This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
|Chapters One and Two||Chapters Three and Four||Chapters Five and Six||Chapter Seven|
Once upon a time there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Mary Ann Linzini. She was a sweet, gentle soul who was neither terribly bright nor terribly beautiful--which pretty much sums up the state of most people in the world. Mary was also terribly shy and as a result terribly lonely--another accurate summation of the world's state of affairs, when you get down to it. So she fought the loneliness by reading books about princesses in far-off lands who braved awful perils until they found their true love (inevitably a handsome prince) and lived happily ever after. She also watched movies with the same theme--Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID was a particular favorite. Eventually, she could sing every song from memory and recite entire scenes from the movie.
And one day Mary Ann found herself a handsome prince. Well, not as handsome as Prince Eric, of course, but he smiled at her, paid attention to her, and treated her kindly. And in return Mary Ann gave him all her attention, all her devotion, and when she was certain that he was her true love, she gave himself something else in the back of his father's station wagon one night.
Within five weeks of that magical night, Mary Ann had discovered that her prince was actually a skunk who had been after only one thing, and having gotten it, wanted nothing more to do with her. She also discovered that she was pregnant.
Now Mary Ann was from a good Catholic home, and the thought of telling her parents this awful news terrified her beyond measure. They would yell and scream at her, throw away all her wonderful books and movies ( the only comfort she had anymore), and perhaps even throw her out into the streets and let her starve. And the priest at her local parish was a bitter old man who constantly railed at the kids her age about their “wicked, lustful habits”, so he'd certainly show her no mercy. Everywhere she turned, Mary Ann found herself trapped with no way out, and certainly no “happily ever after” in her future.
So one day Mary Ann went to the bank, withdrew all her money from her savings account, and went to a place that specialized in correcting mistakes. Next she went a nearby church and prayed for an hour, sobbing into her rosary. Finally she took the subway from Brooklyn to Staten Island, boarded the ferry, and when she figured the boat was far enough out and the crew couldn't see her, she leaped over the side and tumbled into the water.
She struggled briefly, then let herself sink slowly into the grimy depths of the Hudson River. As water filled her lungs, her mind drifted through fading memories, finally focusing on the young man who'd caused her entire world to shatter like stained glass. A surge of anger rippled through her, and just as darkness overwhelmed her senses, a final, furious thought came to her:
“Don't get mad...get even...”
Shortly thereafter, a rash of unexplained drownings began occurring around Staten Island. The victims were all handsome young men between the ages of 16 and 25, and none of the bodies that had been recovered showed any evidence of a struggle. Police interviewed the friends and relatives of the victims and found nothing that pointed towards suicide; after the sixth victim was found, they beefed up security on the ferry, which had been the jumping point for every drowning.
When two cops drowned within a week of each other, matters grew even tenser.
Finally, a woman from Cleveland who'd been touring the city accidentally witnessed a drowning and gave the police an odd account: she claimed to have seen a beautiful mermaid out in the river, singing and calling to the latest victim, who'd eagerly climbed over the rail and jumped into the water. At that point, the mermaid had swum over to the young man, embraced him tightly, and descended into the watery depths.
In any other city, this account would have been chalked up as a hallucination or fabrication. But this was New York, and New Yorkers did things differently than other cities.
In New York, when there was something strange in their neighborhood, they knew exactly who to call.
“THERE SHE IS!” Ray Stantz screamed, pointing out into the river where the mermaid was frolicking. He struggled out of his overcoat--no easy feat, considering he was wearing his proton pack underneath it--and switched the bulky device on. Nearby, Egon Spengler and Peter Venkman were similarly engaged.
“Remember,” Egon warned as he slipped a pair of ecto-goggles on. “Do not under any circumstances look into her eyes unless it's unavoidable, and certainly don't do it with your goggles off. There's no guarantee that these will prevent us from falling under her spell.”
“She got one heckuva set of gills,” Peter grinned. “YO, BABE!” he yelled at the apparition, who turned towards the sound of his voice. She was definitely beautiful: long red hair that framed perfect facial features, a pair of blue eyes that could pierce and enchant the coldest heart, and a body that inspired fierce desire. Take away the tail, and she could have made the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue--come to think of it, Peter thought to himself, the tail might work after all. Peter flinched as she smiled invitingly at him, but the expected urge to join her never came. “Goggles work, guys!” he called to his comrades. “HEY, ARIEL--IT'S SUSHI TIME!” he added as he fired a stream at her.
The mermaid dove underwater just as the stream hit the spot where she'd been swimming. “Oboy,” Peter sighed. “Bad enough when they can fly over our heads--this one can go under us as well.”
“We anticipated this,” Egon reminded him. The blond scientist put on a headset and spoke into the microphone. “Winston, can you hear me?”
“Sure can, m'man,” came the static-filled reply.
“It appears that we'll need you to prod her out after all.”
