by Mac Dineen
The ghost glides across the floor, its luminescent claws hovering over the linoleum. Mike, running as fast as his fat legs can carry him, circles around the dining room table and cuts back to the living room. Barreling through the open doorway, he glances back to make sure the timing is right. As the ghost comes through, Mike screams.
Frank, with the Plasmic Destabilizer set up on the couch, blasts the ghost with concentric shockwaves. The effect is immediate, as the ghost loses its stability and melts into the carpet, like an ice sculpture instantly transformed into a column of water. But its essence is slightly more tangible, like Play-Doh, so that a mess of white ectoplasmic goo is spread over the carpet.
Frank has already started taking apart the Plasmic Destabilizer back into its constituent units, while Mike leans against the wall catching his breath. Putting the last piece into the storage case, he flips it shut and pats it thoughtfully. Leaving it behind on the couch, he removes a silver orb attached to his belt and walks over to the goo.
“But of course, I must do everything.”
“Hey, fuck you,” says Mike, in between gasps of air. “YOU can be the bait next time!”
“If the Cowboys had covered the spread, I would have been the bait this time.” He clicks the button protruding from the orb’s top, and a green ring of light hums into being around its equator. “But if you insist on betting on the wrong football teams, then ghost bait you will remain.” He drops the orb onto the goo and an aura of the green light explodes over it. Then, just as quickly, like a wave receding from the shore, the light returns to the orb. It has taken the white goo with it; not a trace remains. Frank scoops up the orb and attaches it back to his belt. He walks halfway back over to the couch, then, remembering something, he looks back at Mike.
“Hey, you can go let her out now.”
Mike, who has placed a cigarette in his mouth, nods and lights it. He sucks in the sweet tobacco and exhales.
Walking down the hallway, he reaches the bedroom door covered in anti-ghost charms.
Well, “anti-ghost charms.” The small calomel cross placed at eye level, made of a unique chemical compound of mercurous chloride, is an anathema to ghosts. The arcane lettering circumscribed around it, however, is complete bullshit, just scribbles he had drawn earlier.
But for whatever reason, it makes customers feel safer. He knocks on the door three times, the secret knock, and opens it.
“We’re done,” he says, and he takes another drag. The customer, hiding on the other side of the bed, comes up wearing a baseball helmet and holding a shotgun. The latter always makes him chuckle, but again, it is a comfort.
“Are you sure?” she offers timidly. “I know that…” Mike has already left the room and snatched the cross from the door. The “charms,” a bitch to wash out, are left behind as a bonus.
Frank has cleaned up shop and swung the case over his back. “We all good?” he asks.
The customer has followed Mike. She looks around the room, still largely disheveled from the ghost capture, still clutching the shotgun. “Are – are you sure that it’s gone?”
Frank smiles, detaches the orb again, and holds it aloft. Its equator ring now glows blue.
“It has gone right into here. It will not be troubling you again.”
She smiles, a frazzled, relieved smile. “Oh, I don’t know how to thank you! There must be—”
“Like we said, ma’am, it’s—”
“Five hundred bucks outta cover it,” says Mike. Frank slaps him with his left hand while holding the orb up with his right, knocking the cigarette to the carpet. Shooting a pissed look at Frank, Mike bends over to pick it up but stays quiet.
“Like we said, ma’am, our benefactor is footing the tab.”
“I still can’t believe that,” she says. “What kind of person funds free ghost exorcisms?”
“Dr. Luis Benitez does, ma’am,” says Frank, still smiling. “And we must return to him now. If you have any additional ghost problems, just give us a call.”
Mike offers Frank a strange look and raises his hand half-heartedly before he drops it and shakes his head. He takes another puff on his now-bent cigarette and follows Frank out the door.
“Why did you say that to her?” says Mike, still nursing the bent cigarette. “We ain’t coming back.”
“Same reason as for the charms. Customer satisfaction.” Frank talked without looking over, his hands on the wheel. It was not yet 2 a.m. as their high-powered Anti-Ghost Van carefully made its way down the old back road to Benitez’s mansion.
“Well, if she does need some more help, it won’t be coming from us, will it? After all, this is #100.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I never really asked what happens when we fulfill the contract, but we’ll be done as soon as we hand it over, correct? What then?”
“We’ll get the bulk of our contracted money, leave this shit behind, and be on our way, I presume. If the old man has further plans for us, I don’t know of them.”
“That includes the Van, right? How the fuck are we getting back home?”
“I’m sure one of his chauffeurs can give us a ride. I mean, look at the place.” They had just turned off the road onto the long driveway that lead up the old doctor’s hill. His black mansion almost blended in with the night. “I couldn’t tell you exactly how many offhand, but I’m sure he has a limo or two stored away in there somewhere.”
They were silent for a minute as they snaked their way up the hill.
“As weird as this may sound,” says Mike, “I think I’ll miss it. Making bank to be the fucking Ghostbusters man, what a life!”
“Well, maybe he will need us for something else. Like, werewolf hearts or something.”
Mike scratches his chin and thinks over his awful record at sports gambling.
“I think I’d like to alternate the bait position in the future.” He takes a drag.
They had already been let in through the old castle door lined with gargoyles and were making their way down the ancient gothic hallway illuminated by lanterns. The old hunchbacked servant, who let them in and who they had never heard speak, had already vanished. Suits of armor, old paintings, and yet more gargoyles lined the corridor.
“This place used to creep me out,” says Mike. “But after the fourth or fifth ghost capture, you just care about the paycheck.” He sucks what little there is left in the worn, bent cigarette.
