Monday, October 31, 2022

Halloween 2022





“A stoner, giant crocodile alien and the president of the United Earth walk into a bar.”

“Johnathan the Tripper, I have asked you repeatedly to not narrate our lives as we are living them, I find it…” Drababan had to think of the appropriate word. “Unsettling, yes unsettling will work.”

“And I’m not the president of the United States, that’s the other Mike.”

“The other Mike? How many of you are there? And they say I’m the one that does drugs.” Trip was talking to the hostess who was escorting them to their table. At first glance, to look at Trip one would believe him to be an old hippie, one who had traveled extensively with the Grateful Dead. He wore his long gray hair in a ponytail that traveled halfway down his back. Sitting atop his head was a worn Stetson hat. He wore a MAGA shirt that read Make America Green Again, with a large pot leaf as the background. His ripped and stained jeans were held up by suspenders. He looked nothing like his multi-million-dollar bank account would indicate.

At eight feet tall and wider than a refrigerator, Dee found that he had to constantly duck and turn sideways to not run into patrons, tables or light fixtures. He was wearing an armored leather vest and thick pants that traveled down past his knees. He had a blaster holstered to his back and a knife strapped to his leg that on a human would look like a sword. He garnered a few stares but only because he was the famous Drababan and not an alien.

“I’m glad we missed the lunch rush,” Mike said.

“This is Roswell, the hostess said, “we don’t have a lunch rush anymore. Ever since the aliens really came down and weren’t so nice, the tourist industry here dried up. No need to travel to see them when all you have to do is look up.”

Mike thought she looked tired and worried, tired of a job that offered no advancement and worried that even this job would go away soon, he was going to remember to ask Trip to tip her well.

“Hey!” BT stood up from the booth he was sitting at. He came over and gave Mike a bear hug. “Good to see you man, been a while. Ah Dee!” He held out his hand and they shook, each trying to make the other flinch by how much pressure they exerted.

“Oooh, a pissing contest!” Trip blurted out as he fumbled with the front of his pants.

“No!” Mike exclaimed, “it’s not that kind!” He was reaching but not too far, Trip knew very little about boundaries and would just as likely drop his member right into his palm.

“Who the hell is this?” BT asked, the distraction enough that Dee and BT ceased their competition.

“I, my good friend…” Trip held his foot up. “Wait, who am I?”

“This is Jonathan the Tripper.” Dee said.

“You can just call him Trip,” Mike replied. “He says he’s a time jumper and that it was imperative that he was here for this meeting.”

“Pill?” Trip asked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a variety of different shapes and colors.

“You believed him enough to bring him?” BT asked.

“He has a private shuttle stocked with enough beer to supply this place. Belief never played into my decision.”

“Jesus, Mike you’re like a kid hopping into a van that offers free candy and puppies.”

“He also had Moxie,” Dee replied.

“Gotta tell you Dee, drinking a case of that stuff isn’t going to do you any favors,” Mike told him.

“It is medicinal, Michael, I’ve read up on it.”

“Mine too!” Trip chimed in.

“Maybe you should just tell us why we’re here,” Mike said, “otherwise, Trip here is going to go on an hour-long explanation of the benefits of Quaaludes.”

“Don’t even get me started,” Trip said, his eyes shining at the thought of doing just that.

BT had fundamentally changed when he’d come back from their time looped travel through space. It wasn’t so much the journey, as it had been that his true-life doppelganger had died while he was gone. There had been a pitched battle between a battalion of Stryvers and a squad of United Earth Marines that had been cut off from the rest of their group. In a twist, BT had accepted the posthumously given Congressional Medal of honor for his other self. Mike thought, how does one ever come to terms with something like that? Since then BT had turned to the spiritual, sometimes bordering on occult elements of life. Most of the adventures BT had set up had yielded little results but more than a few had Mike questioning his sanity. He hoped this one was more of the sitting around camp drinking beer and telling stories variety. He loved seeing his friend, it was the seeing of things that wished not to be seen that he wanted to avoid.

“Please tell me we’re not going back to Area 51,” Mike said.

“Hi, my name is Beth, I’ll be your waitress today, can I start you off with any drinks?”

Mike felt his heart constrict before he looked up at the woman who was easily double the age of the Beth that was supposedly being held in a Mental Care facility. His heart eased up once his racing mind was able to differentiate the two.

“I would like a carafe of Moxie,” Dee said.

“Coffee?” the server asked.

“Moxie, it’s a concoction of tar, mixed in with soda and stirred with the fungus covered foot of a sloth,” Mike said.

“I, um, we don’t have anything like that. I’ll come back when you’re ready to order.”

“How have you been Mike? It’s been too long. Did you have to get clearance from the president?”

“No, we just do this thing where he pretends to leave me alone while also having me constantly under surveillance and I pretend to not notice the small army of people, drones and absolute surety of satellite coverage.”

“He does, however, spend an inordinate amount of time with his pants around his ankles and exposing his posterior at any given moment,” Dee said. “That is also unsettling now that I have spent some time thinking upon it.”

BT explained what he’d found while the group ate, Trip had burned through all of the restaurants chicken nuggets and French fries while Drababan had cleaned out the allotted fruits and vegetables for the entire week.

“Five stars!” Trip slapped the table. “The ketchup was exquisite! How many Michelin stars does the chef have my good lady?” He asked before he raised his plate and licked the entire disc.

“They…they were microwaved.” The server told him clearly confused.

“How many stars does the microwave have then?” He asked.

“Is he serious?” The woman asked the rest of the table.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Mike told her.

“I must have the recipe! How much?”

“We get them in bulk from Costco,” she told him.

“Excellent, I believe I have a controlling interest in that company. How much for this fine establishment? I wish to purchase it.”

“Could we perhaps get to the place I told you about? It would be for the best if we did so while the sun was out,” BT said.

Trip pulled out a thick wad of cash and dropped it on the table without even counting it. “You think that’s enough?”

“Are those all hundreds?” BT asked.

“Of course, it gets too cumbersome to carry anything smaller.”

“I think its fine,” Mike said as they walked out into the noon day sun. “How far away is this place you needed to show us?”

“It’s in Cimarron,” BT replied.

“Dude, that’s like me asking you how dinner was and you saying the plates were blue. Gonna need a little more information than that.”

“Four hours.”

“Four hours? Why the hell did you have us meet here then?”

“Because he knew about the nuggets,” Trip said. “I’ll be coming back here every day for the next year. We should get going,” I’ll have the shuttle follow us so we can leave from Cimarron.” Trip tapped the side of his head. “Always thinking, I am.”

“I do not wish to be presumptuous, but would it not be wiser to use the shuttle?” Dee asked. “We could make this journey in under five minutes.”

“Whoa, I just had a thought!” Trip shouted.

“We know, Trip, the shuttle would be quicker,” Mike said.

“Huh? I mean it would be but I was thinking about the 1919 Chicago White Sox and just now got why they were called the Black Sox.”

“Mike, if your friend is half as rich as he is crazy…”

“He’s filthy with it, the money I mean, well and the crazy too, I guess. He keeps talking about all these other timelines, normally I wouldn’t think twice about it, but we’re sort of living proof that it’s possible.”

