CHAPTER ONE: DREAMS AND PORTENTS
“Fairytales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”—G. K. Chesterton
The Wendigo! The Wendigo!
I saw it just a friend ago!
Last night it lurked in Canada,
Tonight on your veranada!
Linda was dreaming again.
Linda could tell right away that this was the start of the dream that she’d been having repeatedly for the past few weeks, namely because of where she was: Laying atop a boulder in the peaceful Southern Appalachian hollow in the forest behind her house, only it was different. The sky was blotted out by a featureless expanse of grey clouds, the trees were bereft of leaves, and all was covered in snow. No birds sang in the trees, and no beasts lurked about in the forest. All was deathly silent, save for the babbling of the brook in the bottom of the hollow. Linda was wholly alone.
She also knew this was her dream because her necklace—a stone the size of a silver dollar hanging from a rawhide thong—was not around her neck, and in the waking world she never went anywhere without it.
As the dream always began, Linda lay spread-eagled on the boulder with one hand thrust down the front of her jeans and the other in her shirt massaging one of her breasts. As she pleasured herself, she thought of Frank, adorable brown-haired Frank, her friend Frank, immature and awkward but at the same time handsome and charming. Frank, her secret crush.
Her private moment was interrupted by footsteps crunching on the snow behind her. She stopped diddling herself, sat up on the stone, and spun around to face the intruder. Standing before her was a figure hooded and cloaked, towering just under six feet above her. His cloak drug along behind him on the ground, and its sleeves hung down below his hands. Though the cloak’s hood, and a wide-brimmed pointed hat, hid his face, Linda could see his eyes; they shone with a haunting blue light. He was also extremely gaunt and skeletal, with a distended stomach like a starving third-world child’s. He carried about him an aura of pervasive malevolence. The air seemed to grow ever more chill with his approach.
Linda looked up at him, unafraid, with a smug expression on her face; he was a recurring figure, and though he gave her the creeps, she was growing used to him.
“Hello again, Young One,” he greeted in a cold, emotionless voice that chilled Linda’s soul.
She managed a smile. “Hey there, Ol’ Scratch.”
“That is not my name.”
Linda rolled her eyes. “Well, my name isn’t Young One.” She sighed and added, “I’m dreaming again.”
“Not entirely. It is true that your mind is here while your body sleeps, but this is not a product of your mind; to call it a dream belies its true significance. I doubt your simple consciousness can properly ken.”
“If this isn’t a dream, what is it?”
Ol’ Scratch searched his mind for an answer, said, “If you were dreaming, what would be stopping me from descending upon you, violating you, and feasting upon your flesh? I have not fed in an age and an age; I hunger.”
“That doesn’t answer the question.”
“Recurring dreams are rarely lucid.”
“Just answer me.”
“The world in which you sit exists in the stone you wear around your neck; it is within your mind, but it is as real as anything else. And to answer my own question, I cannot indulge myself because this world for me is a prison; my powers are limited severely, while yours remain at full strength. Allow me to demonstrate this concept.”
Ol’ Scratch lifted up one of the sleeves of his long cloak, revealing a long, skeletal hand draped with sickly yellow skin. On the end of the long, spindly fingers were claws, each six inches long, and blue like ice. He reared his arm back and flung it foreward, digging his claws deep into Linda’s chest and slashing forcefully. Although the blow was deep, and excruciatingly painful, Linda sustained no more injury than if she had been scratched by a cat. Ol’ Scratch reared back for a second blow, but Linda anticipated his action and moved fast enough to catch him by the wrist and push him back.
He cackled. “Do you see, girl? Were this not a prison, you would be on your knees, bleeding, begging for death right now. Do you see?”
Linda started to respond, but was interrupted by the sound of someone calling her name in the distance. The colors of the forest began swirling together, dissolving. Ol’ Scratch waved goodbye.
Linda woke up.
She was lying on her bed, in her bedroom, nude (she’d pulled off her pajamas in her sleep again), soaked with sweat, her mother calling her name with increasing hostility.
