Fictionarama: Blood in the Air

A Brisbane theatre troupe has adapted George Orwell’s 1984, and guess who has a ticket to see it? That’s right, my mother. It’s her mother’s day present from yours truly. And as much as she said she wanted to see it, I’m really not convinced she knows what it’s about.

Oh well. She’ll find out soon enough. :{}

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And now, it’s time to strap on your seatbelts, because this week’s episode of Sunday Witch Hunters is about to be served hot straight onto your lap! There was too much imagery in that sentence! Last week we joined new exorcist Joe and his mentor Knox in the gym for a practise session and a bit of trivia about demon hunting. This week Joe plunges into his first real job with the Muraluna Witch Hunters – but is he in over his head?

If you haven’t yet experienced the paranormal action drama hullabaloo that is The Sunday Witch Hunters, you can find the previous episodes here. Regular readers, survivors should gather at the end of …

The Sunday Witch Hunters

Episode 12: Blood in the Air

 

 

bloodforest1

*

Night fell early and the breeze was hard and cold when the Mustang rolled into Joe’s street. Joe climbed gladly into the purring vehicle, not even minding that he had to sit beside Drake if it meant being out of the frigid night. His school uniform had turned out to not only be the best clothes he owned, but also the warmest.

Lily was in the co-pilot’s seat. She gave Joe a wink which sent his pulse racing. This week her platinum ringlets were streaked with pink. She was pushing the boundaries of cute in black and white petticoats and leather boots over her stripy pink knee socks. The details of her figure were obscured by a shapeless knot sweater, but Joe was confident he’d memorised them. She looked good. He wished he looked half as good for her.

“I hope you’ve got your combat boots on,” she told him, grinning. “This is nothing like the jobs you took last week. These are extremely hostile demons, likely acting as a pack. They’re running riot in the National Park. A park ranger was killed a week ago, another yesterday. Apparently the rangers were found strewn across a hundred metres of forest. It’s a matter of finding the pack before they kill again.”

“People died?” Joe choked. “I never heard anything about it on the news.”

“You probably heard a different story. There was a witness to the first killing. The witness reported a big black tentacle monster bursting up out of the ground and tearing the guts out of the ranger. The witness was held in custody, but the crime scene confirmed the ranger’s injuries were not consistent with the physical limitations of a human being. The killing, in conjunction with numerous sightings of inexplicable creatures, prompted National Parks to call us.”

“But still …”

“Besides,” said Lily, “if I had the choice between saying to the media that two park rangers were pulled apart demons, or two park rangers tripped over their own shoelaces and fell off a cliff, I know which I’d be going with. Don’t you?”

Joe conceded her that. Lily turned to fiddle with the radio. Knox was humming and hadn’t said boo since Joe stepped into the car.

“You want to be careful, kid.”

Drake, meanwhile, was seething attitude, sprawled across the back seat like he was Vlad the Impaler poised on a throne of skulls. He caught Joe’s eye and sneered. “What these two won’t tell you, I will. You’re bait, kid. You go out there tonight, you’re gonna be totally defenceless.”

Joe’s face flushed red. Had Drake heard about the gym? Pleased his comment had the desire effect, Drake went on, “I can make you an exorcist, like I did with Lily. We’ll cut a deal. Give me your kidneys and I’ll make sure you survive tonight.”

Lily twisted in her seat and smacked Drake’s knee. “Stop going on about Joe’s kidneys! It’s all you ever talk about. Not to mention that it’s extremely rude, especially when he’s here in the car with us.”

“She knows she has the power, y’see,” Drake said amicably, putting his shoulder to Lily. “Most demons we face don’t have a hope against a real exorcist. Lily doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, or she’d tell you how pathetic you are. And Knox, he’s no better. You’re demon bait, boy.”

“I’m not sure I follow you,” Joe replied, with a glassy sort of calmness. He checked the doors, but the doors were locked.

Drake smirked. “You go out tonight, there’s a damn high chance you won’t be coming back.”

“Goodness gracious me, Drake,” Knox tutted, finally tuned in to planet Earth. “I never imagined you were so compassionate. For a god of death to show such consideration towards a mere mortal is truly astounding. You must be the butt of every joke in the realm of fates. Don’t tell me your deal with Lily is making you human.”

