Prologue

Hedwig van Sweiten fastened the end of her long blond braid with a blue ribbon and walked to her bedroom window. She stared out at the dark rainy city of Wien, Vienna, and felt a chill run down her spine. This doesn’t feel right, it’s like I’m not supposed to be here. I remember a young man name Alexander, and a specter with red eyes. I thought it killed me. She shook her head and went back to her dressing table. I guess it was only a dream.

Glass shattered and wood splintered. She spun. The window was nothing but a jagged hole, and a huge wolf with glowing red eyes bounded toward her. Her hand flashed up and blocked it, she twirled and kicked it to the side. The wolf slammed into the wall and sprang back. She punched it in the head and knocked it to the ground. It shook its head, jumped to its feet and glared at her.

Hedy glared back. “Let me guess, Satan sent you? The wolf’s eyes twitched, it exploded off the floor and snapped at her face. She caught it by the throat and threw it back toward the broken window.

“Donner, Blitz, come, I need you.” Nails clattered against wood and two miniature dachshunds appeared at her ankles. One was red with a white lightning shaped slash on it’s chest. The other, black and tan. She pointed. “Get him out of here.” They touched noses, their eyes glowed blue and they charged.

The wolf licked it’s lips.

A bolt of lightning arced from Blitz’s jaws and dropped it in its tracks. Hedy smelled singed fur, and smiled. She went to her schrank, wardrobe, took out an ankle length blue dress and a pair of low healed black boots with brass buckles.

“Are you alright?” Sister Adelbert, Hedwig’s quasi chaperone called through a gap in the door

“I’m fine Sister,” she stepped into the dress. “There’s a giant wolf in here so don’t come in, Donner and Blitz are just getting rid of it.” She put her arms in the sleeves and turned back to the hound from Hell. “This is your last chance. Leave now, or we’ll hunt you down and hand you back to Satan as a pelt.”

The wolf’s eyes shifted from Hedy, to Donner, to Blitz and back again. She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. The wolf lunged. Lightning shot from Blitz’s jaws and thunder roared from Donner’s. They blasted it out the side of the house like a cannonball.

Hedy closed the curtains.“You can come in now Sister. The wolf’s gone.” She bent down and pet both dogs on the head. “Good boys.”

The nun came in carrying a small lantern wearing her robe, a tight fitting night cap and slippers. “Just look at this mess! First it was demons from Hell, now giant wolves. You certainly have some strange visitors.” She walked to the window, pulled the curtains back and shook her head. I’ll clean this up and fetch the carpenters in the morning. Are you going out?”

“I’m afraid so. Would you please fasten the back of my dress. The boys and I have to find the wolf. I gave him a chance to go back to Hell on his own. Now, it looks like I’m going to have to deliver him to Satan in person.”

Hedy moved her long braid to the side and Sister fastened the buttons. She pulled on her boots and threw a blue wool hooded cloak over her shoulders. “Come on boy’s. I want to catch that beast before he does anymore damage.”

“Take care Freiin van Sweiten. You’re not invincible.”

“I know, Sister.”

Hedy took the lantern from her and guided them through the dark house to the back door.

Her eyes darted to the older womans. “We should be back before dawn.”

“I’ll have hot coffee and fresh rolls with butter when you return. I’ll have breakfast for your doggies, too.”

Hedy stepped into the darkness.

Lantern light flickered on the nun’s face. “God be with you.”

“Thank you. We’ll be careful.” She glanced at her dachshunds. “Ok boys, find that wolf!” The little dogs sniffed the air, touched noses and ran toward the courtyard gate. Hedy pulled her hood up and followed.

The moon glowed in the cloudy sky and angels swooped in like giant birds. They perched on rooftops and watched through windows as their earthly charges slept. Some carried the souls of the poor and innocent to their final reward. Others, the rich and worldly pleading for mercy and begging forgiveness.

Donner and Blitz slowed to a walk. The angels are busy tonight. Hedy shook her head. To most fräulein this would seem impossible. But it’s normal to me.

She pressed her hand against Saint Quiteria’s relic. How many 18 year old girls can talk to God? Well, I guess anyone can talk to You, but how many do You answer back? She took a few steps. And how many have a relic that lets them see angels, or allows them to channel Your limitless power?

It’s all because my Mutter, chose to trade her life for my destiny. I guess I got to choose, too. But, You already knew what my answer would be, didn’t you? She sighed, and looked up at the cloudy sky. I don’t think I’d have been happy being ordinary, anyway. I’m not a saint. I’m just the girl You chose to save the human race. The howl of a wolf echoed in the darkness and Donner and Blitz started to run. Here I go again.

Hedy and the dogs ran through the dark rain soaked streets of Wien. They ran past demons scurrying in the shadows. They ran past The House Under the Blue Bottle, Hedy’s favorite coffeehouse. They ran until the streets opened into a wide square, at its end, Saint Stephen’s Cathedral.

