GHOST TOWN

Chapter Seven

"Cobwebs and Old Papers"

Jack swung at the spider. It dodged and began spinning a huge spider web in front of the door to keep them from getting out.

"How will we get out now?" Lily asked, backing away from the creature.

"I don't think there's another way out," Jack said.

"All of you will be staying here!" the spider said. "I'm starving!"

The cat hissed at the monster, baring its fangs.

"I think I'll start with that hissing cat!" the spider said, running along the wall towards the cat.

"Run Kittlyn!" Lily cried.

The cat scratched the spider and ran from it. While it was distracted, Jack picked up a chair and smashed the spider with it. The spider screamed and fell to the floor in obvious pain.

Jack grabbed the mop again and began hitting the web. It was thick and surprisingly strong, but he finally managed to unblock the door. Jack grabbed the papers and stuffed them into his shirt, then grabbed Lily's hand. "Let's get out of here!"

"Right," Lily agreed as they hurried out the door, avoiding the spider that hadn't gotten up but still screamed, wriggling its legs frantically, like a gigantic roach struggling to get up after being stepped on. They stopped a moment as they reached the edge of the unnaturally thick fog. The cat jumped onto her shoulder. "I hope there aren't any more monsters in there," she said.

"Me too," Jack said. "But if there are, that screaming's going to attract them." They plunged into the fog, the world suddenly swallowed up by whiteness. They could barely see their clenched hands at their sides. "Don't let go, Lily!" he added. "I don't want to lose you in this fog!"

"I'll never let go," Lily promised, holding his hand tight.

They could still hear the spider screaming. It was a creepy sound, made all the more upsetting in the thick mist.

Suddenly a voice came from the fog. "Who's there?"

Jack put his arm around Lily and pulled her closer protectively. "Just two people passing by," he said, struggling to see the speaker. "Who are you?"

"I'm Larry," came the voice, a bit closer to them. "What are you two doing out here?"

"We're trying to avoid monsters until the bus comes," Jack said, immediately wishing he hadn't said that as the speaker suddenly came into view only a few feet away. He had one huge eye, while the other was very, very small. His nose was much too big for his face, and his mouth was on his chin. One eyebrow ran across his cheek. He looked like he'd been put together from several different people. Jack suddenly thought of the mad doctor they'd just escaped from. Was this one of his less fortunate patients?

"Do I look like a monster to you?" Larry demanded.

Jack and Lily backed away from him. "Uh…no…" Jack said. "Uh…excuse me, but we really must be going, Mister…Larry, right?"

Larry moved towards them. "You're not going anywhere," he said firmly.

Jack stepped in front of Lily. "I suggest you get out of our way now."

"I said you're not going anywhere," Larry insisted, coming closer.

Jack and Lily backed away. "And might I ask why we're not going anywhere…Larry?"

The stranger reached towards them, clenching his fists. "You're staying here," he demanded.

Jack clenched his own fists. "Get out of our way or I'll move you out of our way!"

Larry grabbed Jack's arm with one huge hand and Lily's with the other.

Lily struggled to get free. "Let go of me, creep!" she cried.

"You heard the lady!" Jack said, pulling free and throwing a right at the stranger's nose. "Let go of her!"

Larry fell to the ground, holding his nose.

Jack backed away, preparing to kick him in the head if necessary. "Who are you? What do you want from us?"

Larry looked at them strangely as he slowly rose to his feet. "Your souls!"

Jack grabbed Lily's hand. "Let's get out of here!" he said, starting to run.

"Right behind you," Lily said, hurrying to keep up with him.

While the fog quickly concealed him from their vision, they could hear the stranger following them. He breathed heavily, as if not used to moving around very much. Perhaps his victims didn't usually try to get away from him.

"Here comes that weirdo again," Jack said as the sound of heavy footsteps came to them.

"He's not getting my soul!" Lily insisted.

"Mine either!" Jack said. "Let's see if we can find a place to lose him!"

"Right!" Lily said, squeezing Jack's hand tightly as they hurried through the foggy streets.

