As night settled over San Desperado, the tricks began to take on a far more sinister bent. While the decorations hadn't outright killed anyone, hospital emergency rooms and urgent care clinics were glutted with patients suffering from panic induced asthma attacks, broken bones, serious lacerations and even a few heart attacks. At least one of the heart attack victims died, and Hayden was sure that wouldn't be the only one unless he was able to do something. The cops had their hands full, and he tried to help them. They didn't believe him when he told them about how the decorations were coming to life. They all seemed to believe that someone was playing a horrible prank. More than one of the officers looked at him with a mix of pity and fear. Another, whom he had known for several years, said bluntly, "I heard you'd been a little loony since Squire died, but you didn't have to take the whole city with you."
Armed with a Louisville Slugger borrowed from a sporting goods store that had been overrun by several black cats and ghosts, Hayden roamed the city looking for Jack. Conrad, Crash and Hurricane did the same. The last time Hayden had talked to Conrad, the dogs had gotten away from him, chasing after a black cat. Conrad had stopped into a drug store to get bandages for the deep scrapes in his chin and the cuts in his wrists from the leashes. He and the pharmacist had fought off a cardboard Frankenstein's monster with water guns. Armed with a Super Soaker that had two tanks worn on the back, Conrad had gone looking for his dogs.
The subdivision of Arbor Mills was relatively quiet. Most of the decorations seemed to be heading somewhere, but Hayden was too concerned with helping the residents along the way to follow them. A whole family, including the dog, had been wrapped up in the fake spider web they had placed in the trees in their front yard. After beating off the giant rubber spider that came with the web, Hayden cut the family out of the web. In another front yard, a Styrofoam headstone marked a real grave up from which a zombie was clambering, and as Hayden beat it back, he thought about the cemetery. From what Jack had said, he gathered that Halloween was a night when the veil between the world of flesh and the world of spirit was thin.
With the zombie down, Hayden ran towards the cemetery. He was only vaguely aware of the sound of a motorcycle behind him, but when the bike sped past him and he smelled cucumbers, he stopped and shouted, "Jack!"
The bike, a sleek black and silver Honda CBR600, skidded to a halt, and Jack shut off the engine. He got off the bike and took a few steps towards Hayden before he stopped. He took the helmet off and tossed it high into the air, catching it deftly on the tips of his fingers as he bent over to straighten the tongue of one of his boots. In his mouth was some kind of noisemaker, and Hayden realized that the sound he had heard was not the sound of the motorcycle. Jack tucked the noisemaker into his back pocket and grinned. It wasn't an unpleasant expression, but it made Hayden think of green living things buried deep in black, loamy soil.
"Happy Halloween, Mr. Detective," Jack said.
"Yeah, sure. Whatever you say," Hayden said.
"I still can't find Carlin."
"I'm a little bit more worried about other things right now."
A flock of witches turned a corner at top speed and flew straight at them, cackling. Hayden barely had time to duck as they buzzed by. Then they turned and faced Jack, hovering in the air. Jack's eyes were rainbows.
"Get 'im, girls," the witch at the head of the formation said.
They hunched over their brooms and aimed down at Jack.
"Bring it on, ladies!" Jack said.
As the witches bore down on him, Jack wound up with his helmet like it was a bowling ball. When they were close enough, he flung the helmet at them. He hit the leader square on her crooked nose, and she was hurtled back into the rest of the formation, scattering it like bowling pins. Cardboard witches floated to the street. The helmet struck the pavement several yards behind Hayden and rolled.
"Strike!" Jack said. He pulled a glove off his hand with his teeth and marked down his score in the air. The scorecard, full of perfect frames, shimmered in the air for a second as Jack admired his score. "Damn, I'm good," he said. He tugged at the corner of the card, and it vanished.
Hayden got to his feet. "Are you responsible for this?" he asked.
Jack shook his head. "I'm trying to stop it," he said. "I've been trying to stop it for a hundred years. Carlin's doing it."
"I don't know. She ran away. She didn't say goodbye. She didn't tell me why. And the crones told me I had to find her or ... or they'd make me flesh and blood so I have to get old and die, and then the same thing that happened to my dad will happen to me."
"Okay. So what happened to your dad?"
"He tricked the devil so when he died, he couldn't go to hell or heaven. I tricked my dad, so there's no way I can get out of having to wander around with my soul in a turnip. Or a cucumber."
"But you're a spirit. Aren't you outside that loop?"
"You'd think. But they bound me to it. And they keep tabs on me with this." He pulled off his other glove and shot Hayden the bird.
Hayden just stared at Jack.
"This!" Jack pointed at the shimmering ring around his middle finger. As Hayden watched, a face formed in the ring.
"Find her!" the face said.
"Fuck you," Jack said, shoving the glove back on his hand. "I hate that little bastard."
"I guess you can't take it off," Hayden said.
"Okay. All right." Hayden ran his hand over his face. "Now what am I supposed to do?"
Jack shrugged. "I got 'til midnight."
"What about the graveyard?"
"Wouldn't go there if I was you. But I'm not."
"What's going on there?"
"Well, the dead ... the dead can walk tonight. And you got ... just don't go there, Mr. Detective."
"Are the decorations going anywhere in particular?"
"Yeah, after me."
Hayden heard dogs barking behind him and the click of their claws on the asphalt. "Incoming!" Conrad shouted as he chased after Crash and Hurricane who were bounding after a black cat.
The cat darted past Hayden and ran up the sleeve of Jack's jacket, squirming up his arm and down into the body of the jacket. It struggled for a while, and then Jack pulled the zipper down. The cat popped its head out and blinked at the dogs with eyes like candlelight behind a glass of red wine.
"Look out for the - " Hayden started to say, and Conrad tripped over Jack's helmet. "Helmet."
Conrad picked himself up and rubbed fresh blood from a scrape on his cheek. There was gauze taped around both his wrists and across his chin. "This is not a good night," he said.
"You all right?" Hayden asked.
Crash and Hurricane stood in front of Jack, growling at him and the cat. Jack hugged himself and the cat and backed away in slow, uncertain steps. The cat hissed. "Shut up, Bacchus," Jack said. "They're not normal dogs. They might hurt us."
"Get over here, you assholes," Conrad said.
Crash and Hurricane stopped growling and padded over to Conrad.
"They won't hurt you unless I tell them to," Conrad said. "And I'm really thinking I wanna tell them to."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Journalist. I'm trying to stop this. I really am. I gotta find Carlin before midnight or the crones'll turn me into a real boy."
Conrad looked at Hayden. "What is this, Pinocchio?" he asked.
"It sounds a little more like a punishment than a reward," Hayden said. "If he doesn't find Carlin by midnight, these crones will turn him into a human so he has to get old and die and then become a wandering spirit."
"Isn't he already a wandering spirit?"
"Have you noticed the decorations heading in any particular direction?"
"Yeah. They all seem to be headed to the ... oh fuck."
Crash and Hurricane took off running towards the graveyard with Conrad and Hayden close behind. Jack walked down the street and picked up his helmet. He got on the bike. "Come on, Bacchus. We gotta help 'em," he said. He put the noisemaker in his mouth then put the helmet on. Bacchus nodded and put his own helmet on.