Our fifth story in the Countdown to Halloween marathon was submitted to me by Jason Puckett.
Halloween in Hell Holler
By Jason Puckett
Jebediah Shade Whitlock, Jeb to his friends, watched intently as the little LCD timer ticked down. It was below 10 seconds. Anticipation mounted with each tick. Time seemed to slow as it approached zero. At one, he pressed the stop button and opened the door to retrieve his popcorn.
“Dinger defused.”, Jeb chuckled. He divvied out a little less than half of the popcorn to a well worn earthenware dish upon which in a childish scrawl was painted “Blue”. On the remaining, he sprinkled some powdered white cheddar and grabbed a can of Mountain Dew from the fridge.
-You do that every time you use the microwave. Its still not funny.-
Jeb looked down at the source of the dry tone in his head. Blue was a redbone coonhound, well, he looked like one anyway. Most coonhounds couldn’t communicate telepathically. Technically, Blue was…complicated.
“You wouldn’t know funny if it bit you on the ass.”, replied Jeb. “You don’t even laugh at Futurama or Family Guy.”
-Because they are inane and nonsensical.- replied Blue.
“Fancy words for a hound dog. Come on, the movie’s starting!”
He carried both bowls through to the living room and sat Blue’s on the couch before sprawling into his favorite chair and cracking open the Mountain Dew. He picked a small glass pipe and lighter up off the table beside his chair and took a long pull before exhaling several smoke rings.
“I love Halloween, they show the cheesiest horror movies. It’s almost as good as the non-stop Christmas Story marathon in December.”
-I’ll never understand your fascination with these movies. You face real evil on a regular basis, these can’t possibly scare you.-
“Nah, I’ve never found them scary, even before papaw told me all about being the Shade. I think they’re hilarious.”
-Well, we already know your sense of humor is broken.-
“Eat your popcorn and shut up before I make an appointment with a vet to get you fixed.”
-You wouldn’t!- Jeb winced at the “volume” of the mental shout.
“No, I’m kidding. Now shush and eat your popcorn, Army of Darkness is starting!”
-Like you need to hear it. You know every line.-
“Don’t make me get my boomstick.”, said Jeb with a wiggle of his eyebrows. “I still can’t believe Halloween is a night off for us. Seems sorta backwards.”
-Despite its modern day connection with the denizens of Hell, its origins are the Goidelic festival of Samhain. It was a celebration of the harvest, when families were together and at their strongest. Even in the early days of the Catholic church, it was a day to honor the Saints, not to fear devils.-
“Did you just say Goidelic? What the hell is Goidelic?”
-In the parlance of the times: Google it, dumbass.-
Jeb laughed and took a drink of pop. “Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad for it. Ole Patch has been keeping me busier than a one armed man in a paper hanging contest. We could use a night off.”
-Indeed, fortunately we finished the early warning system. Prior to that, you would have still been out in the woods patrolling, just in case.-
“Has anything ever come through on Halloween?”
Blue cocked his head to the side in a very un-doglike manner, which is what he did when he was remembering. Sometimes it took some effort when you had several hundred years of memories.
-Not that we can recall, but we never wanted to take the chance. Besides, Halloween was not as big of a deal in most of our days.-
“True enough. I still remember papaw giving me a hard time for wanting to dress up and go trick or treating.”
-That’s because I knew you wasn’t goin trick or treatin. You were either goin to throw water balloons at cars with the Stanley boys or in the later years tryin to get into some ridge girl’s pants.-
Jeb choked on laughter and the popcorn he had just tossed up and caught in his mouth. His grandfather was just one of the consciousnesses floating around in Blue, and Blue’s normal personality was an amalgam of them all. It wasn’t often that Billy’s warm humor came through that clearly.
He watched the dog out of the corner of his eye as he pounded on his chest and as Blue lowered his head to eat some popcorn, Jeb would have sworn he was smiling.
The two settled in, watching the movie. Not long after Bruce introduced the primitive screwheads to his boomstick, there was a knocking at the door. Which was odd, since none of the perimeter alarms had gone off and they hadn’t heard a car pull up to the house. Chalking it up to being absorbed in the movie and the bowl he had smoked while watching said movie, Jeb headed for the door.
