Ghost Hunt - 202█-2009
“This Podcast has Language some might find offensive
It was fall, 2004. Eleanor Sloth-Bunny Jr. had just been promoted to production editor on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, having shown early promise as an intern at Warner Brothers.
She was aware of the show’s reputation around trans women, according to a diary released by her mother, but she thought she might be the exception to the rule. She thought maybe the rumours had been greatly exaggerated.
She was wrong.
In her fourth week as production editor, Eleanor Sloth-Bunny Jr. was crushed to death when a piece of the set fell from above the stage.
It was the first Ellen Show death to make national headlines.
But, why? Why was every other death covered up? And how did Warner Brothers keep getting away with these ‘accidents?’
For MICE Media, I’m Ratty Vermington, this is The Dark Side, season three.”
“I like it.” Dan’s tired eyes hung lazily on the gray placeholder cover on his podcast player. He turned the phone over, eyes flicking up to meet those of an excited, young Ratty. The kid had talent, there was no denying that, but this pitch had landed on Dan’s desk at least a hundred times at this point, and it was either going to end with a green-light, or Vermington pitching it to another outlet. There was just one problem.
“Listen, I trust you as a reporter, and I’m glad I’m not hearing it in this one so far, but you cannot do the ghost shit.” Ratty’s excited grin faltered just long enough for a seasoned journalist to pick up. She noticed that he noticed, and so dropped the facade entirely, searching for something in the pockets of her mind that she hadn’t shown her editor.
“You watched the clips I sent you from that last broadcast before the hiatus, right?” Ratty asked.
“Yeah, it’s a scary looking glitch, Ratty. They get them all the time on Ellen.”
“The fact that it happens often enough for you to say that it is a thing that just happens on Ellen is exactly why we should be investigating it.”
“We- look.” The tabby took last month’s magazine out of a desk drawer and slapped it down between the two of them. “We make news, Ratty. If you want to make Ghost Adventures, go to Buzzfeed”
Ratty stopped hiding her disappointment. “Fine, no ghosts.”
“It’s insensitive.” Dan said. “Sloth-Bunny’s family lives a few hours north, I don’t want them knocking on my door, telling me they heard a ghost story about their daughter. There are plenty of other angles, take a different one.”
“Yeah, okay.” Ratty struggled to hide her annoyance. She thought she could trust him with this. It wasn’t like she was a ghost-obsessed lunatic, she just wanted to report the full story. Despite every job opportunity to fly over her head, every pitch email to go unread, she valued what her school had taught her over how the industry actually worked.
Granted, not letting her cover a ghost story was not the greatest example of how the business of journalism was broken, but it was in the same category.
She planned - while she was in California - to do the ghost angle anyway: sacrifice her free time in exchange for a better story. She could always just post it on her blog.
She never got that chance. As soon as she clicked shut the SIM card cover she was informed - by a slew of emails and texts - that Warner Brothers had bought, and subsequently spiked the project while she was in the air. Every employee, former-employee, and family member of the victims she had spent months scouting out had left her a voicemail rescinding their commitment to be interviewed.
She spent a week in California while the magazine’s money people figured out how to pay for a flight home, chain-smoking something semi-legal and screaming into cheap, scratchy linens. She returned to Toronto thoroughly burned out, the cracked and dry ashes of her brain slowly re-hydrating as this particular blemish on her record was allowed to gently fizzle out and die.
Maybe it was time for her to go back to school. She had always wanted to.
A flashlight was just about useless in the dusty, abandoned halls of Warner Brother’s maintenance trenches. After the Ellen DeGeneres Show moved out of Studio 11 and the trench-side entrance had just up and vanished, an entire wing of the loop had been abandoned.
Something was - and had been - fucking with the geometry of this place. The affected part of the maintenance trenches ran in a loop around the entire lot. While wide enough to accommodate a few lanes of golf-carts, it was seemingly devoid of working ones. Ratty and Sett had circled, on foot, three times so far. Moving backwards didn’t work: going clockwise, Studio 12 came directly after Studio 10. Counterclockwise, Studio 12 was followed by Studio 12, which was in turn followed by Studio 12, and so on.
The pair’s absent conversation had become tense with frustration, not wanting to miss the studio for a fourth time: “What’re the odds it’s like, an actual ghost?” Ratty asked, slowing to a crawl as they passed studio 9.
