Shadows on the Ice (Part 1)
I think it’s been sixteen days since we first arrived, eager to spend two weeks away from civilization, to get back to our roots. We’d come—Earl, Mason, Ricky, and I—from the town of Andary, Manitoba, where the four of us attended university, myself passionately studying English, though for what ends I never knew. Earl, I had known since we were young, both of us hailing from Maysburg, Tennessee and riding on full scholarships, such a close companion helping to abate the loneliness that comes with traversing to a far-away place.
We did not befriend Ricky and Mason, however, until our sophomore year, both of whom were from the local area. It became soon apparent afterwards that we all shared a passion for the hunt. It was for this reason that we decided to take up on an advertisement Earl had found online to rent out this cabin in the remotes of Saskatchewan for two weeks before heading back home for Christmas. It seemed like the perfect getaway we’d all been looking for, the chance to feel alive and masculine. The advertisement explicitly stated that the cabin had absolutely none of the modern luxuries the modern world provides for us: electricity, central heating, internet, or even any kind of reception, due to its isolation. The perfect vacation.
We reached out to the one who posted this opportunity, an old woman who summered here with her husband for a few weeks in June. The price was fair, and we all chipped in to cover the costs. When winter break finally came, we gathered our food, guns, and beer to make the long excursion into the prospecting wilderness.
That first night, we unpacked and relaxed around the fireplace with our ample supply of Labatt Blue, planning out the activities of the next two weeks. We planned on hunting, of course, though Mason was a little worried about us being discovered by authorities, as we had not been able to purchase hunting licenses due to not being official residents of Saskatchewan. However, we all assured him that there was nobody for miles and that there was absolutely nothing to be worried about.
The next day did not go according to plan, though not to our displeasure. Instead of searching for small game, we decided to instead drink a copious amount of the Labatt Blue and eggnog (not the kind you give to small children), with not-so-legal herbal substances for dessert. We made a point to ourselves to make as much noise as humanly possible, celebrating the end of the grueling semester. Needless to say, we passed out in a drunken stupor, our positions more embarrassing than I would like to admit.
We awoke the next morning to find ourselves shivering and having eaten more than two days’ worth of food. Ricky, who was comparable in size to an elephant, was the main culprit for this, as he had dressed up as Santa Claus and decided to be the “Food Santa,” which in his intoxicated mind meant to eat everything he could get his hands on.
At some point, we managed to shake our hangovers enough to put on our boots and coats and set out in the early afternoon to try and shoot some rabbit or squirrel. We worked superbly as a team and bagged about four rabbits, three squirrels, and five birds before nightfall. We all figured that if we were breaking the law to begin with, that we might as well go all the way. And it felt good, too. We felt primal in those frigid woods.
We set out earlier the next day, though we had a little less luck than the previous night, as we killed about the same amount as the previous afternoon, though over the entire day instead of a few hours. However, it was not until the following day that we became really excited about our excursions, for after bagging more small game, we came across elk tracks at the northern border of the woods, about three miles away from the cabin. We followed them into spacious snow-blanketed plains and found a lone calf crying by itself.
“Shh!” I hissed as I crouched down and steadied my rifle.
“Hell, you ain’t gonna kill that cute little baby, are you?” Mason asked. I raised my hand to silence him.
I fired the gun, the bullet piercing through the calf’s hind leg. It shrieked, and I fired thrice more, finally bringing the beast down.
“You were saying?” I teased.
“Well, hell, I was gonna say we oughta leave him, but I guess it’s too late now.”
We all chuckled and swiftly snuck over to it to make sure it was dead. Sure enough, I’d knocked its lights out. Yet, it was then that Ricky pointed at the sky.
“Look!” he said while scratching his enormous belly. “Northern lights.”
We all looked up, and sure enough, the sky was beginning to glow with a deep green hue, the patterns slowly trawling over the starlit sky, while red flickered sparingly like splashes of blood.
“Looks like a Christmas tree, eh?” Mason admired. “Been a while since I’ve seen any of those.”
“Yeah, yeah, beautiful,” Earl grumbled. “Now let’s get this bad boy back to the cabin.”
We tied up the calf and carried it back, though we said little. I’m not sure if the others could sense it, but I had the feeling we were being watched by something lurking in the shadows. Despite this, we made the trip back without incident, while the red and green sky lit the snow beneath our boots.
We were correct, as about a mile and a half away from where I’d shot the calf, we found a handful of very large elk shambling along the next day, occasionally nibbling at the frozen ground. All of us save Mason killed one, though we brought only one back.
