A/N: Okay, as penance for my recent lapse in punctuality, I have finished this chapter a little early. So early, in fact, that I have, I regret to say, neglected to respond to everyone's reviews individually as I usually attempt to do. I will respond to them in the review bit below, but after this I will no longer be responding in that way. I believe it is better for me to respond to you guys individually. I will still recognize reviewers in my A/N's, but only by pen-name.

I will try to keep to my "once a month" promise; however, something has recently come up that may delay me a bit. I am absolutely pleased as punch to announce that my sister, Isabelleauthor, is getting married! He's not on Fanfic, but I think we can forgive him for that. Since he doesn't have a pen-name, I am awarding him the title "Big Bro".

In any case, since I am the maid of honor, my schedule will be, ah, shall we say, hectic. The plan is to have chapter 7 out by the last week of October, but we shall see.

Glad tidings aside, here's to some reviewers! Chronologically of course.

Ms. Frizzle: I'm glad you liked my ideas. I sat at my fave pizza place for two hours (The cab was slow) wracking my brains over it. I figured, as many crazy things do in the name of "networking", why not dangerous "ghost events"? Hope you continue to enjoy the fic!

Lil' sis: So what if he does? What are you going to do about it? ~Eyes snarling Roecliffe warily~

Vamps: Ooh! Ooh! Warmer. Not quite there, but pretty warm nonetheless. ^_^

Truephan: The eye is quite healed, but the next chapter seems to be starting in on me now, so some more bruises may be in coming. Heheh. ^_^ Glad you liked the bit with Clockwork. He'll show up a few more times throughout the story. The next one might be even sooner than you think. ^_^

Also, I realized I have not yet acknowledged any of my fave/alert readers. I'm only going to acknowledge these once, when they occur, so anyone mentioned after this is a new fave/alert reader.

Alerts: Deathstroke Terminator, MiniHayden, and Skye of the Night.

Fave's: Ellenar Ride, That Ghost Geek (Hunter), and Vamps

Both: DannysaysRAWR, Raini, Lil' Sis, Paperdog, and Truephan

Thanks to all of you for your support. ^_^

And now that I've dedicated an entire page of Arial font to my author's note. Bandersnatch! The disclaimer!

Bandersnatch: Ugh! Why me? Okay, look, Phyllis doesn't own anything from Danny Phantom, or any of the other potentially copyrighted material as is referred to in the footnotes section at the bottom of this chapter. A chapter, mind, that I'd like to get to before our readers get BORED!

Phyllis: Wish granted. On with the show! ^_^


Abigail's eyes could not have grown any wider. If they had, they may well have fallen out of her head. Of course she really couldn't be blamed. The Ghost Zone is a lot to take in. The black and green that made up the sky and seemed to stretch to eternity, floating doors and stone islands that hung in midair, all of it surrounded in the same sort of eerie glow that she had in her ghost form. The sight made her feel dizzy, excited, and anxious all at once.

"Enjoying the scenery, are we?"

Abigail looked back at her uncle, who was hovering about ten feet away from her. She knew from the stern, yet slightly bemused expression on his face that she had been gawking again. She quickly closed the mouth she hadn't realized she'd been holding open and smiled in apology.

"Abigail," her uncle continued, turning serious, "We are already late. I need for you to keep up."

Abigail sheepishly gave a quick nod before closing the gap between them. It was her fault they were late. Her uncle hadn't said it was, but the way he had kept looking at his watch and back at her all throughout the remainder of their training had said enough.

She followed her uncle silently, doing her best to keep up with him. Inexperienced as she was, it was much akin to a preteen attempting to keep up with a long-legged adult and, said adult, was in rather a hurry.

It wasn't entirely her fault. She really had tried her best. She had spent two hours working on her intangibility, creating and using ecto-blasts, and forming ecto-shields.

She rubbed her arm subconsciously as she thought about it. She had quickly discovered that, while creating ecto-energy was fairly simple, controlling it was another matter entirely. If it wasn't difficult enough shaping and aiming her ecto-blasts properly, forming the energy into a solid shield was worse. Before they left, Uncle Vlad had insisted she learn how to form a basic shield, capable of withstanding low level energy blasts. Unfortunately, that meant testing it, and since Uncle Vlad also wanted her to be able to do it 'under pressure' he had set the room's hidden turrets to fire on her every few seconds. The blasts were not enough to harm her, but they still stung so that, at the moment, she felt as if she had been ambushed by a troop of trigger happy paint-ballers. She hoped her uncle was right about her ghost half's "regenerative capabilities." Otherwise there was certainly going to be some bruising.