Drake could barely muster the sharp flinches and facial contortions necessary to convey his displeasure. He huffed, and sneered, “You wait, you insignificant reaper scum. You and I will fight one day. Your disrespect will be your grave.”

By now the Mustang was cruising outside the city limits. In the distance plains gave way to mallee forests, the scrubby eucalypts blanketing a series of low, rolling hills. Joe recognised the pig farm as it flashed by his window. They were the only car on the road for a long while.

After an interminable drive without much conversation the Mustang veered off the quiet main road, onto a single lane dirt track winding through the scrub. Trees rose up around the car; dark, scruffy mallee gums blanched in the cone of the headlights. The hills kicked up and less defined tracks crisscrossed the road. Joe had to wonder how anybody could know which way to go in such a maze of tracks, but the Chief never hesitated for a second.

High in the hills, the Mustang crunched to a halt. It sat with its engine plinking while the three Witch Hunters unloaded their gear from the boot. Drake stood in the shadows and brooded. He didn’t offer to help, and he didn’t ask Joe for his kidneys again. For this at least Joe was somewhat thankful. Knox had left the headlights on and there on the roadside they were trapped in a narrow bowl of light. Above them, so far from town, the stars were a blaze of glory. All around them, the trees held only darkness in their gently groaning branches. Joe shivered, pulling his jacket tighter around him.

Knox was going through the job details again when a whooping, blood-curdling wail tore through the forest.

“Take this.” Knox shoved an EM cannon into Joe’s arms and strode off up the hillside like an iron filing sucked up by a magnet. Dressed all in black he took only seconds to disappear into the trees.

Lily looked sideways at Joe. “We should follow him.”

Joe gulped. He was glad of the EM’s weight in his arms. “Do we need anything else?”

Lily took a short iron rod from the Mustang, wedged a silver revolver under Joe’s belt, and slammed the boot. “This is it. Let’s go.”

She whistled to Drake and spurred off across the gravel. Joe lurched after her. She’d brushed his skin when she stuck the revolver under his belt and he could feel her touch all the way to his toes.

A second wail split the night. Joe faltered on the gravel hill. The EM cannon was heavy in his arms but not nearly heavy enough for comfort. Lily vanished in the trees ahead of him. He gritted his teeth and pushed on. His kidneys for survival. Talk about inflation. A few weeks ago it had been his kidneys for eternal life.

Joe hit a crest and plunged down the far side into a wide gravel gully, a dip between two buttresses flowing down from the peak. The gully was littered with ferns and infant gums and dead grass and bisected at its lowest point by a lightning bolt creek. Gums soared on either side, their gnarled claws groping at the stars, haze of leaves forming a sardonic mimicry of cover.

Tearing down the crest on skidding shoes Joe had a dim glance of Knox and Lily meeting a vast moving body of shadow rising from the creek bed. Vague forms detached from the main body, dark demonic figures dancing and howling, insatiable blood-lusting howls that tore through Joe and turned his blood to ice.

“Lily!” he cried, slipping on a rush of loose gravel towards the creek, dark figures flashing all around him. God, he wanted to run. Run towards the darkness, run away from it, God, he just had to run. He couldn’t make out Knox or Lily or anything other than the demons dancing all around him. He was alone in a forest of noise and shadow. “Knox! Where are you?”

Something leapt out of the darkness at him, and Joe swung the EM cannon into its chest. The thing reeled away, a jiggling amalgamation of gruesome parts, some dark liquid squirting from its busted chest catching on the starlight and the illumination of its dull red eyes. He stared at the creature as it danced for balance, his fingers groping for the cannon’s ON switch. Tusks bit into his side and he bit back a yowl. Another demon slammed into him and he lost his grip on the cannon. It rolled under a cloven hoof and was gone. The air was thick with the rank stench of the creatures, blood and matted fur, the putrid odour of sulphur and an unearthly heat that leapt from beast to beast, beating down on Joe, closing in on him. The ranks closed around him. A demon lashed out. Joe flinched. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t run. Nowhere to run. Teeth like a fistful of syringes sunk into the back of his calf. There was a ripple of movement from the demons surrounding him as they tensed to strike. Joe gathered every last bit of courage and desperation within him and swung his fist at the nearest demon.

He danced back as its lopsided skull exploded in front of his face.

“Need a hand?”

