Laughter and voices bubbled up from the Fenton’s basement, breaking Jazz’s concentration once again. She groaned and turned a page in her book. With her parents out of the house, she had hoped to get a little reading done. Unfortunately, the curse of the older sister was to have an obnoxious little brother who invited his friends over constantly. She assumed they had their own homes, yet for some reason, they insisted on hanging out at the Fenton’s. Jazz would love to have a normal place to go home to, not one where the adults were obsessed with the paranormal. The only chance she had was to get into a good university and escape the shadow of the name ‘Fenton.’ And to do that, she needed peace and quiet-
A clatter came from below, followed by three teens yelling.
Jazz slammed her book shut and stormed to the basement. The door opened with a satisfying BANG, causing the guilty teens to jump. A beaker had fallen from atop a cabinet, shattering. Glass shards spread out like a map of a city. Danny started to say something in their defense, but Jazz cut him off.
“Danny, you know you’re not supposed to be in the lab when mom and dad aren’t home! And I don’t think they’re supposed to be here either!” Jazz pointed her best accusing finger at her brother, glaring at him. She then realized that he was holding one of the spare hazmat suits. “What do you think you’re doing with that?”
“Uh,” Danny dropped the suit on the floor. “Nothing?” His eyes flickered toward the tunnel in the wall of the lab. “Sorry about the mess Jazz, we’ll clean it up.”
“You mean, you’ll clean it up,” Tucker said with a lighthearted tone. “If you weren’t so clumsy-”
“If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way!”
“Boys, boys, you’re both pretty!” Sam chimed in.
Ugh. They would never quiet down at this rate. “Look,” Jazz said, a bit defeated. “I’ll clean up the lab if you guys go somewhere else to hang out.”
“Danny, please?” Her brother gave one more glance at his friends, then the tunnel, before nodding.
“Come on guys, we can go to the Nasty Burger.” Sam and Tucker shrugged in passive agreement. They left the lab, and Jazz heard the tinkling of laughter as they left the house. For a moment, she wished she had a friend group as close as Danny’s.
But friends didn’t get you accepted to Harvard.
Jazz sighed and went to work, picking up the larger pieces of broken glass and throwing them in one of the trash bins. Luckily, the lab was still a bit of a construction zone after building the tunnel. Sorry. “Fenton Ghost Portal.” She snorted to herself, then looked at the looming machine. She hadn’t really seen it in all its finished glory. Her parents had started it what seems like ages ago. Yet last week, when the day came to finally turn it on came, nothing happened. Jazz could have predicted that, but it was still sad to see the look of utter disappointment on Maddie and Jack’s faces. Her dad had gone through an entire bulk-sized amount of fudge in his grieving process. He alternated between moments of melancholy and masking his feelings with offbeat jokes. Her mom, on the other hand, was more like a ghost herself. She floated through the house, running numbers over and over. She barely ate, barely spoke. Today was the first day Jack had gotten her out of the house, a drive to the next town over to pick up some obscure materials.
And the portal still wasn’t on. It just sat there, a black hole in the wall. Jazz, out of curiosity, walked closer. It was bigger than she had anticipated, and a draft came from it. She shivered, peering inside. The inside was a mess; wiring and metal everywhere. She couldn’t track what was plugged into what. None of it made sense, but in a way, that made sense. After all, it was designed and built by her two crazy parents. A moment of sympathy washed over her. Maybe if she cleared the loose metal and screws from the inside, they would be able to have a fresh start. She needed a light though. The portal didn’t have any lights on the inside, and she knew her parents had some kind of dark vision in their goggles. Maybe there was a spare pair in with the hazmat suits.
Jazz picked up the one Danny had been holding. He had already peeled off the icon of their Dad’s grinning face. She looked down at her summer outfit: shorts and a tank top. They wouldn’t do her any good if she stepped on a nail or ran into a sharp piece of metal. Sighing, squeezed the suit over her clothes. She found some boots and gloves in the corner, black and utilitarian. And, with her luck, a pair of Fenton Goggles, equipped with dark-vision. She pulled her hair up and turned the goggles on. Looking inside the static portal, she could now see straight to the back wall. She stepped gingerly over the threshold.
Inside, it was freezing. Jazz bent down and began to collect loose screws. There weren’t many, as her father had gotten a little ‘blowtorch happy’ as completion day drew nearer. She avoided spots on the floor where panels were missing, revealing an underside of wires and technology. Feeling a little braver, she ventured deeper into the machine, hand on the wall for balance. The last thing Jazz wanted to do would be to trip-
Her foot made contact with a screwdriver that had been haphazardly left inside. She stumbled, arms pinwheeling. Her hand found a grip on the wall. She chuckled, heart pounding and relief flooding her system. That was close, she thought. She glanced at the wall to see what she had grabbed. As she lifted her hand, a glowing red button flashed on. Jazz felt panic shoot down her spine.
Then there was a tell-tale sound of whirring, a machine coming to life. She smelled ozone. Her mouth opened to scream, but only a gasp came out as electricity wrecked its way through her body. Every hair stood on end. She was choking, drowning in a neon green plasma that was heavier than air but lighter than water. Her vision blurred, she tasted blood, then everything went dark.
