We Got Him, Gabrielle!
Flickering images from the TV screen made erratic light patterns chase themselves in an otherwise dark room. The sound was turned low, but loud enough so the eerie, screeching background music could be heard faintly as something weird and slimy, and only seen in fuzzy outline or short glimpses shuffled through a dark, black-and-white alley in a late 50's London. Inexorably, the thing made its way towards the dead end where a pretty blonde woman was pressed against the wall, her face distorted with sheer terror, her chest heaving mightily with strained breathing.
As the music picked up in intensity, and the gruesome creation on the screen neared its goal, a broad, ugly snout scenting the air for its delectable prey, something moved on the little couch that faced the TV set. The top of a dark, tousled head slowly appeared above a heap of blankets and pillows, wide eyes peering at the screen.
"Has it seen her yet? Are you watching?"
"You can come up. It's sill looking. And they still aren't showing it close up." Sina's voice was a curious mix of indignation and trepidation. Both of her hands were before her eyes, her fingers splayed so she could peek through.
A second head cautiously poked up, this one blond. Gabby's hands clutched the blanket firmly, so she could dive back down quickly in case she needed to.
This whole thing had started with Sina having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It was the second night she was spending over at her friend's house. Her mother and brother were away, which would have left little Sina alone at home. The mere thought, of course, would have raised a few hairs on any grown-up's arms, and her mother was no exception.
Not really familiar with this house, Sina had ended up in the little study Gabby's dad used, and seen the TV set there.
Much to her credit, it must be said that she only gave the TV a graze with her fingertips, and then left the room to do her business, bursting with curiosity. Of course, she was not allowed to watch TV much after ten o'clock at night. It seemed Gabby never even watched after eight, so Sina considered herself rather privileged.
But often, lying awake at night, she had heard the most intriguing sounds coming from the living room where her mother was sitting up late. Whenever Sina had gotten up to investigate, she had been shooed back to bed, none the wiser and utterly frustrated.
Back in Gabby's room, of course the little rascal was unable to go back to sleep, visions of forbidden night time shows dancing before her eyes. Why didn't grown-ups want kids to see this stuff anyway? Maybe Gabby knew...
"Gabby?" she said, softly patting her friend's shoulder. "Hey Gabby, are you awake?"
"Mmmmno," came the muffled reply from where Gabby's face was buried in the pillow.
Sina rolled onto her back and crossed her arms behind her head, staring up at a ceiling that was dimly lit from the smiley night light. "Gabby? I've been wondering.... Why is it that we kids aren't allowed to watch TV at night? I mean, there must be something there that they don't want kids to see, dontcha think? So what could it be?"
She waited a little for an answer, and when she got none, she went on. "Do you think grown-ups hide stuff from kids on purpose? Do you?"
Her friend mumbled something into the pillow.
"So what do you think, Gabrielle? Oh man, isn't that something that just doesn't let you sleep?"
With a frustrated sound, Gabby sat up in bed and shot her friend a dark look out of heavy-lidded, sleepy eyes. "You are something that just won't let me sleep," she flared.
Sina wasn't impressed by the display. "Well, why do you think we're never allowed to watch TV late?"
Gabby yawned, and rubbed her eyes to work moisture into them. She considered her friend's question. "Well if we knew everything they did, maybe they'd have no more power over us. We'd be as smart as they are. I guess they don't want that because then they couldn't boss us around anymore."
"That makes sense," Sina agreed. She paused, her fingers idly playing with the covers. "You know, that TV set, in your dad's study..."
Though hesitant at first, Gabby really didn't need much convincing.
And now, the dread Crypt Thing was on the loose in London, with two mesmerized children looking on, trembling with fear while clutching their blanket, but unable to tear their eyes away as the gruesome, slimy monster slurped and shuffled its way closer to the trapped young woman. Groaning eerily, it passed right by the woman hiding in the shadows, who was shown briefly holding her breath and rolling impossibly wide eyes.
One of the girls whimpered, and the blanket moved up a notch. Then, a relieved sigh as the undead thing passed by the blonde on the screen.
But then it stopped, lifted its half-decayed nose into the air and sniffed, before it peered into the shadows with its milky-white eyeballs.
Gabby gave a strangled gasp, while Sina slipped silently under the blanket until only one eye and the top of her dark head were visible. The children had edged closer together and were now clinging to each other under the blanket in an attempt to ward off the terrible monster.
By the time the Crypt Thing reached out a slimy hand toward its victim's throat, both girls were once again hidden completely under the covers, eyes squeezed shut. All they heard was an ominous, low thrumming music and a piercing, high-pitched scream that cut off suddenly. They bit their lips and held their breath, listening to the gruesome noises.
"God, what do you think he's doing to her?" Sina whispered. "Is he gonna eat her, do you think?"
"I don't wanna know," Gabby whined past the chattering of her teeth.
