Saturday, October 31, 2015

Damon and the Forbidden Neighborhood: A Power Club Halloween Story (Part 2 of 2)

        When Damon reached the curb, he took a shallow breath. This trick he had recently learned made the darkspace thin enough so he could see if any cars were coming. There were none, so he burst into a run. As he crossed the street, he heard the voices of the others. It sounded like they were cheering him on, so he ran faster.
          It took longer to reach the other side of the street than Damon had thought. Sometimes it was difficult for him to judge distances inside the darkspace, and there were no bushes or trees or houses to indicate how close he was to the other side. Finally, he reached the other curb. A fireplug appeared in view, as his darkspace surrounded it to let him know he had made it.
           Damon walked up the street a ways, thinking he must surely be where the others were by now. Why hadn’t they appeared inside his darkspace? Then he realized they were probably scared of it, like people sometimes were, and were making sure they stayed outside of it. He decided to make the darkspace go away and tell everyone it was safe to be inside the darkness. Then maybe they could go trick-or treating inside the darkspace. He laughed as he imagined going up to someone’s house, knocking on the door, and scaring people, who would only see a cloud of darkness! That, he decided, would be the best trick ever!
          But when he inhaled and made the darkspace go away, he was stunned.
          None of the houses on this block looked familiar, and none of them had their porch lights on.
          Oh, no! I’ve crossed the boulevard, he realized. That’s why it took so long to cross the street. It wasn’t the street at all. I’m in the Forbidden Neighborhood.
          But it was no big deal, he thought. He’d just go back the way he came. He turned to walk down the hill, but something blocked his path. In the darkness—no streetlights were even on—he strained to see what was ambling toward him. The figure looked no bigger than a kid, maybe a year or two older than he was, but it was very skinny and lurched as it walked. Damon thought it was just some guy out trick or treating, but when the figure was close enough to see clearly, Damon jumped back.
          The first thing he noticed was a toothless mouth drawn tight across a bony face. Dead eyes stared at him from underneath wisps of hair which hung limp across an exposed skull. The figure was clad in what must have once been a tee-shirt and jeans but were now rags. A bony, rotted hand reached out toward Damon.
          “Th-that’s a neat costume!” Damon said, hoping it was a costume.
          The figure strained to speak. “Giiiiimmeeee caaaan-dee!”
          Damon realized the figure was pointing to his bag of candy. Too terrified to move, Damon could only joke, “D-don’t zombies eat brains?”       
          The figure lunged, moving faster than Damon thought possible. But it was off-balance and Damon easily stepped aside. All Damon would have to do now, he thought, was run back toward his side of the district. But before he could take another step, he heard a scraping sound from the middle of the street. He glanced over and saw a manhole cover being shifted. Then, to Damon’s horror, another figure much like the first emerged.
          This zombie had no hair at all, and its jaw hung lopsided on the bottom of its skull. The sight so revolted Damon, he thought he might throw up. But now a third zombie appeared from somewhere behind Damon—this one was missing its head, but its exposed rib cage, outstretched arms and bony legs were coming right toward him. The zombies made a noise which sounded like chanting and moaning, and a horrible smell permeated the air. To Damon, it smelled like rotten eggs and bad breath—the smell of death.
          Damon wanted to run as fast as he could back to his side of the district, but he was too scared to move. Instead, he exhaled and the darkspace came, surrounding him. He felt safe, at last. The zombies would not be able to find him in the cloud of darkness.
          The second zombie wandered inside the darkspace and appeared momentarily confused. A noseless face sniffed the air, and then it reached out and grabbed Damon by the sleeve of his costume. “Weee smeeeellll youuu!” it taunted through its lopsided jaw.
          Damon somehow shook loose and found he could move again. The darkspace was not helping him, so he inhaled, making it go away. Then he tossed the bag of candy on the ground in front of the second zombie. “Here! Take it!” he screamed.
          “Tooo laaaate!” said the third zombie, whose somehow seemed to be talking without a mouth or even head. “Waaaant toooo eaaaat youuuu!”
          Damon screamed as loud as he could, thinking he might scare the zombies away, but they did not leave.
          Someone—or something—landed on the sidewalk a few feet away from him. It snarled as it grabbled the headless zombie and tossed him into a nearby yard. The new arrival moved so fast Damon couldn’t see what it was at first, but, finally it stopped and growled at the two remaining zombies. Fangs protruded from a maw below a ridged snout. Yellow eyes peered out from dark fur, as the creature swiped at the two zombies with huge claws.
