The Patreon Is Dead – Long Live the Patreon

Hey Everyone, a few months ago I started a Patreon and today I took it down! All content that was posted there will now be posted here free of charge. Below is a copy of the statement I sent out:

Hello fine and lovely patrons, and a few bots someone created to win last month’s short story contest… Today, I have some news. Last night while I was looking over the loan agreement on a new Tesla and sipping on cognac, I realized something: I don’t need your money. Your support through this Patreon experiment has been incredible and I truly thank you for it, but I’m going to start producing all of my content for free again. So, with that in mind, let’s answer a few of the sure-to-be burning questions on everyone’s mind. 

What happens to the money we gave you this month, jerk?!

So glad you asked. I’ve crafted a very special advertisement to target some of our more – politically interesting? – readers. It seems that whenever we run a Facebook ad, I get a bunch of likes from gun-toting, conspiracy-loving, white nationalists, so, I figured we should exploit that by running the following: 

If you’re not on board with me exploiting and targeting people of a certain, offensive political leaning, this is the perfect time to jump ship. I’d say I’ll miss you, but eh…Also, I have paused the October billing cycle, which means you won’t be charged next month and I can leave this post up a bit longer. However, on October 1st, I will unlaunch the Patreon, which means all content will be unavailable… Except for I will have reposted it all at   https://macashton.com

Does this mean we get two Christmases? 

Well, no, but it does mean that pretty much everything is going to stay the same with a few key differences. 1. No one will be paying for content anymore – Part of what I’ve realized about this Patreon is that I don’t like gating content behind a pay wall. If I’m going to share a chapter of Chadpocalypse or a new episode of Cryptids Decrypted, I want everyone to be able to enjoy it at the same time. Likewise, rather than paying for the right to suggest short stories, I’d like everyone to be able to do it (sorry Max, I know you had more erotica suggestions planned, but now you’ve got competition)2. The content will be in a different place – Over the next few weeks, I’ll begin transitioning my content back to my website  https://macashton.com/ . It needs a bit of a face lift, but it’ll do. 

What happens to the monthly short story?

Suggestions are still open until next Monday, but the difference is, I will take suggestions from social media too. I’ll post polls everywhere and whichever topic gets the most votes, I will write it up and share. 

What about those sweet Cryptids Decrypted stickers?

Oh, these bad boys? Turns out, no one was interested in them! So, if you do want one, just e-mail me and I’ll send it over to you for free. AshtonDMacaulay@Gmail.com 

Any closing thoughts?

Look, all of the people that supported me are my friends, including Jeremy, who turned out to be my girlfriend with a fake e-mail the whole time… Good one, pal. I really appreciate you continuing to support my creative endeavors. It means a lot to me, you all rock, and I’ll put a big-ass thank you page in my next book for all of you (and probably send out some free copies whether you want them or not). If you enjoy the work I’m producing, the best way you can help now is share it around. Every person we expose to the virus that is my artistry is a step toward a global epidemic of my future best sellers.Oh, and I made you this video:

Thank you again,

Ashton

Take Me to Your Leader

Every month, members of my Patreon submit short story topics for me to write. Last month, a friend of mine had a very intriguing prompt about the Area 51 raid that garnered the most votes. I hope you enjoy it!

Original Prompt: ” Hundreds of thousands of people gather to storm the gates of Area 51, meanwhile, the ringleaders of the whole ordeal are using it as a distraction for something else… ”

Take Me to Your Leader

Suggested by: Check541

A loud bass-heavy beat thumped across the temperate night air of the Nevada desert. Mitch and his associates looked out from behind their clutch of rocks in disbelief. Technicolor lights shot into the sky and occasionally a crowd cheered over the slight wind that had picked up. Meanwhile, the blinking, barbed-wire perimeter of Area 51 was dead silent.

     The three of them had sat and watched all day as guards patrolled the exterior, stacking up towards the music festival that had congregated mere miles from the facility’s gate. Whatever they had said publicly, it was clear the guards were ready for a crowd of fanatics to swarm the installation at any time. All this from a poorly worded Facebook invite, thought Mitch. Things had progressed so rapidly that he hadn’t had time to bask in their success.   

     “Are you sure this is going to work?” Kira’s eyes flickered in the dark, glowing yellow.

