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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~ ***

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A Poem for Olkoth

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Rolling drumlins, endless

Spiked on small mountains

Bleak, in a shroud of purple twilight

As if centuries had passed since they last saw day

I saw them drawn in an artist’s hand

Scribbled and scratched in black ink

Every peak capped with an observatory, or tower

Valleys filled with tumbling ruins

Open mouths of caverns crawling with demons

Hives of activity in places light never reached

Corpses closed into airless vaults

Restless, assailing each exit

That seemed like it might smell of life

Bloody wristed things they were

Some headless, all eyeless

Grabbing for my hands

Nurses and patients locked in together, forever

From what demonic plane they came

What ultimate grotesqueness

Slithered from the Virgin’s eye

To reanimate the dead

The lines of the artist’s hand were never so deft

As it drew the sliver of moon

Attempting to hold in its breath over the mountains

Never to look upon, nor touch

The hideous ranges below

A land in exile, bleak and forgotten

An endlessly sprawling spread

Towers and ruins and demons like white ants

A wayward promenade

Ode in the dreams of the night.


Because one simply does not dream of a demonic city without writing it down. I am actually pretty stoked (not with my half-assed attempt at poetry, that’s awful) at dreaming about such a thing. It is the winning lottery ticket dream of creative minds. I have to see the accountant this morning, so maybe that will inspire an ending for a short story about this same city. We’ll see.

How about you? Ever dreamt of a demonic city or any other part of the Cthulhu mythos? Do tell.

Short Horror Review: Skye Hegyes’s Chiller

Did you know that horror is speculative fiction? According to Wikipedia it is. The more you know. And that brings us to Skye Hegyes short horror story, Chiller.

Skye runs an insightful and author-centric blog, which you can find here. She’s wonderfully inspirational and imaginative. Skye has said that most of her story ideas come from dreams. By her own admission, this is a technique with pros and cons. Recently Skye has been focusing on world building, developing the ideas in her dreams, and that will only make her writing stronger.

Chiller, I believe, is her first published story. It’s a short, self-published horror title. How can you go wrong with that combination? The answer is: you can’t. Let’s get into this review.

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Chiller is a snapshot of a house, and that house is a pretty shitty place to live. It’s owned by the Kazal family, who are widely rumoured to be vampires cursed to remain in the house. But despite the house arrest, the Kazals must be up to something, because the rumours follow that the house is also full of ghosts.

Curious, teenagers Lindsey and Jess go a door-knocking. They’re invited in by the younger of the Kazals, 12 year old Milo, who looks a bit like Samara from the Ring. We join in the story when Lindsey, frantic and probably suffering shock, returns to the house with an off-duty policeman in tow.

Lindsey is adamant that the house is full of ghosts and that her friend is now one of them. Officer Harrison is largely unconcerned by this, by the carcass on the front lawn, or by the generally sinister demeanour of head of the household, Alexander Kazal. Monsieur Kazal leads Harrison and Lindsey on a short tour of the house, finishing in an elevator – where Harrison is promptly and brutally murdered.

Snap forward several days. Lindsey, Jess and Harrison have been reported missing. A local cop/ vampire, Sorca, is the only cop on the beat with a lead to follow. She heads into the Kazal house, for act 2 of this bloody, chilling nightmare.

 

Chiller is that particular brand of horror which relies on violence to create a sense of tension and repulsion. It’s less Silence of the Lambs and more Human Centipede. I give it credit for being exceptionally violent, and the tension arrives in terse little bursts that had my skin crawling and my eyes rolling back in my head to avoid looking at whatever horrible thing was about to happen next. It’s short, so we don’t really get a strong sense of empathy for the two characters it follows, Lindsey and Sorca.

And Lindsey, well. Lindsey is obviously in shock. She’s just seen her friend violently murdered. She goes and finds a cop she knows and drags him back to the house, not to help poor Jess but just as validation for the grotesqueness she’s witnessed. Silly, silly Lindsey.

Sorca I liked more, mainly because she wasn’t in a pants-shitting state of terror from the offset. She gets to it soon enough, but to begin with she’s a solid character who understands she has something unpleasant to do and knows she can’t avoid it. She enters the Kazal house with a sort of grim determination as to what she might find, and she’s not disappointed. Her fear of the Kazals is only heightened by the presence of her cop friend, Raba, a mere human who will be snuffed out as readily as an ant in a fireplace.

 

So we have this palpable sense of shitty things happening to undeserving people. The Kazals are mysterious, haunting, pretty two-dimensional. Young Milo Kazal is interesting and household head Alexander Kazal is standard villain stuff.

My issue with the story was that it’s over-written. It’s not a bad story – certainly interesting enough to be thrown into this nightmarish house in the thick of these gruesome murders, and the tension really does drill into your head and run electric fingers down your spine – but it is a good example of the author wanting to include too much information. Even on the first page:

“An overgrown and tangled labyrinth of weeds and vines from years of neglect served as a garden parallel to the driveway where buzzards circle down on a rotting carcass.”

This could be far more eloquently written as: “An overgrown labyrinth of weeds and vines served as a garden [comma] parallel to the driveway where buzzards circled above a rotting carcass.”

Or even:

“Their apprehension matched as they surveyed the scene before them, brows knitted with worry and mouth corners turned down.”

Would be more eloquent as: “They surveyed the scene before them with matching apprehension.”

Sometimes too the cause and effect of things was a little off. A misjudged reaction, the cop taking Lindsey so seriously that the house was haunted, the carcass in the driveway that is never mentioned again – is it human or what? In fact, while I adored the setting of this trapped old house, I couldn’t help but feel it may be a house built on thin ice. I think Skye’s work with world-building will really help in this aspect, and I expect far solider premises from her in future.

 

The story does have a very good take on vampires, and the ending was unexpectedly fresh. Chiller has its good and its bad. If you like horror and especially that visceral, in-your-face, all-over-your-shoes, thick-on-the-walls kind of horror, then give Chiller a look.

