The village of Leesburg was a large yet close knit community whose citizens had supported each other throughout recent rough times. Most of the villagers' livestock had perished thanks to an unknown outbreak that had spread like wildfire, and predators from the surrounding forest sneaking their way in and picking off half of what was left. Crops had also been scarce that harvest, but there was enough to get by. With meat being as hard to come by as it was and winter soon to set in, George Collins and his close friend and neighbor Corbin Matthews had decided that it would be best for both of their families if they were to go on a hunt. Not only could they both use the meat, but the hides might be able to fetch a fair price insuring they had money to purchase necessary supplies for the next planting season. The two men were to be gone for three days, and had entrusted George's son, George junior a boy of fourteen to look after their wives. Sarah, Corbin's wife, and their newly born daughter Henrietta, would be staying with the boy and George's wife Mary while her husband was away. With the assurance that both of their families would be safe during the hunt, the two men packed up their things, saddled up their horses and headed out.
The trees grew tightly together, barely letting any sun through to the forest floor, their branches reached out towards the men as if trying to catch them in their grasp. A few times George or Corbin would be struck by one of them as a chilling wind began to whip through woods. They wanted to get as far into the forest as possible in the first day seeing as the further out from town you got the larger and more concentrated the game was. They had scared up a few birds, even a rabbit or two while riding, but had seen no signs of deer or any other large animal for hours.
The sun began to set and the two men knew it would be best to stop and set up camp, for with the trees so densely packed, when night fell they would be plunged into near blackness. They found a place that seemed rather dry and hitched their horses to a nearby tree, then turned their attention to gathering enough wood for a fire that would last throughout the night. Once that had been accomplished they built the fire rather quickly. Huddling over the flames for warmth, the two thought about unpacking the horses before heading to sleep, but had decided it would be easier if they just left them for now seeing as they would be heading further out at first light. The men found places to sleep near the fire, George reclining against a fallen tree, Corbin leaning back against the trunk of one still standing, and soon the both of them were snoring.
A series of loud noises woke George from his slumber, his gaze falling on the horses, who shifted nervously in the shadows. "Corbin." George said as he kicked his friend with his boot "Corbin, wake up, something is wrong."
Corbin woke up with a startled look on his face "What is going on?" he asked, rubbing his eyes to wake himself.
"Something spooked the horses." George told Corbin as he stared into the darkness that surrounded them. Suddenly a howl rang out, echoing through the trees, followed by another and a series of low growls from behind them "Wolves." he said, and both of them shot to their feet. They kept their backs to the fire, and their eyes trained on the forest surrounding them. Corbin turned and grabbed a flaming log from the fire, and slowly four large wolves crept into sight. They snapped their jaws at the men as they circled around, and Corbin swung his torch at them. The horses rose up on their hind legs and let out a loud huffing neigh signaling their terror, drawing the attention of the predators. They slammed their hooves on the ground and tore their necks to the side, snapping the branches they had been tied to, and fled into the night, the wolves taking off after their prey. "Shit!" said George as he moved to take off after the horses.
"Stop George!" Corbin called after him rushing behind him and grabbing his arm "Those wolves will kill you!"
George shifted and grabbed Corbin's shirt collar "We will die either way if we do not have the food and guns that were packed on those damn animals!" his breath came out in a ragged sigh "I am sorry." his anger instantly dissipated and he released Corbin "I just do not know what in the hell we are going to do now." he walked over and sat down on the fallen tree which he had been sleeping against earlier.
"We find shelter." Corbin said and George looked up at him, his expression asking if his friend had lost his mind, but Corbin reassured him "If I remember correctly there should be some caves near here. We make camp in one over night, then head out on foot in the morning. If we can by some miracle find the horses, if they survived, then we can continue on, If not then at least we did not freeze to death." He explained.
Nodding George said "Sounds like a good plan." he stood up, pulled his coat tight around him against the biting wind which he now noticed had seemed to drop in temperature rather quickly "We should get going." Corbin nodded and held his torch up against the night. They had nothing to take with them; everything had been on those horses except for their hunting knives, which remained strapped to their sides. Marching into the darkness they began their search, trying to remain hopeful.
