"NOOOOOOO!" The sound of Peter Venkman's scream cut through the darkened bedroom of Ghostbuster Central, quickly bringing all three of the slumbering men to full wakefulness. Grabbing his glasses from the bedside table, Egon Spengler leaped out of bed and rushed to his friend's side, Ray and Winston not far behind him.
Peter's green eyes stared blindly ahead, fixed on something Egon couldn't see. The psychologist's chest heaved as he panted, and sweat beaded his paler-than-usual face. Placing his hands on Peter's shoulders, Egon attempted to break through whatever image held the younger man enthralled.
"Peter, you must relax," Egon began, his bass voice carefully level. "It's over now. Whatever it is, you're safe. I promise, nothing will hurt you."
Winston Zeddemore nodded, moving closer to the bed. "Yeah, Pete. It's okay. You can chill out now. Nothing's gonna get you while we're on duty."
"We're all here, Peter," Ray Stantz continued, taking one of Peter's hands in his own. "You can relax."
Slowly, as his three friends spoke to him in low, soothing voices, Peter's breathing slowed, and the tension left his muscles. Blinking, Venkman looked around himself in mild confusion. "Guys? What- what's going on?"
"You tell us, Pete," Winston replied. "You woke us all out of a sound sleep with your yelling."
"Apparently you had a nightmare," continued Egon, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "Can you remember anything about it?"
Peter shook his head. "It's kind of blurry," he reported. "Just something about- red eyes." Visibly collecting himself, the psychologist shrugged. "Half the nasties we trap have red eyes. It's probably just one of those stress-related things. We have been kind of busy lately."
The other three regarded him skeptically. To the people who knew Peter best, it was obvious that his composure was just a front. However, there wasn't a great deal to be gained by pushing the matter.
"Are you sure you're all right, Peter?" Ray wanted to know. Peter nodded.
"Yeah, Tex, I'm sure. Why don't we all try to get some sleep, okay? We've got an early call tomorrow."
Winston raised an eyebrow. "YOU'RE reminding us that we have to get up early? Egon, isn't that one of the signs of the Apocalypse?" Peter refused to dignify the jab with a response, save for sticking out his tongue at the older man.
The physicist chuckled. "Uncharacteristic as it may be, Peter's idea is a good one. I think we should return to our beds and see if we can't salvage something of the evening."
"I thought so." Peter didn't even look up at the quiet voice behind him, just continued to contemplate the Coke can sitting on the kitchen table. "Do you want to talk about it?"
As Egon settled himself at the table, Peter shrugged. "Nothing to talk about, big guy. I really don't remember anything but those glowing red eyes. Well, that and being more afraid than I've ever been in my life. I've had nightmares before, but nothing like this."
"Then why are you still up?"
Peter laughed humorlessly. "Because I'm too scared to go back to sleep. I don't even know what I'm afraid of, but it's there. And I don't want to scream everybody awake again." Looking up, the psychologist locked eyes with his friend, and smiled wanly. "Besides, this way I'll be up in time for the bust, and I won't have to put up with you three dragging me out of bed." He stretched. "You'd better go up and get some sleep, Spengs. I'm gonna plop down on the couch with an old movie."
"Are you sure you don't want company?" Egon pursued. Peter nodded.
"I'm fine. I'm still a little scared but- it's not so bad, now. You go on up. I'll see you in the morning."
The next morning, returning after their call, Peter felt a good deal better. Most of the scare from the night before had faded from his memory. _An hour and a half of adrenaline will do that,_ he reflected wryly. Chasing a bunch of Class Three rabbit-ghosts around a candy factory was a great way to work off your worries, even if he was covered in marshmallow goo.
"Penny for your thoughts," Winston's voice broke in as Ecto pulled into the garage. Peter grinned.
"Just thinking that now Ray REALLY qualifies as the world's biggest sucker," he teased. The occultist grinned as well, although somewhat ruefully.
"I hope this rock candy washes out of my hair," he agreed.
Peter snorted. "Are you kidding? When the spud sees you, you won't even make it to the shower."
"Says the man who looks like a giant Peep," Winston shot back, as the four men climbed out of the converted hearse.