I’m giving it 2 stars.

2stars

You can find Chiller on GoodReads here.

And on Amazon here.

A Very Odd Time: Researching a Slovakian Dracula

For some reason, I love writing historical fiction. Or I must, because it keeps happening. At the moment I’m up to the elbows in research for the semi-sequel to The Vampires of Bifurquer Veine Marais, set in France in 1905. The semi-sequel, The Gourmet (or maybe The Gourmet’s Curse? Or The Orange Duck? Not sure yet.) starts that same year in Paris, as Vamps protagonist Hannibal du Noir takes an interlude to research his next job.

But it’s not du Noir who’s starring in this one. Rather, du Noir is staying with a friend, Monsieur Roland Lambert, a chemist. Lambert has heard rumours of a cursed chef. This chef, the Gourmet, is the star attraction of Orava Castle Hotel in the far north Carpathian Mountains (modern day Slovakia) and his cuisine is renowned. His curse? Well, some  may say it’s a blessing: anyone who criticises the Gourmet’s cooking is killed or maimed in a horrible way.

Intrigued, and thinking there may be something supernatural behind the deaths, Lambert urges du Noir to travel to the Carpathians to investigate. Du Noir isn’t interested; rather, he suggest Lambert go himself. If Lambert wants to solve the mystery of the cursed chef he has no choice but to agree … and confront the horrors of Orava Castle alone.

I’m chomping at the bit to get started on this story. It’s been a fortnight of Slovakian cooking, Slovakian castles, Austria-Hungary history, sensationalist horror (think Dracula) and the physics of falling. If it all sounds good to you, here are some pictures to further whet your appetite.

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Firstly, Paris fashion. This is Place de Louvres on 4th June 1906.

Paris, 3rd June 1906.

Paris, 3rd June 1906.

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 5th June 1906.

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 5th June 1906.

Pre-WW1 Europe.

Pre-WW1 modern Europe. Note the huge territory included in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Slovakia is at the north, bordering Poland.

An ethnicity map from 1910, clarifying the layout of Austria-Hungary.

An ethnicity map from 1910, clarifying the layout of Austria-Hungary. The Slovaks are in brown.

Finally something we can understand! The lovely, intimidating Carpathian Mountains.

Finally something we can understand! The lovely, intimidating Carpathian Mountains.

An artist's impression of our main setting, Orava Castle.

An artist’s impression of our main setting, Orava Castle.

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Orava Castle today. In 1868 the castle was turned into a public museum. My alternate history turns it into a hotel instead. Ah, the corruption of greed. As a side note, much of the footage of the 1922 film ‘Nosferatu’ was filmed here. I thought it was quite fitting for another Dracula rip-off.

Bryndza pirohy, traditional Slovak cuisine. Bryndza, sheep's cheese, is one of the most important ingredients in Slovak cooking.

Bryndza pirohy, traditional Slovakian cuisine. Bryndza, sheep’s cheese, is one of the most important ingredients in Slovakian cooking.

Another sheep's cheese dish, and Slovakia's national dish, bryndzove haulsky.

Another sheep’s cheese dish, and Slovakia’s national dish, bryndzove haulsky.

This country has some seriously delicious desserts. This is buchty na pare, a steamed plum dumpling dusted in crushed poppy seeds and sugar.

This country has some seriously delicious desserts. This is buchty na pare, a steamed plum dumpling dusted in crushed poppy seeds and sugar.

And finally, here are two very odd pictures that appeared during research.

The first is this photo, taken in 1916, of a suffragette on a scooter.

The first is this photo, taken in 1916, of a suffragette on a scooter.

And then there's this much weirder news piece for the Paris Baby Raffle. I can't help but think adoption was much easier a century ago.

And then there’s this much weirder news piece for the Paris Baby Raffle. I can’t help but think adoption was much easier a century ago.

So that’s been some of my adventures in historical research. There’s a bit more to do, and then, yippee! The writing can finally begin. It’s true what they say: writing is the easy part. It’s the research and planning that takes major brain work.

The Scientific Vampire

This weekend I published a new short story through Kindle Publishing. It’s available today! :3

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It’s called the Vampires of Bifurquer Veine Marais (the Vampires of Branched Vein Swamp) and it’s a scientific take on vampires. For example, what could we expect from human-sized obligate blood-drinkers? Is there any veracity to the garlic and holy water myths? Would vampires really be super fast and super strong? And of course, the big question on everybody’s lips: would they really sparkle?

This first book doesn’t answer all the questions (it definitely tackles the sparkling one), but in subsequent stories we’ll address as much as possible. Who’s we? Why me, and the inscrutable Hannibal du Noir, protagonist, of course!  It’s wonderful to finally have du Noir boxing vampires on the page instead of brawling in my head. Life is also being given to Monsieur Roland Lambert, a chemist and mystic scholar. Together they’ll hunt monsters in the name of science! Get your chemistry bone on!

If you really really want to, you can find the story here. I would be stupidly happy if you did.

But a story published! I’m stupidly happy anyway. It’s time to dance the weekend away.

The Sunday Witch Hunters: Ep 14 – Questions

Hey Anneque, I got a question for you. When are you going to do an article about dystopian fiction?

Well, smarty pants, I can answer that: tomorrow. Tune into my YouTube channel tomorrow night for a video special on dystopian wastelands. Here’s a very sneaky preview:

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Now for the reason we’re all here. The Sunday Witch Hunters is more than a third of the way through, and the love triangle thickens. Rookie demon hunter Joe Malone isn’t sure he can win the heart of the lovely Lily Buchanan, but he’s determined to try. Meanwhile, Lily just wants to keep Joe alive. And Drake, well, the resident god of death has plans of his own.

If you’re new to the SWH club, you can find the first episode here. Or you can jump right into it now. It’s here, it’s hair, it’s …

The Sunday Witch Hunters
Episode 14: Questions

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*

“What the hell was that all about?”

