This is Chapter 2 of a little holiday story with my favorite monster hunter, Nick Ventner. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1! Excuse my makeshift cover above, I’m a writer and not much of an artist 🙂
2 – Family Reunion
James pulled up to a house that was covered from foundation to chimney in twinkling, multicolor lights. The thought of the power bill alone was enough to make Nick sick to his stomach. He stumbled out of the car and immediately vomited into the snow. The strong burn of cheap alcohol filled his nose, but the freshness that came after a good vomit was a pleasant counter. “Well, we can rule out a water goblin in the case of my empty flask.” Nick wiped the vomit from his lips.
“Jesus Christ, Nick. Can you try to compose yourself a little bit?”
“That was the idea.” The horrible stink of bile filled his nostrils and he ate a handful of snow to wash it all away. If he was to continue drinking in any capacity, he needed to taper off, and vomiting was the fastest way there. Nick stamped his feet and flexed his hands, measuring his new level of sobriety. Satisfied, he straightened up and tried to put on his best impression of a smile. “Alright, let’s go meet these people who are definitely your family.”
James shook his head. “I knew this was a mistake.” He turned away and walked up the short path to the front door.
Trying to be clandestine, Nick snuck around the back of the car and opened the trunk. From inside, he pulled out a small collapsible harpoon rifle, a set of knives, and a flash grenade. The rifle was compact enough to fit on an insert he had cut into his winter jacket years ago, and he concealed it there. The grenade went in a pocket, and he put the knives in various uncomfortable positions around the rest of his body. It was a routine he was used to, and had saved his life countless times.
“You coming?” called James from the porch.
Nick looked longingly at a pile of holy symbols heaped toward the back of the trunk and reluctantly shut it. “Yup, sorry, almost forgot my book.” He grabbed the tome off the passenger seat and hurried to catch up with James, nearly slipping on ice in the process. He shuddered to think where one of the knives might have gone if he had.
“You’re not really bringing that thing, are you?”
Nick looked at James very seriously. “You’re my apprentice and I need you trust me on this one. I bring this with me everywhere and it’s gotten me out of more than a few scrapes.” Nick belched a sickly cloud of bile and stale liquor into the frosty winter air. “Whoo, sorry, that was a nasty one.” He gagged on the words as they came out.
“You almost had me for a second.” James waved a hand in front of his face, trying to disperse the smell. “Just don’t bring it out at dinner. These people are open minded, but not that open minded.” James rang the doorbell.
Immediately, the door flew open, spilling a beam of cheery light out from the entryway. Standing in the doorway were a man and a woman, both in their fifties, beaming. “My, my, young James, is that you?” asked the woman in a horribly saccharine voice.
“You sure have grown,” boomed the man.
Nick winced at the boisterous volume and tried not to vomit again. If that’s not a wendigo impersonating a human, I don’t know what is. Greetings at the Ventner household were offered in grunts or curses, and Nick preferred it to this jolly crap.
“It’s good to see you both.” James hugged the two of them. “How long has it been?”
Both the man and the woman shook their heads in confusion. “Gosh, I don’t even know,” said the man. “Long time, that’s for sure.” He chuckled and looked past James, seeing Nick for the first time. “And who’s your friend?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s Nick. He’s sort of my boss at my new job.”
Nick put on a plastic smile and tried his best to turn on the charm. “Nothing ‘sort of’ about it.” He laughed and reached out a hand to shake the man’s hand, being sure not to take his glove off. “I’m Nick Ventner, proprietor of the Ventner Agency. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” He watched the man’s eyes as he said it, and swore he saw a twitch of fear there, but it could have just as easily been nothing.
“No, I can’t say I have, but either way, good to meet you, Mr. Ventner. Any friend of James is a friend of ours. I’m Bill, and this is my wife, Marie.”
“A pleasure to meet you both.” Nick scanned every inch of their faces, looking for something he could use, something off, but by all appearances, they were normal.
“Well, why don’t you both come in and we’ll fix you something hot to drink. You’ll catch your death out there.” The woman motioned to hurry them both inside.
Nick looked at James, hoping to see some sign of reluctance, but there was nothing. Am I really the one going crazy here? He thought back to the creature that had crossed the road and put the radio on the fritz. If they were dealing with some manner of psychic beast, they were already in deep trouble.
“You coming, Mr. Ventner?” asked the man.
“Yes of course, sorry. Get lost in my own head these days, running a business and all.” Nick stepped into the house and was surprised to find it wasn’t much warmer than outside.
“I should have warned you, our heat’s been on the fritz,” said Bob, walking into the kitchen. “But we’ve got hot cocoa and some spirits to warm your bodies, and a couple of space heaters in the bedroom.”
Nick took off his gloves and looked around the entryway. He exhaled, still able to see his own breath.
“Terrible timing for the heat to go out in a storm like this,” commented James, beginning to undo his parka and then thinking better of it. “Maybe I could take a shot at fixing it tonight.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, dear,” called Marie. “We don’t mind it too much.”
I’ll bet you don’t, thought Nick, looking at the walls suspiciously. There were pictures of Bill and Marie everywhere, and even one family photo of what appeared to be a young James. Nick approached it carefully as though it might shoot poison darts at him and brushed a fine layer of dust off the frame.
“Try not to break anything,” muttered James and started off toward the kitchen before Nick had a chance to protest.
Dust on the photos, Nick noted. Heat’s out. James hasn’t heard from them in a long time. It was all adding up to a suspicious amount of evidence against the allegedly perfect family that had been presented before them. Can’t let my guard down, need to be careful. Nick walked down a darkened hallway, away from the kitchen.
A voice stopped him dead in his tracks. “Looking for the bathroom?”
Nick spun around violently, reaching for the knife he had concealed in his waistline. When he was halfway through the turn, he saw Bill, smiling at him from the entryway, holding two steaming mugs. Nick’s heart hammered in his chest, beating a crazy drum beat that no amount of drugs could make danceable.
“Feeling a bit jumpy?” asked Bill.
Nick took a deep breath, removing the tension from his muscles one by one. “I’m sorry, it’s just—”
“You’re feeling a bit hung over.” A wry smile crept across Bill’s face.
Nick’s eyes widened.
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed. Saw you puking out front. Figured you might need a little hair of the dog to get you through it.” He held a cup out. “It’s rum with a splash of hot cocoa in it. Nice and warm to get us through this absolutely miserable storm.”
Nick reached out and took the cup, sniffing at it experimentally. His eyes watered from the steam. Overpowered by urges, Nick sipped at the liquid and felt fire run past his tongue and into the back of his throat. He exhaled, blowing a large cloud of mist. “Holy shit.”
“Damn right. That’s the good stuff.” Bill took a sip of his own. “Now, I know you must feel like a stranger here, but James told us you don’t have anywhere else to be for the holidays. You’re welcome with us, and you’re not imposing.”
Nick didn’t like the sound of that. It sounded warm, fuzzy and foreign. “I don’t—”
“Or, you can think of it as a place where you can get blind drunk in a corner. Hell, that’s what I plan on doing.” Bill held the cup to his lips and drank deeply, draining what was left of it. “I’ll fix us another cup…”
If you like what you read, consider checking out our new, free audiodrama, Man of the Mountain. It’s about a man hell bent on maintaining the bigfoot legend, and the tabloid reporter that takes it upon herself to stop him. It’s on all streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher. For a full list of links, check out our Anchor page.