Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987
Lurking From the Dark
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! A little late, but this is the Halloween story. Ah well, ghosties are fun any time of year. It was largely inspired by the Neopets game Mutant Graveyard of Doom II. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.
Halloween was turning out to be a very special and interesting night for everyone. Barney and Vincent were passing out candy to the neighborhood kids, as planned. Baxter had decided not to attend the Channel 6 party in favor of staying home with them. After all, it was his first chance to really spend the holiday in happiness with Barney, and with Vincent too, really. That had far more meaning to him than going to a masquerade party.
The Turtles did attend for a while, then came to be with the Stockmans. April and Irma were staying on at Channel 6, joined by Cassiopeia, who had decided a masquerade party would be a fun but slightly childish venture. She no doubt planned to go nightclubbing later.
After the Turtles had got back to the mansion, they, Splinter, and the Stockmans all witnessed the trick-or-treating of the founding members of the Turtles and Allies Fan Club, who had dressed up as the entire group-with the exception of Zach, who preferred his Fifth Turtle costume. It was a touching and special moment, and Michelangelo had snapped more than a few pictures.
Michelangelo had wanted to trick-or-treat for a while himself, also as planned, and he did so, accompanied by Baxter. They had got back safely and Michelangelo was counting out his stash-and occasionally sampling or sharing it. Now, as the evening wore on, he seemed to want to go out again.
"Again, Michelangelo?" Leonardo sighed.
"Hey, it's the last time to take a walk during the Halloween season," Michelangelo defended.
"What, and miss the Universal Monster Marathon?" Raphael quipped. He was parked in front of the television in the living room, watching Frankenstein.
"I'd be back in time to see some of it," Michelangelo insisted. "I just wanna walk around a part of the neighborhood we didn't get to."
"Well," Baxter said, "I'm up for it. I'm sure we won't be long."
"Hopefully not," Barney said with a quirked brow. "Things are quieting down and I was planning we'd have dinner soon."
"Gnarly! No better way to work up an appetite than with a good walk!" Michelangelo proclaimed.
Baxter was amused. "Do you have a specific location in mind, my friend?" he asked as they started out from the mansion's main gate several minutes later.
"Well . . . kind of." Michelangelo looked awkward and embarrassed. "I was talking to Barney's next-door neighbor over the gate today and he said something about an old abandoned house that's rumored to be haunted?"
Baxter raised an eyebrow. "I haven't heard about it, but I'm not surprised Barney wouldn't have mentioned it. Did you get an address?"
"Oh! Yeah." Michelangelo quickly rattled it off. "Do you, uh, know where that is?"
"I should, after months of walking around up here," Baxter smiled.
"I don't mean to go inside or anything, of course," Michelangelo quickly said. "I mean, the floor's probably rotting and stuff. But I thought it'd be kinda fun and spooky to see what it looks like from the outside, especially with Halloween being tonight and all."
Baxter chuckled and shook his head. "Yes, I can see why that would be an attraction for you, especially with your love of horror films." He paused. "What is the attraction to horror films? I've never understood."
"Well . . ." Michelangelo pondered how to explain. "I guess it's mondo exciting seeing all the damage and disaster and how all the bizarro creatures get stopped."
Baxter looked entertained but still not convinced. "You're not ever scared?"
"Well, sure, sometimes," Michelangelo said. "Even though it's cheesy. But that's part of the fun with horror films!" He blushed a bit as he added, "Not so fun when you try to go to sleep, though. . . ."
"I can imagine," Baxter said.
"Yeah, I had some real doozies of nightmares," Michelangelo said. "And sometimes other stuff comes out if I eat something weird, like a Shelob spider after I put lobster sauce on a pizza. I saw all those nightmares again when Creepy Eddie took me to Nightmare Land the first time."
Baxter grimaced. "I'm glad I didn't see those creatures."
"Oh, totally, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo said. "Hopefully we'll never be back in Nightmare Land again."
With a wry smirk Baxter said, "The real world is nightmarish enough."
"Too true," Michelangelo sighed.
Baxter came to attention as they reached the right street. "The house should be down here," he said. "Probably on a corner."
"Wow." Michelangelo looked to all the other houses they were passing. "These are all some fancy digs. Not quite as fancy as Barney's place, though. And most of these places look older."
"Barney's house is very unique," Baxter said. "Still, I'd say that house over there sticks out too, but for all the wrong reasons."
Michelangelo looked to where Baxter indicated. "Whoa. Major haunted house alert!"
Baxter had to admit, the broken-down house and yard seemed to meet all the haunted cliches. It was indeed on a corner, but the house next to it looked vacant as well. A gnarled weeping willow tree, stripped bare for the winter, bent over in the yard. On the opposite side, another tree stretched its naked branches to the sky, dark and eerie against the clouds.
The house itself was a crumbling mess. The sides were made of wood so old it looked like it would roll up and disintegrate at any moment. Shutters hung crookedly from broken windows, while the porch steps were filled with holes and the front door creaked back and forth in a vague breeze.
Baxter shivered in spite of himself. "It's a good thing you're not planning to go in," he said. "We'd probably fall through the floor."
"Oh, totally." Michelangelo pushed the rusty gate open and stepped into the yard. "But there's no harm in looking from the outside, right?"
Baxter looked apprehensive as he followed. "I suppose not. . . ."
The trees waved and swayed in the wind. Baxter jumped, seeing them out of the corner of his eye.
"It's just the trees, Bud," Michelangelo said.
"Yes," Baxter said awkwardly. "Of course."
Michelangelo went up to the nearest window and peered inside. "Totally gnarly! It looks just like the haunted houses in all the spook shows!"
Baxter came up next to him and stared at the broken floor, peeling wall, and thick cobwebs. "And that's supposed to be a good thing?!" he moaned.
"Baxter, you have no taste for horror," Michelangelo said.
"You're right," Baxter said. "And I'm glad!"
Michelangelo left the window and headed around the side of the house. "It won't hurt to check out the outside from all angles," he said.
