Sam rubbed her bare arms, watching her breath fog in the air in front of her. Amity was surprisingly cold compared to the earlier places her parents had decided to move to.
"Can I hold the casserole? My hands are f-f-freezing."
Her mom continued to stare ahead at their neighbor's door, not bothering to glance at her. "Behave now, Samantha."
Her dad knocked on the door a second time. Silence.
"I don't think anyone is there," she commented. "Can we just go home? It's getting dark."
Her parents did this any time they moved somewhere new. Her mom would cook some sort of disgusting casserole and they'd introduce themselves to the neighbors, as if it made any sort of difference. They always ended up moving again anyway.
The door cracked open an inch, and a woman with red hair and goggles peered out over the other side.
"Yes?" she inquired.
Sam had kind of guessed that the Fentons weren't a normal family, judging just by the huge metallic contraption on top of their house.
She saw her mom stiffen and hold out the still steaming tray of tuna fish casserole.
"Hi, I'm Mrs. Mason," she gestured to her husband "and this is Mr. Mason. We just moved in next door, and thought we'd drop by and introduce ourselves."
"Oh, of course!" the woman on the other side removed her goggles and opened the door wider. "Please, come in!"
"Sorry to drop by on such short notice," said Mrs. Mason as she stepped into the house. Sam resisted the urge to gag. She could tell her mom was just trying to be polite. Her parents were unsettled by anything or anyone that wasn't a carbon copy of what they deemed "normal".
The inside of the house wasn't as bad as the outside. Mrs. Fenton and Mr. Fenton changed out of their work clothes and told their daughter to come downstairs while they all passed around plates of the casserole. Her dad and Mr. Fenton hit it off almost immediately, both of them being inventors.
"What's your area of interest?" her dad had asked.
"Oh, you know," Mr. Fenton rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Scientific mumbo jumbo. I'm sure you wouldn't find it very interesting."
Jazz came by a few minutes later and took everyone's plates to the sink. Sam still hadn't touched her's.
"What a wonderful young lady," her mom commented to Mrs. Fenton, just loud enough for her to hear. "She really should teach our daughter a thing or two."
Sam rolled her eyes and asked to be excused. No one paid her any mind so she got up in search of the bathroom.
She wandered around until the voices of the adult's became background noise. A peculiar door caught her attention. It seemed hidden away, like no one wanted to acknowledge it was there. What could be hidden inside? Drugs, maybe?
Sam sighed. It was probably just a place for storage. She pushed open the door and ventured in, almost tripping on something.
"Shit. Where are the lights?" she felt around the wall for a switch, but didn't find one. Her phone rarely ever served a purpose, but this was decidedly one of those rare times. Her spider charm casted an eerie shadow on the walls as she used it as a flashlight. Different types of small trinkets, screws, and bolts littered the floor, forcing her to pay attention to the ground as she walked. Her hip collided with a mental work bench and caused several contraptions to clamor as they hit the hard-tiled floor.
She crouched down to pick them up, keeping her gaze on the entrance just in case anyone had heard the commotion. The laughing voices emanating from the kitchen didn't falter. Of course not.
A chill crept up her spine and her breath fogged in the air. Enough wandering around, she decided. Her parents would kill her if she broke anything.
Her makeshift flashlight guided her way back towards the stairs of the...what could she call it? A basement? Lab?
She tentatively put one foot in front of the other, hoping she wouldn't trip and fall. The light from the hallway illuminated the cramped entrance and she felt the chill lesson and dissipate the closer she got to it.
The door suddenly shut in her face, causing her to startle and jump backwards. Her grip on her phone loosened and it tumbled down the stairs, landing somewhere at the bottom with a final thud. She felt a foreign and suffocating darkness closed in on her.
"Shit. Shit. Shit." She continued her mantra as she struggled with the door, alarm seeping into her as she realized it wasn't budging. "Okay," she tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear. "Mom and dad are going to notice you're gone. You're going to be fine. I'm going to be fine," she nodded to reassure herself.
So then what was this feeling of dread? These goosebumps breaking out all over her arms in relentless waves?
