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The fact that the Des Moines Ghostbusters were becoming overwhelmed with work was an understatement. Since the chairman had unsuccessfully tried to eliminate Cynthia Palmer from the playing field, the reports of spiritual activity had skyrocketed.
In the time that the Chairman made his brief appearance in their lives, the Ghostbusters had been sleeping in shifts to handle the overflow of spirits. They had been lucky that most of the ghouls and slimers had been located within the Des Moines Metro Area, but they were also very aware of the fact that this wasn’t a good thing. The more ghosts in the Des Moines Metro was indicative of Erra and the Seven consolidating their power.
Regina was the first to ask if whether or not this volume of spiritual energy had always existed and if they were only just now noticing it as the rest of Iowa began to adopt the PKE Meter phone application. Simon answered that by explaining that the application wasn’t their only detection method and that they had been able to pick of the city’s residual PKE reading before the app had existed. The app was mostly valuable in the fact that it pinpointed where spikes in that residual energy manifested, helping the Ghostbusters to find specific incursions from the spirit world. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a scenario of a tool doing its job too well, and was more a situation in which the city’s level of PKE was steadily climbing without any end in sight.
Which was why, exhausted and without options, Cynthia had organized a conference call with the franchise headquarters in New York City.
The Des Moines squad was huddled around a table in the small conference room that came with their rented office. Cynthia had only just finished pleading her case for support when a snarky voice on the other line replied.
“What this sounds like to me, Ms. Penner-“
“It’s ‘Palmer’,” Cynthia stated for the third time.
“Right, Palmer,” the voice replied, “What this sounds like to me, Ms. Palmer, is that your team isn’t strategizing properly. Instead of hunting down every spook in Iowa,” the voice paused before adding, “What even is Iowa? Is that a state?” When they didn’t dignify his obvious barb at their state with a response, the voice continued. “Instead of hunting down every ghost in Iowa, why not use that wonder app that your team put together to classify the nasty threats first. The low level threats can wait until you’ve nailed down this…uh…what did you call him?”
“Erra,” Jordan supplied.
“Erra? That doesn’t sound so bad. Not like a Gozer or a Tiamat. More like a small mistake you can handle with white out or an eraser.”
His voice grew distant as he leaned away from the phone.
“Ray, have you ever heard of beast that goes by the name of Erra?”
“Oh yeah, Peter!” An excited voice could be heard from further away. “Really nasty guy. If I recall, Marduk chose to relinquish his throne to Erra instead of dealing with him.”
The first voice, Peter, grew louder as he returned to the phone. “I just consulted with my spiritual liason, and he said that you could easily take out this Erra guy without any support.”
Cynthia’s head hit the table.
“Listen,” Peter continued. “Kick Erra’s ass, break for coffee, and then spend you’re newly found spare time cleaning up his left overs. If you’re lucky, most of the residual PKE should leave with him when they see you beat up the big guy.”
“So,” Regina asked, a hint of pleading tone in her voice, “you’re not going to send anyone to help us?”
“We’re not heartless, sweetheart,” Peter let out a sigh. “If it gets any worse, we’ll consider it. I’m sure Louis is around here and he’s been itching to put the proton pack back on for years.” His voice suddenly took on a hurried pattered. “Anyway, have a nice day, call back really soon. Don’t be a stranger. Bye!”
The line went dead.
“That man,” Regina said, “is an asshole.”
“He’s one of the original,” Jordan gave as way of an explanation.
“He’s still an asshole,” Cynthia replied, lifting her head.
The entire team were still in their jumpsuits, covered in sweat, grime, and slime. They were running on fumes.
“The asshole has a point, though,” Regina added. “Why aren’t we classifying them and hitting the biggest ones first?”
Simon reached across the table and hit a button on the projector, turning it on. As it warmed up, the glow of a computer desktop came to life on the wall.
Clicking his laptop’s mouse a few times, Simon brought up a graph.
“We are doing exactly that,” he explained. On the screen, the graph showed a steady increase in paranormal activity, reaching upwards toward a thousand pings from the application. “Everything below the red line at the 550 mark is being postponed until we’ve handled Erra and found your brother.”
While everything below the red line was quite a lot of activity, everything above it was almost just as busy.
