|Chapters One and Two||Chapters Three and Four||Chapters Five and Six||Chapter Seven|
New York drivers had a universal rule of thumb: sirens meant nothing nine times out of ten. Police cars, fire trucks, ambulances...with the amount of traffic that snaked through the city daily, everybody knew damn well there was no way any of those special vehicles were going to get to the scene on time, so what was the point in getting out of the way? More importantly, how could anyone get out of the way when everyone was utterly boxed in? So nine times out of ten, divers simply sat where they were and let the sirens wail and the drivers scream to get the hell out of the way, there was an emergency that was a matter of life or death. Hey, life in New York was a daily emergency--life was tough, and all that.
The exception to the rule was, of course, when the unique wail of ECTO-1 came shrieking into hearing range. Then anyone with the slightest instinct for self-preservation got as far away from the street as possible. And tonight was no exception, especially for anyone traveling north on Park Avenue. The Ectomobile careened wildly from lane to lane, but miraculously, hit nothing--though there were a few close calls. Gawkers watched the car as it went by and wondered which Ghostbuster had been drinking, what it had been, and where they could get some.
“I think I'm getting the hang of it!” Dana yelled inside the car. Her eyes were wide with excitement as she gripped the steering wheel tightly, guiding ECTO-1 through the rapidly thinning traffic. “You know, this is kind of fun!”
“I'll take your word for it!” Sheila's gaze was focused on the beeping PKE meter, partly so that she could give Dana accurate directions, but more because she really didn't want to know what was going on around her. The wild arcs from left to right and the sounds of horns and squealing brakes already told her far more than she really wanted to know.
“We still heading north?” Dana asked.
“Sure looks like it, though I'm getting a pull to the west.” Dana nodded and turned left on 42nd Street. Sheila consulted the meter again a minute later and had Dana turn right at 5th Avenue. Six blocks later, ECTO-1, as well as the northbound traffic traveling with it, came to a dead halt. Dana honked the horn, but to no avail--from the look of it, no one was going any farther.
“We're almost on top of it,” Sheila said, checking the meter.
“Fat lot of good it does us,” Dana frumped, putting the car in “park” and leaning back in the seat. Then she leaned forward again, eyes narrowed. “Sheila? Do you see anyone in the cars ahead of us?”
“I don't know.” She squinted and looked as far as she could. “No, I don't. You know, we're right by Central Park. Maybe the festival traffic was so bad they decided to make Fifth Avenue a huge parking lot.”
“I doubt the police would go for that.”
“I doubt the police could do much about it.” Drivers around and behind them were getting out of their cars and striding ahead, no doubt to give the negligent drivers up ahead a piece of their mind. The two women watched them drift past ECTO-1 with absent interest. “So,” Sheila asked. “What do we do now?”
Dana shrugged. “I suppose there's nothing to be done except grab the packs and keep going on foot. Unless you've got a better idea?”
“No,” the other woman sighed. “I'm afraid not. God, I've been dreading this; I know what it does...” She caught herself. “What it did to Ray's back.” She fell silent for a moment, lost in somber remembrance. Dana reached out and put a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder; Sheila looked up and nodded. “We'd better get going, I guess,” she said quietly.
“All right.” They got out of ECTO-1 and went to the back of the car, jostling several people going in the opposite direction in the process. Oddly enough, no one seemed to care. “That's strange,” Dana commented as she opened the back hatch. “New Yorkers enduring physical contact with a stranger without any profanity. What's the world coming to?”
“Uh-huh,” Sheila said absently, her eyes fixed on some unseen vision in the distance.
“Tell you what. While we're walking, I'll give you a run-down on how these packs work...or at least, as much as Egon and Winston taught me. Never could get Peter to do it...he was always more interested in teaching me other things.” A sad smile appeared on her face, quickly banished. “All right, here's your...” She glanced up to find empty air where Sheila had been. “Sheila?”
Dana crawled out of the rear of ECTO-1 and spotted her friend walking towards the park. Rushing forward, she grabbed Sheila's arm and whirled her around; the woman's eyes were wide and vacant.
“Sheila?” Dana repeated, giving her friend a shake. When that didn't work, Dana lifted a hand and gave the woman a solid slip on the cheek.
Sheila blinked and looked around in confusion. “Dana? Where are the packs?”
“You spaced out on me.” Dana nodded towards the ever-increasing crowd of zombified New Yorkers. “Just like them.”
“Really? I don't remember...” She stared at the wave of people passing. “But I have this vague impression of being summoned, and it was very important that I get there...”
“Oboy.” Dana held onto Sheila's arm and dragged her back to the car, watching her friend for any recurring signs of entrancement. “Hold still and let me get this on you.” She lifted the heavy device and let Sheila slide her arms through the straps, then struggled into her own pack.
