Whiteout Full Edit – Chapter 1

Alright, here it is, the fully edited first chapter of Whiteout. Those who have read previous edits will notice the story has been changed to first person. This was actually how the book was first written, and I think it conveys the tone of Nick telling a tall tale a little better.

For those who are interested in pre-ordering and getting some sweet Whiteout swag, check out our GoFundMe campaign which will be running through January 1st. Share the link around as well, every bit of publicity we can get helps!

Link to Prologue

Chapter 1: Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches.

The thought rang through my head clear as a bell, even after everything else had become a frozen blur. James sat beside me, panting on a rock. His boyish hair was slick with sweat, and his parka was crusted with a fresh coat of frost.

Correction, I thought, should have brought matches and left the kid behind. I had never liked partners. More often than not, they just slowed me down or haunted me in between benders with memories of their death.

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

Nick sighed quietly, 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.” Winston’s interruptions were beginning to irritate him. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me rehashing 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 came out false, but they were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked at 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 whiskey 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.”

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

“Is that it?” James asked, his teeth chattering from where he sat in a corner of the cave. Despite his best efforts 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 the damned cold. Matches were dead useful. They started fires, created distractions, and lit my cigarettes. Unfortunately, I had left them in a pile on the bed with the rest of the accoutrements relating to my “nasty habit” as one of my many ex-girlfriends called it. I was too damned busy pouting about the cigarettes to remember the life-saving matches that had been chucked out with them. Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of my mental capacity, rendering my mind useless.

Upon our departure, it had been a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. But the unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain 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 my mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of our 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 me and James to get a better look at it. I glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed myself again for forgetting the matches. That’s it, double checking for matches from now on. Had it been the day trip I billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But the client had flat-out lied, and now things were getting dicey.

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

I wished we were. Werewolves were so easy to track—big feet, lots of fur, and a swath of blood laid out behind them.

“Not anymore,” I said. Then came another earsplitting howl. It was long and mournful, shaking the walls of the cave with its intensity. My already chilled blood dropped a full degree as the howl trailed off.

The animals that could have made such a noise were few. I pulled out a leather-bound tome from my satchel, which bore the scratches and scrapes of every journey I had ever been on. It had been written by the “master” that taught me the ways of monster hunting. I never left for a journey without it.

It was mostly filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce. He may have had a coke-addled mind, but he was a damned good hunter when it came down to it. I 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, we could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. I continued to shuffle through the book until I happened upon the page I 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 Prologue

Exciting news, Whiteout has gone under the red pen from a professional editing house and survived! This book has come a long way since 2010 NanoWriMo where it was written in about 25 days, and I’m counting the days to it’s publication early next year.

In addition to new edits, I’ve also got a spiffy new cover logo thanks to a few cups of coffee and a Saturday morning.

cropped-website_banner.jpg

Finally, Jason Peters the man behind Aberrant Literature (Whiteout’s publisher) is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to help cover editing, marketing, and publishing expenses for a short fiction collection where my story Future Solutions is featured. Check it out, donate if you can, and share the link around!

Alright, without further adieu, here’s the opening to Whiteout, Chapter 1 will follow on Friday!

Whiteout

“So you want to know about the yeti?” said Nick, savoring the look of surprise on the man’s face.

“Yes,” answered Winston, the portly man sitting opposite him. Clearly he thought there was going to be some sort of conversational foreplay before they came to that topic. Nick had never been one for small talk, and in the years since he had been back, the yeti seemed to be the only thing that interested people anymore. It also garnered the unexpected perk of free drinks, which he didn’t mind.

“And why exactly is that?” Nick asked.

“The subject is fascinating,” Winston breathed excitedly. “From the moment I first heard the rumors, I knew that I would have to get the real story from the source.” He leaned forward expectantly, causing the buttons of his freshly pressed shirt to strain from the size of his girth.

Nick Ventner thought Winston looked more prepared to attend the opera than swap stories with a monster hunter. With his neatly trimmed moustache and patiently combed-over white hair, Nick doubted that he had so much as encountered a gremlin, let alone anything of substance.

Just what exactly do you want with a yeti anyway? There’s nothing to be gained on that mountain apart from frostbite and blood.

