27 May The Call of the Wendigo
“The Call of the Wendigo”Written by Chisto Healy Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 27 minutes
Pat pushed his way through the tall grass of the woodland, navigating the trees and trying to find the source of the sound. Somewhere up ahead, a woman was hurt. He could hear her crying out for help.
“Please…I think it’s broken. I can’t move it. Please,” she cried.
Pat climbed over a fallen tree and slid down a wet muddy hill towards the river. To think he came out here for a vacation. It was supposed to be a chance to clear his mind and make sense of his mother’s death. It turned out to be a contest between him and his best friend Tre’s girlfriend, Celeste for the position of third wheel.
Pat never liked Celeste. He didn’t trust her and Tre was his boy. They’d been best friends since they were old enough to have memories. Tre lived around the corner from Pat’s grandma and Pat used to get dropped off there when his mom had to work because it was close to their house in Queens. He rode his trike, then his bike, then his car over to Tre’s. The only thing that ever changed was the length of the ride when Pat’s family moved out to Long Island. They were as close to brothers as you could be without blood, but for some reason Tre was smitten by Celeste and wouldn’t hear anything about it, even from him.
Ordinarily, if Tre and the bubbly blonde rich girl were going on a trip alone, Pat would never even dream of tagging along, but today was anything but ordinary even before the woman started screaming for help. Pat was an Italian kid from New York. He wasn’t ashamed to admit he was a momma’s boy. He took pride in it. Then his mother forgot to take her meds, had a seizure behind the wheel and was ripped from his life. Everything felt wrong. Up felt like down. Pat felt like he didn’t even know where he was, who he was. He was completely lost.
Tre offered to cancel the trip to be with him. He knew how much Pat loved his mother. Tre loved her too. She was practically family to him, and Pat’s mom always had a way of making people laugh when she wasn’t even trying. She was a hard woman not to love.
Of course Celeste threw a fit though because they’d had this trip planned forever and a rented cabin in the woods meant more than her boyfriend’s best friend’s dwindling sanity and broken heart. The more Pat thought about it, the angrier it made him. She was just another privileged rich white girl thinking no one’s needs mattered but hers. Where did she get off?
Tre, as always, did his best to keep Pat and Celeste both happy. He couldn’t cancel on his girlfriend because she’d probably have spent Pat’s mom’s services yelling about the trip she was supposed to be on right then. He also wasn’t about to leave Pat alone to face something like this. So he said Pat should come. Of course, Celeste protested, but Tre said it was either that or they canceled the trip. She was furious and the ride up here to the cabin was full of silent treatment and angry glares, because that’s really sensitive to the fact that Pat just lost his mother. He could not fathom what Tre saw in that girl.
Pat said she would react that way and it wasn’t a good idea for him to come, but Tre insisted. He said, “Ignore her. It’s not about her. You’re coming to take care of yourself. Nature helps everyone. Just relax, breathe, get dirty, swim, find some peace man, and if you can’t, I’ll be right there to help you through.”
Pat had agreed and hugged his friend, and endured the awful ride up, but when he actually got here it all felt worth it. It was gorgeous and expansive, open but isolated. It felt free. He could cry and no one would hear him but the birds. He could scream and yell and it wouldn’t bother anyone but the occasional squirrel. It was a place where he could let God know just how angry he was. That was exactly what he was doing when he first heard the woman yell. Initially, he’d felt embarrassed. He hadn’t seen any other people on the way up or walking around. It was private property and cabins rented by their individual owners. It was supposed to be perfect for alone time. He didn’t see any tents or cars, but he should have known an area this big would be inviting to hikers and drifters, other twenty-somethings looking to camp out and knock back a few without paying. He felt like a fool.
Then he realized that she was screaming for help, begging for someone to find her, and Pat felt like a complete asshole. He apologized to his mom, put his own pain aside for a moment and tried to figure out where her cries were coming from. They were getting louder so he knew he was heading in the right direction. He called back, “I hear you. I’m coming. My name is Pat. Are you hurt?”
She kept crying out, but didn’t answer him directly. Maybe she was too scared, panicked or maybe she simply couldn’t hear him over the sound of her own screaming. He could hear her as if he were upon her now as he followed the gentle flowing river around the bend through a new set of trees, stepping over randomly bulging roots and clusters of mossy rocks.
“Please, I need help! Somebody! Anybody! I’m trapped!”
Pat stopped and listened. He knew she was close. He just had to figure out where exactly. He stood by the water, looking around, trying to figure out how he could hear her so clearly but not see her anywhere. She sounded like she was just a few feet away, but that was impossible.
