Review in Brief – Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (Grim Reaper, #2)

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Dirty Job is one of my favorite books I’ve read in recent memory, meaning the bar for Secondhand Souls was impossibly high for the jump. The story picks up right where A Dirty Job left off, and is at its most interesting in the first half. While the book focuses on the same characters, it ends up feeling like some of them lose their depth in favor of leaning more heavily into tropes. It’s unfortunate, because I love Charlie Asher so much, but he feels a little short-changed in the sequel. Fortunately, the new characters introduced for the sequels are standouts, with the villain, Lemon being one of my favorites.

The story is fun and intriguing, but ultimately feels handicapped by its conclusion. The book wraps up at a blinding pace with a bit of an anti-climactic showdown and ends up feeling a bit hollow. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the last third of the book, but overall, the story was still enjoyable.

For fans of A Dirty Job, I’d definitely recommend picking it up. If nothing else, it gives more time with the characters we’ve come to love and has Moore’s trademark humor.

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Home for the Holidays (5)

Hey everyone, apologies that it took so long to get this chapter out, but I was spending time with my family and didn’t find much time to write. If you’re enjoying the story, consider checking out my free audio drama A Man of the Mountain. The first four episodes are streaming for free on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and most other streaming platforms! Also, if you are enjoying the story, please let me know by commenting hear or sending me a message on Twitter!

Links to Catch upChapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3 /Chapter 4

Chapter 5 – A Holiday Miracle

Nick slipped and slid his way to the car and fumbled with the ancient trunk. With the freezing cold and the decrepit state of the vehicle, it felt more akin to opening a tomb. The ground shook with thunderous footsteps as the second beast stomped its way out of the house. Despite the cold, sweat ran in rivulets down Nick’s back. “Come on you bastard, open up.” He kicked at the trunk’s lock and it sprung open with a pained groan.

James fired his shotgun again and the cacophony it made was swallowed up by the howling wind that had grown around them. The beast responded with an aggravated roar. Nick looked up from the trunk just in time to see the second wendigo advancing on James. It was larger than the first, and horrible spurs of bone poked through the ragged skin on its back. The creature crossed the distance from the house to James in a few short strides, gripped the barrel of the shotgun and bent it backwards with great, rending force.

“Do you have any idea how much that cost?” asked James, backing away from the creature.

The wendigo chuckled and then spoke in a voice that echoed through several ethereal planes at once. “It’s a small price to pay for what you did to my partner.” The creature held a long and deadly finger out towards the fried wendigo hanging off the roof. “By my mark, you’ve still got a balance for me to collect.”

“Hey, Nick, they talk.” James’s voice was dazed and full of fear.

     “Great, kid, keep him busy!” Nick swept aside holy symbols, a few landmines and a jar of holy water to pop open the trunk’s side panel. Harpoons spilled out, clattering far louder than he would have liked. He picked one up, hands shaking and tried to jam it in the barrel. “Of all the fucking times to get the shakes!” He slammed his hand down on the metal siding of the car, trying to beat the tremor out.  

     “I’ll deal with you in a minute,” called the wendigo in a strange warbling tone.

     Each word vibrated the edges of Nick’s skull, making it feel as though they could crack at any moment. He peaked out from behind the trunk and saw James firmly in the creature’s grasp, growing paler by the moment. The Wendigo looked at James, curious, like a dog about to rip a chew toy to shreds. Nick clenched his fist, trying to keep it steady and jammed a harpoon in the barrel of the rifle. There was a hiss of gas filling the firing chamber and he breathed a brief sigh of relief.

     The wendigo made a strange, high-pitched whistle that carried through the wind as if it weren’t there.

     “Hey, can you keep it down?” shouted Nick. “You’ll wake the neighbors and I have a raging hangover.” He shouldered the harpoon rifle and pointed it at the creature.

     The wendigo turned to him. “Really? Can’t wait your turn?” It flung James without ceremony into the garage door where he crumpled, motionless.

