After hiking all day on the mountain I felt ravenous. I walked back home along the road thinking of steaks and bacon. Ahead of me I observed a little man. He stood rather bent over, with a drippy nose and red cheeks, so skinny that as I got closer I saw the veins standing out on his temples and his knuckles. He was dressed in what looked like patchy brown leather, and moccasins. “Hey!” he said. “Do you want something to eat?” He gave a funny one-sided smile. “I’m just having some supper!”
“Yes, I’m starving!”
“Well, I happen to have some deer meat here.” The little man held out a brown mass on a paper plate. It smelled delicious. I didn’t normally accept food from strangers, but sometimes, I thought, people get angry if you don’t accept their offer.
“Thanks!” I said. The meat tasted as yummy as its aroma promised. It was garnished with a very sweet brown sauce.
“You’re welcome,” said the little man. “Call me Billy. Billy How.”
“O.K. Billy,” I said. “I’m Jared.”
He gave me a cloth. “Here, wipe your face on this. It’s made of cedar bark, very gentle.”
I wiped off my deer meat flecked face. The cedar bark tissue felt soft and clean. “Thanks, I said. Not many people are so generous.”
“Bye for now,” said Billy.
“Bye,” I said. “Thanks for sharing your meal.”
The next day, walking back from school, I saw the little man jogging towards me across the field. “Hi Billy,” I said. He looked different. His face appeared even more pinched, his eyes red-tinged.
“I want that deer meat back, Jared.” His voice went high. He opened his mouth, inside it I saw strings of saliva moving up and down.
I looked at him. “I ate the meat yesterday. I can’t give it back.”
Billy stared at me. “You don’t know how hungry I am,” he said. “I need that deer meat.”
“How about a chocolate bar?” I said, fishing in my sweatshirt pocket.
“You don’t seem to hear me.” Billy’s eyes got even bigger and redder. “I gave you deer meat, and that’s the only thing I want. I’m on a very special diet!”
I saw his incisors poking out the front of his dry mouth. His breath blew into me with the stench of rotten mushrooms. He stood in front of me, not moving. Then he took two steps forward. I felt my hands shaking.
“Well,” I said. “If you come back in an hour, maybe I could find some.”
“It won’t be the same meat,” he said. “But I can accept that. See you in an hour.”
I went home and cooked up some spaghetti and meatballs for my Mom and Dad and myself. After they came home from work, we began to eat. “Yeah,” I told them. “This little man wants his deer meat back.”
“That’s crazy,” said Dad. “Why did you eat what he offered in the first place?”
“Yeah,” said Mom. “That was stupid, taking food from a stranger. You don’t have much common sense for a sixteen-year-old.”
“I was hungry,” I said. “I’d walked all day not eating. Also, I didn’t want to insult him.”
“Next time, make some sandwiches,” said Mom.
In the middle of the night, I heard a banging at my window. I looked up from my bed and saw the little man’s face pressed against the window. “I want my meat!” he mouthed. He banged his hand on the glass, and some drool flecked off his lips and onto the pane.
“Sorry!” I said. “I forgot!”
“Meat!” he mouthed again. He pointed his fingers towards his mouth.
I ran upstairs and into my parents’ room.
“Mom, Dad, the little man is at the window!”
“Jeepers, son!” Dad looked up. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Like I said!” I exclaimed. “The little man. He’s trying to break in!”
“O. K. O. K.” Dad got up and pulled on his pants.
“Where the hell is he? I’ll kick his ass!”
We went downstairs and opened the outside door. Dad turned to the right, sidled along the garden wall with his 30:30 hunting rifle. “There’s nobody out here,” he said. “I can sense a human real well, Jared. You know, from my days as a sniper. There ain’t no one out here.” He put his hand on my shoulder.
“I saw him plain as day, Dad.”
“I think it’s bad dreams.” He walked back into the house, unloaded the rifle and laid it in its holder behind the furnace. “Try to get some sleep. And don’t wake me up again!”
The next morning, I took a package of deer meet from the deep freeze. Dad shot a buck last fall, and we had quite a lot of venison left. I put the package in my daypack and walked down the road to catch the bus. Halfway down our long driveway, a face popped out from across the road ditch, half hidden behind a blackberry bush. “You owe me that deer meat!”
