I bounced around the time stream. My chronometer had malfunctioned again. On one hand, I learned the device still worked, which was wonderful. On the other, the device had activated at an awful time. Moments before being transported again, I had been deflowering England’s Virgin Queen. I assumed her first lover disappearing in a flash of blue light mid-coitus influenced her decision on lifelong abstinence. With a violent burst of lightning and blue flames, I collapsed on top of a pile of stones.
The stones burned my ass enough that I yelped and jumped to my feet. I looked around. Steam filled the tiny hut along with a circle of Natives. I raised my open hand and said, “How.”
Confusion spread across their faces. One whispered, “Manitou,” and the word murmured through the whole room.
“This pale man has been sent to help us,” a young man said.
Another Native seemed to scold the first in a garbled language I didn’t understand.
“Where have you come from?” the English-speaking Native asked.
“That’s honestly a really long story,” I said. “I’m not here for any particular reason though. Where I end up seems to be mostly random based. You speak English?”
“I learned as a slave.”
The old man at the center of the room spoke. When he finished, the young man translated. “The Great Connection has brought you here,” the old man sad. “You have been sent to help us even if you do not know this. We prayed, and with lightning and fire you came. You must stop the wendigo.”
I thought about fighting sea monsters, spirits, and other nasty things. “I’m good,” I said. “The last several times I played hero didn’t go so well. I got lost in time. Then, I almost got imprisoned by English slave traders until I proved that I wasn’t Jewish.”
I stepped out of the steamy hut. Snow covered the ground outside up to my hips. My sweat practically froze against my skin. I stepped back into the hut.
“On second thought,” I said, “I’ve never been that cold in my life. So, wendigo, huh? What’s a wendigo?”
The Natives had been struggling through a harsh winter. Many starved to death. Others killed themselves. Most suffered the famine together, except one man. One man murdered his wife and five children. He ate their corpses. Somehow being a cannibal left his soul tarnished, according to the Natives. An evil spirit possessed the man, turning him into a wendigo. Those that didn’t starve, the wendigo ate. Only six men remained in the village.
“How do we kill the wendigo?” I asked.
“Only being burned alive can destroy it,” the old man said. “It is too strong for us to capture now. With every corpse it eats, it grows stronger. We cannot stop the beast. That is why we prayed for help. That is why you came.”
“I guess I’ll figure something out,” I said.
I spent that night in a hut with Squanto, the young one. Slightly older than me, Squanto was the youngest Native still alive. He knew English because he had been enslaved by a man named George Weymouth and given to a British governor named Gorges, who taught Squanto English. Squanto returned to New England on an expedition with John Smith, only to be kidnapped by another man on the same expedition. Thomas Hunt sold Squanto to a group of Spanish monks. The monks allowed Squanto to return home, but instead the voyage landed him in Newfoundland. There, Squanto found an expedition heading south. The journey’s leader refused to allow Squanto to join without the Governor’s permission. Squanto sailed all the way to London and back just to find most of the coastal tribes of his nation had been decimated by plagues and famine. He had been travelling for months but hadn’t reached his home tribe yet.
By Squanto’s account, I arrived in the winter of 1619. That meant the malfunctioning time machine had thrown me across the Atlantic and around sixty years into the future. If I was lucky, there might be a pattern. If so, it could only take eight or nine more jumps to get back home. First, I needed to figure out how to trigger the machine since the two accidental jumps that had happened shared almost nothing in common.
In the meantime, Squanto gave me warm furs to replace my clothes. Squanto fed me a soup that he made with spoiled meat and tree bark. The soup tasted like leather and overcooked chicken. It wasn’t bad. I had definitely eaten worse. After the meal, I curled up on a mountain of furs in the corner and fell asleep.
A scream woke me in the night. I went out into the wind and snow. The wendigo occupied the village center. It stood taller than me despite sitting in a deep squat. Its ashen skin stretched so taut over its bones that I could count individual ribs and see the contours of its skull. Massive deer antlers grew from its head. Three half-eaten bodies rested on the ground at the wendigo’s feet.
As I watched the corpses disappear down the beast’s gullet, the wendigo turned its head to me. I met its hollow, yellow gaze. Blood sprayed from the wendigo’s mouth as it said, “Hungry. So hungry.”
