“The Wild Hunt”
Kelly M. Hudson
No one would ever accuse Stuart Selby of either looking or playing the part of a hero in any kind of story, much less a tale filled with action, horror, and intrigue. But one gentle fall day, around the time of Halloween, Stuart Selby did indeed play the part of hero, and he did so in the fashion by which he lived his life: most humbly.
The story began as he drove out of the small town of Angelville on an errand for his boss, Mayor MacAfee…
Stuart Selby knew he was going to have a bad day when he ran headlong into an Army blockade. He drove his compact car like a man possessed, zipping around each tight curve of Safehaven Road like the Devil himself was riding on his tail.
He pushed his thick glasses up his nose. A small, mousy man, with wispy hair that grew thinner every moment that passed, Stuart was nearly swallowed by his tiny car. His narrow shoulders, thin chest, and pencil arms were barely held in place by the seat belt. He was built like a string tied to a balloon. He wore his brown suit—the only suit he owned—and penny loafers, with his tie loosened around his scrawny neck.
Stuart loved the road and loved taking his car out for a spin, for it was the only time of the week that he ever truly let himself go and doing something risky. All his life had been one calculated and safe moment after another—as drilled so effectively into his brain by his psychosomatic mother—except for when he was driving. For some reason unknown to him, as soon as his hands touched the steering wheel and his foot settled on the peddle, he was a different man.
He knew Safehaven Road like the back of his own Mother’s hand, which he had held and admired through all of her long “illnesses,” until the day that a real disease finally gripped her and she died. In an ironic twist, the one time she was truly sick, Stuart’s mother denied being ill at all, instead living in a complete and total denial of her condition. The cancer came quickly and she was gone in a matter of days.
Stuart looked down at the picture of his mother that dangled from the stereo knob on his dash. She was in her late fifties when the picture was taken, and it must have been a positively great day, because her eyes shone and her face radiated joy. He loved his mother and missed her terribly, but he would be a liar if he didn’t admit to a degree of relief at her passing. No longer would she shadow his every move. He was free at last.
That sounded bad, now that he thought about it. She really had loved him, doting on him, plying him with vitamins and health foods and herbal potions. She never let him play sports and she didn’t let him out into the sun (cancer, you know), so he remained pale and stringy his entire life. But she did allow his mind to roam free, giving him access to any kind of book or magazine she deemed fit. She frowned on his adventure books, and she scowled at the scary ones, but Stuart braved them all on his lonesome and through the actions of others, learned how to deal with life’s crises. So when she finally died, when he did breathe a bit of fresh air for the first time ever, what did he do?
He drove his car, of course, wildly and with abandon down Safehaven Road, until he reached the county line, at which point he turned around and did it all over again.
That was months ago, and the moment of freedom was short lived. He had to go to work immediately for Mayor MacAfee as his assistant. It was the job Stuart’s mother had held before her sudden passing, and one which fell on him as some kind of familial obligation. In the end, though, it made perfect sense. He had aided the Mayor many times as an extension of his Mother’s help, and he knew the job better than anyone else.
So now there he was, racing along in his car, enjoying himself, thinking of his dear departed mother, when he burst around the bend and had to slam on his brakes to keep from barreling into the Army trucks that blocked the road just ahead. The tires screeched and smoked as they slid along the pavement, his car finally coming to a halt just two feet away from the wooden barricade lined with soldiers. They pointed their rifles at him. He sat behind the wheel, trembling with adrenaline and shock, looking up at the soldiers through his thick glasses, a tiny thread of snot leaking from his nose.
“Turn the car around!” bellowed a command from a bullhorn somewhere behind the line of troops. “This area is quarantined!”
Stuart didn’t know what to do. He turned off his car and rolled down his window.
“This area is quarantined!” the bullhorn yelled again.
He stuck his head outside of the window.
“Um, excuse me? What do you mean, quarantined?” he said, his voice small against the assembled might of the U.S. Army just two feet away from him.
The line of soldiers parted in the middle, and a Sergeant, with a pot belly and the bullhorn, appeared from behind them. He stopped at the wooden barricade and glared at Stuart before raising the bullhorn to his lips.
“It means no one is allowed to enter or to leave,” the Sergeant screamed through the horn.
“But I’m on an important errand for the Mayor,” Stuart said.
The Sergeant continued to glare at Stuart. He was clearly irritated. He spoke into the horn again.
“I don’t care if you’re on a mission from the President himself! Turn your car around and go back into town!”
Stuart didn’t move. He was in a real quandary. As he tried to think the situation through, snot trickled from his nose. One of the soldiers noticed and broke discipline.
“Look! I think he’s already infected!” the soldier shouted, pointing at Stuart.
A rumble ran through the rest of the troops. The Sergeant turned the bullhorn on them, demanding quiet. When they settled down, he turned back to Stuart again.
“You’re still here? You have orders to turn around or you will be shot! Do you understand?”
Stuart nearly wet his pants. He reached down, his hands shaking, and started his car. He put it in reverse, turned around, and drove away from the soldiers and back towards town.
It was a troubling start to a soon to be terrifying day.
He pulled his car to a stop into a parking space, he threw the door open, and ran into City Hall. He ran through the building, up the stairs, and skidded to a stop at the closed door of the Mayor’s Office. Stuart gathered his courage and knocked as hard as he could. His knuckles stung from the blows.
No answer came. He knocked again, harder this time, crying out in agony from the pain. Inside, he heard furniture moving.
“What is it?” the Mayor said.
“It’s me, Mayor. It’s Stuart Selby!” Stuart cried out.