"Come back here!" Larry's voice came from somewhere behind them. "I'll catch you!"

The fog wasn't as thick now. This made it easier for Jack and Lily to see where they were going, but also easier for the stranger to follow them. They looked around for someplace to hide. The buildings here were old and unfriendly looking, many with large windows in front that looked like eyes staring down at them.

"I'd suggest we try the library, but that king guy might still be there," Jack hissed as they ran.

"Then where?" Lily asked. "It's early morning and I'm tired already!"

"Me too," Jack admitted. Neither of them had gotten much sleep. "I guess we could go back to the town hall where we found out where my grandfather's house was…"

Remembering the strange old clock with the moving figures, Lily shook her head. "No! We can't go back there!" she said. "I saw something there…the old clock…"

"That's right," Jack said. "You were staring at it when I started to leave. I'm sorry, Lily. I didn't think anything supernatural was possible back then. I guess I hurt your feelings not believing you."

"That's okay, Jack," Lily said, kissing his cheek. "I told myself I was just tired and seeing things. I didn't believe in all of this craziness back then either."

They turned a corner and ran down the next street. Jack pointed at a large old building. "What about that place? It looks like a museum."

Lily looked over at it. It was a big place, three stories tall, with stone pillars. A stone lion sat on either side of the steps leading up to the front door.

"Okay," Lily said. "Let's just hope those lions don't come to life."

"At this point nothing would surprise me," Jack said.

They seemed to have lost their pursuer, so they started up the steps slowly, keeping in the middle, well away from either of the lions. They appeared to be nothing more than lifeless marble, but stranger things than walking statues had happened to them, so they prepared to make a run for it if either made the slightest sound or movement. Fortunately nothing happened, and they soon reached the door.

"I hope nothing's hiding in here ready to jump us," Jack said, trying the door. It opened with a creaking sound. Jack pushed it open just wide enough for them to fit through.

"I hope so too," Lily said.

They entered a large room with paintings on the walls. A dull carpet, possibly once red but now a dingy grayish-pink, was thick with dust. There were several chairs. Jack pushed one against the door hoping to keep out anyone that might try to get in.

"From all this dust, I don't think anyone's been here in a long time," he told her. "But let's be careful anyway."

Lily nodded. "Something like that spider could crawl along the walls and not leave prints on the floor," she pointed out. "And maybe some creatures around here fly…"

Jack patted Lily's shoulder. "Let's hope not," he said, kissing her cheek.

They walk past a large desk. "That reminds me of those papers we picked up at the bus station," Jack said, stopping. "I wonder if they can tell us anything useful?"

"Maybe you should read them now while things are quiet," Lily suggested.

Jack pointed towards a door. "Let's see if we can find a good place to sit down and read them," he said. "That's probably the office."

"Okay then," Lily said, walking to the door and opening it. They walked into a large room with two desks, each with a couple of chairs, and a bookcase in one corner. "How about here?"

"Everything looks normal in here," Jack said, closing the door. "No weird paintings on the wall. No strange books in the bookcase."

Lily sat down in one of the chairs. "The furniture seems normal," she said. "I hope that Larry guy doesn't find out."

"Or that king," Jack said, sitting in another chair. "Or that store clerk. How many monsters like those are in this town?"

"Maybe a lot," Lily said.

"I hope not," Jack said. "I'd wish I'd never come here, except if I hadn't I wouldn't have met you."

"I feel the same way about you, Jack," Lily said.

Jack patted her hand. "Thank you for making this nightmare less awful," he said softly.

Lily smiled at him. "You're welcome," she said.

Jack squeezed her hand. "I promise I'll get you out of here somehow," he said.

"I know you will," she said, squeezing his hand back.

"Everything's going to be okay," he promised, moving his chair closer to her. "I'll make it okay. So don't be scared."

Lily moved her chair towards his. "I'm not afraid when I'm with you, Jack," she said.