She rubbed gingerly at another sore spot before looking up and realizing she had managed to drift several feet away from her uncle. With a gasp, she sped to catch up, hoping he wouldn't notice. He had given her three rules for their first trip into the Ghost Zone. Rule one: she was not speak to any ghosts Uncle Vlad had not introduced her to, and even then only if she had been spoken to first. Rule two: she had to keep up, not lag behind, or venture off on her own. Rule three: follow any and all other directions. To. The. Letter.

Abigail knew these rules were for her safety, but thus far she had seen nothing that seemed particularly dangerous. She wondered what sort of trouble her uncle had managed to find in this strange place.

That, of course, had her thinking about some of her other questions.

Hey, was that a library? Cool!

Vlad sighed slightly as he sensed the girl near him again. He had, in actuality, been gradually increasing his speed to see how well the girl could keep up. The faster they could travel, the better; particularly since they were running late. A few feet more and he would have slowed to allow the girl to catch up, but there was no need.

They had been traveling in silence for quite some time, which was perfectly fine as far as Vlad was concerned. So then, it came as quite a surprise when Abigail finally spoke.

"Hey, Uncle Vlad?" she started.

"Hm?"

"How did you become half-ghost?"

Vlad's flight and the gears turning in his head all came to a sudden, screeching halt. They had been going so fast that the girl was only able to stop after flying several feet past him. He watched as she turned back, looking at her as if she had managed to grow a second head. He realized after a moment that the question really wasn't such an odd one. It was just that no one had ever asked it before. Most of the ghosts he encountered were more than happy to stay out of personal affairs, and the only other people who knew he was half-ghost were Daniel, and Danielle.

It had never occurred to Danielle to question him, he imagined, because she had been created half-ghost. It would have been like a child asking why its mother had two eyes. Daniel, he had always assumed, had figured it out the same way he had determined the boy's own experience. Idiot Jack Fenton, and the Fenton Portal; it didn't take a genius to put two-and-two together. Jack had probably mentioned telling his children about the accident that had caused his ecto-acne. Honestly, it was just like the oaf to reveal his "college buddy's" most humiliating experience just before coming to meet him. no doubt Daniel had managed to come to a fairly accurate conclusion as to his own experience. Of course, it was also possible he just didn't care. It was Daniel after all.

But, of course it wasn't Daniel or Danielle who was doing the asking. It was the girl whom he considered to be merely one of his pawns—and a rather irritating one at that since the girl seemed to have a habit of asking such personal questions! His first thought was to blow the question off. After all, he wasn't about to let her into his inner circle. Still, he had to give her the façade that he was feeling somewhat avuncular towards her; so, he felt it would be best to give the girl some answer. But just how much should he tell her?

He brightened with his next thought and smirked only to himself. He could tell her anything— he could omit the entire truth if he wished!

Abigail became quite convinced she was not going to get an answer to her question when Vlad hadn't said anything for a time, particularly after they had begun to move forward again. Was it really so bad that he didn't even want to talk about it? In fact, she was just about to tell him to forget about it when he spoke again.

"Abigail, you remember Daniel," he intoned.

"Um, yeah," Abigail replied.

"His parents and I attended the same University," he explained. "Jack was my roommate, and Maddie was… ah, a mutual friend."

He cleared his throat audibly. Even now he was regretting putting any kind of truth in his story. Still, he pressed on. After all, what was it that people said about it? Ah, yes: the best kind of lies were those based in truth.

"They were both very interested in supernatural phenomena. Jack tried to talk me into joining them in some of their research and, eventually, I gave in. Jack had the idea of creating an artificial portal into the Ghost Zone."

He paused at the sudden flood of unexpected bitterness that flowed within him from the memory. It still pained him—and just as unexpectedly, began to muddle his mind.

"I definitely was very skeptical about it at first, but since we were friends, I went along with it."

"We spent the greater part of the year on that proto-portal," he continued, unaware that his bitterness was beginning to cloak his voice.

"Calculating, experimenting, engineering; my entire life seemed to be centered on this one, impossible goal."

He frowned as his emotions came to a slow boil. All of the hurt and anger surrounding those usually buried, but now abruptly opened, memories began to take over.

