Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington (and Xena, though her name is not mentioned here) belong to Renaissance Pictures and no copyright infringement is intended in the writing of this fan fiction.
The story of "Stingy Jack" was lifted, and slightly modified for my purposes, from
this Wikipedia article.
Copies of this story may be made for personal use only and must include all disclaimers.
This is my attempt at a humorous Halloween type story, started for the 2005 (I think)
Royal Academy Of Bards
Halloween Challenge, entered - finally - in 2015.
Special thanks to Norsebard for giving it a once-over.
Also, this being a Mel & Janice story, some things you may not get unless you've seen the X:WP Season 2 episode The Xena Scrolls.
F/F Romance: There may or may not be something going on between Mel and Janice. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of two women sexually attracted to one another, you may want to move on.
October 25, 2015
A Dig in Thrace, October 1942...
With a deafening clatter, the delicate clay vase shattered on the ground.
"Goddammitalltohellmelinda!" Janice cursed. "Now look what you did!"
"S-sorry, Janice", stammered Melinda, looking dumbfounded at the mess of shards at her feet. A dig site filled with sand and soft clay, and the thing had dropped on the one sharp rock that jutted out of the ground. "It... it just slipped from my hands."
"It just slipped," mimicked Janice disdainfully, as Melinda got to her knees to get a better look at the scattered pieces. "It never fails! Do you have any idea what you just destroyed? It's a treasure of human heritage, ancient beyond belief, an irreplaceable piece that money can't-"
"Made in Eire," Melinda read the inscription from a piece that had once been part of the vessel's bottom.
"Made in Eire", the dark-haired linguist repeated, giving Janice a look that said her archaeologist friend must be rather slow on the uptake.
"Hey," Mel protested as her companion snatched the shard from her hands to study it closer.
"Well, I'll be....", Janice muttered, scraping at the writing with her index finger. Black paint collected under her finger nail.
"It's from Ireland," Melinda remarked.
"I know that, do you think I'm stupid?"
Melinda made no reply. She was still rummaging among the remains of the vase.
"Here's something else," she told Janice, who was still staring dumbfounded at the pottery shard in her hand, murmuring again and again "How on earth did that get here?"
"I said: Here's something else. It's Gaelic." Melinda articulated carefully so her slow-witted partner might understand (in truth, she appeared slightly irate). She was holding another shard in her hand, with a different inscription on it.
"What does it say? Can you read it?"
"Of course I can read it!"
The corner of Janice's mouth twitched. "But can you translate it?"
Melinda rolled her eyes.
"It's in rhyming verse, but I'd better translate it by meaning." Clearing her throat, she spoke haltingly as she translated the words.
"Here comes Jack,
Heaven does not want him,
The Devil will not take him,
Don't want him either.
In this vessel he shall now remain,
Even though he may never come to rest.
It serves him right.
Whoever should free him,
Shall fare no better.
Far away we shall carry him,
Deep down we shall bury him,
That he may haunt our homes no more."
She read it again. "Oh my... what do you think that means?"
"You're the linguist," Janice said dryly. "Sounds to me like you've unleashed yourself a nice, evil spirit." She grinned.
"Oh my!" Melinda said again. She rubbed her nose. "Jack from Ireland. Why does that seem familiar...?" She blanched. "What's the date today?"
"October 31st. Why?"
"No! Samhain! Get it? Halloween."
"Halloween, don't you see?" Melinda had gone paler than the shirt she was wearing. "Jack and Halloween!"
Janice stared at the linguist in confusion. "Yeah... so?" She repeated.
"Don't you know why people carve out pumpkins and put lights inside them on Halloween?
"Hey, I'm an archaeologist, not a bard."
"But every child knows that story."
"Then go fetch a child to tell us about the pumpkins."
"Oh, hah hah, very funny."
Janice looked to the heavens and threw up her hands. Thus she did not see Melinda's eyes light up briefly with an eerie, orange glow. Then the linguist gave a loud "oof!" as if someone had punched her in the ribs.
"What's that you say, Mel?" asked Janice, turning to her colleague.
Melinda gasped for air. She was unsure what had just happened. It had felt like a mix between a giant hiccup and a coughing fit. She shrugged; everything seemed back to normal now. Maybe that tuna sandwich she'd had earlier did not agree with her. "Nothing, Jan, I'm fine." She swallowed hard a few times to get rid of the sudden rank, putrid taste on her tongue. For some reason, her eyes burned, too.
