The Blair Monster Project

Christy Beedoo! Radosevich; started 8/24/00

"…Then he heard De Fago’s voice. It was coming from up above, and again, he heard De Fago screaming, "Ohh, my fiery feet! My burning feet!…" But there was nothing to be seen.

"Now the hunter wanted to get the heck out of there as fast as he could, so he went back to camp and packed. He left some food for De Fago, just in case he came back that way, and started out. It took him weeks, and he nearly starved, but he finally made it back to civilization."

"Did they ever figure out what happened to De Fago?" Lauren asked curiously.

"Well," Kiersten continued, looking directly at her, then switching her gaze to some of the others in the circle, "a couple years later, the hunter returned to the same area, hoping to get a bear. He went to the same trading post to look for another guide, but no one had seen De Fago, nor could they explain what had happened to him that night.

" ‘Maybe it was the Wendigo,’ one man said, and laughed. ‘It’s supposed to come with the wind. It drags you along at great speed until your feet are burned away, and more of you than that. Then it carries you into the sky, and it drops you. It’s just a crazy story, but that’s what some of the Indians say.’

"As they were talking, an Indian wrapped in a blanked came in and sat by the fire. He wore a big hat so you couldn’t see his face, but nonetheless, the hunter thought there was something familiar about him. He walked over and asked, ‘Are you De Fago?’

"The Indian didn’t answer.

" ‘Do you know anything about him?’

"No answer.

"The hunter began to wonder if there was something wrong… if the man needed help. But he couldn’t see the man’s face.

" ‘Are you all right?’ he asked.

"No answer.

"To get a look at him, he lifted the Indian’s hat. Then he jumped back and screamed, ‘AAAAHH!!’" Kiersten held back a smirk as the circle of kids around her simultaneously jumped. She softened her voice for the final line of the story. "The man’s clothes collapsed into a heap on the floor. Under the hat, there was nothing… but a pile of ashes…."

The circle’s occupants sat in various stages of shock. "Wow… so, like, he was walking around in his clothes, but he was ASHES?" Paige asked, wide-eyed.

"Yep," Kiersten replied shortly.

"Gross," Wes added.

Libbi grimaced. "Yuck! I’d rather be a corpse walking around than a pile of ashes!"

"Ew! Why??" Lauren, on her left, leaned away in disgust.

"Don’t you think it’d be more painful to be a bunch of ashes? I mean, how would you see? Your eyes would be all burnt up!"

"All right, all right, everybody inside. Time for bed!"

"Aww.. Kiers! Can’t we have just one more??"

The green dragon ruffled her short sidekick’s hair, meeting with several resisting swats at her claws. "Kiddo, you’ve got a camping trip to go on tomorrow, remember?"

"Yeah, but…"

"Ap-ap-ap… you’ll need your energy."

Paige snorted. "Her? Need to save her energy? Pfff… that’s a laugh." She jogged a few steps and turned back. "You sure you won’t come with us, Kiersten? It’d be great to have you out in the woods telling us ghost stories!" The colony leader smiled. "Thanks, Paige, but I’ll take a rain-check this time. Brook and I have plans for tomorrow night."

"Right, right… Happy Anniversary, then!"

"Thanks!"

********

"We ready to go?" Krystal hollered up the block, shutting the hatch of the station wagon the group of girls had decided to take.

"Yep! Let’s hit it!" Paige yelled back, running for the driver’s seat. "Tam! C’mon already!"

Lauren leaned against the car and waited for a few minutes. "Geez, where is she?"

"Better ask Ickis," Paige joked. Lauren rolled her eyes and chuckled. "TAM!"

A moment later, the blue emerged from her house. "Sorry guys, just got a call from Elisa… they need me tonight for some big bust or something."

"Awww.. Why?" Krystal and Lauren pouted together.

"Yeah, don’t they have better lock-picks?"

"Not ones that can go between if necessary…"

"Darn… that sucks…"

"Nah… just go on without me," the girl winked. "You’ll prob’ly have more fun withaout me complainin’ anyway. See ya later!"

"Okay, well…" Paige said, climbing into the car, "guess it’s just us three. Where’re we headed, Geemur?"

Lauren unfolded a map across herself and Paige, and pointed to a spot covered by drawn in lines and arrows. "Right here, Middle of Nowhere, Maryland."

Paige squinted at the small print next to the even smaller dot. "Burkittsville?"

"Yup."

"Okay, then! Bye Tam! Sorry…" The waterdaemon gave her an apologetic look as she put the car in gear and headed for the barricades at the end of the road.

Krystal leaned forward once they were out of the city, peering between the two bucket seats in the old, musty car. "Wow… this is, like, our first solo camping trip! Just us, and nooooobody else!"

"Yeah!" Lauren realized happily.

"Okay, so we’re agreed? No powers?" Paige re-stated their previous goal. "We’re gonna do this the human way this time, right?"

"Right!" the other two echoed.

**********

The beat-up station wagon lurched to a stop beside a tall, thin maple tree. "Okay, we’re here! Look, there’s our path!"

"That’s a PATH?"

"Good grief, Geems… ya been flying for too long!"

Lauren kicked her door open and headed for the back hatch to get her stuff. "I’m just sayin’ it doesn’t look like much of a path. I bet no one EVER comes out here!"

"Well, I wasn’t the one who picked it, oh mighty map-reader!"

"You said you wanted something away from civilization! This was the best I could get!"

Krystal huffed. "Would you two knock it off? Let’s make sure we’ve got everything. Map?"

"Map!" Lauren said, folding it and cramming it into her pocket.

"Compass?"

"Compass," Paige said, holding up the device on a string around her neck.

"Food?"

"FOOD!" chorused all three comedically.

"Sleeping bags? Tent? Matches? Groundsheet? Water purifier?"

"Yep, yep… yeah, we’ve got everything. Let’s get going!"

"Woo! Here we go!"

"Yeah! Theeeee…ants go marching one by one, hurrah! Hurrah! The ants go marching one by one, hurrah! Hurrah!" Krystal began singing, the other two joining in once she started. And so they marched, into the rustling autumn woods.

***********

"Howdy!"

"Hey there! You folks camping out too?"

"Sure are! Just made it down from New York!"

"Massachusetts!" the young woman hollered back to Paige across the creek, shifting the baby in her arms as it squalled. "Hope this weather holds! Not to hot, not too cold!"

"Yeah! Be nice if it didn’t rain on us!"

"Yeah!"

"How far are you folks going in?" her husband, a young man of about 25 yelled over to them.

" ‘bout another four miles or so," Lauren shouted back. The man nodded.

"Have fun! Don’t get in too much trouble!"

"We won’t!" the girls laughed, continuing on.

*******************************************

"Where are we, Lauren?"

