Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 13

                “I was just sort of wondering… what exactly were those ghouls taking from people, anyway?”

                Victoria tips her head back, taking in the bright light of the moon while Annabeth and Jim lead the way home a few feet ahead. “To answer with exactness is difficult. There are many names for it across the mortal cultures: soul, spirit, essence, identity; my personal favorite has always been ‘the spark of life’. The culmination of your mortal existence, the thing that is irreplaceable in every person. It’s why a re-animated corpse comes back as a mindless hunk of flesh, rather than a person.”

                “Wait, you re-animate dead bodies?”

                “I didn’t say I did it, just said that’s what happens when someone does it,” Victoria corrects.

                “I’m not really sure that’s better,” you admit. “Okay, so the ghouls take the spark of life. Is there any reason why they wouldn’t want someone’s? That they would think it’s… broken?”

                Victoria’s gentle grin never wavers, but you notice her almost miss a step. It’s a small thing, one you’d dismiss in anyone else, except that Victoria is made of grace and strength. For her, that might as well have been a giant prop fall onto the ground.

                “There are reasons I can think of,” she tells you. “Sparks that are too pure cannot be handled by such beings, for example, though I’d hardly call those broken. Those touched by certain forms of power present a more difficult challenge in extracting, as with Annabeth and myself. For a ghoul who lacks much sense, that might feel like a broken thing. Also, there are certain forms of… trauma, that can have unexpected effects.”

                “What sort of trauma?”

                “Nothing you’d need to concern yourself with,” Victoria says. “Not unless your spark has been forced across the veil between life and death multiple times.”

                “Like, resurrected?”

                “More or less. Taken any three day naps in a cave that you recall?” Victoria asks.

                “I feel like I’d remember dying.” And you don’t have those memories. But… you do have the nightmares.

                “I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” Victoria lays a comforting hand on your shoulder. “In just our time together, you’ve been exposed to multiple forms of magic, and that’s to say nothing of the other misadventures you and Jim have. All that mojo has probably just given your spark some sort of abnormal hue, which confused the ghoul.”

                “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” It does make the most sense out of all the options. And just because you dream about deaths that never happened, devouring demon jaws and explosions in mid-space and being beaten to death by evil clones, it doesn’t mean anything. Lots of people have strange dreams. Hell, given the shit you’ve survived, it would be weirder if you didn’t have nightmares.

                Ahead of you, the cemetery gates are standing there, swung open and leading back onto the normal world of Carver Street. Annabeth and Jim go ahead, but Victoria stops you before you two can step through. From thin air, she produces your hat and duster, draped over her arm.

                “Can’t very well have you going out there without a costume. There are monsters about,” she says.

                “And here I thought I was already with the scariest thing out tonight.”

                “Who did you think I was talking about?” She smiles, a charming grin that shows off her teeth, which always look a little too sharp when you see them up close. “Rules are rules, you know. Think of it as a trade, if you like. Two for two.”

                It takes you a minute, but you click to what she’s talking about eventually. Digging into your holster, you hold out the book and the pearl. Victoria accepts the former, but holds open her bag and has you drop in the pearl without laying so much as a finger on it.

                “What was that thing, anyway?” you ask as you slip your hat and duster back on. It pales in comparison to the stolen power you had minutes ago, but at least the duster still looks cool.

                “Concentrated disbelief. Very potent, very dangerous, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter. As you can imagine, it’s not in our nature to freely discuss things that can hurt us,” Victoria tells you. “Now, let’s see about getting all those scarecrows restored.”

                “After that, maybe we can hit up a bar or two. Seems a shame to turn in so early on Halloween,” you tell her.

                “My father’s yearly party is certainly still in full swing. We can drop off Annabeth and then enjoy ourselves, if you like.”

                A tempting offer, especially coming from her, but you shake your head slowly. “I’ve come close to dying enough times today. If I have to, I’m fine with heading home, watching scary movies, and drinking whatever Jim manages to whip up.”

                “Drinking Jim’s cocktails? But you just said you were done tempting fate,” Victoria teases. “That actually sounds rather nice. I think I may join you two, when the work is done.”

                The two of you finally cross through the cemetery gates, back into the real world. It takes a few hours, but eventually all the scarecrows are people again, and only two of them try to shoot you when they find strangers in their home.

                Before midnight hits, you’ve all returned to the apartment, where Annabeth is eating what you really hope is candy from her pail, Jim is mixing more ingredients than your comfortable with into a cocktail, and Victoria is laughing her ass off at what passes for scary monsters in cinema.

                For you, this Halloween peacefully draws to a close as you finally reach

The End

You made it without dying once, so time to choose your reward! Since this is mostly for the people who’ve been following along, this poll, just like the others, closes on November 1st at Noon (CST). Thanks for playing along, look forward to seeing you all next year.

                Happy Halloween!

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 12

                Despite the absolute torrent of rage and power currently coursing through you, killing someone, especially in cold blood, seems just a step too far. Maybe if it were self-defense, but thanks to you Talbot Whispers has more broken bones than whole ones. Hell, he’s probably hating that immortality a little right now. But people need to be restored, take back what was stolen as Victoria puts it, so it looks like this is his last Halloween. Just… not by your hands.

                “All yours,” you tell Victoria, lowering your hammer and stepping back.

                She lifts an eyebrow in surprise before a soft grin uncurls on her lips. “All this time, and you still surprise me, Merlin. Walking away from all that power, I’m not sure if it’s noble or idiotic. Perhaps it is simply you.”

                “Wait, power?”

                But Victoria is ignoring you, grabbing Talbot Whispers by the scruff of his neck and dragging him over to the same table he strapped Annabeth down on. She pulls him like he weighs no more than a limp doll, not unlike the very scarecrows he made so many of the other Carver Street residents into. With a fluid motion, she throws him onto makeshift headstone table, though given his broken limbs she doesn’t bother strapping him down.

                Near you, Annabeth bends down and picks up the knife meant to be plunged into her, dropped by Talbot when you were beating him like a rented mule. She looks up at you for a moment, gleaming weapon in hand, and then walks slowly over to her sister. The ghouls are trying to stop them, but a drizzle of beer still rains from the sky, reinforcing your golems as they hold the line. You really need to talk with Jim about character balance when this is over, Godpunch Lightning-Fucker is way to overpowered.

                “Talbot,” Victoria says, her voice appropriately a whisper, yet still carrying across the graveyard. “You laid hands on my kin tonight, and for that you have to die. But you also interfered with the Willowbrook gathering of tribute. That sin, however, is forgiven, since you were kind enough to set up this ceremonial altar so perfectly. And now, at last, the moon is in alignment. Tribute can still be paid. A different kind, an older kind, but it will suffice for the year ahead.”

                Annabeth slips the knife into Victoria’s hands, then wraps both of hers around the pumpkin pail and steps back.

                “We thank you for your tribute, Talbot Whispers. At long last, you once again have a purpose in this world.” One motion, too fast for even your augmented vision to trace, and suddenly Talbot’s neck opens into a red yawn. You brace for the spray of blood, but it never comes. Instead, something far worse comes rocketing out.

                A tornado of shadows tears from Talbot’s form, some shaped liked people, others animals, and some are creatures you have never seen before, and would gladly give up your vision to never see again. Wails and moans from the ghouls echo through the graveyard as their rags fall away, more shadows rising, joining with the swirling mass that has risen from Talbot’s neck hole. The mass spins, faster and faster, moving slowly forward. For a moment, you think it’s all gone to shit and they’re coming for you, but then you see their true destination.

                The shadows are being sucked, slowly but surely, into the pumpkin pail clutched in Annabeth’s hands. It’s eyes and mouth are definitely glowing now, no small flashes like with the candy, as it devours the monsters shade by shade. Part of you suspects the only reason you can see this so clearly is the power you’re hopped up on, and that same part of you secretly curses Jim for giving Godpunch such good vision.

                At last the final shadow goes into the pail, clawing with ethereal hands as it vanishes into the orange depths, and suddenly the graveyard is as quiet as… well, a graveyard. But, you know, one that’s not magical and filled with monsters. Hurriedly, you race over to Jim, only to find him still a lifeless scarecrow laying on the ground.

                “Victoria!”

                “Relax, Merlin. He, along with every other member of my territory, will be restored. But we had to take what was stolen first.” Even as Victoria speaks, she and Annabeth have walked over to join you. Leaning down, Annabeth dips a hand into her pumpkin, carved triangular eyes now permanently aglow as if by some inner candle, and pulls one of the shadows out. She pushes it into Jim’s jack-o-lantern mouth, and suddenly he begins to fade and warp just like the ghouls did.

                When it’s over, Jim is lying there, back to his normal body, but unmoving. Just when you’re about to voice more concern his eyes spring open and he sits straight up. Reaching into the depths of his costume, he pulls out his flask, tips it to the sky and doesn’t stop until he has emptied the last few drops.

                “Holy shit I have like the worst cotton-mouth ever,” Jim says at last. You wrap your roommate in a careful hug, but still notice Victoria roll her eyes and mumble the word “theatrics” under her breath.

                “Whoa, what the floppity fuck man? Are you Godpunch?”