Drake stared at Lily from the bed. Lily had the God-handed gun clasped in both hands, and her message was clear. If she didn’t like the answer, Drake would be back in the gun. He eyed her coldly as if he didn’t care either way. His translucent skin tingled from his expulsion from the vial. Back in the gun? Forget that. Compression made Drake claustrophobic.

Not taking his eyes off Lily, he demanded, “What are you on about?”

Lily waved the gun at him. Her face was pink with rage. She stalked up and down the length of the small dorm room, her eyes occasionally flashing to Drake, steam venting from under her lace collar.

“How could you!” she bit, marching past Drake. “You know what the risks are – what damn good did you think you were doing? You could have gotten him killed!”

Miffed, Drake protested, “It was your idea!”

Lily spun on her heel to glare at Drake. She spat, “What?

Drake made a hopeless gesture. “You told me to possess Knox. How was I supposed to know he would have a trap rigged against it? If anything, you should’ve known that. You guys were partners.”

“I’m talking about Joe!” Lily roared. Her hands were altogether too full of gun for comfort. “You kept talking about making a deal with him – you scared him half to death before we ever got to the job!”

Drake blinked. “Well I-”

“You what? What in Christ’s name were you trying to achieve?”

Drake could only stare in response. Lily broke eye contact and resumed pacing. “You could have gotten him killed. It’s fine for you out there – you skulk off into the shadows and leave us to do the dirty work. Joe doesn’t have that option. No human has that option. Fear is poison for an exorcist in battle. Joe could have seized up, or he could have run, and what do you think would have happened then, huh? You thinks those demons would have gone easy on him? You think they wouldn’t have smelled his fear? Tell me what you think, Drake, because I’m really dying to hear your excuses.”

For the longest time, Drake was quiet. After a while, gazing at the wall and hands in his lap, he ventured, “I’m sorry.”

Lily turned on him, her frown faltering. “They would have torn him to pieces. You know that as well as I do.”

“I was only telling him the truth. He deserves to know.”

“Don’t make me laugh. You couldn’t care less about what Joe deserves. And since when are you a campaigner for human rights? What Joe needs to know is what he can see for himself. Give him a chance to get used to the job. Then we’ll burden him with details.”

“Yeah?” Drake decided he wasn’t as mollified as he’d thought. He sneered up at Lily as she paced. “Which details were you considering telling him? The reason there’s a vacancy in the club? Or were you thinking of telling him about the Hell’s Gate-”

“Things he doesn’t need to know,” Lily insisted, but she couldn’t lie to Drake.

“Things which might save his life,” he told her. “Although I suppose that’s another detail that would only burden him.”

Lily faltered in her march, however momentarily. She realised what she had done, and stopped. She looked from the gun in her hand to Drake gathered on the bed. She still wanted to shoot him.

She stuffed the gun in a desk drawer instead. “That doesn’t change the point. What you told Joe, how you scared him, was far more likely to get him killed than to save him. And anyway, it was nothing but lies. You can’t make a deal with Joe; you already have a deal with me.”

Used to their easy back and forth, Drake almost told Lily that he could and would have more than one contract. He bit his tongue just in time. He supposed Lily was right; there were times when what you didn’t know couldn’t hurt you.

“I want him to consider it in case you get taken out,” he told her, “I don’t want to be spirited back to the underworld just ’cause you get offed.”

Lily wrinkled her nose. “Your empathy with the human condition is inspiring.”

“I’m a death god. Empathy doesn’t come into it.”

“Right.”

Lily’s vehemence had left her. She deflated. She dropped onto the bed beside Drake, who shuffled aside to make room. She rested her head on his shoulder.

“Don’t say things like that to Joe any more. He doesn’t deserve you scaring him. He’s a good kid.”

Drake let Lily settle against him. He didn’t want to lose Joe as a second contract. But the kid wasn’t as easy to spook as he’d thought. Drake was going to need a change of tactics. “He is a good kid. You better make sure you tell him what’s really going on though. Not enough information will kill just as quickly as too much.”

Lily huffed. “You can cut the moral superiority act already.”

“Okay.” Drake thought for a moment. The good old bait and switch. “You want to hear some gossip instead?”

“Such as?”

“It’s what I found in the head of that nutter, Knox.”

Lily sprung up. “Tell me!”

Gotcha. Drake scrutinised his fingernails. “What is it exactly you want to know? I had access to the whole lot.”

With touching (from Drake’s suddenly generous point of view) anxiety, Lily asked, “Did you … see what he thinks about me?”

“I told you already. He calls you the crazy bitch.”

Lily slapped Drake’s arm. Drake flinched, but Lily didn’t seem to notice. “He would never think that about me. He used to call me Lily, but these days it’s always Miss Buchanan. Do you know why it changed?”

As it happened, Drake did know, and he hadn’t needed to go head hopping to find out. “Nah,” he said, “I didn’t have time to find something that unimportant.”

“Hey, shut up! It’s important to me!”

Drake sniggered. “I didn’t think to root around for his pet names for you. Come on, what else do you want to know?”

“I don’t know. You shouldn’t have pried. You’re nothing but a gossipy old maid.”

“Really, Lil,” Drake stared coolly at his master, “I’m addicted to day-time soap operas. Do you honestly believe I could be presented with this opportunity and not reef around in that nutter’s head for loose screws?”

“I don’t appreciate the metaphor, but no, I don’t think you would resist even under pain of vanquishment to a life without television.”

Drake leant forward eagerly on the bed. “Right, then. So what do you want to know? Club details? About O’Roarke? Who’s got overdue library books?”

But Lily shrugged. “I really feel bad about asking. It might not be on your conscience to be an utter bastard, but it would be on mine.”

“You want to know who he’s in love with, right?”

Lily hung her head. “I don’t want to know. It’s not me.”

