Before Whiteout

The following is the first chapter of a short story that precedes my first novel Whiteout. It’s a bit darker, but it still has its humor!

A Man of the Mountain

By Ashton Macaulay

The snow had only just begun to fall when Jonas opened the sturdy wooden door of his cabin and walked outside. The warmth on his back lasted only a moment, and was swallowed up by the chill in the air. Aside from the two snow shoes jangling at his side, and the wind through the pines, it was quiet. He looked to the horizon and saw a cluster of dark, grey clouds looming. By nightfall the snow would be feet deep, but it was no matter. The worse the weather, the less chance he had of running into anyone.

His cabin was positioned in a strategic location five miles off the nearest hiking trail, and high enough on the mountain that when people got near they weren’t keen on exploring. Occasionally there were accidents with overzealous youths attempting to imitate the great explorers of old, but he tried not to think of them. Jonas let out a contented sigh and watched as the misty plume of his breath drifted into the air. This, is heaven, he thought.

He took one last look at the warm windows of his cabin, and promised himself to have a good drink by the fire when he returned that evening. The trees rattled together in a strong breeze, and Jonas popped in a pair of earbuds. Music began to play, drowning out the foreboding noises of the forest, with the soothing tones of Rush.

He stepped away from the cabin, and padded softly through the growing snow. Light, white flecks drifted lazy arcs toward the ground. The way through the woods was treacherous, with steep ravines running off the edges of a very narrow trail that Jonas had cleared. For those who weren’t looking for it, the trail was invisible. Jonas picked his way deftly through the narrow path with ease.

As he walked, he thought about the past ten years and what a blessing they had been. Back in the city (a time he didn’t enjoy reminiscing about), even ordering a cup of coffee had been a struggle. Small talk was a minefield, and he often took so long to navigate it, that by the time he was out, the person he was talking to was staring at him as if he were crazy. While Jonas may have been a little abnormal in his distaste for conversation, he was otherwise ordinary. He possessed a slightly above average IQ, moderate good looks, and a height of six feet, slightly on the higher end of the genetic bell-curve. All factors that should have worked to his advantage socially.

Despite living far removed from society, he had still managed to keep himself clean-shaven, and resisted the urge to grow out his hair to mythical proportions. People might have mistaken me for Bigfoot, he thought, and laughed aloud to the frosted trees. It echoed for miles, but was drowned out as a guitar riff by Iron Maiden started up.

Jonas walked for about a mile and stopped to unshoulder his pack. The snow shoes landed with a heavy thud in a drift of fresh powder. He picked one of them up and examined the edges to make sure they were perfect. The shoes had been specially designed so that they would resemble large paw prints, and distributed his weight toward the back of each step. Any cryptozoologist worth their salt would be looking for the telltale signs of fraud, and he didn’t want to slip up with something so minor.

Satisfied that the shoes were in working order, he opened his bag and pulled out a massive pile of matted fur. He slipped into it, and pulled up a thick hood. Two small ears poked out of the sides, and flapped in the growing wind. Jonas strapped the shoes on, and took his earbuds out. In just the short amount of time since he had left, the storm had moved close, and thicker flakes flew past him. He looked up at the darkening sky and could not help but smile. This was his favorite part of the mountain.  As a finishing touch, Jonas pulled on two gloves with metal claws coming out of them. He swiped at a tree to his left, and tore through the bark like tissue paper, leaving four long gouges.

He buried his pack shallow in the snow beneath the marked tree, and set off. Even though it was likely that no one would ever see him, Jonas put on a show, lumbering through the forest like a true beast of legend. To him, there was nothing better than running through the woods, slashing trees, and making chilling cries that echoed for miles. If he wanted to get picked up by the History Channel, he would have to be convincing.

As the evening wore on, he made his way toward some of the more popular hiking trails. The sun set, leaving him with only the moonlight for guidance. With the blizzard on the way, and dark upon him, he knew that the trails were likely to be deserted. The parking lots far below closed at dusk, and none of the tourists wanted their cars to get stuck. In short, the mountain was his for the evening.

Jonas rampaged for hours, slashing trees, leaving chunks of fur hanging on branches for hikers to find, and tearing through the snow like a wild animal. His howls filled the night, competing with even the storm growing around him. Snowflakes fell, muted blue in the night air, illuminated only by the little glow of moonlight that occasionally peaked through the clouds.

It was a perfect evening, until a beam of light erupted from the trees, and froze Jonas in place. His pulse quickened in an instant and he could feel his blood running hot beneath the outer chill. Standing not ten feet away was a hiker in a bright orange coat, holding an equally bright orange flashlight. The beam shook slightly as if its owner was shivering from the cold.