                “Yeah.” You pull back, then extend the hammer to Jim. “I had to borrow this for a while.”

                “You know, I’m not that mad about being a scarecrow, but missing my character come to life, that sort of chaps my ass. Oh well, I plan to turn this night blurry anyway.” Jim reaches out and takes his hammer, and as he does all the power goes draining out of you. The magic is gone, as is the costume, and now you’re just a guy wearing cheap holsters with a book and a pearl stuffed inside, since the rest of your cowboy outfit was thrown off. Oddly, Jim doesn’t seem to transform, the magic merely evaporates off the hammer like fog in the morning sun, turning back to the same prop it was before.

                “I thought this stuff lasted until sunrise,” you tell Victoria.

                “The dust is an ingredient, nothing more,” she replies. “I cast quite a different spell on that than the one cast on you. Unless you wanted to try and gamble a dream before morning’s light?”

                “No, no, this was enough gambling for now.”

                “Good, because we have many homes to visit if we are to set things right,” Victoria says.

                Annabeth is helping Jim to his feet, which are unsteady either from the massive flask draw or the hours as a scarecrow. While they struggle, you look out at the graveyard, contemplating the insanity of what just happened. Part of you wonders, just what the hell was Talbot? For that matter, really, what is Victoria?

                And deep down, in the scariest part of yourself, you wonder what about you is so broken that the ghouls didn’t even want to steal it.

                “Hey, Victoria, can I ask you something?”

                “After your aid tonight, it would be wrong to deny you something as simple as information,” Victoria responds, clearly catching the weight of your tone. “But be warned, Merlin. Sometimes, things are unspoken for a reason. Often, that reason is your own protection. Break that silence carefully. Some truths cannot be re-covered, once they are unearthed.”

                What do you ask?

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 31st

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 11

                Slipping off the duster with as much grace as you can manage, which isn’t a lot, and knocking the mushed up hat off your own head, you whirl around on the nearest ghoul and swing Jim’s hammer for all it’s worth. The blow sends it staggering, this weapon definitely has some juice, but there’s still no ripple of magic or sudden change. And that kind of sucks, because while you may have stunned one ghoul, there were five more right behind it, all of whom dog-pile on top of you.

                From the under the mound of monsters wrapping their arms around your limbs, you’re pretty sure you hear Victoria scream something, but it might not even be her voice. Their powerful grips are beginning to pull you in multiple directions, looks like no one is even bothering to turn you into a scarecrow. You can still feel the hammer clutched in your hand, that much at least they’re avoiding, as you wrack your brain. Losing your own costume wasn’t enough, so how can you be more like Jim’s character? Accessories are out, even if you’d taken some from Jim’s body you sure as hell couldn’t putting them on while the ghouls swarm you.

                Then, just as two are beginning to yank your legs apart like a wishbone, the memory strikes you. When Jim made you read his stupid comic, you remember that the character had a catch-phrase he would shout when leaping into battle. You were never sure if it was an actual play on the old “Up, Up, and Away!” or just something Jim put in because it made him chuckle. Either way, it wasn’t a combination of words that was easy to forget, so you might as well try them before you get drawn and quartered. Even if it means you’ll have to do some serious explaining to keep Victoria from punching you after.

                “Whenever big-breasted co-eds are in trouble, Godpunch Lightning-Fucker will be there!” Oooooh that sounded much stupider out loud than in your head. Fucking Jim. For a moment, the ghouls pause and you think that even they are mortified for you. Then the bolt of white lightning (ba-dum bum) rips down from the sky, striking Jim’s hammer and engulfing you in a burning glow.

                When it clears, all the ghouls have been knocked away and you feel good. I mean, holy shit, you thought wizard powers were something nice, but right now you feel like you could dropkick the sun, which actually this character might have done, now that you think back to the comics. Jim clearly did not hold back when doling out the powers: you’re hovering several feet off the ground, muscles swollen with incredible strength, eyes aglow with sight that pierces the darkest of veils.

                “What in the quiet hells are you supposed to be?” The gaunt man has frozen in place, staring at you with absolute shock. You point Jim’s hammer toward him, thinking back to your roommate still frozen in his scarecrow state, and summon a blast of energy that would push the moon from orbit.

                “Pissed off.

                There’s now a scorched trench in the ground where he was standing, the force of the blow carving it as his body was pushed through the earth. Still smoking on the other side, he rises, limping and burned, but unfortunately alive.

                “Children!” he yells, and the ghouls begin to converge on you.

                “Beer golems!” you scream, and from the sky a torrent of hoppy wet ale begins to fall. As it lands, the alcohol forms up, turning into humanoid forms that throw themselves between you and the ghouls, soaking their rags and trying to drown whatever dwells within.

                “Beer golems?” Victoria is standing by the table, her claws a blur as she cuts Annabeth free and hauls her into her arms. “This was definitely something Jim made all right.”

                “You brought outsiders into a quarrel between houses?” The man with the knife, his ghouls battling an endless sea of animated alcohol, is looking between you and Victoria with angry, desperate eyes. “You bring shame onto the name of WIllowbrook!”

                “A quarrel between houses? You forget yourself, Talbot Whispers.” Despite having Annabeth back, Victoria looks as pissed as ever, which causes her enemy to shrink back. “There is no longer a house of Whispers, only lost fools who couldn’t adapt to the changing age. My servants are more than enough for a mongrel outsider such as you.”

                “You think he can beat me with petty tricks?”

                Well damn, if that’s not a cue for an ass-whupping, then I don’t know what is. And neither do you, so you go ahead and take it, flying forward at breakneck speed and then trying to actually break his neck with a blow from your hammer. The strike produces a series of audible cracks and jerks Talbot’s head to an unnatural angle, but he’s somehow still moving as he lunges at you.

                “Even if I am only the leader of a former house, you can’t kill me with secondhand magic like this!” He jabs the knife against your side, but it doesn’t so much as pierce the skin, and you grin right in his shocked face.

                “My roommate made this character just in case we had to deal with more magical shit again, so one of the first traits he gave it is an immunity to being harmed by magic. That, and the big fucking hammer.” You crack Talbot across the brow, sending him sprawling to the ground. This time you press the attack, snapping his arms and getting a good one in on the chest. No matter what you do though, he still seems to be alive. Admittedly, he’s not really moving much and looks like shit, but his eyes are open and he’s breathing.

                “Enough,” Victoria calls at last. “Talbot Whispers is an old fool living in a forgotten world, but he spoke the truth. Your power will not be enough to undo him. At least, not as it is now.”

                She appears in your vision, her fury calmed and focused, but not abated. Carefully, she puts a hand against the crackling hammer that you’ve used to beat the dude senseless. “Talbot Whispers has wronged both of us, Merlin. Tried to take what we hold precious. We have equal claim to his life, but as a reward for what you’ve accomplished, I will grant you the choice of who takes it. A few words from me, and this hammer can finish the job. Or, should you like to keep your hands unstained, I will happily take our revenge. Either way, tonight the rotted remains of what was once the house of Whispers shall crumble to dust.”

                Wow, that got real heavy. Then again, you didn’t really know he was immortal when you blasted him with the first shot, so you did try to kill him once. Not in cold blood though. It’s a tough one, good thing it’s you making the call and not me.

                So, who kills Talbot Whispers?

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 30th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 10

                “Use it on Jim.”

                Victoria hesitates, but only for a second. “So be it.” She pops the lid off and sprinkles the dust along Jim’s hammer, the most noticeable and iconic part of his costume. Despite the fact that it was a clearance item from a demon weapon set, Jim took the time to modify it, resculpting the edges and adding some different color schemes until it was something completely unique. There’s also at least an eighty percent chance that it’s a functioning bong, though that’s true of pretty much anything Jim touches. You watch, unaware that you’re holding your breath as the dust shimmers into the hammer. Just like the hat before, it’s quality seems to rise a hundred fold, looking less like a prop and more like a genuine weapon of tremendous power.

                Unfortunately, that’s all that happens. No sudden burst of new costume magic, no rush of power from the character springing to life. No movement from Jim, who remains a lifeless scarecrow.

                “Does it need a while? Last time-”

                “Last time the user was not a scarecrow,” Victoria interrupts. “The choice is made, now we must simply live with it.” She roots around in her bag and pulls out a small leather book. “I trust you remember what this does?”

                You do indeed, it’s a book of you, one that can call forth moments of your life, when you can find the right page. Deciding that the water pistols aren’t going to be much help in a fight, you toss them from your holster and slip the book into one. Victoria is extending the bag now, leaning back as she nods for you to dip a hand in. Okay, nothing creepy about that. Dipping your fingers into the bag, you pull out a small glowing pearl the size of a large marble. Seeing it seems to make her even more squeamish, so you quickly tuck that into a holster as well.

                “What you have drawn is a pearl of-”

                The crash of a tombstone being ripped from the ground cuts her off, as one of the giant rag ghouls yanks away your hiding spot to reveal the entire family of monsters staring at you both. Guess you weren’t being as quiet as you thought. Or a clan named “Whispers” has good hearing. Either way, you react on pure instinct, grabbing the nearest thing to a weapon you can find and swinging with all your might.

