Author's note: First, I want to say a big thank you to the folks who kindly received "Personal Demon" and "Sweet Child of Mine". I appreciate you very much. As for the not kind feedback, well, can't please everyone. If you haven't read those stories, you might be a little lost with this storyline. Second, this story is set in that same AU, but it is NOT the direct sequel "Message in a Bottle" that is previewed in "Sweet Child of Mine". That story is coming soon. Continuity-wise this would be story #4 of 4. "Message in a Bottle" is coming soon, it's just not quite done yet. I put teasers for it in this story.
I wrote this one because I wanted to do a separate Christmas piece just to give my brain a rest from that trilogy. I also wanted to bring Egon back for a visit as I promised.
There are two endings for this story-the original ending, and an alternative ending that was inspired by the gag reel/deleted scenes from the movie. You can pick your favorite.
As always, I don't own the "Ghostbusters" (I have, however, already pestered the lovely folks at Ghost Corps, who do own the characters, to please include the ladies in future projects as I really do like both the original and the new GB characters. I'd suggest anyone who wants to see them return speak to Ghost Corps before it's too late. The hateful backlash really brings me down sometimes.) Also, Winston's quote is from "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York", which I also do not own.
Rated T (or PG-13) for adult situations, some violence, but mostly for language and angst.
"One Day at Christmas"
"I don't want a check that's made out to 'Cash', Or a corporate re-gift from some secret stash.
I'd like a day with my dad. Just a day? Make it two.
If you can do that, Santa, I'll believe in you." – Elf: The Musical; "I'll Believe in You"
On This NYC Christmas
"All I'm saying is Abby's my secret Santa. You know I'm getting a book or some documentary DVD on Cappadocian aqueducts. So, when you see her purchasing one of these things, can you just tell her to go to 'Bed, Bath, and Beyond' and get me some damn bath salts like normal people do?"
Patty Tolan was exhausted, which was making her cranky. She hadn't slept in about thirty hours thanks to the latest outbreak of spectral activity in New York. It was four p.m. on Christmas Eve eve, and her holiday shopping still wasn't done because of said outbreak of spectral activity. She was supposed to be performing with her church choir at that exact moment, not standing in the middle of Central Park preparing to nab her third ghost of the day (and tenth ghost of the week). God help any mugger who might try to start something with her; in Patty's current sour mood, he was going to get a butt-full of accelerated neutrinos.
The overload of work didn't seem to affect her partner at all, but then again, if Jillian Holtzmann did experience stress, the engineer rarely let it show. She thrived on the challenge of creating new machines to combat and contain whatever ghost came along on a given day. Tell her a problem couldn't be solved, and she'd peer at you from behind those yellow-lens glasses of hers and proceed to prove you wrong. Deprive her of sleep by bombarding the city with ghosts, she'd keep going until every last one was caught like the damn Energizer bunny (if the Energizer bunny powered itself by randomly dancing to 80s tunes instead of batteries).
Being bat crap crazy was an asset in their line of work, Patty mused.
Holtzman currently was happily preparing to test one of her new toys. The new gadget looked to Patty like a Slinky welded to an egg beater plugged into a portable charging device, with the customary foot pedal trigger. She placed the device in the middle of the road.
The blonde engineer nodded sympathetically at Patty's complaint. "Yeah, it's kinda too late. And it's a DVD on Scottish castles. Don't forget to act surprised when you open it."
Patty groaned. "Aw, man. I am not interested in documentaries on Scottish castles-unless Liam Neeson or Sam Heughan comes with it. Or that Adrian Paul, remember him?"
"The Highlander? Immortal hotties running around lopping off each other's heads with swords? I loved that show," Holtzmann grinned.
Her partner blinked at her. "Have I mentioned today that you still scare me?"
As usual, Holtzmann took that as a compliment, not a critique. "Speaking of scary…head's up. Here comes Ghost Rider."
She'd heard the pounding of hooves and the rattle of the runaway carriage before it came careening around the bend in the road. Joggers and pedestrians scattered lest they be mowed down. If the fact that the carriage was hurtling along at breakneck speeds didn't signal trouble, the fact that the horse pulling it was glowing green and leaving a trail of slime in its wake would have indicated that it was currently possessed.
This was bad news for the screaming newlyweds riding in the carriage (the driver appeared to have bailed as soon as the ghost took control of the animal).
Holtzmann hit the trigger of her new trap, caroling cheerfully: "Forks turned to tasers and streams of neutrinos, weapons that send evil ghosts down the drain oh, swiss army knives and bombs I can fling, these are a few of my favorite things…"
Patty dragged her partner out of the way as the carriage barreled down on them, rather afraid Holtzmann would be so fascinated with her field test that she'd let herself get run over watching.
When the horse/ghost passed over the device, Holtzmann hit the trigger. The trap shot out an energy net that encircled the ghost, ripping it from the animal and holding it in place. The horse and the carriage with its passengers passed, unharmed, through the neutrino net.
Of course, the unexpected burst of energy, noise, and flashing lights did nothing to calm the frightened animal. The horse kept running until it disappeared deeper in the park, with the couple still screaming in the carriage.