Then he heard movement, crunching dirt and snapping twigs. He realized all too quickly that if she were in trouble there could be someone else with her that had caused that trouble and now he’d gone running out here all willy nilly and if some drunken redneck serial killer cut him to pieces, no one would know. He should have gone back and gotten Tre and not done this alone. Yeah, because Celeste would have loved that.
Pat quickly turned in the direction of the sounds. It wasn’t a woman in duress that stood before him or her redneck boyfriend fueled by Wild Turkey and anger. It was something else entirely, something unlike anything Pat had ever witnessed. He wouldn’t have even called it an animal. It was something else, something different, terrifying, the stuff of nightmares.
The creature was gigantically tall and towered over him, standing upright on fur-covered deer legs that ended in hooves. Its humanoid torso was emaciated like the thing had been starving for a long time, its bones showing through loose hanging skin and it was topped with an elk head that was led by coal black eyes that stared out at him from between two giant antlers.
Pat could do nothing but stare up at the enormous creature, even as the long razor-sharp talons tipping its all too human hands gripped his shoulders, digging into his flesh. The thing bent over him as he fell to his knees, and its giant jaws opened to display teeth that shouldn’t have existed in that head. No elk had so many teeth, never mind teeth that rose to fine needle-like points. They came down and began tearing through the meat between the thin fingers that gripped his shoulder and his neck. Pat could hear the thing chewing on him, crunching and slurping. Only then did he cry out, scream just as the woman did for Tre to come, for anyone to come. He begged for help with cries of blood-curdling terror.
Then the beast stopped biting him. It released him and stood upright once more, almost as tall as the surrounding trees. It echoed his cries, screaming his words back to him in his own voice. Pat cried. He realized at once that there had not been any woman for him to find, not any time recently. This was what he had been following, the thing that had been calling to him with someone else’s voice, and it would use his voice to do the same to someone else. “Tre,” he cried as he stared off through the endless trees. Pat prayed to God, a picture of his mother’s contagious smile behind his eyes.
Tre was chewing on a long blade of grass and looking off into the surrounding forest. He sighed and turned back towards the cabin he’d rented and faced his girlfriend, Celeste. “Still no sign of Pat,” he said. “I know he needed to be alone, but I wish he had at least stayed where I could see him. He could get lost out there, fall or something. There’s a lot of drop-offs. I don’t like it.”
Celeste frowned and left the doorway of the cabin to walk over to him in quick strides of her long slender legs.
“He’ll be back,” she said with a wicked smile. “You know we can’t get rid of him. I’ve been trying to for the better part of a year now. He’s not a child, Tre. He’ll be fine. He’s a big boy. I think we should take advantage of the alone time while he’s gone. Instead of standing out here brooding which doesn’t help me or Pat, why don’t you just follow me back into that cabin and let me show you how much I love you?”
Tre saw her big brown eyes land on his chocolate-colored abs, and the offer was tempting, but he shook his head. “I know you didn’t want him to come,” he told her, “but his mother just died, Celeste. He was really lost. He needed to get away, okay?”
Celeste looked at him and chewed on one of her thick lips. “Well, he got away.”
Tre sighed and turned away from her, casting his gaze back towards the trees. “He’s my best friend, Celeste, practically my brother for God’s sake. He always has been and always will be, and I really need you to accept that if this thing we have going is going to work. What is this that we have anyway?”
The pale brunette huffed and kicked at the grass with a barefoot, toenails light blue and coated with sparkling glitter. “Sometimes it feels like he’s the one you’re in a relationship with, Tre. He’s grieving and he went off for some time alone. Why can’t we have the same thing?”
Without turning around, her boyfriend said to her, “That’s exactly the thing, Celeste. He’s mourning. He’s not in a good place and he wandered off into the woods hours ago. I know him. This isn’t like him, as much as you want it to be, and is this a relationship now because I’m not sure what the fuck it is?”
Celeste moved around him and leaned her back against one of the trees he was staring towards. “You can be a real asshole sometimes. I wanted this trip so we could talk, figure things out, get closer, but you just want to stand out here worried about your buddy that you decided was appropriate to tag along on our romantic getaway, and somehow I’m the shit for being upset. So what do you want to do? You want to go look for your boyfriend? Let’s go then.”
