Category Archives: Art
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.
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!
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:
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Dystopian wasteland special soon! How soon? As soon as the video uploads … sigh.
Tomorrow FemShep and I are going on a date.
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.
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
“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!
Happy Valentine’s Day y’all book lovers, lots of love from me and Lily and the rest of the Sunday Witch Hunters crew~
I like to think that Lily sent this picture (photo taken by Drake, much to his disdain) to the Chief’s phone and lounged around all day in her dorm room in her underwear waiting for him to show up. When he didn’t, she put on a flasher’s coat and stalked off to the library. She burst into the library in full combat mode and stormed to Knox’s office on the third floor … just to miss him climbing out the window and scaling the building to the parking lot.
Needless to say, she was very disappointed. But luckily, since this is Valentine’s Day and so the story has a happy ending, she ran into Joe on the way out of the library, and made a young man’s dream come true. Well. Some of the dream. Joe was so happy that he took her out to a classy cafe for high tea. Of course, he was also penniless, and so Lily had to pay. But he made her feel super special and she realised that she didn’t need cross-heel stilettos and skimpy underwear to make her beautiful after all. Aw.
This image would not have been possible without the the original model and excellent photographer, Miss Mosh and Amanda Anne, who can be found here. Miss Mosh is Lily in the flesh, wowza. Also, if you’d like to hear a better romance story than the one I just told you, check out this.
Reading list later!
Imagine you were struck down with a terrible disease, one which left you on death’s door. If you were given the chance to live, would you care about the cost?
…Even if that cost was being haunted by a six foot tall emo with an addiction to daytime soap?
If you were Lily Buchanan, exorcist, you might just say yes.
Anybody else would probably turn Drake down. 😉 Sorry, Drake.
You can catch Drake, Lily and the rest of the Muraluna spook squad here on Thursday for episode six of the Sunday Witch Hunters!
PS: Listen to Drake’s favourite song right here.
There’s been a slight change of plan regarding tomorrow’s episode of Literature Emergency Broadcast. The lovely Miss Jex Collyer will be available for an interview on Saturday at the earliest, and so the altogether resplendent James L. Wilber of My Babylon fame will be usurping her place.
We should also fairly shortly have exciting news regarding a new website for female readers and writers of science fiction. I’ve been working with Clarity‘s Anna Herlihy on the project for the last month or so, and by all accounts it is sounding like a very good thing. More about that closer to release.
Thanks to everyone who volunteered to beta read Love, Charybdis. If I have been slack in letting you know, the beta version will go out on the weekend, fingers crossed. I realised yesterday that I had accidentally moved an important landmark ten kilometres along the coast of Brittany, but since it’s an alternate history story I’m hoping everyone will let me get away with that. :
And finally! It’s rainy, it’s stormy, it’s gloomy as hell; it’s the Sunday Witch Hunters episode 3!
The Sunday Witch Hunters
Monday. A pitiless day at the best of times. Today it seemed to Knox particularly spiteful.
It was the kind of day where every man, woman, senior citizen, parents’ group, right-wing librarian and child wanted their pound of flesh. It had rained all day and the foyer carpet was buried in an inch of muddy footprints. The encroaching mud had driven the other, less English librarians to distraction and now the shelves were in chaos, the books were outdated, the audiotapes were scratched, the database was corrupted, the photocopier had caught fire, Knox shouldn’t be talking, he shouldn’t not be talking, the coffee had gone bad, there was a mouse in the staff lounge and the front desk had been declared an OH&S hazard, why had the cemetery blueprint been moved from the local archives, and who made a bridge over the mud with the old cataloguing cards?
“I did,” Knox muttered, hiding in his office on the third floor of the library. “I used your blasted cataloguing cards. And if I had my time again, I would use still them. Get rid of your cards!”
He sighed. He still had work to do. It was 6.25 on a Monday evening, and aside from Knox the library was devoid of life. Well okay, there remained the mouse in the staff lounge and Knox was fairly certain there were gremlins in the third floor archives and also probably the photocopier. But aside from that, he was alone.
