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Cold Warning Part 2

jp1885

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WARNING: Spoilers!

 

The Diary of Harry Harrison: Mystic

 

December 22nd 1922

Winter Haven Hunting Lodge, Penobscot County, ME

 

Remember those blood-red stars that Mr. Sutton raved about before he supposedly committed suicide? Well, we have seen them with our own eyes…

 

I begin, dear reader, from where I left off: travelling through the blizzard-ravaged New England wilderness towards the small settlement of Hudson, ME.

 

While the drive was perilous, Claude or driver proved more than a match for the road conditions; expertly manoeuvring around fallen trees and snowdrifts. It was not his fault that a strong gust of wind blew our car sideways into a rock, causing my colleague Reginald to smash his head against a window.

 

We patched him up as best we could (ruining my prop turban in the process) and after repairing the car, continued northwards until we reached Hudson – a town of 370 souls scattered among remote homesteads and along a modest street, set among the forests and hills. As it was getting dark, we persuaded Mr. Fickett: the local store owner to sell us some essentials before putting us up in his storeroom, where it was at least warm and dry.

 

Quizzing Mr. Fickett about the sinister Stuart Sutton: murderer, we suspected, of his brother Joseph and abductor of Joseph’s pregnant wife Marilyn; we discovered that, while respected as the owner of the Winter Haven Hunting Lodge, he had a reputation as a ‘funny, moody’ character. He also revealed that he had recently taken delivery of ten sets of bedding for the lodge, so we volunteered to deliver them in exchange for our shelter.

 

The next morning we awoke none the worse from our slumbers and persuaded Claude (who had shared our impromptu lodgings rather than risk a night-time journey back to Bangor) to drive us as near to Winter Haven Lodge as possible. It was during this difficult drive, accompanied by the howling of wolves, that we briefly espied the twin stars glaring balefully down at us, just above Venus as she hovered just above the horizon. A portent perhaps, but of what?

 

We wound some distance up into the snowy hills until we came to a steep and icy track, up which the car could not traverse. Bidding au revoir to our driver with a request that he telegram a report of Miss Swain, we watched as he made his way back to civilisation before considering how to tackle the frozen slope.

 

Laden as we were with our own baggage and the lodge’s bedding, this was no easy task! However, with the aid of a stout rope and a makeshift sledge made out of a waterproof sheet, we eventually made it up the slippery incline at the cost of a few bumps and scrapes. Exhausted from our exertions and with the bitterly cold wind chilling us to the bone, we tumbled into the lodge…

 

In the reception area we were greeted by the Indian receptionist Achak, whose wife Hurit was busy housekeeping nearby. Though bewildered by our unexpected presence, he booked us into two rooms (I sharing with Monty in room 1, Reg and Bob in room 2) before showing us into a large octagonal lounge, ringed by a balcony above. With a stern warning against trespassing into the staff-only areas or the external guest cabin, he took our baggage upstairs.

 

By the time he returned we had met two of our fellow guests: the Italian-American Morello’s, namely Rose; a bored and standoffish young lady and Dominic; her surly and overprotective father. Talking to Achak, I tried to bring up the subject of his employer and the death of his brother, but met with no response save that it was best not to disturb Sutton.

 

After retiring to our rooms to freshen up it was time to mingle with the other guests at lunch. We got little else out of the Morello’s, save that they were on vacation. We also introduced ourselves to Arthur Burgess, a young spiky-haired weird fiction writer who was ‘working on a plot’ and Dr. Quentin Wentworth, a frail older medical man with fondness for brandy who was recovering from a heart attack.

 

The buffet lunch was pleasant and convivial, but was interrupted by a heavy ‘thump’ that rattled one of the external walls. Looking through a window we saw a strange indentation in the snow, so excusing ourselves, we braved the cold and went outside to investigate. We were puzzled by what we saw: meter-wide, splayed-leaf-shaped prints in the snow. Spaced about four yards apart, they led from the Lodge into the woods. Here they disappeared, but the lack of snow on some of the branches indicated that whatever made them had gone up into the trees…

 

Perplexed, we headed back to the warmth of the lodge, using the opportunity to snoop around a bit. Despite being warned off, we went to the guest cabin, which appeared occupied although the curtains were too tightly closed to be sure. Reg knocked on the door, only to be abruptly shooed off by a severe middle-aged woman.

 

Thus thwarted we returned to the Lodge, where a slightly unsteady Dr. Wentworth managed to treat Reg’s battered face and our other minor injuries. Alas I then put my foot in it somewhat. It transpired that Wentworth knew our deceased employer Dr. Harrod from medical school. Tactlessly I mentioned the latter’s gruesome, frozen death, causing the former to have a heart attack!

 

As the good doctor fainted, Bob and Achak raced to his room (room 6) to find his pills. These turned out to by nitro-glycerine pills: dangerous but vital to his health. Bob deftly threw them to Monty, who swiftly administered one to Wentworth, bringing him round enough to be helped to his room for some much-needed rest.