"You're a sissy," Sina told her. With sudden resolve she squared her shoulders, and stuck her head up slowly. Just in time to see the scene fade to black.
"Oh poo," she murmured (and secretly hoped Gabby had not heard her little relieved sigh).
Both girls screamed when suddenly the light came on. When they saw it was only Gabby's mom, in her night gown, looking both sleepy and angry, they did not relax a whole lot.
"What are you two doing here?" she went to the TV and turned it off, while launching into a tirade about doing what your parents told you, and was Sina allowed to watch TV this late (to which Sina replied with a mute shake of her head), and what would Sina's mom say when she heard about this? "Now get in bed, you two. We'll talk about this tomorrow."
Wide-eyed, the girls complied, fully aware that they were probably in big trouble come tomorrow.
Actually, the trouble started somewhat sooner. The moment Gabby's mom closed the door behind her after seeing them to bed, an eerie silence settled across the bedroom. Both girls huddled deep into their blankets, grateful the other was there, minds whirling.
"What do you think happened to the Crypt Thing?" Sina said after a while. "Do you think they caught it in the end?"
"I don't know," Gabby said in a shaky voice. "It's a pretty mean monster. I don't think it would be easy to catch."
The room was dark but for the milky glow of the smiley night light. Far from comforting, it bathed their surroundings in bizarre shadows, hiding from view the very places where monsters might be lurking. There! Had that been a glimmer of luminous eyes over by the desk? And wasn't there something moving by the chair? In fact it looked like...
"Sina, look," Gabby whispered urgently, "there on the chair, do you see?"
Sina's breath caught as her gaze went to said chair. Something was sitting on it! "It's the Crypt Thing," she breathed, as she felt Gabby slide closer and grasp her arm. The dark-haired girl's mind worked feverishly. Things did not look good for her and her friend. Unless...
"Quick, Gabrielle, what would Xena do? Tell me...."
Gabby rubbed her nose as her eyes took on that faraway look. Even in the face of the terror of the Crypt Thing, she relaxed visibly as images of the great Warrior Princess and her feisty little bard flashed before her mind's eye. Xena always found a way.
Hiding behind the corner of a wooden building, the Warrior Princess and the bard watched as the man-shaped, slimy thing made its way shuffling towards the houses. Tall mounds that were the graves of fallen heroes on the nearby burial grounds could be seen in dim outline against an overcast night sky. A full moon shone in fuzzy brightness through the thick clouds and bathed the land in a faint, milky glow.
"By the Gods, that thing is hideous," Gabrielle breathed.
"Uh huh," the warrior agreed, her usual, talkative self.
"I wonder what would make it rise from the grave like this."
Xena shrugged. "Indigestion?"
The bard just shook her head, faintly exasperated, and turned her attention once more on the approaching shape. "Are you going to fight it?"
"I'll be right by your side." The shorter woman hefted her staff, a look of fierce determination on her face.
"Nuh uh," the warrior grunted. "Stay here. Guard my back."
A do-not-make-me-discuss-this look cut her short. Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but nodded, reluctantly.
Xena waited patiently until the lumbering form was past their hiding place, before she let out her piercing battle cry and launched herself at it with her sword poised. Before the creature could react, the trusty weapon was buried to the hilt in slimy goo that offered little resistance to the sharp weapon. Her opponent did not even flinch.
When she withdrew the blade, it was covered in a green, viscous substance that smelled strongly of fungi and decay. A wisp of vapor rose from the blade, accompanied by a soft hiss.
Blue eyes wide, Xena looked at the sword in her hand. "Oh, yuck!"
But she had the Crypt Thing's attention now. It trained milky white eyes on her and approached her slowly, both arms extended grotesquely.
With a lightning quick move, she attacked once more, and felt the crunch of brittle bone as she delivered a powerful kick to the side of its head. The monster's head snapped sideways at an impossible angle, then came back up, showing a huge dent where her foot had connected. And still it advanced.
"It's no use, Xena, you're not hurting it at all," Gabrielle advised from where she had come out of hiding. The bard looked around frantically for something that might to damage to the creature. Then she saw a small torch flickering near the entrance of the house they had been hiding behind.
"Xena! Try this!"
Only half-looking, the warrior deftly caught the burning torch with her free hand, and immediately thrust it towards the groping monster.
She was rewarded by a piercing screech as the Crypt Thing drew back, clawing at its eyes in obvious pain. It shrank away from her, and when she made another pass with the torch, it fled at a lumbering trot towards the burial grounds.
"Fire!! That's it," Sina whispered. "It hates bright light, all monsters do!" She slowly crawled to the foot of the bed, where the light switch was, never taking her eyes off the monster lurking on the chair. She could almost see the drool running down its chin as it sat there watching her every move, just waiting for one of the girls to get off the bed.
