Peril in the Old Country

Peril in the Old Country

by Sam Hooker

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Overview

What terror lurks in the shadows of the Old Country?

Well, there are the goblins, of course. Then there are the bloodthirsty cannibals from nearby Carpathia, secret societies plotting in whispers, and murder victims found drained of their blood, to name a few. That's to say nothing of the multitude of government ministries, any one of which might haul one off for "questioning" in the middle of the night.

The Old Country is saturated with doom, and Sloot is scarcely able to keep from drowning in it. Each passing moment is certain to be his last, though never did fate seem so grim as the day he was asked to correct the worst report ever written. Will the events put in motion by this ghastly financial statement end in Sloot's grisly death? Almost definitely. Is that the worst thing that could happen? Almost definitely not.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780999742303
Publisher: Black Spot Books
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Series: Terribly Serious Darkness Series , #1
Edition description: None
Pages: 302
Sales rank: 274,335
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sam Hooker is a writer of darkly humorous fantasy novels about things like tyrannical despots and the masked scoundrels who tickle them without mercy. He knows all the best swear words, though he refuses to repeat them because he doesn't want to attract goblins. He is the author of The Winter Riddle. He lives in Mission Viejo, California.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Forgotten Watch

The first hues of indigo muscled their way into the sky over Salzstadt, which the inky black of night really should have seen coming. It had happened just like that every morning since the dawn of time, but nighttime is resistant to change. It's the grumpy old codger of the celestial routine, always mumbling about how great things used to be, when mornings were respectful toward their elders and gave them a few extra minutes to wrap things up.

Days were always in a hurry now. Had to be. You start letting people sleep in, and it's all downhill from there. You might find more permissive, reformist sorts of days elsewhere in the world, but not in Salzstadt. The good salts who live there have a fanatical respect for the rules. After all, rules are what keep the goblins away.

Few have ever seen a goblin, save the occasional blur in the corner of one's vision, but everyone knows they're there. Goblins are foul little spirits made of mischief, teeth, and a knack for knowing when a trouser-related mishap will cause the most embarrassment.

Salzstadt is the capital of the Old Country, which has a proper name, though it's forbidden to speak it aloud because it attracts goblins. So does swearing, which is unfortunate for the innumerable salt miners who live near the docks. Most of them know enough swear words to qualify as bilingual.

There are a few low-grade swear words, such as the one that starts with an "M" and describes the face people make right before a sneeze, which goblins find too tame for a reaction on their part. Other swear words may attract a single goblin, or an entire congress (being the preferred nomenclature for a group of goblins).

"Leave me dinner in the oven," many an old salt has said to their spouse over the years. "I've got to get me out to the crags, for I'm of a mind to say the one that rhymes with elbow."

There are other rules that keep the goblins at bay, but the dawn is increasingly impatient to get on with things. All the rest in due time, then.

It wasn't until the aforementioned indigo had cleared some sky for purple, then blue, and even a touch of amber, before Sloot Peril stirred from his dreamless sleep. He'd once heard something about his dreams coming true as the result of hard work. Given the frequency of the one where he's naked in the counting house again, giving up dreaming altogether seemed the safest bet.

Like every salt who had graduated from youth, found stable employment, and was counting down the decades until retirement — and the privilege of complaining at length about how much better things had been in their day — Sloot went through the motions of patriotism while he dressed in his modest woolen outfit.

When reciting the Loyalist Oath, it was traditional to square one's shoulders and speak clearly toward the mighty flag of the Old Country. Three white circles on a field of red, representing the salt that was the life's blood of the nation. The Domnitor, long may he reign, whose family had ruled over the Old Country for generations, had taken great pains to ensure that his subjects could look through virtually any window and see an enormous flag waving valiantly in the breeze, atop one building or another; however, the tiny window of Sloot's apartment above a butcher shop offered a view of nothing but a similar window. It looked into another apartment within arm's reach, which was occupied by a man who looked remarkably like Sloot. Curtains might have provided them both some amount of privacy, though they'd also have robbed them both of any natural light that managed to elbow its way between the two buildings on occasion, and into their respective apartments.

Their unspoken compromise was just to ignore each other, hence no name is available to give for this neighbor, who will probably never be mentioned again.

