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…”

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.”

New Orleans Short Story

I know, It’s been another MIA week with no posting, but this time I’m going to use New Orleans as my excuse. I was just there for seven days taking in the sights and working a bit. Luckily, I also got some inspiration to start my sequel to A Man of the Mountain (I know, the titles are rough, but I’m sticking with them). Please enjoy the opening chapter of A Woman of the Swamp, the tale of a not-so-great necromancer in Louisiana.

A Woman of the Swamp

By Ashton Macaulay

“Alright now, repeat it back to me so I know you understand the plan.” Marie’s voice was patient, but stern; it was the only way to get through to the recently reanimated.

“I-Inside,” the man moaned through a mouthful of teeth that were attached only by decaying sinews of what used to be gums. She had broken through the bricks and plaster of his grave just days after his entombment, but moisture and heat made short work of flesh. Even the night air was thick, pooling in drops on her skin. One of the man’s eyes wandered off to the side, focusing a trombone player setting up on the corner, just below a sign that read First one’s free at the Snappin’ Turtle.

“Hey!” she snapped, waving a bejeweled hand in front of his face. “Focus. What are you going to do once you’re inside?” The street corner they stood on was dim, but it was only a matter of time before one of the passing drunks would notice. She also longed for the sanctum that was her air-conditioned loft. The dark robes she wore were hotter than Hell (she suspected anyway), but tourists tipped better when she looked legitimate.

“I,” the zombie stammered. “I… Eat brains!” His mottled mouth curled into a wide grin and he clapped his crooked hands together with a sickening squish.

Marie ran a hand through her long, dark hair, beginning to rethink the steps that had gotten her to this point. “Fuck it,” she sighed, I’ll steal it myself. You just go wait over there.” She pointed to a bench under a broken street lamp. “Spell should wear off in ten minutes and you’ll just be another John Doe curled up for his last rest in a gutter.”

“John,” repeated the zombie, mindlessly.

Screw this. Marie turned the zombie toward the bench and shoved him hard on the back. “How dare you try to touch me, pervert!”

A couple passing by looked at the stumbling man in disgust and flashed Marie a quick thumbs up. They continued without a second thought to the recently dead man eyeing them from the darkness. The trombonist had been joined by a few other band members, and together they started to play.

Satisfied that the zombie was out of the public eye, she set off with her heart racing. “Guess it’s your turn,” she whispered and pulled out a jar of spiders from her robes. Despite her fear of the wretched creatures, they were discreet when they needed to be. The walls of the French Quarter were thin, and no one would hesitate to call the cops on another crazy trying to break into the Voodoo Museum.

Carefully, she unscrewed the lid on the jar, making sure to keep her hand firmly pressed against the top. She cringed as she brought her lips close to the edge and began to whisper. “Scuttle under the door, find a key, but don’t touch anything.” Despite wanting to break in, Marie still held a great respect for the craft. In fact, had she not been kicked out for trying to study the darker arts, her path might have led her to a practitioner’s position. Revenge was a fickle beast.

Pretending to stumble slightly, Marie dropped the glass onto the cracked concrete. The shattering sound would garner no notice from the neighbors. People only called the cops for break-ins or assaults, everything else was thought to just be the remnants of Bourbon street. From the remains of the jar, four jet black spiders smoldered into existence and scrambled toward the Voodoo Museum.

After the last had slipped through the door, Marie moved aside and waited under the flickering light of a gas lantern. There was an audible click, and the door swung open. “Return to me,” whispered Marie to the spiders. The four creatures skittered from the darkness and into the street. “Damnit, return to me.” She reached her hand out and muttered a brief incantation.

The largest spider gazed at her with its beady eyes for a moment as if considering the proposition, and then scuttled away with an angry chitter. The others were quick to follow, heading toward the moaning corpse of the zombie in the opposite gutter.

Marie sighed. The spiders had taken her months to acquire and hours of pouring through dusty old books. Replacing them would be no easy feat. Brushing her hair aside, she stepped through the now open door and into the gloom of the museum.

Short Story – Afterlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well yeah,” Gary stammered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Disqualified?” Gary’s eyes grew white.

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

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

Chadpocalypse 1:4

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

Parts 1-2

Part 3

4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll make it to the show.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not exactly…”

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

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

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

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

“Well…”

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

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