The following evening after traveling to an isolated gas station to place what he hoped would be the most important phone call of his life, Merrick met with the members of Bart under stars that shone down on them through the church's missing roof.
"I think we should all go to the witch doctor's together," Kody told them.
"Good," said Cricket. "I can pick up a few things while we're there."
Bomber shook his head. "Maybe that's a bad idea," he told August. "What if she nails the witch doctor between the legs then makes off with some of his chicken feet-or snake testicles or somethin. I don't know about the rest of ya'll, but I'm not too keen on havin some pissed off voodoo priest, or what have ya, workin any of his mumbo jumbo on me.
"That shit travels, ya know!"
Bomber looked August and Cricket up and down, who were completely covered from the lower neck down in battle gear. "Why don't you girls try spicin' your outfits up a-little?"
Cricket wiped a smudge off of one of her switchblades. "You mean like those non-human bimbos from one of your games? You do realize that fantasy and reality are two totally different things, right?"
Bomber shrugged. "Suit yourselves."
Merrick used a thumb to smooth down one of his eyebrows. "A witch doctor's gonna want something in exchange for his services," he told August.
"Like what?" she asked.
Mereck mounted the chopper. "We'll find that out when we get there."
The biker waited for the others to finish loading the RV before taking a headset from August and driving off in the direction of the crossroads.
"Merrick," he heard August's voice in his ear, "are you reading me?"
The RV's headlights followed him around a sharp curve to the left, then another to the right. "Yeah, I hear ya."
"Good, as soon as we reach the crossroads, stop; Kody will take it from there. Until then, I'm breaking communication. Over and out."
Merrick sailed down one road and then another with the RV doing its best to keep up. When he finally reached the crossroads, he stopped and waited for the slayers.
"I think it's down that way-to the right," Kody told him.
The biker glanced down the road to his right, which was darker than the other two roads that they had to choose from; it was also heavily overgrown with vegetation.
"You mean you don't know?" Merrick asked.
"Call it intuition," said Kody. "The witch doctor's house is always in the scariest part of the neighborhood, right?"
For the rest of the trip, Kody chatted to Merrick over the headset. The fact that the biker refused to answer any of his questions, or to speak at all, did not seem to faze the boy in the slightest.
"You don't talk very much do you?" Kody asked as they entered the cul-de-sac that led to the witch doctor's house.
Merrick took off the headset and tossed it over his shoulder. The sound of Kody's voice being disconnected by the RV's front wheels brought a reluctant smile to the biker's face that lasted until he reached the end of the road. Once the chopper's front wheel was aligned with the moon, he parked and slowly dismounted. Before him, surrounded by an unclean aura, stood the witch doctor's dwelling, its first story wrapped around the base of a massive dead tree; the second story rested above it in the branches.
The biker, raising his goggles, kept his eyes on the structure as Bomber exited the RV with a 50 mm.
"Man this is ridiculous," said the cowboy.
August brushed passed her teammate. "Please tell me you're not going to piss your pants again."
"Oh, come on, you saw the size of that werewolf." Bomber took a swipe at the sweat dripping off the end of his nose. "Anyway, you really thinkin about goin inta that place? I mean I'll fight demons or what have ya. But goin into a witch doctor's den? Why that's just plain askin for it."
August glared at Bomber. "We didn't come all this way just to sit outside. If this man can help us find Abaddon then we'll go wherever he is, including in there."
"Fine," said Bomber. "But it's still ridiculous."
The demon slayers, having decided to bring Kody with them instead of leaving him alone in the RV, followed Merrick toward the house with the silent discipline of a well-organized and higly lethal wolf pack. Around them the witch doctor's property, a graveyard for others' discarded junk, was deceptively quiet, seemingly deserted. Suddenly and without warning, a hyena jumped out of the shadows. The chain that was attached to its collar jerked it back before it could take off the side of Bomber's face. It then laughed at them as they made their way cautiously onto the front porch.
Bomber took a deep breath as Merrick reached out to knock on the screen door. "This is ridiculous-hyenas and swamps and shit. I mean, who the hell knows what's lurkin inside. Probably a zombie or somethin. And another thang,"- he lifted his hat and wiped his face with his other hand-"the humidity here's ridiculous. . . .
