So this week, I’m going to begin a new feature on Kent Holloway Online. Every once in a while, I will be posting different short stories by my fantastic author friends for your enjoyment (don’t worry…I’ll still be featuring new authors and their books too. I’ll just be changing things up a bit from time to time with a great story). This week, since we are fast approaching Halloween, I thought I’d kick the short story extravaganza off by posting a brand new short story I wrote. It’s actual a tribute to one of my all time favorite film franchises…the EVIL DEAD series directed by Sam Raimi and starring the King of B Horror Movies…Bruce “the King” Campbell.
(For legal reasons, I think I should say that this story is an UNOFFICIAL sequel to the last movie in the series entitled “Army of Darkness” and is in no way affiliated with those involved in the films. This story is also free to the public and I am not making any revenue from it whatsoever.)
So for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy everyone’s favorite chainsaw wielding hero!
ASH vs. THE FOUNTAIN OF DARKNESS
J. Kent Holloway
[A short story tribute to Bruce Campbell’s greatest role…the zombie-killing Ash from the Evil Dead movies directed by Sam Raimi]
My name is Ash. And at one point in my life, I was almost a king. Now…I’m a tour guide driving a dorky little sightseeing trolley in America’s oldest city—Saint Augustine Florida. Yeah. That’s what I said too. But them’s the breaks, I guess, when you’re being hunted by the Kandarian Dead.
You see, a while back, I got myself into a little pickle of a mess. Some friends of mine decided to have a weekend getaway in a small cabin in the mountains of Tennessee. Boy, was that weekend a Class-A bust. The cabin had once been occupied by some wacko archaeologist who had taken it upon himself to translate the Necronomicon Ex Mortis…the Book of the Dead. Big mistake. The bookworm had opened up a portal between the world of the living and that of the Dead. And the Dead were majorly pissed.
Long story short, they killed all my friends—well, technically, I guess, I killed some of them. But only when they became possessed and turned into malicious minions of the undead. But that didn’t satisfy them. Oh, no. They got into my hand too. And it went bad. Started trying to kill me. Can you picture it? My own hand trying to snuff me while still attached to my body. So I lopped it off with a chainsaw. Of course, that’s where I got the idea for my greatest weapon against the undead horde. You’ll hear more about that a bit later. But for now, let me get on with it. The point of this whole thing. My story.
After my ordeal in those mountains and a brief stint in the Middle Ages (don’t ask), I made it back home, resumed my job as a stock manager at S-Mart, and had a pretty good time of it all. That is…until the Dead found me again. I’ve been on the run ever since, finding menial jobs wherever I can just to make ends meet. Always on my guard. Always vigilant in case those crazy boneheads try to make a play for me again.
“So, that’s basically how I came here to the Ancient City,” I said into the trolley’s microphone to the six slack-jawed tourists staring incredulously at the back of my head. I didn’t have to see them to know exactly what they were doing. Then again, I really didn’t give a rip. “Now, if you look to your right, you will see the Castillo de San Marcos…the famed fort built by the Spanish around 1672…”
I droned on, uninterested in the historical drivel spewing from my mouth. It was just a paycheck after all. And honestly, I could care less about some schlub named Menendez from the sixteenth century who came and claimed the region for Spain. To me, I just wanted to get off work, grab a cold one, and relax on my thrift store, duct tape-upholstered couch in front of my black and white TV to watch Jeopardy. Yeah, it’s the simple life for me from now on. No zombies. No skeletons. No formless mass chasing me through a haunted forest.
Yeah, right. And I’m a prima ballerina.
Another four hours and I finished my shift, parked the bright red trolley, and lumbered toward the one bedroom, rat-infested flat that I was temporarily calling home. The rhythmic clops of my footsteps echoed off the brick pavement of St. George Street. The sun had already set and the throng of tourists and locals gawking at the historical landscape all around me had already started to thicken, congesting the narrow streets lined with shops, tourist attractions, and pirate bars where employees busied themselves singing sea shanties and serving up cold Spanish ale.
Whether the streets were crowded or not…made no difference to me as long as they stayed the heck out of my way. I was in no mood to deal with anyone at the moment. I was thirsty. I had a splitting migraine. And the nub of my right arm was aching to beat the band.
Not a good sign actually. Experience told me…whenever I experienced phantom pains where my hand should be, things were about to get ugly.
Oh, knock it off, dummy. You’re just getting’ paranoid. Absently, I brought the nub up to my chest as I peered over my shoulder nervously. Then again, paranoia has kept me alive a lot longer than anyone might expect, too.
I kept walking through the heart of the historic district, winding my way through the labyrinthine maze of back streets to the tiny apartment I rented in the low-rent district of Saint Augustine known as Lincolnville. You can imagine my…hmmm, irritation, when I turned the corner of MLK and Desoto Place to see a butt-load of police black and whites and at least three different crime scene units crowding up the curbs. Their blue and red lights flashing the darkness away as a couple of uniformed deputies unfurled a strand of yellow tape and blocked off the entrance to my place.
