full screen background image
  Table of contents Issue Seventeen AICH-MUD-YIM



lone snowflake spirals past Father O’Brien’s hoarfrosted window. It is a scout, an icy outrider. Moments later, several more gallop by like crystalline Huns out for slaughter. A wicked spring blizzard is in the offing, and I’m cursing the horrible luck.

Swish, swish. Mrs. Walsh, the housekeeper, is scrubbing the manse floor for all she is worth.

For the hundredth time I fretfully regard the monstrous footprint in frozen mud, not ten feet from the window. If the snow socks in, we’ll not have a chance in hell of catching the...whatever. I use that word advisedly.

Ranger O’Halligan follows my gaze. “Simmer down, Captain. I keep tellin’ ya, Jimmy Jesso can track Jesus hopscotchin’ across the Sea of Galilee.”

“The war is long over, Hal. I’m just a Ranger like you.” I’ve corrected him a million times. In North Africa, in the Royal Artillery, I was a high mucky-muck officer. Now I draw a simple Newfoundland Ranger’s pay, just like him.

Hal chuckles, despite the horrific atmosphere pervading the manse.“Yur better educated than the Chief Ranger, sir. Ye should be in Whitbourne, callin’ the shots.” He takes off his fur Balaclava, and the caribou head badge winks in firelight from the hearth. With the coming storm, it’s so damned dark it might as well be night. “Still,” he continues with mild sarcasm,” come summer we’ll both be brand spankin’ new Mounties, won’t we?”

There is a motley crew plodding up the drung. I can just see them through wispy veils of snow. Must be Jesso and the rest of our posse.

“We will,” I answer, wearily collecting my army surplus Lee-Enfield rifle from Father’s umbrella stand. “Just like we became Canadians a year ago. Welcome to 1950.”

Mrs. Walsh awkwardly rises to her feet and massages the small of her considerable back. She regards the rosy, soapy froth in her scrub bucket. “Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?” Despite the grim situation, I suppress a smile. Mrs. Walsh, with not a letter to her name, has just quoted Macbeth.

“Father weren’t no Gandhi, Missus. He were 14 stone, big as a brick outhouse, if ye pardon me sayin’. Outport folk adored Hal. His folksy ways tickled their fancy. “I should say is, he’s not across the River Jordan yet.”

Dulcie Walsh scratches her bulbous nose, leaving a smidgen of soap on it. “No thanks to the creature. Jesus, Joseph and Mary, poor Father is shy o’ arm and a gallon o’ blood. And he was gutted like a cod fish.” Not a young woman, she gingerly lowers herself back onto the linoleum floor for another go at the blood pool.

Hal nods. “If anyone can save him, it’s Purser Hallet o’ the Bar Haven. He were a surgeon’s mate on a battleship in the last brouhaha.” He walks over to the fire to warm fingers calloused from years of pulling nets and salting fish. It‘s freezing because the back door is splintered to matchsticks, hanging askew on one bent hinge. No need for Sherlock Holmes to tell us how the intruder got in.

I button up my greatcoat, brooding on the fact I am not leaving on SS Bar Haven as scheduled. My assignment was to deliver relief checks and escort a lunatic to St. John’s. This vicious assault trumped that task, so now I am in on the pursuit as per orders delivered to Bar Haven’s wireless.

Pursuit of what? That is the question. On hearing rending wood and one truncated scream, Mrs. Walsh barrelled downstairs to find the Father O’Brien torn asunder, bleeding horrendously and out cold. She saw nothing, and he’s not likely to ever tell anything.

“He walks upright, he’s a man,” flatly declared Hal when we first studied the tracks a few hours ago. “That’s plain as day, though I grant ye Goliath wears a smaller boot.”

On his saying that I rewound Mrs. Walsh’s sewing tape. “This isn’t a boot print, Hal. And if it were, what man in these parts wears Brogans twenty inches long and 10 across?” We waited for the camera that was being run up from the coastal steamer.

Hal scratched his noggin, balding though he was just shy of thirty. “Godawful big Micmac Injun what wears moccasins?” It sounded lame even to him.

“Possibly. Not frigging likely.” Hell with it, might as well take the plunge. “Know what I did before the war, Hal?”

“Went to forestry school.” He was envious, though he had grade 11 himself.

“Yup. I worked in British Columbia a bare year before Hitler goose stepped on Poland. I saw vaguely human tracks like this on a mountainside above Kelowna.” Tracks, and a sawmill supply shed that was ripped apart like a Howitzer shell hit it. ”The upalong mountain trappers call these animals Bigfoot, surprise, surprise.”

