The Sword
The Cabiri Chronicles
     Life of a History
     Under the Hood

     Balancing Act

     I was just acting!
     Lucifer as a Player
     Player Types Defined
     LARP Boredom
     LARP Survival

     Economics in D&D 3.5

     Sept 11, 2002
     Columbia Disaster

     A Letter of Vocation
     Evidence of Evil
     In Defense of a Reflection

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

          Author's Comments: This was written for a wonderful writer's workshop at the Milaye Project.

November 15th, 2005

          “Hungry?” Bonnecastle shouted over the roar of the helicopter engines as he produced jerky from his satchel.
          Brian Carrick paled noticeably at the sight of food. He hated flying. His stomach was still twisted from the flight in from Boston and the small, seemingly flimsy helicopter wasn’t much comfort. Rueben Bonnecastle smiled a toothy grin as he tossed the jerky into his mouth and started gnawing on it.
          “Don’t worry, Chief,” Bonnecastle shouted, “I’ve flown in a hundred of these ‘copters. They’re safer’n that brick we came in on. And we ain’t even bein’ shot at!”
          Brian opened his mouth to speak, but the helicopter suddenly lurched for a moment and Brian suddenly clamped his mouth shut and grabbed his seat. Bonnecastle laughed heartily, the jerky protruding from his mouth bouncing merrily at Carrick. Even Kay, who was sitting next to Bonnecastle, stifled a smile. Paul just looked on enigmatically.
          “Folks?” the pilot called into their headsets. Brian instinctively looked at the cockpit. He could only see the back of the pilot’s head and the blue-black sky of dusk through the window beyond. “We’ll be landing on Snow Mountain here in a couple of minutes. Local temperature’s going to be about twenty degrees, so bundle up. Once we’re on the ground, I’ll need to head back to Colfax to refuel. Shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.”
          Brian pulled the mic on his headset closer to his mouth. “It might take longer than that,” he said, trying to keep his native Scottish brogue under control. “Can you stay on call in Colfax and we’ll call you when we need you?”
          The pilot nodded and glanced back, giving Brian thumbs up. The helicopter suddenly lurched again as it descended toward a snowy peak amidst the Sierra Nevadas. It was unremarkable except for a few bright spotlights erected in a circle near its peak and the lone figure that stood under those lights waiting.
          When the helicopter finally landed with a loud thud, Brian was first to detach himself from his seat and run outside, his head ducked low. Bonnecastle followed, turning to help Kay step down. Paul, his hood flapping around his shoulders, was last to leave the chopper. Soon after stepping off, the pilot waved from the cockpit and the helicopter roared back into the sky.
          Huddling inside the thick winter jacket, Brian jogged to the waiting figure. There were a few black crates scattered about under the lights and a small canvas shelter that appeared to have been hastily erected. A small generator hummed nearby. A few of the spotlights were pointing towards a spot in the snow that had been dug up. The piles of snow next to the hole were streaked in bright red. Carrick glanced at the open wound in the mountain, but couldn’t see what was within.
          “Scotty! Its good to see you, Merry Christmas,” the figure called out as he approached, flashing a perfect smile. He wore a heavy black jacket with a hood pulled up over his head. His eyes were hidden behind iridescent yellow ski-goggles. He reached out and chook Carrick’s hand. Carrick involuntarily closed his eyes as he touched the man’s thin leather glove.

          Chaos. A woman’s scream. People getting in the way.
          “Gun!” someone shouted.
          A shot fired.
          “What the hell is that?” he asked as Parr shoved him bodily into the back seat of the limo.
          Another shot.
          McCarthy swung out his arms and caught one in the chest.
          A third shot.
          Brady was falling, a gaping wound in his head.
          I saw him, wild fear in his eyes mixed with rage. I wasn’t the first to throw myself on top of him, but neither was I the last.
          “The President has been shot,” I heard someone say into my earpiece.

