Chapter 1: The Swish of the Axe
On a muggy June night in Uptown Manhattan, the air was uncommonly still. In a less busy part of the area, the usual sounds of traffic echoed from distant corners, a sound that formed a vital part of the mosaic of New York life. One particular street corner found a young man buying a hot dog from a stand, his reward after working late. He was about to raise it gratefully to his mouth when a most unusual sound distracted him. It was a high-pitched, alien laugh that seemed to get closer. This sound was followed by a much less foreign sound, the din of a siren. The young city slicker turned around just in time to see a bizarre, animalistic creature burst around the corner, flying with impressive speed fifteen feet above the ground, before racing down the next street. Seconds later, a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor screeched at tyre-burning speed around the kerb and thundered after the apparition, engine screaming. The yuppie turned back to look at the hot dog vendor open-mouthed. "What the..."
"Ah, you must be new around town," said the salesman, in the tones of someone who had seen it all. "They're the Ghostbusters. You'll get used to seeing them pretty soon." He then busied himself with preparing sausages as the younger man walked away, shaking his head. "Yep, looks like business as usual for them..."
Egon Spengler's frenzied directions rang out, followed each time by another lurid lurch as Winston Zeddemore hurled Ecto-1 around corner after corner. The winding curves of New York's streets loomed thick and fast, so that Egon's directions sounded increasingly like the bellows of a drill sergeant leading his troops on parade. The next minute though, they emerged onto a main street, leaving a clear shot at the cackling blue-pink Class 5 demon they were chasing.
"OK," said Raymond Stantz, studying the display for the roof-mounted proton cannon in front of him and gripping the joystick with one hand. "We've got him!" He squeezed the trigger and a searing volley of protons flashed away from a point a few feet above Ray's head. The young technician's aim was good, but the ghost was better. A swish to the right and the stream missed him by a foot. Ray kept his finger down, but the spectre was simply too nimble as the proton stream lashed uselessly at the night air.
"Just like Space Invaders, eh, Ray?" cracked Peter, mocking a remark the younger Ghostbuster had made a minute earlier.
"Bwah-hah-hah-hah!" laughed the ghost as he turned around in mid-air. Suddenly, he swooped down and into the ground, still maintaining his speed, laying an ominous trail of slime. "Whoa!" shouted Winston as he swerved to avoid the spectral slick. He spun the steering wheel but it was too late...
"That's cheating!" yelled Peter as Ecto-1 spun through three-sixty degrees before drunkenly lurching onto the kerb, sending several pedestrians and a cyclist scattering as they jumped or skidded for their lives. Winston quickly got the machine under control but Bluey had pulled away.
"Hey...that trick's only cool when James Bond does it," grumbled the African-American.
Up ahead, their quarry was chuckling in satisfaction when a sudden rumble and a blaring horn alerted him to a new danger. Spinning around, Bluey saw a ten-wheel Mack truck thundering right at him. "GAH!" The ghost yelled in horror and pulled up, but the giant vehicle clipped him as it rolled imperiously past. Bluey was hurled through the air, all control over his ectoplasmic body lost, before cannoning into a cluster of large rubbish bins. Behind, Egon detected the disruption on Ecto-1'S PKE meter. "He's stopped!"
"But why?" said Ray a second before the ten-wheeled titan stormed by on the opposite lane. Noticing the vehicle, he added, "Say, you don't think?"
"...the guy just put up an entry for America's Funniest Ectoplasmic Accidents?" finished Peter. "Nah..."
"No, look. There!" Egon leant forward and pointed. The Class 5 was recovering to his feet at the side of the road. "Stop the car, Winston. This is our chance!" Winston half-spun Ecto to a halt and the foursome disembarked quickly, donning their proton packs just as Bluey took flight again.
"Alright, Bluey Boy, we can do this the hard way, or the really hard way," shouted Peter, switching on. The other three followed suit and the packs clicked and hummed with energy. "Your choice."
The demon laughed, each cackle filled with haughty derision. "Just try me, Ghostbusters. Take your best shot!" The Ghostbusters opened fire. Bluey jumped clear and the four green-and-blue proton beams slammed into the brick wall behind them. Their target dived at them, opened his mouth, and let hurl with a stream of gas, which enveloped the four men. Immediately they fell about coughing and spluttering.
"G-gas!" Ray grabbed his throat and retched, and it was then that he saw it. Out of nowhere, an image of an imposing yellow-green skinned demon hove into his vision. In a moment, the mystery demon smiled with malice, turned, pulled a lever on something and...then, the vision was gone. It had lasted all of three seconds.