Thrusting mittens under his armpits, Hal asks, “Animals? Grizzlies, ya mean?”

“Gorillas, more like, though they’re not from Africa I’m guessing. The Indians out there call them sasquatch.” And, truth to tell, Father O’Brien’s hideous wounds were made by tooth and claw, not a blade. I’d bet my meagre pay check on it.

Bar Haven’s pudgy cook wheezed up with the captain’s Kodak. It’s a long way up from the dock, for the Spruce Cove is tucked between steep, rocky headlands. As Hal pointed to the three or four prints we wanted photos of, he said, “You think a squash wandered out East?” The cook grunted at the size of the prints, now slightly covered by powdered snow, and commenced clicking.

“Sasquatch,” I amended. “If they exist.” As a man of science, I had to admit it was a long shot theory.

That was 10:00 am. Father O’Brien was mauled precisely at 5:00 o’clock, before dawn. The creature, or perpetrator if you took that view, had a fair lead.

In the present, a muffled knock sounds on the heavy plank front door. The stained glass panel above the small vestibule conveys no light, no cheer.

“We is away, Dulcie girl. Don’t ferget ta get me written report down ta the Bar Haven before she departs this evenin’.” This is Hal’s post, it is his situation report to pen.

Mrs. Walsh cocks her head to one side. “If you think the skipper is leavin’ in this blow, yur daft. An’ yur daft for headin’ into the woods taday. Ye’ll be up ta yur arse in white stuff.” She hesitates then, scarcely knowing if she should go on. “It were a rabid bear, weren’t it Hal? We’ve been hearing awful strange barks and yips out o’ the woods, all winter.”

Hal tsk-tsks, giving the skittish woman a reassuring pat on a broad shoulder that could heft Paul Bunyan’s axe. “Bears hibernate. This bad guy walks on two legs, an’ the prints ain’t bear like. We’re after a Mad Trapper o’ Rat River sort o’ brute.” He fails to add a winter starved bear would have thrashed this parlour and the neighbouring pantry, plainly not the case. This murderer stormed in, ripped Father O’Brien to pieces, and promptly exited.

The fire snaps. I start, but hide it well. The shadows in the room are threatening, damn near tarry and palpable. I haven’t felt so jumpy since the days before El Alamein.

Time to get this show on the road. I would rather be shot.

“Justice calls,” Hal quips, following me into the manse yard. In happier, sunnier times this is the site of parish garden parties.

Three men wait for us in the gloom, shivering as nasty gusts blow granulated sleet along a half built stone fence. With some men still in the lumber camps, and others out on the ice after seals, there are few able bodies in Spruce Cove. Consequently these fellas are not Argonauts, but I guess I’m no Jason neither.

Mr. Burke, the master of the Catholic school, can scarcely see through thick glasses crusting with snow. A skinny man of thin blood, he shakes in the wind though he must have six layers of wool bulking him. He’s like to die of exposure. Still, despite his owlish squint, he’s known for a crack shot. Besides, he is Father O’Brien’s particular buddy and vengeance minded. Burke is a cove notable, and so too is Danny Egan the merchant’s son. He’s just a half-baked kid, but today he cradles his dad’s 30-30 Winchester, the Gun that Won the West.

The third man will make or break us. Jimmy Jesso is a squat Jackie Tar, half Micmac Indian and half white. On the mainland they call such mixed folk Metis. His heavy, swarthy features, those I can see above a gray knit scarf, are wooden, absolutely expressionless. He wears a cone shaped beaver skin hat that looks far more warm than my government issue head rug.

Danny is right nervous, and he pipes in a reedy voice. “Is it true? Did Art Cahill bust loose and axe murder the Father?” As it happens, it’s Cahill I’m supposed to escort to the asylum.

“Pshaw,” scoffs O’Halligan. “Art’s crazy as a lovesick moose, but he ain’t volatile. He’s still barred in Aloysius Murphy’s shed. Ranger Karkness here will see him ta the nut house after this tragic business is concluded.” That is my introduction and I shake hands dutifully. Not with Jesso, however; he’s sauntered over to brush snow off the tracks. Like he would, being our tracker and all.

Hal announces our course. “Here’s the scheme, byes. The more observant o’ ye will have noticed this blizzard. Unless we runs inta the villain straight off, I hopes ta bunk in the Knights of Columbus fishin’ cabin on Long Pond. We should make it before drifts bog us down. Right? Clear as mud? One quick check o’ our gear and we hi-de-ho, byes.”

