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«Hard Spell», Justin Gustainis

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Justin Gustainis

"Science cannot deal with the supernatural."

- Michael Clough

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, aainst powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world…"

- Ephesians 6:12

"Death is when the monsters get you."

- Stephen King


This is the city – Scranton, Pennsylvania.

It used to be a coal town, back in the days when anthracite was king. That was a long time ago – the last of the mines played out in the 1950s. But people here are tough, and they learned to adapt. Today, Scranton's got a healthy economy based on light industry, tourism, and retail. They've cleaned out a lot of the culm banks left by the mines, too.

It's a good place to live and raise a family – apart from vampires, werewolves, ghouls, wizards, and the occasional demon.

Scranton's got a "live and let unlive" relationship with the supernatural, just like everyplace else. But when a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that's when they call me.

My name's Markowski. I carry a badge.

Also a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9 mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

I was never a Boy Scout, but "Be Prepared" is still a good motto to live by. Especially if you plan to keep on living.

America's been coming to terms with what law enforcement calls the "supernatural element" for more than fifty years now. It hasn't always been a real smooth adjustment.

It was World War II that did it. I sometimes wonder if FDR would have been in such a hurry to send the GIs off to fight if he knew what some of them were going to bring back home – and I'm not talking about the clap or war brides, either.

But I guess he would've done it anyway, FDR. Somebody had to stop Hitler and those other bastards. But I bet the troops coming home would have got a much closer look, if anybody in authority suspected that some of them were… changed.

The experts figure that there were always a few supernaturals (or "supes," as most of us call them) in America. All those legends had to come from someplace. But the creatures were usually real careful to keep their heads down.

The supes in Europe mostly decided just to stay there, and leave the New World to the humans. Until pretty recently, getting to North America involved a long sea voyage. It would have been pretty hard for a supe to keep hidden for all that time, and getting found out probably meant a quick trip over the side. Unless he did a Dracula and killed everybody aboard. Vamps'll do that – they're vicious bastards, most of them. But that solution presented problems of its own – like who was going to run the boat come sunrise.

Anyway, most supes figured America wasn't exactly their land of opportunity. The early colonies had been founded by the Puritans, a bunch of tightass religious fanatics who'd left England because they decided the place wasn't righteous enough for them. And what guys like Cotton Mather had in mind for supes became pretty clear during the Salem witch trials, which took place after the European ones had died out. So supes generally stayed away for a long time.

Some of them probably got to North America in 1918, following what they used to call the Great War. But the U.S. was only in that one for the last eighten months or so, and we didn't send nearly as many guys over as we would next time out. Still, I bet if you took a close look at the more than half a million U.S. deaths attributed to the flu epidemic of 1918, you'd find quite a few that were supe-related.

Then came World War II. Millions of Americans got put into uniform and sent over to Europe. There, some of them were bitten by vampires and lived to carry their curse back home. Others were victims of werewolf attacks. And a bunch more made the acquaintance of various witches, wizards, sorcerers, necromancers, and other practitioners of the black arts.

A few years later, easy access to air travel made it possible for European supes to migrate westward without any problems. Quite a few of them did. There wasn't much left of Europe by then, anyway.

The revival of interest in monster movies after the war didn't happen by chance. It reflected a country that was starting to get used to what was really going bump in the night. Movies like I Married a Zombie weren't always fiction, if you know what I mean.

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