AN: If you haven't read the stories 'Plaits' and 'The Early Encounter', please do so before reading this one, otherwise this story won't make much sense.
Disclaimer: The rights for Casper belong to Harvey comics and Universal Pictures. Original characters belong to the author.
"Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose." – Kevin Arnold
The vans were packed and ready to leave, and one last time, sixteen-year-old Amy Miller gazed up at the large mansion which had been her home for her entire life. It had been two weeks since her parents received the letter; that erosion had pushed the cliff back too close to the house, and that very soon the house itself would collapse. She didn't want to leave her home, but they had no choice.
She couldn't imagine what it felt like for the ghosts. This had been their home for over a century, and even the Trio were upset that they had to leave. Thankfully most of the house's older possessions had been packed up too, including Casper's old toys and the stuff from the attic.
The removal men were going as fast as they could, glancing over their shoulders every so often; they'd heard the rumours that Whipstaff was haunted, and didn't want to waste any more time dawdling. "All right, let's get out of here!" one of them called, and the rest began to drive the vans away.
Amy made her way over to where her mother stood by the car; out of all the humans, this move was the hardest on Kat. "Goodbye, Whipstaff," she spoke sadly. "We've had some pretty good times." Adam placed a reassuring hand on his wife's shoulder.
"Good riddance, if you ask me!" Amy's ten-year-old sister Lydia yelled, clambering into the car next to their quiet thirteen-year-old brother, Harvey. "It's about time we moved somewhere normal, but I wished those dumb ghosts didn't have to come!"
"They're still part of the family, Lydia," Amy informed. She hated it whenever her sister talked about the ghosts in such a way.
Lydia sent her elder sister a glare. "I wish we could leave you behind, too."
At that moment Stinkie appeared in the car, unleashing one of his stinky breaths. Harvey, who had seen it coming, wordlessly covered his nose with part of his hoodie, but Lydia wasn't so lucky. "Oh, GROSS!" Before she could roll down the window of the car Fatso locked it, along with the doors, leaving Lydia trapped inside. She banged on the windows, calling for help.
Casper appeared at that same moment. The ghosts had kept their distances when the men were packing up. "Should I let her out, Kat?"
Kat watched her youngest daughter for a moment before she shook her head. "Nah. Just leave her." Then after glancing round, she asked, "Where's Stretch?"
The little ghost shrugged. "Don't know. I think he's still saying his goodbyes inside."
"Well he needs to hurry, otherwise we'll be leaving without him." Kat went to open the car door, and finding it locked, she glared at the two brothers. Fatso unlocked the doors again, and almost immediately Lydia leapt out, gasping for air. Kat covered her nose before leaning in and switching on the air conditioning, which not only got rid of the smell, but also blew away the two ghosts.
Satisfied, Lydia leapt up as she watched them go. "And don't come back!"
Amy rolled her eyes. "Do you want me to go find him?" she asked her mother. "He'll...be less cranky about it if I go."
Kat hid a smirk. She knew fully well that Stretch was rather fond of Amy, although he would never admit it in a million years. "Alright. We'll wait."
The girl turned to go inside, ignoring Lydia when she said, "Good. She's gone. Now can we leave her?"
Inside, Amy searched the places where Stretch would most likely be. His room, the kitchen, the library; but the lanky ghost was nowhere to be found. She began to wonder if he was sat on the roof, since the pair of them had done this one summer evening after Amy had a particularly nasty argument with her mother; but then the girl found a wall which had been turned, leaving an opening for her to see.
Amy peered inside, and in the glim darkness, she saw a small staircase leading downwards. I've never seen this passage before. Casper and her mother had shown her almost all the secret passages when she was a little girl, and when she'd been older, Stretch had shown her the remaining few. But this one...no one, not even Stretch, had told her about it.
Curious, and also wondering if it was where Stretch had gone, Amy began to make her way down, feeling her hands along the wall as the staircase gradually grew darker and darker. But it then became light again when she reached the bottom and noticed a small lantern had been lit.
