Notes - This takes place in the same continuity as my first Hey Arnold story, Helga, the Artiste, and as a semi-sequel it references it a couple of times, but it can be easily read and understood as a standalone story and it doesn't give much away. So you can either read this by itself, or if you are interested, read Helga, the Artiste first. Either way, enjoy!
The Tale of the Bat Man, by DoofusPrime
A rickety wooden house crouched between two larger apartment buildings. The buildings stood and watched over the smaller house like sentinels on either side of the lot. Gerald had seen Stinky's house before, but it always stuck out like a sore thumb no matter how many times he saw it again. He wondered if he would ever see a stranger sight, short of Helga G. Pataki actually being nice or something.
Gerald always thought Stinky himself was a strange person to find smack in the middle of a big city, never mind his family's house. But, strange or not, Stinky was a cool guy.
Tonight, he was also Gerald's partner in crime.
Not wanting to attract any unwanted attention, Gerald had actually arrived behind Stinky's house and was looking at the wooden fence that blocked in his back yard. He looked left and right to make sure no one was tailing him. Satisfied he had not been followed, he jumped the fence into Stinky's back yard, almost landing on a pumpkin. Gerald stepped over a number of haphazardly growing pumpkins of varying sizes as he picked his way towards the house. A couple of the pumpkins had almost grown taller than he was, although none of them approached the freakish bulk of Stinky's prize winning pumpkin from the City Vegetable Fair a couple years ago.
Gerald stepped onto the back porch, noticing that a multitude of fake spiderwebs were festooned over the railing and hung down from the roof. At least he hoped they were fake spiderwebs. A plastic skeleton was nailed to the door, and a few jack-o'-lanterns gathered around the back porch, their eyes not yet aglow. It looked as if Stinky had picked them from the pumpkin patch and carved them recently but hadn't put them out on the front porch yet.
Gerald was about to knock on the door when he heard a whisper coming from a corner of the pumpkin patch behind him.
"Psst! Over here, Gerald!"
He looked back to see Stinky crouched behind a particularly large pumpkin. Gerald had apparently missed him on entering the back yard.
"Hey Stinky, what's up? We ready to go tonight?"
"I reckon so," Stinky said. "Here I figured you were payin' me a visit to ask for some spare pumpkins. Sid and Harold already came by and done grabbed a couple for themselves."
"Nah, just making sure everything's in order."
Stinky nodded. "I got my costume waitin' in my room. I'll be ready when it's time."
"All you gotta do is wait outside the tree house, maybe hide yourself around the corner of a building outside the lot, and wait for me to send the signal."
Gerald pulled out a flashlight and flashed it briefly at Stinky. He had considered creating a complicated system of morse code flashes, but then realized he did not know morse code, which kind of threw a monkey wrench in his plans.
"This'll be a hoot!" said Stinky as he rubbed his hands together. "Although I'm a mite worried about poor Sid, on account of him thinkin' I'm a vampire. He might be terrified even after I take the mask off."
"Sid gets terrified of everything. There's no avoiding that, dude."
"I s'pose you got a point there, Gerald."
"Alright," said Gerald as he looked around the back yard again – there was no reason anyone else would be in Stinky's back yard, but Gerald felt that glancing around a lot was an appropriate thing to do when one was forming clandestine schemes. "I gotta go meet up with Arnold and Helga and Phoebe at the boarding house and go trick-or-treating with them. You'd have to stop by your house again later, but you can come with us if you want."
"I reckon I'm goin' with Harold and Sid," said Stinky. "Better to split up anyway and get a wide variety of candy. Some of the stuff they give out in Chinatown blows my mind!"
"Good luck with with that then."
Gerald said goodbye to Stinky, making a note to visit Chinatown while they were trick-or-treating later, and vaulted his way over the wooden fence again. He looked back at his accomplice just before he dropped back down into the street.
"Remember, everybody meets at the tree house later, but you gotta stay back until I give the signal!"
The street behind Stinky's house was still empty, and Gerald dashed across it on his way to Arnold's boarding house, even though no one would have blinked an eye if they had seen him talking to Stinky. Gerald was looking forward to seeing what costumes Phoebe and Arnold were going to wear. Heck, Helga's choice would be interesting to see as well.
Then, it would be time to hit the streets. Gerald had a good feeling about tonight.
The night had been successful beyond Gerald's wildest dreams.
His plastic skeleton-head pail was filled to the brim with candy - so much candy that he found himself getting a little tired of lugging it around. Even the surprise attack earlier that night by Chocolate Boy hadn't been enough to dampen his spirits, although the tiny, chocolate-stained shape leaping out of the dark alley had given him quite a shock. It was a good thing Chocolate Boy was easily appeased by throwing a few chocolates his way and making a run for it.
