's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Austin Brooks

Wendy sighed into the steering wheel as she pulled into the hotel parking lot. Late night calls were a part of the job, but this wasn't what she went to college for. A degree in paranormal research and all she could get was a job at a Ghoul-Be-Gone, a second-rate spectral exterminator service, when all she'd ever wanted to do was research ghosts, not get them out of people's toilets and flower gardens. Paranormal activity had been steadily increasing around the world since the breakthroughs in ectoplasmic research in the mid eighties, and ever since watching wide scale paranormal events unfold on news stories and documentaries as a little girl she'd wanted to find out Why.

But for now her only job was to clean a ghost infestation out of this crappy hotel. At best she might be able to find another Casper or two for her collection. She adjusted her completely unflattering purple and fluorescent green jumpsuit, emblazoned with the Ghoul-B-Gone logo- a day-glo skull with x-ed out eyes and a lolling tongue. Her nickname, "The Witch", ran up her left leg. She did an inventory check after glancing up at the ridiculous skull slowly bobbing to a stop on the top of the company's vibrantly purple runner car. She's been the On Call, and Devon was picking up the rest of the squad in the company's even more ridiculous van. She had her main Vac-Pac and containment unit, her prod, spectre-scope goggles, her Grabbers, and all her canisters. She felt their reassuring weight, half a dozen thick cylinders attached to her belt and a half dozen more strapped to the chest of her jumpsuit as she headed to talk to the panicked hotel manager nervously wringing her hands outside the lobby entrance.

"Thank god you're here! My head of security has been trying to get rid of them, but it's just gotten worse, I told him we needed to call a buster!" Ugh. Wendy hated when people called them "busters". Their technical title was "spectral exterminators", but people always called them busters, kinda like how people always call adhesive bandages "Band-aids".

"It's the worst on the third floor, but they're all over the hotel now! One of the nasty things is even flying around in my lobby!!"

"It's okay ma'am, my team will take care of everything. Can you tell me at all what we're dealing with here?"

"Oh, uh, I don't know, ghosts? They're all ugly and gross, are they really dead people?"

"Well that depends ma'am, ghosts can be difficult to classify. What you seem to be describing are mostly Poltergeists, or Geists for short, the form of ghost most removed from humanity. Like all ghosts they are ectoplasm-based, but it's uncertain if they are the most crudely devolved form of undead consciousness, or if they represent animal or even emotional manifestations."

Wendy, personally, thought that the many strange variations of Geists made them rather interesting specimens to work with. "Specters more accurately fit the classification as "dead people", though they seem to retain traits from both the way they lived as well as the way they died."

The Specter of a drowned businessman, for example, may manifest in a ghostly suit and tie constantly dripping wet. "From what I got on your report it seems likely you also have multiple Phantoms. Combining traits of both Geists and Specters, they resemble cartoonish caricatures of their human appearance." Wendy had once been called to a truckstop to deal with a Phantom hooker that made Jessica Rabbit look like Minnie Mouse.

Wendy stepped inside the lobby and immediately blanched in disgust. The head of security had clearly been completely unqualified to deal with ghosts. The floor was strewn with empty cans of Exor-Quik and SpectrGone, both homemade and store-bought ghost traps, and off-brand proton guns. Some people thought just any idiot could catch a ghost. Wendy snapped on her goggles to look for any invisible ectoplasmic entities. Her view of the lobby switched to a grainy black and white, like an old movie. She quickly spotted a fluorescent orange Poltergeist taking lazy loop-de-loops around the chandelier. It was a scrawny little imp, flapping its tiny arms with fingers splayed like a pair of vestigial wings. Its disproportionately huge legs dangled underneath it like a pair of brutish talons followed by a whispy tail. Wendy cocked her weapon with a smirk, but before she could pull the trigger the twiggy little shit noticed her, and swooped down like an angry and absurd falcon.

By the time her weapon had activated the ghost had already phased halfway down the barrel, and it snatched the weapon and phased it and itself right through Wendy's body, cackling giddily.