Baxter followed, albeit reluctantly. "For all we know, homeless people or even a gang could have decided to be here." He flinched at a long and mostly dead grapevine that hung down and waved in his path from the side of the house.
"My ninja senses would pick up on anybody else being here," Michelangelo insisted. "We're alone!" He pushed on another gate, this one leading into the backyard. As he stepped through, Baxter came up beside him.
"Well," Baxter commented, "nature is certainly reclaiming this spot."
He was right. And while that would be eerie enough in the summer, it seemed even more unsettling in the fall. Dead vines curled around statues and over tablets. Tree roots poked out of the ground and went back in. Some tablets had all but disappeared into tree trunks.
"Whoa," Michelangelo breathed. "Mondo bizarro! And messed-up. Is this really what it looks like?!"
"The house is so old, it's from the days when it wasn't unusual to have a family cemetery right on the property," Baxter said.
The Turtle's eyes gleamed. "That is epic! . . . Well, totally creepy, but epic if you're looking for some Halloween scares."
"Michelangelo, there's really nothing scary about a graveyard, or there shouldn't be," Baxter said. "There's nothing to fear from the dead."
"Unless they were bad," Michelangelo said. "And when you don't know, that helps make it creepy!" He paused. "Well, just as long as there's really nothing here. Or at least, nothing that would really pop out and try to scare us. . . ."
"One thing I have to say," Baxter said as Michelangelo advanced into the graveyard. "I don't know if the dead would be happy for someone to come in here looking for some cheap thrills."
"On the other hand, maybe they'd be glad someone's visiting," Michelangelo said. "Although you've got a point that ghosts in horror flicks never seem to like it. Or they like it too much and don't want the visitors to leave!" He shuddered. "But hey, you're the one who always tells me the films aren't true, right?"
Baxter finally managed a smile. "Of course."
"So we should be fine. It's not like we're doing any damage. We just wanna explore! Or I do." Michelangelo paused. "But if you really think it's a bad idea, it's okay. We can leave."
"I'm sure we're really fine," Baxter said. "It's just that a location on a night like this can get to anyone, even me." He gave an awkward chuckle. "But I'm willing to walk through it."
Michelangelo smiled a bit. "Thanks, Bud."
"I wonder, though, if we should leave the gate open or else tie a rope around it in case we need to quickly find our way back and leave. . . ." Baxter looked over his shoulder and jumped a mile. "The gate's gone!" he said in disbelief.
"Huh?!" Michelangelo whirled to look. The hedge that had been cut away to allow room for the gate was now in place of the gate. He ran back. "Oh, this has got to be an illusion!" He reached out, certain he would still touch the gate, and the hedge's sharp leaves poked him instead. "Ow!"
"It could still be an illusion," Baxter frowned. "Or even our imaginations on a cold and lonely autumn night."
Michelangelo waved his hand to try to get rid of the sting. "That sounds more like Barney than you, Dude."
"Sometimes Barney has excellent points," Baxter said.
"Yeah. . . . Let me try something a minute." Michelangelo vaulted up, hoping to launch himself to the top of the hedge. Instead, an invisible force threw him backwards to the dying grass.
"Michelangelo!" Baxter cried in concern.
The Turtle spun on his shell and then stopped, staring at the hedge. "Oh, mondo uncool," he moaned. "What have I got us into?"
Baxter reached to help him up. "I should have insisted we leave," he lamented. "But we'll be alright. Maybe we just have to find our way to the other side of the graveyard to leave. It can't be very big."
"I hope you're right," Michelangelo gulped. He accepted Baxter's help and stumbled to his feet. "Looks like we can't call for help, either." He stared forlornly at his Turtle-Comm with its screen of static.
"Unfortunately." Baxter took out his phone and frowned at the No Signal message. "But we should do everything we can to not allow ourselves to be separated."
"Oh, totally," Michelangelo said. "Getting split up is always seriously bad news in the movies."
Baxter looked gently amused. He took Michelangelo's hand and held it firmly in his. "Then we won't."
Michelangelo might have ordinarily protested a gesture that seemed more for kids, but right now he was perfectly fine with it. "I wonder how long this place has been abandoned, for everything to have grown up around the graves like this," he mused.
"Nature can begin reclaiming the land very quickly," Baxter said. "For something like that tree trunk swallowing that headstone, it probably took many years to get to that point. But for the vines and grass, it could have been mere months."
"Do you think the people care?" Michelangelo wondered. "That their graves are all forgotten about and stuff, I mean."
Baxter pondered for a moment. "It might depend on what kind of afterlives they have," he decided. "If they're all together and happy, I'm sure they wouldn't be bothered at all. But if any of them are alone and sad, they might care."
"Yeah," Michelangelo frowned.
Something crunched behind them and they whirled. "Who's there?" Baxter sharply demanded.
"Hmph," Baxter said. "It must have been the wind knocking a stray pinecone out of a tree."
"Baxter . . ." Michelangelo sounded very strange. "Doesn't it look like that headstone over there isn't in the same position it was in a minute ago?"
Baxter frowned as he followed Michelangelo's gaze to a rather elaborate tablet with a pointed top that almost looked like a roof. "That isn't possible," he said. "It's deep in the ground and not easily moved. And no one is here to move it. It must just be the light from a new angle."
"Yeah, I guess." But Michelangelo still looked nervous. "What was that sound, though?"
"If it wasn't something falling from a tree, it could have been an animal, perhaps," Baxter said. "Animals usually aren't bothered by graveyards." He smiled a bit. "That should be comforting, since they can sense spirits better than humans."
"Or mutants?" Michelangelo pondered. "I've wondered whether my senses are more like a human's or an animal's."
"That's a good question," Baxter said. "Maybe both? It could be like an animal's enhanced senses, yet have the human's comprehension and understanding."
"Maybe," Michelangelo said.
"Truthfully, I've been very curious about that sort of thing, but I didn't want to treat any of you like science subjects by firing off rapid questions or suggesting tests to figure it out or whatnot," Baxter said.
