Fandom: Until Dawn
Title: The Devil in the Wind
Summary: A month after the events at Blackwood Pines, Sam — the sole survivor — returns to the mountain to find out what happened to Josh.
Ship: Sam x Josh
Suggested Soundtrack: ‘Winter Wind’ by Run River North
Warnings: SPOILERS if you haven’t played/seen Until Dawn (although I’m not sure you can really spoil a game with multiple endings??). Also warnings for language, reference to major character deaths, gore/horror elements, mild sexual content, allusions to depression, suicide, and general mental illness.
Series or One-shot: One-shot
Word count: 6906
Author’s Note: This will be a lot more heartbreaking 🙂 easier for you to understand if you’re familiar with the events of Until Dawn, whether you’ve played the game, read spoilers, or watched others play. There are a ton of references to the game’s plot in this fic. Still, even if you haven’t done any of that, you’re totally welcome to read it – unless you don’t want spoilers, in which case I recommend you skip this one until you finish the game! If you have no clue what the heck I’m talking about, I’d highly, highly recommend you check out this little PS4 game called Until Dawn. It was my favorite of 2015. Even if you don’t like video games, you might enjoy watching a playthrough. It’s a choice-based horror story, with stellar graphics and characters modelled after and voiced by popular actors (including Peter Stormare, Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, and Brett Dalton). Personally my favorite playthrough is the Scary Game Squad playthrough on YouTube. I promise you, watching it is not boring in the least – it’s like a movie! Even my mom admits it was entertaining, and she hates gory movies. :p
Once again, to my readers, I have this to say: I am a horrible human being, and I apologize. Sorry. Angst and tragedy are my specialties when it comes to fanfics and I’m really into sole survivor stories these days for some reason. Sam and her relationship with the Washington siblings was SO MUCH FUN (in a really sadistic way) to explore. Until Dawn and its characters continue to blow my mind. I’ve replayed/rewatched it several times and STILL find new complexities every time! Pretty shocking, given the fact that the first hour of gameplay makes it seem like it’s going to be a very shallow, cliché story with trope-y characters. But I guess I should’ve expected nothing less from Graham Reznick and Larry Fessenden. If you wanna talk theories and stuff, feel free to shoot me a message on Tumblr (my username is herald-of-mythal)! Thanks for reading!
I’ve seen what’s down there… and I’d give anything to unsee it.
That’s what Samantha told the police when they interrogated her about what happened up on Blackwood Mountain. And it was true: if she could go back in time and prevent everyone from going up to the lodge on the anniversary of Hannah and Beth’s disappearance, she would. Even better than that – she would go all the way back to that night the twins went missing, stop the prank, stop Hannah from running off into the woods and Beth from running after her. She’d lock them all into the basement until daylight and in the morning they’d leave and never go back to that mountain again. Convince the Washingtons to stay away. Leave the mountain and those monsters to the stranger with the flamethrower. He seemed to have a handle on it all until that night.
The police sent people up to the mountain to investigate after the lodge went up in flames and Sam was the only survivor found outside. They’d only recovered a few bodies. Mike’s, Emily’s, Ashley’s. All the others were missing. Sam confirmed Chris and Matt and Jess were all dead; she saw their bodies hanging with the stranger’s in the wendigo’s – in Hannah’s – lair.
But Josh was still missing. Sam never saw his body, couldn’t confirm his death, though she informed the police that Mike told him the monster “got him.”
The police were going to look for him. Lucky for them, there were no more wendigos. Sam and Mike saw to that when they blew up the lodge. It would be a clear path in and out of the mines for the cops, as long as they brought enough food to last a few weeks in case they got lost. They could try to find Josh (because maybe, Sam wondered, he was still alive, maybe Hannah – the wendigo – took pity on her brother, maybe she left him unconscious in her lair before she went up to the lodge) and get out.
Except the investigators never came back. And no one – not the police, not Mr. or Mrs. Washington – would give Sam any details. But she knew something was amiss when they called her back into the station for a few more questions, questions specifically regarding what she saw in the mines that night. Again and again they asked her what was down there, and again and again she explained to them what wendigos were, how they hunted, where they came from, and that she had killed the last of them.
