|Chapters One and Two||Chapters Three and Four||Chapters Five and Six||Chapter Seven|
For the longest time, nothing was said; the three groups merely stared at one another. Samhain looked almost perversely pleased by the sight of his foes--his normally twisted smile had crinkled into an even more hideous expression. Dana and Sheila were overwhelmed by surprise, confusion and a hundred other emotions. So stunned were they by the Ghostbusters' arrival that all they could do was stand there with their mouths open, unable to say a single word.
As for the Ghostbusters, their attention was a bit more divided. Peter and Ray were more concerned with Samhain's position beside the captive women. Winston was glancing all around in search of possible attacks. And Egon could not tear his gaze away from the sight of Janine lying languidly on the steps of Samhain's throne.
Samhain chose to end the silence. “Sooooo,” he hissed happily. “You decided to join us. I was not expecting this, but no matter. Welcome.” He chuckled softly to himself--making a sound something akin to air escaping a punctured tire.
Egon stepped forward. “Let them go,” he ordered.
Samhain tilted his head. “And what will you do, should I refuse? Blast me with your hateful weapons?” He pointed towards his throne, where the packs Dana and Sheila had been wearing were sitting. “Will you suck my essence into your little traps and 'contain' me for all eternity?” He made a slight motion with one hand, and a tall, dark-skinned man stepped forward with a ghost trap. He set the activator pedal down on the ground and aimed the mouth of the device at the Ghostbusters. “Or shall I turn the tables upon you, and give you a taste of the fate you've imposed on so many others?”
Egon held his ground. “These people have done nothing to harm you, Samhain. They can't hurt you now. Let them go. Janine, too.”
“Ah yes, your little redhead.” Samhain nodded placidly. “Do you love her still, Spengler? Do you wish you could touch her one last time, feel her skin against yours? But I forget,” he added with false sadness. “You're but a shade of your former self.” Chortling, he moved away from Sheila and Dana and returned to his throne, his back pointedly turned on the Ghostbusters. He paused beside Janine and gave her face a rough caress; she sighed and leaned into his touch like a kitten.
Keeping a wary eye on the man with the trap, Peter slipped over to Sheila and Dana. “You okay?”
“We're fine,” Dana replied. “Peter, what happened?”
“Beats me. Pumpkinhead killed us, but we're not out of the fight yet. Hang tight.” Before either woman could reply, Peter returned to his partners, who were trying to watch Samhain, Janine and their sentry all at the same time.
Samhain was sitting on his throne atop the staircase, regarding them all with polite interest. “So tell me...'Ghostbusters'...how do you find life on the other side of the coin?”
“What have you done to these people?” Egon demanded. “Why enslave them like this, turning them into ignorant savages? It was us you wanted, and you got your revenge. We can't do a thing to hurt you any more, and you know it. So why do all this?”
Samhain smiled wickedly. “Always straight to the point with you. Never any pleasantries. I'd suggest you learn some manners, 'Ghostbuster'. There are many spirits whom you and your comrades have wronged over the years, and right now, you are painfully vulnerable.”
Egon shut up, but a new voice entered the discussion. “Why are you doing this? Sheila asked, stepping forward. “And why like this? It isn't right, you know.”
Samhain looked at her in surprise. “You question my actions?”
Sheila smiled. “Academically speaking, yes. A lot of what's going on around here tonight doesn't correspond to the ancient legends of All Hallows Eve. In many ways, it looks as though you've combined several Celtic festivals into one, especially the rituals associated with Beltane.”
Samhain stared at her for a while before speaking. “You are a most curious person,” he said. “And audacious as well.”
Sheila shrugged. “Sue me. It's my field of study. I was just wondering, that's all. I mean,” she grinned, “it's not like any of us are going to survive tonight, so why not ask?”
Samhain's sudden burst of laughter rattled through the night, giving everyone in the area an involuntary shiver. “I like you,” he said through his considerable mirth. “You remind me of the priests, who always had to know the why as well as the what. You have spirit. So I'll tell you why.” He waved his arm around in a lazy motion. “Think of this as...my gift to my people.”
“What?” asked six voices in unison.
Samhain smiled. “Tonight marks the return of Samhain. No longer am I a forgotten holiday in dusty books and whispered legends. Tonight I return to my ancient glory!” He rose to his feet and stretched his arms out into the sky. “Behold my subjects--the living and the dead. I stand between them, receiving their adulation, their worship, and their fear! The old ways will return, and my people will prosper under them! They will celebrate my rituals and festivals for all time to come!”
“I don't think I like the sound of that,” Winston said to Ray.
