GHOST OF A CHANCE
PART TWO

Filed by Rachel Leavenworth, Spirit Liason
GBI Case File No. GBWC-2006-24/208

July 7, 2006
8:31 PM
Rachel Leavenworth lay on the roof of the GBWC headquarters, staring up into the nearly blank Los Angeles sky. That was the one thing she'd never liked about Southern California-- its nearly total lack of stars. Between the light pollution and smog, they were nearly invisible. But then, so was she at the moment. She never worried about maintaining her appearance, and this became literally true when she was alone. Manifesting herself didn't take a whole lot of energy, but after several hours of doing so for the benefit of her new co-workers, she felt just a little socked out. She heard a door creak open and felt living vibrations emanating from its direction.

"Don't you just hate it," she said to whomever was listening, "when you make a wish on a shooting star and it turns out to be an airplane?"

Rose Prevost took a few cautious steps closer, exiting the roof access hatch. "You mentioned not leaving glop on the floor earlier."

"Yeah?" Rachel did not bother turning to look at her.

Rose took a deep breath. "It seems you left some in the dorms and the adminstration area," she reminded.

Rachel face-palmed herself. "Aw, man-- I totally forgot about that. Sorry."

"That's okay," Rose replied, forcing herself to sound casual. "Just take care of it soon-- Kyle's worried Mr. Whiskers will try to eat it."

Rachel sat up and turned to Rose, looking puzzled. "Who's Mr. Whiskers?"

Rose smiled wryly. "I won't force the information on you until completely neccessary." She leaned against an air vent (carefully, as she knew too well they were not designed to hold an average woman's weight). "I'll warn you, though: if you find random piles of crap in certain areas, he's probably responsible."

Rachel tipped her head thoughtfully, stroking her chin. "I've never heard of anybody actually eating ecto, but it can't be good for you. If this 'Mr. Whiskers' does manage to get some before I clean it up, all I can suggest is keep an eye on him, make sure his head doesn't start making 360-degree rotations," she joked.

Rose laughed. "I cannot believe I am having this conversation. You'd think I'd at least need a few days to get used to a dead woman hanging around."

Rachel nodded knowingly. "That's how it is. Everybody expects ghosts to look and act like something from Eight Legged Freaks, and when they run into a decent one, they think it's something exotic. I swear, some ghouls give us a real bad rap."

"Well, I have to admit you're the first sociable spirit I've met," Rose shrugged.

Rachel took on an exaggerated, mysterious tone as leaned towards the client administrator. "That's only because you don't look hard enough," she said, wiggling her fingers melodramatically. She broke off the mystic act with a giggle. "Truth is, there are lots more of us 'hanging around' than you think. It's just that you only hear about the trouble makers. The rest of us prefer to keep to ourselves. 'Let the dead bury the dead', and all that jazz."

"So why are you... I guess the word would be, haunting us?" Rose queried, brushing some hair out of her face. After observing Rachel's response, she wondered if that was too sensitive a question-- she looked a little pensive for a moment, but tried to gloss over her hesitation.

"Well, I guess I was tired of keeping mum and dodging schizos with Ouija boards. I felt like being a part of things again. And lately..."

Rose looked on curiously as Rachel trailed off. "'Lately' what?"

Rachel shrugged. She wasn't sure how much to tell, because she honestly wasn't sure how much there was to tell. "I've been feeling a little hopped up. There's more juice flowing, like back when they had the big doings."

"Big doings?" Rose parroted. "You mean back in the 80's, with Gozer and all that?"

"And Vigo, and Samhain, and all of them," Rachel confirmed. "I mean, I'm sure you guys have been noticing you're gunning for bigger game lately."

Rose made a face. "Not exactly. We've gotten wind of a few incidents elsewhere, but here, there's actually been a bit of a lull. Just business as usual."

Looking back later, Rose would say she wasn't sure, but it seemed as if Rachel got paler when she heard that information. "Oh. Well, good," Rachel said, somewhat absently. She sank slowly through the roof. "Better get that slime cleaned up, I guess."

Rose watched the personable spirit fade from view. As she pushed herself off the vent to go back inside, she thought she heard Rachel say something very faintly, like someone talking under their breath. "What?"

No answer. Rose turned back to the maintenance door, but her forehead wrinkled as she considered what she thought she'd heard...

"Then it's even worse than I thought..."

November 13, 2005

Rachel Leavenworth took a long look around. She would miss this place dearly-- the Columbia House Hotel, her home for as far back as she could remember. It genuinely hurt to leave, which was really saying something; after all she'd been through, there were few things capable of hurting her anymore. With a resigned sigh, she headed for the door.

The large yellow construction vehicle which came barreling through the wall right then did not improve her mood. She sidestepped the roaring vehicle and shuffled off to the left towards the main entrance of what would soon be a pile of rubble.

The engines suddenly cut as a hideous cry of pain came from its general direction.

Rachel jumped as construction workers leapt out of the driver's seat and rushed to the business end of their bulldozer, which had apparently pinned an old man to the dusty floor. He was unable to move, but wasn't bleeding; in fact, he seemed hardly injured at all.

