The Lake – A Nick Ventner Tale

Here’s a fun short story that takes place a few years before Whiteout. If you like it, check out the first Nick Ventner Novel on Amazon. Need convincing? It’s currently holding a 4.75 on GoodReads with 15 ratings!

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Short Story – Afterlife

afterlife     The white lights switched on, bathing the stage with their fluorescent glow. A man stood silhouetted in a red, sequin suit holding a microphone that was larger than it had any right to be.  He took a deep breath and stepped out toward the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s youuuurr afterlife!” The crowd went wild with applause. He smiled at them with the lopsided grin that only a man missing half his face could achieve.

A sea of corpses raised their hands in excited anticipation as a door rose from beneath the stage. All the spotlights went out and a red glow came from beneath the door’s wooden frame. “Well folks, looks like it’s time to start playing!” A rabbi in the audience collapsed half out of excitement, and half because the last sinew of muscle holding his spine together had finally snapped.

“Let’s give them a countdown,” cheered the host.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” shouted the crowd in unison. Priests who had been burned alive in the seventeenth century for heresy raised a cry of “Christian! Christian!”, while an equally macabre group of catholic missionaries yelled “Heaven’s dope, follow The Pope!”

The door flung open, spewing a white glow onto the stage. A young man stepped out through the light. The cheers died down in nervous anticipation. “Where am I?” he called out, his voice echoing off the walls. The crowd whispered with tense murmurs.

“It’s not where you are that matters kid,” said the host as he stepped out of the shadows once more.

The young man flinched back at the sight of his gruesome face.

“Oh don’t be offended by my ‘slack jaw’. You’re not so good looking yourself.” The crowd laughed and a brighter spotlight flashed onto the young man. It revealed a five-foot metal pipe that had skewered him right through the chest. To the living, it might have been a cause for vomiting, screaming, or exorcism, but to the dead it was a spectacle.

“Ouch, that’s gotta hurt,” laughed the host good-naturedly.

Large signs illuminated with the word ‘laughter’, and the crowd followed suit. An old woman wearing a lime-green robe that could have only belonged to a cult slapped her knee, and it fell off.

The young man stood in shocked silence. “It’s a lot to take in, but are you ready to play?” The host called back to his days as a used car salesman, and summoned a reassuring grin.

“Play?” asked the man, still confused. “Play what?”

“Oh it’s the game of games,” answered the host with a sweeping gesture to the crowd. “Step this way.” He grabbed the pole that the young man was impaled on with a pristine white glove, and led him to a pulpit with a microphone on it. “Alright, let’s start with the basics. What’s your name? Where you from? How’d you die?”

“I um, I’m Gary.” A sign lit up on the front of the pulpit, outlining ‘Gary’ in flashing lights.

“Great Gary, where you from?” The host looked at the audience and winked, nearly losing his eye in the process.

“I’m from Utah,” said Gary with hesitation. “Wait, did you say I’m dead?”

“Oh, Utah, nice this time of year.” A board lit up behind them displaying a picture of a red rock arch. “And, Gary from Utah how was it that you came to join us?” He looked down at the pole in Gary’s chest with an air of placation.

“I can’t really remember. I was driving a truck, and then,”

“Car accident. Bam! Pole goes right through you. Tragic story I’m sure. Wife and kids?”

“Well yeah,” Gary stammered.

“Too bad for them eh? Well I hope you had insurance.” A cameraman off-stage missing both his legs held up five fingers indicating that they were running out of time. “Alright Gary, I think we have what we need. Now audience members, it’s time to vote.” Lights splayed out over the audience as dramatic music played. A tally began ticking away on the board with percentages. There was a loud buzzer and the tally stopped.

“Alright Gary, let’s see what we’ve got. A whopping 75% said Mormon Easy answer, easy answer, but a good guess. We’ve got 15% saying Jewish, 9.7% Catholic, and a .3% saying Scientologist. Tom, was that you?” The audience laughed again, but soon fell quiet, waiting for the result.

“Well Gary, that is quite something, let me tell you. A landslide for the Mormons. It’s not every day you see that. Now there’s only one answer left that matters, and that’s yours. What religion were you before you died.”

All the lights focused on Gary. He would have been sweating, but one of the facets of death precluded him from doing so. From somewhere behind the stage, a clock began to tick loudly. “Well it’s changed now,” muttered Gary.

“Ah, ah, ah, no cheating now Gary. What was it?” The hosts friendly demeanor had been replaced with that of a principal reprimanding a problemed student.