Stretch must be down here. Who else could have lit it? Carefully she took the lantern from its place on the wall and pushed onwards. For a few minutes she walked through a passage until the room widened out and she saw something to her right.
It was some kind of stone table, only by the looks of things, the top could be taken off. Stepping forwards to get a closer look, Amy then noticed words engraved into the stone.
Jefford T. McFadden
She stepped back with a gasp when she realized what it was. The newspaper articles in the attic mentioned a J.T... He was Casper's father. Moving the lantern along, she noticed another stone coffin just like the first, and stepped forwards to read the words.
Caroline P. McFadden
Casper's mother, she remembered. She wasn't surprised when she found that the next one was smaller than the other two.
Casper T. McFadden
Gazing around her, Amy realized what the place must be. It's some kind of Crypt for the McFaddens. She knew that she should leave out of respect, but curiosity got the better of her. And she still needed to find Stretch.
Amy passed two more, both belonging to a Gail D. McFadden and a Floyd N. McFadden, who she assumed were Casper's grandparents; Jefford and the Trio's parents. She paused when she read two more familiar names.
Ainsworth D. McFadden
Barnett L. McFadden
She remembered that these were the names of Stinkie and Fatso; Stretch had told her these not long after he told her his own name. Reminded of Stretch, Amy wondered where he was...and where his stone coffin was.
Her answer came when she turned a corner and saw the tall spectre hovering silently before three more stone coffins. Amy knew it would be a good chance to jump out and scare him (Stretch: 0, Amy: 24), but she also knew it would be disrespectful. Then she thought that he may not even want her in the Crypt. She had seen him lose his temper before; it wasn't pretty.
So she turned to leave.
"I know ya here, kid."
Amy flinched and turned back to face him. Stretch hadn't even turned round, and for the first time, the girl realized how weird it must feel for Stretch whenever she does that to him. "We're, err, leaving soon. Mum told me to come and find you."
Stretch nodded, but didn't make a move to leave. That and the lack of anger in his voice dared Amy to move closer, until the light from her lantern lit up the names engraved into the stone coffins. She flinched a little at the first; Ethelwin K. McFadden. She wondered how Stretch felt about looking at his own coffin, knowing his body – or at least what was left of it – was inside. Drawing her eyes away, she turned her attention towards the other two.
Annabelle A. McFadden
Marcille K. McFadden
"Who are they?" Amy asked before she could stop herself. Where they aunts? Cousins?
At first Stretch didn't reply, and for the first time Amy notice that his face was completely deprived of emotion. "Just other members of der family," he finally said. Then he sighed, preventing her from asking more. "C'mon, kid. Let's go before ya mother gets her bag of bones in a twist."
He turned and drifted back along the passage with a silent Amy tagging along behind. She realized that since they were leaving the mansion, this would be the last time anyone would see this Crypt. It gave her a good enough reason not to say anything more to the strangely uncharacteristic ghost.
"Fleshie? Wake up, bonebag. I wanna talk ta ya."
Amy groaned a little at the sound of the familiar voice bringing her from her sleep. "What's my name?"
Stretch rolled his eyes. "Amy, wake up."
The girl's eyes flickered open and she sat up, rubbing them tiredly. "That's better. Now, what do you want at-" She glanced at her clock, "two-thirty in the morning? You ghosts may not need as much sleep as the living, but that doesn't mean you have the right to wake me up."
"I know, I know," Stretch said, raising his arms in defence, "but I had ta talk ta ya."
"Can't it wait until morning? I'm already having trouble sleeping; I don't need you adding to that." Her new room felt weird; she missed the sound of the sea and the creaking floorboards, along with the Trio's snoring from the next room.
"It can't," Stretch replied. "I...err... I don't want anyone interruptin'."
For the first time Amy noticed just how...distant he looked. It was similar to the same expression he was wearing earlier that day, but now he looked a little more sure of himself. Which came as a shock to Amy; Stretch was always sure of himself. A little cocky about it, but it didn't matter. It was one of his best qualities.