Tre rolled his eyes. He was really starting to question their “relationship”. He and Pat had been loyal to each other since they were kids. It was ridiculous for her to try to get in between that. She was being immature and selfish and it was making him angry, especially since she was the one throwing up walls between them. It wasn’t his fault her family was racist. She talked about Pat being a big boy. Well, she needed to be a big girl and make her choices, not just string him along and do whatever it was she was doing. it was really starting to drive him nuts.
“Honestly, I feel like I need to get away from you right now,” he said, eyes drifting to the grass at his feet. “I’ll go look for Pat and make sure he’s okay. You stay here. Do….whatever you want.”
“You can’t be serious,” Celeste snapped angrily. “This was our trip, Tre. It was about us. You say you want to make whatever this is work, but how can it work if you won’t even stay and talk to me? I need you to-”
“To what, Celeste? Give you reason to choose me? Ease your conscience for you as you disappoint your racist family? Just leave me alone for a bit,” Tre said, stepping around her and the tree she leaned against, to move off further into the woods. “If you still want to, we can talk when I get back.”
He could hear his complicated partner of sorts yelling her frustration behind him, her words laced with tears. Tre just slowly shook his head and kept on going. He kept his eyes peeled for signs of his best friend’s whereabouts. The bad thing about the woods was the fact that they all looked the same. Aside from the tiny details, like certain tree branches and things like that, it would be hard for anyone to tell any of it apart. The dirt was too hard for footprints and mostly covered in forever-stretching identical blades of grass. How fast it could go from peaceful beauty to overwhelming trap, he thought.
Tre feared that Celeste was right and his friend had come out here to grieve, to expel all the feelings Tre knew he had bottled up inside, and he wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was going. It didn’t have to be a fall. He could have just wound up getting terribly lost and not being able to find his way back to the cabin. It wouldn’t be hard, Tre thought as he looked around himself, a sinking feeling in his gut. He wished he had brought anything with him to mark a path and make sure he didn’t end up in the same point. Instead, he was out here in a pair of red gym shorts and sandals. Tree kicked a rock and winced as he stubbed his exposed toe. He chewed his lip as his eyes navigated the trees. “Pat!” he called out. “You out here?”
As soon as he began to worry, Tre had tried calling Pat’s phone only to find it on the counter in the cabin’s kitchen ringing loudly and bouncing around the marble surface. Now that Tre was out here searching for him, he closed his eyes and sighed his frustration. “Why would you come out here and not take your phone, Pat?” He knew why though. He didn’t want Tre calling him and trying to get him to go easy on Celeste, to explain her perspective when he didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want Tre to call and ask him to come back and hang out with the two of them, watch a movie or play a game like they were all three buddies that grew up together. Tre couldn’t blame him for that, especially now, with all he was dealing with, but he did wish Pat would at least give Celeste a chance.
None of that mattered now, Tre told himself. Celeste was back at the cabin. She was safe and sound and fine as can be. He was out here looking for Pat. Finding him was all that mattered right now. “Pat! Say something if you can hear me. Let me know where you are!”
Pat’s dad had left when he was still a kid. The jerk never looked back. Pat’s mother was all he had and now she was gone too. Tre was all Pat had left and he knew it. Pat’s family started and ended with Tre now. He wouldn’t abandon him. Not ever. “I’m coming, buddy. If you can hear me, I’m coming.”
Tre heard the sound of running water and decided it was a good place to start. Follow the river. Isn’t that what they always said? He probably got it from TV. He didn’t actually know the first thing about surviving in nature. He grew up a city kid in Queens. The only nature was the front lawn, but he loved going to Prospect Park in Brooklyn with his dad and hiking. Pat would come too and they would find big walking sticks and pretend they were adventurers. Now he would happily settle for a little less adventure. “Pat! Patty! Where are you, man?”
Tre had already talked to Celeste about Pat’s situation before they even left for this trip. It obviously didn’t do any good. She just cared about her good time, her sexy party at the cabin with her football player boytoy. It burned him, literally, with reflux in his throat caused by stress, because he thought, even with her hangups, that she was better than that. Celeste wasn’t perfect, but who was, right? Still, they had moments, talking in bed before or after, or sitting on the hood of his car, just hanging out in the moonlight. It was those moments where he saw her sensitivity, her vulnerability. That was the real Celeste, or at least that’s what he thought, but now he wasn’t so sure.