“Hello? Who’s there?” the hiker called, voice quavering.

Jonas did not respond, hoping that if he stood still, the hiker would just walk away. Please just walk away. The beam of light filtered through a small clump of trees that he hoped would act as concealment.

“I can see you there.” The hiker moved a few steps closer, trying to get a better look. “Can you please help me? I’ve gotten lost, and my cell is dead.”

Just when the night was going so well. Jonas took a deep breath, and stepped out from behind the trees. In the stark, white light, he probably cut somewhat less of an intimidating figure. The fur had begun to look like a hand-me-down onesie, and would need to be replaced soon.

The hiker stared at him, silent. His pupils widened, and his breathing quickened. Perhaps he had realized that what he was confronting was not another ordinary hiker, or sensed that by being what Jonas would call “nosy”, he had put himself in extreme danger.

You really should have just walked away. I really hate this part, thought Jonas. He let out a primal howl that came out more like a yelp as the cold air caught in the back of his throat. Still needs more work. Jonas stamped the large snow shoes, kicking up white powder.

The hiker turned with astonishing quickness, and began to run into the forest. Without the flashlight, Jonas was left in the dark, watching as the cone of the hiker’s flashlight began to bounce away. He gave him what he felt to be a fair head start, and then took chase. It had taken a while, but he had become quite adept at running in snow shoes. In no time at all, he was right behind the hiker.

Looking away as he did so, Jonas brought one of his hands down in a sweeping arc, catching the hiker across the back. Hot blood streaked the snow, and the hiker screamed. “Oh God, I’m sorry,” said Jonas, fumbling to a stop. He always tried to make it quick, and had missed the man’s head with his first swipe. There was no need to make death any worse than it already was. He took careful aim and plunged his claws through the back of the man’s jacket, ending his life with a gurgle.

Pulling the claws out, Jonas sat back in the snow, watching steam rise into the air. He had to look away for fear of being sick. “That’s why there are signs moron!” he yelled. “Don’t stay in the park after dark. God damnit.” He hung his head toward the snow, trying to remain calm. Stating the rules out loud made him feel justified.

Looking at the hiker in the moonlight, pride began to creep into his mind. The kill, while gruesome, looked genuine. He took off one of his gloves and pulled out a small cell phone. With frozen fingers, he typed “Bigfoot kills again. Third hiker found on the North side of the mountain.” He looked it over once and pressed send.

Whiteout Chapter 1

Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches. The thought rang through Nick’s head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside him, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost. Should have brought matches and should have left the kid behind. Nick had never liked partners; more often than not, they would just slow him down or haunt him in between benders with memories of their death.

Six months prior, Nick had run into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James had become his apprentice. Nick was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, James managed to fight off the cynicism of 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 asked, taking a sip of his tea.

Nick, on the other hand was 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,” Nick said with slight irritation. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me re-hashing 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 rang false, but were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked to 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 whisky 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,” he said, continuing to laugh.

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 into his core, warming him from 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. Nick and James had made camp in a small cave tucked into the side of the mountain. At that altitude, with the cold wind whipping through their bones, the world grew fuzzy around the edges. For the first few minutes, neither of them were sure they had actually heard howling at all. They simply sat by the glow of the flashlight, hoping that it wasn’t the day they would be sent to meet the gods that their profession so strongly opposed.

“Is that it?” James asked from the corner of the cave. Though he tried 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 this damned cold. Matches were dead useful; they started fires, created distractions, and lit his cigarettes. Unfortunately, he had stopped bringing them to avoid the continuation of his “nasty habit” (the words spoken by one of many ex-girlfriends).  Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of Nick’s mental capacity, rendering his mind useless.

Upon their departure, it had been a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to quickly turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain had 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 Nick’s mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of their 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 Nick and James to get a better look at it. Nick glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed himself again for forgetting the matches. Filthy habit it may be, but I’m never leaving without them again. Had it been the day trip Nick had been billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but when clients flat-out lied, things tended to get a bit dicey.

“We’re not hunting a werewolf, are we?” James mumbled from deep within his parka.

Nick wished they were. Werewolves were so easy to track; big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them. “Not anymore,” he said, and was drowned out by another ear-splitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. Nick’s already chilled blood dropped a full degree cooler as the howl trailed off.

The animals that could have made such a noise were few. Nick pulled out a leather-bound tome from his satchel, bearing the scratches and scrapes of every journey he had ever been on. An old friend had given it to him as he was just starting up, and Nick never left without it.