The moans and whirling can be heard before they see the ballroom door. At last, it comes into view. Frank twists the cold metal knob and the door pushes back with surprising ease. They step into the white, circular parlour. It is humongous. At its center is The Machine, a behemoth interconnected legion of electronics and black metal that honeycomb across the room, from which emerges a gigantic glass-like cylinder that extends to the ceiling. Even Mike and Frank do not know exactly what alloy the glass-like material is, but Dr. Benitez is not one to betray a secret unnecessarily. Whatever it is, it keeps them restrained, the white spirits within, endlessly swirling about and groaning. Faces and features can be made out, but with so many in there they look like marshmallows in a working blender.
Dr. Benitez sits upon a nearby throne, adorned with red jewels like eyes and protrusions like bat wings. The Doctor is attached to The Machine by a series of wires and tubes; he is withered and might look frail if not for his cold, piercing eyes.
“You have it?” he rasps.
Frank nods and shows him the orb.
Benitez smiles and bares his fangs. “At last. Put it in.”
Frank nods again and makes his way to The Machine’s port. He inserts the orb and inputs the instruction on The Machine’s strange controls, like organ keys.
A sucking noise is heard as the orb’s blue light turns red, a scream as the ghost is pulled from it into the cylinder. The final piece has been inserted.
Mike’s look turns from The Machine to the old doctor, still smiling ghoulishly. He opens his mouth to say something and the cigarette falls out. His eyes settle on Benitez’s sharp teeth and he swallows his words. He shakes his head and thinks fuck it.
“So, uh, when do we get paid?”
The Doctor’s grin gets wider, stretches as far as it will go. He turns his now-wild eyes into Mike’s. “Oh, you’ll get what you having coming. Soon. Very soon.” Benitez starts cackling, a piercing laugh that echoes throughout the chamber. He laughs for several seconds, his eyes bulging, until his lungs can take no more and he starts hacking and coughing blood. Settling down, he offers a few parting chuckles.
“Soon, that’s good,” says Mike quietly.
Frank has spent this time completing his final assignment. Some of the tubes attached to Benitez are normal IV tubes designed to preserve his life; the rest, no larger than the others, are made of the same special material as the cylinder. All is ready now, and he walks the remote controller over to the old doctor, still laughing softly, blood dribbling down his chin.
“Everything is ready, sir,” says Frank, gently handing the device over. Dr. Benitez, his hands wet from the blood wiped from his mouth, snatches it. He finds the strength for another round of cackles. At last he stops and gazes longingly at the controller.
“I have waited so long for this. You cannot possibly imagine…” He looks up at Mike and Frank. “I would suggest that you take a few steps back for this.” Mike and Frank put about thirty feet between the doctor and themselves.
The doctor gazes at the controller again. His smile is now such that it looks like his face is tearing; his teeth are caked in blood. “At last! At last!” he screams, pushing down its giant, single button with unholy strength.
The Machine instantly screams into life, pulsating with electricity, glowing with red and black light. The ghost moans become howls, overwhelming the noise of the cylinder being slowly emptied, like water sinking down a drain. The special tubes pulsate with ectoplasm moving slowly towards the Doctor. “At last! At last!” he screams even louder than before. Mike watches this cacophonous scene with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. Frank merely crosses his arms and watches stoically.
The first of the goo makes it through. At first, nothing; then more is forced in. Dr. Benitez’s arms slowly grow bigger, followed by the rest of his body as still more is pumped.
“Yes! Yes!” he roars. “More! More!” More in fact comes, the cylinder ever emptying, the tubes ever moving the ectoplasm over. Benitez grows larger and larger. His flesh swells; he is almost engorged. The throne cracks into pieces underneath his growing bulk.
“Yes! Yes!” he screams as if he is drowning, for his throat is grossly swelled. And then, it stops. A backlog. Benitez, pumped full, tries to look around, but cannot turn his flabby head.
“No!” he moans. “I will have it all! Tonight I want all my ghosts in my veins!” He uses his sausage fingers to slam down the controller button as hard as he can, again and again and again. The Machine can only comply. The flow resumes, the last of the cylinder is emptied. Benitez, ready to burst, is cackling once again. Finally, the last bit of ectoplasm is pumped into him. The fangs of his smile are hidden behind his swelled face.
Then, with a sound like a watermelon being blown up from within by a grenade, Benitez explodes. His guts fly across the room, staining the floor red. The ectoplasmic goo travels still farther, a white spray that even makes it to the walls. The Machine is bathed in this white, and so are Mike and Frank, each colored now like the Pillsbury Doughboy. Mike stares at his engulfed arms, stuttering, shaking. Frank keeps his arms crossed, unmoving.
A few minutes pass in silence; The Machine, having completed its task, is quiet. Finally, Mike reaches into his jacket for a cigarette and pulls out an empty pack. Chucking it aside, he dives his arm into the goo and pulls out the stub he dropped from his mouth earlier, layered in ectoplasm. He considers it for a second, even opens his mouth slightly to take it in, then thinks better of it. He sighs and flicks it back to the ground. He looks over at Frank.
“What the fuck just happened?”
Frank lets his arms flop limply and sighs himself. “Our benefactor exploded.”
Mike looks around the room for a moment. Light comes into his eyes.
“Well, we can probably keep the Van now.”
Frank crosses his arms again, then nods thoughtfully.
“You know, I bet we can still go back and get that five-hundred dollars,” he says.
“Well, it’s a better plan than the doctor’s.”
With one last look at the mess before them, they spin around and walk towards the door, their shoes stepping into puddles of ghost.