Wind drove snow over the trees with such force they seemed to step into the distance. The whiteness in the air covered everything until it was as faded as an old scent trail after a rainstorm. The snow was already deep enough to suck in a man's leg past the knee if he wasn't wearing snowshoes, but the figure trudging through it was no longer a man.
Wendigo had given up on snowshoes long ago in favor of simpler footwear. The straps challenged the clumsy fingers of his stolen human body, and he could never figure out how to move in them without tripping. He lurched onward with the tenacity of a wolverine gnawing through an inch of deer skull to get the gooey treat in the center. The pain in his stomach howled to his feet. He gave little thought to their control. His mind was focused on making the most of sensory information diminished by the storm. Sounds and smells were difficult to pinpoint. He almost felt as if the wind were a rival, come to mask the trails of prey to keep for itself. The thought brought an unconscious curl to his lip and a flash of yellow fangs.
The snow embraced a boot like a needy lover. He snapped out of his hunger musings to pull himself free. The boot's first owner was a human with larger feet than his current host, and it gave up on him before the snow gave up on it. His foot popped loose and he fell, arms flailing, into the snow.
Wendigo dug himself out and turned back to retrieve it. Now that he was facing the wind it drove snow and small bits of ice into his eyes. He scrunched them shut and crawled on all fours, sniffing for the trail. The smell of sweaty feet rose from a depression in the snow. He squatted and clawed at it, scooping handfuls between his legs. Prize uncovered, he sat with his back to the wind and put his foot in.
Snow crunched against his toes, packed deeper in his haste to get the boot on again. His lips peeled away from his teeth and a frustrated growl rose from his throat. Even if he got the snow out, he realized there was little hope of keeping it on. It didn't fit and the little strings had come loose. Boots never seemed to stay on as well when that happened. It had never crossed his mind to ask a human, before eating him, how the strings worked. The oversight released another growl. The shapes the strings formed seemed simple enough, and his inability to recreate them made him feel stupid. He tore at the boot with his teeth and then flung his head, releasing it from his mouth to disappear into the whiteness.
There was no point in going on with the remaining boot. Wendigo hated how off balance that made him feel. He pulled it off and pretended it was a human. He dug his claws into the boot and chewed on it until every scrap had blown away or been swallowed. In the absence of real prey, he accepted what he could find to vent his frustrations. He came out of his fantasy with a cough and picked a piece of cloth from his teeth.
An uncomfortable clearness of mind settled over him. He looked at his naked feet and sighed. With the pleasure of destruction gone all that remained was yet another flawed attempt at presenting himself to the world as a normal, human person. He wondered if he was trying too hard to be something he was not. The inquiry gained more strength over his thoughts with every second of attention he gave it, and he welcomed the change in pace over dwelling on his hunger.
He had been under the curse for so long he did not know if he was more human or spirit. Controlling a human body never stopped feeling awkward, but at least it let him feel. Every experience was so intense it was almost impossible to imagine anything different. What would it be like to go back to that way of existing? He strained his mind and recalled a vague feeling of moving over the earth, alone with the hunger and no way to satisfy it. Wendigo shuddered.
The sound of branches rasping overhead dragged him back to the present. The wind roared to life like never before, bombarding every bit of unclothed skin with tiny shards of ice. It was almost as unpleasant as the feeling of water on his flesh. Wendigo growled at nothing in particular, then rose to continue his search for prey.
He stopped after going a few steps and stiffened. His nose twitched and his ears pricked. They told him nothing, but the feeling of no longer being alone would not leave. The wind beating against his back seemed to take on weight, like the heaviness of a scent in the air that told him he was standing next to someone even when his eyes were closed. He spun around and saw nothing.
Wendigo forced himself to remain calm. He ignored the senses his human body offered and reached out with that diminished part of himself that remained connected to the spirit world. Understanding enveloped him like the comforting embrace of the cold.
A broad smile crossed his bony face. He looked into the flurries whiting out the sky and said, "Good hunting, friend!"
Nothing happened. He squirmed with excitement and waited for the greeting to be returned. The presence of the other spirit was so obvious now that he understood what he was sensing. It traveled on the wind, was the wind. It was him.
While he and his kin were created by the curse, the Ancient One preserved what they once were and remained at his post, emerging from slumber every year to create winter. He had sensed Ancient One's presence over the land, but never this close. Wendigo realized how tiny and insignificant he must be, trapped in this human body. No wonder Ancient One had taken so long to find him.