Jack held her tight and kissed her. Lily responded by wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him back. He pulled her closer, kissing her again. She placed her hand on his cheek as he ran his fingers through her hair. After a few more seconds Lily pulled away.

"Uh, okay," Jack said, seeming to come out of a trance. "Let's see if we can find something useful in those papers." He pulled them out of his shirt.

"Okay," Lily said, blushing.

Jack went through the papers. "These look like somebody got bored and doodled pictures on them," he placed these in one pile on the closest desk. "Probably not important." He looked for papers with a different sort of picture. "These look like maps of some of the buildings. We'll hold on to those. They might help us later." He looked at one paper with writing on it. "This looks like part of a diary. It says page 18. Let's see if we can put them in order."

"All right then," Lily said, taking some of the papers. There were over a hundred and some were upside-down so it took awhile to get them all arranged properly.

"Okay, here's page one," Jack said. "Let's see…looks like somebody came her a long time ago. The time seemed normal enough at first. Oh, the people weren't too friendly, but I thought that would change once they'd gotten to know me. How wrong I was!"

Lily nodded as Jack read. "Go on," she said.

"I went to the house I'd inherited and immediately saw that it needed repairs. I hired workmen to do the job, but after a couple of hours they suddenly said they were leaving. When I asked why they said strange accidents kept happening. I offered to pay them double but they refused to stay."

"Sounds like the house you inherited, Jack," Lily said. "I wonder what your grandfather would have done if you'd hired workmen?"

"Maybe possessed one of them and had him kill me," Jack mused.

Lily made a face. "I'm sure you would have gotten away somehow," she said.

"Maybe," Jack said, although he couldn't see how. It was just luck that his grandfather's cane had been struck by lightning. He went back to the notes. "After that, I got a man from Salem to hire some workers, big tough men that wouldn't be scared by accidents. But the next day, they were complaining that the house was haunted. I thought it was ridiculous, but the man from Salem said they were convinced they'd seen strange figures out of the corner of their eyes. He promised to find someone else to fix up the house, but said it might take a few days."

Lily placed her head on Jack's shoulder. "Tired?" he asked, running his fingers through her curls.

"I'll be okay," she said. "Go on."

"While I waited for more workers to arrive, I decided to make any repairs I could myself. I decided to start with the master bedroom. There was an area on the wall that was covered with a strange slime of a sickly gray color. I decided to scrape it off the wall and see if the boards needed to be repaired."

"Jack," Lily said, sitting up. "That sounds just like the mold that was on the walls in the city hall and your house."

"You're right," Jack said. "I didn't pay much attention to it at the time. Whatever it is, I hope it isn't something contagious."

Lily shivered at the thought. "Me too," she said. She leaned her head against his shoulder again.

Just then, there was a loud noise. Several in fact. A clock striking the hour. Lily jumped at the sound.

Jack patted her hand and smiled reassuringly at her. "It's okay, just a clock," he said.

"Oh…okay," Lily said.

He gave her a hug. She hugged him back. "Let's see what else these notes can tell us."

Lily nodded. "Right."

"After I'd scraped some of the mold off of the wall, I noted the wall was uneven. It didn't quite fit together at one point, but was strangely crooked. I thought the builder had made a mistake and nothing of it at the time. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have blown up the house immediately and left this town."

"That doesn't sound good!" Jack said.

"No, it doesn't," Lily agreed. "I think that story's going to have a very unhappy ending."

"Yeah," Jack agreed. "Maybe we've read far enough for now." He sighed. "If we can't get out on that bus tomorrow, I think we should just start walking and keep going."

Lily nodded.

"It can't be that far to the next town," Jack said, putting away the papers he'd set aside earlier, the journal entries last. "I'm sure we can make it if we really try."

"Yeah," Lily said, leaning against him.

"Getting tired?" he asked. "We didn't get much sleep."

"Just a little bit," Lily said.

"Maybe there's a place in this museum where we can get some sleep," Jack said. "Someplace with a couch or something."

"Well, shall we go look?" Lily asked, kissing his cheek before standing up.