“Not sure.” Sapphomet mused. “one in six?”
“One in six?” Ratty asked, incredulous.
“What’s wrong with one in six?”
“I dunno, one in six is like, the way they do dentists in commercials.” She teased.
“I don’t know if there is really any other way to do odds.” Sapphomet cocked an eyebrow, a little offended at being so thoroughly called out for her dentist-style odds-calling.
“You could say it as like, twelve per cent.” Ratty said, running the math completely wrong in her head.
“Maybe.” Sapphomet muttered, distracted, trying to figure out just how far behind them Studio 10 was.
“Wild how one in six is only two percent off one in ten.” Ratty chose not to re-run the math as she mentally found more and more flaws in whatever had brought her to: ⅙ = 12%. It didn’t matter, really. Other things to worry about: mainly this flashlight. On top of going exactly six inches through the dust, it had begun to flicker, and-
“Wait!” Sett grabbed Ratty by the back of her shirt, both strangling and scaring the shit out of her. They turned, shining the beam of their flashlight on a pair of white painted numerals denoting the end of Studio 10’s section of the tunnel. Ratty, on the other hand, saw 12.
“Fuck. Did we go too far again?”
“No, I think…” Sett yanked on Ratty’s collar, pulling her back through the threshold. Studio 12’s sign tessellated itself infinitely across her eyes In the instant before she hit the ground, accompanied by a single segment of some rapper’s deep, booming voice, repeating and overlapping for the second and a half it took to drag Ratty back to the Studio 10 side of the barrier.
“Shit, sorry.” Sett apologized as their partner’s elbow cracked off the cement floor.
“It’s fine. I think it’s like…” She reached out with her unaffected arm as her elbow began to knit itself back together. Her hand stopped on the surface, like putting a flat palm against a bowl of JELL-O. It was obvious as soon as their eyes adjusted to looking at something barely-there. Dust clung to it in layers, thinnest in the several person-shaped outlines they had punched through the surface in the last hour. The edges of those cut-outs now wobbled where Ratty’s dropped flashlight highlighted them. “...It’s there. See it?”
“Oh, yes. Yes I do.” Sett knelt, placing their own palm against it, surprised as it seemingly pushed back against their weight. “How do we break it?” their eyes wandered up the wall.
They closed their fist through the gelatin, attempting to grab any fistful of threads that might be running through it. No dice. The goat rocked back on their haunches, running their eyes along the line where the barrier met the ceiling, then down the wall and across the floor. The possum’s legs appeared at a weird angle where they were stuck through the barrier, like a straw poking out of a glass of water.
“May I see your flashlight?” Sett asked.
“You may.” Ratty mimicked her partner's tone reflexively. Sett took it, then switched both of their lights in unison.
“Oh, wow, okay. Did not know you were going to do that.” Ratty said, just barely panicking as her eyes locked onto Setts. The goat’s gentle glow calmed her back down as her eyes adjusted to the blackness. Sett knelt forward with their own light, pushing it lamp-side-up into the barrier. It was even more obvious on such a small scale: like someone sawed out the middle inch of the flashlight and tried to glue it back together. They pushed until the little round bulb disappeared completely between the barrier.
Sapphomet pressed their thumb into the rubber button, then: a click, a crack like a piece of wood snapping, and...
““-imes your words just hypnotize me,
And I just love your flashy ways (uh-huh),
Guess that's why they broke, and you're so paid.”
“I got it!” Sett beamed, their little tail wiggling with excitement. They were doing that more, Ratty had noticed. That was nice.
“You got it!” She smiled back, her ears perking up at the baritone voice now echoing through the trench. “Is that Biggie Smalls?”
“You would know better than I would.” Sett shrugged as they got up.
“Yeah. That’s Biggie. How have you never- we’ve been here for like, 30 years at this point.”
“The Notorious B.I.G has only been around for 15 of them.” Sett said. “When you were doing that story, did anything come up to suggest that uh… any of the victims might like Biggie?” The goat was struck by the absurdity of that detail.
“Oh, yeah. Uh, I think it was Eleanor Sloth-Bunny’s mom who gave me this like, mix tape, of her rapping actually.” Ratty said, leading the way into the studio.
“Are we going to assume it’s Eleanor Sloth-Bunny, then?”
