GHOST OF A CHANCE
Filed by Rachel Leavenworth, Spirit Liason
GBI Case File No. GBWC-2006-24/208
Filed by Rachel Leavenworth, Spirit Liason
GBI Case File No. GBWC-2006-24/208
"I hate movies," she muttered bitterly. "Movies bite it big time."
For the past six months, she had been boarding at the Queen Mary, a cruise-ship-turned-hotel in Long Beach. It had started out a good time: she'd met a few of her old friends from San Jose, made a few new acquaintances, and enjoyed some nice accommodations. But then her rejection came in from the Disney people. After that, she'd tried to become a fixture at the Mary, but after two weeks came the united forces of unholy bureaucracy, which conveniently ignored her rather impressive litany of tourist relations experience. Finally, she sank to the level of a special effects technician at the most obscure, underfunded, and talentless movie studio in all of California, if not the known Universe.
But at least it had been a job. She'd known she deserved better, that her skills easily exceeded those of her employers, but had hung on for a while in the interests of maintaining her position. Eventually, as she had known it would, one day it all became too much. She just lost her head entirely, sick and tired of dancing to the studio's absurd tune. Of course, she was immediately fired, but at the time she felt the sacrifice was more than worth it.
Later, when she cooled down, Rachel finally realized she had been inexcusably stupid, but it was way too late to make amends.
A job can mean many things depending upon whom you ask. To Rachel, a job meant a place to stay, a little petty cash, and a mechanism to avoid total isolation. Lack of a job, which Rachel now experienced, meant a homeless, dirt poor, and extremely lonely woman. Now, she was headed in a northerly direction again, but she wondered why she bothered. Nothing would be waiting at the end of the line.
She yawned and wondered why she even bothered yawning-- she'd barely had a wink of sleep for who knows how long, and it had never affected her before. Her eyes misted over with the tears of yawning... and an orange blur of light caught her eye.
Rachel stopped dead in the street. She made a sharp right to track the source of that light, for she knew not if she should dare to believe her teared-up, far-sighted eyes. She drew nearer to the blur, which came quickly into focus.
She blinked-- a token blink-- and stared at the sign in front of her, mounted on the front of a warehouse. She took a closer look to be certain her eyes were not mistaken.
But there could be no mistaking that sign: An orange circle with a cross hatch through it, and a startled white vapor stuck behind it. "Slap me silly and call me Spanky," she breathed.
The XBOX-centered get-together had been prompted by the crew's recent acquisition of a copy of Doom 3, which former GBWC member and former Microsoft game tester Mike Chad had left behind, but she didn't quite feel up to watching a gang of her testosterone-charged co-workers literally blast their way to Hell and back. You'd think they'd get enough of that kind of action on the job, she shrugged as a whoop of digital victory sounded from a few rooms away. Oh, well-- boys will be boys, I guess.
Had not Doom 3's creepy sound effects been pumping out of the television speakers at top volume, Chelsea might have heard an insistent rapping on the front door. When the knocking brought no results, the door handle began to jiggle emphatically, but this too brought forth no obvious affirmative effect. The subsequent sigh of frustration never stood a chance of getting Chelsea's attention.
Chelsea bent to collect her shoulder bag and other personal effects. This may explain why she didn't notice the sheet of paper taped over the window (to block out the afternoon sun) wave slightly, although the air in the room was still as death. However, she did hear a noisy clatter in the kitchen as someone knocked a metal bowl onto the floor. A muttered curse followed, one which sounded distinctly female.
Chelsea's ears perked up. Funny, she thought Rose had punched out and left already. Rose Prevost, another staff member, helped Chelsea with her duties. Unless some staff changes had been made without her knowledge (unlikely), Rose was also the only other woman who worked regularly at GBWC.
"Rose? Is that you?" Chelsea inquired.
Rose's voice answered, sounding strangely faint. "I forgot my purse."
Chelsea shook her head-- maybe she'd been working too much lately. Rarely did anyone ever slip into the HQ without her noticing. "All right. Hey, is there any coffee on? I might need some for the ride home."
Just then, the phone rang. Chelsea looked at the clock to see if she could legally ignore it. No, still two more minutes until her shift was up. She grabbed the receiver with one hand and held onto her possessions with the other, leaning over the front of her desk. "Ghostbusters West Co-- slow down, ma'am, I can't understand you..." Chelsea balanced the receiver on her shoulder and grabbed a steno pad with her free hand. She snatched up a pencil and began scribbling details. Behind her, while her attention was fixated upon extracting details from yet another panic-stricken customer, the cup of fresh, hot coffee she'd requested was on its way. The coffee, as well as the cup it was in, seemed perfectly normal, except for one disconcerting detail: They were steadily progressing towards Miss Aberdeen's desk through thin air, with no visible support whatsoever. "Mm-hmm. Yes, I got it... No problem. I'll get someone on it right away." The coffee quietly came to a rest on her desk as Miss Aberdeen hung up.