"What's wrong, Uncle Stretch?" she asked.
The ghost drifted down to sit beside her on the bed, not even bothering with trying to stop her from using the 'U' word. "Years ago, back when ya mother first arrived, der doc told me and der boys dat we'd feel better if we let everythin' out. We never listened ta 'im. But now..."
"You want to," Amy finished for him. She knew he had trouble with expression his emotions. He always liked to keep them bottled up and buried deep down; they were let out very rarely. "I'll listen, if that's what you want."
"I d'ink yer da only one I wanna say dis to," he said. He sighed, and Amy waited patiently for him to begin. "Dat Crypt we was in... I found dat years ago, when dat sister of yours was born. I was tryin' ta get away from 'er cryin'."
Amy blinked. "You didn't before, when Harvey and I were born?"
"Don't get me wrong, yous two could scream like banshees when yous was hungry and needed yer dypers changed. But ya sister...ugh. She cried nonstop!" He threw his hands in the air out of annoyance. "She was a loud-mouthed bonebag even den. So anyways, I was tryin' ta get away from der noise when I stumbled on it. It... it got me curious 'bout my life. Casper could remember...I wondered wha' I'd find."
"What did you find?" Amy leaned in closer.
Stretch seemed to pick up on this. "Kid, I want yous ta promise me somethin'. I don't go tellin' wha' I'm about ta tell yous ta just anyone. It's personal, got it?"
"I understand," she said quietly. "I won't breathe a word to anyone."
The ghost believed her, so continued. "Years ago – years and years and years ago, before any of yous was born – my parents travelled from across the pound ta settle here. Jeffie was only a runt at der time, and I was on da way. When dey got 'ere, dey built big ol' Whipstaff and had de other two; Ainsie den Barnie."
"Were you the only family who immigrated?" Amy asked.
"Dat's der next part of da story," Stretch continued. "Other families came over, too. Rich and poor, fer different reasons. One of der wealthier families were da Crittendens."
Amy sat upright. "You mean the ancestors of that lady who once owned Whipstaff?"
"Yep." Stretch shook his head. "Dere's a reason she gotta hold of da house. Ya see, Caroline – Casper's mum – was a Crittenden. Back den dey weren't so bad. Jeffie became fast friends with her, naturally."
"And then after she and the rest of you died," Amy realized, "the house was passed on to her side of the family, right?"
Stretch nodded. "Dere was another family, too. A poor family who came 'ere ta seek d'eir fortunes. Der Jonasons. Father employed dem, but dere was one who I...grew close to. Her name was Annabelle."
Annabelle... Amy remembered the name from one of the stone coffins, next to Stretch's. That's when it clicked. "Wait...she was your...?"
"We was good friends when we were kids," Stretch continued, ignoring her question. "She was a headstrong, rough and tumble kinda gal. Always preferred ta get dirty with me and da boys. I d'ink dat's why Ma never liked her, dat and da fact dat she was poor. But anyway, our friendship was like der one between you and Barf."
"Whatever." Amy just rolled her eyes; he was never going to quit it with the nicknames. "But den we became closer...until we realized we were in love. Ma wasn't pleased, as you can imagine. She forbid us from bein' together, and even dismissed her family from employment when Father died."
Amy guessed what came next. "You didn't listen to her, did you?"
"Ya know me too well, kid." Amy smirked. "Shortly after Jeffie and Caroline married, Annie and I married too, in secret at first. Den, when Ma pushed all dese snobs in our faces – mine, Ainsie's and Barnie's – I announced it publicly. She died shortly afterwards. I d'ink it was from shock."
The girl listened, but at the same time, the wheels in her head were turning. If Annabelle had been his wife... "Then that other coffin next to hers?"
"Caroline and Annie fell pregnant around der same time," he explained, as if to answer her question. "Gave birth around der same time, too. Casper was d'eirs...Marcille was ours. We all lived under der same roof; even Ainsie and Barnie stuck around. But den came...dat winter."
