A Horror Story 10: Super-Sargasso Sea
Writer's Note: Alas, real life decided to dump a bunch of things on me at the last minute, and as a result, I could not finish this promised 10th story of (maybe?) horror and revelation in time. But do not despair, good reader. You will not have to wait a year to read the rest. Merely check back in a day or two or three, and the rest will be added to this chapter. I always publish on Halloween, and I hate to break tradition. Ergo, this ends on a cliffhanger. If you're okay with that...
"Hey hey hey…
Here I go now
Here I go into new days…
Hey hey hey…
Here I go now
Here I go into new days
I'm pain, I'm hope, I'm suffer…
Yeah hey, hey hey, yeah yeah
Here I go into new days…"
My name is Danny Fenton…and I did not understand.
The worst part is…I think I'm learning to understand.
And understanding is worse.
…I don't know.
A literal ghost town.It was pretty amazing what you could find abandoned in the world, but Orlando Matton knew he had a winner here. Which was good, because all the really 'good' abandoned places were in other countries that he couldn't access, or wouldn't want to. But Amity Park? That was in America.
And oh, the stories. A lot of abandoned places boiled down to 'someone ran out of money' or 'people didn't spend enough money' or 'people didn't have any money to spend', or SOMETHING to do with money. There were literal cities in China that could house millions that didn't have a soul living in them, because of some weird cultural quirk that made a lot of Chinese prefer to invest their money into real estate instead of the stock market, leading to cities being built solely so Chinese people could put their money into owning homes for safekeeping and a bunch of other cultural and economic stuff Orlando didn't really care to understand. They were neat to look at in pictures, but their stories were boring.
But Amity Park?
He'd stumbled over it, a random nugget of information on the internet, but once he had, he realized it was a literal jackpot. A city that was normal, then had a bunch of weird stories come out of it, including a claim that it had burned down and been rebuilt in the course of one day, and then suddenly…nothing. No one knew about Amity Park. It wasn't on any maps. It had just vanished.
Except cities don't vanish. There was always a trace. And Orlando was determined to follow it to its source. To really see what had happened to this city. To hear more stories, to peer into the unknown…
So he'd researched. He'd narrowed it down. And then he'd driven to where he was sure it was.
…And he was right. There was a city…closed off from the roads. A city, once he'd ignored the warning signs and driven into it, that was just…wrong. It looked like a war had been fought there, and then that everyone had just…
Such a thing would have attracted mass attention. An attack on an American City? That should have been like 9/11 times a million. Even considering the chaos people were capable of ignoring, how in the hell…?
Orlando slammed on the brakes. It had come out of nowhere.
The chasm. The road just ended in a sudden mini-canyon, a good eight or nine feet deep. Orlando blinked, and then looked out the window. It stretched across the town, cutting through buildings and vanishing from sight. Both ways.
Like God had reached down and dragged his fingernail across this city.
What in his name had happened here? To make this city, empty save for him…
And the person who'd suddenly ended up in his car. Strangely, Orlando didn't start and drive himself into a telephone pole. It was like he'd…been expecting him.
"You need to leave."
"No one comes to Amity Park."
Green eyes looked at him. Haunted eyes.
"No one who comes to Amity Park…ever leaves when the sun goes down."
"…No one comes here."
And in the end, Orlando might not as well. He certainly didn't remember it.
Raccoon Rapids, Minnesota.
Danny tended to think of that old phrase sometimes. Old heroes never die, they just fade away. It was supposed to be tragic, but…
Danny didn't really think so any more. Eventually, it just all became weight. The responsibility. The consequences. The missed chances. The stolen chances. That slow nagging fear that it was bailing out the ocean with a bucket instead of a boat, that there was just too much failing for the successes to overcome.
Fading away might just be peaceful for heroes, old, young, or anywhere in between. It might be what they want. Forget the stories of sitting the thrones of kingdoms, being hailed by the world. Maybe sometimes, the greatest gift was to be forgotten, to slip back into normal life, to have the peace and quiet of anonymity.
The house was painted an unassuming brown, not run down but battered by time. Like a thousand, thousand other homes across America. Danny couldn't find a doorbell, so he knocked.