The little blonde paused, pulling the map out of her pocket and unfolding it. "We should be… right here," she tapped it. "Coffin rock… that’s that mound right over there."

"Coffin rock?"

"Uchhh… why’s it called that?"

Krystal wandered around it, the leaves crunching under her feet. "Look, it’s open on one end. Yeeg… it really does look like a coffin!"

Paige elbowed her shorter cohort in the ribs. "Dare you to go stick your head in it," she winked.

Lauren, without taking her eyes from the looming black hole in the rock formation, shook her head. "No way. Not for a million bucks."

"Something’s not right here… it doesn’t smell right…" Krystal mused nervously.

"Krystal! No powers!"

"I’m serious, though, Paige! There’s something not quite right about this place…"

Paige rolled her eyes at her younger sister. "You’re just scared because of the ‘spooky old coffin.’ Come on. Once we find our camp you’ll be fine." With that, she started back on the trail. Lauren, trying to fold up the map as she went, looked back at Krystal with an ‘I understand, but let’s go’ look and followed the waterdaemon.

Krystal stared once more at the gaping hole in the rock, then behind her at the creek, and hurried to catch up with the other two colonists, despite the prickling hairs on the back of her neck.

Not a quarter of a mile later, the eerieness she’d felt at the rock caught up with her again, and she froze, not caring as Lauren slammed into her from the back. "Krystal!"

"Something’s really wrong with this place, you guys. Let’s go back."

"Krystal, not again… There’s nothing—"

"There IS something, Paige. I don’t know how I know it, but I do, okay? Can we please just go back to the car? We can go camping some other time, when it isn’t going to rain on us."

"We are here to go camping, sis, not sleep in the car! And it’s not going to rain. It’s just a little cloud cover. Now come on!"

Krystal refused to move. "I’m going back. Don’t blame me if something happens to you two."

"Fine… Lauren, give her some of the food to take with her, since she has to be a little whiny-butt and go crying home…"

"I’m not a whiny-butt, you just never listen to me when I say something’s wrong!"

"Paige, leave her alone!"

"I’m not going to let—"

Their conversation was cut short by an eerie whiffling hoot coming from the trees above them. All three froze solid.

Paige was the first one to exhale and relax again as she saw the woodpecker flitting away from them. "Schiznit… it was a bird, you guys. We’re freaking out over a bird." She sighed. "Okay, Krys, stay on the path, watch where you’re going, and go straight back to the car. You’ll make it before nightfall. Lock all the doors once you get there. Okay?"

"Right. You be careful too, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah… save it. The last thing we need now is Kiersten’s ghost stories following us around!" She started to leave again, and Krystal turned back the other direction.

She paused, and yelled softly to her friend, who was also not convinced enough to turn back. "Lauren!"

Lauren shuffled over, holding the straps of her pack, which were starting to dig into her armpits. "Yeah?"

"I know you believe me, right?" Lauren thought, then nodded, not quite sure. Krystal sighed and unshouldered her pack. "Here…" She partially changed to her Rackshalla form and shot a long spine out of her back and into the ground. Prying it up out of the soil with a grunt, she handed it to the little dragon, who accepted it gratefully.

"Thanks," she said quietly, to keep Paige from hearing, and rushed to catch up. She slipped the spine through the belt loop of her jeans, carrying it there comfortably.

"Be really careful, you guys," Krystal said sadly, picking her pack up again and turning back toward the car.

***************

Three miles later, the remaining two colonists walked in silence. It wasn’t only due to the fact that they’d exhausted their library of songs to sing, but there weren’t any normal forest sounds around them now either… not a bird, squirrel or lizard to be seen or heard anywhere! There was only the biting wind swirling through the trees, and the thickening grayness of the clouds overhead.

"Paige, this is weird… Maybe…"

"We’re not going back, Lauren. It is just a forest. Now come.. Ow!" Paige turned to stare at the pile of rocks she’d tripped over. Then she looked around at the other cairns surrounding them. "What in the world…"

Lauren looked anxiously around at the mounds, and at the woods surrounding them. "Something’s out there… If.. if we’re not going back, could we at least GO? This place is really creepy…"

The taller blonde nodded. "I’m with you on that one, Geems…"

"Oh, wonderful…" Paige groaned as drizzly little water drops began falling on them at an angle.

"Guess Krystal was right about the rain…"

"Ya know, shut up and get some firewood together, ‘kay?"

"I’m just saying we could’ve missed out on being cold and miserable if you’d listened to her!"

"LAUREN! Jeez… drop it already!"

Lauren sighed and piled her armload of sticks and branches up on the lee side of their tent.

*************

Even in the waterproof mummy-bag, it was cold. Lauren’s nose and mouth were freezing from having to breathe the damp air. That wasn’t the only reason she was sitting bolt upright in the tent, though. Carefully, she undid the zipper of the bag and reached over to nudge Paige. "Paige! You awake?"

Paige jumped slightly at the sudden jab to her leg, already up as well. "Y-Yeah," she replied in a nervous whisper.

The noises surrounding them continued, echoing at them from all sides. "You hear that?" Lauren asked.

"Maybe it’s those other campers we passed… stay quiet for a minute…" The two girls sat silently as the wind made the noises seem even closer, then farther away. It sounded like a heavy maul hitting a solid tree, or rocks bouncing off the side of a canyon. Lauren eventually scooted the rest of the way out of her sleeping bag, feeling around in the dark for Krystal’s spike and clutching it in front of her like a samurai sword. Paige also dug out the maglight in her backpack pocket, just in case she needed it. They huddled close together, not only for warmth, though that was an added benefit. The banging finally ceased, and after a moment in the dead silence, the girls looked at each other, not wanting to jinx themselves by saying it had stopped, for fear that it might start up again. They finally began to relax a little.

Then every hair on their bodies stood out as the screaming started. The bloodcurdling screams of a man and a woman pierced through the air like a bee sting, paralyzing the tent’s occupants with utter terror. The man’s shouting was suddenly cut short with a wet, strangling sound; the woman’s ceased a minute and a half later.

"Paige??" Lauren asked in a terrified whisper.

"I don’t know, Lauren…" the waterdaemon gasped back to the unspoken question, looking around as if she was trying to see outside the tent. But she couldn’t see anything but the damp nylon, rippling in the breeze. She couldn’t hear anything either.

Before they could react, the tent collapsed in on them and shook as if someone or something was beating it from the outside. The girls screamed and fought to tear through the supposedly rip-proof fabric. Lauren shrieked and stabbed at whatever was outside with the spike… their only weapon. She hit pay dirt when Krystal’s spine jabbed deep into their attacker. It let out an unearthly howl and beat a hasty retreat into the forest, the spine still buried in its side. Paige managed to tear a wide hole through her side of the tent, through which both the colonists bolted as fast as they could, running the opposite direction as the thing had.

