Chadpocalypse 1:9

Here it is, the next chapter of Chadpocalypse. Moving along with this story, and just finished the outline for Whiteout’s sequel, Downpour. Might share a few chapters as I go through the rewrite in the coming months! For those who aren’t caught up on Chadpocalypse, links to previous chapters are below.

Part 1-2Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Remember, if you like what you read, share, like, and check out my GoFundMe Page!

1:9 Mega Church of the Universe

To say the building they pulled up in front of was an eyesore, would be to make an understatement of biblical proportions. While most of Midway had moved forward into the modern age, with tall buildings made of steel and glass, the Mega Church was the living, breathing embodiment of a 1980s telethon. The massive structure was constructed almost entirely of marble and adorned with various interpretations of cartoonish religious iconography. Its most prominent feature was a large cross that hung just above its entrance and rose high enough in the sky to inspire the neighboring CEOs in their penthouses to faith.

By the time Chad pulled into the thirty-minute parking spot, the car was well on its last legs. It appeared that the hellhound had done far more than just shatter the back window. Chad had not stopped to find out exactly what it was, but the sound of metal on concrete as they had been driving told him it wasn’t good.

“I thought I told you not to wreck this car.” It was the first time the priest had spoken since the attack.

“Ask God for a new one.” Chad stepped out of the car, feeling the need to run rising within him once more. The shaded downtown streets were noticeably cooler than the suburbs. The tall buildings blocked out the sun at its peak, leaving the streets to be dim and humid. Chad felt changed from the experience of witnessing Hell on earth, not devout mind you, but changed. It was as if he were seeing the world through a realistic lens for the first time in his life.

People passed looking oddly at the car and its passengers. Chad tried to give them a ‘shit happens’ smile, but it was half-hearted at best. His current predicament had gone so far beyond ‘shit happens’. Chad was preoccupied, scanning the skies for signs of more demons and trying not to descend into an all-out panic. Every passing glance made him nervous, and the feeling only intensified as the black-clad priest in the wide-brimmed hat stumbled out of the car, looking like something out of the Exorcist. His palms were still shaking as he struggled to walk steadily from a mixture of fear and drink.

“These people are going to tell me to take you to a shelter.”

“Shut up,” snapped the priest. His breath wafted into the hot summer air, fermented, and putrid.

“Jesus, take a mint or we’ll get directed to an AA meeting.”

The priest ignored him and steadied himself on the edge of his car, examining the damage. From the front of the vehicle, things didn’t look so bad. Chad decided to start moving before the priest was able to walk around the back.

Next to the parking spot was a small meter shaped like an old-fashioned donation tin. It read: Parking here is free, but the lord could always use a helping hand. Not wanting to anger the gods any more than he clearly already had, Chad dropped a few coins into the tin. The metallic bottom slid away, and the coins clanked down a long tube. A small drawing of a saint on thin paper popped out of a slot with: ‘Praise be to parking!’ Emblazoned in bold letters.

Chad had never donated to a church, and instantly felt like he had somehow been duped into it. A long flight of steps led up from street level and under the massive cross. Beneath it was an overhang lit by recessed lights, and beyond that, a set of stained glass doors. Stuck in the middle of the stairs was a tall gold statue of the church’s founder with a dedication plaque beneath it.

Chad didn’t recognize the man, but then again, he didn’t pay attention to much about downtown Midway unless it was a happy hour special. He walked up to the sign and read it.

Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe, a building of faith and prayer for everyone. Spiritual enlightenment is just a few flights of stairs away, and if that’s too much, there’s an elevator at the 5th street entrance. Praise be, and welcome. There was an engraved signature below the message, a fine cursive reading: Chris Schaefer, Grand Priest.

“Seems pretty blasphemous.” Chad looked the gold statue up and down. “Isn’t there something about false idols in the bible?”

“Yes, there is,” admitted the priest. “But the laypeople don’t care much so long as there’s a quick and simple way to ease their spiritual guilt.”

Chad nodded. “So, there’s a lot of priests in there right?”

The priest looked confused. “It is a church, so yes.”

“It’s going to be a little confusing calling you Father all the time.” Drawing the attention of more priests than they intended felt like a consequence Chad wanted to avoid. “You have a name you go by that’s any less biblical?”