"GOT HIM!" Winston's voice jerked Ray out of his reverie. Winston had scored a bullseye, capturing Bluey as he flew off and away from the scene. "Quick, he's breaking away!" His throat burning, Ray hoisted himself to his feet and joined his confinement stream to Winston's. A few seconds later Peter and Egon had recovered and now all four streams were on their enemy.
"No!" he shouted as he writhed uselessly in the streams. "Let me go or you'll pay the price!"
Egon wheeled out the trap and stepped on the release pedal. The striped doors snapped open and wavy white lines of ghost-attracting particles flew into the air, snaring Bluey and sucking him into the trap. The doors snapped shut, cutting off the demon's final yell of rage and sealing him in.
"Whew," Winston exhaled deeply, perching his thrower against his right shoulder and wiping his brow with the other hand. "It was a hairy ride, but looks like we've won," he commented with some relief. Peter raised an eyebrow.
"Hairy ride, you say...Well it wasn't *me* who was driving," said the psychologist. "Sometimes you scare even me, Winston."
Egon picked up the full trap, which sparked ominously in his hand. "It's best we get this into storage right away,"
"OK, Egon," replied Ray. "Let's head for home..." They all got into Ecto-1, leaving a tangle of upended trash cans and a seared and blackened brick wall as the only reminder of their little battle.
In the Firehouse's expanded basement, Egon slotted the smoking ghost trap into the folding slot on the front of the Ecto-Containment Unit. He paused to suppress a yawn before folding the mechanism shut.
"Tired, Egon? Working too hard again, eh?" asked Peter, leaning casually against the side of the unit.
"Ghostbusting always marches on, Peter," Egon replied curtly as he primed the trap. "Much like any other science."
"Ghostbusting, a science? Ah," Peter hesitated. "I won't touch that one." Egon pulled the lever and the ghost was sucked into the innards of the powerful prison chamber with a satisfying whooshing sound.
"Everyone still OK after that gas attack?" asked Ray, who had been checking one of the displays on the ECU's control panel.
"I'm fine," Egon answered. "And that's the second time you've asked. Are you worrying about something, Raymond?"
"Not really. It's just that...during the attack, I had a weird vision."
Egon cocked an eyebrow. "Go on?" Ray told the two about what he had seen, and they listened intently.
"Very interesting, Ray," Egon mused, after a brief pause. "It could have been a simple reaction to the gas he used on us. Certain stimuli can trigger reactions, even intense ones." Egon, however, did not sound entirely convinced of what he was saying.
"Don't worry, Ray," added Peter. "The gooper's safely locked up. He's not gonna be bothering anyone else for a long time."
"Well, I guess so. I just thought I'd tell you guys, that's all."
Egon nodded. "You were right to tell us, Ray. However, I think a better course of action would be to get some sleep. You too, Peter."
Ray turned and made for the stairs. Peter followed him for all of three feet before turning back to Egon. "Ahem, I think someone is not following his own advice."
"I just have some things to do in the workshop in here. I'll be up a little later."
"Have it your way, Spengs, but I warn ya, overwork stress isn't nice."
"Strange, Peter. I would have thought that would be something you would be most unfamiliar with." Egon's blue eyes twinkled, the master scientist's substitute for smiling.
"And you would be right. Sweet dreams, you boy genius you." Peter shuffled up the metal stairs sleepily and made for bed. The lights in the main area were out, Janine having long since finished and Winston having seemingly already gone to bed. Two more flights of stairs and Peter reached the master bedroom, where he then heard –
Peter immediately saw what was wrong. Ray was holding a comic, a comic which had slime of a familiar green shade dripping from it. Two seconds later, Slimer, their pet ghost, materialised and immediately started blabbering apologies. "Mee sowwy Way, mee like gommics gooood, didna wanna sliiimey..."
"How could you Slimer, how could you? An authentic Silver Age Commodore Chaos special and you slimed it. Bad ghost!" Ray was clearly very upset.
Peter approached Ray. "Oh, he can't help it," he mocked, imitating Ray's nasal tones. "He's just a ghost, he doesn't know what he's doing, blah, blah, blah,"
"Peter," Ray said in a warning tone.
Peter pointed a finger at Ray. "Now you see how I feel every time he slimes my bed. Every time he scoffs my watermelon. Every time I pull my boots on and find slime in them," the brown-haired man declared, voice rising in tone dramatically. Then he stepped forward and laid a hand on Ray's shoulder. "Come on, Ray. Join forces with me against the menace and you never need read a slimy comic ever again."
Ray sighed. "Oh, Peter, but he doesn't really understand. He's not like us."
"Same old line," Peter grumbled, turning to his own bed. Ray turned to Slimer.
