Author's Note:And now we have finally reached the last chapter! It's been a long process getting here and my sister and I are more than relieved to wrap this up as we start our new school years, hers as a senior in high school and mine the first year at university. I'm majoring in illustration and animation if everything goes as planned. As such, I very well might not publish much here in the coming year or three, but I do have plans for projects to work on next when and if I do find time.

So, to give you patient readers a sneak peek, my next Nightmare Before Christmas project will be a completely re-worked From the Eyes of a Ghost Dog–a retelling of the movie and some more from Zero's point of view. For now, and probably some time after I write this note, you can still read the original from my page. I also am going to collaborate with my sister on a piece of Nightmare artwork to commemorate the film's twentieth anniversary! If you're curious about any of our projects, please check us out on deviantart sometime. I'm DupleSnowflake and my sister is Ghost-Peacock.

Once again, thank you all. And Happy (seventy-two days early) Halloween!

*S. Snowflake

Part VII

Jack's queue to begin the procession came in the form of trumpeting shrieks and moans from the citizens of Halloween. As always, he was dragged into town atop a straw horse, all the way from the pumpkin patch to the town square, not moving unless absolutely necessary. Everything was ready for him to put on the classic act of eating a small flame, leaping into the fountain, and re-emerging from it.

The inter-holiday tourists were watching the show with excitement (and a bit of terror) as the king was pulled through the gate. Jack could see a shiver strumming along the spine of one particular Easter rabbit, and smiled at the effortless accomplishment. No matter what happened, this Halloween would be entertaining.

"Jack!" his wife's voice shrieked from the crowd, followed by his daughter Star's yell of, "Papa!"

The Pumpkin King did his best not to move and ruin the act, but his family was clearly in distress. Out of the corner of one of his pumpkin mask's eyes, he saw Sally run up to him through many protesting monsters. Her face betrayed her fear, and not fear of a good sort.

"What is it, dear?" the king asked as quietly as he could from under his costume. Behemoth simply carried the cart along and the choir kept singing, as though the queen's interruption were just part of the act.

"It's Tim. He's missing, and Star believes that he took Tim away!"

Jack couldn't help but twitch slightly in his costume. He didn't care if the annual ritual was ruined. He had to help his son, for only he knew how to duel with this foe. "Stop this cart, Behemoth," he ordered.

The large, axe wielding zombie turned around slowly to face his king. He scratched his head as he stopped walking. It gave Jack just enough time to leap off the straw horse and run straight through the procession.

The monster choir stopped singing, soprano by soprano. All of the creatures turned their attention to the Pumpkin King running frantically toward the fountain. The skeleton man even ran past the creature who held the torch he was supposed to light himself with.

"Jack!" yelped the two-faced, frantic Mayor, "–What are you doing?"

"I'm sorry," Jack said, lifting the pumpkin mask from over his skull. "–But the show will have to wait. My son is in trouble." He turned back to the underground's entrance, glaring at the thought of the shadowy fiend holding his son hostage.

"Hopefully I'll be back soon."

Just like that, the king disappeared from his subjects' view. He set his pumpkin mask down and lit one of his hands aflame to light his way through the tunnels. He couldn't let the creature drag Tim further underground, and he knew that he'd have to run very quickly to keep up with a shadow.

After racing down tunnel after tunnel as fast as he could, Jack found himself at a wall. He knew this had to be the deepest chamber of the underground, as there was nowhere else to go except upward. He stopped and listened. A distinctive 'plink' noise came from the walls every now and then where water trickled down from above, but apart from that, Jack could hear nothing. He would have to light his entire body on fire to see, and even then, he knew the burst of flame wouldn't last long. He considered returning to the upper floors of the underground briefly, but decided against it, and let his inner fire course through his bones to become a skeletal torch.

"Ah, nice to see you, Jack," said a familiar voice just as the first flames began to move over Jack's arms.

Jack had no time to react before a loud splashing sound rang out through the chamber and he was soaked with water. The damp hay of his costume would be very difficult to burn.

"Too bad you won't be able to see me," the shadow laughed.

"Very funny," Jack said. "Now, where is my son?"

"Did you think he wasn't here with me? Oh Jack, you're just as dense as I remember."

It was then that Tim shouted out, "Dad!" in the nothingness.

"Tim!" Jack couldn't help but answer, "Where are you?"

"The boy and his double are both in my control," the shadow stated.

"His double?" Jack asked, shaking his skull. "Tim, you need to listen to me!"

"It's too late for that now, Skellington," said the shadow. "I've taught him virtually everything you know about the dark. Now he knows that darkness is the most powerful element of scare!"

"Liar! There is no most powerful element," Jack said. "Tim, he's just trying to scare you. Don't listen to him."

"Dad, I…" Tim started in the darkness, but didn't finish. Jack couldn't see his son's face, but he could hear the shame in his voice.

"It's alright son. I'm not angry at you. This is both of our…"

"–Enough!" declared the shadow, making the walls of the chamber shake with his voice. "If the father and son wish to be together again, my demands must be fulfilled."

Jack crossed his arms. "Very well. What do you want?"