“I'm on my way.” In seconds ECTO-2 zoomed over the ferry, with Winston Zeddemore behind the controls. The attached cannon nozzle had had several modifications made to it earlier in the day, the result of Janine and Egon performing a morning reconnaissance at the area of the drownings. Spengler had gotten several strong readings on his PKE meter, and with Ray's assistance had adapted the cannon to fire an energy stream set to a frequency incompatible with the underwater entity. A steady barrage would drive the creature out of hiding.
Peter, with his typical flair, had promptly dubbed the device a “mermaid prod”.
With the squeeze of a trigger, ECTO-2 fired an orange-yellow burst of energy into the water, causing it to boil and roll with turbulence. “Got anything yet?” Winston asked.
“Not yet.” Egon was consulting his PKE meter as he spoke. “She's down there, she's just not giving in. Keep a steady stream of fire going and let's see what she does.”
“Will do.” The beam grew brighter. “That's good,” Egon said with satisfaction. “She's moving...closer...”
“INCOMING!” yelled Ray; with an angry scream, the mermaid shot out of the water and leaped gracefully over the ferry. The wake from her emergence slammed into the Ghostbusters, drenching them and knocking them off-balance; Egon grabbed a railing and squinted all around for another glimpse of the creature. But from all appearances, she had returned to the water.
“We've got her irritated,” he informed Winston. “Keep firing.”
“Esther Williams would be green with envy if she saw that leap,” Peter remarked as he got to his feet. “So would Prince Namor. Geez...if it isn't slime, it's water, and Hudson River water at that...Yuk!”
Egon grabbed his PKE meter and studied it intently as Winston fired another barrage of energy. “We're getting a big spike,” he warned the others. “Get ready...any second now...”
'WINSTON!” Ray screamed suddenly. “LOOK OUT!”
“What?” Before anyone could react, the mermaid exploded from the waters and shot up into the sky. She lunged for ECTO-2 and, grabbing onto Winston's arm with one hand, tore his helmet off with the other and stared into his eyes. He felt the world spinning away from him, replaced with an overwhelming desire to be hers, to be part of her world forever.
Smiling maliciously, the mermaid caressed his cheek and kissed him softly on the lips. His hands left the controls of ECTO-2 and slid around her waist. The nose of the vehicle dropped towards the water; the mermaid pulled away from the entranced Ghostbuster and laughed as she ripped the safety harness away from his body and pulled him out of the pilot's seat. Winston tumbled free of the falling aircraft, still utterly entranced as he fell. She laughed again as both man and machine plunged into the river--then her laugh became a scream as two beams of energy slammed into her and held her captive.
'WINSTONNNNN!” Peter quickly shucked off his proton pack and dove into the water, furiously swimming over to where ECTO-2 had hit. Ray and Egon allowed themselves no time to watch or worry, working instead to move the writhing, infuriated entity into position. She struggled again and again to free herself from the particle beams, but found them impossible to escape.
'TRAP OPEN!” Egon called, stomping his foot down on an activator pedal. Nearby, the small box resting on the deck beeped and raised its flaps, releasing a halo of energy that bathed the mermaid's body and pulled it down towards the waiting prison. Egon and Ray switched off their particle beams and watched as the mermaid screamed one final time before vanishing into the trap, which closed itself and beeped again.
Then they raced to the edge of the boat. “MAN OVERBOARD!” Ray called up to the bridge; within seconds, the ferry had stopped and the crew was racing over to where the Ghostbusters were waiting. Hearts pounding from equal parts terror and exertion, Ray and Egon peered over the edge of the boat into the murky waters of the bay.
It was bad enough getting drenched the first time--diving into the chilly October depths of the Hudson just about topped a lousy day for Peter. He'd had the foresight to keep his ecto-goggles over his eyes for protection, but as he forced his body down deeper into the river, he had to wonder just how good the odds were that he'd find Winston, much less save him.
His lungs were beginning to burn, pleading with his brain to turn around and get some oxygen. Peter stubbornly overrode his good sense and continued searching. But a handful of seconds later, he found that his body had somehow obtained the veto option, and reluctantly headed back to the surface. Okay, then--he'd grab enough air to satisfy his lungs, then ignore the cold that was creeping along his legs and arms and make a second attempt. No problem. The dangers of hypothermia were probably exaggerated, anyway.
Somewhere along the way, he miraculously smacked against a familiar-looking chest. Peter would have sighed in relief, but there was no way he was going to let any of this water get into his mouth. Wrapping an arm around Winston's limp body, Peter kicked his way towards the surface and salvation.
Ray and Egon watched as one of the ferry workers performed mouth-to-mouth on their comrade; Peter gratefully accepted a heavy blanket and a cup of hot chocolate from another crewman before joining them. He had just reached Ray's side when Winston began to stir, coughing water out of his mouth and nose. “Take it easy, Winston,” Ray said. “It's okay--we got her. Just relax.”
Egon sighed and pushed his glasses back into place. “That was far closer than I care to think about.”
