Paranormal Serial: The Sunday Witch Hunters ep 7
The Witch Hunters are back! Due to the Fire Emblem-induced hiatus, this week SWH will hit you up twice, with episode 7 today and episode 8 released tomorrow.
The Sunday Witch Hunters is the story of 17 year old Joe Malone, who joins a backwater exorcist club in order to get closer to the beautiful, unpredictable Lily Buchanan. In episode 6 Joe finished his first job with the club, helping to exorcism a demon-possessed pig. But as Joe struggles to get his head around his new hobby and the complex relationships of the other exorcists, he oblivious to a much vaster struggle going on beneath his feet – Hell’s infernal war machines are ever-restless, and rumours abound that demonic officers will soon leave the ranks of Hellions to claim back those demons on the surface. Drake, one such demon and a friend of the Muraluna exorcists, is less than happy about this. He arranges a meeting to investigate the rumours, in a smoky little place called…
The Sunday Witch Hunters
Episode 7: Bar 666
March 12 (one month before Joe met Drake)
With Lily thoroughly disgusted with him and the night awaiting his desire, Drake sidled through the cool, dark campus grounds.
He hoped he hadn’t gone too far with Lily. Having his TV privileges revoked sucked. It sucked majorly. And Drake wouldn’t risk sucking major anything without there being chance of some formidable benefit.
“It’s practically a guarantee,” the shinigami assured himself, stalking between the tall grim buildings in the centre of campus. If Starla Kurt University was good for anything, it was tall grim buildings. Buildings, parties, and girls like Lily. Drake liked the girls, lumped the parties, and could care less for the buildings. He set his focus on the deserted cafeteria crouched amongst the clutter of student stores and faculty buildings. The dorms lay across the sports ovals, far behind him. Students and their friends drifted across the lawns in dribs and drabs and sometimes large herds, their wonky footsteps gradually carrying them towards Unibar at the opposite end of the cafeteria block.
Drake wondered how Lily would get along without him. She’d wanted him there, he knew. It didn’t matter that Lily’s suitors couldn’t see Drake; there was nothing like possession by a shinigami to make a young hopeful change his mind. Many a young student had been driven to the priesthood after an attempt at courting Lily. As for those who would spike her drinks? Don’t even consider it. You don’t mess with the mistress of a god of death.
His thoughts carried him to the cafeteria door. With a hand as insubstantial as ash, Drake reached out and touched the glass. Quickly, secretively, knowing that Lily wouldn’t be looking for him in her agitation, but might nonetheless spy him across the lawn, he scratched on the glass;
In an instant the door fogged up and fire bloomed within the cafeteria. Or so appearances would have it. The door swung open, flooding Drake with the stench of grinding brimstone and hen’s blood. There was a snigger from hip height.
“Velkommen to Bar Sechs-Sechs-Sechs,” greeted the diminutive doorman, “Vhere drinking ist ein scream!”
Basking in the warming glow of hellfire against his skin, Drake glanced down at the doorman. “Hans. Lemme in.”
“Nein,” retorted Hans, squinting up at Drake, “You need ein Member Karte or number. Kein Karte, kein Eingang. Ist das verstanden?”
“Come on Hans, I’ve got a meeting. And you’re overdoing it with the accent.”
Hans, who could have traded places with an overweight vulture without the taxidermist being any the wiser, narrowed his beady black eyes at the shinigami. “Ve can stand here alle die Nacht, sir, it does not bozzer me. Vat kind of doorman I vould be vere I to admit du vizout ein Karte, now zat bozzers mich.”
Grumbling, Drake dug through his tight leather pockets and pulled out a wishbone. He squinted at it in the glow of unearthly flames brimming from the cafeteria.
“I lost my Karte I mean card,” he said by way of explanation.
“And all you had to vrite on vas der Knochen?” Hans sounded amused.
“A guy’s got to write these things down while he remembers them,” Drake protested, still trying to make out the tiny, scratchy print on the bone. “I’m member number one-three-oh-four-eight-one-four-six.”
Hans considered this. He said, “Das ist only acht, ah, eight numbers, Herr Shinigami.”
“How many should it be?”
Drake stared at the wishbone so hard it should have burst to flame. “Ah. Nine.”
“You must have a member number for der Eingang, Herr Shinigami.”
“I just gave it to you!”
“Nine! That’s it! The last number is nine!”
Hans and Drake stared at one another over the doorway. Hans huffed. “I zee vat you’ve done zere. Very clever. Get ze hell into ze Eingang and don’t give me no more of your trouble.”
“What? Are you sure-”
“Beeil dich!” Hans snapped, and Drake scurried in through the door.