Amy knew exactly what he meant. Casper had told her the story before. "The winter when Casper died?"
Stretch didn't answer. "Casper and Marcie were always beggin' us ta give 'em our old sleigh. Jeffie and I decided ta only let 'em have it when dey was old enough. Dey were twelve when we decided it was time. I was gonna buy Marcie her own once I knew she was good with de other one. It was cold dat day. Annie went with dem, and I made Marcie promise not ta be back late."
"But they were." Amy had a feeling where this was going.
"It was startin' ta get a little late, so Jeffie and I went lookin' fer dem." His eyes were even more distant than before, and Amy knew not to rush him. "When we found dem, Annie explained she didn't have der heart ta ask dem ta stop. Dey was havin' too much fun. So Jeffie and I let dem have a little longer and went back inside. But den it got darker...and colder. By der time dey got back, dey was all coughin'."
There was evident pain in his eyes. He was dealing with his demons, and Amy found herself reaching out her hand and laying it upon his icy shoulder. He barely even noticed it.
"Casper was first ta go," he continued. "Jeffie went inta a state of madness; always claimin' ta see der little squirt's ghost. Now I know he did. He was intent on buildin' dis...machine ta bring 'im back ta life, neglectin' Caroline until she died, too. He was sent to a mental hospital where he died."
Amy didn't know what to say. "What about Annabelle and Marcille?"
He closed his eyes, screwing them shut as he remembered. "Marcie went next. She was so...guilty fer breakin' her promise ta me. I d'ink dat's why she crossed over; she didn't wanna face me. Annie was last ta go. She told me...ta move on...and ta let dem go. I d'ink she crossed over 'cause she didn't want Marcie ta be alone. But when dey went...I couldn't get over dem. I stopped eatin' until..."
He didn't need to say more. Amy understood. "What's it like to die?"
"I'm not sure I should be tellin' ya dat kinda d'ing."
"I'm not afraid to die, Uncle Stretch," she said without any hesitation in her voice. "It's one of the good things about living with ghosts."
The ghost just glanced at her, but then he sighed and looked away again. "It's like...ya let go of everythin' ya know," he explained, his violet eyes still distant in remembrance. "Like...all der pain yous felt in yer life...fades away. I guess I stayed behind 'cause I was so miserable. But since I forgot everythin'... I don't know why, but I just toughened up."
A lot of things made sense for Amy. "That's why you got so worked up when I caught pneumonia." Stretch nodded. "And...maybe that's why you saved Kat and Grandma Amelia that time."
Stretch blinked. "Why say dat?"
"Well, you lost your wife and daughter," Amy explained. "There was a woman and her daughter in trouble..."
"Den again," Stretch realized, "I did get some kind of stirin' when I heard dat ya grandpa called 911, sayin' dey was down dere."
"Maybe it's part of your unfinished business?" Stretch gave her a questioning look. "Well, it could be?" she insisted.
Stretch shrugged. "I du'know, kid. I guess we'll know after yous fleshies have gone, right?"
Amy shrugged in agreement. "What about Stinkie and Fatso? Why did they stay behind?"
"Not sure 'bout Fatso," he replied. "Out of der two, he died first. Maybe he wanted ta keep me company. Stinkie, though...he had all dese fantasies 'bout love, and always claimed he was lookin' fer der right gal. Never found 'er. Maybe he's still lookin'."
"How would that work? I mean, if he finds love in a "fleshie", by chance?"
Stretch's look was almost a horrified one. "My brother? Fallin' fer a fleshie? Over my dead body!" Amy raised an eyebrow, smirking. "I mean... OK, let me rephrase dat."
She laughed. "Whatever your unfinished businesses are...I have a feeling we're going to be stuck with you all for a long time."
"Yeah. So live with it."
The girl found herself smiling. Stretch was back to being Stretch again. Typical. But as she drifted back off to sleep, she could have sworn she felt something cold rest on her hair, before something else – not quite as cold – touched her cheek.
Nah. Stretch isn't a softie.