Original publication date: 2002 - 2005
Fandom: The Real GhostbustersWarnings: angst, character death, graphic violence, harsh language
This story is a fusion of the RGB universe with the dark world of the Crow, as it was portrayed in the television series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. I have employed the conceit of "nebulous time," meaning that while this story takes place in the present, the Ghostbusters are basically the same age as they were in the series when it originally aired.
Disclaimer: The Real Ghostbusters belong to Columbia Pictures, DiC, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, etc. The Crow: Stairway to Heaven belongs to Ed Pressman, James O'Barr, etc. No infringement of any copyright is intended nor should be implied.
This story is dedicated, with gratitude, to all who beta'd or commented. Special thanks to Epona for inspiration and brainstorming, Telepathic!Peter's "encouragement" to write more, and those scenes.
Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'
Edgar Allan Poe
Suspended around him, a razor-bright blizzard filling the air with sparkling shards of light as he fell. He seemed to fall forever, the glass falling with him, from a world of light and sound and life, into a realm of mist and whispers and shadows.
The landing, when it came, was less painful than he had expected. From that height-and damned if it didn't feel like he'd taken up skydiving from the moon-hitting the surface of the water should've flattened him like road kill.
Instead, he struck the shallows with enough force to knock the wind from his lungs, leaving him momentarily stunned as the glass showered down around him like knife-edged rain.
He dug his fingers into the wet sand beneath him. Then, forcing his reluctant body to respond, he pushed himself onto his feet. Every breath was a monumental effort, every movement calculated rather than instinctive. Each new sensation was a fresh shock to his system: the feel of the ground beneath him, the damp caress of the fog against his skin, the soft sounds of the water and the gentle susurration of the wind. The light was gray and shadowy. Even so, it stung his eyes, and he lifted a heavy hand to shield them. Squinting into the gloom, he tried to get his bearings.
The world that met his gaze was not even remotely familiar. Beyond the riverbank where he found himself, towering evergreens stretched in every direction. Overhead, the sky was bluish-gray and free of clouds, which made the weirdly muted quality of the light seem even stranger. And all around, drifting beneath the trees like a host of silent phantoms, was the fog.
A thought, cynical and sarcastic, wafted across his consciousness, 'Even the movie 'The Fog' didn't have this much fog.'
Now where had that come from? Not exactly a useful observation, but somehow...it felt right. He probed that conclusion, but whatever had prompted it had slunk back into hiding in the dim recesses of his brain. With a mental shrug, he straightened, trudged slowly up the sandbar, and stood staring into the darkness lurking beneath the trees.
A raucous caw shattered the silence, and he jumped as if stung.
He looked up sharply, and frowned when he spotted the culprit-a large black bird sitting on one of the overhanging branches. It regarded him smugly with beady eyes. His frown deepened.
"You think that's funny, beak-face?" The sound of his own voice, an irritated tenor, seemed out of place in this hushed landscape. He glared at the bird, daring it to comment.
It tilted its sleek-feathered head as if studying him, then gave another harsh cry and leapt from its perch. Broad wings left swirling eddies in the fog as it soared over his head, gliding deeper into the trees, its rough voice calling imperiously for him to follow.
He hesitated, but something within-some new instinct-urged him to obey. Another glance around only confirmed his limited options. He had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there or how to get back...to where, exactly? He didn't know where he would come from, either. But a part of him thought that he needed to go back there, wherever 'there' was. He had something important he needed to do. If only he could remember what it was...
He sighed with frustration, green eyes narrowing as they tracked the flight of dark wings through fog and shadow. And shrugged, again.
And followed the crow.
He pushed aside the low-hanging branches obscuring the deeply worn rut etched into the forest floor. The crow flew just ahead of him, leading him onward. As he forced his way beneath the trees, dripping evergreen needles dumped their payloads of icy moisture down the neck of his shirt and plastered his hair to his skull. Impatiently, he pushed lank brown hair out of his eyes-and stumbled to a shocked halt.
Without warning, the ground had dropped away in front of him. There was a bridge, old by the looks of it, and narrow, with waist-high handrails on each side. It spanned a wide-and distressingly deep-chasm that made his stomach twist just looking at it. Far below, the river coiled like a silver snake as it twined through a rocky, jagged break in the towering trees. The crow flew out onto the bridge and settled on one of the railings. From its perch, it fixed him with an impatient eye. And then it cawed.
For a bird, it managed to sound surprisingly derisive, as if it knew he hated heights and was goading him, challenging him to step onto the bridge. The ancient-looking, rickety-as-hell bridge he would rather single-handedly face a demon than cross.
As if reading his thoughts, the damned bird cawed at him again, more insistently this time. Again, he felt that instinctive impulse to obey. It wasn't a feeling he particularly enjoyed. In fact, he hated it-almost as much as he hated heights. Almost as much as he hated the certain knowledge that he was going to go out there anyway.