O’Halligan patrols much of the isolated Bay D’Espoir country, so he has a top notch mansled. Lashed on it are warm bearskins wrapped in oilskin tarps, bearpaw snowshoes, and a goodly satchel of grub which will run much to tinned beans, if I know Hal. Iron shackles are conspicuous, needed in the event we take this thing...this person...alive. I have serious doubts on person, considering the size of the footprint and the savagery of the attack.

Less than five years ago Hal was a gunner, an efficient sergeant. Checking his load is a mere formality. Mostly he settles his sled team, eight half tame huskies. I swear, they are more wolf than dog, especially Beelzebub, the black hellhound in the lead harness. Even so, as sprightly as he is, Hal’s brief pause allows Jesso to lumber over to a style in the stone fence and morosely slump into a drift covering the steps.

Fair to say he looks like he’s taken a whaling lance to the bread basket. Hal is more colourful. “What the hell Jimmy? You eat rotten eggs fried in maggoty butter?”

This delay is not good. One damned thing after another. As it is we may have to set out with storm lamps. The light is chancy.

Jesso doesn’t answer, and keeping our backs to freshening gusts we all trudge over to stand before him. The snow front is coming in pretty solid now.

“What gives?” asks Danny, unable to keep near panic out of his voice. Sure as gulls poop his pushy father made him join this expedition.

Jesso gestures toward the trail with sealskin mittens. “Aich-mud-yim.” Since we have nothing to say, he repeats more forcibly. “Aich-mud-yim.”

“We don’t have time for Micmac gibberish, Jimmy.” Not often do I see O’Halligan testy.

Though his teeth are chattering, Mr Burke answers for Jesso. “Aich-mud-yim was the Dark Man, the devil of the Beothuk Indians who have been extinct 120 years now.” To our blank stares, he adds, “A superstition by Indian mothers to keep toddlers out of the woods. Not so outlandish. Here in the outports, we solemnly inform children of the shambling Water Man who lives under fishing stages. It cuts down on child drownings remarkably.” The teacher is matter of fact, but his spook lecture just adds to our overall trepidation.

“A fairy tale?” Hal is amazed. “This ain’t a yimmy, Jimmy. This is a trapper who got cabin fever, lost his marbles. He leaves prints, ye can track him.” We’ll have tracks for maybe a half hour more in this weather. Thank God the wind is blowing the powdery stuff off flat surfaces.

Jesso doesn’t stir. I crouch down beside him. “Mr. Jesso, this thing is physical. It leaves a trail. If it’s flesh and blood we can shoot it. And we will, for it’s a public danger.” I’m surprised to realize I’m using “it”. I’m prepared to shoot first and ask questions later.

“Listen to the Captain, Jimbo. This man routinely put 105 mm artillery shells right in Rommel’s back pocket. He’s even better with a rifle.”

“Odd coincidence.” This is Burke, practically talking to himself. “Last November Pete, that is, Father O’Brien and I, were collecting flat stone to complete this very wall. About a half mile beyond Long Pond we came to a deep, narrow cleft in a rock face. It was a burial chamber, for we found gigantic bones wrapped in a long caribou hide shroud and surrounded by more gew-gaws than were present in Tut’s tomb. ” He removes glasses to wipe them with a much used handkerchief. He’s all fumble, what with his three pairs of mitts. “A Beothuk medicine man, we figured. We crated him up and sent him by steamer to St. John’s.”

More animated now, Jesso just dolefully shakes his head. You can practically see his thoughts in a comic strip bubble above his pointy hat. Stupid white men.

“There was even a broken sword blade in all the bric-a-brac.” He shrugs, further turning his collar against the wind. “The Beothuk were notorious thieves, especially with metal.”

Hal draws me to one side. “A weird affair an’ no mistake,” he mutters from the side of his mouth. “Ye think we’re after King Kong, and now Jimmy is scared shitless of an Indian Goblin.” He wipes his runny nose with a sleeve limned with snow. “We’re but minutes from the steamer. I can trot down an’ wire the Whitbourne barracks fer reinforcements.”

I shake my head, though the gibbering, primal part of me wants to agree, to avoid this shocking business. “Chief Martin will say I am your reinforcement. You know how scattered we are. Even if the chief sends help, it’ll be a big bellied sergeant nurse maiding a couple of rookies, and they’ll take a week to get out here.” That’s not the strongest deterrent to inaction. “We have a dangerous fugitive, and a fresh trail, however poor. The chief will flip his lid if we drag heels.” I’m damned by my own words. A wormy, oily fear corrodes whatever courage I possess.

