SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
A gateway opened made of fire. On the inside, it looked like hell. Robbie’s Dodge Charger shot out of the gateway and came to a stop on a San Francisco street. The three teenagers and the wolverine named Jonathan had just been to New York. Laura had fallen victim to Robbie’s Penance Stare and it took the magic of Robbie’s friend Estrella to snap her out of it. While it helped Laura it may have damaged her relationship with her cousin Megan, who finally found out what happened to her Aunt Sarah in Laura’s mind. She remained quiet in the backseat next to Jonathan.
“Did we just drive through hell?” asked Laura feeling frustrated over what just happened.
“I can pretty much go anywhere in the world,” said Robbie. “But my car has to ride through hell first to get there. So…are we good here?”
Robbie looked at Laura and then Megan through the rearview mirror. Neither of them had anything to say in response. He sighed as he swiped a hand through the section of unnatural platinum blond hair within his actual black hair.
THE HAUNTING OF SAN FRANCISCO
Part III: Another Me
Gabby was sitting down in an area of the cave that didn’t have any children. The eleven-year-old girl was at a loss. She didn’t know what exactly to do. There was no way out. When the monster was here she tried to fight it. There was nothing she could do. She had a hand on the side of her head which she pressed hard hoping she would pop an idea into her head. Becoming more and more frustrated, she fell back and laid out on the ground defeated.
She got up when she suddenly heard a noise. It was obviously El Coco, returning from taking another child. It was now clear to her. The only way out of this was dealing with the monster. She stood up and crept through the cave. She tried thinking of how to get it to release her. Nothing came to mind still. The monster was huge. She knew she wasn’t a match for it. El Coco finished tending to its most recent captive and walked away.
“Hmm?” Gabby wondered what was about to happen.
El Coco’s red furry body began to glow. She wasn’t entirely sure what was happening but thought this could be her one chance to get out. As the monster turned, she leaped up over its shoulders and wrapped her arms around his massive neck. It was caught off guard. The two disappeared from the cave, leaving the children alone.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
The massive form of El Coco reappeared out on the road. Coincidentally, this was the very road Robbie had been driving his Hell Charger. A head-on collision sent the monster flying a short distance down the street. Luckily, Gabby was unharmed and got off her captor. Laura exited the car and ran up on El Coco. She would be stopped in her tracks when she came face to face with Gabby.
“Hey, you look like Zelda,” said Gabby as she pointed at Laura’s face. “Minus the scars.”
Laura was lost. This girl looked exactly like she did when she was that age. There were too many questions running through her mind. Megan ran up next to her cousin completely stunned at the appearance of the young girl. She had seen Gabby as a representation of Laura within her mind. She was Laura’s lost innocence according to the mage Estrella.
“No way.” Megan’s jaw dropped.
“Uhh, hi, so I’m Gabby,” she introduced herself a bit nervous. “And this creep has a bunch of kids held captive in a cave with no exit.”
El Coco began to stir. Laura was furious. She thought this could only be a result of one thing. She was cloned by Alchemax Genetics. This is why Wanda Wilson said she had a connection to the organization. Laura looked away from the girl and charged the monster in a rage. El Coco swatted her away sending her crashing into some nearby trash cans. It took off knowing it couldn’t disappear with so many close by. If Gabby could leave its realm just by grabbing hold, the others could get in.
“Oh, no you don’t!” exclaimed Laura who ran after it.
Jonathan rushed over to Gabby, jumping into her arms. She lifted him up over her head.
“Jonathan, you’re okay!” she cheered.
“She named it Jonathan?” Megan seemed a bit disheartened. “Really?”
“Hey, we’re losing Laura and the monster!” called Robbie. “We better get moving if we want to keep up with them.”
Jonathan, with his squeaky voice, tried to convince Gabby to go with Robbie and Megan. She seemed to understand despite the language barrier between them. Megan got in the passenger’s side while Gabby got in the backseat with Jonathan. They drove off after Laura. She herself was still in pursuit of the monster. It was surprisingly fast for how bulky it was. Laura was struggling to keep up.
