The Way to Go HomeBy Sheila Paulson
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|When I moved back to New York after ten years in Iowa, my mother decided to throw a "Welcome back to
Civilization" party for me. Although I had never grown very fond of life in the Midwest, I found that, for the sake
of my late husband Greg, I resented the suggestion that I had been living in darkest America. I welcomed the
overture from my mother, though, because she had always been cool and distant and not very interested in me.
Funny, when I met her again I realized for the very first time that her cool control was simply the facade she
presented the world and that, in her own way, she really did care after all.
Some six months earlier, I had encountered a man who was a past master at keeping his feelings at bay and, compared to him, my mother was a rank amateur. When she stretched out a formal hand to greet me and mimed a kiss in the vicinity of my left ear, I realized that, for her, it was the same as a warm embrace from a more outgoing person. After that, we got on much better, at least as well as any two people who are as different from each other as the sun and the moon.
She wanted me to bask contentedly in her reflected light, yet she was the cool one. Her emotions never ran away with her. Mine went up and down with every little mood change. Strange, when I'd probably started life much like her. When I first met Greg, I had been cool and practical and apt to scoff at idealists. But Greg was an idealist and Greg was my lodestone. I had never been able to fight the pull.
It was Avon, a man who came from the future, who had amazingly dropped into my back yard in an escape pod from a spaceship, who had shown me I could let Greg go. I still missed Greg, of course, sometimes agonizingly, but that part of my life was over. Returning to New York--part of my bargain with Avon--had sealed the past behind and I was ready to begin a new life.
Mother's welcome-home party glittered with celebrities and pitched me into an entirely different life than I'd expected because I met Peter Venkman there. Out in Iowa, I'd heard of the Ghostbusters, but I never dreamed I'd meet one. Actually, I had never given them a thought. The old farmhouse that had been in Greg's family for so many generations was said to be haunted, but I never saw the spirit. I heard footsteps sometimes and doors opened and closed without explanation. The house was settling, I told Greg, or it was the wind. He only smiled and told me it was Sara, his great great grandmother, who sometimes walked at night. He'd seen her when he was a child, he admitted. I didn't believe him.
Mother collected the rich and famous the way some people collect butterflies or salt and pepper shakers, and the Ghostbusters were certainly famous in an odd sort of way. Peter was the Ghostbuster who most liked being a celebrity, so he guested on talk shows and attended parties like the one Mother gave. We gravitated together.
I think I knew from the first that I wasn't going to be in love with Peter. He was as different from Greg as anyone could be, except that there was some of that same enjoyment of life there, a pessimistic optimism, if there could be such a thing. Peter was a born fast talker, who loved fame and money, and I didn't care about money at all--though he said I'd care fast enough if I lost it. But he was frivolous and laid-back and I needed someone like that. He wasn't in love with me, either, but we had fun together. Sometimes I wondered what Avon would have made of him. Avon held his feelings inside with a cold facade, Peter used humor and smart remarks to keep people at a distance, to keep from seeing the caring, intelligent man behind the somewhat mouthy exterior. Maybe everyone has their own particular facade. That was one of the first things I learned from him.
On our third date, Peter took me to Ghostbuster Central, the converted firehouse out of which the team operated, where I met his fellow spook chasers. Egon Spengler fascinated me in an entirely different way than he did their secretary, Janine Melnitz, who was in love with him. Egon was cool and brilliant and in some ways he reminded me of Avon, because he said what he thought without regard for the consequences. Lacking in conventional social graces, he was more at home with experiments than he was with people, although he had a buried, and wicked, sense of humor. But his loyalty to his friends was obvious and beyond question. Avon had fought tooth and nail to convince himself that no one mattered but himself.
Ray Stantz would have driven Avon crazy, but I fell hard for Ray and enjoyed his boundless enthusiasm and his childlike sense of wonder. Ray liked comic books and old movies and, once or twice, I watched old horror movies with him on TV at the fire station.
Winston Zeddemore was one of the nicest people I'd ever met. The down to earth one, he was like a big brother to the three scientific types and a breath of fresh air when they got into some of their weirder theories. I really liked Winston.