“Might as well be.” She braced herself against the stuck door, doing her best to push it open quietly. Something on the other side had it jammed closed, so - in lieu of the silent approach - Ratty took a half-step back, braced herself on the interior of the hallway, and kicked the door off its hinges.
That was pretty hot, Sett thought.
“It certainly smells like a ghost in here.” They said, their nose immediately assaulted by the stench.
“What do ghosts smell like?”
“Well, uh- like this.” They were too preoccupied rubbing the smell of mildew out of their nose to explain further. It smelled disconcertingly like a regular abandoned building. Then again, almost all of the American continent was deeply haunted. Most places probably had a ghost or two.
The stage was in an incredibly advanced state of decay for the amount of time it had sat empty. Whatever walls hadn’t collapsed under the weight of their own rot were coated in peeling flakes of un-cared-for drywall paint. The scaffolding that held up the stage lights seemed to have long since settled their position: crashed through the stage’s thin vinyl veneer.
Below X where they crossed, cross-legged on a pile of torn up seat-cushions sat the ghost. It had been a long time since Ratty had spent her nights pouring over every scrap of information on Eleanor Sloth-Bunny Jr., but this was almost certainly her.
The ghost took a deep hitching breath as Biggie’s backup singers faded into silence, crying softly as she waited for her voice to be drowned out by the next song from her digitally hissing, barely-holding-together CD player.
“Time to get to work.” Ratty rolled up her sleeves, giving Sett a quick nod and a half bow. They gave a short curtsy in response, enjoying the little rituals they and Ratty shared.
“Hello, Eleanor.” Sett kept back a good couple feet. It was better to be safe than sorry, considering how many ways things could break bad. The ghost jumped, startled by what must’ve been her first visitors in- well, probably ever. She turned slowly, staring over her shoulder with the same care and anxiety as a very well trained actress seeing their horror movie monster for the first time. Heavy, rotting brown tear tracks burrowed through her ethereal fur, her wispy, white hair just barely hiding a pair of black, terrified eyes.
“My name is Sett, this is my wife, Ratty.” They pointed, struggling socially as the ghost barely reacted to their words. The ghost turned, her fear beginning a slow gradient towards curiosity. Her eyes weren’t actually black on closer inspection, they were hollow; empty sockets held open with a pair of massive invisible marbles.
“Are you able to speak?” They asked.
The ghost shook her head slowly, shuttering like a mechanical doll.
“Not a problem. Are you Eleanor?”
The ghost didn’t respond to this. Her eyes remained empty, her expression blank.
“That’s… also not a problem. My wife and I run a shelter for displaced paranormal entities. We were hoping you might like to come live-” The ghost stopped them with a finger, lifting a spectral chain in her hand, giving it a tug as if to illustrate:
“You’re stuck.” Ratty stepped in, hopping up on the stage and past the ghost, startling her with the sudden approach. The ghost nodded as soon as their composure returned. “I bet I could just…” Ratty stomped into the floorboard where the ghost’s chain slipped below the stage, cracking it and spooking the two other women. The ghosts form began to shake, tearing in horizontal lines, getting less and less human with each echo.
Ratty lifted her foot again.
“Ratty, wait!” Sett was just a moment too late. Her boot came down, the floorboards came up, and a laminated piece of paper sprung from the gap, springing at the ghost’s face as though attached to the other end of a rubber band. The ghost yelped as it whapped into her face, pulling the chain with it as it fell from the stage.
She transformed in an instant; her body tearing through her spectral clothing as her eyes swallowed the rest of her face: a hollow, bleeding image of terror.
Ratty rolled out of the way as it lunged, thudding against the back wall of the stage. Against everyone’s better judgment but her own, she fell on instinct into a fighting stance, completely unprepared for what the creature could have actually done.
Sett watched as their wife prepared to tackle a ghost, apparently having only one mode of dealing with danger. “Hey!” They called, waving their hands over their head. Once again the ghost turned, a heightened version of it’s smaller form’s automaton-like shuddering.
“It’s okay, Eleanor’s we’re-” They were cut off as it rushed them. They raised their flashlight in a moment of artificially inflated fear, and anticipated the worst.
Their eyes blinked open slowly as the rush of blood through their ears gave way to a low, rumbling hiss. It was caught in the beam, struggling against its seizing muscles to cover its eyes. Sett took a cautious half-step back, focusing the beam until Eleanor was small enough to be called Eleanor again, then clicking it off.
