The story is getting cranked up. You have all responded so kindly. Let’s see if we can keep the train rolling as Edmund and the team push deeper into the wilderness, ignoring the sign at the end of the road stating, “Here be monsters.” Read on, my friends, read on.
On a side note- Mister Cofield is actually based on a knucklehead I worked for while I was assigned to the 1st battalion 377th field artillery regiment (Air Assault) at Fort Bragg, NC shortly before the war began in 2001.
A Matter of Life and Death Part Seven
It started snowing shortly after dusk. Small flakes at first. Ones that melted upon impact. The heavier, bigger flakes came soon after and began accumulating quickly. Winds picked up, buffeting against the already weary handful of explorers. Edmund pulled his hood closer around his face and neck and trudged forward.
Winter was deepening, giving him considerably less time to conduct his task, and save his daughter, than previously. The combination of worsening weather and inhospitable terrain put him in a bad position. Now that night was falling he needed to find a suitable place for shelter. Otherwise….
Freezing wasn’t an option. Edmund led them deeper into the Canadian wilds until stumbling across a small clearing in the middle of a forest of firs and birch.
“This will do. We need to get a fire going and the tents set up before it gets too dark,” he told the others.
Cofield pressed a finger against one of his nostrils and blew out of the other. “I don’t seem to remember you being in charge.”
Edmund balled a fist. He’d been around bullies before and knew the best way to get one to back down was by standing up to the situation. Unfortunately, he had no doubts that Cofield wouldn’t hesitate to put a round through him the moment opportunity arose.
“Fine, tough guy. You make the call, but we camp here.”
No one moved. Anger flared in Cofield’s eyes. His free hand dropped toward his rifle trigger well. All it would take was one shot and he’d be done with this mess. Too bad Rolstein gave specific instructions to bring Sorenson back alive. Everyone else was expendable.
“Fair enough,” Cofield backed down. “Set up the camp and get the fire going. Harris and I are going to scout the area. Wouldn’t want your boogeyman sneaking up on us in the night.”
Laugh all you want, but I know what I saw. Edmund ignored him and unslung his pack. The microfiber tent popped up with incredible ease. He stowed his care, all but his rifle, inside and helped Mara and their fumbling medic whose name remained elusive.
“You shouldn’t taunt him like that,” Mara warned. “I’ve worked with him before. He’s…a violent man.”
Edmund shrugged her concerns off. “I’ve dealt with men like that. They’re all talk.”
“Not Cofield.” She froze and whispered. “Careful. He’s back.”
Edmund resisted the urge to look and finished driving in the last tent stake. “There, you’re all set. Eat something once we get the fire going. You’ll need the inner warmth.”
“The area is clear. Where’s the fire?” Cofield demanded.
“You’re certain it’s clear?” Edmund asked.
“I didn’t stutter.”
Nothing positive would come from any confrontation, so Edmund focused on building a fire large enough to warm them as well as cook their food. Even though they’d only gone a few hours on foot, the cold and wind sapped much of their strength. His eyes burned. Muscles ached. Sleep beckoned. Belly full, Edmund retired to his tent. Tomorrow was going to be long.
He awoke slowly. His body was remarkably sore, despite his vast experience in the wild. Stretching, Edmund dressed and eased out of the tent. Mara’s shocked look froze him in place.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Cofield came out of nowhere, landing a punch to the side of Edmund’s head and knocking him down. Edmund rolled with the force of the blow and came up on one knee.
“Where is he?” Cofield demanded. Spittle flew from his mouth.
Dazed, head throbbing, Edmund groaned. “Who? What are you talking about?”
Cofield was on him much faster than he anticipated, snatching Edmund by the throat and jerking him back to his feet. “Harris. What did you do with him?”
“Leave him alone, Cofield!” Mara shouted. “He wouldn’t have done anything.”
“Stay out of this,” Cofield threatened.
Edmund grabbed Cofield by the forearms and attempted to push him off.
“Harris. He’s missing.”
Surprise registered across his face. “What do you mean he’s mis….”
Cold realization set in. The wendigo. But it didn’t make sense. They were still far enough away from the lotus grounds that the wendigo shouldn’t be here. Or were they? Edmund finally shrugged Cofield away and stumbled around the campsite in search of clues. He rubbed his burning throat.
The others closed in from behind, allowing him to do what he did best. Edmund jerked to a halt and knelt down. There, in the snow, was an enormous footprint and three drops of blood.