“Wow,” Sheila groaned. “This thing weighs a ton.” She grit her teeth and arched her back in an attempt to adjust the weight of the pack. As she did so, her head lifted up and she stared up into the sky. “Holy cow,” she breathed.
Dana looked over at her. “What?”
“Take a look upstairs.”
The night sky was filled with an incredible armada of ghosts--endless numbers and varieties of specters and spooks. When they strained their ears to listen, they could hear the soft moaning and wailing drifting down from the sky like a mournful summer rain. And interestingly enough, they were flying in the same direction as the crowd on the ground.
“Well, I'd say we're on the right track,” Sheila offered.
“I'm afraid so,” Dana agreed. “Switch your proton pack on and grab your thrower. It's time we got to the bottom of this.”
The instant they crossed the southern border of Central Park, it was as though they'd stepped into another world. People all around them were shedding their ties, suits, shoes and dresses, oblivious to the cold and their nudity as they stumbled on towards the source of their summoning. Dana and Sheila glanced worriedly at each other, partly for confirmation that they hadn't gone insane, and partly to make sure that neither had any notions of joining the impromptu strip tease. Gripping their throwers a bit more tightly, the two women continued their odyssey into the madness.
As they proceeded deeper into the park, they found that clothing was far from the only thing that the people around them had freed themselves from. In the yellow-crimson glow of the bonfires that burned here and there, men could be seen fighting each other, some with fists, others with far more dangerous toys. “Oh my God,” Dana murmured, staring incredulously as two half-naked warriors swung long, ugly swords at each other, to the cheers and lusty growls of the crowd around them. “With all these people here, there's bound to be someone who gets himself killed before too long.”
“Don't be so sure about that,” Sheila said, a frown on her lips. “Those aren't SCAdians.”
“SCAdians. Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. They're people whose hobby is living in the past. The city asked a bunch of them to help out with the festival. They're very knowledgeable about their work, especially the ones who specialize in weaponry--right down to fighting tactics. Watch those guys--there's no rhyme or reason to the attacks, just blind lunging. And those swords aren't light--sooner or later, they're going to fall over from exhaustion. The SCA people I've seen in action would have made a better show of it.”
“Look over there,” Dana pointed. Sheila turned and saw a group of people cavorting wildly around one of the bonfires; every so often, a man would grab one of the dancing women and drag her to the ground, where they would grunt and entwine in a lust-crazed frenzy. “Good lord,” Dana whispered. “It's like every bit of civilized behavior has been ripped away from them.”
“Beltane,” Sheila muttered. She looked up, saw Dana's quizzical expression, and smiled. “It's an ancient fertility ritual,” she said. “Usually held on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. That sort of thing is par for the course, but this isn't right...”
“What are you talking about?” Dana demanded.
There was a fallen log nearby; Sheila sat down on it and motioned for Dana to join her. “Tonight is All Hallows Eve, the night when the dead run wild across the world. It's the precursor to Halloween--the entire idea of trick-or-treats and dressing up as witches, ghosts and so on comes from those ancient traditions. “ She nodded towards the orgy. “But these Beltane rituals shouldn't be performed tonight. If anything, being outside is the last thing these people should be doing.”
“When the ghosts run wild, the best thing to do is hide in your house till dawn. Nasty things could happen to you, otherwise.” Sheila frowned and bit her lip. “It's like someone or something is mixing everything together. It doesn't make a bit of sense.”
“Well, the sooner we move on, the sooner we may find out why this is happening.” Dana rose to her feet; just then a burly black man emerged from the shadows, a kitchen knife gripped tightly in his hand. A feral growl slipped through his gritted teeth as he took a step towards her.
Sheila gasped and took a step backwards; Dana let a particle blast fly. It shot just past the startled man, who took the hint and fled back into the shadows. Dana watched him leave, then turned back towards Sheila. “Let's go.”
As they walked deeper into the park, Dana and Sheila ran into more packs of people huddled around the bonfires. Guttural chants drifted through the evening air as men and women spun wildly in the firelight, though at times it was hard to tell their gender--cross-dressing was catching on in this brave new world. All around them they could hear shrieks of passion, anger and terror; they didn't attempt to find out what was causing them.
Festival booths that had been festooned in gay, bright colors were now draped in dirty, grimy shards of cloth that fluttered limply in the air. The smells of cooking wafted about, though the odor reminded Dana of seared, greasy meats. She managed to get a glance at the main course in one booth and quickly looked away as the “proprietor” hung a cat hide over the front of the display.