          “’Scotty’?” Bonnecastle murmured, smiling wickedly at Kay over his gnawed jerky.
          “Good to see you too, lad,” Carrick replied, shaking off the vision and rubbing his arms to acclimate himself to the cold.
          “I didn’t realize you’d be bringing friends…” Mark said, nodding his head towards the team Carrick had assembled.
          “I wasn’t sure what to expect, Mark,” Brian replied as they moved towards the shelter, “so I brought some experts in the field. This is Dr. Kay Summers, a criminal psychologist from Boston U.”
          Kay stepped forward gracefully and shook Mark’s hand as they walked. Even under the heavy winter coat, it was obvious that she had the lithe form of a dancer. Her dark skin and striking high cheekbones were more indicative of a highly paid model or African princess than a psychologist.
          “Mark Jacobson,” he replied, returning her smile.
          “And Paul Aglamark, forensic scientist out of Denver,” Brian said, indicating his second companion. Paul was the only person wearing his jacket open and his hood down. His silky, black hair swirled in the mountain air as he shook Mark’s hand with an enigmatic smile.
          “Pauite?” Mark asked, noting Paul’s high cheekbones and dark skin.
          “Inuit,” Paul replied simply. “I was raised in Minnesota.”
          “And this is Reuben Bonnecastle.” Reuben was a huge man, easily a head taller than the rest of his companions. He carried a ready smile on his face, but his sparkling eyes still seemed to carry the readiness of a predatory animal behind them. In addition to his thick coat, he was also wearing a large knife strapped to his combat boots and a large backpack on his back.
          “Ruben,” Mark said as they entered the enclosure.
          “Just call me Bonnecastle, sir,” the large man replied crisply.
          Mark nodded at him and glanced back to Carrick. “And his job?”
          Brian regarded Bonnecastle with a smirk as the big man dropped his backpack and pulled off his coat, revealing a large pistol tucked snugly in a holster under his right arm.
          “Public Relations,” Carrick replied with a smile. Bonnecastle smiled a toothy grin back at him.
          Mark leaned back on a small table in the room and removed his goggles. Even after being in the wind outside, his brown hair fell almost perfectly into place. Though fit and obviously accustomed to being paid attention to, Mark was in all ways unremarkable in appearance. “Well, thank you for coming on such short notice,” Mark said finally.
          “You said it was urgent,” Carrick replied as he removed his hood and warmed his hands over a small ceramic heater near the center of the room.
          “Yeah, it is,” Mark replied. “Yesterday afternoon, a local amateur pilot was flying over the area and noticed a patch of red snow up here with a man sitting nearby. When the local police investigated, they found what looked like a murder-suicide. One woman killed, one man frozen to death.”
          “Sounds pretty straightforward, Mark,” Carrick replied. “How did Secret Service get involved?”
          Mark turned and picked up a black and white photograph from the table behind him. “The police recognized the man as Jacob Worthington,” he said, handing the photo to Brian. Brian looked blankly at the picture and shrugged at Mark.
          “You really should pick up a newspaper sometime, Brian,” Kay scolded smoothly. “Jacob Worthington, son of Democratic Senator John Worthington… playboy, peace activist, philanthropist and general media darling. At least recently.”
          Mark nodded and smiled admirably at Kay. “Jake came up here for some hiking with his girlfriend,” he continued. “The kid needed some peace and quiet; he’d been following Clinton around during the election with his father for the last year. With the celebrations after the election and then the holidays, this is the first chance he got to get away.”
          Mark sighed as he took the photograph back from Brian. “The cop knew the media would be all over this, so he called the Senator. He asked me to come down here and see if it was Jake or not. He wanted things handled discretely.”
          “So if we’re being discrete, why call us in?” Bonnecastle asked with his usual delicacy.
          “Well,” Mark said, looking for the first time as if he were searching for the right words. “A few years back I met Brian here while stationed in Berlin. He once told me that if I ever saw anything I couldn’t explain to give him a call. Well…” Mark shrugged and stood up. “Let me show you.”
