A Man of the Mountain – The Light of the Morning

Below is the latest chapter from A Man of the Mountain, the prequel to my first novel, Whiteout, which just released. It tells the story of a man who just wants to keep the Bigfoot legend alive and the monster hunters who want to stop him.

For those who want to read Whiteout, it’s out now on all platforms and currently holds a 4.5/5 on GoodReads with 22 reviews in so far! Order below and share my work if you like it! It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited members!

Order Here

OK, end plug, here’s the story

Need to catch up on Man of the Mountain? Links to Chapter 1 2,   3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9

11. The Light of the Morning

A light chill had crept into the air as Shirley and Nick arrived at the forestry center. Bright sunlight filtered through the trees, cutting radiant beams in the early-morning fog. Sets, cameras, and lights had all been broken down and strapped to a series of interns who looked more overburdened than yaks in the Himalayas. With their backs bent, they looked to be regretting their summer employment decisions. All told, there were about twenty people ready to head up the mountain. To both Nick and Shirley’s dismay, there was no sight of Mansen.

“That prick better show up,” stuttered Nick, halfway through a gulp from his ‘water’ bottle.

“Should you really be drinking right now?” Shirley’s eyes watered as she caught a brief whiff of whatever was inside the container.

“If the beast is what I think it is, I’m going to want to be good and buzzed when we find it.” He cocked an eye at Shirley, and then apologetically offered, “You want some?” He held the bottle out to her.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

Nick looked at her, very confused. “Ever?”

“Ever.” Shirley had spent years trying to avoid the specter of alcoholism that came with depression and had so far been very successful. She might have been the only dry member of the Local Eye staff.

“Suit yourself.” Nick shook the confusion off and fished around in his bag. Eventually, he pulled out a pistol that could only be described as dainty. “You ever use one of these?”

Shirley couldn’t help but laugh at him. “No.”

“Well, it’s quite—”

`    Shirley lifted the corner of her jacket, unclipped the holster at her side and drew a significantly larger handgun. “If you pulled that on a bear, it might laugh you to death.”

Nick held the pistol limply, trying not to look too envious.

“This,” she pointed the pistol at the ground, looking down the iron sights, “would stop anything in its tracks.”

Nick reddened. “Bet it doesn’t have holy water in it,” he mumbled.

“Do bears care about holy water?”

“Ah piss off anyway,” he grumbled. “Where is Mansen?” He straightened, looking for a target of ridicule that wasn’t himself.

The cast and crew milled about, trying not to garner Nick’s attention. It seemed that word of what happened to the last production assistant that crossed him traveled fast.

Nick looked as though he might sprint and throttle one of them again, but luckily, Mansen appeared just in time.

He might as well have walked straight out of a camping store commercial. While the equipment was clearly brand new, it had been made up to look scuffed and worn. The signs were clear to Shirley, but on camera, they would be hardly noticeable. If there was one thing Mansen was good at, it was presentation.

He strode to the middle of the campground, motioning for a camera to follow him as he did. “Alright, thanks to everyone who stuck around. This is without a doubt going to be one of the most dangerous shoots we’ve ever been on.” He looked the camera dead in the lens cementing the fact. “There have been some accusations that we aren’t brave enough to go after the beast, or that our entire operation is a fraud.” He waved a hand flippantly in Nick’s direction. “Today we prove these rumors to be nothing but a pack of lies.”

As Mansen droned on, Nick turned to Shirley. “You have to admit, he’s good in front of a camera.”

Shirley shrugged. “I guess if we run into a TV exec up there pretending to be Bigfoot, we’ll be in good hands.”

An eternity later, Mansen’s speech ended, and it was time for the real work to commence. His booming bravado didn’t stop for a second. “Let’s get moving, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today.” He sounded and looked like a 1900s explorer leading a group of adventurers into the bush. It was the all khaki everywhere that sold the image.

