Category Archives: Fun Stuff

Be Yourself This Halloween

Exciting news! So exciting! Get your excitement boots on!

Are they on? TO THE NEWS!

In just a few short weeks I’ll be releasing my fourth book, the novella My Father’s Death. This pseudo-sequel to The Vamps of the Marais will be set in Paris in 1905 and feature a death cult headed by an immortal deity and the unfortunate chemist who invokes their wrath. Feedback from betas has been overwhelmingly positive, with phrases like “complex and tightly interwoven”, “streets and streets ahead of other stuff I’ve read” and “I should finish it Tuesday” liberally applied.

But enough of that boasting. Today I just want to share the draft promo poster, featuring protagonists Hannibal du Noir, whom you may remember from The Vamps, and Paris’s unluckiest chemist, Roland Lambert.

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Expect more – along with the actual cover – soon! If you’d like an advanced review copy, those will be going out totally free next week. And if you’re like, no, Anneque, I want to buy this from you and have you sign my Kindle, then you can do that too! I’ll be signing books and various body parts at Brisbane Supanova on the 27th to 29th of November.

Oh my… get ready!

-Anneque

The Anatomical Vampire

This week we are joined by virologist Dr Roland Lambert from the School of Industrial Chemistry in our very own Paris. The young doctor provides an intriguing dissertation of a popular urban myth – but is there more to the Vampire than legend?

-Henri de Parville, ed.

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The year 1905 has witnessed an almost unprecedented tally of disease fatalities. Influenza, pneumonia, cholera and tuberculosis remain the blight of damp suburbs and dense housing everywhere from Africa to America, accounting for 34% of all deaths. Our own beloved Paris has lost 21 700 of her citizens this year alone to infectious disease. By December’s end that number will be over 29 200.

But even as we strive for cleaner drinking water, improvements in treatment, and limitation of disease spread, there rises a new enemy, one not seen on these streets in centuries. One which stalks in daylight and kills in darkness. A silent, violent killer. One whose human form disguises the appetite of a monster.

I speak, of course, of the Vampire.

Through use of a field agent, the indispensable M. Hannibal du Noir, and my own research in the laboratory of infectious disease, I have spent this past year compiling all known facts on the creature known as Vampire. You will notice I say facts. All too often the vehicles of urban legend scuttle fact and throw fate to the wind. My model is built from the ground up: only that which can be reliably observed has been included.

What, then, is known? To begin with, Vampires are real. They are among us. They are hunting us.

They operate in packs, most likely family groups. Two such family groups have been observed in France. The first from the south, consisting of a dozen or so members who bear a strong familial resemblance in their dark hair, dusky skin and thin faces. The second flow between the borders of France and Germany on the Rhine. This intelligent band have disguised themselves among soldiers and citizens both, and so prove nearly impossible to describe. However, conservative estimates put their numbers at thirty.

A dozen, thirty – perhaps forty two Vampires in France. It is of no apparent concern for a population of 38 million. Thus my second point: their appetite.

Vampires are obligate haemovores. They must feed on blood, and have not been observed to supplement their diet with any other form of protein. Blood, as Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed can affirm, contains very little nutritious content. To sustain itself, the individual Vampire must drink upwards of 20 litres per sitting. He will do this four or five times in a week.

Pause to consider that number. 100 litres of blood to sustain a single vampire for a single week. That would empty the veins of twenty adult humans! Suddenly even conservative estimates show that 840 French men, women and children (and they are often women and children, as the Vampire is a coward) per week must lose their lives. Within a year with these fiends will strip 43, 680 French souls from their bodies. And as we are unprepared, in denial of their very existence, nothing is being done. Should these creatures reach our city, next year our death toll will reach 120 000.

I urge you, reader, to subscribe yourself to La Nature. M. de Parville has been gracious enough to offer me space in his journal to detail to you these creatures and their behaviours. It is my hope they will educate you on the means of their detection and in the protection yourself, and your loved ones.

If survival is your inclination, I will join you in a fortnight.

Dr. Roland Lambert, Head of Research, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, School of Industrial Chemistry of the City of Paris.

Dr. Roland Lambert is acting Assistant Head of Research in the  laboratory of infectious diseases for the School of Industrial Chemistry of the City of Paris.