“You sure he’s not just preying upon that?” BT asked thinking about it. The man had grown up on the streets of Los Angeles and his experience had shown that somebody always wanted something from you and cared little to how they attained it.

“What does he stand to gain? I have no money, no power besides being a dead ringer for the president. At best, I’ll be a stand in for Mike 2 should they fear an assassination attempt.”

“You’re a cop in a great many of your timelines.” Trip had grabbed the, to-go, bag from the server who was smiling profusely at him.

“Why is she displaying all her teeth like that?” Trip asked, “it’s unnerving.”

“Unsettling is probably a better word,” Drababan said.

“I see you’re making good use of the word of the day calendar I gave you,” BT told him.

“Trip, that’s what happens when your tip is in excess of five thousand dollars. Service with a smile,” Mike told him. “Does he seem like some sort of evil mastermind to you?” Mike asked of his friend.

“What’s this cop shit all about?” BT asked.

“It would seem you do your best work when you are on either side of the spectrum regarding the law. As an average citizen you tend to blow up.” Trip blew his cheeks out. “And fat Lawrence is far from jolly.”

“Who the fuck you calling, Lawrence?” BT posted up on the much smaller man.

“You appear to be angry for some reason, one of these might help.” Trip reached into another pocket, his hand full of unwrapped Starburst which were coated in a thick film of hair, fur and lint. He popped one in his mouth before extending his hand toward BT who immediately slapped them away, sending them spinning into the air.

“Not cool, man!” Trip turned and was retrieving the candy from the ground. “How would you like it if I didn’t warn you in a few of your existences of imminent danger and you were to die a horribly violent death?”

“I’ll take my chances, crazy man!”

“You say that now, but you were begging for your life when that Tarth was about to pull your leg free and suck the meat out while you were still alive.”

“Mike, I don’t want to go anywhere with this man.” BT folded his arms across his chest as he stared at the shuttle.

“He grows on you,” Mike assured him.

“That’s the last thing I want. Who knows where he’s been? Mike, he’s eating that candy off of the ground!”

Mike’s eye began to twitch as he watched the man pop a dirt covered candy with unidentifiable bits clinging to it, into his mouth. “Trip, if you give me those I’ll buy you an entire carton of new ones.”

“Why would I waste perfectly good candy?”

“Think of it as an investment.”

“Smart, good thinking. Weird that in so many of your other lives you dig holes for a living, the ones you survive in, I mean.”

Mike shuddered, he was torn, for the most part he had a difficult time believing half of what Trip had to say, the problem was, the other half, and where to draw the line.

The shuttle ride was uneventful, just the way Mike liked them, he’d had enough excitement in the air to last both of his lives currently living. BT for the most part glared at the back of Trip’s head as the other man piloted the ship.

“Is he really the person we want driving?” BT asked more than once.

“Funny thing, my operating under the influence charges doesn’t count up here. Plus, there’s usually nothing to hit,” Trip replied. Instead of landing the craft at the small municipal airport, Trip touched down on a soccer field where kids were playing. He handed each of them a thousand dollars to go get ice cream.

“What are you doing?” Mike asked.

“What? Is that not enough?”

“This guy is nuts.” BT pulled out his phone. “Yeah, we’re down at the park, come and get us. My car,” he explained when he hung up.

Five minutes later a sleek black limousine pulled onto the field.

“Deneaux limousine rentals? That’s your car?” Mike quipped.

“Being a National Hero has perks, I got fifty percent off,” BT clapped Mike’s shoulder hard enough to make him misstep.

An older woman dressed all in black emerged from the car, a long slim cigarette dangling from her mouth. “A genogerian? I hope it’s house trained, it’ll cost extra if that thing urinates in my car.”

Mike knew there were plenty of people that harbored a strong dislike for all things alien but very few were open in their disdain. It was generally considered unwise to speak ill of something that was so deadly.

“She would appear to be a fun one, as Michael would say,” Drababan had been taken aback by the woman’s words.

“I asked her not to smoke in the car during the rental.” BT was perturbed and was shaking his head as he went toward the vehicle.

“Quit being a pansy, a little secondhand smoke never hurt anyone,” Deneaux lit up another cigarette before getting back into the driver’s seat.

“Aren’t you supposed to hold the doors open for us?” BT asked.

“I would if your cheap ass had ordered the deluxe package.” She cackled before pulling her door closed.

“Jesus, it smells like a strip joint in here,” Mike said as he sat down. “Don’t tell Tracy I know that.”

“You’re that Talbot fellow,” Deneaux said. “I didn’t vote for you, in fact, if the big green thing was on the ballot I would have voted for him, instead. I mean, no disrespect but you strike me as an idiot.”

“Well, since you said, no disrespect, I suppose it’s fine. And you didn’t vote for me.”

She laughed. “Oh, you’re the other idiot! How does that feel? You do all the heroic shit and the other one gets all the glory! That’s rich.” She took a large puff of her cigarette nearly dragging it down to halfway.

Trip looked on in amazement. “You must teach me how to do that oh master.”

“Could you just drive please and be quiet,” BT beseeched. “Here it is!” BT said as they pulled up to an old three-story brick structure, the placard in front listed it as the Leonard Milloy public school. A heavy chain link fence encircled the structure, numerous signs warning of no entry hung on it.

“Um, okay,” Mike said as he stepped out. “Please tell me I didn’t come across the country for this. I mean unless there’s a full bar inside.”

“Hmm, that doesn’t surprise me, most people that have been wronged in life turn to alcohol as a means of solace and you my dear boy were fucked extra hard, and without the benefit of any lube, whether, water or oil based.” Deneaux was leaning against her car, face toward the sun, eyes closed as she smoked another cigarette. The way she held the smoke and slowly released it coupled with the expression on her face made Mike think she was having a near sexual experience and that skeeved him out to no end.

“It’s haunted,” BT said.

“That’s what the locals say, look around brainchild, the most fun one can have around this town is to go grocery shopping and that store is only three aisles. This is the only means of tourism money they have available and it is completely overexaggerated. Three meth heads said they saw something inside, well two did, one of them never made it out, never found his body. The good money is the likelihood the third tweaker never existed and was as made up as the sighting.”

“Who is benefitting from this?” Mike asked pulling on the thick padlock. “There’s no exchange of money. Doesn’t look like we’re going on a tour.”

Deneaux pulled off her black chauffeur cap and donned a blue baseball cap that read Deneaux’s Dungeons Etc.

“Oh, come on!” Mike exclaimed. “BT this whole thing feels like a shake down. How much did she charge?”

“You can report it to the police chief if you like, but he’s my nephew.” She cackled again. “Want me to call him?” She pulled out her phone. “No service…that’s strange. Happens out here from time to time. I find it enhances the experience, people are more easily scared when they believe they are isolated. Ready?” She shouldered Mike out of the way as she placed a key in the lock and unwound the chain from the gate.

“Buddy, you need a different hobby,” Mike said to BT as he followed the crone to the large green double doors that signified their entrance into the underworld, if the hastily scrawled words embedded in the paint were to be believed.

