The Ghost Zone
She barely escaped from the Tower with her life. Or, her afterlife, as it were. Pulled without warning, along with many of her brethren, from their own time, they’d landed in the middle of a siege. Not even when Pariah Dark had ruled the Ghost Zone, before she and her brethren put him in the Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep, had she seen such destruction. And in this place! It was unthinkable.
They’d been summoned to the Tower by its Master to help defend it against a lone enemy but, impossibly, they had failed. Most of her brethren had fallen, and the Tower would fall soon as well. The Master, even in the face of losing everything, was impassive. He is mistaken if he believes that by defeating me he can hold dominion over all that I command.
But she could not help but think he would not need to. Without the Tower… without its Master… she could scarcely think on all that could happen, here in the Ghost Zone, and to the Human World as well.
With only two or three of her brethren left defending against the onslaught, the Master pulled her aside and gave her a single task: Find him. Warn him.
Her escape from the Tower had been difficult. The destruction was already too great and the Master’s powers too diminished for him to grant her direct access to the destination he showed her. She would have to travel across the Ghost Zone and into the Human World under her own power. Despite her efforts at stealth, the enemy had seen her quit the Tower, and even while focusing his tremendous energies on his siege, he had enough to spare for an attack on her as well. A piece of himself separated off and followed her, determined to destroy her. He would have succeeded, had he not inexplicably recalled that part of himself at the moment when her energy had waned to almost nothing. Without sparing so much as a glance back at the Tower, she fled, trying her best to ignore the hideous wailing sound that arose behind her, not wanting to even contemplate what could cause such a horrifying sound, or what it might mean for the Master and his Tower. Her mission was clear.
And now, almost entirely depleted, she flew across the Ghost Zone, calling upon every reserve she had to accomplish that mission. She did not know the being whom she sought. He existed an indeterminable number of years in her future. But he was the only one besides her brethren who had succeeded in stopping the Ghost King, or so the Master had told her. And here was an even greater threat.
Find him. Warn him. The one he thought was gone has returned.
Please, kill me now.
Danny Fenton stood with his face buried in the palm of his hand. There were some things that were just too horrifying for even a half-ghost to face, and all the ghost powers in the world could not save him from this, the most harrowing of all ordeals: death by parental humiliation.
Not that he hadn’t had plenty of chance to become battle-hardened over the course of his sixteen years. He would have expected it to get easier with time, but Jack and Maddie Fenton were the world’s foremost authority in this particular brand of torture, always managing to outdo themselves in finding the most twisted and diabolical ways to mortify their son.
At least this time it was only his closest friends and not, say, the entire student body of Casper High, who were witness to Danny’s abasement. Tucker Foley, his oldest friend, leaned in and whispered in his ear. “Dude, is that what I think it is?”
Sam Manson answered for him, her voice a mixture of disbelief and amusement. “Oh, yeah.”
“Your dad is trippin’, Danny,” Valerie Gray concluded. The most recent addition to their foursome, Valerie was the least familiar with Danny’s parents’… eccentricities.
Danny cringed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
It was dusk, and the sky had just turned a dark purple as the four friends stood together on the wide balcony just outside the rotunda atop Amity Park City Hall. They were on the east side of the building, above the front entrance and facing the enormous statue that depicted a determined-looking Danny Phantom—Danny’s ghostly alter ego—with the world held aloft in his right hand. In the southeast corner of the balcony, Danny’s father was showing off his latest… well, invention wasn’t exactly the right word. Crackpot idea came to mind. The crackpot idea in question was a huge searchlight, oriented so that its four-thousand-watt lamp pointed more or less in the direction of FentonWorks, Danny’s parents’ research lab/workshop that doubled as their family home. Affixed to the front of the lamp was a solid black metal scrim with the shape of a ghost cut out of the center of it.
Jack Fenton beamed in pride. “I call this baby the Phantom Signal. Whenever ghosts attack our fair city, Mayor Foley here can use it to call on our resident hero, Danny Phantom—” He reached over and, brushing aside Danny’s friends, yanked a yelping Danny into a one-armed embrace. “—and, of course, his ghost-hunting gurus.” By this, he meant himself and Danny’s mother, who was standing between the searchlight and the wall of the rotunda.