Mostly, it was filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce (he had been a bit of a drunk, and a lecher, and coke-addled, but a damned good hunter when it came down to it). Nick 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, they could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. He continued to shuffle through the book until he happened upon the page he was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited. Most people were wrong.

Whiteout – May Progress

May is about halfway over, and I continue to grow closer and closer to the end of my first full re-write of Whiteout. The end word count has continued to stretch (currently estimated at 85,000), but nonetheless, June is actually starting to seem doable. That’s right, come June, you might actually see some content that isn’t related to a drunken monster hunter and a fictional mountain somewhere in the Himalayas!

So, where do I stand on progress right now? As we all know, the best way to look at data is through histograms, and trendlines (it’s not, but it’s easy, and I’m busy).

May

Every day this month, except for the pesky 7th, I have made some progress on Whiteout! Some days less than others, but the point is, it’s moving forward (I can’t help that Injustice 2 released yesterday…) The trickiest part this month has been fleshing out a denouement that was previously nonexistent. I wrote the original draft of this novel for NanoWriMo (a competition where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days), and by the time I had reached this point in the book, I was almost at my word count. Unfortunately, this led to some poor narrative choices, such as “And then suddenly they were back at the yeti’s cave”, which meant the original narrative had to be fleshed out.

Griping aside, I think the ending is coming along nicely, and I will continue to share updates as I go along. Thanks for reading, if you like my work, subscribe, like, leave a hateful comment, or find another way to feed the social media beast (it hungers).

–Mac

Whiteout – Chapter 1

Whiteout_Logo1

Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches. The thought rang through Nick’s head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside him, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost. Should have brought matches and should have left the kid behind. Nick had never liked partners; more often than not, they would just slow him down or haunt him in between benders with memories of their death.

Six months prior, Nick had run into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James had become his apprentice. Nick was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, James managed to fight off the cynicism of 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 asked, taking a sip of his tea.

Nick, on the other hand was 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,” Nick said with slight irritation. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me re-hashing 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 rang false, but were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked to 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 whisky 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,” he said, continuing to laugh.

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 into his core, warming him from 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. Nick and James had made camp in a small cave tucked into the side of the mountain. At that altitude, with the cold wind whipping through their bones, the world grew fuzzy around the edges. For the first few minutes, neither of them were sure they had actually heard howling at all. They simply sat by the glow of the flashlight, hoping that it wasn’t the day they would be sent to meet the gods that their profession so strongly opposed.

“Is that it?” James asked from the corner of the cave. Though he tried 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 this damned cold. Matches were dead useful; they started fires, created distractions, and lit his cigarettes. Unfortunately, he had stopped bringing them to avoid the continuation of his “nasty habit” (the words spoken by one of many ex-girlfriends).  Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of Nick’s mental capacity, rendering his mind useless.

Upon their departure, it had been a beautiful, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to quickly turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain had 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 Nick’s mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of their 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 Nick and James to get a better look at it. Nick glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed himself again for forgetting the matches. Filthy habit it may be, but I’m never leaving without them again. Had it been the day trip Nick had been billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but when clients flat-out lied, things tended to get a bit dicey.

“We’re not hunting a werewolf, are we?” James mumbled from deep within his parka.

Nick wished they were. Werewolves were so easy to track; big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them. “Not anymore,” he said, and was drowned out by another ear-splitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. Nick’s already chilled blood dropped a full degree cooler as the howl trailed off.

The animals that could have made such a noise were few. Nick pulled out a leather-bound tome from his satchel, bearing the scratches and scrapes of every journey he had ever been on. An old friend had given it to him as he was just starting up, and Nick never left without it.

Mostly, it was filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce (he had been a bit of a drunk, and a lecher, and coke-addled, but a damned good hunter when it came down to it). Nick 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, they could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. He continued to shuffle through the book until he happened upon the page he was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited. Most people were wrong.

Whiteout Progress

With a job as a data scientist, I’ve come to love collecting data on just about everything, and the rewrite process has been no exception. I began work on the first complete re-write of Whiteout in early January with the goal of being done by June. Even as the total word count estimate has ballooned from about 60,000, to 80,000, it looks like I’m actually still on track!

progress

At this rate, it looks like I’ll be finishing in mid-June (if you put any stock in linear trend-lines), with a book that is about 1.6 times its original size. I’m really psyched to continue sharing the rewrites with you all as I continue the process, and even more excited to get this book published. This has been by far my favorite piece to write, and I look forward to exploring the series more as time goes on.

Thanks for reading,

Mac