Eleanor stared at Sett for a moment, then turned back to Ratty, and - in another half-second - took off running.
“Oh, shit.” Sett murmured, watching the ring of off-white yellow retreat down the dark hall.
“It’s okay.” Ratty dropped down off the stage, starting a half-run down the aisle. “We can catch her.”
“Wait. No.” Sett stopped Ratty for a half-second, considering their options. They stared down at their flashlight, then pulled a length of glowing rope from subspace, then back down the hall. “Make a trap, I’ll route her back here.”
“Babe there’s like- I don’t know how to make a ghost trap.” Ratty stammered, mentally flipping through the catalogue of garbage populating the trash-heap of a studio.
“And? You think her discman lasted for 6 years on a single pair of double-A batteries? There has to be something to work with around here.” Sett said, backing towards the door. “Work some magic!”
Ratty stood, stunned at being left to ‘work some magic’. She turned slowly, her eyes dancing over what was left of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. As though taunting her, her eyes stuck on the cross between the two of the racks of fallen lights.
Yeah, that would work.
Tracking the creature was easy. Not only was she trailing the now bright orange chain that bound her to that slip of paper, not only did she glow bright enough in her panicked state to be seen above the beige studio buildings, but she was also tearing at the walls of the main corridor, leaving black ectoplasmic streaks against the concrete.
Sett paused at the exit to Studio 11, tying a thread to an exposed piece of pipe and making a barrier that gave anyone with any reason to avoid light cause to duck into the studio rather than face it. They did this to the rest of the nearest intersection before heading into the main corridor, creating a net to catch their ghost.
They started east, careful to keep flat against the sound-stages each time the beam of a guard’s flashlight swept through the perpendicular corridors. They tied off each one as they went. The guards didn’t notice. Most mortals didn’t bother to look directly at the way their universe was constructed, content to let their eyes slip over the things that sat right in front of them. They could have just as well tripped over the string, and only stare back in anger for long enough to confirm how stupid they felt.
They ran out of rope a few crossings short of the end of the corridor. The end of their line nearly toppled them over as it thudded against the end of the metaphysical spool. That would be far enough, so long as they could walk the ghost for a few blocks.
At the end of the aisle sat a block of outdoor sets. The tall windows and marble architecture of Parisian-style condos sat opposite to a replica of one of Radio City Music Hall’s less ostentatious (and likely less copyrighted) marquees with the serial numbers filed off. Centre to that was the steps and marble pillars of a courthouse with one presumed Eleanor Sloth-Bunny Jr. glaring desperately through the glass front door. She seemed not to notice that, beyond the two meter cube of ‘office’ was yet another hollow warehouse.
“Eleanor.” Sett risked raising their voice. “It’s okay, I’m sorry we startled you.”
The ghost turned, their massive hollow eyes now held open by panic, shuttering - even ‘standing still’ - hard enough to rattle the fake door.
“It’s okay. We’re here to help.” They took a step closer, reaching out with an open palm. The ghost stared at it blankly, the slowness of their fall from panic mimicked by their creep down the marble steps. She stayed ready to bolt if need be up until the very instant she set her hand in Sett’s.
“It’s okay.” Sett repeated, resting a gentle - though not trapping - thumb over the back of the ghost’s palm. “It’s okay.” They then took the chain in their free hand, pulling the laminated sheet of paper towards them. On it was printed the hollow-eyed face of Ellen DeGenerous.
The ghost avoided looking at the card stock cutout, choosing instead to stare at Sett’s hand as they led her back to Studio 11. If everything went well, they would collect their things, find a motel for the night, and figure out how to communicate in the comfort of flower pattern sheets.
That would be, of course, if some trumped-up pseudo-cop had not shouted: “HEY!” at the top of his lungs. The ghost once again bolted. She tried a few side roads as she went, finding each blocked off.
Sett allowed themselves a light fist-pump before confronting the guard. “You’re not supposed to be here.” his voice snapped as he began to realize the little demon was completely unphased by his only weapon: a threateningly large flashlight.
“You just saw a ghost, and your first reaction-” Sett let the honest bewilderment sing through their voice as they advanced on the guard, slipping their belt off as they went. “Your first reaction is to try and arrest it, with a flashlight.” In one fluid move, they slipped under the guard’s arm, tied the belt around his neck, and pulled.