Something shuffled in the depths of the darkness. Realizing she wasn't alone, she backed up farther until her back was pressed again the wall and she shut her eyes.
Sam Manson is not afraid of mice, she reminded herself. Sam Manson is a creature of the night. Sam Manson is–Sam Manson is an idiot.
All she had to do was find her cell phone and call someone. She was so used to calling it a mainstream-piece-of-junk that she hadn't even thought to use it. For the first time she was relieved that her parents forced her to carry it around. Sure it'd hurt her pride to call them to rescue her, and finding it wouldn't be easy when she couldn't even see an inch ahead of her, but it was better than standing around.
She took a shaky breath and stepped forward but her limbs suddenly refused to cooperate. Something was waiting for her down there and she knew it. It was similar to the feeling of eyes on her back.
"Since when did I become such a baby?" she laughed as she walked deeper into the darkness. She kicked around with the toe of her boot, hoping she'd chance upon her cell phone. She wandered farther and farther away from the base of the stairs with no luck. When her foot finally collided with something, it wasn't her cell phone, but something fleshy and soft. It groaned.
"Oh my god," Sam clasped a hand over her mouth. What if it was a wounded animal? What if the Fentons were mad scientists, conducting horrible, unethical experiments on anything that breathed?
She was snapped out of her thoughts by the lights flickering on and off. That was when she caught a glimpse of it. It was on its side with its pale bony back exposed, hair jutting out in all directions, ribs barely covered by a thin layer of clammy skin. It made another animalistic sound and the lights flickered on again and stayed on this time.
Sam took a step backwards without realizing. Now that the lights were on, the room seemed even larger than it had before. Beakers upon beakers of a green liquid lined the walls, and the work bench she had run into was stacked with weapons. There was something else too, a cavern that looked like it was built into the wall. She wondered how she could have missed it when it was so huge. Wires hung from the inside like vines. She had enough common sense to know not to mess with it, whatever it was.
The thing on the floor made a sound as it sat up. It was all lanky limbs and jutting bones, but it seemed human enough. So then why was it tied up in chains like a rabid animal? She wondered if it spoke English.
"Uh, sorry for bumping into you."
Cool, Manson. Very smooth.
"How did you do that? With the lights, I mean...I didn't see the switch when I came in but it's probably around here somewhere, right?"
It didn't answer as it re-positioned itself to be sitting criss-cross, the shackle around its foot jangling as it did so. It put a hand against its head as if to ward off a headache. Sam shifted awkwardly from one foot to another.
"If I could just find my phone, I'd be happy to leave," she offered, not sure what to say. The figure–the boy, she corrected herself–on the floor reached behind himself and she instinctively tensed. He lifted the cellphone to her face.
"Oh, cool!" she reached forward and grabbed it. "How did you find it? I could have sworn it fell over–"
"How I do anything else I do," he wiggled his fingers and smiled. "Magic."
Sam laughed. "Right."
At least it talked, and it seemed to have a sense of humor to boot.
"Don't believe me? Watch this," he held up a hand and green electricity sizzled between his fingers before dying out. He frowned. "It's these damn chains," he tugged at them to no avail. "They short-circuit my powers, but not completely. I can still do this."
The lights flickered on and off again. Sam eyes widened slightly when she realized something.
"So the door? Was that you?"
He glanced towards it, looking bashful. His head lowered.
"Oh, did I do that? Sorry. My powers are sometimes hard for me to control when I sleep."
The door creaked open slowly, but Sam didn't move towards it. She was too intrigued by the matter at hand.
"Is that why you're kept in here? Because of your, what, powers?"
At the mention of his captivity, his blue eyes hardened and his mouth formed a scowl.
"Yes. That's why. That's why my parents locked me in here."
"Your parents?!" Sam blurted out without thinking. The Fentons had seemed a bit abnormal, but she never would have thought they were capable of anything like this. "Why would they do that to you?"
"I was born different," he said. "You saw her, right? My sister? She was perfect, wasn't she? The perfect child?" he had begun to inch closer to her, but at noticing Sam's alarm he relaxed and let out a bitter laugh. "She was born before they had gotten so wrapped up in their work, in getting the portal to turn on. I came out like this due ectoplasmic radiation in the womb."