“It's like time's running backwards,” Sheila said, looking at everything with a mixture of horror and fascination. Dana supposed that she was studying the scene with a professor's critical eye, which gave her a bit more tolerance about the whole thing.
And then there were the ghosts. The great spirit migration continued above the park, with the number of entities growing every minute. And from the look of it, some of the entities had decided to take a break in the journey. The PKE meter went off the deep end several times: a succubus writhed hungrily in the grip of three enslaved paramours; a wailing spirit swooped down from time to time and chased any revelers that were foolish enough to be traveling alone; water sprites shot huge waves from the fountains and ponds at anyone standing close by. The two women avoided the hazards they could dodge and used the throwers to drive off the ones they couldn't.
From the corner of their eyes, Dana and Sheila could see men and women creeping in the shadows, watching them with curiosity...or something more. Pack mentality, Dana realized; like a group of jackals, they were waiting for a sign of weakness from the women, a moment when they could safely strike without fear of being seared by the particle thrower blasts. A quick glance over at Sheila showed that she too was aware of their entourage. “So nice to be wanted,” she grinned at Dana.
“I'll pass.” She glanced up at the sky, where the moon reigned in all its glory over the madness. “How much farther do you think we're going to have to go before we find out what's going on?”
“You ever read the guys' case files?” Sheila asked absently, studying an alchemist's booth and the contents of a vial sitting over a small flame.
“I was a case file, remember?” Dana said with a smile. “One of the first, in fact.”
“That's right, I'd forgotten--sorry. Anyway, I've read most of 'em. Never know where your next lecture's coming from. Anyway, based on everything we've seen so far, I think I know who's behind this.”
“Okay. So do tell.”
Sheila sighed. “Have you ever heard of Samhain?”
“Vaguely. Peter may have mentioned him once or twice. Isn't that the name of a pagan holiday or something?”
Sheila nodded. “He's the personification of the festival. Don't ask me how that's so--Ray and Egon tried for months to come up with an explanation and failed. Anyway, Ray mentioned the other night that they were expecting another fight with him--I think tonight was the big showdown.”
Dana made a face. “Our side didn't do too well, did it?”
“I'm afraid not. This isn't going to be easy, Dana. He's already gotten the guys out of the way, so he's in pretty good shape. And I wouldn't be surprised if word of our arrival has reached him.”
“Thanks loads. I feel so much better now.” As they continued walking, Dana suddenly realized that a matching set of footsteps could be heard just behind them. She tightened her grip on her thrower and tensed in preparation for whirling around and blasting their pursuit, but Sheila abruptly grabbed her wrist and shook her head. “Keep looking straight ahead,” she ordered. “Don't look back under any circumstances.”
“Why not?” Dana asked.
“This is an ancient ghost game...a game that could end up with nasty consequences if you turn around.”
They kept moving forward. After a few minutes, the footsteps stopped as quickly as they'd started.
The first organized attack took place near the Naumberg Bandshell, coming from the air, not the ground. Dana and Sheila had barely enough time to dodge the ghostly battalion descending upon them, but they quickly recovered and lay down a barrage of blasts that sent their foes scattering. Sheila's first attempt at using the thrower almost resulted in knocking her off her feet, but she adapted immediately and soon demonstrated an adequate proficiency with the weapon.
In the middle of the battle, something occurred to Dana. “Sheila, remember not to cross the streams!” she yelled.
“So what the heck does that mean?” Sheila asked.
“Beats me!” Through a combination of luck and a great deal of firing, they managed to beat the spirits back and send them fleeing into the sky. “We must be getting closer,” Dana sighed, kneeling on the ground and catching her breath. “And you were right--Samhain definitely knows we're here.”
“Yeah,” Sheila agreed, squinting up into the night. “And I'll tell you something else. That wasn't really an attack. He's toying with us.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Simple. We're not that good with these things; we don't have the experience the guys do...did,” she corrected herself with a grimace. “And Samhain knows it. So that was more or less a little something to wear us down, keep us off balance, and give him a status report all at the same time. He knows where we are. I'll be surprised if we don't have more of these hit-and-run encounters.”
“Well, there's nothing we can do about it except keep moving,” Dana said, rising to her feet.
“Forward the Ghostbuster Ladies' Auxiliary,” said Sheila, gripping her particle thrower like a rifle.
The second attack hit a short time later. A poltergeist stirred up a whirlwind of debris and deposited it in the middle of the two women. Dana and Sheila tumbled to the ground under the steady barrage of rocks, broken glass and twigs. They covered their exposed skin as best they could and waited for the attack to pass before moving on.