          The group reassembled their gear and stepped back outside. Night had fully fallen and the winds were starting to pick up. Mark led them towards the open wound. Nearby, Brian noticed a tarp draped over something in the snow. At the rim of the hole, Mark stopped and looked down.
          Within the excavated snow lay a woman’s body, her jacket and clothes splayed open as if some beast tried to rip them from her. Her skin seemed an almost translucent soft blue under the harsh spotlights, except where it was ripped open around her stomach and thigh. An expression of sheer terror was frozen, literally, on her face.
          Paul stepped down into the hole in the crimson snow and knelt next to her. He pulled out a small cassette recorder and clicked it on.
          “Snow Mountain Investigation, December twenty-seventh, nineteen ninety-six,” he murmured into the recorder. “Subject appears to have been attacked by a wild animal. Has severe lacerations laterally across the abdomen and right thigh. Tissue appears to be missing. Likely cause of death extreme trauma and blood loss…” Suddenly, he stopped speaking as he reached out and slid his gloved finger into the wound. He clicked off the recorder.
          “Brian,” he said without pulling his gaze from the wound. “I don’t think an animal did this.”
          “No…” Mark confirmed. “And that’s why I called you, Scotty.”
          Carrick stepped into the hole and knelt down beside Paul, who was rubbing his finger across the rim of the wound. He could clearly see the bite marks in the flesh.
          “That looks like human teeth did that,” Brian murmured. Paul finally turned to look at him and nodded slowly. The winds howled, as if in confirmation.
          “You think Worthington did this?” Bonnecastle asked. Even his face had gone a bit ashen and the smile was gone from his face.
          Mark nodded and waved for them to follow. He stepped to the tarp nearby and pulled it back. Beneath was the figure of a man, sitting naked almost chest deep in the snow. His skin was dark blue, snow and frost clung to his hair and face. Dark streaks of frozen blood were smeared across his chin and crystals of tears were visible on his cheeks. His face was contorted in a visage of anguish and despair.
          Kay gasped and stepped back. Bonnecastle, his features grim, stepped in front of her, as if to shield her from the thing in the snow. Carrick stepped forward and knelt before the frozen figure.
          “How long have they been stuck up here?” Carrick called out over the winds. A few flakes of snow began to swirl around them.
          “That’s just it, Brian,” Mark replied, looking suspiciously at the sky, “they set out from Colfax yesterday morning. And the girl had food in her pack. We still don’t know where Jake’s clothes are.”
          “The pressure of the campaign…” Brian said as he rose to his feet. “The stress… maybe he just snapped?”
          “I wouldn’t believe that if I hadn’t seen it,” Mark replied, shaking his head emphatically. “Brian, this guy was the picture of calm. He’s been arrested a couple of times for non-violent protests… sit ins, hunger strikes, things like that, but he was as gentle as they come. Even got nervous just knowing we carried guns around his father. There wasn’t a violent bone in his body.”
          “Then what do you think?” Brian said as he huddled inside his coat.
          “Cold…” Kay murmured, her hands wrapped tightly around her.
          “I don’t know,” he began, “that’s why I…”
          “Cold!” Kay shouted, crumpling to the ground. Bonnecastle was quickly at her side, taking his own coat off and wrapping it around her. Paul furrowed his brow in confusion as he watched.
          “Kay, do you sense something?” Brian called out as he also kneeled by her side. She shook her head violently as she convulsed under Bonnecastle’s coat. Carrick nodded to Bonnecastle, who quickly picked her up his massive arms and carried her towards the tent. Paul, Brian and Mark followed quickly behind.
          “Dammit, weather’s supposed to be clear tonight,” Mark shouted over the wind as the snow continued to whip around them. Cabling between the spotlights began to clang loudly in the wind. “We’re going to have to call the chopper back.”
          Brian nodded at him as they entered the tent. One corner of the tent was flapping madly against the wind and Mark bent down to try to secure it. Bonnecastle sat Kay down on the small table and moved the ceramic heater closer to her. Paul jogged the few steps to the corner of the tent and helped Mark wrestle against the wind.
          “What did you mean ‘sense something’?” Mark asked as he looked at Brian.