Nick’s concentration was broken by the appearance of an austere butler carrying a tray with a cup of steaming tea. Winston thanked the man and took the cup. Before Nick had time to ask for anything, the butler slipped away.

“Sprightly man, isn’t he?”

“Yes, quite,” mused Winston, taking a sip of his tea.

“Don’t suppose he does drinks?” Nick raised his eyebrows hopefully.

“Oh, yes, of course he does.”

Silence fell as Nick waited for an offer that never came. He grimaced at the hideous odor wafting from Winston’s tea. Smells like llama piss and probably cost more than he paid to find me.

Winston watched Nick intently, like a toad hunting a juicy fly. “Well, then, will you tell me the story?”

“It’s a long and ugly one …” Nick looked around for the butler, who remained absent.

“Yes, of course. So you’ll tell it?” Winston’s eyes looked eager, like a child expecting to receive sweets.

“Are you a climber?” Nick asked, moving the subject away from the yeti. “I saw a few pieces of climbing gear on the way in.”

“Well, I dabble, but never anything …”

Nick stopped listening. You look like you have trouble climbing out of bed, much less anything that even closely resembles a mountain. I bet you’ve never even been above 15,000 feet outside of an airplane. Nick found himself staring at Winston’s gut once more, wondering how long it would be before his shirt gave way like a bursting dam. The thought caused him to shudder.

Winston continued to talk despite the glazed look in Nick’s eyes. “But Kilimanjaro really isn’t that difficult if you’ve got the proper guide.”

The conversation settled once more into awkward silence as the man waited for Nick to respond. “Oh, yes, and you must watch out for the hominids up there as well; quite dangerous when they get into a pack.” Nick allowed his mind to drift to the many decorations plastered on the walls.

Every inch of the mansion they sat in agitated Nick in some way. The armchairs were too plush, artifacts from different cultures were spread around the room in a fashion that had no discernable pattern, and above all, the man was lazy, circuitous, and rich. Even the winding lane leading up to the ornate doors had been adorned with artifacts so culturally at odds with the place that Nick thought they were more apt to start a holy war than be considered tasteful. In a different time, Nick might have idolized his wealth, but recently he had been searching for more in life.

“Well, the hominids didn’t really trouble us much—”

Nick grew frustrated with the lack of proffered drink and cut him off. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I was told that you were interested in hiring me, but if the yeti story is all you want, then I’m out of here.” Nick stood up from his chair and turned to go.

There’s just no room for respectable monster hunters anymore. They all just want the spectacle.

“I can pay you,” said Winston, stopping Nick in his tracks.

Nick may not have wanted to be rich, but his pockets were a tad light, trending toward empty, and the pub around the corner was not cheap. He looked back at the man’s face. A wave of familiarity struck him, but just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.

“Five thousand for the story,” said Winston, “beginning to end. I won’t publish it, I won’t record it. I just want to hear it.” The man sat back in his chair, hands folded across his lap. An expression of victory quickly spread across his smug face.

“Five thousand for a story? You must be some kind of bored.” Nick lowered himself back into the chair.

“I’ve heard the tale secondhand so many times that it seems foolish not to hear it from the man himself. I have complex interests, Mr. Ventner, and you have piqued them.”

Complex interests? Complex carbs, maybe. Your interests are provincial at best. The only real complexity Nick could see about the man was the series of bands that miraculously kept his clothes attached to his body. A little spectacle never hurt anyone. Ah, he would have wanted it anyway. Fortune and glory, remember?

“Well, your money has piqued my interests, but there’s one final condition.”

“What is that?” Winston asked eagerly.

“I’m going to need that drink.”

Before Whiteout – The Lake

I wrote this story about two years ago now, but it seemed a fitting time to re-write it and put it out there. Here’s one of the many tales of Nick Ventner’s adventures that take place before my upcoming novel, Whiteout.

The Lake

It was a gorgeous morning. The sun rose over the black surface of a lake that reflected the surrounding mountains like a mirror. Nick Ventner and his apprentice James glided across the smooth water through tendrils of steam rising in the chill morning air.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better day.” Nick was positively beaming. In one hand he held a thermos that was mostly rum, splashed with a bit of hot chocolate, and in the other, a spyglass stolen from the crumbling arms of a long-deceased pirate king. In short, everything was as it should have been.

