The Witch's Curse

Maddie sat on the deck of the S.S. Tipton and gazed at the picture she held in her hand. The horrors of the last few weeks playing back each gruesome scene, like a slide show without end.

When her uncle's letter came in the mail asking for a visit from his favorite niece, she had jumped at the chance to get away from her screaming siblings, and constantly arguing parents. Never in a million years would she have thought of the terror that would greet her upon her arrival.

It had been a beautiful autumn day in mid October when she first set foot in front of the great Iron Gate. Which from a distance seemed to overpower even the mansion it protected, as she stood directly under its rods and showed no sign of the fear she felt except for a small intake of breath.

The house seemed to hold a feeling of doom. A warning that echoed into the wind penetrating your ears with the sound of foreboding, 'Stay Away' it whispered.

Maddie could not keep the shivers that ran up and down her skin at bay. The creak of the ancient iron made an eerie sound as it broke the silence in the mid afternoon light. Each step she took down the unpaved path lead her closer to the monster she now wished she could run away from, and the overwhelming feeling of being watched.

For the first time in her life Maddie wished that she had her family with her. All her life she had wanted to get away from the prying eyes of her younger siblings and now, she wouldn't have minded hearing their adolescent remarks and their childlike giggles.

As she stopped in front of the wooden door, she pulled up the knocker hanging with the face of a demon, seemingly daring anyone to come closer. The boisterous boom of an unwelcome guest echoed into the dark hallways of the once great building.

The door opened slowly and she called in.

"Hello is anyone here?" No answer greeted her. "Hello is someone home?"

Still only silence was her answer. She would have thought maybe she was alone if it wasn't for that nagging suspicion that stayed with her. The floorboards disputed her every step as an unseen pair of eyes followed her like a shadow.

Looking around, it seemed like the house hadn't been lived in for many years. The strong smell of rotten wood and molding furniture scented the air around her, as her stomach threatened to relieve itself of the brief lunch she had enjoyed on the trip here.

Maddie heard a sound and was still, frozen in place, unable to stop the cold shivering sensation that coursed through her veins. The eyes that followed her when she first approached this horrible place stayed with her.

I should leave, she thought, but her resolve would not let her turn away. Besides if there was something so bad in residence here, her uncle would not have called for her. Maddie tried desperately to believe her own thoughts, and not let her imagination escape her.

Slowly she regained the use of her limbs, looking up toward the main staircase that led to the second floor. She began to climb. But, as she made her way up the winding staircase she noticed the portraits on the walls.

With each step she felt as if the eyes of the people in the portraits, long since dead, followed her with an absolute warning. Later she would come to wish she had heeded all the warnings given to her.

"Death comes to those who dwell here." Yet, again Maddie froze.

The room fell deathly silent, as silent as an undisturbed grave. A chill filled the air as an unseen presence entered the hall. She felt anger, resentment, and an indescribable sense of fear.

She couldn't move as she stared into the empty space of the phantom standing a few feet from her. A cold chill sent waves of shock flowing through her and she felt as if she were already lying in her final resting place.

At that moment a whispered name violated the silence in the small quarters. Her name spoken with the tongue of a hollow breath and fear swept into her very being.

"Stay Away!" and with that final statement the phantom was gone. She could not sense its presence anymore and she was glad for it. For just as it had appeared with fast precision, it disappeared as if it were never there.

As she was about to flee, she turned and came face to face with an oil painting on the wall. The likeness mesmerized her and entranced her in its magic. It was a picture of herself only it seemed different somehow.

She viewed the same image when she looked into a mirror, yet it was almost as if she were looking at a stranger. A cold wind entered the hall wrapping itself around her making her shiver. As she turned to investigate its source she wasn't surprised to realize she was in a windowless corridor, there was no possible way a draft could be seeping in.

Then panic set in as she gazed into the picture once more and felt herself being pulled toward it by an unseen pair of hands. In her frightened state she didn't think to scream or call out for help, as her mind froze in shock and confusion.

The world around her faded into night, and when she was able to see clearly once again, she opened her eyes to a chilling sight. Looking out through the portrait she stared at her double glaring back with a sinister grin etched across her face.

"What, how is this possible?" Maddie thought frantically. "I'm not in my body, I'm in the painting…But then who's in my body?"

Fear set in as the portrait was covered and Maddie's world turned black.

After Carey had gotten the call from Mrs. Fitzpatrick as to Maddie's disappearance, she immediately notified her sons. Zack was sitting at his laptop looking up the latest pictures on Megan Fox, when he noticed his e-mail alert flash in the corner of his screen. Minimizing the screen he sighed in annoyance, as he then clicked on the message from his mother.

He instantly became alert as her words seeped into his consciousness. "Maddie is missing?" He grabbed his cell and hit the speed dial.

"Zack this better be important Bailey and I are trying to study for that physics test tomorrow..." Cody told his brother.

"Maddie's missing!" Zack bellowed before his brother could say another word.

"Zack, I'm hanging up." Cody told him a second before he heard a dial tone.

Zack instantly redialed and waited.

"What?" Cody exclaimed.

"Check your e-mail." Zack told him becoming impatient with his twin.

"Okay, I'll play along, but if this is some kind of trick I am going….Oh, My God! Maddie's missing!" Cody shouted into the phone. "But how? Have you answered mom's e-mail?"

Cody finished as he entered the room with Bailey and London in tow. Closing his cell phone he sat down on the edge of one of the beds as Zack continued to type in a message to their mom.

