Disclaimer: Neither Thunderbirds nor Charmed, their characters, plots and concepts belong to the author of this work, and it is strictly (sigh) non-profit.
Warnings: Violence, light bad language, supernatural themes, intense action
Authors Note: I've done it again! My foray into one-shots has turned into a short story! I apologise humbly, but this one went on a rambling journey, and it bothered me that it was unfinished for such a long time, so here we go. The next chapter of 'Psychics' has been started, however, and I'm going to try to get it out before Christmas.
Anyone familiar with Charmed will recognise the salient plotline here – similar to the episode 'Chick Flick'. However, it's been a long time since I actually watched the episode, so I just used the premise that I remember and built a similar but different plotline around it. I'm just writing this because it amused me to imagine the Tracy family playing out Charmed episodes, so, you know, it's not admittedly very high on originality.
Please, read and review! I didn't get one review for the last chapter. I got the feeling people didn't like it much…
By Ryuuza Kochou
"You want popcorn?"
"Scott, stop reorganising the chore rota, for chrissake. Popcorn?"
"Sure, whatever. Why popcorn?"
"Oh, I dunno. I thought it might assuage your fears that anyone with working throat muscles could choke on it. So, you know, you could cross that off your disaster list."
"I do not have a disaster list!"
"You're right. It's probably more of an edition now."
"Look, you've been pacing around and twitching and organising since they left. This is getting ridiculous."
"Ridiculous? You think to be slightly concerned when you send two people, to whom trouble sticks to like epoxy, out there where 'trouble' is defined by the raging darkness of the millennia of man focused toward the elimination of humanity and it's various affiliates and has agents that seek to rip, tear, dismember, eviscerate, taint, vaporise, roast, and otherwise destroy all that is good and anyone else who happens to be in their way is ridiculous?...I knew it, I should have never agreed to this."
"Scott….they're going to a movie. Not into a hell mouth."
"Oh. I guess so," Alan shrugged, still looking around. It was a quaint old place, with all those golden pillars and red velvet and old fashioned wooden tables and those golden elaborate lamps. In its heyday, the old theatre had been luxury, or at least the illusion of. But Alan could see the decay setting into it now. Half the globes didn't work, the velvet was faded and the carpets threadbare. The plaster mouldings, once elaborate on the ceilings, were cracked and mildewed. He made a face. "Is this place going to stay standing through the movie?"
"Relax," Gordon handed the money over to the cashier. "It's stood up for a century. One more night isn't going to do it any harm."
"Gordon, they're tearing it down after the showing; doesn't that tell you something? And why are we going to see…what?"
"The Shadow in the Swamp. You used to watch it all the time."
"When I was six, Gordon. Six," Alan rolled his eyes. "If we're going to see a movie, why not see one from this century at least. Where you can't see the strings."
"There's nothing wrong with strings. Seeing strings doesn't detract from the viewing experience. Haven't you ever watched those supermarrionation shows?" Gordon laughed. "Come on, it's like the last time we'll ever get to see this on the big screen."
"I didn't watch it that much on the small screen," Alan muttered.
The two Tracy's turned. Coming toward them was a blocky dark haired teen with a slender auburn haired date coming toward them, followed by two other blondes, a guy and a girl.
"Hey Darryl," Gordon smacked his hand is greeting. "Kirstan," he nodded to the auburn headed girl genially.
"Hey man, what's up?" Darryl grinned at him. "Come for some boring nostalgia too huh?"
The blonde girl came up to slap Darryl's arm. "It is not boring nostalgia. Hi Gordon," she smiled shyly at the red-head.
Gordon grinned at her brightly. "Hi Marie. And uh…Rick." He nodded to the towering blonde who was smiling like a tiger.
Alan glanced sharply at Gordon when he talked to Marie. There was something under the surface there…oh, he didn't…
"Oh, hey," Gordon cast a brotherly arm around Alan, which made Alan even more suspicious. "This is my brother Alan. Alan, you remember Darryl, right? That's his girlfriend Kirstan, you've probably seen her around. That's Marie Vera on the left and Rick Polesta on the right."
Alan kept a straight face and a polite manner through the various greetings. He tried to avoid Rick's laser glare.
"What are you doing here, Gordon?" Kirstan asked curiously as they walked.
"Oh, well," Gordon waved the free hand over Alan's shoulder. "This place holds some memories. My Mom used to bring me and my brothers here when we were little, you know, so when we heard there was a final night coming we thought we'd give it one last look over. I remember coming here to watch The Shadow in the Swamp with Mom and Alan ten years ago. I think it was the last one we ever saw with her. We used to watch it all the time growing up, right kid?" He shook Alan with his slung over arm.
"Yeah, right," Alan nodded. He nearly rolled his eyes. He could feel the 'awwww' feelings rolling off Kirstan and Marie like smoke off a fire. "I remember watching it all the time at home when I was little."
Rick grunted, smirking. "I hope you aren't scared of it, a kid like you seeing a Slasher movie."
Alan's smile went slightly brittle. "No, I'll be fine."
Gordon theatrically snapped his fingers. "I forgot the Jujube's."
"Jujube's?" Marie laughed.
"Yeah! It's not an experience with genuine old-fashioned movie-food."
"Those things are probably fifties surplus," Darryl made a face.
"Even better! More real!" Gordon grinned as the ladies went 'ewwww'. "Save us some seats, we'll be right back." He deftly steered Alan back toward the ticket counter, which doubled as the snack bar.
"I knew it!" Alan hissed once they were out of earshot.
"Now I know you're upset," Gordon held up a placating hand. "But…"
"I knew you had an ulterior motive! 'We're just seeing an old favourite, you'll really enjoy it' my ass!"
"Hey, you're getting a night off from Sentinel Scott and his Super Security Sentry Strategy, which mostly consists of locking us up in the house. So, you know, if I happen to meet up with some friends and marginally get to know a nice girl in the process, what's the problem...?" Gordon trailed off.
Alan glared at him. "Oh sure, I really appreciate being dragged here to be your sympathy vote. I thought we were just going to have a night off, Gordon." Alan seemed actually hurt.
Gordon winced slightly. He knew Alan was having trouble making friends here…No, incorrect; with his premonitions and Empath incomings, what he was actually doing was having trouble keeping them. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? When this is all over we'll get ice cream, my shout. But Kirstan mentioned going with Marie and I had to find an excuse Scott and they would accept. And, you know, Marie's pretty hot and Rick's clearly an ass, so I thought it might be a worthwhile opportunity for comparison."
"Plus Rick, guard on the football team, is not going to punch your scrawny swimmer lights out with me here, cause girls don't like that," Alan predicted accurately. He made a face. "I should dump you, you know. This isn't fair. And I'm not going to use my powers on her either. No way."
"Are you kidding? Even I wouldn't stoop that low," Gordon retorted. "Look, I'll owe you a big one, okay? I almost never get a chance like this nowadays. Besides, you're not a total sympathy vote. Mom really did used to bring you and me here, and Virgil and John and Scott too. She loved these old flicks. And this really was the last film I remember coming to see with her. You were there too."
Alan was taken aback. "I don't remember…"
"You were still just lying in her arms back then. I think it was the only time we could keep you still when you were awake. You used to jiggle around and move a lot, but when the movie was on you used to just lie there and watch the pictures, all quiet. She said you liked them like she did. Why do you think Dad bought all the old videos?"
"Oh," Alan replied. The emotions were subtle, underneath the veneer of usual teenage attractions and sensations, but the warmth Gordon took from those memories was genuine and sincere. Alan sighed. "All right, you've guilted me into it. But if you start calling me 'Sprout' and telling them all my cutesy kiddie stories, I am going to murder you."
"What, not even the time you…" Gordon was grinning evilly.
"Remember that time we went to the carnival and they went on the rollercoaster together and that curse loosened all the bolts and wiring? They were teetering up there for four hours while we hunted that old woman down!"
"Okay, that was one outing. I still don't believe you when you say it happens every time. What about the school camp?"
"Half breed werewolf being controlled by a cave witch. And poison oak."
"Okay, fine. What about that hiking trip to the Caverns when Dad was buying that mining company?"
"Salamander. Capital S. I didn't even know you could melt crystal until then."
"Oh yeah. Okay, how about Carmel Beach?"
"Sprite with a grudge."
"Oooh, yeah, that one. Okay. Okay. Oh, I got it. Furniture shopping when we moved."
"Mrs Edelstein, our fourth grade teacher."
"You call that demonic?"
"Oh, that's right, you never had her. Consider yourself lucky."
"Wait a minute. If you know they're going to get into trouble when they're left alone, why did you let them go?"
"Are you kidding? It's worse when they're apart!"
Actually, it wasn't too bad once they settled down in the somewhat lumpy seats. The first two seating choices had to be rejected, because the springs actually stuck through the first set and when Darryl was manoeuvring into the next row up, one of the armrests came off in his hands. He quickly tossed the guilty breakage down, muttering about heap of junk buildings. They finally found seats that were squeaky and rickety, but passable, and shared out popcorn and Jujube's and the old black and white reel started.
