Spooky: Read It And Reap
Art by ghostkomorichu
“I'm afraid this month may be a bit tight,” Echo said with an audible sigh over breakfast.
“Huh? Why?” Komo asked, his glowing green eyebrows arching up in surprise.
“It's just been a bad month money wise,” the ghostly Uni explained.
“Cards haven't been very lucky the last couple of weeks,” Claw admitted. The ghost Draik stretched, and then continued, “But bad luck streaks don't last very long. It'll turn around soon.”
“It wouldn't be a problem -- except bills are due the first day of the month,” Echo added.
“Well, aren't you all just so lucky that you've got me,” a smug voice chimed in. “Especially with our resident Korbat suddenly unemployed.”
Komo turned to glare at the Mynci. “It's not like I'm not going to get another job, Tombstones,” the glowing Korbat retorted.
The Halloween Mynci stroked his scythe. “Of course not,” he cooed. “I could line you up with a very cushy job over in the graveyard, you know.”
“Just ignore him, Komo,” Echo advised. “Tombstones, be nice.”
“I was being nice!” the Mynci protested. “Capretz is hiring for day shift after Vinci and Arty retired and moved to Qasala.”
Komo tuned out the Uni and the Mynci and switched his attention to the newspaper. A bold lettered advertisement caught his attention, and upon a second reading of it, the glowing Korbat grinned broadly. “Hey, this job looks promising.”
“Is that Mrs. Luvrette's job for a busboy at her pie shop?” Tombstones asked. “I know the offered pay is good, but her store creeps me out.”
“I've always found Mrs. Luvrette to be a very nice person,” Echo said, throwing Tombstones an odd look. “Sometimes she and I exchange recipes.”
“Oh sure, she's nice and all, but sometimes her and my business overlap a bit too much for my liking.”
“Tombstones, you don't cook.”
“Actually,” Komo interrupted, “this job is right up your alley, Tombstones.” Holding up the paper, he read aloud, “Seeking highly motivated individuals for full time positions. Flexible hours, benefits, options for traveling, salaried pay. Contact Ian Chesterton for information about openings in our secretarial, records, and reaping positions.” Komo looked at the Mynci with a grin. “I could be a reaper like you!” he finished brightly.
“In your dreams,” Tombstones retorted, snatching the newspaper away from the glowing Korbat.
“So how would this work?” Komo asked, “Would I go into work with you and give them my resume?”
Komo smirked to himself as he followed the sulking Mynci up to a tall wooden building. Tombstones had refused to say anything to the small Korbat for the whole walk, and didn't look like he was planning on changing the arrangement any time soon. A small bell rang as the lanky Mynci pushed open the door, causing a pink Aisha to look up from the contraption she was fiddling with.
“Evening, Stones,” she greeted with a smile. “You're in early.”
“I've got a tag-along to see Ian about the advertisement in the paper.”
Komo blinked at Tombstones's change of voice. The small Korbat was very familiar with Tombstones's cocky and self assured drawl; this crisp businesslike tone was something new.
“So that's why you've got a little friend.” The Aisha gave Komo a friendly smile and a small wave. “Hello, I'm Caroline. Ian's office is just down the hall – the last door on the left. You should head on in and see him before we start getting busy tonight.”
Komo took his time as he walked down the narrow hallway. Old paintings, portraits and sketches covered the walls, nearly to the point where one couldn't tell the color or the pattern of the wallpaper underneath. He was assuming that it was wallpaper; otherwise, judging from the bits that were uncovered, it was a very poor paint job with a myriad of colors in odd blotches and streaks. He was tempted to search them for pictures of Tombstones, but with the number of framed faces to search it would have most likely taken him all night to look at them all. At least he'd have something to occupy himself with if he ever had to wait a long time in here.
Instead he read the door labels on the many doorways. “Equipment” the first one read, where Komo assumed they kept the scythes like Tombstones always carried. “Evidence” was a little harder to guess the purpose for. It occurred to Komo that he wasn't exactly sure what a Reaper did. Tombstones always said it was his job to “make the living into little ghosties,” but Komo knew Tombstones well enough to realize that this was the same Mynci who carefully scooped up any Spyders he found in the house into a cup and carried them out safely to a bush or shrub – often with a lecture about how if Claw had found them first they'd have found themselves suddenly sludged, squished, or in some other unfortunate state. Tombstones was a little weird, but Komo didn't think the Mynci was actually capable of hurting somebody. Pausing at another door marked “Containment,” Komo hoped he was right. Arriving at the last door, Komo couldn't help but grin at the label “Main Office: The Big Boss Ian Chesterton” with smaller letters underneath that added, “Unless Barbra Chesterton is in, at which point always defer to her.” Suddenly feeling much better, Komo rapped on the aged wooden door.