     Nick took a deep breath, steadying the rifle as the wendigo approached. The creature cocked its head inquisitively as if it weren’t staring down the barrel of a weapon. It took a few more lumbering steps and Nick couldn’t wait any longer. He closed his finger around the trigger and let the harpoon fly. With the short distance, it had less time to curve and stuck right between the creature’s ribs.

     The wendigo growled, low and angry, then reached a hand down and plucked the harpoon out. Black blood oozed from the wound, but otherwise, it seemed unaffected. It chuckled. “I thought I asked you to wait.”

     Nick bent down to pick up another harpoon, but the creature moved with surprising speed. By the time his fingers were closing around the shaft, it had him. A cold, clawed hand wrapped around his chest and squeezed, pushing all the air out of his lungs. Holiday stars danced at the edges of his vision, twirling and spinning in a dazzling display of fading consciousness.

     The wendigo turned him, so that Nick was looking at the still-smoldering corpse of the other beast. “Any idea how long we’ve been together?” asked the wendigo in a deep, gravelly voice.

     Nick tried to answer, but nothing more than a wheeze came out.

     “It was rhetorical. I come from a long line of creatures just like me, and we all grow up knowing your name. You think we look scary? Imagine what our people think of you.” The creature spat a black gob of something awful into the snow.

     “Thank. You,” managed Nick, seeing spots jump up before his eyes. “Flattered. Very flattered.”

     James groaned in the snow, trying to make his way over to them.

     “Don’t even think about it, child. Try to relax, it’ll all be over soon.”

     A black tunnel closed in on the edges of Nick’s vision, chasing the features of the snowy world around him away.

     “Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy.” The wendigo loosened its grip, allowing sweet oxygen to flood Nick’s lungs.

     “Five pages,” Nick panted. “Five pages, and never once did he mention wendigos love god-damned monologuing.”

     The creature clucked its tongue and turned Nick to face it. The stink of decay and rot was overpowering, and Nick watched as a maggot circled the inside of the beast’s eye. “You don’t like creatures like me, do you?” The wendigo’s voice was soft and almost playful.

     “No shit, Sherlock. Don’t have to be a psychic being to figure that out.” Nick tried to look away from the rotting face, but it kept moving to be in his eyeline.

     “Let’s take a look at what we have in store for you.” The creature’s eyes glowed hot like fire.

     James found his feet and ran towards the wendigo, knife in one hand. With a lazy sweep, the wendigo batted him away and sent him crashing into the car door. “Please, stop trying to do that. You got lucky with my partner.”

     James moaned and then fell still.

     The wendigo huffed. “Now, back to business.” The glow in its eyes grew to a fiery, deep red and Nick felt it burning into his own gaze. It was a strange feeling, like a hot poker had been shoved in the back of his brain. He could feel something reaching backward through memories and then forward through a substance he couldn’t quite understand.

     An image of a mountaintop covered in blood flashed before his eyes. Liquid dripped down the pristine white slopes, carving deep, red trenches down its side. The image changed and he was sitting in his childhood body, hiding underneath a table while a thunderous shouting match played out overhead. He could feel the fear as if it were happening in the present moment rather than a memory. The scene shifted a final time, filling the air with the hot, sickly stink of the jungle. Insects buzzed about around and his skin felt like it was on fire.

     “My, my,” the wendigo exhaled heavily, breathing the cold fury of a winter storm back into Nick’s world. Disappointment and malice flickered across the creature’s face, vying for dominance.

     “What the hell was that?” gasped Nick, his heart pounding furiously.

     “I’m in a bit of a quandary here, Mr. Ventner. While killing you would bring me great joy, your future holds so much pain. It would be a shame to rob you of it.” The wendigo’s body shuddered as it took a contemplative breath.

     “Get it over with you Ghost of Christmas Past, Dickensian fuck.” Nick spat bile and blood into the snow.

     “A decision like this requires deliberation.” The red glow in the wendigo’s eyes darkened. The horrible stench of its breath enveloped every word. “No, I think you should live, Mr. Ventner.” The words clearly caused the creature great pain. “You will live to experience the horrors I have just seen.”

     “Well, I wish I could say that was true for both of us.”

