The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part IX
December 23, 12:30 am CST
After about the fiftieth time of watching the Box Ghost crank the Jack-in-the-box's handle, clapping in delight as the gruesome doll popped up, Sam had not only gotten used to the creepy little toy, she even found herself getting sort of attached to it. She was a goth, after all, with a love for things dark and disturbing, and now that they'd moved out to the living room, it looked even more disturbing in the glow from the Christmas tree, which was the room's only source of light. The eerie music box tune clashed with the Christmas music that was still playing on her stereo, but that was part of the appeal.
The Box Ghost cranked the handle again, and Sam shook her head, trying not to roll her eyes. It was so obviously still important to him—she suspected it had been his favorite more than Box Lunch's—that she felt bad taking it from him. "Are you sure you want to give this to me? I don't want to take a piece of your family history."
He waved his hand at her. "No. I told you, I want the Ghost Baby to have it. It should have a child playing with it, not be sitting on some shelf."
Which is exactly where it would be until he was old enough to not be terrified by the thing, but she couldn't exactly tell the Box Ghost that. "If you're sure…"
"I'm sure." He put the toy down on the mantle of the fireplace and picked up the box and bubble wrap it had been packed in. "I should be going. Places to go, doom to bring… you know how it is." He floated toward the door, presumably to phase through it and go back to the Ghost Zone via the Fenton Portal.
"Hang on. No point in you going back to FentonWorks and getting Jack on your case just so you can get back into the Ghost Zone. Let me open a portal here. Consider it my Christmas gift to you." Sam moved over to where her bag was still leaning up against the couch and pulled out a small gray remote that resembled a garage door opener. Aiming it at the fireplace, she pushed the green button on top. A bright flash of light came from in front of the hearth, and when it died down, a swirling mass of glowing green stood between them and the wall. "There you go. It comes out next to the Fenton Portal, so you should be able to find your way back from there."
Unlike its prototype, which Danny had destroyed years ago, after Johnny 13 stole it and attached it to his motorcycle, this version of the Fenton Porta-Portal not only opened a temporary portal into the Ghost Zone from anywhere in the Human World, it could be pre-set with specific coordinates within the Ghost Zone. This one was programmed to open up right next to the permanent Portal in the Fentons' basement so that if Sam needed to get away quickly, she could cut through the Ghost Zone and have immediate access to FentonWorks and the Specter Speeder. She hoped she'd never need it for anything more than giving the Box Ghost a free trip back to the Ghost Zone, but she kept the small device at her side constantly, just in case.
The Box Ghost looked from the portal to Sam. "You know you are welcome on Christmas Eve, right?"
"Yeah, you already said that."
"Okay. Just making sure." Bobbing up and down in front of the portal, he hesitated.
Sam frowned at his reluctance to leave. "Why? Do you want me there?"
He looked embarrassed, but feigned apathy. "Whatever."
The idea of going into the Ghost Zone without Danny to celebrate Christmas Eve with all the ghosts wasn't exactly appealing. "I don't know if I can. There's a candlelight vigil here in Amity Park that night for Danny. I kinda have to be there."
He nodded, his face sober. "It'll be a strange Christmas Eve."
Sam's eyes widened as a thought occurred to her. "You actually miss him, don't you?"
"No! Well… it's just not the same, is all."
There was the king of all understatements. "No, it isn't." She bit her lip, the hole Danny had left threatening to swallow her. As the Box Ghost turned toward the temporary portal in her fireplace, the need to know something—anything—was suddenly overwhelming, and she called out to him. "Box Ghost, wait!" He stopped and faced her again, and she wasn't even sure what to say. "You… you ghosts say you know your own, and you can sense each other, but how far does that go? Do you… if a ghost…" She took a breath. "Would you know it if a ghost died?"
He looked surprised by the question. "There is no life or death for ghosts. There is only being and not-being."
"Well, that's… Shakespearian. But if a half-ghost died…"
"Wouldn't that make him a full ghost?"