The two officers questioning her exchanged uncertain glances.
“You’re sure about that?” said the woman. “They’re all dead?”
Again, the officers cast uncertain looks at each other. Once before, on the morning they rescued her, they doubted her when she told them this story. They might have disbelieved her now, except that there was something different in their expressions, something unspoken. It wasn’t a “she must be crazy” look; there was worry there, mixed in with that doubt. They weren’t telling her something.
It didn’t take Sam long to guess. The cops didn’t know what to believe anymore, because someone, something had attacked their investigators. They had reason to believe that the wendigos weren’t all gone after all.
And there was only one person left up on that mountain who could’ve survived that night.
The car, a nice, red, eco-friendly Prius, was a gift from Sam’s parents. Consolation of a sort, an attempt to make up for the events over the past two years, to apologize for trying to push her to see a therapist when she was rescued. They knew a good one, they said, one Dr. A.J. Hill. Mr. and Mrs. Washington recommended him. Sam almost laughed, but contained herself and instead declined the offer, insisting she was fine. Just like she told the cops. It took some better acting to sell it to her parents though. They kept reminding her the offer stood on the table, tip-toed around her, called her multiple times a day for no reason other than to check up on her, insisted they Skype on a regular basis.
She spent much of her time in her dorm room, lying in bed with the covers pulled up to her chin, trying to fall into a sleep deep enough to make her forget about the lodge. Her roommate was some girl she didn’t really know and didn’t want to bother getting to know (it could’ve been Hannah in another life). The girl’s name was Jane. Though they were relatively friendly with one another the semester before winter break, before the anniversary of Hannah and Beth’s disappearance, Jane didn’t seem to notice any change in Sam now. Or if she did, she didn’t care.
Going to class was out of the question, if not until Sam recovered, then at least until the police contacted her with any news of the investigation. Her grades would just have to wait. She needed to heal, to find some closure first. She needed to know what happened to Josh.
Sam pulled her car off to the side of the road right in front of the gate of Blackwood Pines. Her parents had no clue she was going back. Neither did Jane or their RA. She’d tip-toed out of her dorm late the night the police interrogated her again, got into her Prius, and took off.
It took most of the day for her to get out of town and out to the mountain, and she needed her GPS to tell her how to get there. Her parents called her around six in the morning and then again at noon, while she was still driving; both times she pulled over, turned off the car, and stopped briefly to chat with them as if everything was fine, and then went on her way. A part of her was sorry to be doing this behind their back. But she couldn’t rely on the police to stop the – to find Josh. They had no idea what they were up against.
And anyway, he deserved better than to be brutally murdered by the police. He deserved mercy. And Sam wanted her closure. She had failed Hannah and Beth, and now she’d failed Josh too. If only she’d been there when Hannah had taken him away, if only she’d listened to him more, or tried harder to reach out to him, or stopped Chris and Mike from taking him out to that stupid shed…
She had to be the one to end this, to finish the job she thought she’d completed a month ago when she blew up that goddamned lodge.
When she finally pulled up to the gate of Blackwood Pines in the early evening, she fished the cable car key from her pocket. The police never confiscated the key after they rescued her; they didn’t even know she had it. The Washingtons leant the investigators a spare cable car key for their work. A part of Sam wished someone, anyone had taken the key back from her. It was only a keepsake from the last time she saw Josh alive, if not well. She held the key in her hand now, standing before the open gate, and felt the familiar unwelcome thoughts intrude: What if she had stayed with Mike and Josh in the mines that night, instead of taking a separate route back up to the lodge? What if she’d been there when the wendigo attacked Josh? And what if – why hadn’t she? – what if she’d told the rescue team to go into the mines when they arrived at dawn? Why did she just assume Josh had been killed?
Mike died in the blast before he could give Sam any details of what happened in the mines after they split up. Could he have survived? Did wendigos ever leave their prey alive?
