Short Story – When a Cold Wind Whistles

Here’s a short inspired by another North American legend, the Wendigo. I don’t often write thriller, but I had this idea one day and here we are. If you enjoy the short story, consider checking out my full novel, Whiteout, the tale of a drunken monster hunter chasing a yeti.

When a Cold Wind Whistles

“Someone once told me stories are best told on a cold night next to a warm flame.”

The wind whipped through the trees, scattering the ashes of their campfire into the snowy air.

“Others say, stories of the creature are best left alone. Just saying its name is enough to bring misfortune upon you.”

Bud and Larry sat listening, holding cans of cold beer between gloved hands. The old man had been guiding their hunt for three days, and hadn’t said much beyond ‘Deer, there’ or ‘Rest now’. Only after an hour silent by the campfire toward the midnight hour had he spoke at all.

“Fifty years ago, on a cold, starless night, I was guiding a camping group.” He let his eyes drift to the sky, watching the ashes turn from white, to orange, to black. “Family of four, nice enough folk. Mother worked in town, father was a business man. Both wanted the boys to see something that wasn’t concrete and glass.”

“He’s talking about the Millers,” whispered Bud.

Larry nodded, silently remembering the legend that had grown almost as old as the town itself.

“Yes, the Millers, that was their name.”

“One of the worst bear attacks in the county history,” said Bud, taking another sip.

“There was no bear.” The man sat silent for a moment.

In the distance, a branch cracked. Both men shivered, but the old man sat straight-backed, as if he had heard nothing.

“They had a dog too,” he added. “Cute thing. Always liked dogs.” He reached for the six pack of beers buried in the snow and broke one off the ring.

“Hey-” started Larry, but Bud stayed him with a strong hand.

It didn’t seem the old man was asking permission anyway. With a gnarled finger, he cracked the tab with a snap hiss that echoed off the quiet forest beyond. He drained the can in one go, tossing the empty shell at the fire and sending a shower of sparks into the sky.

“My father had always told me no one wanders these mountains for free.” He turned his eyes from the fire to look at each of the men in turn. They squirmed under his intense gaze. “I was a willful child. Something I think you two might know something about.”

Bud laughed and the old man nodded.

“Yes, I thought so. Well, being the child I was, I had no desire for ancient rituals and hokum.” He smiled, but it was thin, like the act was tearing at the edges of his fragile skin. “There’s an altar just at the edge of the woods where all guides pay tribute beneath an ancient elk skull that was nailed there centuries ago. I never paid our passage, figuring I could use that money to buy a better bottle when I got back. So, we set off, me, the father, the mother, the two boys, and Rufus, that cute, yapping dog of theirs.

The first two days were really something spectacular. Clear skies, lots of wildlife, and good conversation around the campfire. Much like we’re having here tonight.”

The men didn’t think it much of a conversation but remained silent.

“The first night, we sat around the campfire, drinking and reveling, the second, more of the same, and then there was the third. I should have known from the moment that damned yapping dog took off into the sunset that something was wrong. Never did see that dog again.” He reached forward and pulled another beer off the ring. Once again, he drank it in a single gulp.

“You should slow—”

“We looked for that dog for hours, but when it grew dark, we did the only sensible thing; made a fire, left out a tin of food, and hoped the dog would find it before some other creature got to it. As last light faded from the sky, the children fell into a tearful sleep. I hated seeing them like that, but there were more pressing concerns.

Around that fire there was no drinking and no reveling. The father wanted to go looking for the dog and several times I had to physically restrain him from doing so. The man was adamant. Eventually, I got him to calm down, explaining to him that he’d likely be killed. There are no shortage of dangers in the forest at night, especially in the dead of winter.”

 

Larry felt his eyes drift from the fire to the forest. The trees were thin and barren; the snow giving them an odd, grey glow in the firelight.

“It was around then that the wind got this high, warbling whistle to it, like some diseased bird calling in the distance. When it didn’t stop or slow, the parents looked to me for guidance.

‘What was that?’ asked the father, standing from his seat.

A darkness grew over me then. All at once, the foolish error of my ignorance was laid bare. There was a dry crackle as something snapped branches in the distance.

