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Jack and the Tow Truck of the Fates
Jack and the Tow Truck of the Fates

Jack O'Lantern was proud of his new bike. It was a real honest to goodness Harley Davidson with a sweet custom paint job and shiny chrome details that Jack couldn't help but stare at. He had missed his Honda for all of two seconds after laying eyes on the Harley and barely noticed when Hephaestus tore up the Honda for parts. Jack had always wanted a Harley, but a Harley modified by a god was even better than the machines he coveted. Most of the time, Jack got nothing for helping out gods and spirits with their various problems, but in this case, Hephaestus owed him. He risked his life to get rid of Hephaestus's problem. Of course, the bike was as much a bribe for silence as it was a gift of gratitude. It was a rather embarrassing problem.

Jack would have been content cruising around on the Harley for the rest of forever, but it seemed that no matter where he went, he found trouble to get into. After leaving Hephaestus's forge in Wyoming, Jack had gone to Wisconsin where he had a run in with some rather testy spirits at a football field. From Wisconsin, he rode to Ohio where Loki's former assistant, Bob was attempting a plot similar to their Disney scheme at an amusement park in Cincinnati. Fortunately, it had just gotten started, and Bob wasn't quite as clever as Loki. Odin had been more than happy to stretch Bob across a couple of boulders beside Loki.

Now Jack was in a place called Fatesville, Vermont on his way to San Desperado, New York to serve his once-a-year incarceration under the watchful eye of the Fury Tisiphone. He hated even thinking about having to stay in on Halloween, but that was the price he paid for letting Carlin go. He wondered if he could get the crones to switch it to another day, like Easter or Flag Day or something. Probably not.

Fatesville gave off strange vibes. Jack felt it as soon as he crossed into the town. Bacchus, riding hunched up in Jack's jacket, flattened his ears against his head and growled. Jack pulled the Harley off to the side of the road and pulled a map from his back pocket. A small red X flashed and the words "you are here" began to scroll beside the X. According to the map, they were in the middle of nowhere.

"Huh," Jack said. "That's weird."

Bacchus meowed.

"I wonder what this place is. Fatesville. Another three of a kind. Mr. Detective was right. They do always come in threes. Three Furies, three Fates, three crones, three little pigs, three blind mice, three bears. I wonder why that is. What do you think, Bacchus?"

Bacchus reached down and swatted at the map to indicate he just wanted to get the hell out of Fatesville. Not that he liked San Desperado any better, but at least there were people there who could be trusted.

"You're no fun, Bacchus. Don't you wanna know what this place is?"

Bacchus shook his head.

"All right, fine. And I'd rather get to Mr. Detective's place before midnight anyway. But I'm hungry. Let's get doughnuts or something."

Bacchus sighed and shrugged. He knew the longer they stayed, the more time Jack would have to find some kind of trouble to get into. He couldn't try to talk Jack out of it. That had never worked. Jack was simply destined to stumble upon anything and everything he had no business stumbling upon.

Jack laughed. "Come on, Bacchus. Don't give me that shit. We'll get some doughnuts and go. I promise. I'll get you your favorite kind, all right?" He rapped gently on the top of Bacchus's helmet. Bacchus grumbled. "The glazed ones with the chocolate icing? You mean you don't want any? What's wrong with you?"

Bacchus meowed weary assent. What he wanted was a ball of yarn and a warm patch of sunlight to sleep in, but glazed doughnuts with chocolate icing always came in a close second. Of course, Jack's promise was worth somewhat less than Monopoly money, so Bacchus figured a full stomach would be a good thing.

Jack cruised through the quaint streets of Fatesville keeping an eye out for a doughnut shop while he tried to figure out just what it was that made the town feel so strange. There weren't a lot of cars parked outside the little shops and offices, but it was a small town, so that didn't seem too unusual. Although he was a little unnerved by the size of the town's cemetery and the fact that he hadn't seen a single person. That might have been all right for a Sunday, but as far as he knew, it was Monday.