He started to call out for his friend again, bellowing his name. Tre noticed a backpack up ahead, leaning against a tree. It looked like the one Pat had brought with him and it energized him. He ran over to it. It was definitely Pat’s. It had his water, a Simon Clark horror novel, a bag of Chex Mix, a pack of cigarettes, a swiss army knife and a roll of bright red masking tape. Finding the bag had made Tre feel like he was close to finding Pat and it had excited him but now seeing all the stuff inside, his excitement deflated. Wherever Pat was, he didn’t have his food or water or knife for protection. Tre found himself praying that his friend was close and intended on coming back for his stuff. He waited there a bit just in case, but after a while, it was clear that Pat wasn’t going to return and it left him feeling antsy.
Tre slung the backpack over his bare shoulder but kept the tape out of it. As he moved on, he marked random trees with pieces of the red tape. They were easy to see, even from a distance and he wanted to make sure that once he found Pat, the two of them were able to find their way back. He wished he’d thought to pack his own survival bag like that. Everything was always clearer in hindsight, he thought.
Tre found the river and the dampness made for softer dirt. There was finally a trail to follow and he sighed with relief. He followed the footsteps that he could see, slight impressions in the dirt. They weren’t deep enough to show treads, but he felt like they had to belong to Pat either way. There was a lot of grass so there weren’t many, and they were scattered, but every time he came upon open dirt, there would be a new indentation. Tre didn’t have any way to know for sure that the prints belonged to Pat but he was fairly certain they did. He hadn’t noticed anyone else out there with them since their arrival or anyone coming on on their way up. As far as he knew they were alone out here. Plus, he’d found the backpack. It was the only thing that made sense. “Pat!” he called again. “Can you hear me, bud? It’s Tre! Where are you at?”
Tre was beginning to wish that he had brought a shirt with him. It was getting chilly and it looked like it was getting ready to rain, never mind the bugs that seemed to enjoy the sweetness of his skin as much as Celeste did. He shook off a shiver and hugged himself as he moved forward through the seemingly endless woods. He quickened his pace then and continued to call out for Pat as he went, tagging the trees with tape.
He didn’t hear any kind of answer. If Pat was around he couldn’t hear Tre for whatever reason and that made him nervous. What if he was unconscious? He could have hit his head or gotten bit by something, a spider or a snake or something? “Pat!”
Outside of the occasional footprint, Tre had nothing. There was no sign of what happened to the man who might as well have been his brother for all it was worth. “Where the hell are you, bro?” he said rather than yelled. His voice was getting hoarse, his throat sore, and he was running out of steam.
Frustrated, Tre sat down on a tree stump. His eyes still combed the trees, even while he rested. He watched them as he sipped at Pat’s water and tore into the bag of Chex Mix. When he was a pre-teen, long before he had the abs and physique that Celeste so adored, he was bullied and picked on daily as the black kid in a mostly white school. That was before Pat’s mom took him to Long Island, when they actually went to school together. It was Pat who stepped in, who fought on his behalf, who got suspended and had his grades suffer, who got beaten up because he was just one kid and couldn’t handle the numbers. It never stopped him though. Through all of it, Pat never changed his stance. He never backed down. He never turned his back on Tre to protect himself. The guy was half nuts, but Tre loved him for it. You just don’t forget things like that. Crazy or not, Pat was loyal. It was when he moved that Tre knew he needed to bulk up, learn to fight and find a way to fend for himself, and he did. It turned his whole life around. Sighing, Tre plucked a blade of grass from the ground by his feet and chewed on it. “Just be okay,” he said quietly. “Please just be okay.”
Now, Pat, heartbroken and depressed, was out here in the woods somewhere, lost and alone, and Celeste wanted Tre to do what Pat never did, and turn his back on him. She wanted him to leave his friend to his own devices. She didn’t truly understand. There was no way she could. She had never walked in his shoes to know what it had been like for him growing up. She was just jealous and not willing to listen to reason, and she had been this way when it came to Pat, since the beginning of their relationship. Tre didn’t even feel comfortable calling it a relationship despite the fact that it was ten months running.
It was more of an arrangement. They were actual friends with benefits. They were booty call buddies that actually hung out and had fun together as well, sharing laughs. It was nice and it was definitely enjoyable, most of the time, but he didn’t see how she could think that with the parameters of their arrangement agreed upon and made clear, mostly because she came from a racist family and couldn’t, in her words, “actually date a black man,” that she would be more important than his closest friend. How could she expect to be higher on the totem pole than the guy that saved Tre’s life, as he saw it, and gave him the strength and ability to become the stronger person that he was now, both physically and emotionally? She had to be off her damned rocker. He suddenly wished she was there so he could tell her. His anger was with not being able to find Pat, but he wanted to direct it at her for some reason. He supposed it was actually good that she wasn’t there.
