The Hunger and the Cold
January 16, 1987
We arrived at the log cabin on a Friday in the late afternoon, three middle-aged men pretending to be outdoorsmen. The idea was to go ice fishing, but in reality, it was a chance for us to get away from our wives and drink beer.
It was one of the coldest days I can remember. It wasn't exactly the arctic, but northern Ontario can get as cold as a witch's... well, let's just say... it can get very cold.
I looked out over the recent snowfall that left the area a foot deep in snow and the forest's trees white with lines of the light powder. It made for a pretty picture, but it was a bitch to walk in. The log cabin was several miles away from its nearest neighbour. We were in the middle of nowhere, and in the back of beyond.
"Can it get any colder?" Sam joked. "Well, at least I can still feel my nuts." He grabbed three bags from the blue truck and trudged toward the cabin, taking the lead.
Samuel was my best friend. Originally from Jamaica, he looked totally out of place in this frozen North Country. He came to Canada with his parents when he was a child, but still retained a slight Jamaican accent. He was a mountain of a man, but also the nicest guy I have ever known. He was comfortable talking to children and old ladies alike, quickly changing their preconceive perceptions of him, and always leaving them with broad smiles.
"You can feel your nuts?" Kevin said with pretend surprise. He picked up his suitcase from the back of the truck and followed Sam, stepping into the tracks made by the big man.
Kevin was a coworker of Sam's at the steel plant. Sam worked the crane; Kevin worked in the electrical department. Kevin was a bit of a geek, and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word. He was the 'brains' of our little gang, or at least he thought he was; he had an opinion on just about everything.
"Are you coming, Alex?" Kevin looked back over his shoulder at me, "or are you just going to stare at those dead trees all day?"
"They're not dead," I replied, fearing I may have walked into another argument. Kevin just grunted. I breathed a sigh of relief and picked up the last two bags. "The edge of the lake is about a hundred feet on the other side of the cabin. We should get an early start tomorrow morning."
Kevin looked back at me with a look one makes when smelling something foul. "I can't believe the two of you talked me into this. Ice fishing? I don't even like eating fish, and now I'm going to try to catch them."
"Yes, 'catch' is the operative word," teased Sam as he approached the cabin's front door.
"Whatever," Kevin lamely fired back.
Once inside, Sam and Kevin stowed their stuff away while I started the central oil furnace. 'Central', meaning, it was a black, metal box the size of a small fridge that stood in the centre of the small living room. My cabin warmed up quickly, and soon we were able to remove our heavy coats. I had bought the cabin years ago. It was a place to get away from the city when I needed to. Sam had come along with me a few times, but this was Kevin's first time. The cabin wasn't fancy, but it was comfortable and had all the amenities.
"No TV! Are you kidding me?" Kevin looked around in disbelief.
"I guess you didn't read the fine print on the memo," Sam joked.
"Relax, Kevin," I tried to calm him down, "I've got a radio."
"Oh, a radio, great, just great. News flash, you can't watch a radio."
"Don't worry," Sam added, "you'll have plenty to watch tomorrow morning... you'll be watching the hole in the ice, watching for fish, watching the ice-cycle forming on the end of your nose."
"Oh, that's funny. You guys are killing me, man."
"How about a beer?" I suggested. "We can watch each other as we down a few."
"Sounds good," Sam replied, relieved by the change in subject.
"Yeah, sure," Kevin sighed.
We were on our second beer when Sam made a request that put a stop to my cheerful mood. He didn't know; I didn't blame him.
"Alex, tell Kevin about the Katshit-something, you know, the monster bear legend."
"You mean 'Katshituahku'," I corrected.
"Yeah, that one."
I looked at Kevin who seemed interested, so I thought, what the hell. "Well... the Cree call it Katshituahku. It's a mythological creature, a man-eater, resembling a gigantic, hairless bear. It is also known as Misi-Maskwa, which simply means 'giant bear'.
"Yeah, but that's the boring stuff," Sam interrupted. "Tell Kevin about the magical part, and the story."
"OK, I will, as soon as I get us some more beer. If I have to tell this story again, I'm going to do it while getting drunk," I smiled.
When I came back from the kitchen with three more cold ones, I felt vibrations begin under my feet.
"What the hell's that?" Sam yelled as he quickly stood up from the couch.
"It's an earthquake of course," Kevin jumped in with more than a hint of smugness.
All three of us just stood there as the whole cabin shook. The dishes in the kitchen rattled in rhythm to the shaking, while the pictures hanging on the walls swung erratically. Like a train, a rumble came from the distance, increased as if heading straight for us; it passed us, and then faded away in the opposite direction. We all looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief when the distant rumble became silence once again.