And what if it was Hannah who found him? Would she have recognized her own brother? Was there a part of her that was still human? Sam couldn’t imagine what it must be like, to become a wendigo. She didn’t want to imagine Hannah going through that, fighting the urge to resort to cannibalism, to eat her own sister. But she had nightmares every night of Hannah, her eyes milky and tormented like that monster’s, crouched over her sister’s body in that mine, trying to grasp that last bit of humanity within her by keeping that diary for as long as she could…
There had to be a part of Hannah still fighting in that thing somewhere. That night in the lodge, Sam stared right into its eyes. They were different from the eyes of the other wendigos. They had expression. It looked angry and hurt and confused behind the hunger. And maybe, just maybe Sam imagined it, but she could have sworn at one moment that Hannah looked right at her and passed her by. Sam wanted to believe that Hannah recognized her, that she forgave her for everything and was strong enough to use the last of her humanity to spare her best friend. And there was a part of Sam that thought she recognized a spark of Hannah in those eyes, of the compassionate, tender girl she was when she was human, hidden behind the blank and soulless stare of the wendigo. Sam almost called out to her in that moment, almost apologized for everything. She almost fell to her knees and broke into sobs.
But if she did that, she knew the wendigo’s instinct would overpower Hannah’s humanity and Sam would be killed.
Still, in that split second that Sam considered taking that risk, she almost believed she deserved to die. She wouldn’t blame Hannah for being angry with her enough to kill her like she killed all the others.
But no. It didn’t take long for Sam to decide that Hannah wouldn’t want that. Hannah would want to be put out of her misery, and for Sam to go on living. The only option was to blow up the lodge.
To think Josh was suffering in that same way now, his human memory still battling the strength of the wendigo’s spirit… If he really was down in those mines right now – and Sam had no doubt it was him who attacked the investigators – then would she find him still only half-transformed? Could she save him somehow? And who did he eat? There were so many bodies down in those mines when Sam and Mike walked through them. Jess, Matt, Chris, the stranger… Josh could have had a whole feast.
She could have changed this. On the night it all happened, she could have made up for the fact that she failed Hannah and Beth the year before by rescuing their brother from a similar fate. And instead she left him to suffer through something even worse than death.
The door to the cable car station was locked, police tape crossed over it in a big X. She had no key for this, only the key for the car itself. Sam ripped the tape down and threw her shoulder into the door a few times until it burst open and she stumbled inside. The cable car was across the valley, no doubt left there by the investigators. She twisted the key in the control panel and waited.
It was hard for her to believe she’d been here just a month before with Chris, talking about her concern for Josh and his sisters. About the butterfly effect. Funny, that. She really had no clue then how much that stupid theory would come to mean to her. All of this could have been avoided if only she’d tried harder to convince the others not to play their prank on Hannah the year before, if she’d managed to intercept Hannah before she ran out into the woods. And even then, she had the chance to save Josh. A part of her wondered if she could have changed his mind, if she could have stopped him from playing the prank. They could have stayed safely in the lodge all night with the doors locked. Jess and Mike never would have gone out to the guest cabin. Even the stranger might’ve lived, might’ve protected them without them ever knowing it.
The cable car finally approached. As she stepped inside and it lurched into motion, she didn’t take her seat. Instead she stood watching the mountain grow closer through the window. She was far too anxious, too determined to end this once and for all.
The lodge was only a pile of rubble now, like a fire pit abandoned. The rescue team had put the blaze out with a few hoses and helicopters before it could spread to the surrounding forest. The bodies in the lodge – Mike’s and Emily’s and Ashley’s – were long gone now, buried back in their hometown.
Trudging past the lodge, Sam didn’t regret running for that switch while the others were still inside. Not one bit. For a year after the twins’ disappearance, she struggled to forgive the others for what they did. The more of the mystery she uncovered on the night of the anniversary, the more she learned about what happened to Hannah and Beth and to Josh as a result, the stronger grew her righteous need for revenge. It was the best medicine, after all.
She could have waited to flick that switch. She could have distracted the wendigos and given everyone a chance to escape.
Instead she let them all burn together.
