Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
Hunter of Demons
Jordan L. Hawk
Hunter of Demons (SPECTR #1)
© 2013 Jordan L. Hawk
All rights reserved.
Cover art © 2013 Jordan L. Hawk
Lightning photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / aspectimages
Model: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Fenia
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Edited by Annetta Ribken
“Here we are,” said the driver—Dave, was that his name?—as he shut off the van’s engine.
Caleb pushed his glasses higher on his nose and peered out the van window. They’d parked on the street in front of a row of decaying houses in one of Charleston’s worst neighborhoods. The concrete hulk of I-26 loomed nearby, its traffic a distant rumble beneath the overcast sky.
The house had once been beautiful: two stories plus attic, built sideways to the street, so the front porch and upstairs veranda looked out onto what must have been a garden long ago. Now it was nothing but a patch of dirt with weeds, and the veranda had half-collapsed into the porch. Holes showed in the sagging roof, and only a few chips of pink paint remained on the weathered walls.
It even looked like a monster’s lair.
Caleb’s stomach clenched around the lunch he’d eaten a few hours ago, and he swallowed against the taste of bile. Throwing up in front of this bunch would just be the icing on the cake. Even the women were more butch than him.
“Is…it…in there?” he asked. At least his voice didn’t tremble.
Melanie sat beside him, her face drawn and pale in its frame of curly auburn hair, her mouth a taut line. She used to smile all the time, back when she and Ben had first been married.
Ben was gone, though, and maybe neither of them would ever smile again. Bad enough something had murdered Caleb’s only brother. Bad enough the fucking Specs hadn’t caught it and put it down.
But to come into the funeral home on the day of the service and find the demon hadn’t just killed Ben, but crawled inside his body and walked off with it?
It didn’t leave them with a damn lot to smile about.
“Yeah,” Melanie said. “If Leland says it’s in there, it is.”
Caleb glanced at the other people in the van. With their steel-cold eyes and air of confidence, it was obvious they’d done this before. Of course he’d heard rumors about secret demon slayer groups—but those were just crazy conspiracy theories, in the same category as the nutjobs who claimed NASA faked the moon landing, or SPECTR planted the 9-11 demons.
Melanie said these were her friends, and Ben’s. They had to be legit, or else his brother would never have gotten involved.
And if they weren’t…fuck it. Ben was dead, and his murderer wore his body like a Goodwill suit. If these people could help him give Ben peace, he didn’t care if they were the damned mafia.
“Let’s do this,” said the man in the passenger seat, with shoulders like a former linebacker. Caleb couldn’t remember his name at all.
They climbed out of the van. It was a few degrees warmer here in Charleston than in Charlotte, but the wind off the ocean made Caleb shiver in his ratty old coat. He’d forgotten how goddamn flat the coast was. Even though it was the middle of the day, few people were on the streets. An old man in tattered coveralls sat on the curb near a building advertising fried chicken. Another man stumbled out of the liquor store across the street, and a moment later they were passing a paper bag back and forth.
Wasn’t there enough misery here, without adding a demon to the mix?
“Fucking house is probably full of ghouls,” muttered Dave.
“So we have to worry about them, too?” Great, more monsters.
“Maybe.” Dave went to the back of the van and opened the doors, revealing a locker. After giving a quick look around, as if worried about spies, he flung it open.
Caleb had never seen such an array of large guns, ammo, knives, and hatchets. Oh yeah, they’d done this before all right.
Caleb swallowed, his throat dry as the Sahara. Jesus Christ, he’d been in a few fights in his life, but they were all of the barroom variety. What the hell had he gotten into?
Melanie nudged him. “I told you. We’ll get the son of a bitch.”
“Who are these people?” he whispered, while the rest of the group loaded their weapons with the air of old pros.
“Good men and women. People who put their lives on the line, protecting the rest of the world from monsters.” She took a hair tie out of her pocket and pulled back her curls, then handed him a second one for his long, black hair. “Maybe, after tonight, you’ll even join us in the fight.”
He eyed the linebacker and the other woman, Karen. She looked like she could crack concrete blocks with her bare knuckles. Somehow, he couldn’t imagine them asking a twink like him to join their…club? Quasi-militia? Underground monster-slaying fraternity?
“I just want to take care of…of things,” he said, Ben’s name sticking in his dry throat.
“Hey, Caleb!” Karen called, gesturing to the weapons locker. “What do you want? Take your pick; all the bullets are silver-jacketed. Just the thing to take this bastard down.”
“I don’t know how to shoot.” Who the fuck took it for granted he would?
The big woman snorted and spat on the ground in contempt. But Dave only grinned. “A babe in the woods. Don’t worry. After tonight, you’ll be one of us.”
Oh yeah, that didn’t sound sinister at all. This idea seemed worse by the second. “I just want to put Ben to rest.”
“Of course.” Dave nodded reassuringly, as if he sympathized. “Here. Take a knife and a hatchet. Both blades are plated in silver.”
He took them, silently hoping he didn’t end up doing more damage to himself than the fiend they’d come for. The weight of the weapons felt strange and awkward in his hands, and his stomach cramped again.
Had Ben done this? Ben had fought in Afghanistan—if the demon waiting for them in the abandoned house had taken out a soldier like him, what hope did a failed artist like Caleb have?
Melanie must have sensed his doubts, because she put a hand to his arm. “Ben needs us.”
She was right. After their parents died, Ben practically raised Caleb, with the help of their aunt. Then Aunt Louise had died, and the brothers only had each other, at least until Melanie came into the picture.