She hadn't changed that much, on the surface but when the door opened and Cassandra Hack answered, Danny could tell she'd changed deep within.
The woman who'd fought with him in that other damned town, so much like this one (he had never gotten its name), had had fire in her. Fire that spoke of pain and rage and hate, of course, but the fires of life, of the desire to live, to not let others define the world, or others' worlds. Cassie Hack had been a warrior, a stalker and killer of deadly revenant beings called Slashers. She'd had a shine in her eyes.
It was…not gone now. Not entirely. But it had faded away, underneath the surprise of seeing Danny at her door. Things had happened to finally dim it.
"…Dan?" Cassie said, in a tone that suggested both surprise and an attempt to remember his name.
Then she punched him in the face.
"WHERE WERE YOU?!" Cassie screamed, and even her rage seemed muted, seemed to lack a certain core it had had when she and Danny had battled demons clothed in the skin of a dark piece of fiction. Cassie and her ally, Vlad. A Vlad that redeemed the name for Danny. Her brother in arms and her father, her friend, the kind of companion most people went through life without even beginning to have. But their battle had eventually brought them against powerful forces, the dark puppeteering hands behind the creatures that had turned Cassandra Hack into a bane against death ultimately launching one final attack against Cassie and everyone she cared about. Everyone who had been an ally.
Which had included Danny. Unfortunately for said attack, they had been unaware Danny had friends. The attack had been thwarted without Danny even becoming aware of it, as he was caught up in something else and they'd attacked, and been dealt with, by Ghost of a Chance. By the time he'd found out, Cassie's war was over.
Vlad had not survived it. He wasn't alone, but all of Cassie's allies had come together…except Danny. He'd been busy…
It didn't help, as Cassie screamed in fury and wailed on him, a young black woman watching in alarm beyond the door. Danny let her. They'd only teamed up once, and had barely made contact since, but Danny was powerful, and when she needed him, he wasn't there. It wasn't his fault…
Didn't really matter. He felt he owed something to the woman. Beyond being a punching bag, as he took her wrists.
"I was…occupied. And out of the country." On a bad mountain. "If I'd known…"
"Damn…you…" Cassie said, but there was no real rage left in her voice, or blows. Just the pain of loss, the regret of things never to return. Danny knew how that felt.
"…I have something to tell you."
The black woman had a shotgun aimed at him now, but it was a loose aim.
"My…special properties gives me…a better connection to what comes after than most." Danny said, as the speech he'd practiced began to come out. "I…I saw him, Cassie."
"I saw Vlad. Wherever he is…he's at peace now. He's gone…but he's at peace." Danny said. " I saw him…just briefly. I could tell in what I saw. He didn't speak to me…but it was him. He spoke in his appearance. He'd want you to have a life beyond him. What he felt…it'll never go away. One day, you'll see him again. I'm sure of it."
Danny had the feeling Cassie had trouble with positive emotions, and hope, especially after her life experiences. He hadn't expected a breakdown or a torrent of thanks. But as what he said sank in, she stopped raging. The tension in her body seemed to lessen, just a bit. It wouldn't take away the pain of her loss, but it could contribute to her learning to live with it.
He'd helped her. He'd helped the shine in her eyes.
Danny didn't stay long, though he was invited. He begged off, saying he still had tasks in life to complete.
It was the only true thing he'd told Cassie as he left.
He hadn't seen Vlad. He dearly, deeply, hoped that the deformed man had gone to a peaceful place…but he had no actual proof. That was beyond even his powers, as connected to death and what came after as they were. Flare had disapproved…but she'd gone along with it.
He hadn't been there.
So he sought her out and told her what she wanted to hear.
Because…sometimes it was just better to lie. Sometimes, the lie was the candle, while the truth was just darkness, ever lurking there, absorbing one's curses without moving an inch. He hadn't been there…
It was better this way.
At least…that's what Danny was beginning to think. Between the truth of how his life had turned out and comforting lies…
Danny was starting to wonder if he'd take the lies.
So lost in his thoughts was he that he barely heard the communicator, taking time to pick it up.