Tre had gone on to bulk up and play football and became popular. Pat had remained the weirdo loner he’d always been, absorbed by video games, horror movies. and books. He went on to high school in suburban Long Island and ended up the one being picked on and bullied then. His mom didn’t have the money that most of the other families had and the spoiled rich kids took it out on Pat. He would tell Tre about it when he saw him on the weekends. Tre’s other friends liked to talk about Pat and refer to him as a freak and Tre was having none of it. He admitted to himself that Pat could be annoying. His sense of humor was odd and he wasn’t really adept at socializing. He would talk about a book or a movie endlessly until you felt you didn’t need to see or read it yourself any longer, but he was Pat, the kid that stuck by Tre when no one else did, so none of his little neurodivergent tendencies mattered. He could be as weird as he wanted to for all Tre cared. Their friendship was for life.
Tre heard a twig snap and he jumped. His eyes darted around like a bee seeking pollen. He got up from his seat and moved towards the sound. “Pat? Is that you? It’s me buddy. I’ve been worried sick, bro. I’ve been out here looking for you, getting eaten up by mosquitos man. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”
He gave it another moment. Still nothing. Maybe it had just been an animal. There had to be some out here right? God, he hoped he didn’t see a bear. He would shit himself for real.
Tre frowned. He looked around at the endless sameness and felt overwhelmed. Spitting out the blade of grass, he started walking again, his mind wandering back to Celeste.
It wasn’t really her fault, Tre thought, as he started calling out for his friend again, desperate to find some inkling of which direction to go in. Twigs crunched under his shoes. It was society’s fault. Celeste did like him. She did want to be with him. He knew she did. She was just afraid. She was afraid of being bullied and hated and losing people she loved. She was afraid of the same people doing something terrible to him because they wouldn’t see him as anything but his skin tone. It wouldn’t be beyond her uncles or cousins to do such a thing. He’d heard them spit the N-word like the tobacco they chewed endlessly.
“Pat! Where are you, dammit!?”
Celeste was jealous of Pat, because in her heart, she wanted to be more to Tre. She wouldn’t admit it, but he mattered to her much more than their arrangement let on. She may have even loved him. The fact that their care was genuine was what made the sex so good and made what they had so much fun. He licked his lips thinking about it and then frowned upon realizing how he left her. Ugh. I am an asshole.
Tre knew what it meant to be a victim. He had already lived through that, and with Pat’s help, he got through it and rose above it, and he wasn’t going to live in fear again. He would date her if she was willing to be with him. If she wasn’t, he didn’t feel like it was good for his soul, for him to pine for her and put her on a pedestal. Her family’s ignorance wasn’t his fault, or his responsibility to deal with and accept. She had to be willing to fight for him if he was really what she wanted. He planned on telling her just that on this trip and letting her make her decision. Now she was back there and he was out here and God knew where Pat was. Everything was a damned mess.
Tre thought he felt someone nearby. He spun around but found himself alone. A chill ran through him that had nothing to do with the air temperature. He felt like he was being stared at, watched. It made him begin to wonder just what kind of animals he was sharing space with. “Pat? Come on buddy. What’s going on? Talk to me. You okay, man?”
This all just added to Tre’s mounting frustration. Everything was complicated and it shouldn’t have been. There were so many gray areas to romance, to everything for that matter. Nothing was as black and white as people made it. He rammed one of his big fists into a tree, bark cracking. With a groan, he glanced at his bleeding knuckles, and broke into a run just in time for the sky to open up and the rain to come pouring down on his bare chest and arms. The chill dug into his bones but the forest was the right place to be in a storm, Tre thought. The trees were all far taller than any person and would face the lightning first, and they also caught a large percent of the sky’s water; nature’s umbrella. The main problem was, that where there was dirt, there was suddenly mud and Pat’s footprints were all but gone in moments and his own footfalls were sticking and slowing his pace.
Tre tried to mark a tree with his tape so he could move in, but it wouldn’t stick now that it was raining. He watched the ends curl back towards him, cursed under his breath and moved on anyway. What else could he do? Pat was out there. He couldn’t leave him. He just couldn’t. They had been through too much together already.
“Pat!!” he yelled as he traipsed through the mud and rain. “Pat, where are you?!”
Then, for the first time since Pat had left the cabin earlier in the day, Tre got an answer. First it was just a moan, a drawl of pain breaking through the incessant pitter patter of the endless rainstorm, a sickening moan.
