Changing Brains

Doctor Finklestein drummed his fingertips on the railing with a sigh.

"This is driving me mad," he muttered, wheeling himself over to the window. "…Well, madder than usual."

He'd sent Jack out quite a while ago to give his newest creation, the Soul Robber, a test run, and still, the Pumpkin King hadn't returned. But he had no clue what was going on and no way to contact him.

Jack wasn't the only one who'd basically vanished into thin air, though. Sally had gone out into the graveyard last night, to gather some cooking ingredients from her garden, and she hadn't come back, either…

Thoughtfully running his fingers along the hatch on his head, Finklestein turned to a metal operating table, examining the jumbled pieces of a skeleton strewn across the surface. It had been part of the annual Halloween display, but a careless citizen had dropped it, reducing it to naught but a pile of bones.

Creak.

He lifted his head and looked over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes, but there was nobody else in the lab.

Strange, he thought, turning back to the table.

He shrugged and began piecing the skeleton's rib cage back together- but then there was the sound of shattering glass.

Finklestein swung his chair around. "Who's there?"

A table had been knocked over, beakers falling to the ground and shattering in showers of glass. Various chemicals and substances pooled on the floor, filling the air with an acrid stench.

And standing off to the side of the mess were three little children.

It took him a moment, but the doctor soon recognized them- the little trick-or-treaters. Lock and Shock were glaring daggers at Barrel, who, judging by the look on his face, had caused the entire commotion.

"…Oopsie," he mumbled, biting his lip.

"Dummy," Lock hissed, kicking him in the shin.

"Ow! I'm not the dumb one!"

He tackled Lock, and the two of them fell back, spitting insults at each other and flailing out blindly with their fists, until Shock, irritated, took her mask and swatted them sharply in the backs of their heads.

"Ow!"

"What'd ya do that for?"

Shock tapped her foot and pointed at the doctor.

"…Oh," they chorused softly, slowly getting to their feet. The trio stared at him for a moment before breaking into big, bright smiles.

Finklestein knew those faces well enough: the innocent routine. He scowled at them and folded his arms.

"Hiya, Doctor," Shock sang sweetly, batting her eyelashes at him. "So sorry about the mess…These two are such clumsy dummies."

"I'm not the dumb one!" her brothers cried in protest, earning another swat.

"You three," the doctor spat, "out! Right now!"

Shock's eyes grew large and watery. "B-But Doctor," she faltered, "we only-"

"I don't have the time or the patience for your little act," he cut in sharply, "and I don't need your crocodile tears, girl. Out!"

"Are you sure?" she whimpered.

"Yes. Out."

"Too bad..."

The trio exchanged looks, then turned back to him. Their smiles remained, but they melted into a sinister cruelness that made even the doctor feel uneasy.

The next thing he knew, Lock had lunged, grabbing at him with sharp, clawlike hands. Finklestein cried out in alarm and reeled back, trying to pry the boy off.

"The head, you idiot, go for the head!" Shock screeched.

"If you're so smart, you do it!" he shot back, glaring at her. The doctor seized the chance and flung him back, where he bounced like a rubber ball to his siblings' feet.

"You little rapscallions," Finklestein snarled, reaching for a scalpel. His intention wasn't so much as to harm the children as to hope to scare them off. However, it didn't achieve the desired effect- their smiles only widened.

"Finky wants to play!" Barrel cried excitedly.

Play?

With giggles and jeers, the siblings formed a semicircle around them. Lock pulled a plunger from behind his back, Shock grabbed a broomstick from beside the table, and Barrel grabbed a slingshot from his pocket.

Barrel fired. A sharp burst of pain shot through the doctor's hand, the scalpel slipping out of his grasp. He reached for another tool, but Lock sent his instruments flying with a swing of the plunger.

Gritting his teeth, Finklestein rolled himself backwards.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Shock's voice cried, and her broomstick came spinning at him.

He couldn't move fast enough to dodge it; it whacked him squarely in the head, and he felt the lid pop open. He slammed it shut and tried to put some distance between himself and the demonic little children, but then they tackled him as one, their combined weight causing his wheelchair to fall over backwards, crashing to the ground.

The force of the impact caused his head to spin. For a second, the world swam in and out of blurry darkness…

"Got him!"

The voices jarred him from his dizzy reverie, and he glared at Lock and Barrel, who were sitting on his arms, pinning them to the ground. He struggled, but it did no good.

He was utterly helpless.

A sudden weight pressed on his chest. He looked up to see Shock standing on top of him, fists on her hips, with an intolerably smug expression.

"Gotcha, Finky," she singsonged.

"Get off of me!" Finklestein demanded, but his only response was a sharp whack in the temple from Lock's tail.

Shock pulled out a jar, and the doctor stared at it in horrified fascination. Inside was…Well, it looked like a brain…for the most part. It was a sickening shade of neon green, pulsating and slimy- and then, all of a sudden, it turned sluggishly on sticklike legs to face him, revealing bulbous yellow eyes.

"Like it?" Lock snickered. "It's a present, special for you!"

"Yeah, really special," Barrel chimed in.

"Mr. Oogie said it'll do wonders for you, Finky," Shock cooed nastily. "A real attitude adjustment! Now, open up!"

His eyes widened. "Wha-"

What had she just said?! It couldn't be-

She reached for him. He tried to twist his head away, but she easily caught hold of him and propped the lid open, exposing his brain.

She grabbed it and pulled.

And with a sickening squelch, it popped out.

The room was spinning. The last thing he was aware of was their taunting voices…

"Nighty-night!"

"Sleep tight!"

"And don't forget to let the bed bugs bite!"

Everything went black.