They left the office and walked through the entry hall and into the main room of the museum. They passed a painting on the wall showing witches dancing around a fire. Next to it was a painting of a large shaggy creature running through the woods.

"This is not a normal museum!" Jack said, as they passed more strange pictures.

"It sure isn't'!" Lily said, making a face at a picture of a strange creature with horns and hooves sitting on a tombstone eating what looked like an arm. "Ugh!" she cried, looking away from it.

"I guess the whole town and everything in it is weird!" Jack said.

There was a soft sound from behind them.

"Jack…" Lily whispered, "Did you hear something?"

"Yeah," Jack said. "Pretend you didn't hear it. Just keep walking."

Lily nodded and kept walking. Jack put his arm protectively around her.

The cat followed them, hissing, ears pulled back against its head. They'd almost forgotten about it. It was surprising that the cat had followed them this far, but if it was anything other than a normal animal, it showed no sign of it.

They moved into a large room full of statues. These depicted monsters, some known some they'd never heard of, famous killers, and their victims. They were all life sized and disturbingly realistic. Some of the victims had what looked too much like real blood on them. One depicted a man with a long black cloak and top hat, holding a knife in his hand and grinning fiendishly at a woman that looked like she was screaming. A plaque read "Jack the Ripper." Lily stared at the scene.

"I read about that guy," Jack said. "Killed several women over a hundred years ago then just disappeared. Nobody ever did find out who he was for sure. They think he was the grandson of the queen and evidence was destroyed to protect him."

"Why would they think that?" Lily asked, looking away from the tableau.

"Apparently some evidence disappeared, so people believe it might have been gotten rid of on purpose so that he could get away with his crimes. It would have been a horrible scandal if a relative of the queen was a killer. Other people think his doctor committed the murders and blamed his patient. Supposedly the noble had suffered a head injury and was never quite right afterwards."

"Oh…" Lily said, looking at the next display. This showed a man with a pronounced widow's peak, red eyes, and fangs, wearing a black and red cape. He seemed to be moving towards a woman with red hair that seemed hypnotized.

"Dracula with Lucy Westernra," Jack said. "His first victim in England. This is a house of horrors. There's Frankenstein. And the Wolf Man."

"This is sure a weird museum," Lily said.

"It sure is," Jack agreed. He lowered his voice and whispered, "Can you still hear anything?"

Lily nodded a little. "I just heard it again," she whispered.

Jack pointed towards a large shelf and hissed, "Let's hide over there and see if whoever or whatever it is shows himself."

Lily nodded. The two of them casually walked towards the big shelf and stepped behind it as if looking at something. The cat ran over to Lily.

Something moved softly past the shelf. Jack leaned cautiously around the corner of the shelf, trying to get a good look at their follower without being seen. Whatever it was had a huge head, green with large eyes on stalks and what appeared to be antennae on its head. It was dressed in what appeared to be aluminum foil. Jack backed away, hoping he hadn't been seen. The creature looked around then walked away.

"It looked like some kind of space alien!" Jack whispered.

"Let's get out of here," Lily said, grabbing his hand and motioning to the cat.

"Let me check to see if it's coming back," Jack said softly. He peered around the shelf again. "I don't see it," he said. "Come on! Let's get out of here!" They began walking slowly through the museum, through the statues and past the paintings, towards the entrance, looking about the whole time for any sign of the creature. The eyes in the paintings seemed to follow them.

"Everything's creepy," Lily whispered.

"I know but it should be morning soon," Jack said quietly. "It'll get less creepy when it's lighter."

"Right," Lily said, squeezing his hand tighter.

"Keep your eyes peeled for that thing," Jack hissed as they approached the entrance." Just then there was another sound. They looked over their shoulders. The creature was behind them. The froze as it turned its huge head from side to side as if trying to find them.

"It's blind," Jack realized. He motioned to Lily to follow him without making a sound. She nodded and the two of them hurried towards the door. Unfortunately the cat picked that moment to hiss at the alien. It went towards the sound. The cat growled then ran quickly after them. They exited the building and ran towards some bushes. They waited for several minutes as the creature seemed to be trying to find them. Finally it turned and wandered back towards the museum. Jack and Lily hurried away.