Chelsea groaned. It would take nothing less than the bazooka-toting spirit of General Patton himself to light a fire under them at this rate.
Then she remembered there was still something almost as effective lying about Headquarters.
Independence Day had recently come and gone, bringing with it the customary pyrotechnics. As usual, Fritz had saved a few items for use on New Year's, including a box or two of snaps.
Chelsea retrieved one of these boxes and brought it back to the entertainment center, along with a cutting board and rolling pin from the kitchen. She laid out about half a dozen snaps on the cutting board, put the cutting board on the end table. Then she waited. Doom 3 owed most of its popularity to being the most gratuitously frightening video game produced in the history of interactive entertainment, and although it had its shoot-out, gory moments, there were also silent, tension-building ones in between. She chose to put her plan into action during one of these, just when the finely composed symphony of suspense reached its crescendo. Swiftly, Chelsea rolled the pin across the cutting board, creating a raucous burst of popping and crackling.
Naturally, everybody thought the noise meant a zombie attack and dove for cover amid shouts of panic. Doom 3 was forgotten and the poor Marine onscreen left to a grisly fate in the jaws of a large, pitbull-like monstrosity. Chelsea stood in front of the monitor as the Marine expired with a dramatic death rattle.
After a few moments (in which Chelsea fought the compulsion to commence a giggling fit), the others cautiously came out from under or behind the various articles of furniture they had used to shield themselves.
"We have a call, guys," Chelsea repeated herself calmly, struggling to keep a straight face.
The guys looked at each other. "That was so wrong," Andy complained. "I was this close to finishing the level, Chelsea. This close!"
His compatriots chimed in with their respective opinions. "What're you trying to do, kill us?" "He was this close!" "If we'd beaten it I could've teased Bo and Yeti about it for weeks!" "What call? Who called?" "Whatever happened to common courtesy, anyway?"
Chelsea held up a hand like a long-suffering grade school teacher trying to quiet her class right after recess. "Guys, take it easy!" The guys calmed down a bit, but it was plain to see they were still annoyed. "Look, from the sound of it, this should be a pretty straight job-- some kind of minor poltergeist, but the lady on the other end of the line sounded like she was ready to go off the deep end."
"Didn't you tell her to call back during regular business hours?" Andy cut in again.
"I would have, except she says her in-laws are visiting."
"Isn't that her problem?" Andy countered.
"They're Senators." Chelsea crossed her arms.
Andy paused. Suddenly, he seemed interested. "Say, guys, who's up for a little good press?"
Jeremy Hicks was already crawling out from under the table in the general direction of his locker. "I can see tomorrow's front page now: 'GBWC Protects Panicked Politicians from Pesky Poltergeists'. The rags have a thing for alliteration."
Chelsea grinned. My work here is done.
"Hi, Rose," she heard Kyle Stevens greet perfunctorily. "Forget something?"
Chelsea frowned. Hold it a minute...
"Yeah, my purse--" Rose replied.
"Again?" Chelsea interrupted, stuffing a lotion bottle into the bag.
Rose squinted at her co-worker. "What do you mean, 'again'?"
Chelsea raised an eyebrow. "Weren't you just here five minutes ago to--"
"No," Rose insisted. "I've been gone at least half an hour."
"But..." Chelsea was entirely befuddled. "I heard you talking in the kitchen..." She looked back at her desk. "And look there. You left me some coffee on your way out..."
Rose slowly shook her head. "When I left, the coffee pot was totally empty. I know, because I wanted some but I didn't feel like making a new pot."
Chelsea gulped. The boys stopped zipping up their uniforms to stare at her. She looked at Rose and could tell she had the exact same thing on her mind.
"Burglars," they said in unison. They made a beeline for the kitchen.
The boys were quick to follow them. "Maybe we should be calling the police," Jeremy suggested, but got several incredulous glares in return. "Just a suggestion," he shrugged. "Figured it might be a good alternative to burning the kitchen down..."
Rose and Chelsea arrived first. Everything seemed perfectly normal and vacant, even the steaming pot of java on the counter.
"I think I need a vacation," Chelsea commented wryly.
She might have gone on believing that had not Fritz joined the steadily dispersing crowd at that moment, clearing a path for his wheelchair (by this time in the evening he'd often removed the prosthetic if he wasn't planning to go out) with his good foot. "Excuse me," he requested. "Coming through..."