“No kidding,” Ray said, handing Winston a blanket as he pushed himself into a sitting position. “Seems like we've gotten more than our share of close calls the past few weeks, you know?”
“Yeah, and we all know why, Ray, so let's drop the subject, okay?” Peter sat down and handed his cup to Winston. “Sip slow, Zee.”
“Don't have to tell me twice.” He stared out at the bay and sighed. “We lost ECTO-2, didn't we? Sorry, guys. I really blew it.”
“Hey, nothing we can't replace, given time and money,” Ray said cheerfully.
Peter looked up and glared at his partner. “If you ever build another one of those flying deathtraps,” he said quietly, “I will cheerfully throw you off the roof of the firehouse without benefit of a bungee cord.”
“Aw, c'mon, Pete, it wasn't that bad...”
Eventually the ferry returned to the dock. Sighing wearily, the Ghostbusters trudged towards the parking lot where ECTO-1 was waiting. Their packs felt impossibly heavy on their backs; their arms and legs seemed to have lead weights attached. To add to the dreary atmosphere, there was an eerie keening drifting across the late afternoon breeze.
“Never heard a bird sing like that before,” Winston remarked.
“I have. It was being tortured by a wild gang of five year olds,” Peter said. They stumbled on, finding to their surprise the noise grew louder the closer they got to the main entrance. And then, Egon suddenly froze in his tracks, causing the others to collide with him.
“Egon...” Peter began.
“Look.” And when the others followed his outstretched finger, they all fell silent. Sitting at the edge of the nearest dock was an ugly old woman in tattered black rags, running bloody clothing through the water and pulling it out with her gnarled, wrinkled fingers. And yet the red stains never seemed to leave the powder-blue uniform with pink trim...or the brown and green jumpsuit...or the grey and blue outfit...or the tan one, either.
And as she worked, the crone continued to sing her mournful, haunting dirge, which chilled the Ghostbusters to their very souls and caused them to take an involuntary step backwards.
“A bean nighe,” Ray breathed.
“Say what?” Winston whispered.
“You know them better as 'banshees',” Egon clarified. “They're mythical creatures, originally found in Scottish and Irish legends.”
“She looks mighty real to me, man. What's she doing?”
“Banshees wash the clothes of mortals who are about to die,” Ray said softly.
“Why doesn't that surprise me any?” Peter groaned. “Look, it's a scare tactic, nothing more, nothing less. Let's ignore it and move on.” The others heeded Venkman's orders, but none of them could resist one last wary peek over their shoulders at the crone, who continued to wash and wail at the dock's edge.
The ride back to the firehouse was made in relative silence; Winston, exhausted by his ordeal, spent most of the time asleep in the back seat. Peter sat opposite him, staring out the window. In front, Egon studied his PKE meter and Ray concentrated on his driving. Traffic was heavy, but this being New York, that was nothing new. “I got a letter from 'Mother' today,” Ray said to his fellow scientist.
“Oh?” Egon replied.
“Yeah. He said cattle mutilations are up again.”
“Really.” This seemed to interest Egon, for some reason.
“Yup. Sent me the stats.”
“Fascinating.” Egon returned his attention to the meter.
“Where's everybody going?” Peter asked.
“There's a medieval festival being held in Central Park today,” Ray told him. “It's being sponsored by the city. Supposed to be pretty neat--Sheila was planning on going this afternoon.” Peter grunted softly and returned his attention to the window. But all of them--save perhaps Winston--were thinking about the same thing: when and where was Samhain going to strike?
Of all the foes the Ghostbusters had battled, Samhain had been one of the most powerful and dangerous. For he was far more than a mere ghost--he was the living personification of Halloween, the avatar of a long-ago time when men feared and respected the darker powers that dwelt among them. Twice now they had done battle with him, and both times they'd only barely managed to defeat and contain him.
About six months ago, there had been a major containment breach at the firehouse, the circumstances of which no one could quite recall. But a large number of entities had gotten free, and by comparing the PKE levels from before and after the breach, it was obvious that among the escapees were at least two major-league menaces. And one of them had to be Samhain.
Over the past three weeks, business had started picking up again, keeping the Ghostbusters hopping across New York City. And the jobs had grown increasingly more dangerous as Halloween drew nearer. Egon had voiced the opinion that Samhain was probably behind the surge in paranormal activity, keeping his foes too busy to locate him before he was ready to make his move. But now, as Halloween night approached, each of the Ghostbusters knew that Samhain was going to try something.
They just didn't know when or where.
“It's hot in here,” Peter said abruptly, causing Ray and Egon to jump. “Turn down the heat, willya, Ray?” As an added measure, he rolled down the side window to let what passed for fresh air into the car. At that moment, ECTO-1 was sitting in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and Chambers.
A breeze suddenly drifted into life. And as it danced past the battered vehicle, each of the Ghostbusters could distinctly hear a voice on the breeze, and the voice said one word:
Peter paled. “Don't tell me.”
