DISCLAIMER: I do not own Danny Phantom or any related characters.
I gently thumped my right ring finger against the table I'd been haunting for a good hour and a half. The plates had been cleaned off and stacked in the center before I even sat down. A blanket of crumbs was staining the paper tablecloth, making a faint web pattern around the hollowed out green candle in the wilting centerpiece. I'd been staring down at the thing for so long, the stains looked like six different animals depending on how you tilted your head. Trust me on this, I'd been there the entire evening.
My eyes twitched out of their glazed state as a pale hand appeared next to the elbow I'd been resting on the edge of the table. A carefully measured, purposely feminine voiced cheerfully chimed into my ear. I was running a few months late on a haircut appointment. I'm surprised I could hear her through the hair packed above my ears.
"…Alan…? Some one wants to talk to you."
I idly snatched a spoon off a lopsided plate, flipping the concave around to look at the flipped reflection of my mother's brown and white features peeking from over my shoulder my shoulder. I watched her forceful brunette brows spasm as I muttered softly.
"Not in the mood…"
I felt her nails dig into the back of my arm, jerking the sleeve of my jacket as if she could actually lift me out of my chair. Nonetheless, I stiffly stretched out from under the table and gently shifted her off of me with one arm. I then cracked my neck against my right shoulder before looking down at her with a tensed eyebrow. I had to loosen my neck beforehand because of the height difference. My mom's about five one in high heels. And I'm…not exactly five one in heels.
Before I could even step off my chair she'd already grabbed the front of my jacket and began struggling to hide the zipper pull as she complained under her breath.
"I say formal, and you wear a leather jacket and a tee shirt…?"
Batting her off with one elbow, I simply commented.
"You just told me to wear white, and told me to wear this jacket."
…Maybe she was ticked about what I did to the extremely flamboyant cowboy jacket she had left out for me when I first saw it…
Before my comeback could even sink in my mother quickly glanced down at her completely white pants-suit to make sure she hadn't broken her own commandment. She then swung her dark eyes back up to where I towered over her and jammed a manicured thumb into the light grew shirt partially hidden inside my authentic leather but completely bleached-ivory jacket. If you looked closely, you could just make out a line going down the back of each arm where I'd sliced off the fringed tassels with a pocket knife back in the hotel room. I would have gone all the way and just blacked out the jacket, but I didn't have enough shoe polish or leftover black hair dye from my father's dresser.
My mother dragged her thumb nail over the coarse cotton the shirt had been made of for a few years now, sighing at its non-whiteness as she grabbed one of my sleeves and led me away from the farthest-places table of the currently alcohol-smelling hotel banquet hall of the week.
"Honestly! The girls never complained…"
…Of course they never complained. They can't. You'd sooner see a horse trotting into a glue factory before you'd see one of the 'Fenton Sisters' saying anything less than positive about their being limited-audience celebrities. As my mother pulled…well, led me by the sleeve towards the open bar, I scanned the formally covered horizon of heads and torsos, eventually seeing a flash of red and green flaring out of the black and white.
As my pupils adjusted to the dim glow of the candles melting on each empty table, I could distinctly recognize the exact pose that my younger sister, Sherri, was making for a tuxedoed photographer kneeling down in front of her. She was obviously my mother's daughter. A very slightly feminine but extremely travel-sized figure, barely five foot who looked like she couldn't take a sudden gust of wind. Like my mother, she'd pulled her forcefully dyed brunette locks back against her sharp-featured head and tied it all off with a simple ponytail which she draped over one shoulder as she angled herself to the side and raised a finger/thumb comprised fire-arm parallel to her face to look like an old movie poster. Just imagine a leather body-suit instead of a flowing emerald evening gown that cost more than my entire wardrobe back home.
And behind her, in a perfect if not discolored mirror image, was a girl completely identical in every visible way except for the red dress and the fact she was facing the opposite direction in the very same pose. As the photographer's flash beeped and temporarily blinded the immediate population, my sister and her double held the pose like a statue and its reflection in a color-blind pond.
And then, the tuxedo-clad paparazzi waddled off to find another shot as the red-clothed girl fell right out of her firing pose into a slow, ear-shattering face-vault. Almost as suddenly, the remaining twin just shook her head and helped the other up as her crimson counterpart just giggled and pointed down at how one of her heels had fallen off.
Sherri, in the green, and Kerri pulling up the rear of the brain trust. Identical twins. And since they're Fentons, they were bred and raised to…don't mark me off as drunk, I'm actually allergic to the stuff…to fight ghosts.
I'm not kidding. I wish I was, but some prayers just don't make it past customer service.
I'm not just another estranged eldest son loitering around his family's table at a business function or a wedding reception. According to the digital flier outside the main doors of this small auditorium, this was a corporate fund raiser slash gala reserved for those of the paranormal community. This is comprised of but not limited to those who believe in the active afterlife, and provide funding for such research and beliefs.
A bunch of rich morons who just happen to believe in ghosts, getting together to pose for hideously formal pictures and to test out the dexterity and sanity of the red-vested bartenders. There, that's what it means in English. At least that's what it melted into after the first ten minutes. These snobs actually paid to hear from the latest branch of a family that's been…either researching or exterminating ghosts, for generations. I used to ask what we actually did quite often, after so many trips to my room I just accepted that there was no real answer.
Yeah, there's a ghost-fighting family out there. Back in the day, supposedly around the turn of the century, our close ancestors saved a town from 'ghost attacks' thirty times over. The original Fentons also made a modest fortune in military technology and some sociological studies on active teamwork within the American family. But they were obsessed with ghosts. That tends to stick to the top of the page better than the resume of patents and company investments. Weird stuff sells, ask Hollywood.
And the trend continued down the gene pool. And some commercial consultants believe they're more marketable than ever before. You see, before Helena 'Helen' Fenton spent forty hours delivering the twins, she'd already planned out their supernatural education program. Then the drugs wore off. She gave up on the flying circus idea and went back to matching jumpsuits and helmets.
Seventeen years later, and you have a very photogenic set of teenage girls that look great in ghost-fighting body armor and stylized stealth helmets. Combine this with my mother's reputation as a ballistic genius, and my father, James 'Jim' Fenton, being the indirect heir to Jack Fenton himself and you have a four person line up that pays for itself in media coverage and corporate sponsorships.
Who, for the record, have never encountered nor fought a single ghost since before the twins were born.
…So, who am I? No one worth mentioning. Just call me Alan. Last name's 'Fenton'. Odds are, you've never heard of me. Well, neither did a single person in that entire hotel. When my father got his key from the desk, the clerk had asked him to sign a magazine cover detailing our current base of operations. Then he asked if he should call security on the guy standing too close to our latest rental van. I mean… loitering around wearing sunglasses at night? That's enough to get a nightstick beating from the fashion police.
I liked to keep a low profile. That's all anyone needed to know. It's not easy. Like most male Fentons, I'm of slightly large frame. According to the last scale I stepped up onto I'm about six three even, two hundred sixteen pounds. You heard me. Pounds. The metric system can go gram itself with a meter stick, I don't care what all the other countries and fifty three states are using.
Before you picture a stocky linebacker, calculate this. Seven percent body-fat. Sixteen inch arms on a cold day. And if I didn't spend so much time working on flexibility, I'd probably have problems fitting through standard door frames without turning sideways.
That, is not Fenton genetics. That's just hard work and a good diet. And a few second-hand text books about human anatomy and muscle growth, the lost art of the twentieth century.
I'm not bragging about this. Middle aged men walk up to me in public and start talking about their high school football careers. If I time it so it's during the game-winning interception, they don't even notice when I sidle away with my eye on the nearest sharp or blunt object.
Enough about my body and how many shirts I've gone through in the last few years. Even with all the gym time and protein shakes, I can't escape the Fenton look. Mainly the pale-ish skin that always made me wonder if Fenton is short for something Irish. It doesn't tan. At all. But I also can't burn, don't let me mother's brown hair dye and forced lack of pigment fool you. She's half-Hispanic, and my sisters and I are one quarter Cuban. But I think the twins just got an eighth each, they were raised knowing nothing of their heritage and therefore act…well, white. That's the only way I could possibly word that without going off in Spanish like my other relatives do.
And now, my halfway biracial, body-built frame was being dragged along by a ninety pound woman in a white pants-suit whose high heels were ready to snap just like Kerri's just had. The Fenton women seem to have an issue with their stature. Between the shoe-lifts and only posing with short male models in nerdy center-folds, they're dead set on passing as 5'6. I mean, no one's going to notice six missing inches, right?
As I weaved through abandoned chairs and crept around stationary
trophy wives as a loud burst of laughter sounded from the direction
we were headed, and with my vertical advantage I could see right over
my mother to the bar-crowding group it came from. A loose circle of
older men in un-tucked suits, all heads turned up at the tallest and
most talkative member of the conversation. And the almighty tallest
happened to bear a striking resemblance to what I'd look like in my
late forties after a lifetime of moderate exercise and not as
moderate diet. I'd joke about his gray hairs, but it's just the
Fenton way to gray early and have a spare tire around your
…I'm not sure where I fit into that, exactly. The height, the muscle and the lack of real intelligence I partially understood and accepted. But the six-pack and the visible muscles where muscles usually don't loiter around?
Let's just say…I'm a bit more 'physical' than the rest of the family. The ghost hunting majority, of the family. Namely everyone but me.
By the time my mother 'pulled' me over against the edge of the dark marbled bar, my father had finished his rehearsed comedy routine about the wine listing and walked off to talk to a photographer who was cleaning his lens behind a potted plant. As wrong as that sounds. This shot down one clue why she'd dragged me over, usually I just have to stand next to Jim and nod as he starts talking about the Fenton lineage, I just stand there until he nudges me to do a bicep flex then I'm free to wander away to beat down a woolly mammoth with my buddies. Instead, she pulled sharply on one of my ivory-hide sleeves to get my attention and flicked that thumb of hers toward an elderly man who was sitting on a stool on the far corner. She hissed, trying to be quiet about it as she screamed it up at me.
"Said he recognized you….Don't ask."
She turned to walk over to that same photographer her husband spotted and stalked off towards, but I quickly pulled her right back by the collar with one finger and asked, in a mocking hiss of a whisper.
She shrugged off my hooked index finger and just spat back in a hurry before clicking off in those doomed heels.
"Who cares, just keep him busy!"
I watched her slowly clack away with a tensed eyebrow before just shaking it off like a patch of dandruff and looking over at my secret admirer at the end of the bar.
Can't say he was one to stand out in a crowd. Drowning in a partially tucked three piece suit, expensive hair piece sitting on his head like a trained dog, and his slightly reddened head was bobbing over a small but empty glass that I noticed was covered in fingerprints. Rich drunks don't go through bottles of the stuff. They get the same little glass refilled repeatedly to the equivalent of what they'd drink if they were at a keg party, it's just classier to use a tiny glass. Like most of the other suits in the room, he was just wrinkled enough to sink into that 'old' category where you can't spit out a double digit and hope to land it.
Old drunk at the bar wants to talk to me on a whim. Sounds fun.
I made sure my parents weren't in sight before spinning on one worn heel and looking for a path back to the table I'd been making friends with all night. Apparently my heel-spin caught too much lag on the carpet, because immediately a hoarse croak cut through the crowd's humming, freezing me in my first step.
…Oh…crap…he actually knew me…?
Slowly, ever so slowly, I turned back to look at him with a plastered smile I practically pulled out of my wallet and stuck onto my face in the men's room. The elderly booze-hound was now squinting over with two marble-like eyes, a slanted smile showing off his latest dentures as he waved me over with a limp hand. A minute of purposely lead-footed walking later, I took a seat next to him as he let one of his index fingers bob like a plastic bird at me, slowly forming a single word.
How…specific…As I settled onto the stool and lowered it so I didn't have to bend my neck as much, he took the reins of the already sluggish conversation and clanked his glass against the bar as he suddenly remembered.
I kept the pre-packaged smile going. I hoped it wouldn't snap off and fly into some one's drink. I raised a loose palm and opened my mouth to try and change the subject to the weather or something about night-vision contact lenses being cheaper now, but as the sullen bartender gave him a twelfth refill he raised his wagging finger again and finished.
"…Yeah, I know you. Saw ya' slippin' those hooks like they was lingerie. Damn good! When wuz' it…October?"
At that particular moment, it was February. A chilly seventy degrees, at that. Thanks a lot, twentieth century pollution. Slowly, my smile peeled off and my mouth slipped back into the flat-line position as my eyes swung over to the glass shelves behind the bar as I struggled to keep the boredom out of them. He knew who I was. So much for saying I just look like a Fenton, it's a normal mistake. That usually works better than 'My mistress just went into labor, gotta' go!'. He kept wagging that same finger as he sipped his newly filled glass and swallowed.
"…Yeah…you were good…you moved good…damn fast for a slugger…"
As I stared off behind the bar without, not really acknowledging the conversation, I dryly whispered my first word of the subject and let my eyes tighten around a bottle of something clear on the top shelf. If I'd been two years older, and I would have bought it and hit myself over the head with it.
Instantly, something wet hit my ear as he demanded with sudden impatience.
"What was that?"
I rasped, not even facing him.
"…I'm…I was a swarmer, Sir. You called me a…"
"Don't correct me, you punch-drunk loser!"
My already sore neck nearly snapped when I spun around to face him. He hadn't moved. Still bobbing over his now empty glass, his finger still shaking at me as he went on in the same pace and tone. Now that I think back, he was probably implying these feelings when he called me over. Or maybe he just couldn't move his face that much .He slurred.
"...Forty…four...wins, straight! Hey, the guys were real cans, but you still whomped 'em!"
I liked it better how Gloves Monthly said it…You know…tying one of the greatest winning streaks in boxing history, despite fighting in a sport that's still getting back on its feet talent-wise…Where they took down that stupid 'The next heavyweight champ' rumor and just said I was decent. I liked that.
I didn't like this guy.
"…And you just quit. Quit. It's stupid, needle-jacking pugs like you tha…Hey, I'm talkin' to you!"
I'd gotten up. Then stared down at him with sharpened eyes that had cut down a few dozen heavyweights in that winning streak he'd just ranted about. And this old coot just kept bobbing over his glass, not even caring as his punching bag barely resisted the urge to throw him right over the overworked bartender into those shelves.
And I just walked away. Didn't even look back as he yelled in that same rank monotone.
"…Yeah, you better run! Worst fighter I ever paid to see…Get lost!"
…Sorry to break the mood…but how did this guy end up in a paranormal investigation gala? Was he left over from the party from this afternoon, and seeing his favorite retired heavyweight just woke him up enough to cuss me out? I just have to bring this up. Sure, it was a mild experience and those words didn't exactly roll off like they should have, but I just have to wonder how this little man entered the picture to begin with.
Sad part is, that wasn't the first old guy at s bar.
I more or less threw away my gloves last month. New Years Day. Eight forty seven in the morning. This particular outing was in late February. And as you can see, the ring announcers still talk about me as if I'd just quit ten minutes before the match they're covering. The obsessed jerks can't just let me move on, just ask the armchair boxing expert with the bobbing finger and the trophy wife hitting on the bartender about six feet away from where we'd exchanged words.
Oh yeah. I should have brought this up earlier, but I figured it was just trivia.