Holtzmann shrugged at Patty. "They'll be alright. I'm sure Flicka will tire herself out eventually. Look, the neutrino net worked!"
She moved closer to the ghost that writhed amidst the multiple energy beams that coiled around it. The ghost flailed its limbs, attempting to break free, trying to tear at the Ghostbuster. It wasn't a terribly impressive ghost, Holtzmann noted, a Class Two semi-anchored vapor at best. She would have liked to test the neutrino net on a more impressive specimen, but she was satisfied for the moment and proud of her new creation. This successful test meant that the Ghostbusters could potentially forcibly remove a ghost from a possessed person without disintegrating the host.
She and Ray Stantz had worked on the design for the net, based off a similar gadget he had demonstrated for Holtzmann a few weeks ago. She knew he'd be excited to hear it had worked.
"What is the deal with all this activity lately?" She personally hadn't seen her apartment since Thanksgiving. The Ghostbusters had so many calls that they were having to split off into pairs or go on calls alone to cover everything. "I haven't got my shopping done yet. Can't the ghosts at least be considerate and haunt a Macy's or a mall?"
"Or a pizza parlor. I'm starving," Holtzmann agreed as she kneeled to check the readings on the neutrino net, monitoring how long the device could generate a stable energy field. The ghost still attempted to reach its limbs down to strike at her.
"You got any thoughts on what Erin wants for a present? I mean besides for Kevin to win the lead in Magic Mike on Broadway?" Patty asked.
"Erin's not the only one who'd enjoy seeing that."
Their cellphones simultaneously beeped new text messages-another call. "Oh, hell no," Patty grumbled. First, she'd missed church. If they had to go on another call, they were going to miss their own Christmas Eve party. They'd had to leave Kevin in charge of planning the party at the firehouse, so Patty was nervous to find out what he'd come up with. "Do you think some whack-job is charging the ley lines again?"
Holtzmann straightened up. "I dunno. Why don't we ask our friend here?"
She gestured to the yellow ghost that was writhing in the net. The other reason she'd made the neutrino net was in hopes that they could communicate with a ghost while keeping it contained. This guy was pretty gruesome-looking. He looked to Holtzmann like his face melted off when he died. "Hey handsome, what's with the Christmas rush? You guys wanting to see New York for the holiday or you got something cooking we ought to know about? You can tell me. I can keep a secret."
Patty raised her eyebrows at that reminding Holtz: "You just told me what Abby got me for Christmas."
"Yeah, I can't keep a secret at all."
The yellow ghost sneered at the humans. "Jagannath has come."
The specter seemed to think that settled the matter. Patty nodded. "Good for him." She looked at Holtzmann. "Who's Jagannath?"
Holtzmann shrugged. "I'll have to hit Tobin's Spirit Guide when we get back to the firehouse-" She remembered they had another page and added. "If we get back to the firehouse anytime this year."
She tossed a trap beneath the yellow ghost. It vanished into a beam of white light. The neutrino net wasn't meant to contain a ghost long-term. It was too awkward to transport a specter with it, plus it used so much power that it drained it would drain its battery in a few minutes.
Something laying on the pavement caught Holtzmann's eye. She kneeled for a closer look, using a handkerchief to pick up the slime-covered object. It was a silver medallion with an emerald green stone at the center.
"What is that?" Patty asked.
Holtzmann scanned the trinket. "Whatever it is, it's pouring off temporal radiation."
"Is that better or worse than regular radiation? And should you be touching it?"
The engineer ignored the questions. She pulled out her cell phone and started dialing.
Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates were in Ecto-1, pursuing three ghosts along the city streets. Abby was in the driver's seat, wondering why Holtzmann enjoyed driving in this city so much. Maybe because she was as crazy as the other drivers, she theorized. Abby's nerves would have been on edge just negotiating the traffic even if she weren't trying to keep an eye on the specters while avoiding a collision. She had to slam on the brakes when a truck ran a red light and cut them off. She shouted an insult to the truck driver before continuing the chase.
One ghost was a blueish-green creature with massive fangs and claws. It (he?) seemed to be leading the other two. When the Ghostbusters had to stop for the truck, the blue ghost used the opportunity to disappear into a mall.
Abby frowned. "Oh, that's great-cause the shopping mall isn't scary enough two days before Christmas without throwing ghosts into the mix."
Her cell phone beeped just as she pulled Ecto-1 into a loading zone. The security guards had already seen the trio of specters and were content to let the Ghostbusters park wherever they wanted so long as the ghost hunters dealt with the invasion. Erin unloaded their gear while Abby answered the phone.
"Holtz? You wrapped up there? We could use a hand at the mall. We got three of 'em loose here."
Holtzmann apologized. "We're going to be delayed a little. Kevin just texted us another sighting. Our ghost buddy in the park mentioned some little goober named Jagannath. Apparently, he's the big ghost in town tonight."
Abby didn't recognize the name. She hoped that meant Jagannath was a minor apparition and not a demigod or something more difficult to contain. "Great, but they aren't wearing name tags. Meet us here as soon as you can and Google 'Jagannath' on the way."
