James here – remember me? Yeah, I know I haven’t been around much lately. Believe it or not, the words Manic Expression have never occupied my life more, but in ways that you don’t really see show up here on the site. So, because I haven’t been around, I thought it might be a good idea to let everyone know whats going on, and where our community will be heading and how you can help.
According to Angel Bob’s profile here at Manic Expression, she is 15 years old. …Really? Dammit I’m old! As a fellow writer I can remember where I was at in my craft when I was 15 and how far I’ve come in the 20 plus years since then. If that will be the case for Angel Bob, all I can say is “wow.”
As many of you may know, I decided to re-release my book this year. Originally, Manic Expression: A Collection came out in 2008 as a two volume set. However, I kept writing, eventually churning out a third book in the series. I was never really happy with the original publications, and this year I decided I would put them out with brand new stories included, with a re-edit done on the older stories. The stories are now spread across six volumes, each one with a different theme. Taylor (Whyboy) graciously agreed to design the covers, and each book features an original poem by our very own T-Kun.
Recently, Taylor completed work on the six covers. I decided I would share the covers here, as well as release dates for the books and the synopsis for each.
Reflections is the first volume of Manic Expression: A Collection. Throughout these six stories we will come to know a group of childhood friends who each take a rocky road to adulthood. Some will find joy, others only sorrow. As they journey from lost boys to struggling fathers, each strives to find his own way through extraordinary circumstances.
Dani Phantom and the Spectre Detectors
by That Long-Haired Creepy Guy
Episode 1 – The New Girl in Town
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Episode Guide: After moving to Kingsport Falls to live with family relatives, Danielle Fenton, ne Kraven, finds herself at a new school where new ghosts and ghost hunters alike challenge her.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Arkham High was an ancient building, erected sometime in the early last century. It was a structure of old stone and decayed wood. Windows rattled with the wind. At nights–much like this one–rats were said to scurry through the walls, scratching and gnawing with their teeth. It was a place no student wished to visit even during the day, much less after sunset.
That was the theory, at least.
Three figures stalked up the street, moving quietly past the security booth posted at the front entrance. The guard inside continued snoring softly, heedless of the trespassers. Clad in black, the trio stopped in front of the main entrance.
“Main entrance is sealed,” said the leader of the trio, a Chinese-American teenager with long, dark hair. “Recommend alternate route through lower-level aperture.”
The two young males with her both glanced at each other.
“What?” the shorter of the two, an African-American teen with blue eyes and lengthy dreadlocks, asked.
“The window!” she hissed back. “Climb in through the window.”
The taller of the two males; a lanky, pale-skinned teen with incredibly long, curly, brown hair, green eyes, and an absurdly large nose; began to do as he was instructed, but then paused.
“Um, I think that if the school can afford a security team, they can probably afford a burglar alarm,” he told her.
“True dat,” the shorter male with the small build agreed. “Maybe this ain’t such a good idea, Alice.”
Alice scowled at him.
“This is where the Professor’s scanning equipment pointed us,” she said, jerking a pointing hand up at the school building for emphasis. “We get in, we take out the target, and then go out.”
“I approve of this plan,” the taller one said proudly, and much louder than needed. “Except for the part about us not being able to get inside. That needs more work, I think.”
Alice ground her teeth together.
“Randy,” she said with much patience, speaking to the shorter one, “would you mind explaining to Dexter the importance of maintaining a low profile?”
Randy smiled. “How ’bout this?” he offered. “We transform and phase through the walls. That way, nobody gotta know we were hear, and no one asks ’bout any broken windows.”
“Mm,” Dexter said, shaking his long mane of curly brown hair out of his face. “This is a much better plan.”
“We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile with our status as ghost hunters,” Alice reminded, feeling very frustrated. “And not abuse our powers.”
“You know a better way inside?” Randy challenged.
Alice opened her mouth to argue, but the logic behind Randy’s words overcame her desire to put both of them in their respective places.
“Fine,” she consented. “We transform and go in quietly.”
“Right, right,” both young males agreed.
Alice took point in the middle while Randy and Dexter stood behind her on either side. In unison, they reached inside their belt pockets for the specially-made cell phones. Together, each punched in a series of codes on the touch-sensitive screen and held it forward in front of them.
“Let’s Specterize!” they called out, giving the activation code phrase.
All three placed the phones screen-forward on the slot built into their belts. The phone screens shined brightly in the night for a moment. Twin rings of light fanned out from the belts, surrounding each member of the trio and encircling them, moving around at counterpoints. When the rings had formed twin globes around each of them, they folded back into the belts.
Now the trio stood clad in lightweight, black power armor. The seems of each suit were intertwined with electronic fibers, resembling glowing green circuitry. The helmets looked like something a motorcyclist would wear.
“This outfits are boss,” Randy said happily. “Imma never get sick of wearing this.”
“Good for you,” Alice grumbled, taking command. “Standard formation. Infiltration plan: Theta Tao. Intangibility mode on now.”
Alice pressed a button on the buckle of her belt where her cell phone had once been. Her entire suit and body within became translucent. Confidently, she strode up to the solid wall that served as the eastern side of the school building. Only at the last second did she hesitate.
“Do you ever understand what she means?” Dexter asked Randy while Alice tentatively slipped through the wall to the other side.