“Close your eyes, you’ll wake up in the hospital.” They toed the line between ‘you don’t have to be nice to cops’ and ‘being nice feels good, especially when you’re strangling someone’ expertly.
“Yeah, right, work some magic. Because it’s that easy.” Ratty grumbled through a mouthful of torn up wire jacket as she successfully completed the task that required magic working. It was surprisingly easy, not something she was going to admit to anyone, let alone herself.
The lights had torn their power lines from the ceiling when they fell, and the ghost had wired her discman into a power line running through the wall of the adjacent studio 4.
The discman, by the way, was labelled as ‘EMILYS DISCMAN’ in black marker, so we can all stop pussyfooting around calling her ‘Eleanor’ now.
In reality, all there was left to do was organize the torn-out cables and steal enough power from next door without shocking herself.
‘Without shocking herself’ was generous. She shocked herself several times, each time far more annoyed than hurt. Ratty had spent many of her high school days playing with wall power in one way or another, and every zap made her feel more and more like an amateur.
That annoyance faded just slightly as she tied off the last cable, thrumming one last light to life. She clambered up the scaffold and - using her denim sleeves like gloves - twisted the light so it crossed wit the rest of the beams in a central ‘trap zone’. She let go unceremoniously, falling to the ground with a hollow thud.
Stomping like that before was a bad idea. It was shitty not to think about how it could have scared this complete stranger who already looked to be on the edge, not to mention needlessly self destructive. Even as her leg stitched itself back together, she could feel the ache the femur-shattering it left behind.
She ignored the aches most of the time. Ignored the half-hundred times she had been stabbed for going on 25 years ago now, ignored the several times she had fallen farther than any living creature should have been able to survive, ignored it all.
Ratty ignored pain. That was what made sense to do, how she was brought up, how she lived her life. It was probably why she had been told to hang back: Sett loved her, and there was no guarantee the possum wouldn’t needlessly throw herself into danger again.
That was not what Eleanor needed.
Ratty sat up, bored of introspection. Time to turn to her less destructive hobby of snooping around. This was the first, and most likely the last, chance she would get to poke around the old Ellen stage.
The broken board was first on the menu. Might as well see what that stomp earned her. She picked away at what was left of it, creeped out when a small fortune of paper masks of Ellen DeGeneres with cut-out eyes stared back at her.
The vinyl around the hole had also started to chip in a weird pattern, having bloomed a slightly lighter shade of black by what must’ve been heat. Ratty followed it about a quarter of the way along before realizing that yeah, okay, it was just a sigil.
Sett had taught her a few runes, just the ones she was most likely to see. Among the thousands of little characters, she picked out ‘decay’ once, then followed the sentence along. ‘Decay’ again, then the unique shape of a name: busy with information. More ‘decay’, some ‘death’ and ‘binding’ certainly nothing cheerful.
The frankly mundane realization was interrupted as Eleanor came whipping around the corner with her eyes behind her. More concerned with what was chasing her than where she was going, she flew directly into the centre of the beams.
She froze in place for a moment, like a cartoon character slamming into the side of a cliff, before falling to the stage. Ratty dove forward, catching her out of the air just before she hit the ground.
“Gotcha.” She grinned. Eleanor’s head lulled around as she recovered from the impact, too dizzy to do anything but stare as her eyes met Ratty’s. Sett brought up the rear, looping her belt back through their pants.
“You get her?” They asked, panting.
“I got her.” Ratty replied.
“Good.” They sighed. “The… Lights…” they pointed, pausing to catch their breath. “You do that?”
“Yeah.” Ratty nodded.
“They look nice.”
Ratty smiled, looking up at her creation just in time to see one of the lights sag out of alignment with a sad little creak. She shrugged, let go of Eleanor, propped her up into a sitting position, and shimmied back to give her some personal space.
“So, your name is Eleanor” She yanked the electrical assembly, pulling the Discman over and plunging them back into darkness in one movement, illuminated the words “EMILYS DISCMAN” only by the ghost’s faint glow. She seemed grateful for the darkness, but - once she had acclimated to her comfort - stared at the black marker with the same blankness as before. The possum stared into her eyes for a moment, searching, before she was struck with an idea.
