Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid-- 31, October-- Halloween night

31,October–Halloween Night

Far below, in the nave of the church, Jack was putting into place the final portion of his plan. He could only hope that the wee one's father was holding up to his old nemesis. He just needed to stall the old devil for a little while.

Using a pair of tongs, Jack removed the burning coal from his lantern and set it down at the base of the alter. In the open air, the cinder became white hot, and the wooden alter was blazing in mere moments.

He replaced the cinder back into the smiling pumpkin, then quickly fled the burning building.

Above, the church bell rang loudly as Michael's head was smashed against it. His bleeding eye was pinned by the pitchfork, and Scratch was using the tool to drive his head against the heavy metal again and again.

“You think those are wedding bells?” Scratch asked loudly over the ringing peals. “That's your death knell. Scratch has come, and the only thing you get for being in his way is Misery!” he smashed Michael's head against the bell once more, “And pain!” Smoke was beginning to pour up from below.

Michael slipped off the pitchfork at last and feel to the floor, blood pouring down the right side of his face. He could hear William crying. The boy had started with a horrified wail when the violence began and hadn't stopped since.

Scratch began to step over the man's motionless body, but Michael seized the old creature by the hoof and held on tightly. The floor below him had become hot, and the gasses from the fire were burning his nostrils, but his grip was iron.

Roaring in frustration, Scratch reared back and drove his hoof down on the man's midsection. “You idiot! I--” and then the floor beneath them was gone. The boards gave way in a huge crack, and the two bodies tumbled into the blaze below. The church bell gave out one final ring, then followed them down. The sound of its clamor on the way down drowned out the boy's horrified call for his father.

Jack watched the blaze from outside. In the smokey skies above the church, the witches scattered like a flock of frightened birds. The scarecrow had joined him only moments before the bell tower gave way.
“What have you done?” The scarecrow asked his old partner.

Jack didn't bother to answer. He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “WILLIAM! Come down! Come down to us!”

Then the boy was there. He looked utterly crushed. Jack had so very little time to explain. “Don't think about it yet,” he said to the boy. “You're not safe yet. Nobody's safe--”

The sound of rending wood was deafening. The old church's ruined roof split and fell away. A figure emerged. It was striding straight for the three of them. The scarecrow started to move forward, but Jack put a hand on his chest. “It's fine,” he said.

“You know fire means nothing to me,” Old Scratch said. “What did you fools hope to--”

Jack pointed behind him. Another figure had appeared, forming from the smoke of the fire. It was misty, ghostly white, but with a darkness drifting within it. It was large, maybe 10 feet tall. Its legs were nearly shapeless, and yet somehow it seemed to be striding purposefully. As the smoke cleared away, the face of Michael Samuelson become recognizable.

“Another distraction?” asked Scratch.

“He's a ghost?” William said. “A ghost like me?”

“Not like you,” the scarecrow answered in awe. “Something different. His spirit merged with the intense emotion he died with. He's a spirit of vengeance. One of the rarest. Your father has become a wraith.”
“I knew your ol' da had it in him, boy,” Jack said. “A monster killer to the core. Old Scratch never could grasp the concept of human caring.”

Old Scratch had turned by now to face this new foe. He held his pitchfork across his chest. It was a matter of one thrust, and he would send this violent thing to the abyss with the others. Then he could finally claim his Halloween prize.

The wraith advanced on him, and Scratch drew his weapon back. Michael stopped just in front of him and spread its hands to either side. It was a gesture recognizable all the world over: “What are you waiting for?”
Scratch didn't wait a moment longer and shoved his weapon forward one final time. The wraith's shape tore itself apart, and mist could briefly be seen rocketing around either side of the old demon. Before it had time to react, Michael had reformed himself behind Scratch. He grabbed one of the devil's horns in each hand and pulled the old man's head back to look upward into his eyes.

“You don't get to hurt anyone else today,” Michael told the demon, then yanked the horns apart. Old Scratch's skull split midline between the two points, spilling blood, soot and a nightmarish cocktail of steaming juices onto the ground as he screamed in fury and, maybe, even a little fear.

Michael let the grotesque corpse drop to the ground, then turned to face his son and his two odd friends.
William honestly felt fear of his father's new form, and the rage it was composed of, but he had already withstood so much fear this fall. He didn't dare back away now. The wraith approached him and dropped to its knees. Even still, William had to look up to meet the spirit's gaze.

Then he was grabbed up in its embrace. “I love you, boy,” said the wraith, and William could feel it. He could feel his father's touch. He could feel the warmth of this lifeless creature radiating throughout him.