                Good news: Jim’s hammer, now gripped in your trembling hands, manages to actually knock the monster back a couple of feet. Bad news: it’s still standing, and now seems pissed. Fight didn’t work, so it’s time for flight as you roll to the side and dash to your feet, Victoria’s sleek running form already a few feet ahead of you.

                “Use the tools!” She commands, just before leaping into the air, much higher than anyone should be able to, and landing claws first on another of the giant ghouls. The rest of them aren’t standing around like useless sacks of shit, instead they’re trying to converge on both of you, and given their size and numbers you have a feeling they’ll probably succeed.

                “Easier said than done!” You scream back, pumping your legs to try and put some distance between yourself and the closest pursuing ghoul. Despite the fact that monsters are chasing you around a magic graveyard, howling for your blood or whatever, you need to try and think. Victoria gave you weapons to fight with, use the damn things.

                The biggest, most obvious tool is the currently enchanted hammer that’s still in your hands. Except that it’s not doing what it’s supposed to and turning you into Godpunch Lightning-Fucker. You wrack your brain, thinking about the first time you used the dust. When you put on the hat, you were already wearing a makeshift wizard outfit. Tonight, however, you’re dressed like a cowboy. Maybe the issue is that you’re not close enough to Godpunch for the magic to work. If that sounds crazy, I agree, but these are the kinds of thoughts you have while being chased by ghouls.

                There’s also the book, but based on your experiences last time it took a bit of fumbling about to make it work. You needed to hunt down a word you could read, and even if that happens quickly there are no promises it will be a useful moment. Still, at least that’s a magic you understand and can use, which puts it a leg up on both Jim’s hammer and the mystery pearl. The pearl is anyone’s guess, as Victoria is too busy murdering ghouls, and the air too filled with their odd, unnatural howls, for her to give you any tips on exactly how the damn thing works.

                Actually, one sound does cut through the ghoul noises, a piercing shrill scream coming from the center of the clearing. It’s a curse word, or a mashed up collection of them, spewing from Annabeth’s mouth. With only one glance you can see that the gaunt man with the knife is drawing closer. Right, you forgot this was supposed to be a rescue mission, didn’t you? While you don’t know what he was waiting for initially, evidently you and Victoria moved up the timetable as his drawn blade all but glows with moonlight.

                Taking a sharp turn, which unfortunately your pursuer ghouls are able to replicate, the fuckers, you veer back toward the center of the clearing where Annabeth is. This does catch some of the ones you pass by surprise, as they evidently aren’t used to people running toward them. Just another in your long life of stellar decisions. Sadly the ghouls chasing you remain hot on your tail, giving you no room to think or strategize.

                It’s time to act, and when you do you’ll only have seconds. You can shake off the duster and hat in the hopes of becoming a blank slate and triggering Jim’s hammer, you can fumble through the book and pray you locate a good moment, or you can swing a mystery pearl around and see what happens. Between the man with the knife advancing on Annabeth and the monsters all-but breathing down your neck (though you don’t actually know if they breathe) there’s no question that if the shot you take doesn’t land, there won’t be time for a second.

                Cross your fingers, hope for the best, and do something.

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 29th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 9

                “Much as I’d like to hurry, if even Victoria thinks we need to load up on gear before this fight, then I’m inclined to side with her.” Jim’s pumpkin face looks a little disappointed, so you quickly tack on, “And besides, if the driver comes, we can get you more of that herb to buy time.”

                “I’m afraid not,” Victoria tells you. “One cannot start a new day while the noon sun hangs in the sky, just as one cannot begin a new magic when one is already at work. The only way to restore Jim is by using the time we have to recapture what was taken.”

                She makes a quick call on her cell phone and around ten minutes later, each one feeling as through it stretches on far longer than the normal sixty seconds, the town car whispers up to the curb. None of the windows unroll, but the trunk pops open, and Victoria pulls a slender black back from its depths. She slams the trunk closed and the car takes off again.

                “That’s not very big,” you tell her. “Is it full of handguns?”

                “After all this time, Merlin, I’d thought perhaps you had a better idea of what constituted weaponry in my world. Regardless, I’ll explain when the time is right. For now, we must get to Annabeth.” Victoria begin stalking down the street, only slowing when she realizes you have a reduced pace from helping Jim along. She comes back, gets under his free shoulder for support, and together the three of you make your way down the street.

                About two blocks later, she lets go, walking to a shady little area full of trees. It’s a patch of wilderness maybe twenty feet long, but evidently it suffices for her needs. Victoria raises her hands, peers deep into the foliage and lets out a single word that makes your mind involuntarily try to remember if you’ve gotten a last will and testament put together.

                “Obey.”

                The shadows cast by the streetlights near the trees seem to pool, rising up and joining together until they’ve taken on the appearance of familiar cemetery gate, the front of which is currently sitting wide open. She throws a glance over her shoulder and motions for the two of you to follow.

                “I thought you said the shadows were friends of the Whisper family,” you say as you help Jim forward. He seems to be getting a little slower, which you convince yourself is a symptom of the rough terrain and nothing more.

                “They are,” Victoria says. “But they fear the Willowbrook line, and that is often better than friendship.”

                “That philosophy… is a real… bummer.” Jim’s words are getting slurred and oddly spaced, but hey, that’s Jim, right!

                Right?

                “You okay man?” you ask, pretty sure you already know the answer.

                “Not one bit,” he tells you. “I think getting turned… into a scarecrow made me… sober, and it is just… the worst. I feel like a… freshman again.”

                “Just keep thinking about the cup of infinite beer, cause soon you’ll be back home with it.” Even you don’t know if you’re lying at this point, but you’re pretty sure it’s okay if you’re being genuinely hopeful.

                The three of you move past the front gate, onto a sea of lush grass dotted by massive white headstones, like teeth jutting up from a misshapen green mouth. The place seems to sprawl on forever, but Victoria never wavers as she leads you deeper into the cemetery. Maybe it’s some of her usual magic, maybe it’s a sister thing. All you know is that she seems set on a course.

                After some time, it’s hard to gauge with any reliability in this place, she motions for you to hunch down. Together, the two of you and Jim, more dragged than walking at this point, take cover behind a giant headstone. Now you can hear voices from nearby, though the words coming out of their mouths don’t seem human in the slightest. Victoria crawls along the ground to the next headstone and you follow with Jim still in tow. After several more minutes of this, she stops and gestures for you to look around the marble slab currently at your back.

                There’s something of a clearing out there, and in it are dozens of those ghouls in tattered rags, some the same size as what you’ve seen, others so big they put giants to shame. They’ve gathered around a headstone that’s been turned into a makeshift table, on top of which rests Annabeth. Well, maybe rests isn’t the right word. She’s struggling against her bonds, more of those same rags, and casting dirty looks in every direction, hoping for the chance to visit some violence on her kidnappers. At that moment, you can definitely see the family resemblance to Victoria.

                A lean man with a gaunt face is near her, dressed in a dirty gray suit and holding a gleaming knife. He isn’t using it, yet, but you can’t imagine that’s going to last for long.

                “The bastards.” Victoria’s words are a hiss as she readies to strike, hand already dipped into the black bag she sacrificed time to get. “They’re trying to take an ancient tribute, to force their way back into the Graveyard Accords.”

                “Will that work?”

                “In terms of restoring their power? I highly doubt it. In terms of killing my sister? Yes, most certainly. We need to be quick, Merlin. I’ve brought a few tools, but the first one must be used the soonest, for it will be the most potent.” Victoria holds up a small vial, inside of which you see a very familiar dust. It’s just like what the old lady sprinkled on your wizard hat to make your costume… real.

                “Is that?”

                “Yes. One of us can tap into the magic of All Hallows Eve and truly become something else. It is potent, powerful magic, but it is so strong that the wielder will be unable to use any of the other tools I brought, they would simply be absorbed into it.”

                “What do you think, Jim?” You turn to your friend, but a lifeless jack-o-lantern stares up at you. You’ve been dragging a scarecrow for the last five minutes. But, deep down you knew that, didn’t you?

                “Maybe… maybe if we make his costume real, it will fix him,” you say. “Godpunch Lightning-Fucker probably isn’t vulnerable to being turned into a scarecrow.”

                Victoria gives you a long stare. “If that is what you want, then I will use it on Jim. Or you can turn yourself into a true cattle driver, or I can become a witch’s familiar.”

                “Wait, if you turn into a cat then how will I know what to do?”

                “Familiars can speak, among many other things, Merlin.” She smiles, just a bit, despite the situation you’re in. “And I chose tools that you would be familiar with anyway. At least, for the most part. But the time for talk is done. We must sprinkle this on the truest part of one of our costumes and move. Annabeth doesn’t have long.”

                Looks like it’s go time.

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 28th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 8

                You can’t even process seeing Jim like that, your mind refuses to wrap around it. Instead, you focus on the one thing you can effect, the racing figure clutching a struggling child. It might be a good thing that you couldn’t find any authentic boots for your cowboy costume, because suddenly you are hauling ass for all you’re worth, and sneakers are far better suited to the task.