"Hello son. I had a feeling you wouldn't stay long…we have a new case. In Japan. From what little I've managed to glean…it's going to be interesting."
"Good interesting or bad interesting?"
Which, coming from his mother's assessments, meant anywhere in between. Including the two possible extremes. Good became wonderful…
Bad became hell.
Danny had a feeling he knew which way the pendulum would swing.
My name is Tucker Foley, and I did not understand.
When I was young, I was fascinated by stories of the Bermuda Triangle. This strange patch of water, in which so many vehicles of man vanished, without a trace. I wondered what was behind it. Aliens? Dimensional vortexes? Jack Fenton told me it was ghosts, but he attributed virtually everything to ghosts. But then I got older and found out the truth. There's no higher than average amount of disappearances in the Triangle. Yes, ships and planes have vanished into its waters, but that's happened all over the globe. The strangest case, Flight 19, where a group of World War II bombers vanished, was likely just due to mistaking some islands for the Florida Keys, flying the wrong way because of it, and the rest being exaggerated or outright made up. I've found, in my readings, it can be kind of sad how easy made up stuff can get mixed into history and presented as cold fact.
I think a small part of me resented this lie, being lied to. Then again, teenagers hardly need an excuse to resent anything. For me, it mostly lead me to more interesting reading, including a theorized dimension where lost things vanish into, dubbed the 'Super Sargasso Sea' after the Triangle legend and a sea next to said triangle.
We call ourselves Ghost of a Chance, but the name I suggested for our group was Super Sargasso Sea. Because we were all lost. After that day.
I didn't understand that, either. None of us did. I thought, before that day, even when Amity Park burned, that it was just an amazing adventure. My best friend, a superhero.
The price you pay, being a hero…
I don't think I'll ever understand that.
Are we all lost things?
…I don't know.
Normally, Danny would have felt uncomfortable. But, looking into the eyes of Naomi Nakashima, such feelings were quickly banished.
Said discomfort was from the fact he was talking to a teenage girl not only without her parents' permission, but without her parents even knowing he was there in her room. Her eyes, however, said it all.
Cassie had had a fire that was dulled. Naomi's eyes showed that not only had such a fire never existed in her, but that she had been subjected to things that might have surpassed Cassie's tragedy…maybe even his own. The eyes were a window to the soul, as the saying went, and Naomi's whole being spoke of a wounded soul, of being subjected to something beyond horrible, and then further subjected to the fallout of such things. His mother had told him that it was pointless to interview her parents, for a variety of reasons that were still being pieced together. Danny understood just why at a glance. This was a girl who hadn't just suffered. This was a girl alone in her suffering, and worse, there was no malice in her solitude. It just…was.
"Dono yo ni tasukeru koto ga dekiru?"
Right…she didn't speak English. Danny got out his translator, even though he could tell by the tone that he knew the question already. Dull. Flat. No spark, no life. A voice that could only speak in drones or screams. What had happened to this poor, poor girl?
So much so that his presence provoked not fear, or curiosity, or hope, or anything save more cold blankness that verged on cynicism? She'd known he was coming, he'd been directed here by the other young girl who had contacted them, yet…he was a strange man coming in through her window and…
She didn't care.
"How can you help?"
Danny stared at the translation. Then he looked at the young woman. So lacking in color. So…damaged.
So much like a mirror, is it not?
Is it not?
"…I'm ready to believe you." Danny said, offering a hand.
It was the first thing that had come to mind.
Even with the language barrier…it was enough.
My name is Valerie Gray, and I did not understand.
I was so stupid. So stupid, and selfish, and small. When my dad lost his job…yeah, it sucked. But it could have been worse. He could have died. But all I could see is what I lost. And it seemed so big, so terrible. God, how easy it was for Vlad to slime his way in, tell me exactly what I wanted to hear, turn me into one of his pawns…
How easily I hated him, Danny Phantom. How easy it was to just paint them all with the same brush. I think of the sheer effort I dumped, that I WASTED in some ways, into making myself stronger just so I could indulge my grudge…I thought I was justified. That I was guided by righteousness. Then I started liking that sweet dork Fenton…
Then I found out the truth. If things hadn't gone the way they did…how easy it would have been to lose myself in hate again. So many things could have gone wrong, I could have lost so much and never been aware of it…
Then it all went wrong. I…I have to take blame for it. If I'd just been smarter, if I'd just been stronger…
…If I had known…
…would I have done the same thing?