The boy returned the hug.

“Human caring, Jack?” the scarecrow asked sardonically. “Really now, I never imagined you knew of such a concept.”
“I been around a long time,” Jack said. “I seen a lot of strange things.”

Stay tuned, folks. The epilogue comes tomorrow, on the day of the dead!

It's Good to be Afraid-- 31, October-- Evening


William walked slowly through the streets of his home town. The terrible events of the night had calmed down somewhat, as some of the creatures feared the sunlight, which was ample this cold autumn day. Others were still out and terrorizing the local populace. The creatures from the cemetery were still out and about, clawing at people's houses, pounding on their doors, overturning cars.

William had expected zombies, but these were something different. They were vicious, agile, able to leap huge distances. They had superhuman strength, and he had seen some levitate in place, drooling blood all the while. They were more like demons than anything else.

“William! I say!”
It was the scarecrow. He appeared bounding around a corner. He trampled dead leaves underfoot as he cross the street toward his friend.

“This isn't like I thought it would be,” William told him.

“Nor myself,” the scarecrow said. “Scratch has unleashed some terrible magic on this town. These monsters should be nothing more than shambling corpses, but they've been possessed by the demonic companions of that old creature. The fearful things even make me nervous.”

“How's your plan coming?” William asked him.
The scarecrow had no words.
“Come to the church later. Maybe Jack's plan will work after all.”
“William. . .”
“I don't have any choice, scarecrow. Scratch is going to get me.”

“I'm going to keep trying, but I promise I'll see you there. Be careful, dear friend!” With that, the scarecrow was off once again. William continued on toward the old church. He reached the old church before sunset. Inside, he walked through the nave and came to a staircase. At the top of the stairs were a ladder, which lead up to the belfry. He would have to wait here for whatever Jack had planned.

The sun went down, and hours passed. He heard horrible sounds coming from all around. Things howled in the night. Far below, he saw one of the ghouls being chased by some huge loping creature. They had disappeared into darkness, then there was a loud cry and the loping thing returned with half a ghoul dangling from its jaws.

A huge spider had climbed the bell tower while William huddled nervously below the bell. It had begun encasing the entire thing in webbing, when, impossibly, something even bigger grabbed the spider up and carried it off into the sky. Whatever had grabbed it was accompanied by a horde of flying witches on broomsticks, cackling.

“All manner of things. . .” it was Jack, at last. “Have ye ever seen anything like it?”
“Have you?” asked William.

“It's rare ye see a Halloween like this one. All manner of beast are out there. On the way here I seen spirits, thousands of them, rising up from the ground like mist after the rain on a hot day. They're out there now, spooks, darting every which way. I seen your friend too-- Old Scratch-- He's out there, pluckin 'em out of the air with his pitchfork. He's on his way here, now. He's only got a few more hours.”

“So what are you going to do to protect me, exactly?”
“It ain't up to me any more.”
“I told ye last night, I dispatched a letter. Yer protector had better be on his way. It's out of me hands now. We can only wait and see if he shows.”
“Well did he answer you? Do you know if he's coming?”
“Only one coming for sure is Old Scratch.”

The there was a sound in the abandoned church below. The doors had banged open. Now someone was making their way across the church floor. The sound echoed up the bell tower.

“I'll be outside,” Jack said, then abruptly disappeared down the ladder into the bowels of the church.
He made no sound as he left, but another could be heard momentarily-- that of footsteps ascending the staircase. William pressed his back to the windowed wall. Part of him wanted to leap out to freedom, but several of the witches were still circling the belfry on their brooms. Despite already being dead, the old women scared him almost as much as Scratch.

He stood in place instead and watched as 2 hands appeared on the top rung of the ladder. They groped inward toward the wooden floor, and then a familiar face appeared.

“Dad!” William shouted.

Michael stared at his son in shock. “Will, are you okay?” He quickly clambered up the rest of the ladder and dashed toward William.

The boy backed out of his reach. It was such an impossible question he had just been asked. “Dad, I'm dead.”

Michael tried to smile, but his eyes expressed that he hadn't been hoping for the best. “That's crazy. You're right in front of me.”

“It's Halloween, dad. You can only see ghosts like me on Halloween. I'm dead. . . I've been dead for a while now. I've been dead since everyone was looking for me. I'm sorry I caused trouble. I. . .” he had no idea how to communicate the thousands of things he needed to tell his father.