I was a boxer.
Let's leave it at that.
About Two Minutes Later
Fire exits. Designed to provide a safe evacuation route in case of an emergency. But that night, a carefully hidden and poorly ventilated stairway behind the decorative fountain with no pennies in it provided an emergency evacuation route for one out-of-place, overgrown adolescent in terribly tasteless white pants, equally white shoes, a pathetic parody of a biker jacket and a slightly form-fitting gray tee shirt that was just wasn't stiff enough to go in the hotel room hamper.
…Don't worry, I hated it too. See? We're all sane here. I'm not 'special', I'm just stupid. Did I mention I used to get hit in the head for a career? I think I did.
So I left the party. Sue me. It' not like this is a sudden rebellion against corny-looking family outfits and allowing my sisters to make fools of each other like they do. Ever since I got the nerve to tell my dad I…well, imagine twelve years of brutal daily training and psychological conditioning. Every day, six AM, rolled out of my unkept bed with the latest ghost-gun tucked into the waistband of my shorts and a sinking feeling in my stomach. Name a Fenton gadget. I probably have the blueprints and merchandising angle stashed in my subconscious from back when. Burned into my memory.
And just like that, déjà vu, I quit. I told my father that it was all…a bit much? I mean…the only ghost I've ever seen turned out to be a large plastic bag with a small dog trapped inside it. And my mom pumped it full of holes before I could point out the furry paws and barking. Don't worry. The poor guy's fur grew back after a while.
Twelve years of supernatural boot camp. But no ghosts. We might as well have been training to fight the evil communists and their weapons of mass destruction disguised as a dinky little satellite like they did in the 1900s. The Fenton-trade used to be a hobby. Something to do on weekends, and an outlet for jumpsuit enthusiasts to go around in public without shame. Just some scientists with secondary degrees in the supernatural.
Now it's a plain out joke. And when I told Jim Fenton, my father, that I didn't get the punch-line…He didn't laugh.
Just like that, they dropped me from the line-up. And just focused on my now famous sisters, the 'Fantastic Fen-twins'. I'm not being sadistic. They actually put that on the last magazine cover.
And somehow, I started fighting. On a little square stage with ropes on the sides and people in the stands yelling for me to either hit harder or for the other guy to hit me harder. And the announcers and sportswriters that love this kind of thing heard about all these other people with my last name, and eventually some one rhymed 'Fenton' with 'Phantom'. Actually, some old leatherhead at the gym came up with it. The media just milked the heck out of it, just like every other nickname that the geniuses in the gym came up with.
Well, it wasn't that idiot's voice that drifted past my ear on a passing breeze.
…Every fighter…needs a name to hide behind when things hit the fan. One that looks better as a tattoo.
…And I was…'The Phantom'. Even when I dropped the family business…Jack Fenton still guaranteed that when people think of Fentons, they think of massive collateral damage and screaming bystanders. Or ghosts, either or.
And it all ended up in the last place to look for some one at a simmering party. The hotel parking lot. Welcome to every Fenton appearance I've been to for the last seven years. Hey, that guy's got fuzzy dice on his mirror. Orange ones.
Highlight of my evening.
A slow minute later, I was shuffling around between the cold-blue washes of the lamp posts and trying to rattle off the year of each square-framed vehicle I stumbled past. Whenever my eyes passed by a bright area on the concrete, I could see a thin layer of moisture ingrained in the cracks from a recently melted blanket of snow. We'd shown up in the middle of a freak winter heat wave up west. Speaking of heat, I swear to who ever runs this planet that the white jacket I'd compromised into wearing was tailored in HELL. By the time I'd paced around the first row of mostly retro-designed and salt-stained cars, I'd already shucked off that pearl-colored atrocity and hung it over one shoulder like an out of work comedian.
Which…somewhat describes me, really. I'm unemployed. Living with my parents. Single. And tell such terrible jokes to the point where I just stand there and grunt most of the time. Isn't that essentially comedy since they started banning curse words and all references to the human body?
Nineteen years and three months of mixed experience, and it all just lead up the tops of my bleached white shoes as I dragged them along the cracking asphalt to try and make the heels stop feeling so rubbery. Back at the party, my sisters had probably found another photographer and Kerri would just fall down again. My mother would scan the room for me like she was surveying for a tree before just shaking her head and going back to my father's arm for the rest of the evening. I stayed for the table portrait, that's all I ever have to do anymore.
Sweet routine. Just one hotel parking lot after another.
Then, a car horn exploded a few feet behind me. Insert screamed cuss word and my pants being ruined.
Quickly, I vaulted sideways towards the nearest row of cars, thinking some one was tearing down the lot and I had been in the way. I managed to get a good angle, sliding to a stop a good six feet away with my knees bent and one arm bent down to steady myself as I twisted my torso around to see what should have hit me.
I expected to just see the tail end of some fancy foreign toy honking off at some other pedestrian on the other side of the lot. Instead, there was what resembled a streamlined but still featureless white van sitting in the lane a few yards from where I'd been walking. Parked. Didn't even have the lights on.
Instantly I popped right back out of my landing stance and jogged up to the driver's side window. It was tinted, and in the LED-glow of the nearby lamp I could just make out a pair of blue specks sticking out of a somewhat warped reflection of myself. I knocked on the door with the heel of my fist, once again jumping to a conclusion. This time, it was a troubled motorist signaling a guy wandering around aimlessly outside a hotel.
Either some one is delivering a set of twins and they're out of gas, or they think I'm a working lad and want to ask my rates on back seat deals.
Either way, the adrenaline dump was starting to wake me up. Finally speaking above a tired sigh, I called loud enough to get through the glass.
"You okay? If you need a phone, you could…"
I groped around the sides of my legs, discreetly feeling for the pocket of those fitted white pants to grab my cell phone. I quickly stopped as the mirrored black window slid down into the white door frame with a futuristic hum and the face hanging an inch behind it smirked at me from behind a few square inches of purple make up and black hair dye. As the sight of her instantly distinctly purple and coyly half-open eyes hit me like a pillow to the face, I pulled my hand back up, holding my phone, and simply finished.
"…Call the Halloween Outlet to come pick you up, you evil witch!"
Those violet eyes practically glowed in the light of the van's dashboard as she let out a short and fitting cackle before dropping one black-clothed elbow out of the window and leaning out to get a closer look at me. Her hair, black, of course, was cut in some old and overdone style with the bangs falling over one eye to appear mysterious. Or cliché, same thing. A thick, slippery voice.
"…Sorry, but the way you pounced…Fenton boys can only move their ass when something jumps at their ass!"
My widened, dumbstruck eyes slowly tightened into their neutral and locked position. Not the dull glare from the party. Just a casual, accepting stare that didn't give away that much embarrassment. I crossed my arms slowly, trying to appear unaffected as I commented.
"Samantha…Grandmothers are supposed to sit around in their own smell knitting all day and send poorly fitted winter clothing at random intervals."
I jerked my head back toward the rear half of her van, noting how new it looked. No wonder I didn't see this coming. Her last car has batwings stenciled onto the front grill and purple headlights. Very discreet. She kept smirking up at me with her head and arms leaning out her window at me like she was asking me about…Dangit, I already used the male prostitute gag, didn't I?
In case it's not obvious enough, she's a Goth. It's a medical condition, don't judge her for it.
"This how you break in new cars? Running down your only grandson to see if blood stains the bumper finish?"
And…I kind of inherited her sense of humor. That and the inability to tan, a moderate knowledge of half-assed poetry and teenage medallions. And a mental rolodex of Egyptian Mythology that she used to use for bedtime stories. She ruled that subject for a record stretch before retiring from teaching a while back and resigning to…whatever the hell she was just doing.
One purple line of an eyebrow jumped up under her single lock of bangs as she shot back without even pausing to reflect or show recognition.
"Alan-Dearest…you dropped your darling white jacket!"
One of her milk-white fingers snapped out like a switchblade. I followed the path of her purple nail, looking behind me to see that hideous white jacket draped over the back end of a random car. It must have flown off when I jumped out of the way of this parked car.
I slowly turned back to her with a tight jaw. I just held back a growl, walking off to rip the jacket off the convertible's hinged trunk to the sound of her snickering as I walked back with it draped over one shoulder and my head tilted towards the glowing hotel tower behind us. Calming down quickly, I asked with a nod towards the hotel.
"What are you doing here? Dad said you hated these things."
She pulled her arms and head back into the van, motioning for me to get in the passenger seat as she called back.
"And so do you. Why do you think I went through the parking lot three times?"
As I clicked open the door latch and slid onto the glossy leather bucket seat, I just struggled to keep from showing any emotion. That's what she feeds on.
I'm not that predictable…am I?
Out of nowhere, she sighed slowly as she turned the key and hit the headlight switch.
…No, I didn't forget to put in the punctuation marks when I asked if she knew what I was thinking…
…Stupid repetitive inner monologue…
Twenty Minutes Later
She didn't say where she was driving, or where she'd driven in from. All I knew was that she was coasting down a nearly deserted highway, and the relief of seeing a familiar face had given way to…
"…Got a girlfriend yet?"
I just stared out the window, watching the black and orange reflective stripes of the lanes flick by as my grandmother tried to chisel through the granite shell I'd just formed when the subject turned against me. She was just leaning against the wheel, turning it with her shoulders as she flipped a white hand back and forth with each question.
"…How 'bout your sisters? Is Kerri hitting her head any less often?"
A confirming grunt. Then silence.
Most people gave up after ten grunts. But no, she was just gaining steam.
"You trying to grow your hair out? It looks like crap."
Slowly and forcefully, I turned to glare at her from behind my untrimmed and ragged patches of black bangs. I watched her just peer over from behind the wheel and the elbows covering it, closing the one visible eye in an obvious wink as she explained.
"…I like it!"
Finally giving in, I shook my head with a purposely tiny smirk and glanced back out the window at the inside of an overpass as it zoomed by. I managed not to grunt.
"I…just kinda' been out of it. What with this banquet tour, the parties, the…"
She cut me off. In that same sadistically perky tone.
"Starting out in boxing with a brisk six amateur titles, flipping off the Olympic team to go pro…getting the three belts, then quitting before you get that big fourth one. And now, you're slumping around in the background like a gargoyle with a good plastic surgeon. And you can't just get over…"
"I'll stop when you just smile for a change…"
She flopped her hand again, palm pointing over to where I was crossing my arms into a pretzel without knowing it.
I didn't smile. I didn't tighten my face even further to defy her like a normal teenager would. I just sat there and let it all bounce off.
She had me in a corner. Everything I'd been burying in social events and seclusion, everything that wouldn't stop jumping out at me in the mirror every day, and she just laid it out on the table like a bingo card.
She had probably helped me more than any of my main family could have. For one, she followed my boxing career online and sometimes bought a match video with my discount number. My family…just…I was off doing something that didn't involve ghosts, that's all that mattered. That guy at the bar knew me better than my parents did. He'd seen me fight. That's all there was to me, really. Boxing and being a Fenton. And Sam, as she insisted I call her to ward off old age, was one of the few who knew both sides of it.
Back in the divided front seat, knowing she'd grazed a nerve, she laid up a bit. By changing the subject to something so foreign that I couldn't find it offensive.
She scanned the empty road for a second before turning her head with a soft swish to look me over as I stared out the window with a slowly relaxing brow and a bead of sweat running down my cheek because of the sweltering jacket I'd pulled back on after my attempt to ditch it failed miserably. I heard her click her tongue, not really paying attention as she off-handedly commented.
When you just stare off like that…you look a lot…like Danny."
I raised the eyebrow facing the window, quickly asking out the side of my mouth.
She shrugged, looking back over at the road as she explained with a bored sigh.
"Danny. My Danny."
My memory whirred and sputtered between my eyes, quickly placing 'Danny' as Daniel Fenton. A green-tinted box on the family tree in the den lit up in the back of my head, along with the slice of a profile stuck under his name. Jack Fenton's son. Died young, when my father was around four. Sam decided to pursue her teaching career in some tough areas, and left my father, and her and Dan's son, in Jack and Maddie Fenton's loving custody. Not sure what he did, exactly. I remember seeing his name tagged onto some old magazine articles that made fun of ghost hunting. I've heard they were funny.
…That's…also, the saga of how my father became the next Jack Fenton. Jack was the one who raised him and partly passed on the ghost bug to him. A few decades later, and Jack's grandson/prodigy is now one of the leading authorities on the paranormal. Along with my mother, who met him in college and just took the whole thing up to keep his attention during normal conversation. But somewhere along the line she became just as passionate about it. Ghost hunting is like mono, comes on strongest from a loved one and usually cleans out your system of everything remotely useful.
…Wait…I looked like who, again?
I turned and opened my mouth to ask just that. She beat me to it with another shrug.
"You have his face…kinda'. Completely different body, different gestures and voice, but just looking at you…"
By now, I was turned all the way in my seat to look at her with a tilted head and that still-raised eyebrow. When her eyes bounced over and back again, she simply jumped her purple crayon eyebrows and finished.
"…Yeah…he used to do that same look when I got him weirded out…"
Please tell me she's not going to start going on about a dog she had back in the day, and the stick-ball games in the alley. Please, God. Don't let my last 'normal' relative go senile.
And He/She listened. Just like that, my rather young-looking grandmother caught herself and pushed off her arms into a two and ten driving position as the van looped into a low outcrop of buildings off the ramp. She swung her neck to get her clump of bangs out from between her eyes as she simply shook off the entire exchange and left me even farther in the dark. Then her face popped out of its Gothic toggle position into a strangely alive facial expression. Like some one just gave her a puppy. A black, spiky puppy with wings and a hatred for mankind. With vampire fangs.
I turned around to look out the windshield, just making sure we weren't going off a cliff or something. She was starting to 'weird me out'. Whatever the heck that means.
We'd pulled into a loosely urban block full of brick townhouses and a few apartment complexes scattered around. And she'd stopped in front of a plain-built old townhouse standing on its own on the end of the block. My eyes scanned the ancient red brick, scanning the dark windows and squared roof before I noticed the gigantic…eh…spaceship or something jammed into the roof…And the fact the place was cocooned in currently darkened neon tubing. The next instant I was twisted back around in my seat, my finger thrust at my grinning grandmother like an ice pick as I yelled.
"You took me to another strip club? The last one sent me into a four-day coma, and you just…!"
She broke down giggling, creaking her head down to look at the building's neon exterior.
"…C'mon….it was your eighteenth birthday! I mean, so what if you were shy…"
"I nearly SUFFOCATED! And I could still smell that brand of perfume three months later!"
…My friends say Sam is either the coolest grandmother ever…or she's just psychotic. Which one takes a remarkably shy and polite young adult to a 'dancing club'? I mentioned the coma and the perfume flashbacks. Do the math.
When her laughter died down, she wiped off her black tears and specified as she pointed up at the unusual building.
"…That isn't a 'club'. That's a house. Was. Last week the contractors finished turning it into a 'Fenton Museum'."
I slowly lowered my finger and glanced over at the plain front stoop. I could barely imagine it was a normal dwelling once. I mean, it had a mailbox.
"…Is that why it looks like that?"
She shook her head, beads clicking in her hair as she explained.
