Wendigo

By Matthew Abel

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    Kate Parker found a wendigo in the freezer.  She blinked twice, closed the door, and went into Lewis’ office.  He glanced up before returning to his work.

“What’s up?” Lewis snapped a rubber band on a stack of five dollar bills.  Kate told him.  “What’s a wendigo?”

“It’s a mythical beast from the Canadian Wilderness.”

“Like a polar bear?”

“No.” She bit her thumbnail.  “It depends.  This one looks like a shag carpet with teeth.  It’s small.”

Lewis leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, chewing a pencil like a cigarette, and stared at the health department guidelines posted by his door.  “Which freezer?”

“The big walk-in on the north end.  Behind the fish display.”

Lewis picked up a quarter wrapper and focused on his hands. He dropped coins in one by one.  “Probably came in with the fish order from Hudson Bay.”  A quarter went in sideways.  He sigh and looked at Kate.  “I’ll put down some mousetraps.”

“It’s the size of a raccoon.”

Lewis paused.  Then, “I’ll put out a live trap.  What do they eat?”

“People.”

Lewis set the quarters down.  His mustache drooped.  “Oh.”  He flipped through the yellow pages before punching the button on the speaker phone.  Kate watched him dial.  There was a ringing.

“A-1 exterminators,” the speaker crackled.  “We kill anything.  This…this is Bill.”

“Bill, hey,” Lewis leaned back in his chair, arms on the desk shouting at the phone.  “It’s Lewis here at the 10 Avenue Fresh Market?”

“That’s great, sir.”

Lewis smiled.  “We’ve got a pest problem here, wondering what you could do for us.”

Kate zoned out.  She focused on the window past Lewis’ head.  It was the only window in the building.  A few dead leaves blew past.  She could see a few skeletal branches in the streetlights.  She stared, thoughtless, vaguely aware of Lewis picking up the receiver to shout at Bill from A-1 Exterminators.  The slam of the receiver brought her back.

There were no exterminators in the area equipped for wendigos.  Lewis thanked Kate for telling him about it and excused her from the office.  She finished her shift, avoiding the freezer.  When she got home she had a cheese sandwich (toasted), milk (chocolate), and went to bed early.  She dreamed she was still working.

The next day, she made a cup of tea before turning on her laptop and opening her biology term paper.  She checked her email several times before watching the 3rd season of a reality television program.  At work time she put on her small blue vest and red nametag and left for the supermarket.  Lewis was standing by the time clock.

“This wendigo is a problem,” he said.  “I wish you hadn’t told me about it.”  Kate stared in reply.  Lewis straightened his blue and black striped tie.  It came halfway down his chest.  “I don’t have time for these things.  You take care of it.”  He walked away.

Kate swore under her breath.  She punched in and walked to the freezer, shaking her head.

The wendigo was in the far corner.  It was small with thick white hair.  Its teeth ended in points.  Kate edged to a stack of frozen shrimp boxes.  She pulled out a bag and opened it.  Forcing a smile, she threw a shrimp at the wendigo.  It landed with a soft clink on the concrete and the wendigo pressed its nose to the pink lump before crunching it in its teeth.  Sitting like a dog, it stared at her with red eyes.  She tossed another.

Kate checked on the wendigo four times more and made it through one box of shrimp before punching out.  It stayed in the corner, appearing quite comfortable.  She couldn’t think of much else to do with it.  She went home.

For dinner, she had a salad without dressing and milk (chocolate).  She dreamed about shrimp cocktails and fancy parties in the Canadian wilderness.

The next day, Kate walked to the pet store.  She bought a collar and a leash and had lunch at a café because she was hungry.  She had a sprout and avocado pita but wished she’d had turkey instead.

Lewis was at the time clock again.  “I thought I told you to take care of the Wendigo,” he said.

“I did.” She blinked.  “I fed it and cleaned up after it.”

“That’s not what I meant at all.”  He wiped sweat from his forehead into his crew cut.  “Why is it still in the freezer?”

“It has sharp teeth.”

“I see.”  Lewis looked at the floor, adjusting his glasses.

“It doesn’t seem too harmful.  It hasn’t tried to eat me.”

“Okay.”

“I haven’t tried to touch it,” Kate admitted.  Lewis looked up and glared as Kate walked away.

The Wendigo sniffed her shoes and whimpered toward the shrimp boxes.  Kate fed it and it accepted the collar.  On her lunch break, Kate used the leash to take it outside.  It was cool and breezy, and their feet rustled through brown grass.  But it was warmer than the freezer and the wendigo growled until it was back in the frigid artificial air.

Kate stood at the door.  It went to a corner, turned in a circle and laid down.  She left it an open bag of shrimp.  On her way out she bought a bag of chicken cutlets and fried three for dinner with a small side of raw carrot.  That night she dreamed of wendigos and roast chicken and Lewis telling her things she already knew.

