"I hate riding in the car for hours," Peter Venkman complained,
stretching as he did so. "I'm stiff, I'm sore, and I had to spend
the whole time listening to Egon's opera station."
Egon Spengler smiled slightly, stretching his tall, lanky frame as well. When he responded, there was no hint of amusement in his tone, but his blue eyes sparkled a bit. "Some of us simply prefer music to that discordant hash you seem to like so much."
"Music!" Peter retorted, pretending to be hurt. "That sounds like a bunch of people screaming to me!"
"Hey, Pete, you're a fine one to talk," Winston Zeddemore chuckled, climbing out of Ecto-1 as well. "Who was the one who fell for the banshee?"
Peter blushed. "Well, that was different," he mumbled.
"That's not fair, Winston," the fourth member of the team protested, climbing out of the car. "She put a spell on him. He couldn't help it!"
"Thank you, Ray!" Peter cried dramatically, pretending to hide behind his younger, shorter teammate. "Super Stanz to the rescue again!"
Ray chuckled. "Egon," he began, changing the subject, "are you sure this is the right place?" Ray swept his arm around, indicating the empty town around them. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, and though the sun was beginning to set, the small town's streets should have at least had a few shoppers on them. Instead, the place was desolate and empty.
The tall physicist adjusted his glasses, looking around. "'Foster's Bluff,'" he read from a nearby sign. "This is where Mr. Ralston said to come to, and that he would meet us by the courthouse."
"Which would apparently be this incredible edifice," Peter broke in, jerking a thumb at the run-down whitewashed building behind him. "Egon, I don't like this place. Ralston better be paying us a lot of money to take care of whatever this is. We're in upstate New York, which I don't like anyway, and we're out in the middle of nowhere. There isn't a decent restaurant around for miles! Worse yet," and suddenly the slightly jocular tone to Peter's comments disappeared, "this town is empty. Completely. Can't you feel it?"
Winston shrugged. "I've seen a lot of towns like this. The main industry dies, and the whole thing just dries up and blows away."
"Maybe," Ray replied uneasily, "but don't places like that usually have like one or two families and a couple businesses hanging on for dear life?" It was obvious that the occultist had caught Peter's jitters. A glance flew between Egon and Peter, and the latter nodded.
"Aw, I'm probably just antsy from being in the car too long," the psychologist said casually. "So where's this Ralston guy? I tell you, I don't want to spend any longer in this place than I have to. I have an image to protect."
"Ghostbusters?" The four turned to see a man, in his mid-twenties, standing on the other end of the courthouse parking lot. He was impeccably dressed in a gray suit, dress shirt, and sober gray tie. Peter and Winston looked at each other quickly.
"Lawyer?" Peter asked under his breath. Winston shook his head.
"Accountant," the black man replied, just as quietly.
Egon ignored them, stepping forward. "We are the Ghostbusters. Are you Mr. Ralston?"
Ralston nodded. "Yes, I am. I'm sorry I'm a little late, but my car wouldn't start. Now, as to why I asked you to come, I recently inherited some property, with a- let us say, unsavory history. I'm afraid I don't know much about it, but no one has been able to live there for very long. My grandfather attempted to rent it several times, with no success. I would like the four of you to check out the house, and deal with whatever is in there, if that is within your field of expertise. If not, I'll still pay you a smaller fee for the call, but if there is a problem, we can negotiate your fee from there. Is this satisfactory?"
The other Ghostbusters turned to Peter. He was the one they generally allowed to deal with the monetary matters, as he had the best head for them. Egon and Ray were usually too absorbed in their science to care about money, and Winston just didn't have the ability to make the clients cough up. Peter did.
"That sounds good," Peter agreed. "Now, where is this house?"
* * *
"Whoa," Winston breathed. Next to him, Peter nodded wordlessly. The house- mansion, really- was a huge Gothic monster, obviously built before the turn on the century. The paint was peeling, the boards were beginning to rot, and the whole thing exuded an aura of age that was nearly overpowering.
"Looks kind of like the house from The Amityville Horror," Ray said cheerfully, strapping on his proton pack. The other three looked at him, Egon in amusement, Peter and Winston in dismay.
"I really wish you hadn't said that Ray," Peter sighed.
Egon chuckled. "Actually, the Amityville case was proven to be a hoax, concocted to get one of the previous inhabitants of the house off of a murder charge."
"No kidding?" Winston asked, interested despite himself.
"Oh, WOW!" Ray's exclamation cut through any conversation, drawing all three of his friends over to peer over his shoulder. The display on his PKE meter was enough to cause them to draw in their breath quickly. The reading was fluctuating oddly, rhythmically, as if it were flowing out from something in waves. The readings were also fairly high.