The priest sighed, as if sharing his name with Chad was something he would have rather avoided. “Call me Joe,” he said at last.

“Joe?”

“Yes, just Joe, now stop with the questions. We need to get off the streets. We should be safe in there, blasphemous as it is.”

Chad thought he saw a smile briefly cross Joe’s lips, but in the same instant, it was gone. “Well, if enlightenment is just up these stairs, then maybe this whole hell on earth thing won’t be as hard as we thought.”

“We should be so lucky.” The priest straightened his hat and walked up the steps.

Chad followed him, and while hating the building’s aesthetic, felt none of the usual reservations about entering a church. To some extent, it didn’t feel like a church at all, and more of just a walking advertisement for faith. That at least he could understand the motivations behind. It was the blind devotion that made him uncomfortable.

When they stepped into the building, chills prickled across Chad’s skin, not from holy power, but from an incredibly strong air conditioning system that likely cost a fortune. Midway in the summer was pretty close to Hell as far as heat went, and most buildings couldn’t afford to fight it. The entryway to the Mega Church was practically an icebox. Adding to the opulence, white marble spread out floor to ceiling before Chad. Long lines of black stone were inlayed in the surface forming intricate patterns. Several television screens hung from a vaulted ceiling, detailing various services that were being held throughout the building. They ranged in price from a cheap $10 sermon, all the way to a $10,000 workshop on obtaining the divine peace of mind, taught by a foreign mystic.

“This is where we’re going to find someone who studies the dark arts?”

“There’s more to it than the glitz and the glamour you see here.” Joe turned to lead Chad up a flight of stairs, but they were accosted by a welcoming man in brightly colored robes and a pointed had. He looked like a technicolor pope, and in his right hand, he held a balanced tray dotted with little white pills.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” said the buoyant priest. His voice rose and fell like it were a passenger on an uncommonly rough, but pleasant sea. Chad thought he looked fresh from a hippie commune, and had no place in the priesthood.

“Not interested,” muttered Joe, waving a hand at the man.

The buoyant priest recoiled slightly, smelling Joe’s breath, and taking offense at his dismissal. “Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe,” said the priest, hopefully, as if starting again might change the outcome.

“Sorry, we’re here for the Alternative Teachings of God,” said Joe.

The man in the multi-colored robes looked disappointed. “Ah yes, the Alternative Teachings. They’re a good group…” He didn’t sound entirely convinced of it. “But they can be a bit of a downer.” He trailed off, and then remembered the tray in his hand. “Can I interest you in some mescaline?” His eyes brightened as if he had completely forgotten about the tray’s contents until that very moment.

“I’m sorry?” stumbled Chad, suddenly alert. “Aren’t you supposed to be a priest?” Ordinarily he was not in the position of turning down drugs, but there was something about taking them from a priest that just felt wrong.

“You try being one without it.” The priest grabbed one of the little pills delicately between thumb and forefinger, and popped it into his mouth. He gave Chad a knowing wink and proffered the tray to him. “Come on, they won’t bite.”

Chad looked to Joe who was already beginning to shake his head in disapproval.

Joe shrugged. “Not my church, not my rules.”

“It would be rude not to,” Chad said.

“But I’d advise against it, given your current predicament.”

Chad could not think of a better time to have his mind erased by powerful drugs. Their predicament continued to move from bad to worse, and a drug trip would at least stall it. Chad grabbed a pill from the tray and was about to swallow it when he thought better of it. “We’ll make this one for the road.” He smiled at the priest and pocketed the pill.

“Maybe you can bring it to one of our services later.” The priest grinned. “The high priest will bring out the best trip you’ve ever had.” The technicolor priest turned to Joe and offered him the plate. “And how about you?” It was a feeble attempt, as he already knew the answer.

“No, thank you. I’ll stick to prayer and penitence, thanks.”

“You Catholics and your penitence.” The priest shrugged and walked away. As he did so, Chad thought he heard him mutter ‘square’, but couldn’t be entirely sure.

“I would suggest throwing that pill away,” said Joe.

“A wise man never turns down free drugs.”

“A wise man doesn’t bake his brain with chemicals when he’s being pursued by the minions of Hell…”

Chad shrugged. “Seems like as good a time as any.”

The priest looked at Chad as if considering admonishment, but then slackened. “Let’s go find the Alternative Teachings Church. If I remember correctly, they’re on the top floor.” Joe looked around the lobby, spied a sign pointing to an elevator bank and walked over to it.

