The Wizard and the Queen of Demons
by Dennis Maulsby
Dennis Maulsby’s poems and short stories have appeared in The North American Review, Mainstreet Rag, The Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Briarcliff Review (Pushcart nomination), and on National Public Radio’s Themes & Variations. His Vietnam War poetry book, Remembering Willie, won silver medal book awards from two national veterans’ organizations. His books, Near Death/Near Life and Free Fire Zone, published by Prolific Press, received gold medal and silver medal awards, respectively, from The Military Writers Society of America. A book of short stories, Winterset (Eric Hoffer Award winner and Global Ebook gold medal winner), and a novel, House de Gracie (Reader Views silver medal winner), were released by NeoLeaf Press in 2019 and 2020. Maulsby is an associate member of the SFWA and past president (2012 – 2014) of the Iowa Poetry Association. For more information, go to www.dennismaulsby.com.
Father Ignatius Patrick Donahey felt like a fool. People who he thought were his friends had banded together to pressure him into this nonsense. It was Halloween.
Clara Murphy, his nemesis, was throwing her most significant party of the season yet. Money from ticket sales made up most of the local Catholic Children’s’ Foundation’s annual budget. Parents with children from six to fifteen years of age paid to have their progeny entertained on Beggars’ Night rather than set loose on the community. When asked to play a major role refusing was not an option. Although it was embarrassing and he was sure she had something else in mind.
Clara had an immense crush on him. In his long career as a priest, he’d had to deal with women attracted to him. Despite a few near disasters, he had managed to keep his vow of chastity.
Her plan to get him thoroughly involved — and possibly vulnerable — had worked. She had stolen this year’s party theme from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Outfitted as Gandalf the Grey, he stood on the porch of her massive three-story turreted Victorian house, greeting the other arrivals.
Some fifty children had been dropped off, a sizeable percentage of Winterset’s young folk. Miniature hobbits, elves, dwarfs, and orcs had raced up a sidewalk bounded by a dozen lighted Jack O’ Lanterns. Candlelight shinning through their sharp-carved teeth cast fang-like patterns on the concrete. Further back on both side’s leafless skeletal trees, with the exception of a seventy-foot tall old pin oak, seemed to reach out at passersby. The total effect was suitably eerie.
Clara had spent much time and money on his costume. The long robes, sewn of thick gray wool, besides being heavy, itched where they touched back and chest. Fake hair spirit-glued on by one of the local amateur players formed white bangs, mustache, and beard. A wide-brimmed pointy hat and felt slippers with soles too thin to be comfortable completed the outfit.
He felt overheated in the whole weighty mess. Since the robe hung down to his ankles, he decided to wear only a pair of underwear underneath. The only part he liked was the long oak staff, although he had to restrain himself from smacking some of the wiseacre adult guests with it.
The last of the invitees flowed in. His psychologist, and resident witch, Dr. Catherine Darcy, strode up the sidewalk with a creak of leather and rasp of metal. Like a number of the supernatural citizens of Winterset, Iowa, she led a double life. An innocuous professional personality on the outside hid the mind and capabilities of an ageless preternatural creature.
There were others, a former leprechaun and now part-owner of the local winery. The physician, Dr. Bhramini Gupta, saving lives and curing the sickness of local mortals, yet capable of transforming into the Indian Goddess of Black Bees, destroyer of demons and consort to Shiva. Even the county sheriff possessed the secret identity of an Irish Pooka, a shape-shifter able to turn into a coal-black horse at need.
Moreover, these were his allies. He shuddered, remembering the number of genuinely evil manifestations he and his associates had disposed of to date. Donahey didn’t want to think about it, but there were probably other secret creatures, good and bad, hiding behind the smiling everyday faces of neighbors and parishioners.
It was the Ley lines, of course. Those invisible channels of supernatural power covered the earth. In unique places, they came together to form gateways, one of which was located in the heavily wooded state park south of Winterset. Donahey initially thought he had come to this place of his own free will to retire in the seventieth year of his career as a Catholic priest. Quickly disabused of that notion, he found himself cast as guardian of the gate.
Cat Darcy’s approach broke the chain of his thoughts. Costumed head to foot in armor, she pulled off a Viking-style helmet, allowing long golden locks to cascade down. She raised an arm in mock salute.
“I am Éowyn, niece of Théoden, King of Rohan, and destroyer of the Witchking of the Nazgûl. I salute you, Gandalf.”
