The hare stared the danger down with bulging eyes and wiggled its nose. It followed the wisdom of the ancestors. If I am still, I am a snowdrift. The danger didn’t get the message.
Wendigo calculated the distance to the hare’s fleeing point and crouched on the invisible line. He pounced. The hare exploded from its masquerade as a piece of the scenery and managed a few long-legged bounds. Wendigo swiped it off its feet and sent it tumbling across the snow. Before it could process the blow the predator’s jaws wrapped around its neck, and it was no longer afraid.
Wendigo celebrated the hunt with a victory dance. He leapt and spun in the air, shaking his head and growling at some invisible opponent. Once that was out of his system he calmed himself down and dropped the hare into his hands. He frowned at it. Pretty things made better gifts, even if the taste was the same. He hoped his friend wouldn’t notice the extra attention he gave it.
The walk back to the resting place felt longer with the taste of blood tempting him. He licked his hand and wiped off the smears around his mouth, and then ate some snow. Nothing helped. The Hunger whined like a second voice in his head. Unlike his host, it was always easy to understand.
He allowed himself a single bite. The salty taste and crunchy texture almost made him forget what he was doing. He pushed himself onward. Just one more bite, he thought.
Scared-of-Fighting heard him coming and lifted his head from a bed of moss and pine needles. He stretched and gave a wide yawn, tongue curling against his bottom fangs.
Wendigo bounced in front of him, willing him to wake up faster. He held out a single gnawed on hare leg and grinned. “For you!”
Scared-of-Fighting glared. He snatched the gift and devoured it in a few hasty gulps. He yawned again.
Wendigo beamed. He felt like finding all the kin who had made fun of his ideas and laughing in their faces. The other spirit had stayed longer than he expected, lured by the promise of games, company, and the occasional offering of food. Soon there would be human hunts, and he was confident he could figure out a way for them to share without fighting over such important prey.
Wendigo sat beside Scared-of-Fighting and groomed the side of his face. When he finished he rested his chin on his friend’s shoulder and let out a contented sigh. He had never noticed it before due to the brief and tense nature of interactions with kin, but being this close to another made him feel different. It was as if he were discovering another part of himself. His mind wandered to Ancient One, the first Wendigo spirit. He wondered how the old one felt, not being able to draw the fragmented pieces of his soul back together. The thought made him shudder, and he nuzzled closer to his friend.
Scared-of-Fighting rumbled a warning and shoved him away. “Prankster! Stop!”
Wendigo landed on his backside with a grunt. It stung to hear his kin-name spoken in such a harsh tone. He bit back the urge to bite Scared-of-Fighting and rose to a crouch. He leaned forward so that his fingers just brushed the snow, tilted his head back to show his throat, and smiled.
The anger melted from Scared-of-Fighting’s eyes and he cocked his head.
Wendigo thought of the way the hare moved. He bounced around Scared-of-Fighting, moving closer with each leap. When he was just close enough he reached out and touched his friend’s leg. “Poke!”
He giggled and scrambled away.
Scared-of-Fighting gave a growl that lacked malice and chased after him.
Wendigo took advantage of his host’s shorter, thinner body and made sharp twists and turns. Scared-of-Fighting lumbered after him like a bear. Wendigo found himself running for the joy of the experience itself, and lost track of the footfalls behind him.
He came across two sets of fresh tracks and skidded to a halt. Could there be prey nearby? The few seconds it took to realize why they were there were all Scared-of-Fighting needed.
He pounced on Wendigo from behind, smashed him face-first into the snow, and leapt away before he could react. Scared-of-Fighting held his position with a crouch and watched his friend pick himself out of the impression he made. He grinned.
It was an odd, almost painful looking expression, and full of wrinkles. Wendigo wondered if Scared-of-Fighting’s host had worn it as few times as the grouchy spirit. The human’s black hair was sprinkled with white, like falling snow. That was a long time to go without smiling.
Wendigo put on a mock expression of pain, stretched out his arms, and flopped back into the snow. He leapt out of the impression, took a look, and laughed. “Look! I have four arms!”
Scared-of-Fighting joined him. He stepped in the impression. “Your face is a foot!”
Wendigo growled and flashed his teeth. “You ruined it!”
The other spirit’s eyes widened and he growled back. They locked eyes for a few tense moments.
Wendigo realized what he had done and felt horrible. He lowered his gaze and showed his throat until his friend calmed down. “Want do something else?”
Scared-of-Fighting narrowed his eyes. “Like what?”
Wendigo smiled. “I show new game! Smash-the-balls!”
Scared-of-fighting leaned away and grimaced.
Wendigo frowned. “Why look like that? It is good game! Watch.”
He scooped up a handful of snow and packed it into a ball. He hurtled it at the nearest tree. Half of the ball exploded in every direction, and the other half remained on the bark in a squished lump. Wendigo bounced up and down. “It went splat! Ha ha!”
Scared-of-Fighting no longer needed encouragement to try new games. He rolled some snow into a lumpy almost-sphere and threw. It sailed past the tree.
