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A Tall Tale in the spirit of "Big Fish"

By Halston WilliamsPublished about a month ago 9 min read
a mountain somewhere in the American west

[For my late father: there was no one quite like you Dad]

I grew up in quiet, rural valley of the American mountain west. It was called Summitville, so named because the town was originally built on the steep summit of the nearby mountain, but slid into the valley below during a particularly bad winter when the heavy snow pushed the whole town down into the valley. Folks decided it was too much work to haul the town back up to the top of the mountain in the snow, so Summitville stayed in the valley where the snow left it in the spring. There were fields of hay and alfalfa that cattle grazed in, surrounded by rocky mountains so tall the clouds got stuck on the tops of them. Our town was filled with farmers, cowboys, and free spirits.

The farmers harvested piles of hay so big they towered above the farmhouses. The cattle ranchers and cowboys were so tough they drove cattle for three days straight without stopping, then drank beer and whiskey for three nights running until the local bar was bone-dry. They could light up a cigarette just by swearing at it. They especially loved the rodeo days— our town was famous for its rodeo from one coast of the U.S. to the other. Its was said that Pecos Bill once came through town on the rodeo tour, and that he offered to have his friend Paul Bunyan hitch up Babe the Blue Ox to pull Summitville back on top the mountain again. But the townsfolk declined, having gotten used to the town being where it was.

The bronco- busters were so determined they could’ve made Satan’s horse behave right, and so good at roping cattle they once caught a herd of all 300 cattle in a single lasso. The rodeo queen, Katie-Joe Evans, was such a beauty that when she smiled all the men had to hide their blushing faces under their cowboy hats. She later went on to marry the champion bronco-buster, Thomas Walker, and their children — triplets— rode horses before they learned to walk. They had to have a special baby ‘stroller’ made by tying three small, gentle ponies side-by-side together to take the children into town.

The free spirits were a caravan of hippies who had been passing through town after Woodstock in ’69 when their bus broke down. They loved nature, and had no money to fix the bus, so they decided to stay. They made friends with a few of the Native Americans who still lived nearby, and on Saturday nights you could hear the new-age drum circles and rock concerts they played around an enormous bonfire. One of the hippies even married one of the Native Americans. On the night of their reception, the bride and groom walked over hot coals together, holding hands (an old Native American tradition). They were supposed to say their vows over the coals, but the bride was so nervous she forgot the words! Both bride and groom stood there, feet smoldering, for over an hour, waiting for her to say “I do!”. Afterwards, everyone had such a party folks swore that the spirit of Jimmy Hendrix had risen from the dead to play their wedding-march.

Although he loved our little town, my Dad was neither a farmer nor cowboy nor a hippie. He was a businessman that had made his fortune, and wanted to find a town that was just like the one he’d grown up in. The town my Dad had grown up in got rather too big for him, or perhaps he got too big for it. Either way, my Dad seemed more at home in the open fields and mountain trails than on city streets (although he looked mighty sharp in a suit and tie when he had business that required it). He taught me how to ride a horse, hike a trail, and catch fish out of a mountain stream. And he also engaged in that all-American pastime of telling stories around a campfire late at night. This is one of them:

When he was a boy (and no one's Dad then -- just Scotty), he and his friends were, of course, boy-scouts. They were taught how to hike, camp, fish, tie knots, and all sorts of outdoor things that are good for children to know. The built tents, made fires, set traps for squirrels (which were never fooled), and tied one another shoelaces into intricate knots that none of them knew precisely how to untie again. Once, at a trip to the State fair, they sole a bully's scout badge banner and put on the prize pig -- and the bully dived right into the mud after it! On one of their many camping trips in the mountains while en-route to scout jamboree, they ran into a Wendigo. Of course, they didn’t know it was a Wendigo at the time.

One night, while they had gone out looking for fire-wood late at night, they heard loud noises like something crashing far away in the trees. So, of course, they went to investigate. They found an old man in a messy campsite, searching though bags, boxes, and the remains of a tent. He was very, very tall— at least 7 feet— but also very skinny, and had skin like tanned leather that hung loose from his bones. He wore blue jeans and army-jacket, which were far too small for him, filthy, and full of holes. His hair was long and hung in pieces with dirt like dreadlocks, as was his long beard. He stank like a dumpster in the heat of summer. He was looking for something, and tearing his campsite apart in the process, breaking or throwing things everywhere. He made a sound like the wind in the trees “Whissssssst! Whisst! Whissssst-Teee” and seemed almost about to cry as he threw things everywhere.