He was greeted with a deafening silence. He listened and waited, eventually pressing his ear up against the door. He heard a rustling sound from inside the office, then a door inside shut, and heavy footsteps approaching the door. He jumped back, doing his best to catch his breath. He feared he might have an asthma attack and he’d stupidly left his inhaler in the car.
The door opened, and Mayor MacAfee filled the frame, his dark face regarding Stuart with reproach. Tall and round, the Mayor was a blustery man, full of piss and vinegar, his weight approaching three hundred pounds, much of it fat but a good bit of it muscle and grit.
“I thought I told you to get out of town!” he said.
“I tried to, sir! But there were soldiers, and I—,” Stuart said, but was stopped as the Mayor grabbed him and hauled him into the office. He pushed Stuart a couple of feet into the room and slammed the door shut behind them.
“Did you say ‘soldiers’?” Mayor MacAfee said, his left eyebrow arching.
Stuart nodded. He looked around the room and was surprised at the sight greeting his eyes. The place looked cleaned out. All the pictures were gone, leaving behind white, empty rectangles dotting the walls. Boxes were arranged by the desk, full of office supplies and knick-knacks. It looked like the Mayor was moving.
“Yes, sir,” Stuart answered, turning from the empty walls and facing the Mayor once again. “They wouldn’t let me pass.”
The Mayor’s face fell, his anger melting like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. His face turned pale and his knees trembled. The Mayor reached out and steadied himself by leaning his left arm against the wall.
“My, my…” he muttered, shaking his head.
“Sir?” Stuart said.
The Mayor held up his beefy right hand and tried to gather himself. He released his grip on the wall and stumbled over to his desk. He fell into the chair behind it with a sigh, the air kept whistling from his lips like wind moaning through a deserted house. His hands trembled as he wiped his face, over and over again with his fingers.
“I’m sorry, my boy. I’m terribly, terribly sorry,” the Mayor said. “I tried to spare you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“They turned you away? They’re out there already?” the Mayor said, not hearing Stuart.
“That’s right. The Army. I didn’t know what to do but leave.”
The Mayor sat back in his chair.
“So soon,” he muttered, over and over again. “So soon!”
Stuart was puzzled beyond belief.
“What is it, sir? What’s going on? Is there some kind of trouble?”
Nodding slowly, the Mayor opened his desk drawer, pulled out a flask full of whiskey, took the top off, and threw back a swig. He grimaced, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and took another gulp. The Mayor set the flask on the desk and looked at Stuart.
Stuart shook his head. He never shared drinks with anyone. Too many germs.
“Of course you don’t,” Mayor MacAfee said. He looked down at his shoes. “Your mother raised you well, my boy. She loved you so much. That’s why I tried to get you out before the trouble came.”
“What trouble is that, sir?”
Mayor MacAfee cleared his throat.
“I can hardly believe it myself, but an evil most ancient is about to befall this quaint little town of ours. He comes tonight to ride, and all will die,” Mayor MacAfee said.
“Who? What are you talking about?”
Mayor MacAfee stared into the distance.
“The Devil himself, my boy…The Devil himself,” the Mayor said, and then promptly broke down into tears.
Stuart rubbed his hands together. What did the Mayor just say? The Devil? Was he losing his mind?
“I know what you’re thinking,” the Mayor said, between hiccupping and crying. “You think I’m crazy. Well, so did I when I got the call this morning.”
“Who called you?” Stuart said, humoring the poor man.
“The President,” Mayor MacAfee said.
“The United States.” .
Stuart looked about the room. Who should he call? Who did you call when a Mayor lost his mind? A doctor?
Mayor MacAfee glared at him.
“The President called me. And he told me about an emergency protocol that all those in the highest offices knew about and were afraid they would have to utilize. Well, now was the time for this President, and now is the time for our town,” the Mayor said. “How we could have gotten picked is beyond me. He told me it was a lottery system. First, they determine the country. Second, the state. And third, the town. They always pick small towns because it helps to keep things quiet.”
“The world leaders. They’re all in on it. How do you think they get to power? On merit?” The Mayor laughed, bitter and harsh. “I didn’t get elected like they did. It’s all on the major levels, not on the local. But we have to comply, or we’ll be killed, too.”
“People are going to get killed? How?”
“The Hunt! How many times do I have to tell you? Tonight the Devil rides in his Wild Hunt!” The Mayor’s face turned bright red.
Stuart backed away from the desk. He would have to go get some help, of course. He wasn’t sure if it should be medical or psychological. The Mayor would probably need both.
“They said I could live, and choose one other person,” Mayor MacAfee said, getting control again.
Stuart found himself oddly touched by what the crazy Mayor was saying.
The Mayor scowled.
“No, I didn’t pick you. I chose someone else. Idiot. I feel sorry for you, and that’s why I tried to get you out of town,” the Mayor said. “But I was too late.”
He studied the Mayor for a long moment.
“Mayor, why don’t you go on home and get some rest. Everything will look better in the morning,” he said.
Mayor MacAfee jumped up from behind the desk, his face burning hot.
“You dolt! I’m not crazy! This is big, bigger than anything you’ve ever dreamed of,” he said. He tromped around the desk and stopped directly in front of Stuart. “It’s all true, son. The devil really exists. He’s coming here and our little town is doomed!”
Stuart’s mouth fell open. He truly didn’t know what to say to all of this. Just as his jaw dropped, the door to the office rattled with a knock.
Mayor MacAfee’s face lost all color.
“It’s him,” the Mayor said, his voice a quiet hush. “It’s him!”