Bounding through the trees, Paige squeaked back to her friend, "What the hell was that?!"

"I dunno, but I hope it doesn’t come back!"

"Nevermind! Just take us between to the car, and fast!"

Lauren nodded and quickly morphed to her dragon form, swooping into the air to grab Paige by the shoulders and then jumping into the nothingness between points. She focused on getting them to the car, but something blocked her path, giving her a sharp shove back into reality. The little purple dragon landed with a crash on her backside, fetching up against a fallen log with Paige on top of her.

"Oof! What the heck happened?" Paige demanded, nearly panicking, but holding herself back at the last moment.

"Something was in between! It pushed me out!"

"You’re sure? Can you try to get around it?"

Lauren tried zapping out again, with similar results, but landing on her feet this time.

"No.. it was all over! Paige, I’m scared!"

"Me too, Geemur… come on… let’s go back and get our stuff."

Lauren gave her a scared yet skeptical look. "Can’t we wait ‘til morning?"

*************

The same dusky-gray sheet still hung overhead, though the forest was now accented by thick, hanging fog from the previous night’s rain. The girls were thankful that it was finally getting light enough to see without their powers, and they headed back toward where their campsite had been. The shredded remains of the tent and their sleeping bags were strewn on the ground.

"Hey.. okay, where’s my pack?" Lauren had scoured the campsite and hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her things. Paige, on the other hand, had found hers, and was debating on whether to pick it up or not.

"Lauren! C’mere!" she called. The little dragon trotted over next to her. "What do you make of this blue goop?"

Lauren stuck her tongue out at the mess coating the pack. "It’s nasty!"

"Think it’s worth getting into?"

The dragon sniffed above the pack, jerking her head away at the stench surrounding it. "Don’t touch it. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t smell friendly."

"You can tell that?"

"Whatever it is, it’s not human or monster…"

Paige nodded. "Better just head back to the car ASAP, then."

"Think we should take the tent?"

"Leave it. We can get another one back at the colony. Let’s just go!"

Lauren looked almost expectantly back the other direction. "What about the other campers? That thing must have attacked them too… but they might still be alive."

Paige sighed. "You can do a fly-by if you want, but count me out!"

The dragon stared after her as she began walking away. "I’m not going by myself!"

Noticing that Lauren wasn’t going to follow her until they had checked everything out, Paige sighed and turned back. "Okay. But we don’t want to lose the path. We go there, we check up on them, we leave. I’m pretty sure they’re done for, judging by all the screaming last night."

********************

Lauren spotted the other wrecked site from the air, and landed a little ways off, in case anyone might see them. The two girls approached the beat-up tent and smoldering fire by foot.

"Man, this is weird… Hello?" Paige called, traipsing through the trees, looking for any sign of the couple and their baby. "Anybody here?"

"Hey! My pack!" Lauren transformed and snorfled her pack over carefully before picking it up. It had an odd scent on it, but nothing like the scent contained in the slime on Paige’s belongings. Not seeing anyone around, she began using her olfactory to search the ground for trails for whatever it was that had attacked them all. There was a slight trace of the scent that was on her pack, rather monsterish, mostly blocked out by the strong, sweet smell of blood. Lauren followed it over to where Paige was, staring at two bundles of sticks tied up with strips of fabric. It looked as if it was from the clothes the unfortunate campers had been wearing.

"What do you think?"

"Don’t open ‘em. Blood. Uerff.. and flesh. Yuck. Let’s go…"

As Paige grimaced and stood back up and toed the tent, she caught a slight motion in the corner of her eye and snapped her head in that direction.. toward the trees. A brown-furred creature whipped its own gaze up to meet hers, then bounded up into the trees, leaping on cloven feet from branch to branch with breakneck speed and accuracy. "HEY!" Paige yelled after it, running a few paces before giving up and letting it go. She growled after it, hoping that it would fall and break several vertebrae, and turned to leave. A tiny squall stopped her, turning her attention to the tent, the back of which was wiggling ever so slightly.

"The baby! It’s still alive!" She scuttled over to the tent’s remains and tore a hole large enough to retrieve the small bundle, which was wrapped up in a thick blanket. The baby squalled again and stared up at its rescuer. Lauren peered down at it over Paige’s shoulder.

"The poor thing, she’s an orphan!"

"Kinda like us, huh?" Paige held a finger up for the infant to take hold of. The little girl, probably eight months old at most, grasped the proffered digit and pulled it into her mouth to teethe on. "Hey, Lauren? You got any food in your pack?"

Lauren shrugged. "A little."

"Good. She’s probably hungry. But let’s get moving before whoever that was comes back…" She looked up into the trees where the other monster had fled. "Which way’s the trail?"

"Hang on a sec…" Lauren morphed back to her human form and stuck her hand into her pocket to fish for the map. Then she tried the other side, with about as much success. She checked her light jacket to see if she’d accidentally put it in there, then her backpack pouch, though she certainly didn’t remember putting it there.

Paige paled. "Lauren? Where’s the map?"

"I don’t know! I can’t find it!" the girl replied, upset almost to tears.

"What?? Lauren, you’re supposed to take care of the MAP! We NEED it to get OUT of here!!"

"I know! I know!! But I put it in my pocket last night, I know I did! Maybe it fell out when…"

"Nevermind, it’s okay," Paige interrupted, not wanting to recall what her friend was talking about. "We crossed the creek on our way here, right?"

Lauren sniffed and nodded.

"So all we have to do is go back the way we came here, and follow the creek back to Coffin Rock, right?"

"Can’t we just fly back?" Lauren whined, wanting to get away from the woods as quickly as possible.

"Someone might see us," Paige said shortly. "And two people have just been murdered here. Who do you think will get blamed? Plus it might be too cold for the baby." She rocked it thoughtfully, glancing around at the treetops again. "Let’s go."

***************

"I need a break," the waterdaemon puffed, sitting down against a log and setting the sleeping infant across her lap.

"What, now?" Lauren criticized.

"Look, you don’t have an extra ten pounds of squirmy kid to carry! Do we have any water?"

"No… but I’ve got some of that water purification stuff, so we can get a drink from the creek."

Paige nodded. "Good. Could you bring me some?" The baby stirred in her lap, waking up. "I think she could probably use some too…"

"Yeah," Lauren replied, not willing to argue with Paige about how much of the work she was getting stuck with on this trip. She unshouldered her pack and hopped down the bank to the creek with an empty plastic bottle in her hand. Bending down, she dipped it in the water so it would fill quickly. As she waited, she looked out into the water, and was surprised to see a strange face looking back out at her. Its long hair flowed around it with the water’s current. It stared out at her with a serene smile. *A naiad!* Lauren thought, smiling herself at the realization. Owen had told her about naiads; he had said that they were water creatures distantly related to the Fey. Maybe she could help them get out of here! She smiled back at the water nymph, then turned over her shoulder and called, "Hey Paige! Come look at—"

"Lauren!" Paige yelled at the same time, setting the baby on the ground just as she looked up to see the pale arm reach out of the water to grab for the little dragon-girl.

