Disclaimer: The rights for Casper belong to Harvey comics and Universal Pictures. Original characters belong to the author.
"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?" – C.S. Lewis
Watching the little six year old playing on the floor with her toys, Stretch had to wonder how his afterlife ended up this way.
It seemed like only yesterday he and his brothers were scaring the Harveys out of their wits, trying to drive them from the "humble asylum" where they had intruded. It hadn't worked out liked they'd hoped; thanks to a stubbornness which seemed to run in the family, the crazy Doc and his whiny brat of a daughter had stayed.
It annoyed Stretch that during their time in the house, he had grown used to the presence of fleshies. Sometimes they could become forms of amusement, while other times they were just annoying inconveniences. So it had been a blessing when the Kitty Kat daughter moved out to attend college in the next state.
That is, until the Doc became ill and she moved back – with that new husband of hers.
Stretch swore that the move had been like a fleshie invasion into Whipstaff. A year later a miniature fleshie had popped out; a little girl with lungs like a banshee whenever she was hungry or needed a diaper change. She was followed by a miniature Doc Harvey, who was equally as loud – and as equally annoying.
To make things worse, Kitty Kat was adding a third runt to her litter, leaving him to babysit the other two while she and Adam were at the hospital.
Casper was showing Harvey his toy train in the attic, leaving Stretch to keep an eye on Amy. Stinkie and Fatso had ditched the kids hours ago, arguing on the way out about whether or not to pay a visit to the sewers or the local fast food joint. During their argument, their notorious leader had gone to follow; his violet eyes even now kept shifting towards the window, but...it didn't feel right, leaving the kid on her own. The feelings it brought up reminded him of the time Casper had turned himself into a baby – he hated his feelings for that.
She ain't completely alone...but she might as well be, in a house bigger dan Fatso's belly. There was always the chance she'd decide to go wandering and knock over one of those knights in shining armour – along with the knight in shining armour's axe.
If he let that happen, Kat would resurrect him. Then kill him.
So here he was. Amy was lying on her stomach, playing with a collection of plastic animals she'd received for her birthday. On der bright side, Stretch thought, at least she ain't interested in d'ose dumb Barbie dolls. It was a great relief not because of how pink they were, but because that if she did, he'd never be able to get Fatso out of the room ever again.
His attention was drawn back to the girl when he heard a puff. Amy was trying to blow the long brown strands of hair from her face – and considering her hair came down to her waist, it was hard work.
Her frustration grew, and so did the gap between Stretch's eye and eyebrow as he raised it. The problem with the girl's hair length wasn't anything new; the Trio found morning routine amusing when Kat would try and plait her daughter's hair, while the little girl complained about how she was pulling too hard and about how she absolutely had to play with her toys before school. Kat had always threatened to chop it all off, but Amy – and the girl's nerdy father – wanted to keep it long.
Watching Amy now, the ghost had to reluctantly agree with the frustrated mother for once. He was getting frustrated just watching the girl trying to blow the hair from her face.
It wasn't long before Amy finally sat herself up and used her hands to physically move the hair from her face. But when she went to lay down again, the hair fell again. She vented her anger by knocking over her toys, to which Stretch flinched.
"OK, d'ose toys don't deserve dat kinda behaviour." Stretch knew he was being hypocritical. He often took his anger out on Stinkie and Fatso, and sometimes Casper.
The girl turned to face him. "My hair won't move!" she complained.
"'Course it won't move," the ghost told her matter-of-factly. "Dat's 'cause it's attached ta ya head, rugrat."
She looked away and began fiddling with said hair. "Mummy plaits it for me."
"Well I ain't ya mother."
Amy just gave him a blank stare. That kind of reaction was something Stretch was used to. Living at Whipstaff had rubbed off on both the children; they either laughed at the Trio's scare attempts, or they just gave the ghosts a blank stare. Like they didn't understand why the ghosts were trying to scare them. Dey've been hangin' 'round dat little bulbhead too much.
The blank stare continued as Amy tilted her head to one side. "You could pretend. You pretend to be lots of people."
"When I scare. Pretendin' ta be ya mother so I can plait ya hair ain't somethin' we ghosts do."
"Oh." The girl turned herself round again, lying back on her stomach as she proceeded to pick up the toys she'd knocked over.