"Oh, man, I'm startin to sound like Cricket. Just kill me now and get it over with. No I'm serious, man, shoot me."
Before Merrick had a chance to knock on the screen door, the wooden one behind it swung open. The biker and the slayers were immediately struck by the rank smell of animals, both living and dead, that had been kept confined indoors for too long.
"Damn," said Bomber, pinching his nostrils together.
The man standing on the other side of the screen door smiled at them with rows of sharp, jagged teeth. "What took you so long?" he asked. "I've been waiting for you all night."
"Are you Joseph Ajanti?" asked August.
"Nah," said the man. "I be Doctor Joseph Ajanti, though. Perhaps it tis me you seek." He then slowly pushed open the screen door.
August stepped through the threshold first, followed by Merrick and the others. Inside the witch doctor's den, which was dimly illuminated by candlelight, was a collection of specimens and artifacts that would be the envy of any natural history museum.
Merrick dodged a snake hanging from the rafters and joined the witch doctor at a table constructed out of animal bones, including those of the human variety.
Ajanti sat down in one of the chairs surrounding the table and gripped the radius and ulna bones that made up its arms. "Please, sit," he told them.
Merrick, August and Father Ramirez took a seat, while Cricket, Kody and Bomber stood nearby.
"What tis it I can do for you?"
Merrick looked the witch doctor in the eyes. "Can you summon a possessor?"
Ajanti leaned deeper into his chair and linked his hands in front of him. "If you don't know da answer ta dat question, boy, din maybe you shouldn't ta come."
"Can you, or not?" August asked impatiently.
The witch doctor looked at her from the corner of his eyes. "Oh, I and can do much more din dat."
"That's cool, partner," Bomber laughed nervously. "No need to go outta yer way doin anythang special for us. Just, ya know, summon up a demon and we'll be on our way."
Ajanti sat forward and laughed, mimicking the hyena outside perfectly. The unholy impression caused the chickens in the room to flutter around nervously while the goats bolted for cover.
Bomber dodged a goat, then punched a chicken that was on a direct collision course with his head; the chicken let go a loud screech as it sailed over the biker and hit pile of cages containing various reptiles.
Merrick looked at Father Ramirez. It was obvious to everyone sitting at the table that the hyena's voice coming from the witch doctor's mouth had disturbed the man quite badly. Just when the priest had his shaking hands under control, the sound of several pots crashing to the floor caused him to jump to his feet and draw his Spanish broadsword. Turning to face the dark corner where the sound had come from, he shouted, "Reveal yourself, damn you!"
A large Naitve American man, wearing dirty pants and a long white, matted braid, shuffled into the light. Glistening on his stubble-covered chin was a layer of drool that had gathered enough in the middle to create a sticky bridge to his bare chest.
He stared dumbly in the biker's direction through white eyes.
"Is th-that a zombie?" asked Father Ramirez.
The witch doctor laughed again, this time sounding more human. "Yes; he was a former enemy of mine -- a Sioux shaman. Hard ta believe he was once a powerful holy man, but he was. Isn't dat right, slave?" The witch doctor snickered before throwing a bowl at the man and shouting, "Big priest! BIG SHAMAN!"
The shaman didn't move or defend himself, nor did he avert his soulless eyes from Merrick.
"You haven't answered my question," said the biker.
The witch doctor looked from the zombie to Merrick. "I can do what you ask . . . obviously."
"What do you want in exchange?" August asked.
The doctor looked at the priest. "Holy water." Then he looked at Merrick and smiled. "And the tooth of a jackal-a K9.
Merrick pulled out the jackal's tooth and laid it on the table.
"We can't give holy water to this man," Father Ramirez whispered to August as he sheathed his sword and took his seat.
"What?" asked August.
The priest glanced nervously at the witchdoctor. "I'm sure it is written somewhere that giving holy water to heathens- to use for, who knows what ungodly purpose-is a sin."
"Sorry," said Dr. Ajanti, "but tif I don't get what I want, you don't get what you want."
"Father," August said through gritted teeth.
Father Ramirez hesitated for a moment then nodded to Cricket, who stepped forward and placed a vile of holy water on the table next to the tooth.