The sun hadn't yet begun to rise as they walked through town. Jack looked at his watch. "Six hours before the bus leaves again," he said. "What should we do until then?"

"Hide somewhere?" Lily asked sadly. "If there's any place that doesn't have something awful in it!"

They walked down the street. Houses squatted in the dim moonlight like beasts of prey preparing to leap upon them, windows like eyes apparently asleep but ready to open at any moment, doors like mouths closed but about to open wide and swallow them without warning. Lily shivered and Jack held her closer.

"Where haven't we tried to hide before?" he asked.

Lily pointed down the street towards a dilapidated old structure. "What about that old motel over there?" she asked.

"I guess we can try it," he said. "But if we see or hear anything strange we get out of there fast."

"Don't worry, I will," Lily assured him.

The paint was peeling from the old motel. The steps up to the door creaked loudly with each step, and a couple sagged like they might give way under their weight. The word MOTEL had apparently once hung over the door, but now it only read O EL. Jack and Lily walked under it carefully in case another letter came down on their heads.

"This is a real dump," Jack whispered. "Just hope there's nothing weird in there."

"I hope so too," Lily said. "People get murdered in motels in horror movies, don't they?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah," Jack said. "Horror novels too."

Jack opened the door. The hinges squeaked loudly. They stepped into the old motel. There were spider webs here and there and all over the ceiling. Their steps left footprints in the thick dust on the floor. They reached the front desk and saw a large web running from the wall to the ceiling, completely covering the bell customers were supposed to ring for service.

"Looks like nobody's bothered to take care of this place in a long time," Jack said, brushing the cobweb away from the bell.

Lily made a face. "Do you think somebody still works here?" she asked.

"I guess I'll ring the bell and we'll see," Jack said, ringing the bell which echoed dully in the large room just as the web broke, getting all over his hand. He struggled to brush it off.

Lily helped him get the web off his hand. "This is so disgusting!" she said.

Finally freeing his hand, Jack looked around for a trash can. Not seeing any he simply dropped the web onto the floor. "Ugh," he said. "Somebody seriously needs to dust this place."

"Welcome," Lily said. She looked around the room. "You're right. A maid would take one look at this place and quit."

Jack picked up a piece of paper near the bell and began dusting it. "Let me brush off this bell and ring it again," he said. "I don't think anybody heard it."

"Go for it," Lily said.

Jack left the paper on the desk and rang the bell. It echoed hollowly through the old motel. After a few moments they heard footsteps. Jack put his arm around Lily and they strained their eyes in the dim light trying to see what was approaching. It appeared to be a normal looking old man. He stared at them, not looking at all friendly.

"Uh, would it be all right for us to stay here a few hours?" Jack asked.

The old man stared at him. "What?" he said at last.

"We'd like to stay here for a few hours," Jack said a bit louder. The old man stepped behind the desk and reached for something. Jack and Lily tensed, expecting trouble, but the old man only tossed a key at them. Jack picked it up. "Uh, thanks. What room is this for?"

There was no answer. The old man clearly didn't want them there. Jack asked again. "Uh…room? This key opens what lock?"

The old man finally said, "Nine."

"Room nine?" Jack repeated. "Okay, uh…" He stopped speaking as the old man walked off. "Think we should follow him, Lily?" he asked.

"I don't know," Lily said. "Maybe he's already dismissed us?"

"He seems really strange," Jack said. "Like we're annoying him just by coming in here."

Lily nodded. "Yeah…" she agreed. "I don't like this, Jack."

"Maybe we should just get out of here?" Jack suggested. The rest of the motel, what they could see of it, was just as dusty and full of cobwebs as the entrance hall.

"If you say so," Lily said. "That guy is creepy."

Jack took Lily's hand. "Come on," he said. "Before he comes back." He started to place the key on the desk when suddenly the old man was there again. Staring at them, like flies he was wondering if he should swat or not.

