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For those involved in dealing with cryptids – if any of you are reading this – why do you do it? Other than the money of course, I feel a lot of you do it for the rush. The adrenaline. But where’s the line drawn? Where does exhilaration evolve into panic? Don’t get me wrong, a little risk taking is food for the soul, but so many factors can go wrong in any situation.

In particular, what do you do when you find the corpse of a cryptid you were hunting, eviscerated and dismembered? When the abrupt realisation hits you that there’s a bigger fish?

My grandpa wasn’t quite on the level of monster-hunting, but boy was he a crazy motherfucker. Once, he hunted a grizzly using nothing but a crossbow, wet mud and leaves, and his wit. He’s had its head mounted above his forest-house fireplace ever since.

I can’t say how far back his love for the wilderness is rooted, but I know he grew tired of the city long before retiring from his job as a metropolitan engineer. Since then, he’s lived out in an old house, in the Northwestern reaches of the Olympic National Forest, about 40 miles from the Park itself, Washington state. I can only imagine how lonely it must have been, living out there by himself, but he never seemed any the worse for it.

In recent years, I’ve come to be good friends with a guy I met in college, Martin. I could see the same fire in his eyes as my grandpa’s when it came to the outdoors, always pestering me to come with on camping trips, going fishing, hunting, you name it.

It was a no-brainer bringing him along for a visit to my grandpa's. Honestly, I feared they might get along too well, and Martin would never return with me. In the end, it didn’t matter, because both of us have been engrained with a morbid aversion to the woods since that day.

Martin was particularly eager this time, practically vibrating in the passenger of my jeep. Last trip, grandpa promised he’d show him the ropes of skinning and pelts. Martin often went on about how he’d feel sitting afront a roaring fireplace with a great deerskin rug laid out beneath it.

My motivation was simply to check up on my grandpa. He hadn’t been responding to my attempts at contacting him for the past week, so naturally I was a bit worried. We ran into a problem early, driving up the long dirt road to my grandpa’s. Rounding a corner, I slammed on the brakes seeing a slew of fallen trees lying across the road.

“Damn! What happened here?” Martin exclaimed, “there haven’t been any storms recently, right?”

I sat with my hands ten-and-two on the steering wheel, lost for words.

“Uh, no… it’s been pretty clear weather round these parts since March.”

“Weird…”

Shutting the engine off, I hopped out of the jeep. The only sounds were the leaves, flittering in the mid-Spring breeze. Nature’s white noise. We were a little over two miles away from the house, an easily walkable distance. Grandpa had enough equipment that we didn’t need to bring much of our own, so our bags were light.

I had my phone, a flashlight, water, spare clothes, and my utility watch strapped around my wrist. My plan was to get up to grandpa’s, and come back down in his truck to chop up the fallen logs with a chainsaw.

We thought it would be more fun to go through the woods alongside the track. A long dirt road means only boredom, after all. We scrambled down the left-side slope and began our trek, keeping an eye on the road to follow its route.

Only a few minutes later, the smell hit us. Putrid carrion. It was nothing unexpected, animals in the forest die all the time. Even so, that hard-wired part of my brain was repulsed at the smell.

“Shit, something’s festering out here,” I said, “can’t imagine how it’d smell in summer.”

Martin let out a small retch, but agreed.

The stench only grew stronger as we went on. It was at its peak when I almost tripped over a sharp object on the ground. I thought it to be a cluster of branches at first, but the notion quickly dissolved upon seeing their pale, ceramic reflections.

A decapitated stag’s head lay right in front of us. It was wrong, though. The teeth were too long, and the bone of its face was exposed. Even with the odour, I could tell it was fresh from the viscous black blood that seeped from its neck and mouth.

Martin spoke up, “God damn, that’s freaky. You think a bear did this?”

“I mean, there’s only black bears here right? I doubt they could pull off something like this. A cougar, maybe? I don’t know. Never seen one straight-up decapitate a stag like this, though.”

My eyes were drawn to a trail of blood, forming a jagged streak ahead of us on the ground. My gaze followed it, until it terminated at the stag’s grizzly mess of a body. Well, it looked quadrupedal from a distance, but as we moved closer, I found I had been sorely incorrect.