“Uh, hi,” I said, casually strolling up to the younger of the two officers with a friendly nod of my head. Instinctively, I tucked my right stump into my pants pocket to avoid the usual stares. “What’s going on?”
The deputy eyed me suspiciously and pointed to the old tenement that housed my apartment. “You live here?” he asked.
I glanced at it and then back to the deputies nervously. “Um…yeah,” I said, wishing the lump building in my throat would go away. My arm was starting to throb. “Why?”
The officer looked at his partner, who merely shrugged.
Ah geeze. A billion possibilities rifled through my brain as I held my breath for his answer. Had they found the chainsaw? The Winchester? I scrambled to come up with an excuse for any eventuality, knowing full well that no cop in his right mind was going to believe that I was being hunted by Kandarian demons that had a swell time re-animating the corpses of the dearly departed.
The officer cleared his throw and took a step toward me. “Looks like a water main burst or something,” he said, eliciting a deep sigh from me. “Behind the apartments. The whole place is flooded out. Weird thing is, water’s eroded the backyard and exposed an old burial site. Medical Examiner and the city archaeologist are on their way in now.”
The relief I’d just felt fizzled away the moment the words “burial site” oozed from the hapless cop’s mouth. Me and ancient graveyards do not get along to say the least. And I found it just a bit convenient that one would pop up literally in my backyard.
My wrist nub was practically screaming in pain as the Medical Examiner’s investigator pulled up into the building’s parking lot. I watched as a stocky, dark haired dude with a goatee (honestly, a pretty handsome guy, I have to admit) slid out of the driver’s seat of an unmarked Crown Victoria and darted around back, a notebook and camera in hand. A few minutes later, some scrawny, bifocaled gentleman pulled up, the archaeologist I presumed, and made his way with the rest of the investigators.
By this point, a crowd had gathered behind the crime scene tape. A virtual sea of on-lookers peered over each other’s shoulders in hopes of getting a better look at whatever was going on behind the apartment. Personally, I just wanted to get inside, lock the doors, and hide under the bed until the whole thing blew over.
And no. I’m not a pessimist. Just realistic. Dead people rarely ever stayed dead around me. Trust me. I was just that kind of guy.
I was captivated by the activity hidden beyond the historic façade of the tenement when I felt a nudge at my back, causing me to jump.
“Geeze, Ash,” the female voice behind me laughed. “Skittish much?” I turned around to see my cute next-door neighbor, Juliet, throwing me a devilish wink before nodding toward our home. She absently tucked a strand of her golden hair behind her ear as she grinned up at me. “Pretty crazy stuff, huh? An old cemetery buried in our own back yard. What are the odds?”
I chuckled nervously. “Uh, yeah. The odds.”
Though I would have loved nothing more than to shoot the breeze with Juliet, who’d quickly become the girl of my dreams, I couldn’t help but pull my attention back to the cluster of activity hidden from view. I just wished I could get back there to take a look. Just reassure myself that I truly was just being paranoid. This was, after all, Saint Augustine…they say a body is buried under almost every square inch of dirt within the historic district. A burial plot shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone.
Another thirty minutes inched by with nothing more happening than a handful of TV news vans driving up on scene, their prim, pretty reporters standing proudly before the cameras narrating the macabre spectacle behind them.
“I’ve found it!” Suddenly came the high-pitched shriek of the city’s archaeologist as he stormed around the corner of the building, bolting directly toward the news crews. “I’ve found it!”
The reporters moved in unison, flapping around the little man like a murder of crows, pecking at him with questions.
“The Fountain,” he said, winded from his jog up to the crowd. “The real, honest to goodness Fountain of Youth.”
The lump in my throat swelled three times larger at his words. A fount that brings about immortality next to an unmarked grave? This can not be good.
After a blaze of questions asking for clarification, the doctor explained that he had long suspected the famed spring of water that the intrepid explorer, Ponce De Leon, had reportedly discovered was not the same as the Native Americans living in the area had described. “Upon re-translating his accounts of the Indians’ tales, I believe De Leon misunderstood a key component in their myth,” the archaeologist said, a huge smile beaming across his face.
The little man explained how City maintenance workers had been digging up a patch of dirt in the back yard, making preparations for a new sewer system that would be installed in select locations throughout Lincolnville. At some point, they had apparently struck a water well, which began to flood the entire yard, washing away a massive amount of dirt and debris. The archaeologist kept talking…to the point of ridiculousness. He went on to explain the reason for his theory that the well they had discovered was actually the Fountain of Youth, but all I could hear at that point was the sound of my heart thumping inside my ears.
“What about the dead people?” I asked before I was even aware I was going to say anything.
“Huh?” the archaeologist said. “Oh, the grave site. Totally incidental, I assure you.”
A little deflated from my apparent lack of enthusiasm for his Find of the Century, he merely shrugged. “Just looks like an unmarked pirates’ graveyard to me. They were probably buried right where they were killed. Executed actually.”