"I am sending one now asking for more info." Zack replied as he watched the girls take their seats in the room. Not even a minute had passed when another alert appeared.

"She went to go visit an uncle that lives in Oceanport." Zack said looking puzzled. "Where the heck is that?"

"Ireland!" Bailey and Cody both chimed in.

"It's a small town 3.4 miles near the east coast of Ireland, to be exact." Cody added.

London and Bailey both rolled their eyes in Cody's direction as Zack read the rest of the message.

"It looks like she left a little over three weeks ago and no one's heard from her since." Zack read as a fear began to form in the pit of his stomach. "Mom knows we're going to be near there soon, so she wants us to take a look."

"Well, then that's what we're going to do," Cody determined.

A few days later the group arrived at the Mansion and was surprised when the driver refused to stop near the gate.

"God my feet are killing me." London complained. "Tell me why we were let out at the bottom of the hill and not in front of the mansion?"

"I don't know, but the man seemed really jittery." Bailey replied to her comment. "Almost like this place spooked him."

"It's a building," London told her. "What could be so scary?"

As the four friends rounded a clearing they were finally able to see the building up close. A chill reached them as they looked up at the mansion and the gate that protected it.

"Does anyone else feel like they have just stepped into a time loop?" Bailey whispered in a far away tone.

"That's not what's bothering me," Cody told the group. "Does anyone else feel like their being watched?"

The four friends looked up toward the house as the same feelings Maddie had experienced resonated among them.

"Are you sure this is the right place?" Zack asked his twin, hoping maybe there had been a mix-up.

"As far as I know this is the only place for miles around." Cody told him.

"Okay this is what we do," Zack emphasized pulling London away from the gate and toward his brother. "You three stay here while I go check this place out."

"Are you crazy? Ever heard the term there's safety in numbers?" Cody asked his brother and then firmly said, "Whatever we do, we do it together."

"Alright, but stay close. I don't like what I am feeling." Zack expressed. "I honestly hope Maddie isn't in there."

The four opened the Iron Gate and it resounded with a loud screech. As they made their way to the house they found themselves walking as a unit, as if something terrible would happen if they separated even an inch.

When they finally reached the door the face on the knocker seemed to mirror the feelings surrounding them. A warning stood out in their mind, but they refused to listen to its call.

Picking up the heavy metal hanger Zack slowly banged it against the door, and could hear it echo within the rooms beyond.

"Okay does anyone else feel like we should be making a run for it?" London told the others.

"Don't worry so much," Bailey told the heiress squeezing her hand a bit tighter. "Like Zack said we'll be fine if we stay together."

Again Zack picked up the knocker and for the second time let it fall against the wood with a hard thud. But this time the door opened slowly as the kids took a wary step back.

"Okay, that's slightly creepy," Cody observed.

"I think so too," Bailey agreed.

"Zack maybe we should head back and call a policeman to come and take a look around." He told his brother.

Just as Zack was about to agree the door flew open revealing a thin framed blond girl standing at the bottom of the staircase directly in front of the entrance.

"Maddie!" They all called in unison and rushed over to greet their friend.

The phantom and his companion stood high above the room watching and listening; waiting to see what the witch would do next.

"She's getting stronger," The phantom stated. "One more soul and she will be free forever."

"We can't let that happen, we can't let her win."

"We won't be able to stop her," The phantom replied.

"That girl in the portrait…?"

"She's my niece," he stated. "And one of your decedents."

"Which, makes her a thousand times more powerful while she still possesses that young girl's body. The blood that flowed while we were living flows through it. We must find a way to stop her and soon."

"Where have you been?" Zack cried. "Everyone's been worried sick."

"I've been here," the witch said simply.

"Okay, but why haven't you called to at least let us know your okay?" London asked her.

"Yeah, Maddie you could've e-mailed." Cody supplied. "We're your friends and we happen to care about you."

"Isn't that a little odd?" The witch queried, "I never asked you too."

A hush fell over the group as they processed what Maddie had just said.

"Maddie?" Zack asked a little bemused as he walked over to her. "Are you alright?"

"Of course why do you ask?" The witch said as Zack immediately realized something wasn't quite right.

A slight fear entered his eyes and a crazy thought appeared. This wasn't his Maddie.

"Is something wrong?" He heard her say.

"No everything is fine," He lied but his instincts were doing over time.

He needed to make sure that his thoughts weren't deceiving him. So Zack stood in the background and waited observing Maddie's mannerisms as his brother and the girls continued their questioning.

The witch seemed to sense that he suspected something for she kept peering over at him as he studied her. Instantly she took a dislike to him, and he could feel it.

If the saying was true and the eyes were in fact the windows to the soul. Then Zack Martin had a bird's eye view, and he knew in his heart that something terrible had happened to his lost love, for she wasn't the one standing in front of them right now.

"This is an interesting place, do we get a tour?" Zack asked looking directly into her eyes and interrupting the shopping story London was currently enthralled in telling.

"There's not much too it," The witch responded.

"It's pretty big to not be much. From outside it looks to be the size of a small mountain," Zack replied with a challenge, daring her to come up with a passable excuse as to why she was denying the walk through.

"I think that would be a great idea," The witch replied clear she was up to locking horns with the young man. "Shall we begin?"

"The boy is in love with her." The phantom said. "And more importantly he knows she's not who she claims to be."

"This will be beneficial in convincing him to help us in our quest to destroy Griselda. Once and for all." She replied and looked on in interest as the small group continued their journey through the house.