“Don’ worry much ’bout it, Hoss,” Randy replied, hitting the command on his buckle before stepping forward to go next. “She jus’ needs t’ sound important.”
Randy entered the building through the same spot in the wall that Alice had gone through. The moment he was on the other side, he hit the command that turned off his intangibility mode. This proved to be a mistake, as a bolt of electricity shot out from off to Randy’s left and knocked him right off his feet.
Randy raised up from the spot on the floor where he stopped in time to see Dexter standing in front of the wall, tangible and a very easy target. Up in front of the classroom, Alice was poised in a defensive position, holding out her ecto-staff.
And above her, near the chalkboard, was a floating brain covered in tendrils surrounded by an electrified pink cloud.
“Foolish adolescent mortals!” the brain howled loudly, a pair of eyeballs on two stalks moving around in the brain’s forefront. “Thou all darest to enter the domicile of the greatest mental capacity in the entire universe? That which is… BRAINSTORM!”
Electricity crackled all around the pink brain cloud, which concentrated around the brain’s tendrils before firing out at Alice. Alice spun her staff in front of her to deflect the blast away with, but ended up shocked and blown backward for her trouble.
“Okay,” Dexter said in a detached, calm tone of voice. “Not what I was expecting.”
“Expectations are frivolous!” the spectral form crowed. “None can anticipate the machinations of BRAINSTORM!”
More electricity followed this proclamation.
“Plan?” Randy called out while Dexter continued looking confused like the average football jock during Algebra.
“Attack pattern Omega B,” Alice stated.
Neither Dexter nor Randy moved from their positions.
“Meaning?” Dexter asked.
“Surround it!” Alice shouted, getting exasperated. “Did either of you even look at the training manual?”
“If I say ‘yes’, does that mean I don’t have to be the bait this time?” Dexter asked, moving around the row of desks blocking his path.
“Ah’m gettin’ the feeling we both bein’ bait this round, Hoss,” said Randy. “Make th’ best outta it, though.”
“Good for you two,” Alice grumbled, dodging out of the way while Brainstorm continued firing on her. “I’ll draw it’s fire.”
“I can hear all three of you, you know,” Brainstorm retorted irritably while still trying to shock Alice. “This semi-corporeal form of mine might possess limitations when it comes to physical attributes, but rest assured that I still claim audio frequency reception!”
“What?” Randy wondered, moving around the row of desks on the other side of the room.
“He can still hear us,” Dexter called out, explaining as he reached his position on one side of the chalkboard.
“Gotcha,” replied Randy, taking point on the opposite side of the board. “Now?”
“Not yet,” Alice ordered, fumbling with the device on the side of her belt. “Dammit! The Polter-Vac is jammed again. Why does this thing always get stuck?”
Randy drew out both ecto-pistols from their holsters under his armpits and took aim. Dexter, meanwhile, was unsheathing his spectral katana. The pink cloud of spectral matter bobbed back and forth through the air between the two of them, as though unsure suddenly of what was going to happen.
“I’ve almost got it!” Alice shouted, trying to reassure them and herself.
“I’ll draw it’s fire,” Randy offered.
“I think I can get in a good shot with my blade,” Dexter said.
“Don’t move,” Alice ordered, finally getting the hand vacuum-shaped device free. “I’ve got it!”
Alice aimed the Polter-Vac up at Brainstorm, who froze.
“Now I’ve got you,” Alice declared happily. “Not so tough now, are you?”
Hitting the switch, Alice laughed as the device engaged, humming powerfully in her hands. The Polter-Vac energized and let out a sound reminiscent of a very old vacuum gunning itself.
Then, promptly died in Alice’s hands.
“What the…?” she wondered, bringing the silent machine up to her helmet. “Oh, for the love of…! Who forgot to put a new containment cartridge in this thing after emptying it out?”
“Not me!” Randy said immediately, echoed by Dexter’s declaration of, “Not me either!”
Brainstorm began laughing, crackling with energy once more.
“I am beyond such puny technological feats of mortals,” he shouted. “No minuscule device resembling a Black & Decker Dustbuster can hope to contain my superior form! Now Brainstorm rules supreme, never again to face taunts and insults, or have his mortal head shoved inside the porcelain confines of a waste-disposal receptacle!”
“You got any idea what this cracka is talkin’ ’bout?” Randy wondered, opening fire with his ecto-pistols at Brainstorm.
“Does it matter?” asked Dexter, ever the existentialist figure.
“No, guys!” Alice protested as Dexter leapt into the air with his katana beam raised. “I didn’t say ‘attack’ yet. We have to–”
Brainstorm moved back out of the way toward the chalkboard as Dexter brought his katana down, swiping at nothing but air. The poor teen ended up belly-flopping on top of the teacher’s desk hard while Randy fired into the air futilely at Brainstorm’s weaving, cackling form.
“–coordinate our attack first,” Alice finished, feeling defeated.
“You futile children have just sampled a mere taste of the awesome might that is Brainstorm,” the pink brain cloud declared. “I shall return at a later date to finish you off. Farewell for now, though.”
With that, Brainstorm went intangible and phased through the ceiling, disappearing from sight. With his target gone, Randy reluctantly holstered his ecto-pistols and moved to help his friend.
“You okay, Hoss?” he asked, as Dexter pushed himself up off the desk slowly.