The city was aglow with light from nighttime street lamps, windows, and flashlights held by passing trick-or-treaters. Laughter and merriment floated with a light breeze in the air, and the faint smell of a burning bonfire reached Gerald's nose from somewhere down the block. Gerald walked quietly along with Phoebe as the two of them trailed behind Arnold and Helga. Phoebe was not always the most active conversationalist, but Gerald didn't mind – he enjoyed her peaceful temperament, and knew that she enjoyed his company as well. It was strange, but long silences with Phoebe were somehow never awkward, the way they were with most other people.
Arnold and Helga were saying something up ahead, but Gerald wasn't paying any attention. Arnold's grandfather, who had insisted on coming along to trick-or-treat with them, was trailing behind the rest of the group at a leisurely pace.
"Hope you kids didn't mind me tagging along," Phil told Gerald and Phoebe as they strode down the cracked concrete sidewalk. "Pookie thinks it's Arbor Day again, and y'know, I just didn't feel like planting some stupid tree all afternoon!"
"I found your company very pleasant," said Phoebe. "And your stories were quite interesting!"
Phil ruffled Phoebe's well-kept hair. "You little charmer!" he laughed. Although Phoebe had been telling the truth about enjoying his company, she looked a little distressed at having her hair tousled.
Arnold's grandfather was sporting a pair of sunglasses even though the sun had gone down, but Gerald wasn't sure if that was supposed to be part of a Halloween costume or not. Gerald himself was dressed as a strawberry. Not the scariest choice, but Gerald had remembered taking a few looks in the mirror back when he and Arnold had dressed as fruits for the school play and thought he looked fairly dashing in red. Phoebe had chosen to dress as a calculator, and ahead of them, Arnold was wearing a pilot's costume, complete with a scarf and goggles. Now that he thought about it, Gerald wasn't sure why the scarf seemed like a pilot accessory. Wouldn't it just get whipped off in the wind?
As for Helga, Gerald couldn't remember who she was supposed to be. She wore a bizarre face mask with distorted angular features. Some kind of artist, she had told him. Pablo Picante or something. Whoever she was supposed to be, Helga's costume did not interest him as much as the fact that she and Arnold seemed to be enjoying themselves. Almost as if they were hanging out as friends.
Gerald had been noticing a gradual change in the way they interacted with each other, especially since that April Fool's dance. Helga was always around Arnold and his other classmates when they were part of a group, sometimes just to annoy them, but she seemed to tag along a little more often lately even if Arnold, Phoebe, and himself were the only ones around. On a couple of occasions, she had even hung out with them when Phoebe wasn't around.
He knew that Helga was interested in Arnold after unintentionally learning of her secret a while ago, and her fixation with him was pretty obvious to Gerald nowadays. But as far as he could tell, Arnold did not know her secret – at least, he certainly hadn't mentioned it. And yet Arnold seemed to be finding her a lot more tolerable than he had in the past. Did Arnold tolerate her for the sake of charity, or was he actually fond of her?
Gerald watched Arnold and Helga chatting up ahead and decided he did not want any headaches. Not on Halloween, of all nights. It was time to shift his attention to a less confounding and far more pleasant subject.
"Hey Phoebe," he asked as he looked over her calculator costume, "can I push your buttons?"
Phoebe looked over, a little flustered as she tried to figure out what he meant.
"You'd like to - to annoy me?"
"What? Wait, no. No, not like that! I just wanted to see if they did anything!"
"Oh," Phoebe said, her blush dying down a little. "No, I'm afraid not. They're made of felt. My mother helped me make the costume."
"Cool. It looks pretty sweet. Almost makes me wanna do math!"
The group turned a street corner and saw the empty lot in which the ancient tree, Mighty Pete, held up their tree house, where they would meet with their friends and share their loot. It was a well known Halloween rule that a kid never got the kinds of candy he really liked the most, but Gerald and the rest of the gang had discovered that by combing different areas of the city and meeting afterwards, they could trade their earnings around until everyone had what they wanted. More or less. Arnold had come up with the system of course, always being one for cooperation and teamwork.
Walking ahead of Gerald, Helga laughed as she read a piece of paper she had stretched out. "What did you get for your little message of wisdom?" she asked Arnold.
Earlier, the group had visited Mr. Simmons' house, who was giving out peanut brittle wrapped in uplifting messages he had written. They reminded Helga a little of fortune cookies: her message had told her that her unique personality could not be found in anyone else. She supposed it was a compliment, somehow.
"Let's see," said Arnold as he opened his own peanut brittle package and took a bite as he unfurled the message wrapper. "It says, 'Let this treat remind you to treat others with the same respect that you would want them to give you.' "
"Isn't that plagiarism?" laughed Helga.