He rolled to a stop right behind his puzzled girlfriend, the broken PKE Meter in his lap. "I'm glad I caught you. I got the PKE fixed faster than I thought, so we can go out after all..." He cut off as a disturbing discovery broke in on him.
His PKE Meter was detecting an active presence. Abruptly, it faded to a residual, unidentified signature. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air, even though nothing was cooking and the coffee machine had been turned off.
Chelsea looked at the meter, and then at her boyfriend as he intently examined it. "Fritz..."
He took the words right out of her mouth. "I think we're being haunted."
"It's coming, it's coming," he muttered. "You can't rush genius, boy."
Kyle rolled his eyes. Ever since Dr. Masterson (or Dr. Otter, as he was affectionately known) had caught wind of last night's incidents, he had been rummaging around in his lab, rewiring this and blowtorching that. He seemed awfully excited about whatever is was he was working on, but he didn't seem to be in any enormous hurry about finishing it.
Kyle examined the thing Dr. Otter was so obsessed with today. It looked like a metal version of a homemade buttermilk biscuit with an antenna sticking out of it. LEDs and sensors pocked its dull grey surface.
"You know, you've been telling me this thing will help us catch 'Mr. Coffee', but thus far you have failed to explain exactly how," Kyle hinted, but he knew he probably wouldn't get much response besides an irritated grunt. At this point, their resident technician was in full mad scientist mode, and the only thing proven to break him out of that was a very gratuitously done issue of Playboy.
"There we are!" Otter rejoiced, holding up the strange "biscuit" triumphantly. "Ain't she a beaut?"
"That depends. What is it?" Kyle asked bluntly.
"You probably mean, 'What are they?' Plural, you see," Otter corrected, sliding open a workbench drawer. Inside were at least ten "biscuits", all identical to the first. Also in the drawer was a remote control, which he used to turn on a video monitor in the far corned of the lab.
Kyle gaped, totally taken aback. "It can't be..."
Kyle approached the screen. "Pac-Man?"
Otter chuckled. "I cannibalized an old Commodore to take the receiving signals from these little babies," he explained. "But the darned thing wouldn't display graphics without a game in the console, so I got a vintage Pac-Man cassette. There's no improving on the classics, am I right?"
"Receiving signals," Kyle repeated. "These things are tracking devices?"
"Hell, no. If I wanted to make a tracking device, it'd probably be about the size of a penny-- not like these bulky things," Otter snorted.
"So what are they, then?"
"Thought you'd never ask," Otter grinned, wondering why Kyle looked ready to explode. "Stationary PKE sensors. They've been a pet project of mine for a while now, and it looks like we have perfect conditions for a good equipment test. That's why I finished 'em in such a rush-- I didn't want to take a chance you guys would track down our visitor first."
Kyle carefully picked up one of the sensors. "These things could be a big help on some of our other busts, too... provided they work."
Otter made a face. "Of course they work. Remember who you're talking to, hotshot."
"I do," Kyle countered. "That's what I'm afraid of."
Otter huffed. "If that's the way you feel about it, you don't have to use these things at all--"
"I'm just kidding." Kyle gave the sensor back. "Are we gonna test these things, or aren't we?"
"There isn't gonna be any 'we' involved," Dr. Otter disagreed. "I've been tinkering with these things for the past four hours straight, and now it's time for my lunch break. There are plenty of able-bodied people around here to help you lay the sensors out. I'll show you how to flip 'em on."
"This is Master Exploder, asking why we didn't just use our cell phones instead of these crappy Happy Meal toys," Jeremy griped in return. "We can barely understand a word you're saying as it is, so take it easy on us and drop the radio lingo."
"That's a big ten-four, Exploder. Over."
Kyle shook his head. "Maybe he was a trucker in a former life." He activated two sensors and set one on the garage floor. "Here," he said, handing the other over to Jeremy. "These things have an average radius of twelve feet, so give them plenty of interval space."
Jeremy considered that, adjusting his glasses. "Ten sensors with a radius of twelve feet each. Think that'll be enough to cover the HQ's square footage?"
Kyle nodded. "If we place these just right, any ghost that could slip past them would be too small to manage a coffeepot."
They continued setting sensors on the ground floor for a few minutes. Jeremy set another in the Meeting Room before they continued to the next story. "I can't help but wonder why that thing chose to come in here. I mean, of all places, a Ghostbuster franchise headquarters? It doesn't make any sense."
Kyle started climbing the stairs. "Well, maybe it wants to sabotage us."
Jeremy was right behind him. "I'm worried it might be worse than that. What if the Containment Unit has sprung a leak without us knowing?"
"You worry for your reasons, and I'll worry for mine. I'm sure you can foresee the fabulous publicity we'll get if the papers scent this little scandal," Kyle pointed out sarcastically.
