On the Knife's Tip
roil toil bubble and squeak
make the minds of all men weak
let the gates fling open wide
draw the Ghostbusters forever inside
Goldun stared into the boiling caldron, letting the steam waft slowly over his face. The dirty yellow liquid showed him no pictures -- he had not intended for any, not yet, not now. He merely needed to prepare the caldron for its potion, let it learn its recipe and absorb the ingredients into its iron. Later, when things in the world were prepared and all of his plans were ready to be set into motion, he would cast his spell and see the images appear. He remembered again the words he'd written to shape and guide his magics. He smiled.
The Ghostbusters would never escape.
Egon sat in front of a conglomeration of tubes, wires, and plastic rings. Ray was beside him, sketching on a large piece of draft paper. Winston stood a few feet away, stacking empty tubes as he pulled them out of the boxes at his feet. Each man was working diligently, as if the creation before them were the biggest, baddest, scariest piece of ghostbusting equipment the world had ever seen.
It was a dishwasher. Rather, it was slated to be a dishwasher, once -- or if -- they completed the project. The washer in the kitchen downstairs had finally given up the gh-- quit working properly and a long series of disastrous service calls had left them determined to do away with the outdated piece of equipment and replace it with a customised piece of machinery. Right now they were simply creating a working model; once it was perfected they would order materials for a permanent machine.
They worked in silence, each man knowing what was expected of him. They had been hard at work for so many days, trying to get the model working as designed, that they no longer needed to consult with each other. None of them would admit that buying a new machine from Sears would have been an easier and more efficient task. By now it was a matter of pride. Stubbornness drove them now as much as any need for clean dishes -- no mere collection of glass and plastic would defeat their attempts to build a relatively simple piece of hardware.
Peter was downstairs, standing over a sink of hot soapy water. He'd been washing the dishes by hand since the others had begun their project. No one said anything about it and Peter knew it was because, as of yet, none of his friends had realised the dishes were being done. He let Slimer clean the plates first; all Peter had to do was wash the slime off after the food was all gone.
He didn't really mind washing the dishes. The hot water always felt good on his hands, and the chore reminded him of when he was a kid, standing on a chair in the kitchen helping his mother clean up after supper. Some days supper time was the only time they had together, and when he'd been very young he'd wanted to stay beside her as much as he could. Doing chores was a small price to pay. As he'd grown older, even suppertimes together had ceased and Peter had taken to spending his time wandering with friends and getting into trouble.
Sometimes now, he would stare down into the soap suds and hear her voice, reminding him to be careful not to drop a glass. He grinned -- he'd even found the same brand of soap she'd used, and the smell of it made him feel at home. The soap suds were beginning to die away now, and he swirled the washing rag slowly through the water. A thin film of green slime trailed the rag; definitely time to drain the sink and start over. For a moment he watched the slowly swirling water. The patterns being created on the surface of the water looked like... like... he didn't know. They looked familiar, somehow. Enticing, and mesmerizing...
"Huh?" Peter looked up, startled. Ray was standing in the doorway, looking at him oddly. He realised he had been staring at the water for several minutes -- the water had grown cool.
"You don't have to do those, you know." Ray sounded cheerfully optimistic. "We're going to have the model washing machine ready tomorrow for a test run."
"That's what you said yesterday, Stantz. And the day before. I got tired of eating off paper plates."
"We haven't eaten off paper plates," Ray looked thoughtful, then confused. "There's always been clean dishes."
"Uh-huh," Peter flung a few soap bubbles in Ray's direction. "And why is that?"
"Oh." Ray smiled sheepishly. "Do you want some popcorn?"
Peter looked at his friend, puzzled by the change in subject. He narrowed his eyes. "Ray, did you come all the way down to the kitchen to ask me if I wanted popcorn?"
"No." Ray grinned. "We need something light and vaguely circular to fill in several of the tubes we're using in our model. Egon thinks popped corn would be ideal. I figured I'd make enough to snack on, while I was at it."
