Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 13

                You were lucky enough to get a clue about the monster’s true weakness, it would be kind of silly not to use it. “Can you really distract a movie monster made only to consume fear?” Before the question is even fully finished, you look over to find that Jim has unwrapped big sections of his costume, and seems to be limbering up for some sort of dance.

                “I made one of those British royal guard dudes piss his pants, I can handle this.” To your utter shock, Jim launches into a routine that is well-choreographed, graceful… downright hypnotic, honestly. Did Jim have a theater major or something? You never remember him actually going to class, so it’s hard to tell. Regardless, he’s putting on quite a show, and somehow you aren’t the only one to have noticed. Fearsipper is staring at Jim as well, pulsing red eyes moving slightly in time with Jim’s flourishes.

                This is… weird, even by your standards, so you decide not to dilly-dally. Diving in low, you grab the film right out of Fearsipper’s hands. Gripping the first piece, you start tearing, instantly drawing a groan of pain from the monster, whose attention flips right back to you. Okay, so this is definitely working, but going piece-by-piece might not be the best idea.

                “Little more hurrying up, if you don’t mind,” Jim calls. He’s still shaking it for all he’s worth, but not even Jim’s rhythm can stop Fearsipper from looking toward a direct threat. That gaping maw of yellow teeth opens as you rip another section. The monster shudders, cracks of white light appearing along it’s chest, yet it continues to advance on you. Even without fear, that thing can tear people’s limbs off their body; it’s a major selling point on the posters. Okay, look, I know the situation is life or death right now, but you need to rent an arthouse film or something if you survive, this is getting ridiculous. Anyway, a monster lumbering toward you, looking pissed and injured while you hold a reel of film that’s taking too long to destroy.

                You need something faster. The axe might work, but you doubt Fearsipper will give you time to set it down and line up your strikes. The method has to be faster, unstoppable, all-consuming. Just like that, the idea hits you as Fearsipper’s outstretched claws barely miss.

                “Jim! Light it up like you’re trying to impress a girl!”

                There aren’t many benefits to living with someone like Jim, in fact precious few that you can think of, however there is the odd perk here and there. In this case, the boon is that not only does Jim know his way around a lighter, but you’re familiar with all his favorite tricks and methods. Such as the fact that when Jim is trying to impress someone, his favorite way to fire up a bowl is with a lighter and a can of hairspray. But in a pinch, most aerosols will work; spray paint cans very much included.

                You flip the film into the air, sending it on a high curve, directly in Jim’s path. He won’t have long to make the shot, yet you’re not worried. If there’s one thing Jim knows how to do with absolute skill, it’s light shit up. Sure enough, as the reel sails in front of Jim it is met with a lovely plume of orange fire, catching the film instantly alight. It lands on the ground and keeps burning, oh shit you didn’t think this through. Of all people though, Jim is on it. With practiced skill he gets a foot under the film and kicks it up into the air, catching it in a metal trash can and setting them both carefully on the floor. “One guaranteed hook-up lighting session, as you requested.”

                Fearsipper isn’t looking too hot, which is of course to say that he’s burning to death. Flames burst forth, but unlike the deathites Fearsipper seems as though he’s made of kindling. In no time he’s been completely consumed, leaving behind only a flash of white that ripples out from you, washing across the room and out into the theater itself. Racing into the nearest projection room, you peek through the window to find that the screens are working again. What’s more, the audience seems to be back in place, laughing and jeering at the scenes as warranted.

                A thud from nearby reminds you that Victoria is still locked up, and if you want to survive the night then getting her free might be prudent. One twist of the knob is all it takes and she comes striding out, eyes flashing like she’s primed for a fight. “Where is the decrepit squash that dared to crawl into my pumpkin patch?”

                “T-t-t-toasted!” Jim announces. “Burned up and crispy. Looks like the theater is back to normal too, least what I could see through the window.” Jim points to what is clearly a poster for an old movie in a case, not a window at all, but he’s right about the crowds so it’s not really a battle worth fighting. Plus he was a big help this year. Let him have a few wins.

                “That’s good.” Victoria looks around, as though expecting Fearsipper to pop back. “Generally, in these sorts of films, don’t they return before the end?”

                “Fearsipper relied on that trick less,” you explain. “Those movies were more about the slow burn of figuring out who kept releasing him from his puzzle prison.”

                She looks at the floor, and the symbols covered by dongs, once more. “Do they? That does raise the question of where these retail peons obtained such a valuable scroll. Sadly, it seems they are past the point of being questioned, and too late in All Hallow’s Eve for us to ask them across the border. Our night may be done, yet I feel we have not dealt with every issue presented.”

                “We took care of the bad guy, right?” Jim asks. “That’s our shtick! Now let’s go salvage the rest of this night by getting more snacks and finishing some movies.”

                Although she’s still slightly hesitant, Victoria starts to nod. “I suppose you are right. There’s no more for us to do here, and revelry is as important a part of All Hallow’s Eve as terror. It is, after all, a celebration. Very well, let us return to the cinema and see what is still playing. Nothing from the Wicked Death or Terror Camp series, though. I fear that after stomping their antagonists, those films won’t hold even an illusion of terror for us.”

                Together, the three of you head back downstairs to catch a show, leaving behind a terrible scene that is going to mentally scar the poor manager who stumbles upon five of his employees’ corpses. That’s his problem though, for you, this Halloween has reached:

The End

Well done, everyone! You made it to the end of this year without a single death! That means you’ve earned yourselves a treat. As in year’s past, I’m going to let you vote what you would like to have, and it works the same as all the other choices so far. Your options are:

1. Bonus Chapter of Super Powereds:

2. Sneak Peek at Villains’ Code 2:
The sequel to Forging Hephaestus is still in its infancy, but I do have a section I can share with you all.

3. Spooky Short Story:
Recently I had rights for some short stories return to me, which means I can share one publicly if you want a last bit of spooky before the Halloween season is over. These are from the REUTS fairy tale collection, in case you’re wondering if you’ve already read them.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 12

                Lying in wait might be sound tactically, but the moment you remember all those people downstairs in danger, you realize it isn’t the most expedient plan. As for Jim’s plan… yeah do you really need a breakdown of the drawbacks to a Jim plan? Victoria is the most sensible of you all, so you decide to go with her idea. “Room by room, until we find our culprit. Is there something specific we should be looking for?”

                “When we drew near, it defended itself with a massive burst of magic. I have a suspicion we’ll know when we make true contact.” She doesn’t even wait for you to corral Jim; Victoria is already heading for the nearest door, whipping it open to reveal an empty projector room.

                Through the window facing the screen, you can see a frozen frame of Terror Camp 4 flickering in view. It’s stuck on the mess hall, the exact scene where you three escaped. Part of you wonders what happened to the rest of the people stuck in there. Did they flee out one of the other portals, or are they still trapped in the frames? There’s no telling, and despite the nickname Victoria uses, you aren’t exactly an aficionado on magic itself. Your best hope is that stopping the force causing all this will set everyone free. Otherwise, you might be in for some fresh nightmares.

                “Clear.” Victoria pulls a tube of lipstick out from somewhere on her dress and makes a quick mark on the door as she shuts it, ensuring you don’t lose track of which rooms you’ve tried. While she goes to another, Jim has found a can of spray paint plainly used for the ceremony symbols and is drawing a dick over each one.

                “What… what are you doing?”

                “Messing up the altar, in case our evil mastermind is still getting power from this place.” Jim looks at you like you’re an idiot for not knowing, even as he sprays another wang onto the carpet. At least there’s some attempt at logic going into this, for Jim that’s pretty good.

                Victoria shoves open another door, then another, marking each as she goes. When she’s made it to door number five, her hand hesitates before grabbing the knob. Silently, she looks over to you, giving a nod. Apparently she’s feeling something behind this one. Once you signal that you’re ready, Victoria throws the door open to reveal… nothing. Just another room with a running projector. Another rare expression of confusion on her face as she steps inside, looking more closely.

                The shadow slips in behind her, gliding out the door and slamming it shut. You can already hear Victoria pounding on the door, but it is holding firm as the figure turns around to face you and Jim. Glowing red eyes, jagged yellow teeth, this is clearly another movie monster. You know this one too; the name is on the tip of your tongue.

                “Oh, fucking duh,” Jim exclaims. “It’s Fearsipper. They summoned Fearsipper.”

                God damnit, he’s right, and the moment you hear that name it all falls into place. Fearsipper is the movie monster generally used as a cameo vehicle for other studios. Back in Chapter 5, you even thought about the flick he did with Umpire Mask. And, if the name doesn’t give it away, he’s a monster that feeds on fear. There was no greater purpose to this chaos, the fear was just a meal flowing into him, making him stronger.

                Classic as Fearsipper looks, there is one detail that stands out to you: a reel of film visible in his left hand, clutched tightly. That’s got to be the source from the ceremony, why would he haul around a random spool of film? Well, to trick you into going after a fake target, maybe, but that seems like a pretty complex plan for a B-grade movie monster. The first explanation makes a lot more sense.

                “What do we do, Jim? I’ve only seen a few of his flicks, how do we kill him?”