          A werewolf! Damon thought, his heart pounding faster than ever.
          The zombies ambled away as fast as they could. But now the werewolf turned and faced Damon.
          Damon remembered seeing a movie about a werewolf when he was a little kid. It had given him nightmares for a week. Now the nightmare was standing before him. Damon was too scared to even exhale.
          But there was something odd about this werewolf. Its eyes consisted of round, black circles surrounded by deep yellow, yet somehow they looked kind. A large, hairy paw scooped Damon’s bag of candy off the sidewalk. I guess werewolves like candy, too, Damon thought. But then the werewolf did something totally unexpected. It held the bag out toward Damon. Is . . . is it giving it back to me?
          The werewolf glanced over its shoulder and then nodded urgently toward the bag. Damon carefully reached forward to take the bag, but something appeared in the sky. It looked like a flaming bottle rocket. It flew between Damon and the werewolf and struck the bag of candy, causing it to burst into flames. The werewolf dropped the bag, and Damon could only watch as fire consumed all the candy he had gotten.  Damon glanced warily at the werewolf, who seemed just puzzled as he was.
          From the yard where the headless zombie had been thrown, a new creature appeared. Damon rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The new creature was clad in an old-time suit with a vest and trousers. It appeared human except for its head, which looked just like a jack-o-lantern with an evil grin. Damon didn’t know whether to laugh or be scared. In one of the creature’s hands, it appeared to be carrying something on fire. It made an eerie sound as it reached back like a ball player and tossed the ball of flame, which barely missed Damon.
          Damon and the werewolf ran in opposite directions, but Damon got only a few feet when he saw second jack-o-lantern coming toward him, its arms outstretched to make sure Damon couldn’t get away. He looked back and saw the werewolf confronting a third jack-o-lantern.
          “We was just havin’ fun with the kid, wolfie” the third jack-o-lantern said. “You shoulda’ minded your own business!”
          It struck Damon as odd that the jack-o-lantern didn’t have a creepy voice. It had the deep-nasal voice of a boy in his early teens.
          “Yeah,” the second jack-o-lantern said, “now we’ll just have our fun with you!” This creature, too, sounded like a teenager. It made another pitcher toss, and hurled a ball of flame past the werewolf, grazing its shoulder. The werewolf howled in pain as it danced around, trying to put out the fire in its fur.
          Damon didn’t know what to do. He turned to run, but the third jack-o-lantern cut him off. “Not so fast, kid,” it said. “You’re in the wrong neighborhood, so you’re next!”
          A strange idea occurred to Damon: These weren’t real monsters at all, but powered kids, like him, who probably had some sort of shape-changing power. Real monsters don’t make threats, he concluded. Zombies may be able to smell him in the dark, but he wondered if jack-o-lanterns could. He exhaled, and the darkspace came—spreading over him, the werewolf, and all three jack-o-lanterns. The first two stopped advancing on the werewolf, and the third, likewise, stopped moving behind Damon.  Their hands flailed about in a vain attempt to grab onto something.
          Damon realized he could run back to his side now, and he would reach the boulevard before the monster-kids had a chance to react. But then he noticed the werewolf, who had managed to put out the fire on its shoulder and was also feeling around in the dark, confused. Whatever this creature was—another kid or something else—it had tried to help Damon. He couldn’t just leave it.
          He concentrated, opening a soundspace directly to the werewolf. He didn’t know if the werewolf could even understand speech, but he tried anyway. “Hey! Follow me! Follow the sound of my voice!” The werewolf perked up and nodded. Damon then turned and ran as fast as he could down the hill, occasionally saying “This way! This way!” so the werewolf wouldn’t get lost. Damon did not slow down until the fireplug he had seen before reappeared inside the darkspace.
          He came to a stop at the edge of the curb, but, once again, he did not know what to do. If he sent the darkspace away, would the werewolf turn on him? Damon was trying to remember the movie he had seen so long ago. In it, the werewolf was just like an animal; it couldn’t control itself or think like a person. Yet this werewolf had tried to help him.