They got about a hundred yards farther before the poltergeist struck again, this time using water from a nearby fountain. It hit with a surprising force, knocking Dana and Sheila off their feet and onto their backs. For a moment or two they struggled to roll onto their stomachs, gasping as the water continued to drench them. Finally Dana managed to get on her hands and knees and, aiming at a promising shape standing by the fountain, cut loose with a barrage of her own.
There was a scream of surprise and outrage, and the water abruptly stopped in mid-air before falling to the ground. Dana helped Sheila to her feet, and the women waited a moment or two to see if any other surprises were coming their way. When it appeared that this round was over, they nodded at one another and continued moving forward.
It was the third attack that got them.
As they trudged deeper into the park, following the increasingly shrill wailing of the PKE meter, the weight of the packs started to slow them down. Their rest periods grew more frequent and longer in duration. Dana exercised regularly and was better able to handle the march than Sheila, who was out of shape. But the tension gnawed at them constantly, adding to their growing exhaustion.
The ambush came initially out of the sky. Dana and Sheila had to settle for firing particle beams as they only had one trap apiece and those had to be saved for the encounter with Samhain. And while their attention was focused on driving the spirits back, a pack of men and women rushed from the shadows and knocked the neo-Ghostbusters to the ground. After a brief struggle their proton packs and PKE meter were taken away, then Sheila and Dana were hoisted to their feet and marched off in the very direction they'd been going.
From the moment they'd arrived at Central Park, an odd sensation had been tingling at the back of Dana's head. The closer they'd gotten to the center of the park, the tingle had grown to an irritating buzz. She wondered idly if this was a byproduct of her previous supernatural adventures, and fervently wished that Egon or Ray were around to make sense of everything. And she wished for Winston and his calm, quiet courage.
And most of all, she wished for Peter...just because.
Sheila was preoccupied with studying the goings-on around her. Nothing made any sense to her; the whole tableau looked like a mish-mash of various Celtic rituals. And considering whom they were about to face, she would have assumed a bit more correctness about the whole situation. She wondered if she'd get a chance to find out why things were all jumbled up before he killed her.
Then she imagined Ray standing beside her, his eyes alight with bright anticipation and curiosity despite the danger, and for some strange reason, she felt comforted.
Their destination looked like something out of a low-grade horror film. A large crowd of grimy, dazed and half-naked people parted like a river to let the prisoners and their escorts through. Flashes of gold Rolex watches and necklaces glittered from the light of the torches that were raised high into the night. And above them was an eerie panorama of ghosts and other paranormal entities, flying and weaving through the starlit sky. Their unearthly keening raised the hairs on both Sheila's and Dana's necks.
The two women were stopped long enough to be bound by the wrists with rope, then shoved roughly ahead to the front of the crowd. A ziggurat-shaped platform had been erected in front of Belevdere Lake, and atop it sat a glittering crystal throne. Lying languidly on the staircase was a woman clothed only in a white robe, smiling vacantly at everything and nothing at all. She regarded the two women with unseeing eyes, and the familiar mop of unruly red hair caused both of them to gasp. “Janine?” Dana cried; the woman did not answer, merely sighed and stretched her limbs with a sensual, feline grace.
“Sheila, what's going on?” Dana asked tightly.
“We're in big trouble,” Sheila replied, staring at something atop the platform. Dana did likewise, paling at what she saw.
He sat there looking down at them, a twisted, sadistic grimace carved into his features. Regal in his tattered purple robes, eyes ablaze from some inner mystical fire, the pumpkin-headed avatar of Halloween gazed upon his captives with undisguised glee. With deliberate care he rose from his throne and glided down to the ground, then drifted over to confront them face-to-face.
His breath smelled of sulphur and brimstone. He spent a great deal of time examining the two women; Dana forced herself to meet his gaze, refusing to give in to the revulsion that overwhelmed her senses. A low chuckle oozed from his mouth, and the grimace grew in its malevolent intensity.
“Sooooooo,” he asked, “what have we here? Ghostbusters.... or just pale imitators out for tricks-or-treats tonight?” A gnarled hand touched Dana's cheek, then danced along the edge of her hair; she grit her teeth and refused to react. He moved over to Sheila and tucked a finger under her chin, forcing her head up so that she had to look him in the eyes.
“My name is Samhain,” he informed them unnecessarily.
And the evil smile grew even wider.
“I've been expecting you...”
A shadow was stretching across New York City. From its black center in Central Park it stretched out in every direction, coating the city and the souls within it. Harlem...Chelsea...Wall Street...on and on it slithered, ever growing with no end in sight. And anyone it touched...changed. The civilized veneer of twentieth-century mores was stripped away like old coats of varnish; what remained was the savage, the creature polite people hid away and pretended wasn't there. But now the darkness set it free, and in most case made surrender such a seductive, erotic pleasure that people didn't fight it.