Tre quickly hurried in the direction of the sound, tripping and falling into the mud, but rebounding quickly, believing his friend to be in need of help. “I’m coming, Patty! Hold on.”
Then Pat actually called out to him. “Someone! Anyone! I’m stuck! My leg is trapped! Please! I need help!”
Tre felt a rush of adrenaline. Even as he shivered, shirtless in the icy rain, he ran hard towards the sound of his friend’s voice. He hurdled a downed tree without slowing and spun around another that appeared from nowhere to stand upright in his path, juking like he did on the field. “Pat! I’m coming! I hear you! I’m coming, man! It’s gonna be alright, I promise.”
He pushed off of the trees as he went by, trying to gain traction and keep his speed up.
“Please! It hurts! I can’t move it!” Pat called back to him.
“Where are you?” Tre yelled back as he ran. “Keep talking, brother. I’m following your voice! I got you!”
“I’m over here! I’m over here! Hurry! Quickly, please!”
“I’m trying!” Tre shouted. His heart was pounding as fast and hard as the rain pelting his shirtless body. He broke through the trees and ended up in an open clearing where the trees didn’t cover him enough to block the rain. He felt like he was drowning standing up. He kept blinking and spitting, trying to get the water from his face. Pat’s call had stopped and he was standing here, getting drenched in the middle of a circle. He didn’t know which direction he needed to go. He wanted to scream.
“Pat!” he called out, choking on the water that his yelling let in. “Pat! Say something!”
Tre heard steps behind him and he spun around, wiping at his wet eyes. It wasn’t Pat that stood before him. It wasn’t even human. The creature stood on bent hoofed legs, and had antlers on its elkish head, black eyes of madness poring over him. He could see the creature’s ribs, its belly bloated and distended. At the end of its arms were enormous clawed hands. The creature opened its mouth and showed its pointed teeth, fabric and meat wedged between them. Was that Pat’s shirt? It was the right color. God, I hope not.
“What the hell are you?” Tre asked, stumbling backwards and slipping in the mud. Even when he went down, he still scrambled backwards like a crab to put more distance between himself and this strange beast. He actually would have preferred a bear to whatever this thing was. It was like a monster from one of Pat’s horror novels.
“Where’s Pat?” Tre demanded to know.
The starving beast just stalked towards him on its hooves, upright like a man. A sick wet chuffing sound emitted from its throat.
Tre grabbed at a nearby tree and tried to use it to get to his feet before this thing could reach him. He was thankful to God that it didn’t move quickly. Just looking at those claws had his imagination going in the worst possible ways. The creature was still pounding its way towards him, moaning its hunger, streams of drool hanging from its loose lips.
Once on his feet, Tre squared off with the beast. He wasn’t a weak picked-on kid anymore. He was fit and strong and able to take care of himself, and he owed that fact to his friend who he now feared was in real trouble if not worse. “Where is Pat?” he demanded again.
The antlers lowered as the huge head bent to stare into his eyes across the clearing. The drooling lips curled back, spittle hanging like thread, and the monster snarled like a dog. Then the mouth opened and Pat’s voice spilled forth over its thick meaty swollen tongue. “Help me! Please! My leg is stuck!”
Tre shook his head. He felt disgusted. His stomach twisted in knots. He didn’t need anyone to tell him that his best friend had been reunited with his mother. This creature, whatever it was, had done something awful to him and stolen his voice somehow. Then another truth reached him. Celeste was back at the cabin alone and unprotected. She had no idea what was out here in these woods. Tre needed to get back to her, to warn her and keep her safe. Before long she would come looking for him just the same as he went looking for Pat and this thing was what she would find. He couldn’t let that happen.
He pushed off of the trees again and ran towards the creature, but as he drew close to it, he juked to the side and narrowly dodged a big sweep of the giant claws. Then he was off and running.
Tre could hear the monster behind him, tromping loudly in the mud and the splash it created with each hoof fall. Pat’s voice beckoned to him, begging him to come back.
“You’re abandoning me when I need you! How can you do this? Please don’t leave me here! The creature is going to eat me! Don’t let it eat me!”
Tre shivered and it had nothing to do with the rain this time. He felt nauseous. He told himself that Pat wasn’t still in danger. Pat was already gone, but did he really know that for sure? He felt sick. His heart was breaking and he could feel it like a knife in his chest. “Be with your folks now, pal. Find your peace,” he said as he ran. Still the sickening feeling nagged at him that Pat was out there hurt and bleeding in the rain and Tre had left him that way. He hoped to God that it was just his imagination.
