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Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

It was a full-moon Saturday night, which meant the Devil freaks would be out — and if the Devil freaks were out, well, then the Boys would be out, too. That’s just how the thing worked. Wherever those demonic bonfires sparked up and those sacrificial knives unsheathed to gleam in the dark, the Boys were there, busting ass.

That was the vow they’d made, and that was the vow they’d kept.

That’s why they were all three crammed inside Gunther’s brand-spanking-new 1970 Gremlin tearing down Wind Run country road with Uriah Heep’s “Gypsy” blaring out the 8-track player speakers.

Oz, sitting in the passenger seat, turned the volume down. “Can you heathens please keep the music down so we can say a prayer?”

Dutch racked his shotgun in the backseat. “God helps those who help themselves, bro.”

“Hell yea,” Gunther yelled and pounded the dashboard with his lunchbox-sized fist. “Let’s bust some Devil-worshiping ass.”

He looked aside at Oz, who was shaking his head in disapproval.

Gunther looked regretful and crossed himself. He got the words “fear no” before the intensity of his emotion got the better of him and he roared, “FUCKING evil!”

Oz shook his head but cracked a smile. “You’re a savage, Gunther.”

“Sue me,” Gunther said. “Now shut up, I need to zone out.”

Gunther blasted the music and banged his head. Despite a wild, bushy chestnut brown beard, his hair was kept short, so his head looked like a ball peen hammer striking an imaginary nail over and over and over again.

They’d all been given abilities when they took their vow. Gunther’s own ability was to go into a trance headbanging to heavy metal music and to sense where the damned agents of darkness were.

He made sudden, violent turns down different back roads as the psychic impressions hit him, headbanging the whole way, driving by intuition rather than sight.

Oz remained focused like a hawk as they went, scanning the darkness around the car. He was a smooth-faced member of the Quinault people and had black hair down to the small of his back. Rail thin, he was the most cerebral and composed (“stick up his ass,” the others liked to call it) of the group.

Gunther’s trance-induced sensory field picked up demonic vibrations at remarkable range, but it wasn’t very good at narrowing in on things, and he’d sometimes drive them right into the middle of a field or into trees — or, once, into a pond. It was Oz’s task to keep his eyes sharp on their immediate vicinity.

Dutch sat in the backseat not thinking particularly much about anything except kicking in some cultist teeth. A fireplug of a dude, he was five foot eight and two-hundred-twenty pounds of functional lumber-jacking muscle. He didn’t say much, and he kept the brim of his baseball cap low to hide his eyes.

Oz noticed firelight in the trees on the far side of the field of dead corn running along the road.

“Gunter, stop the car, man.”

Gunther shook his head and came out of the trance. He hit the brakes and turned off the headlights.

The woods were maybe a hundred yards away, but the fire among the trees was unmistakable. Oz rolled his window down. Faintly they heard chanting, and then a child’s frightened scream.

“Sons a bitches,” Gunther said.

“We’re late,” Oz said. “They’re probably close to the sacrifice. We don’t have time for stealth this time, guys.”

“Going in hot,” Gunther said, sounding not at all displeased by the idea.

Gunther turned the car off the road and plowed into the field. He kept the headlights off, pedal to the floor as the Gremlin spun and lurched over the soggy ground.

They slid side-first into a full stop just as “Bird of Prey” hit the speakers. Gunther cranked it all the way up and the three men leaped out their respective doors, Gunther with his sledge hammer, Dutch with his shotgun, and Oz with his crow bar and flashlight.

Six cultists in black robes spun around at their approach. They’d gathered around an altar made of braided vines and branches. At the center of the wooded web was a large, flat stone with a pentagram burned into it and a young girl bound at the center, still, thankfully, alive.

“Five of you can go,” Oz said, “but one of you’s got to stay. You know who you are.”

The majority of the cultists they busted were dumb kids out for a thrill or lost kids looking to belong, totally unaware of what they were being drawn into. There was usually just one or two of the true agents of darkness.

None of the Devil-worshippers moved. Their hoods concealed their faces, but their heads turned to and fro, looking to one another for answers.

“Alright, then,” Oz said, “let’s do it the hard way.”

Oz turned on the flashlight, which had a piece of red stained glass in its lens. He passed the light over all the cultist’s face.

Inside their hoods, as usual, they were just dumb rural kids caught up in something they didn’t understand. There was on exception…the one right in the middle, the tallest of them.

In the light, this one’s face was revealed to a warped demonic thing. Upon seeing it, the other five scattered off into the woods.

Dutch packed some dipping tobacco in his lip. “Well, that ought to learn them.”

Gunther turned his sledgehammer in his hand.

“Yea,” the big man said, “now’s the time for the fun part.”

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I’m not in the Matrix. I AM the Matrix.

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