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Hex Publishers is an independent publishing house proudly specializing in genre fiction: horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. Founded by writers, Hex values both the author and the reader, with an emphasis on quality, diversity, and voices often overlooked by the mainstream.

Death and the Demon Hunter

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Midnight in the nursing home. New moon. The closet in Malachi Drago’s room opened. Untouched.

Drago knew what was in the closet.

Meatfeast. Light from under door lit up the little boy’s glassy eyes. Meatfeast wasn’t a little boy, but he dressed as one.

“Hey, Drago, your little girlfriend is getting out tonight. Too bad you can’t go and kiss her goodbye. Too bad time is eating you all up.” Little boy voice. Diabolical malice.

Meatfeast. First demon he ever fought. In some ways, the toughest. That was a long time ago.

“Cynthia,” Drago muttered. They had been friends for six months, had grown close. She was an ex-nurse. He was an ex-demon hunter. Both knew about pain.

Meatfeast cackled. “Family gonna take away your girlfriend. Extended family.”

Cynthia didn’t have any family. They were all dead and she was alone. No, wait, the demon wasn’t talking about her family. It was talking about its own.

Drago patted the pocket of his gown. The syringe of death juice was still there, a final exit, if all else failed. Never planned on ever using it, but fighting demons, you never knew. Better to die than be taken.

But he wouldn’t need the syringe. He’d wipe out the demons the old-fashioned way – battle. He wished he had the strength to dress properly in his leathers, jeans, boots, but he’d have to fight them the way he was. Out of the bed, he crumbled down on the floor. Ninety-two on December 21st. Born on the winter solstice. Just as the prophecy had predicted. Too bad there wasn’t a prophecy about his death.

Meatfeast’s little boy voice twittered. “You can barely move, Drago. Must be embarrassing to be taken by natural causes.”

“Always thought it made me a badass.” Drago reached for the case under his bed. Unclipped the latches. Inside lay his crossbow and seven quarrels, with Jerusalem dove fletching, shafts of Syrian cedar, and barbed tips made from Vatican silver.

Now, into the wheelchair. The muscles in his legs and arms dangled like moss on dead tree branches.

Meatfeast was right. Pathetic.

But the demon didn’t matter. Cynthia mattered. He rolled out of the room with Meatfeast giggling, trapped in the closet.

The hallway was bright. Drago couldn’t see very well. The crossbow kept tipping off his lap. He ran the wheelchair into the wall.


He shut his eyes tight. I’m old. I’m weak. Why have I lived this long?

His old teacher’s voice came back to him. To overcome evil, you must first overcome yourself.

Drago took a deep breath and rolled on down the hall.

Cynthia. He had to get to Cynthia, with her laughter and bright green eyes. Even without the threat of demons, Cynthia didn’t have long. Her cancer had metastasized, but Meatfeast’s cousins would make any time she had left unimaginably hellish. Unimaginable to most folks. Drago could imagine it only too well.

Mr. Farnham, the director, stood by Cynthia’s door. Demons were around him, only they didn’t look like demons. They looked like normal people—like June Cleaver or Sonny Jim. Gee, Mr. Farnham, sorry to wake you, but we need to bring Grandma home right now.

Drago squinted and watched as Cynthia was wheeled out in a wheelchair, wearing her blue silk nightgown. Her voice was confused, frightened. “Mr. Farnham, is everything all right?”

“Ms. Jackson, your family has come to take you home. I know it’s late, but…” and the rest was sorcery and lies. Farnham was under their spell.

Drago took up the crossbow. He would have to make the first bolt count. He squinted and yes, the auras on the demons were a dark, smoky purple. Demons, there, demons under their smiles.

“Hey there, old-timer. I’ll take that.” From behind him, one of the staff, the big guy, plucked the crossbow right out of Drago’s hands.

“No, please.”

Too late. The big guy, forgotten name, pushed Drago up to the group.

Cynthia spoke to Drago with a hand over her mouth. “Mal, do you know what’s going on? I think Farnham has finally lost it. These people are not my family.”

“Come on, Grandma, dontcha ‘member us?” One of the demons asked like its throat had been cut with the ragged edge of a beer can.

“We think you should spend your final moments with your family,” Farnham said in a dreamy voice. “Go ahead and take Mr. Drago back to his room.”

Drago threw himself off the chair. Shattered his kneecap. The pain made him shriek. No dignity left. None.

The syringe was out of his pocket.

From Farnham, “Mr. Drago! What are you doing?”

The syringe. Morphine and enough cyanide to put down a Clydesdale.

Drago felt for Cynthia. Found her leg. And spiked her.

“Mal, what are you doing? What did you…” her voice fell away.

Drago put his face down onto her soft nightgown. If he had been younger, he would have wept. But he was ninety-two years. He’d killed other friends to keep them from torture. Farnham was lost in a spell. Only way.

Cynthia deserved a tear for her passing, but Drago’s eyes were dry. He slumped to the ground unconscious.

A month later. Another new moon. Farnham covered up the murder. He would’ve had to explain why at midnight on a Tuesday, he’d almost let strangers drive away Cynthia Jackson. The spells had been strong. In Farnham’s mind, it all made sense.

Drago was healing. They fixed his leg, and he was healing. Damn body.

The closet door opened. Untouched. Meatfeast coming to visit. This time, he didn’t show up as the boy Drago had killed decades ago, to save the little guy from years of torture.


“Hey, Drago.” Old woman’s voice. Diabolical malice.

Drago closed his eyes. And winced.

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of five young adult novels and numerous pieces of short fiction. In 2012, his first novel, The Never Prayer, was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. In 2015, his second novel, Long Live the Suicide King, won the Building the Dream award for best YA novel. His epic post-apocalyptic steampunk series, The Juniper Wars, is available now through WordFire Press. The second book, Killdeer Winds, was on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for September of 2016. When he’s not selling books at comic cons around the U.S., Aaron lives in Colorado with his wife and two stormy daughters.

Death and the Demon Hunter ©2017 by Aaron Michael Ritchey. First Publication: Words 2017, ed. Joshua Viola (Hex Publishers).

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