The first vessel arrived on Tuesday.
Sam groaned and rolled his eyes as he opened the box, wondering what the Devil could have possibly sent him this time. To his surprise, he had been given...
"A doll!?" Sock exclaimed, looking over Sam's shoulder, "Oh, yeah, we'll look so cool carrying this around." He picked it up by the hand and held it at arm's length, letting the rest of the body dangle as through the doll was toxic.
"That's not just any doll," Ben pointed out as he came over, "It's a Lucy Laughs doll. Hot item, like, 20 or so years ago. Squeeze the stomach and it giggles incessantly. That one looks a bit beat up."
"That helps us figure out the soul," Sam leaned back in his chair, "It's related to the doll somehow. Mass robbery?"
"Possibly. That makes sense. Crazy collector serial robbing for all the dolls in town," Sam nodded.
Not quite, as the Devil informed Sam. The soul was Rosalie Lunsford, a mother of two young girls. Her motive? Getting the Lucy Laughs doll at any cost. Her modus operandi? Strangling her victims with wrapping ribbon.
"But why did she come back?" Sam had to ask, "It's not like the doll even..." and he was shushed by the Devil with a sly smile.
"Three words: 20th Anniversary Edition."
"And let me guess, she's come back to make sure no one gets the new doll?" Sam asked.
"You're getting better at this!" the Devil responded with a pat on the back, "Now go get her!"
However, "getting her" was not as easy as the boys had thought. They had stalked every toy store in the city (and getting weird looks from passersby for carrying the doll, which caused Sock to finally bring a backpack to put the doll in.
Then one day, they found her hovering around the Lucy Laughs 20th Anniversary display. They casually sauntered over to the display. "Lucy Laughs, huh?" Ben said out of the blue to start conversation, "My sister had one of the originals. It was her favorite doll. I figured I'd get her one of these for the sentimental value, you know? I had brought hers here, my friend's holding onto it, to make sure I got the right thing," he had Sock take the doll out of the bag and hoped it'd be a done deal before she saw it and knew what was going on. No dice.
She turned, looked at the boys, looked at the doll, and hissed. "You're not sending me back to hell!" And she managed to materialize a wrapping ribbon and tightened it around Ben's neck. Both Ben and Sock panicked, then looked around for Sam. He was nowhere to be found, seemingly vanished into thin air.
Ben was struggling for his life, Sock was holding the doll not knowing what the hell to do, and Ben managed to get enough strength to point to the doll. "S-Sock!" he sputtered.
Sock looked at the doll, look at Ben and Rosalie, and tried to figure out how to get the doll to work as a vessel. He shook it, kicked it, and tossed it in the air. Nothing.
"Squeeze it!" Ben yelled, and Sock did so. It released an orange light and then sucked Rosalie inside it. Ben dropped to his knees, catching his breath.
Sock ran over. "We did it! No thanks to Sam. Where in the hell did he go?"
"I... have... no... idea," Ben said in-between pants, but he didn't think Sam skipped out on the fight. He's never skipped out on a fight, "But I'm sure we're gonna find out once we find him again, and something tells me your question is more literal than you intended."
The second vessel had arrived on Wednesday, but no one had even noticed it because they were too busy finding Rosalie.
It was, instead, discovered on Thursday.
Sam groaned as he stared at the brown box. "It's the holidays. I wish he could just give me a break. Instead, he doubles my workload."
Ben stared at the box. "Just don't open it. Let him find his own soul for a change, cause we are not going through that again! What can he do if you say no?"
"Hunt me down, send me to hell, torture me in ways we can't even fathom?" Sam rattled on, "I guess we should just open the damn box and get it over with." He popped the buckles and lifted the lid. He then waved away the smoke that emanated from the box to reveal...
"Oh hey look a candy cane!" Sock picked it up out of the box. "Maybe it's not a vessel, but a Christmas treat for you!" he went to start to eat it but Sam plucked it from his hands.
"No, it is most definitely a vessel. The soul is a Dewitt Bolliger. That's about all I know this time. The devil wasn't as nice to me as he was with Rosalie."