"…No…it just…uh…looked like that…"
This turned out to be the reason she came up from Florida in the first place. To check out the converted childhood home of her only husband, and later, her son. Then she found out we were one town over from 'Amity Park' at that hotel gala. She found me wandering around the parking lot, and a dozen one sided conversations later I was closing the door to the place behind me as she pocketed the old-fashioned key and flicked on the lights.
First look around at the foyer of the original Fenton-household. First thoughts?
"Any of this crap real?"
Sam tossed her thin jacket onto a hook on the wall before glancing around at the rather normal looking foyer. It was a nice-sized entry hall, with a large coat closet built into the wall and some nice glass around the door.
And dozens upon dozens of framed information glued onto the once wallpapered walls. I let it all soak in, picking out each plaque as a whole rather than wasting the evening trying to read them all. Most of them were just beginner's information on the Fentons, such as family linage. So, there was a Medieval crest on the wall with 'Fentone' on the shield. Black and white pictures of the family immigrating to American. A very poorly done photo-modification of Jack Fenton in a loincloth fighting a dinosaur. Some bogus documents about our being related to royalty in three foreign and fictional countries. Oh, and ticket pricing info. This stuff isn't free.
She whistled slowly, taking it in a bit faster and even less joyfully.
"Wow…they actually used the design on the back of Jack's last will and testament…"
…Putting the blueprints on the back of your will…That, is a good way to guilt your family into a museum about yourself.
I should try that.
After pushing our way through the roped off entryway into the main part of the house Sam continued to flick each light switch we passed by without looking. It occurred to me she probably knew this house fairly well. She probably knew how to get onto the fire-escape to Dan's old window, knowing her.
The living room, which I had to guess on, had been completely gutted to form a large chamber with vertical display cases covering the walls. For a minute or so, I walked along the length of one as the lights clicked on in each section and revealed what was mounted on each section with accompanying plaque and photographs.
When each case finally lit up, leaving the two of us in a rather nice little realm of history and fluorescent tubing, she swung an elbow into my ribcage through that terrible jacket as she inquired.
I shrugged, pulling slightly on my crossed arms as I once again scanned the very classy wall of glass cases and their contents. I rattled off in a very positive tone.
"…Yeah. It's pretty cool."
…Random stuff with the word 'Fenton' slapped on…a fishing pole…Guns, lots and lots of gigantic but kinda' cliché-looking fire-arms…a lone case containing what looked like a plain silver thermos one of the workmen left behind as a joke…Jack Fenton's old jumpsuit stretched out on four hooks…An oil painting of Maddie Fenton with a rubber ski-mask pulled over her head…
That's…kind of…cool, right? My grandmother let her head lean against my white-clothed upper arm as she just sighed.
"I was joking...but hey, at least you tried to fake it. "
It was like she pulled the plug out of my shoulder and let me deflate. I just slumped down into a sigh, letting my polite admiration join my party grin in my little wallet of facial expressions.
"It's nicer than I expected. So, what was it like when…?"
I looked down at my side to ask her about the good old days, back when they had more interesting things like couches and footrests…Only to find myself alone. Quickly, I swung my eyes around the shadowy floor between the cases and didn't see her picking up a purple contact lens or something. I glanced at each doorway a few times, making sure she was absolutely gone before reaching up to rip the jacket off. I could feel the sweat building on the rather flimsy tee shirt under it, it was that hot. But as I got ready to shrug out of it, a voice called from the general direction of a darkened doorway.
"Check this out! You gotta' see this picture of Danny, I used it to blackmail a date out of him back in high school!"
Lesse'…admire a bunch of household appliances…see a guy who looks like me, probably wearing female clothing…
Took a couple coin flips, but I ended up stumbling through the shadowed doorway to see what kind of skirt the poor guy was wearing.
And with so much grace, I tripped over something unseen and landed flat on my face. As I slowly opened my eyes and glared down at the black tile floor with my nose pressed back into my face, I heard my tour guide yell from somewhere off to my side.
"And look out for that box! Somebody should move that thing out of the way or something…"
I tensed myself for a second before springing off my hands and landing on one foot and bent knee. I eyed the unlit hallway and its stretch of doors, rubbing my nose to make sure I hadn't broken it. Again. Since that lit-up display room wasn't that far away, I could just make out two doorways on my right side, where Sam's yell had come from. As I stepped up onto my other foot, I could squint enough to see that one was the landing of a staircase set back in the wall. The other was just a regular door. Which was cracked open a few inches with the hinges still moving.
Where to look for a lifelong Gothic follower…up the stairs, or into the dark room with the creaky door…I left my decision-making dime back in the display room, so I just shrugged and pushed the door open with my foot and stepped through it and felt my foot drop down onto a stair step. The next thing I knew, I was looking down another staircase at a featureless black abyss where the light from the cases stopped.
…Creepy basement with no lights on…Sam's probably reliving her childhood down there. Keeping a hand locked around the railing, I slowly descended down the metal steps and let the pitch black section swallow me whole as I kept one eye behind me on the partially visible doorway up at the top. When I tapped my foot into a wall and rounded the corner down onto level steel floor, I glanced around to look for Sam's probably glow-in-the-dark complexion.
…Then I realized I couldn't see a damn thing. I don't have night-vision contacts like my airhead sisters. Sue me.
"SAM! Ya' down here?"
Silence. And darkness. They mix pretty well, really.
"…'Kay then…I'll go check the other basement of doom…"
I turned one shoulder to squint around and reach for the railing. Right as there was a wailing screech of an old door swinging closed. Then, the small pinprick of light coming from the stairs disappearing, leaving me in absolute darkness.
As I swiped my fingers through thin air, I just narrowed my eyes at absolutely nothing and calmly told the lightless basement what I thought of its mother before starting to stumble around feeling for a light switch with both hands.
After ten minutes of tripping over all the furniture, you can really get the feel for the room. The metal counters along each wall were a lifesaver, but could also add an official air to any casual workshop or family rec room. And if you make sure that absolutely no light can enter the entire freakin' house, you don't have to match curtain patterns.
The sad part of this whole ordeal was how unlikely it was. Recently, I switched to a retro-looking cell phone with an old, non-lighted black and white screen to balance out those little ear-crystals my sisters have stuck to their earrings. And my flashlight keychain, was too noisy to go in the pockets of those dress pants. And that nice pair of infrared goggles I like to carry in my back pocket ran out of batteries. Stupid coin cells.
But seriously. It was dark.
Who knows how long it took before I banged my had against something, and when I ducked under it and felt around to the sides I managed to land a finger on what felt like an over sized flip switch. Who would substitute a comically large on/off button for a light switch? A Fenton. As I sighed and banged the raised end the heel of my fist, I ended it all with one last stupid comment.
"I passed up a night of looking at ugly cars, for this…"
And nothing happened. I just blamed it on the age of the building and the lack of LED technology, but the low hum of something kicking on assured me I'd eventually be able to see my own hand.
Someday. I'll laugh at that statement.
I wish I there'd been a warning signal. Or a tornado siren. Or at least a little second of sudden realization where I could say something witty before it all hit the fan.
But there wasn't.
All I remember is the color green. A burning sensation in my corneas even after my sleeves shot up to cover them. A rush of steaming-hot air cutting by my ear, and the wonderful sensation of having my body thrown and slammed into what felt like a pile of old cardboard boxes. And hurt like a pile of bricks with rusty needles sprinkled on top for flavor.
As my suddenly aching forehead busted through the front of a discarded UPS label, the senses that weren't overwhelmed with pain started to kick back into gear. When my lungs stopped contracting and I managed to get some dusty air into my system, I heard my own back-breaking scream without even knowing I was the one yelling. Then a machine-gun patter of high heels cracking against metal, followed by a resonating steel clang as something was slammed shut. As the unexplained pain started to recede, I opened my eyes and stared out through the layer of old grime at the pile of garbage that had kept me from hitting the floor and sliding straight into the wall.
For a few seconds, or possibly a few minutes with the state my mind was in, that frantic clicking again accompanied by five pinpricks on the back of my shoulder as some one pulled me off my stomach and rolled me onto my back. As the makeshift mattress of old boxes cracked and crumpled under my weight, my half-open eyes stung as white light from the now lit ceiling bulbs shone straight into my corneas.
And just as suddenly, my vision was blocked out by two purple irises. My grandmother's voice, heavy-breathed and just as frantic was the way she'd sprinted across the basement and back in those stilettos.
"ALAN!Alan! Say something!"
The pain was almost gone. I managed to spit out a mouthful of old packing peanuts and rasp, opening my eyes fully as I adjusted to the light..
She pulled her face back. I could now make out her somehow paler face and her smeared make-up as she just hung her head over where I was sprawled. Then she just looked down at me with an expression that to this day I couldn't place.
Slowly, very slowly, I began to feel my limbs. Not the fingertips and feet, just down to the elbow and mid-thigh. This was enough for me to push up into a reclining position and slump down onto my knees as Sam scooted away on her knees and kept staring at me in that same manner. I let my slightly dry eyes slowly scan the basement, now fully illuminated as she had hit the switch when she ran past it.
A lab. Steel tables and cabinets. Pretty much all the crap my parents had in our basement. Except filled with leftover junk and debris that couldn't fit upstairs.
That's all I picked up on before my eyes settled on the subject of the hour. I stared across the length of the basement, right over the line of floor I'd just been thrown over at the currently powering down and dimming object that I must have triggered.
A…round hole set back in the wall, with a thick cloud of rapidly diminishing green light swirling around inside it. As the mist faded and the steel innards became visible, I stiffly turned to look at my unmoving grandmother and commented, twitching my head across the cellar at it.
"I think I pissed off the giant lava lamp."
She didn't laugh. She sat there, holding her knees and just staring at the space between where I knelt and the weird little gimmick in the corner that had just launched me like a potato. Slowly, her dark lips cracked into a single sentence.
"We…need to talk…"
Stiffly reaching up and holding the back of my aching head, I just stared.
Forty Three Minutes Later
I leaned back against the counter, pressing both heels into the lowest rung of the stool I'd plopped down on as she paced the floor in front of me and stopped to breathe, turning with her hands behind her back and her eyes wide with blank hopefulness. I just stared back, struggling to keep from raising an eyebrow as I recounted, snapping a thumb towards that 'portal' in the corner.
Trying to stay calm.
"…So…Danny, went in there…came out…?"
She nodded quickly, finishing my sentence with a snap.
…I didn't even know the full versions existed, let alone the trial versions…I asked again.
"…And…you…him, and a nerdy guy you knew in high school fought…ghosts…?"
Three quick nods. I'd never seen her like this before. Normally I'm the one coughing up the answers when no one's asking for them.
For a few seconds, I just sat there with my face propped up in my hand and my eyes tense. And finally, I asked in that same tone.
"…Sam…you're just trying to trick me into another strip club, aren't you?"
The next thing I knew, her nails were digging into my cheek-bones as she screeched directly into my now wide-eyed face.
"Stop it! Listen to me! You've GOTTA listen to me!"
My eye twitching from the way her nails were piercing my skin, I whimpered affirmatively as she let go and went back to pacing and talking.
Twenty Minutes Later
No more wisecracks.
I wasn't kicking back to a good story anymore. I was crouched forward on my rusting old lab-stool, crossing my arms over my knees as my grandmother sat in the one next to me, choking back one last sob and wiping off the last of her years and her familiar make-up with it. She held the piece of tissue against her eyes for a few moments, just pulling herself back together before snapping her head up with a familiar edge in her eyes. She scanned my wide-eyed, silent form for a slow second before blowing her bangs out of her eye and finishing without even a hint at her fit of emotion.
"…And he didn't come back."
A solemn, but mood-breaking snort as she sniffed back her running nose and hopped onto her feet beside the chair. She ignored the fact I wasn't reacting, looking around at the basement before stepping off towards the stairway and beginning a slow stilt-walk towards the stairs in those painful heels.
"…And now it's all back. All these years…it's…back."
She turned her back to me, still walking. Was she still even talking to me.
"Something…got out. I saw it phase through a wall after I heard the portal turn on. I'm gonna' find a working thermos, you just wait here."
As she stepped up onto the first step and settled into a good stride, I snapped out of it and demanded from twenty feet way, my face twisting downward.
She rested a heel on the corner of the step, not looking at me still. I jumped off the half-chair and began treading quickly towards her.
I began swinging my hands around, swatting the air to try and calm myself down.
"…You drag me out here…let me walk into a freakin' bug-zapper…"
As I came closer, her back didn't move. But she wasn't walking away, either. I continued, pointing right at the back of her head.
"…You gimme' some bullshit about some ghost video game or something…! What, is this a drug flashback? Ghosts, Sam? Ghosts!"
I noticed the way her hands were twitching, but I kept on in my confused rage, walking up behind her.
"…Then…you tell me my grandfather was 'killed' by some 'millionaire vampire', because he wanted to take over the world?"
Now I was right behind her, still waving my hands in animation as I ranted to the back of her raven-haired head.
"And to top it off…you're saying there's a GHOST running around outside, and WE have to go CATCH it? This is a sick joke, you know that?"
I stood there. Breathing deeply to compensate for all that, as she just slowly turned on her remaining heel and looked up at me with blank eyes. I didn't even see her hand move, I just felt the burning smack and the way my head twisted to the side as she plain out growled up at where I stood glaring down at her.
With that…she left me at the foot of the steps as she stomped up and around the corner in those heels without even stopping to apologize for it. Not that it hurt, I'd just stood there with my arms crossed the whole time. Pain is like a room mate to me, nowadays.
…But…not the kind where you see your own grandmother smack you and stomp off like you were a lost cause.
By the time she slammed the door behind her, I was staring up at the empty steps with a slack jaw and my eyes snapping every few seconds to hold back a tear.
And just like that, I snapped out of it with a light punch into my own stomach and a whispered curse about how stupid I was.
Eventually, I went up after her. Stepping up onto each step, wringing my hands out of their sockets behind my neck and rehearsing every apology in my arsenal for when I got within earshot. When I finally reached the door an entire minute later, I just held the knob in my hand and took a deep breath, telling myself.
I reached up and wiped off a veil of sweat.
"So…she's acting…odd? She's a Fenton. Give her some credit."
As I tightened my grip on the steel ball, slowly twisting it.
"Just play along…find her a quiet place to cool off…try and sort this out in the morning…"
As I pulled the door open and stepped out into the now lamp-lit and rather cozy hallway, I just shook my head to myself as I looked across the hall to look for where she went.
…And saw some standing there…looking right back at me.
…It wasn't Sam.
Fear. It's the unknown. When you don't know what something is and how it got there, and why, you fear it. It's natural. A door slams, you jump a little and yelp. A dog lunges for your leg, you run. You don't jump back in a fighting stance like an action hero. You run.
Well…I'm not a natural kind of person. Boxing isn't a sport where you can run. Trust me. I'd been running from it for a month, look where it got me. So, what happens when a 'champion' or whatever the heck they called me sees something scary outside of the ring? Something standing in a doorway, in a darkened house, just standing there smirking at you?
I do…what I was taught to do when faced with any form of conflict. I do what I've done over, and over, and over again.
I pop my right side back. I square my fists up between my chest and my chin. I bend my knees into a slight crouch. And I get ready to plain out kill whatever just walked up.
This is why boxers get killed in bars all the time. But this time, it was even more pointless than usual, you know why?