Erin overhead the last bit. "Jagannath?"
"Holtzmann says he's the ghost boss," Abby explained.
Panicked shoppers began to pour out of the mall's various exits and entrances. A few took advantage of the chaos to snatch items off vendors' carts. The security guards were too busy preventing shoppers from being trampled to pursue the shoplifters.
Erin and Abby battled their way against the throng of screaming people to get into the three-story shopping center. Erin headed for the escalator, hoping the higher ground would give them a better vantage point. She paused by one of the stores, momentarily distracted: "Ooh, look—Sharpe's Jewelry. Phil brought me here last year to pick up my Christmas gift. I thought it was going to be an engagement ring. It was a teddy bear with a little box of chocolates. Four pieces. It came free with the diamond tennis bracelet he bought his mother."
"And that explains even more about Phil," Abby said.
They had a better view from the second floor (the challenge was not being knocked over the railing by the fleeing mass of people). Abby clung to a post, waiting for the wave of bodies to pass. "Okay, everyone's acting crazy. How are we supposed to tell who's possessed, who's scared, and who's in a shopping frenzy?"
Erin craned her head to see above the crowd. "Well, I think if they're actually airborne might be possessed." She pointed to a man who was being hauled by his left leg to the top of the mall's two-story Christmas tree. The blue ghost with the fangs gripped the man's ankle like he was lugging a rag doll.
They ran along the walkway, racing to catch up with the ghost and his prisoner. Abby shouted over the screams and the Christmas music that still blared from the speakers: "You got any ideas for rescuing him that don't end with him pancaked in the promenade? Because, I've got nothing!"
The blue specters' two ghost buddies swooped past the women, eager to join in the fun. The ghostly trio begin to toss the hapless man around like a ball, playing keep away from the Ghostbusters.
Erin's stomach knotted. "Oh, that's going to end badly..."
She glanced around the immediate area, from ceiling to the tiled floor below, wracking her brain for a rescue plan. Her gaze fell on the Christmas village at the center of the mall. The ghosts and their captive hovered almost directed above the village, which consisted of an inflatable workshop/bounce house and a garishly adorned recliner that was serving as Santa's throne for photos with the children in the mall.
She pointed to the Christmas village. "Santa's Workshop-it's an inflatable! If we shoot when the ghosts are directly above it, he might have a soft landing…or else he ricochets off the inflatable into the giant aluminum tree and we get sued."
Abby was guessing the odds favored a ricochet. "Nothing like Christmas in New York. I'm going to get too the other side of the mall, maybe we can catch them in a crossfire."
She ran across a catwalk to the opposite side, keeping one eye on the blue ghost and the dangling man. The ghost was almost directly above the inflatable workshop. Abby had to get its attention. She played a hunch. "Hey, Jagannath!"
The blue ghost spied the dark-haired Ghostbuster and bared its fangs at Abby. It dropped the man, who screamed as he plummeted towards the ground. He hit the inflatable-and ricocheted off its roof. He was flung into a pile of empty cardboard gift boxes, but he still managed to get up and run away.
Abby winced. "We're definitely getting sued."
Erin shouted: "How'd you know that one was Jagannath?"
"It had to be one of them. I took a shot."
Jagannath took aim at Abby, bearing down at her with his claws outstretched, screeching: "Jagannath is supreme!"
Erin fired, snagging the blue ghost in a proton stream. Jagannath's two sidekicks scattered. One dove into the mall's giant Christmas tree. The other landed on the mall Santa's lap, pinning him while it blathered a list at him in gibberish. Abby couldn't take at shot at either specter without doing serious damage to the tree or Santa. She focused on helping contain the blue ghost first.
"Jagannath is supreme!" the blue ghost writhed, snarling and displaying ts gargantuan teeth.
Abby reached for the trap that hung from her belt. "Okay, buddy, the bar for 'supreme' is here..." She held her hand at the height of her shoulder. "That's for your Gozers and Rowans and Zuuls. You're about here…" She moved her hand down to the height of her knee. "That's the 'awkward peon ghosts' level."
Jagannath roared. It must have been a call for help. The green ghost in the Christmas tree began turning it in circles, spinning it faster and faster. The ornaments began to emanate supernatural light and tore themselves from the branches to fly at the Ghostbusters like tiny missels. Abby and Erin had to let Jagannath go to dive for cover from the projectiles. Next, the strings of garland and lights unwound themselves from the tree to flail at the women like whips.
Erin ducked behind an abandoned cell phone stand. "Will you stop baiting the ghosts?!"
Abby hid behind a pillar. "He needs a realistic self-image!"
They tossed ghost grenades at the tree. The tiny bombs made a spectacular mess: Melted garland, shards of broken ornaments, and a puddle of green slime that had been the ghost rained down on the still-pinned mall Santa. The third ghost abandoned Santa's lap.
"Santa, you might want to run!" Abby shouted down to the man.
Santa gave them the finger before he ran. Erin rolled her eyes. "Bah humbug."
Abby sulked. "Why do people keep doing that?"
"In fairness, we did just blow up the mall Christmas tree," Erin said.