Buildings that weren't broken into were set ablaze, sending the residents scrambling outside for safety...but there was no safety, for the shadow was waiting for them. And as each soul succumbed to its delicious embrace, the shadow grew in size and strength, able to claim more souls for its master.
Rocks, bricks and fists shattered storefront windows; greedy hands quickly claimed the booty within. Bonfires were set in the streets, beacons for people to home in on. Women and men danced lewdly about the flames until claimed by others and dragged off into some dark alley. Greetings were exchanged not by handshakes but by fists. A single law replaced the complexities of societal living: survival of the fittest.
The police and militia were impotent against the raging insanity. For the instant the shadow touched them, they too succumbed to its sweet siren call, reverting to their basic drives and instincts. And this only added to the problem, as these people had firearms and an instinctive knowledge of how to use them. Gunfire soon joined the wild symphony of noises that rose in the night.
And such was the chaotic state of affairs that some of the supernatural entities, which were soaring high above, felt obliged to come down and indulge themselves. Leannan sidhes stalked writers and musicians, inspiring them to their greatest works while taking blood in payment. Kelpies wandered the harbors disguised as horses; anyone foolish enough to mount them for a free ride found himself or herself getting an early bath instead. The Unseelie Court swooped down from the heavens and snatched up the occasional mortal, giving them a quick lift to Central Park for their own dark ceremonies. And these were mere handfuls of the incidents that were happening throughout the city.
Not everyone was completely affected; families turned off all the lights in their houses and apartments, huddled together in silent terror and hoping that the madness might pass over them. They listened to the screams, heard the sounds of shattering glass and shrieking alarms, and prayed to God with all their might for deliverance. And the children, ironically enough, continued to sleep peacefully in their beds, perhaps protected by their own innocence.
Those that were able to fled--by foot, by whatever means possible. Some even made it out of New York--not that it would make any difference in the end.
Madness reigned in New York City--and nothing and no one could stop it.
Down in the southern reaches of Manhattan, a battered old firehouse on Mott and Pell sat bathed in silence. Amid the furniture and equipment inside, four bodies lay still and shrouded upon the cold concrete floor. Above them, starlight trickled down like silver rain through the hole in the ceiling, giving the setting an almost magical aura.
Someone groaned softly.
Peter Venkman rose up slowly from the floor and rubbed his eyes. “Ohh, geez,” he moaned. “I feel terrible. Anybody get the name of the truck that flattened me when I wasn't looking?”
“I think the plates said 'SAMHAIN',” Winston grunted as he too sat up. “Lord, I think even my toenails felt that. I feel like the living dead.” He opened his eyes and, looking down, saw the outline of his body beneath the makeshift shroud. “Uh-oh,” he said. “I think I know why I feel that way...”
“Huh?” Peter opened his eyes and looked around. Ray was on all fours, slowly hoisting himself into a seated position, and Egon was squinting around for his glasses. Then Peter looked down and saw two pairs of legs, one flesh and blood, the other...something else. “Oboy.”
“Wow,” Ray said breathlessly (in more ways than one). “This is incredible! We're full-fledged spiritual entities! Like an out-of-body experience!”
“I think it's a bit more than that, Ray,” Peter said. “For one thing, we're all stiff as starched collars. For another, none of us are breathing.”
Ray shrugged. “One way to find out,” he said. “If this is an out-of-body experience, I should be able to get back into my body.” He tried to do so, but found that his hands could reach the skin on his chest and go no farther, as though some sort of force field blocked the way. “Well, chalk one point up for the death theory,” he said, standing up.
“Fascinating.” To Peter's amazement, Egon had found his glasses and had put them on...yet there was a second pair lying not too far from where his body lay. The scientist was studying his new, slightly transparent body, sliding his hand through solid objects. “As much as I hate to agree with Peter, I have to concede that he has a point. We do meet the two basic requirements for the creation of a supernatural entity.”
“Violent death being the first, and we sure did get that,” Winston nodded, rising (floating?) to his feet. “But what's the other?”
“Most ghosts remain because they have an unfinished purpose,” Egon answered, searching the sofa again. “There is some sort of obligation that needs to be resolved before they can move on to the next stage of existence.” As he talked, the scientist continued his search. “Hmmm. It should be around here somewhere. I had it in my hand when Samhain killed us, and I'm fairly certain it was activated...”
“Well, it's not too hard to figure out what we're doing here,” Peter said as he also got up. “Revenge is a pretty basic motive.”
“One of the more powerful ones too,” Ray agreed. He looked up at the ceiling, saw the hole, and gasped. “Wow!”