“Enjoying your morning, James?”

James sat sandwiched between two stacks of large, wooden crates, and held two fishing poles between his legs. Given the cramped nature of the small boat, he was forced to lean back over the edge to grab the oars on either side. He wore a look of sullen contempt combined with a sleep-deprived stupor as he tried to maintain a consistent rowing pace.

If Nick was upset by his silence, he said nothing and returned to scanning the lake. Pockets of fog heavily obscured sections of the water, clinging to it in thick columns. “Those are our best chance. Lots of fish in there.”

James mumbled something that sounded derogatory.

“Oh come on, don’t be so sour. Can you think of a better way to spend a morning?”

“Sleeping,” James replied, matter-of-fact. He looked haggard. In just six short weeks, the frantic nature of Nick’s employment had stolen a great deal of youth from him. Dark circles hung under his eyes, and there was a hollow nature to them that reminded Nick of the undead.

“This was supposed to be my day off,” grumble James.

“This is a day off! I’m taking you fishing. Didn’t your parents ever take you fishing?”

“Uh huh.” James nodded to the crates surrounding him. “I suppose these are just oversized tackle boxes?”

Nick shrugged. “You never know what the fish are going to bite.” It wasn’t an outright lie.

“Sure, and these?” James lifted the lid on the crate nearest to him revealing a pair of military-grade shotguns.

“I have enemies…”

“What exactly are we fishing for, Nick?”

“Trout?”

James sighed heavily.

“Oh come on. Here, I’ve got something for you.” Nick stood and tried not to rock the boat too much as he pried the lid off one of the other crate. Inside was a four-foot-deep pile of chocolate bars and two dollar store beers on top of them. Nick took one for himself and handed the other to James.

He briefly stopped rowing to examine Nick’s gift. “Please tell me these aren’t for us to drink.”

“Well, we’re certainly not going to eat the chocolate.”

“Why in God’s name do we need all of that if we’re not going to eat it.”

“She likes it… I mean trout like it.” Nick hastily returned to scanning the water.

Just as James was about to ask who ‘she’ was, the boat jolted hard tipping to one side briefly. A few feet to the right, a large, sleek, black hump surfaced briefly and then dove below.

“Told you.” Nick crane his neck to get a better look, but whatever it was had vanished.

A sense of terror overtook James’s body as the purpose of their “fishing trip” became clear. In the sky, a group of clouds passed in front of the sun casting the boat into a gloomy shadow.

“What the hell was that?”

“Do you really want to know?” Nick asked, rummaging through the many pockets of his coat. Eventually he pulled out a small moleskin notebook. Usually he would have brought the hand-written encyclopedia that had been passed down by his master, but the boat was full, so he had copied the relevant pages. The lake was silent as he scanned, pausing only for nervous glances at the water.

“No, I suppose I don’t.” Through his months of employment James had learned that there were some questions that were better left unanswered.

For a few minutes there was only the silent rustle of Nick going through the pages of his notebook. Then, the calm of the lake shattered. From beneath, a mighty force propelled the boat into the sky. They were slammed onto the hull by the sheer force of the impact. The sound of rushing water and cracking wood filled the air.

Nick leapt for the crate containing the shotguns, but as he stood to do so, the dinghy’s small bow gave out. There was a shattering crack and Nick began to fall. As he tumbled backward, he saw a massive, elongated, black head, filled with rows of jagged white teeth biting through the brittle wood. We should have brought a bigger boat, he thought.

For a dizzying moment, the boat was suspended above him in the sky, propped up by the beast’s thick black neck. As he tried to get a clearer look, the water rushed up to meet him, knocking the wind from his lungs and blotting the creature from view. His limbs were leaden in the cold water and Nick felt himself sinking.

Below, he could feel the eerie sensation of something massive moving in the darkness. Opening his eyes briefly, he could only see the outline of the creature’s body, black against the dark green of the lake. Muted crashes echoed through the water as the remaining pieces of the boat fell.

Trying to fight through the icy pain seeping into his body, Nick swam towards the surface. One of the shotguns sank past him in a lazy descent as he kicked furiously. He imagined the creature dipping its mouth into the water and eviscerating him in one bite, but no such end came. In fact, the water grew quiet as the crashes above him subsided.