"The Golden Rule is found in various forms in a number of religions and philosophies," Phoebe offered. "But I think it was a thoughtful choice on Mr. Simmons' part to give it out to children along with peanut brittle."
"Good to know, Phoebe. Not like Arnold needs to be told that anyway. Am I right, Arnold?" she asked as she playfully elbowed her trick-or-treating companion. "You don't need to hear about the Golden Rule when you're a golden boy already!"
"I don't know what that means, Helga."
"Me neither. I think I've just been eating too much sugar."
They arrived at the old tree in the lot and saw that some light was already filtering down on them from the tree house windows. It illuminated the edges of rustling leaves which framed the tree house in the night sky, and as Gerald looked up, he saw some shapes moving within the yellow rectangles. Some of their friends had already arrived.
"Outta the way, slowpokes!" Arnold's grandfather piped up. He passed them and took the rope ladder, climbing up faster than a spider monkey. The rest of the group followed him up and joined a few of their friends who were already waiting.
"Hello Lila!" said Arnold enthusiastically. Gerald knew that Arnold had gotten over her a while ago – at least, that was what he claimed – but he still tended to be unusually friendly around Lila.
"Hello Arnold! Gosh, that looks like quite a lot of candy you've got there."
Arnold took a seat beside her as Gerald helped Phoebe up the rope ladder and into the room.
"Hey guys," said Rhonda as they all finished entering.
Rhonda was dressed as a princess for Halloween, and wore a frilly pink gown with a conical veiled hat that was colored to match. The veil hanging from the tip of her hat swished through the air as she looked back and forth at Helga and Arnold, who were standing near each other. "Were you going trick-or-treating with them?" she asked Helga. She looked pointedly over at Arnold, as if hinting at who exactly she meant by 'them.'
"Just wondering is all. I thought you, like, couldn't stand Arnold or something."
Helga shrugged a little too nonchalantly.
"He's tolerable sometimes."
"I see," said Rhonda faintly as she gave a little smirk and decided not to press the subject any further. "Well, it's nice of you all to finally get here. I got here first and ended up spending like ten minutes alone with Curly – do you know how traumatizing that is?"
"You say that like you didn't like it!" Curly piped up from behind her. He did not seem to be wearing a Halloween costume at all. Curly leaned forward and almost knocked Rhonda's hat from her head as he tried to sniff at her.
Arnold's grandfather took one of the lawn chairs that had been set up inside the tree house and stretched out, placing his trick-or-treating bag beside him. It was not as full as Arnold's bag, or any of the other stashes that Arnold's friends had brought in for that matter, mainly because a lot of the adults found it awkward when they answered their doorbell to find an old man standing amongst a group of children half his size and asking for candy.
"So, any of you whippersnappers happen to have some malt balls I can take off ya?"
More than a few of Arnold's friends were happy to oblige.
"Did you see what Mr. Simmons was giving out?" asked Sid as the group began to chat about their night. "Talk about crazy, huh?"
"You're telling me," agreed Helga. "Hey, where's Harold anyway?"
"He went home. He ate too much candy before we got here and felt kinda sick."
"Hey guys, maybe we should learn from Harold's example and not overdo it tonight," said Arnold as he watched his friends already stuffing themselves. "We want to make our candy last anyway, right?"
"What the heck are you talkin' about, boy?"
Arnold's grandfather had already eaten a couple handfuls of malt balls and was greedily eyeing some of the peanut brittle that his grandson's friends had gotten from visiting Mr. Simmons. As far as he was concerned, that Simmons character had some good taste in Halloween treats.
"Halloween is all about eating as much candy as you can, as soon as possible!" he said, spraying a mouthful of brittle crumbs on his audience. "Whaddya think we buy all those bags of candy for at the boarding house, anyway? We never give all that stuff away to the trick-or-treaters! Most of it's just reserve, for when we eat all the stuff we got from trick-or-treating."
"Your grandpa's got a point man," said Gerald.
Arnold shrugged. He supposed one night of indulgence wasn't bad, as long as his friends weren't planning on going down Chocolate Boy's dark and lonely road in life.
"So, Geraldo" Helga said as she crossed her arms and sat down in a chair beside Arnold, "Did I hear you were gonna tell us a tale of Halloween terror tonight?"
Everyone was having a good time, and even more conversational than usual thanks to their sugar highs, but Gerald's classmates knew it was time to quiet down when he got ready to tell one of his tales. The tree house grew quiet as everyone came to attention.
