For the majority of my adolescent life, I lived down Kettle Valley Road in a house past the graveyard; on top of the mountain. With no car to speak of, I often had to walk home after my days’ events had concluded. The trek had become so familiar to me by the time I reached my teenage years that eventually, the darkness of the journey no longer fazed me: or, at least, it did not scare me. I believe, looking back on my life, that it was this false sense of security that led me to that fateful night where I first encountered the Wendigo.
I try not to remember much about the event, but I do remember that it was the summer of 1983. The heat was making the hairs on the back of my neck stick to my skin. Of course, it would be dishonest for me to say that that was the only thing making me sweat; the sickening amounts of whiskey I had just pounded back at a friend’s parents house that overlooked Kawkawa Lake certainly didn’t help matters. In the aftermath, I was attempting to walk my way down the road that led to my mountain, although it quickly became less of a jaunt and more of a stumble.
I could not see much farther ahead of me than where my feet were placed on the ground. I was nothing if not experienced with the path in front of me, sober or not. In fact, the walk went off without a hitch. Unsurprisingly, it was pitch black and the weariness of bears was in the back of my mind, but these were both such trivial things to me after living in such an isolated place for so long. So I just pushed those thoughts aside, and forcing my mind shut to such unsavory thoughts did work, thankfully: that is, until I got about halfway up the hill.
I cannot even begin to describe the strangeness of the feeling that suddenly hit my body. I guess you could compare it to having ice cold water poured on your head whilst in a hot tub, but even that wouldn’t do what I experienced justice. Although it greatly bothered me, I played it off as an effect of both my fatigue and intoxication. I thought it would dull down, that the rushing in my head would dull, but it only got stronger; so much so that I had to cease my walking.
I never had a flashlight when I walked home, so I didn’t see him approaching until we were nose to nose. At first I thought he was just a large deer, but quickly dismissed the thought as his antlers were much bigger than that of a buck. His skin was grey, and pulled so tightly over his bones that I felt if I put a hand on him, it would instantly break away. Not that there would be much more than bone to see underneath; he greatly resembled a skeleton, and a starved one at that. And his eyes, oh his eyes, deep set and redder than the devil’s himself. But worse still was his smell: like roadkill left in the blazing sun.
The encounter couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but time seemed to stop. I held my breath as he, almost politely even, stepped to the left side of me and passed, brushing my shoulder as he moved, causing the most intense explosion of goosebumps. After a few seconds, I turned my head to glance back. I saw him slowly cut down the mountain’s bank in the direction of the Coquihalla River, vanishing. Immediately, my blurry vision, which had cleared while I had held him in my sights, reappeared. I ran home as fast as my sloshed body would allow me, and never told anybody, especially not my parents, about the situation. I feared I would be ridiculed for such a ridiculous, stupor-induced hallucination. Although I tried to convince myself of just that, something in my bones told me that such a happenstance was more than your basic pipedream.
It’s been years since the incident. Hell, I haven’t even lived in town for years. When I was offered work after high school in another province, I readily agreed. I told myself it was just the prospect of good money that pushed my wills; in reality, it was the constant itching under my skin that I felt every time I walked the path up my mountain, or saw a dead animal on the side of the road. And it did help. I barely even remembered my experience with the unknown skeletal mountain man once I was finally settled in; it only passed my mind when I sat in the moonlight for too long, or put back too much whisky.
Eventually, I did begin returning for holidays, in the company of my wife and children. They love the area, and in a strange way I too always feel the need to return to my hometown; like some unseen force is always pulling me back. Whenever I come back to Hope, so does that itch I used to feel as a young man.
I’m not sure why it had to be this summer, thirty-seven years after our original encounter, that he found me again. Maybe with the pandemic in full swing and so many people staying at home he finally had the privacy to wander the town again.
It was nearing the end of our yearly summer visit, and I decided to leave my wife and children safe in our motel room to go for a late-night drive. In the mood to reminisce, I put the car in drive and headed to my old address. Of course, I didn’t make it all the way to the top of the mountain I used to call home, not wanting to disturb the current owners. I simply parked my car along the Pipeline Road, looking out onto the path leading to my old residence that I used to walk daily; and where I had first seen that hideous creature. This time, however, I had an advantage I hadn’t had years before: my headlights.
It’s how I saw him coming, not that it did anything to stop him heading towards me. With my brights on I could make out all of his features: the same horns, gaunt grey skin and lanky arms. The only thing that did catch me off guard about his appearance was the wrinkles on his forehead; almost as if he was aging as a human would. His advance was as gradual and unrushed as it had been the first time, like he had nothing but time and nothing to fear; and I suppose, in hindsight, he didn’t.
I wasn’t surprised when he approached my car, nor when he motioned for me to roll my window down. I did so, less reluctantly than you might have thought, but still with my hands shaking. He still smelled the same, too, although it was a bit muskier; almost like the inside of a retirement home. What did surprise me, though, was when he placed his bony, fog coloured hand on my shoulder; and the spots that invaded my vision when he mumbled the words “It’s been a long time, Chris”. After that, he simply walked over the edge of the Pipeline Road, and just like all that time ago, vanished.
My drive home was on autopilot, my skin throbbing the entire time. I never told anybody about my encounter. Thankfully, I was able to convince my wife to leave for home a week earlier than we had planned. I needed to leave before I lost my mind. My bones still itch, even now, months later. I do feel lucky that I haven’t spotted the Wendigo again since we got back to my current city; unless, of course, you count the nightmares.
This tale is not a ploy to try and cause fear within your residents, or to drive housing prices down enough for me to be able to purchase an additional home in your scenic town. I just know I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to the unknowing, if I hadn’t at least tried to get my account across. In the end, my conscience is now clear and in this statement I heed my final warning: Beware of the friendly Hope Wendigo.
This fictional account was submitted to the Hope Standard by Sydni Lane. The Winnipeg-based author’s father grew up in Hope and Sydni and her family would holiday here every summer. The story is loosely based on parts of her father’s childhood, Lane said, yet whether a Wendigo truly exists in these parts we shall never know for sure.