A Walter Ulric Story
By Ian Wilson (Rated PG)
The scent of warm, bitter, black coffee wafted into my nostrils as I sat in my easy chair reading emails that fine autumn morning. It was simply amazing how many people out there were encountering the preternatural for the first time, and were at a complete loss. Most of the time, we couldn’t offer them much help other than a little internet advice, for all that was worth. But we did our best, and they paid us well. We didn’t charge people for advice, but we did accept tips and most folks were more than happy to toss a few bitcoins our way.
Katherine Craig sat in the chair my partner, Walter Ulric, normally sat in, her bare feet propped up on the desk, chewing gum and filing her nails. She was dressed in her usual attire for that time of year; bluejeans with holes in the knees, plaid flannel shirt over a graphic tee. She was Walter’s cousin. They never got along real well, but they were family.
Walter staggered in, later than usual. Last night being the full moon, he spent most of it halfway between wolf and man. As usual, I had aided Father Steve in performing the cleansing ritual. It didn’t take quite so long to get Walter back to his normal, human shape this time. It was our hope that one day, Walter would be fully cured of the werewolf curse; until then, we would have to perform the cleansing once every month.
“Good morning,” grunted Walter. He paused, staring at the desk like he was hallucinating.
“Katherine,” he growled.
“Walter,” Katherine replied.
“What are you doing at my desk?”
“I’m your secretary.”
Walter turned to me with an expression on his hairy face like he’d just bitten a lemon; must’ve picked it up from his Uncle Jimmy.
“What’s she talking about?”
“I hired her,” I replied.
“Because you need a secretary, my dude,” I replied. “I can’t do all the paperwork and filing, Walter. You need help, she needs a job, I figured we’d help each other.”
“Fine,” grumbled Walter. “But you’ll have to get her her own desk.”
Turning to Katherine, he said: “And if you wanna be my secretary, try dressing professional!”
“What’s wrong with the way I dress?” she exclaimed.
“You look like you raided Eddie Vedder’s closet!”
“I don’t even know who Eddie Vedder is! And who do you think you are? Clint Eastwood?”
“I ain’t asking you to look like Audrey Hepburn, just wear something that ain’t ripped, alright?”
Katherine rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll change.”
With that, she stomped out of the office. Walter slumped down in his chair and drew a cigarillo from his leather vest the way he always did about that time of day.
“Any cases?” he asked, puffing tobacco thoughtfully.
“Nothing we can do from here,” I replied.
Walter grunted in reply. I had the distinct feeling that he was almost relieved that there was nothing to do today as of yet; after the night he had, one could hardly blame him.
Katherine returned to the office wearing a knee-length skirt, and one of her nicer tops. “Y’all have a visitor,” she said.
Behind her came a young, dark-skinned woman in a nun’s habit. I nearly choked on my coffee.
“Therese?” I blurted, a little louder than I should have.
“Sister Therese,” replied the nun. “Good morning Conrad.”
“Conrad, who is this?” asked Walter.
“Walter, this is… Sister Therese of the holy order of Michael the Archangel.”
“As in… that order of Michael the Archangel? The guys who sent you to kill Hoarfrost?”
The incident that Walter referred to was the last time the Order contacted me. I was told to kill Hoarfrost, the Alpha of a dangerous werewolf pack, and coincidentally, Walter’s cousin. That’s how we met.
Walter stood up from his chair like a hornet stung him in the hind parts.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said stiffly, taking the nun’s hand.
“The pleasure is mine,” replied Therese. “We’ve heard a little about you, Mr. Ulric.”
“Good things, I hope.”
“A few… concerning things.”
Walter glared at me. “What did you tell ‘em?”
“Nothing,” I replied defensively.
“You obviously told them something.”
“We have our sources,” said Therese, ominously. “We understand you are undergoing the cleansing?”
“Yeah,” replied Walter, crossing his arms. “What of it?”
He was naturally suspicious of… well, most people, honestly. I often wondered why someone so distrustful would trust me; we were basically strangers a few months prior.
“Oh, it’s just good to hear. Most werewolves nowadays don’t even try.”
“Erm, thanks, I guess.”
“I have no idea what’s going on,” said Katherine.
“I’m a lay brother in the Holy Order of St. Michael the Archangel,” I replied.
“That means nothing to me,” Katherine responded.
“We are an order dedicated to combating the powers of darkness,” added Therese. “That’s what Conrad was doing when he suddenly vanished. We were a little concerned about you, Brother.”
“We hear you’re doing good work here, however. Father Jacob has an important assignment for you.”