"She's leading them upstairs past the portraits." he said. "Do you think he will suspect?"

As they watched the blond boy stopped and pulled back the cloth that covered one of the portraits on the wall. He leaned in just slightly and reviewed the picture of Maddie, Griselda quickly walked over and returned the dark cloth to its original state making the group look on in surprise.

"Shall we continue?" They heard her say. "We have a lot more ground to cover."

They watched as the boy stayed behind, and took one last backwards glance at the picture. The phantom took control and with one swift motion of his hand the black cloth mysteriously fell to the floor, uncovering its view from him.

They watched as Zack looked around warily and cautiously tip toed toward it. The boy ran his hands over it, as he examined it closer. Something about it had him transfixed and the phantom and his companion smiled.

"He'll help us." The phantom told her confidentially.

"I hope so, because we can't afford any mistakes," She replied with urgency. "This is our last chance and we have to make it count."

Zack stood directly in front of the painting of Maddie and couldn't believe how life like it seemed. He found himself running his hand over the smooth canvas just to make sure it was indeed a picture. Memorized by her eyes and how sad they were he almost wished he could reach in and pull her from this state of bondage.

But in the next moment he felt himself being propelled through the air and slammed into the hard wall behind him.

"Zack!" Cody called from behind her, and then ran to his brother's aid with the girls following close behind.

"What the hell are you?" Cody asked angrily as he helped Zack up off the floor. "And where's Maddie?"

Griselda didn't feel the need to answer but instead simply raised her hands above her head and began to chant what appeared to be some sort of spell.

In the next moment a large crash was heard as a cabinet fell to the floor in front of her and it became engulfed in a blue flame, startling her long enough for the kids to try and make a mad dash for the front door.

The witch immediately looked up toward her sister and knew she was behind the disruption. With a very sinister gleam in her eyes she grinned. "I'll take care of you later." She promised and turned her concentration to the object in front of her.

As they ran down the steps two at a time Zack remained behind.

"Zack what are you doing?" London called making Cody stop and look up toward his brother.

"I think Maddie is in that picture." Zack told them while they eyed him in disbelief.

"Forget about that now, let's get the hell out of here, we'll bring help back later."

"No!" Zack shouted. "Not without Maddie, and by then it may be too late."

Cody exchanged a terrified look with his brother and turned toward Bailey. "Bailes I need you to take London with you back to the ship and get us some help."

"Wait what about you and Zack?" Bailey told him. "I can't leave you here."

They heard a small explosion and knew the witch was on her way. Cody turned back to Bailey and again pleaded with her to take London and leave.

"I won't leave Zack, and I know my brother. He is determined to find Maddie." Cody exclaimed as he gently began to push them toward the front door. "I need you to go now, bring back help it's the only way."

"Guys hurry, she heading this way." Zack shouted to them as he run down the stairs and literally pushed the two girls out of the room and too safety.

Running over to where his brother was standing he grabbed his arm and jerked him forward as they made a mad dash in the opposite direction.

"Zack I hope you know what you're doing." Cody hollered as they ran through yet another door.

"Little brother, I do too." Zack shouted answering his twin.

As the witch approached them the rooms came alive with small explosions and the sound of crashing items. The destruction she left in her wake sounded like it could be one for the record books, the boys didn't dare look back terrified that their assumption was correct."

Zack and Cody finally ended up in a storage room with no forms of an alternate escape route.

Panting and exhausted from the excursion, they still managed to block the door with old furniture and heavy boxes that lined the room.

"Okay so what do we do now Sherlock?" Cody told his brother. "Those things aren't going to keep her out forever."

"I've never dealt with a powerful witch before give me a minute to think." Zack uttered while his heart rate finally calmed down and his breathing stabilized.

"Maybe I could help?" said a shallow voice in the confined space. "After all I have dealt with a few witches in my time, including that one."

Zack instantly pulled Cody behind him and faced the shadowy figure standing before them. Although he felt no immediate threat from this apparition he didn't want to take any chances, and so he tightened his grip on his brother.

"Don't worry I won't hurt either one of you," She whispered, as a blue light began to frame the room around them keeping her sister out.

"What is that?" Cody looked around still sheltered by his brother. "That's the same glow that came out of that cabinet that fell."

The boys looked toward it as the blue glow danced around like a flame.

"It won't harm you," She explained. "It's a special orb that will help keep all that is evil out."

"Who are you?" Zack asked.

"My name was Gwendolyn, but everyone called me Gwen."

She smiled and pointed over too an old portrait in the corner. The boys gaze followed her finger and Cody stepped around his brother and walked over to where the object was placed.

"Who's the girl in the portrait?" Cody asked her causing Zack to walk over for a peek.

"The girl in the painting was me." The shadowy figure said. "Pick up the smaller picture next to it."

Cody did as he was told; removing the covering they looked at the picture and smiled.

"You're a twin." They said in unison. "But where is your sister?" Cody added.

"You just met her." She replied. "She's the witch you're running away from."

"Mr. Moseby!" The girls both shouted as they returned to the boat and collided with the cruise director.

Moseby jumped at the sudden intrusion and then rolled his eyes when he realized who it was. Stepping behind the check in desk he proceeded to finish his paperwork, so he could make it to his dinner date with Ms. Tutwiler on time.

"Girls is this important?" he asked of them. "I am rather busy."

"It's about Zack and Cody." Bailey took a deep breath and then continued. "They're in trouble."

"When aren't they?" Moseby sighed loudly tired of their usual hy-jinks. "What have they done now?"