They chased after the two remaining ghosts, trying to cut off their escape routes. Jagannath tossed trash cans, mannequins, and anything else within his psychokinetic reach into the Ghostbusters' path. The ghosts beelined for the towering wooden toy soldiers that stood at the main entrance. The toy soldiers' cheerful faces contorted into twisted scowls and they aimed bayonets (plastic, but still dangers since they were roughly the size of a limousine) at Erin and Abby and advanced. They moved to stand below the walkway and shoved the bayonets upwards, attempting to impale the women.
Erin skidded to a stop as the giant tip of the bayonet exploded directly in her path. "Crap."
Abby shouted at the demon-possessed toys: "Those are antiques! Show some respect!"
By unspoken consensus, Erin and Abby deployed their new toys, dropping two of Holtzmann's neutrino nets from the second story. The devices clattered to the floor, automatically opening upon impact. The nets caught Jagannath's buddy, however as soon as the ghost was torn from the toy, the giant soldier toppled over and smashed the mall's fountain. Jagannath abandoned the other toy solider, which crushed the row of benches beside the fountain.
Abby hoped Agents Hawkins and Rorke had a few hot toddies before they got the bill for damages to the mall. While Erin deployed a trap for the ghost in the neutrino net, Abby raced down the escalator in pursuit of the last ghost. "Watch Jagannath!"
Jagannath knew he was outnumbered. He streaked for the exit, but Abby caught him with a proton stream. "No you don't-I think you just topped Santa's naughty list, buddy."
Erin laid out another trap for Jagannath. She rolled her eyes at her partner, and Abby shrugged. "What? One of us had to say it."
Jagannath vanished with an outraged shriek into the ghost trap just as the Homeland Security agents finally arrived on the scene, surveying the mess.
Agent Hawkins spotted the Ghostbusters. He gestured to the destruction. "What the hell did you do?"
Abby retorted: "Where were you guys? We told you three hours ago that we needed back up. Did you stop to do your Christmas shopping?"
Erin shoved the smoking trap into Abby's hands. "Speaking of which, there's a Sports Authority at the other end of the mall that's open. I need to go grab something for the party tonight." She ran off, hoping that there was a cashier hiding somewhere in the store who could help her.
Holtzmann and Patty were only a couple of steps behind the Homeland Security agents. Holtzmann pulled out her cell phone and snapped a picture of the topped toy soldiers and the slime-soaked remains of the mall's Christmas tree. "Wow. They weren't kidding about how crazy the last-minute shopping gets."
"You found us," Abby greeted them.
Patty nodded. "We followed the trail of screaming shoppers."
Abby raised an eyebrow at Hawkins and Rorke, "See, they stopped to catch two other ghosts and still got here at the same time as you. I'm just saying-did you stop for lunch or what?" Forgetting their useless handlers, Abby filled in the other Ghostbusters. "We caught your Jagannath. Hopefully that's the end of the Christmas ghost rush."
"We haven't found anything about Jagannath online, but I think we figured out how he started the ghost parade. Ever seen one of these?" Holtzmann pulled the weird medallion from her pocket for Abby to see.
Abby hadn't seen anything like it. "Didn't Lady Gaga wear this to the Grammys last year? I have no idea what this is."
Rorke was walking over to them. Holtzmann pocketed the medallion before he saw it and confiscated it. He was pointing a finger at them. "These repairs are coming out of your budget. We did not authorize actions at a mall full of civilians!"
Holtzmann stuck out her bottom lip. "Aww, does this mean we don't get our crappy Homeland Security coffee mugs for Christmas?"
"Just tell me this is the last of them?" He indicated the collection of smoking ghost traps.
Abby shrugged. "What do you want me to say? 'I think' or 'I hope'?"
Rorke shook his head and stormed away.
Patty made a face at the back of his head. "Merry Christmas to you too, grumpy little elf."
There was smoke pouring from the open garage doors when Ecto-1 pulled up to the firehouse that was the Ghostbusters' headquarters. Erin's first reaction was to ask: "Is there a fire? Holtz, did you leave one of your experiments running?"
Holtzmann parked at the curb instead of pulling into the garage. "No…well, yes…I'm not responsible for the giant candle, either." She grinned at the ten-foot tall plastic candle set up at the garage's entrance. It beamed light bright as searchlights at passing pedestrians and motorists. "Kevin's decorated for the party or he's trying to signal the mothership."
Abby had been checking the Delta airlines website with her cell phone. "Good news: I can stay for the party after all. Jagannath's little trip to the mall made me miss the last flight to California." She was supposed to fly to Long Beach to meet her cousins for a Christmas cruise to Mexico, her family's favorite Yuletide traditions. Ironically, she would need an airplane to get to the airport in time to make her flight.
Patty climbed out of the passenger seat, waving smoke away from her face as she walked into the firehouse. "I'm sorry you missed your trip, Abby. Not to be insensitive about that, but can we get this party going? I'd still like to catch the eight o'clock church service before I head to my uncle's house."
"Yep. Let me put these ugly bugs to bed first." Holtzmann had a half-dozen traps from their jobs that day. The ghosts needed to be catalogued and emptied into the containment unit.