The body was that of a monster. Large in stature, but bony and gaunt. Long, razor-sharp claws lying splayed across the ground like kitchen knives. And all covered in patches of dark wizened fur.

“Is it bad?” Martin called out, approaching from behind me to get a look. When he saw it, he went still and quiet, as had I. There was no statement that could do the sight justice. I’d heard the old tales of the horrors lurking deep inside the forests, but never experienced them face-to-face.

It was still, lying dead as the fallen leaves beneath it. It looked crushed and broken, littered with what seemed to be deep, wide puncture wounds. Martin managed to speak up,

“Is that…”

But before he could say any more, a sudden snap broke the tension. The snap of a twig – no, a branch. My spine shot straight upright. Against my better judgement, I found my head gradually swivelling in the direction the noise had come from.

When I caught a vast, hulking shape in my peripheral, I whipped around to face whatever was there. I saw something, just for a moment. Enormous, long limbs draped in shaggy hair, the colour of pine bark.

But as quickly as I’d turned, the image vanished. Rising dread threatened to pry my lips apart in a scream. I looked far and wide, but nothing was there.

“Kel, what is it? Wait, the cougar isn’t still here is it?” Martin whispered.

“No, it’s nothing. Let’s keep going, we can talk about this later with my grandpa. But the cat could still be loitering about somewhere. It’s best we don’t stay in the same place for too long.”

Before departing, I snapped a few pictures of the mangled corpse on my phone, zooming in on the head without backtracking to get a better angle. Something told me that turning back, however briefly, would be a terrible mistake.

We went on with urgent pace, pretending to ignore the heavy movements between the trees nearby. Large animals will inevitably give away their movements, but they snap twigs, not entire branches. Even so, the movements sounded anything but clumsy. No, they sounded calculated, those of a stalking predator.

As hard as I tried to filter them out, I caught myself glancing to the sides and behind very often. I don’t know whether I was hoping to see something, or nothing. Still, the woods around us were empty, other than ourselves.

“Hey, Kel, if there’s a mountain lion around here, we should go up onto the road for a bit. It’ll be easier to bolt if we need to.”

I agreed, and we veered off to the right, climbing up the roadside slope. Deep down I knew that whatever was out there, it wasn’t a big cat. We only told ourselves that, skirting the subject of monsters now made very real to us.

The forest fell silent as we walked along the road. That was far from being comforting, though. If the woods are quiet, predators are about. It’s a well-known idea in the community of wilderness enthusiasts.

What did ease my mind to a degree was the sight of a herd of deer standing in the track. They cocked their heads to look at us, but didn’t seem all that disturbed by our presence. At the same time, a feeling of being exposed, vulnerable, grew as a hard lump in my gut.

They started to move on as we got closer, wandering off the road and into the woods. One of the deer stayed in place. It wasn’t frozen, no, but… constricted? It twitched and whimpered as it started to rise off of the ground, as if weightless.

It happened so quickly. Its screams were cut off as its limbs were snapped and crushed, and deep wounds erupted over its body. And then, like it had been there the whole time, it stood.

It was a nightmare. Huge, unimaginably so, rivalling two elephants stacked up. It was hunched over, resting on impossibly long and thick forelimbs ending in spindly, sloth-like claws. Its body was long too, ending in a pair of shorter legs, knees inverted with feet supported by spur-like appendages. The lulling head that sat atop an arched neck looked like some bizarre cross between a horse and a crocodile. Hollow pits in place of eyes, the torn skin around its mouth revealing horribly uneven and misshapen teeth that jutted out at irregular angles.

The fading sunlight glinted off the long gashes covering its sides and head. The dead creature from earlier had definitely put up a fight. But it could never have been enough.

As we stood, stunned, it reciprocated our stare, the only real movements being the sets of riblike appendages undulating on its underside, rendering the deer into a torn sack of flesh and bone fragments. The poor animal seemed to wither before our eyes as the sharp ribs forced deeper into its body, like a juice box having the last drops sucked out of it.

In that moment, we were part of the herd. Paralysed. Some had already run off, but others were as statues in the presence of this beast. Another smell hit us then, different from the stench of decay like earlier, but equally sickening. Like moist earth, sulphur, methane, and dead fish. Its source was clear as wisps of gas from the beast’s mouth became thick, billowing fumes, rising into the evening sky.

