I am currently reading a book called The Curse of the Wendigo, by Rick Yancey - the exceptional author of a number of young adult novels.
The wendigo is part of the traditional belief system of a number of Algonquin-speaking peoples, including the Ojibwe, the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Naskapi, and the Innu people. Although descriptions can vary somewhat, common to all these cultures is the view that the wendigo is a malevolent, cannibalistic, supernatural being. He appears to be a mix between a four-legged animal and a humanoid being. It is said that the Wendigo relentlessly hunts and eats people (and people only), and that the more it eats, the hungrier it grows.
Such legendary creatures, under different names, but with similar characteristics, are said to have stalked the forests of the Pacific Northwest as well.
So, here's a little Halloween story.
One late summer day, my father was fishing one of the high cascade lakes -- a lake without a name, like many others that can be found in the dense forests there. Generally, there is no trail that leads to these lakes. You just have to know they are there, and which creek bed will take you to them. This particular unnamed lake is about 3/4 of a mile above Monon Lake, which is by the side of the dirt road that leads from Olallie to Brietenbush.
When my father returned to the cabin that evening, he seemed rather more quiet than usual. He was never a noisy man to begin with, except when he had too much to drink, but this night, he was unusually quiet, and somehow tense, distracted, as he went about the task of cleaning his catch of trout.
My mother noticed this straightaway. She watched him for a time, then asked what was wrong.
"Wrong?" he said.
"I can see that something is bothering you," my mother pressed.
"Well ... "
My father put his knife on the table, and then kind of stared at it, as if whatever was wrong might have something to do with the knife. He picked up his pipe and filled it with tobacco, not even thinking to wash the fish off of his hands first.
"Well?" my mother prodded.
He smiled, rather thinly, rather hesitantly. My father was a mathematician, a teacher, a realist, a no-nonsense sort of guy, and he was about to say something nonsensical. Thus the sheepish smile, which itself seemed ready to collapse into a grimace.
"I saw something today," he said. "Up at the lake. The one above Monon. Just on the other side -- and, you know, that other side isn't more than a stone's throw away." He held a match above the pipe bowl, chewing at the stem. The red glow winked off his spectacles and the smoke rose to the air tentatively. "It was some kind of animal, I reckon. Well ... it had to be, didn't it. And yet it wasn't like any other animal I've seen in my life, or in all my years in these woods. It wasn't a deer -- too large. It wasn't an elk, either, though maybe the same height. It wasn't a bear -- not bulky enough. And it certainly wasn't any kind of cat or wolf. And it wasn't the right color for ... for anything. A reddish sort of color. A burnt reddish, soiled copperish thing. And sometimes it stood like a person, and sometimes it went down on all fours. I just kept thinking, what in the world can this be? And it just didn't feel right. Not right at all. I can tell you that I got out of there just as soon as it slunk back into the trees."
We waited. He struck another match. Puffed at his pipe, seeming relieved, somehow, to have spoken.
"Well, what was it!" my mother demanded.
He shook his head, smiled thinly once again.
"I have no idea whatsoever," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. Nor have I ever been looked upon by any animal like that thing that stood there and looked upon me. And I can tell you this -- I'll never go up there again."
As far as I know, my father never did go to that lake again. And he never spoke of the lurking, staring thing again. Years later, after he had passed away, I visited the lake myself. It took several tries to find it, choosing one wrong creek bed and then another throughout one blistering August day. I did finally find it, emerging from the woods just at the southern tip of the small green lake. Not much more than a pond, really. The forest crowded in all along the shore, right up to the edge, dropping needles and cones into the dead of the shallows. I saw not a living thing -- no frog, no salamander, no bird, no fish. And I saw no nameless creature, lurking amid the huckleberry and blueberry bushes or beneath the sagging cedar limbs.
But then again ... Perhaps it saw me. And I sometimes wonder if it sees me still.