It was early autumn, and the air had a chill bite to it; mist still clung to the valley below. Glenn opened his jacket to check the gun he carried in a shoulder holster, a nine-millimeter. He kept two spare clips in his belt.
Just after the sun rose, Glenn had packed up his camp, ate a can of cold baked beans for breakfast, and started up the old mountain trail he’d slept at the bottom of.
Glenn was a private investigator in Denver. He’d been hired by a wealthy Native American to find his son.
For over sixty years, the trail, Bearwood, had been closed. When it had originally been opened, in the late thirties, it wasn’t very popular. After two hikers had been mauled (the official report stating by a Kodiak bear) the trail was closed and all but forgotten. (Forensics reports estimated by the claw and teeth marks would had to have belonged to a bear about twenty feet tall, an impossibility, and were not released to the press.)
Two weeks before, the trail had been re-opened. In that time, seven people, including the Indian, Jonathan Swiftfoot, Glenn’s mark, had disappeared.
Glenn took out his notebook, rings arranged at the top to compensate for his left-handedness, and flipped through it for the trail map.
“No wonder it wasn’t very popular.” he mumbled to himself. The red line that indicated the actual trail was so twisted and convoluted it nearly touched or crossed over in many places.
He folded up the map. “Now or never.” Glenn started up the trail.
Two of Glenns talents that lead him to become a PI, was his attention to detail, and a photographic memory.
He scrutinized every inch of the land around him, from the metallic, navy blue weevil crawling on a fern leaf, to the wet sheen on the rocks that lined the overgrown trail. Were it not for his discerning eyes, he would have missed his first clue.
Glenn reached in his pocket to get a headband to hold back his hair, a plastic bag, and some forceps. His face scrunched up. “Jesus.”
Less than a mile into the trail, he’d found something very curious, a small shred of white cotton knit, and a bloody tooth. He placed them in the bag, sealed it, and replaced it into his coat pocket. He marked the location on the map.
He checked his watch, five thirteen. He wrote everything down in his notebook.
The torn knit wasn’t, by itself, very odd. Glenn had found it hanging on a broken-off branch from a fallen tree. Small accidents were a common problem with hikers, especially when leaving the designated trail, as this person had apparently done. Glenn flipped through his notebook to the pictures, hoping to match the material to the clothes of one of the missing persons.
No such luck.
Closer inspection on the material revealed that it was from a sock. Interesting, most established hikers used wool socks, especially this time of year.
Glenn checked the list:
- Jon Swiftfoot
- Martina Cormier
- Stephen Dunst
- Karen Blackburn
- Philip Parkinson
- Jeffrey Roberge
- Robin Bellamy
Philip had the least experience hiking, as a matter of fact, this was to be his first time.
This probably wasn’t going to turn him into a hiking fanatic.
Glenn’s first clue was a torn piece of sock and a bloody human tooth. Only one clue, and already signs of violence.
It was curious, though. Philip disappeared two days before. That might be plenty of time for nature to cover up most tell-tale signs of pursuit or struggle, but there would still be broken branches, trampled foliage, and footprints. None were apparent. That was very odd.
Glenn followed the trail for several more miles, and found several more clues.
No. Not clues, really, more like unusual articles found in unusual places.
Most of the evidence he found seemed natural enough, if not a bit strange.
He thought more about his first clues. The sock piece and tooth, at first, seemed simple enough to explain, but…
How could a branch scrape, harsh enough to tear a sock, not cut the victim? The sock sample should have some blood on it, but did not.
Then there was the bloody tooth. How on Earth could someone lose a tooth in a manner messy enough to leave it bloody, but intact, and not have some trace of breakage? Plus, there were no signs of that anyone had ever been in the area which was covered in foliage. Not a single plant was out of place.
It had been placed there.
Glenn suddenly felt very, marrow freezing, cold.
He was standing in a clearing, the sun now a quarter of the way in the sky, but it provided no warmth.
He felt silly, paranoid. But someone seemed to be leading him.
The forest was shattered by a strange bird-call that came from behind Glenn, down the trail the way he had come. It was an odd mix of a crow’s caw and the shrill cry of an eagle, grotesquely melding into an atonal, reverberating, cacophony. The cawing faded into the call of an owl, mixing with the continuing eagle shriek. Glenn felt as if he were being watched; unseen eyes piercing his back from whence he came, boring holes through him. He could feel the gaze as if it were a malign, physical presence.
He glanced over his shoulder, back down the trail. The early morning shadows seemed darker suddenly. The colors of the forest had not changed, but the shadows, usually a deep gray, were now a rich black. It was as if the woods themselves were cloaking the invisible watcher that was observing the private-eye.
Glenn decided it would be best if he kept moving. He poured over the clues he’d already discovered, and kept an eye peeled for more.
