The Curse of the Wendigo
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“You may make jokes, but don’t you ever think about what sort of person you will marry?”
“And I am thirteen—nearly fourteen. What has age to do with it? Juliet found her Romeo when she was my age.”
“And look what happened to her.”
“Well, you are his little apprentice, aren’t you? What, you don’t believe in love?”
“I don’t know enough about it to believe or disbelieve.”
She scooted across the bed and brought her face very close to mine. I dared not turn my head to face her.
“What would you do right now, this very moment, if I kissed you?”
I answered with a shake of my head.
“I believe you would fall over in a dead faint. You’ve never kissed a girl, have you?”
“Should we test my hypothesis?”
“I would rather we didn’t.”
“Why not?” I could feel her warm breath on my cheek. “Aren’t you studying to be a scientist?”
“I think I’d rather have a Mongolian Death Worm liquefy my flesh.”
I should not have said that. I think she had forgotten up to that point. Before I could protest she pulled down the bandage to expose my wound. I remained frozen to the spot as her breath traveled down to the sore.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scab that big,” she whispered. She ran the tip of her finger over the spot. “Does that hurt?”
“Which is it?”
I didn’t answer. I was shivering. I felt very warm, but I shivered.
The mattress squeaked softly. Her weight compressed the springs, tipping me in her direction. Her moist lips pressed against my violated flesh.
“There. Now you’ve been kissed.”
I quickly discovered that, among other things, Lillian Trumbul Bates was a terrible liar. Though she did not bite and did drool only a little bit, she was a terrific snorer. By one a.m. I was actually considering placing a pillow over her face to muffle the sound.
I was thankful, though, for my clothing. The room became very cold during the night; I lost feeling in the tip of my nose. I think Lilly got cold too, for she rolled over in her sleep and pressed herself against me. The moment was both disconcerting and comforting.
We are more than what is reflected in the Yellow Eye, von Helrung had said.
With Lilly curled against me, I stared at the golden splay of light coming from a streetlamp on the avenue below. I rose toward it. I came into it. There was nothing but the golden light.
Then I heard the wind high above. There was the light and there was the wind. There was nothing else. I could hear the wind, but I could not feel it. I floated, incorporeal in the golden light.
There was a voice there in the wind. It was beautiful. It called my name. The voice was in the wind and the wind was in the voice and they were one. The wind and the voice were one.
In the empty room my mother sits, combing out her hair. I am there with her and she is alone. Her face is turned away from me. Her bare arms are golden in the light. It is not her voice that calls me. It is the wind’s voice.
The wind has a current like a river rushing to the sea.
It pulls me to her. I do not fight against the current of the wind. I want to be with her in the empty room of golden light.
There, my mother turns to look at me. She has no eyes. Her face has been stripped of its skin. Her empty sockets are black holes where the golden light is sucked down and cannot escape. There is no escape.
The high wind howls. There is no difference between the wind and my name, and my name has no beginning and no ending.
I fall into the lightless pit of my mother’s eyes.
Out of the nothingness a hand reached out, grabbed my collar, and yanked me backward, away from the open window. I fought against my rescuer, but he had wrapped his long arms around me, and now I could hear his voice, not the wind’s voice, calling my name.
“Will Henry! Will Henry . . .”
The doctor grunted softly as I strained to free myself, kicking impotently against the smooth floorboards, trying to answer the wind that sighed its cold breath upon our faces. I heard Lilly asking again and again in a high-pitched, hysterical voice, “What is it? What is it?” And then I saw Dr. von Helrung kneeling beside me, holding a lamp close to my face. He was saying to the doctor, “Nein, nein, not his name, Pellinore. Do not say his name!” He slapped me lightly across the cheek.
“Look at me!” he shouted. “Listen to me! To me! It is passed—gone!”
He was right; it was gone. And I started to cry, for I felt so empty without it. I was overwhelmed with shame; I was mortified. I was supposed to answer. The wind wanted me, and I wanted the wind.
“Please, Pellinore, please,” von Helrung urged the doctor. Warthrop’s grip loosened, and the old man pulled me into his arms. He wrapped one around my shoulders and with his large hand pressed my ear to his chest; I could hear the beating of his heart. Like the wind upon which my name rode, an irresistible current runs deep in the hidden chambers of our hearts, “till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
“A dream,” the monstrumologist said. “A hallucination borne of khorkhoi venom and severe physical and psychological trauma.”
“It is my fault,” groaned von Helrung. “I should have barred the window.”
“In all likelihood he would have survived the fall.”
“He would not have fallen, mein Freund. Oh, if that were the only thing to fear! It has come for him. For him! This cannot be. We cannot allow it, Pellinore. He must be sent away immediately—”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” snapped the doctor.
“On the first train to Boston.”
“Will Henry is not going anywhere.”
“He is in grave danger, should he remain.”