We partied again the day following that to celebrate our victory and also to take a break from the hunt, with Ricky, much to my horror, pretending again to be the Food Santa and demolishing any food in sight. At some point, Ricky disappeared only to come back with a pine tree that surprisingly fit well within the living room, for which we fashioned a star out of cut-up eggnog containers and hung bottlecaps and miscellaneous objects from it using fishing line we’d found in the closet. Besides that, though, there was little incident, and we once again passed out unevenly across the cabin. Yet, that night, I could not seem to keep my eyes away from the windows, as though something was subconsciously calling upon my attention. Earl, I also noticed, seemed to be eying the windows too, though we never mentioned this phenomenon to one another.
We ignored our hangovers when we awoke, our primal enthusiasm having been renewed by our day’s break, and we set out to the northern plains again, eager to find the elk. We found them about two miles away from where they had been before, now north-east of the cabin.
“Alright,” I murmured to Mason, “since you haven’t gotten one yet, you get to go first. Careful though, ain’t that many left. Be easy for ‘em to slip off.”
Mason nodded and slid to his belly, peering down the scope through the bushes we hid behind.
The shot missed, and they all scattered to the trees before Mason had a chance to fire again.
“Damn!” he cried.
“You fuckhead, now we gotta track ‘em down all over again!” I yelled with a kick of snow onto his back. He brushed it off and stood.
“We already killed three of ‘em, Tuck!”
Earl threw his hands up. “Well, shit, I wanna kill some more!”
“Hey!” Ricky bellowed. “Calm it down, eh? We’ve still got plenty of light. We’ll just go give’r.”
I said nothing, but instead began to stomp over to the trees, the vein in my temple pumping. The others followed, and we found that the elk had gone south. It was about a mile away when Earl piped up from behind us.
“Hey, there wolves in these parts?”
“Yeah, I know there’s some timber wolves,” Ricky affirmed. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Earl said while closely inspecting the ground, “seem to be what look like wolf tracks over here, and a big ole pile o’ wolf shit, too.”
I straightened my back and traipsed over to where he stood and inspected it myself. Having hunted them before, I knew immediately that he was correct.
“You guys wanna hunt some wolves?” I asked with a sly grin on my face.
“Aren’t they protected or something?” Mason quizzed doubtfully. We glared at him and he cast his eyes down in embarrassment.
We followed the tracks further south and around the cabin headed east, though night fell on us before we could find the wolves, and we decided to head back to the cabin, keeping in mind the location, which was a little less than a mile east of the cabin.
The next day proved to be colder than usual, bitingly frozen. But we persisted nonetheless, and after just an hour and a half came across the remains of small animals, and soon after that we came across a frozen pond with a large pack fighting over the corpse of a calf.
“Hey,” Earl whispered as we settled behind some brush, “I just noticed somethin’.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Earl lowered his voice and cast a wary eye to the predators beyond the trees.
“I ain’t heard any howlin’ these past few days. And they’re fightin’ with each other right now, but they aren’t makin’ any noise.”
I brushed this off, though I could see that Mason scratched at his red ears.
“So?” I demanded. “All I care about is baggin’ me a couple o’ wolves. I could care less if they’re quiet.”
One of the wolves, a small grey runt who’d been nipping at heels to get a chance to eat, suddenly perked his ears and began sniffing in our direction. I held my finger up and readied my rifle. The others followed suit. I fired the first round, killing the runt, and the others followed. We each killed one, despite them having scrambled away in the blink of an eye. Ricky had managed to kill what seemed to be the alpha, a large monstrosity with its muzzle soaked in blood.
“Holy hot damn, that’s a keeper, eh?” Ricky guffawed.
“Sure is, pal,” Mason praised. “Mine’s no pipsqueak, either, though.” Mason looked over at my kill and scoffed.
“And you were getting your gonch in a wad over that missed shot,” he goaded.
“Go piss up a rope.”
Ricky slung his gun over his shoulder and sighed. “Shut it, you two. Let’s just bring them back to the cabin. God, it’s fucking freezing. Wish I had my mickey on me.”
Mason laughed and said, “yeah, you’d love to get pissed, wouldn’t you? Hell, you drank that whole two-four by yourself.”
“I’d rather you not,” Earl grumbled as he stuck a pinch of dip in his mouth. “Ate up half a damn shopping mall doing your whole Santa schtick, you fat piece of shit.”
Ricky playfully gave Earl the finger and grappled the dead wolf by its neck and began heading back the way we came. We all followed suit, and that night prepared a meal out of the small game we’d collected from the days prior.
“Hey!” Ricky bellowed from the kitchen, candles throwing long shadows across the walls. “Where’s my two-four?”