"Moseby listen!" London cried. "They haven't done anything."

"Anything constructive." Moseby huffed.

"You don't understand, they're not the only ones?" Bailey said. "Something really bad has happened to Maddie."

"I'm all ears." Moseby stated concerned. "Start from the beginning."

The girls then began to fill Moseby in on the events beginning with the e-mail from Carey and ending with coming to find help. Suddenly the older man began to snicker.

"Oh, you're good." Moseby told them. "You almost had me going for a minute."

Mr. Moseby grabbed his clipboard and began to leave. But not before London stepped in front of him.

"We can prove it." London told him and ran over to his laptop.

Within a minute London had opened up Zack's e-mail account. Turning the laptop in Moseby's direction she placed the screen so he could read it.

"Now do you believe us?" The girl's said in unison.

"Griselda or Zelda is my twin sister. We were both born into great power since we come from a long lineage of warlocks and witches," she began. "We were very close growing up, inseparable in fact. But she always had a mean streak and over the years it turned into something sinister."

"What happened?" Cody asked sitting down beside his twin on one of the old chairs. "How did she become like that?"

"Zelda has always been her own person, she hated authority and so over time she learned to resent the rules set forth." Gwen told them. "They held her back and she didn't like that."

"So she turned evil because she didn't like the rules." Zack stated. "No offense but I don't buy that."

"What do you mean?" Gwen asked him.

"I don't believe people are born evil, something else must have happened in order to change her. And you can't convince me it has anything to do with not wanting to follow a set of rules." Zack said. "If that were the case, I would have changed a long time ago."

"What if I told you, I think you are wrong?" Gwen asked the older boy. "What if I said I do believe people are born to be a certain way? That it's predestined or predetermined and there's nothing anyone can say or do to change that."

"But if that were true, then how come you weren't born the same way?" Cody theorized. "Why her and not you?"

"I don't know, and I have had a long time to think about it." Gwen told them. "But now is not the time to rationalize these thoughts. I need your help."

"What kind of help?" Zack questioned leery of the answer just as a loud bang was heard just outside the door.

The boys immediately stood up and faced the doorway. Another loud bang and then a crash sounded. Zack and Cody returned their gaze back to Gwen.

"What do we do?" Cody asked her. "How do we get the hell out of here without becoming road kill?"

"Don't worry the spell I cast to protect us should remain strong." Gwen explained. "At least for now."

"For now?" The twins replied in unison.

"Well that's comforting." Zack added raising his hands in frustration.

"Zelda has a portrait of herself hidden in an upstairs room." Gwen began.

"If it's hidden then how do we find it?"Cody asked her.

"I will help you, but first you must find a long thin paintbrush. This is the key that will unlock the door."

"There's something missing." Zack stated. "What is so important about a really old painting of a wicked witch?"

"When we were young I was awakened by screaming." Gwen stated as a picture began to form in the mist. "Alarmed, I looked over to Zelda and found her bed empty."

As the boys watched the scene unfold in front of them a young girl around their age appeared. Frightened and confused she looked over toward the bed beside hers and called out her sister's name. No response came and soon she realized Zelda was not in the room.

Gwen ran down the staircase and looked on in horror as her sister had their parents trapped against the wall. Bolt electricity coursing through her hands and onto the two people trapped in its destruction. In the next moment a scream escaped her throat as the two figures fell and slumped over onto the cold floor beneath them.

"What have you done?" Gwen cried as she rushed over to the two shapes lying lost to the world. "You killed them!"

"Yes I did." Zelda's voice was without feeling as she answered her sister.

Zelda stood over her and watched with interest as she tried to help their parents. Finally Gwen had given up; angry and betrayed she stood up to face her older sibling.

"Why?" Gwen shouted a blue glow shining around her. "Why would you do this?"

"Because I wanted to, they were useless and in my way." Zelda answered to the tear stricken girl. "Just like you are now."

Gwen instinctively took a step back. "What do you mean?" She asked still backing away until she was pinned against the same wall her parents had been a few minutes before.

Zelda smiled and raised her hands, "How comical, I thought you would at least make me chase you." With that lightning bolts sped out of her hands and hit the wall above Gwen's head. As just in time she ducked beneath them.

Gwen rushed out of the room and down the hall into the basement where they kept their spell books. After barricading the entrance behind her, she tore through it in the hopes of finding the spell she was looking for.

She dashed over to the portrait her parents had handing on the wall, and immediately pulled Zelda's down and placed it facing the doorway. Praying to herself, she made ready to face the oncoming threat.

When the door flew open and Zelda walked in, she abruptly stopped and glanced at her portrait then at her sister. With an air of understanding she picked up her hands and prepared to attack.

But at the same moment, Gwen repeated the spell she had read a few minutes before.

"You'll hurt no one more, this I say. Into the portrait, like Dorian Gray"

The room spun around as if by a terrible storm. Wind increased and Zelda was picked up off the floor and transported into her painting.

Gwen slumped down into her a seat and slammed the book shut in front of her as a tear slipped down her cheek.

The boys sat captivated by what they had just witnessed, and a silent understanding past between them.

"The only way for Zelda to survive outside of her painting is to transfer souls." Gwen explained.

"Excuse me?" Cody stated dumbfounded. "That's impossible."

"Not for a powerful witch, I put a curse on the painting forcing Zelda into it." She told them. "But I hadn't yet put a spell block on it to keep her from countering it."

"Meaning?" Cody told her. "What exactly are you saying?"