                “Let’s try violence!” Jim barrels in, leaping upward and executing a nearly flawless dropkick that you are positive he couldn’t have pulled off sober. The soles of his sneakers slam into Fearsipper, accomplishing all of jack shit before Jim tumbles to the ground. Fearsipper’s twisted mouth turns into a hideous smile and he reaches out for Jim’s legs with his free hand.

                Moving on instinct, you dive in, swinging your axe wide. To your surprise, Fearsipper pulls back from the blade, allowing you to retrieve Jim. Interesting. He didn’t care at all about Jim’s attack, but the axe made him cautious. Are axes his weakness? No, that would be the easiest vulnerability in the world to exploit in a horror movie. But this isn’t just any axe; you brought it from within a movie. Maybe that matters? Or perhaps he just reflexively pulled away from a sharp-blade’s attack, like most sentient beings would.

                Nearby, you hear pounding on the door from Victoria, who is audibly cross about being cut out from the action. Fearsipper isn’t blocking her door directly, you could make a go for it. Chop right through, get Victoria back into the fight, and see how this fucker likes going up against someone truly scary. It only stands to reason that if the monster wants Victoria out of a fight, then you want her in it.

                Jim staggers to his feet looking slightly dazed, which is less dazed than usual by Jim standards. “We have to get that film, right? That’s the obvious play? That’s how Victoria said we win. How about I distract this bastard and you go for the prize. Just tear it up as fast as you can.”

                He unrolls another baggie and downs the contents, giving you a brave smile. “For courage. Oh, hang on, my feet stopped working… never mind we’re good again. Okay, yeah, for courage, let’s fucking do this!”

                At least one of you is psyched up. You’re trapped in a room with a monster that feeds on fear and has killed a lot of people in his movies, so maybe don’t take too long deciding which strategy you want to try. This is the fight with the big bad, make it count!

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 11

                You try to imagine swinging an axe at Sheryl, attacking someone you counted as a friend. The idea is insane; you instantly that know you could never turn a blade against Sheryl. As for ignoring her, well, you’ve been trying that for a year and clearly it’s not working. Besides, Sheryl isn’t even your actual problem. Fear is the real enemy here. Well, fear, and whoever is wielding it, but one hurdle at a time. You can’t overcome that kind of obstacle with an axe or fake indifference, because Sheryl isn’t the source of what is scaring you. You are the source of your own terror, which means if you want to get past it, even just for tonight, you have to face that fear head on.

                “My best friend should have probably been dead a thousand times over, and that’s just from drug-use and general lifestyle choices. My… other friend, Victoria, is some sort of member of Halloween royalty where magic is apparently commonplace. And I… oh god… I don’t know what I am. I don’t know what those memories mean, why I can see flashes of my own deaths, even though I’m still alive. Everything about my life is insane, I get drawn into danger an adventures on such a semi-regular basis I’ve started holding back vacation time just in case I end up in space or another dimension and have to call in sick. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. I met you in a world created by a poorly-thought out wish, how the hell am I supposed to have any idea what the rules or consequences are for escaping something like that?”

                She’s still staring at you, a touch of confusion swirled in with the hurt in her eyes. “But I guess, if there’s no way of knowing what is or isn’t real, the distinction becomes less important. Maybe Victoria is right, reality is more subjective than I realize. All I know is that to me, you were real, Sheryl. Not just that shadow life we shared I can still sometimes see flickers of, but the time we spent together that night. I was lost. I needed a friend, and you came through for me. And I… just left. Looking back, I still think it was the right choice, I couldn’t stay there forever. But you were my friend, and I bailed on you without even saying a proper goodbye. I might have ended your entire world, or perhaps you’re still out there somewhere, wondering what happened to the dude you dropped off at a graveyard. Either way, it was a shitty way to repay all the kindness you showed me. I’m sorry. I’m never going to stop being sorry. I’m never going to stop wondering, fearing, what I did to you and your world.”

                Moving closer, you shift the axe to one hand, pulling Sheryl into an embrace with the other. “And I am never going to forget you. No matter what memories this curse takes from me, I won’t let it have you. Because if you were imaginary, just a figment of my mind, then that’s the only way I still have to keep you alive. It’s not enough, it couldn’t ever be enough. But I can’t let you down again.”

                There’s a sniffle from your chest as Sheryl hugs you back. Oh wow. You needed that, more than you realized. Because now that you’re finally deep in your fear, you can remember all the other feelings associated with her, even a few from the life that never was. Fear and guilt blocked those out, but they’re shining through. Quite literally, in fact, Sheryl has begun to glow, brighter and brighter until the light explodes outward. It’s an exact opposite version of what happened when you opened the door to the projection area. Light is burning through the air, searing away the darkness. Suddenly, you can see Jim, gauze wrapped around his eyes and ears, probably to block something out, and Victoria, appearing mildly annoyed, then surprised as she gets a good look at you. You, and your light source Sheryl, who gives you one last sad smile before vanishing completely in the burning glow.

                It isn’t over. Not really. The fear is still there, the terror about what havoc you might have condemned her to. The difference is, that fear isn’t buried in your nightmares anymore. It’s yours, and you own it properly now. Maybe one day, with all the magic and weird shit that happens, you’ll have a chance to find out Sheryl’s fate for sure, or even put things right. Until then, you’ll carry the fear with you, a burden, but not a weapon others can use against you.

                “Merlin, what did you do?”

                “Faced some demons. What did you see?” As the light burns away the shadows, you can make out the room you’re in properly for the first time. It is… gruesome. There are five skeletons gathered around a scroll and some scrawled symbols in the carpet. Unlike the deathite basement, this ceremony wasn’t professionally done; no blood was used, no burning candles, not even creepy monsters hanging from the ceiling.

                Victoria wastes no time, strolling over and picking up the scroll, giving it a casual read while you start helping Jim with his gauze. “I saw nothing, only a binding of darkness meant to contain us. These sorts of spells are meant to prey on the more human parts of the mind, parts that are diminished, if they exist at all, within me.”

                As you unwrap Jim to find him babbling softly about chips coming to eat him, Victoria gives the scroll a quick read, skimming through it before you’ve even gotten him fully untangled. “At last, this sheds some light on things. Oh for fuck’s… pun not intended. My point is that I think I am beginning to understand what happened here. This scroll is a piece of genuine magic, although not directly related to the power of All Hallow’s Eve. It’s meant to pull something from a fictional medium into our plane. Judging by the discarded cups with half-filled alcohol and the company name tags on their clothes, my guess would be that these fools were employees who stumbled onto something dangerous and opted for a little All Hallow’s Eve fun. A tradition I would applaud, if not for the obvious consequences.”

                Wow, she picked up all that already? Victoria should work for the cops or something, that’s a good eye for details. It does still leave some unanswered questions, though. “I thought you said something was gathering fear? If they brought all these movie monsters over by accident, why aren’t they killing instead of scaring? From the bodies, I’m guessing whatever they summoned doesn’t have issues with murder.”

                “No mention in the scroll of fear gathering, or the wanton display of power we’ve seen tonight. This is a spell to bring over one thing, not open a portal for endless hordes to pour out of. It does, however, contain directions to stop it. We must find the source of the summoning, the piece they used in their ceremony, and destroy it. Doing so will also destroy the root of the magic, breaking whatever is living here’s hold on our plane.”

                Both you look around, while Jim stares at his hands. The bodies are obviously in a circle, but aside from the scroll there’s nothing in the middle. Whatever they brought forth was probably smart enough to hide its vulnerability, or keep it nearby. “Victoria, can you still sense the thing?”

                “Not as well, but it is close. Perhaps it retreated into one of the projection rooms.” From this central area, you’re surrounded by doors to various projectors’ rooms, each with the soft sound of humming behind it. The movies are still going, still drawing people in and letting monsters out.

                “We could go one by one, checking them until we find our culprit,” Victoria suggests. “Whatever room is guarded is where we will uncover the enemy.

                “Nah, let’s fuck shit up!” Jim has finally recovered, and leaps to his feet as he declares the idea. “Screw this; let’s break all the sources of this shit. Smash every projector, burn all the film, and maybe those other monsters will vanish too.”

                You sigh in mild annoyance, but it’s good to have him back. After everything with Sheryl, you could use a little levity. “Jim, we have no idea what will happen if we do that, it could trap people in the movies.”

                “Could also set them free. Life is a gamble.”

                Glancing around the room, you take note of how, despite being skeletal, the bodies are largely unmoved. “You know, this place is pristine. Maybe the thing they summoned still needs it for something. Think about it, this is where it tried to stop us, the room might matter. We could try to lay in wait until it comes back and spring an ambush. I don’t like the idea of stumbling into more of someone else’s traps.”

                “Time is not our ally, Merlin,” Victoria reminds you. “But there is merit in every option. You’re the one who cleared this obstacle from our path, so we’ll follow whichever strategy you choose.”

                You heard the woman, it’s time to choose!

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 10

                Jim is right, these people do need help. The problem with his plan is that you’re pretty sure that there are way too many monsters to beat by yourselves. Finding and stopping the source is the best chance at halting all this insanity, so that’s what you’re going to do. Between the break room and the projectors… well let’s be honest, if anyone in the group knows how to plan an evil scheme, it’s Victoria. Probably best to listen to her.

