The Nightmare Before Christmas Fan Fiction ❯ Rekindling Warmth ❯ Snake and Spider Stew ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Oogie shook it off and began to cobweb the place, trying to get it looking presentable. Jack seeing it was one thing, but Sally was another. There was a knock on the door and Oogie opened it to see the three kids.

"Is Jack gone?" Barrel asked nervously.

"Yes, but he's coming back for brunch."

"And you're letting him?" Lock demanded.

"Yes. He's bringing Sally."

"What's suddenly changed, boss?" Shock asked. "I mean you hate him…don't you?"

Oogie Boogie paused and looked down. He wasn't sure anymore. It was nice to have his friend back, honestly. He'd missed their conversations and games, just like Jack had. He finally shook it off and looked them over. He didn't have to answer to them.

"Get ready for brunch. Make sure everything's crooked and that you're sharp."

"Wait, we get to eat with you?" Shock asked, hope in her eyes.

"You have to behave. And I do mean behave not misbehave. I will switch you if you don't."

"Yes, boss," they all chorused then ran to get ready.

Meanwhile, Sally and the doctor were staring at Jack open-mouthed. Sally finally moved.

"You want me to go have brunch with Oogie? The man who tried to kill me?" Sally asked.

"Please, Sally? I know you're scared of him, but he'll behave."

"Jack, are you sure he's not manipulating you?" the doctor asked.

Jack frowned. "I'm sure. He's my friend."

"You keep saying that, Jack, but he—"

"Shut up."

Sally and Dr. Finkelstein blinked at him. "Jack?" Sally asked.

"He is my friend. I trust him. You will not persuade me otherwise." He paused and looked at his wife. "If you don't want to go, fine. I'll go alone."

Sally stared at him for a moment then approached and kissed him softly. "I'll go, Jack. Let me get ready."

Thirty minutes later they bid the doctor goodbye. Another twenty minutes and Jack and Sally slipped right inside and headed down to Oogie's rooms.

"Shouldn't we knock?" Sally asked.

"Probably," Jack admitted as he stopped in front of the door. He rapped on it and waited. Barrel answered the door.

"Come in, Jack," he said, his tone, as usual, full of mischief.

They came in and the door was shut behind them. The most wonderful aroma of snake and spider stew filled air and Sally inhaled.

"Mm, what is that?" she asked, losing some of her discomfort.

Lock, Shock, Barrel, and Jack all turned to her. "Snake and spider stew," they all said, but Jack continued. "It's Oogie's specialty. He's absolutely perfected the recipe."

"Is it like your venison stew?" Sally asked curiously.

"No. It's more complicated than that," Jack said with a smile.

"Oogie says we're to entertain you," Lock said mischievously.

"Oh really?" Jack asked mistrustfully.

"We have a couple gambling games for you," Shock laughed.

"Children aren't supposed to gamble," Sally said distastefully.

"They might be children in body, and most of their minds, Sally, but they're three hundred twenty-six years old each," Jack replied. "I don't mind gambling with them…unless they're betting lives or something stupid like that."

Shock laughed. "No Jack. Oogie says we're not allowed to do that today. Here's some bones. Wishbones are worth a hundred, wings are worth fifty, thighs are worth twenty, and ribs are worth five."

Sally had no idea how to gamble, so she simply watched Jack do it. He seemed pretty good. None of them heard Oogie approach. The burlap man just stood and watched them for a while. He finally cleared his throat.

"Stew's ready."

They jumped, except for Jack, who stood happily. "Excellent. They're getting predictable."

"I only play them when I feel like winning," Oogie replied.

"Which is basically all the time," Barrel whispered to Lock.

"Bet you still can't beat me," Jack challenged lazily.

"You can't beat the boss!" Shock barked.

"I can still play Acey-Deucey pretty well," Jack said with a grin. "And then there's Blackjack, which I showed him how to play; actually, I taught him how to play everything. Casino's pretty fun, too. Egyptian Ratscrew's my favorite, though."

Oogie and Jack kept walking for the dining room, but the other four stopped. Sally stared gaping, and the kids did, too. They looked at each other.

"Jack is the one who taught Oogie how to gamble?" Shock finally stammered out.

"I didn't know Jack was into gambling either," Sally admitted. "He doesn't seem like the type."

They just stared at each other for a minute then Jack peeked his head around the corner. "Food?" he asked, looking between them.

"Y-yeah. Food sounds good," Sally said, scrutinizing Jack's face.

They walked in and Lock, Shock, and Barrel took their accustomed places. Jack guided Sally into a chair then took the one between her and Oogie. Before the stew was served, Oogie pulled out a bottle. Jack laughed as he held it out.

"Oh, yes, please! I forgot you make your own Absinthe!"

"Absinthe?" Sally asked. "Is that a type of wine?"

"No," everybody answered her at the same time.

"It's called a spirit," Oogie said. "It's very alcoholic, but also mildly hallucinogenic. Its rather pleasant. Would you like some?"

"Yes!" the three kids exclaimed.

Oogie and Jack glared at them. "No," they said flatly.

"Why not?" Lock demanded.