"Fuck." That was a pain in the ass. Luckily Wendy had talented friends. She twisted the valve on the canister second from the left.

Vaporous ectoplasm escaped with a hiss, solidifying into a gaunt, towering humanoid with pale blue skin. It had exaggerated proportions, with short legs and long arms with large hands, yellow eyes sunken deep into their sockets. It wore nothing but a pair of ragged burlap shorts, but its most outrageous feature was the tremendous purple gash that ran from the top of its head to where its bellybutton ought to be, the two halves of its body peeling apart stringing strands of purple goop and revealing wads of tangled viscera loosely caged in yellowed bones the color of unbrushed teeth.

"Oy M'lady. Wots yer trubles?" it asked Wendy, speaking in stereo from both sides of its bisected mouth.

"Hey Splits. Could you lend me a hand with that?" She pointed to the Geist. It was mockingly circling the pair, holding Wendy's Vac-Pac just out of reach, unconcerned with the presence of another ghost right up until the point his massive hand closed around its body with a cartoonish squeaky toy noise.

"Oy! You un'and me mate's ah mament you wankah! Oi'll wallop you good!" It dropped the weapon with zero hesitation into Wendy's outstretched arms.

She quicky zapped the Geist into her weapon's holding tank with a thin proton beam assisted with vacuum suction, both more efficient and supposedly more humane than earlier models.

Unfortunately the hotel manager picked that moment to peek in to check on Wendy's progress, followed by a man with a strictly groomed blond mustache and a security guard uniform that looked like it very much wanted to be a police uniform when it grew up. The manager let out a shrill shriek of terror, and the guard quickly snatched up a half-spent can of SpectrGone and emptied its last breath in Splitz's bifurcated face.

"Bloody Pox!" he cried as his ectoplasmic form lost its consistency, dripping like a runny oil painting. He tried to swat at the security guard with his wide hand, but was destabilized enough that the guard only stumbled to the ground as if he had been struck by a strong wind as it passed through him.

"For Christ's sake. Splitz, get in the can." Wendy twisted the valve and Splits's dripping body slurped back inside like a dying spraypaint can in reverse.

"What is that thing?!" the manager asked in half-panic.

"I told you you should've let me handle this," spat Mr. Security "the buster just drug more goddamn ghosts in here!" Wendy sighed.

"We use nonaggressive ghosts, or "Caspers", to help us do our jobs. Sir, I'm sorry, but to be completely honest, your attempts at do-it-yourself ghost control have if anything exacerbated your problem." She bent down and picked up a store-bought ghost trap. She punched the containment aperture, revealing a tiny white Whisp, flickering gently like an inverted candle flame. It opened its tiny dot eyes and mouth and let out an adorable "oooooo"

"As impressive as your results have been so far, please just step back and let me do my job." The two left with a grumble from the guard and a nervous smile and thumbs up from the hotel manager.

Wendy let out a sigh of relief. That could've gone worse. She hit the valve on another canister, releasing a searingly yellow ghost that looked like some sort of weasely cartoon beagle or bloodhound, with snaggly teeth and wrinkly skin that obscured whatever eyes it may or may not have had.

"Here Baskers, see if you can sniff out the source of these ghosts." She handed him the trapped ghost, and he gave a hearty sniff, completely inhaling the tiny Whisp. That's... Probably fine. Baskers let out a wheezy snicker and practically slithered on all fours up the stairs, leading Wendy to the second floor.

Good thing Wendy was still wearing her goggles, or she would've run right into the next ghost. Baskers crawled right underneath the pair of rubbery purplish arms dangling through the ceiling in the large atrium at the top of the stairs. She smirked at the transparency of the ghost's hunting mechanism as she slid her Grabbers off her belt. They resembled a pair of chunky technological handcuffs without a chain. She slid them up to her elbows and activated them. Her forearms were encased in glowing green sleeves of ectoplasmic energy, allowing her to physically handle ghosts. Baskers let out a plaintive whimper as she prepared to grab onto the ghostly arm, tugging at his floppy ears in distress.

