Cannery Row – A Review in Brief

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cannery row is less of a story and more of a description of a place in time. Steinbeck describes a coastal town with incredible detail using a constantly shifting perspective, examining the town through the eyes of a given person or place. It takes a few chapters to get used to, but as time went on, I felt like I got to know the setting better than most other works. Even in the short 181-page length, the author builds a memorable cast of characters and paints a thorough picture of their day-to-day lives. If you’re looking for a story, Cannery Row has a few, but none of them are central to the book’s purpose. Instead, Steinbeck makes the setting the main character, and its evolution through a short span of time the plot. It’s a very unique read, and I highly recommend it.

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Review in Brief – Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (Grim Reaper, #2)

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Dirty Job is one of my favorite books I’ve read in recent memory, meaning the bar for Secondhand Souls was impossibly high for the jump. The story picks up right where A Dirty Job left off, and is at its most interesting in the first half. While the book focuses on the same characters, it ends up feeling like some of them lose their depth in favor of leaning more heavily into tropes. It’s unfortunate, because I love Charlie Asher so much, but he feels a little short-changed in the sequel. Fortunately, the new characters introduced for the sequels are standouts, with the villain, Lemon being one of my favorites.

The story is fun and intriguing, but ultimately feels handicapped by its conclusion. The book wraps up at a blinding pace with a bit of an anti-climactic showdown and ends up feeling a bit hollow. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the last third of the book, but overall, the story was still enjoyable.

For fans of A Dirty Job, I’d definitely recommend picking it up. If nothing else, it gives more time with the characters we’ve come to love and has Moore’s trademark humor.

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Home for the Holidays (5)

Hey everyone, apologies that it took so long to get this chapter out, but I was spending time with my family and didn’t find much time to write. If you’re enjoying the story, consider checking out my free audio drama A Man of the Mountain. The first four episodes are streaming for free on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and most other streaming platforms! Also, if you are enjoying the story, please let me know by commenting hear or sending me a message on Twitter!

Links to Catch upChapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3 /Chapter 4

Chapter 5 – A Holiday Miracle

Nick slipped and slid his way to the car and fumbled with the ancient trunk. With the freezing cold and the decrepit state of the vehicle, it felt more akin to opening a tomb. The ground shook with thunderous footsteps as the second beast stomped its way out of the house. Despite the cold, sweat ran in rivulets down Nick’s back. “Come on you bastard, open up.” He kicked at the trunk’s lock and it sprung open with a pained groan.

James fired his shotgun again and the cacophony it made was swallowed up by the howling wind that had grown around them. The beast responded with an aggravated roar. Nick looked up from the trunk just in time to see the second wendigo advancing on James. It was larger than the first, and horrible spurs of bone poked through the ragged skin on its back. The creature crossed the distance from the house to James in a few short strides, gripped the barrel of the shotgun and bent it backwards with great, rending force.

“Do you have any idea how much that cost?” asked James, backing away from the creature.

The wendigo chuckled and then spoke in a voice that echoed through several ethereal planes at once. “It’s a small price to pay for what you did to my partner.” The creature held a long and deadly finger out towards the fried wendigo hanging off the roof. “By my mark, you’ve still got a balance for me to collect.”

“Hey, Nick, they talk.” James’s voice was dazed and full of fear.

     “Great, kid, keep him busy!” Nick swept aside holy symbols, a few landmines and a jar of holy water to pop open the trunk’s side panel. Harpoons spilled out, clattering far louder than he would have liked. He picked one up, hands shaking and tried to jam it in the barrel. “Of all the fucking times to get the shakes!” He slammed his hand down on the metal siding of the car, trying to beat the tremor out.  

     “I’ll deal with you in a minute,” called the wendigo in a strange warbling tone.

     Each word vibrated the edges of Nick’s skull, making it feel as though they could crack at any moment. He peaked out from behind the trunk and saw James firmly in the creature’s grasp, growing paler by the moment. The Wendigo looked at James, curious, like a dog about to rip a chew toy to shreds. Nick clenched his fist, trying to keep it steady and jammed a harpoon in the barrel of the rifle. There was a hiss of gas filling the firing chamber and he breathed a brief sigh of relief.

     The wendigo made a strange, high-pitched whistle that carried through the wind as if it weren’t there.

     “Hey, can you keep it down?” shouted Nick. “You’ll wake the neighbors and I have a raging hangover.” He shouldered the harpoon rifle and pointed it at the creature.

     The wendigo turned to him. “Really? Can’t wait your turn?” It flung James without ceremony into the garage door where he crumpled, motionless.