     “We’re going to get him back,” soothed Mitch. “Our man on the inside is going to take care of everything.” Their man on the inside was a 21-year-old college student. Months ago they had abducted him, and on a whim tried a new hypnosis technique they were working. For his money, Mitch thought they had botched it a little, but after they set the kid down in a corn field, he did almost exactly as he was told. Sure, there had been some creative liberties taken with the message, Mitch didn’t know what a ‘Naruto’ was, but in the end, it worked.

     “Run it by me again,” hissed Kira, growing impatient.

     Mitch held out a placating hand. She had been on edge ever since her husband’s kidnapping, and he supposed he’d be on edge too if the situation were reversed. “It’s very simple. We’ve studied the behavior of the youth on this planet for a long time, right, Bill?”

     Bill was a full head taller than the rest of them and had clearly not taken much care in his human transformation. His neck was still far too long, and his head looked as though it had been over-inflated. Oddly enough, no one seemed to notice. When he spoke, it was with an uneasy baritone that sounded a bit like a freshman learning to play a tuba. “Mitch is right. I’ve watched these youth interact at festivals before. As soon as a few things go wrong in the right order, they will riot.” He smiled and clasped his hands before him. “Remember Fyre?”

     Mitch nodded. “Exactly, and our man on the inside is going to make sure more than a few things go wrong. This may have been converted into a music festival, but when the lights go out…” He let out a low, warbling whistle. “Well, then the chanting will start, and soon after they’ll start to wonder why they haven’t stormed the base. Shortly after that, they’ll carry through the event’s original purpose.”

     “To ‘see them aliens’,” quoted Bill, laughing.

     Even Kira cracked a smile at this. “You couldn’t have tried a little harder to learn the human language before the hypnotism?” she asked.

     Mitch sighed. “I don’t see a problem, do you?” As he said it, the music at the festival grew suddenly to a fever pitch, and stopped abruptly.

     “And just like that,” said Bill, clearly pleased with himself.

     For a few minutes, there was silence, apart from the wind rustling across the desert. There was a hollow click and an electrical whine as Area 51’s perimeter lights turned off. Mitch’s eyes adjusted, and with his impeccable dark vision, he saw soldiers moving around the edge of the base. They were dressed in all black, wearing slim, night-vision goggles, and wielding heavy rifles.

     “Think those are loaded with non-lethal rounds?” asked Bill. “Usually when it’s a protest, it’s non-lethal.”

     “This isn’t a protest.” Mitch felt some responsibility for the fate of the humans, but then remembered what they had done to Kira’s husband and refocused. “And that’s not a peacekeeping force, it’s a secret branch of the U.S. military. We know what’s in there and so do they.”

     Bill nodded in agreement and the three of them watched in silence as the soldiers passed. They were all congregating on the far side of the base, filling out foxholes and barricades that had been erected in preparation for the event. It was a formidable defense by any stretch. Even as the last soldiers moved into place, boos and jeers rang out from the festival venue.

     “Is it time?” asked Kira, impatiently.

     “Not yet, wait a minute.” Bill had his eyes trained on the horizon, looking directly at where the festival lights had been. A few short minutes later, hundreds of white lights appeared on the horizon. “I can’t be sure, but I think those are cell phones.” Bill grinned again. “I can’t believe it, but we did it.”
     “ATTENTION FESTIVAL-GOERS,” boomed a woman’s voice from what felt like a hundred loudspeakers. “RETURN TO THE FESTIVAL SITE IMMEDIATELY.”

     From a much weaker microphone across the desert came the voice of the assault. “WE ARE HERE TO SEE THEM ALIENS. YOU CAN’T STOP US ALL.”

     There was an audible click as hundreds of rifles were racked at once. “PLEASE, DON’T DO THIS. COME CLOSER AND YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON.” The woman’s voice was tired and conflicted.

     “That’s our cue,” said Bill, standing.

     Kira sprinted toward the fence as they had planned, keeping an eye out for guards along the way.

     Mitch pulled a razor-thin stick from his back. From a distance, it would have been hard to spot, but it wasn’t the size that mattered. He pushed a small button and a red, holographic targeting system appeared in the air above the stick.

     Kira began cutting through the facility’s electric fence, ignoring the low hum from beneath her gloved fingers.

     Above her, a sniper in all black appeared, checking the perimeter. Mitch got the man in his sights, muttered a quick apology, and with a snap-hiss, dispatched him. The man vaporized, leaving a thin, red mist behind him that quickly dispersed in the evening breeze.

     “Good shot.” Bill clapped him on the shoulder.