“And you’re saying they were buried right on top of the real Fountain of Youth,” I pushed. “You don’t think that’s just a little—”
The horrid screams from around the apartment building cut me off. We all turned to stare at the building, just as the Medical Examiner investigator ran screaming and thrashing—attempting to throw some sort of pirate-like zombie off his back. The reanimated corpse’s teeth clamped down onto the base of the investigator’s shoulder, ripping a hunk of flesh just above his neckline. A stream of blood spewed from the open wound, drawing a second ghoul scrambling over to the feast. The M.E. fell to the ground, flailing helplessly at the undead creatures, but it was too late. The newest attacker tilted his three-sided hat back on his head, drew a rusted steel cutlass from his belt, and ran the investigator through.
We all stood stricken in our place…unable to move. Unable to think. Gunshots erupted from the backyard as the law enforcement officers tried to defend themselves from more of the ghoulish creatures.
I knew exactly what had happened. Didn’t need a Ph.D. in zombie-ology to understand what had created them. No magic tome needed in this particular case. The pirates, which were rather a common sight in Saint Augustine back in the day, had been captured by local officials and executed on this spot. A grave was dug, unknowingly over a tributary of the famed Fountain of Youth. The fount’s waters had seeped up through the dirt, permeating the flesh of the recently terminated buccaneers…and had brought them back to life again. Unfortunately for the pirates, they were buried deep with no way to dig themselves out. So they waited. Years and years had crept by, rendering the resurrected cutthroats insane through the centuries.
That is…until the maintenance crew had punctured a hole in the Fountain’s tap, allowing the creatures to roam free once again. Free to wreak havoc and mayhem on anyone that got in their way.
The gunfire ceased as quickly as it had started and one by one, the undead pirates shuffled out into the street. Dressed in tattered rags that had once been high fashion for scallywags of the day, the water-bloated corpses jeered at the mass of people huddled in the neighborhood. Their flesh, so saturated by the life-giving fountain, seemed to ooze from their bones like melting wax.
I watched, awestruck, as the largest of the creatures strutted from behind the building. A thick matted beard hung in clumps around his cottage cheese colored skin. His right eye was missing, complemented by a single scar running down that side of face from forehead to chin. The flesh from his jaw had decayed through the centuries to the point that only the mandible of his skull was visible. He wore a long coat buckled around his waist with a large black belt, knee high black leather boots, and a large three-pronged hat. Classic pirate stuff.
Suddenly, the large zombie, obviously the captain, belted out a roaring laugh. “Why, ‘ello, people o’ the New World,” he chuckled. “‘Tis good to be back among the living!”
With that, he drew the large cutlass from his belt and let out a horrendous roar that chilled the hairs on the back of my neck like popsicles.
The screams escalated all around me as the mass of curious on-lookers and TV news crews dashed away from the massacre of law enforcement personnel before their eyes. The panic-stricken crowd scrambled from the scene, only to be chased down by a much faster, much hungrier undead pirate creeps.
My heart pounded against my ribs, trying desperately to escape the horrible scene whether the rest of my body followed or not. I swallowed it down and stepped intentionally toward my apartment, just as a trembling hand grabbed me by the arm. I spun around, my left hand clenched into a fist, ready to strike. But I stayed myself when I realized I’d been stopped by Juliet.
“What’s going on?” she cried. “What are we going to do?”
I didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know what to tell her. Part of me wanted to be the hero she desperately hoped for. The rest of me was scared crapless.
I shoved her hand away from my shoulder. “Get the heck outta here,” is all I could say as I bolted toward the entrance to my apartment complex, threw open the spring-loaded front door, and ran upstairs to my room. Slamming the door shut, I drew the dead bolt and glanced around the one bedroom hellhole for a good place to hide. My options were limited.
Crap. Crap. Crap. Why does this always happen to me?
Sure. I felt bad for ditching Juliet. But don’t judge me. I learned a long time ago that in these zombie situations, there’s very little that can be done but try to outlast everyone else. It was horribly selfish, but no one had ever accused me of being overly noble either. And I was perfectly fine with that.
Better to be a coward and alive than—well, any of the gruesome creatures I’d seen over the years. My only hope was that these pirate ghouls—and that is what I knew they were. Ghouls. Not zombies in the traditional sense—were merely an anomaly…brought on by the waters of the Fountain of Youth. I prayed they couldn’t turn others into their kind the way the Kandarian Dead could.
Failing to find a good hiding spot, I moved over to the apartment door, leaned back on it and slid to the floor where I wrapped my arms around my knees and shook.
“This ain’t my fight,” I said aloud, wishing I could believe it. “I don’t need to get involved in this. Let some other Shemp save the day for a change. I’m sitting this one out.”
The cries of pain and terror drifted up from the streets below, forcing me to clench my eyes tight in order to ignore the sounds. The pirate dead howled with laughter as they commenced their piratey ways…raping, pillaging, and chowing down on anyone unlucky, or slow enough, to get caught by their bloated hands.
“I mean, who appointed me King of the Zombie-Slayers?” I think I was speaking aloud just to drown out the sounds of carnage below. “I’m just a guy. I used to work Housewares, for crying out loud—”
Another scream erupted downstairs…setting itself apart from all the others. I knew the voice all too well.
