Wendigo Road is the story of a Blackfeet warrior returning home from war, but before he can get to his wife and son, he has to pass through the mountain ranges of Montana, which are overrun by wendigos.
If the story sounds familiar, it should. I had this crazy idea to base a story on Homer’s The Odyssey, but with Native American monsters. So Wendigo Roadis full of skin walkers, great serpents, flying heads, wendigos, and other creatures from various Native American lores.
Finding my “in” to this story was easier than most books I write. Thanks to my work, I had the opportunity to visit tribes like the Blackfeet and the Salish and Kootenai in Montana. As part of this outreach, I trekked through the immense mountains and stark plains of northern Montana. Like many people who visit this area, I was overwhelmed by their beauty and power. I immediately knew I would write a story based in Montana, one where the main heroes have to drive same roads and cross the same mountains as I did.
But like all roadtrips, there are unexpected detours. My intricate chapter outline was derailed as early as Chapter Three. My story of rugged soldiers took a strange turn when they discovered abandoned children in a ghost town. Suddenly, my rough-and-tumble alpha male story had children who needed to eat, pee, and play, and my action story soldiers were turning into nannies with guns. (Not that there is anything wrong with children’s caretakers. I come from a family of them.) Yet, I wondered if people would accept this story and these characters. The Dirty Dozen, they weren’t.
Something happened to me the other day though that comforted me. I was on a bus to the airport, and in came this big, muscle-bound soldier covered in tattoos. He sat down across from me. I went back into my travel notes and didn’t think anything until I saw him get up and run to the front of the bus. There, this elderly couple was boarding the bus. The woman used a cane and had trouble climbing the steps. This Army soldier, who was probably twice her size, gingerly assisted her up the stairs and helped her to her seat. I was so proud. We naturally focus on the fighting prowess of the military man and woman, but they are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and fathers and mothers. I am confident that you will enjoy this story of big-hearted soldiers and the children they are escorting through a post-apocalyptic Montana wasteland full of monsters.
To tempt you, I have included the first chapter of Wendigo Road. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you probably know the opening chapter was based on a very real experience I had while conducting outreach to North Dakota and Montana. Lifting off from the airport, our plane filled with smoke, and the oxygen masks deployed. It was one of those moments when you realize you are no longer in control of your destiny. You give it up to God and hope for the best. Thankfully, everything turned out okay, and we didn’t run into any wendigos. 🙂
The plane cabin was filling with smoke.
Oran tensed in the makeshift seat. An old Metallica T-shirt was stapled to a board, creating his suit cushion. Metal Up Your Ass, the T-shirt growled defiantly. It was a manifesto statement. Oran Old Chief would’ve laughed if he didn’t worry he was being slowly choked to death.
He could barely see the end of the cabin where the steward sat. The steward’s voice cracked as he barked into the com, “Yes, obviously the plane is filling with smoke! Stay calm!”
Oran glanced around. About half the seats in the Bombardier were still there, and soldiers filled about half those seats. They were hardened warriors returning from the front in Canada. Asians, whites, some Cheyenne, and even a Blood or two. Oran was the only South Piegan.
The ones wearing gas masks had already donned their gear, transforming their faces into something weirdly alien with giant eyes and canister mouths. Like Oran, their uniforms were as piecemeal as the army. Leather jackets, hunter’s knives, any-ready-ammo feeders, and random camouflage. Ever since the wendigos appeared, the white man’s world had been broken. There were no companies to make military clothes and no contractors to design weapons. There were only the people who fought the wendigo and the people who did not.
The soldier sitting in the aisle in front of Oran said, “I don’t want to die.”
“Calm down,” Oran said. “Panicking serves nobody. Take deep breaths.”
“I’m not panicking.”
Oran would’ve rolled his eyes if he didn’t think it would make the situation worse.
“Stay calm, like the steward said.”
But the man was gasping for breath.