Except…well…call me crazy, but I actually thought for a split second…that he wasn't alive to begin with.
Let me explain.
So, I open the door and go from rehearsing apologies to a Chicago-swarmer ring stance modified for a street fight. What the hell scared it out of me? Whatever you're drinking right now, either swallow it or jump the gun and spit it out onto some one.
…Some guy…who looked exactly like what my parents told me ghosts look like.
That's what I realized after the first three seconds. Before that, I just assumed somebody was waiting to jump me with a knife. But no, it had just had to get worse than that. This guy was a big enough freak to look like something my parents believed in.
He was standing in a doorway directly opposite the one I'd just stepped out of. He was leaning gently on the side of the door frame like he owned the place. Or thought he did, same thing. I quickly noticed where his hands were out of a defense reflex. Only to see he had them crossed over his V-shaped torso, again, like he owned the place. He'd been standing on one leg, with the other curled around its knee as he tapped the toe of the black and featureless shoe against the door-frame. He's just been standing there, waiting patiently for some one to come by with spare change.
This piece of shit had just walked onto private property, because Sam left the door unlocked? And he had the guts to stand around admiring the décor?
Then…he saw me jump into my stance. And in a blur of black-colored movement he squared up in an extremely similar stance to the one I'd taken. Was he…mocking me? Was he just copying me to look like a fighter? Who was he?
Why the heck was this punk not running his ass away from me? I just caught him. Run. Punks run from ticked off guys in tacky suits, ask Darwin.
Then, after the rushed two seconds of me realizing there was an intruder, I made eye contact with him. And everything made sense. Then it didn't.
I'll start from the floor up. Just like I was, he was balanced on the balls of his feet in a pair of black footwear that was too dark and basic to pass as a boot or shoe. Tucked into these, or possibly an extension of, was a pair of black pants that could have been sprayed on. I couldn't see any belt hooks, pockets, seams, not even a belt. It was like his entire lower body was black.
I mentioned his torso as I saw him in the doorway. And now that he was somewhat standing up, I could distinctly see he was built like some brand of athlete. Wide shoulders, a rather elegant neck that kept his head level over his slanted shoulders. I can't give any details on his chest or arms or all that because of the jacket.
…Did I mention? He was wearing a leather jacket.
Yeah. A leather jacket. A nice little jet-black number that would look nice with a motorcycle to drape it over. Except like his pants, it was just black on black. No patches. No silver studs with his name spelled out. Just a pitch black, match-all jacket unzipped over a plain gray shirt that was sprayed onto his torso and peered out from between the open flaps of the jacket which apparently had hidden zipper chains. It was all very well fitted. As he angled his fists at me in a little pre-duel twitch, I noted how his sleeves didn't slink down his wrist. Probably had thicker arms keeping them up, no cuffs to be seen, he was probably stylish enough to keep things simple. Criminal or not, that's just how to wear a leather jacket.
Great, my first walk-in robbery, and I get the somewhat built punk with a full jacket to hide who knows how many weapons in
…So, what did he look like? Yeah, you're probably drooling over his fashion sense, but did he even have a face?
Yes. Yes he did.
The tan. He had one of the worst spray-tans I've ever seen. Both his hands and head were a distinct shade of dull-orange. It was like he tried for California tanned, but messed it up. Fake-orange glowing hands and face, and the hair…Yeash…it was either white or silver with a light on it. Pure white. And it looked like he cut it with a pocket knife, he had this stupid 'flowing over the forehead down over one eye' bangs that I wanted to hack off with something sharp. Think Sam's hairstyle, but white, on a guy. Stop flinching.
…But none of it mattered. None of it. Just hear me out here.
…He had green eyes. Not hazel. Not off-blue. Green. Vibrant, neon green. I swear, they practically glowed.
He had relatively normal eyes, anatomy wise. The white sections around the cornea, extremely black and slightly sharp pupils which were currently tightening on me from what must have been a few feet away.
And meanwhile, back in the doorway of the basement, I heard my mother lecturing in my ear. Years after the actual lesson. Here I was staring down what could be a rapist, prowler or homeless psychopath…and all I get is a lecture-flashback from when I was like, eight.
…And green eyes. Usually a brighter, striking shade. Combined with the dominant black, white and sometimes gray palette, these features can describe an authentic and potentially dangerous supernatural being. Of course…if you can catch all that, you're usually too late. You should only check the breed and colors after you blow it apart, these things will bite your head off. This is just what they look like before you splatter them.
…This oddly-dressed psychopath, would look just like a ghost, if they hadn't been nonexistent.
There. I said it. Ghost. I admit it, I actually thought about ghosts without being forced to.
…Remember that weird story Sam just rambled off to me in the basement? Just now?
Well…I may have been a bit vague about it…but for some odd reason, right after I quipped that this freak looked like a ghost, her little tale suddenly replayed itself in the back of my head. I don't know why.
…Wait…Ghosts…Walk-In Lava Lamp…Something…Got out…Was this guy…? Nah. No. Just no.
He did look…a bit creepy, I won't lie. He was staring back at me between his fists, flashing me a tiny and white-toothed smirk on one side of his mouth. Not much to say about his facial features. All I saw was a rough-looking male who had just broken into a house turned museum. Besides, I was too busy staring him down and preparing to slam him into the floor so Sam can call the cops.
…They'd probably stick him with a 402 and 274…Wait, does this state even run the 400 codes? Yeah, yeah, back in forty three, that whole Larson case…
All this rambling flashed through me in about…two second. Then…I just kept standing there, staring with my teeth bared and my knees flexed to pounce…And so did he. Just as quietly, mocking my every move, obviously wanting to die as painfully as possible.
The spell was broken by footsteps on tile. I snapped my eyes off to the side, keeping one on my new friend.
He did the same, also keeping an eye on me. Touche'.
Frozen in my stance, I watched with a quickly growing sense of dread as I spotted Sam…casually clicking her way down the hall…walking right toward this weirdo as he stood there staring at me, while looking off to the side at her. She…was just…looking at him and walking closer to him! Not even batting an eye at me, just looking straight ahead at him!
Through gritted teeth.
"…Sam…What…the hell…are you doing?"
My grandmother was walking up to a psychopath that I had just caught sneaking around, who was possibly armed and dangerous. Was she chewing gum?
Okaay…So, she was even worse than I thought…New plan. If he moves, get him, and say he was going for Sam. That should buy me a few dislocations. Gotta' love those 400 codes.
Bracing myself even tighter for this sudden change of plans, I watched with rapidly deflating understanding as my grandmother stopped beside the rather tall silhouette of this white-haired freak…reach up with a spindly white hand…and tap him on the leather-covered shoulder with a bent finger, three times, as if she was trying to get his attention.
Staring in complete utter confusion…I didn't even notice the odd sensation on my sleeve. Al I could see was Sam's hand so close to this guy's arm. He could just rear back an arm, and…!
…Then she just grabbed his sleeve and tugged. I felt my arm tense, watching as he jerked his shoulder under her touch.
She was…either insane, suicidal, or both…what was going on!
And who the heck was pulling on my sleeve while I was trying to see my grandmother get herself killed! Geez, the nerve or some people!
Not even batting an eye at her own grandson, she opened her mouth and said right into this guy's orange-tinted ear…
Odd…her…voice must have echoed off the wall behind me…? Sounded really close.
Finally moving out of my poised crouch, I my hand out on a reflex as I saw her hand move again, this time even closer to who ever the hell this guy was. Before I could get my wrist in front of me, something grabbed me by the chin and whipped my head off to the side, pulling it down as it went.
A few inches away from my seized face…my grandmother glared at me through her smeared make-up. I watched as her lips pursed out.
"I said…Are you done?"
She let go of my face, spinning with a visible wobble on one platform shoe before walking away from me with my head still bent down at her eye level. All I could do was watch her become smaller as she walked down the hallway with the wall on her right side.
I slowly glanced over to the left…at a perfect clone of my grandmother…walking down the hallway with a very similar wall on her left side. I glanced back at the one on the right. Left. Right. Left.
She stopped. Then spun back to face me with a visible eye-tick, and waved both arms out towards her twin, as if showing what's behind curtain number two. With an annoyed edge to her voice, she stated through her teeth.
"It's called a mirror, Alan."
My failure to react only sent her further off the edge. She stomped right back over to me, her mascara dripping further with each echoing step. By the time she reached me, I'd finally stood out of my stance, but my eyes hadn't left the figure standing before me. She had to manually grab my chin again and turn me back down to look at her.
Something about the dulled purple of her contacts broke me out of my trance as she choked out.
"Get back downstairs…Go!"
Not knowing where I found the will to move, I jerked back out of her hand, feeling my shoulders flare out as I shot right back down at her.
"What? Grandma…Sam…Calm down, and tell me what's going on!"
I kept eye contact for a few seconds until she slid her eyes down and kept talking.
"Alan, there's no time…Stay in the basement, I have to go unlock the cases and catch…"
I almost jumped back further when she brought her palm up and slapped herself, still facing the ground. She turned away before I could snatch her wrist, she took off down the dark hall leaving me by the doorway.
"STAY DOWN THERE, I'LL EXPLAIN LATER!"
I just watched my grandmother and her reflection clatter down to the glowing aura of the living room filled with the display cases…She turned the corner, nearly sliding off her feet due to the high heels before disappearing from sight. I stared after her before slowing and carefully turning my eyes back to the wall in front of me.
The mirror. The wall was a mirror.
And standing in front of the basement door across from me…stood that same…guy…who was now standing straight to his full height with his shoulders and head turned completely to the side, a perfect profile facing the direction Sam had gone.
I saw a single green iris staring right through me through the corner of his eye. As I relaxed, turning slowly back to face him…he did the same. I barely noticing the adrenaline still pulsing through my temples as I stared right at the face of my reflection. At the dark orange complexion. The way it brought out his sharpened, almost weathered features, he looked positively ageless. Except for the eyes. The eyes weren't even human. Nothing, not even dye-injections or contacts could make eyes that green. Even in the shadows of the hallway, which made it hard to make out the darkened parts of his outfit, I could see those eyes staring out at me.
I watched the warped reflection as it raised one tanned hand, palm facing me. It slowly spun the wrist back, as if to look at its own hand…but it couldn't, it kept right on staring at me. He was too afraid to look.
That was me?
I confirmed it, opening my mouth, watching him copy every move as I told him, and in turn myself.
"…Whatever this is…It's officially scaring me."
He and I both turned our heads to our hands…preparing to look and settle this illusion once and for all…
When the distant sound of breaking glass shattered the entire moment, spinning my head off in that direction as my shoulders tightened back down into a ready position. He'd still be there when I looked later…Something about glass breaking just tends to hint at things like…Burglary, vandalism, arson, rape, homicide…All of the above…
…Or Sam just opening a case too hard! I nearly rolled my eyes, exhaling through the side of my mouth and shaking my head at my paranoia.
Rubbing my neck to try and calm myself down, I almost laughed a little. Honestly, thinking there was something up after Sam clearly states she's going to do something with glass cases and then heading down the opposite direction from where the noise came from…Man, I need a life.
I stood there, rubbing my neck for a few seconds…Then casually turned and looked over my shoulder at the glowing case room, where I could make out Sam fiddling with the lock on one of the cases, digging through her pocket for the keys…I nodded, still relaxed, as I turned back down to look down the darkened hall the noise had come from. I could see a light at the far end, in the little entry hall, the one with all the plaques and the pictures and the door swinging wide open with the glass around the frame smashed apart.
With that, I glanced over at the half-smiling, laid-back orange guy standing next to me rubbing his neck…
…And breaking out in a full sprint towards the wide-open door to catch the piece of shit before he got away.
As I barreled through the doorway, leaping off the stoop and clearing the steps, I kept on berating myself internally.
…My grandmother collects Egyptian artifacts…She has them all around her house of the year, in these custom glass cases she cleans and maintains herself, she has a few cat mummies worth more than a hundred grand that the Egyptian government has a warrant to repossess. Yeah, she'd really be the type to break a glass case, especially when she had the keys right in her pocket!
If this guy got away with this…because I was standing around like a moron…I swore to God, I…I had nuthin', my life really couldn't get any worse. I swore I'd…Uh…I'd go to another boring banquet.
I hit the curb and ended up sliding a few feet, the those shoes had finally lost that new-rubber tackiness, I stopped myself on the edge of the curb and quickly did a full scan in every direction.
Both ends of the street…Clear.
I ran to the corner, looking down the third intersection…Clear.
Pausing under a lamppost to catch my breath, I replayed what my uncle had told me…years ago. I could remember everything, even the dinner we had been eating when he had said it.
Despejar todas las rutas importantes visualmente. Entonces, si no tienes el sospechoso después de que la exploración inicial, llamada para la reserva.
…Lotta' help that was. Call for backup? Yeah, I'll call up the department and ask for a couple black and whites, and get me some coffee while you're at it, Rookie. Great day to be a cop. Really.
News flash, I didn't have a police academy named after me or a sterling investigations record like he did. Never ask a detective how to do something as simple as finding a punk who bricked your window window. He'll just change the subject to something about 'Reading people' or some other junk I'll never use.
The flashes of my childhood 'detective lessons' forced me into a pained slouch. Closing my eyes and tossing my head like I was throwing off a hat, I turned around on one heel and stomped back towards the stoop of the museum. I cursed myself under my breath, wanting to get it all out of my system before Sam calls me on my language.
"…You walk into…something in some one's basement…You make your own grandmother cry…You spend who knows how long staring at your own reflection, and some teenager gets away with busting your family home's windows…you think you could be a cop?"
Climbing up one step at a time, I glanced up at the open doorway and idly wondered…Why was it hanging open? Nothing was ripped off the walls or out o the cases. I stopped right outside the very sight of the crime, glaring down at the glass shards in the dim orange glow of an old lamp down the block. My eyes swung back up at the door frame, then back down. Only damage to the place was the glass around the door being smashed, and the door hanging open.
I slowly trudged back inside, leaving the dark night behind me, littered with the remnants of yet another successful crime. I reached behind me, feeling for the door so I could close it, still pondering the ordeal in the back of my head. I grasped the cold doorknob, squinting down at the floor tiles.
…The door was open…He broke the glass to get in, and just ran off when he saw one of us inside…A botched robbery. That's a code 346 back home. Up to two years if caught, might walk away with a few hundred community service hours on the judge's birthday. One last sigh, and I pushed off with my wrist to close the door and wait for Sam to calm down.
The old hinge squealed…Almost drowning out the patter of glass breaking outside.
The door was forced back against its hinges before it could even get close to shutting. For the second time that night, I cleared the stairs in one jump, landing into a run before banking off to the right, towards the noise. In the opposite direction than the one I had gone before.
My stiff shoes pounding the sidewalk, my bangs swishing out of my eyes against the whistling night air, I couldn't help but breath through my teeth as I tried to stop thinking of this as a 'daring chase'. I reached the end of the block, cutting straight to the next one across the empty street. Another distant patter of glass on asphalt. I heard the rubber slapping below me go into overdrive. I felt something crunch under me as I sped past a grimy newspaper machine, empty as ever, with the glass window smashed open over the curb.
Why not just strap a dripping paint can to your back, Kid. You'd be harder to track. Pretend I hadn't completely lost it twice already, and that's a very secure remark.