He didn't realize that the tone of his voice had darkened as he continued, "The day we were to test the prototype was also the day I had planned to ask Maddie to join me at an upcoming formal. She was… busy. Very focused on the experiment. I resigned to wait until the end of the experiment to speak with her."

"I never got the opportunity. Jack," and here he forcibly spat the name, "had made some errors in his calculations. As I was giving the portal one final glance to make sure everything was in place, the fat fool, without warning— and, by the way, I hardly consider shouting "Bonzai" as you are pressing the button adequate warning— activated the device. I was hit directly with raw ecto-energy, the effects of which left me hospitalized for four years. That was also what turned me into a half-ghost!"

He paused, all the while scrunching his eyes and face and gritting his teeth at the painful memory.

Meanwhile, Abigail's eyes had widened at the sudden change in her uncle. She had no idea how much he had been affected by all of this. In fact, it frightened her and she now regretted asking him. Still, she suddenly felt a wave of pity for her uncle wash over her and she had to know more.

"What did Jack and Maddie do when they found out?" she hesitantly, yet gently, asked.

"What a ridiculous question," Vlad growled and, for a moment, Abigail thought that was to be the end of it.

"It was Jack's idiocy and carelessness that caused the accident in the first place! Why on earth would I trust him with such a delicate matter? As to Maddie—"

His voice softened considerably, and he was suddenly aware that his breathing had significantly increased.

Suddenly, he jolted with the realization: he had no idea that the pain surrounding that memory would be strong enough for him to lose control so that he would end up actually telling the girl almost everything!

He forced himself to get a hold of himself. He had to bury saying anything more before he would lose all control….

"It was just… never the right time. I wanted to be sure she—"

He cleared his throat audibly once more. He frowned again, now irritated with himself. This was turning into the sort of conversation he might have with his cat. And the girl was certainly not a cat. That was enough for him to come back full circle. He now had full reins over the pain of his memory and it was time to end this conversation.

Still unable to keep the last bit of resentment from slipping out, he abruptly concluded, "Yes, well, Jack quite resolved that when he married her behind my back. And that's all there is to it!"

While still listening to the man, Abigail briefly glanced at what appeared to be a large prison compound coming close to their flight path. She hoped they weren't headed to that place since she didn't like the look of it at all. Fortunately, Vlad didn't steer toward it and she turned her full attention back to her uncle… Honestly, she wasn't quite sure what to say about it. What had happened to her uncle was just awful. Stuck in a hospital for four years? Not even able to tell your best friend? And then losing his girl?

"Did you tell anyone?" she asked.

"Oh, honestly, Abigail!" Vlad said in exasperation, pinching the bridge of his nose. This trip seemed to be taking even longer than it usually did. "No. I didn't tell anyone and, apart from Daniel's sister and one other individual, you have met every living person who knows about it. It isn't the sort of thing you tell people, Abigail. There are far too many dangers in allowing that sort of information to get out."

"Oh," Abigail replied softly. "That…that must've made you feel very lonely."

Vlad nearly stopped again in surprise.

"Yes," he said with a touch of sadness, "I suppose it did."

Though she knew she was many years too late, Abigail yearned to do something, anything to relieve her uncle's pain. Truly, what could she do? Be the best, most attentive niece her uncle could want? Perhaps, but it somehow didn't seem enough.

Aside from that, there was still one thing that troubled her.

Whoa! Was that ghost actually riding a motorcycle?

She shook her head.

Focus Abigail.

"Uncle Vlad?"

"Yes, Abigail?" Vlad replied, stifling a groan. He truly regretted agreeing to tell her anything.

"Um… what happened between you and Jack… is that why you don't like Danny?"

Vlad turned, putting out a hand to catch Abigail's shoulder before she could pass him by again.

"And just where did you get that idea?" he asked.

Abigail blinked in surprise.

"Well, I mean seriously," she said. "You guys didn't exactly seem like best pals when you found me yesterday."

"Yes, well I suppose I was a bit out of sorts, given the circumstances," Vlad said pointedly.

Abigail blushed.

Vlad sighed and went back to flying.

"I assure you, Abigail, that I am really quite fond of Daniel," he said. "Unfortunately, we do not quite see eye-to-eye."

"On what?" asked Abigail.

