Wendigo, a Winter Story


ice text


   A man in a bulky white parka is running across a snowy landscape.
   The hood pulled over his head is lined with seal-gray fur.
   He is wearing plastic goggles that are caked in frost.
   He is running and running across, A) the Arctic tundra, B) a distant moon, C) a glacial purgatory, D) all and none of the above.
   The man, tromping through snow and ice in rubber boots, is flying a fire-orange kite.
   You can hear the man breathing heavily; audio magnified to a point of near-distortion.
   You can see the clouds of smoke emitted from his mouth.
   Icy winds grip and seize the plastic body of the kite,
            producing a manic ruffling.
   The ruffling of the kite like a thousand plastic fingers typing on lots of typewriters all at once, a textural riot.
   The icy winds like the low undigested rumbles of thunder,
            like ghost trains.
   And then there’s the man’s heavy breathing, completing the polar symphony.
   The man keeps running and running, the kite twists and bobs and dives and arcs.
   If seen from a distance,
  the kite appears an epileptic red dot, a jittery platelet, set against the blanched, gauzy sky.
   The sky can be interpreted as, A) an elephant graveyard, B) the chalky iris of an overseeing god, C) encyclopedias of absolute silence, D) memory loss
   The man keeps running and running, his breathing now ruptured steam pipes, several times he trips only to get right back up, running and running and
   Certain aspects of the landscape are darkened by milk-blue shadows. Other aspects of the landscape are celestially bright, a white burning white that is impossible to gaze at directly for more than a few seconds.
   At a certain unspecified point, the man stops running.
   The kite, anchored to the man’s stillness, continues its wind-powered rhapsody, though its frenzy is now spatially contained.
   You hear the kite’s plastic voice clamoring.
   You hear the wind’s Teutonic commands, mongrel and harsh.
   You hear the man’s breathing slowing down to white fire.
   The man sits down on a mound. The mound in its perfectly sculpted tiers resembles a wedding cake, and the man,
     seated on top,
                 a substitute groom,
                 dressed for winter.
   A light snow begins to fall. Wind-whipped it doodles and swirls.
   The snow falls heavier, a siege—flutters of popcorn, glacial commas, torn feathers.
   A perspective shift. We now see through the man’s frost-caked goggles.
   In the distance, maybe one hundred yards or so, a figure appears at the top of a snow-fleeced hill. The figure remains poised at the top of the hill, and because we are seeing through the man’s goggles, the figure is genderless, obscured by distance and falling snow.
   From out of the sky’s voluminous absence, at the equidistance point between the man and the figure on the hill, falls an antique music box. Then another, and one more.
   Three antique music boxes, each with a caramel lustre to their exquisitely crafted wooden builds.
   All three partly sunk into the snow, they begin playing music. Even though they each play a different song, there is an emotional resemblance, a tonal thread, connecting the three. Slow, melancholic, pulverized glass.
   The figure dances its way down the hill, a ritual blend of ballet and death-throes, and when it reaches level ground we now see that the figure is a woman.
   Her upper body is sheathed in a dark leotard, her legs cased in leopard-print tights. Her face, though, remains blurred, an embryonic swab.
   The three music boxes continue playing, with the occasional hiccup or wrinkle creating dissonance, and the woman continues dancing her dance of dead winter,
of new bones, of ice, of deepdark, of lonely wordless nights.
   In seeing through the man’s goggles, we now know that he is crying,
   our view of the woman growing liquidly distorted.
   The changes affected by the man’s tears not only alter how we see the woman,
   but also the sensual and emotional climate through which we feel her.
   As the concert of the three music boxes draws to a close, the mouth of the landscape opens up and swallows the woman, bit by bit.
   At first her ankles, followed by her knees, torso, chest, shoulders, neck and head, and gone.
   A choked whiff of air, an inadmissible no escapes from the man’s mouth.
   The tears inside the goggles have frozen into beads of penitence.
   The man rises from the mound and walks, kite in tow, to the spot where the woman was swallowed.
   The only evidence that she had been there: several strands of dark hair, haiku veins, frozen beneath the skin of snow.
   All is deep silence except for the incessant chattering of the kite.
   The man ascends the hill over which the woman appeared. When he reaches the top he sees, in the near distance, a small cabin. Gray plumes of smoke spiral from its chimney, and there is a single square window.
   The man begins walking toward the cabin, the kite and the wind holding a conversation.
   In the ten or so minutes that it takes the man to reach the cabin, the sky’s paleness has darkened violet and lavender, a slow-moving geography of bruises.
The man’s gloved hand thudding
against the door becomes,
for an instant, the loneliest
sound in the universe.
Somehow aware of this, the man stops knocking, as if he were embarrassing God.
Shame keeps him outside the door, unknocking, as he considers actions past, present, and future.
The snow doesn’t let up, and the conversation between the kite and the wind has grown testy.
   The last thought that struck the man, before he cautiously opened the unlocked door of the cabin—(The heat produced by shame doesn’t warm anything, it only adds to the cold, the freeze).
The man enters the cabin.
Closes the door behind him.
Lays his weary kite on the floor.
Directly ahead of the man, a round wooden table and a wooden chair, and beyond the table a cobbled fireplace, hosting a concert of flames bright and crackling.
The man begins shedding—gloves, goggles, parka.
Warmth slowly returns to his fingers and face, a prickly flood of pink.
When his hands are sufficiently warmed he unlaces his boots and wrangles them off. He peels off the second layer of thermal socks, which are moist, and leaves on the dry first layer of thermal socks.