The smoke turned out to be a barbeque fashioned from a rusted old metal barrel. The large grill was loaded down with chicken breasts, sausages, and skewers of steak and vegetables. There was a tub full of freshly cooked pulled pork. A folding table had been set up in the middle of the garage. A blue tarp was serving as a tablecloth. Plates of potatoes, green bean casserole, and dinner rolls were waiting. Chinet plates and plastic utensils in Christmas colors completed the table settings.
Kevin stood by the grill, decked out in a festive green apron that read "Fleece Navidad" above a picture of a sheep wearing a Santa hat. He waved in greeting.
"There you are! Thought I was going to have to eat all this myself. So, what do you think?" He gestured eagerly to the decorations.
In addition to the oversize candle in the doorway (which made it impossible to close the rollup doors, so the cold air blew right into the garage), the firehouse was adorned from top to bottom in Christmas lights, a fully decorated Christmas pine tree, ferns, purple flowers, and palm branches. A small stack of presents was waiting under the tree.
"Kevin! Nice job buddy." Abby was genuinely impressed. Leaving the party in his hands while they answered all the calls had been a scary prospect. "Um…one question: Ferns? And-?" She tried to identify the purple flowers.
"Bellflowers. I get a bit homesick this time of year. I like to do a traditional celebration like my mum and dad used to do," Kevin explained. If he were back home in Australia, he and his brothers would be hitting the beach to surf on Christmas morning before gathering for a family dinner with their parents. They'd taken turns being in charge of the meal each year. He'd always liked to barbeque when his turn came around. "Hope everyone's hungry."
Patty marveled a bit about just how much food he'd cooked. She would still be expected to eat when she got to her uncle's house. "You know we don't have to feed the ghosts, right? It's just the five of us."
Erin flashed a smile at Kevin. "I could eat."
Kevin was oblivious to the flirting, but pleased by her answer. "Oh-and it's six of use for dinner. Holtz, you're mum's upstairs." He used his spatula to gesture towards the staircase.
Holtzmann froze, mid-stride. "Which one? The passive-aggressive sub-psychotic one or the crazy one?"
He could never keep track of the names of Holtzmann's mothers since finding out she had at least two foster moms in addition to the birth mother with whom she'd recently reunited, so Kevin appreciated that she had phrased the question that way. "The nice one."
She exhaled, relieved. For a second, she thought one of her foster mothers had tracked down her new address. "Ah. Janine. Good."
Holtzmann had invited her birth mother to spend the weekend with her, since their last attempt to spend 'quality time' together had been majorly screwed up by a malevolent demigod. It was fortunate that Janine had worked for the original Ghostbusters; a little thing like nearly being killed in an apocalyptic spectral invasion might have deterred the average mom from accepting any more invitations from their Ghostbuster off-spring.
She retreated to her corner on the first floor to unload the traps. The other Ghostbusters dropped off their gear while Kevin dished out the food.
Janine comes downstairs, breathing in the aroma of barbeque treats. "Something smells good."
"I can feel my arteries clogging already." Abby pulled out the chair at the head of the table and offered it to their guest. "Hey, Janine. Holtzmann is in the lab. I'm glad you're here-we'll need help eating all this."
Patty stopped to collect the gifts from beneath the tree and started passing them out before anyone had taken one bite of food. "Yes, please. Presents. Church. Family dinner. Tick-tock. Let's go."
She passed Abby a box wrapped in tin foil and duct tape. "Aww..thanks, Holtz!"
Holtzmann blinked at her from behind the stack of ghost traps on her worktable. "How'd you know it was from me?"
"Leave the ghost rock and come eat!" Patty ordered her.
"Aw-right…" Holtzmann left the medallion on her work table and joined them. She greeted her mom with a hug before sitting down in the chair next to Janine's.
Abby tugged at the thick grey tape before giving up and using Erin's pocketknife to-very carefully—unwrap her gift. It was a piece of paper. More specifically: "It's a plane ticket…to Long Beach."
"I had a feeling work might mess up your plans," Holtzmann grinned, impressed by her own anticipation of Abby's plight.
Abby was still perplexed. "Holtz, this is nice, but I had a ticket already, and I still missed my flight."
"Actually, you can't miss that flight. It's a charter jet. I had the Men in Black set it up."
"How'd you get Rorke to agree to that?" Abby felt a thrill of hope for her Christmas vacation.
Holtzmann winked: "Blackmail. He shot me, remember?" Beside her, Janine made a soft noise in the back of her throat and blanched a bit.
Like Abby was going to forget that whole Voga Ra'El business. "Bla-you know what, I don't need the details. Thank you."
Her friend's grin was pure evil. "Just tell Cousin Barbra hello for me."
"I will not."
Janine was afraid to ask: "Jillian, what did you do to Cousin Barbie?"
Holtzmann shrugged. "I just tasered her a little bit with a turkey fork and a battery." Cousin Barbie had been rude to Abby. She was lucky Holtzmann had settled for lightly tasering her.
"Jillian!" Janine rubbed her eyes, ears turning red.