I helped bundle the Father down to the steamer. I saw what the thing, the man, the Aich-mud-yim, did to him.

Shamefaced, my once sergeant allows a heavy sigh. “I knew that, Sir. Let’s offer Jesso the sun and the moon, and get mushing.”

I’m totally surprised Jesso agrees, though Hal shakes on two new rifles, an outrageous store of ammo and a blind eye to Jimmy’s next ten illegal caribou and moose kills, providing they happen before July when the Mounties take over. That’s a mother lode of meat for Jesso’s small encampment.

Another minute to light storm lamps and we are off. The Catholic Church and manse sit on a miserly plateau above the cove, just where the small but energetic Thompson River begins a rapid and frothy plunge to salt water. A woods road begins here and winds inland, hugging a steep slope. Below, a long drop to the left, is the Thompson, and as high again to our right is the jagged, ice crusted rock jumble of Blueberry Ridge. It is the only logical route for man or beast, and our path is confirmed when Jimmy finds a frozen, muddy heel print about a quarter of a mile out.

It’s big round as a dinner plate.

Reluctant point man though he is, Jesso’s bow-legged gait eats the miles. Beelzebub and his pack madly claw over the ice slick road, as heedless of the cruel wind as the hunter. Hal and I are pretty fit, used to long and lonely treks between scattered outports. Poor Burke is our drag, and though game, it is plain he is hurting. Without being told, Danny Egan brings up the rear, shouldering the school master along. So slowed, it is nearly twilight before our way leaves the bare slope and cuts through a gnarly tangle of fir and spruce so thick a rabbit would think twice before entering. The trees are wind tossed, squeaking and groaning like lost souls in Pandemonium.

Hell is not afire. Every Newfoundlander knows Hell is a place of eternal wind and heart crushing ice.

“Is he still taking this line, Jimmy?” I pant, jogging up beside him. Our guide nods an affirmative.

Jimmy is stoic, but his beady eyes dart worriedly. He doesn’t like being out here in this dark, not a bit. I wave a halt so we can strap on bearpaw snowshoes and let Burke lean onto his knees to catch breath.

Fierce Beelzebub sits on his haunches and howls. His fellows bark and whine at the tree line.

“Shut up, ye landlubbers, ye mangy hangashores.” Hal joins our small pow wow. “We’re a hop, skip an’ jump from the K of C cabin, an’ I’m mighty glad of it.”

I guess he would be. Lamps aside, our visibility is down to 25 feet, and the snow accumulation demands a slower slog with bearpaw snowshoes.

We mush into the unwelcoming woods. My military mind thinks it an excellent place for an ambush, especially with Burke and Egan trailing so far back. I exhaust myself snowshoeing back and forth along the line, and my hands are near frozen because I’ve taken off mittens to thumb the rifle safety more quickly. By the time we make the pond and the cabin, my nerves are nearly gone.

Hal unharnesses his pack, tethers each unruly dog close to the cabin porch, and tosses out a dozen freshly snared arctic hare he purchased from kids in Spruce Cove. After brooming snow off each man in turn, I enter the roomy cabin, built for parish excursions, and hastily fill the Franklin stove with excellently dried birch and poplar. Within seconds the crackle of burning wood has us heartened, and Mr. Burke sidles so close to the stove he’ll be scorched. From his phlegmy cough I guess he’ll welcome that. Danny makes himself useful by hanging coats, mittens, hats and outerwear near the stove to dry. Starving, I put on a kettle and load a huge cast iron frying pan with fatty bacon –nothing better in Creation than frying bacon- with molasses beans soon to follow. Hal is the last man in, and I’m surely not the only one to notice him padlock the door and triple knot the latch.

Not overly social, Jesso plants his back in one corner of the cabin, his rifle and shotgun by his side. He’s ready for bear.

Perhaps literally. There is still a one in a thousand chance we are hunting a rogue bear, despite the seemingly upright gait suggested by the indistinct, man shaped tracks. Even my sasquatch theory seems unlikely, now that several lamps light this stout log cabin and bacon sizzles in the pan.

The kettle sings, for a moment obscuring the hateful wind.

By and by, with all hands fed to the gunnels, I fill tin mugs with a witch’s potion Hal calls tea. Hal, a borderline alcoholic ever since the Tunisia campaign, adds a dollop of fiery rum to each drink. He surreptitiously treats himself a double tot. With the pungent but pleasant smell of drying wool, the cherry red glow from the stove pipe and the black and white photo of Pope Pius benignly looking down on us from above the sink, you would think this a normal cabin party. Even Mr. Burke is largely recovered, and his bookish hands scarcely shake as he thumbs the bowl of his pipe full of brandy flavoured tobacco.