“Try taking off your parka. Sometimes that helps.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said. He pulled his parka off, took a deep breath, and coughed, shaking his head. His voice stammered as he said to Oran, “I know what you’re thinking. Some pussy who can’t take a little smoke. What’s he doing in the army? But I’m not a coward. I’ve fought on the front. I just don’t like the idea of dying before I get home.”
The captain came on over the com. His voice was tinny, the radio connection poor. “So, here’s the thing. There is a gasket seal in the back of the plane that keeps AC exhaust from entering the cabin. That seal sometimes breaks.”
“So fix it, gawd-dammit!” one of the Cheyenne shouted.
The captain continued, not hearing anything from the cabin. “The good news is that the exhaust is nontoxic. This isn’t smoke. We’ve been through this before, and we’ll be okay. The bad news is that we won’t make it to Browning. We’re rerouting to Spokane. I know you all had other places to be. I’m sorry. I’m putting the Fasten Seat Belt on until we land, which will be in a few minutes.”
The Fasten Seat Belt light flashed, then the bulb behind it fizzled and died. Oran flicked it. That didn’t help.
“Spokane?” the man in front of Oran shouted. “But there’s fighting there. Wendigos began raiding last week. We can’t go there!”
“Well, the option is there or here,” Oran said, thumbing to the window while trying to stay calm. He wasn’t sure if he was saying this for the panicking man or for himself. The cabin was really thick with smoke.
Oran opened the window blind. The modified Bombardier was still above the cloud line, so the sun loomed large overhead. The sun was bright yellow, with giant waves of light fluttering in the sky. Because of all the smoke in the cabin, the sun appeared milky white.
The wing of the plane was a dirty, gray knife cutting through the blue sky, an offense to the sun.
Oran said a prayer and thought of his home, his wife and his son in Browning. The war with the wendigos had been long on him. He’d fought many battles, orchestrated many victories, and now it was finally time to rest. He’d handed over his war to other people, and now he needed to cleanse himself and live a life away from war.
The smoke tickled Oran’s throat. He coughed a little.
From below the clouds, smoke rose up to meet them. Half the world was on fire. A faint burnt smell lingered in the air even at 30,000 feet. At least, he assumed it was the world below burning and not something in the plane. If something was on fire, would there be any benefit for the pilot to tell them? Oran figured not, which discomforted him.
The soldiers onboard had melanoma scars on top of their battle scars, and where there were no scars, they had robotic prosthetics.
Somebody else coughed. To Oran the cabin seemed smudged, like his eyes were bleary after waking from a long dream.
Many of the other soldiers stuck their heads down the aisle, questioningly. They had all been to war for a long time. They knew when to look for an answer and when to duck.
“I didn’t go to war for three years only to die in a fucking plane,” a man across the aisle said.
“I do not think we have a choice,” Oran said. He pulled a bandana over his mouth.
The smoke was getting thicker. More soldiers were coughing.
Oran was coming to the conclusion that he was truly trapped, and that unlike the rest of his life, he had absolutely zero control over what happened between here and Spokane. Biology, physics, and the competency of the pilot would determine whether he lived or died. For him, that lack of control was hard to accept. He had guided troops into battle and steered them into victory or defeat, but he was the one determining where to go and how to win. Now, he was forced to sit and let other people control his destiny.
The smoke thickened. He could no longer see the steward at all. Oran began to doubt the captain’s words about the cause of the leak because the smoke was not only coming from the back of the cabin, but it was rising from beneath the seats.
“I don’t want to die,” the soldier in front of him repeated. His face, like Oran’s, was dirty from combat missions. They hadn’t had a chance to stop and shower. When the plane arrived, they’d dropped everything and ran for their transport. Oran barely made it before the plane took off for the south.
“Be calm,” Oran said. “Do not panic. That will do none of us any good.”
“I hate planes. The tight spaces. I just need to move around. I need some fucking fresh air.”
“Stop talking. Take longer breaths. We’ll be fine.”
But then there was a loud blare followed immediately by a large explosion in the cabin, like a high-caliber gunshot or a small detonating device. At the same instant, the oxygen masks deployed.