          But as Damon turned to tell the creature it could stop running, he noticed it no longer looked like a werewolf. It looked like a kid, about his age—a very hairy kid, to be sure, with mounds of hair shedding on the sidewalk behind him. The snout had shrunk into a normal-sized nose, and the fangs had become smaller, less menacing. “Please,” the boy said in a voice which was half growl, half human, “whatever you’re doing, make it go away so I can see again.” He sounded almost afraid.
          Damon inhaled, and the darkspace vanished.
          The boy blinked several times as his eyes grew accustomed to the bright light under the street lamp. Damon watched, amazed, as the boy continued to transform. The dark fur was replaced by blonde hair, cut neatly in bangs. His yellow and black eyes were now green. Most importantly, the boy stood before him almost naked, expect for some cut-off shorts.
          Not knowing what else to say, Damon asked, “Aren’t you cold?”
          The boy shrugged. “Not yet. I still have some of the wolf blood in me. I’ll transform back in a few minutes, as soon as you’re safely across the street.  But that’s a neat trick you did back there. Did you make the Pickett brothers blind, too?
          “Pickett brothers?”
          “Those three guys. First they were zombies and then they were jack-o-lanterns. They love to terrorize the neighborhood on Halloween. That’s why no one goes out trick-or-treating.”
          Damon smiled, realizing he was right after all: Those kids weren’t monsters. They were just powered kids, like him. Damon explained what his darkspace could do, and then asked the boy if he was a shape-shifter, too.
          “Sort of,” the boy said, sounding dejected. “But I can only turn into something like a werewolf. It’s good for Halloween, I suppose. I may not be able to go trick-or-treating, but I can still get out. I was leaping across some rooftops when I heard you scream.”
          Leaping across rooftops. The idea thrilled Damon. He recalled how Kyle could teleport and Vee could run at super-speed. “I wish I could leap across rooftops,” he said, absently.
          “I wish I could do what you can do,” the boy replied. “Then  I could live in the regular part of the district instead of here, in the Forbidden Neighborhood.”
          Damon wished he still had his bag of candy so he could offer the boy some candy for helping him. Instead, he said, “Why don’t you come across the boulevard with me? We’ll pick up some more Halloween bags at my house and go trick-or-treating together?”
          The boy shook his head. “I can’t,” he said, pointing to his leg. Damon hadn’t noticed the boy was wearing a metal ankle bracelet with a single, glowing red light in the center. “All the powered kids in the Forbidden Neighborhood have to wear them,” he said. “It’s how the district keeps us on this side.”
          Damon suddenly felt angry. All the rules he had to live by—like not being allowed to use his power in public—were nothing compared to what this poor kid had to live with. Damon could at least go where he pleased and could go out trick-or-treating with his friends.
          Speaking of his friends, Damon thought they must have wondered what had happened to him by now. So Damon and the boy said their goodbyes. Before he ran back across the boulevard, however, Damon asked the boy, “What’s your name?”
          The boy’s face lit up, as if it had been a long time since anyone had asked him his name. “Eduardo," he answered. "Call me Eddie."
          Damon told the boy his name and wondered if they would ever meet again as he ran back to his side of the district. When he reached the curb, he found his brother waiting for him.
          “Damon! There you are!” Eldon shouted with a sigh of relief. “Where’ve you been? We saw your darkspace cross the boulevard and yelled that you were going the wrong way. Didn’t you hear us?”
          Damon admitted he had, but the thin darkspace had garbled their voices. “I thought you were cheering me on,” he said sheepishly.
          “Cheering you on!” Eldon seemed more annoyed than angry. “Don’t ever do that again! You almost gave me a heart attack.”
          Damon didn’t know if it was possible for a kid Eldon’s age to have a heart attack. He looked around. “Hey, where are the others?”
          “Oh, they got bored waiting for you,” was the answer. “They went to Kyle’s house to play video games.”
          “Why did you wait for me?”
          Eldon looked dumbfounded. “Damon, you’re my brother. If anything happened to you, I don’t know what I’d do.”
          Damon was genuinely touched, and he felt ashamed that he had earlier thought of “losing” Eldon while trick-or-treating by running ahead of him. Suddenly, going out dressed as a twin skeleton didn’t seem so bad, after all.
          “Come on,” Damon said, as he started up the street.
          “Where are we going?” asked Eldon.
          “Back home. I need to get another bag so we can keep trick or treating.”
          Eldon stared at him in disbelief. “Trick-or-treating? Just you and me?”
          “Sure,” Damon said. “I’ll race ya!” He took off, but he deliberately ran slowly so Eldon could catch up. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Damon and the Forbidden Neighborhood: A Power Club Halloween Story (Part 1 of 2)

