You Can’t Stop Here; This is Bat-Country
Joe finally gets down and Ghost Busters with it on his first mission.
You know it, Joe! He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man!
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The Sunday Witch Hunters
Joe followed Knox into the raining night, albeit half-heartedly.
The gully between the presbytery and chapel was shin-deep in muddy water. The water was icy, driving out the memory of the presbytery’s warmth. They ran stooped, shoes slapping through the water, into the cover of the chapel’s overhanging eaves. Knox hopped up the three steps before the door, shaking out his coat like a crow ruffling its feathers. He glanced at Joe, who was shivering, drenched to mid-thigh, numb to the knees. His whole face felt frozen, his nose like a bit of ice. Knox was merely damp. His collar, his face, his hands were dull, disembodied against the pit blackness of the night.
He dug through his coat pocket and drew out an elastic band, absently pulling his hair into a ponytail. He replaced his top hat. “Do you have those wards with you? Good. Wards act as seals, spiritual seals, capable of containing all but the most energetic of poltergeists. Let’s see them. Yes. These are Halter’s wards. Full spectrum restriction on movement, most effective within a three metre radius of the seal, but active up to nine metres. No ’geist of regular strength can breech any door, window, wall, floor or ceiling that has a ward attached. An entire premises can be sealed by placing wards on each exterior corner. Usually we would seal off the outer premises, then progress through the interior, blocking off entries one by one until we had the target confined to a single room. We’ll skip that part tonight; MasterTed won’t be any more eager to hang about in the rain than you and I. Are we clear?”
“S- sir. Are we able to leave rooms tagged with a ward, sir?”
Shivering, Joe checked the slips of card in his hand. They looked to him like bookmarks. If bookmarks could stop a poltergeist from doing whatever it wanted, why couldn’t it stop a flesh and blood human?
“Now Joe, really,” Knox cut his cool stare to Joe, “what use would we have for wards which trapped us in a roomful of screaming poltergeists? Ah, yes, but do ask questions. Only way to learn.”
Joe got the feeling Knox didn’t entirely believe this, but he was too cold to say so. Knox ushered him to the chapel door. Dread sat in Joe’s guts, a stone, unwarranted, as chilling as the wet fabric clinging to his neck, his back, his legs. His hands shook from more than cold as he unlocked the huge, heavy door. Panic scratched at his skin. The door swung open with an onerous groan. Joe made no attempt to move inside.
“There’s something in there,” he whispered, and thunder crashed violently overhead. Joe barely refrained from leaping into Knox’s arms. Another flash of lightning turned the chapel’s stain-glass windows into molten flares, casting a rainbow waxen strobe over the rows of wooden pews and the short stone alter. In the absence of lightning, the chapel was dark as pitch, the door a missing tooth in the black maw of the façade.
“Joe?” the Chief ventured, but Joe did not want to move.
He stayed fixed to the doorstep as Knox brushed by him into the chapel. Knox was dressed in black, his hair was black and his movements like ink on oil and it took no time at all for Joe to lose sight of him. He listened to the Chief’s footsteps echoing across the stone floor.
He jumped as Knox spoke. “MasterTed? Are you about? So sorry we’re late.”
Thunder boomed in response. Joe flinched. The darkness of the aftermath was not as complete as it was before. Sickness boiled in Joe’s stomach. A feeble bluish light hung in the centre of the chapel, a jellyfish of tattered rags and corpse-thin limbs drifting half a metre over the tops of the pews.
“Good evening, Master Ted, so glad to see you looking well,” Knox called, amicably enough.
I have to move. Joe swallowed. I have to move or die. His throat was dry. His heart fluttered against his ribs. He pushed his foot inside the chapel. The step took an eternity and cost an infinity. His foot slammed down and then it was done, and he closed the distance between himself and Knox at a numb-kneed sprint, bumping against pews in the darkness.
It was so cold. The next roll of thunder smashed its palms against the chapel, sending vibrations through the thin brick walls. The rain was a constant, pitching bellow. Joe had forgotten all about the guns. All he wanted to do was get the hell out. His fingers reached for the shifting darkness, for Knox’s coat in front of him. He peeled them back and stuffed them in his pockets, where they shook along with the rest of him.
Knox, meanwhile, continued his amble through the aisles heedless of the storm or Joe or other mundane things such as his immediate mortal peril. The pale blue light drifting off Vulgar Ted cast a faint glow over the left side of Knox’s face. One black eye kept hold of the poltergeist. And the poltergeist turned, keeping its back perfectly to them. Knox circled the central pews, crossing the alter, Joe close on his heels.
The bundle of rags that was Vulgar Ted spun to face them, slowly, slowly. Joe flinched away. Sweat prickled on his neck, his pulse scratched at his throat. He could not tear his eyes from the poltergeist. A tattered cowl was revealed, drawn over a caved, squashed face lost to shadow. The cowl fixed on Joe. Thin, limp hands reached from the swathe of rags, fingers flexing over a coil of rope wound twice around its wretched neck.