“I don't think any of us do,” Ray agreed.
Egon still looked defiant, though he kept glancing over at Janine. “And how do you propose to perform this great event?” he asked. “That requires a great deal of effort, to say nothing of PKE.”
“Indeed,” Samhain hissed. “Indeed it does. But it has already begun. My power grows by the instant--soon I shall command all the souls of this city, and with each ticking of the clock, more fall under my sway!”
Egon tapped his foot and waited impatiently for Samhain to finish. “You still haven't told us how you're planning to do this,” he remarked.
“And why should I tell you?”
“We're hardly in any position to stop you, remember?”
“Yeah,” Peter chimed in. “It's not like we can open a trap or anything.” He glanced over at the guard who was still aiming the trap at them.
“Perhaps,” Samhain conceded thoughtfully, “but I've seen you're at your most dangerous when you appear to be most vulnerable. But no matter. Very well, I'll tell you.
“My plan has three stages, the first two of which have already been accomplished. The spell that I have cast over this city requires a great deal of mystical energy, which I obtained from my former prison earlier this evening. And in order to sustain it, I need the belief of my new people to feed me more power.”
“That makes sense,” Ray said. “We've always theorized that PKE comes in part from the temporal world's belief in the supernatural.”
“Which is why we're so busy between Halloween and Christmas,” Winston nodded. “Those are the most spirit-related times of the year.”
Samhain cleared his voice, and the Ghostbusters fell silent again. “Through various means, I was able to persuade the group of mortals who rule this city to hold an autumnal festival here.” He smiled nastily. “Belief can come in many ways. Setting is a great asset in the molding of minds. Through this festival, I was able to obtain more power. Between it and the energy from your containment, I was able to begin the spell. And as it spreads across the city, more and more souls are caught in its grip, and their conversion adds to my strength, allowing the spell to move farther.”
Egon shuddered. “A geometric progression of expansion...”
“Would someone care to translate?” Peter asked.
“Every person the spell enslaves gives it the power to snag another person,” Ray explained. “Like a snowball effect.”
“I can see New York falling,” Peter shook his head. “Maybe the state. But...the entire continent, much less the world? That's a bit much!”
“Indeed,” Samhain agreed, leering down at his prisoners. “Which is where the final step in my plan comes in.” He leaned back and stared up into the night. “I could absorb every drop of the life-force that dwells inside my children, and it would not be enough. The souls of every man, woman and child in this city is not enough. I need the ultimate source of power for my spell's final blow.”
“The Netherworld,” Egon said quietly.
“Exactly.” Samhain rose to his feet. “There are certain rituals which will create a rift between the two worlds, allowing me to tap into the eternal energies I need. With that power supplementing my own, the spell will no longer ripple slowly across the land--it will engulf the entire planet, instantly ensnaring every mortal! Eternal night will spread across the world, heralding a new era--the era of SAMHAIN!” He raised his fists in triumph, cackling into the night.
Peter leaned over towards Egon. “Is he serious?”
“I'm afraid so.”
“Would it work?”
“I'm afraid so.”
“Got any bright ideas?”
“I'm afraid not.”
“Oh.” Peter studied his partner for a moment, then sighed. “All right,” he addressed Samhain, “this all sounds pretty good, and on face value, I'd say you've got a pretty good chance of success. But I've got one question.”
“Speak,” said Samhain, amused.
“What's Janine's part in all this?” Peter motioned towards the entranced woman. “I mean, she's got to have something to do with it--otherwise you would have let her go running 'round the bonfires and all.”
“You are very perceptive, Venkman.”
Peter shrugged. “I try.”
Samhain sat back down and studied them. “Hers is the most vital part of the final stage, if you must know. The rituals I will perform at midnight require various items, most of which my vassals have obtained. The most important item, however, is the most difficult to find, especially with my...'celebration'...going on.”
Sheila's mouth fell open. “You don't mean...”
Samhain nodded. “A virgin sacrifice.” A long finger pointed crookedly at Janine.
The Ghostbusters stared incredulously first at Samhain, then at Janine. “Nah,” Peter said, shaking his head. “No way.”
Samhain smiled viciously and nodded.
Shock overwhelmed them all again, then five pairs of eyes locked on Egon. “Way to go, mad scientist,” Peter muttered.
Spengler blinked owlishly at him. “What? What did I do?”
“It's what you didn't do,” Winston said, rolling his eyes.
“Never mind,” Dana sighed. “We should have known better...”