"At least nobody had to pry me out of a taffy trap," retorted Peter. Janine, watching them approach, cocked her head.
"So, is this the Ghostbusters Easter assortment?" she asked, taking in the chocolate stains on Egon's uniform.
Peter grinned. "Now there's a thought. Little chocolate proton packs. Good novelty item."
"I'd prefer a chocolate version of you, Dr. Venkman," the secretary replied smartly. "That way I could bite your head off."
Shaking his head in pretend pain, Peter headed for the stairs. "Well, you boys go store our little Easter bunnies in the containment. I'm gonna get a shower."
"Oh, Dr. Venkman," Janine called after him. "You got a phone call while you were out. From a Dr. Meredith Bennett. She said it was very important."
"Merry?" Peter turned around, coming back down the stairs. "Geez, I haven't heard from her since college. I wonder what she wants?"
Janine handed him the notepad. "Here's her number, Dr. V. Why don't you find out?"
"I will, thanks. As I recall, Merry was always one for understatement. If she says it's important, I don't wanna wait."
"Just don't sit in my chair."
Peter made a face at Janine as he dialed. The phone at the other end rang only once before it was picked up.
"Hello?" a breathless voice responded.
"Merry? It's Pete Venkman. I'm returning your call- is something the matter?"
"You could say that," Dr. Bennett confirmed. "Listen, Peter, I know it's been a while since we last saw each other, but I need your help. I have this case, and I was wondering if you could come down and offer me a professional opinion."
"As a psychologist or a Ghostbuster?" he asked flippantly. Her answer surprised him.
"Both. I don't want to go into detail over the phone- privacy issues and all. Do you think you could get down here in a half an hour? And maybe bring some of your scanning equipment?"
Peter nodded. "Sure. I'll bring a PKE meter and be right down. Should I bring the other guys?"
"Please. The parents don't have any objection, and frankly, the more help I can get on this, the better. I'll pay you for your time, of course."
"We'll be down there as soon as we can." Peter agreed. Hanging up the phone, he looked at the three men around him. "Shower and find some clean clothes, boys. We've got another job."
Half an hour later, Ecto-1 pulled up outside a small office building in the Bronx. "I think we can leave the packs in the car, guys," Peter informed them, getting out of the vehicle. "Merry didn't sound like this was an active manifestation."
"Who is this woman, anyway, Pete?" Winston wanted to know. "One of your old girlfriends?"
Peter shook his head as the four of them headed into the building. "Not really. Merry was a Psych major back at Columbia, like I was. Only she was heading for psychiatry, so she's got a medical degree, too. We used to study together, but we never really dated. We were just- good friends."
Riding the elevator to the fourth floor, the Ghostbusters soon located Dr. Bennett's office. The secretary was a petite blonde who still somehow reminded Peter of Janine. Maybe it was the "don't mess with me" look on her face.
"Ghostbusters? Go on back," she instructed. "Dr. Bennett's been expecting you."
Thus cleared by Security, the four men left the waiting room and headed back into Dr. Bennett's office. Four other people were already there, looking up as they came in. One, a tall, black-haired woman in a gray business suit, rose to greet them.
"Peter, thank you for coming," she smiled. "I vaguely remember meeting Dr. Spengler and Dr. Stantz back in college, and you're Winston Zeddemore, right?"
Winston nodded. "Pleased to meet you, Dr. Bennett," he replied, shaking her hand.
"Gentlemen, this is Mr. David Crenshaw, his wife Alice, and their son, Mitchell," Dr. Bennett continued, gesturing to the three people who sat on the couch. Mitchell, a tall sixteen year-old with sandy hair and blue eyes, looked positively thrilled.
"Wow, the Ghostbusters!" he cried, bouncing to his feet. His parents looked less happy.
"Dr. Bennett," David Crenshaw began, standing. "When you said you wanted to bring in an outside advisor, we thought you meant, well-"
The psychiatrist smiled reassuringly. "Mr. Crenshaw, I understand your hesitancy. However, despite his profession, Dr. Venkman is an excellent clinical psychologist, and I know the other Ghostbusters will exercise the utmost discretion. Besides, I'd like to explore all the possible explanations for Mitchell's problems, since traditional psychological analysis has fallen short."
