I walked through the door, the bar patrons never shifted their gaze from me.
I wanted answers, but I was exhausted and already overwhelmed by this impossible information. After weighing my options, I decided that I had to spend another night out in the woods. To this day I have no idea what came over me. I can’t imagine what could have motivated me to spend a night in the belly of the beast, that not twelve hours before, had abducted and most likely killed an innocent man. Whether it was the goal of being able to write about my experiences, a need for closure, or pure delirium, something, made me go back out there.
My walk through the woods was even worse, because this time I was alone. I didn’t even try to convince someone to go with me. Something told me that I had doomed the entire town just by raising this monster from the dead. Breaking the silence. The ever-present voyeuristic and dreadful paranoia was now piled on with a load of guilt. I finally made it to my camping grounds and noticed that not much had changed. The looming trees remained standing and the sickening drag marks on the snow still sat on the ground. I couldn’t take it. I kicked the snow over to erase the marks and footprints.
I followed the tracks, continuing to erase them, to the tree line. The edge of the meadow. I could see the kicked up dust and dirt in the woods. But there was something else. A massive wound on a tree. Like someone had taken a jack-hammer through it. And on another one just a few feet further, looked like a massive claw-mark. Almost like when a wolf marks their territory. But this looked as if something had just scraped it while walking through the forrest. I felt sick. I went back to my tent and waited for nightfall.
The wind picked up again. Not nearly as bad, but still enough to shake the tent. I knew it was time. I stood up and got out of the tent. The night was illuminated by a soft but passing moonlight, as the clouds repeatedly obscured it from view. This time, the wind had a physical effect. I could see the trees swaying softly and the grass pressed over in one direction. I couldn’t tell if this was comforting or not. I switched on my flashlight and scanned the perimeter. Nothing. After standing in the wind for a while longer I decided to go back in my tent and wait some more. I turned on my heel and nearly fainted at what I saw.
There it was…standing directly behind the tent. It towered at least a foot taller than me, and looked straight down with eyes like a hawk. It’s head resembled that of a human, but had teeth like a canine. In place of a nose, there was a short, bulldog-like snout, and long, wispy, facial hair sat on it’s face. I could see pointy ears poking through the long, grayish-black mane that ended just before it’s waist, with locks of hair hanging over it’s shoulders. But it’s arms. Oh God it’s arms. They were incredibly long, with it’s fingers ending below its knees. It’s fingernails looked as though they could carve through steel. The body was lean and sinewy, with a pale gray complexion hidden under a very thin layer of hair and fur. The lower body looked as though it was covered by torn cloth wrapped around the waist, and I could see a fragment of the leather jacket worn by my former guide. I knew what it was. there was no mistaking it. It was what I was told of, WARNED of.
It was the Wendigo.
My voice was lost. I could barely breathe let alone form a coherent thought. I didn’t know what to do. I took half a step back, but before my foot even touched the ground, it suddenly crouched and leaped over the tent on all fours, knocking into me and ripping through my side with it’s massive talons. I scrambled to get away and began to frantically crawl towards the tree line. Violently snarling, it grabbed my leg and pulled me back at least five feet. My god it’s strength was incredible. I was nearly lifted off the ground by the force.
I rolled onto my back and met it’s gaze yet again. I could see it’s hot breath steaming out of its nose in the cold night air. It let out a blood curdling screech and pounced for me. I rolled, with great pain, several feet away, narrowly missing the creature’s fatal strike. On its fours, it turned to face me again. I pulled out my knife, faced it upwards, and closed my eyes. This was it. I would die, but at least get one good shot in. It leaped for me, but was impeded by the blade. I heard the knife stick into the right side of it’s chest, causing the monster to release a foul screech a mere foot from my ears. It’s breath stunk of rotting flesh and stale blood and nearly made me vomit.
My ears rang, but I somehow got to my feet and began a desperate, adrenalin fueled sprint to the tree line. As my hearing returned, I listened to the monster snarling with anger behind me. I hoped against hope that it hadn’t begun to chase after me; if it did, I was done for. I made it to the edge of the forest and dodged several of the massive pines, while continuing to hold my bleeding abdomen. I could make out the trail in the dim moonlight and summed up all the strength I had to make it there.
I never slowed my pace, for fear that if I let up for even a second, I’d be back in the arms of the beast. I ran out onto the trail and was instantly assaulted by a blinding light and a force that felt as if an elephant had rammed into me. Before I knew it, I was flying, and landed with a thud onto the dirt road. I opened my eyes and saw three figures. Two of them, were natives of Ahtunowhiho, stepping out the truck they had just hit me with, the other, was the Wendigo. It was standing silhouetted against the moon at the edge of the dirt path opposite of me. It ripped the knife out form it’s chest and dropped it on the ground with almost an air of arrogance. I tried to get to my feet but felt fiery, staggering pain in my left leg. One of the men helped me get to my feet and practically dragged me to the vehicle and tossed me into the truck bed like I was a sack of potatoes. The force of landing on my broken leg brought tears to my eyes, but I was just to relieved to care. The man who brought me to the truck was The Bear. I didn’t have to see his face to know who that body and personality belonged to.
The other man stood in terror in front of the monster, raising a pistol before him. Before he could pull the trigger, the Wendigo grabbed the mans leg and dragged him off into the woods. I could hear screaming, and the sound of boots scraping against earth and snow.
I don’t remember what happened after that. I woke up in a hospital in Minneapolis, where a pretty nurse told me in a comforting voice that I was brought here by helicopter after a man found me on a trail. Apparently I was attacked by a bear on a rock climbing expedition. I knew it was completely untrue, but I just nodded my head and on the pillow.
Now i’m here, many years later, with a family of my own. I realized I could never publish what I saw in a book. If it really does grow strong with belief of it’s existence, I just couldn’t. Who knows what i’ve doomed Ahtunowhiho to after going hunting for this thing. Generations of torment from the Wendigo? I don’t know. Writing this here, putting it on this site…gives me closure in a way. Just letting it out and being able to tell my story…helps. At least here no one will take it seriously.
I learned just a few years ago, after researching the small town, that DeFago, the hunter, was Abraham’s great-grandfather, and that Abraham’s own daughter was taken by the Wendigo ten years before I arrived in the town. I felt bad that he died in the way he did, but maybe now he’s with her somewhere. I like to think that.
Some people can move on from traumatic events. I guess in a way I have. I still get paranoid when the wind picks up. I can’t stand going on camping trips, and to this day, on some nights… I swear I can still hear the wind calling my name.
Authors Note – This story was inspired by Native American Folklore and a classic short tale written in 1981 by Alvin Schwartz included in “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” I hope my reboot of the classic story was worthy and I hope you enjoyed, Thank you.
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