Home for the Holidays (4)

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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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Home for the Holidays – Chapter 2

This is Chapter 2 of a little holiday story with my favorite monster hunter, Nick Ventner. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1! Excuse my makeshift cover above, I’m a writer and not much of an artist 🙂

2 – Family Reunion

James pulled up to a house that was covered from foundation to chimney in twinkling, multicolor lights. The thought of the power bill alone was enough to make Nick sick to his stomach. He stumbled out of the car and immediately vomited into the snow. The strong burn of cheap alcohol filled his nose, but the freshness that came after a good vomit was a pleasant counter. “Well, we can rule out a water goblin in the case of my empty flask.” Nick wiped the vomit from his lips.

     “Jesus Christ, Nick. Can you try to compose yourself a little bit?”

     “That was the idea.” The horrible stink of bile filled his nostrils and he ate a handful of snow to wash it all away. If he was to continue drinking in any capacity, he needed to taper off, and vomiting was the fastest way there. Nick stamped his feet and flexed his hands, measuring his new level of sobriety. Satisfied, he straightened up and tried to put on his best impression of a smile. “Alright, let’s go meet these people who are definitely your family.”

     James shook his head. “I knew this was a mistake.” He turned away and walked up the short path to the front door.

     Trying to be clandestine, Nick snuck around the back of the car and opened the trunk. From inside, he pulled out a small collapsible harpoon rifle, a set of knives, and a flash grenade. The rifle was compact enough to fit on an insert he had cut into his winter jacket years ago, and he concealed it there. The grenade went in a pocket, and he put the knives in various uncomfortable positions around the rest of his body. It was a routine he was used to, and had saved his life countless times.

     “You coming?” called James from the porch.

     Nick looked longingly at a pile of holy symbols heaped toward the back of the trunk and reluctantly shut it. “Yup, sorry, almost forgot my book.” He grabbed the tome off the passenger seat and hurried to catch up with James, nearly slipping on ice in the process. He shuddered to think where one of the knives might have gone if he had.

     “You’re not really bringing that thing, are you?”

     Nick looked at James very seriously. “You’re my apprentice and I need you trust me on this one. I bring this with me everywhere and it’s gotten me out of more than a few scrapes.” Nick belched a sickly cloud of bile and stale liquor into the frosty winter air. “Whoo, sorry, that was a nasty one.” He gagged on the words as they came out.  

“You almost had me for a second.” James waved a hand in front of his face, trying to disperse the smell. “Just don’t bring it out at dinner. These people are open minded, but not that open minded.” James rang the doorbell.

Immediately, the door flew open, spilling a beam of cheery light out from the entryway. Standing in the doorway were a man and a woman, both in their fifties, beaming. “My, my, young James, is that you?” asked the woman in a horribly saccharine voice.

“You sure have grown,” boomed the man.

Nick winced at the boisterous volume and tried not to vomit again. If that’s not a wendigo impersonating a human, I don’t know what is. Greetings at the Ventner household were offered in grunts or curses, and Nick preferred it to this jolly crap.

“It’s good to see you both.” James hugged the two of them. “How long has it been?”

Both the man and the woman shook their heads in confusion. “Gosh, I don’t even know,” said the man. “Long time, that’s for sure.” He chuckled and looked past James, seeing Nick for the first time. “And who’s your friend?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s Nick. He’s sort of my boss at my new job.”

Nick put on a plastic smile and tried his best to turn on the charm. “Nothing ‘sort of’ about it.” He laughed and reached out a hand to shake the man’s hand, being sure not to take his glove off. “I’m Nick Ventner, proprietor of the Ventner Agency. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” He watched the man’s eyes as he said it, and swore he saw a twitch of fear there, but it could have just as easily been nothing.

“No, I can’t say I have, but either way, good to meet you, Mr. Ventner. Any friend of James is a friend of ours. I’m Bill, and this is my wife, Marie.”

“A pleasure to meet you both.” Nick scanned every inch of their faces, looking for something he could use, something off, but by all appearances, they were normal.

“Well, why don’t you both come in and we’ll fix you something hot to drink. You’ll catch your death out there.” The woman motioned to hurry them both inside.

     Nick looked at James, hoping to see some sign of reluctance, but there was nothing. Am I really the one going crazy here? He thought back to the creature that had crossed the road and put the radio on the fritz. If they were dealing with some manner of psychic beast, they were already in deep trouble.

     “You coming, Mr. Ventner?” asked the man.

     “Yes of course, sorry. Get lost in my own head these days, running a business and all.” Nick stepped into the house and was surprised to find it wasn’t much warmer than outside.

     “I should have warned you, our heat’s been on the fritz,” said Bob, walking into the kitchen. “But we’ve got hot cocoa and some spirits to warm your bodies, and a couple of space heaters in the bedroom.”

     Nick took off his gloves and looked around the entryway. He exhaled, still able to see his own breath.

     “Terrible timing for the heat to go out in a storm like this,” commented James, beginning to undo his parka and then thinking better of it. “Maybe I could take a shot at fixing it tonight.”

     “Oh, don’t worry about it, dear,” called Marie. “We don’t mind it too much.”

     I’ll bet you don’t, thought Nick, looking at the walls suspiciously. There were pictures of Bill and Marie everywhere, and even one family photo of what appeared to be a young James. Nick approached it carefully as though it might shoot poison darts at him and brushed a fine layer of dust off the frame.

     “Try not to break anything,” muttered James and started off toward the kitchen before Nick had a chance to protest.

     Dust on the photos, Nick noted. Heat’s out. James hasn’t heard from them in a long time. It was all adding up to a suspicious amount of evidence against the allegedly perfect family that had been presented before them. Can’t let my guard down, need to be careful. Nick walked down a darkened hallway, away from the kitchen.

     A voice stopped him dead in his tracks. “Looking for the bathroom?”

     Nick spun around violently, reaching for the knife he had concealed in his waistline. When he was halfway through the turn, he saw Bill, smiling at him from the entryway, holding two steaming mugs. Nick’s heart hammered in his chest, beating a crazy drum beat that no amount of drugs could make danceable.

     “Feeling a bit jumpy?” asked Bill.

     Nick took a deep breath, removing the tension from his muscles one by one. “I’m sorry, it’s just—”

     “You’re feeling a bit hung over.” A wry smile crept across Bill’s face.

     Nick’s eyes widened.

     “Oh, don’t be embarrassed. Saw you puking out front. Figured you might need a little hair of the dog to get you through it.” He held a cup out. “It’s rum with a splash of hot cocoa in it. Nice and warm to get us through this absolutely miserable storm.”

     Nick reached out and took the cup, sniffing at it experimentally. His eyes watered from the steam. Overpowered by urges, Nick sipped at the liquid and felt fire run past his tongue and into the back of his throat. He exhaled, blowing a large cloud of mist. “Holy shit.”

     “Damn right. That’s the good stuff.” Bill took a sip of his own. “Now, I know you must feel like a stranger here, but James told us you don’t have anywhere else to be for the holidays. You’re welcome with us, and you’re not imposing.”

     Nick didn’t like the sound of that. It sounded warm, fuzzy and foreign. “I don’t—”

     “Or, you can think of it as a place where you can get blind drunk in a corner. Hell, that’s what I plan on doing.” Bill held the cup to his lips and drank deeply, draining what was left of it. “I’ll fix us another cup…”

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If you like what you read, consider checking out our new, free audiodrama, Man of the Mountain. It’s about a man hell bent on maintaining the bigfoot legend, and the tabloid reporter that takes it upon herself to stop him. It’s on all streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher. For a full list of links, check out our Anchor page.

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!

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.

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