Of course, there were heckles all the way through.
"Oh geez, you just found a dead body so he takes his girlfriend even further into a muddy swamp…" Kirstan muttered.
"That's part of the fun," Darryl whispered back.
"Fun? That's fun? That must be a guy thing," Kirstan whispered back, while Marie tittered.
"Yep," Gordon said airily in a low voice, though Alan didn't know why they bothered. There was barely anyone else in the theatre. "Dead bodies and unholy evils and going to face unknown dangers – definitely entertainment."
"This is so lame," Rick griped, but not too seriously. "I mean look at this 'hero' guy, he wears that stupid letter jacket and keeps walking around saying they've got to do the right thing and how it's all going to be okay. I mean, can you say 'stupid'?"
"As opposed to modern day Slasher flicks?" Marie retorted under her breath. "You know, the ones that think gore and sex and hip rock music can take the place of character and dialogue and plot?"
"You call running around chasing the most obvious decoy in the history of the world and saying 'swell' and 'wow' and 'I'll save you Susie' counts as character, dialogue and plot?" Rick asked.
"What about the girl?" Kirstan broke in. "I mean, all she does is stand there and scream."
"Shhh, this is the best part," Gordon waved a hand.
Rick smirked derisively. "You really into this, aren't you?"
"What? Acting bravely and honestly and caring about what happens to other people?" Gordon shrugged. "Nothing wrong with that. Billy was my first hero, and he was just a regular guy faced with a bad situation."
Rick snorted patronizingly but Alan nodded to himself in the dark. It was a smart move – Marie admired Gordon's honest reply to the corniness on the screen. She was interested.
And this wasn't too bad, Alan admitted to himself. Watching the corny old black and white brought back fond memories of childhood, and the thriller was so out-of-date it was actually kind of funny. He mouthed the familiar dialogue as the familiar characters spoke away on the screen.
Just as they reached the part where Billy is about to find the real swamp monster, a new figure walked onto the screen. Alan blinked at the robed man, who was standing next to the misshapen Slasher in the suspiciously dry swamp.
"Uh, it's been a while since I've seen this Gordon," Alan whispered to his brother, who was scowling at the screen. "But was he in the picture before?"
"Who is that?" Kirstan was taken aback.
"What?" Darryl yawned. "He's probably the dark lord, or something."
Gordon shook his head. "I must have watched this film five hundred times," he said slowly. "I've never seen him before."
"So they've remastered it," Rick waved a hand indifferently. "You know, added all the deleted scenes and stuff."
Marie shook her head, staring at the handsome bearded man. "No, that can't be. They found the original film walled up in one of the rooms in the theatre, that's why they're playing it tonight. Original experience, you know? They haven't changed anything. They're using an old fashioned projector, they couldn't remaster it."
The bearded man appeared patted himself over like he was checking he was all there. He smiled in a predatory way. "Ah, so now I awaken. Now I return. Even the abyss of non-time could not end me."
Alan felt a cold shiver pass along his spine. The man in the picture seemed so much more real than the fuzzy characters, so much clearer. He felt Gordon's hand close around his wrist in the dark.
"Excuse me, sir," the black and white Billy stepped into the screen, holding Susie's hand. He looked lost and uncertain, and his image flickered strangely and blurrily. "Who…who are you? We didn't see…there was no one else…" Billy faltered to a stop, looked completely puzzled.
His date turned and screamed, her best talent. "Billy!"
The Slasher man, with his drape jacket and long blade walked up from behind them, weapon raised. Billy got Susie behind him in a classic protective pose.
The bearded man seemed to ignore this. He looked at the camera.
No, thought Alan chillingly. He's looking out of the screen.
The bearded man smiled in a beaky way. "Ahhh, I see witches…I see powers…The world is never the same when I come to change it…" his eyes were aglow, his voice issued from the tinny speakers like he was standing in the room…
Bearded guy walked over unconcernedly to the Slasher man while the two teens cowered back, and whispered words that only Gordon and Alan could hear. The lights went out, and the screen faded to a muddy, blurred grey, and if suddenly turned out of focus.
Or into focus. Alan thought he could see colour seeping into the grey at the edges, and the suddenly the flat screen almost appeared to have a depth, like a monochromatic tunnel. It seemed to grow, and fill the whole screen wall, doing strange things to the air, filling it with the smell of film chemicals and mud and decaying trees and popcorn. It only lasted an instant, too fast for any non-psychic to catch. The screen popped back into place.
"Gordon!" Alan hissed, wondering if he'd seen.
"I know, I know," Gordon whispered back. "I think we should get out of here…"
"Hey, what was that?" Rick's voice emerged out of the pitch darkness. "What happened to the new guy?"
"What happened to the Slasher?" Darryl asked as well. The teens stared at the screen, where Billy and Susie stood alone, looking at bewildered as everyone else. There were murmurs of protest all around. The screen light was so dim and blurry you could barely see anything, and all the other lights – aisle lights, exit lights, were off.
"Maybe they had a power outage," Kirstan said, sounding uncertain and worried. "This place is falling apart."
Alan though he heard the noise of someone moving down the aisles. It was a limping drag that sounded familiar. He listened hard for it.
"Just a minute, I'm sure they'll turn on the lights," Rick spoke quietly.
The dragging sound was getting closer. Alan's heart started to beat faster. It wasn't a patron or an usher. He could sense people. Right now he couldn't sense anything…
…the Swamp Slasher was confused. The madness in what could be called his mind was a part of him, like his arms and his legs. It wasn't even insanity – it was how he was made, therefore it was his sanity. It was sane to kill. He was a killer.
He had a set reaction. Find the right target, raise the knife…this was all he was. It was like water being wet, snow being cold, fire being hot. There were certain things he recognised, certain shapes that made him react. And now, in the light of the dim grey screen, he saw a blonde pony tail next to a blonde crew cut…
The lights came on and but didn't glint off the knife, which like the rest of the Slasher was monochromatic. He hadn't come from a world that knew colour…
Raise the knife to the girl, and the boy will get in the way…
Only this time it was the wrong blonde. Marie screamed as soon as the lights came on, revealing the black and white monster coming for her from the aisle. But Alan, already pre-warned by his senses, which were very special indeed, got his feet onto the chair, sprang up and leapt over the others, hitting the Slasher man full in the chest and bearing him down.
Several things happened at once. Rick screamed. Darryl swore. Kirstan gasped. Gordon was on his feet and vaulting over the next row yelling "Alan!"
The Slasher was momentarily confused. This situation was not within the scope of his limited reactions. But he was in the real world, and that granted him the ability to adapt. He levered the twelve year old off him and rolled them both in the aisle, pinning him to the floor. He had his blade in his hand.
He wasn't prepared, had not yet adapted to the real world enough, to anticipate Gordon coming at him with a roar, swinging the broken armrest down with enough force to knock him several feet sideways and off Alan. The grey faced Slasher landed in a heap in the aisle, his knife spinning away from his fingers.
Rick already a disappearing shape at the back of the theatre, Kirstan, Darryl and Marie were frozen, pale, in the aisle. Gordon dropped his weapon of choice and dropped down next to Alan, taking him by the shoulders. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Alan breathed. "You guys? Marie?"
"I'm fine," Marie faltered in a tiny voice.
"Oh geez," Darryl hissed. "Look!"
The Swamp Slasher was rising to his feet. There was a sizable dent in his head.
Not a bleeding wound. A dent. His head looked completely deformed, but he stumbled forward, heading for the knife, which was a part of him.
Marie gave a wordless little gurgle at the things fumbled for it's knife, it's odd limping gait a frightening spectre in the shadowy theatre.
"Up, up," Alan was hauled off the floor by Gordon and pushed behind him. "Now everybody run!"
They sprinted up the aisle, running into the stream of other patrons who were escaping the same way. They were so panicked to get out they never noticed the two Tracy boys hanging at the back of the fleeing few.
"Why does this always happen to us?" Gordon muttered rhetorically. "I guess Scott wins."
"So…wait, you really believe that the entire cosmological miasma of energy fluctuates to create complete disaster whenever the two of them are alone together, right?"
"I've yet to be proven wrong."
"And yet knowing this you still let them go out?"
"Dad's not a fan of the theory yet. Besides, I know Gordon and Alan – the tighter you chain them the easier it is for them to escape. If I let them go out tonight, they get less grounds to go to the free concert I the park next month. It's all part of the long term strategy."
"You're a sad, sad man, Scott."
"I'm a sad, sad man getting paid, brother."
"The short term strategy was to make trouble unprofitable. I bet Gordon fifty bucks he couldn't stay out of trouble."
"And he agreed?"
"It was the only way he got out the door."
The Swamp Slasher wasn't slowed by the damage. He limped toward the two Tracys, classic knife clutched in his hands.
"Stand back, Sprout," Gordon muttered, getting Alan behind him. "Hey, gimpy grey! You know you were the star of my first nightmare? My Dad always told me to face what I fear. So you know," white fire bloomed around his hands. "This is bad news for you."