The cemetery was in the center of Fatesville, and it was large enough that Jack couldn't see all the way from one side to the other. There were no crypts, only row upon row of gleaming white stones, each one exactly the same size and shape. That struck him as stranger than the size of the place.

He found a spot to park his Harley, not far from a doughnut shop that looked to be open, and hopped the fence into the graveyard.

Bacchus yowled in protest.

"I'm just taking a quick look," Jack said. "This place is too big and too much all the same."

Bacchus agreed, but he still didn't like being there.

Jack knelt beside the first headstone he came to and studied the name and dates carved into it. Asa Spreewell, October 14, 2025 to May 11, 2099. Jack drummed his fingers against his chin and frowned. He turned to the next stone. Madeline Griffin, December 25, 1980 to October 31, 2000. That one made more sense. She was young, but at least those dates seemed plausible. Unless Jack had completely lost track of time, Asa Spreewell wouldn't be born for another nineteen years.

He stood up and looked around. Not only were the stones all the same, the ground was too uniform. It hadn't settled in front of the stones. The grass, though brown that time of year, was neatly trimmed, and there were no flowers or wreaths or any kind of remembrances at the graves. It felt more like a collection than a place of resting spirits.

Curious, he walked down several rows and checked more dates. Some were within reason, but a vast majority of the dates of death were in the future.

"Bacchus, this isn't right," Jack said.

Bacchus shook his head.

"But I promised we wouldn't stay. Let's get doughnuts."

Bacchus meowed. He couldn't believe Jack would just walk away from such an intriguing puzzle.

"We'll come back after Halloween," Jack said.

Bacchus hung his head.

The doughnut shop was called Dee's Delightful Donuts, and when Jack walked into the smell of fresh warm doughnuts and coffee, his stomach growled so loud that the woman behind the counter turned away from coffee maker she was refilling and stared at him. Bacchus hissed at Jack's stomach and wiggled out of Jack's jacket.

"Sorry," Jack said.

"Well, someone's hungry," the woman said with a broad smile.

"A little." Jack waited for the usual "no pets allowed" prattle or the stares at his pale green skin and color changing eyes or the wrinkle of her nose at the smell of cucumbers, but the woman looked at him as if he were a perfectly normal customer. Judging by the slight white glow around her, Jack thought she was probably more than a little used to customers who were less than human.

"I'll be right with you, then."

"Okay."

She went back to her coffee maker, and Jack scanned the little shop while Bacchus twisted around his legs. There was one customer sitting in a corner. The suit he wore was a little rumpled and way out of date. He had a thick black moustache that covered his entire upper lip, drooping brown eyes and a cap of dark curly hair that somehow made the top of his head look square. He was reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. Occasionally, he glanced up at the window in front of him as if he were waiting for something to happen outside. The man looked almost familiar to Jack, but Jack couldn't think of where he might have seen the man before.

"There," the woman behind the counter said. She pushed a button. The coffee maker hissed. She smiled and rubbed her hands together. "You must be new in town," she said, turning to Jack. "I'm Dee."

"I'm Jack," Jack said. "And that's Bacchus." He pointed to Bacchus who sat and meowed, cocking his small head at the glazed doughnuts with the chocolate icing.

Dee laughed. "What a cute little familiar. He has good taste in doughnuts, too. Two of those then?"

Bacchus nodded.

"What else can I get for you?"

"Two of the raspberry jelly ones and two of the regular glazed ones. And one of those iced coffee things," Jack said.

"What flavor?"

"Surprise me."

"Hmm. You look like a hazelnut to me."

"Actually, I'm a cucumber."

"Say, you wouldn't by chance be Jack O'Lantern, would you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You've got quite a reputation around these parts, you know."

"So I hear."

Jack didn't quite like Dee's smile as she turned away and filled a bag with his doughnuts. Apparently, Fatesville was some kind of spirit town, and news traveled fast among spirits. They seemed to have a penchant for talking about Jack. He didn't care for that much, but he couldn't blame them. He hadn't exactly kept a low profile.