"Aww, we wouldn't have felt like that," Michelangelo said. "I'd like to know the answer. The others probably would too!"
Baxter looked both pleased and touched. "Well, maybe we can talk about it with them later, then."
Again a strange rustling sound. They both jumped and looked to their right. All they could see was a statue of a woman staring thoughtfully into the distance. It was choked with vines.
"Mondo bizarro," Michelangelo frowned. "Baxter . . . do you have the feeling that dudette is really seeing stuff? Like us?"
"That's impossible," Baxter objected. But he didn't sound convinced.
"How about we just casually walk on by?" Michelangelo gulped.
"That suits me fine," Baxter said.
They slipped past the statue.
". . . Baxter?" Michelangelo whimpered after a moment.
". . . What is it?" Baxter asked.
"The statue's turned to look at us," Michelangelo hissed in horror.
Baxter spun around. The light from the moon peeking through the clouds had just hit upon the statue. "It's just the way the new shadows fall," Baxter insisted. "The statue can't turn."
"I guess so," Michelangelo said. "It's nice that we can fall back on logic like that, anyway."
They walked on and suddenly tripped.
"Gah!" Michelangelo stared down at the dying grass. "What'd we do, step on some vines on our path?!"
"Um, no." Baxter knelt and looked behind them. "We tripped over the raised dirt of what looks like a freshly covered grave."
Michelangelo went stiff. "What?" He slowly dared to look too. "But . . . nobody's been buried here for decades! Probably centuries!"
"Unless a murderer decided to bury his victim here." Baxter tried to keep his voice even, but he was quite shaken by now. This thought was unfortunately quite plausible. Who would think to look for a recent murder victim in an old cemetery?
Michelangelo swallowed hard. "How about we just quietly get up right now and run through the rest of the place?"
"That would suit me fine," Baxter said. "At the moment, I don't much care about disrespecting the dead."
"Wait!" Michelangelo grabbed Baxter's arm. "Do you hear that?!"
Baxter froze and listened. ". . . It sounds like someone digging."
Michelangelo shuddered. "Maybe the murderer is still around. And maybe he's gonna dig two more graves!"
"Alright, let's keep calm," Baxter soothed, even though by now he was the farthest thing from calm. "Maybe we'd better not run. Maybe we should stay perfectly quiet, just in case he doesn't know we're here. And if he finds us, at least you're a trained ninja. Surely he wouldn't be more frightening than Shredder or Krang or their mutants."
"I don't know, Compadre," Michelangelo replied. "At least we know those dudes. They're hardly ever scary, except when something bizarro happens like Shred-Head getting pumped up with super-strength and super-sadism." He slowly got up. "But you're probably right about us needing to keep quiet. He probably knows we're here, but maybe he doesn't know where yet."
Baxter stood too. "So we won't let him know." He took Michelangelo's hand again. "Let's start walking again, very quietly and carefully."
"Right." Michelangelo nodded.
For the next few feet that was alright. Then the sound came again, louder this time.
"It sounds like it's right next to us!" Baxter couldn't refrain from whispering in horror.
"But it can't be," Michelangelo gulped. "Nothing's there!"
"It can't be," Baxter agreed, "and yet . . . now there's a second freshly covered grave!" He stared at the raised dirt with wide eyes.
Michelangelo shivered. "Do you think it would be a bad idea to scream right now?" he quavered.
"Yes, but I don't think it would be a bad idea to run!" Baxter countered.
And run they did.
Raphael popped a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in his mouth as Frankenstein went to commercial. "I'm telling you, there's nothing like the old classic horror pictures," he said.
"Is that good or bad?" Barney retorted from where he was leaning with crossed arms on the back of the couch.
"Sometimes both," Raphael laughed. "Modern movies aren't so cheesy unless they're deliberately trying to be. But Michelangelo would say that they're more focused on being gross and gory, which is probably true. Some things are best left to the imagination. And when that imagination is Michelangelo's, oh boy, you never know what's going to come out! He could probably write his own horror stories if he wanted to."
"Maybe he already does," Barney shrugged.
Raphael paused. "Actually, he used to come up with short stories and read them to all of us," he remembered. "Well, mostly to Master Splinter, really, but Master Splinter had us all come to hear them too. They weren't that bad." He rubbed his knee. "He hasn't done that in a long time, though."
"I remember those stories," Splinter said from a chair. "It is a pity in one way if Michelangelo no longer writes. He has a very creative mind. On the other hand, I will admit I would prefer to see him write things that are not about fifty-foot monsters eating everything in sight."
"At least I remember he always had the monsters defeated," Leonardo said. "And usually by a group of five." He smiled. "As our family was at the time."
"That was always touching," Splinter agreed with a nod.
Vincent perked up. "Some stragglers. Good thing we're not completely out of candy yet." He took the bowl and went to the door.
"This is an interesting holiday," Splinter said. "This is the first time I have ever experienced it aboveground."
"It's the first time I've celebrated it in years," Barney remarked.
Vincent came back with the bowl and set it on the end table. "Between the kids and you Turtles, we might actually run out of candy," he said.
Raphael grabbed a Three Musketeers bar. "So, were there any good costumes on this round?"
"If you consider Shredder, Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady 'good,'" Vincent said. "I guess it had to take a lot of creativity to put them together."
"Kind of demented to show up here with costumes like that," Leonardo frowned.
"Oh, lighten up, Fearless Leader," Raphael drawled. "They probably just found it more fun to be the bad guys."
"Kids playing bad guys one year could grow up to be the next generation of bad guys several years down the road," Leonardo said.
"Maybe," Raphael yawned. "Or maybe they'll grow up to be actors. Or doctors, lawyers, businessmen . . . any number of things."
Leonardo stared into the metal of the sword he was polishing. "I guess."
"It's true that there could be a danger in it," Splinter said. "But I would venture to say that it is most likely harmless. From what I have seen, the majority of the children understand that they are only pretending for one night and they are perfectly happy to return to their normal lives the next day."