“Should...should we set a watch, do ya think?” Young Egan lacks bravado. So do I, but I conceal it. Being a bloody Ranger, I have to.

“With my corps d’elite dog team on sentry duty?” Hal’s horselaugh fills the cabin. “Beelzebub will raise Cain if the bad guy shows up.” He turns to me and says, “Did I ever tell you, Captain, that his dame wandered off from Harbour Breton and was gone a full year? She come back in the spring, pup Beelzebub in tow. I figure he’s half wolf.”

“There’s been no wolf on the island for a ten year,” Burke gently rebukes, sucking his pipe to life.

“Tell that to Beelzebub.” Not a couth man, Hall nonchalantly scratches his bum.

“Maybe Beelzebub is the killer.” Danny Egan’s nervous jibe falls flat. First off, killer suggests the priest is now dead. Secondly, that our fugitive really is indeed a savage beast, capable of ripping a man to shreds with its canines.

Hal snorts derisively. “Beel ain’t no weredog. Nope, we’re on the heels of a garden variety homicidal maniac, a berserker.”

Startled, Mr. Burke mutters berserker around the stem of his pipe. The word seizes him, frightens him. I hear fearful cogs turning behind his rheumy eyes.

“Aich-mud-yim.” Jesso, again with his fatalistic refrain. Plain to see he’d be more cheery on the dark side of Pluto.

“Now, Jimbo, ya gotta give up the stiff necked Sitting Bull routine.” Hal tops up his drink, now more rum than tea. His two day stubble sheens bronze in kerosene light. “Deep six the Dark Man juju.”

The wind takes on a fierce keening note. My granddad used to say Elementals lived in the north wind, creatures older than the hills and the very sea. Tonight I believe him.

“There’s banshees in the wind,” Danny blurts. He senses it too.

The policeman in me just has to inquire. “Mr. Burke, a moment ago Hal tossed out the word berserker, and you jumped like a bee stung you.” Just a statement, but one that demands explanation.

It takes Burke a second to collect his thoughts. “ A...well, berserk means to go murderous. In the old Viking stories, the berserkers donned bearskin shirts and charged mindlessly at the enemy. Kill, kill, kill; that was their function. If they died, Valkyries carried them to Valhalla and Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn picked their earthly bones.” He slumps further into his rocking chair. I’ve seen men scared to death, and he’s one.

“How does that relate to the situation at hand?”

He draws a tremulous breath, and his eyes dart furtively. “That broken rusty sword we found in the burial cleft? A two handed broadsword, Pete was convinced. No naval officer of the modern age carried such a bulky weapon. From runes on the hilt, Pete opined the blade was Norse. Legend has it they sailed here. Maybe the bones we found belonged to a Viking spirit, imprisoned by the Beothuk medicine men.” Burke worried his sharp chin with a hand he could not keep still. “What if, by disturbing the Beothuk prison cell, we broke a magic seal keeping a long dead bear warrior at bay?”

“That’s...bonkers.” So sayeth the ranger whose best suspect is a Bigfoot.

“Ten times bonkers.” Hal snorts dismissively.

“Think on it,” Burke argues. “The sagas say the Vikings fought tooth and nail with the Skraelings, who were the Beothuks, sure as shooting. What if they sent home for a champion to turn the tide? What if the arriving Berserker was so fearsome the Indians took him for a demon? Called him Aich-mud-yim?” Burke's words come out in a torrent. “If the Beothuks managed to slay him, the medicine men would surely have warded the grave with umpteen different spells.”

A light bulb went on over Danny Egan’s head. “Father collected the bones, mucked the spells, and the freed bearskin guy went bananas on him?”

Mr. Burke gulped. “Precisely.”

Jimmy Jesso stirred to life. He pointed at Burke. “You and God Man disturbed the grave.”

“Meaning I’m next on the hit list,” Burked concluded, not able to keep the tremor out of his voice.

“On the Cockamamie Scale of one to ten, where ten is total bull poop, this sits at 50. It’s mumbo jumbo. You two sent the bones to St. John’s, for Christ sake.” Hal will have none of it.

“Aich-mud-yim!” Who else but Jimmy? “Dark Man ghost.”

“A ghost that leaves God Almighty footprints. That’s a friggin’ tangible bogeyman.”

So it sits. Yet another incredible theory to add to the rest.

A particularly malicious blast of wind cuts around the cabin.