          Brian sighed as he looked into Kay’s eyes. She tried to keep them clamped shut, but it was obvious that the heater was helping. “She’s a sensitive,” Carrick finally replied, satisfied that she was recovering. “She can feel things we can’t.”
          “You mean a psychic, Scotty?” Mark replied incredulously.
          “Yes…” Brian replied. He obviously had hoped to avoid this conversation. “Really more a medium. She can sense and speak with the spirits of the departed. I think she was just communicating with one them.”
          “Dammit, Carrick,” Mark replied angrily. “If I’d wanted the Ghostbusters I wouldn’t have called you. What the hell is going on?”
          “I don’t know yet, Mark,” Carrick replied calmly, still watching as Kay recovered. “But you were right to call me. There is something going on here.”
          “Well, this investigation is over,” he replied as he sat down at the small radio that hummed and buzzed angrily. “The local boys will pick things up from here tomorrow morning. The Press are going to have a field day with this.”
          Suddenly the wind roared, ripping the canvas from Paul’s hand and sending a small tornado of snow into the room. Outside, the cables clamored even louder. There was a sharp clang of metal against metal, a loud pop and suddenly everything went dark. The radio stopped buzzing.
          “Dammit, the generator,” Mark swore into the darkness. Brian reached for the tent flap and soon stumbled outside into the wind and snow.
          “Stay here,” Bonnecastle called out through the wind.
          “I’ve got it,” Paul shouted.
          Brian continued to fight his way through the snow to the generator. Even with the winds, he could smell the lingering scent of ozone in the air. As he approached the small generator, he could see one of the spotlights lying across it, a small trail of smoke billowing into the wind.
          “Dammit, that was our ticket out of here,” Mark called out over wind as he knelt next to the generator. He gave the pull a quick tug, but it only whined in protest.
          “If you’ve got any tools, I can try to fix it,” Bonnecastle called out as shivered against the thin sweater he wore over his muscular frame.
          “We need to fix the tent,” Paul called out as he walked up next to them. “The temperature is dropping fast. It’s going to be a blizzard here in a few minutes.”
          “Fixing the generator is our first priority,” Mark replied firmly. “Without that, we got no comm., we’ve got no heat.”
          “Our body heat,” Paul replied. “Inside an enclosed space, we can…”
          “Hey!” Bonnecastle shouted loudly as he looked in the direction of the tent, which was barely visible through the swirling snow. “Where’s Kay?”
          Brian jumped slightly as a shrill scream emitted from the tent. All four men suddenly began to bolt towards the scream, the smoking generator forgotten. Bonnecastle was first inside as he called out for Kay. Mark brushed past him and fiddled with something on the floor as Brian came to a stop behind them. Suddenly, the room was illuminated by the sickly green light of a glow stick Mark had pulled from a crate. The table Kay had been sitting on was overturned and it appeared that the loose corner had pulled farther from its moorings, but there was no sign of their companion.
          “Dammit, Kay?” Bonnecastle called out, turning back to the tent flap as Mark handed Brian another glow stick. Brian quickly cracked it and stepped into the middle of the tent.
          “Alright, we find her,” he called out firmly. Bonnecastle turned, almost snapping to attention as Mark handed Bonnecastle another glow stick and a spare jacket. “Bonnecastle, you take west. Paul, north. Mark, south. I’ll take east. We’re looking for tracks and we need to move quickly, they’ll disappear fast in this storm. She can’t have gotten far. Go about fifty paces, then turn to your left and start circling around the camp. The first one to see the tracks calls out for the rest of us.”
          Bonnecastle nodded and quickly jogged out. Mark tossed a glow stick to Paul and headed out himself. Paul calmly strolled into the storm behind him, leaning against the wind. Brian stepped to the loose corner of the tent and crouched down to step outside.
          Brian looked around a bit outside, giving the others time to get some distance between themselves and the tent as he turned and slipped back inside. He knelt down next to the table, quickly pulled the glove from his left hand and lightly pressed his fingertips to the tabletop.

