Wendigo (Paperback)

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The Wendigo craves flesh, and will be a slave to its hunger forever.

James’s life is falling apart at the seams.

A dysfunctional marriage. Underemployment. Run-ins with the law.

He yearns for redemption from what he’s done and from what he’s failed to do for his wife, Rebecca, and son, Jr.

But after James’s latest incident, Rebecca attempts an ill-prepared adventure into the Rocky Mountains with Jr. to gather her thoughts.

Things quickly escalate as contact is lost in the restricted area of the forest, and James embarks on a rescue mission.

James won’t fail his family again, bringing with him two expert rescue technicians who seem to know the restricted area a little too well. 

They are hiding something. His family needs him.

The forest is hiding something. His family needs him.

Something lurks in the shadows. And it craves them all…

Paperback 284 pages
Dimensions 5 x 0.71 x 8 inches
ISBN 979-8482713327
Publication date September 23, 2021
Publisher The Nightmare Engine

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Felton Forest was a particularly acrid and uncharted swathe of trees and underbrush that locals from the surrounding town of Barhill refused to call a national park for many years, choosing rather to ignore its existence. Dubbed the Fell or Foul Forest for its stench of rotting meat and sour milk, it was a wonder why anyone had established a township next to such a fetid place. But in 1985, after two hikers went missing, venturing out into what they saw as an undiscovered gem, it gained some attention. Negative attention, to be sure, but it drove enough traffic to the area that the forest grew a cult following, and tourism picked up - at least for a little while.
The story of the missing hikers was buried under the curious rotten smell. After calls for recognition (and funding), the national forestry service finally gave in, designated the area as a preserve, and set up an outpost and trails, adding in an equally rancid gift-shop filled with clip-on-noses and oil-based products (claiming to protect you from gagging while you traipsed through the foliage and imagined you were in a room temperature meat locker.)
No one knows where the smell came from, and scientists had even tried a small project in 1989 to identify the source, but quickly moved on. It turned out no one cared about why it smelled - they just carried on with their lives, accepted the World’s Smelliest Town designator on the city limit signs of Barhill, and promptly went back to ignoring the large stretch of trees. The forestry service fell into the background, the occasional tourist tried to reach the northern ridge where the woods stopped at a small river with a decent current (assuming to go fishing, or drown the smell from their noses), and the world moved on.
Buddy Walsh, or Bud if you knew him well enough, lived in Barhill all his life. As he drove the narrow highway, 55 it was called, for its speed and year built, west from Carlisle to Barhill, he passed a wall of lush trees that blocked out the sun. He held his breath, cursed at the forest, and squinted into the distance. His eyes were slowly failing him, but he didn’t care. Nobody wanted to give ol’ Bud a ride to the bar. It was Tuesday at noon, and he already stunk of cheap whiskey. His pickup, nearly as old as he was, was clunky and road-walked even at his putzing pace of 30 in a 55. Everyone knew he drank, and everyone knew he took the same abandoned highway from his house to the bar and back. No one traveled on 55, because it was the closest to the forest. No one except Bud.
Some new boy band blared over the radio. Too drunk to care to change it, he instead grumbled as yet another teeny-bopper song came on. They were popular now, and Bud had secretly wished he had died long before bleached hair and earrings made it on full-grown men. By hating the new soft generation and voicing a boisterous opinion about them to all who would listen, he felt he was doing a service to the world. Even the big-wigs at the capitol had predicted the world to end in something called Y2K. For them it hadn’t. For Bud, it had. Men were no longer men, cars were built smaller with more plastic than metal, gas went up to $2.00 a gallon, and fruity tourists from the city crossed the state lines to sniff at the Fell Forest.
“Fuck ‘em,” Bud growled at the radio as he merged back into his lane and rumbled on. He passed a fading green highway sign on the right, shot to shit by a bunch of kids, and smiled. Those were the good days. Now, there were digital music players and video games, and kids spent more time preening than shooting stuff, picking out a movie at Blockbuster, or getting caught making-out on a back road.