“It's okay, William, you don't have to—” His father leaned in for a hug, but his arms came away with empty air and goosebumps. His fearful expression changed to one of shock.

“I told you, dad.”

Michael slumped to the floor in front of his son. “I'm sorry. . . I'm sorry I couldn't-- I was supposed to protect you. I was never there.”

“I need you to protect me now, dad.”
“What? It's too late.”

“Dad! I don't have time to explain but. . . this guy, well he's not a guy, but, he's like a demon, or the devil or some kind of thing. He's Old Scratch. He's coming to get me.”


“He's got a pitchfork, and there's this place called the abyss, but, like, I mean it's Hell or something, and he says he wants to get me and burn me there forever. You have to find a way to stop him.”

“You gotta be lucky to do that,” said a voice from the shadows, “And no one's that lucky.” The shape of Old Scratch appeared in the rear of the belfry. “You're my special project, little child. I told that old witch, either I could take her or she could deliver me up something special. I never thought she could do it. She's a has-been, an ancient relic from the early days of this great nation, but wouldn't you know she cooked up something special.”

Michael got to his feet and stood between the boy and the demon.

“You were mine before your body cooled, boy,” Old Scratch said. “Get this ugly human out of my way before I take the both of you.”

He touched his pitchfork to the base of Michael's sternum and pressed ever so lightly. The points penetrated his shirt, but would go no further.

“Go ahead and try,” Michael warned the devil.

Scratch grimaced with effort, but the pitchfork wouldn't progress. “I see you haven't partaken of the witch's brew, but I have other ways to deal with you. Step aside before I start.” Scratch trailed the points of the pitchfork up Michael's body until the center tine rested just below his right eye. “Might be I can't kill you, but I can cause pain. Pain's always free.”

“You're just a ghost story, old man. I'm not afrai--” Michael suddenly screamed as the pitchfork pierced his eye.

It's Good to be Afraid-- 31, October, Early Morning

31,October–Early Morning

Michael shoved Dawn's gurney ahead of him as the horde of vampires chased behind, tearing through the curtains of the intensive care unit.

The first of them had arrived hours before. One by one, Countess Borsala's former victims had come into the hospital via various entryways. The staff had actually put up a valiant fight for the better part of the night, but each creature had the strength of 10 men and could change form at will. The hospital staff possessed nothing that could kill the creatures, and as time wore on, a war of attrition was won by the vampires.

Michael's feet were slipping in pools of blood now as he tried to keep the gurney from crashing against the hospital walls. Three people were in the elevator ahead of him. Two were trying to restrain the one who was attempting to hold the doors for Michael. Both of them were shouting perfectly legitimate arguments to the third that holding the doors was suicide.

Before the argument could be won, Michael barreled through them with the gurney, and the doors slid closed behind them. Only moments later, the vampires could be heard beating on them. One of them screamed in frustration.

The elevator started to descend, but Michael slammed on the stop button.

“What are you doing?” asked one of the survivors.

“We're safe in here,” Michael told them. “Something I noticed about these things earlier-- they seem to have problems with thresholds.”

“Are you nuts? They came into the hospital just fine.”

“The hospital's open to everyone, but I spent an hour trapped in a break room with a doctor. Those things stood outside and stared at us, but they couldn't get in. The door wouldn't even shut properly.”

“So you think they can't come in here, either?”

“Not if we don't let them. We just need to wait it out until morning.”

“Hey man,” said one of the others. “We just got into this town last night. What in the hell is going on here?”

“Happy Halloween, I guess.” Michael took a letter from his jacket pocket and looked at it once more. On it were a time and place-- the old church by the cemetery, Halloween night. Above them this were 2 words: “Your son.”

It's Good to be Afraid-- 31, October, Night


The priest savored the last spoonful of the fantastic stew he'd gotten at the fall festival. There seemed to be a sweet hint of pork to the entire thing, although he didn't remember that being mentioned as an ingredient. Nevertheless, it matched the the stew's saltiness perfectly and made the most savory meal.

It was a late night dinner, but he had been having trouble sleeping. He feared waking up again with indigestion and decided to spend a little time reading while his stomach settled. As he settled into his recliner, the front door suddenly burst inward.

A figure strode in, his feet clomping on the hardwood floors. He was nothing but a black shadow. His head was half-haloed by the red gash of the midnight moon in the sky.

“Old priest,” Scratch said. “I've waited to make you the first to bleed, just so I could savor the act. I hope you've made your peace with God, because it's the last word you'll ever share with him.”