                The world seems to narrow down to just the ghoul and Annabeth, the edges of your vision growing dark. If you knew more about the human body, you’d realize that these symptoms, combined with a suddenly racing heart, is more likely a panic attack at seeing your best friend transmogrified than it is some badass focusing ability. Luckily, you showed up drunk or slept through most of your biology classes, so you have no idea that your brain is trying to shut you down as you power through, running with every ounce of strength you have.

                Go figure, panic is actually a pretty good performance enhancer, as you quickly gain on the fleeing ghoul. You can make out Annabeth’s face, pinched in annoyance as she whacks her kidnapper with her pumpkin pail. Miraculously, not so much as one chocolate bar falls out of it, even as she assaults the ghoul over and over.

                They both turn a corner onto a new cul-de-sac, and you sprint after them, trailing only by seconds. What greets you is not another cluster of houses, however. It’s the entrance to a graveyard, with squeaking iron gates slowly drawing shut. You start to run again, but that pause cost too much time. The gates slam together, and just like with the ghouls themselves, are suddenly gone. In front of you is just a normal cul-de-sac, with no sign of Annabeth or her kidnapper.

                It’s only now that you realize you’re alone. Victoria didn’t follow, in spite of the fact that it was her sister being taken. Part of you hopes that she was fixing Jim, but when you make your way back to the scene of the attack, he’s still got a big, grinning jack-o-lantern of a face. Victoria is standing over a pile of rags, which you suspect are all the remains of the ghoul. Hope fills you again; maybe she got back whatever they took.

                “Can you save him?” Right to the point, huh? Well, I can’t blame you this time.

                “Unfortunately, this one was not the thief,” Victoria says, her teeth clenched together. “It was a distraction, meant to occupy us while Jim’s true attacker escaped with their prize.”

                “I… they got away.”

                “Of course they did, the shadows of the world have always been friendly with the Whisper family. Take heart, though. I turned their trap against them. Before this one was done, I persuaded it to tell me where they are holed up.”

                “Is it a graveyard?” you ask.

                “It was, and sometimes still is, depending on the night,” Victoria replies. “I can take us there, though what happens once we arrive is impossible to predict.”

                “Are they going to turn Annabeth into a pumpkin scarecrow too?” She might not have been the most outgoing of kids, but you’d still rather not see anyone else get turned.

                “Perhaps they will try, but it will be a vain effort. We are not so easily stolen from. But there are other things they can do, other ways to take vengeance on a true family of All Hallows Eve. We must hurry. I only paused because I thought you would like to find a safe place to store Jim.” Victoria motions to the lifeless body of your roommate. She’s right, you can’t leave him out in the open like this, it’s too dangerous.

                “Let’s fine a porch to put him on,” you tell her. Both of you reach down and grab one of his shoulders, which is why you’re only a few feet away from his jack-o-lantern face when the eyes blink and it opens its grinning mouth.

                “Whew, I need to lay off the heavy stuff, I feel like my whole body is stuffed with hay.”

                You and Victoria let out unexpected screams and jump away from the scarecrow, which is currently trying to hold up its own head, a surprisingly difficult task with a body made of straw. It looks down at its new form, turning its hands over twice. “Oh. I am stuffed with hay. Guess that makes more sense then.”

                “How does any of this make sense!” You yelp at him, not sure whether you’re happy or more terrified.

                “Herb of False Life,” Victoria mutters, quickly regaining her composure. “That’s what you and the driver smoked in that pipe, isn’t it?”

                “I didn’t really ask, he just offered me some puffs and I took them.” If there was any doubt in your mind that this is Jim, it vanishes at his words. Jim is pretty much the only person you know who would smoke something supernatural, no questions asked.

                “Wait, does this mean he’s okay?”

                “No, it’s temporary,” Victoria says. “When the magic fades, he’ll be like all the others, unless we restore them by sunrise.”

                “Well then let’s go fight these assholes.” You walk back over and help Jim the scarecrow to his feet. It’s a wobbly stance, but he eventually manages to get sort of balanced. He’s definitely leaning on you for support though.

                “They have taken my kin, you do not need to encourage me to battle,” Victoria assures you. “However, it might be prudent to gather some weaponry before we charge into their territory. I can have the driver swing by with a few emergency goods, though it will take some time.”

                “If we wait too long, something might happen to Annabeth,” you tell her, like she didn’t already know. “And Jim’s magic could fade.”

                “Yes, I’m aware of the risks, that’s why I proposed it as something to discuss instead of just doing it,” Victoria says. “Worried as I am for Annabeth, it does us no good to get caught as well. The family’s heads will not be so easy to defeat as their minions. I favor taking the time to properly arm ourselves.”

                “Yeah, seeing as I only have so much time as a talking pumpkin monster, I’m going to vote for moving while I still have the option,” Jim says. “Plus we want to make sure the kiddo is safe, and every minute lost puts her at risk.”

                Looks like you’re the tie-breaker, what’s it going to be?

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 26th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 7

                Faced with seeing a fellow human in peril, your baser instincts take over, forcing you to boldly… sit there with Victoria and watch as this helpless woman is turned into a scarecrow. Wow. Just wow, man. I mean, yeah, Victoria was going to do it, but she’s sort of on the side of monsters already. You’re supposed to be better than that. Fuuuuuuuck dude.

                Anyway, you heroically sit in the bushes while the lady dressed as a Bride of Frankenstein is grabbed by the tattered rag ghoul, causing the air around her to warp until she’s nothing more than a grinning jack-o-lantern sitting atop a body made of straw. A heavy weight of guilt settles in your stomach as you see them slink away from her frozen figure, which you definitely earned, but there’s no time to dwell as Victoria motions for you to follow her around the side gate once more.

                With her hands no longer wrapped around your arm, all you can see is the kid in the crappy ghost costume, walking out the front door like nothing happened and moving down the block. It has a steady pace, and the longer you watch the harder it is to keep the harbinger of evil in your sights. Between every blink, you feel like your target is vanishing, and it’s only with concentrated effort you can relocate it.

                Victoria apparently has no such issues, keeping to the shadows as she stalks the small figure clothed in a sheet. Her costume is definitely working to her advantage, the dark fur cloaking her body as she moves outside the light. Your cowboy costume is somewhat less disposed to stealth, but you do your best to follow her footsteps and stay out of sight. Evidently, it works, as you both trail the child-sized ghost off the current cul-de-sac and onto the main area of Carver Street.

                Here, the roads are still swarmed by children, clad in plastic costumes as they make the rounds, demanding candy at every doorstep they pass. Within ten steps, you’ve lost the ghost, its unnatural ability to slip from focus magnified by the horde of equally sized kids. Instead of trying to follow it, you just keep an eye on Victoria. She’s like an inverse of the ghost, standing out like a dark beacon among the many smaller bodies. Truth be told, you’re pretty sure that even in a room full of people wearing the exact same costume, Victoria would still be easy to spot. Even before you knew about her family, there was always something that stood out about her. Granted, back then you thought it was her pleasantly symmetrical face instead of a connection to the magic of Halloween, but the point stands.

                As you’re following her, doing your best not to bump into children as you walk, you feel a light brush on one of your shoulders. It’s a soft touch, so you think nothing of it, until a few seconds later when the same spot is hit again. And this time, it isn’t so gentle. A forceful push shoves you off the street, sending you sprawling into the bushes before you can so much as let out a yelp.

                You try to get up, but something pushes you down. The world twitches, and suddenly you can see the figure pinning you. It’s another tattered rag ghoul, though this one has a different stain pattern than the one you saw in the kitchen. Oh fucking great, more of these assholes. It leans in close, giving you a good whiff of the stinking cloths keeping its face separate from yours, and you try to scream for Victoria. Nothing comes out, though. Just like the woman in the kitchen, your sound has been stolen. Much as you struggle to get free, it gets closer by the second, reaching up with a rag-covered arm and pressing its fingers to your temple. Holy shit man, hope you like pumpkins, because it looks like your about to turn into one.

                Except… nothing happens when the fingers grab you. The ghoul’s head, still masked by tatters, tilts to the side in visible confusion. It grips you harder, to no avail, then lets a single word escape the depths of its torn sheets.

                “Broken.

                “Pardon me, but I’m the only one permitted to assault my servants.” Victoria has appeared above the ghoul, and with a single swipe of her gleaming silver claw, she opens a hole in its throat. There’s no blood or flesh that you can see, instead it’s like pure shadow under those sheets, an infinite darkness that’s barely contained. You only get a glimpse though, as seconds after she strikes the creature vanishes, removing the weight from your chest.

                “Thanks,” you say, very clearly preoccupied with why the hell a monster thinks your “broken”. Screw that guy, you’re not that bad. Maybe a little worse for wear after so many near death experiences, but by god you’d still turn you into a pumpkin. What a dick.

                “You’re lucky I noticed,” Victoria says. “These things usually strike before anyone can intervene.”

                “Well I’ll try not to-”

                A sharp, piercing sound hits both your ears, what seems like a child’s scream. That’s disturbing enough to you, but Victoria looks like someone just slipped a knife between her ribs. Without a word, she dashes out of the bushes, rushing down the street so quickly that it’s a miracle she’s not knocking kids over.

                Once again you’re following, though you do note it’s a bit odd that no one else is reacting to the scream. Almost like they didn’t hear it at all. You dart in the few spaces between children, keeping as close to Victoria as you can, until you both turn a block into a new cul-de-sac. Your feet fail you as a horrible sight meets your eyes.

