SWH 8: Old Town Hustle
As promised, here is the second part of this week’s double Sunday Witch Hunters feature~! My gosh, that snake. Spooky!
If you haven’t yet had the ahem, pleasure, of reading the Sunday Witch Hunters yet, you can find the first episode here. For those who have, you’ll remember that we left Joe in episode 6 after his first successful exorcism. We’re about to get back to Joe, but before we do, here’s what Lily did with the rest of her night.
Characters in this episode:
- Lily Buchanan (22): law student. An exorcist possessed by the death god, Drake. Lily is a relatively new but strong member of the Muraluna Witch Hunters. Her favourite animal is the jaguar … naturally.
- Iluka Wright (26): paramedic. Iluka has no combat-orientated exorcist skills, but she has the very useful talent of being able to mentally map spooks in an area. Her favourite animal is the humpback whale.
- Drake (354): god of death. A television-addicted shinigami (death god) who fears he’s soon to be conscripted into Hell’s endless war. His favourite animals are fluffy little kittens, particularly black and dark grey ones.
The Sunday Witch Hunters
Episode 8: Old Town Hustle
“Target confirmation at three hundred metres nor-nor-east. No obstacles. Head for the amber-lit door. Over.”
Lily squeezed the walkie-talkie. “Roger that. I’m moving in.”
Iluka’s pretty voice was trepid below the static. “Be careful. There are ghosts behind these walls.”
“I know.” Hooking the walkie-talkie on her belt, Lily stalked through the puddles on the street. The buildings to her right were decaying brick, disused and falling to ruin. The moon was a sliver grin between clearing clouds. The air was cool and humid. Ahead lay the door to the Sunny Glasgow, a demon pub hidden amongst the maze of crumbling row houses of Old Town. Lily whistled to herself as she walked. She wondered if giving the chart to Joe was the right thing to do. But he had been so, well, cute about it all that she hadn’t been able to resist.
The Sunny Glasgow’s door light was as bitter and pale as the sun over Scotland, and cast only a wan illumination over the worn pavement. The light was a disconsolate warmth. Lily kept one hand resting on the iron rod under her belt. Iluka was half a block away, sitting behind the wheel of Lily’s MG. Drake matched pace with Lily, keeping just behind and to the left of her, half lost in a bank of Lily’s fogging breath.
“Are you going to be long?” Drake wanted to know. “There’s a Humphrey Bogart marathon on SBS tonight and I don’t want to miss it.”
Without looking at the shinigami, Lily said, “You didn’t set the TV to record?”
“No. I figured we would be back in time. I didn’t expect you were gonna drop in on Joe first.” Drake huffed. There was no fogging breath for him. “I don’t see why you had to do that, anyway. You’ll just give the kid ideas. He already thinks you’re a bunch of hardcore nutcases. In which, I might add, he is 100% correct.”
In a cloud of her own hot breath, all Lily would say was, “You should have set the TV to record.”
“Pig’s bum,” Drake muttered.
They completed the trip in silence. Lily stopped with the toes of her boots just inside the circle of amber from the light over the doorstep of the Sunny Glasgow. The light seemed to be on without reason. The pub was shut. Spider webs criss-crossed the door.
Lily thumped on the door. “Suspected poltergeist Shelby Bye, you are hereby summoned by order of the Van Helsing protocol. Failure to immediately comply will result in your extremely prejudiced vanquishment.”
There was a flash of smoke, and a scruffy little ghost stuck his head through the Glasgow’s door.
“Oi now, oi now,” the ghost chittered, his transparent form soaked a rather unbecoming shade of orange, “I’m ’ere, ain’t I? No need to go on about the vanquishing bit. You wanna come in? Hershel and Hank and the boys and me are just havin’ ourselves a bit of a drink.”
“Hershel and Hank and the boys can kiss my ass,” Lily told the jaundiced ghost. “You’re wanted for ten accounts of severe haunting. Throwing pans, flicking lights, causing the walls to bleed, turning cream rancid, possessing the toilet, wasting electricity via turning on appliances in the middle of the night, startling old Widow Graham witless, not to mention swinging her poor cat around the living room by its tail. You’d better start explaining, Shelby.”