“No,” Drake admitted. He saw Lily’s shoulders slump further, and nudged her. “Why don’t you go for Joe, huh? He likes you. And he’s normal. Everything in Knox’s head is back-to-front. He wasn’t even afraid out there tonight. He was … elated. He’s no more afraid of demons than you are of talking loudly in the night to someone no one else can hear. He was born to fight demons. He’s properly mental.”

Without much conviction, Lily said, “Will you stop calling him mental?”

“I believe that’s the first time I have. Mental, crazy, bonkers, nutso – pick an adjective. To have no fear,” Drake laughed lightly, gulped, “even I have fear. It’s part of being alive.”

“Are you alive now? I thought you were a god of death?” Lily smirked. “Anyway, you’re wrong. The Chief has things he’s afraid of. Me, for instance. Have you seen him run when we’re about to meet in the street?”

“That’s just a product of your both being mental,” said Drake.

Lily drew a long breath. She fell back on the bed, gazing at the dim, scarred ceiling. “Sheesh. What’s a girl to do about that?”

“I told you already. Date someone normal.”

He flinched as Lily smacked him on the shoulder. Her heart wasn’t in the strike. Sitting beside her, Drake regarded the girl with a fondness he would never acknowledge, particularly to himself, not if every episode of Desperate Housewives in the known universe depended on it. “Lil? Don’t think about it too much. I’m going to Mark’s to play pinball, okay?”

“Yeah.”

Drake was phasing through the window when Lily called, “Ducky? How do I make someone love me?”

Drake paused, half in, half out of the room. He looked to Lily, who was staring at the ceiling, and looked away again. “I can’t tell you. Being a demon, I’m probably not the best person to ask.”

He left her lying in the dark.

*

On Friday, Joe told Kammy he was an exorcist.

He could no longer resist. He had Knox’s Mustang parked on the school grounds, and was in such a state of constant terror that one delinquent or another would steal it, or worse, deface it, that his nerves gave out and he blurted what he’d wanted to say for a week.

He held out until last period, when he and Kammy were alone in the science lab. They weren’t early. This was Lochan Key, and it was possibly that no one else would bother showing up for class, including the teacher.

“Kammy,” Joe said, desperately, “I want to tell you something, and I don’t want you to tell anybody else.”

Kammy was absorbed in his PSP. He hunched over it, jabbing at buttons. Just when Joe was about to repeat himself, Kammy’s eyes slid sideways to him. “Man, I’m flattered, but I only dig chicks.”

“It’s not that. I. I’m an exorcist.”

Kammy blinked. Sepiroth took off Cecil’s head with a single swipe of Musamune. The game over music blared, and Kammy dropped the PSP on the desk. He frowned at Joe, beady eyes under thick, fair brows. His tongue worked his loose filling. He finally said, “A what?”

“An exorcist,” Joe replied immediately. “I hunt demons and ghosts. Well, I try. I’m in training at the moment. But I’ve seen plenty of demons. Last night we found a whole hive of them.”

Kammy raised his eyebrows. “Man, is this a game? ’Cause I think I have it.”

“No!” Okay, he shouldn’t have said anything. Besides, now that he had Kammy’s attention he didn’t know what to do with it. He wondered if it was too late to backtrack to the game bit and decided it was. “No, it’s real. There are thirteen of us in town who do it. Drake’s one of them.”

“The dude who wanted your kidneys?” Kammy guessed.

“Yeah, that’s him. The reason you couldn’t see him is because he’s a shinigami, a god of death. Only people who can see ghosts and demons can see him.”

“As opposed to not being able to see him on account of he doesn’t exist?” said Kammy, slowly.

“Exactly. I’ve got these bruises. And look,” Joe lifted his jacket and his shirt up over his hip. There was a gory welt where a demon’s tusk had caught him in the side. The welt was red and weeping, too large to fit a band-aid over. The rest of him was peppered with bruises and claw marks, all of them aching. Joe’d had to keep his jacket on all day to hide the marks on his arms. “I got this last night.”

Kammy nodded. “That’s a pretty cool scratch. I was wondering why you were all blue and red all the time. Thought maybe you were just patriotic.”

“This is nothing. Our Chief was thrown into a tree, or a few of them, and beat bloody by this big cuttlefish demon. I bet he has some really awesome scars.”

“Yeah. Man, chicks dig scars. You’re a lucky guy.” Kammy and Joe exchanged a fist pound. Kammy reclined on his seat, almost upending the tall stool, gradually absorbing Joe’s story. Cecil and the others lay forgotten on the bench. At long last, Kammy glanced at Joe. “I ain’t saying I believe you, but it would be pretty grouse if you were telling the truth.”

“I’ve never been so honest in my life,” Joe told him.

“Grouse, man.”

A few moments sidled by in companionable silence. Joe said, “There’s a girl, too. Her name’s Lily. She’s pretty.”

Kammy grinned. “Now I definitely don’t believe you.”

Joe felt himself grinning back. Lily, Lily Lily Lily. His bruises hurt a whole lot less.

-*-*-*-

Will it all work out for Joe in the end, or will he wind up heartbroken? What do you think?

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!

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. :{}

1984_14_event

 

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

 

 

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*

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?

Spontaneous Book Review: The Wary Traveller by M. C. Dulac

The Wary Traveller by M. C. Dulac

 Naturschönheiten im Überfluss: Das Berchtesgadener Land

Paranormal, novella.

Jim has always been attracted to the mountains. As a child he dreamt of scaling the mountains behind his grandpa’s house in Colorado. As a young man he’s lured by a more dangerous dream – a lonesome traveller looking to get off the beaten track in the German Alps.

Jim’s spending his days in Ferienstadt drinking beer in a pub that doesn’t seem all that German and talking travel plans with a few other wanderers he’s met along the way. There’s a beer festival coming up and Jim’s friends are excited – but to Jim it seems like just another party.

It’s not until he meets a German traveller by the name of Gunther that he learns the truth – the beer festival is sponsored by a Dutch brewing company, and is put on purely for the tourists. Not to be completely disappointed, Jim asks Gunther about accessing the nearby mountains, in particular the daunting Himmelberg.