"Calm down bud, if it's gotta rely on snare tactics it's probably a pushover. Probably." She grabbed the arms by the wrists and gave a sharp tug.

The ghost that passed down through the ceiling did not look like a pushover. What Wendy had figured for arms were actually its legs. It had a bulky body with broad shoulders and a huge head slung low between them. Its face looked like a skinned ape, with deep hollow eyes and huge grinning canine teeth. Its real arms easily dwarfed the rest of its body, its fat sausage fingers almost as thick as one of Wendy's arms. It gave an irritated snort. "Heh. Heh. Hey there uh... Legday. Did I uh. Disturb your, uh, nap?" An aggressive growl.

"Hey Fuckface!" Wendy spun to catch the source of the voice. A muscular, dark-skinned woman with her hair in a braid stood with her Ghoul-B-Gone jumpsuit half unzipped and bunched around her waist, wearing a lavender hoodie with "ROWDY" spread across her shoulders. Her grabbers were already on and activated, and she cracked her knuckles, sending out a small shower of ectoplasmic sparks. Wendy grinned in relief.

"About time you guys got here, Rajvi!" The ghost lunged, but Rajvi had already put herself between it and Wendy, and delivered an uppercut so powerful Wendy felt her teeth rattle. Legday the ghost looked down at her in blank disbelief for a moment, likely having never been punched in its entire afterlife. It tried to look threatening again for a moment but Raj slammed both fists into its gut.

"You know, that's not really the proper use for that equipment." Wendy told the amateur MMA fighter. Raj looked up and grinned. "And how would you like me to use them?" she said with a wink, waggling her giant glowing fingers suggestively. Wendy blushed.

"You guys ok?" called Alvin as he came up the stairs behind them. His jumpsuit was thicker grade, designed for even heavier protection, and he carried more medical and first aid supplies than ghost hunting equipment.

"We're fine Sawbones. Where's Devon with the trap?"

"He's coming, he's setting traps in the lobby."

"He's here, actually." said the straight-laced expert in ectoplasmic physics and theory. He specialized in remote ghost containment units, had glasses and kept his facial hair finely trimmed against his almond colored skin.

"Rajvi, that's not regulation use of that equipment." He said flatly as he set the metal frame of the Mobile Trapdoor on the floor and activated it. She had the ghost in a headlock, giving it a noogie.

"I'm gonna suplex the ghost." Rajvi said happily, maneuvering Legday from behind into a full nelson, oversized arms flailing uselessly.

"Please do not suplex the ghost."

"I'm Gonna Suplex the Ghost!"

"Do Not Suplex—" Rajvi flipped backwards, slam-dunking the Poltergeist into the Trapdoor. Devon sighed and hit the trigger that snapped it shut before Legday could scrabble back up out of it.

"Aye did I miss the suplexin'?" called the final member of the squad as she hobbled up the stairs.

At over sixty, Maud had been hunting ghosts since before people were sure ghosts were real. Her nickname "Granny Claymore" came from the ancient longsword she carried with her. Rusted and dull and broken in half almost a century ago, it was still long enough for her to easily use as a cane and covered in runes that somehow let it cut through ghosts like one of those infomercial knives that cut through anything. Devon massaged his temples.

"Can we please move on. The report said the haunting is concentrated on the third floor?"

"Yeah," Wendy confirmed, "Baskers is leading me to it right now."

The canine ghost nodded aggressively, wheezing "Yea, yeayeayeayea!"

A short while later the group moved cautiously onto the third floor. Baskers locked his body into a rigid arrow shape.

"Jesus Christ..." said Alvin softly. Wendy covered her mouth with her hand. Rajvi attempted to keep a straight face but made a noise like she might have thrown up in her mouth. The entire hallway ahead of them was covered, floor, walls, and ceiling, in thick, flesh colored sludge. Crude fingers and toes formed and were reabsorbed, eyes and mouths opened and closed out of and into nothingness.

"Mm, this is almost as bad as that hospital that was all fulla phantom limbs." Maude said.