I should never have left her to fend for herself. What was I thinking? My selfishness…my cowardice…was going to get a very special girl killed. I hadn’t even had a chance to give her some sugar yet either.
My eyes opened at the sound of her desperate pleas for help, alighting to the oblong object hanging from hooks on the far wall. The chainsaw. Its blade gleamed in the moonlight cutting in through the blind-free windows. Its hollowed-out chassis practically called out to the stump of my right arm. My old Winchester double barreled shotgun rested in a corner to the left of the chainsaw, recently oiled and cleaned. Ready to go.
“All right,” I said, standing up and tucking my shirttail into my pants as I sucked in a lungful of air. “It’s time to hunt me some undead pirates.”
The streets were in chaos. Nearly fifty pirate ghouls scurried through the poorly lit alleyways, chasing down their victims like hounds after hares. The carnage had departed from my neighborhood, moving swiftly like an undead flood into the heart of downtown. Tourists ran panicked from the quaint little shops as the bloodthirsty picaroons feasted on living flesh all around them.
An entire company of the National Guard had responded to the bloodbath in record time, their standard issue weapons blazing a trail of destruction into the raiding horde with minimal effect. Boot camp and combat experience does little in way of preparing a soldier for a battle with a horde of walking corpses. A handful of the courageous warriors fell to slugs from rusted-out flintlock pistols, just before being torn to pieces by the centuries-famished pirates.
My friend Juliet was much more of a survivor than I would have given her credit. Fighting off her attackers outside my house, she’d managed to flee the scene with swift, graceful strides until she was far removed from the turmoil. Too bad the living dead have noses like hellhounds. Three of the buccaneers tracked her easily enough through the maze of streets until they cornered her in a delivery cul-de-sac behind a small restaurant off Bridge Street. She had nowhere to go. She turned to see them lumbering in her direction, sneers of glee stretch across each of their bloodstained faces. A foul odor wafted up from their putrid flesh like a skunk knee-deep in raw sewage.
“Come on, lassie,” one of them hissed, licking his sharpened teeth with a worm-like tongue. “Time to play. It won’t hurt.”
“Much,” said a second one.
All three howled with laughter as they inched closer to her, swords clutched tightly in three bony hands.
“Yo, Pegleg Pete,” I growled from behind. With a swift yank of my arm, the chainsaw affixed to my stump puttered to life in a puff of acrid black smoke. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the lady alone.”
They spun around, glaring at me behind yellow glazed eyes. A cockroach flitted from one ghoul’s nose and down into his mouth as all three grinned maliciously at me.
“And what are you gonna do if we say no,” one said, in heavily accented English. “I don’t think you’re good enough to stop all three of us.”
I stepped forward, my right hand brandishing the running chainsaw, my left held the sawed-off Winchester. I pointed the gun directly at the talkative pirate’s head and pulled the trigger. The creature’s skull exploded in a shower of goo and bone matter, spraying his two companions in gore.
“Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the—” I said.
Before I could finish my snappy one-liner, the two remaining zombies leapt at me in unison. I swiveled to my left, letting the smaller creature fly past me to crash on the brick sidewalk at my feet. I swung around, bringing the stock of the gun crashing into the second zombie’s face with a crunching blow. With the same motion, I brought the barrel down directly to the back of the first ghoul’s head and pulled the trigger with similar results as before.
“Never interrupt me,” I growled at the fallen creature, before turning my attention to the one I’d struck a few second before. It was more cautious now as it scramble to his feet, eyeing the smoking barrels of my shotgun nervously. “Yeah, that’s right Stinky. Say hello to my…Boomstick!”
Ah, nuts, I thought, looking down the empty weapon. Forgot it only held two shells.
The pirate sneered, cackling maniacally, just before leaping at least five feet in the air toward me. His thirty-six inch cutlass swiped toward my head in one swift arc, forcing me backwards. My heel slammed into the curb, sending me sprawling and helpless onto the sidewalk. The ghoul twisted in mid-air, pulled a double back flip and came down directly onto the blade of my still-running chainsaw—splitting the creature in half with a single swoop.
“That’ll teach ya.” I pushed the putrid remains off me and stood to my feet. Swiping the goo off my clothes, I glanced up to where Juliet had only recently been standing to find that I was now alone. “Great. Now where’d she get off to.”
I inserted two more shells into the Winchester before moving down Cordova Street to look for my pretty little neighbor.
I didn’t have to search for long.
“Aaaash!” I heard her scream. The sound came from the direction of the city’s pier.
“Cripes. If I was a pirate ghoul, where would I go to first after just waking up from a centuries long nap?” I asked rhetorically as I dashed in the direction of Juliet’s screams. Actually, I knew exactly where they’d all be heading once their taste for flesh had been sated. Hanging a left, I ran past the Nation’s oldest standing house and screeched to a halt just as I came up on Avenida Menendez, the road running parallel to Matanzas Bay.