     The wendigo recoiled as James pushed the barrel of a pistol against the back of its neck.

     “Stronger than he looks,” commented Nick and shut his eyes tight.

     “And I always pack a spare.” James couldn’t help but grin. “Bend this.” He pulled the trigger, spewing red hot fire and a thermite-loaded, hollow point slug from the end of the pistol’s barrel. The wendigo’s surprise quickly turned to pain as its skin melted away, exploding outward. Fire and blood coated the fresh, white snow.

     Nick felt the creature’s claw loosen just as warm goo blanketed him in an all-too-familiar, unpleasant fashion. He fell backward, landing hard on the driveway. The wind went out of him. Stars flashed in the darkness of his closed eyes, but they quickly faded as he regained his breath. With a freezing hand, he wiped the gore from his face and opened his eyes.

     The body of the headless wendigo toppled backward and caught fire like a tinderbox. Soon it was blazing on the front lawn like an ancient bon fire. Nick coughed and spluttered, wanting nothing more than to be curled up with a fresh handle back in his flat watching television re-runs. “Bend this? Really?” he managed through labored breaths.

     James wiped bits of wendigo off the end of the pistol with a dirty rag. “It’s a work in progress.”

     “Clearly an early prototype.”

     “Fuck off, Nick. Show a little gratitude.”

     Next door, the neighbor’s front door opened again. “What the hell, Bill? You can’t barbecue on the—” The man stopped mid-sentence, staring at the carnage. With both wendigos dead, there was nothing preventing him from seeing it all. Once corpse still smoldered, hanging from the roof, and the other decorated the lawn in horrifying globs and bits. “I-I-“ he started, and faltered. “Martha, call the police!” He slammed the front door.

     “That’s our cue.” Nick stood up. “James, get the car running.”

     James looked to the car, and to the mess on the front lawn. “Right, probably smart.” Both men did their best to clean off what they could, but the second they climbed into the sedan, it was clear, some smells would never leave. James turned the key and the engine guttered to life. “Small miracles,” he said.

     “This is why we never do charity work.” In the absence of immediate pressing danger, a furious pain returned to Nick temples. “Let’s head back to my flat. I’d say we’ve each earned a bottle after this.”

     James looked out the window as they backed away. Childhood memories of the house and time spent with his aunt and uncle flooded back. “Yeah, a bottle sounds nice.” He stepped on the gas and they sped out of the suburbs. Houses flashed by in a blur and as they neared the freeway, James saw the pulsing red and blue lights of police cars. “Wonder how they’re going to explain that.”

     Nick sighed. “Oh, they’ll find a way.” He put his head against the cold window. “Mutated bears from a nuclear test site is my bet.”

     James scoffed. “You really think they’ll buy that?”

     “People will believe anything to avoid a scarier truth.” Nick watched the flakes fall out of the sky and thought about what the wendigo had seen. Enough pain to let me live. Only one way to chase off a prophecy like that. “James, let’s get a road beer along the way. The Haven has to be open.”

     James shook his head. “Whatever you say, master.” There was heavy sarcasm, but also obedience in the words. Despite his best efforts, the apprentice was learning.     

     “Wake me when we get there.” Nick shut his eyes.

     “Sure thing.”

     “And James,” Nick started, nearly falling into sleep mid-sentence, “happy holidays.”

The End

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Home for the Holidays (4)

Hello friend! If you enjoy my writing, consider checking out my new audio drama, A Man of the Mountain. The first four episodes are available free on Anchor.Fm and most streaming platforms, and the full production is now up for purchase on Audible for $13! If you can’t buy it, no big deal, the best way to support me is to share pieces you like. Every share, like, demonic circle, helps, and I really appreciate it.

Happy holidays!

Links to Catch up: Chapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3

4 – To Hunt a Wendigo

James kept watch with the shotgun while Nick washed his face off with cold water from the sink. Despite his desperate attempts, even a modicum of sobriety eluded him. The room spun gently on its axis and Nick hung his head in his hands trying to process what exactly was happening. James had shown him the page with the Wendigo several times, but none of it was making any sense. “Come on, buddy, come back to me.” Nick slapped himself, hard.