Wait a second, Rachel thought. There hasn't been a living soul inside this hotel for near a year now. Where did this geezer come from?

"Help!" he whined.

Rachel went sheet white as the air around her went chilly. She knew that voice.

She rushed towards the workers, arms outstretched. "Don't!" Rachel screamed a warning.

The men looked up at her and shrieked like schoolgirls, their hair literally turning white before Rachel's eyes. She ignored their reaction (she'd long since learned to not take it personally) and called out again. "Look out behind you!"

Too late. The "old man" rose up from his position under the enormous Caterpillar and morphed into a hideous spectral skeleton, charred black and surrounded by swirling brown dust. He reached for the construction workers as Rachel barreled towards the monstrous apparition.

The men ducked as Rachel went into a flying leap, a reflex which probably saved their lives. She body-checked the shape-shifter through a wall as the men cowered behind her. "Will you ever learn to stay off my property?" Rachel shouted, teeth gritted in rage. "You got what you wanted! I'm leaving this gritty little hole. Now leave the breathers alone!"

The creature reappeared, sneering. "C'mon, li'l lady. You di'n't think the scope of our imagination 'uz that piddlin' small, didja?"

"I don't know what you're getting at, and I don't care," Rachel snapped, standing her ground. "I'll be long gone by nightfall, but if I hear you've ever come back again, I'll whop you straight to the Other Side, get me?"

The malevolent ghost laughed mockingly. "If'n ya really meant that, you wouldn't be a'goin'," he taunted. "Them breathers don't mean all that to ya."

Rachel scoffed. "Whatever." She turned to go, noticing that the construction workers had fled. You're welcome, boys.

"Looky here, Bluie," the spirit cackled. "When yer gone, what's t' stop all us from makin' the breathers hop to? Nawt, 'uz what." He chuckled some more. "Yup, you know it, but ya still ain't stickin' 'round. Know why? I know. Cuz' they don't wan'cha 'round here no more."

Rachel paused, and the spirit's grin got wider. She turned, anger flooding her, radiating into the room. She had every intention of ripping that little vapor to shreds, but something in the ghost's look made her stop her furious advance on him.

She realized the ghost had something behind his back, something he'd hidden in the blackness of his ruined ribcage. Rachel took one step further-- and then turned to flee in abject terror.

The ghost zoomed after her, but in his excitement, forgot that the object he held could not follow him through walls. Of course, he dropped it on his way out, and of course, he had to rummage through the rubble to recover it.

By the time he did, the girl had faded so far and fast that he couldn't even feel her vibrations anymore.

July 7, 2006
8:45 PM
Rachel snapped out of her reverie when she heard a low, threatening yowl. She was behind the bed in the dormitory where Kyle and Jeremy had established contact with her, cleaning up after herself with a large roll of Bounty paper towels. Most ghosts her age knew how to materialize without leaving goo on the floor, a trick she was rather embarrassed to have not yet learned. She was much better at it than she had been seventy years ago, but still tended to leave small amounts of slime when transitioning from full invisibility. She consoled herself in remembering everybody has their different strengths; for example, she knew how to do the "shadow mimic" bit, which most spooks couldn't master without some 200 years of practice. Pretty easy gag once she got the hang of it... Either way, the goo trick would be another notch on her gun soon enough. However, as Rose had pointed out, she had promised to not leave glop on the floor, which meant she needed to clean up after herself in the meantime.

Unfortunately, in the process she had managed to frighten a rather cranky cat who would not stop hissing and spitting at her. She craned her neck and spotted a license dangling from its collar. It took her a second to make out the letters...

"So you're Mr. Whiskers. I might have known from the description of your temperament." She shook her head and laid aside her paper towels. "It's okay, kitty," she coaxed sweetly, inching her hand towards the agitated animal. "I won't hurt you. Let's be friends, huh?"

The cat only screeched and swiped at Rachel, its paw passing right through her fingers. It shrank back and hissed.

Rachel put her hands on her hips. "Well, if you're so determined to have an attitude problem, don't come crying to me when your declaw appointment comes though, pal."

The cat screamed and scrambled out of the room, a blur of flying fur and claws. Rachel shook her head. "And that's why I'm a dog person," she called after the temperamental animal. She resumed scrubbing the carpet, but after a few moments of only spreading the stain, decided a bottle of Shout spray would help her progress considerably. She sank through the floor to find it-- and found herself kicking someone's head.

"Whoa!" Rachel yelped, losing her focus completely and falling to the ground floor like a rock. She shook her head to clear it and blinked a couple of times. When the blur in her eyes subsided and she managed to regain some sort of equilibrium, she found herself lying in the Gym, halfway submerged in the building's foundation with Kyle Stevens ankle-deep in her midsection.

She grinned weakly. "Uh, oops." She rolled to the left and stood up. "Sorry. I was just--"

"What the heck did you do to my cat?" Kyle interrupted, not a little annoyed. He gestured to a bench press, which the terrified animal was huddling under. "He shot down the stairs like a cannonball and anytime somebody tried to get near him, he acted like he'd seen..." Kyle stopped himself, trying to arrange his words with some semblance of tact. "Well..."

