As Winston shrugged off his jacket and hung it up in his locker at the fire station and stepped into his Ghostbusters uniform, he tried to pinpoint precisely what he was feeling.
Considering Winston’s first day as a Ghostbuster included a crash course on the containment system and how to use a proton pack and his second day involved three back to back busts which left him covered head to toe in slime (Ray and Dr. Venkman had slapped his back, welcomed him to the team, and then bought him a beer), Winston wasn’t sure what his third day on the job would bring.
He’d already helped Ray give the Ectomobile a tune-up and fixed the proton pack rack in the back so that it pulled out smoothly.
It’s not nerves, he thought zipping up the suit and adjusting his shoulders. I think I’m…
“Eager,” he said out loud. “Son of a bitch. How about that?”
He hadn’t felt this green since he was eighteen and heading off to boot camp.
“You’re too old to be feeling this good,” he told himself, but couldn’t stop the grin from forming. “There’s no way you’re gonna get used to this.”
Winston closed his locker with the slightly crooked painted black letters spelling ‘ZEDDEMORE’ and just had to laugh.
He hadn’t been kidding when he’d told Ms. Melnitz that he’d believe anything if it meant a paycheck in the end. Well. He may have been exaggerating, but only a little. At any rate, there he was. A Ghostbuster.
“What have you done, man?” he muttered to himself, images of massive Twinkies and the ghosts he’d trapped yesterday flashed behind his eyes. Then the image of his Aunt Lucille and her tiny apartment and the almost empty refrigerator popped up and he let himself feel good about being employed.
It wasn’t that he didn’t believe. He saw them and after the actual physical contact of yesterday, he knew for a concrete fact that they were real.
But did he really want chasing after ghosts to be his occupation?
“Stop gap,” he muttered. “You can keep looking, man. This doesn’t have to be it. It’s just a job.”
A loud bell rang behind him and with years of ingrained military precision, he jumped to and finished lacing up his boots.
He then hurried to the front desk where Egon was taking a sheet of paper from Ms Melnitz. He scanned it and then nodded to Winston.
“Ray and Peter are on the Upper West Side dealing with a vapor,” he said. “We’re going to Queens.”
“Great.” Winston took the sheet from Egon, squinted at Ms Melnitz's tightly packed scribble and said, “I know this place. It’s just a row of delivery warehouses. They’ve got a ghost?”
“Apparently,” Egon said. “It’s indiscernible and has been levitating objects without discrimination.”
“Meaning it’s invisible and is throwing stuff?” Winston translated.
“Precisely,” Egon said with a lift of his right eyebrow. “I’ll be in the car.”
He walked off towards the Ectomobile.
Feeling like he missed something, Winston turned to Ms. Melnitz, who gave him a small smile.
“He likes you,” she said slipping her glasses on and ignoring the ringing telephones.
“How can you tell?” Winston asked.
She shrugged. “He likes it when people understand what he says without making him repeat himself.”
“I think I’m flattered?” he said, voice rising a bit.
“You should be,” she said giving him a slightly bigger smile. “Look, I’ll give you some tips that I wish someone had given me. He’s a good man, a smart man, but he tends to forget the practical every now and then.”
“Meaning he can tell you how long a shoelace is just by looking at it, but sometimes forgets to tie his own?” Winston said.
Ms Melnitz snorted. “Something like that. Just…roll with it. It pays off.”
“Got it,” Winston said slowly. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, you’re going be over by Leo’s Deli, so pick me up some pastrami on rye, potato salad, and extra mustard.” Then she picked up the still ringing phone. “Ghostbusters, what do you want?”
Winston was still chuckling when he got to the car.
“What?” Egon asked, not looking up from his papers.
“Ms. Melnitz wants pastrami from Leo’s.”
“I’ll make a note.”
They got stalled in a traffic jam about a mile out from the warehouse. Winston hadn’t spent much time with Egon since being hired so Winston hadn’t quite figured out what made Egon tick. Apart from physics and those molds and fungi of his (he’d learned his first day on the job to never look in the small refrigerator in the break room), he didn’t appear to have any outside interests.
Winston highly doubted he’d want to talk about the Knicks.
But the silence currently coming from Egon felt like something other than just being uneasy around a new co-worker.
“Still worried about the Twinkie?” Winston asked eventually.
“Yes,” Egon answered with no hesitation whatsoever and with a lack of inflection that made Winston glance in his direction. Egon hesitated and then furrowed his brow as though he was hesitant to say anything more.
“Look, man,” Winston said. “I know we don’t know each other that well, but I’ve been told I’m a good sounding board, so hit me. What’s up?”