Then there was Slimer. Finally, I came face to face with a genuine ghost, not a sheet clad shape who moaned around and rattled chains but a lumpy little green figure who shed ectoplasm right and left and who, if he liked a person, displayed his affection with messy kisses and hugs. The first hug I got from Slimer was horrible, but I got used to him eventually. I could always bribe him away from sliming me with offers of food.
I discovered I knew Janine already. A long time ago, for one year, we'd been at school together. We'd been friends at age ten, before my father took me out of the Brooklyn public school and sent me off to boarding school, which I'd hated. It was fun to see Janine again and to watch her manage the four Ghostbusters, and Slimer, too, with acerbic good humor. She could handle them easily when she wanted to and they knew very well when not to cross her.
Peter was the one I knew the best, and it was to him that I told the story of Avon, since it was in there, burning to get out. I could certainly never tell my parents. I figured if he believed in ghosts and demons and werewolves and such, he wouldn't be skeptical of time travelers. So I described Avon, who had appeared in a downed escape pod last November in a flight from a political enemy, Servalan. She had pursued him, but not before I'd had some time to get to know Avon, who was reeling from the shock of being manipulated into shooting Blake, the only man that he could reluctantly call a friend. When Servalan arrived, she blithely informed him he'd shot a clone of Blake and when, hard on Servalan's heels, Avon's crew arrived to take him home, Avon had agreed to search for the real Blake. I suspected he couldn't help himself.
Life in their century had been hard and bitter, with the established totalitarian government against them, but Avon chose to go back. I was never really tempted to go with him--I had not fallen in love with him any more than I had Peter--but I urged him to look for Blake. He agreed but, in turn, exhorted me to come home to New York and start a new life. I had kept my part of the bargain. My main regret was that I would never know if Avon had succeeded in finding Blake or not.
"So nobody ever realized you'd had a spaceship in your back yard?" Peter asked. He cocked his head at me and grinned skeptically. Whether or not he believed me, he obviously enjoyed the story.
"Well, no. There was a giant blizzard and it took everybody's minds off the UFO sighting. By the time the roads were clear again, the others were long gone. Thank goodness. I never heard anything when I was selling the farm. They'll think all the broken branches were the result of bad weather."
Peter grinned. "Whatever you do, don't tell Egon about it. He'd have us out there looking for traces of it and taking about a zillion P.K.E. readings before you could say 'Slimer'."
Mention of his name caught the little ghost's attention and he drifted over to Peter expectantly. We turned to look at him and saw behind him Ray's eager and excited face.
"Wow. Time travel. That's so great." Ray gets excited like that at the drop of a hat. It's one of his most endearing traits.
"Down, Tex. It doesn't sound like there's going to be a repeat performance," Peter declared.
"But what about this vortex?" persisted Ray. "Is it still out there? Do you think anybody else will come through it? That nasty Servalan you mentioned? What if there's something she wants in our time?"
"I doubt it," I said. "It was dangerous. It required pinpoint accuracy in navigation. I don't know anything more about it than that. She wouldn't risk her neck on it, and anyway, the others had her prisoner."
"Well, you never know," said Ray cheerfully. "Maybe someday there'll be a knock on your door and your future friends will come back."
I forgot all about that conversation. I had long since accepted the fact that I wouldn't see Avon and the others again. It was just as well, although I'd become fond of my prickly guest.
Life went on. Nothing exciting happened for another two months. I was still dating Peter occasionally, although he had at least one other girlfriend that I knew about. Once or twice I'd gone with Ray to dinners and receptions where he'd been invited to speak and needed a date. Janine and I occasionally went shopping together. My mother thought it was strange of me to have made casual friends out of them, but the Ghostbusters were famous and she enjoyed that. "My daughter knows the Ghostbusters," she would say to the ladies who came to her teas. My father, when he emerged from his boardrooms and power lunches, would pat me on the head as if I were ten years old, ask if I was getting on all right, and when I said I was, he'd mutter absently, "Good, good," and go on his way. I doubted I'd ever be close to him. It made me wonder what he'd do if he ever encountered Peter's father, who was a genuine con man. I'd met Charlie Venkman once and thought he was a sweetie, even after he tried to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.