I quickly scanned the area, searching for the pier and…
The Black Raven. The Saint Augustine answer to Pirates of the Caribbean. A fully functioning, full-scale model pirate ship used primarily for tourist site seeing, birthday parties, a few weddings…and the perfect getaway vehicle for a group of seventeenth century undead pirates looking to blow town.
Ah crap. I rolled my eyes at the dark thoughts zipping around in my head. Blow town.
I completely forgot about Juliet’s plight as the memorized script from my trolley tours came to me in a flash. The owners of the Black Raven wanted the ship to be so authentic, they had installed working canons in the gun bays. Fortunately, the canon shot were merely black stained balls of freshly baked bread (not many people know that, but it’s true). Still, a really creative scallywag might be able to find some other—
The explosion shook the very ground under my feet. I looked up just in time to see smoke billowing from one of the canons and something streaking across the sky…directly toward the towering spires of the majestic Flagler College. The projectile slammed against the building, spewing stone and rubble from the ancient building like a child swatting down a sand castle.
What the heck are they using?
Two more canons fired from the galleon’s gun bays. One shot smashed through the wooden façade of Harry’s…one of my favorite restaurants in town. The second flew directly into the coquina-enforced walls of the Castillo de San Marcos. The old fort, never breached by any foreign vessel in history, proved once again impregnable. Besides a cloud of dust wafting from its walls, there didn’t appear to be even a dent.
Yeah. That’ll do. I smiled. That’ll do nicely.
Pulling the shotgun from its holster strapped to my back, I turned to run toward the old fort at a full sprint. After making it nearly three blocks without mishap, I was suddenly tackled from behind by a pair of gangrenous arms. I slammed against the pavement face first, nearly knocking the breath from me. The foul stench of a ghoul’s breath beat down against the back of my neck.
“Arrr! You be the one what did Robinson, Ellis, and Woodsey in, aren’t ye?” The frigid voice asked from behind as his knees dug into my spine. “I’ve sailed with that scurvy lot for goin’ nigh on four hundred and fifty years. They was friends o’ mine, they was.”
“Mmh…mmnh…mhhm” I couldn’t get the words out with all the blacktop in my mouth.
“What say ye to that?” the pirate ghoul leapt to his feet and rolled me over to face him.
I grinned up at him. “I said, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll soon be joining them.’” My eyes shot down to the twin barrels of my Winchester now pointed directly between his crotch. I gave him a single nod. “Say hi for me, will you?”
Pulling the parallel triggers, both barrels exploded into his mid-section…scattering undead nether-region all the way to the netherworld. As I stood to my feet, a group of six Army reservists ran up to me to offer a hand. They’d seen what happened, but couldn’t get to me in time to help. As we spoke, they couldn’t keep their eyes from staring at the chainsaw prosthesis attached to my arm.
The galleon fired three more shots, slinging projectiles into buildings all around us. Screams erupted from inside the businesses as those who’d sought shelter from the zombie onslaught ran out into the streets to avoid being crushed by the crumbling buildings.
“Look,” I said. “We need to get to the Castillo. Its own canons are the only thing that’s going to put a stop to these pirate screwheads once and for all.”
“But those things are zombies,” one of them, a lieutenant by the bars on his collar, said. “Sinking that ship won’t do us any good will it?”
I shook my head. “Not just by sinking it, no. But do enough damage—Look, those things aren’t technically zombies. They’re ghouls. Not much difference, but it means they’re a bit easier to kill. Especially if you punish them enough. A few hits with those long guns and I’d say the majority of them will be toast.”
The lieutenant nodded. “Okay, let’s get—”
A familiar scream ripped through the soldier’s sentence.
“Juliet…” I spun around, looking toward the pier in which the Black Raven was berthed. I spotted her almost immediately. Carried on the shoulders of one of the undead pirates toward the faux galleon, she pounded against the creature’s back with both fists. Indifferent to her assault, he plodded up the ship’s gangplank and handed her off to two of his pals. My feet were already pounding against the pavement before I realized it, darting across the street and making my way toward the pier and the Pirate Dead.
Coming to my senses, I stopped before making my way onto the boardwalk and turned to the reservists now staring blankly at me.
“Get to the fort!” I shouted. “Fire those canons. I’ll get the girl.”
Not waiting for a reply, I cranked the chainsaw the life and ran straight for the Black Raven.
A group of five ghouls were shuffling up the gangplank as I reached the boat. Not stopping my momentum, I dashed up to them, slinging the chainsaw as I moved. Decomposing body parts flew everywhere as the turning chains of the blade slice through each one of them like a hot knife through…well, putrid flesh.
I finally came to halt as I reached the main deck, now filled with nearly forty undead buccaneers…each glaring at me from behind cold, dead eyes. My chainsaw’s motor puttered out as I stood gawking at the motley crew, my mouth opened wide in a sudden rush of panic.
…the heck was I thinking storming the ship like this? Why didn’t I bring a platoon of those weekend warriors along for backup?
Glued in place, I did the one thing I knew how to do best. I opened my trap.