"A ghost?" Rachel suggested lightly. She crossed her arms and smirked at Kyle, who fidgeted uncomfortably. She chuckled. "Look, I didn't mean to scare your cat. They're just really sensitive--

"To paranormal phenomena," he finished for her. "Part of the reason why Egyptians worshipped them-- I know, I know. Believe me, people around here know their Egyptian mythology."

Rachel eyed the shaking bundle of fur. "What's your cat doing here, anyway?"

"He lives here," Kyle explained. "So do I, for that matter. He usually isn't so jumpy, but he has a vet appointment tomorrow. I'll never figure how he always knows."

Rachel grinned slyly. "Let me guess-- declawing?"

Kyle shook his head, his face grim. "No-- de-worming."

Rachel stuck out her tongue and pretended to retch. "Eww."

"I knew the job was dangerous when I took it," Kyle shrugged. "If I'd wanted an easy pet, I would have bought a gerbil."

Rachel shook her head. "Yet another tribulation of the living-- parasites," she gagged.

"And here comes a tribulation of the dead," Kyle observed, as Fritz Baugh and Jeremy Hicks arrived in the room carrying several paranormal detection devices.

Rachel noticed their instruments and retreated slightly. "Um, guys? I really don't go for masochism, so--"

Fritz smiled reassuringly. "These shouldn't be harmful to you. These are what we use to record the presence and potential of the entities we catch."

Rachel continued to examine Fritz as he handed a gigameter to Kyle. "Look, guys, I didn't come down here to be fried and served with a side of bacon. I just wanted to find something that would get my goop off the floor. Where do you people keep your cleaning supplies, anyway?"

"In the laundry room, but your goop can wait," Jeremy replied as he loaded film into a somewhat eccentric-looking camera with a reflective surface and several filters fastened to the lens.

"Now, you claim to be vaguely aware of Ghostbuster operations, so you have no doubt heard of the vapor known as Slimer and the role he plays in the New York franchise," Fritz started explaining. "Of course, your capacities render you rather more... versatile than he is, but many of your duties fall into the same basic categories, most particularly in the area of research."

"Research? You mean I'm gonna be your guinea pig?" Rachel glared at Fritz incredulously.

Fritz couldn't hold back a grin. "Not the words I would have chosen, but that's about the size of it," he answered. "You already helped us successfully test the stationary PKE sensor pods."

"That's a bloody long name for such little gadgets," Rachel commented. "Maybe you should try something catchier, like 'Boo-glar Alarms' or something."

"I'll be sure to give that some thought," he remarked dryly, getting a standard PKE meter from his belt. "But before we can effeciently use you as a control group, we first have to run some tests and compose your profile."

Jeremy focused the camera on on Rachel, removing the lens cap. "And if we could reproduce your likeness, miss..." he requested comically.

"As long as I don't find it on a ghost porn site later," she quipped. She struck a few humorous poses. "Does ectoplasm make me look fat?"

Kyle got out the Giga meter as she flipped over and stood on her head, bicycling her legs in the air. "Pretty decent potency readings I'm getting from you," he observed in a business-like manner.

"Not absurdly high, but in the upper register for a Class Three," Fritz conceded. "Somewhere in the 375-380 range on the PKE..."

"Well, practice makes perfect. A Class Three, huh..." Rachel paused in the middle of a Pharoh, struck by a sudden thought. "Hey, you guys are gonna classify me?"

"Obviously," Kyle replied.

"That's good. Nobody else has been able to so far, and I've spoken to any number of psychics-- y'know how it is. They were all bums," Rachel snorted. "Some people like to know their sign of the Zodiac or birthstone, but I'd just like to know which class and type of spook I am."

Jeremy held up a hand. "I call first crack at her."

Fritz moved the scanner up and down her aura. "She's all yours."

Rachel snickered and winced away from the PKE meter. "Hey, that tickles."

Jeremy spent a little time contemplating the specter before him. "It looks like you're what we'd call a Class Three, free floating, full torso apparition."

Fritz turned off the PKE meter and started scribbling on a Steno pad. "Mr. Hicks did indeed classify you correctly. As soon as you are able to remember more of your pre-death existance, and thus enable us to acertain your living identity, you would be immediately reclassified a Class Four."

Jeremy wiped away a mock tear. "Compliments like that make it worthwhile to get up in the morning."

"If I weren't already dead, I would die laughing," Rachel giggled. "Next time I go to San Jose, I can do the whole 'lounge lizard' act: 'Hey, baby, what's your class?'" She dissolved into snickers.

"San Jose?" Kyle repeated.

"Yeah, for the BPU rally. Mrs. Winchester hosts a convention for the Benign Poltergeists Union at her place every August," Rachel answered as she recovered from her giggling fit.

Fritz looked up. "'Mrs. Winchester'? As in Sarah Winchester? Architect of the Winchester Mystery Mansion?"

"The one and only."

"She's been dead since the 1920's," he pointed out flatly.