Chad followed. The elevator bank was made up of a series of gold doors recessed into the marble walls. Above each door was a small, clocklike mechanism showing which floor the elevator was currently on. While Chad thought they were on the first floor, the mechanism clearly showed ten levels below them, as well as an extra thirty above them. “Just how big is this place?”

“Forty stories in total, each hosting its own form of religious expression. It’d be a paragon of tolerance if it wasn’t so focused on making a buck.” Joe pressed the elevator call button and a calming voice said, “While you wait for your carriage, consider making a donation in the box below.” On cue, a donation tin like the one that had been on the parking meter popped out from the wall. “Remember the generosity of god and take it into yourself.”

“Is everything an upsell?” asked Chad, feeling idiotic for putting coins into the machine earlier.

“Like I said, anything to ease the guilt of the masses.”

The donation tin remained extended even as the elevator door began to open. Chad walked into the carriage, trying to ignore it, but feeling its silent judgment.

Joe followed him in, and the doors slid shut behind him.

“Hi there,” beamed an annoyingly pious voice. “Where does your spiritual journey take you today?”

“The Alternative Teachings of God.”

“Super choice!” said the voice. “Going up!”

“Good lord, that’s annoying,” said Chad, feeling the return of his lost headache.

“The lord has nothing to do with it.” Joe straightened his overcoat nervously.

“How well do you know this friend?”

“It’s been a few years…” The priest inhaled deeply. “We haven’t talked much recently.” He said it quickly, as if it held no meaning.

Chad grew suspicious. Joe, like most priests was very clearly hiding something. “Old boyfriend?” he tried. He didn’t think it was true, but if it was, he was going to look like a genius.

Joe stared at Chad in annoyance. “Have you forgotten that I’m a priest?”

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re against homosexuality. So cliché.”

“And you’re the spitting image of tolerance. Priests can’t have relationships you nitwit. Regardless of gender.”

The elevator continued its languid pace upward.

“Alright,” said Chad, a little ashamed. “What is it then?”

The priest took another long breath. “They’ve been a little upset with me ever since…” Joe wrung his hands together.

“Oh, just spit it out.”

“Alright, fine. I excommunicated them for studying the dark arts.”

Chad’s mouth twisted into a sarcastic smile. “Great, he’s definitely going to help us then.”

“It’s certainly a gamble,” admitted Joe. “But let’s hope she will.”

As he said it, the elevator doors sprung open, revealing a massive arcane library, black shelves, and black-clad men and women moving between them. Skulls adorned the walls and torches burned in braziers at odd intervals, bathing the room in alternating firelight and pitch darkness.

“Well, this is welcoming.” Chad felt a sense of unease growing, and was thankful he hadn’t taken the pill. “But, seems like the right place to learn about the apocalypse…”

Chadpocalypse 1:8

Alright, logo is very much so still a work in progress, but I found a cool font online and wanted to use it (props to Woodcutter) For those who want to catch up, here’s links to previous chapters:

Part 1-2Part 3Part 4, Part 5Part 6, Part 7

Remember, if you like what you read, share, like, and check out my GoFundMe Page!

chadpocalypse

1:8 Hound on the Highway

As it turned out, the small library the priest kept behind his desk contained nothing more than lavishly printed bible verses and devout ramblings about faith. “There’s nothing here that’s going to help you,” he had said. “We’re going to need to visit an old friend of mine.” The priest prized the bottle from Chad’s hands sooner than he would have liked and took another mighty gulp.

“That friend wouldn’t happen to be Nick Ventner would it?”

The priest’s face went white as a sheet and he drank again. His eyes were beginning to look watery and far away. “I wouldn’t try to find Nick Ventner even if judgment were standing on the doorstep of my church and demanding his presence.” The priest spat on the floor and quickly made a corrective cross on his chest.

Chad wondered if it was a requirement for all priests to be closet drunks.

“No, we have no business with his kind.” The priest walked over to a coat closet concealed between two bookshelves and put on a long black coat, finding an equally black hat to match.

“Little somber, don’t you think, Father?” Chad stood, preparing to leave, noticing with a pang of sadness that the bottle they had been sharing was being safely concealed inside the desk once more.