“I’m fine,” Dexter said, rambling as Randy helped him off the desk’s surface. “Who needs a spleen anyway? Or a kidney? I can get by on just one. One of my uncle’s did, and he lived to a ripe old age of fifty-two.”
“Good for him,” Alice retorted, stomping up to the desk. “Thanks to you two, the ghost managed to escape. Now what will we tell Professor Wraitheon?”
“Hold up,” Randy protested, once Dexter was safely back on his two feet. “How’s this supposed to be our fault?”
“As I recall,” Dexter said, thinking, “you were the one in charge of emptying the Polter-Vac last. Weren’t you supposed to put a new containment cartridge in, then?”
“That’s really not important,” Alice decided, holstering the Polter-Vac back on her belt. “What’s important is that we come up with a good enough excuse to give the Professor before–”
Alice stopped short as the sound of noisy footsteps echoed down the hall toward their position.
“Invisibility mode, now!” she ordered.
All three quickly pushed the icon on their belt buckles, rendering themselves imperceptible to the human eye. The three teens then froze on the spot as the door to the classroom opened. A security guard–the very same one from the booth they’d sneaked past outside–brandished a flashlight as he stood in the doorway. The light passed over the trio repeatedly, but the security guard saw nothing.
“Oh, well,” he said, shrugging. “Must’ve been rats again. Glad I’m not on the janitor’s staff.”
With that statement, the guard exited the door frame, closing the door shut behind him.
“That was close,” Randy breathed out, going visible along with the others once the classroom door closed.
“Agreed,” said Dexter. “I hope we don’t get detention for this.”
“We won’t,” Alice insisted, turning. “So long as we get out of it.”
Neither of her friends argued with her, which made for a refreshing change of pace.
“Oh, and by the way,” said Alice, going intangible once they were standing by the outer wall. “If Professor Wraitheon asks, the two of you let the ghost get away.”
“So, it’ll be like last time in the amusement park when we fought that haunted cotton candy?” Dexter asked as Alice vanished through the wall.
“No, this’ll be different, Hoss,” answered Randy, going next. “For one thing, Pamela Wells won’t sucker punch you in the face for wrecking her date.”
“I think she’s warming up to me,” Dexter told Randy as he followed after his friend through the wall.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Arkham High was a very different place during the day. The sun highlighted the cracks in the various windows, the peeling paint, and the iron-wrought fence that surrounded the complex. Spikes rose up from the top of the latter, giving the place a look and feel not unlike that of an old prison. Security guards stood watch at the gates and throughout various spots marked especially for them so that they had a maximum view of the student body entering the building.
One such student–a young woman of around fifteen or so years, whose blue eyes were noticeable even from a distance–surveyed the exterior grounds beyond the gate warily. Her dark hair was done up in a ponytail, whereas the bangs hung down, framing her face, and colored an unnatural shade of dark neon blue. A lacy, black choker concealed part of her neck.
Her clothes reflected an alternative-goth mindset, though with more of an emphasis on red. A scarlet corset covered her front, concealed partially by a black vest, neither of which covered her naval. Long black, spider-y fishnet gloves wound their way up her arms past the elbows. Deep, blood-red stretch pants, strategically ripped in various areas, clung to her legs like they were painted on, the color marred by several black belts. Her boots were black combat boots, weighed down with extra-thick laces.
As she walked along through the campus grounds, Danielle caught snippets of conversation from what would as of this day be her fellow students.
“I hear Dumpty Humpty’s big comeback album is available on iTunes tomorrow,” a girl shrieked happily. “I can’t wait! It’s been ages since they last released anything.”
“Man, this year’s team is gonna rock!” a football jock declared to his small throng of followers. “As long as we keep our heads down, watch each other’s back, and nobody goes near that creepy glowing spot in the basement, this season’ll be all ours.”
“I read on that Whyguy’s blog that there’s been more sightings of the Kingsport Falls lake monster,” a slightly rattled girl said to one of her friends. “It’s really spooky.”
“That site is such a hoax,” her friend retorted disdainfully. “Why do you even go to that place?”
“It’s serious,” the girl replied. “My little brother went swimming in that lake this summer.”
Danielle ignored the two girls and continued onward toward the main entrance, though she did smile briefly at the words of the girl’s friend. No one was paying her any obvious attention, though she caught sight of several people farther back pointing and whispering to each other. Danielle knew that she carried the unmistakable stench of ‘new student’ on her. Whether she had dressed normally or not–something she’d considered for all of two seconds that morning–people would still have stared. It was a scientific fact.
Following the instructions given to her, Danielle made her way to the main office where the principal–a Mr. Nathaniel Peaslee–was said to be waiting for her. A mystified Danielle waited as the two security guards standing watch by the office door each went through a checklist on separate tablets before finally confirming that she was expected.
The receptionist–a bespectacled, gray-haired woman in clothing straight out of a nineteen-fifties movie–said nothing to Danielle other than indicating she should walk through two separate metal detectors before proceeding. The receptionist then waved Danielle back while she tapped out what appeared to be a secret knock on the principal office door. Several locks were undone before a feeble-looking bald man in a gray suit stuck himself part of the way out, looking around wildly as though expecting enemy troops.
“A Miss Danielle Kraven to see you, sir,” the receptionist said apathetically. “She was expected.”
“The guards let her through?” Principal Peaslee pressed, sounding paranoid. “She passed both inspections?”