Fortunately, the Office of Domestic Scrutiny had made paper representations available for a modest fee, and the one pinned to the back of Sloot's front door kept him in the Domnitor's good graces, as far as he could tell.

Sloot cleared his throat, placed his hand over his heart, and recited:

"Hail to thee, oh mighty Salzstadt, capital of name redacted,

"I pledge good faith and daily strive to see justice enacted.

"And if so much as merest thought of something nearing treason,

"Should come to light within my sight,

"I'll cry out loud and form a crowd,

"With pitchforks you'll find pleasing."

There were three dozen more stanzas, all of which he recited flawlessly, and with no reduction in fervor.

While he was still in school, when the class had finished the recitation, the teachers had the children turn and slap each other across the face so they wouldn't forget. Sloot had never been sure what he was supposed to do about it now that he did his recitation on his own, so he slapped himself just to be on the safe side. He reasoned that he was far too old not to know, and didn't want to slip up if anyone were watching.

Sloot had spent his life up to that point nurturing an utter dearth of "self- confidence," a term he believed had been invented by guidance counselors who truly enjoyed lying to people. In any case, the slapping seemed to be working. He was nearly forty, and heresy had yet to creep into his mind.

The cobbles outside his building were slick with dew, so he walked carefully toward the north gate of the city. Salzstadt is the southernmost point in the Old Country, encircled by mountains except for the southern coast, where the Three Bells Shipping Company sends its ships out to trade with the rest of the world. The great road winds its way north from the city's central plaza to the massive main gate in the equally massive north wall. It's anyone's guess why they bothered building a gate into it at all, given that it never opens. Anyone coming into Salzstadt from the surrounding countryside does so through one of several smaller gates to the east and west of the main one.

The main gate stands as a symbol of protection against the Old Country's great enemy to the north, the heathen barbarians who long ago decided to unite under a very non-Old Country flag and form the nation of Carpathia.

The Carpathians are a warlike band of savages who, as far as Sloot had been informed, wore the untanned skins of the beasts they killed with their bare hands, communicated only through grunts and bloodthirsty screaming, ate fruit without washing it first, and worse.

Even as a child, Sloot was made to be so deathly afraid of a Carpathian invasion that he had nightmares. He and his mother had lived near the main gate in those days, so she took him every morning before school to place his hand on it, so he could see how genuinely mighty it was, and that it was still closed.

It now added just over a mile to his walk to work in the Three Bells counting house, but he still made the trip every day.

And so it was that on this morning in particular, just as he had on every morning before — including Sundays, which the feral Carpathians couldn't be trusted to take off — he placed his hand on the main gate and took comfort in its solidity.

"You there," said a comically muscled guard, whose head sat squarely on her shoulders. "Let's have a look at your papers."

"Certainly," said Sloot, producing a stack of papers bound in a leather wrap. He was so eager in doing so that it probably came off as suspicious, but little was more exciting to Sloot than an opportunity to comply with the law.

"I don't see a stamp from the Border Authority," she said, leafing through the pages. "What are you doing so close to the gate?"

"I've got special dispensation from the Public Health Authority." Sloot pointed to a red caduceus stamped on a medical form, right above the words "severe nervous condition."

"So you have to come touch the gate every day for ... what, nerves?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Sloot. "Every day since I can remember."

"Huh." The guard squinted one eye in confusion. "Oh well, you don't look like you could cause much trouble if you wanted to. On your way, Mister ... Peril. What sort of name is that? Sounds Carpathian."

"I get that a lot," said Sloot. "But I'm as true a salt as you're likely to meet. A loyal subject of the Domnitor, long may he reign."

"Long may he reign. Yeah, all right." She shoved the papers back into his hands and was on her way.

Like most people whose nerves were constantly on edge, Sloot was comforted by routines, and hated deviations from them; hence the pained whimper that rose from him when he reached into his pocket for his mother's watch and came up empty.

It was an inexpensive thing, made of tin during the war when every scrap of steel went into making swords for the Domnitor's valiant troops (long may he reign). The watch clanked loudly, needed winding eleven times a day, and like the main gate was a comforting reminder that his mother was always there to provide the sort of severe patriotism in lieu of affection that he'd known as a child.

He knew it hadn't been stolen, he'd simply left it sitting atop the dresser. This presented a quandary, which caused Sloot a measure of disquiet that not even the main gate's imperviousness could assuage.