The father turned away from the fire. ‘Maybe it’s Rufus’, he offered.

‘The dog’s dead,’ I replied.

In the trees, the high-pitched warble continued, growing closer with every second, threatening to drive me to madness. How he thought it was the dog, I’ll never know.

‘Just listen here,’ started the father, walking toward me in an attempt at menace. ‘We’ve had quite enough of your-’

I covered my ears, hoping to drown out the noise, but it buzzed in my skull like a trapped animal. A cold wind blew through the camp and for the first time, I shivered.

The father struck me, trying to stir me to action, but growing up in the village, I had heard the stories. Just because I had put no stock in them didn’t mean I hadn’t listened. The warbling continued, intensifying until I could hear nothing else. The pain was immeasurable. Something wanted in, and it took all my effort to keep it away. Then, as the noise reached its fever pitch it cut out suddenly leaving us in silence.”

 

The old man paused, letting his eyes drift off the fire once more.

Larry wanted to tell him to stop, but they had never asked him for the story the first place. He didn’t put much stock in ancient legends but didn’t like jinxing a good hunting trip either. They only had one day left before heading back to town, and he wanted to get a good sleep.

“What happened?” asked Bud, leaning forward in his camping chair, nose practically touching the flame.

The old man let out a heavy sigh and raised a hand to his temple. In the distance, a wind blew once more and branches cracked.

“If you don’t want to tell it,” offered Larry, seeing a way out.

Bud shot him a look telling Larry to shut up and pushed the remainder of the beer cans toward the old man.

He opened his eyes again, looking down at the offering. “Kind of you,” he said, snagging another can and draining it in a single gulp, leaving a single beer on the ring.

“Sure,” said Bud, impressed.

Larry dropped a hand to the rifle resting by his side, watching the tree line where the branches had cracked. Probably just getting spooked, he told himself, feeling the wood of the stock. But never hurts to be prepared. With the moon blotted out by clouds, the fire didn’t offer much in terms of vision, but it still made him feel safer.

 

“The sound stopped, and for a long while, I just sat there, eyes shut, knowing that whatever was going to be there when I opened them wasn’t good.

‘Sir?’ asked the mother, her kind voice like an angel after the warbling. ‘I’m sorry he acted like that.’

I opened my eyes to see the husband had gone. The wife knelt before me, holding a cool hand to my forehead. ‘Where?’ I asked.

‘He stormed off looking for Rufus. He’ll be back soon.’ Her tone was calm, as if she expected nothing less.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘He won’t.’ I felt it, even before I saw it; the tug at my spine, letting me know I had become prey. I lifted my gaze, looking beyond the campfire, my heart freezing in my chest as I did so.

None of the stories did it justice. I stared into the glowing red eyes of a thousand dead men, all wrapped into one. The creature itself stood nine feet tall, skin pale and waxy as if it had been pulled straight from the grave. Bones poked out at odd, uncomfortable angles, in some places bursting through the flesh into the naked air.”

 

The old man put a hand to his side, remembering.

Larry pulled the rifle into his lap. He couldn’t be sure, but it felt like the wind had moved from a hollow whine to a low whistle.

Bud stared across the fire, eyes never leaving the old man.

 

“Its head was that of an elk, huge and dead for some time, lifeless, apart from the glowing red eyes. Its antlers had been sharpened to knife points and bore the dark, black stains of murder. I stared at it, and it stared at me. In its right arm, it carried a bundle, obscured in the darkness.

The creature cocked its head to one side and pulled the elk’s mouth wide to a grin of pointed teeth and lifted a clawed arm. Hanging limply, speared by a wicked claw, was the husband. He looked up at me through dying eyes, and whispered: ‘Run.’

I heard it as if the words were spoken right in my ear.

The wife must have heard it too, because she turned just in time to see the creature grip her husband with a second clawed hand. In a clean motion it tore him in half tossing the ragged body to either side with a sickening splatter.

The woman screamed, and the creature began its warbling whistle again. I tried in vain to reach for my gun but found myself frozen to my chair.

Maybe it was shock, maybe she was feeling the same thing, but the woman didn’t run. She stayed put.

‘Don’t,’ I pleaded with the creature. ‘I’ll pay the price.’ It was my ignorance that had brought it down on us in the first place.

