The Sunday Witch Hunters: Pig Night Out
This week, Joe finally faces his demons! He also faces giant pigs, a talking snowman and a whole lot of mud.
You can read all of the chapters to date here.
Characters in this chapter:
- Joe Malone (17), school boy, newest face in the Muraluna Sunday Witch Hunters.
- Balthazar “The Chief” Knox (28), librarian and demonologist, exorcist.
- Erin Ireland (18), passive psychic, works in a shoe shop. Always knows what customers want.
And we’re off!
The Sunday Witch Hunters episode 5
They met ErinIreland at a farmstead ten kilometres out of town. The rain had eased on this corner of the world, though the mud was already ankle deep and Joe was soaked to the bone, so he couldn’t have cared less if it was drizzling or pouring waterfalls from the heavens.
Erin, sitting in the driveway in her tidy white Corolla, didn’t agree.
White was her theme for the evening; white lace petticoats, white blouse, white knit sweater, shiny white vinyl boots with matching white raincoat, and the mud didn’t agree with her either. The bulky sweater and the raincoat added to Erin’s natural girth and at first Joe mistook her for a snowman.
“Balthazar, darling,” Erin threw open the Corolla door as Joe and Knox squelched towards her, Joe notably more surprised than Knox to see a snowman exiting a vehicle, “you don’t seriously expect us to battle demons in such abysmal weather.”
The Chief splashed to a halt beside the Corolla. Whether or not he appreciated the use of his first name, Joe couldn’t say. Knox looked Erin up and down and grinned. “Darling Miss Ireland, if an Englishman didn’t battle demons in foul weather, he wouldn’t battle them at all.”
Erin’s eyes narrowed. She looked a lot like an irate Labrador puppy. She was very cute, Joe decided. “These are new shoes,” she said at last, sulkily.
“You can borrow my shoes, if you like,” Joe told her, thinking about how much he wanted to scratch behind her cute little ears. “I’ll go barefoot.”
“What generosity!” cried Knox, as Erin’s mouth flapped in protest. “Boots off, Miss Ireland, there you go. My, what unabashed gentlemanliness you possess, Joe! And here we are on the brink of walking into a demon-infested pigsty! Miss Ireland, you must be one hundred percent certain to report this at Sunday’s meeting.”
At last Joe realised what he was getting himself into, but after the Chief’s spiel he saw no smooth escape. Erin was watching him now with the not-quite-reproachful stare of an expectant puppy. Joe peeled off his sneakers. After a moment’s hesitation, he also gave her his socks.
Erin took them reluctantly, leaving her white vinyl boots on the passenger’s seat. With one final, fiery look of disbelief at Knox, she pulled on the muddy sneakers.
“Oh God,” she groaned, echoing Joe’s sentiments exactly, “What if someone sees me like this?”
“They’ll think you have good taste in sneakers,” said Joe, hopefully.
Erin only frowned at him.
But he couldn’t be mad at her. He nodded up the drive, where the Chief was already squelching to a small shack, its two lit windows gleaming like the amber eyes of an old grey cat. Joe linked his elbow in Erin’s, and despite himself smiled at the little gasp she gave.
He tugged her gently up the drive. “It’s so you don’t slip.”
And into the demon pit they went.
Demon pit wasn’t a bad description, insofar as bad descriptions go. The farm was a small time operation of the suidae variety, and this was not its first hitch of a demonic nature. The owners and only humans on the property were a pair of sisters of an indeterminable but ill vintage, and who recognised Knox on sight and vented their woes to him in the manner of a ruptured bagpipe.
Joe stood by Knox and sneaked glances at Erin while the pig farmers squealed. He wanted Erin to look back at him but she was in sync with the Chief now and her attention remained stoically on the farmers.
Come on! he willed her. He fidgeted, not really listening to the pair of withered sisters in the doorway discussing how demons had systematically eaten their way through every variety of animal on the farm, and now they were down to pigs they feared humans were the obvious next item on the menu.
Come on, Erin. He looked at her longingly. She had a nice profile. So, she was a little chubby. That was okay. Curves were good and Erin had lots of them – even better. But if she would just look at him! She didn’t have to do him any favours, but surely she of all people could tell him that he wasn’t the only one feeling that aura of utter wretchedness streaming from the sties at the end of the dark yard. Joe felt it in his blood and he felt it in his guts. He gazed at Erin, searching her for any sign of it, but all he saw was a reflection of Knox’s feigned civility.