"And look on the bright side," Raphael said. "At least no one showed up here dressed as Baxter the Fly. That really would be demented!"
Leonardo frowned. "You're right."
"Hopefully no one would find that costume idea cool," Vincent frowned too.
"Some kids probably would," Donatello said. "Especially bug fans."
Barney scowled but had to admit it was plausible.
"Now seeing our fan club dressed up as us," Raphael said. "That was pretty cool."
"Jordan's Vincent costume was really pretty creative," Leonardo said.
"And all those different Turtle costumes," Donatello said. "No one used the exact same materials. Each one was unique!"
"I wonder what April thinks of Caitlyn's April costume," Leonardo chuckled. "They said they were going to Channel 6 so she could see."
"I am certain April will be flattered," Splinter said. "As I was by Oliver's Splinter costume."
"Baxter and Barney were pretty flattered by Betty and Brent's costumes," Raphael said. "Although I think Barney found it kind of strange to see someone wanting to dress up as him."
"I think most of us felt that way about kids wanting to dress up as each of us," Leonardo said. "But it was a really nice gesture."
"It was," Splinter nodded.
"And thanks to Michelangelo, it's a moment that will be preserved forever," Raphael said.
Donatello got up and went to the window. "Michelangelo and Baxter have been gone a long time," he frowned. "Baxter didn't think it would take very long."
"Michelangelo probably found some more houses open for business and couldn't resist picking up some more free candy," Raphael said.
"Maybe," Donatello said noncommittally, "but he seemed to know where he wanted to go. Maybe it wasn't for candy at all. He wasn't in costume when they left."
Leonardo looked up. "Well, then what would it be for?"
Barney suddenly stiffened. "Oh no."
Vincent turned to him with a start. "What is it, Buddy?"
"There is something else he might like," Barney said. "Especially on Halloween."
"Well, spill it," Raphael frowned.
Barney came around from the back of the couch as he spoke. "There's an old abandoned house not too far from here. I was never interested enough in the neighborhood to learn much about it, but it was impossible not to hear something. Apparently the children think it's haunted and dare each other to go inside. And there's a cemetery in the backyard."
Raphael slapped his forehead. "If Michelangelo found out, he would definitely go there."
Leonardo put his sword away and gave his full attention to Barney. "Is it haunted?"
"Who knows," Barney said flatly. "Regardless, I hope he wouldn't try to go inside. The floor is broken through in multiple places."
"I'm sure Baxter would keep him from going inside, even if he wanted to," Vincent said. "But Baxter might compromise with the cemetery. Are there any stories about it?"
Barney shrugged. "Strange sounds, mostly. And childish stories about statues watching you. Naturally statues can look like that under any circumstances, if they're sculpted just right. If one of those is in a cemetery, your mind could play all kinds of tricks on you."
Vincent quickly typed and sent off an email. "Baxter isn't replying," he frowned after a moment.
Donatello took out his Turtle-Comm and dialed. "And neither of them are responding to this."
Leonardo stood. "I think we should go there and look for them."
"I'm sure they're fine," Raphael countered. "Maybe getting the shell scared off of him will make Michelangelo think twice about going to creepy places for kicks."
"One thing about Michelangelo," Leonardo said. "He likes the idea of spooky things, but he wouldn't deliberately go where there were tales of things actually being dangerous."
"No, but he would check out places with rumors of harmless ghosts," Raphael said.
Donatello nodded with a sigh. "He would."
"And either he or Baxter could end up hurt, even if there aren't actual ghosts," Leonardo said. He looked to Splinter. "What do you think, Sensei?"
"Hmm." Splinter paused as he pondered. "It is unsettling that they are not answering. Let us go."
Leonardo looked at him in relief. "Thank you, Master."
Splinter smiled at him as he reached for his walking stick and got to his feet. "I should say, however, that I have every faith in Michelangelo and Baxter. I do not believe they would go into the house. Nor do I believe that there is anything in that cemetery that would truly harm them."
"I have faith in them too, Master, but I don't know if I trust that house after we've experienced so many strange things." Leonardo headed for the door.
Barney frowned a bit. "Do you know anything about the property, Splinter?" He snapped off the television.
"No, I cannot say that I do," Splinter said. "But I do not believe in ghosts."
"You can say that after Baxter and Fenwick astral-projected?" Barney retorted. "And Vincent?"
"I believe in spirits," Splinter said. "Not ghosts."
"Some people do distinguish between the two," Vincent mused. "Others consider them interchangeable."
Undaunted, Barney said, "Alright, suppose there are wandering spirits there. I didn't even consider it before, but . . ." He gritted his teeth.
"I am certain I would sense if there was any serious danger," Splinter said.
"That's true," Raphael said. "Sensei's really good about that."
Barney growled. "Well, I don't like it. Call me overprotective if you want, but after everything we've been through it seems reasonable to worry, at least about them not answering their communication devices." He stormed to the door. "I've finally come to accept how much I love Baxter. I'm not going to lose him to anything, including ghosts or spirits or what have you. And I'm through apologizing for what that sort of statement does to logic."
Vincent smiled at him. "You're being very logical, Barney. And Baxter would love to hear you say what you just said. Even if he might feel a little awkward or embarrassed at the same time, for getting into a predicament involving ghosts or spirits."
"Maybe I'll repeat it for him," Barney grunted. "When we find them. And for the record, I feel the same about Michelangelo too."
"I know," Splinter said. "And that is also very special."
Barney didn't offer more commentary. As everyone stepped onto the porch, he snapped the porch light off and pulled the front door shut.
Michelangelo and Baxter didn't slow down or stop until they ran around a large and gnarled tree. Baxter desperately needed to catch his breath, and once they stopped, Michelangelo found that he was a little short on air too.
"Do you think we've lost it?" he gasped.
Baxter shook his head as he bent forward with his hands on his knees. "We can only hope."
"And what the heck was 'it'?!" Michelangelo continued.
"The ghost of a murderer? An hallucination? Our imaginations?" Baxter shuddered. "Honestly, I think we're better off not knowing."