“We’re going to speak to a man about the end of times.” The priest stiffened and straightened his coat. “If ever there was a time to wear black, it’s now.” With that, he hastily scribbled a note that said he was going out to visit a local church in need and would likely be back by the end of the day. The priest walked out of the room, pinned the note to a board that hung outside his office and walked away.

Chad had to hurry to catch up, surprised by the priest’s alacrity. He had expected some long-winded speech about how the end times were more of a metaphor than anything else. The fact that the priest was willing to help him was a shock, and unfortunately gave credence to the strange events that had befallen Chad over the past day. “Where exactly are we going?” he called to the priest. His voice echoed uncomfortably in the church halls as if being magnified for all the spirits to hear.

“There’s a church downtown that makes a point of cataloguing everything related to the faith, good or evil. I know a priest there who specializes in the works most churches would rather burn than shelve. He thinks it’s important to examine all sides of the coin.”

They walked out into sunlight which had become blazing. Heat shimmered off the cracked black pavement, and Chad began to sweat immediately. Jesus, what I wouldn’t give for some rain. It didn’t rain in Midway often, but when it did, the storms were sudden and severe. In the distance, he could see the scaffolding of the new high rises downtown. Their adverts had boasted they would be so high, it would feel like touching the sun. Chad had never understood the appeal.

The priest walked up to a battered sedan that looked like it had seen one too many fender benders and tossed Chad the keys. “You’re driving, I need to think.”

“Too drunk more like,” muttered Chad, wishing that he could have been the one sleeping it off in the passenger’s seat.

“What was that?” The priest’s words slurred slightly but conveyed an attempt at divine anger.

“Praise God and all that.” Chad made a mock prayer bow and walked around the front of the car, unlocking the doors as he went. Staring another drunk in the face took the persistence out of his want for drink. Pot maybe, but not a drink.

“That’s more like it.” The priest swung open the passenger door and slumped into the faded cloth seat.

Chad turned the keys in the ignition, listening to the car whine as he did so. It seemed like it wasn’t going to start, but after a few feeble attempts, the engine guttered to life. Chad pulled onto the road and drove toward the city, away from the steadily rising sun. “So where exactly are we going?”

The priest was resting his lined face on the hot glass of the car window and groaning slightly. “Mega Church of the Universe.” He grunted. “Terrible name, but they’ve got pretty much all the donations in the universe, so I suppose it’s appropriate.” He swallowed hard and let out a loud sigh. “Are you sure it was Hell you saw through the horseman’s portal?”

Chad thought back to the previous night trying his best to cut through the haze. It had been a particularly vicious bender. “Unless there’s another land of fire and brimstone lying just a portal away from ours.”

The priest nodded as if considering the possibility. “It’s divine providence that you stumbled into my church.”

“Divine coincidence more like. You just happen to be close to B’s diner.”

“The Lord does not make mistakes.” The priest reached for the glove compartment and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. “That right is only reserved for we mortals.”

Chad scoffed. “So, I suppose you think judgment day is some reckoning we’ve all come to deserve then? You religious types are all the same.”

“And you atheists are all so unique.” He laughed and gazed out the window at gas stations and broken-down buildings of South Midway. “We’re all a bunch of fuck ups kid, doesn’t matter what we believe in, but you’d be a fool to deny what your own eyes have seen.”

Chad pulled up to a stoplight. Waves of heat rose from the pavement, giving the city the appearance that it was already burning. He had to admit, if anywhere was due for judgment, it was probably Midway.

The priest followed Chad’s gaze. “The cities that reach the tallest have the most sin to hide. But, they look pretty while they do it.” He laughed, and slumped back against the window.

“Even if this hasn’t all been some wacky hallucination…” Chad hadn’t ruled the possibility out. Drugs were cheap in Midway, and anything could have been mixed in with the previous evening’s blackout. This was just another strange experience to the pile. “I’m still not sure if I fully believe it.”

As he said it, a red convertible blew through the red light next to him, careening into the intersection just as a semi-truck came barreling through it. The convertible exploded in an incredible fireball, spinning away like a child’s top and tossing the driver headlong into the pole supporting the traffic light. Chad saw a splash of red before he involuntarily closed his eyes. When he opened them, the man was gone, replaced by a red pulp coating the pole and the pavement beyond in two wide streaks. The semi-truck continued to barrel along its path, predestined and unhampered by the accident it had been in.