The priest shoved himself away from the chair as he got to his feet. He raised a crucifix and pointed it squarely at the devil before him. “Foul creature!” He called. “Be gone from this place!”

“Foul, indeed,” Scratch replied. “That is a most foul smell.”

The devil was right. The priest had difficulty not recoiling from the stench pouring out of the crucifix. The solid metal had gone soft in his hand and began to fold in on itself. The former holy symbol smelled of days-old rotten pork.

“Your tool reflects the aberration you have committed against mankind,” Scratch told him. “You have no power over me.”

The priest dropped the rotting mass of meat to the floor, where it burst open, spilling maggots across his rug. He backed away from the devil before him, who tromped forward with the pitchfork held at waist level.
Old Scratch stabbed outward and impaled the man through the stomach. Blood ran down the pitchfork's tines and dripped to the floor. Somewhere far away, perceptible only to Scratch, there was a deep earthquake, and a fissure split open.

“The gates to the abyss are thrown wide,” Scratch told the priest. “My children will be free to inhabit the bodies of the dead. Your abhorrent course of action made this come to pass. Were I a grateful person, I would say thank you.” Instead, he twisted the pitchfork cruelly, and the old priest died.

Far away, in the cemetery, the earth shifted. The ghouls who had been digging for the tasty corpse inside skittered backwards and hooted at each other in fear. One of the braver ones, slavering, a long strand of saliva hanging from his gaping mouth, pushed forward and reached into the open grave.

The others turned and fled at the sounds of terror it made as it was torn apart by the frenzied creature inside.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid-- 30, October


Countess Ambrus Borsala felt her senses returning. There was a rush of pain coming from her chest. She tried to gasp, but found herself choking on blood. Her heart had resumed beating, but her left lung was still collapsed. There was a sharp twinge of pain as the point of the stake pulled back through her breast.
On a second attempt, she finally pulled in a staggering, wet breath. “Mr. Uzor,” she said. “Thank you.” Then she opened her eyes. “Oh no,” she said. “Not you.”

Jack smiled his now gap-toothed smile. “Happy to help,” he responded. “But it does look like you owe me one.”

“You could have left me.”

“I'd never do a thing like that It's already been a whole day ye been pinned there. I couldn't leave ye forever. Next time I have a chance, I'll come by your castle, and we can settle up.”
“A whole day? Where is Mr. Uzor?”

“The police took him,” William said. “They started trying to take your body down, and he wouldn't let them. There was a fight, and then they took him away in handcuffs. Then things got really nuts out there. Some kind of call came in, and they all went running to their cars. They just had the place sealed up with tape since then.”

The countess still appeared to be trying to catch her breath.

“I'm sorry, Ms. Borsala,” William told her. “I didn't want anything bad to happen. I didn't want you to get hurt, but I didn't want you to hurt my dad, either.”

“That was your father? He is very strong.”

“There's something about this Samuels family,” Jack interjected. “That man's a born monster killer if ever I seen on”

Ignoring him, William asked., “Are you really okay, Ms. Borsala?”

“I will be. Tonight I will rest, and tomorrow night, I will return to my homeland. I have done my work here. My children will free Mr. Uzor and carry out the Harvest, according to their nature.”

“Your children? Do you mean the 13. . .”

“Thirteen vampires set loose on the city streets. Tomorrow night they will dine on those who are foolish enough to be out of doors. That police call you heard must have been their doing last night. Upon my death, they awoke and set to sewing terror. Thanks to the actions of that woman. . . and your father, the Harvest has started early.”

The front door banged open, and the scarecrow suddenly came bounding in. “Goodness!” he said, looking at the chaos around him.

“Where were ye?” asked Jack.

“I was overseeing things at the graveyard. The ghouls' work is coming along nicely. However, I see things have gone to chaos without my presence.”

“It's thanks to the wee boy's da.”

William looked ashamed.

“It's alright,” Jack comforted. “A monster killer's just what we need now, isn't it, wee lad?”
The boy didn't answer.
“Have ye had any time to think about me deal?”
“Hold on now, what deal is this?” the scarecrow asked.

“I can offer the boy protection from Old Scratch,” replied Jack. “I've made him a fair deal in exchange.”

“I can protect you, William,” the scarecrow said. “Don't make any hasty choices.”
“How can you protect me?” William asked.
“I'll think of a plan.”

“Tell me now! I don't have much time. I saw him last night. He took the spirit of that asylum guy away.”

“The madman?” the scarecrow mused. “It seems that course of action has been doomed from the start.”