The tension was broken with the deer’s mutilated husk thudding to the ground. The remaining deer took flight, scampering off into the trees, and in response the beast snapped its head in their direction. Something was wrong with its head, flopping around clumsily as it turned.

I took a step back as it let out a deep, guttural rattle, before bounding off after the herd, its matted hair swinging violently. It splintered a tree as it went, but was totally unfazed by the impact.

We waited until its thundering gallops faded into the quickly darkening night before saying anything.

“Wh… what the fuck, what the fuck?! What was that thing?” Martin sputtered, tears welling up in his eyes.

“I don’t know man, but we have to get to the house before sundown. I have a feeling our chances at escaping it are little to none in the dark.”

“Are you crazy? We have to go back! I want to get as far from this place as po-“

“What about my grandpa? We can’t just leave him here with that thing.”

Martin didn’t look over to me, but wasted no time disagreeing, starting his jog up the road. We were already over halfway to my grandpa’s house, and even if we wanted to escape, it would be a menial task for the creature to smash the jeep offroad.

The solitary light in the distance looked like the gates of heaven. It radiated safety. But I knew we couldn’t continue out in the open, completely exposed. I looked down to my utility watch, making a mental note of the direction of the house – North-north-east – before grabbing Martin by the arm and leading him off the left side of the road.

Nature’s cruel irony manifested in the steepening terrain and the thickening brush. The house’s light quickly faded, leaving us with only our bearings to navigate. I thought we might have gone off track for a terrifying moment, but I saw the column of smoke above the distant tree canopy that could only be from my grandpa’s chimney.

“Come on, this way.”

As we neared, no light became apparent. Maybe he’d already gone to bed. I could only guess with his lack of communication. We came up onto the lip of a hill, sloping down towards a flat clearing. But there was no house.

There, the pillar of smoke, but there was no source. It began in mid-air from nothing. As we stopped to look, the point where the smoke came from jerked around in the air. When I picked up on the organic stench, it clicked in my mind.

Just like before, there it was, looking directly at us, the thick fumes spewing from its mouth. But I noticed something else this time. Now that the moon hung in the sky, its light glinted off of something beneath the creature’s head. Six black orbs, shiny like obsidian, three on either side of its neck. They darted about, independent of each other, and I knew immediately what they were.

Eyes.

What kind of abomination was this? If those were its eyes, and it ‘ate’ the deer with that structure resembling a ribcage, then that must mean it had a false head. A distraction, defence mechanism maybe? It made sense how this head flopped around limply with the beast’s unnatural movements.

I blinked in quick succession, and looked down to my watch. Due East. We had been misled. It’d circled around us to lie in wait. In one motion, I gripped onto Martin’s shoulder and pulled him in the direction we were meant to be heading in a wild sprint for survival. The beast erupted into movement, ribs rippling as it let out another rumbling trill. Martin looked over to me, confused,

“Hey, dude, what are you doing? There’s nothing the-“

“SHUT UP! Just run as fast as fucking possible, now, don’t stop for anything!”

Our pounding feet were matched by heavy thumps and loud cracks of trees being smashed. I dared not steal a glance behind, fearing that even the slightest break in pace would mean death.

“There!”

I struggled to see what Martin was talking about, until the yellow light became visible between the tree trunks. We were only a few hundred yards away, but I was surprised the creature hadn’t already caught up to us. Even the trees in its way stood no chance at impeding it.

It had, almost, caught up. I could feel the air pressure from its massive body, charging through the trees behind. Close enough that, at any moment, I might feel its claws cleave my body into pieces.

A saving grace. Coming up on our left was a dense patch of old oak trees. I swerved towards them, leaping through the spaces between trunks, just large enough for us to get through.

I hit the ground, rolling sideways. There wasn’t even time to be dazed as an immense slam sounded from where we’d just been. I scrambled backwards, looking to see a great arm slinking through the gap. It was thick, but not as thick as the oaks. The claws tapped about, searching blindly for our frail bodies.

“GO!” I shouted, and the both of us shot to our feet and bolted towards the light. As we ran, the sounds grew distant. Was it stunned, or did it still think we were behind those trees? I didn’t care. All that mattered was being inside and not out.

