Bunny adopted from Firefury. I've had this idea before, but finally got the inspiration to write it after encountering her bunny.
Anything you recognize in this isn't mine.
The man was browsing the history section of the Amity Park Public library when Lancer entered, and he stayed there long enough for the teacher to collect his personal reading list from the fiction stacks. All Lancer had left were a few books for his history course that the school library didn't carry, and then he'd be able to check out and leave for home.
Balancing ten books while holding a list at eye level isn't an easy task, so Lancer was understandably preoccupied as he headed down the aisle. The browser, dressed in greys offset by a long purple coat, looked up briefly as he noticed Lancer, then returned to the book he was flipping through, allowing the teacher to pass straight through him. Three steps past him, and Lancer stopped dead in his tracks and began shaking. He couldn't have just done what he thought he had, could he? Despite himself, Lancer turned around and peeked over his stack of books.
Long dark hair, goatee, glasses, coat, scarf… and pointed ears, glowing eyes, a soft aura, and a good two inches off the floor. It was definitely a ghost, even if it was one of the more human looking ones.
This was not good. Lancer didn't face ghosts unless it was absolutely necessary, such as when a student was threatened, though even then he followed Falstaff's motto, that "discretion is the better part of valor." And now here he was, trapped in a narrow space with only one way to go, and facing the wrong direction.
The ghost noticed him and turned its face towards him.
"Oh," it said, "did you need this section? I'm sorry."
Lancer screamed and dropped his books, and then instantly cringed when he realized how much noise he'd just made. The ghost cringed as well and managed to look embarrassed and apologetic. Then, as a set of heels began clicking their way and Lancer whirled to face the music, it reached out and grabbed Lancer's shoulder. A feeling similar to ice poured through his body and Lancer desperately fought the urge to panic.
The librarian appeared at the end of the aisle, scanned it for noisemakers, failed to see any, but then noticed the scattered books on the floor. With a muttered, "hmph" she strode to where Lancer and the ghost were standing, picked up the books, and left the way she'd come. A few moments after she'd disappeared again, the chill vanished as the ghost removed its hand.
"Invisibility," the ghost said quietly behind him. "Comes in handy occasionally. I'm sorry I frightened you."
"Buh, buh, you," Lancer stammered. "Gho-ghost, I. Y-you, me, I. Ghost."
The being moved around to face Lancer again and gazed at him sardonically.
"Look, if I was going to hurt you, I'd have done it by now, and more creatively than you're probably expecting too." It flashed him a smile that would have been pleasant if its teeth weren't pointed.
Lancer continued to shake.
The ghost seemed a little taken aback by this reception, looked at him for a moment with a thoughtful expression (except that everyone knew ghosts didn't really think), and then sighed.
"We haven't gotten off to a good start, have we?" it asked. "I really wasn't expecting to do damage control tonight. To be honest, you're the first person who's actually noticed what I am. Most people aren't bright enough." It carefully placed the book it had been flipping through back on the shelf and continued.
"Well, I suppose the first order of business would be to get you a seat. Come on." And it gently steered him towards a corner where there were a collection of tables. Lancer was too frightened to protest, and perceptive enough that he knew fighting this strange abduction would be a bad idea. He sat down, and the ghost drifted off towards the front desk.
By the time it returned, carrying the stack of novels Lancer had collected and subsequently dropped, the portly man had regained control of himself and processed what the ghost had said to him so far. Whoever it was, this ghost wasn't violent or an immediate threat, though hidden motives weren't to be discounted. There was a chance he'd be able to reason his way out of the situation.
"You seemed to have calmed down a little. Are you going to be all right?"
"Eventually." In a few months and a therapy bill, most likely.
"Good." It smiled again, but didn't show its teeth this time, and sat down. "I really am sorry I frightened you like that, and I wish it hadn't happened. I think I'm lucky I didn't give you a heart attack or something. And I know I'm a ghost and you seemed to be terrified of them, but can you accept my apology?" It extended a hand but Lancer didn't complete the gesture, instead eyeing the appendage warily.
"What do you want with me?" he asked.
"Want with you?" The ghost blinked behind its glasses. "I'm simply making sure you're calm and not going to call attention to me so I can get on with my research without worrying. I'm writing something set a little further in the future than I have knowledge of, and I need to get my facts straight. Like I said earlier, I'm not going to hurt you."