"Many things," the older hybrid intoned. "For example, from the moment I discovered that Daniel was a half-ghost like me, I felt it was my duty to take him under my wing. Teach him everything I know. He, however, was not interested. Apparently he prefers stumbling about in his ignorance, nearly getting himself killed through trial and error."

Abigail grinned.

"Headstrong Icarus," she said.

Vlad smirked. He couldn't have put it better himself. Daniel was reckless, impulsive, and utterly blinded by that sun he called "good". One day his heroics were going to bring him too close to that deadly orb and Danny Phantom would fall. Vlad could only hope he would be there; ready to pick up the pieces and put them back together with his own design. He had told Daniel before that it was only a matter of time. One way or another, the boy would join him.

"Whoa! What is that?!"

The girl's sudden outburst shook Vlad from his thoughts. It didn't take long to figure out what had caught her attention. Looming ahead of them was a massive floating island, covered almost entirely in a sort of jungle canopy. Up towards the farther end of it was what appeared to be a massive skull, which served as a fairly convincing warning to trespassers.

"That," said Vlad, "is our destination."

The girl's eyes widened considerably.

"There?" she said, anxiously tugging at her hair.

"There is an associate of mine who lives here," the older hybrid explained. "There is a small matter that I need to speak with him about."

Of course, Vlad normally conducted the majority of business at his own home, including discussing things with his 'associate'. It wasn't so much a matter of security as it was convenience. But in this instance, Vlad knew his associate would be very reluctant to speak about the subject he intended to bring up. Therefore, he had to make avoiding the conversation as difficult as possible for his ally. And to do that, Vlad had to change his tactics and use what he knew about the ghost to his advantage. His ally would definitely be more reluctant to throw him out here than he would to simply leave his mansion if they disagreed. In fact, his associate played the host so predictably that Vlad knew that this was the perfect solution. Vlad smirked. Truly, no one was really safe in their own house under those 'rules of hospitality'.

Abigail, meanwhile, was contemplating just what sort of person, erm, ghost, would live in such a place. A pirate ghost perhaps? A cave ghost wielding an enormous club? A former tribal leader? None of these made her feel any better about venturing to the island. The last one in particular made her think of cannibals. Her only consolation was that she really couldn't fathom her uncle associating with any of the above.

Then again, as she was learning, there was still quite a bit she didn't know about her uncle.

Speaking of Uncle Vlad, what was he doing? He had slowed down considerably and seemed to be looking for something through the trees. Why didn't they just fly down to the island?

Abigail grew even more apprehensive at the thought of all the possible reasons why.

"There," he said finally, pointing to a small clearing before moving toward it. Abigail followed close behind. She landed in the clearing near her uncle, who was looking down a dense path through the trees with interest.

"Abigail, I need for you to remain here while I figure out the safest route," he said. "I will return shortly. If anything— DON'T TOUCH THAT!"

Abigail snapped her hand away from the hibiscus-like plant she had been about to inspect, just as it took a snap at her.

"This is not some conservatory for you to observe at your leisure," the older hybrid scolded. "The Ghost Zone is not a playground! Anything can present a serious danger to you."

He sighed.

"I should only be gone for a moment, and in the meantime. Don't. Touch. Anything! Am I clear?"

Abigail shrank back, nodding meekly.

Satisfied that the message was understood, Vlad disappeared into the trees.

"Don't touch anything," Abigail muttered once he was out of earshot. "What am I, five?"

She folded her arms indignantly. Sure he was just being protective, but seriously?

With nothing better to do, Abigail began to take stock of her surroundings. The island didn't seem nearly as menacing from this angle. True, it wasn't Mary Lennox's garden at Misselthwaite;(1) but despite the eerie glow cast over everything, the plants were really quite lovely. She didn't recognize the majority of them, and what she thought she recognized often still seemed strange to her. In a way, she couldn't help feeling rather enchanted by the sight.

An impossibly large pink orchid suddenly caught her eye. Entranced by its beauty, her breath caught in her throat as she gazed at it. She started to move to get a closer look, but stopped warily, remembering her uncle's directions.

Uncle Vlad said 'don't touch' not 'don't move', she reasoned. The thought encouraged her, and she moved closer.

She had not taken three steps when she tripped over a vine and landed face first in front of a tree with what appeared to be a large, glowing, black stone sticking out from the base of the trunk. She attempted to use the stone as a support as she stood up, but gave a small cry of surprise when the 'stone' squished slightly under the pressure. Using the tree to help her the rest of the way, she backed away quickly in case the squishy rock had somehow been offended.