Ray shivered. “There's an old Celtic legend that on the night of Samhain, if you sit in a crossroads, you can hear your future spoken in the wind...”
Egon said nothing. Peter suddenly rolled the window back up. “Turn the heat back up, Ray.”
An almost palpable relief rushed through them as ECTO-1 rumbled through the doorway of Ghostbusters Central. Ray turned off the engine and hit the automatic door opener. “Someone want to wake Winston up? I'll grab the traps.”
Peter shook Winston by the shoulder. “What?” the black man cried, looking around wildly until he became fully awake and realized where he was. “Oh man,” he sighed, “I had the craziest dream...”
“Don't sweat it,” Peter said. “Just relax--we're home now.” They got out of the car and headed for the receptionist's desk, where Janine was busy typing on the computer. Wordlessly she held out her hand, into which Peter put the day's receipts. “Thank you,” she said in reply. “By the way, guys, help yourself to the Halloween candy. I went out and got some more while you were gone. Better hurry, though--Ray was practically drooling when he went downstairs, so I don't know how long this stuff's going to last.”
“Sounds good.” Peter unwrapped a candy bar and popped it into his mouth, as did Winston and Egon. “Oh man, this tastes great.” He flopped into a nearby chair and closed his eyes, savoring the sweetness of the chocolate as it melted in his mouth. Nearby, Egon carefully set his meter beside him and leaned back in one of the battered sofas before performing the same ritual. It felt so good to lean back and rest, even if it could only be for a minute or two...
The sudden screech of his PKE meter suddenly roused him; to his shock, Egon realized that he'd dozed off. And to make matters worse, his body felt impossibly heavy, as though his limbs were coated in lead. Movement was next to impossible. But he hadn't felt that tired, not really...
With a supreme effort, he forced his eyelids to rise and found that the other Ghostbusters were in a similar state. Peter looked like a fish trapped on dry land, thrashing around feebly with no success; Ray and Winston were struggling to lift their heads from the floor with no better luck.
Then Janine appeared right in front of him, a twisted leer on her features. “Having a problem, Dr. Spengler?” she asked, and then she giggled, a high-pitched, eerie laugh that was utterly unlike her...but awakened something in his memory, an incident when he'd heard that cackle coming from what they'd thought was Janine...
“Copycat.” His mouth moved as though it was full of molasses. And it suddenly occurred to him that they'd been drugged--it was so obvious, he would have chided himself for not seeing it earlier, except that it would have required too much effort. Terror seized his heart as he realized what was happening...and that he could do nothing about it. They were helpless--all of them.
The phony Janine laughed again before stepping back; Egon sensed movement from just beyond his line of vision and trembled as Samhain glided into view. The pumpkin-headed entity smiled menacingly as he circled the Ghostbusters, making sure that each one of them was awake and quite aware of what was...what would be...happening.
And they watched, pale and helpless, as Samhain's hands began to glow, and his voice echoed around the room: “Farewell, Ghostbusters...”
Janine Melnitz really should have known better, she really should have; it was sheer folly to buy Halloween treats early when you worked for four junk-food addicts. The only thing that had surprised her was that the original supply had lasted three days. Then again, they had been busy...
She hummed to herself as she got into her car and left the market; well, four bags of candy ought to take care of the legion of trick-or-treaters that came to Ghostbusters Central every year (what kid could possibly resist visiting the place on such an appropriate night?), and there'd be a little left over for the guys to finish off. That ought to make everyone happy.
She was glad that Dana Barrett and Sheila Brown would be coming over to help out--the sheer volume of kids could get overwhelming quickly. Besides, the guys were probably going to get called out tonight, and most likely it was going to be Samhain stirring up trouble. While she acknowledged the danger involved in tackling that adversary, Janine was confident that her employers could deal with the threat. After all, they'd stomped his butt twice already, hadn't they? By tomorrow morning, old Pumpkin-head would be back in the containment and the guys could finally relax a bit.
As her car approached the battered firehouse, something--she wasn't quite sure what--set off a warning signal to her brain. She slowed down instinctively, carefully giving the place a once-over, but everything seemed to be all right. But the feeling didn't go away--if anything, it was growing stronger...
Then there was a sudden explosion of light and sound cascading from every window of the firehouse, so bright and loud that Janine had to stop the car, close her eyes tightly and cover her ears until it finally ended. And among the noises she could barely hear her own voice as it screamed:
Janine switched off her car's ignition and ran to the main entrance of the firehouse, leaving the bags of candy and her purse on the front seat. She threw the door open and rushed inside, barely noticing the crisp odor of ozone that hung in the air. With unerring accuracy she hurriedly navigated her way through the darkness past ECTO-1 until she reached the reception area--where she froze in her tracks and felt the blood drain from her face.