Seeing the still skeptical expression on Alice Crenshaw's face, Egon hastened to break in. "I assure you, ma'am, that anything that occurs today will be held in the strictest confidence and handled in a completely professional manner."
She smiled at him. "Thank you, Dr. Spengler. It's not that I lack confidence in your methods, it's that- well, the idea that our son's problems are supernatural in origin is simply hard for me to swallow."
"You'd rather I was going crazy?" Mitch asked, flopping down on the couch.
"If I may interrupt," Peter broke in dryly, "what seems to be the problem, anyway? Dr. Bennett was reluctant to say much on the phone- not that I blame her."
David Crenshaw took a deep breath, then began. "For the past several nights now, Mitch has been having violent nightmares, dreams that bring him screaming out of a sound sleep. It takes several minutes to calm him down, and he won't tell us anything about the events of the dream."
"That's because I can't remember," Mitch broke in. "Nothing except the feeling of fear- and glowing red eyes."
At that revelation, Peter and Egon exchanged quick glances. This was beginning to sound awfully familiar. "Mitch, I know you can't remember anything," Peter began, "but does it feel like the same dream every time? Do you get any hint of familiarity when you try to remember?"
The teenager cocked his head. "Yeah, actually. I think it is the same dream. Does that mean something?"
"A recurring dream means that there's one thing bothering you, at least," Dr. Bennett offered. "Whether it's one particular issue, or some sort of external trigger, we're dealing with one specific cause. That makes finding it a bit easier."
"Hmm." Interested, Egon pulled the PKE meter from his belt. Activating it, he pointed it towards Mitch, frowning as the antennae jumped.
Alice Crenshaw looked worried. "What is that thing?"
"It's a PKE meter, Mom," Mitch reassured her, rolling his eyes. "It just detects ghost energy."
"That's right," Ray agreed. "You know a lot about Ghostbusting."
Mitch grinned. "It's kind of my hobby. What does the meter say, anyway?"
"These readings indicate a Class 6," Egon announced. "The energy appears to be residual, though."
"In other words, Mitch has been in contact with a ghost in the past, but it's not present now," Ray translated, seeing the looks of non-comprehension on the faces of the three adults.
"That's what I said," Egon agreed. Turning in his seat, he pointed the meter at Peter, and was rewarded with a similar reaction. "This confirms it. These nightmares are caused by some sort of supernatural entity."
Winston quickly explained. "Pete had a nightmare like the one you described, last night. I don't think this is a coincidence."
"So I'm not going crazy?" Mitch asked hopefully.
Peter grinned. "Not unless I am."
Ray punched him lightly in the shoulder. "You passed crazy a LONG time ago, Peter." The psychologist nearly stuck his tongue out at the younger man, but remembered to save his professional decorum in time.
"So, if Mitch's nightmares are caused by a ghost, what are you going to do about it?" David Crenshaw wanted to know.
"I believe we'll need more research," Egon replied. "We have several reference works back at the firehouse which should help us identify the entity that we're dealing with."
Ray nodded. "We can't decide on a plan of action until we know what we're up against. You three should go home, and we'll call you if we need you."
"You won't need me for this research?" Mitch wanted to know.
Winston shook his head. "Nah, we let Peter play guinea pig. It's one of his few talents."
This time Peter DID forget his decorum.
"I feel like a lab rat," Peter grimaced. Egon had run him through every piece of machinery in the lab, with little result. An EEG had revealed moderate changes in Peter's alpha wave pattern, which could show telepathic contact, according to Ray. But even that didn't tell the Ghostbusters much. Nor had a search of _Tobin's_ turned anything up. Winston had been unable to find any ghost whose powers included inducing nightmares. It seemed as if the inquiry had hit a dead end.
Reclining on the cot that had been moved into the lab, Peter regarded the wires hanging off of him with some suspicion. "Heart monitor, EEG, blood pressure- Ray, I feel like a Radio Shack. You wouldn't have a car battery you were planning to hook me up to, would you?"
"Peter," the younger man remonstrated, "we're stumped. The only way we're going to be able to figure out what's going on is if we know more about the actual episode. And that means recording you while you sleep."