The fire was dead on target, and for a moment the Swamp Slasher was nothing but a pillar of white flame.
And then he stepped out of it, like he was walking through air.
Gordon's jaw dropped open. "What?"
Alan's hand appeared over his shoulder. Gordon felt a terrible chill pass through him as Alan channelled whatever dead spirits were in the area. That's what Empath's were supposed to do; mediate, sympathise, and tie loose ends between people, events, places and the threshold of death. Help the living move forward and the dead move on. They could give dead hands power, for a little while.
"He's…" Alan dropped his hand. "He's not there, Gordon. They can't grab him and I can't open his mind because…I don't think he has one…"
"He doesn't have a body either, apparently," Gordon backed up, pushing Alan back as well. "Holy fire should be able to take out anything with molecules."
"Uh, what now?"
"Um…gimme a minute…"
"This is the state of the great practitioners of magic? What a disappointment. This world will clearly hold no invigoration."
Gordon and Alan spun forty five degrees, and there was the bearded man standing in his dark robe looking bored. His eyes had a weird sheen on them, as if he were forever standing looking at light.
Gordon heard Alan whisper in his ear "He's here…"
Ah? Right? Suited Gordon just fine. There was something about the almost nondescript man that was strangely but very definitely more threatening than the mangled Swamp Slasher.
"Well," Gordon said with a tight smile. "We all got out little problems now don't we?"
The man gave a bright smile, as false as a doll's. "Ahhhh, I love a good line. Being stuck with those two," he jerked his thumb toward the black and white characters on the screen. "Has not been a lesson in stimulating conversation." He smiled again, like a snake. "I wouldn't suggest that you try anything, you magical worm."
Gordon's hand was raised and the fire was blazing. "Oh?"
There was a yelp behind Gordon and he spun to see Alan dragged out of his protective sphere by the Swamp Slasher. Gordon lunged, trying to snatch him back, but the Swamp Slasher was faster than his misshapen legs appeared. Alan struggled and kicked, but he couldn't hurt the Slasher any more than the fatal armrest with his bare hands. He clawed at the hand that had by the neck while his feet dangled above the floor.
"Alan!" Gordon dove for the Swamp Slasher only to be halted by the knife which found it's way to Alan's throat.
"Now, now, let's not get violent," the bearded man grinned. "We don't want to turn this into a war movie. It's really very simple, young brat. I will walk out of here. And you can deal with one opponent instead of two.
Alan was making choked noises and he struggled to draw air. Gordon breathed harshly, eyes switching from on opponent to the other, eyes blazing with fury. "You call that a deal?"
"The best kind, my little weakling. One that suits me. Well?" the man smirked.
Gordon's nostril flared. He stepped aside stiffly, keeping his eyes trained on the struggling Alan, who was trying to force the knife away from his neck.
The man laughed derisively as he passed. "A child thinking he could face Salazar. That's a plot even I can't swallow."
He hummed cheerfully as he pushed aside the faded velvet drapes and disappeared. Gordon turned back to his little brother. "Alan hang on, I'm coming…I'm…" Gordon looked around wildly and scooped up the half shattered armrest from the floor. There was a metal pipe running through it from which the armrest was moulded around, and it stuck out at the connecting end. Gordon sprinted forward and drove the pipe end as hard as he could into the gripping arm of the Slasher. The Slasher staggered back with his trademark moan, dropping Alan to the ground. Gordon hauled him up and dragged him back down the aisle toward the lobby exits.
Once they were out in the lights, Gordon took the opportunity to spin around and check on Alan, who was gasping and coughing. There was a livid red line across his throat. "Alan? Are you okay? Alan?" Gordon put his hands on either side of Alan's face.
"Yeah," Alan rasped, coughing.
Gordon breathed out, and hugged his brother tight. That hadn't been funny. Not even close.
"Gordon!" Darryl came running up, the two girls were behind him. "We were about to go back in there for you! What happened?"
Alan rubbed his throat, covering the mark and shot a tense look at Gordon.
"I…I fell on the way out, nearly got trampled," Gordon lied. "We had to wait for everybody to get out, make sure no one got trapped."
"Who was that?" Kirsten nearly shrieked. "Some whacko dressed as the Slasher?"
"Yeah, looks like it," Gordon looked back into the open theatre doors. Screen, chairs, popcorn strewn on the floor. No Slasher.
"He must have gotten out the exits near the screen," Gordon said slowly. He felt cold fingers squeeze his stomach. "You guys better get…I'm just going to ring home…" Gordon took Alan by the hand, and gently pulled him toward the doors.
"Hey Alan," Marie spoke up. "Thanks…for in there. Thanks."
"No problem," Alan whispered, as Gordon took him out the door.
Rick appeared from behind, snapping his phone closed. "It's okay, the police are on their way…What?" he was faced with a group glare. "What'd I do?"
Marie scowled. "Nothing," she spat. "Not a damn thing."
When Alan was outside, he took a moment to sit on the entrance steps. His hands were shaking. Gordon sat next to him, looking a little shaky too. The red head put one arm around Alan, and used the other to pull out his phone.
"They'll call. You'll see. They'll call."
Virgil rolled his eyes just as the phone, which had been placed conspicuously in the middle of the table, rang.
"See?" Scott said smugly. "Say hello to fifty bucks."
"It proves nothing," Virgil replied staunchly.
Scott shook his head pityingly, and switched the phone to speaker mode. "Hi Gordon. What did you do now?"
"Scott?" Gordon's voice came over the line. Virgil sighed gloomily, and fished out his wallet for the twenty he now owed.
"We need some help here," Gordon continued breathlessly.
"You got the football team mad at you again?" Virgil grinned slightly. That had been memorable.
There was a moment of absolute silence from the phone. Then Gordon's voice came through at a yell. "This is not a joke! Some guy just stepped out silver screen and tried to slit Alan's throat! I am not kidding here! Alan nearly died and my fire didn't work!"
"What?" Scott snapped.
"Are you okay?" Virgil asked incredulously.
"We're fine," Gordon's voice was tight. "But the Swamp Slasher got away."
Scott was snatching car keys from the basket and a cell phone from the hall charger. "Where are you? Still at the theatre? Stay there, I'm coming."
"Wait, say that again," Virgil interrupted, waving a hand at Scott to stay. "The Slasher came out of the screen? That gimping old guy with the coat and the moan from that old movie…?"
"Yeah, that's him," Gordon replied.
"Once more, with clarity," Scott said slowly.
"We were watching the movie," Gordon explained patiently. "We were getting to the end, and this new guy appears on the screen and does…something. Suddenly we've got a Swamp Slasher walking around the theatre in glorious monochrome and attacking some of the people we were with. Alan got him on the floor and I clocked him and everyone went for the exits and suddenly there this other guy there, the one that was on the screen, and Alan nearly gets slashed by the Slasher because nothing we do can hurt him and I had to let the guy from the screen go and I think he's a demon, or something close, and I let him a escape out into the streets."
"Take a breath," Scott advised. "Take several breaths. Stay calm for me, okay?"
"I'm fine," Gordon snapped. "I'm fine. Alan's fine. Alan and I are fine…uh, anyway, this whack job demon is walking around the streets and the Slasher might still be too."
"This demon," Virgil cut in. "What did he look like? Anything distinguishing we can look up?"
"Average height and build," Gordon replied. "Beard. Weird shiny eyes, that was a big hint. Big, out-of-date robe was another one. And he was a completely arrogant prick too."
There was a shuffling sound on the line. "Scott?" Alan's voice came out.
"Hey kid. You okay?" Scott asked.
"Yeah. He said his name was Salazar, Scott. Have you heard it before? And the Swamp Slasher wasn't…he wasn't real, Scott. I couldn't sense him, the ghosts in the theatre couldn't touch him when I gave them power. It's like he really wasn't there. Gordon couldn't burn him. I've never seen anything like it."
Virgil had gotten up and was rifling through the shelf that held what was euphemistically called 'Grandma's Books'. The old woman had memorised their pages and felt that her son and grandsons could make more use of them in the city. "Salazar…Salazar…" He got out a sizable old tome, stained and weathered, without a title, although those in the know usually called it the Book of Portentum. He flicked through the pages. "Salazar…" he muttered.
The pages flicked themselves momentarily. Virgil jerked back. "Cripes, I hate it when it does that," he hissed. "O-kay. Salazar," he read the entry that the book had revealed for him. "Oh…not…not good."
John had decided to walk tonight. The Honours course was a hefty load of research and shop work, with little (read none) time set aside for such luxuries as sleeping, eating and physical activity. And since he liked having a handy chocolate or two while slaving over the books or in the lab, he made it a point to make exercise a part of his routine. Dad allowed it only because John could reliably get himself out of trouble with little more than a moment's concentration.
in a vaguely oblivious trance going over notes from the evening
class. Ahead of him, there were screams. John's head snapped up and
he saw ahead, one of the local cinemas was discharging patrons in a
massive exodus. People were being trampled in the panicked stream.