“All right, you bilgeswilling screwheads, listen up!”
The few ghoulish pirates not clutching their swords were leveling their flintlock pistols directly at me.
“I’m taking the girl and we’re getting off this boat. I don’t care what you do once we leave, but we’re out of here.”
The captain, standing on the quarterdeck, glared down at me with his one remaining eye before looking over at Juliet, her beautiful blonde hair lashing with the sudden gust of wind, bound by ropes attached to the main mast. He let out a soft chuckle before turning his ire on me.
“You!” the captain spat before wobbling down the steps to alight the main deck. “I know ye, boy.”
“I doubt that,” I said, simultaneously throttling the chainsaw to rev the motor in a threatening bluff as he approached. There were just too many of them for it to be a truly effective weapon and everyone onboard knew it. “Rumor has it, you’ve been taking a dirt nap since long before I was born.”
He flashed a lipless grin at me and nodded. “Aye. That be true enough.” He moved closer, his arms behind his back in a regal fashion. “But still doesn’t mean I’ve not heard of ye.” The captain looked around to his crew. “We’ve got a real celebrity in our midst boys! The Kandarians have been lookin’ for this one. What say we give ‘em what they want, eh?”
Simultaneously, the entire crew shouted their raucous approval, raising guns and swords alike in the air as they began a macabre chant. My blood ran Antarctic cold. I recognized the words. They were the same incantation the crazy old coot in the Tennessee cabin had translated from the Book of the Dead. The same spell used to unleash the Kandarian Dead into the world of the living.
“N-now wait just a minute there, Spinach-chin,” I said, holding up my good hand in submission. “No need to go all crazy now, right? Maybe we can work out a deal.”
Their chant continued unabated. A crack of thunder erupted from overhead. At first, I’d hoped the soldiers had made it to the fort and had fired the canons, but when I looked up at the sky to see a black vortex forming directly above the Black Raven, my hopes sank to the bottom of the Bay. The pirate ghouls were opening a portal.
I freaked at the sight of the swirling mass of darkness expanding before my eyes.
Oh crap! What were those magic words again? I wondered, scratching my square, chiseled chin as I searched my memory for the old wise man’s magic words that would take care of all this undead nastiness in a snap. I could not let that portal be opened. Okay. I got it. I think. Stretching out my arms in a garish fashion, I yelled out my own chant in hopes of overshadowing the undead cutthroats. “Klatu! Barada!” Crap. Crap. Crap. What was that last one? “…Necktie. Nickel. Nikki. Crap. Why can’t I ever remember the words?”
The pirate captain roared with laughter as he joined his men in their recitation.
“Come on, man,” I shouted. “I’m tellin’ you…we can work out a deal.”
“And what, pray tell, do you have to offer that I’d need, little man?” the captain said, leaning in close enough that I nearly puked on the foul stench of his decaying breath.
My brain raced, trying to come up with anything I could to belay the incantation of the undead all around me. I glanced over at Juliet, her eyes pleading with me to do something behind the gag covering her mouth. The dark patch of sky above our heads spread wider with each freaking syllable. I was running out of time.
Then it hit me. These clowns were obviously familiar with the Kandarian Book of the Dead. A prize any black-blooded ghoul would give his remaining limb for. And the spell they were using to open the portal was just one of many that would make ol’ Deadbeard salivate.
“I know where the Book is.” The words poured from my mouth before I even consciously decided to say them.
The crew of ghouls went silent. Their chant a mere echo on the wind. The captain turned to face me, a sneer across his ugly mug.
“What was that, now?”
I looked over at Juliet…her eyes wide with terror. Whatever happened, I knew I had to save her. But to give up the location of the Necronomicon? It would be a fate worse than death for all of us.
“I said, I know where the book is.”
“I heard ye the first time, boy.” He scooted closer to me, leaning in. His decaying face just millimeters away from my own. “But what makes you think I’d believe a bilge-sucking tale like that?”
I shrugged. “Don’t believe me. But those Kandarians are after me for a reason, right?”
His eye narrowed, as if trying to peer into my soul for the truth. While he pondered my offer, I risked a glance up into the sky. The vortex was stable…no longer growing, but not going away either.
What was it? Klatu. Barada. N-ni…nic…grrrr!
I looked at the Captain.
“So what’s it gonna be, Davy Jones? You let me and girl go. You guys pulled anchor and leave town…and I’ll send you on your merry way to the Necronomicon.” I flashed the most sincere smile I could muster. “I’ll even throw in a parrot for good measure.”
Nixon. Nekkid. Crap.
“Tell me where it is,” he said, a skeletal grin stretching up one side of his face. “Then I’ll let you go.”
“Uh-uh. No way.” I pointed at Juliet. “You let the girl go first. Then I’ll tell you.”
He turned to look at his good looking captive, paused, then nodded. He turned back at me and stuck out his decomposing hand to seal the deal. “Fine. She can leave.”
I looked at the gnarled hand, the skin hanging from his bones like the shredded sails of some haggard ghost ship. “Um, I trust you,” I said. “No need to shake on it.”