“Perhaps if I had put better people in charge of it,” Borsala suggested.
“Perhaps, indeed,” the scarecrow replied. “Regardless, our duty now is to protect young William.”

“I offer no protection!” the countess protested. “Tomorrow night I leave this land. Jack, come to my castle when you have time. I will repay you so that my debt will be settled, but do not expect a long stay. Hospitality has not rewarded me lately.” Then she was gone, disappearing down into the cellar where her coffin awaited.

“See ya then, Amy,” Jack chuckled.

“So,” said the scarecrow, “We need a plan for this Scratch situation.”
“I've started work already,” Jack said. “Me plan is already moving ahead.”
“What?” asked William. “I never agreed yet!”

“I knew ye'd have to eventually, boy. Ye don't want to spend eternity in that black hole.” Then he knelt down and winked at the boy, “'Sides, I weren't going to let that old man get his hands on ye either way. I done some research on ye and yer family, especially after I saw how yer ol' da handled himself last night. A letter has been dispatched.”

“What do I need to do?” William asked.

“All ye have to do is wait at the church by the cemetery. Wait in the bell tower. Old Jack's taken care of everything.”

The scarecrow turned and strode from the room, away from the conversation. He banged through the front doors once more on his way out.

“Where are you going?” William called out.
“To work out a plan that will work after Jack's fails,” the scarecrow replied. “You can count on me, William.”

William tried not to think about the fact that his fate lay in the hands of two horrendous murderers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid-- 29, October


William ran. Through twisting corridors of the land of the dead, he charged tirelessly now that he no longer had muscles that needed to be fed. The madman was behind him, unbelievably. If only he knew how to call Dullahan.

Yesterday, the dead man's spirit had erupted from his body, tearing itself free like an enraged demon. It was unbound now. Just as the madman had always wished, he was now faceless.

It hadn't come for William immediately. He spent a long time watching his daughter, first. Eventually it either came to terms with the fact that she was in the past, or it just finally felt comfortable with waiting. Then the stalking had begun. William was miles away, but he felt its malicious intent from across town. Over the course of the day into the evening it closed the distance, and now it was on his heels.

William flew past the haunted graveyard and took a left. He was in the home stretch for Countess Borsala's now, but someone was in his path ahead. William couldn't afford to slow, but as he drew nearer it became clear that the person was a creature of some kind. His knees were folded back like a goat's. His small horns and tiny beard were made him think of the animal as well.

In his right hand was a pitchfork.

William skidded to a halt in front of him. “Oh, no,” he said.
“Why, what an innocent looking young ghost,” said Old Scratch.
“You!” The boy responded.

The mad spirit was gaining from behind. It drew Scratch's attention. “You!” the old man said.

Even this crazed creature was stopped by Old Scratch's appearance.

“Such a perfect specimen for the Abyss,” Scratch said. “And yet, you do such good work on Earth. I may have to release from time to time.”

Before William could react, Scratch lunged with the pitchfork and plunged the tines into the madman's torso. Despite the apparent size of the madman, he was raised into the air on the old tool. Scratch admired his capture for a moment, then jerked the pitchfork forward once again, and the madman was gone from sight.
William resumed running. He didn't want to hear another word Scratch had to say. He felt completely surrounded by horror. If only it had been a dream all those nights ago when he woke up at home. Maybe it wouldn't have even been so bad to be trapped on the farm after all. There was death and chaos all around him, and nowhere safe to go.

This became even more apparent as he reached Countess Borsala's. A strange car was pulled up onto the lawn, and shouting was coming from inside.

He had no choice but to go inside.

Countess Borsala was within. She was standing on the balcony with her arms crossed. Below her was an intruder. She had a gun and it was pointed at the countess. She held it in a right-handed shooter's stance, and in her left, stabilizing, hand was a wooden stake.

“I got your man,” the woman was saying. Her voice was familiar to William.

“I do not have a man,” Borsala responded. “I find romantic relationships tiring. If you're speaking of my servant, Mr. Uzor, I ask that you leave him be. He has committed no crimes that you could know of.”

“You know damn well who I mean. Matthew Navarro. Your tool. I know you're behind this all. Him, your wolf man, and the 13 bodies we have down in the county morgue. You think just because you're dead you don't leave fingerprints?”

“We didn't used to have to worry about such things. Still, you are mistaken. None are employed by me, save for Mr. Uzor.”

“Whatever, I'm here to stop you.”

“Better than you have failed.”