“Jesus!” the man in front of Oran shouted.
Oran grabbed his oxygen mask and pulled the yellow cup over his mouth. He pulled down his bandana, and then he tugged on the hose tightly. The oxygen bag didn’t inflate. The man in front of him was having the same problem. On the other side of the plane, the bladders were thick and full of oxygen. Somehow the masks on their side had failed to inflate.
“Sorry about that,” the captain said over the com. “Mask drop is standard operating procedure. I have no control over it. I want to assure you, though, that you’ve got the best damn pilot in Washington State sitting in your cockpit. I’m doing everything I can to get us out of the sky quickly.”
“Will we make it that far without oxygen masks?” the soldier in front of him asked.
“Be calm,” Oran said again, but he could feel that little rise of panic inside himself.
“Hey,” the soldier said to some of the infantry nearest him. “You’ve got an infantry oxygen mask. Give me your gas mask.”
The soldier wearing the gas mask gave him the one-finger salute.
The man in front of Oran suddenly unbuckled and stood.
“Please sit down,” the steward said from his foggy position. Oran still couldn’t see him.
“I need air!” The panicking man’s voice was uncannily high pitched. Oran recognized the sound of overwhelming fear. It was the enemy to any good unit.
The panicking man grabbed an oxygen mask from the other side of the plane and put it over his face.
Oran crossed the plane and placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, coolly pushing the man into his new seat. “Do not get up,” Oran said. All the soldiers in the plane, about forty in all, were watching him to see what he would do next. Oran pulled his bandana over his nose and sat back down in his seat.
The captain said over the speakers, “We’ve been cleared for prioritized emergency landing. I promise we’ll be on the ground in a few minutes.”
Oran was glad. He couldn’t see more than four rows ahead or behind his seat. Many of the soldiers on his side of the plane were coughing, including him. He reached for the window shade again. As he did so, he felt the rush of the plane descending rapidly. He reached for his seat belt, then remembered that his seat didn’t have one. Back when there was a world with governing bodies, this never would have happened. No plane would’ve been allowed to fly without seat belts, but that was back before the wendigos went to war. Back then, there were regulators. In the first years of the war, soldiers flew in military aircraft, but then the wendigos destroyed most of the stockpiles and the vehicles. Now, the military were scavengers searching for any working vehicle to support their war. Sometimes that meant taking the bad with the good. At 30,000 feet, the bad looked really bad to Oran, though.
He opened the window shade, but no sun streamed through. They had descended below the clouds, which were as dense out there as the smoke in the cabin. It was like descending through a dream into a nightmare, and the bottom was falling out of the world.
The coup lance was in the storage above him. The parfleche his wife made was there, too. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply and suppressed his cough and thought of his wife and child. Jodi was a beautiful woman and quick to laugh with or, if needed, at him. She was clever, like him. His son, Daniel, was always exploring and getting into something. Oran had been a little scared for his son when he left because Daniel was the type of kid who frequented ERs, whether it was because he had bounced off the trampoline or, after the trampoline had been thrown out, he jumped off the house. His wife and his son filled him with happiness.
Then the plane began to rip itself apart. That’s what the scared soldier said. When the wheel housing opened, it made another big bang, like a piece of the fuselage had split apart. This meant they were getting close to ground. Oran was glad for it. He was having a hard time catching his breath.
“I don’t wanta die,” the scared man said. He pulled off his oxygen mask. The man was hyperventilating. Oran reached over to strap the mask back on, but the soldier swatted his hand. The soldier rocked back and forth as he heaved, his lungs gasping for clean air that wasn’t there any longer. Oran took the opportunity to squeeze into the seat in front of the hyperventilating soldier and pulled the mask over his mouth. He breathed in the fresh oxygen and immediately felt better.
The scared man stood up “We’re going to die!”
“Sit down!” the steward squawked from somewhere in the front. He was losing his cool, too. How he saw the soldier in the aisle, Oran didn’t know.
“Sit yo ass down now!” another soldier commanded.