Someone was missing. A black shadow fluttered down from above and thumped on Donahey’s shoulder. He jumped and frowned, then smiled. Corbeau, a heavyweight crow, Darcy’s familiar, half-spread his wings, opened his beak and cackled. It sounded like the peals of demonic laughter produced by early movie villains. Crow had picked it up from watching late-night TV.
The bird pecked at his false white locks, shook its wings, and said, “Booger.”
Donahey pulled a small plastic-wrapped piece of hamburger from his pocket and handed it over. The meat formed a bulge in the bird’s black-feathered throat as it gulped the treat.
“So, Father, who’s present tonight?”
“You and I, and Blair, the former leprechaun, now attired as Gollum. Dr. Brahimi is at a convention at John Hopkins, and the sheriff is prowling the town and county to keep the older teens from destroying civilization as we know it. Clara is inside with Father Brown leading games and passing out candy and cookies.”
“Let’s take a look.”
The fancy-carved screen door closed behind them with a bang. The two walked down the entry hall. Donahey stopped to examine a baseball bat positioned on two padded hooks on the wall next to the library door. Centered over it hung a framed eight-by-ten black and white photograph of a ball team. He looked closer; they wore old-fashioned uniforms with three-quarter sleeves, long socks, and pants tied off at the knees. A hand grasped his forearm. The hostess had appeared.
Clara raised a hand. “That’s a picture of the New York Yankees. The man here,” she pointed, “is George Herman Ruth, Jr., also known as Babe Ruth, ‘the Bambino’ or ‘the Sultan of Swat.’ Over here on the end, the one with the buck teeth, that’s my grandfather. He was one of the team’s batboys.”
Donahey knew baseball well. One of his first assignments had been to the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Havana, Cuba, a hotbed of baseball aficionados. He had learned the game and attended many playoffs. A year later, the Archbishop and one hundred fifty priests — he among them — had been kicked off the island by Castro.
He took a closer look at the bat. The age-darkened wood had a few dings and a column of eyelash notches.
Clara provided background, “It’s a 1927 hickory Louisville slugger weighing forty-two ounces and running thirty-six inches long with a medium handle and a medium barrel.”
“May I touch it?”
She squeezed his arm. “Certainly.”
Donahey ran his fingers over the sweat-stained wood. He felt the nicks.
“Babe carved those notches to mark twenty-one of the sixty home runs he hit that season. And, it holds a secret passed down to me from Grandfather.”
Fascinated, Donahey stared at the antique, “And what is that?”
Clara turned slightly, leaned in closer, and pushed one breast into his shoulder. “Like many athletes, Babe was superstitious. At his request, grandfather secretly took this bat to the main cathedral in every city they played to have it blessed by the local priests.”
Donahey felt the softness of the largish breast through his costume. He began to sweat. He wondered what stratagem he could use to counter Clara’s unwanted intimacy.
She continued her recitation. “The bat received multiple blessings and sprinklings of holy water that season in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, and Cleveland.”
Donahey nodded. Not only a revered artifact of a baseball legend, it also became a holy relic as well. A pint-sized orc burst out of the parlor door, grabbing at a laughing elf. Clara ran in chase. By order of the hostess, all games and nonsense must be confined to the twin parlors, now connected through the opening of double sliding pocket doors.
The shouts and buzz of fifty kids and their supervising adults diminished to a dull roar as Cat Darcy closed the hallway entries to the parlors. She sidled over. On her right shoulder, Corbeau hung on and tried to look wise.
“Sheriff Rick asked me to brief you on the latest mystery.”
“You mean the strange deaths of four men, all occurring in a three day period? I heard it was a rash of heart attacks.”
“He thinks they are suspicious. Too many, too close together. You link the locations by the time of death — connect the dots — and you find a path from the Ley lines’ gate to the city.”
“Has something come through? And in time for Halloween, the night when bad things have more power. I hope it’s not tonight. I left my cross, bible, and holy water back at the rectory.”
“There’s likely a family bible in the library.”
The screen door rattled. A cold wind blew. Strained through the wire mesh, it gave off discordant notes, like stones hitting ill-tuned harp strings. Donahey felt an itchy, tingly feeling that surpassed the itch from the wool clothing. Priest and witch ran to the entrance.
They sneezed and held their breath. The smells of sulfur and the rot of bloated corpses blew over them, impregnating their clothes and leaving an oily residue on exposed skin.
Hand over mouth, eyes wide, Cat hissed, “The Night Hag comes.”