“Lin-da!”, she called in a sing-song voice, “rise and shi-ine! Get u-up! You’ll be late for schoo-ool!”
Linda groaned and called back, “I’m up, Mom! I’m up!”
Linda Jennifer Kilgore was a young woman of sixteen years with long black hair (dyed—there was about an inch of natural red starting to show up at the roots) and empathetic black eyes; an odd combination, to be sure, accredited to her racially mixed heritage. Her mother was a Mickey Finn (of some sort of relation to the late Patrick Pearce, of which she never wasted an opportunity to remind Linda), and her father was a full-blooded Huron Indian; his family had moved south from the Great Lakes along the Appalachians chasing the coal boom and had adopted the Germanic surname “Kilgore” in hopes of being accepted by the Nordic, Scotch-Irish, and Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants that made up the majority of the population of the North Georgia mountains where they’d finally settled.
Linda felt around on her nightstand for her precious necklace—an interesting piece; a sandstone disc about the size of a silver dollar with a carved inscription on both sides. On one side was carved a strange symbol, sort of like a capital letter Y with a third arm extending between the two diagonal ones. On the other was an inscription that read, to wit: hori guztia alaitzen hemen denbora, eta han betierean en. Amen.
hori guztia alaitzen hemen denbora, eta han betierean en. Amen.
She slipped the rawhide band around her neck and let the stone fall between her two dainty teacup breasts. As always, it was unnaturally cold to the touch, and it felt good against her overheated body. She looked down at her chest and saw five parallel scars running across it diagonally. She sighed.
She had nicknamed the stranger in her dream Ol’ Scratch because that had been the appellation applied to Satan in The Devil and Daniel Webster, and had never fathomed that he’d take to the name so literally. Such strange goings-on . . .
She slipped out of the bed and began dressing herself—a red bra, a tight-fitting Johnny Rotten t-shirt, a matching red thong, a pair of tattered black jeans with rips she’d sewn shut with pink dental floss, rainbow-patterned toe socks, oversized black shit-kickers, black-rimmed coke bottle glasses, black plastic wristbands with metallic studs. She gathered her schoolbooks from where she’d stacked them on her nightstand, tossed them into the courier bag that hung from her bedpost, and walked down the hall to the bathroom. She gazed with concern at her reflection in the mirror. Bags were appearing under her eyes, and she had wrinkles around the corners of her mouth; this dream was really taking its toll. She splashed some water on her face, brushed her teeth, and brushed her long hair. After she’d brushed out its tangles, she pulled a small skull-and-crossbones clasp from her pocket and secured it in a ponytail. She scampered carefully down the hall and down the stairs to where her mother waited in the kitchen.
“Well,” her mother greeted curtly, “it certainly took you long enough.”
Linda smiled. “Good morning to you, too, Mom.”
Her mother sighed. “Linda Jennifer Kilgore, why can’t you ever get up on time in the morning?”
“Hard to say, Mom.”
She gauged her daughter’s appearance with disapproval and said, “Linda, dear, are you never going to get contacts?”
Linda shook her head. “Wasn’t planning on it, Mom.”
Mother wagged her finger and said in a sing-song voice, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
Linda sighed and rolled her eyes. “Right, Mom. And when you lived in Blue Mountain, you had seventeen gentleman callers. When’s Tom coming back?”
“What was that, dear?”
“Well, you’d better get going, or you’ll be late for school again.”
Linda shouldered her courier bag and walked out of the door. “Later, Mom.”
Her mother smiled warmly and waved. “Goodbye, dear. Have a good day at school.”
Linda stepped out of her home and into the chill, misty, powwow air of an early North Georgia spring morning. A strange bird was perched on the lowest branch of a nearby tree and was eyeing Linda intently. It looked like a crow, only it was much too big—a raven, most likely. A stately raven of the saintly days of yore. What’s more, it had red eyes.
Linda smiled up at the bird and waved.
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”
Linda rolled her eyes.