The Curse of the Wendigo
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
We were admitted at once by another uniformed officer who, with Connolly, stood at rigid attention by the door throughout the tense scene that followed.
The room was icy cold; the autumnal wind whistled through the broken window over the bed. A knot of plainclothes detectives were gathered around the foot of it, watching two of their colleagues crouching over something on the floor. One of the men—an imposing figure with an impressive chest and an equally impressive mustache—turned when we entered. He scowled, his full lips clamped tightly around an unlit cigar.
“Warthrop. Good. Thank you for coming,” he said in a thick Irish brogue. His gratitude was expressed gruffly, a formality to be promptly dispensed with.
“Chief Inspector Byrnes,” the doctor returned tightly.
“But what’s this?” asked Byrnes, glowering at me. “Who is this child and why is he here?”
“He is not a child; he is my assistant,” returned the monstrumologist.
I was a child, of course, in most men’s eyes, but the doctor saw things differently from most men.
Byrnes grunted noncommittally, studying me from beneath his bushy eyebrows, the right side of his prodigious mustache twitching. Then he shrugged.
“He’s over here,” the chief detective of the Metropolitan Police said. “Watch your step; it’s slippery.”
The men at the foot of the bed moved aside, like a human curtain pulling back. Lying on his back in a pool of coagulating blood was Augustin Skala—or what was left of him. I might not have recognized him if not for the size of the man and the tattered peacoat, for Augustin Skala had no face and no eyes. The empty sockets sought out the blank canvas of the off-white ceiling tiles.
His shirt had been torn open, exposing his hairy torso, in the middle of which yawned a hole the size of a pie plate. Protruding from the hole’s jagged lip was a portion of his dislodged heart, partially ripped from its moorings and missing large bite-size chunks.
It was the heart that drew Warthrop’s attention. He knelt beside the body, heedless of the tacky blood, to examine it.
“The nurse found him around seven o’clock this morning,” said Byrnes.
“Where have you taken Chanler?” the doctor asked, not turning from his task.
“I haven’t taken him anywhere. Dr. Chanler is gone.”
“Gone?” Warthrop looked up at him sharply. “What do you mean—gone where?”
“I was hoping you could help with the answer to that question.”
The door flew open, and von Helrung hurried into the room, his wide face flushed, hair flying willy-nilly around his square head.
“Pellinore! Thank God, you are here. Oh, this is terrible. Terrible!”
The doctor rose, his pants now soaked in Skala’s blood. “Von Helrung, where is John?”
“Dr. Chanler has disappeared,” said Byrnes before von Helrung could answer. He nodded toward the shattered window. “We think through there.”
Warthrop stepped over to the window and looked down four stories to the ground below. “Impossible,” he murmured.
“The door was locked from the inside,” Byrnes rumbled. “Chanler is gone. There is no other explanation.”
“The laws of nature demand another, Inspector,” snapped the doctor. “Unless you propose that he sprouted wings and flew away.”
Byrnes glanced at von Helrung, and then curtly told his men to wait outside, leaving the four of us alone with the remains of Augustin Skala.
“Dr. von Helrung has informed me of the particulars of Dr. Chanler’s case.”
Warthrop threw up his hands and said, “John Chanler is suffering from the mental and physical effects of a particular dementia, Inspector, called the Wendigo Psychosis. It has a well-documented history in the literature—”
“Yes, he mentioned this Wendigo business.”
“It is finished,” von Helrung put in gravely. “He has gone fully to Outiko now.”
Warthrop groaned. “Inspector, I beg you not to listen to this man. I appeal to your reason. What man—much less a man in John Chanler’s condition—could withstand a fall from a four-story window without suffering such injuries as to make escape impossible?”
“I’m not a doctor. All I know is that he’s missing and that window was the only way out.”
“He rides the high wind now,” pronounced von Helrung.
“Shut up!” cried Warthrop, jabbing his index finger in the older man’s face. “You may have enlisted Byrnes in this madness, but I will have no part of it.” He turned to Byrnes. “I wish to speak with the nurse.”
“She has gone home for the day,” answered Byrnes. “She is quite shaken, as you might imagine.”
“He must have walked out. . . .”
“Then he made himself invisible,” countered the chief inspector. “There’s always a nurse on this floor, and doctors and orderlies going about besides. He would have been seen.”
“There have been some eyewitness accounts of—,” von Helrung began.
“Not . . . another . . . word,” Warthrop growled at his old master. He turned back to Byrnes. “Very well. I will allow for the moment that he somehow managed to endure the fall without losing the ability to ambulate. I assume you have men searching for him; he could not have gotten far in his condition.”
A man came into the room at that moment—around von Helrung’s age but taller and more athletic of build, well-dressed in a tailcoat and top hat, with piercing eyes and a thrust-forward chin.