But no sooner had she done that, the puffing started up again.
Stretch wished his brothers were there – so he could take his anger out on them instead of having to bottle it in. His eyes eventually ended up popping out of their sockets, which he quickly retrieved.
And Amy was still puffing.
Why me? "Oh, just hold still, ya little skinsack." Amy found the hair removed from her face as Stretch hovered above her and proceeded to plait it.
The ghost surprised himself by somehow knowing what he was doing. Then again, after watching – and laughing at – Kat's struggles with plaiting hair, he wouldn't have been surprised if he had absent-mindedly picked up the skill.
At least the kid had shut up.
She was quietly setting up her toys again, and unlike the morning struggles, she wasn't fighting against him. "You don't pull like Mummy does." Stretch felt like pulling to make a point, but decided the action wasn't worth it.
"Uncle Stretch?" The ghost flinched. He hated Casper for saying the 'U' word around the little bonebags; after all, it was like monkey see, monkey do with those fleshies. "Why are you called 'Stretch'?"
He knew this question would pop up someday. "Why'd ya ask?"
"Because 'Stretch' isn't really a name," Amy began. "It's a 'doing word', my teacher said."
"Dat's wha' dey call me 'cause I can stretch when I scare." To demonstrate his point, the ghost stretched out his neck and bent it, so his face was directly in front of Amy's. "And dat should be enough of an answer for yous."
"Daddy says it's like a nickname," Amy informed. "So what's your real name?"
"If I have one, I ain't tellin' you." He reeled his head back in and continued with the plait, hoping that the girl had shut up.
Here we go.
"Why do ghosts scare?"
"'Cause we do," was Stretch's immediate answer. "And it's fun."
Stretch paused to think. "'Cause you fleshies are different. You got skin, and we don't. Yous all scared of ghosts, while we ghosts ain't afraid of nothin'. When ya alive, yous afraid of death. When ya dead, yous ain't afraid of anythin'. Us ghosts can do tricks which you fleshies can't do."
Stretch felt like tearing the girl's hair out. "No, we ain't a fleshie's lap dog! Ghosts scare bonebags! End of story!"
Amy was silent again, and Stretch hoped it would stay that way until he finished the plait. With any luck, she'd shut her mouth for the rest of the day.
If ya ask one more stupid question...
"Why isn't Grandpa a ghost?"
The ghost's hands stopped plaiting. That had been...unexpected. And something which killed Stretch's anger.
The Doc's death was a touchy subject. His illness had grown worse during Kat's second pregnancy, and all it took was a winter which was colder than usually to finally make him pass. Kat had gone into depression and almost miscarried Harvey. Dark times in Whipstaff Manor.
The memories made him consider the question seriously, and he started plaiting again. "Well, ya grandpa had d'ese beliefs; he said dat ghosts are just people with wha' he called "unfinished business". If fleshies don't have dat when deys die, deys just cross over."
"Cross over where?"
Stretch shrugged, despite knowing she couldn't see him do so. "Where yous 'posed ta go after ya die. Us ghosts are d'ose who get stuck in the middle."
"So Grandpa didn't have any business?"
The girl took it all in. "So does that me you do?"
Stretch, once again, stopped plaiting. "Probably. It's been so long I've forgotten." He started again.
"Oh. That's really sad."
Silence settled, and Stretch was glad to finish the plait in peace. The last thing he needed was annoying questions and reminders that like fleshies, he had feelings under the ectoplasm. He strangely found that he was proud of his work when he was done. "D'ere. A plait and a lesson on ghosts. Come back der same time next week."
He drifted back a little as the girl hurriedly picked herself up, feeling the plait over her shoulder. "Thanks, Uncle Stretch!" She dived in for a hug, but Stretch saw it coming and allowed her to fall right through him. She gave him a confused look. "I was just saying 'thank you'."
"Yeah, well I ain't much of a huger, kid."
Amy just shrugged it off and went back to playing with her toys. Stretch hovered by the lights and watched, his mind free of any thoughts connected with what his brothers were up to or how he could slip away unnoticed. When he thought about it, fleshies at that young age weren't so bad. They were just innocent; no knowledge of the dangers in the world around them, and no knowledge of the struggles life would bring them. Yes. Young fleshies like Amy were all right.