Winston, Ray and Peter lay sprawled on the floor, their unmoving bodies twisted awkwardly as if caught forever in one last spasm of agony. None of them had any sort of entry wound on them, though, and there was no blood pooling on the floor. Their eyes were still open, staring sightlessly at the ceiling, and the expression on their faces were terrible visages of pain and fear. Janine stared at each of them, dumbfounded with shock and horror, then her eyes drifted unwillingly over to the couch, where one last Ghostbuster had fallen to the unknown assassin.
“Egon...” Janine hurried over and knelt beside him. Using her first aid training, she pressed her fingers against his carotid artery and felt her throat tighten a minute later when she withdrew them. Her fingers drifted across his pale features, caressing the cool skin and finely-chiseled bones one final time. Unconsciously, she reached across his body and switched off the PKE meter, which was bleating a pathetic staccato warning to no one, then tenderly closed those beautiful blue eyes and shoved her sorrow to one side. There were things to be done, arrangements to be made...
She suddenly remembered the PKE meter and gasped. Ignoring Egon's body, she lunged for the meter and switched it back on, gaping at the strong reading it was displaying. While she didn't know too much about the trade, Janine knew that the only time a reading this strong came up was when an entity was close by.
Then the containment alarm warbled.
Instinct took over; Janine switched the meter off and set it next to Egon, then hurried over to ECTO-1 and grabbed a proton pack from the back end, strapping it onto her back with practiced ease. She rushed over to the basement staircase and descended slowly, trying to keep her heels from clacking on the wooden steps. And when her prey finally came into view, Janine gasped again as she stared at the back of the creature known as Samhain.
The avatar of Halloween stood just in front of the containment, his jack-o' lantern features smiling with savage glee and an insane cackling coming from his mouth. His gnarled fingers were jammed into the entry/exit unit, as if blocking the overwhelming tide of PKE that should have been streaming out of the breached containment. And suddenly Janine realized that the entity wasn't blocking the energy--he was absorbing it, every last erg of it, into himself.
Everything fell into place in Janine's whirling mind: he had ambushed the Ghostbusters, caught them at a vulnerable moment, and killed them, probably making sure it was a long and painful death. And now he was increasing his power by harnessing the energy that lay within his former prison.
Janine blinked back a fresh round of tears and quietly reached back behind her for the particle thrower. To her surprise, however, she found her wrist grasped tightly by a warm hand. Whirling around, she was stunned to see herself standing there, grinning maniacally. “Ah-ah-ah!” she heard her own voice say. “Mustn't hurt the master, naughty girl! Can't allow that, no we can't!” And then the imposter giggled shrilly, which triggered a long-forgotten memory in Janine's mind.
She struggled against her doppleganger. “Lemme go, you rotten bitch! He killed them--and you let him!” Changing tactics, she moved forward instead of back, slamming into Copycat and knocking her off-balance. They tumbled down the stairs, kicking, gouging and clawing at one another. Janine managed to get her right hand free and immediately reached back for the particle thrower, only to be grabbed a second time...and this time, she had a sinking feeling she knew by whom. Slowly, dreading confirmation, Janine turned around.
“Boo,” said Samhain.
Janine summoned every iota of courageous fury to get one shot at him, but she never got the chance. Energy crackled from Samhain, flowing from his eyes to hers. Before she could react, Janine stumbled as her will was completely spellbound. The fire in her eyes abruptly faded, as did every thought and impulse to resist. Her body slid into an obedient limpness.
“That's much better,” Samhain smiled in satisfaction. “Remove the weapon,” he ordered as an afterthought; a second later, the proton pack slid away from Janine's shoulders and hit the concrete floor with a loud thud.
“Shall we kill her, master?” Copycat asked, looking up at him hopefully.
He cradled Janine's face in his hands with almost tender care. “Not just yet. She may be useful.” Nodding thoughtfully to himself, Samhain then asked her a single question.
Her reply brought a malicious smile to his hideous features. “Excellent,” he murmured. “Truly excellent. A stroke of luck and a taste of sweet irony. I like it. I like it very much indeed.”
He turned to Copycat. “We are taking her with us. Assume a suitable form and we will return to our haven. Night approaches, and with it, the coming of a new age!” Copycat cackled as its form twisted and shifted into a more demonic appearance, human in outline but grey and hairy, with large bat wings and long clawed fingers. It grasped the unresisting Janine by her shoulders and, flapping its wings, ascended the stairs, with Samhain gliding just behind.
He paused at the reception area, allowing himself one last look at the bodies of his vanquished foes. “A pity,” he told them, “that you will never see what will transpire tonight, Ghostbusters. I would have enjoyed your struggle to overcome it...and your ultimate failure. Good-bye...forever!”
As he laughed in wicked triumph, Samhain raised one hand into the air; it glowed for a moment, then exploded into a bright white flare of energy that burned through every floor of the firehouse before exploding through the roof. The odd trio floated up through the new passageway and paused at the top, where five low-level demons were waiting, gibbering to themselves.
