Ticket to Hell (Part IV of IV)
by Linda Wisdom

Clouds. Lots of white fluffy clouds. Birds singing. Merlin smiled as she floated in the sky, reaching up to tap the clouds the way she'd tap a shining bubble. So pretty. So calm. So … wrong.

The air didn't smell fresh and clean the way it should. It smelled nasty, like rotten eggs. Like – her nose wrinkled in disgust as her brain slowly figured out just what she was smelling – sulfur. And it was hot. Not hot like a gorgeous summer day, but hot like … she reluctantly opened her eyes … like the fires of hell.

I'm dead but there's no way I was so bad I ended up here!

"She's back! Our Merlin Jones is here with us as our guest of honor!" A booming voice she was used to hearing over the radio echoed around and over her.

This can't be Uncle Rob Jobs! Not this dark draped figure hovering over her like some unearthly lover. The cowl covering his head wouldn't allow her to see anything more than glowing red eyes and teeth that were too white and too sharp. Why did she feel this didn't bode well for her?

"Are you ready to receive your Grand Prize, Merlin Jones?" The mouth widened in a fiendish grin and his words echoed around the room. "Because we're sure ready to give it to you."

"I didn't buy a ticket," she gasped as she realized she was lying on a cold metal table and she was naked! With her hands and legs secured to the table she couldn't scramble off and run like hell the way she wanted to. It didn't help that the room was as cold as a meat locker. This was a scene out of a very bad horror movie.

"Merlin! Merlin! Are you all right?" This was one voice she was grateful to hear because it gave her hope and the assurance she wasn't alone in this insanity.

"Jake!" She tried to twist her head around. With her limited visibility she couldn't see the cop who had rescued her from the supply closet, but hearing he was alive reassured her. He was the only good thing that had happened tonight in what she feared was her soon-to-be-short life.

"What kind of sick joke is this?" She demanded of the cowled figure who hovered nearby.

Those razor-sharp teeth widened in a horrible grin. "No sick joke, Merlin Jones. This is your Grand Prize. Or should I say YOU are the Grand Prize."

His – it's – laughter spilled over her like boiling hot acid, while grayish-white faces with black eyes crowded around him – it. Hands that resembled claws reached out for her.

Merlin screamed until her throat was raw.


Sounds of a fight from the other side of the laboratory had her twisting and turning until her wrists and ankles burned from the pain. "Jake!" she screamed. "Jake!"

"Leave her alone, you monster!" His words were muffled as the sounds of the scuffle reached her along with shrieks of pain that weren't all Jake's.

Merlin was overjoyed that he was inflicting his share of pain on these creatures. But her attention couldn't stay focused on him for long. She watched with growing horror as Uncle Rob Jobs held out his white bony hand and a black iron pot was placed in his palm. He lifted the narrow brush out of the pot and began painting a sticky blackish-red substance onto her skin. She was able to lift her head just enough see the strange symbols appear on her belly and gagged at the coppery smell of blood.

Ick factor!

"What is going on here?" she demanded. "Why are you doing this to us?"

Uncle Rob Jobs grinned even wider and a thick purple tongue slipped from his mouth and slithered along his lips. Its end was split like a serpent's and for a moment Merlin feared that tongue would end up on her. The idea of gagging was looking better all the time.

"I told you, Merlin Jones, you are the Grand Prize!"

She swallowed her next scream as the table was tipped upward, until it, and she, were both upright. The moment she saw what was before her she wished she were lying back down again.

What should have been a wall covered with metal shelves was now ancient red-flecked stone with an archway revealing flames and the nostril-burning stench of sulfur.

There's a monster in there that’s going to eat me!

If she could have found a breath she would have screamed her lungs out all over again.

With the table upright she could see Jake struggling despite being overwhelmed by several more creatures with grayish skin and hollow eyes. He seemed to single one of them out.

"My God, Tony, what the hell is wrong with you?" Jake faced down the man who was as gray-faced as all the other zombies, his eyes gleaming with bloodlust.