Danielle thought that if the receptionist had sounded any more bored, the gray-haired woman would be speaking to the principal from within a coma. Evidently, Principal Peaslee was used to this, however. He seemed more suspicious of Danielle, watching her closely for a full thirty seconds before opening the door wider and stepping aside far enough to let her through.
“Forgive me, Miss… ah, Kraven,” Peaslee said nervously, shutting the door hard once Danielle was inside. “I need a moment to, ah… pull up your permanent file.”
“They still have those?” she asked, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of Peaslee’s desk without being told to do so.
Peaslee began typing away furiously at his keyboard, ignoring her question. Danielle spotted an ornamental mirror hanging on the wall behind the principal’s desk. Through it, she could see that Peaslee was conducting several Google searches on her name.
“It’s ‘Kraven’ with a ‘K’,” she informed him.
Principal Peaslee jumped at her words.
“What? Sorry?” he asked, looking around the screen at her, wide-eyed.
“You’re doing a Google search on me,” she stated. “My last name is spelled with a ‘K’, not a ‘C’.”
Peaslee’s eyes doubled in size, and he looked like he was about to suffer a panic attack.
“Ah, how… how’d you know that, Miss Kraven?” he demanded, while trying not to sound too horrified.
“I’m psychic,” she answered, having fun at the man’s expense. Though, upon seeing the expression on his face, she decided to toss him a bone. “I can see the screen through the mirror behind you.”
Danielle pointed to help Peaslee understand what she meant. Peaslee, meanwhile, followed the direction indicated by her pointing finger and saw the mirror.
“Ah, I see,” he said nervously, quickly closing each window with the Google engine on it. “Sorry about that. Can’t be too careful nowadays.”
“My parents didn’t think I should bring weapons with me during the move,” she told him frankly. “So rest assured I came to school unarmed. All I want at this point is a nice, normal education at a quiet school.”
“Ah, I see,” Peaslee repeated. “So, ah… your previous school was more exciting, I take it?”
Danielle thought back to the last ten years of her life, which brought a secretive smile to her face.
“It had its moments,” she answered at last.
Principal Peaslee didn’t appear to know what to make of that statement, so he fell back on his old tried-and-true method of switching subjects.
“Well, ah… I suppose you’ll be needing a quick tour of the premises. Just so you’ll find everything and won’t go, ah… wandering off and whatnot.”
Danielle said nothing, but Peaslee wasn’t waiting to hear her input. He was already reaching over to press a button on the intercom control.
“Ms. Waldron,” he called out as the light on the intercom flashed a bright red. “Could you, ah… please page Alice Halsey-Wong to my office. I have, ah… a job for her.”
Peaslee said the last part while staring directly at Danielle. Danielle met his gaze without flinching, which only served to unnerve him more, if that was even possible. Silence fell between them. Peaslee passed the time by flexing his fingers and pressing the tips together hard.
“Just, ah… pick up your schedule at the receptionist’s desk,” he finally said. “Ms. Waldron should have the packet all ready for you.”
“…right,” Danielle said as the intercom squawked.
“Principal Peaslee?” said Ms. Waldron’s voice on the other end. “Alice Halsey-Wong is here. Shall I send her through?”
“Ah, no!” Peaslee said, jumping up out of his seat. “No, that won’t, ah… be necessary. Miss Kraven was just on her way out.”
Peaslee gestured at the door, so Danielle stood up and moved over to it. As she exited, Peaslee could be overheard muttering to himself.
“Just as well,” Danielle could hear him say as she closed the door behind her. “Nothing came up but stuff about old horror films.”
A Chinese-American girl with a perfectly round face framed by long, silky dark hair stood near the reception counter. Danielle assumed that this was Alice Halsey-Wong.
“Hi,” she introduced. “I’m Danielle Kraven.”
The girl seemed surprised to see Danielle, and looked back without responding like she didn’t understand why Danielle was introducing herself.
“Miss Kraven is the new student,” Ms. Waldron explained, holding the phone up tightly to her ear. “What? Oh, Principal Peaslee wants you to give her a quick tour of the campus before first bell. He says he’ll write you a note excusing you from first period if you are late.”
“Oh,” was all the girl said in response. “Okay then.”
Danielle waited while Alice gave her a once-over, sizing her up. She’d been in school enough to know that this was something teenage girls did to each other on occasion, especially if they felt threatened.
“I guess we should go,” Alice said at last in a cold, business-like tone. “I’m Alice Halsey-Wong, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you,” Danielle replied, hoping she didn’t sound too insincere, even though she was already beginning to not like Alice much.
Alice was dressed like she was going to attend a business meeting after school and hadn’t felt like changing clothes. Her outfit was all the same color, a stern blue that left Danielle feeling very little emotion when she stared at it for too long. The shoes were smart and the the vest molded to Alice’s small frame. Either the girl had no personality whatsoever, or she was trying very hard to keep anyone from knowing she did.
“This is Arkham High,” Alice told Danielle as they strode down the crowded, noisy hallway together. “In case you hadn’t figured that part out yet. I’m guessing you’re a freshman like me, so that means we’ll see a lot of each other.”
“I guess so,” was all Danielle bothered to reply with.
“Science and Math classrooms are on the first floor,” Alice explained, barely acknowledging that Danielle had spoken. “History, Geography, and English are on the second. And extra-curricular classes are held on the third. Any questions so far?”
