Chapter 12

Michelangelo broke the surface and sunk into the river, sucked under by the terrible current. Roaring like a monster, the water was impossible to see through and he blindly reached for the final grate which he knew he had to be near, scrabbling at the wall in a panic. The things down in the water with him wouldn't give him much time before they attacked.

His fingers brushed sharp slats of metal, and he barely felt the deep cuts as he grabbed at them, breaking one and tearing it free. When he let go, it shot away with the current, and he reached for another one.

A hand as strong as steel wrapped around his ankle. Another grabbed the edge of his shell. An arm slid around his side and up his plastron, seizing his throat. Fingers dug into his skin and pulled at him, wrapping around him like snakes, and Michelangelo felt keenly that his grave was rising up around him.

He broke another slat, the rusty steel giving way with a satisfying crumble even as it gouged his palm, and something disgustingly limp and slick, like the body of a dead insect, rushed over the back of his arm and vanished. A moment later, the arm around his chest vanished.

Hope surged. The things around him held him like vises, turning heavy as they tried to sink him to where their bodies rested, but with another destroyed slat, another pair of hands disappeared.

His lungs began to cramp. He could spend several minutes underwater, but even turtles had their limits and he knew he wouldn't finish in time. Knowing it was a risk, he loosened his grip on the grate and let them drag him deeper.

His feet touched the floor, and as he fumbled for the grate again, he found short sections of steel completely stopped up by masses of soft, straggling wisps that he couldn't identify. It was like putting his hand in a sink clogged with stray bits of food and trash, and he felt a deep urge to throw up as he realized some of what he was touching was a mass of hair still attached to a person.

As if pushing past a row of broken dolls, he reached into the mass, found the slats, and broke it outward. Something slipped by him, and then more trash sped through the sudden hole. Michelangelo felt a little relief that his gamble had paid off. The majority of debris had sunk to the bottom, and destroying the next slat sent a violent rush of material past him and out of the lair forever.

But the hands didn't fade. The more he tried to find another handhold, the more he realized just how much had accumulated, how many bodies he was surrounded by. Another slid over his eyes and began pulling him away, and even as he broke off another piece, he knew he couldn't clear it all. The grate was taller than he was and several feet wide, with so much gathered over the years that the sheer impossibility of it crushed him.

As he fell backward, smothered under what had to be dozens, perhaps even hundreds of ghosts, he wished he'd stayed on the platform. At least he could have died with his brothers-

A deep rumble boomed through the river, then the high pitched shriek of twisting steel. Michelangelo gasped in pain, losing the last of his breath, and the river turned horrifically fast. The things holding him down were stripped away, dragging their fingers down his skin. Only because he was pressed flat to the floor did he escape the current, and he grabbed the closest thing at hand-a pipe embedded in the floor-to hold himself in place.

The river ran clear. Halos appeared far above him, gold and white and shimmering, reflections of light on the water's surface. His eyes widened and he looked down toward the wall-he could make out the grate and saw that it had been utterly shattered, completely open to anything drifting by.

He almost laughed. He hadn't broken the screen, but something else had. His brothers were alive, he was sure of it.

His lungs rocked him once, threatening to breathe water, and Michelangelo turned on his front to crawl close to the wall, then climb along the pipe to the top. He gasped as he broke the surface, clinging to the railing jutting out from the side. As he blinked away water, he found that the railing was attached to a catwalk he had never noticed before, partially hidden by the shadows. Coughing, he pulled himself up and took a moment to catch his breath.


Michelangelo looked up and cried out in sheer relief. On the opposite side of the river, Leonardo sat on the lowest step of the walkway, leaning heavily on the wall with his head hung wearily on his shoulder. His older brother smiled and relaxed, all the tension sliding away.

A faint shout from higher up caught his attention. Raphael and Donatello stood together, Raphael partly supporting Donatello who visibly favored one leg, but both were grinning.

Eager to get back to the right side, Michelangelo rose to his feet and rushed up the the walkway, carefully crossing the bridge for fear of slipping. As he came onto the main floor, he found evidence of how hot the fighting had been with great splashes thrown along the wall and floor, and his brother's sword lay at the first step of the walkway to the river. Frowning, Michelangelo went down after him and found blood along the railing and grating.

"What happened?" he asked as he knelt by his brother, putting one arm over his shoulders and standing slowly. "You okay?"

"I'll be fine," Leonardo said, but he kept his hands curled and didn't try to touch the railing. "Just got dragged a bit."