"What makes you think that even if Pete goes to sleep, it'll trigger a nightmare?" Winston asked, interested.
Egon looked up from the connection he was making. "Mr. Crenshaw mentioned that Mitch has been having his nightmares every night, without fail. I would imagine that the trigger has more to do with the victim's being asleep, and not with the external time. So, if Peter falls asleep, the nightmares should come." Egon's blue eyes were worried. Normal nightmares weren't very dangerous, but with a ghost involved, anything was possible, including psychosomatic injury. Besides, he'd seen how badly the first dream had frightened Peter. Knowingly sending his friend back into such a situation went against every fiber of his being. Unfortunately, as Ray had said, it was the only option open to them.
Sensing Egon's mood, Peter reached out and quickly squeezed the physicist's hand. "Wouldn't it be awful if after we got all this set up, I couldn't sleep?" he asked lightly. Egon cocked an eyebrow at him.
"The day you can't sleep anywhere and everywhere is the day Slimer goes on a diet," he retorted fondly.
"Yeah, Peter," Ray continued. "I've seen you sleep. It'd take a twenty-piece brass band to wake you up."
Winston grinned, quickly joining in the banter. "Or breakfast," he agreed. Peter made a face.
"All right, now that we've had the requisite 'pick on Venkman' session, we'd better get to work. Got all the stuff ready, Dr. Frankenstein?"
Quite deliberately, Egon stuck his tongue out at his friend, grateful that Peter had once again found a way to defuse the tension. "Go to sleep, Peter."
"Yes, Mom," the psychologist muttered.
True to Egon's analysis, it wasn't five minutes before Peter's breathing and brain waves smoothed out, adopting the patterns of sleep. For almost an hour, the three men kept watch over the equipment, noting nothing out of the ordinary. Then suddenly Peter twitched, just as the EEG began to spike. Next to the cot, the heart monitor began to beep faster and faster, rising to an almost continuous scream. Checking Peter's pulse rate, Winston swore. "Egon, his heart's going like a jackhammer! We gotta wake him up NOW!"
That proved unnecessary, however, as Peter tore himself from sleep with an anguished cry, panting heavily. Egon and Ray were instantly beside him, calming him down as the beeps from the monitor slowly drifted towards normal. Released from the terror of his dreams, Peter threw his arms around Egon's neck, sagging against the taller man like a wet noodle. "That was not fun," the psychologist murmured into his friend's shoulder. "I've had fun- I should know. That was..." he trailed off, too shaken to continue being flippant. Egon simply tightened his grip.
"Well, I know one thing already," the physicist declared grimly. "We have to stop this thing NOW."
At the flat note in Egon's voice, Peter managed to pull far enough away to look his friend in the eyes. "Fine by me, Spengs, but why the sudden rush?" he asked, his voice beginning to steady.
"Peter, your pulse rate doubled," Ray said quietly. "Your heart was practically beating out of your chest."
"So?" Peter asked, in the tones of one who knows that he is not going to like the answer.
Winston laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Pete- how long do you think your heart can take that kind of abuse? A couple times a day? Because you won't be able to go without sleep."
Peter grimaced, but he knew what Winston was talking about. Enough sessions like the one he'd just encountered, and his heart might just explode in his chest. Not how he wanted to go out. "We can't just outwait this thing, huh? It's going to keep doing this until it- kills me."
Egon nodded. "And Mitchell Crenshaw, and whoever else it may have attached itself to. I believe we are dealing with some sort of phobophagic entity here."
"Phobo-what?" Winston wanted to know.
"Phobophagic," Peter replied. He was calming down now, and this type of thing was something he knew about. "Literal translation is 'fear-eating.' Whatever this thing is, it feeds off of the fear it instills in its victims."
Ray made a face. "Like the Bogeyman, only it's not confined to kids."
"Great, Ray, that makes me feel so much better," Peter sighed. Realizing he was still holding on to Egon, he disentangled himself gently and stood up. "I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I'm gonna go make myself a pot of coffee. Very, very STRONG coffee." So saying, he headed for the stairs.
