Chapter 1: Natural Selection at Work
Okay, it’s not totally unreasonable for them to be hyper-focused on something in the basement lab, especially now that both you and your older sister are in college. (Though not exactly the same tier of college. Your grades weren’t awful, but they put you in the middle of the pack at the local community college. Jazz didn’t even think about staying in-state.) Still, it’s the end of the spring quarter, and you did say you were coming by....
You shut the front door behind you and drop your bag on the floor, out of the way for now. The house is quiet, except for the quiet beeps and dings that come from the various incomprehensible ghost gadgets lying around all over the place. The lights are off, too. Hmm. Maybe they’re out. You hadn’t called to say you were coming over, since you have a key and it was only a bike ride across town.
You flip on the lights and head down to the basement. It took you until you were about ten to realize that biohazard signs weren’t a common household decoration. You spent some of your high school career resenting it, but as you’ve grown older you’ve found that you kind of like some of your family’s weirdness. Makes for a good conversation starter, if nothing else.
The basement is as dark as the rest of the house, though the motion-sensitive lights flicker on as you enter. Nobody’s down here, either. You smile when you see the “Fenton Ghost Portal” set into the far wall. As far as anyone, including you, can tell, it’s basically a large metal airlock built out of the side of the basement. Your parents have been tinkering with it for as long as you can remember, and presumably still are, for all that it hasn’t done a single thing besides start nasty rumors about them. They’re still convinced it’s going to lead into some mythical ghost dimension, if only they can get the calculations right.
Something glints, and catches your eye. Probably some tool your dad left lying in the tube. You might as well pick it up for him; you’ve been down here often enough to know where everything goes. You put on a hazmat suit first, though. Not making that mistake again. Your elbow still feels kind of funny when it rains.
Once you step inside, you can see it’s not a wrench or a screwdriver. It’s not even a tool. It’s not even solid. It’s a smear of... goop, sort of like snot, and as your shadow falls across it you could swear it’s glowing faintly. You crouch down to look at it, curious. Your parents - or, at least, your mom - keep their lab meticulously clean, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of the house. Is it some kind of mold, maybe?
You shift your weight forward to poke at it, realizing as you do so that you probably should have put the hood of the hazmat suit on. Right when you make contact, you hear a faint ‘click’ under your heel.
And then everything is pain.
You’d burned yourself badly, once, at summer camp. You’d fallen and there had been nothing to catch yourself on but the hot stove. You were lucky to escape without permanent tissue damage, and the next several months had been utter hell, where even the slightest breeze across your blistered skin felt like it was being scraped raw.
This is nothing like that. The pain is transcendent, incandescent. There is no thought that is not consumed by it totally. The agony strips your nerves from your flesh, but even that is no relief; your muscles immolate, your tendons sear. Even your bones have become brands. It feels as though your soul is on fire.
And then, just before you’re about to faint from the pain, it stops. For a moment the absence of pain is just as brutal as its presence, and you feel what it must be like to go mad before your body registers the cool metal under your cheek and you claw your way back to the real world. You lie there, panting, desperately afraid to move in case you somehow set it off again.
Slowly, slowly, your panic fades. You realize more of your surroundings than the floor. You’re outside the portal, somehow; you don’t remember stumbling out of it, but you must have, because you’re in the middle of the lab. You twitch, once, and when that doesn’t provoke immediate blinding pain, you gain a little confidence and try again.
Eventually you’re able to sit up and look around yourself. It looks like a tornado’s swept through the lab. To be fair, it looks like that most of the time, but it definitely didn’t when you came down here. Did you have some kind of... what, seizure? You’re pretty sure when people have seizures they mostly lie on the ground twitching, not wreck entire rooms. Some kind of psychotic breakdown? Honestly, with the stuff your parents have in here, it’s not that unlikely. It always seemed kind of fishy to you, that you got through high school relatively sane.
You stand and steady yourself on the nearest counter. Your legs are wobbly, but for some reason it doesn’t seem that hard to hold yourself up. Kinda like how you always thought zero-g would be. Looking down, you catch a glimpse of your murky reflection in the stainless-steel countertop, then frown. Something about that looks weird. You squint, and realize what’s wrong with your eyes. Your green eyes.
Your eyes are blue.
Panic surges back, its hand around your throat. You ignore your shaky coordination and frantically rummage through the cupboards for the mirror you know is around here somewhere. It’s small, but it’s still a mirror.
Not in these ones. You turn, catch your foot on the counter, lose your balance...
...and don’t fall.
You hang there in the air, almost too bewildered to panic further. Almost. You look down at yourself and finally notice that the hazmat suit is now black, and fits like it was tailored to you instead of... well, like a hazmat suit. The gloves and boots are a faint silvery-white, as are the rubber collar and belt meant to help it stay in place over regular clothes.
Clothes.... You pull the material away from your neck with a finger, and confirm your suspicions: you are now not wearing anything under the suit. Surprisingly, it’s not that uncomfortable, but where the heck are your clothes?
Maybe it’s not the most important mystery right now, but focusing on something mundane helps you calm down a little. Okay. Okay. First thing’s first: you have to find a mirror. You don’t want to walk out of the basement with spaghetti for hair, or something.
You put your feet back on the ground and cross the room. With a little more rummaging, you unearth something that looks more like a makeup mirror than a piece of lab equipment and hold it up in front of you, not giving yourself time to get worked up and anxious again.
Well, it’s not spaghetti.
Your hair is the same soft silver-white as the gloves on the hazmat suit. Your eyes are bright green, and that’s not just a figure of speech - they’re literally glowing, the kind of glow that comes from radioactive things in cartoons. You can see the light it casts on the bridge of your nose and under your eyebrows. You reach up with a shaking hand to touch your hair, confirming that yes, that is you in the mirror.
At a sudden, horrible thought, you check over the inside of your mouth and nose, as far as you can see with just a mirror. Thankfully, the changes seem to have stopped there; you haven’t got an extra tongue or fangs or whatever. You think your gums might be a slightly different color, but that could just be the greenish cast to the lighting in the room.
You pause. The lights are fluorescent. None of them are malfunctioning, and you seem to be seeing in color just fine, so why would... there be... green...?
Slowly, horrified, you look to the Fenton Portal, almost against your will. Dappled green light pours from it, cast by ethereal swirling shapes that billow beneath the surface of some unearthly sea. It’s a strange kind of beautiful, or maybe a better word is mesmerizing.
Idiotically, your first thought is, Dad’s gonna be so happy it works! Then the rest of the thought catches up to you and you realize it works. This insane project that even you had given up on, this crazy conspiracy-theorist contraption that made your family social pariahs at the best of times - it works. Despite everything, you can’t help but admit you’re excited by it.
The part where it had electrocuted you was less exciting, admittedly. You automatically flinch away from the memory. The wound is still fresh.
You realize your mouth is hanging open and shut it, then approach the active... ghost portal? You’re not sure if that’s what it is. That’s what your parents have been trying to build, but you doubt their activation procedure involved somebody inside the thing, so who knows what really happened. There’s a faint frisson of static as you get closer, or something very like it; you can feel your skin tingle and there’s a tart, coppery taste in your mouth. When you put your hand up right next to the surface, the urge to simply plunge into it gets stronger. You’re breathing hard. Whatever this is... it’s affecting you, strongly.
You back up and the feeling fades. You have enough to figure out at the moment, and that seems like something you can afford to put off. Your legs feel odd. You look down. You’re standing in the middle of a table. Not on the table. In it.
Oh, okay, your brain says, and you almost look away before realizing what that actually means. You throw yourself backward with a shriek (if anyone asks, it was a yell. A very manly yell), and land on your ass on the floor again. Tentatively, you crawl over and poke the table. It’s as solid as the floor is.
Okay, you’ll say it: what the fuck. What in the actual, absolute fuck. You have information and no idea how to put the pieces together into a whole. Your hair and eyes are different colors. Your clothes have vanished, except for the hazmat suit, which magically resized itself and is, oh yes, also a different color. You just got electrocuted and now you’re flying and going through things like you’re some kind of....
Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit ohshit.
You screw your eyes shut and clutch your head in your hands. You’re not dead. You can’t be dead. You’re nineteen. You’re alive and you’re only in your first year of college and you just got a job at the shitty fast food place and you’re alive, you have to be alive, please, God or ghost god or whatever Sam’s into this week, please, you’re alive you need to be alive.
A wave of something passes over you, cool like a lonely breeze in the middle of summer. You don’t realize you’re crying until it startles a sob out of you and makes you open your eyes.
You’re looking at your jeans. You stare for a second, then pull the fringe of your hair down to look at it. Black. Your hands aren’t gloved, in white or otherwise. You feel heavier, grounded in your body.
Relief swamps you. You lean your head against the table leg and shut your eyes again. “Thank you,” you whisper. “Thank you.” You’re not sure who you’re talking to. Maybe no one. But you’re--you’re normal again. You’re alive. You’re human. You can feel your heart pounding in your chest and you never knew how precious that was until you thought you wouldn’t get it back.
You stay on the floor, collecting yourself. Eventually you wipe your face on your t-shirt and stand, nearly ramming your head into the table as you do. That would’ve been sad, having already walked through it like it wasn’t there.
The portal’s still open, but there are blast doors on the outside and you know those work. You watch them shut, cutting off the eerie green glow and leaving the lab looking relatively normal again. It’s still a mess, and you’ll have to clean that up, but - later. Later, when you can stand without leaning on something.
You leave the basement, which feels surreally mundane after what just happened, and grab your bag from the entryway. On automatic, you find your phone and open the group chat that you, Sam, and Tucker set up.
You: you guys there?
Tuckinator5000: yeah man
hows the free laundry
TheRealManson: say hi to your folks for me!
You pause, suddenly unsure. What are you going to say to them? Did all of that even really happen? In the daylight it seems like a dream, or maybe a nightmare. Part of you wants to spill everything. Sam and Tucker are your best friends. You’ve never hidden anything from them, not when you cheated on your history final, not when you figured out you were bi, nothing.
But... you have no proof, really. Just that your parents finally got their ghost portal working. Maybe by the time you get back down there that’ll be gone too. Just a sleep-deprived college student who let his imagination get the best of him.
And another, quieter part of you wants to never tell anyone. If you never say it out loud, you can pretend it didn’t happen. You won’t ever have to think about that pain again. You’ll never have to think about what it felt like to be dead and still walking around. You feel sick even getting near those thoughts.
Your fingers hesitate over the keys.
You: i think i just died
You hit send, then realize what you've just typed. You meant to say almost died... didn’t you?
TheRealManson: lol and you call me dramatic
Tuckinator5000: yikes how bad was the math final
no i, you type, and stop. You need them here. You need them to see your face and know that you're serious. You back up and retype, can you guys come over? i need
You cut that off too. You don't want them to panic.
You: when are you guys free? hang out at my place?
Tuckinator5000: im done with school bullshit
sweet freedom is mine
TheRealManson: right after i turn in this paper, sure. tuck, you want a ride?
im by roswell
there in ten
You dump yourself in a heap on the living room sofa and drop your phone in your lap, then rest your head on the back and stare up at the ceiling. Is this really happening? You feel a little distant from it all, like it's happening to someone else and you're just hearing about it.
Something vibrates under you. You jump about three feet in the air before realizing it's your phone. You must have sat on it.
Or... wait, no you didn't. You remember putting it in your lap. You hadn't even really let go of it. Did it fall between your legs? And then migrate under your butt somehow, instead of falling off the couch?
The latest text is from Sam, asking you to let them in. You open the front door and hug both Sam and Tucker immediately, suddenly overwhelmingly glad that they, at least, are normal.
“Whoa, man,” Tucker says, patting you on the back awkwardly. Yours has never been a very physical friendship. “Is everything okay?”
No bubbles up in your throat, but you know if you say anything just now you'll start crying again. Instead you cling to your friends like a lifeline. You can feel them exchange looks over your shoulders.
“Danny...” Sam starts, more cautiously. “What happened? What's wrong?”
You take a deep breath, regain your composure, and pull away from them. You open your mouth to explain as you push the front door shut.
Your hand goes through the door.
You stare, frozen. Is this what going into shock feels like? You think you might be hyperventilating, but if you are, you don't know how to stop.
Sam shuts the door and steps into your field of vision. “Danny. Breathe. Breathe with me, okay? In... out... in...”
You get your breathing down to the ragged side of normal, and finally register that Sam is holding your shoulders and Tucker is looking on from behind her, worried.
“I don’t want to be dead,” you say in the smallest voice you've ever managed. “I don’t want to--” Tears blur your vision and threaten to spill.
Sam flicks you on the forehead. You blink at her, shocked out of your panic.
“Congrats,” she says. “You’re not fucking dead. And if you are, we have bigger problems. Like the zombie apocalypse.”
“Which, by the way, I am thoroughly prepared for,” Tucker interjects, and it's so... so Tucker that you actually giggle a little, drunkenly.
You let your friends lead you back into the living room and sit you down, then, stumblingly, haltingly, you tell them what happened to you. Your hair and eyes. The portal. The floating. How you’d thought you... died. The panic rises again, but this time you have your friends as a raft, and don't drown in it. You don't do more than hint at how much it hurt. They can't help with that anyway.
There's silence when you finish. You look at your hands in your lap, not wanting to see their expressions if they don't believe you.
Sam clears her throat. “Okay, don't take this the wrong way...” Oh hell. Here it comes. “...but that is the most metal thing I have ever heard.”
Well, it's Sam. You probably could have predicted that response if you'd thought about it a little more.
“So... can you turn back?” Tucker says.
You jerk your head up to look at him, shocked. “What?”
Tucker shrugs, looking way more at ease with the whole thing than he has any right to be. “I mean, you said it felt like swimming, or floating. You gotta admit, there are worse things than being able to fly.”
He... kind of has a point, now that you think about it. Or he doesn't not have a point, at least. Ever since you learned the word astronaut, you've wanted to be weightless, up in the sheer black between the stars. Until now, you've only been able to imagine that feeling.
You close your eyes, aware of Sam and Tucker’s gazes on you, and turn your mind inwards. You remember how it felt, underneath the terror. It wasn’t that you didn't have a body. You just weren't bound by it like you are now. You were in total control of yourself in three dimensions, not just two. It's the closest you think you've ever come to feeling actual magic.
You call up that peaceful feeling, imagine it settling into your limbs like a warm bath. There's a brief chill and two gasps, and when you open your eyes, you know they're green.
“Holy shit,” Tucker says, and takes a picture of you with his phone.
“Hey!” You lunge for it like you're going to grab it, but instead of playing keep-away, Tucker turns it around to show you.
“Dude, have you seen yourself?”
You barely hear him. You drift closer and take the phone from him, entranced. You hadn't really seen yourself, not like this. You look... holy is the first word that comes to mind, and it takes you another few seconds to realize it's because you're surrounded by a sourceless white glow, like the halos of saints in those religious paintings with naked people being tortured. The collar of your hazmat suit (jumpsuit?) comes up high on your neck, and it contrasts with your pale, bloodless skin. You would look unsettlingly like a dead person if you were lying down, but you'd started to get up right when Tucker took the picture, and as it is you look like a marble statue in motion.
He'd managed to catch you right when you looked at the camera, and you stare into your own eyes, wondering if they look like that to other people. That intense green. Like the scales of a snake.
Wordlessly, you hand Tucker his phone back. He takes it, looking at you critically. “You okay?”
Instead of answering, you close your eyes again and concentrate on what it felt like to have a body. The chill comes faster this time. It's getting easier, you think. You feel your weight settle onto your heels and you know without looking that you're human again.
You try it again, with your eyes open this time. It turns out that the chill is a pale blue ring of light that starts at your waist and splits in two, leaving you transformed in its wake.
“So, uh...” Sam says. Her eyes flick down, briefly, then back up. “They're making those hazmat suits a little tighter these days, huh.”
You feel your cheeks heat up, which is oddly comforting. Dead people don't blush. “I didn't do that,” you protest, in what is possibly the least useful defense of all time. Abruptly, you realize you're standing between Tucker and Sam, facing away from him, and something tells you you're getting the same appreciative, analytical look from both sides. Oh god. If you... react at all, it's going to show, and you can feel yourself starting to react.
