GLOVES OF THE GHOUL-KEEPER
by Tommy Donbavand
A Scream Street short story in ten chapters
Luke Watson stood on the goal line and watched in terror as the giant with the ball dodged first past his friend Resus, and then Dr Skully. There were no defenders left. It was just the charging giant, and Luke in goal.
He glanced up at the scoreboard at the opposite end of the pitch. They were approaching the fourth minute of added time. Scream Street was leading Fear Town by two goals to one. If Luke could somehow stop the giant from scoring, Scream Street would win the GHOUL cup.
There were over 70,000 fans packed into Trembly Stadium – a mixture of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches and just about every other supernatural creature on the planet. Half of the crowd was now urging the giant on as he thundered into the penalty area. The other half were hiding behind their hands, claws and wings.
The giant looked up as he swung back his leg to shoot, and sneered. Luke suddenly felt very small against the huge goal behind him. If he was lucky, the ball would whizz past him and the worst that would happen would be that the match would end in a draw. But if this shot hit him – he was likely to be blasted back through the net and into the stands beyond.
Then, something unusual happened. The ground beneath the ball began to rumble and a hand burst up out of the turf, followed by a face which was covered in scabs and sores.
The giant took his shot, but the unsettled ground had put him off his stride. There was no power behind the strike and Luke found that he was able to catch the ball with ease. Yes! He’d saved the match!
“Dude!” said the ball in his hands. “That was bogus, man!”
Luke glanced down. He wasn’t clutching the football. It was the head of his friend, Doug the zombie!
The referee – a tattooed ogre called Spider – blew his whistle and ran towards the goal, pointing at the penalty spot. The crowd went wild, cheering, booing, shrieking and – in the case of one small gargoyle – crumbling into a pile of gravel. Fear Town had a penalty.
“Sorry, dude!” moaned Doug as Luke returned the head to the neck still sticking up out of the pristine turf. “I was looking for the after-match party.”
“There can’t be an after-match party until the match is over!” said Luke. “And, thanks to you, it can only end one way now!” Doug’s hands reached up to take the head, then sank back down into the soil.
The Fear Town players were huddled together, trying to decide which of them should take the penalty. Two of Luke’s team mates took the opportunity to hurry over and wish him luck.
“I know you can do this!” said Cleo Farr, a red number 7 wobbling on the bandages of her back. “You’re the best goalkeeper in Scream Street.”
“He may well be,” said Resus Negative. “But he doesn’t stand a hope if their giant takes this penalty. In fact, chances are he’ll be joining Doug in the head-in-your-hands club.”
“Thanks for the support,” muttered Luke.
“Any time!” beamed Resus, then he ran away, cloak flapping in the breeze.
“It looks like they’ve decided,” said Cleo. She and Luke watched as one of the Fear Town players stepped out of the huddle and collected the ball from Spider. Luke gulped – it was the giant!
Once again, Luke stood on the goal line, the giant from Fear Town opposite him. The ball sat on the penalty spot – hastily repaired following Doug the zombie’s unexpected appearance. The crowd fell silent as the giant, took two, three, four steps back – and began to run.
Luke swallowed hard. “I wish I was a better goalkeeper!” he muttered to himself as the light was blocked out by the giant’s rapidly approaching shadow.
Suddenly, everything stopped. The giant stopped mid-stride, the referee stopped as he ran to watch the shot, and the crowd stopped mid cheer. The only person still able to move was Luke.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
Then the ground began to rumble beneath his feet. At first, Luke thought that Doug was back again in his search for the party – but the grass remained undamaged.
The figure that rose out of the ground this time was a ghost. It was wearing a ragged football shirt and an old pair of gloves. Tendrils of slime hung from the creature’s hair, and its skin was rotting away. The ghost turned slowly in a circle, studying the crowded stadium and everyone in it. Then, eventually, it spotted Luke and began to stride over to him, shimmering football boots not quite making contact with the turf.
“Wh- who are you?” Luke asked. “And why has everything stopped moving!”
The creature smiled, revealing broken, black teeth. “I am the ghoul-keeper,” it gurgled. “And I have stopped time.”
“Stopped time?” gasped Luke. “Why?”
“You made a wish,” said the ghoul-keeper. “I have come to provide it for you.”
Luke glanced over at the charging giant, still frozen like a statue, then back at the ghost. “You can help me to save this penalty?”
“I can make certain you save it,” said the ghoul-keeper, “with these…” He removed his gloves and held them out towards Luke. They were made of human skin, and still had aged, yellowing fingernails attached.
“There is no striker in the world that can score past a keeper wearing these gloves,” said the ghost.
“And you’ll let me use them?” asked Luke, reaching out to take them.
The ghoul-keeper pulled them out of his grasp. “I will,” he said wetly. “If you do something for me, first.”
