The apparent clone of Laura Kinney, Gabby, continued to stay hidden as the monster of Spanish and Portuguese folklore known to some as El Coco brought in more children it had kidnapped. It was said this evil creature would go after children who misbehaved. It would capture them and is said to eat them.
“You always seem to get yourself into these situations, Gabby,” she thought to herself. “And I don’t think Zelda and Bellona will be here to save you this time.”
THE HAUNTING OF SAN FRANCISCO
Part II: Penance
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Laura, Megan, and the wolverine Jonathan joined Robbie a short distance away from the west branch of Alchemax. Jonathan sat on the trunk of Robbie’s Dodge Charger which Megan stood immediately next to. She looked at the animal who looked away not interested in the girl. She, in turn, did the same. In Laura’s eyes, they looked like two bickering children.
“So what’s our next move?” asked Laura.
“Wait, you actually want to be involved in this?” Megan was shocked. “It figures it takes something insane to get you interested.”
“You’re really gonna team up with these two?” asked the spirit of Elias Morrow who was in possession of Robbie. “A pair of lost children? You know we work better alone.”
“This isn’t just about Gabe anymore,” responded Robbie. “Laura has some connection to this. And she needs to find out what. Who am I to stop her from finding out what it is?”
Robbie Reyes is a teenager from Los Angeles who was still attending high school. One night, he went out to participate in a street race to raise money for his younger brother Gabe. The race went horribly wrong. He actually died in the accident but was brought back by the spirit that was attached to the Dodge Charger he was driving. This spirit was his own Uncle Eli, which he didn’t know at first. Eli was a Satanist in life. He was evil. He still is. His soul bond itself to Robbie’s which granted him the ability to transform into an all-new Ghost Rider, who had no connection to the real Spirit of Vengeance.
“The trail on the monster has gone cold,” said Robbie. “We need to find a new lead. Maybe investigating other reports of lost children will bring us one step closer to El Coco.”
It was just a myth, an urban legend, that the bogeyman known as El Coco existed with the sole purpose of kidnapping troublesome children. Parents in Spanish and Portuguese countries would tell bedtime stories to try and scare their children to behave. It would seem those legends were true. There was one thing wrong with this, however. Some of the missing children may not have been misbehaving. Robbie claimed his brother was a good child. If so, what was really happening?
The group of teens and Jonathan began following up on the various reported kidnappings through San Francisco. Robbie drove everyone in his car. Megan sat in the back with Jonathan who appeared on edge. Megan sighed. Jonathan, like most animals, could sense when something wasn’t right and what wasn’t right was the car they were now in.
They searched the internet for stories about any missing children and then followed up on them. It was awkward asking the parents about the children they lost. There is very little information to go on. While some of the children were misbehaving, according to their parents, a lot of them were good children. At least that’s what the parents claim and they should.
“We’re getting nowhere with this,” said Megan.
Robbie shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to talk about their kids with them missing. But there is one thing we got from this.”
“What?” Megan wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“They were all taken at night,” followed Laura. “Makes sense. When else would the bogeyman come after children?”
“So we’re gonna have to do a stakeout,” said Robbie.
“Late night stakeout?” Megan seemed unamused. “And with this rabid furball with us?”
Jonathan made angry gesture’s at Megan. For an animal you wouldn’t normally see around humans, he was very responsive to them. Jonathan looked away from Megan, angry with what she said.
“We can’t stay out late,” continued Megan. “My mom will pitch a fit.”
“Then go home.” Laura walked for Robbie’s car. “If we’re about to go toe-to-toe with something supernatural, maybe you shouldn’t be here. You don’t exactly have any powers to defend yourself.”
“Hpmh.” Megan this time looked away.
Gabby kept hidden as the monster moved around the cave tending to the different children that filled its home. She was only eleven years old and in a situation that put her up against a monster that was literally twice her size. She wasn’t sure what to do. If she somehow was able to down the red furry monster, there still wasn’t a way out of the cave.
El Coco, as it was called, was now examining a young Hispanic male. He was Robbie’s younger brother Gabe. The monster could sense something wasn’t fully right with the boy. He had been taken from his bed at night. El Coco carried him from his bed but didn’t notice as it passed his wheelchair. The boy was crippled. It now thought the boy was of no use for what it had planned. It grabbed him by the leg preparing to rid itself of what it deemed too weak.
Gabby pounced on the back of the monster with her two claws popped. She only had one claw in each hand, a unique difference she had compared to who she was made from. With all the strength she could muster, she stabbed her claws into its back. It let out a horrifying roar as it began to swing its body about to shake her off.