They wandered for what felt like an hour, unsure of where they were headed, but George had faith in his friend, Corbin knew this area better than he did, and he trusted him to get them out of their current situation. As they walked Corbin periodically shifted his torch from side to side, hoping to ward off any predators that may have been lurking in the dark. He knew where he was going, had been there many times with his father in his youth, and it would not be much longer until they arrived. The air grew even colder as they continued on, and each could see his warm breath against the light of the torch, along with a few white flakes falling upon occasion "Snow," Corbin said "that is just great." he squinted peering around, then moved forward "Come on George, it's just up ahead."
Another minute or two passed and the snow began to come down harder in larger flakes, making their already dimmed vision all the more worse. However a moment later George felt his spirits lift, as they came upon the mouth of a small cave "Thank you my friend." George told Corbin as they approached it.
Corbin nodded and said "We need to find some dry wood quickly before the snow sets in too much. We'll have to build a fire at the mouth of the cave to ward away any animals." George nodded and they got to work, starting the fire with Corbin's now dimming torch "Very good," Corbin said "now I think we should get some rest. If we cannot find those horses tomorrow, it is going to be a long hard walk back to town."
"Right." said George, and once again the two men drifted off to sleep. When they woke the next morning the fire was completely snuffed out by the snow, and it seemed as if a blizzard had whipped itself up out of no where. They tried to see beyond the mouth of the cave, there was nothing but white, they knew they were not going to be leaving anytime soon.
Days passed, and save for a few short time periods, the snow did quit coming. George and Corbin had moved to the back of the cave hoping to shield themselves from the icy cold, and it had only helped slightly. They remained huddled together, trying to keep warm. They had little access to water, and no chance of finding food, their stomachs had been empty for far too long and they both feared that they would not make it. For one of the men that fear became a reality.
On the sixth day, George woke, lips cracked, hands and feet numb from the cold, his stomach aching in hunger. He turned to his best friend, and shook his shoulder trying to wake him. It did not work "Corbin." he said and shook him again, but nothing happened "Corbin!" George shouted, but still the man did not move, and he was not breathing. His skin was ice cold to the touch, and George knew there was nothing he could do for his friend. He began weeping, what would he tell Sarah? Their new baby girl would now be growing up without a father. He had lost his friend. Pain filled George, his stomach felt as if he had been kicked in it. If he could not somehow find food, it would be his wife without a husband and his child without a father. But there was no way, even if by some chance he could find an animal in this God forsaken weather, how could he kill it? He had no gun, only his hunting knife. It was then that a dark thought passed through George's mind. His gaze falling back on Corbin's body, Corbin's empty lifeless body. No one would have to know, his friend was no longer in there, his soul had departed this body. George could say they had been attacked by wolves, which would not be an outright lie. There was no other choice, it was either eat or die, and George chose to eat. He unsheathed his knife, pressed it against Corbin's arm, and sliced. He was just so hungry.
Three days, Mary thought, they were only supposed to be gone three days, then the snow storm hit. The two women and their children sat and waited, for any sign that George and Corbin had returned. Sarah believed they would make it back, but after a week Mary was not so sure. She and Sarah decided it was time to look for help. They went into town and found Samson Whitefeather, a member of the Cree tribe and tracker for hire. The next morning after being paid by the two women he headed out into the forest in search of their husbands.
Two nights later, when Samson returned, they knew something was wrong. There was body flung over the back of his horse, only one body. Whoever it was, was wailing, and barely moving. Sarah and Mary rushed outside to meet Samson as he climbed down off of his horse "There was only one." he told them and began helping whoever it was down from the horse.
Samson had to hold George upright or else he would have collapsed to the ground "George!" Mary exclaimed as she rushed forward and embraced her husband.
"Mary." he said his voice raspy and barely audible.
Sarah began to cry "Where, where is Corbin?" she ran up to George and shook him "Where is Corbin?" she asked.
"Wolves." was all George said before he passed out. Sarah fell to the ground, weeping, and George junior rushed out of the house to her side.
Mary turned to her son "Take her inside." she told him and he did as asked. Then she turned to Samson "There was no sign of the other man?" she asked.