After what felt like an eternity, Nick broke into the cool morning air, gasping for breath. A white roil had formed where the boat had been, but the creature was gone.

“James!” Nick yelled.

There was no answer. The lake had gone completely silent except for the gentle lapping of waves as they journeyed towards shore. A few feet away, the crate of chocolate bobbed unharmed. Nick paddled toward it, and hoisted himself atop.

The crate didn’t provide much buoyancy, and for the most part he was still submerged in the frigid water. The green hills that had before seemed peaceful, now only seemed too far to swim to.

“James,” he cried out again, wincing slightly. If the creature is eating him, it won’t take very long, and then it will be after me. The inky water beneath filled Nick with renewed terror. He did his best to steady his heartbeat. Think Nick, where’s it going to go next?

He looked down slowly at the crate of chocolate beneath him, and reluctantly pushed his flotation device away. The safety of the crate was not worth the allure of the bait within it.

Bubbles broke the surface a few feet from him and Nick’s body froze. Time passed like molasses as he watched the water part in slow motion. He could see the smooth object breaking the surface, and waited for the inevitable maw to show itself.

Just as he felt death was upon him, James popped out of the water, terrified as ever, but most certainly not a lake monster.

“Did you see that?” he sputtered.

“No, James, I didn’t see the massive beast eat our boat and toss me into the water.”

James stopped treading water long enough to flip Nick off and then paddled towards the box.

“Very cute, James. Stay away from the box you imbecile, it’s what she’s after.”

Even in his growing aggravation, James listened and backed away from the box. “You still haven’t explained what she is.” A tremor had crept into his voice. He shivered in the frigid water.

“Oh all right,” sighed Nick, trying to take his mind off treading water. “She, is The Loch Ness Monster; Well, that’s a bit of a misnomer, there’s quite a few of them, and they don’t all live in Loch Ness, but you get the idea. This particular lady has been quite the hassle for the fishermen in the town at the south end.”

As he spoke, one of the beer cans surfaced and bobbed serenely in the water. Nick swam over to it, pulled the tab and drank deeply. It might have been shit beer, but the warming sensation that accompanied it was worth the taste.

“How are you so calm?”

“There’s no point in losing your head in these situations.” Nick took another swig of the beer. “You want some?” He pushed the floating can toward James.

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, grabbing it and taking a drink. “Is it gone then?”

“Of course not. We’re in extreme danger.” Nick looked around the water for any sign of their weapons, but knew it was no use. “I’d complain about the shotguns being gone, but I thought the clerk was trying to upsell me with the waterproof shells anyway.”

“You didn’t spring for the waterproof shells?”

“Or the flotation stocks.” Those few dollars had been spent on the prior evening’s drink. “Listen James, every arms dealer is going to try and get you to buy specialty ammunition. It’s like the insurance on a car rental.”

James, only being 24 had never rented a car. “We’re screwed then?” he whined.

“Good and proper, but at least we still have the chocolate.”

James’s eyes began to water with tears at the thought of the end coming so soon.

Nick laughed at his weakness and casually swam back to the crate full of chocolate.

“What the hell are you so happy about?”

“You should see your face.” Nick lifted the lid off the crate and began throwing chocolate in the water.

“We’re about to die!”

“Not a chance. Well,” Nick stroked his stubble thoughtfully. “Good chance actually. Are you a decent swimmer?”

James shrugged in anger.

“Pouting does us no good. I’m going to take that as a yes. Nick continued to unload the crate’s contents in the water until they were surrounded by hundreds of floating candy wrappers. “Now, unless I don’t know myself well, there should be some sort of explosive in the bottom of this crate…”

“You don’t remember?” asked James incredulously.

It was Nick’s turn to shrug. “That tends to be the case when you black out.” The last thing he remembered was holding a royal flush and betting a year’s take for a keg of ‘special brew’.

“Ah, there it is,” Nick exclaimed.

James swam over and looked into the crate. Beneath a thin layer of chocolate bars, the bottom third of the crate had been filled with plastic explosives. “Oh my god.”

“Yup, stole the plan from Jaws. Really is a miracle that it didn’t explode on the fall. Guess we should count our blessings, eh?”

James stared at him, mouth agape.  “You had me sitting next to that.