And abruptly John could see why. There was a whining roar and a plaid clad man who looked like a rather demonic version of an over-built lumberjack wielding a massive chainsaw with the ease of a butter knife was striding out of the theatre. He swung it towards the back of one of the fleeing patrons, and John's hand came out.
There was a moment's corona of flickering blue lights around the deadly instrument, but they vanished with no effect. It was enough to slow the chainsaw man down, though, as he looked at his weapon in puzzlement.
John was looking at his own hands the same way. That…should have worked. Trying to drag the things away from the plaid redneck had felt like he was trying to take an arm or a leg.
The plaid man turned to look at John, and there was a manic edge to his snarling cackle. But his eyes were blank. His colouring seemed glaring, bright, the light hit him in the wrong way. He stuck out in the darkness like a fluorescent light. The chainsaw roared again and the plaid man gave up chasing patrons and headed for John.
John backed up, but the massive plaid man was faster than he looked and the chainsaw was thrust through a mass of lights as John orbed away from danger. John blinked in usual momentary disorientation as he remerged behind the chainsaw man, and jerked reflexively as the man appeared in front of his face from the light.
A poster, John thought, heart pounding. Just a poster. But there he was in plaid covered glory, the star of Blood Mountain. John stared at it, trying to figure that one out…
The chainsaw roared behind him as the cackling mountain man lunged for his chosen victim, taking out an entrance veranda support and mangling one of the potted palms that sat outside the doors, somersaulting it over and spraying potting mix. John looked around wildly and settled on the pieces of stone pot between him and the lunging killer.
John waved a hand, and the heavy base piece orbed off the floor…
…and re-emerged over the mountain man's head. It crashed down with a satisfying thump and he was half buried under the pieces. The chainsaw sputtered and died.
"Okay…" John murmured to the air. "Okay." He repeated for lack of anything better. A killer from a movie just stepped out of a movie theatre and tried to kill him. If this sort of thing hadn't become a sort of routine with his family, he'd probably be hysterical by now.
"That's it? No snappy line?" said a dark velvet voice from the lobby of the theatre. Salazar appeared in the doorway. "Honestly, you modern people have no sense of dramatic timing."
John turned to face Salazar, and his blue eyes narrowed. He knew evil when he saw it, and the grinning face and shiny eyes shot right through him and out the other side. "Who are you?"
"Oh, I am the master of all unreality, you ignorant simpleton," Salazar snapped. There was a definite sense of insult that John didn't know this. "I'd give you more of education, but I doubt whether you'll need it for long."
The chainsaw roared through the air punctuated by the mad, choking cackle of the mountain man. It sliced through John's back pack, which was scattered all over the pavement. John had vanished in a corona of light, narrowly escaping the same fate.
Salazar pursed his lips, vexed, and stirred the scattered books and stationary with his foot. Interesting. Usually Whitelighters didn't get involved in the action. They were more the head of operations character type. No matter. Salazar reached down and picked up a battered card wallet from the mess. The mountain man was frozen in place, like a paused film.
Hmmm. Salazar turned his eyes to the mountain man. "Find the Whitelighter. Kill him."
Whitelighter may not get involved, but they could get backup.
The stink of magic was everywhere around this town! Everywhere – real stuff, the kind that could deal in the real world. Ha! As is the unreal world didn't offer so much more…
Witches! He could smell them, taste them. Insofar as Salazar could feel anything, his hatred of those worthless, insolent creatures was a clear line in his thoughts. He flicked over the card wallet until he found the drivers license. Hmm….where you found whitelighters, you found witches. Where you found witches you found…
Well, that wasn't going to happen to him again. Best to pull the weed out by the roots, prune back the plant before it grew. Salazar was as arrogant as the sun was bright, but he wasn't stupid.
He looks around smiling. He liked this era. He could sense the stories and characters like plants could sense the sun, bending his mind to them, feeling their threads of weight bending thought, feeling and behaviour. Humans thought in stories. They used them, taught them, learned them, lived them. In such places Salazar found an endless wellspring of power. And stories like these…not just hope and peace and morality but darkness, evil and violence. They explored it, analysed it, invited it in…
Salazar grinned as he viewed a poster of the second of tonight's double feature. A ghostly image was painted on the dark poster, all silvery lines and half formed shapes, except for the glowing eyes, slitted evilly. Underneath the title swam jerkily out of the murk – Dryad.
Yes, yes, she would do…
"Gordon, where are we going?" Alan asked cautiously. He watched Gordon like other people watch a fuse that's hanging over an open flame.
"We're going to find that bastard and his gimping minion," Gordon snarled, stalking up the streets. "And I'd appreciate no comments from the peanut gallery, Sprout."
"Good grief, why would I argue?" Alan replied with sing-song sarcasm. "We're only dead the minute Scott realises we've left the theatre. We don't know where to look for them, and when we find them, our powers won't work on them anyway, which means we'll be slightly deader than if Scott finds us first." He shrugged as the red head turned to glare at him. "I'm just saying."
Gordon slowed slightly. "You really can't feel anything?"
"Zippo, Gordon. And I know what I'm talking about. So…what now?"
Gordon scuffed a shoe on the pavement. "Why'd you have to go and ask that? I don't know. But we let him escape and I know a real bastard when I see one. He's a spree demon."
There was screaming ahead. Both Tracy's bolted toward it, on the reasonable estimate that a demon would leave a fairly obvious and noisy trail. Ahead of them, near now to the city, was another theatre, with a miasma of people streaming around it, confused and panicked, milling like sheep and talking at cross purposes. And there, in the middle of the chaos, two guys were holding down a writhing, twitching….
"Is that the snake thingy from Slitherers?" Gordon asked incredulously.
"Is it?" Alan shot back. "Dad wouldn't let me see that one."
It was an iridescent, oversize, python like animal, with very large head that was mostly mouth and it had some very unlikely spikes along its body. It whipped and snapped and shrieked, which snakes aren't supposed to do.
"You didn't miss much," Gordon said with glassy cheerfulness. "You know, some stupid but amazingly photogenic scientists start playing god innocently and the experiment escapes and lots of people die in interesting if not to say gory ways…excuse me, excuse…can you tell me what just happened?" he nudged a random patron who was gawking at the spectacle.
"Oh, well," the woman seemed a bit shell shocked. "We were watching the film and then this very strange man walked all the way up to the front, you know, in front of the screen, and…he must have bought the snake with him – he let it loose right there, like it had just come out of the screen, the stupid idiot." The woman huffed. "What a stupid prank. Anyway, it was a good thing those guys were watching too – they said they work at the zoo. Herpetologists." She shrugged.
The men, fit and tanned outdoorsy looking types, were definitely wrangling the snake with a certain expertise. The thing, which was too thick to encircle with both hands, fought and whipped against their pinning weight, letting our glass shattering shrieks.
"Well?" Gordon raised an eyebrow at his younger brother.
Alan shrugged. "As far as my powers are concerned, they're hanging on to air."
One of the wicked looking spikes shot off the snake as it lashed in a frenzy, ricocheted off the road and whirred over the heads of the ducking, yelling crowd to stick like an arrow in the wall opposite.
"Yeah. Right. Air," Gordon said, getting up and dusting himself off.
One of the snake wranglers swore fluently and yelled over his shoulder at the cinema doors. "Hey, you got that extinguisher yet?"
Another guy, dressed in the cinema uniform, came running out, hauling the heavy red cylinder over his shoulder. Another spike rocketed loose, and skipped along the pavement, causing a ripple of jumps at it spun through the feet of the watching crowd.
The usher unpinned the extinguisher and unhooked the hose, and, as Gordon and Alan elbowed their way to the front rank, let loose a cloud of nitrogen and flame retardant chemicals.
The iridescent scales of the snake turned frosty white as it writhed and bucked against its restraints, screaming and screeching. The wranglers got a fair dose of the stuff too, but the more the snake rolled and fought the more coated it became. In a matter of second the fight had gone out of it, and it moved into cold induced torpor.
Then something happened the wranglers didn't expect, and neither did the crowd. The snake monster hissed asthmatically and then froze over, completely white, and crumbled like hollow pottery under the weight of the two guys who had pinned it with their whole body weight.
"What the hell…?" One said, bewildered.
Gordon and Alan looked at each other.
"Yeah, right Scott. 'I'll go look for the trouble twins and you, Virgil, can do all the easy bookwork stuff'. Right," Virgil kept up a stream of resentful mutter as he hauled old and heavy reference books out of the shelf in the attic. "Nice to know you care, brother. What? What?" he repositioned the cordless phone pressed against his ear with his other hand as he tried to find the right ledger among the library. Why did no one in the last century believe in putting titles on the front of books? "Yes, I said Jeff Tracy….No, I'm not kidding…Yes, I'm know he's in a meeting, but this is…Yes, I know a CEO can not answer every complaint call…Look, I'm not some irate customer, okay? I'm his son…No, I am not kidding, will you stop saying that? I'm his son, and this is a family emergency, and he's left his cell phone in his office…look, his office extension is one-three-nine-nine-two-star-hash-star-five. Would I be bothering to call the main switchboard if I knew that? He's in the conference room and I need you to…hello? Hello?"