"Looks like we're going to earn our keep," Peter sighed. "Come on, let's go." The four of them made their way into the house. Inside, Egon noticed that the house obviously hadn't been redone, the way many old houses had been, suggesting that the troubles had started not too long after the house was constructed. The four of them stood in the foyer, looking around nervously.
"All right, guys, do we split up, or stay together?" Peter asked Egon. The physicist frowned.
"I believe it would be best if we split into two groups. That way, we would cover the house more quickly, but we'll always have two throwers in case of trouble."
"Right," Winston agreed. "Ray and I'll take the upstairs. You two can handle the downstairs, all right?"
Egon nodded. "Be careful, everyone. We have no idea what we're facing in here."
The two groups split up.
* * *
Upstairs, Winston and Ray carefully poked through the rooms. Their efforts went unrewarded, however. The needle on Ray's PKE meter never budged. "Weird," the younger man mused. "It's as if the house itself was the supernatural entity. That's not possible, though."
"Well, got an explanation?" Winston asked, gingerly making his way through yet another cobwebby door. He suppressed a shout as a number of spiders scattered at his approach.
"Well, maybe the house is a storage battery for paranormal energy, but there's no intelligence in the house to direct it. If a human with mediumistic powers moved in, there'd be poltergeist activity all over the place, which would generally convince people the house was haunted."
Winston frowned. "Ray, how many rooms have we been through up here?"
"About six. This is a mansion, after all."
"Yeah, but- weren't they all bedrooms?"
"Come look at this." Winston led the younger man back into the first room they had investigated. "Look around, and tell me what you see."
Ray shrugged. "An old bedroom. Moths eating the covers, the wallpaper peeling off, dustbunnies in the corners, and the bureau mirror is broken. So?"
"Come on." Winston headed into the next room. "What do you see here?"
"Another old bedroom, slightly different style." Ray was beginning to become impatient with the little game they seemed to be playing. Then Ray remembered Winston's passion for mystery novels. Taking a deep breath, he looked around the room as Sherlock Holmes would, comparing and contrasting the two rooms. "Hey, the mirrors are both broken!"
"Exactly. Every bedroom we've visited has had a broken mirror, but a lot of them have had precious porcelain stuff still intact. Now, if poltergeists had broken the mirrors, wouldn't they have broken the glass, too?"
Ray frowned. "Yeah. But I can't think of any reason something would break every mirror in the place and leave everything else intact."
"Neither can I," Winston replied. "And I don't like that."
Any further conversation was cut off by the sound of a human scream, a scream of fear and pain, as it split the air from downstairs. Instantly, the two Ghostbusters were off and running.
* * *
While Ray and Winston explored the upstairs, Peter and Egon slowly made their way through the ground floor of the house. Ducking under a veil of cobwebs, Peter looked around in interest. "Whoever built this place really knew how to live," he murmured, looking at the ballroom they had entered.
"Mmm." Egon was not really listening, as usual. Long ago, he had learned to tune out Peter's monologues. If there were danger, the change in the sound of Peter's voice would alert him. Instead, he was focusing on his PKE meter, frowning at its changelessness.
Suddenly a thump from the nearby kitchen drew both their attentions. Egon pointed his PKE meter towards the noise, and frowned again, this time at the spike in the readings. Peter looked up at him and grinned slightly. "I think we've got our ghost," he whispered.
Egon's frown deepened. "I don't know. These readings are rather anomalous. I think that we may not be dealing with your typical ghost."
"So, do we bust it?"
"Carefully. I think we should flank whatever is in that kitchen. You take the right access, through that door. I'll go back into the hall and cut around to the left."
Peter nodded. Through the ballroom windows, the two of them could see the last of the sunlight fading from the sky, and the ballroom was now almost completely dark. Peter gripped his friend's forearm, pulling him a little closer. "Be careful, Spengs. I don't want to have to scrape you off the floor because some gooper tripped you in the dark."
Egon nodded, smiling slightly. "Same goes for you, Doctor Venkman." The two of them parted ways, creeping slowly through the darkened mansion. Suddenly a bloodcurdling scream ripped through the air, startling Egon. With no more thought for stealth, he kicked open the kitchen door, thrower powered up and held ready. What he saw inside rendered him astonished and paralyzed.
A pale, slender woman, almost as tall as Peter, had her arms locked around the psychologist and her face buried in his neck. Her hair was raven black, and flowed around her shoulders, mixing with the black silk gown she wore.
Peter's face was pale and his eyes were shut. The scream had obviously been his, and Egon thought absently that he looked as if he had lost a great deal of blood. While the implications of that sank home, Egon was automatically firing a proton bolt into the wall above the woman's head.