Samhain smiled from his perch. “All that I need, I have. My virgin, my people...and my triumph over you, Ghostbusters. And the fates have been kind enough to permit you to witness my final victory!” As Samhain's laughter shrieked into the night, Peter rejoined Sheila and Dana. His ghostly hands slid against their wrists, coating them in ectoplasm. Dana glared at him, then gasped as she suddenly found herself able to slide her hands around. Quickly forcing her expression back into a look of horror, she slowly wriggled her hands through the maze of knotted rope until at long last the cords slipped away. A quick glance showed that Sheila had also freed herself.
“I think it's time to blow this Popsicle stand,” Peter murmured.
“What about Janine?” Dana asked.
“Too risky. We'll come back for her later.”
“That might be too late,” Sheila reminded him.
“She's right,” Dana said. “We can't just leave her here.”
Meanwhile, Winston had noticed Peter's actions and nudged Ray. “Hey homeboy,” he said quietly. “We need to make a distraction.” Looking around, he saw a possibility. “See those guys on either side of the throne?” He pointed to two of Samhain's honor guard, each holding a blazing torch.
“Yeah,” said Ray. “So?”
“So let's slime 'em!” Grinning, Ray joined Winston in a sudden lunge towards the guards. The Ghostbusters slammed into and through their targets, coating the men’s' chests with cold, sticky ectoplasm. Startled, the mortals dropped their torches and tried to wipe off the slime as fast as they could. And a few seconds later, they were dancing wildly about as the dry grass beneath their feet caught fire.
Before the guard holding the ghost trap could stomp on the activator pedal, Sheila rumbled forward and collided with his chest, knocking the man off his feet and onto the ground. Dana forced her way through the melee and grabbed Janine's wrist, dragging her along as she and Sheila raced for the safety of the woods. Samhain roared orders as his minions struggled to contain the fire, and in the confusion, the Ghostbusters fled in the direction the two women were going, coating the ground with more ectoplasm to make it rougher going for any pursuit.
Within minutes, the fire had been put out. Samhain sent a contingent after the fugitives, ordering that the women be brought back unharmed. He watched them scurry to obey...and smiled with gleeful anticipation.
“Just where are we going?” Sheila gasped, not slowing down a step despite the ache in her chest and legs. She gripped Janine's wrist even more tightly and struggled to keep with Dana, who had passed the entranced redhead to her a short time ago.
“Beats me--just so long as it's as far away from Samhain as possible!” Dana glanced over her shoulder at the Ghostbusters. “You guys got any ideas?”
“Egon, we need a brilliant idea, and soon!” Peter yelled.
“Holy ground!” Ray suddenly declared. “We need to find a church or something similar! If Samhain's following the rules of his holiday, we should be safe there!”
“There's no guarantee he's going to play fair,” Winston warned.
“On the other hand, no one else has come up with anything better,” Peter said, glaring at Egon.
“There's a Jewish temple not too far from here,” Dana suggested. “It's at Central Park West. Think that might do?”
“You think they'll even let us in?” Sheila asked, tugging at Janine's arm to hurry her up.
“Oh, I think we can persuade 'em,” Peter grinned.
As luck would have it, the front door to Congregation Shearith Israel was unlocked, though it appeared no one was inside. The revelers outside paid the fugitives no mind but continued to dance and run wild in the streets. Once inside, Winston and Dana quickly checked the rest of the temple to make sure every door was locked and every window secured. The others stayed with Sheila and Janine, who continued to stare straight ahead and smile in peaceful oblivion.
“She's still under Samhain's spell,” Sheila said, waving a hand in front of Janine's face and not getting so much as a blink in response. “Any suggestions on how we can snap her out of it?”
“For the time being, it's probably best that she stay that way,” Ray replied.
“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “If she wakes up and finds herself dressed in just that sheet, I don't want to be around for the fireworks.” He looked up as Dana and Winston returned. “Everything okay?”
“For now,” Winston nodded. “If someone really wants to get in, they can. But from everything we've seen, I don't think anything less than Samhain's personal supervision could get them to sustain any sort of attempt.”
“Plus, this is holy ground,” Sheila reminded them. “If he's so big on the rules, he can't touch us in here.”
“He doesn't even care about us,” Egon said suddenly. His back was to them all, his gazed fixed on the front of the temple. “We're nothing to him. Four ghosts and two inexperienced fighters--we hardly pose any great threat to him. It's a game to him, nothing more. Sooner or later he'll tire of it, and he'll remove whatever is keeping Dana and Sheila from falling under his influence. Then he'll get Janine back...and that will be the end of that.”
“All right then,” Peter snapped. “Then what can we do about it?”
Egon turned around. “Nothing.”
