Dance, Zombie! SWH Episode 1!
As foreshadowed, here it is, world exclusive, my very own The Sunday Witch Hunters.
The story follows a rowdy group of exorcists in a backwater city as they thwart demons, hunt poltergeists, shake their stuff for interstate talent competitions and risk it all for love. It’ll be running here for the next few months, until such time that it becomes such a darn hot wet mess that I have to scrub it from the blog. With bleach. And acid.
But until then, enjoy!
Joe stood at the crowded table, facing a sea of scarred and battle-haunted faces. His hand in his pocket crumpled the piece of paper Lily had given him. His stomach flip-flopped, he thought he might be sick. Demon hunters…? There was no way he could introduce himself to this bunch of freaks.
Lily caught his eye in the crowd. She winked, and Joe’s heart beat so hard he thought it would burst from his chest. He ripped his hand from his pocket. He took a deep breath.
And he spoke.
How did I meet Drake?
Last week after school, outside the woodwork room, he offered to swap me my kidneys for eternal life.
No, no, that wasn’t the first time I’d seen him. Just the first time we spoke. I first saw Drake, oh, it must have been my second day of school. He was wearing the senior boys’ uniform, which has black trousers instead of the grey we juniors wear, and epaulettes on the shirt. He was always trailing a group of seniors. I did notice he looked out of place – it wasn’t just the uniform, it was just, ah, it was something – but whenever I asked Kammy who he was, he mistook who I was asking about.
I know that now. Of course Kammy was confused; I’m the only one in the whole of LochanKey High who ever knew Drake was there.
After a while, oh maybe four weeks into first term, I noticed that Drake was returning my attention. You could say this surprised me. I’d given up ages ago figuring out who he was. I’d just marked him down as, you know, one of the Others.
The Others with a capital, yes, that’s what I’ve been calling them.
I didn’t like the way Drake stared at me. Sorry, Drake, you do stare, and when you stare you smile, and that smile makes me cold right down to my marrow. I’d feel that chill some days even when there was no one around. Even outside school. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night so paralysed with fear you can’t even move? That’s how it felt to know that stare was on me. As if this heavy, deep cold had filled my bones with ice.
It frightened me, that cold, that feeling like I couldn’t move, and when once I knew Drake was the cause I did my best to avoid him. I kept my head down in the hallways, hoping he wouldn’t see me. I started leaving school by the south gate and looping back around the block to the parking lot, because I knew Drake waited by the north gate of an afternoon.
No, I don’t know what he did there. If I had to guess I’d say he hung out and smoked with the seniors.
What I do know is about a week ago the home bell had just rung and I was going from the woodwork room to the south gate, and had just set foot outside the door when I felt that awful cold.
I very nearly turned around and went back inside.
But MrCardigan – that’s our woodwork teacher – was right behind me. He had that look on his face which all teachers at Lochan Key High get after the final bell rings. I’d say it’s relief, but it’s more than that. It’s almost the look you’d expect to see a death row prisoner wear when a blackout cuts power to the electric chair. They know they’re gonna die someday, and soon, but for today they’re saved.
– Oh well, sir, English is my best subject, aside from PhysEd. No, I don’t think it hurts to add colour to the conversation, either. Thank you, sir.
MrCardigan locked the door to the woodwork room, and he looked so happy to be going home that I did not have the heart to stop him. I decided I would hit the courtyard and run right past Drake to the gate.
He was waiting for me in the stuffy courtyard outside the woodwork room. That courtyard is close to the south gate. A lot of the senior boys go out that way to their cars when they don’t want to pass by the office or the other classrooms. All I had to do was sneak around the toilet block, cross to the fence at the corner of the football field, and I’d be home safe.
I kept telling myself that, over and over. It seems so stupid now. If the Other one – I mean, if Drake could harass me outside the woodwork room, then he could just as easily harass me outside of school. I wasn’t thinking like that then. Dread trickled down the back of my throat. It was hard to think. I felt so cold, so cold that I started to shiver. I just wanted to reach my car. Then I would be safe.
I hadn’t seen him move, but Drake was right in front of me. Just slouching there, but predatory, making no attempt to hide the fact he’d trapped me. What could I do? I stopped, and glanced behind me, but the courtyard was closed and Drake was filling the only exit. The cold ran down my spine and iced my feet to the pavement. Like a bad dream. The day was warm, my teeth were chattering. There was no one else around, no one else at all. This was Tuesday, and most of my class had left early to catch the cheap ticket deal at the cinema. I was supposed to go as well. I was thinking I’d be real annoyed if I died and everyone else went to the movies.