He lifted his hands up and examined them. What should have been perfectly, normal, human hands.
"I never meant to hurt anyone," it came out as a whisper. "But how is a five-year old supposed to know? I needed someone to show me, to teach me how to control my powers, but after a while they said I was too dangerous to live in normal society. So they locked me up here, in the lab."
Sam swallowed down the bile that was creeping up her throat. "I–I don't understand. Ectoplasmic radiation? What is that?"
The boy cocked a confused head at her.
"You mean you don't know?" he lifted up his hand again, and green briefly sizzled between his fingers. "Ectoplasm is that. It's what makes up ghosts."
Sam felt the blood drain from her face. How could she be seriously believing what this guy was saying? He could have gone mad from being trapped down here all these years...and yet, the lights, the feeling of dread, the door.
"So is that what you are?" she asked. "A ghost?"
He clicked his tongue. "Wrong. Come on, you seem like a bright girl. Think. The repeated exposure to the substance altered my DNA to have ghost-like properties, but I'm still human. I'm still as alive as anyone else. Do you think it's okay what they did to me? What they're still doing to me? I was born like this due to my parent's obsession, and now I'm the one who has to pay the price for their negligence."
Sam shook her head. "No, of course I don't think it's right! They should let you go, if you're their son. Maybe they can undo–"
He scoffed. "You think they haven't tried? Most of my childhood was spent being evaluated, poked, prodded. The condition is as irreversible as your own DNA."
"You said that you hurt someone before. Who?"
She regretted asking almost immediately. The air around him was sizzling, spinning in loose swirling patterns.
"I'm sorry," she said lamely. "You don't have to–"
"No," he interrupted. "It's nice having someone to talk to for a change."
He breathed in deeply and leaned again the wall. "It was the first day of kindergarten. I had only been showing mild abilities up until that point. Disappearing randomly, things slipping out of my hands, lights going wild when I entered rooms. My parents were hesitant, but Jazz convinced them that I had to go to school. It must have been so hard for them, having the thing they hated most as a—never mind. Anyway. They dropped me off and my powers stayed under control for the most part. Except, during lunch, a cup of juice slipped through my hands and spilled all over me. The teacher picked me up, and I panicked. I gave her third degree burns all over he neck and shoulders. She died from cancer a while later. I don't know if the two incidents are related, but I–" he took a deep breath and ran a shaky hand through his greasy, matted hair. "Maybe I deserve to be down here after all."
Sam shook her head in disagreement. "No. No one deserves this. Maybe if I talk to them, we can–" she had been making her way over to the door when a hand reached out and grabbed her ankle.
"Don't go," he pleaded. "Stay a little longer. What's your name?"
She stammered. "I'm, uh, It's Sam. What about you?"
"Danny," he reciprocated, letting go of her ankle. Sam resisted to rub the cold spot on her ankle where he had touched her.
"If you really think I deserve another chance, then will you unlock these chains?" he asked. Sam's mouth closed and shut as she tried to formulate a response. She had no idea what to do.
"I–I don't know. I really don't think..."
She stopped when she saw him deflate and slouch back against the wall again. "So you agree. I should be locked in here."
Sam's mouth set in a tight line. "No. That's not what I'm saying," she let out a sigh of resignation. "Fine. And maybe we can get you a veggie burger or two afterwards, help fatten you up," she teased.
"I think I've seen my mom put the key in one of those ghost-proof drawers over there. It's small and coppery."
Sam nodded and walked over to the drawers, rummaging through them unsuccessfully. Her fingernail snagged on something and she let out a curse. She held up the small key to Danny.
"Is this it?"
He nodded and stuck out his ankle, allowing her access to the lock. It was old and rusted, which made turning the key all that much more difficult.
"Hurry," he urged. "I think someone is coming."
The lock came undone with a small click. Everything happened very quickly afterwards.
Glowing green orbs. Lips twisted into a sinister smile. Screams.