                Another ghoul is there, plain as day, standing over a scarecrow with a jack-o-lantern head. This one isn’t dressed like Frankenstein though, nor is it wearing normal everyday clothes. No, this scarecrow is dressed like a character from an obscure webcomic run by a madman: Godpunch Lightning-Fucker. It’s Jim, or what’s left of him as the sheet-covered monster pulls its hands away. Down the street, you can see another ghoul running into the shadows, gripping a small struggling figure with a bright orange pumpkin candy pail.

                You have to do something, even if you’re not quite sure what. There might still be time to run down the thing stealing Annabeth, or you could try to punch the one in front of you until it restores Jim. Then again, there is always the diplomatic option, maybe if you can find out why these creatures are here you can bargain back your roommate’s restoration. Whatever you choose, you just have to do it soon.

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 26th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 6

                “Jim can take Annabeth Trick or Treating while we hunt for these Whisper people.”

                “Really? Annabeth says, eyes lighting up a bit in excitement.

                “Really?” Victoria adds, her own expression one of severe concern.

                “Really?” Jim tacks on, though you’re not sure if he even knows what’s going on or just wants to be part of what everyone else is doing.

                “Yes, really,” you tell them all, already questioning your choice but too scared to back out of it now. “She clearly likes him, and if we want them to blend in with the other kids making the rounds, can you think of anyone less likely to be aware of anything, supernatural or otherwise, than Jim?”

                “Truth be told, I’m only half sure all of you aren’t hallucinations from a weird hash I took freshman year,” Jim says, in what you’re pretty sure is a form of agreement.

                “What’s hash?” Annabeth asks, looking up at Victoria.

                “A foolish endeavor of the mundane, and something that will not be discussed again tonight.” Victoria shoots Jim a look that would melt steel, and is so powerful even he seems to get that he might have messed up. “Merlin does make a point though. What the Whisper family takes is far more potent in adults than children, who haven’t lived long or deep enough. So long as Annabeth seems like nothing more than a normal kid, she shouldn’t be a target, and there is nothing about Jim that would put people on alert, unless those people were narcotics officers.”

                “Fuck! Where?” Jim slams himself to the living room floor, head darting around anxiously. Both of you choose to ignore him until he gets his shit together.

                “Annabeth, listen well to the mortal while in his charge. This outer world is theirs, and they know best how to blend in. But use your own judgement as well, because Jim is kind of an idiot,” Victoria tells her sister.

                “I understand.” Annabeth walks over, helps Jim off the floor, and the two of them stroll out the front door of the house that you all broke into. Wow, maybe you should wipe your fingerprints or something. This is some pretty blatant crime committing, well-intentioned or not.

                “So what do we do?” you ask her, completely ignoring my advice like an asshole.

                “We hunt.” Victoria looks over the scarecrows once more, licking her thumb and rubbing it against one of their carved pumpkin heads. “These people are fresh, turned within the hour. The process is not a laborious one, but getting into the houses to strike would take some time. I’d wager that we’ll find one of them on this cul-de-sac or the next.”

                She takes off through the front door, not bothering to re-lock it behind her, which you’re actually not even sure those claws can do. You hurry to catch up as she strides down the sidewalk, a sense of purpose rarely seen in her movements. This whole thing has really chapped Victoria’s ass, and you’ve almost died enough as her friend to definitely not want to be an enemy. After several minutes of walking, she pulls up short in front of a non-descript house with five jack-o-lanterns lining the porch. Taking a deep sniff of the air, she grabs your hand and pulls you around to a gate at the side, leading to the backyard. Victoria extends one dark clawed finger to her lips, signaling you to keep your yap shut for a change, and then soundlessly opens the gate and slips through.

                By the time you catch up to her, trying to keep your cheap duster from snaring on these people’s bushes, Victoria is crouched by a rear window, peeking through. She points to the pale light streaming from the kitchen, and you take a look at what’s happening.

                At first, all you see is the child, dressed in a cheap, somewhat tattered ghost costume. The people who live here, a man and woman in Frankenstein and Bride costumes, are talking to it, asking questions that seem concerned. The man reaches for a phone just as Victoria reaches over and slips her hand around your forearm. Thankfully, her other hand quickly throws itself across your mouth, muffling the scream that tries to leap from your throat.

                The moment she touched you, the scene in the kitchen seemed to warp and spasm, until you saw that it was not just the child and the couple in the room. There was another entity, this one swathed entirely in sheets and bandages, but unlike the child there was nothing “somewhat” about the tatters of this ensemble. Stains, mostly brown like the color of dried blood, were splashed all over the threadbare garments, so torn up that only the multitude of layers prevent you from seeing what lurks underneath. Before the man dress as Frankenstein could get his hand on the phone, the ghoul in rags grabbed him behind and turned his face toward the area where its own would be. Things began to spasm again, and when they clear the rag-covered fingers were holding a jack-o-lantern, resting atop a scarecrow that was dressed as Frankenstein.

                You have no idea how much of this the woman saw, but the terrified expression in her eyes as she opens her mouth to scream tells you it was at least a little. Oddly, no sound escapes her mouth, nor does she make noise as she back-pedals and bangs into the counter. It’s like the whole room has been dipped in silence.

                Whirling on Victoria, you see her eyes burning even through the contacts, but she makes no movements as the child and ghoul both converge on the woman.

                “We have to go help her!”

                “What is stolen can be returned,” Victoria tells you. “But these two are only a piece of the whole. We need to find the head of the family, who will be collecting the tributes from his runners. Just stay put, and we’ll tail them back to their home base.”

                “Are you shitting me, I can’t just sit here and watch someone get turned into a scarecrow! We have to get in there and help those people.”

                “You are free to do as you wish, Merlin. But I cannot risk the chance to save all for the comfort of aiding one, so you will have to interfere without my aid. Rest assured, when you are turned, I will do my best to restore you to human form before the sun rises. As always, however, there are no promises.”

                Cold, but sort of what you’d expected after knowing Victoria for this long. If you want to help, you need to do something soon. You can charge in and try to stop them from attacking the woman, or maybe just knock on the door and make them think they’re about to be caught in the act. Of course, you could always just wait it out with Victoria, trusting her judgement over your own. Whatever you do, do it fast, because they’re closing in on that lady by the second.

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 25th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Adventure: Chapter 5

                “Forget it, I know how this goes. We walk away, then half an hour later we’re getting attacked by a giant monster made of discarded candles that we totally could have stopped if we’d just dealt with the problem sooner.”

                “One Columbus Day candle monster and he won’t let it go,” Jim mutters from the top of the branch.

                “Point stands,” you say. “We’re going to look inside and make sure nothing weird is going on.”

                “So authoritative,” Victoria notes. “Be careful not to push yourself too far into danger, Merlin. I already have one charge to look after tonight. But I agree that it is better to be forewarned and forearmed, so let us proceed.”

                She starts up the walkway, and after a few seconds you realize she has no intention of waiting for you. Quickly, you yank Jim down from the tree and hurry to catch up, while Annabeth keeps that same constant pace and somehow ends up by her sister’s side once again. Victoria’s claws flash in the yellow light of the porch as she slips one effortlessly into the front door’s lock. Just like that, she twists the knob and it opens, revealing the muffled sounds of a television playing somewhere in the house.

                The door leads into a hallway which quickly splits in two directions. Victoria heads to the right, her hand holding Annabeth’s, and silently motions for you to take the left. You are really hoping that whatever magic protects those two is extended to you and Jim, otherwise this night ends with you in handcuffs for breaking and entering.

                Turning down the left hall, the sounds of a television get stronger, and after only a few steps you make it into the living room, where a Halloween special is playing on a flat screen. You spot two figures on the couch and nearly yelp out a half-formed explanation, but mercifully your brain notices the big, orange heads and you realize that you’re looking at decorations, not owners.

                Two scarecrows, straw sticking out of their clothing, are seated next to each other, heads made of large, well-carved jack-o-lanterns. One is even leaned slightly on to the shoulder of another, as if they’re cuddling while the show plays. The whole effect is quite unsettling, which is exactly what Halloween decorations are meant to accomplish, so kudos to the owners for setting it up, especially since it’s only barely visible through the front window.

                “That way only led to a bathroom,” Victoria announces as she and Annabeth come up behind you. “Have you seen any…” Her voice trails off as she enters the room, eyes fixed on the cuddling scarecrows. For a moment, the composed calm of Victoria Dempsy slips, and you see a flash of rage flicker through her temporarily feline eyes. It quickly fades as she moves forward to examine them, though you can still feel the anger bubbling off her like smoke from a witch’s cauldron.

                Leaning down, she traces her fingers along the hard surface of the pumpkin faces, so delicate you’re not certain she’s even making contact. Finally, she turns and looks at Annabeth who dips her head, giving a slight nod of agreement.

                “The Whisper family has been here,” Victoria announces. Presumably this is for you and Jim, though you have any idea what the hell that means. From context clues, you’d take a wild shot that it isn’t a good thing, though.

                “Are they like the Garrote? Another high family of Halloween?” you ask.

