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. 

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