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Chapter 5 – A Holiday Miracle
Nick slipped and slid his way to the car and fumbled with the ancient trunk. With the freezing cold and the decrepit state of the vehicle, it felt more akin to opening a tomb. The ground shook with thunderous footsteps as the second beast stomped its way out of the house. Despite the cold, sweat ran in rivulets down Nick’s back. “Come on you bastard, open up.” He kicked at the trunk’s lock and it sprung open with a pained groan.
James fired his shotgun again and the cacophony it made was swallowed up by the howling wind that had grown around them. The beast responded with an aggravated roar. Nick looked up from the trunk just in time to see the second wendigo advancing on James. It was larger than the first, and horrible spurs of bone poked through the ragged skin on its back. The creature crossed the distance from the house to James in a few short strides, gripped the barrel of the shotgun and bent it backwards with great, rending force.
“Do you have any idea how much that cost?” asked James, backing away from the creature.
The wendigo chuckled and then spoke in a voice that echoed through several ethereal planes at once. “It’s a small price to pay for what you did to my partner.” The creature held a long and deadly finger out towards the fried wendigo hanging off the roof. “By my mark, you’ve still got a balance for me to collect.”
“Hey, Nick, they talk.” James’s voice was dazed and full of fear.
“Great, kid, keep him busy!” Nick swept aside holy symbols, a few landmines and a jar of holy water to pop open the trunk’s side panel. Harpoons spilled out, clattering far louder than he would have liked. He picked one up, hands shaking and tried to jam it in the barrel. “Of all the fucking times to get the shakes!” He slammed his hand down on the metal siding of the car, trying to beat the tremor out.
“I’ll deal with you in a minute,” called the wendigo in a strange warbling tone.
Each word vibrated the edges of Nick’s skull, making it feel as though they could crack at any moment. He peaked out from behind the trunk and saw James firmly in the creature’s grasp, growing paler by the moment. The Wendigo looked at James, curious, like a dog about to rip a chew toy to shreds. Nick clenched his fist, trying to keep it steady and jammed a harpoon in the barrel of the rifle. There was a hiss of gas filling the firing chamber and he breathed a brief sigh of relief.
The wendigo made a strange, high-pitched whistle that carried through the wind as if it weren’t there.
“Hey, can you keep it down?” shouted Nick. “You’ll wake the neighbors and I have a raging hangover.” He shouldered the harpoon rifle and pointed it at the creature.
The wendigo turned to him. “Really? Can’t wait your turn?” It flung James without ceremony into the garage door where he crumpled, motionless.
Nick took a deep breath, steadying the rifle as the wendigo approached. The creature cocked its head inquisitively as if it weren’t staring down the barrel of a weapon. It took a few more lumbering steps and Nick couldn’t wait any longer. He closed his finger around the trigger and let the harpoon fly. With the short distance, it had less time to curve and stuck right between the creature’s ribs.
The wendigo growled, low and angry, then reached a hand down and plucked the harpoon out. Black blood oozed from the wound, but otherwise, it seemed unaffected. It chuckled. “I thought I asked you to wait.”
Nick bent down to pick up another harpoon, but the creature moved with surprising speed. By the time his fingers were closing around the shaft, it had him. A cold, clawed hand wrapped around his chest and squeezed, pushing all the air out of his lungs. Holiday stars danced at the edges of his vision, twirling and spinning in a dazzling display of fading consciousness.
The wendigo turned him, so that Nick was looking at the still-smoldering corpse of the other beast. “Any idea how long we’ve been together?” asked the wendigo in a deep, gravelly voice.
Nick tried to answer, but nothing more than a wheeze came out.
“It was rhetorical. I come from a long line of creatures just like me, and we all grow up knowing your name. You think we look scary? Imagine what our people think of you.” The creature spat a black gob of something awful into the snow.
“Thank. You,” managed Nick, seeing spots jump up before his eyes. “Flattered. Very flattered.”
James groaned in the snow, trying to make his way over to them.
“Don’t even think about it, child. Try to relax, it’ll all be over soon.”
A black tunnel closed in on the edges of Nick’s vision, chasing the features of the snowy world around him away.
“Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy.” The wendigo loosened its grip, allowing sweet oxygen to flood Nick’s lungs.
“Five pages,” Nick panted. “Five pages, and never once did he mention wendigos love god-damned monologuing.”
The creature clucked its tongue and turned Nick to face it. The stink of decay and rot was overpowering, and Nick watched as a maggot circled the inside of the beast’s eye. “You don’t like creatures like me, do you?” The wendigo’s voice was soft and almost playful.
“No shit, Sherlock. Don’t have to be a psychic being to figure that out.” Nick tried to look away from the rotting face, but it kept moving to be in his eyeline.
“Let’s take a look at what we have in store for you.” The creature’s eyes glowed hot like fire.
James found his feet and ran towards the wendigo, knife in one hand. With a lazy sweep, the wendigo batted him away and sent him crashing into the car door. “Please, stop trying to do that. You got lucky with my partner.”