Gunther is intrigued. There aren’t many like Jim, seeking something deeper than the stock standard tourist experience. He invites Jim to the real festival, the one held high in the mountains at the foot of Himmelberg. The only access is via a small train that leaves once a day and takes hours to reached the village at the mountain’s foot, a place called Himmeldorf. Jim realises that Himmeldorf must be totally isolated from the world outside: in Himmeldorf, there are only the mountains.

He agrees readily to go, and joins Gunther on the small, slow train into the mountains. Jim feels a surge of doubt – he hardly knows Gunther, and none of his travelling friends were the least bit interested in accompanying him. Can Jim trust Gunther? He doesn’t know, but he’s compelled towards the mountains, towards isolation, towards Himmelberg in particular, and his doubts are quelled soon enough. He find Himmeldorf is an almost medieval town, stern dark wooden buildings built on a steep slope, lost in a maze of mountains and valleys.

Jim is charmed despite his misgivings about Gunther. His charm only grows as the festival begins, and the masks are whipped out. Fierce visages depicting demons and skeletons, and a hell of a parade; it’s just the festival Jim’s been craving. Gunther explains that the festival is to assuage the spirits of Winter, to prevent them from stealing the unwary away from the village.

Gunther says nowadays it’s just a party, but to Jim it still feels like more. His doubts rise again, and our doubts rise with them – the Wary Traveller rides on this beautiful rhythm of Jim’s caution and recklessness. The pacing is intensely good. There are times I wanted to shout at Jim to stop and think about what he’s doing, as Gunther leads him further and further away from his friends and the safety of modern society. But just as often were the times I was completely convinced that Jim was onto a good thing, he should keep going, pushing deeper into the mystery of the Himmelberg. It’s a fatalistic story, but in a totally different way from usual. There are ill portents everywhere, and moments of great clarity where we see exactly where Jim is headed – but at times Jim sees it too and leaps joyfully towards his destiny. His constant dip and soar from unreality back to mundanity is so deftly done, the writing technique has an excellence on par with the story itself.

Add to that a deeply ingrained sense of wanderlust and that haunting, starkly beautiful setting, and you have one incredible story. The Wary Traveller had me itching to travel. It was a story that got me excited about a whole bunch of things; Jim’s obsession with the Himmelberg is infectious, and I could almost see that huge white-capped mountain and the austere wooden houses of Himmeldorf. There’s this air of expectation, and always the faintest sense of something sinister. Dulac does a brilliant job of bringing Himmeldorf’s mythology to life. The festival, wow. The winter spirits, which would have been lame or laughable written by anybody else, were vivid and exciting and wonderful and I just couldn’t wait to hear more about them.

The Wary Traveller is like Studio Ghibli made a horror movie. I loved it so much. There is nothing about it that could be better. It is shockingly good. It is a taste of perfection in short story form. I recommend you read it immediately. I’m giving it five stars.

 

Afterwards, I wondered if I could have changed things, and at what point I could have turned back. I guess the warning signs were always there, but curiosity is a powerful thing. Like a kid setting off on a journey from his grandpa’s back yard, I was guided only by a sense of destiny, and such small details as to whether I should have gone or what I would do when I go there, did not cross my mind. Maybe real life was never going to be enough for me. Maybe I’d always felt the desire to explore, to question, to find out the truth. Maybe it was all set in motion long before I saw the Himmelberg. Although, from the first time I saw those white-blue snowy slopes, everything that followed seemed inevitable.

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You can find M. C. Dulac here, and the Wary Traveller on Amazon here.

SWH 8: Old Town Hustle

As promised, here is the second part of this week’s double Sunday Witch Hunters feature~! My gosh, that snake. Spooky!

If you haven’t yet had the ahem, pleasure, of reading the Sunday Witch Hunters yet, you can find the first episode here. For those who have, you’ll remember that we left Joe in episode 6 after his first successful exorcism. We’re about to get back to Joe, but before we do, here’s what Lily did with the rest of her night.

Characters in this episode:

  • Lily Buchanan (22): law student. An exorcist possessed by the death god, Drake. Lily is a relatively new but strong member of the Muraluna Witch Hunters. Her favourite animal is the jaguar … naturally.
  • Iluka Wright (26): paramedic. Iluka has no combat-orientated exorcist skills, but she has the very useful talent of being able to mentally map spooks in an area. Her favourite animal is the humpback whale.
  • Drake (354): god of death. A television-addicted shinigami (death god) who fears he’s soon to be conscripted into Hell’s endless war. His favourite animals are fluffy little kittens, particularly black and dark grey ones.

The Sunday Witch Hunters
Episode 8: Old Town Hustle

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“READY?”

“Ready.”

“Target confirmation at three hundred metres nor-nor-east. No obstacles. Head for the amber-lit door. Over.”

Lily squeezed the walkie-talkie. “Roger that. I’m moving in.”

“Lily?”

“Uh huh?”

Iluka’s pretty voice was trepid below the static. “Be careful. There are ghosts behind these walls.”

“I know.” Hooking the walkie-talkie on her belt, Lily stalked through the puddles on the street. The buildings to her right were decaying brick, disused and falling to ruin. The moon was a sliver grin between clearing clouds. The air was cool and humid. Ahead lay the door to the Sunny Glasgow, a demon pub hidden amongst the maze of crumbling row houses of Old Town. Lily whistled to herself as she walked. She wondered if giving the chart to Joe was the right thing to do. But he had been so, well, cute about it all that she hadn’t been able to resist.

The Sunny Glasgow’s door light was as bitter and pale as the sun over Scotland, and cast only a wan illumination over the worn pavement. The light was a disconsolate warmth. Lily kept one hand resting on the iron rod under her belt. Iluka was half a block away, sitting behind the wheel of Lily’s MG. Drake matched pace with Lily, keeping just behind and to the left of her, half lost in a bank of Lily’s fogging breath.