"Don't call me that," the archaeologist said automatically. "All right, Mel, let's hear the story of Jack, then. Perhaps it will tell us how a piece of modern-era Irish pottery ended up at a pre-Christian archaeological dig site in Greece."
Melinda's eyes lit up, and with a happy sigh, she began to speak.
"As the story goes, several centuries ago in a village in Ireland, there lived a drunkard known as 'Stingy Jack', a well-known deceiver, manipulator and otherwise dreg of society. On a fateful night, the devil overheard the tale of Jack's evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced - and envious! - of the rumors, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his vile reputation.
On All Hallows Eve, drunk and wandering through the countryside, Jack came upon a body lying in his path. The body with an eerie grimace on its face turned out to be the Devil. Jack realized somberly this was his end; the devil had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. Jack made a last request: he asked the devil to let him drink ale before he departed to hell. Finding no reason not to acquiesce the request, the devil took Jack to the local pub. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked the devil to pay the tab on the ale, to the devil's surprise. Jack managed to convince the devil to metamorphose into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender. Jack, however, stuck the coin into his pocket, which also contained a crucifix. The crucifix's presence prevented the devil from escaping his form. This coerced the devil to agree to Jack's demand: in exchange for the devil's freedom, the devil had to spare Jack's soul for 10 years.
Ten years later to the day, Jack found himself once again in the devil's presence. Same as the setting before, Jack happened upon the devil and seemingly accepted it was his time to go to hell for good. As the devil prepared to take him to the underworld, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly, the devil once again agreed to this request. As the devil climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. The devil, frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by the devil into hell. The devil agreed and was set free.
Eventually the drinking and unstable lifestyle took its toll on Jack; he died the way he lived. As Jack's soul prepared to enter heaven through the gates of St. Peter, he was stopped. Jack was told that because of his sinful and deceitful lifestyle, he was not allowed into heaven. So Jack went before the Gates of Hell and begged for commission into underworld. The devil, fulfilling his obligation to Jack, refused to take his soul. To warn others, he gave Jack an ember, marking him a denizen of the netherworld. From that day on until eternity's end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside a hollowed pumpkin to light his way."
Melinda coughed delicately, into her hand. "... And today, people will hollow out pumpkins and put lights in them on All Hallows Eve to fool Jack'o'Lantern into thinking that an evil spirit just like him is already haunting this particular home," She finished, rubbing her oddly stinging eyes.
Janice yawned conspicuously. "Right. But what the hell do pumpkins have to do with that?" She gestured vaguely in the general direction of the shattered vase.
"I'm a linguist, Jan, not an investigator," Mel said tartly. She sounded a little raspy, probably from all that story-telling. Janice grunted something under her breath that sounded like nothing one would care to repeat out loud, and picked up her trowel to poke around the shards in a haphazard fashion.
"And I think you...NNGGH!" Melinda gasped and clutched her head in both hands. " ... secretly like Jack's guts." It wasn't what she had meant to say at all!
"Don't call me tha- Huh?" Janice looked around, and this time she saw her friend's eyes glow a fiery orange. "Holy shit!" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. The trowel dropped from her suddenly slack grip. "The hell is going on?"
"Such language out of such a sweet mouth", said Melinda. Only, it wasn't Melinda's voice anymore, and the woman's entire stance had changed to something decidedly un-Melinda-ish.
"Mel? What's going on?"
"Your 'Mel' was delicious." Melinda said, eyes shining like glowing embers.
Janice let out a stream of profanity that would have made a wagon-driver pause.
"Now that's what I'm talking about. I didn't think you could do THAT with one of THEM. Interesting," Melinda commented.
"Just. Bloody. Wonderful." Janice groaned.
"Well, toots, it's been a treat talking with ya, but I can't stick around. Been cooped up for way too lo-" Melinda peered around. "Where in the Devil's unwashed underpants is this?"
"Not Ireland, that's for damned sure." Janice growled.
"Don't get fresh with me now, I have no time for this." Melinda reached out, and with superhuman strength grabbed Janice by the collar and lifted the shorter woman right off her feet!
"Crap! Greece, we're in Greece, dammit." Janice strained to squeak the words out past that iron grip. "Western Thrace. Now let me down you big lummox!"
