A Frigid Little Halloween Tale

“It is the main point in the Chenoo stories that this horrible being, this most devilish of devils, is at first human; perhaps an unusually good girl, or youth. From having the heart once chilled, she or he goes on in cruelty, until at last the sufferer eats the heart of another Chenoo, especially a female’s. Then utter wickedness ensues.” The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, [1884]

“Giwakwas (or Kee-wakw) are the evil man-eating ice giants of southern Wabanaki legends. According to most legends, a Giwakwa was once a human being who either became possessed by an evil spirit or committed a terrible crime (especially cannibalism or withholding food from a starving person), causing his heart to turn to ice.”
http://www.native-languages.org/giwakwa.htm

Boundary Headwaters Forest
Northwestern Maine
2014

Blake poked an ember in the fire pit with a chiseled stick. Sparks zinged in arcs in every direction, landing in the dirt. The wind caught one and it floated over the campsite, a glowing reddish-orange piece of hell.

He watched as it died away, fading into the vast dark sky.

“Hey, man. I’m glad our parents let us come camping tonight,” his friend Corbin said. “I really didn’t want to take my little brother and sister trick-or-treating again this year.”

Blake poked the sole of his friend’s hiking boot with the smoking stick. “Think of all the candy you’re missing out on.”

“Think of all the whining fairy princesses I’m missing out on,” Corbin said.

“Good point.” Blake chuckled. “Of course I know how to have fun with some of those fairy princesses.” He poked the fire again and dropped a chunk of wood the size of his forearm into the burning pile. Ash puffed in tiny whirlwinds.

“Ew! Little girls bro.”

Blake threw a twig at him. “I’m not a pervert you sicko. I’m talking about the older princesses, like … Haley, maybe.”

Corbin tossed a stick into the fire. “Haley? You’re dreaming again. She wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole. She likes jocks, not nerdy do-gooders.” He pulled his jacket on. “Let’s go mess with other campers. It is Halloween, after all.”

“Mess with them how?” Blake leaned back in his camp chair and laced his fingers together over his flat stomach. “It’s quiet hours.”

“You know, scratch on their tents, rattle pots and pans after they go to bed, smash eggs on their cars, pretend to be monsters. We both have hoodies. We can look sinister.”

“Maybe. I don’t want to get into trouble. My parents trust me to do the right thing.” Blake bit his bottom lip. He’d never pranked anyone other than the history teacher in eighth grade, and he’d been a good sport about it. “No throwing eggs or anything and we’re skipping those people with the little kids. I don’t want them to hate camping because of the boogey –”

Footsteps crunched the gravel on the drive pad to the site. The boys peered into the shadows around their truck as a man with wild white hair and a ragged army coat appeared in the light of the fire.

Blake stood up, smoking stick in hand. He hadn’t seen this dude wandering around in the daylight. His heart thumped rapidly. “Who are you?”

Corbin stood up beside him. “Yeah. What do you want?”

As the man stepped closer, his sagging wrinkled skin caught the flicker of the light making his face seem to crawl. “I just saw your fire. I was cold.” He took another step. A waft of stale sweat and dead flesh drifted over the campsite. “I’m hungry. Do you have anything to eat?”

Blake hesitated. His mom always told him to help old people, but, who was this man and where had he come from? Whack jobs were everywhere nowadays. He had to be responsible and get home without any problems. “I’m sorry, but we can’t help. Maybe you should talk –”

Corbin moved towards the man. He pinched his nose. “Where did you come from anyway? You smell awful, dude. Go take a shower. They have soap and everything.”

Blake pulled his friend back. “Look, mister. Just go talk to the ranger. I’m sure he … could …” His eyes grew wide as the army coat seemed to grow before his eyes until it fit snuggly around the middle of a pudgy, nearly bald woman. The wrinkled flesh smoothed across the chin and pierced into dimples as she smiled at him. Wisps of grey hair drifted to the ground.

He licked his lips and glanced back at Corbin. “Um, excuse me but, uh, what was that?” Now he wished he’d brought his dad’s gun. Everything useful was packed away for the night in the truck. He waved the pointed stick at her.

Corbin grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Let’s not do something crazy. Who or what are you?”

The woman smiled again and moved closer to the fire, holding her hands into the warmth. One hand was gloved, the other was bare and stained with something black. As she parted her lips to speak, her jagged teeth glinted a pure white. “I told you. I was cold and hungry. Didn’t you bring marshmallows to roast or something? I don’t need much.”

The boys exchanged glances again.

Blake stuck the stick into the throbbing coals. He almost believed she was normal. “Okay, if we give you a couple of marshmallows will you go away?” If he got to the car and their food stash, he could get the axe at least. It would be some kind of protection.

The woman nodded and rubbed her hands together.

He handed his stick to Corbin. His phone screen glowed an eery blue color as he flicked on the flashlight app. No cell reception here. He didn’t even have to look. Making a wide gap around the woman he clicked the locks on the truck and went to the passenger side. He glanced back at the pair at the fire, trying to keep them in his peripheral vision.