Shelby “the Scrimp” Bye scrunched his face into a nasty gash of a smile. His skinny neck and shoulders drifted through the door behind the puckered melon of his head. He looked Lily up and down, twice, and at last settled on meeting her eye to chest. “Say now, you’re a fine girl. Come in and sit down. Take a load off yer feet. I’ll see to it yer taken care of.”
Lily stared down her nose at the little ghost. “I’ll have you know propositioning an exorcist is a vanquishable offence. Not that I intend of giving you much of a choice. Shelby Bye, do you confess to the listed transgressions?”
“Yeah, but, nah, but how’d you know it were me?”
“Oh come off it,” Lily scoffed, “You’ve only been dead eight years. Widow Graham recognised your face in the bathroom mirror.”
Shelby cursed. “Bloody old hag. I should have spooked her all the way to the cemetery.”
“Seems to me you tried your darndest. If that’s it, I’ll be exorcising you now.”
Lily bypassed the iron rod under her belt and went straight for the God-handed gun. She didn’t expect Shelby would give her much trouble. Even as a human Shelby Bye had been a lightweight.
Shelby saw the gun and immediately backpedalled. “Wait. No. I don’t. I mean I do. I do have a defence! Wait! Stop it! Put that down right now!”
Lily lowered the gun. “This had better be good.”
Shelby peered at her between the mesh of his fingers. “Awight awight. I admit it was me. Don’t go gettin’ yer pantyhose in a twist about it. I’ve got a reason for bein’ here. Old Town ain’t my usual digs, ya know? I’m more of a racetrack kinda guy. Been haunting the toilet block there ever since before I died. Ha.” Noting Lily’s expression, Shelby hurried on, “I heard old Vulgar Ted’s back in town. He’s the one I’m after. Ms Graham was just a kick and a giggle. Bloody old loony harpy-bat that she is; I picked her up one day after the races. I reckon seein’ her on the toilet haunts me more’n I ever haunted her.”
“I’m not here to discuss the flaws of my clients,” Lily said coldly, although she was privately cheering Shelby’s choice of words. “Are you suggesting you have unfinished business with Vulgar Ted?”
Shelby shrugged. “Stingy guy owes me ten bucks. I put it on the collection plate for him one day when he left his wallet at home. You shoulda seen him. He was all, I’ve gotta put money on the plate, I never miss it, and can ya lend me just a tenner my ol’ buddy, all that kind of hoo-ha. Accourse I lent it to him. But what did that sleazebag do? Next week he goes and pulls the bell down on himself, right before he was gonna pay me. Then, deadskies. Skipped right out on it. Well, you and I both know dead men don’t pay their debts. I tried asking his wife for the money but she didn’t want a bar of me either, what with the funeral and all.”
“I wonder why,” Lily muttered, and Drake sniggered behind her.
Shelby pulled a face. “Hey, unfinished business is what it is. He coulda owed me a drag on a dog-end and I’d still be stuck on this transephemeral plane. I’m just lucky I can rattle pots and possess toilets. Poor Hershel in there can’t even manage that.”
“Rest assured my sympathy is endless.” Lily thought for a moment. She fished through her pocket and retrieved her wallet. “Here. Ten dollars. Get out of Widow Graham’s toilet.”
Shelby the Scrimp scrutinised the note. “Sure, thanks, kid.” He stuffed it into his wrinkled spectre trousers, where it remained in full view. “But what about you? Guy doesn’t want to leave a good-looking broad ten bucks short. Not when I was about to go over and see Vulgar Ted for meself.”
“Don’t bother yeself. He was on the list for tonight’s exorcisms. If you want to see him, you’re gonna have to hang around another few months until he can catch a ride home.”
“Hell.” Shelby spat. “Damn him. When’s he gonna move on, anyway? Maybe he pays you that ten he owes me, he’ll finally make the chain gang. Lousy guy.”