In the span of one night together, Sam had learned so much about the others, things she never thought them capable of. The prank on Hannah, she told herself at first, was just a stupid mistake. They were only teenagers, and they were all a little drunk that night. No one thought of long-term consequences at their age; nothing could touch them, or so they all naively thought. They were all immortal until reality struck them and Hannah and Beth disappeared. It could be forgiven. Besides, at that point she believed the twins would still be found safe somewhere.
But no. They were worse than dead and it turned out the people she considered her friends were all horrible.
Chris had turned a gun on the girl he supposedly loved that night. And then – Ashley didn’t know this, but Sam saw Ashley stand and watch in cold blood as Chris fell prey to the wendigo, even though she had plenty of time to open the door and get Chris to safety. How could she? Sam wondered. Yet at the same time, she almost didn’t blame Ashley. But she suppressed that thought instantly, uneased by the fact that it even occurred to her in the first place. It was too unlike her. She was the compassionate one. Everyone else in the group teased her for it. Sam didn’t have a mean bone in her body.
But that was only the beginning.
Only moments later in the basement, she listened as Ashley tried to turn Mike against Emily, watched them all descend into utter chaos, looked away as Mike pulled the trigger. None of them listened to reason. And it was all for naught; seconds later, as they read through the stranger’s notes, they discovered wendigo bites weren’t even infectious. Emily would have been fine.
Everything Sam thought she knew about these people changed in an instant.
By the time they found Hannah’s last diary, found Josh, retrieved the cable car key, and returned to the lodge, something in Sam had snapped. It was bad enough hearing that Josh was now dead too, on top of Jess and Matt.
The final straw was seeing Hannah. As Sam stood there unmoving with Mike and Ashley in the lodge, hoping the wendigos wouldn’t notice them, she got a good look at what everyone’s harmless prank had done to her best friend. She thought of Josh, who probably died at the hands of this monster that was once his sister.
It was all their faults that this even happened. Every one of them deserved to die.
Oh, she pretended for the police to be sorry that Mike had to be the hero, that Ashley couldn’t escape the lodge, that all the others were dead. But her heart had hardened that night, and if she was honest she was proud of what she’d done. The justice she served was her apology to Hannah and Beth, and Josh too. She thought she’d reached her closure. She thought she’d done her best. The Washington siblings could rest in peace.
The mines were not hard to find, not for Sam. She knew this mountain so well now. And she knew exactly which area of the mine to head towards; there was only one place where there were bodies aplenty for the wendigo.
It was still snowy up on the mountain, though the snow was getting slushy down by the gate now that winter was drawing to a close. The light from her headlamp reflected off of the ice on the walls of the mines. All she had in her backpack by way of defense were a few emergency flares, a lighter, some matches, a can lighter fluid. No gun. No flamethrower.
It was practically suicide.
But she was determined to do this. She hated the thought of Josh dying at the hands of strangers who saw him only as a monster and not as the poor, forgotten boy that he was. Sam liked to think of it as parallel to the mercy she granted Hannah in blowing up the lodge. She was helping him in the only way she knew how, helping the Washington siblings be together once more. It had to be her that did this. And not just for Josh’s sake.
What exactly she was going to find down there, she wasn’t sure. It was only a month or so since Josh pulled off his prank, but how long had it been since he’d eaten before that night? If he was off his meds, if he was so focused on orchestrating his plans, then had he eaten breakfast or lunch or dinner that day? The day before? How far along would he be in the transformation now, and how strong was the wendigo spirit? Strong enough to kill a team of police investigators, that much she knew. Even stronger now, a week after the police sent the investigation team out here.
And yet there was a little bit of her old self that still held out hope. She might’ve felt no sympathy for any of the others that night, but her heart still broke for Josh. I thought we had a connection, she told the police about him. For days after her rescue she was hurt and confused, even a little angry, that he had pranked her along with the others. He knew she played no part in the prank on Hannah, so why did he torment her? Why did he chase her through the lodge in that horrible mask, why did he try to knock her out? What would he have done to her if he caught her?
Not hurt her, surely. No. Josh would never. He really didn’t kill anyone that night. The more she thought about it, the more his motives made sense. He only planted a few scares in the woods to frighten them all. It was Chris and Ashley who took the brunt of the force. In some sick, twisted way, he thought he was not only getting revenge on Ashley for taking part in the prank that resulted in his sisters’ disappearance, but he also thought he was doing his best friend a favor. If they were ever going to hook up, Chris and Ash needed a traumatic experience. Wasn’t that what Josh had said, joking with Sam that night? Something they could bond over.