A ream of paper covered in late-returns offenders was piled up on Knox’s desk. They needed seeing to. Which was a pity, since Knox had zero inclination of seeing to them. The poltergeist was on the loose at Saint Ann’s Chapel again, and Presley had just called to say that his gout was playing up and he wouldn’t be able to make the job. That left Knox to drive out to the chapel alone. Which he would do, if it weren’t still hissing down rain and his car wasn’t under repair from the last time he’d driven in the rain with demons on the loose.
“Oh yes, that’s right.” Knox stared at the stacks of papers on his desk. He had another job later in the evening, this one out of town. He could walk home from the library without much inconvenience, and he could foreseeably walk the nine kilometres to Saint Ann’s Chapel. But the farm? Please! Soon the demons would be complaining he wasn’t exorcising them fast enough.
Unless … Well, he seemed to recall Joe having a car. The new boy wasn’t scheduled for any jobs this week. And Knoxhad promised to show him the ropes. Yes, yes, of course. A poltergeist would make a perfect introduction into the unseemly ranks of the Witch Hunters.
He reached for the phone.
Night fell early on Muraluna. The night was windy and the rain determined yet to drown the earth, rain lashing the streets in sheets of white water, making rivers of the gutters while intermittent lightning strobed the skies.
Seven o’ clock rolled around to find Knox waiting patiently for Joe on the street outside the library. Only the way he balanced on the outside curves of his dress shoes indicated Knox noticed the rain water pooling on the pavement. His umbrella perched like a black orchid above him. Alone on the street, he waited.
A crow cawed at him from the lowest branch of a deluged birch. Knox glanced at it.
“Listen, you can just sod off. I’m not in the mood for ill omens.”
The crow eyeballed him a moment longer, then made a great show of being absorbed with preening its feathers. Knox turned back to the street.
He didn’t wait long. Tyres sluiced over wet bitumen, pale yellow headlights lanced the sleeting rain at the end of the block and a 1986 Mitsubishi Colt, flesh pink and rust in colour, shuddered its way along the street to stop in front of the library. Knox stepped back to avoid the spray from the tyres pitching against the streaming gutter, which the car squealed against for a second before mounting.
He regarded the car without budging another inch. Cautiously, he checked up and down the street. There was no mistaking it; the rusted Colt was stopped right in front of him. He remained still.
Finally, the passenger’s door was thrown open, and Joe leaned out squinting against the rain. “Sir! Are you ready?”
Knox slid a sideways glance at the crow, who hopped along its branch, cawing its amusement.
“Quiet, you.” Knox took a deep breath. He nodded to Joe and ducked into the passenger seat, closing his umbrella and laying it against the door. He admired the large patches of rust accruing on the floor with measured disbelief.
“Sorry I’m late,” Joe said, “The Colt didn’t want to start.”
Joe’s eyes ran over the crisp white shirt, black vest and tie and suit trousers the Chief wore under his Drizabone and the top hat on his knees and he wondered if his own jeans and sweater were too casual. He would have to start wearing his school uniform to these Witch Hunter meetings. It was the only formal thing he owned.
Knox was from the depths of his reverie. He pulled his gaze from the rust patches to smile at Joe. It was the kind of smile one expects to find painted on a Kitty Hawk. “Not to mind. We each have our commitments. Why, not once have I been on time to a faculty meeting. But then, I despise the faculty and everything they stand for.”
“Er,” said Joe, “I have nothing against you, sir. Although you freaked out Grandma on the phone. She thinks I’ve joined a militia. Anyway. What’s the address?”
The Colt stalled once before rumbling unhappily back to life. The Chief rattled off an address, noted Joe’s blank expression, and began over with directions. Joe dismounted the curb, and the Colt crunched off across the slick bitumen.
Ten minutes later Saint Ann’s Chapel emerged into view above a bank of green-grey fog rising under the foot of the rain. They were on the old side of town. There were a few inhabited houses closer to the river, but here they were close to the old main street, the ex-industrial zone. A pocket of houses backed against the disused factories and yards, houses that hadn’t seen paying occupants in twenty years. It was a forlorn and lost place, haunted by dreams of a happier past that would never come again. The chapel fitted right in, hugging the last of the semi-abandoned yards before the occupied river streets.