When she woke up, Kate cleaned her apartment.  It didn’t take very long.  She went to the pet store again and looked at the price of kennels which were far too expensive.  The young man behind the counter asked her to dinner which surprised her.  She agreed to meet him the next evening.

Lewis had two days off.  The on-duty manager did not mention the wendigo and she did not mention it to her.  She spent most of her shift in the freezer.  It crushed frozen scallops in its jaws as she told it secrets from her life.  But not many.  There weren’t many to tell.  She nibbled a frozen shrimp, laughing at the hard texture.

That night she ate a roast beef sandwich from a restaurant and was still hungry, so she bought a steak at the butcher shop and ate that very rare, enjoying the raw flavor and sopping the spilled juices with a slice of bread.  At bedtime she snacked on a bag of beef jerky that she’d found lurking behind the oatmeal can.  Her stomach grumbled that evening and she wished she could call a mother or father.

Her stomach woke her.  For a long time, Kate ate pancakes and toast and pouted at the absence of sausage.  The wendigo ate little that day.

Its head came above Kate’s hip now.  After a half bag of shrimp it nuzzled her head and nibbled at her fingertips.  Kate stared blankly at the trickle of blood it drew.  There were no band-aids in the first aid kit so she sucked at them until the flow subsided.

At home, she showered and curled her hair.  The curls bounced as she slipped into a black dress for her date.  Her stomach grumbled as she teetered out on high heels.

The portions at dinner were small, but the young man was sweet.  Kate found this out when she invited the young man into her apartment where she clobbered him with a paperweight and ate him.  She sucked marrow from his bones and swallowed the splinters which caught in her throat.  She washed them down with orange juice.  The experience left her unsettled.  She left in the morning with her cupboards and refrigerator open and empty.

Lewis was again at the time clock.  “Did you take care of it?” he asked her.  She glared at him, bags heavy beneath her eyes.  “Take care of it,” he said.  She growled at him as he walked away.  Frowning, she entered the freezer.

The wendigo crouched in the corner.

“I ate a boy last night,” she told the wendigo.  “Why did I do that?”

The wendigo looked at her with its red eyes as it hopped over.  It stood, head level with her own before slicing a claw through her clothes from her neck to her stomach.  The tip zipped through her flesh.  The wound pulsed red over her muscle.  The wendigo turned its claw to its own skin.  Kate cried softly at the cold air on her cut as it peeled off skin and fur and teeth before standing, all red muscle, and gesturing to her.

Kate worked her thumbs under the skin at the opening and peeled.  She winced as her barest feet touched the floor of the freezer and her muscles shivered in the cold air.  Her mouth ached as she massaged her teeth from their sockets and laid them on top of her skin.  The wendigo placed them within its mouth and climbed into the pink shroud.  It looked at Kate with Kate’s face and smiled. stood looking at Kate with Kate’s face and smiled.

“Thank you,” it said and walked out.

Kate shivered in the cold so she picked up the white fur and climbed into it.  It was tight and warm and felt good as it closed around her – like peeling a scab in reverse.  The teeth gave her some trouble – the claws got in the way – but she liked the click clack they made when she opened and shut her mouth.  She was surprised by her size – hadn’t they been taller?  She couldn’t reach the freezer door latch.

At the time clock, something that looked like Kate leaned with a smile on its face.  Lewis, shirtsleeves above his elbows, stormed past and turned his head to her.  “Did you take care of it?” he snapped.

It smiled with its teeth and waved toward the freezer.  “See for yourself, boss.”

Lewis’ glare was replaced with anxiousness.  He glanced from Kate’s face to the freezer door as he walked over.  When he touched the handle he turned to look again.  Kate waved and smiled.  The smile reminded Lewis of a shark.  Or a wolf.  He entered the freezer.

Ten minutes later the thing that looked like Kate opened the door herself.  The girl who looked like a wendigo trotted out and dropped a pair of black-rimmed glasses at the thing’s feet.  Kate picked them up with a napkin and slid them into a pocket.  Still crouching, she kissed the wendigo’s nose which twitched in thought.  A much warmer smile came to Kate’s face.  “Let’s get out of here,” she said.

Whatever they were now walked to the exit and Kate opened the door.  Flakes of snow drifted into the storeroom.  A few feet away was a public trashcan into which a blue vest and red nametag were shortly thrust.

The Wendigo trotted a few feet from Kate.  “I’ve never felt cold before,” Kate told it.  It sniffed the air before turning and trotting through the light dusting of snow.  The trail she made led north.

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Paul is a writer, editor, and musician who lives, works, and plays in West Michigan.