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

Lily stepped behind Jack. "We decided to go somewhere else," she said.

Jack took a step back and held out the key. "Uh…here's your key back…"

The old man stared at them a moment before snatching the key away. "Well, go on!" he yelled. "Get!"

"You heard him, Lily!" Jack said, backing away from the now angry old man. "Let's get!"

"Right!" Lily said. The two of them ran from the motel.

"That old guy might have been okay," Jack said once they were outside, "but I was getting weird vibes from that place."

"Yeah," Lily agreed, wrapping her arms around herself. "Still, it would have been nice to lie down and get some rest for a little while."

Jack sighed as he put his arm around her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said. "Now we're out in the dark and the cold again."

"That's okay," Lily said, smiling reassuringly at Jack. "It's not so bad."

"In most towns it wouldn't be," Jack agreed. "But you never know what to expect next in this town."

"Yup," Lily said as they walked down the deserted unpaved street. A stray wind blew an old crumpled up newspaper past them. It was a lonely sight, but in a town where no dogs barked, no children played, and no ordinary people walked down the street, it was a relief to see something, anything, that was normal.

"I'm afraid we're running out of places to stay," Jack said sadly. "We can't go back to the bus station until it's almost time for the bus. We can't go to the library or the museum. I'm not sure where else we can stay for the next few hours."

"Maybe we could just stay where we are," Lily suggested. Another wind blew and she shivered.

"Cold?" Jack asked, holding her closer.

"A little," she admitted. "Thanks for asking. I guess you're cold too, huh?"

"I'll be okay," Jack said. "Sorry I can't find a good place for us to stay."

"It's okay," Lily assured him. "It's not your fault."

Jack wrapped his other arm around her. "Maybe we can keep each other warm if we stay close together."

Lily wrapped her arms around him. "Good idea," she said.

Jack kissed her cheek. "Helping any?" he asked.

Lily laid her head against his shoulder and shut her eyes. "Much better," she said softly.

Jack ran his fingers through her curly hair. "Good," he said. "It's morning now. It should start getting warmer soon."

"That's good to know," Lily said. She didn't complain, but Jack noticed her hands and face were cold. He rubbed her hands and kissed her again. "This time we'll get out of here," he promised. "Even if I have to carry you twenty miles."

Lily smiled. "Okay," she said. "But I think I should walk. Twenty miles of carrying me would make you pretty tired."

Jack laughed and kissed her again. "Good to hear you still have your sense of humor," he said. "Sorry you're not getting much sleep. You can lean on me if you want to get some rest."

"Thanks," she said, leaning her head on his shoulder. "But you need some sleep too."

"I'm okay as long as you're all right," Jack insisted, pulling her closer. "I just can't believe all the crazy stuff that's going on and nobody seems to care."

"I still keep wondering if this is all just a horrible nightmare," Lily said. "But I hope it isn't, because then when I woke up…you'd be gone."

"I know," Jack said. "If you're just a dream I hope I never wake up." He stroked her hair and kissed her again.

Lily returned his kiss, and the strange world seemed to vanish as only the two of them became important. Sadly, when they broke the kiss, they saw another mist had come in and had covered the ground up to their knees. "I hope two fogs coming in the same day isn't a bad sign," he said.

"As much as I like kissing you, maybe we should stay alert and ready in case something else crazy happens," Lily said.

"Yeah, you're right," Jack said. "In my research for my work, I read a lot of stories about vampires and witches turning into mist, and we've seen both of them in this town. I saw several of both at that weird party where that dark king was holding you prisoner. I hope we've seen the last of him."

"I hope so too," Lily said. "Do you really think a vampire or a witch or that king is doing this? Following us around, just out of sight, letting us think we're getting away then making something else happen to us?"

"I hope not," Jack said. "I'd hate to think all the troubles we've had have just been some sort of sick game."

"Me too," Lily said, shivering, this time not from the cold. "Oh, Jack, I was so afraid you wouldn't be able to find me when he took me to that castle."