“Must be Jen bringing the kids up to trick or treat,” he said.
As he reached for the handle, he realized his subconscious was sounding serious alarms. The motion was already underway, however, and he was turning the handle. As the door opened slightly, Blue’s head shot up off the couch and he gave a tremendous howl before scrambling off to stand at Jeb’s side, hackles rising.
The door swung open with a creak that foley artists would love to be able to reproduce. Standing on the doorstep was an elderly gentleman in an old fashioned suit. Old fashioned as in full Edwardian. Top hat, frock coat, cane, the works. As the door opened fully, there was a crack of lightning that lit the sky, illuminating an outline altogether different from the old man in the suit. The form revealed by lighting was massive, hulking, winged, tentacled, horned, and many other horrible adjectives. In a word: demonic.
Jeb stumbled back as Blue began a basso growl that at any other time would be the scariest thing in the room.
“What the hell are you doing here, hellspawn?” exclaimed Jeb out loud. In his head he frantically sent to Blue “Dude, what the fuck? Why didn’t the warning system go off? Where the hell did this guy come from?”
-I don’t know, but be careful. He’s either stupidly powerful or powerfully stupid to cross on Halloween. Either is dangerous.-
The demon still hadn’t spoken a word. He was standing with both hands resting on his cane, head tilted slightly to the side as he regarded Blue across the threshold.
“Don’t think I’m gonna invite you in, fucker. I don’t know how in the hell you crossed without any alarms going off but you sure as shit ain’t getting across that threshold.”
As Jeb spoke, the demon shifted his eyes to Jeb.
“I crossed many years ago, before your alarms were in place,” came a hollow, echoing voice. “I come for your life, Whitelock. I need not cross your threshold to burn your house down with you in it.”
Blue’s growl changed as the demon spoke and cut off quickly upon hearing the demon say Whitelock. Jeb’s hand moved to the streak of white in his otherwise black hair.
-Oh shit. If he knows us as Whitelock. He’s old. Probably an enemy from before we came to the States. Be careful Shade, if he’s been on earth that long he’s tricky. Probably not that powerful since they have to go back to Hell to recharge every so often, but he’s smart and that might be worse.-
“I don’t see a flamethrower, you diabolical dicksucker, so I doubt you’re going to set anything on fire. If you’ve been here that long, your batteries are juiced, and you’re nothing but a big, ugly, muscular, almost invincible killing machine. You don’t scare me.”
As he spoke, Jeb inched toward the coat rack beside the door. Sticking out of his pocket was a vial of his homebrewed Demon-B-Gone.
The demon laughed, Blue howled, Jeb lunged for the vial.
“Trick or Treat, as they say,” growled the demon.
Jeb spun and hurled the vial only to see it sail away into the darkness and hear it break somewhere out in the front yard.
“Where the hell did he go?” asked Jeb.
-Around the side of the house. Toward the smokehouse.-
“Let’s go!” exclaimed Jeb as he started for the door.
Blue whirled and blocked the door with a low growl.
-NO! Think, Shade. He WANTS you to follow him without being prepared. He doesn’t have much of a mystical punch but he might have saved up enough for one or two last spells, and even if he didn’t, he could still just rip you apart. Grab some tools, THEN go kick his ass.-
“You’re right. Sorry.” Jeb opened the door to his work room and flicked on the light. Strewn about the room were various, incongruous items. One desk held his computer with various spare parts and random bric-a-brac, another was set up as a reloading and gunsmithing workbench, and a third was covered in plants, vials, and other tools of the woods witch trade.
Jeb went first to the gun bench and picked up his Colt 1911. He picked up a couple of clips marked with capital D’s and slid one home, working the slide to load one in the chamber. The other clip went into his shorts pocket. From the third table he picked up a couple more vials of Demon-B-Gone (which was a mixture of several things demons found detestable and would do serious damage if applied to their skin and was actually fatal to them if swallowed), and on a hunch, added a sprig of kudzu he had cut just that morning.
“Ok, I’m loaded for bear. Let’s go get him.”
-Be careful, I hear something outside the door again.-
Jeb yanked the door in and jumped back into a shooting position…causing Jen and the kids to scream their heads off.