The witch doctor made both objects disappear with a wave of his hand. Chanting, he stood up from his chair and began to gather items from the different containers and cages that filled the room. Once he had stirred together the ingredients of his gruesome concoction, he returned to his seat and placed the bowl on the table in front of him. Next, he set the contents of the bowl on fire before calling over a large cat with one of its eyes missing. When the cat was standing next to his feet, the witch doctor reached down and picked it up by the scruff of the neck. He then removed one of his eyes and dropped it into a jar of liquid next to his chair. After plucking out the cat's other eye and replacing his own with it, he slit the cat's throat with one of his long fingernails and held the animal over the bowl.
The bowl's contents began to spark, then smoke. Green flames that shifted from one disturbing image to another lapped greedily at the blood until the cat's carcass was tossed indifferently to the side by Ajanti. Forming a large talon, the flames reached for the object of their desire but they were pulled back into the bowl at the last delicious moment and were snuffed out by the smoke. Instead of going up, the thick crimson-colored smoke coming from the bowl drifted down and across the table toward the witch doctor. He moved his head from side to side, taking in deep breaths of the smoke between chants. Soon the eyes in his sockets rolled back and his body started to convulse. Finally, after contorting into an assortment of impossible positions, he straightened out his limbs and slumped back in his chair. The eyes, now glowing with an unearthly intelligence, rolled down and looked at Merrick.
"Who are you?" asked the biker.
The witch doctor continued to stare silently at Merrick as a large python slithered down one shoulder.
Merrick studied the eyes that no longer belonged to the man but the demon. "Who are you?" he asked again
"Where did you get the tooth?" said the demon; its voice, chilling enough, was backdropped by a multitude of other voices that were slightly out of sync with the first. "The Master's general-the mighty Abaddon-demands that you give up this knowledge."
"GIVE UP THY NAME!" Father Ramirez shouted with authority. Then: "We demand you give up that knowledge."
The witch doctor's face twisted into one of absolute hate and disgust. "I am Ramanu 'The Thunderer,'" it answered.
"Thunderer my ass," said Bomber. "You're rippin off some poor Assyrian schmuck!"
Cricket jammed her elbow into Bomber's ribs.
"Well it's true, ain't it?" Bomber rubbed his side. "Man, let's just get the hell outta here before-" He was suddenly cut off by the sound of a thousand voices screaming and roaring all at once.
Everyone except the biker and the shaman closed their eyes and covered their ears. While the others were busy blocking their senses, Merrick pulled a gold medallion from beneath his shirt and yanked it loose from its chain; he tapped it slowly-rhythmically- on top of the table.
The roaring and screaming subsided as the demon's eyes were unwillingly drawn to the object in Merrick's hand.
The biker stopped tapping the medallion, which had become faintly illuminated from within by a soft golden light, and held it up in the air. He then let let it drop casually from his fingertips onto the table.
The demon, unable to take its eyes off of the spinning disk of light growing brighter and brighter in front of it, ground the witch doctor's teeth together. "Yes."
"You sure about that?"
"Yes! Now what do you want of me?" snarled the demon.
"I have a business proposition for your master's general." Merrick said.
The demon laughed. "What could a pathetic mortal like you possibly have to offer The Destroyer?"
"I can tell him where to find Jerrod's piece of the seal. All Abaddon has to do is meet me tomorrow night in the City of the Dead." Merrick's attention was suddenly directed toward the witchdoctor's zombie, which grabbed the biker by the arm and looked down at him with old brown eyes that were still bright despite their age and the many hardships they had seen.
The shaman's grip on Merrick's arm tightened as he struggled to speak. "To . . . defeat your enemy," he told the biker, "you must face him where the earth meets the sky . . . and the heavens . . . touch the water."
Merrick stopped the medallion from spinning and slipped it into the shaman's other hand while across from them Ajanti began casting out the demon. When the witch doctor was in control of his physical being once again, he stood and faced off with his prisoner.
The witch doctor and the shaman battled one another with their minds and then with their hands. Just when it seemed as though the shaman would be the victor, he lost the medallion between the cracks in the floorboards. He stood to resume his fight with Ajanti, but the witch doctor grabbed a viper that was coiled on a shelf and threw it at his adversary's neck. The snake, wrapping itself tightly around the shaman's throat, bit him on both eyelids, causing his eyes to return to their former milky-white. With a sliver of drool appearing on his bottom lip, the shaman shuffled back into the shadows.