"And we should really be getting close to the other side of the yard by now!" Michelangelo cried. "But we're not! It's like this place goes on forever!"
"It seems to be even larger than Barney's yard," Baxter agreed. "There could be as many as a hundred or two hundred graves here. . . . Or maybe that's an understatement." He gazed nervously at the surrounding area. It seemed like there were graves in every direction. Some were in normal rows. Others seemed haphazardly placed.
"I'll bet there's more than that. And I don't think the hedge up there is the exit," Michelangelo moaned. "I think there's just hedges growing all through this place. We've been passing them dividing different plots as well as going around the edges of the whole thing."
"I think you're right," Baxter said. "But we might be safer when we get on the other side of that particular hedge anyway. At least we can hope. It almost looks like a gateway to something else."
Michelangelo placed his hand on the tree trunk. "I'm like, mondo sorry, Baxter," he said sadly.
Baxter frowned. "For what?"
Michelangelo stared at him in disbelief. "For what?! For all this!" He gave a wild, sweeping gesture. "It's my stupid fault we're stuck in here. I was curious and I wanted to see the place! Now look what I've done!"
"You couldn't have known," Baxter said firmly. "You innocently wanted to look around the outside of the house. You weren't planning to go in, which was wise, and you didn't even know about the cemetery. We were locked in almost as soon as we saw it."
"I should've thought about how stupid it always is in the horror films whenever anybody wants to see what the haunted house or the creepy castle is like," Michelangelo lamented. "They always get burned."
"But this is real-life, not a horror film," Baxter retorted. "Just as I've encouraged you to think. Because this isn't a movie, you believed it was alright just to look around the outside. You weren't planning to go inside a house that is very likely dangerous because of its age if nothing else. That was smart, Michelangelo. You couldn't have known there was danger in the yard too. If you had, you wouldn't have even stepped on the property at all."
"I guess that's true," Michelangelo conceded.
"Of course it's true," Baxter smiled. "You're curious, but not reckless."
"It was pretty reckless to eat those anti-mutant cookies when Donatello said not to," Michelangelo sighed.
"That was a long time ago," Baxter said. "And anyway, you just thought being a human would be fun. Maybe you felt Donatello was unfairly prejudiced against us, especially since you associated mostly with good humans."
Michelangelo paused, pondering on that. "You know, maybe you're right about that," he said. "I know I thought Donatello must be exaggerating about it being a drag. And none of us knew at the time that the stuff would explode after a while." He shuddered.
"Exactly," Baxter said. "Meanwhile, you've never thought being chased by vicious spectres would be fun." Smirking, he added, "If you had, you would have received a very stern lecture from me on the matter."
"And I would've totally deserved it," Michelangelo said.
Baxter nodded. "I think that for you, the fun in coming somewhere like this is just the tease, the curious wondering what it's like and if it's really as spooky as everyone says. Most likely, you never really expected for something supernatural to happen at all, unless it was something where no one was fully sure if it was supernatural or not."
"Well, I sure got that," Michelangelo said. "These bizarro sounds are something we can't figure out!"
"But at least we know we're both hearing them," Baxter said.
"Yeah," Michelangelo said slowly. "I guess that's a lot better than just one of us hearing them."
"Of course, because we can fully deal with it together."
Michelangelo smiled a bit. "Thanks, Baxter. You always know the right things to say."
Baxter blushed. "I try. But if you keep feeling upset about this, I hope you'll keep talking about it, either to me or the other Turtles or whoever happens to be around."
"Totally," Michelangelo nodded. "And I think we've taken a long enough break. Er, if you're feeling up to moving again," he added.
"Yes," Baxter assured him. "I'm quite better now."
Michelangelo grinned. "Then let's get going again, Bud. We need to find the way out of here like yesterday!"
The strange crunching sound startled them both again. They peered around the tree from either side.
"I don't see anything," Baxter said.
"I do," Michelangelo gulped. "It's that same tombstone I saw before. I know it is!" He pointed to a tablet that was now positioned at a strange angle on the grass. "Nobody would have put it like that on purpose!"
Baxter stared at it. By now, he wasn't sure he was willing to discount the idea that it could be the same headstone, even though that didn't make the slightest bit of sense.
"Alright," he said then. "I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to leave the tree and walk calmly towards that break in the hedge. If we hear any more crunching sounds, we will not look behind us. We will forget about being calm and run!"
"Sounds good to me," Michelangelo declared.
Again they grasped hands. As they stepped out from the tree, at first all was quiet. It was only after they had started walking that the crunching resumed.
"It's there," Michelangelo whispered.
"Don't look," Baxter insisted. "Run for it!"
They gripped hands and fled, practically flying over the crackly grass and the headstones. The crunching behind them continued, insistent and frantic.
"There's no conceivable way that's a headstone!" Baxter cried.
"I don't wanna find out!" Michelangelo replied.
They dashed around the hedge and stumbled to a halt. Now they were on a stone walkway. Gravestones lined the path on either side. Up ahead was what was left of an old water fountain, with a death head spout.
"What the heck?!" Michelangelo exclaimed.
"Whoever lived here was certainly morbid," Baxter frowned.
"And are all of these graves really real?!" Michelangelo stared at the stones. "That would mean this walkway goes right over some of them!"
Baxter shuddered. "Yes, it's possible, if someone was feeling disrespectful to the dead. From that fountain, I wouldn't be surprised. The water apparently came out through the skull's mouth!"
"Mondo bizarro," Michelangelo moaned as he facepalmed.
"Well, the good news is that the crunching has stopped," Baxter said.
"If we hear something else, it'll probably be stone scraping on stone," Michelangelo gulped.
"We still don't know that sound had anything to do with a moving headstone," Baxter said. "Actually, all of these sounds could be the product of some juvenile delinquents with a sound system. Maybe they set something up to scare anyone who might decide to come over here for Halloween."
Michelangelo gave him a doubtful look. "Do you really believe that, Dude?"