So far, in addition to the tooth and knit, he’d found a baseball hat that was somehow soaked with water(he’d found it in a bush): a Swiss Army knife with all of its attachments out in display fashion, stuck in a tree: a brush with a huge wad of blonde hair tangled in it, along with a small piece of scalp: and a glove, with holes in all the fingertips, and a gash in the palm, lining the blue suede with blood.
So far, only the glove seemed remotely accidental.
Glenn had been planning on digging into a granola bar in his pocket a few minutes ago, but now his appetite eluded him.
This case was getting too weird. Placed, morbid clues, the feeling of being watched…
Maybe it was a hoax. Some twisted little game, or a test. But no, this was too strange. The whole situation almost seemed to be getting dangerous, as well. Too much blood so far, Glenn tried to avoid getting too close to murderers and sadists if possible.
The thought had crossed his mind to turn back around and report the incidents to the police.
Just then the wind picked up, and quite a bit, too. He heard a chink, as if someone had dropped a glass, but didn’t break it. The wind died abruptly. Glenn’s eyes were wide and he was shaking.
He glanced down. At his feet was a full, unopened bottle of beer.
He picked it up. Something was scrawled on it in black. Glenn dug into his pocket for a magnifier. When he found it, he deciphered the words.
Continue forth, I may let you live,
Turn around, I won’t let you leave.
Glenn felt cold again, painfully cold.
He drew his gun and cocked the hammer back. He determined that if anything showed him a piece, he was going to blow it off. Shoot first, ask questions later: not the best line of reasoning, but at the moment, the most appropriate.
He stuffed the bottle in his backpack for fingerprinting later, if there was a later.
This case was turning out to be very sinister.
Glenn was in his early thirties, rather thickly built, slightly muscular, and not unattractive in the least. He had a lot to live for. The last thing he needed was to be stalked through the woods by a psychopath who already was probably responsible for seven disappearances.
He shook his head. “Screw it.”
He turned to walk back down the trail, out of the woods.
It was gone. No trail. Not even a hint beneath the brush.
The trail began where his feet touched the ground.
Glenn was shaking now, violently in anger, fear, and frustration.
The cawing shriek began again, this time mixed with the low growl of a mountain lion and the howl of a wolf. He almost thought he heard a strange, asexual voice say, “Continue.”, so he did.
More “clues” piled up, even stranger and sicker than the previous few.
A boot hung from the top branches of a fir tree, strung up by the laces, dripping a dark liquid. Closer inspection: blood.
“Great.” Glenn said, trying to cover the waver in his voice from no one in particular.
Two or three miles further, crossing a bridge over a gorge that was not marked on the map, Glenn saw an unusual outline in the rushing water below.
At first, it looked like a large stone with a weeds growing on it, with a large stick stirring up next to it occasionally. He looked through his binoculars.
In the current below, no weeds could possibly grow. The stick should have washed downstream long ago.
Glenns fears were confirmed when he looked through the binoculars. The rock was a head, and the stick was an arm, minus the hand. A body.
The voice again. “No fair,”
The sky began to darken, and thunder cracked. Glenn jumped, dropping the binoculars in the process. He stared in disbelief as they exploded on the rocks below.
Never before had his sanity seemed so fragile. He’d always prided himself on being strong, observant, and not easily manipulated, he had just played into the hands of the biggest trickster he’d ever run into. His confidence was more than faltering.
“Keep going, it’s almost over.”
Glenn didn’t like that comment. Almost any word would have been more comforting than “over”.
Glenn had never been a defeatist. He’d always tried to remain optimistic until he was proven completely hopeless. His views were changing rapidly.
He worked his hand into his jacket and rested it onto his gun for comfort. It provided little, because Glenn doubted if whatever was haunting him would even notice it had been shot.
He continued up the trail. The upward slant of the mountain and the convoluted path were taking their toll on him.
The sky was darkening further, clouds rolling in with distant claps of thunder. Glenn decided to break before the storm hit. If his antagonist was anxious, it didn’t show. Nothing bothered him as he drank a bottle of water, ate his granola, and groped through his pack. He ignored his clue-book, everything he’d gathered so far seemed bogus. All of it bait, tailor made for him.
His fingers closed on his goal. Glenn withdrew a Ziploc bag containing the only three non-work related objects he allowed himself when taking a case, a copy of Lord of the Flies, which he was reading for the third time, a cellular phone, and a small, framed picture of his wife, Gail.
Gail was thin, frail, but the most beautiful woman Glenn had ever met. He’d been with her for the past two years, and had been married for six months.
She was nervous about his job, but understood that he loved his work almost as much he loved her. She always got a little sick before he left for a case, this time had been no exception. Gail seemed to have a touch of the stomach flu when Jon Swiftfoot’s father called him in. Glenn promised to return as soon as possible. Now he doubted if he would ever leave.
“I’ll make it.” He whispered to himself, though he lacked conviction.
Gail was fragile, she needed Glenn. There was no sense in getting killed needlessly. He would call for help.
As he took out the phone and extended the antenna, he was overcome with a wave of drowsiness. All worries were forgotten momentarily, he fell into an unwilling slumber.