William crept along the wall to where he had a good view of both of them. He recognized the woman now. She was out of uniform, but she was clearly the police officer that had shot the madman. Was that who she was calling Matthew? It looked like she had a hit list, and she was moving through all of the scarecrow's other friends. William wondered if she knew how to stop Jack.

A second vehicle could be heard outside. This one sounded like a truck.
“Dawn!” a man yelled from outside.
“Keep your distance!” she yelled, never taking her eyes off the countess.

A man rushed in through the door wearing the soft blue of an EMT. William couldn't believe it.
“Dawn, wait, I went to check, like you said.”
“Michael, I have her.”
“They're gone, Dawn. I stopped by the morgue. They're--”

“Mine!” Countess Borsala responded. “That you were right about, young one. They have all been made my children, and they have risen to feed on your heartless town.”

Dawn fired once, but the countess was gone before her eyes. A bat circled the ceiling once, then dive bombed toward the two invaders. Michael dodged out of the way and hit the floor, then the countess appeared behind Dawn.

“You think you would be my destroyer?” She had Dawn by the shoulders, yanking her back against her chest. “Then you know nothing of the creatures of the night!” Her fangs tore into Dawn's neck, and the police woman screamed in pain.

The bite wasn't meant to feed, but rather to kill, and the wounding was over in a moment. The countess discarded the dying body to the floor as blood gushed from the torn artery in her neck. Then she moved over to Michael and began to reach down.

William couldn't wait any more to pick a side. As the scarecrow had said about his body, family was also a bond created at birth. As the vampire bent over his estranged father, William screamed out, “NOOO!”

Of course, Michael could hear nothing from this dead creature which he had been searching for tirelessly since that night at the asylum. However, the sound struck Countess Borsala full on, and she was distracted momentarily by his cry of anguish. Michael grabbed the stake from Dawn's limp hand and shoved it upward into Borsala's chest. It was a difficult angle, and for a moment he could feel the tip grinding against rib bone. Then he put his shoulder into it, and the thin round wood found a gap and slid home to her heart.

Borsala stumbled backward, screaming, blood running down from the corners of her mouth. Her back slammed against the closed doors to the dining room. The stake had not passed fully through her heart, and with the remaining blood being pumped to her limbs, the countess was weakly trying to pull it out.

Michael knew that in only moments she might succeed, and he would never escape her after this transgression. He still had the pistol he'd taken during the chaos at the asylum. He had made a perfect shot on instinct that night. Adrenalin, fear and shock fed his reaction time, but made his aim unsteady. He pulled the gun from the back of his pants and didn't bother to look down the sites. His quivering hand would make that pointless. He trusted that he would make the shot, solely because it had to be done.

He pulled the trigger, and the bullet struck the base of the stake just north of center. The wood split half way to Borsala's chest, but the stake held together, plunging through her back and nailing her to the dining room door. The vampire's hands fell away from it, and her eyes closed.

Michael dropped to Dawn's side. He didn't have time to put on a pair of gloves. Quickly, he reached into her open wound with his right hand and pinched the gushing artery shut. Her eyelids fluttered. He doubted she could be at all conscious, but just in case, he let her know, “We got it done, Dawn.”

He couldn't move her and risk taking his hand off the wound site. With his left hand, he fished out his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed 911.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid-- 28, October


A day's worth of tracking, and now it was 3 a.m. The boy had followed path after path through the land of the dead like a bloodhound. He was surprised to find that, even without a body, he could still feel exhaustion. Looking for the released madman was consuming all of his energy.

Violent crimes had a feeling-- a scent given off that could be perceived here. William had seen a dozen horror shows as he followed the twisted path of human's violence toward one another. As he continued on, the scent became more acute, and he knew he was in the wake of the madman.

That had lead him here: 1369, a house on Cunningham Street. The boy watched from the center of the driveway. He had no reason to hide. People came and went, mostly young adults. It seemed they were having a party. They were most likely college kids celebrating a Thursday night.

Then he saw him-- the madman was watching the house as well. He was standing perfectly still in the shade of a tree, staring straight ahead, perfectly immobile. He was tall, at least 6 feet, and well muscled. The boy had no idea what he could do to stop him as a human, let alone as an immaterial ghost.

He was distracted by the sound of the garage door trundling upward. He had time to see two large boys lead a girl bundled in a blanket into a van.

The madman also was watching this activity, and as soon as the van started and left the driveway, he began to follow on foot. William took this as a sign of his intent. Taking a couple steps, the boy managed to enter the van as it passed by.

