DREAM SHADOW - Part 5
"Oh, my God! Jillian Lester?"
Egon Spengler found himself in the midst of his own worst nightmare come to life once again. After a frustrating and totally ineffectual trip to the hospital only to find no trace of Peter and nothing to indicate why he had left so abruptly, they had returned to the firehouse, arriving only minutes before Winston got back from Emma's school and shared with them the shocking conclusion to which he had come. Janine had gasped at the revelation and Egon had sank into the chair in front of her desk, feeling his legs could no longer support him. Only Ray had been able to voice his alarm as Winston explained.
"The description the little girl at the school gave me triggered the idea. I checked with the authorities and it's true, Jillian escaped from the hospital last night during some kind of mass freak-out by most of the patients. According to the doctor I spoke with, they had no idea she was anywhere near coming out of the catatonic condition she'd been in since she was committed there. But I don't think this is all a coincidence."
"What do you mean?" Janine asked and Egon raised his eyes to meet the dread in the ex-soldier's expression.
"I don't believe she just happened to come awake just when the whole place was in chaos. I think she caused that chaos so she could get away. I think she's been faking that trance of hers."
Ray shook his head. "She wasn't faking it when we found her in that abandoned building where she had taken Peter. The doctors ran tests; we even ran a series of alpha wave scans. She was definitely catatonic."
"But that doesn't mean she's stayed that way," Winston replied. "Suppose she did manage to pull out of it and found herself locked away just like her mother."
"She'd go nuts!" Janine replied.
"Not necessarily," Egon disagreed, getting to his feet. "Remember, we're talking about someone with an enormous amount of mental control. Her psychic powers were quite formidable, and she wouldn't have necessarily just suddenly awakened. Awareness could have come gradually, and if she realized it was to her advantage, she could have concealed that cognizance until she was able to formulate a plan of escape."
"You actually think she caused the other patients to panic like they said happened?" the secretary asked. "I thought she could only influence other people's minds if they were asleep, and then, only certain people."
Egon considered. "The thought patterns of many of those suffering from mental disturbances are already in discord. Their condition might have made them susceptible to her powers."
"She might also have gotten stronger," Winston added unhappily.
Ray seemed unready to acknowledge that unsettling thought. "But how could she have known about Emma? She's been locked away all these months."
"Her mind wasn't locked away, Ray. Peter told us she could sense his thoughts. That's how she got the upper hand on us the last time and made her move against us before we could try that jamming device on her."
"But, Winston, if she were reading Peter's thoughts, he would have sensed it," Ray reasoned. "He told us he could feel her mind in his." He shivered at the very idea.
"I don't think she had to read Pete's mind," Winston concluded. "That was the same hospital where Emma's mother worked before the car accident. If Jillian had picked up on Mary's connection with Pete..."
"Oh, my God!" Janine cried. "You think she drove Mary Marshall to commit suicide?"
Zeddemore nodded. "Then she could have used Emma to keep track of us."
"You're assuming a lot," Egon told him as he paced back and forth in front of the desk. "First, that Jillian's abilities had somehow become strong enough to influence another person into doing something so contrary to human nature as taking their own life. And second, that Emma's thoughts were accessible to her."
"You don't think it's possible?" Winston asked.
"On the contrary," the physicist replied. "I fear it is the only explanation that makes sense. Jillian would have known Peter could sense her probing his mind and that would have given her away. By causing Mary's suicide, she managed to place Emma right where she could use her to her best advantage." He stopped walking and turned to face his friends. "The implications of this are disturbing. If Jillian has developed her psychic abilities to the such a level she might no longer require her victim to be asleep, thus overcoming her prime vulnerability. It could also mean the range of people she would be able to influence, to at least some extent, might be broader."
"Egon, we can't just stand around her speculating," Ray objected. "If this really is Jillian, then that means she has not only Emma but Peter. She must have used Emma to bring Peter to her."
"I think that's most likely," Egon admitted, "but we still have the problem of being able to locate them. Unless Peter is asleep and she invades his dreams, the alpha wave signature she transmits won't be strong enough for us to pick up."
"And she may not take the chance of facing him in dreams again. He defeated her the last time," Winston reminded them. "I'm sure she hasn't forgotten."
"Then how are we gonna find them?" Janine asked, frantic with worry.
"Maybe I can help."
They all turned at the unexpected voice to find Jack Talbot standing next to Ecto-1.
"Talbot!" Egon turned a grim expression toward him. "What do you want?"
"Some help," he replied, "for your friend Venkman."
Winston was instantly across the garage grabbing the man's lapels. "If you're involved in this, Talbot, I swear I'll..."
"Hey, man, I said I was here for help. I heard you say you need to find Venkman and his daughter? Well, I'm not sure about the kid, but I know where Venkman is."
"And how would you know that?" Egon demanded, stepping up next to Winston.
"I followed him when he left the hospital."
"Why?" Winston asked.
"I was watchin' the kid when this woman grabbed her. They got away from me, so I headed for the hospital to find out what Venkman knew about it."
"You saw Emma being kidnaped and you didn't stop it?" Ray cried as he also rounded on the man.
"I was keepin' my distance, man," he replied. "I wasn't gonna let you guys get the drop on me again. I saw the woman go up to the two girls. She was a weird-lookin' chick, you know? All dressed in this black cape and all, so I started to head over, but then the kid, Emma, she acted like everything was okay and started leaving with her. I stayed back until they got to this car. Then this chick in the cape threw something sparkly at the kid's face and she just collapsed. I tried to get there, but she had her in the car and pulled away before I reached them. I was too far from my own car to catch up with them."
"So that's when you decided to go to the hospital?"
"I knew Venkman was there. I figured maybe he'd know what was goin' on. Besides, if anybody was out to hurt the kid, I thought her father ought to be told about it. But I'd just pulled up outside when Venkman comes out. He didn't look good, like he was gonna pass out any minute. I started over, but this cab pulled up and the driver called him over and said something to him and Venkman got in the cab. I got back to my car and took off after them."
"And this time you didn't lose them?" Ray asked hopefully.
"Wrong. I lost them too."
"What!" Winston cried, tightening his hold.
"Hey, there was a lot of traffic, man!"
"Some private detective you are!" Janine told him in disgust.