Stuart rolled his eyes and walked over to the door. This whole thing was either a stupid joke or the Mayor had gone crazy. Either way, he was tired of it. He opened the door and a small, squat elderly man trundled into the room. He looked harmless enough, like someone’s doting old grandfather, complete with graying Lincoln beard, pot-belly, and hairy eyebrows. They looked like two wooly-worms perched on his forehead, wiggling around. The old man wore a red, worn terrycloth bathrobe, and a pair of slippers with tattered socks, and smoked a pipe that chugged out cherry-wood smelling smoke. He smiled kindly at Stuart and stepped past him and the Mayor and sat behind the desk. The old man had a twinkle in his eye, one that spoke of mischief and trouble. He looked about the room and smiled his approval.
“So this is what your office looks like. Very tidy, I must say.”
“Oh, God!” The Mayor trembled.
The old man arched one of his wooly-worms.
“Hardly. But that’s the point, isn’t it?” he said. The old man looked Stuart over, appraising him. “Who is this milksop?”
“Excuse me?” Stuart said. He didn’t know what a milksop was.
”Sorry,” the old man held up his hand for forgiveness. “It’s been a while. “‘Who is this fine young man I see before me?’ I should have asked.”
“I’m Stuart Selby, and I am the Mayor’s assistant. Who are you?”
The old man puffed on his pipe and sent merry rings of smoke pluming up into the air.
“Your boss didn’t tell you?”
The Mayor cried out and fell to his knees before his desk, pleading with the old man.
“I tried! I tried! He wouldn’t believe me, sir!”
The old man nodded slowly.
“Yes, it isn’t like the old days. No one has faith anymore. It’s all about science and technology now,” he sighed. “I suppose it make things easier on me, though.”
“What, pray tell, is so funny, young man?”
“You’re the devil?” Stuart said.
The old man smiled.
“Yes. I am Satan,” he said. “Although I really miss when people called me ‘Old Scratch.’ Do you think you can do that for me, Mayor? Call me ‘Old Scratch?’” Satan turned to the Mayor, who nodded emphatically.
Stuart snapped his finger.
“I get it now. Some kind of hallucinatory gas was dumped on the town and that’s why it’s cordoned off. And why everyone is acting so crazy.”
Satan plucked the pipe from between his lips and pointed it at Stuart.
“Tell me this, then, young man: Why aren’t you acting funny, then? And what of everyone else? Surely all seemed normal when you came to this office today?”
Stuart shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe it only affects certain people.”
“Yes, quite,” Satan said. “That’s one of the excuses they use, you know? ‘Toxic gas.’ Or some other natural disaster. They will say it’s a nuclear meltdown, or an earthquake, or maybe a bomb was accidentally dropped on your small town. They use thousands of excuses to keep things quiet. Governments lie better than I do, and that’s saying something.”
Stuart shook his head. “This is crazy.”
“Oh, it’s all true, all true,” Satan said with a chuckle. “Your denial will not save your life nor the lives of the other citizens of this small town. My boys are hungry and it’s been a long time since the last Hunt. They’re eager and I can’t hold them back much longer.”
“I’m going home,” Stuart said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll wait it all out there.”
“Too bad your mother won’t be there, eh?” Satan said.
Stuart, who had turned to leave, suddenly froze in place.
“What do you mean?”
“Your mother. She’s not at home anymore because she’s dead. Correct?”
How could this old man know about his mother? Maybe he read it in the paper?
Satan turned his attention from Stuart to the Mayor.
“So, the one you picked, she’s been hiding in your closet this whole time. Who is she?” he said.
The Mayor stuttered and Satan laughed. He gestured at the closet door and it flew open. A young woman inside fell from the closet and sprawled to the ground at Stuart’s feet. She looked up, confused and ashamed.
It was Mrs. Wingsly that lay at his feet. Mrs. Wingsly, the pretty young lady married to the Sheriff. Mrs. Wingsly, the teacher of Stuart’s Sunday School class. Mrs. Wingsly, she of the blond hair and brown eyes and nice legs whom everyone in the town lusted over. This was Mrs. Wingsly, and she was apparently having an affair with the Mayor.
“They’ve been sleeping together for quite some time now. Let this be a lesson to you, young man. Sins are always exposed.”
Mrs. Wingsly looked down at the floor in shame.
The Mayor coughed to get the Devil’s attention.
“We can go, right? Those are the rules? The town leader and one of his choice?” The Mayor asked, his eyes pleading.
Mayor MacAfee scooped up Mrs. Wingsly and stood her to her feet.
“We have to go,” he whispered, his voice fraught with terror. “Before the bad things begin.”
Stuart stared at the two of them awkwardly.
“This is insane,” Stuart said.
Satan winked at Stuart and puffed his pipe. He sent perfect smoke rings into the air. The Devil, apparently, was really good with a pipe.
“This has been going on since Jesus walked the planet, boy,” Satan explained. “It was a trade off. Humanity got forgiveness, and I got to play more games with them. After all, I’m not the bad guy, but the Accuser. I just tempt. And every now and then, my employees and I get to go out and have some fun.”
Stuart gasped. How could anyone talk about God like that?
“Let me make it plain for you,” Satan continued, amused by the scrawny young man standing before him. “Every twenty years or so, God allows us to go on what we call ‘The Great Hunt.’ We hold a lottery in hell and all of the demons there get to participate. Forty of my employees are chosen and these winners get to go out and stretch their legs a bit. We run through a small town and kill everything we find, from people to dogs to insects. We toy and tease and torment and then murder. After everyone is dead, we hold a banquet, using their blood as our wine and their flesh as our feast. You will be filling a deserving belly tonight, my untrusting friend. There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening. At best you can delay it.” With that, Satan puffed a few more smoke rings into the air and smiled, content that he had struck fear into this young man’s heart at last.
