When I was a boy, I would spend a couple of weeks every summer visiting my grandmother in Connecticut. It was always such a wonderful experience getting to spend time with her in the wooded mountains and rolling pathways in the part of the state she lived. In fact, those are probably my fondest memories growing up and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Grandma was a free spirit who loved the outdoors and riding motorcycles. She was and always will be one of the coolest “old ladies” I’ve ever known and always went out of her way to make things fun for me when I’d visit. There was one night that turned out to be more terrifying than fun, however.
Grandma was a storyteller, you see, and knew the perfect tale to tell at any given moment that fit the mood. If you needed a bit of cheering up, she’d tell you a hilarious story about a silly animal or coworker of hers. And if it was a dark, spooky night she’d have the perfect one to make you just a little more afraid but all in good fun. There was one particular night just like that during one summer when I was eleven years old or so. I had begged her to take me on a motorcycle ride with her just about every day that I had been there and she had finally agreed to give in and take me along with her. She liked to ride in the evening because there was always less traffic and it was a little safer to be on the roads. During dinner she decided to tell a story about the time she encountered something strange and unusual on a night much like that night. I know now, as an adult, that she was trying to get me to change my mind.
She said that it was around ten years ago and that she had been on the road for nearly an hour before it happened. She had rounded a steep turn in the bend and began to pick up speed again when she noticed something along the side of the road moving. She had thought it was a tree at first, but the way it was moving didn’t make much sense. It was described by her as though it was uprooted and taking steps along the side of the path as she neared it on her bike. When the “tree” heard her and spun around violently in a motion that looked as though it was attempting to grab her as she rode past it. She also made a mention of the awful, desperate howl that the creature had made as it tried its best to swipe at her. The only thing that saved her was that she had already started to go faster as she got near the thing and managed to avoid its grasp.
I was at an age in which I believed every moment and detail of the story and almost fell for her trick of cancelling the planned ride later that evening from being too afraid. But part of me also really wanted to experience the thrill of being on the back of her motorcycle and riding up and down those twisty paths. So I just did my best to forget about the story she told and finished my meal without mentioning it at all. Before we got ready to leave, she asked me one last time if I wanted to skip it and stay home, but I had already forgotten all about whatever it was she had told me due to the excitement. We both would come to regret that ride and not being persuaded by the memory of her ordeal a decade before.
It was pure joy to that young version of me to be flying around those roads in the dark like that; it was that kind of excitement and thrill you get similar to an amusement park ride. My arms were gripped around grandma’s waist like a vice and I don’t think blinked the entire time. We reached a four-way stop somewhere in the hills and the sound of the bike mellowed out enough that we could hear each other speak. She asked me if I was having a good time, which I replied with an exuberant “Yes!” But the excitement in my body and voice promptly turned into fear when we heard…it.
It was a horrid, despondent shriek from just off the side of the road in the darkness and the trees. Without hesitation, my grandma kicked the bike back into gear and told me to hang on with everything I had. Whatever had made that awful sound was clearly hungry and eleven year old kid was probably on the menu if we stuck around any longer than we already had. Part of me was afraid to open my eyes and look for the tree-monster as it attempted to snatch me off the bike, but the other part of me at least wanted to get a look at the thing that would be devouring me. So I darted my head back and forth into the darkness as we sped past the general area where the noise had come from, but to my upmost gratification there was nothing in the trees but…trees.
I asked my grandma when we got home if what we heard was the same thing that she saw before, but she just claimed that it was probably just a fox or a bobcat or something like that. But I could see the fright in her eyes and knew that it wasn’t just a made-up story. It was the second time she narrowly escaped what I now know to be called a wendigo; an insatiable man-eating monster of native origin that resembles a tree and makes awful desperate cries.