Return to the Wendigo
There are times when, as a writer, you immerse yourself into your project. I'd go so far as to say it's the equivalent of method acting. You want to give your creations individuality. A voice of their own. You want to get the feel of your characters. You give the backstory. You do the research. You slip and slide out of one rabbit hole and down into the next. All to lead up to that “how did we get here” moment.
The same with what inspires us to write within our respective genres. Inspire as in, well, what is the source of our inspiration? It can come from anything, anyone, any source. Collectively referred to as our Muse.
I want to say this is true of all writers and of all genres. But in this case, I’ll only speak for myself. I write in multiple genres, but for this situation, the focus is horror.
Now, when I’m inspired to write, I affectionately say my Muse is whispering sweet nothings in my ear again. Upon which I reach for my Pilot G-2 pen and start scribbling in my notebook.
Okay, so why am I starting my story with this? I don't know, for context, I guess. To kinda sorta help with the “how did we get here” moment of the story.
My Muse. I’ve learned to listen to her when she speaks. And as a horror writer she’s taken me to some pretty dark places. Some much darker than others.
I have a personal fitness trainer who's been guiding me towards achieving my weight loss goals. Her workout routines are pretty intense, to put it mildly. Most sets, when I'm grunting and groaning and feel like I have nothing left in the tank, she know just what to say (and how to say it) to get me to dig just a bit deeper to get through the set, albeit with sweat pouring profusely and drenching my clothes. Usually at the end of our sixty-minute sessions, I'm sitting in my car wheezing and clutching my chest.
Just when I think I'd gotten as dark as I would get in my stories, my Muse knows just what to say (and how to say it) to get me to go another shade darker. Up the tension, another level to the creep factor. My wendigo story I wrote last year was a prime example. Prior to writing the story, I knew very little about the creature. By the time I’d done the research, separated fact from fiction, the difference between the Wendigo legend and the Wendigo psychosis, I felt I knew more than I ever wanted to know about the beast. A creature who was once a man. A man who gave in to a gnawing hunger and consumed human flesh.
It is said that when an animal kills and eats a human, it loses its taste for any other food source. There’s a word for people that eats other humans.
But when the hunger grows, when the desire for any other food source is lost, when all that is left is the taste for human flesh, then sets in the wendigo psychosis. But let’s get deeper.
What happens when the body changes? Adapts for living in a harsh outside environment? Away from mainstream civilization. Evolves to sustain itself between feedings? Driving by hunger, living only for the next kill. Equipped to be the perfect predator.
Again, how did we get here.
My first wendigo story had taken place in the woods of a small and sleepy Canadian town. The woods were both home and prison to the creature. It was the town’s well known and best kept secret. I told my story in "found footage" format. My readers with right there with my characters as the story unfolded. The watched the footage of the sole survivor of the wendigo's attack. Running for his life in those dark woods.
The story did not have a happy ending.
Now, as a horror writer, my own projects have never bothered me with setting pen to paper. That is, not until I wrote the story of the wendigo. Probably because I wrote it with such realism without going too over the top.
Thing is, I swore that once I was done with my first wendigo story, I’d never go back. I'd immersed so much of myself in that writing. But it would appear I’m being denied a choice. My Muse wants me back in those Canadian woods. To once more face off with the creature that never dies, and forever hungers.
And as all writers know, what the Muse wants…
I hear her whisper the opening line. Setting the scene. She wants me to pick up my Pilot G-2 pen. I know she’s waiting. My Muse. I know what she wants. I close my eyes and give a sigh of exasperation. I’m hesitating. Because I know the creature is also waiting. He's out there. And I’ve already seen what he wants.
Then with a swipe of the pen, a few words written on paper, I’m back again. It's the end of Summer, the edge of Fall. Never wanted to come back to these woods. It was still unusually dark here, even with the fading sunlight. I take a walk down a semi-worn trail. An attempt to get my bearings again. The more I walked, the dimmer the sunlight. The farther into the woods I got, the less clear the path. Trees were closer together. Grass became higher. I could barely make out the tamarack and birch. I could smell Jack Pines, though, a reminder that I was definitely in Canada once more. With the sun setting, the shadows stretched longer, the branches looking like long gnarled fingers.
The smell of Jack Pines was there, true. But there was something else. Faint, but noticeable. They say nothing associates a memory more than the sense of smell. And what was wafting along the wind brought to mind an image I’d rather forget.
I wrote the wendigo as freakishly tall. Like a basketball player. But it was gaunt, like its skin was stretched too tight across its body. The boniness made the limbs look abnormally long, like it had been stretched on one of those Dark Ages torture racks. His skin was gray. Like, an ashy gray. Like, volcanic ash mixed with dirty flour. Its bald head looked a little too big for his neck, and when it opened its mouth, its jaw went slack like a snake, to make it open wider and show the savage nature of his razor sharp teeth. I made its eyes a hazel gray. Because the skin on its head was stretched back and tight, it made his eyes look big. But I put something in those eyes. They somehow managed to look both hurt and hateful at the same time.
I try to shake the thought from my mental and continue walking.