“It isn’t something for everyone to hear.”
I nodded, escorting her outside of the little barn that served as an office space. Walter started to follow us, but I signaled to him that this was a private conversation.
“It’s resurfaced,” she said.
“What has?” I inquired.
“The Codex Hyperborea.”
Beads of cold sweat formed on my brow. The Codex Hyperborea was possibly the oldest, rarest and most sought-after grimoire in existence. According to Maxim Adamic’s Guide To Preternatural Entities, the Codex deals with the summoning and control of various otherworldly beings. According to records, it was originally written on stone tablets in the ancient, antediluvian kingdom of Hyperborea. These tablets, fortunately, have since been lost to time, but various copies were made by magicians from all over the ancient world. Parts of it were incorporated into later books of magic, such as the Key of Solomon and the Grand Grimoire. Many thought the complete text was lost to time, however, a medieval copy of the Greek translation resurfaced sometime in the 1930s. The Order of St. Michael has been trying to track it down ever since; that knowledge should have never seen the light of day.
“Let me gather my gear,” I said.
“You don’t even know where we’re going,” replied Therese.
“Doesn’t matter.” I reentered the office and said, “I’m gonna be gone for… a while.”
“How long?” asked Walter.
“A few days, a week, a month; who knows?”
“I can come.”
“No, you really can’t.”
Walter’s face fell.
“Say a prayer for me,” I said, solemnly.
“Several,” Walter responded. “You could at least tell whereabouts you’re going.”
“I wish I could, man. I really do. I’ll leave you with the keys to the jeep so you can get here and there.”
Katherine and Walter stood silently watching as I placed my gear inside the Volkswagen Beetle that was Sister Therese’s vehicle. We then got into the little car and drove off down the road. Digging my cell phone out of my jacket pocket, I scrolled through the contacts until I found the name I was searching for: Joane, my girlfriend.
“Good morning, Conrad,” answered Joane, pleasantly.
“Good morning, Jo,” I said. “Listen, I might have to miss our date on Friday. Something just came up.”
“Oh? What happened?”
“I wish I could tell you. I don’t know when I’ll be back; could be a few days to a month.”
“Is everything okay?”
“No,” I replied after a pause. “There’s something evil afoot. I have to take care of it.”
“I love you,” said Joane.
“I love you too.”
“Call me when you come home.”
“I will,” I replied.
Hanging up the phone, I placed the device back in my pocket and sighed.
“Who was that?” asked Therese.
“Joanne,” I replied wistfully.
“I see. You like her a lot, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “She’s the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”
“I’m happy you found someone,” said Therese after a pause.
Sister Therese and I had once been emotionally involved. That was one of the reasons I was ordered to hunt down the werewolves; the Order frowns on members, even lay brothers like myself, being emotionally involved with each other. Besides, Therese wanted to be celebate, and I couldn’t get in the way of that.
“She knows about your calling, right?”
“Oh yeah, she knows.”
There was a long pause; I wasn’t sure what to say next. I didn’t want to make the conversation more awkward than it had to be.
“So… where are we going?” I asked at last.
“A little town called Hellena in Kentucky,” she replied. “That’s where the deal goes down.”
I nodded. “Anything else I should know?”
“Father Jacob will fill you in when we arrive.”
There was another long silence. I figured by then that the ride to Kentucky would be mostly long silences occasionally broken by questions.
“What happened to you, anyway?” Therese finally asked.
“How do you mean?”
“Closing off contact, joining forces with a werewolf, settling in a one horse town in the middle of nowhere West Virginia; why?”
I shrugged. “Honestly, I’m not sure I know, Therese. I guess it just seemed like the Order and I were going in different directions. I’m doing good work with Walter.”
“You could’ve at least told us what you were doing.”
“I thought about it, but I didn’t think Father Jacob would understand.”
“You’re right. He doesn’t. But we’ll work that out when we get there.”
I nodded. Father Jacob was a kind soul, but uncompromising in his values. The Order was his family, and he would do anything to keep that family together.
We arrived at a cheap motel in Helena, Kentucky. It was a small town, about the same size as North Fork, suffering from some of the same issues as most of the Appalachians; poverty, drugs and mental health. Sister Therese gave the secret knock on the door, and we entered. Father Jacob sat in a chair that looked like it had been there since the 70’s. Sister Judith, another nun, sat at a small table, cleaning firearms. A younger monk I didn’t recognize appeared to be preparing dinner.
“Conrad,” Judith greeted me. Her dark green eyes looked at me for less than a moment.