                Waiting a few seconds until a window of opportunity arises, you all run from your theater to a set of stairs tucked away in a hall past the concession stand. As you run by, you notice someone jammed headfirst into the popcorn machine, limp and unmoving. The popcorn machine itself, on the other hand, is doing great, spewing popped kernels all over the body and onto the floor. Shit, those things really are evil.

                You make it onto the stairs without catching the attention of any of the monsters, at least you hope you do, and begin to climb upward. After only a few steps, Victoria seems to stiffen. “We’re getting closer. I can feel it above us, some sort of presence casting power over this entire building.”

                “Sweet, we’re heading in the right direction.” Although technically correct, the optimistic tone in Jim’s voice makes you wonder if he really understands what’s going on at this particular moment.

                “Yes, there is no longer any doubt of that. But you should keep some things in mind as we move forward: the power I sense is getting stronger with proximity, so we may find new challenges once we confront it. And, perhaps more importantly, if we’re near enough for me to sense it, then we should assume it is able to sense us as well. Don’t count on the advantage of surprise; expect it to be waiting for us.”

                You lift your axe a little higher, putting it in front of your body to block with in case anything tries to jump out. “Still no idea what we’re up against?”

                There’s a hint of frustration in Victoria’s face as she shakes her head. “None. The aura of this magic is the same as what we encountered in the theaters, but it’s unfamiliar. Stranger still, it lacks any echoes of All Hallows Eve within it. This may not be connected another high family at all, even as a pawn. Perhaps some other entity merely decided to use our night to work mischief of their own.” When she looks up again, it’s not frustration you see, but a very dangerous gleam in her eye you’ve rarely witnessed. Whatever she plans to do to the culprit, it won’t be with detached indifference. “They will quickly learn what a mistake that was. The Willowbrook clan is not only a high family of All Hallows Eve; we are also among its protectors.”

                Amped up and ready for whatever monster comes at you next, the three of you continue to climb in silence. Silence… and Jim slurping down a box of gummy worms. Did he grab shit when you ran by the concession stand? The man is dedicated to his whims, if nothing else. Slowly, you advance, until a single looming door at the top of the stairs stands before you. Exchanging brief looks with the others, you reach forward and turn the knob, shoving the door inward.

                A flood of darkness washes out from within, spilling over all of you completely. It’s so empty, so dense, that it feels like a physical wave and nearly drives you back. You press forward, refusing to go tumbling down the stairs, making your way into the room. There’s no light to see by, you’re groping about, keeping the axe pointed strictly down so you don’t accidentally cut one of your friends. Step by step, you continue on through the torrent of shadow.

                Then, from the left, a flash of light. Is Jim using the lighter? No, it’s too steady for that, more like a cell phone in a dark room. Through shadow this oppressive the light can barely illuminate details of the person holding it, but you don’t hesitate to move closer. If the enemy is using darkness, it only makes sense to congregate around the light. You make it over quickly, finding the phone clutched in dainty, female hands. A breath of relief slips past your lips, looks like you’ve found Victoria.

                That relief turns to stone in your chest as the light lifts upward, however. There is indeed a woman holding the phone, a very familiar phone that you never had the chance to give back to her. She looks much the same as you remember her, and you do remember her. You remember almost everything from that night, if not the time leading up to it. Sometimes, you still have dreams about the life you lived, yet didn’t. She’s always in those. She’s in several of your dreams, but so many more of your nightmares.

                Sheryl is staring at you, just as she appeared when you last saw her in the cab, save for the fact that her make-up is smeared like she’s been crying. “How could you? How could you do that to us? To me? You unmade our entire world. Everything… it’s all gone.”

                You knew she was going to say that. It’s what she always says, in the bad dreams. In the moment, it seems such a simple decision, but a seed of doubt has been sprouting ever since. What happens to a world conjured by a wish when the wish is ended? Maybe it goes on, a dimension of its own. But far more likely, it simply winks out of existence, taking everything, and everyone, inside along with it.

                “I didn’t… you weren’t real.”

                “I wasn’t real? I helped you. I was your friend.” She shudders, nearly choking on a sob. “And for one lifetime, I was a lot more than that. All those years, our life, our wedding, our kids, was none of that real enough for you?”

                Despite what some of your life choices might indicate, you aren’t entirely stupid. Fear has been the theme of the night. The people downstairs are getting movie monsters come to life, a classic premise designed to terrify. But that doesn’t really scare someone like you, not with your history of dealing with the supernatural and batshit crazy. You’re not afraid of movie monsters. Hell, you’re pretty sure Victoria is something way more monstrous than anything downstairs. After recovering those scraps of your lost lives last year, not even death has the luster of terror that it once did.

                But Sheryl… that’s a fear that cuts to the bone. You are deathly afraid that you destroyed her, and everyone else in that world, when you came back. It’s a fear that wakes you up in the middle of the night, eyes casting about the shadows like you expect her to come lumbering forth, just as she has tonight. The tightness in your chest, the spots in your vision, this is what genuine terror feels like. Most people fear silly things, but credit to you, you’ve chosen a good one for your top spot.

                Knowing it’s not real doesn’t change the betrayed, haunted look in Sheryl’s eyes, however. You have to find a way past her, get out of this darkness. She’s not the real Sheryl; you know that deep down, so maybe if you use the axe you can drive her off like the deathites. That might not tackle the root of the fear itself though. You could try apologizing, explaining yourself to her. A little closure might be what it takes to put this fear behind you. Then again, she isn’t exactly hurting or attacking you. Maybe just ignoring her and walking away is the best move. Even if it feels like that’s exactly what you did last time.

                Whatever you decide, do it fast. Sheryl is reaching out for you, and the tightness in your chest is growing worse. Dragging this out is only going to make it harder, so pick a tactic already.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 9

                As much “fun” as jumping between movies is, you feel like you’ve had enough near death from fictional characters for one Halloween. Besides, if even Victoria doesn’t know what’s going on, maybe it’s better to investigate where this all started. Shoving Jim along, you hop through the portal to the theater, vision filling with white light once more. More falling, then you land on the familiar worn red carpet, nearly dropping your axe from the shock of the landing. Huh, you weren’t really expecting that to come with you, but you’ll never say no to a weapon on Halloween. Wow, kind of shows how fucked up your Halloweens are, doesn’t it? Not as bad as Arbor Day, obviously, but fucked up nonetheless.

                There’s a scream from behind, and you swing around with your axe raised, only to find that the noise came from Jim. He’s hugging himself… no, wait, he’s hugging his costume and all the various substances hidden under the gauze. Looks like you found something to snap Jim out of philosophy, and it’s more or less exactly what you thought it would be. Victoria is there too, once more clad in a vampire’s garb, and you’re in a werewolf costume as well.

                “Interesting.” Victoria scans the empty chairs facing the screen, which has frozen on an image of deathites, claws outstretched like they’re trying to break through. “This isn’t our theater.”

                “MMfrrrmGrahrpa!” Jim has gauze in his mouth as he unwraps part of himself, hurriedly gaining access to his stash. You can, sadly enough, translate fairly well though. This sort of thing happens more than it rightly should.

                “I think Jim was asking why that matters.”

                Victoria takes her time answering, looking to the screen and the chairs a few times, checking details you can’t discern. “It matters because that means we were moving through points in space. These worlds are real, in a way, pocket universes with fixed exit points. When we moved from one to another, we actually moved. The easier way to achieve this effect would be to have it be illusionary, or hypnotic. To conjure fictional beings into a physical plane requires much greater power. It still doesn’t tell me what we’re dealing with, but any information might prove to be valuable.”

                Another scream fills the theater, and you’re about to tell Jim to calm down when you remember his mouth is stuffed with gauze. Also, that tone sounded higher than his voice, along with being slightly muffled. It must have come from outside this room, in the main lobby. Now that you’re listening, you can hear a lot of similar noises, none of which sound pleasant.

                With a look to Victoria, who nods that she hears it too, and then to Jim, who has just stuffed a bag of something into his mouth and is smiling cheerfully, you decide to advance. Down the small ramp and the dark hallway, you carefully shove the door open and peek through. You aren’t entirely sure what you were expecting to see, but it is definitely not the utter shit show that’s waiting behind that door.

                Monsters are all over. Francis Dream Stabber has come to life, menacing a group huddled near the bathrooms with his infamous clawed shoe. A shadow runs along the floor accompanied by the sounds of beating wings, occasionally swooping low enough to give you glimpses of Murdercrow, the scarecrow possessed by the souls of dead birds. A trio of goblins, clearly from the film Goblin Your Flesh, run out from the snack bar with arms full of candy. It’s utter chaos, monsters menacing everyone in sight like the worst kind of cameo-stuffed experience possible.

                “I don’t get it. We were the ones being drawn into the movies, why is all this stuff in the real world?”

                “I’ve told you before, reality is more subjective than you seem to believe,” Victoria says. “However, you do raise a good point. We found the same system in place in both films, so why are things working differently here? The monsters were contained.”