“I just happen to have it here,” I said, and I took the package out and threw it over to him. His arms shot out. “This better not be frozen.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Billy struggled out of the blackberry bush and stood at the bottom of the ditch, up to his knees in marsh water. He ripped at the package and exposed a hunk of the venison. “I hope my teeth can take this!” he said, and began gnawing on it.
“So we’re even?” I said. “You won’t bother me any more?”
Billy didn’t say anything, he was too busy trying to bite into the package.
I’d noticed before he wore odd clothes, patchy and ill fitting. Today he only wore a pair of boxer shorts. “You might want to take the meat home and cook it,” I said.
He looked up. I saw a lot of loose skin tighten up on his neck. “This is insulting!” he said. “You expect me to cook this crap?” He turned around and leaped up the other side of the ditch, back into the bushes, holding tightly onto the meat block. “Wow, what a hairy back!” I thought as his boxers snagged on the blackberry bush and ripped as he went through.
“Aaagh!” he shouted, and then disappeared behind the green plants.
I took the bus back in the afternoon, to avoid the little man, and cooked supper for my parents as usual. Dad came back from his truck driving job all tuckered out. He headed for the bedroom. “Can you mow the lawn tonight?” he asked. “I’m bushed. Mom had to work overtime.”
“Okay, Dad.” I went out and started pushing around the hand mower. Usually, I liked the exercise. But today I kept looking over my shoulder. Sure enough, from behind the wood fence, I spied the top of Billy’s head. “Give me some more of that deer meat!” he whispered.
I looked closer. His teeth stuck out further, and glistened under the setting sun, his cheeks appeared a little more filled in. “I paid you back,” I said.
“It wasn’t the same meat!” Billy stood up, spat on the ground. “You owe me double the amount.”
He didn’t look like he was going away any time soon. “I’ve got all night,” he affirmed.
“O. K.” I said. “Just wait here.”
I ran into the house, fished in the deep freeze and carried two packages of frozen venison to the veranda.
“Bring the meat down here!” Billy commanded. I saw that his boxer shorts were now held up by a thread.
“No, I’m gonna throw it,” I said.
The little man reached out his surprisingly long arms and grabbed both packages as I tossed them forcefully in his direction.
“Now, please leave me alone,” I yelled.
“We’ll see,” said Billy. “This time I’ll wait for the food to thaw.” He turned and loped off though the bush, silent and fast in his moccasins, not stepping on any branches. His grey and black hair flowed behind him. Halfway across the property he turned and bared his teeth at me.
“I hope that was a smile,” I thought.
In the middle of the night, I woke up to a tapping at the window, and again Billy crouched there, smiling this time, for sure. “I can’t give you any more,” I said. “My Dad’s gonna see stuff missing from the deep freeze!”
He began to bang on the window. “More meat!” he yelled.
“Geez,” I said, “you’re gonna wake my Mom and Dad!” Then I thought, “maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”
Then I heard a scrabbling. He was trying to open the door!”
I ran upstairs to my parent’s room again.
“The little man’s trying to break in!” I shouted. “Can’t you hear him?”
Mom opened one eye. Dad kept snoring. “Your father’s exhausted,” she said. “Go back to bed!”
I ran to the deep freeze and pulled out the last ten packages of deer meat, went out on the upstairs veranda and threw the meat down to the ground.
“Here you go!” I said. “Now please, leave us alone!”
I saw Billy’s face in the moonlight, peering up at me. His head seemed much larger now, and his teeth shone silver. “This frozen crap again!” he said.
Then he bent down and started gathering up all the packages, putting them in a big wicker bag he wore around his neck. His hairy back bobbed up and down as he worked. I saw that he was stark naked now, and he wore no shoes. He made high pitched noises as he put the last package in his container, then he looked up at me one last time. He gave that wolfish smile again, and jogged off into the trees.
For the next few days, I didn’t see Billy. I started walking back from school again. On the weekend, I took a hike up the mountain with my half indigenous friend Barrow. I told him about Billy How. Barrow nodded in his usual calm, collected way. “Yes, he could be one of what we call “the strange spirits of the mountain,” said Barrow. “No one I know’s ever seen one of them though. You’re unlucky, man.”
“I think so,” I said. “The guy’s stalking me for deer meat.”
“He chose you,” said Barrow. “That’s what they do. He thinks he can own you.”
“I thought he just wanted the meat back.”
“No. He wants you to be in permanent servitude. He takes and grows as you give and fade, until he takes your immortal soul.” Barrow laughed. “Sort of kidding,” he said. “Excuse my droll sense of humour.”