     Nick took a deep breath, steadying the rifle as the wendigo approached. The creature cocked its head inquisitively as if it weren’t staring down the barrel of a weapon. It took a few more lumbering steps and Nick couldn’t wait any longer. He closed his finger around the trigger and let the harpoon fly. With the short distance, it had less time to curve and stuck right between the creature’s ribs.

     The wendigo growled, low and angry, then reached a hand down and plucked the harpoon out. Black blood oozed from the wound, but otherwise, it seemed unaffected. It chuckled. “I thought I asked you to wait.”

     Nick bent down to pick up another harpoon, but the creature moved with surprising speed. By the time his fingers were closing around the shaft, it had him. A cold, clawed hand wrapped around his chest and squeezed, pushing all the air out of his lungs. Holiday stars danced at the edges of his vision, twirling and spinning in a dazzling display of fading consciousness.

     The wendigo turned him, so that Nick was looking at the still-smoldering corpse of the other beast. “Any idea how long we’ve been together?” asked the wendigo in a deep, gravelly voice.

     Nick tried to answer, but nothing more than a wheeze came out.

     “It was rhetorical. I come from a long line of creatures just like me, and we all grow up knowing your name. You think we look scary? Imagine what our people think of you.” The creature spat a black gob of something awful into the snow.

     “Thank. You,” managed Nick, seeing spots jump up before his eyes. “Flattered. Very flattered.”

     James groaned in the snow, trying to make his way over to them.

     “Don’t even think about it, child. Try to relax, it’ll all be over soon.”

     A black tunnel closed in on the edges of Nick’s vision, chasing the features of the snowy world around him away.

     “Oh no, you’re not getting off that easy.” The wendigo loosened its grip, allowing sweet oxygen to flood Nick’s lungs.

     “Five pages,” Nick panted. “Five pages, and never once did he mention wendigos love god-damned monologuing.”

     The creature clucked its tongue and turned Nick to face it. The stink of decay and rot was overpowering, and Nick watched as a maggot circled the inside of the beast’s eye. “You don’t like creatures like me, do you?” The wendigo’s voice was soft and almost playful.

     “No shit, Sherlock. Don’t have to be a psychic being to figure that out.” Nick tried to look away from the rotting face, but it kept moving to be in his eyeline.

     “Let’s take a look at what we have in store for you.” The creature’s eyes glowed hot like fire.

     James found his feet and ran towards the wendigo, knife in one hand. With a lazy sweep, the wendigo batted him away and sent him crashing into the car door. “Please, stop trying to do that. You got lucky with my partner.”

     James moaned and then fell still.

     The wendigo huffed. “Now, back to business.” The glow in its eyes grew to a fiery, deep red and Nick felt it burning into his own gaze. It was a strange feeling, like a hot poker had been shoved in the back of his brain. He could feel something reaching backward through memories and then forward through a substance he couldn’t quite understand.

     An image of a mountaintop covered in blood flashed before his eyes. Liquid dripped down the pristine white slopes, carving deep, red trenches down its side. The image changed and he was sitting in his childhood body, hiding underneath a table while a thunderous shouting match played out overhead. He could feel the fear as if it were happening in the present moment rather than a memory. The scene shifted a final time, filling the air with the hot, sickly stink of the jungle. Insects buzzed about around and his skin felt like it was on fire.

     “My, my,” the wendigo exhaled heavily, breathing the cold fury of a winter storm back into Nick’s world. Disappointment and malice flickered across the creature’s face, vying for dominance.

     “What the hell was that?” gasped Nick, his heart pounding furiously.

     “I’m in a bit of a quandary here, Mr. Ventner. While killing you would bring me great joy, your future holds so much pain. It would be a shame to rob you of it.” The wendigo’s body shuddered as it took a contemplative breath.

     “Get it over with you Ghost of Christmas Past, Dickensian fuck.” Nick spat bile and blood into the snow.

     “A decision like this requires deliberation.” The red glow in the wendigo’s eyes darkened. The horrible stench of its breath enveloped every word. “No, I think you should live, Mr. Ventner.” The words clearly caused the creature great pain. “You will live to experience the horrors I have just seen.”

     “Well, I wish I could say that was true for both of us.”

     The wendigo recoiled as James pushed the barrel of a pistol against the back of its neck.

     “Stronger than he looks,” commented Nick and shut his eyes tight.

     “And I always pack a spare.” James couldn’t help but grin. “Bend this.” He pulled the trigger, spewing red hot fire and a thermite-loaded, hollow point slug from the end of the pistol’s barrel. The wendigo’s surprise quickly turned to pain as its skin melted away, exploding outward. Fire and blood coated the fresh, white snow.

     Nick felt the creature’s claw loosen just as warm goo blanketed him in an all-too-familiar, unpleasant fashion. He fell backward, landing hard on the driveway. The wind went out of him. Stars flashed in the darkness of his closed eyes, but they quickly faded as he regained his breath. With a freezing hand, he wiped the gore from his face and opened his eyes.

