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Improper Lab Safety Protocol

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“Mom? Dad?”

Okay, it’s not totally unreasonable for them to be hyper-focused on something in the basement lab, especially now that both you and your older sister are in college. (Though not exactly the same tier of college. Your grades weren’t awful, but they put you in the middle of the pack at the local community college. Jazz didn’t even think about staying in-state.) Still, it’s the end of the spring quarter, and you did say you were coming by....

You shut the front door behind you and drop your bag on the floor, out of the way for now. The house is quiet, except for the quiet beeps and dings that come from the various incomprehensible ghost gadgets lying around all over the place. The lights are off, too. Hmm. Maybe they’re out. You hadn’t called to say you were coming over, since you have a key and it was only a bike ride across town.

You flip on the lights and head down to the basement. It took you until you were about ten to realize that biohazard signs weren’t a common household decoration. You spent some of your high school career resenting it, but as you’ve grown older you’ve found that you kind of like some of your family’s weirdness. Makes for a good conversation starter, if nothing else.

The basement is as dark as the rest of the house, though the motion-sensitive lights flicker on as you enter. Nobody’s down here, either. You smile when you see the “Fenton Ghost Portal” set into the far wall. As far as anyone, including you, can tell, it’s basically a large metal airlock built out of the side of the basement. Your parents have been tinkering with it for as long as you can remember, and presumably still are, for all that it hasn’t done a single thing besides start nasty rumors about them. They’re still convinced it’s going to lead into some mythical ghost dimension, if only they can get the calculations right.

Something glints, and catches your eye. Probably some tool your dad left lying in the tube. You might as well pick it up for him; you’ve been down here often enough to know where everything goes. You put on a hazmat suit first, though. Not making that mistake again. Your elbow still feels kind of funny when it rains.

Once you step inside, you can see it’s not a wrench or a screwdriver. It’s not even a tool. It’s not even solid. It’s a smear of... goop, sort of like snot, and as your shadow falls across it you could swear it’s glowing faintly. You crouch down to look at it, curious. Your parents - or, at least, your mom - keep their lab meticulously clean, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of the house. Is it some kind of mold, maybe?

You shift your weight forward to poke at it, realizing as you do so that you probably should have put the hood of the hazmat suit on. Right when you make contact, you hear a faint ‘click’ under your heel.

And then everything is pain.

You’d burned yourself badly, once, at summer camp. You’d fallen and there had been nothing to catch yourself on but the hot stove. You were lucky to escape without permanent tissue damage, and the next several months had been utter hell, where even the slightest breeze across your blistered skin felt like it was being scraped raw.

This is nothing like that. The pain is transcendent, incandescent. There is no thought that is not consumed by it totally. The agony strips your nerves from your flesh, but even that is no relief; your muscles immolate, your tendons sear. Even your bones have become brands. It feels as though your soul is on fire.

And then, just before you’re about to faint from the pain, it stops. For a moment the absence of pain is just as brutal as its presence, and you feel what it must be like to go mad before your body registers the cool metal under your cheek and you claw your way back to the real world. You lie there, panting, desperately afraid to move in case you somehow set it off again.

Slowly, slowly, your panic fades. You realize more of your surroundings than the floor. You’re outside the portal, somehow; you don’t remember stumbling out of it, but you must have, because you’re in the middle of the lab. You twitch, once, and when that doesn’t provoke immediate blinding pain, you gain a little confidence and try again.

Eventually you’re able to sit up and look around yourself. It looks like a tornado’s swept through the lab. To be fair, it looks like that most of the time, but it definitely didn’t when you came down here. Did you have some kind of... what, seizure? You’re pretty sure when people have seizures they mostly lie on the ground twitching, not wreck entire rooms. Some kind of psychotic breakdown? Honestly, with the stuff your parents have in here, it’s not that unlikely. It always seemed kind of fishy to you, that you got through high school relatively sane.

You stand and steady yourself on the nearest counter. Your legs are wobbly, but for some reason it doesn’t seem that hard to hold yourself up. Kinda like how you always thought zero-g would be. Looking down, you catch a glimpse of your murky reflection in the stainless-steel countertop, then frown. Something about that looks weird. You squint, and realize what’s wrong with your eyes. Your green eyes.