"Drop him!" At the sound of the physicist's bass command, the woman looked up and snarled, flashing canines much longer and sharper than any human should have. Straightening up, she released Peter, who dropped to the ground like a discarded toy. Throwing her hair over her shoulder, the woman tried to catch Egon's gaze with her own. He was ready for that, however, and refused to meet her eyes. He shot off a proton bolt, but without looking at her, his aim was not the best, and she dodged easily. As she advanced on Egon, Winston and Ray came running into the kitchen. Faced with three armed Ghostbusters, she stopped and smiled soullessly.
"I will retreat for now," she chuckled, in a low, pleasant voice that was at the same time devoid of all humanity. "I can wait. After all, I have eternity." Then she dissolved into a cloud of smoke and disappeared.
"What the hell was that?" Winston asked, as the three of them quickly moved to Peter's side.
Ray looked at the other man in surprise. "Don't you know?"
Egon quickly checked Peter over for head injuries and to make sure he was still breathing. Seeing that he was, the physicist turned to Winston. "Does this answer your question?" he asked, pulling back Peter's collar. Both Winston and Ray gasped at the sight of the two small puncture wounds over Peter's jugular. Winston closed his eyes.
"A vampire. Shit." That pretty much said it all.
* * *
Luckily, the lights in the house were hooked up to the electricity, something the previous tenants had forgotten to rectify in their haste to move out of the house. Carefully, the three Ghostbusters had moved the unconscious Peter into the still-furnished living room, which had a number of lamps and a comfortable couch. Laying Peter on the couch, the three men sat on the floor, nearby in case he should wake up.
"So Peter's been bitten by a vampire," Winston sighed. "An honest-to-goodness- or to whatever- real vampire. Not a slime-sucker, a bloodsucker."
"Right," Ray replied. The occultist's usually cheerful face was grim with worry. "Egon, how is he?"
The blond physicist shrugged. "He's lost quite a bit of blood, Ray. Not enough to kill him, but a fair amount. He'll be asleep for a while, and when he wakes up, he's going to be pale and shaky."
"So what do we do?" asked Winston, looking at his two companions. "Load him into the car and get the hell out of here? Because that's got my vote."
Egon shook his head. "We can't do that, Winston. I scanned Peter with the PKE meter while I was checking him for injuries. He has an abnormally high level of PKE about him, even for a Ghostbuster."
Ray paled. "Oh my gosh! You aren't saying...."
"What does that mean?" Winston loved Ray and Egon like brothers, but they were so close that it was sometimes impossible to understand the conversations between them. It was like listening to identical twins, ones who knew each other's thought processes so well that they didn't need to have the entire conversation. "What's wrong with Peter?"
"Winston, you remember the Lupusville fiasco," Ray replied seriously. "What happens when someone is bitten by a vampire?"
All the color drained from Winston's face, leaving his skin an unhealthy shade of gray. Deep down, he had known what the consequences of the bite were, but he hadn't wanted to make the connection. Not when the infected person was Peter.
"It only takes one bite?" he asked softly.
Egon shrugged. "Not necessarily. It has to do with the amount of blood lost. Unfortunately, Peter lost a fair amount of blood."
"So what do we do? Is there any way to stop it?"
"This is not my field of expertise," Egon replied. "Ray?"
The auburn-haired occultist looked thoughtful. "There is one cure. If we can destroy the vampire who infected Peter before his condition becomes complete, we can reverse the process."
"Great," Winston groaned. "Now we just have to find her."
"I'd like to do some research first," Egon mused. "Ralston said this house had an unsavory history. Perhaps there's some information there on who she is."
"Winston and I passed a library upstairs. We could check that out," Ray offered. Egon nodded, rising to his feet.
"I think that would be best. Winston, if you would please remain with Peter? I don't want to take the chance on him being attacked again, and you're the one I'd most trust in a fight."
The older man nodded. "You got a deal."
* * *
Up in the library, Ray and Egon regarded the wall of books with some trepidation. "That's a lot of books," Ray sighed. Egon nodded.
"However, we don't have to check anything we recognize. Look for something that might be a diary. "
The two of them began to methodically pull books off the shelves and thumb through them, meeting with little luck. Suddenly, Egon chuckled dryly, drawing Ray's attention from the shelf.
"What's so funny?"
"Do you remember the time we took that dare to go into Heck House and spend the night without our proton packs? And I holed up in the library and refused to come out?"
"Sure, I remember," Ray grinned. "You were right, as usual. That was the only place that the real weirdness didn't happen, and you probably saved our lives when you found out what was going on with that house."
"Well, while I was doing my research, Peter came in. He had decided that since the rest of you were having all these problems, I was not to come out unscathed. He walked in and casually mentioned the details of our first case in the Public Library, making sure that anything listening could hear."
