The hole in the sky continued to pour out a sea of lightning, surging and splashing across the battlefield, reducing much of the surrounding forest to a smoking landscape of blackened matchsticks. The thunder was unbearable—a standing ovation of gods bringing together mountainous hands. My head was ready to crack open and spill out its brains for want of silence, when the world went silent and dark. My first thought was that I’d gone deaf and blind, but I could make out the sound of wind, scavenging the soot as hungrily as a pack of jackals, and I could see blurred figures scattered about the smoking ground. Mr. Grey was among the blackened forms.
If anything justified the rumors of their superhuman fortitude, it was that the four Neo-psychotics still drew breath, albeit with difficulty.
Not surprisingly, Lefty was the first to his feet, gritting sizzling teeth and exhaling smoke. I thought of a doomed bull refusing to fall to the matador’s bloody blade.
My eyes were still adjusting to the renewed darkness when Lefty seemed to take a shot from a cannon, throwing him from the blackened earth. Their giant, rampaging adversary was up and swinging, apparently untouched by the lightning. It sent Lefty flying, his body slapping against the side of the stone church like a wet side of beef. The bull finally fell, seemingly disinclined to rise again.
The Goblin rose from the smoldering ground, drifting upwards and vanishing in the same breath. Smart guy, that one.
Spiderlocks and Mr. Grey were side by side, a united front as the monster lunged. The two killers parted, allowing the creature to pass between them. They turned in tandem, laying blades and sharpened bone into the passing behemoth, teasing out another shriek from the Killer of Killers. Unfortunately, the creature’s size belied its speed, as it quickly pivoted, punting Mr. Grey into a smoldering pine tree. My master coughed blood, collapsing in a heap.
Spiderlocks was back atop the creature, her clawed hands yet again chasing the thing’s spine. In an instant, the monster barreled toward the remaining walls of the church. Just prior to impact it spun, forcing the Spider to take the brunt of the impact. She splattered, a dragonfly on a highway windshield.
I noticed Mr. Grey struggling to his feet again. I was two-minded about his efforts. I certainly wanted to reclaim my freedom—to be all alone to write my shitty, shitty books—but I was also eager to see my captor win his contest, if only to witness the results.
At some point, I became aware of a strange bit of whispering wind, scraping dead leaves across the concrete floor of the church. It came from the opposite direction as the scavenger breeze I’d first detected, post-lightning. It bore the distinct scent of autumn decay and seemed possessed of a relaxing lightness, a playfulness that mocked the death spilling out around me. Someone whispered into my ear, “To be all triangles and crooked smiles, candlewax betwixt your ears, little lamps of fire that hop and skip… Fake faces over masks over veils… How many masks-deep are your clicking cogs, little Peeping Tom?” I froze. The whisperer was crouched beside me. I could smell Halloween on his breath—candy, cold rain, dead leaves. I knew precisely who was whispering to me.
Jack Lantern continued, purring, “It’s almost time for us to bury all the machines, little Tommy Peeper. And now, out of the blue, comes one who would break all our shovels. Can’t have that, can we? But don’t you worry, I’ll have him smiling through rows of rectangles in no time.” Then he was gone—vanished from my side, brown leaves spinning in his stead.
In the next moment, Jack was standing among a collection of smoking sprigs, staring up at the lumbering monster. He wore a crude jack-o’-lantern mask, and a ripped black scarf wrapped around his neck, flapping in the stolen September breeze. The Autumn City Madman was unusually tall, thin, and cheerful, giggling under that ridiculous mask. As he whipped out two huge carving knives, I knew he was going straight to work.
The guy moved so fast it was hard to keep track of all his slashing, cleaving, leaping… Honestly, he was just a marvel to watch. I found my mouth agape more than a few times. The monster swung and kicked and roared, but never once connected.
The once Killer of Killers was clearly getting killed by the Lone Wolf, weakening second by second, slash by stab.
Yet just as before, when the monster began to lose, the strange dead trees began to sway. Something fat and monstrous moved behind them, the sky turned green, and I knew it was about to rain lightning again. Or was it? Just as the sky looked like it might crack open, the fall breeze cranked up to a maelstrom, roaring out of the north like a god-damned hurricane. It was as if the elemental powers were joining the fray alongside their favorite killers, trying to tilt the scales.
Neither one seemed particularly affected by the warring elements exploding around them, however, as Jack continued to teach the monster more lessons than it cared to learn.
Somewhere within that howling storm, at some point during the chaotic battle, the church began to come down around me. I barely managed to get out the back, as the sky fell bright and blazing and the wind became a living, killing thing. I ran and ran, never looking back.
After a few days of hiding out, I returned to my home. It was just as I left it—dull and empty. I waited weeks for Mr. Grey to show, but he never did.
After about six months I decided to travel into the country—to a very specific and fascinating attic—to see if Mr. Grey had removed his journals. He hadn’t. I did finally see him again, on the front page of the morning paper. His head had turned up on the porch of an abandoned house in the woods, carved to look like a jack-o’-lantern—triangles for eyes, a jagged grin of melted candles, and a scooped-out head filled with candy. Jack Lantern had claimed another victim. No one knew who the head belonged to. I’m sure no one ever will—except me.
My books are selling like hotcakes now, winning awards, even. There’s no doubt about it—The Tales of Ebenezer The Immortal are a hit. I’ll never have to worry about running out of ideas, either. I’ve got over a hundred years of material to draw from.
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