“No, I'm not buying that,” Peter shook his head. “We've come out of bad situations before--and we've done it by sitting down and planning our attack. And you're the strategist, Egon. This isn't any different...”
“It's very different. We're dead.”
Peter exploded. “What is it with you, Egon? I would've thought you'd be in hog heaven right now, you and Ray both! You're finally seeing how the other half lives, and all you can do is play 'doom and gloom' while the world is in trouble! Come on, man! We're still the Ghostbusters--if nothing else, we gotta get even with Samhain for doing this to us! It's why we're still here!”
“And just what are we supposed to do?” Egon demanded angrily. “Do you realize how helpless we are? We're class one entities, Peter--basic ghosts! We have just enough PKE to manifest and slime things, but that is it. Samhain has been absorbing PKE for centuries now, to say nothing of what he's gotten in the last twelve hours! How you can think we have a...a ghost of a chance is beyond me!”
Peter opened his mouth to reply, but a sudden strangled cry from nearby made him turn around instead. Janine was shrieking with delight as her hands wrapped around Dana's and Sheila's throats. Her arms had stretched to impossible lengths to do so, and her fingers had become gnarled, thin branches with razor-sharp talons that bit into their skin. Blood trickled from their throats as they struggled futilely against her. And now fangs were elongating from Janine's canines as her mouth twisted into a vile grimace.
“Janine!” Ray cried.
“No, not Janine--Copycat!” Egon yelled. “We've been tricked again! Get it off them, quickly!”
“HOW?” Peter screamed. “WE CAN'T EVEN TOUCH HER!”
Copycat laughed again as it watched its captives' faces grow redder by the instant. And best of all, their friends, the ones who had put it into that awful containment so long ago, could only stand by and watch helplessly as their women died before their eyes.
Dana glanced frantically at Peter and Egon, pleading desperately for help. Forgetting himself, Egon lunged forward, his hands flowing into Copycat's torso in a futile attempt to pull it off them, to drive it back...
...And something happened.
A surge of power shot through Egon's body, knocking him backwards. Egon stared incredulously first at his hands, then at Copycat. The creature had staggered slightly, and was looking a bit shaken. Egon smiled grimly and lunged forward again, plunging his arms into Copycat a second time, with results similar to the first. Copycat screamed as it struggled to get away from him, but Egon braced himself and stayed with the creature. “Everyone--GRAB IT!” he shouted. The Ghostbusters immediately complied, jumping into the fray and shuddering as power flowed like a river into their ghostly bodies. “Don't let it get away, no matter what!” Egon ordered. “Keep it up!”
Though it was only a moment later, it seemed like an eternity when the shape shifter’s hands pulled away from Dana and Sheila. Its limbs shrank back to normal lengths as the creature assumed a more human form--Janine's. The Ghostbusters ignored the ploy and held on until Copycat finally slid away from their grasp and tumbled senselessly to the floor.
Ray stared at his hands, which were glowing slightly. “Boy, do I feel strange,” he said.
“Same here,” Winston nodded. He looked over at Egon, who was smiling. Gone was the frightened, uncertain man--the old air of confident authority had returned. “Want to explain what just happened, homeboy?”
“Certainly, Winston, but first we should see if Dana and Sheila are all right.” Peter was doing just that; the women nodded at him as they flopped into a nearby pew and massaged their throats. “Very well. To simplify matters...we siphoned off a large amount of PKE from Copycat.”
“You're kidding,” Peter said.
“Not at all. As I told you once, ghosts become more powerful over time as they absorb latent PKE. We've been doing it since we became ghosts; Samhain has been doing it for centuries. Ray and I have often theorized that a ghost can absorb the PKE of a lower-class entity, but we never dreamed that something like what we just did was possible as well.”
“Some shortcut,” Peter remarked, staring at his glowing hands.
“We're probably close to level-two status,” Ray commented, “but the four-way drain kept any of us from getting there.”
Egon smiled again. “This does, however, give me an excellent idea for dealing with Samhain.”
Peter grinned. “Welcome back, mad scientist. Tell us what you've got.”
“All right. This is what we're going to do...”
Samhain had selected the best of the SCA warriors to serve as his personal guard; two of these men stood watch in front of a battered old ambulance just outside Central Park. They watched the wild festival going on around them with some amusement, but they did not join in. Their master had given them strict orders to keep everyone away from the strange vehicle, and between their muscular bodies and razor-sharp swords, they would make sure his orders were obeyed.