Gravel clattered against the front of the house as we skidded to a stop. I rapped on the door, devolving into pounding when they went unheard. On what was probably the twentieth knock, my fist met only air, and I stumbled in through the now open doorway.

I looked up to meet my grandpa’s gaze. His eyes were wild. He didn’t look like himself. He glanced behind me at Martin, then behind him. Whatever he saw out there, his pupils contracted in response.

“Hurry, boys, get inside,” he whisper-shouted. We filed in, and he went to bolt the door, but hesitated. His hand fell limply, “Eh, no use.” He was right – if the beast wanted to pay a visit, it would do so regardless of our home security. We followed him quietly to an uncovered floor hatch.

“What’s this, Mr. Barnett?” Martin asked, regarding the hatch.

“Huh? Oh, this here’s my old wine cellar.”

Martin tried to ask further before being interrupted,

“A-ah, get down the ladder first, son. You can shoot your questions once we’re safe.”

He pulled on a handle, opening the hatch to reveal a sturdy wooden ladder that led into a dim space beneath. One by one, we clambered down its dusty rungs, meeting the cold concrete floor at the bottom. Grandpa was last, tugging a heavy rug over the open hatch, before closing and securing it.

“I take it you’ve seen the thing, right?”

“Jesus, grandad, we barely got away,” I gasped, still out of breath from our escape.

“Unscathed?”

“Yeah, mostly, other than some scratches.”

“Good.”

He walked over to an upturned crate and plopped down onto it. Martin and I looked between each other, then back at him.

“Uh… well?” Martin said, “you seem to know what we were dealing with, so what the hell is it!?”

Grandpa gave Martin a scowl of disapproval, quickly relenting into understanding.

“I’d scrutinise you on your manners, boy, but now ain’t the time.”

He released a tired gasp, letting his head drop down, before inhaling sharply and looking back up at us.

“I seen it only once before, in my varsity years. Had some Danish friends on my course who said I should come visit them over there, go and do some backpacking in their home country. Beautiful landscapes over in Denmark, really. Peaks rising outta the trees, y’know……"

Before he could lose himself in a daydream, I cleared my throat to bring him back to reality.

“Oh, right. So, we were pretty deep in the woods when it happened. We’d all gotten paranoid ‘cus we thought something was following us. Something big, elk maybe. But we never saw nothing, only heard it. And then, god… one of the girls in front of me started to, hm… levitate? I dunno, she was just rising up off the ground, gripped by somethin’. Whatever it was made a mess from her. Crunched her up like a meatball bein’ squeezed. I saw it then. Curved bones wrapped around her, stabbin’ in deep. Ain’t never gonna forget the sight of it, it’s like a stain on my mind.”

“We saw the same thing,” Martin piped up, “only it was a deer. Looked like it sucked everything out of it when it was done.”

“Yeah, I can’t say I know how it works. You can only see it if you know somethin’s there? If it’s there? Anyway, we ran as fast as we could back down the trail, and we seemed to lose it. The whole time there was this rancid stink though, eggy and earthy. Urgh. We wound up back in the town we’d started from, went straight to the police station and reported it. Apparently all they found was a little chunk of meat, piece of thigh or something like that.

“One of the other guys told me about the tale later on. He brought up the smoke we saw rising out of the forest, when we were back in the town. An old Danish legend went that people through history seen smoke columns in the woods, and most who went to check it out never returned. They said it would move around, not like how a fire would spread, but like it was wanderin’ to and fro.”

“Damn, that’s a horrible story, grandpa,” I said, “it doesn’t help us figure out what it is though. We already know the stuff you’ve just told us.”

“Well”, he replied, “I’m sure it’s got many names, seein’ how it can just pop up where it likes. But I only heard it called the ‘Skorstendyr’. Means ‘chimney beast’ if I’m remembering right.”

“That… makes sense. We thought we were seeing the smoke from your chimney, but it led us right to it.”

“Kel,” grandpa sighed, “this house ain’t even got a chimney.”

Martin looked over to me, scoffing, then back over to grandpa.

“So it lures people in like that?”

