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Feast of Folly

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Maddie was cooking dinner, something she very rarely did. She methodically chopped the onions, making each slice almost identical in length. She rolled the seasoned ground beef into perfect balls before squishing them to make equally perfect discs. She hadn’t taken this much care in her cooking since...she couldn’t remember. Maybe ever. No experimental inventions. No shortcuts on her mother’s recipes. No distractions mid-caramelization that caused the onions to burn. 

Maddie frowned as she looked at the color of the ground beef. No, she had not added nearly enough seasoning. She reached over to one the two small bowls of spices she had mixed together, a perfect proportion mastered by her mother. She had called Alicia to get the recipe, as she had managed to burn her handwritten note card to ash at some point. Alicia had sighed before complaining at length, but gave the secret ingredients over the phone. There was just something about older sisters. They always had your back, even when you were miles away. 

When Maddie had finished preparing the burgers for Jack, Jazz, and herself, she turned to the second bowl of seasonings. It was just as carefully crafted, filled with just as much love as the burgers she had made for her husband and daughter. But there were some differences. 

Because her son was Phantom and not completely human.

Maddie took a deep breath before washing her hands, the sticky juices of the meat causing the grit of the seasoning to stick to her fingers and nails. When her hands were dried she donned latex gloves, before massaging the mixture into the meat.

Two days ago, Danny had come home on time. More than on time, he still had hours before his curfew. He had asked to talk to her and Jack, fidgeting under their concern. Jazz had stood behind him, hand on his shoulder and given him an encouraging smile. Looking up at his sister, he seemed more confident. With a steadying breath, he began his tale.

How the portal accident had changed him, how he had trouble controlling it at first, how he had chosen to fight ghosts, how he had been framed for crimes he didn’t commit (intentionally), how he had been scared to tell them for fear of what they would do. Both she and Jack had been shocked, confounded by the notion that such a thing was possible. Maddie felt tears prickle in her eye as she felt the shame of all the hurt and the pain they had put their little boy through. They should have been more careful with their inventions. Both she and Jack had asked him the same question.

How can we fix this?

You can’t, ” he had said, shaking his head emphatically.

What do you need from us?

I just need you to understand.

Jazz had had a lot more to say, about the needs her brother had that he was too shy to say. Jazz had given her a list of things that Danny needed. Everything from his Obsession to his dietary needs. 

Maddie thumped the meat against the countertop with enough force that the ball flattened in an uneven shape. She leaned heavily on her arms, holding herself up against the workspace.

Certain dietary needs. Because her son was no longer human.

Halfas, as they were apparently called, required certain amounts of ectoplasm in their diets. This could be done by merely incorporating ghost plants that Danny was more than eager to provide. They had many different names, none of which were scientific. None followed the standard Latin etymology created by Linnaeus. One of them was completely impossible for her to pronounce, a complicated series of phonemes that no human mouth could ever hope to replicate. 

“Mom, are you okay?” Maddie spun around to see her daughter frowning at her in the doorway. Maddie glanced at the meal preparation before meeting her daughter’s eye once more. Maddie painted on a smile.

“Just peachy, sweetie. I am trying to make sure that  I’m putting enough of these, um, dried Frozen Rose petals in Danny’s food,” Maddie stumbled over her words, seeing the dried petals still on the countertop. 

Jazz glanced over to the Frozen Rose petals before looking back at her mother. Maddie tried not to fidget under her daughter’s calculating stare. Jazz examined Maddie for what felt like an hour, but Jazz merely smiled with a shrug. 

“Okay, Mom. Just let me know if you need any help,” Jazz called as she exited the kitchen. 

“Of course, sweetie,” Maddie simpered, slumping slightly before turning back to finish dinner. She listened a moment longer to make sure Jazz had completely left.

Halfa’s had a completely different biology than ghosts or humans.

After Danny had told her and Jack everything, there had been a fair amount of tears. Exhausted, the parents had sent their children to bed. But the two of them had stayed up talking.

Our fault.

It’s not right.

We can’t leave him like this.

Nothing we can do.

Maddie couldn’t accept that. 

Ghosts were a menace. A plague on the living. No matter what Danny or Jazz or Sam or Tucker might believe, she had her years of research to back her up. She knew that the necrotizing touch of the dead would corrode life into nothingness. It was a disease. A cancer. A poison. 

Maddie finished seasoning the burgers, before placing them in the oven to cook. She put Danny’s far away, in a different smaller oven, than the others. She quickly cleaned up the kitchen, throwing away her gloves and the dish of spices in the biohazard bin they kept under the sink. She hesitated over the last two bottles, hidden behind the olive oil and vinegar.

Blood Blossom and Compound 1080.

Halfa’s had a completely different biology than ghosts or humans. She didn’t know which would work. And she owed her baby a clean send-off, not a botched mess that would leave him in agony.