Entering the kitchen, Ray found Peter sitting in a chair, staring blankly at the pot that sat on the counter. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that a watched pot never boils?" the occultist asked cheerfully. His friend looked up, cocking an eyebrow sardonically.
"Bad, Ray. Very bad. What do you need?"
Ray shrugged. "Nothing, really. I just figured this might not be a good time for you to be by yourself. I know I'd rather not be alone after a bad scare."
"Yeah, I'd say you're right. Do you guys want some coffee? I could make another pot."
Ray's eyebrows shot towards his hairline. "You're going to drink an ENTIRE POT of coffee all by yourself?" Peter often made jokes about needing coffee to survive, but this was ridiculous. "Peter, we'll have to pull you off the ceiling! You won't sleep for a week!"
"That's kind of the idea, Tex," Peter pointed out. Ray frowned. He'd seen Peter frightened before, and this wasn't it. The psychologist tended to react to fear with increased flippancy, not withdrawn quiet.
Sitting down at the table, Ray reached out to grasp Peter's forearm. "What's bothering you, Peter? It's more than just being afraid- you said yourself that the fear response fades once you're awake. What's the matter?"
For a split-second, Peter thought about holding out, but the concerned expression on Ray's face changed his mind. He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "All right, Ray, you got me. It's just- I've never felt anything like this before. It's this incredible paralyzing fear, and there's nothing I can do about it."
"Because it's an empathetic creature," Ray pointed out. "It doesn't just frighten you, it _evokes_ the fear. That's not something you can fight."
"But I've always been able to stand down my fears," continued Peter. "I ought to be able to fight this off. This, though- I can't do a THING!"
Ray shook his head fondly. "Peter, you can't always fight your fears on your own. Remember what you told Egon when the Bogeyman escaped? The best way to conquer your fear is to admit it- because then we can help you. You don't have to face this alone, Peter, and you shouldn't try. It's what we're here for."
For a long moment, Peter stared at his younger friend. Finally he began to chuckle, a sound with real humor in it. "Tell me something, Ray. If I'm the psychologist around here, how did you get so good at the job?"
"I've been hanging around with you half my life," Ray returned easily. "I should think I've picked up SOMETHING."
Once Peter had collected his coffee, the four men gathered in the TV room to discuss their findings. "According to this, your brainwaves during the episode were fairly close to normal for when you're awake," Ray reported. "Unfortunately, that's also the pattern that you have in nightmares. I can't find much of anything here that we didn't already know before."
"Blood pressure and heart rate both soared into the stratosphere," Egon continued. "I don't know of anything that ever caused this degree of fear response while you were awake. There must be some sort of empathetic component, heightening your responses."
Ray made a face. "Maybe if we knew how it picked its victims, we could find references to it, and figure out just what this thing is. Right now, the classification is too vague for any of our reference books to be of much use."
"Well, we'd better come up with something fast," declared Winston. "Otherwise these night terrors are gonna kill somebody."
At Winston's words, Peter sat up so quickly that he nearly spilled his coffee. "Night terrors? Winston, that's it! Ray, hand me that EEG printout, will you?" Taking the sheaf of paper, the psychologist studied it intently, nodding. "Boy, good thing I participated in all those sleep studies in college," he remarked.
Egon smiled. "They paid you for sleeping. Two of your favorite things in one package."
"And occasionally three," Peter replied easily. "Some of those research assistants were gorgeous."
Winston shook his head, amused. "You wanna tell us what you found, Pete?"
"Night terrors, Winston. They're not just little nightmares or anything like that. They're an actual sleeping disorder, involving accelerated heartbeat, extreme terror, and usually little to no memory of the actual imagery. Look here, at my brainwaves just before the dream started. They're consistent with Stage 4 sleep, the stage _before_ REM sleep. Dreams, nightmares, the real thing, those come in REM sleep, dream sleep. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur in Stage 4 sleep."
Egon shoved his glasses farther up on his nose. "So what exactly does that mean, Peter?"
"Well, for starters, it means I think I know how this thing- whatever it is- picks it's victims. Hold on a second." Rising from the couch, Peter walked over to the upstairs phone and dialed.