Chad was about to say something to the priest when a dark black shadow swooped down from the sky. Its form was impossible to make out as it seemed to be nothing more than an absence of light, sucking the image out of the world before them. A clawed hand reached out of the shape, plucking at the ground where a man had once been. A silvery wisp emerged from the concrete, kicking and clawing, trying to hold on. It was halfway to the form of a man, but faded in and out like the creature that held it.

Chad’s jaw dropped open as the shade let out a mighty cry and with a heavy beat of what sounded like leathery wings, it tore into the sky, clutching silvery light in its talons.

The priest shook in the passenger seat, eyes wide, mouth hung open. “I,” the priest started and then stopped. “I take back what I said earlier.”

“About what?”

“It would appear the divine have taken a day off from their work… You need to drive, quickly.”

Chad did not have to be told twice, he floored the car’s failing engine and chugged across the intersection at the highest speed it could muster. Sirens began to sound in the distance, no doubt paramedics coming to deal with the crash site. Chad’s mind was numb, still reeling, unable to comprehend what exactly it was that he had just seen.

The priest, after his momentary paralysis, had become paranoid, looking over the back edge of his seat in quick jagged motions. He continued this for several minutes, and then they were on the highway. “Shit,” he seethed. “I thought I told you to drive fast.

Chad had been practically flooring the car the whole time, but it struggled to climb above sixty. “It’s your car, man.” He stomped on the pedal for good measure, causing the car to give a sickening lurch forward, but eventually return to its original speed.

“Then we’re both dead men.”

Chad stole a glance behind them in the rear-view mirror. A black dot was silhouetted against the sun, and it was steadily growing larger. “Oh, come on. What does it want with us?”

The priest pulled a bible from his breast pocket and began to thumb through it rapidly. “Oh I don’t know,” he slapped the book as if it might give him more answers, “maybe it’s the fact that you’re a herald of the apocalypse and it’s a hell hound.”

“What about fair play and all that?” The priest’s matter-of-fact nature about the life-threatening situation they found themselves in was pissing Chad off. “Shouldn’t that mean immunity or some shit?” He pressed his foot into the floor, willing the gas pedal to go deeper, but it did not. The car continued at its lumbering pace.

An old woman in a mini-van passed them on the left, making obscene hand gestures as she went. Chad thought he saw a hint of malice in her eyes, but it might just have been a remnant of the pants-shitting fear from the hellhound behind him.

The priest pulled out a small Bible from his breast pocket and began to read. “Satan knows how to blockade our coasts with the iron warships of sorrow, but, blessed be God, the port of all prayer is still open.”

“Are you reading the fucking Bible?!”

The black dot grew in size and Chad could almost see its beating wings.

“I am a priest. It’s my job to read from the bible in times like this.” He continued to read.

“Don’t you have holy water or stakes or something?” Chad didn’t know much about the priesthood, but assumed that most clergy were at least semi-capable of disposing of run-of-the-mill demons.

“I am not a monster hunter,” spat the priest, slamming the bible shut. “I don’t consort with their type!”
“Yeah?” said Chad, checking the mirror once more. He could almost make out the form of the creature, but the pure darkness of its figure made it impossible. “Well maybe you should, because it looks like we’ve got a monster, and it’s gaining on us.”

“Just get us to the church, we’ll be safe there.”
“Bet they’ve got some holy water.”

The priest was about to argue with him, but stopped. “Actually, holy water wouldn’t have been a bad idea.”

“Great, a drunk, and unprepared.”

“There’s a saying about pots and kettles,” started the priest, but Chad interrupted him.

“Shut up, Father!” He knew damn well that he was in no place to criticize, but the creature slowly gaining on them changed the situation. “Start thinking of a way to slow it down, because there’s no way we’re getting to downtown before it reaches us.” Midway’s skyscrapers were much closer than they had been, but they were at least fifteen minutes from the center of downtown.

The creature swooped low, digging its claws into the concrete behind them, leaving mighty ruts wherever it touched. Momentarily, bright red eyes glowed out from the black pit of its being, and Chad almost thought he saw one of them wink at him. There was a sound, halfway between a throaty laugh and a growl from behind them.

A station wagon passed Chad on his right. Inside was a family, singing along to the radio together, happy as could be. “Why aren’t they more worried?” he asked.