The bag of white gooey blobs was on the seat and he picked it up. This was all too weird. Maybe the marshmallows had been laced with something. He opened the metal army ammunition box his grandfather had given him and pulled out his hatchet. He sharpened it that afternoon so he could cut wood, not defend himself. The top of the box clanked shut. He wasn’t sure he could even make himself use it if he had to. She was a woman, or an old man, or something. He swallowed the lump in his throat.

Corbin called out. “Hey. you might want to hold off on the marshmallows and get back here.”

Blake looked up and closed the door on the truck. The army coat laid in a pile on the ground encompassing the feet of a whisper thin child wearing pajamas. He couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a boy. The hair was cropped short and the child hugged their arms around themselves.

“Please take me home. I’m cold and hungry.” The voice was almost a squeak.

Blake circled around them and stood beside his friend again, the axe held tight in one hand. “Look, I don’t know who or what you are but you have to go away. Now.” He tried to raise his voice but it was trembling. “Go on. Go away.”

The child covered it’s face with it’s hands. Whimpers rose in waves, piercing the silence of the campground, until a wail bellowed through the trees rattling even the earth. As the child’s hands fell away, the face morphed into a snarl of large canines stained yellow. All the hair fell to the ground with a violent jolt. The flannel pajamas ripped into shreds as sharp spindly legs burst out in every direction.

Corbin shrieked and dragged at the arm of Blake’s jacket, nearly pulling him over.

Blake held the hatchet over his head, menacing the creature. “Don’t make me use this,” he said. Grabbing the burning stick from the fire, he waved it in front of the now eight foot spider thing in front of him.

It lunged towards him, planting one dagger like foot into the leaf covered ground.

Blake backed up closer to Corbin. But he wanted to stay near the fire. Fire kept away ravenous animals and bad things. At least it was supposed to. That’s how it worked in the movies.

Another monstrous black leg plunged into the ground inches from him.

Instinctively, he slashed out with the hatchet, severing the lower segment.

The demon stumbled towards him, the remaining limb dripping with a blackish ooze knocked him over.

Corbin squealed again and disappeared into the gloom screaming. “We are leaving. Now! Get in the truck. Get in the truck. Get in the truck.”

Another giant leg pierced the earth a few inches from Blake’s head.

He shot a glance to the razor sharp fangs hanging over him. No time to be afraid. No time to run. Fight. Just fight with all the fury you can. He swung the hatchet again, connecting with another leg.

The spider crumpled towards him.

He swung the other direction slicing through two legs at once. Black ooze splattered his face and jacket. The smell of rotting flesh made him gag.

The spider fell into the flames and wailed. The sound reverberated through the ground.

He rolled away and sat up on his knees. His lungs burned. He needed air.

Branches in the trees rattled, at first like the purr of a cat and then faster and louder until it sounded like a hail storm on a rusty metal barn.

He held his hands over his ears, stumbled to his feet, and looked around for Corbin. The night had consumed him, it seemed. Blake turned back to the scorching monster, sizzling alive. It was dying. At least he hoped it was dying.

“Go back to the hell you came from,” he growled.

As suddenly as the child had turned into the spider, the wrinkled face of the old man reappeared. The spindly legs vanished. The fangs shrank into a wretched gasp. The body of the old man writhed in the flames. Remnants of both of his arms and one of his legs jerked violently spattering black ooze like a rain storm.

Blake’s eyes bulged as the groans hushed. He stood staring at the body fueling the flames. Silence hung around him. His arm started to ache and he realized he was holding the hatchet so hard that his fingers were white. White with blood splatters dripping down them.

He threw the hatchet. What had he done? Had he just killed someone? His eyes blurred, dried from the heat of the fire. He closed them. Let this be a dream. Let this be a dream. He sucked in air through his nose and held it as he opened his eyes again. But it wasn’t a dream.

A body lay in front of him, still on fire, black smoke billowing into the night.

He let out his breath and sank to the ground. Hours seemed to pass as the body burned into a blackened carcass. As the first light of morning turned the sky into an azure blue, he looked up. Smoke drifted in wisps from what remained of the head. The ribs pointed like fingers on a hand straight towards him.

As the sun’s first rays sliced through the morning, a glint shined from inside the burned out shell. Blake poked at it with a stick, absently. The glint was solid. Hard. Like ice.

But the old man had just burned in the fire. It couldn’t be ice.

Blake moved to the charred remains and pushed them with his foot. The icy block fell into the ashes. He picked it up. It was ice. How could it be ice? He dropped it and rubbed his hands on his pants backing away.

A breeze danced around him and he hugged his arms. He was cold. Ice cold and shivering. He tugged his jacket tighter and zipped it closed. He was just chillded. That had to be it. He’d light the fire again and find Corbin and everything would be fine.

He turned around to get the lighter from the grill and saw his friend leering around the corner of the tent.

“Hey Corbin, it’s okay. It was just a bad dream. We just scared ourselves.” His teeth started chattering.

Corbin just stared and shook his head. “What … who … where’s Blake?” he asked, whimpering. “Who are you and what did you do to my friend?”

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