Spooky Brew—Chapter 8
The really amazing thing—the thing so amazing that Sweden was toying with the idea of ordering specially printed ribbons to commemorate it—was that no one could find a single flaw in Denmark's reasoning. Coffee as the polar opposite of beer, undoing its effects, made sense. There was nothing magical about it; people did it every day. They had just witnessed it working.
"The only question is," said Sweden as they discussed it back in the secure room, "will we be able to find enough coffee in this place? The ghost must have drunk thousands of liters of beer by now."
"Who says we have to find it here?" said Norway. "I've got tons of coffee at home. Literally—I just did my quarterly restocking run a couple of weeks ago."
"Wait, can we do that?" said Iceland. "Just leave and come back?"
"I don't see why not," said Denmark. "The three of us did it once before. Come on, let's get the hell out of here. We can take a few hours to clean up, replace our gear, and work out how to use the coffee without having to worry about the ghost sneaking up on us."
"Can we be sure it won't follow us?" said Sweden.
"Yes," said Åland simply. "It's lying low for now, trying to rebuild its strength. At least, it was right before you guys cured me."
"It is so weird that you know that," said Denmark. "It's like you were wired into its mind! What else do you know?"
"Nothing helpful, I'm afraid. I'd really rather not think about it. Like you said, let's just get out of here for the time being."
"Okay, terrific!" said Denmark. "Meet back up at the front gate in two hours. No, wait, we have no idea what time it is now. Meet back up at the front gate at…four-thirty. That gives us plenty of time to get done what we need to and still make the coffee and defeat the ghost before it gets dark. We definitely don't want to stay here after dark with it still on the loose."
There was complete agreement, effectively doubling Sweden's theoretical ribbon-ordering workload.
They left the brewery by the same route they had used to enter, moving quickly to hedge their bets against being caught. Only once they had gotten beyond the main gate and shut it behind them were they able to relax.
"So far, so good," said Sweden. "So I guess…we're all going home?"
Most everyone nodded. "Not me, I'm going with you," said Åland. "I think what I really need is to nap for a bit, and I hate trying to sleep when Finland's wide awake. I'm always paranoid that he'll attack me in my sleep."
Finland shrugged as if to say "Fair enough, I probably would."
"That sounds…perfect, actually," said Sweden. The gathering started to break up. "Go on ahead, sweetie. I need to talk to Finland for a second, actually."
That got strange looks from both of them, but Åland went ahead.
Finland gave Sweden a mild glare that translated as "What?"
"I don't think I properly thanked you for pulling my fat out of the fire back there. So…thanks."
"It's nice to know that despite everything, you don't literally want me dead."
"Well, what am I supposed to make of it?"
Looking vaguely embarrassed, Finland fished something out of his jeans pocket and tossed it at Sweden. It was a folded piece of paper. Despite being heavily creased and only just starting to dry off after the beer flood, it had held up pretty well. This turned out to be because it was a high-quality glossy photo of Sweden's sister. What she was doing in the photo isn't important, and anyway Sweden glazed over it because it was either that or suffer an acute attack of hysterical blindness. But the message was clear enough, especially with all the smudges that were disturbingly reminiscent of lip prints.
"I see," he said, handing it back. "I guess I should be thanking her then." Finland snorted and walked off.
Sweden took a long look at the brewery before taking his own leave of the place. From the outside, it looked deceptively normal—just a closed-up building with nothing happening. And for now, maybe nothing was happening.
He must have rented a forklift. That was the only conceivable way Norway could have transported that much coffee on such short notice. Not to mention it was wrapped in plastic on a pallet and everything: big family-sized canisters stacked eight to a side and six deep. In sum, that made…a lot of coffee.
And they were going to brew all of it, every last grain. To that end, Sweden had brought a generator capable of powering one of the modern, non-Brynhildr machinery arrays in the factory. When the coffee was ready, they would pipe it into the bottling facility, where the profusion of tanks and hoses and nozzles and conveyor belts—everything needed to make bottled beer happen—would in this case enable them to target the Beer Ghost no matter where in the room it was.