He entered a room which was not at all the cafeteria. The campus lawn was no longer at his back; the party at Unibar and the rows of dorms were but a memory. Clouds of flame flowed around Drake as he made his way into the club. The club was one room, defined by an eddy of burning vapour swirling around a cavern hewn from brown bedrock, the firelight staining the benches crimson, the torture racks, the sexy Draculinas in their leather swimsuits and gasmasks, the cat o’ nine tails and the self-flagellators gathered around the inferno.
If a demon were homesick, he could pay to work the great searing fires of the inferno. If he paid well, a Draculina would sashay on over and beat him while he worked. The smell of sin and repentance were thick in the air.
Drake helped himself to a seat in the corner, by the bar. It took him a minute to find a seat that wasn’t upholstered in spikes. The soles of his feet smouldered gently on the hot coals of the floor; Drake propped them against the legs of his bar stool. A few minutes slid by idly and Drake was simply sitting, listening to an old-timey track of the tortured souls of the damned when a creature with a tweed suit and a cigar but no apparent head nor hands came and sat beside him.
“Drake,” the tweed one greeted, from somewhere in the dark well of his open collar.
Drake nodded. “Dale.”
For a painful handful of minutes they sat there, saying nothing. Drake would have preferred Hans the doorman for company. At least Hans would say something. He wouldn’t expect Drake to just sweat it out in this stinking hell pit. The scent of repentance was making him itch.
He broke the silence. “Is that an orgy?”
Dale said, “Where?”
“Over there. Behind the inferno.”
“Oh? Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s an orgy.”
Drake raised his eyebrows. “There’s only the one?”
A dry chuckle rose from the void that was Dale. “Yeah. Used to be guy couldn’t move in this place for the orgies. Place has gone to ruin. Look at these jokers,” Dale’s cigar jabbed at the demons massed away from the inferno, “Lazy guys can’t even self-flagellate. Gotta have a Draculina do it for ’em. Makes me sick. Look at that. I bet that ain’t even real hydrochloric acid.”
“And she’s faking it,” Drake supplied.
“Hey, you’d know more about that than I would. Lemme buy you a drink.”
Knowing what his choices were likely to be, Drake shook his head. “No, no, I won’t be here for long.”
“Nonsense. Don’t be weak. What’ll it be?”
Weakly, Drake ventured, “If I could see a menu?”
Dale summoned a Draculina. “Babe. You want to tell a guy what he can get to drink? Drake, you wanna eat something with that?”
Another Draculina passed behind Drake, and he felt the sting of a whip on his neck. With a jolt he turned to face the Draculina. He was met with the blank stare of a gasmask, a supple mostly naked body beneath, nothing at all disguised by the very impractical barbed-wire bikini. “Thanks, but no thanks. If I want to flagellate, I’ll do it to myself.”
Dale hacked a laugh, cigar smoke billowing about his tweed suit. “What’d I tell ya? Just the reason I like ya, son. Come on, come on now, tell the lovely Draculina what you want to drink.”
“We got a deal on skull caps fulla blood,” the Draculina provided, pen and notepad at the ready, “Third one is half price. Buy six and get a free flagellation. Whips and sticks only. Not to be used in conjunction with any other orgy.”
“Pass,” said Drake, as pale as he’d been on his deathbed. “Don’t you ah, have like, any like, soda?”
“Don’t think so, honey. Oh, oh, I know what we got you might like. Soda, right? We got Pepsi Max.”
“Er,” said Drake, “I think I’ll skip the drinks.”
“We’ll both have Pepsi Max,” Dale told the Draculina. She scratched this down happily, and took her leave of the demons.
“I don’t know what you did that for,” Drake grumbled, once the Draculina was gone.
“Because Pepsi Max is a hellova beverage!” Dale exclaimed, suddenly brimming with enthusiasm. He took the two glass flutes from the bartender and handed one to Drake. “It’s a damn hellova beverage, so you drink up!”
“What are you now, working for Pepsi?” Drake demanded.
“No sir, I just don’t want to be sued.”
Drake considered this. “You make a fine point.”
He and Dale clashed glasses, and downed their drinks. Dale clapped his glass on the bar counter.
“Now, son, enough of the pleasantries. What’d you wanna see me for?”
“I want you to confirm or un-confirm a certain rumour. Preferably un-confirm. I was at the Sunny Glasgow the a couple of months ago. A little spook told me all Fates are being called to duty.”
Dale pondered this a moment. The end of his cigar mashed without teeth to mash it. Dale, or some conveniently arranged air currents blew a smoke ring. Dale said, “It ain’t true.”
Drake nearly fell of his bar stool in relief.
“But don’t go gettin’ preppy about it. Y’ain’t being called to duty; you’re being conscripted.”
“There’s no way.”
“There’s yes way. Just ’cause you’re Fates doesn’t mean y’ain’t gotta claim in all this, so don’t feed me some BS line about Fates refusing to take sides. Genies, chance, those fertility schmucks, you shinigamis; all you Fates have got to realise you’re a part o’ Hell just like the rest of us. You want there to be anything left of it, then you gotta start protecting your interests.”