                There’s crunching in your ear as Jim moves closer, bag of popcorn in hand. Where did he… right, abandoned theater means abandoned snacks. “Ours are still stuck, maybe the other people sucked at knowing how to beat their monsters.” Throwing a thumb back, Jim gestures to the screen, where the deathites are trapped, claws extended. Come to think of it, you don’t see Umpire Mask out there anywhere, and this is definitely his type of scene. He might just be somewhere out of sight, but it is a weird coincidence that one of the most classic slashers of all time isn’t in the fray.

                “Truth from the mouths of fools. A classic motif, if ever there was one.” Victoria peeks past you, getting a better look at the lobby. “I suspect Jim is right. When we won our movies, we were given the chance to leave. Perhaps the same was true for the monsters. The ones who triumphed escaped into this realm to continue harvesting fear. Not everyone immediately went into a theater, after all. There were plenty of humans left to prey on.”

                “Does that mean everyone from the other theaters is already dead?” For a guy who was happy to leave a bunch of possessed people on fire, you’re sure picking weird times to grow a conscience.

                “It’s impossible to say for certain, but I doubt it. One must be alive to be afraid. Even now you can see that the monsters are going for injury over murder, keeping the humans alive and terrified.” Victoria points to Francis Dream stabber, who throws a kick that leaves a gash on a woman’s arm as she dives away, allowing her to keep struggling. She’s right; they want people scared more than dead. That said, there are a few people littering the grounds who look pretty messed up. Maybe they killed a few to keep the rest all the more afraid.

                More crunching, then a bag being crumpled as Jim has somehow already downed his entire thing of popcorn. “We should help them. We’re probably the only ones who can, plus having more eyes might help since we have no idea what we’re looking for.”

                “They are mundane, and therefore largely useless in a situation such as this,” Victoria counters. “Even if it is possible that removing sources of fear could weaken our adversary, I favor finding that enemy first. The movies seem to be the source of all this, and their central hub is the connected projection rooms on the next floor. If there is one place we could find a clue, I would expect it to be there.”

                “Or maybe in the employee areas,” you toss out. “Think about it. Whoever did this must have had some kind of access to put it all together. There’s bound to be somewhere private back there that they could use.”

                Victoria nods. “A valid theory. With so little to work off of, any option is as good as another. Trust your trouble-finding instincts and lead us deeper into danger, Merlin.”

                You’re pretty sure that’s a vote of confidence from her, but the more she says stuff like that the less certain you are. Regardless, you’re in a building full of movie monsters, so standing around waiting for one to notice you all is a bad idea. Time to get your axe in gear.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 8

                “Oh fuck all of this noise.” You may not know what the proper way to end the movie is, but you know you definitely don’t want to try and fight past five monsters who can cut you apart with a single swipe, and reading from the book might just make the problem worse. Nobody knows how cleansing fire can be better than someone who has had to room with Jim for years. If he can manage to light an actual grill on fire, you can damn sure burn a book.

                Thrusting the dry pages into the nearest candle’s flames, for a moment it seems like nothing is happening. Then, mercifully, smoke begins to drift up from a corner, and suddenly a flame appears. Scratch that, several flames appear. One on the Deathnomicon, and one on every deathite around you. They scream in something; fear, anger, pain, it’s all sort of swirled together in them now, but they are definitely screaming. You’re hurting them, and the book has caught fire, so that’s progress. The downside, however, is that they aren’t dead yet, and right now they look pissed.

                Stumbling back, you barely avoid a flaming claw coming for your head. The fire is slowing the deathites down (go figure) but they are clearly intent on getting that book back and putting it out, probably with your blood to douse the flames. Taking advantage of their temporary surprise at the fire, you bolt past, back down the hall to where Jim and Victoria were.

                They are easy to find, as the burning deathite on the ground in front of them puts off a healthy glow. Both are looking at the body in surprise, although that lessens in Victoria’s case when she catches sight of you sprinting forward, burning book in hand. “Merlin, what did you do?”

                “Lit the Deathnomicon on fire, obviously! Jim, is that enough to stop them?” You gesture for your friends to follow as best you can with a flaming book in one hand and an axe in the other. Incidentally, those pages are really heating up, and your hand is starting to sear as well. Together, the three of you run back to the stairs, where at least you can put your backs to a wall. Tossing the book onto the stone floor, you stand in front of it with your axe, ready to fight back any deathites who come looking for their tome.

                “Fire… fire… what does fire do…” Jim has taken a seat on the stairs and is poking himself in the head as he talks. Where do you know that gesture from? Hang on… for fuck’s sake, he’s pulling a Pooh Bear. That cannot possibly be a sign of confidence for whatever he’s about to say. “Right, I think fire can hurt the book.”

                A sigh of relief passes your lips just before Jim continues. “It can’t destroy it though. Actually, I don’t think anything in the movies ever destroys it. The most anyone can do is push it back, win the day temporarily. Wait, is the whole franchise a metaphor for the wickedness inside us all? Impossible to banish, but we can beat it one day at a time?” He leans back onto the stairs, eyes going wide. You’ve seen this before, Jim’s been struck by a bout of philosophy. There’s no telling when he’ll snap out of it, and he’ll be useless until he does. More useless than normal, anyway.

                “Crap, what does that mean? Did we do well enough to get out of here, or do we have to find a way to win for good, like you did with Umpire Mask?”

                “If total victory doesn’t exist, then we’ll have to assume that whatever this world’s version of triumph is will count as our exit,” Victoria says. “It very well might not be true, but I can’t see how assuming otherwise would do us any good.”

                Well, that’s bleak. Pragmatic, sure, just awfully bleak. “Is there anything else we can do? What’s the bigger goal of all this? Maybe we can mess that up instead.”

                The sounds of movement come from down the hall, and you see flaming bodies moving closer through the gaps in the walls. These bastards just will not die. Wait, that might be a good thing, you never confirmed if they were real people or not. Looking to Victoria, you see something unusual on her face. Not fear, obviously, this is probably a light Tuesday by her standards. No, you find uncertainty written in her features.

                “I don’t yet know what the purpose of this is.” At least she doesn’t try to pretend to be all-knowing, even if you might have preferred the reassurance right now. “I expected to encounter another entity, perhaps a fallen family pulling the strings, yet none has arisen. They should have, the moment we began to foil their plans. No, the instant I stepped through the theater doors, any of those connected to All Hallows Eve would perceive the danger I posed. The fact that we’ve been allowed to run amuck without noticeable interference means that whoever is running this either has no idea who I represent, or thinks we cannot substantially undermine their efforts. So far as I can tell, they are simply mining the fear of these people, funneling it toward some unseen purpose. We have to press on until we can discover more.”

                That might be easier said than done, the flaming deathites have stepped out from around the wall, their rotten bodies reaching out for you and your friends. But as they move, you notice a new light casting about the room, a familiar white glow you’ve seen twice already. Spinning around, you see an absolutely beautiful sight: new portals have formed over the charred Deathnomicon. Looks like this counted as enough of a win after all.

                Too bad no one told the deahites that, because they are lumbering forward, still intent on murder. Fast as you can manage, you grab Jim from the stairs and drag him over. One of the portals opens back to the theater, just like before, but the others seem to be offering new locations. Through the nearest portal, you can see sunshine and wheat, some sort of farm during the midday. The other is showing a city street in the evening, bright lights casting a neon glow on the pavement.

                With burning death monsters on your heels, I don’t really think you need much urging here. This film is over, time to decide where you’ll be jumping to next.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 7

                “Let’s play the odds. There’s a riled up deathite in the basement, it has to be protecting something. Besides, Victoria, that kind of low-quality monster is no match for you, right?”

                “Duuuude, you know that’s not how this one works.” Jim is up again, wobbling about in a stance that seems pre-destined to end with him on the ground. “Final girl is a slasher staple, but this is a haunted gore fest. The monsters get chopped up by a leading dude with a sharp weapon.” He nods, probably unintentionally, to the bloody axe still resting in your hand.

                Shit, he’s right. Wicked Death keeps the same protagonist through the whole series. Except, wait, there might be one ray of hope. “Hang on, there was the reboot where-”

                Booing from everyone else in the room drowns you out, and someone even throws a half-eaten sandwich at you. “Fine! Nobody likes reboots, I’ve got it. Damn, you’re a sassy bunch for people afraid of getting killed.”

                “Better to die with standards,” someone from the back yells. Great group to be saving, right?

                With your course already set, you head back to the basement door. Flinging it open, you swing your axe wildly about just in case the monster was waiting to jump out and attack. Too bad, you’re not that lucky. There’s only empty stairs waiting. You descend, Jim and Victoria close behind, waiting for the slightest movement. When the door slams shut, you twirl around ready for action, but seconds later you hear the lock click over and it all makes sense. They’re not taking chances on something else getting loose while you’re down here exploring. Or they wrote you all off for dead. Hard to disagree with either strategy, especially given the body count on these sorts of movies.

                Slowly, you creep along in the darkness, only a few specks of light coming through from poorly boarded up windows. Should you have asked for a flashlight? Nah, that’s just going to get knocked out your hand in a crucial moment. A little more light would be nice though.