It was the adults he couldn't stand.
10 years later...
Sixteen year old Amy Miller sat writing at her desk, working on a report for school while music blared out from the grey laptop which sat on her bed. Outside the window the sky was dark, and the moon was high.
Perfect. Stretch passed through the door and into the room, taking on a terrifying form of a three headed snake with arms, ready to grab her.
But the moment was ruined when Amy spoke coolly, "Don't even think about it."
Stretch froze, and he shifted back into his usual form. "I don't get how ya do dat."
Amy rolled her eyes and turned to face the ghost. "I've been living here my entire life. I can feel the wind you guys make when you enter a room." She turned back to her work, writing out the last few words. "There, done. And about time too." The girl got to her feet, papers in hand, and made her way over to her bag.
"I came up ta tell ya dat ya dad's gone out ta look for Harvs," Stretch explained. "Poor, demented boy..."
"He's not demented, he's a thirteen year old boy going through a rebellious stage," Amy informed. She shoved the papers into her bag, ready for the next school day. "Sure, he dresses up in black a lot, but all goths do. It's a necessity."
"I still say he's demented."
Amy only rolled her eyes again. "Mum and Lydia still at the parents evening?"
"Yeah. Shouldn't be too long before dey arrive back, screamin' at each other like banshees."
The girl had to chuckle a little at that. He had a point; her mother and younger sister weren't a good combination, what with their short tempers and stubbornness issues. The teen switched off her music and went to pick up her hairbrush. "Where are the others?"
"Casper's mopin' at the lighthouse again, and Stinkie and Fatso are raidin' dat new road-stop diner outside town."
"You didn't join them?" she asked with a questioning look. The brush passed through her brown locks with some difficulty.
Stretch waved a careless hand at her. "Nah. Food and bad smells can't tempt me like dey tempt d'ose two. I don't know why, but...d'ese things just seem a little...old, ya know? Been d'ere, done dat type thing."
"Being dead for a hundred plus years doesn't help."
"You said it. Everything's been done. Maybe I shoulda listened ta dat crazy Doc more." Suddenly realizing what he'd said, he glanced over at Amy to see her reaction.
She noted why. "It's OK to mention him around me. I'm fine with it. It's Mum where you can't mention him at all." Last time someone had, Kat had locked herself in her room and wasn't heard from until the next morning. "But now you're starting to get bored, why not try and get you're unfinished business solved?"
"Tryin' ta get rid of me, are ya?" the ghost joked. "Don't worry, I ain't dat depressed. Besides, I don't even know what it is, nor am I interested in findin' out."
"When will you try and find out?"
"I'll give it 'nother couple of centuries."
Amy laughed. But it died when her hairbrush wouldn't pass through a particularly large knot in her hair; she'd been struggling with it during her conversation with Stretch, but only now did the task distract her away from that. Her frustration quickly grew.
Stretch rolled his eyes. "Dat's why most ghosts don't have hair." He flew to her assistance and tried to pull the hairbrush out too, but it refused to budge.
The brush finally snapped in half and sent the ghost flying through the opposite wall. He drifted back in, and both he and Amy stared at one half of the brush on the floor, then at the other still stuck in her hair.
"OK, I d'ink it's time for a haircut, bonebag." He stared at the brunette's hair, which still reached down to Amy's waist.
The teen sighed. "Tell me about it. Mum and I are still trying to tackle that hurdle with Dad; he thinks I'll look too grown up with it cut short."
"Talk about a guy who won't let go," Stretch commented. "He's worse dan der Doc."
After several minutes of trying to untangle the other half of the brush from Amy's hair, the pair finally pulled it loose. Stretch tossed the now useless brush into the trash.
"Well, there goes that brush," Amy mused. "I doubt anyone else will let me use theirs; Lydia never does, and Mum won't when she hears what happened to mine."
Stretch smirked, and before Amy's eyes he shifted his hand into a brush. "We ghosts can perform clever little tricks, can't we?"
"I thought you said ghosts weren't fleshies' lap dogs?" Amy smirked.
"You remember dat comment?" the ghost asked, as he ran his hand-brush through the knot in her hair. It took some effort, but it eventually pulled through.