Your eyes are blue.

Panic surges back, its hand around your throat. You ignore your shaky coordination and frantically rummage through the cupboards for the mirror you know is around here somewhere. It’s small, but it’s still a mirror.

Not in these ones. You turn, catch your foot on the counter, lose your balance...

...and don’t fall.

You hang there in the air, almost too bewildered to panic further. Almost. You look down at yourself and finally notice that the hazmat suit is now black, and fits like it was tailored to you instead of... well, like a hazmat suit. The gloves and boots are a faint silvery-white, as are the rubber collar and belt meant to help it stay in place over regular clothes.

Clothes.... You pull the material away from your neck with a finger, and confirm your suspicions: you are now not wearing anything under the suit. Surprisingly, it’s not that uncomfortable, but where the heck are your clothes?

Maybe it’s not the most important mystery right now, but focusing on something mundane helps you calm down a little. Okay. Okay. First thing’s first: you have to find a mirror. You don’t want to walk out of the basement with spaghetti for hair, or something.

You put your feet back on the ground and cross the room. With a little more rummaging, you unearth something that looks more like a makeup mirror than a piece of lab equipment and hold it up in front of you, not giving yourself time to get worked up and anxious again.

Well, it’s not spaghetti.

Your hair is the same soft silver-white as the gloves on the hazmat suit. Your eyes are bright green, and that’s not just a figure of speech - they’re literally glowing, the kind of glow that comes from radioactive things in cartoons. You can see the light it casts on the bridge of your nose and under your eyebrows. You reach up with a shaking hand to touch your hair, confirming that yes, that is you in the mirror.

At a sudden, horrible thought, you check over the inside of your mouth and nose, as far as you can see with just a mirror. Thankfully, the changes seem to have stopped there; you haven’t got an extra tongue or fangs or whatever. You think your gums might be a slightly different color, but that could just be the greenish cast to the lighting in the room.

You pause. The lights are fluorescent. None of them are malfunctioning, and you seem to be seeing in color just fine, so why would... there be... green...?

Slowly, horrified, you look to the Fenton Portal, almost against your will. Dappled green light pours from it, cast by ethereal swirling shapes that billow beneath the surface of some unearthly sea. It’s a strange kind of beautiful, or maybe a better word is mesmerizing.

Idiotically, your first thought is, Dad’s gonna be so happy it works! Then the rest of the thought catches up to you and you realize it works. This insane project that even you had given up on, this crazy conspiracy-theorist contraption that made your family social pariahs at the best of times - it works. Despite everything, you can’t help but admit you’re excited by it.

The part where it had electrocuted you was less exciting, admittedly. You automatically flinch away from the memory. The wound is still fresh.

You realize your mouth is hanging open and shut it, then approach the active... ghost portal? You’re not sure if that’s what it is. That’s what your parents have been trying to build, but you doubt their activation procedure involved somebody inside the thing, so who knows what really happened. There’s a faint frisson of static as you get closer, or something very like it; you can feel your skin tingle and there’s a tart, coppery taste in your mouth. When you put your hand up right next to the surface, the urge to simply plunge into it gets stronger. You’re breathing hard. Whatever this is... it’s affecting you, strongly.

You back up and the feeling fades. You have enough to figure out at the moment, and that seems like something you can afford to put off. Your legs feel odd. You look down. You’re standing in the middle of a table. Not on the table. In it.

Oh, okay, your brain says, and you almost look away before realizing what that actually means. You throw yourself backward with a shriek (if anyone asks, it was a yell. A very manly yell), and land on your ass on the floor again. Tentatively, you crawl over and poke the table. It’s as solid as the floor is.

Okay, you’ll say it: what the fuck. What in the actual, absolute fuck. You have information and no idea how to put the pieces together into a whole. Your hair and eyes are different colors. Your clothes have vanished, except for the hazmat suit, which magically resized itself and is, oh yes, also a different color. You just got electrocuted and now you’re flying and going through things like you’re some kind of....

Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit ohshit.