The other complication was going to be leading it there at the right time…as well as keeping it out of the way beforehand. The tentative plan was that half of them would sweep the brewery, flush out the ghost, and lead and/or drive it as necessary, while the other half were seeing to the coffee. With that in mind, Finland and Iceland revealed their ace in the hole.
"We found a way to make regular weapons work on the ghost," said Iceland. "Go on, show them!"
Finland whipped out his bottle of rotgut with a flourish and uncorked it. There arose an eye-stingingly powerful odor of alcohol, onions, and vinegar, with overtones of aniseed, bread mold, and probably other things, although only a bloodhound with a reckless disregard for its own health and sanity could have made them out. It seemed Sister Finland had gone with her usual ingredients list consisting of everything that was already starting to go bad in the fridge, pantry, and possibly garage. Finland spilled a few drops on the blade of his knife and recorked the bottle, much to everyone's relief. He began spreading the slop around evenly, and surely it was only by some sort of technicality that it didn't instantly dissolve the metal.
"So, what do you think?" said Iceland.
"And this works…how?" said Sweden.
"Think about it: The ghost is a spirit of beer, right? Well, Finland's sister makes spirits at home, and whatever else you can say about her recipes, they're way stronger than beer. It's like hitting the ghost with a more concentrated version of its own power!"
"Aw, man, why couldn't we have figured that out several hours ago?" Denmark complained.
The final issue was that of communication. Finland had this covered too—he brought out half a dozen shiny, fully-charged Nokia cell phones and handed out five of them with a sharp look that clearly said "These are loaners, so don't get any ideas."
By lifting in concert, the six of them were able to move the pallet. They had to go in through the double door that was the main entrance of the brewery, so stealth was right out, but they were beyond caring. They set up on the central factory floor, rearranging some of the equipment on the spot to make it more suitable for its new task. Then they hit a snag.
"Uh, Denmark?" said Norway. "Your copper here uses a gas heating element. The gas is shut off, isn't it?"
Denmark stopped dumping coffee grounds into the malt hopper and ran over to look. "Shit, I forgot about that," he said. "We'll have to jury-rig something. Sweden? Do you know to convert a gas-powered heat source into an electric heat source using only items we already have or can find in the next five minutes?"
"What?" Sweden said incredulously. "What kind of question is that?"
"Let me see that," said Iceland, peering at the situation. It was pretty straightforward—a circular gas tube like that on a kitchen range, only much larger, sitting in a frame that held it several centimeters above the floor. "Okay, I got this. Stand back, everyone. Denmark, I hope you're not too fond of the floor in here." With that, he took a deep breath and slammed his hands against the cement. A fan-shaped array of cracks spread out from the point of impact, running underneath the copper. Several seconds later, thin plumes of glowing lava spurted up out of the floor and licked the bottom of the vessel. Iceland remained in place, frowning with great concentration.
"Nicely done!" said Denmark. "That'll work great!"
"Can't talk," Iceland grunted. "Need to focus."
"It's because you have hardly any natural seismicity here," Norway told Denmark. "He's working from scratch. So I guess he'll need to stay here until the coffee's ready. Who wants to go after the ghost?"
With an expression of total resolve, Finland raised his liquor-coated knife so that light glinted off the blade even though there was hardly any light to glint. It even made that little "tching" noise.
"I'll go too," said Åland. "I owe that dead bastard a smackdown. Finland, let me see your bottle. Don't give me that look; I just need to spike this thing." He brandished his own weapon: a boning knife borrowed from Sweden's kitchen.
"Maybe I should be the third one," said Sweden.
"No," said Denmark. "I'll go."
"Why you?" said Åland.