"Oh." Peter was relieved to know neither he nor Stantz had gone completely nuts. Spengler, on the other hand.... "No, thanks, Ray." He shook water off his hands and checked the stack of still-dirty dishes. Not enough for a full sink, no reason to waste water and clean them now. He pulled the drain stopper and looked around for the clean towel he'd set aside. "Slimer, did you take my towel?" He saw Ray pull a canister out of the cupboard, and figured the little ghost's attention would soon be riveted on something besides confessing to having the towel. Peter knew he'd better find his last clean dishtowel before that happened.
"POPCORN!!!!!!" A green streak swooped across the room, directly towards Ray. Peter grimaced, and decided to leave the dishes to air dry until somebody got some laundry done.
Goldun laughed. Standing beside the boiling cauldron, he twirled a blue-striped dishtowel in one hand, causing the rising smoke to wrap itself around the cloth. The potion bubbled, breaking the surface with audible pops. The dirty yellow liquid seemed to be reaching up, and Goldun held the towel out over it. The bubbles and smoke stretched, grasping towards the edge of the cloth. With a whispered word Goldun let the towel drop.
"Yes, Garlon?" Goldun turned away from his potion. A minor demon crouched beyond the dais, its green furred body stark against the rocks. Goldun thought of the little demon fondly -- his favourite servant throughout the centuries. Never failed him, never talked back, and never demanded rewards or torture in return for its services. Truly one in a thousand of its kind.
"The serpent is ready." Garlon kept its face to the floor, and its voice echoed off the surface.
"Excellent! I have almost completed my initial preparations. I have burned the token, and I need only the vial of blood. Fetch it for me, then tell the Dawgs to be ready to release the serpent on my command."
"As its desires, Master." With a humble bow, difficult from its already supplicated position, the demon turned and left. Goldun watched it go, then returned his attention to the cauldron. The smoke had turned grey, a hint of blue striped through it. He laughed again. Someone was going to be very, very unhappy soon. Delightfully, he would get to see it. He tossed another piece of charcoal into the bubbling potion. Soon things would be fully in motion, and his greatest entertainment would begin. He would have to watch it carefully.
Peter trudged upstairs. After leaving Ray to make his popcorn, he'd discovered that the piles of laundry he'd left alone yesterday were still undone. Not terribly surprising, as it was Egon's week to do it. He had considered leaving it until the scientist got his head out of the lab and back into the real world, but his favourite shirt was in the pile, and he'd wanted to wear it this weekend. Peter had gone to do one load, and found that his shirt was on the bottom of the pile. Scattering the clothes across the floor for just one load had seemed pointless, and so he'd run three before giving it up.
Hauling the folded clothes upstairs had taken the last of his energy for the evening. With a final plop he settled into the couch in front of the TV, remote in hand, and prepared to spend the rest of the evening doing nothing. He began flipping through the channels, looking for something vaguely interesting. There was a western on later, but he needed something to amuse him until then. He could hear, every once in a while, strange noises from the lab. For a brief second curiosity pulled at him to go see how his friends were doing. Then it faded, and he was content to remain were he was.
Settling on a rerun of a sitcom so old he barely remembered it, he tossed the remote onto the cushion beside him and ignored all sounds of industrious invention. It did not take long for him to fall deeply asleep.
Garlon slipped silently into the room. Checking carefully for any signs of movement, it waited in shadows until satisfied that all was clear. On tiptoe, it snuck away from the wall and towards the sleeping Ghostbuster. It spared only a glance at the TV set, buzzing with static. Hesitantly, it extended a long green finger and poked a still leg, zipping back into the shadows to await a response.
There was none. Garlon crept back to the couch, and held out the vial its master had given it. Unstoppering the top, it muttered the spell to open a vein and pressed the vial against Peter's arm. Quickly the vial filled, with Garlon continually darting looks from the door to the corners, back to the couch. When the vial was full it muttered a second spell, sealing the skin with a layer of demonicly clever material his master had created -- moleskin, which was also good for blisters. The little demon stoppered the vial and slipped it between its cupped hands, cradling it against any potential hardship. Garlon scanned the room again for intruders, then stepped carefully away. A short portal opened against one wall, and it slipped away into darkness. It was pleased at having served its master so well, yet again.