Jordan waved his hand at the graph. “Have we shown the New York guys this graph? That level of PKE can’t go unnoticed. It’s astronomical.”
“Actually, we did,” Cynthia answered. “Their exact response was, ‘We’ve handled more with less, come back when it’s literally astronomical.’”
Regina shook her head. “We are entirely on our own.”
Cynthia nodded and then rubbed her eyes. Leaning back in her chair, she stared up at the data on the screen before turning to Jordan.
“What’s the God Threshold? Where on this scale would Erra sit?”
Jordan nodded at Simon who proceeded to make more clicks with the mouse until the graph zoomed out to half the size that it was. At the top of the screen was another red line that wasn’t labeled. “Everything below that mark answers to everything about the mark,” Simon explained. “Erra would sit,” he waved his hand about, “somewhere above that line.”
Cynthia was acutely aware that there were no pings from the PKE application that reached above the God Threshold line.
“Absolutely nothing has been reported above that line?” She asked. “Is it possible that something is wrong with the app?”
Simon shook his head, “The app is more than capable of picking up on god level psychokinetic energy.”
“Then we need to change our game plan. Erra is either hiding someplace where we don’t have enough smartphones or he’s found a way to hide his PKE. Any ideas?”
“The app is limited to the sensors in a standard smart phone. That means that the app won’t work well in places that block those signals and also that their range is limited,” explained Simon. “That would include large metal structures, as they can also interfere with readings.” He shrugged, “We’re looking for large empty spaces, spaces with little to no people, and spaces with lots of metal.
Sarcastically, Regina remarked, “Well, that really narrows it down in the middle of a city.”
“In a way, it does,” Cynthia replied. “Erra won’t be anywhere without too many people. The Seven require chaos to distract us so that Erra can do his work, that means he will be where the people are. He won’t be in the rural areas either, for the same reason. Erra is consolidating power, that means he’s most likely in the city and using some large metal structure as his hideout.”
Simon nodded, “I agree with that assessment.”
“Then what do we do now?” Jordan asked.
“We split up,” Cynthia stood and leaned over the table. “We need to hit every warehouse, every factory, stadium, and theater. Every structure that is large enough to disrupt cellphone signals.” She pointed at Jordan and Simon. “You two cover east and south Des Moines, while Regina and I will cover north and west. Don’t use the app, we need real PKE Meters in the field on this.”
Jordan and Simon took the van while Cynthia and Regina took Cynthia’s pickup truck. Just to be on the safe side, each team took two proton packs and two slime blowers with them. They had already covered most of the area between the East Village and the State Fair Grounds before deciding to move south and into the more industrial areas of southside Des Moines.
The job for the day was meticulous at best. They had decided to skip over the larger metal buildings that had full parking lots as it was unlikely that the app wouldn’t be able to pick up something and not report with that many people in the location. That left plenty to be searched, though. Most of that area of the southside was industrial lots and older buildings that either were, or used to be, factories.
They found nothing. Absolutely nothing. They weren’t even getting readings on some of the older buildings that should have had some sort of residual haunting on them. It was frustrating work.
After much consideration, Jordan told Simon to turn the van around. It was a little after noon, and they both felt that they’d earned a lunch at the local Zombie Burger.
Simon pulled into a parking lot for a train yard to turn the van around. As they slowly arced the van back toward the exit, Jordan’s PKE Meter let out a quick beep.
“What was that?” Simon put the brakes on.
Jordan stared at the PKE Meter, waiting for the blip to return. When it didn’t, he stuck the Meter out the window and waved it back and forth. Suddenly, another beep went out. “Looks like something small in the train yard.” He pulled the Meter back in, looked at it, and frowned. “It’s a Class 1 at best. Skip it.”
Simon returned the frown. “We’ve been out here for hours with nothing to show for it, and I’d like to stretch my legs.”
Jordan shrugged. “If Simon wants to strap on a heavy ass proton pack, who am I to argue. Very well, good sir. Lead the way.”
Before they put on their packs, they went up to the train yard office and introduced themselves.
“Is this for real?” The only guy in the office asked. He was older and wearing coveralls as he sat behind the desk. He looked at the Ghostbusters over his glasses as he spoke.