Maddie glanced over her shoulder, before scooping the two containers into the biohazard bin. She then put away the unopened bag of Frozen Rose petals.

Maddie’s heart beat loudly in her ears as she stared at the sizzling burgers in the small oven. The grease spit and popped, just the same as the burgers she had made for her living family. The smell was the same, the mixture of sage, thyme, and cayenne wafting through the air. Each one a perfect little circle, bits of diced and caramelized onion giving texture. Maddie watched as the red slowly faded to brown. She first took out Danny’s, then went to grab the rest. She carefully plated each of the patties onto a bun on each plate, careful not to get confused as to which were for Danny and which were for the rest.

“Here, let me help,” Maddie nearly jumped out of her skin as Jazz was once more there. Jazz raised an eyebrow at her mother.

“No-no, I got it,” Maddie hurried to say. Jazz rolled her eyes. 

“Mom, I can carry some plates. Are these Danny’s?” Jazz asked, pointing to the ones kept far from the others, completely identical to the eye.

“Yes,” Maddie said. Jazz looked around the kitchen with a frown.

“Where did you put the veggies? You know, the lettuce, tomato, pickles, and such?” Jazz asked. Maddie gestured to a plate over in the corner, but stopped when she realized that in her fixation she had not actually cut them.

“You work on that, I will go ahead and put the burgers on the table,” Jazz grabbed Danny’s and one of the other plates before turning to the table. Maddie quickly made her way over to the fridge and grabbed the vegetables she needed, chopping methodically. When that was finished, she turned to see Jazz putting the condiments on the table, every plate in its place. 

“I’m gonna go grab Dad and Danny,” Jazz sat the last bottle in the exact center of the table. Maddie met her eye, but hurried to look away. 

“I think they are down in the lab,” Maddie didn’t look at Jazz as she sat the plate of lettuce and tomatoes down. Silence hung in the air for a moment, and Maddie thought she could feel sweat beading down her neck.

“Okay, I will be right back,” Jazz said lightly. Jazz walked briskly over to the lab door before going down. Maddie watched her back as she descended down the stairs, then took her seat at the table. With shaking hands, she mechanically put the toppings she liked on her burgers. Ketchup, but no mustard. Lettuce, but no tomato. And only a single pickle. She resisted fidgeting as she heard her family approach up the stairs, Jack’s booming laugh reverberating through the house. She turned with a tight smile as they approached.

She couldn’t take her eyes off Danny. 

Her little boy.  He was currently tucked under Jack’s arm, hair in disarray with a huge smile painted on his face. Jazz trailed behind the two of them, a fond look in her eyes. But Danny phased right through Jack’s arm with a laugh, catching his balance as he hurried out of Jack’s reach. 

“The burgers look great, Mad,” Jack’s chair creaked under his weight as he sat. Maddie turned her attention to her husband.

“Thanks. I tried to make them perfect. My mother’s special recipe and everything,” Maddie said, keeping Danny in the corner of her eye. He had reached onto the table and grabbed the ketchup before Jazz could, sticking his tongue out at his sister. He squirted a large amount of ketchup, until it had become a small mountain on top of his bun.

“Quit hogging it, Danny!” Jazz complained, reaching for his hand. Danny kept it out of reach.

“I need more, Jazz,” Danny grinned. Maddie swallowed hard. She would miss his grin. How happy he always was. And she would never forgive herself for causing him to become a monster. For corrupting him before he had even become an adult. It was her fault and her responsibility to fix it.

“Mom, you okay? You’re kind of zoning out,” Danny asked, staring at her with concern. Maddie shook her head.

“Sorry, sweetie. I was a bit lost in thought there,” She took a bite out of her burger and watched Danny out of the corner of his eye. Ketchup dripped down his chin, as he tried to bite into the mess he called a hamburger. He leaned over, trying to make sure the worst of it landed on the plate and not his shirt. Jazz gave him a look of disgust, before looking at Maddie with a touch of concern. Maddie continued to eat, trying not to seem suspicious. She wasn’t sure how much she succeeded, as Jazz kept glancing at her.

Danny shuddered and Maddie felt her stomach drop. She felt tears prickling her eyes and it was suddenly hard to breathe. Danny sat up straight, and looked around the room.

“There’s a ghost nearby. I am going to go check it out,” He said, before a flash of light changed her boy into a monster. Maddie swallowed hard, her hands shook. Danny stuck his tongue out at Jazz before rushing into the air.

Jazz rolled her eyes at her brother’s antics before looking back at Maddie. Maddie still couldn’t breathe. She held her hand to her chest.

“Mom, are you okay?” Jazz asked.

“Mads, you're turning blue!” Jack jumped out of his seat and rushed toward Maddie. “Jazz, call an ambulance!”

Jazz nodded at Jack before rushing out of the room to get to the house phone. Maddie saw a fierce look in her eyes that felt like a slap in the face.

Right.

There was just something about older sisters. They always had your back.