Gerald coughed, looking out one of the tree house windows. The moon rose higher into the dull black sky, and while Gerald could see a few stars twinkling here and there, most of them were obscured by the hazy glow of electric light that buzzed up from the city's sprawl. The tree house was not high enough to offer a view of the whole city, but Gerald could see a little ways past some of the apartment buildings. trick-or-treaters still ventured through the streets here and there.
He tried to peer down at the corner where he thought Stinky might be standing in wait, but it was too dark there to see anything. Still, Stinky knew the time, and hopefully he would be there when he needed to be.
"Sure," said Gerald as he turned back to his audience. "Story time it is."
Grandpa Phil clapped his hands together in anticipation. "Oh boy, a scary story! This reminds me of the time I was working as a stevedore with my old pal Jimmy Kafka – man, I hated that guy – but anyway, we just finished loading up the salted fish barrels on the barge, and Jimmy sits down and starts to tell me about this-"
"Grandpa," Arnold interrupted as politely as possible, "I think Gerald wants to tell his story. But we can listen to yours later."
"Oh, right, right. Sorry about that. Well, go on then, Gerald!"
Gerald nodded in thanks to Arnold's grandfather, after which he gave another nod to Sid, who had been gorging on licorice and did not notice the story was out to begin.
"Oh yeah!" said Sid as he put down his candy. "Okay, um, gather round and listen closely as Gerald tells us a story which has been passed down from kid generation to kid generation. Tonight, you will hear... uh..."
Sid scratched his head and looked at his friend.
"Wait, what story are you telling?"
"Oh, right. Forget about it, I'll introduce myself this time."
Gerald stepped onto an overturned milk carton and cleared his throat. It was important to clear one's throat and to pause for a moment before beginning any story. Actually, as a general rule, it was a good idea to throw a lot of random pauses in to increase tension. Gerald knew his stuff - that was why he was the unofficial P.S. 118 teller of tales, after all.
"Gather round, gather round!" he announced. "Tonight, as you all know, is Halloween night. And we aren't gathered in just any tree house tonight, no sir. We're gathered in the Treehouse of Horror!"
"Why does that sound familiar?" asked Arnold.
"Halloween," continued Gerald. "A night of candy, a night of trick-or-treating fun, but also a night of great evil! Halloween is the night when the monsters under your bed come out to play, when the bogeyman in your closet sneaks out while you're sleeping. It's the night when all your worst nightmares lurk in the shadows – ghosts, goblins, ghouls, real estate developers. Not to mention..."
Gerald's voice fell to a near whisper as his friends leaned in to hear him more clearly.
Rhonda jumped back with an abrupt squeal, crushing Curly against the tree house wall temporarily. Fortunately, Curly did not seem to mind at all.
Gerald looked over his audience as he got ready to continue after inserting one of his patented theatrical pauses to increase tension. The lamp light in the tree house had been turned down for the purpose of increasing the atmosphere, and Gerald considered taking out his flashlight and holding it under his face for a spooky effect, but realized that Stinky might notice it from outside and mistake it for the signal. And it was not quite time for the signal yet. He would have to make do with his natural theatrical ability.
"Tonight, I will be telling you a macabre tale that has been passed down from kid generation to kid generation: the tale of the Bat Man!"
This time, Arnold's grandfather interrupted. "That sounds pretty familiar too," he said as he scratched his knobbly chin.
"I dunno," said Sid. "Bat Boy sounds more familiar to me."
"What are you talking about?" Helga asked. "That sounds like some ridiculous story in a joke newspaper or something."
"Look, I'm just saying, alright!"
Curly adjusted his glasses, which flashed in the dim light of the tree house room. "What about the Bat-headed Boy?" he offered.
Gerald gritted his teeth in exasperation.
"I'm the one telling you guys the tale here!" he said. "And it's Bat Man, you jokers!"
Curly tired of the argument almost as soon as he had joined it, and noticed the pale moon's disk watching over the tree house from outside the window. "Hey Rhonda," he whispered to his princess, "you ever danced with a ballet dancer in the pale moonlight?"
Rhonda stared blankly at him.
"Seriously, I've taken classes."
"Gerald," said Rhonda as she turned away from Curly. "Continue your story, now."
Gerald, who had been waiting patiently for the interruptions to cease, acknowledge Rhonda's request with a smile and looked over the rest of his classmates. "Would you all like me to continue now?" he said with a tinge of sarcasm.
His classmates nodded meekly in assent.
"Whew! Okay. Now - a long, long time ago, many years before the city of Hillwood came to be, there was a peasant village by the name of Hill's Wood built on this very spot. A huge castle stood on the outskirts of this little village, and in the castle lived a knight named Arnoldo."
Gerald found himself cut off by a scoff from Helga.
"There were no castles here in the past, Gerald."