"Yeah, I am," Talbot replied with a smirk. "I'm may not have been able to follow them, but I got the license number this time and I traced the cab. I tracked down the driver and did a little friendly persuasion of my own." He looked meaningfully from Winston's face to the clenched fist that held him. Zeddemore took the message and released him.
"He was all freaked out. He said it was just some lady sent him for her boyfriend, but he told me where he took him."
"Where?" Egon and Winston demanded at the same time.
"The old condemned Gateway Imports warehouse down by the waterfront," he replied. "I decided if this had anything to do with all that weird stuff you guys are into, I wasn't gonna go in there alone, and since I'm not on the best of terms with the cops, I figured you guys were my best bet for backup."
"How can we know you're tellin' the truth?" Winston asked him, narrowing his gaze at the man.
"If Peter or Jillian are there, we should be able to pick up a reading from outside," Ray suggested.
"I'll load up the equipment," Winston said, ignoring Talbot and heading for the lockers.
"Wait!" Ray cried. "If it is Jillian, we can't use the packs on her. She's human."
"She's kidnaped Peter and Emma," Janine reminded him.
"But Ray's right. We'll need alternative methods to entrap her." Egon rubbed his chin.
Ray's eyes lit up. "I've got an idea. I'll need the alpha wave jammer we built to use against her last time and Mr. Talbot's listening equipment."
"Ray, the last time we used the jammer, it knocked us all out and Jillian got away with Pete!" Winston recalled.
"I don't have time to explain. I can rig it on the way."
"I think I have an idea what you have in mind," Egon replied.
"I'm glad somebody does," Talbot muttered.
"I'll get the jammer and the eavesdropping equipment," Stantz called already bounding up the stairs.
"I'm still gonna load the packs," Winston replied. "We still might need 'em."
"I'll be right back!" Janine called.
"Wait, Janine," Egon cried. "Where are you going?"
"To get suited up," she replied. "If you think you're gonna leave me behind this time, you're living in a fantasy world!" Her eyes met Egon's with grim determination.
Egon flashed her what was almost a smile. "I wouldn't think of stopping you," he replied.
Unspoken understanding passed between them, then Janine disappeared as Egon turned back to Talbot.
"I don't have any of that fancy equipment of yours, Spengler," the detective said, reaching around to the back of his waistband, "but I've got my friend here." He held up a small caliber revolver in the palm of his hand.
"We appreciate your assistance, Talbot, but you're not coming along on this ride," Egon told him.
"The hell I'm not!" the investigator replied. "I was hired to make sure nothing happened to that kid and I intend to do my job. Now, you can leave me here, but I do know the way and I'd be willing to bet you I could beat you there."
Egon regarded him closely. "If you believed Peter truly cared for Emma, as you have indicated both to us and to your employers, why were you still watching us? The Marshalls indicated they had finished with your services."
"Yeah, they said they had enough to believe you guys were on the up and up, and so did I, but that didn't explain the guy I saw watchin' this building that night. It bothered me, so, since I didn't have any other pressing assignments, I figured I'd keep an eye on the kid a while longer. Thought it might pay off."
"And it did." Egon relaxed a bit. "We're grateful, Mr. Talbot."
"I'll send you my bill," the man replied with a toothy grin.
Egon regarded him a moment longer, then headed for his locker. Ray returned moments later and pulled on his own jumpsuit while Winston and Egon finished loading Ecto. Ray jumped into the back of the converted ambulance and started disconnecting wires from Talbot's equipment.
"Hey, be careful with that stuff. It's expensive."
"Put it on the bill," Egon told him. "Janine!" he called out.
"I'm ready," she replied as she ran from behind the filing cabinets and jumped into the front seat of Ecto with Winston, who then backed the vehicle out of the garage and headed them toward the waterfront, siren screaming.
"Hello again, love."
At the sound of Jillian's voice, Peter's head snapped up, but he immediately squeezed his eyes closed as bright lights flooded the warehouse.
"I thought you preferred the darkness," he told her as he blinked against the glare.
"Not always. I wanted to make sure you had no trouble seeing your little Peaches, here."
Peter's eyes grew wide as he looked toward Jillian. As she stood before him, she threw off the hooded cloak and was once again clothed in the silky white robes of his hospital dream. She smiled at him, then turned and motioned to someone. Peter strained but could only make out a form in a dark coat and hat opening a door toward the back corner of the large main room where they were.
"Come forward, child. I promised you'd see your father and here he is."
Emma stepped hesitantly through the door, not even seeming to notice Jillian's henchman as her eyes fell on Peter in the cage.
"Dad!" she cried and broke into a run. Jillian didn't try to stop her as she rushed past, and flew against the cage. Peter pulled himself up on his knees and reached his arms through the bars to encircle her.
"Emma, are you all right?" he asked. "Did she hurt you?"
"I'm okay," the little girl sobbed. "She did something, I-I can't remember, but it must have knocked me out, because I woke up here. My head hurts, but not bad. Dad, I'm scared."
"I know," Peter whispered, "but we're gonna get out of this somehow. That's a promise from..." he sighed softly against her hair and amended his usual oath, "your father."
"How touching," Jillian stepped closer and Emma pressed herself tighter against the bars.
"Don't you touch her," Peter warned. "You've got me, Jillian, and as you yourself observed, I'm in no condition to fight you. Let her go and I'll do anything you want."
"No!" Emma cried, clutching at Peter. "Don't hurt him!"
Jillian laughed. "You'll do what I want anyway," she told Peter, "or I'll take out my considerable frustrations on your precious little girl. Now, come here to me, child. I wouldn't want you to be injured. Your father wouldn't like that."
Emma only held on tighter. "It's okay," Peter told her. "Be brave. Do as she says and move away." Then he leaned close to kiss her forehead and whispered. "I'll try to distract her. See if you can slip out and get help, but be careful."
Emma's eyes locked with his as she slowly started to back away. She had barely stepped out of his reach when Jillian arm wrapped around her neck. Peter cried out and Emma's hand pulled on the arm to try and break the hold, but Jillian was too strong.
"Nice try, darling, but you forget, I don't have to hear you to know what you're up to." With her free hand, she reached into her pocket and came out with something clenched in her fist. "I think it's time for you to go to sleep again, my dear." Her hand rose over Emma's head and when the fist opened, silvery dust rained down into the child's face. Her body went limp and Jillian released her grip and let her slide down to the floor.