     Mitch laughed. “I never imagined it could be this easy.”

     Kira finished cutting open the fence and motioned for them to come in. Bill and Mitch ran forward and hopped through the small hole she had made, taking care not to bump the exposed fence that crackled with violent electricity. Once through, they rounded a corner to a service entrance. Mitch silently praised the man who had given them the intel, albeit unwillingly.

     In the distance, the crowd roared and charged. Everything was going exactly to plan. “Praise Facebook,” muttered Bill and pushed the service door open.

     On the other side, three soldiers stood with their weapons ready. One fired, but Mitch was quick, dispatching him with another snap-hiss. Red spackled the hallway in minute specks. He looked at the remaining two soldiers, saw one was beginning to shake, and shot the other. The bolt caught him on the side, causing more spray than the first, and splattering the remaining soldier.

     Mitch trained his rifle to fire again but waited with his finger rested on the trigger. The soldier was no longer in firing position. His mouth had dropped open and his gun was pointing at the floor.

     “Drop your weapon,” hissed Kira.

     The soldier did so without thinking, the black assault rifle clattering to the hallway’s smooth, concrete floor.

     “Very good.” Again, Mitch couldn’t believe just how easy it was. Slowly, he sidled up closer to the soldier, making sure his gun-barrel never left its target. When he was close enough to speak comfortably with the solider, he whispered: “Now, take me to your leader.”

If you enjoyed what you read, consider becoming a member of my Patreon! For $2, you can suggest topics for this month’s short story!

Cover image: “Area 51 Nevada”by tdeckard2000 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Update on Upcoming Projects

Hi Everyone, I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on the site, but I’ve been working on a host of projects that are all coming out soon! I wanted to take this time to provide a brief update on where everything is and how it’s coming along.

The Patreon (Yes, I have one of those now)

I know, shilling for money on a Patreon can be a turn off, but rest assured, I’m using those earnings to fund all sorts of cool projects. Not sure what a Patreon is? I made a video for that.

The latest of these projects is going to be a podcast series where I talk with experts in the field of Cryptozoology, discussing portrayals of cryptids (think bigfoot, yeti, etc.) in fiction compared to how the experts believe they exist in the real world.

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Our First Guest, David George Gordon, The Bug Chef

The first episode of the podcast is going to air next Friday and will be an interview talking all things Bigfoot with Author, David George Gordon.  While a lot of his fame stems from his ability to cook up a good insect meal, David has also written a field guide about Sasquatch, and frequently speaks about cryptids nationally. The podcast will air one week early for Patrons on July 19th, and will be available on all podcast platforms the week after. 

A Man of the Mountain

If you’ve followed my posts, you’ve probably seen me talking about this one a lot. A Man of the Mountain is a prequel Novella to Whiteout, and takes place in the fictional town of Clearwater. The story follows Jonas, a man hell bent on maintaining the legend of Bigfoot at all costs, and Shirley Codwell, the intrepid tabloid reporter hunting him down. Things escalate after real monster hunters are called in, including our favorite, Nick Ventner, and the chase begins.

Man of the Mountain will be released in two formats. Beginning this summer, we will release episodes of the story as an audio drama with full  music, sound effects, and the work of some incredible voice actors. Two trailers are up below if you want to check them out. A pre-release of Episode 1 will go out to Patrons at the end of this month.

A Man of the Mountain will also be releasing as a paperback through Aberrant Literature later this year, so keep an eye out for more news on that!

Downpour

The first draft for the sequel to Whiteout is complete and is now out for edits with the man, the myth, the legend, Jason Peters, head of Aberrant Literature. We’re planning for a release sometime next year, and for those who absolutely can’t wait, I’ll be sharing some early chapters, yes, on the Patreon (my apologies, but it really helps us with getting money for ads and events).

I had so much fun writing this book and examining a different part of Nick as he treks through the South American jungle searching for the entrance to the Land of the Dead. There are plenty of myths, legends, and old friends for Nick to encounter on his journey, and it’s shaping up to be a worthy successor to Whiteout.

Chadpocalypse

I’m now in the process of writing Book 2 of Chadpocalypse, the story of a lowly drunk who is thrust into the role of thwarting the apocalypse. The entirety of Book 1 is up for reading through the Patreon and once I’ve finished Book 2, it will be up there as well. The plan is to find a publishing home for this eventually so I can release it in paperback, but I’d say that’s a 2020 goal if I’m being honest. It’s only $2 to read the first part in its entirety right now, so if you’re interested, consider checking it out!

