Below is part 2 of The Stakes, a short Nick Ventner tale that will conclude with Part 3 in a week or so. If you like what you read, be sure to share it around!
Part 2 – Midnight
David and I exchanged ‘pleasantries’ through the barricaded door for hours. Every time one of us was about to give ground, our resolve would stiffen and we’d be right back at the start again. I should have known it would go nowhere, vampires love to talk. When you think about it, they’ve got all the time in the world, so long as some stake-happy hunter doesn’t get any bright ideas. For the most part, the days of hunting vampires for the sake of it were over, so long as certain lines weren’t crossed. Luckily, any sort of tribunal would have a hard time pegging David as benevolent…
I was starting to feel that while tired there was a possibility I was going to be able to hold the door through the night, even if only by distraction. David’s pet hadn’t made much progress, and it didn’t take much more effort than leaning. It wasn’t going to be pleasant, but I wasn’t going to die either. That’s usually the space I operate in. I was content with the situation, until a shrill howl cut through the door like it wasn’t even there.
“Well Mr. Ventner, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, but that sound means I’m going to need to step away for a bit. You know what they say about werewolves and full moons.” There was a pause as he chuckled to himself. “Have a nice evening.” Just like that, negotiations ended, and we moved on to the next logical step, war.
I knew two things immediately: The first, I needed to be better about checking lunar calendars. The second, there was no way I was holding off a werewolf at full strength with no silver. Gathering what wits I had, I went to the corner of the room, and stood to the side of the barricaded door, grabbing one of the cross-bows along the way. A werewolf wouldn’t care much about the holy water on the bolts, but they would still sting like hell.
Outside, I could hear the sound of flesh stretching until it ripped. I had only witnessed a full transformation once, and it was more than enough to sour me on the idea. It was a wonder werewolves weren’t even more unpleasant given how painful the process looked. The howl came again, this time lower, and more resonant.
“You know you don’t need to do that, right?” I said, stalling for time. Likely the creature couldn’t hear me through its mounting bloodlust anyway. “Howling is just something invented by Hollywood. You’re playing into their stereotypes!” Werewolves in the wild don’t howl because they’re solitary predators. There’s no need for communication because if they found one another it would just become a never-ending blood bath. It tends to be messy when two regenerative creatures go at it for an eternity.
Without further warning, there was a massive crash and the barricade I had so hastily erected exploded, sending bits of wood and high-cost furniture splintering against the back wall. In the small space, it was deafening. Before the dust had even begun to settle, the werewolf came charging in, knocking me out of the way like a child’s doll.
I hit the wood floor hard. The crossbow flew from my hand and skittered across the floor. Through bleary eyes, I looked at the creature’s hulking form illuminated by the pale moonlight. It was seven feet of taut, furry, muscular, ‘fuck you’. Its chest heaved with the labored breathing of exertion and drool dripped from its mouth in anticipation. Tendrils of steam rose from its freshly molted body. It sniffed the air, trying to find my scent.
Stupid fucking creatures. Only a werewolf had to sniff for prey in a four-hundred square-foot room. I may not have been prepared to fight a werewolf, but they were so much more predictable than vampires. Between the creature’s feet was the crossbow, mercifully undamaged. Even such a short distance seemed like a mile. Half the wooden eagle that had broken off the dresser lay next to me, jagged wood spires sticking out from where it had connected. Had I fallen a few inches to the right, it would have impaled me.
The werewolf eventually caught my scent and turned to face me, sniffing heavily, and revealing teeth into an ugly grin.
Well, now or never. “Sorry, Red Riding Hood is out, can I take a message for you?”
The werewolf snarled and snapped at the air menacingly.
“My, what a fierce bite you have. Does someone need a belly rub?” Werewolves despised two things above all else: Mention of ‘inaccurate’ fairy tales where they were outwitted by wily children and being compared to domestic dogs. I inched my hand out and grabbed the wooden eagle.
The werewolf saw my movement and charged. Holding the eagle like a makeshift dagger, I rolled between its legs, getting a closer view than I ever wanted of certain… werewolf bits. Without a second thought, I jabbed the sharp end of the eagle into the back of the creature’s knee. Hot black blood spurted out, coating the floor. The beast would heal, but it stopped it for the crucial few seconds I needed to escape. Without a second thought, I scrambled for the crossbow, picked it up, and ran blindly into the frigid night.
A light snow had begun to fall, and frost cracked beneath my feet with each pounding step. Behind me, the werewolf howled in agony and there was a terrible squelching sound as it removed the improvised weapon. Well, couldn’t hold it off forever. The cabin was surrounded by sparse woods for miles. In the pale light of the full moon, they looked like ghosts standing sentinel. I ran as fast as I could, knowing that it wouldn’t take long for the werewolf to find me. Not ten steps out of the cabin, a hooded figure materialized out of the gloom. It hissed something derogatory, but the movement of my arm was swift and automatic. I leveled the crossbow, the chamber turned, and a solitary bolt whistled out, striking the creature in the forehead. It looked briefly stunned and burst into flame.
In my haste to escape the werewolf, I had briefly forgotten about my true enemy. Vampires were smarter than werewolves, but I had come prepared for them. I continued to run, no idea of where I was headed other than far away from the werewolf at my heels. My only chance at defeating it was silver or finding an old gypsy woman. Both were in short supply. My best shot was to kill David and search his corpse. Vampires wouldn’t deal with a werewolf unless they had a way to kill it on hand.
I could hear the werewolf’s thunderous footfalls through the snow. My breath froze in the air before me, turning into tiny shining crystals. It was colder than it had been in a long time. Another figure rose up before me, and another burst of flame took its place. I had a knack for killing vampires. After the invention of Van Helsing’s automatic crossbow, it had all just become so easy. Modern monster hunters are spoiled.
“Alright Nick, I think we get it,” slurred the man to his right. If he had been drunk at the beginning of the night, he had reached an entirely new state of being. “She’s right, it’s all about your,” he paused to hiccup loudly and blurted “intimacy issues.”
Nick felt genuine shock. “What in the hell are you talking about? Look, is it so hard to believe I killed a few vampires in the north?”
“Not at all,” mused Margaret. “But it is hard to believe you escaped a werewolf and a veritable army of vampires relatively unharmed.” She looked him up and down as if to confirm the point.
“I’ve come out of worse scrapes.” It was clear that if he didn’t course-correct his story, the drinks were going to stop flowing very soon.
“The cabin is a metaphor for your intimacy, the werewolves and vampires at the door are the many women who have hurt you, and you running into the snow to fight them is just your way of telling us that you’re doing fine.” Margaret smiled, smugly.
Nick looked entirely perplexed. He had told many poorly-wrapped metaphors before, but this theory had to take the cake. “I think you’ll find that as I finish the story, your theory doesn’t hold up.”
“Oh really?” Margaret cocked an eyebrow and finished her glass.
“I’ll bet another round on it.”
Margaret smiled. “With the price of drinks here, sure, why not.” Jimmy placed another glass in front of her. “You’ve got this much time.” She pointed to the brown liquid and then took a drink.
It gets harder and harder to entertain… All the same, Nick was beginning to feel his booze, and knew that if he didn’t go home soon, he was bound to blackout. Nothing good ever happened when he blacked out. The last time, he had woken up in a courthouse full of dead trolls, and the pastor hadn’t taken kindly to his explanation of: ‘They were stealing from the collection tin’. “Fine. Are you familiar with the adage, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend?’”
“I went through grade school,” quipped Margaret.
“Well, werewolves aren’t exactly picky with their meals…”
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