“Stay here,” Samhain ordered. “If anyone should enter and even so much as touch the Ghostbusters' equipment, destroy them.” The demons drooled and screeched among themselves, hoping for intruders; smiling, Samhain nodded to Copycat, and with Janine firmly in tow, they soared into the darkening skies.
* * * * * *
“God, the traffic is terrible,” Dr. Sheila Brown commented as she glanced out the taxi window. “I can't thank you enough for dropping by Central Park and picking me up, Dana.”
“No problem. As high as cab fares run these days, the more the merrier as far as I'm concerned.” Dana Barrett smiled and glanced out her side window. “So, how was the festival?”
“Not too bad,” Sheila shrugged. “Crowded as all get out, but everyone was having a good time.” She patted the paper sack that was sitting on the floor of the cab. “Picked up some nice stuff for the apartment and for Ray.”
“Not a sword, I hope,” Dana grinned.
Sheila rolled her eyes. “Heavens no.”
Dana looked out the grimy window again. “I hope we get down to the firehouse before too long--Janine's going to need all the help she can get when the legion of trick-or-treaters hit.”
“Guess it's pretty irresistible to a kid, going by a place where you know there are tons of ghosts and spooky things.” Sheila smiled to herself. “I remember this old house in Boston, not too far from where I lived. I used to lead a bunch of kids there every Halloween night--our parents thought we were on the streets. That place was so dilapidated, it's a wonder we didn't fall through the floor or have the walls come down on us. The day the city finally tore it down, I stood in front of the place and cried my eyes out.” She sighed at the memory. “There's something alternately frightening and alluring about the supernatural. Maybe that's why I wound up teaching parapsychology and the occult...and started dating Ray, you know?”
“Don't ask me,” Dana smiled. “I had no say in how I wound up with Peter.” She leaned back against the hard seat and relaxed as the familiar “no ghosts” sign finally came into view. “Well, here we are, and it looks like the army hasn't hit the place yet. I hope Janine brought enough...” Suddenly, an odd sensation tickled at the back of her head, and the hairs on her neck started to rise. An eerie sense of danger and foreboding brushed against her mind, causing her to lean forward again. “Something's wrong.”
“What?” Sheila glanced over at her companion. “What do you mean?”
“Don't ask me how I know, but something's wrong in there.” The instant the taxi stopped, Dana was out the door and racing to the main entrance. Sheila blinked in surprise, then fumbled through her purse to pay the driver his fare before hurrying off to join her friend.
“So what's going on?” Sheila asked.
Dana pointed to the front door, which was slightly ajar. Cautiously, she opened the door enough to slip through, then waited for Sheila to do the same. As they shut the door behind them, an odd, crisp odor drifted past them, carried by a chilly breeze. Guided by determination and an infallible inner sense, Dana marched ahead; Sheila absently reached over to the wall and flipped the main light switch on. To her dismay, the lights remained off, so she stumbled onward, hands outstretched to ward off any unseen barriers. ECTO-1 sat in its accustomed spot, but when she touched the hood as she walked past, she noted that the car had been out recently. “Dana?” she called out, her voice bouncing against the brickwork and ceiling.
“Over here.” Dana's voice was tight, almost breaking. Sheila walked over to Janine's work area and gasped as she abruptly realized that daylight was pouring down from above. Looking up, she saw that someone or something had added a new skylight to the firehouse, but hadn't yet added the glass and framework. “Wow,” she breathed.
On the roof, the demon guard watched the two women moving about, but as they hadn't yet touched any of the Ghostbusters' equipment, took no further action.
Now Sheila looked down and cried out as she saw the Ghostbusters lying there. Instinctively, she recoiled back a step or two before catching herself and forcing her legs to halt their retreat. Dana was crouched over Peter, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes locked on his body; her head shook slightly back and forth and a silent denial repeated itself over and over on her lips. Forcing back her own revulsion, Sheila went to Ray's side and bent down beside him, then pressed her fingers against the carotid artery in his neck.
Dana slowly looked up from her reverie. “What are you doing?”
“Checking for a pulse.”
Dana tilted her head slightly. “I didn't realize you knew anything about medicine.”
“My sister's a specialist in forensic medicine. You'd be amazed what you can learn when a bunch of med students get together at your house and start talking shop...” Sheila leapfrogged over to Winston and checked him as well. “Hmmm,” she sighed. “The evidence does suggest that they're dead.”
“Of course they're dead,” Dana snapped. “Take one look at them and you'd know that!”
Sheila shook her head. “With anyone else, I'd agree. But after everything Ray's told me over the years, anything goes with this bunch.” She picked up Winston's hand and examined it carefully. “Odd.” She went back to where Ray lay and performed the same check. “Very odd.”
“How can you be so calm and clinical about this?” Dana cried. “For God's sake, these are friends of yours, and you're just poking them here and there like it's no big deal!”
Sheila looked up, and Dana saw the anguish and pain behind her eyes. A vague sense of shame filled her, and she shut up. “I don't like this any more than you do,” Sheila said quietly. “But someone is going to do it sooner or later, so that they can determine the cause of death, and I've just noticed something that makes me want to know what happened. Okay?”