In the distance, storm clouds were building, and Shirley made a note to keep an eye on them. She was always prepared and had packed for the worst of weather, but the rest of the team looked like they could handle a flake or two at the most. Forecasts in Clearwater were notorious for changing at a moment’s notice. The weatherman always said it was due to the mountain range masking the patterns, but most of the town figured it was his drinking. At the forestry center, the temperature was already at zero. It would warm throughout the day, but come evening, they might be in trouble.  “Those storm clouds could be an issue.” She pointed them out to Nick.

He looked up at them with a sense of unease. “Think we can handle them?”

“I think we can ride them out if we have to, but if we get caught in a storm, sitting in a tent is about all we’re going to accomplish until it passes.”

Nick tapped a flask at his side. “Good thing I brought this then.”

“Is there anything you solve without drinking?”

Nick scratched his chin, as if preparing to answer and then turned his attention to Mansen instead. He walked just close enough to be sure that one of the main sound technicians would capture him. “Better get moving if you want to beat that storm.” Immediately, two interns who had been shooting b-roll pointed their cameras skyward to capture the impending threat.

Mansen scowled. “What’s the matter? Afraid of a light dusting?”

Nick looked back at the clouds. Even he knew they were much darker than a light dusting, but if Mansen was going, he was going. “If our fearless leader thinks we can make it, then I’ve got all the faith in the world.” Nick cocked a ridiculous smile at the nearest camera and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Mansen practically growled at the idea of sharing his camera time. “Let’s not lose this daylight,” he shouted. The crew chugged into motion like an old locomotive and started up the trail.

Shirley hustled to catch up to the front of the line, not wanting to miss any of the action, but Nick held her back. “Easy there,” he said, slowing her pace until they were being passed by even the slowest crew members. He waited until every one of them had filed onto the trail and then fell into step at the end of the line.

“I would have thought you’d be in a dick swinging contest to lead the group,” she mocked in genuine surprise.

Nick smiled. “Oh, I never travel at the front of the line. All that stuff in movies about stragglers getting picked off is just propaganda to inspire courage.” He whistled. “Yup, if there’s a beast up there, I want to make sure Mansen runs into it first. Besides, we’ll have a better chance of finding sign back here if we’re not being hassled by all of those god-damned interns.” He said the last line loudly and with venom. One of the young men carrying sound equipment just ahead of them flinched. Nick laughed, “Too easy.”

What was initially excited chatter from the crew about finally doing something real was quickly extinguished by the exhaustion that came from carrying an entire film set uphill. The lower trails of Clearwater Mountain were easy enough, but getting anywhere near the summit even with minimal gear was an exhausting task. Accomplished mountaineers would have laughed at the sweat and toil of the crew, but to them, it might as well have been Everest.

As the group crested a particularly steep set of switchbacks, Nick stopped off to the side of the trail, panting. He set his pack down. The line continued to move ahead, taking no notice.

“What’s a matter, tired?” Asked Shirley.

Nick bent down, ignoring her and examined something clinging to the bark of a tree. How he had seen it was a mystery. From a distance, it looked like any other moss or lichen, and for a moment Shirley thought he was simply stalling for a reason to catch his breath.

“That’s very interesting,” he murmured, reaching into his bag and pulling out a large leather-bound book.

“No wonder you’re exhausted. What on earth possessed you to bring that?”

“Possession had nothing to do with it.” He flipped through the pages. Eventually, he reached one with a sketch of a tall ape-like creature easily recognizable as sasquatch. He skimmed the lines with his finger, holding the moss next to the book for identification. “Are there any native tribes in the area?”

Shirley scuffed her shoes in the dirt. “Not anymore. Townsfolk drove them out years ago.”

“Drove them out?” asked Nick, pushing the small sample into a plastic-lined pocket of his backpack and snapping the book shut.

“Clearwater wasn’t exactly hospitable.”

“Oh good.” Nick shouldered his pack. “So, I suppose the hope of a cultural center would be folly.”

“We’ve got one about logging.”

“Wonderful, if we have to deal with a chainsaw-wielding spirt, we’ll be in luck.” Nick picked up the pace and hustled to catch the back of the line once more. It wasn’t hard at the languid pace they were making.

Shirley walked beside him. “What was that you found?”

“We are meant to believe it’s fur.” His voice grew distant.

“Meant to believe?”