Her shout gave Lauren just enough warning to snap her eyes back around as the naiad swung her icy-blue arm in front of Lauren’s face. With an alarmed "AAIIGH!" she fell back onto the muddy bank on her rear and scuttled in reverse like a crab, eyes wide in terror. Paige half-ran, half-fell over to the slope of the bank to pull her out. The naiad rose up out of the water angrily, baring sharp, fish-like teeth at them with a gurgling hiss. Lauren stared into its eyes as they shone a dull red through the water of its face and found herself frozen in place. Paige also froze for a second as she looked at those eyes, then snapped her gaze away and hauled Lauren up and out of the creekbed. The nymph snarled and collapsed into the water again with a splash.

Paige panted, partly out of exertion and partly out of fright, as she dragged the dumbfounded Lauren further away from the creek. A startled, scared-sounding shriek from the baby snapped her attention around… The brown-furred creature had picked her up, and looking at Paige once down its flat snout, bounded into the trees on its reversed legs.

She fought to get to her feet. "HEY! Bring her back, you bastard!" Pumping her sore legs and arms, she dodged around trees and leapt over a fallen log, following it as it sprang through the trees. "Get back here, you son of -OOF!" Not watching where she was going, her ankle caught on a fallen branch and sent her into the soft detritus of the forest floor. She looked up to watch hatefully as the creature leapt away with her charge.

Lauren stared at the stream. The naiad had come back, and she’d brought friends. The three water creatures looked out at the little dragon, beckoning her to return. "Lauren," they called, with voices like a ripples in a pond, "come play… come play with us… Come and play, Lauren!" So hypnotic… their voices were so enticing that along with the look of their eyes, she almost couldn’t resist them. Her feet took a step forward on their own. They smiled serenely, hiding their horrible fishy teeth behind opaque lips.

"Owww!! Lauren! Help!" Paige’s voice snapped her out of her trance again. She scowled at the nymphs as all three hissed and splashed back into the creek.

"Paige? Where are you?" Lauren morphed forms and scampered toward the sound of Paige’s voice.

"Over here! I twisted my ankle!"

The purple dragon rushed over to her to help her up. "Can you stand on it?" she asked.

"Yeah, I think so. Not broken…" Paige assessed, then growled. "Ooohhh.. he took the baby!"

Lauren frowned. "Be glad he didn’t take one of us instead! Can you walk?"

"OW! Yeah, but OW! ..slowly. Can I ride on your back?"

"Nope. Can’t fly… trees are too close together here. I’d drop you in a minute. And you’re too tall to sit down on me otherwise."

Paige sighed. "Guess we walk…"

******************

Night began to fall, tinting the ever-present thin clouds a jaundiced shade of yellow. The supplies in Lauren’s pack had provided them with a bit of food each, just enough to take the edge off their hunger, but not for long.

"Where are we? It didn’t take us this long to get into the forest! We should’ve found the road by now or something!" Paige mourned and sat down on a log, resting her sore foot on a rock.

"I don’t know!" Lauren whined back. "This stupid stream goes on forever!"

"It went right by the coffin rock, right?"

"Yeah. Right next to it."

"We didn’t pass it, did we?"

Lauren shook her head. "We would’ve seen it. Or felt it, or smelled it, or something." She paused, listening to the dead silence surrounding them as the sky darkened more. "We should’ve been out by now… I wonder how Krystal’s doing?"

"Let’s hope she had the sense to stay in the car and not come looking for us!" The waterdaemon shivered. "It’s c-cold… We’re gonna need some shelter. And a fire."

"No," said Lauren, suddenly adamant.

"For God’s sake, Lauren, I can see my breath!"

"Either we keep going, or we don’t build a fire. I’ve got a feeling that’s how it found us in the first place."

"Lauren!"

"Paige…"

The skinny blonde put her hands on the hips of her jeans. "Well, then, what would you suggest? I can’t go much further… I’m pooped."

"Kiersten showed me how to dig a nest," Lauren grinned proudly and began scratching out a burrow in the soft dirt. After ten minutes of digging, she turned around in it a few times to flatten the lose, moist soil down and smooth it out. "There. Climb on in!"

Paige morphed to her waterdaemon shape and limped her way into the hole. "Erf… not very comfy," she complained, trying to wrap her tail around the edge to leave room for Lauren to curl up in.

"Best we got. Could you do better?"

"Nope… guess you’re right, Geems." She shivered again. "Ugh… cold and damp!"

"I thought you liked cold and damp," Lauren teased.

"Not when I have to sleep in it!" Paige snapped.

Lauren unfurled her wings and draped them over Paige’s back and her own.

"There… that should do some good."

The yellow sky finally faded to muddy gray again, then to black as the two Colonists chatted to themselves quietly, trying to forget where they were and why, and the fear of whatever was out there in the darkness.

"It IS a little warmer with your wings on, Geems. They must be great in the winter!"

"Only if I’m not flying… they get ice-cold when we go on patrol!"

Mist began swirling through the trees, surrounding the two at a little past midnight.

"Paige? I’m scared…"

"Me too… just hang on to me tight, and run if anything happens."

"Kay," Lauren squeaked in a frightened whisper. The strange popping started far off in the wood.

The monsters didn’t dare move, for fear that whatever it was would hear them. They didn’t make a sound, but regardless of that the mysterious repeated crack! seemed to get nearer by the minute. Without even realizing it, their grip on one another tightened.

There was a dull thump as hooves hit the ground behind them. The girls screamed and piled out of the scrape in a tangled mess of wing, neck, and tail. The hoofed creature leapt over to them quickly and effortlessly, the gurgling baby held in the crook of one arm. "Hurry, get up!" it said in a gruff yet worried voice, offering a hand to Lauren to pull her to her feet. "It’s coming! You must run! Now!" Lauren stared at the creature, whose brown fur shone silver in the cloud-scattered moonlight, then fought to get herself unwound from her friend.

"Which way?" Paige asked, switching back to human form to run.

"Follow me." He stuck his snout in the air and sniffed a few times, searching for the evil scent. "This way. Stay close." And with that, he set off running at such a pace that the girls could barely keep up.

After twenty minutes or more of running, Paige yelled with what little breath she had remaining that she needed to stop. "Ankle’s… killing me…. Can’t… run… anymore…" she puffed, leaning against a birch tree, white vapor pouring from her mouth and nostrils.