Ray chuckled. He couldn't help himself. It was exactly the kind of trick Peter would pull. It wasn't dangerous enough that Egon might be hurt, but it would definitely throw a monkey wrench in the staid physicist's composure. "So what happened? Did the books start flying every which way?"
Egon shook his head, smiling at the memory. "No, one started to, but I backed it down." Ray could see that despite his smile, Egon was extremely worried.
"Don't worry, Egon. We'll save him. We're the good guys. We always come out on top."
Egon nodded, the smile becoming a little more genuine. "You're right, Ray. Come on, let's get moving. I don't want to spend any more time in this house than we have to."
* * *
Downstairs, Winston was still sitting beside the unconscious Peter, watching him with worry. The psychologist was far too pale, his white skin a startling contrast to the shock of dark hair that still seemed to be perfectly combed. Winston chuckled quietly. Peter was always very meticulous about his hair, perhaps because his father had gone bald so early. He'd be real happy to know that his styling efforts had survived the fight with the vampire.
At that thought, Winston sobered. Peter had been bitten by a vampire, and even Winston could tell that the fight had taken a lot out of him. It wasn't just the unusual pallor of Peter's skin. Even unconscious, his face was tight with some sort of strain, and Winston had an awful feeling that he knew what Peter was straining against.
The Ghostbusters had faced so many awful things in their time, although Winston thought idly that nothing came anywhere close to Gozer. That battle had been the first time he had realized the stakes of the job he'd taken- and the bond he'd formed with the others. He could still remember crossing the streams, feeling the energy jolt through his body, and knowing that sooner or later, something had to give. Luckily for all of them, it had been the gateway.
"I'd do it again," he murmured, a slight smile touching his face. "Even the marshmallow cream." It had been worth it, all of the danger and fear, because he'd wound up with the best friends he'd ever had. Now one of them was fighting for his life, and there was nothing Winston could do about it.
What would they do without Peter Venkman? It was a sobering thought. Peter had always been the anchor that kept the team on track. His sense of humor had helped break the tension in almost any situation that they ran across. Sometimes Winston was taken aback by some of Peter's more outrageous remarks, but then he'd look up and see the sparkle in the psychologist's green eyes, and realize that he'd taken the bait, hook, line and sinker. Peter and his sense of humor were sometimes all that kept them going.
As close as Winston felt to Peter, though, he knew that Egon and Ray were much closer. The three of them had been together since their college years, and had practically evolved each other. The Ghostbusters business had been their brainchild, and while Winston had never felt like an outsider, he had always been aware of the deep friendship between those three.
"Stop thinking like that!" he scolded himself. "Egon and Ray are on the case, and everything's going to be fine. He's not dead yet!"
"Can I get a second opinion?" a voice groaned behind him. Winston turned to see Peter sitting up, rubbing his head.
"Are you all right?" Winston asked, crossing to his friend.
"No," Peter groused. "I feel like a pot of your coffee- weak and watery."
Winston laughed. "Hey, some people prefer not to drink battery acid in the morning!"
Peter smiled, but it was not his usual expression. Gingerly, he reached up and touched the side of his neck, where Egon had taped a small bandage over the two punctures in his throat. "I was hoping that that was just a really bad dream," he said quietly. Winston had no reply; he simply shrugged.
"So where's the genius team?" Peter asked lightly, trying to change the subject.
"Upstairs, doing research in the library. They want to find out whatever they can about the house."
"Right." Slowly, carefully, Peter rose to his feet. "Well, all I can say is that Ralston had better pay us big bucks for this one." He stared out one of the windows at the dark night beyond, then turned back. Winston could see by the expression on his face that he had something big on his mind. "Winston, I need to ask you a favor. You're not going to like it, but I have to ask."
"Go ahead," Winston replied cautiously.
"Egon told you what's going to happen to me, right?"
"What might happen," Winston corrected him. "It's not going to. We're going to fix this, Pete."
"Maybe." Peter didn't look as though he believed it. "But what if we don't? I don't want to spend the rest of forever as a vampire, Winston, and I certainly don't want to hurt any of you. That's why I need your help. If it looks like I'm going to be dangerous, or if something happens and I go all the way over, I need you to stop me."
"Stop you how?"
Peter's response was almost too soft to be heard, but was full of steel, nonetheless. "Permanently. "
"No way!" Winston exploded. "If you think I'm going to pound a stake through your heart or something like that, you're nuts!"
"It's the only way," Peter insisted. "And you're the only one I can ask. It'd destroy Ray, and it'd still tear Egon apart!"
"And you don't think it'd hurt me? I'm your friend too, you know!"
Peter nodded. "I know. You've been one of the best friends I've ever had. I've never regretted any of it. I know it would hurt you, but you're tough enough to do it. Winston, I don't want to die, but it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative. Please."