"Hmm, but you're kinda cute when you're wiggling like that, pumpkin."
Janice tried to say that she was not, nor had she ever been, a pumpkin or any such vegetable, but just now sucking air into her lungs sort of took priority, and she frantically fought to pry loose the vice-like fingers that prevented her from doing this.
Abruptly, the glow vanished from Melinda's eyes, and the hold on Janice's collar suddenly went slack. The archaeologist's heels thudded to the ground hard enough to make her teeth click.
"Janice... wha- why- how was I holding you up like that?" Melinda looked at her dextrous but hardly very powerful hands in confusion.
Janice rubbed her throat. "We've got a problem," she croaked.
"Oh my... So you're saying that I'm possessed?" Melinda patted her face probingly.
"By Stinky Jack, yes."
"Stingy," Melinda said absently, pinching the tip of her nose between thumb and forefinger.
"No, I'm not! I did buy you lunch that one time-"
"No, it's Stingy Jack. Not Stinky." The tall woman took off her glasses and squinted at Janice shortsightedly.
"Whatever." The archaeologist eyed her friend. "What are you doing?"
"Hmm? Nothing." Melinda put the glasses back on, and blinked her expressive blue eyes a few times, then smiled. "And for someone who just laughed off my story about Jack, you certainly had a swift change of heart. I don't really feel any different, you know. Except that my throat is a little scratchy."
Janice pulled away her collar to show the welts that the earlier encounter had left. Melinda's hands went to her mouth. "I did not do that! Did I?"
"Sure as hell did," grunted Janice.
"Oh my! I don't recall- and I would never-!"
"You see? Possessed." Janice nodded for emphasis. "Like that one time on that dig in Macedonia." After a brief pause she amended, "though I admit that time was kinda hot."
"I was merely channeling my ancestor then," Melinda said a little stiffly. "And if I was any relation to that pumpkin-toting piece of garbage, I think I'd know! So there has to be some other explanation."
"Damned if I know. Maybe all you had to do was break that damned piece of pottery."
Melinda's eyes lit up orange, and her stance changed once more.
"Oh shit," the archaeologist muttered under her breath.
"Damn straight, toots. I suppose I should be grateful to you wenche- oooooh." A leer bloomed on the tall woman's face as she looked down at herself, as if just now noticing her own rather generous endowment. Hands reached up to cup her own breasts.
"Oy, hey, you get your filthy paws off of... you." Janice blustered. Just to be safe, though - the welts on her neck still burned - she retreated a few steps, shaking her fist.
The other woman grinned broadly, squeezing and wiggling experimentally, completely engrossed. Janice licked her lips. "So uh. Melinda?"
Janice sighed. "Jack, then."
Janice ground her teeth. "So how do I get rid of you? Do I say your name three times or something?"
Jack-Melinda cackled. "Oh, that is so cliché."
Janice narrowed her eyes. "Jack, Jack, Jack," she said hopefully, then cursed roundly when it was clear that nothing was going to happen.
"Do you really think I'm that easy? I'm finally free again after that idiot kid tricked me into that cheap-ass souvenir. And now I have this delicious, sexy body, too. I'm gonna live it up, toots. Make way!"
"I almost liked it better when you called me pumpkin," Janice muttered. Aloud she said, "So, when was the last time you were free then? Do you even know where to go to ah- live it up?"
Jackelinda paused (Janice silently congratulated herself for coming up with that name). "That's a good point, too-" The orange glow vanished, and Melinda jerked, blinked a few times, her voice going back to normal in mid-sentence. "A very good point," she reiterated. "Perhaps if we glue it back together?" The tall brunette looked at her hands in some confusion, as they where still firmly cupping her own breasts, before dropping them to her sides.
"Huh?" said Janice intelligently.
"Glue the shards back together," Melinda said, spelling out each word slowly so that the short archaeologist would understand. "What is wrong with you today, Jan?"
"What is wrong with me? With me??" Janice knew her voice carried a hitch of hysteria, but this whole situation was just too absurd.
Melinda just looked at her, waiting for an answer.
Janice shook a finger at the dark-haired woman, and took breath a few times to deliver a searing reply, but she couldn't think of one. "Don't call me that," she deflated.
Melinda shook her head in mild irritation and got down on her knees to collect the shards of the broken vase.