                “No, the Whisper clan is a former family. The magic and spirit of All Hallows Eve has changed over time, as the beliefs of those who celebrate it have altered. Most of the families have made the change along with it, but some refused to let go of the older ways. The Whisper family is one such example. They refused to accept the new form of tribute, and as such lost their connection to The Graveyard Accords. Now they are nothing more than monsters, wandering about, taking the old tribute by force whenever necessary. I cannot believe they would come into our territory, though. We are not renowned for our hospitality.”

                You don’t always understand everything Victoria is talking about, but from what she’s saying and the way she’s looking at the scarecrows, which are wearing quite modern, fitted clothes you just now realize, you can put at least one bit of it together.

                “Ah shit, are those the house’s owners?”

                “They were,” Victoria says. “And perhaps they will be again, if what was stolen can be reclaimed before sunrise. But this changes things greatly, Merlin. Trespassing such as this cannot be ignored. I will alert my family of the transgression, but tonight demands much of us. It will take time until they can lend aid. Until then, it will be up to us to find and subdue as many of the Whisper clan as we can get our hands on.”

                “But I wanted to get some caaaaandy,” Jim says, shaking his empty pillow-case.

                Victoria frowns, looking from him to Annabeth several times. “Damnit, Jim is right. The gathering of tribute cannot be ignored, even for situations such as this. Though I loathe to say it, we will have to split up to accomplish all that is needed. One of us will escort Annabeth as she gathers tribute, while the other two will search for the Whisper family.”

                “Isn’t don’t split up like the first rule of horror movies?” Jim points out.

                “That rule only applies when you’re being hunted by a monster,” Victoria tells him. “Tonight, I am the monster who is hunting.”

                “Shouldn’t you be the one to take Annabeth,” you say. “She is your sister, and you’re better equipped than us to keep her safe.”

                Annabeth snorts from beside you.

                “My sister is quite capable in her own right, though with a fallen family out there anything is possible,” Victoria says. “However, if I were to take her, you would have no one with knowledge of how to track or defeat our prey. Though I suppose your dumb luck has suited you well before. It is up to you, Merlin. Who takes Annabeth while the rest of us go on the hunt?”

                Damn, that’s a tough one. Victoria would be the best to keep her safe, but she’s the only one of you who knows dick about these Whisper people. Annabeth seems to like Jim, but trusting Jim with a kid is like… you know what, I can’t think of an example worse than trusting Jim with a kid. Still, he did well with the prank, maybe he’s on a roll tonight. Or you could take her yourself and trust Jim and Victoria to handle the dirty work. That doesn’t seem cowardly at all, right? Right? Of course, if you manage to screw up you’d probably much rather be turned into a scarecrow than face Victoria’s wrath. No sense dilly-dallying, everyone is looking at you. Make a choice!

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 24th

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Adventure: Chapter 4

                With a silent prayer in the direction of whatever divine being watches over this sort of insanity, probably one that’s either really bored or one hell of an asshole, you raise a shaky hand pointing to Jim just as he finally manages to pull himself free from the pillow-case.

                “Let’s see what Jim can do.” Victoria raises an eyebrow, and Annabeth smiles, but neither try to correct your decision, strange though it is. It sort of makes sense to you, though. Jim is largely harmless, and somehow imperviously skates through a lot of these shenanigans, so if anyone can quickly think of a good trick that won’t get somebody hurt, it might be him.

                “What now? I gotta prank these people?” Jim spits out a few loose threads from his pillow case adventure as he speaks, and you suddenly find yourself questioning the choice.

                “Yes,” Victoria tells him. “They have failed to give tribute, violated the rit-”

                “Yeah I heard you, prank ‘em.” Jim fishes out a cell phone from the depths of his costume, reaches into the mailbox and pulls out a few uncollected letters, then walks twenty feet away. Five minutes later he returns, slips the mail back into the box, and proudly announces: “Done!”

                “Jim, I don’t think ordering a bunch of pizzas to their house is really going to cut it,” you warn him.

                “Nah, I got that this had to be super serious, so I pulled out all the stops,” Jim assures you.

                “Yet their house remains unaccosted,” Victoria points out.

                “Hey, you said prank the people, not the house, so I did. As of now, they’ve been signed up for the fanciest packages offered by every cable company in town, all set to deliver on Monday.” Jim beams at his idea, but Victoria just seems confused.

                “You bought them better cable? How is that a prank?”

                “I didn’t buy anything, I just signed them up,” Jim says. “Have you ever tried to cancel cable before? Especially the high-end stuff? It’s a super-duper pain in the ass. Now imagine that times four. A flaming bag of dog poo might have wrecked their night, but this will pretty much fuck all of November for them. Or is that not trick enough?”

                “No… no that will do it,” Victoria says, looking at Annabeth, who nods her agreement. “If anything, it might be a bit overboard.”

                “You tell Jim to swing, I’ma swing with all I got.” On that note, he takes a celebratory pull from his flask and the night continues on.

                Rounding the bend into another cul-de-sac off of Carver Street, you watch as Annabeth does walk after careful walk up to the front doors and collects tribute in her pumpkin pail. Lots of other kids, more excited than she is, race past her along the sidewalks and lawns, though none even bump, or even so much as jostle, her. You’re not sure if they can even see Annabeth, or if an instinctual part of their brain knows that something there should be avoided. Probably a good judgement, if so.

                Another cul-de-sac finished, and Jim is hanging from a tree, having emptied one of his plastic baggies into his mouth while only you were looking, and now currently certain he has bird-like super human abilities. Annabeth seems entertained enough to slow her methodical pace as he races between limbs at respective houses, insisting that he’s flying.

                “You never told me you had a sister,” you remark to Victoria as Annabeth heads up to another doorway while Jim tries to perch like a bird on a much-too-thin limb.

                “I have many brothers and sisters,” Victoria replies. “The house of Willowbrook is large, and its branches numerous. Not all of my kin are directly connected to me by blood, but we are bound by something far stronger indeed.”

                “So, Annabeth…”

                “Half-sister,” Victoria says. “Same father, obviously, different mothers. And that’s probably as deep as you want to dig, Merlin. I try hard to keep you on the fringes of my world, but can’t be held accountable if you go burrowing in deeper.”

                “I’ve survived a lot of crazy shit,” you remind her.

                “Which is why I allow you to hang around at all.” Victoria smiles, but that grin fades as Annabeth comes trudging back up the walkway, a concerned expression on her face.

                “Another lit the signal and failed to pay tribute.” She jostles her pumpkin pail, which does have things rattling around in it, but they don’t sound like pieces of candy.

                “So soon? Merlin, your selection seems to be rather disappointing,” Victoria says.

                “That’s really weird, I remember everyone on the Carver Street cul-de-sacs loved Halloween. With a name like that, you sort of have to. I can’t believe there are already so many people out of candy who left the jack-o-lanterns lit.” You look around, and realize that in the distraction of Jim’s quasi-bird antics and talking to Victoria, you failed to notice that the number of children had thinned out dramatically. You can still spot a few here and there, but the night has just begun. The street should be thick with them.

                “I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but does anyone else feel like the area around us just got weirdly deserted?”

                Victoria nods, and Jim lets out a squawk that you assume to be one of agreement. Annabeth has the weirdest reaction of all though, she takes a deep breath in through the nose, then looks up at her sister with solemn eyes.

                “The unnatural lingers in the air.”

                “It’s All Hallows Eve, that’s to be expected,” Victoria responds.

                “Not like this,” Annabeth tells her.

                “Curious.” Victoria looks at the house, then around at the absence of children, and then at you. “Merlin, we are at a crossroads here. Annabeth’s nose handily trumps my own, so I believe that there is something amiss around us. That does not mean it directly impacts us, however. Regardless, the gathering of tribute is the most important rite of the year. It must be seen through. If we investigate, we lose precious time, but if something is interfering then perhaps we can halt it. Otherwise, we must quickly prank this abode and either continue on as if nothing has happened, or follow the herds of children in hopes that they will lead us to houses paying tribute. Thus far there have only been two homes, hardly a damning case. You know this neighborhood and its habits well. What should we do?”

                Oh great, just a mysterious presence and the most important ritual of her whole family’s year. No pressure, right?

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 23rd

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 3

                “Ten fun-size bars have more chocolate than one full-sizer,” you announce, pointing at Carver Street. “I say we go for quantity over quality.”

                Jim emerges from his room. Well, stumbles out, with a few plastic baggies sticking out from the sides of his costume as well as a newly filled flask to his lips. “We’re going to Carver Street! Hell yeah man, just like the old days. Let me get a pillow case for candy.”

                “We’re not-” But… yeah, he’s already kicking one of his pillows free from it’s case. Honestly, you’re more surprised Jim actually had pillow cases than you are that he isn’t listening.

                Eventually, all four of you (Wilbur left for work while you were changing, not that you asked you self-centered dick)  pile into the town car that’s waiting outside. Jim, despite Victoria’s warnings, jumps into the shotgun seat yet again, and you’re off through town as the final rays of sunset burn in the sky. Those have yielded to true night by the time the town car whispers up to a curb. Even through the window, you can see swarms of kids in cheap costumes racing across the streets. Part of you actually feels a bit nostalgic, Jim was right about this being an old haunt from your childhood.