…I don't know.
"Connection is stable. You got the file, Miss Raven?"
"Just Raven, Mrs. Fenton." Raven said, her hologram appearing in the lower left hand corner of the 'group teleconference call' on an advanced computer program based on more basic ones like Skype, the other participants being Danny, his mother, Valerie, and Jazz. "I received it, yes. Shall we review?"
Tucker arrived last, popping up in the upper right of the video-com screen.
"Okay then…we have four young students who are attending high school…Satoshi Mochida, Ayumi Shinozaki, Yoshiki Kishinuma, and Naomi Nakashima…also Yuka Mochida, Satoshi's younger sister, but she refused to speak with us." Maddie said. "However, the issue revolves around Seiko Shinohara, Sakataro Morishige, Mayu Suzumoto, and Yui Shishido. I think I said those names right. Three students and one young teacher. Who, according to Tucker's record search, do not exist."
"I visited the families of Miss Shinohara and Suzumoto. Neither of them had any idea what I was talking about. I checked the school records of Kisaragi Academy, where this Miss Shishido taught…no record of employment, no one remembered her teaching there, nothing. These people, according to my sensors, were not lying. As far as they were concerned, they never existed. The only people who remember them are these four." Valerie said.
"I spoke with Naomi. She showed me a picture on her cell phone. A young woman, with her face blacked out. The picture wasn't tampered with or altered. As far as the phone was concerned, it was trying to render something that didn't exist." Danny said. "Naomi was traumatized. She not only knew this woman, she clearly cared deeply for her. She has not only been forgotten, it seems the action that caused this forgetting also resulted in her death."
"Iarwain Ben-Adar." Raven said.
"Beg pardon?" Maddie said.
"My team and I have…encountered something like this before. A cursed area tainted by evil, terrible evil. Its cruellest trick is that it…blanks information. It makes people forget, it obliterates records, it does everything to ensure it cannot be discovered or thwarted, save by more victims. It's the ultimate hunting lure of something incredibly vile. In our cases, it was in a swamp, and in a restaurant. But…this is the first time I've encountered it where we have survivors."
"Assuming they're all being honest?" Jazz said.
"This isn't something people lie about, sis. It's…hurt them." Danny said. Jazz's expression grew darker. That was all she needed to be convinced. "Tucker, did they all tell the same story?"
"They did, more or less. They were telling scary stories after a cultural festival, one last get together before Miss Suzumoto was going to transfer schools. Miss Mochina joined them, and Miss Shinozaki suggested performing a charm she has discovered on the Internet, which translates from the Japanese to "Sachiko of Happiness", or less literally, "Sachiko Ever After". It involved a paper doll which everyone grasped, before they said a brief chant and then tore the doll apart, each person taking away a piece. This supposedly was to bind the group as friends for life, but…"
"The charm was wrong. Purposely. It existed, it WORKED…but it didn't do what it claimed it would do. It was posted on a blog by one Naho Saenoki, a so-called teenage medium and minor celebrity in Japan, and she purposely made the instructions on how to perform it wrong." Raven said. "Upon performing the charm, our four survivors all claimed there was an earthquake, they all lost consciousness, and they awoke somewhere else."
"Quite literally. The four all claim they woke up in a…a place called Heavenly Host Elementary School." Tucker said. "Now, unlike our disappearance victims, there ARE records of this place. It's where Kisaragi Academy is now built. According to said records, it was torn down in the 70's after a string of vicious serial killings…killings involving children. Our victims, our clients is probably a better word, they didn't go back in time though. They ended up…"
"In hell." Danny said quietly.