"I'd like to believe it," Baxter said. "It's certainly logical."
"Except for how that second fresh grave came out of nowhere," Michelangelo shivered.
"We could have imagined it was fresh because of the digging sound," Baxter said. "Maybe it was there and we didn't see it before. Whoever set up the sounds to prank people could have dug and covered that as part of the joke."
"I guess," Michelangelo said.
"Barney would say that, anyway," Baxter said, "and right now, I would really like to believe it."
"What about, like, restless spirits or something?" Michelangelo suggested. "Murder victims calling out to anybody who'll listen and that kind of thing? Or even just regular spirits, lonely because they can't accept they're dead or something?"
Baxter fell silent a moment. "I suppose that could be the case," he said slowly. "But if they're not malevolent, they're certainly picking ridiculous ways to show it!"
"It's better than thinking they're just out to get us or something," Michelangelo said.
"That's true." Baxter sighed. "In any case, let's keep going. We must be near the exit by now."
"I sure hope so," Michelangelo sighed too.
They were just walking past the fountain when it turned on. Stagnant water filled with moss and mold poured from the mouth of the death head and into the bowl. The friends froze, then slowly turned to stare at the sight. Without another word, they ran.
They had traveled some distance down the path when they both saw the renegade tombstone slide into the road. For a moment it almost looked like cruel eyes and a sneering mouth were visible before they faded. The evil pulsating through the air was almost tangible.
"Gah!" Michelangelo shrieked.
Baxter's heart pounded wildly in his chest. Every part of him screamed that this was impossible, that they couldn't have seen what they just saw.
He tuned out those screams.
"Come on!" he insisted. Still tightly clutching Michelangelo's hand, he ran around the side of the tombstone.
Forced to run behind him for that brief moment due to lack of space, Michelangelo stared at the object with terror-filled eyes. When it turned to look right back at him, he screamed and rushed to get back to Baxter's side. "Did you see that?!" he wailed. "Did you see it?!"
Baxter shook his head. "I've seen more than enough."
"It turned around and looked at me!" Michelangelo cried.
Another tombstone stepped in their path.
Baxter went sheet-white. "There's more than one of them!"
"And they really are just out to get us!" Michelangelo shrieked. Part of him was tempted to ninja-kick it and see what would happen. The other part was afraid of what hurting it might do. "Run for it!" he yelped.
They tore past the second tombstone. But then, to their shared horror, several other tombstones that had seemed perfectly normal began to move. Every headstone positioned up against the hedge started to step away and glow with a cruel face.
That was too much. "Dominoes!" Michelangelo decided. He kicked the first gravestone and it fell backwards, knocking all the others down with it.
Another tombstone slipped into their way. Baxter flinched. "Leave us alone!" he snarled. A sharp kick knocked it over.
"Let's boogie before we find out if they can get up!" Michelangelo shrieked.
Baxter was in complete agreement.
They clutched hands again and fled past the graves, not daring to look and see how many more tombstones were coming alive and coming after them. When they turned to the left, Baxter caught sight of what looked like another gate up ahead. Desperately he prayed for it to release them. If it didn't, well . . . he didn't want to think about what might happen next.
In the Turtle Van, everyone was tense and confused. Although they continued trying to reach out to Baxter and Michelangelo, neither responded to Turtle-Comms or emails.
"I've been trying to learn something about the house," Vincent spoke as they rode along.
"And?" Barney demanded.
"I can't find out anything concrete," Vincent said. "At least, not about the ghost stories. I found out that the cemetery is quite elaborate, with carefully grown hedges, a stone walkway, and even a fountain running through some of it."
"Well, how nice," Raphael said dryly.
"It must be old," Barney said. "Health regulations wouldn't allow a cemetery in someone's yard today."
"Oh yes, it's old," Vincent agreed. "It was back when death heads were common on funerary art." He showed a picture of the fountain.
"Okay, now that is freaky," Raphael proclaimed. "Why would anyone want that in their backyard?!"
"People in those days had a strange preoccupation with death and knowing they were going to die," Vincent remarked.
"Now if Michelangelo were here, he would probably make a crack about them being the first goths," Raphael said.
"Their attitudes were quite different from today's . . . ahem, goth movement," Splinter said. "To my knowledge, they did not consider learning about death enjoyable or fun, but rather simply facts that everyone needed to remember."
"They wanted to drill it into everyone," Vincent said. "I think part of it was in wanting people to prepare to die by being spiritually ready. I was around then, but mostly I was only able to hear things when people came close enough to the area where the ship had crashed. We just visited this area once prior to the crash and we all found the residents' attitudes very dreary."
"Sometimes it's easy to forget that you were around way back then," Raphael said.
"Or that all these amazing places you visited were around 400 years ago," Donatello added.
"It would be hard for organic lifeforms to grasp," Vincent said. "The thought of highly advanced technology that long ago would be strange to those who still don't have technology that advanced."
"Well, we have one thing," Donatello smiled. "You."
"And I'm happy to be here," Vincent said. "It's also strange that I found my true happiness on a planet that doesn't have anywhere near the kind of technology I'm used to."
"That was because what you longed for did not require advanced technology," Splinter said. "You only wanted to be loved and to love in turn."
"Yes, that's true," Vincent agreed.
Leonardo had been silent. "We're almost there now, I think," he said as he turned a corner.
"This is the right street," Barney acknowledged.
"So, what are we going to do when we pull up?" Raphael wondered. "Just spread out calling for them and maybe venturing into the broken-down house or the creepy graveyard?"
"In case the danger isn't from ghosts, we should be as quiet as possible," Leonardo said. "And we also have to be cautious. Stories go that spirits sometimes trap their victims in their domain and they can't escape until they accomplish certain tasks, like finding the way out. That seemed to be the case the last time we ran into Creepy Eddie."
"Oh, don't remind us," Donatello groaned.
"This is really creeping me out, Fearless Leader," Raphael scowled.
"The point is, we can't be reckless," Leonardo said. "We have to save them, not get trapped ourselves."