Then she arrived, striding purposefully from the grove that encircled the park. Tall, blessed with long, slender legs and a lithe, sweetly curved body that was completely open to their examination, she moved like a hungry she-cat on the prowl. Her eyes, lit by some inner fire, pored over their bodies as well, determining whether they were worthy of her attentions and favors. The way her tongue slid slowly across the smile on her lips indicated they were.
Instinctively, the two men stood up straighter, arching their backs for better effect and glaring at one another as each realized that the other wanted the woman. Then their attention was instantly recaptured by the sound of her voice, as she asked huskily:
“Are you the Keymaster?”
The two men lurched forward in reply, then glared at one another again. It was clear that each believed he was going to take this woman while the other remained on watch. Naturally, this was a proposal that neither found acceptable, so they dealt with the problem in the time-honored tradition of pounding each other senseless.
When they were finished, Dana stepped over their bodies and hurried over to ECTO-1. She opened her fist and slid the door key into the lock, then clambered inside. “Come on, guys,” she whispered through tightly clenched teeth. “I'm freezing!”
On cue, Peter and Egon floated up through the sidewalk. “Bravo! Magnifico! Hubba hubba!” Peter cheered. “That was one heckuva performance--reminded me of our first big date!”
“Oh, shut up,” Dana said with a smile, then frowned. “Hey, how am I going to get this thing out of here? I'm closed in on three sides!”
“Hmmm. This could pose a problem,” Egon agreed. He floated above ECTO-1 for a better view of the situation, then returned. “I'm afraid there's only one thing you can do, Dana.”
“Smash the car behind you backwards until you have enough room to get out.”
Peter shook his head. “Winston and Ray will never forgive you for that, Egon. You know how they fuss if someone so much as dings the door. This will kill them.” He realized what he'd just said, then grinned again. “If they weren't dead already, that is.”
“Enough.” Dana glared at him, then looked back at Egon. “Well, if you're sure...but what about the owner of the other car?”
“Are you kidding?” Peter said. “With all the crazy stuff going on tonight, they'll never know who did it. Go on and start the car.” Dana complied. “Now, put it in reverse and floor it.” Dana performed the first part, but only tapped the accelerator. The result was a pathetic “bump” and slight jostling of the two car bumpers.
“You're going to have to hit the accelerator harder,” Egon advised. Dana's second attempt was only a little better than the first.
“Come ON!” Peter demanded.
“I'm sorry!” Dana yelled, gripping the steering wheel tightly. “I just...I just don't like the idea of deliberately smashing up a stranger's car!”
“Oh great,” Peter rolled his eyes. “A million drivers in New York City, and we wind up with the one who has a conscience.” As Dana braced herself for a third attempt, Peter crouched down and passed through the side of the car. As her foot tapped the pedal, he reached out and coated her ankle in ice-cold ectoplasm...with predictable results.
Dana screamed and reared back, slamming her foot on the gas pedal. ECTO-1 roared backwards, slamming into the car behind it and crinkling it into a sub-compact. Catching her breath, Dana glanced down and glared at Peter, who flashed her a grin and a “thumbs-up” sign. “Okay,” he said matter-of-factly. “You've got room now. Hop the curb and let's get back to the temple.”
“You think they're okay?” Sheila asked, peering out the window for any sign of their friends' return. Ray and Winston were standing guard over Copycat, who was in a transitional shape between Janine and whatever it had been shifting over to when it had been attacked. It whimpered softly as it lay on the floor. Whenever it started to make any sort of movement, Ray and Winston would start up the “ecto-siphoning” process (Ray's terminology) and absorb just enough PKE for the creature to get the idea.
Guarding and waiting--there wasn't much else any of them could do.
“I'm sure they're fine,” Winston assured Sheila.
“I hope so...having to go back out there gives me the willies,” she shuddered. “And to have to do it stark naked...”
“It was the only way she could get around without drawing attention,” Ray reminded her. “Those uniforms are kind of conspicuous, you know.”
“Yeah...” Sheila bowed her head and wished for an hour or two so that she could get some sleep. And maybe, just maybe, she would wake up and find that all this insanity was some crazy dream induced by late-night pizza and cheap wine. And Ray would be lying beside her, looking irresistibly little-boyish and snuggly, and the morning sun would be rising and everything would be all right.
She would give anything for that...but she had the sad suspicion she'd never see those days again.
“...cannot believe this,” Peter was groaning in the back of ECTO-1. Dana forced a smile off her face and concentrated on driving through the park. “I set everything up for you, Egon. I made reservations at a great restaurant. I got you a king-sized bed at the Plaza, everything included...”
“...and I did exactly what you suggested I do,” Egon replied, puzzled. “I don't know why you're so upset, Peter.”