“Come in,” a slightly harried voice called from the other side.
The door creaked slightly as Komo pushed it open, revealing a slightly cluttered office. The Korbat couldn't help but stare in fascination at the various objects around the room; a worn map of Neopia took up a whole wall, while the others were covered with laden shelves. Komo stared in fascination at a small clockwork... robot? Toy? A clockwork... something, that seemed to be contained under a tall glass dome.
“Sorry about the mess,” the desk apologized.
Komo boggled at the desk, until an orange Kyrii head popped up behind it. “I've been trying to put this thing back together, but going has been slow.” The Kyrii made a jabbing motion at a pile of what appeared to be scrap metal.
Seeing no rhyme or reason to the jumbled pile of metal, Komo didn't feel like much had been explained. “Err, what is it?”
“I have no idea. That's why I'm having such a hard time putting it back together.” Jerking a thumb at the glass-contained clockwork mechanism, the Kyrii continued, “I suspect it was created by the same mysterious person who made Juicer over there.”
Rubbing the grease off his hands, the Kyrii grinned. “But I'm sure that's not what you came to see me about. You're Stones's brother, aren't you? What can I do for you?”
“Well, I saw your advertisement in the paper...”
Half an hour later, a very smug Komo followed Ian out of the office and down the hall. This one's in the bag, he thought to himself with a grin.
“Sir?” Caroline called, “We just got a red-slip from Hopkins's Batterfly. Looks like our US is at it again.”
“Where?” Ian barked.
“The Boxhall estate, sir.”
“Dulcy, Stones, get on it. Take Komo with you.”
“What?” Tombstones protested. “I'm not taking Komo in there!”
The orange Kyrii shook his head. “Only way to learn is to jump in and start doing it.”
“But Echo will kill me!”
Komo suspected that the muffled snickering sound he heard had come from Caroline, but the Korbat was pretty sure he could never prove it. If it was her, the pink Aisha hid it well. “Should I bring the luminascope, sir?” she asked, holding up a wooden box with some sort of lens in the middle of one end.
“I don't see how it could hurt.” Shrugging, the Kyrii added, “You might want to bring along the coagumire.”
“I already had it packed.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Komo asked, feeling rather lost from not being able to follow the conversation at all.
“Tonight you just watch and listen,” Ian said. “We use a lot of stuff that no one else has, so your job tonight is to pick up the lingo.” Picking up a worn leather pouch the Kyrii continued, “I'm going to swing by Smithe's house and see if he can come help out and if he's made any progress on where this US comes from – Dulcy, you're in charge until I get back. Head over to the Boxhall place and see if we can actually catch something tonight.”
Edging over to Caroline, Komo whispered, “Who's Dulcy?”
“That would be me,” the Aisha admitted with a grin. “Caroline Louise Dulcy. Ian tends to call everyone by their family names.”
“Oh.” Watching the Aisha collect several other odd looking gadgets into a leather valise, another question occurred to the small Korbat. “And US?”
“Unidentified Specter. It's what we call a suspected ghost until we know for sure who they are.” She paused. “Who they were? I always get confused on what tense to use there.” Shrugging her shoulders, Caroline continued, “We're lucky to have your brother; without him I have no idea how we'd identify half as many...”
“Let's get going already,” Tombstones grunted, picking up the now stuffed valise. “You can fill him in on the way.”
Luckily for Komo, Caroline did just that on the walk to the large and well kept house that belonged to the Boxhall family. The Korbat found some of the gadgets she was describing a bit strange, but it was hard not to be caught up with her enthusiasm, even if he couldn't understand half of it.
“Here we are,” Caroline chirped, swinging open an ornate iron gate. “Now we've already had one sighting of our US here tonight, so with a little luck we'll find out what we're dealing with. There have been off and on problems for the last month or so here and at three other houses in the area.”
“So what do we know about it?” Komo asked, hoping it was an intelligent sounding question to ask.