“Are you going to be long?” Drake wanted to know. “There’s a Humphrey Bogart marathon on SBS tonight and I don’t want to miss it.”

Without looking at the shinigami, Lily said, “You didn’t set the TV to record?”

“No. I figured we would be back in time. I didn’t expect you were gonna drop in on Joe first.” Drake huffed. There was no fogging breath for him. “I don’t see why you had to do that, anyway. You’ll just give the kid ideas. He already thinks you’re a bunch of hardcore nutcases. In which, I might add, he is 100% correct.”

In a cloud of her own hot breath, all Lily would say was, “You should have set the TV to record.”

“Pig’s bum,” Drake muttered.

They completed the trip in silence. Lily stopped with the toes of her boots just inside the circle of amber from the light over the doorstep of the Sunny Glasgow. The light seemed to be on without reason. The pub was shut. Spider webs criss-crossed the door.

Lily thumped on the door. “Suspected poltergeist Shelby Bye, you are hereby summoned by order of the Van Helsing protocol. Failure to immediately comply will result in your extremely prejudiced vanquishment.”

There was a flash of smoke, and a scruffy little ghost stuck his head through the Glasgow’s door.

“Oi now, oi now,” the ghost chittered, his transparent form soaked a rather unbecoming shade of orange, “I’m ’ere, ain’t I? No need to go on about the vanquishing bit. You wanna come in? Hershel and Hank and the boys and me are just havin’ ourselves a bit of a drink.”

“Hershel and Hank and the boys can kiss my ass,” Lily told the jaundiced ghost. “You’re wanted for ten accounts of severe haunting. Throwing pans, flicking lights, causing the walls to bleed, turning cream rancid, possessing the toilet, wasting electricity via turning on appliances in the middle of the night, startling old Widow Graham witless, not to mention swinging her poor cat around the living room by its tail. You’d better start explaining, Shelby.”

Shelby “the Scrimp” Bye scrunched his face into a nasty gash of a smile. His skinny neck and shoulders drifted through the door behind the puckered melon of his head. He looked Lily up and down, twice, and at last settled on meeting her eye to chest. “Say now, you’re a fine girl. Come in and sit down. Take a load off yer feet. I’ll see to it yer taken care of.”

Lily stared down her nose at the little ghost. “I’ll have you know propositioning an exorcist is a vanquishable offence. Not that I intend of giving you much of a choice. Shelby Bye, do you confess to the listed transgressions?”

“Yeah, but, nah, but how’d you know it were me?”

“Oh come off it,” Lily scoffed, “You’ve only been dead eight years. Widow Graham recognised your face in the bathroom mirror.”

Shelby cursed. “Bloody old hag. I should have spooked her all the way to the cemetery.”

“Seems to me you tried your darndest. If that’s it, I’ll be exorcising you now.”

Lily bypassed the iron rod under her belt and went straight for the God-handed gun. She didn’t expect Shelby would give her much trouble. Even as a human Shelby Bye had been a lightweight.

Shelby saw the gun and immediately backpedalled. “Wait. No. I don’t. I mean I do. I do have a defence! Wait! Stop it! Put that down right now!”

Lily lowered the gun. “This had better be good.”

Shelby peered at her between the mesh of his fingers. “Awight awight. I admit it was me. Don’t go gettin’ yer pantyhose in a twist about it. I’ve got a reason for bein’ here. Old Town ain’t my usual digs, ya know? I’m more of a racetrack kinda guy. Been haunting the toilet block there ever since before I died. Ha.” Noting Lily’s expression, Shelby hurried on, “I heard old Vulgar Ted’s back in town. He’s the one I’m after. Ms Graham was just a kick and a giggle. Bloody old loony harpy-bat that she is; I picked her up one day after the races. I reckon seein’ her on the toilet haunts me more’n I ever haunted her.”

“I’m not here to discuss the flaws of my clients,” Lily said coldly, although she was privately cheering Shelby’s choice of words. “Are you suggesting you have unfinished business with Vulgar Ted?”

Shelby shrugged. “Stingy guy owes me ten bucks. I put it on the collection plate for him one day when he left his wallet at home. You shoulda seen him. He was all, I’ve gotta put money on the plate, I never miss it, and can ya lend me just a tenner my ol’ buddy, all that kind of hoo-ha. Accourse I lent it to him. But what did that sleazebag do? Next week he goes and pulls the bell down on himself, right before he was gonna pay me. Then, deadskies. Skipped right out on it. Well, you and I both know dead men don’t pay their debts. I tried asking his wife for the money but she didn’t want a bar of me either, what with the funeral and all.”

“I wonder why,” Lily muttered, and Drake sniggered behind her.

Shelby pulled a face. “Hey, unfinished business is what it is. He coulda owed me a drag on a dog-end and I’d still be stuck on this transephemeral plane. I’m just lucky I can rattle pots and possess toilets. Poor Hershel in there can’t even manage that.”

“Rest assured my sympathy is endless.” Lily thought for a moment. She fished through her pocket and retrieved her wallet. “Here. Ten dollars. Get out of Widow Graham’s toilet.”

Shelby the Scrimp scrutinised the note. “Sure, thanks, kid.” He stuffed it into his wrinkled spectre trousers, where it remained in full view. “But what about you? Guy doesn’t want to leave a good-looking broad ten bucks short. Not when I was about to go over and see Vulgar Ted for meself.”

“Don’t bother yeself. He was on the list for tonight’s exorcisms. If you want to see him, you’re gonna have to hang around another few months until he can catch a ride home.”

“Hell.” Shelby spat. “Damn him. When’s he gonna move on, anyway? Maybe he pays you that ten he owes me, he’ll finally make the chain gang. Lousy guy.”

Static spat from Lily’s walkie-talkie. She ignored it. She was almost done here. “That’s it, then, Shelby. Say goodbye to your pals. You’ve fulfilled your condition for moving on.”