The man’s appraisal of his surroundings is a quick one, as there isn’t much to the cabin. On one of the walls hangs a rusted anchor and a spear-fishing gun; the remaining three walls are bare.
No food, no supplies, no other objects except for several red shoeboxes set near the fireplace.
His fingers having regained full sensitivity, the man kneads the skin on his face.
Next his fingers meditate on his hair, then a gentle massaging of his scalp.
When the man feels gesturally restored to a physical context, he rises from the chair and walks over to the red shoeboxes.
   He sits down, bracing against the cobbled perimeter of the fireplace, its heat approximating love.
   He reaches over to one of the shoeboxes and removes it lid.
   He peers inside and sees a white envelope set on top of a stack of photographs.
   He opens the unsealed envelope and draws out the yellow paper, folded in two, which the envelope contains.
   He unfolds the yellow paper. There are two lines, written in pencil, which he reads aloud.
You have been here before.
Take what you need and go.
   As if doubting his voice, or reason, or ability to simultaneously read and comprehend, the man reads the words again.
You have been here before.
Take what you need and go.
   The man reconsiders the cabin, as if trying to penetrate a joke. Or riddle. Or both.
   A table. A chair. A rusted anchor. A spear-fishing gun.
   Take what you need and go?
   The man suddenly becomes too aware of his own breathing and grows frightened.
   He places the yellow paper back inside the envelope, and sets the envelope off to the side.
   The man examines the photos next, Polaroids, and in going through them he feels his mind slipping through his fingers, at first slowly and then picking up speed, with each photo depicting the same exact thing, not a shred of variation.
A young girl,
blonde hair bound in a spray of pigtails,
denim overalls, white T-shirt beneath,
round face alight with a smile
punctuated by a subtle gap between her front teeth,
standing in a grassy meadow, right knee slightly bent,
left hand puddled in string
that extended to a lemon-yellow kite
hovering in the background.
   The photo exemplifies a perfect summer day, one of those ephemeral keepsakes.
   The man, with an almost obligatory casualness, goes through the other three shoeboxes, knowing what each one would contain. The same photo, again and again.
   The man spreads the photos on the wooden floor and counts.
   Seventy-seven in all.
   Seventy-seven photos of the summer girl with the lemon-yellow kite.
   The man does not recognize the girl. Yet there is something about her. What is it?
   He views the photos from different angles, hoping he might stumble upon the perspective that will unlock a memory. This doesn’t happen.
   The man closes his eyes.
   Slows down his breathing.
   Waits, waits,
   opens his eyes.
   The girl, the gap between her front teeth, the grassy meadow, the lemon-yellow kite.
   The man rails against blankness, repeatedly, and is about to give up when he notices something different in the photo that he was most fixated on (bottom row, third from the left).
   He picks it up and holds it close to his face.
   To the immediate left of the kite, slightly further in the background, a dark spot, what looks like a stray eyelash.
   Despite its vague character, the man feels certain that the mark is a bird.
   The man slowly and carefully examines the other seventy-six photos.
   The bird does not appear in any of those photos.
   The discovery of the bird registers two immediate effects upon the man, 1) He feels sadness, like an overdose of hard candy, sitting in his chest, and, 2) He is compelled to burn seventy-six of the photos, and save what he considers the original one, the Bird One.
   As if feeding the fire necessary kindling, he tosses the photos into the fireplace, several at a time.
   The man watches the flames cripple and maim the photographs until they have been converted into ashes.
   Then he sits down at the table and stares deeply at or into the Bird photograph.
   He wants to get lost inside it so as to find out more—about the girl, who she was, who she was not, something.
   In this way several hours pass.
   The man, who has re-emerged from his trance-trip with the same amount of knowledge he had going into it, realizes that he is shrouded in velvety and absolute darkness.
   He gets up and opens the front door.
   Winter, as a carnivorous wraith, sinks countless teeth into his face.
   The man winces, and blinks several times, adjusting to the new reality upon which he has opened the door.
   It is night. In the most prehistoric and beginningless sense.
   The man encounters this night as, A) dark gospel, B) silence between the first and last Word, c) a spiritual lost and found, D) where are you now?
   The entire landscape is lit by pale greenish moonlight,
   giving it the look of a spectral pool, glowing softly.
   The sky and vista remain torn with snowfall.
   The man stares out past the hill over which he came, and remembers the Winter-swallowed woman, the concert of the three music boxes.
   He recalls it vividly, and pain like sharp glass twists in his heart.
   It is that pain, fresh and prophetic, that compels him
   to close the door,
   put on his boots,
   then his parka,
   gloves and goggles,
   and set off into the Night,
   guided by inner directive.
   The man considers his kite, its climate-scarred body.
   He decides to leave it in the cabin, what will become its final resting place.
   The man opens the door and heads out in the direction of the hill.
   He walks slowly, with a fatal sense of purpose.
   We now see the man through the eyes of the cabin,
   a solitary figure growing smaller and smaller,
   contracting into a speck,
   as he closes in on the hill.
   When the man reaches and climbs over the hill, we can no longer see him.
   Just the snow-torn landscape pooling specters and greenish moonlight.
   What we cannot see is the man digging with his gloved hands,
   in the spot where he believes the woman was swallowed,
   a hidden burial site where he will go on digging
   in search of the summer girl
   with the lemon-yellow kite,
   an impossible sacrifice
   to the gods of winter
   and Memory.














About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag. His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.
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