He dug through his pockets for money as Dee made the iced coffee drink. He found a lot less than he had hoped to find. "Got any money, Bacchus?" he asked.

Bacchus shook his head.

"Damn."

"Don't worry about it, Jack," Dee said. "On the house."

"You don't have to do that. I can pay you later. I just don't have a lot of use for human cash so I don't keep a lot of it."

"It's no problem. I don't mind. After all, it's not every day we get a real celebrity coming through here."

"Oh. Okay. Thanks a lot."

Jack took the bag of doughnuts and the iced coffee and sat down by the front window where he could see his Harley.

"And if he turns out to be a troublemaker, you can put it on my tab, Dee," said the man in the corner.

"Don't be rude, Edgar," Dee said.

"I won't cause any trouble," Jack said. "I'm just passing through. I have to be somewhere by midnight. I won't even ask about the graveyard."

"It's well known, young sir, that you are indeed quite a troublemaker," Edgar said. He didn't look up from his newspaper. "Why, here you are on page four. 'O'Lantern Saves Selkie Family from Fur Traders.' And again on page five. 'O'Lantern Thwarts Attempt to End the World.'"

"Edgar, stop giving him a hard time," Dee said.

Jack tore up one of the chocolate doughnuts into small pieces for Bacchus and started on a jelly doughnut for himself. "I don't do it on purpose," he said.

"I find it hard to believe you save the world by accident," Edgar said.

"Well, sometimes, yeah. You have no idea how much trouble this world is in all the time. There's all kinds of crazy spirits and gods out there trying to get rid of humans and shit like that. I can't really go home, so I might as well do something."

"Saving the world is a noble alternative to what you could be doing. A clever spirit like you could be causing all sorts of problems. It's rare to see a trickster purposely doing good."

"I guess so."

"Now about that graveyard."

"Edgar, don't you dare," Dee said.

"It's okay, really," Jack said. "I'm just passing through. Honest. I won't be here long enough to do anything about it."

Edgar folded his paper and placed it neatly on the table in front of him. He sipped his coffee. He looked at Jack and raised one eyebrow.

"Oh screw it. I was planning on coming back after Halloween anyway. Tell me what it is." Jack turned around in his chair to face Edgar and sucked on his iced coffee.

"Edgar, you know you can't," Dee said. "They'll come for you."

"Well, if they come, then that means that I was meant to tell Jack. They wouldn't come unless it was time," Edgar said.

"You mean the Fates?" Jack asked.

"Yes. Have you ever met them?"

Jack shook his head.

"Frightful brats, those three. This is their town. I'm sure you noticed that on the way in."

"Kinda hard not to."

"Yes, I suppose that's true. They've gotten into the habit of collecting spirits, humans and those like yourself. But they don't tend to wait for the humans to pass away like they used to. You see, it's sort of like a competition between them now to see which one can complete a certain set. That graveyard is where they store the human spirits."

"So there aren't any bodies in those graves. Those are just markers."

"Precisely. But the most egregious part is the game they play, pitting spirit against spirit in a sort of mock battle. The strongest spirit wins and whichever of them owns the wining spirit gets to add the loser's spirit to her collection. It's quite vulgar, I think, particularly since they make use of spirits not even born. Departed spirits should be haunting rickety old houses and the unsettled minds of murderers."

"What about the other spirits? Ones like me?"

"Kept elsewhere, I suppose. That's actually why I'm here. I'm a reporter. I've been trying to cover this story for nearly a year now. The Fates are very well protected, and of course, the gods can't do anything about it. They just don't have the power to intervene in the natural order of things."

"But that's not natural."

"What the Fates are supposed to do is part of the natural order of the universe. That's their loophole. Believe me, if they didn't have that protection, Zeus would have put an end to this ages ago."

"Hmm. Wish I could help, but I can't stay."