"They'll probably come up with some clever headline like 'Ghost Busted', or something like that," Jeremy guessed idly. "I'm sure the eco-Nazis would positively eat it up."
The Pac-Man maze had been reprogrammed into a design approximating the layout of the headquarters. Whenever a new sensor was activated, it appeared as one of those glowing things that Pac-Man ate whenever he wanted to attack his enemies. Anyone living who passed through the sensors appeared as a Pac-Man, and he didn't need a Mensa membership to guess what a PKE signature would look like: one of those little, pastel-colored cartoon ghost things. To be perfectly honest, he'd always thought the Pac-Man ghosts looked more like squids...
And speaking of which...
"Guys? You just set a tracker on the second floor, right? In one of the bathrooms?"
"Yeah," Jeremy answered. "Can't you see us?"
"Sure, but that's not the problem," Andy continued. "I'm getting a reading."
"Unless this equipment isn't working right... it's coming from right in front of you."
They waited for an attack, but all they got was a cold breeze.
Jeremy squinted. "Where's that draft coming from?"
"There couldn't be a draft. It's already 95 degrees outside, and the cooler's shot," Kyle replied, sounding slightly uneasy.
The walkie fizzled to life. "It's on the move," Andy warned.
"Shit," Jeremy cursed. "It slipped right past us. Which way?"
"Behind you and to the left. Hurry up-- it's going out of range!"
They whirled around and made chase into the upstairs corridor.
Andy spoke up again. "Hang a right into the unoccupied dormitory--"
His voice cut off as an invisible force yanked the walkie right out of Jeremy's hand, flinging it a few feet away. "Guess we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way," Kyle stated, lunging into the unoccupied dorm while detaching a traditional PKE Meter from his belt.
"It's still here?" Jeremy asked as the PKE Meter activated.
"Yeah, by the bookshelf... I think."
Apparently, the ghost was all too ready to confirm things for him. Books and magazines started whipping out of the shelves, whizzing past the guys' heads... but never actually connecting with them.
Kyle waited for the blizzard of literature to ease. "Either 'Mr. Coffee' has the worst aim in the world, or..."
"It's trying to bluff us," Jeremy concluded.
"And why should it not be? We've got it on the run!" The poltergeist ran out of things to throw, and Kyle took aim at its last known location. A squeaky board in the floor creaked, and he corrected himself to point the proton rifle in the general direction of an empty bed. "Hold it right there, spook, or we open fire!"
A small voice cried out. "Don't shoot!"
The terror in that sepulchral voice was easily audible, and almost startling in its intensity. Slowly, a blue glow began to materialize behind the bed. Kyle and Jeremy tightened their grips on the rifles, unsure of what to expect, but positive they would be prepared for whatever it was.
A small puddle of ectoplasm appeared on the floor as the glow began to take on a more definite shape: a hazy blue profile of a person wearing a robe, cringing against the wall. It lifted its head to make eye contact with its wary pursuers.
A pale face came into focus first, its largish eyes practically bugging out with apprehension. Its features were pale and feminine, distorted by the panic of the chase. Typically, these attributes were mainly transparent: the wall was visible behind her head. There were no wrinkles or bags under her eyes-- she looked as though she had died young, no older than twenty-five or so. That observation might have been sort of sad under other circumstances, but at this point the guys weren't able to access their sympathies-- they were too concerned about making sure this dead chick didn't make any funny moves.
The rest of her body quickly resolved into more definite features, such as long, tangled hair and an old-fashioned, long-sleeved bedrobe bordered with ruffles. Her color scheme was fairly consistent: blue, blue, and more blue. She seemed less solid the farther down they looked-- the hem of her skirt, touching the floor, was nearly invisible. She was surrounded by a faint aura, and the slight scent of smoke drifted from her direction.
She relaxed, but only slightly, and the air temperature lost its chilly edge. "It's okay. I don't want to hurt anybody. Just stay cool." She put up her hands in surrender. "I come in peace," she pronounced gravely (no pun intended).
Likewise, the boys eased off and holstered their proton rifles, but kept their guard up. "It's against our policy to capture non-confrontational spirits," Kyle recited cautiously, keeping the book blizzard in mind. "You say you're not looking for trouble. What do you want?"
The ghostly girl let her arms drop. "Well, maybe we should work our way around to that gradually," she answered evasively. "Let's start with the introductions first. It's been..." She pulled a spectral pocketwatch from the folds of her skirt and shrugged. "...some one hundred years since I've seen so much excitement, and in the meantime my memory's gotten a little patchy. My real name is kaput for now, but I always liked the name Rachel, so let's use that one as a starting point."
Rachel grinned at them, somewhere between shaking hands and fading into the walls. Kyle and Jeremy exchanged a bemused look, and they both clearly had the same thought on their minds: Are we on Candid Camera or something?