“One,” Danielle said as something sprang to the forefront of her mind. “Where’s the bathroom?”
Alice didn’t even stop to turn around.
“Sorry,” she said crisply. “You should have thought of that before we left. Next on the tour is the school gym. I want to show it to you and get this over with before first period starts. I don’t trust Peaslee to follow through on his word that I’ll get a hall pass. He’s real stingy with those.
Danielle’s irritation didn’t stop her from registering Alice’s words.
“Is this a school or a prison?” she asked as they reached the other end of the corridor. “Because right now, I’m leaning toward prison.”
“They’re interchangeable,” Alice told her, smirking as she opened the rear door that lead outside.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
“You get an eyeful of the new girl yet?”
Dexter hesitated briefly at Randy’s words. Over the extra-large sandwich clutched between Dexter’s very large hands, which was presently stuck nearly halfway inside his jaw, Dexter glanced at him.
“Can’t talk,” Dexter mumbled around a mouthful of burger, after he’d bitten down. “Eating. ‘Splain while I chew.”
Randy stared at Dexter like he was a circus act performing a very interesting sideshow.
“I’ll do my best,” he managed to groan out, feeling queasy.
Dexter continued chewing, but Randy waited until his friend had finished swallowing (and he no longer felt ill) to continue.
“Some new girl started school today,” he explained as Dexter took another big bite. “Haven’t seen, but word is she’s smokin’. In that ‘neo-goth/alternative’ way.”
Dexter began to chew very quickly.
“Good,” he said, after swallowing, much to Randy’s relief. “We could use some new blood around here.”
The two were sitting in the Arkham High school cafeteria. It was lunch period, and the cafeteria bustled with the usual noise. This was an ideal time for the duo to discuss ghost hunting matters, since most of their peers paid them no mind. It was also great for ranking some of the hotter female alumni, at least when Alice wasn’t around.
And even when she was, sometimes.
“And if the new girl is into sports,” Dexter said, a wicked grin growing across his face as he flexed his fingertips together, “I may finally have justification for testing the invisibility mode in the girls’ locker room.”
Randy cocked an eyebrow at his friend, but was interested all the same.
“How’d you figure that, Hoss?” he asked.
“Easy,” Dexter replied smugly. “This new girl may have come into contact with harmful spectral energy after moving to Kingsport Falls. If that’s the case, one of us should infiltrate while she’s off her guard and get a close, personal reading.”
Randy rolled his eyes, but Dexter continued unabated.
“It’s a chance to test field equipment and help one of our fellow students,” Dexter insisted. “Win/win! And being the charitable soul I am, I volunteer myself to go undercover.”
“You’d best hope the circuitry don’t glitch out on you like last time,” Randy warned, laughing at the memory. “Pamela and Heather McNamara would’ve cracked your skull open with those bricks if your helmet hadn’t stayed on.”
“I would’ve rooted for the bricks, myself.”
Dexter jumped and Randy whipped his head around sharply to find Alice standing behind them a couple of feet away with the new girl in question.
“Um, hi,” Randy said nervously.
“Hi,” Dexter parroted. “You didn’t hear any of that, right?”
“Any of what?” the new girl asked curiously, giving Dexter a suspicious–if somewhat amused–look.
“Guys, this is Danielle Kraven,” Alice explained, motioning toward Danielle in a vague way. “Turns out, she’s in my Biology class with Mr. Lake. Peaslee asked me to show her around this morning, but I’m delegating the afternoon half of the tour to you two so I don’t have to pass up on study period.”
“Gladly,” said Randy, getting up out of his chair so that Danielle could set between he and Dexter.
“That’s okay,” Danielle said, waving the gesture away with a hand. “I’m good.”
“Well, Danielle, these are the guys,” Alice told her, cutting in. “Randolph “Randy” Carter and Dexter Ward. If they annoy you, just punch them in the face. Negative re-enforcement is a great teacher, I think.”
Danielle couldn’t help but notice that both young men seemed to be staring at certain places on her body, and wondered whether or not Alice was right.
“See you around!” Alice smirked as she gave Danielle a clap on the shoulder. “Bye, boys.”
And with that, Alice took off, leaving Danielle alone with the duo. Neither one had quit staring. Briefly, she considered sitting at a different table, but after a moment of deliberation, sighed and gave in. It wasn’t as though she knew anyone else at school so far.
“So, your name’s Danielle,” Randy stated a little eagerly as Danielle walked around the table, then sat down across from the two on the other side.
“Dani,” she corrected. “My full name’s Danielle, but most people call me Dani.”
“Dani, it is,” Dexter agreed. “I like Dani. Dani’s a real good name, but then again, so is Danielle.”
“Stop talking,” Randy whispered to Dexter. “You’re doing it again.”
Dani looked back and forth between the two, studying them both.
“Do you guys know Alice really well?” she inquired.
“A bit, yeah,” said Dexter, trying desperately to look cool. “She’s a bit popular here thanks to her family, but we’re all good friends.”
“We hang out sometimes before n’ after school,” Randy added, making it sound like it was no big deal. “Been friends for a while.”
“And yourself, m’lady?” Dexter asked, grinning.
Dani had the feeling Dexter thought his smile was making him seem suave. In reality, his large teeth and big nose made it seem like he was doing an impersonation of The Joker.
