Amity Park was one of the largest government secrets since the pine forest in the middle of nowhere, Gravity Falls, became a hellscape during the summer of 2012.
A combination of bad luck, budget cuts, and one dead teenager had kept the Guys in White from seizing full control of the area, reducing them to location-specific sweeps. Alarmingly, one of the most haunted places in Amity Park, layered with old traces of ectoplasm, was the town’s only high school.
Mr Lancer trailed after Agent L, ringing his hands together. “Are you sure this is the best way to go about this? We should be evacuating the children if there is an immediate threat.”
Agent L adjusted the Spirit Box in his hands. His partner had gone towards the science labs with the beeping ectoplasmic reader, while he went the other way with the Spirit Box. It jerked through the radio stations quickly, devolving into a rough growl of static and incoherent syllables. Defective, of course. Damn budget cuts.
“The best way to trap any lingering ectoplasmic deformities is to lock and seal the doors and then thoroughly sweep the building. Otherwise, any ghosts could escape in the commotion.”
Mr Lancer paled. “Oh, Tortilla Flats, you’ve locked the staff and a hundred minors inside a building with a possible rogue ghost?”
“A rogue ghost and then some. Our sensors picked up a great deal of activity at this location.”
“Of course there’s a lot of activity,” Mr Lancer said in a hollow tone that reminded Agent L that the English teacher, along with every other resident in this town, had seen more ghosts up-close than most seasoned agents. “This is Amity Park.”
“The only other place in Amity Park with more activity was the Fenton household, and they have an active ghost portal in their basement. Something else is going on here.”
The teacher’s attention was pulled towards a trio of students. Agent L thought they looked calm, too calm, but then he looked at them closer. The goth girl’s smile was more like a grimace, and there was hate burning behind her eyes. Sweat beaded on the dark-skinned boy’s temples. And the Fenton boy held himself rigidly, like he was ready to run at any moment.
They were children, Agent L reminded himself. Even kids in Amity Park were scared of ghosts.
“You three are supposed to be in the science labs,” Mr Lancer scolded.
“Danny had to go to the bathroom, sir. And you know how he’s terrified of ghosts; we had to go with him.” The boy didn’t pause for breath, big eyes staring at the Spirit Box in Agent L’s hand. “That’s the B-PSB7. How long has the GIW been using them? Can I see?”
“Tucker is a huge tech nerd,” said the goth girl before Agent L could wrench the Spirit Box away from Tucker’s sticky fingers. “How long is this going to take anyway? It’s almost home time, and you’re legally not allowed to hold us past 4PM.”
“It takes as long as it takes,” Agent L said. “There’s a dangerous ghost on site and we won’t stop until—”
Distracted, Agent L didn’t realise the Spirit Box had been taken out of his hands until Tucker had pulled out a small screwdriver and pried open the back of it, peering at its innards.
“Broken,” Tucker declared. “I’ll get it working.”
“Now, hang on,” Agent L began.
“Danny’s feeling sick,” said the girl, stepping neatly in front of Tucker. “We’re going to bunker down in the nurse’s office. They have vomit bags there.”
Fenton was a sickly white-green. He stared at Agent L with a vague, almost dead expression, like he was looking right through him.
Agent L backed up quickly. He couldn’t afford to catch whatever illness the kid was carrying.
The Spirit Box was probably defective, he reasoned. He would retrieve it later, after the campus had been swept for paranormal presences. It wasn’t a weapon, after all. What kind of damage could a fourteen year old possibly do with a malfunctioning Spirit Box?
“Go,” Mr Lancer said. “And be safe!”
Tucker jogged down the hallway, screwdriver in his mouth, still fiddling with the Spirit Box, while the girl grabbed her sick friend and pulled him down the hallway. She was almost carrying him, Agent L thought. Fenton’s feet barely touched the ground.
They bypassed the nurse’s office and instead headed into the girl’s bathroom. Tucker made a face, but didn’t argue. When the door was firmly closed and locked behind them, Sam let go of Danny. He felt lost without her hand around his wrist, like a balloon left untethered, until his brain kicked back in.
You’re Danny Fenton, he told himself. You’re human—or, at least, you look human right now. They can’t take you.
“The threat of vomit always works,” Sam said, leaning against the door, sniggering to herself.
Tucker placed the Spirit Box on the off-blue counter and began stripping it down to its bare essentials, so he could build it back up again. Sam pulled out her phone. The student body served as their internal surveillance, live-tweeting the movements of the GIW, blowing up the constantly trending #ghostsighting whenever something large enough to warrant attention slipped through a portal.
Danny jumped onto the counter and curled in on himself, elbows on knees, hands in his hair. Sam put her phone down.