"Come on," said Denmark. "You two…plus Sweden? Never gonna work. Together, the two of you can open a double-sized can of Finnish whoopass on the Beer Ghost until the end of time, but the instant Sweden gets involved, all that glorious psychopathic cooperation goes right out the window."
"He does have a point," said Norway.
"And Norway and Iceland both need to stay here and work on the coffee. I'm the only one left," Denmark continued. Besides, it's my brewery and my fault the ghost is here in the first place and I've got some of my own smack to lay down."
"I guess we can't argue with that," said Åland. "All right, let's get going."
"Right now?" said Denmark.
"Yes. Right now."
It wouldn't be quite true to say that they had no idea where to look for the ghost. Åland had some idea, based on impressions he had gotten while "under the influence." But he didn't want to talk about it.
"Isn't finding the ghost more important than your comfort zone?" Denmark challenged him the first time it came up.
So they looked everywhere, methodically, room by room and corridor by corridor. No space, not even a janitor's storage closet, was deemed too small or too insignificant to be investigated as a possible hiding place. But they kept coming up empty.
Finally, their search led them to an unpleasantly familiar place: the vehicle service bay where they had landed after the beer flood. It was still sopping wet and stank of the ghost's grossly inferior product, although the actual flow of beer from the annex seemed to have finally stopped. Out in the truck yard, some of the puddles had already dwindled to damp patches.
This was likely because the Beer Ghost was right there, lapping at the ground like a thirsty dog.
The three of them pulled back out of sight before it could notice them.
"Well, we found it," Denmark hissed. "Now what?"
"Now we get its attention, but on our terms," said Åland. "What do you think, Finland? Surprise decoy maneuver?" Finland nodded once. "Denmark, do you know that one?"
"I don't think so," said Denmark.
"Good." Acting as one, the cousins each planted a hand on Denmark's back and gave him a fierce shove, so that he stumbled out into the middle of the service bay with a squawk of alarm.
"What the fucking hell was that for? You two are such unbelievable assholes! I swear, one of these—" He broke off as he realized he was shouting and looked up in horror to see the Beer Ghost already barreling toward him. He let out a scream of unmitigated panic and flung himself backward, only to crash painfully into a tipped-over tool cabinet and fall over.
Before the ghost reached him, Finland and Åland interposed themselves, holding their weapons at the ready. Perhaps the ghost recognized the sheen on their blades, because it veered off with a startled wail and headed toward the annex. Finland sprang after it right away, growling. Åland paused to yank Denmark upright.
"You were supposed to run away," he scolded. "So it would chase you? And once we got the signal we could lead it to the bottling department? Remember that?"
"So sorry for not acting according to the plan I didn't know anything about," Denmark retorted. "You didn't tell me I was going to be the decoy."
"If I had, it wouldn't have been a surprise," was the smug reply. "Do try to keep up."
They ran down the hallway and into the annex, where the wan light coming through the skylights afforded them an excellent impression of the destruction they had wrought. What had once been a revolutionary (for its time) engine of beer production was now mostly a disarrayed series of clusters of burst pipes and dented tanks.
"Oh, man, how am I ever going to get this cleaned up in time to open the museum?" Denmark muttered.
"One thing at a time," said Åland. "We're looking for the ghost."
"Sure…if we happen to run into him."
They soon heard the Beer Ghost among the rubble, its voice unusually soft and maddeningly directionless as it reverberated throughout all the crumpled metal. "…uuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh…" From time to time, there would be a clunk as something shifted in the mess.
"It's playing with us," said Denmark. "This is creepy."
"You wanted to come," Åland pointed out.
Just then, there came a resounding crash as some part of the half-collapsed Brynhildr finished collapsing somewhere in the annex. It was loud, but the bellow of "Perkele!" from the same direction was louder still.
Denmark and Åland hurried toward the source of the noise and found Finland crawling shakily out of the ruins of an iron boiler and various assorted pipes. He got to his feet, as wobbly as a newborn reindeer.
