The Stakes – Part 1
This is the first of a 2 or 3 part (We’ll see how the story goes) Nick Ventner Tale that I will be releasing over the coming weeks. I’m about halfway done with the rest, so expect to see it soon!
Also, we have an official release date for Whiteout of May 1st, 2018! We’ll be posting the pre-order page soon, and for those of you interested in reading the book early, check out Aberrant Literature’s advance reader program, it’s free! https://mailchi.mp/04340f2cea01/aberrant-lit-advance-review-program
Part 1 – Cabin in the Woods
“Do you know what a monster hunter’s least favorite day of the year is?” Nick was already slurring and was on the verge of double vision. It had been a night of very heavy drinking, like most, had ended with nearly empty pockets. The only way to get a few more rounds was telling a good story.
“Halloween?” asked the man sitting on the adjacent barstool. He was unshaven and from the froth surrounding the edges of his beard, looked like he took shelter at the bottom of a bottle frequently.
Can’t even get the right answer at a monster hunting bar… Jimmy’s, sometimes called ‘The Haven’, was well known as a neutral zone for professionals to meet in between contracts, but occasionally it was discovered by rubes. “No.” Nick sighed. “For any respectable monster hunter,” he puffed out his chest, “the scariest day of the year is December 21st.”
The man’s eyes squinted, and Nick could have sworn that smoke began to rise from the tips of his ears.
Wanting to spare any further consternation, he plowed on. “It’s because of the vampires. Now, granted, it’s June 21st in the southern hemisphere, and those at the equator don’t really give a shit, but at our latitude, it’s December 21st.”
The man nodded along in understanding and called for another beer.
“The day of the year with the longest dark…” Nick’s eyes ached at the thought of it and a tight pain crept into both of his temples. “I remember once in my youth thinking it was the best time for a hunt because all the beasts would be out in the open…”
The man’s beer arrived, and he drank half of it in one gulp. Most of it sloshed down his front but he didn’t seem to notice. “Seems to me like the best time to run and hide.” He belched, blowing a sour wind into Nick’s face.
There are bog monsters with better breath. While disgusted, Nick had his audience, and that was all he needed. “Maybe with more years of experience, I would have felt the same way. But in my youth, that much danger in one place seemed like a party.” Several of the bar’s other patrons had begun to listen from their booths. Nick had many problems, but drawing a crowd wasn’t one of them.
So, there I was, in the American North, hunting down a particularly vicious vampire, the stuff of legend. Now, I wasn’t far enough North to get thirty days of darkness, but let’s just say the solstice was still going to be a long night. I thought I knew everything. I had rented a cabin just on the edge of town, saying often and loudly that I would be staying there. In hindsight, any half-witted beast could have seen it was a trap. Subtlety wasn’t and isn’t my specialty.
The cabin was stocked with garlic, wooden stakes, crosses, you name it. If it could harm a vampire, I had it. There were chalk lines around the door, a large sign out front that said, “Come on in” just in case they were old fashioned, and I had eaten a few cloves of garlic for good measure. I even hung a small painting of the Virgin Mary on the back wall for good measure. Dollar store religious iconography wouldn’t deter a focused vampire, but it could be distracting.
It was around 3PM when the sun set that day. I had boarded up the windows, stoked a fire, and set up a chair next to it. On my lap were two crossbows loaded with holy-water-soaked bolts, and on the table, a glass of fine whiskey to stave off the evening chill. Even if the vampires didn’t come, and I was pretty sure they would, it had the makings of a very pleasant evening.
The hours rolled by, and the tumblers of whiskey drained and emptied. Boredom set in around eight, just after full dark. I was just about to nod off when a scratching at the door woke me. My heart leapt with excitement. There was some trepidation, but I was too young to know what I was getting myself into. In the end, killing a vampire king was going to look good on my resume and bring in more than a few clients. All was silent except for the crackling of the logs in the fire. I took deep breaths, readying myself for what was to come.
A dark shadow crossed over the bottom of the door frame followed by the sound of something sniffing the ground. It took my mind a minute to realize why that sound was bad, and then the painfully obvious truth hit me. Vampires don’t snuffle under doorways, werewolves do. That was the last night I ever left home without silver.
“Are you carrying silver on you now?” asked a woman who had taken up residence on Nick’s left. Her eyes glittered maliciously as if she wanted nothing more than to poke holes in his surely fraudulent story. It wouldn’t be the first time she had tried. Margret was a brutal sort of honest.
Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out three silver bullets. “Never leave home without them.” He neglected to mention the fact that all his fillings had also been done in silver, but some secrets were best kept secrets.
“A man of his word, intriguing.” The woman gave Nick an appreciatory glance.
