A/N: This is part story, part reflection. It was just some dark, random plot bunny rattling around in my head.

A Phantom Sinister

or, Maddie's Descent into Madness

I clench my hands tightly over the gun, ready to pull the trigger and end this hunt once and for all. My blood pounds in my head as I aim the bazooka, the weight resting heavily on my shoulder. Before I can take action, though, he looks at me with fluorescent green eyes and in a flash of a second he is disappeared. Invisible or gone from here? I do not know. With him, I never know.

Jack's face has collapsed into angry disappointment. The ghost boy has escaped yet again. I sigh and lower my gun. I hate seeing my husband so upset. I pat his shoulder and start making my way to the RV. "Let's go home, Jack. I'll make cookies." He brightens marginally and follows me to the vehicle. The ride home is silent.

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The solutions in the beakers bubble cheerfully as I carefully monitor the temperature. The solution in the beaker farthest to the left has turned bright green. Green like deadly radioactivity, green like Phantom's eerie eyes. The sheer thought of the ghost boy makes me angry enough to grip my pen so hard that it snaps cleanly in two.

How on earth has Phantom managed to weasel into every aspect of my life? He invades my thoughts far too often for comfort. I see him whenever I work in the lab, whenever I put on my hazmat suit; wherever I go and whatever I do, he is there. Oddly, it's gotten to point that I see him even when I look at my children, especially at Danny. It's driving me mad, this obsession. And I think—I know—that the only way to free myself of it is to kill Phantom. Remove him from my sight, my mind, my world for good.

The question is: How? Jack and I have slaved and labored over poisons and weapons, have chased the ghost boy all over town, have perfected our shooting techniques to the point of ridiculousness, yet we still haven't caught him...

The green solution boils over the rim of the beaker, dripping over the edge of the counter like ghostly blood.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Mom?" He sounds hesitant. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, sweetie," I say, my voice coming out too high and thin. Danny stares at me with sapphire eyes. He looks so much like Phantom, it scares me. I look at him and I don't see my son anymore. I see a ghost that I want to kill. It scares me so much, sometimes.

"Er, okay..." He shifts his backpack on his thin shoulder and takes a step backwards, his expression unreadable. He starts to turn away, pauses, then flees from the kitchen. I wonder if I looked angry at him. I sigh and begin to load the dishwasher.

At exactly 11: 41, we get a call. The mall is being attacked...again. Shouldn't they have better anti-ghost security by now? Did they not put up that anti-ghost shield that Jack and I gave them? At least it means that we will see Phantom today, and have another chance at catching him. Maybe today will be the lucky day. At that thought, my need for vengeance comes roaring back. If I have anything to say about it, that ghost boy has terrorized this town for the last time. We are going to get him today.

I can feel it.

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We do not catch Phantom. We came so close, so very close, but then that mob of people got in the way, and we couldn't very well shoot into the crowd, could we? That would make us, not the ghosts, the evil ones. So we let him leave unscathed, just for today.

The mall is torn to pieces. Jack and I remind the owner about the ghost shield we gave him last time the mall was attacked. When we get home, we head straight for the lab. We have work to do.

As I weld metal, I mentally replay the fight at the mall. It was that dragon ghost again, and Phantom had appeared, eager to escalate the destruction. After he caught the dragon in his thermos (where did he get a Fenton thermos anyway? We certainly never gave him one), we had seized the opportunity and tried to capture him. He had looked tired as he dodged our ectoblasts; one of my shots even grazed his suit. His black suit, black like evil, black like death.

I glare resentfully at the partially-created gun lying on the lab counter. We will catch Phantom, the sooner the better.

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I have dreams sometimes. Strange dreams, of Phantom with flaming white hair and blue skin, and a physique much more muscular than it actually is. In these dreams, he is always laughing evilly, displaying knife-sharp fangs as he floats above me, a green swirl of ectoplasm encircling his white-gloved hand. He raises his hand, the ectoplasm building, ready to strike at me, when Danny appears, rocketing out of the sky like some rogue bullet. He crashes into Phantom, who bursts into blue flame (blue like Danny's eyes). The fire engulfs both Phantom and my son, and I scream and scream and scream and Danny rises out the azure fire and unties the ropes that bind me.

I wonder why Danny always saves me?

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I am in the lab again. I practically live here now. Even Jack is not as obsessive about ghost hunting as I am. But I can't help it. I need to work, need to be ready to catch Phantom, because when I do eliminate him I will finally be able to get on with my life.

It does not help that Phantom has been lying low for the past week. I wonder what he is plotting, because he must be plotting something because no ghost disappears suddenly for a week unless it's preparing a massive attack or something of that nature. He will strike again soon, I am sure of it. I brood over the ghost boy, listing and re-listing every irresponsible, dangerous, malicious action he has taken.

Jack pokes his head into the room and asks what's for dinner. Annoyed at being interrupted, I glare at him and tell him to take the kids to the Nasty Burger. He meekly leaves, and I resume my work.

Who has time to make dinner when there are evil ghosts to catch?

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Friday afternoon. I putter around the kitchen, driven out of the lab by my need for food. The house is silent, and I wonder where my family is. Jazz is probably at the library, and Danny with his friends. But Jack? I am mulling over my husband's possible whereabouts when I hear the door snap open then shut again, and Danny skids into the kitchen. He stops when he sees me, and for a second his eyes look impossibly sad.

I smile at him. "Hi, sweetie. How was your day?" He gazes at me warily before muttering "fine" and leaving without getting any food. I frown. He does not want to be around me, that much is obvious. I consider going up to his room and talking to him, but somehow I don't think he would appreciate it.

Jazz and Jack appear in time for dinner. Jazz had indeed been at the library and Jack, surprisingly, had gone to the store to buy food. Most of it is chocolate and hot dogs, but the kids don't seem to mind. I sit at the table with them, and they are disconcertingly quiet. They look resolutely at their plates, ignoring me except when I ask for a hot dog bun or ketchup. After a few minutes, I cannot stand the tense silence anymore, and I stand and make my way to the lab. No one says anything.

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My hands clutch the edge of the lab counter as I sit by myself. They are mad at me for always being down here. Can't they see that this is important work?

I think of Danny, who seemed so unhappy earlier. When was the last time I talked to him? Or to Jack or Jazz, for that matter? When was the last time we did something as a family? I can't remember.

I should go back upstairs and have dinner with them. I should focus, first and foremost, on being a mother, not a scientist or ghost hunter. I have let my work, my obsession, get in the way of my judgment. I am not better than the ghosts that I hunt.

No. I am worse than the ghosts that I hunt. I have alienated myself from my family. I am the irresponsible, malicious one here, not Phantom. And yet...can I leave my research now? For the past...however long...weeks? months?...getting rid Phantom has been my reason for living. After he is gone, then I can focus on my family. When he is no longer threatening my town, my family, and myself, I will be able to move on and live my life. I turn back to my charts. Let them be mad. They will understand eventually.

That night, in my dream, Danny does not save me.