Shelby turned his split-melon grin up to her. “Say, did I mention I’m only a masthead?”

“Mention you’re a what now?”

“Masthead. Sorry bub.” Shelby’s jaw dropped open. From the well of his mouth there poured a tongue, as long and thick as Lily’s leg and jet black and shiny, slick. The tongue was forked. She danced back with a little yelp. Shelby’s pupils dropped to the far corners of his eyes, like he was trying to look at the back of his head. His torso went limp. The forked tongue did not. It flicked towards Lily, grazing her.

Lily took one, two steps backwards. She levelled the God-handed gun with that slick black tongue. “M-masthead for what?”

Then the wall of the Sunny Glasgow erupted, pushing bricks and tiles onto the pavement and road beyond. The amber light hit the pavement and shattered. Shelby the Scrimp was pushed towards Lily then yanked roughly backwards into the dust raining up from the pub. Lily clawed for the walkie-talkie. She hit the button.

“Iluka! I think we have a problem!”

“No shit, Sherlock!” Iluka crackled in return. “I’m sorry, Lil! That thing had anti-detection wards in place – get out of there!”

“Do you know what it is? Shelby said something about being a masthead. What does that mean?”

“You’re the exorcist, not me!”

Right, of course. Lily squinted into the billowing dust. A shape, huge and dark, uncoiled from behind the shattered wall. A blunt snout stuck through the dust, nosed towards Lily, forked tongue flickered over massive blunt teeth.

At his master’s back, Drake warned, “Lily, it’s a-”

“Snake!” Lily shrieked, leaping into Drake’s arms. He was too astonished to catch her, remaining as flimsy as smoke. Lily fell right through him, hit the pavement, and scrambled up on all-fours already running.

The snake, easily the length of the block and jet black, undulated after her. Lily passed a wild-eyed glance over her shoulder. Yep. That was a snake all right. A big snake.

“Oh man oh man oh man oh man!” Lily squealed, squeezing her eyes shut. She lobbed the God-handed gun at the snake. It bounced off the creature’s snout and went clattering to the street. Lily kept running.

“Lily! Cool it!” Drake shouted after her. He went ignored, which was nothing unusual.

With the snake’s huge blunt teeth gnashing at her heels, Lily tore around the corner of the block and legged it up the street. The snake took out both the corner building and the apartment block across the road as it turned, the night shaking with the constant roar of vandalised infrastructure. Its tail swept cars into the air, scattered them across the road, into the grungy little park on the far side. It barrelled after Lily, pavement churning beneath its scaly belly.

Lily sprinted past the MG, where Iluka sat holding the walkie-talkie in shocked silence. Lily didn’t seem to see Iluka and the car. How could she? Her eyes were closed tight. She pounded up the street, and the snake barrelled thunderously behind, rocking the MG from the curb.

Staring after the pair, Iluka snorted. “White woman afraid of a black snake? Huhn. Figures.”

The snake ploughed past, rocking the car further onto the road. As a teenager Iluka had been drawn to Old Town’s rumours of haunted, collapsing houses. Now she was old enough to appreciate that Old Town wasn’t haunted so much as it was one big happy candy factory of ghosts and ghouls and freaks, and hell, here she was again.

“Damn you, Lily,” she muttered, gunning the engine. “Don’t you ever feed me that ‘I’m not afraid of snakes’ line again!”

Already half a block away and progressing rapidly, Lily dug out her iron rod. She gripped it and shrieked as the snake dove for her. Its huge blunt teeth ruptured the cement to her right, hissed and raised its head for a second strike. Lily shrieked. She waved the iron rod at the snake.

“Don’t you come one step closer!” she told it, waving the iron rod, “Or I- I- I’ll freakin’ zap you, got it!”

The snake struck. Lily jammed the iron rod towards it. The snake’s blunt teeth crushed down on the rod, failing to snap it, but nearly dragging Lily to the buckled earth.

Lily wailed. “Let go! Oh, you stupid thing! Ducky, help!”

Drake, perched languidly atop the snake’s knobbly black head, merely shrugged. “Nope.”

“You’re horrible! No TV for a month!” Lily shrieked, and Drake only laughed. Seeing Lily freak out over an itty bitty snake? Worth every missed minute of Conan.

Drake blanched as Lily lashed out at the snake with her combat boots. She hit the snake’s blunt teeth, and the demon shuddered. It flatly refused to let go of the iron rod. It wrenched its head back, tearing the rod from Lily’s hands. Lily stumbled and fell on her butt. The snake spat the iron rod into the nearest available brick wall and turned its gleaming red eyes to the exorcist.

The little red MG squealed to a halt on the churned pavement, its wheels spitting gravel and broken cement over Lily. Iluka leant over the passenger’s seat and hollered,

“If you want rescuing, you better get your skinny ass in this car right now!”

Lily didn’t need telling twice. She dove in through the open passenger’s side window, narrowly avoiding the snake’s crunching jaws. She hit Iluka’s lap and screamed,

“Drive, woman!”

“You don’t need to tell me that!”

Iluka slammed her foot down on the gas. The MG bounced to life over the broken pavement. Its rear tyres lost traction and fishtailed wildly on the cement. The front wheels grabbed bitumen and hauled the car onto the road. Lily and Iluka both shrieked as the snake barged the MG, propelling the little car up the street.

“What are we gonna do, Lil?” Iluka demanded breathlessly as Lily extracted herself from the other woman’s lap. “We can’t leave that thing unexorcised. And we can’t have it chase us all over town!”

“I guess you’re right.” Lily sagged in her seat. She was going to bloody murder Drake. Leading the snake across town to a more willing exorcist would mean demolishing half of Muraluna. And calling in another exorcist into Old Town still meant that Iluka and Lily had the job of entertaining one hella pissed-off demon until the substitute arrived.

At last, with reluctance as great as she had ever felt, Lily said, “Turn around. I left my stuff back there.”

Iluka threw her a wide-eyed glance. “Are you kidding me? I just got outta there, now you want me to go back?”