"That's never going to work," said Janice.
"Do you have a better idea?"
The archaeologist tilted her head, distracted momentarily by the well-shaped skirt-clad posterior in front of her. "Hmm, nope, not right now."
"Right, here we go," said Janice, adding the final piece and fixing it in place with wet clay. "Not bad, if I do say so myself."
The Irish vase sat on the camp-table, cracks from the breaking spider-webbed across it, but in the past few hours, they had found and replaced every last chip, plus the wax seal that had stoppered the top. The inscription in Gaelic that Melinda had translated graced its front in one piece, while they had had to use Melinda's eye liner to fully restore the "Made in Eire" on the bottom.
A nice side effect was that the puzzle activity - being something they both enjoyed - had eased the tension between them and managed to soothe frayed nerves. The two women smiled at one another in triumph.
"Do you think that's it then?" asked Melinda anxiously.
"Dunno. You haven't gone all freakazoid on me while we rebuilt the damn thing."
"That's true. Well, not that I'd remember anyway."
"I would," Janice said dryly.
"So... what happens now? I don't feel any different. How can we be sure?"
"No idea. I guess we wait to see what happens."
Melinda took a shuddering breath. "I don't like this."
Janice reached over and patted the other's hand, awkwardly. "We're gonna figure this out." She was rewarded by a shaky smile.
"That's what I l-like about you, Janice. You never give up."
The archaeologist gave her a startled look. Then she smiled self-consciously. "Yeah well." She cleared her throat. "So. What have we got. Vase drops, we look around among the shards, you go all weird, you notice it's Halloween, and tell me that Halloween story."
Melinda thought for a moment. "I don't have any memory lapse until after I told you about Stingy Jack."
"Stinky," said Janice, drawing another smile and rolled eyes from Melinda.
"I just remember a brief weird spell, like someone punched me in the stomach.... from the inside, around when I mentioned Halloween and the reason for the pumpkins."
Janice kneaded her lower lip, a habit she had when she was turning something over in her mind, as she regarded her companion.
The transformation was not as instantaneous as it had appeared before, as was evident now that she was not taking her eyes off the other woman. Melinda coughed once, then blinked her eyes, which flickered between blue and orange a few times. She raised a hand to her head, but dropped it again as a ripple went through her body. Then a decidedly unattractive smile spread on Jackelinda's face.
"So, toots. You were going to tell me where a girl can have some fun around here."
Janice squeezed her eyes shut. "You're on an archaeological dig. The only fun here is finding old pottery, and freeing freak ghosts from souvenir vases. And that's really overrated, if you ask me." Feverishly, she tried to recall the conversation just prior to the shift. She also, prudently, strolled nearer the tent entrance, just in case she needed to make a dash for it. She had no desire to face the thing's inhuman strength again.
"Come now. There must be a settlement somewhere."
"Farms, villages," Janice gestured vaguely. "Nothing within a few hours' walk." Halloween, pumpkins... that was what had they talked about just before. But what had the conversations had in common that caused Melinda's change back to herself? And then she thought she had it.
"It's 'pumpkin' isn't it," the archaeologist said.
Jackelinda looked confused. "What now?" The woman suddenly looked dizzy.
"The trigger, what makes Jack come out. I think I found it."
"Is it, now, well that's interesting." Jackelinda coughed. "Pumpkin, eh?" Leering, and the dizziness fading, she shoved past Janice, who grabbed the folding table for balance. It promptly collapsed, dumping her on the dirt floor.
Meanwhile, Jackelinda had dashed through the tent exit, and before Janice could gather her wits to say anything, ran off into the countryside at top speed, whooping with glee.
"Shit," said Janice.
"Stupid, stupid, Janice," the archaeologist growled to herself. "So proud you figured it out, you go and blab it to the one creature that you don't want to know the answer... And now he's off to do God knows what with Mel's body. You bloomin' idiot! At least we know that it doesn't matter who says the word. Damnit."
Driving her R75 was a challenge in this uneven terrain. The sidecar, usually weighed down either by bags of paraphernalia - or, much preferred by Janice, a certain linguist - sat empty except for her whip and shotgun, bumping unsteadily and making the going extremely treacherous. Still, it was faster than she could have run, and she needed all the speed she could get. It seemed impossible that Jack could get this sort of speed and endurance out of a human body - Melinda's, no less. The bookish woman was hardly an athlete, no matter how desirable she might be.