For moment the only sound was the sound of the city, horns blaring and engines rumbling, then Egon spoke.
“It’s not just the storage facility,” he said slowly. “For some time now, I’ve suspected that there are numerous forces at work in this universe that are not benign and by their very nature would seek to disrupt the extremely fragile balance we currently exist in.”
He paused. “The fact that we are currently run off our feet chasing entities that no one truly believed existed has cemented this thought.”
Winston turned his words over in his mind, ignoring for the moment that is sounded like the plot of a science fiction movie, but hey! Ghosts were real, why couldn’t whatever Egon just said be real, too. “You’re saying that there’s more to this than…just ghosts?”
“Yes,” Egon said. “That’s precisely what I’m saying.”
“Okay, so if it’s not just ghosts, then what is it?” Winston asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Once again, Egon was silent and Winston wondered if he was reluctant to share with some guy he’d really only met two days ago.
“Hey doc, if you don’t want to talk about it, don’t worry,” Winston said, quickly taking advantage of a gap in the traffic and directing the Ecto-mobile on towards Queens. “I mean, I’m no scientist, so I doubt I’ll get half of what you’re saying anyway.”
“I highly doubt that,” Egon said. “You graduated top of your class at the Air Force, you’ve held down numerous high-stress occupations in even higher-stress locations and you’ve already acclimated to the atmosphere at the firehouse with remarkable alacrity. It’s not your brain that makes me pause.”
Winston drove quietly for a minute. “I take it you read over my resume.”
“As well as called your references,” Egon said. “Or, to be honest, I had Janine call them. We were desperate for another pair of hands, but not foolhardy.”
“’Course not,” Winston said under his breath.
“Actually, if I may, why did you leave your last job?” Egon asked.
“Cut-backs,” Winston said. “Should have stayed at the bottom with the other blue-collars, but I liked the idea of promotion. Then the recession hit and middle management was the first to go. So, here I am. Chasing ghosts.”
He saw Egon nod out of the corner of his eye and felt compelled to add, “But, don’t worry! I like the job. Heck of a lot of worse things to be doing.”
“As Peter is so fond of reminding everyone, even Einstein started as a patent clerk,” Egon said.
“Hey, I gotta cousin who’s still stocking shelves at the Stop n Shop,” Winston said. “Trust me, I’m not complaining.”
Winston turned down a side road that he was sure would cut off a few minutes of their travel time. “So, you were saying? The balance thing?”
“Yes,” Egon said slowly. “I believe, and I’m not alone, that there is a constant battle between forces unseen for the balance of the universe.”
“Forces?” Winston said.
“Particles, to be exact,” Egon said.
“And they’re fighting each other?” Winston asked.
“Yes. The universe is made up of matter and anti-matter,” Egon said staring out the front window, his eyes fixed on something in the distance. “If at any point, there is an equal amount of matter and anti-matter at the same time, the universe as we know it will cease to exist. I suspect that lately an influx of anti-matter has disrupted the symmetry of the universe. ”
“Okay.” Winston pulled into the parking lot of the warehouse. “Invisible particles are fighting each other and that’s not good because it’s putting the world out of whack?”
“The entire universe, actually,” Egon said. “But that’s the theory in a nutshell.”
“Hunh,” Winston said. “What are you going to do about it?”
“What I’ve been doing,” Egon said opening the car door. “Keep catching ghosts.”
He got out of the car and headed around to the back, leaving Winston to wonder if he was missing something.
“Particles,” he muttered. “Right.”
There was a slight crowd milling around the entrance to the warehouse, mostly blue collar guys leaning against the wall.
“Hey, look! Ghostbusters!” a young kid yelled nearly running his sack truck into another guy. “How do I get to be one of you?”
“Stay in school and listen to your momma,” Winston called back, drawing some snorts and laughter from the other guys. The young guy gave him a thumbs up. Egon smirked at him.
“Maybe we should make you our marketing officer,” Egon said.
“No such thing as bad press,” Winston said grinning. Egon shook his head.
Winston chuckled as he followed Egon inside. Two ladies wearing drab gray delivery uniforms stood huddled together as they looked at the door that led to the docking bay. One of them looked over and nudged her co-worker.
“The Ghostbusters are here,” she said.
Her co-worker whipped her head in their direction so fast her earrings smacked her cheek. “Thank God! It’s worse today than yesterday!”
“It?” Egon asked walking up to them and eyeing the door. “What is it?”
“You tell me, Slim,” one of the ladies, whose name-tag read Jasmine, said. “You’re the expert.”
“Whatever it is, it’s invisible,” the other woman said (her name-tag read Sylvia). “And it’s been throwing stuff all over the place.”
