My past has always been like a dimly recalled dream, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve preferred it that way. The few things that I can recall are like small glints of deep blue light reflecting off of something secret and wicked. While I’m certainly not the expert on secrets that Tom Hush was, I suspect that the allure of such things is not too entirely different than what the raw power of darkness proffers, or rather, what the power of darkness can supply once combined with certain fertile agents of a creative mind—infinite potential.
I suppose it’s a rather philosophical observation, so perhaps a bit too ostentatious for practical consideration, but I always find that anywhere the unknown abounds, there also persists the potential for absolutely anything. This is likely the real reason why nature abhors a void. Shadows and secrets are just unlocked boxes of eternity, wherein the mind is free to gamble well beyond the scope of rational powers and purpose. There is a reason why our eyes slide behind their darkening lids when the time has come for us to dream.
It’s freedom from the sterile trajectory of a conventional march through time that makes my secrets so special to me—I have no solid starting point, and without that I can have no fixed center. I am without clear definition. Obviously, secrets are a bit more constrained by cause and consequence than is darkness, but even the smallest fenced-in backyard of infinity presents quite of bit of grass for the mowing. And as far as I’m concerned, what better foundation to stand upon within this frozen graveyard than the molten rock of a half-remembered past?
I have to admit that I was rather ashamed by my reaction to the revelations of my past, as I should have no interest in the specific facts of my upbringing. I would be altogether better off to concern myself with maintaining the fluidity of my presence in the world, so as not to allow it to congeal like paint stiffening atop the aborted dreams laid out upon an artist’s canvas. Discovering my past was just another step toward becoming a corpse, just another localized reflection of death. However, and not to excuse my foolishness, the role my mother played in all of this seemed rather important, as it appeared that my actions may have been somehow pre-scripted by her, and that perhaps she intended more from me than I had been made aware. Whatever the case, the signpost to understanding my mother’s machinations clearly pointed in a single apocalyptic direction—Marvin the man-monster.
After a few days of hiding within the bullet-riddled hotel (no one ever looks in the water tank) and fighting my artistic instinct to make failed dreams from some of the deserving canvases nearby, I finally departed the glittering monument to man’s greed. As I stole away through a channel of forgotten darkness, the echoes of painful light still rang within my ears and burned beneath my seared skin. The antlered god’s half-finished meal of dark secrets still lay upon the floor of my mind, spoiling.
I didn’t want to make it obvious that I was baiting him, so I confined my wanderings to only those streets betokening solidified dreams caught in the melting amber of twilight where, as one who has tasted some small flavor of my dreams, Marvin could reasonably expect to find me.
I decided to walk a stretch of street that seemed impossibly narrow, capable of admitting only the slimmest cars and thinnest crowds. Yet the thoroughfare seemed oddly comforting, like warm blankets pulled thick and close on a cold winter’s night. I gazed upward, the incubating night sky pinched by the closely crowded rooftops, resembling a star-flecked creek pouring infinitely overhead.
There were others walking the street as well, barely perceptible beneath the ripening darkness. They conducted themselves like cold draughts of wind, drifting aloofly between alleyway and gutter, slaves to their darkest selves. Nighthead had always been a darling of the dark, sheltering more shadows than sunset, and I was almost overwhelmed by my swelling curiosity to know even one of the passersby’s stories.
It was sometime after midnight when I detected a familiar whisper, wandering lonely and soft across a thickly trash-lined alleyway. “Hello,” came the little whisper, almost lost to the rustling wind and the rush of shadows.
“Hello, Marvin,” I said. “I’m pleased to see you again. I was hoping we might suspend our obligations to the Game, if only for a moment, so that we might chat.”
“Actually,” said the whisper, “he’s of no mind to hurt you, and we’re happy to see you, too. We’d love to chat, but I’m afraid that we’re both very, very hurt. Since there’s no longer a chance for him to win the contest, he wanted me to find you and wish you luck. It seems likely that you and he share some history, or at least a relative. He knows what you saw in that dream from so many nights back.”
“Who hurt you, Marvin?” I asked, finding myself strangely concerned for the poor man-monster’s well-being. After my question evaporated, a thick bloody finger issued forth from between the bars of a nearby sewer grate, conducting my view to somewhere above and behind me.
As I stretched my vision up into the night, I detected someone standing amid the metal cables of a radio tower that loomed high above the street, waiting like a patient spider gazing at an approaching fly.
It was Jack Lantern, The Son of Halloween.
I absolutely needed to speak with Marvin. The only way that I could do that was to keep him alive, which meant fending off the world’s most notorious living serial killer. With a single effort I tore away the sewer grate and slipped into the rank darkness below. Marvin was indeed sorely wounded, which impressed me much. Jack Lantern was not one to fail at a killing.
“Run, Marvin!” I shouted. “I will find you once I’ve deflected your attacker.” My words made assertions that I felt hard-pressed to evidence. In my forbidden quest for a lost past, I had stupidly slipped myself into the path of proven death. Although I had recently defeated a god—if only a relatively minor one, and only his weakened vessel, at that—Jack Lantern was something far more challenging. He was the state of the art, the pinnacle of modern murdercraft. Clearly, I knew that winning the Shepherd’s Game would have me facing off with the famous killer at some point—I knew of no other killer, or combination of killers, that could hope to defeat the Scourge of Autumn City—but I had hoped to have more time to prepare and heal. Despite the recuperative powers of the killing dream I shared with the secret-eater, I was still left with copious injuries.
I quickly spun around in the sewer, my sisters glittering with deadly promises, when a fragrant wind blew past me, carrying the scent of fall. As I stared into the spaces the wind had come from, the filthy scene of the sewer became filled with the ever-dying trees of the September Woods, whose leaves forever burned orange, red and yellow against the bleeding sky. I watched a single crimson leaf cartwheel across the surface of the murky water, leaving tiny expanding rings wherever it tumbled. I could hear something pushing through piles of fallen leaves, drawing closer.
Suddenly, Marvin’s mad whispers filled my mind as he seized me from behind and pulled my ear to his bloodied lips. “She’s the mother of many, Donald. But you’re her favorite child, by far. She came to us all, searching, but in the end there was only you. I hate you for taking her away from us! But now, after I’ve seen something of your dreams, I understand why she left. She chose you! She chose you over the rest of us!” As he disappeared into the darkness I heard him hiss, “Curse you, but good luck, brother!”
My last memory was of exploding light and the sound of leaves blowing across darkened fields. When I awoke, my sisters were still in my hands, apparently exhausted from the effort of conducting my unconscious body away from my would-be killer.
Sometime later, I limped through miles of sewer tunnel until I saw the glowing lights of a displaced Halloween—where Marvin’s carved head swung from a piece of red yarn that had been tied around a steam pipe, its bloody hollows lit by several black candles placed within his skull. A chunk of concrete lay upon the headless body, the words Happy Halloween scribbled across it in colored chalk. A bag of dirty candy lay stuffed into Marvin the monster’s dead, knotted hand.
I gazed into triangular holes that had once been partially stitched-up eyes, and offered one last whisper to the whisperer.
“Good night, brother.”
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