“It’s perfectly tender now,” said the mother. “Peeling off the bone. Just how you like it.”
“Not overcooked, I hope,” said the father. A dribbling tongue scraped across chapped lips.
Flames licked at the meat on the spit, turning black and glistening with fat. Splitting, cracking sounds from the fire echoed back from the silhouettes of the trees around the clearing. Stars winked down from the distant past.
“Crispy on the outside, tender inside.” Radiating pride, the mother patted her son’s back as he turned the charring flesh slowly.
“Where’d you catch it?” Asked the father, scratching at his tangled grey beard.
“Off in the woods near the road. Never saw it coming.” She laughed.
“Did it run?” Asked her boy, Jack.
“They always run, that’s part of the fun. Chasing them, the adrenaline coursing through your body. Knowing that it’s just a matter of time. Toying with them.”
“No one saw you?” Asked the father, hints of concern in his gravelly voice.
“Of course not. I never get caught. I always bring you the best.” She patted his pot belly lovingly. “My boys don’t go hungry do they. Nothing but the best for you.”
“Thanks mom. What was he carrying? Anything good?”
“Some new boots you might grow into soon. It’s all piled up in the cabin. First, we eat. When we’ve picked him clean, we can go and look at the spoils of the hunt.” Six foot eight if she was an inch, she picked off flesh with her fingers and bounced it on her hands. It flew up and into her mouth. “That’s the stuff.”
Esmerelda turned the focus on her sniper rifle. Wendigos were rare. She’d never heard of a family of them.
“Why don’t they have antlers?” Darren asked, lying by her side with his own rifle.
“Because the antlers thing was an invention of us white people who came to America long after the wendigos. Rule of cool thing I guess, shush. They’ll hear us.”
“I thought they hated fire,” he hissed. The grass on his head wiggled as he looked at her.
“Clearly that’s as much bullshit as the antlers thing. I’m sure a bullet from that Springfield will do just fine. You get the boy; I get the big two. Get ready. As soon as I have them both lined up, I’m going for the shot. When you hear my gun fire, you take your shot at him. Understand?”
“Yes boss.” Even through the leaves and branches covering his ghillie suit she could see his eyes rolling.
“Don’t make me regret bringing you along.”
“Heat vision scopes are awesome. This is just like COD.”
“Don’t say that,” she sighed.
“Damn, that was good, Delilah.” The father wiped a hairy arm across his bloody mouth. “But I’m already hungry again.”
“So am I,” said the boy, Jack
“That’s alright, you know there’s always someone else hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. We never go hungry here in summer.” She stood and stretched. Her head jerked around. “You hear that?” Red eyes stared into the darkness. Night was nothing but a cosy blanket to her. “What the fu-”
Momma wendigo fell with a dripping hole through her glabella. Pappa clutched his leaking chest. Their son heard a bang before he saw his parents fall. Red eyes looked at the red on the silver hair of his father. Life had fled the body of the old man.
He ran. Bangs echoed off the trees around him, reverberating from every direction. Trunks exploded. He hurtled into branches, over ditches, into darkness.
Hunger came second to anger for the first time in his short life. The cabin wasn’t far, an hour’s run at top speed.
“What was that?” Esmerelda asked, standing up. “Come on, he’s getting away.” She began to jog, rifle held out in front of her like a spear.
“It jammed, not my fault,” Darren protested.
“You are responsible for your weapon. No one else but you.” Her voice was a growl. They hunted real monsters. It wasn’t a game. People died.
“But,” he said automatically.
“YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR WEAPON. Never forget that.” Her voice echoed back to them. “If you can’t take responsibility for your mistakes then you’re not ready.”
Camouflage that had made them invisible on the hilltop held them back as they ran headlong into the thick trees of the forest. Esme caught the chest of her son and stared down her scope at the tracks left by the last wendigo of the family.
Residual heat was fading to nothing. She changed the setting to night vision, what had been shades of blue and orange turned all muted greens. The footprints in the forest mud were clear enough.
“Your eyes are better than mine,” Esme whispered to Darren. “Keep your head up and listen well.”
“Yes, mom.” Though he’d messed up, she liked the tone of respect which had replaced cavalier bravado and sarcasm.
Their feet crunched on dry twigs. Boots squelched in sludge. Unseen branches slapped them in the face every few seconds. Black night became blue twilight. Panicked tracks of running became evenly placed steps. Their prey was walking.
