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Wayne Kyle Spitzer

The Collected Stories

Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Cover designs Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to:

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I | Enter the Witch-Doctor

They were the kind of musical notes men and woman once swayed to—even worshiped to—or so Jasper had told him, ground from an instrument called an “organ”—which had once been common, or so he’d said, but had vanished from the face of the world. So, too, were there cymbals, which echoed throughout the crew compartment of the War Wagon like tinsel—if tinsel could be said to have a sound—and mingled with the steely whispers of their muskets and tanks and other gear as the truck rocked and their harnesses held them fast.

“When a maaan loves a woman,” sang a hearty and soulful voice both inside and outside the compartment, and Jeremiah knew they were close, else the driver wouldn’t have cued the music, and when he scanned the other Witch Doctors, strapped in six to a bench in the wagon’s cramped confines, he knew that they knew it too. What was more, he knew that, however fearsome they looked in their black jumpsuits and white flame-retardant vests, their goggled respirators, their buckled hats—they were frightened, too.

But then the wagon ground to a halt and there was no time to be feel anything, much less fear, as Jeremiah unbuckled and piled out with the others. And yet, as he paused momentarily to take in the building—a ramshackle six-story brownstone which looked as though it had been built before the Betrayal, much less the Pogrom—a strange thing happened. He thought he heard a voice; not from without but entirely from within—a woman’s voice, a witch’s voice. And it said to him, as faintly as the cymbals at the start of the music, Why have you come for us, Witch-Doctor? And he found himself scanning the illuminated windows of the brownstone as if someone had perhaps shouted to him (rather than reaching directly into his mind), and saw behind one of the uppermost panes a figure so small and motionless that he might have thought it a piece of furniture, a lamp, perhaps, had it not slid to one side and vanished.

Then he was activating his musket, which was connected to the tank on his back and shot not just explosive balls but streams of incinerating fire, and charging into the foyer—where a handful of witches already lay, writhing and smoldering. Fifteen minutes. That’s what they had before the Flyer lowered from the vespertine gloom and received them on the roof. He rushed into the first corridor, finding it already busy with Witch Doctors and choked in smoke, and instead of joining in located the door to the stairwell—whose steps he gained quickly, bypassing the second floor entirely (which he knew would be already under siege), and exiting onto the third level, where he was greeted by a gaggle of witches dressed in little more than rags, their white eyes focused solely upon him, their hands already joined, at which instant he raised his musket and fired, holding its trigger down as he swung his arm back and forth so that the women were consumed in flames instants before they were able to cast their spell.

How did it come to this, Witch Doctor? This war between Doctor and witch, man and woman, you and I?

The voice again, slightly louder this time, but still little more than a whisper, still difficult to hear through all the noise and screaming, as well as his own muffled breathing. He willed it away as he approached the first door and triggered his musket, which spat its ball and orange fire, punching out the knob and igniting the wood like dry tinder, causing the occupant of the room to scream so that it seemed the door itself screamed, blackening and shedding its paint which peeled away like rinds of burnt skin. He kicked it open and it fell with a crash, but had hardly levelled his pistol when the witch in the middle of the room launched herself against the ceiling—which she laid upon as though the world itself had flipped upside down—and, opening her mouth wide, vomited a stream of black liquid—which splattered against the floor as he dropped and rolled, tank clanking. The spot hissed as the bile melted through it and he hastened to warn any Witch Doctor below by shouting, “Black bile!”—even as he completed his roll and torched the witch while still on the floor. She danced wildly against the cracked plaster of the ceiling and a flailing hand smashed out the overhead light, yet still she did not fall, and he squeezed the trigger again. At last she dropped to the floor, arms and legs whipping about in a frenzy, then rolled in an effort to extinguish the flames and fell screeching into the flat below.

Do you presume all of us are such as she? Even so, can you hardly blame her for using all the power at her disposal to simply stay alive? Now that the room had been plunged into darkness, the voice seemed louder, was louder, he was sure of it. So, too, had it become clearer, more resonant, enough so that it had begun to make his every effort to ignore it or to will it away impossible. He clasped his hands to his head as if the pressure alone might suffocate it into silence, and yet it persisted: Jeremiah … why do you not question the wisdom of your leaders, as I have done? Why do you continue to kill for them, when the very reasons for such killing have long since been forgotten?

He scrambled to his feet, shocked at the utterance of his name, and before he even realized what he was doing he was responding to her, forming words in his mind which were as clear and resonant as her own, nor was it just his own interiority he was hearing but rather some previously unimagined facet of himself given voice for the very first time. Never will it be forgotten. Never will it happen again. Never will a word from anyone of you be believed.

He burst back out into the hall at the precise moment several witches fled their units, and torched them as they ran. They screamed, bursting into flames, but continued running, vanishing into the far stairwell even as Jeremiah keyed his mic: “Be advised, runners in the east well.” Then he pivoted and kicked open the nearest door, not bothering to weaken it first with fire, feeling newly energized by the taunts in his head, feeling a new sense of urgency. “Ten minutes,” came a voice through his headset, followed by a squawk.

He fired without even looking, and because of the charging witch’s proximity and the fact that their muskets were incendiary projectile weapons as well as flamethrowers, her head simply exploded, scattering in great bloody chunks and dotting his goggles with blood. And yet the flaming body continued its charge, and before he could fully react it was upon him, tearing at his respirator, knocking off his hat, forcing him backward so that he collided with the opposite wall of the corridor and was pinned. He cried out as her flaming hands wrapped about his neck—then, suddenly, she was off him, she was being propelled across the hall with tremendous force—straight into the opposing wall, where an invisible hand stayed her, pinned her, her arms and legs flailing, her severed neck gouting blood. That was I, came the voice. That was me, Satyena. I have saved you so that you may save me. Hurry, Jeremiah. I am on the 6th floor.

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