"Emma!" Peter cried in horror.
"Not to worry, my dear. She's only asleep. You see, I'm not as patient as I used to be. I don't wait for people to fall asleep anymore, I help them along." She smirked. "Sleeping sand," she explained. "A formula I extracted from the collective memory of my father's race. Something I was unable to do before I learned the secrets of the darkness. I have you to thank for that, Peter. I never fully embraced that darkness before. There was always something about it I feared, but you sent me there against my will and I learned the only way to survive was to become one with it." She laughed again. "I know, you think I'm insane. And you are probably right. You still think of me as human. Well, you're right, I am. But I am also sandman. The part of me that is human possesses all those things that make a human weak, those dark demons of the soul that pray upon us all, the fears, the doubts, the terrors of the night. You used them to defeat me the last time we met. But as a sandman, I possess other powers. And in the pit of darkness, surrounded by the demons of my human soul, I learned just what I could do with those powers. And now, I'm going to teach you."
Peter stared as she stepped over Emma's motionless body and closer to his cage. "For most humans, the soul is an abstract concept. For you and your friends, it has, perhaps, a more tangible meaning. You have fought many for whom the soul is the only existence remaining. In the pit, I confronted the darkness of my own soul and I learned that my only hope was to surrender myself to it. By doing so, I became that darkness. And when I climbed back up out of the pit, I brought it with me. It's here." She laid her hand upon her chest. "Waiting just inside this human shell, and I brought you here to meet it, face to face, just like I did. First, it will destroy your body, then, it will absorb your soul. You will spend eternity within the embodiment of pure evil and you will be mine forever!"
She closed her eyes and brought the other hand up to rest on top of the one pressed over her heart. Her breathing deepened until her entire body seemed to rise and fall with each draw and release of air. The room itself seemed to pulse as from out of nowhere, a cold wind blew through, whipping at her white gown and making her long dark hair dance about her face. The gust cut through his cell, causing him to wrap his arms around himself against the bitter chill. The bright lights dimmed to almost nothing as the pace of her breathing increased.
Suddenly a shadow seemed to fall over Jillian like a dark cloud of smoke. She threw her head back and screamed as her arms flew wide, outstretched from her. Then she lowered her face toward him and her eyes snapped open, but instead of the hypnotic blue gaze that was so familiar to Peter, there was nothing but the blackness of polished obsidian staring straight at him.
The dark cloud surrounding her grew thicker. As impossible as it seemed, Peter was certain it was coming from within Jillian, oozing out of her and concealing her human form more every second. He could barely see her as the darkness became impenetrable and began to take on its own shape as it swelled to more than twice the size of the woman at its core.
All at once, it seemed to break free of her, lunging even closer to Peter's cell, its massive arms reaching toward the ceiling as it threw back its own head and roared. Then, just as Jillian had moments before, it brought its head back down and the shining black eyes now stared at Peter from the sockets of its mammoth head.
"This is my soul, Peter," Jillian cried from where she now stood behind the creature, her voice mad with joy. "My own personal demon, created from all the fear and hatred I found when you sent me to its domain. I have called it forth into the reality you cling to so dearly to exact vengeance for us both. It is a part of me, Peter, but you helped to create it and now it wants you as much as I did."
Peter fell back against the far wall of bars, his chest heaving painfully. The shadow creature was now almost solid as it moved closer to him.
"I told you before, Jillian, you can kill me, but you can never win."
"Oh, but I can," she replied. "Before, I wanted your love, now, I only desire your pain... and your soul!"
As he watched with horror, the enormous hands reached out and lifted the cage, tossing it aside as if it weighed nothing. Before Peter could take advantage of his new freedom, one giant paw reached down and encircled him in its iron grasp. A piercing cold like nothing he had ever felt radiated from the shadow's touch, penetrating his body down to his very core as it began to contract its fist.
Ray Stantz' cry broke through the frozen pain and he turned his head in the direction of the main entrance to see the occultist rush forward toward him and the beast, a strange dish-shaped device in his hands.
"No, Ray!" Peter cried. "Stay back!" His warning turned into a scream of agony as the shadow tightened its grip even more, shooting needles of cold pain through his body, and lifted the helpless man high into the air before he turned toward the new threat. With its other hand it took a massive swipe at Ray, but Peter never saw it. All that existed for him now was the cold and the pain and the fear.
"Ray! Look out!" Egon cried as he rushed through the door behind his younger partner and immediately saw the danger, but it was too late. The creature's paw seemed to have sprouted claws and as Ray tried to sidestep the sweeping motion, the sharp blades raked across his chest. Ray cried out in pain as the force of the blow knocked him halfway across the room, the device in his hands clattering as it struck and skidded across the concrete floor.
Egon started forward as Winston and Janine moved through the door behind him, their throwers already unshipped.
"Stop where you are!" Jillian cried as she hauled Emma's limp body up into her arms and placed a large knife blade against the child's throat. "If you try to interfere, I shall kill her!" she threatened.
Whether aroused by the sudden movement or the cacophony of noise or the unearthly cold of the room, Emma began to come to. She moaned as she tried to move her head.
"Emma! Keep still!" Egon cried before casting a worried glance toward Ray who lay in an unmoving heap where he had landed. A cry of pain carried his attention back to the shadow monster which had turned its attentions back to the helpless man in his clutches. Stark terror seemed to freeze him to the spot, a powerless spectator to the destruction of those who were dearest to him.
"Egon! We've got to do something!" Winston's voice penetrated his paralysis, and his mind desperately sought an answer.
"You do anything and the girl dies!" Jillian warned again.
Emma came awake with a start, her eyes focusing on the raging monster before her as it shook Peter like a rag doll.
"No!" she cried, then screamed as the creature held a lifeless Peter out toward her and Jillian as if displaying its prize.
"Your father will not die alone!" Jillian screamed, tightening her grip on the knife.
The unexpected cry came from behind the sandman's daughter and startled her momentarily into stillness. Before she could recover, her all but forgotten trenchcoated minion lunged forward and grabbed her arm, wrenching it and the knife away from Emma's throat. The girl managed to pull away and crawled across the floor away from the struggling pair. Jillian's strength prevailed as she pushed her attacker to the floor, knocking off her former subordinate's hat and freeing a cascade of blond hair.