     “Who are you talking to?”

     “My brain.” Nick tried to focus. He remembered the creature from the car again and the radio going all static. “Ha!” he exclaimed. “I was right!”

     “Yes, now quiet down and get a weapon of some type. We need to find the other one before it causes more damage.”

     “I had a weapon.” Nick pointed to the harpoon lodged in the ceiling, then, fishing around in his waistband, grabbed one of the many knives he had concealed. “I’ve got a few of them, because I knew I was right!”

     James rolled his eyes. “We need to find the other one.”

     “Find the other one?” asked Nick. “We need to get the fuck out of here. These are psychic beings, very dangerous, and more importantly, no one is paying us to take them out.”

     “Really? You’re going to bring up pay at a time like this?”

     “Don’t tell me your on about holiday charity? Is there a better time to bring up pay? If we start killing beasties for free, we’re going to be full of good will on an otherwise empty stomach.” Nick felt his guts slosh at the mention and decided to leave them out of future invectives.

     “That’s my family, Nick.”

“They were your family, James. I’m sorry.” Even as he said it, he knew he had been too harsh.

     A tear welled in James’s eye, but he blinked it back. “You’re an asshole, you know that?” He moved out of the bathroom, swinging the shotgun’s tactical light back and forth.

     “Believe me, I know.” Being an asshole was a basic requirement in his trade. Nick stepped forward and picked up the spent harpoon gun on the ground. Carefully, he tucked it under one arm, then pried the harpoon out of the ceiling, sending more plaster to the floor.

     “How is that thing still in working order?”

     “Old faithful,” Nick patted the gun, “will be around long after you’re dead.” He jammed the harpoon back in the barrel. It clicked into place and there was the sound of hissing gas as pressure built up in the firing chamber.  “This will finish what your pea shooter started.”

     James scoffed. “Wendigos hate fire, you ass. This is going to do—”

     A roar from outside cut them off.

     “You ready for this?” asked Nick.

     “Not really.”

     “Yeah, me neither.” Nick pushed the harpoon gun against his shoulder and ran out the open door. The wind whipped through his clothes immediately, bringing a bitter chill and the closest thing he could find to a hangover cure. Snow continued to fall in heavy flakes, making even the neighboring houses seem like ghostly lights floating in a white fog.

     “Why hasn’t anyone called the police?” asked James.

     “My guess is they can’t even hear what’s happening right now.” There were a myriad of reasons Nick hated fighting psychic beings, but altered reality was near the top. He swung the harpoon gun around, looking in the snow for any sign of either creature, but found nothing.

     Two red lights near the top of the house shone brighter than the rest and caught Nick’s attention. Despite the snowflakes between them, the red light did not waver and in fact seemed perfectly clear. “James, there,” Nick whispered and motioned slightly with his gun. “On the roof, and I don’t think it’s Rudolf.”

     James looked up just in time to see the creature shake off a fine coat of snow. The wounds from his initial shot were still there, but if they had impeded the creature at all, it didn’t show it. Lightning flashed through the snowstorm and briefly illuminated its horrifying silhouette. Grisly fur ran down its shoulders, ending abruptly at its mid-section where bones that might have been ribs stuck out at odd angles. The red glow came from deep within empty sockets, just beneath its deadly horns. As the lightning died away, the creature let out another deafening roar.

     The light attached to the end of James’s shotgun and all the lights in the neighborhood flickered.

     “No need to shout,” called Nick. He pointed his harpoon gun to the left of the creature, and without much thought, pulled the trigger. Wind caught the projectile almost immediately, curving the harpoon through the air. There was a moment where he thought he had calculated the trajectory perfectly, but it took a further bend and buried itself in a shingle. Nick cursed. “Sorry James, really thought I had that one figured out.” He went over the mental math he had done, realized there was none, and wished he had more harpoons on him.

     The creature made a sound like barking laughter.

     Nick staggered back. “Shit, I really thought that would work.”

