Ok: this is my first attempt at a Ghost Rider story, which is surprising really considering how much I love old flamehead. Basically, this is my sort of interpretation of Ghost Rider, based on both the comic-book and movie versions (I like to think the best parts of both). Opinions from anyone on the characterisation of Ghost Rider and how his powers are used are very welcome. Well, enjoy.
Ghost Rider is © Marvel Comics.
THE MAN COMES AROUND
The sound of the gunshots echoed off into the nothingness of the night with the final note of two empty shells hitting the gas station floor. Compared to the deafening noise that had come out of the handgun, the bodies of the two teenagers hitting the floor were almost silent. Even without the dull, inescapably final "thuds" as they fell, it was impossible not to know they were dead. The boy had died first, the gaping red hole in his forehead remaining from when the bullet had gone in. The girl took about a minute longer, but she would be dead long before the ambulance got there to find her lungs full of blood.
"Oh God," the clerk gasped, shaking and trembling with his hands in the air, "Oh Jesus Christ, you killed them!"
One of the two robbers laughed. It made the clerk almost break out into terrified sobs. He was actually laughing. His breath reeked of alcohol and pot as he turned the gun on the clerk. "Now gimme the register," he grimaced, "or you're next, fatass. C'mon, move it!"
"Get the money!" One of the other two shouted at him as he emptied the refridgerator, carrying armloads of beer, as the third loaded his arms and jacket up with cigarettes. As he moved towards the door, he looked down at one of the bodies. "Aw, freakin nice."
"Rolex, man," the second said as he dropped a few cans in leaning down to pry the watch off the dead boy.
"H- Here," the clerk said, shaking, as he removed the drawer from the register and handed it over, "just- just take it and go alright?"
The gun went off again.
The clerk fell back, his hands clutching the damp, widening red spot on his gut. A trickle of blood leaked from the mouth as he dropped down against the wall, leaving a thick, smeared red trail.
"Got everything, man," the third robber said as he kicked the door open, "not a damn cop in sight. C'mon."
Then the three were out the door, no police for miles and three dead innocents inside. They loaded up their car and laughed about it as one of them fumbled for his keys.
In the silence after the gunshots, the only sound was that of a distant motorcycle engine. After a few seconds, one of them looked up to see that it was growing louder.
"Company, man," the one with the gun said, "want I should plug him?"
"It's all you, man," one of the others said as he climbed into the car, "I say leave it. Let him get a surprise, huh?"
"Nah, man," the third said, "listen to that." The bike was closer now, and from the sound, it was a hell of a ride. "That engine, man. Sounds like the end of the damn world."
Then one of them looked at the source of the noise.
At the orange glow in the middle of the road, and the trail of flame that started to dwindle in the distance.
"Jesus shit," he gaped, eyes widening as a joint dropped from his mouth, "is that thing freaking on fire?"
The sound of the engine built to a crescendo. In each of the three robbers, something made of fear began to gnaw away at the stomach. The burning glow became close, with a sudden rush of speed, and…
"Mother of God…"
No bike, no custom job in the world, could be like that. Its metal body looked like twisted bones, and on the front, where the headlight shoot be, was what looked like a long, howling, horse's skull, all impossibly clean and gleaming. On each thick, ribbed tyre looked to be a layer of rolling, crackling flame.
But the bike was nothing compared to what was on it. The gloved hands, knuckles marked with metal spikes, released the handlebars as club-tipped boots stepped down and the figure, garbed in leather biker gear, stepped down. On each shoulder were three long, sharp metal spikes. A metal chain was wrapped tight around the torso, and a shotgun, its stock and barrel covered in twisted protrusions of chain, hung on the back. But it was the head, the only exposed part of the body, that none of the three robbers could stop staring at.
It was- and there was simply no other way of getting around it- a walking, flaming skeleton. Bright orange flames surrounded its skull and seeped out of any gap in its clothing, and rolling fires in its eye sockets burned like the depths of hell.