"It's a woman!" Janine cried.
"Mary!" Egon exclaimed suddenly recognizing the nurse they had all believed dead.
"You dare to defy me?!" Jillian screamed as she leaned over the prone woman drawing the knife high over her head in preparation to strike. Egon and Winston both broke free of their stunned passivity to rush forward.
A single gun shot rang out and Jillian cried out in pain as the knife flew from her hand. She grabbed her arm and stumbled back several steps.
"Stay away from me!" she cried, pointing toward where the shadow creature still held Peter, "or I shall command his destruction."
Egon froze and grabbed Winston's arm to stop him.
"M-Mom?" Emma gasped in disbelief as she realized the woman lying half-dazed on the floor not a dozen feet from her was her mother and she started crawling toward her. As soon as she reached her side, Mary Marshall opened her arms and wrapped them around the sobbing child.
"Let him go, Jillian," Egon cried, stepping in front of Emma and her mother. "Your game is over."
"Oh, no, Dr. Spengler," she replied, the twisted smile returning to her lips. "You cannot stop my revenge. As your friend Peter once said to me, you may kill me, but I will still win. I have given him over to the darkness of my soul, and you can't stop it. You may kill me, but you can't destroy my shadow."
"Egon, what do we do?" Janine cried.
"I can take her out, Spengler," Jack Talbot called as he stepped forward, his revolver aimed for another shot.
"No!" Egon held out his hand to warn the man back. "We don't know what it would do to Peter."
As if the mention of his name invoked some sort of reaction, the psychologist cried out once more in pain as the shadow tightened its fist around his middle.
"Egon, we have to do something," Winston whispered urgently. "It's gonna kill Peter!" If it hadn't already, they all realized as they saw the lifeless body hanging limply in the shadow's hand.
"We'll have to use the streams on the creature," Egon replied.
"But we could hit Peter!" Janine warned.
"It's the only chance we have," Egon replied, taking aim with his own thrower as Winston and Janine reluctantly joined him. "Now!" he cried. The three streams shot out simultaneously, but instead of striking the creature, they seemed to pass right through it.
"This isn't working!" Winston cried. "It's like it wasn't even there."
"It isn't," Egon realized. "It's a manifestation of Jillian's mind. We can't strike at it directly."
"Everybody down now!" came a cry from across the room. Talbot reacted instantly and Winston grabbed Janine, pulling her down as he dropped. Egon spun and fell on top of Mary and Emma, covering their heads with his arms just as a painfully high-pitched wall of sound erupted from the side of the room from which the warning had been issued. As it enveloped Jillian, her scream was all but lost in the wake of the sonic weapon. An instant later, a roar of pain issued from the shadow to join the ear-splitting discord.
Egon risked a glance toward the source of the blast and saw Ray, still lying on the floor, but with the device he had constructed in his hands, the dish from the parabolic microphone aimed at Jillian.
As another howl issued from the shadow, Spengler turned his head just enough that he could see the effect on the beast. Only seconds after the blast struck the woman from which the creature had sprung, the shadow released its hold on Peter, dropping him several feet to the hard floor, before raising its hands to its ears, duplicating Jillian's movement.
"Crawl!" Egon commanded Emma and Mary, "but keep as low as you can. Move toward Ray, but stay out of the line of fire!"
"Egon?" Emma's voice was full of fear.
"Just move, Emma. I'm going to try and get to Peter. Do it, now!"
The tone of the physicist's voice spurred the girl into action as she tugged at her mother to follow. Mary's movements were sluggish and her expression still dazed as if she wasn't really aware of what was going on, but she allowed herself to be coaxed into moving with her daughter.
By the time they reached Ray's side, Winston and Janine had also moved to join the injured occultist. The front of Stantz' jumpsuit was in blood-soaked tatters and the strain of maintaining the jamming beam was evident in the clenching of his jaw and the sweat that covered his brow, even in the frigid warehouse. As soon as they reached him, Winston added his support to the arm that held the weapon on target, steadying Ray with his other arm around the younger man's back.
The effects of the weapon were evident as Jillian's body seemed to writhe within the beam, her hands still pressed against her head and ears as she screamed in pain. The creature she had called forth was also in pain, but it seemed oblivious to Ray and his weapon which were not directed at it, but at Jillian. The creature turned toward Jillian as it identified her as the source of its own agony. At that same moment, Jillian recognized the new danger as she started to stumble backward away from her shadow.
Egon managed to reach Peter just as the creature turned toward the dark-haired woman. With no time to check on his friend's condition, Egon grasped the unconscious man under his arms and dragged him across the floor as far away from Jillian and her shadow as he could get, then he sank down beside him, pulled the unresponsive man into his arms and leaned his own body over him protectively.
"NOOOOO!" Jillian screamed as she held out her hands in a vain attempt to stop the creature. "Stop! You cannot harm me! You are a part of me! I brought you into this world to exact my revenge! Stop! STOP!"
Under the continuing onslaught of the modified alpha wave jammer, she lost her balance and fell backward as the creature advanced upon her, its arms raised high above its head as it roared once more. Then, as when it had attacked Ray, its fingers transformed into razor sharp claws. It roared down at Jillian and its mouth suddenly seemed to be filled with teeth like spikes. In one massive movement that seemed to take place in slow motion, it brought the claws down on the woman from whose dark mind it had been born. Jillian's last scream died in a choked gasp as the claws of her dark soul sank into her all too human flesh.
Across the room, Janine grabbed Emma and turned the child's face against her own chest as she too turned away from the horrific sight. Ray's hand fell away from the trigger of the jammer that was now superfluous and dropped his face against Winston's arm. The ex-soldier also turned his head as he cradled Ray against him. Only Mary Marshall watched as the woman who had taken over her mind met her final destruction. Her expression was almost blank, but had anyone been watching, they might have detected a hint of a satisfied smile.
Across the room, Egon did not raise his head until the last of the screams and roars died away. The end came suddenly, the last echoes fading into an eerie silence. When Egon looked toward the place where the final confrontation had taken place, there was no sign of the shadow creature. All that was left was a grotesquely twisted mass lying in a pool of blood. The scientist's eyes did not linger on the sickening image.