Of course, it would have been too much to ask for Jackelinda to have stayed on the relatively even dirt road. No! She had to traipse cross country. Janice was growling profanities to herself as she struggled to make out the woman's shape in the distance with the waning light. It appeared she was making straight for a lone farm up ahead.
Janice hit the accelerator. Her teeth clicked as she hit another hole in the ground, and she winced inwardly at what this all was doing to the brand new motorcycle. But at least she was catching up, only a hundred paces or so still separated them. If only she could get close enough to use the trigger word and end this madness!
The figure ahead was moving erratically, and slowed down, allowing Janice to nearly catch up at last. With bushes and the hilly, jagged outline of the land throwing bizarre shadows, it was hard to make out what she was doing. When she suddenly stopped, Janice swerved frantically to the left, sidecar lifting off the ground.
From the corner of her eye, Janice could see Jackelinda flick something towards her, and an instant later, the bike flipped violently, flinging its rider like a rag doll into the air. Janice crashed heavily into a thorny thicket, and lay still.
Jackelinda calmly inspected the overturned motorbike, the stick she had tossed still wedged between the spokes of the front wheel. Then she stepped closer to Janice's still form, dipped a finger into the blood spilling from a gash on the unconscious woman's temple, and licked the crimson liquid off.
"Sorry, toots," she said with a cold smile, and walked on towards the farm building, licking her lips.
Sharp thorns dug into Janice's cheek, waking her to a splitting headache that almost drowned out the host of other aches and pains, from all over her body. The metallic taste of blood lay on her tongue, and when she tried to open her eyes, one of them was glued shut.
Gingerly, she raised a hand to her face, and found that the entire left side was caked with drying blood. What the hell had happened? The last thing she remembered was running for her bike, because there was no way she could catch up with the possessed Melinda on foot.
"Shit! Melinda!" She jerked upright, which earned her a stab of pain in her head, more scrapes from the thorny brush she was somehow entangled in, and a spell of dizziness that nearly made her pass out again.
Rubbing her left eye to make it open, her hand came away with flakes of half-dried blood sticking to it. Groaning, she looked around slowly and tried to grasp what had happened. She nearly started crying when she saw the wreck of her brand new ride a few yards away, a crumpled mass of metal and rubber.
Her third concern, after Melinda and her motorbike, was her own condition. Carefully trying to get to her feet, she determined that she had been incredibly lucky, with a strained shoulder, a bruised knee and a couple of bruised ribs - on second thought, she thought one of them might actually be cracked - as well as a rather nasty lump on her temple. The gash atop it was bleeding profusely, but did not appear very deep. The brush was clinging to her insistently, and it took some effort to extricate herself fully, but she was eventually able to stand, and hardly felt woozy at all.
She tottered over to where her hat lay, and slapped it against her palm a few times to dust it off, before settling it on her head - at a jaunty angle to avoid getting blood from her wound on it. Then she walked over to the remains of her bike, her eyes once more stinging, and rummaged in the ruined sidecar for her trusty whip. The shotgun she left behind. There was no way she was going to put bullets into Melinda's body, possessed or not.
She still had no recollection about how she had ended up here, but she did remember the direction that Jackelinda had been headed, and to her mild shock discovered that the small farm was only a few hundred yards away. Cursing colorfully, she limped on towards it.
Jack strolled towards the farm house, still fascinated by the sleek, smooth motions of this female body. It smelled really good, too, another thing that was alien to the one-time tramp. And then, of course, this body was deliciously rounded and had just enough padding in all the right places to drive him to distraction. It was hard not to fondle it continuously, especially when certain regions wiggled interestingly with every step.
He did not register that the house he approached was old but in excellent repair, or that the sounds coming from the stables spoke of contentment and of livestock well-kept. All he cared about was the soft glow of light coming from two small windows at the front of the house.
Approaching the door, he saw a number of hollowed out pumpkins, each with a candle burning inside it to light up the grotesque and crookedly carved faces. Poor work on the whole, done either by an imbecile or by children - which made little difference to him. You could cheat both quite easily, but they never had much to be cheated out of.