Rachel gave him a funny look. "And your point is?"

Fritz decided she was right and let it pass.

"Could you hold still a sec? I need another shot," Jeremy requested.

"Shore, pard," Rachel replied with a phony Wild West drawl. She laid full length on the floor and made a gulping fish face, squishing her cheeks together. "Now I am stunningly attractive," she joked with a garbled voice.

"We'd also like to ask you a few questions," Fritz added. "Mostly, they regard the nature of your existence and how you came to be here."

"Not much to tell," Rachel shrugged as Jeremy snapped one last picture, "but I'll see what I can do."

"For instance, yesterday you told Kyle you hadn't seen so much excitement in a century, but you went on to say you could only remember seventy years back," Fritz prompted. "Thirty years is quite a lot of time to leave unaccounted for."

"I suppose that would require a piece of explaining, wouldn't it?" Rachel grinned. She lay in midair as if on a psychiatrist's couch, listening to Jeremy mutter darkly as the camera refused to let him take the film out. "This might clear up a few things." She pulled out her pocketwatch, fastened to the inside of her gown's waistband with a safety pin and a silver chain. The press of a small button on the side opened the casing, revealing a wispy engraving for Fritz's inspection. He adjusted his glasses and leaned in for a closer look.

"'To my darling daughter on her twenty-fifth birthday, April 13, 1878,'" he read aloud.

"Which means I've been gone for somewhere in the neighborhood of 128 years," Rachel preempted, watching Kyle take the film to the bathroom (improvised darkroom for his purposes). "Of course, the engraving doesn't have to mean I died the year I got it, but it would be that long at most."

"So why do you only remember back to 1930?" Jeremy asked, putting the camera back in its case.

Rachel twiddled her thumbs slowly. "It's hard to explain. All I know is, for a long time, I was alone in a misty, dark place, where it was like time itself didn't exist. Then I heard a racket great enough to wake the dead-- which, apparently, it did. My hotel, the Columbia House, had been damaged by a small fire, and some men had come to fix it back up. They made more noise than New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July put together; that was back in 1930, and I've been unable to get back to sleep since."

"That's some racket," Jeremy nodded.

Fritz scratched a few more notes. "This account seems to support theories of spiritual limbo," he pondered. "A netherworld of physical vacuum where spirits wait to pass on to the afterlife."

Rachel shrugged. "Some folks say that's what's supposed to happen when you die-- you lose consciousness and wake up somewhere else. Others say you just go straight to wherever you're headed, upstairs or down. Who knows?"

"Even ghosts don't know the truth about the afterlife?" Jeremy prodded.

Rachel stared at him as a chill crept through the room. "We only know this for sure-- after you're there, you don't come back."

July 8, 2006
1:01 AM
Madeline Viets sighed and readjusted her grip on the steering wheel. Why did things like this always happen right before opening night?

As house manager for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Madeline found her plate piled high with tons of last-minute details near the start of every run. This particular production of The Lion King was no exception.

The specific detail she happened to be dealing with now had been prompted by a phone call from the police, regarding an airheaded intern breaking in through a window to retrieve a lost purse. And so, at the very witching hour, she had been rousted out to talk to the fuzz, keep the bimbette from going to prison, and terminate the girl's employment immediately afterward. (That last duty she had voluntarily awarded to herself.)

Her 2005 Acura pulled up behind the theater, executing a flawless parallel park. A "male thing", my butt, she thought smugly. Not one of my ex-husbands ever got the hang of it. She grabbed her tote bag and made her way to the front of the building... reluctantly, because she knew she would face a scene of utter pandemonium when she got there.

The scene did not disappoint: Two police cars with lights whirling, any number of bystanders and press milling around behind the caution tape, a policeman interviewing a girl in a black vest, and at least two other policemen investigating a broken window.

Why do I have the distinct feeling it's gonna be a really long night?

She approached the black-vested girl (AKA the intern) from behind, her face set in severe "you-know-I'm-about-to-fire-you" lines. She dropped a heavy "okay-now-you're-dead" hand on the intern's shoulder. The girl spun around, startled.

Madeline pulled back and gasped, crossing herself. "What the hell--"

The intern's face was covered in tears... and bloody bandages. Her plastic frame glasses, hanging from a chain, had all but melted. Her usually tangle-free, freshly-permed hair was crispy, and ashes flaked her singed white T-shirt. "The ghosts... the ghosts," the intern whispered, shaking convulsively.

"Don't be ridiculous," Madeline ordered, her usually booming voice weak and shaky. She took her young employee by the shoulders. "I mean, the rumors have been flying since the theater opened, but I can assure you all this ghost talk you've heard..."

Madeline's speech was interrupted as a deep, sputtering hum thrilled through the air, and the ground beneath her feet shuddered. A wave of intense heat and a dull orange glow were the last warnings she got before a fireball erupted out of nowhere, punching directly into one of the police cars and completely blasting it to oblivion. Instinctively, she dove for cover as the crowd scattered. Flames filled the air, roaring with intense thermal energy, arcing across the theater's facade. A strong smell of gasoline and hot rubber attacked her nostrils, as well as the stomach-turning smell of burning flesh. The policemen aimed their guns in every direction, searching for their attackers, as the intern emitted one endless, piercing scream.