Never wanted to write about the creature again. Last time I was here, I barely escaped. Rather, my body did. But my mental. My mind’s eye still sees what the creature did to one of my characters. Dee was part of a husband and wife social media influencer duo. The two, who labeled themselves as the Couple Without Fear, were in the middle of filming a segment when the creature caught them by surprise. I still hear Dee being dragged through the brush and undergrowth. The crunch of bones. The sucking sounds. The creature had grabbed an unconscious Dee by her leg. He peeled off her pants like the strips of a banana skin. Its jaw went slack, exposing rows of shark-like teeth. Just then Dee opened her eyes. The wendigo allowed her one final scream before it bit deep. Her husband, Sam, knocked against a huge boulder when the wendigo first attacked, tracked and found the creature just as his wife was being eaten. He fired shot after shot into the monster. The only thing Sam's bullets managed to do was turn the creature's attention on him.
Sam, who was never afraid of anything in his adult life, now knew nothing but fear and abject terror. A chase ensued. As Sam ran, both writer and reader ran with him, as the cameras attached to the reality star were still filming. What Sam couldn't see behind him, I could. The creature gaining on him, on us. Reaching out. Grabbing Sam's shirt.
Once again, I try to ignore the first story and continue walking. It's completely dark now. I’m seeing only by moonlight and memory. Twigs are scraping me. I stop to pluck a leaf from one of the low hanging branches before I continue on. The trail opens up into a wider space. Taller grass. Fewer trees. That scent I smelled earlier? It’s stronger now. That of rotten flesh, molded meat. A warm organic stench. I hate it here. This darkness reeks of defeat and despair. This forest is cursed. Still, I keep writing. Preparing for the inevitable.
Laura Argyle. Late twenties. She and her husband Joe thought an overnight camping trip would rekindle their marriage. Together for three years. No kids. Not without trying. And not without frustration. Frustration forged out of failure. But both were lovers of the outdoors. Perhaps a bit of time around the campfire would put the spark back into the romance. It was only supposed to be for one night. But tonight makes three. Laura hadn’t seen Joe since this morning. Right now, all she wants is to find her husband, get out, and give him that son that he wanted, or that daughter she'd hoped for.
As soon as Laura sees me, her mind goes where it shouldn’t.
“A rescue party! Oh, thank God. I was so lost. My Joe, I can’t find him! And I think there’s something in here with us. Some…I dunno...thing of some sort!"
I look at her with sadness. How do I tell her she will never see Joe again? That there will be neither son nor daughter? How do I tell her I’m the one who wrote her here?
“And you know the way out of here?” Apparently Mrs. Argyle had been rambling on hysterically while I’ve been wrestling with the inner demons of a writer.
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
Laura doesn’t hear the nearby bushes rustling. She doesn't see what’s coming from behind. She thanks God once more. But then she notices my expression as I looked over her shoulder. My head lowers for what’s next.
“What? Well? Can you get us out or not?”
I can’t look her in the eyes, but she deserves to know. I owe that much. I owe her a lot more. I give her what I can.
“Can I? Yes. Will I? I’m so sorry.”
I look away as the wendigo grabs a fistful of Laura’s hair. Laura screams as the horror that had been stalking her in these woods makes itself known. In her final seconds of life, she curses me, curses God. I want to curse my Muse for making me write this.
The wendigo gives a quick twist of his victim’s neck and chomps down on her throat. He consumes Laura Argyle in quick ravenous fashion. I spare gory details. Perhaps out of respect for Laura and Joe. What the creature did to Joe. No one deserved to die that way. Joe felt every bite. Every rip of his flesh. End the end, I put him in a state of shock. He died thinking of his wife. Wishing he could have given her that daughter he knew she wanted.
The creature, every bit as horrifying as I wrote him the first time. He then turns to me. taller than I am, he gives me a look with those bestial eyes. Taking in my measure. There's a look of familiarity. As if he’s trying to remember something.
“The hunger. Never ending. Ever burning.”
I’d forgotten I’d written him with the ability to speak.
It’s just him and I now in these woods. Man and monster. I pray for a moment of peace. A measure of grace. I know it won’t last.
My Muse is whispering again.
Someone is behind me. I know who it is without looking.
“How do I get out of here? What the hell? My God! What kind of creature is that?”
“No.” I cry out to the growing darkness. "Of all people. Why her?”
I turn just in time to see her run. Even from behind, even from a distance, she’s so beautiful.
The wendigo takes off after her. As he passes by me, we exchange a glance. There’s a wicked gleam in his eye. He knows he will catch her before she escapes these woods.
“You escaped.” He says to me. “She won’t.”
With the wendigo's last words, my Muse goes silent.
I draw a line through her name on the page. Too late. She’s now canon. She’s now a part of the story. The creature’s eyes. That gleam. I wonder, does he know who she is. Does he know what she means to me?
Still, my Muse is silent, so I take it as a sign. I let my pilot G-2 drop. No more writing for now. The pen lands on her name on the page. I push my chair back and step away from the story. I’ll return to it one day. One day soon. I'll have no choice. I'll be inspired to. And when I do, the name on the page dies. She will be eaten by a creature of my own creation. It shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I need air. I need to let the leash out a bit. The gym is just a few miles away. Maybe a quick workout will do me some good before my Muse whispers sweet nothings in my ear again.