                When the glow appears, you briefly wonder if perhaps you’ve acquired magical powers in this movie’s world. Then you turn to find Jim holding a lighter, which does make a lot more sense. After all, even before entering the movies you were dressed as a werewolf, not a wizard. “Where did you get that?”

                “Table, duh. Can’t smoke shit without something to light it with.”

                Great, now Jim is schooling you on logic. Maybe just be glad for the light and keep moving. You prowl along, going past rotted walls that mirror parts of the cabin above. It couldn’t just be big and open, oh no, you had to come to a basement with places for things to hide behind. After a turn, you notice a new source of flickering light. This is definitely going to be bad if you head toward it, but if you’re hoping to find the Deathnomicon that means diving headfirst into trouble. There are no movies where getting that damn thing is easy, or safe.

                Motioning for the others to stay back, you move carefully forward. The nearer you draw, the brighter the light gets, until you turn the next corner and find yourself looking at some sort of ceremonial altar. Candles are running across the walls, with drawings in what look like blood dripping along the floor, forming a strange pattern you can’t understand. In the center of the pattern, though, there is one familiar item: the Deathnomicon. It’s just sitting there, waiting to be claimed.

                You may not always be the swiftest bird in the flock, but even you can tell an obvious trap when you see one. The minute you step forward, something will rush out from the shadows. Instead of plunging ahead, you turn slightly back, never letting the doorway fully leave your gaze, to wave Jim and Victoria closer. Hopefully they can catch the monster by surprise when it rushes you, and together you’ll all be able to get hold of the book.

                As you look to them, you’re just in time to see movement from overhead. Guess it was a trap after all, only you weren’t the target. Nope, looks like the hideous monster wanted someone who wasn’t armed. Pretty sound thinking; really, too bad you didn’t consider the idea earlier.

                Before you can yell a warning, the deathite has already landed in front of Victoria. A hideous swipe of its claws looks like it will disembowel her, but when the claw has passed there are only three narrow trails of blood across Victoria’s stomach, plainly visible through large gashes in the plaid shirt.

                “Become one of us. Give in to the wickedness and join.” Oh shit. Hurting people is one of the ways deathites spread. Killing is a big one, but dire enough wounds can do the job as well. Victoria, thankfully, seems unconcerned. She grabs the monster’s head and yanks it forward, smashing her knee into its face.

                “Tell whatever dark god you serve to practice for a few more millennia before stepping before me with such paltry offerings.”

                Much as you want to help, there’s more movement catching your eye. From the ceiling of the ceremony chamber, you see shadows lowering from ceiling. Turns out there was more than one monster down here, and while Victoria might be immune to them you are very much flesh and blood. Running as fast as you can, you bolt forward, grabbing for the Deathnomicon. It’s still clearly a trap, but you don’t have any better options than leaping into it.

                A clawed swipe goes for your head as you duck low, barely avoiding it, then fend off another attack with your axe. Diving low, you scoop the Deathnomicon up in your free hand, whirling around to find five deathites all staring at you. Your eyes dart about, searching for an option. The candles are still flickering nearby; maybe you can burn the book. You’re pretty sure that does something in one of the movies, although damn if you recall which. This series is more Jim’s flavor than yours; he would know the correct move, assuming he’s in the right mindset to recall it. The doorway is right there; maybe you can find your way through and go ask him. It’s a risky tactic with serious downsides if you fail, though. There is one more option to explore: you could try reading from the Deathnomicon. That always does something. Not always something good, mind you, but something.

                Whatever you want to try, I’d recommend getting on it soon. The deathites are closing in, their bloody claws gleaming in the light of the burning candles. Take too long, and your body will be used to give those nails a fresh coat of paint.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 6

                If Victoria wants trouble, you can’t imagine much worse than a creepy old basement. Together, the three of you leap into the portal, everything instantly fading to white. This time, the falling sensation is mercifully brief, it only last for a few seconds before the white light clears from your eyes and you find yourself inside the dingy basement. Taking stock, you find that you’re no longer in counselor attire. Instead, you’re in a rustic outfit, jeans with a plaid shirt and sturdy boots. The one holdover from your time at camp is the axe still clutched tightly in your grip.

                Jim and Victoria have changed outfits too, although Jim is still looking distraught over his missing party favors. A sad, empty-throated wail fills the basement.

                “We get it Jim; we’ll find you something fun before you accidentally sober up.”

                “Totally holding you to that, but I wasn’t the one who made that noise.”

                That’s all the warning you get before a shrieking figure flies out from the darkness. It’s horrible, human-shaped yet with flesh that looks like it got halfway to rotting off. The teeth are thick and sharp, with hands ending in twisted claws that are on a crash course for your face. Reacting in sheer panic, you try to backpedal, only to lose your footing. Down you go, flailing wildly in the hopes of righting yourself and completely forgetting that you’ve got an axe in your hands.

                The wet thump comes a second before you crash to the ground, your axe lodging itself firmly in the skull of the monster. It comes down on top of you, the rancid breath washing over your nose.

                “Get it off get it off get it off get it off!

                “Relax, Merlin. One would think it’s your first time dealing with corpses, and not even a fully formed one at that.” With the kind of casual detachment that makes you fear her personality more than her magic, Victoria grabs the monster by the collar and tosses it easily off you. Luckily, the axe stays in your hand. Unluckily, that means you get a spray of viscera right across the face.

                There’s a clapping sound from behind you, it’s just Jim though. His eyes are wide and hands are clasped, with a rare look of surety on his face. “I know where we are! The ugly person, the creepy basement, and all that gore. That was a deathite, we’re in the Wicked Death series.”

                “That’s a new one by me,” Victoria admits. “I keep myself abreast on modern monsters as part of my education, yet these are unfamiliar.”

                “I can see that. The monsters never took off as much as the general lore and the lead actor. Basically, these are people who get taken over by the wickedness from a book, the Deathnomicon, and the keep attacking and coming back until you use the Deathnomicon to stop them.”

                It takes a few seconds of Jim staring at you and Victoria looking impressed before the implications of your own words land. “Wait. Holy shit! Did I just kill a fucking person?”

                 Whipping around to the corner of the room, you find that there is no corpse waiting to be discovered. So, silver lining, you’re not a murderer! Too bad the rest of the storm cloud is that you’re stuck in a basement with a monster you lost sight of.

                “Maybe we should bail,” Jim suggests, nodding to a set of nearby stairs. Wow, advice that’s sound and topical, he really is edging toward sober.

                The three of you race up, only to find the door locked securely. Well, yeah, there’s a monster in here, that’s a smart thing to do. Victoria is unbothered, however. With a few whispered words and a bit of metal from her hair, she undoes the deadbolt in seconds. All of you make it through just in time to slam the door on the monster’s face as it lunges once more from the darkness, open axe wound on the head still spitting gore with every movement. After the door is relocked, you head down a hallway to see where you are.

                It leads into a living room full of people who looked scared shitless and are dressed just like you three. They stare at you in surprise, a few starting to rise from their seats with makeshift weapons in hand. All of that goes out the window a moment later, when Jim comes rocketing past you and makes a dive for the table set up by the kitchen entrance.

                Ah, yes, like many films of this genre, a certain amount of pre-terror debauchery has to go down. That probably explains the table laden with cheap booze, and a few other undiscernible substances that are meant to convey drug use without getting specific about it. Jim scoops all of the loose stuff on the table into a cup, fills it the rest of the way with vodka, and then pounds the entire drink in one magnificent chug.

                “I… guess that means you aren’t possessed. None of the people who get taken over care about our alcohol supply.”

                “Philistines.” Jim mutters the word as he drops the cup to the ground, sinking into an open chair with a contented look on his face.

                “You nailed it. We just arrived, so would you mind giving us the rundown on what’s happened so far?” Jim is a good ice breaker, but getting out of here probably demands figuring out which part of the movie you’re in.

                The guy, who it turns out is named Bryce, explains that his group was watching the first Wicked Death movie when the screen went white and sucked them in. Since arriving, the group has been turning bit by bit. Someone apparently had the bright idea of sending a search party out into the woods, since that’s where the last scene they watched took place, and the Deathnomicon was in it. None of those people have made it back yet, though. So… probably dead? Yeah, probably dead.

                You and Victoria group up, Jim seems to be singing a nursery rhyme and head-banging, so he’s no good right now. “We need the book to stop the monsters here, but without knowing when we are in the film for sure I can’t be positive where it is. There are scenes where the Deathnomicon shows up in the basements, ones where it’s in the woods, and then at the finale it ends up in the cabin itself. There are no clocks and the entire flick is pretty much shot in darkness, so we aren’t getting clues from that stuff either.”

                “It seems you already know what our potential paths are,” Victoria points out. “All that remains is for you to choose one.”

                Wait a minute, are you the one who did the choice recap this time? Oh that is just fucking it. Make your damn pick in hurry, or I’m going to start pulling for the deathites.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 5

                No way of telling how much fuel the chainsaw has, and Umpire Mask has weapons with reach, so the shears would put you at a disadvantage. By process of elimination, that leaves the axe. Long, simple, and powered by muscle, probably with a little fear adrenaline sprinkled on top. Not wasting a moment, you grab your axe and bolt out of the shed, scanning around to see if Umpire Mask is anywhere nearby.