The two men looked at each other in silence for a long moment, then Winston nodded slowly. "All right. If it comes to that, I'll do it. But it's not going to come to that. You're not going to die."
Peter turned back to the window, fingering the bandage on his neck. Almost too softly to be heard, he replied, "That's what I'm afraid of."
* * *
Sometime later, Egon and Ray came downstairs to find Peter and Winston sitting in the living room talking quietly. Both jumped as the two scientists entered.
"Don't do that!" Peter grimaced, putting a hand over his heart. "Did you find anything?"
Ray nodded. "You bet we did," he replied, waving a small black book in one hand. "The diary of the man who built the house."
"We haven't read it in-depth yet," Egon continued. "We decided that since this house seems to be the center of the disturbance, we should relocate to somewhere else."
"Where?" Peter asked lightly, rising slowly to his feet. "Peoria?"
"No," the physicist replied dryly. "Downtown. There should be some place down there that we can use as a base."
Winston rose from his chair as well. "Well then, let's go." The four of them headed out the door and down toward the car.
* * *
"Hey, that looks like a good place!" Ray cried. Winston, who was driving, looked in the direction that Ray's finger pointed and nodded.
"The old church? Good idea, Ray. Even if the fact that it's a church doesn't do any good, it looks pretty solid. Should be fairly defensible." Ecto-1 pulled into the parking lot, and the four men got out. They trooped up to the door of the church and stopped, anxious. None of them particularly liked the idea of breaking into a church, even an abandoned one. Finally, Ray stretched out a hand and tried the knob. To his surprise, it opened easily.
"Hello?" Ray called, moving cautiously into the church. The place had a decidedly empty feel to it, nothing to hint that something might be lurking in the shadows. One by one, the Ghostbusters walked in, Peter last in line. Egon, watching him closely, saw the psychologist wince for a second as his foot crossed the threshold, but the expression quickly passed.
"Are you all right?" Egon asked quietly. Peter nodded.
"Yeah. A little uncomfortable, nothing major. I'm not sure whether that's due to the bite or the fact that I haven't been inside a church since I was a little kid." They quickly joined the other two in one of the pews in the middle of the room. They were fairly certain that they would be safe in the building, but none of them wanted to take any chances by sitting too close to the windows. Winston had brought one of the powerful flashlights from Ecto-1 and held it as Ray quickly scanned the diary.
"Says here that the house was built by a man named Jonathan Waldroe in the late 1800's. His wife, a woman named Marina, was very beautiful, at least in his eyes. Tall, black hair, thin. I think she's the vampire we saw in the kitchen.
"Anyway, as she got older, Marina became obsessed with remaining young. According to her husband, she locked herself in a room in the attic and wouldn't come out for hours at a time. That's when children started disappearing from the nearby town."
Even in the darkness of the church, the ill expression on Peter's face was clearly visible. "Don't tell me, let me guess. Human sacrifice? Blood rituals?"
"Right," Ray affirmed. "There's a historical precedent. Remember the Vampire Duchess?"
"Elizabeth Bathory," Peter affirmed. Seeing Winston's look of puzzlement, he explained. "Elizabeth Bathory was a European noblewoman in the fifteenth century. Maybe sixteenth. Anyway, she was obsessed with remaining young, and she wound up torturing and murdering young girls for their blood. Nasty lady, trust me."
"Anyway, no one ever connected Marina to the disappearances, not until she died. She still looked maybe thirty years old, and she was in her fifties. When her husband tried to have her buried in the local churchyard, the coffin burst into flame. He put it out, but she was declared a witch, and he had to bury her in a mausoleum he constructed under the house. A few nights later, he heard noises coming from that room she used to disappear into. He went to investigate, and didn't find the source of the noises, but he did find out what happened to the missing children," Ray continued grimly. "A few nights after that, Marina started appearing in his dreams, and he woke up each morning feeling tired and weak. His last entry is almost unreadable, but it says something about being 'together forever.'" All four men were silent at the implications of those words.
"Does it say where the mausoleum is, Ray?" Egon asked finally.
"There's a secret passage hidden in the house," Ray replied, "but the house is pretty big. He's left a riddle as to where it's hidden." Listen to this. 'Let those who seek the resting place know the beauty of her face and take the hidden door that stands beneath her white and sculptured hands.'"
"I hate riddles," Peter moaned.
"You go relax," Winston replied. "Maybe try to get some sleep. We're gonna have a heck of a fight on our hands when we get up there. Egon, Ray, and I will figure this one out."
Peter sighed. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks." Rising, he moved a few pews forward, leaving them alone.
* * *
The church was dark, but enough of the moonlight outside filtered in the windows for Peter to make out the cross hung on the front wall. He stared up at it impassively, not even flinching as Egon slipped into the seat next to him. "Find something?" the psychologist asked casually.