Joe mopped at the dark bits of flesh and bone on his face. He glanced at Knox over his shoulder. “D’ya coulda,” he stammered, “d’ya coulda hit me!”

Knox grinned. He kicked a demon aside and picked his black baseball bat from the midst of a bunch of hastily retreating hell spawn. The demons ruptured, wailing, beneath the bat.

“Stay calm and focused they won’t hurt you too much. If you’re afraid, stay close to me.”

Then Knox was off, chasing the demon horde. Joe figured he would stay where he was if it kept him away from more demons. He fetched the EM cannon from the gravel and had just flicked it on when a warning growl sounded several yards away. He whirled on the noise, cannon at the ready.

A wall of hellspawn faced him from across the narrow creek. Black on black, horns and hoofs and tentacles and dim red eyes. All piled on top of each other, quivering with the need to strike. It was like being watched by a bowl of offal.

“Um,” said Joe. “Hold on.”

He pawed at the trigger. He found it as the wall of demons dissolved towards him. The EM cannon bellowed in his hands. A streak of thunder ripped a hole right through the horde, taking off limbs and hollowing ribcages without discrimination. Demons it hit smacked the ground wetly, writhing and shrieking as their dark blood boiled and their flesh dissolved to dust.

Joe gaped in dull horror at the beasts dying in front of him, watching breath suck against ribcages for the last time. The recoil from the cannon had knocked him ass over. A few demons stopped to pick at their dying brothers; a taste of an arm here, a lick of a tentacle there. The rest fell shrieking over Joe. At last he got a hold of himself and fired at chest height. Demons exploded around him. A stray hand slapped him across the cheek. Heads banged at his feet. The air buzzed with the cacophony of death.

For a minute, maybe two, he managed to thwart the endless horde. He let the EM cannon fall smoking from his numb arms. The plan was to find his feet and run for cover while the demons’ ranks were thin. He rolled onto his feet and thunder boomed on the hill above him. Joe was so preoccupied that it took him a handful of seconds to realise it was the earth shaking, and not him.

The shaking rose to a violent tremor, rocking Joe from his feet. The zigzag storm gully wrenched open with a sickening crunch. Driven as a nest of spiders before a fire, demons poured from the wound in the earth. Joe heard Knox cry,

“We’ve hit a hive!”

and the demons surged over him.

The demons of the hive were hulking, lean, insectile, reptilian things of ill-fitting skin and toothless mouths and mouthless teeth. Their eyes sat as dead as moons in their dented skulls. Their knuckles dragged the wretched earth. Smoke curled from their backs and excited chitters ran back and forth through their ranks, up and down Joe’s spine. From brain to bowel. He groped blindly for the EM cannon.

“Buchanan!” Knox roared, somewhere higher on the hill, fighting his way through the gully towards Joe, “Take care of these! I’ll find the hive tyrant!”

Lily waved a hand and at last Joe found her. His heart pounded harder than ever to see she was all right, some sickening chemical slogging through his veins until he felt ready to collapse with relief. She drew the short iron rod from her petticoat pocket, and pressed the end to her side.

“Thunder rumble, vagrant sword!”

There was a flash of lightning, a brilliant haphazard streak from earth to clouds, followed by a squeal of thunder. The iron rod became a snarl of lightning in Lily’s hand.

She leapt into the gully, her weapon a jagged streak of light. She tore through the hive demons, sword humming like a chainsaw, sending bits of demons flying in every direction. Bodies tore beneath the savage blade.

Joe took his cue. He grabbed for the EM cannon as the demons scrambled for him, driven towards him by Lily. His breath coming in terrified gasps, he pulled the cannon into his arms, plastered his back against a fallen tree and fired madly into the crowd. The recoil knocked him hard against the tree, but Joe didn’t dare consider not firing again.

“All right?” Knox crouched at Joe’s side as the cannon smouldered and hissed. Joe was afraid it was melting. He peeled his eyes from the demons to Knox’s pale face, the only part of him readily visible in that darkest night. The black bat was slung over his shoulder, slick with blood and undead flesh. “I suppose the hive tyrant is in the middle of that lot- gak!”