She shivered now as she recalled that conversation. She should have known.
But Josh never wanted to hurt anyone. He only wanted closure, just like she did now.
If he had caught Sam that night… she just couldn’t imagine he meant to do more than scare her.
There was no doubt in Sam’s mind that if the others ever tried to be there for Josh as much as she (and, she supposed, Chris) had been, he never would have sought revenge. They all should have tried harder to be there for him. He never would have snapped the way he did, never would have scared them, never would have put them in danger.
But she forgave him all the same. It was a stupid mistake. He was sick.
And after all, he was Josh. He was the boy who sought her out when Hannah and Beth went missing. She knew just how sad and scared and confused he felt, because she felt the exact same way.
In the year after the girls disappeared, Sam and Josh spent more and more time together, and soon she found herself falling a little bit in love with him. She couldn’t help it. There were times when he reminded her of Hannah so much it was overwhelming. He could be easily excitable, thoughtful, compassionate, just like his little sister. Before Josh withdrew into himself, he shared a sense of humor with Hannah, and sometimes when he smiled – a real smile that reached his eyes and made his nose wrinkle a little, the type of smile Sam hadn’t seen in over a year – the resemblance between the Washingtons was so clear. If she didn’t know any better, she might think Josh, Hannah, and Beth were triplets.
There was some unspoken understanding between them, in the empty space that Hannah left behind.
When it inevitably happened, it was only one night. A few months ago now. Seemed like ages ago. The past thirteen months had been the longest and cruelest of Sam’s life.
But she found some peace with Josh.
He moved out of his campus apartment and back home with his parents as soon as Beth and Hannah went missing, taking a leave of absence from his classes. Usually he wasn’t allowed to have girls spend the night. But his parents made many exceptions for Sam, especially in the summer after the girls’ disappearance. After all, she was practically a member of the family. It was fine with Mr. and Mrs. Washington if she slept over, as long as she slept on the couch downstairs. Besides, they were mature by then, both college students – Sam eighteen, Josh nineteen. His parents expected them to act like adults, to be respectful while they were under their roof.
Maybe it was wrong of them, then, to violate his parents’ trust in the way they did. But it happened. And looking back on it, Sam was sure it was what they both needed.
She wasn’t sure who started it, who was the first to kiss the other. The night was a bit of a blur. They’d stayed up until midnight, sitting across from one another on the bed, avoiding talk of Josh’s sisters because it was just so exhausting. By then they’d worried about it so much that they just wanted to be numb for a while. So instead they talked around the subject, quietly so that his parents wouldn’t hear. Sam remembered squinting through the dark to read his lips, straining to listen to his soft voice, and when she spoke he looked right into her eyes.
There was a lot of talk about stupid dream interpretations, about comedy movies, about their hopes for the future. After so much time spent looking to the past, they wanted to look forward for once.
But the future was a bad choice of topic, because suddenly Josh was sobbing, hugging her close and crying into her shoulder, telling her that he could only picture a future without his sisters, that he didn’t think they would ever be found, that he wasn’t sure how to feel happy without them. And then Sam was sobbing too, and they clung to each other until they were all cried out.
And soon their lips found each other, and she was tugging at Josh’s shirt, and his hands were everywhere, and an hour or so later they were lying under the blankets with their arms around one another. Every once in a while, as they lay together, Josh shook. Sometimes with silent sobs and sometimes, perhaps, from all the bottled up fear for Hannah and Beth. When this happened, he held her tighter.
Eventually he fell asleep, his breath warm in her hair.
Sam spent the whole night that way, his arms wrapped securely around her, her head buried under his chin. But it went by so quickly and before she knew it, it was near dawn. Around five in the morning, she kissed his cheek, wriggled free of his arms, slipped out of his bed, pulled her PJs back on, and tip-toed downstairs to the living room couch.