When he saw the boys approach him, he ran over in three big steps, and towered over them threateningly. He yelled again, louder this time “WHIIIIISSS-KEY!”, and the boys realized he was calling for ‘whiskey.’ As he approached, they also saw that he only had one good eye— the other was clearly bind, all pale blue-white and unblinking. When he shouted, his breath smelled like a dead animal left to rot on the side of the road.

“Whiiiiiisssssss-key! Whiiiiiisssssss-key! You boys got any whiiissskey?” They replied that they didn’t have any. The old man continued talking, in a crazy way sometimes to himself, other times yelling at the boys, and slurred his words so badly sometimes that he sounded like he was already drunk.

“You give it to me, you hear me now! I’d tear a man’s guts out about now for a shot of whiiissskey. I done killed my best friend over a shot of whiskey— it was damn Jack Daniels too!— and it hurts so bad— that burning, hungry, shaking feeling inside— I can’t stop it! I kill whoever gets in my way! Kill them, take they money...get whiskey. It makes me crazy too— Oh! I know it— all them rich people robbing, and killing, and sending me off to wars, killing people for money, money, more money... all to buy them whiskey! That’s why I need more whiiissskey...” and he began to mutter about “pigs” “fire-water” and “fire bombs in Vietnam”.

The boys (realizing the man was crazy and probably dangerous) carefully pointed out that it didn’t make much sense to keep doing the same crazy thing over and over, when it never made him feel any better, but the Wendigo was not to be reasoned with.

In fact, he seemed less and less like a man, and more and more monstrous all the time: his nails and teeth seemed to be growing sharper the madder he became, and his good eye flashed red in the darkness, going every direction at once. He grabbed one of Scotty's friends by the shirt, holding him above the boys’ heads and shouted “Get me some whiskey, you scrawny brats, a’fore I tear yer guts out to lace my boots!” (he wasn’t wearing boots, or shoes of any kind, for that matter.)

He demanded another bottle of “damn Jack Daniels!” whiskey, or he would kill them and eat them all.

Scotty suspected that the Wendigo would just drink the whisky and probably eat them anyway, so he came up with a plan: he told the Wendigo that the scoutmaster had some whiskey in his backpack, and that Scotty would go and get it while the Wendigo kept my dad’s friends as hostages. However, he didn’t go to the scoutmasters tent— he went back to camp and took some things out of his own backpack. He took out his canteen (water bottle), emptied it, and filled it with spare gasoline for the old pick-up truck the scoutmaster drove.

He also took his slingshot, several stones as big as chicken eggs, and put them in his pocket. He had made a slingshot as a little boy after he read the stories of David and Goliath in Sunday school. He practiced, hitting old beer and soda cans on fenceposts, until he could it the target evry time. One of his friends later said that he could “pick a man’s teeth with a slingshot at 50 yards”, which was the friend’s way of saying that Scotty's aim was really, really good.

When Scotty returned to his friends, the Wendigo snarled and howled “Whiiiiiisssssss-key!”, gabbing the canteen and pouring the whole thing down his huge, gaping mouth (which was full of rotting teeth, scraps of un-chewed beef jerky, and stained with spitting tobacco) all on one gulp. Naturally, the gasoline didn’t seem to agree with the Wendigo, who immediately doubled over in pain, grabbing his stomach. Scotty quickly loaded his slingshot, took aim, and, with the leather pouch whizzing around his head, let it go! The stone went speeding straight at the Wendigo’s good eye: the eye burst like a over-ripe grape in late summer heat. The Wendio went crazy, yelling curse words and swinging its fists, scrambling to feel the empty, bleeding eye socket or grab at the boys. But they were long gone. They ran back to camp as fast as there feet could carry them, hearing the Wendigo smashing into trees far behind them, and hollering “Whiiiiiisssssss-key!” into the distance.

Of course, the boy-scout leader didn’t believe their story when they got back to camp. The scout leader said he had heard nothing at all during the night, and that they were bad, naughty boys for running off alone, and then trying to scare the other boys with lies.

Never-the-less, my Dad always warned me that when you’re out somewhere remote, and you hear the wind whistling through the trees, it sometimes makes a sound like a lonely old drunk moaning for 'Whiiiiiisssssss-key...’

That’s also why he always brought his sling shot, and a small bottle of Jack Daniels —which was never to be opened except in an emergency— along with him whenever he went camping.


About the Creator

Halston Williams

Eternal Student: literature, poetry, history, art, and philosophy. English Teacher. Writer & painter. Traveller & skier (when there's $$$). I'm young enough to be foolish, yet old enough to know better. Lover of dark & beautiful things.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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