Continued from Night of the Cauldron: Part VI, The Scarecrow's Lantern
Night of the Cauldron
Scythe of the Reaper
Traci watched with horror as the mechanical grim reaper peeled itself off the fence and climbed down toward her and her father. The reaper's fake teeth chattered as it crawled. It cackled endlessly now, no longer waiting for Traci to come near. It was coming to her. As it moved, it's scythe knocked the Jack O Lantern off the edge of the railing. The large pumpkin rolled across the deck and finally came to rest near the cauldron.
Suddenly, she was moving backward, away from the reaper and green glow of the cauldron. Her father had opened the sliding glass door and pulled her inside the house. The door slid closed with a soft hiss just as the reaper's skeletal fingers danced across the glass. Traci's father quickly pushed the lock button and dropped the security bar down into the door's track.
The reaper flattened its plastic face against the glass door. Much like a bird, it seemed unable to see the glass. It pushed forward, perplexed by the unseen obstruction, biting at the air. Traci noticed that its movements had become less mechanical. It seemed almost to slither now as it sought passage.
"That earthquake was awesome!" Traci's younger brother, Robbie, ran into the room and jumped onto the couch. He smiled and bounced in his Superman costume.
"Jim, What happened? The whole house shook!" Traci's mother approached from the kitchen. Traci and her father glanced at each other worriedly for a moment, then simply stepped away from the door. Her mother gasped. The reaper pushed against the door, still cackling. It reached upward trying to climb then slid back down to the deck. It's shadow stretched into the living room, stark against the pulsing green light from the cauldron. Robbie stopped jumping and his smile melted into confusion. His eyes darkened and his brow furrowed in a tight knot.
"What's going on?" he asked, keeping his gaze on the slithering reaper.
"I - I don't know." her father's face had grown pale and he was glossy with sweat. Traci had never seen him this pale before. His eyes were wide and staring. Her mother moved beside the couch, placing her arm around Robbie.
"Dad?" Traci reached for her father. Suddenly he turned with purpose and rushed towards the stairs.
"Keep an eye on that thing. I'm gonna get my gun."
There was a loud thud. Everyone jumped. The reaper had grabbed a plastic bucket and was banging it against the the glass. It weakly lifted the bucket and hit the door again. Her father sighed heavily and disappeared up the stairway.
Was Traci imagining it's expression changing? It's eyes seemed narrower than before, more intent. She watched it for a long moment, then unable to bear its gaze, she turned away. Taking several steps back, she rested against a bookshelf. She glanced up towards the front window and thought she saw movement there. A white shape lingered beyond the blinds. Whomever it was noticed her watching and slowly moved away from the window.
There was a heavy knock at the door. A single rap. After a few seconds it came again.
"That may be Rick. He was coming by before the party." Her mother glanced at Traci with uncertainty. The knock came again, solid and insistent.
"Uncle Rick!" Robbie yelled, smiling. He squirmed free of his mother's embrace and ran for the door.
"Robbie - no - wait -" Traci called, but Robbie had already flung the door open. There was a long silence. The entryway was inset and Traci could not see Robbie. She took a tentative step forward. "Robbie?"
Robbie slowly backed away from the door as an imposing white form floated into the living room. It was the ragged skeletal phantom her father had set up as decoration in the front yard. Like the reaper it had come to life with malicious intent. Glowing with a pale light, it towered over Robbie. It glared at him with it's wicked smile and maniacal eyes. He backed away, stumbling back into the living room. Her father appeared at the bottom of the stairs, gun in hand. He leveled the barrel at the phantom, moving between it and the front doorway.
"Hey!" he yelled. The white phantom turned to face him. He fired several shots. The bullets lodged in the wall opposite. Robbie screamed. The phantom screamed at her father, knocking him back against the door frame. He fell to the floor.
The phantom turned back to Robbie. Traci's mother jumped up and moved to Robbie, grabbing an iron from the fireplace. She put herself between the phantom and Robbie, swinging the rod hard. She hit the phantom across the face and found purchase there. The impact twisted the creature's face around sideways. Her mother paused, raring back, ready to strike once more.
The creature's face twisted back around and it screamed at her mother. The sound made Traci's insides cramp up. The creature bore down upon her mother and brother. Traci was stuck, unable to think, to move. A glow passed in the air between her mother and the phantom and her mother immediately collapsed. The Phantom descended, covering mother and son in it's white shroud. Absently Traci realized that the reaper was gone from the door.
Her father rose to his feet and faced the phantom once again, but just then a swarm of black winged skulls flew into the living room through the open door. There were so many of the birds that their force pushed her father across the room and flattened him against the opposite wall. They poured in like locusts, quickly filling the space and cawing ceaselessly.
Traci dropped to her knees and tried to get the security bar free from the track of the sliding door. One of the skull birds had grabbed hold of her hair and was pulling her head backward. After several tries she finally got the bar free. She managed to knock the skull bird away, but it took some of her hair and a piece of her scalp with it. Another bird had landed in the space behind the couch and was flapping its way toward her. She swung the bar hard and shattered the skull.
She unlocked the door and rushed outside. She slammed the door shut and dropped the security bar into the door track, locking it in place. She backed away from the door. Traci looked about for a place to run or to hide. Far above the house more of the skull birds circled. She heard the reaper's cackle, but it was muted and distant. She did not see the horrid thing.