“Hell,” said Drake, and for a while it was all he could think of to say.
Dale smoked while his acquaintance sat in silence. “Sorry to burst your bubble, son.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you are. Tell me what; if we’re taking sides, whose side is it we’re taking?”
Dale gave his choking, dry-as-ginger laugh. “This is business, son. Loyalty belongs to the highest bidder.”
“Then what’s the point of fighting if it could be for anyone? We may as well not be in at all!”
“Son, that’s just how it goes. The war machine hungers for more.”
Drake snapped, his chest squeezed tight, “I’m not your son. I’m not anybody’s son. I’m a Fate, and my business is on the surface. I’ve no interest in preserving Hell, nor anything in it.”
“And here I thought you were entirely without spine.” Dale blew smoke in Drake’s face, and Drake recoiled with a shudder. “That’s the problem with you kids on the surface. You forget what it means to be a demon. You reek of humanity. You stink of it. You may as well be one of them.”
“Yeah. Wretched things,” Dale rose from his bar stood, his cigar trained on Drake’s face, “As far as I’m concerned, you and all your scumbag expat pals can stay up here forever. But the time will come, son, where your bony ass will be dragged back to Hell, and you’ll be in the same bag as the rest o’ us. You can see how the rest of us fight for our existence. Chert. You wouldn’t know the first thing about that, would ya?”
Fighting to keep his voice level, terrified of conscription officers hidden in the walls, Drake replied, “I’ve done my time. I earned the right to be on the surface. If I want to make good on that, then that’s up to me.”
Dale snorted. “Sure it’s up to you, champ. Hey, and what do I know? Maybe you’ll learn to appreciate all the fancy rights you Fates are so blessed with when the officers strip you of ’em and shunt you into the ranks.”
The tweed suit and its omnipresent cigar stalked off through the club. Drake slid from his seat.
“Dale! Hey, Dale!”
Dale threw up one tweed arm and didn’t look back.
Drake sighed. He slumped onto his stool. Gees, gees! What was he gonna do now? He stared at the Draculina behind the bar, who waved her notepad at him.
“You heard Dale. Put those Pepsis on his tab.”
The Draculina obliged. Drake called her back.
“One other thing; get me the goddamn bejesus out of this place.”
Rumour thusly confirmed, it now fell to Drake to do something about it.
He had an idea or two. Okay, one idea.
At the next Sunday meeting, Drake feigned offence at some offhand comment and stalked out through the wall of the RSL Club. The Witch Hunters were so accustomed to this that not one of them noticed he had gone.
In the clammy heat of the late summer night, Drake circled around the front of the RSL to wait in the parking lot in the shadows of the club. Smokers and talkers dotted the parking lot. Drake contented himself to glare at them.
He was waiting for a good quarter hour before a rustle of cloth and the click of a lighter announced his rendez-vous.
“Mind if I join you?”
“I wouldn’t mind even if you’d been fifteen minutes earlier,” Drake told him.
His companion blew smoke and sniggered through his teeth. He never stopped facing forward, though his eyes slid sideways behind his shutter shades. He could be seen, then. Fair enough. He looked entirely human, provided one wasn’t of a suspicion to go looking for signs of demonic nature. The sutures not quite hidden by the fur trim of his puffy winter jacket, so out of place in midsummer. The aroma of decay that the cigarettes could not entirely hide. Small things. No human would pick Drake’s companion as apart from any in the club.
“Ayuh. I have my commitments,” said the wolf in sheep’s clothing, in a deep southern drawl, “They occasionally prevent me from making my appointments. Tell me, Brother Drake, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I have a problem. I thought maybe you could help me.”
“Ha. Sorry, brother. I’m not taking on any extra contracts at the moment.”
“I just need you to answer a question.”
The wolf moved away from the wall. “Sorry. Not interested.”
“Tell me how I can stay on the surface.”
The wolf paused. Drake had spoken with a desperation he hadn’t intended to reveal. Slowly, savouring the pleasure of superiority, the wolf turned back. With a leer that wasn’t quite human and a languid sarcasm that was, he said,
“Aren’t you tired of playing with humans?”
“I’m not playing.” Drake took a step towards the wolf. “This is my afterlife. I’m entitled to do with it what I please.”
The wolf huffed a laugh. “And I s’pose you filled out the paperwork to be here.”
“I did. All 30715 pages.”
“There aren’t many who go to such trouble. You shinigami are perfectly capable of taking human lives from the realm of Fates.”
“And you demons are perfectly capable of being demonic in the lowest circles of Hell, yet here you are.” Drake’s tension was speaking. He had no idea what the wolf was capable of, but he knew what Drake was capable of, and whatever the comparison, he didn’t stand a chance.