     James pointed his shotgun at the creature. “Don’t worry, Nick, this will finish what your pea shooter started. Come and get a taste, you bargain-bin, zombie, reindeer-looking, fuck.”

     The wendigo’s rotten face split into a grin as it took a step forward, preparing to leap. Unfortunately for it, the tile Nick had hit split right down the middle, and the roof construction in the suburbs was shoddy at best. One-by-one, the other tiles shifted slightly. With the weight of the snow and the creature walking atop them, it didn’t take much. There was a shatter as one of the tiles fell to the driveway. For a second, it looked like that would be it, but then the dam burst, and the whole roof began to move.

     The wendigo growled, but slipped, falling flat on its back. It slid down the side of the roof with the rest of the tiles. On the way, it caught the blinking lights that had been so painstakingly affixed. Falling fast, it was unable to free itself and the strands tangled with its massive form. It cried out in surprise and frustration, but at the same moment, went over the edge of the roof. Some of the light strands broke, exposing ancient wires that had no business being in service, but others held, wrapping around its neck.

     “That was clever,” breathed Nick, watching the creature struggle with the lights. As it tried to escape, arcs of electricity shot across its body in lazy sputters. Wherever the light touched, small fires sprang up and the creature’s skin split. They quickly spread until the wendigo was engulfed in a holiday conflagration. The smell of roasting meat wafted on the wind. The wendigo struggled against its bonds, screaming, but could do nothing.

     Both Nick and James stared up at the house in disbelief. “That worked?” asked James.

     The wendigo gave a final kick and fell still, smoldering.

     Next-door, a portly man stepped onto his porch, illuminated as a silhouette from the warm light within. “Hot damn, Bill! I’m not sure what you’re cooking, but we better get some of the leftovers tomorrow.” He chuckled heartily and shut the door.

     “The fucking suburbs.” Nick wiped sweat from his brow and tried not to vomit.

     “I’m starting to agree with you.” James was about to lower his shotgun when an anguished roar came from inside the house.

     “One down.” Nick spat in the snow. “There’s more harpoons in the trunk.”

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Home for the Holidays (3)

We’re getting very close to Christmas now, and what’s better to spread holiday cheer than a story about Wendigos and a sweet, old couple in the suburbs? Enter Chapter 3 of my newest Nick Ventner tale, Home for the Holidays. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1/Chapter 2!

Excuse the makeshift cover art!

If you’re an artist and are feeling this story, please send halp for this cover!

3 – A Few More Cups

Nick was drunker than he had been in a long time. One of his least favorite parts of lacking income was the inability to get good and truly tossed without a fair share of guilt. Sharing booze with ‘family’, he had no such obligation. From the moment Bill had handed him his first cup, Nick had taken on a singular goal: Forget any misgivings, and possibly the rest of the evening.  

     Luckily for him, it turned out Bill and Marie could really throw them back. What started as a quick game of cards with several convoluted drinking rules he couldn’t remember, quickly turned into a straight drinking contest. The alcohol turned on him before he even noticed, and the room took on the pulsating, spinning blur quality that only existed on the other side of the line.  

     As he sat back in a plush armchair, there wasn’t much else in the world he cared about beyond himself. His fingertips were numb, but there was a fresh cup of something brain-smashing between them. Was there anything else that mattered? An instinct, more than anything, tilted his head to look at James. The kid was curled up under an electric blanket, brooding. His eyes flicked watchfully between the three of them, and Nick felt he was missing something important.   

     When he couldn’t figure it out, Marie took notice and prodded. “What’s going on, James? Don’t want to join in all the festivities?”

     James worked his hands, trying to keep the cold out of them. “Sorry, I think I just had a bad burger or something on the road.”

     Nick looked at him quizzically. Years ago, he had implemented a simple rule: No stopping for apprentices. They hadn’t stopped for burgers anymore than they had traveled through a magical candy-cane village. Nick sipped his drink. Candy canes! That’s what this is made of.

     “Where’s the bathroom again?” asked James. His face looked gaunt in the dim light of the living room.