***Though he doesn’t know it yet, Roland is about to star in my upcoming novella, My Father’s Death, out October 31st. Until then he’ll be here. How exciting~ ***

Invisible Man: Anatoly Dyatlov

Let it not be said that he was a big man, though he was the giant in any room. He saw himself a Captain Ahab: his underlings saw Moby Dick. What in his eyes was passionate was in theirs predatory. Over the years of their mutual acquaintance the boundaries between the two visions were blurred, until Anatoly was both Ahab and the Orca, hunter and hunter. As the veteran he strode Chernobyl’s halls invigorated by the company of the young workers (“Be healthy, comrade!”), as the white shadow he lounged against the grey metal console, cigarette smoke curling from the corners of his mouth like fog rising from the ocean, awaiting any slip of the operators, to strike.

They had all been caught, they had all been lectured: they had all learnt to respect and fear Anatoly Stepanovich Dyatlov.

*

This has been an invisible man introduction for the protagonist of my Chernobyl novel, the very real Anatoly Dyatlov. The goal was to write a character introduction under 200 words, and without referring directly to your character’s physical appearance. Win? Win.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

The Killer Thighs: A Story About Something, Probably

Lately I’ve been doing so much researching heavy topics (re: Chernobyl, death by acute radiation syndrome) that tonight I just wanted to unwind and do something conventional, like write a half-assed story. So here it is. I guess if you can say anything about it, it’s that it is exactly 1081 words long.

***

Okay, so, there’s this elf. Dark elf. She’s an assassin. Not just any assassin: she’s a political assassin from an ancient clan of assassins, also some accountants. These assassins are like an official department of government. Like M-15, they’re licensed to kill. Anyone can hire them, and they’re traditionally used to settle feuds between oligarchies.

I know what you’re thinking: you stole that right from James Bond. Well, you’re wrong. I stole it from the Elder Scrolls. Just deal.

Our assassin’s name is Iachilla, which means little spider, and boy does it suit her. She’s got moves you ain’t never seen, because you seen these moves, you’d be dead, and you’re not dead, you just wish you were so you could get out of reading this. Iachilla: deadly government assassin. That short blade she has? It won’t just cut your flesh. It will drink your soul. She’s a dark elf, she’s into some messed up stuff. She’s also single. Isn’t that hard to believe? When she’s so wonderful, you should see her thighs, like bridge pylons from all that running through the shadows, she could probably crab-walk up a wall with thighs like that. The rest – just imagine it. Small face, bright yellow cat eyes, teeth – she’s a woman with everything.

Everything … except a boyfriend.

One day Iachilla is assigned a mission from the Torag Mong (I stole that) requesting her deployment to another city. Iachilla slides her trusty blade into her boot, grabs her bag of poisons, cashes a ticket to the clan treasury for travel funds, and hires a carriage to the next city over. In all honestly she’ll be glad to get out of this rat-infested slumheap for a couple of days. Iachilla might be a spider but she’s not crazy about fleas and she’s even less crazy about getting shanked by a street urchin in an alleyway. That sort of thing happens here. It’s all hush-hush but the street urchins are out of their goddamn minds. There’s some sort of brain-rotting disease in the water and the urchins of course have to drink from the canals with no option of boiling beforehand. It’s a sad circumstance but not what the story is about.

Iachilla helps herself to the empty back of the wagon, feeds the driver a couple of silver bits, and listens to him talking to himself about how much he hates street urchins as the wagon winds through the dirty city streets into the clean relief of the hills. The ground under the wagon wheels is mud infused with gravel shovelled into the worst potholes. The wagon still bumps up and down enough that conversation is a constant game not to bite off your tongue. Iachilla doesn’t know how to talk to people so she’s content to listen to the driver.

“-ouch!” he says some twenty minutes from the city, and Iachilla knows she’s in for a period of relaxing silence.

A while later, just as the swelling in the driver’s tongue is coming down, the wagon happens over a steady rise capped by a crumbling watch tower. It’s double storey and wood, and it stinks of mildew and earth. There’s a long skinny figure standing half in and half out of the tower’s late morning shadow, and having apparently long listened to the wagon crunching and bumping through gravel and mud, now raises his long arm in greeting.

The wagon squelches to a halt.

“You got money?” says the driver, or rather, “Oo dot moogey?”