“Jesus Christ, Jeb! What the hell?” screamed Jen.
“No time, Jen, get in here!” Jeb said quietly as he started ushering them into the house.
Jen was an old girlfriend, sometimes booty call, and all around friend. Her boys, Jeremy and Sam, were 10 and 8. Jeremy was dressed as a pirate, and Sam a ninja. “I really have to stop telling them about FSM,” thought Jeb.
The boys had recovered from their shock and were babbling, asking what was going on, why Jeb had his pistol, who was he going to shoot, etc.
“I was…just on my way out back to check something and was taking it in case I saw a…snake. I didn’t hear you guys come up and you scared the bejeezus out of me,” improvised Jeb.
“Dude, I can’t keep an eye on them and hunt the demon at the same time. But he probably saw them come in so I can’t just send them out, either. He’d make a snack out of them,” Jeb thought at Blue.
-Ok…I’ll stay here and keep an eye on them. You go, do a quick perimeter check and then get back here. If all else fails, you can convince Jen to stay the night. He’ll have to hole up at dawn and we can prepare some surprises for him and be ready tomorrow night.-
“Hey, why don’t you guys come watch the movie and I’ll be back in in just a minute?” said Jeb as he led them to the living room.
“Oh, awesome, Army of Darkness! This is my boomstick!” cheered Jeremy.
“Shop Smart, shop S-Mart!” agreed Sam.
Both boys plopped down directly in front of the TV, trading quotes and shoves. Blue paced the room before settling near the door.
Jen looked around the room, eyes tightening as she came to rest on Jeb. She hadn’t bought his explanation but didn’t want to worry the kids. Her expression asked all sorts of questions, not the least of which was “Have you lost your mind?”
Jeb stepped closer to her, laid a hand on her upper arm and whispered, “I heard something moving around out back. Might be coons or possums, but it might not be. I was just going to check it out when you guys showed up. I promise, everything’s fine. Sit, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Oooookay. If you say so. Jerk. You about made me pee on myself, pointing that thing at us,” replied Jen.
“Sorry, I really didn’t mean to scare you. Sit tight, help yourselves to whatever you want. You know where it is. Blue, keep an eye on those two and make sure they don’t pillage me too badly,” Jeb said with smile that was not entirely forced.
Blue stood and walked over to the boys, tail wagging. He stood between them so that his tail whacked them both in the head as it wagged back and forth. They collapsed into fits of laughter.
-Be careful, Shade. Your night vision sucks and I won’t be there to watch your back. Don’t do anything stupid. He can’t get to us, and he’s probably not going to waste what mojo he has left to draw you out when he can just wait you out.-
“You bet. Keep an ear out,” thought Jeb. He flipped off the outside light, and quickly stepped through the door and closed it behind him.
He paused on the front porch, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The moon provided some light so it wasn’t completely dark, which suited Jeb just fine. Going up against demons was dangerous enough, doing it in the complete dark was even worse.
Jeb headed around the left side of the house, toward what had always been called the smokehouse. It had been years since the family smoked their own meats, but the name stuck. Now, it was storage for random stuff that had accumulated through the years. He stuck close to the house, to limit the directions the demon could come at him. Once he reached the back corner he paused and Listened. Most people can listen they just choose not to, but those that spend a lot of time in the woods learn to Listen with a capital L. You can learn all kinds of things from sound, or the lack of it. It was quiet. Cliché quiet.
“If I were a demon, where would I hide?” thought Jeb. The demon couldn’t enter the house without being invited because of the threshold. The mystical, magical line of energy that builds up as a house becomes a home. The Whitlocks had lived in the same house for hundreds of years, so the house was a veritable Fort Knox. The outbuildings did not have thresholds, however, so the demon could be in any of those. From where he was, he could see that the lock on the smokehouse door was still in place so that was out. That left the dairy (really more of a root cellar, but for some reason they had always called it the dairy), and the equipment shed.
“Dairy first,” Jeb whispered to himself. He crossed the short stretch of open ground between the house and the smokehouse. The dairy door was on the backside of the smokehouse, down a short but steep flight of stairs. He crept down the stairs, pistol at the ready. He paused at the corner, then did his best impression of a SWAT officer and cleared the area in front of the dairy door. Nothing.