“You’re nuts,” Stuart said. He just refused to believe any of this. Sure, this whole deal was pretty weird, but that didn’t mean he was really dealing with Satan here. He waved goodbye to them and stormed towards the door. He bristled past Mayor MacAfee and Mrs. Wingsly and reached entrance door before Satan spoke the words that would change the destiny of Angelville and Stuart Selby for all time.
“Your mother says hello, Stuart,” Satan said, a sliver of taunting in his voice.
Stuart froze in mid-stride. His heart leapt up into his throat.
“What did you say?”
“Your mother, she’s in hell right now. Some of my finest employees are tormenting her, even as we speak. She says hello and she’ll see you soon,” Satan said with a grin.
Stuart turned, his face flush with anger.
“My mother couldn’t be in hell. She was a good woman.”
Satan laughed a deep belly laugh. Tears rolled from the corners of his eyes he was chuckling so hard.
“You really are a silly young man, Stuart Selby. Of course your mother is in hell. She’s there for the way she treated you,” Satan said. “In fact, some would say it’s your fault she’s where she is now. If you hadn’t been born, she would have gone on to become the Nun she so desperately believed God was calling her to be. But she fooled around with a traveling salesman and became pregnant with you, which was not only a heinous sin, but a big mistake. She had to give up her dreams and devotion to God to raise you.”
Stuart’s heart stopped beating. How could this old man know all these things?
“You…” Stuart trailed off, unsure of what to say.
Outside, a loud thunderclap rocked the building, startling Stuart and the others. The sky outside the window darkened as storm clouds brutally swept the heavens clear of their former, nice, deep blue hue. Thunder boomed again, and again, shaking the walls of City Hall. Satan laughed.
“Next, the earth will split open, and those that have been chosen by fate for the Hunt will appear!” Satan cackled. He took the pipe from his mouth and knocked the contents out onto the desk in front of him. He looked up at Stuart and motioned to him. “Go, unbeliever, walk to the window and gaze upon the hosts of hell and then tell me that I am lying or that this is all some game.”
And Stuart did as Satan bade him; he walked over to the window as if in a trance, his arms and legs numb, his jaw slack, and his brain fuzzy. He stopped at the window and stared out, watching the horrific scene that unfolded before his eyes. Just as Satan had said, the ground split open with a crack, the earth peeled back and a strange white foam flowed up and over the crevice, spilling out onto the perfectly manicured lawn, burning the grass and sending sizzling swirls of smoke into the air. The crack vibrated and an awful humming noise filled the air. It buzzed in Stuart’s ear like a trapped honeybee.
Forty demons poured forth from the fissure, each of them sprung from the fracture as if shot from a cannon. They were, each and every one of them, riding some type of beast as if it were a horse. These creatures, fellow demons Stuart assumed, ran about on six legs and were covered in giant, pus-filled scabs dotted with coarse black hairs. The color of the beasts’ skin was a charcoal gray, and they had small snouts like that of a razorback hog, with long curling tusks at the end. Each creature had a bit in its mouth and a saddle on its back, just like a thoroughbred horse. But these were nothing compared to the things that rode on their backs. No two were alike, and they were each gruesome in their appearance. Some had horns, others didn’t; some had red skin, some had blue, some obsidian black, and others albino white; some had pot-bellies and others rippled with muscles; some were short, others tall; but one thing united them and it was an indescribably repugnant evil. This malevolence dripped from their pores like sweat from a fat man and drenched both the air they breathed and the ground their beasts strode on. They were demons, and they were an abomination before God and man.
Stuart stepped back from the window, too scared to speak. Stumbling a step back, he bumped into Satan, who had just come over to the window to check out the spectacle himself. He looked up at Stuart and gave him a naughty wink.
“Those are my employees. Pretty sexy, huh?” Satan laughed.
Stuart looked at the little old man and shook his head. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t think; all he could do was stand there, his mind unwilling to wrap itself around the reality of the situation.
“Yes, very soon my workers will run you and all of the other townspeople down, whether it be in the streets or in their homes. All will die tonight, and then we will feast!” Satan boasted, throwing his hands up straight into the air as if in triumph.
Stuart turned and walked to the door, dazed and bewildered. Satan watched him, laughing.
“Going so soon, Stuart? What’s the matter? Momma not here to wipe your snotty nose? Nobody to baby you?” Satan said. “You’re going to die and you’ll be with your mother soon, don’t you worry, little baby!”
Stuart, still numb, reached for the doorknob.
“Soon you will see with your own eyes what a slut your mother has become in hell. You will see her swooning and drinking from my loins, lapping from the fountain of damnation!”
And something happened then, deep inside of Stuart. Something snapped, shattering to a million pieces. He was scared, he was out of his mind with worry, and he wanted nothing more than to go dig a deep hole and disappear. But at that moment, all of his fear and depression rolled off of his shoulders and fell to the ground like harmless dandruff. Satan was out of line talking like he was, insulting his mother. And he found his anxiety gone and replaced by another emotion: anger. Stuart turned slowly to face the devil, his face red with rage.
“What did you say about my mother?”
Satan continued to laugh.
“I said she suckles the teats of Babylonian whores and drinks their fermented milk,” Satan chortled.
Stuart’s fists clenched in fury.
“You shut your dirty mouth,” Stuart said.
“What’s the matter? Momma’s boy upset? Poor little Stuart! He couldn’t play with the other kids because his mother was sick in the head!” Satan danced a little jig as he bombarded Stuart with his mockery. “What is the poor little boy going to do about it?”
Stuart wrapped his rage around his body like an old man would a blanket on a cold winter’s night.
“You shouldn’t talk about my mother like that.”
Satan laughed and laughed. This young boy was really making his day.