Sunset painted reds and oranges on the snow. The spirits paid no attention. The special vision they gave their hosts for hunting at night worked just as well for playtime.
Scared-of-Fighting was slow to learn aiming, but he refused to give up. He practiced until it looked as if the tree had fallen over during a snowstorm and then returned to its upright position.
Wendigo grew tired of the game, or rather, the lack of attention he was now receiving. He tossed a snowball into the air and caught it a few times, wondering what he should do about this. He looked at Scared-of-Fighting. He looked at the snowball in his hand. He grinned.
The snowball flew in a perfect arc and exploded on the side of Scared-of-Fighting’s head. The startled spirit roared and whirled around to face the perceived threat. He caught Wendigo with a blow that shattered his jaw and knocked him off his feet. He pinned his head to the ground with one foot, locked eyes with him, and snarled.
Wendigo trembled. He let his bones knit back together before trying to speak. “Was supposed be funny!”
Scared-of-Fighting put his teeth away and fell silent. He released Wendigo, then lowered his eyes and coughed. “Well it was not. Stop being weird.”
Pain gone but not forgotten, Wendigo rose and shook snow from his hair and clothing. He huffed. “I am not weird!”
Wendigo ripped a branch from a tree and bit it, imagining it was Scared-of-Fighting’s arm. He growled and shook his head. The wood cracked, splintered, and fell in two pieces at his feet. He spat the middle part at the other spirit. “Whatever. At least not coward. Worse than weird, Scared-of-Fighting.”
There was a surprising lack of anger on Scared-of-Fighting’s face. He shrugged. “Works for me. Works for mates, too.”
They had not spoken of Always-Angry since Scared-of-Fighting left her. Wendigo ground his teeth. “Works for mates? She attacked you!”
Scared-of-Fighting dared to reply with a smile. He was getting better at them. “Always-Angry is complicated. Others were easier.”
The shock blasted the frustration from the surface of Wendigo’s thoughts. He had never heard of a spirit taking more than one mate. This was not for the same motives of loyalty that humans followed, but because it was difficult to find more than one fellow spirit who was willing to put up with you long enough to get anything done before someone’ s host got killed. He cocked his head and offered a pleading look. “Who?”
Scared-of-Fighting held up a hand and tapped fingers down one by one. “Um… There was Blind-Nose. Snow-for-Brains. Wolf-Bitten. Wastes-Blood. Scorched-Face.” He continued on the other hand. “Forgets-Favors. Clumsy-as-Human. Always-Angry.”
A wave of nostalgia hit Wendigo. “Are they here?”
“I do not think so. Most were mates long ago. In Beginning Times. Have seen few for winters. Me, you, Always-Angry. Maybe only ones left. Humans have changed. Few new hosts.”
He was afraid of the answer, but he expected it. Part of him was excited by it, the part that served the Hunger. If he could kill Scared-of-Fighting and Always-Angry’s hosts there would be no more competition. A whole world of food, just for him. A different part of him longed for the others to return, problematic though they could be at times. He flashed a hopeful smile. “They will be back. How you get mates? You good at that!”
“I do not do this.” Scared-of-Fighting jabbed him in the chest with a claw. “Poke.”
Wendigo tugged at his beard and thought. “What about this?” He jabbed at Scared-of-Fighting, stopping just short of touching him. “I not poking you!”
The other spirit scowled. “Somehow, that is worse.”
Wendigo slapped his hands over his face and moaned. “What can I do? I think new things. Others hate ideas. You all so boring!”
Scared-of-Fighting tossed his head and snorted like an irritated bull moose. “What about me? Am I boring?”
“No!” Wendigo patted him on the arm. “No. You are least boring. I like you. We help each other. I teach games. You teach me now. Show how get mates.”
Scared-of-Fighting shrugged. “How can I teach? It is easy. Be calm. No being annoying and weird.”
Wendigo narrowed his eyes. “No being Prankster?”
“Um…” Scared-of-Fighting scratched his head. “Could you do that?”
“How?” Wendigo threw back his arms. “Not have Changing Medicine! What? Go to Medicine Man? That would be fun. ‘Good hunting, friend. I am a wendigo. Help me. Oww, stop burning me!’ Good plan.”
Scared-of-Fighting rolled his eyes. “I not say do that. Just be less weird.”
Wendigo crossed his arms and set his jaw. “Coward works for you. Weird works for me. I will make it.”
“Have fun with that.” Scared-of-Fighting placed a hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “I go now. I would stay, but cannot. You many people in one. So much energy and ideas. You wear me out. We play again next winter. Good hunting, friend.”
Wendigo bit back a whine, knowing it would do no good. A spirit like Scared-of-Fighting could not easily be deterred from retreating to avoid stress. A burning sensation stung the corners of his eyes. He shook his head and rubbed at them. “Good hunting, friend.”
Scared-of-Fighting lifted his head and sniffed at the wind. He picked a scent to follow and trotted away.
Wendigo chose a path in the opposite direction, determined to give his friend plenty of space. While his nose searched for prey his mind wandered. He only had twelve moons left to think of as many new games as he could.