“Soft. All soft,” Bud barked, spotting his own wrinkly eye in the rear-view mirror. Then, as the corrugated lane marker on the right let him know he was drifting, he looked away, but not before catching a glimpse of a tall shadow, stepping briefly from the wall of trees, then disappearing back inside. Bud didn’t slow, and he didn’t care. Instead, he reached for the handle of whiskey on his front seat and took a swig. He wasn’t nearly drunk enough to deal with that.
Four miles later, Bud inched his truck over a curb on the right and parked in the dirt lot outside a decrepit wood faced building with a sign on it labeled simply “Bar.” The sign had long since burnt out, but the people who came to this bar knew it was here before that sign had come about. As Bud shuffled up the ramp (installed specifically for him), a set of teenagers, a man, or a boy rather, in a motorcycle jacket and his trampy girlfriend nearly ran into him. He made note to mention to Doug Prion, the barkeep, to install lane markers on the ramp. He snorted at his own wit and pushed his way inside.
Though the town was rancid and the smell oppressive, the bar itself was at least a partial relief. Filled with smoke, the one-room establishment had grimy floors, worn wooden stools and a natural haze from the cancer swirling the fan. It was perfect for a man, not a girl in a short white skirt and her boyfriend. Doug was at his familiar perch behind the counter. He held a glass in his hand, probably full of whatever cheap swig he had on tap that week, and watched the local news on a crookedly mounted TV. He ignored Bud even after he sat down. Bud didn’t need to buy a drink. He just needed to buy people to drink with.
A long-standing joke, Bud dropped a dollar in a tip jar, grabbed a shot glass from the tray on the right and poured himself a drink from his personal stash, a bottle kept near his favorite seat. No one touched Bud’s stuff (or handled it for that matter.)
“See that tail?” Doug said without turning away from the TV. He was watching a busty reporter ramble on about the Fell Forest and conservation efforts.
“TV or walking out?” Bud asked.
“Shit. Both.” Doug said. “They were visitors, looking for a cool ride to the forest and back to city.”
“Did you tell them where to find me?” Bud slammed back his drink and flicked the shot glass.
“Fuck you, Bud.”
“Fuck you, Doug.”
The two dropped into silence. A few minutes later, the door to Bud’s back creeped open and a man much too clean for a drunk pulled up a chair next to him. He still wore his gray and blue work polo and a pair of jeans, pressed, without pre-cut holes the kids were paying extra for.
“Her tits fall out yet?” He asked, his voice hoarse from smoking. Bud rolled the glass on the bar and ignored him. That was his joke, and James Pope fucking knew it.
“No, but your wife’s did.”
James smoothed back his hair, a habit Bud recognized that came from the 80s and growing up around greasers. He, like Bud, was a relic. Still young, probably in his 40s. Bud had no problem calling him a man none-the-less. He drank real liquor, smoked real cigarettes, and drove a real car made of metal. He also had the hottest wife in town, a transplant from the east coast.
“Probably got a boob job. Would know for certain if I actually saw them once in a while," James mumbled into his cigarette.
“No boob job yet,” Doug said to the TV. “I made a down payment though.”
“Fuck you, Doug.”
“Fuck you, James.”
Bud’s stool creaked as he shifted his bony ass on it. Despite the jabs, James was a hardworking fellow, caught up in some scheme of his wife’s to “invest” in their future by letting her work on her career as some sort of high-dollar banking consultant, while he shoved shit at Blockbuster. Everyone knew the story, and everyone knew James. In fact, Tuesdays were reserved for James to gripe about her, with the understanding that Doug and Bud might jab and poke at the situation. They, unlike James, shared the misery of divorce and losing half their shit twice over. James had yet to learn, but if the last few months of Tuesday gripe sessions were any indicator, it was fast approaching.
“It’s still a mess,” James said lowly.
Oh, here we go already. Normally this starts after a few games of pool.