On one corner of the deck and up against the house, her father had a metal cabinet where he kept all his lawn tools. She rushed to it now, flinging open the door and tossing out the tools within. She found a leaf blower, a shovel, a hack saw, a pitchfork, an extension cord, and several rakes. She pulled out a leaf blower and threw it at a skull bird that had swooped down. The bird was caught under its weight and squawked in protest. Its wings flapped and struggled but it was stuck.
As she was pulling out the shovel, the reaper came from the roof and crawled across the top of the cabinet towards her. Traci screamed and hit the thing square in the chest with the shovel. It howled at the resistance. It was definitely transforming. It's face was bloated and had taken on a fleshy color. It grinned at her as it struggled against the shovel.
Traci screamed, pushing with all her weight. She pivoted on one foot and twisted, flinging the thing away from her hard. It landed on the edge of the cauldron. The cauldron thrummed with the impact. The reaper lay still for a moment and Traci hoped that the thing was finished, but it began wiggling and slithered face first into the cauldron.
Traci dropped the shovel and turned back quickly to the metal cabinet. She tossed out the hedge trimmer that lay across the bottom of the cabinet and a hack saw. She climbed inside, pulling the door to and holding it fast. She had to scrunch down slightly to fit under the metal shelf within.
She had moved just in time. She heard sliding glass door shatter. The cawing of the skull birds grew louder as they swarmed the deck. From within the cabinet, their movement flashed and strobed as it disrupted the green from the cauldron flames. She held on tightly to the lock mechanism inside of the cabinet. Her hands were sweaty but she twisted her arm into the mechanism and brought all her weight to bear against it.
She screamed involuntarily as there was a loud bang against the cabinet. Something had hit it. Another bang and the panel beside her head dented inward slightly. Her ears rang from the proximity of the sound. The blows came repeatedly. Soon it was as if someone were throwing rocks onto a tin roof. The skull birds were pummeling the cabinet.
The door jerked in her hands and a space about three inches wide opened before her. The phantom was pulling the door panels apart. She reached her arm further into the door mechanism. When the creature jerked the door again, pain shot through her upper arm. She screamed. Her face was soaked in tears and sweat.
The phantom had reached into the seam between the two doors and was attempting to pull them open. The doors bent and distorted, pinning her arm in the mechanism. The creature screamed again and at this proximity Traci thought that she was going to vomit. Her vision blurred. It felt as if her arm were pulling free from its socket.
The banging of the skull birds hitting the cabinet ceased suddenly, and she heard their caws receding. She was thankful, but in the back of her mind she felt regret for whomever the birds had taken notice of. The phantom continued to glare at her through the seam of the doors. The phantom grew silent. In the distance, a police siren flared twice.
"Oh thank god," traci thought, but then she remembered her father's gun and her heart sank. The siren flared again followed soon by several gunshots. The phantom removed its hands from the door. It seemed to grow disinterested in her and floated away with a faint moan. Traci would have collapsed onto the floor of the cabinet if her arm had not been trapped in the door machinery. She watched through the gap in the doors as the cauldron continued to burn.
A figure was standing within the fire of the cauldron. It seemed to be bathing in the flames. A skeletal hand reached out of the green and pulled the Jack O Lantern up and into the cauldron. She could hear faint yelling in the distance and the incessant cawing of the skull birds, beyond that, she thought she could hear the whine of firetruck's siren. Several more gunshots fired.
A human shaped figure moved then, between the cabinet and the cauldron. Traci got very still assuming that the phantom had returned, but she heard a familiar voice.
"What the hell?" It was her uncle Rick.
"Ohmygod uncle Rick!" She yelled. Traci burst into tears.
"Traci? What's going on sweetheart? What're you doing in there?" He tried the door. Her arm sang with pain. She screamed.
"Wait, wait, my arm's stuck in the door lock. Hold on." Traci pushed against one of the bars in the lock mechanism and gently extracted her arm. Her finger tips felt numb but the rest of her arm ached. "Okay, now." Rick tugged at the door again, but the bend kept it from opening. He picked up the shovel and wedged it into the seam. Traci pushed from within as he wedged the shovel in and the door burst open. She rushed into his arms, crying. They stood for a long time until her fresh tears backed down.
"Traci," he asked gently, "Where are your Mom and Dad?" Traci just pointed at the shattered sliding glass door. Rick stepped up to the door and looked inside. She heard his breath come in gasps as he recoiled, backing away and slightly past her. He stood between her and the cauldron. His tears joined hers. He bent over, putting weight on his knees to support his grief. "Ohhhh."
Traci saw movement behind her uncle. From within the green flame, a pair of giant bats wings emerged. They unfurled themselves until they spread nearly the width of the deck. Traci struggled to speak but her throat was tight with sorrow and fear.
"Uncle Rick!" She finally screamed. Rick stood up, but before he could turn around there was a flash of movement from the flames. The reaper's scythe sped out and across Rick's neck, cleanly removing his head. It bounced and landed beside the cauldron. His body fell down flat on the deck as a steady fountain pumped from his neck.
A heavily booted foot stepped out of the cauldron. The reaper emerged from the green flame, transformed. The bat wings retracted as it moved forward, folding up as part of its long cloak. It twirled the scythe deftly with a malicious grin. Yellow flames surrounded its blackened Jack O Lantern head. It looked down across Rick's head and body as if it were surveying a distant landscape. It stepped away from the cauldron and moved towards Traci, brandishing the scythe like a cane with each step.
"Daughter of the Flame," Its deep voice echoed as if it were speaking through a long tunnel. The pumpkin faced reaper bowed to her with one hand out akimbo, "Thank you for this, most bounteous feast."