To the Box Ghost, it was just a statement of fact—the next logical step after life—but Sam closed her eyes at the pain that comment brought. "No. He… he told me he wouldn't… if something happened. Ghosts have to choose to stay attached to this world, right?" She opened her eyes again to see the Box Ghost shrug, looking a little befuddled. He wasn't exactly the most philosophical of ghosts, and she struggled to think of a way to rephrase her concern. "He's… either he's alive, or he's gone. And I… I don't know which it is. They've kept him completely incommunicado the whole time. So I'm asking you. Do the ghosts know? Can you tell if he's still alive? Because I… I can't."
She'd always had this idea that if something happened to him, she'd just know. But it had been five months, and there was nothing. Five months, and she was still no closer to getting him back than the day he'd been taken. She'd known then it would be bad, that they would have the authority to do whatever they liked to him, any kind of experiments or torture, but she'd never expected them to so completely block all information and communication for so long. She had no clue where he was or what they had done to him. They wouldn't even confirm that he was still alive, and some days it was harder than others to just believe that she and Tucker and everyone fighting with them would change the laws in time to save him.
The Box Ghost's brow furrowed as he considered her question. "We can sense each other's presence only when we're near." Then his eyes widened and he put up a finger as if a thought had just come to him. "What about the baby? If anyone could sense his being, wouldn't it be his own son?"
She shook her head again. "I don't think so. Danny could never sense other half-ghosts, not even Danielle, and with their genetic connection, you'd think if he could sense anyone, it'd be her. But she never set off his Ghost Sense, and neither did Vlad, so I'm thinking the baby probably won't be able to sense other half-ghosts, either. And anyway, there's… nothing." She swallowed over the lump forming in her throat.
"Have you no human technology to find him?"
"Tucker can track his ecto-signature on his PDA, and Jack has his 'booo-merang' that hones in on him, too, but… there's nothing there, either. No trace of his ecto-signature. They must've figured out we could track him after that last time, back in college, and they're blocking it."
Either that, or there was no longer an ecto-signature to block.
She shook that thought away. "I just… it's been five months, and we haven't heard a single word. Nothing. Not where they're keeping him, not what they've done… what they're doing. Nothing. They've blocked every single attempt we've made to get a writ of habeas corpus and force them to bring him to court, or to even just let us communicate with him. He's not a person, not in the eyes of the law as it stands now. They say it's a matter of 'national security'—one ghost! And they have the right to do anything they want to him, even 'exterminate' him, because he's not really human to them. I… I don't even know if they told him about the baby. Is that really so much to ask? Just to know that he's alive and that he knows about his own son?"
Her voice was cracking, and she'd said much more than she'd ever intended—and to the Box Ghost, of all beings! A little taken aback by the unexpected emotion from her, he just bobbed in the air, looking down at the floor. "I do not understand the rules of your world. But we can't sense him any more than your technology can. If we could, Skulker would've broken him out a long time ago. He's really mad that someone else got his prize."
A wan smile came to Sam's lips. "Yeah, that sounds like Skulker."
"I'm sorry we can't help you more."
She shook her head. "No, it's okay. You've helped enough. More than most humans have. Thank you. And Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas." Clutching his box and bubble wrap, he turned and flew into the portal, disappearing in its swirling green mist.
When he was gone, Sam aimed the Fenton Porta-Portal, and the opening collapsed in on itself, leaving only her fireplace once more. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" was playing on the stereo, and the somewhat melancholy minor-key tune that was such an ironic contrast to its cheery lyrics did nothing to lighten her spirits. The Jack-in-the-box was still on the mantel, and she went over to it, setting down the Porta-Portal to pick it up. Carrying the toy back over to the couch, she turned the crank, playing Psycho: the Music Box Edition. When it got to the climax, the lid popped and the hideous, green, melted face popped out, but instead of either shocking or amusing her, it just made her sad. What would Danny think of such a thing? What would he think of getting a gift from the Box Ghost at all? She tried to imagine his reaction, and found she couldn't. Frowning, she closed the lid and turned the crank again, but when the figure popped out, she still couldn't picture what Danny would think, if he would find it funny, or creepy, or if he'd just roll his eyes. What would he think of such a thing going to his son? What would he think of having a son?
He's either alive, or he's gone, and I don't know which.
Sam sank down onto the couch, the toy slipping from her grasp as she began to sob, and the hole Danny had left didn't just threaten—it swallowed her whole.