“Okay.” Dana looked down, saw that Peter's eyes were still open, and hurriedly looked away. “So what have you found?”
“It's what I haven't found. I can't figure out what killed them--there aren't any wounds, blood, marks, or burns--nothing. It's like they all just keeled over at the same time.” She shook her head. “They'll probably perform autopsies to determine the cause, but frankly, I doubt they'll find anything. Weird.”
“While we're on that subject,” Dana sighed, “shouldn't we call the police?”
“Good idea.” Sheila waited until Dana had gotten to her feet and headed for the phone before she went over to examine Peter. “This is really bizarre, for sure.”
“Hey, there's a meter on Janine's desk.” Dana picked it up and studied it for a moment before setting it down again. Lifting the phone receiver, she listened intently, then frowned. “The phone's dead.” Reaching behind the unit, she grabbed the cord and gave it a hard tug--to her shock, the other end of the cord came flying to her. “Sheila--the phone line's been cut!”
“I don't like this,” Sheila shook her head. “I don't like this at all.” She glanced up abruptly. “Where's Janine?”
Dana looked around blankly. “I...I don't know...”
“Wasn't her car outside?” Sheila rose to her feet and hurried out the front door, leaving Dana with four dead bodies in a firehouse without power or communications. But Sheila returned a few minutes later with several items in her hands: two bags of candy, one purse, and a heavily-laden key chain. “I thought I remembered seeing her car,” she said as she dumped the stuff on Janine's desk.
“So where is she?” Dana asked uneasily.
“And who did all this?” Sheila echoed, waving a hand around and up. She glanced worriedly first at the staircase leading upstairs, then at the basement stairwell. “Maybe we should take a look around.”
“Together or separately?” Dana asked.
“We'd cover more ground separately,” Sheila pointed out.
“I was afraid you'd say that.”
Sheila reached under the desk and retrieved a large baseball bat. “Janine told me about this once--it's a rough neighborhood, and with the guys gone so often...” She looked at Dana, who was heading for ECTO-1. “Where are you going?”
“You choose your weapons, I choose mine.” She opened the back door.
Watching from above, the demon guard drooled with anticipation.
A minute later, she winced as the full weight of a proton pack pressed against her back. “God, these things are as unbearable as Peter always claimed. “ She grabbed the particle thrower and brought it forward. “You check out the upper floors--I don't want to even consider going up two flights of stairs with one of these on. I'll check this level and the basement.”
Two demons slipped away from their partners and descended quietly into the third floor, melting into the shadows as they moved.
“All right.” Sheila cautiously crept up the staircase, bat tightly gripped and held just in front of her. Dana waited until she knew her partner had made it to the second floor, then quietly moved over to Peter's office and peered around. Finding nothing, she took a deep breath and headed for the stairwell leading to the basement.
She found a discarded proton pack at the foot of the stairs; noticing it was activated, she switched it off and suddenly realized that she'd never turned her own pack on. Smiling foolishly, she quickly did so, then continued her search...and suddenly, the sense of foreboding returned with a vengeance.
It was dark and quiet down here...too quiet. After a second of reflection, she realized that the silence was the problem--the containment wasn't making any noise. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw that the unit was in “open” position--a condition she quickly corrected--then went over to the main control panel and studied it.
Egon had once given her a long-winded explanation of how it worked while she waited for Peter to finish his shower, but it had been Ray who'd given her the “five-cent tour”. Dana looked around for the pair of red and green buttons that were set apart from the other dials and switches; the red button was higher than the green. She pressed it back down, which raised the green one up and activated the control panel. That confused Dana for a moment, until she remembered Ray telling her that the containment was operated from a separate power system than the firehouse. Smiling with satisfaction, she now looked for the digital readout that displayed how much PKE was currently in the containment...and gasped when the readout stayed at “0000”.
Not good.... not good at all.
Suddenly she heard a scream from upstairs. Instantly forgetting the burden on her back, Dana raced for the stairs and took them two at a time. She reached the main floor just as a second cry for help came from the third floor--she ran for the main stairwell and took those steps in a rush as well.
A herd of demonic creatures were circling Sheila, slowly edging her towards the hole in the floor. They turned and hissed at Dana as she reached the top of the stairs; their mouths oozed spittle and their eyes burned with hatred. She leveled the particle thrower at them and narrowed her eyes. “Get away from her, you bastards.”
The closest one lunged towards her; Dana remembered Peter's lessons and braced herself before firing. A stream of sparkling energy leaped out of the barrel and slammed into the demon, driving him backwards into two of his compatriots. Seeing that one of the remaining two was distracted by the sudden disturbance, Sheila swung her bat and connected squarely with the creature's head.