"She revamped the spell so that she would be able to be set free." She explained to the two confused teenagers. "When your friend's uncle bought this house she was able to escape by forcing him into the portrait, but was unable to keep him there because he was not the person on the canvas, so he became a phantom since he had nowhere to go."

"So what do we do?" Zack asked her standing up. "And how do we get Maddie out of the portrait?"

"There is only one way. You have to find her original painting." She explained. "Then entrap her into it long enough to destroy it."

"And how do we do that?" Cody inquired unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice. "And how do we know we will be safe?"

"Leave that to me." She stated. "We will only have a small window in which this can work, before she figures out how to counteract the curse."

"Of course we do," Zack interrupted sarcastically, earning a playful elbow jab to the stomach, from his brother.

"I know this is a lot to ask, but it's the only way to help your friend and free those trapped within these walls." Gwen stated.

"Alright, we'll help you." Zack replied warily. "How do we get her off our backs, long enough to search the house?"

Gwen snapped her fingers and said a few words. In an instant they found themselves beside another portrait. Only this one made the boys cringe as they eyed the skeleton in the painting.

The phantom watched as the blue protective orb disappeared and Zelda was finally able to force herself into the small room. Immediately he heard a frustrated series of curses as he watched her walk back into the hall and rush up the stairs.

"Gwen!" She shouted. "You can't protect them forever. Do you hear me?"

The phantom watched her storm by him and he could feel the hate and anger radiating from her. The atmosphere in the room became dense and he could not only feel but see her energy. Yet just as the hate was apparent, so was the desperation, if she didn't win this round she would lose the war and he could tell she wasn't ready for that.

"I know what you're trying to do. It's the same as each time before. You didn't win then and you won't win now. Do you hear me?" She called out, the words echoing down the halls of the corridors as she passed.

He found himself praying for the tables to turn and the curse to be broken. Unfortunately he also found himself wondering if that would ever really happen.

As Gwen explained what needed to be done the twins still felt like they were missing something, and Gwen wasn't being completely honest.

"Who is that portrait of?" Zack asked her.

"That portrait represents what has happened to all the souls that she trapped," Gwen lowered her voice before she added. "It is a portrait of what will happen to your friend if we don't free her in time."

"But I don't understand," Cody asked her. "If the portraits only have skeletons left in them, then how are the souls still trapped?"

"Just like in life you can't always see the soul, but you can feel its presence. If you really pay attention you can hear their anguished cries within these portraits."

"I can't let that happen," Zack stated. "I won't."

"Of course we won't, this is Maddie we're talking about," Cody added placing a hand on his shoulder. "How do we find this paintbrush?"

"The paintbrush is hidden in plain sight," she replied confusing them.

"What do you mean?"

"The seeker shall find the object for which he searches in plain sight of the portrait he wishes to unlock."

"Yeah that makes a lot of sense," Zack stated sarcastically raising an eyebrow.

"Wait, the portrait we wish to unlock…" Cody added looking over toward the portrait of the skeleton.

"That's what she said," Zack replied trying to figure out what his brother was getting at.

"Plain sight…if the paintbrush is in plain sight, wouldn't the portrait be as well?"

"Of course."

"So then wouldn't the picture be handing in the hall with all the other portraits?" Cody asked.

"I don't know," Gwen replied.

"You don't know?" Zack asked. "You've been in this house for God knows how long, watching her, and you don't know where she would have hidden the portrait?"

"She hid it with magic, so I can't find it," she stated.

"And you can't use another spell to reveal where she's hidden it?"

"Zack come on, lay off," Cody quietly stated.

"I'm not accusing you of anything," Zack replied gazing back at her. "But it would make sense that you would be able to find it better than anyone else could."

"I've tried every spell I know of," she replied. "She's got it very well hidden."

"I still say our best bet is the pictures on the wall," the younger twin told them.

"Okay we need to find a way to examine those."

"And how do you propose we do that," Zack asked his little brother.

Cody turned to Gwen with a smile and asked her if she had any ideas. Swaying toward an old leather bound book in the corner she took the lead and they followed. Blowing off the dust they read it only to realize this was the same book that Gwen had combed thru when she had first put the curse on her twin.

The twins searched thru it at her insistence and stopped when she put up her finger for them to do so. The words A Split Image was written in red as the title of the spell. Taking her arms and raising them she began to say the words and the twins could feel an undeniable force take over.

Take this image that I see, place her now in front of me.

Suddenly another shadow emerged and one that looked surprisingly like Gwen. The only logical explanation would be that this was Zelda, but this image didn't hold anything sinister and therefore didn't give them the feeling of dread that the witch did. When Gwen had finished giving her instructions the shadow disappeared and left the boys in shock.

"Do you think that will work?"

"For a short while, yes," Gwen replied. "But, I suggest we don't press our luck."

A few minutes had gone by until the boys finally felt safe enough to leave the room. Making their way toward the hall with all the portraits they were still questioning a lot of what she had told them. It felt strange to look into these portraits, their eyes boring into them now, almost pleading with them for help. They guessed they couldn't see it before since they didn't know the complete truth of what these portraits were, prisons.

Zack stayed again staring transfixed into the eyes of his true love. From the first moment he had laid eyes on her she captured his heart. And now that same heart was breaking. Although he couldn't hear a sound, he knew deep down that she was crying out to him. He placed a hand once again against that canvas and slowly caressed the cheek of the girl in the painting.

His love for her, was a love that was difficult to explain with words. All he knew was that his heart and soul answered her call. And he wasn't about to ignore it. He wanted his Maddie back, and come hell or high water, he was going to make that happen.