Knox whispered to Joe, “You know already MasterTed here acted as the bell ringer. That’s the bell rope round his neck. He seems to wear that cowl out of decency – the bell crushed his skull flat, you know.”
Joe neither knew nor appreciated enlightenment. He slunk sideways to place Knox between himself and Vulgar Ted.
The storm wailed, driving itself harder against the chapel, until the rain was a roar against the tin. One bright point of light flared beneath Vulgar Ted’s cowl, as hard and cold as polished diamond. Joe was already chilled to the bone, frost in the marrow. He was very aware that all he had to do was run. Vulgar Ted tipped back his squashed head, and let out a long, low yowl, like the war cry of a brooding cat. The yowl dropped to a growl, rose to a scream; a wind whipped up from the centre of the chapel, hurling itself against the stone walls even as the storm flogged it without. Vulgar Ted’s ragged robes billowed around him like the clothes of a man dead in the water.
“No thank you!” Joe whispered fiercely. He spun on his heel, ducked around the Chief, and bolted for the chapel door.
Knox let out an exasperated cry. “Joe, don’t run! You’ll only make yourself a target! Oh, this is why I’m so loathe to take on recruits. The fight is over here, Master Ted!”
He unhooked the device Joe had mistaken for a road flare from his harness, sat it on the cold stone floor and kicked it into action. The poltergeist whirled above him on its path to Joe, skeletal fingers clawing at its distended eye sockets as it screeched and winds thrashed around it. It corkscrewed over Knox and his top hat went flying from his head.
The hat bounced over the aisles, driven by the phantom hurricane. It spiralled past Joe as he reached the doorstep. The hat bounced over the steps and into the rain. Joe watched it go. Ted’s screech turned his brain to mush. He wanted so desperately to go chase the hat. But then his toes fought his heels, his guts fought his spine, his teeth fought his tongue and Joe ground to a halt on the doorstep.
Ice trickling down his back, and dreading every movement, he faced the poltergeist. It was only metres away from him now. Light fell in harsh beams from its bloated form, dancing a blue glare over the pews and the Chief as he worked. It shook, seemed to laugh. The flare hummed to life. Joe’s hair stood on end. His first thought was his fear, then he saw the glass chamber in the flare was spinning, throwing out bursts of static electricity to bring the air to life. Sparks crawled over the chapel walls, lightning coruscated across the ceiling. The Chief’s ponytail was a porcupine’s quill. Rain drilled on the roof. Vulgar Ted garbled a scream.
The Chief shouted, “Are you with me, Joe?”
It took Joe just a moment to remember how to speak. “Y-yes, sir!”
“Good man! Undoubtedly you’ve noticed an increased ionic charge in the air.”
A swipe of Joe’s hand through his hair sent sparks cascading down his wrist. “Yes, sir!”
“Wonderfully observant of you! We call this the static mine.” The Chief was shouting above the roar of the storm and Vulgar Ted’s caterwauling, “It’s already set to a frequency perfect for dealing with poltergeists, but it can produce more or less static depending on the target. Ordinarily, a poltergeist would be intangible to you and I; think of static mine as levelling the playing field. Now. Next item of business.”
With a clank, the Chief drew the hefty grey cannon from over his shoulder. He trained it on the poltergeist, who on seeing the cannon had hastened to the rafters, braced himself, and flexed his finger on the trigger.
Whatever Joe had expected, it wasn’t this. A sonic pulse ripped through the chapel. The building rocked on its foundations. Brick dust rained from the walls, old pigeon nests erupted from the rafters. One overhead beam exploded into splinters; another was gouged to matchstick thinness. The roof jerked under the force of the shockwave. Rain poured in through a fresh hole. Joe hit the floor, arms bundled over his head. Pews were dragged free of the stones and hurled against the walls. A kneeler crumpled against the doorframe above Joe’s head, slamming down on either side of him.
Knox was grinning hard, his teeth shining bright in the sporadic electric light. “Electromagnetic-wave cannon; don’t forget it!” He petted the cannon fondly. “At higher settings, it can turn rock to powder. Of course, we don’t use that setting very often. OH&S and all that.”
Joe had the small triumph of picking himself up from the floor without dissolving into terrified goo, staggered to where the Chief stood brandishing the thunder cannon.
Knox smiled his charming smile. “I should mention the cannon is best used in conjunction with the static mine. The static mine oscillates at a frequency which makes Master Ted up there susceptible to sonic and magnetic bursts produced by the cannon. In short, it lets us hurt him.”
“And everything around him, sir?” Joe wondered, indicating the brick dust sheeting from the walls.