The girl in the blanket was laying across the back seat. The driver and front passenger were talking to her.
“It's not that we don't believe you, Bren. We know he's after you. You know the police can protect you better than anyone!”

“You don't understand,” the girl said. She sounded resigned. “Nobody understands.” Her eyes blinked, but she had a 1,000-yard stare. She looked like she was gazing into the abyss. “He's going to kill you now. If you take me to the police, he'll kill the police. They can't stop him. You can't stop him. No one can--”
“STOP!” the passenger screamed.

The van suddenly went sliding sideways, skidding across the road. The passenger wheels struck the raised sidewalk, and like a wounded best, the vehicle fell to its side in the grass.

Somehow, the madman had gotten ahead of them. He had been standing in the center of the street, awaiting the approach of their vehicle. The distracted driver never had time to properly react to his sudden presence.
The girl fell on her back against the wall and was left staring out the driver's-side window. The masked face of the madman appeared in that window now. He had a hatchet in his right hand. He began to hammer at the glass with it.

“Just let him get me this time,” the girl was saying. “Let him get me, and maybe it'll stop. Let him get me.”
The passenger was crawling out of the shattered front window. The driver, not wearing a seat belt, had fallen and broke his neck when the vehicle tipped.

William exited the van and watched from outside. He had no idea what to do. He had come all this way to find this scene, but now he saw no course of action but to stand by and watch this girl die, horribly.
The passenger crawled around the van. He gave the back latch a couple kicks, then managed to yank it open just as the madman shattered the glass of the window. The passenger grabbed the unresisting girl by the shoulders and yanked her from the van. As he stood up, the madman turned and raised his hatchet, prepared to split his head.

“Stop!” William yelled. The madman looked at him.

So, he was one of these special humans after all. Like the witch, he could see the dead. William wondered for a minute if he watched the spirits of his victims depart. Despite his own lifelessness, William couldn't help but quail from the madman's emotionless stare.

Fortunately, the distraction had been enough, and the passenger now had the girl safely away from the van. Sirens were already in the distance. The boy had thrown a wrench in the murder's proceedings, and help was now on the way.

The murderer leaped from atop the van and began to approach the fleeing pair of young people. He approached them slowly, his blank mask hiding any sense of intent, but his hatchet making his purpose plain.
The man was hiding behind a mask. William considered the concept. “Hey!” he said to the man.

Deliberately, the white face turned to look at him. “I'm scarier than you,” he told the madman. Surely, he was afraid of something. He wouldn't hide behind a mask if he wasn't. But what did being behind a mask protect him from?

William hurried to the center of the street and positioned himself between the murderer and his victims. “I said I'm scarier than you!” he repeated.

“Why'd he stop?” the young man asked.

William summoned his memory of the man from their brief meeting at the asylum. He remembered his eyes, his chin, the way his hair draped across his forehead. The boy began to transmogrify. His shape stretched, warped, taking on a milky appearance as it grew taller. Then, he re-solidified, and the John Doe from the asylum was staring into a duplicate of his own countenance.

The madman took a swipe with the hatchet, which passed easily through the apparition. He swiped again, then again.

“I knew it,” William said as the madman tried fruitlessly to cut him to pieces. “It's you you're afraid of. Who are you? Who were you?”

His hands shaking in fury, the madman reached up and tore the white mask from his own face. After crushing it, he threw it to the ground, then reached out to strangle his copy-- but his doppelganger would only stare at him as sirens approached from the rear.

“Dad?' the girl asked. “Dad?”

At last, the madman lost interest in William and began to stride forward again. He towered over the girl. The young man with her could only cower in his shadow. Tires screeched on pavement as emergency vehicles pulled up behind the scene.

“Dad, oh my god, why? You killed them all.”

A car door slammed.

Matthew Navarro advanced on his only daughter, raising the hatchet. He had been replaced-- his wife found a new husband and a new father for his daughter, and he had come to take them all back.

“Drop it!” A female officer was in a shooting stance and had her gun drawn.

Matthew grabbed the young man by the hair and pulled his head to the side. It would only take one swing with the hatchet to split his neck.

It was a difficult shot for Dawn Kirkley. The escaped lunatic had the young man held in front of him at an awkward angle. The girl was spread out on the ground. Even if she managed to miss when she fired, a ricochet could injure or kill either of them. She hadn't tracked this man all over town just to let him keep killing, though.

The hatchet was in the air, and her finger instinctively squeezed the trigger.