"That wasn't like any earthquake I can remember," I commented as I walked over to the radio and turned it on.
I surfed around the AM and FM stations for a few minutes but found nothing about an earthquake in Ontario, or anywhere for that matter. It was a couple of hours later, on a local radio station that the mystery was revealed.
"There! Turn that up," Kevin instructed.
I turned up the volume and we listened to the radio announcer as she read the local news:
"There have been several reported sightings of a meteor in our area. The earthquake we experienced more than two hours ago was not an earthquake, but believed to be caused by the impact of that meteor. The meteorite is estimated to be somewhere just west of the lake. We will keep you updated as the story develops. And now for the weather report..."
I turned the radio off.
Kevin was almost out of breath with excitement. "Holy crap! A meteorite! There's a chunk from outer space practically in our backyard! Holy crap!"
Sam didn't look as impressed. "It's at least three miles away if it's where they say it is."
"Let's forget about ice fishing; lets go find this thing instead," Kevin practically begged.
I gave a squinted look at Sam. "There's no way to get there with the truck; we'd have to walk to it, over the lake."
Sam paused in thought for a moment. "I'd like to say 'yes' because I don't think I can take the reaction from this guy if we say 'no'," his thumb pointed at Kevin as if trying to hitch a ride, "but it's way too far in this weather."
"Yeah," I agreed. "It would take hours to get there and back, and if the weather turns bad, we'd be in a cold world of hurt. Besides, Kevin, that's quite a distance to walk in snowshoes when you're not used to it."
Kevin glared at me and said sarcastically, "I thought all you Métis were such outdoorsmen."
Now Kevin's ignorance was beginning to piss me off. "It's true that in my family's past a French fur trader married a Cree woman, but I don't consider myself a Métis."
Sam broke in. "Well, compared to us, you're a regular Daniel Boone."
Kevin argued with us for a few minutes, but finally gave up when he realized Sam and I weren't going to budge because of the distance and danger elements. He reluctantly agreed that tomorrow we would go ice fishing, bringing the radio along so that he could keep updated on the meteorite story.
We all went to bed early to get an early start in the morning. Sam and I took the bunk bed, Kevin slept on the couch. Arguing with Kevin was tiring; I fell asleep quickly.
I was in the middle of a dream when a voice in the distance yelled, "He's gone!" I half opened my eyes to see Sam leaning over, standing next to me.
"What?" I blurted out, the 'fog' gradually clearing.
"Kevin's gone! Sam yelled. "The stupid bastard must have gone looking for the meteorite!"
"What time is it?"
We quickly got dressed, put on our coats and boots, grabbed our snowshoes, and ran out the front door. Once outside, we put on our snowshoes and walked down toward the frozen lake.
Things turned from bad to worse when we got down to the lake's edge - it started to snow. It came down in big, downy flakes, accompanied by a moderate wind. I tightened my hood when I felt the wind's icy breath on skin that was comfortably under a thick quilt only minutes ago.
"I can't see farther than maybe a hundred feet." Sam commented on the obvious.
I gazed out over what was once an expansive, oval-shaped lake to see only snow coming down so thick it may as well have been dense fog. "Do you think he's got the sense to turn back?"
"Yeah, if he knew which direction 'back' was. I doubt he's got a compass, and if he does, I don't think he'd know how to use it. He's probably out there walking around in circles." Sam looked to his left and then right, sighting along the lake's edge. "There! His tracks! He's heading west, toward the centre of the lake."
"Well, at least he had the good sense to use snowshoes," I observed. "We'll follow his tracks and call out for him every few minutes."
"Sounds good," Sam agreed.
We followed his tracks for no more than ten minutes when I thought I heard something. I stopped in mid-stride. "Sam, do you hear that?"
Coming out of the west, directly in front of us, came the most surreal sight I have ever witnessed. In the distance, hundreds of light-grey shapes formed into solid animals as they flooded out of the snowfall. There were deer, raccoons, rabbits and countless other woodland creatures. They stampeded toward and then past us, ignoring us completely. It was a constant stream of animals.
"Holy s#!%!" was Sam's only response.
The two of us froze and just stood there as animals continued running past us in a blind panic. They were running away from something. The only thing that came to mind was a forest fire, but that idea was ridiculous for this time of year, and I quickly put it out of my thoughts.
When the last of the furry stragglers ran by, Sam, forcing a joke, asked, "Alex, you're not holding out on me, are you? You haven't been building no Ark, have you?"
I tried to smile but I was just too freaked out. "What the hell was that?"
"I don't know, man, but it ain't nothing good."
Sam surprised me by pulling out the small radio from his coat pocket. "I thought this might come in handy. The local news should be on soon."