It paid me no heed and crossed the distance to our camp in three easy strides. The red light of our fire danced in the creature’s eyes and with an effortless swipe, it put it out. Left with nothing but the light of the stars and the moon, the creature somehow looked ghostlier than before.

The woman moved in between the creature and the tent containing her children. ‘Get the hell away from me!’ she screamed at it.

The creature let out a low, shuddering laugh. Frozen to my chair, I watched as bones and muscle tensed in its back. The whistling started again and the creature knelt to the woman’s height so that it could look at her eye to eye.

‘Fuck you,’ she spat.

The creature brought a clawed hand up into her chest, lifting her off her feet.

She gagged and spluttered, trying desperately to get a final breath. Blood flowed from her lips and down her chin. The creature twisted its claw and let her fall to the side. She was dead before she hit the ground.

Scared, shuffling noises came from within the tent and the creature turned its head hungrily.”

 

The old man’s eyes went vacant, staring into the fire, reflecting its light.

Larry stood up from his camping chair, looking around the forest uneasily. “I’ll say it, Bud. I don’t like this story.”

If the old man heard him, he didn’t say anything.

“Oh come on, Larry. It’s just a ghost story. Grow a pair and sit down.” Bud chuckled to himself. “I had no idea you were such a sissy.”

Larry racked the slide on his rifle.

“Will you cut that out. You’re going to hurt someone,” said Bud, standing from his chair. “Put the gun down Larry, it’s just a story.”

There was another crack from the woods and both men turned suddenly. “It’s a racoon, Larry,” put the gun down.

Larry’s heart beat violently in his chest.

“Wendigos you see,” started the old man again, “are inherently greedy, gluttonous creatures.” He snagged the final beer can.

Larry and Bud turned their attention back to him.

He stared straight into the fire, not looking up at either of them. “It had already killed two fully grown adults. Plenty to feast on for days to come. But when it heard the cries of those children. It wasn’t survival, or even sport, it was pleasure. The smile on those dead lips was one I’ll never forget.”

“I want him to stop telling this story!” yelled Larry, hysterically. He backed away from the campfire, suddenly afraid of the old man.

“Jesus Christ, Larry.”

Larry swung the rifle around toward the forest.

“Alright, that’s it.” Moving up behind him, Bud took the rifle and stripped it from Larry’s grip, elbowing him in the gut as he did so.

Larry fell to his knees, coughing.

“Get some sense in you, and you can have this back.” He pulled the slide back, releasing the round in the chamber and removed the magazine.

“Bud, please.”

Bud sat back in his camping chair and watched as the old man closed his eyes and finished the final beer. “Take a queue, Larry. Sit down and drink a little. It’ll calm your nerves.

“I’ll never forget the way those kids screamed,” the old man continued as if nothing had happened. “It left an imprint in my mind.” He raised his hands to his temples, massaging them gently.

“I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but watch as it shredded the tent and everything in it. Those poor kids. All the while, the creature sang its horrible, warbling song, gleeful in its work.” The old man stopped, shutting his eyes tightly.

Larry paced on the edge of the fire, holding his gut from where he had been punched. Desperation crept into the back of his mind and he felt something at the base of his spine. It was a tingling, pulling sensation that he couldn’t shake. “I don’t like this, Bud.”

Bud ignored him. “How did you escape?” he asked.

A low smile spread across the old man’s face, his skin taut in the firelight. “I didn’t really. The wendigo feasted for what felt like hours before it came to me. Like it wanted me to watch. Then, as I thought I might die from exposure, it knelt before me, eyes gleaming red, boring into mine. In that moment I saw every soul it had ever taken and every foolhardy child that had ignored the elders’ warnings.

The vision wore on for an eternity, but then suddenly, in a snap, it was gone. I didn’t realize it, but my eyes had been closed the whole time. When I opened them, the creature was gone, and I was left with the bloody remains of the family scattered around me. I left that place and wandered, eventually coming back to town to tell the tale.

I knew no one would believe me, and so I told them it had been a bear, woke early from its hibernation. When the rangers found the family, there was no question. No human could have done that.”

 

The forest went silent around them and Larry stopped his pacing.