"Yeah," added Rhonda. "That was only like in Europe, and New Zealand."
"Nice history!" laughed Helga.
Arnold did not want to add to the ongoing mockery of his friend, but he couldn't help noticing Gerald was using a name that was oddly similar to his own in the story. "Why the name Arnoldo?" he asked.
Everyone fell silent as a sharp voice sliced through their interruptions. The group looked over in surprise at Phoebe, who had stood up from her chair for a moment. It was all she could do to ignore Gerald's flagrant historical liberties herself, but she knew that once he got started, he could tell a story like no one else.
"Perhaps we could get back to Gerald's story and allow him take some creative license?"
Helga muttered a little and sank back into her seat. Rhonda was perfectly happy to let the story continue, as it gave Curly a distraction from her. Arnold was a little nervous about Gerald's ominous use of 'Arnoldo', but he thought it was unlikely that his friend would be getting ready to poke fun at him or say anything mean. And he was looking forward to Gerald's tale.
"Thank you Phoebe," said Gerald with a slight bow. "Now, for the last time, where was I? Oh yeah - Arnoldo the knight..."
It was a beautiful day in the kingdom, and Arnoldo the knight was enjoying every minute of it. He had spent the last few days enjoying a merry harvest festival at Lloyd castle, gorging himself on roasted dormice and candied elderberries with Lady Rhonda and Lord Thaddeus. Now, however, he was on his way back to his family's land.
Arnoldo planned on spending the afternoon taking a pleasant horse ride through the verdant valleys in which the Shortman family castle stood, just beyond river that coursed through the forest. He was now trotting leisurely along the dirt road on his way to the forest, enjoying the sight of a flock of birds shifting back and forth overhead. Life as a knight was good. His parents would soon return from the south with great riches, and – someday – he would inherit the family land and be almost as wealthy as Lady Rhonda and Lord Thaddeus.
Unfortunately, his good mood was marred – just the tiniest bit – by the necessity of passing through the ugly hamlet of Hill's Wood, which lay splayed out like some hideous beast across the path Arnoldo had to take in order to enter the forest and reach the river. Arnoldo was a knight of refined taste, and Hill's Wood was not the place for such a knight to spend more than a few minutes.
The peasants had just finished their clod harvest, and as Arnoldo led his horse down winding mud paths lined with grotesque shacks and huts, he saw them crouching here and there as they watched him. Some of them tended to their shacks or worked on crafts in the open air. Some of them chewed vacantly on handfuls of vegetables that looked like clumps of grass to Arnoldo. Some of them just sat and stared, poking at the muddy ground for no apparent reason.
Arnoldo had almost wormed his way through the village without incident when a familiar figure appeared out of a nearby shack. Oh no, Arnoldo thought. Not her again!
"Arnoldo the knight!" cried the burlap-clad young woman.
Arnoldo was familiar with Hilda the Witch's Daughter from past excursions through Hill's Wood. She had a noticeable single eyebrow that stretched like a caterpillar over both eyes, along with a bizarre pigtailed hairstyle that jutted out from each side of her head. Had antennas existed at that point in time, Hilda's hairstyle would be reminiscent of them. Her hair was also decorated with a pink ribbon that clashed with her personality. Even her burlap outfit had a hint of pink to it. In her hand, however, Arnoldo noticed something less familiar: a cloudy glass orb.
"I've already proclaimed my love for you, Arnoldo," said Hilda. "And I see you've come back to the village because you've changed your mind and realized that you can't live without me!"
"On the contrary, peasant," proclaimed Arnoldo. "Your burlap dress and abrasive mannerisms confuse and terrify me! I am simply on my way back to the family castle, where I shall gallop through sunny fields to my heart's content. Perhaps I shall invite Lila, the nearby noblewoman who is far superior to you in social grace and beauty, and whom you have already heard me speak so much about!"
Hilda looked like she was about to burst a blood vessel. A few other peasants gathered around, as it was not every day that a knight on horseback stopped in the middle of their dilapidated village and had a conversation with one of them. Stankie the Pumpkin and Dirt Clod Farmer walked up beside Hilda and pointed at Arnoldo emphatically.
"Don't be lettin' that hoighty toighty type talk to yew like that, Hilda!" he said.
Arnoldo looked down his nose at the new arrivals, and then at Hilda. Why Hilda insisted on being so obsessed with him, he did not know, but it was beginning to be a little irksome.
"I am a knight, and you are a lowly peasant," he tried to explain to Hilda. "There is no way I could lower myself to your station in life. I must be free, like the birds in the sky!" He pointed up at birds he had been watching earlier to illustrate his point. "I have an adventurer's heart, and cannot be tied down!"
"Uh oh," said Stankie. "Now you're askin' for it."