The creature looked around, sniffed, then sat against his ankles, not quite touching the ground with his rump. "Yes, we should have eluded it here." He looked around again and checked on the baby, giving her his finger to hold onto

. "What is it we’re running from?" Lauren finally asked, also looking nervously back through the trees. "Who are you? Why didn’t you help us before??"

The creature held up the hand from the arm supporting the baby. "I know you have many questions. We must stay alert until morning, and then I will tell you. For now, rest, and I shall keep watch." Refusing to acknowledge any further questions or protests, he set his gaze firmly into the woods.

Lauren and Paige both stared at him for a moment, then took his advice and curled up together, falling asleep almost instantly with the added comfort of a lookout.

**************

A cold, damp morning broke over the eastern horizon, lighting the streaky clouds overhead and the icy mist that swirled across the forest floor. Paige awoke to see their savior still crouched in the same spot. It didn’t look as if he had moved all night. But as she approached, he reached out and tore off a strip of birch bark, which he nibbled on with horse-like teeth.

"Do you need to sleep?" she asked him, rubbing an eye to wake herself up and stretching out her tail.

"No," he replied simply. "I have stored enough sleep for a few days’ time."

"Stored sleep?"

"When I am not defending the wood or running from the evil, I sleep. My body allows me to store enough energy to stay awake for three or four days."

"Ah," said Paige, not completely understanding the monster. "So, what are you?"

"Do you not wish your friend to know, and let her sleep instead?"

Lauren stirred behind them. "I’m up…" she yawned. "Go ahead. What’s your name? I’m Lauren, this is Paige."

"Howd’yado."

The creature blinked at them through his dark, shaded eyes and shook his raven-black mane out over his shoulders. "I am Wendigo," he finally said.

"And?" said Paige, motioning for him to continue. "What are you?"

"I am Wendigo," he repeated. "That is all."

"So you are a Wendigo, or your name is Wendigo?"

"Yes," he replied gruffly. "I have no other name, I suppose."

"Okay…" said Paige, turning to glance at Lauren, whose expression was frozen. "Geems? You ok there?"

Lauren blinked at Wendigo wide eyed. "Kiersten’s story… you’re the Wendigo!" Her jaw hung open in silent terror. "You carry people away and burn them to ashes!"

Wendigo blinked at her. "No. It is the Evil that does that."

"The Evil? What was chasing us?" Paige scowled, remembering their plight.

"Yes. The Evil lives in this forest. Long ago, it made a pact with those humans who settled here. Every year they were to leave a live sacrifice for it, but over the years, they forgot about the Evil, and so it came looking for them. Now it snatches every soul that wanders into its domain. The humans I have seen--the ones that come looking for the missing, just after it has fed--have called it the Blair Witch, after the form of an old woman it once took."

"Their souls??" Paige gasped incredulously.

Wendigo nodded and rocked the child in his arms. "They become a part of it. And not only humans… monsters, faer-folk… anything that tries to pass through the wood."

"Like the Naiads…" mused Lauren bitterly.

"So the baby’s parents…?"

"Part of the forest, now." He sighed, pitying the loss of even more souls to the evil of the forest, then looked up. "But, this is the gift I have been waiting for." He indicated the orphan in his arms, bouncing her gently. She giggled.

Paige was about to ask something about the baby when Lauren interrupted her. "So why hasn’t it gotten you if it tries to grab everything? Does it ever stop?"

"No. Sometimes it rests, usually during the day. But it will not stop until it takes one soul for every year it did not receive a sacrifice. I am safe, because I have been trained to outrun and hide from the Evil. It is the duty of the Wendigo to keep the Evil within the forest, and stop it from spreading." He stopped to sniff the air. "We must move," he said, rising up to his hooves. "Come, we will walk unless it gets closer."

Paige gave a strange look at the compass around her neck, trying to figure out if they were going in the right direction or not. "I think the car’s back this way…" she pointed.

Wendigo snuffled the compass over as he strode up. "A human device. Very easily fooled. Your ‘car’ is more likely this way," he said, walking away from her. She let the compass fall back against her chest and followed, waiting for an explanation. "The Evil controls this forest… its very shape contorts to suit the Evil’s will. The stream you followed yesterday wound in a complete circle."

"And you weren’t going to tell us? Just came over and snatched the baby?"

"It is not my duty to rescue those who wander into the Blair Wood. It is only my duty to keep the Evil from spreading. Eventually, it will achieve its quota, and there will be no further need for a Wendigo."

"You were gonna let the naiads snatch us?" Lauren gaped.

"I have never seen anyone escape them. No one can resist their eyes… they lure you in and pull you under. I figured that there must have been something different about you once I had seen that you’d escaped."

"Different," snorted the dragon.

"Yes. You must both have strong willpower, even for monsters."

Lauren stared at him for a moment, then turned her eyes back to her feet.

Paige trudged along on the other side of the pair. "Wendigo, I’ll carry the baby for a while, if you like…"

Wendigo stared into the forest ahead. "No. She must survive regardless of what happens. She must remain with me if I am to make sure she is safe. If the Evil manages to take you when you have her, I may never get her back."

Paige remembered her earlier question. "Why did you take her away from us? Why’s she so important?"

Wendigo did not look at her. "We are here."

**************

Paige looked around them in awe. Hundreds, maybe thousands of small fetishes, each made in the shape of a human, hung from the branches of the trees. They dangled like hanged men in the gray air. At the four points of the compass, which, Paige happened to notice, worked right here, larger talismans, made of bundled sticks and branches, guarded the small clearing. "Where’s ‘here?’" she finally asked, staring about. "Where are we?"

"This is one of my refuges. I stay here when I need protection from the Evil. The talismans provide a barrier it cannot cross, at least for a while. I must always make new ones as the Evil breaks their charms each time it makes an attempt at me." Wendigo plucked a green branch from a birch with his free arm and effortlessly bent it into the man-shape, tied it off, and muttered a blessing over it. He then hung it on a branch next to two others.

Lauren watched him with a concerned look. "How can you be sure they’ll hold it off? Has it ever gotten through?"

Wendigo shook his head, fluffing out his mane as he did so. "It has never. The charms last until the Evil drains them, which takes roughly seven days. And so I must always make more when I visit these havens." He reached out and pulled an old and now brittle fetish off its branch, pawing a small trench in the soil with his hoof to drop the little stick figure into. With the same foot, he deftly covered the figure and raked leaves back on top of it.

"How can you be sure it’ll work, though?" Paige followed Lauren’s question. "What if this Evil thing comes and breaks them all while you’re off in another part of the forest?"

"It does not attack empty spaces, holy or not," he said, handing the baby into her care. He then proceeded to make more of the fetishes as he spoke. "The Evil attacks only souls, and only attacks my shelters when I am in them. It knows no such thing as strategy." He grinned out the corner of his mouth at the girls. "It has not got me yet, so it must be working so far."