"How did he get you, anyway?" Jack asked her. "You were there and then suddenly you just weren't."

"He grabbed me when you weren't looking," Lily said. "He wrapped me in his coat and the next thing I knew I was at the castle."

"Did he hurt you?" Jack asked.

"A little," she admitted. "But I'm all right, Jack."

Jack clenched his teeth. "Are you sure?" he insisted. "I'd kill him if he hurt you badly!" He held her tight. "I'm never letting anyone take you from me again!"

Lily hugged him back. "I'm fine, Jack," she assured him. "And it won't happen again. Nothing can hurt us as long as we're together. I love you, Jack."

Jack pulled her closer. "And I love you, my beautiful Lily."

She kissed him then hugged her tight. He kissed her back. They held each other for awhile.

"Feeling any warmer?" Jack asked her finally.

Lily nodded. "I always will when I'm with you," she said.

"Me too," Jack said. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole stupid life."

Lily pulled away and looked into his eyes. She could see unhappiness in them. "Why do you say your life is stupid?" she asked.

Jack sighed. "I never worked too hard in school," he explained. "Didn't make many friends because I was always daydreaming. Never got a career, been working stupid jobs while trying to sell a book. Which never did sell."

"I see," Lily said. "Well, I'm sure your book will sell one day, Jack."

"Maybe," he said, looking away. "I'll bet you have a lot of friends."

"Yeah," Lily admitted. "But none of them as special as you."

Jack smiled sadly. "Thanks," he said. "They must be worried about you."

Lily stepped up behind Jack and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I guess," she said. "But they probably think I'm still on vacation. I was supposed to go to a place called Surfside City. The only things I thought I'd be worrying about the next few weeks were getting sunburned and running out of lemonade."

"I'm afraid you've had a poor vacation," Jack said. "Your friends will never believe you when you tell them what happened during it."

"I know," Lily said, kissing him under his jaw. "They'll think I made it all up."

"I don't have very many people to discuss it with," Jack said, reaching behind him and taking Lily's hands in his. "I know my mom won't believe me. She thinks I should stop writing and get a good job. Maybe it's best if we don't tell anyone about this town."

"I see," Lily said, rubbing her cheek against Jack's. "You need a shave," she said.

"Yeah, only I'm not about to trust somebody with scissers and a razor getting too close to me," Jack said. "You know, I might try writing about this place. Say it's a work of fiction. That is, if it's okay to put you in the book."

"Of course it's okay," Lily said.

The mist had grown thicker while they were talking, even though the sun was rising.

"At least the sun is coming up," Lily said. "Things seem less frightening in the light."

"Which is why all of my stories take place in the dark," Jack said. "Well, maybe we'll be lucky and it won't get too crazy today. " He turned towards her and smiled. If he'd ever thought of one day settling down and getting married at all, he'd always assumed it would be with a woman that wasn't much to look at. He'd never imagined such a beauty as the one that stood in front of him would show interest in him. "Still cold?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Nope," she said.

He touched her cheek gently and smiled. "Me neither."

Lily smiled back at him. "Good."

"Hungry?" he asked. "Think we should risk trying to get something to eat?"

"Where can we find food?" she asked. "I don't trust that supermarket." She made a face as she remembered Zeke the clerk. She'd never felt so angry or so helpless as when he and his family had tried to force her to marry him, and feeling helpless made her even angrier. Then there was that king. Lily swore to herself that she wouldn't be a victim again.

"I don't trust that place either," Jack said. "Besides that frog guy there was that weird little monster in the cereal boxes, and who knows what the heck was in those bottles of milk. But maybe we can find some other place that sells food. A convenience store or a gas station or something."

"Let's find a place then," Lily said. "I don't think we've had anything to eat since the day before yesterday."

They both jumped as they heard a yawning sound. Looking down they saw it was the cat. It had been following them all this time and they hadn't noticed.

"I think that cat really likes you," Jack said.

"I think so too," Lily said, bending down and petting the cat, which purred.