The driver of an oncoming car caught a glimpse of El Coco and panicked. He swerved out of the way into the neighboring lane. This stopped El Coco in its tracks. Laura took advantage of this and popped her claws. She slid underneath the monster and slashed her claws along the inside of its lower limbs. It dropped to its knees and roared in pain. Laura ran up the monster’s torso and kicked it on the side of the head. The Hell Charger caught up with them. Megan and Gabby were left speechless as Robbie transitioned to his Ghost Rider form and phased through the roof of his car while the car was still driving.
“Who is this guy?” asked Gabby.
The car kept moving forward as the Ghost Rider stood atop it while summoning his Hell Chain. The car turned right and he chucked his chain to tie down El Coco. The monster fought back and pulled the chain despite it burning its hands. It sent the Ghost Rider crashing into the hood of a nearby car. A massive forearm knocked Laura aside. With both its opponents down it made a break for it. El Coco sprinted forward. Ghost Rider lifted his head to see this and teleported to the driver’s seat of his car. This made Megan jump but not Gabby.
“Wow, cool car teleporting powers!” Gabby shouted in amazement. “That could come in handy in a tight spot. Like when you’re trying to dodge a senior citizen driver.”
The Hell Charger began rolling forward. Laura leaped onto the hood and looked back at Ghost Rider who was surprised to see her get so close to the flaming engine. She pointed for him to drive. He did so and she was able to keep her balance with ease.
“She’s so badass,” commented Gabby. “So… Does anyone want to tell me why she looks like me?”
“Squirt, I think you have that mixed up,” replied Megan. “It’s more like you look like her. She’s clearly older than you. We’ll talk about this later because I don’t think this is the time for it.”
The car sped up with its tires fully ablaze. At the right distance, Laura popped her claws and lunged at the back of El Coco. As it dropped face-first, Laura retracted her claws and rolled forward upon reaching the ground. El Coco slammed its fists on the ground in anger and bounced back up to attack Laura. Ghost Rider would come in and tackle it before it could make a scratch.
This didn’t knock it off its feet, however. It quickly came back with its massive fist sending a punch that made Ghost Rider slide back a short distance. The Rider grabbed his chain, which had been wrapped around his body from right shoulder to left hip. It unraveled and was slung at El Coco.
“Get over here!” yelled Ghost Rider reeling in the monster into an uppercut.
Gabby leaned out of a backseat window and yelled, “I’m pretty sure that line’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!”
“That one’s full of jokes, isn’t she?” asked the Rider while peering into El Coco’s eyes. “Keep still this time!”
There was no real evidence that the Penance Stare was making El Coco feel any pain. Its eyes did glow the same color as the pair of fireballs that appeared where Ghost Rider’s eyes would be had he not had a skull for a face. The Rider was getting something out of it still. This ability of his also allowed him to find some information out. He learned the whereabouts of his brother and the other missing children.
“What do we do with it now?” questioned Laura. “How do we find your brother?”
“It has its own dimension that’s connected to ours,” explained Ghost Rider. “The only way in is if we’re touching the monster when its transporting there. That’s how the girl got here. Speaking of, what’s the deal with that? Is she your sister?”
“I don’t know that girl,” Laura snarled. “Let’s get this over with. Can you get it to transport us to that dimension? The sooner we do it, the sooner we can get those kids back to their families.”
“All right, here goes something.” Ghost Rider focused hard using his Penance Stare to get El Coco to return to its dimension.
Again the monster began to glow. In a flash, El Coco and the two teenagers disappeared leaving Megan, Gabby, and Jonathan in the haunted car.
“So do you know how to drive?” asked Gabby of Megan. “Probably shouldn’t stick around here.”
They appeared now in El Coco’s dimension. The Rider powered down and returned to his human form. Both he and Laura were stunned by the number of children laid out throughout the cave. Robbie began searching, going from kid to kid hoping to find his brother Gabe. It took some effort but he eventually found him. He checked his pulse.
“¡Gracias Dios!” Robbie muttered in Spanish.
“Funny how you thank God considering the demonic form you take,” said Laura. “If there really was a God would he have let this monster take your brother?”
“I see.” Robbie nodded as if he understood what she was talking about. “I would guess someone who has experienced the things you have would have a hard time believing in a God. In the short time I’ve been Ghost Rider I’ve seen some things. I know there’s a hell. I know there’s a devil. I think there’s gotta be something out there that represents what we call God.”