You switch back to human as quickly as possible. Your jeans are a little uncomfortable now, but that's better than showing off how horny you are to anyone who wants to look.
“Uh, uh, um.” You try to come up with a good distraction before you die again, this time of mortification. “I should show you the lab!” Actually, that's not a bad idea on its own. You still have to pick it up before your parents get home.
You resist the temptation to turn back into a ghost as you all thump down the stairs. There's no way that wouldn't end in disaster. You pick up various things to clear a path to the other side of the room, where the blast door controls are.
Even facing your friends, you can see the greenish glow on the walls and the reflection of the portal in Tucker’s glasses. You fumble around for the automatic light switch and turn those off, leaving the green vortex as the only source of light in the room. It's just as captivating as the first time you saw it. If anything, its effect on you has increased, and it mixes weirdly with your lingering arousal. It's not convenient, but you'd be lying if you said it was unpleasant.
Then Tucker picks up a pencil off the floor and chucks it into the portal.
“What? Where's your scientific curiosity?”
“Other side of that,” you say without quite meaning to, gesturing at the portal. You almost freeze, but then Sam snorts and it's not awkward anymore, if it ever was.
“Come on, Ghost Boy, we'll help clean up,” she says.
You turn the light back on and groan. “I'm never going to live down that nickname now, am I?”
“Nope!” Tucker informs you gleefully. “Now where does this go?”
It takes a little over an hour to get the lab looking neat-ish again, and once the three of you trudge back up the stairs you're about ready to never go down there again. You did find out that you could turn invisible, though unfortunately you found out when Sam ran smack into you. Luckily neither of you took the fall hard. You look through the fridge and pour three glasses of lemonade. You figure all of you deserve it, especially Sam and Tucker, who dealt with your breakdown and then cleaned up a mess that wasn't even theirs.
On the counter next to the fridge, you find a note from your mom. It says, briefly, that they've gone to a “supernatural convention” out of town and should be back Monday at the latest. It's Friday today.
You hand Sam the note. She skims it and snorts. “I... don't think they're gonna find what they're looking for.”
“Why not?” Tucker says, echoing your thoughts.
Sam taps on her phone for a second, shows Tucker, then slides it across the table to you. It's on the Wikipedia page for a TV show.
You put one hand to your face. “At least my parents are immune to embarrassment.”
“What other stuff can you do?” Tucker prompts you, clearly much more interested in weird ghost powers than weird ghost hunters.
“How am I supposed to know?” you ask him.
“Can you shoot laser beams out of your eyes?” Sam asks.
“Let me try.” You glare at her in mock annoyance. “Nope.”
“Well, not while you're human, duh.”
“Why do you want me to be a ghost so badly?” you ask, and immediately know both the answer and why it's a stupid question. Because it’s cool, that’s why.
“It’s all a plot to get you to show off your ass,” Tucker deadpans. Sam bursts into giggles. “If you'd just walk around naked none of this would have happened.”
You flip him off as you transform, but you're kind of struggling not to laugh, too. The weightlessness is exhilarating. You do a loop just for the hell of it, and end up horizontal, as though you're lying on your stomach across a flat surface. Gravity still seems to affect you, you can just... choose to ignore it.
There's a crash from the basement.
All three of you freeze, then look at each other, then at the stairs to the basement.
“Maybe something fell off the shelf,” you say feebly. You know it's not true, but you really want it to be.
“Things can go into the portal,” Tucker says, hushed. “Do you think things can come out of it?”
“If it wants out, we're in the way,” Sam whispers.
You gulp and look back down the stairs. What are you going to do?
[ ] Get out of the house. You’ve seen scary movies before. Fuck all that.
[X] Go down to the basement. Get it over with. And hey... maybe it was just something you didn’t stack right.
[ ] Stay put. It might go back the way it came, and if it doesn’t, better to catch it in the bottleneck at the top of the stairs.
Chapter 2: Ghost Calimari
There’s zero chance that anyone else is better equipped than you to deal with whatever this is. Not with your parents out of town. You put a finger to your lips and drift closer to the stairs. Sam grabs some kind of baton off the counter; Tucker grabs something that looks like a gun, if it was assembled upside down and backwards. In the dark. They both follow you as quietly as they can. You wince when Sam’s combat boots clunk against the steps, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.
You peek out from behind the doorway. Something’s clattering around, and there’s a quiet wet noise. A ghost?
You stick your head out a little further out and see the source of the noise. Oh. Two ghosts. Two floating, glowing octopus ghosts, almost as big as you are. Okay. That’s fine. This is fine. You move to retreat back into the stairwell, but misjudge your distance to the doorframe and hit your elbow against it. It’s not a loud noise, but it doesn’t have to be. Both ghost octopuses - ectopuses? Ectopi? - look straight at you. One growls.
“What’s going on?” Sam hisses. The ectopus on the left hears her and shifts its attention, and that spurs you into the room.
You hold your hands out in front of you, hoping some useful ghost powers will manifest right about now. “Uh, stop! Get out of here!”
This accomplishes exactly nothing, except that you can sense your friends facepalming into the astral plane. That’s not a new ghost power. You just know them. At least the ghosts are gunning for you, now, instead of the much more breakable humans.
...That was kind of a weird thing to think. For all you know, you’re even more fragile than they are now, but something tells you that’s not the case. The ectopus on the right picks up lab equipment from the table in front of it in all eight of its arms and starts lobbing it at you, and weird intuition or not, you don’t really want to test the theory by getting clocked in the head.
You dive behind a different table, then realize why that was dumb. You can turn intangible. You could have just stood there and let it go through you. The crashing has already stopped, though, so either it quit throwing stuff, or it’s reloading.
Intangible, be intangible, you think, and poke your head up. The ectopus is, in fact, reloading, and once it sees you it pelts you with everything it’s holding. You might be untouchable right now, but you can’t stop yourself from ducking out of reflex.
Wait. Where’s the other ectopus?
Your eyes widen when you catch it floating closer to the stairs. “Sam! Tucker!”
You’re hidden from view by the table, but you see Tucker raise the gun-thing, clearly terrified but not letting that stop him. He pulls the trigger-
An ear-splitting shriek fills the air. You immediately clutch your head to stop what feels like your brain melting and coming out of your ears. You think somebody’s yelling; it must be you, because you can’t hear anything else over the noise.
It cuts out mercifully quickly, and the room resettles according to actual gravity and with the normal number of colors and lights. “Sorry, sorry!” Tucker yelps. “I didn’t know it would-”
You nod at him and take a second to make sure you’re not going to fall over right after you stand up. If there was an upside to that, it’s that the ectopuses don’t seem to be faring any better than you did, and are recovering slower.
“We have to get them back into the portal,” you say, probably unnecessarily, but better to make sure everyone’s on the same page. From the look Sam is giving you, she’s already read the whole book.
“Nets,” she says, and you point to one of the freestanding cabinets. She hands her baton off to Tucker and sprints for it.
You react almost before you can process the tentacle twitching toward her. You step forward, fling your hand out, but you’re across the room, you’re too far away, you won’t be able to reach but this thing will not touch your friends.
Green light bursts from your palm and strikes the tentacle, out of luck more than anything, because you really weren’t expecting that and startled badly when it happened. There’s a long wiggly scorch mark across the floor and up part of the wall. Everyone in the room stares for a second, including both ghosts.
Cool, new ghost powers! ...Now how’d you do that? You examine your palm like it’s going to have instructions written on it.
While you’re distracted, Sam flings open the cabinet and looks in dismay at the collection of modified butterfly nets. Thinking fast, she edges behind the cabinet and uses both legs to topple it over onto the ectopus trying to grab her. The cabinet shakes, and then an angry tentacle ghost bursts out of the back of it, prepared to grab Sam.
A glowing green net comes from the side, neatly traps the ectopus inside it, and cinches itself shut. It writhes violently, but whatever it did to get out of the cabinet, it’s not working with the net. You have just enough time to realize that Tucker had done that, with the baton, and it was a good thing he had it the right way around, before the second ectopus grabs you from behind, four tentacles pinning your arms to your sides. Gross. It’s slimy.
It starts to squeeze. You try not to panic. It’s strong. You got to hold a snake at the science center once and it wrapped around your wrist until your hand turned purple; this is the same force, on your chest, and you have absolutely no trouble believing it could crush your ribcage if it had enough time. Already you’re struggling to breathe.
Wait. You don’t need to breathe. You don’t have to worry about that. You let yourself go limp suddenly, and in confusion, the ectopus loosens its hold for a brief moment. A moment is all you need. You thrash against it, and it actually lets go, either out of surprise or because you pushed hard enough in just the right spot.
You don’t give either of you a chance to collect your wits; you turn and dive, slamming the ectopus into the floor, dazing it, and that gives you the couple seconds you need to hold it and its tentacles down. And then you stop, because your next instinct is to bite down.
You can imagine it so clearly it’s like it’s already happened and you’re just waiting to experience it. How the flesh would shear cleanly between your teeth, rubbery like whale fat or gummy candy. Its... not its blood, but something you aren’t sure you have a name for, would burst in your mouth, sour and hot. You would feel it stop moving, slowly. The tentacles might try to curl around your throat in a futile attempt to fight back. It might jerk sporadically against your tongue in some ethereal imitation of muscle spasms, growing fainter as you bite down. You would devour it, savor it, consume it.
Your head snaps up. Sam’s expression quickly goes from concerned to shocked, and she steps back, which in turn makes you pause. You realize you’re still kneeling on the floor, with the ectopus pinned under both hands and one knee. The ends of its tentacles are wriggling around, but the rest of it is still, probably sensing danger. You... what the fuck was that?
Sam and Tucker exchange a glance over your head. “You okay, man?” Tucker says, a little tentatively.
“I....” You swallow reflexively. You feel a little sick, and it gets worse when you look back down at the ectopus and realize that some part of you still wants to shove the thing in your mouth and fucking eat it alive. Or... un-alive. You don’t think that helps, really. “I....” What in the actual absolute fuck.
There’s another silence. “The other one didn’t come back out of the portal,” Sam prompts you, not really bothering to hide that she’s doing it. Right. Put it back where it came from. Like a normal, civilized person, who trapped an animal in their house, or something.
“Yeah,” you say, but it still takes a non-zero amount of willpower to straighten up out of your predatory hunch. You keep hold of the ectopus, though it doesn’t struggle much. It knows when it’s beat.
It knows it’s going to die, says something very dark in the back of your mind. You desperately pretend it didn’t.
“Yeah, um.” You turn, movements sharp and jerky, and shove the ectopus through the open portal, then change back to human as quickly as you can. You might be shaking a little. You’re not sure. The transformation took care of the slime on your jumpsuit, but not the puddle on the floor where the ectopus was lying. Your first thought, on glimpsing it, is that you want to lick it off the floor.
What is wrong with you.
Your friends are still looking at you warily.
“I wanted to eat it,” you confess. Sam looks horrified. Tucker, on the other hand, just blinks and shrugs as if this is no big deal.
“Ghost calimari?” he says.
“Tucker!” Sam snaps, before you can say anything.
“What? It’s octopus, fried up, it’s delicious. It wasn’t even a real octopus, don’t pull your eco-vegan thing.”
“It was alive!”
Sam makes a frustrated noise and waves that objection away. “It was moving!”
Surreally, you reflect that they’re basically parroting the argument you just had with yourself. You’re kind of on Sam’s side, on this one. You’re not sure how much you should tell them. If nothing else, it’s gruesome.
You see Sam turn towards you with a look that says she wants you to say that again so she can record it for posterity, but then both she and Tucker see your expression and falter a little bit.
You make yourself keep going. “I wanted to-” feel its life crush out between your teeth “-kill it.”
You feel a little like you might throw up, and apparently it shows, because they exchange another look and immediately drop it. Tucker comes forward to take you by the shoulders and steer you up the stairs. “O-kay, what say we forget all the ghost stuff for a while? Sam can buy us pizza and I can kick your ass at Mario Kart again.”
“The hell you will,” you say without really thinking about it, because Tucker can’t win a racing game to save his life. He’s not bad at them; he just usually gets distracted halfway down the track trying to make the engine do progressively more nutty things. Then you blink, because that sounded weirdly normal after everything that just happened and oh that was the point.
You let the familiarity settle around you and bring your shoulders down from around your ears. Behind you, Sam is dialling the pizza place on her cell phone, or trying to, and then kvetching that the lab acts as a Faraday cage, which is also familiar because she says some variation of the same thing whenever she has to go downstairs in your house, usually with “ugh, Tucker, why didn’t you remind me?” tacked onto the end.
You have the best friends.
Your first thought, when you wake up the next morning, is why am I on the couch? Your second thought is that you’re going to be late for class, and the third thought, on its heels, is that it’s spring break and you don’t have to worry about that.
It takes another two and half seconds to come up with your fourth thought, which is HOLY SHIT DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN, and then you try to get up, tangle your feet in the blanket over you, and crash into a heap on the floor. You groan. At least you didn’t have far to fall.
There’s quiet laughter from somewhere above you. Great. Sam and Tucker are up. That’s okay; you’ve done worse than fall on your face in front of them.
“Did that really happen?” you ask the floor under the couch. Then you sneeze. Maybe you should have actually vacuumed under there when Mom told you to. You pick yourself up to find both of them sitting at the kitchen table, blatantly cheating at poker. Sam takes advantage of the distraction to switch out one of her cards for a different one on the draw pile.
“I saw that,” Tucker says, without turning his head. “And I’m pretty sure it did, if by ‘that’ you mean you ate three-quarters of a pizza and passed out at like six last night.”
You shake your head. “Wait - six? What time is it now?”
Sam checks her phone. (Tucker palms a card and sits on it.) “Nine thirty. So probably the earliest you’ve gotten up in about a year, congratulations.”
You balk, but at the number, not the sarcasm. “Nine thirty? I slept for....” You try to subtract in your head, then give up and count on your fingers.
“Over half a day,” Tucker supplies, saving you from injuring yourself trying to do math before noon. “We figured we should let you sleep. You were pretty out of it.”
Wow. No wonder you’re so hungry. You wander into the kitchen and fish out an open box of cereal from the pantry. It’s not until you open the fridge and see a flask of something mysterious and purple next to the milk that you realize what you’re missing. You pivot on your heels.
“Did I turn into a ghost yesterday?”
“Probably,” Tucker says, annoyingly matter-of-fact.
You do remember it, and the memory’s not fading the way it would if it was a dream, but....
“Can I turn into a ghost now?”
“I don’t know,” Sam says, with the kind of look that means you’re being dumb again but it’s okay, she still likes you. “Can you?”
You want to gently bang your head against the fridge door, but instead you reach down to the well of cold inside you. You barely have to think about it to transform. “Huh. That was a lot-” easier, you were going to say, before hunger sucker-punched you. You clutch your arm around your middle. Suddenly you are ravenous. There’s an empty pit yawning in your guts and it demands to be filled, now.
“I think,” you manage, “that took a lot more out of me than I thought it did.” Then you stuff your mouth with dry cereal, because if you don’t eat something immediately you’re going to die. Again.
To their credit as jaded millennials, neither of your friends leapt to the phone to dial 911 when you doubled over. They are still both hovering awkwardly next to you, but honestly, what else can they do? You’d rather have them here than not.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asks. Her fingers press into your wrist to check for a pulse, which is hilarious because you don’t have one. After a moment, she seems to realize this too, and lets go.
“‘Mm hmm-mm,” you say. Your mouth is still full of cereal. You swallow it and try not to jam more in your mouth right away. You can’t talk and eat at the same time. “I’m hungry. Like, super hungry.”
“Oh,” Tucker says, and promptly looks far less concerned. You’d appreciate his chill more if you weren’t kind of concerned yourself.
Sam takes over, pushes you into the chair that she just got out of, and rummages around in the fridge before presenting you with three cheese sticks. “Eat. Real food, protein. That stuff is like four times your daily allotment of sugar, you’re going to crash off it.”
You kind of wish she hadn’t moved you away from the fridge - the cold felt unexpectedly soothing - but your mouth is too full of cereal to protest.