Wanderword

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As some of you are aware, I also spent a good part of my winter working on an interactive short story for a new platform, Wanderword. Wanderword aims to let players step into their story by offering meaningful choices in an immersive choose-your-own-adventure audio format with full sound effects and music. My first story, Sweet Dreams, deals with a company trying to monetize dreams, and puts the player in the shoes of Jackie, a woman testing this new application.

There’s no release date yet for the story, but I’ve had a chance to play through some sections and it’s going to be a lot of fun! If you want to check out an excellent story that is already out, try 63rd and Wallace, a horror-mystery about the murder castle in Chicago. The first episode is free, and very well written.

That’s all for now!

If you’re still reading, thanks for bearing with me, I’m really excited to share all these new projects with you very soon! For frequent updates, I suggest following me on Twitter as that’s where I’m most active these days. Have a great end to your week, and I’ll see you around.

–Ashton

Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – The Perils of Indie Authorship

It’s been a while since I posted on the site, so I figured I’d share a recent piece I wrote for Advanced Literate as a companion to my interview.  Hope you enjoy!

Become a Patron!

Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – Ashton Macaualy

Being an independent author is simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest things I’ve ever done. The easy part? All you need to do is write a few words, slap your name on them, and BOOM, you’re an Indie Author. Congratulations. The hard part? Getting people to read those words, or better yet, getting someone else to pay to publish them. The harder part? Finding people to buy those books once you’ve wrangled a publisher and have your cover on the digital shelf. It’s a never-ending cycle; one that I’ve been heavily engaged with for about four years now. So, if you’re new to the scene, struggling to get your work out there, or just tired of the infinite shameless self-promotion loop on social media, strap in and let’s talk about it.

It was four years ago when I started to think of myself as a hot-shit writer with a manuscript that could sell. I had just moved to Seattle and was, as a lot of writers are, jobless. Those long days in my 400 square foot apartment were spent watching Seinfeld, applying for jobs, and submitting everything I had ever written to anyone who would pay a few bucks on Craig’s List. Sure, I submitted to a few of the big publishers as well, but its four years later and I’ve never heard a word from any of them. Want ads aren’t what a lot of people would call the traditional route to getting published, but it worked.

About two months into this rinse and repeat cycle of applications and submissions, two equally incredible things happened. The first is that I got a job working as a contractor at Xbox; pretty sweet, a dream gig for me. The second is that out of the hundred or so submissions of my work to various entities, I received two responses. Both were similar, offering to buy one of my short stories for a twenty-five-dollar flat fee. The first, I accepted immediately, jumping at the chance to have anything published. The second I rejected, hoping to hold out on that story for later (recently published in Aberrant Tales).

After selling that first story, I didn’t hear back from the publisher for almost six months. I continued to write every morning before going to my 9-5, but interestingly, the publication hadn’t been a life-changing experience. That changed the day a brown bubble envelope arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up and to my surprise, I had become a published author. The feeling of holding that red-covered Aberrant Literature Short Fiction Collection – Volume 3 and seeing my name on the author list was unlike anything I had ever experienced. That’s how I met my now publisher, Aberrant Literature, and the man behind it, Jason Peters. That collection spurred our writing/editing/promoting partnership that’s been going strong ever since, but none of it would have happened if I had been above submitting my work on Craig’s List.

That’s the thing about writing: no one should be above anything. If your goal is anything other than getting as many people as possible to enjoy your work, I hate to say it but you’re in the wrong business. I put a lot of time and effort into getting my first short story published, and there was a lot of rejection along the way, but holding it in my hand made me happy because it meant someone had liked reading it enough to print it.

Fast forward three or so years, (time has a funny way of slipping by when you spend it with your imagination behind a keyboard), and my first novel has been out for about nine months. Jason and I worked tirelessly on that manuscript for a solid two years before it ever saw the light of day, and yes, even after it came out, I still needed to keep my day job. The work only intensified after the book came out because getting readers takes effort – not just some of the time, but every day.

Since May of last year, we’ve tried just about everything to promote Whiteout, and it hasn’t been easy. As it turns out, getting people to pick up a paperback from an author they don’t know is pretty damn difficult. I’ve tried just about everything: In-person events, hiding books in airports/supermarkets, tweeting relentlessly into the echo chamber that is #WritingCommunity (it feels good, but doesn’t move copies), paid promotion, and many more. At the end of the day, the best luck I’ve had has been at those in-person events, or interviews like this one for Advanced Literate. The most effective way to get someone to pick up your book is to engage with them on a personal level and convince them it’s worth their time.