He looked at the cordless in disgust. Temps!
He began dialling another number, dreading having to make this one, thank-you-so-very-much big brother. "Hello? Grandma?"
"Virgil? Good grief, lad, have you any idea what time it is?"
"I know, sorry," Virgil grimaced. "But it's kind of an emergency. There was a demon that was sealed in your generation that I'm trying to get info on, and I wondered…" There was a hissing, trickling sound from downstairs, and a definite sloshing quality as well. Virgil frowned as he went to the attic door and crept warily down the stairs. Water, ankle deep, was running like a river across the first floor, making rapids out of the stairs and lakes out on the rooms. The edge of the moving water crept up the hall like a tide, and there was a hissing of high pressure water shooting out of the pipes of the upstairs bathroom.
Virgil gaped. "The hell…" There was an indignant voice of authority suddenly in his ear, and Virgil realised belatedly that Grandma was still on the line and most unimpressed with his language. "Hang on, I didn't mean…" There was a gurgling, keening noise echoing through the tiles of the bathroom. Like humming under water, but sharper, more uncomfortable on the ears. The hairs on Virgil's neck stood up. "Hang on, Grandma. I'll call you back."
Putting the phone down on the attic stairs without waiting for a reply, Virgil stepped down into the tide and shuffled as quietly as he could to the bathroom door. It was closed, but, and it was disturbing, moisture streams ran down the surface from the sides, and the top, making the door look like it was weeping.
The grating noise vibrated the droplets on the surface. Tense and careful, Virgil reached for the doorknob and twisted it open to take a look.
The bathroom was an old fashioned, white tiled affair, and the tiles shone from the light above and reflected off the rippling water boiling up out of the bathtub and roiling across the floor, making the light bright and bleached. The tiles above the bathtub were warped and half popped loose, water shooting out in a high speed spray that, even as Virgil watched it slowed to a trickle.
Wading in, Virgil looked around, watching for irregularities. A couple of years ago he'd have been groaning about broken pipes, but nothing was ever as it seemed anymore. There was nothing but the sound of the water, echoey drips and the gentle splash of waves. Virgil waited.
It rose from the depth of the bath, a vague humanoid shape, keening a high pitched toned that rippled the water. In the centre of the water there were glints of silver, hints of an inner shape where the light bounced wrong. The…thing, whatever it was, shrieked.
Virgil gave a yell and staggered, clapping his hands over his ears as the agonising high note shattered the bathroom window and rattled bottles on the cabinet shelf. His hands came up, fingers splayed…
There was a shuddering sound of moving air, but the dryad rose unconcernedly, becoming a towering pillar of water and ripping up tiles with tentacles of water while droplets rained back and forth through the air.
Virgil tried again – nope, time just refused to freeze. Concentrating harder, he tried to speed up the molecules instead of freeze them. The tiles past the thing shattered satisfactorily, but the monster remained unharmed.
It lunged at him, retaliating for the attack, and Virgil was knocked off his feet in the flash flood. He was spun around in the tide and felt his shoulder strike the hall wall. Fighting to the surface, Virgil gasped in air. Water demon, he thought, trying to get his footing. But if it was a demon, why couldn't he freeze it? Or blow it up? Even those who could get around that power were affected by it.
And then he thought…Salazar.
Virgil's feet were jerked out from under him as an incredible suction pulled him back into the bathroom like a riptide. He tried to swim against it, feeling with his hands for any kind of secure anchor, but he couldn't get a grip fast enough before the suction pulled him away. Fighting instead to keep on the surface, Virgil gasped another breath as he was sluiced into the wide shower cubicle and hissed in pain as his head stuck on of the taps. One foot bracing on the corner of the stonework, Virgil forced himself upwards to get out of the shower cubicle before…
The sliding door slammed shut, too late. Virgil pulled and yanked at it, trying to force it open, but it was stuck fast. Water started raining from the shower head, and he couldn't shut that off either, because the taps popped off and squirted out water too. There was an upward current at Virgil's feet, meaning water was streaming out of the drains too.
The shower cubicle was more of a chamber – it stretched from floor to ceiling, and filled so rapidly that Virgil was treading water in a matter of moments, clawing futilely at the plexiglas door, pounding a fist on it, seeing how weak it was.
A shower, Virgil thought irrelevantly as he worked to free himself. All the foes of Hell and I'm going to die in a shower….
"Did you think there was anything weird about that?"
Gordon stared at the blonde incredulously. "Just one thing you mean? A giant snake released by a demon off a movie crumbles into potash and you want me to tell you if I thought anything was weird about it?"
Alan made a face. They'd left the scene and were now wandering rudderless around the area, looking for any sign of Salazar. "I meant, why did the fire extinguisher work? We tried holy fire and empathy and dead channelling at the Slasher, and it did nada. But two ordinary guys with a fire extinguisher took out one of Salazar's…I dunno, minions I guess. How?"
Gordon shrugged as we walked on. "It was cold, and snakes don't like cold. Maybe real stuff works on then and not witchcraft."
"Gordon, you smashed the Slasher's head in! He should have been down for the count!"
Gordon stopped and frowned. "Hey," he said slowly. "Why did that damn extinguisher work?"
When John rematerialised, he'd sent himself to the nearest port of safety to the theatre, which was Tracy Corp's building. He'd actually materialised in the upper conference room, because when he'd tried to materialise in Jeff's office en suite bathroom, he's nearly knocked himself out on a cabinet and his fathers guests had come running in at the noise and it had taken some very creative straight faced lying to explain his presence.
The conference room was empty at this time of night. At least, that was the plan. Before he could even begin to slow his heart rate, or soak up the pure adrenaline singing in his system, John spun around at the sound of voices reaching the conference door. Night meeting!
Folding up like cat, John scurried under the conference table and huddled there, feeling like a complete fool as footsteps and voices came closer, and forests of legs came past. John had managed to hunker near the head chair where his Dad sat, so as the voices chattered and papers were piled onto the table, no one noticed John under the table, until Jeff pulled his chair out and instinctively watched it come toward him. He had his mouth open to answer a question across the room, so no one noticed the flicker of shock that passed across his face seeing his second born sheepishly hiding underneath his conference table. He blinked for an instant and then, as he sat, held up a subtle index finger, gesturing John just to stay put for a moment. "Alright people, let's get this started…" he spoke to the room, and no one noticed the fire alarm on the side of the room flip over with no hand to guide it. An alarm bell began to ring loudly from all walls.
"Okay, I take it back. Alright, everybody get down stairs, make sure everyone is evacuating as you go. Go on, I'll call security and find out if we're dealing with a fire or another bomb threat."
There was another mass rush back toward the doors and irritated voices echoed back and forth down the hall, and distantly down the stairwell. John looked up to see a calloused hand reaching in to give him a hand out. He took it, and levered himself upright.
"Trouble at home, John?" Jeff asked seriously.
"No, on the street," John replied. He shrugged his shoulders as he realised the sawed off back pack straps were still hanging off them. He tugged the tatters loose and held them up in front of him. "He must have cut it right off me," he breathed, pale.
Jeff gripped John by the shoulders. "Who? What happened?"
"The guy. With the chainsaw."
"That's right," John nodded. "I didn't get it either. The guy came running out of the cinema, totally nuts, trying to cut up people with a chainsaw. I tried my powers on him, Dad, they didn't work! And here's the really weird thing – the chainsaw guy was a character in a movie. Just a character, Dad, and they were playing the movie there. It's like he stepped off the screen."
"Stepped off the screen…" Jeff repeated slowly. "I've heard that somewhere before."
"He definitely wasn't human, I know that. He didn't look right, move right," John moved uneasily. "He's still out there, Dad."
"Alright, let's go home, round up the others," Jeff tilted his head for a moment. "The first floor coffee station, I think." He put an arm round John's shoulders.
"What? Oh. Hang on." John took them down the quick way, and the re-emerged close to the front entrance in an out of the way alcove. "I hope they didn't pick them up on the cameras."
"Blind spot," Jeff shrugged, patting his son on the back. John was still pale white.
John shook himself. "You said you'd seen this before?"
"I've heard it before," Jeff replied, heading towards the entrance. "Somewhere. We'll know when we get home."
"I could take us straight there."
"They're expecting to see me come out," Jeff waved at the evacuated crowd of employees.
Which was separating in panicked stampede, blooming out, making way for a familiar plaided figure who cackled and swung his weapon like a dancer with a partner. He wasn't interested in the crowd, not by the way he simply swung his chainsaw into the glass panels in the lobby, shattering his way through.
Jeff gripped his sons shoulders again. "Down. Sub basement. Design floor."
They vanished again.
