The Other Nightmare
AN: These are my thoughts: what I'd really like to see, is a dark, twisted tale with all the Nightmare Before Christmas peculiarities attached. Something with mystery, suspense and more twists in the plot than a piece of licorice. I promise all of these things in advance. Have fun and enjoy.
Disclaimer: Tim Burton owns this beautifully crafted tale. I do not.
Chapter One: What's This?
In the dead of night, the adventurous Pumpkin King stepped lightly through the rolling pumpkin patch, careful to avoid tripping or breaking the large, thick coils of gnarled vines that created a forest around him. This was nothing more than an evening stroll, of course. He had unstuck himself from the Mayor's zealous attempts to draw up next year's Halloween plans, but after last week's marvelous display of Halloween vigor, Jack Skellington was less than keen to jump into another session.
Mind, he had no intention of wandering very far this night. After all, it was after last year's Halloween that he upset the balance of holidays and nearly ruined Christmas for everyone. Making that mistake once in his afterlife was enough.
This did not stop his mind from wandering. Already it reached the very borders of his kingdom and back to the core of the town he loved so dearly. Halloween Town was as dreadful as ever, the trick-or-treaters were behaving; the glow from the recently passed Halloween still floating between the grins and burning eyes of the town's residents. And Oogie was dead. Nothing seemed to be out of place at all.
Jack sighed as he steadily climbed the hill. It was all too perfect. Wonderful, yes—but why did he still feel so restless? That gnawing emptiness that had led to last year's catastrophe was gone, for the most part. He would not deny that the thought of delivering ghoulish presents all across the world still made him grin, but the emptiness had been satisfied with so much more—
Like Sally. Oh, Sally. He never could have imagined that her love for him was right under his skull this entire time! And not to mention the realization that he, the Pumpkin King, had a holiday of his own to furnish. To think what would happen if someone tried to kidnap him and take over Halloween!
Jack wanted nothing more than to take a long, leisurely walk with Sally at his side…but unfortunately, she had sacrificed this perfect night by providing him with a distraction, so that he could escape the Mayor's attention. Just for tonight, he thought. Tomorrow, maybe, he would start the plans for next Halloween, but for now…
Behind him, Zero drifted as silently as a ghost, brightly shining nose illuminating the faces of the broad pumpkins. The occasional crow screamed at the chilling duo as they arrived at the highest mound of twisted patch. Jack's eye sockets widened as he took in the sight before him—a shocking, bewildering sight like he had never seen.
"My, how big these pumpkins are," he commented aloud to Zero, voice laced with awe. He placed a skeletal hand under his jaw. "That's strange. I could have sworn this was the patch Behemoth had planted a month ago…I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. What do you think, Zero?"
After tentatively sniffing the vine of the nearest pumpkin, the phantom of a dog barked positively. He floated in a circle, and barked again.
"You're absolutely right—they are the same pumpkins, aren't they?" Now his tone lilted with anger. Jack looked crossly at the vast jungle before him and narrowed his eyes. "Hmmm…I don't like this at all, Zero."
A whine answered him. Zero had no idea, either. Jack touched the surface of the pumpkin nearest him, frowning, when a sudden movement caught his eye.
His jaw dropped slightly as he watched a tiny little glowing light float up from amidst the leaves, spiraling above his head like a firefly. It stopped and hovered just in front of his eyes.
"What's this?" he mused, reaching out as if to touch it. Suddenly, it reversed direction and spun away so quickly that it was gone in less than an instant.
Zero barked, breaking him out of his daze. Someone called his named from nearby. Jack spun around, to find a figure approaching him from the darkness. He recognized Sally as she hesitantly climbed the path that led to the top of the hill. All but forgetting the strange encounter with the miniature light, he stalked towards her with an outstretched arm.
"Why, Sally, what's wrong?" he said, hardly noticing Zero as he circled around their legs excitedly.
His dearest friend; his most wonderful Sally was wringing her hair in her soft, rag doll hands as she came to a nervous stop. Jack could tell she had been running—the brambles and dirt that stuck to her clothes were just the first clue. She grabbed his hand and began to pull earnestly.
"Jack, you have to come back to the town, right now!" she insisted as he lurched after her. "Please, something awful has happened!"
That struck a chord inside his ribs. He leapt into his fastest sprint, inevitably though unintentionally overtaking Sally as he darted from one ledge to another, as nimbly as any spider and swiftly as a ghost. Her desperate call of "He's at the well, Jack! Hurry!" echoed after him, boosting his spirit and making him swell inside with the sense of overbearing protection for his town.
