The Hunger Problem: Part 1
All the sordid ghost cannibalism on Tumblr lately has prompted me to resurrect an abandoned subplot of Phantom of Truth and explore it to its inevitable conclusion. This would pick up after the end of Ch. 12: Half a Truth.
* * * *
“I ate them.”
Maddie almost dropped her clipboard. “You… you what?”
Phantom hunched as far as the restraints holding him to the lab table would allow, turning his head away from her.
The hair on the back of his head was a mossy green-grey from dried ectoplasm, as if he had lain in it. The collar was gone from his now tattered jumpsuit, making it easy to see the ridge of the spinal cord snaking up his neck, jutting out harshly from the papery skin.
“I ate them,” he said again in a small voice. The misery in the ghost’s tone almost made Maddie forget her resolution not to be moved by the ghost’s false emotions; it was like a physical pain to hear her Danny’s voice so forlorn.
Except this wasn’t Danny, she reminded herself harshly; Phantom had never been Danny. He was just a ghost, a false construct that had stolen her child’s voice and face in some sick twist of fate, who knew very well he could use them against her…
Maddie gripped the clipboard and took a deep, silent breath. She had to focus on the objective truths; anything less would make her vulnerable. She set aside her irrational anger and even less rational sympathy, focusing instead on the curiosity the statement had roused. “But why would you do such a thing?”
“I was hungry.” Phantom’s eyes squeezed shut, and he suddenly looked far too old and frail for the teenage boy his body was modeled after.
Maddie wondered fleetingly how old Phantom truly was; his imprint of Danny was barely two years old, but had there been a time before that? Were there other victims? Perhaps he’d cycled through lives, finding new humans to obsess over as the old ones aged and died…or were killed by Phantom himself.
“I had to eat something somehow, and…and they were useless anyway.” A trace of anger crept into his voice, bitter and cold. “It’s not like you’ve left me with a lot of options.”
She shook her head silently, refusing to engage in the argument. It was utterly illogical that a ghost would need to “eat”; the diffuse ectoplasmic mist that she’d programmed to fill the tank each evening should have been sufficient. Even without that kind of sustenance a ghost could maintain itself at a stable level for years. Should maintain itself, that is.
Phantom, as always, had proved different. His wasted frame was evidence enough that he did in fact need some kind of sustenance the lab environment was not providing. But to replenish ectoplasm in such a way…
Humans had been known to go to such lengths, but only in the most desperate of circumstances. The cultural stigma alone was enough to prevent the average human from following through on such a thing. But Phantom was ultimately a ghost, a creature driven by instinct; a construct driven only to preserve its form and pursue its obsession. What would be difficult, even traumatic for a human would have no real consequence for an ectoplasmic entity.
Even so, it repelled her.
“Did it help?”
“A little,” he mumbled. “Not really. Probably wasn’t worth it. It tasted really vile, too.” Phantom looked a little green remembering. “Like leather soaked in ectoplasm.”
She shrugged, unsurprised, and scribbled one last note on her clipboard. “Your boots are part of your physical makeup, Phantom; they’re an extension of you ectoplasmic form. Technically you were eating yourself.”
Phantom gagged, looking greener. “Oh, geez, yuck. Thanks for that, I wasn’t grossed out enough already.”
“However…” Maddie stepped back from the table, flicking the switch to raise the glass and deactivate the lab table. “Consuming ectoplasm in its active state from an outside source could be the solution to your…hunger problem.”
Phantom sat up as soon as the restraints retracted, supporting himself with his one hand and frowning at her through the dingy, ectoplasm-smeared glass.
“What, do you mean like drinking it or someth…” He trailed off as she pulled the containment cube from under the desk.
The ghost’s eyes widened, looking scared and unnaturally bright in the dark hollows of his face. “You’re kidding me, right?”
Maddie ignored him and clicked the cube onto the attachment in the side of the containment unit.
“You’re freakin’ kidding me, right?!”