     Be it imaginary burgers or moodiness, something was wrong with the kid, even Nick could see it. A flash bulb went off in the corner of his mind showing a mess of fur in the snow, but it was gone too quickly to grasp fully. Suspicion crept back into Nick’s booze-addled brain. He couldn’t figure out why, but it was getting stronger every second.   

     “Just down the hall on the first floor. Can’t miss it.” Bill pointed in the direction Nick had been exploring earlier.

     “Thanks, hopefully it’s just indigestion.” James slunk off in the direction of the bathroom looking more melancholy than food sick.  

     “He’s a good kid, you know?” Nick’s words were thick, dripping from his mouth like a decadent sauce. “Always does—” Nick faltered, “mostly does what he’s told. One of the better apprentices I’ve ever had.” James was many things, but he wasn’t a liar. Nick knew there was something to the burger comment, but in his current state of half awareness, he was having more than a little trouble connecting the dots.

     Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Do they have apprentices in accounting now?”

     Nick hiccupped, only half realizing his mistake. “Oh yes, accounting, loads of numbers. Have to get them all figured out somehow, don’t we?” The room was starting to spin. Why was the room starting to spin? Nick’s stomach turned and he felt the horrible rush of bile come bubbling up into his throat. “Oh god, will you excuse me.” Nick took off running for the bathroom. “For the love of god, James, I hope you—” his sentence was cut off by vomit spewing forth from him like a vengeful internal volcano.

     “Oh god, I’m sorry about that, I’ll clean it up!” Nick fell to his knees, holding his head between his hands. A great pain had come barreling back from the corner of consciousness he tried to banish. “Oh god, don’t get sober on me now,” slurred Nick, trying to convince his own brain.

     James stepped out of the bathroom. “I wouldn’t worry about the floor.” His tone was dead and flat.

     “No, come on now, I won’t be a rude house guest.”

     “Too late for that.”

     “Why are you being so pissy, my boy, aren’t we having a good time.”

     “For someone with so many rules, you don’t seem to pay much attention to them.” James pulled a shotgun from behind his back and pumped it, loading a shell.

     “What the fuck?” Nick backed away reflexively and tried to pull the harpoon gun from his jacket. A switch snagged and the weapon extended, pushing through his coat pocket and sending a harpoon flying into the ceiling. Plaster rained down, mixing with Nick’s vomit on the floor and forming a grey-brown slurry. “Oh god, I’ll pay for that too, but in fairness, you did pull a gun on me.”

“I’m not pulling it on you, idiot.”

Nick shook his head. “Wait, then who’s it for? Is Bill a hunter?”

     “Bill and Marie have been sober for over a decade.” James held up Nick’s tome. “You dog-eared the page. Turns out, much like you, wendigos like their liquor.”

     “Wendi-what?” A roar cut through the house and all at once, the lights went out.

     “You just had to make a scene, didn’t you?” James turned on a flashlight attached to the end of the shotgun. “And to think, you didn’t want me to spring for the extra tactical gear.

     “Hey, who’s the apprentice and who’s the?” A clawed hand caught Nick from behind and threw him in the air. He collided with the ceiling, missing the embedded harpoon by inches. The concealed rifle tore the rest of the way through his jacket and clattered down the hallway. Nick landed in a squelching pile of his own sick and the smell almost made him vomit again.  

     Thunder roared through the entryway as James fired the shotgun. Pellets of bright white fire spread out in a cone, briefly illuminating Bill whose eyes glowed red in the darkened house. The pellets ripped through his skin, starting little fires wherever they touched, and spraying brown-black liquid onto the floor.  

     Nick rolled to his side and watched as Bill batted at the fire, his skin tearing where it had touched. From somewhere beneath the human formerly known as Bill, a larger creature began to emerge. His bones creaked, growing and pushing against the taught cover of skin. Fur sprouted in ugly patches, tearing and rending his human form. A horrible crunching filled the room as two bloody elk horns extended from the man’s skull.

     “Ahhhhh!” Screamed Nick. “James, it’s a Krampus!”