“Tsk.” Laura seemed unamused.
Robbie looked around at all the children. There was a lot to move. It could take multiple trips just to get them back to their world. While he tried to formulate a plan, El Coco began to free itself from its paralyzed state. Once free it lashed out. Robbie was sent flying backward with Gabe into the cave wall. El Coco began to use its power to transport out its dimension. Laura pounced at it to stop it from getting away. Both ended up disappearing, leaving Robbie and Gabe in the cave.
“I can’t let it get away,” said Robbie. “These kids need to be returned to their parents.”
Robbie returned to his Ghost Rider form. He embraced his brother and thought about his Hell Charger. Just like that, he vanished with his brother.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Ghost Rider appeared in the driver’s seat of his car with Gabe in his arms. He powered down. Gabby pulled up to the front seat to see who he was holding.
“Hey, that’s the kid the monster was trying to get rid of,” said Gabby. “If I didn’t step in he would have been toast.”
“You saved my brother?” asked Robbie. “Thank you for that. He’s all I have left of my family. I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I lost him.”
A single tear of joy ran down his cheek as he looked down at his brother. Suddenly, he looked back up as a ransom Hell Portal opened in front of the car. This had happened to Robbie before. It was like his car had a mind of its own. He once woke up in his car to find himself in Africa.
“Where does this go?” he questioned.
“Robbie, where’s Laura?” Megan finally realized she wasn’t around.
Laura and El Coco fell from the sky after reappearing in San Francisco. Luckily, they didn’t have far to fall. They both crashed landed on a roof that was slanted causing them to slide down.
She used her claws to stop her descent. El Coco did so as well. It tried to stand up but had its knee kicked out by Laura. This was the most enraged Laura had been in quite some time. She stabbed her claws into its abdomen.
“People used me for their own selfish bullshit!” Laura yelled as she thought of the scientist of the Facility and her own father while continuously hacking away at El Coco. “Turned me against the one person that mattered the most to me! And now they’ve taken my own individuality! I’m tired of it all! If there’s such a God. Tell him to leave me the hell alone!”
El Coco tried to defend itself but Laura’s rage was too much. It swung an arm which she ducked. She followed with a flurry of strikes, puncturing the monster with her claws.
The Hell Charger rolled up to an ancient castle in a heavily wooded area. It stopped and Robbie stepped out to get a view of the location his car brought him. Megan and Gabby both sat in the car looking up to the castle. Gabby and Jonathan looked at each other as if they both understood what the other was thinking.
“So…your car can just randomly take you to places without your consent?” asked Megan. “I think you might need to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with your ride. Next thing you know it’s gonna take you to Antarctica and you won’t be able to drive off from that one.”
“I’ve driven on the Pacific Ocean,” responded Robbie. “I think I’ll be fine down there.”
The group, moments later, went to investigate the castle. Robbie felt himself being pulled to a certain area. The room they would enter had paintings on all the walls. The images varied from section to section, but there was one spot that stood out. There was a painting of what could be El Coco. Robbie looked over the section not quite sure what this was depicting.
“So you’re here about that monster?” asked an unfamiliar voice.
Everyone looked in the direction of the voice to see a man dressed in robes. He was an elderly man, but that didn’t seem to hinder his movements. The man walked over to the wall and gave it a quick glance.
“The stalker of troubled children,” he said. “El Coco, Cuca, Cucuy, depending on what part of the world you’re from.”
“Who are you?” asked Robbie.
“The keeper of Spanish history,” the man explained. “This castle holds the secrets of your ancestors, Mr. Reyes.”
“Wait, how did he know you?” asked Megan. “Have you been here before?”
“I’m just impressed he speaks English so well,” remarked Gabby before getting a look to watch what she said. “What, we’re not exactly in California anymore?”
“I’ve learned many languages over my lifetime,” the Keeper followed. “The descendants of this country have since mixed with other cultures, French, Native American, African, and yes English. I know of Roberto Reyes through the legend of the Ghost Rider on these castle walls. Anything to do with our history is recorded here. This was established as far as the eleventh century by King Alfonso VI using the magic of his time.”