“And no,” Jasmine said glaring at them. “It’s not the wind. Or the exhaust from the trucks. Or someone playing a joke.”
“It’s a ghost,” Sylvia said. “You fellas helped out my cousin Marco’s girlfriend’s auntie with her ghost a few weeks ago and this is the same thing.” She paused. “Except hers was pink with weird dangly things.”
“I remember that one,” Egon said to Winston. “It was a decent example of a vaporous entity and was pretty easy to contain.” He turned back to the women. “You say it’s throwing things?”
“Started off small,” Jasmine said, putting her hands on her hips. “Cigarette butts and old delivery notices just drifting through the air. We thought, hey, no big! We got ourselves a ghost! But then it got cranky.”
“It threw a garbage can yesterday,” Sylvia told them. “And when we called the boss and his repairmen down here, it kept taking their tools and throwing them around.” She pursed her lips. “Scared those guys bad, you notice that they aren’t here today. So we called you boys in.”
“It’s made a huge mess of the truck,” Jasmine said. She jerked her head towards the door. “You go on down there. You tell me that’s the wind doing all that crazy stuff.”
Winston shared a glance with Egon. “After you,” Winston said to him, gesturing to the stairs.
Egon took a deep breath and went through, Winston close behind him.
“Watch out for it though!” Jasmine yelled after them. “I think it’s gettin’ smarter!”
“Great,” Winston muttered.
They stepped into an empty loading bay, with a beat-up Mack truck parked at the rear. The bay doors were closed and the overhead fluorescent lights hummed loudly. Their boots echoed as they walked further inside and Winston started to get that itchy feeling on the back of his neck. He shrugged his shoulders and eyed some pieces of paper that were strewn about the concrete floor.
“So, a late irate truck driver? Or a depressed dock worker?” Winston asked
“Nice alliteration, but I’m thinking it’s neither,” Egon said. “Do you know what gets delivered to these places?”
“Easy to find out,” Winston said walking over to the docket clipboard hanging near the warehouse door. He flipped through it. “Looks like anything and everything goes through here. Big shipments come in from the larger depots and that stuff then gets shipped out all over the island. Hunh.”
“Well,” Winston made a face. “Brookhaven’s on the list.”
Egon gave him a look. “That would explain some things.”
“Yeah, but they’re just a lab,” Winston said spreading his arms out. “Are they making ghosts out there?”
“That’s actually entirely possible,” Egon said slowly.
“Get out of here.”
“I know a few of the theorists and they’ve just published a large paper on CP violation which, if explained a certain way, sounds an awful lot like ghosts,” Egon explained.
“I’m not even going to ask what the heck a CP violation is. So, something hitched a ride from the lab to here,” Winston said. “Some kind of experiment gone wrong?”
“Actually I think it might be an experiment gone right,” Egon said cryptically as he stepped to the middle of the floor.
“Scientists,” Winston said rolling his eyes.
Egon stood still, with one of his gadgets in his hand, slowly moving it through the air. It beeped steadily and then rose in pitch and frequency. Winston saw something out of the corner of his eye and shouted, “Incoming!”
He grabbed Egon by the arm and jerked him back, just out of the way of a beaten up garbage can.
They stumbled back against the wall, Winston still gripping Egon’s arm tightly.
“Thanks,” Egon said, sounding a little out of breath. “And that must be the garbage can.”
“You think?” Winston said, his voice rising. They peered down the track, watching the can drop out of the air and bounce a few times on the floor, then roll to the wall and stop.
“It really is invisible,” Egon said. “We haven’t seen that yet. Fascinating.”
“Looks like you get to see those particles of yours in action,” Winston said elbowing Egon gently.
Egon froze. “That’s it. Wait here.”
Winston stared after the man as he ran out of the room. “Yeah,” Winston called after him. “Yeah, I’ll just be here.”
He shook his head and looked back at the room, his proton pack charged and ready, keeping an eye out for more flying trash cans.
“I should have listened to my mother,” he muttered, “and become a doctor.”
Winston conveniently ignored the voice in his head that told him to knock it off, he was loving this. His pulse was steady and he felt charged and more alive than he had in some time.
You’re crazy, man. Never took you to be an adrenalin junkie, he thought and shifted on his feet.
Egon came back into the room with a clatter, slightly out of breath, and holding something in his hand.
“Try these.” Egon handed him a pair of goggles that had tiny flashing lights on the side and was slightly warm to the touch.
“And these are gonna…what?” Winston asked looking the goggles over.
“I suspect that the entity that is causing the destruction is no more complex than the visible entities we’ve previously dealt with; however its matter is made up of a combination of particles that are invisible to the human eye,” Egon said. “These goggles strip away the layers and focus on the particles.”