A high pitched whine rose from his throat, almost lost in the storm. He leapt and waved his arms. "Ancient One! I am here! I missed you! Be my hunting partner! Show where food is! I share with you!"
The possibilities brought saliva bubbling to his mouth. Sometimes the spirits favored humans and gave them gifts. How much more would he receive from another part of himself? Maybe Ancient One would give him the ability to fly. An image crossed his mind of himself, riding the wind until he saw some unsuspecting human and pounced. The thought filled him with delight and he twirled around, pretending to land on his prey and slashing the snow with his claws.
The wind's howl calmed to a low moan and he sensed the presence of Ancient One moving on. He whimpered and waded after him. "Wait!" he said, reaching out with a thin hand. "Do not leave me! We are the same! Remember!"
Ancient One did not slow down. Wendigo singled out the silhouette of a tree and hurried toward it. He sank his claws into the bark and climbed to the top. He looked down and wondered if this is what sitting in a cloud was like. Wendigo anchored himself with the claws on his feet and held both arms into the wind. The squall swallowed his hands. "Ancient One!" he said, a whine creeping into his voice. "Pay attention to me!"
There was a distant creak, like a tree being bent to its breaking point. Visibility cleared from whiteout to heavy flurries. A patch of snow seemed to spin in place in the air, though Wendigo could not be sure it wasn't an illusion.
He sensed the presence of Ancient One moving closer. It gave him the same feeling as being sniffed over whenever he met one of his kin. He leaned as far as he dared from his perch, extended his neck, and sniffed at the wind. His nose told him nothing new, and he sensed no approval from Ancient One. Anger crept like spreading frost over his enthusiasm. Ancient One was different, but he was still a wendigo. How could he be so rude as to ignore the traditional greeting or refuse to acknowledge a sniffing?
Foreign emotions touched the surface of Wendigo's mind. They felt like those he sensed from his host, behind the mental barrier erected by the curse to keep them from communicating. Ancient One's mind was simpler than the human's. He tried to translate what he could pick up from it using memories. It felt like the time he discovered a kind of drink that burned his mouth instead of tasting delicious, or the time he miscalculated a jump across a river and fell in. Ancient One turned away again.
Wendigo dropped his jaw wolf-wide and turned his fangs into the wind. His outraged snarl melted into it, losing impact as soon as it left his throat. "I hate you!" he said, swiping at the air with his claws. "Stupid mindless wind thing! Always hungry hunter! Noseless idiot! Wish you bad hunting!"
He snapped at fat flakes and ice shards swirling past his face. Ancient One's presence continued to fade, and he convinced himself he had driven him out of his territory. He leaned after the spirit to shake his fist, and felt the crack of wood beneath his feet too late. The top of the tree snapped and he fell, arms flailing with the efficiency of a bald bird.
Wendigo dug himself out of a crater several feet deep, sat with his arms wrapped around his knees, and rested his forehead on them. He scowled at the space between his feet. "Stupid other self," he said, grinding his teeth. "I smarter than him. You smarter too, Jacques. Do not need him. We have each other!"
He smiled and patted himself on the head. The gentle touch was reassuring, and he reached out to sense the same comfort from his host. The human recoiled with disgust much stronger than anything he felt from Ancient One. It was like being growled at by one of his kin, if the other wendigo had no teeth to threaten him with.
Wendigo sighed. "Stop that," he said, poking at his head with a claw. "You are good human. Ancient One is rude. Not be like him!"
He stood and studied his surroundings. Snow still fell, but it was no longer blown against his face by fierce winds. He turned in a circle, sniffing, until he located the heavy wet fur smell of a moose.
He patted his host's head again, ignoring the rage that always seethed over the mental barrier. "Come, my friend! We go hunting together. Moose today, human tomorrow. Ancient One not care. I show I do. Give you company. Keep you strong. You such good human. Let us go eat!"
Deep in the cell the curse made of his own mind, Jacques Broussard's soul did his best impression of an eye roll. I remember the sermons on demon possession, he thought. The priests were spot on about how terrifying demons are, but there was a severe deficiency when it came to describing their weirdness. What a pity I cannot pass on the warning.
"We need boots, Jacques. You want new boots?"
Jacques thought about where the boots would come from and ranted at the barrier.
Wendigo smiled. At least he had someone who was forced to pay attention to him.