Behind it, Peter never stirred. The TV flickered, then resumed its broadcast as the portal closed.
"I think we should try it now." Egon stared fixedly at the conglomeration before him. Ray and Winston flanked him to either side, exchanging hopeful glances.
"Don't you want to replace that weak tube first?" Winston asked doubtfully. He'd replaced so many tubes after they'd busted, that he was getting adept at spying those tubes which looked about to break.
"I believe it should hold long enough to determine--"
"GUYS!!!! BAD MONSTER!!!" Slimer hit full force into the model dishwasher as he came sailing into the room. All three Ghostbusters watched as each piece of building material broke into half a dozen pieces, creating a large heap of debris on the floor. Slimer gave them a guilty look, then returned to the reason he'd come in. "Guys, bad monster! Bad monster!"
"What? Where?" Ray exclaimed, as the attention of all three men was removed from the destruction of their hard work. Slimer pointed in the direction of the TV room. "This is great! Come on!" Ray grabbed a PKE meter from the nearby shelf and headed into the hallway. Behind him Egon and Winston followed. They headed for the second-floor store room, where they kept backup proton packs. As they put them on, Ray consulted the meter. "It looks like a class 4 demonic sub-creature. I wonder where it came from?"
"You can ask it after we bust it!" Winston replied. "Let's get this turkey!"
Winston led the way, following Ray's and Slimer's directions. The creature was moving about but still confined to one room -- Egon held a trap ready as they came up to the door. "On the count of--"
"AHH!" Peter's scream interrupted Winston's count, and they dove into the room with no further hesitation.
Peter had woken up to hot, smelly breath on his face. Opening one eye carefully, expecting to see Slimer hovering before him, he instead found a pair of large green eyes staring at him. Snake's eyes, weaving slightly, and as he focused the snake's entire head came into view. It was almost a foot wide, with a neck to match -- a brief glimpse down told him that the entire body matched, coiling around to cover the whole floor. As he looked back at the snake's gaze, he saw it begin to smile.
That was when he screamed. The slamming of the door echoed a second later, and he heard his friends' shouts.
"Don't move, Peter!"
Goldun stood over the cauldron, nodding in satisfaction at the fading picture. The spell was complete; tokens and potions and blood had created a pathway by which a demon could traverse to a precise location in the other world. The potion boiled, sending smoke into the air where it dissipated almost instantly. One more step along the path of destruction. Imminently satisfied, he waited for his serpent to return.
This was fun.
Peter shrunk into the couch as the blast of proton beams scorched the snake's tail. It reared back, and Peter took the opportunity to fling himself over the back of the couch. He fell to the floor, wondering just where and how and why the creature had arrived and most importantly, whether it was going to eat them whole. He heard the proton packs firing again, and decided to stay where he was until otherwise notified.
"Get the trap, Egon!" He heard Ray calling, and risked a look up to see if his friends were doing all right. He saw Winston and Egon standing by the door; he scooted forward and saw Ray, a few feet to the side, aiming his beam at the snake. They seemed to be doing OK. Peter rose to his knees and snuck a peek towards the snake hoping to see it trapped and awaiting containment.
He saw a flash of scaly brown and green and then something very solid hit him. Instead of falling to the floor, however, he felt a tingling sensation. The room and the sounds of his friends' fighting disappeared. For a moment everything was completely black.
A light pulsed, and around him formed a large cavernous room. Torches burned along one wall, and to one side was a large stone dais in the center of which was a black cauldron. Peter started to take a step forward and found his ankle held tight by a heavy manacle. "Hey! What's going on here?!" He didn't see anyone moving, but knew someone had to be behind this. Someone who would come along to gloat, threaten, or at least check to see if the chains were holding. He gave them an experimental tug -- they were.
"Peter?" Ray's confused voice came from beside him.
Peter whirled, the chain on his ankle wrapping tight. "Ray!" His friend was standing not two feet away. He appeared unharmed, and Peter saw that he too, had a manacle on his ankle. "What happened? Are Winston and Egon--"
"We're fine," Egon's voice came from behind. Peter looked, turning more carefully this time as the length of the chain was wrapping around his leg. Winston was on Egon's other side, both men were similarly chained.
