21 February, 2017 by katelaity
‘I shall never forget that unearthly sight: The white of the snow, the howl of the winds, the black of the blood in the moonlight, and the strange creature’s ragged aspirations while the Paskus and her family stood by, their own breath slowing after the exertions. I have seen many strange places and glimpsed hidden mysteries but none quite so eerie as that night.’
‘I shouldn’t wonder!’ I exclaimed though Tansy waved away my interruption. I was most grateful to be in that comfy armchair sipping a good glass of uisge beatha in front of a warm fire. ‘Did you save the pelt of the creature?’
Tansy stared at me. ‘Oh heavens, you don’t know, do you?’
‘What?’ I was literally in the dark at this point, as the sun had gone down as we chatted, much to my surprise. Another wild Scottish night lay ahead of us, I thought with a shiver.
John Rea smiled, but the expression looked most melancholy. ‘Alas, your friend is right. There is more to my tale, a final twist that makes it not just monstrous but heartbreaking as well.’
I was abashed. ‘Apologies for interrupting. Do go on!’ Rae smiled. His rugged face conveyed an unutterable sadness. What experiences he must have had! Yet to call this one the most eerie ever? I shuddered again.
‘The moment the creature expired, the howl of the wind was amplified by the howl of wolves. It was too strange to be mere coincidence. We all looked at one another. I must have looked quite mad covered in blood in the moonlight.
‘Then Ihiipii gasped and pointed back down to the wendigo. Its body convulsed and we all readied our weapons for another strike, but it was not making one last attack. Its very flesh seemed to seize up like a creature in agony. But there was something more—
‘The limbs clutched at the air in spasms, the claws helplessly flailing. Its antlers fell off and then many of the teeth fell out into the snow. On impulse, I grabbed at one, though I feared the thing might be dangerous yet.’ He reached in his pocket and withdrew a small bottle. Inside it rattled a tooth, the like of which I had never seen, but as you know I have not much experience of the world.
Tansy held out a hand to take it and examined the fearsome thing with evident, even taking out the famous tape measure to record its height. Handing it back to Rae, Tansy quickly took out the battered notebook and made some jottings. Perhaps our quest was accomplished I thought, with fond expectations of returning to my club.
‘As the fur dropped away like a molting bird’s feathers I thought perhaps it was simply rapidly degenerating. I had heard that very old beasts upon dying do so. But there was another surprise beneath the fur.
‘It was a man.’
I gasped. Tansy nodded.
‘It was a man who lived nearby. They all recognised him and it seemed to fill them with a special dread. I learned why the next day: he had gone mad, killed and half eaten his wife and children. She had died trying to protect the latter. It was lamentably heartbreaking.’
‘But what could cause one to do such a thing?’
‘Paskus said that it was a kind of winter madness, connected to starvation. When one commits monstrosity, one becomes the monster. It was simply the most horrifying thing. They let the wolves take his body. The tribe gathered to burn down what was left of that family’s house. They wanted no trace left. Madness is contagious.’
‘Would that our government made that connection,’ Tansy said darkly.
The next morning as we prepared to board a ferry, I thought again of what an extraordinary tale it had been—and what a remarkable man John Rae was. ‘I do not think we can top that story, Tansy,’ I confided as we smoked on the deck, watching Orkney draw away behind us.
‘It was certainly thrilling,’ Tansy agreed. ‘But far too convincing to be absurdity.’
‘You mean we must go on? I can’t go on.’
‘We’ll go on.’