The word “poltergeist” had been mentioned generously in the ten minutes from the library to the chapel. Funny that. Eleven minutes ago, Joe could have sworn he didn’t even believe in the things.
Knox pushed open the passenger door as thunder rumbled low on the horizon. He yawned. “Ah. Here were are. Do you feel the malevolence in the air? That’s our poltergeist.”
Joe climbed out of the Colt. He scrutinised the chapel. It was a squat red-brick building, crouched in an overgrown garden some distance from the road, shrouded in fog and rain and the gloom of the premature evening. A decaying presbytery stood closer to the street. Ivy swarmed up its dark stone sides, biting into the wall where the wood had caved in. Rain sleeted in waves down both presbytery and the chapel lurking behind it. Joe didn’t think there needed to be poltergeists involved for the place to be malevolent. Hell, with its stain glass windows as black voids and the rain raising hackles on its sloped roof, the chapel was downright sinister.
He locked the Colt and hurried to catch up with the Chief. It wasn’t just that Knox was plus one umbrella that made Joe hurry. Something about the chapel was making his flesh crawl. Joe fought to suppress the feeling. He decided to state the obvious.
“Chief, sir, there’s no way a church could be haunted.”
The Chief glanced at Joe as they squelched through the tangled garden. “Usually you would be correct in that thought. This poltergeist is, however, an exception. He’s unfortunately familiar to us – and damned if we’ve been able to get rid of him. The nuns call him Vulgar Ted. Once upon a time he was a devoted church-goer; he used to have the job of ringing the bell. Then, ten years ago, as Ted was ringing the bell to announce mass, the bell rope snapped and the bell crushed him flat. He still hangs around the chapel, although now he’s rather loathsome.”
Joe was aghast. He demanded, “He died in the chapel?”
“Yes, and his funeral was also held here. Of course, that was the end of the chapel. There’s a marriage held here every so often, but mostly it’s a dive for amateur ghost spotters. The local nuns take care of the place. I understand they turn quite a profit from showing tourists around.” Knox steered Joe towards the presbytery. Their footsteps squelched in the mud rising over the long grass. “Come now, we’ll have a chat to Sister Annie before we deal with MasterTed.”
Joe hurried after the umbrella. “Are two of us enough to deal with a poltergeist? Shouldn’t we have back-up? Or am I like your partner now?”
“Goodness no.” The Chief let loose his startling laugh, as if Joe’s nerves needed further fraying. “I’m not even certain you’re an exorcist. You may be a passive psychic. The Sunday Witch Hunters are a combination of exorcists, passive psychics and administrators. Administrators and passive psychics are never allowed to act solo on a job which risks harm to their person. Exorcists have fewer rules about it.”
“And you’re an exorcist?”
“According to regulation.”
“What does that mean, to be an exorcist?”
Knox glanced at Joe. “It means you’ll see, if you hang around long enough.”
“Do you always work alone?”
Joe was near running to keep pace with the Chief’s long strides. His sneakers skidded and slipped in the mud. He was a whole lot muddier than Knox, despite having been outside for less. There was more to this poltergeist business than he had counted on.
Knox turned away. “For demons, we always have at least two exorcists. For poltergeists, one is sufficient. It otherwise depends on the job. I called Miss Ireland after I spoke to you. She’ll join us for the second job this evening. It ought to be fun; shade hunting. Miss Ireland isn’t an exorcist, but hunting shades isn’t particularly difficult for two Witch Hunters of any calibre, although nearly impossible for one. You’ll see what I mean. And here we are.”
He stepped under the cover of the short presbytery overhang, rapping on the door with the handle of his umbrella. Joe crowded beside him. Water dripped on his shoulder.
Moments later the door swung inwards and a round white face appeared from the gloom. The Chief bowed. “Sister Annie,” he said, “I trust you’re keeping well. Allow me to introduce Joe. He’s our newest member.”