"…based on what you sent me, yes, Danny, it very much sounds like it." Raven said. "This school they arrived in, your client descriptions paint it as a very dangerous place. Everything rotting, rusted, falling apart. No food, no clean water, every corner filled with something festering or disgusting, buckets filled with filth…it's like if someone took the concept of decay, tainted it, and then formed it into a school. I'd almost suspect the Grey, if clarifying information hadn't been released by Baker and Holland…I disgress. This location was subjected was a constant rainstorm outside, poisoned water that was undrinkable, and even if you left the school, all you found were endless woods that you either disappeared into, or just got turned back around to this Heavenly Host School. There was no escape. There was the school, and the woods, and nothing else. And from what I remember of your 'ghost zone', it doesn't sound like a place that would be natural there either. In other words, it didn't come into being by itself. It was made."
"Maybe a Fissure? Opened decades earlier? It's not impossible…" Jazz said.
"Maybe…but I don't think so, Miss Fenton. This speaks to me of darker things, not just holes opened up to places where dark things already were…in any case, continue." Raven said.
"Well…the school had other people in it. Other students. Others who had done that charm." Valerie said. "And…gods, Danny said it already. It was hell."
"A large number of young people, pulled into another dimension, an incredibly hostile and vicious one at that. Unprepared. Lacking little if any understanding of such a thing." Maddie said. "Our clients found dozens of bodies, in all sorts of states of decay, as they tried to escape. They died by infection, having hurt themselves on the building's decay…by starvation, by dehydration, poisoning themselves when they tried to eat or drink some of the foulness in desperation…and some died because others went crazy for a dozen reasons and attacked them. Killed them. That charm's been up for several months, and its poster was, as said a minor celebrity who espoused its use. The number that could have performed it is…not good."
"I've taken down the blog." Tucker said.
"I've gotten my tech people on it as well. If anyone can obliterate it from the internet, it's us." Raven said. "But we know why there's no panic over dozens of young people in Japan vanishing without a trace. Anyone who dies there…gets erased. From everything. Records, memories…everything. Our clients only remember because they managed to escape. They were the only ones who did."
"…and only half of them did when they were drawn in. The rest died…because there's worse in this Heavenly Host than even the conditions." Danny said. "There were…spirits there. Angry, ANGRY spirits. And…worse still. A pale girl in a red dress…"
"Which sounds a lot to me like an Unclean." Tucker said.
"Might be." Danny said. "Mom?"
"I interviewed Miss Shonizaki…she discovered what had happened. This Naho Saenoki, she worked with an older man, one Kou Kibiki, who worked for an occult magazine…she was madly in love with him, and he didn't do enough to discourage it. She posted the ritual incorrectly because she and him had worked out the proper way to enter AND escape Heavenly Host, and she wanted people to perform the ritual wrong to provide him with…well, sample data."
"In other words, victims for the school he could report on to make his reputation. Stupid, STUPID…I don't think either of them realized that people who die in that place get erased…" Raven said.
"Wait a minute, wait…okay, so this Saenoki put the charm ritual up? With wrong instructions?" Jazz said.
"Yes." Maddie said.
"…Mom, she died herself, right? She was in Heavenly Host, that's what the reports indicate, none of you have mentioned she survived."
"No…according to Ayumi she…" Raven said, before Jazz cut her off.
"If she died in Heavenly Host, and anyone who dies there is completely erased, then WHY DOES ANYONE REMEMBER HER AND WHY IS THERE A CHARM ON THE INTERNET TO BEGIN WITH?"
"…Tucker, call up her blog." Maddie said.
"Her blog is toast."
"…make sure." Maddie said. A brief pause.
"…crap." Tucker said, putting the image on the screen. The blog was back. Like Tucker had never hacked it at all.
At that point, Danny sort of faded out. There was a lot more discussion, and he listened, and even contributed, but it all sort of just came to him through a fog.
It never ends. Evil won't die. It hides itself away and then suddenly…it just destroys your whole life…
Gods…how many lives did I destroy?
You mean how many lives did Naho destroy, Daniel. Not you. You didn't do anything.
I didn't do enough.
A lot of time had passed. The rest of Ghost of a Chance had ended the call. Only Raven was left.
"…are you okay?"
"…Yeah, yeah. We'll work out a solution."