“I’m but a priest,” says the fellow. Indeed, he’s in a dark purple robe trimmed in white fur at the collar and silver lace brocade on the cuffs, though his brown gumboots are rather more perfunctory. His face, Iachilla finds, matches the hands slipping the knapsack from his shoulder, that is, marginally too long and thin to be handsome, but with a gentleness and precision that makes Iachilla think more of a doctor than a priest. She lets her hand fall away from her blade.

The driver gives a shrug. “I’m but a driver. I still need to make a living, mate.”

“Of course,” says the fellow, with a quick, uneven smile that amplifies his long mouth and bent nose. He is too tall for an elf, but his skin is  a purplish blue, a few hues lighter than Iachilla’s. He takes a purse from his knapsack and presses some coins into the driver’s waiting palm. He’s tall enough that he leans over the horse, look, don’t get ridiculous about that image, I mean over its back, as in he was about a height with the horse, if you think the horse is only up to his knees and he leant over it then you’re being absurd, absurd enough you should be writing your own story, but you’re not, you’re reading this one, so just stop hassling me and listen.

“To the city? That’ll be enough, won’t it?”

The driver peers at the bits of ore in his palm, and then sniffs them, and then jerks his head. “Get in the back.”

The fellow does so. His face lightens upon witnessing Iachilla, though it was not the thought of her thighs, but rather the thought of what he might sell her, that lights it. He takes his seat and leans forward gently as the wagon sloshes off on its journey.

“Brodil’s the name,” says the fellow. He doesn’t look like a Brodil, but that’s the best I could come up with in five seconds. “I’m a holy man of Namy. You are…?”

“Uninterested,” Iachilla replies. She draws her legs up to her chest, so that she might better reach her dagger. “I don’t want any of your Namy tokens, preacher.”

This was not as vulgar thing to say as it appears, as Brodil has unbuckled both straps from his knapsack and is rolling it out on the wagon floor. Wooden engravings of Namy on leather thongs and little elephant avatars carved from troll teeth litter the roll. Iachilla fondles her own amulet, which is in ode of the god of death, Traboox.

“That so?” says Brodil, cocking his head, and blinking at her with those long-lashed orange eyes. As he moves the scent of smoked cherrywood drifts from his robes. It’s an inviting scent. Iachilla shifts in her place. She watches the thin, quick hands peel back a layer of the knapsack, pushing away the holy trinkets to reveal an impressive array of small, dull-coloured powders and knives

***

There you have it. A story exactly 1083 words in length. I wonder what would happen if it were 1500 words long?

Spoiler alert: they bang and it is CRAZY.

Ever write stories like this? Share em!

The Last Night in Pripyat – Audio Preview

Hello everybody. What have I been doing lately? Amongst coding and running a writers’ group, I’ve also been delving into some serious research on the Chernobyl disaster. In fact I did so much research that I ended up writing a short story about Chernobyl, and will probably write a novel.

The following, for your ears only, is an excerpt from the short story. Blow me down! The story is actually going to air on local radio and will also be streamed online next week. I’m working hard on getting this story to you, so please enjoy the excerpt, and let me know what you think.

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Bring Back the Bats!

BATS

At some point over the summer, I became addicted to Gotham and Batman in general. Where are you, Gotham? Come back! I need the Bats!

Well.

Well, hell. After a solid 40 hours work, I’ve just finished this week’s review video. And while it looks okay, it really needs a lot of work to make it be as good as it can be.

Is anyone going to complain if I make three videos a fortnight instead of four? A reading once a week and another video every two weeks? Probably not. If you want to complain, please feel free to do so here. Otherwise, that’s what I’m going to do: take two weeks to work on the review videos. Because it’s a hellova a lot of work and I want to do them justice in the editing.

In light of that, this week’s video will be out next Friday. But there will still be a reading video out on Monday. If you don’t follow this blog regularly, you are probably lost. Shush, child, and have this teaser of two Lego men riding a time machine past Magarat Thatcher:

timethatcher

If I told you it’s relevance to the review, I’d have to kill you. So be glad that you’re totally confused right now. It’s all that stands between you and a swift death from above, hiya!

Six More Great Dystopian Wasteland Things

Last Friday I made a video: Six Top Dystopian Wastelands.