She felt… better. Comforted. For a while there, the two of them were allowed to be free of their fears.
They never spoke of it again. Sam didn’t want to pester Josh about it, and though she thought she might’ve fully fallen in love with him that night, she stuck to her usual philosophy: If it was meant to be, it would be. And something – call it instinct, call it intuition – told her that someday it would be.
Despite their silence on the subject, things were never awkward between them. Sometimes Sam felt butterflies in her stomach when she was around Josh, and she suspected, from the way he continued to flirt with her, the way he used every excuse he could find to touch her, the way he occasionally stole a quick kiss when the others weren’t looking, that he felt the same way about her. But they never established a name for what they had, gave each other no titles of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” And, much to her surprise, Sam was content with this setup. She didn’t want to force anything, didn’t want to push him. If he wanted to, he would come to her in time. And she trusted he would.
She should have sensed that he was acting differently on the anniversary of his sisters’ disappearance. She should have known, from the way that he could barely look her in the eyes, that he wasn’t telling her something, that he had something planned.
Now, as she waded through the water just outside of the wendigo’s lair, as she passed by the old water wheel where she and Mike found Hannah’s last diary entries, she felt the sting of regret. Would Josh have snapped the way he did if she had been by his side? Did he feel he couldn’t confide in her anymore after what happened between them in his room? How different things would be if she could just be honest with herself and with the people she loved.
This thought occurred to Sam as she neared the wendigo’s lair, and suddenly she was crying. How in the hell was she going to handle this all a second time, ending the suffering of someone she held so dear to her, the suffering that was her fault?
After hauling herself from the freezing water, she paused, bracing herself against the wall, her hand struggling not to slip on the cold stone. So many different choices she could have made, so many moments she could have done something differently and changed the outcome of all of this. And yet she made the wrong decision every time. The more she tried to fix it, the worse it all became. She couldn’t—
Somewhere in the darkness ahead, she heard it: a stone echoing as it clattered to the ground. Movement. She froze, listened with bated breath.
No noises followed. But he was here somewhere, in the mines with her. Quiet and slow, she dropped the backpack from her shoulders, unzipped it and grabbed an emergency flare, a matchbook, and the can of lighter fluid. And then, setting her jaw tight, she stepped forward into the lair.
The voice came from somewhere above her to her left.
Now it came from her right. Something that sounded like claws scratched the stone ceiling. Heavy breathing, a soft growl. The room reeked of death. The rotting bodies of her friends, of Josh’s friends, of the stranger who tried to save them, and of the investigators were all in here somewhere.
Sam stood perfectly still in the center of the room. She had to remind herself it was not Josh who spoke now, though it sounded just like him. It was the wendigo, mimicking its previous victim, trying to lure Sam closer. Just as the stranger’s journal warned.
She shivered. Was Josh possessed by any wendigo spirit, or was this the same one that had Hannah? The alpha. The Makkapitew. When she burned that lodge down, Sam knew she was releasing the spirits of the wendigos by destroying their bodies. They couldn’t die, not really. But she didn’t think of the consequences. She thought it would be an end. She didn’t know Josh survived, that he was still lost and hurt and alone in the mines. Just like none of them knew that Hannah was trapped down there with Beth’s body.
Now Sam realized that the decision to blow up the lodge was another well-intentioned mistake. The spirits had another victim waiting good-and-ready for them down in the mines. This was more her fault than she initially realized. She shook as she fought down another sob rising in her chest.
And then someone stepped into the beam of her headlamp.
Josh almost looked human still. Almost. He was a few inches taller now, much thinner. His clothes were ripped in places and filthy, his shoes were gone, and his skin looked grey. His fingers had stretched into claws with inhumanly long nails, and his feet looked larger. It was his face that was most frightening though. As she looked upon him for the first time in a month, Sam nearly dropped the flare and the lighter fluid to cover her mouth in horror. His mouth was stretched wide as if someone had cut into the corners of his lips with a knife; long rows of sharp-as-daggers teeth tore at the skin around his mouth.
But he still had all his hair. And his eyes – his eyes still seemed to see Sam, though she dared not move for fear the wendigo in him sensed the movement and struck.