“Real enough, sir,” Simon answered. “We believe that a spiritual entity has taken up residence in your train yard. We certain that it’s probably nothing, but we would like your permission to check it out.”
“A ghost is in the yard?”
“Are you guys going to bill me or anything?”
Simon shook his head. “This is part of a larger investigation that the city has hired us to check out.”
The yard manager shrugged, pushed his glasses back up to their place, and turned back to his newspaper that he had been reading when the guys had come in. “Knock yourselves out and don’t break anything.”
They thanked him but were pretty sure that he wasn’t listening to them anymore.
The yard consisted of mostly large train cars resting and awaiting pickup from the trains that would pass through. The guys stepped over several pairs of tracks and followed the PKE Meter from car to car until the signal was at its strongest.
“This one,” Jordan said, before adding, “It is still registering as a Class 1. I’m not entirely sure that we’ll even see it manifest.”
Simon prepared his proton pack while Jordan grabbed the handle to the train car door and tugged the door open.
Simon, prepared to blast anything that came out at them, tensed. When nothing happened, he stepped closer to look in and was joined by Jordan.
In the back left corner of the train car was a small purple glow, no bigger than a softball.
Jordan heaved himself into the car and helped Simon up into it. Once they were both in the car, Jordan pulled the PKE Meter back out and aimed it at the purple haze. He stepped closer to it, trying to make out what it was while Simon kept his neutrino wand at the ready.
When Jordan was close enough to see what it was, he let out a snort. “It’s a kitten.”
Simon stepped a little closer and, now that Jordan had said what it was, realized that he could make it out too. It was the ghost of a small kitten, glowing purple as it slept in the corner of the boxcar.
Jordan leaned forward and stroked the top of its head, waking the little kitten up as he did so. It let out a wide yawn and looked from Jordan to Simon and back to Jordan.
“This is probably some cat that used to live in the train yard,” Jordan explained. “I wonder how old the yard is. Well, it doesn’t really matter. History is filled with beloved pets staying on long after they’ve died. Life was such a simple path of love and be loved that they didn’t know how to stop. Kind of sad really.”
Simon frowned. “That’s it? Just a kitten?”
“Just a kitten,” Jordan agreed. “Class 1 and a complete waste of time, because I’m not going to blast a…” Jordan stopped as he saw Simon raise his neutrino wand. “What are you doing?”
“Jordan, get back!”
Jordan was so engrossed in recalling historic facts, that he hadn’t realized that the kitten had grown to almost three times its original diminutive size. He jumped back and looked at the PKE Meter.
“What is?” Simon demanded.
“He just grew to a Class 3, and he’s not stopping.” Jordan put away the PKE Meter and drew his own neutrino wand.
Simon frowned, “Is it starting to looking like a…cougar…or something?”
Jordan was suddenly lost in memory, trying to remember when someone had last mentioned a cougar. It was on the tip of his tongue.
And then it hit him.
“Not a cougar.” He flipped a switch on the side of his neutrino wand and let the whine of the proton pack fill the train car. “A panther.”
“What?” Simon flipped the same switch. The ghost cat was now getting to be taller than both of them. “Why a panther?”
“One of the Seven was referred to as a ‘Furious Panther’.”
Simon gulped and looked from the cat, to Jordan, and then back to the cat. “Furious?”
The phantom kitten turned Ghost Panther seemed to have finished its growth at around the size of a large van. It turned to face them and let out a roar that sent saliva and slime flying everywhere.
“Fire!” Jordan shouted. Both Ghostbusters shot their proton wands at the Ghost Panther and were rewarded as the Ghost Panther flinched in obvious pain. His flinch was massive, and the entire boxcar shook as the Ghost Panther slammed into the side.
The Ghost Panther recovered quickly, flexing and sending waves of energy reflecting back at the Ghostbusters. The energy lifted them off of their feet and sent them backward and out of the train car.
They managed to twist enough to land on their sides, saving their backs from the pain of crashing into the ground. Of course, it didn’t save their shoulders or the rest of their bodies as the impact was felt throughout their bones. The air rushed from their lungs as they landed and they were struggling to get up as the large purple Ghost Panther launched itself out of the train car and onto Simon, pinning him to the ground.
