Even Jim thinks a Molotov cocktail is dangerous, and you’ve seen him willfully ignore poison warnings. If even he sees and issue, maybe it’s best not to chance that one. And a cell phone just seems like it lacks the necessary punch to breach a wall of living shadow. No, if you’re doing this, you’re going all in. Because you might die, but damnit at least you’ll go out with a flaming fucking hammer.
Snatching up the liquor-soaked cloth, you wrap it around Jim’s hammer, which still feels more solid than a prop should, then grab the lighter and flick it on. Overhead, the lamp flashes out again, and this time there are no more signs of it coming back on. Looks like you made it just in time as you press the open flame to the cloth.
There’s a whoosh of flame as it catches immediately, apparently Jim doesn’t use high quality fabric for his costumes, and you start swinging that bastard for all you’re worth. The shadows, already reaching out for you, lurch away from the flickering fire, even going so far as to part. It’s not a big hole, but at this point you’ll take what you can get. Grabbing Jim’s arm, you point the hammer forward and push through, ignoring the grasping fingers that run along your back as you shove your way to freedom.
Once you both are through, there’s no stopping. You take off at a run, not even sure where you’re going, just positive you don’t want to be there anymore. There don’t seem to be any more lampposts, the only light in the graveyard is from the overhead moon and your sputtering makeshift torch which is rapidly going out. In the distance, you see something solid and point yourself in that direction. It’s like being lost on an ocean of shadow, whatever looks like land is worth chasing after. As you and Jim draw near to it, the sound of shadows lumbering on your heels, you realize it’s the mausoleum from earlier, although it looks a whole lot creepier now.
Shit, the hammer dies out just as you arrive, and the shadows seem to only be getting faster. You take a deep breath readying for whatever is about to happen, and look at Sheryl’s phone… just as the time turns over to midnight.
The front door of the mausoleum explodes off its hinges, flipping through the air and crashing into the grass. From inside come dozens of flaming faces, jack-o-lanterns crawling on bright green vines, chasing down the shadow monsters and biting them with their fire-filled mouths. After the first wave has poured out, another figure steps into view. She looks just like the picture from the book, wide-brimmed hat, dark dress, and of course the dangerous smile. That last one flashes wide as she scans the area and sets her eyes on you.
“Merlin, you really went out of your way to be a pain this year, didn’t you?”
Victoria is stunning, and not just because she’s strolling through an army of flaming pumpkins. Memories and pictures didn’t do her justice, there’s something about the real thing that’s impossible to replicate. Casually, unbothered by the wailing shadows all around you, she walks forward and gives you a brief, but strong, hug. “Try not to make us worry so much on your next silly adventure.”
“Sorry,” you mumble, struck with relief and the experience of seeing her in a one-two punch of dumbfounded. “I’m still not really sure what’s even going on. Jim said I made a stupid wish?”
“The wish was fair, given the trouble life was handing you. And in truth, I don’t entirely disagree with the way it manifested. Removing Jim and I from your life was a necessary component in making it peaceful and stable. Both of us are… chaotic influences, to put it nicely. Still, I wasn’t quite willing to let one of my people go that easily.”
“So, was this…” you pause to wave your hands at the graveyard, the city, the whole damn world, “Was any of it real?”
Victoria looks past you, to the headstones and trees, then beyond them, to the twinkling lights of the city. “Are you real? Am I? When one deals with the realm of the unnatural as frequently as I do, you come to understand that “real” is something of a spectrum, and a shifting one at that. This place is real to you, Merlin. Whether it remains that way is something you’ll have to decide.”
From behind her back, even though both her hands were at her side a moment ago, Victoria produces one more jack-o-lantern. The face carved into it isn’t particularly scary. If anything, it looks sort of bored. Or peaceful, maybe.
“What do you mean I have to decide, didn’t you come to bust me out?”
“I don’t have the power to do that,” Victoria tells you. “No one does. The only one who can end this wish is you. And I didn’t come to tear you from a world you might love, I came to offer you a way home. I can’t force you to take it. For all I know, this world has everything you want. It might be utopia. You can stay here, if you wish. Live a normal life, away from the madness you’ve grown accustomed to. Marry a nice, normal girl, raise a family, all the things people not dealing with aliens and clones and the like get to do. This jack-o-lantern is your wish made manifest. If you leave it be, it will continue to burn. Midnight will pass and my power will wane, forcing Jim and I home. And without us interfering, things here will return to normal.”
“But what if I do want out?”
“Then you have two options.” Victoria extends the pumpkin, and you take a firm grip on it. “Blow out the candle, ending the wish. We all return home as we are. Or you can smash the pumpkin to pieces, unmaking the wish. It will be as if this never happened for you. Just in case there have been any incidents you’re happier not recalling. But whatever you desire, you need to make the choice soon. I’ve slowed time as best I can, however eventually the minute will be up. If you haven’t made a choice by then, this world will continue on.”
The way home is sitting in your hands. All you have to do is bust a pumpkin or blowout it’s candle, and life will go back to the old way. That is, if you’re sure you want it to. After all, you did make this wish for a reason. There’s something to be said for a peaceful life. Better make the call soon, or it’ll be made for you by the ticking clock.