Author's Note: Hello, everyone! Yes, I know it's been nearly two months since the premier of this story, but man do tricky Biology classes and artist's block take their tolls! Though I'm more than ready to apologize for my incompetence, I'm really hoping for a review right about now. I have a couple of reviews on the deviantart version, but nothing here, and I believe you guys are liking this as much as my older tnbc fanfictions.
Below Halloween Town–the square, the residential districts, the graveyard, all of it–lay a veritable maze of tunnels known as the underground. Due to its vastness and a population of both residents and visitors, it could well be called a town beneath the town. Jack and Tim descended into this place through a manhole past Halloween Town's gate.
"Mind the spiders, son," Jack said. "They get a little snippy if you break their webs. I spent weeks searching down here when they took off my index finger bone."
Tim chuckled. "And Mother wasn't too happy about it."
Jack laughed back and reached a slender arm behind to help his son down the very steep staircase. The two skeletons then continued on into the tunnel with only faint glimmers of glowworms on the walls providing light.
"How is your night vision, son?" Jack asked.
"Fine, dad," Tim replied before promptly running into a wall.
Jack did his best to suppress a laugh. "Well, this tunnel only gets darker from here. Unless you think you can create a torch?"
"I…I'll try, Dad," the boy said, nervous.
"Just don't think too hard about it," Jack advised. "Let it come to you." He demonstrated by holding out a hand, shutting his eyesockets for a moment, and almost instantly a small flame appeared.
Tim nodded and did his best to summon fire. He could feel the flames flickering inside his little bones, but it wasn't enough. After all he did to unleash the power, all that came of it were a few sparks. Tim sighed afterward, knowing he had failed.
"It's alright, son," Jack said and pulled Tim's shoulder. "It won't be long until we reach the part of the passage we need to anyway."
"Okay," Tim muttered and followed the flame that his father produced.
Traveling further into the underground made the young skeleton quickly forget his momentary sadness. The dark, cramped tunnels seemed to carry on endlessly and the echoes of screams from both above and inside the tunnels echoed throughout the chambers. It was fantastic! Jack seemed to know various creatures that appeared before them, greeting a demon with a hundred blinking eyes and a ghost with squished fingers, both of which Tim had never met before.
"He was a heavy lifter when he was alive," Jack commented about the ghost after they passed him by.
"How come I've never seen him before, dad?" Tim asked.
"Because he and many other monsters down here are very shy," Jack answered. "They usually only come out on Halloween night."
"Why would they want to stay down here all year long?"
"Well, there are monsters that are still afraid of things."
"What things?" Tim asked.
"–Humans," Jack replied. "And though you and I know they're no threat, a lot of us used to be afraid of…" He stopped then, scanning the darkness as though someone else had heard him talking.
"Dad?" Tim asked as the fire in his father's palm grew noticeably larger.
"I thought I didn't see something," Jack muttered.
"Huh?" Tim asked. It made some sense, for the tunnel they were currently inside was pitch black, but being concerned about not seeing something was still strange.
Jack shook his head. "Come on, son. Let's leave anything that is here behind."
The two ghouls continued on through the tunnel in near silence, tension filling the air. Tim didn't like it. His father was always excitable, but in a joyous way. This nervousness was new to him. It was almost like fear.
At last a stream of light began to clear up the dark, and after a short time, Jack could extinguish his personally made torch. The strange nerves between the two skeletons also began to clear, and Tim felt compelled to ask his father a new question.
"Dad, what was back there? You seem upset."
Jack nodded, but did not turn to face his son. "It's a prison."
"A prison?" Tim asked, a smile creeping up his skull. "Ooh, how horrible! Can we go in there next?"
"Absolutely not!" Jack declared, silencing the excited boy. "There's still a prisoner in there, and he's a character I'd rather you not meet."
Tim was taken aback by his father's reaction, but couldn't help his own curiosity. "Why?" he asked.
Jack finally turned around. "It has to do with what we're here for. There are some creatures that want things to be the way they once were."
"So, they want to make Halloween a mean holiday again?"
"Yes. Now, if I remember right, it should be…" He turned around, scratched his skull, and then smiled. "Ah-ha!" he declared, tapping a brick and causing an eerie green glow to appear from the catacomb cracks.
Tim was surprised by this strange power. It caused the rats nearby to tremble and run away. Somewhere far behind them in the tunnels, Tim thought he heard a screech of fear as the light continued to shine a brighter and brighter green. And then it stopped.
What had a moment ago been a blank wall was now covered in simple drawings of all sorts of monsters. There were corn stalks near the bottom of the wall, trees in the center, and near the top, a group of stick figures.
"It was drawn by a witch who lived down here," Jack explained. "She was very old and she passed into the next life when I was only about a hundred, but she put a great spell on it to remind us of our past."
Tim was about to ask what the spell was before Jack touched one of the etched creatures drawn in the middle of the trees and it instantly moved across the wall.