"Hi, Mr. Crenshaw. It's Dr. Venkman, from the Ghostbusters. We think we have a lead on our ghost, and I wanted to ask you something. Does Mitch have any sleep disorders? Besides the recent nightmares, I mean. Any history of insomnia, or- what? Really? Is it chronic? Yeah, thanks, that clears up a lot. Sure, we'll be in touch." Putting the phone down, Peter turned back to the other Ghostbusters, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
Ray folded his arms across his chest. "All right, Peter, spit it out. What did you find?"
"It appears," the psychologist replied loftily, returning to the couch, "that Mitchell Crenshaw has a history of chronic sleepwalking. Night terrors and sleepwalking are part of a family of sleep problems known as parasomnias. They're disorders that involve behaviors in sleep, as opposed to such things as insomnia or delayed sleep cycle, which have to do with GOING to sleep. Parasomnias are often linked to each other, and where you find one, you can often find another. They've also been linked to insomnia."
"Like you have," Winston realized. Peter's sleep problems were well known at Ghostbuster Central. The psychologist had suffered from intermittent insomnia for years, experiencing sleepless periods for days at a time. Then the problem would disappear again, only to show up a few months later.
Ray was growing excited. "Of course! It must only be able to induce night terrors in people whose brain chemistry is already capable of producing them. That's why none of us have been having difficulty."
"So lay it on us, Spengs," Peter grinned. "Can you tell what we're up against now?"
"I believe so, Peter," the physicist replied. "An entity known as the Nightcrawler."
"A giant worm?" Peter asked, cocking one eyebrow at his friend.
"No. The Nightcrawler is a telepathic creature that feeds off of fear. It's been known to induce trances and sleepwalking. There's no mention of nightmares, which is why we didn't run across it before."
Winston leaned forward. "So now that we know what it is, how do we find it?"
"Empathetic creatures don't generally have a huge range," Ray replied. "Not usually more than half a mile."
"And it would have to be somewhere dark and quiet," continued Egon. "The Nightcrawler hates light, being a creature of darkness."
Rising from the couch, Peter walked over to the bookcase and returned with a map of the area of the city closest to Ghostbuster Central. "Okay, we're here," he pointed out. "And the Crenshaws live HERE. So we take a compass and draw a pair of circles- and our ghost is laired somewhere in here!" "Here" was a small area of intersection, not more than half a block. Ray leaned forward, his eyes lighting up.
"There," he declared, tapping one of the buildings. "It's an old, abandoned warehouse. Quiet and dark, and right in the center."
Peter made a face. "Does anybody find the idea of the villain hiding out in an abandoned warehouse to be REALLY cliché?"
"There's a reason clichés get that way," Ray responded with a grin. Winston was in a more practical mood.
"So now that we know where it is, why don't we just go get it?"
Egon nodded. "I think that's exactly what we should do, Winston," he agreed. "But I think Peter should remain here. It will most likely be safer."
"All alone, in this firehouse, with no one to keep me awake?" The psychologist shook his head. "Uh-uh, big guy, no dice."
"Peter, the Nightcrawler's control is not limited to those already in a dream state," the blond pointed out reasonably. "In such close proximity, it could conceivably trigger any sort of behavior it wished, including a fear response of even greater magnitude than the ones you have already experienced."
"I don't care," replied the younger man. His jaw was set and his green eyes were hard. "I'm not letting the three of you go waltzing off after this thing and leave me here by myself. We might very well need all four throwers to take this thing. I'm going with you, and that is final."
The stubborn expression on Peter's face convinced his friends of the futility of arguing with him. Egon sighed. "Very well, Peter. Gentlemen, let's suit up." As the four men headed for the firepole, the physicist hung back, blue eyes filled with worry. Winston, seeing this, turned around.
"Come on, Egon," the older man said quietly. "You'd never get him to stay. You'd have to tie him up and shove him in the containment, and even that might not work."
Egon sighed. "I know, Winston. It's just that- he's already in more than enough danger as it is."
"I know. But we'll get through this, just like we have a hundred times before. You'll see."
"Yo, you guys having a tea party up there, or what?" Peter's voice echoed up from downstairs. "Let's roll!"
"Well, this is the place," Ray remarked getting out of the car. Peter was close behind him, and made a face at the run-down warehouse.