Stay still, Sam willed herself. Her plan was to wait until he turned his back, strike the flare and throw it at him to stun and confuse him, splash him with lighter fluid, and then strike a match. It was too many steps, she knew. There was no way she could do it fast enough. Chances of her surviving were slim, but she was working with limited supplies. If he would just turn… Stay still, don’t move, don’t—
But Josh was looking right at her, his forehead wrinkled as if he detected something before him, as if – as if he saw her. As if he recognized her.
The stranger’s notes said nothing about reversing this curse, about ending it. But an insane thought occurred to Sam in that moment, as she stared back into Josh’s eyes. He was still in there. He was still fighting. Hannah had been a lost cause, but Josh, surely Josh could still be saved.
So she opened her mouth and spoke.
Before she could even blink, the wendigo was right before her, its claws around her neck. It pushed her back into the stone wall of the cave and screeched, that same eardrum-shattering screech that was enough to daze anyone, no matter how prepared they were to hear it. The flare and the can slipped through Sam’s fingers and hit the ground, the lighter fluid trickling onto the cave’s floor. Sam clutched the wendigo’s wrist, tried to pry its hand away from her throat.
But it wasn’t killing her. Josh wasn’t killing her. He only held her neck with enough force to hold her still; he didn’t squeeze, though his nails pricked her skin and she felt some drops of blood drip down her collarbone. He hesitated.
“Josh,” she gasped. “Josh, it’s me. Please.”
His cloudy eyes narrowed, the row of teeth turned down into a frown. Once more he shrieked, but when the scream cut off he shook his head like a dog shaking water from its fur. He twitched a little now and again as he carefully examined Sam. For a second she felt the ray of hope. He didn’t yet rely on the flicker of movement to truly see someone in the dark; he could see her even when she didn’t move. He was not yet fully transformed. The wendigo didn’t yet have full power over him.
And then, with his free hand, Josh brushed a thumb against her cheek. His long nail didn’t snag her skin. It was a gentle gesture, and he kept his eyes on hers all the while.
“Sam,” he said, letting go of her throat and instead leaning over her with his hand on the wall over her shoulder. His eyes widened with recognition.
Sam laughed with disbelief and, grinning, nodded her head.
“Oh, Josh,” she said, throwing caution to the wind and her arms around his middle. He staggered backwards a little, arms spread as if he didn’t know quite what to do, as if he forgot what hugs were. “Josh, I’m so sorry.” She let go of him and looked back up at his face, now unafraid. He seemed thoroughly confused, and every once in a while his right shoulder twitched.
“Sam,” said Josh again. “Sam, help me.”
Her heart broke. “I’m going to get you out of here, Josh,” she told him. He looked at her, then around the cave, then back at her. It reminded her of when she found him down here with Mike, when he was having one of his breakdowns. I trust you, he said then, over and over again. Who did he trust? Who was he talking to? Was it the spirits of the wendigos Mike killed in the sanitorium? Were they already trying to work their spell over Josh then?
“We’ll get you off this mountain,” she went on. “I’ll help you get better, and – Josh?”
The lighter fluid had leaked far enough to touch his toes. He looked down at the ground now as she spoke. And then he saw the flare.
“Josh, are you—?”
He raised his eyes slowly to meet hers; he did not raise his head. There was anger in his gaze. Sam recognized this look. She had seen it once before, when Hannah hunted them all through the lodge.
“Josh,” she started, “please, understand, I didn’t know – I had to be safe. I don’t want to hurt you! I—”
The wendigo’s chest swelled, and it released the loudest screech yet.
Sam turned to run, but she wasn’t fast enough. The monster tackled her to the ground, one of its bony knees pinning her down, and she felt it scratch at her back. Even though her backpack protected her from any harm yet, and even though it would do her no good, she screamed.
“Josh, please!” Sam gasped as she tried to claw her way out from underneath the wendigo. “Don’t! Let me go, let me go!” Her nails ripped against the stone, and she could hardly breathe from hysteria. She broke free for a second, only for the wendigo to grab at her ankle and drag her back.