Regretfully, Egon shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Ray and I are trying to remember if there were any pictures or busts, but we're not coming up with anything. Winston thinks that we're going about this the wrong way. What are you doing?"
Peter chuckled humorlessly. "Thinking about how ridiculous this is, mainly. I always figured I'd be done in by a ghost. You know, despite everything we've seen, I never really believed in vampires. Kind of ironic." Peter sighed.
"That something I don't- or didn't- believe in is killing me, and has sent me scurrying to a church, the perfect place for questions of belief. I haven't been in a church in years, ever since Mom stopped making me go. I guess I sort of picked that up from my dad. That's one of the first things you learn, watching a con artist at work. Faith, belief- it's a weapon, a powerful one. If you've got someone's faith, if they believe in you, you can make them do whatever you want. I guess I've always figured that anything that asks you to believe has got to be a cheat."
Peter sighed. "Sometimes I really envy you, Egon. You've got this view of the universe that's completely unshakable, and something to believe in. You've got your science, and anything that comes along goes through that. Me? Every time I think I know what's possible and what isn't, this job drops something new on me. It's almost enough to drive you crazy."
"So why hasn't it?" Egon asked softly. "What have you found to believe in?"
Peter turned, flashing his friend a genuine smile. "You guys," he replied, just as quietly. "I believe in you. You never asked me to, you were all just there, whenever I needed you. You and Ray, all through college, and then Winston after we started the business. I have faith that you'll always be there to back me up. I believe in you."
Suddenly, Egon reached out and drew Peter into a tight hug, which the psychologist returned just as fiercely. "And I believe in you, Peter. You should too. You're strong enough to come through this, we all are. And we will not let you down."
Drawing back, Peter favored his friend with his trademark cocky grin. "Never thought you would, Spengs," he said affectionately. Egon chuckled, removing his glasses and beginning to clean them. It was his trademark stall, used when he didn't want to respond to something right away. In this case, Peter's words had affected him deeply. He had always known it was hard for Peter to trust, to open up, although he'd never quite understood why. He had also known, to some extent, that he had been allowed into Peter's inner circle, and just how lucky that was. Hearing the words, though, brought it all crashing home with unexpected force.
Suddenly a whoop from the back of the church caught the attention of the two men in the front. Turning back, they could see Winston pumping a fist in the air. "I think I got it!" the oldest Ghostbuster cried jubilantly.
"Well, don't keep us in suspense," Peter replied, heading back to him. "What did you find?"
"You guys were all thinking that the word 'her' was talking about a painting or a statue of a woman, most likely Marina Waldroe, right? But that's not all the pronoun is used for. People sometimes refer to ships as 'her,' too."
"But a ship doesn't have hands or a face," Egon protested, slipping his glasses back on.
"No," Winston agreed. "But a clock does! As soon as I thought of that, I thought of that big antique clock in the living room, with the black and gold lacquered face-"
"And the white sculptured hands!" Ray finished. "Of course! It wasn't running. I'll bet if you open the door on the bottom, there's the passage to the mausoleum!"
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Peter asked. "Let's go show this lady that she can't mess with the Ghostbusters and get away with it!"
"Not so fast," Egon replied. "I think we will need at least one stake. I doubt there are any other vampires in the area. There wouldn't be enough people to support them. However, it's likely that our proton beams would be of little use against her."
"Well, heck, there's got to be a woodpile in town somewhere," Winston suggested. "I say we find it, and go finish this."
"Let's go." The four of them trooped out of the church and back to Ecto-1.
* * *
The four Ghostbusters, armed with wooden stakes, hammers, and powerful flashlights, slowly crept through the darkened mansion, heading for the living room. Coming up to the clock, Egon and Winston put their flashlights back in their belts and pried open the door in the bottom of the clock. Sure enough, instead of the pendulums and other pieces of clockwork that normally occupied such a space, there was a narrow passage leading into the wall. Inside, Peter s flashlight revealed a narrow flight of stairs.
Egon unshipped his thrower. "I'll go first. Ray, you and Peter follow me, with the flashlights. Winston, you take the rear."
"Egon," Peter asked calmly, "what good is a thrower going to do against a vampire?"
""The vampire may not be the only thing we're facing here, Peter," Ray replied earnestly. "Marina Waldroe was a sorceress. Who knows what type of ectoplasmic entities she could sic on us?"
"I don't want to think about it," Peter grimaced. "And if I see so much as one rat, I'm outta here."
"Sure, Peter," Winston chuckled. The four of them filed through the passage and down the stairs, into the tunnels.
They had been walking for a number of minutes, no rats in sight, when they came to a large door blocking their paths. "Hmm," Egon mused, scanning the door with his PKE meter. "We don't have the time to modify them as we did in Lupusville."