Lauren peered around at the circle of stickmen as he pulled another few down and buried them. "Wendigo, how can you tell…" she trailed off, giving herself vertigo as she wheeled around in the clearing.

"I have been trained, little one. Literally raised to be in tune with good and evil." He noted their confused looks as he blessed another totem. He sighed and slipped a fairly new-looking man off its branch and held it up for them beside one he had just blessed, taking both from behind his back so the girls couldn’t tell which was which. "Look, and see if you can tell me which has the fresh charm."

Paige shrugged and pointed to the one in his right hand. "That one, I guess."

"No," Lauren said. "The other one."

"Clever, young one," Wendigo smiled. "You still have some sense of the natural good. Paige, try again. Close your eyes this time."

Paige looked confused, then shut her eyes and concentrated.

"Shut your senses away. You won’t need them. Just feel." Paige did, with a deep breath, as best as she could, meditating on finding the ‘natural good’ Wendigo was talking about. "Now, try to reach out and touch it." She stretched her hand out toward the muddled smear of good she saw in her mind, but just as she was about to touch it, it moved off, upward, over her head and to the left. She followed it with her hand, still concentrating her hardest, and again it moved before she could touch it, down in front of her this time. Reaching for it carefully, this time Wendigo did not move it. As she touched it, she jumped at the slight spark that raced through her fingers to her body and down to her feet. She opened her eyes at long last.

"My ankle’s better…" she gaped, looking around at Lauren, then back at the knowing gaze Wendigo was giving her.

"Perhaps you are not too old to learn," he chuckled, digging a hole to bury both used totems in.

Lauren, full of new curiosity, watched him cover them and pat down the dirt with his foot. "Why do you do that?" she asked.

"Two reasons," the brown monster explained, taking down and putting up more of the talismans all the while. "One, the good comes from the earth, and thus its avatars must return to the earth. Two, the Evil must never get its clutches on these avatars, or it will use them to get to the natural good, and begin turning it fallow. If that happens," he sighed harshly, "there will be nothing to stop it."

"Can’t it get to them underground?"

"No. They are buried inside my safe area, and once they are in the ground, the good is returned to its source. If the Evil ever did get in and dig them up, it would do it no good… after they are in the ground, they are nothing but sticks and twigs again," he smiled.

The baby squalled. The two colonists looked over to her sympathetically, then down to their own empty stomachs.

"I don’t suppose… you have any food, Wendigo?" Paige finally asked.

The monster sighed at the three, more adept at human lifestyle than that of monsters. He pulled strips of birch bark from the nearest tree and laid them lightly in the newcomers’ hands. He took a third strip and began chewing the end to a pulp to feed the baby.

"We’ve gotta get out of here…" Lauren mumbled, trying to cope with the bark in her sharp teeth.

"I will lead you to your car in the morning," Wendigo announced. "It is too near nightfall to outrun the evil now. Tonight, we rest."

"Swell…" Paige grumbled, mimicking Lauren’s tone.

*********************

Wendigo slept, leaning against his ankles. Paige was beginning to get the feeling that no part of him except his hooves and tail ever touched the ground. She was also beginning to think that he never slept, though his light snores proved otherwise on that account. The moon, closer to new than half, wouldn’t be up for hours, and wouldn’t shed much light if it was up at all. The cold, drifty clouds had reclaimed the sky once again, blocking out all hope of a glimpse of a star. The forest was completely bereft of light… though sound was another story entirely.

"Lauren…" Paige wavered, searching the clearing for her friend. "LAUREN!" she whispered harshly.

"Whaaaat.." Lauren murmured, untucking her head from her forelegs, where she’d found some kind of restful sleep.

Paige scooted her way over to the dragon, staying absolutely alert as the sounds bounced back and forth through the wood. "It’s coming…"

Lauren sat up to listen, clutching her tail between her claws. She jumped slightly as Paige brushed up against her in the dark.

"Don’t do that!"

"Shhh!"

The heavy hollow-tree echo—the evil—was getting closer. It was pinpointing them. The girls clung to each other.

Thot. (thot. thot.)

Thot! (thot. thot.)

THOT! (Thot! thot! thot…)

Neither of them dared to breathe. The final sound had been at a tree at the edge of the clearing. It knew they were there. It wasn’t about to leave without two fresh souls due 500 years hence.

The evil did not breathe either. It had no body, and so had no lungs. Nonetheless, the air surrounding the little clearing seemed to ebb and flow as if some enormous creature did indeed have it trapped in its geis. Knowing its prey was near, and also knowing the fear-prone nature of all creatures, the evil sought to flush its next meal out into the open.

Lungs it might not have had. That in no way meant that it could not howl.

"Hoooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!" it bellowed. Lauren squeaked in fear, climbing halfway over Paige in the darkness.

"It’s okay! It’s okay! It can’t get us in here!"

The baby opened her eyes at the noise and cried a complaint out at it. The breathing of the clearing increased, forcing the air pressure to change rapidly but rhythmically. "HOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUU!" it repeated, louder this time.

Paige and Lauren cowered in the clearing, not knowing what else there was to do. The winds blowing around Wendigo’s retreat caused the little totems to clatter dryly into one another. A few blew off the limbs and down into the soil of the fortress.

"HOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUOOOOUUUUUOOOUUUU!!!" the voice insisted, wailing around the circle like a banshee. A sound like a poison dart being fired out of a blow gun caused the girls to jump back a foot, and not an instant too soon. A three-foot Rackshalla spine embedded itself in the soil. Both of them shrieked in fear this time.

"PAAAIGE!!"

"WENDIGO!"

The baby was screaming by now, unconsoled by the rushing winds or the unresponsive Wendigo holding her.

Eerie lights began flickering in the woods. The colonists got glimpses of things that they would have rather not seen—no one had ever seen the evil and gotten away alive, or sane, to tell about it. Paige shielded herself and Lauren’s eyes from the terrible images of melting flesh and distorted, screaming faces that would give her nightmares, probably for the rest of her life. Before she closed her eyes, the image of the baby’s mother and father, missing various portions of their faces, throbbed and melded before her in the madly flickering lights. The thing’s breathing pressed down on them, so heavy now that it made their ears pop with each breath in or out.

Paige’s eyes snapped open. She glared out into the darkness as the thing howled its way around the clearing. "Oh, no you don’t!" she told it under her breath. "Wendigo!"

Wendigo finally opened his eyes at her shout. He looked very disoriented in the flickering red, the baby’s cries, and the rage-filled "HOOOOOUUUU!!" that circled through the air surrounding them. He ducked instinctively, jostling the already upset child slightly before realizing he was in no danger. Or comparatively little, at least. "We are safe," he told the girls firmly. "It cannot reach us."

