Headed north to Roseau, Minnesota, he pulled over upon seeing the hitchhiker. Her solid, muscular frame and long brown hair convinced him she was likely a Wisconsin farm girl.
“Roseau — Forestry Service job.”
“Well get in then, I’m Jim. Got a name?”
Testing that the door opened freely, she sat down. Driving off Jim mused, “sure ain’t a big talker, bit glum lookin’, mind you —” Shifting towards her with a ‘yunno you really want it’ look, he pulled up short before the Bowie knife she had drawn from an ankle sheath.
“Make like a clam and drive, Jim.”
After lunch alone at the Pine Bluff Diner she crossed Centre St. to the Forestry Office and addressed the woman at the desk:
“Trail clearing job still available?”
“Yes, think you can handle it? half the people this year have quit, most without notice.”
“Need the money. My family were loggers.”
“Well, officer Guldbranson will be the one to decide.” Turning, she shouted into the room behind her, “Hey, Jim!”
Eula cringed, glaring at Jim as he came out, sporting a crisp uniform and a grin.
Informed of her responsibilities, she replied, “Fine.”
“Try anything again...” she added, glancing at her ankle sheath, “and I’ll gut you and leave you for the crows.”
“Yes, Miss Dangerous,” he replied smirking. “Monday, 6 o’clock. You’ll be working with Doug and Daphne, they’re pros. Pick up a uniform on the way out.”
* * *
Jim had driven them out to the Lost River State Forest and was to return at supper time. Weighted down with pick and shovel, chain-saws, a jerry-can of gas, nails to assemble a log bridge, and their lunches, they had had to bush-whack deep into the forest to reach their work site — Forestry Service policy allowed no motorized vehicles in the forest.
A couple of weeks of sweat, mosquitoes, clearing brush, along with hauling and assembling logs for the bridge in knee-deep mud had brought the trio closer. Noise in the bush near their work site — possibly bears — convinced Jim to supply them with an old bolt action .303 he’d gotten up in Canada. Picking it up, Eula smoothly worked the bolt, inserted a cartridge, closed the breech and, bracing herself, took a branch off a nearby tree — Doug and Daphne elected her gun-bearer.
The weather had changed. Dark clouds, a fog-dense atmosphere and a pervasive grey twilight reigned. Whatever was out there had failed to be driven away by warning shots. A putrid smell would occasionally waft through the forest suggesting a nearby bear-kill. On one such occasion Daphne thought she’d seen a tall, emaciated and very elderly man dodging quickly through the undergrowth. When a couple of members of the crew across the ridge went AWOL, and the noises and furtive shadows grew more frequent, the three agreed to work in closer proximity, one always carrying the rifle.
An uneventful week of clear weather left the trio feeling somewhat relieved — they would see the summer through and collect full pay.
Early August brought more hot, rainy, overcast weather. Upon shifting their work to a section of trail buried in an inextricably tangle of splintered regrowth brought on by a spring ice-storm, the noise in the bush and the stench had recurred. Daphne and Doug decided to find out once and for all what was going on. They would take the rifle, Eula would stay put, chain saws and a double-bitted axe would deter any potential intruder.
Drawing her watch along with a handful of .303 shells from her pocket, Eula realized she’d been waiting over three hours. The wind had shifted and the rain had stopped, but the stench had worsened. The axe and smallest chainsaw in hand, she first headed for the pickup point, but a flitting shadow of a man up the trail sent her instinctively back — worse case she’d cross the ridge and join the other team. She felt the need to move stealthily, keeping trees and brush between her and the vague, shadowy threat. The stench worsened as she climbed a ridge from the crest of which several immense firs trees had fallen and their leafy crowns come to rest together on a rocky outcrop. The emaciated man appeared, rapidly climbing the hill, but she knew better than to draw his attention. On a ledge above the fallen trees, the stench suddenly hit her: on a ledge below, among the fir boughs, were bodies, piled like cord-wood, some well advanced in putrefaction, others — Daphne, Doug — fresh, all clearly missing substantial portions of flesh.
Dropping axe and chainsaw, Eula picked up the discarded rifle, and loaded a fresh shell. Something stirred in the foliage surrounding the bodies. A loathsome, emaciated semblance of a man crept up towards her, pausing for a large morsel from its larder. The momentary mesmerism of its glowing eyes, and her gut-wrenching disgust were overcome by an overpowering anger. She fired at it, round after round, the bolt singeing her hand when she finally expended the last round — it only tumbled down among the fir branches to rise again, climbing even faster. The shells spent, she reached for the axe, and swinging it over her head let it fly. The vile creature howled, temporarily pinned to a tree trunk. Picking up the chainsaw she grasped the pull-handle, released it, and instead uncapped the gas tank and poured out all but a couple of ounces over the stone and fir boughs. Then she yanked hard, the chainsaw sputtered, then caught. The creature had yet to free itself. She leaned down and ground the blade into the rock, and was blown back as the fuel ignited and flames spread rapidly to the resinous branches. Then she ran.
Putting Eula on the bus a week later, Jim informed her: “That hillside ain’t nothing but cinders, just as well, between you and me — the cops wouldn’t buy your story, the wendigo ain’t been seen here since the 20s. Now, take care of yourself.”
Copyright: © 2010 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.