"Hang on, Sweet Thang…I'll get you out," he whispered, and for a moment he almost thought he saw a smile cross those beautiful lips of hers.

"London, that's enough," he replied taking another sip of coffee. "I'm doing the best I can."

"Well your best isn't good enough," she pouted and took a seat on one of the lounge chairs.

They had been back now for a couple of hours waiting to hear from Mr. Tipton as too what he could do to help Maddie and the twins. When London had first talked to him, he merely stated he had other, more important things to do than to encourage her in her games. But when she forwarded the email and heard his daughter pleading for the lives of the only true friends she'd ever had, he instantly relented.

Now they all sat still waiting for word as to what he had decided to do. Mr. Moseby put down his mug frustrated. He hated the fact that he was powerless to help and had to remain calm for everyone's sake. When underneath he was beside himself with worry for the twins he had come to see as sons and the girl who had become like a daughter. Still ever the voice of reason, he continued his façade, if only to keep from screaming.

"This is a very difficult situation," he calmly stated while straightening his tie. "And one that isn't easily believable."

"Moseby I know you, remember," the heiress replied walking up and gently brushing his hand away so she could straighten his tie. "You're just as nervous and afraid as we are. And you want to go down there and do something, just as badly as we do."

"You're right, this waiting is miserable."

"I know, you're vanes are popping out," she smiled in spite of the situation.

"Guys!" Bailey shouted running in with a paper in her hand. "I think I have an idea."

"What is it?" they replied in unison.

"I know a way to not only destroy the witch but the mansion she dwells in."

"Well there's something you don't hear every day," Moseby snickered.

"I'll fill you in on the way, but we have to go now."

With that said the three left the ship and made their way back to the mansion, praying that they would get there in time and no harm would come to their friends.

"You know what Zack," Cody whispered pulling his brother over to a corner so that they wouldn't be overheard. "I've been thinking about what Gwen said."

"Which part?"

"The part about the seeker," he replied. "She said, the seeker shall find the object for which he searches in plain sight of the portrait he wishes to unlock."

"Okay, and?" the older twin stated.

"Well what if Zelda's portrait isn't the one we wish to unlock?"

"Could you speak English please, and get to the point."

"Think about it Zack, which portrait do you really want to unlock," he stated emphasizing the last word with air quotation marks.

Zack looked over to the portrait of Maddie with sadness. Cody understanding how his brother felt placed a hand on his shoulder and whispered into his ear. "Exactly, I have a feeling that she wants us to open up Zelda's portrait for a reason and it's not the one she's given us."

"So what do you think is really going on?"

"I'm not completely sure," he replied looking over toward Gwen. "But I think we need to be very careful about what we do next."

"You two are awfully quiet," she asked gliding over toward them, something they just couldn't get used too. "Have you figured it out?"

"Figured it out?" Cody asked.

"Yes, the portrait and the paintbrush."

"Oh, no not yet," the younger boy replied as his twin nodded in agreement.

Gwen looked from one to the other with a worried expression on her face. She knew they weren't being honest with her, and once more they knew she knew. But she was going to play along as if nothing had changed, and continue to search for the paintbrush which was the key to solving all their troubles.

The phantom waited, and looked on with concern. Something wasn't right, and he knew it. He watched as Gwen continued to lead Zelda in several directions. She wouldn't interact with her sister and she wouldn't look up at him. Something about her was off and he tried his best to figure out the puzzle but kept running into a brick wall.

That is until something hit him. The twins weren't with her. She wasn't the real Gwen, which brought him back to a spell she had used several years before. A spell to conjure up a shadow, or more specifically an exact duplicate. Instantly he knew what was going on. But if Zelda was busy following an illusion, then where was Gwen and the twins, and why couldn't Zelda see this for what it was, a falsehood.

Suddenly something else hit him, something that made his blood run cold, that is if he had any blood to speak of. The situation was apparent to him, while Zelda was following a shadow of Gwen, he was following a shadow of her. Which in turn meant, he needed to find both of them before anything horrible happened to those boys.

"Moseby stop complaining," London demanded. "It's not that much further."

"You know you're one to talk," Bailey chimed in. "When we first came up here, you were complaining none stop."

"Well I had reason to complain," she said in her own defense. "It's not easy walking up that hillside in stilettos."

"Holey moley, look at that," he stated making them both turn around.

"We've seen it, trust us, it's not that magnificent."

"Alright, what's the plan?" he asked he asked noting the girl turned her eyes away from them. "You said you had a plan to destroy the witches and the mansion."

On the trip there Bailey had gone over what she had found on the internet about the old place. She'd learned of the two twin sisters, the supposed curse and the reason why the locals were so fearful of going near the mansion to this day. But she hadn't yet come up with a plan.

"Well, I was hoping we could just wing it," she told them.

"Wing…it!" Moseby said sarcastically. "At any time, were you going to tell us about this before hand?"

"I was just so worried about Maddie and the boys, that I wanted us to leave," she said. "Also I thought I would be able to think of a plan by the time we arrived."

"Sheesh…and you call me dumb," London stated.

"London not now," the man insisted. "Alright, let's figure this out before heading in."

"I agree," Bailey stated. "We need a game plan?"

"Zack I think I found something," Cody said smiling. "Help me lift this."

Zack immediately walked over and helped Cody lift the enormous mantle piece from its mounted place and instantly they realized the object could be opened. Setting it down on the carpet before them, they opened up the latch. Inside they found what they were looking for. A Paintbrush, that looked an awful lot like a key.