"Yep." Then an idea occurred to her. "Hey, do you think you could-"
The girl deflated. "You didn't even know what I was about to ask."
"You were gonna ask me ta plait ya hair again."
"…OK, so maybe you did."
Stretch smirked. "I'm surprised yous remember dat. I was kinda hopin' you'd forget."
"How could I?" she told him. "It was the only time someone plaited my hair without almost yanking it out. Mum always pulls too hard."
"Most of der time ya can't stand still."
"When I was younger," the girl protested. "Even now she does it. When you did it, it didn't hurt at all. That's why I tried to hug you." If ghosts could blush, Stretch would have done so. "And thinking about it, I can always tell Mum about it. Then she'd make you do it in the mornings instead-"
"Fine! I'll do it!" Although, he realized Kat probably suspected it had been him the first time, since the plait had "magically appeared in her daughter's hair without any way of it getting there". Still, he didn't need it to be confirmed.
So he split the newly brushed hair into three parts and began plaiting. The room was silent for a few minutes.
"Hey, Uncle Stretch?"
He cringed a little. "You mind not callin' me dat?"
"Why not? You didn't seem to mind when I was little."
"Yeah, when yous was little," the ghost informed. "Ye're a big girl now, and ya skinsack siblings stopped ages ago. And dey're younger."
"But just calling you 'Stretch' feels weird."
"Then-" He held his tongue. A thought had occurred to him, but...should he? Like he said; she was a big girl now. And even though he didn't want to admit it aloud...he trusted her. "Ethelwin."
Amy blinked and turned to face him, carefully so he didn't let go of her half-plaited hair. "Huh?"
I'm gonna regret this. "My real name's Ethelwin. Call me dat if ya want, just not in front of ya father or ya siblings. Ya mother knows, but she don't say it."
Again, Amy blinked. "That's your name? It's cool."
"No, it ain't. It's embarrassing."
"Come on, a lot of people have unusual names," she informed.
At this comment, Stretch smirked. "Oh yeah. Like ya boyfriend, Barf."
"His name is Garth, and we're just friends."
The girl turned back round again out of annoyance, and Stretch cackled a little as he continued to plait.
"But for the record, I'm still calling you Uncle Stretch."
Stretch could've – and would've – torn her hair out. "So I've just told ya dat fer no reason."
"No. In private I'll call you Uncle Ethelwin."
"Would ya stop with der 'Uncle' business? I don't want ya callin' me dat!"
"I'm sorry, I just...can't," Amy explained. "It doesn't feel right. I mean, even though you guys are ghosts and technically not family...you're still part of the family. It makes a strange and rather weird family...but still a family."
Stretch didn't know what to say to that, so he just remained silent. He didn't want to admit that as crazy as it sounded, coming from him, he considered these fleshies as part of his own "strange and rather weird" family.
The plait was done, and he drifted back a little to admire his handiwork. "D'ere. And dat's der last time I'm doin'-"
He was cut off by Amy suddenly throwing her arms around him. The girl had taken advantage of his rambling, and since he hadn't seen it coming, he hadn't had time to allow her to pass through him. He became stiff beneath her.
"Ha. Got you that time."
Stretch just awkwardly patted her head before carefully plying her from him. "Yeah, well I still ain't a huger. I'm not into any of dat mushy stuff."
Amy giggled. Before more could be said the sound of a car pulling up was heard, and no more than a few seconds later the front door downstairs was thrown open.
"Leave me alone!"
"Lydia Miller, you get back here right now!"
"You can't tell me what to do!"
"You're ten years old! I can!"
"I can't believe your grades are that low!"
"Yeah, well I live in a stupid haunted house! Of course they're low!"
"But Amy's weird!"
Stretch and Amy cringed at the sound of the cat fight. "Well, there goes my peaceful night in," Amy muttered. She then noticed the ghost drifting towards the door. "Where are you going?"
"Ta annoy der little princess."
Amy raised an eyebrow. "You know she hates your guts, right?"
"I know. Dat makes it more fun." He cackled.
Amy couldn't resist smiling. "You never quit dicing with death, do you?"
He sent her his trademark smirk. "I do have der advantage of already being dead, so wha' do I have ta lose?" He was through the door before she could reply.
The teen could only shake her head.