“No, I want you to drive around and around the block until we run out of petrol and that giant snake devours us both.”

Iluka stared at her. The MG hit a bump and rolled right over it. Neither woman saw what they hit. “You’ve been spending too much time around the Chief. You’re starting to sound just like him.”

“Give me a break. The Chief wouldn’t run from a snake.” Lily scoffed.

“No, but he sure would give me attitude about it.” Iluka frowned at the rolling dark road in front of her a moment longer. With a sigh she cranked the handbrake and threw the MG into a wild pivot that sent the little car lurching past the snake. Its blunt teeth gnashed in surprise. It tried to turn after the MG and succeeded mainly in taking out the houses on either side of the street.

Twisted in her seat to watch the destruction, Lily remarked, “You know, I’m thinking those houses were overdue for demolition anyway. One tiny tap from Senor Python, and over they go.”

“What’s the bet this car is sturdier than those houses?” Iluka demanded, sweating as she careened up the street.

Lily mulled this over. “You make a fair point.”

The snake finally righted itself and uncoiled after the MG. Iluka followed the trail of destruction back to the street across from the park. She hit the curb hard and rolled over it, skidding the MG to a screeching halt in the overgrown grass. Senor Python loomed massive in the rear-view.

“What the hell kind of parking job was that?” Lily demanded, picking herself off the dash.

“It was a get your arse out of the car before the snake peels it open like a big ol’ can of sardines type of park!” screeched Iluka, who, come to think of it, wasn’t overly fond of giant snakes herself.

“All right!” Lily shrieked, piling out of the MG.

Drake was waiting for her. The snake was hurrying to rendezvous with them both. Iluka sat in the MG with her foot covering the gas, her hand clutching the gear stick. She cared a lot for Lily, but the least hint of that snake thinking the car was tastier than bony little Lily, and Iluka was outta there. She’d drive all the way to Bruce Willis’s house and bring him over for fire support.

The ground under Lily’s feet rumbled as the snake moved. Lily stared at Drake, leaning against the broken brick wall across the street. He leered in return. He’d been thrown clear of the snake in its attempt to turn, but all the bucking snakes in the world wouldn’t keep Drake from being smug. He studiously avoided showing Lily his banged elbow.

“Ducky,” Lily gasped, with panicked glances as the snake, “throw me the vagrant sword. I’m gonna take down this creep.”

“This vagrant sword?” Drake wondered, peering at the iron rod lodged in a nearby wall.

“You know that’s the one. Throw it over.”

Drake reached for the iron rod with maddening slowness. The snake appeared around the corner of the block. All pretence of calm flooded from Lily. She screeched,

“Ducky, you throw me that sword right now or I’ll put you in a vial and sell you on eBay!”

“Witch, please,” Drake scoffed. With no haste whatsoever he drew the iron rod from the brickwork and tossed it to Lily. Lily dove for it. She grabbed it in her right hand, jammed it against her side, and screamed as the snake bore down on her.

In the MG, Iluka flinched. She couldn’t bring herself to turn away from the sight of those giant blunt teeth slamming shut on Lily. Across the street, Drake cringed against the wall. The last thing he wanted was for Lily to die. A dead Lily meant Drake would be shipped off to Hell. And TV in Hell sucked.

Seeing he had to do something, Drake roared, “Thunder rumble, vagrant sword!”

Lily wasn’t chomped in two, not yet. She had the iron rod jammed between the snake’s jaws. Teeth grazed her flat belly and her back. Blood welled from broad, shallow wounds on her shoulder blades. Lightning crackled from the iron rod.

“About time, Ducky!” Lily called, her upper half swamped in the darkness of the snake’s maw.

With a skip and a jump, she leapt fully into the snake’s mouth. Her combat boots bounced off the back of its teeth. Lightning danced from the iron rod, snarling skywards. Lily brought the sword back, then up, up, up, piercing the snake’s snout from the inside out before the snake could figure out what was amiss. She drove the blade forward. Sparks rained in the lightless interior of the mouth. Electricity burst from the snake’s eyes. The lightning blade skewered what passed for its brain, and Lily changed her grip on the sword to sever the snake’s head.

She hit the ground still inside the skull. It promptly peeled apart around her. Lily was left to stare at a hundred metres of snake thrashing on the street. The bitumen was torn asunder beneath it. Brick façades gave way to its death throes. Power lines snagged on its scales and were ripped free of their moorings. The already murky Old Town was plunged into darkness.

“Oh. My. Godless. Jellybeans.” Iluka called from the MG, her voice carrying on the flat night air. “What did you do?”

Lily didn’t bother replying. The job was not yet finished. She paced along the snake’s side, her blade lancing through its flank as she walked. At last she reached the place of its heart, its demonic heart, and plunged the lightning sword to the hilt into snake flesh.

With one final, tremendous spasm, the snake died. From heart to head to tail, its massive form dissolved to ash.

Lily dug through the ash until she was satisfied the demonic heart had been destroyed. Presently, Iluka and Drake joined her. The wail of distant sirens warned them their time on the street would be brief.

“You did a fine job,” Iluka told the other girl, hand on her shoulder. She checked her hand and noticed it was slick with Lily’s blood. “Urk. Come on, Lil. Let’s get out of here. I’ll patch up those scratches for you.”

“Yeah, yeah, in a minute.” Lily stayed sifting through the ash.

“You might consider hurrying it up if you don’t want to be a prime witness to the demolition of Old Town,” Iluka suggested.

Ever the more direct of any two people in a room, Drake said, “What are you looking for, stupid?”

Lily stood up, frowning. “My ten bucks,” she said, “And if I’d known that rat was going to turn demonic on me, I wouldn’t have lent it to him in the first place.”

-*-*-*-*-

Let’s see dem snake teeth again:

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That’s the kind of dental hygiene I’m talking about!

Join me in about two minutes for a pleasant bit of news and also the reading list. ❤