The town was quiet, seemingly deserted. No one came out to throw away their trash. No one mowed their lawns, which in front of most houses were high and wild and choked with weeds. And it looked as if no one had painted any of the houses in many years.

"Do they all hide in their homes, or are the people we've seen at that frog's wedding and the king's castle the only ones in the whole town?" Jack asked.

"I really don't know," Lily said. "And I don't think I want to know."

"Neither do I," Jack admitted.

Eventually they could see a gas station a block ahead of them. As they approached it they could see a small building next to the gas pumps that looked like it probably sold food.

"I hope whoever's in there is normal," Jack said as they reached the gas station. "Too bad I don't have my car. We could fill up and get out of here."

They entered the small building. The sound of buzzing flies could be heard. An old, old man with a nose like a bird's beak looked at them from behind the counter for a few moments, then started cleaning the windows with an unmarked bottle that had a sickeningly sweet odor to it, possibly what was attracting the insects.

"Hello," Lily said.

The old man continued to clean the windows, not looking at her. "What ye want?"

"We just want to buy some food," Lily said, making a face. Between the smell and the flies she was starting to lose her appetite.

"Yeah?" the old man said, still not turning around. "You want beef jerky?"

Lily made a face. "Is there anything besides that?" she asked him.

The old man finally turned, pointing out some gum and candy bars by the counter.

"Do you want some gum and candy bars, Jack?" Lily asked.

"I guess they're better than nothing," Jack said.

"Okay," Lily said. "I guess we'll have some gum and candy."

They got several candy bars and some packs of gum. The old man looked at what they'd picked up. "That will be twenty dollars," he said.

Jack started to hand him the money but Lily beat him to it. As they left, he looked at her. "That was awfully expensive," he said. "I guess he figured we were there because we didn't want to go to that market so he decided he could charge us anything he wanted."

Lily sighed. "Yeah," she said softly. "I…I don't have any more money on me."

"I don't have too much on me either," Jack said. "We have to get out of here today. We'd better get to the bus station. We don't want to miss the bus."

Lily nodded. "Right," she said. "There's nowhere else to go."

They put the gum in their pockets and ate most of the candy bars as they walked back to the bus station. There was no sign of the giant spider or the webs now, and the mist was finally gone.

"Another bus is coming, right?" Lily asked when they reached the street corner where the bus had appeared before.

"If it doesn't, we'll walk," Jack said. "We'll be tired, but we'll get out of here." He looked at the sun which was still low in the sky. "I think we have about three hours to wait."

"That's not too long," Lily said.

Suddenly an extremely tall woman pushed past them and hurried into the bus station. "Whoever that is, I hope she's not going to be more trouble for us."

Lily sighed. "It seems like every time we turn around something else crazy happens," she said.

The extremely tall woman came out of the bus station and walked straight towards them. She looked angry. Jack stepped in front of Lily.

The woman stopped and stared at them. "What?" she demanded.

"We didn't say anything," Jack said.

The woman glared at him. "Are you Jack?"

Jack stared at her, surprised. "Do I know you?"

The woman stepped towards them. "No…but I know you!" she said angrily.

"What?" Jack said, pushing Lily out of the way. "How do you know me?"

The woman suddenly grabbed Jack's arm. Lily pushed her away. "Get off!" she yelled protectively.

Jack grabbed Lily's arm. "Come on! Let's get away from here!"

The woman suddenly held up a metal bat. She glared at them, eyes wide and crazy, mouth hanging open insanely. "You're not going anywhere, Jack! I'll get you for what you did to my husband!"

Jack backed away, again pushing Lily behind him. "What?" he said. "Who's your husband?"

"You know who he is!" the woman yelled, raising the bat. "And what you did to him!"

"What?" Jack said, thinking of all of the strange people they'd met and wondering which of them could be this crazy woman's husbad. Zeke and the king were both planning to marry Lily so it probably wasn't them.

He was still trying to think of who she was talking about when the woman swung the bat at Jack's head.

"Look out, Jack!" Lily screamed.