Taking a deep breath, he ventured onto the bridge. It swayed and bounced with every step, creaking alarmingly beneath his weight and doing absolutely nothing to bolster his confidence in its structural integrity. One hand clutching each of the rails in a death-grip, he inched forward, sliding his feet along the boards, toward the center where the bird waited. One good gust of wind could easily send him crashing over the side to plummet toward the rocks below.
Okay, so not a happy thought. He shied swiftly away from it, swallowed hard as his stomach did a slow roll, and tried not to look down. Exactly why was he doing this, again?
The bird ruffled its feathers, stretched out its neck, and favored him with another brassy croak.
Oh yeah. That was why. Stupid bird. And stupid him for listening to -
Wait. Why had he phrased it like that? It implied that the damn thing was talking to him-worse, that he was somehow understanding it. And that couldn't be right.
Suddenly cautious, he studied the crow. It was big, he realized uneasily, watching it watch him with those oddly knowing eyes. His memory wasn't currently the most reliable, but he was fairly sure birds shouldn't be able to project quite that much intelligence. It was creepy as hell. Like he had stumbled into an Alfred Hitchcock movie or an 'animals take over the world' episode of The Twilight Zone.
Only...that had almost happened once, hadn't it? And he-no, they had stopped it. He and his friends. The friends he couldn't quite remember. The friends who weren't here, when he so desperately needed them. The friends who had left him alone.
He didn't like to be alone. He might not remember much else, but of that he was certain. 'Alone' meant abandoned, unwanted. Unworthy.
He fell back a step, his stomach knotting, then stopped as the bridge shuddered beneath him. He froze, hands white-knuckled on the railings.
At the unexpected voice, he jerked his head up and found that he was no longer alone on the bridge. A tendril of memory uncoiled in his mind, a red lash of agony against the overwhelming darkness. No. No, it couldn't...it didn't happen. Not like that.
But the proof stood before him.
"Dad?" His voice cracked on the word. Like the swift strike of a scorpion's tail, memory stung him with images of the man standing before him. From childhood onward, they flickered past-rapid-fire impressions of broken promises, lonely Christmases, forgotten birthdays.
And didn't that make for a fun edition of 'This Was Your Life', starring a father who was never there when Peter needed him. He had grown into a man who expected to be let down, who looked out for number one, and who trusted no one with the real Peter Venkman. Not even himself.
He would have stayed that way-or worse-if it hadn't been for...Who? He could feel the essence of the memory, sense the emotions tangled up in it, but the details refused to materialize. But there was someone, a man he had trusted with his very soul. And it most definitely wasn't the man standing before him.
Charlie Venkman, resplendent in his customary bad suit and bow tie, held his arms wide, as if he expected Peter to rush into them. When Peter simply continued to stare at him, Charlie sighed with disappointment and let his arms fall back to his sides.
"Son, I know things haven't always been the best between us. But you gotta know..." He reached out and caught Peter's shoulders in a tight grip. "You gotta know I've always loved you."
You certainly had a funny way of showing it, Peter thought sourly, although he permitted the contact. Aloud, all he said was, "I know, Dad."
Charlie scrutinized his face for an eternal moment, then gave a resigned shrug and released him. "Are you okay, Peter?"
"Okay?" Peter jerked away from him as if burned. He swept an arm around in a broad, angry gesture. "Does this look like 'okay' to you? 'Cause, off-hand, I'd say this is about as far from okay as it gets!"
Looking shocked by the outburst, Charlie held out a placating hand.
"I just wanted to make sure you were..." He faltered under the blowlamp of his son's outraged glare, let his hand drop. Speaking more to himself than to Peter, he murmured, "You'll be okay. You always are."
At those words, something inside Peter shriveled. That had always been Charlie's rationale, hadn't it? Peter did okay without him, so Charlie needn't show up unless it was convenient for him. Never mind that his son might want to see him, might need him. The concept of responsible parenting didn't exactly fit into the elder Venkman's worldview. Peter hated to think of the kind of man he might have turned out to be if not for...
Again, he ran up against the roadblock in his mind. It only made him angrier.
"What are you even doing here, Dad?" he demanded, suspicion narrowing his eyes. "What is it you want from me this time?" He choked out a bitter laugh. "At least I know it can't be bail money."
"Don't 'now, Peter' me!" he shouted, his anger making him forget all about his precarious position on the swaying bridge. "I can't believe this. How dare you?"
His rising voice agitated the crow and its rusty shriek startled him into silence. As he watched, it ruffled its feathers then fixed the elder Venkman with an icy regard. Following its gaze, Peter was shocked to see that Charlie's face had blanched whiter than the ever-present fog.
Confused by what he heard in his father's voice, Peter frowned at him. "Yeah, so? What about it?"
"It's..." Charlie shrugged, an all-too-familiar shiftiness slanting across his face. "You hear things, legends..."