He had two options, which were one too many for his taste: go back home and get the watch, and almost certainly be late to work; or go to work without it, and let this be the first time in the nearly twenty years since his mother had given it to him that it was allowed to wind down and stop ticking.

For the most part, Sloot was only as superstitious as required by law. The rational part of his mind that didn't truck with sentimental nonsense assured him that the watch wasn't a metaphor for his mother's heart, and that she was in no mortal danger if the watch were left to wind down one time.

Right. It definitely wasn't.

By the time he made it back to his apartment, he needed no further reminding that he was not suited to sprinting. His physical agony paired tragically with dismay when he saw the line outside the door to the butcher shop on the ground floor. It was the only door into the building, and only wide enough for one person. Luckily, the butcher was not yet open for business, so Sloot held onto the hope that he might be able to slip past the dozen elderly salts who were waiting to buy their daily meats.

"Pardon me," said Sloot to the old gran at the head of the line, who had the grave misfortune of being the Widow Kranksi, one of the most disagreeable people Sloot had ever met.

"No cuts," the Widow Kranski stated plainly. Her arms had already been folded in grim determination about something else, but she made it a point to refold them for emphasis.

This was a delicate situation. One of the more severe breaches of Old Country etiquette was cutting in line, a universally reviled practice that was an irresistible lure for goblins.

"Right you are," said Sloot, "but I'm not here to buy anything, I live upstairs. I've got a key and everything, I just need to —"

"No cuts! Them's me final words on the matter!"

"It won't be cutting, though. I just —"

"Now you look here!" A bony finger gave a very practiced waggle in Sloot's face, the result of expertise gained over a lifetime of telling people off. "I'll not have the oldest butcher in Salzstadt infested with goblins, not while it's in my power to stop it. No cuts, and not another word!"

The other old grans in the line started murmuring and glaring in a way that couldn't end well. They were all queued very formally, the way that all salts did to make absolutely certain that lines weren't even cut by accident.

Sloot was a breath away from making another plea when he noticed that the Widow Kranski's arms had unfolded, and her fists were now planted on her hips. With a defeated sigh, Sloot hung his head and walked to the end of the line.

"Lift your feet!" shouted the Widow Kranski. "You're shuffling!"

It's very bad luck in the Old Country to throw a punch. "Punching up a goblin," they called it. That's why the preferred footwear among its citizens is hobnail boots. Fights tend to involve a lot of kicking, and no one wants to be the one sap wearing bedroom slippers when things get ugly.

Ever the follower of a good trend, Sloot was thusly outfitted for a proper row, but there was no way he was going to fight an old gran. Men hated fighting women because they could kick higher, and lacked a certain target that was handy in ending fights. Older women were especially feared, having the benefit of experience.

Sloot tapped his foot in constant agitation as the butcher took his sweet time with each of the old grans and gramps in turn, until at last he was able to dash up the stairs. At least the watch hadn't wound down before he got to it, though its clanking seemed even more labored and desperate than usual. His hands shook as he wound it, his own heart likely in more danger than his mother's.

* * *

"Where have you been?" hissed Beatrice from the desk next to his, without bothering to look up from her work.

"It's a long story," said Sloot, who hoped that he wasn't shouting, but couldn't tell for the thundering of his heart in his ears. "Have the supervisors noticed?"

"Worse than that," said Beatrice. "I'd get that report checked as soon as possible and walk it in yourself!"

Sloot looked down at the report on his desk and was overcome with dread. While checking reports was generally one of his favorite parts of the job, this particular report was bound for Mrs. Knife.

Sloot had never met Mrs. Knife in person, though he'd nearly been brought to tears once upon finding himself in the same room as her reputation. Mrs. Knife was the personification of malevolence, assembled in hell by puppy-hating demons and given advanced degrees in robbing souls of joy. She had no official title within the organization but was understood to rank far above everyone except Lord Hapsgalt himself.

It wasn't yet time for lunch, and already Sloot's day had crumbled into an unmitigated disaster. His hand trembled as it reached for his quill.

"Hurry!" Beatrice hissed. "If you don't finish soon, she might come over here!"

The thought alone was enough to curdle milk. In a flash of desperate inspiration, Sloot's mathematical expertise found a way to fuel itself with sheer terror, and he channeled his very soul into correcting the report.