"Well," Ben said with a slight eyeroll as he rolled his chair over to the computer, "In that case, I guess we should research this Dewitt Bolliger... as much as I don't want to." He did some research. "Alright, Bolliger was the owner of a candy company in the 1950's, one of the most famous., and not only for the quality of its candy. There was a huge influx of death from eating Bolliger candy canes, the feds did an investigation into the plant and its methods, and it turns out Bolliger was having the candies laced with arsenic."
"And he's come back because he's sadistic and it's the holidays and he can have knock a few more people off just because?" Sock asked, "Cause that's ballsy."
"Sounds like it," Sam said as he handed the candy cane to Ben, "You hold on to this this time. I don't trust Sock. Let's go."
They headed out to the mall, figuring there would be candy canes given out at the "Photos with Santa" booth, and sure enough there was Bolliger, handing out candy canes (probably laced with something once again, who knows what he had access to in the underworld). He turned, looked at the boys, then dropped his stuff and started laughing. "Oh no, oh no you little boys won't. I'm not going back there, you can't make me!" and he broke one of his candy canes, setting a slow moving trail of noxious gas at the boys. They looked up and tried to keep their cool as they figured out what to do, and as they were plotting, Sam once again was nowhere to be found.
Sock and Ben had to figure out what to do alone a second time, but Ben had been paying attention to Bolliger and tried to see if his own tactic would backfire on him and broke their candy cane. The familiar orange... whatever it was came to suck Bolliger (and the noxious gas he had used as a weapon) into the candy.
After the shock wore off of doing this twice in a row, Sock turned to Ben. "What is Sam's problem, walking away from a fight twice in a row?"
"I don't think he's walking away from anything Sock," Ben had been putting the pieces together, "I think the Devil is pulling him away, but remind me to ask him. Again."
The third vessel had arrived on Thursday, but it too had been preempted by the capture of the previous soul.
So, the boys got around to it on Friday. Sam gave Ben and Sock, a "Don't say a word, we're doing this" look and opened the box. Inside this time was a string of Christmas lights, causing all three boys (except Sam, since he already knew a few details) to look at it confused.
"Hmm... he rigged a bunch of lights to explode, and people got electrocuted?" Ben suggested.
"No!" Sock turned to him, "He invented little parasites that are dormant until heated up and they crawled out of the lights and they leeched off people's brains!"
Sam and Ben both sent Sock confused looks and then Sam finally gave a name. "Jim Solorzano."
Ben turned to his laptop and started doing some research. "Set up one of those roadside Christmas tree shops, but was sending them off with some sort of flammable chemical instead of water – causing the trees to absorb it – and so when the trees were decorated and the lights got hot enough... boom!"
"He's probably trying that trick again, so let's find him," Sam wrapped the string of lights around his neck and grabbed his car keys.
The boys drove down a deserted road in search of Solorzano. They figured he'd set up shop in the middle of nowhere because he'd be harder to find (and, seemingly, it worked because he could not be found). Sock, getting bored with the long drive into nothingness, was making paper planes with the receipts and check stubs he found in the back seat of Sam's car and making them fly around it.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a little Christmas tree stand popped up in the distance. "That's gotta be him! Pull over!"
It was as if Solorzano knew who they were and why there were here (possibly because Sam still had the vessel strung around his neck), because he wasted no time lunging for them. "You little bastards think you can send me back to hell? Well think again, because I ain't going back there!" he ignited one of his trees and threw it at the boys, and they dodged right out of the way.
Sam whipped the vessel off his neck and tried to figure out how to work it as Ben and Sock still dodged flaming trees and branches. Sam tried flinging it, unscrewing the lights, anything but throwing it since he didn't want Solorzano getting to it.
"Try plugging the ends into each other!" Ben suggested, calling out as he ran to dodge another fiery branch. Sam thought about it for a moment, and, without any other ideas of his own at the time, faced Solorzano and plugged the two ends of the string of light into each other. And that was what did it, and he was sucked into the vessel, ready to be sent back to hell.
Sam looked over at Ben and Sock for a moment, then headed for the car. "Want to go catch something to eat, and then we'll take all three of these vessels to Gladys in the morning?"
Ben and Sock nodded in agreement, too wiped to even speak.
Sam started the car and turned it to head back into town, pondering the events of the last week and praying it doesn't happen again for a very, very long time.