The iron gates flung apart at his entrance, sound rattling against the cobblestones and reaching the ears (or otherwise) of the town's residents, who had already gathered in a tight crowd around the well. Mr. Hyde, Zeldaborn and Helgamine noticed him first, quickly moving aside to let him through. Scattered whispers of "Jack!", "Jack's here!" and "Make way, he's coming!" broke out amidst the rest as they edged away, revealing the center of attention.
The Mayor lay on his back beside the crooked stone well, making unpleasant sounds and frowning intensely. The sickly green half of his face barely even perked when he spotted Jack hovering above. His tall hat had been knocked off and now lay on the ground, forgotten.
"Oh, my…" Jack crouched down next to the ailing mayor and peered closely at him, skull wrought with concern. "Mayor, what happened here?"
A moan answered him. "Jack, is that you…? Oh, it was terrible…"
Before he had a chance to go on, a bitter voice sliced through the crowd like the yowl of an irritated cat. Dr. Finklestein rolled his chair closer to the scene, waving aside the residents with his gloved hand.
"All right, all right, get out of my way," he growled, stopping just beside the Pumpkin King and the ailing victim of…well, whatever crime had been committed. He grumbled, lips trembling, and scratched his bald head with a lazy finger. "I'm the expert here, you handful of rotten miscreants…ah, Jack, how nice to see you."
"Doctor, thank goodness you're here," Jack said, relieved. He stood up, towering over the mad scientist and gesturing down at the mayor of Halloween Town. "Please, can you tell me what happened here? What is wrong with the Mayor?"
Grumbling again, Dr. Finklestein directed his gaze downwards as the Mayor continued to make distressed sounds. Then he made a throaty, ugly sound that might have been a sigh. "Absolutely nothing," he drawled, picking up the gnarled cane he has recently started to use (for his own amusement, of course, since it was otherwise useless). He leaned forward and prodded the double-faced politician with it.
"Ah!" The Mayor swatted the cane away. But the doctor was right—there didn't seem to be anything actually wrong with him. If anything, he was shocked. In the town of Halloween, who wasn't?
Jack crossed his arms. "Mayor, would you kindly explain what this is about?"
"Ohhhh…" The politician in question sat up unhappily, glancing at Jack with a twinge of guilt.
"He was attacked!" chimed the Mummy Kid from behind.
"Scared out of his wits!"
There was a round of cackling following thereafter, which was abruptly silenced when Jack raised a skeletal hand. "Go on, Mayor. Tell us what happened."
"I knew I should have stayed home today…" Sadly, the Mayor stood up in front of him, trying his best to look professional. "Jack, it was awful! A creature, a completely horrifying monster jumped out of the well and attacked me!"
The Pumpkin King's eyes widened into identical, round caverns. "A monster inside the well? Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes!" At once, the Mayor's head swiveled around and his expression once again turned into one of positive zeal.
"It was big!"
"Glowing red, like fire!"
"Wait a moment," said Jack, turning to face the crowd of enthusiastic residents. "You all witnessed this happen?"
"I did!" piped up the Corpse Kid, and was promptly echoed by the Mummy Kid and a chirp from the Winged Demon.
"And us!" Zeldaborn and Helgamine chimed in.
Behemoth, lurking forward a little lifted a gruesome arm, "Uhhh…"
Jack peered at them all with an intensity that made them shrink back. "Can any of you describe this creature to me more clearly? Was it a resident of Halloween Town?"
There was a definite pause. Just as he suspected—no one had seen the culprit clearly enough to tell. Then, suddenly, the Corpse Kid jumped in.
"No!" he said stoutly. "It was really scary, Jack! Never been here before!"
Again, the skeleton crouched down to look at the boy. "You're absolutely certain?"
"And? Can you tell me what it did look like?"
A chilling silence fell over the town square. Too chilling. Surprised, Jack looked around at the mixed expressions of his friends and narrowed an eye socket thoughtfully. There certainly must be something going on that he was not expecting…
"Like you," said a soft voice from beyond the assembly.
Everyone spun around and parted to let Jack through as he strode through. "Sally," he welcomed happily. Then he stopped with a slight tilt of his head, as the meaning of her words finally sinking into his skull.
Her face was sad and quite evidently worried. "It looked like you, Jack," she admitted, daintily stepping towards him. "At first, I thought it was a ghost of some kind, but when it turned on the Mayor…"
The indication was there, but it couldn't possibly be true. Did Sally—his Sally truly think that he would harm one of the townspeople? Unsurely, the skeleton looked at the faces of his friends once more. They stared back at him, silent and unmoving. What was going on?
