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Danny swept feverishly through the kitchen, throwing the cabinets open one by one. Hunger ate through him from the inside out, but the thought of every piece of food he found only made his stomach turn.
He’d hit the room like a hurricane, leaving every cabinet open, every drawer, a destructive mess that he had no mind to clean up. Eventually, Danny settled on a box of crackers, and sat down miserably at the kitchen table. His hand phased through the package, snatching a dry, tasteless cracker (the kind that are meant to be served with dip and cheese) and stared at it sadly.
He didn’t want to eat it.
Famished, he put his head down, letting the cracker drop to the table.
The light sound of footsteps pattered down the stairs, and Danny shoved the crackers away in frustration.
"Mom says we’re ordering Pizza at 6. That good with you?" Jazz pulled on the fridge door, hesitating as she surveyed the top shelf, and emerged with a carton of orange juice.
"I’m not all that hungry," Danny muttered back, fighting down the revulsion he felt as he watched Jazz pour herself a glass of juice.
Jazz shot him a quick glance, her eyes falling on the crackers.
"Because you’ve been snacking?"
"No," Danny shoved the crackers away. "Just don’t feel too great."
His stomach growled loudly in response.
Danny blushed silently, trying to hide his face, and Jazz slipped around into the seat across from him.
"Something up?" she asked.
Danny shook his head, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Think it’s just a cold.”
Jazz put a hand across the table, resting it on his shoulder. “If there’s ever something wrong just…you know you can talk to me, right?”
Her perfume was nauseating.
"Yeah, I know," Danny answered, breathing subtly through his mouth.
Jazz watched as Danny excused himself from the table, the cracker box forgotten at the end of his place. Her eyes followed him as he drifted away from her, his footsteps dragging him to the lab.
The nausea had gotten steadily worse. His stomach did flips, bile pushing against the back of his throat. His vision blurred, his feet wobbled, and his breathing grew shallow. The thrumming in his chest had amplified, its strong, arrhythmic beats pounding through his head.
He stumbled dizzily into the basement, licking his lips nervously as he settled in front of the lab table, too weak to stay standing. He breathed in deeply, feeling the toxic air swirl in his lungs. His parents had warned him to stay out of the lab for a few days—they’d be running some pretty pungent tests, the vapors of which were liable to burn right through the lining of a human esophagus.
For Danny though, the slight scalding around his throat was euphoric. He breathed again, feeling the pounding lessen ever so slightly in his head.
"Hey, you! Hey, kid!" a squeaky voice called. Danny’s eyes cracked open, pinning down the little green blob that sat in his parents’ jar.
"Hey," Danny answered, his voice level. On the inside though, his heart did flips. He could smell the energy around it, the pulsing, dripping, gooey ectoplasm, sweet and dense like honey.
"Could you uh…would you mind maybe, ya’ know, flipping this lid up? I’m in a bit of a tight spot…if ya’ wouldn’t mind." The blob offered a sincere smile, sheepish reluctance shining on his half-formed face.
"I really can’t," Danny answered, his head turning away. Maybe he didn’t have an issue with freeing the ghost, especially if it meant he’d save it from his parents’ curious hands. In truth, he didn’t trust himself to lift the lid. All that energy, pent up inside—a release of it would break him.
"Please man," the ghost’s tone slipped, unmistakable terror speckling his words. "I-I really don’t think I got good things coming to me here. Louie…Louie, I-I mean he went first. They snatched him outa’ his jar first and…aw man those squeaks. You shoulda’ heard the squeaks.”
The ghost’s voice trembled terribly, and waves of thick, sweet ectoplasm radiated from his fear. Danny breathed it in, enjoying the brief respite from his debilitating nausea. He held his position, legs crossed on the floor, hands in his lap, eyes shut.
"It was worse, ya’ know? They uh—man they took him apart right over there! Right on that table I mean…I could see.” Panic erupted in the blobby green ghost’s voice. “Right there! Right on that table…I know they plan to do the same to me.”
Danny opened his eyes again, his focus swiveling to the back table. A small, green, glowing frog was slashed open, its organs carefully separated, a bloody scalpel lazily tossed beside its body.