“I… just moved here,” she said, feeling creeped out by Dexter’s grin and having to resist the urge to ecto-blast him on principle. “My family was going away on an extended business trip and they couldn’t bring me, so I’m staying with relatives while they’re gone.”
“Mm. Sucks,” Randy said, looking sorry for her. “S’why can’t ya go?”
“It’s twenty-one and older,” she explained. “Plus, there was some other stuff going on at the time. But my aunt and uncle were cool with me living with them, so it’s good.”
“Where’d you live before Kingsport Falls?” Randy wondered, keeping up with the barrage of questions.
“California,” Dani answered, keeping things vague enough that they wouldn’t suspect anything.
“Awesome,” Dexter said. “Surfer girl, in other words?”
“Not on your life,” she retorted. “I mostly hung out with my older brother and his friends. Or spent time with my big sister. I didn’t have a lot of friends before moving here.”
There was silence for a moment, at least as far as the conversation between the three. Luckily, Dexter opened his mouth to fill the void.
“So, where do you… live?”
Confused, Dani looked over her shoulder. Dexter’s face had gone slack and he was starring off in the distance toward something.
“Ah,” said Randy, understanding. “That’s just Pamela Wells and the Fashion Club.”
Four girls looking about a year and change older than Danielle were marching through the cafeteria toward the salad bar. Every few feet or so, a student would move out of the way, like they were scared one of the girls would swing a punch at them. Going by the cold, calculating looks on each Fashion Club member’s face, Dani understood where they might have gotten that impression.
“Pamela Wells is the blonde in front,” Randy explained, while Dexter continued starring. “Heather Chandler is the Asian girl walking beside her. Imma have History with ‘er this year.”
“Natch,” said Dani, recognizing a quartet of Queen Bees when she saw them. “And the other two?”
“The sista with ’em is Angie Ellery,” Randy explained. “She ‘n Alice used to be friends, long time ago. Last one’s Heather McNamara. She pretty much does whatever the others tell her t’ do.”
“The four wise monkeys, in other words,” Dani snarked. “This feels more like my old high school after all.”
Dani winced as the Fashion Club pushed one poor girl out of their way without even stopping. The girl had just been trying to put her tray away in the dispenser. Dani clenched her teeth at the sight and had to fight back the urge to blast the girl away. As it was, her right hand began glowing a bright green color from her anger, and she could feel her eyes glowing.
“By the way,” she said quickly, forcing her anger down so that her eyes went back to their normal blue. “Do either of you know where I can get copies of the freshman year school books?”
Dani had looked away from the Fashion Club clown rejects, but didn’t face Randy and Dexter until she was sure her eyes no longer glowed. Her right hand had stopped shimmering green, so it was probably safe. None of them were looking at her any more abnormally than before, and for two teenage boys, the looks she got were pretty normal as it went.
“Yeah. S’across the street,” Randy informed, looking away from the Fashion Club as well. “They in the public library.”
“Yeah,” Dexter added, “we can show you around. We’re always going over there.”
Randy shot Dexter a dirty look out the corner of his eye that Dani noticed. In response, Dexter began to stumble over his words.
“I mean,” Dexter said, looking contrite. “That is, we’re… always going over there… to read! Because… reading is cool here. Right, Randy?”
“Whatever you say, Ward.,” Randy replied, rolling his eyes, and then mumbling, “Real smooth, by th’ way, Hoss.”
“Reading is cool here,” Dani repeated, not sure she believed either one of them. “Duly noted. So, will either of you do the cool thing and help a friend out by pointing her to where she can pick up books for the classes she’s taking? Apparently, the office forgot to order extras.”
“Sucks fo’ sure,” Randy said sympathetically.
“That’s the story Ms. Waldron spun for me,” Dani told him while Dexter sulked. “Not sure I buy it, but it means I’m not getting my books from the office either way.”
“We know all there is to know about the library,” Dexter declared, determined now to save face. “This won’t take long at all.”
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
An hour after the final bell of school rang, signifying that freedom reigned for students and public school officiates, Dani found herself still inside the public library, wandering around with Dexter and Randy in tow.
“I was sure that book was somewhere around here,” Dexter insisted. “I saw it! …somewhere. Once before. I’m sure of it.”
“That’s very reassuring,” Dani muttered. “Can we please just go ask the head librarian already?”
“Mm. Might not be such a good idea,” Randy said, looking hesitant in spite of his annoyance with Dexter. “She don’t much care for either of us. Sumthin’ ’bout us hangin’ round here all this past summer.”
“All the librarians here have lousy attitudes,” Dexter said to Dani warningly. “They’re like ushers in movie theaters. Makes me glad I rent from Netflix.”
The M. Scatonic Public Library was massive. The first floor alone was built like a labyrinth, with the shelves upon shelves of books serving as walls. The building was three floors high, and from the outside, an ominous-looking clock tower jutted out high above the roof. The center of the library contained a large pillar, like a major support beam, but square and made out of bricks.
Randy and Dexter had steered Dani away from that area each time they’d wandered close to it.
“You guys wait here,” Dani told them after another five minutes of fruitless searching. “I’m going to hunt down something that can help.”
“Like what?” Randy asked as she began walking away.
“Like a card catalog,” Dani called back, then stopped short when she saw out the corner of her eye that Randy and Dexter were both staring blank-faced at her. “It’s basic library science. My older sister taught me… forget it.”