"What happened? I thought you had that thing caught." Peter had seen the snake encased in the proton beams before he'd been struck.
"We did -- part of it, anyway." Ray answered. "We had its tail and head trapped, but it was able to move its middle section -- it hit you, and you vanished. A second later it hit me, then I found myself here."
"When Ray disappeared, the tail was freed and it struck Winston and I, as well. I am curious to know how it was able to transport us, and leave our equipment behind." Egon's voice turned thoughtful.
Peter rolled his eyes. "Obviously it's a smart snake. Fortunately, we're smarter... so, anybody know where we are and how we're gonna get out of here?"
"It looks like an underground cavern of some sort, except I don't think we're truly underground -- the air is too dry, and too warm." Ray was looking around with interest.
"I concur," Egon said. "I would surmise we are in a portion of the Underworld. This place resembles the traditional demonic dwelling of ancient times."
"You're saying we're dealing with an old demon? That explains the manacles," Peter observed as he tried to get his foot free of the coil of chain. "Not exactly high tech, are they?"
"No, but they are effective." Egon was tugging at his own restraint.
Winston stood, from where he'd been inspecting his more closely. "They're more high tech than they look. A single, solid piece of iron -- no key holes, no welds of any kind. We won't be able to break these without some serious tools." He gave the others a troubled look. "Tools which we don't have."
"Look on the bright side, Winston." Peter chided. "At least we don't have a crazed demon standing here, telling us how he's going to destr--"
"I am Goldun."
The four men turned, to see the demon standing at the dais. It was tall, red skinned, horns on his head and hoofed feet at the ends of furred legs. "Hmm. A classic demonic portrayal of a class 8 entity." Egon observed. Peter gave him a disbelieving glance before turning back to the demon.
"So what's the story, Goldun? Why are we here?" Peter didn't let his voice shake, instead sounding as stern and unforgiving as he could.
Goldun favoured him with a smile. "You have noticed, gentlemen, that I am a traditionalist. I find the old ways are the best ways. Trickery and blue magics are so cheap." The demon shook his head, and waved one hand towards the cauldron. "I prefer the direct approach."
"So what's the approach, Goldilocks?" Peter asked.
"A simple offer. Your four lives."
There was silence for a moment, then Winston spoke. "That's not much of an offer."
"Yeah, we've already got that, Goldie." Peter added. "Why not offer us something more flashy?"
Goldun appeared unprovoked by the flippant words. Peter didn't know whether to be more frightened, or less. The demon spoke again, and this time his offer sounded much more ominous. "I am offering to take your four lives. Or in exchange, I offer to take one thing only."
The four Ghostbusters looked at each other warily -- they knew that the demon had something up his sleeve, that the one thing he asked for was much more threatening than their lives. Peter swallowed and faced the demon. "What one thing do you want?" He frowned at the demon, showing it his displeasure. Again, the demon seemed unmoved.
"Huh?" The four men looked at each other, confused, then back at the demon.
Peter continued asking, "What skill? You want us to teach you how to wash dishes?"
This time the demon gave him a brief glance of amusement. Peter decided he preferred it when he was being ignored. "You misunderstand," it wove its fingers together in front of it; Peter felt a cold chill run up his back. "I offer to allow you," it looked directly at Peter. Peter tried not to show his sudden fear, giving instead an easy, 'oh yeah?', sly grin. Goldun continued, "to give up one skill. Or your life and the lives of your friends."
"What are your terms, Goldun? We won't agree to anything until you've explained yourself." Ray spoke up, his strong unrelenting tone reminding Peter he was not in this alone. He relaxed, knowing his friends would help him think of a way out of this.
Goldun turned to Ray. "My terms are simple, Ghostbuster. I ask for one skill from your colleague. If he refuses, I shall kill you four. What is there more to understand?"
"Which skill?" Egon asked. "What do you mean by 'give up' the skill?"
Goldun waved a hand nonchalantly. "I mean simply that -- give up. How difficult is that?"