Hal notices me listening, watching gauze curtains sway from drafts coming through the windows. “It’s not a fit night. Our adversary will have gone ta ground.” He taps his pipe over an ash pan by the stove. “I recommend we snooze by our arms, and answer nature in the thoughtfully provided K of C chamber pots. I reckon we’ll need our sleep, for there’ll be two foot of snow on the ground come mornin’.”

I offer a wan smile. “We could have used a sergeant like you in the field artillery.”

“I was one, not bein’ good lookin’ enough for an officer.”

Chuckling for once, we repair to our beds. Hal and I take bunk beds immediately opposite the door. Danny Egan and a deathly quiet Burke claim bunks near the stove. Jesso merely wraps a Hudson’s Bay blanket about himself and huddles in the corner, as far from the door as possible.

It’s not easy to sleep, but nervous exhaustion takes me in and out of scudding, fearful dreams. So it is, in a half doze, I start to a sudden yipping in the deep night. I sit bolt upright, heart yammering, listening intently. Nothing. Hand trembling, I shine our sole electric torch on the door. Still nothing.

As I said, my nerves are gone to pieces. I pass sleepless hours sitting in the dark, quietly feeding birch chunks into the stove’s firebox.

Dawn brings a new sound, one with dire implications. Freezing rain patters on the tin roof. Breakfast is steaming hot tea and shortbread cookies provided by Dulce. We are sipping and munching when Hal bellows from out back. There is anguish in his voice.

“The bastard. The murderin’ bastard!”

I’m the only one at the ready with sealskin boots on. Breathless, I bolt out the door, rifle at the ready.

Dog entrails are strewn over several drifts. The hindquarter of one animal is actually cradled in the fork of a maple tree, several feet off the ground. Snow drifts are coloured pink, as though a wedding cake has been covered in rosy frosting. Hal, mostly in shock and heedless of the cruel rain, is kneeling before what’s left of Beelzebub. The husky, the alleged half wolf, has been quartered.

This is what I heard in the dark. A lightning quick, ugly massacre.

As though through a third eye, my police mind still functions. There is a small chunk of flesh, covered by silky black fur, in the lead dog’s death-stiff jaws.

Hal sees it too, through tears. “A goddamn black bear, sir. A black bear got me dogs.”

Possible. However, it would take a mighty crazed bear to mix it up with a wild sled dog pack.

“Oh Jesus. Oh God.” That’s Danny’s contribution before he makes off to puke beside the woodshed.

Jimmy Jesso , a firearm in each hand, is crouching over a clear set of tracks. “Aich-mud-yim!” he cries. “Aich-mud-yim.” He’s said nothing bleeding else in the last fifteen hours.

“Belay that, you bloody Injun,” Hal hollers as he kicks viciously at a bloody drift. “It’s a bastardly bear after all.”

But...this morning’s tracks are clear, firmly imprinted in deep, frozen snow. No bear on earth made these biped tracks. Back to Bigfoot as public enemy number one. Or...

“B..ber..serker,” stammers Burke, pale faced and vainly swathed from the frigid rain.

I was waiting for that. “Cut it out, Burke. Damned if I know what we’re after, but a Viking madman a thousand years dead? Those are long odds.”

The teacher ignores me. “It got Father Pete. Now it’s gunning for me. Over all your dead bodies.” He abruptly shuts up as Danny noisily continues his sick up.

I suck in icy air, to calm ugly worms in my stomach.

Hal storms over to fetch his kit. “We got a trail. I’m gonna skin this Christer before noon.” He suddenly stops, noting I’m deep in thought. “Sir, we gotta move before it gets too far ahead.”

“No, Hal,” I think aloud. “A change of tactics is in order.” I have to bring logic into this, or I will panic and run. My mind is on the edge of gibbering as it is.

“I got a rifle magazine full of tactics,” he retorts hotly.

“Sergeant O’Halligan, what was my favourite saying in the war?”

Hal halts his rampage. He regards me, hardfaced. “It is better to bushwhack than to be bushwhacked?”

“Even so,” I agreed. I point to Burke and declare, “Whatever it is -I’ll call him Aich-mun-yim to keep Jimmy happy- my gut tells me it’s not running. Maybe it wants Burke, maybe not. But it’s aggressive, on the attack. We should use that. Say we send Burke hightailing back to the cove, Jimmy and Danny as escort. All bloody minded, Aich-mud-yim will trail them. You and I sit in wait and riddle the creature six ways to Sunday when it hooves in sight.”

Hal chews his lip thoughtfully. “Like we did to that Panzer column near the Mareth Line, in Africa.”

