“Your name has power.” Daniel is a soft-spoken young man, and he spoke those words with enough conviction to convert the most stubborn non-believers. My skin still crawls with a profound fear and faith I’ve rarely experienced while I listened to his story.
Daniel is a professional hiking guide and trail leader throughout the United States’ wilderness. I was charmed by his awkwardness, insecurity, and humility. I was unnerved by his stories. I can feel the thin and tender flesh behind my left earlobe prickling as I think back to our conversation.
“Every experienced hiker used a pseudonym on the trails instead of their real names.” Daniel shifts his weight towards me and touches the rim of his glasses with his thumb and index finger to emphasize the importance of trail names. “One of my best friends on the trails is called Mercury. I don’t know her real name and she’s doesn’t know mine. She only knows me by Zero.”
“Why don’t you tell anyone your real name?” I leaned forward to match Daniel’s body language. The blank page of my new spiral notebook was dying for blank ink and mysteries.
Daniel’s eyes narrowed and he paused before he whispered. I could tell he was nervous to tell the secrets he held. My eager eyes pleaded for him to continue.
“You don’t want anyone to know your real name because your name has power.” My pen wrote furiously. Your name has power. “Have you ever heard your name being whispered and you weren’t sure if it was your imagination or not?”
“Yeah, I think I hear my name all the time. Whispered on the wind or shouted in a crowded room.” I was taking notes without breaking eye contact with Daniel. I was doing my best to keep him talking, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to comprehend everything he was sharing with me.
“Don’t ever follow the sound of your name when you’re alone on the trail. Don’t ever leave your hiking companion or group if you hear your real name calling you into the distance. That’s why we have trail names.”
“Have you ever heard your name being whispered on the trails?” I knew the answer to my question, but I didn’t know Daniel’s story yet. He folded his arms on the black patio table and put his head down on top of them. His prolonged silence was fractured by the sound of the pulse in my throat.
“It’s called the wendigo. I shouldn’t even say its name out loud.” Daniel lifted his head but he didn’t raise his voice. He visibly shuddered as his arms left the table. He rubbed the back of his neck and clenched his jaw.
“I had been hiking with Mercury for over 600 miles before we parted ways. It was my second day alone on the trail in weeks, and I was enjoying the solitude while I set up camp for the night. It had been a great day, but I was tired by the time I finished dinner so I fell asleep faster than usual. I was in a deep sleep, zipped up in my tent and sleeping bag, further from any other human than I’d ever been before.” I wasn’t taking notes anymore. I was engrossed with Daniel’s story, yearning to hear more.
“Like a slingshot, I sat up. I was wide-eyed and wide awake out of no where in the head of night, and I was scared. I was looking around in a panicked daze, but nothing was out of the ordinary so I figured I’d had a weird nightmare. I laid back down and closed my eyes. Then I heard it…my name. It was Mercury’s voice calling me from outside my tent. She whispered to me. ‘Come out Daniel. I want to talk.’ But it wasn’t Mercury. She only knows me by Zero. I haven’t seen her in days. Then I heard her voice more clearly. She was inches from my tent and calling to me again. ‘Please come out Daniel. I need you.’ I knew it wasn’t Mercury. It was the wendigo. I always thought it was trail lore and campfire stories until it was my name being uttered into the darkness.”
I’ve never been more scared in my life as Daniel spoke and I just as scared as I type his words right now. I’ll never forget the piercing chills I had because I relive them every time I think about his story.
“What did you do?” I mumbled the obvious question while Daniel considered his next words.
“I waited for a long time. It seemed like an entirety. I knew it wasn’t Mercury and I couldn’t follow the sound of the voice, but I had to do something. After there was silence for a long time, I turned on my smallest flashlight and unzipped my tent with meticulously slow deliberation. I’ve never been more terrified as I shined the light into the black void outside my tenuous safety. As I peeked from the smallest opening, my tiny beam of light stopped itself on two red dots looming low on the ground in the distance. They were eyes and they were staring straight at me. I couldn’t look away as they raised from the forest floor getting taller and taller. My flashlight started flickering as the red eyes came closer. Right before the light went out, I saw a millisecond of an image that’s branded into my brain forever. It was the wendigo. Twelve feet tall, shapeless black face, no body, shadowy antlers entangled with dark tree branches, and evil red eyes. I zipped up that tent door so fast! I hid under my sleeping bag and prayed more than any atheist has ever prayed before. I heard the wendigo calling me all night pretending to be Mercury. ‘Come out Daniel. I want to talk. I need you.’ I thought it would never end. I cried when dawn finally broke. That’s why you don’t tell anyone on the trail your real name. Your name has power, and if you hear your real name being whispered in the dead of night…it’s the wendigo. Never follow it.”