“Actually…” She said, looking through Eleanor at Sett. “Can I try something?”
“Sure.” The goat shrugged, starting to pack up.
“Hand me that mask.” Ratty reached for it. Sett stopped, put down the flashlights, and complied. Ratty lifted the piece of paper, blank side to Eleanor’s face, pausing mid-move as she caught the rabbit’s eyes again. “Do you mind if we try and put this on you?” She asked. Eleanor’s face remained neutral. “Okay…”
Ratty perched the mask on Eleanor’s nose. It bounced back, setting into a hover a half an inch from her cheeks.
There was not much colour to return to her yellow-gray fur, her hair stayed the same over-bleached shade of white. The only major change came in the form of a deep, dry maroon that spread from the top of her head, down over her neck, and soaked into her t-shirt.
She was quiet for a moment, moving her chest in a way that would suggest struggling to breathe as she remembered she was supposed to. Behind the mask, a sudden agency seemed to turn over in her hollow eyes: a switch from instinct to thought.
It was like she had to remember what being a consciousness felt like, because... She kinda did.
“You there, Eleanor?” Ratty prodded gently, after having left the requisite gap for soul-searching. Eleanor stayed silent for just a few more moments before…
“I really don’t know if I’m Eleanor.” She said, her voice thin, struggling to recover some deeper resonance after years and years of silence.
“That's okay.” Sett hopped up onto the stage next to the rabbit, now more fascinated with the talking ghost than their flashlights. They hovered a caring hand just above her knee and met her eyes for a nod. They scooted closer once they got it, doing their best to make comforting contact against the incorporeal. “Let’s start with what you do know. Do you remember anything about your before-life?”
Eleanor screwed up her face as she searched her memory. “I used to work here...”
“As a production manager, right?” Ratty asked, calling on her own before-life.
“Yeah. Yeah that makes sense...” Eleanor murmured “...and Ellen, dropped something on my head… She was like, sacrificing people? For views? Or…”
Ratty caught Sett’s eye. “The talk-show host?” She asked.
“She’s also an elder god.” The goat explained.
“I mean, yeah-” Ratty started, clearly flustered by information she was supposed to know, but didn’t. “But like, don’t you think she would pick one?”
“This- Ratty did you think that, every time I visited Decay, that she just also happened to live in the Ellen studio?” Sett asked, too incredulous to keep their therapist-like tone. Ratty’s embarrassment rose in the silence as Eleanor took a break from her own soul-searching to stare - a little bewildered - at the possum she had just met.
“Yeah, maybe.” Ratty replied.
Eleanor stared for a few more moments, feeling pain creep up behind her eyes. She groaned as it took over her senses. She shuddered, rubbing some soreness out of her slower eye socket. “Fuck. My head…”
“Right, yes, of course. That’s okay. This is actually a really good start, Eleanor. The more we can learn about you, the more likely you are to stay like, on this plane.” Sett explained.
“Let’s get you somewhere comfortable.” Ratty ducked suddenly under Eleanor’s armpit and hoisted the taller woman. She seemed only to realize how strange that was when Sett gave her a look.
“It’s cool, thank you.” Eleanor had evidently also caught that look. She buried her snout in Ratty’s neck to drown out the light before realizing that she was the light, leaving it there for the cool comfort of her damp fur against her forehead. “Where y’all from?”
“We don’t sound like Californians?” Ratty teased, guiding Eleanor step-by-step down from the stage.
“Nah, I mean the goat sounds fine, but you talk like a farmer.” Eleanor’s voice was muffled by possum flesh.
“I do not talk like a farmer.” Ratty laughed.
“Oh, hun. You totally do.” Sett chose to betray their wife in this, her hour of need.
“Well, fuck.” She mumbled, annoyed. “I’m from Ontario, Sett is from Hell.”
“Oh, uh, cool. Tight, I guess.” Cus like, some nights are just- why not, y’know?
It took a few hours for Eleanor’s memory to plateau at a stable level.
What came back was an outline: structure without substance, the fact that she had been alive at some point, with scarce actual facts about that life. The few details that came back - annoyingly - were largely centred around the Ellen DeGeneres show, and all coloured by the shame of having participated in it.
Explaining it to Ratty and Sett helped. Each had their own history of participating in an institution they now found incontrovertibly evil.