Uncle Rob Jobs whirled and raised a hand. "Don't hurt the cop!" he ordered, his wickedly genial expression turning menacing. "After all, he's sort of a winner too."

The people, if they could be called that, immediately backed away from Jake, although one young woman that Merlin recognized as a waitress from Darby's Honky Tonk paused long enough to lick the blood from his face. He shoved her away from him so hard she fell to her knees. Her self-satisfied smile didn't waver as she licked his blood from her fingers. Two men pushed and prodded Jake toward Merlin and Uncle Rob Jobs. He skidded on the blackish blood that streaked the cement floor.

Merlin was grateful when Jake looked pointedly at her, catching her gaze. What she wouldn't give for a nice ankle length coat right now!

"Do you like our laboratory?" Uncle Rob Jobs asked, holding his arms out in a wide expanse.

"I don't give a damn about your laboratory!" she cried in a voice raw from screams. "I want to know why you're doing this to us!"

"As I said, you're the Grand Prize winner."

"We didn't buy tickets," Jake insisted again. "How could we be the winners? Just let us go and we won't tell anyone."

"Ah, but that's why you've won. And don't make promises that your better nature won't allow you to keep." He walked over to Jake, his black robes fluttering around his legs. "You know, I do this contest every year and there's always some who won't lay down cold hard cash for tickets while everyone else around them is eager to win - some who have the inner strength to resist the lure. You two are the strongest I've ever had."

"More like lack of money," Merlin muttered, then mentally slapped herself back to the problem at hand. Namely that sulfurous smelling archway covering a wall that she was afraid was meant for her. She didn't think the cavern beyond was anything good either. "You still haven't explained why this is happening. What's going on with the others?"

She inclined her head toward what she now privately called Uncle Rob Jobs' minions, because there was no way they were human any longer. They resembled extras from the movie The Night of the Living Dead. If she could keep this thing talking maybe she wouldn't be eaten or sacrificed or turned into one of them. And if she managed to get out of this she was buying a lottery ticket every day for the rest of her life.

Uncle Rob Jobs nodded to the two men who stood near Jake. They grabbed hold of him and ripped off his shirt. Before Jake could protest, he was held tightly and Uncle Rob Jobs began painting his chest with the same black-red symbols he used on Merlin. Once he finished, he pulled Jake over to the table and secured his left wrist to the table with his handcuffs.

"We don't want you to wander off before we're finished," he told him with that maniacal grin that had already turned Merlin's bones to Jell-o and not in a good way.

"We have a serious problem," she whispered when gross ole Uncle Rob Jobs moved off to talk to his minions.

"No kidding." Jake looked around as he idly worked on the handcuff. "Do you know what normally goes on down here?"

Merlin shook her head. "They have their own janitorial staff. It was always a restricted area ... something about security." She stared at the wall of flames. She swore there were red eyes among them staring back at her.

God! Why hadn't she quit this job months ago?

"I'm going to die down here and no one will miss me." She blinked back the tears that threatened to fall.

Jake looked down at her and winked. "I would. And is that a hairpin?" he whispered.

"You're worried about my hair!"

He shook his head and used his free hand to unobtrusively pluck the hairpin free. Seconds later, the handcuff on his wrist sprang free. Keeping a close eye on Jobs' minions, who seemed involved with something going on near the wall of flames, he quickly released Merlin.

"Run!" he ordered in a low voice. "Run and don't look back."

"What about you?"

"I'll be right behind you." He pushed her off the table. "Now!"

Merlin didn't stop to think, didn't protest, didn't even blink. The minute her bare feet hit the cold cement floor she was off and running, not even pausing as she snatched a lab coat from a nearby rack and struggled into it. She grasped the door handle and pulled so hard her arm almost dislocated as it refused to open. She fell backwards and landed on her back, her head connecting painfully with the floor.

So close!

"Come come, Merlin, did you honestly think it would be that easy?" Uncle Rob Jobs stood over her, looking entirely too chirpy over her failed escape. Jake was held upright between two men and sported what looked like a nasty cut lip. "Why are you making it so difficult for yourself?"