                Everyone climbs out of the car, though Jim does so smoking a weird pipe with purple smoke, which he turns around and hands back to the driver, who always remains just out of sight. “Thanks man, we’ll do some of mine on the way back.” Victoria seems to have moved past puzzlement into annoyed acceptance, but Annabeth is staring at Jim in sheer wonder. Evidently, the driver’s antisocial reputation has reached even the youngest ears in the family.

                As you all walk up to the first house, you realize that your whole body is tense. Despite all of Victoria’s assurances, there’s a part of you that doesn’t believe this will really be as safe and simple as she’s promised. So when you get near the first house and she holds up her hand to stop everyone, you might sort of jump a couple of feet in the air.

                “We go no further,” Victoria instructs, politely ignoring the very large vertical leap you made, even as Annabeth snickers under her breath. “Gathering of tribute must be done by the youngest, and the youngest alone. Annabeth, proceed.”

                “Aw man, I wanted candy too.” Jim ruffles his empty pillow case, flapping it through the brisk October air.

                “You know we can just buy candy on the way home, right?” You remind him. “We’re adults. We have that ability.”

                “Not the same, bro. Not the same.”

                While Jim is pouting, Annabeth makes her way quietly up the walkway to the first house’s door, which swings open seconds after she touches the bell. A young couple wearing matching werewolf costumes clap in delight at her outfit, and then drop a few pieces of candy into her pumpkin pail. As she turns around, you could swear you see its carved face flicker for a moment, but then it’s gone. Probably a trick of the light. Maybe. Hopefully.

                Things pretty much go like that for the next several houses, and along the way you grow more and more certain that the pumpkin’s face is flickering like a candle when treats are dropped in, until you reach a house near the end of the first street.

                As before, Annabeth walks slowly up to the porch, rings the bell, and… nothing. Next to you, Victoria frowns as she watches her sister try the bell once more, and then twice. After the third failure, Annabeth begins walking back toward you all, but pauses to look into the house’s jack-o-lantern, which is poorly carved and barely lit by the nearly-burned down candle inside. She doesn’t touch it though, just examines it carefully then continues all the way back to you, Jim, and Victoria.

                “They lit the signal, but refused tribute,” Annabeth says. It’s the first actual words to leave her mouth all night, and you’re surprised at how heavy they are. With the giggles and chuckles slipping out, you’d expected her to sound at least a little more childlike.

                “Then they have left us no choice,” Victoria responds. There’s an edge to her voice that you’ve learned to recognize, and you know it signifies trouble for someone. Usually you, even if it’s unintended.

                “Hold on, no choice about what? It’s a house that ran out of candy, we can just go to any of the hundred others in this area,” you point out.

                “One need not offer tribute,” Victoria tells you, her tone suddenly stern. “If the house were dark, unlit by a signal, we would pass by. They would enjoy none of our protections from the dark for the coming year, but there would be no animosity. To light the signal and refuse tribute, however, is an affront to the ritual and the clans who participate in it. By our law, it must be repaid. Slight for slight.”

                “Trick or Treat,” Annabeth adds, her weird tone sending a chill down your spine. You’re not sure what these two have in mind, but it’s probably more than someone who forgot to blow out a jack-o-lantern really deserves. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that while Victoria is your friend, and usually has positive interests at heart, she’s not exactly what one could call “good.”

                “Okay, so ancient law says they need retribution, right?” You’re thinking on your feet, badly at that, but reaching for anything to maybe try and keep these people safe. “But we don’t have to do it now. Why don’t we circle back later on, when the street isn’t so crowded?”

                “It doesn’t work like that,” Victoria says. “This debt cannot be held. Payment comes now. As for the others, have no fear. This is All Hallows Eve and we are of the House of Willowbrook. We are only seen as much as we choose to be.”

                “Then… then why not let Jim or I handle the tricking,” you stammer out quickly. “This is probably just a misunderstanding, I’m sure we can think of a repayment that is both appropriate and not too overzealous.”

                “Be wary, Merlin,” Victoria warns. “Tonight the shadow of death lurks in every corner. Step into our ritual, and I cannot guarantee your safety. Well, that’s always true, but even more so if you wander into a place mortals weren’t meant to venture.” She stops and looks at you, then the house.

                “However, if, knowing that, you still wish to intervene on behalf of these mortals, you may do so. The debt must be paid, but I will allow you to choose who is given the task. Annabeth and I, yourself, or… Jim.”

                The last member of that group has currently somehow gotten his head stuck in the pillowcase and is trying to pull it off. Victoria and Annabeth are waiting, neither with a particularly patient expression on their faces. That warning of hers seemed pretty dire, but then again when don’t her warnings come off that way? Of course that might be because they always are deadly serious.

                No time to sit around and debate, you’re going to have to make a choice here, cowboy. Who doles out the trick?

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 22nd

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 2

                It might be cheap and flimsy, but you’ve always got the possibility of costumes becoming real in the back of your head (it only has to happen once to plant that seed) so you go with cowboy. Should things turn suddenly real, you’d rather be a rough and tumble badass than a carnival act or dancing fool. Shaking out the thin, artificial duster and dented hat, you toss on a white shirt and a pair of jeans from your closet. This model came with a clip-on bolo, but no boot covers, so for tonight you’re a cowboy in sneakers.

                The last accessory is a gun belt made of fabric, but the package doesn’t contain any actual prop guns because that’s what you get for buying the cheap leftover shit on discount. After rooting around your room, you find a pair of mismatched water pistols, ones that Jim uses to fire vodka right into his mouth, and jam them into the holsters. Pausing to check yourself in a mirror, the effect is highly underwhelming. Perfect for a night of normal Trick or Treating.

                As you emerge from your room, you can hear Jim’s voice loudly announcing an attempt to smite the couch, and you pick up the speed. You make it just in time to see him jump in the air, spin his hammer around and slam it into a seat cushion. The one where you usually sit, actually.

                “I’m still not sure I understand how this is a valid costume.” Victoria’s voice draws your attention, just about the only thing that would steal your eyes from the current Jim shitshow, and you see her costume for the year. Dark, triangular ears are resting atop her head, and she’s slipped in contacts that make her hazel eyes yellow and feline. The rest of her costume is black fur from her neck to her toes, pull tight enough to be alluring but not so much as to push the bounds of prudence. The only spots that stand out are her finger tips, where the shine of metal betrays a slender claw on each finger.

                “Are you a cat?” Wow… all that, and you still needed clarification? Just… wow.

                “A black cat,” Victoria corrects. “A proper costume of a witch’s familiar. And you are clearly a cattle driver, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly what it is that Jim is professing to be.”

                Ah right, that. You turn back to Jim, who is brandishing his fake hammer overhead as though it will help her understand. Like you, Jim also raided the costume bargain bin last year, however he was not content with merely choosing one of the cheap options and living with it. No, he used them as ingredients, cobbling together a whole new outfit from the scraps of others. The hammer he’s holding is a prop from a set of demonic weapons, while a plastic knight’s armor guards his chest. His back is covered by a pirate’s longcoat of the same quality as your duster, and big green boot covers conceal his own sneakers. It would be the most ridiculous costume ever, if the name didn’t outpace it by so much.

                “I told you, this year I’m going as something unstoppable, just in case. I am… Godpunch Lightning-Fucker!” Jim announces.

                Victoria’s eyes go wide and an unfamiliar chuckle fills the room. It takes a moment before you realize that it came from Annabeth, the first sound she’s made all evening. Somehow, this seems to bother Victoria even more, and she marches over to Jim.

                “While the creativity is lovely, I do question your use of language in naming. Not to mention, this is a holiday of dressing up as others. Tonight’s activities are low-risk, but it would be unwise to flaunt the traditions of All Hallows Eve so blatantly. You must garb yourself in the veil of another, not something you just thought of.”

                “I didn’t just think of it, I’ve been planning this all year,” Jim proudly tells her. “And I even made sure I was dressing up like someone else.”

                “Don’t show her the-” but no one is listening to you as Jim drags Victoria over to his room and clicks on his computer screen. You follow, already knowing what will be there. Sure enough, there it is, Jim’s website, a domain existing only to host the hastily scrawled drawings of one adventurer with seemingly limitless power, Godpunch Lightning-Fucker, who happens to be sporting the same outfit as Jim.

                “What is this?” Victoria says. It’s one of the few times you’ve ever seen her genuinely puzzled.

                “I couldn’t just make shit up for Halloween, that wouldn’t be cool,” Jim informs her. “So I made a comic series first. See, now I’m dressing up as someone else!” He yanks his flask free, tips it upward, and drains out the last of it’s contents. “Oh, um, could you all split from here for a few minutes? I need to stock up before we leave the house.”

                You and Victoria start to leave, but you turn around to face him before fully stepping out. “No endless beer cup! We’re walking the streets, and the cops will be looking for exactly that sort of shit tonight.”

                Jim nods, though you can see the disappointment in his eyes as he does, and shuts the door. You turn back around to find Victoria unfolding a large paper map on your kitchen table. Honestly, where she even found such a thing is beyond you. Who sells paper maps in this day and age?