“That’s it?” asked Bud. “The wendigo just left you?” He let out an exasperated sigh.  “Four beers for a bunch of buildup.”
He spat. “Well played, old man.”

“I’m not finished,” said the man, his voice growing quiet, gravelly and low.

A high-pitched warble cut through the forest.

Bud froze as the old man opened his eyes and stood in the firelight. They had taken on a red glow and his skin had grown pale.

Bud fumbled with the rifle, suddenly wishing he hadn’t unloaded it.

A massive rack of horns sprouted from the old man’s head, tearing through the thin flesh. His fingers extended to grey claws, creaking and popping horribly as they did so. “It’s like I said: No one wanders these mountains for free…”

The Stakes – Part 2

Below is part 2 of The Stakes, a short Nick Ventner tale that will conclude with Part 3 in a week or so. If you like what you read, be sure to share it around!

Link to Part 1 

TheStakes

Part 2 – Midnight

David and I exchanged ‘pleasantries’ through the barricaded door for hours. Every time one of us was about to give ground, our resolve would stiffen and we’d be right back at the start again. I should have known it would go nowhere, vampires love to talk. When you think about it, they’ve got all the time in the world, so long as some stake-happy hunter doesn’t get any bright ideas. For the most part, the days of hunting vampires for the sake of it were over, so long as certain lines weren’t crossed. Luckily, any sort of tribunal would have a hard time pegging David as benevolent…

I was starting to feel that while tired there was a possibility I was going to be able to hold the door through the night, even if only by distraction. David’s pet hadn’t made much progress, and it didn’t take much more effort than leaning.  It wasn’t going to be pleasant, but I wasn’t going to die either. That’s usually the space I operate in. I was content with the situation, until a shrill howl cut through the door like it wasn’t even there.

“Well Mr. Ventner, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, but that sound means I’m going to need to step away for a bit. You know what they say about werewolves and full moons.” There was a pause as he chuckled to himself. “Have a nice evening.”  Just like that, negotiations ended, and we moved on to the next logical step, war.

Continue reading

The Stakes – Part 1

This is the first of a 2 or 3 part (We’ll see how the story goes) Nick Ventner Tale that I will be releasing over the coming weeks. I’m about halfway done with the rest, so expect to see it soon!

Also, we have an official release date for Whiteout of May 1st, 2018! We’ll be posting the pre-order page soon, and for those of you interested in reading the book early, check out Aberrant Literature’s advance reader program, it’s free! https://mailchi.mp/04340f2cea01/aberrant-lit-advance-review-program

TheStakes

Part 1 – Cabin in the Woods

“Do you know what a monster hunter’s least favorite day of the year is?” Nick was already slurring and was on the verge of double vision. It had been a night of very heavy drinking, like most, had ended with nearly empty pockets. The only way to get a few more rounds was telling a good story.

Continue reading

Whiteout – Werewolves Don’t Howl

What follows is the first chapter of my first novel, Whiteout, now available for purchase on Amazon as well as other online retailers! If you like what you read, order a copy on KindlePaperback, or Hardback, and add us on GoodReads! Every share, add, and pre-order helps us get this story out there. Thanks for your support, enjoy.

Link to Prologue

Chapter 1: Werewolves Don’t Howl

We should have brought matches.

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

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

Six months prior, I ran into an eager undergrad who had drunkenly spouted off about cryptozoology. A few silver bullets and a modicum of training later, James became my apprentice. I was still amazed that even after seeing the uglier side of the world, he managed to fight off the cynicism in it well. Despite being half-frozen in a blizzard, and likely five minutes away from a horrible fate uncomfortably similar to becoming a popsicle, James managed to keep a positive, albeit sarcastic, attitude.


“Hold on, where were you?” Winston inquired, taking a sip of his tea.

Nick sighed quietly, swilling ice around the bottom of his empty glass, wondering when the butler would be by to bring refills. “If you would wait a minute, I’ll tell you.” Winston’s interruptions were beginning to irritate him. “I’ve got plenty of other jobs that don’t involve me rehashing painful emotional memories to old men in their parlors.”

This was untrue. Even after the encounter with the yeti, very few letters had come through asking for help. While most people in the monster-hunting community had heard tell of the story, they also did not believe it.