“I guess that answers whether or not you can eat as a ghost,” Tucker says. “I was wondering, with what you said yesterday.”
Sam smacks Tucker on the shoulder, but it’s not like you would’ve forgotten otherwise. However much you wish you could. It’s still not enough to make you put the box of cereal down.
Eventually you stop inhaling food. You’re still hungry, but you also feel like you ate too much and putting anything else in your mouth would be a bad idea. You switch human to see if that helps, and much to your surprise, it does. Well, it helps with the hungry sensation, anyway. You probably did actually eat too much.
You say this out loud, then add, “That kinda does in the ‘ghost powers take a lot of energy’ theory, though.”
Tucker frowns. “Does it? Try doing something ghost-y now.”
You’re not totally sure you can do that on purpose, but you try to make your arm intangible and wave it through the kitchen table, and it works fine. Score one for the home team. You do it a couple more times, then shake your head. “I don’t feel any different.”
Sam’s looking something up on her phone. “Did you feel dizzy or light-headed? Or - no, I guess your heart wouldn’t be racing....” She scrolls down. “Feeling hot or cold suddenly, or a cold sweat?”
None of that sounds recognizable, “but when I turn into a ghost it feels cold. Not like, shivering, but like, I am cold....” You wave your hands vaguely, not sure how to describe the feeling.
“Huh. We should check your temperature,” Sam muses.
“Ten bucks says he’s room temperature because he’s dead,” Tucker says.
“You’re on,” you say. You’re not sure why, but something about that statement feels wrong to you, and hey, easy ten bucks.
“Are we doing ghost science today?” Sam looks amused. “Is that what we’re doing?”
You pause, not sure how to answer that. You do want explanations for... anything and everything, really, but on the other hand you have definite expectations of what “ghost science” looks like and you’re not super enthused for it to be applied to you.
Oh, damn. “My parents....”
Tucker shrugs. “We have until Monday to figure that out.”
“I don’t think we do,” Sam says. “They’re weird, but they’re not - well, okay, your mom isn’t stupid. They’re not gonna stay at the con all weekend if they can’t even get in, and there’s no way they got tickets the week before. Even if they miss or ignore....” She grimaces. “...a lot of things, they’ll think the fans are religious nutjobs.” At your looks, she waves a hand. “I was into it before it got big.”
“Of course you were.” Tucker grins.
“Fuck you,” Sam says, with no animosity whatsoever. Tucker just laughs.
“So we’d better get our story straight now, is what you’re saying,” you conclude.
Sam purses her lips. “Yeah, or....” She worries at her lower lip for a minute before continuing. “This is gonna sound crazy, but are you sure you don’t want to tell them the truth?”
You give her a flat look. “Have you met my parents?”
She bites her lip again, then nods, conceding the point. “Yeah. But Danny, they could help. You’re their kid, they’re not going to forget that because....”
“Because I’m fucked up now?” you ask dryly. You know even as you say it that it’s harsh. “I’ve been hearing since I was three how ghosts are just impressions of people, they can’t really be hurt, how Mom would really like to get one on a lab table and-” cut into it until it couldn’t move and finally stopped screaming. You shut your mouth with a click, cutting yourself off. Your mom would never say anything as graphic as that, and you strongly suspect the thought came at least in part from this new, hungry, vicious part of you. The ghost part.
The part that maybe wants to do that, too. Great. Now you have to worry about turning into a serial killer on top of everything else.
Sam sighs. “I know. I know. I’m not saying you should, I just... know what you’re getting into, if you decide to lie to them long-term. It’s not healthy.”
You glance at Tucker. He looks like he’s thinking the same thing you are: she’s speaking from experience. It’s probably not the time to bring that up, though.
“...I will,” you say reluctantly. “Think about it, I mean.” A sudden thought strikes you and your mouth twitches into a smile. “I can’t believe I thought telling them I was bi was bad.”
Tucker snorts, and that breaks the tension well enough. “Man, have you met your parents? They’d, like, maybe care if you said you wanted to fuck ghosts.”
You make a face. “I really did not need that mental image, thanks Tuck.”
Before the two of you can descend into playful bickering, Sam cuts in. “Okay, so, are we gonna actually look for info, or what? Probably your folks have paper notes around here somewhere, if you don’t want us to play doctor on you.”
That is also not something you needed to picture, and it must show on your face, because Sam smirks mercilessly.
“Or,” says Tucker, holding up a finger like he’s about to make the philosophical argument of the century, “we could blow all that off and go to the movies or something.”
You raise an eyebrow. “What are you, the devil on my shoulder?”
Tucker preens. “Well, everyone knows the devil is the good-looking one, so.” He pauses. “Besides, I dunno about you guys, but I’ve had enough weird ghost shit to last me until at least, like... tomorrow.”
[X] Find your parents’ ghost research. Maybe it’ll make you feel better about the poking and prodding you’re going to have to do eventually.
[ ] Let’s face it: your sample size is one. Might as well just stop dawdling and go for the DIY physical.
[ ] Tucker’s right: if you think about ghosts any more ectoplasm is going to come out of your ears. No better time to relax than on a Saturday.
Chapter 3: If You Think I'm Not Making These Titles Up Right Before I Post Them You Are Sorely Mistaken
Pretending that none of this ever happened is incredibly tempting, but you know if you do it will 100% come back to bite you in the ass later. You should probably at least try to act like an adult, here.
That doesn’t mean you’re all that eager to experience that biting hunger again, though.
“Let’s find the notes,” you decide. “Maybe we can figure out what those ghosts last night were doing.”
“Okay,” Tucker says. “Where are those?”
You pause. “Good question.”
“Lab?” Sam suggests, and you freeze. Oh, shit, the lab.
“Relax, we cleaned it up for you,” Tucker says.
“You can thank us later,” Sam adds. “Or now. Now works too.”
You laugh, but you’re sincere when you say, “Thanks.” Have you mentioned you have the best friends? You definitely have the best friends. “Might as well start there. That or the attic.”
“I hope not,” Tucker says. “No offense, man, but you have an ‘attic’ the way Sam has a ‘house.’”
He’s not wrong. The bulky metal disaster has sat on top of your house since shortly after you moved here. The outside is bristling with ghost-detection equipment, and the inside is an arrangement of broken gadgets, old school papers, random files, semi-important documents, and prototypes that never went anywhere, all organized by First Available Flat Surface. Your mom might be able to magically summon whatever she needs from the mess, but as far as you’re concerned, whatever goes in there just doesn’t come back out.
So you all troop back down the stairs, split the lab into thirds, and start looking for anything even vaguely informative. When you meet back in the middle, you end up with a stack of assorted papers ranging from blueprints to something that reads like a serial killer’s shopping list.
“Who needs that much plastic sheeting?” Tucker mumbles, looking it over. “Your parents, I guess.”
“Okay,” you say, and then realize you have absolutely no idea where to start. You pick something up at random. It’s a bunch of notes brainstorming... a giant dreamcatcher on a stick?
Sam looks over your shoulder. “That seems appropriative.”
Tucker’s looking, too, but he’s across from you and therefore seeing the page upside down. “What’s it do? Or what’s it supposed to do, I guess.”
You glance over the paper. Wow, your dad’s handwriting is terrible. “It... traps ghost energy?” you try. Given what little you know of dreamcatchers and the fact that ghosts are for-sure real, you’re not sure it would be a great idea to have this hanging around the house. “Or it....” You squint. “Divides it? I can’t tell what that word is supposed to be.”
“I can’t tell if that’s even a word,” Tucker says.
Sam takes the paper from you and sets it aside. “New rule,” she says. “We’re only looking at stuff Mrs. Fenton wrote. Otherwise we’ll be here all day.”
Luckily, your mom is the more patient one, so most of the notes are in her (stylized, but still legible) handwriting. The next thing you pick up is a chart labelled “Can ghosts interact with physical objects?” Underneath that line are two columns, one “For” and one “Against.”
“‘For: levitation, Petrowski 1991, that thing with noises in vents that I can’t remember what it’s called right now, Venkman Effect,’” Sam reads. “‘Against: no concurrence of manifest plus movement, strong winds reported in multiple cases, video evidence.’ That’s underlined twice. And then down at the bottom it says ‘Possible conclusion: no manipulation, embodiment only. Takes too much energy’ with a question mark.”
“We already know the answer to that,” Tucker says. “The tentaghosts picked up whatever they wanted.”
“Tentaghosts?” you ask. “I was calling them ectopuses.”
Sam rolls her eyes. “And here I thought we weren’t going to make up a dorky name. Besides, we know the answer, but Danny’s parents don’t, and it’s their notes. What do you think that means, ‘embodiment’?”
“Possessing something?” you suggest.
“Can you do that?”
You have no idea. “I’ll try it later.”
“Here,” Tucker says, messing with his phone. “I’ll make a list. Then we can do it all at once.”
“You mean I can do it all at once,” you point out.
“Yeah, and we can laugh at you when it doesn’t work,” Sam says cheerfully, and picks up another paper before you can respond. From what you can see, it looks like draft notes for a thesis or a scientific paper.
“‘Discussions on an Autotrophic vs Heterotrophic Model of Ghost Ecology and Consumer-Resource Systems: a Series of Observations.’ Wow, that explains so much.”
“It’s a food web,” Sam says. She’d skipped down a few lines and started reading from there. “Look, there’s examples of ghost activity where it suddenly started doing something differently. Like something else came along and took over the first thing. Or ate it.” She looks up at you. “Oh.”
“Why would ghosts need to eat, though?” Tucker says. “They’re dead.”
“The ectopuses didn’t seem like the type to sit around and chat,” you say. “I don’t know what they would’ve done if they’d caught you guys. Or me.”
“Probably nothing pleasant,” Sam says. She flips through the front and back of the other two pages stapled to the first one. “Huh. There’s no mention of ghosts, uh... feeding, I guess, on humans. There’s one with electricity and one with rain, but no, like, missing people or anything.”
Makes sense. “Generally that gets noticed more often. At least I don’t have to worry about ghosts eating my friends in their sleep.”
Tucker wrinkles his nose at you. “Neither did I, until you said that.”
“Maybe you should have eaten that ghost last night,” Sam says absently.
You and Tucker stare at her. “Who are you and what have you done with the real Sam?” Tucker deadpans.
Sam looks up from the papers, realizes what she’s just said, and colors a little. “It’s not more moral to starve yourself instead of eating meat, is all. We don’t know if there’s no way around it.”
You give her a skeptical look. “Thanks for the stamp of approval, Your Highness. I’d rather not.”
“It’s not even meat, anyway,” Tucker says, taking issue with a completely different part of Sam’s reasoning.
You tug the paper away from Sam to look it over yourself. “It’s not the meat that I need,” you say without thinking about it. Then you look up and blink.
Now you’re the one getting weird looks. Sam asks the obvious question. “Uh... why not?”
“I don’t know,” you say slowly. You’re not sure where the information came from, but it sounds right, the same way you know up from down, that there’s a shard of cold at your center, that a lot of things that would kill a human won’t even touch you, now. “It’s not... I don’t....” You sigh. “I need an instruction manual.”
Sam makes a show of searching through the pile of papers. “Oh, look. ‘Your New Ghost Powers and You.’”
“Maybe it’s like the other thing, and it’s only sort-of right?” Tucker says, sounding as though he would really like to believe that but doesn’t, quite.
“Maybe,” you say, about as confident in it as he is.
Sam opens her mouth, but she’s cut off by the sound of the portal’s blast doors sliding open. All three of you whirl around. You panic for a second, then mentally slap yourself and transform.
The hunger hits you hard again, but you’re expecting it this time, so it’s easier to stay standing. Once that first shock is past, it settles into a constant ache that you can ignore. For now, anyway.
You look up to see a ghost with dark green skin and bright white hair floating in front of the open portal. He’s slim, almost spindly, and dressed in a lab coat that ends in tatters at what would probably be his knees, if he had any.
“Heyyyyyy,” the ghost says, peering at you. “Another one!”
“Uh,” you say, intelligently.
“Another what?” Sam says.
The ghost looks vaguely surprised that she’s talking to him. “Another halfa. This’ll be fun!” He darts back into the portal and doesn’t return. The blast doors slide shut on automatic.
The three of you look at each other, bewildered.
“What just happened?” Tucker asks. You can only shrug.
Sam’s scrutinizing the portal. “Can we lock that, or something?”
“It is lo-” You stop, and smack yourself in the forehead. “There’s a motion detector in there. It opens the doors if it sees anything, so you can’t get trapped.”
“Great,” Sam says, clearly thinking it’s anything but. “Who was that guy, anyway?”
You shrug. “Why do you think I know?”
“He knew who you were.”
“No, he didn’t!”
“What’s a ‘halfa?’” Tucker asks. “Halfa wh-oh.”
“Half-a human, half-a ghost. Halfa.”
“Wow,” you say. “Even I think that sounds dumb.”
Sam waves that away. “That’s not the important part! He said it like whoever the other halfa is, they’ve been around longer than you! They might have answers!” Her eyes are shining.
“I’m a little more worried about the ‘fun,’” you say, but you can’t deny that it’s the most promising thing you’ve heard in the last two days.
Tucker gives you a sidelong look. “Dude, if I had ghost powers, you can bet I’d be having fun with ‘em.”
Okay, you kind of have to give him that one. If it wasn’t so unsettling and painful, you’d be pretty excited to poke around at your new magic powers (your new magic powers!!) too. You’re still kind of excited, even with all that. This is pretty much verbatim one of your fantasies as a fourteen-year-old trapped in high school, getting picked on every day.
“He was a normal ghost, though,” you muse, and then pause as you realize that you’d said that without a trace of irony. The looks your friends are giving you tell you they’re thinking the same thing. “I mean, uh....” You don’t really know what you mean. You let the sentence go and shrug helplessly.
“We’re probably not going to figure it out just standing around talking,” Sam says.
“You could go after him,” Tucker says to you.
Sam stares at him. “That sounds like a terrible idea.”
“So, par for the course, then.”
“I mean, I could,” you say, ignoring this exchange. “But I don’t know anything about what’s on the other side. For all we know it’s him and his five ghost biker buddies with a big net.”
Sam snorts at the visual. “We could just stay put here. It sounded like he meant to come back, and then we can drill him for answers. The downside being that that’s boring in the meantime. I don’t think we’re going to get a whole lot out of this.” She indicates the papers spread on the floor.
“Hey, see if you can possess something,” Tucker suggests.
You hesitate, not because you’re all that cautious, but because you don’t actually have the first clue about how to do that. You move across the room, put your palm flat on the table, and try to think... table... thoughts.
Sam giggles. “You must become one with the table,” she intones. “Ommmmmmmm.”
“Thanks. Really. So helpful.” You think for a second, then turn intangible and try to occupy the same space as the table. Seems as likely to work as anything else. No dice.
After about a minute of watching you try various weird things, none of which work, Tucker says, “What if you try it on a person? That’s a thing ghosts can do, right? Exorcisms and stuff.”
“I think that’s for demons,” Sam says. “Hm. Do you think demons are real, too?”
Because you’d rather make yourself look even more foolish than ever have that conversation, you walk intangibly into Tucker. To your complete surprise, there’s a sort of sucking sensation, a brief dizziness, and then you’re standing with your feet on the floor. Correction: with Tucker’s feet on the floor.
“Whoa,” you say, and then blink at how your voice sounds. How Tucker’s voice sounds. Not only is it more resonant, because you’re hearing it come from inside your own head (his own head), but the way Tucker moves his mouth to speak is slightly different from yours. It comes out sounding like he’s trying to impersonate you, badly. Kind of ironic, all things considered.
“Danny?” Sam asks. You look at her and blink. Did she get taller? No, Tucker’s just slightly shorter than you are. Instinctively, you try to back out of Tucker’s body. It feels like pulling yourself away from a hug, if both of you were covered in velcro.
Tucker falters for a second, then looks between you and Sam. “Did I just black out?”
“I can possess people,” you inform him.
“You really don’t have any memory of it?” Sam presses.
Tucker shakes his head. “Just felt a little woozy for a second there.”
“I wonder if I can keep that from happening,” you say, half a second before realizing there’s no way Sam won’t take it as a challenge.