Once she was out of sight from Randy and Dexter, and had made certain no one else was looking, Dani went invisible and intangible. Walking through several shelves, Dani maneuvered toward where she guessed the computerized library card catalog might be.
“So much for reading being cool,” she muttered, coming out on the other side of the rows of shelves. “Wonder what the two of them really do here. They can’t be using the computers to look at–”
Dani found herself cut off as a trail of white cool breath drifted up from her mouth and out of her nostrils.
“No way,” she insisted. “It can’t be…”
A shrill screaming resounded from a few stacks over, breaking her out of her shock.
“Huh,” she said, feeling a dull sort of surprise. “Did somebody forget their library card?”
Further evidence appeared in the form of a panicked mob racing past. Dani stuck her head out in time to catch several stragglers screaming as they made tracks away from what looked like one of the computer rooms.
“Servers must be down,” Dani said thoughtfully, peering through the opened doors inside the room. “Though, you normally don’t see people panic over that until mid-terms.”
The inside of the computer room was dark. Dani peeked through the open door, finding it deserted. The soft glow from the monitors cast everything in an eerie light.
“Guess it was a false alarm,” she told herself. “Though, when has mine or Danny’s ghost sense ever gone off by mistake?”
As if the universe were giving her confirmation, one of the nearby monitors flashed and sparked. Smoke rose up out from the machine, changing colors to a bright pink in the process. As it drifted toward the ceiling, a shape began to form within the smoke. A pink-colored brain, complete with eye stalks and tendrils, flexed and spun into being.
“Ahh, you should consider yourself blessed on this most fortuitous day, mortal creature!” the pink brain cloud shouted. “For I, Brainstorm, have come to absorb all the ancient wisdom from these long-forgotten tomes.”
“Dude, just fill out a library card application,” Dani snarked, giving the ghost a deadpan expression. “They’ll let you take the books home with you. Just don’t bring them back late, or there’s a fine.”
“Silence!” Brainstorm shrieked. “Modern technology has dampened the minds of today’s youth. I shall destroy these modern machines, then drain the knowledge from all of these books so that my mental capacity grows stronger! While the rest of the world allows their collective consciousness to rot with the likes of television and cable TV.”
“For the love of… it’s called YouTube these days.” Dani took a confrontational step forward and glared up at the loudmouth ghost. “You must’ve been behind the times before you died. Either way, I’m going ghost!”
Twin rings sprung out from Dani’s middle. As they passed up and down her body, her clothing began to change. Gone were the red and black neo-goth clothes. A white and black jumpsuit, bearing a D/P emblem on the front, covered her form. Dani’s eyes now glowed a florescent green color, and her hair was snow white.
“And just when I thought things would be quiet here,” she said, though not exactly upset. “Prepare to have your butt kicked now.”
A single ecto-ray blast fired from Dani’s palm knocked Brainstorm out of the air and down to the floor. The floating pink brain cloud splattered on the carpet with a noticeable ‘squish’ sound and lay there for a second.
“That’s all you had?” Dani asked, taking a couple of steps forward. “After all that big talk, you go down on one hit.”
The pink brain cloud rose up off the floor suddenly, catching Dani off her guard.
“I am far too powerful and superior a being to fall prey to such an obvious and pathetic mortal trick,” Brainstorm proclaimed. “Have you never before heard of the proverb regarding the adjective of ‘playing possum’. Why, were I–”
Dani cut him off by firing several more bursts of her ecto-ray.
“Would you just please stop talking?!” she cried out, keeping up the spray of fire.
“Hey, watch it!” Brainstorm shouted, ducking and weaving out of the way of her blasts. “You’ll put someone’s eye out with those!”
Dani flinched as Brainstorm rushed her, zipping over her head and through the open doors into the main area of the library.
“Oh, great!” she grumbled, taking to the air after him.
Near the main pillar, in front of an old painting of some elderly woman, Brainstorm came to a stop and hovered momentarily.
“Come to me, ancient wisdom,” Brainstorm cried out, causing one or two books to levitate off their spots on the shelves. “Give me the strength to defeat my foes!”
The levitating books moved toward Brainstorm for a moment, but then halted. Dani came to a stop in mid-air and watched as the books shook and fell to the floor.
“That was it?” she asked, bewildered and amused at the same time. “Not much to brag about. Oh well. I’m sure it happens to a lot of ghosts.”
“This is…” Brainstorm fumbled. “…merely a momentary setback. For as Brainstorm, I can not be overcome without–”
“Attack pattern Zeta!”
“Wait, what?” Brainstorm said, searching the area with his eye stalks for the interruption. “Who said that? That isn’t right.”
Dani was confused by the battle cry as well, and wasted precious seconds wondering to herself what ‘Attack pattern Zeta’ meant. This gave two equally oddly-dressed figures the opportunity they needed to spring on both her and Brainstorm.
Sadly for the one attacking Dani, though, her reflexes were much faster than his or Brainstorm’s. In the blink of an eye, his spectral katana was blown away and he found himself flying back into a roll on the floor.
“This day keeps getting weirder,” she said, observing her attack with some mild amusement. “And I thought Amity Park was strange. Who the hell are you supposed to be, anyway?”
