Exiting the house, the group was sans their guide as they stepped into the dark night. The wind had begun to whip about and the moon was blocked from sight by enormous clouds overhead. There was something eerie about the atmosphere, even for a scary farm.
"Where next?" Ami put in cheerily, breaking through the quiet that had settled.
"How about the cornfield?" Buddy suggested, now throughly recuperated from his earlier scare. DW arched his brow artfully, dubiously, as though doubtful of the fear a cornfield could inspire.
"The field it is then!" Jonathan agreed, as the group made their way across the lot.
The back field had been made into a giant maze, with three entrances and corn so tall it nearly dwarfed them all. "DW, why don't you pick which way we go?" Buddy suggested. His boyfriend considered this for a long moment, with a surprising seriousness for someone who appeared entirely amused by the whole process, before nodding to the right.
"I think this is the more fruitful choice," he decided certainly. They nodded their agreement, and trailed after DW's tall, imposing figure into the dark, earthen corridor.
It likely wasn't more than ten or twenty yards through the maze when the wind began to pick up, and a sudden chill took the air. They'd already taken several turns by now, and in the dark were further disoriented. Everyone, even DW, seemed to shiver.
"Hey guys?" Buddy asked as he rubbed his arms. "Is it just me, or is it getting really cold?"
"Yeah," Jonathan agreed with s nod. "It's freezing out here, and it feels like rain. Maybe we should head back."
They were all in agreement, and had turned to go the way they'd came, when a figure unless into their path. It looked to be one of the haunters -their face was the grim burlap smile of a scarecrow, and they held a severed head under one arm. The person, whoever they were, held out the other hand -the one not currently holding a head-as though in warning. In it, they clutched a scythe.
"You must complete the maze," his disembodied head and sack-face said together. "You must complete the maze," he intoned again.
"Woah there," Ami protested, trying to step past him. "We just want to go home."
"You must complete the maze," repeated the figure, now more sternly. "You must complete the maze."
"Hey!" Jonathan frowned. "No need to be so stubborn. Just let us go." Now he too tried to push past the scarecrow, but was shouldered roughly back by the merciless haunter. In the corn, a growing rustle could be heard, and voices within it.
"You must complete the maze." It sounded as though there somehow were hundreds of them, tucked in along the cornstalks. "You must complete the maze." Now, they were growing closer, and closer yet. "You must complete the maze." Closer still. "You must complete the maze." Jonathan could see the shifting of the corn. "You must complete the maze -or join us - forever."
"Johnny?" Ami's voice pitched up. "We should run."
The words were just from her mouth when something burst from the corn. They turned and fled, their shoes slipping over the muddy path. Behind them, the footsteps of the creeping monsters seemed ever more imminent. It was far too clear that these things were not the haunters that they'd anticipated - but something else entirely. Honestly, Jonathan thought, he should have known. Nothing in Melancholy Falls ever was what it should have been.
They came to a fork in the field, a point where their one path diverged into two. Ami grabbed Jonathan's wrist and tugged him to the left. At their side, Buddy and DW went right. Jonathan had s sudden recollection of the summers of their youth, until a hand clutched for his ankle. He kicked it forcefully away, this time being the one to tug Ami to the side.
There was no way of knowing just how many turns they had taken before the left hand one which brought them slamming into Buddy and DW. The Devil looked displeased with this turn of events.
"I trust this is not how these establishments are typically ran?" he inquired, almost sounding breathless.
"Definitely not," Buddy agreed.
"Yeah, I have no clue what's going on here." Jonathan frowned.
"Well on this hand, I may be of some assistance. Now, I do believe that what we have here is a manifest infestation of sorts."
DW smiled. "Nasty little devils, if you will pardon the pun. They take their forms according to the wishes of their demon who summoned them."
"Sorry." Ami's eyebrows furrowed deeply. "Did you say demons?"
Here, DW turned Ami's way, his grim expression faltering, a grin held at the twisting upturn of his lips. It was enough for Ami, who gave a low grown.
"I shouldn't have asked.
"What can we do about it?"
"Well, that's simple, really. All you have to do is find the source."
But the sound of rustling interrupted their conversation, and they were soon running again. Through the maze and endless, unaccountable turns they traveled. Then, Jonathan's heart lifted. In the distance he could see the opening of the maze. The corn thinned, the world parted. They were almost there, almost out. Just a little more, Jonathan thought to himself. Just a little longer and they'd be out if this hell.
A scream emulated from behind, one loud and familiar enough to cause Jonatan to still. Behind him, Ami's for was caught in the grasp of a menacing scarecrow.
"Johnny!" she cried out. "Run!"