“You fuckin’ drank it, remember?” I replied as I whittled away at a piece of wood.
“Well, shit. Any of you guys mind if I have a beer?”
“Yeah,” Mason said with a glance up from a book on Native American mythology. “Go ahead.”
We stared in silence at the dying fire for the next hour, each of us lost in our thoughts, not speaking until the flames finally died.
“Guess I’ll go ahead and get some more firewood,” Earl yawned. He stood up with a stretch and headed towards the side door, where he put on his winter layers.
Half an hour went by before I noticed that he hadn’t returned.
“The fuck did he go?” I slurred with a glass of eggnog in my hand.
“Dunno,” Ricky remarked. “Want me to go check on him?”
I nodded and finished the glass.
Ricky had been outside scarcely two minutes before he came panting back to the doorway.
“Guys, you better come out here.”
“What is it?” Mason asked.
“Ricky, he’s… he’s not out there. Saw some blood on the snow, and trails leading off into the woods. Grab the guns, too.”
Mason and I leapt to our feet and grabbed our rifles and coats, racing out to the woodshed, where we could see discarded logs and a copious amount of blood, while deep crevices in the snow showed what appeared to have been where he’d been struggling and dragged away, though the cascading flurries were already beginning to cover this. We gave little time to take in the scene before we charged off into the woods, following the bloody path.
We followed the trail for half an hour before it suddenly ended, with no trace of Earl in sight.
“The hell is he?” I gasped as the cold chewed at my face.
Ricky wiped his brow and replied, “I don’t know, let’s just look around and keep looking.”
We split up with our guns readied, all dreading what we might find. The snow was deep, and the wind yowled and yawped. Vaguely, I was aware that in the sky, blood-red aurora borealis danced, but I paid it no heed, for I was focused on finding my friend.
“Oh, shit!” Ricky exclaimed.
“What is it?”
He didn’t give a reply, though immediately afterwards I heard Mason curse and gag. Shaking my head, I trotted over to them. And I froze.
Lying in the bushes was the naked body of a man, torn and chewed beyond recognition, with the head ripped carelessly from the body.
“Can’t be,” Mason whispered. “Fuckin’ can’t be. It’s not Earl.”
“The hell do you mean it’s not Earl?” Ricky demanded.
“It can’t be. It’s gotta be someone else, I mean, Earl’s gotta still be out here.”
“Mason,” I said, “it’s him, man. Who else would it be?”
“B-but we don’t know that! There’s no clothes, n-no… head.”
“Alright, well I’ll uh, I’ll look for the… other parts,” I said with a pat on his shoulder. I didn’t know what else to do. It felt like my stomach had dropped.
Then I found it.
Lying in the bushes was a pile of bloodied rags, torn remnants of Earl’s attire. Holding my hand over my mouth, I reached out and picked up the rags, only to find Earl’s head underneath, broken and misshapen.
I could feel my body trying to empty its bladder, though luckily, I held it in.
“What?” Ricky asked, his face paler than the snow. I shook my head and pointed as I stepped away, doubled over in an attempt to keep the rushing nausea at bay.
“We need to get out of here,” Mason whimpered. “Man, we need to get back to the cabin right now.”
I nodded my head and hurried back the way we came without a moment’s thought. The trip back felt quick, and I could feel eyes watching us from the shadows, waiting for the next chance to strike again. But I ignored them, trying to keep the hot image of Earl’s head out of my eyelids, while snow pricked at my face. None of us said a word to each other when we got back.
We slept fitfully that night, and Ricky awoke us several times from downstairs, where he slept by the fireside. Neither Mason or I blamed him when we would come racing down, just in case the screams were more than nightmares.
In the morning, none of us felt eager for breakfast, though we did so out of concern for our health and warmth, as the temperatures were plummeting faster than ever. We discussed what happened and came to the conclusion that there could but one culprit for the murder of our friend: wolves.
In clear hindsight, it was foolish for us to do so, but we became enraged at this attack, blubbering and foaming at the mouth for retribution. And it was for this reason that we set off into the snow-covered woods that day, for we sought vengeance.
There was nothing spectacular to say about the excursion, other than that the tracks and blood had been completely covered by the snow, though we could feel a tension in the air, prickling at the backs of our necks.
It was not until nightfall that we again found Earl’s body, with only a finger peeking out over the snow. We had gone in circles all day, searching desperately in our memories for clues as to his whereabouts. When we did find him, Ricky took out a bright red rag and hung it from a tree branch, should we need to return to the spot later and find Earl completely submerged, though we’d cleared the snow around his naked body.
