Hello folks, Nate here! It’s the beginning of a short fiction extravaganza! Of late I’ve been contributing to ironage.media on a semiregular basis. There’s little to no direct crossover between my audience here, which I built long before contributing there, and the readership of that website (although I strongly recommend giving it a look if you enjoy independent scifi and fantasy.) With that in mind, I want to share some of the stories I wrote for IAM with you!
We’ll be running through a bunch of stories over the next few weeks and I’ll do a short introduction before most of them. Vince Porter is a character that came out of nowhere in response to IAM’s weekly prompt. I’ve always found the way exorcists are portrayed in fiction kind of strange and I decided to boil down most of my ideas into a single story. This is the result. Will we seen Vince doing battle with supernatural evil ever again?
Maybe. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy this quick outing with a part-time exorcist.
“Run through it again, Porter,” the voice in his ear said.
Vince Porter worked his fingers into his thick gloves as he started. “Appearances began two years ago. The creature only appears in the winter months when the temperature is five degrees Celsius or less and always rides from the northern ridge down to the river before vanishing. I’ll intercept it along the embankment by the river and assess it.”
“Remember that we’re not sure it’s a demon.” Remi’s manicured nails clicking away on her keyboard were clearly audible over her headset pickups. “It could be a bunch of other things. If it isn’t a demon your involvement ends immediately.”
“Sure.” Vince worked his toes down into his boots while adjusting the double cuff on his snow pants so it sealed off the tops better. “I leave right away.”
“I’m serious, Vince, you’re a pastor and addiction counselor, not a paranormal expert. Leave the jackalopes to professionals.”
“The reports say its a man on a horse who seems to draw a snowstorm behind him, that’s a far cry from a jackalope.” He adjusted his utility belt, his fingers drifting along the wooden stakes and silver plated knife he’d brought along, just in case. Vince had never fought a vampire or werewolf. However all the things he’d heard from Remi and the others suggested they were out there and he liked to be prepared. “If the retreat wanted a full service exorcist they could’ve asked the Vatican.”
“The papists have their hands full with all the possessed Catholics, they don’t have time for us Protestant filth.” Remi said it lightly, although he knew she resented most of the Orthodox for her own reasons. “Besides, I don’t think they’d prioritize a creature that’s ignored people so far.”
The belt slipped awkwardly along the top of his parka and clothing. Vince had heard this was why layers of cotton or wool were preferable for cold weather exorcisms, rather than synthetic fabrics. Regardless of whether that was true he didn’t have the budget for a specific set of gear for every kind of weather. He’d have to make do with his skiing clothes. “If it is a demon I need to know the name of its victim. Any leads from missing persons cases in the area?”
“You’re in a ski resort, Vince, do you really think anyone could go missing there without it causing a multi week news blitz? Even you couldn’t miss that.”
“I don’t know, we don’t watch a whole lot of news at the recovery center. It pushes the guys back towards the drugs.” He finally reached the large, heavy sheath that was secured via a special set of metal rings to his belt. It held his sword, a nasty weapon with a forty inch blade made of solid iron. A wiggle of the hilt assured him it was loose in its sheath and ready to draw at a moment’s notice. “Are you saying no one went missing in the area two years ago?”
“No one was reported, at least.” Remi clicked her tongue once. “You know most of the people in the area who have gone missing or are most likely to go missing, did you ask any of them whether they knew people who went missing in the area?”
“Homeless people and addicts generally don’t live this far out of the city center,” Vince replied. “Too hard to get to services here. Come on, Remi, you’re supposed to be really good at connecting the right talent to with the right job, you have to have some kind of lead on who the demon’s possessing or you wouldn’t have called in an exorcist. You’d have gone straight to a paranormal researcher.”
“I haven’t had time to confirm anything…”
“I preemptively agree to all your caveats, Remi. Tell me what you got.”