“Welcome back, son,” said Father Jacob, rising from his chair. “Good to see you again.”
“Good evening, Father,” I replied.
The middle-aged priest gave me a hug. Father Jacob always regarded me as the son he never had. We’d seen a lot of things together; terrible things. Things I never want to repeat. I was a fellow soldier in a war barely anyone knew about.
“Sit down, son,” said Father Jacob. “This is Brother Boniface. He joined the Order a few months back.”
“How do you do?”
“Good to meet you, Conrad,” said the monk. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Welcome to the Order.”
“I brought an old friend with me,” said Father Jacob, reaching for a long, black case. Inside the case was a long saber; a sword that had killed many monsters and witches in the time I’d used it.
“Nahum,” I said, taking hold of the hilt. It’d been a long time since I’d seen this sword. “I thought it was lost.”
“Well, I found it,” replied Father Jacob.
“Thank you,” I said, taking the sword belt from the bag.
We sat down at the little round table to eat dinner and discuss the game plan.
“The deal goes down tomorrow after dark at an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town,” said Father Jacob.
“Who’s involved?” I inquired.
“Some black market antiquities dealer and the Brotherhood of Samael,” replied Sister Therese.
The Brotherhood of Samael was one of the most violent groups of occultists we’d ever encountered. Thinking about some of their atrocities turned my stomach. Blood sacrifice, animal abuse, drugs, gross sexual acts; you name it, they had a hand in it. They worshiped evil and sold their souls to it. If they got a hold of that book, you can bet evil would run rampant.
“What’s the game plan?”
“The package will be dropped off by courier at this address,” said Jacob. “Soon as it’s deposited, Conrad, you and I will go and grab it.”
“That’s it?” I inquired. “That’s all you needed from me?”
“You know the Brotherhood,” said Brother Patrick. “They always have something up their sleeve, but you’ll sense it long before anyone else does.”
He was correct; I can always tell when evil is nearby. My sixth sense made me an invaluable asset to the Order, as well as to Walter.
“We’ll post a watch outside the location,” said Therese.
“So,” Father Jacob broke in. “How about this… what does he call himself?”
“Paranormal private detective,” I replied, sensing that he was referencing Walter.
“Amateur,” muttered Sister Judith.
“He’s killed about as many monsters as you have,” I retorted. “I think he’s the most qualified of any of us. Who better to hunt monsters than a monster?”
Brother Boniface nodded. “He’s got a good point.
“Why’d you run off with him?” asked Father Jacob.
I shrugged. “Seemed like the decent thing to do at the time. North Fork is in a lot of trouble. They sit on top of a nexus of dark energy.”
The priest nodded. “Fair enough. He was one of the Sons of Fenrir, correct?”
“Not anymore. He’s going through the cleansing. He should be cured in a few years.”
“But he was involved with them right?”
“Yeah. He killed Hoarfrost himself. I didn’t even have to lift a finger.”
“What makes you think you can trust him?” asked Judith.
“I sense no guile in him. He’s never lied to me, or twisted the facts. He’s more genuine than some priests.”
Father Jacob nodded. “I guess if you can trust him and you’re doing the Lord’s work, that’s all that matters.”
The sun sank low on the horizon as Father Jacob and I sat in the van by the abandoned warehouse, sipping coffee and eating chips.
“Why did you disappear like that?” asked Father Jacob, suddenly. “We wondered what happened to you. Thought maybe Hoarfrost killed you.”
“In all honesty, I was angry.”
“Because of what happened between you and I and Sister Therese?”
“Yeah. I admit now that I was acting childish.”
Father Jacob took a long sip of his coffee. “I would’ve done the same thing at your age. I was just looking out for the both of you, you know.”
“I’m sorry for how I behaved.”
Father Jacob looked at me and smiled. “I forgive you.”
“Father?” said the voice of Sister Therese over the walkie-talkie.
“Go,” replied Ashcraft.
“The courier is coming down the road now.”
A small, beat-up sedan came slowly down the road, coming to a stop in front of the warehouse. A man got out of the vehicle, looking around him cautiously before taking a package out of the back seat and walking slowly toward the old brick building. Opening the door, he went inside, coming out again moments later. Quickly, Father Jacob and I exited the van and went toward the building, drawing our weapons. Father Jacob motioned with his hand, telling me to circle around the back. I did as he directed, entering the building through a broken window on the other side, Father Jacob followed right behind.
We crept noiselessly past the empty shelves and boxes, into the main chamber where the package sat in the middle of the floor. Something was wrong. This was too easy. Father Jacob could sense that, too. There were definitely other presences in this building that we could not see. Still, we didn’t have much of a choice; we had to get that box.