"You're a writer?" Lancer asked with surprise. That implied intelligence and creativity, two things ghosts weren't known for.
"Yes," the ghost answered with a tinge of pride. "Fiction, nonfiction, poetry… I don't like to tie myself down to any given genre, though I have a bit of a soft spot for that last one." It paused and looked at Lancer speculatively. "I take it you're in a somewhat similar field, then?"
"I teach English," admitted Lancer.
"Ah." The ghost nodded. "That would explain your taste in literature." It picked up a book from the top of the stack beside him and began to thumb through it. "I can't say I've heard of this Mr. Rushdie, though. After my time. He does some interesting things. Is all modern literature like this?"
It was treating him as an equal? Curious? Eager to learn? This was nothing like the other ghosts Lancer had encountered. Was it possible that there were different kinds of ghosts? That would mean Lancer was biased by his previous encounters and was prejudging the creature across from him. That was very likely, actually. He'd never encountered a ghost that wasn't already hell-bent on destruction.
Lancer realized that the ghost was still politely waiting for an answer and he resolved to answer it … him as he would anyone else. He smiled nervously, leaned forward slightly, and explained to his companion that every writer these days seemed to have their own style, completely different from anyone else's, and that the same went for modern poetry.
That sparked the ghost's interest, and Lancer led him to the poetry section, where he pulled out a few example titles that the writer took raptly. The ensuing discussion of modern metrics was interrupted by a polite "ahem?"
The two men turned to look at the librarian, who stared up at them owlishly.
"We're closing in twenty minutes," she announced, "so if you or your friend are taking any books out, William, you'd better do it soon."
"Thanks, Joan," Lancer said warmly. "I'll be up at the counter in a moment."
The woman nodded briskly and headed off to find other patrons. Lancer turned back to the ghost.
"I suppose I should be going then," he said with an apologetic smile. "I … You opened my eyes tonight, I think. Thank you."
The ghost laughed. "We're not all bad, are we? Here, I'll fetch your novels while you finish getting those history books you were looking for. Saves time." He waited for Lancer's brief nod of consent before moving off.
The teacher had found the first three books on his list by the time the writer reappeared beside him.
"This reminds me. I haven't finished my research yet."
"But you can just stay after closing, can't you?"
"I don't want to push my luck in Phantom's town. Not after our last encounter."
Lancer's eyebrows shot up and he turned towards the second man. "You've run into Phantom?"
The writer nodded. "A couple years ago, yes. We didn't exactly part on friendly terms and I don't want to repeat the experience. He destroyed a manuscript and I … got a little vindictive."
"Understandable." Disrespect for the written word annoyed Lancer too. "There, that should be the last one." He pulled a thick green book off the shelf and added it to his stack, then slid the novels the ghost was holding on top of it.
"Thanks," he continued. "Er … I think you might be able to take some books out, if you'd like. Joan would give you a card, no problem."
"Take books with me?" The ghost sounded surprised and slightly suspicious. "I hadn't even considered that. Are you sure?"
Lancer shrugged. "It's worth a try, anyway. If you got your books and met me at the counter, we could have you signed up within a minute."
"I'll meet you there then." The ghost sounded excited. "Now, where was it…?" He began scanning the shelves and Lancer left him to it.
Ten minutes later they were both heading out the front doors of the library, each carrying an equally large stack of books. Lancer glanced over at the ghost's stack and smirked at seeing a number of poetry books in it.
"So," he started, "which historical period are you researching?"
"Late 1960s, early 1970s. It's a drama and I think it would work best in that era. Unfortunately, I don't have experience past World War One, so…." He drew attention to his books by raising them slightly.
Lancer winced at the implication of that sentence. "I'm sorry."
"I'm over it." The ghost shrugged. "And I guess now's a good a time as ever to actually introduce myself. My name is Ghostwriter."
"William Lancer. Um…." He tried to shift his books to extend his right hand. Ghostwriter did the same, then gave up and laughed.
"Agree to shake as soon as possible?"
Lancer cracked a smile. "Agreed. That's my car up there."
He indicated a vintage Oldsmobile, and about thirty seconds later they had arrived at its trunk. Both men set their burdens down on it and shook hands tentatively. Just as they were releasing their grips, a bolt of green energy shot out of sky and melted the pavement not even a foot from where they were standing. Both Lancer and Ghostwriter instinctively ducked and dove towards the side of the car for shelter.