“Well, we know it's big,” Tombstones said, breaking his moody silence for the first time since they left the office. “And it's corporeal enough to cause damage to furniture – last time we came to the house it had broken a coffee table.”
“How many times have you been here?”
“Every other time they didn't bother telling us until the morning after, so this is the first time we've been here at night. It doesn't happen frequently enough for us to stake out the house; that's what makes this one so weird. This one seems to travel a lot, and will go over a week without a sighting, then appear for a night, then disappear again for a random number of days and reappear at another house. There seem to be three houses that it favors, which is really weird. Normally ghosts will stake out one place and try to drive everyone else away.” Rapping on the door, Tombstones finished, “I'm about ready to declare this one a hoax.”
“Be nice, Stones,” Caroline chided. As the door opened, the Aisha smiled brightly. “Good evening, Mrs Boxhall. We got your message.”
“I'm so glad you're here!” The Shadow Ixi sounded like she'd been crying. “My poor Henry has nearly worked himself up into a fit. He's barricaded himself in the office.”
“There, there,” Caroline cooed. “Everything will be fine. Show us where you saw the ghost, and we'll do all we can.”
“It was out in the garden,” the Ixi sniffled, leading Caroline down the hall. “Out by the Dragon Buds...”
“Hey!” Komo yelped as he was grabbed by the collar.
“You,” Tombstones ordered, dragging the smaller Korbat though a doorway. “Stay here.”
“But Ian said I'm supposed to stay and watch you guys!” Komo protested.
“Ian's not here. In the house may be one thing, but the garden's another – the Boxhalls have carnivorous plants. And you glow, it would be too easy for you to be mistaken for the ghost in the dark.”
“Big carnivorous plants. Huge.” Tombstones emphasized with waving hands. “Stay here!”
“But what am I supposed to do in a kitchen?”
There was no answer; the lanky Mynci had already ran down the hallway after the Ixi and the Aisha. “Flaming Fire Faeries, I hate it when he does that!” Komo sat heavily onto a bench and weighed his options. He could go down the hallway and hope to catch up, but Tombstones would be furious. Not to mention, the Mynci could very well be right about Komo being mistaken for a ghost. He could stay here, but that would be incredibly boring. He could also go out and try to find the ghost himself, but the idea of running into an enraged Mr Boxhall was more than a little scary.
A loud thumping sound pulled the Korbat out of his musings. Looking around frantically for a weapon, the Korbat grabbed the first shiny thing that caught his eye. Pulling it up to defend himself he took a step towards the sound, only to realize he had armed himself with a small whisk. “Useful, Komo,” he muttered to himself. “You always do grab the very best weapons.”
Gathering up his courage, the Korbat stepped around the corner the sound had some from, and came face to face with the ghost. Not just any ghost, the back of his mind noted, but a very large and upset looking Grarrl ghost. “Hello,” Komo stammered.
“You don't live here,” the Grarrl growled.
“No,” Komo admitted. “I came here with my brother.” Who is busy hunting you in the garden, he added mentally. “I take it you don't live here either?”
Well, that didn't open very many topics of conversation. “Well, if you don't live here,” Komo asked in as casual of tone as he could muster, “why are you here?”
“Oh.” Komo considered that for a moment. “Well, I suppose this is as good of a spot as any to haunt.”
“You bet it is,” the Grarrl said with more enthusiasm. “It's perfect; not only is it smack dab in the middle of the Haunted Woods, it's the house of the family of one of my murderers.”
“You were murdered?” Komo's curiosity was piqued; this could be the key to what Caroline and Tombstones were here for. “How?”
“I... erm... I'm not sure,” the Grarrl admitted. “It had to be my dorm mates, though, because no one else has a key. They were giving me a hard time because I don't have very good depth perception and I kept missing goals in Yooyuball. They said I was going to cost the dorm the school championships and our dorm was the six year defending champions. All I remember is going to sleep after practice, and then suddenly I was waking up as a ghost out in the woods behind the school."
Komo nodded sympathetically. The longer he talked to the Grarrl, the more he got the feeling that instead of being a scary, malevolent spirit, he was just a kid who wasn't quite sure what was going on or what he should be doing.
“Since I'm dead, I can't exactly go to school, so I headed to the Haunted Woods and started Haunting the houses of my former dorm mates' families. It's what ghosts do, isn't it?” The Grarrl looked at Komo expectantly, as if he needed someone to confirm that he was indeed doing the proper ghosty thing.