“What does this have to do with El Coco?” asked Robbie.
“The curse of El Coco dates back centuries,” stated the Keeper. “Usually, it is inflicted on such a person who never learned from their mistakes as a child. They are forced to become the monster and go after children who disobey their parents or guardians.”
“So El Coco was human at one point?” questioned Robbie. “It has been kidnapping children throughout California. It took my brother. If El Coco is truly meant to deal with misbehaving children, why did it go after my brother? No one is more behaved than him. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He listens to everything I say.”
“It is possible that the monster has learned a way to break the curse,” suggested the Keeper. “It may intend to use the souls of any child it takes to free itself.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Laura was pushed off the building she had been fighting El Coco. She dropped a couple of stories upon the roof of a parked car. Unable to move, she moaned from the pain. If it weren’t for her healing factor she probably would be dead right now. El Coco roared at the top of its lungs as its numerous wounds healed themselves. It looked down to see Laura still motionless.
“Urr…” it let off a low grunt before running off.
It got away as Laura’s head felt disoriented. She remained on top of the vehicle until her vision cleared. When some of the pain subsided, she pulled herself off the roof and propped herself on the side of the car.
“Tsk…” she was still fuming.
One slight turn hurt but the spot would heal itself alleviating the pain. With it all gone she looked up to the building she just fell off. There was no sign of where El Coco went. She ran off to track its scent. Moments went by before a gateway opened with Robbie’s car riding out of it.
The sound of a golden ball bouncing through the bedroom of a teenage girl who was being taken by El Coco echoed. Fabio Medina burst inside his sister’s room when he heard unusual sounds. That’s when he found her floating out her bedroom window.
“Jennifer!” he yelled. “NO!”
GOLDEN GATE PARK
El Coco, now desperate, has resorted to kidnapping teenagers. Along with Jennifer Medina, it had taken a number of other teens and brought them to Golden Gate Park where it also summoned the children it already captured and left in its dimension. It lined them all up in preparation for whatever it was planning.
Magical energies began swirling around the area as El Coco slammed its massive hands on the ground to summon stone pillars from the earth with unfamiliar symbols on them. It began to wave its hands as if it were performing a ritual. The immense energy that filled the area intensified and it seemed the ritual was underway, until…
Laura dropped down from a neighboring tree and slashed at El Coco with the claw that extended from her right foot. It just narrowly dodged and followed by trying to grab her with one hand. Laura spun around and ducked under its arm. As she straightened back up, she sent a single punch at the monster which hit its ribcage. With her hand there she popped her claws. It growled in pain, instinctively pushing her back.
“You plan on sacrificing all these kids?!” she yelled now popping both sets of claws. “Don’t bet on you succeeding while I’m around!”
“That goes for me as well!” Laura turned slightly to see Ghost Rider standing in front of his car with Megan and Gabby still inside.
Gabby popped her head out of the window. “I wouldn’t mind giving it some grooming tips with my claws.”
Jonathan cheered at Gabby. Megan just nodded her head. As they stood their ground, Fabio showed up looking on confused at what he was seeing. He saw Laura with her claws drawn out and what really threw him off was the demonic appearance of Ghost Rider.
“Fabio?!” called Megan. “What are you doing here? This probably not the best place for a late night stroll.”
“That thing has my sister!” he responded.
“We’ll get her back, so stay out of the way,” followed Ghost Rider. “We don’t need anyone getting mixed up in this fight. Laura, let’s go!”
Laura and Ghost Rider both went after El Coco. The monster dodged Laura’s razor-sharp talons only to be struck by a flaming fist of Ghost Rider. While it reeled, Laura took the opportunity to kick at its knee with a sidekick. The Rider followed up with an uppercut. Even though it staggered back, it was still able to grab hold of Laura and throw her into Ghost Rider.
El Coco turned knowing it didn’t have much time and tried to complete the ritual. Laura, with her great leaping ability, landed on the monster’s back and jammed her claws right beneath its shoulders. It lurched forward causing Laura to fall off its back and roll on the ground a couple of feet away. She stayed down on one knee trying to think of her next move.