Static spat from Lily’s walkie-talkie. She ignored it. She was almost done here. “That’s it, then, Shelby. Say goodbye to your pals. You’ve fulfilled your condition for moving on.”
Shelby turned his split-melon grin up to her. “Say, did I mention I’m only a masthead?”
“Mention you’re a what now?”
“Masthead. Sorry bub.” Shelby’s jaw dropped open. From the well of his mouth there poured a tongue, as long and thick as Lily’s leg and jet black and shiny, slick. The tongue was forked. She danced back with a little yelp. Shelby’s pupils dropped to the far corners of his eyes, like he was trying to look at the back of his head. His torso went limp. The forked tongue did not. It flicked towards Lily, grazing her.
Lily took one, two steps backwards. She levelled the God-handed gun with that slick black tongue. “M-masthead for what?”
Then the wall of the Sunny Glasgow erupted, pushing bricks and tiles onto the pavement and road beyond. The amber light hit the pavement and shattered. Shelby the Scrimp was pushed towards Lily then yanked roughly backwards into the dust raining up from the pub. Lily clawed for the walkie-talkie. She hit the button.
“Iluka! I think we have a problem!”
“No shit, Sherlock!” Iluka crackled in return. “I’m sorry, Lil! That thing had anti-detection wards in place – get out of there!”
“Do you know what it is? Shelby said something about being a masthead. What does that mean?”
“You’re the exorcist, not me!”
Right, of course. Lily squinted into the billowing dust. A shape, huge and dark, uncoiled from behind the shattered wall. A blunt snout stuck through the dust, nosed towards Lily, forked tongue flickered over massive blunt teeth.
At his master’s back, Drake warned, “Lily, it’s a-”
“Snake!” Lily shrieked, leaping into Drake’s arms. He was too astonished to catch her, remaining as flimsy as smoke. Lily fell right through him, hit the pavement, and scrambled up on all-fours already running.
The snake, easily the length of the block and jet black, undulated after her. Lily passed a wild-eyed glance over her shoulder. Yep. That was a snake all right. A big snake.
“Oh man oh man oh man oh man!” Lily squealed, squeezing her eyes shut. She lobbed the God-handed gun at the snake. It bounced off the creature’s snout and went clattering to the street. Lily kept running.
“Lily! Cool it!” Drake shouted after her. He went ignored, which was nothing unusual.
With the snake’s huge blunt teeth gnashing at her heels, Lily tore around the corner of the block and legged it up the street. The snake took out both the corner building and the apartment block across the road as it turned, the night shaking with the constant roar of vandalised infrastructure. Its tail swept cars into the air, scattered them across the road, into the grungy little park on the far side. It barrelled after Lily, pavement churning beneath its scaly belly.
Lily sprinted past the MG, where Iluka sat holding the walkie-talkie in shocked silence. Lily didn’t seem to see Iluka and the car. How could she? Her eyes were closed tight. She pounded up the street, and the snake barrelled thunderously behind, rocking the MG from the curb.
Staring after the pair, Iluka snorted. “White woman afraid of a black snake? Huhn. Figures.”
The snake ploughed past, rocking the car further onto the road. As a teenager Iluka had been drawn to Old Town’s rumours of haunted, collapsing houses. Now she was old enough to appreciate that Old Town wasn’t haunted so much as it was one big happy candy factory of ghosts and ghouls and freaks, and hell, here she was again.
“Damn you, Lily,” she muttered, gunning the engine. “Don’t you ever feed me that ‘I’m not afraid of snakes’ line again!”
Already half a block away and progressing rapidly, Lily dug out her iron rod. She gripped it and shrieked as the snake dove for her. Its huge blunt teeth ruptured the cement to her right, hissed and raised its head for a second strike. Lily shrieked. She waved the iron rod at the snake.
“Don’t you come one step closer!” she told it, waving the iron rod, “Or I- I- I’ll freakin’ zap you, got it!”
The snake struck. Lily jammed the iron rod towards it. The snake’s blunt teeth crushed down on the rod, failing to snap it, but nearly dragging Lily to the buckled earth.