"I'll say this for our gooper- he's got a sense of atmosphere," the psychologist quipped. "Egon, what's the meter say?"
"Class Six, somewhere inside," reported the blond. "I'm not getting any other readings, so I think it's alone."
"The door's locked," Winston reported, having tried the knob. Ray unshipped his thrower, ready to blast through, but Peter stopped him.
"Ray, we don't want it to know we're coming," the dark-haired Ghostbuster reminded his friend. "Let me handle this." Pulling a nail file out of his pocket, Peter set to work. In just a few minutes, he had the door open. "Piece of cake," he grinned. "Cheaper locks than Tummel's."
The four men cautiously made their way into the darkened warehouse, flashlights scanning the area around them. Egon led the way, his eyes still glued to the display of the PKE meter. Despite his absorption, however, the physicist managed to move unerringly around the obstacles on the floor. Winston shot Ray a sideways glance. "How does he DO that?" the older man asked. Ray simply shrugged.
"Radar?" the occultist offered in a whisper.
A sudden beeping from the PKE meter drew all their attention. Egon looked down and frowned. "Uh-oh," he muttered.
Peter cocked an eyebrow. "Uh-oh?" he echoed, drawing closer. "Egon, I hate it when you say that, you _know_ that. What's wrong?"
"These readings just took a jump. Apparently the Nightcrawler was in a quiescent state when we entered. I'm afraid it just woke up."
Winston blanched. "This is not good," he declared, as the four men moved so that their backs were together. Looking to his right, Ray suddenly noticed that Peter was sweating.
"Peter, are you all right?" the auburn-haired man asked.
Peter nodded jerkily. "Just fine, Tex," he lied. In truth, he was feeling the beginnings of a fear spike. Clenching his jaw, he fought down the reaction and waited for something to happen.
There wasn't much warning when it did. Red eyes suddenly gleamed out of the darkness and a large black shape hurtled towards the group. Peter had just enough time to shout out a warning, and the Ghostbusters dove in all directions. Getting to his feet, Peter suddenly found himself eye-to-eye with the Nightcrawler. It looked vaguely like a huge black wolf, except for those burning red eyes. Peter didn't have much time to notice that, however, as a sudden upsurge of terror shot through him, dropping him to his knees. Somewhere far away, he thought he heard the creature chuckle.
"Oh no you don't!" Egon Spengler bellowed, fury audible in his voice. Taking aim, he shot a proton stream at the Nightcrawler, striking it dead on. It yelped, and dashed away from him. "One stream isn't enough to hold it!" the physicist realized.
Ray nodded. "It went that way! Come on, we have to catch that thing!"
"Wait a minute!" Winston wanted to know. "Where's Peter?"
A low moan answered him. Dashing over to where the noise came from, the three Ghostbusters found their colleague curled up into a tight ball, shaking. Egon laid a hand on his shoulder. "Peter, can you hear us? Peter, it's us, your friends!" A few more tries produced the same result- none at all. Winston shook his head.
"It really did a number on him."
Ray nodded. "I think the only way we're gonna get Peter back is by trapping the Nightcrawler."
"You're right, Ray," Egon agreed. His face was set as he rose to his feet, PKE meter in hand. "And I think it's gone up there." The physicist pointed at the catwalks that crossed the warehouse, far above the floor.
Winston smiled slightly. "Maybe it's just as well Pete sits this one out," he mused. "You know how he feels about heights."
"I don't like leaving him," sighed Egon, "but he'll be in greater danger if we don't trap that thing. Let's go."
"We'll cover more ground if we split up," Ray suggested. "But be careful. That thing can come out of nowhere."
Casting one last glance back at their fallen colleague, the Ghostbusters split up and headed their separate ways.
After years of practice, Egon had reached the point where balancing a PKE meter and his thrower was second nature to him. Now, as he made his way quietly through the dark maze of catwalks, his eyes were riveted on the screen before him. After all, in the near-black environment of the warehouse, the meter was likely to tell him more than his eyes did.
A low growl from behind him caused him to spin around, just as the meter in his hand flared to life. Dropping the scanning device, he took hold of his thrower in both hands, just as the creature leaped at him. He hastily snapped off a shot, but it went wide. With no other options, Egon dodged to the side- and right off the edge of the catwalk.