You screw your eyes shut and clutch your head in your hands. You’re not dead. You can’t be dead. You’re nineteen. You’re alive and you’re only in your first year of college and you just got a job at the shitty fast food place and you’re alive, you have to be alive, please, God or ghost god or whatever Sam’s into this week, please, you’re alive you need to be alive.

A wave of something passes over you, cool like a lonely breeze in the middle of summer. You don’t realize you’re crying until it startles a sob out of you and makes you open your eyes.

You’re looking at your jeans. You stare for a second, then pull the fringe of your hair down to look at it. Black. Your hands aren’t gloved, in white or otherwise. You feel heavier, grounded in your body.

Relief swamps you. You lean your head against the table leg and shut your eyes again. “Thank you,” you whisper. “Thank you.” You’re not sure who you’re talking to. Maybe no one. But you’re--you’re normal again. You’re alive. You’re human. You can feel your heart pounding in your chest and you never knew how precious that was until you thought you wouldn’t get it back.

You stay on the floor, collecting yourself. Eventually you wipe your face on your t-shirt and stand, nearly ramming your head into the table as you do. That would’ve been sad, having already walked through it like it wasn’t there.

The portal’s still open, but there are blast doors on the outside and you know those work. You watch them shut, cutting off the eerie green glow and leaving the lab looking relatively normal again. It’s still a mess, and you’ll have to clean that up, but - later. Later, when you can stand without leaning on something.

You leave the basement, which feels surreally mundane after what just happened, and grab your bag from the entryway. On automatic, you find your phone and open the group chat that you, Sam, and Tucker set up.

You: you guys there?

Tuckinator5000: yeah man

whats up

hows the free laundry

TheRealManson: say hi to your folks for me!

You pause, suddenly unsure. What are you going to say to them? Did all of that even really happen? In the daylight it seems like a dream, or maybe a nightmare. Part of you wants to spill everything. Sam and Tucker are your best friends. You’ve never hidden anything from them, not when you cheated on your history final, not when you figured out you were bi, nothing.

But... you have no proof, really. Just that your parents finally got their ghost portal working. Maybe by the time you get back down there that’ll be gone too. Just a sleep-deprived college student who let his imagination get the best of him.

And another, quieter part of you wants to never tell anyone. If you never say it out loud, you can pretend it didn’t happen. You won’t ever have to think about that pain again. You’ll never have to think about what it felt like to be dead and still walking around. You feel sick even getting near those thoughts.

Your fingers hesitate over the keys.

You: i think i just died

You hit send, then realize what you've just typed. You meant to say almost died... didn’t you?

TheRealManson: lol and you call me dramatic

Tuckinator5000: yikes how bad was the math final

no i, you type, and stop. You need them here. You need them to see your face and know that you're serious. You back up and retype, can you guys come over? i need

You cut that off too. You don't want them to panic.

You: when are you guys free? hang out at my place?

Tuckinator5000: im done with school bullshit

sweet freedom is mine

TheRealManson: right after i turn in this paper, sure. tuck, you want a ride?

Tuckinator5000: yeah

im by roswell

TheRealManson: k

there in ten

ttys

You dump yourself in a heap on the living room sofa and drop your phone in your lap, then rest your head on the back and stare up at the ceiling. Is this really happening? You feel a little distant from it all, like it's happening to someone else and you're just hearing about it.

Something vibrates under you. You jump about three feet in the air before realizing it's your phone. You must have sat on it.

Or... wait, no you didn't. You remember putting it in your lap. You hadn't even really let go of it. Did it fall between your legs? And then migrate under your butt somehow, instead of falling off the couch?

The latest text is from Sam, asking you to let them in. You open the front door and hug both Sam and Tucker immediately, suddenly overwhelmingly glad that they, at least, are normal.

“Whoa, man,” Tucker says, patting you on the back awkwardly. Yours has never been a very physical friendship. “Is everything okay?”

No bubbles up in your throat, but you know if you say anything just now you'll start crying again. Instead you cling to your friends like a lifeline. You can feel them exchange looks over your shoulders.

“Danny...” Sam starts, more cautiously. “What happened? What's wrong?”