Stuart thought for a moment and the craziest idea crept into his mind. He mulled it over for a second. It was a gamble, but one he was sure he could win.
“What do you say to a contest?” Stuart said, a coy smile slinking across his face.
“A contest? What are you talking about?”
“A challenge. I take on your entire entourage of demons, and if I beat them, you leave this town and never come back,” Stuart said.
“What do you mean?”
“A race, from here to the outskirts of town. Whoever reaches the finish line first wins.”
Satan thought to himself for a few moments. It had been a long time since he’d been defied in such a way. Usually people groveled and begged to be released; not many had the wherewithal nor the temperance to dare him into a competition. He took a step back and looked Stuart over, from head to toe, observing him in detail for the first time. There was a heart to this kid that he admired. This idea added spice to the day, and Satan liked it hot.
“What do I get when I win?” Satan said.
“My soul. What else?”
Satan nodded, considering. One of the old bargains, something in exchange for a soul. Not only was this guy full of vinegar, he was old-fashioned, too.
“What about your mother? Don’t you want to free her from hell if you win?” Satan said.
“Old Scratch, you are a liar,” he said. “My mother sits with God in His heaven even as we speak.”
Satan considered this for a moment. The kid was smart. So smart, he must have an angle that Satan hadn’t figured out yet. And if this was so, competing in this contest was a bad idea.
“I will pass, boy,” Satan said.
“What are you, chicken?” Stuart said, acid dripping from his tongue.
Satan’s cheeks turned red with embarrassment and fury. This whelp was audacious! He clicked his teeth together and grumbled to himself.
“Turn around, Devil. I want to see if that yellow streak runs from your head to your ass,” Stuart said. He was full of himself now; sure and confident. He would goad this old man into sending his abominations into battle if it was the last thing he did.
“To hell with you then!” Satan raged.
“One rule, though. We have to stick to the road. If either myself or any of your minions go off the road, they are disqualified.”
“Yes! I accept your challenge!” Satan screamed, his voice shrill. He paced in a small circle, rubbing his hands together.
“Then let’s get started,” Stuart said, turning and striding to the door.
A cold wind whistled through the trees that ran around the perimeter of City Hall, causing them to bend and sway. Their leaves, brittle and ready to fall, rustled like chimes. The sky was almost as dark as midnight, with storm clouds roiling and lightning flashing, throwing the landscape into a bizarre relief.
Standing in a circle, the forty demons of Satan sat on their steeds, each chortling and sneezing and spitting as Satan explained in the old language what was about to transpire. He walked along the edges of the circle, imploring each of his workers to victory, occasionally pointing to Stuart, who stood in the middle of the circle, looking very small and weak. The demons all took turns looking at Stuart and shaking their heads. Some licked their chops while others stared off in the distance, bored. All were ready to get on with the Hunt, and if they had a slight diversion then that was fine by them. They would run the runt down and eat his heart after they had plucked it from his chest. Then they would turn on the town, a place ripe with delicacies.
When Satan finished, he grinned at Stuart, folding his arms in satisfaction. He had no doubt how this was going to turn out. The only question was how long Stuart would last.
For his part, Stuart stood still, quietly listening to the Devil as he urged his troops on. He was still not quite in his right mind, his heart and brain rattled by rage. He realized that this was a fool’s hope, but he was too angry to care. That evil little elf had crossed the line and Stuart was going to make him pay.
In the meantime, Mayor MacAfee darted from City Hall, dragging Mrs. Wingsly with him.. They barely made it fifteen feet from the building when they ran headlong into a group of townsfolk, and the man leading the throng was none other than Sheriff Wingsly himself.
Mayor MacAfee and Mrs. Wingsly stopped in their tracks.
“Just what in Sam Hill is going on over here?” the Sheriff said.
The townspeople, who numbered around sixty, looked past this little scene of exposed infidelity and gaped at the assemblage of demons. Some of the women swooned, some of the men fainted. Others stood their ground, believing that their eyes were deceiving them.
“That’s my wife you’re towing around,” the Sheriff said, Mrs. Wingsly looked down at the ground. The Sheriff glanced past them and spied the gathering of demons.
“Say, what’s going on over there? Some kind of costume play? Halloween isn’t for a couple of weeks yet!”
“That’s no play,” the Mayor screeched. “That’s the Devil himself and he’s come to lay waste to our town. We’re getting out!”
The Mayor grabbed Mrs. Wingsly’s hand again and pushed through the crowd. They were too busy staring at the spectacle before them to really notice. Even the Sheriff didn’t seem to mind; his eyes were fixed on the demons and their monsters. Then a townsperson spoke up out of nowhere, breaking the spell.
“Hey! Isn’t that Stuart Selby in the middle of those things?”
The crowd, their curiosity taking over, moved as one to the gathering. Within seconds they were standing just behind the group of demons and peering between them to get a good look at what was going on. In the middle of the group, Stuart was ranting and raving, walking in circles.
“You dare come to MY town and try to mess with MY friends?” Stuart bellowed, his face red. “You will pay for this!”
The demons had stopped murmuring amongst themselves and instead hurled curses and insults at Stuart. They spat at him and their beasts stomped their feet. He was not the least bit concerned by this. Instead, it fit squarely into his plan. He would make them angry enough to forget all about the town and lead them off in a wild chase. He may die, but at least the town would be saved.
Stuart stormed between a couple of demons and strode over to the Sheriff. He leaned in close and whispered quickly.
“This is real. Get as many people out as you can. I’ll keep them busy for as long as possible,” Stuart said. He laughed heartily and turned back to face the group of demons.