Joe started at a bark from the Chief. “Right! Thank you kindly for your directions, I think we will manage to walk in a straight line to the first building in easy sight, yes. Is there any other unnecessary information you’d like to give us before we go?”
“Yeah,” said one of the sisters, “this is the third time we’ve called you lot out. Get rid of the demons this time.”
Fingers drumming on his top hat, Knox said, “It must be your irrepressible company which keeps them coming back. No wonder they want to eat you.”
He waited for the door to bang shut in his face. He turned on Erin and Joe.
Erin straightened to attention. “Want some meta-wards up, Chief? Or … cannons?” She popped the button of her raincoat and held it open. Two small cannons and a static mine were secured inside. No wonder she looked like a snowman. “Two personal anti-spook cannons, one static mine and a torch.”
She passed a cannon to Joe, keeping the other. Joe, who had braced himself for the cannon’s weight, nearly smacked himself upside the head with it. It was the size and weight of a child’s rifle, a miniature of the thunder cannon that had nearly blown the roof off Saint Ann’s chapel.
“Please tell me you have it,” the Chief implored as they crossed the muddy yard. “I’ll have to go and sit in the car if you don’t have it.”
“Have what?” Joe wondered, sighting the pigsty through the cannon’s scope.
His answer was Erin drawing a shiny black baseball bat from one of her raincoat’s endless pockets and passing it to Knox.
“Hollow silver baseball bat blessed by the Archbishop and painted in purifying, glorious black.” Knox smacked the bat into his palm, “Varnish mixed with the holy water of Leeds for a weapon that keeps the demons in the outfields!”
“You can hurt demons with that?” Joe was incredulous. Sure, it was a nice bat. But purifying? Gimme a break.
The pigsty loomed up before them. It was a long building, low, steam rising from the corrugated tin roof. The walls were studded with empty windows, all dark. A low railing stood in place of a door. Knox pushed it open, ushered Joe and Erin in. Erin’s torch bounced from more railings, a broken concrete path lined on both side with sties. Straw and mud were thick on the path, and at the open space at its far end. That seemed to be a storage space, or maybe where they loaded the pigs onto the truck. Joe had never been on a pig farm before and so he wasn’t sure. From the stench of unwashed ham and muck and decaying fruit, he didn’t care if he never found out.
Knox slung an arm over Joe’s shoulders, steering him deeper into the sty. Erin trailed dutifully after. “Ah, disbeliever, wait until you see my swing.”
Forty sets of iridescent eyes swivelled to the sound of footsteps on the path. Joe was quick to realise that iridescent eyes were not a thing possessed by pigs: this was his very first encounter with demons.
Like wisps they were, hanging limply over the sty rails, the size of children and skeletally thin, hunched and bowed and twisted, long clawed fingers they scratched along the railings, scraped across the concrete floor. The noise of scratching, of the unseen, shuffling pigs, was almost worse than the stench, and it was a most unholy stench. Joe went to back up and found Knox had him trapped.
“Are you quite okay, Joe?”
Joe gulped. He could feel the dread now, surging in waves around his waist. He croaked, “I’m fine.”
“It’s all right to be frightened. You just can’t run away.” Knox slid around Joe, brushing aside demons as he strolled down the concrete path. He was enjoying himself already. “Keep clear of the leader, don’t let too many latch onto you at once.”
Joe could say without any fear of contradiction that he had zero intentions of letting a single one of the demons latch onto him. He gripped the cannon in both hands, shooing away a wisp that reached for him with fingers like monkeys’ tails. He could see right through it, make out the bars of the sty behind it. It reached for him again and he scrambled after the Chief.
There were more wisps now, more and more of them, emerging from the deep shadows of the sties, crawling up the walls and spidering across the tin roof towards the centre of the annexe, teeming on the concrete path until it seemed alive with their ceaseless movement.
“Joseph?” Knox called. “Do you see this? I want you to steer clear of this fellow.”
Joe wrenched his gaze from the wisps crowding around his knees, reaching for his chest, his face, to look. He immediately wished he hadn’t. His eyes met those of pig a metre tall at the shoulder and cloaked in a cloud of yellow fog. The pig lowered its head; tall black bristles lined its spine. Its trotter pawed the earth. Its eyes shone, reflecting the stark, shifting light of Erin’s torch. A low squeal grated from its throat.