“Hold on, I don’t think I’m high enough to hallucinate!” Trip popped a handful of pills into his mouth and downed it with a flask of liquid that smelled highly flammable. “That should do it.”

“What the fuck?” BT exclaimed. “Do we need to bring him to the hospital? Get his stomach pumped?”  

“That’s what I asked the first half dozen times I saw him do that. He’ll be fine,” Mike said.

“If he dies in here, I’m not dragging his body out. I’ll leave him where he lays, it’ll add to the ambiance of the place.” Deneaux was fumbling with her Hello Kitty key ring. The door opened with a loud creaking noise. “I had a speaker installed to make that sound.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Mike asked.

“Your friend already spent his money, there are no refunds and I like pointing out how stupid people are,” she replied.

The floor to the large foyer was a gray slate that was buffed to a high gloss, though it did not shine, the sunlight which was bright appeared to stop at the doorstep. It had hesitantly placed a toe inside and decided it was too cold to proceed. Mike found that strange but said nothing more about it as he stepped over the threshold. A chill made his body involuntarily shiver. The temperature outside had been in the high sixties it was considerably cooler within.

“Come on, come on, get in so I can lock the doors,” Deneaux spoke around the cigarette dangling from her mouth.

“What?” Mike asked turning back around.

“I told you that is was an overnighter,” BT said blocking the other man’s exit.

“You most certainly did not!”

“Oh, that’s right, I told Tracy.”

“Not cool, man.”

“I knew if I told you, you wouldn’t have come.”

“No shit, Sherlock, excuse me for not wanting to sleep in a pseudo haunted old freezing ass schoolhouse.”

“It is pretty cold in here.” BT seemed to be noticing that for the first time.

“Hey, the Smoke Master General says there’s spirits in here,” Trip said. “Exactly where would they be as I’m running a little low.” He swished his canteen around.

“I do not believe she was referring to alcoholic spirits,” Drababan replied.

“What other kind are there?” Trip asked.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Deneaux was laughing as she closed the doors. The sound of the heavy bolt being set into place reverberated throughout the room.

“This is fun, right?” BT asked.

“There are a lot of things I find fun. This isn’t one of them,” Mike told him.

“Then an adventure, maybe?” BT was grasping.

“We literally fought a space battle, do I look like I need a little shot of adrenaline in my life? We were mainlining the shit for months!”

“You appear to be tightly spun, Michael, perhaps this is exactly what you need.”

“It’s wound tight,” Trip corrected.

“Thank you, funny little hairy man, who enjoys an abundance of mind stimulants,” Drababan said.

“You can just call him a hippie,” Mike said. “Is there at least food in this place?” He acquiesced, realizing it was too late and complaining wasn’t going to do him any good.

“I paid extra, the teacher’s lounge is supposed to have a full spread.” BT was smiling.

“And you trust her?” Mike asked. “Best bet it’s a pack of horrid Pop-Tarts.”

“I love Pop-Tarts!” Trip exclaimed.

“They’re unfrosted,” Mike said.

“What kind of demon spawn is that woman!” Trip looked on the verge of tears.

“Seriously bud, we’re here now, so I won’t bitch about it too much, but what about this place even seemed remotely haunted to you?”

“Have you seen the curator?” BT joked. “Okay, okay take her and the hokey haunted tour crap out of the equation. This place sits on an important intersection of ley lines.”

“Oh, come on BT, was it also an ancient Indian Burial ground?”

“Native Americans,” Trip corrected.

Mike ignored Trip’s comment. “What about witches? Was this place a coven once?”

“They prefer the term Wiccan…”

“Trip, I don’t give a shit,” Mike spun on the man.

“Purveyors.” He finished.

“The old bat took your money and we’re stuck in this freezing, dark and dingy place. And speaking of which, why is it so cold and dark?” He was looking up to the large panel windows that glowed brightly but again the light stopped before entering. “Probably more tricks like the creaking door. Special coated glass or something.”

“We should check out the lounge,” Trip said. “If there’s nothing good I’ll build a restaurant next door and have them deliver.”

“You could always have another establishment deliver food,” Drababan said.

“Do you need a job? I could make you a CEO. I’d have to have office furniture specially made. I could really use hard chargers like you. What size suit do you take? You look like a hundred and seven tall.”

“Dee, I would pay good money to see you in a suit and tie, with some nice alligator shoes.” Mike smiled.

“Perhaps I could find you a vest crafted with gorilla hide,” Drababan retorted.

“It’s not an ancient In…Native American burial ground, no. But there was a catastrophic mining accident in this town and the section that collapsed and killed thirty-two men is a hundred feet below our feet. Before Deneaux snatched this building up and started selling overpriced tickets there are some well documented encounters from ghost hunting groups.”

“If you say so,” Mike told him heading down the hallway to where he hoped the teacher’s lounge was. His only knowledge of ghost hunting groups was of the audio tapes that were purported to have spirits talking, but to Mike always sounded like random noises that people then convinced each other were words or fragments of sentences. His gaze was fixed on the end of the hallway which was marginally brighter than the rest of the area. He could see dust hanging in the air and what looked like smoke lazily swirling about, he hoped it was from the food spread Deneaux was supposed to have left but he was more than half convinced it was an asbestos fire.

He paused when the smoke and dust began to coalesce, for the span of a few quickened heartbeats it took on the general shape of a face, a face in a great deal of pain. Mike closed his eyes and shook his head. “This is how this shit always starts in movies, you see this half-assed portent crap and by tonight we’ll be running from demons. I think I’m going to find a window to crawl out of. Did anyone else see that?” He had turned, frowning when he realized that none had followed.

“Just seeing shit, this stuff only happens in movies.” He forced himself forward, a sickeningly sweet smell assailed his nostrils. The closer to the open door he walked, the thicker the stench became. He’d been around enough of it to know what it was, and was in no mood to see what he figured was a pile of dead rats or worse. His senses became scrambled as he turned into the doorway. A feast fit for royalty sat atop two large folding tables. A perfectly roasted turkey steamed in the center, surrounded by a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, a tinfoil container full of smoked sausages, various types of breads and rolls were off to the side. The meal looked better than anything he’d eaten in the last year, but the stench of death instead of dissipating only grew worse as he walked toward the tables. His mouth wanted to salivate at what his eyes were seeing, his stomach wanted to evacuate itself from what his nose was smelling.

“Whoa!” Trip had come into the room and immediately ran to the table grabbing food with his hands, starting with the mashed potatoes which he shoveled into his mouth. “Smells frunny,” he said around a mouthful of food, butter was dripping down his beard, for the briefest of flashes Mike would have sworn it appeared to have been the lumpy congealed fat of something better left unidentified. And just as quickly it became butter again, which Trip scooped from his beard and popped into his mouth.

“Come on! Tell your freaky friend there’s utensils Mike! I’m not as bad as you about germs, no one is, really, but still, sticking your hands in mashed potatoes is frowned upon in the civilized world and who knows where his hands have been!” BT had come in immediately followed by Drababan.