"From now on, or is it retroactive?" Winston asked.
Goldun gave the man a sharp look, then answered carefully. "It will be as if he had never acquired the skill."
"Uh-huh," Winston nodded. "That's it, I bet you. He's gonna ask for something like your ghostbusting skill, and we'll end up with Gozer never having been sent back where he came from."
"Nothing so major," Goldun spoke easily. "It will not affect the existence of the Ghostbusters. Simply one minor skill is all I ask."
Peter eyed the demon warily. "Which skill? Mind you, I'm not agreeing to anything. I just wanna know what skill you're talking about."
Goldun looked at him squarely, with an expression of sheer nonchalance. Peter was impressed. "I ask only for your ability to throw a knife. That, or the lives of your friends. A simple offer, as I say."
Peter said nothing. He stared at the demon, hearing beside and behind him, his friends' surprise.
"That's it?" Ray asked. "Why would you want that in exchange for letting us go?"
Goldun shrugged. "Because this is not about revenge, my dear adversary. This is about business. I wish to make a deal, and that is more important to me than ridding the world of the Ghostbusters."
"I don't buy it." Winston was still suspicious. "You're saying you'll let the four of us go free, alive and well, in exchange for Pete's ability to throw a knife?"
"Technically he only said he'd let us live," Egon interjected.
"I will of course let you return to your own realm, unharmed," Goldun interrupted. "There is no deception here, gentlemen. I have an ulterior motive which involves paperwork and a disgruntled supervisor. When I file my reports from this transaction I will fill a new, rather annoying, quota. I have no need for any dramatic results -- I only need your acceptance of the deal."
Throughout the speech, Goldun had faced each of the Ghostbusters, the manner of a sincere and overworked employee showing clearly. The four men gave him distrustful looks, and turned towards each other. Peter kept his face impassive as he listened to his friends argue the offer.
"He's got to have something up his sleeve," Winston said, grumbling at the chain on his foot as it tried to trip him.
"Obviously," Egon straightened his glasses. "Peter, you said you learned to throw a knife as a party trick while you were in college."
Peter nodded. "I spent a lot of time pinning pieces of paper to the walls." It was true, he had -- pinning class notes and returned exams to the studyroom wall to amuse his frat brothers. He shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. This deal didn't sound good, but the option of letting his friends die wasn't an acceptable alternative.
"Then why would he want that? It doesn't make any sense," Ray sounded frustrated.
"Unless he's telling the truth," Winston offered. "If he really does only need this deal for his paperwork, he might have picked something that it wouldn't hurt Pete to lose." He gave Peter a questioning look, as if wondering if there was anything Peter hadn't told them. Peter just shook his head as if he didn't have a clue.
"It is possible." Egon didn't sound convinced. "But I hesitate to accept Goldun's offer, if only because I have yet to meet a demon which can be trusted in these sorts of matters."
"Didn't Morganen play square with us, when he needed us to help him?" Peter asked doubtfully.
"Yeah, but he wasn't a senior demon, like Goldun seems to be. Morganen was still in the barracks -- this guy's got his own place, with servants and everything." Winston glanced over his shoulder as two of said servants came into the room. They went over to Goldun, handed him a scroll, and left. Goldun said nothing.
"I wish we knew what Goldun wants." Egon gave the demon a distrusting look. Then he looked back at Peter. Peter was struck by the obvious worry in his friend's eyes. He wanted to tell him that everything would be fine. Instead, he made his decision.
"There's no point in letting him kill us..." he began.
"Peter, no!" Ray interrupted. "We aren't agreeing to anything until we know what we're getting into. We're not giving him anything--"
"Ray, we know what we're getting into." Peter gave his friend a fond look of exasperation. "We die, or I give up ever learning how to throw a knife. It seems simple to me." He squashed the sudden fear that threatened. He had to maintain his nonchalance or they'd never let him do this. But Goldun was right, the offer was straight forward. They were trapped, and the demon would undoubtedly not hesitate to kill them as soon as Peter refused the offer. Therefore, he could not refuse.
