Alright, here it is, the fully edited first chapter of Whiteout. Those who have read previous edits will notice the story has been changed to first person. This was actually how the book was first written, and I think it conveys the tone of Nick telling a tall tale a little better.
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Chapter 1: Werewolves Don’t Howl
We should have brought matches.
The thought rang through my head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside me, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat, and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost.
Correction, I thought, should have brought matches and left the kid behind. I had never liked partners. More often than not, they just slowed me down or haunted me in between benders with memories of their death.
Six months prior, I ran into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James became my apprentice. I was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, he managed to fight off the cynicism in it well. Despite being half-frozen in a blizzard, and likely five minutes away from a horrible fate uncomfortably similar to becoming a popsicle, James managed to keep a positive, albeit sarcastic, attitude.
“Hold on, where were you?” Winston inquired, taking a sip of his tea.
Nick sighed quietly, swilling ice around the bottom of his empty glass, wondering when the butler would be by to bring refills. “If you would wait a minute, I’ll tell you.” Winston’s interruptions were beginning to irritate him. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me rehashing painful emotional memories to old men in their parlors.”
This was untrue. Even after the encounter with the yeti, very few letters had come through asking for help. While most people in the monster-hunting community had heard tell of the story, they also did not believe it.
“Of course, I am so very sorry.” Winston’s words came out false, but they were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.
Nick looked at the glass, astonished. “How does he manage that? Let me guess, he used to be a ninja. Got tired of the bloodshed and turned to butlery?” Nick took a sip of the fresh glass at his side and nearly gagged on some of the worst whiskey he had ever tasted.
All the money in the world, and he still drinks this piss?
“Oh yes, he’s quite good,” said Winston, avoiding the question. Nick must have made a sour face at the drink, because Winston waved his hands apologetically. “My apologies for the drink. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.” He let out a hearty laugh. “Tastes much better in tea.”
Nick laughed in spite of his suspicions about the magical butler. “An efficient drinker even amidst opulence. Now that I can respect.”
Winston raised his cup and drained it. “One picks up a few tricks on their way to wealth.” His cheeks flushed a bit with the fresh drink, and he even seemed a little friendlier. “Now, I’m terribly sorry to have interrupted you. Please, continue.”
Winston’s attitude had changed significantly, and it set Nick on edge. Fortunately, the feeling did not last long as the whiskey quickly made its way to his core, warming him on the inside. All traces of misgiving were temporarily erased from his mind.
“Yes, where was I?” He drained the highball glass and set it down on the table loudly, hoping the butler would hear.
After pausing a moment and seeing no sign of him, he continued on. “We had been tracking a werewolf through the mountains for days. Supposed to be a quick job. Silver bullet, bring back the head, in and out; simple as that. But there was one big problem: The villagers lied to us. It wasn’t a damned werewolf.”
At midnight, the howling started. James and I had made camp in a small cave tucked into the side of the mountain. At that altitude, with the cold wind whipping through our bones, the world grew fuzzy around the edges. For the first few minutes, neither of us was sure we had actually heard howling at all. We simply sat by the glow of the flashlight, hoping that it wasn’t the day we would be sent to meet the gods that our profession so strongly opposed.
“Is that it?” James asked, his teeth chattering from where he sat in a corner of the cave. Despite his best efforts to hide it, his body shivered violently, and his lips had turned slightly blue, drying out around the edges.
Should have brought matches. We could have burned our clothes. Anything to stave off the damned cold. Matches were dead useful. They started fires, created distractions, and lit my cigarettes. Unfortunately, I had left them in a pile on the bed with the rest of the accoutrements relating to my “nasty habit” as one of my many ex-girlfriends called it. I was too damned busy pouting about the cigarettes to remember the life-saving matches that had been chucked out with them. Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of my mental capacity, rendering my mind useless.
Upon our departure, it had been a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. But the unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain turned into a full-blown blizzard in less than an hour.
After a few moments of silent processing, a thought broke through the icy curtain around my mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of our predicament.
Werewolves don’t howl.
Movies and TV might portray it otherwise, but in the wild, it never happens. Werewolves are apex predators and lone hunters. There’s no need for them to communicate. They don’t reproduce, they don’t have families; they just hunt. When they want to create more werewolves, they go and bite another villager. It’s almost elegant in its simplicity.
Werewolves don’t howl. The statement floated through the air lazily, allowing both me and James to get a better look at it. I glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed myself again for forgetting the matches. That’s it, double checking for matches from now on. Had it been the day trip I billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But the client had flat-out lied, and now things were getting dicey.
“We’re not hunting a werewolf, are we?” James mumbled from deep within his parka.
I wished we were. Werewolves were so easy to track—big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them.
“Not anymore,” I said. Then came another earsplitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. My already chilled blood dropped a full degree as the howl trailed off.
The animals that could have made such a noise were few. I pulled out a leather-bound tome from my satchel, which bore the scratches and scrapes of every journey I had ever been on. It had been written by the “master” that taught me the ways of monster hunting. I never left for a journey without it.
It was mostly filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce. He may have had a coke-addled mind, but he was a damned good hunter when it came down to it. I flipped through the pages, hoping that somewhere between poetry about the dismembered head of a warg and amateur comic strips detailing the mating habits of Romanian banshees, there would be useful information.
The sound came again. Like a wolf, only longer, lower, and far louder. To be heard over the fury of a snowstorm was no easy feat. Even in the cave, we could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. I continued to shuffle through the book until I happened upon the page I was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited.
Most people were wrong.