“And worse if he leaves, von Helrung. I am all the boy has, and I am not leaving.”
“Please don’t send me away, sir,” I whispered. My throat hurt terribly, as if I had been screaming at the top of my lungs.
“I understand, Pellinore, but you must understand it will not stop. It cannot stop. It will call until it finds him—or he finds it, for it compels him now. As it compelled the others—Larose, Hawk, Skala, and Bartholomew—and Muriel, Pellinore. Think of Muriel! Would you have him suffer the same fate? In your stubbornness, will you stand idly by and let it take Will, too?”
“I am at the end of my patience with this lunacy. Nothing has ‘called’ Will Henry. Will Henry had a nightmare, completely understandable and even predictable, given what has transpired over the past twenty-four hours.”
Von Helrung threw up his hands in a gesture of dismay.
“Eyes that do not see! Ears that do not hear! Ack! I thought I had trained you better than that, Pellinore Warthrop! Set it aside, then. Set it all aside! John is not dead—he is not Outiko. He is psychotic, driven to murder by the demons found in the desolation, a monster still, but a monster of human proportions. If it is not the hunger that drives him, what does? Why does he take Muriel, and why now does he try to take Will Henry? What do they share, Pellinore? What is the one thing they have in common? Please, for the love of God, at least admit that. Call it what you will. Call it lunacy. Call it madness. But within the madness there is method. You know this to be true.”
“I won’t make the same mistake twice, Meister Abram. Will Henry will be safe with me.”
“He Is Not So Different”
Lilly took her leave early the next morning. Though shaken by the strange and disturbing events of the previous night, she was well aware of the plan to hunt down the remnants of Dr. John Chanler, and she was not happy to be excluded from the chase. Her dissatisfaction was made all the more unpalatable by the fact that I, in what she called my “deplorable condition,” would be a full participant.
“It’s because I’m a girl,” she pouted. “Look at this!” She held up her index finger and flexed it rapidly in my face. “It can pull a trigger as well as yours, William Henry—better even, and probably faster. I wouldn’t be afraid, either; I’d walk right up to him and blow his brains out. I don’t care what sort of man-eating monster he’s become.”
I didn’t argue with her. I completely agreed, actually, that she had it in her to walk up to almost anything and blow its brains out. She had the heart of a monstrumologist, that was certain; it just so happened that that heart belonged to a girl.
“You will see,” she promised me. “One day I will. You can’t keep us down forever; I don’t care how hard you try. One day we’ll even have the right to vote, and then see what happens to all you pompous men. We’ll make a woman president! You’ll see.”
Then, moving with the lightning speed of an attacking Mongolian Death Worm, Lilly Bates grabbed my shoulders and planted a wet kiss upon my cheek.
“That is for luck,” she said. “And good-bye. I may never see you again, Will.”
Shortly thereafter the first pair of hunters arrived, the experienced Dobrogeanu and the young Torrance, followed a few minutes later by Pelt, his drooping mustache dotted with fine grains of snow. Bad weather was coming, he said, and Dobrogeanu agreed, averring that the aching in his knees invariably presaged that. Gravois was the last to arrive. He’d had trouble finding a cab, he explained as he brushed crumbs from his vest.
His face lit up at the sight of Warthrop, who winced when Gravois hugged him. The doctor begged off the traditional greeting of a kiss on either cheek. Despite the previous day’s compress, Warthrop’s jaw was horribly swollen.
“It is not so bad,” opined the Frenchman of my master’s distorted features. “An improvement, in my opinion. What does the physician say? You will be able to join us, yes?”
“I am here, aren’t I?” Warthrop answered testily.
Gravois’s eyes grew misty. “Pellinore, words cannot express my grief. The loss, it is . . .”
“Inexplicable,” said the doctor. “And avoidable.”
“You must not blame yourself.”
“Who do you propose? I am open to suggestions.”
Von Helrung called the meeting to order and briefly, for him, welcomed Warthrop into their little band.
“Good to see you on your feet, Warthrop,” Pelt said. “I must admit I had my reservations until von Helrung told me you were joining our party.”
“You’ll be hiring an attorney, I suppose,” said Dobrogeanu. “I would. Demand a formal inquiry, force the city into bankruptcy, have that terrible man Byrnes arrested for assault and battery!”
“He is not so different from us,” my master replied cryptically.
“Yes, thank you, Pellinore,” said von Helrung quickly. “Now to the most recent development, which bears directly upon our task.”
He related to the astonished men the events of the night before. A lively discussion ensued. What did it mean? Was it, as the doctor vehemently maintained, merely a nightmare—a hallucination induced by khorkhoi venom and exacerbated by the day’s horrific events? Or was it, as von Helrung claimed with equal fervor, exactly what it appeared to be—an attempt by their quarry to snatch me? Torrance proposed the latter possibility should be put aside for now, suggesting that if we failed in locating the beast by any other means, we might turn its desire against it.