“You know, Danny,” she said, “I carry a gun now.”
“No, you don’t,” he said into his palms.
“Yes, I do. Your mum gave it to me. She says every young woman should learn to defend herself.”
“It’s a ghost weapon, Sam.”
“It shoots lasers; it’ll work on anyone, ghost or not. Including those assholes in white.”
“Sam,” Danny began.
Tucker let go of the Spirit Box and pulled out the laser lipstick he kept tucked inside his sleeve. He waved it in the air. “Me, too, dude.”
“Guys,” Danny said, firmer than he felt, “I’m not letting you get any closer to shady government agencies, especially not close enough to shoot at them.”
“Bold of you assume you could stop us,” Sam said idly. “Tuck, you done?”
“One second,” Tucker said through a mouth full of wires.
Sam jumped onto the counter beside Danny. He ran his fingers over the powder foundation left on the rim of the sink, residue from dozens of teenage girls, so he didn’t have to look at her.
“We meant it, Danny,” she said softly. “We’re not going to let them take you.”
“It’s not exactly like I can fight them off right now. My powers aren’t working. I can’t even go intangible.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Sam, if they work out that I’m Phantom, I’m done for.”
Danny had a split-second of panic after saying his identity aloud, but then he remembered who was standing to his left with his fingers buried inside the Spirit Box. Tucker would have disabled any recording device the GIW had put up.
Sam slung an arm around his shoulders. He leaned into the touch.
“You wouldn’t be done for. You have us.”
Danny shook his head. “The Guys in White—they’re not like my parents. They wouldn’t be afraid of taking you out. Human or not.”
“You should take your own advice, Daniel. The GIW pose a threat to us all.”
Tucker held the Spirit Box into the air. “Fixed it!”
“I’d know that nasally drawl anywhere,” Danny remarked. “Hi, Vlad. How’s life as a slimy scumbag treating you?”
The Spirit Box continued flicking rapid-fire through radio signals in the area, but now, instead of only churning out empty static and jerky syllables, Vlad’s voice came through over the din, as clear as if he were in the room with them.
“Life as a politician is going well. Thank you for asking, Daniel.”
“Good work, Tuck,” Sam said, even as her nose wrinkled, the way it always did when Vlad was nearby. “How’d you manage that?”
Tucker shrugged, like stealing and then reworking a piece of government tech was no big deal. To him, it probably wasn’t. “Copied the same rudimentary network inside the Ghost Gabber. Technically, the Spirit Box worked before, but ghost language is incomprehensible to human ears. It just needed translating.”
“As much as I approve of stealing from the government, you shouldn’t have gone near any GIW agents,” Vlad said through the Spirit Box. “They won’t be kind to any of you just because you’re minors. And Daniel, the things they would do to us if they knew we existed …”
“What are they going to do, kill me?”
“If they catch you? Yes. Eventually.”
Sam punched him on the arm for the distasteful joke. Danny pulled a face, and then froze, all his muscles seizing up. Blue mist passed through his lips.
“Now?” Sam said. “Really?”
“You haven’t disabled all my cameras, have you, Tucker? Because I want to watch the three of you run around that school like rats. It would be so entertaining.”
“Maybe I’ll give the GIW Vlad’s address after this is all over,” Danny suggested, though the words tasted like ash in his mouth.
“Don’t be crude, Daniel. I would never do that to you, after all. I might want to destroy your life, but I don’t want to see you vivisected for days at a time.”
Tucker rose a hand in the air to silence Danny’s reply. “Wait, guys, do you hear that?”
Even behind the locked door, they could hear the very familiar sound of screaming.
What should have been a boring lock-down was quickly turning into a nightmare. Kwan was not surprised. This was how minor issues typically resolved themselves in Amity Park.
Kwan’s hand was clamped tightly in Star’s. They were running through the hallways. They turned a corner and almost ran straight into Sam Manson.
She reared back. In her hand was a gun. Or, Kwan thought, it might have have been a gun, It looked like a water pistol filled with bioluminescent paste, and seemed natural in Sam’s pale hands.
By her side, Tucker Foley was fiddling with a boxy radio. Static-y voices shouted through its speakers. There was something strange about the words, like a foreign text that had been put through google translate several times over, until the original syntax was lost.
And behind Tucker, unmoving, barely even breathing, stood Danny Fenton. His unmoving gaze was focused on the locker to the right.
Star poked her head out from behind Kwan. “You’re running the wrong way.”
“Maybe you’re running the wrong way,” Sam countered.
Someone comes, the spirit box said, like a hiss from a snake hidden by long grass.
“Who?” Danny said to the locker.