“It’s not funny, man. How can I get rid of him?”
“I’ll ask my Mom,” said Barrow. “She knows the old mountain legends. But maybe Billy’s satisfied with the freezer food.”
It took a few days until Billy How returned. This time, I was out behind my parents’ property, putting a bit of fibreglass insulation into a little cabin I’d built. A tall, stocky fellow with a long, strong jaw strode out of the nearby bush. “I need some more deer meat.” I stared at the figure. It took me a moment or two to realize it was the former little man, now my height, with all black hair this time, in a big pair of leather looking boxer shorts.
“I gave you lots,” I said. “A deal is a deal.”
Billy opened his mouth, to reveal very large sharp wolf like teeth. “You give me what I want,” he said, “or I’ll take it.”
I turned around, one hand on the axe I’d left by the cabin door.
“Hee dee,” giggled Billy, in a high-pitched voice. Then he whispered close to my ear. “I won’t take it now. But when you least expect it. I’ll eat your Mom first.” He raised his arm and flexed a fairly big muscle. He came up and stood inches from my face and breathed his rotten mushroom breath. I felt dizzy, let go of the axe.
“Can’t you get your own food now?” I asked him, my voice quavering. “You look big and strong.”
“I’m big and strong because of you,” he said. He looked into my eyes with his big green centred orbs. I saw no red in them now. “If it wasn’t for you I’d be dead from starvation.” Then he stopped grinning. “You’re my meat mate,” he said. He patted me on the shoulder. “I really appreciate it.”
“O. K.” I backed up a few steps. “Give me a day. I don’t want you to eat my Mom.”
Billy grinned, showing his sharp incisors. “I need the meat by this time tomorrow. Thank you for all your help, Jared.”
I called up Barrow. “What the hell am I going to do?”
“I talked to my Mom,” Barrow said. “She’s going to help you. She knows about this shit, man.”
I bicycled over to Barrow’s place. His huge tattooed Mom sat on a big couch in the front yard, Barrow beside her, cleaning a rifle.
“Hi, Mrs. Armstrong,” I said.
The big lady frowned. “That’s my white name,” she said. “My real name is Kaneonuskatew.” Then she tipped her head back and laughed. “But everyone calls me Sam.”
She put her hand on my arm. “How are you, son?”
“What are you doing with the gun?” I asked Barrow.
“You’re gonna kill a deer with it,” he said.
“I’ve never shot anything in my life,” I told him.
Sam stood up. “Well, how are you going to get any deer meat for your little man?”
“He’s no little man anymore,” I said. She squeezed my arm. “We believe you,” she said. “You’ve had the misfortune to be caught by a Quilquen” she said. “The glutton spirit.”
“Yeah,” said Barrow. “The point is for you to dominate, to make this Billy your bitch.”
“The creature’s an old soul of the mountain,” Sam added. “Folded inside the body of a possessed human. Once it gives you one thing, it’ll demand it back, and then it’ll demand more and more. That fellow reeled you in like a fish on a line. That creature will consume anything, even your soul.” She laughed again. “You’ve gotta take the initiative. Come over here tomorrow morning at 5 AM and we’ll hunt food for this Quilquen.”
She shook up some material in a white flour bag. “What’s that?” I said.
“Magic dust,” Sam said. “It’s mostly vegetables all ground up. These Quilquen are allergic to anything that’s not meat.”
“What are you going to use it for?”
“You’ll see tomorrow. Remember, 5 AM.”
That night, I put my alarm on, but woke up sooner with a great pounding on the window. A huge head filled the pane. “I want more meat!” Billy How roared. I could see right up his nostrils, all red and raw looking, and his long fangs. I ran out upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom, not wanting to turn around to see those other eyes boring into my back. Then I got up enough nerve to tiptoe back downstairs to my room, and close the curtains. “Just a warning,” I said to myself. I still lay awake all night with the light on, expecting that roaring voice again.
At 430 AM I walked over to Barrow’s place in the dark. Behind me, a crashing in the bushes. I ran like a fiend to the Armstrongs. I couldn’t imagine how long Billy’s legs might be by now, how fast he might be able to run. When I arrived, the Armstrongs were up and ready.
“We’ll head out to the meadow,” said Sam. “Always a lot of deer there in the morning.” Barrow and Sam walked behind me. Sam carried a big machete and some carving knives. I carried the gun. “It’s all part of the way it’s done,” said Sam. “You must in control of the kill.”