"We could knock," Peter offered facetiously. Suddenly a wailing behind them made all four Ghostbusters turn. A cloud of gauzy, transparent ghosts swooped down on them. Dropping their flashlights, the Ghostbusters opened fire. For several long minutes, the battle raged, lit only by the flashlights on the ground and the crackling proton beams. Then one of the ghosts managed to slip through the team's guard. It slammed into Peter, knocking him off balance. He dropped to one knee, holding his chest and breathing deeply, while the ghost swooped back up to join its friends.
Instantly, Ray was at Peter's side, while the other two kept up the barrage of protons. "Peter, are you all right?" Ray asked, tipping his friend's head up. Peter nodded.
"He winded me, but I'm okay. Weak, though. Really weak," the dark-haired man puffed. Ray frowned.
"They're wraiths!" he cried." Guys, don't trap them!"
"WHAT?" Winston asked, incredulously."Ray, why not?
"They're the children! Marina Waldroe's spells stole their life energy from them. As a result, they became wraiths, ghosts with a life deficit. Their touch steals the life from you. But since Marina's connected to them, they can never get enough energy!"
"This does not explain why we shouldn't trap them, Raymond," Egon responded dryly.
"They're just kids, Egon! We can't stick them in the containment with guys like Samhaine, or Arzun! Once we destroy the vampire, they should be released. We've just got to keep them off our backs until then."
Peter rose painfully to his feet, aiming his thrower at the attacking wraiths with great effort. "So what are we waiting for? Come on, boy genius, get that door open!"
While the other three protected his back, Ray threw all his weight into the door. It didn't budge. He checked the hinges, noting that they were indeed on the other side of the door. "Aw, forget it," the youngest Ghostbuster cried. Unshipping his thrower, he aimed at the door and fired, blasting the old wood into matchsticks. "It's open!" he cried. "Come on!" The four of them moved through the door, still blasting the wraiths that were following them. In the center of the room, a coffin lay on a marble slab. While Ray, Winston, and Peter kept the wraiths back, Egon crossed over to the coffin and opened it. Inside lay the woman he had seen earlier in the night, looking well fed. To all intents and purposes, she appeared to be asleep.
"It must be almost dawn," he muttered. "She's sleeping off her big meal." Egon fumbled for the stake on his belt, wondering as he did so how he could bear to go through with this. An image of Peter in the same state occurred to him, and his resolve strengthened.
Suddenly her eyes snapped open. The proximity of the sunrise had paralyzed her, but the hatred in her eyes was quite evident. Egon quickly looked away, before she could hypnotize him, and was startled to hear cold laughter in his head.
_You fool! Do you think I need to waste my control on the likes of you? I have those who are more than ready to do my bidding. Behold!_
Behind him, Egon heard one of the proton packs stop firing. He turned in that direction, but before he could make it all the way, something slammed into him, knocking him to the floor. Egon found himself looking up into a face that he would have sworn was Peter's, except that there was no intelligence to it. It was the face of an animal.
Peter's skin was paler than ever, and his dark hair stuck out from his face wildly. His green eyes gleamed madly, and his lips were drawn back from his teeth, exposing canines that were far too long for Egon s comfort.
In retrospect, Egon realized that he should have seen this coming. Peter had kept up his merry stream of wisecracks all the way through the tunnel, but his words had been slightly garbled. Now Egon understood that Peter had been mumbling so that none of them would see that his canines had lengthened into fangs. Peter's condition had been progressing all night, but the psychologist had kept this information to himself, not wanting to worry any of them. A warm feeling coursed through him as he realized once again how lucky he was to have known Peter Venkman.
All these things ran through Egon's mind in a fraction of a second. He heard Ray cry out, and turn as if to come to his aid, but Egon stopped him. "No, Ray! You and Winston handle the wraiths! I'll deal with this." He returned his attention to Peter, who was watching him warily. Obviously Marina had not been able to control Peter's mind, so she had settled for turning it off. Venkman was running on pure instinct now. Egon swallowed. He'd be a lot less disconcerted if Peter hadn't been looking at his jugular with such hunger, but there was little he could do about that now.
"Peter, can you hear me?" he said levelly. The psychologist drew back, startled. He wasn't thinking, but his instincts were telling him that something was wrong. This was not normal behavior for his prey. Encouraged by this, Egon continued. "Listen to me, Peter. You don t want to do this. Whatever control she has, it's not strong enough for that. You can break through this. Listen to me."
_Fool._ Marina's voice came into his mind. _He is mine. You cannot reach him. He is now and forever a vampire!_
Egon shook his head. "I don't believe that. His condition isn't permanent yet. If it were, you wouldn't have had to shut his mind down. Peter, there's still a chance! You have to fight her."