His horror was compounded by the fact that the report had been written by none other than Vasily Pritygud, the utter nincompoop who had graduated last in Sloot's class at the University of Salzstadt. Vasily's work was consistently abysmal, so it was reported to his father — a very affluent shareholder in the Three Bells — that his son's work was nothing if not consistent. It always fell to Sloot and his coworkers to fix everything that Vasily wrote, which took a lot of time. Time was something that Sloot, on this day in particular, did not have.

What he did have, in abundance, were ulcers. Permanent damage to his innards, the result of years of worry over the most disastrous possible conclusion to any sequence of events. They had turned him into the imminent perfectionist who was now rewriting the report with blinding speed. Time seemed to slow down as his frantic scribbling approached the speed of thought. Panic attacks hadn't reduced him to the shell of what might have turned out to be a happy and functional human being, they had prepared him for this moment.

Well, they'd done both, really, but Sloot was trying to remain positive. It rarely ever worked, but odds are beaten by persistence.

In the end, he'd rewritten the entire report himself, largely by contradicting everything that Vasily had written, probably while drunk. At least Sloot hoped that Vasily had been drunk. Otherwise, he could only think that the sheer number of errors had been malevolence, not stupidity.

As Sloot ran down the hallway, waving the pages in the air before him to coax the ink dry, he seriously pondered another possibility. Maybe Vasily just longed for the sweet release of death so intently that he intentionally erred so egregiously with regard to Lord Hapsgalt's money.

Mrs. Knife's office was the one at the end of the long, gloomy hallway that raised one's hackles simply for having looked at it. The air in the hallway had an ominous, greasy feeling. Sloot did his best to ignore the impression that it was looking forward to murdering him.

Not wanting to give the hallway the (accurate) impression that he was afraid of it, Sloot slowed his sprint to a rushing walk and spent a moment failing to catch his breath before raising his hand to knock on the door.

Just as his knuckles made contact with the wood, the door slid soundlessly open, slowly enough to give him time to consider making a run for it, but quickly enough to assure that he'd fail if he tried. And just like that, with no further preamble or opportunity to steel himself, he was looking directly into the cruel and calculating gaze of Mrs. Knife.

"You're late," she said, her gaze unblinking, her fingers steepled. She sat in a high-backed leather chair behind a desk of dark polished wood, the gloomy grey sky over the harbor visible through the large window behind her. There were no other furnishings in the room, no papers on the desk, no place for Sloot to sit, not that he wanted to stay a second longer than he must.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Peril In The Old Country"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Black Spot Books.
Excerpted by permission of Black Spot Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Forgotten Watch,
The Feast of Saint Bertha,
Gallons of Blood,
Congressional Infestation,
To the Library,
Shoes Fit for a Bureaucrat,
Philosophical Affliction,
A Fine Welcome Home,
Uppance Cometh,
The Gift of Clarity,
The Price of Profanity,
Alleged Hypotheticals,
A Bit of Skulking,
Calamity Ho!,
Heart of Carpathia,
Court of the Invader,
Ulfhaven by Moonlight,
The Witchwood,
Flight of the Dandy,
Scheming Conspiracies,
Invader at the Gates,
Salzstadt, Shambling Salzstadt,
No Rest for the Worried,

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Peril in the Old Country 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
diane92345 More than 1 year ago
Peril in the Old Country is a hilarious quest fantasy! Sloot Peril is an accountant who has a nervous condition. He lives in the Old Country where swearing causes goblins to physically appear. There is so much bureaucracy that a union provides professional line waiters. Sloot is a patriot who despises the country just past the Old Country’s giant wall, Carpathia. What happens when he: • Is recruited to be the financial manager of his mega-rich boss’ son • Finds out a shocking truth about himself • Is recruited to be a Carpathian spy • Does the one thing his boss told him not to do—on his first day The puns come fast and furious in Peril in the Old Country. There are running gags about swear words and shoes throughout. It is a zany ride. The world building is terrific and hilarious. Is it fantasy? Is it horror? I don’t know but it is highly recommended for readers looking for something different. This book is perfect for fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s style of humor. 42 stars! [sorry, wrong book] 4 stars! Thanks to the publisher, Black Spot Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.