Adapted from Anishinaabe-Ojibwe Lore
Art & story by A.C. Courchaine
The winter storm had come quickly and stayed long,
raging for days and nights with blinding snow and whipping winds.
Food, so sparse and hard-won in the dead of winter, dwindled.
They feared they would starve,
but finally the storm subsided.
She ventured out to hunt, keeping knife and spear close at hand.
It would be easy to see animal tracks in the freshly fallen snow.
The forest was quiet, a stillness wrought in part from the ferocity of the storm, the trees settling in creaks and sighs under the weight of winter. Most creatures stayed deep in burrows.
Still, the hunter stalked through the woods, mind on her desperate family at home.
Deeper and deeper into the woods she
yet no signs of animal tracks to be found.
Suddenly, an eerie silence overtook the woods, different somehow from the comforting muffled quality of a wood in winter when sounds of life whispered under the blankets of snow.
This silence was a dead silence.
The trees held their breath. No creature stirred, no wind rustled.
The hunter paused, anxiety prickling the back of her neck.
A strange hissing noise broke the silence, echoing through the trees, everywhere and nowhere at once.
The sound pierced the heart of the hunter.
Ahead, visible even in the gloom of the dense wood, blood-soaked footprints marred the crisp snow.
A wendigo was about, she knew. Somewhere among the trees, that tall, hideous creature watched her with hollow eyes and a long tongue lolling over its fangs.
The wendigo was a fearsome creature that stalked through the stories in the dead of winter, its skeleton form, lipless mouth and jagged teeth, ghostly pale skin and hunger for human flesh haunted the nightmares of every child as a warning not to wander in the woods in winter.
It was all the more dangerous for it had once been human itself.
Some said magic transformed it.
Some said its spirit possessed someone, forcing them to feast on the flesh of their loved ones.
Some said a wendigo was a person who ate human flesh to survive, cut off from food by the bitter winter.
She could not fall to this creature.
She would die, or suffer a fate too terrible to imagine.
Slowly the hunter backed away from the footprints, head cocked to one side, trying to pinpoint the hissing sound, eyes darting back and forth.
Something shifted behind her.
She spun around as the wendigo erupted from the snow, towering as tall as a tree, leaping for her with terrifying speed.
She dove to the side, narrowly dodging its claws.
The wendigo whirled around as she flung her spear, sinking the shaft deep into its chest.
The creature hissed, but moved forward unfazed after its prey.
She gripped her hunting knife, facing the creature with determination.
She leapt towards the creature, deftly dodging its long arms and launching herself upwards with her knife at the ready.
The struggle ceased with one last gurgle.
The terrible mouth howled as she sunk the knife deep into the creature's head, its arms scrabbling to tear her from her target.
The wendigo collapsed backwards with a thud.
The hunter pulled herself up wearily, and stared at the body.
In the twilight, the corpse began to fade into the snowbanks
Shaken and exhausted, the hunter turned for home,
trailing bloodstained footprints in the snow.
There would be no food tonight.
Above, storm clouds thickened.
It began to snow.