“A cavalry patrol on a training exercise disappeared in a blizzard during World War One. For a couple of years after there were stories of a rider appearing in a cloud of sleet during the winter months but there were no sightings for decades after. It’s cropped up a few times in the past century, always just before an armed conflict, most recently Operation Desert Storm.” Remi recited the facts in a brisk, straightforward manner but there was a tinge of excitement underneath them, as if she reveled in knowing something he didn’t. “I think it’s possible your demon possessed one of the original cavalrymen.”
“Raises the question why it’s back now,” Vince mused. “We’re not at war.”
“Thanks for that lovely thought to haunt my dreams tonight.” He tugged his parka’s hood down over his head and pulled the laces so it fit snug around his face then climbed up to lay prone on the embankment, binoculars trained up the slope. “What were the names of the soldiers who went missing?”
“Lieutenant Braxton Thorton, Corporal Cole Emmery, Privates George Thurgood and Terrance Norton. I couldn’t find much more in the way of records, so you’ll have to try them all.”
“Thanks, Remi. That’s a big help.” A low cloud rising like steam over the mountainside drew Vince’s attention. “I have contact. Give me two second pings, please.”
A low tone began sounding softly in his earpiece. “Are there any cases of demons not disrupting phone calls?”
“Not that I’ve heard of.” Vince took a mallet and carefully drove an anchor stake into the river embankment below him then readied a heavily modified T-shirt launcher. “Unfortunately it’s not an ironclad diagnostic tool, either. Lots of supernatural stuff causes problems with phones and computers but it’s a simple enough starting point. If we lose contact wait an hour or so before you call in the cavalry.”
“An hour? That’s a long time for your dead ass to be freezing on the mountain.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Wait an hour, Remi, if it is a demon then my phone is shot and I’ll need to hike all the way back to the visitor’s center before I can contact you. I’d hate to have the cops get out here at just the moment I stagger back into the lodge.”
“Fine. You have sixty minutes from the moment I-”
Her voice cut off. Vince sighed and started counting minutes in his head while watching the strange cloud of snow as it closed at an unsettling speed. By his estimate the approaching storm cloud was about forty feet wide. However trailing along behind the unnaturally concentrated front was a larger wall of snow and wind working its way down the mountain. The whole of the foothills glittered with moonlight reflecting on the flakes.
Vince fumbled with his hood for a moment, cursing his gloves as he got the earpiece out and clumsily shoved it into a zippered pocket. By the time he was done with that he could hear the dim echoes of hoof beats over the muffling effect of the snow. Pulling ski goggles over his eyes with one hand, cradling the T-shirt gun in the other, he stepped into the storm.
The wall of white cut off the outside world immediately. Vince took a deep breath in through his nose but no smell of sulfur was on the wind. All he got for his trouble was a numbed nose. The air had abruptly gone from damp and cold to bitterly cold and dry as dust. Sleet and snow buffeted against his parka. The hoof beats grew closer and a strange trepidation built in him with each thundering footfall of the unseen horse.
Something evil was coming.
“Terrance Norton!” Vince called, his voice booming over the silencing snow and horrible hooves. “You did not choose me, but I have called you!”
Somewhere out in the storm the horse came to a sudden stop. Vince waited, hoping for a sign, but nothing else happened for a good fifteen seconds. Either he wasn’t actually dealing with a demon or the possessed person from the army patrol wasn’t Norton, else that challenge would have forced the fallen one to respond. Well, there was a response. The sense of supernatural danger grew stronger and that was nothing to sneeze at. But it wasn’t the response he should get if he’d properly challenged the demon, if it was actually a demon.
Not for the first time, Vince cursed all the unknowns that came with demon slaying for a side gig. It would be nice if demons had clear cut tendencies and typologies, like in movies. But eight years of experience had taught him that the supernatural had so many tools at their disposal a human, with all the attendant limits to awareness and agency, couldn’t really predict their actions. An exorcist had to counter the demon on the human level, not the supernatural one.
