Dead Things and Pumpkin Kings
"I'm the master of fright and a demon of light
And I'll scare you right out of your pants
To a guy in Kentucky, I'm Mister Unlucky
And I'm known throughout England and
And since I am dead, I can take off my head
To recite Shakespearean quotations
No animal nor man can scream like I can
With the fury of my recitations
But who here would ever understand
That the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin
Would tire of his crown, if they only understood
He'd give it all up if he only could
Oh, there's an empty place in my bones
That calls out for something unknown
The fame and praise come year after year
Does nothing for these empty tears"
-Jack's Lament, The Nightmare Before Christmas
You ever have the hairs on the back of your next stand to attention like an early warning system? The feeling of something wrong creeps up your spine awaking a chill you hadn't had before, you can just sense that what ever it is, it's bad and going to hurt you. You don't know where its going to come at you or even if you will be ready in time, but you have the horrible knowledge that it will happen. Soon you're jumping at shadows and shaking so badly you shed your skin.
I get that feeling every time I leave Sunnydale.
Oh sure, most people would say that it should be vise versa. I should be getting the bad feeling as I enter the town, not while leaving it. Between the attacks of vampires and demons, to the all around bad vibe of the mouth of hell, it's the logical perspective a person from Sunnydale would take. Unfortunately how quickly they forget that there is nothing logical about the Hellmouth at all, and to pin anything logical onto it would only confuse you.
Every time I tried to leave this cursed town, something happens to stop me. When I was younger, my parents wanted to get rid of me for a few months and tried to ship me off to my Grandmother's. Somehow, a freak snow storm blew in and delayed my flight for a few days. By the time it cleared, my grandmother had died from a stroke. Funny coincidence isn't it?
Willow never had problems leaving Sunnydale. She would go visit her mother in whatever grand hotel she was staying in while working over the holidays. I would dutifully go to her house and wave her goodbye as she left me standing by myself watching her taxi drive away. I didn't resent her for it, but I wished I could leave too.
Something or someone didn't want me to leave the Hellmouth, and I had no clue as to why.
I thought maybe I had some grand purpose I needed to fulfill in the scheme of things, and I thought when Buffy came that my purpose was presenting itself. So like a good-doer I became the original Scooby Gang member and then helped the Slayer with Willow at my side as the second member. Slaying vampires at night, going to school during the day, it sounded like one of the many types of comic books I used to read a few years ago. It didn't last.
Soon, everyone around me was special. Not special as in mentally challenged, but they had something that made them unique and helped out the group. Buffy was the Slayer with super strength and spider sense, Willow became a wiccan, Giles was the research-guy, but me? I was the comic relief guy, the one that cracked jokes to keep the pressure from building up on the group, to make sure that no matter how hopeless it seemed, we faced it with a small smile. Go me.
Okay so my role in things wasn't all that important. But I helped as best as I could since I was a regular teenage guy with no special powers or abilities. I did pretty well for a while. Then came Graduation; my worst nightmare.
Many kids dream of blowing up their school, I did it. Well, actually at first I stopped it from blowing up so the others could get out, then I blew it up. I also led a bunch of my classmates to war with the demons sprouting up everywhere. It was bloody, it was gory, it was war waged on Hell. And we won. But for a price—only half of the graduating class managed to survive.
When the fight with the Mayor was over, and things calmed down for a little while as summer started, I announced I was leaving. Willow as I expected was shocked however cheered me on anyway. Buffy wanted me to stay, for whatever reason I don't know since I don't really contribute anything. Giles just nodded his acceptance. That was that.
I was nervous about leaving town but not for the reason I had stated earlier. I had no tingle-y feeling on the back of my neck, no early warning signs for danger. That alone made me nervous. For once, I might actually leave Sunnydale, and be able to just go somewhere other than here. I was ecstatic because I would be leaving; going out into the world I've only seen in books.
Finishing the packing, I grabbed my duffle back and snuck out of the house quietly. When your parents are a couple of drunks that could sleep throw a nuclear war, it was simple. Not that I wouldn't miss them or anything, but I know I would not care about seeing another glass of alcohol again as long as I live. I had said my goodbyes to the town, it was time to leave.