“Try it on me,” she says.
You know what, sure, fuck it, why not. You dive into her torso and feel the same brief dizziness for a moment before it clears, leaving you standing upright. You don’t stay that way, and you have to step back quickly so you don’t overbalance and fall over. Tucker is roughly the same size and shape as you, but Sam is very much not, so it takes you a second to get used to her center of gravity.
...Among other things. There’s weight on your chest and a lack of weight between your legs, and you didn’t mean to start thinking about it but now that you have you can’t stop. You can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to reach down and....
You slam the brakes on that thought and look down reflexively to make sure your arousal isn’t showing, before realizing that that’s not a problem. Huh. Well, that’s convenient. You wonder if that means Sam has just wandered around horny before without anyone knowing and this is really not what you’re supposed to be doing right now.
What are you supposed to be doing right now? Possession, memory, right. Unfortunately nothing seems to have changed there, regardless of your intention. You hop out of Sam and shake your head at Tucker while she regains her bearings.
Sam looks confused and a little suspicious for a second. “Why am-?” she wonders out loud, before cutting herself off and giving you a look that says she knows way more than you’d like her to. Her gaze flicks briefly to your groin, but for whatever reason, she doesn’t push it further. “So you can possess people but not things. What else.... Can you make things float?”
You turn invisible, look around, and pull Tucker’s hat off his head, easily dodging his attempt to grab it back. “Wooooooo,” you say, in the flattest “spooky” voice you can manage while trying to not to laugh. Tucker’s hat “floats” in a circle before you plop it back down on his head. He fixes it, trying and failing to glare at someone he can’t see. You fade back to visibility and smirk at him.
“So, no, then,” Sam says, only thinly concealing her amusement.
“No,” you agree.
“See if you can do the thing with the lasers again,” Tucker says. “Only try not to burn up the wall this time. If you do, you’re cleaning it up.”
“I’ll try,” you tell him dryly. You shut your eyes and focus on how it felt to call up the energy. It’s easy enough to repeat, though you’re not sure how to describe it, or if it even maps to any human sense. You try to keep it close to you, imagine it swirling around your hands instead of discharging into a target.
“Dude,” Tucker says. You open your eyes and discover that that’s exactly what’s happening: marble-sized motes of bright green light are orbiting your hands like electrons around a nucleus. You wave your hands around a little, playing with it. It’s mesmerizing, until you let your fingers drift too close to your face, and one of the motes jumps out against your cheek like a static shock. It’s more surprising than painful, but you yelp and lose the other little motes anyway.
“Well, that’s pretty cool,” Sam says appraisingly. “Except for the part where you hurt yourself. That was just funny.”
“It wasn’t that funny,” you grumble.
“It was kinda funny,” Tucker says.
“Oh, hey,” Sam says, remembering something. She opens a few drawers before finding an infrared thermometer and pointing it at your head like a gun. “Bang. Sixty even.”
You blink. “Are you sure you didn’t miss me and scan the wall?”
Sam rolls her eyes, but comes forward and presses the thermometer against your forehead, then turns it around to show you. It does indeed read 60 degrees Fahrenheit. “I’m colder than the room?”
“Damn,” Tucker says, and you remember: he’s out ten bucks.
“I wonder why,” Sam says. She’s got one hand to her chin in thought. You can only spread your hands. You don’t know any more than she does, at this point.
“Ghosts are cold?” you guess. It sounds flimsy even to you.
“Do you have to blink?” Tucker says, apparently out of nowhere. When you give him a look, he elaborates, “You don’t have a pulse, you don’t have to breathe, do you have to blink?”
A couple minutes in a staring contest proves that, no, you do not have to blink, but it feels really weird when you don’t, and it’s not exactly a habit you’re looking to drop.
Sam lets out an irritated sigh. “The problem is, we don’t know enough to know what we don’t know. That, or we don’t have the means to test it. It’s one thing to ask if you can pick up something super heavy, but if we don’t have anything that you couldn’t pick up as a human, it’s a moot point anyway.”
“I could try you,” you say.
Sam arches an eyebrow. “Some of us can’t fly.”
“I wouldn’t go that far off the ground. It’ll be fine.”
Sam considers this, then shrugs and nods. You hold her by the shoulders and then stand there awkwardly for a second, trying to figure out how to do this. Can you make her intangible? Apparently yes, because she sinks a couple inches into the floor before you realize what’s happening and pull her out. That works, but it’s not exactly what you were going for.
It takes a few more false starts before you finally manage to extend your weightlessness to her and get both of you hovering about half a foot off the ground. You take one hand off her shoulder and reach out to Tucker, who is just as eager as you are to see if you can make him fly, too. You can, and it doesn’t even seem that difficult to maintain, even on two people.
“We are never taking the bus again,” he says, delighted.
“Oh, I see how it is,” you tease, making sure you’re all back on the ground before you let go of your friends. “I go and get myself killed once and suddenly I’m everybody’s taxi.”
The joke falls flat. Tucker gives you a worried look. “Are you sure you... died?”
“Apparently, it’s not as fatal as I thought.” You know why he’s worried, you do, but you just spent a day and a half having that existential crisis, and right now what’s left is sarcasm and an overwhelming sense of being Extremely Done With All This, Thank You.
There’s a noise from the portal again, and this time the skinny green guy brought along... the Terminator? The Terminator with green fire for hair?
“See, I told you,” String Bean says.
Green Fire Terminator squints at you through a little jeweler’s loupe and grunts. “I wonder what Plasmius would trade for him.”
“You know I can hear you, right?” you say. “Who’s Plasmius? I’m not getting traded to anybody.”
Green Fire Terminator looks you over. You can almost feel his gaze like a physical thing dragging down your body, and you have to fight the urge to squirm uncomfortably. You cover it by scowling at him.
He grins. “Look at that. The runt thinks he has teeth. I'd tell you to give up now, but I'll be honest: I like an easy hunt.”
“I'm not going anywhere with you,” you snap.
He levels one arm at you. Something mechanical, about the size of a pen, emerges from his wrist and begins to glow toxic green. “Prove it.”
[ ] Flight.
Yeah, no way are you gonna wait around to find out what that thing does. You rush Ghost Terminator, hoping to catch him off guard. Some instinct you didn’t have before is screaming at you that this guy reeks of power. If he gets ahold of you, he's going to wipe the floor with you, and you know what's been on that floor. Unfortunately, surrender isn't an option, and with Sam and Tucker in the room, neither is running away. You’re just going to have to try.
You do have one thing on your side, and that's that nobody, including you and Ghost Terminator, really thought you were going to charge him, so he's not prepared for it. You slam into him shoulder-first and successfully redirect the laser blast into the ceiling. You also nearly dislocate your arm, because the dude doesn't just look like a tin can: he's made out of solid metal. He doesn't even have to take a step back to mitigate the impact.
Before you can duck away, he grabs you by the throat and hauls you up. You don't have to breathe and you don't weigh anything, but none of that helps when all you can think about is your trachea slowly being crushed.
Something clonks into the side of Ghost Terminator’s head, making him let go of you out of sheer surprised reflex. You both look over at where the flying lab equipment came from. Sam is hefting another test tube rack while Tucker tries to pull her back behind the relative safety of the lab island. “Pick on someone your own size!”
String Bean, who’s floated over to the side of the room and is picking through the technology there while no one is paying attention to him, suddenly bursts out laughing. He points at Ghost Terminator, grinning for no apparent reason. “Ha! See, it’s funny because-”
“Shut up,” Ghost Terminator tells him, and punctuates it with a beam of energy from the laser pen gun thing. It hits String Bean square in the chest and bowls him over, but doesn’t make him stop laughing.
You don’t really know what’s going on there, but you’ll take any distraction you can get. You throw yourself backwards, away from Ghost Terminator, frantically trying to think of something. Fuckfuckfuck what good are ghost powers if you draw a total blank on them, fuck fucking fuck. You have to keep his attention on you, while staying out of reach somehow. Can he hit you if you’re-
You turn intangible just in time for his fist to crash into your side, throwing you across the room. You hit the opposite wall hard enough to see stars. That’s a yes, then. Ow.
Before you can get up, a glowing green mesh obscures your vision. It must be the same kind of net you used on the ectopus last night. Sam and Tucker are both shouting, but they seem about as helpless as you right now.
Ghost Terminator hoists you up again, this time by grabbing a fistful of the net material. He looks you up and down appraisingly. “How old are you, ghost-child?”
“I’m not a child, I’m nineteen,” you snap reflexively. “Who even are you?”
Ghost Terminator’s eyes gleam. They look flat green, but you’d swear you can tell where he’s looking. “I am Skulker, the greatest hunter in the Ghost Zone.” He frowns. “That was far too easy. I have half a mind to let you go until you are a more formidable opponent.”
“Sounds great,” you say, trying to shift so your elbow isn’t jabbing directly into your ribcage. “Let’s do that.”
Skulker laughs. “Make no mistake, you are far more valuable as a prize than as quarry. I have little doubt I will have the opportunity to hunt you again in the future.”
You both look back towards the portal. Tucker and Sam have got String Bean trapped in... a giant green bubble? Well, you guess he can’t get out, and that’s what matters. “Let Danny go,” Tucker says, “or you aren’t getting your friend back!”
Skulker eyes him, as though trying to figure out if he’s serious or not. After a moment, he shrugs and slings the net over his shoulder. Fantastic. Now you’re an upside-down pretzel. “Your terms are acceptable,” he tells Tucker, smirking, and strides to the portal. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
The last thing you see is your friends’ stricken, panicked faces, before they vanish into swirling green. Now would be a great time to make yourself as obnoxious as possible. You start thrashing wildly, partly hoping Skulker might drop you, mostly just trying to make his life difficult.
He stops, but it’s to grab something off his belt and press one end to your side. Every single one of your muscles seizes in pain for about five seconds before your brain decides it’s a lost cause and you pass out.
For the second time in as many days, you wake up groggily on a cold metal floor. It’s just as unpleasant as it was the first time around, too.
You get your bearings before you try to push yourself up. No net. You’re in your human form, so either you revert to it when you lose consciousness or Skulker has something that can force you to change back. You really hope it’s the first thing. That’d be a lot more reassuring. You can hear some vague animal noises, and the room, or at least the floor, smells sort of like ozone and copper.
You sit up and look around. You’re in a cage, in a room full of cages, all spaced apart so that the inhabitants of one cage can’t interact with their neighbors. Most of the other cages are either empty or hold weird ghostly chimeras, like something that’s half-rabbit, half-dog, and half-deer. You can clearly see all three halves. It’s kind of gross. A couple of them glance at you, but they mostly ignore you.
You stand up, raising one arm above you so you won’t bump your head on the low ceiling of the cage. When you don’t feel anything, you look up, and discover your arm, and now the top of your head, is sticking through the metal like it’s not even there. Huh. You walk through the bars, then look back at the empty cage. If this is the Ghost Zone, does that mean everything is opposite from the real world? Humans have ghost powers and ghosts are nothing special? That could be useful.
First, though, you need to get out of here. There’s only one way in or out of the room. You edge toward it carefully. There’s no way it’s not booby-trapped or warded or hell, just plain locked.
A little ways into the hallway, a translucent red membrane stretches floor-to-ceiling between the walls. You start to poke one finger into it, stop, have a better idea, and take off your shoe instead. The shoe sails through the shield no problem, and you walk a little lopsidedly after it and put it back on.
Surprisingly, you don’t see any other security measures until the end of the hall, where you come up against a large, padlocked door. Maybe you just didn’t activate them as a human. You stick your head through the door to look around. Nobody, and this hallway leads directly outside. Or... what counts as “outside” in the Ghost Zone. The sky is a mix of green and black, and the pseudo-aurora casts the land below in a weird, shifting light. You’re in a clearing on the edge of what looks like a jungle, though you’re betting it’s not monkeys and parrots that live in there.
Skulker and another ghost are walking towards you from one side of the clearing. On seeing them, you immediately take off for the other side, without much of an idea what you’re going to do after that but definitely sure that staying where you are is not an option.
You don’t get far. The other ghost appears in front of you so quickly that you barely skid to a stop before slamming into him nose-first. The only route left is the jungle, and you’re really not that desperate. Not yet, anyway.
...Is this the ghost of Bella Lugosi, or what?
The Dracula knock-off looks about as surprised as you are. He looks you up and down, clearly perplexed. “Daniel?”
“Uh,” you say, instead of doing literally anything else because apparently your brain’s just given up on you at this point. “...Have we met?”
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Dracula stares at you for another half a second before his expression closes off into something calculating. “I don’t think so,” he says, and looks over your shoulder, presumably at Skulker. “The boy is mine.”
“Excellent,” Skulker says, over your indignant protests that you’re not a fucking kid and don’t belong to anyone, thanks. “I’ll resecure him and then we can negotiate.”
“No trade,” says Dracula. Skulker opens his mouth to argue, and Dracula does - something. He doesn’t actually move, he just suddenly looks much more dangerous. If you thought Skulker could beat you down before, this guy could vaporize you. Holy shit. You start edging out from in between them.
Skulker’s mouth snaps shut. His glare says he wants to challenge Dracula on it, but he pretty clearly knows that even with the home field advantage, it would be no contest. Which means, incidentally, that you are super fucked. You back up a little faster. Too bad you can’t get them to fight each other instead of you.
“Are you just going to let him walk all over you like that?” you say to Skulker. “After you went to all that trouble?”
Dracula looks exasperated. “Daniel, hush. I’m getting you out of the mess you’ve made.” Christ, what a dick.
Skulker frowns. “He’s right. I see no claim you could have made before I caught him. If you want him, trade for him.” Awesome, it’s working. “If you won’t trade, I’ll kill him.” Not awesome! Shit!
Dracula just sighs and rolls his eyes. “Are we really going to do this again?” His voice doubles, then quadruples, as he splits like an amoeba into four identical clones of himself. God damn. Can you do that?
Skulker grins, aims what looks like a fucking shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, and you decide that’s your exit cue. You take off in the direction Skulker and Dracula came from. It’s the only thing you have to go on that makes it different from the other million directions you could go, but you’ll take anything you can get, no matter how flimsy it is.
Again, you don’t get very far. This time, a hand closes on your arm and jerks you upward, into the air. It’s one of Dracula’s clones; the other three are... wow, they’re not even fighting Skulker, they’re just fucking with him. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Because like hell are you giving up, you try to kick Dracula #4. He just twists so all you connect with is air. “Stop that. I’m not going to fight you.”
You glare at him. “Good. Let me go.”
To your surprise, he does - and lets you fall a couple feet before grabbing you again. You guess humans can’t fly, even in the Ghost Zone. Now Dracula’s smirking. Man, you want to punch him in the nose so bad. Dickhead.
“What do you want?” you try instead.
Dracula considers you. “A student, perhaps,” he says, which is about the last thing you were expecting.
He deposits you on a floating rock island, large enough to lie down on but not much more. He must have been moving when you weren’t paying attention. “I can provide you with information, but first, I want to know if Skulker was telling the truth. Transform.”
“Fuck you,” you say instead.
“I prefer a willing partner,” he says calmly. He folds his arms and floats a couple feet away from the island, just out of your reach. You’re confused for a second, then flush when you realize what he’s implying. You cover it by glaring at him.
“Sulking doesn’t suit you, Daniel, you look too much like your father.”
Okay, if that was meant to knock you out of anger and straight into plain confusion, it worked. “How do you know my name? Actually, how do you know my dad?” Is he a weird creepy ghost stalker. Oh, god, you hope he’s not a weird creepy ghost stalker.
Dracula raises an eyebrow. “Transform, and I’ll tell you.” That sounds like something he would say if he was a weird creepy ghost stalker.
“What if I don’t?”
“Then you’re stuck here,” he points out. “And I doubt you know where ‘here’ is.”
...Shit. He’s right. Even if you hadn’t been unconscious on the trip here, there are pretty much no landmarks in sight. Just floating rocks of various sizes. Forget landmarks; there isn’t any land.
You’re aware that this is childish and ultimately stupid, but you really don’t want to let this guy win. Even though he pretty much already has. “Tell me who you are and I will.”