“Bosun Fitch!” the captain shouted, summoning a ghoul to his side with a salute.
“Aye, Cap’n?” the short, rotund pirate asked as he approached his superior. He’d almost look comical, if not for the left side of his face being completely gone to reveal a blood-stained skull where skin should have been.
“Release the wench,” he said. “And don’t hinder her.”
Fitch nodded, hastening over to the main mast to cut through the bonds that held Juliet in place. I watched as she scurried down the gangplank and across the dock in a full sprint. She cast a glance back up at me, worry for me evident on her face. But she was doing the right thing by leaving. There was nothing that she could have done but get in my way anyway.
“Now boy,” the captain said, crossing his arms against a thick barrel chest. “Tell me where the Book can be found.”
“All right,” I replied with a grim nod. “Last time I saw it…”
“Last time I saw it…it was in the…”
“Spit it out, boy! My patience is wearin’ thin and you’ll be hangin’ with Jack Ketch if yer not quicker.”
Suddenly, an explosion rang out from across the bay, followed immediately by the whistling sound of a projectile streaking across the sky.
“I changed my mind. You want the book? Check your local library. Under “B” for Bite me,” I grinned, holding up a single finger on my left hand—the meaning all too clear.
Before anyone could react, a single canon ball slammed into the Raven’s main deck, splintering debris and shrapnel in every direction. Fortunately, a crowd of about fifteen ghouls stood directly between me and the blast, shielding me from the brunt of the impact and tearing them to shreds. In one smooth motion, I yanked down on my right arm, pulling the ignition cord of the chainsaw and it roared to life.
I dove toward the gangplank but was headed off by Fitch and three swarthy corsairs. With a swipe of the blade, I cut the legs out from one of the ghouls just before being pounced on by the other two.
“Smartly there, men!” Fitch shouted. “We’ll keel haul the bloke for sure!”
At his words, two more entered the fray, pinning my arms and legs to the wooden deck. “Not so tough when flat on your back, eh?” Fitch said, grinning from ear to ear.
I let out a chuckle. “Funny. That’s the exact same thing your mom said to me last night.” At the insult, the bosun reeled back, releasing my right arm to draw his sword from its scabbard. With the momentary reprieve, I revved up the chainsaw’s blade and brought it down on Fitch’s head, filleting it in two. He fell back with a ghastly shriek.
His comrades, enraged at the boatswain’s demise, pressed in to restrain the deadly machine. One had his own hand chopped off for his trouble, sending him running across the deck in agonized screams. At the same exact moment, three more cannonballs smashed into the hull of the Black Raven, showering the undead cutthroats with chunks of wood and metal. My captors, surprised by the new onslaught, fell away, allowing me to rise to my feet. I wheeled around, once again heading for the gangplank, only to realize it was no longer there. And for that matter, neither was the pier.
I looked up at the quarterdeck to see Captain Deadbeard manning the helm, steering us clear from port. In the chaos of the fort’s fusillade, he must have decided to pull anchor and take us a safer distance away from town. His crew scampered around deck, preparing the vessel as it moved effortlessly toward the open sea. In their desire to please their leader, they had all but forgotten me.
Six more shots fired from the gun decks of Castillo de San Marco. But the whistling projectiles crashed harmlessly into the crystalline waters of Matanzas Bay.
I glanced up into the sky, but wasn’t surprised at all to see the black vortex still hovering ominously above our heads. It seemed to be not only following us, but growing again as well. But that made no sense. Why would it…
That’s when I saw it. The captain’s mandible moving up and down as he steered the vessel along the waterway. He was quietly reciting the incantation to further open the portal. If he couldn’t get the Book, he had apparently decided to unleash hell on earth as punishment for my treachery. I couldn’t let that happen.
Pulling the shotgun from its holster, I dashed toward the steps leading up to the boat wheel. A ghoul, wearing nothing but a straggly loincloth and an eye patch, jumped in front of me in an attempt to bar my path. A tap of the trigger left a gaping hole where his head should have been and I sprinted past. Three more tried to intercept me, but were cut to pieces by the motorized prosthesis on my arm. Running up the stairs, two at a time, I reached the quarterdeck and turned to face the ghoulish captain.
“All right, Popeye. Show’s over.” I leveled the Winchester at his head, my face grim. I only had one shot left.
The captain looked at me with a mad grin and pointed up to the sky. “Aye, lad. It most definitely is.”
The portal had grown to cover the entire sky, blocking out the full moon and stars with its opaque wisps of concentrated evil. Circling counterclockwise, the fully mature vortex loomed overhead pregnant with untold nightmares just waiting to reach into our world to snuff it out.
I stood spellbound, staring incomprehensively at the tableau as an enormous taloned hand stretched from the dimensional rift. The claw, easily twice as large as the galleon, searched blindly in the air as if looking for a handhold to use in order to pull the rest of its demonic body through the opening.