At that instant, the evil’s screaming stopped. So did the flickering. For half a minute, the forest was completely silent. Not a branch or twig made a sound. The first traces of pre-dawn could be seen, approaching in from the east through the shroud-like veil of cloud as Paige’s human eyes re-adjusted to the dark. It wasn’t quite as dark anymore. Her thin cloak of comfort was erased as the rain started to fall on them. Both the girls shrieked and dropped to the ground. It was warm. And red. And smelled sweet and sticky. Like blood.

Paige almost ran. She let out a disgusted and frightened squeak at the rain of blood. She bounced around the circle erratically, almost leaving it in her confusion. Lauren had the foresight to grab her by the wrist before she bolted into the forest, where the evil would surely get her with no protection at all. The taller blonde gave a short, panicked scream before she realized her friend was the one who had her and let herself be pulled back toward the center of the circle. Wendigo joined them with the baby as Lauren offered the shelter of her wings, opened above them like a purple umbrella. None of them looked very happy at being cold, wet, and sticky. As the sun rose, the unnatural rain eased and finally stopped.

Paige looked the worst out of the group. She looked as if she had just had the title role in "Carrie." Lauren was slightly better off, having had her wings out the full time to shield herself. Wendigo was soaked with blood, though it only seemed to make his fur stick together in long, stringy masses. The baby’s blankets had few drops on them, having been sheltered almost completely by Wendigo through the strange storm. He looked around them with an unreadable expression. Unreadable, except for the fact that he hadn’t seen anything like this happen in the wood before. That was all too clear.

"We must go," he said forcefully, nearly snapping at the girls. "Now!" He began jogging briskly out of the circle. The pair of Colonists barely had time to meet each other’s eyes as they sprinted after him.

****************

They didn’t slow down. Fear was enough to spur them on through the forest, not giving the evil more than a second to focus on their current position, if it was even watching them through the daylight. Lauren kept going as fast as she could with a stitch in her side from the exertion. Paige, breathing hard, stumbled as she struggled to keep up with Wendigo, who was outdistancing them by a good fifty yards and kept looking nervously back over his shoulder for them.

Looking nervous did not suit Wendigo.

"We are almost there," he told them. "You must keep going." He sounded anxious to them.

"Almost where?" Lauren groaned, switching back to human form so she could rub away the pang in her side while still moving.

"Out of the wood," he told her, a little more firmly this time. "Away from the evil."

"Thank God," said Paige.

The shorter blonde looked over to her companion. "How do you think Krystal’s doing?" she asked Paige.

Paige’s hands, though she held onto them, shook with fear for her little sister. So did her voice when she finally managed to speak. "Okay, I hope…" Her eyes didn’t meet Lauren’s, but stared in the direction that Wendigo was leading them. The fear of the unknown, of what had happened to her sister, gave her enough strength to force herself back into a steady run. Lauren, forcing herself along, found herself having a hard time keeping up.

*****************

After a while, Paige didn’t even keep her eyes open to see where she was running. She let the natural good guide her as she ran, following Wendigo without even knowing exactly where he was. She could sense him ahead of her. She could also feel, in a vague way, Lauren behind her about thirty yards. Up ahead, like a light at the end of a tunnel or the dawn after a moonless night, she could see a faint shimmer of good. *Almost to the border,* Paige thought to herself.

And then there was the evil. It was following them, lurking. Not in the tricksterish method of lurking that they had learned at the Academy, no… It was called Evil for a reason. It was stalking them.. hunting them not like a predator, but more like it was out to torture them once it caught them. She got the awful mental image of the evil holding Lauren down by her wing like a fly and…

She lost her focus and stopped to get her bearings. She peered ahead at Wendigo, who was still speeding along in the treetops above her. The baby seemed to be sleeping soundly in his arms. Otherwise it was enjoying the bouncing enough that it wasn’t making a sound.

Not worrying about him in the least, she turned back to check on Lauren. "How’re ya doing, Geems?" she called. She scanned the trees, amazed at how many she hadn’t crashed into during the past twenty minutes that she had been running. There were plenty of them that could have spelled disaster for her, as well as bushes, logs, boulders, and rock cairns like the one she had knocked over earlier. These things weren’t the focus of her attention, however. What was, was a lack of short blonde girl or small purple dragonish figure. "Geemur?? GEEMUR! Wendigo! Stop!" she shouted, well on her way to becoming upset.

Wendigo stopped mid-spring, about to jump to the next branch. The baby did not so much as yawn his landing was so soft. "We must keep going!" he exclaimed, notes of anxiety crawling back into his firm voice.

"I can’t find Lauren!" she hollered up to him, then remained silent as panic almost captured her again, scanning the forest.

And suddenly, she heard her. Screaming. Terrified. Paige’s spine went stiff as a pole and shivered. "LAUREN!!" Revitalized with fresh fear, she morphed to her waterdaemon form and tore off through the forest, kicking up debris behind her.

"Leave her!" Wendigo called after her, his eyes showing both concern and fear. Paige would have seen him finally express emotion if she had been pointed the other direction. It would have been disconcerting.

The loud "HOOOOOOOUUUUUUU!" told Paige that the evil was not having an easy time with the little dragon, and if it had ears, they would probably be ringing with the piercingly high screams she was emitting every quarter of a second. Fortunately, they also acted as a beacon for the waterdaemon as she pounded through the underbrush faster than any waterdaemon was meant to move. She was horrified. She was relieved. Above all, she was furious. The mohawk along the back of her neck stood out in stiff spikes of fury. She snarled and poured on more speed to save her friend. The yellow glow that lit her eyes lit the forest around her eerily.

When she caught sight of Lauren, she almost froze, denying that she was seeing what her eyes told her she was. The evil, a non-corporeal cloud of red and clear substance that reminded Paige of heat waves rising off the hood of an overheated car on a summer day, hovered over her friend, darting at and around her as the dragon kicked and fought, straining to keep it at bay. In an almost constant motion, brighter red lightning bolts shot through it like firing neurons.

"HOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUOOOUUUUUUUUUU!" it howled, circling rapidly above her in a tight circle. Lauren screamed and writhed around on her back, flailing her claws and straining to hold her eyes shut.

Paige’s eyes lit up like floodlamps. "REEEAAOOWWRR!!" she challenged. The evil never knew what hit it. It seemed to stop for a split second, as if it had never been faced with a creature it could not subdue, much less one that tried to stand up and fight it.

Paige released all the light she had been carrying at the mass before her. Afterward, she was unsure of how she had done it. At the time, it had just seemed right. The ball of white-hot energy hit the cloud full-on, and it gave a shocked little "HOUII!" before shattering into nothingness. Paige didn’t pay it a moment’s respect as she rushed to her friend’s side.