For once, in a long career she had built out of being absolutely terrifying, Madeline Viets felt horror grip her heart.

"You got to go to the lonesome valley-- yes, sir..."

Jeremy Hicks, sound asleep until a nanosecond ago, groped for his glasses. What the hell... Ethereal crooning had intruded upon his dreams, which mostly involved the ways a proton pack might improve one's progress on the Doom 3 nightmare level.

"You... oh... WHOA SHIT!!!"

The post-sleep haze suddenly broke around Jeremy's head as he heard glass shattering. He grabbed a robe off the end of his bed and rushed out to see what in blue blazes could be going on at... he paused to check his alarm clock... 1:31 AM in the morning.

He heard some mumbling in the kitchen and so made a beeline for that area-- grazing a piece of broken glass with his bare foot. "Hey--!"

A pair of heads whipped around in Jeremy's direction as the glass shard skittered across the linoleum. One head belonged to a muss-haired Will Ketcham, still fully dressed in rumpled street clothes and carrying a small suitcase. The other head rested on Rachel's rather misty shoulders. Embarrassment and temporary startlement seemed to be duking it out for territory on her face, and finally embarrassment won. She gave a timid half-smile. "Uh... morning."

Jeremy looked from her, to Will, to Rachel again. He lifted his hands from his sides inquiringly. "Rachel... what the crap?" Jeremy asked flatly, letting his arms drop.

Will blinked, obviously confused by this hullaballoo. "Eh... a friend of yours?" He indicated the ghost with a hitcher's thumb.

Jeremy smiled wanly. "Will, meet spirit chick. Spirit chick, meet Will."

"Rachel," she added. "I live here now... well, I suppose 'live' wouldn't actually be the right word, but..."

Will cut off any further grammatical conjecture with a gesture and a noncommittal grunt. "Will Ketcham, Mobile Agent." He turned to Jeremy and lowered his voice. "A ghost... with the Ghostbusters?"

"It's a classic move," Jeremy yawned. "She smells better than Slimer, anyway... after you get past the campfire element. We were gonna call you about her in the morning, but that was when we thought you wouldn't be home until Thursday. On that note, how are things at GBI?" Will didn't answer immediately-- he was too busy examining the entity by the sink. Rachel, ever the ham, did a can-can step and winked at him. Jeremy snapped his fingers. "Hey, Ketcham?"

With a shake of the head, Will snapped out of it. "Uh, about average," he responded absently. "You know: mountains of paperwork, environmentalist nutjobs, dead people being annoying."

Rachel coughed indignantly. "Excuse me?"

"Present company excluded," Will corrected. He paused and gazed curiously at Rachel. "Forgive me for sounding stupid, but I've been stuck aboard a Southwest Airlines flight for the past twelve hours, so I may be a little behind the times. What, exactly, are you doing here?"

Rachel glanced at the sink. "Loading the dishwasher," she answered simply.

Jeremy glared at the absurd specter. "You couldn't wait to do that until, say, AFTER the sun came up?"

"No sleep for a restless spirit. I didn't mean to go rousting everybody," Rachel claimed defensively. She jerked a finger at a largish pot. "I was just bored, and the leftovers were starting to fossilize, so I figured--"

"That's not quite what I meant," Will interrupted. "I mean, why are you here, in our headquarters, as opposed to somewhere else?"

Rachel knelt down and started picking up broken glass. "I was just passing through, took a gamble on a fluke, and here I am," she said, doing nothing to clarify the situation. She met Will's gaze with twinkling eyes. "Besides, all the ghost bars are closed at this hour of the night. That crowd gives a brand new meaning to the term 'last call', that I can tell you."

Will blinked again, serenely as possible. "My first hunch was the right one-- I really should have just got my pack," he replied as he turned towards the nearest stairway.

Jeremy intervened, blocking him. "She's on for a trial period. The place she was haunting just got torn down, and she's looking for a job."

Rachel nodded to confirm the validity of this statement, picking up the last stray parts of what used to be a small beverage mug. She examined its remains. "I hope this thing wasn't valuable," she remarked apologetically.

Will watched her deposit the ex-mug into the garbage can. "Depends on how you look at it. I got it for twenty-five cents at a coin toss."

Rachel tried to whistle with appreciation, but all she got for her efforts was a faint rasping noise. (Whistling without lips was yet another trick she seemed unable to grasp.) "Nailed it on the first try? Not bad."

He shook his head. "Then I dropped about five more bucks trying to nab another one."

Rachel snorted sympathetically. "I hear they spray 'em with Pam or something, if it's any consolation."

Rrring! Rring!

All three paused as the sound of a ringing phone interrupted their conversation.

Will checked his pockets. "Not me."

Rachel shrugged. "Don't look at me."

"Relax, guys, it's the land line," Jeremy groaned. "I don't suppose either of you are interested in answering it?"