 

With that crisis over, I was able to talk privately to a grateful Achak. Upon hearing that I had an interest in local legends, the Indian spoke of the Wendigo – an evil thing which embodied hunger, many of which supposedly lurked nearby. After warning me not to go into the woods at night, he told me that he defended himself against such things by putting his faith in ‘Kitki Manitou’ – the essence of good.

 

He then drew me a picture of the evil Wendigo – a towering but emaciated humanoid with a horse-skull head and large antlers. Apparently anyone who indulged in cannibalism could transform into such a monster  - could one of the Suttons have succumbed to this during that fateful hunting trip many years ago?

 

While the Indian talked to me about such matters, Bob took the opportunity to sneak into the kitchen, an area forbidden to us, in the pretence of acquiring a cup of tea for the ailing Wentworth. He found Hurit singing and cooking. The housekeeper was reluctant to talk about her employer, for he had taken the homeless couple in and she was somewhat afraid of him. She did however mention that she had to clean up the guest cabin a lot and that ‘the extra bedding will help.’ What was going on in there?

 

By now it was but a short time before dinner. While Bob and I went upstairs to ascertain who was staying in which bedroom, Reg whiled away the time at the piano chatting to Rose Morello. The girl revealed that she has been an art student in Paris (painting male nudes no less), before being warned into silence with a stern glare from her father.

 

At the sounding of the dinner gong we once again gathered in the dining room, to be greeted by our mysterious host, Stuart Sutton. Although polite enough, he seemed odd – his eyes unfocussed as he spoke. He told us to ignore any strange noises we heard during the night and warned us against heading up towards the peaks and ski-slopes that towered above the lodge.

 

Equally strange was the conversation we had with the author, Burgess. He muttered about making ‘great progress’ and of knowing more ‘after a few more walks’. Upon mention of the fabled Wendigo, he said something about the ‘whisperer in the woods’, adding ‘do you hear them too?’ We also spoke of the strange lights we saw that morning, causing him to gibber about the ‘Wendigo in the dark’ or somesuch.

 

Another sitter at dinner was the hostile middle-aged woman that had given us short thrift at the guest cabin. Monty decided to speak to her, but found her barely lucid. He ascertained that her name was Avery Phillips, but could make no further headway, especially when Achak intervened and ended the conversation.

 

For my part I decided to try my luck with the Morello’s. Rose made her dislike of the place obvious, claiming that their vacation was ‘enforced’. Her father was slightly more forthcoming than before, revealing that he hailed from New York and was in ‘import/export’. I think we all know what that means!

 

As if we needed further confirmation, Bob had by this time feigned stomach ache and went upstairs to search the Morello’s rooms (rooms 3 and 4). He found little of interest in Rose’s (managing only to rip one of her bed-sheets, which he had to quickly swap for one of his) but discovered something in Dominic’s. For starters there was a book, Memories of Italy, whilst under his bed was a violin case containing a tommy gun. In the waste paper bin was an empty envelope addressed to one Tony Strollo. Import/export indeed!

 

He returned just as dessert was being served, having bribed Hurit when she caught him sneaking out of Dominic/Tony’s room. After this we decided to go outside once again (a bracing after-dinner walk you understand), with Monty escorting a barely coherent Avery back to the cabin. He was unable to follow her in however, but heard strange animal noises emanating from inside.

 

Taking a look around the other side of the lodge, where Sutton’s office and quarters were, we saw a light heading uphill into the wilds. Deciding against following suit in the dark we instead elected to take advantage of Sutton’s absence (for it had to be him with the light) and break into his private sanctum.

 

This proved more difficult than expected, but eventually we blundered into his office. The place was a mess and reminded us of the frozen nightmare that we found when we discovered the fate of Dr. Harrod! Papers, furniture and hunting trophies were strewn everywhere while the desk was warped and damp.

 

After much effort, several broken knife blades and a stuck hand, we managed to get a locked drawer open. Inside, among a pile of papers, was Sutton’s diary…

 

“Tonight I introduced Joseph and Marilyn to the Master…” read an entry dated July 23rd. “He took Marilyn as his bride with his humble servant as the bridegroom for the consummation… Now I await the Messiah…”

 

A further entry dated August read: “Joseph is dead… Somehow he remembered. It must have been that damned doctor he was seeing… I had to stop him… I’ll bring Marilyn to Winter Haven until the great day so I can protect her and the Master’s precious baby.”

 

We had his confession to murdering his brother in black-and-white, but there was something far more sinister afoot. As we tried to cover up our bungled break-in and headed back to our rooms, I couldn’t help but shiver as I read what this evil man had written:

 

“The snow will run crimson with blood and the winter winds shriek out his coming. Then the son will stride the winds with the father and turn the world toward madness!”


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