Closer to the field we crept silently, then crouched behind a log. Sam passed me two bullets. “I know you’ve done a lot of target practice,” she said. “And your Dad used to be a sniper. So it’ll be no problem.” I loaded the gun and aimed it out at the meadow. “Geez,” I whispered. “This thing’s heavy!”
Barrow lay beside me and looked over the log. “There’s a buck over by the big rock.”
A young stag stood looking in our direction. I raised the rifle and peered at the animal through the sights.
“When should I shoot?” I asked Sam.
The big lady sighed. “Like I said, you are the boss here.” She lay on her back looking up into the branches of a poplar tree. My finger touched the trigger. I aimed at the animal’s heart area and fired the gun two times. The buck went down. The shots rang in my ears. I stood up and looked at the deer, bleeding on the ground. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“That’s where your meat comes from,” said Sam. “Good shooting.”
After the three of us gutted and cut up the buck, I carried a big chunk of raw haunch meat home, wrapped in a couple of sacks. It was hard to avoid some blood seeping on my clothes. I lay the meat down by my cabin and waited for Billy How. It didn’t take long. “You’re a good friend to me!” he shouted. He ran out of the woods and sniffed the sack. “I smelled this from way down by the creek!” His tongue flicked in and out like a snake’s. “Wow, you got me the best cut.” I could hardly see his bare back underneath all the new hair. “Not cooked. Not frozen. That’s the way I like it!” He picked up the meat, then put it down. “Where’s the rest of it?” he said. “This is just killed.”
“Over in the Armstrong meadow.” I replied, “where we gutted it.” Billy How gave a long-faced grin, “Thanks, now I won’t have to eat your Mom.” He picked up the meat and crouched down, ran back into the woods on his much longer, spidery legs and one reaching arm, clutching the venison under his other one like a baby with a stuffed toy.
I felt sorry for his meat lust. All the blood and guts since early morning made me nauseous. I went home and ate a little rice pudding.
Sam told me “Come over to the meadow right after you feed Billy How.”
I jogged over as fast as I could and sat behind a big log with a grim-looking Barrow and his Mom. We heard a raven calling through the trees. We crept back under a canopy of devil’s club plants. I could hardly move because of the spines that stuck out from each stem. “These’ll protect us if the entity freaks out,” said Sam. “I want you to observe the process.”
“Geez,” said Barrow. “It’s boiling hot in this thicket.”
“Think of it another way,” Sam laughed. “It’s character building.”
We sat still for an hour. I moved once and received several devil’s club spines in my arm. They burned. My foot fell asleep and my neck ached. I looked up to the sound of something crashing through the bush. I saw Billy How jumping across the meadow. He appeared about seven feet high now, and his head ended in a great big black nose, like a bear’s.
Sam and Barrow stared; mouths open. This was the first mystic man of the mountain they’d ever seen. “Wow, we’re flying by the seat of our pants,” said Sam. “Get ready to run, boys.”
Billy How loped up to the deer carcass and sniffed. Then he reached his huge finger ended paws down into it, and began to scoop and slurp. We watched him devour the whole deer in less than ten minutes.
Then he stood, big belly hanging way down over his groin, blood all over his muzzle and dripping off his chin. He stood naked except for his leather boxer shorts, swaying under the golden evening light, as the sun set behind the mountains. Then a huge roar erupted from his fang filled mouth. His massive shoulders quaked, I saw the tight muscles in his great meaty thighs quivering. Then he swayed, and burped, and burped again.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Was it right to put that magic dust in his meat?”
“Would you sooner he eat your mother?” whispered Barrow. “It was only ground up kale and stuff.” I watched the huge animal figure turn around and face our direction, its face twisting.
The body began to jerk, and twist, limbs out of control. I stood up to get a better look, and Billy saw me.
“Jared you bastard!” he yelled. “I gave you deer meat, and you betrayed me!” He crashed onto his knees. “I thought you were my friend!” I saw his eyes droop, his mouth drop open. “I hate vegetables!” was the last thing I heard. His head went inside out, turning forehead first, folding into the neck almost one hundred eighty degrees, melding into Billy How’s chest and throat and neck. Then the body began to melt into the legs. The legs dissolved. The whole mess of flesh and liquid bone poured itself into the ground. The smell of rotten meat filled the air.