“Probably because they can’t see it. They haven’t been exposed to Hell.” The priest’s hands shook, and he began thumbing through the bible once more.

“Again, I’m not sure that’s going to help—”

There was an earth-shattering screech like the sound of a thousand souls crying out at once, and the hot stink of brimstone. The back window of the car shattered, and Chad almost saw the face of the creature out of the corner of his eye, but just as quickly as the image formed, it disappeared into darkness. The car filled with hot wind.

The priest jumped, accidentally ripping a page from the bible as he did so. It fluttered aimlessly through the back window and into the shapeless void beyond. There was a quick burst of fire and the creature recoiled with a painful yelp.

Chad looked at the priest knowingly.

“Oh, this is so sacrilegious,” he moaned, and then tore another page from The Bible, chucking it out the back window.

A black tendril lashed out, searing the cloth of the back seats, but the ball of paper burst into flames and the creature recoiled once more.

“It’s working!” shouted Chad.

“But at what cost?” The priest ripped another page out and threw it behind them.

“I’m pretty sure God’s going to let this one slide.”

The creature took off into the sky, flying directly into the sun.

“Praise god, it’s gone.”

“Sure, whatever.” Chad breathed a sigh of relief.

“Still you blaspheme?”

There was no time for them to argue. Ahead, the black creature plummeted to the ground cracking the pavement beneath it. “Uh, father?”

“I see it,” breathed the priest. He began to pray quietly.

“Cut that out and hand me the book.” Chad could not help it, a piece of him was enjoying the chaos.

The priest obliged, handing Chad the book remorsefully. “Better you than me I suppose.”

“Real paragon of good you are.”

The creature waited on the road, clearly expecting them to stop. Chad kept the car floored and dropped the Bible in his lap. With his right hand he gripped the wheel, and with his left, he rolled down the driver side window. Then, like a knight preparing for a joust, he held the bible out in front of him. “Hold on, Father, this is going to be rough.”

“If you wreck this car.”

“Pretty sure the hell hound already did that.” They were only a hundred feet away. The black mass sat on what Chad imagined to be haunches. He couldn’t be sure, but the term seemed to fit in his mind.

One hundred feet, he thought, miscalculating the distance horribly. He cocked his arm back, readying the book.

Fifty feet. They were twenty feet away.

Twenty feet. “The power of Christ compels ye!” he yelled and threw the Bible at the beast with all his might. There was a sickening moment when he thought it was all going to be over. The car was a mere five feet from the black mass before them, but just before they struck it, the creature erupted into a pillar of flame, evaporating into the summer sky.

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!

Chadpocalypse 1:7

For those who are looking to catch up: Part 1-2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

The Priest and the Bottle

Chad left the restaurant feeling full, but unnerved. The presence of Mrs. B’s grim yet somehow cheerful specter had left him in shock only momentarily. After a few minutes to ponder, the answer had come to him: I should have paid more attention in church. Earlier in life, Chad’s parents had been devout Catholics, attending church every Sunday, and doing their part to indoctrinate him. Of course, that had all changed on the day of his sister’s death. Just days after the funeral, they had fucked off to Florida to celebrate a new culture of nihilism and fruity drinks, and he hadn’t seen them since.

All the same, from his first taste of communion wine, Chad had known that religion was not for him. He worshipped, daily even, but the only god he ever found solace in preached from the bottom of a bottle. At least alcoholism doesn’t judge you. Chad pondered the idea of going to find a drink, but decided that for the moment, a church was more important. His logic was that some member of the clergy likely knew about the dark arts, and most priests in his experience were drunks anyway.

It didn’t take him long to find a church, after all, they were more common in south Midway than gas stations. Chad didn’t think that most people in town were religious, but having that sense of normalcy was worth spending a few hours a week in a hastily constructed wooden sweatbox. Whatever the reason, people still went, and more churches were built every day. The one he stumbled on was old, with fading bricks threatening to crumble beneath the steeple’s weight. An elderly gentleman wearing the black cloth of the priesthood stood at the top of the steps ushering passersby in.

“Come on in folks and see the miracle of salvation. God’s house is open to everyone if you’re just willing to take a few minutes.” His tone was light and had little of the exasperation that came with the repeated rejection of the public. He had short, curly white hair that had begun to thin on top and wore a friendly smile. Before Chad had even begun to mount the steps, the man spotted him. “Hello there, young man,” he beamed.