A sputtering beaker sat next to it, bubbling with toxic green goo.Electrodes dug into the mush, separating the ectoplasm from its surroundings. Danny became keenly aware of the pulse it gave off. The steady thrum thrum of dripping power. It slipped into his heart; it fogged up his brain.
Danny pushed himself off the lab floor, his gait unsteady as he crossed the room. The frog got closer, dissected with pins holding its flaps of skin open, bubbling ectoplasm humming happily beside it.
"Ain’t it horrible? Don’t ya’ think…I mean I never did anything to get that. Louie! He didn’t…He just…it was his idea, and I said-I said we shouldn’t!”
"Shut up," Danny growled angrily. The blob ghost quieted in surprise, and Danny fought down the growing need in his chest. Flecks of green sprung up in his eyes, his ectoplasmic core pleading for access to the new power source.
His ghost side was starving.
Danny balled his hands up, clutching absently at his shirt. His fingers weaved into the little fabric folds, but the urge resonated to his very core. His fingers shook, his grip carving half-moons in his palms. He understood what he was looking at: a disgusting, dissected ghost frog. Glistening organs lay proudly displayed in its ripped-open torso.
"Hey kid, w-what are ya’ doing?" the blob ghost choked out.
Danny shot a hand out, touching just the end of the frog’s leg. The spurt of energy was like lightning, greedily eaten up by his emaciated palm.
"What are you doing?" the blob asked with more urgency.
Danny’s fingers curled around the leg, and he tore it free from the specimen.
"What are you doing?" the creature sounded close to tears.
Danny licked the remnants from his fingers, saliva pooling in his mouth as his ghost half got the first bit of nourishment in months.
"Please stop…" the little thing whined. Danny ignored it, tearing out the pins one by one, until the skin flaps folded back in, a crinkled, disheveled mess.
It was gone before Danny realized he’d swallowed it. He sucked on the tips of his fingers again, but moaned quietly as he realized the sweet, gooey taste of ectoplasm had vanished. His eyes swiveled to the beaker, separating the ghost frog’s ectoplasmic blood, and Danny snatched it up too.
He spared just long enough to tear out the electrodes before he downed it, the indulgence rippling warmly through his body.
Danny stood silently, tasting the residue on his teeth, and distantly registered the panicked sobs of the creature in the background. He hobbled back up the stairs, away from the torn-apart experiment and the terrified, amorphous little creature.
"I swear I checked every corner of the lab twice. Under the tables, behind the bookshelves—Jack, by the way, I need you to sort through the shelf stuff this weekend—but it’s gone. I shut the portal and enabled the ghost shield while I was at it, but I don’t think the ghost frog’s coming back. Some predator probably snatched it up while I was showering." Maddie buried her disappointment in a second piece of pizza, biting off the melting cheese with the front of her teeth. "It’s a wonder the thing didn’t electrocute itself."
Jack immersed himself in the conversation, but the two children stayed silent. Jazz watched her little brother with a hint of fear in her eyes. They boy sat hunched in his chair, his napkin still clean, his plate untouched.
"Danny, don’t you want a slice?" Maddie asked suddenly. She motioned to the pie by Jack. "The half-mushroom is for you."
Danny shook his head, his face kept low enough that no one could see the shameful tears that welled in his eyes.
"That’s alright. I already ate."
Maddie and Jack glanced at each other, then to Jazz, who gave a loyal shrug.
"The crackers?" Maddie asked as she looked up at the box she’d found lying on the table. She’d moved it to the kitchen counter, and it sat, unopened, next to the bowl of fruit.
"Yeah, crackers," Danny whispered, and he excused himself from the table.
The three remaining family members watched Danny walk away in silence. He climbed the steps, hardly hiding the tremor that shook his body.
"Honey, did you buy more of those Professor Popsicle’s Key-Lime Koolpops?"
Maddie shifted her attention away from Danny, frowning at Jack’s question, irked by how well he remembered the stupid brand name. “Why would I? It’s January, and you didn’t put it on the list.”
Jack’s face fell. “Oh…just thought. Because Danny…”
Jazz and Maddie stared back silently, and Jack motioned to his own mouth.
"His lips, a-and his chin—you didn’t see?" Jack waited through the silent response. "They were coated in green."