“Couldn't he have just used the front door like everyone else?” Peter groaned, staring up into the night sky. “It cost a fortune to fix this place after Gozer! Egon, just what are you looking for, anyway?”
“My PKE meter,” Egon replied. “I was calibrating it when we were ambushed. If it's here and still on, it can give us some idea of the spectral classification we fit into.”
“Well, I don't see the meter, but here's Janine's purse,” said Ray from over by the receptionist's desk. “But...where's Janine?”
“Hey, that's not all that's missing,” Winston suddenly realized. “ECTO's gone too! And that's a loaded trap over here...” He drifted over to where the small device sat beeping quietly to itself.
“And there're some clothes in our storage lockers,” Peter called. “They look like Dana's and Sheila's.” He turned around, eyes wide. “Just what the heck's been going on around here?”
Egon was deep in contemplation, frowning as he attempted to piece the bits of information together into a plausible scenario. Without warning, he thrust his head through the firehouse wall. Upon returning a moment later, he announced, “Janine's car is parked outside.”
“Man, don't do that without warning us,” Winston shuddered. “That's gross.”
“Well, if Janine's purse and car are here, maybe she took ECTO out,” Ray offered.
“Or perhaps she's still here...” Egon's voice trailed off as he pondered the possibilities. Then his “logical” persona took over again. “Everybody search a floor,” he ordered briskly. “I'll be in the basement. Call out the minute you find anything.” He abruptly sank through the floor, leaving the other Ghostbusters to look around at each other.
“This is going to take some getting used to,” Winston breathed.
“No kidding,” Peter nodded.
“Well, you heard Egon!” Ray declared. “I'll take this floor.”
“I'll take the third floor,” Winston said. “Peter, you get the second.” He took a deep breath, concentrated, and to his surprise floated away from the floor. “Hey, this isn't too bad once you get the hang of it!”
“Showoff,” Peter grumbled, but after a moment he too was drifting up towards the hole in the building. It took Ray a moment or so longer to get airborne, but before long he was searching the garage and offices from the air as well. He was about to give an “all clear” report when a frantic call from Egon sent him flying towards the basement. As he glided downstairs, he saw an abandoned proton pack and wondered what had happened, but decided to see what Egon wanted before investigating further.
Egon was standing in front of the containment. “There's been a breach,” he reported.
“How bad?” Ray asked. He headed over to the control panel and saw the PKE digital readout. “That bad,” he whistled. “And yet the place is still intact.”
“I've got a very bad feeling about this,” Egon said tightly, shaking his head. “If only I could touch something, I could determine what happened here and draw up a plan of action...” He stared at his pale, transparent hands in frustration; Ray started to put a comforting hand on his partner's shoulder, then thought better of it.
“So, how did this get here?” Peter demanded as he floated into view and pointed at the proton pack. “No sign of Janine or anyone else, but Winston's found something interesting on the roof. He wants us to join him.”
“All right,” Egon nodded. They headed up to the top of the firehouse, where their comrade was waiting. Winston was facing north-northeast, his brow wrinkled with concentration. The minute the others turned in that direction, they all felt what he was sensing: a gentle summons, beckoning for them to follow.
“That isn't all,” Winston said. He pointed straight up into the sky, and when the Ghostbusters followed the gesture, they gasped as they saw the ghostly armada sailing through the night. Hundreds of spooks, specters and other entities were soaring high above them, all heading in the direction of the pulling sensation. “So, to repeat the question,” Winston concluded, “just what the heck is going on here?”
Everyone turned towards Egon. “I don't know,” he shook his head. “I'm not even certain I know what happened downstairs. We can safely assume that Samhain is responsible for the containment breach, and it's a reasonable assumption that he's behind this compulsion that's tugging at us. If Janine or the others took my meter with them, they would be able to track Samhain down in ECTO-1. There would be three proton packs in the car, and a few empty traps as well...”
“But neither Sheila or Dana has the slightest idea how to use our equipment!” Ray protested. “And Janine's okay, but still...”
“We've gotta get there...and fast,” Peter said.
“Agreed,” Winston nodded, then paused as something occurred to him. “Hey, what about the trap downstairs?”
“Good thinking, Zee,” Peter said breezily. “Why don't you go downstairs and put whatever got caught into the containment?”
Winston turned to go, then paused as realization hit him. “Oops,” he grinned. “Sorry.”
“Don't sweat the trap,” Peter said, waving him off. “It'll keep.”
“So what are we waiting for?” Ray demanded. Winston and Peter nodded and prepared to lift off, but a harsh, bitter laugh from Egon made them pause. Puzzled, they floated over to where he stood, glowering at them with an expression of frustration and something they couldn't quite identify.