“So, essentially, we would get these branding deals, right? Everyone in the audience gets a free KitchenAid mixer and KitchenAid gets like, some advertising. It’s like a trade, essentially. The thing is, though, is that we didn’t just do that with KitchenAid mixers. What really brought in the views was when Ellen like, brought in some dying kid on and like, ‘paid’ for them to not die or whatever.” Eleanor explained.
“We kind of hand-waved it to be like, ‘oh, we paid their hospital bills’ or something, but in reality it’s more like Ellen would use her godhood to take the years that that child would lose to sickness from someone else.”
Still, there was nothing to explain why she was the only ghost out of the presumed hundreds that would die between the show’s inception and Ellen’s eventual death. If the mask was anything, it was just something that was nearby when Eleanor’s soul needed something to cling to; no more than a Halloween episode tie-in that never panned out.
All of this came back as Eleanor lay on a motel bed; the first bed she remembered seeing in this version of her memories, waiting for someone named Angel to come pick the three of them up and whisk them off to Toronto, Canada. Here was no better than there, she thought, thoroughly detached from it all.
“If I want to like… pass on…” She asked, once Ratty had left to get food. “Could I do that?”
“I could certainly help you with that, if it’s what you really want.” Sett said. Eleanor thumbed idly at the edge of her mask, wondering if she would ever be able to take it off without risking a return to instinct purgatory.
“What about this?” She asked, pressing the nose of the mask to her own with a finger. “Can I take it off eventually?”
“I would have to check a spectrology textbook, but I assume the worst case scenario would be something like: you dissipate, get sent back to the uh… ‘ghost-zone’... and whatever progress you’ve made to constructing this form is reset.” They explained from the opposite bed.
That memory was really going to need some work. What little memory the rabbit retained of non-existence was something akin to a collective, thoroughly nasty, feverish wet-dream. A never ending rave where one could never get tired, just bored and confused and higher and higher before peaking just above the clouds that constructed the barrier between realities.
“I should mention though, that it would not be permanent.” Sett said, doing their best to be encouraging as they scooted to the very edge of the bed and rested a comforting hand on/in Eleanor's semi-corporeal shoulder. “The people back home are good at this kind of thing - working together, we could find a way to bring you back in no time at all.”
It was Sett who was good at this kind of thing; matters of life and death. Stephanie and Fern covered matters of 1 and 0. Angel: here and there. Ratty: built and ruined. But Sett had life and death.
Eleanor stood, walking through Sett and exasperatedly throwing her weightless form down on the motel’s dusty-smelling couch with a completely inaudible ‘flumf’. She stared up at the motionless ceiling fan through the mask’s tiny eyes, somehow more comfortable on the old, sex-smelling leather than on the cheap sheets.
“It’s annoying.” The rabbit said.
“I can imagine.” Sett got up from their spot and sat back down on the arm of the chair.
“It feels like shit to have to wear the face of the woman who killed me.”
“That I cannot imagine.”
“And we're not even entirely sure I need it.”
“We-” Sett paused, not having said that. “No, we are not sure that you need it.”
“Alright then, fuck it.” Eleanor grabbed the paper face by its chin and whipped it off, slamming it down on her lap with a slap. It went easily, not clinging to her face, as though completely within her control: it would stay when told to stay, and come off when told to come off. Some of the colour drained from Eleanor’s body, but otherwise, she was still entirely there.
“How do you feel?” Sett asked, recovering from that sudden spike in anxiety.
“Uh, like seven?” She was still talking too.
“Out of ten?”
“Yeah. I think so.”
“Are you still with us?”
“Mostly, yeah. I would say… yeah.” For whatever reason, less of a body was actually more comfortable. Less places to ache, Eleanor guessed, as she rolled over onto her side and sunk into the couch.
“Do you feel like you're gonna stay at seven out of ten?” Sett asked, standing to take in the rest of the rabbit. Sure enough, she was staying.
“Yeah… probably.” Eleanor murmured, a sudden exhaustion taking over her voice as she got comfortable. “Can you- can you save me if I start to look too pale?”
“Yes, I can.” Sett said. “Are you going to sleep now?”
“Ah, well. Okay. Good. Sleep well, Eleanor.” With that, Sapphomet got up, flicked off the lights, and slipped out to wait at the door and warn Ratty that Eleanor had finally found a spot alone to rest properly.