But even she didn’t know Caleb’s secret. Ben had sworn never to tell another living soul, and he’d never lied to Caleb in his whole life. Ben had done everything he could to protect his little brother. Wasn’t it Caleb’s turn now?
“Yeah.” Caleb wanted to adjust his glasses again, but he didn’t have a free hand. “Let’s get this over with.”
Dave held up a hand. “We need to say the blessing first.”
Sure. Okay. Why not ask for a little heavenly mojo to help out? Caleb wasn’t big on organized religion, but maybe the old stories were true and prayers did have some power over demons. He’d take whatever help he could get right now.
“Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Hell, look with favor on our work today,” Dave said; his voice low, fervent. “We are Your hands here on earth, and through us You smite the forces of evil. Give us the strength to face the demon which took our brother in You from us, and send it back to the Hell You have made for it and all who trespass against Your grace. In Jesus’s name.”
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” Melanie said, her voice harsh with suppressed emotion.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” the rest of the group echoed.
Somehow, Caleb kept his expression neutral. No way would Ben have gotten involved with an anti-mal group. Those fuckers hated anyone with paranormal ability, thought they were servants of the devil, in league with the sort of demon which had taken off with Ben’s body. Ben wouldn’t have stood for it, not when…
Not when his own brother was an unregistered mal.
Melanie didn’t know about Caleb’s stupid talent, which wasn’t good for anything, but would still have condemned him to a life of being tracked by SPECTR, his name and address listed on a website like some damned sex offender.
He needed to get out of here. What if he did something to tip them off? He couldn’t imagine what, but…
But if he walked away now, he’d leave Ben’s body behind, to be further desecrated by the very thing that killed him.
Caleb tightened his grip on the hatchet. “Are you done?” he asked, and hoped they put down any quaver in his voice to fear of the demon. “We don’t have much daylight left.”
Linebacker-dude glared at him, but Dave gave him a placating smile. “Of course. Melanie?”
She nodded once, a short jerk of the head, before striding up the cracked pavement of the old driveway. Karen and linebacker-dude followed her. Dave lingered beside Caleb.
“Last chance to turn back,” he said.
Caleb took a deep breath and looked up at the house. The structure resembled a corpse itself: decaying and crumbling back into dust, bits of its skeleton showing in the form of blackened timbers. And somewhere, deep inside, was Ben’s body.
Every instinct told him to turn around and start running. To get the hell away from these people, this place, and the thing inside.
“I’m in,” he said, and followed the others into the yard.
* * *
His eyes open. There is a demon nearby.
He lies within the building he chose for his daytime hiding place. Ghouls were in residence when he entered in the fading hours of night, but he fed on them already. Besides, this scent is not the smell of ghouls, but of a bigger meal.
The building creaks, a door opening, shoved against the swollen and warped frame. There are mortals here as well.
Mortals are not food, and therefore of no interest. Annoying, yes, especially when they try to keep him from the hunt. And puzzling, in the fragments of memories he gleans from the bodies he inhabits.
But none of this matters. His prey is nearby. He must hunt; he was made to hunt.
There is nothing else.
Caleb’s palms were slick with sweat, loosening his grip on his weapons. He’d be lucky if he didn’t drop one and cut off his damn foot. Every muscle tensed, his heart whirred like a hummingbird, and the further they went into the house, the less sure he was that he’d made the right choice.
For one thing, the house would probably kill them long before they found the demon. Just to get to the door, they’d had to duck under the rusted ruin of a spiral iron staircase. The staircase had once connected the porch and the second-story veranda, before falling sideways and bringing most of the veranda down with it. Years of humid weather had swollen and warped the front door, until it would barely move in the jamb. However the demon had gotten inside, it hadn’t gone through there. Fortunately, linebacker-dude lived up to his appearance and forced it open with his shoulder.
At least the floor inside had been spared the worst of the elements. The air reeked of mildew and rat piss. Wallpaper hung in great strips from the walls, so covered in mold the original pattern couldn’t be made out, even with the pallid sunlight struggling through the grimy windows. Cobwebs festooned the high ceilings, shivering in the breeze blowing through the gaps in the walls.
“Look. Ghoul,” Karen said, shining her flashlight beam at the corner of the room.
Caleb’s heart tripped at the sight of the creature lying in the dust near one wall. Its dog-like muzzle was filled with too many teeth, and the twisted hands bore thick claws for digging into graves. Hard to believe it had once been human.
“It’s been dead for a while,” he said, vaguely proud when his voice didn’t shake.
Karen let out a disgusted snort.
“They rot faster than normal corpses,” Melanie explained. “Demons, I mean. If there’s anything left at all, it hasn’t been here long.”
“Oh.” Great, his lone attempt to prove he knew something, and instead he managed to sound like an idiot. “What killed it?”
Karen shrugged. “Who cares? Come on.”
They found three more ghouls scattered around the downstairs; they lived in packs, or so Caleb had always heard. And even though Karen seemed determined to shrug it off, he caught a glimpse of the others exchanging worried glances.
“Do you think it was the demon?” he asked Melanie quietly, as they cleared what had once been a fancy dining room. The chandelier had fallen to the floor in a twisted mass of metal and wires, forcing them to pick their way carefully around it.
She shook her head. “The agents of hell don’t interfere with each other’s work.”
Caleb bit his lip. This might be dangerous ground, if Melanie really believed all the fundamentalist bullshit. “I thought…I mean, they aren’t really minions of the devil. That was just how people explained it before science, right?”
“Satan’s greatest triumph was to convince people he didn’t exist.”