His words were punctuated by a tentacle of inky blackness and telegraph pole thickness snaking from the shadow of the mallee forest and slapping around his waist. The tentacle withdrew with a snap, pulling Knox with it. Only his hat and his baseball bat remained in the storm gully. Hat and bat pattered to the gravel. The rest of Knox cleared the fifty yards between the gully and the forest and crashed into a sapling. The sapling snapped and Knox rolled to a stop on the forest floor.

Across the gully, Lily and Joe exchanged a glance. Mutually dumbstruck, they turned to gape at the mallee forest.

“Oh, um,” said Joe, lamely, “Shouldn’t we-”

Too late. Lily was already running. Even then she was too late to do anything about the mass of glistening black tentacles and snapping beaks that clung to a towering gum tree at the forest’s verge. And what a Lovecraftian horror it was. Some dread beast from the depths of the sea, dredged onto land and made nimble and supple. Starlight gleamed dully from its rubbery black form. It dropped from the gum, slipping into the cover of the trees with cuttlefish speed, tentacles slipping and smacking wetly through the scrub. The suckers on its tentacles shredded the bark from every tree it touched.

Knox crawled upright against a tree. He picked a branch from the ground for defence. Feeling a wetness on his chest he patted his jacket front. It was gone. His shirt hung in tatters, all that was left of his jacket were the sleeves. He also seemed to be missing a fair amount of skin. Blood slogged in his ears, making it difficult to gauge if the rhythmic slosh was his pulse or something heavy dragging itself across the forest floor.

Something heavy, he decided, raising the branch with half a second to spare. The squid wrapped one tentacle around the branch and squeezed it to pulp. End of branch. Knox grabbed for the squid with a bloodied hand, and a tentacle against slapped his unguarded shins, ripping his feet out from underneath him. Before he could fall  another tentacle slapped around his midriff and hurled him deeper into the forest. He went flying, hit a tree, this one sturdier than the sapling. He had no chance to catch himself. He hit with his shoulder and bounced off the trunk and crashed bonelessly to the earth.

Joe, running as hard as he could up the slope, Lily bounding beside him, searched desperately for Knox’s body. Lily shouted for Knox to give her some answer. Reserve demons were clawing from the open creek. The scent of blood was thick in the air. The demons were wild. Lily was wilder. She ran down the black squid as it chased the scent of blood, driving her lightning sword into the creature’s thick hide. A tentacle wrapped around her waist and slammed her into the earth.

Joe saw. He screamed. He couldn’t help it. This wasn’t the shadow play he’d witnessed with Knox. This was Lily. This was his. He hit the dirt on his knees beside her, pawed furiously at her face, patting her cheek, her name falling from his throat again and again.

“Lily. Lily. Lily. Lily, get up!”

-*-*-*-*-

Continued in The Sunday Witch Hunters, episode 13. Out next week!

Really though, what is it about forests at night that just make you go, “Nope.” I see a forest during the day, I’m all over it. A forest at night, nope. Not going in there. No way. Not me. Not this primate. Nope.

Anyway. I’ve been stuck for a while wondering what I should do with the site and with reviews and how to help people and stay motivated. What I thought was I might move the book review from a podcast to a video. Subscriptions and managing files is certainly easier on YouTube than it is podcast sites. Plus video. I was thinking even it would be neat to film some footage relevant to the book.

For instance, D. James Fortescue’s Sayeh and Zia is set in Arabia about 2500 years ago. Sorry if I don’t have the time exactly write, D! But certainly it is set in a desert. A wooden mask also plays an important role in the story. I don’t think it would be too difficult to film some robed women in nearby stone ruins, and maybe also some footage with a wooden mask.

A friend has an idea as well, and that is if I’m reviewing a space opera, we could make a campy space set and have spaceships on strings. Hey, Plan 9 From Outer Space did it. And that is surely one of the greatest movies of all time … surely.

The review videos would be 5 – 10 minutes long, and each one would focus on just one book. This is opposed to the podcast covering 5 books in under half an hour. It might come out once a fortnight. I really want to do readings as well. Gosh. Well, let me know what you think. I won’t apologise for this year being like it has been, but I will say I’m happy it’s getting its act together. Too much imagery again.

What do you think?

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About Anneque D. Machelle

Anneque "Dangerpus" Machelle (rhymes with ranger wuss) is a rebel and a rogue from way out west. Strictly banned from interactions with other human beings, she spends her days amongst molluscs, dogs and lizards, whom she counts as her closest friends.

Posted on April 24, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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