Kyle cleared his throat. "Well... Rachel... allow me to be the first to say 'welcome'. I am Dr. Kyle Stevens, the Southern Gentleman of the GBWC, and if you have any questions just let me know." He was trying very hard to appear friendly, but he'd seen too many ghosts act disarming and then open up a can of supernatural whoop-ass to not be on his guard. He gestured to his left. "This is Jeremy Hicks."
Rachel nodded acknowledgment. "A pleasure. Most people, y'know, they just turn and run when I show up. Except this one guy who thought I was his dead aunt..." Rachel knew she was rambling, but she couldn't help it. She always rambled when she was nervous... and she kept noticing Kyle's and Jeremy's left hands twitch towards their right shoulders, an observation which made her incredibly nervous. "He kept goin', 'Aunt Rachel!!!' I was, like, looking over my shoulder and going, 'Moi?'" She threw in an unnerved giggle.
"'Turn and run?' You're talking to Ghostbusters, Ma'am. We don't 'turn and run' from ghosts," Jeremy insisted, incredulous.
Rachel relaxed a bit more. He was responding to her without sounding confused or upset. This was very good. "'Most people' was the central phrase of that sentence," she said, her smile spreading.
There was a lull in the conversation. Kyle happened to notice in this interval that his jaw was hanging open. He closed it.
"You know, Dr. Stevens," Rachel said, breaking the silence, "I do have a question for you." She started to approach the two perplexed Ghostbusters, but didn't quite manage to step over the bed-- she stepped through it instead. "How does a person go about getting a job here? You must know something about that, or we wouldn't be here having this conversation. Dead I may be, but that doesn't mean I'll just sit around collecting dust. The hotel I used to haunt has just been demolished, and I seem to be out of luck. I just need a place to rest in peace, but I don't accept charity, so whatever needs doing, I can get done."
She would have said more, but Kyle motioned her to stop. "Whoa, Nellie. The one you want to talk to is Chelsea Aberdeen. She's at the front desk downstairs."
"Okie-day. Gracias," Rachel said flippantly... while sinking straight through the floor.
Jeremy waited for her to disappear completely and then turned to Kyle. "Should we be shifting this one to Chelsea? This Rachel chick seems better suited to... ehh, our job description."
"I'm not trying to shift her anywhere," Kyle answered, still staring at that spot in the floor. "My idea is, see how she interacts with Chelsea and if she tries anything funny, zap her."
Jeremy raised his eyebrows. "So much for the 'Southern Gentleman' shtick," he quipped.
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Remember how I said sometimes chivalry conflicts with professionalism? This is one of those times."
Jeremy shrugged. "Guess you've got a point. Fritz isn't gonna like our using his girlfriend as bait, though. That much is for sure."
"She's a big girl. She can take it," Kyle retorted as he headed for the stairs.
Jeremy followed, shaking his head in disbelief. "A ghost who wants to be a Ghostbuster. This one may just deseat Mary Sue Gladstone as our weirdest applicant ever."
Kyle grinned wryly. "If that ghost really wants to be a Ghostbuster, my face is carved on Mt. Rushmore by a whittling knife."
On their way to the ground floor, they passed by the walkie-talkie, forgotten in the excitement. Neither bothered with picking it up.
Rachel smiled disarmingly; at least, she hoped she was smiling disarmingly. This girl Chelsea didn't scare easy (which was good), but she was obviously a teensy bit less acclimated to spiritual turbulence than the guys (which was bad). Rachel couldn't help noticing, despite her severe nearsightedness, that the roots of Chelsea's reddish hair were standing straight up. "Hi, Chelsea! Nice to meet you. I'd shake hands, but in my current conditions, that's sort of tricky." Rachel kept smiling, even though she realized she had just steered the conversation into a dead end. She cleared her throat. "Glad to know I'm a pioneer in this territory."
Chelsea sat there stiffly, waiting for the guys to quit standing there watching and actually do something. What did they think they were paid for, anyway? "How may I help you?"
Despite her best efforts, Rachel found herself rambling. "Turns out even dead chicks got problems. Mine is, the hotel I was haunting just got 'dozed. What a bummer, huh? And the Mansion in Mouseland turned down my residence application... again. They said 999 is a magic number. I said, 'So is Chapter Eleven. I'm absolutely certain your revenues would drop if the Matterhorn began to ooze green slime, hint hint.' I kept at it for an hour before they had a psychic kick me out of the park. Big whoop-- the girl was so phony, she made Miss Cleo look like Vigo the Carpathian..."