“Something is not right in here.” Drababan had a look of concentration as he slowly surveyed the room.

“Do you smell something, too?” Mike asked.

“Smell? No. Visually, the spectrum of light in here is altered. I cannot be sure exactly what I am seeing but the colors are muted and gray around the edges.”

“I think we should get out of here,” Mike said as he headed over to a window. Undoing the latch he tried to push up, it did not move. “Doesn’t look like it’s painted shut.” He ran his finger along the sill.

“I have always wondered what it would be like to be such a puny being.” Drababan walked over. “I am not advocating we should leave, I just very much enjoy the chance to upstage my friend whenever I can.” He gave a reasonable facsimile of a smile, although on the huge alien it looked predatory. Drababan placed his hand on the sill and pushed, when nothing happened he got low for more leverage, he grunted loudly as he tried again.

“Upstage my ass.” Mike was watching and as much as he wanted that window opened he found it humorous that Dee was going to have to swallow his words.

“Thing probably hasn’t been opened in decades,” BT offered.

“That may be, but I have placed enough pressure that the wood should have broken into pieces by now.” Dee had bent down to investigate the window.

“Grood fing you didn’t.” Trip had food spewing from his mouth as he spoke. “Deneaux looks like she’d sue you for vandalism.”

“Yeah, she can bill the government for all I give a shit about it.” Mike grabbed a handful of cloth napkins from the table and wrapped his hand.

“I do not recommend that,” Dee said as Mike punched the window.

“Mother…” The rest of Mike’s curse word was cut off as he cradled his hand. “Like punching bricks!”

“How would he know that?” Trip asked BT.

“There are beach balls with sharper points,” BT responded. “The idea is to spend the night here, witness some supernatural events, not to try and get out. This isn’t an escape room.”

“Yeah, in an escape room you have the ability to leave, by either figuring it out or hitting a panic button, I don’t think that either thing is an option here.” Mike had unwrapped his hand and was flexing his fingers looking to see if anything was broken, when he was satisfied that wasn’t the case he looked to the windowpane which at the minimum should have been starred, even if it had been safety glass it would have given somewhat. “Are you going to try?” Mike motioned to Dee.

“It truly looked like it hurt, I do not wish to put myself through the same discomfort,” Drababan told him.

“Come on, Dee, if you punch that window as hard as you can you’ll probably knock the wall down,” Mike goaded, not caring if it took extreme flattery to make his friend get them out of what he was increasingly believing to be a trap.

“No one’s knocking walls down,” BT moved to intercept, he had his hands up. “You’re not thinking right, Mike, just have a little food and we’ll think this through.”

“I’m not hangry,” Mike told him. “This place is…”

“Wrong,” Drababan finished.

“See what you did? Now you’re just infecting minds!” BT was pointing a beefy finger at Mike’s chest.

“I do not believe he is capable of doing that,” Dee said before he took half a step backward. He was pointing back toward the door.

The swirling smoke and dust had slowed and began to take on the shape of a young girl. She was translucent, save her gaping maw, which appeared to be a black hole into an abyss. The wall behind her could just be made out, except for the light leeching mouth.

“It’s always young girls, are they inherently creepier than young boys?” Trip asked. He’d stopped eating to look at the spirit.

“Just a trick, a projector or something,” BT said although if mentally he believed that, physically he did not, as he sidestepped closer to where Mike and Dee were.

“This isn’t Scooby Doo,” Mike replied.

The spirit drifted slowly in, the toes on its feet pointing down were still some six inches from touching the floor. Where she passed, the color in the room began to fade, paint peeled, wood cracked, tile broke, portions of the ceiling caved in. As she got to the table with the food, the turkey blackened, mold and fungus grew upon it. The mashed potatoes solidified into a green unidentifiable mass. Mike was sure this was the source of what he had smelled. The decay wasn’t the illusion, it was the other way around. They were just now seeing what had always been there.

“Is this one of those movies where we’re dead, and we don’t realize it until the end?” Trip asked, he’d tossed the handful of jellied cranberry he was about to eat when he saw that maggots wriggled all along the brown surface.

“This isn’t a movie or a fucking television show!” Mike yelled backing up more so that he could smack the window with the point of his elbow. The entity stopped five feet from them before dissipating. The revealed portion of the room stayed as it was. The stink even more prevalent. A leg on the table collapsed sending everything crashing to the floor.

“Jump scare,” Trip said. “A cheap but effective element in any half decent horror movie, the quality ones though do not rely on that, but rather a slow buildup of dread and tension. Makes the audience uncomfortable. The horror comes in the form of something insidious, whereas in your typical B-Movies, it’s a slasher of some sort. Large knives the weapon of choice and the foil usually can’t be killed.”

“Again Trip this is real,” Mike told him as he went to the doorway and looked down the hall.

“This isn’t real,” BT said. “Right? How many people actually see a full body apparition?”

“Senses, especially sight, can be easily tricked into seeing what is not there. This was not one of those times. I stand with Michael on his desire to leave the premises. I think we should do so before it becomes a need,” Drababan said.

“Even if it was a ghost what possible harm could befall us?” BT asked, unsure if he wanted an answer.

“If this room was not already aged, what would have happened to us if the girl ghost had made it to our location?” Dee asked.

“Food was good, ambiance is lacking, three stars,” Trip said. “There weren’t even candles on the table to light my joints! I might make it two stars, but that seems harsh, after all they’re just trying to make a living or is it killing?”

Mike had begun to walk down the hallway when he felt something shift, he was unsure if it was external or internal. It wasn’t that the hallway had grown in length but rather he was moving at a much slower pace that would not allow him to get to the end and the foyer. He felt fine, not the molasses movements of one stuck in a nightmare pursued by a monster, or the relentless sliding of one’s feet as they sought purchase on an icy surface. He turned, Drababan was no more than ten feet behind him and was moving, yet the distance between them stayed constant. Dee’s expression became one of confusion before quickly moving to anger at whatever had him trapped.

“Is this happening to you as well?” Drababan asked. Mike had more than half expected the words to sound as if they were moving through syrup, instead they were as they should have been.

“Let’s try to move toward each other,” Mike said. “I don’t get it.” This after a few steps. He was moving, he was sure of it, as was his friend, yet when he spoke he was certain they were further apart. Mike tried everything he could think of to close the space, walking sideways, backing up, even taking leaping steps, each go was less successful than the previous. His heart began to hammer in his chest, it was one thing to be stuck within a haunted schoolhouse with others, but separated and alone was more than he felt capable of dealing with.

“Nothing appears to be working,” Dee said.

Mike nearly said, no shit, but his friend didn’t deserve that. “Tell, BT and Trip not to come out here.”

“What’s that?” Trip asked stepping out into the hallway. “Whoa, this is weird.” He began pantomiming as if he were stuck in a box. Drababan was easily within his reach yet when the man went to swat at his arm, he came up short. “Going to go out on a limb and say physics is broken here.”

“Is this an aftereffect of the time loop?” Mike meant to think that.

“This iteration of myself was not aboard that ship, Michael, why would I be affected?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m grasping at straws here.”