“Knox!” the face cried, launching a habit and unexpected pink pyjamas onto the front step. “You boys are late. I’m missing Home and Away to be out here. And our Vulgar Ted will be getting impatient.”
The Chief barked a laugh and ushered Sister Annie back into the presbytery, sliding past her into the blue lit depths of the hall. “Considering MasterTed has been dawdling on this plane of existence for the past decade, another ten minutes will hardly bring him undone.”
“Well, maybe not,” Sister Annie conceded, “But I’m still missing Home and Away.”
She handed Joe a big brass key with a leather tag of Hell’s Angels dangling from the keychain. Nuns with a sense of humour. Joe felt faint.
“You can let yourselves in,” Sister Annie told him, “That’s the only key. I’m sure I can trust such an honest face not to lose it.”
She winked at Joe. The Chief had disappeared around a dimly lit hallway door deeper within the presbytery. With an expression of the utmost sincerity, Joe replied, “Rest assured, Sister, sir, I will do my best to protect this key. You can depend on me.”
Sister Annie sniggered. “And they say chivalry is dead. Knox won’t be a minute, dear. I’ll put the kettle on.”
She too ambled back inside. Joe was left to watch the storm from the doorstep. His attention drifted to his little car resting at the curb, pale behind the thick screen of rain. Thunder cracked somewhere in the distance. He felt his stomach flop and wondered if he should run for the car.
The Chief returned within the minute. His umbrella was folded beneath his arm to free both hands for a huge, cumbersome suitcase. It was, of course, black. Joe rushed forward to help, and nearly copped an umbrella in the eye for his troubles.
“One other thing I forgot to mention,” the Chief panted, letting the suitcase thud to the step, “Always keep your demon hunting equipment in the boot. It saves having to borrow from friends.”
“Yes, sir. Sir, please don’t strain yourself,” Joe said, fretting over the suitcase. He went to help and Knox shooed him away. The Chief popped the locks on the suitcase and passed Joe a handful of cardboard slips.
“Those are wards. We might need them in a moment. Take a handful or two; it’s better to have too many than to run short.”
The Chief wasn’t paying attention to Joe as he spoke. He had eyes only for the suitcase. Joe followed his attention. Revolvers, rifles, a huge grey cannon and other devices of apparently alien make filled the suitcase’s foldout shelves, blue light rippling along their sleek forms. Most had glass and copper components as well as steel and thick rubber insulation on the grips. The Chief buckled a leather harness across his chest and proceeded to fill it with weapons.
Joe filled his jacket pockets with tags, as directed. He ached to get his hands on the guns. The Chief already had a sleek silver revolver and a cannon as tall as Sister Annie strapped to his harness.
“I’m taking extra for demonstration purposes,” he explained, and relieved the suitcase of what Joe took to be a copper and rubber road flare. He tipped two thumb-length glass vials into his coat pocket, and folded the suitcase closed. He glanced up at Joe. “I know you’re keen to get your hands on these, but it pays to be patient in this instance. Last night you met our accountant, HarveyGasper?”
“Hm,” Joe agreed, thinking of Harvey with his bright orange board shorts and wonky goatee.
“Then you should know even we hunters of the foul spawn of the night are accountable to Occupational Health and Safety procedures.” The Chief stood, and Joe sensed an air of challenge to the hard, angular line of his jaw. “In Abraham’s day, such rot would have been tossed out with the bed pans. Now we’re up to our optic nerves in regulation. Least we have more leeway out here than those in the city. Bah.”
The Chief fell silent, his dark eyes smouldering at some invisible battle beyond the scope of Joe’s understanding, the battle of a practical man versus bureaucratic red tape. Joe could all but hear the bagpipes marching into war.
“Well then,” the Chief said suddenly, startling himself as much as Joe, “Never mind all that. You’ll learn to use these trinkets under supervision, and that’s that. Shall we proceed to the chapel? Our tea will grow cold if we don’t hurry.”
“I can’t wait,” Joe lied, and with one last longing look at the suitcase, he followed the Chief into the raining night.
Next time on the Sunday Witch Hunters: Joe meets his first poltergeist and learns the true meaning of Christmas – I mean fear.
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