The video could only be fifteen minutes long, and so I had to axe a whole bunch of stuff from the list. Including all of the video games, oh nooo :C

But your luck, here’s the second half of the list, with six more things to help you get into dystopian wastelands. If you haven’t seen the video, you can find it here. But if you’re up-to-date, let’s get into it!

 

1) Battlefield Earth

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I didn’t even think of L. Ron Hubbard’s infamous work until I was putting the video together, but Battlefield Earth should definitely be included on any dystopian wasteland list. Who can forget their first time picking up that book, being thrown into the world of Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, where humans live in tribes between the overgrown wrecks of cities, and aliens mine Earth for its gold.

Okay, so the story got really weird halfway through, and the idea of aliens mining for gold is pretty silly, but I will always remember Battlefield Earth for its haunting vistas of rotting cities, the almost mystic reverence Johnny has for ancient (and expired) human technology, and the thrill of adventure of a couple of humans pitted against a colony of eeeeeevil aliens.

 

2) Fallout 3

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Although it’s not the newest in Bethesda Studio’s Fallout games, Fallout 3 remains for many gamers the staple title in the series. Fallout 3 is the dystopian wasteland. It’s set two hundred years in the future in a bombed out Washington DC. The backstory goes that in 2077, nuclear war broke out between China and North America, leaving the USA a barren, radioactive wasteland. Even hundreds of years later, what remains of its inhabitants are scattered into various underground bunkers called vaults, and towns built on the wastelands.

Fallout 3 is a terrifying game. You play as the Lone Wanderer, a youth who is forced to leave the sanctity of vault life, tossed out into the wastelands to find your errant father. You spend much of the game alone, fighting Mad Max-style bandits, dosing yourself with Radaway after drinking radiation polluted water and exploring this nightmarish vision of the world.

This game is incredibly iconic. Not only are there towns built into rusted old frigates and around undetonated megaton bombs (which you later have the option to detonate or defuse), there are 1950s-style bomb warnings, ads, cars, haircuts and music. There’s even a Stepford Wives-style town which turns out to be one of the most frightening parts of the game. That iconic American culture combined with the haunting, hostile wastes make Fallout 3 one of the defining experiences in modern gaming.

If you’ve already played the series, there’s also a fan-made miniseries based on it, called Fallout: Nuka Break. It’s very funny and extremely well done, very well worth your time. You can watch it here.

 

3) Borderlands

Games Borderlands 2

Less eerie and more action-based than Fallout 3, Borderlands is another game that really brings wastelands to life. The games are set on Pandora, a world settled by mega-corporation Atlus in the hope of discovering advanced alien technologies. What Atlus failed to realise is that Pandora was currently in winter, and when spring broke the hordes of Pandora’s native wildlife declared war on the settlers.

The attacks were so fierce that Atlus was driven off Pandora. Later, after many hardships and hostile aliens, it’s proven there is in fact a vault of alien technology on the planet. Atlus threatens to come back in force to find the vault, and those who can afford to get off the planet, go. The story starts several years after the search for the vault, alone with Pandora, have been officially abandoned. You play as a vault hunter, throwing yourself to the mercy of Pandora’s hostile wildlife, its few remaining (mad) settlers, and other vault hunters seeking this legendary treasure. It’ll be a fight every step of the way.

And what a fight! Borderlands is best known for its gorgeous comic-style graphics, its frenetic gameplay, and the sheer joy its offers players. You’ll feel like you’re in a frontier gold rush as you race to find the vault; building your own weapons and encountering the crackpot inhabits of Pandora. It’s tremendous fun.

 

4) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

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Though Enslaved is a departure from the traditional wastelands offered on this list, it’s definitely worth a look. Set in the year 2160, Enslaved shows us an Earth that has been overrun by artificially intelligent war machines. The machines were developed by various countries to help propagate wars, but they worked too well: the machines consider all humans to be hostile life forms, and have spent decades chasing down and erasing the last of us.

But despite the war machines, Enslaved is a beautiful game. You start in New York City. The city has long been occupied by war machines, and is gradually sinking back into the earth, overgrown with vines and trees and hosting a human-free biosphere. It’s a highly atmospheric game, well, I suppose everything on this list is here because of its atmosphere. But Enslaved manages to walk the knife’s edge between a tranquil garden and a bombed-out wasteland like no other.