Danny, who was seriously considering going intangible so he could slip out of his father’s grasp and through the floor, looked to his mother in desperation. “Mom, please…”
“Jack…” She had that tone of admonition she always had whenever she had to restrain her husband from one of his nuttier schemes. “Don’t you think it’s a bit much?”
Danny threw his mother a grateful look. “Thank you!”
She continued as if Danny hadn’t interrupted. “The last thing we want is for every metaphysical miscreant in town to be alerted. A Phantom Phone hotline would work much better, don’t you think?”
Danny groaned. “Mom…”
On the surface, his parents seemed like a completely mismatched pair. Jack Fenton, a huge hulk of a man with a square chin, small blue eyes, close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, and a penchant for wearing bright orange jumpsuits, was loud in every sense of the word. He was prone to an almost childlike excitability over, well, pretty much anything, but ghosts in particular. This combined with his mammoth size made him come off as somewhat oafish.
Maddie Fenton, in contrast, was a slender, graceful woman. Her auburn hair was styled into a short, no-nonsense bob with bangs that set off her warm, indigo eyes, which could look either deep blue or violet depending on the light. Skilled in almost everything she attempted, from martial arts to marksmanship to baking cookies, she was as accomplished as her husband was clumsy. Although she, too, always wore a jumpsuit, hers was a more sober blue and came off more catsuit than circus tent.
It only took a few seconds of talking with them, however, to see what a perfect match they were. Equally obsessed with ghosts and ghost-hunting since long before Danny was born, they were well-known in Amity Park for both their wacky inventions and their boundless exuberance for all things otherworldly, which sometimes masked how brilliant they really were. It was their creation of the first manmade portal into the Ghost Zone that had given Danny his powers in the first place. He’d been fourteen then, and for two years, the only humans who knew about his double life as Danny Phantom were Tucker, Sam, and his older sister, Jazz.
That all changed when an asteroid the size of a small moon was set on a collision course with Earth. When all attempts to destroy or divert the asteroid failed, Danny had convinced thousands of ghosts to band together at a specially designed antenna in Antarctica that would transfer their intangibility across the planet so the asteroid would pass harmlessly through. The Fentons, Tucker, Sam, Valerie and her dad, and about seventy other people from around the world had been manning a control tower at the antenna when, for a brief moment, they’d thought Danny had been killed in his attempt to recruit the other ghosts. In her grief, Jazz had revealed to her parents—and everyone else within earshot—that her brother was Danny Phantom, thus considerably expanding the circle of humans who knew his secret. Danny then confirmed it by changing from ghost to human in front of them all.
In the months since, Danny Phantom had become an international celebrity, but judging by Danny Fenton’s relative obscurity—and the fact that the government’s not-so-secret anti-ghost unit, the Guys in White, had yet to ship him off to some hidden installation and turn him into a half-human guinea pig—his identity had not seemed to have leaked beyond the nearly eighty people who had seen him change in Antarctica. It was a good thing, because his mom and dad knowing was adjustment enough. Danny loved his parents, and mostly he was glad they knew the truth, but their enthusiasm to be involved in the ghost half of his life often resulted in things like, well, this.
Gritting his teeth, he took a stab at reining them in. “This is just…” Insane. Ridiculous. Unbelievably lame. “It’s not really something we need.”
His dad crossed his arms over his prodigious chest. “And when ghosts attack, what is Mayor Foley supposed to do?”
Danny exchanged chagrined glances with Amity Park’s improbable mayor. Tucker Foley, with his blue-green eyes peering out from behind wide glasses, the huge assortment of techno-gear stuffed into the pockets of his cargo pants, and that red beret he always wore jammed on top of his head, was more Steve Urkel than Barack Obama. And yet, he’d had the political savvy to parlay his own celebrity at being the technical wizard behind the intangibility transfer antenna into an appointment by the Amity Park City Council to fill the then-vacant office of mayor. This despite the fact that he was only sixteen and not even old enough to vote.
