August sat on the small couch, his favorite spot, worn smooth to fit his large frame. Jed and Maddie stepped into the room and took their normal seats, Maddie wrapping herself in a bright red blanket.
"We'll be quiet and let you talk, August. This is your story," said Maddie.
August looked beyond the two of them, his unfocused eyes scanning his past for a few seconds. "My entire story is too long. We'll have to save that for another time, but I can sum it up."
"My real name is Ma'iingan wa'wo'no mano'minike, though you'll mangle the words if you try to say them properly. As a matter of fact, I probably just mangled my own name, it's been so long since I heard it. What it means is Grey-Wolf-howling-at-the-August-Moon or roughly that. I've gone by the name August Moon for a long time."
Jed and Maddie looked at each other.
"We are Ojibwe, what most people in the USA call Chippewa Indians, though our Grandmother said we had a blue-eyed grandfather. Lone Wolf and I think he was a French-Canadian trapper.
"Lone Wolf is two years older than I am. We were born near what is now Sault Ste. Marie or close to Port Huron. The Ojibwe roamed most of Michigan at that time." August paused. "We were born before your Revolutionary War."
Maddie's eye got wide. "August, that would make you over two hundred years old."
Jed spoke up. "Dad said we were part Chippewa. Are you an ancestor of ours?"
August's chuckle was deep and rumbling. "No, I wish I was, Jed. I'd be proud to have you and your father as descendants, but the same genetic quirk that gave us longevity also made us sterile." His face flushed. "Sorry, Maddie. I don't know how else to say it."
"I get it. You can't have children." Her eyes glistened. "Jed and I wonder if being Transformed does the same thing to us."
August shrugged. "I wish I knew, Maddie. As the decades passed, Lone Wolf and I never settled in one place for long. Then something happened that we only heard about in old stories. The tribe we stayed with was attacked by a wendigo."
"I don't know what that is, August." Jed said. "Seems I might have heard the word somewhere, though."
"Oh, it's been popularized in white culture somewhat. It's essentially a demon, stronger and faster than human and craving human flesh."
Jed's eyes widened. "A myth, right? And you think…"
August held up his hand, his eyes dark and sharp as they stared at Jed. "I think maybe this creature was very much like a zombie."
August's eyes lost focus and he stared through the walls, surfing his memories. He shook his head and he grinned.
"It was a dark and stormy night…" he began.
Jed and Maddie laughed.
August's big hands moved as he wove the story. "That's the classic bad story beginning, but it is true in this case. It was a dark summer night and it had been hot for weeks. When the rain came, it pelted the ground in sheets of water. My tent was snug and I settled in for the night.
"The thunder cracked, moving closer each time. After one loud thunder boom I heard a scream, a long scream of pure terror. I knew it was Little-Deer. I'm sure everyone in the camp knew it was Little-Deer.
"Wearing only a loincloth, I ran through the mud to the tent of Little-Deer's family. I was faster than the others, though Lone Wolf was close behind me.
"I saw a huddled figure inside her tent. I won't go into the details, but Little-Deer was dead, and the creature feasted on the remains of her family.
"He saw me coming. His eyes were black. Blood and gore covered him. He bared his teeth at me and lunged for my throat the instant I came close to the front of the tent.
"He was fast, faster than anyone I'd ever fought, and by then I'd been in my fair share of scrapes. I don't know how long we fought. I couldn't get a good grip on him. Between the rain and the blood, his skin was slick. His nails were thicker, too, and he clawed at me, tearing my skin. He kept pulling me back into the tent, so none of the others could get to him. When his teeth sank into my arm, my vision clouded over.
"Lone Wolf said he'd never seen anything like it. I roared. With a single sweep of my injured arm, I tore the moorings from the tent and threw it aside. They weigh a few hundred pounds. Lone Wolf said I looked like a giant standing in the rain, scratched and bleeding, water and blood pouring over me. I tilted my head back and screamed in rage. The wendigo tried to escape as soon as the tent hit the ground, but I caught him by the ankle. Lone Wolf heard the wendigo's bones crack as I picked him up. I wrapped my other hand around his neck and lifted him into the air, then snapped his spine and flung him to the ground.
"Lone Wolf kept everyone away from us. I grabbed one of the tent poles and continued to smash the wendigo's body into the mud. Finally, I collapsed to my knees.
"I remember that. I remember being on my knees and looking at the mud and water and blood running around me, forming tiny rivers, flowing down the hill."
August was quiet. Jed and Maddie didn't interrupt.
"The villagers feared me since I was bitten. They talked about killing me and burning my body, but Lone Wolf did something that changed our futures."
August sighed. "You need to understand. Back then, we believed in Nature, in cause and effect. Becoming a wendigo was a terror from nightmares.
"When the chief explained their fears, Lone Wolf stood in front of the entire assembled men of the tribe. He's never been one for speeches, but I remember his words like they were spoken yesterday.