Devon bent down to collect a sample. He placed it into one of his analyzing instruments, and after a moment's pause, gave some of the residue on his fingers the tiniest taste.

"I think its... Krueger's Plasm."

Krueger's Plasm wasn't conventional ectoplasmic buildup, but rather formed by strong negative emotions and trauma.

"Uh, Dev, are you sure? This stuff doesn't... look like regular Kreugers." An affirmative beep from his machine confirmed Devon's analysis. "It's late stage, taken on a more aggressive corporeal form. Ectoplasm like this usually has an anchor of some sort, a ghost, a person, an object, or even something more abstract like a symbol or a word. We'll need specialized equipment to clean this stuff up. For now, we should avoid this floor."

"Aye, we should focus on cleaning up the stray ghosts around the hotel."

"I hate to say it, but to save time, I think we should split up and take it by floor."

In the end, they decided Devon and Maud would take the ground floor, Rajvi and Alvin the second, and Wendy and her Caspers would scout the fourth.

"That's bullshit," Raj whined, "Why does Wendy have to go by herself?"

"Because she's got a small army of ghosts and you need to go with Alvin in case you break your hands punching a brick wall painted to look like a ghost."

"And I need to go with Mousetrap to keep him from tripping over the stick in is arse!" Maud cackled.

Now Wendy was wandering the mostly empty fourth floor by herself, sucking up the occasional whisp as she listened to the radio back-and-forth from the others.

"Claymore here. We're in the kitchen. There's a Phantom, looks kinda like if you tried to stretch a person into some sorta combination of a humming bird and a gecko, its got this long beaky nose and tiny little fluttering wings. She's licking absolutely everything with this long thin anteater tongue of hers, making unhappy little harrumphs like nothing tastes good enough. We're moving in."

"Rowdy checking in. Sawbones and I found one of the traps Devon set. There's an angry little Poltergeist in there, he's like ninety percent eyeball. Couple little angry red limbs and shit sticking out here and there. Moving on."

"Mousetrap. We located a passive Phantom in the freezer, resembling a humanoid silhouette carved out of ice. Actively moving organs visible beneath the surface, including human-like heart, lungs, and intestines. Contained with no incident."

"Sawbones here. We found a weird little two-dimensional ghost, like a living crayon drawing, running all over the walls. Rowdy punched it in the face. Stunned it long enough to catch, but she left a hole in the drywall."

"Dev-urgh. 'Mousetrap'here. Why do we use codenames again?"

"Because they're good for teambuilding. And they sound cool."

Wendy found a full length mirror hanging in the hallway and stopped for a moment to look at herself. Her frizzy ginger hair paired naturally with a spritz of freckles across her face. Her goggles looked like an absurd exaggeration of her thick-framed glasses. She sighed at her Ghoul-B-Gone uniform, which made her already lumpy figure seem downright sack-like. This was not where she wanted to be at this point in her life. At least she was among good company.

Alvin had burnt out of medical school and ended up a barely-glorified paramedic. A "paranorm-medic". Maud should by all reason be a living legend, but she was desperate enough to end up working at this cut-rate operation. Rajvi quit cage fighting and wouldn't lift a hand to a living person after she accidentally killed her opponent in a qualifying bout. Devon too, was a genius in his field, but the whos-who of paranormal science weren't exactly open to handing out funding.

Wendy was shaken from her thoughts by her reflection's unnaturally pale skin and the unnaturally wide sinister grin. She sighed and placed the muzzle of her weapon against the mirror's surface as her reflection's clawed hands reached out for her. She hit the trigger and her reflection's smile vanished in a puff of shattered glass and splintered wood.

"Raj checking in. There's a giant pair of dentures chasing Alvin through the halls. I am in pursuit."

"Oy it's Claymore. We found a great sod soaking in the hotel pool like a goddamn hot tub, looks like you crossed a grungey boy with one a them godzillers. Mousetrap's setting up a perimeter net to snare it, it's just sittin there like a soggy prune. Our traps are gonna be pretty much full after this codger, so we're gonna head back to the lobby to call it a night."