The witch doctor winked the cat's eye at Merrick before removing it and popping it into his mouth.
Cricket stared at Ajanti with an expression on her face that was a comical mixture of horror and sheer appreciation "Wow," she said, watching the eye's juices spill down the witch doctor's chin, "that is like . . . so ridiculous." She swallowed over the lump in her throat as the witchdoctor swallowed the eyeball. "Do it again," she whispered.
Bomber grabbed Cricket by the sleeve and began dragging her toward the door. "Okay, weirdo, time to get movin."
"Did you see that?" Cricket asked.
"Yep, sure did. And it's just one of the many reasons I wanna get the hell outta here." At that moment, Ajanti lunged for August, forcing Bomber to empty his clip into the witch doctor's torso.
Ajanti continued his course on all-fours, undeterred by the bullets that penetrated his body. Sensing that the demon had once again taken possession of its host, Merrick took the medallion's chain and tossed it over the beam above August's head. The demon halted, unable to go any further. It then crouched down and began to rock with the swinging of the chain.
Merrick motioned for the others to get outside. As he was turning to leave, he heard his sister cry out to him. He looked over his shoulder at the demon, still watching the chain. The expression on the witch doctor's face became one of a child's in agony. "Why, King Jasper?" Dinah's voice emerged from the witchdoctor's mouth. "Why did you kill me? You promised to take me to the land of Love and Healing. You promised!"
The biker flinched as the demon revealed its cleverness. Although his middle name was information that could be easily acquired throughout the underworld, details of his little sister's tea parties were not.
Merrick's mind, unbidden and completely against his will, presented him with a short clip of his historical narrative: he and his younger sibling sitting around what remained of a little girl's chipped tea set that he had found in a dumpster a couple of blocks away from their apartment complex. Dinah, or Princess Dancing Feathers as he had called her, chattered happily about her imaginary friends while pouring him another cup of sugar water. Then she faded to black along with the rest of the memory.
"You killed me, Elijah. Killed me dead! Now I'm burning in Hell with all the other bastard children, and it's all your fault, Elijah. All your fault!" The demon snickered. Returning to its own voice, it asked, "How does that make you feel, asshole?"
Merrick grunted and stepped onto the front porch. Standing outside near the door were August and Kody. "What are you still doing here?" he said, as he glanced over August's shoulder at Bomber and Father Ramirez, who were busy trying to get Cricket into the RV.
"I'm here to kick some ass!" she told the cowboy and the priest. "Now let go of me and get out of my way."
"Will you please stop swearing?!" asked Father Ramirez.
"It's okay," Bomber said, shooting the hyena. "you can let her go; Mr. Macho has done left the building." The cowboy watched Merrick confiscate one of August's silver cross earrings before stepping back through the open doorway. "And . . . he's goin back inside.
Merrick withdrew one of the last two remaining darts from his belt. Smiling bitterly, he stabbed it into the witch doctor's remaining eye, then he tossed the earring at the feet of the shaman and left.
August and Kody followed the biker to his chopper. "I thought you said you didn't know anything about Jerrod's piece of the seal," said August.
Merrick didn't answer.
"Hey!" She grabbed him by the arm and spun him around. "You need to tell us what's going on."
Merrick watched a drop of blood make its way down the woman's neck and onto her shirt. He took a bandana from his back pocket and placed it against her earlobe. "I don't have time to explain right now; there's somewhere I have to be . . ."
"We'll come with you," she told him.
"Sorry, but Mutt only carries one passenger at a time. And trust me, you're ride would take too long." Merrick replaced his hand holding the bandanna with one of hers. "I'll see you tomorrow," he lied as he straddled the chopper's seat. When he was halfway down the witch doctor's cul-de-sac, he shifted the motorcycle into sixth gear.
The air around him immediately became lighter. Energy from the objects in the physical realm burned through the barrier of the two worlds like x-rays as he raced through the astral plane toward the place where he would seek refuge for the night. Within moments, he was pulling up to a log cabin on the other side of the country.