“The Keeper we spoke to said you planned to lift the curse by sacrificing a large number of souls,” said Ghost Rider. “You do that and you’re no better than when this curse was placed upon you. You need to own up to whatever mistakes you made. Everyone deserves forgiveness.”
Laura listened to his words.
“But you can only get it if you accept the wrong you committed,” he continued. “Whether it be terrible enough to turn you into a monster or as simple as estranging you from family for not speaking the truth.”
El Coco growled at Ghost Rider. For it, his words seemed to fall on deaf ears. While it turned, Laura flew in with a flying knee, landing next to Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider knew there was no way they were gonna get through to it. He looked at Laura’s already popped claws and came up with an idea. He touched the sides of each set of claws igniting them in hellfire. Laura tilted her head slightly in El Coco’s direction. Ghost Rider walked toward his car and grabbed his brother Gabe.
“You guys get out too,” he said to the other three inside. “I don’t want you seeing where I’m about to go. Please, do me a favor and look after Gabe.”
“What are you doing?” asked Megan.
“Don’t worry,” insisted Ghost Rider. “I’m going to settle this once and for all. Please, promise me you’ll look after Gabe while I’m gone.”
“I promise,” said Megan taking hold of Gabe. “What should I tell him when he wakes up?”
“Just tell him I’m taking care of some important business,” he replied. “I don’t want him to know about my powers. He’s a good kid and I don’t want him to worry about me.”
Laura charged after El Coco, now with her hellfire enhanced claws. Ghost Rider got in the driver’s seat of the car and waited for Laura to do what she needed. She viciously slashed with her claws back and forth, but El Coco kept moving away. A stream of gold balls came firing at him unexpectedly, knocking it for a loop.
“He can shoot gold balls out of his body?” asked an awestruck Gabby. “Think of the money he could get with that ability.”
With El Coco disoriented, Laura began striking with her claws. Being pierced by them before was painful but now they had the lingering effect of the hellfire. El Coco roared in complete agony. Ghost Rider now standing on the roof of his car yelled for Laura to get out of the way. The car drove itself and collided with the monster head on. Ghost Rider spun his chain overhead and threw it at El Coco. He reeled in the monster and tied it down to the roof. He than phased back into the car and revved the engine.
“Time for us to take a little trip,” he said. “And there’s no chance in hell you’re getting away this time.”
A hellfire portal opened and in drove the charger. When it closed, the hellfire on Laura’s claws dissipated. Fabio ran to find his sister amongst the collection of kids. Laura walked up to Megan who was holding Gabe.
“If he’s too heavy for you I’ll take him,” she said as she reached for him. “I’m sorry. For not telling you about my mother.”
Megan’s eyes widened. “It was horrible what they made you do. It must have been a terrible burden to bear. Robbie and that chick Jessica from New York were right about it not being your fault. I’m sure Aunt Sarah doesn’t hold it against you. It’s time for you to move on. Let’s call the police and go home. I’m sure my mom is worried sick.”
“What about me and Jonathan?” asked Gabby.
“All right, Shrimp, you’re coming with us,” answered Megan. “But I think you should leave the rodent here.”
Jonathan shook his fist angrily at Megan.
Megan’s mother Deborah stood in the living room with her jaw almost on the floor. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. The young girl Gabby was the spitting image of Laura. Gabby cheerfully smiled as she held Jonathan in her arms.
“And your name is?” asked Deborah.
“I was named Gabrielle but everyone just calls me Gabby,” she replied while lifting Jonathan. “This is Jonathan, my unstoppable companion.”
“And what exactly is he?” she followed.
“I think he’s a wolverine,” explained Megan clearly not a fan of the furry creature.
“So how is this possible?” Deborah looked at Laura.
“They cloned me,” Laura said upset.
The whole time Laura kept her eyes away from Gabby. She walked away and headed for her bedroom. Gabby seemed saddened by this and Jonathan tried to console her.
“I guess that means you’re staying with us,” said Deborah. “Hmm… It’s getting really late. I’m glad you kids are alright after everything that’s been happening. Maybe we should call it a night and we’ll figure out what to do tomorrow about the boy you brought with you.”
“Robbie said he’d come back for him,” said Megan. “I’m sure he will. He cares about Gabe too much.”
NEXT: Deadly Annoying!