"I'm going to kill them," Scott snarled to himself. "I'm going to kill them, I'm going to call their spirits back, then I'm going to kill them again."
He slammed the door shut. The crowd outside the theatre had thinned out now, and the police were just tying up loose ends and collecting statements. Gordon and Alan weren't among them. According to Gordon's friend Darryl, who was also there, the two of them had left some time ago, before the police had even arrived.
He got out his cell phone and punched a speed dial. "Gordon! Where the hell are you two? Didn't I tell you to stay put?"
"Uh…I can't really talk right now…"
"What? What do you mean you can't…" something in Gordon's tone got through his anger. He turned up the volume on his phone and pressed it to his ear. There was a second voice in the background.
"…foolish children, thinking you could defeat me…there's something so refreshing about the human mind. They believe all stories have happy endings..."
The phone crackled and broke up slightly. It was in the presence of magic. "Was that Salazar?"
"Yeah, right, gotta go." Gordon hung up.
Scott tossed the phone onto the seat. Muttering vile curses under his breath, Scott clawed at the glove compartment. Okay, one map, one crystal on a chain. Propping the map on the steering wheel, Scott dangled the crystal over the paper and gave it a gentle swing to get it circling. The chant should have been done in the most reverential tones, but it came out an annoyed mutter. "With these tools I seek what's lost; my loved ones hidden in fog and frost; I search across sky, coast and stone; to bring my brothers safely home."
The crystal spun on its chain, and stuck fast on a street several blocks away, closer to the city centre just near the river park. Holly Street. Right.
The tires of his car squealed as Scott took off out of the parking lot, and towards the park.
There wasn't much to see when he got there. It was abandoned at this time of night, the kids equipment hung forlornly under the street lights, the thin thicket of trees around the river looked darker and more expansive. Warily exiting his car, Scott turned a full three-sixty circle, looking for any sign of his brothers. Out of the corner of his eye there was white flash, and he shot towards it without thinking, into the thicket.
Gordon and Alan had found Salazar, mostly by accident. The Slasher had headed into the semi-swampy territory he knew, and Salazar had followed him in, to give him new orders. The Slasher moaned and gimped among the trees, a machine more than a being, and Salazar was grinning smugly in the foreground. And there beyond him…
Gordon was glaring angrily inside a pillar of white fire, and Alan was behind him, kneeling down and dredging up mud from the river banks. They were trying to hold back and swirling mass of particles, that buzzed like voltage. Killer bees.
"…this is an old story, of course. But everyone loves an old favourite."
The swarm swirled in for the kill. Alan cursed and backed up to Gordon as the bees drove him back from the safety of the mud. Gordon fired at the incoming steam, but the fire might as well have been air for all it stopped them.
Salazar chuckled. "Praying for a last minute saviour?"
"We don't need saviours," Alan snapped. "We have brothers."
The trash can spun through the air and thumped Salazar fair in the back of the head and getting in another stunning blow as he went down, raining him in garbage. The swarm, free of his control, roiled around leaderless, before scattering and vanishing. They weren't from a movie, so they didn't have the semi-real life that a character had. From the thicket, the Slasher watched, silently.
"Gordon! Alan!" Scott leapt over the prone Salazar, and headed toward his brothers as the fire around them fizzled out. "Are you okay? What are you doing here? Didn't I specifically tell you to stay where you were?"
"And I don't want to hear any dumb excuses, Gordon. What were you thinking, running off after a demon by yourselves?"
Scott stared at his brothers, who were staring past him. He turned.
Something strange was happening to Salazar. The air around him flickered strangely; the colour was leeching away from it. The sounds of the swamp, the creak of crickets and the bubble of water rang from around them, as the land transformed into monochromatic swamp set and back to the real world. As it swung back and forth, Salazar changed with it. He went from an imposing, robed figure in the grey world, to a shrunken, in human looking, shrivelled thing in the real one. The only thing that remained the same were the eyes – the sunken, glowing eyes, which were rising up from the rubbish strewn ground slowly, painfully, murderously.
"What is this?" Gordon asked, his eyes watering as he watched the land try to decide what and where it was.
Scott backed up until he was sure his brothers were well behind him. "I'm not sure. We found Salazar in the Book. He was a master illusionist who sold his soul and became demon centuries ago. An illusion demon. He'd lure people into stories, weave illusions around them, until they died. He like kids and young couples for preference. Grandma's coven sealed him somewhere where he couldn't escape."
Alan had a flash. He saw…
…the film being ripped off the projector, tossed into the hole in the wall.
"Let's see you rewrite the human script now, Salazar." Bricks raced up to block rthe way, sealed in, without life or power or breath…
"The film," he said softly. "They sealed him in the film."
"And he got out when they played it," Gordon cursed.
"No, that's just it," Scott said. "The Book said that he could never escape. He's trapped inside his own powers – the more he uses them, the deeper into the trap he goes. That's what Virgil said." He watched the…Salazar thing, whatever it was, stagger and flicker as the landscape coloured and bleached around him in an aura.
"Where is Virgil?" Gordon said, watching as Scott swung a hand. The air ripped in half, but it still couldn't hit Salazar.
"At home. He gets the easy job."
Virgil pounded on the shower door, the sound made muffled thumps in the water. The only other sound was the creaks of the seams under pressure – all other sounds were muted by the completeness of the water.
Lungs burning, Virgil kicked back from the door and braced himself against the back wall. His hands came out, hands splayed…
There was a muffled bang, and the water molecules shook and moved. Virgil's head was thrown back against the wall in recoil, pressure pounding on his ears for an instant. A crack appeared in the door.
One more, Virgil, one more, the voice in his rapidly blackening head sounded oddly like his father. It was a comfort.
Hands up, flingers splayed….
The water roared loose as the pressure and the cracks finally defeated the door. Virgil was sluiced out against, and ended up riding the flood, bumping the tub and door jam and he was sent out into the hall.
Choking and gasping, he wildly waved a hand back towards the bathroom and the water came up out of his mouth. The shot went wild, the molecules across the ceiling exploded, taking the light with them. As bathroom plunged into darkness, the dryad shrieked and fled into the drains.
Virgil, still coughing and his chest burning, headed back toward the attic, and higher ground. In a surreal moment, the cordless he had left on the stairs started to ring. He scooped it up with one dripping hand as we went past and up, slamming the door behind him for whatever good it would do.
"Yes, what?" Virgil coughed into the phone, staggering over to the books to look for anything that might help him. "Look, Scott, I've got a situation here, alright, I don't have time to look up stuff. A water demon just swam up through our pipes."
"What? A water demon?" Scott replied, shocked.
"Yeah," Virgil breathed, flipping open books. "Water body, water control, I tried to freeze it and blow it up and neither worked!"
"Your powers didn't work?" Scott repeated. "That's a familiar tune tonight…Gordon, hang…"
"Virgil," Gordon's voice broke in. "Does this water demon look like a girl made of water with this little silvery fishy thing inside it? Shrieks like banshee, tries to drown people?"
"Yeah! How'd you know that?"
"That's the dryad from Dryad, Scott," Gordon said, carrying on two conversations at once.
"Damn. Virgil, it's one of Salazar's tricks. Our powers won't do anything."
"Way ahead of you there Scott," Virgil muttered. He watched warily as a trickle of water tried to creep under the door, and grabbed a dusty old painters sheet to try and block it. "What are we supposed to do?"
"Did you find out anything about Salazar? How did he get out?" Scott asked.
"Just what you already know, Scott. He was sealed – completely sealed. He's trapped by a story – that's what he used; stories. He used them to kill people. He turned them into characters, gave them demons and dragons to fight, knowing they'd fail. The Book is not very detailed, I have a feeling Grandma nearly fell for this one and doesn't want to talk about it."
"Well, I don't know how, but he's out now." Scott sounded frustrated. "Hells, get back, get back, here comes the Slasher! How the hell did he get out?"
"Maybe he didn't," Alan's voice piped up suddenly.
"What?" Virgil echoed, stuffing the plastic under the door crack.
"Well, he's an illusion demon, right?" Alan argued. "Maybe him being here is just one big illusion. I felt him strongly at the theatre, but now his presence is fainter. Maybe he can…project himself and his powers while that film is running. It's still running at theatre, isn't it?"
"Hey, yeah," Gordon cut in. "That could be it. And he brings stories to life, too…hey, Virgil, have you got any wires around you? I think I know how to kill the Dryad…"
The grating from the vent system came down on the mountain man as he cut his way through the stairwell door. Tendrils of quicksilver spun like filigree, trying to trap the red man, but they slipped through him like he was smoke and lights.
Frustrated, Jeff backed further back into the vaulted design floor, filled with half built machines, sketching stations and diagnostic equipment. "He's not even there," he muttered.
"Oh, I don't know," John replied carefully as the mountain man heaved himself out from under the debris. "His chainsaw seemed pretty real."
"He can be hit. John, use whatever you like, throw some stuff in his way, I have to make a call."