"If they can only escape by finding their way out, there will be little we can do," Splinter said, his brow furrowed in his concern.
Barney growled. "I can't decide what would be more agonizing-staying at home unable to do anything or being right out front and unable to do anything."
Vincent laid a hand on his shoulder. ". . . That must be it," he softly announced.
Everyone came to attention as Leonardo pulled up in front of the dilapidated mansion. Once upon a time it had no doubt been striking, even beautiful, albeit perhaps it had always possessed an eerie, otherworldly quality. It certainly did now.
Barney frowned. "I've passed this house multiple times through the years and never gave it a second glance. Now, my brother and my nephew might be trapped somewhere on the grounds."
Splinter closed his eyes and concentrated. "Yes," he said then. "They are there. Even through whatever barrier has been placed between us, I can still sense the presence of Michelangelo. Baxter is there as well."
"I wish I could sense people like that," Barney said. "At least when it comes to something like this."
"Perhaps someday you will," Splinter said. "It does not take anything mystical or otherworldly, but simply a deep and strong bond. Love isn't even a requirement. I can also sense the presence of my mortal enemy Oroku Saki when he is near."
"That's . . . interesting," Barney said slowly.
"And useful," Leonardo said.
"I think you already have some of this sensing ability, Buddy," Vincent said. "There's been times when you've picked up on loved ones in danger."
". . . I can't deny that," Barney said.
They all got out of the Van and awkwardly stood on the sidewalk, not sure what to do next.
Michelangelo and Baxter solved that problem when they tore through a gate on the right side of the house and barreled towards the others, their eyes wide and filled with terror.
"Baxter!" Vincent exclaimed.
"Michelangelo!" Leonardo cried.
The frightened friends didn't even stop to question the others' presence. With utter relief, they ran off the property and over to their loved ones. "Let's get out of here!" Michelangelo wailed.
Everyone was thoroughly willing.
Michelangelo babbled most of the way back, detailing all the bizarre things they had been seeing and hearing. Leonardo kept an arm around his shoulders, frowning as he listened.
"Walking tombstones with faces?" Raphael snorted. "Fresh graves? Old fountains turning on?"
"It all happened!" Michelangelo insisted.
"Yes . . . it did," Baxter finally said. He had stayed quiet, letting Michelangelo do the talking. Vincent hugged him close, while Barney looked on in concern.
"You're just as shaken up as Michelangelo is," Barney spoke after a moment.
"Or even more," Vincent said.
Baxter shook his head. "It had to be a prank. . . . Maybe all those tombstones and everything else was remote-controlled. . . ."
"Yeah, and I'll bet if we went back in, we'd find everything in place again like it never happened!" Michelangelo exclaimed.
"In the past I might have thought you were both drugged," Barney said. "But you're both completely aware and your eyes are clear."
"Totally!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "We weren't drugged at all!"
Baxter nodded. "Of that I'm sure," he said. "But I don't know how to explain what happened. I just don't. . . ."
"You know, it really doesn't matter what it was," Vincent said softly. "The only explanation I need to know is that it scared you both."
"I shouldn't have been scared," Baxter blurted. He sounded bitter. "I was the adult in that situation. I should have stayed logical and insisted there wasn't anything to be afraid of. But after we've been through so many bizarre experiences, I . . . I just wasn't sure. It was so frightening for all of those things to be happening and to not be able to understand what was causing them. I gave in to the fear and acted like a coward again."
"Hey, I'm the ninja," Michelangelo said. "I shouldn't have let a few ghosts and headstones get to me. But I knew if spooks were really there, I couldn't fight them off. That's one area where a ninja doesn't have any power. And that . . ." He shuddered. "That really is terrifying."
"It is," Leonardo said. "That's a perfectly good reason to be scared."
"And Baxter, if you'd really been a coward, you would have abandoned Michelangelo and tried to get out all on your own," Vincent said.
"I'd never do that," Baxter objected.
"Of course you wouldn't," Vincent smiled.
Barney finally spoke again. "It's only human to be afraid. You know, don't you, that people who are brave are brave because they don't let their fears cripple them, not because they're not afraid."
"You don't consider running out of there at breakneck speed letting fears cripple me?" Baxter retorted. "Maybe we should have stayed and got to the bottom of it."
"Obviously something wasn't right," Barney said. "Michelangelo said the gate closed up and some invisible barrier prevented him from jumping over it. Naturally as soon as an exit opened up, you'd both run out as fast as you could. It would have been foolish to stay, not brave."
Baxter finally smiled. "Thank you."
"I'm just telling the truth." Barney's eyes flickered. Clearly he wondered if he would have been so nice in the past.
Vincent looked at him and smiled. Baxter only cared about the present.
Michelangelo sighed. "Well, in any case, I think maybe I'll swear off the rest of the monster marathon for tonight. I don't have much of a taste for horror right now. I'm starting to get why Baxter doesn't like it. You know what sounds good? Pigging out on candy and pizza and just hanging out."
"Yeah," Raphael conceded. "That sounds pretty good to me too."
"Boy, I am mondo glad we found the way out right when we did, so you guys didn't all get caught too," Michelangelo shuddered.
"That was indeed very fortunate," Splinter said. "We arrived at exactly the right time for all of us."
"Definitely," Leonardo nodded.
Donatello looked over. He had been letting others do most of the comforting, but he wanted to know, "Are you alright now, Michelangelo?"
"Well . . ." Michelangelo looked a little awkward. "I'm not sure I wanna sleep by myself tonight. . . ."
Baxter gave him a weak smile. "I'm not entirely sure I do either."
"We'll work it out," Leonardo said.
Michelangelo and Baxter relaxed as the Van pulled in at the mansion. They would be safe in there. Of course, they were safe in the Van too. They were together, and with their treasured loved ones. That helped ease even the most terrifying of situations.
"This is one Halloween I'm never gonna forget," Michelangelo declared.
"Nor will I," Baxter said.