He tuned it to the local radio station and stopped when he heard the familiar female voice from last night:
"...and the government agency on site refuses to release any information to the media. The crater remains cordoned off, the centre of which is hidden under a large, white tent. People in hazmat suits continue entering and exiting this tent on a regular basis. The military is also on site and are obviously there to keep the public and the media out. We understand an official statement is expected sometime later today. I am not one to speculate, but I will say this... I don't believe it's a meteorite. Perhaps it's a satellite that fell out of orbit. Hopefully, I will have the facts later today. And now for the..."
A feeling of trepidation came over us, but still we continued on, following Kevin's tracks for about half an hour, at which point, they disappeared, covered up by the unrelenting snow and wind.
"KEVIN!" Sam yelled out for the hundredth time in his big, booming voice. And for the hundredth time, the response was silence. "Do we keep going west? I mean... there's no way Kevin could have made it any farther than this."
I fumbled in my coat pocket and pulled out my compass. "You're probably right. We should separate to cover more ground. You go northeast; I'll go southeast. Walk and call out in that direction for about half an hour, and then we'll meet back at the cabin. If this doesn't work, we need to call in some help. He needs to be found before dark."
"Yeah, the northeast/southeast direction thing makes sense. If he's walking around in circles, there's a chance." Sam tried to sound positive. He knew it was a good strategy, but it was a long shot at best.
I watched Sam as he slowly faded into the snowfall. I checked my compass and started walking southeast. It was midday and getting even colder. My snowshoes made crunching sounds in the snow, confirming to my ears how bitter cold it was. About twenty minutes into my search, the snowfall became lighter. I could see farther now. I noticed a dark shape in the snow to my right. A feeling of dread overcame me. I walked toward it, gradually increasing my pace until my legs felt heavy with the exertion. I shouted Kevin's name; there came no reply save for the wind's haunting whistle.
My heart sank when I got close enough to see red. It was blood, lots of blood. Apprehension changed to relief when I realized it wasn't Kevin. It was some animal. I trudged closer.
I stopped about ten feet from the mound of pink flesh and black fur, framed with a wide circle of blood in the bright snow. If it wasn't for its size, colour, and its intact head, I wouldn't have been able to identify it as a black bear, a big one, probably a 500 pounder. What was it doing out of hibernation? Was it running with the rest of the animals?
What a mess. Hunters didn't do this. It wasn't shot; it was butchered. Not even another bear could have mutilated it so, but it had all the signs of a predatory kill. Something big killed this bear, and then proceeded to eat at least half of it. I was dumbfounded. Excluding man, bears were on the top of the food chain around here... well, they were, until now.
I looked at its teeth and claws to see if it had, at least, put up a good fight. Surely, whatever attacked it didn't go unscathed. I felt even colder when I saw the lime-green substance on its teeth and claws. What was this?
I looked around and spotted drops of the same substance in the snow, heading away from its kill in a northerly direction. It was blood! My head began to spin as I filled it with crazy thoughts. And then I saw them.
I walked up to the creature's tracks, accented with the splatter of its lime-green blood. What the hell was this thing? The tracks were twice as big as the bear's. It had three toes. They looked more lizard-like than a bird. But that wasn't the best part - it had six legs!
I checked my compass and headed northeast, back toward the cabin as quickly as I could. Sam was probably ahead of me. I had to warn him. We have to get help to find Kevin and then we needed to get the hell out of here.
I could barely feel my feet when I arrived at the cabin. Once inside, I soon realized I had made it back before Sam. It was now mid-afternoon. I warmed up my feet for a few minutes and was getting ready to head back out when the front door swung open and Sam walked in.
He dropped something on the floor in front of him. "I found these," he said sadly, edged with hopelessness.
I looked in shock at the blood-splattered boots still firmly attached to the snowshoes.
"I found them like this in the snow," Sam continued. "It was as if something yanked him right out of them."
"Did you see tracks?" I asked.
"Yeah, the strangest, biggest tracks I've ever seen. Whatever it was, it went northeast. I followed them for a while, but it was getting too cold, and frankly... I, I think he's dead. Just look at those boots."
I briefly told Sam what I had come across, and then picked up the phone to call for help. The line was dead. This wasn't an unusually occurrence, but we both agreed it was real bad timing. We decided to drive to the nearest town, a good twenty miles away. Sam went outside to warm up the truck, while I gathered some survival gear to take with us. I grabbed my shotgun off the wall and was loading it when my ears were assaulted by a sound I'd never heard before. I felt a chill, as if ice-cold fingers traced down my spine.
It sounded like the screech of a hawk but much lower and louder. It was so loud I cringed as it stabbed into my ears. I even felt the vibrations through my chest. Then something crashed into the side of the cabin. Paintings and items on shelves flew off the wall, and I could swear I saw the thick logs bend inward. At first, I thought it was Sam crashing the truck into the cabin, but it was the wrong side. It was out there, and trying to get in! I felt like a boxed lunch.