“Warthrop!” he cried, marching straight to the doctor and striking him with the back of his hand.
The doctor touched the corner of his mouth and found blood. The blow had opened up his bottom lip.
“Archibald,” he said. “Delighted to see you again too.”
“You brought him here!” John Chanler’s father shouted. The sole policeman in the room did not try to intervene; he seemed to be enjoying the show.
“This is a hospital,” replied the doctor. “The usual spot for the sick and injured.”
“And your spot as well when I’m finished with you! How dare you, sir! You had no right!”
“Don’t speak to me of rights,” Warthrop shot back. “Your son had the right to live.”
The elder Chanler snorted angrily and whirled on Inspector Byrnes. “I want him found posthaste, with as little fuss and bother as possible, Detective. The quicker this matter is resolved, the better. And under no circumstances are you or anyone in your department to speak to the press. I will not have the Chanler name dragged through the muckraking penny dailies!”
Byrnes concurred with a brief nod, his lips curling around the dead stogie with disgust. “I’ll shoot any man who even whispers the name, sir.”
Chanler confronted the doctor again, saying, “I am holding you fully responsible, Warthrop. I’ve already spoken to my attorneys about your unconscionable negligence in regard to my son’s treatment, and I can assure you, sir, there will be a reckoning. There will be reparations paid!”
He turned on his heel and stormed from the room. Warthrop gave an exaggerated sigh. “His concern is touching.”
He turned to von Helrung. “Does Muriel know yet?”
“I sent word through Bartholomew,” answered von Helrung. “He’s bringing her to my house. She should be safe there.”
“Safe?” the monstrumologist echoed. “Safe from what?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Detective, I shall for the moment accept the ludicrous proposition that John walked away from a fall out that window—and suggest you confine your dragnet to the immediate vicinity. He could not have gotten very far.”
“There are certain other measures we should discuss first,” von Helrung put in urgently. “For the well-being of your men.”
“Abram, this is not the time—,” began Warthrop.
“It cannot be brought down by ordinary bullets,” von Helrung said, speaking over him. “They must be silver, and then only by a shot to the heart. You may fill its skull with twenty rounds and still fail to drop it. It has gone into hiding till nightfall. Look to a high place well away from human traffic, but don’t confine your search to the immediate vicinity. It could be miles away by now. Spare no man; enlist every able-bodied officer in the hunt. I would suggest you contact the state militia as well.”
Byrnes grunted. “I cannot very well mobilize the entire state of New York, Dr. von Helrung. You heard Mr. Chanler. I’m to keep this as quiet as possible.”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Warthrop cried. “You can find him in five minutes with a single policeman and a bloodhound!”
“I defer to your judgment, Inspector,” said von Helrung as if Warthrop hadn’t spoken. “But you must prosecute the matter with all alacrity. These hours are critical. It must be found before night comes.”
Byrnes’s eyes widened at the injunction. “Why? What happens when night comes?”
“It will begin to hunt. And it will not stop hunting. It cannot stop, for now the hunger drives it. It will kill and feed until someone kills it.”
The doctor shook his head vehemently and spoke to Byrnes. “But before you do any of that, Detective, I suggest you speak with his attending physician and enlighten yourself as to John’s physical condition—”
“Not so frail he couldn’t overcome Augustin Skala,” von Helrung noted triumphantly. “And how with such speed? Skala was alive and well when the night nurse checked on John at the end of her shift. Seven minutes later her relief walked in to this.”
“It proves nothing, von Helrung.”
“Does it not? Mortally wound a man twice his size, cut free the heart, remove the eyes and the face . . . all in seven minutes! I could not do it. Could you?”
“I most certainly could.”
“That’s very interesting,” Byrnes put in, smiling dangerously around his cigar. “Quite talented, you monstrumologists, aren’t you?”
Von Helrung urged the doctor to accompany him to his house. “Muriel is there; she needs you now, Pellinore,” he said, but Warthrop refused to leave before he examined the alley from where Byrnes insisted Chanler must have made his getaway. He found nothing to sustain his objections to the absurd suggestion that this was the mode of escape. It was as if Chanler had somehow sprouted wings and flown into the blue. Warthrop did note a drainpipe that passed within a foot of the window.
“Perhaps he climbed up to the roof,” he mused.
“By your own logic, impossible,” pointed out von Helrung. “If he was as impaired as you say, Pellinore.”
The monstrumologist sighed. “You examined him, von Helrung. You know as well as I the extent of his impairment. It is confounding to me why you insist upon choosing the outrageous explanation over the rational one. What has happened to you? Have you suffered some kind of brain injury? Are you under the influence of a narcotic? Why do you persist, Meister Abram, in this bizarre and wholly disconcerting behavior? It’s quite embarrassing to hear you prattle on to the authorities about silver bullets and men riding the wind like swallows.”