The morning when everything began, it was Egon, not Peter, who telephoned me.
"Meredith? It's Egon Spengler. I wonder if you would come over to the firehall immediately."
My first thought was that something was wrong. "Is Peter all right?" I demanded anxiously.
"He's perfectly well. But there's a man here I want you to meet. You know that the police sometimes drop people off here who seem more geared to our situation than that of Belleview. The man they brought today is not giving off unusual P.K.E. readings although his biorhythms appear slightly out of balance, but when he said what he had to say, Peter was fascinated and insisted that you could help us."
"I could help you? I'm no scientist, Egon. You know that." This was starting to sound really weird but, ever since I'd first met Peter, weird was the normal state of affairs.
"At the moment, science is not the prime consideration." Egon had aroused my curiosity so I went out and flagged down a taxi. What could I offer the Ghostbusters? I could barely run a personal computer. Of course I had some money, but if it was a loan they wanted, Peter would have been the one to ask for it. He handled all the money stuff. I still wasn't convinced that Peter wasn't in danger and that perhaps Egon meant to break it to me gently. What could I do to help them with someone Belleview had dumped on them? I wasn't a shrink, either. Peter was a psychologist, so why wasn't he dealing with the Belleview reject?
When I reached Headquarters, Janine made the circle with her finger at the side of her head that indicates someone is crazy and sent me upstairs. She wouldn't have done that if Peter was hurt. "Better hurry. Peter's spinning a really weird tale about the guy they've got. If you ask me, he's finally lost it, but Egon's listening."
I found all four Ghostbusters intact in Egon's lab, gathered around a man I'd never seen before. He was tall and solidly built and his hair was a mass of curls. Egon had one of his esoteric monitoring devices on the man's head. To me it looked like an upside down colander with electrodes and circuits attached to it. A screen gave a reading in varying colors, a computer enhanced picture of his brain, apparently. As I came in, Egon lifted it off and set it aside, a frown on his face.
The stranger was oddly dressed in leather pants, a shirt with great, full sleeves like garb worn at a Renaissance Faire, and a leather vest. I wondered if he were an actor. All that leather would be uncomfortable in the heat of a warm September.
"Meredith?" Obviously hale and well, Peter bounced over to me and draped his arm around my shoulders. "You've got to hear this." He nodded to the man. "Tell her what you've told us," he urged.
Slimer hovered in the doorway behind me and the stranger's eyes scarcely left him long enough to register my presence. He didn't look like he'd ever seen a ghost before, or even considered the possibility of their existence.
"Slimer won't hurt you," Ray reassured him hastily. "He's friendly and definitely non-violent. This is Meredith Everett. Tell her who you are."
The man eyed me doubtfully and considered it, gnawing on his finger as he studied me. Then he shrugged. "My name is Roj Blake."
Of all the things I had expected, that was the last of them. I couldn't have been more surprised if he'd announced himself the reincarnation of Julius Caesar.
"Blake?" I echoed doubtfully. "You can't be! Not Avon's Blake?"
He had looked so cowed by his surroundings that I hadn't expected a strong reaction. But he moved with remarkable speed, and the next thing I knew he grasped my wrist so tightly that it hurt. I let out a squeak of protest even as all four of the Ghostbusters jumped to my rescue and pulled him away from me. My other hand went to my wrist and I rubbed it, dazed, while I stared into his appalled brown eyes.
"You can't know that!" he spat at me. "This is a trick. Servalan didn't exile me in the past after all. This is an elaborate setup, isn't it? Programming?"
"I hardly think any setup could be as elaborate as New York," Egon assured him. "The coincidence is remarkable, but perhaps there is something about Meredith which enables her to serve as a nexus for the past and future." He waved his P.K.E. meter at me hopefully but it didn't react.
"This really is your past," I assured Blake. "I know it seems impossible, but I've met Servalan so I can understand why you might be suspicious. She must have sent you through a vortex that functions as a time warp. That's how I met Avon. He escaped from her after Gauda Prime and his escape pod passed through that same vortex. She pursued him, but we captured her and Avon and his crew took her back with them. Do you know about Gauda Prime?"
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