I know, getting in-person gigs isn’t easy, but like this whole crazy profession, it requires persistence. I’ve walked into around fifteen bookstores to ask about opportunities to sell my work and sign copies. Of those fifteen, two of them were nice enough to let me come to Indie Author Nights and talk. Those experiences were some of the best I’ve had as an author. I interacted with others in the community – some of whom I still talk to, some of whom I avoid with a ten-foot digital pole – but more importantly, it gave me experience. Seeing your readers in person shows you how they react when you communicate certain aspects of your work and teaches you what delights them. I’ve carried those lessons over to my digital interactions, and while we’re not selling hundreds of copies a month, sales aren’t stagnant either.

Alright, this was a lot of words about the process, and you might be feeling discouraged. However, while it sounds like a slog, there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned: I’ve loved just about every minute of it. Sure, there have been nights where my eyes are burning red from staring at the screen too long and every word I type feels like the work of a fifth grader, but when I shut off the computer, I’m happy. Writing is one of the few things in this world that makes sense to me, and any opportunity I have to do it fills my spiritual tank (sounds gross when I say it out loud). No matter how many books I sell or copies I sign, I’m still going to get up two hours before I need to be at work every morning and write. So, if you love the craft as much as I do, stop reading this blog post, open up your manuscript you’re procrastinating on, and get to it.

Praise for Whiteout

Whiteout has almost been out for a month, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t be happier with the reception, and am so happy to see people enjoying Nick’s adventures as much as I do. Thanks to the fans, we currently hold a 4.73/5 on GoodReads and a 4.8/5 on Amazon.

Want to see what all the hype is about? Order through your local bookstore on Indie Bound, or pick up a copy on Amazon!

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In addition to the positive reception from fans, Whiteout has also been reviewed by Kirkus!

“In Macaulay’s debut contemporary fantasy novel, a monster hunter pursues a yeti in the hostile winter landscape of the Himalayas and discovers the entrance to a hidden world.

Nick Ventner is a blue-collar hunter—a whiskey-soaked, seasoned pro in all things lurking in the shadows. Nick and his apprentice, James Schaefer, think they’re rescuing a village in the Himalayas from creatures called wargs, but it’s not wargs that have been picking off entire teams of climbers. It’s a yeti, and Nick’s nemesis, a rival hunter named Manchester, knows it too. ” Full Review available on the Kirkus site.

Finally, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped get Whiteout to this point. I can’t wait to see where it goes next, but holding the book in my hands, getting the opportunity to talk about it at local bookstores, and seeing everyone’s reactions has been amazing. Thanks to all  of you!

Whiteout Pre-Orders are Live

Hey Everyone,

The time has come! Whiteout is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon! Release is only about a month away (May 1st), and I am so excited to share the final product with you. If you’re a fan, or a friend, or just want to help, please share our pre-order link around. A lot of our marketing for this book is going to be word of mouth, so every share is important! These shares are going to help make the book more searchable across platforms and help make us more noticeable. Easiest way to find it right now is by searching ‘Whiteout Ashton Macaulay’ or ‘Whiteout Aberrant Literature’, or by following one of the links above.

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This is not a drill, this is real!!!

For those who prefer other sites to Amazon, we are getting those pages up and running as well. As of now we are up on Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

Now, for those of you who backed our GoFundMe campaign, the first wave of merch just came in (as evidenced by this poorly-shot mirror selfie, apologies, my cats can’t hold a camera). Once I get all the paperback copies, I’ll frenziedly sign them all and then get to shipping!20180330_074641

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this happen, cannot wait to share Whiteout with you all on May 1st!

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Preacher Volume 1 – Review

Hey All, wanted to start sharing some of my book reviews with you, starting with Preacher. This comic is well worth your time, if you’ve got a bit of a twisted sense to you.

Preacher, Volume 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Without a doubt, this is one of the most twisted comics I’ve ever read, but also one of the most enjoyable. I came to the book as a fan of the show, and while it shares the characters and some beats, the story of this comic is very different. Jesse is a conflicted protagonist if I’ve ever seen one, and definitely on the gray side of morality, but I’m always rooting for him. His companions, Tulip and Cassidy are both wonderfully messed up in their own right, and I loved watching them interact.