To make matters worse, he couldn’t find the trees he taped anywhere. Everything was soaked and dripping and it all looked the same. He couldn’t remember how to get back. He released a wordless bark of primal frustration.
“Where are you going? Please don’t let it kill me,” Pat’s voice called to him. “Don’t you care about me? How could you just leave me with this monster?”
Tre frowned. His tears mixed with the rain, streaming down his cheeks. He turned in circles, trying to get his bearings. Guilt tugged at him while he struggled to figure out which direction to go. He knew that he couldn’t just stand there, waiting for that thing to find him, so he just made a decision. He picked a direction and then turned and ran that way, and he ran right into the skin and bones body of the beast, slapping into its wet fur and leathery skin and falling backwards onto his rump in the muddy grass.
“You came back,” Pat’s voice said as the giant talons pushed their way between Tre’s rock-solid ab muscles. He screamed in fear and agony and begged for mercy, stammering through the shivers of the freezing rain, as the creature bit into him with those razored teeth. “I’m so glad you came back,” Pat’s voice said from the elk’s lips. “The hunger never ends. It only subsides when I eat, and then it immediately returns. It is insatiable and eternal. I am cursed to always remain starving to the point of madness, and desperate for the few breaks that I receive when I swallow and fill this always emptying stomach with human flesh and muscle like yours. You’re deliciously fit.”
Tre continued to scream and beg as the monster’s savage jaws ripped through him, pulling his meat from his bones. His voice rang out through the trees, begging to be saved, but it didn’t come from him. He was kneeling beside the speaker, trembling and sobbing. It was then he realized that the thing wasn’t killing him. It wanted to feed on more than his flesh. It was hurting him, infecting him, sharing its hunger. Death would not come until later.
Celeste stared out the rain-streaked window of the cabin, watching specific drops run their course towards the sill as if they were racing. She stared out past the racing droplets at the pouring rain that soaked the surrounding trees leaving them heavy enough to hang like slumped shoulders, and her heart ached for Tre. He wasn’t even wearing a shirt. He had to be soaked to the bone. She would be surprised if he didn’t end up with pneumonia. He was so stubborn but that was part of what she loved about him.
As she stared out into the rain and the seemingly endless forest, Celeste thought about how she really did love Tre. Why didn’t that matter more than the reactions of her family and peers? She didn’t know the answer to that question and often felt angry with herself for it. She wanted to direct her anger at her bigoted relatives but she couldn’t, not really. They didn’t make her decisions. They controlled their own feelings. It was her choice to allow them to control hers. She wished Tre would come back so she could apologize, hold him in her arms. She bit her lip as she considered the fun ways she could make it up to him.
He had been gone a while and Celeste had spent that time thinking. She knew that she was wrong to ask him to put her above his closest friend when she wouldn’t even truly date him. She wasn’t actually jealous of Pat, not really. She was just venting her frustrations with herself and trying to say what she never could, that she wanted to be more and mean more to him. She didn’t know why she didn’t just say what she meant. It just wasn’t that simple. The rain made it hard to see out of the cabin window now. It sounded almost angry as it pelted the roof and walls. She realized just how alone she was and put her palm against the glass of the window. “Come back,” she said.
More time passed and Celeste decided to say screw it. She stepped out of the cabin into the downpour. The trees shook in the wind now and looked like they were shivering as much as she was. She walked towards the trees that Tre had run into earlier and she sighed, her heart sinking further into a pit of despair.
“Please just come back to me,” she said quietly.
She decided then that if he did come back, today was going to be the day. She was going to express her true feelings, tell him how she has actually loved him for years, long before they started sleeping together, and her feelings for him extended far beyond sex. She was going to ask him to stand beside her as she rebelled against the ways of her family, to see if he was willing to support her and officially be her partner in life. Celeste was finally going to do what she should have done a long time ago.
She wiped the big beads of rain from her face and stepped closer to the trees. The forest seemed so large from where she was standing. She felt like he could be anywhere. It was frightening and overwhelming. She wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for him if she wanted to. Celeste stood in the pouring rain at the edge of the trees, just wishing with her whole heart for Tre to come back to her.
It wasn’t Tre that came running out of the woods though. It was Pat. He stumbled and collapsed on the ground at her feet. He was bleeding, the blood running in rivulets from the rain. “What’s happening? Where’s Tre?” she asked him.
“There’s something out there. It steals your voice. It bit me. Oh God, it bit me.”