The front door opened. Chelsea sighed with relief-- Fritz was back from his physical therapy session, walking on his prosthesis. By now, the ghost was so busy listening to herself talk that she didn't notice Chelsea beckoning him. When he first saw the blue specter leaning on his girlfriend's desktop, Fritz seemed all too ready to intervene. He made a lunge towards the bizarre spirit, but stopped short when Kyle grabbed his arm. Chelsea listened absentmindedly to the ghost's pitch as Kyle whispered something to Fritz urgently.
"...If Walt coulda seen it, he'd've spin in his grave like a top. And no, I've never seen him, dead or alive, even though I've been up and down this state who knows how many times. He probably crossed right over, the lucky dog..."
Chelsea watched the conversation, unable to hear over Rachel's chattering. Fritz responded with some irritation and tried to pry Kyle's hand off his arm, but Kyle refused to be shrugged off. He continued with increased insistence. Fritz looked incredibly doubtful, but in the end Kyle seemed to convince him. Reluctantly, Fritz stood back. Chelsea gaped-- What is this, Candid Camera?
Rachel continued... and continued... and continued. "Anyway, that's how I finally wound up here. Now, I know I'm probably the least conventional candidate in the world: an amnesiac Haunted Mansion reject. But when you're six feet under, the only way left to go is up. Plus, you guys seem pretty cool... for breathers, anyway. "
Rose Prevost entered from the basement, carrying a clipboard. She came quite close to dropping it when she noticed the department's new visitor, but fast recovered from her startlement. Cooly, she walked over to join Chelsea, and not all the motioning the guys could muster would dissuade her from her course.
Rachel finally got around to the point of her speech. "I want to apply for a job here-- maybe not as a Buster, maybe not even as an assistant. But I have certain other skills that could come in handy: telekinesis, spontaneous combustion, etcetera. And I promise not to ooze on your carpet-- I'm house-trained. What are the other pre-reqs?" She folded her hands on the table and waited for an answer, pretending with all her might that she had just asked the most ordinary, reasonable question in the world.
Rose eyed her and made a blunt observation. "OK, this is weird...er than usual around here. Um, I'm Rose. Hi there. I help Chelsea, and deal with clients." She leaned over to her colleague. "So, Chelsea, has this ever happened before?"
Rachel cocked an eyebrow. "Miss Rose, what's with all the apprehension? I don't like to really consider myself a ghost. More like... physically challenged. That whole chain-rattling, sheet-wearing thing just ain't my style." She closed the sentence with a wink.
Rose brushed off the comment. "Oh, ghosts don't bother me...it's just that I'm not used to seeing them walk into HQ. Usually, they want out." She gazed levelly at the specter before her.
Rachel laughed. "Point taken. But returning to the reason I'm here..." Rachel paused and looked around. "I see you guys don't have a janitor... er, no offense-- it isn't that obvious. But maybe I can serve in that capacity. The beauty thing is, I don't need money. I mean, what would I buy with it? Not food, obviously, and not clothes. I should warn you, though... I have one really annoying tendency. People say that whenever I get upset, they smell smoke, and I begin to shed ashes. I can even make fire alarms go off. I don't know what that's all about-- probably has something to do with the way I died. I try not to dwell on it," she concluded, making a dismissive sweeping motion with her hand.
Chelsea felt curiosity overcoming caution. "I hope you don't mind my asking, but... how did you die?"
Rachel wiggled her shoulders noncommittally. "Funny thing-- I can't remember. Weird, huh? My memory only goes back far as 1930. Guess what I don't know can't hurt me, right?"
"Only 1930?" Jeremy interrupted sarcastically. "Why not 1929, or maybe 1910? Hey, why not go a little crazy and try for 1899?"
Rachel stared at him and then turned to Chelsea. "Is he trying to be funny?"
Chelsea shrugged. "I guess."
"Does he do that often?"
Chelsea glanced at Rose. "Um..."
"In that case, maybe I better stay on for a trial period," Rachel pronounced in a tone that indicated she was only half-joking. She turned back to the guys. "Say, who's Mophead there?"
Fritz stiffened. He usually ignored comments about his hair, but coming from a ghost, that was different. He figured an exterminator being taunted by a mouse would feel approximately the same. "Dr. Fritz Baugh, CEO of this franchise."
Rachel smiled. "Aha, so you're the one I should really be having a word with." She pushed herself away from the desk. "Long story short, you seem to be running a pretty tight haunt here, and I want in. How do I sign up?"
Fritz put on his most stoic expression. (The secret to success as a Ghostbuster, he had long since learned, was to keep a store of stoic expressions available at all times and use them whenever appropriate.) "I said CEO, not dictator. Ghostbusters West Coast is a democratic organization. I'll have to consult the others first-- I can't just admit you without their approval."