The Panther’s teeth wasted no time in trying to bite Simon’s head completely off. Simon only barely managed to avoid the decapitation by slamming the side of the neutrino wand into the cat’s mouth and putting all of his effort into pushing the head away from him. If he could get any sort of leverage, he might have twisted the wand and used the proton stream to send the Ghost Panther packing, but the feline was too heavy. Already Simon could feel how he was losing his life or death game of reverse tug-of-war.
A blast of energy hit the Ghost Panther in the side and sent him rolling off of and away from Simon. As Jordan continued to fire on the Jungle Book reject, Simon got to his feet and opened fire as well. Together they continued to pummel the Ghost Panther with as much energy as their Proton Packs could put out, not letting up for an instance.
With another roar, the Ghost Panther pulled the same trick that it had pulled in the train car. It flexed and another wave of energy arced out and slammed into the Ghostbusters. This time they were ready for it enough to brace their feet, but it still sent their proton streams shooting off into the sky and sent them scooting back about five or six feet.
The Panther let out another roar at them, obviously more annoyed than hurt, before taking off away from them. They watched as it ran toward the edge of the train yard and jumped the fence, causing a car to swerve and hit the fence as it took to running the streets.
Without saying a word, Jordan and Simon ran as quickly as they could to the van. When they got there, Jordan flipped open his cellphone and texted Cynthia as Simon peeled out of the gravel parking lot of the train yard and took off after the Ghost Panther.
Jordan snickered, “I don’t know why I even bothered texting Cynthia.”
Simon frowned as they took a corner and shot Jordan a look, “Why?”
“She’s terrified of cats. Her grandmother had somewhere around thirty of the things and there was always at least one that wasn’t in a good mood.”
“Then it’s great that you texted her,” Simon smiled. “I’m going to love seeing her freak out.”
Simon’s ingenuity had built a docking station into the dashboard of the Ghostbusters Van. Jordan hadn’t been entirely sure why until this very moment. He slammed the PKE Meter into it on Simon’s instruction and watched as a repurposed heads-up display showed the PKE Meter screen in a larger reflection on the middle of the windshield.
“He’s headed toward the East Village,” Jordan noticed.
“Not if we can stop him first,” Simon pointed ahead of the van. “There he is.”
Simon pressed his foot on the gas and rocketed them toward the Ghost Panther. It was well into an almost forty mile per hour gallop that the van was making progress on, but even with the sirens the traffic was making it difficult to close the gap.
Jordan climbed into the back where his pack had landed in a heap with Simon’s, and grabbed it before returning to his seat up front. Throwing one of the straps over the back of his seat, he grabbed the wand and leaned out of the open window of the van.
Pressing the right button, a proton stream leapt from his wand and in the general direction of the Ghost Panther. It didn’t even seem to notice as the beam flashed over it’s right side and hit a stop sign, incinerating it.
Jordan raised the wand higher and tried to sight down it’s emitter. The moment that the spirited feline was in his imaginary sights, he fired again.
The blast was closer this time, but the Ghost Panther twisted unexpectedly and the proton stream slammed into the pavement blasting chunks of it everywhere and instantly melting a huge hole into the road.
Simon swerved the van, only narrowly missing the newly formed pothole and was struck with a thought.
“If we can get in front of it, I can hit it with the van-trap.”
Jordan shook his head. “It wouldn’t be happy with us in front of it. We need to corral it somewhere, first.”
Simon nodded. “He seemed to flinch away from that last blast, maybe we can use the wands to direct him toward Pete Crivaro Park.”
Jordan rolled his eyes, “I’ll tell Cynthia it was your idea when the city calls wanting their potholes filled.”
Jordan fired again, this time not trying to hit the Ghost Panther so much as steer it. The blast hit the pavement to the left of the beast and the Ghostbusters were rewarded with the turning of the giant cat to the right.
Another blast directly behind the Ghost Panther sent the purple spirit into a slightly faster sprint. Simon adjusted the velocity of the van accordingly and they continued in this manner for another mile or so before they were outside of Pete Crivaro Park.
“Get out,” Simon demanded abruptly as the Ghost Panther entered the park.
“What?” Jordan was confused.