"This is it," One of the boys shouted before the lights went out and the atmosphere turned cold. "Damn I wish I had the foresight to bring a jacket."

"No point in wishing for that now Zack," Cody told his twin. "Look who's behind you."

"I want that key," Zelda hissed with hatred. "And if I have to kill you both to get it, I will."

"I don't think I'm going to let that happen," Zack interjected.

"Well it would make a pretty sad ending to an otherwise eventful day," Cody stated.

"Zelda you have no power here," Gwen told her sister.

"Gwen, my dear twin sister, you've been a thorn in my side since we were infants."

With a wave of her hand Gwen summoned the blue orb and once again it became their refuge.

"Don't worry boys she can't touch us as long as we remain inside this circle."

"I'm afraid my dear sister is correct," the witch stated.

"But…" Zack said.

"But, I could, oh I don't know….jump over the banister onto the first floor."

The twins instantly knew what that implied, she couldn't get to them but she could destroy any chance Maddie had to return to the world of the living. Gwen shook her head and stood before them, facing her double.

"Don't worry, she won't do that, because if she does, she losses any chance of becoming more powerful. And there is no way she would risk that."

Zelda smiled and turned toward a painting on the wall, with a wave of her hand she summoned the soul of Madeline Fitzpatrick making the boys gasp at the apparition that entered the room. She looked lost, scared and most of all there was such a deep sadness to her that Zack's heart reached out to her and he held out a hand.

Gwen instantly slapped it down, so that it returned to his side. "What are you doing, that's Maddie," he shouted looking over at her angrily.

"That's not Maddie it's a trick."

"How do you know," Cody asked trying to calm his brother down and failing.

"If you've ever trusted me, do so now."

Cody looked into her eyes and into the eyes of his brother. "You're call Codester."

The younger boy looked back over toward Gwen and after some consideration answered her. "Alright we believe you."

The illusion faded and Zelda glared. "I have to remember to do something about you when this is all over." She scoffed shooting daggers at her sister with her eyes.

"So you say, but might I add, you've had ample opportunity to do just that for the past two hundred years. And nothing…you're losing your edge Zelda, you see there was a time your threats would have terrified me, but that was long ago."

"So it looks like you've grown a back bone," she sneered. "I'm almost proud. It's such a shame, we could have made such a powerful twosome, but you had to go all noble and goodie two shoes on me."

"Zelda what you have done is wrong," Gwen told her. "It defines the very definition of evil."

"Aww…thank you," she sighed. "I try."

"Not very well," Zack interrupted.

"What?" she stated angrily.

"Well, I just mean for a powerful witch, you're not doing your job very well."

"Zack what are you doing?" Cody asked worried.

"Yes, what are you doing?" Zelda suspiciously asked.

"All these years and you couldn't get rid of the one person that cursed you into that horrid picture."

"I don't believe I need to explain myself to you," she glared.

"Well I was just thinking, maybe there's an underlining reason as too why," he stated. "Could it be that there is a small resemblance of a heart somewhere inside you, no I don't think that's right. In fact I choose to believe that you've depleted your power source and it's not as strong as it used to be."

"You don't know who you're dealing with."

"Oh but I do," he said. "I know exactly who I'm dealing with."

"Well then why don't you enlighten me?"

"It not easy being a twin," he began. "Trust me I know. Constantly being compared to someone else, being told how smart they are and how gifted, and how you could never compare to them, eventually feeling like their shadow. You must have hated it."

"I did."

"I've been there," he continued noticing Zelda was listening intently, which suited him fine, because it meant she wasn't paying attention to what was going on behind her at the moment. "No one understands what it's like to play catch up all the time. Live each day mimicking someone else's footsteps."

Cody forced himself to concentrate on what he was doing, but a part of him couldn't help but listen to his brother's words. They hit a cord with him and he was determined to question him about those feelings when they returned to the ship.

As Zack continued Cody pulled up the cover revealing the portrait. It was the picture that he knew they needed in order to break the curse. The one Zelda was so determined to keep them from. As he pulled the cover back, he stepped on a loose floor board which made the slightest squeak, causing everyone to turn toward him.

"You!" Zelda shouted and stretched out her hands. Electricity coursing through them, the same electricity they had seen in the mist. "How dare you try and trick me."

"Cody!" Zack shouted.

"You will pay!" the echo of her words hit them full force as they all realized what she was about to do.

With the image of the parents she had killed still fresh in his mind, Zack would not let the same fate befall his brother. Taking a flying leap, he lunged toward Zelda and sent them both flying into a corner. Anger and hatred were evident in her eyes, one he didn't recognize. Before he knew what was happening he screamed out in pain as bolt electricity coursed thru him and he was slowly picked up off the floor.

"Zack no!" Cody screamed.

"Zelda stop!" Gwen cried out but to no avail.

Suddenly the room erupted in claps of thunder and lightning, a whirlwind began and everyone looked around them terrified. Zelda dropped a very tired and frightened Zack onto the floor. Turning toward the younger of the two twins, they all noticed that he had used the paintbrush to open the canvas and reveal the real painting inside.

The picture was of a hideous deformed being. The true nature of what Zelda had become was in full view of all to see. It showed her true self in all its glory and they found themselves cringing at the sight. But what terrified them more was the horrifying image of the monster that stood beside, calling her into the portrait, beckoning her with his eyes.