Jazz felt lightheaded. Every inch of her was sore. She groaned and slowly opened her eyes, bracing herself for a bright light. It never came. She looked straight ahead, sluggish mind grasping for answers. The coolness on her back, the dark-tinted room, the green-tinged fluorescent lights.
The lab. She was in the lab. Laboriously, she raised a hand and touched her face. Through the glove, she could feel the goggles, still in place. She slid them down, letting them land on her chest. She closed her eyes with a sigh. That was the last time she messed with her wackjob parents’ inventions.
With a start, she craned her neck to look towards the portal. The active portal. Momentarily forgetting her pain, she scrambled to her feet. The portal wasn’t a vacant tunnel anymore. Now it was a wall of green light, slowly swirling in a pattern too random to track. Jazz slammed her hand on the button next to the portal. The industrial metal doors slid out from the wall, closing with a definitive CLANG. The neon light vanished behind them and Jazz let her shoulders slump with relief. What a mess. She needed to call her parents. She would have to tell them that she had gone into the portal ( off-limits ), turned it on ( it doesn’t mean I support their juvenile hobby ), and deal with them when they got back ( too excited to realize that a little light didn’t mean ghosts existed ). Sighing, Jazz headed back upstairs. She stumbled a few times, luckily not hitting anything. She absently wondered if she had a concussion from the fall. The fall inside the portal. The ghost portal.
Jazz shook her head, trying to focus. In the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of water and reached for the phone. She paused, confused. She was still wearing the hazmat suit from the lab. But she could have sworn the gloves had been black, just like her parents’. Why would they buy different colored gloves? Her mind slowly tried to put the pieces together, but she was missing something. She glanced down and realized the hazmat suit itself was black. She knew it had been white before.
The glass slipped from her grip, shattering on the floor, water and glass going everywhere. Jazz leaped away from the flying debris.
Jazz felt lightheaded. Jazz felt light-bodied.
Shakily, she looked down at the kitchen tiles. Impossibly, her feet weren’t touching the floor. She was hovering inches above the mess. Panic flooded her system, and with a crash, she fell back to the ground. Her vision swarmed on impact. Through her haze, she thought she saw a bright flash of light. Blinking, she raised her hands up.
They were normal. She wasn’t even wearing the hazmat suit anymore. Frantically, she pressed two fingers to her neck. A pulse, quick but there. She examined her clothes- everything was back to normal.
She exhaled and stood up. Post-traumatic hallucinations, she decided. She glanced at the phone, then back at the mess at the ground. Her parents would be home soon enough on their own, she decided. No need to call them and cause them to worry. She should just clean up and lay down for a few minutes. For the second time that day, she began picking up broken glass. It didn’t take long. Once finished, Jazz returned to her room, shutting the door with a soft click. She glanced in her mirror, poking her face softly. She looked a little startled but no worse for wear. She was fine, she was okay. Everything was normal.
Yet, something nagged at her. It burned under her skin, a warmth in her stomach. She closed her eyes and tried to reflect on the accident in the lab. A bright green light, darkness, waking up and feeling light, the glass hadn’t slipped it had just dropped, and she had flown-
No. All of that was part of her traumatic hallucinations. Her eyes snapped open, and she gasped.
Reflected in the mirror, her irises were a vibrant, unnatural green. The same green as the portal. She blinked again, and again, and tears began to fall. The green wasn’t going away.
Calm down , she thought. Mom and Dad will be home soon, and they’ll know what to do. Weird is their specialty, after all.
But that just made it worse. Jasmine Fenton wasn’t weird. She was supposed to be the normal one. The smart one. The one that was going to get out, escape the pressure of being from a family of ghost obsessed weirdos. Jazz was utterly, and completely normal.
The tingle under her skin grew more intense, and with a flash, a bright light lit up the room. When it subsided, Jazz looked in the mirror. Her jaw dropped. Her reflection gaped right back. But it wasn’t her normal reflection.
Jazz’s natural, iconic red hair had gone colorless, turning into wisps of nothingness at the end. The white hair seemed to drift on its own, moving as if through water. As she turned her head, she realized her skin gave off a soft glow. It was softer than her green eyes, which were illuminated in an unnatural way that compelled her to look away. Her clothes had changed, returning to the inverted hazmat from before. The Fenton Goggles glinted in the light from atop her head. She looked like… a ghost.
Jazz stared at her reflection, trying to diagnose this particular hallucination. It had to be influenced by her parents’ ghost talk. She reasoned that she was still breathing- was she? She watched her chest rise and fall, then tried holding her breath. A minute went by, then five, then burning in her chest made her gasp. She still needed air. Still alive. She wasn’t a ghost.
A slamming door caused her to jump. Her feet didn’t return to the ground, and she felt cold. She looked down. She was gone. Her body wasn’t visible.
She wasn’t a ghost- was she?
“Jazz?” She heard Danny’s voice call from downstairs. “I’m back. I’ll be in my room, doing something young and stupid.”