Jack wept all the way from the fireside to the cabin. Outside it was run down, deliberately neglected. His parents had nurtured the balance between external neglect and internal care. Unlocking a door which looked as though it had been nailed shut, he pushed inside.
No light broke through the boards put up by his father. Shelves hand carved by his parents held a treasure trove. Camping gear worth thousands had been sorted into categories. Clothing was arranged by size, anything that fit them was on their own hangers. He turned on a wind-up lamp that had a dozen clones alongside it on the shelves.
Ignoring it all, Jack walked to the photograph on the mantle of the fireplace. A polaroid of the trio smiling by a fire sat atop the grey photo of the park rangers who’d used the cabin decades before.
Grabbing the photo, he fell to his knees. Hugging the frame to his chest he roared.
“Hear that?” Darren asked.
“That loud, ominous screaming? No. Completely missed it,” Esme said.
“Remind me, which one of us is the adult?”
“The one who cleaned and tested her rifle before using it.”
“Are you going to throw that back at me forever?” He asked.
“No. Just until I die,” she said. She didn’t need the night vision scope to see the tracks as the sun rose. What she really needed was a hot meal and a shower.
“What if I die first?”
“Don’t even joke about that.” She stopped and glared at him. “You’re my only son. I’m already feeling guilty about bringing you along. You know part of me always thinks I should have put you up for adoption. Not because I don’t love you, Darren. Because I’m scared that you’re going to die the way every one of us dies. It’s addictive, this life. There’s no retirement plan. You get old, you get slow-”
“You get killed,” Darren finished. “I know, Mom. I know the saying.”
“Remember it. If anything ever happens to me, don’t try for revenge. Just go and find yourself a normal life. Will you do that for me?”
“Of course not. Would you?”
She shrugged. She wouldn’t. No hunter would.
Jack’s keen ears twitched at the sound of breaking twigs outside the cabin.
“You aren’t the only one with guns,” he growled below his breath. There were plenty of rifles on the shelves. Hunters walked the woods in the winter when hikers had given up on the trail. Bears took the blame for the people they killed. There was a cave miles away where they left the bones.
“I’ll do it like you taught me, Dad.” He grabbed a rifle, loaded a magazine into the handle and lay down on the floor, aiming at the doorway.
Esmerelda and Darren skirted the derelict shack.
“Only one door,” said the son.
“Which means?” She asked.
“Or he’s laying a trap. One way in means he only has to guard one spot. Reminds me of a vampire den a few years ago. They had a tripwire in the doorway, killed two of us. The rest of them had sub-machine guns. That got three more of us.”
“We could smoke him out? Burn the place down?” Darren’s blue eyes scanned the cabin. “The whole thing is wood. It would burn easy.”
“And it would set the whole forest on fire before we were far enough away. Good idea, but impractical right now.” Her brown eyes scanned the debris sitting in moss and mud around the cabin.
Jack yawned. Hours lying prone on the spongy green floorboards of the cabin were putting him to sleep. Shaking his head and pinching himself only worked for so long.
He woke, drooling over his rifle. It rose, fingers on the trigger. Jack aimed at the door.
It wasn’t the door, or a gunshot. Something was ramming the wall of the shack.
Everything rattled. Items rolled off the shelves. Dust fell from the rafters above.
Jack aimed where he thought they were hitting his home and fired.
The log slipped through Darren’s fingers as he swung it back. A splinter jumped into his palm. His mother’s exhalation meant it was time to ram the wall again. The cut log dented the rotten panel of the cabin and shook it better than an earthquake.
A bullet whizzed across the top of the log, missing Darren’s fingers by a hair.
“Shit.” Blood from a flesh wound highlighted Esmerelda’s camouflage in red.
“Get down!” He yelled.
The log hit the ground with a wet thud. They both dived away as other shots zipped through the cabin wall and raced towards them.
“That’s for mom and dad,” Jack said. He pulled the spent magazine and replaced it without looking away from the wall. He stood, aiming.
Head tilted, he listened.
Little bangs hit the cabin here and there. Not gunshots. Stones.
Jack’s rifle wavered in the air, picking an average between where the rocks were hitting the wall. Picturing the best place to throw them outside, he fired.
“Damn it,” said a killer outside.
Jack smiled and fanned the trigger.
Something struck his arm, throwing him off his feet. A beam of light shone through a single hole in the back wall. Aiming for it, keeping the weight of the rifle on the other arm, he fired back.