“My grandmother could outrace you fat pigs!” Stuart pushed back into the group. He strode over and stood next to the Devil. “Let’s get this going. I have a soap opera I’m missing on the television.”
Satan glared at Stuart.
“Yes, quite,” Satan said, making a grand gesture with his hands. He leaned back and shouted at the top of his lungs. “Let the Wild Hunt begin!”
The demons roared their approval as the Sheriff quietly snuck the townsfolk out off the square and into the shadows.
He sat behind the wheel of his compact car, his foot pressing on the gas. The little four cylinder engine raced, straining under the hood. The car sounded like a dying lawnmower. Stuart wished he’d taken the time to get the oil changed and the timing belt fixed, but it was far too late now for regrets. Indeed, it was too late for most anything other than desperation. His anger had faded once he saw the Sheriff and the townsfolk escape, and although he couldn’t be assured they would make it out of the city limits, he was sure at least some they now had a chance. That had to count for something.
Stuart sighed and looked to his right and his left. He was book-ended by demons on their great beasts, each snarling and looking in at him like he was a steak dinner and they were starving street urchins. This wasn’t going to take long, he thought. They were going to run him off the road and eat him and then send his soul howling to hell. After that, they would go after the townsfolk and all of his sacrifice would be for nothing. He had to make sure to give the people every bit of time he could. He looked down at the picture of his mother dangling from the stereo knob. She looked up at him smiling. Somehow, Stuart knew that wherever she was now, she would be proud of him.
Looking at his mother gave him back his courage. He rolled down his window and nodded his head at the demon cursing him on his left.
“You’re the first one who’s going down, big guy!” Stuart yelled.
The demon snorted fire and his ride reared up onto its back two legs, hissing.
Satan rode out onto the road astride a monstrous beast with purple skin and a light coating of fur. Huge tusks, white in the darkness of the day, glinted as they curved from the creature’s mouth. Steam came from its large nostrils as it stamped its four feet in place. The beast was taller than Stuart’s car, so Satan had to look down upon Stuart as he smiled sadly at him.
“You all know the rules: First one to the outskirts of town wins. If you go off the road, you are immediately disqualified,” Satan announced, looking around at his demon horde. “Are you ready?”
The demons howled.
Stuart rolled up his car window and turned the stereo on. A rockin’ tune blared from the cheap speakers. Stuart bobbed his head to the beat.
“On your marks! Get ready! GO!” Satan screamed and dug his heels into the side of his mount. The creature lurched and took off, leading the pack as they burst down the road.
Stuart slammed the car into gear. The front tires burned with smoke on the asphalt road. He lurched forward and the car stalled out.
The demons roared past him, laughing and cavorting, disappearing around the bend.
Stuart slammed his palms down on the steering wheel and cursed. He turned the key. The car mumbled but didn’t turn over. He cursed again. He turned the key and this time the car sparked up. He slammed the car into gear and took off down the road in hot pursuit of the demons.
The rear end of four demons and their monsters presented themselves as a wall when Stuart took the first turn in the road. He slammed on his brakes and cut the car to the right. There was no way around the four as they took up the whole road, and trying to slam through them would probably result in wrecking his car, so he spun the car and went in the opposite direction, back the way he’d just come. There was the one main road in and out of the town; Stuart knew this to be true but he was pretty sure the demons didn’t, so when he went around the bend in the road he jammed on his brakes and spun his car back around and gunned it back towards the demons. Sure enough, they came loping around the corner, curious as to what he was up to. Their faces fell in shock when they were greeted with the sight of Stuart’s little yellow compact car barreling towards them, spitting dust and gravel. The four demons peeled their steeds off in either direction, scrambling from the pavement of the road and onto the grass that bordered each side, thus disqualifying themselves. Stuart drove on, his car zooming around the bend and disappearing into the distance.
Further down the road, the landscape changed. The rolling, grassy hills transformed to thick trees and dark, dense forestry on either side. It would be like this for another couple of miles until the road cleared into sprawling fields of grass just before the town limits.
Stuart pressed on the gas. The demons and their mounts weren’t too far ahead of him. They were fast, but at his car’s best speed, he knew he was faster. The problem was the turns in the road. This patch, about a mile long, consisted of a series of twisting bends.
He came upon the back end of the pack, three demons and their slavering stallions, galloping along. Stuart switched his driving lights on, which caused the three to turn and glance back at him. As they did, he gunned the engine and flew right at their rear ends. The mares bucked and picked up speed. The three rode ahead of Stuart with a great burst of speed, right into the turn up ahead. The demon riders tried to correct their mounts with much screaming and crying. Each of them flew, screeching headlong into a patch of trees and off the road. Stuart slowed down and took the turn. He honked and waved as he passed them. Curses peeled from their tongues and followed him until he went around another bend on down the road.
There was another group of the demons just ahead. He was still too far behind the front of the pack and he had to make up time fast. Stuart reminded himself that it wasn’t a victory in racing that was most important on this day, but the chance for the townsfolk to get away. He had to make sure they had enough time, and he would buy that for them, regardless of the price. Still, it would be nice to win, if for nothing else but to see Satan’s smirk wiped off of his face.
He barreled towards the group in front of him. These demons played it smart. They closed ranks and slowed down, making it impossible for Stuart to pass them without disqualifying himself. He rode their rears, weaving back and forth, looking for a bit of space to exploit. The demons held steady and went slower and slower. Stuart mashed on the car horn, sending out a wave of obnoxious noise that echoed off the trees. The steeds leapt forward, jolted by the sudden sound. The riders lashed and cajoled them but Stuart kept on his horn, weaving the car around and sending them scattering into the trees.
Ten more disqualified.
Stuart smiled. Maybe he did stand a chance, after all.