"Well," the Mayor spoke up gravely, his face suddenly dark and unhappy once again. He moved through the crowd with one of his rare auras of authority. "If everyone is in agreement, then we all know what happens now. The law of Halloween Town must be acted upon immediately!"
There was such an outburst from the residents then, that Jack—the Pumpkin King himself—felt almost frightened. They were starting to advance on him and Sally with malice in their assorted eyes—or in some cases, eye. Warily, Jack backed up a step, consciously putting himself in the space between him and Sally, in case things did turn ugly…
"An intruder!" screeched Helgamine.
"It's going to get away!"
The Werewolf snarled, "It's our town!"
"It's our home!"
"Our man Jack will make it pay!"
"That settles it!" The Mayor shuffled over to Jack, grinning. "Jack, we knew we could count on you! What a splendid idea!"
Genuinely confused—though the residents of Halloween Town did tend to overcomplicate things—Jack held out his hands in an expression of defeat. "I'm afraid I don't understand, Mayor."
"You're the Pumpkin King," pointed out the wrinkled saxophone player, from a distance.
"And you're the bravest and scariest of us all!" piped in another voice, from whence he did not know.
Now the typically sharp-minded skeleton realized what they were talking about. Something—his sense of guardianship, perhaps—immediately took charge. This was the land of Halloween, and it had been encroached upon by some unknown creature. There were strange things at hand, and it was his sole responsibility to investigate them to his utmost strength!
"You're absolutely right!" he announced triumphantly, curling a bony fist in the air. A cheer from the denizens all around countered him. "Something should be done about this at once! Mayor, do you remember which way the creature went?"
On perfect cue, the collective heads of the Halloween Town residents turned to stare at the quietly glowing ooze inside the well. Jack stood above it, his eyes pointed with the green light reflecting off his face. After a moment, a soft hand landed on his arm.
"Jack, what are you planning?" Sally asked him, clearly unhappy by the idea of him taking off on yet another perilous quest.
He turned around, taking her protective hand in his own. "Sally, there is only one thing I can think of that can be done."
Like many times before, she seemed to read his mind before he could express this new idea. "But Jack, I don't think it's a good idea…"
"I know," he assured her, oblivious to the rapt attention of their audience. Their touching moments had become a frequent vogue amongst the residents. Oddly, however, his surprising gentility with Sally had done nothing to dent his reputation as the world's scariest being to ever live…or not live, respectively. "My dearest Sally, this is a matter of protecting Halloween Town from whatever lies out there, beyond the furthest reaches of these skeletal hands…"
He had not convinced her. Not in the least. But by her expression, he knew she would not try to stop him from this journey he had set his mind on. She looked at the ground and sighed. Then she lifted her head to stare directly into the hollows of his eyes. "You must take me with you."
There were several negative gasps from the residents. Despite the fact that they weren't sure what Jack's plan was, they knew very well what his reaction would be to any suggestion of putting Sally's life in danger…
"If you don't take me with you," she warned him, before he could utter an objection. "I will never speak to you again for as long as we're both dead."
Another thing about he and Sally—she had become much less shy in the past year with him than ever. If she wanted something to happen, then Jack was either inclined to do it, or argue with her until it was either done, or a compromise was drawn.
Unhappy but subdued, the skeleton nodded. "Very well. But we're only going there for a short visit—and it's straight back to Halloween Town."
"Thank you, Jack." A warm smile crossed her stitched lips. She reached up and kissed his cheek, before strolling towards the town gate.
Sighing with gladness for her comfort and weariness yet another argument lost, Jack glanced over his fellow residents and found over half of them holding back a fit of snickers.
"What are you all staring at?" he demanded sharply. The few closest to him drew back quite suddenly, so ferocious was his demeanor. "I want at least two guards posted at this well at all times while I'm gone. Understood?"
"I'll do it!" Corpse Kid volunteered.
"We'll all keep watch for you, Jack!"
Not for the first time, he sighed—this time, because it was just occurring to him again how hard it was to issue an order about anything without being mobbed. How he loved this town and the endearing citizens that made its creepy existence so perfectly horrible. Only sometimes, making his intentions clear was not an easy task.
"All right," he said at last, drawing himself up. Their eyes watched him steadily. "I'm off to see Sandy Claws, everyone. And remember, if anything out of the ordinary happens while I'm gone, it's the door that's shaped like a Christmas tree."
"We know, Jack! We'll take care of everything!" one of the vampire brothers assured him. Jack grinned at him in return.
And turned to leave Halloween Town on a mission that would start a disaster.