“Just use a dollar bill if you need to, for a straw I mean.” Trip pressed his finger to the side of his nose and made a snorting noise.

“I’m not talking about snorting coke, Trip,” Mike told him. “This isn’t the time.”

“That’s where your wrong because there’s never a bad time,” Trip told him as he patted himself down for his stash.

“It would appear that we are stuck here and forced into isolation of a sorts.” Dee had stopped moving as was attempting to reason out exactly what was happening.

“I’m going for the front door. Where’s BT?” Mike asked.

Trip turned to look into the room he’d moments before exited. “I think the hallucinogens are kicking in. But instead of seeing things that aren’t there, I seem to not be seeing things that are supposed to be there. Is that a thing?” he asked.

“Less High-enese and more English,” Mike told him.

“The extra largeth man with the attitude, is no longereth contained within the confines of the four walled area I have previously vacated. Is that high English enough for you? I met Shakespeare once, he did not at all talk like he wrote. Sailors on shore leave for the first time in six months are less foul. Man could put away a barrel of wine like nobody’s business, though.”

“Dee, can you check?”

“Michael I do not believe I will be able to get close enough to the door to do so.”

“What’s the point of this?” Mike threw his hands up. “I suppose it could be some form of purgatory, leading us back to the, our we dead, theory. But this doesn’t feel like that. We’re being toyed with. A cat blocking off the escape of its ensnared mouse. Maybe whatever it is, isn’t powerful enough to take us all on at the same time.”

“Or…” Dee began, “it wants us to watch.”

“Come on Dee, why would you go there?”

“It is a viable outcome and until blood starts spilling, I am curious.”

“And if blood starts spilling, then what?”

“I will reevaluate my stance.”

“I would rather not get to that point. I’m going for the door, follow if you can.”

“Is it wise to separate?” Dee asked.

“We already are,” Mike told him before turning and walking, as he kept his gaze fixed ahead he realized he didn’t appear to be making any headway, but when he turned to tell Dee and Trip that, they were somehow noticeably further away. “I have no idea what’s going on but I don’t like it.”

“Did you say something?” Dee asked his voice was oscillating, as if he were passing by on a fast-moving car.

Mike closed his eyes doing his best to assuage the panic that was rising within him. He was acutely aware of how poorly it was working. He’d never been one able to contain his feelings or change them quickly. “Going to have to ride this out. Just hope the carnie operator doesn’t go on break and forget to turn it off.” He shuffled along, keeping his eyes shut tight and was surprised when the front of his boots collided with a wall. “What?” he stumbled back when he opened his eyes and was staring directly into a sepia-colored old photo of the third-grade graduating class of 1909. He couldn’t be sure be he felt positive that whoever the ghost had been she was in this picture. A little bit like, The Shining, he thought sourly. “I swear if I see twins, I plan on shitting myself then scooping said shit up and tossing it at them like a pissed off monkey, that’ll teach them to scare the crap out of me.” Mike forced himself to smile, it felt like something he’d had to relearn after a life altering accident, wholly unnatural.

“Feel like I pulled a muscle.” He rubbed his cheek. “But I moved, what did I do differently?” Then he realized it may have been nothing on his part and only the entity screwing with their lives enacting part two of her evil plan. He could no longer see Trip or Dee, though he could see down the entire hallway. “This does seem an awful lot like the time bubble, a bending of space or something, the question is why. First things first, let’s see if there’s a way out.” He wasn’t sure what he was going to do at that point. If he got out would he dare to go in again and be stuck? He turned to head to the door which wasn’t more than fifteen feet away, but no matter how fast he tried to get to it the distance remained the same.

“Think, think,” He rapped the side of his head so hard he saw stars, he closed his eyes as he shook away the pain. Then it dawned on him. He was nearly too frightened to try it. “What if it doesn’t work? Then what? No worse off than you are now. How much trouble am I in if I need to give myself a pep talk? A lot,” he answered before nodding at his response.

He closed his eyes, took a breath and moved much faster than he’d meant to, instead of the toes of his boots he smacked his nose hard enough into the door he bled. The pain was immediate and his eyes teared up, partly from the pain but some from his success. He tried the door but it was locked fast. He knew beating against it would be futile.

“I, at least, know how to move around this fun house, now I need to find the rest. Slow, this time, though.” Blood dripped down his face and into his mouth. “Five steps at a time, no more than that.”

He’d just finished his short journey and opened his eyes only to realize he was now less than a pace away from a ghost…the ghost Her opaque eyes were cloudy and weren’t focused on anything at first until Mike saw her, then her head spun quickly much too quickly and her rheumy gaze was fixed on him.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he hissed breathlessly, closing his eyes tightly like a seven-year-old might do when they believe there’s a monster under the bed, certain in the fact that if you couldn’t see it, then it couldn’t see you. Mike took a few steps to the right to be out of its immediate path. He was convinced his logic was utter bullshit, the same kind generally reserved for people when they were extremely drunk and everything spoken sounded like world breaking revelations. He knew as soon as he opened his eyes she would be in front of him ready to syphon his soul away.

“Wheeeeere are yoooooou?” The words were coldly whispered and drawn out over rusty razor blades.

He couldn’t hear movement, as much as sense it, she was looking, in so much as she could through her film covered eyes. Mike desperately wanted to open his, unsure if she was merely teasing him, waiting for him to look and she would be less than an inch from his face.

“Killlll yooooou,” she said, her voice dancing along the tops of gravestones.

I know the general layout of this place, Mike thought as he sought his way back down the hallway, he kept close to the wall, trailing one hand on it and the other straight out in front of him, he didn’t want to take another strike to his nose, he was afraid no matter how much he tried to stifle it, he would scream out. And if the ghost were dependent on his vision it stood to reason she could hear him as well.

A high-pitched echoing giggle emanated from the girl and like the passing of a dangerous storm, the air pressure within the room changed, becoming more buoyant. She had left, most likely going to play with someone more willing. Mike squinted just enough that the majority of his sight was obscured by eyelashes. He breathed a sigh of relief when the ghost’s pallid purple blue features were not staring back. He opened them fully and did a quick three sixty to make sure he was indeed alone.

“Okay, I sort of get the whole looking through my eyes aspect, but what’s that got to do with moving around this place? They’re connected somehow. Just need to find the rest.” He thought it would be easy now that he could more or less move freely throughout the building, even if he had to do so with his eyes closed. He was back by the teachers lounge, none of his friends were there. The room had not changed from its disturbing display, although the stench of decay had mellowed to more of a sickeningly sweet stink. “I mean why wouldn’t the passage of time be affected as well,” Mike said as his eyebrows furrowed. “I’m going to be pissed if another one of me pops out of this freak show of a building.” The was said mostly in jest but he was deeply concerned how he would find anyone if they were flittering in and out of his timeline.