He took the next bend with style, bopping his head to the rock song on the radio. All his hope vanished when he saw what was up ahead. He slammed his brakes again and pulled to a stop. He sat, silent, and rubbed the steering wheel with the palms of his hands.
Sitting in the middle of the road, blocking the entire path, was a felled tree.
He let out a long, sad breath. He was out of ideas. How could he get this tree out of the way without running off the road? And even if he did, how could he make up the time this was costing him? He opened the car door and stepped outside.
He ran to the tree, breathing in the clean air. He loved this town. He loved this road. How ironic it would be the death of him.
He stopped when he reached the tree and looked down at it. It was a big one, four feet thick and as tall as the road was wide. He shook his head and tried to come up with some way to move it but could think of nothing. He beat his fists against the trunk of the tree, tears springing from his eyes.
The ground rumbled and loud snorting rippled over the air. He had just enough time to duck down before a dozen demons, all riding their mounts at full speed, leapt over the fallen tree. The animals landed and skidded across the road, running past Stuart’s parked car.
Sweat poured down his face as he ran to his car, flung the door open, jumped in, and hunched over the steering wheel. Behind him, the demons turned around and circled his car, punching and pounding it with their long talons. He watched them, his heart about to burst with fear in his chest.
They had him encircled. There was no way out and he had little room to maneuver, but he knew that he had to do something. Taking a deep breath and glancing at the picture of his mother, he threw the car into reverse and jammed on the gas, sending the car backwards like a missile. The demons screeched and jumped out of the way as he steered down the road away from the horde. They sprinted in pursuit.
Stuart stamped on the brakes, jammed the car into drive, and slammed the gas pedal down again, sending the car headlong into the approaching monsters. Some jumped to the side and off of the road, others simply moved out of his way. Once he passed them, he smashed on the brakes, whipped the gear into reverse, and flew backwards at a furious speed. He hit the brakes and slid to a stop amongst the demons who were turning to pursue him. They all sat there for a moment, staring at each other. Stuart laughed at them, put the car in drive, and took off again. The demons and their mares howled after him, hot on his heels.
He steered the car straight for the tree blocking the road. The radio pumped rock music as the tree grew larger and larger in his sight. Hoping he wasn’t too late, he stamped on his brakes once again. The tires dug into the pavement and the car slid forward, smoke pouring from the burning rubber. The bumper of the car just touched the tree as the car stopped.
The demons, however, hadn’t noticed Stuart’s ploy, and they ran headlong into the tree. A dozen demons and their creatures plowed into it, rolling the massive piece of wood forward and to the side, just enough for his car to squeak by. He drove around the tree, his car never leaving the road. The demons who crashed into the tree sat, heads spinning, choking on the dust Stuart’s car kicked up.
Racing along, he calculated the remaining distance. He didn’t have much time, and a good portion of the pack was ahead of him. Also, he couldn’t discount the others he’d just left behind. They weren’t eliminated yet, just stunned, so they could come back into play. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and drove on.
The next bend revealed a clear road. Had Satan already crossed the finish line, or was this some sort of fiendish trick? He didn’t know and, really, did it matter? He had no choice but to continue and hope for the best.
He was halfway to the next bend when four demons and their mares burst from the trees and raced to his side. They had disqualified themselves by hiding in the trees, but that didn’t seem to matter to them. The one on his right butted into the front fender, causing the car to swerve a bit to the left. Another slammed his car from the left, and Stuart knew exactly what they were up to.
It was called cheating.
They buffeted him back and forth like a volleyball, jostling and shaking him along the road, each bump making his care slow little by little until he was barely going over thirty-five.
He stomped on the gas and the little car lurched forward, clearing his pursuers. They galloped along to catch up. Both moved in to crunch him at once. Stuart slammed on the brakes and the riders suddenly passed him by, bashing into each other and tumbling off the road. The two trailing demons jerked their steeds left and right to avoid running into their comrades. They instead crashed into a pair of trees with a thunderous crunch.
Stuart drove past their tangled mess, waving as he went.
The final stretch soon lay out before him. Here, the road straightened out and it was a flat run to the city limits. Stuart rounded the final bend and there they were, way up ahead, the remainder of the demon horde. There were ten or so of them, with Satan leading the way. They were within sight of the finish line and far, far too ahead to catch up with.
He had no choice but to try. He gunned the engine. The poor little thing rattled like an old man with emphysema. It was gaining speed, but something felt wrong.
Satan glanced over his shoulder and spotted Stuart’s car coming along behind them, its headlights flashing on and off. He was both amazed and pissed that the kid had made it this far. But Satan knew he was going to win, regardless of the boy’s heart and skills. He smiled and raced along, looking ahead at the line of Army vehicles blocking the road just two hundred yards away. What he saw angered him more than he’d been angered in over three centuries.
The townsfolk of Angelville sat on the other side of the barricades. They had somehow slipped out and were now beyond bounds for Satan and his workers to hunt.
With a squeal of rage, Satan pulled on the reigns of his great beast and brought it to a screaming halt. The demons behind him did the same, stopping their steeds and looking to their boss for guidance. Satan’s face turned red with rage. The boy had outwitted him. The townsfolk were safe and there would be no Wild Hunt today. They would have to wait another twenty years or so before the pleasure and the privilege would be theirs again. And it was all because of some sickly little nerd.
“Charge him,” Satan said.
If he was going to lose the town, he could at least win this bastard’s soul.
The demons turned, enraged, and surged towards Stuart, looking to ram him right off of the road. Satan watched, not satisfied, still very angry, but understanding that this moment, when they crushed Stuart Selby, would be all that he would have to comfort him in the years to come. He decided to sit back and enjoy it.