The wolf saw this, and closed the distance he had created between himself and the shinigami. He puffed smoke in Drake’s direction. “Remarkable. You’re afraid of me. You really are quite human … or you can act it. Tell me, is that your shinigami form?”
“It’s close enough.”
“Not quite.” The wolf, true to his description, circled Drake. His eyes roamed up and down, that languid smirk never left his face. “If you were to, say, walk into the club in your shinigami form, what would the humans think? Would they pick you for a demon? Or would they welcome you as kin?”
Drake shrugged as carelessly as his wrought iron tension would allow. “It could go either way.”
“Then riddle me this; which direction do your knees bend?”
Damn. “In my shinigami form?”
“Please, Brother Drake, I am trying to help you out here. Show a brother a little of the same courtesy.”
The wolf’s smirk broadened. “Ayuh. And I know how fond you shinigami are of wings and tails and feathers and fur. You got anything like that?”
“Maybe noticeable? Or maybe like you forgot to shave this morning?”
“All right!” Drake snapped, “There isn’t a blind monkey in that petting zoo which would mistake me for a human. So far the only trades I’ve been able to make are for internal organs.”
“Then you’re not very human at all, are you?” the wolf sniggered. “There’s no way you’ll be allowed to stay on the surface. Didn’t you read the rulebook, in amongst all that paperwork you filed? To retain surface privileges in times of conscription, an individual must either possess a contract which pertains to the well-being or security of the under-state, or be more human than demon. You Fates are no different. You want to stay mucking about with mortals, you better start looking like one.”
“How can I?” Drake demanded, scared, annoyed, and glad for the moment that he was enough of the latter to drown out the former. He followed the wolf’s movements as the demon circled him. “I’m bound to a contract for the duration of one mortal’s life. Until she kicks the bucket, I’m stuck with a couple of lousy human internal organs and a hell of an exterior.”
The wolf shrugged. “Kill her.”
“Yeah, and bring every exorcist in the city down on my arse? I think not.”
The wolf paused his circling. He seemed to be thinking hard. As his cigarette dribbled to ash, his face brightened. “You know, I think there may be another solution. Your contract with this chick was approved by the administrators, right?”
“I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“Don’t get snappy. The deal is, administrators don’t like taking chances. Take the mortality statistics. Seven billion people and change alive today. A crude mortality rate of 150 000 per day. The odds that any human will die on any given day is 0.00214%. Not a great chance, and if your human is healthy and sensible, then the chances are a lot less. But it’s still way too high for the administration to admit that you’re in a binding contract which cannot be broken within reasonable chance.”
“Well she’s healthy, but I would never say she’s sensible,” Drake mused.
The wolf sniggered. “Humans rarely are. The thing you want to do, Brother Drake, is find yourself another human to contract to. The chances that any two healthy humans will die on any given day is astronomical, far outside reasonable assumption. Even if those humans are very much in one another’s company, it stands to reason that only one will fall ill with that horrible virus, only one will step out from the curb a second too soon, only one will catch a baseball in the head when they walk through the park.”
Slightly disbelieving, Drake said, “If I have two contracts, the administrators will think it so unlikely that both will be terminated on the same day that they’ll let me stay up here? I thought you said it had to be of importance to the state!”
“But that is important to the state,” the wolf insisted. “Souls contracted to you are doomed to Hell. That’s all the administration really cares about at the day’s end: crunching souls. You promise them two, three, half a million, and they won’t stand in your way. For one? That’s inefficient. And the administration hates inefficiency.”
“If that’s all I have to do, I’ll do it,” Drake conceded.
“Sure, man. But where you gonna find another human willing to contract their soul to you? They’d have to be on death’s door.”
“I’ll check the hospital. That’s what I did last time.”
“Ayuh? A young, otherwise healthy, endurable human? Remember, you’ll be living with this soul until the end of their life.”
Drake hesitated. How many times had he regretted choosing Lily to possess? Half a million? Per day? Yeah, that sounded about right.
“I’ll find someone,” he said, more to convince himself than the wolf.
The wolf’s teeth flashed. He stubbed out his cigarette on the pavement, petted Drake’s shoulder. “Let me know when you do, brother. I guarantee you’re gonna need my help with it.”
Until that day in the middle of April when Drake approached Joe, the shinigami had had no idea how true the wolf had spoken.
He was gonna need all the help he could get.
Join Drake and Lily again tomorrow for episode 8 of the Sunday Witch Hunters!
It’s a little difficult to translate a flashback into a serial, hm? I hope everything was clear enough. The rough timeline is:
Last December – Drake hears rumour
March – Meeting in Bar 666
April – Meeting with the wolf
May – Joe meets Drake.
We’re back to the future in episode 8, huzzah! I really like the character of the wolf in this episode. I imagine he looks a little bit like Maclamore.