"You'll lift my sentence and let me return to the world above. It's all I ask, Jack."

"No dad!" Tim said. "Just get the Mayor and other monsters to help! I know you can stop him, dad!"

The Pumpkin King was quiet as he thought over the offer. After a moment he answered, "Now Tim, as you know, we monsters have no business being mean. Mister Shadow can be reasoned with. I'll accept his offer…"

"What?" Tim yelped.

"Wonderful," responded the gleeful shadow.

"–on the condition," Jack continued, "that he explain to you why he was imprisoned here. After all, since you've proven to be such an excellent dark trick student for him, you'll hear and understand his tale."

"Gladly," said the shadow as a short thump was heard of Tim falling to the floor.

The young skeleton scrambled to reach his father in the darkness.

"Go on, shadow," Jack said, now holding his son.

The shadow chuckled. "I liked All Hallow's Eve the way it was. I liked keeping humans out of the way, and the lesser monsters, shall we say, in the dark about the humans' world. People are such dreadful creatures anyway. They should be eaten, or at least scared, to keep them away from our doings and us. Need I remind you, Jack, of how they shot you right out of the sky one December?"

"Yes, I remember that Christmas well," Jack answered, "–but that was my fault. I impersonated a holiday leader they loved for gifts and cheer and gave them thrills and chills instead. They only wanted an end to it."

"Typical Jack. Always making excuses for those wicked humans," said the shadow. "Even enough to dethrone the real king of scares."

"My dad defeated Oogie more than once! He wasn't a brave king," the prince spoke up.

"–But he was an efficient one. And he appreciated my talent, telling me to make shadow doubles for everyone. How did you think the Shadow on the Moon came to be?"

"So, you made shadows of the townspeople. What good is that?" Tim asked.

"–A lot of good… for me! Whoever makes a shadow can command it to do its bidding. Oogie had a potential army I could make, and Jack didn't like it."

"–I've never been fond of combat," Jack interjected.

"So I was imprisoned by your father, where I and my shadows could never escape."

Jack turned away from the Shadow's voice in the dungeon. "It's not our fault that you don't like light. If you had just agreed to forget your loyalty to Oogie and join us for some scary fun, you would have been free years ago."

"–Because then I wouldn't have gotten what I wanted. You'd still be in charge and I'd have to be near those despicable, wretched humans and your bright pumpkin lanterns. I want more darkness. I say back to the eternal darkness…"

"Tim," Jack whispered as the shadow rambled on about his twisted dreams, "–use your fire powers."

"–But…I can't," Tim muttered.

"Yes you can," Jack answered. "This time I need you to try. I can't do it alone."

"But what if I can't do it?" the boy asked, genuinely afraid of failing.

"–Then you tried. That's what matters…along with possibly our afterlives."

"Are you two paying any attention?" the shadow shrieked, still going on about his plans. "What does it all matter anyway? Soon I'll have everyone's shadow!"

"Ready?" Jack asked, gripping Tim's smaller hand in his.

Tim gripped back, even though he wasn't sure if he truly was ready. He cleared his mind of all things dark–all things shadow–and searched for that inner fire.

"I believe in you, son," Jack said, giving Tim a last confidence boost.

Tim shut his eyesockets. His small, bony fingers gripped his father's as he concentrated on his desire to be rid of the shadow. Slowly, almost without him feeling anything at all, the power of fire began to fill his ribcage. The embers began to burn hotter and stronger within him until he could feel the sting of its effects running through his arms, connecting with the weakened fire that his father was trying to create. When the fires of father and son merged, something truly extraordinary happened.

Tim could see enough through the cracks and spaces in his skeleton to know that the fire surrounding him and his father was an inferno–and a very bright one. Almost instantly, the shadow screeched in fear. Opening his eye sockets for a moment, Tim caught nearly a perfect picture of the scene.

All around were walls of the deepest, dampest gray while the beads of water dripping down the walls sparkled from the light shining through them, but a galaxy of makeshift stars couldn't detract the boy's stare from the shadow himself. As Star had said, the shadow wore a suit and a big top hat. His black, ghostly hands attempted to shield his face from the light of the blinding flames. But strangely, as their flame continued to burn, Tim noticed the shadow's hands were shrinking, slinking away into the corners of the dungeon where they would become the scenery. That's when the boy saw the shadow's face–or rather, what should have been a face.

Just as his sister had said, the shadow was faceless. Nothing was there except a black void. Yet Tim couldn't help but feel that there was something there in that void after all. Pure evil, fear itself, the unknown abyss; all of these might have been the answer, but whatever it was, it was terrifying.

Just as soon as he had seen the mysterious shadow's true form though, it had disappeared, fleeing to escape the light through the ceiling crack above looking like nothing more than a little black line running out of the room and into the rest of the underground. The Pumpkin King and Prince allowed their combined fire to simmer and ultimately die, knowing that the shadow wouldn't dare come close to their combined light again.

Jack and Tim stood still for a while after the embers cooled. Then the prince practically leaped into his father's arms, luckily not knocking either of them over. The two skeletons chuckled with joy.

