Author’s note: I wrote this as part of my Flash Fiction Challenge
The hunter strode through the forest, a cloud of breath wisping from his mouth. His shadow stretched to his right under the unflinching light of the full moon, darting between the dormant and leafless trees.
What had brought him to such a bleak place?
“I assure you, sir, I am no stranger to the pursuit of dangerous prey, as my news coverage would attest,” he said three days prior on the edge of northern wilderness. “The White Rhino of Kampuchea? The man-eating Kodiak bear? Their skins hang in my den. Or the 93 buffalo kills to my name. There is no game too fearsome, too dangerous for me to conquer…”
“And yet, you need a guide,” the Indian continued to rock back and forth in his seat. Frankly, it was unsettling.
“Yes. You see, I am unfamiliar with this region. If one of your trackers might help me find the beast’s path…”
“The prey you seek is no beast. Nor is it man. It is wendigo. Forever hungry, forever hunting. Wendigo feels no fear or pain. You will find no tracker here to join you, hunter.”
And so Edmond ventured forth himself. He had never taken human life, but with every mishap since leaving that hunting lodge, he had pondered at each whether it would have been better to put a bullet into that old Indian. Had some savage curse been placed upon him? It rained for the first day solid. What gear survived the drenching, he had awoken the next day to find shredded into the tiniest of pieces. And now, after a sleepless night on frozen ground, Edmond found himself irrevocably lost in this skeletal landscape.
Edmond Shillingford, renowned hunter of big game, here to slay the mythical wendigo. That would scuttle the accusations of drugging his prey, claims that scuttled his clientele as a safari guide and cost him patronage in both New York and London. If only they knew the full truth…
The tainted bullets he fired into the white rhino, who wandered pain-blind for four days before he finally died.
The Kodiak had never eaten a man and was, in fact, female. Coaxed from her den when Edmond dealt one of her cubs a mortal wound with his knife, then tethered it so she could hear its cries.
And yes, those were group hunts for the buffalo, but Edmond always had been an excellent shot.
A noise drew Edmond out of his reverie. Nails, scrabbling on stone. The hunter whirled to his right… nothing. He squinted. There, in the moonlight. Edmond stepped forward and then saw it—a single, splayed footprint in the earth, a curved talon at the end of each toe.
An ear-splitting howl cut through the darkness, creating a knot of fear in his belly. Edmond spun in the direction of the howl and fired blind, the echoes of the shot rolling through the forest. Disoriented, Edmond never realized the wendigo was upon him until a single slash of a talon severed both Achilles tendons. As Edmond fell, another stabbing strike had warm blood spilling out on the rocky ground.
Another howl, now from much closer. Belly down, Edmond felt an incredible sharpness penetrate his jacket, his clothes, into his flesh. He began to scream.
His skin would hang in a den as well.