He stood by the door frame for a few moments closing his eyes for a couple of seconds, testing out if that would alter time enough that his friends would come into focus, then he became concerned that by doing this he might be pushing them further away. He had no way of knowing. Whoever had printed the rule book for this game wasn’t sharing the directions. He was stuck in indecision when he heard a low moaning coming from the floor above him. “I always give the actors in horror movies shit for the dumb things they do and here I am going to find out what made that noise without so much as a flashlight to light my way. Stupid.” He repeated his last word when he took three steps and went nowhere, he clamped his eyes shut and headed for the stairwell at the end of the corridor. He nearly fell over and onto the stairs when he reached the opening and was leaning too heavily against the wall. He opened his eyes to get his bearings, an underground graveyard would have been more illuminated than the staircase he was considering climbing. He could only see the bottommost two steps and then for all he knew he would fall into an abyss with no end. Even though it was as dark as Beth’s soul here, the thought that he had to climb those stairs with his eyes closed made it somehow ten times worse. Like it would matter somehow.

“No handrail, perfect, why would there be? Never heard of safety in the twentieth century? Fuck.” Mike muttered wishing he had something to grab onto when he invariably fell away. The moaning grew more pronounced, he couldn’t say for sure, but if he had to bet he would say it came from a human and a still living one at that, and he wanted to make sure that whoever it was remained that way. Although he had not a clue as to what he was going to do to about it. He climbed the first step without any problem, immediately opening his eyes, he could now only see the step in front of him. When he turned, the hallway was still dimly lit. He took the next step, following the same routine. It was when he lifted his leg to climb the third that everything began to change. The air was so frigid he could feel his pants begin to stiffen as they seemingly flash froze. He completed his step up, his body reacting immediately to the change in temperature, he was shivering before he could open his eyes, look down and then look behind.

He thought perhaps his heart had frozen, he could see nothing, not even the hand he was waving in front of his face. He could not get his runaway panic under control, worried that this was his life now, blind in a frozen hell. This time it was a scream of agony from above, so high pitched he wondered if a woman was here with them. His body was convulsing with how frantically his muscles were rubbing together in a last-ditch effort to keep him warm. He physically moved but made no advancement, in his terror he’d kept his eyes open wide in some small hope that a pinprick of light would find its way to his optic nerve.

“I seeeee you,” the words spoken in an eerily sing song way. Mike quickly clamped his eyes shut. The air around him had somehow grown colder, he was positive that the water within his blood cells was beginning to crystallize, he was convinced if he had been able to see his hand, it would have been as black as his surroundings from frostbite. Stumbling up the remaining stairs, Mike tripped and fell onto the second-floor hallway, the cement while cool, felt like a furnace in comparison to the place he’d just left. He opened his eyes only long to orientate himself, he stood and pressed against the wall away from the stairs and began to walk down the corridor. It was so quiet he could hear nothing but the rush of blood through his ears, and right now it was a torrent.

“Help meeee.” Drifted along past him. He looked around for the source, only to see the ghost girl begin to emerge from the stairs, a ghoulish grin forming, her mouth overly large and packed full of razor-sharp teeth. “There you are,” she hissed, darting straight for him. He clamped his eyes shut so hard and fast he was surprised he didn’t hear them slam. Somehow, he felt her fetid breath upon him wondering how a spirit could breathe, he knew if he dared to even twitch an eye open, she would be upon him in an instant using those teeth to rip his flesh free from his face.

“Fuck off,” Mike replied, not knowing if he’d screwed up and had revealed his location. When he realized he wasn’t in excruciating pain with portions of facial meat hanging down, he figured he was alright. “Okay, you can only see me when I can see you, or maybe that’s not it, maybe you are somehow using my sight to see. You may or may not be able to hear me, but can’t act upon it. Does that cover everything?” The sight thing made no sense to him. He’d known, he'd absolutely known that at one point she was less than an inch from his face, she or it, had to have known he was there, she could have stuck out her pus oozing tongue and licked his face if she’d had a mind to. “What am I missing? Can she attack at all?” That left him wondering, though, he was not in the, fuck around and find out, mood. It was true she’d turned the lounge into a macabre horror scene, but as of yet and hopefully never, he’d not been hurt nor seen any of his friends hurt. Because he had not visually witnessed an act didn’t make it true or false, though, as he had no idea where his friends were, and in what condition they currently were in. The screams could have been theirs but again he didn’t know.

He moved slowly down the hallway staying low, hoping that would make a smaller target of himself if the ghoul were still searching. When his hand came to open space he paused, believing it may be a door, he kept feeling around for the other side of it then came to the realization it was a juncture, which couldn’t possibly be. The building wasn’t big enough and there had not been a corresponding point on the bottom floor, then he laughed at himself for thinking it couldn’t possibly be, when everything that was happening couldn’t possibly be. Two hallways intersecting was the least strange thing thus far. Instead of blindly walking down he gave the briefest of looks, at the far end, huddled in a mass in the middle of the floor doing its best to fold in on itself was BT, a ring of iridescent children with hands linked spun in a circle around him, their feet a foot off the ground, they were giggling and singing.

“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” In that echoing eeriness that sounded as if it were being spoken through a tin can on a wire. When they finished each verse they would swoop down and into BT’s face. The big man was wide eyed staring at them, tears streaking down his face.

“Close your eyes!” Mike bellowed.

“M…M…Mike is that you?”

“Close your eyes! Do it now!” Mike screamed, the ghosts had taken notice of him and were racing to this new plaything. Mike clamped his mouth as tightly as he did his eyes.

“Are…are they still there?” BT’s voice was nearly closed off from fear and a fair amount of mucous.

“Just keep your eyes closed, I don’t know how it works, but they need you to see so they can see you!”

“S….sounds crazy, Mike.”

“Are they bothering you right now?”


“Then shut up about it,” Mike told him. “I’m going to make my way over to you, don’t fucking move.”

“What’s taking so long?” BT asked.

“My eyes are shut, too.”

“Right, right,” BT muttered. “But still, you should hurry up.”

“Move to the wall on your right. I think I’m close.” Mike could hear BT’s boots as they squealed on the cement as he pushed over. The big man let out a high-pitched grunt of surprise when his hand grabbed at Mike’s leg.

“Please tell me that’s you,” BT said.

“Don’t go any higher or I’m going to owe you dinner.”

“Really? Right now?”

“It’s how I deal with stress. So stupid glad to have found you,” Mike awkwardly reached down and clapped at his friend’s hand.

BT grasped it and held on. “Do you mind if I hold it for a while?” he asked.

“Normally I’d feel a bit self-conscious about this but since neither of us can see, I’m cool with it.” Mike wanted to smile for the first time in what seemed like ages.

“What’s going on?” BT had moved so he had his back to the wall, Mike scooted down so he was next to him.

“I don’t know, apparently our lives weren’t full of enough adventure that you decided heading to what might be the most haunted location on the planet would be a good idea.”

“I didn’t think it would be anything like this, thought maybe we’d hear something or if we were really lucky see a moving shadow.”

“If seeing a moving shadow was us being lucky, then we hit the lottery.”

“You know what I meant.”

“Were you crying?”


“Earlier, when the horror movie kids were dancing around you. Were you crying?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I most assuredly wasn’t crying, though.”

“Most assuredly?” Mike asked.