Stephansdom was a huge Gothic and Romanesque style church. It’s roof was covered with colorful tiles arranged in wild designs and patterns, and its soaring south tower the tallest object in the city. As Hedy watched, the sky cleared and moonlight so bright it cast pale shadows illuminated everything in front of her. Mist rose from the paving stones, and Lucifer and the giant wolf stepped from the shadows.

She lowered her hood. “Here we go. You boys keep your eyes on the wolf. I’ll concentrate on that bastard, Satan.” She pinched her cheeks, put a smile on her face and walked out into the moonlight.

Her footsteps filled the square and echoed off the silent buildings. Hedy looked straight ahead and didn’t say a word until she was staring into Lucifer’s dead, black eyes. “They say your name means bringer of light, or Venus the morning star. You’re as handsome as I remember.” Her eyes traveled over his exquisitely tailored black suit, frilly white shirt, crimson waistcoat and handkerchief. She focused back on his eyes. “But then again, looks are so superficial.”

He sneered. “You’ve grown up.”

“You haven’t seen me in a few years. Not since you and your lackey Azazel tried to molest me.” She pointed at the wolf. “ I see you found your dog.” Her blue eyes hardened. “Next time, why don’t you just knock. I don’t like having to cleanup your messes.”

He laughed. “There won’t be a next time, you’re mine now. So are they.” He swept his arm, the reality of Wien disappeared and she was standing in the Throne room of Hell. Suspended by chains shackled to their arms over a hoard of writhing rats hung her Vater Gottfried, Stepmother Maria, Godfather and mentor Pfarrer Schaaf and her fiancé Alexander.

Hedy gasped. “How?”

Lucifer motioned with his finger and Manfred’s specter walked into the blood red torchlight. “I believe you two have already met.”

Hedy raised her arm and sent a stream of searing white light coursing toward it. The specter burst into flames and disappeared in a flash of smoke. She shifted the beam of light and turned the rats to charcoal. Hedy twirled, slammed Lucifer in the face with a right cross and kneed him in the groin. The wolf charged and Donner and Blitz attacked.

Blitz’s lightning burned her clothes and singed her hair. Donner’s thunder knocked her to the icy ground. She scrambled to her feet and blasted Lucifer with heavenly light. He screamed in pain and she ran to where her loved ones were suspended. Hedy freed each of them and caught them as they dropped. “Stay behind me. Donner, Blitz, cover our back, we’re getting out of here.”

Everything stopped. All Hedy could move was her face. Satan rose to his feet and walked toward her. He didn’t look happy. “You can’t usurp the power of Satan. Not in Hell!” He twitched an eyebrow.

Hedy felt like the inside of her body was burning. Lucifer leered at her and the pain got worse. “You’re mine now, Hedwig. You’re mine for all eternity.” He ogled her exposed legs and torn bodice. “I am really going to enjoy that.”

Hedy willed her eyes to meet his and using every bit of strength, spit in his eye.

Lucifer wiped away the spittle and a look of rage spread across his face. “You shouldn’t have done that!”

Hedy swallowed hard and braced herself to face Satan’s wrath. At least I’ll go down fighting.

A voice yelled, “Stop!”

Lucifer spun. “Who said that?”

Saint Quiteria walked into the light. “I did!”

“How did you get here? You have no right to be here.”

A female dressed in rags with wild unkempt hair walked over beside her. “I brought her!” Christina the Astonishing walked up to Hedwig, touched her cheek and whispered in her ear, “Remember, my dear you have friends in high places.”

She turned to Satan with flashing eyes. “This is for you!” She held out a scroll and shook her head and fanned her nose. “Wow, you stink!”

“What is this?”

Christina The Astonishing smirked. “You can’t read? Or, are you just stupid?”

Satan looked at the seal. “From, Him?”

Quiteria stepped forward. “Of course it’s from Him. Do you think we’d deliver a message from just anybody?”

Lucifer pulled the seal loose and scanned the scroll. His eyes flicked to the two saints. “Is this for real?”

“It’s straight from The Most High and Mighty One,” Christina replied.

Lucifer turned to Hedy. Her clothes were in tatters, her bare legs visible to the thigh and her long blond hair singed short. “He wants me to give you a second chance. All you have to do to get it is defeat me.” He laughed. “Ok, I’ll play His little game.” He stared into Hedy’s bloodshot blue eyes. “What do you say girl? It’s all or nothing. Are you up to it?”

Hedy twisted her head and looked at the saints. She turned to her Vater, Maria, Alexander and Pfarrer Schaaf. They all looked scared except for Pfarrer Schaaf, his eyes were smiling. She wrinkled her forehead. What do you know that I don’t, Herr Pfarrer.

She straightened her back, thrust out her chest and looked the Devil in the eye. “I’ll take that challenge! If you win, me and everyone I love will be yours forever.” Her eyes bored into his. “But if I win, you’ll never bother any of us again.” She stuck her hand out. “Is it a deal?”

Lucifer smiled and grabbed it. “I accept. When do you want to begin?”

Hedy’s clothes and hair returned to normal and her blue eyes sparkled. “Right now. It begins right now!”

Hedwig’s Adventures in the Great Beyond