At first, it didn't even look at them. Then the nightmare thing raised a hand and pointed at the three thugs. Its bone of a lower jaw spoke, and it said, in a voice that sounded like thunder driven mad: "You…" then the skull turned up and the rolling pits of flame that were its eyes fixed on them.
Then the chain snaked off, coiling like lightning into its owner's hand, and snapped forward with impossible speed. It struck the head of the thug on the left, a shower of blood falling from his face as its spiked end buried itself in his skull.
"Game over!" One of them yelled, turning and fleeing, swaying like a drunken, terrified animal, "Game over, man!" Before he was out of the station, the chain wrapped around his throat and pulled him back to slam against the hood of the car.
The demon raised one hand, smoke coiling from its fingertips, and a ball of churning flame burst into being in the centre of its palm.
"Shit…" the one with the gun squeaked, "Oh shit, God, man, I…" he turned and fled, the thing seemingly ignoring him as it pulled back its arm and hurled the fireball into the car.
The third only heard the explosion from behind before the shockwave and the heat hit him. He hit the ground hard, screaming as his arm broke and the fireball that had been the gas station billowed upwards. He cringed and cried out as his back burned, chunks of burning ash raining down.
He felt the thing's hands grab him by the back of the neck, turn him over and pick him up, until he was looking down into the eyes of the monster.
"Look into my eyes…"
The eyes seemed to deepen, the flames parting into a sea of deeper, hotter fire that went down and down forever. And all the killer could do was stare down into them…
And scream as every memory, every crime, every beating and murder and rape, came flooding back in one awful, white-hot wave, and he felt every moment of pain, every scream of helplessness, and every burning, horrible death…
Then the demon dropped the charred, emaciated skeleton to the cold, harsh ground. It paid the corpse no thought as it turned, walked back to the smoking husk of the gas station, walked through the flames without pain, mounted its unscathed bike and rode off into the distance on a trail of fire and a roaring engine.
And why should it? They had received their punishment. The innocent had been avenged.
"Vengeance is served."
Johnny stirred under the covers, groaning tiredly as he squinted in the intrusive sunlight.
He sat up, coughing slightly and rubbing the crud out of his eyes. He became aware of a heavy knocking at the door that seemed even louder. Even the rustling of the sheets seemed deafening. He remembered why as soon as he saw the empty bottle of Jack Daniel's next to the bed.
"Blaze, either you answer me or I call the damn cops!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming," Johnny croaked as he stood up, shirtless, and made his way through the cramped, messy motel room. He pulled the door open just as the sweaty, overweight man on the other side was about to knock again.
"Yeah?" Johnny groaned, leaning on the side of the doorway for support.
"Rent," the landlord fumed.
"Yeah," Johnny recalled, "yeah, Mister Putrelli, you- you'll get it. When- when's it due?"
"You'll get it. End of the week."
"End of the week," Putrelli pointed a thick sausage-finger at him, "or I kick your bum ass out of here."
The door slammed shut in Johnny's face.
"Christ," Johnny groaned, stepping back into the room and opening the fridge. It looked like breakfast was a choice between his last fresh piece of fruit and a mouldy piece of half-eaten cheese. He needed to stock up.
He needed to pay the rent.
He needed a job.
He needed to stop getting drunk.
And it wouldn't hurt if, just once in a while, he could not turn into a flaming skeleton at night.
Still, "you never know", he always told himself, and today was the day for the interview. For the position as a library assistant. Hardly exciting compared to turning into the infamous Ghost Rider, but he needed some kind of income, and vigilantism didn't pay like it used to. Besides, he'd been to the library before, and it had more than a few books on demons and the occult; just the sort of thing that the host to the Spirit of Vengeance might want to brush up on.