Edgar shrugged. "It's not hurting my progress any, seeing as how I haven't made any."

"If it wasn't the day before Halloween ... "

"Oh, I quite understand. I wouldn't want you to risk a stricter punishment."

"Not that I mind that kind of risk."

"You would mind the punishment, though."

"Yeah, probably. Well, like I said, I'll be back."

Jack turned back to his doughnuts. As he munched, he mulled over what Edgar had told him. The easiest way to free all the souls the Fates were holding was to beat them at their own game. It couldn't be that hard, but then again, he wasn't sure how they determined which spirit was stronger. Well, the human spirits would be easy to get. Jack had no doubt he was stronger than all of them combined. It was the other kind of spirits he would have a problem with. For all he knew, they had gods in their collection.

Bacchus yowled and swatted at the window. Jack looked up, his mouth full of doughnut. A wrecker with a bright pink cab was pulling his Harley onto its bed. He stood up. "Hey! That's my bike!" he said. He bolted out the door.

"Jack, wait!" Edgar said. But Jack was already gone.

Dee shook her head. "Now they've done it," she said.

"He's going to need help." Edgar stood up and walked out to the street with Bacchus scampering along in front of him. Unfortunately, he didn't have a clue how he was going to help Jack.

Jack ran up to the tow truck and watched for a second as two young women loaded his Harley onto the wrecker while a third supervised and checked things off on a clipboard. "What are you doing with my bike?" he asked.

The Fate holding the clipboard turned to him and flashed him a bright smile. She tipped the bill of her green baseball cap. "Good morning, sir," she said. "Are you the owner of this vehicle?"

"Didn't I just ask you what you were doing with my bike? Doesn't that clue you in at all to the fact that it's my bike? Mine, as in get your hands off it."

"License and registration, please."

"What?"

"You want your bike back, you have to prove who you are and that you own it."

"Oh, like you don't know who I am."

"Jack O'Lantern, right? I'm Clotho. These are my sisters, Lachesis and Atropos."

"Yeah, I know. Now get your hands off my bike."

"You were parked illegally. It's getting towed. It'll cost you two hundred human spirits to get it out of impound. Or one familiar perhaps."

"I didn't see any sign."

"Of course not. They all say that."

"Where the hell is the sign that says I can't park there?"

Clotho pointed with her pencil. A sign popped out of the sidewalk. It said, "No Parking Except Weekends." She smiled and tapped her chin with the pencil's eraser. "It's Monday, right, Jack?"

Lachesis and Atropos finished securing the bike on the back of the wrecker and came around to where Jack and Clotho stood.

"The sign doesn't say I can't park there," Jack said.

"Yes, it does. No parking means no parking by anyone," Clotho said.

"Well, the sign wasn't there when I parked there."

Clotho shrugged. "Funny thing about this being our town. We can do whatever we want. You've got twenty-four hours. Two hundred human spirits or one familiar."

"You can't just - "

"Yeah. Just did. Bye-bye, Jackie."

"Hey, wait! What happens if I can't pay you on time?"

"We sell it."

"It's got Hephaestus's forge mark on it," Atropos said. "It'll get us a nice price on g-bay."

"What the hell is g-bay?" Jack asked.

Clotho shook her head. "I keep forgetting you can't go into the spirit world any more. You don't know all the new stuff we've got. It's like e-Bay, but it's for gods. They pay in souls."

The Fates climbed into the cab of the tow truck. Clotho leaned out of the driver's side window and waved. "Be seein' ya, Jack!" she said.

Jack watched them drive away, curling his hands into fists. "I don't have time for this shit," he said.

Bacchus twisted through Jack's legs and meowed. Jack bent down to pick him up.

"It seems you're in a bit of a bind, Jack," Edgar said.

"You wouldn't happen to have two hundred human spirits you could loan me, would you?"

"I am but one spirit. Sorry."

"Damn it. It's not like I can just take out a loan with the bank either. Not like I could get approved for a loan anyway."

