The trip started with great expectations. Matt, Steve, Joe, John, and myself were all avid hikers. We had all planned a winter hike through the hills of northern Michigan that border Canada. We were going to camp, ice fish, and see the sights along our trek. We were a week into our journey without any incident and spirits were high as we left civilization behind.
“Hey ladies are you even trying to keep up?” Matt yelled from a distance up the trail. No one answered except John who was the youngest eager to prove his worth on his first hike with us. “Yeah, yeah we’re coming!” He said quickening his pace and then tripping on a exposed tree root. Steve caught him. “Be more careful man, you break your ankle out here we may just have to leave you.” He joked trying to convey the importance of being alert this far from humanity. I dropped to the back of our group taking the sights in and snapping pictures as we approached a cliff at a bend in the trail.
The view was amazing. The distant rivers and mountains coated in a slight coat of white shining in the sun with a foreground of green pine trees. No civilization in sight which only added to the regal beauty of the remote landscape. “I think I have a blister. Can we stop for a little while?” Joe finally spoke up. “Jeeze man, that again?” John said disapproving of his complaint. “Yeah, that again! It hasn’t gone away since I last mentioned it.” Joe snapped back. “It’s alright I’m getting tired too. Let’s set up camp here” I said quickly to defuse the situation. Everybody agreed save for Matt who quickly gave in anyways.
The camp was up and ready after only a short time due to our combined efforts. Then we all decided to explore independently looking for firewood and such. I carried my camera and fishing gear through the trees toward the bottom of our cliff hoping to catch some food for us all. After a few hours of fruitless fishing I decided to break out the fifth of crown royal I had snuck into my pack without the others knowledge. A few drinks in I was greeted by Joe looking depressed. “What’s wrong man?” I asked offering him the bottle. He took it and drank. “Shawna said we were through before we left”. “Oh” I replied finally knowing the reason for his withdrawn attitude that hung over him for the majority of the trip. “Things will get better man, you will see.” He seemed a little relieved by my sympathy as we sat talking with snow beginning to fall from the grey skies.
It took a little bit of time for us to hike back to the camp. Luckily the campfire was built high and roaring illuminating the otherwise pitch blackness of the surroundings. Approaching it we reunited with our friends who were already boiling ramen noodles. We all ate and shared stories of our day to day lives. The worsening weather forced us into our respective tents for the night. Slipping into the warmth of my sleeping bag I removed the bottle of Crown Royal from my pack and had a few sips before resting my head on my pillow and nodding off.
” venir … venir” a voice jolts me awake in a cold sweat. It echoed into my waking mind in multiple octaves but all at once. I rubbed my eyes and noticed the tent shaking as rabid winds pelted its thin walls. Drowsy I reach for a bottle of water and after taking a large gulp I drop the open water to the floor of my tent in shock. Outside I heard a blood chilling scream. Throwing open the flap to my tent I’m greeted by a maelstrom of white. The crazed winds caressed every inch of my body as I crawled into the open to see Joe’s body laying face down in the snow.
One by one my group of friends emerged from their tents to assist me pulling Joe back into his tent. As his shoulder met my chest he let out another scream of pain. Then I felt it. Warmth running down my chest. Joe’s shirt was shredded and he was bleeding out. Laying him down on his stomach I looked in horror at the wound. His skin was gashed in the shape of a giant hand print. Far to big to be human bordered by the tale tell signs of frostbite.
“What the fuck happened!?!” Exclaimed Matt upon seeing the wound. “I don’t know what happened! His yelling woke me up!” I frantically replied looking around at everybody. “Do we have anything to put on that? ” Steve asked “It looks like it’s infected”. “It can’t be” I said back to him “it’s ..fre…” I stopped mid sentence noticing the inky black veins on his shoulder. I bolted out of the tent to fetch my booze to pour in the gashes but a step from my tent I was stopped in my tracks by the horrible voice that had woken me. ” venir … venir” boomed from the trees seeming from every direction. Ignoring it I dove in my tent and grabbed the liquor. Returning to the tent i doused Joe’s shoulder and cleaned it. He had already passed out so together we all remained in the tent until Steve’s watch sounded its alarm signaling morning had come.