As clean and intact as snow, said a different voice.
“What the fuck,” Kwan said.
“Stole it from the GIW,” Tucker said, casual as ever, as though he hadn’t just admitted to stealing from a terrifying government institution. “Did you guys get a look at the ghost?”
“Ghost?” Star asked, high-pitched. “Try ghosts.”
Sam cocked her gun. It made a deep whirring noise, like an engine rumbling to life. “Where?”
“You can’t shoot them,” Star said, almost hysterical. Kwan put a hand on her back, steadying her. “There’s hundreds of them.”
Brothers and sisters, said the Spirit Box, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death,
“Goddamnit,” Sam said. “This couldn’t have happened at any other time?”
—so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind,
“Sam,” Danny said.
—who have no hope.
“What the fuck,” Kwan said again.
Tucker held the box easily, lightly, with no care for the dull static it spat out, or the chorus of voices clambering to be heard. Kwan got the vague impression that this was a game of Chinese whispers: each voice garbled by static and time, the syntax choppy, but all of them trying to convey a similar message.
His eyes flicked to Sam, who held the strange weapon expertly, and Danny, whose eyes were still fixed on the locker, never-moving, as though he could see straight through the wall and over to the other side. For a split second, Kwan could have even sworn that Danny’s eyes shone silver, like the eyes of a deer, glowing under headlights.
What the fuck, he thought one last time.
“Sam,” Danny repeated, urgent.
Sam readjusted her grip on the gun—and it really did look like a proper gun the more Kwan looked at it. The handle glowed green like the spine of a deepwater fish and it looked more plastic than metal, but it was, very clearly, a gun.
Then again, Danny was a Fenton, and his parents were often seen walking around in public with bazookas strapped to their backs. It made sense that they would pass weapons on to Danny, who then handed them to Sam, because he was rubbish in a fight.
“See you around,” Sam said dismissively. She ducked around them, Tucker and Danny on her heels.
“You’re still going the wrong way!” Star called after them.
Star was right: there were too many ghosts to shoot down. And Sam doubted that Danny would let her shoot these ghosts down.
Ghost-bites were swarming the empty hallways. They were small, barely the size of Sam’s palm, a mass of ectoplasm driven by a baser consciousness. They held no maliciousness, but they dove towards anything that moved, like puppies, eager to play.
She hated them.
Sam holstered her gun. She needed both hands to bat away the ghost-bites that flew at her, sticking to her hair or passing straight through her, making her shudder at the icy sensation.
Tucker was hunched over beside her. The Spirit Box, clasped protectively in his hands, was chittering with one-word phrases, like a toddler just learning to string syllables together.
“Danny!” Sam said. “A little help here?”
Warm! Fly! Friends! said the Spirit Box.
“I think one got in my mouth!” Tucker spat out
Danny held his hands into the air, palm out, and crooned, “Hey, guys. Can you give the humans space?”
The babbling stopped, and the Spirit Box began to spit out one word on repeat: Phantom. Phantom. Phantom.
The tiny ghosts drew away from Sam and Tucker, and raced around Danny. They orbited him in a rolling, diving mass, like a school of silver-bellied fish, pushing up against his fingers and rolling through his hair. He laughed.
“You’re not supposed to be in the human realm,” he said, trying and failing to be stern. “Not en-masse like this.”
The answer came through the Spirit Box: A hole. Followed. Pushed through.
“Well, you have to find a way back to the ghost zone. It’s not safe here. There’s a bigger, meaner ghost somewhere around here. You guys would be a snack to him.”
Danger. Plasmius said. Bad humans.
“Yeah, there are bad humans around, too,” Danny said. Sam wondered what kind of rumours Vlad had been circulating around the Ghost Zone. “All the more reason for you to go home.”
There was a violent crash from the cafeteria. Danny’s eyes flicked to the wall. Sam reached for her gun again.
“Sam, this ghost is too big to fight without my powers.” Danny squinted at the wall. “And … the Box Ghost is here. Because of course he is.”
“You’re not going in there as Phantom,” Sam insisted. “Not while the GIW are still around.”
Danny stared at her, hard. She met his gaze evenly.
“Hey, guys,” Tucker cut in, holding the Spirit Box up and smiling like a shark. “I have an idea.”
The files on Amity Park read more like a badly written novel than scientific act. It was an awful cross between laughable implausibility and the terrible, uncanny truth; the full reality of death contained in a small American town.
The files were suffused with a kind of absurdity and dread that drew Agent L in. It was what ended his last relationship. It was what brought him to this dingy high school cafeteria, where he was crouched behind a table, the only adult in a sea of white-faced teenagers, hiding from the showdown between two ghosts.