It’s is also the only platformer on the list, so if you’re more of a puzzle solver than a gunslinger, give this one a try.

 

5) WALL-E

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I don’t have much to say about WALL-E. It’s set in the year 2805 on an Earth abandoned completely by human beings. The reason? Humans left so much trash on Earth that that’s all it is – no plants, no cities, no land, just mountains of trash. WALL-E is a little robot left behind to help clean up the trash in the hopes one day humanity can return to the planet. Well, theoretically, anyway. In truth the plan to return to Earth has long been abandoned, and WALL-E is completely alone in his task of making Earth liveable.

The story is beautifully told, and even though there is practically no dialogue, it has a potency that very few movies can hope to match. Plus, it really does make us more aware of just how much waste we humans generate. Also, it’s pretty cute. If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it, make sure it’s on your list.

 

6) Adventure Time with Finn and Jake

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What time is it? Dystopian time!

Adventure Time is the enormously popular cartoon written and designed by Pendleton Ward. It’s aired six seasons on Cartoon Network and it seems it can do no wrong.

Like the best cartoons, Adventure Time was designed with both adults and children in mind. At first it’s all bright colours and random events, but underneath the pastel surface, Adventure Time has a very odd story to tell.

The story is set in the land of Ooo, which is implied to be Earth a thousand years after what’s dubbed the Mushroom War. The Mushroom War, which was mostly nuclear, wiped out most of Earth’s human population. In fact, to date there has only been one human in the series, and that’s the protagonist, Finn. There are episodes in which Finn thinks he’s found a colony of humans, only to learn they’re a race of subterranean fish mutants.

But despite the elements of dystopian, and despite the enormous amount of fun it offers, it’s difficult to classify Adventure Time as a wasteland piece. And that’s why, as close as it comes, it’s last on the list.

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Okay! That’s the second half of my dystopian wastelands list. I hope you’ve found a few new things to occupy your time. Before, you know, humanity is overtaken by nuclear robots aliens from the future.

Chilling in Dystopia

Some days, when you work really hard, you get to go home and play Mass Effect.

Other times, you get to stay in range of WiFi for another two hours uploading a video.

Well, my friends, this is one of those days.

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Dystopian wasteland special soon! How soon? As soon as the video uploads … sigh.

Tomorrow FemShep and I are going on a date.

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The Sunday Witch Hunters ep 13: Borrowed Time

Welcome back to the Sunday Witch Hunters! First thing this morning I did a dramatic reading of this episode for the benefit of the dogs. They thought it was very exciting (it was very dramatic.) For some reason, they barked whenever Lily had a line. Fans, maybe?

You know sometimes on WordPress you get spammy comments. Sometimes they’re selling you something, other times the words are so disjointed that the comment must have been written by a bot. I recently had one on SWH episode 12 that went something like, “Hi! I love your website and your topic of interest! But I noticed that you have very many words and not many images!”

Well, I thought. No shit, Sherlock. It’s a story for adults. Not a story for spam bots.

I felt bad about it anyway, so I made this.

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If you haven’t read Witch Hunters, read it here! If you have read Witch Hunters, let’s get to it!

*

The Sunday Witch Hunters
Episode 13: Borrowed Time

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-*-*-*-

 “Lily. Lily. Lily, get up!”

The black cuttlefish raised its tentacles and slammed them again into Knox’s still form, flicking them up again dripping blood stained black in the midnight.

Joe cowered over Lily, eyes dancing between the cuttlefish and the encroaching demon horde. His hands clenched sporadically on the electromagnetic cannon. His lungs blew up and collapsed like an explosion in stutter motion.

Lily moaned. Joe rolled the cannon from his lap and pulled her into his arms. He wiped at the dirt and leaves on her cheek but and her hand fluttered over his.

“What happened?” she moaned.

“Nothing,” said Joe, and then decided it was a poor time to lie. Lily’s hand stayed on his. Joe laughed breathlessly in the face of death. “You were hit by a demon. There are a bunch more of them headed this way. And er. The Chief is probably de– alive. I mean he doesn’t look like he’ll be stamping date cards any time soon.”