"But any time I think about it, I'm gonna remember the good stuff too," Michelangelo continued. "You and me were in that mess together, Bud, and we came through it. And our family was here for us when we found the way out."
Baxter smiled. "Those are the best parts." He looked to Barney and Vincent. "And that will vanquish whatever demons we may struggle with because of our adventure."
"Of course," Vincent beamed.
The house was quiet late that night. Everyone stayed up for some time, talking and eating, but at last the desire for sleep started to come over them and they began to drift upstairs into various rooms to settle into bed.
"So it's totally cool if I stay with you tonight, Dude?" Michelangelo said to Leonardo.
"Of course," Leonardo said. "I wouldn't have it any other way. Well, unless you wanted something different, naturally," he hurriedly added.
"Gnarly," Michelangelo beamed.
Baxter smiled at him. "You'll be just fine, I'm sure."
Michelangelo gave him a thumbs-up. "Here's to peaceful dreams."
"Or at least, to brothers who will calm you if you don't have them," Baxter said.
"You can count on it," said Leonardo.
They headed into a bedroom.
Goodnights were exchanged all around and soon Baxter was left in the hall with Vincent.
"What do you want to do, Pal?" Vincent asked.
Baxter hesitated. "I really don't want to be alone right now," he said. "I don't know if it's silly or not, but . . . Barney was so nice tonight. . . . I feel like I'd like to go to him and see if . . . well . . ."
Vincent looked overjoyed. "Go ahead," he encouraged.
"You wouldn't feel bad for me to go to Barney?" Baxter asked.
"I'd love for you two to feel close enough for this," Vincent said.
Baxter smiled. ". . . He might not want to anyway. . . ."
"Try," Vincent said. "He will."
Baxter wasn't as sure, but Vincent's encouragement definitely pushed him to the door.
Barney was surprised when a soft knock came at his door just as he was climbing into bed. "Come in?" he blinked.
Baxter opened the door slowly, hesitantly, and leaned on it. "I . . . I just wanted to say, I was very happy about what you said tonight, Barney," he said. "Vincent too, of course. But I mean . . ."
"You mean it was nice to not hear me ridiculing you for being terrified," Barney finished.
Baxter flushed. "Yes . . . I guess you could say it like that. . . . I wondered how you would handle our story."
"I wondered too," Barney admitted. "But the absolute terror in your and Michelangelo's eyes . . . that was real. I couldn't dismiss that . . . even if in the past I might have tried."
Baxter looked down. "I think everything was relatively fine until we actually saw the tombstones moving. . . . Oh, I was still frightened before that, but I kept trying to think it was a prank. When I said it in the Van, I didn't really believe it anymore. I couldn't, not after seeing those tombstones. . . ." He shuddered. "And yet I desperately wanted to believe there was some other explanation besides something horrible . . . and unknown . . . and supernatural. . . ."
"It sounds demented," Barney said. "I wouldn't have known what to make of it either. And I would have wanted to keep telling myself it wasn't real somehow."
Baxter nodded. "I kept thinking of how you would react if you were there," he said with a weak smile. "And wanting to believe in logic like you would. Unfortunately, logic seemed to dictate that the explanation was horrifying and frightening instead."
"It seems so," Barney grunted.
"I've been through so much already," Baxter frowned. "This just seems so preposterous when compared with grim alternate futures or thinking loved ones are dead or even being fused with a fly. Why couldn't I take it? Why has tonight left me shaking inside?"
"You and Michelangelo could have been hurt or killed," Barney said.
"And it certainly hasn't been the first time," Baxter said.
"But all the other times, you knew what was after you," Barney said. "Tonight you didn't know. You still don't know. And there is something infinitely more terrifying about unknown evils." He smirked a bit. "Especially for scientists, who need logic and deduction more than some people."
Baxter considered that. "You make a lot of sense."
"I know," Barney said wryly.
"Hearing all those sounds . . . never knowing what was causing them . . . and then seeing the fresh graves, and those tombstones moving, and not understanding how or why, or why they hated us so much. . . ." Baxter tightly shut his eyes. "It was so horrible. . . ."
"It sounds like something out of Michelangelo's nightmares," Barney said.
Baxter gave a weak chuckle. "And here we were commenting on being glad not to be in Nightmare Land earlier tonight. And that reality was nightmarish enough. We certainly proved it, didn't we." It was a rhetorical question.
Barney studied his brother. Baxter shifted, still hesitant. Clearly he wanted to say something else, but he was awkward and embarrassed and unsure.
"How's Michelangelo?" Barney asked.
"Oh . . . I think he'll be alright," Baxter said. "He's sharing a room with Leonardo tonight."
"Good." Barney hesitated too. ". . . You said you weren't sure you wanted to be alone tonight either," he remembered. "I thought you'd go to Vincent."
Emboldened a bit, Baxter said, "You're both my brothers. . . ." He smiled.
". . . And you trusted me enough to come to me tonight," Barney said softly. Suddenly he felt overwhelmed. After everything they had been through over the years, and how they were still learning to be a family, this was a huge and significant thing.
Baxter nodded. "I did. I do."
Barney slid over and pulled back the covers. "Come on."
Brightening, Baxter came forward and climbed into the large bed. "I still feel like a child," he said as he set his glasses on the nightstand.
Barney grunted and shrugged. "Well, we never really did this as children, except when we were too young to remember. You could consider it making up for lost time, if you want." He paused. "But brothers should never be too old for it."
Baxter smiled, gazing at his twin in awe. "You really mean that. . . ."
"As you and Vincent have observed, I'm not who I once was," Barney said. "And I could have lost you tonight. Michelangelo too. I didn't know what was going on. I just knew I wasn't willing to let it happen."
"I'm so glad," Baxter said.
"So am I." Barney paused. "Are you alright with having the light off?"
"Under the circumstances, I think so," Baxter said.
Barney reached above him to turn off the lamp on the nightstand. "Then goodnight."
The last thing Baxter saw was his brother's smile. He closed his eyes, moved and peaceful.
Watching for a moment from the doorway, Vincent shone with pride.