The wendigo stood to a towering ten feet. The beast shambled toward me. I drew my dueling rapier, the only weapon I had. The sword had been made to use for sport, not as a weapon, but it would have to do. The wendigo lunged. I rammed the sword through the creature’s hand. The beast staggered backwards, clawing at the sword, and tearing its papery flesh to ribbons.
The wendigo’s screams woke the remaining Natives. Squanto and his companions attack the wendigo with spears and arrows. The weapons did little real damage, but the assault drove the monster from the empty village. Footprints pocked the snow along the wendigo’s bloody trail. “The snow won’t fill those tracks for hours,” I said. “We should follow it back to wherever it’s sleeping.”
One of the Natives shook his head.
“Why not? We’ll be able to kill it while it recovers.”
“Its wounds will heal quickly,” Squanto said. “Only silver can do lasting damage.”
“It will come back tomorrow,” a Native said through Squanto. “We should resign ourselves to death and kill ourselves with dignity before it eats us alive.”
I slept poorly the rest of the night. The next day, Squanto and I set to work on a trap. I wouldn’t sit back and die. We tore down most of the huts from the dead village. Working heated my body so much that sweat formed a swamp inside my furs. Taking them off meant freezing to death while covered in sweat. I miserably alternated between the two temperature extremes while we assembled our trap.
We piled the wood from the huts into the single longhouse left standing. We tossed the corpses of our cowardly companions into our mountain of logs. Squanto and I gathered sticks and leaves from the surrounding forest. We worked all day until the longhouse became a tightly packed box of kindling.
“The wendigo will go for the corpses first?” I asked Squanto.
“I believe so,” he said.
“It’ll avoid fire?”
Squanto slept outside near a massive bonfire. Armed with a sharpened branch, I waited in the longhouse for the wendigo to come. I chuckled to myself. That would have been a terrible time for my time machine to malfunction again. I’d leave Squanto to fight against the wendigo alone. Not that the two of us would fare much better. Thankfully, the chronometer did not freak out, but it made me wonder. If I never made it home, would people think I ran away? Maybe they’d assume I committed suicide. What would happen if it took so long to get home that I was an old man? How long would it take before no one remembered me at all?
“Help!” Squanto shouted in the night.
“Goddamn it, Tonto,” I said.
I ran outside. The wendigo had scattered Squanto’s fire. Only a handful of burning branches remained.
“Help!” Squanto cried again.
I didn’t see him at first, but then, firelight blazed against the wendigo’s eyes. Squanto dangled in the air, his ankle grasped in the wendigo’s oversized hand. The beast shook Squanto violently and shouted, “Hungry!”
I grabbed Squanto’s bow and fired an arrow into the wendigo’s eye. The beast dropped Squanto and roared. Unhindered by the loss of an eye, the wendigo chased me into the longhouse. I dove into the nearest corner. The wendigo burst through the wall in its rampage. The monster charged into the dark room and impaled itself on the spiked logs.
“Heal from that, asshole,” I said.
I used the remains of Squanto’s bonfire to set the longhouse ablaze. The wendigo burned in a pyre fit for a demigod. Its disgusting screams would probably haunt my nightmares for decades.
The wendigo left Squanto in rough shape. Deep gashes covered his body. The fall from the wendigo’s grip broke Squanto’s leg in multiple spots. I splinted Squanto’s leg from ankle to hip using sticks and furs. I found honeycomb and aloe stashed away in one of the surviving huts. I sewed his wounds closed the best I could with fish hooks and thin, leather strips before covering them in honey and aloe leaves. I crafted a sled from random wood scraps. Bundling Squanto in a mountain of furs, I dragged the sled south through the snow.
I kept us alive by hunting any game I could, fishing, and eating any plant that survived the cold. Some days we didn’t eat. Other days we didn’t travel at all. Squanto’s leg healed after a few weeks without any noticeable deformity. We fought more creatures as we slowly made our way south including a demon with a heart of ice, a princess that transformed into a giant toad, and a poor girl with skin made of moss. We parted ways eventually with Squanto heading east for the coast while I continued south, hoping to reach what would become Mississippi.