"Are you all right?" said Denmark. Finland waved off his concern…with his knife hand, so Denmark didn't question it further.
"I assume the ghost did this. Where is it now?" said Åland.
Finland shook his head, indicating that he didn't know. The non-locatable "…uuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh…" transitioned to a wicked chuckle.
"Why don't you come out and fight fair?" Denmark demanded out loud. "It's because you're scared, isn't it? We know how to hurt you now!"
"Denmark, shut the hell up," said Åland. Part of the surrounding wreckage shuddered, and he whirled around just as a spectral pseudopod came lashing out of it toward the group. While Denmark squalled in alarm, it seized Åland around the waist and began dragging him back toward the mounded metal. Åland made a savage roar, dug in his heels, and slashed at the appendage with his boning knife. The ectoplasm parted like tissue paper, the ghost shrieked and retreated, and the severed tentacle dissolved.
What it dissolved into was beer, but all three of them were long past being surprised by things like that.
"God, what an amateur," Åland said. "Finland, let me see your bottle. I need to recharge my knife."
Finland didn't look too happy about losing another splash of his homebrew, but he took out the bottle and began to hand it to his cousin, only to have it snatched right out of his hand—
—by Denmark, who began sprinting for the exit with it. "Hey, deadhead!" he called back over his shoulder. "You want to know our secret? It's this! I'm going to go find a machine gun and soak all the bullets in this stuff! I dare you to try and stop me!"
With a howl, the Beer Ghost burst out of the rubble and gave chase.
"I'll be damned," said Åland while Finland, slack-jawed, his right eye twitching, tried to figure out whether Denmark had just committed a capital offense or not. (Ordinarily the answer would have been an unambiguous yes—he had stolen Finland's liquor bottle—but there was always the possibility that "baiting a ghost" counted as a mitigating circumstance.) "Denmark actually came up with a good idea!"
As if on cue, their phones chimed to indicate an incoming text message. It was from Sweden. "There's the signal," said Åland. "Denmark! It's go time!"
Denmark's panicked yell rang up the hallway.
"So now what?" said Norway. "We just wait?"
"We just wait," Sweden confirmed, staring steadily at the fill gauge on the side of the main tank. Once Norway had pronounced the coffee "ready," they only had to open and close a few valves to send it chugging along to the bottling facility, and then their job on the brewing floor was done. But they checked to make sure that the java was traveling properly before sending out the text.
Iceland, newly relieved of kettle duty, sat slumped against a support pillar, letting laziness replenish his energy in the manner of the young. He thumbed through the menu of his borrowed phone and perked up. "All right! Check it out, Norway! This phone comes with Angry Birds already installed!"
"Does it? That's great!" said Norway. "We can wail on some evil pigs until the others get here!"
"Focus, you two," said Sweden. "We don't know how long it will take them to get here. We have to be ready."
Sighing, they snapped the phones shut and readied the long fire hoses they had hooked up to the main tank. Sure enough, a moment later, the message came in from Åland: "Almost there."
"Positions!" Sweden barked. "Okay, here we go…"
It wasn't long before Denmark burst screaming into the plant. He was holding Finland's liquor bottle aloft like a sacred relic, and it was that more than Denmark himself that the Beer Ghost seemed fixated upon in its pursuit. It was only a few steps behind him, giving Norway and Iceland, in place on either side of the door, a mere fraction of a second to aim before turning the nozzles on full blast.
Immediately, the air was filled with the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee—rich, slow-roasted, triple-ground, and with notes of vanilla, hazelnut, and—because this was after all Norway's coffee—cod. The first wash doused the ghost from the crown of what was approximately its head right down to what would have been its feet, if it had had anything remotely resembling feet.
And it barely noticed. Eyes locked on the bottle in Denmark's hands, it stormed right by the other two without giving them any acknowledgement beyond a simple blink to keep the spray of coffee from blinding it. They could only gasp in disbelief and watch as the ghost continued, unimpeded, to chase Denmark farther into the bottling facility.
