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!