We then headed east, as we knew they could not be south, as we had come from that direction, nor west, as that was where the cabin was, and to the north were the plains and frozen pond.
The snow whipped at our faces as we blundered through the snow, and the deeper into the woods we went, the more skeletal and twisted the trees became, seeming to become frightful figures leering at us, plotting our demise. The terrain grew hilly, but though our feet were worn and sore, we persisted, fueled by a blinding rage.
It was late into the night when we found the wolves’ den. It was nestled under an overhang in the side of a hill, with roots spreading their fingers over the walls and floor of the enclave, with bones and carcass strewed about. At first, I took them to be shadows in the dark, but Mason was the one to notice their oddity.
“Are—are they sleeping?” he stammered.
I squinted my eyes and shook my head.
“Believe so,” whispered Ricky. “They should be huntin’ right now. That’s odd.”
I lowered my gun and tested the branch of a nearby tree.
“I don’t give a flying damn,” I growled as I began my ascent up the tree. “I’m gonna kill every last one of ‘em if it’s the last thing I do.”
They agreed and took positions in opposite trees so that we circled the sleeping wolves. I’d told them to wait for me to take the first shot, and to keep shooting after that cue.
I sighed and tried to relax my shoulders, but to no avail. My blood was boiling, and my fingers were itching to spill blood. I lined up the scope and looked for the biggest one. There he was, right next to the bones of a rabbit.
The silent air exploded with gunshots and yowls and yelps as we fired at the unsuspecting beasts, their blood staining the crystalline snow. We killed about three of them and wounded two others, though they escaped deeper into the hills along with another one who left uninjured. Easy.
When we eased to the den to inspect the damage, Ricky gave a short gasp of surprise and inspected the walls of the inlet, the smell of flesh pungent.
“You guys see this? There’s drawings on the walls.”
We shined our flashlights to meet his and saw what appeared to be Native American symbols and drawings written upon the walls of the earth, depicting crude interpretations of owls, wolves, and another animal I wasn’t quite sure the nature of, though it seemed to be feline in nature. Looking up, I saw there were feathers and other decorated trinkets hanging from the ceiling.
“Thought nobody lived out here?” I breathed. I tore one of the trinkets off and inspected it—talons from what appeared to be an owl. I threw them down and left the den without a word, heading in the direction the wolves had escaped.
None of us said anything as we searched for the wolves; we seemed to be perfectly tuned in to each other as we traipsed into the night. The sky glowed redder than ever, casting angry hues over the land. I thought it odd that this phenomenon should be occurring so frequently, but my mind was elsewhere. I wanted only to kill these beasts.
We eventually, after grueling struggle through the snow, which was picking up despite the skies being clear, found the first of the injured wolves, whimpering and licking its wounds. We killed it and found the next wolf, an older cub, not far ahead. It was as we were searching for the third wolf, the one who’d escaped uninjured, that we felt it.
It was subtle at first, but soon there was a kind of electric static in the air, making our hair frizz and cling to our faces. The red sky blackened with clouds, and the snowfall grew into a blizzard. We had not been speaking before, but now we didn’t dare to. We could all feel it.
An owl cried from above, and I saw what looked to be a mangy animal slipping off into the bushes, yellow eyes glaring at us for a few moments before disappearing.
“Was that a cougar?” Ricky hissed under his breath. I nodded, and he swallowed.
“Thought they were supposed to be further east,” Mason mumbled. I put my finger to my lips and scanned the trees around us. Though the snow was heavier than ever, I felt as though we were in the eye of a storm.
We waited. We waited for an eternity in that windy silence. We knew not what we waited for, but we knew whatever it was, it was something to be feared. Mason had moved to make a run for it, but I grabbed him by the shoulder, not wanting to alert whatever was there with our presence, in the off chance it didn’t know exactly where we were.
Perhaps ten minutes had gone by, us planted into the cold ground, eyes raw and wet, when we heard the beasts. They howled—no roared from nearby, a deafening bellow that demanded flesh, and it came from all around us. Ricky bolted, racing faster than I could ever imagine him running back the way we came. Mason was on his tail, and I knew that I had better follow suit.
I could hear them trampling in the snow behind us, monstrous beasts snarling and stampeding after us. Blood pumped and rang in my ears, but my legs were numb, and I was perpetually urging them onwards, praying hard that they not tremble and slip. The snow to the sides of us erupted, and I could see shadowy behemoths racing alongside, though I could not get a good look at them, nor did I try; my eyes were focused ahead, and my mind was fitted with a single purpose: to flee.