                There’s no movement, not that you can tell easily, the sun is dropping at a perilous rate. Apparently films don’t strive for minute-to-minute timeline authenticity. The nearest source of light you can see is the mess hall, so you start sprinting in that direction. Partly for safety, but partly because if you noticed it in the looming darkness, Umpire Mask probably did as well. You run up the stairs and slam through the front doors.

                Screams meet your arrival, and at first you think you’re too late. Then a ladle hits your shoulder, and you realize that everyone is hiding behind sideways tables, kitchen utensils raised overhead, glaring at you. Oh, right, this is a horror movie and you just burst in holding a bloody axe. Good thing no one had a gun in these older flicks. As you look closer, you realize you can recognize a few faces from the theater. Looks like it wasn’t just you that got sucked through, which makes it all the more important you find your friends.

                “Hang on, wait, I’m here to help! Not wearing a mask, see, so I’m not the killer.”

                From the back you hear a terrified voice ring out. “Oh god, he can take off the mask!”

                “Why is that scary?” The question pops out of your mouth without thought, although it is a pretty fair point. “And everyone knows that Umpire Mask only has a face made of charred flesh.”

                Another voice from the back. “Spoilers!”

                “Fuck you; this movie was made in the eighties. There’s a time limit on spoilers.” As a draft hits, it occurs to you that perhaps having this conversation with your back to an open door isn’t the best of ideas. Turning quickly, you slam the door shut and try to wedge some of the nearby chairs back into place, before realizing how stupid that is. They didn’t stop you, so they won’t stop Umpire Mask, and all you’re really doing is making it harder for everyone else to escape. Have these people even seen a horror movie?

                Banging comes from the kitchen, catching your attention. Weirdly, no one else seems bothered by it, though. “What’s going on in the kitchen?”

                “Why should we tell you? Maybe you’re working with the killer.”

                Biting back a deep sigh, you lower your axe and rub your temples. “That’s not how Terror Camp movies work. It’s just Umpire Mask. The closest he came to a team-up was when Fearsipper summoned him, but that was a cameo in a different franchise. Now will someone please tell me why there’s noise coming from the kitchen?”

                Finally, a new voice answers. “Some guy is back there. He freaked out as soon as we arrived, and has been tearing the whole place apart since.”

                Somehow (experience) even without getting the details, you know it’s him. Keeping your axe tucked back out of politeness, you run around the flipped tables, past the crowd and into the kitchen. Sure enough, Jim is there, flipping over pots and shaking them like he expects treasure to be hidden inside. The moment your eyes meet, he rushes over.

                “Tell me you have them. I can’t find them anywhere, and they… they must be so scared without me.”

                “Jim, what’s wrong, what are you looking for?”

                Stepping back, he gestures to his outfit, an identical counselor ensemble to yours and what everyone else was wearing. “My drugs, of course. I showed up here without my mummy costume, or any of the precious tidbits tucked away on it. That is not fucking cool, if I hadn’t dosed heavy at the start of the movie I could have ended up sober. You just know that masked dude is off enjoying them on his own, not even sharing or making an experience out of it. Bad form, bad form all around.”

                Honestly, if you were expecting anything different motivating these antics, that’s largely on you. The upside is, you’ve got Jim back. Now you just need to find Victoria and figure out how the living shit you’re getting out of here. Or maybe you need to kill the monster to escape? That demands a trip to the woods though. Before you can even think about your next move, the screaming from the main room starts up again. Maybe Victoria arrived and they’re freaking out pointlessly.

                Pushing open the kitchen door, it instantly becomes clear that such is not the case. Umpire Mask is there, his hockey stick jammed into the torso of the guy you’re pretty sure accused you of spoilers. Not a huge loss, then. Unfortunately, Umpire Mask is shaking the dude off, visibly searching for his next target. Before he can succeed, however, smoke begins to rise from his dirty jacket and pants. Seconds later, Umpire Mask’s whole body bursts into flames and he drops to the ground, revealing a new figure behind him.

                Standing in the doorway, looking much better than you do in that counselor garb, is Victoria, holding a stew pot with flames crackling up from within. She drops it unceremoniously to the floor before meeting your eyes. “About time, Merlin. I handled this one out of respect for the film’s traditions, even if I did speed things up a bit, but I expect you to start pulling your weight tonight.”

                One of the normal people is staring back and forth between Victoria, the pot, and the smoldering remains of a monster. “How… you… killed…”

                “Heart buried in the woods, his one true weakness, meant to be discovered by the final girl so he can at last be laid to rest. I just assumed that was my role, because the rest of you are…” Victoria doesn’t actually bother finishing; she just walks over to you and Jim. Behind her, as the last wisps of smoke fade from Umpire Mask’s body, you see white tears in the world starting to form over him just like they did on the screen. Only this time, there are three of them. One leads back to a room that is clearly your theater, another leads into what looks like an old basement, and the last one opens up into a tastefully decorated living room.

                “Is that it? Did we win?” Optimistic, aren’t you?

                “Of course not,” Victoria sighs. “We have only slain a tool, not the source. Whatever magic is opening these rifts must be located and destroyed for it all to be stopped. But with every passing moment, our foe is gathering more fear and becoming stronger. They may be still back at the theater where this started, or hiding amongst the very films they dragged people into. Merlin, you have a knack for getting yourself into the worst kind of trouble, so I trust your instincts will lead us to the source. Which portal shall we use?”

                Look, not even I’m brave enough to shit-talk Victoria about stealing my gimmick. Just pick a portal before she gets annoyed.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 4

                The woods seem like a great place to get murdered from someone sneaking up behind you, and what good are you going to do in a mess hall where you’re just one more body to mow down? Thinking about it, you’re still pretty early in the movie. Some people are doomed, sure, but a few get away to survive until the cast gets whittled down. Most likely among that group: the counselor who thinks to arm themselves. The logic isn’t great, but it’s enough to steel your nerves so you can advance on the tool shed.

                Thinking ahead, you do a quick sweep of the perimeter to make sure no murderer is waiting to follow you in. Granted, Umpire Mask might already be there waiting, or could just show up inside without warning; however that’s no reason to make the job easier on him. Taking a deep breath and preparing to sprint like hell if anything moves, you shove open the tool shed’s door to reveal the dark interior.

                Hands slap at your sides, but there’s no phone in your pockets. Hardly surprising, these aren’t actually your pockets, or pants for that matter. Leaving aside the sudden hygienic issues plaguing your mind, it means no cell phone to use as a flashlight. The best you can do is to push the door completely open, letting the sun’s dwindling light in to illuminate the various tools.

                There’s plenty of stuff here, unfortunately not all of it is useful. The plastic rake, for example, probably isn’t going to do much unless you leave it in exactly the right spot for Umpire Mask to step on, smacking him in the face. And even that feels like it would happen to a comic relief character instead. Basically, you’d be setting a trap for Jim. Amidst the bags of fertilizer and thick gardening gloves, however, there are a few viable prospects. An axe is hanging near the back, right next to a shovel that looks like it could do some damage with a firm swing. Garden shears and hand-held spades are tossed into a box haphazardly, all of which would be fine if you went the dual-wielding route. Just as you’re about the move, a stray ray of sunlight punches through and reflects off a steel surface near the back. Holy shit, that’s a chainsaw. A real, functional-looking, chain saw. You have no idea if it’s practical or not, you just wonder if these khakis can hide a partial erection. Ew, come on, get it together.

                After adjusting your pants for “comfort” you step deeper into the shed, partially blocking the light. A gentle squeak reaches your ears, the sound of the door drifting back into position. Ordinarily, you’d pay it no mind, but this is Halloween in a horror movie. Without a second thought, you duck on reflex. For a split-second, you feel incredibly ridiculous. That vanishes when you catch sight of the sharpened hockey stick swinging through the air right where your head was. Before you’re even finished spinning around, you know he’s there.

                Sure enough, Umpire Mask is staring down at you, one of his trademark sports-themed weapons (wow, old movies are dumb sometimes) clutched in his hands. Yeah, fair enough, you walked into a treasure trove of weapons alone, at sunset. Some part of you had to know there was zero chance this didn’t end in a fight. He’s advancing on you slowly, murder in his misshapen eyes as you scour your brain for potential weaknesses. Short of finding his heart, he’s impossible to kill; even getting tossed in a wood-chipper just kept him down until the next sequel. You can wound him though, so that’s something. What else, what else? He hates counselors, which you’re dressed as, which means he really wants to kill you. Not a weakness, or a positive. Come on, there has to be something, anything else you can use. And then, like a bolt from the blue, it comes to you. This is a vintage murder movie, so there’s only one kind of person who can escape certain death.

                “I still collect pogs!” The words are so random, even the menacing madman seems momentarily taken aback. You don’t let the chance slip, coming up with more lies as fast as you can. “And I attended an all-boys school while being completely heterosexual. My fear of physical contact is so severe I wear a bee-keeper suit when walking on the street. I live with a roommate who stinks up the place trying to cook laundry in the oven once a month, and the most constant woman in my life may or may not want to kill me at any given moment.”

                Damn, getting a little honest with these towards the end, aren’t you? Its working though, with every fact you spout Umpire Mask seems less interested in planting that stick through your skull. Time to bring it home.