I stared up at Drake. He was wearing dread like a sharp perfume. It struck me just how blind I’d been. Drake was not just one of the Others; he was like nothing I had ever seen. Oh, he looks human enough tonight. But that day, human didn’t come into it. His skin had the kind of transparency of melted wax. Beneath it I could see his bones. Not just the lumps of his knuckles or the shape of his jaw; I could see his entire skull, his ribs, his breastbone, his spine, the long bones of his arms and the crest of his collar bones, as if they were burning hot beneath his waxy flesh. He had on his school shirt, and it didn’t matter one bit. His ribs glowed right out through the thin fabric. His teeth, too, like he had an orange grin painted over his mouth. He was smiling either way. I could tell he thought he scared me. He was right.
He leaned over, almost brushing against me. I went to scoot backwards but my feet were welded to the spot. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Joe. Joe Malone.”
Drake kind of sneered and laughed at the same time. “Joe. How do you feel about eternal life, Joe?”
I don’t mind telling you my heart skipped a beat. Were those feathers sprouting from his shoulders?
“I dunno,” I said, trying to distract myself with the feathers. Trying to come up with a sensible reason why black feathers would be sprouting from the skin of this totally normal high school boy. “I’m sure it doesn’t come cheap.”
“It does today.” They were feathers. Long, sharp black ones, rising lazily from Drake’s shoulder blades. They piled higher and higher, extending into wings – or what I suppose were wings, though I still can’t quite believe it – ugly, lumpy, ungainly wings that fully extended would have clipped the buildings on either side of the courtyard. “Today the price of immortality is two kidneys. Your kidneys. We can make the trade here and now.”
I looked at Drake then, met him eye to eye. I’d never been game to do that before. His eyes were points of orange fire. My stomach squeezed, I thought I would be sick. The bad dream continued. I wondered how I must look to Drake; a dumb kid in a shabby school uniform, hardly able to speak for the magnificent and terrible creature unfolding itself before me. More so, I wondered what my kidneys had to do with anything.
An emotion approaching pity touched Drake’s glowing eyes. “Like you, I was once a miserable mortal. Now I am more, so much more. I am a god. I see you doubt me. Is it your fear? Or do you think it so strange for one such as I to extend the gift of eternal life to my human brethren?”
I almost said, “I’ll do it.” As I stand here now, I cannot tell you just how tempted I was. I did doubt Drake. I doubted him, and I half expected a heap of seniors to jump out at me and shout GOT YA! But this was Lochan Key High, and none of the seniors are that smart. And those orange eyes, and the feathers, and the glow of Drake’s skull behind his skin. That was no trick. The terrible cold, the dread, I knew what it was. It was my mortality, my lifespan, and it only seemed terrible and cold when compared to the fires of immortality that were Drake.
I opened my mouth to say yes.
Then there was a shout, and a storm of boot steps, and a girl yelled, “The only bloody gift you’ve got to extend to anyone, Ducky, is the gift of being a formidable pain in the ass!”
Drake and I both looked to the mouth of the courtyard. A girl stomped towards us. She wasn’t a teacher, and she wasn’t wearing the LochanKey uniform. Well, you all know how she dresses. Stripy socks and leather boots, short skirt, corset and blouse, all those platinum ringlets piled up on her head. Her earrings looked like the first five things she pulled out of a toy box. She’s like one of those girls from Tokyo, the Harajuku girls. I’d never seen anyone really-really dressed like that before. And she’s pretty. She’s more than pretty. She’s – she was a lot to look at. She uh, I mean the outfit took my breath away.
Drake looked like he’d sucked a lemon. He said to her, “If you don’t mind, I’m talking business here.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. I wasn’t sure how old she was. Older than me. Not by a hopeless amount. I glanced at her face and she was wearing electric green mascara. I’d never green mascara before. I couldn’t look away. “Business indeed. I’d wondered where you were going off to through the day. Thank goodness Sylvie saw you lurking around the gates here. Oh, and don’t you look fancy in a school uniform! Now.” She turned to me, and she smiled pink lips and batted green eyelashes. The chill in my bones melted away. “I’m so sorry. Ducky-”
“Drake,” interjected Drake.