“No one uses them any more anyway,” Lily struggled to sit on her own. Two little humans under a clutch of dark trees on the side of a nightmare. She fumbled for the cannon lying forlorn on the dry eucalypt leaves and trained it uncertainly on the demons ebbing up the hillside. The demons, it seemed, were becoming familiar with the cannon, and those in the front ranks pulled up short. But there were a hundred clawing, horror-faced aspects of the night, there were a thousand, and those in the back row flowed around those in the front, until those unknowing what the cannon would do to them were marching at the fore.

Lily fired into the horde. Demons peeled away in burst of brown blood and smoking flesh.

“Drake! To me!”

A voice immediately behind Joe spat, “What.”

Joe jumped. Drake shimmied out of the thin cold air, pale and semi-transparent and looking every bit a ghost. He watched the oncoming horde sourly. He watched Lily sourly. His entire countenance was so sour that he seemed on the verge of flipping inside-out.

“Wipe that look off your face!” Lily snarled. The cannon covered nicely for her shaking arms. “We need your help. Possess the Chief. Walk him out of here for us. We’ll hold this lot off until help arrives.”

Joe patted his pockets. “Do you want me to make a call for help?”

Lily blinked at him. She seemed about to ask him to repeat himself. “You mean you haven’t already? What were you doing when the Chief and I were unconscious? Did you think you were going to carry us both out of here?”

Yeah. In body-bags. In about a week, when it was safe to come back.

Joe said, meekly, “You weren’t out for long enough for me to call anyone. I’m sorry. Who do I call?”

Lily shoved the EM cannon into his arms. “Presley. I’ll call. You keep firing. Aim for the outliers – careful! There’s one!” she reached around him and pulled the trigger, exploding a demon lurching towards them on two strong-man arms and the withered legs of an infant. “Drake!”

Drake pouted. “I won’t do it. You can’t make me.”

Lily flicked through her phone. “I can make you. Don’t make me make you.”

Drake stuck out his chin. Joe fought the urge to turn the cannon on him. There were demons crawling over the hill like ants on a sandwich and Drake was going to stand there and pout? To hell with it. Joe did turn the cannon on him.

“Possess him!” he shrieked, moving the cannon between Drake and Knox. “Now!”

Drake flinched. Joe bared his teeth in what was supposed to be a reassuring smile. The shinigami passed a glance to Lily before retreating to the cuttlefish hulking over Knox.

Joe fired wildly on the cuttlefish. “I’ll cover for you, Drake!”

Lily raised her eyebrows. She had the phone pressed to her ear. “Are you feeling all right, Joe?”

“Fine,” said Joe, turning on the demon horde. He emptied thunder into their seething ranks, carving deep groves in godless bodies, blowing channels through the ranks. Hell, this wasn’t so bad. Hell, he could do this all night.

He turned back and witnessed in snatches Drake sulking over to Knox and crouching beside him. Drake poked a finger into Knox’s face. The shinigami dissolved into smoke. A few wispy curls and gone. A moment later, Knox twitched.

“Lord Satan, it’s a madhouse in here,” he groaned, sitting up unsteadily. “I told you the guy was outta his mind. Wow, it’s like he… Wow. Ugh. What the hell is that?

Lily pressed the phone to her breast. “Is there anything about me in there?”

“Uh huh. He calls you the crazy bitch.”

Lily roared, “He does not!”

Drake watched her with Knox’s eyes, his smile cruel and foreign. There was nothing to distinguish the possessed Knox from the regular one. Nothing, except that every movement, every word was wrong and weird, and Joe was forced to stop looking at him, so deep was his sense that something was amiss. “No? You wouldn’t know what this guy thinks. I can’t understand any of it. Nice body, though,” he stood too quickly, ignoring the blood that slopped down his front as he flexed his new limbs. “Maybe I’ll stay in here. Been a while since I had a body.”

Lily held her nose in the air. She seemed to have forgotten about calling for help. “You can only stay if you let me play with you.”

Contemptuous disgust was the look given to Lily by Drake. He strutted around the black cuttlefish, popping Knox’s dislocated shoulder into place as casually as other men crack their knuckles.

“Now show me these demons,” Drake sneered. “Daddy’s got a body and he’s in a mood to kill some fools with it.”