“And just what do you think you're going to do when you get there?” he snapped. “We're ghosts. Insubstantial creatures. We can't touch anything--our equipment is useless. And it's safe to say we're much farther down the classification chart than Samhain--do you really think we pose much of a threat to him? Don't you think he knows that? We're helpless--utterly helpless.” Egon sighed and turned away from his partners, heading for the far corner of the roof.
For a long time the other three Ghostbusters said nothing. Then Peter nodded at Ray and Winston to move away, and he drifted over to where Egon stood. “You know, this isn't really right,” he commented casually. “I'm the cynic of the group--you're not very good at it.”
“It isn't cynicism,” Egon said. “It's reality.”
“Or self-pity.” Egon looked up sharply at Peter, who grinned and continued. “Look, while the odds aren't good, we're not completely helpless. We've got our minds, we've got experience--if we find them, we can let Janine and the others be our hands while we coach them. And you're right--Samhain knows that he's more powerful than we are, but at the same time that'll make him overconfident. And that gives us an edge, an opportunity to smack him hard when he least expects it.”
“This will never work,” Egon said, shaking his head.
“Hey, what's the worst he can do? Kill us?”
Egon stared at Peter for a moment or two, then a slow smile peeked out of his somber expression. It was quickly replaced by his usual “sober scientist” expression as he joined Winston and Ray. “Gentlemen, I believe it's time we had a chat with Samhain.” He floated off the edge of the firehouse and soared towards the source of the eerie compulsion.
Ray and Winston grinned at Peter, then the three Ghostbusters followed Egon's example.
They drifted across the sky, guided not by wind but by the irresistible pull that drew them like some paranormal magnet. While they knew that they could probably pass through buildings unharmed, instincts from their past life compelled them to go around any impediments--except for Ray. He grinned mischievously and plowed straight through an apartment building; a few minutes and several feminine screams later, he emerged from the other side with a splash of ectoplasm. “Boy, this is neat!” he exclaimed.
Peter shook his head. “Only you could find getting killed and coming back as a ghost 'neat', Ray,” he said.
“Well...I admit that getting this way wasn't exactly a pleasure trip, but come on, Pete! Haven't you ever wondered what this side of the fence is like? Haven't you ever wished that you could do some of the stuff the ghosts we've busted have done?”
“Not really. My main concern back then was getting out of those messes with my life intact and my uniform slime-free.”
“Gosh, I just wish I could post all this on TobiNet--this could really do wonders for paranormal research!” Ray frowned briefly, then smiled brightly. “I know! I'll have Sheila transcribe it all for me!”
“Don't you think you should give her some time to get used to the idea that her boyfriend is a ghost?” Peter asked wryly.
“Nah--she's used to weird stuff by now.” Peter shook his head and pressed on, trying not to think about Dana and failing utterly.
Meanwhile, Egon and Winston had taken the lead. Uneasy about his partner's silence, Winston decided to try and draw his friend out. “Man, I wish I could go back to my old Sunday School teacher now,” he said with a smile. “Things weren't quite as black and white as he always taught, you know?”
Well, that was a dismal failure, Winston thought to himself. Try again. “Hey, Egon--when we wrap this up, what happens? Do we go straight to Heaven and get our wings and halos?” This was in fact something that had been nagging at him for the past few minutes--what if this was it, that there wasn't a Heaven or Hell? Was being a disembodied spirit better than the total dissolution of his soul? Was this faded body his soul? It might explain why so many ghosts refused to move on, forcing the Ghostbusters to trap them and put them in the containment...a Hell by any other name.
“Aren't you forgetting the alternative?” Egon said harshly, snapping Winston back to reality.
“Oh, come on, man--none of us have been that bad--not even Peter.”
“Really?” said Egon. “What if you didn't believe in an afterlife while you were alive--that you truly felt that once death came, there was nothing beyond? That ghosts were nothing more than paranormal manifestations of previously living beings--psychic echoes, nothing more? And if there was a God, and a Heaven, and a Hell--what would He do to someone who didn't believe in Him?”
Winston looked at his friend and suddenly understood Egon's moodiness. “Well,” he said carefully, “I'd say that he'd be in a great deal of trouble--but it's never too late to change one's mind.”
“Then again, perhaps it is, once you die,” Egon said, and fell silent again.
It was Peter who first noticed the strangeness going on below. “Take a look streetside,” he called to the others, pointing down towards Fifth Avenue. The Ghostbusters obeyed, and had they been alive, they might have turned white as the ghosts they now were at what they saw.