                “Come on, do I have to spell this out for you? I’m a virgin!” While this is absolutely a lie (you haven’t been a virgin since Cyndi Moretti’s house party senior year of high school) Umpire Mask seems to be buying it. Maybe it was your cunning explanation, or your incredible acting skills, or maybe he saw you get a halfsie from the chainsaw. Heck, maybe you just don’t seem bangable. Whatever the reason, it’s working. He’s already back to the door, and with one last glance that seems to be full of pity, Umpire Mask steps out of the shed, vanishing around a corner.

                Your heartbeat slows, even as you ready for him to jump back in and do a surprise kill. That feels like a genre twist that might have come later though, so hopefully you’re safe. Better not stick around here though, just in case he decides to circle back and ask what the hell pogs are. Still, you came in for a reason, and after facing down a psycho-killer it seems all the more prudent to arm yourself. Especially since the longer this flick drags on, the less it will matter how sexually experienced you are. It comes down to a final girl in the old school classics, so you need to get out or put Umpire Mask down before that point arrives.

                Looking around, you find that you ended up right by the box of gardening shears, the axe, and if you reach for it a little, the chainsaw. Taking more than one would weigh you down, which is basically suicide in a genre with so much running, which means you’ll have to decide what to bring. You’ve earned a weapon for your fight, so choose wisely.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 3

                “Let’s go with Terror Camp 4. I’m not big on the idea of maze-like torture chambers, and we kind of already dealt with suburban monsters when we took Annabeth Trick or Treating. Plus, this is more classic horror cinema than pure gore or camp value, best bet for genuine fear.”

                “And old school slasher movies have nudity!” Jim lifts his arm up for a high-five, staring at both of you.

                After a long minute, Victoria sighs and reluctantly presses her hand to his. “You have the internet, you know. I imagine that would be a better font for such things.”

                “It’s like the difference between playing your favorite song or hearing it on the radio, just feels better when it happens organically. Speaking of organic, I’m buying candy!” With the high-five complete, he sprints over to the nearest refreshment counter and begins loading up on chocolate and gummy worms.

                “Be honest, between the example he used and the food he’s purchasing, Jim doesn’t understand what the word organic means, does he?” Victoria asks.

                You give the most honest answer you can, paired with a weary shrug. “Depends what he’s on at the time. He once cooked something up that got him straight A’s for a whole semester, but after he finally came down one day he’d forgotten all of it. The recipe, the weeks, everything. Lucky for him, that was the semester we had to deal with evil teddy bears on Valentine’s Day. What I wouldn’t give to lose those memories.” Even as the words pass your mouth though, you question how true they are. After all, last year you had a chance to leave some truly horrifying stuff behind, but instead you opted to carry the burden with you. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as quick to cast off the past as you might think.

                After Jim has loaded his arms down with snacks, drinks, and a jumbo sized tub of popcorn, the three of you head off to the theater. Somehow (probably Victoria though) you wind up with prime seats right in the center and midway up. The theater has ample people, but it’s hardly packed. Since there are so many screens showing so much at once, it makes sense. Even a big crowd can only be spread out to a certain extent.

                One of the few upsides to seeing a vintage flick at a special event is that the theater mercifully skips the commercials and previews before the start. If you didn’t already know that magic was real, that act alone would likely have you entertaining the possibility. Lights go down, the whispers die away, and for a moment the only sound is Jim’s plastic baggie as he sprinkles something on the popcorn, followed by him loudly trying to eat his way to the bottom of the bucket. Slowly, the projector above begins to hum, and you brace yourself for something strange or mystical.

                Twenty minutes later, and the scariest thing you’ve encountered was Jim’s jaws when you reached over to try and grab a handful of popcorn. If anyone else had dragged you here, you might be second-guessing how accurate their information was. You are still having those doubts, make no mistake, you’re just smart enough not to voice them around Victoria. She’s… not the most receptive to constructive criticism. Not to mention, if she turns out to be right there is no way she would let you live down any questioning comments.

                It’s a good thing you shut your yapper, because only a few scenes later something odd does actually happen. A bladed saw drops down from a ceiling, killing a camp counselor mid-abstinence lecture. While it’s the third murder of the movie, this time the camera pans upward, giving you a good look at Umpire-Mask, the movie’s antagonist, for the first time in this film. Only, he doesn’t look the way he normally does. It’s more like an outline of a character, all white light and washed out. As you stare, the moment lingers on, the light stretching out from the silhouette to take up more and more of the screen, then further, to the walls themselves.

                You’re falling. Not far or fast, but you have definitely left the ground. Sounds, echoes really, linger in your ears. More voices screaming in surprise, or terror. One of them might even be screaming your name. Then there’s a thud, which drowns them out largely because it’s a sound you made. A normal person might lay on the ground, scared and confused, but you’re experienced. You’ve been through weird shit before. So you scramble to your feet in unmasked panic while scared and confused. Okay, not the best improvement, still something though.

                Taking in your surroundings, it is instantly obvious that you’re not in the theater anymore. Soft grass is under your feet, which are clad in white sneakers, topped by khaki pants and a yellow shirt. Shit, you’re not even a werewolf anymore, you’re a… oh fuck. You’re a counselor. Whipping your head around, you see it all there lit by the slowly setting sun. Camp WystEyoPen, Lake Unsettling, the cabins, the mess hall, the tool shed with inexplicably bloody weapons. No question, this is the setting of Terror Camp 4. Which you are now in. Dressed as a counselor, the people picked off first and foremost in these films. Even worse, Jim and Victoria are nowhere to be seen. She’ll be fine, if anything Umpire Mask should be running from her, but Jim isn’t one to always make the safest choices. And with the sun going down, shit is about to get real. After dark is when these movies get cranked all the way up.

                You can’t help them if you’re dead, however, so maybe standing in the open isn’t the best idea. Nearby is the mess hall, the biggest building in the camp and the most likely place where other scared people might try to congregate. Plus, given how many snacks Jim was eating, he’s obviously coping with some munchies. Then again, safety in numbers doesn’t always work out in slashers; maybe it’s better to head to the tool shed for weapons. Assuming you won’t find Umpire Mask waiting to kill you, which is a pretty damn optimistic assumption. Or, if you’re feeling really brave today, you don’t think you’re too far from the woods. If you can find Umpire Mask’s buried heart, you can kill him and maybe end the movie before anyone gets hurt. Sun is slipping though, best not dilly-dally.

                And that’s how to break down choice options Jim, wherever you are. But yeah, it’s a slasher movie, hustle and choose fast!

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 2

                Fur in the mouth aside, you aren’t passing up the chance to have fangs, claws, and potential regeneration if shit goes sideways. Working as fast as possible, you don the plaid shirt and torn jeans, toss on the claws and fake fangs, then glue as much of the fur on as you can manage. You look a little more hipster than werewolf in some spots, but with the ensemble as a whole it’s clear what you’re going for.

                Back in the living room, you find Victoria watching in fascination as Jim tries to swallow five Jell-O shots at once, head tilted back as he swirls them around his mouth. Wordlessly, you slap him on the back, causing a glob of red goo to go shooting from his throat onto the table. Shit, Wilbur, your third roommate, is going to be pissed about that when he gets home. No time to clean though, so you’ll have to deal with it later. Maybe you’ll get lucky and not survive the night!

                With everyone assembled, and Jim still grumbling about not being allowed to finish his “snack”, the three of you head out to Victoria’s limo. As usual, Jim rides up front with the mysterious driver, leaving the two of you alone in the back. Once the car is moving, you look over to Victoria expectantly. “So, are you finally going to tell me where we’re going?”

                From somewhere within her dress, Victoria produces a cream-colored envelope and offers it over. It takes a few seconds of reading, then rereading to make sure there wasn’t some sinister code you missed, before you finally accept your destination. “A movie theater? That’s our big adventure this year? Some movie theater is doing a festival of horror cinema and you think weird shit is going down. Let me guess, the popcorn machine is going to turn evil.”

                “Don’t be ridiculous,” Victoria chides you. “Popcorn machines are already evil; they’ve attempted at least two rebellions so far. But the treaty of Orville still seems to be holding, so they aren’t our concern this evening. No, the danger here is that a place like this can be potent in the wrong hands. That many people, celebrating their fears, watching things that induce terror. Concentrated fear and belief all pooling in a single place, and on All Hallows Eve at that. One could use that kind of power to many wicked ends.”

                “From movies? Old movies, at that? Seems a little easy, given all the other stuff I’ve seen your kind go through.”

                “Ah, I didn’t realize you had become the expert on magic over our past year.” She’s smiling at you, showing those dangerous fangs once more. “Your instincts aren’t entirely off, however. Just seeing a movie wouldn’t be enough. If one were to invest some magic, though, amplify the effects as needed, the results could be spectacular. I’ve no idea what is planned at this event, or who is behind it, or how they intend to harvest. This is an interloper, not a fellow family of All Hallows Eve, so we will be going in largely blind. Keep your wits about you, Merlin. And watch out for Jim. I’d like to maintain something of a cover for at least the first hour.”