But first I had to walk to the cemetery to say goodbye to someone. Going to one of the many graveyards in Sunnydale, I walked past many gravestones and tombs with practiced ease. I never used to feel uncomfortable in a cemetery. That was before I knew that people could watch me grieve over my friend. Vampires were attracted to misery, and I didn't want to think how many saw me crying over my dead best friend's ashes.
I sat on Jesse's gravestone, my knees held to my chest, my butt balanced on my tail bone, and my duffle bag full of clothes hanging over my back. Of course I had a stake stuffed in my belt. Despite what many people thought, I am not stupid. I know I am a demon magnet.
I sighed, patting the gravestone. Jesse was a good guy up until the end. It was my fault for letting him be made into a vampire, and for staking him, but I couldn't help but feel as if I had let him down. He was always entranced in my comics as much as I was, and thought that being a superhero would have been cool. If only he knew. There was so much pain and loneliness being a thankless hero. But Jesse would have liked some of the adventures Buffy had taken the Scooby Gang on.
"Skeleton Jack might catch you in the back
And scream like a banshee"
Childish voices rang out, echoing in the graveyard. Shocked at the sound, I leaped off the gravestone and turned towards the noise.
"Make you jump out of your skin
This is Halloween, everyone scream
Won't ya please make way for a very special guy."
A shadow slipped past one tomb, too quick for me to see the shape. Another shadow leap from one grave stone to another, and before I could realize what was going on, I was surrounded by three children.
"Our man Jack is king of the pumpkin patch
Everyone hail to the Pumpkin King now."
The three voices stopped singing the song. The song, I recognize it from somewhere. I don't remember where I heard it but it sounded so familiar. I could swear I had heard it before. But it was longer, and it had an entire chorus. It struck me hard, I know I knew that song. It bugged me I couldn't remember from where.
One of the children was a girl that raised her face to the light. I could see the sickly paleness of her skin, and her purple lips. Her eyes spoke of the terror of the night, but they didn't scare me for some reason. She wore a pinkish witch Halloween costume, complete with a ridiculously tall witch hat. To my left was a boy that was small and round, like a ball, and his hair was neon green that looked natural. His lips were blue like he was cold and his skin was the same sickly color. He was dressed in a skeleton Halloween costume licking an orange and black giant lollipop with his other hand holding a skeleton mask. Last, to my right was a boy dressed like a red devil complete with the mask held in his hand. His teeth looked sharp enough to rip flesh, and his lips were the same blue as the other boy's, the skin was also that pastel color of the dead.
The song felt unfinished, and without a thought I whispered the last line as the song rang through my mind.
"In this town we call home
Everyone hail to the pumpkin song."
The children smiled, it looked both devious and gleeful. I get the feeling that maybe I should have left my big trap shut. Too late now to take back the words, and I think that maybe they knew I regretted singing the words the minute I spoke them. Harris, open mouth; insert foot.
"We knew we would find you Jack," the girl's voice said slyly.
The round boy licked his lollipop. He glanced at me with a glint in his eyes. "I told them to look for the scariest place, they didn't believe me! And people think I'm dumb."
"Do you remember who we are?" The devil boy said with a smirk. "After all, you remember your song, names should be easy."
I must have looked as confused as I felt because the girl smacked the devil boy on the back of his head. "Shut up idiot!"
My brows narrowed in thought as I looked them over. Suddenly a thought struck me from out of nowhere, and I hesitantly questioned, "Boogie's boys?"
"Hee hee hee! He remembers something!" The children cackled.
I dropped to my knees and stared at the ground. Millions of thoughts raced through my mind. Nothing was computing. All I could think about was the Boogie boys, the three dead trick-or-treaters of Halloween Town. I never left Sunnydale, how did I know this Halloween town as if I lived there? Who where these kids and why was I getting such a splitting head ache?
"Now look what you did! You
"Nuh uh! You did it."
"Humans are so fragile."
"Come on! Let's take him through the gate. The Mayor said he'd give us candy if we got him back tonight, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," the voices were speaking around me but I couldn't hear them.