You take a deep breath, regain your composure, and pull away from them. You open your mouth to explain as you push the front door shut.

Your hand goes through the door.

You stare, frozen. Is this what going into shock feels like? You think you might be hyperventilating, but if you are, you don't know how to stop.

Sam shuts the door and steps into your field of vision. “Danny. Breathe. Breathe with me, okay? In... out... in...”

You get your breathing down to the ragged side of normal, and finally register that Sam is holding your shoulders and Tucker is looking on from behind her, worried.

“I don’t want to be dead,” you say in the smallest voice you've ever managed. “I don’t want to--” Tears blur your vision and threaten to spill.

Sam flicks you on the forehead. You blink at her, shocked out of your panic.

“Congrats,” she says. “You’re not fucking dead. And if you are, we have bigger problems. Like the zombie apocalypse.”

“Which, by the way, I am thoroughly prepared for,” Tucker interjects, and it's so... so Tucker that you actually giggle a little, drunkenly.

You let your friends lead you back into the living room and sit you down, then, stumblingly, haltingly, you tell them what happened to you. Your hair and eyes. The portal. The floating. How you’d thought you... died. The panic rises again, but this time you have your friends as a raft, and don't drown in it. You don't do more than hint at how much it hurt. They can't help with that anyway.

There's silence when you finish. You look at your hands in your lap, not wanting to see their expressions if they don't believe you.

Sam clears her throat. “Okay, don't take this the wrong way...” Oh hell. Here it comes. “...but that is the most metal thing I have ever heard.”

Well, it's Sam. You probably could have predicted that response if you'd thought about it a little more.

“So... can you turn back?” Tucker says.

You jerk your head up to look at him, shocked. “What?”

Tucker shrugs, looking way more at ease with the whole thing than he has any right to be. “I mean, you said it felt like swimming, or floating. You gotta admit, there are worse things than being able to fly.”

He... kind of has a point, now that you think about it. Or he doesn't not have a point, at least. Ever since you learned the word astronaut, you've wanted to be weightless, up in the sheer black between the stars. Until now, you've only been able to imagine that feeling.

You close your eyes, aware of Sam and Tucker’s gazes on you, and turn your mind inwards. You remember how it felt, underneath the terror. It wasn’t that you didn't have a body. You just weren't bound by it like you are now. You were in total control of yourself in three dimensions, not just two. It's the closest you think you've ever come to feeling actual magic.

You call up that peaceful feeling, imagine it settling into your limbs like a warm bath. There's a brief chill and two gasps, and when you open your eyes, you know they're green.

“Holy shit,” Tucker says, and takes a picture of you with his phone.

“Hey!” You lunge for it like you're going to grab it, but instead of playing keep-away, Tucker turns it around to show you.

“Dude, have you seen yourself?”

You barely hear him. You drift closer and take the phone from him, entranced. You hadn't really seen yourself, not like this. You look... holy is the first word that comes to mind, and it takes you another few seconds to realize it's because you're surrounded by a sourceless white glow, like the halos of saints in those religious paintings with naked people being tortured. The collar of your hazmat suit (jumpsuit?) comes up high on your neck, and it contrasts with your pale, bloodless skin. You would look unsettlingly like a dead person if you were lying down, but you'd started to get up right when Tucker took the picture, and as it is you look like a marble statue in motion.

He'd managed to catch you right when you looked at the camera, and you stare into your own eyes, wondering if they look like that to other people. That intense green. Like the scales of a snake.

Wordlessly, you hand Tucker his phone back. He takes it, looking at you critically. “You okay?”

Instead of answering, you close your eyes again and concentrate on what it felt like to have a body. The chill comes faster this time. It's getting easier, you think. You feel your weight settle onto your heels and you know without looking that you're human again.

You try it again, with your eyes open this time. It turns out that the chill is a pale blue ring of light that starts at your waist and splits in two, leaving you transformed in its wake.

“So, uh...” Sam says. Her eyes flick down, briefly, then back up. “They're making those hazmat suits a little tighter these days, huh.”