While his mother distracted the wendigo at the other wall, Darren snuck towards the hole they had bashed through the side. Putting his rifle to the break, he aimed at the young monster’s head. He exhaled. Jack turned to look the hunter in the eyes. Darren fired.
A spray of blood exited the far side of the wendigo’s head as he fell. Just to be safe, the hunter’s son put a few more rounds in it.
“Good work,” Esme held her arm as she came to look at the body. “Let’s see inside.”
The treasure trove of weapons and clothing was beyond their wildest imagination.
“They must have been doing this for years,” said the son.
“How they got away with it beats me. They won’t be hurting anyone else. Well done, kid. Want some junk food? I’m starving for something greasy. A nice milkshake would be great as well.”
“If you’re paying.” Darren smiled. The smile died when his mother winced and lifted a hand covered in blood away from the wound.
“Definitely. We’re going to have to patch up my ouchy before we go. Looks like they stole a few first aid kits as well. I can show you how it’s done.”
“Sit down in Leatherface’s chair there. I’ll show you how much better I am than you are,” he said. “This place looks Chainsaw Massacre and smells like Chewbacca’s ball sack.”
“I’m not even going to ask how you know what a Wookie’s testicles smell like. Some things are best left unsaid.” She sat, wincing as her son stitched and sterilised her wound.
When he was done, Darren picked up the family portrait. “A mom, dad, and son. That must have been nice.”
Guilt dropped Esmerelda’s head to the floor. She walked out of the cabin. Her son wasn’t meant to be envious of the monsters.
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Right from the captivating title, that graphic narrative and that ending (oh lord! that ending)...great masterpiece! Loved reading it...This has the makings of an anime or at least a full-sized graphic novel/comic!
Thank you. Seeing this as a comic would be cool. Big comic fan?
Great story! Kinda reminds me of a Goosebumps book. I loved the Star Wars reference!
I’ll try to squeeze more Star Wars references into my work for you.
thank you. can you read my new story?
Wow, I cannot believe how many twists and turns you fit into this, Graham! Not an easy feat with only 3,000 words at your disposal, but you managed to fit a novel's worth of content into this piece. The POV switching definitely served this story well. Loved the family dynamics theme going on here, too. The ending was especially poignant. Interesting how Darren more or less comes across as comic relief until that very last line of dialogue, and then everything kind of turns on its head. Those endings are my favorite. Honestly, this was gre...
Thanks Zack. The bit about the stars is because I always remember when scientists talk about the fact the light from distant stars takes thousands of years to get to Earth. The stars in our sky could be long dead by the time their light reaches us.
Enjoyed that you wrote in part from the perspective of wendigos! That's a fun and distinct direction to take the prompt in. In particular, those last two paragraphs packed a massive punch at the very end, right when the reader thought everything was neatly buttoned up.
I like things that aren’t quite a twist but just a gut punch. Information that is a mind blower or something like that but doesn’t say to the reader, ‘you were wrong about your assumptions.’ I was thinking of having the hunters spare Jack but that didn’t seem like something Esmerelda would do.
Just a pointer. I know that blaming the "white people" thing is popular but that doesn't mean everything out there is definitely white people screwing it up. It's assumed antlers were added based on someone's description in 1910ish. Technically, according to natives, wendigos were spirits of pure evil - so they wouldn't be sitting around enjoying a family meal together. Just like someone else created an antler myth - possibly - you could be creating your own myths with this. I've never met a native american that has disputed the antlers, ...
Thank you for the information. Antlers are cool. I like the deer god with epic antlers in Princess Mononoke. I’ve got other work where I was creating my own mythology more, this series started as more of a twilight and underworld parody. I never understood the vampires vs werewolves thing.
I have always thought of forest spirits as looking like ones from Mononoke Hime, so i completely understand where you're coming from with that. Including the little white ones. I was kind of hoping this was tongue in cheek humor - I like parodies but I've found I tend to look for them in everything, so I try not to assume. I've never understood the tropes, either, honestly I was just happy to see someone write about wendigos for once. It's good writing!
This is the vampire/werewolf lover parody one that started this little series. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/fdu4oq/ Museum of Magical Items is also very satirical. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/00pr5k/
This was super fun! I KNEW it was human on that bbq, haha, but that only made me more interested in where the story was going. Great pacing and witty banter between the hunters. The wendigos were only trying to survive. Sure, they liked the thrill of the kill, too, but it was their forest first. Well done!
