I wrote a short story for Halloween. I’m going to post it in three parts for three days. Part One can be found here. Here’s part three:

Nightmare House, A Halloween Story

Part Three

We passed through a little door and entered a small, round room. It was almost a relief to see my three bosses, looking almost human, just as I remembered them. They were standing in a circle, locked in deep discussion, just as humans would. But when they looked up and saw the boy and me, their faces turned serious. The door closed behind us.


At once the boy fell into his chant. My bosses advanced on us with inhuman speed. They began to change as they moved. By the time they were near us, their appearances matched that the creepy feeling they always gave me. The feeling which, by the way, had multiplied ten fold. The demons looked like smoke and ashes and shadows that held an almost human shape. About where their stomachs should be, each demon had a transparent sack, which was almost full to the top with a thick purple liquid. Two of them advanced on the boy, hissing in a tone no living creature could make. The third started to approach me and I felt terror like I had never known was possible. And as he came near me, I saw his stomach sack grow fuller. That purple liquid must be the fear that they had been storing. Now that he couldn’t take any more fear from children, he was going to take it from me. And their stomach sacks were almost full. Whatever they were collecting fear for…they almost had enough.


The boy was scared too. His chanting was steady, but his voice was higher and shakier than before. The demons swarmed around him frantically, their stomach sacks filling slowly.


Suddenly, the stomach of the demon closest to me filled to the top. It dropped out of his body and burst on the ground like a water balloon. A glassy puddle splashed across the floor. But in this liquid pool, where a reflection should have been, I could see a chasm. And this chasm was filled with those monster worm beasts. One of them, roughly the size of a Volkswagen bus, turned towards us and began to move upwards, as though he was down in a hole and the puddle was its opening. Fortunately, the puddle was too small for these monsters to climb through, although the liquid was still spreading out.


SPLASH! I looked up and saw that a second demon had dropped its stomach sack and a new puddle was combining with the old one, making a much larger opening. The worms were very aware of this portal now and they were all scrambling to get closer. The largest worm had begun to extend its tentacles to the surface and, to my horror, the tentacles passed through the puddle as easily as passing through an open window. The worm could not squeeze it whole body through and he was blocking the way out for the smaller worms. But if that last fear sack were to fall, there would be nothing stopping them.


All three demons were swarming around the boy, trying to stop his chants. They seemed unable to harm him directly, but this whole thing had to be throwing his concentration. I thought they had all forgotten about me, until a violent jerk pulled my whole body to the ground. But it wasn’t a demon. The largest worm had gotten ahold of my stupid costume cape. The creature didn’t even realize it had me. If it did, I’m sure it would have effortlessly dragged me to hell, or wherever it was trying to crawl out of. Instead, it was simply twitching it tentacles, like an insect’s feelers and my cape has happened to get tangled up in them. Inch by inch, the monster inadvertently pulled my to my doom while I frantically tugged at the catch off my cape. I was certain my life was going to end in the most horrific way imaginable, when everything in the room seemed to stop moving. The boy finished his spell.


It wasn’t a big, theatrical end, the kid’s voice didn’t change or anything. But it was like the last word itself had weight. And, the word itself seemed to catch fire. A white flame hung in the air in front of the boy’s face. Then the flame spread in all directions, filling the room. I was sure that the boy and I would be burned alive, along with everything else in the room. We would be martyred to spare the world from a demon invasion. Considering I was about to be pulled into a pit full of the worst nightmare creatures imaginable, getting burned to death would have been a welcome relief. But the fire passed right through the boy without harming him. It passed through me as well. But the demons were quickly consumed by it and it burned them into nothingness. Not even ashes were left behind. The fear pools burned up like puddles of gasoline, leaving the worm beasts trapped wherever they were. And suddenly the fire was gone, and there was nothing left but the two of us. The boy, shaking and barely standing upright, and me, lying on my back and wearing the tattered remnants of a Halloween costume cape, both of us on the top of a plywood shack, next to a fake four-foot plywood steeple.