They bellowed and howled, their noises ungodly and bone-shattering. Ahead, I could see the den with the dead wolves. As though in slow-motion, Ricky tripped over one of the carcasses and screamed. But neither I or Mason paused in our tracks. We could not afford a moment’s hesitation, lest those shadowy beasts come upon us, and we left Ricky behind. The sounds of his screams and breaking bones followed our ears, until they ended with a ghostly suddenness.
I don’t know how we managed to get back to the cabin. The creatures could have killed us with ease at any point in the race home. But I did not care, for the sight of the cabin felt like a godsend, and Mason and I barreled through the door and locked it tight.
The moment we came inside, the air grew silent again and the static seemed to disappear. Without a word, we went to other doors and locked them and then closed the shutters on all the windows in the house. Mason threw some of the heavy furniture in front of the doors while I relit the fire, eager to get rid of the cold biting at my flesh.
“What the fuck just happened?” Mason croaked. “What were those things?”
“I don’t know. But we need to leave as soon as possible. Though, we should probably wait until morning. I don’t wanna go out there again while it’s still dark out.”
Mason agreed, and we packed our things, after which we sat by the fire with our rifles in our laps and pistols loaded on the coffee table.
We listened intently to the night, not daring to sleep. At one point, Mason began to doze off, but I made him and myself coffee to open our eyes.
Around three in the morning, we were jolted by a din of screeching metal from outside. Fearing the worst, we ran upstairs and peered out the window.
Mason cleared frost from the window and cursed under his breath,
“What? What is it?”
“Just… come look.”
Nervously, I approached the window and peered out towards the truck.
From what I could tell, the front of it had been ripped up, with shredded metal protruding liked gnarled teeth. I scanned the area for the beasts but could see nothing, not even tracks in the snow.
“Should we go out now, or wait until morning?” he asked, his eyes scanning the other windows rapidly.
“Definitely morning,” I answered. I didn’t want either of us to end up like Earl or Ricky.
Mason nodded his head and we went back downstairs and escaped to the warmth of the fire.
When morning came, we grabbed our guns and went upstairs to check through the windows whether or not the coast was clear. Fortunately, it appeared as such, though we were still light on our feet as we headed outside to inspect the damage to the truck, while the red lights in the sky still flicked under the sun.
“Hell!” Mason cried. “They ripped up the whole goddamn engine!”
It was true. The screeching metal we‘d heard that night had indeed been the creatures ripping through the hood of the car and mauling the engine beyond any hopes of repair, the metal sliced through as though it was butter. Mason stomped over to the side of the truck and groaned.
“They took out the fuckin’ tires, too!”
“Yeah! Come here and look!”
I walked over to him and screamed, bashing the palm of my hand against the side door.
“How in the fuck could they know to slash the engine and the tires?” I yelled.
Mason shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Only got one spare in the back. Besides, no way we could fix that engi—”
He turned his head towards the trees.
“What is it?” I asked, my voice hushed. I suddenly became aware of the sensation that we were being watched.
He scanned the woods with his eyes.
“Let’s just go back inside.”
We were quiet for the rest of the day, conversing and whispers and throwing hectic glances to the doors and windows, even though the shutters were closed and bolted tight. It was that night, too, when the howling began, if you could call it that. The moans were deep and hollow, yet full of fury and… lament. They were unlike anything we’d ever heard, and kept us on edge, as though we might slip out the door by accident and be devoured by those things, while the makeshift Christmas tree in the corner mocked us silently with its naïve cheerfulness.
Not having had a good night’s rest two nights in a row, I went upstairs soon after the howling began, hoping that sleep would be my sanctuary. It was as I was about to change out of my clothes when I first noticed the shadows on the ice, tucked away behind the trees. They were darker than the night and seemed to weave in and out of existence, merging and dispersing as though to avoid my eyes under the soft red glow of the northern lights. They were monstrous in size, too, though I could distinctly tell they were not in the shape of any large creatures local to the area.
I snuck back downstairs and whispered for Mason to follow me back up and pointed out the shapes.
“Don’t like the looks of those things,” he mumbled. “Don’t look natural, like they’re not made of anything. God, they… they must be as big as a horse, eh?”
I smiled grimly.
“We oughta keep watch,” I said. “Take turns so we can get some rest.”
“Well, I’ll take first watch, then. Don’t think I wanna know what my dreams will be like tonight.”
I checked my watch.
“It’s only six. Wanna do three-hour shifts, and wake me up at nine?”
He nodded and went back downstairs.
Neither of us heard anything save the howling, though around midnight, right as I was going back to sleep after my turn to stay up, the air became quiet, and stayed that way for the rest of the night.
Submitted March 19, 2019 at 07:43PM by Banned_In_CP