     “It’s not a Krampus, dumbass.” James fired another blast from the shotgun. The creature screamed and turned away. With a single, hulking blow, it ran through the front door, sending the weak, wooden rectangle flying off and into the snow storm. Before James could get another shot off, it was out of range and lumbering through the storm.

     “It’s not?” Nick asked, watching the door resentfully. “I’ve always wanted to fight a Krampus.”

     James held up the tome again. “Wendigo, remember?” He shook the book like someone would shake keys for a small toddler.

     Nick vomited again. “Oh, right, right, of course, the wendigo.” He wiped his mouth. “Well, either way, that leaves us with a pretty significant problem.”

     “What’s that?”

     “Well, you’ve pissed one of them off, but where’s his dear partner?”

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Link to Next Chapter!

Home for the Holidays – A Nick Ventner Tale

The following is the first chapter of a holiday Nick Ventner Tale. If you like wendigos, booze-ridden monster hunters, and a bit of cheer, read on 🙂

1 – The Suburbs

Snow fell in heavy flakes on the windshield of the beat-up sedan. “You sure this thing is going to make it through the storm?” Nick unscrewed the top of his silver flask and tried desperately to get a few more drops out of it. Somehow, on the three hour drive out of Midway, it had all disappeared. He wasn’t sure, but he suspected some sort of water demon might have had a claw in it.

     “I’ve done this drive plenty of times, Nick.” James hands gripped the steering wheel calmly. The weak, yellow cones of the headlights tried to cut a path through the snow, but barely illuminated ten feet in front of them. The highway, usually bumper-to-bumper with traffic, was almost completely empty. Occasionally, they’d pass another vehicle, gathering snow after its owners had abandoned it, but no one else was fool enough to still be out.

     “Maybe we should turn back to Midway, get ourselves a couple of handles and spend the night drinking every time we see a snowflake.” Nick shook the flask violently, rattling the metal stopper. “I could have sworn there was more of this.”

     “You drank it before we even hit the onramp. I believe your words were: How fast do you think I can—”

     “Drink this flask, alright, I get it.” Nick tossed the empty flask to the floor. “Why would anyone live out here anyway?”

     “Parkview is a nice place for those who don’t like the hustle and bustle.”

     “Quite a few murders for the burbs if I remember right.”

     “That was over twenty years ago, and I’ll remind you, you wanted to come.”

     Nick sighed and slumped into the seat. “Only because you said there would be free food. I don’t know if you’ve seen the financials lately, but after the Cerberus in the sewers, no one is jumping to hire us.” It had been a damned good fight, but so messy for Public Works the following morning. Pissing off civil servants was never a good way to drum up more business. “Fucking unions,” Nick muttered.

     “Maybe if you hadn’t have pumped it full of thermite right next to a gas main, the explosion would have been smaller.”

     Nick huffed and leaned his head against the window. The glass was cold, calming what was sure to be the start of a raging hangover if he couldn’t get to more booze soon. “We might have been that thing’s chew toy if I hadn’t.”

     James sighed. “Maybe we could use a bit more planning for the job we’ve got coming up in Clearwater?”

     Nick laughed. “The tabloid job? You’re staying in the car for that one. It’s going to be a quick in and out, nothing more.”

     “You ever fought a sasquatch before?”

     “It’s just a man in—” Nick stopped as the radio turned on suddenly, flipping between stations rapidly and playing unintelligible garbled static. A mix of Christmas music, weather warnings and talk radio blasted through the car at full volume. Nick slapped at the dial trying to get it to turn off, but the noise sent sharp pain coursing into his temples.

     James reached out and turned the dial to off, but the radio continued to whine and sputter. Ahead of them something ran across the road, visible only briefly in the headlights. Nick had a chance to see mangy, grey fur before James slammed on the brakes. The car started to spin immediately, sliding sideways through the freeway like a drunken acrobat.

     “Jesus, James, turn into the spin!” screamed Nick, wishing once more that he had been more thoughtful with his flask rations.

     James turned the wheel, gripping it with white knuckles and the car skidded slowly to a stop. Looking through the fogged windshield, it was difficult to see anything beyond the falling snow.

     “What was that?” asked Nick.