A half million dollar laser arm orbed over the mountain man, and pinned him like a bug as it dropped. Several other heavy tools and equipment joined the pile, but it was too much to hope for that the thing would be crushed.
Jeff opened his phone and called home. "Hello, Virgil? Listen, son, I need you to get up the stairs and look up a demon for me…an illusionist. His name is…"
"Salazar, right?" Virgil broke in. "You're fighting an illusion right out of a movie, right?"
"Right out of a movie? Yes, how did you know…?"
"Well, a dryad's trying to break down the attic door, Scott and Gordon and Alan are fighting the Swamp Slasher in the Holly Street Park, so it kind of makes sense."
"What? What?" Jeff shot back, horrified. "Are you alright? Do you need John to…" John was leaning his head in to listen too.
"No, I think I got it," Virgil negated. "Gordon reckons that these things can be killed – they're characters from stories, and all stories have endings. Gordon and Alan watched two guys with an extinguisher take out one of the illusions. He says that that was how the monster was killed in the movie. Maybe that's the only way they know how to die."
"And you know how to stop the Dryad?" Jeff asked. "Are you sure?"
"Gordon knows. And it does make sense. Alan also came up with the idea that Salazar didn't actually escape, he's just projecting his illusions. It seems to fit what I read. Scott Gordon and Alan are going to try to get back to that old theatre and stop the film."
Jeff thought he heard odd sounds through the phone – rushing water and high pitched shrieking.
"Hang on Dad. Let's find out if Gordon's got it right."
Virgil perched on the sill of the wide, high attic stained glass window, his feet curled under him awkwardly, watching at the water rose and gurgled under the door, and dripped down the walls. Virgil kicked and the creeping tendrils impatiently, waiting for the actual Dryad to slither in under the door.
It took a moment, the water filled with choppiness and debris from the attic, but there it was, swimming back and forth under the surface, darting like a minnow, finding the right place to strike. It sent waves and tendrils to try to get Virgil into the water, but Virgil had a vice like grip on the sill and simply kicked the efforts away.
He watched the Dryad stop under the water in front of him. It sat there, waiting. Virgil waited too, keeping his eyes trained on it. Finally, the thing took the bait, and rose it's form half out of the water, and nearly invisible silvery collection of highlights, haloed by water.
"Hi," Virgil said brightly. "Nice to see you. Here. Catch."
His explosive acceleration of molecules crumpled one leg of the precariously positioned old wood painting tripod. As it wobbled, the full blast working portable camping heater that Virgil had placed on top of it wobbled and fell.
The shock travelled through the water, through the Dryad, who shrieked and rippled violently before vaporising in a cloud of white steam. Almost instantaneously the water level dropped, receded, and vanished.
Virgil grinned in triumph and held up the phone. "Dad, it worked! Scratch one Dryad!"
"That's great Virgil," It was John who answered, with a crescendo of crashing going on in the background. "Any idea how the chainsaw guy from Blood Mountain bought it? Dad's got his hands full here."
Virgil grunted. "No. But I know someone who might. Hang on, I'll call back in a minute."
"Quickly, if you would be so kind."
Virgil hung up, and hurriedly hit a number on speed dial.
Salazar, or his projection, had disappeared. Scott's blow had so disorientated him that some of his perceptions had bled into the projection, and once the Tracy's had figured out the trick, there was no point in him staying.
The Slasher was another story.
He gimped and groaned around them in the trees, hidden and hard to spot in the silvery moonlight. The three of them had formed a careful three-point circle, watching the shadows and trying to see through the trees. Gordon jumped as the knife came out of the darkness of the trees, held by a grey hand, and slashed toward him, but even as his fire illuminated the spot the Slasher was just a shadowy figure, disappearing into the miasma of the shadowy trees.
Gordon cursed. "We'll never be able to find him in here! He's on his turf – more or less."
Scott grimaced, and reached for his keys. "Here. Take Alan and get back to the theatre and stop the damn film. Then all this'll disappear anyway. I'll take the Slasher."
"Gordon! Just do it!" Scott ordered, rolling his eyes. "It makes more sense then the three of us standing here wasting time playing ring round the rosy, okay? We'll never be able to stop this unless we can stop that film!"
"I'll stay," Alan announced, watching the trees. He jumped ahead of Scott's automatic protest. "You'll need me. I saw him coming before. Gordon can stop the film alone, I won't be any help to him."
Scott pursed his lips. "Fine. Gordon, get going."
Gordon was outnumbered. He snatched the keys. "Okay. Look, you're going to have to get that knife out of his hand. That's how the Slasher dies – stabbed with his own knife."
"Yes Gordon. It's been a while but I remember the ending," Scott replied dryly. "Get going."
Predictably, the Slasher had another strike at Gordon as he moved out of the park towards the car, but Scott was watching carefully, and aimed the now much dented trash can at the moving hand and deflected it as Gordon ran by.
And they were alone with him, his groans echoing around them.
Gordon dove into the car, turned it on and pulled away with speed. He only had a learners permit, but he had enough practice under his belt to manage a few blocks on his own.
His phone rang. Fumbling it out and trying to control his slightly erratic steering he snapped it open. "Yeah?"
"Gordon, don't talk, just listen. This is really important – Salazar set one of his tricks on Dad and John. Quick – how did the bad guy in Blood Mountain get killed?" Virgil's request came out in one long steam of words.
Gordon blinked. "Blood Mountain? They're fighting the mountain man? Er…Er…he got killed by a wood sliver – yeah, that's right. Got it right through the eye."
"Wood sliver through the eye, got it."
And then he was gone. Gordon stared at the phone, and then had to swerve out of the way of a turning car.
The theatre appeared in the distance.
"Wood sliver? This is a machinists lab! Metal all the way through! Where are we going to find a sliver of wood?" John asked incredulously.
"I don't know, but we'd better find it fast," Jeff replied grimly. He was sweating, and most of the equipment was smashed and crumpled after being thrown in the way of the mountain man, which was cheerfully cut through by the cackling apparition. From the main doors at the elevator nearly to the back wall was strewn with jagged wreckage. Jeff and John had been pushed nearly to the back corner.
"Orb into the tool shed," Jeff waved a hand at a blue door on one wall. "See if you can find anything that will fit."
A shower of sparks was thrown up as the chainsaw cut through the locker Jeff had pitched at the thing. At least Jeff had plenty of ammunition in here. Quicksilver tentacles pulled and dragged things at his command – his whole body was connected to the metal. The ghostly shadow of wings wavered in the air behind him again.
John had vanished into the room indicated. He clawed through racks of tools in the tiny room, searching for anything that would work. Metal, metal, metal – they didn't even use wood for tool handles anymore. The only wooden thing he could find was an old stub of pencil, blunt and useless. But it did give him an idea. Flashing back out to the main lab, John began clawing around in the desks.
By the time he got back to his father, they had run out of debris and the mountain man was stalking toward them, chainsaw purring and gleaming greasily.
"Pencils?" Jeff raised an eyebrow at the proffered box of HB's.
"Best I could do," John shrugged.
"Good improvisation under pressure, Johnny," Jeff wrenched open the box and got the whole handful lined up.
A chainsaw shot into their immediate vision, and they both ducked it, retreating back in the face of a second swing. John orbed and ended up behind the mountain man, jumping on his back to get a hold of the swinging arms. The mountain man snarled and raised the chainsaw over his head.
Binding the pencils with his quicksilver power, Jeff lined up the shot. He let out a loud whistle, and the mountain man turned his face towards him. With one sharp arm move, the makeshift missile shot through the air. The chainsaw came down, cutting it in half, but the pieces merely curved around as they separated outwards, driven by the metal, and hit the mountain man…in both eyes.
The hulking figure howled, and John had just enough time to kick off and escape before it fell backwards, and disintegrated.
"You okay?" Jeff asked his son in the silence that followed.
"It's been an interesting evening," Jeff scrubbed his face wearily. "Come on. Let's get to that theatre."
Gordon didn't even bother to park. He came to a halt in the street, left the door open as he exited, and bolted for the theatre entrance. It was mostly deserted now, the police had collected statements and the patrons had been sent home. The owners had locked the doors on orders from the police, leaving everything as is.
That didn't stop Gordon, who blasted a molten hole in the glass doors and clambered through as quickly as he could, and into the darkness of the theatre.
He didn't notice the shadows following.
Alan walked warily along the river bank, jumping at every rustle, turning at every movement. It was hard to see, hard to get a sense of perception in this dank, dark place. He brushed carefully along the bark with his hands, feeling his way…
And the Slasher was just there, as if he'd stepped out of the shadows. He had seemed so harmless and so amusing on the screen, but here he was an imposing, menacing figure, each groan rattling in his throat like an alarm. It's free hand clenched and unclenched and as Alan baked up, and suddenly found himself against a tree trunk he could have sworn wasn't there before. He felt the things free hand pin him by his chest to the tree, and it felt cold and rubbery. The knife was up, it shape suddenly a pinpoint of focus.
Was this what it was really like to be murdered? Alan wondered irrationally. Is this what people really feel?