"Alcohol affects children differently than adults. As old as you are, your bodies are not ready for that kind of alcohol. Even if you sneak it sometimes, because I don't doubt you have," Jack said with a frown.

"Oh, they only did that once," Oogie said. "At least from me."

"Why only once?" Sally asked.

"Hangovers?" Jack suggested.

"I switched 'em."

Jack blinked. "You did?"

"You gave me the idea," Oogie said with a shrug as he began to pour two glasses of Absinthe.

"But it never worked on me," Jack said dryly.

"Works on them."

"Oh really?" Jack asked thoughtfully.

"You wouldn't dare," Barrel spat.

"I am your leader. I have more of a right to switch or spank you than Oogie. I never considered it before. I am now considering it. So next time you think of doing something that will potentially hurt somebody, remember today."

The three kids pouted and Jack stared at them. He took his glass and offered Sally a drink. She sputtered and coughed at the burning sensation in her throat. It tasted alright, and she would get used to the burn.

"Maybe a small glass," she said when her coughing fit subsided.

Oogie pulled out a small glass and filled it, passing it to her. Jack noticed shot glasses then he noticed the upset looks on the kids' faces. Jack stood up and went over to Oogie. "Maybe just a half a shot each? They are over three hundred."

Oogie stared at him. "You're their leader," he finally said with a shrug and poured the drinks.

Jack set the glasses in front of them. They looked surprised.

"Really?" Shock asked.

"Yep. But drink them slowly. Very slowly."

The food was served and Sally very quickly realized why the stew was famous. They ate without talking, too busy savoring the delicacy in front of them. They ate to their hearts' content, metaphorically of course, for Jack, Sally, and Oogie, and when they were finished, they were all satisfied. Lock, Shock, and Barrel automatically cleared the table and began washing up.

"Switching. I wish I'd thought of that before," Jack said with a shake of his head. "I always wondered why they obey you so well."

"Yep. They know what sets me off, so they're careful," Oogie said, leading Jack and Sally back into the main room. He paused and twiddled his points again. "Sally, I would like to apologize for almost killing you. It wasn't right, and I'm glad Jack stopped me. You seem like a delightful individual. Please forgive me."

Sally was floored, but she could hear the sincerity in his voice, so she smiled. "It's alright Oogie. I forgive you. You seem like a delightful individual now, too."

Oogie smiled. "Thanks. I haven't acted civil in front of anybody but the kids in years." He paused. "I still can't help but be jealous of you, Jack."

"Are we finally going to talk about it?" Jack asked. "I mean, you tried to bite my head off whenever I brought it up before."

"I think I'm ready to talk about it."

"Alright then, why are you so jealous? I want a reason, if not the reason."

Oogie mumbled something then looked up at Jack. "No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I tried to please others, they never wanted to be around me. All they wanted was you. And you had started to ignore me, so I never….I mean, I didn't really have any friends. I had nobody to talk to. Once the doctor made that potion, I was so wounded. I was rendered useless and I knew that you didn't have any excuse to talk to me anymore. So I pushed you away before you could push me away."

Jack lightly ran a hand across the burlap shoulder. "I'm sorry, Oogie. I…I was stupid. Everybody expected so much of me, and I didn't know how to handle the stress, so I pulled into myself. You probably assumed I was talking to everybody as much I talked to you, and about the same things, but you were wrong. I was drowning in fear and stress and I thought I needed to be alone to solve things. And I was afraid of not being perfect. Maybe if I had come to you, we could have avoided this whole mess."

"You, afraid?" Barrel asked from the doorway. Lock and Shock proceeded to slap him upside the head and shove him onto the floor.

"We-we didn't mean to eavesdrop, boss, but you weren't really trying to…you know, hide what you were saying…" Shock said hesitantly.

Jack blinked. "I personally don't mind you listening and asking questions, but you do not need to broadcast what we're saying to the whole town. This is a rather personal conversation concerning things much older than you, and nearly everybody else in town. Are we clear?"

They looked to Oogie, who nodded. "Jack is right. You'd better keep your traps shut."

"Yes, boss," they chorused.

"Are you gonna answer my question?" Barrel asked after a pause.

Jack considered it. "I suppose, if you ask it properly."

"Why were you, the Pumpkin King, afraid?"

"It isn't the same kind of fear that you're used to," Jack said slowly. "It's more of an internalized fear. I love a good scare, but this wasn't fun. It was torturous. Imagine you were alone, not with each other, but really alone. You have nobody to tell you the negative thoughts in your head are wrong. You think you're a terrible person and that you're a failure. Nothing you do seems good enough to yourself, because you know that people expect such big things from you."

The three kids stared at him, frowning. "Like the bad nightmares?" Lock finally asked.

"Yeah, of our past life?" Barrel put in.

Jack frowned. "I guess so. I have a question for you three now."

"Yes?" they asked.

"Do you remember your past before Halloween Town?"

"We remember more than most," Shock said. "But that's because the three of us were together for all our lives in the orphanage."

"Orphanage?" Sally asked curiously.

"We don't like talking about the orphanage," Barrel said with a shiver. "We were starving most of the time, freezing during the winter, sweltering during the summer. The other kids thought we were weird."