Rachel shrugged. "Sure, right." She looked around the room. "Ya'll think I'm okay?"
They looked around at each other, from face to face. "It's a little too soon to tell," Kyle answered on behalf of the group, tactfully as possible. "No offense, you seem nice, especially compared to most ghosts we run into, but better safe than sorry, yeah?"
"So I was on the right track with that trial period idea?" Rachel spread out her hands expressively.
Fritz polished his glasses on his shirt, a sign Chelsea knew meant he felt uncomfortable with the situation. "Actually, I thought perhaps you might return to your point of origin for now so we could call you back when something opens up."
Rachel's face fell. "I think you haven't been paying attention. I don't have a 'point of origin' anymore. I was... well, just wandering, I guess, and then the sign over the door caught my eye..." Rachel felt extremely awkward. She hated coming off as pitiful, and she knew that she was giving off an obscenely pathetic vibe right now. "And of course I know what the sign means-- what self-respecting specter doesn't? I figured, 'Y'know, I've been stiffed by The Man, and here are some people who know what that's all about. Plus, if the eastern dudes could coexist with the Spud, then...'" Rachel gulped. Time to lay it on the line. ""...maybe I could move in with these guys.'" She waited for a reaction, changed her mind, and rushed on before someone could get a word in edgewise. "Besides, unlike the Big Bright Green Sliming Machine, I promise not to ooze on the carpets."
Methinks the spirit hath watched too many Saturday morning cartoons, Rose thought. Still, she couldn't help feeling sorry for the kid-- she looked so woebegone and all...
Jeremy made a mock begging face at Fritz. "It followed me home, boss," he whined jokingly. "Can we keep her?"
Rachel was trying to decide whether to hug or hang him for that remark when Andy finally chose that moment to see why the hell no one would answer the damn walkie-talkie. When he spotted the ghostly lady in the center of the room (not to mention the center of attention), his Doom 3 instinct kicked in, and the proton rifle was in his hands before he could say "D-pad".
Kyle saw him in his periphery. "Hold it!"
His words were drowned out by the racket of a proton discharge, which miraculously connected with its target on the first try.
Andy held fast as the apparition shrieked and writhed with all her might. "LET ME GO!" Rachel bellowed at decibels strong enough to make the building shudder. "STOP IT!"
A freezing wave of air swept through the room, knocking Chelsea's bag over. Weary of managing her possessions, she pounced on it before anything could spill out-- except her pocket mirror, which clattered onto her desk. She snatched it up... and gaped in horror at what she saw. Every strand of hair on her head had been bleached to a pure snow white. She wasn't alone, either; the entire population of the room, it seemed, had suffered that same effects.
"Cut it, Harness!" Fritz yelled at the top of his lungs, struggling to keep his balance on his prosthetic leg.
Andy didn't hear him-- concentrating on the desperately wriggling spirit was challenge enough. One thing he could tell for sure: this chick was a real scrapper! "WHAT?!"
"HE SAID, CUT IT OUT!" Kyle shouted, shielding his head with his arms as loose objects started to become airborne. "TURN OFF THE BEAM!"
Andy didn't believe his ears. "All those years in the Southern sun must've fried either your brain or mine," he objected, "because I just heard you say--"
Suddenly, the girl disappeared. Not just visually, but completely, to the point that even the proton stream lost track of her and punched a hole in the wall instead. Andy shut the beam off, and there was quiet as the dust (and paper and tissues and pencils and plaster chunks) settled.
Jeremy gaped. "Holy crap, Andy. I think you just neutronized it."
"He wishes," a faint voice echoed from somewhere. "I got lucky. Your friend over there had a mirror on her desk."
"What about my mirror?" Chelsea asked, nonplussed.
"Ghosts blip out when they see their own reflection," the voice went on. "It takes them a little time to rematerialize. You didn't know that?"
"Sure," Andy swaggered. "Everybody knows that. It's just been a while since I busted a ghost in a fun house, that's all."
Rachel faded into sight as she had before, but this time, she didn't look afraid. She looked pissed. "If you wanted me to go, you could have just asked," she growled. The air around her began to throb with heat. "You didn't need to sneak up on me and give me an atomic enema."
"And you didn't need to give us a free peroxide job," Andy snapped back.
"That wasn't my fault!" Rachel protested loudly, trying to yell him down. "I didn't mean to howl like that, but have you ever fired one of those rifles at your foot by accident?! That thing hurt, by ghoul! It's hard to keep mum when heat exceeding the surface of the sun is wrapping itself around your entire body!"
"You're saying you turned our hair white just by screaming at us?" Andy pressed.
"I wasn't screaming at anybody. And yes, a scream of fright whitens the hair, but not for long," Rachel snorted. The temperature around her cooled by a degree or two. "Putrefaction, don't you guys know anything?"