"It burns! It burns!!" Lauren cried, tears running from her eyes. "It buuurns!" Paige touched her scales, then pulled her claw back quickly. The dragon’s skin was hot as iron. She was turning an awful shade of red beneath her scales. Lauren’s tail twisted around her wildly as she writhed in the detritus of rotting leaves. She started shivering uncontrollably, curling into an egg with her tail and wings around her. "It b-bb-buuuurnn-nsss!" Paige’s eyes filled up with fear and pity for her friend.

Wendigo sprang up next to Paige, hopping down easily from the trees and cradling the crying baby at the same time.

"Here," he said roughly, holding out the baby for her to take. "You watch her, and I’ll look after your friend."

The waterdaemon blinked at him, switching forms to accept the child from him. "Thank you," she said in awe.

"It is I who should be thanking you," he responded slowly as he crouched beside Lauren, who didn’t even acknowledge his presence. He carefully uprooted a nearby weed, wrapped it in a piece of bark, said a few low words over it, appeared to meditate for a few minutes as Lauren visibly calmed, then squeezed the plant’s milk into her mouth and down the line of her back. Moments later her eyes opened and she leapt toward Paige to hug her, sobbing. All signs of her internal burning were gone or fading quickly from the cure. Wendigo nodded in approval of his own methods, then reclaimed the baby from Paige.

"Is it gone? Did I kill it?" she queried curiously. "I doubt it would be that easy to get rid of…"

The creature nodded at her. "It is not so easy to kill. It is re-gathering its strength. It will be a while before it will be able to strike again." He smiled. "It was not expecting that."

A peaceful silence fell over the woods. Paige and Wendigo exchanged a serene look. A woodpecker darted through the trees with a whiffling sound. They all ducked in unison.

"Let’s get out of here!" Lauren wailed, still clinging to Paige’s side.P> Paige nodded her head and rubbed Lauren’s neck comfortingly. "Next time Krystal tells me she has a funny feeling, I’m running home and hiding under the bed!"

"Me too," said Lauren, still jittery. "Can we go?"

Wendigo nodded briskly. "We are extremely close. That is why it felt it had to strike, or else it would miss its chance at you." He smiled broadly. "You surprised it. Very few people are that wholly good."

Paige nodded nobly, then started walking insistently in a completely new direction. Wendigo smiled and nodded as she did, and Lauren looked up to him for an explanation. "It turned the wood while it had you," he told her, impressed that Paige had found the right direction so quickly. Perhaps one day, she would make a fine Wendigo.

***********

Paige never thought she would be glad to see Coffin Rock again.

"This is the marker," Wendigo said. "Here, you will be safe, and you will be able to find your way to your vehicle. But here, I must leave you, my friends."

Paige smiled and stepped toward him. "I’ll take the baby. She’ll be safe and welcome at our Colony."

Wendigo apprehensively stepped back from her. "No," he said firmly. "She stays." He answered the girls’ confused looks. "I cannot be the Wendigo forever… even I shall grow old eventually. She is destined to be the next Wendigo, the one who shall take my place in the circle." He unwrapped the baby from her blanket, showing the small tail and thin layer of brown fun she had recently grown. "You see, she is Wendigo already," he smiled gently.

Paige nodded, pressed her lips together firmly, and stepped back. "I understand," she said, and turned to join Lauren, who stared dully at the Coffin. A greasy bundle of sticks, tied in plaid cloth, lay there. Paige didn’t want to ask her if she could tell what was in it. She didn’t want to know. Neither did Lauren, it looked like, and she probably already did. She looked back into the forest, remembering that she’d forgotten to thank the forest guardian. "Wendigo, I…" she started, searching for him with her eyes. The baby’s blanket was there where he’d dropped it, but the Wendigo were gone. *Thanks,* she thought, concentrating on the good within herself.

*You are welcome,* she heard the good within him reply.

The girls pelted down the trail for the car and did not look back.

*****************

"Ohmygosh, where were you guys?! I was so worried! I thought something got you!" Krystal screamed at the two as Paige slid across the hood of the station wagon and Lauren made frantic motions for her friend to unlock the door.

"It almost did!" Paige told her, scrambling into the driver’s seat as soon as her door was unlocked. "Gimme the keys!!" Krystal fumbled in her pockets until she found them, picked out the ignition key carefully and handed the whole mess to Paige, who jammed the wrong key into the starter in panic. Lauren screeched almost as loud as the tires as they ricocheted out of the forest.

*******************

Wendigo stared after their vehicle for the longest time, then tore off a strip of bark, chewed on it to soften it, and fed it to the little one. She accepted it in her rapidly flattening snout, gnawing it with her new flat teeth. The small Wendigo cooed happily until Wendigo rocked her to sleep. *No more,* he thought. *It will take no more lives.* He rocked the baby in his forelegs thoughtfully. *The traditions of the old Wendigo will remain, but you and I, little one, you and I will start some new ones as well.* She stared up at him with big, round eyes. He met her gaze. *You and I… will save.* ********************

Krystal stepped out of the car in shock. Lauren quickly guided her over to her house before Kiersten confronted them. As it was, Paige took most of the impact.

"Where were you guys?? Couldn’t you have called us and let us know you were going to be out for an extra two nights? Don’t count on going camping again anytime in the next century! Not without one of us, anyway!"

Paige flinched. "Don’t worry, Kiers… we’re not going camping again anytime soon."

"…and not anywhere outside our own backyards," Lauren added without the slightest hint of a joke in her voice or expression.

Krystal shuddered. Lauren ushered her inside.

The Colony leader blinked. This wasn’t the high-spirited trio she knew. "What happened to you guys out there?" she gawped. The watertdaemon girl stared up into the graying New York sky as she unloaded the back of the station wagon of Krystal’s things. Kiersten didn’t fail to notice these were the only items in the back of the car… unusual for even a one-day trip for three kids. "Paige?"

"Hm?" Paige muttered, snapping back to reality.

"Are you guys okay?"

Paige shook her head. "Kiers," she said solemnly, "You’d better get some of your facts straight in that ghost story." With that she followed Lauren and Krystal into the house, despite all the Colonists who had rushed out to welcome them home safe. Stopping at the threshold, she turned and pulled a green branch off the elm tree outside her door. She bent it around several directions until it resembled the shape of a man, and muttered something to it. The Colonists didn’t know what she said to the little twig figure she held, and didn’t know why she hung it above her door. But it was generally agreed that she looked a lot more secure afterward. Then she turned and went inside.

**************

Disclaimer: "The Wendigo" is a story from Eric Schwartz's "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." All characters are copyright me or themselves. ;) Shhh... did you hear that?