"A long time ago, all kinds of monsters lived in this land, just as we do today." As Jack spoke, other creature drawings began to move around and interact, spooking each other and smiling.
"-But things were a little different then. Unlike today, many humans didn't like us–thought we wanted to hurt them."
The human sketches at the top of the drawing ventured into the lower woods, where a hoard of monster drawings ran away in fear.
"–Of course, they had reason to believe that."
The Pumpkin King tapped a fat-looking monster drawing in the middle of the mural and soon it, too, began to move. It marched over to the humans in the woods, frightening them and then-horrifically-eating a small one that didn't run fast enough. Tim could practically hear the screams from the drawn humans, but not screams of joy, rather screams of agony.
"The Boogie Men ruled over Halloween for centuries, keeping humans and other monsters in line," Jack said, just as the Boogie Man drawing neared the end of the picture plane and grinned wickedly.
"As for us Skellingtons, we came from a long line of pumpkin farmers. Just peasants." Jack tapped the corn ield, and a skeletal stick figure emerged with a cart full of pumpkins, trying to smile despite his heavy load.
"Most other monsters didn't fare better, and by the time that Oogie Boogie became king, well, let's just say that Halloween had become a shadowy place."
A dark shadow crept over the drawing, changing the whole piece to black.
"Dad," Tim interrupted, "I already know what happened then. You out-scared Oogie and proved that monsters could still scare humans without hurting them."
"Well," Jack said, crossing his arms, "I guess you don't want these poor monster drawings to get help."
Tim sighed. "Sorry…"
"Now then," the king resolved, "as you said, I defeated Oogie Boogie in a scare duel." A fire appeared in the drawing, lighting up the mural before a scarecrow figure emerged and unleashed a host of drawn ghosts and ghouls to frighten away the already terrified Boogie Man drawing. He ran right into a large crater where bars appeared out of nowhere. And the scarecrow drawing removed his pumpkin head to reveal Jack's familiar, smiling face.
"No one really knows why I had the power to make fire. I knew plenty of tricks, and I practiced every day in my youth to become the most terrifying creature I could be."
In the illustrated cornfield, a young Jack scared hungry weevils off his latest crop.
"Dr. Finkelstein thinks we're distant relatives of some kind of fire salamander, but I think it was all the hope the monsters had given me to stop Oogie." Several monster drawings appeared around the Jack illustration and cheered for him. "One thing was for certain though," Jack said, and just as he did, the whole mural glimmered with the glow of a hundred jack-o-lantern drawings that appeared from nothing. Their lights illuminated the mural, showing the now prosperous Halloween Town.
"–Everything was much brighter," Jack concluded.
The drawing glowed magically for a little while longer before the figures returned to their original locations and eventually the fires dimmed. Soon there was nothing left but the blank wall again.
"–And that's why I brought you here. Because the citizens tribute that victory by having me dress in my old farm gear and do a few fire tricks. It's a ritual."
"So there's a lot to it," Tim said and took a step back. "But what if I can't do it?"
"That's just it. It's only a ceremony. It's not as though you'll need to use your powers like I did; they'll understand that."
"I really want to be scary though, dad."
"–And you are! You've been frightening humans since you were just a baby, don't you forget that." Jack placed a hand on his son's shoulder before crouching down to his level. "What's more, if the people of Halloween could fill me with enough hope to give me powers of fire, I know they'll do the same for you someday."
"–And if it can't be by this Halloween?" Tim asked.
Jack grinned. "Halloween comes every year. You have plenty of time."
Tim smiled and hugged his father then. He knew that most of this had been only a pep talk, but going to the underground, seeing the bewitched mural, and talking to his father had made him feel better. "I'll do my best, dad."
"I know you will," Jack answered. After a time in their embrace, Jack finally let Tim go and stood. "Come along now, son. We don't want to spend all day down here."
The two skeletons returned through the tunnel, talking of the mural, their family history, and mentioning how the holiday tree circle could very well be added to the mural. On the way out, they again encountered several monsters, one in particular Jack spent some time talking to.
Tim was a very polite monster, but also a curious one, and after several minutes of conversation that did not involve him, he decided to chase a few wayward cockroaches into the dark of the nearest tunnel. One insect ran very far into the darkness, so far that Tim couldn't see. He squinted, trying to spot his prey, and saw a little movement.
"All right, I gotcha' now," he said and charged into the dark.
But the bug wasn't there. And whatever was there wanted to talk.
"Skellington," it said, near whispering.
Tim knew better than to be afraid, but this unseen creature unnerved him. "H-hello?" he stammered.
"Skellington," the voice repeated, "I want to talk to you, Skellington."
"I…" Tim started but was interrupted by his father's calling.
"Tim? Come out, son. We need to get back home."
Tim was happy to oblige, following his father's voice back to the main tunnel. Remembering an earlier part of their trip through the underground, he wondered if the prisoner had been calling to him, but didn't want to mention it to his father. He might have gotten in trouble for that.
But all the way back home from the underground, Tim could hear that voice whispering, "Tim Skellington…"