"I know ghosts aren't supposed to feel pain," Andy slogged on stubbornly.
"We feel heat," she barked. "But truth be told, pain wasn't the only thing I was scared of. I know what happens in the Containment Unit-- I've heard the stories and I'll never go in, even if I have to hide in a hollow gourd."
"What have you heard?" Fritz broke in. "We assure our customers that our storage facility is completely humane. How are spirits harmed in there?"
Rachel narrowed her eyes at him. "More or less, the same way they're 'harmed' out here: we get abused, pushed around, and ostracized by folks who seem to forget we were humans once." Her voice cracked slightly, but she covered it with a cloak of rage. "You see, nobody seems to understand... HOW EMINENTLY INTOLERABLE THE AFTERLIFE IS!!!" Rachel's emotions were displaying falsely: she was madder than a hornet, but it was hard to give that impression with ectoplasmic tears pouring down her transparent cheeks. Rachel tried to save face by turning up her nose and heading for the door. "If that will be all, I'll just go on my way."
She passed through the nearest wall, leaving a small scorch mark on the paint.
After a few awkward moments, the entire group turned to look accusingly at Andy.
Andy drew back. Having that much righteous indignation aimed at him all at the same time was more than a little scary. "What?"
She became aware of living vibrations coming up behind her, but kept staring straight ahead. "If you're going to tell me to get off your property, all I can say is go to hell, because I'm sitting on a tax-supported sidewalk available to any honest citizen of this great state," she grumbled. "Although, legally speaking, I'm not exactly a citizen of this state, but let's not open that old wound..."
"The guys asked me to come out and apologize," Andy blurted out sheepishly. "Actually, they had to force me out here at gunpoint, but I will admit I was a little... hasty back there."
"Not to mention tactless and ignorant," Rachel added, still refusing to look at him.
"All right, all right, suck it up," he muttered. "But you can't blame me. Between this franchise and my work in Tennessee, I've lost count of the times I've been nearly killed by ghosts, demons, werewolves, and blah blah blah. If you can find it in any major mythology, odds are I've been attacked by it at least once."
Rachel sighed. "Okay, so you have a point, besides the one poking a hole in your hat," she admitted. "But you have to see where I'm coming from. It's not like being on the Ghostbuster staff was my lifelong dream or anything. But people have been pushing me and pushing me, and I've been taking it and taking it ever since I left home, nearly eight months ago. If I get punked one more time, I swear I'm gonna snap like a toothpick."
Andy shook his head. "You poor girl, I thought you would have known better," he said with exaggerated sadness. "It's a classic move-- the chick with nothing left to lose goes to LA, hoping the big city will make her dreams come true. Don't you watch TV? It never works out."
"I guess it doesn't. It really doesn't work when you set your boss' dry cleaning on fire, for the sake of ding-blasted dignity." Rachel chuckled at the memory.
Andy nodded, grinning. "Yeah, that kind of vandalism has 'You're fired' written all over it."
Rachel giggled. "I knew I was fired even before I did it. But the one thing that made it worth it was when he threatened to sue me. For what? I don't even have lint in my pockets! I'm telling you, the man had a brain the size of a garbanzo bean."
Andy laughed. "Okay, okay. So you have been catching some crap lately. Therefore, I will speak for myself and the rest of the living world when I say... and you better listen good, Cellophane, because I will NOT repeat myself... I'm sorry."
Rachel smiled and faced him. "I'll accept your apology. I could practically hear you gagging on that chunk of pride you had to swallow." She squinted at his hair. "Hey, Blondie, your color's coming back."
"Good," he replied. "Because the guys would have sold me to a freak show if it hadn't. And speaking of the guys, they all seem to like your trial period idea."
Rachel lit up. "Really?"
"Yup. They want you to stay on for about a month or so and see how it works out. But don't count on this being a sure thing," he warned. "If I were you, I'd still keep my eye on the want ads."
"Probably best then that you aren't me," she lobbed back. "I haven't got five bucks a day to drop on the morning paper." Then, quite unexpectedly, she gave the trigger-happy Ghostbuster a hug. "This is the first good news I've had all year," she told him.
He couldn't feel her arms around him, but he could tell the temperature of the air didn't match the late morning 90 degrees or higher. Instead, it felt just right.
"Looks like they're getting along fine now," he observed, with a somewhat... suspect edge to his voice. "Wish I was getting along with her that well." When Chelsea scoffed and elbowed him, he waxed defensive. "What? She's pretty hot-looking, for a dead chick," he remarked, rubbing his shoulder.
Chelsea rolled her eyes. Men.
Ghostbusters West Coast Division Created by Andy Harness and Vincent Belmont