"Peter?" he whispered as he turned his attention to the icy cold body in his arms. The pale waxen quality of Peter's skin caused his stomach to knot achingly and his hand trembled as he reached for the pulse point on his friend's neck, frighten of what he might not find.
But it was there, not strong, but steady and marginally reassuring, as was the gentle rise and fall of Venkman's chest that he was only now able to discern.
"Peter?" he called again, gently stroking the injured man's face. "Can you hear me? It's over. It's all over."
To his intense relief, Peter stirred, his head moving slightly as Egon continued to softly call his name. After an eternity in which Egon almost forgot to breathe himself, the younger man's eyelids fluttered open.
"It's all right," Egon assured him quickly. "Don't try to talk. Save your strength. It's all over."
"Emma is safe," he told him, then looked up across the floor toward the small huddle on the other side of the room. Winston was holding Ray in much the same way Egon held Peter. Janine still held onto Emma and her mother, and Talbot had just spoken to Winston and was even now turning toward the door. The detective paused for a moment to take in the grisly sight before them before taking off at a run. As he looked back toward his friends, Egon's eyes locked with Janine's. She took a deep breath, glanced toward Ray, then nodded, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Egon glanced down at Peter and nodded back. He saw her sigh with relief before he turned back to Peter.
"Emma is with Janine," he told the psychologist. "And I believe Mr. Talbot is going for help."
"J-Jillian?" Peter asked.
"She won't be hurting anyone again," Egon replied, his tone so cold and unforgiving it caused Peter to force open his eyes to examine his friend's expression. "She's dead," Egon explained.
"How?" Peter asked.
"The details will take a lot of explanation," Egon replied, looking away from his friend for a moment, carefully avoiding the center of the room, "but in the final analysis, she brought about her own destruction." He looked back down at Peter, worry once again clouding his features. "Can you tell where you're injured?" he asked.
"D-Don't know," Peter replied. "J-Just... so tired. C-Cold."
Egon immediately pulled him up closer against his body wrapping his arms around Venkman's shoulders.
"Are you in any pain?" he asked.
Peter shook his head. "S-So tired."
The faint wail of sirens sounded in the distance as Egon leaned his head against Peter's. "Just stay with me a little while longer, then you can rest," he assured him.
Peter's hand came up and rested on the blond man's arm, gripping the sleeve weakly. "N-Not... going... an-anywhere," he replied.
Egon closed his eyes, content to feel Peter's breath against his throat as they waited for help to arrive.
"How do you feel this morning?" Egon asked as he stepped into Peter's hospital room.
"Not too bad," the psychologist replied. "How's Ray?"
"The doctor's letting him go home today," Egon smiled. "Winston is helping him pack right now."
Peter returned the smile. "That's great!"
At that moment, the door opened and a very attractive nurse stepped in.
"Time for your medication, Dr. Venkman," she announced as she stepped closer to Peter. "And I'm going to need to take your temperature and listen to your lungs."
"Again?" Peter complained. "Weren't you just in here ten minutes ago?"
The nurse smiled tolerantly as she handed her patient the small paper cup containing his pills.
"Would you like me to step outside?" Egon asked, but the young woman shook her head.
"Not necessary," she told him.
Egon moved back from the bed and watched as she placed the thermometer in Peter's mouth, took hold of his wrist and gazed at her watch as she took his pulse.
Egon's mind drifted back almost a week to the day they'd fought against Jillian Lester for the last time. He had held Peter's wrist as he'd waited for the paramedics to arrive, he'd listened to his shallow breathing and gazed down upon his pale face, all the while praying that the next beat or the next breath would not be the last.
When medical help did arrive, it had arrived in abundance. Talbot had apparently told the dispatcher that several people had been seriously injured, so multiple units had been dispatched. It hadn't taken long before the entire warehouse was crawling with paramedics and police.
Egon had ridden to the hospital in the ambulance with Peter, leaving Winston to watch over Ray and Janine to see to Emma and her mother. He could still recall the dazed, not quite aware look in Mary Marshall's eyes as she and her daughter clung to each other.
It had been after their arrival at the hospital that he had gotten his first good look at Ray, and he was suddenly shaken all over again at the seriousness of Stantz' condition. He had been so focused on Peter that he hadn't considered that Ray's life could also be in danger, until, having given Peter over to the doctors for treatment, he turned to see Ray wheeled in from the second ambulance. At that point, he was still wrestling with the fears that he could lose Peter; seeing Ray made him realize, he could lose both of them. Had it not been for Winston's support, physically as well as emotionally, he would never have made it past the first few hours of waiting.
But the claws of the creature had not penetrated deeply and with a transfusion to restore the blood he had lost, Ray responded well and quickly. The cuts across his chest were painful, but would heal. The doctors warned there would probably be some scarring, but even that could be minimized with proper treatment.
After that, all the attention had returned to Peter. It was quickly determined that the grip of the shadow had cracked two ribs and bruised most of the rest. Egon shuddered to think what might have happened had the ribs actually been broken as he had been forced to drag Peter across the room, then lifted him into his arms to warm him. A broken rib could have easily punctured a lung. That, luckily, hadn't happened.
The doctors' main concern became the effects of the intense cold on his already weakened condition. When he arrived at the hospital, Peter had been suffering from mild hypothermia as well as shock. The first 24 hours of his treatment had focused on the administering of massive amounts of antibiotics to preclude his developing pneumonia. On top of the bronchitis and the chemical toxin still weakening his system and now the added problem of his cracked ribs, the last thing he needed was to contract a respiratory infection.
Now, a week later, Peter was past the crisis physically, but Egon knew from experience that the emotional repercussions were still ahead.
The nurse finished her duties and left with a smile and a warning to Egon not to overtire her patient. It was a sign of just how far Peter was from feeling well that he didn't even seem to notice how pretty the young red-headed nurse was.
"You know, Spengs, you never did tell me what that thing was that Ray had," he reminded Egon as he stepped back up next to his bed. "Something our boy genius came up with just in the nick of time?"
"You're actually quite correct. Just before we left for the warehouse, after Talbot provided your location, of course, Ray thought of using the parabolic dish from the detective's listening equipment, rewiring it through a theta circuit and connecting it to the alpha wave jammer we built to use against Jillian the last time we encountered her. The theta circuit cut down on the feedback and the dish concentrated and directed the beam. I fear the ambient sound was still quite painful to bystanders, but it did not have the force to render us unconscious as it did the last time."