“I am the Box Ghost!” A dead factory worker bobbed in the air, holding a Spirit Box aloft. Agent L’s Spirit Box, specifically. Where had it gotten that? “Behold, the awesome might of the Ghost-Box!”
The other ghost didn’t look human. It was a creature conceived in the depths of the ghost zone, borne in murky darkness. It had two faces, one on its head, where a face should be, the other blinking out from the thick neck. When it laughed, the sound came like radio feedback, echoing from both mouths.
“You think,” said the two-faced ghost, “you’re strong enough to fight me?”
“Uh, well,” said the Box Ghost, clearly intimidated by the animal-stare in the twin sets of eyes.
The two-faced ghost turned on the cowering students. “I’ve never met the living before. I hadn’t expected them to be so warm.”
The students moaned. Even Agent L, on the other side of the cafeteria, felt pierced by its words.
A ghost was always driven by something. Boxes. The desire to uphold the law. To protect and be known.
And in this case: warmth. The living’s warmth.
If the two-faced ghost drifted any closer to the students, seemed intent on touching or harvesting them, then Agent L would have to fire on it. Even at the risk of hitting the kids.
The Box Ghost didn’t enjoy being ignored. He shook his head and held the Spirit Box up again. “The Ghost-Box is strong enough to defeat all of the Box Ghost’s enemies!”
Two-Face laughed again. The Spirit Box was the size of a fist and spat out static, incomprehensible phrases, alien words. It wasn’t a weapon.
But then the Spirit Box jerked in the Box Ghost’s hands, like an animal kicking itself awake.
“Is this thing on?” it said.
The two-faced ghost turned away from the cowering humans, and peered at the box. “Are you speaking to me?”
“Well, I’m certainly not talking to Chuck,” it continued in a lazy drawl, before the voice lowered, became angry. It cracked in the middle, like an antique radio with the sound turned up too high. “You don’t belong here. Leave, before I lose my temper.”
“I’m not doing this,” said the Box Ghost, dropping the Spirit Box. It bounced and landed in the middle of the cafeteria.
“This is my territory,” it said. “My haunt. My humans.”
The ghost went rigid. The two faces stopped smiling. “Phantom?”
“I would say that maybe you weren’t as dumb as you looked, but you came here, to my realm, without my permission, so you’re clearly an idiot.” The two faces opened and closed in indignation. Phantom forged on, “What, you think you’re powerful because you lurked in the dark like an earthworm for a hundred years? You’re not. You’re nothing. You couldn’t even stand up to the power of my words.”
The two-faced ghost had lost its confidence. In the face of Phantom’s threats, it had devolved, reverted back to the bottom-feeder it had started life as.
“You don’t have that power,” said the two-faced ghost.
Phantom laughed. “Are you sure? Do you really want to take that chance?”
The Box Ghost’s courage abandoned him and he dove through the back wall, leaving the Spirit Box behind. The two-faced ghost seemed to realise it was alone, left to deal with a bigger predator by itself. Its eyes were fixed on the Spirit Box like it was scared the thing would attack.
When Phantom next spoke, his voice was low but increasingly powerful, like a boxer winding his arm back for a punch: “Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus, omni satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica.”
The words were raw and crackling, and struck straight to the heart of Agent L. He felt small, like a mouse huddled in the shadow of a hawk. Phantom’s presence, so great it was tangible, fell over the entire cafeteria.
“Eradicare et effugare a Dei Ecclesia, ab animabus ad imaginem Dei conditis ac pretioso divini Agni sanguini redemptis!”
And then a pack of ghost-bites came crashing through the wall. They were smaller than Agent L’s palm, but clumped together to resemble a larger beast. They threw themselves at the two-faced ghost, like vultures swooping at a dying man, and the two-faced ghost became panicked at the frenzy.
“Phantom,” it howled, “I’m sorry. Please stop. Stop!”
And finally, in English, Phantom said, “Leave.”
With a sharp cry from its twin mouths, the ghost spun around and disappeared through the back wall.
The hoard of tiny ghosts whirled in the air in victory. Phantom laughed. He suddenly sounded like a boy again. “Come on, you lot. Out of there.”
The ghost-bites did one last triumphant loop of the cafeteria and then zipped through the doors, leaving behind a crowd of humans stunned into silence.
It took Danny a while to extract himself from the flock of ghost-bites lovingly circling him, rubbing at his skin and cheeks, like they were scent-marking him. On the other side of the storage closet, Tucker was filming him. He and Sam were choking with laughter. Sam almost toppled over into the cleaning supplies when the ghost-bites made static-y crooning sounds and tried to crawl into Danny’s shirt.