Panic hears nothing. “I’ve got to get out of here.” Desperate, he reached upward and unclipped his storage bin. The plane banked, spilling the storage bin’s contents everywhere. This included Oran’s coup lance.
The scared man puzzled over the coup lance, then reached for it. Oran grabbed the lance first. When the other soldier tried to grab it back, Oran punched him in the jaw, knocking him back. The man watched Oran for a moment, dazed. He laid down back against the seat, his breathing deeper, yet quieter.
A loud groaning from the airplane told Oran that the wings were preparing to land. His body sensed the descent ending and the plane leveling off to land. He would be glad to be on the ground.
As the plane continued its landing, the steward yelled, “Prepare for emergency landing! When this plane stops, exit the doors and emergency doors. Leave in an orderly fashion, but when you’re on the ground, run for the terminal. There are barricades there. The soldiers there will evacuate you.”
“Oh my God! Look over there!” one of the soldiers shouted from farther up the aisle.
“What could make this worse?” another soldier grumbled, but Oran suspected he knew. He leaned over and looked out the far window. Beams of sunlight penetrated the cloud cover. Between the beams, a monster walked. The soldiers onboard gasped.
Wendigos. Wendys or Wendy, they were called by the soldiers who fought them. A lifetime ago, monsters like the Wendys began appearing all over the globe. They emerged from the mountains, from bogs, and sometimes even the oceans. They were tall, powerful, and immune to all modern weapons. That didn’t stop armies the world over from fighting back. But how do you win a war against something that wants to eat you? Evil, sentient, and ravenous, there was no bartering with them and no stopping them. Countries dissolved. Governments collapsed. Humans scurried away like rats hiding underground in basements or subway tunnels, or they fled to the plains where the Wendys never went.
This Wendy stood seventy feet tall, easily the biggest thing at the airport. It even dwarfed the airplane tower. The creature was powerfully built, with giant claws and hooves. Blood and gore dripped from its skull mouth. Velvet hung from its antlers like thick blobs of mucus. The wendigo backhanded the soldiers defending the airport. Eight went flying across the runway where they had staged their operation. The others kept firing on the wendigo, which had little effect on the monster. The bullets glanced off its exposed rib bones.
The wendigo ran at the landing plane, roaring its unholy anger. Oran didn’t know that the plane would make it to the ground. All it would take was a little push to send them spiraling to their deaths.
“We’re not going to make it,” one soldier said, while another cursed.
Rather than respond, Oran tightened his grip on his lance. If they could land, he could change everything. He prayed to the sun for his safe return. “Natosi, watch over me. I will do everything I can to get to my beloved Jodi and Daniel. I swear I will return to them, just get my boots on the ground.”
At that moment, it seemed to Oran that the wendigo saw him, looked him in the eye, and hated him. The monster pushed harder and closed the distance in half the time. As the ground came up to meet the plane, the wendigo reached with its outspread fingers for the Bombardier. Its fingers barely touched the plane’s wing, but that was enough. The plane’s back end swung wide. The first wheel touched the ground, then the other one slammed into the tarmac. A giant rush of wind and sound of rubber against asphalt erupted around them. The soldiers screamed, but their screams were drowned out by the giant cacophony. The plane spun one way, then the other as it careened recklessly off and then back onto the runway, crossing back into the grass.
The plane shook violently, and then the back began to rise. The plane was slowing down, but it was flipping. One wing went up, and the other crumpled into the ground, gouging a scar in the earth. All soldiers not buckled into their seat belts smashed into the overhead storage bins. At the last second, gravity won, and the plane slammed into the ground, snapping the landing gear’s struts.
Wendigo Road is now available on Amazon.
Thank you for your support. Please share the books as much as you like and let me know what you think. I intentionally mark them down for matching and have entered them into lending programs so that the books can be shared. Reviews are always the kindest form of flattery, so if you get the opportunity, rate or review Wendigo Road on Amazon, Goodreads, your personal blogs, or wherever else you like, and e-mail me when you do. I love sharing and “liking”!