"Dad," Tim started sadly, "I'm just–so sorry…th-that–"

Jack hugged his son closer. "It's alright, son. I should have told you more about this place from the start. I just got carried away and didn't even think that–well, you would be curious about the dark." Jack could just barely make out his son's bony frown in the room, and slowly set him back on the ground. "We need to get back to the surface. Everyone's surely worried about us."

"I'll light the way!" Tim said, and a small flame immediately appeared in the boy's palm.

"And you can forget that bargain we had, shadow!" Jack called, sending echoes deeply into the tunnels.

Soon, the Pumpkin King and prince had made their way several tunnels higher up from the shadow's den. All the while they kept on their guard for the mysterious being.

"Well, at least I now know which area of the dungeon to place torches in," Jack said. "I only wish you had told your mother and I about this, Tim."

Tim was silent for a bit. The glow from the flame he had produced bounced off the damp walls of the underground and made his skull nearly glow in the dark as he walked. He thought about how his mother might punish him; he would probably be un-haunted-house-locked for weeks! But more than that, he still felt ashamed of his lies.

"At first I just wanted to make you proud, dad," he began, "–but then… I don't know. I felt that I had to keep it all secret. I made a mistake."

"And that's why I'm not angry with you, and I'm sure your mother won't be either. You know you made a mistake. Besides, now you know all about the underground and why it can be so dangerous."

"So I won't be un-haunted-housed?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," the king said with a skeletal smirk.

Even though he was guaranteed punishment, Tim couldn't help but smile. He would rather live in the knowledge–and pay the consequences–of understanding the shadow's secrets than continue hiding things he really didn't understand.

"Dad," he asked. "Why does the shadow hate us?"

"That's a good question," Jack said as they came upon a much brighter tunnel. "–And unfortunately, my answer isn't perfect. My best idea is, just as our shadows walk behind us, he lives behind us, thinking that somehow the world would be better if things had stayed the way they were in the past."

"–But he could use his shadows for good, couldn't he?"

"Yes, but he doesn't think that we're using our light for good. He thinks that we're the problem."

"Oh," Tim said, thinking. "But is there any way to help him?"

Jack shook his skull. "At least not for us. He has to help himself."

Tim was silent for a moment. He wished that there were a way to fix things, but he knew it would never be that simple. A beam of light from the torches below the fountain struck Tim's eyesockets then.

"Son?" Jack said to the boy that was staring at the light.

Tim turned to face his father and found that he had reclaimed his pumpkin mask for the show. The prince smiled back, and scurried to find his own jack-o-lantern he had left earlier that night.

The tension in Halloween Town's square could have been sliced with its own guillotine. The ceremony had been interrupted, the king had left to save the prince from some form of danger, and there had been no sign of the king since he left. The queen and the princesses were by the well, waiting for a sign from below, as the mayor spouted typically un-helpful words of distress.

"No trouble at all," said the two-faced creature atop his hearse. His head, stuck between his two expressions, betrayed his uncertainty before switching over to his distressed face. "–It's just that we might not have a happy Halloween without a Pumpkin King!"

"Mayor, I don't believe that will help," Queen Sally tried to say calmly.

"You're right, Sally. It can't be helped," the Mayor said, causing a few monsters to gasp in fear.

"No. No… give me that megaphone," Sally finally said exasperated and reaching her hand out.

"And it is with great sorrow that I hand our queen this megaphone," the Mayor said, not improving the situation in the slightest.

Sally shook her head and began to speak. "Everyone, I'm sure Jack is fine down there. He's the most frightening monster around, remember." A few creatures seemed to relax at her rational words. Star nodded beside her mother while Noel attempted to grab the megaphone. "If there's one thing I know about Jack, it's that he loves the element of…"

The queen stopped because just then the serpent fountain ceased to run, and the water in the well drained to the bottom with a gurgling sound. The citizens around the well gazed deeply into it, searching for the source in the darkness below. Then, quite suddenly, two brown forms leaped from the well as though they were flying. It was the Pumpkin King and prince, standing atop the serpent statue like heroes.

"Surprise!" the two of them cackled together before setting themselves aflame, and making a dazzling yet scary fireball. Just when it seemed the two skeletons couldn't escape being charred to the marrow, the well's water gurgled and rapidly rose to create a wave of green water. The splash surprised all of the citizens, and revealed Jack and Tim unharmed from beneath their costumes. Screams of surprise were heard all around the scene while the royal skeletons stood by, smiling.

In nearly no time, a deafening cheer erupted from the partially soaked crowd. Jack took the lead in bowing.

"The square has been knocked undead by this surprise, Jack!" the Mayor blared through his megaphone.

Though the noise was great Sally and Star shouted above it, "Good job, Tim!"

"Yeah, good job, Tim!" said another's monster's voice, followed by several more cheers for the prince. The Mayor picked up on the cheering and added his own congratulations for the boy, which made the rest of the crowd only clap louder.

Tim looked to his father, who was smiling right back, then looked out to the townspeople again and took another bow. He had everything to be proud of in his powers, even if he had taken a darker detour to find them. The prince was certain of one thing that night: he had cast his shadow of a doubt aside.

The End.