Dracula eyes you, then seems to figure it’s good enough. “Vlad Plasmius,” he says, with a little mock bow.
You stare at him. “Seriously? That’s your real name?”
You really shouldn’t laugh. It’s a losing battle. You bring your arm up to your face, as though hiding the lower half of it behind a cloak. “I vant to suck your blood!”
Vlad doesn’t look impressed.
“Say it, say it. Wait, did you already have the name when you picked the vampire gimmick or-”
Vlad sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I suppose you’re going to introduce yourself to every ghost you see as ‘Daniel’?”
“It’s Danny.” A thought strikes you. Heh, why not? “Danny Phantom.”
“And you were mocking me? That’s like calling yourself John Human.”
“Dude, you literally made your hair look like horns. There’s no way it stays like that in real life.”
He pauses. “Oh, no, I see. Fenton, Phantom. Cute.”
Ugh, fuck this dude. You transform, intent on pretending it was all your idea and maybe showing up Count Chocula. Instead, your knees buckle and you fall to the ground. There’s a void just under your ribcage and for a second it feels like the rest of you is going to collapse inward to fill it. How long were you out? Why is it suddenly so much worse?
“Daniel?” says Vlad, closer than he was before, and you jerk your head up to stare at him. Prey. No, he’s too powerful, you’d never win. But he has what you need. You don’t know what that is, but you know he has it, and if you do the right things you can get him to give it to you. You reach out, blindly trusting instinct to tell you what to do.
Vlad steps back, and that’s enough to shock you back into your right mind. What were you doing? What are you doing? You give him a miserable, frustrated look, half-hating him for interrupting whatever that was, and half-relieved that he did.
“You’re Hungry,” he says, realizing something, then frowns. “It’s too early. Even if you’ve been keeping a low profile, Skulker wouldn’t have taken more than a month to find you. There’s not enough time either way.”
Great, now he knows what’s going on and you still don’t. You try to get up and manage to make it to your knees, sitting back on your heels. “What?”
He gives you that same level look from before, that lets you know his brain is going a mile a minute but he’s not going to tell you about any of it. “Come back with me to my lab,” he says eventually. “It’s a long explanation, and I can help you there.”
[ ] Uh, no, you’re not that dumb. You bet he has candy and a puppy in his car, too, and does this rag smell like chloroform to you.
[X] Okay, so, yeah, it’s a bad idea, but goddamn this hurts and you really don’t have much choice. You’re not going to say, “What could go wrong?” but... what could go worse?
I love writing Vlad and Danny interacting. They get on each other's nerves so damn easily and it's always hilarious. Also, side note, I did not actually intend to write Vlad as a smug asshole, because he's not quite as bitter as his canon self and he's certainly a hell of a lot smarter - but it turns out he's just. Like that.
You grit your teeth, but what’s the alternative? Take off and hope you’re heading home instead of directly into something even nastier than Skulker and Vlad? All of your options are bad.
“Fine,” you spit out. Vlad looks a little surprised for just a second, then either hides it or figures it out. You glare at him anyway, though the effect is diminished somewhat by the fact that you can’t stand up yet. “If I say no, you’re just going to drag me there anyway.”
Vlad opens his mouth, considers what he’s going to say, closes it, and shrugs. “Not as such, but I certainly wouldn’t leave you here. Follow me.”
At least flying is easier than standing. He drifts off in what looks like a completely random direction, then picks up the pace once he looks back and sees you keeping up. You don’t realize how fast you’re going until you fly past a small collection of rocks - you blink, and they go from way ahead of Vlad to way behind you. Wow. There’s no wind or anything, so it kind of feels like you’re going nowhere, but if that was any indication, you’re going faster than is legal on most highways.
It only takes a few minutes to reach... a giant purple football?
“It’s memorable,” Vlad says, in response to your stare, and, okay, you guess he's not wrong, but.
The football slides away and the two of you head through the revealed portal. On the other side, black rings surround Vlad and sweep over him, and suddenly you have a whole new reason to stare. Actually, three or four.
“Oh my god you're that guy who was obsessed with my mom.”
Vlad - human Vlad, who for some reason looks almost nothing like ghost Vlad - gives you yet another exasperated look, though this one is edging into annoyance. “‘Obsessed’ seems harsh.”
Harsh but true, you want to say, but you're trying to get this guy's help and it's probably not the best idea to antagonize him. Even if he did stalk your mom for like two months when you were twelve. “What happened?” your mouth says, without consulting your brain.
“She said no.” From his tone, that's the end of that, and honestly, thank fuck. You really don't want to know.
You flail around mentally for literally any subject change, anything at all, and come up with, “Hey, your voice doesn't sound all echo-y.”
“Neither does yours, when you're human,” Vlad says, which is a little beside the point but whatever. He starts walking around the room, looking into drawers. “True ghosts don't actually need their mouths, or air, to speak, but many do out of habit, or because they don't understand it. Hence the layering effect: you're speaking both by pushing air past your vocal cords, and by altering the electrical signals within your body to produce sound.” He sees your confused expression and visibly suppresses a sigh. Ugh. So you don't have a Ph.D. in ghost bullshit, so what? He doesn't have to act like you're an idiot. Before you can say anything, he continues, “You’ve seen a tesla coil, yes? Or more accurately, heard one?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “It’s roughly the same concept, but you have far more fine control.”
And, huh. That's actually not a terrible explanation. Well, it is, but at least you can figure out roughly what he means by it. “Hey, does that mean I can shoot lightning bolts or something?”
Vlad raises both eyebrows. “You could try. I doubt it, though, unless you put a great deal of time and practice into it. In all likelihood, you’re more powerful than the average ghost, but that won’t mean anything unless you can harness that power.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Years.” He sets several vials on the counter and shuts the drawer he was looking through, turning to face you and lean against it. You keep an eye on the vials. You want them. “I’ve suspected for some time that there is no upper bound.”
You drift a little closer. You still haven’t bothered putting your feet on the ground. “So, what, is there some kind of... I dunno, Ghost People Anonymous? Do I get a free toaster?”
Something flickers over Vlad’s face, but it’s gone before you can guess what it is. “No,” he says shortly. You figure he doesn’t mean about the free toaster. “As far as I’m aware, we are the only ghost-human hybrids in existence. On the other hand, before today I would have said I was the only one, so it’s possible there are either more currently, or there will be more. Which brings me to the relevant question: what happened to you?”
“I...” you start, then remember that you’re supposed to be suspicious. “You first.”
Vlad folds his arms but apparently decides to humor you. “I went to college with your parents. An invention of your father’s malfunctioned.”
That sounds like not even half of what actually happened, but okay. “That’s pretty much what happened to me. I mean, except for the college part. And the malfunctioning part, ‘cause it didn’t work before and it does now.”
“So Jack Fenton’s mistakes are the commonality. It’d be humorous if it didn’t make me want to kill him.”
“Please, Daniel, it’s been over twenty years, if I wanted him dead he would be. Calm down. I assume the invention in question is a ghost portal? How long ago was the incident?”
You’re definitely not going to drop the death threats that easily, but the correct guess puts you off-guard. “Uh, yesterday?” You don’t mean to make it a question, but wow, was it really only yesterday?
Vlad looks genuinely thrown. “I’m sorry? Yesterday as in the day before this one, 24 to 48 hours ago? That yesterday?”
“Yeah?” You wonder if maybe he’s nuts. That would explain a lot. It would be terrifying, but it would explain a lot.
He frowns. “Tell me what happened. In detail this time.”
Confused and wondering where this is going, you give a rough outline of finding the portal, walking into it, accidentally turning it on-
“You were inside it?” Vlad interrupts you. Now he looks both surprised and worried, which is doing nothing for your own heart rate. Or it wouldn’t be, if you had one. “Do you mind if I draw some blood?”
“Uh, yes,” you say, to both questions, and float a little further away. Thankfully, Vlad seems to realize what that sounded like, and looks slightly chagrined. For about a third of a second.
“If your entire genome was exposed at once, that would explain the lack of a transition period,” he says, ostensibly to you, for all that this is gibberish. “I don’t suppose you have any electronic records, let alone video. A shame but not surprising. What I wouldn’t give for data....”
You give him a flat look. “I’m noticing a distinct lack of explanations, here.”
“Hmm. We do have a deal, don’t we? Very well. Though keep in mind, I have no guarantee that my experiences will match yours. An instance is not a pattern.”
You nod impatiently, then sit on the counter on the other side of the room and settle in for some exposition.
“There are, broadly, two types of ghosts. The first is a combination of ectoplasmic energy and an impression of human consciousness, usually at the moment of death, though I have found the occasional ghost generated by a heightened emotional state, usually traumatic. These tend to be the most familiar in both form and motive. The other kind is pure ectoplasm, formed in some remote corner of the Ghost Zone. These gain sentience, and eventually sapience, if they exist for long enough. Most are barely smarter than animals, but a few have managed to... survive, for lack of a better term, long enough to compete on the same stage as their formerly-human counterparts. You’re likely to meet a fair number of them; Skulker is one, for instance. None of them survived by remaining ignorant of developments around them.”
“So basically I’m gonna be doing a lot of this.”
“Not necessarily,” Vlad says, but doesn’t elaborate. “You and I are hybrids of the first kind of ghost and a normal human. My hypothesis is that our respective incidents should have killed us outright, or perhaps did, but because the catalyst was as close as you can get to pure ectoplasm, it instead altered our DNA to support biological and ethereal systems at the same time.”
A thought occurs to you. “Does that mean I’m haunting myself?”
Vlad pauses and blinks. “I hadn’t thought of it like that, but the analogy could be drawn, yes. However inaccurately.”
“It wouldn’t kill you for someone else to be right for once, you know.”
“You’re not,” he says smoothly, and continues before you can do anything but glare at him. “I’m not sure why you’re so Hungry, so early, though I suspect it has to do with the more abrupt nature of your transformation. Regardless, you will need to consume... ‘essence’ is better than nothing... the essences of other ghosts periodically.”
You can pretty much guess what that’s about, though you don’t know why he didn’t just say “consume other ghosts.” “What happens if I don’t?”
“Aside from Hunger, pain, and a general weakening of your powers? Your ghostly form will eventually lose cohesion. In other words, you’ll melt. It would - not be pleasant.”
No kidding. “Is that what’s in those, then?” You point at the vials on the counter. “Dead ghost juice? Or... you know what I mean.”
Vlad looks between you and the vials. “No,” he says, and if you hadn’t met the man for more than a minute and a half you’d call his expression awkward. “Not... exactly. It will help you, though.” He holds one out to you. “Drink it. You may need more than one.”
Uh huh. “How about you tell me what’s actually in it, first?” Not that he won’t just lie to you, but at least you can make him come up with something.
“The essence of another ghost. There are... other methods of obtaining it.”
“You know you pretty much have ‘Ask Me About My Ulterior Motives’ stamped on your forehead, right?”
He smirks, which is at least a step up from vague dread, not that you would’ve thought so before this conversation. “I’m aware. I also know that no matter what I say, you’ll remain convinced I’m lying about something, so the most entertaining option is to tell the truth and watch you contort your little brain trying to figure out what my evil scheme is.”
Right, like you’re gonna fall for that. Or, wait, maybe that’s what he wants you to think. Wait, maybe that’s what he wants you to think. Or, wait - okay this is ridiculous. You’re not playing I-know-you-know-I-know with someone who’s maybe trying to poison you or something.
“If I tell you what it is, you won’t want to drink it,” Vlad says.
“That’s, like, the sketchiest possible thing you could have said.”
“I know. Unfortunately, it’s also true.”
“That’s not reassuring!”
Vlad just unscrews the top on the vial and keeps holding it out to you. You stop caring about him. You can’t. All of your focus and attention is reserved for what’s in that little vial. You have never wanted anything in your life as much as you want that, right now. You’re halfway across the room before it even enters your mind that you still don’t know what the hell it is, aside from the vague guess that it’s what you were trying to get out of the ectopus, but where that felt gross and nasty, this is the most delicious thing you’ve ever smelled.
You grab it from him and down it in one gulp. If you didn't feel so bad and it didn't taste so good, you’d probably gag at the texture, but as it is you barely notice. The sharp knife of your hunger - Hunger? - untwists a little. You stare at Vlad. He looks slightly unnerved by whatever’s on your face. Good.
“What is it,” you say. Your voice is coarse with want. “How do I get more.”
Wordlessly, he hands you another two vials, and you snatch them up and drink what’s in them almost in the same motion. You feel like you've been trapped in a tiny box all day and you're only now getting to stretch. It's such a relief you actually groan a little, feeling like you could just melt right where you’re standing. It's only when Vlad reaches for you that you realize you are actually sinking slowly downward, and sheepishly pull your feet out of the floor. He pulls his hand back before he touches you, and strangely, you feel almost disappointed about it. What is going on?
“What was in that?” you say, feeling kind of awkward now that the weird greed has passed. “Did you drug me?”
“No,” Vlad says. He’s still watching you, face carefully blank. “I already told you what it is. Be thankful I’m prepared; this is significantly more disciplined of an introduction than I received.”
You put the vials back on the counter and make a face. “Yeah, no. You suck at lying, dude.” You feel relaxed, sated. It’s making you less cautious than you should be, and you know it, though you can’t be assed to do anything about it.
Vlad gives you an unimpressed look. “Nothing I’ve said is false.”
You give him the same unimpressed look right back. Why is he being so dodgy about this one specific thing? “Seriously, how bad can it be? Spill.”
“It’s sexual fluid.”
Your brain grinds to a halt. “What?”
The smug bastard just raises an eyebrow. “I told you you wouldn't like the answer.”
“I... I don’t....” You don’t dislike it, is the thing. You’re disturbed, but mostly at how you're not disturbed that you just drank ghost jizz. You would have expected to feel sick, betrayed, maybe even violated, but all you can summon up is a sort of possessive satisfaction and, beside that, an uncomfortable feeling in your chest that suggests you might be a little too on board with the idea. “Was it yours?” you say, to your own sheer disbelief.
Vlad shakes his head. “Your own essence will be useless to you. You'll just reincorporate it and be no better off than you were before.”
You’re... not sure how you feel about that, either. On the one hand, you've known this guy for like an hour, tops, and mostly what he’s done is threaten and insult you. On the other.... There should be no other hand, you know. But on the other hand, the thought is strangely enticing. For all that the sudden intimacy would be unsettling, you don't think it would be entirely unwelcome. You're learning all kinds of things about yourself today.
You entertain the vague thought that maybe he's playing a joke on you, but it doesn't seem very likely. There's no one else to laugh at you, it looks super shady out of context - hell, even in context - and too much of what he's said has made sense on an instinctive level for him to be making it up.
“Why, though?” That’s what’s really bugging you. “Like, how does that make any sense?”
Vlad shrugs, though he still seems wary, like he’s wondering how you're so okay with this. You’re kind of wondering that yourself, to be honest. “I have a few guesses, but none of them are more than blind stabs in the dark. It’s entirely possible that this is simply how it works, or that some clever ghost figured out a way to cheat the system, or even that some kind of magic is the cause.”
“As much as I'm loathe to use the word, I have to admit it's the one that fits best. Ghosts have a variety of powers. Some of them can even twist time or warp reality. ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology,’ et cetera.” He shakes his head again. It's less of a negation this time and more of a way to show he’s finished speaking.
You rub the back of your head sheepishly. “So, uh, how long until I need to...?”
“A few weeks, on average. You may need sustenance more often until your powers stabilize and you learn to control them better, but I have no way of knowing.” He pauses, awkwardly, which means that he wants you to notice him being awkward so you'll be more agreeable, because you can already tell Vlad doesn't bother with shame. “Should you, ah... require assistance, know that you may come to me. In fact, I would prefer it if you did.”
You stare at him and hope, desperately, that you’re not blushing. Maybe you can turn invisible and blame it on your wonky powers. Unsolicited, your brain presents you with the image of you on your knees in front of Vlad, his cock in your mouth, his hands white-knuckled on the edge of the counter while you suck him off like you literally need it to live. It is supremely unhelpful.