Peter shook his head, snarling, but Egon could see a flash of something in the other's eyes.
"Yes, Peter. You can do it. Come on, we ve survived worse than this. We faced Gozer, one of the most powerful beings ever to walk the astral planes! We were almost drowned in marshmallow after we beat him, too. You've been kidnapped by a train-driving ghost, shot at, dropped, and slimed more times than any of us can count. Are you really going to let a vampire get the best of you?" Egon's voice dropped, becoming quieter now. "You told me earlier tonight that you believed in us, that we were the only thing you believed in. Well, believe me now. Believe in me. You are one of the best friends I have had in all my life. We ve watched each other's backs, done research together,- heck, we stood together at the end of the world. Do you think I m going to let you down? Believe in me, Peter. Believe in us. Most of all, believe in yourself."
Egon's words were obviously reaching Peter, who released Egon and backed away, hands on his head. Egon rose to his feet, realizing as he did so that all activity had stopped. The wraiths had stopped attacking, and they, Winston, and Ray were all watching the confrontation in the center of the room.
Winston stepped forward. "Come on, Peter, you can beat this. You have to fight it! Please."
Ray nodded, extending a hand to the psychologist. Peter looked at him, confused, but with the first sparks of intelligence returning to his eyes. "Fight her, Peter," the occultist said quietly. "Come back to us. What would we do without you?"
That did it. The last of the insane light left Peter's eyes, and he swept Ray into a tight hug. Ray held on to him, for comfort, but also because the other would have fallen had he not. Egon watched them for a second, then remembered. Turning back to the coffin, he strode over to it. Siting the stake, he looked up.
"Winston, Ray, you d better hold onto him. This is going to hurt him almost as much as it does her." Raising the hammer he carried, he struck.
Peter howled, throwing his head back. Only Winston and Ray's tight grip on his arms kept him from charging Egon and knocking the stake away. The physicist, for his part, was completely expressionless, and the hammer rose and fell with methodical precision.
Finally, with one last strike, the stake struck home, and it was finished. With a loud, despairing cry, the body of Marina Waldroe dissolved into dust. The minute the body was gone, Peter sagged with relief. He was mildly surprised that he had not fainted.
Suddenly, the wraiths, which had been floating in the air above them, burst into bright light and slowly de-resolved. Finally, after so long, they had achieved peace, moving on to the next world. With them gone, all attention returned to Peter, who was still kneeling on the ground.
"It's gone," he croaked, running his tongue over his teeth in shock. "All gone." He looked up at Egon in sudden panic." Did I-" He couldn't finish.
For answer, Egon pulled his collar away from his neck, revealing an unblemished throat. A shock of relief ran through Peter like an electric current. He was alive, and none of his friends had been bitten. That thought sank home, and that was when Peter fainted.
* * *
He woke up in the back of Ecto-1, the sun shining in his eyes. Pulling himself to full wakefulness, he realized that he had been leaning against Egon's shoulder. Flashing the other man a smile, Peter looked out the window at the sun, which was high in the sky. "What time is it?" he asked, stretching. "And how long was I out?"
"It's about four-thirty in the afternoon," Ray replied. "We estimate that it was about eight when we hauled you out of that mausoleum, so you've been asleep about eight and a half hours."
"You mean I missed lunch?" Peter asked, in mock horror. "Listen, you guys, I wanna thank you for everything you did back there," he continued, more seriously.
Egon shrugged. "You would have done the same for us, and have."
"Yeah, you re right, Spengs. It s just- I m glad you re all my friends."
"We're glad, too, Pete," Winston replied quietly.
There was silence in the car for a minute, then Peter perked up. "So, how much did we get out of Ralston? It had better be a big bonus, after that job."
Ray chuckled. "Well, he told us that since the house wasn't exactly haunted, he would only pay us the small fee for checking it out."
"WHAT!" Peter cried. "Why that scheming, low-down, no-good-"
"Easy, Peter," Winston interrupted him. "Egon- took care of it. He paid us three times what we get on our usual busts."
The older man chuckled to himself. All the pain, fear, and worry of the evening had disappeared in one sweet moment as he had watched the usually reserved physicist pick their smug client up by the shirt collar, slam him into a wall, and proceed to explain in great detail what a proton pack did to the human body. The memory was still with him.
"Took care of it?" Peter asked, raising an eyebrow. Egon had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "I want to hear all about it when we get home. Now, though, I m hungry!"
"It is getting close to dinner," Ray agreed. "What do you want to eat?"
Peter thought for a moment, then a wicked grin spread across his face. "Steak," he replied, pausing for effect. "Rare."
"Peter!" three voices groaned. They continued to drive, laughing and arguing good-naturedly, best friends in the world.