“Aye, lad. Now ye understand,” the captain said, moving away from the wheel and standing directly in front of me. “Had ye given me the Book, all this could have been prevented. Now? Well, I say let loose the dogs o’ war and see who comes out on top!”
The giant hand stretched farther from the portal, allowing me to see the creature’s long, jet-skinned arm. It was getting through faster than I’d imagined.
“Well, I think it’s time to spay those dogs of yours,” I growled, running directly toward one of the belaying ropes affixed to the main mast and leapt out, snagging the line with my good hand. Without looking down, I scrambled furiously up the rope to the main boom, found the shroud nets and made my way to the top of the Raven’s main sail. I heard the captain below spouting orders at his men to stop me, but I ignored them…keeping my eyes fixed on the massive limb squirming free from the Kandarian vortex.
I climbed out onto the main sail’s gaff, inching myself hand over hand until I reached the edge. Standing up, using my arms for balance, I looked to my right at the portal. It was now just a few feet away…an easy jump for a suicidal nutjob. Seeing as how I was fresh out of those, I figured I would just have to do. Starting up the chainsaw once more, I backed up for a running start, and bounded from the gaff out into open air.
My jump had been almost too much and I narrowly missed my target by inches, forcing my free hand to snag hold of the demonic arm with my nails. The monstrous arm was thicker than a jumbo jet and I found myself having trouble holding on.
Okay. Need to end this quick! I thought, bringing the chainsaw down into the tree-like wrists. Black goo sprayed from the open wound as the chains bit deep into the creature’s flesh. A demonic scream erupted from behind the black veil of the portal, followed immediately by wild shaking of the limb I was cutting into.
“You took my hand!” I shouted above the din, trying frantically to hold on while I did as much damage as I could. “It’s payback!”
The blade sunk through the grotesque flesh until grinding against something hard. I imagined hitting the creature’s bone and grinned, knowing the pain I was causing. Now it knows what it feels like—oh crap! Images of my own ordeal in that Tennessee cabin flashed through my mind. My possessed hand, after being severed from arm, had been even more deadly than when it had been attached. It had nearly killed me and several innocent people until I’d managed to subdue it.
What the heck would a possessed King Kong-sized hand do to the world? Crap, crap, crap! Stopping the chainsaw, I pulled it out of the flesh and took a breath. Now what?
But I had no more time to think. Suddenly, the giant demon’s head pushed through the opening of space/time to glare at me behind bright, red eyes. Its wide saw-toothed maw stretching open, unleashed a long forked tongue to whip at the air around me. I was frozen in place. Only once before had I seen anything so hideous…so vile. And the former encountered had painted a white streak in my hair. I could only imagine how white my hair was turning now looking at a beast easily three times more vicious than anything I’d ever seen before.
The beast let out a horrendous wail as its mouth lunged for me. Not thinking of the consequences, I leapt from the arm and dove headfirst into the drink below…nearly fifty feet in the air. Amazingly, I survived the impact. When I emerged, the hideous creature had extricated itself to nearly its waistline. The pirates in the galleon whooped and hollered in excitement as the demon slowly immerged into our world. They seemed completely oblivious to my presence as they enthralled themselves with the coming of the great beast.
This is it…the end of the world. And I’m about to let it happen because I can’t remember the word “Nikto”…for cryin’ out loud, how hard is it to remember a simple—NIKTO!
I knew exactly what I had to do. Unhooking the chainsaw from my wrist, I let it sink to the bottom of the bay in order to allow me to tread water more easily. Then, barely keeping my head above the surface, I shouted with all my might: KLATU! BARADA! NIKTO!
That’s it! I remembered the words. All of them. And I said them perfectly! For the first time, I had actually been able to repeat the words exactly the way they were supposed to be and…nothing happened.
…the heck? Why’s nothing happening? But that is precisely what was happening. Nothing. I repeated the words a second time. Still nothing. “No, no, no. This can’t be right. I said the darn words! I said them!” I exclaimed, looking up into the black hole above me. One long leg was now sliding through the vortex, reaching down to the water below.
In desperation, I repeated them a third time. And all hell literally broke loose. Instantaneously, upon the third recitation of the magic words, the air went still. All sounds seemed to be ripped from the area as if a giant vacuum had begun sucking them up from out of earshot. But then, that’s exactly what was happening. The vortex that had only moments ago been turning counterclockwise had begun spiraling in the opposite direction.
The demonic beast screamed in anger and frustration as it started being dragged helplessly back into the netherworld from which it came. It disappeared behind the black veil, but the portal didn’t close. It continued inhaling undead creature within its proximity. I watched in fascination as one ghoul after another was swept from the ship’s deck to flail helplessly into the vortex’s ravenous mouth. The last to go was the captain, who continued hurling curses at me before being sucked into the very portal he’d created. Then, without preamble or warning, the vortex vanished…replaced immediately by the bright orange sun rising slowly over the horizon. I’d survived. I’d actually remembered those stupid lousy words and I’d survived.
“Now,” I said as I started kicking my way to the newly vacated Black Raven. “Time to get back home. Then, maybe, some sugar for the King.”