Pain lanced through him as he walked past the idiotic pumpkin effigies. Stupid things hadn't lost their power over him in all those years! He growled an inhuman growl and kicked at them in anger. But of course it felt like kicking a rock wall, and he howled in pain and frustration as he hopped on one leg.
A dog barked close by, and a chain rattled as the animal threw itself against its constraints.
Something was stirring inside the house, too; apparently the ruckus he was making had finally alerted the people inside. He put on a sweet smile. A few moments later, he found himself face to face with the barrel of a shotgun in the hands of a burly-looking man. "Who goes there?" a gnarly voice grated.
Jack cleared his throat and tried to make his voice more feminine - odd thing, that he seemed to be sounding just like himself even with the divinely feminine body he was inhabiting. He put on his best smile. "Hi there!"
"Ah, good sir. I seem to have lost my way! You would not shoot a fresh young broa- a sweet young lady like myself now, would you?" He coughed from the effort of voice-acting.
The farmer lowered his gun, but only slightly. "What sort of lady is out alone in the night, here in the middle of nowhere?" the man countered, eyes narrowing.
Jack thought furiously. "My... horse strained its leg. I had to leave it behind."
The farmer eyed him shrewdly. "Not really dressed for riding, are ya."
Jack looked down at the tight, knee-length skirt this body was wearing, and had to concede the point. "Carriage," he added hastily.
At that moment, two small heads appeared behind the farmer in the doorway, belonging to a small boy and girl, both with dark curls, longer on the girl. A memory forced itself to the front of Jack's mind. A teenager, barely older than this tyke, tricking him into a cheap Irish vase and trapping him there. Somehow, that vessel had then made it here, to the mainland. How many years ago? It didn't matter now. He was free, and here was a chance at revenge.
Jack's smile turned ugly as his eyes met the boy's.
An army of little miners were busily swinging pick-axes inside Janice's head by the time she reached the lone farmstead. The darkening sky on top of the constant thrumming and nausea from the blow on the head made it difficult to focus on the path ahead, so she had to weave drunkenly to maintain her course towards the warm glow of lamp light behind curtained windows.
A handful of goats looked at her with wide eyes as she passed their pen, their noses twitching with the smell of blood from her wounds. She tried not to cringe when one bleated nervously; the sound made the mini-miners pick up more force.
At long last, she came to the porch, where two carved pumpkins glared at her gleefully, the candles inside them flickering erratically. She glared right back at them - she couldn't help but put some blame on the vegetables for this whole mess - before raising a hand to knock.
That was when she became aware that the agitated murmurs she had started hearing were not, in fact, inside her head. Also, the door stood ajar.
Cautiously, she pushed at it, cringing when it swung open with squeaky-hinged protest.
The voices inside cut off immediately, replaced by a nervous shuffling of feet. There was a moment of complete silence as she stared at a burly man, shotgun in hand, standing protectively in front of a stout woman and little girl, all wide-eyed and pale.
And then they screamed.
Startled, Janice also screamed. Too late, she realized he sight she must present, with blood and grime covering her clothing and caking her hair, the lurching gait, the ragged breathing. She must look a zombie freshly risen from the grave.
She also realized another thing. The man was pointing the gun at her. Raising her hands in warding, she backed away a few steps. "No, wait, I'm not here to hurt you!" The weapon dropped a few inches. "I'm just looking for... a woman who passed through here."
The gun came up again. "You're with that one?" growled the farmer.
"No no no! She..." Janice thought quickly. "She has a mental condition, and I'm sent to put her back in custody, but my bike broke down and she got away." It was close enough to the truth, she decided. "She's a bit unstable so I was hoping she stopped by here." She looked questioningly at the couple.
The woman moaned softly and buried her face in her hands.
The farmer narrowed his eyes slightly, but appeared satisfied with her answer. "Well, you better find her right quick, then," he growled. "Bitch took our son."
Once the farmer family was convinced she was no monster come to devour their other child, it did not take long for Janice to find out what had happened. Jackelinda had rung the bell, smiled sweetly and asked everybody their names. They were Yannis, Daphne, and the children Elena and Filemon. When the boy had come forward and eagerly told his name, "her eyes had gone all glowy and she growled like a cornered bear", before picking up the little boy by the shoulders until his face was level with hers. "Bloomin tall" she was and "right pretty if not for the orange eyes" (which got the farmer a sidelong look from his wife), but that had been their first clue that this was not just a harmless wandering woman.