"What do you want?" she cried, sitting up. "How can we be so important to you? And you're completely wrong about me being a virgin - I lost that distinction years ago!"

From the corner of her eye she saw Jake flash her another reassuring grin, while Uncle Jobs chuckled good naturedly. "But my dear young woman, for all intents, you are a virgin when it comes to games of chance. You've never played. Ever. How very odd for a human. Such a strong soul." He continued to gesture them forward. As he walked back to the wall of flames, she and Jake were pulled right along with him.

Merlin looked away from the flames and red eyes pulsating hungrily from within. Were there teeth flashing in there too? She didn't want to think about it.

"I still don't get it," she shouted. "Before you toss us into the inferno, I need to know why."

Uncle Rob Jobs plucked at his hood and pushed it back. Merlin immediately wished he hadn't as she stared at what was nothing more than a bloody mask stretched over bone and a pair of eyes black as sin.

"Every lab like Netherwood has a room 666 that only appears on Halloween night," he said. "A room that is our secret entry way." He gestured toward the flames. "Once a year we hold our contest in a different part of the country. We offer a mysterious grand prize no one can resist. Imagine our surprise when this year there were two of you." His gaze momentarily rested on Jake. "It's the first time that's happened."

"Let the cop go," Merlin implored. "You already said I'm the winner. Sacrifice me, but let him go."

"No! She should go," Jake argued as he struggled anew against the dead-eyed creatures who held him fast.

Uncle Rob Jobs sighed. "You still don't see, do you?" He glanced at the clock. It was seconds away from midnight. "You will. Oh yes, you will."

Merlin followed his gaze and watched as the second hand met the minute hand and then met the hour hand. Midnight had arrived.

The archway of fire widened and flared brighter and Merlin was certain these were her last few moments of life. She only hoped her demise would be instantaneous.

"The time has come!" Uncle Rob Jobs shouted, his voice loaded with power and command.

Jake shook off his jailers and grabbed hold of Merlin. She clung to him. At least she wouldn't die alone. Small comfort, but she'd take what she could get. She felt the air around them grow so heavy it was difficult to breathe and then it suddenly seemed like a solid wall pushed at Uncle Rob Jobs' minions. The townspeople cried out with confusion as they were slowly but surely herded into the waiting archway that was widening like a hungry mouth.

Screams and shrieks echoed in the cavernous room as everyone was swept into into its maw. Jake quickly pulled Merlin out of harm's way. Her knuckles whitened as she tightened her grip on him, but somehow the powerful wall didn't come near them. The minute the last person was pushed into the inferno, the wall shrank and the heat lessened.

Uncle Rob Jobs smiled benignly.

"What just happened?" Merlin asked.

"It's easy," he announced. "You didn't allow greed to get the better of you, so you get to live. And because the brave policeman here didn't buy a ticket either, he gets to live too."

She was stunned. "We do?"

He nodded. "Michael Douglas was wrong. Greed isn't good. Live a happy life, Merlin and Jake." With a wave of his hand, he disappeared through the archway. The red glow winked out and the laboratory walls once again looked pristine.

This time when Merlin tried the doorknob the door swung open easily and they slowly made their way upstairs. The building was eerily silent and once outside, Jake helped her into his car. Moments later they drove through a city that was noticeably empty. Lights remained on in homes and businesses, but she and Jake were the only humans there.

They stopped at her apartment where she quickly packed up some clothing and he did the same at his place. In no time at all they were on the road leading out of town. Jake studied Merlin and realized that she may have been scared to death down in that laboratory, but she didn't go to pieces. And she really was kind of cute. He hadn't missed her taking stock of him and obviously coming to the same conclusion.

He slowed to a stop the minute they reached the town's limits and leaned over to kiss Merlin. It turned out she kissed as good as she looked. He suddenly saw a very long and fruitful relationship with her.

Jake grinned. "So, Merlin, you up to finding a town that doesn't celebrate Halloween?"                                                     

Note: The author, Linda Wisdom, retains all rights to this story.