Samson shook his head "No." He looked at George and said, "Best get him inside." Mary nodded and once they were inside showed Samson the way to she and George's bedroom.
"You can lay him down there on the bed." She told him "Thank you."
Suddenly George began to scream "No! No! I'm sorry! Hungry, so hungry!" he had broken out in a sweat, and Samson kept his eyes trained on the man "It burns!" George yelled "My skin is on fire!"
Mary dampened a cloth in the wash basin that sat on the bedside table and patted George's face down "Shhh, it is okay, you are going to be fine. You are home love." George grew silent once again but his body trembled as if something was moving under his skin which had become a pale sickly gray.
"The fever has taken him." Samson said as if the word fever carried a different meaning "This is not right. He is not right." he watched the man "I have heard stories ma'am. Of men in the wilderness, who do unspeakable things, they become twisted, hungry." Mary looked into Samson's eyes and saw only fear "Always hungry." he backed away "I will not stay here any longer. He is cursed, he is Wendigo." The tracker turned out of the door, and moved swiftly, not sparing a moment to glance back and fled the house.
Mary shook off any fear Samson had caused in her, she never had been a superstitious woman, and she needed to take care of her husband. She knew he had to be hungry, so first thing she did was grab a bowl of the stew she had made earlier that evening. Propping George up on pillows so he could eat, Mary began to feed him spoonfuls of the stew. However after only a few bites he suddenly began retching and vomited all over the bed. Mary quickly removed the soiled blankets and wiped Georges face with a cool damp cloth.
It was then that she noticed the whites of his eyes had become a dull faded yellow, and the eyes themselves had sunken into their sockets. His body suddenly began to convulse, Mary screamed and jumped back. Her husbands skin rippled and his neck snapped back as his teeth grew long and rotten. "It burns!" he yelled again as his fingers began tearing at his own flesh. Suddenly his face snapped toward Mary and he sniffed the air "Hungry." he said his voice growling. His body convulsed again and a screech ripped from his mouth, he bit at his own lips, bloodying them, he clawed at his face ripping the remains of his lips with his nails, which had like his teeth had grown in length and taken on a brown yellowish color, and ate the tiny chunks of flesh. He kept peeling pieces of his own skin off and stuffing them into his mouth. This thing, whatever it was, was no longer her husband.
She ran out of the room, finding herself face to face with George junior "Take Sarah, and the baby, and run!" Mary screamed at her son "Do not stop running until you get to her house! Lock all of the doors and windows!" she grabbed him by the shoulders "Do you understand?"she asked, and the boy nodded. Mary followed him down the stairs and found Sarah weeping still with Henrietta cradled in her arms, Mary pulled her to her feet "Take the baby and go with Georgie. Now!" Sarah numb to everything simply did as she was told, running out the door into the night after the boy.
A loud thumping noise came from above Mary, followed by something shattering and several more crashing sounds. There was a blur of shadow on the stairs, and suddenly the creature dropped down from the ceiling at the foot of them, it screeched and took a step towards Mary, its head cocking to the side almost bird like. Its skin, which was a nasty mix of muddy gray and the bright red of freshly peeled under flesh, was pulled tightly over its skeleton, its hair, Georges hair, had been torn out in places leaving only bloody bald patches. The thing watched Mary, sniffing the air once again, it's face distorting into a twisted half smile half sneer and it licked its teeth.
Mary knew she probably would not make it, but she saw no other choice, and so she decided to run. Her feet carried her to the back door, and she did not stop. She could hear the creature behind her as she ran across the grass, towards the shelter of the trees. Perhaps somehow once she got into the forest he would find a place to hide. Her hopes however were dashed as the creature jumped into the trees using it's long sharp nails to cling to them, and suddenly slammed to the ground in front of Mary. Its hand wrapped around her throat and pulled her to him. The scent of the beasts rotten breath enveloped her as it sniffed her neck. Rearing back the Wendigo, as Samson had called it, screeched once more, and then struck, lunging forward and tearing its teeth into Mary's neck. She tried to scream but no sound came, there was only the pain and sharp copper taste of blood, as the thing that used to be her husband began feasting on her flesh.