“I haven’t ruled out the genuine article yet, but I see no reason that clump would have gotten stuck on that tree. It’s far too obvious. I think we were meant to find it.”

Shirley thought the sample would have been difficult to notice by anyone who hadn’t been paying the closest attention. “Why would anyone want to leave a fake sample?”

“Fame, glory, make the History Channel look like an idiot after the episode is released.” Nick sounded as if he were relishing the option. “Sounds like something I might do. If I had my analysis kit with me, we could find out for sure, but,” he motioned to the bag on his back with a slight groan, “as you said, too much weight.” Nick readjusted his pack and let out a long sigh. “I really thought we might find a sasquatch up here, but looks like it might just be another pretender.”

Shirley felt an all-too-familiar unhappiness rising inside her. “These attacks are very real,” she snapped, immediately regretting the tone. “Sorry.”

If Nick had taken offense, he didn’t show it. “I have no doubt about that, I’ve seen the photos.” Nick stopped to examine Shirley for a second. “Who did you know that was killed?” He crossed his arms.

“I’m sorry?”

“Mother, brother, father, sister, lover? Which was it?” Nick watched her expression closely with each suggestion.

At even the mention of it, Shirley felt a tingling begin at the back of her spine. Aw shit. Without warning, it felt like someone had gripped her chest in a vice. Pain lanced up her right arm. With numb fingers, she pulled out the small orange bottle she kept in her pocket and put one of the pills under her tongue. She could feel the forest closing in around her and struggled to stay on her feet. It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack. Slowly, she sunk to one knee, trying to keep her breathing in check.

Around her, the sounds of the forest disappeared, replaced with the frantic beating of her heart, and a thousand shouting voices telling her that she was about to die. Ever since the incident, Shirley had been unable to cope with even the mention of it. Her panic attacks had become less frequent, but that was mostly due to her avoidance of the subject. Most people in town knew what had happened, or thought she was a lunatic and never spoke to her.

Nick dropped the all-knowing act immediately and knelt next to her. “Are you alright?” Genuine concern had crept into his voice.

Shirley tried to speak but could only manage a stammer. Eventually she said, “She was very close to me. I don’t talk about it.” That was it. Even saying the words caused the crime scene images to play before her like an old film reel. The trees had been covered in her, and there had just been so much blood. STOP! she thought, loudly, and the memories began to quiet.

“I’m sorry.” The words came out like he had never said them before. “You should have told me this was personal. I just thought you were insane.”

Shirley laughed. “Well, you weren’t wrong.”

Nick helped pull her to her feet, and they rejoined the back of the line once more.

After a while, Shirley felt her heart rate slow, and was back in her daily rhythm. When she had caught her breath, she resumed the conversation. “What else could possibly be doing this?”

“A lot of things when you think about it. Victims have been decapitated, slashed, mauled, you name it. The only consistency is the brutality.” Nick winced, remembering the sensitivity of the situation, but did not apologize.

Shirley didn’t mind. She preferred brutal honesty to people walking on egg shells around her. “And the presence of four claws,” she reminded him. The thought brought a slight grimace to her face.

“Right, and the claw marks. It certainly does fit the bill of a territorial dispute, but without any knowledge from the people that were here first, we have no way of knowing. Sasquatch will stay in one region their entire life, which can be hundreds of years. That’s why there are so few of them left. Even when pioneers came with muskets, torches and colonization, the sasquatch stayed in the same spot, choosing to fight and die rather than leave.” There was a low melancholy respect for the beast in his words.

A light snow began to fall around them.

“Well this is sooner than expected,” said Nick, sticking his tongue out cheerily.

Shirley looked up at the clouds, dismayed. “That’s not good. If the storm is moving that quickly, it’s going to be a big one.”

“Something our pal up front should know about?”

Shirley groaned. “Probably.”

“Well then, let’s pay him a visit.”

Mansen was slick with sweat despite the cold and barking at anybody who bothered to distract him from the monumental task of putting one foot in front of the other. Cameramen buzzed around him like flies, no doubt shooting footage that would later be cut to preserve Mansen’s pristine reputation. Next to him was a young woman with a map, looking far less exhausted, and far more excited.