She heard the snap. Suddenly her ankle felt on fire and she screamed again, so loud it hurt her throat. Then the wendigo drove its knee into her back once more and the wind was forced from her lungs.
She felt its claws curl and tangle into her hair. It yanked her head back, slowly lowered its teeth towards her neck, its breath on her skin—
She pushed against the ground with her bloody palms and twisted over onto her back, using leverage to knock the wendigo off of her. It shrieked so loud she felt her eardrums vibrate. She scrambled to her feet, crying out as she tried to put weight on her fractured ankle just as the monster reached out and snagged a claw across her cheek.
“Josh!” she cried, her voice at first hoarse with terrified tears and then rising into a scream. But her scream was quickly drowned out by the wendigo’s shriek that rose to meet it. The noise within the cave was deafening. Sam felt it in her whole body.
She stumbled back against the wall and sank to the floor, her knees drawn to her chest and her arms folded around her head like a shield surrounding her vital organs. She did not want to see the deathblow coming.
But it never came.
As her heartrate slowed and the ringing in her ears quieted, Sam finally lowered her arms. Josh stood before her, fists curled at his sides and breathing heavily. He fell to his knees and, rocking back and forth, pressed his fists into his eyes as if willing a migraine to go away.
After a moment, he fell forward onto his hands and crawled, slow and defeated, away from Sam. Soon he was out of the range of her headlamp.
She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t kill him. Not now, now that she had almost saved him. There had to be a way to reverse this damned curse.
“Josh,” she sobbed again, quieter this time. She dropped her head into her hands, shaking.
The touch of a hand on her shoulder made her jump. She looked up to see Josh before her, still on his knees. In his right hand he held the book of matches. He offered them to her and gestured to his torn overalls, stained and greasy with lighter fluid.
When Sam didn’t move, he took her hand, pressed the matchbook into her palm, and folded his fingers over hers.
“Help me,” he said. “Please.”
Sam stared, slowly shaking her head. “Josh, I can’t—”
“I trust you,” he said. “I trust you.” He pressed her hand firmly and then let her go.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
The answer didn’t come right away. There was that tic again; he growled under his breath and shuddered. Then, finally, he nodded.
Weeping, Sam dropped the matchbook into her lap, reached for his hands with both of her own, and pressed her forehead to his knuckles.
“I love you,” she sobbed. “I love you so much, Josh. And Hannah – I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”
Josh shook his head. “It – it means… so much… that you came, Sam.”
The noise that escaped her then was something between a sob and a laugh. She couldn’t believe this was happening.
Josh took the matchbook again, gave it to Sam, and helped her to her feet. She noticed his hands shook as much as her own.
She wished she could kiss him goodbye. Instead she settled for placing her free hand against the back of his neck, pulling his head close, and pressing her forehead to his. She felt his hands on her waist, felt his eyes on her though she kept her own closed.
And then, letting go and looking at him once more, “Give all of my love to Hannah and Beth,” she said.
As she struck the match and flicked it towards him, she saw the last trace of Josh disappear. The confusion, the pain, the love in his eyes was replaced with the wendigo’s will to eat, to hunt, to survive; and in that moment she knew she had done the right thing. The wendigo lurched towards her, claws outstretched, but she backed away as the flames crawled up its body. It was too weak, too scared to give chase.
Sam turned away as the wendigo’s shriek echoed through the mines one final time. She heard it flailing as it died, as she limped out of its lair and back towards the lake. The ice water felt so good against her broken ankle. She took her time wading out to the other side, listening to the wendigo’s cry fading.
When she reached the other side of the water and climbed to safety, she remained on her knees for some time, hugging herself, resting her forehead against the ground, and allowing herself to weep freely. For Beth, for Hannah, for Josh. For herself.
Hours later, sweating and dizzy, she reached one of the many entrances of the mines. The sun shone through the tunnel, its light guiding her to safety.
It was dawn. And Sam was finally, truly going to be fine.
She needed rest though first. With some difficulty, at the mouth of the mines she lowered herself to the ground, buried her swollen ankle in the snow, and felt the sun warm her face just a little bit. As the sun rose, her stomach growled and she could think of nothing but how hungry she was.