"I'll bet Talbot was steamed at you cannibalizing his toys."
"Actually, he was quite satisfied with our payment for his services."
"Payment!" the patient shouted. "As in money?"
"Peter, calm down. Without Mr. Talbot's assistance we would have never found you in time. Whatever the cost, it was worth it. Besides, he gave us his bargain rate."
"I'm sure," Peter replied skeptically. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then turned his attention back to Spengler. "Egon, do you really think that thing was Jillian's soul?"
"I suppose that would depend on how you define the soul. It most certainly was a manifestation created by Jillian from the darkest parts of her own mind. Somehow in her plunge into madness she found a way to tap into powers she hadn't been able to channel before. Whether the creation could have entrapped your soul as she threatened, we will luckily never know. But the potential for destruction is frightening, had she escaped to give those abilities free reign. We were very lucky to have defeated her." He chuckled. "Of course, she truly defeated herself."
"You mean because that shadow of hers turned on her like Frankenstein's monster?"
"Not exactly," Egon replied. "She created the shadow to exact her revenge on you. That might have succeeded on its own, but it wasn't enough to satisfy her. She wanted to destroy the thing you loved the most-Emma. Unfortunately for her, she neglected to take into account that Emma was the one thing Mary loved most. Perhaps it was because Jillian was directing so much of her powers of control toward the shadow that her control over Mary was weakened, or perhaps it was simply that a threat on the life of her child alone was enough to break through the conditioning. In either case, unable to defeat love the last time, Jillian tried to use the love of a parent for a child as a weapon against you this time, only to have that same love be the power that defeated her once again."
"Perhaps," Egon replied.
"So, how's Mary now?"
"The consensus seems to be that she will require quite a bit of therapy to resolve the emotional trauma of the past few months," Egon replied. "She is still having problems differentiating between what are her actual memories and those planted by Jillian, and most of the past few weeks are nothing more than a blur right now. The psychiatrist on staff thinks she will recover, however. The good news is, she seems to be determined to overcome this and get on with her life, and she's agreed to accept help from her in-laws. They have offered her a home until she is able to once again resume her normal life. She has said, however, that she will not be returning to psychiatric nursing anytime in the foreseeable future."
"I understand that," Peter replied, then shook his head. "This is all my fault, Egon. All that she went through was because Jillian was using her to get to me."
"It is not your fault," Egon said firmly. "You are in no way responsible for the actions of a demented woman who chose to involve innocent people to further her own mad obsessions."
"All right, maybe it's not my fault, but nothing would have happened to Mary if she hadn't had the connection to me." He raised his hand to silence the older man when he was about to respond. "But," he added quickly, "at least one good thing did come of it. I found my daughter." He smiled, and Egon returned the expression.
"Emma is doing very well," he told him. "I think knowing her mother is alive has helped enormously, even if she has a long way to go to get back to where she was. I do think, however, now that she knows both you and Mary will be all right, she is beginning to wonder about the future."
Peter shook his head. "I haven't been able to think of much else," he admitted. "When Mary gets out of the hospital, I'm sure she'll want custody back, and I can understand that, but I don't want to lose Emma either, not now, not when we've come so far together." He sighed heavily. "For right now, I guess we'll just have to take it one day at a time. Mary is in no condition right now to be responsible for a child, so I think Em is better off with us for the time being."
"Have you checked into your legal position?" Spengler asked.
"I called Mr. Parsons and he's supposed to stop by this afternoon. All I do know is that whatever happens has to be in Emma's best interests. I have to believe we can find a way to resolve this whole thing without any battles between us." He closed his eyes. "You know, it's like getting a divorce without ever having been married."
"You probably should be getting some rest," Egon said, noticing the signs exhaustion on Peter's face. "We'll be back to visit this afternoon and Emma will be with us."
"I can't wait," Peter grinned.
Before Egon could move away from the bed, there was a knock at the door and Dr. Chandler leaned his head around.
"Just checking to make sure you hadn't walked out on me... again!"
Peter chuckled. "How many times are you gonna make me apologize for that, Doc? I told you I had a really good excuse."
"A really good excuse to almost get yourself killed?"
Peter shrugged. "It's what we do for a living."
Chandler shook his head as he stepped up next to Egon. "Well, you'll be happy to know that this time, we're gonna kick you out before you take a powder."
"I'm sprung?" Peter asked excitedly.
"Contingent on the results of this morning's tests, which I feel certain will be good, I'm releasing you to your friends' custody this evening. But you aren't released to return to work yet. That will take a few weeks, and I expect you in here, or your own doctor's office, once a week until your final release from treatment."
"You got it, Doc. I promise to be good as gold."
"More to the point," Egon added, "we will promise to make sure he obeys doctor's orders," he looked sternly at Peter, "to the letter."
"I'm depending on it," Chandler replied. "Now, I'm gonna go visit some patients who know how to be sick." He waved his farewells and left the room.
"I don't understand what makes him think I don't know how to be sick!" Peter gave Egon a crooked smile, which left the physicist shaking his head.
"You'll get away with it for a while," he admitted. "We're all ready to cater to your every whim... for at least a couple of days."
"Weeks, did you say?" Peter asked, his hand behind his ear, but the cheerful expression faded. "I'll take whatever I can get as long as I can get home."
Egon caught his hand and gave it a squeeze. "We'll be back to pick you up as soon as we get the go ahead. Count on us."
"I always have and I always will," the psychologist replied seriously, returning the squeeze before releasing Egon's hand.
Peter was just finishing getting dressed when someone knocked on his door.
"I'm all ready, guys!" he called, but when he turned toward the door, he saw Bennett Parsons peaking around the door. "Mr. Parsons. I'm sorry, I thought you were my friends come to take me home. Come on in."
"I'm glad your doing so much better, Dr. Venkman."
"Thanks. I feel a lot better. Thank you for stopping by."
Parsons seemed hesitant. "Dr. Venkman, there is something I have to discuss with you and I'm afraid..."
Peter held out his hand to stop him. "I understand that now that Mary's been found to be alive, you're probably a little uncomfortable working for me, but..."