"All right, Slimer, I'll forgive you, on one condition," He beckoned with his finger, telling Slimer to come closer. "You tell me where Peter usually keeps his imported Belgian chocolates." he enquired stealthily.
"Oh, plotting something, are we, Stantz?" interjected Peter, turning back to the pair. "I'm hurt. I offer you to join me, and you join forces with him instead. So, what is it?"
"You're tired, Peter. Go to bed."
"Oh, I'll go to bed alright. And carry a thrower under my pillow." Peter removed his jumpsuit and sat down on the bed. "I've always known there was a dirty, devious mind behind that boyish exterior of yours." he drawled, clicking his fingers and pointing at Ray. He rolled beneath the covers and was soon asleep.
The piercing trill of the alarm sent all four Ghostbusters leaping out of bed. They pulled on their jumpsuits before sliding down the pole and assembling before Janine at her desk.
"Rise and shine, guys," said the secretary crisply. "Trouble on the Upper East Side. I got the address." She ripped off the sheet on which she had scribbled what little details there were and gave it to Ray.
"Thanks, Janine. Let's roll." Seconds later they were on their way, speeding along the streets of Manhattan at a fair clip, though nowhere near as fast as the previous night.
"Can't believe it's morning already," said Peter, stretching and yawning at the same time. "There should a law against working at this hour."
"There's a multi-tasker if I ever saw one," said Winston, jerking his thumb back at Peter. "He can yawn, stretch and complain at the same time. Anyway, what've got this time?"
Ray looked at the scrap of paper in his hand. "Disturbance at 57 Normandy Street. Seems a bunch of ghosts, possibly poltergeists, though no-one's sure, flew out of the nearby forest and trashed a family barbecue. They fear some of them have gone to ground in the houses themselves and are waiting to attack."
Peter didn't look too enthused. "Well, I guess that's –Wait, hold up there. A forest? On the Upper East Side?"
"Yeah, of course, Pete," replied Winston. "There's always been a forest there. You know? Where those two students were found murdered last week?"
"What!?" Peter looked aghast. "And Janine forgot to mention them?"
"Well, I very much doubt those two students were wearing proton packs, Peter," Egon said. "So I suggest you calm yourself."
"Yeah, but, still, a forest in Manhattan?" he said, confused.
Winston was unimpressed. "You don't know about it? Man, and you call yourself a real New Yorker."
He swung Ecto deftly around a couple of more corners, and the houses started to take on a more regal, expensive look. They were clearly in the most expensive part of town. Soon, after a while, the street came to an end, and asphalt gave way to grass. Beyond the grass lay the forest. It looked forbidding, giant oaks standing firm, clustered together, arranged in such a matter as to give the impression of a mouth, leading into the bowels of some terrible monster.
"OK, this is it, 57 Normandy Street," announced Ray. The foursome disembarked and began to unload their equipment. They paused to take in the sight of the largest house, which was built out of chalk-white stone. The architecture bore a distinctly Gallic touch, to match the street's name. A short flight of steps led up to the heavy, patterned wooden door, which had a suitably large iron knocker on the front.
"Can't wait to head on in. Definitely no problems getting a decent fee," spoke Peter, his spirits raising.
Egon adjusted his glasses. "No, Peter, you won't be going in. You'll be taking the forest."
Peter stared at the forest entrance in near-horror. "Me? In there? All alone? Oh noooo," he sang. "Not for all the pizza in Italy."
"C'mon, Pete m'man, you're not scared, are you?" asked Winston. "The great Peter Venkman, scared?"
"No, I'm not, Winston," shot back Peter, a definite edge to his voice. "But remember, two students were murdered in there last week!"
Winston placed a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Hey, shit happens."
Peter, almost without thinking, removed Winston's hand from his shoulder. It was very unlike Winston, who had seen his share of innocent lives wiped out in Vietnam, to be so blasé about such occurrences.
"Don't forget your proton pack, Peter," said Ray, handing his colleague his backpack and thrower. "I've tuned it up good, so you'll have no problem battling the horrors of the forest."
Peter looked like Ray had just handed him a slimed Captain Steel comic. "Yes, Ray, I feel *so* confident now."