At that point, Finland and Åland arrived, half-winded with exertion. "It didn't work," Sweden informed them, descending from his lookout position halfway up the ladder built onto the side of the main tank.
"I can't believe it," Norway lamented. "It was the perfect solution…and now all this coffee is wasted! This is the worst thing ever!"
"Well…" Åland said reasonably, "…the ghost didn't get this big and powerful by swimming in beer, did it? And me too…you had to make me drink the coffee in order to counteract the beer I swallowed. Just dumping it on me wouldn't have worked, I'm sure."
"How are we ever going to force the Beer Ghost to drink coffee?" said Iceland.
"We could try siccing Norway on it," Åland suggested.
There was a crescendoing yell as Denmark headed back toward their location with the ghost close on his heels. "Take the bottle back, Finland! Take-it-take-it-take-it-take-it…" Finland ignored him for the time being. As the pursuit passed them by, the rest of them took their first really good look at the ghost since their return to the brewery.
It looked mostly the same as it had just before the beer flood, except for the rough line running down its back where Finland had sliced it, down in the locker room. It didn't seem to be bothering the ghost any longer, but it was clearly the functional equivalent of a scar.
"Wait a second…" said Sweden. Without warning, he grabbed the hose away from Norway, ran after the ghost, and aimed a jet of coffee at its back, hitting the scar dead on.
Now it noticed. Did it ever. With a noise that was less a shriek of pain and more a screech of shock, it pulled up short and began writhing and twitching as though in profound discomfort, and visibly shrank a little. Finally, it got control of itself and scrambled away, hiding among the bottling equipment. Denmark, realizing that he was no longer being chased, rejoined the group and gave the bottle back to Finland, who communicated via a devastatingly simple knife gesture that he'd better not ever swipe it like that again if he wanted to keep all his facial features where they were.
"Bingo," said Sweden. "Gentlemen, we are back in business! That scar is its weak point! If we can keep hitting it there, it's done for! Let's hook up some more hoses to the tank, spread out, and keep it surrounded. And Åland, Finland?" He grinned slyly. "I don't see any reason why it should have only one weak point, do you?"
Åland matched his grin. "Ooh, I love it when you talk like this. Come, cousin," he said, holding out his knife so that Finland could drip a little more hard liquor onto it. "I still don't feel we've quite evened the score, do you?" They went on the hunt.
And that was the point at which the tables finally turned. The Beer Ghost was quick, and it was stubborn as a goat, but it was no match for four fire hoses full of caffeinated beany goodness and two knives spiked with booze at nearly ten times its own proof. As soon as the battle began, it was on the defensive—with Iceland spotting from the catwalks, they always knew where it was, and they moved to cut off every path it tried to take, especially the one leading toward the door. Before long, it was in a panic, squawking and flailing and apparently forgetting all about its own supernatural powers, because it didn't even try to use them. Even as they brought all their newly claimed advantages to bear against the ghost, the Nordic nations almost felt sorry for it.
Almost. They hadn't forgotten about its supernatural powers—the Marmite, the evil brainwashing beer, the hangover scream—and that sort of memory will buy a whole lot of no pity at all.
Ironically enough, they didn't score many hits on it until the very end, when they finally trapped it in an intersection, advancing on it from all four directions with the hoses so that no matter which way it turned, it took the coffee full in the back (and also in a smaller cut that Åland had managed to land on its left side at one point). Before their eyes, the Beer Ghost dwindled.
"It's working!" said Norway. "Let's hear it for coffee!"
"How do you like our 'special brew?'" Denmark taunted.
After less than a minute, it no longer towered over them. Another minute or two took it down to the size of a child. Then it shrank down the ranks of the great cartoon chain of being—from dog-sized to cat-sized, rabbit-sized, and finally its original, well-fed hamster size.
Good thing, too, because right about then the coffee ran out.