"You could try. I'll cosign for you."

Jack shook his head. "They stole my bike. And they want me to pay for it."

"Like I said, brats."

"They can't get away with this."

"Unless you come up with some way to pay, I think they just might. Do you have anything else that might substitute for spirits?"

"Clotho said she'd take Bacchus as payment, but that's not gonna happened."

Bacchus growled. Jack scratched under his chin.

"What are you going to do?" Edgar asked.

Jack grinned, and rainbow colors swirled through his eyes. "I'll beat them at their own game."

"I don't think I like the sound of that."

"And you're gonna help me."

"I know I don't like the sound of that."

"Come on, Eddie. You've read all those stories about me. You know I can do it."

"I don't doubt your ability, Jack. It's your method with which I have qualms."

"Well, get rid of them, whatever they are. Unless they'll help, then maybe hang on to them. Let's go."

"Where?"

"To wherever they take stuff they tow."

"And how to you propose to get past their gates?"

"Wire cutters?"

"And the guard dog?"

"There's a dog?"

"It's a small Cerberus."

"Does it like doughnuts?"

"No. I tired that. It most emphatically does not like doughnuts. Although it seemed quite fond of the bit of my finger it took off."

"We'll think of something. Let's go."

Fates Towing Inc. was located at the eastern edge of the town. A small corrugated metal building sat in the center of a large lot full of junked cars. A tall chain link fence topped with razor wire surrounded the lot, and sleeping near the gate was a small version of the guard dog of Hades. The middle of the three heads rested on its front paws, while the other two nestled their chins against some large creature's thighbones. Jack could see the back end of the tow truck behind the building, but he didn't see his bike anywhere. He didn't think they had sold it already. A dishonest move like that might get them in trouble with certain gods and spirits they probably didn't want to get in trouble with.

"Well, here we are," Edgar said. "Now what?"

"We sneak past the dog," Jack said.

"And then?"

"Um ... get my bike back?"

Edgar shook his head. "I'm beginning to understand how you can claim to do everything you do accidentally."

"Oh, you expected me to have a plan."

"It might help."

"Okay. Here's the plan. We sneak past the dog, and then we get my bike back. Got it?"

"Marvelous. And why is Halloween the only day of the year you have to stay in?"

"Because that non-plan didn't go so well."

"Honestly, Jack. That's no way to go about such important matters as saving the world."

"We're saving my bike. Get your priorities straight."

"All right. Do you happen to have a key for this gate?"

"No. But I got this really nifty skeleton key. Now, where the hell did I put that thing?" Jack dug his hands into his front pockets and pulled out strangely shaped coins, rumbled pieces of paper, strings, pocket lint and a handful of bats that flapped away squeaking. "Forgot about them," Jack said as he watched them go. He dug further and came up with a yellowing dragon's claw, a dart, a beer stein and a gold claddagh ring but no skeleton key. A similar excavation of his back pockets turned up a similar array of oddities and still no skeleton sky. "You wanna give me a hand, Bacchus?" Jack asked. Bacchus squirmed around inside Jack's jacket while Jack searched the outer pockets. A moment later, Bacchus popped his head out through the right cuff with a small rubber skeleton in his mouth. He put the skeleton in Jack's hand and wriggled back through the sleeve. "Thanks."

"That's a skeleton key?" Edgar asked.

"What, you think I meant it was a key-shaped key?"

"Most keys are sometimes vaguely key-shaped."

"For a spirit, you sure haven't seen much of the weird stuff."

"I saw quite enough of the weird stuff while I was alive. Somehow I had hoped death would be ... normal."

"Sorry."

Jack poked the skeleton until it sat up in his hand and rubbed its eyes as if it had been asleep. Jack held it close to the massive pad lock that held a thick chain in place around the gate. The skeleton took hold of the pad lock and studied it carefully. After a minute, it said, "Not a problem." It stuck one arm into the key slot and wiggled the arm until the lock popped open.