“So…x-ray vision? For real?” Winston asked hefting the goggles in his hand.
“They’re kinda warm.”
“This is the first version and may run a little hot. I don’t foresee any lasting damage to wearing them.”
Winston narrowed his eyes and glared at Egon, who just looked back at him calmly. “Meaning you don’t think these are going to melt my face off?”
“Pretty sure they won’t,” Egon said.
“Eighty-seven percent sure.”
Winston studied Egon’s preternaturally calm face. Then he chuckled. “Remind me to never play poker with you.”
“Venkman currently owes me five hundred dollars.”
“I bet he does,” Winston shook his head. “Alright, doc, let’s get this show on the road.”
Winston moved to put them on, but before he could, something swiped the goggles out of his hand and then flew across the room.
“Did you see that?” he exclaimed. “How smart are these particles of yours?”
“Smarter than I thought,” Egon said, making a quick calculation.
Winston walked over to where the goggles had landed, about six feet away from the truck; his eyes constantly looking around. He bent down to grab the goggles and then heard Egon shout, “Move!”
He raised his head in time to see Egon barrel into him, slamming them both against the concrete wall. Winston then watched the truck roll right into the bay doors with a crunch.
Winston blinked. “Was that…?”
“The ghost? Yes,” Egon said.
“And it was…?”
“Going to hit you? Yes.”
“Only fair,” Egon said. “Put the goggles on, see if they’re broken.”
Winston put them on and Egon made sure the goggles fit his face snugly.
“I don’t – whoa.” Winston blinked, adjusted the goggles, and blinked again to adjust to the green hue they cast over the room. Something caught his eye and he stared. “Holy Moses.”
There was a swarm that, through the goggles’ lens, appeared bright fluorescent green. Like a massive pack of gnats, the particles themselves were no bigger than a grain of rice, but the swarm itself was the size of a large beach ball.
“What do you see?” Egon asked, sounding as excited as Winston had ever heard him.
“A big ole ball of green dots,” Winston said staring at the swarm, completely fascinated.
“Hunh,” Egon said thoughtfully. “I doubt they’re truly green. That’s just an effect of the lenses.”
“Better than pink,” Winston said.
Winston watched the swarm hover in the air, the particles rotating in and around the ball, never staying in one place. It reminded him of being up north and watching a mass of starlings swirl and fly in the air, switching directions effortlessly as they flew.
“Unbelievable,” Winston said transfixed.
“Congratulations,” Egon said next to him. “You’re possibly the first person to ever see the hidden sector.”
“I feel blessed,” he said, warming up his proton pack and getting into a firing stance. “Just get the trap ready.”
“Wait,” Egon put his hand on Winston’s arm. “What’s it doing?”
“Right now? Just hovering over by the corner. It’s – oh, crap. Duck!”
Winston and Egon hit the decks, Egon a second behind Winston, as the swarm flew over them.
“I don’t think they like us,” Winston said kneeling on the floor and looking around for the swarm. He spotted it just as it divebombed them again. He cursed and grabbed Egon’s arm, pulling him back down to the floor.
“Had enough observation, doc?” Winston asked through gritted teeth.
“Yes, thank you,” Egon said sounding put out. “But you’re going to give me a full report later.”
“No problem.” Winston got to his feet and aiming his proton gun, looked around for the swarm. “There!”
Egon turned the same time Winston fired and Winton called out a “Yeah!” when his proton streams wrapped around the swarm. Tiny particles tried their best to escape the rest of the swarm, but were constantly drawn back in.
“Amazing,” Egon said staring at the swarm. “I still can’t see it! I just see the streams! What do you see?”
“I see a big ball of particles that’s trying to escape the streams,” Winston said through clenched teeth.
“Are they trying to escape all at once or in little groups?” Egon asked, his eyes bright and avid as he stared intently at the struggling streams.
“One at a time,” Winston said. “And it isn’t getting any easier to hold.”
“So, particles are getting sucked back into the swarm? Amazing. I wonder if I can re-create this in the lab,” Egon said.
“Man, I’ll draw you a picture later! Get the trap ready,” Winston yelled, the force of the swarm pulling against his stream, his arms starting to ache.
He heard Egon drop the trap to the floor and kick it out with his boot in the direction of Winston’s proton stream.
“Tell me when!” Egon yelled.
Winston gritted his teeth, pulled hard on the stream and positioned the swarm right above the trap.
Egon slammed his foot down on the trap release and they both turned their heads as the bright white light shot up out of the trap. Winston immediately felt his muscles relax as he turned the stream off.
