“Pete, you’ve got to be kidding me! Fired?”
“I’m sorry, Jack, but the main office didn’t like the fact that you disappeared on us during the invasion. The biggest news event since the Crisis, and Jack Ryder wasn’t on the air.” Pete Caponi shrugged as his hot-tempered news anchor paced the office.
“Nobody was on the air, Pete!” replied Jack Ryder. “Those damned aliens had all of Earth’s transmissions blocked.”
“Only part of the time. When we got clear air again, we had to go on the air with Rob Curtis.” Pete passed a manila folder across his desk. “I’m sorry, Jack. Your last check is in there, and I took the liberty of typing up a reference letter.”
Jack picked up the folder and scanned its contents. “Thanks, Pete. You didn’t have to do this.”
“I know. But I wanted to.”
As Jack walked out of the WHAM-TV studios in Boston, he reflected on the irony of his situation. He wasn’t there for the newscast because he had been out fighting the alien invaders in his other guise as the Creeper. It wasn’t the first time his life as Jack Ryder had taken a back seat to the Creeper’s oft-misunderstood heroics, and he doubted it would be the last.
Three days later, Jack Ryder received a call from an old friend. Tom Clasper had left WHAM-TV two years earlier to take a job with the new WOLF network. As the first challenger to the big three in two decades, WOLF had quickly established a reputation for off-the-wall programming. Tom had played a part in that, serving as the development coordinator for such shows as Most Wanted, Tales of the Witness Protection Program, Behind the Mask, and Flatfoots. Having heard that Jack Ryder was available, another brainstorm had struck him.
“It’s perfect for you, Jack. Just picture it: the most infamous haunted house in a city renowned for ghosts. It’s Halloween night, and there’s Jack Ryder, cynic extraordinaire, right in the thick of it. We can build it up for weeks, and people all over the country will tune in for it.”
“I don’t know, Tom. After all, spooks are pretty damned rare. How can you guarantee that anything will happen?”
“What do you think, I’m stupid or something? The guys at Commercial Light and Magic are already coming up with the ghosts for it. So, what do you say? You want in on this?”
Jack considered the offer for a moment. The money was good, and WOLF had already started promoting an upcoming news series. Perhaps he could get in on the ground floor with this. Halloween was only a month away, so at worst, he’d only be wrapped up in this for four weeks.
“OK, Tom, I’m in.”
Halloween in New Orleans was almost as big a party as Mardi Gras. All over the city, parties were being held inside and out. Just walking down one of the streets, Jack was drawn into one of them, and it took him nearly an hour to find his way out, not that he was trying all that hard.
The house in question was the LeFarge estate. On the edge of the old city, the house had not been occupied for more than a few weeks at a time since the end of World War II. Legends abounded, telling of a spectral woman who awaited the return of her lover, who had fallen in the trenches of France. It was said that she died of a broken heart days after hearing of his demise, but that her spirit lingered on, waiting for him to join her. It was said that she was only the latest in a long line of residents who still inhabited the rambling old home.
The WOLF crews had run special power lines from neighboring properties to handle the requirements of their transmission equipment. Special cameras were set up throughout the house in the hopes of recording any otherworldly manifestations.
True to Tom’s word, advance promos for the show started running during the second week of October. Jack noted that he hadn’t seen a publicity blitz since the fiasco surrounding Al Capone’s vault in Chicago, two years previous. He hoped that this would be more successful.
Somebody else had also taken note of the publicity. Watching a late-night infomercial for a psychic, the figure grinned.
“This ought to be interesting. If it’s typical WOLF fare, they’ll have the producer’s kids running around the joint with floral bedsheets over their heads.” He raised a hand with the remote control and turned off the television. Then, letting his borrowed body collapse back onto the pillow of the bed, Deadman took his leave and exited through the roof. “Maybe I should zip on down there and see if I can’t liven things up a little.”
“Good evening, America! My name is Jack Ryder, and I’m coming to you live from New Orleans. Tonight, we bring you the most haunted house in America, the LeFarge manor. In a city famed for hauntings and ghost sightings, this house holds a special honor. For nearly three decades, nobody has lasted so much as a single month under its roof. Perhaps it is the full moon that rouses the restless spirits within its walls, to chase the living out and leave undisturbed its unholy halls.”
It took an effort for Jack to keep from wincing as he read the teleprompter set up in the yard before the crumbling old mansion. I thought I spouted some awful stuff as the Creeper, he thought, but this would make the Purple Pile-Driver blush!
“Tonight, as fortune would have it, the moon is indeed full, and our WOLF camera teams are stationed throughout LeFarge Manor. Stay with us through this brief commercial break, and join us for a tour of the most haunted house in America!”
“Annnd, we’re clear!” shouted Andy Pickard, the director. “Nice job, Jack. Now, let’s get you into the foyer for the next segment.”
“You betcha, Andy,” replied Jack. As they walked through the tall grass that had already started rising back from the trampling they had given it during the day’s rehearsals, neither of them realized that they were being watched from the trees bordering the estate.
“Oh, this is just terrific, Mick. Brilliant idea, putting the money from that Krinks job in an old abandoned house. No problem, you says. We’ll just stick it in this old place that nobody comes around and leave it here, then come back after the heat dies down.”
“That’s enough, Don. How was I to know that a bunch of reporters were gonna camp out here for Halloween?”
“Gosh, it’s a good thing I saw that commercial for this show while watching Darkfeather Drake this morning!” The others turned to the tall, thin man who had spoken last and hushed him.
“Sheesh, Gary, keep it down! We’ve got to get in there and grab that loot before anybody finds it!” Mick Mousseau was a short, rat-faced man with oversized ears. He crouched low and moved from one tree to another, making his way closer to the old house. The paunchy, big-nosed Don Mallard followed him, with the tall, skinny Gary Gough bringing up the rear. As they crept through the tall grass behind a garden shed, their approach was seen from above.
“Oh, will you look at these rubes? They can’t be up to anything good for Ryder and his buddies. Guess I better hang out and keep an eye on them for a while.” Hovering unseen above the trio of crooks, Deadman stretched himself out on an air current and prepared to watch the show.
In the main entry of the mansion, Jack Ryder stood with a microphone in his hand. “Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the great staircase where Amelia LeFarge is rumored to appear each night, coming to the door in hopes of finding her lost love returned home at last. Our cameras will remain trained on these steps all evening, so if she appears, you will be the first to know it.”
Sheesh, who did Tom recruit to write this stuff? thought Jack as they cut for another commercial.
“Begone! Begone, mortals!” cried a voice from above. Jack, Andy, and the cameraman turned and looked for the source of the voice. At the top of the staircase, a macabre figure stood. It looked vaguely humanoid, but grossly misshapen. It was pale gray in color, and waved what passed for arms in the air as it spoke. “Nothing but death await you in these halls!”
“This one of your boys, Andy?” asked Jack, gesturing with his microphone.
“Are you kidding?” replied the director. “Do you think our budget could come up with something like that?”
“Well, then, I don’t know about you, but I’m heading for cover!” Jack dived toward the nearest doorway, even as Andy sputtered.
“Wait, you’re the one who’s supposed to report on these ghosts! Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
Once out of sight, Jack activated a miniaturized device embedded under his skin. Bio-electrical impulses carried its signal throughout his body, activating the previously intangible clothing and makeup that had become a permanent part of him years earlier. His tan jacket, brown slacks, white shirt, and the rest of his clothes disappeared, to be replaced by green trunks and a red, furred cape over his otherwise bare yellow body. His close-cropped black hair was replaced by wild, curly green locks.
“Jack Ryder isn’t going anywhere, but the Creeper is coming out to play!”