     The body of the headless wendigo toppled backward and caught fire like a tinderbox. Soon it was blazing on the front lawn like an ancient bon fire. Nick coughed and spluttered, wanting nothing more than to be curled up with a fresh handle back in his flat watching television re-runs. “Bend this? Really?” he managed through labored breaths.

     James wiped bits of wendigo off the end of the pistol with a dirty rag. “It’s a work in progress.”

     “Clearly an early prototype.”

     “Fuck off, Nick. Show a little gratitude.”

     Next door, the neighbor’s front door opened again. “What the hell, Bill? You can’t barbecue on the—” The man stopped mid-sentence, staring at the carnage. With both wendigos dead, there was nothing preventing him from seeing it all. Once corpse still smoldered, hanging from the roof, and the other decorated the lawn in horrifying globs and bits. “I-I-“ he started, and faltered. “Martha, call the police!” He slammed the front door.

     “That’s our cue.” Nick stood up. “James, get the car running.”

     James looked to the car, and to the mess on the front lawn. “Right, probably smart.” Both men did their best to clean off what they could, but the second they climbed into the sedan, it was clear, some smells would never leave. James turned the key and the engine guttered to life. “Small miracles,” he said.

     “This is why we never do charity work.” In the absence of immediate pressing danger, a furious pain returned to Nick temples. “Let’s head back to my flat. I’d say we’ve each earned a bottle after this.”

     James looked out the window as they backed away. Childhood memories of the house and time spent with his aunt and uncle flooded back. “Yeah, a bottle sounds nice.” He stepped on the gas and they sped out of the suburbs. Houses flashed by in a blur and as they neared the freeway, James saw the pulsing red and blue lights of police cars. “Wonder how they’re going to explain that.”

     Nick sighed. “Oh, they’ll find a way.” He put his head against the cold window. “Mutated bears from a nuclear test site is my bet.”

     James scoffed. “You really think they’ll buy that?”

     “People will believe anything to avoid a scarier truth.” Nick watched the flakes fall out of the sky and thought about what the wendigo had seen. Enough pain to let me live. Only one way to chase off a prophecy like that. “James, let’s get a road beer along the way. The Haven has to be open.”

     James shook his head. “Whatever you say, master.” There was heavy sarcasm, but also obedience in the words. Despite his best efforts, the apprentice was learning.     

     “Wake me when we get there.” Nick shut his eyes.

     “Sure thing.”

     “And James,” Nick started, nearly falling into sleep mid-sentence, “happy holidays.”

The End

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Home for the Holidays (3)

We’re getting very close to Christmas now, and what’s better to spread holiday cheer than a story about Wendigos and a sweet, old couple in the suburbs? Enter Chapter 3 of my newest Nick Ventner tale, Home for the Holidays. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1/Chapter 2!

Excuse the makeshift cover art!

If you’re an artist and are feeling this story, please send halp for this cover!

3 – A Few More Cups

Nick was drunker than he had been in a long time. One of his least favorite parts of lacking income was the inability to get good and truly tossed without a fair share of guilt. Sharing booze with ‘family’, he had no such obligation. From the moment Bill had handed him his first cup, Nick had taken on a singular goal: Forget any misgivings, and possibly the rest of the evening.  

     Luckily for him, it turned out Bill and Marie could really throw them back. What started as a quick game of cards with several convoluted drinking rules he couldn’t remember, quickly turned into a straight drinking contest. The alcohol turned on him before he even noticed, and the room took on the pulsating, spinning blur quality that only existed on the other side of the line.  

     As he sat back in a plush armchair, there wasn’t much else in the world he cared about beyond himself. His fingertips were numb, but there was a fresh cup of something brain-smashing between them. Was there anything else that mattered? An instinct, more than anything, tilted his head to look at James. The kid was curled up under an electric blanket, brooding. His eyes flicked watchfully between the three of them, and Nick felt he was missing something important.   

     When he couldn’t figure it out, Marie took notice and prodded. “What’s going on, James? Don’t want to join in all the festivities?”

     James worked his hands, trying to keep the cold out of them. “Sorry, I think I just had a bad burger or something on the road.”

     Nick looked at him quizzically. Years ago, he had implemented a simple rule: No stopping for apprentices. They hadn’t stopped for burgers anymore than they had traveled through a magical candy-cane village. Nick sipped his drink. Candy canes! That’s what this is made of.

     “Where’s the bathroom again?” asked James. His face looked gaunt in the dim light of the living room.