Now he displayed this savvy by opting for the time-honored political tradition of passing the buck. He held his hands up in sort of a don’t-look-at-me-he’s-not-my-dad gesture, and Danny turned back to his father with a sigh. “Knowing ghosts are attacking is really more of a Ghost-Sense thing than a mayor thing, Dad.”
“You never know, Danny. What if some spectral scum attacks City Hall? How will the mayor contact you?”
“Uh…” Tucker produced his cell phone from his pocket. “Usually I just call him on his cell. He’s number two on my speed dial.”
Danny’s father’s face fell like a kid whose favorite toy had just been taken away. His lip sticking out in a pout, he kicked at the floor with the toe of his boot. “A regular old cell phone? Where’s the excitement? The dramatic flair?”
“That usually comes when I’m actually fighting the ghosts,” Danny said dryly. “And I really don’t think City Hall is in any imminent danger of ghosts attacking.”
A sudden stream of blue-tinged mist escaping from Danny’s mouth contradicted him. He stifled a sigh at the irony. “Although I could be wrong about that.”
The ghost arrived a second later, a blur of dark purple descending upon them from the sky, aiming straight for Danny as the whine of several ectoplasmic weapons powering up around him competed with the sort of whirring sound that accompanied Valerie suiting up in her armor. Danny hesitated for a split-second—his first instinct was still to avoid going ghost in front of his parents—before triggering the bright ring of light that transformed him from black-haired, blue-eyed, jeans-clad Danny Fenton into the white-haired, green-eyed, black-jumpsuited Danny Phantom. The delay cost him, and he didn’t have enough time to go intangible or fly out of the way or even brace for impact before the ghost slammed into his chest, knocking him off his feet and onto the floor of the balcony.
“Get away from my son, you filthy putrid protoplasm!”
“Jack, wait! You might hit Danny!”
With a heave, Danny shoved the ghost off of him, sending it flying into the searchlight and switching it on. A ghost-shaped beam of light shone in the sky for a brief moment, causing Danny’s dad to crow in delight, but then the real ghost’s momentum knocked the searchlight into the low wall around the balcony. The impact shattered the lamp, and Danny quickly created an ectoplasm shield around it to keep shards of super-heated glass from flying everywhere. The mini explosion contained, Danny turned his attention back to the ghost, who was still crumpled on the floor in a mass of purple robes. Three weapons and two Fenton Thermoses were brought to bear as Danny finally got a look at it. A hooded cowl, clasped with a green skull, hid its face, revealing only glowing red eyes. Danny recognized the whole ensemble immediately.
“Lydia?” Sam, apparently, recognized her as well. Lydia was the ghost companion of the former Circus Gothica ringmaster, Freakshow.
Before Danny’s parents could blast her, Danny flew over to Lydia and pulled her up off the floor. “What are you doing here? Is Freakshow—?” He sucked in a breath when her hood slipped down, revealing not the spike-haired, tattooed ghost he was expecting, but an emaciated, skull-like nightmare with sunken red eyes and long black hair. “Y-you’re not Lydia!”
Whoever she was, she sagged against him, clearly more weakened than a single throw against the searchlight should have caused. Although her skeletal face and glowing red eyes made it hard to be sure, he got the distinct impression that she was relieved. In a raspy voice, she wheezed, “Ghost Boy…”
He gripped her by the shoulders. “Who are you?”
She seemed unable to answer, but pulled something out from under her robes and thrust it into his hands. It was a medallion, shaped like a golden gearwheel with the letters CW emblazoned in neon blue across the gear’s ebony center. It was still attached to her neck by a thick, black ribbon.
He blinked. “Clockwork?”
With bony green fingers, she closed his hand around the medallion. “He didn’t… see… it coming.” Then she yanked on the ribbon, breaking it. With the medallion in Danny’s hand and no longer around her neck, she disappeared in a haze of blue light.