“Egon,” he said with fading patience, “when I told you that you ought to sleep with Janine, I meant that you ought to...sleep with her. Not sleep--SLEEP!”
“She was very tired, as was I,” Egon mused. “That was the day you made her come in early, and we had some strenuous calls that afternoon.” A smile appeared on his face. “Still, it was rather nice.”
“I don't believe this,” Peter repeated. “I really don't. What I really can't believe is that Janine dropped the ball!”
Dana smiled to herself and drove on.
The first order of business upon the “away team's” return was to let Dana get dressed.
The second item was to put Copycat into one of the empty traps that had been stashed in the back of ECTO-1. With the rear entry hatch jammed shut from the collision, Dana had to sprawl over the back seat to get one. Nearby, Winston and Ray howled over the damage to their beloved vehicle and threatened repeatedly to haunt Dana until the car was repaired to their satisfaction.
“Chill out,” Peter ordered. “It's not like we're ever going to use it again.” That shut everyone up and put a more somber note on the evening's activities.
Copycat had put up a brief but feeble fight; the trap's inexorable pull took care of matters in its usual efficient manner. When Dana returned from dumping the loaded trap into ECTO, the sextet circled around Egon. “All right,” he said quietly. “It's nearly eleven. Samhain will wait until midnight to perform the sacrifice. We have ECTO-1, one proton pack, and seven empty traps. This is what we do next...”
At eleven, the inward exodus began as every mortal and spirit under the shadow's influence felt the irresistible compulsion to head for Central Park. Bonfires, battles, orgies and parties were abandoned as the enthralled denizens of New York heeded their master's call. Samhain watched as the crowds on the ground and the air swelled. He tasted the supernatural power that flowed from them into him--a sweet, heady energy that permeated and rejuvenated him before he redirected it into his spell. It had been a long time since he'd felt so supremely powerful. And at midnight, his hold on this strange new century would be complete. Samhain would once more be a deity to be worshipped, honored and feared.
He glanced down from his throne and studied the young woman who would be the sacrifice. Garbed in a simple white robe which one of his subjects had stolen from a church, Janine was oblivious to the growing crowd and her critical role in this historical moment. Samhain had taken no chances with her; his will had swamped her own, rendering her devoid of any thought and unable to resist. Too much was riding on her role for Samhain to allow anything less than total subservience.
He wondered whether the Ghostbusters had discovered his little deception by now. Copycat had not returned, which meant that either it hadn't found the right moment to strike down the two women, or that it had tried to act and had been stopped. How that could happen, Samhain wasn't sure, but it was of no consequence. The Ghostbusters' return was unexpected, but not catastrophic to his plan. After all, they were mere shadows of themselves--immaterial, weak and helpless. The two women were far too inexperienced to be much trouble, though they had shown tremendous inner strength. But no matter. If they survived Copycat's ambush and attempted a second attack, Samhain would simply engulf their wills as he had with Janine.
Samhain sensed the approach of midnight. Rising to his feet, he signaled his priests to begin the walk with the sacrifice to the altar. Janine rose to her feet like a puppet on strings and moved slowly away from the throne until she stood amid the escort. The delegation marched slowly forward, allowing the crowd to move out of the way as they headed towards a group of stones beside the lake. And behind them Samhain floated, excitement rippling through his ancient form.
“I think I'm getting the hang of this!” Dana yelled, guiding ECTO-1 with reckless abandon through Central Park. The lights and sirens were wailing like a banshee, giving the enslaved populace plenty of warning to move or get run over. Sheila sat beside her, securely strapped in and eyes tightly shut.
The Ghostbusters soared above the car, serving as an eerie honor guard and watchdog contingent. “That poor car will never be the same,” Winston sadly noted as he studied the damage to the back end. “And what she's doing to the suspension system is a crime.”
“Well, it's all in a good cause,” Ray said, wincing as Dana floored the gas pedal and sent a large chunk of turf flying into the air. “I just hope the city forgives us for the damage we're doing to the park!”
“Hey, they forgave us for Gozer, and you know how people love dead heroes,” Peter said. The others looked at him for a moment, as if to say you don't have to remind us. “Sorry.”
“Keep your minds on the plan,” Egon ordered. “It's Janine's only chance.”
The delegation reached the crude altar. Janine lay upon the largest of the stones and was bound by her wrists and ankles--not so much to prevent her from escaping but to keep her securely on the main rock. She smiled mindlessly up at the sky and the ghosts that hovered above her.