Will and Rachel shook their heads in unison.

Jeremy sighed. "Duty calls." He trudged down the staircase.

Rachel and Will looked at each other. Rachel shrugged and telepathically called over a broom which had conveniently been leaning against the counter. "Like I was saying... I don't really sound that bad, now do I?" She grabbed the broom and lamely swiped at the floor with it.

Will grunted. "Let me put it this way: You don't sound like the premiere episode of American Idol, but you don't sound like the season finale, either." He picked his way through the shattered glass towards his dorm room. "And if you'll excuse me, I've got about four hours of jet lag to catch up on. Probably the reason why I suddenly find myself in the middle of this delusional episode," he added under his breath as the sounds of scratching broom bristles followed him. "What is this, Candid Camera?"

The phone continued to ring patiently. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," Jeremy grumbled, making his way to the administration office. "Hello, Ghostbusters West Coast... when the spirits don't sleep, neither do we," he yawned. "How can we help you?" He listened for a few moments. "'Semi-urgent'?" He sat on the edge of the desk, nearly tipping over a pencil cup. "Of course we do..." he continued as he snatched the falling office accessory. "All right then..." He steadied the pencil cup and set it down firmly where he'd found it. Suddenly, an incredulous look crossed his face. "What do you mean, 'unusual'?"

Seven Hours Later...
"Good morning, guys," Chelsea greeted as she arrived at her desk the next morning. She tried to sound bright and cheery, in hopes the others might take the cue and perk up a little-- the guys were stumbling into the room like zombies. In fact, Fritz was the only one who acknowledged her at all.

"Good morning," he replied groggily. "And before I attempt to embark on any other conversational ventures, I insist upon knowing who woke me up last night singing 'Superstition'."

Rachel drifted into the room, coughing uncomfortably. "Uh, that was me," she admitted. "This makes you the fifth person this morning to tell me off about that. I started air-guitaring with a broom and... got carried away."

Fritz shot a Look at her. "I think we need to establish some ground rules about acceptable noise levels in the wee small hours," he observed groggily. "It's rather difficult to get any rest with a spectral voice performing a cappela in your kitchen."

"I'll try to keep it to a dull roar tonight," Rachel promised repentantly. "I've always been a night owl."

"And speaking of which..." Chelsea studied some scribbles on her "While You Were Out" notepad. "Either someone was practicing cuneiform at my desk, or somebody took a note for me while they were half-asleep last night."

"Guilty as charged," Jeremy volunteered. "Somebody called about one o'clock, about the time Rachel stopped reciting the entire O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack..."

"All right, let's get off that broken record," Rachel insisted irritably.

Jeremy wandered over to interpret the illegible squiggles. "Hmm... I think that one, the thing that looks like a seasick duck... That's supposed to say 'Appointment at 9:00 AM'."

"Nine AM, as in this morning?" Andy Harness asked wearily. "After Cellophane's impromptu karaoke party last night, I won't be able to handle a proton pack in good conscience until noon at least."

"Suck it up, Blondie," Rachel advised him. "Actually, your hair seems to have miraculously turned brown over the course of the night... or else you've been waiting way too long to go to the bathroom lately."

"Yeah, about that," Andy said indignantly, halfway between an access of anger and a spontaneous nap attack. "I'm gonna need to bleach my hair all over again, thanks to your panic attack yesterday. You should know, hairdressers in this valley aren't cheap."

"And this is an urgent need so vital to your survival that you are prepared to drop thirty-plus dollars on it... why?" Rachel asked with an air of unsullied snarkiness.

"How else will my public recognize me?" Andy countered, using an injured voice which made it impossible to tell whether or not he was serious.

"Whatever... Brownie," Rachel commented with a smirk, studying her nails.

Andy came within inches of giving her the finger. He had to ask Will to hold his arm down.

"The lady --Veets or something like that-- she said the job was 'semi-urgent'," Jeremy interjected, attempting to redirect the discussion onto a more constructive path. "She didn't think it was necessary for us to come over right away, but that we should definitely come over soon as we were available."

"What are the details?" Fritz's transition from groggy insomniac to alert professional was almost alarmingly fast.

"Let me guess." Jeff Nash, resident occultist/ninja, stood in the door to the Meeting Room. "Mysterious acts of pyromania at the Walt Disney Concert Hall?"

"How'd you guess? Some kind of ninja mind-reading trick?" Jeremy inquired.

"No," Jeff answered solemnly. "It's all over the news." He indicated the television in the Meeting Room's far left corner.

The others gathered around the set with a rapidity disproportionate to their lack of sleep. A male reporter's voice added comentary to the scene of mass panic playing out onscreen, a blurry and shaky tape of the supernatural incidents from the night before. It also added a footnote to the effect that although the building's facade had been severely damaged, the interior was still sound and no fatalities had occurred.

Jeff seemd about to offer comment, but Rachel beat him to it. "Disney," she scoffed. "Disney is to filmmaking as Darth Vader is to Star Wars. Probably Constance* trying to get a raise again."