"But Peter--" Ray tried again.
"It's OK, Raymond. I know what I'm doing." Peter grinned confidently. Before any of his friends could say any more, he turned to Goldun. "Hey, Goldilocks. About that offer..."
Goldun looked mildly interested. "Yes?"
With a glance back at his friends, all looking worriedly on, Peter said, "I accept."
At Ghostbuster Central, Egon, Ray and Winston stood around staring at their washing machine model. Winston had finally replaced the last of the cracked tubes, and Ray was filling the last of the spaces with the popped corn. Slimer was happily munching from his own bowl, safely on the other side of the room.
"Well, gentlemen? Shall we try it?" Egon asked his colleagues.
"Hell, yes!" Winston said. "I'm tired of fiddling with it. Let's wash some dishes."
Ray picked up a small tub from the bench, full of dirty dishes. Carefully he walked over to the machine, set the tub down beside it, and with a final nod of approval from Egon, fed the first dirty dish into the washer. For a moment they all stared, waiting as the model began gurgling and shuddering. As it remained in one piece -- for a change -- Ray fed it another dish, then another as the weird noises began to appear to be positive ones. The first dish was still in one piece, the model was still in one piece, and there was absolutely no smoke or leaking water.
"I think it's working!" Winston cried.
"It is! Egon, are they--?"
Egon bent over, near the other end of the machine. The others watched as he slowly straightened, holding up a clean dish. "Gentlemen, I believe we have succeeded." He smiled triumphantly. Ray and Winston each gave a yell, and exchanged high fives. Slimer spun around, spilling his popcorn and hurrying to catch it before it fell to the floor.
"Guys? What's going on in here?"
Ray grinned and ran over. "Andy! It works! See, we told you!"
The fourth Ghostbuster let himself be dragged into the lab. He looked at the monstrosity, chugging and burping, and grinned as Egon held up two clean dishes. "Does this mean you're finally going to clean the kitchen?"
"It means Ecto-III is going to clean the kitchen." Winston corrected proudly.
"Ecto-III?" The others gave him dubious looks. Winston shrugged and smiled.
"Great," Andy nodded. "You guys get the week's dishes done, and I'll make us a gourmet dinner to celebrate."
Enthused, the Ghostbusters all agreed. They all went downstairs to begin gathering dishes to haul the upstairs to the lab. Even Slimer helped, adding his empty popcorn bowl to the machine. The firehouse was soon full of strange gurgling noises, happy cries of triumph and congratulations, and hopeful suggestions for dinner.
Goldun stared in his silent cauldron. It had been over three weeks since he'd cast a really satisfying spell on some unsuspecting human. Garlon was puttering about the cavern, dusting bottles. The Dawgs were in training, capturing new serpents for their master's use. Goldun had been enjoying the quiet, but decided it was time to do something before his supervisor came down and asked where his weekly reports were. He turned his head and snarled. "Send me a blank scroll."
Garlon nodded and scurried away. Soon it returned and resumed dusting. A moment later a servant came in, bearing a large, heavy scroll. He carried it over to Goldun and held it out, dropping it a second before Goldun could grab it. "Careful, Peter!" Goldun snapped.
The boy simply sneered. He'd been Goldun's servant for nearly 20 years, ever since he'd been killed by gang members in a street fight. His soul had been declared Goldun's possession upon his death, and although Goldun didn't recall having purchased it, he certainly didn't argue when his supervisor showed him the paperwork.
Sometimes he wished he had. The boy had a smart mouth and an unrelenting confidence problem -- too much confidence. More often than not he talked himself out of whatever Goldun gave him, foisting tasks off on others and weaseling out of punishments with an annoying regularity. Goldun kept him around only because Peter was so good at getting Goldun out of trouble with upper management, smooth-talking the supervisors until they left with less information than with they came. Goldun knew Peter did it because he enjoyed conning the demons, and if Goldun benefited it was just the price to pay.
Someday, though, Goldun would find a damned soul who could deal with the supervisor and be less of a pain. When he did, young Peter would find himself wishing he'd never made the bargain the paperwork indicated he had.