The entire area was empty except for the two of us. The crowd seemed to have left. Perhaps some last little bit of the glamour led the people away so to protect the secret of Nightmare House, or some deep-rooted self-preservation instinct made everyone decide to leave the site of our near-Armageddon without understanding the reason for their departure. I had a faint realization that I should be grateful that they all left quietly instead of hanging around to press charges. I knew I would be able to process this gratitude more fully in the days ahead, once my mind stopped reeling from tonight’s little disaster.


As I collected my bearings, I realized that the boy was staring at me. He was making no move to leave. I figured he either wanted to thank me for my help or punish me for the lousy part I had played in all this monster summoning. “What do you want?” I asked bluntly. I had no energy left for tact.


“You can see them?” the boy asked, incredulously.


“Of course I can see them.” I answered. Couldn’t everyone see demons? I had always assumed the demons needed me to help them because no one else would cooperate with them. It had never occurred to me that they might be invisible or something.


“I’ve never met anyone else who could do that!” The boy exclaimed. “Well, except for my grandfather, he’s the one who taught me how to fight them.”


“But grandpa’s gone now,” he continued, “and I’ve had to fight them all by myself. But now you can help me. And you’re an adult, so you can drive us places and buy weapons and supplies. Maybe you could get a job at my school so you could help cover for me if I have to leave class and stuff.”


“Stop!” I interrupted. “I don’t know how to fight demons. I can’t do any of that stuff for you. And I certainly can’t get a job at your school. Schools aren’t the kind of places that hire people like me.”


The kid was undeterred. “They’ll give you a job if you use your glamour power on them.”


Just when I thought he understood all this supernatural stuff, he goes and makes a dumb assertion like that. “No, I’m not the one with the powers. The demons had all the magic.”


“But you were with them for more than a year. That means you’ve absorbed some of the glamour by now. The magic won’t convince them to hire you as a teacher or principal, but you could be a janitor or something.”


This was too much. The kid was trying to convince me that, not only did I have a small amount of magic powers, but I should also use these powers to get a job as a school custodian. Incidentally, even without the demon fighting, working as a school custodian sounded horrible. Bratty kids making a mess on purpose because they think it’s funny that someone else has to clean up after them. And after tonight’s fiasco, I imagine more than a few of them would have it in for me.


“No.” I said. “I’m not doing any of that.”


“I can’t do this by myself and you’re the only other one who can do something.” He said. I knew he was going to argue my decision, but he couldn’t change my mind. The boy may be able to fight monsters, but when it came to other humans, he was as powerless as any other kid. Or so I thought.


“You have to do this.” He said. It sounded as much like a plea as it did an order. And I realized that all my complaints and excuses were simply my mind’s way coming to terms with a simple, concrete fact. Yes, of course I had to do this.


This was it. I would atone for my crimes against humanity by risking my life fighting evil in place of this kid’s departed grandfather (by the way, I noticed how vague the kid was about why, exactly, grandfather was out of the picture.)

I put my head down and prepared to brace myself for this new chapter in my life.


The End


Author’s Note
The idea for this story was simple. In fantasy tales, we often read about kids with fantastic powers who become heroes. They are often reluctantly dragged into their destined role by an adult mentor who helps them face the tasks ahead. I thought it would be fun to write a story that worked the other way around, where the hero kid has to convince the reluctant adult to take up a heavy role. Off the top of my head, the only other tale I can think of that scratches on that idea is the plot to The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (a beautiful game with a charming story).

I don’t plan on writing anymore stories with these characters. Part of this story’s appeal is that it looks like and origin story, but I never dreamed up a larger world for it to be an origin to. Besides, my ongoing comics are already overpopulated by roguish characters seeking redemption. If I were to expand on the narrator character’s arc, I fear it wouldn’t be long before I ended up repeating myself.

Amusingly, to keep the narrator from seeming too derivative of my other characters, I provided as few details as possible. You can’t even tell if the character is male or female. I’ve tried reading the story back to myself imagining the character in either gender, and I think it holds up both ways.

However, this probably won’t be the last short story I ever spin. Keep an eye on the blog. I may keep throwing the occasional piece of fiction in, along with all my rants.

Happy Halloween.