The priests began to circle the altar, chanting the proper rituals as Samhain glided forward. In his right hand was a long, jagged knife that had been appropriated from a nearby museum and would now be used for its proper function. Fire smoldered in Samhain's eyes as he waited for the stroke of midnight...
Clouds gathered in the previously clear sky, blotting out the stars.
So close and yet so far away, ECTO-1's run to the rescue had stalled. Dana slammed her fist on the car horn, sending a group of mesmerized spectators stumbling off. “Dammit, get out of my WAY!”
“That's not going to help,” Sheila said, shaking her head. “There are just too many people here. What we need to do is give them some quick incentive.” A smile suddenly exploded from her lips, and she abruptly climbed into the back seat.
“What in the hell are you doing?” Dana demanded.
Sheila grinned and pulled the proton pack out of the back. “You ever used a cattle prod?”
Now the entire crowd was chanting in perfect unison with the priests, swaying back and forth as the tempo quickened. The clouds above them boiled and rolled as they formed a whirlpool. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled within the inky depths. The spirits floating over the spectacle joined in with a terrible keening, adding an eerie counterpoint to the ancient rites.
Through it all Janine lay peacefully on the rocks. She made not the slightest effort to struggle out of her bonds. Samhain stood nearby, eagerly awaiting the climax of the ritual and the moment when her death gave him absolute power over two worlds.
Up to now, the shadow had trickled across the city like the rising tide of the ocean. When the limitless power of the Netherworld was added to it, the shadow would overwhelm this backward planet like a raging tsunami.
Samhain could hardly wait.
“YEEEEEEEEEEE----HAWWWWWWWW!” Sheila fired her thrower with gleeful enthusiasm at the quickly retreating hordes that had been in ECTO-1's way. Even at its lowest setting, the weapon had a strong enough charge to make avoidance a good policy. “Atta way!” she crowed as the vehicle lurched forward. “Git along, little doggies!”
Peter glanced over at Ray. “This is a side of Sheila we've never seen before,” he commented wryly. “Have you?”
“Afraid not,” Ray said, shaking his head. “At least, not like this.”
Samhain stepped up to the altar, ceremonial dagger raised high above his pumpkin head. The chanting of the crowd had reached a fevered pitch now, clashing with the wailing of the ghosts above. The clouds in the sky were swirling around and rumbling ominously. With a cry of triumph, Samhain plunged the dagger down towards Janine's breast.
Without warning, a bright blast of charged proton energy slammed into the dagger, shooting up the metal blade into Samhain's body. He roared with equal measures surprise, pain and fury and stumbled backwards. The blade tumbled out of his hand and clattered on the ground. With a snarl of outrage, he quickly rose to his feet again and searched for the source of the interference.
It didn't take long to find.
ECTO-1 roared through the scattering crowd, lights and sirens screaming proud defiance. Sheila was halfway out the passenger side window, taking aim at Samhain with her particle thrower. “GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU SON OF A BITCH!” she bellowed.
Inside the car, Dana smiled to herself and shook her head. “Stealing my lines,” she said softly. Then she switched on all the remaining lights, turning the battered vehicle into a rolling light show that could be seen and heard from miles away.
The explosion of light hit Samhain hard; he reeled backwards and held his arms up to protect his face. “Enough of this game! KILL THEM!” he bellowed to his entranced horde. Heedless of their personal safety, the crowd surged towards ECTO-1. Sheila yelped in sudden panic and hurriedly slipped back inside, rolling up the window before anyone could get a hand or arm in. Dana tried to keep the car moving, but she could not bring herself to hit anyone--so before too long, she stopped the car--a bad move, because it gave their foes a stationary target. The mob covered the car like a swarm of locusts, banging on the shatterproof windows and ripping the lights and sirens off with their bare hands.
“I think we're in trouble,” Sheila said.
“I think you're right,” Dana agreed.
Before Samhain could return to the business at hand, the Ghostbusters swooped down from the sky. “That's far enough, Samhain!” Egon ordered as the supernatural entity reached for the dagger again. “It's past midnight--you can't properly finish the ritual. Give up and let these people free!”
“NEVER!” screamed Samhain. “If I cannot have all the power of the Netherworld, I will take what I can--and that will be more than enough to triumph!” He reached for the dagger. “Behold, Spengler, as I kill your woman!”
But as his hand gripped the blade's handle, it squirted out of his hand and fell back to the ground. “WHAT?” Samhain roared in a white fury. Looking down, he saw that the handle was covered in a thick green goop, and his rage grew even darker.
Peter grinned from nearby. “I dood it!”
