Table of Contents
Chapter 1– You are here!
1. Hello, My Name Is
Nick looked out at a sea of grizzled faces staring back at him from atop plastic bucket seats. He didn’t recognize anyone in particular, but he knew the type. Most had some form of weaponry across their lap or slung neatly on the back of their chairs. Monster hunters, paranoid bunch. The collapsible harpoon gun hiding in the lining of his coat felt comforting. This was a stupid idea; I never should have let James drag me here. Sweat prickled on the back of Nick’s neck, sending a chill through him, and wracking his body in an involuntary shiver. He felt sick, feverish, and desperately needed a drink. Sitting practically unarmed in a circle of perfectly capable killers was far from what the brochure had promised.
“So, Nick, you’re the new guy, why don’t you kick us off?” asked a stocky man in jeans and a rock and roll t-shirt. A trim beard covered his face, hiding a patchwork of scars and a greasy ponytail fell down his back.
Nick looked the man up and down, not a weapon in sight. He was either confident, or foolish. “I’m not exactly sure how these things go.”
A woman with a slicked back mohawk across the circle scoffed.
The stocky man looked at her. “Melinda, this is a judgment free space.”
There’s no such thing as a judgment free space. Nick had been damned to Hell several times and there were currently two outstanding contracts for his soul; judgment was a way of life.
“It’s easy, just say your name and why you’re here.” The stocky man smiled at Nick in a way that was clearly meant to be encouraging.
All Nick felt was a hint of patronization and the growing urge to test the strength on the windows at the far end of the room.
The circle remained silent, waiting on him to speak. The stocky man was perfectly content to wait.
“Alright,” started Nick, trying to figure out the words in real time. “My name is Nick, and I’m here because I nearly died last week.” The painful memory of a hospital bed came rushing back in a wave. Sterile lights shining into his eyes, his body baking like a horrible pastry wrapped in sweaty, white sheets. No monsters, no ghouls, no demons, just a slowly beeping monitor and the cool sensation of an intravenous drip. It would have been a mundane way to die by any stretch of the imagination, and he imagined his peers expected it.
“That’s a good start.” The stocky man looked around the room and others nodded approvingly. “But why was it that you almost died?”
Like you don’t fucking know. Everyone in the community knew about Nick and his habits. At that point in time, it was a given that he would show up drunk and still be twice as effective as the next hunter. It was all part of his charm. “I nearly drank myself to death.”
“Which would make you?”
Nick grimaced. He hated the word, didn’t want to say it. Labels. Always with the goddamned labels.
“Nick, you have to say it.”
“I know I have to say it, Sean!” Saying the man’s name out loud gave him some power. Sean, the golden boy monster hunter who had gotten clean and started a rehab clinic for like-minded fools. How anyone got through a day of slaying monsters and demons without a proper drink was well beyond Nick’s realm of comprehension.“My name is Nick, and I’m an alcoholic.” The words were bitter, tasting like a stale beer dripping through his teeth. Bile crept up the back of his throat.
“Thank you for sharing, Nick.” Sean didn’t linger. “Why don’t we open it up to the room?”
About time. Nick had come to rehab expecting to hide in the background and slowly sweat his way through detox. Talking had never been part of the plan. This was a rehab for monster hunters after all, what could they possibly have to say? When they weren’t telling stories about creatures they killed, hunters were notoriously close-lipped. It was an effective defense mechanism when friends could turn to enemies in an instant.
“So, anyways, there I was, coked out of my mind, staring down the Tahoe Tessie.” A woman was speaking. She wore her hair in close-cropped braids and even in the safety of a rehab facility sported tactical clothing with enough pockets to hide an arsenal.
Nick realized he had been drifting but came back at the mention of Tahoe Tessie. The less famous cousin of the Loch Ness Monster, Tahoe Tessie was a special brand of ugly plesiosaur. After killing one rather small lake monster, Nick had decided to never go near such a contract again. He was still getting the smell out of his best rain boots.
“You’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, twenty feet of mob-grave-fed, pissed off, plesiosaur. If I hadn’t had chocolate with me, that would have been the end of it.”
Despite himself, Nick came out of his thoughts, finding clarity after the word chocolate. “They love that stuff.” The sentence was involuntary and a flush crept up his cheeks as he said it. She knows that already, idiot.
The woman looked at him, eyes deep wells of pain, masked by hard story telling. “Yeah, they do, not many people know that.”
Nick saw a mirror in those eyes and the realization was painful, but also joyous in the same moment. “Not many people live long enough to figure it out.” Lake monsters were often talked about, seldom caught. By virtue of being able to dive deeper than any human and retaining millions of years of evolutionary advantages, they were particularly difficult to kill. Nick put them in the same category as crocodiles, sharks and very large turtles; ancient creatures that he wouldn’t go near, no matter how long the pole.
“Ain’t that the truth,” grumbled a thin man who had appeared half asleep. “Too many good hunters lost to those long-necked bastards.”
“They should all be destroyed,” muttered a gravelly man in a wide-brimmed khaki hat. He looked like he had stepped straight out of a safari park.
“Maybe we could take a field trip,” offered the woman brightly. “God knows this place has enough chocolate. As if that’s supposed to match the high we were getting elsewhere.”
There was a chorus of agreement at that.
“I think we’re getting a little off track,” answered Sean. “Let’s all take a second to remember why we’re here.” His tone was the perfect blend of defusal and patronization; not enough to piss anyone off, but plenty to shut them up.
The woman stared daggers at him.
“Cass,” he said, undeterred. “Why are we here?”
The sharpness of her eyes dulled briefly. “To find a way to live with the horrors we’ve seen that doesn’t involve trying to bash them all to hell with substance.”
The man smiled. “Couldn’t have said it better myself. Right, who’s next?”
Nick drifted off again, lost in a daze he hadn’t felt in a long time. Cass, her name is Cass. He tried not to stare, but knew he was doing a piss poor job of it. Maybe he could blame it on the toxic chemicals pouring out of him through rivers of sweat. God, he wanted a drink.
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