The mountain side amplified the bullet fire. It weighed on me as if I was in a war zone. I covered my ears with one woollen glove to make the ringing stop. Garmin and I exited the tent. Cold fingers froze my under layer to me in greasy clumps. The gunfire stopped; in its place eerie moans carried across the wind. I picked my way quickly across the frozen tundra, my steps hurried as they were when I’d cross a graveyard in my youth. I caught myself holding my breath, then abashed myself for falling prey to superstition. After that. Silence. I squinted against the snowflakes blowing around us but could see nothing of the horror that waited. After a choked silence Henderson’s resumed pistol fire made me start. For one sickening second, I thought he’d spotted the wolf pack and was taking pot shots at them. My heart lurched in my chest at the idea of the white pelt going home with anyone but myself.
The reality that faced us was much stranger. The villagers, emboldened by our departure, had massed on Henderson and the Bristol. I spied the boy Garmin bartered his knife to plunge the blade into the thick metal of the great bird, trying to harvest as much sheet metal as the blade could bite into. As if emboldened by the vandalism, the remaining villagers redoubled their efforts and followed suit. They plunged home made weapons, crude metal blades on the ends of long poles, into the Bristol. The wind carried their groans of satisfaction down the mountainside. When the blowing snow cleared from my vision I saw the area surrounding the helicopter stained red. Villagers lay in crumpled heaps where Henderson had dropped them with his M1911. My heart sank as I spied his panic stricken face through the fogged glass of the cockpit. Panic gripped me at the sight of the rotors firing.
Garmin fought through the crush, tearing villagers away from the machine. A well-built man, much the same frame as his grandson, Garmin tossed the frail hoard with ease. I stepped into a few with the butt of the Kar98. I felt no satisfaction Lucian, I tell you that much. The wretches crumpled when they were hit, hungry eyes glassing over as they drifted from consciousness. Garmin damn near threw one off the cliff side they were so malnourished. He battled close enough to throw the door of the Bristol open and grab our gear. He screamed something at Henderson, but their words were lost in the scream of the throttled-up engines. Razor sharp ice pellets sliced the air, ripping open nicks in the sallow flesh of those still close to the helicopter. I stepped back shielding my face and bumped someone behind me. I caught sight of Garmin whose completion turned the colour of the surrounding snow at what he saw behind me. I felt hair graze my neck before I spun around to stare into the hollow sockets of the Shaman, it’s jaw softer and more feminine once again before the head inclined to watch the Bristol lift off. The jaw hardened and The Shaman spit a single word in that same halting guttural tongue that Garmin had communicated to it in. I didn’t need to know the dialect to understand the curse.
It pointed at the departing bird and then to its chest where it had lashed the child in some kind of harness made from sinew and skulls. The child was wrapped in furs so tightly I couldn’t get a look at it but its stillness unnerved me. Void of motion or sound the only word I can use to describe it is unnatural. I pushed the shaman, horrified at its closeness. You must understand me, Lucian. I was angry, am angry still, at those people. They existed in bastardized symbols of the bombs that decimated grandfather’s brewery. They took just as the soldiers had, without any care for the lives impacted, the fortunes halted. They had taken my past from me, and now threatened to take my future. I wanted the wolf not just for the trophy, but to take something from them. To my misguided mind an eye for an eye was the only way to satisfy my outrage.
I remember spitting out a refusal once again to take the Shaman’s lifeless abomination with me. I damned the Shaman and damned its unnatural child too. I’d shouldered my rifle against the Bristol’s wind, and in doing so was left with only my hands to strike out. I shoved the Shaman away from me, shouting one final refusal. The Shaman was fast. Until then its hands remained hidden in the folds of its furs. I leapt forward and lashed out in defence against my attack. A hidden knife sliced through my woollen pants. It was small, the blade curved like a crescent moon. I reeled from the sting of the blade as it cut into my flesh. The Shaman seemed to speed up, rubbing some sort of foul-smelling paste into the torn threads of my trousers and into the broken skin.
I locked eyes with it then. Not the lifeless sockets of the skull it wore, but the actual pupils beneath it. It was human once, of that I’m sure, but the madness I saw swimming in those eyes dispelled any humanity that was left in it. The thing was a being of pure ill intent and chaos, and I was the victim of its ire. Garmin was at my side then, putting himself between the Shaman and me. He spoke to it and gestured back towards its shelter, slashing the air with both hands as he did so. He pointed at me and up to the dark grey abyss that Henderson had lifted off into. He pointed between us several times and then stabbed his hand at the Shaman accusingly.
The villagers seemed uninterested in revenge for their fallen. They looted what they could and fought over boots and flannel scraps. The Shaman took in the scene and looked back at Garmin, silent. After a few moments it lifted one bony arm and pointed across the village, beyond the fire pit. A rock wall boxed in the village, and through the blowing snow a pathway became barely visible. It seemed hard to imagine the pass without it, but I was convinced it hadn’t been there when we landed.
The Shaman spoke. Its tone reserve, yet a sly edge began creeping in as it continued. It pointed at me and spoke a few more words letting out a yelp of laughter. Garmin turned to speak to me over his shoulder “It says what you want is through the pass.”
“Bully that.” I spit “What did it do to me?” I had been careful in removing the paste, but it smeared through the fabric of my trousers. The slash in my leg stung and I couldn’t tell if it was from the initial wound or whatever the concoction was that the Shaman hit me with. Garmin relayed the question and was met with another of The Shaman’s head splitting laughs and it’s reply. Again he turned his face toward me to be heard over the shrieking winds.
“It says it defended itself. That you will live unhurt.”
“Unhurt? The thing cut me. What has it done to me Garmin damn it all!” Garmin turned back to continue speaking but the ground before us was vacant of any being. Even all footprints were wiped clean. I should have demanded to leave then, my mind reeled to comprehend but I convinced myself it was some trick of the snow. That the shaman had somehow blended in with the surroundings or retreated to a secret tunnel. For all I knew all the village structures could have been connected. I should have put some more thought into it but I was so eager to find that wolf I didn’t care. I didn’t care what stood in the way and I only saw the Shaman as an obstacle. Once we were through the pass, I was convinced Garmin could administer first aid. Even as I contemplated the wound, I felt like it was burning less and less. Garmin approached me then and handed off my kit bag. A shiver rippled through me as I thought of the dry clothing I had packed. I met Garmin’s gaze and read the same confusion in his green eyes. His square jaw working against clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I didn’t see the thing, otherwise I would never-” Garmin started until I waved him off.
“Forget it Garmin, put the god forsaken thing behind us, what of Henderson?” Garmin huffed in distain.
“The coward said he’ll do a fly over every two days, but he won’t land until we flare him in.”
I nodded, hoping that within his first fly over we would be off the mountain. I’ve heard it said that ignorance is bliss. If that’s the case then both Garmin and I were filled with it as we ascended the pathway through the mountains. Both of us aware that death would take one of us by the next days end.