“Sure, but I don’t think it means to. I’ma take a gander and say it started up with the fumes after it ate that deer?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Whatever that thing is, it ain’t from here. It ain’t from anywhere on the planet, I think. It eats something, then starts givin’ off smoke. Waste product from digesting, I’d guess.”

“So… shit gas?” Martin chuckled. He always was able to find a way to lighten the mood in dire situations, even if just a little.

I looked up at the monochrome ceiling above us, mulling over what grandpa had said. I remembered how this whole thing had started, and pulled out my phone to bring up my photos.

“We found this after starting our way up to yours on foot. I have an inkling, but do you know what it is?”

Grandpa squinted at the screen, then took it from my hand.

“Scroll to the right, that’s only the head,” I said.

His silent focus was only punctured by the dull taps of his finger on the screen. Recognition lit up in his eyes, his head bobbing up and down.

“Well I’ll be damned.”

“Wendigo, right?” I asked.

“Ayup. I gotta say, never seen one around these parts before, but then again I was never lookin’ for one. I doubt you need it, but keep that as a reminder for what this beast is capable of.”

I put my phone back in my pocket, sighing and letting my chin drop into my hands. In any other situation I’d be shocked to find out such a creature was real, but not now.

“This is all great, Mr. Barnett,” Martin said with quivering uncertainty, “but it doesn’t help us. What are we gonna do? What can we do?”

“I don’t know. Well, I have a stupid idea, but it’s just graspin’ at straws.”

“Anything over sitting here and waiting to die,” Martin breathed, staring off into space, “anything.”

Grandpa looked up toward the basement window, the only source of natural light in the room – what little of it remained.

“Well, I was checkin’ my traps out east from here, about six, seven hundred yards into the woods. Only, when I got there, there was this… smudge? I don’t know what to call it, but that’s the best I can describe what it looked like. It was like, lookin’ into it, I couldn’t register what I was lookin’ at. Hurt my eyes after a while. Never seen nothin’ like it. Was after that I started seein’ the Skorstendyr, so…”

He trailed off, like he was struggling to find the words to say.

“So, what?” I pressed, leaning forward in anticipation.

“Again, this is guesswork, but I think that’s where it came out from. I threw a rock into it when I was there, but ain’t hear it hit the ground. Like it went someplace else. If we can just lead it back there, just get it to go back in-“

“Wait, hold on,” I interrupted, “shouldn’t we call someone? Police? The damn army?”

“What d’you think’ll happen to the cops when they come out here, huh? What’s a chief and a rookie in one police car gonna be able to put up against it? And good luck convincing U.S. military to send out marines. You’d be lucky if they thought it was a joke.”

I shut my mouth, swallowing my next words, allowing grandpa to continue with his proposition.

“Either the beast leaves, or we die. I’m not even gonna talk about tryin’ to drive away, you seen what it does to the trees. Stealth might work, but it’s better at that than we are, big as it is, and I don’t want to risk either of you’s losing your lives.”

His last remark sent a chill down my spine. He’d said nothing explicitly, but I already began to understand what he meant.

“Grandad, you……"

“Don’t worry about me, champ. I got somethin’, but you gotta listen closely. Both of you.”

Martin and I set our full attention on him. I wanted to hear his plan, but I really hoped it was going to go a different way from what I was thinking.

“Now, I wanna make this clear before anything else. I’m goin’ alone, and you boys need to sit tight and do as I say.”

My heart dropped, plunging into the stone-cold sea of despair.

“Are you crazy? No, I have to go with you, I-“

Grandpa cut me off, shushing me.

“As. I. say.” he commanded. I knew he was right, but in the face of loss my thoughts wrestled against the idea.

“Okay. Now I’m gonna call you when I’m a ways off, alright? You have to pick up, and stay on the call with me. It’s vital you keep your attention on my voice. I need both’a you to be brave for the next part. I need you to make as much noise as you can.”

Martin’s eyes bulged in fear, “Won’t that just get us killed?”

“I haven’t finished. That’s only up until I call you. When I do, you shut up, and you hide in the darkest corner of this cellar, okay?”

I was heaving for breath now, cold beads of sweat budding on my forehead, but I closed my eyes and stilled myself.

“Y-yeah, okay.”