"Thanks," Jack said.

"Any time," the skeleton said.

Jack put the skeleton back into a pocket inside his jacket and pulled the chain away from the gate. Unfortunately, the rattling chain woke up the guard dog.

It lifted its middle head first, sniffing the air. It caught Jack's scent and growled. The other two heads woke up. The dog got to its feet, all three heads snarling through sharp teeth.

"This seems to me to be a rather poor turn of events," Edgar said.

"Don't run," Jack said. "It'll chase you."

"I had no illusions of being able to outrun a hellhound."

"Do you sing?"

"What?"

"The Cerberus in Hades was put to sleep by music, right? You know, Orpheus and all that? So sing to it."

"Sorry. I sound like rusted nails across a chalk board."

"We're so dead."

The three heads began to bark, and the hellhound lunged towards the gate. It stopped just a few feet from Jack and Edgar, held back by a thick chain attached to its collar. It barked and snarled and drooled, but it couldn't get its teeth into them. Bacchus hissed at it.

Edgar put his hand to his chest. "I didn't think it was possible for a spirit to have a heart attack," he said.

"Hey, look, its name is Buttons," Jack said. He pointed at a bone shaped tag on its collar. The name Buttons was stamped on the tag, surrounded by little pink hearts. "Buttons isn't being a good doggie."

"If it keeps barking like that, the Fates will come out here any minute."

"Hang on."

Jack reached into his back pocket and pulled out a large, round slab of meat. He dangled it in front of Buttons's faces. Buttons's eyes got big, and its tongues lolled over its teeth. Most importantly, it stopped barking.

"You want this?" Jack asked.

The three heads yipped. Buttons wagged its tail.

"Can you do tricks? I wanna see you do tricks. Sit!"

Buttons sat.

"Beg!"

Buttons sat back on its hind legs and held its front legs up in the air, whining.

"Lie down!"

Buttons did.

"Play dead!"

Buttons flipped over onto its back, all four legs straight up in the air.

"Good dog! Now go fetch!"

Jack flung the slab of meat as far away from the gate as he could.

Buttons sprung to its feet and chased the meat, leaping into the air to catch it as it came down. The three heads snarled over their catch and tore into their snack.

"Do you always keep large pieces of meat in your pants?" Edgar asked.

Jack grinned. "Of course. Now let's go get my bike."

When they walked into the building at the center of the lot, after much protest from Edgar and Bacchus, they found the Fates involved in a battle for spirits. Clotho and Lachesis sat across from each other, staring intently at glossy, colorful stones laid out on the table in front of them. There was a large pile of gently shimmering stones on Clotho's side of the table and only a handful on Lachesis's side. Atropos was standing next to the table and watching both sides carefully.

Atropos noticed them first. "We have guests, sisters," she said.

"Not now," Clotho said. She waved her hand at Atropos. "I'm about to win."

"That's what you think," Lachesis said.

"Forget that," Atropos said. "It's Jack."

Clotho and Lachesis looked up. Clotho sneered.

"That's a rude way to greet your guests, Clotho," Jack said. "Whatever happened to that whole hospitality thing? You never know who your visitor might turn out to be."

"Don't try to bullshit me, Jack. We know who you are, and you're nothing to us. We're goddesses, remember? Or have you been away from the spirit world so long that you've forgotten all your pantheons?"

"I want my bike back."

"Tough shit. We towed it fair and square. Unless you have the currency, the bike is ours."

"That stupid sign wasn't there before you put it there."

"Like I told you. It's our town. We make the rules. You lose."

"I'll play you for it."

A slow smile spread across Clotho's face. "You'll play? For the bike?"

"For the bike and all the spirits you've collected."

"My. That's high stakes, Jack. You don't know what you're getting into. And what are you going to play with? Old Edgar there?"

"No."

"You can't play if you don't have spirits to battle with."

"Edgar will play me and Bacchus."

Clotho frowned.

"Jack, have you lost your mind?" Edgar asked.