                “Merlin, I require your aid before we set out,” Victoria says, calling you over as her eyes scan the map. “When I was of age to gather tribute, we lived in a different town. You, however, have dwelled here all your life. Tell me, which is the best place for us to begin the gathering?”

                Annabeth seems to actually be taking interest as she’s peering over the top of the table at the map Victoria has laid out. You make your way over and examine it; trying hard to remember how things were the last time you went out hitting up people for sweets.

                “I’m assuming tribute here means candy, because if it’s anything else I’m going to be no help.”

                “Tribute is merely sacrifice, be it a chocolate bar or a sugared skull,” Victoria assures you. “Of course, the more gathered, and the grander in scale, the more the tribute is valued.”

                “Got it.” You reach out and touch the highest area of the map with your finger. “The Meadows is the richest part of town, and they give out by far the best candy. That said, getting there is a bit of a trip, and there are a lot of other kids working the same territory. There’s good loot, but it’s pretty much the only place you can hit. Carver Street, on the other hand…” You move your finger down to a smaller area. “It’s the entrance to a whole line-up of mid-income cul-de-sacs. Not as big of a haul per home, but you can cover a lot more square footage. Of course, if you really want to roll the dice…” One last move, off to the east. “Rainey Lane does an annual haunted block party. That means that if you run the houses early enough, sometimes people are trying to dump all their candy to be done before the party starts. But too late, and you just have a bunch of empty houses. Plus, if they’re not shucking candy out the door it’s a long trip for a small reward.”

                “Fascinating,” Victoria says. “All three could provide adequate tribute, yet each has their own risks. Very well, Merlin, as the expert Annabeth and I will put our trust in your hands. Select the destination where our night will begin.

                You really should have seen that coming, shouldn’t you?

               

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 21st

Halloween 2015 Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 1

Welcome to the 3rd Annual Choose Your Spooky Outcome Novel, done over the 13 nights leading up to Halloween. Let's get this out of the way real quick, since some people missed it last year:

This is a sequel, so if you want the story to make sense you should go read the first one here and the second one here.

Now, If you're reading this as it's happening, then be sure to vote for the choices you want made. If not, enjoy the story! Here's how it works:

It will run from October 19th – October 31st (13 days of Halloween). Every night I put up the newest chapter, along with a poll for you to make your decisions. Polls close at Noon CST on the following day, so I can write the next installment. Post goes up at night, rinse, lather, repeat.

There will be Dead Ends, choices you make that get your character killed. If people pick one then I’ll give you the Dead End, then redirect you to the other choice that didn’t kill you, because I think we all cheated at those books as kids and I see no reason to change that. However, if you all can get to the Halloween without a single Dead End, I’ll post a special bonus story or chapter as a prize.

Happy Haunting!


                All around you, lights flash and sirens wail as the ship plummets to the ground. The Earth, formerly a tiny blue marble on the screen, has risen up at alarming speeds. You can make out the ocean, and now landmasses, and now cities, and holy shit you’re going to crash.

                You and Jim both let out terrified screeches, grabbing onto one another as the ship careens impossibly fast toward the ground. Nearby, a small light you’d only barely paid attention too is flashing green. Once. Twice.

                And suddenly, you and Jim are sitting in the grassy area of your apartment building, the spot where people walk their dogs, still holding each other and screaming. People would probably be giving you weird looks, but in a complex full of college kids they see much crazier shit on a daily basis.

                “But… how,” you stammer. Still the picture of eloquence, apparently.

                “The teleportation doodad,” Jim says, carefully extricating himself from the fearful embrace. “I guess you picked the right gem after all.”

                “Yeah, but then you spilled liquor all over it!” you remind him.

                “I find liquor is a great teleportation aid. If I drink enough of it, I wake up in all kinds of places I don’t remember traveling to.” Jim drives this point home by pulling a flask from his pocket and taking a victory swig. You’d chastise him, but at the moment you’re just glad to be home.

                As the sun dips lower in the sky, you lean back, pausing only to check your phone. The aliens are gone, for now, and you and Jim found your way back safe. It looks like this interstellar journey has finally reached:

The-

                “Oh fuck me running!” you yelp, hopping up from the ground and dragging Jim forcefully by the arm. “There was another time skip while we were up there. We lost three days.”

                “So?” Jim asks, obviously more worried about spilling his flask than losing time form his education.

                “So, that makes today the thirty first. Halloween. And in case you didn’t notice the sun setting, it means we’re late to meet Victoria.”

                Now Jim starts to move, though with less panic than your flailing limbs. He’s never had quite the level of fear, or other types of interest, for Victoria Dempsy as you. Then again, you’re not sure Jim’s brain chemistry still lets him process things like terror. Years of doing…. Recreational activities frowned upon by law enforcement… have surely left his brain in a different state that its original design. That’s fine though, because you have enough fear for the both of you, dragging Jim along and bursting through the front door of your apartment.

                Victoria is already there, no doubt let in by Wilbur, your third roommate, who is making polite chitchat with her in the kitchen. Wilbur is a giant animated skeleton that you sort of brought to life two years ago, when you had wizard powers for a night. Scary as he is to look at, the dude is really chill, pays his part of the rent on time and helps out with cleaning. Basically, he’s a much better roommate than Jim.

                “Well, glad to see you’re finally joining us.” The words seem nice, but there’s a frostiness to Victoria’s tone that sends a shiver down your spine. While you don’t only see her on Halloween, this does seem to be the time that she has the biggest effect on you, and the world around her. You’ve never really dug deeper into what her family being some sort of Halloween royalty means, partly because you don’t want to offend, and partly because a very rational piece of you is terrified that she’d actually explain.

                “I don’t suppose alien kidnapping is a good enough reason to excuse being late?” you tentatively venture.

                “It might suffice; though I’m a little hurt you’re packing in adventures so close together. Makes a girl feel unspecial,” she replies.

                “Whoa no, first off I didn’t choose to do the alien thing, that just happened. And you promised tonight wouldn’t be another crazy evening like the last few. No magic costume fights in Halloween parties or surviving evil Halloween theme parks.” You point at Victoria, who is smiling innocently. “Just a nice normal Halloween night.”

                “I promised I would do my best to keep it mundane,” Victoria counters. “On the night of All Hallows Eve, no one is promised safety. But I did select a thoroughly boring activity. We’re going Trick or Treating.”

                “Pretty sure people will tell us to get off their lawn,” you inform her. Seeing as you’re all college seniors, the age in which begging for free candy is cute has long since passed you all by.

                “We are not doing the Trick or Treating,” Victoria says. “We are mere escorts. Annabeth, come here.”

                From off to the side, hidden by your kitchen counter, steps a small girl in a strikingly real witch costume. A wide brimmed black hat covers her head, almost entirely hiding the same blue-black hair as Victoria’s, and casting a shadow over her dark brown eyes. In her hands is a candy-pail shaped like a pumpkin, or perhaps actually carved from one. It sure looks real enough.

                “My little sister,” Victoria explains, as though the physical resemblance wasn’t obvious. “Tonight we will walk her around town, gathering tribute. It is a sacred duty, one that can only be fulfilled by the youngest member of a clan. However, since millions of other children practice the same ritual, I daresay it is no longer as risky as it was in the olden days.”

                “Huh. Okay, you got me there. Nothing all that inherently risky about taking a kid Trick or Treating.” You still don’t totally trust it, honestly after the last two Halloweens who could blame you, but it’s hard to argue with Victoria’s proposal. If anything, taking a kid Trick or Treating seems a little too boring, a waste of a good Halloween. Only Victoria’s company and the low-chance of death make it seem appealing.

                You lean down and try to meet Annabeth’s eyes. “Hi Annabeth, nice to meet you. My name is-”

                “Merlin,” Victoria says, calling you by her nickname for you and cutting you off. “My sister isn’t overly fond of talking with normal folks. Perhaps it’s best if we all just get into costume. Or have you failed to secure one of those yet again?”

                “Nope! This year I planned ahead.” And you did, too. After last Halloween ended, you went and bought three ready-made costumes at a deep discount. Granted, it’s been months of beers since then, so you don’t quite recall what they are, but you know they’re in your closet.

                “Then go change. You too, Jim.”

                “Oh, you’re going to love this,” Jim says, dashing off before you can try and talk him into picking another outfit. You know what’s coming, and it won’t be pretty.

                “Wilbur, would you be so kind as to watch Annabeth while I make use of the restroom to change?” Victoria asks.

                “Yeah, I can be a little late to the coffee shop tonight,” Wilbur says. “Perks of being management.”

                You take the cue and hustle off to your room, digging through the closet until you find the familiar plastic-wrapped bundles of your costumes. Picking through them slowly, you lay each one out side by side so that your options are spread before you. Seeing them for the first time in nearly a year, you’re reminded of just how slim the pickings at the costume shop were when Halloween ended.

                A circus strongman, complete with inflatable barbell.

                A goofy jester, with bells that can be heard jingling through the package when it moves.

                A cowboy, hat and fake duster included.

                Everyone is getting ready, so you need to step on it. Time to don a costume for the coming night. What will it be?

 

Polls Close at Noon (CST) on October 20th