Joe with the cannon, Lily armed with her lightning sword and Drake dishing out massacre to all who crossed him, the three Witch Hunters went to war. Drake laughed a rolling, wicked laugh as he tore demons limb from limb, kicked and gouged and snapped necks with his bare hands. There was a languidness to his movements which Knox never had, but the violence, let alone the weirdness of it all chilled Joe to the marrow. Drake peeled demons apart and crushed their faces under his palms.. The cuttlefish couldn’t seem to touch him. He gripped the tentacles it slapped at him and twisted them off in a squeak of rubbery flesh. He walked carelessly into the writhing mass of semi-severed tentacles, reaching over them to punch out the round squid eye. His arm buried to the bicep in brains, and he wrenched the demonic heart into the cold air and crushed it to pulp between his fingers.

The cuttlefish burst to ash around him, and Drake laughed, and licked the blood from his hands and danced after the scattered remains of the demonic horde.

Joe stayed aside. He stayed out of Drake’s way. The shinigami had been right, after all; he was nothing but meat out here. He shivered under the thin cover of a eucalypt, watching the blaze of movement that was Drake, the bursts of light that were Lily.

And then, as the last demon toppled, everything fell to pieces.

“How good was that?” Drake called to Lily, striding through a haze of ash.

Lily smiled at him for a moment. Her expression froze. She took two stiff steps towards him.

Drake didn’t lose his smug grin. “What? What is it?”

“Y- your eyes,” she stammered, reaching for Drake’s borrowed face, holding up the humming lightning sword for light. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

“I’m looking at you, that’s what’s wrong,” Drake joked. He swatted Lily’s hands away, and brushed his own over Knox’s face. Joe hurried from under his tree, and immediately turned away again. Blood as black as ink in the stuttering light streamed from Knox’s eyes. Drake saw it smeared on his fingers and flinched away from it.

“The hell is this!” he cried. As Joe and Lily watched on helplessly, liquid black welled at Knox’s ears and nose and mouth, welled, and then flooded from him. Drake coughed, and dark blood splashed over his shirt. Lily cringed against Joe, stricken. Drake’s oozing eyes widened in surprise. He slumped to the ground over the ash of the last dead demon.

“It’s a curse,” Lily’s voice was barely above a whisper, “his blood is cursed, Drake! You have to get out of there!”

Drake grunted, trying and failing to rise to all fours. “Can’t. I’m trying. It’s like this madman has a trap rigged for this.”

“You have to!” Lily dropped to her knees beside him. She took him by the shoulders. She shook him, and he fell bonelessly against her. “You idiot, Drake, you jackass! Just get out of there or you’ll both be killed!” She snapped at Joe, who flinched. “You! Where’s the EM cannon?”

“I- over there.” He’d left the cannon under the tree. He ran to get it.

Lily shouted after him, “Turn it to mid output. We’ll blast Drake out!”

Joe threw Lily a wild look over his shoulder. “Are you sure you want to do that? The Chief is already hurt. The shock could-”

“The shock could what? Make things any worse?” Lily demanded, and Joe was lost for an answer. “Get the cannon and shoot him already!”

Despite himself, Joe brought the cannon to where Lily held Drake cradled against her. Joe’s arms ached with constantly hefting the cannon, as light as it was. He breathed heavily in the still air. Or maybe it was more than fatigue. That old stab of fear took a long time to leave, no time to return. He levelled the cannon at Drake, bracing it against his shoulder to support its weight with trembling arms.

Lily propped Drake up as best she could. He slumped over his knees. Lily ducked out of the way, though not far out. She nodded to Joe to pull the trigger.

The cannon was already buzzing with power on its middle setting. Joe pulled the trigger. The recoil blew him off his feet. Thunder snarled at Drake, missing him by a hand’s width. The tree to his right shuddered violently, electricity crawling through its branches. Knox’s outline blurred. Apparently near enough was good enough to shake Drake free.

Lily snarled, “Now, the God-handed gun! Aim for Drake!”

Joe hadn’t remembered he even had the silver revolver. But there it was, secured under his belt, right where Lily had left it. He sighted the spectre of Drake over the barrel, and fired. The silver cross on its thin wire hit Knox’s ribs and dragged Drake further free, one dark ghost tangled with another. But he was still stuck fast.

With a growl Lily grabbed the EM cannon from the dirt. She spun on her heel, braced the cannon against her shoulder, and shot Drake again. Knox was thrown lifelessly backward; the silver cross sunk through the spectre that was Drake and ripped him free. Cross and Drake both were slurped into the revolver.