A story I am working on for Halloween . . . 

Damon and the Forbidden Neighborhood
Greg Gildersleeve 

© 2015, Greg Gildersleeve. All rights reserved.

For Reagan.

Note: This story takes place after False Alarmbut before The Power Club™.

          Damon stared at his costume in the mirror. The costume was a simple black suit with the body of skeleton painted on it. He twirled the skull mask in his hand, its eyeholes making a good place to stick his finger and spin the plastic mask, which, when worn, would cover only his face, not his entire head, as he had wanted.
          “I don’t see why I have to wear this stupid costume,” he said. “I’m a super-hero.”
          Nearby, Damon’s mother tailored an identical skeleton costume for Eldon, his younger brother, who fidgeted while his mother adjusted the black suit to his shorter height. “You’re not a super-hero,” she corrected Damon. “And I told you, all the good costumes were picked over at the district costume shop. That’s what you get for waiting until the last minute to go shopping.”
          “Not a super-hero, huh?” he said, studying his mischievous grin in the mirror. “But I can do this.” He exhaled sharply. Within seconds, the entire upstairs bedroom he shared with Eldon had been plunged into darkness. Damon’s “night vision” immediately activated, and he marveled at how strange the twin beds, the dresser, and the posters of racing cars (his brother’s idea) on the wall looked in black and white.
          Damon’s mother and brother, who could not see in the darkness, stopped what they were doing and looked angrily in Damon’s general direction.
          “Mom! Make him stop!” Eldon wailed. "Make him turn off his darkspace!"
          Almost at the same time, Damon’s mother snapped, “Damon! I told you not to do that in the house.”
          Damon reluctantly inhaled, and the darkspace vanished as soon as it had appeared. “But I can’t do it in public, either,” he complained. “What’s the use of having a power if I can’t use it?”
          Damon already knew the answer. It was because of his power that he and his family had to live in the district. He had to go to the district school, where teachers taught him and other powered kids how to control their powers, whereas Eldon—who had no powers at all—was bussed to a regular school outside the district. Having a power could be fun, but Damon envied his brother’s freedom.
          “Never mind,” his mother said as she finished hemming the cuffs of Eldon’s costume. “That ought to do.” She leaned back on her heels and admired her handiwork. “Now you’re both ready to go trick-or-treating with your friends.”