"Halloween was the time that we shone," Lock said with a genuine smile. "We carved our own pumpkins, made our own costumes and masks, and collected lots more goodies than the others." His smile faded. "They got more jealous than usual one year. They chased us into the swamps."

"What happened?"

"The gators got Barrel," Shock said quietly. "His screams caused the normal kids to run away. We tried to help, but Lock stepped on a water moccasin. We could tell what it was by the light of the full moon. It bit him. I got stuck in a pit of soft mud when I tried to get out of the swamp after they were gone. I struggled until I was pulled under."

Sally looked horrified. "Oh you poor things!" she exclaimed, embracing them.

They stiffened, and the tears they had been trying to hold back began streaking down their cheeks. Lock and Shock struggled out of her grip, but Barrel pressed close, soaking up the comfort. The two who had rejected it became more and more miserable until they pulled Sally's arms open again and slipped in.

"Did you know about that?" Jack asked his friend softly.

"They've never told me directly," Oogie replied. "But I've heard them talking about dreaming about it."

"That's horrible," Jack sighed. "Everybody's stories are different, but they all happen on Halloween."

"Wait, you know about the others? I thought nobody remembered their lives or deaths," Sally said in confusion. "That's what you told me and the Holiday leaders."

"Each person comes to me once, and only once, and tells me how they lived and died. I've learned to stretch the sessions out for as long as possible because as soon as they leave my presence, they descend into ignorance again, and no amount of telling them what they told me, even verbatim, will get them to remember for more than an hour. I actually have several journals of everything everyone's told me. The only ones who've never done it are Lock, Shock, and Barrel. I think I understand now. They remember, and they have each other, so they didn't feel the need to tell me."

"Well, actually we did, but we thought you didn't like us," Shock muttered, wiping her eyes.

"Of course I like you. I don't like you hurting people," Jack said emphatically.

"Really?" Lock asked hesitantly.

"Really. You seem quite nice when you want to be."

"Thanks, Jack," Barrel said softly.

The kids were calm again, so Sally released them and they thanked her shyly. After that, she and Jack stayed the rest of the day. They ate the rest of the stew when they got hungry and finally left late that night. They went back home. Jack stripped his clothes off and Sally tapped him on the shoulder when he reached for his nightgown. Jack turned and noticed that the doctor was in the room.

"Worried about us?" he asked lightly as he pulled his nightgown over his head, not bothered at all; the doctor had seen him naked more times than anybody else. Like, ever.

"Of course. Was he…pleasant, you know, like he used to be?" Dr. Finkelstein queried.

"Oh, doctor!" Sally exclaimed. "He and the kids behaved wonderfully, and he even apologized to me! He seems quite pleasant, now."

The doctor frowned. "Did you find out why he went rogue?"

"Yes, it's because—" Sally started but Jack cut her off by grabbing her arm.

"He does not need to know that, Sally," Jack said seriously. "I will tell you what I told Lock, Shock, and Barrel. That was a very, very personal conversation. I will not allow them to broadcast what was said, or you. Understand?"

Sally stared at him then lowered her head. "I'm sorry, Jack. I didn't know that applied to the doctor."

"It does. You know because you are my wife and I want him to be your friend as well as mine. The doctor is not my wife, nor is he close enough to me that I want him to know such personal information. He knows more about me than most, but he doesn't need to know about Oogie unless Oogie wants him to."

Sally nodded. "I'm sorry," she apologized again.

"It's alright, Sally, you didn't know any better. But now you do."

She nodded again and pressed close to him. Jack kissed her tenderly, though the kiss soon deepened. The doctor cleared his throat. They jumped and pulled away from each other.

"Sorry, doc," Jack said sheepishly.

"It's still so strange to see her 'grown up' as it were. I'm just thankful that I put the…right equipment in when I first made her. Upgrading would have been tricky."

Sally looked embarrassed and hid her face. Jack held her close and smiled at him. "I greatly appreciate it. Just so you know, everything works right."

"Good, good," Dr. Finkelstein said then moved to touch Sally's hand. "Sally, look at me." He stopped until she did. "I know this is embarrassing for you, but it's important that you come to me if there are any problems. They'll only get worse if you ignore them. Okay?"

Sally nodded. "I understand. I…I'll try."

"That's all I ask, my dear. Now, I'll leave you two to it. You certainly don't need me here right now."

Sally hid her face again as the doctor wheeled into the elevator and left. Jack held Sally until he was sure the doctor was gone then began to kiss her again. He kissed her shyness away and captured her mouth when she finally looked up. He hummed and drew his hands up her body.

"You're so beautiful, Sally," he murmured.

Sally shied away. "I wish you wouldn't say that."

Jack blinked and pulled back. "Why not? It's true."

"I'm just a piece of cloth filled with leaves, Jack," Sally said insecurely.

"No. You're my piece of cloth filled with leaves. And I personally think that this piece of cloth filled with leaves is the most beautiful creature ever made."

Sally smiled shyly. "I love you, Jack. You always know what to say."

"And I love you Sally. Now…where were we?"