Celeste knelt before him. She grabbed him by the shirt and stared into his eyes. “What are you talking about? Where’s Tre?”
Pat blinked and stared at her, the rain mixing with blood and running down his face from a wound in his hairline. “I- I don’t know. I thought he was here. I was trying to warn you both. I got lost. He’s not here?”
Celeste threw him down and groaned with disgust. “No. He went looking for you, like an hour ago. I haven’t seen or heard from him since and he’s not answering his phone. None of this would have happened if you didn’t tag along.”
Pat’s gaze froze, lingering on her like he’d seen her for the first time. Then his body started to jerk and spasm, his limbs jumping out awkwardly in unnatural ways. Celeste backed away from him. She was backing towards the cabin, prepared to get to her phone and call for help, but she didn’t want to take her eyes off of him.
Then he stood. He looked different somehow, like someone else wearing a mask of Pat’s face, expressionless. “It’s so hungry,” he said. “It can’t ever get full. When it bit me, it gave it to me.”
“What are you talking about?” Celeste said, walking backwards into the cabin wall.
“Hunger for what?” she said, covering her body and feeling suddenly vulnerable.
“For you to be gone. You’re no good. I gotta protect Tre. I’ve protected him since we were kids.”
“He doesn’t need your protection!” she shouted. “He’s a grown man. He can protect himself. He almost won the Heisman. You think he really needs you to stand up for him? Does he need a white savior, you asshole?”
Pat screamed. It was primal, animalistic and wordless. He charged her. Celeste cried out in terror and tried to get into the cabin. She turned and lunged for the open door, but he caught her by the back of her shirt and dragged her back. “Tre!” she screamed. “Tre! Help me!”
Pat backhanded her and she lost her footing, slipping to the wet ground. “Tre!” she screamed as he stomped a foot down on her belly. Her eyes found the treeline and she saw something there, something watching. It was a monster, tall and upright but hunched over, its ribs jutting out over its bloated belly, stick thin bent and furry legs that ended in hooves. Dark eyes watched her intently form between antlers. Then its mouth opened to display the worst teeth she had ever seen.
“Help me! Please!” It was Tre’s voice but it came from the mouth of the beast that stood by and watched as Pat mercilessly beat her. She sobbed. She struggled and tried to get free, but he was stronger than her, stronger than himself. His fist drove down into her eye. Shaking and coughing, Celeste rolled onto her side. Then she saw familiar brown legs. “Tre?” she said quietly through a bleeding mouth of broken teeth.
“I’m so hungry,” he said from above her. She struggled to look up at him and she saw through her one good eye that he was holding a chainsaw. “What are you doing? I love you. Do you hear me, Tre. I love you.”
Pat kicked at her again but Tre shoved him away. He stood in between them. Celeste, crying, looked up at him and saw that there were chunks missing. Flesh and muscle had been ripped from his bones by the beast she could still feel watching them all from the edge of the trees. “I want desperately for you both to be able to share me,” Tre said, yanking the cord on the chainsaw and letting it roar to life. “I hunger for it. I crave it.”
“Tre, please..” Celeste cried, but there was no stopping him. He drove the chainsaw’s spinning blade into himself. Blood sprayed and meat shred, bones cracked and yet he kept going, his eyes focused and determined. Then he came apart, half falling towards Pat and the other half dropping onto a screaming Celeste. The chainsaw hit the ground and continued to jump and bounce. Celeste was shaking furiously when the bleeding stump that had been the man she loved was pulled off of her. She screamed until Pat’s boot stomped the scream from her lungs.
Pat stood panting from exertion over Celeste’s brutalized body. He felt satisfied but it only lasted a moment. The violence made him hunger for more. He heard snapping twigs amidst the cracks of thunder and the pelting rhythm of the rain. He turned his head and saw the thing that had given him this hunger, put it inside him like its seed.
“Now you go,” it said in Celeste’s voice. “It is your turn now.” Now the voice was his own. “Go share my hunger,” it said, sounding like Tre.
Pat knew that he had to obey. It was inside him now. He nodded, and made his way to the car. He was so hungry. He couldn’t control it. He would have to feed that hunger soon. As he started the car, Pat looked out the window and saw the creature kneeling beside Tre and Celeste. It tore with its talons and fed their meat into its elk maw, shredding it with razor-sharp teeth. Pat hungered to join the thing, but he knew he had to find his own way to satiate his hunger. Soon, he thought as he hit the highway. Soon.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Chisto HealyPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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