“Oh yes, and that. Now, say we’ve weakened the target, as so,” Knox locked the cannon into its clasp on his harness and pushed it behind him. Joe breathed a sigh of relief. He immediately took it back when Knox removed a sleek silver revolver from its holster and took aim at Vulgar Ted. Ted contrived to look horrified even without a face and flattened himself against the rafters. “Lesson three: this is the holy conversion revolver. You’ll hear it called the God-handed gun. It’s used like this.”
He squeezed the trigger. A silver cross on a thin wire burst from the barrel. It hit Vulgar Ted and burst straight through him. The wire reached its maximum length, snapped taut and jerked back into the revolver. With it retreated the cross, snagging Vulgar Ted on its way back through him. Wire, cross and poltergeist all snapped into the barrel. There was a ping, and one of the six glass cylinders in the revolver’s chamber strobed pink.
The Chief pressed a button on the top of the device. The pink light was sucked to the rear of the revolver before disappeared entirely. With a pop, a vial filled with ambient pink light dropped from the magazine into the Chief’s waiting palm.
He held it up for Joe’s inspection. It was little more than a test tube. A thin filament in the vial’s centre seemed to be the source of the garish light. A cork capped the end of the vial.
“There’s a microchip in the cork,” he said, rattling the vial. It made a sound like a dead light bulb. “The poltergeist is stored on the chip in the same way electronic information is stored on a flash drive. The chip can be read by certain peripheral devices, and also feeds the light filament. You know a vial is possessed when the light is on.”
“Excuse me,” Joe said uncomfortably, “Did you say flash drive? As in, a storage device for electronic data?”
“Goodness, there’s nothing I like more than repeating myself.” Knox cleared his throat. “Yes, flash drive. Ghosts, poltergeists, shades, demons; whatever we don’t vanquish back to Hell we send to the Canberra headquarters in vial form. HQ has a peripheral device which reads the information stored on the chip, which is then stored in an electronic databank. The databank can be accessed as necessary, and provides a comprehensive study of the creatures we encounter. If we are want to loose a spook from the databank, another peripheral device uses that spook’s stored electronic bursts to reproduce the esper pulses which you and I know as a poltergeist.”
Joe was silent. His brain was not, but then his brain was also having trouble connecting Joe’s former life to his current predicament, and the Chief’s words to an intelligible response.
Knox gave up on waiting. “I am ah, moving too quickly for you?”
“No! No, that’s not it. I just – I just didn’t expect demon hunting to be so – so technical.” Joe noticed Knox’s clever eyes searching his face for some semblance of intelligent life and felt the heat creep up his neck. It was a nice change from the cold and the sweat and the dread. “I thought there would be more crosses and Bible readings and holy water.”
“That was tradition,” Knox told him, dropping the vial into Joe’s hand, “and we’re not the Church. There are more direct methods, however, that’s a demonstration for another night.”
Joe wondered at that. But Knox was a man of many thoughts, none of them entertained for long, and Joe didn’t have the chance to ask. Nor the courage. Maybe when he understood ghosts being stored on computers he would be in a position to chat.
Knox’s good humour remained, though his expression was careful. “You did well. Come, did you forget we have another job? We’ve demons to herd. Vulgar Ted will find his way back here eventually. He always does.” He clapped Joe on the shoulder. Joe felt a surge of pride, and latched onto in what was otherwise a turbulent pit of guilt and shame.
“I’ll learn, sir! I’m sorry I turned tail before. It won’t happen again. I promise I’ll be a credit to the Witch Hunters, sir!”
Knox feigned shock. “My God, you’re right!” he cried, “We’ll have you the envy of every exorcist in town. Nay, in the state! People won’t sleep for the urge driving them to follow in your footsteps. They’ll hate you and revere you in equal measure. They’ll fear your shadow. They’ll-”
He paused as a shadow filled the chapel door, and Sister Annie scurried in out of the rain. She had Knox’s top hat on over her habit, and her pink pyjamas were muddy to the knee. She panted, “Are you boys all right? One of the girls heard something go bang. And your tea is getting cold.”
“I take it Home and Away is over,” Knox muttered to Joe. He glanced at Sister Annie, and cursed. “Oh, blast. I forgot what I was going to say. Ah well. Shall we escort the sister home, Joe? I could use a cup of tea, cold or no.”
He left Joe to scratch his head and exchange glances with the vial. If he looked hard, Joe thought he could make out a cowled, distended face and a long hand swirling in that pink light. Vulgar Ted would soon be part of a database. To think.
If nothing else, he was sure of this:
The fun was just getting started.
How was it? Yeah, it was just like that.
I saw a poltergeist once. It was in Dragon Age 2. It scared the sh*t outta me.
Posted on January 30, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged bat country, demon, devil, exorcist, fantasy, paranormal, poltergeist, serial fiction, sunday witch hunters, urban fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.