Instinct told him to save her, to run back towards her and fight those bastards off. But the tone in Ami's voice was enough to drive Jonathan away from this particular course of action. As Ami kicked in fought, Jonathan ran deep through the fields, pushing past cornstalks like mere nuisances, all that they could be in so dire a moment.
He arrived back to the parking lot to see that the skies were a shade so dazzling it would make the Emerald City envious. Storm clouds brewed as though they say in the bottom of a witch's cauldron, and a growl of thunder seemed to shake the ground on which he stood. Armed with a pitchfork he'd found in the field, Jonathan Barker marched toward the ticket stand. When she saw him, the woman inside's smile grew... Then faltered.
"Where did the butler go?" Jonathan asked, trying and failing to conceal the edge of impatience in his tone.
"What?" The young woman cocked her head.
"The butler. Where is he?" Jonathan questioned again. Behind him, Buddy's voice rang out with a great dash of concern.
"No. That thing has Ami." His attention focused back to the young woman again. "Where's the butler?"
"Why, I'm right here Mr. Barker."
The voice came from everywhere and from nowhere. Jonathan spun around, brandishing the pitchfork like some comically poor sword. There, standing at the steps, the butler waved, before darting into the house. As Jonathan turned to run after, DW caught his arm.
"Demons of his kind have one fatal flaw, Jonathan, a hamartia, if you will: their vanity. Wound their vanity and you'll have them by the thread."
Jonathan nodded, pushed the pitchfork into DW's hands. "Go get Ami," he commanded, before running off into the house after the demon.
The inside of the house had changed considerably since what seemed like hours before, when they first had entered into it. Instead of a grand, though ghastly estate, it now wore the interior of a fun house, like something of the circus. Jonathan felt his stomach twist - he'd always been fairly brave as a child, and had delighted particularly in the spirits of Halloween and in horror, but circuses and carnivals had always terrified him. Now, he seemed to have no choice but to face that fear head-on.
This if for Ami, Jonathan reminded himself. This is for Ami. He shut his eyes tight, and then, as he began to open them again, steeled himself.
"I know you're in here," he called out, to the darkness which had swallowed the estate.
"Ohh, very astute, Mr. Barker," a voice cackled in reply. "Care to play a game?"
"No, thanks, I think I'll just take Ami and you can go," he called back sharply. The laughter grew, shaking the now canvas walls.
"Oh, Mr. Barker, but that isn't how this game is played." The sound of carnival music began to emulate from somewhere within the walks, haunting as it seemed to reach out, stretching for him.
Despite himself, his fears, and his better judgement, Jonathan found his feet traveling over the red flooring, into the center of a great ring.
"I've faced tentacle monsters and were-bunnies, and have almost been food for the Jersey Devil." He barked out a cold laugh, though in part he was trying to build bravado within himself. "Why should I be afraid of you?"
Suddenly, a figure swept down. It had the haunting, horrifying face of a clown, with menacing black eyes and a gory red smile. "Trick or treat!" The figure cackled, still suspended upside down in mid air. Jonathan hated clowns. He tried to remember what DW had said, but instead was having far too visceral flashbacks of his fifth birthday.
"Ohh, he doesn't like that," the clown said, almost to itself as it righted its body. "Did ickle Johnny have a nightmare?"
"I think he did!" a second clown gleefully answered, head popping out of the other's body. Jonathan looked up. They looked exactly like the clowns at the circus he'd been to, from faces to foot. Suddenly, an idea popped to mind. Jonathan looked at the clowns, squeezing his eyes tight for just a moment more, despite the danger. When they opened, something large and red fell into his hands. The two clown heads looked between one another, their concern growing obvious. Triumphant, however, Jonathan grinned. He adjusted the nozzle and SPLOOSH! A jet of seltzer water came squirting out, splashing all across the clowns. It melted their makeup first, leaving an awful array streaming across their faces.
"I think he's figured it out, One," said the second clown to the first.
"I think you're right too, Two," answered the first. Jonathan raised the nozzle again, spraying the clowns down. He sprayed them again and again, watching in amazement and then in disgust as the remainder of their makeup washed away - and then their faces, and then their clothes and their bodies all at once. Then, even the room began to melt, and the world began to spin violently, a Kansas and Toto style tornado seeming to whip through him. When finally the world seemed back on its feet, Jonathan realized that he was no longer in the haunted house, nor the carnival, but that he was standing in the crumbling husk of a burnt-down old manor. From the fields there came a noise, and a moment later Buddy and DW burst out, half-carrying a limping Ami who clung to their shoulders.
"Johnny, you did it!" she cheered brightly. He shrugged.
"Yeah, I did."
But Buddy placed a hand thoughtfully on his hip. "Dude," he began with a grin. "Why are you all wet?"