As she watched, the black surface of what she had thought was a stone began to peel back as if it were tissue paper wrapped around a present. A large purple bud was under it. The bud then began to quickly open until five thick, large, dark lavender petals spotted with yellow bumps emerged. There was a large hole in the center of it just large enough for a human head to fit through.

All of this took less than half a minute so that Abigail had not a moment to take it all in before the flower shot a blast of yellow pollen from its center, which caught her right in the face. She coughed and hacked as a thick, sweet scent attacked her senses; but as suddenly as it invaded, the scent dissipated. It was a curious smell, one which makes you want to breathe it in deeper, ever luring you closer to its source. Had Abigail known anything about ghost flora, this fact alone should have made her wary.

A good botanist would probably have remarked that the flower was quite a bit like Rafflesia, also called 'corpse flower' due to its rotting meat scent, meant to attract pollinators. The flower was rather like Rafflesia in a sense. It was 'Ghost Rafflesia' which, apart from its coloration and greatly shortened growth period, was different from 'normal' Rafflesia in just three ways.

First of all, the Ghost Rafflesia's method of attraction was the blast of sickly sweet smelling pollen. Also, unlike 'normal' Rafflesia, the Ghost Rafflesia's target was not bugs, but rather small ghost animals. Finally, quite unlike the foul-smelling, harmless, normal Rafflesia, Ghost Rafflesia was carnivorous, feeding off the ecto-energy of the organisms it managed to ensnare.

By the time a botanist had managed to finish explaining all of this, they probably would be kneeling right next to the flower, preparing to stick their head right into the large hole at the center, as the pollen would have dissipated far too much at that point to be smelled otherwise.

Abigail, fully possessed by the scent, managed to do just that. She sobered up rather quickly; however, when the large, leathery petals snapped shut tight around her, leaving her arms sticking out from between them at odd angles. Unable to see because of the darkness, and beginning to feel an odd, pulling sensation from the plant, she screamed. Her screams only intensified when she felt the energy being pulled straight from her core, followed by a feeling as if electricity were being run through her body.

She pushed and pulled, ripped at, and even beat at the plant in an effort to free herself. The harder she struggled, the harder the plant pulled back. She felt tears roll down her nose as she continued to shriek in agony. She was just about to resign herself to oblivion when she felt a different sort of pressure, this time around her waist. Thinking some other, terrible creature had managed to get a hold of her, and fearing even greater pain from this new assailant, she twisted and kicked at it in an attempt to free herself once again.

"Abigail, it's me! Stop struggling!"

The voice was difficult to make out between her screams and the thick petals of the plant. Still, Abigail managed to hear and recognize it. Though she could not stop her sobs and screams, she heeded her uncle and ceased moving. She felt a tight pull, then a sound like a small explosion.

The plant eased its hold for a moment, as if startled, and that was all Vlad needed to yank the girl out. They both tumbled backward and, sitting up quickly, the elder hybrid used another ecto-blast to reduce the plant to ashes– just for good measure. He saw the girl sit up as well, staring at the charred remains in stunned horror. Then, without warning, she threw her arms over his neck and, clinging desperately to him, buried her face in his shoulder and began to cry again.

"I told you not to touch anything!" Vlad scolded.

"I d-didn't mean to Uh-Uncle Vlad," the girl blubbered, "I t-tripped and, and, th-the rock, it-"

Realizing they weren't likely to get very far with the girl carrying on in this state, Vlad embraced the girl in an attempt to calm her down more quickly. At first she only cried harder, but the sobs soon subsided to a more manageable level.

Honestly, he couldn't understand what the girl's problem was. It was just Ghost Rafflesia. They were unpleasant to be sure but—

"It hurt so much," the girl said, whimpering slightly.

Vlad frowned.

"Hurt?" he inquired.

"Like my whole body was on fire," she explained. "I thought... I thought I was going to die."

Vlad's frown deepened. Any instance where a ghost's core was robbed of energy was unpleasant, but Ghost Rafflesia usually drew its victim's energy out gradually, so the sensation was usually no worse than a mild case of heartburn.

He pushed the girl away to get a better look at her. She looked fine. No odd burns or scrapes. Her breath was a bit shaky, but that was probably just from all the crying she'd done.

"How do you feel now?" he asked.

"I'm alright," Abigail said, wiping her face with the back of her hand, before smiling a little. "Thanks Uncle Vlad."

