The wraith came for me in my room. I pivoted my head and saw it there, floating by the door. Light through the window caught the ragged scraps of blue grey cloak that covered only shadow. It hovered over the floor and reached out for me. I couldn’t see a hand through the cloak, but I felt it take hold of my throat and begin to throttle me. For a second, I couldn’t move.
Then I sat up, throwing a punch at empty air and roaring. Moai and Carl burst into the room, minipistol at the ready. As always, Moai dressed appropriately. This time, he wore a white short sleeve button-up shirt with a red stain on the pocket. “We heard something. Are there more tentacles?” Carl asked.
Oh sure, I get assaulted by perverted tentacles on the toilet and he didn’t help. I slipped him some of laxative in his beer. One run to the bathroom later and he believed me, alright.
“Nope, no tentacles. He sent a nightmare this time. Pretty nonspecific, too. Nothing in there about trying to fuck my mother. Probably because I don’t remember her.” I reached for a bottle of water by my bedside to wet my parched throat.
“Boss…I may be wrong on this, but are the walls bleeding?” he asked then, looking at the hand he’d set on the wall when he burst in. He held it out to me and something covered the palm. Then he flipped the light switch.
“Huh,” I said, looking around as thick red blood oozed out of the corner where the wall and ceiling met. “You don’t see that everyday.”
“Don’t you think this is a problem?” asked Carl, backing slowly out of the room.
“Not really. Smells a bit coppery in here. Hey, can you get me a bottle or something? I’ve always wanted to do a DNA test on bleeding walls.”
“Aren’t you curious whose blood keeps oozing out of haunted houses? Do those houses have themselves their own genetic code, or is it borrowing from other people? Is our lair having a period? If this is its first one, should we throw it a party or something? What blood type does a building have, termite positive? Hey, there’s an idea! If this shit is O, this place could be a gold mine.” I jumped up and clapped my hands together.
“Boss. Bleeding. Walls.” Carl pointed at the walls as if I hadn’t noticed.
I ran over and grabbed him. “You’re right, Carl. We need to sell this place immediately. This will be worth a fortune on the vampire real estate market!”
I still don’t understand his lack of enthusiasm and curiosity, but I hear that’s one of those intrinsic differences in people. Some people, when confronted by a new or startling situation, react with fear. Others, with curiosity. There were interesting studies proving this, but they didn’t continue because the scientists had mixed feelings about the conclusion.
Speaking of studies, I’ve been studying up on Spinetingler some more. I had to haggle with the Pinkerton Detective Agency through an intermediary. Harlon, actually. It pays to have friends who help run a company known for investigating stuff, so his government contacts came in handy. Ok, maybe his particular news channel isn’t known for actual investigations, but people still take their calls. He also had reporters pump their sources for information on Spinetingler. It paid off for him since I’m an anonymous source who confirmed that the cause of the strange events lately is Spinetingler.
Oh, and my extensive recordings of Venus’s voice came in handy, too. She had enough pull to assuage some doubtful record keepers. Her celebrity had its uses.
I also used the time to work on my replacement eye and finish repairs on my mobile armory.
Spinetingler’s an older fellow, or possibly a legacy villain. The earliest incident was in ’79. A small town vanished off the map. They suspected some cult performing human sacrifices when they found people’s heads had been drilled into and all the bodies in the graveyard had been exhumed from the outside. They found every mirror in town, even on cars, shattered. Later notes on the photos note that the shards fell far out from the mirrors itself, not straight down. They never recovered the bodies from the cemetery. They recognized it as a Spinetingler incident after more occurred thanks to a photo on a roll of film, and a drawing made in some flaking brown substance on the wall of an elementary school.
Both showed a man in a hood with a skull where the face would be. That went on to be his signature look. He’d wear a hoodie, black robes, a jumpsuit; whatever. But he’d always have some sort of hood and a mask like a skull.
Subsequent sightings never involved the total extinction of a population. In one case, a bank appeared to be sealed up tight from the outside. When a hero finally broke in, the bank sealed up behind him. Events inside the bank looped. Everything appeared normal at first, then the lights went out. One of the tellers, Derrick Skinner, inevitably disappeared, found something sharp, and removed most of the skin off the lower half of his face. After that, he began stalking and killing off the rest of the staff.
The hero’s after action report told how he could never restrain or beat Skinner himself. He’d kill everyone else, chase the newest teller to the door, and tear her throat out with his teeth. The whole thing ended when the hero intervened in just the right way at the end. He distracted Skinner and wound up injured, while the woman found a shard of broken mirror and used it to off Skinner. That time, the doors to the bank opened and the loop ended.