"Alvin here. We're gonna head back too. We stumbled on a buncha Geists pouring out of an elevator run by some sort of tombstone in a bellhop uniform. He got away but we got the rest of them. Rowdy's got a few mild ectoburns and a minor concussion."

"I'm on my way." Wendy relayed. As she turned to leave, she heard it. Quiet sobbing coming from one of the rooms. Though it could be some sort of ghost's trap, it could just as easily be a trapped guest. She gave the door a timid knock, and it swung in gentley. As she stepped inside, she felt the floor give slightly beneath her feet. She looked down and saw the bubbling, shifting limbs of the Kreuger's Plasm. Taffy fingers pulled and clawed at her jumpsuit, pulling her down to the floor, through the floor, and she was tumbling through space, landing hard in the room directly below. Dazed for a minute she looked around. The entire room was covered in Kreuger's, and pulsing audibly like a massive heart. She was still trapped, the pinkish-flesh colored mire cloying at her limbs like thick mud, trapping her. She struggled to keep her head above the probing pseudopods.

Her hand found the emergency release valve on her suit. A dozen ghosts sprayed from their canisters and immediately sprang into action. Splits was almost fully recovered and only slightly dripping, and tore valiantly at the slime with his massive hands. Cleaver, a stark black and white goth girl Specter with a kitchen knife stabbed into her head, crossed her arms and rolled her remaining eye as an array of knives orbited around her, passing harmlessly through Wendy even as they cut the Kreuger's to ribbons. Jello the slime happily absorbed it into her own mass. It seemed to glitch and pixelate out of reality under the gaze of JPEG's computer-monitor head. Basker's gave his own tail a yank and his teeth spun around his mouth like a chainsaw. Even Deadbeat, a young phantom Wendy had picked up less than a month ago nearly obscured beneath her oversized headphones and hoodie blasted it away with small bursts of concentrated sound.

Soon Wendy sat catching her breath in a wide swath of clear floor with the Caspers hovering protectively around her. A weak voice came from behind her.

"Please... Help..." It was the Specter of a young girl, glowing a pale pale green. Her spectral dress was torn, and a single clean bullet hole marred her young forehead. Gnarled hands held her hands and feet fastened to the plasm spread across the wall. The ghosts moved quickly and suddenly she was floating freely in front of Wendy.

"Please....he hurt me... I want to go home... I want my mom and dad..."

"It. It's going to be ok. For now, we have to get you out of here..." that could be challenging.

Ghosts,especially fresh ones, often have difficulty leaving their haunts of their own violition.

"Ok sweetheart, oh, My name's Wendy, what's yours?"


"Well Emily we're gonna try to get you back to your mom and dad but first we have to help you out of here. Do you think you can get in this canister for me?"

"In.. In there?" she said fearfully. She was starting to tear up, and Wendy was floundering. She was not prepared to deal with a child. To her surprise, Cleaver stepped in. She discreetly pushed her knife the rest of the way into her skull, covering it behind her hair. She floated up to the girl and touched her gently on the shoulders.

"Hi Emily. I'm Clair. I promise it won't be scary, and there will be plenty of room. I'll even come in with you, and maybe we can play a game together if you'd like. Emily nodded shyly, and Cleaver passed it on to Wendy. As the pair evaporated into the canister, it all suddenly clicked together in Wendy's head why the security guard had been so eager to rid the hotel of ghosts without outside assistance.

Two days later, the hotel was almost completely ghost free. The admissibility of ghost testimony in court was still highly debated, but Emily's testimony was more than enough to warrant a thorough investigation of the hotel security guard, who's arrest in turn lead to the arrests of several other unsavory characters and valuable leads against several more. Although it was still highly experimental, Emily's parents were very determined to reintegrate her ghost into their family. Wendy smiled to herself as she polished her canisters.

This wasn't the way she had pictured her life at this point.

But that didn't make her a failure. And it didn't mean what she did was pointless.

Then she let out a groan as the buzzer indicating another call went off.