“I don’t know what you are!” yelled Gabby. “And I don’t like attacking furry creatures, but I won’t stand by and let you hurt him!”
It seemed with great ease, Gabby was thrown off El Coco. She picked herself up and looked up the towering monster.
“Heh, you know we can totally talk this out, right?” Gabby laughed nervously.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – RICHMOND DISTRICT
Megan kept her sight focused on her cousin who sat in the front seat. This is the most talkative she had ever seen her. And it took a complete stranger to get her going. Sure she wasn’t an open book but just to see her speaking at all. The sun had gone down and it was getting later and later.
“Don’t tell me you’re enjoying this,” said Megan to Laura. “You don’t seem the type to play superhero.”
“How do you know what my type is?” questioned Laura.
Megan laughed. “Come on, you’re so the dark and gloomy type. Your favorite color is black. That’s probably why you took such a liking to ‘Mr. Flaming Skull’ here. What is your deal anyway?”
“It’s not something I talk about with others,” answered Robbie.
“Hmm, another thing you two have in common,” Megan became annoyed. “You both should just kiss already.”
“Is she always like this?” Robbie asked of Laura.
“She’s just a little butthurt over people not being able to open up to her,” explained Laura. “She doesn’t seem to understand that sometimes people just can’t talk about certain things.”
“Well, if you must know,” started Robbie. “I was in an accident after a street race which I was trying to get money for my little brother Gabe. He needed a new chair. He’s been unable to walk since birth and his chair was stolen. The race went wrong. I died. A spirit that was attached to this car revived me and bond himself to me. That’s what turns me into the Rider.”
“Possession?” Megan cocked an eyebrow. “You ever consider an exorcism? I’m sure there’s a priest somewhere in L.A.”
“I don’t think they could handle this type of possession.” Robbie shook his head.
Megan sat back in her seat and looked out the window. The group suddenly got silent. This went on for a little while until something caught their attention. There was a strange unnerving energy coming from a house they had just stopped by. They watched as a second story window popped open on its own. A child levitated out of the window, still asleep. All three teenagers’ eyes widened. Laura was out of the car first. She saw a tree that might be of good use to her.
She ran as fast as she can so that she could get up the tree a certain distance before pushing off to send her upward toward the child. She wrapped her arms around the child and dropped down gently not to wake him up. Once again Megan was surprised by her cousin. She dropped down so gracefully. The unnerving energy came closer. It moved in front of the house and took shape. El Coco fully appeared towering over the three of them.
“That’s the monster?!” yelled Megan.
“So, you finally showed yourself?” Robbie switched to his Ghost Rider form. “Where is my brother?!”
El Coco let out a roar before charging forward. Laura popped her claws and followed suit. El Coco sent its massive arm into her abdomen knocking her up in the air. It hurt like hell but she kept her composure and twisted her body so she could fall back down in a way that let her stab the monster in the chest.
“Raaaahhh!” she growled.
Laura followed with her right foot. The claw from between her toes came out and pierced right through its ribcage. She retracted all her claws and pushed of its body to get back to the ground. As she cracked her knuckles, she looked up to the monster thinking she wounded it badly. However, it appeared unscathed.
“Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy,” she said.
All of a sudden, a flaming chain wrapped itself around El Coco. It was quick. Laura didn’t even see the Ghost Rider move in. The hellfire from the chains seemed to burn the monster’s red fur. The smell was unbearable.
“All right we got him…or her…it?” Megan wasn’t sure. “What the hell is it?”
“Now what?” asked Laura. “How do we figure out what it did with the kids?”
The Rider struggled to keep the monster down. “We gotta bring him down to my eye level. It’s stronger than I thought it would be. Gotta move fast.”
The Ghost Rider pulled on his chain, lowering El Coco as much as he can. Laura leaped up and flipped over to stab it in the back, lowering it even more. El Coco was now at eye level of the Ghost Rider. Their eyes locked. The Rider’s eyes began to glow brighter. This was Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare. It wouldn’t work as El Coco dropped bringing Laura down into the Rider’s line of sight.
“No!” yelled Ghost Rider.
It took only a second. Laura started screaming in complete agony. El Coco took this opportunity to vanish while Laura collapsed on the floor.
“What did you do to her?” questioned Megan.
“It’s an ability of mine that makes people feel the pain they’ve caused,” he explained as he looked back into her eyes to try and stop what she was experiencing himself. “It wasn’t meant for her. It would appear though that she has a dark past that haunts her.”