With an evil little smile, Sina extended her hand towards the light switch. "Begone, fiend," she intoned ominously. She was sure she saw the monster flinch just before the light came on. Both girls squeezed their eyes shut against the sudden brightness. When they opened them again, the hideous denizen of the dark had dissolved into the pile of clothes they had carelessly tossed over the chair's back when changing into their jammies.
"Phew! That was close," Sina said.
Gabby cocked her head and looked at her friend, considering. "But what if it comes back...?"
"It will be back," Xena said knowingly. "The torch won't scare it away for long. We have to find a way to destroy it once and for all."
"We could trap it and set it on fire," the bard mused. "I'm sure that would destroy it." (At least, that was what the people on TV had considered doing.)
"Good thinking, Gabrielle. So, how do we go about setting up the traps?"
"Well, first, we'd need a pail of burning pitch..."
Not much later, the two companions were once more in hiding, waiting for the Crypt Thing to approach the village again. Everything looked just as it had before, but the seeming serenity of the sleeping village was deceptive. Only the occasional chirping of a cricket close by broke the peace of the night.
The warrior's eyes carefully scanned for any signs of their work, for what must be the hundredth time. Everything was set perfectly.
And they waited.
"Phooey," Xena whispered, and very nearly pouted! "I don't think he's coming back tonight.
Gabrielle considered for a moment before speaking. "Maybe we need to attract his attention somehow. Act like you're hurt, and helpless."
"Good idea. Let's do it."
Very soon a pain-filled moaning sounded through the night, and it reached the dead ears of the dread graveyard denizen, who lifted a mold-covered nose into the air, sniffing. Then the creature rose once more from its dank and decaying tomb to shamble back towards where the living made their home.
"He's coming, Xena," Gabrielle whispered excitedly. "It worked."
"It sure did," the warrior replied with a grim smile. "Now let's see how he likes the little welcome we've prepared for him."
They watched as the twisted shape made its way towards the boundary of the village. They held their breath when he passed the first line of houses. Suddenly he lost his footing as something shot up out of the ground to snare his legs. With an angry roar, he picked himself up, only to fall back down again. In this manner, he covered a few more paces of distance, when suddenly, from the treetop above, dropped a black, searing hot mass that covered him head to toe. His screams and curses had by now started to sound decidedly human!
"We got him, Gabrielle! Quick! The arrows! I'll throw the blanket over him."
Not needing to be prompted, Gabrielle had already loaded a crossbow with a quarrel. She quickly set fire to it, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Another burning bolt soon followed.
Meanwhile, the Warrior Princess approached the downed monster with a large blanket, and quickly threw it over the struggling shape, entangling him further.
"Goddammitlemmeouttaherethismomentorisweartogodyouregonnagetit," the trapped Crypt Thing yelled, furious.
The two friends paused, and looked at each other. "Did you hear what I just heard?" Gabrielle asked the warrior, who nodded mutely, biting her lip.
A moment later, the light came on for the second time in the little bedroom, and there in the doorway stood Gabby's mom, hair in disorder and eyes puffy after being roused from a deep sleep yet again.
"What in heaven's name is going on here? Where is dad? I sent him down here to check on y-" she broke off, becoming suddenly aware of the twitching bundle at her feet.
Muffled curses unfit for a child's ears, accompanied by dire threats of what he would do once he got hold of those little monsters, sounded from underneath the blanket as her husband slowly extricated himself from "the trap". He was soaking wet, his glasses askew, and the bucket that had held the water up on the partly opened door still sat crookedly on his head. A skipping rope was looped around his legs. With the stubble of beard that had grown over the day on his cheeks and the suction cup of a toy arrow still attached to his cheek, he did indeed look somewhat like a monster. And the scowl on his face didn't help!
Gabby's mom stared at him wide-eyed for a moment, before giving a loud snort. "Oh my," she said, "you sure are a sight." Then she caught herself, and looked sternly at the children, who expected nothing but death.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came out. Instead, she seemed to be fighting a grin, of all things! She took a couple of deep breaths, put on a scowl, and tried again. "You've really done it this time, you two," she began, but then her eyes caught sight of the "Crypt Thing" once more, and she lost it completely, collapsing against the doorframe, shoulders shaking with silent laughter.
Gabby's dad was not amused at all. He rose laboriously, dried his hands on the blanket as he glowered first at the children, then at his wife, who was wiping tears from her eyes.
"It's not funny," he told the ground between the bed and the door.
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear, I know it's not," Gabby's mom said between giggles.
"Yeah, well," he began. Then he did a double take, and looked down at himself, his soaked, gray striped pajamas, slippered feet still tangled in the rope and blanket, the empty bucket now lying on the ground, and a huge puddle of lukewarm water all around him. "Yeah, well," he said again, his lips twitching. Very soon he, too, was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his cheeks.
The two girls looked at each other and shrugged. Grown-ups sure were strange!