“Just so.” O’Halligan is too much an old soldier not to like the plan. Soldiers who attack get killed far more often than those who defend.

“Maybe we should fort up in the cabin. Walls are solid, windows are small. Five guns defendin’ one door.”

The idea has merit, but I veto it. “If it decides to besiege us, we are trapped. And if it rushes us and barrels through the door, we’ll shoot each other in close quarters. Need I add if it closes with us, it’s game over.” From Hal’s expression I needn’t add a syllable.

So it is we send our posse in full retreat. Jesso and Egan are visibly relieved, so much so that stout Jesso happily piggybacks Mr. Burke as they slog out. Danny is literally shotgun, waving Jesso’s scattergun much too anxiously for my liking. After giving them a ten minute start, Hal and I follow, finding the going tough since drifts are laminated with an inch of brittle ice.

The dismal rain stops, giving way to a freezing fog. Trees all about us are bent double, contorted with a heavy sheathing of dull ice. Fog can be good or bad. It can conceal us, but it can just as easily hide Aich-mud-yim.

Where the woods track is narrowest, and the trees are thickest, Hal and I take station to either side. I’m banking on this bogeyman to be single minded, to come straight on.

Hal is well hidden in a makeshift snow fort, but I can clearly see him fix bayonet. Not regulation for a Ranger to pack a pig sticker, but so O’Halligan. Wish I had one.

Marksmen habits die hard. I dig out a hollow for my hip as I position myself for rapid fire. I have a terrible feeling that if we don’t down the thing in seconds it will blitzkrieg us like it did the dogs. Like it did with Father O’Brien. I’ve never been so batshit scared, not even under Afrika Korps guns.

No place is as silent as the boreal forest in winter. It is so quiet I think there are fairy bells ringing in my ears.

That stops when two eagle sized ravens, black as sin, settle on an ice slick branch fair by us. By God, they are red-eyed! What did I just hear about ravens?

One discovers me with ruby eyes. They are man eyes, cold and hostile.

I can’t breathe. Even so, instinct kicks in. I remember shooting drills pounded into me. I rapid fire two rounds, unconsciously going for one bird’s head. There is an explosion of black feathers, and my aim is destroyed. I bolt upright, though my legs shake like straws, and brace for another burst.

“Sir, sir,” Hal cries, “did you hit the monster?” Then we hear a roar, like ten tigers in mortal pain. I am paralyzed.

It staggers within our vision, clutching one side of its face. Through cold mists, we make out a flowing beard and long matted hair. He’s as tall as King Og, the giant King of Bashan in the Bible.

Hal is quick to seize advantage. With belying quickness for a large man, he jumps onto the trail, and screaming a war cry straight from basic training, fiercely lunges with the bayonet. It digs into the giant’s arm, a meaty jab that forces the gleaming, bloodless point through the giant’s forearm. But Hal is too close, too welded to his rifle, and before he can dodge aside the thing pivots about. Its free arm takes the side of Hal’s head like a sledgehammer, and I hear his cranium crack as he drops like a sack of potatoes. In a feral rage it steps back, gathering for another terrible blow, and it doing so…

… blunders into a tree.

And the tree bursts into billowing, orange flame. I swear, like a storm trooper took a flamethrower to it.

Aich-mud-yim, or the Viking Berserker, recoils, his fur vest fully engulfed. He staggers off down the trail, yipping like a skinned fox. An acrid smell of old, burned hide follows in his wake.

“Holy sweet Jesus,” I mouth. Summoning a reserve of courage, I scramble through the snow to Hal’s side. To no avail. His crushed head hangs at an odd angle, neck plainly broken. Either wound would have killed him. “Oh Sarge, what a long road to end like this.”

Ten feet away, one of the gargantuan ravens is splayed in the snow. I’ve shot its head off, and inky, smoking blood eats the ice like acid.

Which one are you? Huginn or Muninn?

Aich-mud-yim lost an eye when I nixed the raven. No logic tells me this, I just know.

“I’ll be damned.” In a low voice, I repeat this mantra as I gather myself. A dogberry tree, covered in ice, still burns like a Roman Candle. Utterly impossible, but so.

Dogberry? In the Old Country dogberries are Rowans. Wiggin trees. Mountain ashes. The educated forester, gunner officer, and Ranger are eclipsed by a hunter who thinks magically. Bigfoot be damned.

I know tree lore, from an elective at Forestry School. The Rowan tree is magical. Witches hate it. And maybe Berserker ghosts too, for it stumbled blindly into this one and the plant ignited in hellfire.