Lily wailed. “Let go! Oh, you stupid thing! Ducky, help!”
Drake, perched languidly atop the snake’s knobbly black head, merely shrugged. “Nope.”
“You’re horrible! No TV for a month!” Lily shrieked, and Drake only laughed. Seeing Lily freak out over an itty bitty snake? Worth every missed minute of Conan.
Drake blanched as Lily lashed out at the snake with her combat boots. She hit the snake’s blunt teeth, and the demon shuddered. It flatly refused to let go of the iron rod. It wrenched its head back, tearing the rod from Lily’s hands. Lily stumbled and fell on her butt. The snake spat the iron rod into the nearest available brick wall and turned its gleaming red eyes to the exorcist.
The little red MG squealed to a halt on the churned pavement, its wheels spitting gravel and broken cement over Lily. Iluka leant over the passenger’s seat and hollered,
“If you want rescuing, you better get your skinny ass in this car right now!”
Lily didn’t need telling twice. She dove in through the open passenger’s side window, narrowly avoiding the snake’s crunching jaws. She hit Iluka’s lap and screamed,
“You don’t need to tell me that!”
Iluka slammed her foot down on the gas. The MG bounced to life over the broken pavement. Its rear tyres lost traction and fishtailed wildly on the cement. The front wheels grabbed bitumen and hauled the car onto the road. Lily and Iluka both shrieked as the snake barged the MG, propelling the little car up the street.
“What are we gonna do, Lil?” Iluka demanded breathlessly as Lily extracted herself from the other woman’s lap. “We can’t leave that thing unexorcised. And we can’t have it chase us all over town!”
“I guess you’re right.” Lily sagged in her seat. She was going to bloody murder Drake. Leading the snake across town to a more willing exorcist would mean demolishing half of Muraluna. And calling in another exorcist into Old Town still meant that Iluka and Lily had the job of entertaining one hella pissed-off demon until the substitute arrived.
At last, with reluctance as great as she had ever felt, Lily said, “Turn around. I left my stuff back there.”
Iluka threw her a wide-eyed glance. “Are you kidding me? I just got outta there, now you want me to go back?”
“No, I want you to drive around and around the block until we run out of petrol and that giant snake devours us both.”
Iluka stared at her. The MG hit a bump and rolled right over it. Neither woman saw what they hit. “You’ve been spending too much time around the Chief. You’re starting to sound just like him.”
“Give me a break. The Chief wouldn’t run from a snake.” Lily scoffed.
“No, but he sure would give me attitude about it.” Iluka frowned at the rolling dark road in front of her a moment longer. With a sigh she cranked the handbrake and threw the MG into a wild pivot that sent the little car lurching past the snake. Its blunt teeth gnashed in surprise. It tried to turn after the MG and succeeded mainly in taking out the houses on either side of the street.
Twisted in her seat to watch the destruction, Lily remarked, “You know, I’m thinking those houses were overdue for demolition anyway. One tiny tap from Senor Python, and over they go.”
“What’s the bet this car is sturdier than those houses?” Iluka demanded, sweating as she careened up the street.
Lily mulled this over. “You make a fair point.”
The snake finally righted itself and uncoiled after the MG. Iluka followed the trail of destruction back to the street across from the park. She hit the curb hard and rolled over it, skidding the MG to a screeching halt in the overgrown grass. Senor Python loomed massive in the rear-view.
“What the hell kind of parking job was that?” Lily demanded, picking herself off the dash.
“It was a get your arse out of the car before the snake peels it open like a big ol’ can of sardines type of park!” screeched Iluka, who, come to think of it, wasn’t overly fond of giant snakes herself.
“All right!” Lily shrieked, piling out of the MG.
Drake was waiting for her. The snake was hurrying to rendezvous with them both. Iluka sat in the MG with her foot covering the gas, her hand clutching the gear stick. She cared a lot for Lily, but the least hint of that snake thinking the car was tastier than bony little Lily, and Iluka was outta there. She’d drive all the way to Bruce Willis’s house and bring him over for fire support.