"I don't think it was the ghost bleeding out," Michelangelo scolded.

"I don't think the ghost was afraid of drowning," Leonardo said. "It's just skin off my hands. It'll heal."

Heavy footsteps on the walkway made them look up at Raphael, who grimaced at the blood and held his hands out to take Leonardo from Michelangelo.

"And Don gets to go steal tetanus shots for all of us," Raphael said. "Here, give 'em to me. You both look worn to hell."

"So do you," Michelangelo said, but he let Raphael manage their brother and then grabbed Raphael's shell, letting him pull him along. "Did you get that valve to turn?"

"Nope," Raphael said. "All those ghosts suddenly disappeared, and then Don decided to walk along that big pipe and turn the gears manually."

"I don't get it," Michelangelo said. He looked over his shoulder at where the boxes holding the valves stood, then followed the insulated pipes from the boxes to where they extended over the river. "Oh wow."

Twenty feet above the river, the pipe was obliterated, smashed so that the cracks spread out along the entire length. The mechanism inside lay bare, likewise dented and broken. The shock of Donatello hitting it had forced the rusted, jammed grate to turn and shattered it in the process.

Michelangelo felt a chill. His brother had stood up there and nearly destroyed the very foothold he'd been standing on. A little more strength and the pipe would've disintegrated, Donatello would've fallen and then been swept through the stream, probably to his death.

He shook his head. Just like Leonardo could have died, or Raphael could have been swarmed, or Michelangelo could have drowned.

"But we're all okay?" Leonardo asked, groaning softly as Raphael set him in one of the chairs at the table. Across from him, Donatello nodded with a tired smile.

"Mostly," Raphael said. "Me and Don both got grabbed by those things. And your hands look bad, and Mikey looks like a drowned rat. But...I think we're okay."

"What happened down there?" Donatello asked. "You must've got rid of some of them. They vanished when they were about to grab us."

"I couldn't see anything," Michelangelo asked. "I was just breaking up that grate, and it wasn't going so good, and those things were grabbing me...I didn't think I was gonna get out of there."

"You bought 'em a little time," Leonardo said. "It worked out."

"Do you think they're all gone?" Donatello asked, looking between Leonardo and Michelangelo.

"Hell if I know," Michelangelo said. "Ghost stories are always different. Sometimes they disappear. Sometimes they aren't tied to their bodies at all."

"So if we go downstairs," Raphael asked, "that chick'll still be inside that little room?"

"No," Leonardo said, shaking his head once. "She vanished when Don forced the gate to open."

"How'd you know?" Raphael asked. "We haven't gone back down there."

Leonardo looked at him, surprised that he didn't know. "She was the one dragging me. That's why it was so strong. I'll bet she was the first one to get stuck and someone managed to seal her in. When I go down there again, I'm sure the ofuda will all be torn."

"You're so not going down there again," Michelangelo said. "I'm gonna cover it with charms and then lock the door. And Don'll weld it shut."

Leonardo sighed but didn't argue.

"So..." Michelangelo asked, stretching muscles as they grew increaisngly sore. "I gotta ask. Do we stay here?"

They looked at him, then back at Leonardo. He blinked, not sure how to answer, then half-shrugged and winced when that hurt.

They sat quietly for a moment, listening to the familiar sounds of the lair. The river flowed softly and the lights hummed in the background, and in the kitchen, the refrigerator clicked on in a regular cycle. A faint breeze even blew through the lair, swirled around by the rushing water.

"I can't decide that," Leonardo admitted. "You three have to choose. If you want to leave, we'll find someplace else."

They shared another look. Finding a home had never been easy, and they'd already settled in comfortably here. Moving meant finding a temporary place while they searched, impossible to defend, especially while they were all wounded.

"What do you think we should do?" Raphael asked him.

Leonardo hesitated, then chuckled once.

"We just cleared it out," he laughed. "What're the odds it happens again?"

Raphael smiled. "I dunno, with our luck?"

"There'll be a ghost in the bathroom in a week," Donatello said. "Probably come right out of the shower head."

"No way," Michelangelo said, smiling despite himself. "The tub. Big rubber ducky ghost."

They chuckled again, low laughter that didn't disturb the lair. None of them wanted to get up, keeping each other within arm's reach. In a few minutes they would start to move, either to get bandages or pain killers, and Michelangelo wanted to create several ofuda before he slept, "just in case", but for now they savored their pain and the warmth of sitting together.

And the river, always close at hand, flowed swift and clear into the darkness beyond their home.