We approached the box slowly and carefully. Somewhere I heard a pistol cock.
“Get down!” I said. Father Jacob and I ducked as a bullet whizzed by. Quick as lightning, the priest drew his revolver from the holster and fired a single shot. The gunman in the shadows fell dead. How Father Jacob could be so accurate with a shot in the dark like that was a mystery. More armed men emerged from the shadows. It was an ambush. Gunshots filled the chamber as the men opened fire, and we returned it.
“Freeze!” shouted Sister Judith, kicking down the front door, pistols in both hands. She rolled out of the way as a hail of bullets flew in her direction. Using my supernatural sense, I shot one of the gunmen in the knee, and the other in the thigh. Father Jacob ended the other two remaining combatants. We holstered our weapons.
Father Jacob picked up the wooden box and carried it out the front door, back to the van. There, he took out a crowbar and pried it open. Reaching into the brown packing paper inside he drew out a piece of wood, inscribed with blasphemies. Judith cursed.
“They must’ve exchanged the boxes,” I remarked.
“No kidding!” said Judith, sarcastically.
“Then where the devil is the real book?” asked Brother Boniface.
“I don’t know, but I might have a way to find out,” said Father Jacob.
The priest went back into the warehouse, with me, Brother Boniface and the two nuns following. On the floor lay one of the men who had attacked us, groaning as he dragged himself toward the door, leaving a trail of blood behind him.
Ashcraft pointed his sword at the man. “Alright, we want answers; where’s the book?”
The man spat profanities.
Father Jacob stepped on the man’s injured leg. He screamed in agony.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“Go to hell!” shouted the man.
Father Jacob dug his heel into the man’s thigh.
“Father!” I said. Father Jacob only used torture on rare occasions, but it was too much for me. I didn’t approve of it, but he was desperate.
“Now,” continued Father Jacob, “we can continue like this, you dying after hours of agony, or you can tell me where your little friends have taken the book.”
The man thought for a moment. “They’re in the pauper’s cemetery on Oak avenue.”
“Thank you,” replied Father Jacob.
We then made our way to the door.
“Wait!” said the man. “Aren’t you going help me?”
Father Jacob tossed a burner phone in the man’s direction.
“Call an ambulance,” he growled. “And if you breathe a word of who shot you, I’ll make sure you’re in more pain than you can ever imagine.”
With that, we left the warehouse and went back to the van.
There was a dark, heavy feeling over the pauper’s cemetery; a permeating fog of misery. This is where the unclaimed and unwanted were buried. My skin crawled as we walked among the graves marked only by numbered placards. I could still feel the souls of the dead, their sadness, anger, and anxiety, though many were at peace with their end. Snatches of infernal chanting made their way to our ears as we got closer to the grove of trees where the magicians gathered. We circled around the gathering, intending to attack from multiple directions. Father Jacob took the side of the grove furthest from me, Brother Boniface and Sister Judith took the area near him, and Sister Therese was nearer to me.
There they stood in a circle around a fire, robed in black. Occult symbols drawn on the ground. Their leader wore a horned headdress.
“Tonight is the night,” he said monotonously. “Tonight we open the gate.”
He opened the damnable book.
“But we have intruders in our midst,” said the high priest. “Come forth, sister. Let’s see what you’ve caught.”
Into the grove came Sister Judith, her gun pressed into Father Jacob’s temple. Sister Therese cursed under her breath.
“Ah, Father Jacob. I see you’ve come to join our little party.”
“Hello, Lucius. Kill any good goats lately?”
“I suppose you’ve come to urge me to repent and follow your pathetic God.”
“Nope. I gave up on that years ago. I’m here as a vessel of His wrath.”
“Now, where are all your little friends? I know you didn’t come alone. Come out! Come out and play! Come out of hiding or I’ll kill him!”
All three of us emerged from the bushes, weapons raised in surrender.
“Ah, Conrad! You’ve come back to the fold. Had enough of the country bumpkins in North Fork?”
I thought it odd that he knew where I had been for the past year, but I made no reply. It was best not to say anything to Lucius; he had a talent for twisting your words.
“I see he got to you, Judith,” I said.
“Judith was always mine,” said Lucius, leaning in to kiss Judith on the lips. It made me sick to see them.
“You’ve been spying on us this whole time?” asked Sister Therese.
“More or less,” replied Judith.
Sister Therese then blurted out a term which I will not repeat here, but rest assured it was derogatory. Judith and Lucius cackled.