Glenn felt cold. Strange little pinpricks of ice and water struck him on various parts of his body. He bolted upright.
He was still in the woods, on the trail. Everything seemed the same, but he felt much better. He still had his phone in his hand, the trail went both up and down the mountain again.
“How cliché, ‘It was all just a dream'”, he said in a sing-song voice. Well, back to the case.
As he looked around, it struck him. His backpack lay shredded about him, his clues torn up. His picture of Gail had the eyes poked out, and a goatee and horns were inked in over her face. Three pages were all that remained intact of Lord of the Flies, with the phrases, “drain his blood, kill him dead”, “Piggy”, and “head on a spear”, underlined in blood.
All thoughts of going up the trail were dashed, Glenn was getting out. A low growling came from behind him.
I have to get out, now! He thought.
He ran, full tilt, down the trail, now fully stretched out before him. He nearly tripped, once, and didn’t skip a beat recovering. He was instantly glad he jogged regularly.
The growling came again, this time closer, and accompanied by the padding thumps of a charging animal. Glenn ran a few more steps, then spun, gun drawn, to face his pursuer. Nothing. The sound stopped, as did the wind. Then, from every angle of the forest came a tittering, chirping, growling, cawing, whoing, and about a hundred other woodland sounds simultaneously.
“What?! What do you want?! Why won’t you let me live!?!”
The last line he said shocked him. Glenn had meant to say “leave”. He turned back. The trail branched off into two. Glenn let out an exasperated, semi-maniacal laugh. His chances of leaving with his sanity intact were slim-to-none.
Which trail? The path to the left looked the most familiar. He started down, only to notice a writhing wall of darkness crawling up, consuming the trail.”Jesus!” Decision made easy.
Glenn rushed up the right trail, gun forward to cover his path. He tripped over branches, ran through brambles, smacked into small trees, but never slowed. He seemed to be covering a good amount of ground.
Then he came to a clearing near the top of the mountain. Self preserving fear and desperation melted into horror and revulsion, coupled with slack-jawed surprise. He was at the peak of the mountain.
Before him, on a ledge of stone, were the grisly, mutilated remains of the seven hikers.
Jon Swiftfoot’s hand, identified by the license in it’s grip,
Martina Cormier’s decapitated corpse,
Stephen Dunst, hand shredded and foot missing,
Karen Blackburn , impaled on a stick, her hair torn from it’s roots,
Philip Parkinson, legs torn and lips ripped off,
Jeffrey Roberge, no obvious signs of violence, but a look of total terror frozen on his face.
And Robin Bellamy, slashed open in several places, and all of her blood drained.
The voice again. “Like them? The game’s over.”
Glenn’s head jerked up. Next to the ledge was a large, gray wolf.
“They all wandered in, as did you. This is my trail.” The cawing , shrieking sound started.
The wolf bubbled and popped all over, then sprouted a large rack of antlers. It’s body changed more to that of a deer, with the hind legs and mouth of a wolf.
“You people just can’t leave nature alone can you?”
The feet became hooves, the arms humanoid and huge. Crow-like wings burst from the back. Its eyes glowed with a fierce green radiance.
“Why did you do this?”
“You people invaded my home. I figured you would get the impression and stay away when the ‘Kodiak’ mauled those people all those years ago, but I guess you’re not that observant.”
“We wouldn’t harm you.”
“Ha! You can’t harm me. I am eternal. But you can hurt the forest, my home. I was here before your kind, and I will be here after. This is one of the few remaining bastions of untouched nature in the world. IT IS MINE!!”
The glowing eyes turned red with rage. The teeth lengthened. Mouths opened allover it’s form, releasing an obscene chorus of forest voices.
Glenn lifted his gun into firing position.
“What will you do, shoot me?”
Glenn pulled back the hammer.
“I am Nature, I am Eternal, I am Wendigo!”
Glenn squeezed the trigger. Wendigo ripped the gun from his hand before the bullet left the barrel. Wendigo roared and leapt onto Glenn. Glenn brought his hands down on its head. There was a loud crack, and he beat the monster over the head over, and over, and over…
And a scream tore through the air.
The next morning, at the base of the trail, Glenn McAllister’s cellular phone let out a mangled ring. Glenn’s voice answered.
“Hi honey, it’s Gail.”
“How’s the case going?” Her voice was sweet.
“Fine. A bit weird yesterday, but everything’s okay now.”
“I normally don’t like to bother you on a case but, I went to the doctor this morning. I know why I’ve been getting sick so much. Glenn?”
The broken up phone was placed on Glenn’s head, the receiver dangling by a few wires. His head was forced onto a stake, which was shoved into the ground at the trail’s entrance, his body eviscerated and strewn about the trees like some grotesque garland.
Wendigo wandered back into his wooded home.
And Gail babbled on about the baby and their future, never once guessing that her husband, and father of her child was now nothing more than a warning to all, that Bearwood was private property, and trespassers were not welcome.