“Of course, I am so very sorry.” Winston’s words came out false, but they were accompanied by the sudden reappearance of a fresh drink on the table next to Nick.

Nick looked at the glass, astonished. “How does he manage that? Let me guess, he used to be a ninja. Got tired of the bloodshed and turned to butlery?” Nick took a sip of the fresh glass at his side and nearly gagged on some of the worst whiskey he had ever tasted.

All the money in the world, and he still drinks this piss?

“Oh yes, he’s quite good,” said Winston, avoiding the question. Nick must have made a sour face at the drink, because Winston waved his hands apologetically. “My apologies for the drink. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.” He let out a hearty laugh. “Tastes much better in tea.”

Nick laughed in spite of his suspicions about the magical butler. “An efficient drinker even amidst opulence. Now that I can respect.”

Winston raised his cup and drained it. “One picks up a few tricks on their way to wealth.” His cheeks flushed a bit with the fresh drink, and he even seemed a little friendlier. “Now, I’m terribly sorry to have interrupted you. Please, continue.”

Winston’s attitude had changed significantly, and it set Nick on edge. Fortunately, the feeling did not last long as the whiskey quickly made its way to his core, warming him on the inside. All traces of misgiving were temporarily erased from his mind.

“Yes, where was I?” He drained the highball glass and set it down on the table loudly, hoping the butler would hear.

After pausing a moment and seeing no sign of him, he continued on. “We had been tracking a werewolf through the mountains for days. Supposed to be a quick job. Silver bullet, bring back the head, in and out; simple as that. But there was one big problem: The villagers lied to us. It wasn’t a damned werewolf.”


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

“Is that it?” James asked, his teeth chattering from where he sat in a corner of the cave. Despite his best efforts to hide it, his body shivered violently, and his lips had turned slightly blue, drying out around the edges.

Should have brought matches. We could have burned our clothes. Anything to stave off the damned cold. Matches were dead useful. They started fires, created distractions, and lit my cigarettes. Unfortunately, I had left them in a pile on the bed with the rest of the accoutrements relating to my “nasty habit” as one of my many ex-girlfriends called it. I was too damned busy pouting about the cigarettes to remember the life-saving matches that had been chucked out with them. Without the heat from a fire, thinking was impossible. The cold took up every ounce of my mental capacity, rendering my mind useless.

Upon our departure, it had been a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. But the unfortunate thing about the mountains was that it only took a moment or two for things to turn sideways. What had been a distant glimmer of fog atop the mighty mountain turned into a full-blown blizzard in less than an hour.

After a few moments of silent processing, a thought broke through the icy curtain around my mind. James’s question had revealed the true nature of our predicament.

Werewolves don’t howl.

Movies and TV might portray it otherwise, but in the wild, it never happens. Werewolves are apex predators and lone hunters. There’s no need for them to communicate. They don’t reproduce, they don’t have families; they just hunt. When they want to create more werewolves, they go and bite another villager. It’s almost elegant in its simplicity.

Werewolves don’t howl. The statement floated through the air lazily, allowing both me and James to get a better look at it. I glanced over at James, hunkered against the side of the cave wall, and cursed myself again for forgetting the matches. That’s it, double checking for matches from now on. Had it been the day trip I billed for, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But the client had flat-out lied, and now things were getting dicey.

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

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

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

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

It was mostly filled with crude drawings of various hell-bound creatures that the author had tried to seduce. He may have had a coke-addled mind, but he was a damned good hunter when it came down to it. I flipped through the pages, hoping that somewhere between poetry about the dismembered head of a warg and amateur comic strips detailing the mating habits of Romanian banshees, there would be useful information.

The sound came again. Like a wolf, only longer, lower, and far louder. To be heard over the fury of a snowstorm was no easy feat. Even in the cave, we could hear the roaring of the wind outside battering the mountain in nature’s best attempt to bring it down. I continued to shuffle through the book until I happened upon the page I was looking for. Most people at the time thought that the upper slopes of the Himalayas were barren and uninhabited.

Most people were wrong.


Like what you read? Follow on Facebook/Twitter for new stories every week, order Whiteout online, and add us on GoodReads!

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.”