“George Thur-” A creature on horseback thundered out of the snow, a steel helmet pulled low on its brow, red eyes peering out from underneath, stringy white hair flying along behind it. It was wrapped in tattered old rags. If the creature had been in a uniform before it was long lost to time and wear and all that remained was its helmet. The horse had a touch of the uncanny about it as well. It’s mane was just as white as the creature’s hair and it’s hooves seemed to never touch the ground.
It appeared out of nowhere and bowled Vince off of his feet, sending him stumbling back into the embankment. For a brief moment he wondered if this wasn’t a demon after all. Perhaps he’d stumbled on a horse from a fairy world or a snow elemental who’s visits to the mountain just so happened to line up with the outbreaks of wars. Then the creature shrieked and a wave of brimstone scented air washed over him. Definitely a demon.
The horse reared and tried to trample Vince beneath its hooves but he dragged himself out of the way by pulling on the cord he’d driven into the embankment. Then he leveled his T-shirt gun and fired a weighted net out of it at the creature. The horse snorted and charged at him again, riderless, but it was less an attack and more a senseless flailing. He watched as color returned to the creature’s mane in a matter of seconds. Vince sidestepped the horse and it wandered into the snow aimlessly leaving him with nothing to worry about but the demon.
The demon tore free of his net and howled, a nauseating wave of sulfur and terror radiating outwards from it. Vince forced himself to suck in a breath around it and said, “George Thurgood, you have not chosen me, but I have called you!”
Again, no result other than the demon lunging at him in spite of the net tangled around its legs. The creature wasn’t particularly elegant in its approach but it was strong enough to pull up the net’s anchoring pinion without breaking stride so it didn’t really need that much finesse to go with it. Vince sidestepped the attack, drawing his sword in one smooth motion and tripping the demon on its way past.
That was a mistake. The creature almost got a grip on his foot before he could dance away from where it fell. Once he’d opened some distance Vince leveled the point of his sword at the demon to discourage it from making another lunge like that. That hadn’t worked too well in the past but there was no harm in trying it again. On the bright side, passing behind the creature gave him a chance to look at the back of its helmet and see there was no lieutenant’s bar painted there. He wasn’t sure that had been the way in the early days but it was worth running with.
“Cole Emmery, you have not chosen me, but I have called you!”
The creature howled, staggering to its feet as it clawed at its head. “Silence! No one will choose you, Vince Porter! You are no savior, no redeemer, no minister to the down trodden. Men live their short, agonizing lives hungering for the release of oblivion and you spend your days dragging them away from the small scraps of death they find!”
Vince scowled. This was definitely a demon, then, since it finally responded to the challenge. It had the magical ability to get under his skin just like all the others he’d encountered and just like all the others he forced himself to ignore it. “In the name of Christ be freed, Cole!” He lifted the point of his sword to the sky. “There awaits for you a just and merciful Lord who will open the gates of paradise to you!”
“There is nothing after this!” The demon shrieked. “Nothing but oblivion before and oblivion after, between which is only the terrifying agony of life!”
The point of his sword came down and pointed at the possessed man. “All authority in heaven and earth is entrusted to the Sons and Daughters of God; that which we bind on earth will be bound in heaven! Your lord is Prince of the Earth. May you, also, be bound to the earth and Cole Emmery set loose to rise to heaven! In the name of Jesus!”
As Vince cut his blade upward the possessed man’s body shuddered and it let out a gasp. He saw a wisp of light slip upwards. An oily shadow pulled out in the opposite direction, leaving the body of the creature to collapse lifeless on the ground. The shadow tried to slip away but Vince lunged forward and drove his sword through it, pinning it in place. “You can wait there until Judgment Day.”
A final, whispered scream rose from the shadow and was carried away on the last gasps of the wind. The snow had stopped and left Vince standing in two inches of snow by the body of a hundred year old man. He huffed out a sigh and let go of the hilt of his sword. Blade and shadow were drawn into the earth to wait for the End of All Things and Vince started back towards the ski lodge to get warm and call Remi.