Operation Peanut Butter
She’d begun calling it Operation Peanut Butter, at least in her own head. She’d been preparing for it. It had been days since the night in the cabin, but she was no less afraid. Exhilarated too. Intrigued, of course. But afraid. She had nightmares about ghosts and knives and bridges, and she’d wake in a cold sweat. Or she’d be staring out the window in Physics, and her hands would begin to shake.
But she would be with Quint. That made her hands shake less. Although a part of her was still mad at him.
Margo’s parents were home less and less but they still noticed the change in her. She was more withdrawn, her grades were slipping. They blamed the move, themselves, each other. They were worried, but it seemed to Margo that their response was to be out of town even more.
When Margo got home from school on Friday, her parents had already left the city on business. A note on the fridge told her they’d be back on Monday.
She packed a backpack, including a notepad and pencils (her Excaliburs). She made sure she really was awake. She resisted the urge to run away and forget the whole thing.
It was almost sunset when she made her way toward the cabin.
It had become the spirit hunters’ outpost at Whitechapel. Dragomir stood in the doorway, carrying the crossbow. She could make out some of Dragomir’s recruits moving about inside, but they never spoke to her. The Bride leaned against a tree (as far from Dragomir as possible without actually being out of sight of him). Margo noticed the mirror in her hands.
“Ready?” Dragomir said.
Margo’s throat felt almost too dry to speak. “Yes,” she lied.
There was a breeze, and Quint appeared.
“Ladies. Gentlemen. Dragomir.”
If Quint cared that Dragomir was looking at him the way a grizzly looks at a noisy tourist, he didn’t show it.
“Let’s go then,” he said, and walked off into the trees.
“Be warned. Below is not a nice place.”
The four of them made their way across the grounds. They were an unlikely procession – two walking, two gliding.
“There’s a lot of danger,” Dragomir continued, “Spirit hunters don’t go there. It’s the Wild West, except at the OK Corral if you die you’re at least safe from your killers. You’ll see things that frighten you, and you’ll see things that seem wonderful. Stay away from both. Believe me when I tell you that however it may seem, there ain’t anything down there that wants to be your friend.”
One by one, they stepped through the hole in the fence. Behind them, the house loomed, the lights in the window like watching eyes. It sent a shiver down Margo’s spine – she was sure she’d turned off all the lights.
“As long as you keep your head, though,” said Dragomir, “you should survive.”
They reached the clearing. Tall trees surrounded it, and in the centre was the grave. The ivy stirred in the breeze. It was a beautiful sight – in a twisted way.
Its beauty was lost on the group. They all had other things on their minds, but the one common thought was a shade of fear. Even Margo Comeau – kid explorer and teen ghost speaker – was shaking a little.
“A word of warning about Below,” Dragomir said. “When a person becomes a ghost, their spirit splits in two. The decent parts of them, the good things, goes one place, and the dark parts of them go Below. You’ll meet ghosts down there that’ll be like the ones you’ve seen here. They might look the same, even talk the same, but they are not. They’re a bad reflection of those ghosts. Never trust them.”
Seeing Quint and Margo’s expressions, the Bride said, “You’ll be ok,” and placed a hand on Margo’s shoulder (it passed through). “We’ll be close. Call us if anything goes wrong.”
Less emotionally inclined, Dragomir crouched beside the grave with his crossbow. There was no light. It just looked like an old stone left at an unkempt stretch of park.
“Where’s the Bridge?” Margo said.
“It’s here,” he said. “It’s just not open.”
He drove the crossbow bolt into the stone. Green light burst from it, making Margo shield her eyes. It got thicker, spreading out, forming shapes. She could make out a sort of doorway in the light.
The wind that blew in from beyond the light was cold, as if it had come from the arctic.
Dragomir turned to Margo and Quint.
“The list of mortals who’ve gone Below ain’t long,” he said. “It’s the kind of place the gods send you if you piss them off and – unless your name’s Orpheus – it’s not the kind of place you come back from. I’m telling you this because although I’m a bastard, one thing I am not is a liar. I’m not gonna tell you that this’ll be easy, because it won’t. I’m not gonna tell you to not be scared, because you should be. But we will be watching over you. We will be ready to help. And when it comes to destroying ghosts, me and my team are Michelangelo. And I’ll be damned if Bale isn’t gonna be my Sistine Chapel.”
“Are you ready?” said the Bride. Margo hadn’t noticed,
but the Bride had slipped her hand into Margo’s. Margo squeezed it, and the
Bride stepped away.
“Good luck,” said Dragomir.
Margo and Quint made their way toward the light. They stopped just in front of it. The light rippled when they came near, as if sensing them.
“Are we really doing this?” Quint said.
“It appears so.”
“You’re lucky though,” said Margo.
“You’re already dead.”
Quint chuckled. “You’re such a dick, Margo.”
Margo pushed him, and laughed a little too.
“Now?” said Quint.
“Yes,” said Margo.
They stepped into the world of the dead.