"Just don't make a habit of it," her uncle replied.

Abigail chuckled weakly. He was kidding, right?

The older hybrid stood and helped her to her feet.

"The best route is in this direction," he said, pointing through the trees. "You'll need to follow my movements carefully, unless you wish to find yourself trapped, pegged to a tree, or possibly skewered."

"Skewered?" Abigail repeated nervously.

"My associate has a fondness for traps," he explained. "Just stay close."

The girl was, to Vlad's relief, far too wary now to be careless. The remainder of the trip was blissfully short, and without incident.

It wasn't long before they entered another clearing. It was much like the other except that, at the center of it was a little stone house. It had a large purple door, a couple of windows, and a small chimney. All-in-all, it looked fairly plain compared to what Abigail had seen so far. She was certain now that the inhabitant could not be a cave ghost or tribal leader. It didn't fit with the house. Pirate was still an option, but she couldn't help thinking about the huntsman from Snow White, or Little Red Riding Hood. Then of course, 'evil witch' and 'band of thieves' made their way into the list, and she found herself more nervous than ever.

She watched as her uncle strode casually up to the entrance and knocked on the door. There were sounds of movement beyond, some grunting, and a bit of clanging, before the door opened.

Abigail gasped. Of all the things she could have imagined that would be standing inside that door, this was not one of them. A huge, ghost robot with green flames for hair, dressed in combat boots, and generally looking like a mechanical version of Rambo was not on her list!

The robot glared at her uncle.

"You're late," it growled.

"Yes well, there were a couple of minor delays," Uncle Vlad replied.

The spectral cyborg narrowed its eyes, then turned to look in Abigail's direction.

"Who's the whelp?" he demanded. "One of your experiments?"

Abigail was too terrified to question just what the mechanical monster had meant by that.

"Ah, no," her uncle replied, moving behind her and nudging her closer to the ghost. "This is Abigail Fable, my niece."

Fable was the secondary name that they had decided to give Abigail's ghost half. Well, Abigail was the one who had decided that. Uncle Vlad hadn't seemed too fond of it, but to Abigail's delight, he had allowed her to retain it.

"Abigail," her uncle continued, "this is my associate, Skulker."

Abigail stared wide-eyed at the strange ghost. She knew she should introduce herself, but just how did one greet a cyborg? She felt like Alice, stuck in an upside down world where robots were ghosts and lived in little stone houses in the jungle.

"If you think we're wax-works," said Tweedledum, "You ought to pay, you know. Wax-works weren't made to be looked at for nothing, nohow!"

"Contrariwise," added Tweedledee, "if you think we're alive, you ought to speak."

"You've been wrong!" cried Tweedledum. "The first thing in a visit is to say "How d'ye do?" and shake hands!" (2)

With no better recourse coming to mind, Abigail stuck out her hand.

"How do you do?"

The words were not long out of her mouth when it occurred to her that were the cybor- Skulker to accept the handshake, she would likely be left with no hand to speak of. Still, it seemed wrong somehow to withdraw at this juncture.

To her surprise, and ultimate relief, the cyborg just stared at her in surprise before bursting into laughter.

Vlad, however, was not amused.

"Your- your niece?" laughed Skulker.

"Yes, Skulker," Vlad growled, "my niece."

"Alright Plasmius," Skulker replied, shaking his head. "Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No," Vlad replied, removing a small device from under his cloak. It was a small, flat, square box with some outlying circuitry, and a few buttons, with a handle at one end, and two green prongs at the other.

Skulker eyed the device suspiciously, and then looked up at Vlad again.

"Alright," he said, "you can come in."

Vlad grinned, and then turned back to his charge.

"Abigail," he said, "I need you to stay out here while I speak with Skulker. The area around here should be safe, so you shouldn't run into any problems so long as you stay put. Do you understand?"

The girl nodded.

Vlad started toward the door, and then stopped. The girl had already nearly managed to get herself eaten by a plant. What if she should encounter more trouble through sheer naiveté? From what he'd seen from her so far, he wouldn't put it past her.

He turned to look at her. No... no, she would be fine. That incident with the Ghost Rafflesia had frightened her enough; he was sure she wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"Should anything happen," he told the girl, "I will be just inside. Do try to stay out of trouble, hm?"

"Okay Uncle Vlad."

"Good girl," said Vlad.