Excited to read Volume 2!



View all my reviews

Short Story – When a Cold Wind Whistles

Here’s a short inspired by another North American legend, the Wendigo. I don’t often write thriller, but I had this idea one day and here we are. If you enjoy the short story, consider checking out my full novel, Whiteout, the tale of a drunken monster hunter chasing a yeti.

When a Cold Wind Whistles

“Someone once told me stories are best told on a cold night next to a warm flame.”

The wind whipped through the trees, scattering the ashes of their campfire into the snowy air.

“Others say, stories of the creature are best left alone. Just saying its name is enough to bring misfortune upon you.”

Bud and Larry sat listening, holding cans of cold beer between gloved hands. The old man had been guiding their hunt for three days, and hadn’t said much beyond ‘Deer, there’ or ‘Rest now’. Only after an hour silent by the campfire toward the midnight hour had he spoke at all.

“Fifty years ago, on a cold, starless night, I was guiding a camping group.” He let his eyes drift to the sky, watching the ashes turn from white, to orange, to black. “Family of four, nice enough folk. Mother worked in town, father was a business man. Both wanted the boys to see something that wasn’t concrete and glass.”

“He’s talking about the Millers,” whispered Bud.

Larry nodded, silently remembering the legend that had grown almost as old as the town itself.

“Yes, the Millers, that was their name.”

“One of the worst bear attacks in the county history,” said Bud, taking another sip.

“There was no bear.” The man sat silent for a moment.

In the distance, a branch cracked. Both men shivered, but the old man sat straight-backed, as if he had heard nothing.

“They had a dog too,” he added. “Cute thing. Always liked dogs.” He reached for the six pack of beers buried in the snow and broke one off the ring.

“Hey-” started Larry, but Bud stayed him with a strong hand.

It didn’t seem the old man was asking permission anyway. With a gnarled finger, he cracked the tab with a snap hiss that echoed off the quiet forest beyond. He drained the can in one go, tossing the empty shell at the fire and sending a shower of sparks into the sky.

“My father had always told me no one wanders these mountains for free.” He turned his eyes from the fire to look at each of the men in turn. They squirmed under his intense gaze. “I was a willful child. Something I think you two might know something about.”

Bud laughed and the old man nodded.

“Yes, I thought so. Well, being the child I was, I had no desire for ancient rituals and hokum.” He smiled, but it was thin, like the act was tearing at the edges of his fragile skin. “There’s an altar just at the edge of the woods where all guides pay tribute beneath an ancient elk skull that was nailed there centuries ago. I never paid our passage, figuring I could use that money to buy a better bottle when I got back. So, we set off, me, the father, the mother, the two boys, and Rufus, that cute, yapping dog of theirs.

The first two days were really something spectacular. Clear skies, lots of wildlife, and good conversation around the campfire. Much like we’re having here tonight.”

The men didn’t think it much of a conversation but remained silent.

“The first night, we sat around the campfire, drinking and reveling, the second, more of the same, and then there was the third. I should have known from the moment that damned yapping dog took off into the sunset that something was wrong. Never did see that dog again.” He reached forward and pulled another beer off the ring. Once again, he drank it in a single gulp.

“You should slow—”

“We looked for that dog for hours, but when it grew dark, we did the only sensible thing; made a fire, left out a tin of food, and hoped the dog would find it before some other creature got to it. As last light faded from the sky, the children fell into a tearful sleep. I hated seeing them like that, but there were more pressing concerns.

Around that fire there was no drinking and no reveling. The father wanted to go looking for the dog and several times I had to physically restrain him from doing so. The man was adamant. Eventually, I got him to calm down, explaining to him that he’d likely be killed. There are no shortage of dangers in the forest at night, especially in the dead of winter.”

 

Larry felt his eyes drift from the fire to the forest. The trees were thin and barren; the snow giving them an odd, grey glow in the firelight.

“It was around then that the wind got this high, warbling whistle to it, like some diseased bird calling in the distance. When it didn’t stop or slow, the parents looked to me for guidance.

‘What was that?’ asked the father, standing from his seat.

A darkness grew over me then. All at once, the foolish error of my ignorance was laid bare. There was a dry crackle as something snapped branches in the distance.

The father turned away from the fire. ‘Maybe it’s Rufus’, he offered.

‘The dog’s dead,’ I replied.

In the trees, the high-pitched warble continued, growing closer with every second, threatening to drive me to madness. How he thought it was the dog, I’ll never know.