Scott dropped from the trees like a bomb and grabbed the knife arm on the way down, dragging the Slasher off balance and downwards. Alan's foot swung up sharply, hitting the Slasher in the inevitable place, and, because some stories are very powerful, the Slasher doubled over and crumpled to the ground with a groan.
In one quick move, Scott prised the knife loose from the thing's hand, and drove it sharply into it's chest. With one final groan, light spilled out of the Slasher's chest to envelope him, and he vanished in a blaze.
Blinking past the after images, Scott pulled himself to his feet. "Just like in the movie."
Alan huffed. "I had to be the girl, Scott."
Scott chuckled. "As long as it worked. I don't think it would have worked with me."
Alan looked over his shoulder. "The theatre isn't far."
Scott nodded. "Let's run."
Gordon got into the theatre, and passed by the snack bar. The axe nearly took his head off.
The ghastly image of Lizzie Borden rose with wide mad eyes from behind the counter to take a swing at him. Skittering around her, Gordon ran on.
He had enough savvy to hesitate before he opened the actual theatre door, which is how he escaped several throwing knives stitching a line in the decorative curtain. An unlikely ninja with glowing red eyes was the culprit, and on pure adrenaline Gordon jumped, grabbed a handful of curtain and yanked it down, felling it over the figure and sprinting on.
There was nothing on the stairs, but Gordon crept up them slowly, warily. Salazar was all around him, in the theatre. He was trying to defend himself and his ability to move in the world again. Gordon encountered nothing at he went up, and crouched down as he opened the projector room door. He peered in carefully, cautiously, but nothing was hiding in the doorway, behind the doors, under the tables. There were no cupboards, no blind spots. The projector ran innocently in the middle of the room.
Creeping warily in, Gordon kept watching for any movement, anything not right. Even as he entered the room, he knew something was watching him. With no other options, he looked up…
There wasn't a spider on the ceiling. It was the ceiling.
Even as he ducked the web hit him, knocking him into the wall. He spun as he fought the sticky threads with his hands, but the more he moved the tighter be was bound, until he was a struggling mass of web, with just his head free. Fumbling around desperately with his hands within the awful stuff, Gordon tried to reach his pocket knife. Giant legs moved back and forth in his vision as the spider turned around to face him, it eight eyes blank and cold. Through the door came shadows, figures – werewolves, vampires, killers, monsters – Gordon knew then all, he'd seen them at one time or another on a screen or in a book.
From his position he could see out the projection window, and Salazar stood there grinning at him. The demon liked it that way. He liked to watch.
"You, you, you tiny, insignificant creature, thinking you could defeat Salazar. I am indestructible! I am the immortal story! Where ever humans try to give a form to their fears, when you try to shape the terrors in the night, to give them a face, to make them able to be defeated, I will be there. I will show you just how futile it is to fight the darkness in your head. The idea that they can be defeated; that is the real illusion."
The shapes flickered and changed even as Gordon watched. They were the face put on terrors from centuries ago, a human darkness projected, like Salazar's. But where you find darkness….
Billy didn't know what was happening to his world. A lifetime without perception of anything but the story had just been changed, and now he stood before a world he didn't know, stretched out before him. He was the boy with red hair, and in an odd way, he saw himself. Whatever this was, whatever it meant, he couldn't just stand by and watch people get hurt. That wasn't in his nature.
"Billy," his date whispered from behind him.
To protect the things you loved, sometime you had to protect the people you never knew…
Billy tackled Salazar to the ground. "I don't know who you are Mister, but you just better darn well leave him alone"
Salazar struggled and hissed, but he couldn't call anything up in here; he couldn't change the story from the inside.
before Gordon flickered, and webs became less substantial. Tearing
his way out and plunging through the ranks that were thinning like
smoke. In one sharp moved he bought his hand up, and the white
fireball exploded the projector off the table, and setting the
threadbare carpet on fire. Heedless, Gordon snatched up the film and
hastily pulled the wending end out of the wreckage. He turned…
The flames were all around him, superheating the air and choking it with smoke.
…if I am to die, you will at least die with me…the air whispered. Salazar still had wisps of power left in the walls…
It an illusion, Gordon thought desperately. It's not real. But it looked real, and it felt real and maybe that was as real as it had to be, because Gordon was genuinely singed by the flames.
Driven back away from the exit, he thought I could really use a last minute hero…
Virgil pulled up at the theatre first, but since he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the mass of spinning lights in the middle of the street his victory was minimal.
"Johnny," Virgil yelled as he got out. "Could you please de-orb on the footpath next time?"
"Sorry," John replied sheepishly. He stared at his dripping brother.
"Don't ask," Virgil said flatly.
"Isn't that Scott's car?" Jeff cut in grimly. It sat in the middle of the road, open and abandoned.
They looked around. "Scott?"
"Present!" Scott's voice came from up the street, and he came running up with Alan, muddy but unharmed.
"Where's Gordon?" Jeff asked sharply.
"Is that smoke?" John asked as he looked the theatre over. There, over the second floor, smoke was threading out.
Alan started to cough. It was more a choke than a cough; he gasped for breath and he coughed even more as he did, doubling up.
"Alan!" Jeff grabbed him, trying to make sure his airways were clear.
"Gordon," Alan gasped between coughs. "It's Go-Gordon. John…up…upper left win...win…" Alan's voice was drowned in coughs, but John got the massage and vanished.
For one heart stopping moment, there was nothing.
And then John was back, with his arms around a slightly charred red head, who clutched a film reel to his chest. Gordon and Alan were both lowered to the road so they could be checked for damage. Smoke continued to billow out of the window as the fire – the real fire – caught hold. Jeff fussed over his sons until he was sure they were fine.
"My hero," Gordon joked at his brother when he could finally take a breath.
"All part of the service," John agreed, sitting down next to him.
"Is this it?" Jeff took the half unreeled reel and began to bind up the sooty film.
"What will we do with it?" Virgil asked.
"I'm sure I can find a couple of thousand tonnes of concrete to bury it under somewhere."
Jeff put the wound film under his arm.
"The theatre's burning," John commented. It was really getting on now.
"And we can't actually kill Salazar," Scott grunted, glaring at the film. "Not much of a happy ending."
"No," Jeff looked at Scott. "Trust me on this, Scotty. Any ending you walk away from is a happy one, no matter the loose ends."
They watched the theatre come down in the flames; a tiny but precious part of their pasts.
"Demons, killer illusions, and cursed films," Alan shook his head. "Is any night out normal formal for this family?"
"You've got to admit though," Gordon grinned. "That's entertainment."
"So Billy saved you, huh?" Alan asked the next day, as they sat at the table.
"Yeah," Gordon rested his face on his hand. "I guess being a hero can be built into a character too. You know, Salazar said he could never really die. I think he was right. We're always putting faces on darkness, you know. We're always inventing better monsters."
"Well yeah," Virgil said, emerging from the kitchen. "But we're always making better heroes too. I guess it balances out in the end." He sat down.
"Hey guys," an armful of flowers walked in, with a suggestion of John behind them. "I just bumped into a blonde on the street outside. She said her name was Marie. She said these," he heaved the box of flowers onto the table, where they took up a sizable chunk of space. "Were for Alan."
"Oh, typical," Gordon groaned as Alan reached for the envelope. "I go to all that trouble and Alan gets the girl."
Scott laughed as he came in after John. "That's what you get for using an Empath to get sympathy, Gordon."
"'Dear Alan,'" Alan read off the note in the envelope attached. "'Thank you so much for the other night…'"
"Ah, our little Sprouts growing up," Virgil grinned.
"…'it was very brave of you. I won't be using these anymore, so I thought you might like them instead'."
"What them?" John asked curiously.
Alan fumbled around in the envelope while he read the rest. "'Thanks again, see you around, Marie'."
He pulled them out.
"Oh my God," Gordon yelped. "She gave you box tickets for the free concert!"
"Whoa, front row centre," Virgil added enthusiastically.
"There are only two of them," John pointed out.
There was a beat of silence.
"Alan," Gordon said in a sweet tone. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"
"Oh stop buttering him up," Virgil retorted disgustedly. "Everyone knows I'm his favourite, he'll take me."
"You? You? You who has to retile the bathroom? You'll be too busy," John shook his head. "Besides, he should have an older chaperone, right Alan? I can orb you all the way back stage."
Scott had gone a greenish colour. "Alan, hand over the tickets, before anyone gets hurt."
"Oh no, I'm not doing this again," Scott made a snatch at them. "None of you are going out together, no way, forget it. The city won't survive."
"You just want them for yourself?"
"Hey, I might want to take a friend, you know."
"Alan! I'm your best friend here!"
When Jeff emerged to see what the noise was, he saw Alan standing on the table with two tickets above his head, while Scott tried to snatch them, arguing with John while Gordon and Virgil tussled on the kitchen floor, throwing slangs back and forth.
Jeff sighed as he moved in for damage control. "No Hollywood hack writer has anything on this family."