Aaron wasn't exactly sure how he ended up in charge of shaping the minds of today's youth-because whose brilliant idea was that? He hated kids, those pint-sized evil Munchkins- he didn't even remember the suggestion being brought up or there being a vote or something. Maybe it happened while he was drunk- which kinda happens quite often- or maybe it was a conspiracy against him. But somehow here he was, slightly hung-over, standing in front of a dozen Damiens with judge-y eyes, just waiting for him to show a sign of weakness so they could go for the jugular and tear him to shreds. Well, maybe Charlie and Danny weren't Village of the Damned kids-yet- but they were looking at him with expectant eyes and Aaron couldn't take that kind of pressure in his pounding head.
"So… Ummm…" Aaron cleared his throat nervously, as he glanced around the room. "I should probably teach you something about history, something important, but still relevant. Right, ok, so once upon a time, in a city called New York, there lived 4 brave souls who called themselves 'The Ghostbusters'. It all started in the New York public library..."
Two days later, Ben woke in the middle of the night to his son shaking him awake, crying and claiming their house was haunted.
"You told them a ghost story?!" Ben asked Aaron angrily, when he cornered him outside the classroom.
"Technically, it wasn't a ghost story; I just told them the plot of 'Ghostbusters'-"
"I don't care if it was a movie, Aaron! You were supposed to teach these kids, not terrify my son so much, he couldn't sleep at night!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't… Is he ok?"
"He'll be fine, eventually," Ben sighed and ran a hand over his face. "I just… It's just been a rough couple of months and it's not easy, doing this without Rachel. She'd know what to do. Me? I'm just floundering."
"You're a great dad," Aaron argued vehemently. "What happened with Rachel- it's not your fault and these kids are lucky to have you as a dad."
"Thanks, Aaron," Ben attempted a small smile, before giving up. "Just do me a favor and lay off the ghost stories, ok?"
"Sure, you bet," Aaron nodded, as Ben walked away. "What the hell am I supposed to teach them now?"
"So how was school today?" Ben asked his kids with forceful cheerfulness, as they sat down together for dinner.
"Fine," Danny said laconically into his plate.
"Well, did you learn anything interesting?"
"Aaron taught us about The Force and how Luke helped the Rebels defeat the evil Empire," Charlie bounced in her seat.
"I'm going to have to sit down with Aaron and talk about your curriculum," Ben muttered. Charlie gave him a blank face, but Danny continued playing with his food. "You're not hungry, kiddo?"
"Not really," Danny mumbled, before setting his fork down and looking up at his dad. "This house is haunted, we need to leave."
"Danny, I already told you, it was just a story-"
"I heard someone at night, whispering, in my room."
"It was probably just the wind; there are no such things as ghosts."
"Is too!" Danny got up and thumped on the table. "Why won't you believe me? There's a ghost in this house and we need to go back home."
"This is our home."
"No, it's not! I want to go back to Brodhead. I hate it here and I hate you!" He stormed off and went to his and Charlie's room. Ben sighed, rubbing his tired eyes and wondered what exactly he was supposed to do. He opened his eyes when he felt arms wrap around him and smiled down at his daughter.
"He didn't mean it," Charlie told him, hugging his neck.
"I know," he hugged her back.
"I don't hate it here," Charlie told him. "It's nice and there are lots of kids to play with; I just... I just wish mom was here with us."
"Me too, honey," Ben said quietly. "Me too."
"Danny, you awake?" Ben asked tentatively, as he went to the kids' room with a single candle. Danny didn't answer him, but from the shuffling of the figure on the bed, he guessed the answer was affirmative. Charlie didn't stir in her bed, so Ben walked quietly towards Danny's bed. "Can I sit down?" He sat down on the bed and the two of them stayed that way in utter silence, before Danny shifted and sat up against the wall.
"I'm sorry I said I hated you," Danny said quietly, hugging his knees.
"I'm sorry I just dismissed you, without hearing you out," Ben apologized and squeezed Danny's knee. "I guess we both made mistakes. You want to tell me about these ghosts you've been seeing?"
"I haven't seen them, exactly," Danny said slowly. "I heard them, at night. And they were in my nightmares."
"What were your nightmares about?"
"This ugly green ghost with red eyes and no feet was chasing us and he got mom," Danny sniffed.
"That sounds scary," Ben said. "But it was just a dream."
"But mom is still gone," Danny said. "She was supposed to come back with supplies, but she didn't. What if she comes back and doesn't find us, 'cause we're not there? We need to go back home."
"So that's what this was all about," Ben realized. "Your mom… She's not coming back, not to Brodhead anyway."
"Why not?" Charlie asked, no longer feigning sleep, as she sat up. "What happened to mom? Is she dead?"
"I don't know," Ben admitted sadly. "She must have been attacked by bandits or the Militia, I don't know if she's even alive."
"Then we should go looking for her," Danny said urgently. "We need to save her!"
"Your mom's gone," Ben said sharply. "She's not coming back and we can never go back. This is our home now and we need to stay here, where it's safe, do you understand?" Both his children nodded, scared of his outburst. "Look, just try and get some sleep, ok? We can talk some more tomorrow. I love you guys," he kissed them both on the forehead, before he stood up and left with the candle, casting the two siblings once more in darkness.
After a few minutes of silence, Danny asked: "Charlie?"
"You think mom is still alive?"
"I don't know," she said to the ceiling. "But if she was alive, she would have come back by now."
"But we left; maybe she came back and couldn't find us."
"She would have found us; mom wouldn't have stopped until she did."
"What if a ghost killed mom?" Danny whispered.
"Mom wasn't killed by a ghost."
"But what if she was and the same ghost tries to kill us too?"
"I wouldn't let it," Charlie said determinedly. "I'd never let anything hurt you."
"You promise?" Danny asked hopefully.
"I promise," Charlie said. "Go to sleep, I'll watch over you and make sure no ghost attacks you."
"Ok," Danny agreed, rolling over to his side. "Goodnight, Charlie."
"Goodnight, Danny," Charlie said as she prepared herself for another long night of guarding her brother from evil ghosts and his own illness, making sure he lives through the night so she doesn't ever lose another loved one.