Men and women were running wild, shattering shop windows with rocks, bricks or even their fists. They banded together to overturn cars in the street, some with the drivers still inside. Blazes were springing up around buildings and street corners, with men and women gyrating wildly around them to some insistent inner beat. A group of men forced a sleek sportscar to stop, then dragged a woman out of the driver's side. As the Ghostbusters watched, they ripped her dress off and began to circle her in a slow, rhythmic pattern. And as the seconds passed her facial expression changed from terror and panic to lustful anticipation as she studied her would-be paramours.
“What in God's name is happening?” Winston cried.
“God has nothing to do with it,” Egon said tightly. “It's Samhain.”
Two men started fighting on a nearby street, throwing punches at one another without any restraint. A crowd of people gathered and cheered them on, lifting fists and encouragement into the night. One of the combatants fell to his hands and knees, then collapsed as his opponent viciously pummeled his head with relentless abandon. The vanquished fighter was dragged away and a new challenger took his place almost immediately.
“I just noticed something,” Peter remarked. He pointed to a large band of people who were heading north. “They're going in the same direction as we are. Think it's connected?”
“Central Park's about a half mile away,” Winston said. “Looks like that might be where the action is---what do you think, Egon?”
“There's a high probability that it's where Samhain has set up his base of operations,” Egon nodded. “The area around Belvedere Castle would be ideal for him.”
“So what do we do?” Ray asked.
Peter nodded to the north. “We go on.”
They found ECTO-1 not too much later. “Well, someone made it here,” Winston remarked as he peered inside. “Only one pack left inside, though. Add that to the one back at the firehouse, and that means only two people took packs into the park.”
“No way would anyone in their right mind go into Central Park unarmed,” Peter noted. “Come to think of it, though, no one seems to be in their right mind tonight.”
“This might mean that only two of the three women came here via ECTO-1,” Egon said slowly, then squinted up into the sky. “There's nothing more to be learned here. Samhain is nearby, and the sooner we confront him, the faster we'll get the answers to our questions.”
“Say, mad scientist,” Peter remarked casually as they took to the air again. “You haven't by any chance come up with a stunning plan to beat Samhain, have you? We'd like to hear it--ahead of time, preferably.”
Egon said nothing for a long time. Then: “No, Peter. I'm afraid I haven't a clue.”
“Hey, that's okay,” Ray said with a grin. “We'll come up with something. We always do!”
“We always did,” Winston corrected.
Ray turned to look at him, determination shining in his eyes. “Dead or alive, we're still the Ghostbusters,” he declared. “And we'll find a way to beat Samhain if it's the last thing we do!”
No one commented on the possibility that beating Samhain might well be the last thing they'd ever do.
Samhain extended a hand towards Dana's face again; she struggled to keep from flinching as fingers dry as parchment caressed her skin. “Interesting,” he hissed. “You were relatively unaffected by my little spell. Another presence has dwelt within you in times past, giving you a shield. Interesting.” Then he turned to Sheila and smiled. “But you--you are vulnerable.” And as he spoke, Sheila felt a dark, timeless heat burn inside her. An irresistible urge to break free and go wild gripped her soul--she wanted desperately to shed her clothes and morals and find a bonfire somewhere, to dance wildly around it until a good, strong, handsome man claimed her, took her into the shadows and...
Without warning, the fire died, leaving her trembling and dazed. A deep flush filled her cheeks as she struggled to keep her balance. Sheila gasped for breath and shuddered, still feeling traces of that terrible, wonderful grip on her soul.
Samhain smiled at her. “Earlier, I released you so that your friend would not lack for company,” he leered. “And I wished to see if you posed any threat. You don't.” His fingers flexed expectantly. “Perhaps I should claim you again. Would you like that? And then I could have you rip her throat out, and thus end your interference once and for...hmmmm?”
He turned away from the two women abruptly, his attention captured by something that was floating down from the sky towards them. Samhain's inner fire suddenly flared, giving his head an even more ghastly illumination. “Of course,” he whispered with delight. “How unexpected, but ironic. How deliciously ironic.”
Dana followed his gaze into the night, squinting with puzzlement as four ghosts made a slow descent. It was not until they landed that she and Sheila recognized the newcomers...and gasped in amazement.
They looked much as they had in life, still wearing their uniforms, still bearing gazes of defiance and determination. But their outlines were not as distinct as before, and at times they seemed almost transparent.
Samhain turned towards them, looking overjoyed. “Spengler,” he intoned. “Stantz. Venkman. Zeddemore.”
They stared intently at their foe.
“Welcome,” Samhain smiled. “Ghostbusters.”
And the night was filled with his insane laughter.
|Chapters One and Two||Chapters Three and Four||Chapters Five and Six||Chapter Seven|