Abigail sighed as she watched her uncle disappear into the house. One thing was certain: if this was how trips in to the Ghost Zone were going to go, she wanted to return as infrequently as possible. While seeing the different structures on the way had been interesting, actually visiting these places seemed to be an activity fraught with either danger, or intense boredom. Before she might have looked at some of the surrounding flora to occupy her time, but now she wanted to stay as far away from that as possible.

Being alone in an unfamiliar place with little to nothing to do can give rise to all sorts of irrational fancies. Given that Abigail had just nearly been eaten by a plant, those irrational fears seemed even more rational than usual. Every shadow, every snap of a twig now bespoke of some terrible monster, just ready to devour or otherwise maim her. She found herself backing closer and closer to the stone house.

Just as she felt her back touch the stone, she heard a series of thuds and snaps growing louder and louder in quick succession. Thudding, snapping, crashing loudly echoed; as if some great animal were just barreling its way through the trees.

As the sound grew louder, Abigail began to notice a ring of laughter accompanying it. It made her think of 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'. Had it occurred to her that the Headless Horseman's laughter would surely have been much less playful, it would have done little to console her. (3)

Following that was a sort of whistling sound, like several arrows shot all at once at the same target.

"YEEHAW!"

To Abigail's shock, a large skeleton horse burst suddenly into the clearing, driven by a pint-sized, freckle faced cowboy ghost with an enormous hat. Abigail knew she had heard the term "ten gallon hat" at some point. She was sure this hat could hold at least two and a half!

The horse skidded to a stop at about the middle of the clearing as the small cowboy waved his hat around, seemingly for effect.

"Great job settin' off that trap," he said to the horse. "That'll teach them cattle wrestlers a thing or two!"

"It's cattle rustlers," the horse said dryly.

Abigail blinked. The horse talked? And the cowboy! She nearly laughed. He was just a kid!

"Really?" the cowboy kid replied incredulously.

"Don't look now," said the horse, turning his head in Abigail's direction. "I think we have company."

"Huh?" the cowboy answered, turning to look. He was greatly relieved to see it wasn't Skulker. He knew the hunter would come by and kick him out eventually, like always, but he wanted to have a little fun first. And speaking of fun, this girl looked like a perfect target!

The child ghost grinned at the thought and kicked the horse's flank, er, ribs.

The horse rolled its eyes, but obediently trotted closer to Abigail.

"Howdy ma'am," said the cowboy, tipping his hat the best he could without having it fall right off his head. "I don't suppose you know someplace my friend and I can wrestle up some grub?"

"Rustle," the horse corrected again through gritted teeth.

"Whatever!" the cowboy shot back indignantly.

Amused with his 'pretend' game, Abigail smiled at the imaginative boy ghost. Somehow, the youngster's game triggered a vague, yet cherished memory. She really couldn't explain why it was so obscure or touching. It just was. She couldn't even guess, then, that it all had to do with the fact that she had a younger sister; a sister who had only quit playing pretend games about a year ago when she had determined she was "too old" for such a pastime. Not only that, Abigail had forgotten that she had, more often than not, willingly played a key role in those games; and that she was actually quite a natural when it came to playing 'pretend'.

Well, old habits die hard. And for some strange reason, she could not resist leaning lazily against the stone house, pulling an imaginary hat down over her eyes.

"Sorry pardner," she drawled in a somewhat sub-par accent. "Ain't nuthin' fer miles 'cept cacti 'n tumbleweed."

The young ghost seemed surprised at first, almost as if he hadn't actually expected a response. Then his face took on a devious expression as his mouth twisted into a mischievous grin before he responded darkly:

"Then there'll be no one to hear you scream."(4)


1. Mary Lennox is the main character from "The Secret Garden". In the book she comes to live at "Misselthwaite Manor."

2. Dialogue from "Through the Looking Glass". Modified slightly for clarification and brevity.

3. In the story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" the Headless Horseman doesn't actually laugh. No doubt Rebecca has seen the Disney cartoon and is remembering that.

4. "A word my lady. We are but poor, lost circus performers. Is there a village nearby?"

"There is nothing nearby. Not for miles."

"Then there will be no one to hear you scream." ~Vizzini and Buttercup, "The Princess Bride". Although, I'm guessing our young ghost friend here said it a little differently. ^_^.

Hope you enjoyed reading that chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Some good ol' CC is always good for the writer's soul!

Until next time!