Lost in my thoughts, I wasn't paying attention to my surroundings and soon I realized I was being lead to a tomb I had seen often in this graveyard but never looked closely at. The devil boy opened quickly and raced through with only the excitement a little kid could have. Could they be demons and if they were, why was I following them without staking them?
Through a long twisting tunnel I could feel the air inside become colder, as if I was heading deep into an underground cavern. Suddenly the tunnel jerked upwards for a few feet then steps started. The round boy ran up the steps and light filled the tunnel as he opened the door of another tomb.
When my eyes adjusted to the light, I stepped out of the tomb and looked around. I was in another graveyard, but this one was different than any other I've seen. It looked old, and gothic as if made a long time ago and was forgotten. The ground was carved like a harshly done sketch while the landscape was in shades of black, white, and orange. In the distance, there was a strange shaped hill that bended and ended into a swirl. Pumpkins littered the hill, and I knew it was a Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin patch. Jack-O-Lanterns . . Didn't the children, demons, whatever they were, didn't they call me Jack?
The girl tugged on my hand, and I looked down to see her face. She had a green witch mask covering her features, but I could swear her eyes held a glint of compassion. What was going on?
Soon the children lead me through the graveyard and the gate into a town. Everywhere I looked, gothic and off balanced structures sprouted from the sides like a horrible pop-up book. Creatures started to peak out the windows, and then a really short fat man walked out of Town Hall. Over his heart was a ribbon that stated "Mayor" and he had a very tall, skinny hat. His face was weird, not human, one of his eyes were a swirl. His face lit up when he saw us and he ran over, his form bouncing from his quick steps.
"Did you find him, Shock?" The Mayor turned to look at the witch holding my hand. She nodded with a smirk.
"Here, this is Jack."
The Mayor looked over at me for
the first time and gasped in horror. "He's ALIVE!" Furious, he glared at the
children. "I said I wanted Jack Skellington, not
this, living being. What tricks are you up to now?"
"No tricks," the devil boy replied, annoyed at the Mayor I assumed. "This IS Jack! He knows the anthem of the town, no one other than the town people and Jack would know it."
"Look," I said. The children and Mayor looked over at me. I guess they had forgotten me in their argument. Sigh. What else was new? "My name is Xander Harris, not this Jack Skeleton guy you want."
The Mayor cleared his throat and stated, "Skellington."
"Skellington, right, like I was saying, just let me go and I'll forget what I saw in this reject Halloween sketchbook."
"They can't do that," a familiar voice said in the shadows. "Bloody hell, you managed to get yourself in deep this time, whelp."
"Spike!" Shocked, I stared at the vampire that had been recently neutered.
Spike looked different than before, no longer did he wear his t-shirt and duster. Adown on his figure was an old fashioned cotton shirt that puffed up at the wrists and ties rested on his collar bone so that he could tighten the shirt up against his neck. His customary boots and leather pants stayed. His hair was curly, no gel slicked it back. I felt a warm simmering in my stomach, he looked good.
He leaned against the wall and gave me a smirk. "I never would have believed it mate, you the pumpkin king? But those brats wouldn't lie about this, other things but never this."
Now Spike thought I was this Jack guy too? I can't take this anymore! I am my own person, not this guy that these people think I am. "I am NOT Jack Skellington! My name is Xander Harris, not Jack."
"There are few who'd deny, at what I do I am the best
For my talents are renowned far and wide
When it comes to surprises in the moonlit night
I excel without ever even trying."
The devil boy sang with a smirk. Unable to help it, my mouth opened to sing to finish the verse. The children were all giggling behind their masks, and I knew I had been tricked but I couldn't help it.
"With the slightest little effort of my ghostlike charms
I have seen grown men give out a shriek
With the wave of my hand, and a well-placed moan
I have swept the very bravest off their feet . ."
I snapped my mouth shut and covered it with my hand. Spike laughed out right at me, mocking me with a prod of his slim finger at my chest. "Admit it mate, you wouldn't know those words without knowing the song. And that is Jack Skellington's song."
There were only two words one could say in a situation like this. "Well, shit."