He was around the corner…He was running around and breaking something on each block…Probably a high school kid on his first crime spree. Was he armed? He had to be using something to break the glass, a bat or a piece of pipe. I had my cell phone and…You know what? Make your own dang analogies about a decorated professional fighter versus a gangly teenager with a wrapping paper tube. I had faces to break.
I threw my weight to the side, rounding the corner almost mechanically and keeping my momentum going to keep this a close pursuit.
I felt my legs slow down first…My arms soon followed. Seconds later, I had come to a complete stop in the middle of the road. My entire body had just gone numb, but my face hadn't lost the tight edge it had pulled itself into My eyes were still burning straight ahead of me.
…And all I wanted to do was turn right around and start running again. Away.
A scarce fifteen feet away from the corner I had just turned, sat a parked car on the side of the road, one of its tires wedged up against the curb making it tilt slightly. It was a beautiful sports car, with chrome accents along the grill built into the hood and a fresh coat of polish which glinted in the orange glow of a lamp post hanging directly over it, making it hard to identify its dark coloring but making the chrome glow warmly in the middle of an otherwise dark and featureless stretch of dark storefronts and stacked houses.
The windshield had been reduced to nothing but a jagged frame of black glass, as had the side windows and even the sweeping back canopy over the back seat. There was a faint halo of dark powder on the gray asphalt around the car, but as I stared right through to the storefront on the other side of the ruined car I could see most of the glass had imploded into the interior.
My eyes were fixed not onto the hollow canopy of the car or the rest of the street I'd just banked into. I was looking at the thing standing right in front of me, standing sideways and bent over the hood of the car.
It was…green. Bright, nearly neon green. That's probably the most normal trait this thing had.
It stood about up to neck…Probably a bit over five and a half feet tall. It was impossibly skinny, with a viciously tapered waist I could probably bit both palms around and legs and arms that looked like they could snap off. No clothing, or anything clothing could even cover to speak of. Completely green, featureless and genderless, like an abstract statue.
I had first looked at its hands to see if it was indeed carrying a bat. It wasn't. It had rather over sized, spindly hands that dwarfed the rest of it. It had both its hands on the hood of the car, which for some reason had a glistening pile of tinted glass from the windows or windshield stacked into a small pile between its palms. Its fingers were hidden in the pile, it was just staring down at it without moving.
Its had a head like a cartoon character. Simply gigantic, stuck onto an otherwise tiny and feeble body. I could make out its profile as it stared down at the pile of glass. An extremely bony, sharpened chin with a thin notch of a nose right above a dark line that indicated a closed mouth instead of lips. I didn't see any nostrils, just a notched bump where the nose usually is. I could just make out the whites of the eyes from the side.
…And rest of its head…was covered in…gigantic green spikes. Like pieces of broken glass that had been painted and stuck onto a mannequin by the hundreds to look like a punk hairstyle. This guy looked like a horror movie prop. A very, very good one. No CGI here. Just good old fashioned Hell-Spawn, summoned just for the production to add authenticity to the fine genre of splatter films.
Without any warning, its head jerked back, staring up at the bulb of the street lamp, before one of its hands rose up above its face with a handful of dark glass. Its mouth shot open, and with a flourish it dropped the shards into its mouth. The tinkling of the shards on its throat only added to the scene as the entire handful fell down…Revealing his uncovered hand with the fingers stretched out under the light.
…Revealing that each of his spidery fingers ended in a very visibly point…Slowly, the newly revealed claw lowered, and I watched with something between disgust and awe as it slammed its jaw closed, cracking the glass in its mouth. It then began chewing loudly, still facing up at the lamp.
…Right as I saw the rows of green spikes set back into its jaw like a row of fangs, I realized that this was not a kid with a piece of pipe.
This was a FREAKIN' GLASS-EATING DEMON WITH CLAWS, FANGS AND SPIKES GROWING OUT OF ITS FREAKING HEAD!
There's no police code for that. That's not even in the handbook. They cover the giant marshmallow men, but not glass-eating freaks with spikes and claws. Go figure.
Oh yes, nearly slipped my mind…I was standing in the middle of the street, sitting there like a chicken on a tree stump. Just staring.
…He couldn't see me. I was in the middle of the dark road, he was right under the light, his eyes probably weren't dark-adapted enough to have seen me run up. This wasn't an excuse. This was my only happy thought as I struggled to make my legs move.
There…had to be a way to explain this. A kid got some fancy costume online, decided to run around at an odd hour to scare a friend or two, and is now just stopping to have a quick refreshing drink of broken windshield before he goes off to cause more mischief. Wait…it was maybe ten at the latest, that's not even close to a good prank time…
Yep, I'm dead. Time to settle that bet with Aron. If I just flop over and decompose, Mr. Afterlife-Believer owes my soulless corpse ten bucks. And if my parents play if off like a ghost killed me, he has to dig me up and make that a twenty. They already faked my death back when I went off to box, that was just a rehearsal. This time they won't have to explain how the ghost of their son is going pro after three Golden Gloves titles, and did an interview for the same magazine that reviewed their latest line of fitness jumpsuits.
In my moment of silent terror, I just had to stop myself and ask.
…Where…are these jokes coming from…?
And after close to ten seconds of noisy glass-gurgling, the creature as holding an empty claw over its carved face, shaking its pointed fingers as if to get the crumbs off as it slammed its mouth shut, the crunch of the shards breaking echoing off the car and off into the night. With that, began noisily chewing as it scooped the hand back into the pile on the hood, going back for seconds.
And ever so slightly, as it tilted its head down to look at its meal as it chewed…I saw its eye flick in my vague direction. Before I could even hope for the best, a violently green pupil spun toward my and locked on like it had been watching me for hours. For a good second turned hour…all I saw was the shade of green in its eye as it slowly swiveled its head to face me head-on, its other twin eye locking onto me in the same manner as the first.
Green. Bright green.
…Green eyes…Green body…It's not human…Is…this a…?
From straight-on, its head looked almost inanimate. Except for the burning gaze it was giving me, it had no muscles or skin folds to show emotion.
So, it just spread the sides of its mouth back, showing two rows of green serrated edges for teeth…With a mouthful of black glass powder behind it.
Right before I saw a flash of motion near its body, the only thought running through my head? Not a curse, not a last loving thought to try and make my life seem worthy of such a short end…No, my last thought surprised me more than this entire evening put together.
…Sea food. See food. I finally got that joke.
The next thing I knew, a green claw flashed up in front of the terrifying bust of the thing's head…And I could see the glint of something flying toward me. Then, thousands upon thousands of glints rushing right at my eyes.
He'd just flung a handful of broken glass at me, like he'd thrown a fastball that exploded mid-pitch. And I was standing there waiting for it.
Nowhere to run, too late to dodge.
All I could do…Was close my eyes as my entire body tensed, waiting for the slicing impact.
I couldn't even scream as I felt the makeshift razors pass through my skin like paper…Not even stopping when they hit bone, a silent scream wracked my lungs as I struggled to simply survive the shock.
All I could hear was the blood pounding through my ears for the last time…And far off, and getting farther…Tinkling laughter. Victorious, sickly laughter as it ran off into the shadows to celebrate its first victim.
I felt my jaw move, without even knowing I could move it.
A sharp, pained rasp…So disconnected from the rest of me I could barely recognize it as my own voice.
With that, I felt my knees loosen before giving out completely, I felt my hands scrape against rough stone as they hit the road. I couldn't open my eyes, I just rolled with the collapse of my strength and sucked air into my starved lungs with a silent pant.
I was going to bleed to death. It could happen in under a minute, or I could lay here for hours before finally giving out. The pain hadn't come yet. I knew it would all hit me if I looked down at myself. So I kept my eyes closed. It was all I could do.
…I was a champion. A fighter. The best. And all I could do when it mattered was close my eyes and die quietly.
…Until a distant triumphant cackle echoed into my ear.
That laugh…That laugh…
My eyes snapped open as I'd pulled a trigger.
All I could see was that same busted car under the street-lamp…A trail of dark splotches leading from next to the hood trailing off in my direction…And an empty, silent street.
He'd gotten away.
I had absolutely no control over my neck as it slowly craned down, following the lines of glass from the circle of light off into the shadow I'd been standing in…Until finally, with one last glance down, I looked down and saw an open hand in front of my chest, palm up toward my eyes.
Even under the faint starlight and the dying lamps, the burnt orange shade of the skin glowed against the dark street under it. Slowly, it turned, showing the darker tops of the fingers and thumb. I could make out a faint texture along the first joint of each finger. Calluses. Under their own power, they trailed down the back of the hand to the top of the wrist. I could make out the tight cuff of a leather sleeve, ending right at the start of the hand. Following a length of jet black against full black that was my dark-draped arm in the darkness, I soon found myself staring straight down. Unzipped around my torso, leaving my chest open to the air, hung a mildly fitted black leather jacket with the open front hanging off my sides to the ground under my knees. Concealing my torso, but not its shape was a tight gray shirt clinging to my skin under the force of its own elasticity. Glancing farther down, I could make out my knees, covered by black pants that stood out against the shadows the same way the jacket had. Flicking my eye so that orange hand wasn't in my vision, I saw something propped glinting between my bent knees. Thoughtlessly reaching down, I watched the tanned hand pry something off the street with two fingers, slowly holding it closer so I could see it better.
A piece of glass, one of many that had fallen short of me in the journey over from that freak's hand. It was a bigger piece, about the size of a wallet. Angling it so the light of the lamp wouldn't glare out a reflection, I stared into it, not knowing why or how.
Two green eyes. That same shade of green. Staring back at me from the glass, set back into an impossibly tanned face, with a wave of white hair hanging down trying to barely cover one eye and failing.
No cuts. No bleeding lacerations. No glass shards embedded in the skin or bone. Just that alien, unnaturally colored face staring back at me without a mark on it.
A glance back down at the hand holding it, and back at the glass. I then lowered it, tightening m brow and staring down the stretch of dark road. Keeping my brow low, I moved my eyes down to the glass.
…That same face. With the silver eyebrows right over those sharpened green pupils.
Not reacting, I then turned and looked over my shoulder, still on my knees. Squinting at first…then just looking normally as my eyes seemed to adjust, I saw that trail of shards continued on behind me. It stopped a good twenty feet behind me, I could hear faint clinks as a few stray ones fell down a rain gutter on the far end of the street.
Looking back over and down at the piece in my hand, weighing it with my hand as I looked at myself, I wondering how easy it would be to toss a large handful of it over some one's head…To scare them.
All of a sudden, I remembered the feeling of the shards…going through my skin…Was that my imagination? The shock just playing tricks on me? I didn't even have any on my clothes. I was fine.
Then it hit me.
What was I doing kneeling down and playing in the glass? I had glass-eating ass to kick.
Tossing my 'mirror' over my shoulder, not even waiting for it to break, I swung my weight with my arms and kipped up onto my feet without having to push myself off the ground. Taking half a second to make sure my legs still work, I then darted forward, reaching the circle of light around the car before pushing into a full fledged run down the block.
Getting back into the stride of movement, I found myself once again wandering the streets at full sprint, having no clue where he went or where to look.
Except this time, I just had to run one block before turning a corner, seeing a green figure bouncing around a storefront, and ducking back behind the corner and behind a disassembled phone booth.
Pressing my back into the bricks through my jacket, I took a good breath before inching back towards the very corner of the building, tilting my head over my shoulder as I muttered, not sure to whom. I must have been winded from the run, I still sounded like I had something in my throat, all raspy-like.
"Alright…Soo…He got into the house…Into the basement…Did something like I did, except instead of a new tan and dye job, he turned into a…"
I peered around the bricks of the corner for a moment…Watched a skinny green figure run across the street and heard glass break as he reached a vending machine…I ducked back into hiding.
"…Or, he was like that to begin with…"
Swinging my eyes around, looking for any signs of a person or car as I kept feeling my mouth move.
"Whatever happened…This moron needs to be taken into custody and needs his pointy little head filed down against the sidewalk…Or just the one. Get a good grip on his ankles…It'd be like street sweeping in reverse…"
…Was this a dream? A nightmare? A concussion?
Why was I…running around trying to catch a freak eating glass in some town whose name I don't even remember…?
What was going on with that…thing? Why am I making stupid wisecracks? What happened to…ME?
…And why can I see my breath in the middle of a heat wave? It's February, yeah…But it was like sixty and I could see it wafting out around my mouth. Huh, that's weird, so is that glass guy who broke our windows. Hop to it, Spaz.
…I…either needed some answers, or I needed to hit something.
My back pressing into the worn bricks behind me and slowly veering my eyes around at the quiet scenery…I felt my hands push themselves off the wall as my fingers slowly and effortlessly curled into my palm. Listening to my blood bang through my temples, I listened as my feet scraped down into the sidewalk, shuffling towards the corner.
As I shot out of hiding straight down the street, straight at the flash of green moving between the streetlights…I swear…I heard a bell clang. Twice.
It…He was having the time of his life while I was off risking my own. On toeless green feet, he giddily hopped back and forth in front of the smashed vending machine. Judging by the way he was grinning down at the sidewalk under him as he stomped it with clenched fists, he was intent on smashing the shards of glass into even smaller pieces. At a random moment he stopped, feet planted shoulder-length apart as he crouched down to scrape the stuff into his thin huge palms. As he held up a fresh handful, his jagged mouth seemed to tilt into a sharp smile as he somehow spoke with a strange echo to each syllable. His mouth was made out of something solid, the sound waves practically bounced out his lips like a megaphone.
"Yes-Yes…Dark is good flavor, but clear…Clear is…"
He slowly eased out of his crouch, standing to his semi-full height as he brought the handful of shimmering crystals up to his eye level. His eyes themselves were slashed with green splotches pretending to be pupils. They seemed to tighten on his palm, an almost sickly glow forming in the reflection of a nearby sign as he eased his mouth open, sawed teeth glinting…He gave his hand a warm gaze before tilting his head back and nonchalantly glancing around his side in his leisure.
His eyes were just big and shiny enough that I could see a dark shape pulsating around his pupils as he saw me barreling full-force at him.
He didn't move. Yet somehow, the glass in his claw sifted right through his fingers as if he'd gone limp in the extremities.
And just like that, he was nothing but a glowing green speck bouncing along down the far end of the sidewalk. There was a faint wailing sound, like a siren passing by in traffic. He was…screaming…?
A second later, my black shoe crunched a footprint into the puddle of glass powder as I went right on after him, letting out a scream of my own.
"Whatsa' matter? Can't walk and chew glass at the same time?"
And there was that siren going off again…Apparently he also screams whenever he turns a corner. So, when I reached that exact nook between two storefronts and turned the same way he had, I played along and yelled.
"…Lose me in an alley? What next, going…"
Barely a few yards around the corner, I reared back and slid to a shaky stop, fists balancing myself as my side as I stared up ahead of me with wide eyes.
…Which slowly narrowed as I straightened my back, cracked my neck into my left shoulder and began casually waltzing down into the freakishly dark alley. I would have started humming if I hadn't been panting for air inside my jacket.