“ENOUGH!” With a scream of rage, Samhain stretched his arms out towards the Ghostbusters, and without warning the ghostly quartet was pulled out of the sky towards him. Before Sheila and Dana's eyes their friends were completely absorbed within the entity's body. They didn't even have time to scream.
“Now...” Samhain grasped his dagger by the blade and wiped off the ectoplasm on the handle, then staggered back towards the altar. Forgoing ceremony this time, he lifted the dagger back into the air and once again sent it towards Janine's chest....
.... then he stiffened and staggered backwards, letting the dagger fall to the ground. His screamed pierced the night as he stumbled back and forth in utter agony. 'WHAT IS HAPPENING?” he screamed as wave upon wave of pain rippled through him. “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHGGGGHHH!”
Over on the altar, Janine blinked. Then blinked again.
The crowd in ECTO-1 paused in their destructive tasks, confused. Inside the car, Sheila and Dana glanced at each other and crossed their fingers.
Samhain continued to scream, clutching his chest as he thrashed back and forth. And with every passing second, the shadow that had enveloped the city started to recede, leaving scores of confused (and in some cases, embarrassed) men and women in its wake.
The crowd around ECTO-1 began to disperse. Sheila grinned and flashed a thumbs-up at Dana. “It's showtime!”
“Here goes nothing,” Dana nodded. They jumped out of the vehicle and headed to the altar, where Janine lay captive--and most importantly, where the other proton packs were being held. “Hurry up!” Dana cried as she slipped into one of the packs. “We've got to be ready when the guys give the signal!”
“Right!” Sheila grabbed the ceremonial dagger and used it to cut the ropes holding Janine. She slipped off the rocks and hit the ground with a limp thud. “Janine?” she asked, rushing to the redhead's side. '“You okay?”
“Just what the heck is going on?” Janine asked fuzzily as she sat up. “Last thing I remember is running into Samhain at the...firehouse...” Her voice trailed off as she remembered the terrible events surrounding that memory. “Egon...”
“Look, it's a long story, and I don't have time to explain,” Sheila said quickly. “Just get out of our way, okay?”
“You're in one of Ray's uniforms,” Janine said, blinking. “And Dana's in one of Egon's. What's going on?” she repeated, a bit more forcefully this time.
“HEADS UP!” Dana yelled. Sheila pushed Janine out of the way and looked over at Samhain, whose writhing and screaming was echoed by the ghosts in the sky. And suddenly four man-shaped stars exploded from his chest, forcing another anguished cry from the pumpkin-headed entity's mouth. The Ghostbusters soared into the sky, each wrapped in a pulsating aura of power; Sheila ignored the gasp that came from Janine and fired at particle burst at Samhain. One from Dana, who was directly opposite Sheila, matched it. Caught in the crossfire, Samhain screamed again.
He tried to ascend into the night, but the streams wrapped around him and thoroughly entangled him in their grip. And without warning, a third beam slammed into his writhing body and anchored him firmly into place. Now a small box rolled directly under him, and a familiar voice yelled “TRAP OPEN!”
Sheila risked a glance over at Janine, who held the third thrower tightly and wore a determined, tight-lipped expression. Her bare foot slammed down on the activator pedal, and the ghost trap opened, bathing Samhain in its light. He screamed again and again as his struggles to escape grew increasingly feeble, and as the three women shut off their streams, he vanished into the confines of the ghost trap as it snapped shut.
The three women stared at each other for a minute or so, then broke into triumphant grins and ran towards each other. “WE DID IT!” Sheila screamed as she embraced Janine and Dana in a group hug. “WE DID IT!” For a long moment they celebrated a hard-fought, well-earned victory, then abruptly broke away and stared up in the sky.
The Ghostbusters floated high above them, glowing like stars come down to earth. Then there was a sudden explosion of light and energy, creating a fireworks display that could be seen as far as Bayonne. And when the display faded...the Ghostbusters were gone.
“Peter...” whispered Dana.
“Ray...Winston...” Sheila called softly.
“Egon.” Janine said. They studied the night sky and watched the stars reappear...but their friends did not. No one could say how long they kept looking, hoping against hope for one last miracle.
Finally Dana sighed and looked at the other two women. “It's over,” she said tiredly. “Let's get this stuff back to the firehouse and put it all away. Then we can call the police and get an ambulance...” Sheila nodded and headed back towards ECTO-1; Janine continued to stare defiantly into the night, unwilling to admit her loss or her grief.
But the single tear that slowly trickled down her cheek was admission enough.
|Chapters One and Two||Chapters Three and Four||Chapters Five and Six||Chapter Seven|