Dana was no fool; she knew the odds were against them in a prolonged battle, so instead of firing again she reached back and grabbed a trap. Holding it in front of her body, she smacked the activator pedal with her foot and bathed the demonic group in its unearthly glow. They screamed insanely as the aura tore at them, dragging them closer and closer to the trap. Two heartbeats later, the demons were gone and the trap was closed.
Dana opened her eyes and forced herself to start breathing again. Sheila emerged from behind Ray's bed and looked around warily. “You okay?” she called.
“Yes.” Dana carefully set the trap on the floor and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “My God...”
“You looked pretty good there.” Sheila tapped the trap with her foot. “You think they had something to do with what happened downstairs?”
“Safe bet. And possibly they're connected with Janine's disappearance.” Dana looked over at her friend. “What do we do now?”
“Well...” Sheila sat down the stairs; Dana joined her a moment later. “We ought to find a phone and call the police about the guys.”
“No,” Dana shook her head. “What if more of those...things...show up? Someone could be hurt. That can wait for the moment.”
“Well, let me grab something, then, and we can head downstairs.” Sheila rose to her feet and rummaged through a nearby closet, emerging a few minutes later with a stack of linen. “I don't believe it--a bachelor pad with clean sheets. Will wonders ever cease?” Dana followed her downstairs and watched as Sheila carefully covered each of the fallen Ghostbusters. “That's better,” she said after covering Egon. “They were giving me the creeps, staring at us like that.”
“Now, back to the original question,” said Dana. “What do we do now?”
“I don't know.” Sheila had found the PKE meter on Janine's desk; biting her lip, she switched it on and jumped backwards at the horrendous screech it made. “Don't know why I'm surprised,” she said, grinning foolishly at Dana. “Peter always did call this place 'Spook Central'.”
Dana looked around the room slowly, a plan formulating in her mind. Then she stared at the gap in the ceiling. “We've got to stop whoever did this to Peter and the others, that's what we have to do.”
Sheila looked over at her. “Say what?”
“Whoever did this has Janine--she's in big trouble. We've got to save her--no one else has the remotest chance of doing it. It's up to us.”
“So what are you saying we do? Climb into ECTO-1 and play 'Ghostbusters'?” Then she studied Dana's face. “My God, that's exactly what you're talking about doing, isn't it?”
“We're the only ones who have even a chance.”
“Dana, you're not thinking clearly, and God knows I understand why, but you're building a case on circumstantial evidence! You don't even know if Janine's still alive...”
Dana shook her head. “We've got to try, Sheila. We've got to stop whatever killed the guys. Because if it was able to this to them,” she waved at the four shrouded bodies, “then the rest of the world is in terrible danger. And we're the only ones who can do a thing about it.”
“You are nuts.” Sheila walked over to the lockers and peered into Ray's. She touched the heavy fabric of his uniform, caressing it with her fingers. “I've never even handled one of those packs,” she said softly.
“It's pretty easy. I can teach you while we're on our way. You'll catch on fast, believe me.”
“We don't even know where to go!”
Dana held up the meter. “This will tell us where.”
“We aren't even dressed for this!” Sheila threw up her arms in surrender.
“Well, we can do something about that...”
Sheila looked at herself in the mirror. “I look ridiculous. The fit isn't even close.” She picked at the baggy uniform. “And this was the smallest size I could find in Ray's locker.”
“Don't feel bad.” Dana looked down at Egon's spare coveralls. “This one's tight in all the wrong places. But they'll have to do.” She went over to ECTO and examined the back area. “Good, there are still some empty traps, and two packs in addition to this one.” She hefted the one she'd been using into the car. “We're in good shape, overall.”
“What about this?” Sheila asked, tapping the demon-laden trap they'd brought downstairs with them.
Dana shrugged. “They'll keep. You got the keys?”
Sheila nodded. “Ray...had them.”
Dana moved over to where her friend stood and put a comforting arm around her. “I understand, Sheila, really I do. But we're going to have to put this aside for awhile, until the situation's been taken care of. Okay?”
Sheila nodded. “It just hits at the strangest times, you know?” She offered the keys to Dana, who simply stared stupidly at them. “What's wrong?”
“I thought you were going to drive.”
“Me?” Sheila squeaked. “I never learned! I don't even have a license!”
“Oboy.” Dana stared at the dangling keys, then at ECTO-1, then back at Sheila. “Well, it's been a long time, but if we turn all the sirens and lights on and take it easy, I might be able to make a passible job out of it.” She handed Sheila the PKE meter. “This switch turns it on. You'll have to wave it around periodically and tell me which direction has the strongest reading.”
“How can I tell?” Sheila demanded as she headed for the front passenger side. “It's already making a racket!”
Dana opened the driver's side door and climbed in. “Trust me, you'll know.” When Sheila slammed her door shut, the two women looked at each other for a moment, then Dana slipped the key into the ignition and hit the garage door opener. “Let's roll.”
“Rode the six hundred,” Sheila sighed softly as ECTO-1 lurched into the street.
|Chapters One and Two||Chapters Three and Four||Chapters Five and Six||Chapter Seven|