He canceled the ability that was meant to punish those who were guilty of committing harm to others. Even though she was freed, she didn’t seem responsive when asked if she was all right. She remained motionless on the ground with a blank stare.
“Why is she not moving?” Megan was very concerned.
“I don’t understand,” replied the Ghost Rider. “I nullified it. From what I can tell she may have even survived it. The things she’s done. She may not be the one who was guilty.”
“What, what has she done?” Megan continued asking questions.
The Rider picked Laura up and laid her on the back seat of his car. “Someone else may have made her do terrible things. She still feels the pain from my stare because whatever was done was done by her own hand but it was unwillingly. At the end of the day, she would be spared. But I ended her torment. I don’t know why she’s unresponsive.”
Jonathan sniffed Laura’s forehead followed with a look of concern. Ghost Rider thought for a moment while Megan became more and more worried.
“Tell me you know what to do,” she said. “If she’s suffering from something supernatural you’re the only one who can help her. Especially, since it was your ability that did it.”
“No, this is something mental.” He walked around to the driver’s seat. “I know only one person who can figure out what is going on in her head. Hop in. I hope you’ve wanted to take a trip to New York because that’s where we’re going.”
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK
A gateway opened made of hellfire. Out drove the Dodge Charger with Robbie out of his Ghost Rider form and Megan in the passenger’s seat. Moments later, a door to an apartment opened. A young Hispanic female looked on confused at who was standing at her door.
“Robbie Reyes?” she asked. “What are you doing here and who are they?”
“Sorry about not calling Jessica,” he answered. “But I wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t an emergency. This is Megan. And in my arms, her cousin Laura who needs help from someone who can take look inside her head.”
“You mean like what I did for my brother?*” The up and coming mage named Jessica Garcia thought back.
*Depending on when this is released, it will or has happened in Araña: Heart of the Spider #21-22–Justin.
“Hurry and bring her in,” said Jessica. “Put her on the couch. What caused this and who exactly is she that she would be put in such a state?”
“She accidentally fell victim to my Penance Stare,” explained Robbie. “And do you know Wolverine from the X-Men? That’s who she basically is, only female and less hairy.”
“That’s right!” If a lightbulb could appear over Megan’s head it would. “Why didn’t I ever think of that?”
“Really?” Robbie was thrown off by her inability to figure that out.
Jessica, the sister of the current hero named Araña, sat on the couch and placed Laura’s head in her lap. As mentioned, she is a mage. Under the tutelage of various other magicians, including most recently Miguel Legar of the Spider Society, she has become a gifted mage using the name Estrella as a heroic codename. She closed her eyes and began to chant in Spanish. After a number of minutes passed, she reopened her eyes and held a hand out.
“This is not something I can do alone,” she said. “We must form a chain with our hands. This will allow us to connect and unite within her psyche.”
They all did so, even Jonathan. Jessica looked at the creature not sure what exactly he was.
LAURA’S MENTAL PLANE
The four appeared in a strange world. The way it looked, someone religious might perceive it as hell. It wasn’t, however. They were now standing in Laura’s mind.
“Someplace she has here.” Jessica nodded her head. “Everyone’s mind is different. This hellish-looking landscape was created by her negative emotions. It’s quite unlike my brother’s. His consciousness is fused with the realm of another being. But one thing remains the same.”
Jessica gestured for them to give their attention to three figures. All three looked like Laura. The first was almost completely identical, only she like the others had scars on her face. Her scars almost looked like whiskers, not counting the one on her forehead. The second appeared to have albinism, with her extremely pale skin, white hair, and red eyes. Her scars looked like a red X. The last was none other than Gabby, a shorter younger version of Laura. She had two scars on her right cheek and one centered on her left eye.
“Why do they look like Laura?” asked Megan.
“These soul fragments represent a part of her,” explained Jessica. “It would appear the one with white hair is her rage and impulsiveness. The one with whiskers is intelligence and coolness under pressure. The shortest represents her innocence.”
“How do you know this?” asked Robbie.
“My magic tells me,” Jessica answered. “I wonder if her innocence is shorter because of how it was lost.”
“What are all these clouds?” Megan walked up to a large area filled with circular clouds that had images popping on them.
“These are her memories.” Jessica touched one to make it expand and envelope everyone. “We’re able to see what she’s experienced.”
In this memory, Laura was sitting before a large screen where she watched a recording of the day she had been broken out of the Facility. In the video, a nearby wall exploded, and a couple men could be seen through the resulting smoke. Mesmero, the green-skinned hypnotic mutant, was ready and had a creative way in mind for the guards to kill themselves. However, his plans were cut short when the massive form of Sabretooth came through the blown-out wall and instantly tore into the men with his razor-sharp adamantium claws. Their screams didn’t last long and were replaced by the sound of limbs being ripped from their sockets.