I ran to the small front window. Sam was in the truck on the top of the slight hill, about fifty feet away, where we had parked it. He stared toward the side of the cabin where the powerful impact had just occurred. The truck's wheels spun as he drove a wide circle and then away from the cabin and onto the snowy road we had arrived by. He was trying to lead the thing away from me.
A huge blur of motion appeared on my left as the creature followed after the truck, much like any predator would. Man, was it big! Well over a thousand pounds... but a thousand pounds of what? It was grey and had features of reptile and insect alike, but looked like neither. Talon-like claws were at the ends of all six legs, and its shark-like maw flashed rows of dagger long teeth. Everything about it was designed for one thing - killing.
When the creature had covered half the distance to the truck, Sam turned around and headed straight for the thing. The wheels spun as he floored the accelerator. He was going to ram it!
I ran out with my shotgun just in time to see the impact. Physics can be a wonderful thing. A thousand pound creature against a 6,000-pound truck was predictable. Sam rammed the creature at maybe 40 miles per hour. The creature let out a screech. Was it pain or frustration? I didn't know. The truck plowed the creature through the snow, crashing it into a large tree. It was now pinned between tree and truck, its legs flailing helplessly in the air. Great idea! Sam had it all figured out, I thought.
But this victory was short-lived. The thing smashed through the passenger window of the truck with a front leg. Sam began kicking at the claw as I ran forward and opened fire. I shot the thing at a range of twenty feet. It was as effective as blowing a spitball at a crab.
Sam screamed as the claw found him, dug into his chest and jerked him out of the truck. He now hung upside down over the truck's cab. Sam continued to kick and punch in futility at the monster's leg. Wide eyed and in extreme pain, he looked at me and yelled, "Run, you can't do anything, get to the cabin!"
That wasn't an option. I moved forward and continued shooting, this time, at its head and what I thought were its eyes. No effect. This was one tough son of a bitch.
The monster tightened its claws. Sam screamed as the thing snapped him in half like a twig.
Warm blood splattered my face. I screamed out in frustration, loss, and anger; there wasn't room for fear. Sam's death was the trigger, the instance that would change everything. I could feel it starting, and I didn't care. Let it happen.
The creature used all six of its legs to push the truck back, freeing itself.
I ran toward the cabin. I had to buy time.
I made it through the open door. A split second later came the impact that shook the cabin as the creature tried to follow me in. I turned around to see its ugly, bug-like head wedged in the door; it's shark-like mouth chomping on air. It was too big for the door. I never thought I'd be grateful for its massive size. It began tearing at the door's frame with its claws, ripping out chunks of wood. I had bought myself a minute or two; it would have to do.
I took off my coat, rolled up my left sleeve, and ran to the kitchen. I was so close now. The Misi-Maskwa must rise. It was thought to be a creature from folklore, but nothing was more real to me. I had vowed to never become this monster again, but now, I begged for it to happen.
I needed to tempt the beast, to trick it. Grabbing a sharp knife, I grimaced while making several cuts into my forearm until the blood began to flow, dripping off my fingertips and onto the white, tiled floor. With my senses already heightened, I could smell my blood, the human blood. The lust for human flesh overwhelmed me, and the darkness pulled me past the point of no return. My transformation began...
Pain! Joints on fire, muscles aching, limbs thickening, temples throbbing, jaw dislocating, elongating, teeth hurting... I screamed; it sounded like the roar of a bear. I looked at hands that were monstrous, bear-like, but hairless. Long, curved claws where fingernails used to be.
I tried to stand, my head crashed into the ceiling. I growled and went back down on all fours. I smelled the blood. I saw it on the floor and licked it clean. I sniffed the air. I smelled more human blood farther away. I followed the scent.
I stopped when I saw the creature at the door. I've never seen this animal before. It is in my way. I roared, warning it off. It doesn't move. Instead, it challenges me with its strange, annoying sounds. This is my territory! Rage consumes me. I lunge forward to attack!
And now for the local news... The enormous bear that was spotted by several eyewitnesses seems to have vanished into thin air. Estimated at more than twice the size of the local black bear, this strange creature, by all accounts, was hairless.
Also in the news... The government agency and military at the meteorite site have established a secondary location at a cabin three miles east of their first location. Like the first, it is off limits to the public. No information is forthcoming.
Copyright 2013 Robert G. Moons
My other speculative fiction is available at smashwords.com or at my above website in PDF format with cover art.
This work of fiction is the sole property and copyright of Robert G. Moons.
Please do not print or use without permission of the author.
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