          “Dammit, the generator…”
          So cold… must eat…
          “Stay here!”
          Insides stopping…food!
          “I’ve got it!”
          Must eat…

          “Brian!” a voice called out over the howl of the wind. “Quickly!”
          Brian shook himself back to reality and jogged out of the tent. The voice was Paul’s, he thought, though the wind was distorting all sound with its incessant howling. Carrick ran northward, finally coming to a stop next to Paul, who was standing motionless in the snow, his glow stick held out in front of him like a lantern.
          “Did you find her?” Brian called out.
          “No…” Paul replied as he pointed to a hole in the snow. Brian glanced around him, trying to get his bearings in the snow and darkness. The bloody pit was nearby, a few overturned spotlights; the tarp was tangled around the crates….
          The body… Jake’s body was gone. Tracks lead away from where the corpse had been sitting.
          “Wendigo!” Paul shouted.
          “What?” Bonnecastle shouted as he jogged up.
          “Old Inuit tale!” Paul replied over the storm as Mark appeared in their midst. “They say that those trapped by the snow who eat of a human can be inhabited by a dark spirit of the wild. A spirit of starvation that seeks out human flesh. The Wendigo exists only to satiate its unending hunger…”
          “Dammit, Brian,” Mark called out, glaring angrily at Paul. “We don’t have time for ghost stories. Your friend is out there and…”
          Brian lifted his hand and nodded at Bonnecastle. The huge man reached inside his jacket and produced his gun, quickly flipping off the safety and sliding a bullet into the chamber in one quick motion. Instinctively, Mark also pulled a pistol from inside his jacket and cocked it.
          “One way or the other,” Brian shouted, “I don’t think Kay left of her own accord… someone took her and someone took Worthington’s body.”
          Mark nodded, satisfied by Carrick’s explanation. All three men looked to Carrick for their next move.
          “We have two guns and four of us,” he said firmly. “We continue the search… those tracks led east, but they could have doubled back. Bonnecastle, you’re with me, we’ll go east and look for Kay. Mark, Paul, you stay here and get that generator up, we’re going to need that helicopter.”
          Paul nodded calmly and jogged back into the darkness, Mark close behind him. Carrick nodded to Bonnecastle to follow.
          The two started down the steep mountainside, alternately wading through ever-deeper snow and scrambling across sharp, icy rocks. As they approached the tree line, they came across the remains of Kay’s coat hanging from a low branch, flapping in the wind like an old, tattered flag. Carrick glanced up meaningfully at Bonnecastle, who carried a grim expression on his face. Without comment, the two continued down the mountainside.
          As they rounded a large boulder next to a dark precipice, Brian heard the crack of a tree limb over the roar of the storm. He turned back to Bonnecastle in time to see a sickly yellowish blur leap at the big man from the top of the rock.
          “What the-“ Bonnecastle called out as the creature connected with Bonnecastle’s outstretched arm. Brian could hear the crack of bone as Bonnecastle bellowed in pain. The two stumbled backwards as Bonnecastle tried to swing at it with his free hand and the two suddenly disappeared down the precipice. Brian scrambled to the ledge, but could only hear the distant cracking of tree limbs in the darkness and swirling snow below.
          Quickly looking around, Carrick decided that the best way to get down was to follow the narrow trail he was on. He quickly hopped through the snow, over a few strewn boulders, grabbing at pine trees for support as he descended the mountain. Suddenly, his foot caught on a buried rock and he went tumbling through the snow, his limbs flailing. He finally came to a stop, thudding against a small boulder. Brian stood quickly, intending to move on, when the boulder he had hit was illuminated by his glow stick.
          “By the gods,” he murmured as he realized it wasn’t a boulder that had stopped his fall, but the still frozen and now mutilated body of Jacob Worthington.
          Carrick froze as he heard a low growl behind him. Slowly, he turned, holding his arms wide.
          Kay was crouched naked in the snow like a wild animal, glaring at him. Her skin was yellowed and jaundiced, her black hair wild and lined in frost. Her hands were thin with talon-like claws. Her jaw was distended unnaturally, as if broken, and her teeth were sharp and extended. She looked emaciated, as if she hadn’t eaten in days, though there was fresh blood smeared across her lips and naked chest. Red eyes glowed at Carrick hungrily.
          Carrick finally regained his senses as he turned and ran down the narrow path. The creature that was Kay howled angrily behind him and crashed through the trees after him. The winds joined in its howl in a cacophony of a dreadful song. Thick trees bent and creaked against the storm. The thing grabbed at his jacket, which he quickly slipped off as he scrambled away from it. He stumbled into a low branch and pulled it back, whipping himself around to face the creature. As it leapt into the air, certain of its meal, Brian let go of the tree limb. The supple limb whipped into its face, sending it flailing back in rage. When it landed, its head cracked against a boulder and the creature lay still.
          Brian took a step toward it and it suddenly lifted itself up in the snow, shaking its bleeding head groggily. Carrick turned and hurled himself down the mountainside, thrashing through the trees. As he ran, he could hear the thing behind him, howling in impotent rage as its prey escaped. For a seemingly interminable time, Carrick ran, his lungs exploding within his chest, his legs seared with pain.
          He eventually stumbled into a clearing next to a large, frozen lake. The snow had subsided, the winds had calmed. He staggered through the snow towards the lake and could just make out what seemed like electric lights on the other side.
          It howled behind him.
          There was nowhere to run… He slowly turned around, holding his glow stick before him like a weapon. It crouched in the snow, slowly crawling towards him, an eager gleam in its feral eyes. Brian noticed that the sky had become lighter during his flight through the wood… and clear. It suddenly faltered in its prowl, its eyes flickering in confusion. Orange sunlight filtered across the mountain peaks and the feral red gleam dimmed. He jaw slid back into place and her teeth retracted as Brian watched. The rage melted from the beast’s face as it twisted in anguish. She screamed only once, before curling into a fetal position, naked in the snow.
          Suddenly, the world exploded in light. Brian turned around and lifted his arm to cover his eyes. The headlamps of small truck pierced the soft glow of the coming dawn.
          “Sir? Are you alright?” a man called as he stepped in front of the truck. He wore a green jacket and brimmed hat on his head. Brian’s knees suddenly shook and gave out beneath him. The man stepped forward and pulled him up out of the snow.
          “I’ve got you buddy,” the man said reassuringly. Brian grabbed at the man’s jacket as he tried to stand, his hand falling on an embroidered emblem on the man’s jacket. His eyes grew wide as he read the lettering on the badge.
          Donner Memorial State Park.