You feel your cheeks heat up, which is oddly comforting. Dead people don't blush. “I didn't do that,” you protest, in what is possibly the least useful defense of all time. Abruptly, you realize you're standing between Tucker and Sam, facing away from him, and something tells you you're getting the same appreciative, analytical look from both sides. Oh god. If you... react at all, it's going to show, and you can feel yourself starting to react.

You switch back to human as quickly as possible. Your jeans are a little uncomfortable now, but that's better than showing off how horny you are to anyone who wants to look.

“Uh, uh, um.” You try to come up with a good distraction before you die again, this time of mortification. “I should show you the lab!” Actually, that's not a bad idea on its own. You still have to pick it up before your parents get home.

You resist the temptation to turn back into a ghost as you all thump down the stairs. There's no way that wouldn't end in disaster. You pick up various things to clear a path to the other side of the room, where the blast door controls are.

Even facing your friends, you can see the greenish glow on the walls and the reflection of the portal in Tucker’s glasses. You fumble around for the automatic light switch and turn those off, leaving the green vortex as the only source of light in the room. It's just as captivating as the first time you saw it. If anything, its effect on you has increased, and it mixes weirdly with your lingering arousal. It's not convenient, but you'd be lying if you said it was unpleasant.

Then Tucker picks up a pencil off the floor and chucks it into the portal.

“Tucker!”

“What? Where's your scientific curiosity?”

“Other side of that,” you say without quite meaning to, gesturing at the portal. You almost freeze, but then Sam snorts and it's not awkward anymore, if it ever was.

“Come on, Ghost Boy, we'll help clean up,” she says.

You turn the light back on and groan. “I'm never going to live down that nickname now, am I?”

“Nope!” Tucker informs you gleefully. “Now where does this go?”


It takes a little over an hour to get the lab looking neat-ish again, and once the three of you trudge back up the stairs you're about ready to never go down there again. You did find out that you could turn invisible, though unfortunately you found out when Sam ran smack into you. Luckily neither of you took the fall hard. You look through the fridge and pour three glasses of lemonade. You figure all of you deserve it, especially Sam and Tucker, who dealt with your breakdown and then cleaned up a mess that wasn't even theirs.

On the counter next to the fridge, you find a note from your mom. It says, briefly, that they've gone to a “supernatural convention” out of town and should be back Monday at the latest. It's Friday today.

You hand Sam the note. She skims it and snorts. “I... don't think they're gonna find what they're looking for.”

“Why not?” Tucker says, echoing your thoughts.

Sam taps on her phone for a second, shows Tucker, then slides it across the table to you. It's on the Wikipedia page for a TV show.

You put one hand to your face. “At least my parents are immune to embarrassment.”

“What other stuff can you do?” Tucker prompts you, clearly much more interested in weird ghost powers than weird ghost hunters.

“How am I supposed to know?” you ask him.

“Can you shoot laser beams out of your eyes?” Sam asks.

“Let me try.” You glare at her in mock annoyance. “Nope.”

“Well, not while you're human, duh.”

“Why do you want me to be a ghost so badly?” you ask, and immediately know both the answer and why it's a stupid question. Because it’s cool, that’s why.

“It’s all a plot to get you to show off your ass,” Tucker deadpans. Sam bursts into giggles. “If you'd just walk around naked none of this would have happened.”

You flip him off as you transform, but you're kind of struggling not to laugh, too. The weightlessness is exhilarating. You do a loop just for the hell of it, and end up horizontal, as though you're lying on your stomach across a flat surface. Gravity still seems to affect you, you can just... choose to ignore it.

There's a crash from the basement.

All three of you freeze, then look at each other, then at the stairs to the basement.

“Maybe something fell off the shelf,” you say feebly. You know it's not true, but you really want it to be.

“Things can go into the portal,” Tucker says, hushed. “Do you think things can come out of it?”

“If it wants out, we're in the way,” Sam whispers.

You gulp and look back down the stairs. What are you going to do?


[ ] Get out of the house. You’ve seen scary movies before. Fuck all that.

[X] Go down to the basement. Get it over with. And hey... maybe it was just something you didn’t stack right.

[ ] Stay put. It might go back the way it came, and if it doesn’t, better to catch it in the bottleneck at the top of the stairs.