Abby nodded. "It's true. She still pees a little when she smells turkey."
Holtzmann laughed mid-swallow, coughing around a mouthful of apple cider. "I shouldn't be proud of that…but I really am."
"Jillian!" her mom repeated.
Erin interrupted. "Okay, people are getting ready to eat. Maybe we don't talk about peeing." She saw Holtzmann about to say something and added: "Or anything else that can be produced or secreted by humans or ghosts."
Kevin presented Holtzmann with a rolled-up t-shirt tied with a green bow. "This is from me."
Holtzmann removed the ribbon and unrolled the t-shirt. A small wooden object rolled out of the cloth. It turned out to be a very weird totem or may some kind of tiki. She was reluctant to ask, so she leaned to whisper to Erin: "Is this the cursed Hawaiian tiki that tried to kill the Brady Bunch?"
"Don't be silly-" Erin began, until she had a look at the odd object. "-but, maybe you shouldn't take it into the lab, just to be safe."
Kevin caught a glimpse of the object. He scratched his head. "Um…awkward…actually, the totem is mine." Giving Holtzmann an apologetic look, he took it back. "Mum sent it from home. I forgot I wrapped it in the shirt so it wouldn't break if it fell off my motorcycle. The shirt's your present."
"I've never been this relieved to get a shirt for Christmas." Holtzmann took a look at the shirt. As it happened, the artwork on the shirt was more unsettling than the totem. It either depicted some kind of demonic sacrifice or it was an inkblot Rorschach might have created while completely drunk. "You did the art yourself, didn't you, Kevin?"
Kevin nodded proudly "I'm going to sell them at a little stand out in front of the firehouse. You get the very first one. You like it?"
She grinned. "Actually, I do."
She showed the shirt to Janine, who let out an involuntary yelp and recoiled a bit. Janine managed to squeak out: "Lovely."
"My turn!" Erin handed Kevin a large present that turned out to be a snowboard she'd purchased from the shell-shocked cashier at the Sports Authority store that afternoon.
Kevin gazed at it in awe. "Ooh-nice!"
Patty and Abby exchanged looks. "And probably not much over our ten-dollar gift limit." Patty's sarcasm was wasted on Kevin.
Erin protested. "Abby got a plane!"
"Technically, I didn't pay for the plane, so I'm still under the ten-dollar limit," Holtzmann reminded Erin.
"Well, Kevin's going snowboarding with his friends for Christmas. I thought this would be nice for him." Erin wouldn't apologize for wanting to do something nice for their receptionist. He'd been working hard that year-learning the name of their company, learning how to use the "hold" button on the phone without disconnecting the caller, mastering the pager system…the workload never stopped.
"I'd have gone with a helmet…and not just to wear on the ski trip, buddy." Abby said. "And on that note, I stuck to the ten-dollar limit, so this will probably be a huge let down." She handed a gift to Patty.
Patty put on her best show of enthusiasm. "Hey, it's a DVD. Scottish castles. Great!"
Abby grinned at her. "I know you love history."
"Very thoughtful. Thank you, Abby." Patty thanked her, kicking Holtzmann under the table before the blonde made any 'Highlander' jokes. Patty passed a small box to Erin.
Erin made a show of enthusiasm. "Uh-oh. Looks like jewelry. What did you get me-" Inside was a pair of very large hoop earrings. Erin's eyes widened, imagining herself tipping over backwards under the weight of the large pieces. She fumbled for a polite response. "These are lovely, but…um…my ears aren't pierced."
Patty had noticed that a long time ago. "Way ahead of you. My niece, Lola, has you booked to pierce your ears next Tuesday. She's so gentle, you'll only feel the needle for a couple seconds."
Erin's smile faltered just a bit. "Fantastic."
"Speaking of family, I got to get to church in time to light a candle for Jo Rita. She's babysitting all the kids at Christmas Eve eve dinner tonight." Patty got up from the table. "I gotta go. Want to share a cab, Abby?"
Abby stood. "Sure." Patty went outside to flag down a taxi while Abby hugged Janine. "I feel bad you two are spending Christmas here." Holtzmann had volunteered to be on call for the holiday weekend, since she was the only one (at the time) who didn't have plans to travel or be at family gatherings for Christmas.
Erin felt kind of bad about that also. Holtzmann had only just met her birth mother a few weeks ago, and one thing after another had interfered with them getting any chance to spend time together. "You know, I'm not leaving for Buffalo until tomorrow. I could hang here until then if you and Holtzmann want to do something else tonight?"
Janine shook her head. "We'll be fine. Believe me-it's not my first Christmas at the firehouse. As long as I get to visit with my daughter, I'm happy." As an afterthought, she added: "But maybe we can move the giant candle inside so that we can close the door?" Janine was already shivering from the cold air blowing into the firehouse.
Patty reappeared in the doorway. "Abby! I got a cab"
She and Abby hugged everyone else good-bye. "Holtz, Janine, don't forget we're expecting to see you at dinner tomorrow night!" Patty reminded them on her way out the door.