"No, Dr. Venkman, that isn't it, although you may wish to consider hiring your own attorney. I am afraid, however, after I tell you what I came here to discuss, there may be no point."
Peter frowned as he sank down on the side of the bed. "What is it, Mr. Parsons?"
"The results of your blood tests came back a few days ago. I thought it prudent to wait until you were somewhat recovered to discuss them with you." The attorney looked away, then back at Peter. "I'm afraid there is no easy way to say this, Dr. Venkman. The test were conclusive. I even ordered them repeated to make certain the results were accurate." He paused again, his very reluctance causing Peter's heart to pound. "Dr. Venkman, Emma is not your daughter."
"What?!" he cried in shock, launching himself to his feet. "What are you talking about? Of course, I'm her father. Mary said so on the tape and in her affidavit."
"Yes, I am aware of that, but as I understand it, Mrs. Marshall was under the influence of some kind of mind control at the time. This Lester woman was able to plant thoughts into her mind that made her believe her memories to be quite different from what was really the truth. In any case, the blood tests confirm that you could not be Emma Marshall's father."
Peter felt the blood drain from his face and his knees threatening to buckle under him. Grabbing for the side of the bed, he sat down once more as he tried to understand just what Parsons had told him. "It was all part of Jillian's trick?" He shook his head. "But that's impossible." He looked up at Parsons, almost begging the man to recant what he had just said. "She has my eyes and the same color hair."
"As I told you when we first met, Dr. Marshall's coloring was quite like yours."
"But..." he fumbled for the right words, "it's just not possible. She's my daughter, Mr. Parsons. I feel it, deep down inside. We connected on a level that's too deep not to be real."
"Dr. Venkman, I'm very sorry, but..."
"Mr. Parsons, I love Emma. You can't take her away from me now." He could hear himself pleading with the man, and even though he knew he was putting Parsons in an impossible position, he just couldn't accept what he was being told. "She's a part of me," he finished in a whisper, more to himself than to the lawyer.
"Believe me, Dr. Venkman, I certainly sympathize with how you feel. I have seen how much affection exists between you and Miss Marshall." Peter cringed at the name. "But the fact is, she is not your daughter."
Peter looked up at the man, desperation in his eyes. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked.
Parsons took a deep breath before speaking again. "I talked to Mrs. Marshall this morning. She is still unsure of her own memories of events, but she has agreed to place her personal affairs into voluntary conservatorship, with Dr. Marshall's parents acting on her behalf. At the moment, your custody of Emma is still in effect, but I am quite certain, knowing how the Marshalls feel about their grandchild, that they will petition the court immediately for guardianship until such time as the child's mother is able to function in that capacity. When that happens, you will have no choice but to relinquish custody of the child to them. You really have no legal claim over Emma."
"I could fight them," he replied, knowing even as he said it, it was not an option. Parsons knew it too.
"You won't," the lawyer replied. "In the end, you would lose and it would not be good for the child. She will end up with the Marshalls, Dr. Venkman. It is within your power to make that transition an easier one for her. If you were to fight, knowing that Emma truly does love you, you could likely turn her against her grandparents, but you would be condemning her to a life filled with hatred instead of love, and I know you won't do that." He put his hand on Peter's shoulder. "You see, Dr. Venkman, I know you love Emma. And I know you'll do what's best for her, even if it is painful for you. Believe me, I am sorry it has to be this way."
Peter met the other man's gaze. "So am I," he replied.
Parsons took his hand away and stepped back. "I think I should leave you to sort things through now. I believe you should have a day or two before the Marshalls can take action. Don't wait too long, however. It will be better, I think, if the child hears this news from you and has some time to come to terms with it. I do know the Marshalls were impressed with you. If you don't make this difficult for them, I think they might be willing to allow you to maintain contact with Emma... as a friend."
Peter laughed, although his eyes stung with barely contained tears. "A friend."
"At least, you both can hold onto something of what you found with each other. Goodbye, Dr. Venkman."
Without waiting for a reply, Parsons turned and left the room, leaving Peter alone.
More alone than he had felt in a long time.
Fifteen minutes later, Emma burst into the room, followed closely by Egon and Janine.
"Hey, Dad!" the girl cried, "are you ready to go home?"
"You bet, Peaches," Peter replied smiling broadly as he opened his arms to her. She jumped into the embrace, knocking Peter back on the bed as he gathered her against him with a groan of pain.
"Oh, my gosh!" she exclaimed. "Did I hurt you?"
Peter smiled. "Ribs are still a little tender, that's all. But not enough to stop me from hugging my favorite girl. I love you so much, Emma," he sighed, squeezing his eyes tightly closed.
"I love you, too, Dad," she replied.
Egon who watched the display felt his own smile fade as he saw a pain in his friend's face that had nothing to do with his physical injuries and he knew instinctively that something was wrong.
"Did the doctor give you the green light?" he asked.
"Yep," Peter replied, forcing a lightness into his tone that wasn't really there. "I'm all packed up and ready to be pampered and coddled."
"Winston and Ray are waiting for us back at the firehouse," Emma told him. "We're ordering gourmet pizzas!"
"I'll bet Slimer will just love that," Peter replied. As Emma started to pull away, Peter held her fast.
"Dad?" she asked, obviously feeling the tension radiating from his body. "Are you okay?"
Immediately, he released her, placing the smile back on his face as she looked up at him. "I'm fine, sweetheart and I'm definitely ready to blow this pop stand."
Egon felt Janine's hand on his arm and he turned to see the look of concern on her face that told him she had caught the same sense of wrongness he had.
"Come on, Em," the secretary called. "Let's go make sure all the papers are ready and get some poor unsuspecting nurse to bring a wheelchair for our invalid."
"You need a wheelchair?" Emma asked Peter in concern.
"Hospital rule," Egon told her. "They don't want any accidents before the patient leaves, so everyone gets to ride out."
"You know how it is," Peter ran his finger along her cheek. "Have to play by the rules."
"Come on, Em," Janine prompted again. After a moments pause, Emma took her hand and left the room with her. Egon moved immediately to Peter's side, his hand on his friend's arm.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," Peter denied.
"Tell that to someone who doesn't know you," the scientist replied.
Peter sighed and sat back down before looking up at his old friend.
"Parsons was here. The test results came back. It seems Jillian gets the final laugh after all. It was all part of her plan." He swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Emma isn't my daughter."