“No he isn’t,” said Jimmy from behind the bar. “But when it comes to being prepared, he gets about 90% of the way there.” Jimmy walked out and dropped a cold beer in front of Nick.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” He took a deep gulp of the icy liquid. It sent tiny tendrils of frost through his limbs, followed by an immense relief of both body and soul. “That’s the good stuff. Now, if I’m through being interrupted, I believe I was in the middle of a harrowing tale about vampires and werewolves.”
The woman twirled her fingers in a gesture telling him to go on.
It didn’t take long for the werewolf at the door to notice there was nothing but a chalk line keeping him out. Chalk is great for ghosts, demons and celestial beings, but werewolves don’t put much stock in any of that. They just like to hunt. It was a fatal flaw in my overconfident calculations, and I was going to pay the price.
In my sudden realization, I did what any normal person would do; thought through all the painful deaths that were likely about to happen, and immediately began throwing everything heavy in front of the door. The cabin was old and furnished with beautifully carved book-cases and several original pieces sculpted from logs. I shot up from my chair, grabbed the bookcase by an eagle that had been carved into the edge, and threw it in front of the door just as the first crash hit it. The intricate carving cracked in two and went rolling across the cabin floor.
Even with the weight of the bookshelf, the door nearly caved inward. I threw myself against it, knowing the gesture was futile, but unsure of what else to do. I needed to buy myself time to think, find a way out, but with full dark outside, and every monster in town knowing exactly where I was, it was going to be rough.
I held that door long enough that my eyes began to sag, and the gnarling crashing noises almost sounded pleasant. Say what you will about werewolves, they may be single-minded, but god damn are they persistent. I wasn’t sure what time it was when the banging finally stopped, but mercifully it did. That’s when a smooth voice called out from the dark, and I felt real chills run up and down my spine. Vampires will do that to you.
“You can’t hold out against him forever, Mr. Ventner.” The words were smooth, but deadly, like a viper’s poison. The accent was unmistakably American, which was somewhat of a letdown.
“So, Vladislav didn’t even come himself?” I had hoped to kill a famous Transylvanian vampire king that wintered in America, but no cigar.
The man at the door chuckled coldly. “Sorry, no Vladislav here, just David.”
I should have known that name, but then, as now, I never cared much for homework. My back ached from being firmly pressed to the sharp edge of a book shelf. If he had a werewolf, the only way I was getting out was through diplomacy, not my strong suit. “Well, David, I assume you want to talk.”
“What makes you think that?” There was a snuffling whine from the obviously restrained werewolf.
It was my turn to laugh. “Your pet hasn’t made it through the door yet, and clearly you don’t feel invited.” I silently hoped he hadn’t seen the welcome sign. “So, we can either sit here until sunrise, or we can talk.” I didn’t think my back would hold out until sunrise, but they didn’t need to know that.
David made a tut-tutting sound with his tongue. “Well, you have me there. So, let me in and we’ll talk.”
“Fat chance. I let you through that doorway and you’re going to eat me alive.”
The werewolf growled low and long. “Hush now,” seethed David. There was a dull thump of something heavy on fur, followed by a restrained whimper. “Mr. Venter, how can we possibly get to know each other with all these barriers between us?”
“Damnit,” snapped the woman. “This isn’t a story about vampires, it’s another thinly-veiled metaphor for Nick’s intimacy issues!”
There was a collective agitated sigh from the others listening.
“Intimacy issues?” asked Nick, outraged. “I don’t have intimacy issues!” If they started to question the story too much, the free drinks would stop flowing.
“What about the apprentice you left in the taiga because he sent you a birthday card?” asked the woman, cocking an eyebrow. “Or the—”
“Can’t a guy tell a story about killing a vampire lord without getting psychoanalyzed?” Nick had pictured the night ending many ways, but emotional honesty was not one of them.
“I thought he was a king?” Hiccupped a man from a darkened corner booth.
“Oh, who gives a yeti’s ass about titles?” The bar had grown uneasily silent. It was the sound Nick recognized as losing an audience. Why have they always got to question me? A part of him wanted to finish the story, the other just wanted to cut his losses, drain the free pint Jimmy had given him and leave. Such was the dichotomous nature of mild depression.
As if noticing the sudden swing in mood, the woman to his left spoke again. “Alright, it may be bullshit, but let’s at least hear it to the end. Just, skip all the chit-chat between you and David and get to the good part.” Margaret was tough, but not cruel.
Nick sighed. He was a fan of the ‘bullshit’ and ‘chit-chat’, but people only wanted the spectacle. Same old, same old. “Right, let’s skip ahead to midnight then.”
Want more Nick Ventner?
Whiteout – The First Nick Ventner Novel
The Lake – A Nick Ventner Tale about lake monsters
A Man of the Mountain – A longer Nick Ventner story about the Pacific Northwest, and sasquatch