Chad smiled back at him, trying not to betray the uneasy feeling that cropped up every time he entered a church. “Good morning,” he called, with an exuberant wave.

“Do you have time for the man Jesus Christ today?” asked the priest, not missing a beat. Young folks in Midway didn’t really take to religion, so to find one on the church steps, and friendly at that, was a boon. If only he had known.

“Only if you’re willing to answer a few life questions,” joked Chad with a hearty false laugh. And tell me where I might find information on the apocalypse.

The man chuckled. “Son, if you’ve got time for Jesus, I’ve got all the time in the world for you. Come on in.” Motioning toward the large oak doors that served as the church’s entrance, the man led Chad in.

As they passed beneath the stone archways and intricately etched, but fading stained glass, Chad felt a chill sweep over him. The musty, cool air that came from places of worship whipped out of the door and made sent a prickle racing down the back of his neck. Just being in the church made him feel somehow unclean. For a moment, he hesitated. It’s just the hangover talking, he told himself and walked in.

Inside shafts of muted light cut through the dusty air, illuminating pews with a holy reverence. The stained glass glowed in the heat of the morning light, giving uncanny life to the characters it portrayed. There were a few churchgoers, but Chad expected far more. “Little light of a crowd for Sunday don’t you think?” he asked.

The priest turned around and looked at him quizzically. “It’s Tuesday, son.” He shook his head in disapproval. “Maybe you need more help than I thought.” There was an air of disappointment to his voice, but he did his best to cover it with a warm smile.

Shit, demons coming to rule the earth and I missed work again. With his string of recent absences, Chad had no doubt that if he wasn’t fired, he was at least on toilet duty. Even pizza joints had standards, and the kid manager was always looking for ways to prove his authority. Chad slipped his phone out of his pocket, sent the manager a quick lie about being so ill he couldn’t stand, and returned his attention to the priest.

“My office is this way.” The priest motioned down a short corridor that ran parallel to the church’s chapel. Together they walked down a hallway lined with pictures of saints and depictions of Christ himself. The eyes seemed to follow Chad as he walked like something out of an old mystery cartoon. From childhood he had always felt uncomfortable in places of the divine, but this day felt different. A deep chill took hold in his stomach as he made accidental eye contact with the portrait of a rather pained looking Christ.

If the priest noticed Chad’s uneasy demeanor, he made no comment. They continued down the hallway and through a door at the very end. His office was furnished lavishly with what appeared to be the entirety of the church’s library. In the middle of the room was a dark wooden desk, neatly kept with a bible in the center. Surrounding it were shelves lined top to bottom with dusty tomes and polished church relics. On the floor were clearly catalogued stacks of books that hadn’t quite been able to fit.

This is the place, thought Chad with hope. There has to be something in one of those about the apocalypse.

The priest walked behind the desk and sat down at a large plush armchair, motioning to the wooden seat on the other side for Chad. “Come, sit. Tell me what’s on your mind and what brought you to our fine church today.”

Chad shifted uncomfortably. “You’re not going to like it.”

The priest gave him a knowing wink. “I think you’ll find that I’ve seen quite a lot in my time here.”

Chad let out a long sigh. Here goes nothing. “Last night I was contacted by one of the four horseman of the apocalypse who told me judgment day is a year away, and this morning I was accosted by a prophetic dead woman during breakfast.”

The priest’s eyes first creased as though he were about to laugh, but when Chad showed no sign of joking, he stammered uncomfortably. “J-judgment day?” His voice was still disbelieving, but with a flicker of panic.

“Yes, last night a demon appeared at the foot of my bed… Well, someone else’s bed. Doesn’t matter. He was a real high-and-mighty prick on a horse, picked me up, shoved me through a portal and showed me hell. He said that because of “fair play” rules they had to tell someone, and they picked me.” Saying it aloud felt ridiculous, but if a priest wasn’t going to believe him, who would?

“And when you saw the spirit during breakfast?” the man’s hands were shaking slightly.

“She told me it was true and then got dragged back to Hell by some big fucker with horns.” Chad made a brief gesture to Heaven for Mrs. B, thought better of it and pointed it below.