Janine stared at her plate, which was still half full. The food was delicious. She was going to have to get the recipes for Peter, Ray, and Winston. However, she was going to split in two if she at another bite. "Kevin, this is very good. I don't think I can eat any more…"
Erin reached for Janine's plate. "I'll take it."
Holtzmann swatted Erin's hands away and moved the plates and dishes out of Erin's reach. She wasn't in the mood to watch Erin eat herself sick and then spend the evening with her at the hospital while she puked or got her stomach pumped just because she wanted to impress Kevin. "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, Erin. Didn't we talk about that at Thanksgiving?"
Erin blushed. "I don't know what you mean." Kevin started gathering up the leftovers and headed to the kitchen area. She followed. "I'll help you with that."
Janine started to stand up. "I can help, too…"
Holtzmann waved her off. "Trust me, you don't want seats for that show."
She headed back into her lab area, to the stack of ghost traps and the strange medallion that still beckoned for her attention. Janine sighed, but followed her daughter, pulling up a rickety chair.
Janine indicated Erin and Kevin. The red-head was helping him wash dishes, standing a little closer to him than necessary. "You mean…a little office romance? Is that a good idea?" Janine asked.
Holtzmann raised an eyebrow. Her mother had told her the story of how she and Jillian's father, Egon, had met. "Really?"
Janine blushed. "Okay, fair enough."
"I've got the whole weekend planned out." Holtzmann chatted while she proceeded to empty the traps into the containment unit. Janine recalled many evenings watching Egon doing the same thing. "I saw lots of good e-waste in the mall dumpsters. If we get there before the trash trucks, I can stock up on spare parts for the next year. I want to upgrade the containment units. And I'm dying to field test the multi-spectrum visors out at the abandoned mental hospital in Jersey…"
She noticed the expression on Janine's face. It was somewhere between befuddled and frightened. Holtzmann backpedaled. "…or we can do what normal people do on Christmas. What do normal people do on Christmas?" She sincerely didn't know. Most of her Christmases growing up either involved soup kitchens or small fires and angry foster parents.
"Oh…all those things. And maybe ice skating or baking cookies?"
Holtzmann considered that. "I love baking."
Janine was surprised. Her Christmases as a child involved the family gathering in the kitchen to bake cookies by the dozens. Janine and her sisters inevitably wound up in some kind of food fight before the day was over, and her mother always had to keep extra ingredients on hand because the first batch of chocolate chip cookie dough was devoured before ever reaching the oven. It was the kind of homey, domestic Christmas activity that Janine wouldn't have guessed her daughter would enjoy. Maybe there were some bits of Janine's DNA mixed in there with Egon's science-y nature. "You do?"
"Combining the correct chemical components in proper proportions; applying a heat source to achieve a precise result. Basic science. What's not to love?"
Or maybe not. "I…never thought about it that way."
Erin called from the door. "Guys! We're heading out! Merry Christmas!" she and Kevin waved good-bye before venturing outside, Erin uttering a surprised oath at how the temperature had dropped.
Janine gazed over the various bits of machinery scattered across the laboratory table. Her gaze came to rest on a framed picture that had been added to the desk since her last visit to the firehouse. It was the picture of Egon, Janine and baby Jillian that Janine had given her daughter. It had a place of honor in the only uncluttered corner of the table.
"What are you working on?"
Holtzmann used her proton fork to point to a gizmo that Janine thought looked like a Slinky on a bell. "Neutrino net. I based it off Ray's anti-possession tech. We had our first successful field test today. Also-this." She pointed to the weird medallion with the emerald stone laying in a metal tray on the table.
"Lady Gaga collection?" Janine joked
"I know, right?" Holtzmann put the medallion around her neck, checking her reflection in the shiny tray. She decided to leave the chunky jewelry to Patty; she couldn't pull it off. "What do you think? I think this thing is how Jagannath let all his buddies out to play. I just have no idea what it is or how it works."
Janine raised an eyebrow nervously. "Maybe it's not a good idea to wear it, then? Considering what happened with the last ghost rock we found…"
Holtzmann didn't hear that last bit. She was already moving to the bookshelf, pulling out a ragged copy of Tobin's Spirit Guide. She thumbed through the yellow pages with one hand while keying up Google on her computer. She thought the writing on the medallion looked like Sanskrit. If she could translate a few words, she should be able to identify the stone and its purpose.
Janine sighed again. She was learning quickly that tearing Jillian away from her gadgets and gizmos was only slightly less difficult than it had been trying to pry Egon away from his work. It was a miracle she'd ever held his attention long enough to conceive their daughter in the first place…
She took a shot at it anyway: "Since you all opened your gifts, I did bring you something." Janine went to the Christmas tree and grabbed the box she'd placed there earlier.
"Good. I have something for you, too." Holtzmann rifled through her desk until she found another box wrapped in foil. She presented the box to Janine with a grin. "Abby said moms like handmade gifts. Merry Christmas!"
Janine tried to hide her apprehension. "Handmade" with Jillian and Egon could mean anything from a misshapen clay coffee mug to a small nuclear device. She opened it cautiously.
It was another odd machine that was-well, it was small rubber tubes glued to a bellman's bell as far as Janine could tell. "It's…interesting." She turned it every which way, trying to discern its purpose. Finally, she set it on the table. "Okay, I give up. What is it?"