“You planning on telling anyone?” BT asked as he began to crush Mike’s hand.

“No! Fuck no! Stop!” He yanked his hand free and frantically waved it around hoping the bones would slide back into their natural position.

“Any idea where Dee and that hippie Trip are?” BT asked.

Mike shook his head, then when he realized the other man couldn’t see the gesture, he said, “no, I lost sight of them almost right after they lost sight of you. Speaking of which, do you know what happened? Wasn’t like you could go anywhere.”

“I…don’t know, or I can’t explain it, which I suppose is the same thing. One second I’m in there watching Dee and then I was nowhere for a while.”

“Was it cold?”

“Freezing, how do you know?”

“I was nowhere for a while, too.”

“The wall or something in the wall changed, a black mass reached out, snatched me right off my feet. It was not human and I don’t think it ever was.”

Mike could feel his friend shiver and it had nothing to do with the lingering cold, he did not even want to entertain what that could mean. Not the shivering part, which was self-explanatory.

“If I had a little less character, I’m not ashamed to admit I’d try and find a way out, believing that Dee and the hippie already did. I think if I told myself that lie enough times I’d eventually be able to get a decent night of sleep.”

“What if I found a way out and you went and got them then? That way we both get what we want,” Mike said.

“I guess it’s about time to go look.” BT grabbed Mike’s hand, pushed against the wall and stood, dragging Mike up with him.

“I suppose so,” Mike said as he got to his feet. “You’re not going to let go of my hand are you.” It was not a question, didn’t matter, BT didn’t answer.

“Any idea where to go?” BT asked after they’d moved back to the hallway junction.

“I have a feeling that we’ll get to where we need to be,” Mike replied. “And by feeling, I mean sense of dread.”

“Yeah, I got that,” BT told him.

“I think if we get out of here, you should ask for your money back.”

“No can do, I had to sign a form that said I wouldn’t no matter whether something was seen or not. Even had to sign a no sue clause.”

“What? Didn’t that make you stop and think for a second, what might have happened here previously that would have necessitated it?”

“She said it was standard boiler plate stuff.”

“Well, I guess it’s sort of good,” Mike said. “At least that meant they survived so they could sue.”

“Um,” BT began.

“What?” Mike begged.

“She only mentioned this in passing, and I didn’t think much about it until right now, but the form also states that’s surviving family members couldn’t sue, either.” BT got the words out of his mouth as fast as he could.

“BT, you basically gave the witch, carte blanche with us!”

“No, no it’s nothing like that,” BT attempted justification.

“No? Well, I beg to differ, I’d have you look around but that’s unwise.”

“Fuck you, Mike.”

“Sucks being on the wrong end of logic doesn’t it? Welcome to my world.”

“Fuck you, Mike.”

They were moving slowly down the hallway, Mike was positive that there was a chilling suspenseful soundtrack playing along as they did so, while everything imaginable swirled around them, patiently waiting for their opportunity to strike. Apparently BT was feeling somewhat of the same thing. As he asked: “Do you think it would be scarier to hear the Jaws prowling music, duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn or Jason’s ch, ch, ch, ah, ah, ah?”



“Don’t what me, we’re in a real-life house of horrors and you’re trying to figure out the best sound track we die to.”

“I feel like you’re being overly dramatic, Tracy warned me about it.”

“I…I don’t even know what to say to that. It’s like you’re blind to the whole situation!”

Incredulously BT started laughing. “That’s hilarious!”

Mike couldn’t help himself, the stress of the situation was going to manifest one way or the other, it was laughing or shitting his pants. He decided laughing would be less odiferous.

“You think the ghosts are getting a kick out of this?” Mike was wiping away the tears that were leaking from the corners of his eyes.

“Probably staring at us right now shaking their heads, they’re doing their best to scare us into early graves and we’re laughing at them.” BT raised a lone eagle above his head and twisted his arm around making sure that it could be viewed from every angle.

Deep groaning sobered them up quickly enough, it was one thing for you to personally be in danger but a whole other thing when it was someone you cared for. It was a strange phenomenon. When an individual was being threatened, the response tended to be very subdued, subservient even as a means of preserving one’s life, but when someone they cared for was in danger, it became all hands-on deck with little regard for personal safety.

“Any idea where that’s coming from?” BT asked.

Mike thought it was coming from everywhere, all at once. Which was no help and uttered, he did not.

“I need to open my eyes.”

Mike couldn’t decide what to say, sure on one hand they needed the orientation, on the other, didn’t need much explaining.

“You going to say anything?” BT asked.

“Better you than me?” Mike shrugged.

“How in the fuck did your doppelganger become President?”

“I would imagine he was the one that counted the ballots.”

“Damn!” BT yelled, yanking on Mike’s arm and pulling him to the side.


“There’s a dozen of them, maybe more.”

Mike didn’t need any clarification on what the them were. “You see anywhere we need to go?”

“The end of this hallway is black.”

“Come on then,” Mike sighed, knowing full well that was their destination. “Did they see you?”

“What do you think?” BT answered sarcastically.

“You have no desire to hear what I’m actually thinking, because it’s a bunch of swear words with your name intermingled.”

BT paused. “Fair enough.”

“And bacon.”

“Let’s get this over with.” BT pulled on Mike’s hand.

As they approached, the air began to cool, Mike knew if he were to open his eyes he’d be able to see his breath.

A voice rang out from behind them. “Leaving so soon?” It cackled.

Neither of the men had to look to know who it belonged to.

“Deneaux,” BT breathed.

“How are you enjoying my home away from home?” she asked. There was no warmth in her question. “I do hope you leave a good review, that is of course if you are able to, and from where I’m standing, that is unlikely.”

“What is this? And why are you doing it?” BT asked.

Mike thought it was a waste of breath, whatever her reasons they would never sound rational to either of them.

“What is it, is easy enough. This is a portal of my own construction. You see, I have created a world within a world. A place where I can make unimaginable nightmares come true. Now nightmares would be subjective, because for me this is a dream. A dream you willingly stepped into. For years I’ve been looking for a way to get Michael in my clutches, I had no idea his best friend would hand deliver him to me.”

“Me? What the hell did I do? Okay, wait, don’t answer that. What did I do to you? Before today I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“The correct sentence would be, you have never seen me before in this life. But you and I have quite a rich history.”

“What is she talking about?” BT whispered.

“How would I know, she sounds nuttier than chunky peanut butter and I hate that crap. It’s like you’re eating bugs.”

“Mike, focus.”

“It is never easy, but I have managed to kill you in quite a few of our shared existences. The problem is that you have done the same to me.”

“Why?” Mike asked. “Why would I possibly want to kill you?”

“I have asked myself the same thing may times. It is a compulsion of sorts. We are destined to destroy each other. No matter what has befallen the world, we gravitate toward each other and begin our deadly dance.”

“Um, we didn’t gravitate, you actively set this up. Seems to me you’re forcing this perceived narrative,” Mike said.

“As an uncouth, lower middle-class heathen I would imagine you enjoy the sports ball, you should understand that the best defense is a good offense.”

“Sports ball?” Mike was stuck on the strange descriptor. “How about you just go your way and we’ll go ours.”