“Well uh…” Gary faltered. “I uh… I was actually an atheist.”

The crowd uttered a collective gasp as the host ushered Gary to the side of the stage. Stunned silence turned to chants of “Boo!”

“An atheist?” The host’s decomposed complexion became even paler.

“Well yeah, there was no evidence for any…”

The host cut him off. “Well Gary, I will say that is a surprise.”

The cameraman wound his fingers, telling the host to wrap it up.

“Well Gary, as much as you seem like a perfectly fine individual, I’m afraid you’ve been disqualified.” The host mimed a crying gesture.

“Disqualified?” Gary’s eyes grew white.

“Don’t worry, we’ve still got a prize for you! Have a nice trip.” The host pulled a lever, opening a trap door beneath Gary, sending him plummeting down a long, dark chute. In a matter of seconds, his screams died down to a whisper and a large plume of fire shot up from the hole in the floor.

“Well, what a shocking turn of events,” said the host, regaining his composure. The square in the floor lit up red once again and the board went blank. “Let’s try again shall we? Give me a countdown!”

Chadpocalypse 1:4

If you need to catch up, here are links to previous chapters:

Parts 1-2

Part 3

4.

The sight of Hell suddenly appearing through the wall of Chad’s apartment was enough to silence him temporarily. The horseman’s firm grip held him by his collar, as Chad dangled above a lake of lava. Far below, a man impaled on a pitchfork screamed repentance and then gurgled his last as a muscular demon dipped him into the liquid fire. Red rocks, molten pools, and flame extended beyond the edges of Chad’s vision. Overwhelming was the wrong word to use; it didn’t even begin to describe the level of confusion in Chad’s booze-soaked brain. He tried to voice this confusion to the horseman, but the hot sulfur caught in his throat, preventing him from doing anything that wasn’t gasping.

“Do you believe me now?” asked a smug, booming voice from above.

Chad still could not speak, and instead, nodded vigorously.

“Alright then.” In one, smooth motion, Chad was yanked back through the portal, and into the bedroom. The horseman ran his finger back across the wall, drawing the portal closed like a zipper. A few wisps of flame escaped, but not enough to do any serious damage. They were once again left in the dim bedroom, lit by nothing except for the faint red glow in the horseman’s eyes.

The evening heat almost seemed cool in the wake of hellfire. Chad stumbled his way back to the bed, and then put his head between his hands. “Horseman of the apocalypse you said?” he stuttered. “Which one are you then?” Chad couldn’t have named the four even if he was given multiple choice, but the question seemed polite.

“Can’t you tell?” asked the horseman gesturing to his flowing robes.

Chad looked him up and down, but did not understand. “Sorry…” he said, awkwardly.

The horseman sighed heavily. “I’m famine bro!” Briefly he parted the black robe he was wearing to reveal a torso covered with more lean muscle than Chad knew a body was capable of possessing.

“Oh,” he stammered, “I see now…” Truth be told Chad felt nothing other than tinge of sexual harassment, but thought there was not much to be done about it. Don’t suppose demons are afraid of mace? It didn’t make a difference as Chad had nothing on him but a few spare dollars and a couple of quarters in his pocket.

The horseman shook his head. “I cut weight, work out, and they still put me in the same robes as everyone else. I mean, really. Suppose it doesn’t matter to you, but how are people supposed to know I’m famine if there’s no form-fitting uniform?”

The horseman made an exasperated sigh and his horse gave a sympathetic whinny.

“Yes, I know you’re hungry, but you’re cutting weight too,” the horseman replied. “We have an image to maintain.”

“It sounds difficult,” remarked Chad, trying not to focus on the mounting hangover that was creeping across his forehead. I should be drinking this off by now.

“Ugh, you have no idea,” complained the horseman, sounding more like a whiny teenager than a demonic entity. “Anyway, workplace politics aside, I’ve come to give you some very important information.”

“Alright, I’m listening.” Chad tried to hold himself in a sitting position, but found it difficult. It felt as though the world was still spinning on its axis, but he had been left behind.

“A good attitude,” sneered the horseman with a wide grin. “I like that. You’re going to need it.”

Chad gave a bland smile, and resumed trying to both listen and hold on to the earth at the same time.

“Well, Chad, I’ve come with a warning.”

“Let me guess, about the apocalypse.” Chad still believed that there was a good chance he was dreaming, and didn’t put much stock in the warnings of famished equestrians.

“Yes, about the apocalypse.” The horseman sounded annoyed, as if Chad had stolen his thunder.