“OK,” said Luke, starting to feel a little nervous. “What is it?”
Once more, the ghoul-keeper turned to look at the stadium. “I played here once – over a hundred years ago now. In the very first GHOUL cup final. We won, and we all received a gold winner’s medal.” He spun back to face Luke, globs of slime spraying everywhere. “But my medal was stolen!”
“Who took it?’ asked Luke.
“One of my team mates,” spat the ghoul-keeper. “A defender. He hoarded gold, took everything he could that shined like it. He took my medal.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Luke.
“You shouldn’t be,” grinned the ghoul-keeper wickedly. “Because you are going to get it back for me!”
“What?!” cried Luke. “How can I find a gold cup winner’s medal that was stolen over a hundred years ago?”
“You don’t have to find it,” said the ghoul-keeper. “I know exactly where it is. You just have to fetch it for me. Do that, and I shall let you wear my gloves to save this penalty.”
“Where is it?” asked Luke. “Where’s your medal?”
The ghoul-keeper smiled. “In the Underlands!”
Luke was afraid that was what the creepy keeper was going to say. The Underlands was a separate world where the most nasty and evil supernatural creatures were sent for all eternity. He’d already been there twice, and didn’t fancy a third trip. But – the outcome of the match relied on him trying.
“OK,” he said eventually. “I’ll go, on one condition.”
“You dare to make conditions!” hissed the ghoul-keeper. The gloves in his hand began to twitch as though they were alive and itching to wrap themselves around Luke’s throat.
“I just want two friends to help me,” said Luke. “That’s all. It will increase your chances of getting your medal back.”
“Very well!” barked the ghoul-keeper. “Picture your friends in your mind…”
Luke did as he was told. Slowly, he found himself surrounded by a dense, purple mist. It rose up from his boots, past his shorts and over his shirt. Before long, he was smothered in the stuff, and then -
Trembly Stadium, the players and the entire crowd had gone. Luke was standing on the blackened soil of the Underlands, Resus and Cleo beside him.
“You did what?” shouted Resus.
Luke had spent the last ten minutes explaining to his friends about the deal he had made as they trudged across the dark plains of the Underlands. Dark, violet clouds rumbled above, and it was beginning to rain.
“I had no choice,” said Luke. “I either use the gloves and save the penalty – or it ends up a draw and we have to play a rematch.”
“But I don’t understand how we’re supposed to find one tiny medal in the whole of the Underlands,” said Cleo. “The thief could be anywhere.”
“Not anywhere,” said Luke. “I think I know who it is and, if I’m right, he lives there.” He pointed ahead to a ramshackle village built out of rotting wood and pieces of corrugated metal.
“Dead End!” said Resus with a sigh. “Home to the nastiest creatures ever banished down here. You sure know how to arrange a day out!”
“So,” said Cleo. “Who’s this mystery thief?”
Luke pulled a battered and torn match programme from his pocket and opened it to the team photographs. “The ghoul-keeper gave me this,” he said. “There he is on the back row. He was quite good-looking back then – before all the ghostly slime and stuff.”
“That still doesn’t tell us who stole his medal,” Resus pointed out.
“Look closer,” said Luke. “There’s someone there you’ll recognise.”
Resus and Cleo peered at the picture. “Oh no,” said the mummy. “You don’t mean…?”
“It’s him, isn’t it?’ said Resus, jabbing a finger at a short figure crouching on the front row. He had masses of hair sticking out from beneath a top hat.
“Yep,” said Luke. “Rooney the leprechaun!”
Resus produced a pair of wire cutters from inside his cape and used them to snip a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding Dead End. “I never thought we’d be back here again,” he said as the trio snuck through the gap.
“Let’s just hope we can get out again afterwards,” said Cleo.
They crept through the village, peeking into each ramshackle hut they passed for signs of gold. “Keep a sharp look out,” warned Luke. “We don’t want to run into Rooney himself.”
“And why would that be?” enquired a tiny voice. The trio turned to find a small figure standing behind them. He was dressed in a green suit and matching shoes, and wore a green top hat, balanced on his mass of ginger hair.
“Rooney!” said Resus. “How nice to see you again!”
“Not as nice as it is for us to see you,” beamed the leprechaun. “After all, it is so long since we’ve enjoyed fresh meat on the menu!” Then he stuck two fingers into his mouth and whistled. Within seconds, Luke, Resus and Cleo were surrounded by the residents of Dead End.
“It’th them!” lisped Higgs the lamia. “Thothe kidth who we nearly conthumed latht time!”
“Exactly!” grinned Rooney, advancing on the trio. “And this time, they won’t escape!”
“Do you know what I’ve always hated about the Underlands,” said Resus to his friends as they slowly backed away.
“The weather?’ asked Luke.
“The unicorns!” suggested Cleo.
“Then what?” said Luke.