With one wave of her hand Zelda tried to cover it up once more. But it was no use, the portrait had been unlocked and the demon was waiting. The demon that relished destroying souls as much as she had and she knew the time had come to pay the piper.

"No, no I'm not finished."

"Release the souls that once were lost…"

"Gwen, stop!" Zelda shouted terrified of the incantation she was reciting.

Zelda stood horrified at the image in front of her, with each new word she found herself drifting closer and closer to her demise. The cries of the damned echoing in her ears, as they cried out for justice at her expense, how could she not have known.

"For your deeds you must pay…"

"No, no this can't be how it ends," she shouted once more.

"Into the portrait you will stay, a prison compiled of your own hate…"

"Damn you Gwen," she shouted. "This isn't over."

"Forever cursed…"


"Feel the sorrow, feel the pain…"


"Trapped within a portrait of sin," she continued. "Now free the souls that lie within."

Zelda couldn't escape her fate and was picked up off the floor and transported into her picture. The monster she'd created leering at her as it feed upon her hate. All the pain she had caused over centuries reflected a thousandfold within the walls of that very canvas.

The boys were shocked as were Moseby and the girls who watched the scene from below. When the spirit of that woman had left Maddie's body, leaving it lying on the floor, they were speechless and unable to understand how this was happening.

All the souls trapped had been set free and the room returned to its original state as they each made their way to their final destination. Zack who had been huddled with Cody in a corner crawled over to where Maddie was lying. Leaning over he placed her head in his lap and waited. A presence emerged and smiled down upon him. A moment later it disappeared and the girl in his arms came alive with a deep sigh, breathing in her surroundings.

"Zack?" she sighed looking around the room as Mr. Moseby and the girls ran up the stairs toward them and Cody sat by his brother. "I had such a crazy dream."

"It wasn't…" Cody began but stopped himself when his brother shook his head.

"It's alright now," Zack slightly smiled trying to make her feel at ease.

"You must destroy the portrait," Gwen interrupted. "It's the only way to truly be rid of her."

"How do we do that?" Zack asked.

"With fire," Bailey replied. "Fire is pure; it's the only way to counteract the evil."

"Alright then lets burn the old hag," he stated. "Anyone have a lighter?"

"No, but I'll do you one better," Cody added. "We have a fireplace."

The next few minutes were spent watching the portrait as it disintegrated within the flames.

"It's time for us to go," Gwen announced to the small group as the phantom stood beside her and everyone nodded.

"Will we ever see you again?" Cody asked.

"Do we want to?" Zack whispered in his ear.

"Maybe one day. Goodbye all you have done well." And with that they disappeared and the group could no longer sense them.

A week later the kids and Mr. Moseby were all sitting near the smoothie bar enjoying their drinks when the manager's cell phone rang. Noticing the caller Id, he immediately smiled and answered the call.

"Mr. Tipton," he greeted. "How may I help you?"

The kids watched with curious eyes, and waited for him to finish.

"Yes, yes I see, oh that's wonderful news. I'll be sure to pass it on. Thank you."

As soon as he ended the call the kids were after him for answers. Holding up his hands he was finally able to quiet them down and tell them the news he had just been given. It appeared that Mr. Tipton was one to keep his promises, not only did he demolish the mansion and the gate that surrounded it, but he demanded a small controlled fire be implemented. Later when the soil was ready they'd plant trees in that area and allow life to grow once more.

"I think that is a great idea," Maddie told them. "I think Gwen would be happy."

"Speaking of happiness," Zack sat down next to his love. "I'm glad you're alright."

"Me too," she replied giving him a small kiss on the cheek. "Thank you Zack."

"For what, I didn't do much."

"You came to my rescue," she smiled. "Just like you always have."

"Just like I always will," he replied giving her a kiss on the forehead.

"Zack, how did you know that I, that she, wasn't me?"

"Because, I know you, no matter how much you want to deny it, we have a connection. Besides, there was a certain twinkle missing in her eyes when I called her my sweet thang."

Maddie smiled pulling him in for an affectionate hug, "Zack remember what you asked me at my prom?"

"Would you wait for me?"

"Yes," she sighed placing her head against his arm.

"Yes what?" he asked.

"Yes, I'll wait for you," she stated seeing a flicker of understanding in his eyes. "If you still want me too?"

"Are you kidding me, I'll never stop wanting you too."

"Good then in about three years when your eighteen and I'm…slightly older, we have a date."

"Deal," he replied making them both laugh.

A few weeks later the entire ordeal was forgotten as Zack watched Maddie hail a cab. Lost in thought he didn't realize when his little brother had walked up to him until he was beside him. They stood there in comfortable silence for a minute or so until Cody turned his brother toward him and gave him an affectionate hug.

"What was that for?" Zack asked him.

"For always having my back and be willing to stand in my shadow."

"You caught all that, huh?"

"Yeah, I caught all that."

They smiled in understanding as they turned in the direction of the sky deck. Zack draped an arm around his twin's shoulders as they walked and talked.

"You know I could use a smoothie right about now."

"You could," Cody laughed. "Who's buying?"

"Well you of course, after all you kind of owe it to me. After all, I did save your life."

"Alright one smoothie it is."

"Terrific," he grinned. "You know what Codes."


"I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

"Zack for once, I think you may be right."

AN: I know, I know, but I wanted to end this on a happy note. ;)

This story was originally posted in the Halloween Tricks and Treats 2010 Collection. I am reposting a lot of the stories that i entered into collections in order to clear off my profile. :)

Anyway - Again have a safe and happy Halloween!