“Ghosts do all sorts of things,” Komo said. “Two of my brothers are ghosts. Echo likes to cook, and Claw plays cards.”
“Really? How long have they been ghosts? Do you think they'd mind if I came and met them?” In his excitement the Grarrl began shifting back and forth from leg to leg, and swished his tail. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, but in the cluttered area of the room Komo and the Grarrl were in it meant that something was bound to come into contact with the powerful swinging tail. Komo winced as the tail hit a chair and promptly broke the carved wooden furniture in two.
“Not again,” the Grarrl groaned. “I'm such a klutz. I'm always breaking things.”
Komo stared at the Grarrl, realization striking him. “You didn't break that on purpose?”
“Are you kidding? I break enough stuff on accident, I don't need to do it on purpose.”
“Ghosts... don't break things on accident,” Komo explained slowly. “If they don't pay attention to something and actually mean to interact with it, it goes right though them.”
“What?” the Grarrl said, looking confused.
“Let me see if I can explain another way...” Komo paused, searching for the Grarrl's name. Coming up blank, he asked, “What was your name?”
“Alanzo. Alanzo Flaim.”
“All right, Alanzo. My brother Claw and I once ran into Count Von Roo while walking home. Von Roo decided that my brother would be a tasty treat, and attacked him, but fell right though him – because he's a ghost.” Pointing to the chair, Komo said, “The chair didn't go through you.”
“Great,” Alanzo moaned. “Not only am I a ghost, I'm not a very good ghost.”
Komo pursed his lips. “Alanzo, I want you to stay right there, all right? Don't move.” Walking behind the Grarrl, Komo waited until he was sure he was far enough behind the Grarrl that Alanzo couldn't see him and then hefted the whisk and threw it at the ghost.
“Ow!” Alanzo exclaimed as the cooking utensil bounced off. “What did you do that for?”
“To test a theory.” Komo bent down and picked up the whisk again. “Alanzo, did you see me throw that?”
“No,” the Grarrl mumbled, looking rather betrayed.
“Good, because that just proved something. You're not a ghost.”
“What? How am I not a ghost?”
“Walked though any walls lately?” When the Grarrl shook his head, Komo continued, “If you were a ghost, the whisk would have gone right though you if you didn't see it coming.”
“If I'm not a ghost, would that mean I'm not dead?”
Komo thought the answer to that was obvious. “That would be my guess.”
“If I'm not a ghost, how did I end up looking like this? When I went to bed I was a normal looking desert Grarrl.”
“I don't suppose any of your former dorm mates are rich enough to afford a Ghost Paintbrush?”
The Grarrl seemed taken aback. His eyes narrowed as he seethed, “Why, those dirty...”
“Flask of water from the Rainbow Pool, a Paintbrush, a sleeping Grarrl, and dorm mates with too much free time on their hands. If you ask me, it sounds like you were the victim of a very mean prank.” Komo shook his head. “A prank I'm sure their parents will love hearing about.”
“A prank I can't wait to see their parents hearing about,” a voice drawled from the doorway. “Very well done, Komo,” Tombstones said, looking impressed. “Caroline gave up on the garden, so I came back to pick you up – but it looks like you had everything under control here.”
“I'm not in trouble, am I?” Alanzo asked, looking nervous.
Tombstones grinned. “Not nearly as much trouble as Henry Boxhall Jr is going to be in. Come on, let's go talk to Mommy and Daddy."
It was nearly dawn by the time Tombstones and Komo returned to their own home. Komo was exhausted, but roused himself to eat the meal an anxious Echo had prepared. Tombstones had reverted to his usual sarcastic self as soon as they got home, Komo wasn't sure which of the two Tombstones was the act – the businesslike Tombstones at work, or the teasing Tombstones at home. Maybe they both were; the small Korbat would probably never know.
“So they hired you, huh?” Echo asked as Komo shoveled down his Pumpkin Pot Pie.
“Yep,” Komo managed between bites. “Said they needed more people with wings.”
“So what did you do last night?”
Komo gave the ghost Uni a crooked grin. “Made the living into little ghosties.”
A quick, clarifying note from Nimras: Yes, this is a Spooky short story. This story is not in any way canon to the Spooky universe unless Ghostkomorichu says otherwise. Many thanks to to Komori for letting me run crazy with her characters and for making the story's avatar. Happy issue 350, everyone!