The Algonquian people lived on the prairies, spread out across the northern and central United States and southern Canada for one hundred generations and more. Charlie Runner was descended from that people, poor, living on the High Plains of southeastern Wyoming with his wife and newborn son. They lived alone on land that wouldn’t yield. Not to pleading. Not to prayers. So Charlie took his family up into the mountains where he was able to scrape a living cutting lumber for the tiny town in the foothills a thousand feet below.
Charlie was the only Algonquian who dared to live on that mountain. Old stories from a very dead century haunted its wind scarred peaks. Tales of the wendigo. A cannibal spirit, something that took men, or that men could become, something that as it ate grew bigger, and hungrier. In the old stories, men who camped under the screaming wind begged to be murdered rather than face the long, cold winter. But Charlie was poor.
That January a blizzard covered the northern valley. It roared in with a fury men had not felt in generations. Completely unprepared, many houses collapsed under the feet of snow. Others starved trapped inside buildings with no means of digging through the frozen drifts. Charlie and his family were stranded. Isolated atop the mountain, they couldn’t reach the town.
It was two months before the first search party made it to his door. They used a sledgehammer to shatter the hinges. Charlie was inside, alive. He was naked, emaciated, his skin the color of frozen slate and drawn back tightly against his bones. His eyes were black pools sunk deep inside his skull. He was alone, but his cracked lips were red, wet, searching, seemingly not a part of his face but desperate to escape it. Abashed, the men looked away for mercy’s sake, certain they’d find only bodies and not the wreck of a solitary man.
But then they realized. In the fetid blackness of the cabin, one man asked Charlie where were his wife and son.
Charlie opened his mouth.