          Brian, Mark and Bonnecastle sat huddled around a small table in the diner, their coffees cooling on the table in front of them. Bonnecastle scratched idly at the cast on his arm.
          “There was nothing I could do,” Mark murmured darkly. “She was on him so fast. Those teeth clamped around his throat and tore him like he was made of paper. I never got a shot off. Then she looked at me… Brian… she looked like she was laughing…”
          “It’s not your fault, lad,” Brian said calmly as he looked out the large, plate glass window of the diner. “It wasn’t her… it was whatever was on that mountain.”
          “The Wendigo,” Bonnecastle murmured as a waitress placed a plate of steaming eggs on the table in front of him.
          “Aye,” Brian replied. “It took Jake and got into Kay as well. And it just may have taken some of the Donner party on that mountain on hundred and fifty years ago. Or maybe that’s what called it here.”
          “What’s going to happen to her?” Bonnecastle asked, his eyes almost child-like.
          “She’s been taken to an institution,” Brian replied softly. “I… I think she remembers everything the Wendigo made her do. I saw the look in her eyes when it left her… she knew. I’m not sure she’ll ever recover from it.”
          “Brian?” Mark murmured as he looked up over his coffee. “What am I supposed to tell the Senator?”
          “Tell him the truth,” Brian replied calmly. “Tell him that someone killed them both, then attacked the rescue party. Tell him his son died trying to fight the attacker, but in the end couldn’t defeat him.”
          Mark nodded. “But someone’s got to know… it’s still up there… that Wendigo.”
          Brian shrugged. “I’ve contacted some of the local Pauites, they’re going to send some folks to Snow Mountain tomorrow to try and purge the spirit and encourage the dead to rest.” Brian leveled his gaze at Mark. “You can never tell anyone what happened up there, Mark. Not the truth. People aren’t ready for it.”
          Mark nodded slowly. He understood secrets. Brian was certain this would be one secret the man would take to his grave.
          “I don’t think I’m hungry,” Bonnecastle murmured as he pushed his plate away.


“On the twenty-seventh they took the flesh from the bodies of the dead; and on that, and the two following days they remained in camp drying the meat, and preparing to pursue their journey.”

Diary entry of William Eddy,
member of the Donner Party,
Sunday, December 27, 1846