She noticed Jeff staring at her with an expression altogether lacking in charity. "What?" Jeff kept glaring and said nothing. Rachel cocked an eyebrow. "Look, you don't want to start a staring contest with a dead woman. You know who'll win." Jeff persisted in his silence. Rachel drummed her fingers on the top of the TV, producing a faint pinging noise and making the top of the screen turn purple. "You don't talk much, do you?"

"Being interrupted is one of my favorite things, right after slamming my hand in car doors and eating cyanide," he intoned. "I choose not to speak often, so when I do speak, I appreciate it when people respect that decision."

Rachel's forehead wrinkled. "Can't you feel it? There's a beam of cancer-causing spirit hate searing straight towards my body," she wheezed, imitating Jon Heder.

Jeff paused and blinked slowly. "What a way to follow in our predecessor's footsteps-- it seems we too have acquired an annoying resident specter," Jeff stated dryly. "Next thing you know, we'll be battling glowing clones of ourselves dressed in our old uniforms."

"I resent that," Rachel snapped. "Slimer isn't even a real ghost-- he's the spectral plane equivalent of a burp."

"Be that as it may," Fritz put in, "spontaneous fireball eruptions are definitely more than 'semi-urgent'. I suggest we clock in early today."

The rest of the group groaned as one. "You've got to be kidding," Kyle griped.

Fritz waited for silence (or something relatively like it). "On extremely rare occasions, fireballs have been known to generate spontaneously, usually caused by combinations of extremely volatile natural gases," he explained. "However, the odds of several incindiary projectiles being generated spontaneously in the same location within moments of each other are as close to zero as mathematics allow. In other words, this is a phenomenon I would be highly interested in observing as soon as possible."

"It didn't sound very random when the lady explained it to me," Jeremy warned. "The way I pieced it together, somebody was trying to get into the building and nearly got flash-fried."

"Good," Andy smirked. "You know what that means, right?" He waited only a second and then answered himself. "It means this job's going to be fun." He yawned. "But it can be fun after I get a nap," he amended, heading back towards the stairs.

"Oh, no, you don't," Will insisted, snagging him by the back of his collar. "If we have to suffer this morning, we all suffer together."

"Or we could all nap together?" Andy suggested hopefully. He frowned. "Wait, that sounded wrong."

"Illogical phenomenon or hostile spirit attack-- either way, this case calls for immediate action," Fritz disagreed. "Chelsea, get back to Ms. Veets and tell her we're on our way. Everybody else, suit up."

"Oh, come on," Andy groaned as the assembly trooped out towards the lockers. "You don't need everybody to go right now, do you?"

Fritz wasn't paying attention. Will released Andy's collar and followed the others. "Like I said, we suffer together. Personally, if we're dealing with firebrand spooks, I'd prefer to have strength in numbers anyway. You saw that TV footage-- it looked like something out of Saving Private Ryan."

Rachel trailed after the others, unsure of how to broach the topic on her mind. She politely turned the other way as the guys quick-changed (I'm a regular old fashioned girl, she thought sarcastically), and finally worked up the nerve to speak her mind.

"Hey, guys... am I gonna come, or what?" Rachel managed to make herself sound demanding, but she was twisting the chain of her pocketwatch nervously.

They looked at each other. "Nothing personal, but we don't know exactly what we're dealing with yet, and we want to start you off small," Kyle spoke for the group, zipping up his flightsuit. "Maybe you'd better sit this one out."

Rachel cocked her head. "But I can--"

"Another time, Rachel," Fritz cut her off. "You haven't even had an employee orientation session yet. You need more experience first." He climbed into the front passenger's seat.

Rachel was not the type to give up so easily. She tapped on the glass. "How do I get experience if I don't--"

Andy finished loading his proton pack into the back of the ECTO-WC and slammed the doors shut, making Rachel jump. "Patience, grasshopper," he jabbed, passing her as he went towards the front of the car. "When we come back, we'll do the whole 'wax-on, wax-off' routine." He opened the driver's seat door and climbed in. "Besides, us packing around unlicenced nuclear accelerators worries our clients enough. I don't think LA is ready for the Jar Jar Binks of the spirit world."

Rachel's jaw dropped. "What did you just call--"

Too late. Andy started the ignition and drowned her words out.

Rachel clenched her fists. "I wish you schmucks would at least let me finish a sent--!"

Andy waved back. "You're welcome," he yapped as he began backing the car out through the open double doors.

"Aw, bite me!" Rachel yelled as the van pulled out of the garage.

She stomped out of the room, trailing green frustration slime after her. Great, one more mess to clean up, she growled silently. She rose through the second story and made for the laundry room to get the Shout spray, again. She grabbed the paper towels from the kitchen on her way back down, again. "Jar Jar Binks, my transparent butt," Rachel fumed, floating past Rose Prevost on the staircase.

"What?" Rose asked loudly, pulling an iPod headset out of her ears.

Rachel, her aura throbbing with repressed indignation, faced Rose. "'The Jar Jar Binks of the Spirit World'? What the heck is that supposed to mean?"

