I am just an old man now, kiseyiniw, but I have known the fear of the wendigo since I was a child.  

He was born under the Great Moon, the full moon of deepest winter.  There was much snow and hardship, but the hunting was good that year, and he grew strong.  He grew to be a great hunter and warrior.  He suffered many hardships with his people, and was a great leader for them.  It is a sad story.

That summer, they smoked the pipe with the red feathers.  Blackfoot war cries had disrupted the Cree camp too many times.  Burned tepees littered the earth, and Cree canoes lay in pieces on the shore of the river to the east.  A cluster of graves continued to grow to the north.  The frequency of the attacks meant the Cree had not dared send too many men out to hunt, and women were not safe to venture into the woods to gather berries.  Food was becoming scarce, concerning for the summer months when they should be celebrating the earths bounty.  

One morning, a young man told the chief that he had dreamt of a successful hunt.  The chief was an old man, and wise, so he heeded the young man’s powata, his spirit guides, and that night they were able to hold a proper feast.  Cree drums filled the air, which was thick with the smell of the roasting caribou.  For most of the tribe, the difficulties of that summer were briefly forgotten.

One warrior- the bravest, on whose head sat many eagle feathers, the one who had seen his tribe endure too much hardship- was conspicuously absent from the celebration.  He had been in the medicine man’s tent all day, and did not join in the festivities. 

Everyone in the tent had a share of the caribou, and that night the tribe had their first restful sleep on full bellies in many weeks.  

As the sun covered the earth in gold and green, the warriors and their families were awoken by a familiar sound.  The Blackfoot had returned.  

This time, as Cree warriors clashed with Blackfoot, clubs and spears and daggers flying, the warrior did emerge from the medicine man’s tent.  Curls of black smoke followed his bare feet and spread atop the soil under him.  Despite the fighting around him, the warrior wore no shirt, only his buckskin leggings and breechcloth.  He stumbled forward a few steps, then fell to his knees, screaming.  This was no war cry.  It was the howl of deepest despair.  The sound enveloped his core and squeezed until there was nothing left.  He reached up, tearing out clumps of long black hair.  The desperate cry continued, as he felt his heartbeat slow, his heart chill, the blood coagulate and become sluggish in his veins.  A pain greater than arrows, smarter than fire, heavier than the loss of his boy, tore him apart.  His eyes rolled up to his head and he fell forward.   Blood stopped bringing life to muscles and bones and soul.  The war drums ceased.  Despite the ongoing sounds of battle, the wails of those mortally wounded and cries of those attacking, the nearby warriors were alarmed by the sound and looked around, concern breaking the aggressive stances of both sides.

The fighting picked back up around him; Cree blood splattered his white feathers.  Short minutes passed.  The warriors copper skin darkened making the great wings of his eagle tattoo barely visible on the now sickly green hue.  Suddenly his body began to jerk, as if pulled by invisible hands.  His head lifted back, too far for a human neck, the base of his skull stopping against his back.  He cried again, this time a terrifying, furious, shriek.  Rising slowly, seemingly oblivious to the fighting surrounding him, his head rolled on his shoulders and his eyes opened wide.  The whites were now red, the irises once a warm, golden brown, now an iridescent purple.  

He clenched his fists and the sharp sound of bones snapping filled the air.  He ground his teeth as fire tore through his bones and joints, and he grew twelve inches in a mere moment.   A searing pain stabbed the end of each finger.  Opening his trembling hands, he saw that great nails, almost talons, had sliced through the skin of his fingertips which now dripped chunky crimson puddles at his feet.  The warrior shook, his body exhausted by agony. He started to send a silent message to the clouds, to the great Thunderbird, to take his life and spare him this torture, but he stopped short.  He had chosen this path.  He must endure.  He will survive all, for the sake of his people.

Fire engulfed his skin, and it tightened uncomfortably around his muscles and pulled them against his bones.  An ache like the pounding of clubs took hold of his head and he let it fall back, an unearthly wail pouring forth from between rows of now sharply curving teeth.  The warrior then felt an all-consuming hunger even the longest winter hadn’t shown him.  He screamed again, the horrible noise rebounding from the clouds above and slamming into the earth below, freezing every human within earshot.  He felt a gnawing in his gut, and blinking the blood out of his eyes, looked down to see his stomach suck up and create a cavern under his ribs.  The ache for nourishment quickly dispersed logic, emotion, temper, self-control.  

He was hunger.  

He blinked again and his opaline eyes, his soul -mistapew- and his humanity, all went to black.

The creature that had been a great Cree warrior, defender of his people, turned to its right and cocked its head to the side, observing a Cree warrior under attack from a much larger Blackfoot.  It stepped to the side with unnatural efficiency, so fast that the fighters didn’t see it approach, and reached out.  It grabbed the Blackfoot’s arm mid-strike, and deftly yanked it out of its socket.  The creature, ignorant of the Blackfoot warriors shocked screams, looked down at the blood pulsating out of what had once been a bicep.  It hissed an exhale and brought the limb to his mouth.  The flesh was sweet and warm and the blood sticky and satiating.  He devoured the arm in minutes and the hunger in his gut was momentarily appeased.  The second the creature’s lips twisted into a smile, the craving returned, and he looked up at the man whose arm he’d removed, and saw only his next meal.  

Blackfoot warriors, alerted by the traumatized shrieks of their companion, swarmed the creature.  They were brave men, and though the creature grunted at each knife strike it never seemed to take permanent damage.  The monster swatted clubbed arms away, or removed them altogether.  It pulled long Blackfoot braids to access a neck throbbing with hot blood.  It sunk its teeth in, drinking noisily, finally biting down, pulling away with strings of muscle tissue between it lips.  The Blackfoot were not fools.  They knew this creature was no man; no napiw, would fight in such a manner.  It had made swift work of them all.  In minutes every Blackfoot warrior within reach had been torn apart, and those out of the creature’s clawed range, who still possessed the means to do so, had fled in terror.  

While the Cree warriors stood anxious guard, spears at the ready, this creature, this abomination of humanity, feasted upon the bodies heaped around it.  As the monster gnawed on a rib of its last victim, the medicine man approached.  The once-warrior looked up, black eyes shining, bright red life dripping from its chin.  Its once beautiful quillwork breechcloth, once brilliant in crisp lines of turquois and white, was now smeared with the blood of Cree enemies.  

The medicine man’s kind eyes surveyed the gory scene before them.  He clenched his jaw, blinking.  He inhaled, grimacing at the pervasive iron smell, and straightened his aged, curving back.  He stood tall, and spoke to the creature, looking it in its onyx eyes.  He told it that its work for the day was done, and it must leave this place so that they could gather their dead and tend to their wounded.  He called the creature Wendigo.

September 16, 2023 00:07

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