"We can help…"
"We'll call you in if you need you." Danny said.
"Yeah." Danny said. Everything had gone wrong in his life, it seemed, and it had all started when Raven and her allies had come into it. Chasing one of their enemies that had turned Amity Park into hell.
The first of many hells Danny would become acquainted with.
It wasn't their fault.
Just like it wasn't his.
It was little comfort.
"I'll call you if I need you." Danny said, and broke off the communication.
Daniel, what are you going to do?
I have many names, but I will give you one you understand: Clockwork. Let me task you on the nature of time. Time hinges on the smallest of things. The slightest nudge can work the greatest changes.
Some changes are seen as too terrible to allow. Sometimes, the source of these twists and turns in the river of time are obvious. Sometimes, they're not. Sometimes, forks occur.
Daniel Fenton blames himself, at times, but this fork never hinged on him. It happened long before evidence of it began to show. When a man picked up one book instead of another. A chain reaction of small changes that grew into giant ones. A hole made that did not exist elsewhere, which a fiery spirit of hate passed through. A destiny thought discovered and claimed. The deeds from the desire to prevent that destiny from being thwarted.
The cast of madness unleashed twisted, altered, grown. A whole new life path decided, on that small change.
One fork of the river made Danny Phantom, worldwide hero. And here we have Danny Phantasm, burdened hero, but hero all the same.
Which is better? Which is worse?
…Even I do not know.
It looked nothing like Casper High. Despite that, Danny felt a surge of nostalgia that was swiftly followed by regret. He did his best to tap it down. He had work to do.
I will raise my last objection to this, Daniel. This is dangerous no matter how you attempt to handle it. You must not let your guilt…
"It's not guilt. The more people we bring into this, the more complicated it becomes. It's best to…"
His communicator rang.
I did nothing, Daniel. You know I cannot lie to you. This is solely them. They worked it out on their own.
For a few moments, Danny considered not answering. In the end, good manners overrode cold logic. He had a feeling his dad would have been happy about that…
"Danny." He said.
"Danny…why are you at the school? We haven't even begun to work out a plan of attack." Maddie said.
"That is the plan." Danny said. "I attack."
"What? Danny…what are you doing?"
"You saw it, mom. We can't get rid of it. Whatever Naho did, she linked herself to this…THING. She's gone, but she's not erased, because erasing her means cutting off the flow of victims. That means going to the source to stop it, and every minute we delay is another possible victim. Stolen, tortured, murdered, erased. I won't stand for it."
"…Let me come, it'll just be you and me…"
"No, mom." Danny said. "I'm…not going to let my bad choices hurt you any more."
"Bad choices nothing! You're a good boy, Danny…don't DO this! Even IF you want to jump in, you can't do it by yourself. The charm requires at least two people…"
"Two BEINGS." Danny said, as he drew the Magnus Flareium and floated it in front of him.
"…Danny, THIS is a bad choice. Whatever you're feeling…"
"I love you, Mom. All of you. And that's why I'm doing this."
I'm not letting it get its hooks into what you have left.
Danny shut off the communicator and dropped it. In its place, he produced a paper cut out. A simple genderless doll.
"Okay then…the proper way to say this is to say the chant once for every person participating, and once more. So if we just say it twice…"
Into hell we step, Daniel.
"…Sachiko, we beg of you."
Sachiko, we beg of you…
Danny pulled backwards, and the paper doll split in two. The other half wrapped around the hilt of Danny's sword, Danny putting his half away.
The fact that nothing immediately happened did not make Danny thing he did it wrong.
Then he exhaled.
It was possible, via a quirk of the stomach, to burp up acid, which was never a pleasant experience. Danny exhaled cold air in the presence of ghosts; this time, it felt like he was exhaling gasified gastric acid as the pressure began to build.
Just like the day in Casper High.
When you doomed everyone.
Then the ground began to shake. And roil. And crack open.
Danny didn't resist, falling into it as he held onto the Magnus. And a snippet of a song occurred to him, heard once from his sister's radio.
We watched our friends grow up together…and we saw them as they fell…some of them fell into heaven…
Some of them fell into hell…