I’m way out of my league. This is crazy weird demon stuff. With my partner gone I should get back to the cove, wire the Premier, and have him dispatch a destroyer from Halifax. One with twenty or thirty marines. But Canadians don’t have marines, and that reminds me I am utterly alone against an eldritch monster, a thing that last drew breath a millennia ago. A badly wounded thing that has a gaping hole for an eye and third degree burns on half its hairy body.

But I have a weapon.

“Don’t worry, Sergeant. I’ll be back for you, once I get even.” So saying, I upend my kit bag and fill it with bunches of frozen, wizened Rowan berries that have survived winter-hungry songbirds. Slinging it over my shoulder, and fishing Hal’s bayoneted rifle from the snow, I tear after Aich-mud-yim like a champion snow hare. I have tracks in crusty snow, made scarce minutes ago, so it is plain the hurt giant did not circle around to pick up Burke’s trail. My breath blossoms like gouts of steam from a locomotive. I keep watching the tree tops, hopeful of the second Odin raven. However, my gut tells me I won’t be so lucky a second time.

I reach the K of C cabin, its front yard littered with canine gore, and circle out back. For I have a plan.

I squat by a corner of the cabin, and make it obvious that I am clumsily positioned for another ambush. I prepare myself with my gear and a borrowed axe from the woodshed. By and by, like I hoped, the condor-sized raven wings to a treetop quite a ways off. It is wary now, but has no trouble spotting me. And if it sees me, Aich-mud-yim sees me.

Did I say I was scared? Ratchet that up to stark terror. My bones feel like water. But I’m not shell shock mindless. Fear paralyzes the mind, and giving into that is a sure fire way to get killed.

It should be close. I can expect animal cunning, on par with a human. For by God it was human once, probably a warrior of renown who drank mead in his Jarl’s hall an ocean away.

The merest swish of snow warns me.

The monster rounds the corner with a harrowing roar. Instinctively, I thrust with the bayonet, much like Hal did. But unlike Hal, I have coated the blade with mashed dogberries.

A grenade would not have worked better. The blazing steel erupts in the giant’s dead (undead?) flesh. Half his torso ripples and melts, and his beard catches fire like shredded birch bark. So infernal is the flash that my own cheeks sear pink.

This is what galvanizes me. Sheer pain. Otherwise, my knees might fold. I seize the axe, similarly coated with berry paste, and deliver a frenzied blow to its hip. This time the backlash hurls me onto the rear stoop of the K of C cabin. Though stunned, I still have the wherewithal to shrug out of my greatcoat which is licking flame. I scarce notice burned hands as I struggle to my feet.

The axe head severed its right leg. Yet the growling, barking warrior collects itself and crawls on its stomach toward me. Maimed, but not incapacitated, it continues the fight.

Licking blistered lips, I toss my opened satchel, still half full of the lethal berries, onto its back, and immediately dive into a snow drift. To my best estimate, the resulting explosion is like the impact of an 80 mm mortar round. I am knocked out of the snow and onto my back.

I flail to my knees, knowing I can’t take another hit like that.

The warrior is quite dismembered. Grotesquely torn asunder. Yet parts of him still crawl over the snow, like black spiders. I vomit then, much like Danny Egan just a couple of hours ago. Though weak as a kitten, I stagger over to the forest and cut several branches from an ubiquitous dogberry tree. And with no little savagery I stake every moving appendage into the frozen ground. One large stake I reserve for what I assume is Aich-mud-yim’s heart. And lastly, I thrust a stick into the Berserker’s remaining eye, which still glares hatefully. From out it the forest, I hear an avian screech. The second Odin Raven just bit the dust.

Half dead, I crawl into the cabin and curl into a fetal position.

That is where Jimmy Jesso and the rescue partly find me.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were gracious. Though a broken man, they gave me a desk job in St. John’s. But what else could they do for the Ranger who ended the Mad Murderer of Spruce Cove? Not a bone exists as to the Murderer’s existence –I assume they are boxed in a museum not far from my office- but enough bits and pieces were taken from the snow to attest to my battle with…something.

A priest killer, a Ranger killer, an Aich-mud-yim.




Dwain Campbell, a 56 year old retired school teacher and guidance counsellor, has been published in Canadian Tales of the Fantastic, Tesseracts, Canadian Tales of the Mysterious, and his collection of short stories Tales From the Frozen Ocean is available on Amazon.com.

The authors published at HelloHorror retain all rights to their work. For permission to quote from a particular piece, or to reprint, contact the editors who will forward the request. All content on the web site is protected under copyright law.