Sliding my hands into my jacket pockets as I walked, I couldn't help but glance around at the wonderful scenery. The bare concrete exterior walls of the two buildings on either side blended perfectly with all these bricks I'd been running past for the last ten years. The bare wires hanging off an old light socket as walked under it. Swinging my eyes back in front of me at the solid wall with the dumpster against it at the end of this lovely dead end, I spotted my little green friend pressing himself flat against the ground and trying to press himself underneath the drab-green sealed dumpster. Judging by the pained noises he was making as he struggled to fit into a four-inch gap, he either thought he would fit or he was hoping I wouldn't notice him down there.
A good two minutes of me idling my way down toward him, I had finally gotten control over my breathing and was standing with my arms crossed a few feet behind him, looking down and trying not to let my eyebrow rise. Staring down at the way the scarce light bounced off his metallic skin…I almost started thinking again that something was off. For whatever reason, all traces of fear had left my body.
There was a loud clank, followed by a pattern of scuffles and clanks, and he was now standing with his back pressed into the dumpster, staring up at me with those blank green eyes. Feeling my own tighten even further, I ignored my reflection in his pupils as I slowly breathed in and then spat out at him.
I didn't notice it at the time, but as I said that, my reflection in his glassy eyes quivered as something jolted through him.
The next thing I saw was a gigantic green hand, with five clawed fingers pointed directly into my eyes, hurtling toward me out of nowhere. My breath left me with a hiss as my reflexes sent my entire torso careening off to the right. I froze right as my balance began to give, my vision clearing up enough to see that freak's face glaring with fangs bare at where my head at been a second ago with one shoulder raised…Holding up a green arm that had to be over five feet long…With a flared claw on the end, twitching at thin air.
Was…his arm that long a second ago? It has to be bigger than he was!
He was…stretching his arms out like a cartoon character, how?
…And he missed.
A faint rasp in my left ear. I didn't react to it, because I knew it wasn't really there. It was the like the wind.
He throws a high right…You go low and left. You can use your body to move faster than you can snap your fingers if you know what you're doing.
His eyes flickered over, seeing I'd moved. I saw his left leg twitch before he even knew he'd moved it. Once again I swung my entire weight around, turning to the side and forcing myself straight up as I saw something green slice the air inches in front of my right eye.
In the back of my head…My own, less raspy voice stated.
…A TINY GREEN MAN WITH CLAWS IS TRYING TO KILL YOU!
Yep…He sure was.
Without as much as a nod, I turned my neck to look over my shoulder. Barely three feet away, that ghastly mask of a face was staring at me with a look of pure shock. His arms were raised up above his shoulders, stretching out in front of him as if they were solid taffy. His right hand was still clawing at air right behind my head, and the left one he'd thrown to finish me off was now frozen a scare few millimeters away from my ear as I stared at him right in the middle of his waiting blades. The wind again.
And don't forget…
As my eyes stayed lock on his mirror-like orbs…I could see a clear reflection of a golden-skinned face staring blankly back at me with a brush of white bangs trying to cover one violently green eye.
As he realized what he had in his reach, he sucked in air as his solid eyelids slid down around the edges of my twin reflections. Right as that orange face cracked a white-toothed smirk.
…And make him wish he never even flew out to fight you.
His elongated arms tensed, going to slice my head clear off…The claws closed in toward each other, swiping through my trail of hair as I swept my head right under his razor-bladed clap. Now crouched under his arms, I looked up and saw him grinning at his empty hands for a split moment before he saw just how badly he had screwed up.
Before he could even look down I used the momentum of my sudden crouch to force my entire weight into a side kick directly into the center of his unclothed stomach. There was a faint smack as my rubber sole touched down on his marbled skin…Followed by a tremendous crash of hollow metal as he shot back a full two inches into the dumpster. His lengthened arms flared back, slamming to his sides as his legs jerked off the ground, all four limbs smacking against the metal rectangle as the force of my foot in his ribcage still railed his very being even harder into the thin sheet metal.
As his arms flew out to his sides, I let my body straighten behind the kick to add even more torque into the pressure I was putting on his midsection. As the momentum died off, I manually forced my foot deeper into the concave of his torso as I pushed my face over in front of my flexed knee. He was pinned off the ground into the side of the dumpster, still trying to comprehend what had happened.
And the first thing he saw when his eyes regained focus…Was my face two inches away. Gritting my teeth from the effort of keeping him pinned, I exhaled with a rasp right into his blank gaze.
"What are you?"
He answered with a sudden hiss, one of his dangling arms lifted itself off the metal wall…Before he could even think of it, I spun my knee off to the side, redirecting all the pressure to the side he was trying to counter-strike from. He shot sideways, creating a small wave of sparks as his head scraped the paint right off the steel. I could barely follow him with my eyes as he flew off to the front of the bin entirely and into one of the walls that formed the corner I'd backed him into.
I knew as soon as I heard it. I was never going to forget the echoing crack he made when he hit the bricks. And then the rattling thud as he bounced off and limply landed at my feet. His arms had gone back to their previous size sometime between the side-swipe and the…crack.
With that, I was staring down at him with my fists ready at my sides, my left foot finally back on the ground and planted in front of me. Left side tilted forward. Just the way I wanted to be as I waited for any sign of movement.
As I became familiar with the rare sensation of not fighting for my life…I noticed how the spikes adoring his head had become roughly snapped stubs in some places. And craning my neck for a closer look, I could have sworn I could see an actual crack forming in the shiny skin of his lower back.
That annoying little voice again.
…He's not moving…Get out of there! Run! Call the cops, go home, and just sleep until things go back to normal!
He…I had a point, there. I was a bit too calm considering the circumstances. Or maybe my inner conscious was a wuss. Either way.
Spotting something white on the top rim of my vision as I surveyed the fallen creature's glass-themed form…Yet another odd thought hit me.
Why was my hair white?
And my eyes…And my jacket…And my skin….
Why haven't I been wondering about-HOLY CRAP HE'S BREATHING!
There had been a sudden tremor through the tiny green body, followed by a sharp breath. I quickly bent further into my stance as a series of steadying breaths sounded from the still form. He was alive. Probably not ready to run a marathon, but alive and breathing.
But this still didn't keep me from jumping a bit when I heard.
My scuffling shoes echoed gently as I took a step back.
That same faint hiss.
For a moment, I just stared in amazement that he was speaking…Before comprehending that short fragmented sentence and feeling myself frown. I tried to keep my voice steady as I shot back.
"No. I'm still here, Freak."
Silence. Nothing but that fractured breathing. He didn't even try to move his head, speaking down into the concrete.
Not able to stop it, my eyebrow lifted up behind my bangs. Not hiding my confusion this time.
Not missing a beat, this one.
Looking down at him like I was, my eye suddenly latched onto a green crystalline shard on the ground near him. Some of that weird material that had chipped off his head when he hit the ground.
For a flash of a second, all I could see was a…wall of broken glass flying at me…Then without as much as a flinch I was back in the one-way alley, staring down at the whispering freak and the glass bits that had fallen off his body when he hit the wall.
The doorway. The broken window. Running…The noise…Turning the corner…The streetlight…
…He was trying to kill me back there!
He thought the glass actually cut me open when it just flew over…?
Whatever this thing was…It wasn't breaking windows. It had tried to…I was dealing with would-be murderer. Wonderful, this just went from vandalism to attempted manslaughter…
That flute-like voice came out of nowhere, knocking me out of my trance and nearly making me curse in surprise.
He? Was he talking in third-person, now? Forgive me, my forte has always been with sci-fi, but I really wanted to sell this guy off to a fantasy-convention. They'd love him to little pieces. Give him a little hat, fake British accent, maybe dress him like a Japanese schoolgirl…No, wait, wrong kind of convention.
Then he said it again, same way as before.
"…He killed you…"
No. He didn't. He throws glass like a girl and-
SAM. IN THE BASEMENT. SHE TRIED TO TELL YOU SOMETHING.
Holy sweet…capitals…Of all the times to get a mental post-it note. Sam told me to do something, and I probably forgot, wonderful.
SHE TRIED TO TELL YOU SOMETHING! YOU DIDN'T BELIEVE HER, BUT SHE TOLD YOU SOMETHING!
…Alan…There's something I need to tell you. Something your parents don't know about, something that I hoped died so long ago…
YOU DIDN'T BELIEVE HER!
And a third, very real voice coming up from the ground.
"…He killed you! Dead! We all knew it…You were DEAD!"
She…wasn't making sense, how was I supposed to believe her?
…A faint click…Glass on brick. Back inside my own thoughts, I could feel the blood pounding behind my eyes.
Alan…Don't ask why I have to tell you this…But I have to. There is a ghost outside. A real one. We have to catch it. Just listen to me. It all started…
WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST CHASE DOWN, ALAN?
BULLSHIT DOESN'T TRY TO DECAPITATE YOU! THIS IS REAL!
Ghosts aren't real.
THEN WHAT IS THIS THING?
SHE TOLD YOU WHAT IT WAS!
No…No. She was just being…weird, or senile, or…She was serious…
…WHAT ABOUT THE MIRROR? WHAT WAS THAT?
That was…I don't know.
…STOP CLINGING TO LOGIC! LOGIC NO LONGER APPLIES! HE DIDN'T THROW IT OVER YOU, YOU FELT THE GLASS, ALAN! YOU FELT THE GLASS GO RIGHT THROUGH YOU!
That was my just mind getting ready for it. It's a psychological thing. Not real.
LOGIC! AGAIN! GET WITH THE PROGRAM! WHY DID SAM SPOUT OFF SOME RANDOM STORY LIKE THAT?
…I don't know.
WHY COULDN'T SHE LOOK YOU IN THE EYE AFTER SHE FOUND YOU?
THE MIRROR. THAT'S WHAT SHE WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU..
No, she tried to tell me something…Just plain idiotic…Something about her husband…My grandfather on the Fenton side.
…A half-ghost. He could do everything they could do. It became a calling, he was the only one who could fight back.
WHY WOULD SHE TELL YOU ABOUT THAT? WHY NOW? EVEN IF IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE, WHY NOW?
SOMETHING HAPPENED TO YOU! LOGIC IS HOLDING YOU BACK! PUT THE PIECES TOGETHER!
Sam. In the basement. A bunch of…weird ghost stories about some kind of living ghost. The mirror. The glass.
No, then why would…
He killed you…
He…you…He wasn't talking about earlier. He remembered me from somewhere. He didn't even care to kill me when he saw me standing out in the street…But when I got close…He ran? Why?
Sam was talking about her husband. Danny. Danny Fenton.
Two loud cracks. Something scraping.
In the van. The way over.
You look a lot like Danny.
…And it's what killed him.
He…killed me…He killed Danny. She said some one killed Danny. A ghost. Not a car accident, a ghost. This green thing is a ghost. And it's saying that some one killed me. But if Danny is the one who's dead, then why…?
You look a lot like Danny.
Ragged breathing, much louder than before.
SHE TOLD YOU EVERYTHING. SHE HAD TO.
I just yelled at her. I didn't believe a word of it. That's when she started freaking out. I didn't believe her.
LOGIC IS HOLDING YOU BACK. YOU DIDN'T EVEN MAKE IT THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL, HOW MUCH COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE TO BEGIN WITH?
So…Whatever that thing in the basement was, that I walked into…And then I…And she…And then the little green psycho…And he thinks I'm…Ferrets…Being attacked by capital letters…I suddenly have a sense of humor…
EXACTLY. NO TURNING BACK, WELCOME TO REALITY.
Logic…really screwed over my childhood. I didn't believe my own father when he told me about ghosts…Twelve years of non-stop ghosts…Never saw one.
Ghosts. Replicated life-forms operating on ectoplasm the way humans operate on water. In a solid, singular configuration, they seem almost superhuman due to their bizarre cell structures and general invulnerability. They cannot be killed, but they can be stopped. That is our duty.
…Nineteen years of not seeing a single sign of paranormal activity later…And I just run into one at random in a dark alley.
YES. SCREW LOGIC, THIS IS REALITY .WE'VE BEEN OVER THIS.
And…I fought it?
YES. YOU DID. YOU CAN'T FIGHT BULLSHIT, ALAN. YOU KNOW THAT.
Wait…I spent twelve years memorizing battle strategies and gadget blueprints…Hours upon hours, sleepless night after night of weapon training and mental conditioning…
…And he went down after I kicked him in the stomach?
My entire childhood was a waste…?
WHOA THERE…OFF-TOPIC…AND, THERE'S KINDA' A…
…Oh yes. Hell yes. I may have lost that bet about there being life after death, but now I can cash in that fifty for having truly having wasted my childhood on something more worthless than boxing.
I have discovered life after death, the existence of a supernatural creature, a chapter of the Fentons that makes more sense then the rest put together, I'm pretty sure I'm no longer human, apparently my subconscious is standing on the Caps Lock, and now it turns out my childhood training was indeed a waste, and boxing beats all. Wow. Give it ten minutes, I'll figure out JFK.
HE…UH…GOT UP, YOU KNOW. LIKE, A MINUTE AGO.
I am taking this far too well, aren't I?
My eardrums nearly tore as the screech went off in my face. A real, very real voice for a change.
That…couldn't be good…
He had gotten up. He was now standing a scarce two feet in front of me, legs awkwardly balanced under him as he stood there staring up at me with eyes that were visibly glowing. The spikes adorning his head had been smashed along one side, giving him a a demented air as he glared up at me with his jaw so tight I could almost hear his fangs crack under the pressure. I didn't pay too much attention to his face as my eye caught a flash of green off to the side…He had his right claw hurtling up through the twenty three inch between us, ignoring my entire torso and lower body, going straight up in a steep stab toward my neck.
I was…just standing there, arms loose, legs locked, jaw almost hanging slack…I'd been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I'd left myself open for a surprise attack that a blind man could have saw coming. No fancy dodge. No complicated block. I couldn't even turn and run. I was just done.
My eye followed the chipped, almost serrated fingers as they came forth to slash my throat…And all I felt was complete calm. Just…nothing, no regret, no fear, just plain uncaring. I felt nothing but the wind of the approaching daggers and my own heartbeat.
…And my right hand as my fingers slammed painfully into a fist…As he came within four inches of my neck, there was a soft whoosh of night air, and a sharp pain of my skin breaking
…And it was over.
Fourteen Minutes Later
There'd been nothing but a faint breeze when I'd first taken off running…But as the night went on, there was now an occasional loud gust as the quiet forest of bricks and asphalt slept under the dying orange glow of the lamp posts. No sounds of distant traffic, not even a car alarm that went ignored. Nothing but the wind and the silent stone city that it would never turn.
From the open doorway of the townhouse turned museum, a series of noises inside the foyer echoed out into the night, interrupting the wind as it ruffled a flag that had twisted itself around its pole on a nearby rooftop.
Sharp, resonating clicks. The sound of a pair of cheap high heeled shoes sliding around on worn ceramic tile from the turn of the century. They tapped along a rapid beat for a few long second before becoming muffled and distorted as they went over the faded welcome mat. Three taps later, they came back full force, slower but louder as each shoe claimed a step as their owner bounded down the stoop toward the sidewalk.