"We did it," Sweden said. Perhaps he should have felt exultant, but after everything they had been through, he was just relieved.
"Don't relax yet," said Åland as the ghost recovered from the onslaught and began zipping around, trying to find a way to get past them. "We really should catch it so it can't just start trouble somewhere else."
"A bottle will hold it," said Denmark. "There's bound to be some left in here."
He looked around to see if he could spot one, and the Beer Ghost took advantage of his momentary inattention to scoot between his feet and head for the exit with a gleeful cry of "Suckers! Beer outside, here I come!"
"Crap, it's going after the puddles again!" said Iceland. "Quick, stop it or we'll have to do all this over again!" He darted after the fleeing spirit and dove to grab it, but along with its size and power it had also lost its tangibility, and it was like trying to catch smoke. He wound up flat on his face, and Finland, right behind him, tripped on him and toppled also. The ghost gained distance.
"I found a bottle!" said Denmark. "Where is it now?"
"There!" Iceland groaned as the ghost dashed free of the bottling facility.
"We'll never catch it at this rate!" Sweden wailed. They gave chase anyway, but the floor was slick with coffee and offered not nearly enough traction…
And then the Beer Ghost turned a corner in the hall, skidded to a halt with an expression of shock, and wheeled around to head back the way it had come. A rushing sound grew, and then a literal stampede of small ghosts burst into view from around the corner. Some were stretched thin, others short and squat, and they came in every shade of pale luminescence—love ghosts and revenge ghosts and never-finished-the-last-chapter-of-that-book ghosts and chocolate ghosts and lawnmower ghosts. Had they been solid, the building would have been shaken by the tremor of their passage. With the momentum of a flood, they bowled right over the Beer Ghost.
And at the head of the procession was a creature as black as the soul-sucking ebon darkness of the infinite night, with glowing eyes, moving in a series of leaps so unnaturally fluid that they looked fake, like cheap computer animation.
"Sauma!" Iceland cheered from the floor. "You got out of that pen! Slow down, boy, I'm right here! Sauma? Sauma, slow down! Slow—AAAARRRRRGGGHHHHHH!" Overjoyed at being reunited with his master, the demon set about trying to flay the skin from his body. The horde of ghosts that had been following it spread throughout the bottling facility, hopping and cheering and trebling the level of surrealism in the situation.
The Beer Ghost had been trampled flat by the torrent. After a few seconds, it popped back up into its normal shape, but it was thoroughly disoriented, and Denmark easily walked up and scooped it into the bottle. Holding his hand over the mouth, he peered in at it. After a moment, it noticed him.
"Beer now?" it said. "Where is the beer?"
"Not here," said Denmark with a satisfied smile. "Not anymore."
The sun was setting as they left the brewery. Happy Hour was approaching. How appropriate.
"The world's beer supply is safe," Sweden observed. "Only one thing to do now."
"Drink as much of it as we can manage in one night?" said Denmark.
"Exactly," said Sweden. "I'm going to drink until I can't remember anything that happened today."
"I'm going to drink until my liver rolls over and begs for mercy," said Norway.
"Oh yeah?" said Denmark. "I'm going to drink until I OD and come back as a Beer Ghost!" At the others' incredulous stares, he backtracked. "Well, maybe not that much. But a lot. Definitely a lot."
"What about all those other ghosts in there?" said Åland.
"They can wait until tomorrow," said Denmark. "And then? I'm going to make them Greenland's problem."
"I'll drink to that!" said Norway.
And they laughed. Sometimes, especially after a harrowing adventure with friends, a cheap joke can be funny even when you're stone-cold sober.
A/N: While beginning work on this chapter, I realized I had a choice: end it around the usual length and drag the story out at least one more chapter, or keep going until the story was finished, making a special, extra-long finale. Obviously, I went with the latter. It didn't seem right to keep this ghost story running past Halloween.
And on that subject, be sure to check back in about a month—I've got something super-duper special planned for December! See you then!