The second black-clad ghost hunter was busy firing away with his ecto-pistols at Brainstorm, who kept dodging out of the way. This was made easy, to Dani’s mind, by the fact that the figure couldn’t aim well.
“You do realize that you’re just wasting shots doing that, right?” she called out. “You have to lead him over to a spot where he’s vulnerable, then have someone else contain him.”
The figure looked back over his shoulder at her. Unfortunately, he was still firing, but no longer looking at where his ecto-pistols were aimed at. Several hanging lamps went out one after the other from the ecto-pistol’s blasts.
“Oops,” the voice under the helmet said.
“Nice shooting,” said the other one standing closer to Dani. “Hey, have you seen my spectral katana anywhere?”
“Oh, for the love of…” Dani channeled her frustration into her ecto-ray and blasted it directly at Brainstorm, who was just beginning to conjure electrical energy around himself.
“Your incompetence shall mark your doom,” he cried out joyously. “For as Brainstorm, I–”
Dani’s blast caught Brainstorm right between the eye stalks, blasting him backward through the old painting hanging on the brick pillar. The painting seemed to glow for a moment from Dani’s ecto-ray, shining even after Brainstorm phased through it.
“What I wouldn’t give to have packed a Fenton Thermos before moving,” Dani grumbled, before turning to the two would-be ghost hunters. “Okay, the two of you can relax now. The big bad ghost cloud is gone.”
The hunter with the ecto-pistols immediately aimed them at her. The second one looked around furiously for his spectral katana, happily locating it a moment later next to a children’s book display.
“All right,” the one with the katana said, brandishing it wildly. “Now I’m ready.”
“Do you even know how to use that thing?” Dani asked in response, not feeling threatened in the slightest. “And hey, who are you guys supposed to be, anyway?”
“We’re the Spectre Detectors,” the one with the spectral katana said. “Ghost hunters of Kingsport Falls.”
Dani waited for a punchline that never came.
“And you both just let a Class 1, Semi-corporeal, Roaming Vapor escape,” she pointed out, nodding up toward the painting where Brainstorm had vanished through. “Not to mention costing the library several broken bulbs. I’m guessing neither one of you has been doing this for long.”
“Hey, we’re missing a team member,” the one with the spectral katana protested, earning him an elbow strike in retaliation. “We’re not–Oof! Ow!”
“I’m so out of here,” Dani declared, giving the two a wave as she began floating up toward the ceiling. “Maybe you guys should consider a career change before you get yourselves hurt. Ghost hunting isn’t a game, you know.”
“Hold up!” the other one with the ecto-pistols cried out. “Ah, what’s your name?”
“Phantom,” she said nonchalantly before phasing through the ceiling. “Dani Phantom.”
The two stared dumbstruck up at the ceiling for several moments after Dani Phantom vanished from sight. As one, in unison, they turned toward each other.
“Not possible,” Dexter said.
“Don’t buy it either, myself, Hoss,” agreed Randy. “The new girl in town, Dani Kraven, is a ghost?”
From mastermind Chilton comes FACES OF MANIC EXPRESSION, our third feature film in as many years. Made up of short films from various members, this movie was cut together by the always reliable Whyboy.
Edit: Do to circumstances beyond our control(we fucked up), we left out this great short by mattwo,
JDW: Hello Manic Expression, and welcome to our first annual Expressionist of the Year award! Here to help me kick this thing off is my good friend and site co-founder, Les. Say hi to the nice people, Les.
LES: Hi..er..nice people…*rethinks and shakes head*
Two months ago, I decided to take part in a project where members of Manic Expression would talk about another member’s favorite movie. It appears that The Cartoon Physicist has picked up my favorite movie, Memories of Matsuko, though I am not still sure if she will be able to acquire it in Australia. In any case, I have chosen Summer Wars, which is one of ghostreck’s favorite Anime films.
I have tended to avoid pure Anime works in my series, if only because the internet is full of people who talk about nothing but Anime, discussing Anime-specific tropes and comparing various things to each other. Even with something like Summer Wars, one could go into specific detail about how this movie compares with that Digimon story about…something. For a more casual viewer like myself, I feel like I have little to offer. However, I did enjoy this movie well enough, so I will approach it not just as a part of a boxed-in subgenre, but as a movie. So, here goes.
Kenji is a high school student and his avatar is a mouse man…because he is meek. He and his school friend, Sakuma, are running maintanence checks on OZ when senior classmate Natsuki barges in. She needs someone to accompany her out to the country. They both volunteer, but only Kenji ends up going. On the long journey, she explains that her great-grandmother, Sakae, is turning ninety in a few days, and the family will need help with stuff. Kenji then reluctantly admits that he was a runner up in representing Japan in the Math Olympics. She seems impressed and he mopes that he is terrible at everything else.
Bye the way, is what Second Life may have been had it not died out. It is a virtual reality system that is used for games, shopping, business, government, all sorts of stuff. And about as ubiquitous as the cell phone. Much of the world, including Japan, has become dependent on it. And everyone has an avatar. This becomes important later.
While still on their journey, they meet two of Natsuki’s aunts and their children. Her aunts explain to Kenji that their clan, the Jinnouchis go back sixteen generations. They were a wealthy family until Natsuki’s great-grandfather wasted their fortune. The family no longer has any clan holdings, although great-grandmother Sakae still has a lot of powerful connections in the political and business world. And a huge house.