"Since when?" Peter countered, suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"
"Look, son..." Still staring warily at the crow, Charlie ran a trembling hand over his balding scalp. "This place, it...Time's not the same here. I've talked to some people, heard things."
Skeptical, Peter crossed his arms and scowled at his dad. "About crows."
Charlie nodded slowly. "They...These birds ain't normal, son." He gave a humorless chuckle. "Well, nothing here's exactly normal, if you catch my drift. But these things-"
The crow voiced a raucous protest at this slander, its midnight wings beating the still air. Charlie back-peddled hastily. "No offense, no offense! Just repeating what I been told."
"And what is that exactly, Pop?" Peter demanded. He gestured, taking in the bird, the bridge, the incredible landscape. "If you know where we are, what's going on-"
"You know where we are, son," Charlie said quietly. "You know what happened."
Instantly, Peter shook his head in denial. No. No, he didn't want to know, to remember. It was too painful. But...He had to, didn't he? Because there was something he had to do. Something vitally important. Something to do with the friends he couldn't quite remember.
Through clenched teeth, he grated, "Just. Tell. Me."
Suddenly, his father couldn't seem to meet his eyes.
"We're in the land of the dead, Peter," Charlie said, his gravelly voice surprisingly gentle. "We're dead."
The denial was automatic, but half-hearted. Peter moaned. No...But he had known; a part of him had known from the beginning. New impressions crashed into him, assaulted his senses with bits of shattered memory, like the jagged pieces of a broken window.
The shrill of an alarm. A woman's scream, cut abruptly short. His feet pounding on the metal stairs. His heart pounding as he ran. Desperation choking the breath from his lungs. And pain and fear and blood.
So much blood.
He clenched his fists as emotion threatened to overwhelm him along with the memory. Because he knew. Dear God, he knew... Knew he hadn't gotten there in time. Knew they were dying, dying in pools of their own blood because he had failed them. He knew they were dead, all dead, because of him.
Knew it was all his fault.
"No!" The scream was torn from his throat. From its nearby perch, the crow echoed him with its own mournful cry.
His father's hand on his arm steadied Peter when he staggered. Choking on fresh anguish, Peter tore himself from the visions and from his father's touch. Barely aware of his surrounding, he clung to the railing and fought against the horror threatening to destroy his soul. Finally, he sagged, and would have fallen if Charlie hadn't grabbed him. He lifted bleak eyes to meet his father's concerned gaze.
"It's not right," Peter whispered, barely forcing the words past the tightness in his chest. "Not...right."
Charlie's grip on him tightened. He pulled Peter into a sudden hug, as fierce as it was unexpected. Then the crow cried out again, and Charlie stepped back, letting Peter read the trepidation in his eyes.
"You can set things right, Peter. There's a way." The old man's gaze flickered to the bird. "But there's a steep price to pay."
A way to make things right? Peter doubted that. The pain inside him was too raw to be denied any longer. Nothing could make that right. Nothing. But... He found himself unable to turn away from that tiny sliver of hope. If there was even the slightest chance, he had to take it. No matter the cost.
"How?" he started to ask, only to break off as he realized he was alone again. Startled, he spun around but there was no sign of his father. "Wait, Dad! I need-"
I need you.
The words died unspoken in his throat, and Peter made a strangled sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob. Some things never changed. Certainly not his dad. Charlie's disappearing act was nothing new, if perhaps a trifle more dramatic. In some perverse way, it was almost comforting. Almost.
A sound made him turn to find the bird watching him expectantly. Peter glared at it. "You still here? Why don't you fly away home before I bake you into a pie?"
Undeterred by the threat, it tilted its head and regarded him with solemn eyes. It hopped nearer, watching him closely as if to make certain it had his attention. Then it leapt from its perch and glided toward the distant river.
Fighting his vertigo, Peter followed its progress-and was somehow not surprised when the bird vanished, mid-flight, in a blinding flash of light that seemed to warp reality around it. He had suspected there was something unnatural about his feathered friend; the David Copperfield act just confirmed it.
Drawn to the railing against his will, he pondered the path the crow had taken. The ground hadn't gotten any closer; it was still a hell of a long way down. But something-that nagging insistence that he had a job to do-was urging him over the rail. Urging him to follow the damn bird.
"Like hell," he grated, hands clenching convulsively on the railing. Little Petey Venkman was many things, but suicidal was not one of them. And then he realized what he had thought, and felt a broken laugh rattle in his throat. Staring down at the still-rippling air where the crow had disappeared, he whispered, "Can I go home, now?"
Home. The word burned him like acid. Home...Was it possible? Could the crow lead him home? He shook his head, considering. He was already dead. What the hell did he have to lose?
Without giving himself time to think, Peter pulled himself up and over the railing, and flung himself into open space. The wind howled past him as he plummeted, far faster than his earlier free-fall. He screamed in fear and rage and defiance...
Then the crossrip shimmered like quicksilver around him, swallowed him whole in a burst of light. And then the light was gone and there was nothing but darkness.