“Is it coming soon?” asked Chad. “Because, I’ve got tickets to a show next week, and I paid most of my rent money for them…”

“When is your show?” the horseman asked, casually.

“Bout a month away,” said Chad, counting his fingers as he did so.

“You’ll make it to the show.”

“Happy day!” exclaimed Chad, immediately regretting shouting. A lance of pain shot through the middle of his head, reminding him that tequila was no friend of his.

“The apocalypse will come in one year’s time.”

“Very specific, I like it.” Chad yawned, suddenly remembering that it was still the middle of the night, and he wanted to go back to bed. Even if it wasn’t his apartment, the bed had still been comfortable. “So why warn me about it? Surely it’d be better as a surprise.”

“Well, Hell has rules about fair play.” The horseman laughed half-heartedly. “They were enacted a while back, and don’t really go much with our new image, but it keeps things interesting for the big boss.”

“That would be The Devil,” added Chad. “Right?”

“Yes, The Devil.” The horseman paused. “You’re taking all of this quite well. Do you understand what I’m saying? The world will end in a year.”

“Oh sure, I understand, but there’s not a lot to be done about it, is there?”

“Sure, anyway, the apocalypse is coming, and fair play dictates that we have to tell one mortal. That would be you.” The horseman motioned to him with a sarcastic twirl of his fingers. “The idea is to give humanity a fighting chance.”

“Ah, so I’m expected to stop the apocalypse.” Chad didn’t like the sound of it. Stopping the apocalypse sounded like more responsibility than he wanted in his lifetime.

“Not exactly…”

The horse gave a whinny that sounded oddly judgmental to Chad.

“Oh, shut up horse,” said Chad. “I’m not taking that tone from something that wears permanent shoes.”

The insult seemed to confuse the horseman, and Chad for that matter, but it shut the horse up.

Chad smiled proudly, and blundered on. “So why me?”

“Well…”

“Can we hurry this up? If I’ve got an apocalypse to stop, I need to get some sleep so I don’t miss brunch.”

The horseman’s red eyes grew brighter, and his mouth became a wide smile. “Because no one will believe you.”

Chadpocalypse 1:3

 This is the third chapter of my newest short story, Chadpocalypse. Parts 1-2 can be found here.

1:3

“Oh great, thanks Marvin, you’ve let the Jehovahs in again,” Chad yelled. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for various religious figures to come knocking at the doors of the apartment building, but the trick was to play dead, and not let them waltz in like they owned the place. It was much harder to be converted if a conversation was never had. “The fire’s new though. How do you get enough donations to buy the horse eh?” Chad would’ve chased him off with a baseball bat, but he felt if he stood, he would surely vomit.

“I am not a Jehovah’s witness, and this isn’t your apartment. I thought we had already covered that,” said the demon through clenched teeth, trying to keep anger from his voice.

“Fine, seventh day, scientologist, whatever. Either way, you’ve got a blank check for recruiting,” he said with a loose gesture to the horse, the horns, and the polo shirt. Oddly enough, Chad didn’t think the pool of flame at the figure’s feet to be all that impressive. Anyone can get a few bright lights and a smoke machine for a few bucks.

“I am one of the four horsemen, insolent cur!” The figure swept his hands through the air and produced white hot flames.

“Ooh, and a close-up magician,” said Chad, genuinely excited. He always preferred magic when he was towards the bottom of a bottle. “Do you have a deck of cards?”

The demon wrung his hands together, producing a series of unsettling cracks in his knuckles. A red glow had begun to run through his curved horns. “Yes, I do, but I’m going to need a volunteer from the audience.” He was using the voice of a used car salesman, but just below the surface was the gnashing hunger of a predator.

“Oh, alright then,” said Chad stumbling to his feet. The world spun maddeningly around him, and the mix of liquor and chili fries in his stomach threatened to come back up, but he held it down. Puking on a magician would just be rude. He might have been in someone else’s apartment, sleeping off a hangover he had stolen, but Chad still thought himself a man of standards.

The demon extended a gnarled hand to Chad, and gave him a winning grin. “Take my hand, and think of a lucky number.”

“Mind reading?” Chad stuck out his hand and grasped that of the demon. It was hot to the touch, but not enough to burn him. “Not as good as a card—“

Chad was cut off as the demon pulled him close, ran a long finger down the tasteless, flowered wallpaper, opening a portal to Hell.

“What the shit man?” asked Chad, exasperated. “I’m going to have to pay for that!”

“For the last time, this isn’t your apartment,” said the demon, and unceremoniously shoved chad’s head through the portal.