"Whatever do you mean? Whatever can you peasants do to me?" Arnoldo laughed at a particularly amusing thought. "Fling dirt clods, perhaps?"
Hilda rolled her eyes and held up the hand in which she was holding the strange glass orb.
"I'm a witch's daughter, remember Arnoldo?"
Arnoldo gulped at he eyed the orb.
"Is not your mother always half-comatose from drinking a surfeit of elderberry ale? You've always complained about it. How could she have taught you any of her dark magics?"
"Witchery is not a taught skill, Arnoldo. It's hereditary."
"Oh." A nervous laugh. "Good to know."
The orb began to glow as Hilda rubbed it between her hands and let out a mad cackle. She had been rebuffed by Arnoldo for the last time. If he could not recognize the love that was right in front of his face, then there was nothing else to do. Hilda needed to rid herself of her obsession, and have her revenge at the same time.
"You want to be free?" she asked Arnoldo. "You want to fly with the birds in the sky? Fine then, your wish is granted. You can be free forever!"
She looked up at the sky as a sickly glow began to emanate from the orb and began to chant. "Creature spirits and all that, turn this jerk into a bat!"
A jet of white, swirling energy poured out of the orb like a sheet of fog coming over the village. The energy wrapped itself around Arnoldo, caressing him in its sinister embrace. He pulled his sword from its scabbard and swiped ridiculously at the fog for a few moments, but to no avail. Almost as soon as it had appeared, the magical haze dissipated again. The peasants who were gathered around the scene let out a gasp of united horror.
"What? What is it?"
Arnoldo put the sword back in its scabbard and looked around. A few of the peasants backed away, but Hilda reacted with another malicious cackle, while Stankie guffawed. Out of the corner of his eye, Arnoldo noticed something strange reflected in a puddle of water beside one of his horse's front hooves. Arnoldo leaned further out from the saddle and stared in shock. He released the reins and bought his hands to his face, feeling, touching. There were the fangs, the snub nose, the pointed ears; the velvety black hair covering his beautiful features -
"What did you do?"
"And so," Gerald said as he story drew to a close, "poor Arnoldo was turned into a Bat Man for spurning the love of Hilda the Witch's Daughter. He was reviled by peasant and noble alike, forced to leave his family lands and roam the countryside with no place to go. He could fly alright, but he always flew at night to avoid the shrieks of horror that came from anyone who saw his face. Hilda's curse forced him to live as a bat-headed freak of nature for all eternity! So he found a nice cave to hide in and ate a bunch of bugs as the years passed by."
Nadine and Curly both looked enthusiastic about this tidbit, while Rhonda looked stricken.
"The village of Hill's Wood grew larger over time. One day it was a bustling town, and then one day it became a city. After many more days, it became the city we know now."
Gerald gave another theatrical pause as his audience hung on his every word. Phoebe was so engrossed in Gerald's storytelling ability that she was ignoring the historical impossibility of it – after all, it wasn't like being historically accurate would lend any more credence to a story about a bat-headed man. Helga, however, sat with her arms crossed and a skeptical smirk on her face.
"Some say," continued Gerald with a dark smile, "that the Bat Man still lives in this city. Somewhere in a dark cave, or maybe in some abandoned church tower," - Gerald added this after remembering there was an old church a few blocks away - "he hides from the light of the world.
"But once a year - on Halloween night, now that I think about it - he feels more at home. Less of a freak, what with the costumes and all," added Gerald matter-of-factly. "So on Halloween night, the Bat Man comes out of his black lair and roams the city, looking to take revenge on the descendants of Hilda and all those mean peasants who cursed him and spited him long ago!"
Gerald's story was now finished, and he decided it was time to give the signal. There would be a few moment's wait before Stinky got to the tree house, and Gerald probably should have given the signal a bit earlier, but he had been caught up in the moment.
He glanced out the window as he pulled the flashlight from his pocket. The city was still aglow with its own light, but the tenements around the lot in which Mighty Pete and its tree house stood were fairly dark. Either they were largely uninhabited, or most people in this neighborhood were not Halloween fans. Gerald still couldn't see if Stinky was waiting outside anywhere for his signal, but he clicked the flashlight on and waved it around outside the window. Hopefully Stinky would follow through on his end of the plan.
"What's up?" asked Arnold.
"I thought I heard a noise out there. Like somebody was moving around."
The occupants of the tree house, with a couple of exceptions, looked at each other nervously and drew a little closer together. Arnold had taken a seat next to Lila when he got to the tree house, and Lila - who had been sitting by the tree house door - drew back a little from the door, just in case. Arnold looked pleased at the closeness. Helga, who was sitting on his other side, noticed the expression and promptly scooted a little closer herself.