‘Just listen here,’ started the father, walking toward me in an attempt at menace. ‘We’ve had quite enough of your-’

I covered my ears, hoping to drown out the noise, but it buzzed in my skull like a trapped animal. A cold wind blew through the camp and for the first time, I shivered.

The father struck me, trying to stir me to action, but growing up in the village, I had heard the stories. Just because I had put no stock in them didn’t mean I hadn’t listened. The warbling continued, intensifying until I could hear nothing else. The pain was immeasurable. Something wanted in, and it took all my effort to keep it away. Then, as the noise reached its fever pitch it cut out suddenly leaving us in silence.”

 

The old man paused, letting his eyes drift off the fire once more.

Larry wanted to tell him to stop, but they had never asked him for the story the first place. He didn’t put much stock in ancient legends but didn’t like jinxing a good hunting trip either. They only had one day left before heading back to town, and he wanted to get a good sleep.

“What happened?” asked Bud, leaning forward in his camping chair, nose practically touching the flame.

The old man let out a heavy sigh and raised a hand to his temple. In the distance, a wind blew once more and branches cracked.

“If you don’t want to tell it,” offered Larry, seeing a way out.

Bud shot him a look telling Larry to shut up and pushed the remainder of the beer cans toward the old man.

He opened his eyes again, looking down at the offering. “Kind of you,” he said, snagging another can and draining it in a single gulp, leaving a single beer on the ring.

“Sure,” said Bud, impressed.

Larry dropped a hand to the rifle resting by his side, watching the tree line where the branches had cracked. Probably just getting spooked, he told himself, feeling the wood of the stock. But never hurts to be prepared. With the moon blotted out by clouds, the fire didn’t offer much in terms of vision, but it still made him feel safer.

 

“The sound stopped, and for a long while, I just sat there, eyes shut, knowing that whatever was going to be there when I opened them wasn’t good.

‘Sir?’ asked the mother, her kind voice like an angel after the warbling. ‘I’m sorry he acted like that.’

I opened my eyes to see the husband had gone. The wife knelt before me, holding a cool hand to my forehead. ‘Where?’ I asked.

‘He stormed off looking for Rufus. He’ll be back soon.’ Her tone was calm, as if she expected nothing less.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘He won’t.’ I felt it, even before I saw it; the tug at my spine, letting me know I had become prey. I lifted my gaze, looking beyond the campfire, my heart freezing in my chest as I did so.

None of the stories did it justice. I stared into the glowing red eyes of a thousand dead men, all wrapped into one. The creature itself stood nine feet tall, skin pale and waxy as if it had been pulled straight from the grave. Bones poked out at odd, uncomfortable angles, in some places bursting through the flesh into the naked air.”

 

The old man put a hand to his side, remembering.

Larry pulled the rifle into his lap. He couldn’t be sure, but it felt like the wind had moved from a hollow whine to a low whistle.

Bud stared across the fire, eyes never leaving the old man.

 

“Its head was that of an elk, huge and dead for some time, lifeless, apart from the glowing red eyes. Its antlers had been sharpened to knife points and bore the dark, black stains of murder. I stared at it, and it stared at me. In its right arm, it carried a bundle, obscured in the darkness.

The creature cocked its head to one side and pulled the elk’s mouth wide to a grin of pointed teeth and lifted a clawed arm. Hanging limply, speared by a wicked claw, was the husband. He looked up at me through dying eyes, and whispered: ‘Run.’

I heard it as if the words were spoken right in my ear.

The wife must have heard it too, because she turned just in time to see the creature grip her husband with a second clawed hand. In a clean motion it tore him in half tossing the ragged body to either side with a sickening splatter.

The woman screamed, and the creature began its warbling whistle again. I tried in vain to reach for my gun but found myself frozen to my chair.

Maybe it was shock, maybe she was feeling the same thing, but the woman didn’t run. She stayed put.

‘Don’t,’ I pleaded with the creature. ‘I’ll pay the price.’ It was my ignorance that had brought it down on us in the first place.

It paid me no heed and crossed the distance to our camp in three easy strides. The red light of our fire danced in the creature’s eyes and with an effortless swipe, it put it out. Left with nothing but the light of the stars and the moon, the creature somehow looked ghostlier than before.

The woman moved in between the creature and the tent containing her children. ‘Get the hell away from me!’ she screamed at it.