Rose looked rather puzzled, having missed the meeting room discussion. "I got in late this morning-- my car's in the shop and the cab driver only spoke Hindu," she informed the seething spirit. "So spare me the grisly details and allow me to assume this term refers to you."

Rachel snorted. "As stated by a certain young Tennessee native with suddenly brown hair and blue eyes that are soon to be black."

Rose chuckled and shook her head. "If I know Andy, he was only kidding. That's just the way he is. I'm surprised he's insulting you already-- shows that he likes you." She started back up the stairs.

Rachel huffed. "Look, I dunno what it is, but wherever I go, people suddenly aren't there."

"Might have something to do with your glowing personality," Rose hinted. "Not everybody is open-minded when it comes to the paranormal."

Rachel paused, slumping. "You'd think the Ghostbusters, of all people, would know better. Just because I'm deceased, that doesn't mean I'm gonna shoot Audrey II out of my butt and take over the world."

"Just because the guys had a call and decided you should stay here, that doesn't mean they want to get rid of you," Rose retorted. "Don't take all this so personally, and don't be so rabid about getting everybody to fall in love with you. You've been running yourself ragged trying to make sure you're liked, and if anything, that's what's hurting you most of all."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "I can't help it-- I don't take rejection well. The guys seem to be okay with me, but it can only happen so many times before you start expecting it."

Rose shook her head and smiled. "Would you relax? They really do like you, honest. All you need to do is show them they can trust you, and you'll be home free." Rose resumed her upwards journey to the kitchen, in search of something with lots of caffeine in it. Rachel didn't bother to follow-- Rose had clearly experienced enough drama for one morning.

Rachel hovered back to the streak of green slime, which was now starting to congeal on the cement floor. She cringed with disgust-- she knew from past experience the green stuff was sticky as heck, and it would take some serious scrubbing to lift it. She knelt and got to work.

Show the guys they can trust you... hmm... Rachel mulled that over. How do I...

No way. That'll only make things worse... But then again, what could it really hurt?

She straightened up, spoiled paper towels in hand. Yeah...

I'll show them, all right!

The ECTO-WC pulled up outside an exotically shaped, silver building. The place was still caution-taped off, for what that was worth. Several burn marks scarred the facade, as well as the sidewalk and landscaping in front of the structure. By now, most bypassers were avoiding the ravaged area as if it wasn't even there, exemplifying the adaptability of native Californians. Excluding the Ghostbusters, the only one paying last night's devastation any attention was Madeline Viets, standing at the entrance with a cell phone at her ear, bickering violently with whomever was on the other end.

"I'm telling you, the danger is past," she shouted in fury. "You're being unreasonable-- That is not an acceptable answer... Hello? HELLO?!" Taxed beyond mortal limits, she clapped the Razor shut with a grunt of anger, jamming it into her pocket. When she noticed the SWAT van, however, her disposition transformed noticeably. She smiled warmly with unmistakeable relief. "Ah, the Ghostbusters," she greeted, strolling up to the car window before the engine could even cut out. "Your presence helps me feel I'm making at least some headway through this debacle."

"Well, making headway is part of our job description," Andy replied good-humoredly, climbing out of the driver's seat. "And on that note, where is the spook in question?"

Madeline hesitated and lowered her voice. "Since you ask... that seems to be a large part of the trouble. The 'spook'... he's never acted up this way before." Her eyes kept shifting, as though she was afraind someone was listening. She waved dismissively. "Please, let's discuss this inside."

Fritz squinted as the distraught director sidestepped a scorch mark to enter her theater. Something about her entire demeanor seemed slightly suspect to him. The relief was common, as was the frustration, but she seemed to be hiding something, though it was difficult to identify just what.

After strapping on their gear, the guys trooped after her as she waited, fidgeting, at the entrance. Her eyes widened as a slight vibration and a low humming became discernable. Fritz heard his PKE meter beep erratically--

Whoosh!

Out of nowhere, before Madeline could shout a warning, a barrage of fireballs was bearing down on the Ghostbusters! She scurried for cover as they barely managed to dodge the searing hot bundles of energy flying at them from nearly every direction. Kyle barely dodged a fireball, diving behind the ECTO-WC as flames began to spread on his flightsuit. He tried to pat out the flames while shooting at the area where the fireball had originated, but his proton stream contacted nothing and only captured the attention of more fire-happy, invisible spirits. He reached down to his belt for a pair of ecto-goggles, but the fireball had knocked them loose. "Goggles!" Kyle yelled. "Who's got ecto-goggles?"

A pair of goggles fell out of thin air and conked him on the head. He didn't stop to ask questions-- he strapped them on fast as he could. Then he asked questions of the figure he saw in his scope. "Rachel, what the heck do you think you're doing here?"

"Trying to save our skins," she answered before tackling an obnoxious vapor into a shrub across the street. "Creeps."

Kyle kept his back against the ECTO-WC as the barrage lulled. "Are they still out there?" he asked.

Rachel peeked around the corner. She drew her head back, eyes wide. "Oh, yeah."

"How many?"

Rachel looked again. "Lots."

To Be Continued
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