"Too bad that story still doesn't make any sense," she told Gerald. "Even if it did, who would believe something as ridiculous as a Bat Man in Hillwood?"
Gerald frowned, a little irked at Helga's nagging. Maybe he should have thought a bit harder and made the story about an Indian bat curse or something. Considering he had made the story up on the spot instead of drawing from his repertoire of urban legends, Gerald had to take a few liberties. Helga was just cramping his improvisational style, that was all.
The group jumped up at the sound of the scream. Lila fell out of her chair at the sight of the shape coming through the tree house door. Helga mirrored the scream almost exactly and leaped into Arnold's lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. Gerald was almost about to scream himself, forgetting that he was in on the plan, when he noticed the figure who had arrived. He groaned and rolled his eyes.
"Howdy guys," said Stinky.
He was not in costume.
The group sighed with relief, and most of them got back into their places around the room, although Helga remained in Arnold's lap for a suspiciously long time. Arnold began to look a little uncomfortable, and Gerald was watching the scene in amusement when he happened to noticed Rhonda giving Helga what looked like an evil eye. Rhonda noticed his glance and quickly looked off in a random direction, tapping her fingers on her knee with well-rehearsed indifference.
"So what are we talkin' about?" asked Stinky as he sat down amongst his friends. Gerald gave him a withering expression. They had just talked about the plan a few hours ago; where was Stinky's costume? Stinky wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but he wasn't that slow. Sid sat down beside Stinky and began to check out what kind of candy his friend had gotten trick-or-treating.
"Gerald was just telling us a story about-"
A new scream ripped out from Lila's throat, louder this time. Once again, she was joined by Helga, and Arnold winced as he was temporarily deafened by the two girls on either side of him. Gerald looked back to the tree house door, and what he saw made his eyes grow wide in terror.
The lights in the tree house had been turned down low for Gerald's story, but it was clear that something had followed Stinky on his way to the tree house. The creature was hunched over as it looked over the terrified group of kids gathered in the room. Sharp claws glinted in the moonlight, and a strange glint flashed from its expressionless eyes. Giant tapered ears stood out from its head. A soft hissing sound could be heard coming from its open mouth. It sounded very hungry.
"Holy Toledo!" yelled Arnold's grandfather. "It's the Bat Man! Run for your lives, kids!"
The bat creature jumped further into the room with a rasp-like hiss and swiped at anyone who got too close. The tree house's occupants surged towards the door in a mass, clinging to the walls and staying as far from the creature as they could in the limited space of the room. They clambered out onto the deck and went down the rope ladder as fast as humanly possible. Phil slammed the tree house door as soon as the last child had left, urging them down the ladder before it was too late. He could hear the bat creature wildly scraping on the other side.
There was no doubt about it; the Bat Man was real!
Gerald and Phoebe had both hit the ground running for a moment after they got down the rope ladder, but now that they were out in the street, they had stopped as they looked back at the tree house. Gerald had caught a glimpse of Arnold's grandfather coming down the ladder last, grabbing Arnold and running off in the direction of their boarding house. The rest of the kids had all run off in random directions as well – Gerald caught a glimpse of Sid wandering aimlessly down the street, looking like he had just had some particularly bad candy.
Now, Gerald and Phoebe were alone in the dark street.
"Why did we stop?" asked Phoebe.
"I dunno. I just got a weird feeling is all."
Phoebe looked up hesitantly at the tree house. A faint light was coming from the windows, and she could see the occasional shadow flickering just inside as something moved around.
"Did you see Stinky leave?" asked Gerald as he looked up.
"No, I suppose not. I wasn't really paying close attention, though."
"Do you think we got tricked?"
Gerald did not respond, as he was still a little pumped up from the adrenaline coursing through him after the narrow escape, but he was beginning to think they had, in fact, been duped. Stinky was supposed to come into the tree house with his fake bat head on, after all - while the bat creature that had showed up after him looked a little more realistic than that, maybe Stinky had an accomplice.
Gerald shook his head ruefully. He was such a good storyteller, he had even fooled himself! It was hard to live with such talent, he supposed.
"Let's go to Arnold's boarding house," he said as he began to walk down the street with Phoebe.
Gerald was about to grab a piece of candy from his pail, but he realized they had left their trick-or-treating candy back in the tree house. While Gerald was increasingly certain he had been fooled by his own plan, he didn't feel a strong urge to go back up there. Not because he was scared or anything – just because it was already late, that was all. They could go back when it was light out tomorrow.
"Why did you use names in your story that sounded like our friends?" asked Phoebe. "Hilda and Arnoldo sounded a lot like Helga and Arnold. You weren't trying to let Arnold know that Helga likes him, were you?" Phoebe gave him a sideways glance as they approached the boarding house. "I thought we talked about how Helga has to tell him how she feels when she's ready to do it."