A sandy scraping sound, and she was down the steps and struggling to keep her balance in the middle of the sidewalk. My grandmother had seen better days. As she stood there in shoes that were more suited for display than any form of function, her loose black skirt was still flapping against her thin knees from the jump off the stoop and her matching black long-sleeved shirt had began to wrinkle around her frail form from the sweat she'd broken in the last few minutes. Atop a properly postured neck, her head was swinging side to side methodically as she tried to survey the street and catch her breath at the same time. Her hair was no longer draped over her face, but swept back behind her head as if it had been shoved back multiple times. Even in the dark, her pale skin showed the jagged dark lines running down from her eyes, the remnants of a mascara job that had been ruined beyond repair.
As she looked both ways again, just as intently, her right arm tensed against her side. On the end of a thin arm, her white hand was clutching what looked like a silver cylinder with a green stripe running along its width on one end. With a handy carrying loop built into the lid. She was holding the thermos that had been displayed so proudly inside one of the locked display cases in the converted living room of the house-museum. For some reason this had taken her all of twenty minutes, and judging by the way her ribcage was convulsing, she had not been doing so at her leisure.
As she turned for a third two-way glance, she gasped in before yelling with her free hand next to her mouth.
Watching for a second, her hand still by her black lips, she then turned and repeated herself down to the other end of the street. As she turned her neck once again to look over, her face had visibly tightened. Finally looking down to adjust her footing and relax her shoulders, she muttered to herself through locked teeth.
"And he just leaves the door wide open to prove his point…I should have told him to stay out of the basement…"
Glancing back up with her eyes narrowed on an alley across the road, she was silent for a moment before commented back to herself.
"Then again…I sort of raised him to be a rebel to begin with…"
She closed her eyes and gave her head a small shake, throwing the blame over her shoulder before going back to looking around for any sign of life as she clutched that odd kitchen utensil to her side. As she prepared to yell again, she reached down as it to undo the snaps on her shoes. Better barefoot than clacking an tripping the night away.
As her hand reached a few inches below her skirt, she froze, still bent over to remove her shoes.
A second of stumbling and shuffling later, she was crouched with her feet spread and the silver thermos thrust out in front of her, her left hand wrapped around the rounded lid as if to open it at a moment's notice.
She was facing the alley right on the side of the museum, barely fifteen feet down from the stoop she was in front of. From where she was standing, she had her eyes locked onto a dull gray trash bin with a built-in lid sitting along one side of the alley entrance. It was nothing but a medium-sized, industrial plastic waste bin the city provided by the dozens for its occupants, they were shaped so they could be loaded onto the truck six at a time on each side. Despite this technological feat of progress…It was still just a trash can.
A trash can that kept making hollow thuds every few second, visibly shifting in place each time. As she stared it down with a purple glare…Another faint thud sounded, and the bin hopped an inch to the left, bouncing against the wall slightly. Nodding to herself, she reached down and quickly ripped off her shoes before slowly approaching the bin with the thermo still aimed in front of her with her hand on the lid.
Soon enough, she was a few feet away, still crouched and ready to…open the thermos. Keeping her breathing shallow but controlled, she silently tip-toed on manicured feet up to the side of the bin, squinting to see as the nearest lamp flickered.
…And proceeded to let out something eerily similar to a stereotypical martial arts yell…As she reared back and used her bare foot to awkwardly sidekick the bin so it skidded back a foot before tipping over onto its side, its lid popping open as it rattled against the bulging concrete under it.
And with the same sudden energy, she had jumped off to the side, thermos lid aimed at the toppled can, face tight with anticipation as if she knew what she had just done. Waiting for a second as nothing happened, she then crept forward with the same careful precision…Before leaping to the side again as she tried to see what was inside the bin.
Landing like a cat on the opposite side of the bin she'd kicked…Her eyes fixated on the exposed inside with an instant glint of familiar recognition.
…Followed by a sudden, but quickly ended second of pure amazement.
Hanging out of the open can, hung a violently green, frail arm barely the size of hers despite having a hand three times normal size. It was simply stretched out the open top of the bin as if the force of the toppling had forced it out.
Attached to this arm…Was an equally green, equally fragile body that had been occupying the bin when she had kicked it. It was laying out on its stomach with both arms stretched out, one outside the can while the other was curled along its back.
…Between the thin shoulders…Where there had been a gigantic mask of a face, there was now nothing but a jagged, splintering stump that had once been a functioning neck. No head to speak of. Like it'd been broken right off.
Staring at this gruesome but oddly artificial-looking sight, my grandmother whispered to no one as she held the thermos increasingly tighter.
"…Oh, like that ever fooled me…"
As if the glass-like corpse had heard her…The hand laying outside the bin twitched, its clawed fingers flexing despite there not being a brain to direct the action.
Not missing a beat, she ripped the lid off the canister, and watched without any sign of emotion as there was a green flash of light lit up the alley.
…A click as she replaced the lid…And she looked at the now empty, unoccupied garbage bin with a faint air of curiosity on the edge of her eyes. With no explanation, she then relaxed back to a standing position, tucking the thermos under one arm as she reached up to wipe off her forehead, the mascara tears suddenly out of place as a small smile crept out onto her cheeks.
…A job well done.
In the middle of wiping her forehead, she must have noticed her hair misplacement as she proceeded to pull her bangs back down over one eye as she thought out loud.
"…And people are afraid of these little ones…I mean, it didn't even have a…"
As she adjusted her bangs to her exact specification, her speech slowed down in realization.
Her fingers letting go of her hair, the dark locks popped right back up onto her head rebelliously. Their owner just stared at the wall with half-open eyes, softly groaning.
"…Now I have to find his head? Wonderful…"
Glancing off to her side almost coyly, she went on to herself.
"If he were here…I just know he'd make a stupid joke about…"
Standing a few feet behind her, just out of the light of the lamp post where I blended in with the bricks, I finished with a sore rasp.
"…About his body being tossed out with trash, while his head is in the recycling bin?"
After a jerking pause, she turned over her shoulder to look at me, the soft sarcasm from before lost to something between fear and surprise.
I was situated deeper in the alley, in the shadow of the museum building, leaning heavily against the building next to it with my knees locked and my arms folded against the softness of my jacket. I didn't bother turning to look at her, I had my head hanging towards my chest. Staring straight ahead at the dark wall across from the one I was leaning on. I could just make out something white hanging over my left eye, my hair had settled down since I'd finally stopped running around.
From the angle I was in, I had been able to hear her heels clicking inside, I'd watched her look around before she ran over when she heard the trash can moving. I could have yelled back when she was screaming for me…I just didn't.
And now, I was just looking over at her from my exposed hiding place, crossing my arms tighter into my jacket as her purple orbs filled me with some nameless emotion I just didn't want.
She regained her senses quickly enough.
Swinging my eyes back over to the wall, I just grunted softly.
She was speaking differently. Slower, less casually, but with a softer edge that I'd rarely heard her use except with me and a few of her students. A loud whisper, very relaxing.
"Are you okay?"
Before I could respond, there was a muffled noise from between us. From the upside-down knee-high recycling bin that had been sitting next to the can, the one I'd flipped around and used like a makeshift cage.
Ignoring her question, I sighed in monotone.
"His head's under there…Might want to…"
The sound of the plastic creaking…A brief clip of a high-pitched cursed word followed by an electronic-tinged whoosh. The click of the lid going back on the thermos.
A few seconds later, her voice again.
"Alan…Come out into the light."
I stayed where I was.
"…Alan…I'm sorry about earlier, I really am."
I didn't move.
"…You see why I was so freaked out, now?"
I hesitated…Before giving a light, but positive grunt.
She had the thermos under her arm again, standing upright with her head tilted to the side slightly as she squinted at the shadowed area my voice was coming out of. She'd relaxed her features, probably more for my sake than hers. It would have been more effective without the black tears running down her face from earlier. Her voice was so soothing, it couldn't have been coming from anyone but a retired teacher. That's how good teachers talk. They just do.
"Are you hurt?"
…Crap…They always know. The guys at the gym wouldn't notice if I walked in missing a limb, but something about older women lets them see splinters from a hundred yards away.
I stayed silent, staying in my shadow.
Tilting her head back upright, her softened eyes tightened slightly. Her tone changed.
"Alan. Get out here. Now."
…Again…Only a teacher can go from soothing to 'Get out here' without so much as lowering an eyebrow. Barely a second later, I pushed off the wall and shuffled out, pausing for a millisecond before finally stepping out into the lighted front of the alley where she could see me clearly. She didn't so much as nod at this, she just stopped squinting. She did this for about ten seconds, which I spent standing there with my arms folded into my jacket and my eyes down toward my shoes.
I hard a few faint scuffs of skin brushing the ground…And then I felt two small hands grabbing my sleeve. Gently, she somehow pried my arms apart, showing that my right hand was buried inside the flap of my jacket. I didn't resist as she pulled it out and held it out so she could see it.
A few seconds later, I looked at the hand she'd just pulled out of my jacket where I'd been hiding it.
…Hanging palm-down in front of my grandmother's still face, the orange light of the lamp only highlighted the dark tan that had taken over the skin on the back of my hand. Which was strongly, almost violently contrasting with the bright green splotches that had built up along the back of the calluses along each protruding knuckle. It could have been paint, it was that unnatural a shade of green.
No…My knuckles had been nearly torn open and apart…The blood that was seeping out onto my hand and that was staining my shirt inside my jacket, was that sick color as the stains spreading down my hand.
It's why I put it in my jacket. I couldn't look at it anymore.
Staring at my wounded hand, she resumed that soothing tone again. I listened intently, more worried about when the other tone would come back than if this one would last.
"Did…He do this?"
I didn't answer. I just jerked my bangs over her shoulder, at the overturned trash can. One quick turn of her head to follow my pointing, and she turned back with a distinct mix of confusion and realization.
She had just seen a ghost with his head popped off like a toy robot. True…His body and head were still moving around and occasionally cursing, his head and body were detached. My hand looked like I'd just punched a window. What a coincidence…That guy ate windows. Was there a connection between a living glass sculpture with his head broken off, and my hand? Currently…There was no connection.
There had been a connection, for a second there…Then his head flew off and hit that fire escape…Then they connected again when I had to throw rocks at it to get it back down from that planter it landed in and stuff it under that box while I dumped his flailing body into the bin. One-handed, mind you.
Confirming the unspoken understanding, she sighed.
Trying to hold back that dang rasp, I answered as solemnly as possible.
"No, I was...just out window shopping…With a brick. I happened to notice that some guy had gotten himself decapitated and stuck in the trash right before you came out looking for him. I would have told you earlier, but…"
I shrugged, trying to get my hand back inside my jacket. She held strong, so I just finished just as seriously.
I winced as her teeth flashed. She was still looking down at my hand as she held it in a death grip.
"I told you to stay in the basement."
Her grip tightened, almost enough to start the bleeding again.
"You could have been killed."
"I told you…To stay inside, to keep you safe. Why the hell did-"
A twitch. Right above my right eye.
She didn't look up. Her gaze stayed on my wounded hand.
"Alan. If you weren't twice my size, I swear I would kick…"
"Look at me!"
With that I reached over with my free hand and jerked her chin up, forcing our eyes to meet. Even in the dim alley, I could make out the way her pupils shrank back as they looked into mine. Ignoring this, I grabbed the conversation by the horns and slowly asked with careful wording.
"Do you remember what you told me?"
From that distance, all I could see was her eyes. They didn't answer.
"…I said, do you…"
A faint squeak. A high-pitched, positive squeak. Holding back a sigh of relief as I realized I hadn't hallucinated it all, I forced myself on.
"I…believe it. All of it."
I paused…No reaction from behind those purple contacts.
A quick breath.
"You were…trying to warn me about…"
Those two eyes just bobbed in place. A nod.
"…Sam…Whatever happened to me…I think there's something I need to tell you…"
Meanwhile, I eased my hand out of hers. She'd lost the strength to hold me back any longer. Replacing it in my jacket, I took my other palm off of her chin and placed it on her shoulder. With one last short breath and a quick squeeze to make sure she was steady, I finished.
"That…thing thought I was…Danny. Your Danny."
I felt the chill run through her under my hand. I held strong as she shot back like I'd slapped her. The eye contact broken, she swung her head back down, her bangs draping down as she hissed back.
Straightening up, I tried not to sigh.
"You said yourself…There's a bit of a resemblance…"
Taking advantage of her position, I quickly made a considerably less dramatic glance down at myself before popping my eyes back up like nothing happened. Under my breath, I added.
"…And we apparently use the same brand of atomic tanning bed…"
She hadn't moved. She was just standing there with her hair falling down over her face like a mannequin. I gently shook her by the one shoulder. As I went to lean down to look at her to see if she was alright, she snapped out from under my hand, shuffling back on her bare feet as her hands flew up under her bangs to further cover her face.
I stayed where I was. I stared blankly, digging for answers within my common sense and finding none. I awkwardly crossed my arms while keeping my bad hand in my jacket as my grandmother continued doing nothing but covering her face. Freed from the effort of talking, my thoughts wandered.
She must have been having a makeup dysfunction. Something dripped into her eye and it's too painful to speak. With all that paint she globs on, it's no wond…
She can't look at me…Because I look like…? Him. Danny. The ghost thought I was him, and now Sam sees it. I look like her dead husband.
I look like my grandfather. It's that simple. And now I just got thrown in with something that got him killed decades ago. No wonder she's flipping out.
An idiot who looks exactly like a guy who was killed for doing exactly what I just did to that ghost! Why not switch briefcases with a Russian and talk to the guy in the trench coat while I'm at it! I just wandered into something that GOT SOME ONE MURDERED!
And I think I forgot what my room number was back at the hotel.
What if that one guy hears about this? He'd want to finish the job. Odds are he's dead, but…Oh…Yeah…Ghosts…Already dead. Crap.
…The ice machine was two halls down…I remembered that fake plant across the way…
…Unless Sam just keeps the guy in that…Fenton Mug-Thingy. Just keep him inside there away from the other freaks, he won't rat us out. Maybe throw it into some wet cement, find out if this town has a deep river…
377. That was it. One problem out of the way, back to my being a dead man.
That's why Sam was so upset. She had to look at me while she explained all that. It's like explaining how deadly brown recluse bites are to a guy with one sitting on his head munching an after-dinner mint!
Just stay calm. Everything will sort itself out, like they always…Who am kidding, I'm a Fenton, this is as normal as things are going to get.
A muffled sniffing sound jerked me back into reality. I was still standing in front of Sam in the back half of the alley. She hadn't taken her hands away from her face. A quick glance down showed that my posture had considerably relaxed during my brief battle of wit with my logical side. My good arm was hanging down against my thigh, my shoulder slack on either side of my neck, my skinned hand still buried in the fold of the jacket.
That sound again, somewhat louder this time. No doubt about it, she was crying. The awkwardness righted my posture seconds before she wiped one hand away to shake off the drops of ruined makeup. Then the other side. She leaned her face up as her hands slipped into her windbreaker. Her now bare, pale-rimmed eyes looked up at me through a mask of hastily dried tears. I just stared back, not knowing what to do.
"…I need my shoes. Go wait in the car, I'll lock up."
And she turned on one bare foot, and walked out of the alley. She stepped over the recycling bin right before she turned the corner, not once looking anywhere but forward. It was like she'd just gotten something her eye. No emotion. She was the untouchable teacher again.
