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
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
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.
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
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.
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
"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.
"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
There's a monster in
there thats 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.
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
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
"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
"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?"
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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
"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
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
happened?" Merlin asked.
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
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?"