“How much farther?” he panted at her.

“We should be about halfway to the falls by now.”

The trails were still clear, but on the sides, they began to see piles of snow from the last storm. The farther up they got, the more snowpack there would be, and the harder the hike was going to get. Unfortunately, the trails also got steeper just before the falls.

“Halfway?” Mansen sounded defeated.

“Well, it’s about to get a lot harder if this storm keeps up,” said Nick jovially, jogging to the front of the line.

“Jesus Christ, why are you here?”

“I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell you, Mansen, I might be better than you, but I am not the son of—”

“Shut it. I don’t have time for your childish games today.”

A cameraman moved up close beside them, wanting to capture the confrontation.

“Well, you see,” started Nick, and then Shirley cut in.

“At the rate this storm is moving, we’re going to be stuck in a full-on blizzard by nightfall.”

“Well it’s a good thing we brought all this gear then,” huffed Mansen.

Shirley scowled. “I don’t think you understand. Most people would turn back—”

Mansen let out a superior laugh, cold and high, echoing off the trees around them. “Clearly you’ve never operated on a schedule Ms. Codwell. I don’t suspect the tabloid enforces them.”

Shirley balled her fist up, ready to strike him. The cameraman zoomed to it.

“No, we are not turning around, we are nearly there. If it’s going to snow, then we’ll find the beast in a whiteout. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. Now, kindly fuck off to somewhere that isn’t next to me.”

Shirley was ready to argue more, but Nick pulled her back. Together they waited for the line to pass and once more began to bring up the rear.

“So, we’ve got what we need to survive the storm?” asked Nick, looking for reassurance.

“Yes, but it won’t be comfortable. Do we have what we need to survive whatever is out there?”

Nick began counting his fingers and mumbling something about holy powder.

“Nick?”

He looked up as if completely forgetting the question.

“Can we survive it?”

“Probably!” He exclaimed. “Better odds than I have most of the time anyway.” He rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Oh, this is going to be fun. I love camping.”


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A Man of the Mountain – The Spiral

Below is the latest chapter from A Man of the Mountain, the prequel to my first novel, Whiteout, which just released. It tells the story of a man who just wants to keep the Bigfoot legend alive and the monster hunters who want to stop him.

For those who want to read Whiteout, it’s out now on all platforms and currently holds a 4.5/5 on GoodReads with 22 reviews in so far! Order below and share my work if you like it! It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited members!

Order Here

OK, end plug, here’s the story

Need to catch up on Man of the Mountain? Links to Chapter 1 2,   3, 4, 5, 6, 7,

9. The Spiral

The hike down the mountain had taken hours, but the return trip passed by in a series of blurs. Miles were gone in seconds, and half the time, Jonas barely felt in control of his own feet. A red tint had come over his world, casting everything in dim light. He tried to keep up the guise of being just another hiker on the trail, but with each passing minute, it became more difficult. Primal instincts surged just behind his eyes, telling him to run, slash, and hunt down those who threatened him. He thought of Mansen’s smug face and had to stifle a howl.

Going down there was a mistake. I left town for a reason. Hearing Mansen debunked so flippantly felt like a bullet to the chest. Hell, maybe a bullet would have been easier. In less than five minutes, the man who had been his idol had been brought lower than low. Had Mansen been accused by anyone else, Jonas might have been able to deny it, but not Shirley. Hearing her frustration with the man made it all the worse. Not only was Mansen making a mockery of the legend, he was disrespecting the only people willing to tell the truth.

Jonas’s body was a raging furnace, each breath feeling like the vent of a volcanic fissure. Hardly noticing, he stepped off the main trail and onto the paths only he knew. His legs were numb and mechanical, continuing to move without any real effort. After a mile or so, nearly to the cabin, he checked his surroundings to ensure there were no cameras, and no curious hikers. Satisfied, he let out a roar of rage and anguish, and fell to his knees. He beat his hands into the melting snow until he reached the forest floor. The impact of his fists on the soft earth beneath felt righteous. He smashed and pounded until his blood poured from his knuckles and his joints were swollen. Tears ran down his cheeks, carving clean lines in the dirt.