“I have quite the stockpile,” he continues. A rush of humiliation sweeps through you. You can definitely feel your face burning now. The vials. He means the vials. Not... that. Why did you think of...? Oh, god, he’s smirking again, he definitely knows what you were thinking. Oh god.
“Thanks,” you force yourself to say. It comes out several octaves higher than you'd meant it to. Fucking fuck your life. You want to flee but you have to ask- “Uh, how do I get home from here?”
The look he gives you makes you want to punch him, or possibly get him on his knees. “You should have a sense for where your ‘lair’ is in the Ghost Zone. Follow that and it should take you to your portal. You might have to concentrate at first, but that shouldn't be a problem for you, should it, Daniel? Concentrating?”
You can’t stop staring at his mouth. Without thinking, you lick your lips. You can still taste the residue. There’s no way you don’t have a visible boner. What is your life. You can only sort of vaguely remember that he asked you a question. The air feels thick and heavy.
“Nope, bye,” you say, and dart through the portal into the Ghost Zone like your ass is on fire. You don’t stop until you reach a random bunch of floating rocks, look back, and see no one following you. Then you shut your eyes and put your head against the rock. What the fuck. What in the actual fuck was that. Are you having another sexuality crisis? You thought you got that over with when you were fifteen.
That doesn’t sound right, anyway. It’s not bothering you that you think Mr. Experienced And Mildly Predatory is hot. You probably would’ve even without all the ghost stuff. And it’s not bothering you that you’re apparently going to have to... what, have sex with a ghost every month or so? That or hunt down some kind of ghost-animal and eat it while it’s still wriggling, which you know right then that you can’t do. The truth is you’ve never killed anything bigger than a spider before and you won’t be able to pull it off no matter how Hungry you get. You’re not sure you’d even like the version of you that could.
Maybe it’s just too abstract for you to really freak out about it right now. All you’ve done is drink some goo and make an idiot out of yourself. You’ve never even had human sex, though you’re not totally inexperienced and you do understand the mechanics (thank you, internet). The thought of getting naked with, say, Skulker is....
...is actually kind of intriguing. You hit your head gently on the rock in front of you. Maybe whatever happened to you fried your brains more than you thought.
(You wonder if he’s proportional. If so, god damn.)
You feel a little bit like you’re dreaming, just accepting whatever bullshit fake logic comes your way. You’re a ghost now? Sure. You need to basically eat other ghosts to survive? Why not. Your options boil down to prostitution or cannibalism? Seems legit. It’s just the right mix of sexy and totally fucking bizarre. The only flaw with that theory is that you’ve never wondered if you were dreaming when you were, in fact, actually dreaming. You’ve always thought it would be cool to lucid dream, but you’re 98% sure that’s not what’s happening, and the other 2% is from Inception. You wish Sam and Tucker were here so you could figure this out with them.
Your head jerks up. Oh, shit, Sam and Tucker. You don’t think Skulker would go back for them, but what’s-his-face was still there and you have no idea how long it’s been or what’s happened since. You’ve got to get home and make sure they’re okay.
You start to twist away from the rock, then wince and look down at yourself. Oh yeah. There’s that. You’re still a teenager; the effects of imagining yourself fucking various people who can all kick your ass are... less than subtle. Your first thought is that you could just take care of it here. Your second thought is that that is a very bad idea. Your third thought is the same as the first thought, but with more exclamation marks this time.
You know which option your dick is voting for, but are you really going to risk your friends’ safety on it? If one of them gets hurt because you wasted time jacking off, you know you’ll never forgive yourself. There’s that, and then there’s the suspicion that while it looks like you’re miles away from anything else, that’s not how navigation works in the Ghost Zone, and there’s approximately a 100% chance that someone will find you. Or something. There aren’t exactly any out-of-the-way corners in a place with no corners. Or walls. Or... ground.
Then again, if you show up with a hard-on you will also never live that down. If something bad hasn’t already happened, what are the odds an extra twenty minutes will make a difference either way? Also, your dick reminds you, masturbating feels good. But you’re not a monkey, you’ve kept it in your pants before and you can do it again. You can probably convince your body to chill by the time you make it back to your place.
(Ha ha, chill, get it, because you’re - you can’t make yourself finish the joke.)
[ ] Take the risk and damn the consequences.
[X] Don’t take the risk, just go home.
Never underestimate Danny's ability to deeply regret the information he's chosen to dig up.
Also I don't know how to make it a real link in this text box but I wrote Vlad's "introduction" and it is here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/14302959
Chapter 6: Instant Drama Just Add Parents
You - no. You are not this much of an impulsive wreck. You are not going to tempt fate this badly. Your sex drive whines at you and you tell it to shut up before you take a deep breath and try to figure out where home is. Thankfully, it’s not that difficult, even distracted as you are. It’s like you’re a compass needle, only your north is your parents’ house.
To your surprise, it’s almost directly to your right and a fair distance above you. You guess that’s not so odd: ghosts can fly, so why wouldn’t the Ghost Zone be a three-dimensional space? You kick off the rock in the right direction, wondering how fast you’re going. For all you can tell, after the rock vanishes, you may as well not be moving at all. Who knows? Maybe you aren’t and you just think you’re moving, or something. It doesn’t seem to take any extra energy to go faster, if you really are going faster. Weird.
You reach the ghost portal way quicker than you thought you would. You’re not sure how worried to be that Skulker’s lair is so close to your house. If it even is. What if everything just floats around with no fixed point? Ugh, what a headache. Never mind.
The portal opens onto some kind of... rock... structure. Too bad you know jack and shit about geology. You land on it and double-check everything’s where it’s supposed to be, then transform back into your human self for good measure. The jumpsuit is easier to move around in, but you’ll take jeans and actual underwear over a flimsy onesie any day.
You take a step forward and almost stumble a bit before you catch yourself. You’d gotten used to not weighing anything. You wonder if Vlad had the same problem, then bark out a laugh at the thought of him falling flat on his face. You’re about to walk into the portal when a thought pulls you up short. Dammit, you could have just taken off without him in the first place! You didn’t need him to get home at all!
You grumble to yourself and roll your eyes. You can get back at him for it some other time.
Interestingly, the portal doesn’t immediately led into your parents’ basement like you thought it would. Instead you wind up in a blank, whitish-green, vaguely cylindrical corridor, with swirling green at both ends. It’s not very long. Is this what happened to the airlock part of the portal?
You step out into the... the real world? It feels more solid, more tangible. Which, well... yeah. The basement is ominously dark, at least until the motion sensors see you and the lights flick on. “Sam? Tucker?” No sign of String Bean Ghost either. You hope that means he went back to the Ghost Zone instead of running around downtown causing chaos. Floating around. Whatever.
You head up the stairs, trailing one hand on the wall lightly. You’re not sure what you're going to find when you open the door at the top, which means your imagination is telling you it'll be anything from a ghostly ambush to your friends’ mutilated corpses. You take a deep breath and push the door open, trying not to make any noise.
It's neither of those things. It’s worse.
“Danny, there you are!” your mom says, and grabs you in a hug. “How’s college, dear?”
“Uh, fine,” you say automatically. Over Mom’s shoulder, Sam and Tucker are giving you the same overwhelmed, vaguely crazed look that you're probably giving them, only in your case it means your life has been upended and in their case it just means your dad was in here not too long ago. “How’s, uh, stuff?” Sam has the presence of mind to roll her eyes at you before you detangle yourself from your mom.
“We've been doing just swell, hon. You know, we were going to go to this convention for paranormal experts but once we got there it turned out they didn’t even know who we were! Looked at us like we were crazy, which, honestly, given how some of them were dressed....”
You nod and “mm-hmm” in the right places to keep Mom chatting, and try to have a conversation with your friends consisting mostly of facial expressions. All you get out of it is mild panic and frustration. Sam tips her head toward the stairs leading to the second floor.
“...so anyway, after we apologized to the nice man, we figured that was a bust and we might as well come back. I’ve been wanting to take a look at this ecto-laser, it makes a funny noise when it fires. I guess I have time for that now.” Mom moves to head down the basement stairs, and you almost trip yourself when you try to get in the way.
Mom pulls up short. “What? Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine,” you ramble, throwing Sam and Tucker a pleading look. “It’s just, uh....”
“Messy!” Tucker blurts out, and thank fuck your mom turns to face him instead. “Down there.”
“Yeah!” Sam grabs at this excuse like a lifeline. “Be...cause we were... looking for, uh-”
“My homework,” you supply.
Mom raises an eyebrow. “I thought your spring break was this week.”
Shit. “It is, it’s a... long term project. I thought I left it down there but I must not have because we didn't find it but we wanted to clean up before you got back!” If this keeps happening you’re going to have to get better at lying.
Mom doesn't look convinced. She eyes you. “Is it illegal?”
“No,” the three of you chorus.
“Is anyone hurt?”
“No.” Not permanently. Well, Skulker might be, but you don’t care and it’s not your fault anyway.
“Are ghosts involved?”
There’s a beat of silence. Right before your mom narrows her eyes in suspicion, Sam says, “Can I talk to Danny for one minute, please?” and drags both you and Tucker out of the kitchen and around the corner to the living room. “Spill,” she says.
You keep your voice down, mindful that your mom has her ears tuned like satellite dishes for anything you say loudly enough to hear. “I'm okay, I learned a bunch of stuff, there's a place called the Ghost Zone and it looks like bad CGI, met a Dracula knock-off who was actually named Vlad and he turned out to be a half-ghost too. He kicked Skulker’s ass and let me go but first there was a bunch of sketchy bullshit.” You pause. You don't have time to get into a long conversation right now, and that is definitely what will happen if you tell them the whole story. Later, then.
Sam hugs you, and after a second Tucker does too. “We thought you were dead,” he says.
“Only mostly dead,” you whisper back, and Sam, not expecting it, snorts inelegantly in your ear.
She pulls back to look at you seriously. “All that can wait. Are you gonna tell your mom what happened?”
Great question. Are you?
[ ] No.
[ ] Not yet.
Chapter 7: Debrief
You let your shoulders drop. “I think I have to,” you say. “Like ripping off a band-aid, right?”
“You’re not actually supposed to do that,” Sam notes.
“Are you sure?” Tucker says.
“No,” you say honestly. “But I’m gonna anyway. I can bluff Dad, I can’t bluff Mom. She knows something’s up, and I can’t think of a good lie.”
Tucker snorts. “The truth sounds like a bad lie anyway.”
He doesn’t know the half of it. You’re going to have to wait to tell him the other half, and Sam too, because there’s one thing you’re absolutely not going to tell your mom, and that’s anything related to sex in any way, shape, or form. Just... no. Aside from that, though, telling the truth is the best option. Not the easiest, but probably the best. You hope.
Sam must read something in your expression, because she nods and squeezes your arm. “We’ll follow your lead.”
You smile, hoping you come off as way more confident than you actually are, and walk back into the kitchen. Your mom is waiting expectantly, one eyebrow raised.
“Um,” you say. “Uh.” Nerves twist your gut in a knot. It’s just one sentence. Mom, there was an accident in the lab and now I’m a ghost. Why can’t you make yourself say it? “Mom-”
This was a terrible idea. This was an awful idea and you should just bail out now while you still have a chance of salvaging the situation. You take a half-step back and feel your friends as a warm wall behind you, preventing you from fleeing.
Mom is rapidly going from unimpressed to concerned. “Honey, are you worried I’m going to be angry about something?”
You feel like you’re five years old again, caught trying to hide the broken remains of your aunt’s vase under the rug. This is stupid. You’re an adult. You’ve been allowed in the lab without supervision since you were ten. You haven’t done anything wrong. None of this is your fault. You have no reason to be anxious.
Except your mom might try to dissect you when she finds out. There’s that.
Okay, deep breath. “You know how you guys have never been able to get the ghost... portal... thing to work?”
Mom sighs. “I’m aware, yes. Sooner or later we’ll get the calculations right, I just can’t think what we’re missing....”
“It’s okay, Maddie,” your dad says cheerfully, picking that moment to come back in from the garage. “The Fenton Portal is going to be our big breakthrough, I just know it!”
“Right, uh... about that.” Maybe you can throw up from nerves. That would get you out of this conversation, right?
Mom refocuses and leans forward to put a hand on your forehead. “Honey, are you feeling okay? You look pale.”
Ha ha ha. See, it’s funny because you’re a ghost. Hilarious.
Like ripping off a band-aid. “The portal works and I can turn into a ghost now.” You cringe back against the wall reflexively, in case the first word Mom hears in that sentence is “ghost.”
There’s a beat of silence. Dad opens his mouth, then glances at Mom and holds his tongue. Mom puts her hands on her hips. “Daniel Jack Fenton,” she says, with a look on her face comparable to some hurricanes, “if this is your idea of a joke, I don’t find it very funny.”
“I swear it’s not. I just meant to - I thought you left something in there, so I went in, and then I think I accidentally turned it on, and I think I’m part-ghost now?” You don’t mean to make it a question, but that’s how it comes out.
Mom and Dad exchange looks. “Danny....” Mom starts.
You roll your eyes. “I can do this,” you say bluntly, and transform.
There’s a beat of silence. “You didn’t do it,” Sam mutters.
You look down at your still-human self. “Oh, come on.” You close your eyes and reach inside yourself for that core of cold. It seems almost... eager. Before you can reflect on what that might mean, you feel the weird bright light that signals the transformation, and the abrupt lack of a heartbeat or the need to breathe.
You open your eyes slowly, aware you’re hovering several inches off the ground. Your parents’ eyes are wide and their mouths are almost as round. Mom reaches out, trance-like, then falters, like she’s afraid if she touches you you’ll dissolve into mist.
You give them a shaky smile. “Ta-da?”
Dad’s the first to react. Daze broken, he grabs the ectogun from his belt and levels it at you. “Where’s Danny, fiend!?” he demands.
“Do they even remember we’re here?” Sam says to Tucker. You can’t see him but you’d bet he shrugs.
Mom looks conflicted. “Jack, I... I think something’s not right here.”
“Of course it’s not! Our son’s been kidnapped by ghosts!”
Well, this is it. You’re going to die. You guess you’ve had a pretty nice life. Or, wait, did you already die on Friday? Are you going to die twice? Is that even a thing? Would you go from being a human who turns into a ghost to a ghost who turns into a human? Is there any difference?
“Jack.” Mom puts a hand on Dad’s arm, and he lowers the weapon. “He was human. When I took his temperature, I felt human skin. Ghosts can’t mimic that.”
“They can’t?” you say, then hastily add, “Uh, I mean, right, they can’t.”
“No, ghosts can usually fool one or two senses for a while, but touch is the hardest to fake,” Mom says, mouth clearly running on autopilot. “Unless they’re possessing someone.”
There’s a beat while your parents process that. Mom’s gaze turns hard. You gulp. “Danny, sweetie,” Mom says, voice still soft. “If this is really you, I promise your father and I will always love you, and we’re going to do the best we can to help get you back to normal.” She stares directly into your eyes as her voice sharpens into steel. “But if you are a ghost possessing my son, I swear on every year I spent studying the paranormal, I will tear you apart so thoroughly that no one will even remember you existed.”
You involuntarily turn human, and stumble slightly as you drop to the floor. Mom automatically reaches out to steady you, then freezes, still staring at your face.
“Jack,” she says carefully, quietly. “What color are Danny’s eyes?”
“Blue,” Dad says, just as carefully, though he looks more wary of his wife than of you now.
“I know,” Mom says absently, still studying your face.
“...Mom?” You try. “It’s me.”
Mom lets go of you and steps back, not really seeing what’s in front of her. “I need to find something,” she says, and hurries upstairs, leaving you and your friends alone with Dad.
“Wow,” Tucker says. “Your mom is intense.”
Sam snorts. “No kidding. If she wants to hurt you, she’s gonna have to go through us.”
“Yeah, we can give Danny a whole three second head start.”
You’d normally turn and join the conversation, but you’re still watching Dad, who’s fidgeting, at something of a loss. He seems to realize he’s still holding the ectogun and tosses it on the counter with a clatter. “So....” he starts, then apparently makes up his mind and gives you a small smile. “Can you do anything cool?”