Ping! went the pistol. A pink light lit up on the revolver’s barrel. A vial dropped into Joe’s hand.

Panting, he held up the vial up to Lily. “Will he be okay in there?”

“Yeah, leave him,” Lily sighed, dragging herself up. She leant heavily against the cannon. “I don’t think he and the Chief will want to see each other tonight.”

From his place on the dirt, Knox croaked, “Quite right, my dear. In fact, I don’t wish to ever see him again.”

Lily twisted towards him. “Nice of you to join us.” She stared at him for a long few seconds, frowning heavily. “Don’t do that again, okay? Are you all right? Here, I’ll help you up.”

Joe didn’t think anyone could possibly be okay after losing so much blood and then being shot twice. He wandered closer to survey the situation. Knox caught his eye. Haggard and grim and dripping dark blood, he painted on a smile.

“I’m fine, Joe, really. This sort of thing happens all the time.”

Whether or not that was a good thing, he left Joe to decide. He needed both Lily and Joe to help him back to the car, a journey in which they all limped and groaned, and then Joe had to make the drive back into Muraluna. His first stop was the university campus to drop Lily home. With her she took Drake in his rather pleasant vial form. Joe didn’t think he could have handled the drive back with Drake heckling him. Lily opened the back door as soon as she’d closed the passenger’s side and leant in to fuss over Knox.

“I’ll be fine,” Knox said, laid out like a sultan on the back seat. “I’ll see you on Sunday. Don’t be late. It’s an important meeting.”

Lily looked him up and down, and at last closed the door. She stopped by the driver’s side and gave Joe a distracted smile. “Thank you, Joe. You did well out there. I’ll see you on Sunday, too.”

That was all it took for Joe to forget about the horror and death and the violence, and look suddenly, hopelessly look forward to the weekend. He pulled out of the university grounds with a song in his heart and Knox bleeding steadily on the Mustang’s leather upholstery.

Against his better judgment, he drove Knox to his apartment, rather than the emergency ward. Knox lived on the top floor of a four storey block of units. He refused Joe’s help to climb the stairs, though he didn’t try to dissuade the boy from following him. It was a slow trip up. At the top of the stairs, face blanched of all colour, pretending not to be leaning against his front door for support, Knox asked for Joe’s phone.

“Are you calling an ambulence?” Joe wanted to know. “Because I can drive you to the hospital.”

“Not quite. We’ll need someone to go out in the morning and make sure the hive has been exterminated. Presley’s in charge of co-ordinating all that.” Knox made the call. “Yes. Yes,” he agreed dully after explaining the situation in its barest details, “Joe and Miss Buchanan got rid of the lot, I’d say. Yes. Yes. Yes, I know that. Get someone out there to check it tomorrow, will you? You’d better send O’Roarke in case there are any more. Yes. Very well. See you then.”

He handed the phone to Joe. It was sticky with half-dried blood. Joe faked a smile and pushed the phone into his pocket. He bravely resisted asking if Knox had any transmittable diseases.

“Thank you, Joe. You did marvellously out there tonight. But if you don’t mind leaving the celebrations until Sunday, I think I’ll go to bed now.”

Joe frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Well I usually stay up and watch Letterman, but I rather think I’ll skip it tonight.”

Joe narrowed his eyes. “I mean, are you sure you’re all right? You’re not going to bleed to death in there?”

“I’m fine,” Knox said for the twentieth time. Seeing Joe was as hesitant to accept this as the truth as the first time Knox had lied about it, he added, “I’ll call in sick for work tomorrow. Drop the car off to me in the afternoon, and if I’m not here, then you can check the morgue.”

“The car?” Joe was caught off guard. But of course, how else would he get home? It would be a good hour’s walk to his grandparents’ house, and in the middle of the wintery night.

Knox grinned. “Go home. Treat my car as if it was your first born child. I’ll see you on the morrow.”

He peeled himself off the door, waved to Joe and stole inside the dark apartment. Leaving Joe to wonder just what he had gotten himself into.

-*-*-*-

Just what has Joe gotten himself into? Oh dear …

Tomorrow is the small-screen debut of my Sayeh and Zia video review. I finished filming yesterday and oh my gosh, it is going to be … it’s going to be … this (link) in video review. Don’t miss it!