The television special was supposed to bring renown and grounding to the legend, but instead, it would become a joke. Mansen was supposed to be a member of a secret society, not the laughing stock of it. Eventually, Jonas’s adrenaline waned and weary exhaustion flooded his limbs. Lances of pain shot through his beaten hands. Through his anger for Mansen, he began to see images of Nick Ventner. It was a silver lining through the haze of pain, anger, and fatigue. Mansen might not be the hunter Jonas needed to face, but Nick might be. Jonas had seen the pistol concealed on Nick’s right hip and how he had casually dropped his hand to it when approached. If nothing else, he knew about the legend, and had some training.

The thought gave him the will to stand. Jonas pushed himself to his feet wincing with every ounce of pressure on his hands. That was a dumb thing to do. He looked at his bruised knuckles, blood oozing from the places he had beaten raw. There’s still so much work to be done. Jonas walked to a snowbank and shoved his hands into it. Icy tendrils of beautiful, numbing pain worked their way through him. The mountain provided, and he would provide for it. The legend wasn’t going to die, it was going to grow.

I have been given a gift, he reasoned. In the end, Rick was going to be a far easier kill than previously anticipated. There was still the issue of getting past his crew, but Jonas hardly spared them a thought. The real challenge was going to be taking down Nick. Two high profile kills in one day. Even if he died and was exposed, he would go down as the man who was dedicated to the legend above all else. Who knows? Maybe Shirley will write about it.

When his hands were sufficiently numb, Jonas removed them. The air might have been cold, but it felt like the breath of a dragon. His fingers thawed, and steam rose off them into the chilled air. With each passing moment, he felt righteous purpose building. There was still work to be done, and glory to be had. A fight was coming whether Mansen deserved it or not. One way or another, the legend would be made in a few days’ time.

Reinvigorated, Jonas trudged back in the direction of the cabin. As he approached it, he immediately noticed a package far larger than the usual drop. His employers had always stuck to the routine, and anything that broke it was suspicious. With some trepidation, he approached the parcel and tried to pick it up. He managed, but it was far heavier than what he was used to. He half carried, half dragged the box into the entryway of the cabin and shut the door behind him. He unclipped the knife from his belt and sliced through the tape to open it.

The first thing he noticed was a large sheet of yellow paper with a note scrawled on it. Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Sounds like Mansen is going to be coming up the mountain soon. You know what to do. Hopefully these gifts will help you level the playing field.

     Cheers, Management.

P.S. Good to see you getting into town a little bit. I hope you will take the liberty again in one year’s time. Until then, stay on the mountain, there’s work to do.

Any trepidation he had felt evaporated. The note cemented exactly what it was he needed to do. Clearly his employers also knew there was going to be a fight, and if this wasn’t tacit approval, he didn’t know what was. Unable to contain his excitement, Jonas began pulling out the contents of the box one-by-one. Christmas had come early.

It was an entirely new set of gear. The suit he pulled out was far thicker and appeared to have a layer of Kevlar beneath it. It was the closest thing to bullet-proof he was going to get. Next, there was a set of claws made to look like bone. Silver glinted beneath the ivory white curves of each nail. Shining razor edges had been embedded beneath them. It was light and allowed for more movement than the older model. The rest of the gear followed suit with higher functionality and theming than the suit he had previously worn. The final addition nearly took his breath away.

At the very bottom of the box was a full headpiece. It had been molded to sport a long, pronounced, forehead, overgrown with fur, followed by deep-set eyes and a mean jaw. The effect was so lifelike that it looked as though it could have been severed from the actual shoulders of a sasquatch. Jonas held it in his hands with great care and lowered it onto his head. Initially, there was pitch black inside, but after a few seconds, screens illuminated where the eyeholes would have been. The dark interior of his cabin lit up in shades of red and blue.