The ground under Lily’s feet rumbled as the snake moved. Lily stared at Drake, leaning against the broken brick wall across the street. He leered in return. He’d been thrown clear of the snake in its attempt to turn, but all the bucking snakes in the world wouldn’t keep Drake from being smug. He studiously avoided showing Lily his banged elbow.
“Ducky,” Lily gasped, with panicked glances as the snake, “throw me the vagrant sword. I’m gonna take down this creep.”
“This vagrant sword?” Drake wondered, peering at the iron rod lodged in a nearby wall.
“You know that’s the one. Throw it over.”
Drake reached for the iron rod with maddening slowness. The snake appeared around the corner of the block. All pretence of calm flooded from Lily. She screeched,
“Ducky, you throw me that sword right now or I’ll put you in a vial and sell you on eBay!”
“Witch, please,” Drake scoffed. With no haste whatsoever he drew the iron rod from the brickwork and tossed it to Lily. Lily dove for it. She grabbed it in her right hand, jammed it against her side, and screamed as the snake bore down on her.
In the MG, Iluka flinched. She couldn’t bring herself to turn away from the sight of those giant blunt teeth slamming shut on Lily. Across the street, Drake cringed against the wall. The last thing he wanted was for Lily to die. A dead Lily meant Drake would be shipped off to Hell. And TV in Hell sucked.
Seeing he had to do something, Drake roared, “Thunder rumble, vagrant sword!”
Lily wasn’t chomped in two, not yet. She had the iron rod jammed between the snake’s jaws. Teeth grazed her flat belly and her back. Blood welled from broad, shallow wounds on her shoulder blades. Lightning crackled from the iron rod.
“About time, Ducky!” Lily called, her upper half swamped in the darkness of the snake’s maw.
With a skip and a jump, she leapt fully into the snake’s mouth. Her combat boots bounced off the back of its teeth. Lightning danced from the iron rod, snarling skywards. Lily brought the sword back, then up, up, up, piercing the snake’s snout from the inside out before the snake could figure out what was amiss. She drove the blade forward. Sparks rained in the lightless interior of the mouth. Electricity burst from the snake’s eyes. The lightning blade skewered what passed for its brain, and Lily changed her grip on the sword to sever the snake’s head.
She hit the ground still inside the skull. It promptly peeled apart around her. Lily was left to stare at a hundred metres of snake thrashing on the street. The bitumen was torn asunder beneath it. Brick façades gave way to its death throes. Power lines snagged on its scales and were ripped free of their moorings. The already murky Old Town was plunged into darkness.
“Oh. My. Godless. Jellybeans.” Iluka called from the MG, her voice carrying on the flat night air. “What did you do?”
Lily didn’t bother replying. The job was not yet finished. She paced along the snake’s side, her blade lancing through its flank as she walked. At last she reached the place of its heart, its demonic heart, and plunged the lightning sword to the hilt into snake flesh.
With one final, tremendous spasm, the snake died. From heart to head to tail, its massive form dissolved to ash.
Lily dug through the ash until she was satisfied the demonic heart had been destroyed. Presently, Iluka and Drake joined her. The wail of distant sirens warned them their time on the street would be brief.
“You did a fine job,” Iluka told the other girl, hand on her shoulder. She checked her hand and noticed it was slick with Lily’s blood. “Urk. Come on, Lil. Let’s get out of here. I’ll patch up those scratches for you.”
“Yeah, yeah, in a minute.” Lily stayed sifting through the ash.
“You might consider hurrying it up if you don’t want to be a prime witness to the demolition of Old Town,” Iluka suggested.
Ever the more direct of any two people in a room, Drake said, “What are you looking for, stupid?”
Lily stood up, frowning. “My ten bucks,” she said, “And if I’d known that rat was going to turn demonic on me, I wouldn’t have lent it to him in the first place.”
Let’s see dem snake teeth again:
That’s the kind of dental hygiene I’m talking about!
Join me in about two minutes for a pleasant bit of news and also the reading list. ❤