Falling, he managed to grab onto the railing. As he looked up, he saw the Nightcrawler staring down at him, an almost amused expression in its red eyes. Egon let out a long breath. "Swell," he grumbled. This situation was bringing back memories of his fall from the World Trade center, not something he particularly wanted to think about. His heart beat a little faster as he remembered the utter terror free-fall had brought.
The ghost above him chuckled. "Your fear feeds me, human," it rasped. "Just as that of your friend does. Your terror makes me strong!" Egon started to pull himself back up, but a set of hastily bared fangs discouraged him.
"EGON!" Ray's cry rang out from the side, announcing his and Winston's arrival.
"Just hang in there, buddy," the fourth Ghostbuster added.
Egon raised an eyebrow at that. "I had no intention of doing anything else," replied the physicist. His voice was level, but tight with strain. "You'd better do something soon, though. It feels like my arms are about to fall off!"
Ray bit his lip. "We can't risk a shot with it so close to Egon. We might miss."
"Or it might get mad and knock him off," Winston agreed. "Mexican standoff."
The Nightcrawler laughed. "There is nothing you can do, humans. Your fear for each other, your weakness, feeds me, strengthens me! And I will destroy you!"
"Think again, you shag rug!" a new voice called, from the other end of the catwalk. Four heads turned to see Peter Venkman standing at the edge, looking pale and shaky, but determined.
"Peter, you're all right!" Ray cried. Peter threw him a wan smile.
"I won't be all right until I have my feet on the ground and this mutt in a trap," he responded. His usual cocky tones wavered noticeably.
"How?" the ghost howled, taking a step towards him. "You were helpless!"
"You never should have taken your attention off me," Peter smirked. "And if you think I'm gonna let ANYTHING stop me from helping my buddies, you're even dumber than I thought. Which would be quite a feat, let me tell you." Peter kept his eyes locked firmly on the Nightcrawler's red ones. Anything was better than being reminded he was fifty feet off the floor.
The creature growled. "Then I shall destroy you myself!" it declared, sinking into a crouch.
"I don't think so!" Winston retorted. Now that the ghost had moved away from Egon, it was a fair target for the particle beams. Immediately, Winston, Ray, and Peter opened fire. The Nightcrawler howled and thrashed, but was unable to escape from the energy caging it. Reaching up behind him, Peter grabbed a trap and threw it out under the struggling ghost.
"Trap open," he growled, stomping on the foot pedal with more force than necessary. Brilliant light shot up, sucking the creature down into the trap. Then the doors clicked shut, and everything was still.
"EGON!" Instantly, the three Ghostbusters ran to where their friend still hung from the catwalk. Winston and Peter pulled the physicist up onto solid ground, where he immediately found himself the subject of a group hug.
Pulling away from the group momentarily, Peter fixed his friend with a serious green gaze. "Egon, if you ever scare me like that again, I'll- I'll- well, I'll think of something."
Egon smiled. "Considering your capacity for mayhem, I shall refrain from doing so."
"See that you do, man," Winston instructed. Then the hug resumed.
"One thing I don't understand," Ray began, as the four of them descended from the catwalks, "is how you got there, Peter. I mean, when we left you, you were nearly catatonic."
Peter shrugged. "It's pretty simple, really. When that thing turned its attention on Egon, it didn't have as much energy to keep me under. I could kind of hear what was going on, and I managed to, well, wake myself up."
"And then climb fifty feet in the air to come to my rescue," Egon finished. "I have to admit it, Peter, I'm impressed."
The psychologist grinned. "All in a day's work for the dashing Dr. Venkman," he chuckled.
"So, Dr. Venkman, what's next on your heroing agenda?" Winson asked, amused.
"I am going home, and I'm gonna sleep for a week! And I don't want any of you guys dragging me out of bed at odd hours, either."
"Such as noon?" Egon chuckled. Peter stuck his tongue out at his friend.
Ray laughed. "Look at it this way, Egon. Peter's sleeping twelve hours a day- things are finally back to normal."
"RAYYY!" Peter's wail was audible in some parts of Brooklyn.