"And then she growled something about a vase, and finally making him pay, it made no sense at all! And she called him Philip. And then she threw him over her shoulder and took off running." Poor Daphne was in tears by the time they had told the story. "She was so fast! She disappeared back down the road before we could get Sokrates out of his stall!"
"A vase," mused Janice.
"Yes, a vase," said the farmer, do you know what it means?
"Maybe. If we're lucky, it means the freak went back for it at the camp. And that means I may know where to find him again."
At the puzzled expressions on their faces, Janice told them briefly about Melinda's predicament, how the evil spirit of Jack had been freed by accident and taken over her best friend and partner's body. "And now she - he! - abducted your child, and will do god knows what if we don't stop it, and frankly I have no idea how," Janice finished with a defeated note.
Hesitantly, Daphne spoke. "I might have something. But I'm not sure..."
"Well, it's more than what I have, so let's hear it," said Janice.
"We baptized Elena a few days ago. A priest came by and performed the ritual... There is still some sanctified water. I saved it in a flask. It won't do to just throw it away so I was saving it. If it is true that this person is possessed... " she trailed off.
Janice rubbed her chin, absently picking at a scab of dried blood. "It's worth a try. And it's all we have, so let's see what we can do with it!" She watched as Daphne hurried off deeper into the house to fetch it. "I'm going to need some fast transportation," she told Yannis.
The stout, placid plow horse - Sokrates - had a surprising turn of speed, but its gait made her think of a cart with square wheels. Her rib cage smarted with every lurching leap, her head threatened to explode. With no saddle to be had, she was bouncing around like a rag doll on the broad back, despite hands tangled firmly in the whipping mane and a vice-like grip of her legs around the barrel of a belly. At least she didn't have to pay attention to the potholes.
The water skin holding the holy water, tightly stoppered and fastened with twine for extra security, dangled from a cord around her neck inside her jacket, its content sloshing disconcertingly.
She could see an eerie glow shine through the walls of the expedition tent from afar. The sound of muffled cackling and screaming made her dig her heels into the horse's flank for a final sprint. When she pulled at the halter to brake at the tent entrance, the beast nearly sat down on its hocks and slid to a stop, panting and covered with frothy sweat.
Janice ignored the various twinges from her beaten body, leaped off her mount and threw the tent flap aside, fumbling at her jacket to get the water skin out, even though she still had no real plan.
Inside, the tent was a mess, artifacts and digging tools alike lay strewn across the floor, and no piece of furniture remained upright. A small boy, perhaps ten years old, was tied to the center pole with so many ropes he looked like a caterpillar about to pupate. From what Janice could see, he looked dazed, but unhurt.
Frantic, Janice looked around for that infernal vase, but couldn't find it. That is, until she took a closer look at Jackelinda, who was slowly circling the captured boy. The vase rested in her hands, in all its glued-together entirety. Janice breathed a huge sigh of relief.
That relief did not last long, however, because Jackelinda looked about to hit the trapped Filemon over the head with it.
Without thinking, she snatched her whip from its place at her hip and flicked it. Obediently, it wrapped around Jackelinda's slim waist. She pulled - but the tall body did not budge.
"I wouldn't do that!" Janice cried. Thankfully, she had managed to divert the monster's attention. Jackelinda turned towards her with a leer.
"And why is that, toots?"
Grinding her teeth at the 'toots', Janice thought quickly. "Well it would probably kill him." The boy whimpered.
"That's the idea."
"But don't you want him to pay? Not much fun if he's dead - he won't feel a thing."
To her surprise and relief, Jackelinda lowered the vase. "You have a point, toots. But what in the nine hells are you doing here? Do you want me to trash you up some more? I thought you had enough.
"I've had worse," Janice said stoutly.
Jackelinda snickered. "Of course you have. But, I wonder. Is your tall dark friend made of the same stuff you are? How about I put a few marks on that pretty face, would that be worse for you?" To Janice's horror, he grabbed a carving knife from where it had fallen off a wrecked table, and held it against his - Melinda's - cheek.
"No," cried Janice, and then inspiration hit her. "Pumpkin!"
"Pumpkin," said Jack, negating the effect. "Oh please. I'm ready for that. Thanks to you, toots."
Damn. But maybe...
"But I like Pumpkins."