Bacchus meowed.

"If you win, you have me and Bacchus and the bike and all the spirits you've already collected, and you can keep playing your little game. If I win, I get everything, and you stop," Jack said.

"No deal," Clotho said.

"Well, I'll play him then," Lachesis said.

"You will not."

"Why?"

"Because I'm the best player."

"It doesn't matter," Jack said. "The stakes are the same. Otherwise, I come back here with a Fury."

Clotho laughed. "Yeah, right. Like one little Fury could do anything about us. Remember, we're the ones in control here. I can have Atropos cut your Fury's thread whenever I want."

"Except it doesn't work that way. He won't die until it's time, and if it's not time, you can't do anything about it."

"The Fury is a he?"

"What's wrong with that?"

"How the hell did that happen?"

Jack shrugged.

"Whatever."

"Let's stop wasting time. I have to be somewhere by midnight."

"All right, then. I accept your challenge."

After a brief explanation of the rules, the Fates turned Jack and Bacchus into a series of stones, each representing a different ability and with a number from one to ten scratched into the bottom. Jack didn't particularly like being turned into stones, and neither did Bacchus. He couldn't speak, and it was going to be much more difficult to pull any tricks in that state. He hoped that Edgar was clever enough to pull it off. Otherwise, they were all screwed. But then again, he would have a very good excuse for not getting to Mr. Detective's house by midnight.

Clotho chose her strongest spirit for the battle, and the game began.

Clotho's spirit started off with a strong attack, but Jack was fast enough to dodge it. His own attacks, though, hardly did any damage when they landed. Whatever this spirit was, it was tough. It wasn't particularly fast or clever, and Jack thought he had the advantage. But unless Edgar saw that as well, it wasn't going to matter.

The battle went on for hours. Neither of them was really winning, and it was down to the last few stones on both sides. Edgar looked at the stones in front of him. They were all pale green with a swirl of black in the center. Except one. It was orange, and had the faint impressions of two triangular eyes and a mouth of crooked square teeth. He put his finger on it and slid it to the center of the table. "Jack plays a trick," he said. He could almost hear Jack cheering from inside the stones.

Clotho looked down at her stones. She had nothing to counter the trick. "Damn it," she said.

"You win, Edgar," Atropos said.

"Then please uphold your end of the bargain," Edgar said.

They turned Jack and Bacchus back into their normal forms and released all the spirits they had collected.

"Your bike's out back," Clotho said. "Don't think I'll forget this, Jack. Next time I see you, there'll be a rematch, and I'll beat you. You can bet on that."

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Jack said. "Hey, what kind of spirit was that anyway?"

"You couldn't tell? That was Hercules."

"Wow. I beat a god."

Clotho grinned. "Speaking of gods, it doesn't look like you have much time to get where you're going. I wonder what those crones will do to you now."

"Oh shit!"

Jack ran outside and to the back of the building where he found his Harley still on the bed of the wrecker. He wrestled with the chains, hooks and clamps, and finally, with Edgar's help, he got the bike on the ground. He had about two hours to get to San Desperado.

"Thanks for your help, Edgar," Jack said as he and Bacchus put their helmets on. "I don't think I'll be coming back, though. I guess there's no need to."

"That's quite all right. I've a very interesting story to compose now thanks to you."

"I should read the paper more often."

"You're not missing much when half the news is about you."

"You know, you look familiar. Have we met before?"

"Have you ever been to Baltimore?"

"Probably. But not in the last century or so."

"Have you ever heard of 'The Raven'?"

"Hmmm ... "

""The Tell Tale Heart'?"

"Maybe ... "

"'The Masque of the Red Death'?"

"I really don't read all that much."

"Well, I can't say I blame you. That's all rather gruesome stuff. You better get going. You'll be late."

"Thanks again. Bye!"

"Goodbye, Jack. And good luck. You're going to need it."

Jack sped off towards San Desperado and yet another Halloween spent inside and without tricks to play.