Huge swathes of North America have been transformed into something resembling Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, and things are most likely going to stay that way for the rest of the month. This makes it fitting, of course, to talk about more unexplained winter-related horror.
This is a story about The White Man, and I don’t mean the kind of guy you find up in Congress. No, this particular White Man stems from a very recently uncovered story posted on an anonymous message board just a few days ago that has sparked an intense interest, culminating with some other people coming forward with stories that sound eerily familiar.
Long story short, The White Man is some sort of winter spirit that seems to manifest itself as a tall, bipedal snow beast with few features except two black eyes and a long, wide slit for a mouth. It has mimetic abilities as well, able to change its shape into different animals, and passes almost tracklessly over snow. It possesses human-like intelligence and can even communicate, though not by voice but instead by leaving an impression on the other person’s mind.
What does The White Man want? Allegedly it stalks the parts of the world that are cloaked in snow, looking for people who are dying of exposure, and offers them a choice: they can come with it or they can be led to safety – for a price. If The White Man saves your life you owe it a debt, and once a year in the winter it will come to collect. A person or animal you’ve come into contact with will either die suddenly or disappear completely without a trace. These payments seem to continue indefinitely until you die yourself.
The legend originates from a story told by the son of a man who spent his youth living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a place noted for its trackless forests. People who live there are known as Yoopers (U.P.’ers), and they’re basically the closest you can get to being Canadian without moving to Canada. Now Yoopers do love their tall tales, but this one is sinister indeed, considering how it revolves around this young man’s father who ended up stranded at the age of 10 deep in the winter forest after rescuing his younger brother from a frozen lake that they both fell into.
The story goes that the boy had been trying to keep his brother dry after he passed out when he was approached by The White Man and was given his choice. Terrified of this strange, amorphous bipedal blob, the young boy struck the deal, only to be terrorized by the entity for the next 45 years, coming once every winter while there’s snow on the ground, and taking a neighbor, a pet, or a family member. While the young boy grew up and fled the UP once he reached the age of 18, going someplace far to the south where there was little chance of snowfall during the winter, the debt was still collected from his family.
Once the man married and began a family of his own – which resulted in him moving away from warmer climates – he began to see The White Man regularly. His wife’s family began to fall victim, and every few years there would be a sudden death or disappearance to the point where his wife drove into a river in a supposedly drunken stupor, though the body was never recovered. Finally, the man died in his mid-fifties, leaving an adult son and daughter behind. While his children haven’t had any direct meetings with The White Man, the man’s brother – who had been with him at the time of the original meeting all those decades ago and who never believed his brother’s experiences – has started to report feelings of being watched in the winter by someone or something he can’t identify.
Normally I would discount a story like this from an anonymous website as just a bit of fanciful writing, but it turns out that I have something in common with the young man that recounted his father’s story – he grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, that wretched hive of scum and villainy that my family escaped just last year. He lives somewhere near Pottstown, just 15 minutes from where the wife and I lived; his mother drove her car right into the Schuylkill, the major river that runs down into Philadelphia.
This fact alone doesn’t convince me that the story of The White Man is real of course. There’s no proof of any sort, and the details the writer gives in the story of his father leave out any kind of identifying information that could be used to corroborate any of its points, like a newspaper clipping for his mother’s death or anything like that. However, even that would just be circumstantial at best as it would prove nothing but what could have otherwise been a tragic but easily explainable event.
Still, the idea of a winter spirit that can reach you wherever there is snow on the ground in order to enforce the terms of a bargain it made with you decades ago is chilling, no pun intended. It sounds vaguely demonic, like an entity you would meet at the crossroads and bargain away your immortal soul for a price, preying on the helpless and desperate.
All I know is that I never want to be presented with such an impossible choice. Go off into the swirling snow with a white behemoth that’s strong enough to snap your neck or allowing it to terrorize you and your family for years to come? Seems like there’s no real way out of an encounter with The White Man that won’t leave you worse off in the long run.