She rolled her eyes. Danny was always so dramatic. She considered what would have happened if he had turned the portal on. The mental image of her brother trying to cope with ghostly abilities made her chuckle. He wouldn’t be able to handle them.
But could she handle them? She was the oldest and more mature than her parents. And any mature adult could handle any challenge they faced. That's what her studies had shown her.
Still hovering, still invisible, Jazz tried to move. She realized that if she willed it, she could move across her bedroom. Although it went against all laws of physics, she could fly. Focusing on moving, color returned to her form. She flushed. What if Danny burst in here and saw her like this? She had to change back. She floated over to her bed, in case she fell again. She was tired of falling and hurting herself. She concentrated and let herself drop down. The bed bounced with her weight ( weight! More proof that I’m not a ghost ). She remembered the warmth from earlier. Was that her connection to her normal appearance? She still felt it now, burning behind her heart. She centered herself on it, and it flared with energy. Jazz felt excited, she was doing something. She was in complete control of her body.
Her hand lit up with a green flame.
She yelped, falling backward off the bed. She landed on the floor, and a bright light flashed. She was back to normal and her hand was no longer on fire.
She had to take her victories when she could.
Maddie and Jack Fenton returned in the early evening. They were uncharacteristically quiet- no shouts to greet their children. That was quickly changed the moment they discovered the portal had been activated. The rest of the night had been a whirlwind of questions and answers and family photos. Jazz tried to enjoy it, but the little ghostly flame behind her heart kept reminding her of her situation. Her parents had accepted her explanation- something about a dusty extension cord and an overlooked switch. Her father had hugged her so hard that she would have passed out if she hadn’t recently lost the need to breathe. Even Danny had given her a thumbs up, though he kept looking apprehensively at the portal.
“What are you going to do with a ghost if one gets through the portal?” Danny asked, eyes fixed on the closed door to the portal.
“Well, that depends,” Maddie started. “If-”
“We’re gonna capture it, Danny-boy!” Jack proclaimed, clapping Danny on the back. “And then, we get to examine it!”
“We’re scientists, Danny,” Maddie added. “We need specimens to study. And now that the Ghost Portal is working, we theoretically have an endless supply.” She clapped her hands, grinning.
Jazz winced. “And when you’re done, you’re going to release the ghosts back to the portal, right?” The other Fentons stared at Jazz with confusion. “Speaking from a hypothetical stance, in which one believes ghosts are real- which, they’re still not.”
“How can you say that, Jazz?” Danny pointed at the portal. “You turned on the door to their home . How do you explain that?”
“I- Ghosts aren’t real.” She looked at her parents. “But if they were, you would use ‘catch and release’ tactics, correct? Following in the steps of non-invasive field researchers?”
Jack and Maddie exchanged glances. Jack responded, “Jazzy-pants, ghosts aren’t alive. Traditional research methods won’t work here. This is completely new territory.”
Maddie cut in, musing, “Eventually, we’d like to get a Ghost Tracker up and running. We might tag a few ghosts and release them to get a better indication on what’s in the Ghost Zone but-”
“For the most part, we don’t expect any ghosts to survive early testing.” Jack finished. “But, they’re ghosts, so ‘survive’ doesn’t really apply.”
Jazz felt her throat close. “I see. Well, I’ll be in my room. Studying.” She bolted out of the lab, slamming and locking the door to her room. Her breathing was frantic.
Survive doesn’t apply to ghosts. Will it still apply to me?
She grabbed her notebook. She flipped to the most recent page. Her handwriting was messy and quick. Her eyes burned, and tears fell, smudging the ink.
Pro: My parents will understand. It was an accident.
Pro: They would never hurt anyone that was still alive.
Pro: I’m still alive.
Con: Sometimes I’m a ghost.
Con: My parents hunt ghosts.
Con: What if they don’t believe me?
At the very bottom, she had written and underlined her decision.
Tell no one.
Jazz ripped the paper out, wiping her tears away. She had always doubted her parents’ validity as scientists, but now she doubted their rationality. She couldn’t tell them. She couldn’t tell Danny or anyone . Almost unconsciously, she shifted into her ghost form. The bright light barely even phased her anymore. Holding the paper in one hand, she allowed the burning in her core to travel up into her palm. The list erupted in flame, turning into black ash before drifting satisfyingly to the floor.
Jazz looked into the mirror. She examined herself analytically, now that she knew what to expect. She still had a difficult time believing it was her. She looked so different with the silvery-white hair and green eyes. If she looked closely, under the glow of her skin, she could see an undertint of green. Her clothes changed- that helped. Jazz Fenton would never be caught wearing hazmat. But besides that- it was still her. She wondered if anyone would recognize her like this. She doubted it.
She sat down at her desk, opening a new binder that she had been saving for school in the fall. At the top blank piece of paper, she wrote the date. Underneath she wrote, in clean, careful letters:
Today I became a ghost.
I can fly. I can become invisible. I can make a fire with my hand.
I’m different, but I’m still me.
Jazz paused, considering what to write next. The corner of her mouth twitched. She had thought of a pun bad enough not even her father would laugh at it. But with willful abandon, she signed the page with a single name.