Then they found out all the money was missing, as was Skinner’s body. Closed circuit television cut out of the events of the loop, but showed the man with the hood and skull mask stepping into the bank and walking over to Skinner’s teller window.
Next, he attacked Wall Street here in Empyreal City. The building locked down tight and the only calls to escape were indecipherable but for the sound of screams. When SWAT broke in, they found an abattoir. They found blood and corpses everywhere. A few of the bodies had been partially burned, just through their shirts and onto their skin over their heart. They reeked. A lone survivor was found, talking to himself. He finished carving a hooded figure with a skull for a head, then charged the officers with a letter opener. Naturally, they defended themselves. Like some of the others, he had a burn mark on his chest and smelled like rotten eggs.
A few years later, the authorities spotted him in California. Someone anonymously bought up Thrillworld Amusement Park. Personal assistants spoke with employees on his behalf: fat, penny-pinching Mr. Mammonne and Mr. Dee, who always covered most of his face with a scarf as if he had a cold. Over the course of two years, complaints piled up. Accidental maimings from rides. An animal show going out of control. Food poisoning. Inappropriate touching of children by Billy the Thrill Lizard. Disappearances.
It actually added to the atmosphere when they altered the park to scare people in October and temporarily changed the name to Chillworld. They even changed the Billy costume from being a happy, grinning green lizard to a grinning black lizard with a sharper smile and a head that could open up as if biting. They called him Chilly and he had his own haunted house: Chilly’s Kill Cave.
Chillworld provided half their revenue for the first year. The second year, a man walked into the park during Chillworld and started shooting at mascots and food vendors. He was last seen lighting a Molotov cocktail and walking into Chilly’s Kill Cave. The fire burnt down a quarter of the park and damaged a lot more. It also revealed a few skeletons in the closet. Well, not the closet so much as stuffed inside the walls of the Kill Cave. They found the man, dead, with a huge bite taken out of his neck next to what investigators later confirmed was the body of his son who went missing the year before.
The same time all that happened, pretty much every ride went wrong in some manner, killing dozens. Fleeing witnesses described a man in a hood with a skull for a face watching from in front of Chilly’s Kill Cave, flanked by what appeared to be a pot-bellied demon and a man missing the skin on half his face. They disappeared by the time emergency services arrived. No one ever found Billy/Chilly either.
There were plenty more stories, including a feud with a hero named Beacon. That’s when he was at his most active. Six attacks over twelve years, from ’85 through ’97. All those attacks only diminished his threat as he failed, over and over, to kill the hero. It didn’t help that some of the attacks bordered on ridiculous. I think the fifth one took place at a petting zoo. A killer petting zoo, but that setting made Spinetingler a joke for awhile.
Then he killed Beacon. The flame-haired firebrand, or so the old trading cards called him. Caught him on vacation during winter. Beacon froze to death near a burned-up hotel, with no other shelter around. Exact details aren’t known because Beacon can’t exactly talk anymore, but the last thing he ever mentioned before the phone line cut out was “Spinetingler’s here.
The former Army Ranger-turned vigilante’s luck ran out. Joke’s over. Rimshot. Ba dum tish!
The early stuff gave me a bit of insight into the man. Sure, his crimes followed, in a sort of way. The first one, he got acclimated to his powers. Then he robbed a bank for capital, which he then invested on Wall Street. He used the funds to purchase the park. For what purpose? More horror stories. The same with Beacon. A recurring foe, tested by great evil, survives the encounters until those stories become unpopular.
He enjoyed the narrative, something I sympathized with. He’s never been witnessed killing with his own hands, but he often altered circumstances. The improbable happened. Mechanical failures piled up, locks stuck, lights shorted, and people tripped over nothing. He also empowered others, turning them into monsters that he watched stalk prey. Like his own personal horror movie.
If Venus knew this, why didn’t she tell me? Eh, maybe she thinks I’d work with the guy for more power. Which actually makes me curious. They killed Skinner, or so that hero said. Stabbed in the back of the chest, repeatedly, with a mirror shard. Really, it would have been most effective the first time. Probably broke off inside the guy like that. Still, that’s a tough one to survive without tricks like mine. But that’s nothing I can’t do already.
I prefer to be the devil people deal with, than the one making deals with the devil.
However, the collection of Clive Barker stories that made up Spinetingler’s life gave me an idea on how to talk to the fellow. I’ll have to use it soon and find out if Spinetingler’s in the mood for a reboot.
That, and if I’m going to need the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to summon a plunger strong enough to clear my toilet of its Lovecraftian infestation.