Gerald felt a brief flush of embarrassment spread across his cheeks.
"No, no way, I didn't mean it like that – I was just picking out names to help with the storytelling."
Gerald wasn't sure if he was completely telling the truth. Maybe he had been trying to let Arnold know about Helga's feelings. But did that mean he wanted the two of them together? He had thought about the idea from time to time, ever since he had seen Helga's diary in her room at the art show party and read that crazy poem of hers, and he was still undecided. Maybe he had been trying to use the story as a way to clue Arnold in. Or, maybe he had been warning his best friend about what would happen to him if he let Helga get too close. Not that he would turn into a bat; that was just a metaphor.
Helga and Arnold had been getting a little less antagonistic recently - the fact that Arnold had actually invited Helga to trick-or-treat with their group was testament to that - but Helga still gave him a hard time fairly often, when it came down to it. She could be hard to get along with. Gerald tried to see them as a couple, but he had to admit that it was a hazy image. He supposed, in the end, it was up to Arnold.
"Well, I enjoyed the story either way," said Phoebe. "I was on the edge of my seat – even before the bat monster came into the tree house!"
Gerald grinned as they reached the boarding house and walked up the front steps to knock on the door. He and Phoebe would be having a sleepover at Arnold's place, and hopefully Arnold or his grandfather had taken their candy with them when they fled the tree house. Then again, Mr. Kokoshka would probably end up eating a lot of whatever remained.
Even if the candy was lacking, however, Gerald was in a surprisingly good mood despite the scare he had just gotten. He looked over at the calculator-shaped girl beside him and decided it had been a great Halloween.
Other than the bat-like intruder, Stinky was the only person remaining in the tree house. His friends had been in such a hurry to escape that they hadn't even noticed him failing to leave with them. Stinky was surprised that none of them had come back; he was expecting to give them a good scare, but actually fleeing in terror from the tree house? It was almost too good to be true.
"And look at all this," he said aloud as he looked around the room, "all them fools left their candy here! It's a veritable smorgasbord of sugary treats, ain't it!"
The bat-like creature removed a pair of taloned gloves from its hands and threw them on the ground, after which it reached up and pulled off its fur-covered latex head, placing it in a chair. The alien glint which had terrified Stinky's classmates was actually the reflection coming off a pair of glasses. The unearthly, rasping hiss that had given the impression of ravenous hunger was actually a wheeze, distorted by the mouth of the costume's bat-shaped head.
After taking off the costume that Stinky had secretly lent him earlier that afternoon, just before Gerald had come over to Stinky's house to check on their plan again, Brainy stood in the middle of the tree house and looked over the candy stash he and Stinky had just scored.
"Uh, yeah," he agreed wheezily. "Lots of candy."
Stinky sat down in the middle of the floor after grabbing a couple of discarded trick-or-treating bags and pails. He spilled the candy out over the wooden boards as Brainy joined him in sifting through it to find the best pieces. He would have to save a few for Sid and Harold, of course, and he would probably let the rest of his classmates have at least some of their candy back, but as far as he was concerned, he had earned this.
"Boy," he said with a laugh, "when Gerald came over and tried to talk me up into scarin' everybody, I thought he was plum crazy, but it actually worked! I guess he just weren't clever enough to figure on me pullin' one over on him too, though. That's karma for ya!"
Brainy let out a breathy chuckle in agreement as the two of them began to stuff themselves with sweets. Stinky noticed several candies that were easily his favorites: Yahoo Soda flavored hard candy. They brought a few bittersweet memories of old fame and fortune to his mind, but more importantly, they brought some just plain sweet flavor to his mouth. Stinky unwrapped one and popped it in.
Tricks for treats, he thought. Now that's what I figure Halloween's all about!
Notes - Hope you guys liked it! Reviews are appreciated as always.
Like I said, my story Helga, The Artiste takes place in the same continuity as this one, but earlier (sometime prior to the ending of the actual series), whereas I imagine this story takes place after the series. This could have been a standalone story but I wanted to sort of add a little to the characterizations at the end of Helga, the Artiste, in preparation for any future stories I might do in this continuity.
Also, the medieval setting of the Tale of the Bat Man as told by Gerald is a reference to my story Of Peasants and Patakis. That story also takes place in Hill's Wood, although the characters in that story are fairly different and closer to the series itself. But I thought it would be fun to sort of reference it. That story is ongoing although it only has 2 chapters left, one of which will probably be up by tomorrow. So for those of you who aren't reading it already, you can check it out if you're interested.
Anyway, thanks for reading!