"Okay, Peter." said Egon. "If you need us, we'll be in the house. Be careful." With those words, he and the other two turned heel and walked up the steps to the front door. Peter gulped and started to march towards the forest opening. Reaching it, he gulped again as he realised how dark the inside of the forest looked. Passing under the edge of canopy, it suddenly felt like the air temperature had dropped several degrees. He drew his thrower and powered it up. The rising hum of the cyclotron sounded five times louder in the still of the forest. Treading forward, keeping his footfalls as quiet as possible, Venkman had to strain his eyes slightly as the darkness threatened to blank everything out. A few seconds later he decided to use the flashlight instead. Normally the Ghostbusters wouldn't use it in such a situation, so as not to alert any ghosts, but as Peter figured there was no Egon around to chide him for it, he thought he might as well switch it on. However, the artificial light only served to expose Venkman as to how alien and creepy the dark oak trees that dwarfed him on each side looked. The nerve of those guys, said Peter's inner voice, sending me in here while they check out the high life. If there's a God, he sure has it in for Peter Venkman today.
Three minutes later, a sudden wind brushed against Peter's face. Raising his thrower, he looked around for a potential source, but saw nothing. The wind intensified and now it seemed to be coming from all directions. Then Peter heard something that made him freeze. There was a voice, an unearthly, horrible voice, that seemed to be carrying on the wind.
It felt to Peter like liquid nitrogen was filling his insides. He moved to power up his thrower, then realised he had already done so. Get a grip on yourself, Peter, no use losing your shit now...
Then all of a sudden, it stopped. The wind slackened off, the voice was silenced. Peter, however, had had enough.
"Alright, spooks, show yourselves! You don't mess around with Mama Venkman's kid like that and get to tell the neighbours about it!"
A hellish, feral rumble sounded from Peter's right. The psychologist turned and gasped in horror. The tree nearest him was mutating, coming alive. The wrinkles and knots in the ancient oak were forming into a ghoulish faceand it was growling, sounding like a lion's roar that was being played back at too slow a speed. Then all of the trees came alive and Venkman was surrounded on all sides by the giant demonic oaks.
"This is it!" Peter squeezed the trigger of his thrower – and nothing happened except that feeble sparks issued half-heartedly from the end of the proton rifle. Then the trees closed in on him, their faces contorted in evil grins, their branches turned to thrashing tentacles. Peter's fear was suddenly overtaken by sadness. He was going to die, he just knew it, he would never see any of his friends again...Egon...Ray...Winston...even Slimer...
"YAAAGGHH!" A branch had wrapped around Peter's lower right leg and was hoisting him high, high into the air. Venkman felt his stomach lurch as gravity attempted, to no avail, to send him plummeting back to the ground. For a minute it held him there, and Peter was aware of all of the tree-demons hissing and seething at him, wanting to get a bite of the intruder. The next second and the Ghostbuster was thrown high, high into the ground. Peter screamed as he began to fall back to Earth, he fell, fell, and fell...and then he slammed into the ground ...
Wait, he wasn't dead. Peter opened his eyes. He appeared to be in some sort of courtroom. The judges' stand stood in front of him, tall and forbidding, but Peter could not see the judge in the darkness. Either side of him, rows of benches could be seen, but he could not make out any of the occupants. He then became aware that his hands were bound behind his back, and that his head was resting on a block. An executioner's block. And the executioner was standing a foot away, his head covered by the traditional shroud.
"PETER VENKMAN!" bellowed a booming, imperious voice from the judge's position. "You are here for the heinous crime of conspiring to wrongfully capture and imprison esteemed members of the spirit community. How do you plead?"
Peter couldn't believe this. How did I get here? Was this a trap? Have the others been captured too?
A snide peal of laughter broke out from the gallery. Peter could now see that the benches were occupied by a ghastly phalanx of minor spirits – all turned out to see the Ghostbuster in front of the kangaroo court.
"WRONG ANSWER!" bellowed the invisible judge. "Peter Venkman, I sentence you...to termination with EXTREME prejudice!"
"No!" Peter's shout of protest was of no use. The executioner drew his axe and raised it high into the air.
"Three," boomed the judge, "two...one..."
Peter Venkman screamed. It was the last thing he uttered before the sharp axe swished down and took his head clean off.
"Done in one chop, Your Dishonour, sir!" declared the executioner, holding the blood-stained axe in one hand.
"Well done, Dr. Stantz. You have done fine work."
Peter's head stirred. Oh my God. Oh my God! I'm still alive and...no! That's my body up there! And...Dr. Stantz...
The executioner removed his shroud to reveal...Ray. "Yes, Your Dishonour, it was pretty fine, wasn't it?" Ray sneered down at his former friend's dying and disembodied head.
"It was a good idea of you to sabotage Dr. Venkman's proton pack!" thundered the judge. "And arrange a fake call! Brilliant work. You have a bright future in front of you, Raymond Stantz. Now...for the others!"
Peter groaned in misery as the last stirrings of life left him. No...no...NO...
Umpteen billion light years away, Peter Venkman awoke with a start and sat bolt upright in his bed, the last horrible images playing across his vision.