     “Probably a bear. They started moving out here a few years ago after the forest fire.”

     “A bear, in the dead of winter?”

     James sighed. “Do we really need to talk about climate change again, Nick?”

     “I don’t know, does climate change explain why the bear would have fucked with the radio?” Nick reached into the back seat and pulled out a thick, leather-bound tome. He always carried it with him , despite protestations from James that ‘monsters don’t live in the suburbs.’ He’ll learn, thought Nick and began flipping through the tome’s pages.

     “Five minutes out of Midway and you’re pulling out the Monster Manual?” James scoffed.

     “You know damned well, it’s not called that.”

     “It’s a manual for monsters. What would you like me to call it?”

     “It’s the ramblings of a drunken master who killed far more beasties than you or I. Now, I suggest you start driving, because the longer I go without a drink, the lower your chances of survival get.”

     “Right, like your other apprentices?” James put the car into gear and they were rumbling down the snow-covered highway again.  

     Nick rolled his eyes. For once, he had been completely honest with James when he hired him. Almost all his previous apprentices had died horribly at the hands of strange creatures, cannibal cults, or door-to-door salespeople with a grudge. Trouble was that James hadn’t believed him and thought it was all just a scare tactic. It didn’t help that the confrontation with the Cerberus had given him far too much confidence for his own good.

     James continued guiding them on their already harrowing journey to suburbia. Nick read through the pages of his master’s book, looking for creatures that lived in cold climates. There were far too many for an expeditious search. It seemed the old fool had catalogued everything, even a yeti, a creature most believed to be extinct. Finally, after looking specifically for entries tagged with ‘Found in Urban Areas’, Nick came upon The Wendigo.

     The beast was originally of Native American origin, but in the modern world had become more of a general horror. Nick read on. Wendigos are one of the trickiest beasts for a hunter to encounter. While I am fairly certain I have never run across one, there is no way to be sure as Wendigo are well versed in psychic warfare. When they aren’t roaming the forests looking for fresh prey, they can disguise themselves in human form.

     James pulled off the highway and onto a street lined with identical houses. To differentiate themselves, the various owners had littered the outside with colored lights. Nick looked out the window and saw an inflatable Santa Claus rocking back and forth in the strong winds. “Why did it have to be the suburbs?”

     “Oh, shut up and enjoy it.” A wide grin was plastered across James’s face.

     Nick was distracted by his puzzlement. In their short time together, James had been nothing more than a dour, sarcastic ass. How was the kid not panicking about the creature or the radio? Nick shook his head and continued reading. What’s worse, Wendigos are so persuasive in their appearance that they can force false memories on their prey. Nick stopped as a few pieces clicked together. “Hey James, how did you say you know these people again?”

     He laughed. “They’re my family, Nick. Well, not blood-related, but they were around all the time when I was a kid. You know, the kind of people you call aunt and uncle even though they’re not?”

     Nick didn’t have the slightest idea what the hell James was talking about. Holiday cheer at the Ventner household was found at the bottom of a candy-cane-stuffed rum bottle. Between that and re-runs of the same fifteen movies on television, the holidays passed in a fuzzy blur. “But you’re not blood related? Interesting.” Nick turned back to the book.  

     “What are you reading about?”

     “Probably nothing, don’t worry about it.” The entry didn’t say anything about radio frequencies or messing with electronics, but Nick supposed with a psychic being, that wouldn’t be too far off the mark. “How much farther?”

     “Five minutes. Enjoy the view. Isn’t this nice?”

     “Sure, kid, this is nice.” The words tasted like vomit. Somehow, over the course of their drive, the holiday lights had grown more prevalent. Nick looked out the window at the glittering houses and felt an empty feeling. Something wasn’t right, he was pretty sure of it. A queasy feeling sloshed around in his lower stomach. All at once, he felt the contents of the flask he had drained. Maybe it’s just that, he reassured himself.

Second chapter will be uploaded soon! There will be a total of five chapters, all out before Christmas. If you like it, consider sharing the story around, I’ve recently deactivated Facebook, so word of mouth is all we’ve got!