The hinge on the dairy door had been busted and the door was slightly ajar. As he reached out to push the door open, the demon dropped onto him from the smokehouse roof. Jeb went sprawling, tried to tuck into a forward roll and ended up just skidding forward on his face. He immediately scrambled, moving away from the demon while turning to face it.
The demon had dispensed with its human disguise and was now in full ugly mode. It stood roughly seven feet tall, ten if you counted the tail. If you included the green skin, cloven hooves, wings, and glowing red eyes…well it didn’t make it taller but it sure as hell looked meaner.
“I will enjoy drinking your blood, Whitelock. Then I shall wipe out your existence by killing the vessel of your families knowledge and return to Hell a hero,” taunted the demon.
“I think you underestimate Blue, fugly. He’d send you screaming back to Ole Patch with your barbed tail tucked between your hairy legs.” Jeb had lost the Colt in the fall, but he still had the vials of Demon-B-Gone and his ace in the hole in his shorts pockets. He just had to keep the demon monologuing long enough to bring them to bear. He continued scrambling backwards. “I’m guessing you’ve tangled with us and lost before. You’ve been carrying a grudge against the Whitelocks for a long time. We changed it to Whitlock, by the way.”
“I care not whether you call yourself Whitelock, Whitlock, Shade, or any other name. I shall devour your soul so I can return to Hell,” growled the demon.
“CAN return to Hell?” blurted Jeb. He thought, “That’s it, one of my ancestors must have bound him here. He can’t return to Hell without breaking the spell, which requires breaking me.” Realization dawning, Jeb began to laugh.
“What are you laughing at, mortal? You find it funny that I am about to torture you to death?” asked the Demon.
“Make up your mind, asshole. You’re either going to drink my blood, devour my soul, or torture me to death. While it sounds like fun, the game is up. Blue is the combined memory of all the Shades that have come before me. That means the one that bound your scaly ass is in there somewhere and I bet he remembers your Name. You CAN’T take Blue. He could make you do the Macarena if he wanted. Not that he would because he wouldn’t find it funny.”
The demon screamed with rage and leapt into the air, intending to grind Jeb to bits with his hooves. Jeb was ready for him though and flung both vials of Demon-B-Gone. The demon saw them coming and flared his wings to attempt to change his trajectory. One of them still burst against his leg and immediately started sizzling.
The demon whirled, rage making his eyes flare in the night, spittle dripping from his fangs. He found Jeb several feet to the side from where he had thrown the vials, idly twirling a leaf between his fingers.
“Here’s the thing, fangface. I’d love to stay and play with you, but it’s Halloween. You bastards are supposed to take the night off. So I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to release you from your bond, the hard way. Tell Ole Patch I said Fuck You.”
As he finished speaking, Jeb crushed the kudzu between his palms and threw the bits toward the demon. Speaking a Word caused the vine to grow at a tremendous pace and ensnare the demon in its inescapable clutches. The demon thrashed and squirmed to no avail. Once the kudzu has you, there’s no escaping.
Jeb calmly walked to within a few feet of the demon and lifted the Colt in one hand. “Buckle up, bonehead. You’re going for a ride.” He squeezed the trigger and the Colt barked once, a hollow point round filled with a paste version of Demon-B-Gone punched a hole through the demon’s forehead. There was no climactic death scene. It just exploded into an oily black smoke that stunk. Horribly. The kudzu vines dropped to the ground.
Whistling something that sounded roughly Westernish, Jeb climbed the stairs that led back up to the house and strolled back to the front porch. He paused and looked around at the mountain forest that surrounded his home. The forest his family had protected since they arrived in the Appalachians that so reminded them of their Scottish home. There would undoubtedly be other demons. They didn’t call it Hell Holler for nothing. But that was another night. It was Halloween, and there was a monster movie marathon on USA….
Purging Fires (Book Two of the Day Soldiers Trilogy) is almost here! Soon, it’ll be time to return to the war against the darkness. You can get book one at Amazon for the kindle or in paperback, or you can pick it up for the Nook at Barnes & Noble.