Holtzmann wrinkled her nose as though the answer should be obvious. "It's a digital antenna. You could pick up satellite channels in Tokyo with that bad boy. It's slightly radioactive, so just make sure to turn it off when you aren't using it just to limit your exposure." She watched Janine try to fake joy a few seconds before she finally had to laugh. "I'm just messing with you. It's a paperweight. I got you an appointment at that day spa you like."
Janine made a small noise of relief. "Oh, thank God…" Holtzmann reached to put the paperweight away, but Janine snatched it away. "Nope. I'm keeping that." It was her first present from her daughter, after all.
"Okay, so what'd you bring me?" Jillian did sound for all the world like an eager kid waiting for Santa's present.
Janine handed her the small box, somewhat shyly. She wasn't sure if her daughter would like her gift, but she hoped so. She prayed so.
Holtzmann ripped the paper off with one swipe of her hand. Inside the box was an SDHD card, shaped and painted to look like robot dog. To her credit, her eager grin didn't falter for one second. "An SDHD card? Awesome! I can use this for the proton-"
Janine wrapped her hands over Jillian's, trying to get a word in edgewise. "Wait! I need to explain about the chip." She took a deep breath and blurted: "It's from your father."
"What?!" Startled, Holtzmann nearly dropped the chip.
"He made some video messages for you the last few weeks before he passed away," Janine said. "I gave them to the Holtzmanns when they adopted you, but I guess the tapes were lost after the accident. I still had copies, so I asked Ray and Winston to transfer them into the computer. There are also old news stories about him that I scanned from the newspapers and magazines. Egon wanted you to have them."
Holtzmann was completely at a loss. She'd looked up her father on the Internet. There were video clips of interviews he'd done back in his days with the original Ghostbusters. His old papers from various scientific publications were still available. They all painted a picture of his academic side and scientific prowess…but offered no insight to Egon Spengler as a person. She'd read every scrap of information she could find on him and didn't know him any better for her efforts.
This was a personal message.
From her dad.
Jillian wanted to know the things any child wanted to know about a parent: Did he have a favorite color? What kind of music did he like? Did he ever dance when he was tackling a particularly stubborn problem like reducing the F-noise in the proton accelerators or deciding what toppings to get on his pizza? What was his favorite acid?
Would he have liked her? Did they have anything in common besides the mind for science?
Jillian's blank stare was making Janine uneasy. Maybe Christmas hadn't been the time to spring this on her daughter. Janine was beginning to think her timing really did stink. "Jillian?"
Holtzmann coughed a noise that sounded like loose bolts in a garbage disposal. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. Alarmed, Janine jumped to her feet, circling around the table. "Jillian-?"
Janine apologized, "I shouldn't have done this on Christmas. I thought you'd like to know—"
"No—yes. It's okay." Jillian cleared her throat again, feeling herself starting to lose her self-control. She hated getting emotional. It made her feel vulnerable, and she hated feeling vulnerable more than she hated actually crying. Her fist closed around the chip, gripping tightly. Holtzmann looked around for a tissue, but Erin didn't let her keep Kleenex or paper towels around her work station anymore, not with her tendency to set things on fire. "I wasn't expecting anything like this…I could really use a tissue…"
Janine nodded. "Okay, where are they?"
Holtzmann gestured in the general direction of the staircase. "Bathroom. Upstairs." Weren't moms supposed to keep packs of Kleenex in their purses or something? Or was that candy? Jillian wasn't a mom, she didn't know the rules. She didn't even own a purse, just her backpack and her duffel bag.
Janine ran upstairs, leaving Holtzmann with the chip.
She pulled her iPad from her desk and plugged in the chip…but Holtzmann's finger hesitated over the power button. The computer was already filled with the video clips and files she'd downloaded, plus pictures of her father that Janine and the Ghostbusters had copied for her. She didn't know if she was ready to handle the personal messages.
When she was alone maybe. Alone with two or three beers in her would be better still.
Groaning, she tossed the iPad aside, pocketed the SDHC chip and leaned against the worktable, head in her hands.
It wasn't the same. Holtzmann knew it. She couldn't ask a recording the questions she'd wondered about since childhood. A recording could say "I love you", but it wasn't going to hug her. It wasn't going to stand side-by-side with her into the wee hours of the morning dreaming up new gear for busting ghosts. A recording wasn't going to make midnight runs to the Basket Robbins with her when Jillian had a craving for fudge ripple ice cream with M&Ms on top.
A recording wasn't the same as having her father there, in person, or having one day with him. Just one day. Maybe two. Holtzmann was thrilled that she had the chance to reunite with her mother, but she wished that she could have the same chance to meet her father. She wished she was spending Christmas with him.
She'd barely formed those thoughts when two things happened.
First, she was assailed by a wave of dizziness, so intense she nearly toppled from her chair. Holtzmann closed her eyes as her vision blurred and the world seemed to suddenly spin.
Second, the lights went out, plunging the firehouse into blackness save for the pale rays of moonlight through the windows.