Donahey gasped. A woman stood on the city sidewalk near the curb — not the picture of what one expected in a middle-class Midwest small town. Below long arched eyebrows, separated by a thin Roman nose, wide ice-colored eyes stared from dark sockets. Purple-tinged white hair hung in tatters down both sides of a lean face. It glowed with dangerous beauty.
The body was naked and bestowed with fertile female curves. The feet gave away the Hag’s bestiality. They stretched out more than a foot and a half, eight toes extended three to six inches, and ended in curved tiger claws. Residual dewclaws sprouted half way up her calves.
A racking shudder ran through Donahey’s body. He was both instinctively attracted and strongly repelled by her. The apparition could only be one thing.
The answer came from his companion, “Lilith, Queen of demons — the first unfaithful wife of Adam. The begetter of demons, seducer/destroyer of men, and the abductor of their children.”
Donahey recited a part of Second Psalms:
“… who has forsaken the partner of her youth and forgotten the covenant of her God; for her house is the way down to death, and her course leads to the land of the dead. None who resort to her find their way back or regain the path to life.”
The mystery of the four dead men was solved. Lilith ignored them and stared through the front windows at the children playing inside.
Cat shouted, “Damn, she’s here for the kids!” and snapped her two arms forward.
The iron gate at the entrance slammed shut. The old house still possessed a six-foot-tall wrought iron fence marking the boundary of its lot. Consisting of upright rods tipped with spear points, it should provide a barrier to supernatural creatures, which couldn’t stand the touch of the metal.
A second wave of the good witch’s hands and the curtains in the front façade’s floor-to-ceiling windows slid shut. The children and their chaperones couldn’t see her, and Lilith couldn’t see them. Donahey heard Cat chant a short garble of what sounded to him like nonsense syllables. The copper mesh in the screens on the door and windows glowed silver. His psychologist witch was casting defensive spells.
“Be prepared to fight, Father. This won’t be enough to stop her.”
Donahey gulped and raised his staff. Outside, Lilith lifted a leg and slammed it down. The concrete sidewalk leading up to the house cracked down the middle and lifted three feet off the ground. The Jack O’ Lanterns on both sides turned to mush, their lights extinguished. The gate blew off its hinges. The Demon woman swooped into the yard.
The screech of tires and a flashing light bar announced the arrival of a patrol car doing a high-speed turn. It accelerated down the street, crashed through the fence, pushed aside bushes, and knocked over a young pine tree.
Lilith turned. She froze in the headlights, like a jacklighted rabbit. The steel push bumper welded to the vehicle front scooped her up with a bang. The car bounced over the lawn, barely slowing. The front end crashed into the massive pin oak. A blizzard of scarlet and bronze leaves swirled around the base of the tree like a shook-up snow globe.
The leaves settled. Cat and Donahey could see a struggling Lilith trapped between the car bumper and tree, pinned like a beetle on a display board. Booted feet kicked out the spider-webbed front windshield. A uniformed man they recognized as Sheriff Rick crawled out. Lilith hissed. She pushed, and the patrol car shifted with a groan of metal.
Rick stripped off his shoes, shirt, and pants. He shape-shifted into his Pooka alter ego, a coal-black horse. It reared. A sheet of flame blew out of its mouth and nostrils. Lilith screamed and writhed. The remaining dry fall leaves on the oak caught fire. Like a giant torch, it lit up the entire block. The car jerked back and flipped on its side.
Lilith leaped. Hanging onto the horse’s neck, she twisted. The Pooka fell, and Donahey shouted. Cat gasped and made mystic passes. Lilith lifted and raised the horse over her head. Tree roots came alive and wrapped themselves around the demon woman up to her waist.
The tossed Pooka sailed through the air. It smacked into a Norwegian spruce and slid down unconscious. Lilith tore away the roots. Cat gasped and began to sweat. Each spell she had cast left a path. Lilith pushed her venom down their back trails.
The silver protective glow on the screens blew out like a candle flame in a thunderstorm. Cat took the full brunt of a curse. Her eyes rolled up in her head. The witch’s body jerked, spread arms and legs, and collapsed. Corbeau fell over like a bird electrocuted on a power line.
The screen door crashed open. Donahey felt the anger of his Irish ancestors flash through his veins. He raised his staff and shouted the ancient war cry of his clan, “Farrah Crom-aboo!”
The Queen of Demons danced forward, fangs displayed, and eyebrows lifted.
“You shall not have the children.” Donahey swung the staff.
Lilith’s hand grabbed and twisted. The staff shattered. She pulled him close and whispered. “I came for you. But now I think I’ll take the children too.”
“In the name of —.”