And I was the extremely confused, bleeding freak that needed a hug. Seconds after she turned that corner, I was still staring after her with no expression save a single raised eyebrow and a slack jaw. I must have been like that for a good ten seconds before shaking my head slightly and breaking into a brisk jog, hurtling the garbage bin on the way out.
I would have walked, but if I saw one more brick alley or street lamp I was going to drop my pants and start preaching on a street corner about the apocalypse.
Sixteen Minutes Later
"What about the hair? Will this wash out?"
Drum roll…And…Nothing. To celebrate this streak, I reached down to my side and pulled the seat lever the rest of the way down. Three seconds of near-silent hydraulic humming later and the passenger seat of Sam's van had tilted back so far I could see out the back window without taking my neck off the headrest. The light rocking of the car as it revved along the older concrete of the interstate made me feel like I was in a massage bed with a seat belt. Letting go of the lever, my left arm uncrossed back to my other side, nestling it around the bulge in my jacket that was the remains of my right hand. Shooting the distant headlights behind us a pondering glance, I leaned over again and inquired with a achingly dry mouth.
"If we're going back to the hotel, I have to stay in your room so they don't see me. Jim and Helen are probably still downstairs, but the girls might have gone up for the night."
Barely two feet away from me, my grandmother sat behind the driver's seat with her elbows on the wheel as usual, her face propped on top of them with her forehead barely avoiding the slanted windshield. Every few seconds she'd adjust herself slightly to turn or glance at the mirror. She'd been doing this since she gotten into the car, after about ten minutes of her not even looking at me, I'd just stopped caring. At first my questions were honest if not desperate, now I was more or less talking to myself about what to do next.
Of course this question was ignored, and I continued tinkering with the seat controls while trying to collect my thoughts. As I reached over again to try and see if the thing had a footrest, I idly shot off another rhetorical inquisition.
"...Got a girlfriend yet?"
Not bothering to wait for a response, I broke down into a pained sigh, turning half onto my side to look out the side window.
"And I used to wonder how you kept these conversations going…You were just trying to keep sane, weren't you?"
Squinting to try and make out the trees flying by the roadside, I added.
"Of course you were. You're the only sane Fenton I know. Everyone else is pretending to fight something that they've never even seen, or forcing their kids to."
I spitefully added.
"...Or off wasting their life because they couldn't even do pull that off."
Crossing my arm over the other, I let my eyes slide closed and watched the orange stripes of the road lights flick by. Stopping to breathe and try and wet my mouth, I had nothing else to do but continue talking to myself.
"You know, you never really struck me as a superhero love interest. You only get kidnapped about twice a week, and your IQ is about equal to room temperature. What's your secret? Dying out the blonde down to the roots, or shock therapy?"
Rocking my head against the cushion, I jumped over to the next remark.
"I swear my dad mentioned once that you were r...What was that?"
I jerked over to look at her, eyes flashing.
She was still slumped over the wheel, deep in highway hypnosis. Keeping both eyes on her, I lowered one brow and demanded.
"Did...you just snort?"
"You just laughed. Admit it."
She clicked the turn signal on and shifted her weight as she changed lanes. I just rolled onto my back and sighed. Humor was no use. Neither was honest questioning, small-talk, nostalgia, or plain out begging. She wasn't budging.
She did snort, though. Not sure if it was her sinuses or if my joke actually hit home, but she snorted and that's not to be argued.
A few quiet miles later, she clicked the signal again and we turned off onto an exit ramp. The van began to slow down before her signal clicked one last time as we coasted off the side of the road, cracking over the fresh pebbles for ten feet before finally stopping. She didn't turn the hazards on, that was the only indication I had that we hadn't broken down. She stayed on top of the wheel as she stared out the windshield. I was still stretched out on my back in the reclined seat, staring up at the ceiling and waiting for whatever she was waiting for. I soon got lucky.
"You can't tell anyone where we went tonight."
Her voice was at full strength, perfectly rehearsed. She'd certainly had time to plan it. She hadn't look at me since she'd gotten in the car, and she obviously didn't plan on doing so.
"You tell anyone who asks, that we met in the parking lot and you helped me unpack in my room. We're never going to speak of this again, because that's the only way you can survive this."
I blankly repeated her.
"This killed Danny. And it will kill you."
"The only way to stop this, is to act like it never happened. We never went to the museum. You never went in the basement. Nothing came out, neither of us saw or did anything unusual. You cut your hand helping me fix the van."
"Sounds good. Then we went out to some Goth salon and you forced mt to change my skin, hair and eye color. And I'm bleeding glowing green blood all over my jacket because we went out to some hipster club and drank glow-stick fluid out of coconut shells while dancing to backwards country music."
"Don't try to be funny."
"Like they wouldn't believe that. They never even figured out I started boxing after national three title wins. I could have won the other four, been the world champion, they'd still think I was out visiting relatives for months on end. Fooling Fentons is...Well, you married one, like I have to tell you."
Her sudden hiss of breath quickly snapped my jaw shut. She pressed on.
"...We have to keep this secret from everyone, not just the family. Anyone who sees something or hears about it, is one more chance for him to find you. There's no safe limit, no exceptions. This ends tonight."
...Him...So he is alive...
"Don't worry about how you look, I'll explain that later. For now, promise me that you'll forget everything I've told you after this. Learn from it, but never think about it again."
Still leaning back, my posture had gone ramrod straight and the expression had drained from my face as her speech had gone on. Without so much as a pause I told her.
She didn't show any relief, but this allowed her to go on knowing that I agreed with her.
"Good. Now, as for...you. It's possible to change you back very easily. It's just a physical change. The portal was fixed years ago so nothing like this would happen. This is just a temporary side-effect of being zapped. You're still human, you just sort of look like what Danny was. No powers. Once you change back physically, you'll be just like you were before."
My breathing became manual, forced and rattling. She hadn't moved an inch, still staring out at the side of the road with all her weight draped around the steering wheel like she was looking for the next exit sign.
"After you change back, this will all be done. We'll go back to the hotel, hang out with everyone until you guys go back home, you go back to doing whatever, I go back to sitting around smacking myself for retiring when I'm still so young and perky."
Oh, now she gets all funny Does bad comedy timing run in our side of the family or what?
"Just lie back like you are, close your eyes...Concentrate on yourself. The person you see in the mirror every day. Blue eyes, black hair, that little frown, just think about yourself and nothing else. Just do it, and everything will go back to normal."
I was waiting for her to just look at me. She never did. All i could do was take one last shaky breath, slide my eyes shut, and try to do what she was telling me to do.
The cushions in the chair were starting to make my shoulders numb as I forced myself to remember the face staring back at me in the bathroom that morning. I could make out my pale skin standing out with a pink tinge against the white wall behind me. My greasy, uncombed black hair trying to cover one of my eyes with hat single strand of bangs. I could even see that tight frown I'd been wearing for months now.
...When I tried to imagine staring into my own eyes...There was just a flash of green that quickly sent me back to desperately focusing on my skin and hair. Not the eyes. There's no way to forget those eyes.
Barely six seconds of forced meditation later, I had gotten so anxious I jerked upright in my seat and threw my hands up before opening my eyes. No point in waiting for the Ice Dutchess to do or say anything, I needed to know.
I choked back a groan as I stared down at two normally colored palms poking out of a set of pearly white leather sleeves. Flipping them over, I saw the reddish brown stains across the back of my right hand, the sliced cut still open and adding to the clotting red fluid that threatened to drop down and ruin my white sleeve.
Never thought I'd be so happy to see my own blood.
Not bothering to do anything about my hand, I fell back with a thud into the seat, emptying my lungs with a single sigh. Before I could adjust the way my shoulders hung off both sides of the chair, the van's engine abruptly revved and we took off down the road with a squealing swerve. As I steaded myself against my door handle, my grandmother's voice chirped over.
"I heard from your mom that they're trying to get the girls to do a teen fashion line...Please tell me they're not paying for everything like last time. They could have put you through college with how much they lost trying to get those girls a label line."
...Put me through college in Hawaii with two cars and a beach house for the weekend, actually. If it weren't for the stock portfolio my great grandparents started up with their inventions, my family would have probably have been in the poorhouse with how stupid my mother gets with all this publicity junk. Just the year I started boxing they tried to...
...She wasn't kidding. She was completely blocking out everything that just happened. Everything. We were seriously going to ride back to the hotel like nothing happened, and never talk about it again.
"Yeah. We still have a few crates of pastel jumpsuits lying around from the last fiasco. Tried giving them to good will. I swear the family that got them mailed them back to us with a Dear John letter."
Hey. Either I drive myself insane with endless questions and inner turmoil, or I talk about how stupid my family is with the only person I know who won't think I'm making it all up for attention.
She snickered quietly, sighing something about my mother that I couldn't make out.
I leaned up a bit and glanced over to see that Sam was now hanging back a bit off the wheel, smiling to herself and hanging one hand off her folded arms just like she had on the drive over. Not a care in the world.
She'd just dumped all of those on me. No tag-backs.
Four Hours Later
"...You did what with my locker?"
My phone's speaker erupted in garbled laughter from hundreds of miles away. Glaring at it, I adjusted my left-handed grip on the retro-styled phone pressed to my right ear. As soon as the other person stopped laughing and explained it was a joke, i just shook my head and light-heartedly growled.
"That's enough. Just tell everybody that I'm coming back down as soon as possible."
A questioning warble.
"...Meh...They don't care. My grandma just showed up out of nowhere, she'll keep things running for me so I can catch the next flight home."
The sound of a car lock beeping made me glance over to my left. I was surrounded by a dark night sky, blotched with the spotlights and neon adorning the hotel property. I was sitting atop a small cinder-block hut structure with a makeshift ladder of water pipes snaking up one side, I was using the water meter as a backrest. The hut was poking up in the center of the hotel's expansive roof. The side-wing off near the lobby featured a currently closed pool and bar on the top with formal railings on every side, but the biggest building had nothing on top except for this fancy little clubhouse thing that had a door leading into the fire escape stairway that went straight down through every floor of the building, including the cavernous basement which I found has terrible cell phone reception.
My phone friend became quiet, making some almost sympathetic noises through the long-distance static. I tightened my jaw, staring up at what was either a star or a plane. Finally finding the right answer, I tapped a worn shoe against the cement, muttering a shaky explanation.
"Uh...That first month was...pretty bad. Thought this tour thing would take my mind off it, give me some time alone away from everything. I'm out in the middle of nowhere boxing wise, nothing but resorts and tourist traps around here, but I still get people recognizing me."
Losing interest in the star that was now changing course and banking left at a snails pace, I couldn't help but curl my legs closer to my chest. I'd since changed clothes in the room. I'd pulled on some ancient cross-trainers that were too beaten to be considered gym shoes underneath some somewhat intact jeans with the cuffs frayed and dragging. Ignoring the fifty degrees on the digital thermometer mounted near my right shoulder, I was wearing a faded tee shirt underneath an extra-thick hooded sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off in jagged lines right at the shoulder seam. My right hand was hidden away in the front pocket of the sweatshirt while my left awkwardly curled around to my right side holding my phone.
Settling my eyes on the wear-marks on my denim-clad knees, I coldly remarked.
"...Had some old drunk call me washed up at a gala. I just walked away, and I'm sick of it. I'm not fighting again, but I just can't leave everything behind like this."
Grimacing slightly, I finished.
"I need to get back to the gym. I'm done hiding out."
A well-meaning but poorly thought out string of noises from the speaker...I kept my eyes on my knees and shot back.
"He would have liked a lot of things, Aron. Not like he cares now."
A few minutes of on-the-spot trip planning later, we cut the line so he could get some sleep. I would have done the same, I really wanted to. I'd been lying in bed for two hours before I had to run out and call Aron to keep from losing it. Even after running up and down ten stories of steps twice to find a place to call, I still wasn't ready to sleep. I was just too tired to sleep.
Shoving the phone into my front pocket, I crossed my hands as I gently tapped my head against the water meter that acted as the highest point of the entire resort. Still running through flight times in my head, I found myself casually replaying a few select quotes. I whispered.
"...And everything will go back to normal..."
Indulging in one slow blink for effect, I stiffly removed my right hand from the pocket and stretched it out with my palm facing out. I professionally scrutinized the layers of dried brown blood streaking down from the knuckles to my wrist. I could even make out where Sam had tried to wrap gauze around it by the way the dried material had cracked in places.
Flexing the fingers once before forming a large, experienced fist, I took out the other hand and went to work scratching the dark scabs forming across the line of knuckles. A second of harsh scraping later, I was down to the skin underneath it.
With no emotion what so ever, I brought my stained hand closer and examined the mountain range of callused skin I'd uncovered. Where there was before a series of jagged slice and puncture wounds characteristic of glass shattering on impact...There was nothing but unbroken skin, not even a paper cut. The blood was still there, it'd been hiding the wounds that had mysteriously stopped hurting while I was tossing and turning back in my room.
Stretching out the fingers of the completely healed hand, I rubbed it against my jeans to try and clean it a bit more as if I was just rubbing off dirt.
"Yeah...That's really normal, Sam."
Letting my eyes settle on a distant spotlight hanging over the hotel's entrance,my mind once again played through an ordered series of images that had yet to be explained or forgotten.
The open door to the basement and the darkness behind it.
That bright green light and the unearthly pain that came with it.
Sam's face hanging over mine...The fear in her eyes.
That figure staring me down at the top of the steps. Inside the mirror.
A wall of broken glass. Every cutting edge twinkling. The cold chill of all of them passing through my skin without making a scratch.
An inhuman freak telling me that he knew I was dead.
The cuts on my hand, bleeding blood that wasn't mine.
The way Sam couldn't look at me. Sam's silence. Sam's denial. Sam's pain.
The green eyes that never stopped staring right through me. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I went, those eyes cutting through everything in this world that could hide me.
"...Just a physical change...No powers...I'm still human..."
I didn't need to look at my hand again. I'd seen the truth.
Feeling my eyes lock into a glare, I argued to myself.
"...Once I change back...Just like I was before..."
She didn't lie. I changed back, and I'm exactly as I was before. It wasn't a real change, just like she said, it was just a physical one.
I was not human. I just looked like one. I could fake it. Oh, I could fake it forever if I have to, like Sam wants me to. I could never mention it again, block it out, bury myself back in boxing and see all my old friends again, just like I was still human. Who cares what I feel in my very bones every second of every minute, I can fake it.
Whatever I am...Whatever Danny was...It can kill me if I don't hold it back. Hold it back from what, I don't know. It can never show itself, and I have to keep it like that for the rest of my life.
I slammed my eyes shut, falling against my knees and clutching both hands against the sides of my head as if to stop hearing my own thoughts.
Before giving up and letting myself drift off to a tense sleep, I gritted my jaw and asked myself the question no one would answer.
I hated to say it, but at this point it was all I had left to
Anyone reading this for the first time should know, this is an extreme overhaul of the original first chapter. The following ones will probably be complete, worthless garbage by comparison, and are left over from the original, much less drama-based version which was more of a low-effort spoof. Later on, I grew more attached to this work and took a much more serious, much more dedicated approach to how it was written. Do me a favor, give me a while before reading on after this, I plan to redo most of the earlier chapters to match the later ones. Until then, thank you for reading, and I apologize for the unforgivable hiatus I put you guys through update wise. Again, thank you and sorry.