     Be it imaginary burgers or moodiness, something was wrong with the kid, even Nick could see it. A flash bulb went off in the corner of his mind showing a mess of fur in the snow, but it was gone too quickly to grasp fully. Suspicion crept back into Nick’s booze-addled brain. He couldn’t figure out why, but it was getting stronger every second.   

     “Just down the hall on the first floor. Can’t miss it.” Bill pointed in the direction Nick had been exploring earlier.

     “Thanks, hopefully it’s just indigestion.” James slunk off in the direction of the bathroom looking more melancholy than food sick.  

     “He’s a good kid, you know?” Nick’s words were thick, dripping from his mouth like a decadent sauce. “Always does—” Nick faltered, “mostly does what he’s told. One of the better apprentices I’ve ever had.” James was many things, but he wasn’t a liar. Nick knew there was something to the burger comment, but in his current state of half awareness, he was having more than a little trouble connecting the dots.

     Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Do they have apprentices in accounting now?”

     Nick hiccupped, only half realizing his mistake. “Oh yes, accounting, loads of numbers. Have to get them all figured out somehow, don’t we?” The room was starting to spin. Why was the room starting to spin? Nick’s stomach turned and he felt the horrible rush of bile come bubbling up into his throat. “Oh god, will you excuse me.” Nick took off running for the bathroom. “For the love of god, James, I hope you—” his sentence was cut off by vomit spewing forth from him like a vengeful internal volcano.

     “Oh god, I’m sorry about that, I’ll clean it up!” Nick fell to his knees, holding his head between his hands. A great pain had come barreling back from the corner of consciousness he tried to banish. “Oh god, don’t get sober on me now,” slurred Nick, trying to convince his own brain.

     James stepped out of the bathroom. “I wouldn’t worry about the floor.” His tone was dead and flat.

     “No, come on now, I won’t be a rude house guest.”

     “Too late for that.”

     “Why are you being so pissy, my boy, aren’t we having a good time.”

     “For someone with so many rules, you don’t seem to pay much attention to them.” James pulled a shotgun from behind his back and pumped it, loading a shell.

     “What the fuck?” Nick backed away reflexively and tried to pull the harpoon gun from his jacket. A switch snagged and the weapon extended, pushing through his coat pocket and sending a harpoon flying into the ceiling. Plaster rained down, mixing with Nick’s vomit on the floor and forming a grey-brown slurry. “Oh god, I’ll pay for that too, but in fairness, you did pull a gun on me.”

“I’m not pulling it on you, idiot.”

Nick shook his head. “Wait, then who’s it for? Is Bill a hunter?”

     “Bill and Marie have been sober for over a decade.” James held up Nick’s tome. “You dog-eared the page. Turns out, much like you, wendigos like their liquor.”

     “Wendi-what?” A roar cut through the house and all at once, the lights went out.

     “You just had to make a scene, didn’t you?” James turned on a flashlight attached to the end of the shotgun. “And to think, you didn’t want me to spring for the extra tactical gear.

     “Hey, who’s the apprentice and who’s the?” A clawed hand caught Nick from behind and threw him in the air. He collided with the ceiling, missing the embedded harpoon by inches. The concealed rifle tore the rest of the way through his jacket and clattered down the hallway. Nick landed in a squelching pile of his own sick and the smell almost made him vomit again.  

     Thunder roared through the entryway as James fired the shotgun. Pellets of bright white fire spread out in a cone, briefly illuminating Bill whose eyes glowed red in the darkened house. The pellets ripped through his skin, starting little fires wherever they touched, and spraying brown-black liquid onto the floor.  

     Nick rolled to his side and watched as Bill batted at the fire, his skin tearing where it had touched. From somewhere beneath the human formerly known as Bill, a larger creature began to emerge. His bones creaked, growing and pushing against the taught cover of skin. Fur sprouted in ugly patches, tearing and rending his human form. A horrible crunching filled the room as two bloody elk horns extended from the man’s skull.

     “Ahhhhh!” Screamed Nick. “James, it’s a Krampus!”

     “It’s not a Krampus, dumbass.” James fired another blast from the shotgun. The creature screamed and turned away. With a single, hulking blow, it ran through the front door, sending the weak, wooden rectangle flying off and into the snow storm. Before James could get another shot off, it was out of range and lumbering through the storm.

     “It’s not?” Nick asked, watching the door resentfully. “I’ve always wanted to fight a Krampus.”

     James held up the tome again. “Wendigo, remember?” He shook the book like someone would shake keys for a small toddler.

     Nick vomited again. “Oh, right, right, of course, the wendigo.” He wiped his mouth. “Well, either way, that leaves us with a pretty significant problem.”

     “What’s that?”

     “Well, you’ve pissed one of them off, but where’s his dear partner?”

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Link to Next Chapter!

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.