The creature let out a low, shuddering laugh. Frozen to my chair, I watched as bones and muscle tensed in its back. The whistling started again and the creature knelt to the woman’s height so that it could look at her eye to eye.

‘Fuck you,’ she spat.

The creature brought a clawed hand up into her chest, lifting her off her feet.

She gagged and spluttered, trying desperately to get a final breath. Blood flowed from her lips and down her chin. The creature twisted its claw and let her fall to the side. She was dead before she hit the ground.

Scared, shuffling noises came from within the tent and the creature turned its head hungrily.”

 

The old man’s eyes went vacant, staring into the fire, reflecting its light.

Larry stood up from his camping chair, looking around the forest uneasily. “I’ll say it, Bud. I don’t like this story.”

If the old man heard him, he didn’t say anything.

“Oh come on, Larry. It’s just a ghost story. Grow a pair and sit down.” Bud chuckled to himself. “I had no idea you were such a sissy.”

Larry racked the slide on his rifle.

“Will you cut that out. You’re going to hurt someone,” said Bud, standing from his chair. “Put the gun down Larry, it’s just a story.”

There was another crack from the woods and both men turned suddenly. “It’s a racoon, Larry,” put the gun down.

Larry’s heart beat violently in his chest.

“Wendigos you see,” started the old man again, “are inherently greedy, gluttonous creatures.” He snagged the final beer can.

Larry and Bud turned their attention back to him.

He stared straight into the fire, not looking up at either of them. “It had already killed two fully grown adults. Plenty to feast on for days to come. But when it heard the cries of those children. It wasn’t survival, or even sport, it was pleasure. The smile on those dead lips was one I’ll never forget.”

“I want him to stop telling this story!” yelled Larry, hysterically. He backed away from the campfire, suddenly afraid of the old man.

“Jesus Christ, Larry.”

Larry swung the rifle around toward the forest.

“Alright, that’s it.” Moving up behind him, Bud took the rifle and stripped it from Larry’s grip, elbowing him in the gut as he did so.

Larry fell to his knees, coughing.

“Get some sense in you, and you can have this back.” He pulled the slide back, releasing the round in the chamber and removed the magazine.

“Bud, please.”

Bud sat back in his camping chair and watched as the old man closed his eyes and finished the final beer. “Take a queue, Larry. Sit down and drink a little. It’ll calm your nerves.

“I’ll never forget the way those kids screamed,” the old man continued as if nothing had happened. “It left an imprint in my mind.” He raised his hands to his temples, massaging them gently.

“I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but watch as it shredded the tent and everything in it. Those poor kids. All the while, the creature sang its horrible, warbling song, gleeful in its work.” The old man stopped, shutting his eyes tightly.

Larry paced on the edge of the fire, holding his gut from where he had been punched. Desperation crept into the back of his mind and he felt something at the base of his spine. It was a tingling, pulling sensation that he couldn’t shake. “I don’t like this, Bud.”

Bud ignored him. “How did you escape?” he asked.

A low smile spread across the old man’s face, his skin taut in the firelight. “I didn’t really. The wendigo feasted for what felt like hours before it came to me. Like it wanted me to watch. Then, as I thought I might die from exposure, it knelt before me, eyes gleaming red, boring into mine. In that moment I saw every soul it had ever taken and every foolhardy child that had ignored the elders’ warnings.

The vision wore on for an eternity, but then suddenly, in a snap, it was gone. I didn’t realize it, but my eyes had been closed the whole time. When I opened them, the creature was gone, and I was left with the bloody remains of the family scattered around me. I left that place and wandered, eventually coming back to town to tell the tale.

I knew no one would believe me, and so I told them it had been a bear, woke early from its hibernation. When the rangers found the family, there was no question. No human could have done that.”

 

The forest went silent around them and Larry stopped his pacing.

“That’s it?” asked Bud. “The wendigo just left you?” He let out an exasperated sigh.  “Four beers for a bunch of buildup.”
He spat. “Well played, old man.”

“I’m not finished,” said the man, his voice growing quiet, gravelly and low.

A high-pitched warble cut through the forest.

Bud froze as the old man opened his eyes and stood in the firelight. They had taken on a red glow and his skin had grown pale.

Bud fumbled with the rifle, suddenly wishing he hadn’t unloaded it.

A massive rack of horns sprouted from the old man’s head, tearing through the thin flesh. His fingers extended to grey claws, creaking and popping horribly as they did so. “It’s like I said: No one wanders these mountains for free…”