Joe had fallen silent, his wound smelled of decay and his tent was filled with the horrible smell. The black veins had crawled up from his back to his neck. The alcohol did nothing to slow the infection feeling the urgency we gathered and debated our next move. Almost immediately we were divided on the options. Matt and John both fought to head back the way we came carrying Joe but we didn’t have the food or energy to trek back three days worth of trails in the deep snow. After much deliberation we all decided on one course of action. Matt and John would take most our remaining food and push forward to get help while Steve and I would keep a fire burning for its smoke all while caring for Joe.
Not long after they departed it became clear Steve and I had stayed put in vain. In only a day Joe quickly fell into a coma and stopped breathing. We had quickly exhausted our food after that even resorting to cooking the worms I had bought for fishing. Starvation was setting in and even though we were in the wilderness it was devoid of life. we might as well have been in a barren desert.
The words echoed in my head and for the sixth night in a row I wake up in a cold sweat “venir … venir” I repeated out loud then I noticed I had woken Steve who was on the other side of the tent. “You can’t sleep either?” Steve asked weakly. “No I’m so hungry it hurts. We have to go we are going to die here man.” I said to Steve grimly. He shook his head. “They are sending help. Matt and John have to made to town by now.” “What if they haven’t Steve!” I quickly interrupted “we are waiting here to die!” There is nothing to eat, nothing but…” Steve’s face twisted “no, he’s our friend. I’d rather die” he exclaimed showing that he had at least had the grim thought himself before I put words to it. “Then it’s clear we got to go. We aren’t going to last another night like this.” He nodded “after my watch sounds we will go.”
After hours of uneasy rest the alarm came. Without much talking Steve and I gathered our things and set off. The once beautiful forest seemed only to force dread and exhaustion down on us even more. Hours of dragging our feet through the hard packed snow we started seeing signs that Matt and John had taken the path we were on. Then we rounded a cliff side. There hung John almost crucified on a thick pine tree. His arms broken backward and secured by tent posts driven through his wrists and into the great tree. His corpse was ripped to pieces, frostbitten and signs of the same infection that killed Joe where everywhere. Matt’s trademark hat blood soaked laid only feet away.
The sight was too much. I wept falling but my weakness forbid me from standing up. I was too hungry and had no strength left. Then a familiar voice rang from the trees “venir … venir manger” followed by the crunching of snow behind me. Steve’s eyes grew wider than I’ve ever seen another person’s get. Turning my head I finally saw the owner of the voice that had been torturing me in my dreams.
It stood over seven feet tall, black and blue frostbitten skin gnawed to the bone in places all draped in rotten deer hides, capped off by a elk skull forced on to what was a once human head deforming every facial feature it once had. The horror of its appearance was
Only bested by its foul smell. It stepped over me looking down and smiling revealing its rancid, rotten teeth. It knew I couldn’t run or even defend myself. I was no threat and it knew it.
In one swift motion it lunged at Steve pinning him to the ground and tearing through his coat and the layers under as if they were made of paper finally holding its bloody hand on his bare flesh as the skin under its Palm blackened and died from what looked like frostbite. With a final pained scream Steve’s eyes closed and he passed on. Seemingly pleased by its own handiwork the creature stood up smiling at me again as if looking for my approval and started walking back toward me. I closed my eyes and braced myself but it stopped directly over me.
“venir … venir manger” it said again in its demonic voice. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted it to kill me because there was no way of escaping or fighting. so I yelled as loud as I could. “Do it! Do it you twisted motherfucker!” But to my surprise it just stood the studying me. looking up my eyes met the monsters crusted, yellow, bloodshot eyes and it smiled again. Reaching both arms down it lifted me like a ragdoll and placed me on my feet. It studied me once more and smiled taking its gnarled nails and jamming them into my chest.
An explosion of pain was immediately followed by nothing but cold. Like something had replaced all the blood in my body with liquid nitrogen. The all to familiar blackness traced my veins. My stomach ached like I had been shot and a hole had been blown straight through it but I didn’t collapse. I felt stronger than I ever had in my life. Only cold and hunger were left in my body as the beast stepped back to examine its work again with its ever present toothy smile. It left me standing returning to Steve’s body and eagerly tearing into his skin. After a moment it turned back to look at me saying ” venir … venir manger” again while motioning to the body with an outstretched arm and bloody smile. At that moment I finally understood its words without knowing the language it spoke….. “come… come and eat”
Credit: David keys