Jack Skellington and all related characters © Tim Burton, except for Zayne, who is my character. Yeah. Just read..



~The Road from Nowhere~

A curtain of dark storm clouds masked the moonlight and blotted out the stars from horizon to horizon. A chilling wind pushed the trees until they were bent almost double from the force, and yet the wind could not seem to make the clouds budge an inch. A lone wolf howled out a sad dirge in the distance. Swirling mists danced and played among the pumpkin patches and gravestones along the sides of a long, thin, winding dirt road. Very few knew where this road came from and yet many had walked it and knew exactly where it led.

Dried leafs crunched and cracked under soft footsteps as two figures made their way down this road from nowhere.

The first of the two was very tall and thin. He was clad in filthy brown and gray rags that clung to his muscle-less form as though they had been plastered there to stay for all eternity. His back was hunched, his shoulders slumped, and his expression one of horrible sorrow. Stumbling, moving very slowly, he seemed to have to test every step carefully. His joints all creaked and complained when he moved and he was almost ready to just sit down and give up walking altogether.

And then a thought hit him... where was he going? He lifted his head to see and heard every vertebrate in his neck pop. He froze as he wondered how long it had been since he'd last moved his neck and found he had no answer. He shook slightly, and then stood upright only to have his back also pop in every place possible.

How long had he been hunched over like that? No answer could be found. He was sure he'd stood up straight at some point -yes, he definitely knew that. Yet it seemed like it had been a terribly long time since he had last done so.

A soft whimper of concern came from his traveling companion. Without a thought, he bent over and scooped up the creature in his arms.

His companion was a dog -or at least it had been. Once rather fuzzy with a short, wagging tail, now white and shimmering with a jack-o-lantern nose and a body like mist.

Something about this seemed odd. Perhaps he should have been frightened, and yet, he wasn't.

His gaze dropped to his own hands. They were thin and white, nothing more than sun-bleached bones that, by some miracle, were still holding together strong and fully functional as hands. Tucking the dog under one arm, he felt his own face with his free hand only to find a bare skull.

Feeling. How could he still do this? Was it not a function that one needed flesh and blood, skin and nerve endings for? Wasn't feeling supposed to end after death?

Well, it hadn't, and dead he was. He knew this for certain. He had died, and it had been a very violent death at that. Yet he wasn't totally positive if it had been murder, or even foul play. Perhaps just a folly on his own part?

The dog had been there, too. He didn't remember it, but he had more of a feeling, and he hugged the creature tightly as a way of thanking it for trying to help.

Him. The dog was a him.

And his mist-like body was slipping from the man's grasp. Try as he might to catch the dog, the poor thing slid right to the ground and sent up dust in its landing.

Kneeling with his friend in the middle of the road, the man looked back the way they'd come from. What was back that way? What sort of place had he left behind? He was almost curious enough to go back and find out.

Almost.

He looked forward on the road, squinting into the dancing mists beyond the roadside and into the darkness ahead. There seemed to be lights, perhaps a town was there, just past the trees...

A dim, flickering candlelight came through the mist. A single voice could barely be heard, growing louder until the words were finally clear.

"Listen now for the banshee wail, Chills at night, your skin turned pale. Blood runs cold and bones charred black! Seems old Zayne's caught you in his trap! This is Halloween! This is Halloween! Halloween, Halloween! Halloween, Halloween! Dead of night, hear that scream? 'Tis the rage of the Pumpkin King!"

There came a haunting, inhuman shriek that was unlike anything the lost traveler had ever heard before. It was followed by a loud cackle and the candlelight that had been up ahead flickered and disappeared from sight.

The man leapt to his feet. All of this was a bit unsettling, and yet, the man did not feel afraid, exactly. He was uncomfortable, uneasy, yes. Yet there was no real fear, as something seemed to tell him that the worst had already passed, even if he could not remember it.

Still, he shifted a bit nervously and glanced about. The dog barked and growled, feeling just the same.

The same shriek came again, only now it was right beside him, and coupled with a bright firelight almost right in his face!

The fright from this knocked the man right off his feet and he found himself scrambling backwards, staring up at a glowing, sneering, cackling face. Wisps of flame leapt from the mouth and eyes of the creature that towered over him, arms outstretched.

Quick as a flash, the little ghost dog planted himself between his master and the attacker, growling fiercely.