“Fine, I’ll just let you have those ones…” Mesmero muttered under his breath.
“WHERE’S MY DAUGHTER?!” Sabretooth roared, holding up the only guard still alive by the collar of his uniform.
“Y-Your *kaff* wha…?” the guard said between deep, wheezy breaths.
“Subject X-23,” Sabretooth said, pulling the man’s face closer to his. He bared his teeth and asked again in a lower, guttural tone, “Where is she?”
“Th-there…” the guard replied, pointing to a door not far down the narrow, metal-laced corridor.
Sabretooth grinned and proceeded to snap the guard’s neck in an instant. “Quick and clean,” Creed said. “And people say I’m heartless…*”
*A scene from Marvel Omega’s Uncanny X-Men #53–Justin.
“Tell me that isn’t her father!” exclaimed Megan. “That is terrifying.”
“Isn’t that Sabretooth?” asked Robbie. “Wolverine’s arch-enemy?”
They continued on. Jumping from memory to memory, they witnessed the tragic young life of Laura’s. Born in captivity. They saw her locked in a cell. When she wasn’t locked up she was being harshly trained in various skills. She was seen on an operating table. This was the time she went through the procedure to graft adamantium on her bones. Unlike Wolverine, the only bones covered in the indestructible metal were her claws.
After her training was complete, her services as an assassin were put up for bid. She was used to kill government officials and numerous other important people. Megan was horrified by everything she was seeing. Next, they saw her being turned on her handlers, one being Zander Rice who especially despised her. After killing all of them, she went to leave the Facility with her mother. That’s when Megan saw it. A younger Laura walked out of the Facility after it exploded.
“Thank you, god,” said Sarah Kinney who smiled at the sight of her daughter.
“*SNFF*” That one scent came by that sent her in a blind rage. “Rrrrrr…”
The ‘Trigger Scent’, as it was called, was a chemical compound that when used on Laura sent her on an uncontrollable rampage.
“Oh no.” Sarah became worried. “What…what’s wrong? Are you… NO!”
Laura, with rage-filled eyes, pounced at her mother with her claws drawn out. She struck her down. Eventually, she would snap out of it and realized what she had done. It hadn’t hit her yet.
“Laura…your name is Laura *cough* …not X-23,” Sarah muttered with tears in her eyes. “My Laura…”
“No…” she herself started to tear up. “No. Please… No…”
“I love y–” Sarah sadly passed away before finishing.
“Please don’t leave…” Her head fell into her mother’s lap. “Please don’t leave me.*”
*From the 2005 X-23 series–Justin.
Tears filled Megan’s eyes. She wanted to know how her Aunt Sarah died. She never imagined that Laura was the one to cause her death. Robbie walked a little away from the scene out on the snow-covered field where he saw a man face down in the snow with a vial in his hand with the word ‘trigger’ on it.
“She was forced to do it,” he said. “Whatever was in this sent her into a rage.”
“This is why she wouldn’t tell me?” Megan looked away. “She killed her own mother.”
“Not of her own will,” Robbie made sure it was known before turning to Jessica. “This is what’s causing her to be stuck in this state, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Jessica was shocked by this memory. She had seen some messed up stuff before but nothing like this. “This is something she’s gonna need a lot of help to get past. When your Penance Stare was used on her this memory may have been the first thing she saw. It’s the one she feels most guilty about. The one good thing I can say is that this is quite different than what happened to my brother. Her soul wasn’t damaged. His was from the demons bond to him and his estranged girlfriend whose soul intertwined with his. Your power could have damaged hers but you stopped it in time. I’d say she could wake up in a snap.”
With the snap of a finger, they all popped out of Laura’s mind. She herself shot up from laying down into a seated position. It took a moment for it to sink in but she remembered seeing them roaming around in her mind. She looked at Megan who was beyond devastated.
“So now you know,” she said to her cousin. “Do you want to know more about me now? Or do you see me as the monster I am? You should have left me be. I couldn’t hurt anyone else while trapped in my own mind.”
Megan felt bad. She was angry toward her cousin but didn’t know if she more mad about how it happened or the fact she wouldn’t tell the truth. Laura stood up and walked for the apartment door.
“So that’s it?” asked Megan. “You’re just gonna walk away? What would your mother say right now if she was able to?”
Laura stopped and looked down at the ground.
To be continued…