“-Drake doesn’t know the first thing about manners. Are you all right?”
I said I was. Drake snorted. The black feathers spiralled away, crumbling like ash, and I guessed the show was over. Drake said, “Of course he’s all right. Fool on me if I hurt a customer.”
The girl glared at him. She drew me into her arms and stroked my hair. I couldn’t move. I didn’t even want to move. “A fool is exactly what you are. And look at the poor boy! You’ve gotten him frightened half to death!”
“I’m a god of death, it’s what I do.”
I thought of something to say to that, and the girl pressed me harder into her and I forgot what it was.
“Well I’m an exorcist,” she retorted, “That doesn’t mean I lure innocent demons into giving me their kidneys!”
I coughed. “Excuse me-”
“That’s because demons don’t HAVE kidneys!”
“Ah, excuse me-”
“And if they did I wouldn’t want them! Honestly, you are such a jerk sometimes-”
I’m sorry if I shouted. “EXCUSE ME!”
The girl flung me out of her arms and spun to Drake’s side to ogle me.
“Thank you.” To the girl, I said, “Did you say you’re an exorcist? And he’s a god of death?”
I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.
The girl glanced at Drake. She went red, and he began to laugh. “You did say that,” he snorted, “Ooh, you’ve done it now!”
“Oh shut up,” she snapped. She looked at me, and bit her lip. Then her face lit up, and she elbowed Drake and said to me again. “You can see him, can’t you? You can see Ducky.”
“Drake,” said Drake.
“I can see him,” I agreed.
“If that’s the case,” she circled me like she was HoratioCaine and I was a corpse, “Then you can also see demons, right? And ghosts?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. What do they look like?”
“Ghosts? They look just like people, to those who can see them.”
I was about to say something like, “Then how do you know that they’re ghosts?” when it occurred to me that I did know. I thought of the woman on the crossroads. I thought of the cafeteria lady who never served anybody, but always called out order numbers. I thought of the cat that ran in front of my old school bus every morning even after we’d sworn we’d all seen it die – in fact, all of the Others were like that.
“I can,” I said to the girl. “I can see them.”
“Well ain’t that a pip?” Drake sniggered, and the girl punched him. Her hand went right through him like it would a cloud of ash.
“Quiet, Ducky.” She stared at me. I’m sure if she’d had sunglasses, then she would have pulled them slightly off her nose and stared at me over the top of them. Finally, she said, “Have you told anyone else about this? Your seeing ghosts and Ducky, I mean.”
I shook my head. “I haven’t even thought about it before you said – ghosts, did you say? Did you say ghosts?”
The girl reached into her bag – the same big leather satchel she’s got now – and took out a piece of paper and a marker. She scribbled on the paper and pushed it into my hand.
Rather matter-of-factly, she said, “And demons. There. I’m not going to say you have to go, and I’m not saying you don’t. It’s up to you. But if you can see ghosts and you think you’d be up to hunting demons, you should come along.”
I looked at the paper in my hand. “The Sunday Witch Hunters?”
“Shh!” she glanced around. “Yes, that’s the name of our group. So you know the small function room at the RSL Club?”
“The RSL Club? Is that the one in the main street?”
I know, I know. I only moved to Muraluna in February. I’m still learning.
“Yep. Been there before?”
“Once or twice.”
She flashed me a smile. “New in town?”
Drake rolled his eyes. “Why do you think it took me a month to do a deal for his kidneys? I had to be sure of him, idiot.”
“Ducky, your dedication to reducing your mentality to the lowest possible denominator never ceases to impress me.” Lily turned back to me. “Okay, new boy, do you know where the pool tables are, beside the bar?”
“Well behind the pool tables is the hire conference room. That’s where we’ll be. Seven o’ clock Sunday evening, each and every week. If you get stuck, just show the bartender that note. He’ll point you in the right direction.” And she winked.
I might have swooned. Drake skulked away, not bothering to say goodbye. He skulked right through the wall of the toilet block.
“Wait,” I said to the girl, before she could follow Drake. “I’m Joe. Can I have your name?”
With a laugh she slapped her hand into mine. “Of course. I’m LilyBuchanan.”
And she’s the reason I’m here tonight.
Thank you for reading! Join us again next week (and tomorrow too) for more ghosts, gods of death, strange Englishmen and one hellova sexy exorcist in the form of Lily Buchanan.