Stuart saw the demons coming and didn’t know what to do. Just beyond them lay the finish line and the good folks of Angelville, lining the barricades, mingled with Army soldiers. They tossed their hands up in the air and the entire town roared for Stuart, calling his name and cheering him on. He smiled, his hands hard on the wheel. The Sheriff had gotten them to safety, after all.
The demons barreled towards him, their eyes red with hate, their mounts snorting fire and steam. A howling wind swirled across the road, moaning load and insistent. He held firm to the wheel and he steered his car straight at them. He would not lose this game of chicken. He gritted his teeth, narrowed his eyes, furrowed his brow, and stepped as hard as he could on the gas.
“Come on, baby,” he urged his car through his teeth. “We’re almost there!”
Stuart plowed into the demons. They lost their nerve; never had they faced an opponent so fearless, and this resolve caused them to waver. They peeled to the right and the left, falling off the road and losing the race. They tumbled into the surrounding fields in a jumble of tangled limbs and screaming faces.
One mount, however, did not part, did not swerve, did not waver. This one ran straight at Stuart and dipped its head low, ramming into him.
The noise of crunching steel, tinkling glass, hard flesh slapping unyielding metal, and cracking bones, was something awful. The townspeople of Angelville gasped. Mrs. Wingsly swooned and fell against her husband. Mayor MacAfee groaned, saw Mrs. Wingsly, groaned again, and fainted. No one caught him as he fell straight to the ground. Satan threw his head back and laughed. The boy was an utter fool and now he was surely dead.
All was not lost that day, however. For indeed, Stuart’s car did run into the creature and its demon rider, and the front of the car did nearly shatter from the impact; but something else occurred that same instant: Stuart’s car went airborne. The strength of the collision sent the car up into the air and tumbling forward, end over end, towards the finish line. Stuart sat behind the wheel and watched the surrounding landscape spin by, screaming at the top of his lungs. The car flipped through the air, sailing over the demon and slamming down right on top of Satan and his steed.
Satan had a brief moment to look up, swallow hard, and close his eyes.
Stuart’s car crashed upon Satan and his mare, smashing them down into the ground, bounced up and rolled forward, screeching to a halt, sitting upright, bent and shredded. The horn blared, went weak, and died.
The townsfolk, as well as the soldiers, leaned forward to see if Stuart was okay. The car door creaked open and fell off. Stuart stumbled from the wreck and dropped to the pavement, his face covered in blood and his left arm broken.
Behind the wreck, Satan stood from the tangled intestines of his great, dead beast and glared at Stuart lying on the ground. Fire blew from his mouth as he worked to extricate himself from the gory mess of his dead steed.
“Get up, Stuart!” the Sheriff cried. The townspeople and the soldiers joined in, hollering and imploring for him to get to his feet.
Stuart heard them, and he wanted to get up, but his body hurt in ways he’d never imagined, and he was so very tired. The thought of standing to his feet filled him with nausea. No, the asphalt felt pretty good right about then.
“Yes, get up, boy!” Satan bellowed, his breath rancid with hate. “Get up and let me kill you!”
That Stuart didn’t like. He looked over at Satan, his head aching and his body on fire. The little old man pulled his foot from a wad of bloody meat and was tromped towards him. Hatred burned from Satan’s eyes. This race was not yet done.
Stuart, using the cries of the townsfolk of Angelville as a ladder, hauled himself to his feet. Satan was twenty yards away and closing fast, his tiny hands clenching into fists, smoke coming from his nostrils, and fire bursting from his mouth. Turning around, Stuart saw that he was twenty yards from the city limits, where the townsfolk and the soldiers lined the barricades, pleading with him to run. He knew he would never make it before the Devil caught up to him, so he turned back to face Satan with a broken arm and a smile filled with shattered teeth.
“Come on then, Old Scratch,” Stuart said, his voice hoarse and faltering. “Come and get some of Stuart Selby!”
Satan, infuriated at this last insult, ran at him, dipping his head and sprinting with all his might. He was determined to massacre this young man who had made a fool of him.
Stuart stumbled a step back, motioning at Satan with his one good arm. The Devil was suddenly upon him, flying at him. Stuart laughed and stepped to the side at the last instant, sticking his foot out. Satan tripped and tumbled across the asphalt. He skidded, leaving behind half his face and a good bit of his chest on the road. He didn’t stop sliding until he slipped off the road and into a ditch.
The crowd at the barricade burst into applause.
Stuart bowed in acknowledgement and stumbled towards them. As he did so, Satan stood and screamed at the top of his lungs. The race was over. He had lost. And this, this impertinent young man had beaten him. This weak, small, sniveling little punk had bested him, the most evil creature in the universe.
The townspeople and the soldiers cried with jubilation and fell upon Stuart as he crossed the finish line. They lifted him up on their shoulders and paraded him in a circle, chanting his name and shouting for joy.
Satan dusted himself off, watching the spectacle for a moment. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe. He lifted it to his lips and cursed when he realized it was broken in two. He tossed it to the ground and watched as the people of Angelville celebrated Stuart’s victory. In the end, he had to smile. It had been a century or two since a mortal had bested him in anything, so Satan felt it only right that he admire the small, sickly Stuart Selby and give him his due.
Stuart, riding the shoulders of his fellow townsfolk, looked down at Satan and grinned as two of his teeth fell out. His whole body hurt in ways he’d never known before, but he’d also never felt better in his life. Satan saluted him. Stuart bowed slightly towards Satan in acknowledgement.
When he looked up, the Devil and his minions were gone, the darkness that carpeted the skies had fled, and bright sunshine poured down upon the town and its cheering folk.