          Damon ran across his back yard and the alley to reach the neighbors’ house. He ran as if he were being chased by a zombie, but, in truth, he just didn’t want to be seen by other kids who might be out trick-or-treating. He knew they would take one look at his and Eldon’s identical costumes and burst into laughter.
          Eldon ran behind Damon. “Hey! Don’t go so fast!” he shouted. His smaller legs had trouble keeping up.
          For a moment, Damon thought it wouldn’t be so bad if he “lost” Eldon while they were out trick or treating. Perhaps Damon could run ahead and visit different houses before Eldon could get there. But Eldon would just complain to Mom and Dad when they got back home. Besides, they had been given strict orders to stay with their group.
          Their group would include Vee Evans and his sister, Denise, who lived just across the alley. Damon and Eldon reached the porch and rapped on the door. When it opened, Vee stared at them in a spider costume. “What are supposed to be? Twin skeletons?” he jeered.
          Damon was glad to be wearing his facemask so his embarrassment wouldn’t show. He looked at Vee’s costume and said, “Why are you going as a spider? With your power, shouldn’t you go as a tornado or something?”
          “A tornado!” Vee shouted. “How would I go as a tornado? Besides, I’m a super-fast spider. Watch me weave my web around you.” Faster than Damon could see, Vee ran around the two boys, the wind generated from his speed chilling them in the October air.
          “Vee, stop that!” called his older sister, Denise, who appeared in the doorway. She was dressed like a space princess with a sequined costume and a mask that covered only her eyes. Instead of carrying a wand, as Damon might have expected, she sported a toy blaster gun.
          Vee stopped running. “Sorry,” he said.
          “You know we’re not supposed to use our powers in public,” Denise scolded him, and then looked embarrassed. “I mean you aren’t supposed to use your power in public.”
          Damon had caught her slip of the tongue. He knew Denise had started attending the district school, but this wasn’t unusual. Kids with powered brothers and sisters sometimes attended the district school so the teachers could watch them and see if they exhibited any signs of developing a power, too. But, so far as Damon knew, Denise was an ord, just like Eldon.
          “Hey, Denise,” Damon ventured, “do you have a power, too?” Damon secretly had a crush on Denise, so he liked the idea of her having a special power, just like he did.
          But she looked at him sharply. “Damon, that’s not a polite question.” Before Damon could apologize, she turned back to Vee. “Mom and Dad said we could go trick or treating without supervision only if we agreed to obey the rules, so that means you and Damon can’t use your powers.”
          Damon felt crestfallen, but he didn’t know what bothered him more, the notion that he couldn’t use his darkspace on this night—Halloween, of all nights—or that Denise had appointed herself the one in charge. Perhaps that just came with being a space princess.
          “Now, let’s go pick up Kyle,” she said, but as they started to leave the porch, the air in front of them shimmered. Then with a pfft! Kyle Powell stood before them.
          “Not you, too!” Denise scolded him. “No powers!”
          Kyle, whose mother had painted his face so he looked like a wolf, and who sported plastic claws taped to the backs of his hands, looked taken aback. “Oh, come on,” he said in the casual tone of someone who, as the oldest, didn’t feel like he really had to follow directions. “It’s Halloween, the one night we can get away with doing things. Now, are we ready to go trick or treating or not?”     
          They went down the street, hitting every house with porch lights on. This was a signal everyone knew that indicated which houses were open for trick or treating. They skipped the houses with no lights on.
          Vee ran ahead—as usual—and banged on each door. The others would catch up with him just as the door opened, and then Damon and the rest would yell “Trick or treat!” The person who opened the door always pretended to be scared of their costumes and dump a few pieces of candy into their Halloween bags. Damon and the rest would yell “Thank you!” and then go on to the next house.
             At the end of the block, they paused to decide which street to go up next. Several other trick-or-treaters were out, and Vee complained that all of the best candy would be gone, no matter where they went. Kyle suggested they go back to his house and play video games.
          Damon glanced across the wide boulevard which separated his neighborhood from another. In all the time he had lived in the district, Damon had never crossed the boulevard to visit that side of the district. He noticed that none of the houses had their porch lights on, which he thought was odd because he knew kids lived in that neighborhood. Why, he wondered, weren’t they out trick-or-treating?
          “Hey,” he suggested, “why don’t we go over there?”
          Kyle, Denise, and Vee looked as if Damon had asked something stupid.
          “That’s the Forbidden Neighborhood” Vee explained.
          “Why is it forbidden?” Damon asked.
          “Zombies and werewolves live there,” Kyle explained.
          Damon rolled his eyes. “Those things don’t exist!”
          “Oh yeah?” Vee challenged him. “Then you go over there.”
          Damon had been dared before. He knew better than to fall for it. “After you,” he said.
          Vee looked as if might consider it, but then demurred. “Nah, I want to stay on this side.”    
          But now Damon was curious to see what was on the other side of the boulevard and why no kids appeared to be over there trick or treating.
          “I’m bored!” Kyle said suddenly. “I’m going to keep trick-or-treating for awhile, but I’m going to make it interesting.”  He raised his plastic claws in a animal-like stance and then—with a pfft!—he vanished.  He reappeared across the street, and taunted the others to catch up with him.
          “If he can use his powers, so can I!” said Vee. He stuck his tongue out at his sister and then ran at super-speed across the street.
          Almost at the same time, Denise and Eldon took off running, too. Damon was alone.
          “Hey! Wait for me!” he called. Then he thought if Kyle and Vee were going to use their powers, there was no reason he couldn’t. The trouble was, his darkspace didn’t help him travel. It was just a cloud of darkness that covered him and his immediate surroundings. Still, it was a power, and he didn’t want to be left out, so he exhaled and the darkspace came.

          From where he stood, the world turned into a darkness in which only he could see. Objects around him—a bush, the base of a streetlight, the sidewalk—all appeared in black and white—a beautiful and strange site. Damon knew it would be hard for him to walk inside the darkspace, without being able to see more than a few feet in any direction, so he started walking slowly. He was sure the others would wait for him. 

Stay Tuned  . . .

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