Jack spoke nearly on top of her. "Pumpkin"
"You're quick. Pumpkin."
Jack snarled. "Pumpkin. We can do this all night, you know."
Janice paused for a few seconds, watching the triumphant smirk on Jack's face turn to confusion.
"Hah," she said.
Too late, Jack realized what had happened. He opened his mouth, but the glow went out of his eyes and it was Melinda who said, "Aww, damnit," then looked around in utter confusion. The vase started to slide from her grasp. With a daring dive, Janice caught it just before it dropped, and gently lowered it to the ground.
Melinda blinked. "Jan, what are you doing down there? And why do I feel so woozy? And what on earth happened here? And, and... who is that poor little boy?"
"I figured it out, Melinda! And don't call me that." She approached her friend once more, picking up an overturned chair and helping her into it. "And you're probably dizzy because all that going back and forth between freak and geek must be taking a toll on your body."
"Slip of the tongue," Janice offered, shifty-eyed.
Melinda gave her a frosty look before speaking. "What did you figure out? And can I assume that I became... him... again?"
"You can. And I figured out what triggers it. But, first things first. This here is Filemon. Our friend seems to have some sort of grudge against him." She moved over to untie the boy, who immediately hid behind the archaeologist, staring wide-eyed at Melinda.
Melinda eyed the ropes that had held him in place. "No kidding."
She rose to her feet, casting about for her sleeping bag, which she retrieved from under a bag of tools and a layer of dust. She started to approach the boy with it, but he jerked back from her so violently that he hit his head on the tent pole he had been tied to. He sank to the ground, unconscious.
"Just great," groaned Janice. She took the sleeping bag from the other woman and clumsily covered the boy with it, while Mel moved to check the child's pulse, and gently stroke his cheek. "Poor thing, absolutely terrified. But he'll be okay."
Janice muttered under her breath. "I'm fine, too, thanks."
Melinda did not appear to have heard. "So, what is the trigger?"
"Nope. Not going to go there, I'm glad you're back and didn't kill anyone. Let's just try and get that thing out of you, okay?"
Melinda cleared her throat, nodding. "So, how do we do that?"
Janice took a deep breath. This had to work! She took the water skin from around her neck and unwound the twines until she could pop it open. "Here, drink this."
Melinda took the skin and sniffed at it. "That's water."
"Yep. Drink up. All of it."
Dubiously, the taller woman raised the skin to her lips and drank hesitantly. No sooner had she taken a swig than she screamed and dropped to the ground, twitching violently. Janice murmured a small prayer and knelt on top of her friend, pinning the other's arms with her knees, and forced the rest of the holy water down the woman's throat. Then she sprang to her feet and dashed to pick up and unstopper the vase.
Melinda began to jerk more violently, an uncontrollable stream of curses coming from her mouth. Janice absently filed away some of the more colorful ones for future reference. In the wake of the cursing, a black mist started streaming from her mouth. It was working! Quickly, Janice held up the vase, spout towards Melinda's face, squinting to make out the mist in the flickering lamp light. The vessel shook in her hands as the mist swirled about it, stirring up a small storm inside the confines of the tent.
With a sucking noise, the wind abruptly stopped. Janice jammed the wax seal onto the vase, holding it tightly. The vase trembled once more, then was still. It was over.
On the ground, Melinda lay still, skin pale and breath shallow. Pressing down on the vase's stopper with one thumb, Janice gently patted the linguist's cheek with the other, until Melinda's eyes fluttered open. "That hurt."
"But it worked!" Janice said, holding up the vase triumphantly and patting its side.
Melinda climbed to her feet, studying the vase. "So what do we do with it now?"
"Bury it. Deep. But first we are taking Filemon home."
The horse plodded along at a much more sedate pace now, with Janice sitting in front, a still somewhat groggy Filemon in the middle, and Melinda in the back. They could see the farm house's lights shine in the distance. The first light of dawn was already peeking over the horizon. It looked to be the start of a glorious day.
"You still haven't told me what the trigger was, Jan."
"Don't call me that," Janice said automatically. "And the trigger was the word 'Pumpkin'."
"Oh my! Pump-?"
"Stop!" snapped Janice. "We aren't saying that again. Ever."
"If you say so, Janice," said Melinda.
Nobody noticed the flash of orange that briefly lit Filemon's eyes.
The End? Muhahahahahah!
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