“Get out. I’ll park the van at the other end of the park and you can push him toward it. I’ll have the van set up and ready to trap him.”
“You going to stop the van first? Or do I have to tuck and roll with a proton pack?”
Simon rolled his eyes and pulled over at the edge of the park, right where the Ghost Panther had entered it. Jordan jumped out and pulled the proton pack off of the back of his seat. Sliding it on, he jogged after the oversized kitten.
Once Jordan was clear of the van, Simon peeled out of the parking lot and began circling to the north side of the park. Once there he found a place where he could reverse the van so that the back end was facing the park. Once the van was in place, he ran out to join his companion.
As he approached, he saw Jordan battling the Ghost Panther with a fury of his own. Each blast kept hitting the beast in its flank causing it to yelp, jump and turn to find a new means of attack. While the giant cat might not have noticed, it was evident to Simon that Jordan was successfully pushing the Ghost Panther toward the north end of the park.
Simon was running up behind the Panther when it seemed to take notice of him. Turning, it decided that maybe this new plaything wasn’t going to bite back as much. It lunged at Simon, but this time, Simon was prepared with his neutrino wand at the ready.
Blasting him in the face, the cat went tumbling back toward Jordan and in the wrong direction. The Ghost Panther recovered quickly, getting up and then smacking Jordan with its massive paw. Jordan flew across the park and landed in the sand of a small playground.
Before they could lose all of the progress that Jordan had accomplished, Simon ran around the Ghost Panther and took up Jordan’s former position, blasting and directing the beast until his companion could join him again.
Once Jordan was beside him, they still had another 100 yards to go.
Struggling to keep the stream constantly hitting the Ghost Panther, Simon shouted, “We aren’t anywhere near close enough for the trap.”
Jordan nodded and shouted at the Ghost Panther, “Let’s dance!”
Another roar brought with it another wave of energy, but the two Ghostbusters had been grown accustomed to this old trick already and ignored the wave as it pressed against them and tried to send them careening away from the giant cat.
Surprising both of them, the Ghost Panther did something that neither of them could have expected. It leapt straight up and into the air, using its undead ability to soar above them before coming down at both of them with paws outstretched and its jaw wide open.
Jumping away from each other, Simon and Jordan turned their wands at precisely the same moment and blasted the Ghost Panther in each of its sides as it came down right on top of where they were.
The combined effort from both sides had the unexpected result of helping them get a tether of proton stream around the beast for the first time in their battle. They had it, but it was a weak hold at best.
“There’s no way,” Simon was yelling, “that we’ll be able to walk him closer to the van without losing breaking the proton stream.”
Before Jordan could ask what Simon suggested that they do, he threw a glance up at where the van was to gauge the distance in his mind.
“Hey Simon,” he yelled back to his friend.
“Did you forget to put the parking brake on?”
Simon looked up to where the van had been parked and saw it rolling right toward them. He was about to scream to get out of the way when he saw the brake lights come on and the back door fly open.
“Did somebody call for backup?” Regina yelled with a smile.
She hopped out of the van just as Cynthia was stepping up beside the lever that would activate the giant trap that the van could become.
“Ready when you are boys,” she yelled.
As one, Jordan and Simon yelled, “Do it!”
The rear end of the van shown like a spotlight across the park as energies shot from the back of it and grabbed at the spirit that they were wrestling.
Walking with the Ghost Panther and keeping their streams on it, they marched the beast right into the maw of their van.
Once the Ghost Panther was in, Cynthia released the trap lever and yanked Regina out of the way as the doors to the back of the van automatically slammed shut.
“Was that a giant cat?” Cynthia asked.
Jordan smiled. “Yup.”
“Actually,” Simon corrected, “it was a demigod that works in collaboration with Erra. The ‘Furious Panther’ out of the Seven.”
“So, a big cat?”
He frowned and then nodded.
“More importantly,” Simon continued, “they’ve discovered how to disperse their unused PKE energy to obtain camouflage.”
Cynthia frowned and looked at Jordan.
“This thing was registering as a Class 1 until we woke it up. Then it gathered itself together and was turned into that thing in the back of the van,” he clarified.
“They can hide?” Regina asked.
Simon nodded. “Our job seems to have suddenly become much more difficult.”