“Since you’re here, Father Jacob,” said Lucius, “how about we make you guest of honor? The Dark Lord will be hungry when he awakes.”
Judith kicked Father Jacob in the back of the knee, causing him to fall into a kneeling position. Lucius opened the Codex, and began to read the spells for calling forth Samael. The fire burned low, its color changing from a warm yellow, to a sickly greenish tint. Black smoke smoldered upward in writhing, twisting shapes as Lucius read the terrible words. Soon the fire disappeared entirely as a hellhole opened up before us.
Father Jacob looked up at me and winked. With lightning speed, the priest whirled around, taking Judith by the arm and tossing her over his shoulder into the hole. Without a second thought, I whipped my sword from the scabbard, lunging toward Lucius. One of his acolytes shoved the demon-priest out of the way of my blade, taking it himself. Throwing down the book, the magician drew his own sword. We slashed and thrust at each other in a mad flurry of combat, being careful not to fall down into the hole.
Sister Therese side-stepped one of the occultists as he came in with a knife to stab her. Taking hold of the man’s arm, she broke his elbow, just in time to duck a slashing blow from another of the hooded figures. Drawing a knife she had hidden in her boot, she stabbed the man in the gut.
Father Jacob and Brother Boniface, meanwhile, were making a good account of themselves, though unarmed at the time. We were all skilled in many forms of combat, including hand-to-hand. Most of the combatants ran off in all directions, but not Lucius. On we fought, my lungs burning, muscles aching as I held off his blade. Suddenly, Lucius paused. Gagging up blood, the devil-worshiper grasped his chest and fell to the ground. Behind him stood Father Jacob, holding a long, bloody knife.
“Thank you, Father,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” replied the priest.
Together, we picked up the dead magician and tossed him into the hellhole. Father Jacob then sprinkled blessed salt around the rim of the hole while Brother Boniface and Sister Therese chanted the Psalms. Fortunately, we stopped the ritual before they could awaken the beasts that dwell below. Or so we hoped.
Once the hole was closed, Father Jacob took the unholy book off the ground, and drawing a lighter from his coat, lit the thing on fire. He then lit a cigar as we watched the forbidden pages burn.
“Good riddance,” he said.
The four of us then returned to our vehicle and drove back to the motel in silence.
The next morning, we sat around the table in the small diner down the road, eating our breakfast and drinking coffee.
“Where to next, Father?” asked Therese.
“There’s a haunting in Northern New York we need to deal with,” replied the priest.
Therese nodded. “Sounds fun. Hopefully it’s not as bad as that one in Sacramento, eh, Conrad?”
I chuckled. “Yeah, those were good times. Hope you can send ‘em back to where they’re supposed to be.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Therese.
“You don’t mean you’re going back to North Fork?” asked Father Jacob.
I shrugged. “I feel like that’s where the Good Lord put me. I can do a lot of good there.”
“You were doing a lot of good with us,” retorted the priest.
“I know,” I replied. “And I’m just an email away if you ever need me again.”
Father Jacob glared at me from under his bushy brows. “If that’s your decision,” he said after a long pause, “then that’s the end of the matter.”
We finished our breakfast and headed back out to the van for a long drive through the Appalachian mountains back to the place I had come to call home.
The van came to a stop outside the Craig family farm. Stepping onto the familiar gravel drive, I took a long deep breath as the bull terriers, Smith and Wesson, greeted me with great enthusiasm. Sister Therese stepped out of the van and stood next to me.
“You sure you belong here?”
Therese gave me a long hug.
“So long, Conrad,” she said, returning to the van.
Rolling down the window, Father Jacob lowered his aviator sunglasses and said: “You know you can always call on us if you need us for anything.”
“Thank you, father.”
Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, the priest backed out of the drive, and headed north to their next case. Taking my cell phone from my pocket, I dialed Joane’s number to inform her that I had returned. After a very affectionate conversation that I won’t get into, I headed up to the shed-turned-office where Walter and I did our business. Walter sat at his desk, smoking a cigarillo, while his cousin Katherine sat in the easy chair, reading emails.
“Howdy, Conrad,” said Walter, as though I had never left.
“Howdy,” I replied. “Anything happen while I was away?”
“Nothin’ much,” said Katherine. “Just killed an evil doll and stuff.”
I narrowed my eyes at Walter. It seemed like something very interesting had transpired in my absence, and I wanted to know more.
“A lot has happened,” he explained. “I’ll fill you in at the diner.”
Getting up from his desk, Walter motioned to Katherine to follow him out the door and all three of us got in the Jeep and headed to the diner for lunch.