Her hand went over his mouth and sealed it. He couldn’t invoke the Trinity. An electric shock wave pulse blazed through his body, and every nerve synapse closed. Muscles contracted, and his fingers and toes curled. Breath shushed out. His heart stopped.
Pain, so intense it blinded him, flooded his every atom. Donahey wanted to scream. Nothing came out. The paralysis ceased, and he filled his lungs. The night hag’s odor choked him, rotten meat, excrement, mold, decaying skin…. His heart restarted.
“So, my little wizard, my lover, let me pretty myself for thee.”
He shuddered as black buboes formed on the side of her head and neck. She grinned. They broke open, allowing yellow pus to run down. He struggled, attempted a head-butt.
A second high-voltage surge daggered into him. Donahey’s body froze, and his lungs and heart stopped again. One minute dragged by, then another. He was suffocating and having a heart attack simultaneously.
Lilith brought him back. “Yes. Keep fighting. I will break you. We have an eternity.”
She adjusted her arms to hug him close to her body. A foot-long red-crusted tongue snaked out of her scabbed lips. It laved along his neck and up under his chin. Without his consent, he felt his maleness began to respond.
Looking over the demon’s shoulder, Donahey spotted Clara. She opened the door of the first parlor and entered the hallway with a tray of used glasses. Closing the door behind her, she turned.
The mistress of the house spotted Cat crumpled unconscious on the floor. She almost dropped the tray. Clara’s face turned red as she took in Donahey and the Queen of Demons in what looked like the foreplay preceding sexual congress. The priest could see her anger and jealousy rising.
Clara crouched. Her eyes narrowed, and lips grew thin. She threw the tray and glasses aside and rushed forward. Donahey tried to warn her, but his spell-sealed lips remained closed. Clara stood no chance against Lilith. He closed his eyes and prayed internally.
Donahey felt a shock. Lilith’s embrace loosened. He felt another shock, and the demon woman dropped him. He hit the floor like a frozen side of beef. He tried to speak — tried to rise.
He couldn’t believe what he saw. Clara had grabbed the closest weapon. Her first two blows had caused the demon to drop him.
The Babe Ruth bat smacked Lilith in the shoulder. Left arm raised to protect her from the blows of a many-times-blessed holy relic, the Queen of Demons stumbled down the hallway and out the front door. A berserk Clara continued to attack. The bitch queen’s head bled purple ichor from strikes to the forehead and jaw. The right arm hung limp. Bright red bruises covered her ribs and buttocks.
Clara’s Irish was up. The bat was a blur. It made the crack sound of a home run every time it connected. Lilith fell off the front porch onto the broken concrete. She leaped up and ran for the gate. Clara smacked her twice more before stopping the chase at the entrance to her property. With two hands, she raised the bat over her head and gave it a victory-shake.
Two fire trucks pulled up. Yellow-coated men and women hustled hoses in through the gate and began to fight the pin oak blaze, which had spread to the surrounding trees and the patrol car. A red-faced Sheriff Rick staggered into the house. His naked body covered only by his uniform shirt tied around his waist, his remaining clothes consumed in the fire. He looked at Clara still holding the bat and glanced out the door at a limping pinpoint glow from the retreating Queen of Demons.
“Girl, you sure banged that one out of the park.”
Clara kneeled near the still paralyzed Donahey and took his hand.
* * *
Donahey sat alone in the front row pew of the church. He prayed he might live down the embarrassment of two nights ago. They had all survived. Sheriff Rick had some cracked ribs and a possible concussion. Cat Darcy was due to be released from the hospital tomorrow. The local medical folks had misdiagnosed her condition as a mild stroke. A recovered Corbeau lived in temporary quarters with him in the rectory. He liked the crow, but it had terrible tastes in TV programs. Getting the bird back to its bound companion would be a relief.
All the children had been saved. No trauma, even. Drapes and doors closed, none of the innocents in the parlors had the slightest idea of what had transpired. Donahey shuddered. No thought of how close they had come to….
He had escaped with the least physical damage — sore muscles and temporary heart arrhythmia. Clara was acting like a wife who had caught her husband cheating. Of course, it was impossible to tell her the truth. He was grateful she had surprised the Queen of Demons and chased her off. In a few more minutes, Donahey would have lost his immortal soul.
No rational explanation possible; he remained high up on her bad list. He guessed that condition wouldn’t last long. He would enjoy the lack of her attention, if only for a little while.
Officially, the whole instance was attributed to Halloween vandals, although no one had figured out how mere humans had uprooted the concrete sidewalk.