They stood at the end of the tobacco row, just beyond where the north end of the field met the woods. They stood in the shadows, perfectly still, watching only her. They reminded her of deer: thin... [+]
With a fresh kill in tow, the hunter made his way back to camp through the snow-covered forest. The weight of the stag labored his every step. A cold snap hit. Sharp, biting winds whipped icy particles through the night air. The sudden blizzard obscured his vision. The stars, which might have been used for navigation, were now cloaked by the swirling mass of snow. The hunter marched onward, becoming rapidly disoriented. White dunes rose up all around. Freshly fallen snow covered the tracks only several paces behind. He was now hopelessly lost, caught in unfamiliar terrain transformed by the northern squall. Something in the dark, snow laden forest continued to press its will against him. The sharp cold stung the exposed skin on his face, piercing deeply and chilling him to the core. He tried to remain calm, trudging forward through the deep snow. Survivors remained calm, and so he would do his best to battle the encroaching panic. He must focus—survive. There would be shelter nearby. People lived in the area. His mind turned to the townsfolk he had spoken with. For the first time this night, he recalled the myth of the Windigo. He had been warned by the locals about the malevolent spirits, that sucked the souls from men in these forests, and left their frozen corpses buried under the snow. And while he told himself he did not believe such stories; he could not help but feel he was being watched. Not just watched—hunted.
In the distance, a rectangular shape stood out from the backdrop of trees. A cabin came into view. He approached the front door. There was no light within. He knocked with a solid ﬁst. Fingers numb from the biting air. There was no response. He twisted the knob, finding it unlocked. He pushed and the door swung open. Wind rushed into the cabin and snow tumbled through the open door. The hunter followed, leaving his frozen stag and closing the door behind him. The wind continued to howl outside. It was not much warmer within the cabin, but he was free from the stabbing winds.
Inside, it was dark and uninhabited. His eyes strained to see, and he could make out little more than outlines. There was a bed. Beside it a desk and a chair. On the desk a lantern. A rug on the floor. A ﬁreplace, but no wood to burn. He made his way to the bedside and lit the lantern on the desk. Flames flickered about, producing only a little light and causing shadows to dance around the cabin. The walls, he could now just barely see, were adorned with grotesque portraits. Among the figures he saw misshapen heads, jagged antlers, long crooked teeth, unsightly growths, deranged eyes, and contorted expressions. The eyes, brighter than the other shapes unnervingly followed him. Darkness played tricks with his mind, in the dim, flickering light of the lantern. He crawled under the blankets in bed and wrapped himself tightly there. He closed his eyes and tried to put his mind away from the disturbing portraits that surrounded him. He shivered under the blankets, which had not yet begun to warm him. Strong gusts blew branches against the cabin with incessant thudding and scraping noises. The storm grew stronger outside, and the unlocked cabin door blew open with a powerful flurry of wind. Cold and snow swirled in. The hunter jumped up from the bed and slammed the door shut, this time locking the bolt.
His eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the cabin. He saw, to his horror, there were no portraits on the walls, but only windows. The gruesome faces had disappeared from behind them. Something skittered across the floor. In one dark corner of the cabin sat a long and lumpy silhouette. "Who's there!?" the hunter shouted, as if the daemons that haunted this place would respond to his voice. He snatched up the lantern and lifted it in front of him, casting its light into the corner. Nothing was there. He scanned the room, shining the light in all directions, and found the cabin empty. Having satisfied himself that he was imagining things, he rested the lantern back on the desk. As his heart settled, he became aware again of the deathly cold. He crawled back under the promised protection of the blanket. Wind-blown branches continued to scratch and knock against the cabin. The howls continued outside. The storm was like a wild creature, struggling to get inside the cabin. Scratching. Knocking. The hunter lay for a long time watching the dance of shadows, listening to the sounds of the encapsulating blizzard. Believing the worst was behind him, he finally closed his eyes.
He felt a tugging on the blanket from the foot of the bed. His covering was being pulled off by something from below. Frozen in fear, he watched as the fabric slowly slid off his body, disappearing under the bed. The pillow then began to slide out from under his head. This too, was pulled down below. He lay now in the middle of the bare white mattress, paralyzed by fear. He watched in terror as a pair of corpse-like hands with long pointy fingers, slowly rose up from under the bed, reaching towards him. He tried to move, but his muscles didn't respond. His mind panicked. More shriveled hands reached up, grasping toward him. They clutched tightly at his limbs and torso. Ice cold spread through his body where the specters touched. He opened his mouth as if to scream, but no sound escaped. The apparitions pulled him straight down into the mattress, the material giving way as he sank below. It was cold and soft. The mattress was gone, he now found, replaced by a deep mound of snow. The cabin too, and the things within, had vanished. He was outside, in the cold of the forest. He could see stars above briefly, before he was pulled fully below. Snow covered his eyes and filled his mouth.
The hunter was found dead there several weeks later, lying next to the frozen corpse of a stag. It was reported that he had succumbed to the cold. His body was laid to rest, but the townsfolk say that his soul forever remains with the Windigo.