From his "hiding place," Lancer turned back to see that his companion hadn't made it to safety and was instead being held firmly at the wrist by Phantom, who had a small bit of ectoenergy hovering around the hand he wasn't using.
"Stay away from him," Phantom growled. "I don't know what you're trying at, Ghostwriter, but I'm not letting you get away with it."
"I'm not doing anything!" There was a panicky edge to the ghost's voice.
"Like heck you are. I remember last time."
"Last time," Ghostwriter retorted, "I did it for your own good. You learned, didn't you?"
"Maybe," Phantom admitted grudgingly. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let you do it to someone else. No one should be forced to rhyme. Even Lancer."
Hold on, Lancer though, crouched beside his car. Phantom's accusing Ghostwriter of wanting to harm me? I may have thought that too, but he's innocent of this. He stood up to his full height.
"He hasn't done anything, Phantom," he said in his best authoritarian voice, striding forward. "Let him go."
The younger ghost whipped his head in Lancer's direction but didn't relinquish his hold on Ghostwriter.
"Just because he hasn't done something doesn't mean he isn't going to," he spat fiercely.
"He isn't going to." Lancer folded his arms. "He's said as much twice to me in the last half hour, and apologized for scaring me."
"He scared you? That's exactly what I mean!"
"I, I," stammered Ghostwriter, trying to come up with an explanation that wouldn't get him into more trouble. Lancer caught his eye briefly and gave an encouraging smile.
"I simply saw him in the library," he said levelly, "and since I'm afraid of ghosts, I got scared. Ghostwriter was nice enough to apologize for something that wasn't really even his fault."
"Uh…." Phantom obviously hadn't been expecting that answer, but he rallied well. "So you were afraid of him but now you're getting along?"
"We seem to be." Ghostwriter flashed a grin. "And while I've got your attention, I only came here to do research. I'm heading straight home as soon as you let me go. Or do I maybe need to pull out my Keyboard again?"
Phantom let go of the writer's wrist as though he'd been burnt. "Okay, okay. You're, uh, sure about this, sir?" He looked worriedly at Lancer.
"I'm sure,' Lancer nodded pointedly. "He can't be the only ghost in town tonight. I expect you have work to do."
"Right! I'll be off then!" Phantom rose into the air holding a pose straight off a comic book cover. "But don't think I won't keep an eye out for you." He glared at Ghostwriter, then flew off. Ghostwriter moved closer to Lancer then, massaging his wrist.
"Thanks for that. I've definitely overstayed my welcome now." He looked warily up into the sky in the direction Phantom had disappeared in, as if expecting the ghostly hero to reappear at any moment. "I owe you."
"You were falsely accused. I had to do something." Lancer shrugged and reddened slightly. He then unlocked his car, swung open a rear door, and moved back towards the trunk to get his books. Once he had them in the back seat, he caught sight of Ghostwriter in his mind's eye and realized that it would likely be a difficult and slow journal for him back to the Fenton Portal he must have come through. Lancer straightened up and met the ghost's eyes where he was standing a few feet away from the car.
"Do you want to put your books in here as well? I can drive you to the Portal. It would probably be faster."
Ghostwriter looked at him in incredulous shock, and Lancer was able to read his thoughts straight off his face. A human was volunteering to be in his company, even if it was only for a little while? Or was it that someone, regardless of … life status, was volunteering? After a moment, the ghost stammered his appreciation of the gesture and they formed a second pile inside the car.
As Lancer was turning out of the parking lot, he asked the ghost beside him about the history he had with Phantom because the interaction between the two of them had made him curious.
"I thought I'd explained?" Ghostwriter asked him back, then when Lancer remained silent, sighed and continued, "It was Christmas Eve, and he was showing no Christmas spirit at all. Not even remorse for incinerating my manuscript. So I wrote him into the second version."
"That doesn't sound like something he'd be upset over," commented Lancer.
"It is when I used a Keyboard that makes people act out the story as its being written.."
Lancer swung his eyes off the road to stare at Ghostwriter. "You can write people into stories?"
The ghost shrugged. "Every ghost was one power unique to them. The Keyboard's mine."
Right, Lancer thought, and turned his gaze forward again. "What have I gotten myself into?" he muttered to himself. That was an incredibly dangerous power, by the sounds of it, and he'd just invited the ghost who could use it into his vehicle. But then, Lancer reasoned, he hadn't done anything to anger him and they'd been in each other's company for long enough for the ghost to attack if he'd wanted to. He was starting to prejudge again, he realized, and shook himself out of it.