“Hush now, we were both sitting next to it. Don’t worry, I’m about 50% sure this will work.” Next to the rows of explosives was a small orange box labeled: “life raft” in crude letters that looked like they had been drawn by a child.

“You didn’t think to put the life raft on top?”

Nick thought about it. “That would have been smart, but I’m guessing I prioritized practicality for speed.”

“How are we going to get away?”

“Well that’s where the swimming comes in, and I suggest you start right about now.” Nick pushed off the box and into the water, carrying the life-raft with him.

As he did so, a thin line of ripples spread out from a point in the center of the floating chocolate. Nick could feel the water vibrating beneath them and knew they were low on time. His arms felt rubbery, and burned mercilessly, but he pushed forward all the same.

“That first ripple was the creature locating the source of food,” gasped Nick in between strokes. “The second—”

He was cut off as a much stronger vibration shook the water hard enough that Nick wondered if his organs would liquify.

“Well, that’s going to have to be far enough.” All in all, they had made it about fifty feet from the crate of explosives.

Nick pulled a ripcord on the lifeboat and held on tight as the raft expanded. A bright orange ring spread over the water, and both men clambered onto it as quick as they could.

At the same time, a current of water welled up beneath the box and pushed it into the air. White foam broke the surface as the beast lunged from beneath. Yellow eyes peered out from an otherwise dark exterior. Thick cords of muscle tensed as the jaws closed over the box, and hoisted it further into the air.

Even with their proximity, Nick could not help but find the beast incredible.

Then, as the creature’s jaws snapped shut, the world became a bright flash of orange, followed by deafening thunder. A look of surprise filled the beast’s expressive eyes as fire burst from within it. In less than a second, it’s head ripped apart and was replaced by flame.

A wave of water and gore shot out from the source of the explosion, catching the life-raft and propelling Nick and James at immense speed. Heat and wind followed, picking up the raft and tossing it like a child’s kite into the air. Nick watched with awe as the water below them boiled and began to turn dark red with the beast’s blood.

He had time to think: I can’t believe that worked, and then the raft flipped over sending them spinning toward the water below. There was a loud smack as his head hit the surface, and then, darkness.

################

When Nick awoke it was to the crackling of wood and the sound of waves slapping on a beach. He tried to move to a sitting position, but the pain was immobilizing. It was as if every inch of his body had been used as a punching bag for a prize fighter.

“Easy there,” said a gruff voice from beside him. “It’s a miracle you’re both alive.”

Nick turned his head to his side and saw an older man in brown robes, adorned with astrological symbols tending to a small campfire. Beside him lay James, eyes fluttering to awareness, breathing slowly.

“Oh god, not you,” moaned Nick.

The old man chuckled. “So polite to the person who just saved your life.”

James stirred and looked quizzically at the man. “You supposed to be some kind of wizard?” he mumbled through a swollen jaw.

“Sure a—”

“Martin is a necromancer,” interrupted Nick.

“How many times have I told you? I’m not a necromancer.”

“Your shop does have a necrotic talking head, does it not?”

Martin ignored him and turned to James. “Here, take this.” He passed him a silver flask. “I don’t touch the stuff, but from what I hear, Nick practically breathes it, and it’ll help your pain.”

Nick’s eyes widened and he was about to protest, but Martin held up a silencing finger.

James took the flask and sipped at it cautiously. Fiery alcohol of unknown origin sped down his throat and evaporated the pain in his limbs. “Wow. Thank you,” he coughed, gasping slightly.

“Not a problem my boy.” Martin returned his attention to Nick. “Now you, rude or not, it appears you owe me a favor.”

“I sure as hell do not,” protested Nick.

“Ah, ah, ah, I saved your life, and that of your apprentice. In fact, let’s call it two favors.” Martin licked one of his bony fingers and held it to the sky, testing the wind. “I’ll be coming to collect,” he said, absentmindedly. “Don’t leave town.”

There was a puff of smoke and Martin disappeared, leaving James and Nick alone on the beach watching the steadily rising sun. James passed the flask to Nick who drank deeply.

“Hell of a fishing trip,” James said.

Nick turned to him, serious at first, and then began to laugh. “Lake monsters are nothing kid. If you think that was wild, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

End

Nick and James return in Whiteout!

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.

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“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.”

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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.