The familiar soft beep of the trap let them know they could turn back around. Winston gingerly opened his eyes and scanned the room.
Egon approached the trap and nudged it with his fingers. He looked up at Winston. “Well, something’s in there.”
“I don’t see any more of those ghost-particles,” Winston said looking all around the room. “And this thing is getting hot.”
He took the goggles off and scrunched up his face, trying to get feeling back in his cheeks.
“I’ll have to figure out how to install a cooling agent in these,” Egon said taking the goggles. “Thank you for trying them out without asking for my first born.”
“Just buy me a beer sometime and we’ll call it even,” Winston said grinning at him
Egon gave him a small smile back and then sighed. “I think I’m going to have to tell Dr. Foster at Brookhaven about this. Who knows how many of these are out there?”
“Hey, according to you, they’ve always been here,” Winston said with a shrug. “And they’re currently paying my rent, so long as they don’t get too smart, I’m not gonna argue with their existence.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” Egon said. He smirked. “It also means that their math is seriously, seriously wrong. Someone made a mistake somewhere if this was the result.” He looked delighted about that.
“Physicists, man. You guys are way too competitive, you know,” Winston said. He noticed that Egon didn’t argue, just looked even more smug.
After leaving an invoice with a very grateful Jasmine and Sylvia, they got back into the Ecto-mobile and Winston headed back towards the firehouse.
“Don’t forget Janine’s pastrami,” Egon said as they pulled out of the parking lot.
Winston grinned. “On my way. I don’t think I want her mad at me.”
“Hey,” Winston said after a minute of driving and lighting up a cigarette. “You said something back there I didn’t get. What’s a ‘hidden sector’?”
“It’s an extension beyond the standard model of particle physics,” Egon said. “It’s largely unobserved but may still be linked to what we already observe.”
“So, when you say it’s unobserved,” Winston said slowly. “You mean that there’s no proof of it.”
“It’s…not a widely-held theory,” Egon said.
“Meaning only you and one other guy believes in it?” Winston said grinning.
“No,” Egon said. “There are at least six of us.”
Winston laughed. “Hey, that’s not bad. Not everybody believed Galileo at first, either.”
“Yes, and he was sent to the Inquisition for his trouble and forced into house arrest,” Egon replied. “So, I’m not sure if that’s the best comparison.”
“Look,” Winston said, gesturing with his cigarette. “I’m the last guy to criticize what’s real and what isn’t. Two weeks ago, I didn’t believe ghosts were real, but I go to church every Sunday and I pray to God and Jesus because I think he’s going to listen to me one of these days and answer my prayers. It all comes down to faith.”
“Well, faith, empirical evidence, and math,” Egon clarified. “But I appreciate the sentiment you’re imparting.”
“Any time,” Winston said. “And hey, after today and seeing those things with those glasses of yours, I’d put my money on you before anyone else. I’m not just saying that because you’re paying me, either.” He chuckled. “Although that helps.”
“I appreciate the fact that you have an open mind,” Egon said. “Even if it is brought on by pecuniary reasons.”
Winston took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled. “I was in Vietnam, you know and the things I saw... Believe me, an open mind is far more necessary than people think it is.”
“Well, it’s appreciated, nonetheless.” Egon looked uncomfortable, but sounded completely honest.
“No prob, doc.” Winston pulled to the curb outside of Leo’s Deli. “Pastrami for Janine, what about you?”
“Turkey, no mayo, extra tomato,” Egon said.
“You got it.”
After listening to Leo complain about the Jets’ ability to play a decent game of football, Winston got back into the Ecto-mobile with lunch and headed back to the fire station.
Egon and he walked towards Janine’s desk and she immediately called out, “You gotta head out to Brooklyn.” Not bothering to cover up the mouthpiece of the phone wedged between her ear and her shoulder, she continued, “There’s a skeleton that’s scaring the crap outta some bridge players. Is that my pastrami?”
Winston exchanged the deli bag with her for a slip of paper with an address on it. She handed him back his and Egon’s sandwiches while still talking on the phone. Winston and Egon exchanged a look as they headed back to the Ectomobile.
“The bridge is going to be deadlocked this time of day,” Egon said as Winston backed out onto the road.
“Means we get to eat lunch while taking in the gorgeous New York skyline,” Winston said.
“And getting poisoned by exhaust fumes.”
“Such a cheerful guy,” Winston said. “Hand me my roast beef and tell me more about those particles of yours.”
As Egon launched into an explanation of the fundamental properties of physics, Winston negotiated midday traffic, his sandwich and thought:
Know what? Stop gap, my ass. I’m a Ghostbuster. I can get used to this.