"You know, I grew up in the era you're researching," he remarked. A new subject was a good way to get past an awkward moment. "I may be able to answer some questions. If you'd like."
"That would be great! Would you mind describing what it felt like living during the … Cold War, wasn't it called?"
"Sure. I had mostly a normal childhood, except that we had drills and anti-communist propaganda…." Lancer's explanation lasted until he turned onto the Fentons' street. Ghostwriter listened avidly, nodding every once in a while as though he was taking mental notes. He occasionally made a comment or asked a question that led Lancer onto a slightly different topic, and the teacher was impressed at just how intelligent the ghost seemed to be. He was definitely going to have to do some restructuring of how he viewed ghosts from now on.
They parked a few houses from FentonWorks and gathered Ghostwriter's books from the back seat.
"Thanks for the lift," the ghost said awkwardly, "and the information and conversation, and trying to get over your fears. I appreciate it."
"You're welcome." Shakespeare, he'd thought Ghostwriter hadn't noticed those jitters.
"I also want to say," the second man went on sadly, "that I'm sorry this isn't another time and place. I can't help feeling like we might have been friends."
"It" — Lancer felt something strong and unfamiliar rising inside him — "It doesn't have to be too late." What? Why had he said that? At his age? This was a ghost he was talking to, one who apparently had a temper and could basically force people to do his will. He wasn't that desperately lonely, was he?
And judging by the happy shock on Ghostwriter's face, he was equally lonesome. For … much the same reasons as Lancer's, maybe? Unappreciated and largely unacknowledged intelligence? Maybe it was a good thing he'd said what he had.
"Thank you. " Ghostwriter's voice cracked slightly as he said the words. He looked at Lancer awkwardly for a moment before turning to face the Fenton home. Then he blanched and stiffened. "Oh Milton…."
"I can't go home with these books."
"Because 'real world items' are illegal and I've already had enough brushes with the law. And after you helped me get a card and everything too." He'd turned back towards Lancer and the car by this point, practically radiating regret.
Brushes with the law, thought Lancer worriedly. He forced those thoughts down, figuring there was some kind of explanation and he'd gone too far towards friendship to run now. Instead, he stated his surprise that there was law in the Ghost Zone.
"There are a few different kinds, actually," Ghostwriter told him bitterly. "But there's one ghost, Walker, who's obsessed with rules and most ghosts are afraid of him. As far as Walker's concerned, anything he doesn't like is illegal, and he's got too many minions for anyone to mount a rebellion, even if we'd like to."
So there were politics there as well, then? Lancer had thought the Ghost Zone was full of chaos and anarchy, since, well, that's all he'd seen ghosts create. It sounded like there were systems and communication, which suggested a culture. Lancer could only wonder what that would entail, and how'd find out about it. Oh, the glories of research!
"I guess these stay here then," the ghost said sadly, moving to place his burden back in Lancer's car. "I'll have to visit the library again sometime."
He gave a resigned sigh. That delay would put a crimp on Ghostwriter's plans, Lancer realized. Unless…
"Why don't you stay too, then?" he asked. "I think we've managed to clear up the problem with Phantom. You wouldn't be a bother."
"But I said I was going home…."
"I doubt he'll attack you if you're near me. I trust you, and I think that's gotten through to him. Or," he added, putting on a mock poker face, "would you rather go back and have to risk a second trip?"
Lancer still couldn't believe he was actually doing this. It wasn't exactly that Ghostwriter was dead (life challenged?), but that it was him, William Lancer, going out of his way to befriend someone and offering up his private space. He rarely did either. But there was some kind of instinct compelling him, it felt like, a sense that great things might come of the relationship, on a small scale. They both needed this.
Ghostwriter barely even thought about his answer.
"You're sure?" His tone was hopeful but cautious.
"As much as I'll even be." Lancer smiled. "Climb in. It's not much further."
The ghost hesitated, then made his way to the passenger seat. When he'd buckled in and Lancer had started the engine, he spoke: "If you're going to help me like this, I feel as though I owe you something."
Lancer chuckled. He knew where that was coming from. Dear Chaucer, they really were alike, weren't they?
"Well," he said as he swung the car back onto the street, "you could tell me about the Ghost Zone?"