You almost laugh. Trust your dad to make anything seem normal. It never takes him long to bounce back. You turn into a ghost again and drift over to the fridge, where you stick your arm through the door and feel around for a second before withdrawing a can of soda. You toss it underhand to Dad and go back to standing by your friends. Not because you’re worried or anything, just... you just want to. That’s all.
“Man, it feels really weird standing next to you when you do the rings thing,” Tucker says to you in an undertone.
“You look better than you did this morning,” Sam says, clearly prompting you.
“Later,” you stage-whisper to them.
“Hey, what’s this?” Tucker says, and pulls something off your back. It looks like a little black button. Was that there before?
Your dad, meanwhile, is looking at the can of soda like it’s the Holy Grail. “Oh, man, do you know what kind of tests we could run on this?!”
You do laugh, then. “Dad.”
He looks up from the soda, and you can see on his face the exact moment he realizes his son is glowing and floating half a foot off the ground. He opens his mouth, utterly delighted, and you just lose it completely. All the tension of the last few minutes comes out as laughter, and after a moment, Dad laughs too and reaches out to hug you. You start to struggle, remember you don’t have to breathe, and hug him back. It’s nice to know you can count on your dad being your dad.
Mom comes back down with a stack of papers, which she puts on the table and starts leafing though. “What color are Danny’s eyes?”
Dad lets you go so he can look at you. “Green. Huh. That’s weird.”
“Exactly,” Mom says. She taps the papers together in a neat stack and sets them aside. “I had to be sure of it, but in every single case of possession we’ve seen, the victim’s eye color changed. And it stayed consistent until the ghost was banished or exorcised.”
“Wouldn’t that mean he is possessed?”
“Tucker! Not helping!”
“No, it means he can’t be. When he....” Mom seems to remember that you’re standing right there. “When you, ah....”
“Go ghost?” you try.
“That’s awful,” Sam says. “Pick something else.”
Mom waves a hand. “It doesn’t matter what it’s called. Your eye color changes, and that shouldn’t be possible. If it was possession, your eyes would stay green. You really are....” She stops again, and looks at you with renewed horror. “What did we do?”
You’ve never seen your mom cry and you really don’t want to start now. You do the only thing you can think of and hug her. “It’s okay, I’m okay, I’m still-” You change back to human. “See, it’s fine.”
Mom hugs you tightly. You think you hear her sniffle, but when she lets you go her eyes are dry. “I love you,” she says, then raises one eyebrow and gives you an expectant look. “But this had better be good.”
It actually takes about half an hour for you to get around to the explaining part, because Mom was paying attention when you’d said “the ghost portal works” and the first thing she does is race downstairs to take a look. The second thing she does is mess with a panel on the wall that makes a light above the blast doors change from green to red. Something heavy on the inside slides into place with a thunk. That would’ve been nice to know about yesterday.
Then again, if you hadn’t gotten hauled off by Skulker, you’d still be clueless and Hungry. You have a sneaking suspicion you know where that little black button came from. Tucker put it in his pocket in the confusion; the three of you can take a look at it later.
Dad hauls out a bunch of ghost equipment. It doesn’t look... well, if you’re honest, it doesn’t look like anything. It could be a washing machine for all you know. It’s probably not, but your parents have come up with weirder stuff. They have you sit in front of it and go back and forth from ghost to human a bunch while they mess with different settings.
It takes about seven transformations before you start feeling kind of tired, the way you feel about ten minutes into a workout. The eighth takes a little longer before it leaves you ghostly.
Mom notices. “Do you want to take a break, sweetie? I’m probably getting a little over-enthusiastic, huh.”
You smile. “Just a little.” This is way better than you thought they'd take it.
Mom grabs a syringe from the counter. “Could I draw some blood first, though? I know this must feel awful but it really is fascinating, ectologically speaking. There are myths, of course, but I've never heard a credible modern account of....” She gestures at you.
“He’s a halfa,” Tucker supplies. You give him a displeased look. That name better not stick.
“That’s a great name!” Dad says.
You hate your family sometimes.
“I was going to say ‘hybrid,’” Mom says. “Or possibly ‘chimera,’ to misuse a biological term. I suppose it doesn't matter right now. We'll have enough on our hands just sorting through this data before we can even think about a cure.”
You hesitate. “I'm not sure I want a cure.”
Mom and Dad blink at each other. “Don’t be ridiculous, Danny,” Dad says. “Who knows what all this ghostly stuff is doing to your insides?”
“It doesn't have to be a question for today,” Mom says diplomatically. “There’s plenty of research we still need to do before we even know what's possible. Could I have your arm, dear?”
You start to present the inside of your elbow, then pause. The hazmat gloves don't come off, so there's no way for you to roll up your sleeve. With an awkward glance at Sam, you unzip the suit to halfway down your chest and wiggle your arm out of it. Mom draws blood (or, well, ectoplasm, probably - you don’t think blood is usually bright green), caps the syringe, and lets you go. You stick your arm back in the armhole as quickly as you can without punching yourself in the nose.
“Uh, can we go upstairs?” you ask.
“Hmm?” Mom looks up from her fiddling with the box of microscope slides and seems to realize that Sam and Tucker are still there, and have been the whole time. “Oh, sure, hon, let me know when you want dinner.” Aaaaand you've lost her.
None of you say anything until you get to your (old) room and shut the door. Sam flops down on your bed and practically bounces with excitement, not that you'd ever tell her so to her face. Maybe with a good head start. “So?” she says, already rapt. “What happened? Tell us everything.”
“Where’s that other ghost?” you ask instead.
“Technus?” Tucker says. “He turned out to be pretty cool. I'm gonna teach him how to play Infamy Broken once he figures out how to get WiFi in the Ghost Zone.”
You stare at him and then decide that this is not on your list of things to worry about for today. “Okay then. So, Skulker knocked me out and put me in a cage, but it turns out if you’re human you can just walk through ghost stuff, so I got out, but he showed up again with, like... legit Dracula, only, you know, a ghost. His name is actually Vlad, I'm not kidding.”
“Was his last name ‘the Impaler’?” Sam wants to know.
“No, it’s, uh. Plasma? Plasmius? Something like that, can’t remember.”
“Really?” Tucker says, grinning. “Do all ghosts have weird names? What’s your ghost name? It’s your birthstone and your first pet, right?”
You glare at him, then realize that, oh, damn, you’re going to have to tell the truth, aren’t you. Why don’t you ever think before you say things out loud? “I, uh. He kept calling me Daniel so I told him my name was Danny Phantom.”
Tucker’s shit-eating grin just gets bigger. “Danny Phantom? Oh my god, you’re fucking ghost Moon Moon. That’s too good!”
“Hold on,” Sam says, saving you from a good five minutes of merciless teasing. “He called you Daniel? Like, he knew you?”
“Yeah, that was the weird part.” You pause. “Uh, the weirder part. Turns out he’s a half-ghost too. He took me back to his lab and gave me like, Ghost Biology 101, and then he seemed really surprised that I only turned into a ghost yesterday? I'm not sure why, if I could do this in high school you bet I would. But he said he went to college with my parents and one of Dad’s gadgets blasted him.”
Sam’s frowning. “You said his name’s Vlad? What does he look like?”
“Ghost him or human him?”
She pulls out her phone. “Human.”
“Uh, old white guy, long grey hair in a ponytail, little taller than me, kinda thin but with broad shoulders? Why?”
Sam pokes her phone, then turns it around to show you. “This guy?” She has a Wikipedia page open, with a picture of Vlad on the right. You nod. “I thought so. He’s super rich, I’ve seen him at social stuff with my parents. He always came off kinda sleazy, like he was trying too hard to get people to like him. ‘Early Life,’ blah blah blah, nothing too weird, and then - hey.” She stops scrolling. “‘In 1992, Masters was hospitalized for an rare form of cancer and was unable to attend his graduation at the University of Wisconsin. He received his degree in absentia and spent the next five years battling his illness until January 1997, when his cancer was declared in remission and he quickly became a major influence in the business world. In an interview with Forbes, he credits the disease with giving him “a new perspective on life,”’ blah blah, inspiration bullshit, some crap about what companies he’s taken over and stuff, something more recent where one of his companies went bankrupt and the higher-ups were embezzling but he got away clean.... Sounds like he came out of nowhere, though, the rest of his family's nothing special and they died in a house fire while he was in the hospital. Huh.”
“Huh,” you echo. “So he’s been a ghost for... like twenty years?”
“Assuming the cancer’s a cover-up for what really happened,” Tucker says.
“I wonder why Mom and Dad never mentioned him,” you say. “They wouldn't just ditch their friend cause he got sick. At least, I don't think they would.”
“Maybe they weren’t as good of friends as he thinks,” Sam says. “Or maybe something else happened, who knows.” She taps her phone again, presumably opening another link.
You assume she's still paying attention and keep going. “Anyway... the Hunger came back, way worse than it was this morning, and he thought that was weird too but he gave me... uh, some stuff to drink that helped.”
“And you just drank it?” Tucker says skeptically. “What are you, Alice in Wonderland?”
“What was it gonna do, kill me?” you answer flippantly. Wait, shit, that's not what you wanted to say. “I mean, it helped.”
“Was it whatever you wanted out of the ectopus?” Sam asks, still not looking at you.
Hell. You’re blushing again. How does that even work? You don’t have a heartbeat and your blood is green. “Uh, k-kinda.”
“‘Kinda’?” Tucker says. “What does that mean?”
There is one upside to having stressed over coming out to your parents so much earlier: you have very few fucks left to give about this. “It’s sex.”
It’s a credit to how well your friends know you that they don’t immediately assume you’re joking.
“It’s what?!” Tucker squawks, way too loud.
You hush him, hoping your parents didn’t hear that. “It’s... apparently ghosts need the ‘essence’ of other ghosts and the easiest way to get it is through sex,” you say helplessly.
Sam’s looking at you now, calm and serious and worried. “Danny, you’re not... he didn’t...?”
It takes you a second, and then you go even redder at what she's trying to ask. “No! No, he didn’t... do anything, I didn’t do anything, he just told me about it.”
“Oh, okay, well in that case,” she says, and throws back her head and laughs like a hyena.
“Nice to know you care so much.”
“Dude,” Tucker says, “are you sure? He could've been lying.”
You sigh and drag a hand down your face. “I don’t think he was,” you say tiredly. “Like, what a weird lie to pick, you know? Why not literally anything else? He could have said it was heroin and I’d probably have gone with it, it’s not like I’d know any different. He was really obviously trying to get me on his side, he said I could come back if I needed more-”
“I bet he did,” Sam says, before bursting into new giggles.
“-more vials, augh!” You can’t fault her too much, though, not after the teasing when you and Tucker saw what her parents had dressed her in for graduation. And you had thought the same thing, if... in more explicit detail.
What if you just died, for real, right here. That would be so much better than explaining to your friends how you eat sex now. You think your head might explode with how hard you’re blushing.
Sam leans back on her elbows and looks you up and down appraisingly. “So does it work with humans too?”
“Ngk,” you say. “Uh. Uh. Probably not?”
Tucker takes pity on you. “Are you okay with that? Like, it’s hilarious, you’re never gonna live this down, but your mom did say she could turn you back.”
“I-” You sigh, and sit on the floor. Apparently you’re having this conversation now. “Mostly I’m freaking out with how okay with it I am? Like, does that make sense? But I don’t know how it works, like, logistically.”
“When two ghosts love each other very much,” Sam quips. “Too bad we don’t have more information. You didn’t get anything else out of Fake Dracula?”
You hesitate for just a second too long. “No.”
“You panicked, didn’t you?” Tucker says.
“I panicked,” you confirm. “I guess I could go back.”
Sam makes a displeased noise. “I haven’t even met him and I can tell he’s sketchy as fuck. He’s gonna try to extort you or something. Bet you a hundred dollars that little tracker thing’s from him.”
“No bet,” Tucker says, pulling it out and flipping it like a coin onto the bedspread. “You’re the only one with that kinda cash.”
You shrug. “If he really has been a ghost for twenty years, we might not have much of a choice.” Also, he’s hot and you have terrible decision-making skills. That part kinda goes unsaid. “From what he said I think we’re the only two hybrids.”
“As far as you know,” Tucker points out. “Maybe he just wants you to think that because it makes you easier to creep on.”
You make a face at that delightful description. “My point is, it doesn’t really matter, he’s gonna do whatever he wants, and anyway if there are more of us I’ll meet them eventually. It’s been like two days and I’ve already run into three ghosts. Five if you count the ectopuses. Ectopi. Whatever.”
Sam wrinkles her nose. “Uh, do they do the essence thing too? Cause that’s either hot or creepy, depending on how smart they are.”
You think about it, then blush (again - you have seriously got to work on your tells) and try to stop thinking about it. “I don’t know, I think they could understand me... kind of. But apparently there’s a bunch of animal-type ghosts and they just hunt and eat each other like normal animals do.”
“So you do have an alternative,” Tucker says.
“I will eat ghosts after you eat a live spider,” you tell him flatly. He goes a little pale, which is satisfying, because your stomach had lurched just thinking about it.
You scoot over so you can pick up and examine the button. You're not sure what you're looking for, and you don't find it. It’s just a flat black disc about the size of a nickel, slightly sticky on one side from whatever adhesive stuck it to your jumpsuit. No identifying marks, not even a visible seam. “Is there any way we can find out what this thing does, or should we just smash it and hope nothing bad happens?”
Tucker pulls a face. “I could see if it's sending out a... radio signal....” He trails off, already messing with his phone. You wait expectantly, but after a minute he shakes his head. “It is, sort of - it's more complicated than that, but I can't tell anything other than that it's actively transmitting something to somewhere. Probably a satellite.”
Wordlessly, Sam holds her hand out for the button. You give it up, and she drops it on the floor, gets up, and stomps on it. When she lifts her foot it’s in four or five little pieces, including the plastic casing, a microchip, a wire, and one of those little tiny batteries that goes in watches. None of them are connected anymore.
“I think it's dead,” Tucker says. He scoops up the pieces. “I might be able to do something with this, but no promises.”
“So the guy who probably has the most answers is a total creep and put some kind of bug on you,” Sam says. “Great.”
“It could have been Skulker,” you point out. “I mean, it’s not, but it could have been.”
Sam waves this away. “Yeah, but it’s not. So what are you gonna do now?”
“Make a fortune doing special effects?” Tucker suggests.
You laugh. “That can be our Plan B.” For now, your options pretty much boil down to going back to the Ghost Zone to try and find more information (or maybe a friendly ghost - so far you're zero for three), trying to figure out your ghost powers on your own, or just basically waiting until something happens. None of these seem like good ideas, but you don't have any better ones.
[ ] Go exploring
[X] Play with your new superpowers
[ ] Regroup for the next curveball
Chapter 8: The Box Ghost
Suddenly, you want nothing more than to just get out of the house. You want to remember that there’s a real world outside, that time is still passing, that the sun has still come up. That you’re not in some weird pocket dimension that only covers your house.
You start to grin. “Guys. Guys. You know what?”
Tucker looks cautious. “...What?”
“I have superpowers!” You kick off the floor and do a somersault in the air just because you can. “Is that cool or what?”
“It’s pretty cool,” Sam says. She’s grinning too, watching you play around.
“Dude,” Tucker says, which basically sums it up. “We should see how fast you can go, stuff like that.”
You turn upside down. Mostly because it’s fun, but also because moving in midair without pushing off anything feels very weird, and you should probably try to get used to it. You keep trying to swim, almost, but it’s not like you’re actually interacting with the air the way you would be with water, you don’t think. It feels kind of like flying in a dream, where part of your brain still knows you’re lying down and not moving. You hope you’ll get more graceful with practice. Right now you just feel like a dork. A floating dork, but still a dork.
“Let’s head over to the park,” Sam proposes. “Nobody goes there anyway, there’s more space, and if you set anything on fire we can make a quick getaway.”
“Sounds like a plan.” You stick your head through the door - not the doorway, the door - and pitch your voice to carry down the stairs. “Hey Mom, Sam and Tuck and I are gonna head out to the park, be back later!”
Years of communicating in the laziest way possible ensure that Mom understands what you’ve just said. “Sure, hon!” she yells back. She sounds distracted.