The 'attacker' was a scarecrow, as both dog and man quickly realized. The glowing face was actually a carved pumpkin set atop the creature's straw shoulders. The fire that had been leaping from eyes and mouth died down to no more than a candle flame set deep inside the pumpkin head.

The scarecrow seemed to teeter from one wooden leg to the other as he laughed, though not as wickedly now and with a kinder look upon his face.

"Call off the dog." He said between laughter, "Call off the dog, would you? Do forgive, I believe I got a bit carried away with myself! I meant no harm, really!"

Still a bit shaken, the man gathered his ghost dog into his arms as best he could. "Er, no. Uh, no harm done." He stammered.

The scarecrow offered out a hand of twigs to help him up. "Think I'd learn by now not to sneak up on anyone on this road. Always new people here!" He pulled the skeleton man to his feet, clapping him on the back. "Welcome to town! I'm Zayne Hemlock, the Pumpkin King. Who might you be, traveler?"

The skeleton bowed quickly, "My name is Jack, your majesty." He said, only discovering such for himself as he stated so, "And this is... was, my dog, Zero."

"What do you mean, was?" Zayne asked with a brow raised, "He still is a dog, by the look of him."

Jack glanced down at Zero. "Yes, but... he's a ghost." He stated weakly.

"And you a skeleton, I a scarecrow. But we are all the same here and now, in death, as we were in life."

There was no reply for a moment as Jack stared at the strange man in bewilderment.

"Alright." Zayne admitted, "On the outside, yes, we've changed..." He plucked a straw from within his shirt, "And, mayhaps, the inside's changed, as well. But up here." He tapped the side of his pumpkin head. "All of this has stayed the same!"

Somehow, Jack found it hard to believe that, in life, this man had a candlestick inside his head. Still, he nodded slowly. Perhaps this 'Pumpkin King' was not exactly sane, nor sober. He was hobbling from one foot to another in a rather drunken fashion...

Yet, looking to the ground showed he had no feet and was forced to teeter in such a manner in order to stand.

"Tell me, your majesty," Jack said in the politest manner he could, "This road I am on... where does it lead?"

Zayne the Pumpkin King made a wide motion forwards with his long arm, a twig finger pointing to the many little lights ahead. "Halloween Town." He replied, "And the land I rule over."

"And," Jack asked, timidly motioning back over his shoulder with a thin hand, "in the other direction?"

Zayne stroked his chin thoughtfully as he stood still for a moment. He started to fall forward and had to catch himself, thus breaking his train of thought and the dramatic pose. "No one's entirely sure about that one, Jack." He admitted, "Many come from that direction, but none ever remember where from, nor do any head back."

"Why's that?" Jack asked.

Zayne shrugged, looking a bit sheepish, "Well, why would anyone want to go back? Like this, I mean." He motioned to his own body of straw held together with twine and cloth, then to Jack's skeletal form.

Jack felt he was catching on and nodded slowly, "Everyone here is... like this?" He asked in a near whisper.

Zayne nodded.

"All... dead?" Jack questioned farther.

"Just about." Zayne replied, "At least, all who came down this road."

Jack slowly turned the way he'd come from, speaking in a low whisper still. "Then does that road lead back to life?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

"Life..." Jack's voice held a sad longing to it and he found himself almost reaching out a hand in the direction he'd come from. The mystery place he had no conscious memory of. "Life... what was it like?"

A hand of twigs fell upon his shoulder. His mud encrusted clothing seemed to crack under the grip of the Pumpkin King's hand, and Zayne spoke in a very serious, yet sympathetic tone. "Jack. There's no turning back. Not now."

Eyeless sockets turned to gaze back at Zayne, blinking confusion at him.

"Don't try to remember." The Pumpkin King continued, "I know you want to, but trust me, it only makes things worse."

He let his hand slip from Jack's shoulder, then turned back towards the twinkling lights of what he'd referred to as Halloween Town.

"Follow me, Jack." Zayne said, "You and Zero can stay at my house for then night, and I'll help you get situated in the morning. I can tell from the look of you that you've been through a lot. Some rest should do you a world of good! Tomorrow's Halloween and we all best be rested up for the event!"

"Event?" Jack questioned as he followed close behind, "What event?"

The Pumpkin King grinned over his shoulder. "You'll love it! Trust me!"



An Ending and a Beginning...







(For sequel, see "The Making of the Pumpkin King.")

Story © Gina Trujillo, Oct. 2002. Jack Skellington and all related characters © Tim Burton.