James moaned and then fell still.
The wendigo huffed. “Now, back to business.” The glow in its eyes grew to a fiery, deep red and Nick felt it burning into his own gaze. It was a strange feeling, like a hot poker had been shoved in the back of his brain. He could feel something reaching backward through memories and then forward through a substance he couldn’t quite understand.
An image of a mountaintop covered in blood flashed before his eyes. Liquid dripped down the pristine white slopes, carving deep, red trenches down its side. The image changed and he was sitting in his childhood body, hiding underneath a table while a thunderous shouting match played out overhead. He could feel the fear as if it were happening in the present moment rather than a memory. The scene shifted a final time, filling the air with the hot, sickly stink of the jungle. Insects buzzed about around and his skin felt like it was on fire.
“My, my,” the wendigo exhaled heavily, breathing the cold fury of a winter storm back into Nick’s world. Disappointment and malice flickered across the creature’s face, vying for dominance.
“What the hell was that?” gasped Nick, his heart pounding furiously.
“I’m in a bit of a quandary here, Mr. Ventner. While killing you would bring me great joy, your future holds so much pain. It would be a shame to rob you of it.” The wendigo’s body shuddered as it took a contemplative breath.
“Get it over with you Ghost of Christmas Past, Dickensian fuck.” Nick spat bile and blood into the snow.
“A decision like this requires deliberation.” The red glow in the wendigo’s eyes darkened. The horrible stench of its breath enveloped every word. “No, I think you should live, Mr. Ventner.” The words clearly caused the creature great pain. “You will live to experience the horrors I have just seen.”
“Well, I wish I could say that was true for both of us.”
The wendigo recoiled as James pushed the barrel of a pistol against the back of its neck.
“Stronger than he looks,” commented Nick and shut his eyes tight.
“And I always pack a spare.” James couldn’t help but grin. “Bend this.” He pulled the trigger, spewing red hot fire and a thermite-loaded, hollow point slug from the end of the pistol’s barrel. The wendigo’s surprise quickly turned to pain as its skin melted away, exploding outward. Fire and blood coated the fresh, white snow.
Nick felt the creature’s claw loosen just as warm goo blanketed him in an all-too-familiar, unpleasant fashion. He fell backward, landing hard on the driveway. The wind went out of him. Stars flashed in the darkness of his closed eyes, but they quickly faded as he regained his breath. With a freezing hand, he wiped the gore from his face and opened his eyes.
The body of the headless wendigo toppled backward and caught fire like a tinderbox. Soon it was blazing on the front lawn like an ancient bon fire. Nick coughed and spluttered, wanting nothing more than to be curled up with a fresh handle back in his flat watching television re-runs. “Bend this? Really?” he managed through labored breaths.
James wiped bits of wendigo off the end of the pistol with a dirty rag. “It’s a work in progress.”
“Clearly an early prototype.”
“Fuck off, Nick. Show a little gratitude.”
Next door, the neighbor’s front door opened again. “What the hell, Bill? You can’t barbecue on the—” The man stopped mid-sentence, staring at the carnage. With both wendigos dead, there was nothing preventing him from seeing it all. Once corpse still smoldered, hanging from the roof, and the other decorated the lawn in horrifying globs and bits. “I-I-“ he started, and faltered. “Martha, call the police!” He slammed the front door.
“That’s our cue.” Nick stood up. “James, get the car running.”
James looked to the car, and to the mess on the front lawn. “Right, probably smart.” Both men did their best to clean off what they could, but the second they climbed into the sedan, it was clear, some smells would never leave. James turned the key and the engine guttered to life. “Small miracles,” he said.
“This is why we never do charity work.” In the absence of immediate pressing danger, a furious pain returned to Nick temples. “Let’s head back to my flat. I’d say we’ve each earned a bottle after this.”
James looked out the window as they backed away. Childhood memories of the house and time spent with his aunt and uncle flooded back. “Yeah, a bottle sounds nice.” He stepped on the gas and they sped out of the suburbs. Houses flashed by in a blur and as they neared the freeway, James saw the pulsing red and blue lights of police cars. “Wonder how they’re going to explain that.”
Nick sighed. “Oh, they’ll find a way.” He put his head against the cold window. “Mutated bears from a nuclear test site is my bet.”
James scoffed. “You really think they’ll buy that?”
“People will believe anything to avoid a scarier truth.” Nick watched the flakes fall out of the sky and thought about what the wendigo had seen. Enough pain to let me live. Only one way to chase off a prophecy like that. “James, let’s get a road beer along the way. The Haven has to be open.”
James shook his head. “Whatever you say, master.” There was heavy sarcasm, but also obedience in the words. Despite his best efforts, the apprentice was learning.
“Wake me when we get there.” Nick shut his eyes.
“And James,” Nick started, nearly falling into sleep mid-sentence, “happy holidays.”
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