You glance at your friends. “What do you want to bet she forgot I’m the ghost she’s studying?”
“I say we take it,” Sam says. “Just hope she doesn’t remember before we get to the front door.”
You grin again and grab their arms, Tucker’s right and Sam’s left. They didn’t take their shoes off and it’s relatively warm out, so there’s nothing to go get before you leave. “Where we’re going... we don’t need doors!”
“Seriousl-whoa!” You’ve already started moving, and Tucker’s snark cuts off with a strangled yelp. He braces himself to run into the wall, but then you’re through it and floating a story above the street. “Seriously?”
Sam’s on the same page. “You couldn’t come up with anything better than a Back to the Future reference? Come on.”
“It was short notice!” you protest. God, you love your friends.
“I don’t even know you, dude,” Tucker says. “You’re dead to me.” There’s a beat, and then he looks horrified just as Sam bursts out laughing.
You give him a mischievous look. “Didn’t you say you wanted to see how fast I could go? Let’s find out.”
Sam, ever the daredevil, laughs harder. Tucker’s eyes widen. “Danny--”
You cackle and pour on the speed.
It turns out that your top speed is “really damn fast.” You meant to fly over to the park, but you’d badly underestimated how fast you can go when you don't have muscles or physics to worry about. You slow down and curve back around in a wide arc. It took you maybe thirty seconds to go a mile and a half. That’s... what, 180 miles an hour? Something like that.
“I vote we don’t do that again,” Sam says as you set the three of you down.
You wince. “I, uh... overshot.”
Tucker doesn't say anything, just lies facedown in the grass. “Have I ever mentioned how much I really like the ground?” he says, slightly muffled. “It doesn't move or anything.”
You roll your eyes and nudge him with your foot. “I'm sorry, okay? I didn't know that was going to happen.”
He props his chin on one hand. “Oh, I know. But what kind of friend would I be if I didn't give you grief about it? I'm just gonna stay right here until I stop wanting to barf.”
You... probably deserve that one. You let it go. “Well, at least we found something out.”
“Don’t mind Tucker, he’s being a wimp,” Sam says.
Tucker glares at her. “You had to sit down because you couldn’t stay standing!”
Sam turns up her nose. “I chose to sit down. There’s a difference.”
“What else should we try?” you say, before the good-natured ribbing can turn mean.
“Uh...” Sam says. “I dunno. What do ghosts do?”
“Rattle chains?” Tucker suggests.
You and Sam give him identical deadpan looks. “You can do that,” you point out. “You don't have to be a ghost, all you need are some chains.”
“Can you take off your head?” Sam asks. “Alas, poor Yorick?”
To humor her, you put one hand on either side of your head and tug upwards. It remains firmly attached to your shoulders. “I think that only works if you got beheaded.”
Tucker frowns. “Was the Headless Horseman a ghost?”
“Well, yeah,” Sam says, “that was kind of his whole thing.”
“No, I mean, like, a real ghost. You know.”
“Don’t ghosts have a theme or something?” you ask. “Like the Phantom of the Opera?”
“He wasn’t a ghost,” Sam says. “He was just a creepy dude. With a sad life.”
You wave a hand. “You know what I mean. So far we know I can shoot lasers, walk through walls, disappear, and fly. That's not... super conclusive.”
Sam taps her chin in thought. “You know, I’d think telekinesis would be a pretty standard ghost power. Are you sure you can’t do that?”
You shrug. “Pretty sure.” You cast around and point to a random pebble. “Rock, lift thyself!” Nothing happens. You concentrate and try again. Still nothing.
“Hmm.” Sam taps away at her phone. “You guys brainstorm, I want to see if I'm remembering something right.”
You turn to Tucker, who just throws some grass in your general direction. “I don’t know. Aren't you the one with ghost hunter parents? Shouldn't you be telling us this stuff?”
“It's not like I paid attention! I thought they were just nuts!”
He considers this. “Yeah, that’s fair. How high can you fly?”
You don't know yet, but you're about to. You head up as fast as you can, turning intangible in case you have to worry about the wind or something. You assume you’ll slow down and stall out at some point, but that doesn't happen and after a second you realize, duh, your flying has nothing to do with air pressure.
The world turns blank grey for a second and you almost panic until it goes away and you look down and see a cloud.
Holy shit, you’re really high up. You can see all of the Great Lakes from your vantage point, and what must be the East Coast. You slow, then stop. If you haven't hit some kind of barrier by now, you're not sure you’re ever going to. Could you go to space like this? You don’t have to breathe.
It’s not a question for today. Even as fast as you are, it would probably take a couple hours to reach actual space, and your friends are waiting for you. You turn and start heading back down.
It doesn’t feel like falling, not exactly. There’s no weightlessness, or at least, there isn’t any new weightlessness. You’re pretty sure you’re still ignoring gravity, you just happen to be going the way it wants you to. You try to stop ignoring it, mostly to see if you can.
You drop like a rock. For some reason you think of a bowl of petunias, and then whatever thing in your brain that was letting you stay perfectly comfortable at the same altitude as some small aircraft screams in panic and abandons its post. You hover, immediately, on instinct, flailing your arms to try and grab something, anything, to stop falling.
So. That wasn’t fun. Good to know. You continue descending the “normal” way, a little rattled.
“Survey says?” Tucker prompts you.
You shrug. “Honestly I think I could’ve just... kept going, it just would have taken a long time. I can find out some other time you guys aren’t waiting around.”
“Aha,” Sam says, still looking at her phone. “Check this out: ‘the kiss of a virgin may empower the supernatural.’ We should try it.”
“Uh,” you say. “Is that a euphemism, or...?”
Sam puts her phone back in her pocket. “I guess if it doesn’t work, we’ll find out.” She hesitates. “I mean, if you want to. It could be nothing.”
What the hell. “Sure,” you say, and take a step forward, and then stop and look between Tucker and Sam. “So, uh....”
“Maybe you should kiss both of us,” Sam suggests. “For science.” Riiiight.
“I’m not a virgin,” Tucker says.
Both of you stare at him. “You’re not?” you say in unison.
Tucker crosses his arms. “Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence, guys.”
“With who?” Sam demands. “When?”
He looks a little uncomfortable. “Senior year. Starr said she’d give me head if I did her math homework and didn’t tell anyone. So... I did. And she did. And I didn’t. Tell anyone, I mean. Until now.”
“That sounds super ethical,” Sam deadpans.
“It was her idea! But... uh. Yeah. It was kinda weird. We both sort of... agreed to pretend it didn’t happen.” Tucker shrugs. “But it still makes me not a virgin. Technically.”
“That’s not sex,” Sam says, before you can have a reaction.
“What? Yes it is!”
“No it’s not! You didn’t have sex, you had sex done to you!”
“That doesn’t make any sense! What are you, Reagan?”
Sam blinks at him, confused, then it clicks. “That was Clinton. Reagan was the drugs guy.”
“Whatever, some old white guy who couldn’t keep it in his pants before I was born.” He turns to you. “Back me up here, dude. Oral sex counts as sex, right? It’s right there in the name.”
You’d forgotten you were supposed to be part of this conversation, instead quietly absorbed in your own revelations. Like, maybe you wouldn’t be all that opposed to kissing your friends. Maybe you would be... more than not-opposed to it. You figure you can blame that for what comes out of your mouth next, which is, “I know how we can find out.”
There’s silence. You drop your gaze to the ground and feel your face heat up. Only it’s not heating up, because you’re a ghost, but for some reason blushing still works the same way. Who knows. And you’re absolutely stalling, aren’t you? Dammit.
“I’d be okay with that,” Tucker says, and. What. You jerk your head back up.
“Do it,” Sam says, looking between the two of you. Is this what the deer feels like, on the other side of the headlights?
“O-okay,” you say. You drift closer to Tucker, unsure exactly how you’re supposed to go about this.
“We don’t have to,” he says, once you’re in front of him. Giving you an out.
“I want to,” you say honestly. You don’t know where this is coming from. You’ve known each other for years. The world seems quieter than it should be, and it takes you a second to realize it’s because you’re expecting to hear your heart beating faster in your ears, and of course it isn’t.
Tucker puts a hand on the side of your face, then flinches back. Before you can retreat, he replaces his hand, draws you closer, and smiles. “I forgot you were cold,” he explains.
You shiver. You’d forgotten, too; his fingers feel unnaturally warm where they curl around the back of your neck. “Sorry,” you say automatically.
“Don’t be,” he says, and kisses you.
You sway forward entirely without meaning to. He’s warm, almost feverish, because you’re so much colder than a normal human, and you want to get as close as possible to the source of that warmth. You narrowly avoid sticking your hands up his shirt just to leech his core temperature.
“Jesus,” he says against your mouth. You laugh a little and try to kiss him back. You don’t have all that much experience, but neither does he, so it’s a little fumbling but soft and sweet and good.
It’s Tucker who pulls back first, to catch his breath. His eyes are wide and dark. “You should kiss Sam too,” he breathes. “Just in case.”
Just in case. Right. You don’t think any of you believe that for a second. You turn to Sam and reach out, not really thinking about what you’re doing, but it doesn’t matter, because she’s already coming close. She has none of Tucker’s hesitance, and in the moment after you both make contact and adjust, it becomes clear that she does know what she’s doing, and has had plenty of practice doing it.
You still have one hand on Tucker’s waist, the other hovering around Sam’s shoulder until she reaches up blindly to commit to the decision for you. You’re not sure how you feel about that.
(You know exactly how you feel about that. What you don’t know is what you want to do about it.)
When Sam moves back, you unthinkingly try to follow her, and she has to put a hand on your chest to stop you. Her smirk says you’re going to have a hard time playing that one off, but, “Try it now,” is all that comes out of her mouth.
You blink at her, temporarily lost. She points at a random rock on the ground. “Try the TK thing again.”
Oh yeah, there was a reason for all the making out. You kind of care a lot less about that right now, but you dutifully focus on the rock. Much to your surprise, it’s surrounded by a green glow and starts to float. You get it about a foot off the ground before you lose concentration and it turns back into a normal rock, with the attendant aerodynamic properties, i.e., none.
“Ha!” Sam says. “I was right!”
“Really?” Tucker says.
Sam waves a hand. “Oh, no, you definitely had sex, I made up the virgin thing. It’s a magic feather.”
You’re possibly more lost than you were a minute ago. “It’s what?”
“It’s a fantasy thing, one person gives the other a feather or a shiny rock or whatever and says it’s magic and it’ll help them do whatever they’re having trouble with, but really the feather doesn’t do shit, they just needed confidence. I’m not a virgin either. Sorry for tricking you.” She has the grace to look slightly abashed. “But I think you pretty much don’t have a limit on your powers. You can do whatever you think you can do.”
That sounds... sort of right. You can figure out why it’s not completely right later. “I wonder if I could turn other people into ghosts?” You can think of a few people who could stand this kind of life upgrade. Or, uh... death upgrade.
Sam snorts. “That’s not that hard.”
“Half-ghosts! You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, turning ‘em back’s the hard part,” Tucker says. You still have one hand on his waist so you shove him a little as payback.
He shoves back. Instead of escalating, you stop altogether, as your breath fogs in front of your face.
“Uh,” you say. “You guys saw that, right?”
“...Yeah,” says Sam, and is promptly interrupted by someone hollering at the top of their lungs.
“RUN AWAY, PUNY MORTALS! RUN AWAY! YOU ARE RIGHT TO FEAR THE BOX GHOST!”
All three of you turn to look. You disentangle your limbs from your friends and float a couple feet in front of them, ready for... for the Box Ghost? What? You can see him hovering a dozen or so feet off the ground. His skin is pale blue and he’s thickset, stocky. You’d call him fat except for he’s clearly not; he’s twice your size but well-muscled in addition to being well-padded. He looks like a guy who lifts heavy stuff all day, not because he’s working out but because it’s part of his job. Or, it was part of his job.
He’s also swooping low over pedestrians’ heads, cackling when they scream and drop their stuff. You cup your hands around your mouth. “Hey!”
“Are you sure that’s the best plan,” Tucker mutters tightly.
The Box Ghost looks up, but it takes him a second to spot you, hidden as you are in a copse of trees that mostly shelter you from view. You kick upward to make yourself more visible, confident that you can handle this guy more easily than the humans can.
...Which is a weird thought. You’re human too. Right? Whatever, that’s not what you should be focusing on.
“Hey!” the Box Ghost says brightly, once he’s close enough to see you properly. “You’re the new halfa!”
For fuck’s sake. “And you’re the... Box Ghost?”
A grin splits his face. “You’ve heard of me?!”
“Yeah, from you, two seconds ago,” Sam says flatly.
He deflates. “Oh.” For a second you kind of feel bad for him. He’s obviously not at the top of the heap. Then again, he was being a dick for no good reason, so your pity doesn't extend very far.
“What are you doing here?” you ask, trying to sound authoritative. You don't have very high hopes for the result.
The Box Ghost straightens up again. “Oh, right!” He clears his throat and raises his arms in a “scary” posture. “I AM THE BOX GHOST, LORD AND MASTER OF ALL THINGS PACKAGING- AND SHIPPING-RELATED! I HAVE COME TO VISIT ON YOU YOUR ETERNAL CORRUGATED CARDBOARD DOOM! How’s that?”
You blink at him.
“Why?” says Tucker.
The Box Ghost looks at him like he’s just asked why things fall down. “Because I AM THE BOX GHOST! BEWARE!”
“No, actually that's a good question,” you say. “Like, what are you hoping to get out of that?”
“I, uh... I will be the most feared ghost in all of....”
“Amity Park,” you supply.
“In all of Amity Park! And I will build my box empire large enough to rule the world! But no more than three pallets high, for safety reasons.”
“And then what?” Sam asks.
Apparently nobody has ever asked the Box Ghost this before; he's certainly never thought about the answer. He looks between the three of you dumbly. “And... then... and then the universe! Everything shall be packaged and appropriately labeled!” He sounds a little unsure about it.
Sam’s not fazed. “Yeah, and then what? You didn't answer the question, you just put it off.”
He draws himself up. “I do not need to justify myself to you, mortal! For I am the--”
You’ve heard this one before. “How about justifying yourself to me?” You cross your arms. “I’m not gonna let you run around scaring people.”
“How come you're not a box?” Tucker says.
“You’re the Box Ghost,” Tucker repeats, like it's obvious. “Shouldn’t the Box Ghost be a box? Or at least in a box, or something? You’re just a guy in overalls.”
The Box Ghost takes a breath, like he’s going to argue, but he doesn't say anything. Instead he stops with his mouth open. “...Has anyone ever told you that you're very confusing?”
“Constantly,” Tucker says proudly.
“Does that stuff make you happy?” Sam says. “Or are you just doing it because you think you're supposed to?”
“...I like boxes,” the Box Ghost tries. From the look on his face, he can tell exactly how feeble that sounds. “I’m the best at boxes!”
“Yeah, but do you get how that’s not, like, a plan. Or even a goal,” you say. Are you playing guidance counselor to a ghost? Too bad Jazz isn’t here, she’d get a kick out of this.
You’ve both been drifting slowly downward as you talk, and now you land while the Box Ghost tries to figure out an answer. He “lands,” too, but because he’s not really paying attention, he stops a couple inches below ground level, leaving his legs to look like they’ve been cut off abruptly at the ankle. You try not to stare. It’s a losing battle.
“Do you want to... think about it? For a while?” you say instead, awkward as hell. Then a thought strikes you. “Hey, actually, would you mind answering some questions? I’m kinda new at this.”
This doesn’t help; if anything the Box Ghost looks even more thrown. “You want advice?” he says, like he’s thinking one of you has gone crazy and he’s hoping it isn’t him.
You nod again.
You gesture at the rest of the park. “Who else is there? I need to know ghost stuff and you’re a ghost. If you’ve been a ghost longer than two days, you’re already ahead of me.”
“Uh,” says the Box Ghost, and looks like he has no idea what to do, or what’s happening to him. You empathize, you really do, but this isn’t very helpful. Before you can say anything, he shakes his head a little and comes back to the present. “No, uh, I mean, yeah! I -- I can do that? What do you want to know?”