He took a cold shower, partly to wake himself up and partly because his hot water had been cut off, dressed, and before long was out the door, smoothing down his leather jacket. Out on the railing, he descended the stairs to the parking lot and was, as ever, that little bit relieved to see his custom-made, non-supernatural-looking bike sat there immobile.
"You made the papers again."
Johnny looked round just as he put his hand on the handlebars. The old, bearded man who turned the page in his hands was decked out in a cowboy-style jacket, boots and hat, his aged face creased in a low chuckle.
"Not right now, Carter."
"You do realise you blew up a gas station, right?"
"Damnit, Carter, not right now," Johnny griped as he climbed onto the bike. "Wait, what?"
"Couple miles out of town. Whole place burned with six corpses."
"Couple of punks," Johnny recalled. "Three." At least, he believe there were three. Memories from a night as the Rider were always blurry, mainly because it wasn't Johnny Blaze in the driver's seat. "They'd killed some people inside."
"Apparently the cops found a dead rapist with his head knocked through a brick wall and a woman who'd just murdered her husband hanging from her ceiling fan."
Johnny flinched. That sounded brutal even for the Rider.
"You've been drawing a lot of attention to yourself lately," Carter said as he folded up the paper. "I were you, I'd lay low for a while."
"Not my call," Johnny muttered as the bike's engine rumbled to life. "I gotta go."
The roar of the bike grew before it rolled out of the parking lot and away down the street. Carter watched as it rounded the corner, and then shook his head in quiet bemusement.
Johnny's bike rolled idly into the parking lot as he dropped it down a gear and let it slide into place alongside a rusty old white minivan. He moved one foot back to kick the stand down…
Then the devil howled in his face, flying out of nowhere with nothing to shield him. Involuntarily, Johnny's muscles lurched back and to the side. He hit the ground hard, and the bike hit the ground with a heavy, metal clang. By the time he looked up, the vision was gone.
"Sorry, Johnny-boy," the harsh, grating voice said from behind him, "couldn't resist."
Johnny turned. Of course he knew that voice. He'd never forget it as long as he lived.
The thing was that the thin, grey-haired old man in the black velvet suit with the cane hadn't been there when he arrived.
"You…" Johnny seethed, his fists tightening and his eyes filling with flame. Then, in a flesh of dark, hellish light, every inch of skin and muscle burned away, the flames coating the gleaming bone.
The devil gave a wry smile, tapping his cane idly on the ground. "Please, Johnny," he chuckled, "you know I'm not here to do anything. Now change back before somebody sees you."
"What do you want?" The Ghost Rider rumbled, flames billowing from his mouth with every word.
Mephistopheles smiled again and folded his hands over on top of the cane.
"How about a drink on me?" he said, then added, in a deliberately thick southern accent, "I gots a proposition for ya."
A few notes on this chapter:
-Yeah, I based the Caretaker and Mephistopheles on the movie versions a lot. I just liked the movie's Caretaker, and it makes sense to me that Mephistopheles would assume human form for conducting business with Johnny.
-How did I do with characterising Johnny, Ghost Rider, etc.? I kind of figured he'd talk differently depending on whether Johnny or Rider provoked the transformation.
-I can't really decide whether to have any internal dialogue between Johnny and Zaratohs/Ghost Rider/The Spirit of Vengeance/Whatever you wanna call it. Part of me likes the notion of the conflict, and part of me also likes the idea of a more unified, focused Ghost Rider.
-Yeah, I gave GR the hellfire-shotgun, which I'm not sure he ever has in the comics. I just like it, is all. I might give him a machete or something too, since I have this awesome image in my head of Ghost Rider "swordfighting" with an enemy.
Much of the back story for my interpretation of the character will be revealed as we go along; this will include becoming the Ghost Rider and meeting the Caretaker. I'm going to do it mostly in flashback so I don't have to wait too long before actually bringing the Ghost Rider into things, especially considering how much he's going to be doing in this story. All I'll say now is that copious quantities of ass will be kicked.
Anyway, all reviews are welcome!