Resus plunged a hand inside his cape and produced a jar of strawberry jam. “The pixies!” he said.
Then he smashed the jar at Rooney’s feet.
They heard the buzzing of tiny wings before they saw them, but it was only a matter of seconds before a swarm of pixies invaded Dead End, searching for the source of the sweet, sticky smell.
Rooney, Higgs and the other residents found themselves surrounded by a cloud of the tiny, nipping creatures and ran, screaming, away from the puddle of jam, small red bite marks beginning to rise up on their skin.
Luke, Resus and Cleo were already two streets away in the opposite direction, pushing open doors and pulling back curtains in the search for the leprechaun’s stash.
And then they found it. A shack which, on the outside, looked identical to all the others but inside was filled with piles and piles of gold. The trio hurried inside.
“Look at this lot!” exclaimed Resus, eyeing the mounds of shimmering gold.
“Keep your hands off it,” said Cleo. “This isn’t what we’re here for.”
“Cleo’s right,” said Luke. “We just want the ghoul-keeper’s cup winner’s medal, then we’re out of here.”
“But how are we going to find it among all this?” asked Resus.
Cleo grinned. “With a little help from school work!”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” muttered Resus.
“If you ever paid attention in Dr Skully’s classes leading up to the GHOUL cup final,” Cleo said, “you would know that cup winner’s medals weren’t made of pure gold.”
“They weren’t?” said Luke.
Cleo shook her head. “Dr Skully said it would be too expensive to make them that way,” she said. “If I remember rightly, you and Resus were busy drawing zombie hedgehogs in your exercise books during that lesson.”
“Oh, yeah!” grinned Resus. “They were cool!”
“Perhaps,” said Cleo. “But finding a cup winner’s medal in among all this would be even cooler!”
Cleo reached around and plucked the number 7 from her back. “I didn’t want to paint directly onto my bandages,” she explained. “So, I made it separately and glued a magnet to the back. Then I pinned another magnet to my bandages and attached it that way.” She unpinned the magnet and plunged it into the nearest pile of gold.
“This is all very interesting,” said Resus, “by which I mean not interesting at all. How is it going to help us find the ghoul-keeper’s medal?”
Cleo pulled the magnet free. It had a couple of gold earrings stuck to it. “Pure gold is not magnetic,” she said. “But cheap gold jewellery is often mixed with a metal called nickel to make it less expensive to produce.” She pushed the magnet into another shimmering pile.
“And I’m guessing nickel is magnetic!” cried Luke.
Cleo nodded. “Another lesson where neither of you were paying attention.” She pulled the magnet out, a long gold-looking chain dangling from it.
Resus frowned. “So, if we use your magnet on all this gold, we’ll find the bits that have nickel in them – like the cup winner’s medal?” he said.
Cleo pushed her hand into a third mountain of gold. “Finally, you’ve got it!” she grinned.
“No,” said Luke as Cleo pulled the magnet back out. “You’ve got it!”
The trio stared. There, attached to the magnet, was a glinting GHOUL cup winner’s medal.
“We’ve done it!” shouted Resus.
Suddenly, the door to the shack was ripped open. Rooney, Higgs and the other residents – all covered in bite marks – were glaring at them.
“Oh, you’ve done it, alright!” sneered the leprechaun.
The residents of Dead End crowded into the tiny hut.
“Look at all thith gold!” exclaimed Higgs.
“Never mind that!” screamed Rooney. “It’s these meddling children we’re after!”
“Not until I’ve filled my pockets!” cried a cyclops, a greedy glint in his one eye.
“No!” roared Rooney. “Don’t touch my gold! Get the kids!”
Luke looked up to the corrugated tin roof and shouted: “Ghoul-keeper! We’ve got your medal!”
Luke was back on the goal line at Trembly Stadium. The crowd were cheering madly. The giant was running up to take his shot. Time had started again.
The ball rocketed towards Luke. Then he felt an odd twitch in his fingers. He looked to his left and right to find he was wearing the ghoul-keepers gloves, the human skin reacting of its own accord.
Luke wanted to dive to his left – but the gloves dragged him to the right. His feet were off the ground. His hands stretching out. The gnarled, aged fingertips of the gloves hit the ball, spinning it, sending it just wide of the post.
He’d saved the penalty!
PEEP! Spider the referee blew his whistle. The match was over. Scream Street had won the GHOUL cup!
As the rest of the team hurried to lift him up on their shoulders, Luke realised that the ghoul-keeper’s gloves had disappeared from his hands. They were back with their owner who, cup winner’s medal pinned to his rotting shirt, was in the six-yard box, happily sinking back beneath the turf.
Luke glanced down to his friends as they carried him from one end of the pitch to the other. “You did it!” cried Cleo.
“I think you mean we did it!” beamed Resus.
“Yeah!” grinned Luke. “It was a team effort!”