Jonas raised a hand in front of him and marveled at the white-hot center, fading to red around the edges. A wave of deep gratitude swept over him. No one had ever given him such a gift. The playing field hadn’t just been leveled, it had been flipped. Mansen isn’t going to stand a chance…


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Upcoming Projects

Hello everyone! I know, it’s been very quiet around here lately, so I wanted to give you an update on what’s going on with my various projects. While nothing is getting posted to the site, I’ve been writing like a madman. I’ll start with pieces that are the closest to being finished and move on from there.

Whiteout [Samples Here]

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Aside from the snazzy new logo, we’ve also finished the final proofread! What does that mean? It means that once we get the final copies of the book back, we’re going to be sending it off to our advanced reviewers and putting up our pre-order page. It also means that sometime in the next few months, this book is going to be published! For those who backed Whiteout through our GoFundMe campaign, you can expect to receive your copy and rewards a little before release. Looking forward to sharing an official release date soon.

Chadpocalypse [Samples Here]

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My first run at Book 1 of Chadpocalypse is now complete, and the links to all chapters can be found on the post for chapter 13. I plan on going to make a reference page for easier navigation at some point, but I’m not quite there yet. Now, Book 1 ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so, what’s next? Before I begin on Book 2, I want to go back through Book 1, rewrite the first few chapters as they are very short (I had no idea Chad’s story was going to be so long), and then give the rest a final pass-over. Book 2 will likely be something I work on in the background over the next year or so, so expect updates as I make my way through it.

Downpour

I don’t have a working logo for this one yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I know, Whiteout isn’t even out yet, and I’m working on the sequel. The fact is, I’ve written three Nick Ventner books already, and am too excited to stop the process. I won’t say much about the plot to avoid spoilers, but Downpour follows Nick on an adventure through South America as he searches for the mythical Temple of the Dead. There’s plenty of interesting monsters based on real and altered legends that are going to get in his way, and I couldn’t be more excited about where the book is at! Currently, I’ve finished the first five chapters of the Downpour rewrite, and look forward to sharing some samples after Whiteout hits the shelves later this year.

Ghosting [Part 1 Here]

Ghosting is my tribute to my Uncle Dick who donated a considerable amount to the Whiteout Crowdfunding campaign. He’s a big fan of sci-fi, and so I started writing a hard-boiled, detective, Bladerunner-esque story for him. Ghosting follows the story of Detective Dick, who has joined the fabled Ghost Program. This is a small group of people recruited to solve murders by using new technology to live through the eyes of the deceased. I’m in progress on Part 2 of this story right now, and will likely share it in the next few weeks. I’m not sure how long the final product will be, so I guess I’ll just have to see how long it takes Dick to solve the case of the Rabbit Man and get back to you.

The Stakes – A Nick Ventner Tale

If Whiteout and Downpour are Nick Ventner Adventures, then short stories like The Lake and The Tracks are Nick Ventner tales. I like to think of these stories as one-off ramblings that Nick would tell to get a few free drinks at his favorite bar, The Haven. The Stakes sees Nick recounting the hubris of his youth (yes, there used to be even more hubris), and an encounter with vampires in the American north. I’d say I’m almost done with Part I, and it will be a two part story. Expect to see this one after I post the second part of Ghosting.

A Man of the Mountain [Samples Here]

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Finally, we’ve got Nick Ventner Adventures, Nick Ventner Tales, and then a novella that I wrote a while back that sees Nick hunting a very odd sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. This story deserves a proper rewrite, and I definitely want to do it, but it’s a little lower on the priority list right now. All the same, I can’t wait to jump back into it when I get the chance. Likewise, I can’t wait to make a logo that’s a little less blocky.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks everyone for reading and for supporting me as I work on getting my first novel out. I can’t wait to share more with you.

–Ashton

Chadpocalypse 1:8

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

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

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

chadpocalypse

1:8 Hound on the Highway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About what?”

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

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

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

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

“Then we’re both dead men.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you reading the fucking Bible?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Great, a drunk, and unprepared.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chad looked at the priest knowingly.

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

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

“It’s working!” shouted Chad.

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

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

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

“Praise god, it’s gone.”

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

“Still you blaspheme?”

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

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

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

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

“Real paragon of good you are.”

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

“If you wreck this car.”

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

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

Fifty feet. They were twenty feet away.

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

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.”