Note: This is the eighth installment of a ghost story. It’s not meant to be read by itself. If you’d care to start at the beginning, click here and follow the links.
Pale light had begun to streak the sky when the van pulled up behind the little car, sputtering and coughing as its occupants jumped out.
“Help us!” Jake yelled. He was straining at the car door, trying vainly to pull it open.
The older man rushed forward, but Gillis stopped and looked at the car roof, which was bisected by a sharp line. The front half was an inch deep in white frost; the back was perfectly clear. He moved around to the side and sighted along it, noting in passing that the frost continued down the side of the car and for a short distance on the ground.
The door popped open and Jake dove through. Gillis could see now, and he gazed in wonder. The edge of the frost lined up perfectly with the front side of the old stone wall at the side of the road. His eyes met those of his boss, who blinked, looked, and nodded significantly.
“What the hell happened here?!”
Something that was not human watched them go.
It had been there a long time, a very long time, watching patiently, silently, waiting. It had seen peaceful winters, the teeming growth of summer, beautiful life and swift sudden death, the grand and majestic pageant that was nature. And it had seen humans about their daily lives, the empty tasks and purposes unfulfilled, all eventually falling to disease or starvation, time or violence, their traces sinking back into the forest floor. It had known horror before, observed the curious and the unexplained and gone on unperturbed, uncaring.
It watched, and waited. It was patient. It could afford to be.
“…missed the road in the dark. When we got there they were off on a side road in the ruins of the old town, abandoned over a century ago.”
Williams, who is director of the Penobscot County Ghost Hunters, expressed his belief that the four students were attacked by some sort of evil spirit. “They’re lucky their car stalled just inside the grounds of that old church,” he explained. “Holy ground, you know.”
University representatives had no statement at the time we went to press, but…”
There was a knock at the office door, and he lowered his newspaper. “Come in,” he said.
“Ah, Jake. I was just reading about you and your friends in the paper. ‘Class Trip Turns Deadly’ and all that. Oh, sit down; sit down. Yes, I’m sure the Board has read all about it too, and they’ll be screaming for my scalp.” Jake started to speak. “No, no; I have tenure. I’m not too worried. All they can do right now is bother me on the telephone.”
They both looked at the desk phone. The receiver sat crosswise, clearly off the hook.
“Technical difficulties, as you can see.” He cleared his throat and went on. “But that’s not what I wanted to talk with you about. You were supposed to submit a single page, and I have here six. Single-spaced, not terribly linear, and your spelling is atrocious. But I’m more concerned about the content.”
Jake flushed. “The others will back me up,” he said hotly.
“Oh, I’m sure they will. Except for Mr. Herschel, of course, who apparently missed most of the best parts. They tell me he’s still in the hospital, suffering from frostbite of all things. I know it was chilly, but it couldn’t have been that cold. Jake,” he said, leaning back, “Do you have even the slightest idea what it is you encountered out there?”
“The tracks,” Jake began, and he scowled. “The first thing, the hairy… It was a bull moose. We saw its tracks in the morning. Must have smelled the… the cow, the other moose, on the car or something.”
“Yes, they do behave erratically during the rut, or so I’m told. Then too, there’s a such thing as a brain worm, P. tenuis, that can drive them mad. Causes blindness and what-not; looked it up this morning. But that’s not what I mean, and I think you know it.”
Jake met his gaze, then nodded shortly. “Yeah. I– I really… It’s what I described. I don’t know any more than what I wrote.” He glared. “I really don’t.”
The professor looked at him a short while, sighed, then nodded. “All right. In your textbook, you may have read about the wij nteko wa, or wendigo, a fanciful creature about whom tales were told among Native tribes from here to Alaska. By most accounts, it was emaciated, cannibalistic. But nowhere is it said to command ice and wind — nowhere but here.” He passed over a slim volume; Jake took it, looked. It was a book of horror stories.
“In 1945, August Derleth, acting as a sort of literary executor of Lovecraft, published a story, ‘Ithaqua’, about a sort of elemental spirit that was his idea of the truth behind the wendigo myths.” He leaned forward and took back the book. “I want to be clear: None of the traditional tales mention this aspect of the wendigo, only modern fiction writers. It has zero basis in folklore.”
Jake jumped to his feet. “I saw what I saw!” he snapped.
“Calm down; I believe you. But,” he went on as Jake sat, fuming, “others won’t. People like the Dean, the University President, the Board of Governors. They’ll read this and decide you’re making it all up to cover some sort of… misguided prank. They’re looking for someone to blame, Jake, and this will give it to them. You understand what I’m saying.”
“Yeah, I follow.” Jake sighed. “Okay, what do you want me to do?”
“I want you to give me one page, a single page that doesn’t mention this– this wind-thing. Do that, and convince your friends to do the same.”
Jake stood, then grinned mirthlessly. “I’ve got your one page,” he said, and tossed a folded photocopy on the desk. He turned and walked out, closing the door very gently behind him.
Radiator, coolant frozen, replacement……….$425
Brake lines, frozen, burst………………………..$335
Battery, frozen, burst……………………………..$ 75
Window, driver’s side…
He saw her as he stepped outside, running up the stone steps pursued by a television news crew. Her coat was pulled up hiding her face and she rushed up toward him, stopping as she approached the door. She looked up and recognized him.
Their gazes met a long moment, interrupted only when a microphone was shoved in her face. “Clarice!” yelled the reporter.
Suddenly, she grinned widely, snatched the microphone from the startled reporter’s hands, and turned to face the cameras. “My friends call me Reese,” she said, and then heaved the microphone down the steps as far as it would go.
Contrary to the professor’s statement, the Itakka is actually known in Swedo-Finnish folklore as a winter spirit, though I have that information verbally and can’t provide a reference. In any case, it first appeared as a Wendigo in a story by Algernon Blackwood nearly a century before Derleth wrote his own tale. As to what it would be doing in a graveyard…
Myra is a real place you can find on a map. There’s nothing left of the old town except some ruined buildings, all on private land, and none of which can be seen or easily reached from the road. Google Maps will give some intriguing images from satellite view, including one roofless structure which appears to contain among other things an ancient claw-footed bathtub. The “haunted graveyard” belongs to a family farm a couple of miles from the old town; it’s been defaced by trespassers, so if you go visit, get permission from the owners.
The history of the place is something of a local mystery. When the older generation was young, it was spoken about sparingly; horrible events happened there long ago, apparently, and it wasn’t fit conversation. From what little I’ve been able to find out, there were until recently a few surviving board-built structures, a tiny hamlet that acted as support camp for logging crews harvesting deep into the woods to the east. The rumors I’ve heard were wild ones, about attacks from the local Penobscot natives — almost unheard of — and starvation and cannibalism in the deep midwinter. The more sane accounts mention distance from the river, the rise of the gasoline engine, and the building of the Stud Mill Road itself as the cause of the town’s decline.
Hidden somewhere in the archives of the American Folklore Society is a taped interview about the town’s history. I’ve sought in vain for its location, however, bothering some very patient archivists both there and at the University of Maine, which still offers a class in folklore. Unfortunately, the AFS lacks funds to organize all their collections.
My grateful thanks to Katie Hamilton, a wise and lovely lady and an old friend, who was kind enough to assemble some of the local lore on the place. The misrepresentations are all mine.