Egon gasped. "Are you sure?"
Peter nodded. "Parsons said they ran the test twice." He ran his hands over his face. "She managed to get her revenge after all, didn't she?"
Egon sat down next to him, his arm going around the younger man's shoulders. "I'm so sorry, Peter." Peter made no reply. "What are you going to do?" Egon asked.
Peter shrugged. "Nothing else I can do. Parsons figures it'll take the Marshalls a couple of days to get the courts to grant them custody. I have to tell her tonight so she'll be prepared." He was rapidly losing his struggle to control his emotions as tears began to escape his tightly closed eyes. "I don't know what I'm gonna say, Egon. It was so hard to convince her that I was her father, that I wanted to be her father. Now I have to tell her it was all a lie."
"No," Egon replied. "It wasn't all a lie. Nothing changes the way you feel or the way she feels about you."
"No, but she won't be mine."
Egon pulled him into his arms and held him as the tears continued to fall. "Peter, one thing we've all learned over the years is that blood has very little to do with feelings. You and I aren't related by blood, and yet, I venture to say, no closer relationship exists on this planet than the bond we feel for each other. You and I and Ray and Winston and Janine, we're all family by choice. Nothing can change that, and nothing can take away the love that exists between you and Emma either."
"They can't take away the love, but they can take her away," he replied. "I won't be there to see her grow up. I have no rights."
"You have the right to care and to always be there when she needs you. She'll know that."
"How will she know?" Peter asked, pulling away to meet Egon's gaze. "How will she understand anything after I tell her she has to go away?"
"She'll understand because you'll tell her and you'll make her believe."
"How?" he asked again.
"Because you love her and she knows that and because she loves you, Peter. Love is a lot stronger than most people believe. You of all people should remember that lesson."
The psychologist took a deep breath. "I remember," he replied, "but it doesn't make it hurt any less."
"I know, but if helps at all, please know that you are not alone and neither is Emma. She became a part of our family as you have always been, and we stand beside those we love."
Peter sniffed loudly and wiped at the dampness on his face. "It helps," he replied. "I'd better pull myself together. They'll be back any minute."
"When are you going to tell her?"
Peter thought for a minute. "After dinner, I think. Let her enjoy the homecoming."
"We're all very lucky, Peter. Jillian didn't win. We're all still here, alive and soon to be well. She caused us pain, yes, but we are strong enough to get through this, just like we always have... together."
"Together," Peter whispered, but Egon knew from the haunted expression in his friend's eyes, Peter was thinking of the one person he loved that soon would not be together with them.
Peter did his best during dinner to hide the turmoil he felt inside, but it wasn't enough to keep his friends and the girl he had believed was his daughter from knowing something was wrong. Every time he would laugh nervously, trying to cover some slip in the mask he was trying to wear, she would stare at him or he would feel her hand on his, and the emotions would swell up in him to the point where it was nearly impossible to hold them inside. Finally, as the meal neared its end, Emma leaned in, running her arms along his sides and laying her ear against his chest.
"Dad, something's wrong. Please tell us. I'm scared."
His arms wrapping around her, Peter bit his lip to hold his anguish inside. His eyes, once more full of tears, met Egon's across the table from him, then moved left and right at each worried face around the table, and finally back to Egon, who nodded wordlessly. Peter's eyes closed for a second, his own silent acknowledgment to his friend, then he took hold of Emma's arms and gently pried her lose.
"Em, we need to talk. What say we take a walk up to the fourth floor, okay?"
"Okay," she replied, but the look in her eyes told him she was anything but reassured.
As Peter took her hand and led her out of the kitchen, his friends watched. When they heard the door to the roof close, Ray was the first one to speak.
"Egon, what's going on? There's something you and Peter aren't telling us. Is it something with Peter's medical condition? The toxin, was it worse than they thought?"
Egon raised his hand to still Ray's anxious questioning. "No, Ray, Peter is physically well on the road to full recovery. He's just suffered another emotional blow on top of what Jillian put him through. In a way, you could say, she's still managing to hurt him."
"What?" Janine asked. "How? She's dead."
"But the havoc she reeked is still there to be dealt with." The physicist looked at Ray as he replied. "Peter found out today that Jillian somehow altered Mary's memories to make her believe that Peter was Emma's father in order to set up this elaborate scheme for revenge."
"But Peter is Em's father!" Ray objected.
Egon shook his head. "The blood tests proved he was not."
"Oh, my Lord," Winston sighed, laying his hands flat against the table and staring at the cloth between them. "After all he went through trying to win her trust and her love and now..."
"But Mary isn't capable of taking care of her." Janine objected. "At least not now. Peter is all Emma has."
"Emma's grandparents have offered to help Mary and Emma until Mary recovers. The doctors have every hope that she will soon be able to distinguish between what is truth and the lies Jillian fed to her."
"So, the Marshalls will get their granddaughter after all," Winston observed, and Egon nodded.
"After we got home this afternoon, Peter telephoned them. They've agreed to leave Emma with us for two days. They're coming down Friday to take her and her mother back to Boston with them. Peter also spoke with Dr. Clayton at Columbia and has arranged for one of the best psychiatrists in Boston to take over Mary's case."
"But, Egon, it's so unfair," Ray protested. "How can he let her go when he loves her so much?"
"Because he has no choice," Egon replied. "I'm under no illusions. This is tearing Peter apart even more than the battle to win her trust. He will require all our love and support to help him through this."
"You know he's got it, homeboy," Winston replied. "Anything we can do, anything we have to do, we do, for Pete."
Janine sniffed as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Egon turned and opened his arms and that's all it took to prompt her to lean into his embrace. Across the table, Ray lowered his own face into his hands, and Winston began rubbing his shaking shoulders as the tender-hearted young occultist cried. As they shared a look, Egon could see tears in Winston's eyes as well, and he realized Peter wasn't the only one who was paying the price for Jillian's treachery. His own eyes were dry, only because he had already faced this moment with Peter earlier. Then, he had cried too.
As he held Janine and listened to her sobs and Ray's, his eyes traveled to the ceiling, his thoughts on the roof with Peter and Emma, feeling the pain that he knew his friend was in. His hand began to stroke Janine's hair as he realized his eyes were no longer dry.
(Continued in Part 6)