“And the horseman told you one year?” The priest reached slowly into a drawer in his desk and pulled up a dusty bottle of Johnny Walker.

Chad’s eyes lit up and he felt his hand clench in anticipation. “Yeah. Hey, you going to share that?”

The priest took a hefty swig straight from the bottle and passed it to Chad. “Son, we’re going to need a lot more than this.”

New Orleans Short Story

I know, It’s been another MIA week with no posting, but this time I’m going to use New Orleans as my excuse. I was just there for seven days taking in the sights and working a bit. Luckily, I also got some inspiration to start my sequel to A Man of the Mountain (I know, the titles are rough, but I’m sticking with them). Please enjoy the opening chapter of A Woman of the Swamp, the tale of a not-so-great necromancer in Louisiana.

A Woman of the Swamp

By Ashton Macaulay

“Alright now, repeat it back to me so I know you understand the plan.” Marie’s voice was patient, but stern; it was the only way to get through to the recently reanimated.

“I-Inside,” the man moaned through a mouthful of teeth that were attached only by decaying sinews of what used to be gums. She had broken through the bricks and plaster of his grave just days after his entombment, but moisture and heat made short work of flesh. Even the night air was thick, pooling in drops on her skin. One of the man’s eyes wandered off to the side, focusing a trombone player setting up on the corner, just below a sign that read First one’s free at the Snappin’ Turtle.

“Hey!” she snapped, waving a bejeweled hand in front of his face. “Focus. What are you going to do once you’re inside?” The street corner they stood on was dim, but it was only a matter of time before one of the passing drunks would notice. She also longed for the sanctum that was her air-conditioned loft. The dark robes she wore were hotter than Hell (she suspected anyway), but tourists tipped better when she looked legitimate.

“I,” the zombie stammered. “I… Eat brains!” His mottled mouth curled into a wide grin and he clapped his crooked hands together with a sickening squish.

Marie ran a hand through her long, dark hair, beginning to rethink the steps that had gotten her to this point. “Fuck it,” she sighed, I’ll steal it myself. You just go wait over there.” She pointed to a bench under a broken street lamp. “Spell should wear off in ten minutes and you’ll just be another John Doe curled up for his last rest in a gutter.”

“John,” repeated the zombie, mindlessly.

Screw this. Marie turned the zombie toward the bench and shoved him hard on the back. “How dare you try to touch me, pervert!”

A couple passing by looked at the stumbling man in disgust and flashed Marie a quick thumbs up. They continued without a second thought to the recently dead man eyeing them from the darkness. The trombonist had been joined by a few other band members, and together they started to play.

Satisfied that the zombie was out of the public eye, she set off with her heart racing. “Guess it’s your turn,” she whispered and pulled out a jar of spiders from her robes. Despite her fear of the wretched creatures, they were discreet when they needed to be. The walls of the French Quarter were thin, and no one would hesitate to call the cops on another crazy trying to break into the Voodoo Museum.

Carefully, she unscrewed the lid on the jar, making sure to keep her hand firmly pressed against the top. She cringed as she brought her lips close to the edge and began to whisper. “Scuttle under the door, find a key, but don’t touch anything.” Despite wanting to break in, Marie still held a great respect for the craft. In fact, had she not been kicked out for trying to study the darker arts, her path might have led her to a practitioner’s position. Revenge was a fickle beast.

Pretending to stumble slightly, Marie dropped the glass onto the cracked concrete. The shattering sound would garner no notice from the neighbors. People only called the cops for break-ins or assaults, everything else was thought to just be the remnants of Bourbon street. From the remains of the jar, four jet black spiders smoldered into existence and scrambled toward the Voodoo Museum.

After the last had slipped through the door, Marie moved aside and waited under the flickering light of a gas lantern. There was an audible click, and the door swung open. “Return to me,” whispered Marie to the spiders. The four creatures skittered from the darkness and into the street. “Damnit, return to me.” She reached her hand out and muttered a brief incantation.

The largest spider gazed at her with its beady eyes for a moment as if considering the proposition, and then scuttled away with an angry chitter. The others were quick to follow, heading toward the moaning corpse of the zombie in the opposite gutter.

Marie sighed. The spiders had taken her months to acquire and hours of pouring through dusty old books. Replacing them would be no easy feat. Brushing her hair aside, she stepped through the now open door and into the gloom of the museum.