“Good. Once we’re connected, I’ll start—"

We were silenced by a single muffled thump from overhead, so forceful that the ceiling spewed cement dust down on us. Then another thump. And another. And another.

I fell off my perch in shock when a booming crash sounded from above, chased by the clattering of rubble. The steady thuds drew nearer, louder, until the only sound was that of the floorboards, groaning under immense weight.

I looked over to grandpa, who looked over to me and whipped a finger to his lips. I nodded, then slowly turned toward the basement hatch. The beast was trying its best to move silently. A stifled whimper escaped my lungs as I saw the hatch buckle.

A loud bang shook the house’s foundations, then nothing. In the silence, I could make out the beast’s ticking growl. It was toying with us. Trying to catch us out, make us think we’d been foiled so we’d burst out in a panic and try to flee. Its intelligence terrified me so much more than its grotesque appearance. It tried this bait a few more times, before huffing angrily. The heavy creaks grew distant until we could no longer hear it, aside from the single crash of a fallen tree somewhere outside.

I stood up, eager to set this plan into motion, only to be dragged back down by a firm grip on my arms. My eyes fell to meet my grandpa’s, looking at me with a wide-eyed scowl.

“Sit down,” he hissed, “not yet. Bastard’s clever. It’s probably waiting at the treeline, watching for us to come out.”

The three of us sat in silence, ears attuned for even the slightest noise to indicate its presence. After an excruciating wait, grandpa rose to his feet and crept over to the ladder. He scaled it, wincing at the creak of a rung, then pushed open the hatch ever so slowly. The rug that had been above was tattered, torn fragments slipping down into the now-open space. He peeked out from side to side, checking rigorously that we were safe. As he pressed his hand upward, what sounded like a broken tile was disturbed, clattering to the floor above us. Grandpa froze in place, visibly tensing.

Creaaaak—

The heavy step, followed by the guttural rattle I prayed to god I wouldn’t hear forced grandpa into action. He pushed himself off of the ladder, tucking and rolling to the floor, right before the hatch was slammed by immense force, cracking it and warping the hinges. Grandpa shot to his feet, adrenaline far outpacing his old age. He glanced around wildly at the floor, before looking up at us with newfound determination.

“Ah… shit, damn it! Change of plans. Martin, distract it. Make some noise. Kel, give me a leg up to the window.”

Martin’s jaw fell open, and his breathing quickened.

“Fuck!” he yelped, pressing fingers into his temples, but to his credit he turned toward the hatch and started up a racket straight away.

“Come get it, you fucker! You ugly sack of shit!!”

While Martin was busy cussing out the chimney beast, grandpa and I hurried over to the window and braced myself in a kneel, fingers locked together forming a foothold, where he planted a foot.

“One, two, three-“

I heaved him up, holding my posture while he unlatched and swung the window open. My body was already tired from running away, and grandpa was heavier than he looked. Still, I hauled him up further until he was out past the waist, and he pulled himself out into the hazy night.

I kept my focus on him as he turned around, refusing the urge to look as I heard claws cleaving away ravenously.

“Alright, I’ll be calling in a minute,” he panted, “when I do, tell Martin to zip. I love you, bud.”

“You too grandad.”

My words latched onto him, fuelling a forgotten instinct that slammed his heels into the forest floor and sent him sprinting into the trees, fading until he was merged with the dark itself. I was grounded again when Martin let out a shriek, and I turned to see him backpedalling from those spindly claws extending through the jagged hole that once was the hatch. A thick trail of blood smeared from him as he shuffled back, the same crimson that slicked one of the titanic claws.

“It got me, ah, god it hurts!” he cried, flipping over and resorting to a belly crawl towards me. I rushed over and dragged him as far away as I could, but he flopped to the floor in shock when I released my grip. His calf was a mess of exposed, glistening flesh and bone, sliced through like warm butter. His mouth hung half-open, but without a sound, so I rushed to build a cacophony in his place.

As booming as I tried to make myself sound, I devolved into whimpering shouts. The beast’s arm had reached almost halfway across the room, yet still it slithered further and further through the broken hatch, claws tik-tik-tiking around in search of our flesh.