“That’s the boss,” said Knox, waving the baseball bat at the pig. “Leave it to me.”
Joe had stopped moving entirely. “Uh huh.”
“Miss Ireland? You can activate the static mine now.”
Erin set the mine against the post of a sty and kicked it into action. The ionic charge in the annexe rocketed, static crackling over Joe’s arms, his neck. Lightning danced between the wet floor and the tin ceiling. Joe edged warily away from the railing.
He screamed as the wisps surged forward. They streamed from the walls and plunged from the ceiling, poured through the sty rails and flooded over the pigs. Joe was lost amid a frenzy of grunts and godless shrieks, from the wisps, from the pigs, from the Witch Hunters themselves. Next thing he knew he was crouching, a thousand points of pain in his exposed arms and face as the wisps fell over him, and all he could do was scream into his knees.
Erin stepped around Joe, brought her cannon up and fired into the oncoming horde. Thunder burst from the cannon mouth, carving a channel in the mud. Demons disintegrated in its wake. Joe saw, swatted wisps away from him as he fumbled, shaking, for his own cannon, and the wisps surged heedlessly over the cannon’s barrel and onto him, clawing and biting and shrieking like rabid dogs.
“Turn it on!” Erin snapped, firing another round of thunder over Joe’s head to scatter the wisps. A sheet of tin blew off the roof. “Press the button on the grip!”
Joe slammed his palm against the grip. His stomach flopped useless, his heart stuttered. Teeth sunk into his neck. Blindly his hand caught the ON button. Immediately the cannon began to tremble in his hands. Great, he thought. The bloody thing was broken. He recoiled from the stinking, hateful creatures gnawing at his neck and hair, but there was nowhere to go, and more out of reflex than sense he pulled the trigger.
The peel of thunder blew him backwards over the concrete path. Wisps burned to nothing in a flash of lightning. Those still clinging to Joe scurried away from him. Joe planted the cannon across his knees and fired into the horde. This time he braced against the recoil.
“Here!” Erin shoved her hand in front of Joe. He took it and Erin dragged him to his feet. Erin took a pot-shot into the darkness; she had the torch in her pocket, and all it was doing was illuminating the horror on the ceiling. “Aim low, not for the walls. This place is volatile enough as is.”
Sure, if by volatile she meant primed for electrocution. Joe nodded. He fired into the mud, sending wisps scattering. He thought he understood what the Chief had told him earlier, the job was easy for two demon hunters, nearly impossible for one. One brave or stupid exorcist might be able to take on all of these wisps – but that would leave them defenceless against Hog Honcho.
Speaking of the pig. Out of mind and sight of Joe, the pig snorted, pawing the mud with its cloven hoof. Its squishy white face bore a meanness which made the other pigs, jammed terrified into the back of their stalls, about as frightful as bacon burgers. Its shoulders rolled and tensed. It snorted, blowing sulphur.
Knox lunged into gear, forcing a path between the wisps as he raced to meet the pig. He brought the bat round as he drove forward, meeting the possessed hog where the path opened out. The bat met the pig’s thick skull with the sound of a lead pipe striking a gong. The pig reeled backwards, screeching, its sulphurous fog towering into a death’s head plume. The death’s head roared. It reached for Knox with claws of smog, and he grinned and skipped over the pig to meet it.
He dodged the sulphurous hands, but then the death’s head was swirling up into the roof, out of reach. Knox leapt up onto the railing of a pen. He gripped the baseball bat in both hands, dragging it over his shoulder into the yellowy mass of the demon. The death’s head groaned, its jaw dropping almost to the mud. Six-fingers hands on tiny arms poured from its mouth. They caught Knox before he could fall to the floor and effortlessly threw him into the tin roof.
Joe and Erin heard the bang and jerked around.
Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, Joe glanced at Erin. “Shouldn’t we help?”
Erin shook her head. She was as glassy-eyed as Joe. “First rule of demon hunting; never get between a hunter and their prey.”
“Ah?” Joe watched with a leaden gut as the death’s head hurled Knox into the concrete floor, “Who’s who?”
Knox stuck out a hand and rolled with his inertia. The death’s head screamed after him, its mouthful of hands reaching to draw him in and devour him. Knox rose already halfway to a run, the pig a hair’s breadth behind him.