“Of course you would say that when every advantage is mine.”

“Duh,” Mike’s head turned, though he didn’t open his eyes to the familiar voice.

“Trip?” he asked.

“Sorry it took so long to get here. Your big green friend found a soda machine that had Moxie, we had a luxurious meal of meat sticks and soft drinks. Or I had meat sticks, he is apparently a plantatarian.”

“Are you kidding me?” BT was riled. “We almost died!”

“But did you?” Trip asked, his words slightly garbled as he chewed what smelled suspiciously like spicy pepperoni. “So dramatic that one.” This punctuated by a loud slapping sound.

“You are a small hairy man, and I am a large formidable Genogerian warrior, it is unwise of you to continually slap me when you wish to make a point,” Drababan said.

“I had you two contained!” Deneaux shouted.

“You did, but in terms of interdimensional realities it was a bit rudimentary,” Trip explained.

“Rudimentary? You cried in frustration for eleven minutes straight.”

“There is no need to tell her that, we have to have her believe that her sorcery is outclassed at every turn.”

“What is going on?” BT asked.

“No matter who or what you are, you are still within my domain and I rule here!” Deneaux’s voice was so loud it had a physical presence.

Mike couldn’t help himself, he had to open his eyes, what he saw had him more confused than he could ever remember being and that was saying a lot considering he had often showed up to his trigonometry class stoned out of his mind.

Trip was garbed in a purple robe befitting a wizard, although instead of a tall pointed hat he wore his Stetson. Drababan had a two-liter half drank Moxie bottle in one hand and a large gleaming curved sword in the other. He was doing his best not to look at Deneaux. The circle of children ghosts had spread out to encircle the entire group.

“BT, I think I dosed one too many times, pretty sure I’m locked up in an insane asylum somewhere.”

“’Bout time,” the big man responded.

“Open your eyes and please tell me what you see.”

“The ghosts?” BT asked.

“Seem to be busy, but thank you for your concern about me.”

“No sense in both of us going down.”

Mike thought, he wasn’t wrong.

“Jesus, Mike you could have warned me, looks like she dressed up in a costume from a budget Halloween store. How am I ever going to get that image out of my mind?” He was referring to their less than accommodating host.

Deneaux was wrapped in black leather straps and a sheer negligee that hinted at her being a bitchy witch and left little to the imagination, though all involved wished it had.

“Enough of this!” She screamed, bolts of blue lightning issued forth from her gnarled hands, splitting and splintering. The streaks raced out and struck the children, causing their faces to become masks of pain and anguish, loathing and hate, Deneaux was fueling their corrupted souls. The children danced about like the puppets on strings they were. They began to tighten the circle, even as their bodies were twisted into savage mimicries of what they once were.

Mike didn’t know exactly what was going to happen when they got to him and the rest but it was likely it would not be good, far from it. He stood back-to-back with BT waiting for the end.

“I will save us!” Dee bellowed as he swung his strange sword at the nearest figure, the steel that had passed through the ghost, blackened and fell away like the ash of a cigarette. “That did not work!” Dee kept yelling as if no one had seen what had just happened.

The air around Trip was crackling but as of yet he’d not been able to stop the advance of the demon children.

“I can’t get my magic up! I should have brought a bigger wand. I bet this never happens to other wizards.”

“I wish someone would do something that worked!” Mike blurted out and almost on command the air around them began to shimmer as if on the verge of boiling.

“What is going on?” BT asked as a giant red demon began to form and take shape.

I am Kalandar!” he bellowed. Breaker of dimensions, destroyer of worlds, third conqueror of Aradinia, and soul-eater of ghouls! The right-hand demon to the possessor, first of my kind to go forth into the wilds and return. I am the bringer of chaos into order, the slaughterer of Bazzaros, second kin to Denderia (she of the famed raid on the heavens), and fabled defender of the Red Witch. Friend to the one who calls himself Talbot and has wandered the realms. My exploits so legendary as to span multiple tomes. I have borne witness to the descent and will be there leading the ascent. My might so feared, my skill so dreaded, my knowledge so vast that entire prison realms have been erected to keep me trapped; all have failed. I am the chain breaker, a gargantuan among gods, the one so feared I was removed from Hades. All that stand before me quake in awe. My name alone strikes foreboding into the hearts of my enemies. There are none alive, now nor ever, who could stand before me. Those who would oppose me are impotent in their challenge! You would dare now to defy me?”

“You know him?” Trip had asked looking over his shoulder at Mike.

“Yeah, we go way back, same kindergarten class. No, I don’t know him!” Mike responded.

Kalandar gave what could be considered a smile in the underworld, though it nearly froze the blood in their veins, he gave a slight wave of his hand to Mike.

“What in the fuck is going on?” Mike asked, wishing desperately he could back up further but there was no where to go.

The demon swiveled his massive head to Deneaux, the bloodlust had waned slightly in her eyes but had yet to wink out. “You go too far!” He stretched his hand out, his enormous finger touching her chest. “How dare you bring the children of the damned here!”

“This is my realm to do as I please!” Deneaux shouted back.

“Soul stealing is above your station.” Kalandar told her.

“It is not their souls I am interested in, it is the torture of the flesh that I desire.”

“I cannot allow this!” Kalandar thundered.

“Allow? I have created this reality, I am god-like in my abilities within its confines!” Deneaux retorted. She motioned with her hand and the children moved toward Kalandar.

“You are about to learn that there is a vast difference between god-like and being one.” Kalandar snatched one of the children from the air, smoke poured forth from his fist as he squeezed the entity into non-existence.

“You…that’s impossible!” Deneaux’s eyes grew wide with fear.

Kalandar clapped his hands, the percussion loud and hard enough Mike thought his innards had shifted, the children disappeared.

“Come Vivian, if it is torture of the flesh you desire, I shall grant your wish, though not as you expected.” Kalandar said and with that Deneaux vanished. The enormous demon turned to Mike. “Hey buddy. Tell Tracy I said hi, or is it the Azile reality for you? Wait, please tell me it isn’t the Beth one. Those are always so messy, if you want you could come with me, the change of scenario could do you some good.”

“Not the Beth one, dodged that bullet and I umm, I think I’m good, I’ll stay here. But who is Azile?” Mike asked.

“Ah Tracy then, she was always good for you. Always knew how to calm your inner demons. “Until the next time.” And with that he shimmered and was gone.  

“Bravo, bravo!” Trip was clapping his hands enthusiastically. “Encore!” he placed two fingers into his mouth and whistled loudly.

“Shhh, little hairy man.” Drababan placed a large hand across the other’s face.

“I think maybe we should see if we can get out of here now,” BT said.

“Ditto what the big man that got us all into this mess, said.” Mike was heading for the door.

Less than a minute later they were standing in the sun-drenched parking lot, the building was still dilapidated but had appeared to have lost the menacing feel it had exuded.

“BT, I’m going to wish you a Happy Halloween and the next time you want to get together on this most sacred of holidays it had better be to hand out full sized candy bars. I’m partial to anything with peanut butter.”























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