Backed up into the furthest corner alongside Martin, the monstrous hand grew closer. Slowly, agonisingly so. I only became aware of the incoming call from the vibration in my jacket pocket. It felt as if, somehow, safety lay in the act of answering my grandpa’s call. My hand shot into my pocket and yanked the phone out, fumbling with the touch-screen and picking up.

“Grandad? I—it’s so close, it’s about to get us, do something, please,” I wailed into my phone.

Instead of a reply, a loud crack rang through the night, and then the phone. The beast’s arm lurched backwards, freezing for a moment, before it tore out from the basement, peppering the floor with wood fragments. As simple a sound it was, I recognised it. His Blackhawk. He’d taken it with him. I don’t know when he picked it up, he may have had it on him the entire time. Out the window, I saw the hulking silhouette barrel into the trees at speeds rivalling my jeep in fifth.

I jumped when I heard grandpa abruptly begin shouting over the call. The words were indiscernible, blending in with the scuffled sounds of movement. I took the moment to take off my jacket, then my t-shirt, which I pulled tightly around Martin’s upper calf as a tourniquet.

“Hey, Kel,” grandpa said over the phone, sounding hollow and tinny, “make sure you keep up your aerobics. Gah, it sure as shit don’t get easier with the years.”

I let out a half-hearted chuckle, “I will. I want to go hiking through these woods with you, camping, surviving off the hunt…”

“I know you do. I… god, I do too,” he said, stifling a sob,” you’re gonna have to stay strong for your Ma, okay? There ain’t no chance I’m getting out this time. But you, you two are.”

I broke down then, thick watery streams lining my cheeks.

“I’m going to miss you. So, so much, grandad.”

“Aye, but we had some good times. Amazin’ times, no? I sure as hell did. And, well, this is a pretty badass way to go out, right?”

An unfamiliar comfort swelled up inside me, almost breaking through the tears.

“Yeah.”

“Alright, I’m here. The smudge. No idea what I’ll find through there……"

I could hear the thundering beast across the call as it gained on him, its clicks and rattles too.

“I’m goin’ in. Promise me one thing, though.”

“Anything, grandad.”

“Heh. You be good, kid, and make my daughter proud. That’s all.”

A bizarre noise came from the phone speaker, something akin to the sound of a stone sliding across a frozen lake, followed by a splash that seemed to kill all noise.

That dead silence was broken when a shuddering voice spoke again through the phone.

“What the…”

“Where are you?” I yelled, pleading for any small morsel of information he could provide.

“I don’t know, it’s… I’m in a pipe, I think? Some kinda glass tube. I can see everything outside. It’s all there, all at once, there’s more of these tubes, so many more, they’re branching n’ splitting but…”

The connection got progressively weaker as he talked, jittering and buzzing in my ears.

“I’m heading down this tube now, and they’re - - central one, but it’s huge. - - enormous, holy shit. No, I don’t think it’s the central - - in the distance, so many - - the hell is this place?”

My exhausted brain couldn’t fathom a single thing to say. I just listened, almost as confused as he was.

“Streams of - - through some of ‘em, and the-”

He was cut off by a tremendous splash, but the sound quality at this point made it sound more like a roar. I could only hear his whimpers, until that hissing trill crawled its way under my skin once more. It melded with the audio glitches. But then, I heard something I never could have expected, even after seeing what I’d seen.

Ck-ck-ck-krrrr… Sssss… S. Raaa-ck-ck…” it sounded as if the creature was stuttering, clearing its throat, before,

Exxx-alted be rrr… Ra’odyth. For it-t-ts flow showsss us, ck-ck-ck, the path.

It spoke. The unearthly, nightmare beast had spoken. Its words were jarring, like it was repeating after someone taught it how to talk, broken by animalistic clicks and hisses.

Grandpa screamed, but the call lost connection completely and drew it out as a high, sine-wave tone. My hand acted of its own accord and loosened its grip, sending the phone clattering to the floor. By the time I had crouched down to grab it, only my home screen greeted me as I pressed the home button. Call failed.

I looked down to Martin. He was out cold, but breathing. The bleeding had died down, but he needed urgent treatment. Even so, I fell to the floor, back slouched up against the cold concrete wall, and decided to wait it out until sunrise. I was certain grandpa’s plan worked, but just the slightest uncertainty held me in place. The adrenaline was beginning to wear off. My limbs ached, head thumping. I fought against my eyelids, but they felt as if they were being dragged down by anchors. All light vanished, and I faded into sleep.