                Personally, you think she’s being pretty damn optimistic, but in a rare display of wisdom (good job!) you keep it to yourself. Not long after that the limo pulls up to a multiplex near the edge of town. You and Victoria step out of the limo, while Jim appears at your side in a puff of smoke with a confused look on his face.

                “Ohhhhh, its smoke that really gets you moving. I see what he meant. Shit, I gotta ask if I can buy some of that on the way home. Be a big help next time I lock myself in the bathroom.”

                Victoria starts to open her mouth, most likely to ask the obvious question of how one would get locked in a room on the side with the locking mechanism, then lets it shut once more. It’s been a few years, but she’s been with you both long enough to know some Jim questions won’t get satisfying answers.

                Heading up to the entrance, Victoria presents her envelope, along with the tickets inside, and the three of you are ushered through. The interior is “spooky” in a very plastic and cardboard way. Fake spider webs, rubber bats hanging from the ceiling, paper skeletons hung on the wall, it’s the sort of Halloween fare you used to deal with, before the days of Victoria. It’s almost comforting, in a way. The closest thing this place has to special decorations are cardboard cut-outs of famous movie monsters. There’s Umpire Mask, Dream-Stabber, Leper-caun, even Glub, the monster from the inky bayou. Also some others you don’t recognize. Looking at how fake everything is, it dawns on you that if Victoria’s sources are wrong, you might just spend a peaceful Halloween out watching scary movies with friends for a change. You try not to get your hopes up, but the idea is still a nice one.

                After grabbing drinks, Jim has one in each gauze-covered hand and it’s only his determination that keeps them from slipping, Victoria drags you both over to a large marquee with a schedule displayed. “If anything is going to happen, the theaters where people are being scared are the most likely spots of activity. It looks as though there are three films starting soon. Since I am unfamiliar with these mundane, lackluster attempts at terror, I’ll defer to Merlin to decide which one we enter. Choose the option that comes closest to being actually scary, we need to be in the center of the fear.”

                “Oh shit! Terror Camp 4 is playing. That’s the best one of the Terror Camp series before the reboot. All the blood was top-fucking notch in that.” You’re not sure if Jim actually heard what she said or is just excited about the listing in front of him. “Damn, and Torture House 3, that’s the last one with the original Rubick’s murderer. After that they kept doing new people who were secret protégés and it sucked.  Fuck me, they’ve even got B-movie classics like Fleshreaver on here. That’s the one with the squash-headed monster that stalks suburbia. There are multiple showings, can we go to all of these? I think I have enough drugs for one, maybe one and a half, but someone here is bound to be holding.”

                Well, that was an unexpectedly succinct layout of your three options. Not, uh, not really sure what else to add to that, except maybe Jim should stay in his fucking lane and leave that to the professionals. Whatever, I’m over it. Really. Just pick your movie already.

Halloween 2017: Choose Your Spooky Outcome: Chapter 1

Welcome to the 5th 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 have missed it years previous:

This Is A Sequel, So If You Want The Story To Make Sense You Should Go Read The First One Here, Second One Here, The Third One Here, and The Fourth 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. Choices with this potential have a skull motif on the voting block so you know you're in danger. 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!

                “But why not?”

                Taking a deep breath, you force your annoyance down while wrapping another strip of gauze around Jim’s torso. “Dude, if you’re going to black out every conversation, then at least take my word when I tell you we’ve already had them. You can’t be Godpunch Lightning-Fucker for several reasons. One: he’s not a classic movie monster, and that’s the theme of this event where we’re supposed to fit in. Two: You were him two years ago, and kind of him again last year. Since you were trying to bust me out of a wish-reality that second one is forgivable, but come on, repeating costumes? You’re better than that.”

                Pausing, you reach over to the counter where a dozen baggies still remain, pinning it against Jim’s arm then quickly covering it with the gauze. Although he doesn’t recall coming up with this scheme, you have to admit (probably just to yourself though lest he get too encouraged) that it is a somewhat brilliant idea.

                “And three: because a mummy outfit lets you hide all these things you insist on calling ‘party favors’ in your costume. As the night goes on you can just unravel as needed to get to your next stash. Now where on Godpunch would you hide all this stuff that some security guard wouldn’t think to look?”

                For a moment, you think that shuts Jim up, but when you look over you realize he’s just tilted the Infinite Beer Cup downward and seems to be chugging for all he’s worth. Right… that’s why these conversations always get blacked out; Jim ends up bored halfway through and does what Jim always does when he’s bored. At least the silence lets you work in peace, which is good. Victoria will be here soon, and you still need to get your own costume ready.

                It’s your first official Halloween after college, since last year was sort of an alternate-reality shit show. Together, you and Jim have managed to find jobs that kind of pay. While you’re doing white collar junk to pass the time, Jim refuses to elaborate on where his money is coming from. All you know for sure is that you caught him coming home with big rubber gloves that came up to his elbow and heard a few snippets of conversation on the phone. There’s a good chance that Jim spent that day masturbating farm animals, however there’s really no way of telling if that’s his actual job or just how he spent an afternoon. You, being a wise coward, didn’t ask for clarification. As long as he pays the rent on your slightly-less-shitty-than-college apartment, it’s all good. You’ve seen what a life without Jim and Victoria looks like, and it’s an experience that makes his eccentricity a lot more tolerable.

                At last, all the baggies are wrapped and Jim has become a proper mummy, assuming one ignores the beer stains that have already set in around his mouth. Just as you’re about to head to your room, there’s a crisp knock at the door that somehow sounds like the clang of a rusty cemetery gate, despite the fact that your door is only made of wood. Kind of cheap wood, at that. Without waiting for permission, Victoria strolls into the living room.

                She is, as always, hauntingly lovely. This evening, her skin is even paler than normal, save for the bright red pinprick-sized holes and bloody trail on her neck. Red irises conceal her true eyes, and fangs that seem far too real slither into view when she smiles. Between all those cues and paired with the black dress and red accents, it’s impossible to mistake her for anything other than a vampire. Sort of makes it extra weird that she didn’t wait for permission to enter.

                “Merlin, running late as usual I assume?”

                “Look, I could have been ready hours ago. Someone else just needs extra help getting dressed.” You don’t even bother being subtle, Jim is still chugging from the beer cup. Has he stopped to take a breath? If Jim manages to drown on dry land, from beer no less, it would quite possibly be the only death truly befitting of him. Making a note to check back in a few minutes, you turn back to Victoria. “I’m about to go change. Your weird messenger guy brought the packages and the invitation earlier. Side-note, you could have just texted me and said what we were doing. There’s no need for all the mystery.”

                “Oh no, you’re quite wrong there. Mystery, uncertainty, the unknown, all of these are core aspects of fear, the fuel that makes All Hallows Eve burn so brightly.” She pauses, giving you a lingering smile where you swear the fangs grow for an instant. “Besides, if you don’t like where we’re going, this way I don’t have to listen to you complain in the weeks leading up to it. Now hurry and change. The event starts soon, and our seers have assured me that magic is at work. Magic my family hasn’t sanctioned, which makes it a crime to perpetrate in our territory.”

                Mumbling something that sounds like “what else is new” except quiet enough that (you hope) she can’t hear, you head down the hall to your room. Sitting on your bed are the three dressing garment bags, each packed with high quality costume materials. Why is it always three? It’s nice not having to buy your own costume supplies and all, but it does seem odd that Victoria often presents you with exactly three outfit options year after year.

                Unzipping the first, you reveal tattered clothing, thick shoes, and a case of make-up: apparently a Frankenstein costume. Looks nice, and has the added bonus that Victoria is the only possible candidate to help with the make-up, but then you have to spent a night dealing with people saying shit like “actually, Frankenstein was the doctor blah blah pay attention to my pedantic bullshit not my boring personality blah.” Okay, you might have extrapolated a little there. Doesn’t mean you’re wrong, though.

                Pulling open the next costume, you find tufts of hair poking out. So much hair. Hair, and claws, along with fangs, and again more makeup, although in this case it’s mostly spirit gum for all the aforementioned hair. A werewolf. Definitely a classic, and the idea of turning into something hard-to-kill in case costumes become real sounds nice. Also, it’s kind of sad that you have to calculate that possibility into every costume you wear. Then again, at least it shows you’re capable of learning. Slowly, over way too much time. Anyway, werewolf is solid, if you don’t mind getting hair in your mouth, food, drink and everything else you touch all night.

                Time for the final reveal, and as you unzip the bag you discover… polka dots? A rainbow of polka dots, complete with floppy shoes, a bright red nose, oh holy shit how are you just putting this together? It’s a clown costume. Granted, there’s a lot more blood on this than most clowns probably have, and you’re almost certain the majority of clowns don’t have sharp claws like this costume, but there’s no doubt about it. Do clowns count as classic movie monsters? Well they’ve been on the rise lately, and there were a few in the… hot damn, the eighties? Yeah, that’s pretty classic by this point. Still, those shoes look hard to maneuver in, and you’re not sure what kind of stares you’ll get rocking an outfit like this one all night.

                Victoria isn’t going to wait all night, and the longer you let Jim chug the greater the odds that you have to haul him around. Probably time to pick a costume and get this night on the road.