"'The wendigo came to destroy your tribe, to devour your wives and your children, to change the rest of you into wendigo so you would kill, to curse your spirits. Gitche Manitou sent us here, knowing of the coming of the wendigo, though he did not tell us when it would come. He sent us to protect you, to destroy the wendigo. You saw Gitche Manitou enter my brother's body. You saw him break the bones of the wendigo and return him to the Earth as the tears fell from the sky for the fallen children of Gitche Manitou. We must leave now and search for other wendigos.'
"We left immediately after that speech."
Jed's mouth was open. "Why in the world would Lone Wolf say such a thing?"
"I asked him that. He said he didn't know, that the words came to him, but they seemed right." August shook his head. "You can see how that caused us some trouble, though. We couldn't travel from tribe to tribe any more. The story of the servants of Gitche Manitou hunting wendigos swept through the area."
"August, that leaves more questions than answers," said Maddie.
"So the Z-virus is a natural mutation, except it got out of control?" Jed stared at August.
"And if that's the case, then you're changed, like we are? But that doesn't make sense because you were born the way you are, not from infection." Maddie looked at Jed who shook his head at the unasked question. "But we don't sense you."
"Are you immortal?" Jed stared at August and touched Maddie's long blonde hair with the tips of his right hand. "Are we?"
"And what does Jed's Dad have to do with it?"
August held up his right hand, palm toward them. "Stop. Stop. I don't know the answers, but that was the beginning of the story. Let me finish. To make it brief, that was when Lone Wolf and I became wendigo hunters."
"That's a good title," said Jed. Maddie shushed him with a sharp look.
August chuckled. "I'll have to get a t-shirt made. But let me summarize the rest and we can visit the wendigo tales some other time.
"Lone Wolf and I traveled a lot. We were adopted by a very wealthy Portuguese merchant, Lucas Silva Costa Santos de Aguilar and his lovely wife Maria." August's eyes lost their focus. "In fact, Lone Wolf married into the family."
The log in the fire snapped and the wood settled, sending small sparks into the room, which Jed snuffed out with his feet.
"No wonder you go through so many socks," muttered Maddie. Jed grinned at her.
August looked at them, his face weary. "Anna was very beautiful and she loved Lone Wolf with a great passion. He went by the name of Juan Sangue de Pedra then." A slight smile crossed his face. "They loved each other so much, it was almost enough for me to be in their presence."
"Almost enough?" Jed asked.
Seeing the hurt in August's eyes, Maddie poked Jed in the side. "He loved her, too," she whispered.
August sighed. "After Anna died, Lone Wolf and I traveled all across the world as wendigo hunters. Lone Wolf had visions that gave us hints where to go. In some cases, tales of us spread. In other cases, there were no survivors to spread the tales. In a few cases, people blamed us for slaughtering dozens, so we learned to be careful. Occasionally we arrived to find other wendigo hunters had already solved the problem."
"There are others?" Jed blurted.
"I guess so," said August, "though we never met them. Lone Wolf and I fought in a number of wars as descendants of Juan de Pedra and Eduardo de Aguilar but those are different stories. Still, it was the war records and photos that did me in."
August shook his head, shaking away bad memories or dark thoughts. Maddie watched him closely.
"I know how to fight. When you can spend a decade learning a martial art, you become pretty good, though you have to be careful to avoid notoriety. Lone Wolf and I spent many, many years learning martial arts, armed and unarmed. We studied tactics. We know dirty tricks, killing blows, avoidance techniques…
"Lone Wolf even studied for a few decades in Japan, before it was the popular thing to do. When I ask him what he learned that's so special, he smiles and answers 'patience.'" August frowned. "That drives me nuts when he does that, and he knows it.
"I don't know how they found me. In retrospect, I was sloppy. Lone Wolf told me I was careless, but I ignored him. Perhaps it was a little bit of hubris, as well. I lived for decades in society, changed locations and names a few times and thought I had it figured out." He paused to watch the flames.
"So it isn't as easy as they make it seem in Highlander, I suppose," Jed said.
August jerked, looking back at Jed and Maddie. "You mean the series, right? The first Highlander was okay." August looked away from them, toward the mantle above the fireplace. "No, it isn't nearly as easy as Adrian Paul made it look, though we had that antiquity dealer idea, too. We still have items stashed away that are hundreds of years old." August sighed. "They don't matter anymore, I suppose."
"They took me from my apartment without a single shot fired or punch thrown. I went to sleep in my own bed and woke up on a cot in a cinder block room with no window, a bare bulb, a sink and a toilet. I had a thin mattress and a couple blankets. I was dressed in scrubs.
"I imagine they used gas and walked in and took me away. They carted up everything I owned and hauled that off, too, but I didn't learn that until later.
"They kidnapped me in March of 2013. I don't recall much else until October of 2014. I remember pain. Pain and the experiments."