Finally, though, Danny managed to gently vacuum them into the thermos. He’d take them back to the Ghost Zone that evening, after his parents had gone to bed.
“Don’t let anyone see that video,” Danny warned as they exited the storage closet, where they had hidden, so he could talk the two-faced ghost out of the school.
Crowds of chatting students were exiting the cafeteria. For kids who had just been cornered by a psychotic ghost, they didn’t seem upset--in fact, they almost looked excited.
Sam punched Danny in the arm. “I think everyone liked your theatrics.”
“Think anyone apart from you recognised the Latin?”
Tucker squinted at Sam. “Wait, Sam knows Latin?”
Sam punched Tucker in the arm next. He yelped and hid behind Danny.
“I don’t speak Latin,” Sam said dryly, “but I am a child of darkness. I can recognise an exorcism when I hear one.”
They made their way to the front of the school. The Guys in White had lifted the lock-in. It seemed even they realised trapping children in a building with a horde of ghosts wasn’t a good idea.
Tucker paused. “Exorcisms don’t actually work on ghosts, though, right?”
This time, Danny’s smile was all teeth. “Nah. I just wanted to freak him out.”
Outside, the parking lot was full of parents and news vans. Word must have gotten out that the GIW’s investigation had coincided with a ghost attack. Dash and Paulina had already flagged down a cameraman and were gushing about Phantom to a wide-eyed reporter.
The GAV was parked in the middle of the chaos, dwarfing the cars around it. Jazz was under the frantic hands of their parents. And far in front of them, standing in a circle of calm, stood Vlad, hands poised behind his back.
“Fuck this,” Danny said, and turned on his heel.
Sam and Tucker caught one of his arms each and bodily escorted him down the steps.
“Dude, you gotta play it cool for the GIW,” Tucker hissed in his ear. “Even if Vlad is a total creep.”
“Daniel!” Vlad swept forward, smile fixed in place, as though he weren’t watching the GIW’s movements out of the corner of his eye, just like Danny was. “I was so worried!”
Danny tried to squirm out of the way, but Vlad deftly caught him in a hug. His squeezed tightly, crushing Danny.
When Vlad pulled back, he held Danny at arms length, theatrically checking him over for injuries. “I am so glad to see my dear nephew is alright. I know how scared you are of ghosts. Even the baby ones.”
A few football players passed them, sniggering. Vlad’s smile became more real. He was enjoying this.
Anger bubbled up Danny’s throat, the way it always did when he was near Vlad. Sometimes that fury bled into his eyes, lighting them up green; they must have flashed now, too, because Vlad’s grip became urgent rather than fatherly.
Vlad leaned in and hissed, only loud enough for Danny to hear, “You’re a thorn in my side and I’m going to get rid of you in whatever way I see fit, but I won’t let the GIW get their hands on you, or any other person like us. It would be a fate worse than death.”
Danny went still under Vlad’s hands. A look passed between them, grim but unifying. Danny wouldn’t sell Vlad out to the GIW, either. No one deserved to be picked apart under a scalpel. Not even scumbag ghost-politicians that hit on his mum.
There was a sharp, watery cry of “Danny!” And then Vlad was knocked aside and Danny was swept into another equally embarrassing hug.
After Mum put him down, Jazz frantically looked him over. They had been separated in the lock-down. What had it been like for her, already scared because of the GIW’s presence, and then realising that there ghosts roaming the halls—ghosts that could have drawn out Phantom?
Jazz, Tucker and Sam shepherded Danny into the GAV. He went easily.
When Dad slung an arm around Vlad’s shoulders and asked if he wanted a ride, Danny blurted, “Come with us.”
Everyone stared at Danny. He looked back at them, exactly confused. It was no secret that he didn’t like Vlad. But with visions of what the GIW would do to anyone with ectoplasm coursing through their veins, with the sight of Vlad’s tight smile against the backdrop of GIW agents crawling over Amity Park with ghost-locating devices, Danny had the intense urge to hold onto Vlad and never let go.
Vlad smiled a politician’s smile. “Why, Daniel. I never knew you cared.”
Vlad, somehow, managed to secure the passenger seat beside Mum, Dad demoted to the backseat. Danny stared at the back of his head—not just because he wanted to catapult him through the windscreen, but because he was irrationally scared that, if he took his eyes off Vlad, he would disappear into a lab.
The Guys in White would back off eventually. They always did. Danny guessed he would be dodging them for a few days, a week at most, until bureaucracy or financial constraints pulled them out of Amity Park. And when that happened, Vlad and Danny would be free to fight each other up and down the main streets.
Danny was looking forward to it.