William sighed with relief as the considerable bulk of the madman struck the pavement. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid-- 27, October


Jack met William on the top floor of Countess Borsala's residence. The room the boy had slept in nights before had been set aside as a private place for him to haunt, and the others knew that they could find him here at times.

“Hello, wee spirit,” the old man said. His lower lip was heavily scarred, and several of his teeth were missing, but the wound packing and handkerchief were gone.

The boy didn't respond. He was staring out the window toward town.

“Have ye been. . . getting up to things?” Jack asked.
The boy looked at him quizzically but still did not respond.

“I like to talk, as ye know, but I'm not so good at a conversation. What are ye doing up here alone?”
“I'm missing the cake my grandma used to make every fall. Since she's dead, and I'm dead, I was wondering. . .”
“She'd be too far gone now. Ye leave the world o' the livin', then you leave the land o' the dead, and ye go beyond.”
“To heaven or hell?”
“Or somewhere.”
“You don't know?”

“We know as little of the worlds beyond as the living do of the land of the dead.”
William turned away from the window at last. “But you know there's a hell, because you got away from there.”

“What ye call hell, wee one. . . it's a prison. It's a black abyss to hold lost souls Old Scratch finds wandering. He takes them down there for company, and for light. He burns the souls like a candle.”
“Do bad people go there?”

“Bad people are known to find their way straight in, aye, and they burn, but they only make smoke. Old Scratch wants the souls of the innocent, because they burn so bright. Some say that's the worst, because when they light up the abyss, all the prisoners can see what's around them, and the abyss is the one place seeing is worse than fearing.”

“So that's what he came up here for?”
“Aye, the old man's come up with his pitchfork, workin' on his own harvest. But I can protect ye, boy, for a price.”

William feared where this was going. He had never heard of Jack making a deal with anyone that worked out for the best. “What's the price?”
“Come with me.”

“Everywhere! On me travels. I tour the world, wee lad. I seen everything a tenth time already. With you, I could see it again, but through young eyes, and I won't. . .” he trailed off.

“Won't what?”
“Won't be so lonely. I'm not like ye scarecrow. No one looks forward to me comin' back to town each year. They all just me co-workers.”

The boy turned back to the window. “You can't buy a friend, Mr. Jack. You're alone because you lie, and you make bad deals with people.”

“This be a good deal, boy. Ye see the world, ye be safe with me. What are ye going to do around here after the harvest? Walk up and down the streets by yeself? Ye think yer friend the scarecrow will still be around? He shan't be back for a full year.”

“I guess I'll move on like the other spirits. Maybe I'll find my grandma.”

Before he even finished the sentence, Jack o' the Lantern was chuckling. “Ye think it'll be so nice? Just up and move on? Did ye have a good time dyin' before?”

William thought of the boiling pot.

“It'll be worse for ye. Worse than what she did. The old witch is kind in her way. She's only human. She only knows the limits of human suffering. There's worse beyond, ye know. Worse than ye've seen.”

“You say that because you're afraid.” The boy turned and pointed at the old man before him. “Afraid! That's why you stayed the same so long, and why you're all alone now.”

“It's good to be afraid, young one. It's kept me alive, strong, wealthy. It'll keep ye out of the pit, if you're smart. It's in yer best interest to consider my deal. Scratch don't make deals, and I come up with a way to stop him.”

William sighed. “First, can you tell me why we did what we did?”
“What are ye talking about?”
“At the asylum. When we let that man out.”

Jack smiled. “'Twas a good night. I knew ye were one of us, the way ye handled yourself. We were setting free one of our fellows, that's all.”
“But why? You and scarecrow put a lot of work into it.”
“'E's a friend.”
“You already told me you don't have friends. Stop lying to me, or I'm not even going to think about your stupid deal.”

“Okay, boy.” Jack came closer and knelt down on the floor. “Okay. That man in there, he don't know his own name, but it might as well be Kill. Ye give him a knife, and he goes to work. If he don't have a knife, he'll make do with whatever. An he's a man. All of us, when the harvest comes on Halloween night, even when we're most powerful, we cannot enter the living's abode. They close the shutters and pull the blinds, an' we can't do a thing. He can go wherever he wants. He's one o' them. He can march right in their house and send the harvest to us.”

“A killer,” the boy said. “So he's out there right now. He's out there killing people right now.”

“He's a hard worker,” Jack confirmed, “and loyal to his cause.”

And suddenly the boy was gone. He had faded from the room before Jack had time to dissuade him.

“Ye'll be back,” Jack said to no one, laughing. “When ye see Old Scratch, ye'll be back.”