I think in the original mythology wendigos weren’t a monster that was just supposed to exist naturally. They were people who turned into wendigos as a curse for eating people, embracing cannibalism led to being wendigos. I was imagining them as a family who’d chosen to eat people and become wendigos together.
Oh! I had no idea of the lore. I thought they were like a cousin of our Pacific NW Bigfoot and why they were located along the Pacific Crest Trail. I didn't realize they were actual people who turned into wendigos. Well now, doesn't it make this an even more classic trope of those who are different being targeted by those who don't understand them? I get they kill people to eat but isn't that why one shouldn't hike alone? I mean, at least in the world you've created.
Wouldn’t that be cannibalism victim blaming? I’d blame the boy less, but if they’re not born wendigos then it’s the result of their choices. Plus, if no one hikes alone I wouldn’t get films like Into the Wild with Emile Hirsch and Reese Witherspoon in Wild, which was the film that made me think the Pacific rest Trail would be a great place for a family of wendigos. Tracks with Mia Wasikowska was also really good. I like films about people wandering off into the wilderness.
Haha! Yes, I guess it would be. Those are great films and exactly what I'm talking about; although, I haven't seen Tracks. I do like films with people going their own way but it does come with risk and one must be prepared to pay the toll for the glory of wandering...
If you want to read actual lore about them, reading short stories in fantasy won't give you the actual lore. Here is a site for that: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/windigo
Thanks for the link, Hannah. That’s really interesting. I’ve always liked monster lore. The bit about the wendigos/windigos representing injustices like the forced residential schools Native Canadians had to go and we’re basically murdered at is depressing. I keep reading about that on news websites. The mass unmarked graves at those schools are horrific. Western nations have more than just slavery to atone for. The genocide of native populations in the colonies is something that survivors of those schools still remember.
Hi Graham! This is an interesting one for me, for sure. My husband is an American hunter. I would hope that every hunter holds a code of universal ethics around the sport and the life they take. I think your choice to make it fantasy adds a whole other side to this debate so this story is one I will hold in my mind and chew over a bit. I have to tell you I loved the formatting of this story most of all. It forced me to slow down and speed up in all the right places. I loved this line most of all: Hunger came second to anger for the first...
Thank you Amanda. This is story number five though it doesn’t really matter reading them out of order so much. The first story in the series is Double Murder Al Fresco. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/fdu4oq/ Number two is Down in the Dark, Where the Hunters Lark. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/41hmue/ Three is Catch You Later. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/shsdvu/ Four is called J-Wocking. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/zoa4gx/
Great adventure that picks up speed right from the get go, and I really liked the mother/son relationship. I thought these were some *excellent* descriptions/sentences: “Splitting, cracking sounds from the fire echoed back from the silhouettes of the trees around the clearing. Stars winked down from the distant past.” “Their feet crunched on dry twigs. Boots squelched in sludge.” “Black night became blue twilight.”
Thank you, hopefully it works on its own. I’ve used these characters before and I wanted to keep their story going.
Riveting! I love how you just drop the reader right into the thick of it. It's like "no time to explain, shit's going down!" kind of vibe in the few stories I've read of yours. There were a few places that needed commas and capitalization, yadda yadda, but overall an awesome and exciting story!
I’ll have a look for the commas and capitalisation, feel free to point them out when you see them. Thank you for the kind words and the feedback. What are you working on for this week’s prompts?
OK, I re-read more thoroughly this time (without a toddler bouncing next to me, lol). I guess what I caught earlier were the lowercase "mom" and "dad" that were being used as names in places like this (and a few others): '“I’ll do it like you taught me, dad.” He grabbed a rifle, loaded a magazine into the handle and lay down on the floor, aiming at the doorway.' '“You get killed,” Darren finished. “I know mom. I know the saying.”' I'd also separate this statement with a comma: '“Sit down in Leatherface’s chair there and I’ll show you ho...
I’ve got more ideas but also a baby of my own so I’ll need to see if I have the time. Hopefully at the weekend. Thanks for those fixes. I’ll put them in.
Hey, Graham, that was a great story with an excellent twist. I enjoyed the mother/son relationship. My favourite line: “This place looks Chainsaw Massacre and smells like Chewbacca’s ball sack.” “I’m not even going to ask how you know what a Wookie’s testicles smell like. I found your diction to be outstanding, and this story flowed beautifully. I enjoyed this read. Thank you, Graham.
Thank you, Lily.
You are welcome. LF6