Bud acted like he was listening by dipping an ear, but his eyes drifted towards the blonde reporting in about the forest service’s latest attempts to raise funds for new uniforms, trail vehicles, equipment and other shit that will just end up rotting in a shed somewhere. They never needed anything, but if they were begging for spare change, they weren’t working the skunky trails and fighting off mosquitos armed with West Nile.
“She’s going there, or at least talked about it a lot,” James said, nodding toward the TV that showed the entrance to the park. The camera panned to a large cut stone serving as a sign and a log-built forester station with a round top.
Now Bud was interested. Rebecca Pope was a lot of things. A banker, a workaholic, the nicest set of legs for thirty miles. What she wasn’t was a camper, tracker or hiker of any sort.
“She has no idea what she’d be doing, but I promise the words breath of fresh air never left her lips.” He took a drag from his cigarette, looked it over once to make sure it was down to the nub, and squinted as he blew out the smoke.
“Going to get it going by the moonlight while rolling around in Pepe’s sheets?” Bud quipped.
James snorted, lit another cigarette with the butt of the old one. “Shit, Pepe is probably getting some himself. I sure as hell ain’t.”
“Y’all fighting again? Ain’t the Christian thing to do,” Doug said, finally peeling away from the television as a commercial about a mail-in video series came on.
James stretched. “I’m not a Christian, and she isn’t a practicing one. Holidays, you know? Kind of a guilty thought, it seems. But you won’t find a cross in our house, that’s for sure. Except maybe an upside down one in my kid’s room.”
Bud was interested now, fully vested in any conversation dealing with James’s kid. He was a Satanist, or so he claimed. Black hair, black eyes, black clothes, fishnets and piercings. He was the type of punk you could hear his music from a mile away while he painted his fingernails on the steps of the school. The kind of kid that always carried a knife and who’s bag you wanted to search.
That clammed James up, so Bud poured him a shot from his private reserve. It was worth it. The boy was an oddity in Barhill, and oddities made great bar-talk.
The liquor seemed to lubricate James’s tongue, and he continued. “Want to know what’s weird? Besides his clothes and the nails and stuff? The kid can read. I mean, really read. He’ll put down a book a day, easy, and retain it too. But in school, D+ at best. It’s like he doesn’t care. Maybe he’s sick. Think I should call someone?”
Doug refilled his glass and looked at James and questioned him with his eyes. “Would he even take it if you offered?”
“No. But if I pressed Rebecca, she could mention it. He listens to her. My kid’s a Satanist momma’s boy. I couldn’t get him to pick up a wrench if it meant he could have that tail on the weather channel. All he cares about is his fuckin’ CD player.”
Bud sacrificed another drink. This was juicy stuff, and the closest he got to entertainment. He lived twenty miles from the town, tucked behind a wall of corn. There were a few things left in this world he still valued; his privacy, booze and drama, especially if he wasn’t involved in it. Together, the three gentlemen raised their drinks and continued the small talk until the night caught up to them. By 9:00 PM, it was pitch-black outside. The crickets had come out to annoy them, and James was good and wasted, leaning over his pool stick and squinting.
He shot, swayed, and scratched the carpet on the table. Bud suggested he could do James’s wife for him. James slurred something and dumped his drink on his shirt before giving in and shuffling towards the door. He waddled like he had a pool stick hidden up his ass, and Bud snorted, lined up, and sunk a ball into a corner pocket. When James was gone, Bud caught Doug’s eye.
“$10 says divorce,” Bud grinned mischievously.
“$10 says she’s fucking around on him. He works at Blockbuster. Even your wrinkly old ass has a better chance than he does with her, and you don’t do anything.”
Bud flicked him off, sunk another ball, then drained the last of his handle. He shuffled casually towards the front door. Unlike James, Bud was a professional drinker, and was just drunk enough to think he could manage the drive home.
Before he left, he dropped a ten or a twenty, he couldn’t tell, on the counter, and dumped the bottle over into the recycle bin, because he was a conservationist like that, and finally stepped outside. He stood on the ramp and cursed the brightness of the moon, sucked in the warm, foul air, and made for his truck. He removed a moldy blanket from the tool box in the bed and placed it across the seat. The last thing he wanted was to piss himself on the drive home. His jeans were freshly pressed.