It is a distinct honor and privilege to be running for my life in the burned-out ruins of a post office on Chicago’s South Side. My prized boiler suit is torn. My proton acceleration gauntlets are in desperate need of a charge. Earlier this week, I strained a muscle in my knee at the Museum of Science and Industry, kicking in troglodyte teeth inside the coal mine exhibit. Every morning I wake up thinking, “I am the only one who cares about this so much.” This is how I walk out the door, a chip on my shoulder, convinced only I know how awesome it is to kick in troglodyte teeth. They’re like violent cave gnomes. Who am I kidding? Everyone loves smashing their supernatural facial structure to pieces. It is truly a gift.
The groaning ectoplasmic husk of H.H. Holmes is in hot pursuit, blighted undead worms—cursed from feasting upon his foul flesh—crawling in and out from beneath his bowler hat. I am reminded of my youth.
I once ran like this down Raynor Avenue in Joliet, Ill. Bullies, gangs—okay, larger bullies—and the occasional deranged homeless in my wake, I would dream of powers outside time and space condemning them to reform into Stephen Gammell illustrations and fall into a heap on the sidewalk. They were the end of the ghost story. I felt I had already had to suffer the terrible beginnings; their fate was sure three steps behind me. Had it really happened, their Gammell-inked blood dripping into the cracks between the sidewalk, I would gladly proton punch them in the face now.
Most people, if they found a ghost, would say, “Look! Modern Civilization is a false construct! We must repair the logic centers of our brain!” That, or, “Help me!” All I wanted was to invent gloves with massive physics churning through them so I could deliver a cross-dimensional haymaker. And, of course, I have.
I was tricked into coming here by Holmes, who, in his infinite charm, knew I was investigating him. He had only to possess a friendly barista to poison and drag me here. The ensuing century since his death converted his Murder Castle into a postal administrative office, and then converted it into burnt sheetrock by the Great Chicago Fire of 2015 that took much of the South Side. Remember? Don’t You? Please do not tell me, reader, that this is all a dream. Please do not tell me that I did not commission retired University of Chicago physicists to help me transform a pair of armored motorcycle gloves into melee weapons that fire proton beams along insulated finger claws and allow me to grapple with ghosts in close quarters. These are real. Ray Stantz is really mailing me a weekly stipend plus expenses to maintain a Chicago Ghostbuster franchise.
Ray was my favorite ghostbuster growing up. He was a nerd with giant, stupid goggles on his forehead and terrible conversational skills. I loved his non-swagger so much. It looked weird when he smoked cigarettes, as if the city of New York had gnawed upon his powerful yet vulnerable intellect. At first he was the New York chapter member I spoke to most because of our shared love of physics and the occult. Now, it’s as if all he can think about is money, his legacy, and the trappings of a man who wants his ideas to live forever.
To be honest, it is peculiar how much Stantz resembles the man I now hunt, the resurrected architect of Dana and Louis’ ill-fated Manhattan apartment building at 55 Central Park West. The ancient academic cultist’s visage is ravaged, his nose long gone. But he looks almost like if Stantz were some old sadistic judge with a prosthetic nose, lording over some mansion in a remote area of New Jersey. Ivo Shandor is this undead monster’s name. He hovers over the Hancock building now, a throne of crystal skulls being held in the air by some secret alien technology. It seems almost too familiar, as if my enemy is someone I actually revere and respect, encased in some terrible husk of hypocrisy and decay. But perhaps that’s just the city-wide hypnosis he’s been trying up there by spinning the sky around and chanting and what have you.
It is unlikely that Holmes will follow me here into his Murder Castle’s sub-basements. Surely here, where he delicately removed the skeletons of his victims for resale to medical suppliers, the vengeful spirits would be gunning for him and him alone. I am safe here jogging north with my heavy gear among the darkest horrors. All I must do is avoid dark thoughts regarding my own life. The brother and the parent I lost too soon. No, this isn’t my catharsis hour. If I head down through the storm drains and into the unexplored catacombs of Illini cults, I’m sure everything will be fine.
I once tried to discuss the work of Mike Mignola with Stantz on the phone, but he was not interested. He wanted to talk about my budget report. “Hey Ray, what was that Lovecraft story where the protagonist gets lost in a city’s alleys on his way to a mysterious house?”
“’The Nameless City.’ Now, how much did you spend on boots this month? You really went through 15 pairs of boots?”
“No, no, it wasn’t that one.
“Rats in the Walls?”
“No, that’s the racist cat one. There’s this window that shows an apocalyptic future in an old house. I feel like it has a great description of a wealthy occultist in it that parallels…”
“Look, Telfer, Lovecraft wrote hundreds of stories. You’re spending hundreds on boots. You know that’s ridiculous, right?”
But that, of course, is only how I am expensing my supplies for a pair of gravity boots that will allow me to dig my heels into concrete when using my proton gauntlets. But I could not tell Ray. He’d just give me the usual.
“The reason your tech comes from New York is because that’s where the center of everything is. We only let them do a little inventing in L.A. because it’s a good place to show off the brand.”
I emerge from the catacombs into the sewers beneath Grant Park realizing this may be the end. It has been a delight being a Ghostbuster, but the dream never belonged to me. Even Holmes, clearly still on my heels, had a more hands-on approach to chasing demons than I. Over my shoulder, I see the Cloud Gate sculpture reflecting fleeing Chicagoans as they run from the terrifying orange-orange vortex in the sky. Why not possess the sculpture, Holmes? Go for it. Who am I to say otherwise?
I scramble to engage the boots. The Cloud Gate sculpture lurches forth and howls with metallic bean-fury. Were I to create my own world with its own stakes, with characters people remembered, then I would be compelling at this moment. But alas, it feels all too easy when I scale the Harold Washington Library and coat the gigantic aluminum owl on its roof with slime. The owl beats its wings and flies me impossibly towards Shandor’s throne. I turn my gauntlets up to emit lethal levels of radiation, and Cloud Gate hurtles towards me with levitating rage. I dig my heels into Hootie and punch the bean right into Shandor’s face. Really? Of course. I see what is going on here.
“I am no better than the ghostbusters before me,” I say aloud to the tumbling remains of Shandor. My thoughts slow to a peaceful churn and I am reminded of my unpublished novel about a post-apocalyptic marine biologist, and how if I could just self-publish that book I might feel less entitlement over other people’s intellectual property, and also how Dan Aykroyd was really good in Grosse Pointe Blank.