***

I woke to heat on my face, and a red-orange blur. I opened my eyes, grimacing at the rays of sunlight that poured through the destroyed basement hatch directly onto my face. Any notions of a simple nightmare were shattered. Martin.

I rolled over on my side, seeing him laying a few feet away. Thank god, he was still breathing. The blood coating the skin of his left leg was dry and crusted, but a small amount of it still seeped from his mangled limb. I chose to let him rest while I turned to the broken ladder, hauling myself up what remained of its rungs, and out into the house — what remained of it, at least.

Utter devastation. I do not exaggerate when I say almost the entire front portion of the house was gone. Wooden beams jutted out from piles of rubble and dust, but all was still. Unlike the day prior, birdsong weaved throughout the woods and into the ruins. I recall learning about how forest animals would go quiet when a predator is nearby, but I’d been too on edge to notice until their sounds had returned.

Still, subtle chills wormed their way up my spine. I felt safe, but I’d also felt safe with grandpa in the basement, until the attack. No smoke plumed from anywhere across the treeline, and no stench defiled my nose, but I couldn’t shake it.

I spent some time scrabbling around in the back half of the house that still stood. Quicker than expected, I found the keys to grandpa’s truck, in the corner of the kitchen counter. I practically leaped down into the old wine cellar then slowed my pace, gently shaking Martin, until he stirred. He was groggy and confused.

“Don’t worry, man. I’m gonna get you home.”

I wrapped his left arm over my shoulder, supporting him to the ladder. It was tough getting him out, but I did, and we hobbled through the ruins to the truck.

Driving faster than truly necessary, I swerved, slamming on the brakes when the fallen tree trunks came into view almost out of nowhere. The jolt shook Martin, and he came to attention from the pain in his leg. I apologised for it, but wasted no more time in getting out and helping Martin down from his seat.

The stench of death was stronger in the air, the wendigo corpse festering nearby. It brought me back to the night before, the raw terror, spawning paranoia within me that grew intense over the short walk between the truck and my jeep. I felt exposed, naked.

We made it across the trees and into my jeep quickly, even with Martin’s injury. Still, without any warning signs of the beast, my heart was drumming so hard I could see my chest pulse.

After a messy three-point turn, the wheels slipped, kicking up dust before we shot away down the track. We drove until reaching the small police station, where I flew out of the jeep and burst through its double doors. Perhaps a rash action in retrospect, but my mind was elsewhere.

Before anything else, I had them call an ambulance for my friend, following by reporting a severe animal attack. When I was asked what attacked us, I spat out “cougar”.

The officer grunted, and I laid out the facts. Grandpa was gone, dragged away by our assailant.

An ambulance arrived soon thereafter to pick up Martin. The EMTs were visibly surprised by the laceration, but attended to him nonetheless. He’d lost a fair bit of blood, but they quickly got him in stable condition at the nearest hospital, where he stayed for the next week.

A search party banded together to look for grandpa, but they found nothing, of course. I was questioned about the state of his house, but I think the trauma welling up in my eyes was the best defence I could’ve had. No scorch marks on the rubble to indicate explosives, nothing.

It’s been a few years since this all happened, and I’ve made it through the stages of grief in one piece. I’d like to say grandpa lives on in my memory, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say. I can still remember him, our conversations, days out, the smell of his fireplace, all that. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember what he looked like. That’s to say, there’s only an imperceptible smudge where he once was in any pictures I still have. I don’t know where he ended up, some massive network of tubes, but I get the distinct impression that his grave lies elsewhere, in another place separate from this world.

I’m eternally grateful for his sacrifice, yeah, but I can’t help but think that it was only our lives that were saved from the Skorstendyr. Are there more of them, or is it somehow able to relocate itself? Only my grandpa would have answers, but…… yeah.

Just in case; if you find yourself out in the wilderness and you see a steady plume of smoke rising from the trees, perhaps even smell the organic stench of digestion, it’d be best to call off the occasion entirely. Once it’s onto you, well, I only hope you’re as lucky as we were on the day my grandpa died.



Credited to rephlexi0n 

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