Joe took a step forward, the thunder cannon across his arms. Erin grabbed his wrist. “Joe! Didn’t you hear me?”
“Oh, um, yes,” Joe conceded, aiming the cannon carefully at the death’s head as it, the pig and Knox poured towards him in a steak of black, white and grey, “But I’ve already run once tonight. Once is enough.”
He squeezed the trigger. Thunder erupted from the cannon. It hit the death’s head just as the demon laid a bouquet of hands on Knox. The demon smashed into the ceiling with an crash of white light and sound, and Knox, who had stopped to duck, flipped over the back of the pig, who had not.
“Oh, Joseph!” Erin cried, swatting the cannon aside. She reefed a God-handed gun from her coat fired the cross on its whistling wire into the death’s head. The demon howled, writhing in pain. The pig still hadn’t stopped. Joe shoved Erin against the railing and the boar tore past them in a storm of clattering hooves, its massive flank bashing into their legs. Erin gasped, the revolver dropped from her hand. The death’s head wrenched itself from the ceiling, dragging the revolver with it like a stray fishing rod on the end of its long line. It hissed at Knox as he pulled himself sorely upright.
“Right,” he said, fetching his bat from the mud. “Joe, cannon. Aim for the bloody demon this time.”
Erin gawked at Joe; he shrugged. “Yes, sir.”
He took aim at the death’s head screaming round the sty. It twisted itself into a sharp set of loops and piled back towards them. Its jaw hung open, its tiny arms stretched for Knox. Knox’s hands flexed on the bat.
Joe fired. The burst of thunder took the demon in the mouth and threw it backwards across the mud. Knox ran for it, baseball bat gripped double-handed at his side. He jumped, and as he rose he swung the bat like a samurai making the killing strike.
The death’s head plumed around the bat, swelled grotesquely, and popped. A cloud of sulphur flooded the pigsty. Knox, having pitted his weight against the bat, suddenly found there was no longer any resistance to his pressure. He staggered forward, striking out a foot to save himself. His shoe slipped on the slick earth and he crashed to his front on the mud.
The tension in the room plunged. The wisps, such as remained, dissolved into the darkness. The boss hog cowered by the far end of the path, by the railing door. It had a lump the size of a grapefruit on its noggin. It glared sourly at the exorcists. It would be okay.
“Good God, sir, are you all right?” said Joe once his breath had returned and he could think of anyone other than himself. He glanced at Erin and together they hurried to the Chief.
“My hip,” Knox groaned, taking Joe’s proffered hand, “Even my keys landed on my keys.”
Joe tried to help him to stand. Halfway to his feet Knox slipped again. This time he dragged Joe with him. Joe hit the mud face-first. Both men lay spluttering on the concrete, mud thick on their trousers and shirts and hair.
Erin rolled her eyes. “You two are hopeless.”
She stood over the pair with the torch shining down on them, static mine and cannon under her arm. She stooped to help Joe from the mud. Joe snagged his bare toes against a buff of concrete, yowled, and slipped on his ass. Erin went flying beside him, splashing on her hands and knees in a puddle.
“Don’t you laugh,” Erin scolded Knox, who was doing exactly that, “Don’t you dare laugh!”
“Oh, lighten up,” Knox told her, and flicked his filthy hat in her direction. Mud splattered over Erin’s white raincoat. She let out a shriek and tackled Knox, wrestling him into deeper mud. He threw her off into a fresh pile of straw and pig poo.
Alone on his feet, Joe clutched the sty rail for support and wondered if he should intervene or just get the hell out before he too was mud wrestling.
“You bastard!” Erin roared and lunged for the Chief. He scrambled aside, skidded and hit the mud on his knees, then was knocked onto his back yet again when Erin attacked. He laughed, uproariously, and Erin hesitated.
Joe staggered over and helped them both to their feet. They were just as muddy and stinking as each other, though only Knox thought it was funny. Joe caught Knox’s eye. Knox smirked. Joe snorted. Then, as Erin cut him a withering glare, he lost it, and fell against the Chief, both of them howling with laughter.
As the trio ambled from the sty, two laughing, one brooding over her filthy coat, Joe thought maybe this exorcism business wasn’t so bad after all. Even being up to your eyeballs in mud had its perks.
Whatcha think? Next week we’ll be spicing it up with a dash of Drake and Lily. Awww yeah. Comments are always highly appreciated!