Sam peered out. “It’s working!” she whispered. “He’s melting from the allergic reaction to the veggie dust!” She leaned forward, studying the scene like a scientist.
Barrow started to retch. “That stinks!”
I put my shirt up over my nose.
Sam pointed. “Wow, see what’s coming out of the earth?”
I looked to see some kind of flesh re-forming from the mess that had liquefied into the ground.
The flesh congealed and shaped itself and rose from the grass. The mass stood up, and solidified. We witnessed the form of the young stag reborn again. It stood there shaking its head, testing the wind. It looked different though. Its eyes shone green, huge and oval, much bigger and more intense than a normal deer’s eyes. It pawed the ground, it snorted, lifted its neck and opened its mouth. I saw huge canine incisors. “Jeepers! It’s still Billy How in there!”
I looked at Barrow, but he was already gone, pushing out through the devil’s club.
“Let’s go!” said Sam. “While the stag’s still disoriented.” We jogged the mile back to the Armstrongs, Sam puffing and blowing as she ran around bushes and holes. Then she sat us down in her kitchen. “Don’t you ever tell anyone what we saw,” she said. “If this ever got out, we’d be overwhelmed with tourists and investigators and the press.” She held our hands. “We’re all part of the same tribe now. Let’s protect the mountain and its creatures.”
I jogged home in the twilight. Mom and Dad were back from work. “How come you haven’t cooked supper?” Mom said. “Where were you, out all day?”
“Just over at the Armstrongs,” I said. “We did some target practice.”
Dad nodded. “Good for you,” he said. “Where do you keep the canned beans?”
He rummaged in the cupboard, then looked out the window. “Wow!” he said. “There’s a great big buck out there!”
I looked from behind him. The Billy How deer stood in the driveway, looking towards the veranda. “Who else could it be?” I thought.
“It’s got some great antlers,” said Dad.
The deer opened its mouth and made a loud, calling noise. I could see its fangs. So could Dad.
“It’s still hunting season,” said Mom.
“That’s one strange-looking buck,” said Dad.
He left the window and went downstairs. I followed. “You’re not going to shoot it, are you?” I said. I’d had enough killing for one day. I also felt bad thinking of Billy’s last words before his big melt, about how I’d betrayed him.
“You bet I’m gonna shoot it!” Dad whispered. “I looked in the fridge today, and all the deer meat’s gone! I didn’t think we ate that much.”
He grabbed the gun from behind the furnace and pumped a few bullets into it.
“I like beans better,” I said. “The deer’s not doing any harm.”
“Do you know the price of meat these days?” Dad said. “Come on, this is a golden opportunity!”
He opened the door quietly and stepped outside, then made his way carefully along the garden wall. I saw him aim the rifle.
I guess I could have made a big noise, and warned Billy How. But I didn’t know what that deer wanted. What would it ask me for? And Dad would’ve been very pissed off. I made a vow to Sam Armstrong not to tell anything about the little man. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
My Dad fired three times. I ran into the house, couldn’t watch the buck go down. “Wow, got him clean!” Dad yelled.
I sat in my room, listening to loud music as Dad worked outside, gutting and carving up the deer.
“What’s wrong with you?” he said as he came back in, his butcher’s smock all splattered.
“I’ve become a vegetarian,” I told him. “I will never touch meat again..”
And I haven’t, because every time I smell it cooking, I think of the odour of melting Billy How, and the toothy, reconstituted deer standing in the driveway waiting for me to come out and explain my treachery. That’s more than enough motivation for me to make myself another kale and bean sandwich. Dad cooked up one deer steak. He and Mom ate it, but I haven’t detected any differences in their moods yet. Yesterday Barrow came over and we threw the rest of the frozen meat into sacks and hauled them over to the Armstrongs. Sam says she’s going to do a ritual to exorcise the Quilquen when the meat thaws. Dad’s going to notice the empty deep freeze, but I’ll tell him I’m such a committed vegetarian that I forbid my parents to be carnivores. That will not go over well, but I’m almost 17 now and after this experience, fairly good with exaggerations.
BIO: Harrison Kim lives in Victoria with his spouse and editor Sera T. He’s on a five year writing plan. This is year one. He’s been published or is upcoming in various online magazines including Bewildering Stories, Literally Stories, Hobart, Gone Lawn, Fiction on the Web U. K., Terror House, Piker Press and Aphelion. He does not eat deer meat.