Ectoplasm

“Oh ho, there she is!”

I opened my eyes to find the grinning face of a young man gazing back at me from behind a back-lighted visor of some sort. I shook my head; my thinking was still very foggy and I couldn’t fathom why.

“Wha-What happened? Where am I? Who are you?” My throat felt dry; my voice was raspy.

“Well, to answer your questions in reverse order, I am Cisco Ramon, technical wizard, and sometime metahuman. You are in my inner sanctum–”

He was interrupted by Dr. Snow, who hurried over to take some sensor leads off my arms. “Cisco! Let her breathe!” She smiled down at me. “You’re in the labs here, not far from where we last spoke. As far as what happened,” her smile grew wider, “it seems you were right on all counts, Mrs. Dibny. Your husband is a metahuman; he’s not entirely dead and he’s been talking to us for the past twenty minutes.” She patted my shoulder. “He was a bit impatient—he didn’t want to wait until tomorrow for the test results.”

“So, he’s ‘only mostly dead’,” I muttered, trying to rise from the hospital-style bed. Dr. Snow offered a hand, while behind her, Cisco Ramon smacked his hands together.

“Bam! I told you he was a movie lover!” He pointed at a tall, wiry guy standing behind a bank of computer screens. “Didn’t I say it?” He turned back to me. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Yes.” My head hurt. I rubbed it. “He made me see that stupid film more than once. I guess it grew on me.”

“Is he still in the room, Cisco?” the wiry guy asked.

“Yeah. Still here. Standing directly behind the missus, trying to put his hands on her shoulders.”

The implications of Ramon’s assertion made me blink. “You—you can see him?” A fresh wave of pain, accompanied by the roiling feeling of nausea made me moan. “Oh, my head—”

Dr. Snow frowned. “Hm. Maybe you’d be better off lying back down.” As she eased me back onto the raised bed, she asked, “Mrs. Dibny, has this happened before? This headache? I mean, after Ralph has—for lack of a better term—possessed you?”

“I don’t know.” My mind was a bit clearer now that I was reclining. “His visits were usually at night, after which I would sleep. Besides, none of his visits were for more than a few minutes. You said this was twenty?”

Barry made his way over, carrying a tablet. “Give or take. We recorded the whole session if you’d like to see it.” He held out a hand. “I’m Barry Allen.”

I shook his hand. “Sue Dibny.” He presented the tablet to me but I waved it away. “Not right now, thank you.”

He offered me a cup of water instead, settling down on a chair beside me while Dr. Snow took my vital signs the old fashioned way. So many questions flitted through my brain, I could hardly choose which one to ask first.

“You asked Cisco if he could see your husband.” Barry’s comment was quiet.

“Yes.”

He nodded. “From what he told us, it was like looking at a semi-transparent overlay while he was ‘possessing’ you. Cisco could see you, but you were surrounded by your husband’s ghost, form—whatever he is in this state.”

“Ectoplasm sounds good,” Cisco offered.

Barry grinned. “As a name or a state?”

Cisco shook a finger at him. “Nononono. Not a cool name. Not worthy of springing from the mind of Ramon. I’ll come up with something really cool, promise.”

“So, state of being, then.”

“Yeah.”

I got the impression these three worked together on a regular basis and even Dr. Snow had a role to play in their banter. “How can you see him?”

Cisco took off his fancy visor. His eyes were brown; I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t something so mundane. He squinted and blinked, rubbing the corners of his eyes just above his nose. “I did mention I was a metahuman, right? Well, I can see the vibrations between universes, and for some odd reason, your husband.”

“He goes by the code name ‘Vibe’,” Dr. Snow said. “The visor—”

“My own design,” he said with more than a hint of pride.

“Enables him to focus his powers,” she finished.

“But it was your little vial of his ashes that enabled me to see him in the first place.” He held out my pendant, dropping it gently into my outstretched palm. “I’ve overdone things today; getting a headache of my own now. But seeing your husband brings up some very interesting questions about what exactly happened to him.”

Dr. Snow checked my pulse again. “How are you feeling now?”

“Better, I guess.” The bed was rather uncomfortable; my slacks were bunched up behind my knees. Still, I didn’t want to get up. It felt nice to just rest, knowing I wasn’t going crazy.

Barry took a deep breath and let it out through his nose. “Hey, Mrs. Dibny?”

“Yes?”

“Well, uh, when Ralph was possessing you, he asked if he could do the same to one of us so he could actually, y’know, talk to you.” He gave me a rather lopsided, charming smile. “I kinda volunteered.”

My face must have shown my shock because Barry shook his head. “It’s okay. It really is. He’s not going to stay long. Just wanted to tell you some things. I’m okay with it if you are.”

“I—This is incredibly generous of you but it’s not really necessary.” I tried to sit up, tried to swing my legs around. “I should really be going—”

Barry caught my hand in both of his. “Honey,” he said, in a tone I knew too well. “I kinda think you need it.”

I sighed, feeling the tears already pooling on my lashes.

“You’ve been through hell and back, Susie-Q, and some of that is my fault, so just you settle down and listen. Okay?”

I nodded, sniffing. Lying back against the bed, I kept my eyes focused on Barry’s eyes. It was far too easy to just close mine and pretend the warm hands holding my own belonged to my husband, even if the voice was wrong. I didn’t even see Dr. Snow and Cisco leave the room.

“First of all, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was running so late. If I’da taken that earlier flight like I said I would, we wouldn’t be here, would we?”

“No.” I sniffed some more. He ran his thumb over the back of my hand, just like he used to. “I forgave you that, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. It wasn’t Barry’s smile at all. “It was kinda hard at first, being a spirit or whatever that Cisco guy is gonna call me. Didn’t know what was happening to me. But once I figured out how to get somewhere, I went home and found you.”

“I’m sorry.” I started sobbing now, realizing what I had done with my husband’s body would keep him from ever coming back to me in reality. “I’m so sorry, Ralph!”

“For what?” He reached out and ran a thumb over my cheek, blurring my tears across.

“For cremating you!” I shook his hand off. “You’ll never get back to your body now!”

He put his hand back on my cheek. It wasn’t the same; Barry’s fingers were longer and his palm calloused in different spots. “Nah, it wouldn’ta mattered. I tried it, y’know, soon as it happened, I tried to get back in my body. Just couldn’t get it to move. It was a dead body, a lump of flesh. It was when I went for help, not knowing nobody could see me, that I found out I could possess people. Brought a police officer to my body; he called it in.”

“That’s how I found out so soon.” I put my hand on Barry’s. It might not have been Ralph’s hand, but it was still comforting.

“Yeah. I didn’t want you to go around not knowing. But it was still a shock and took some time to figure everything out.” He used his free hand to gesture to the laboratory. “Now these fine folks have seen me and maybe we can come up with something.” He smiled again. “Just knowing that you’re gonna be okay is good enough for me.”

“But what do we do now?” If I sounded plaintive, it was because I didn’t want this to end–even though I knew it wasn’t fair to Barry.

“Well, you’ve got your life to live, hon.” His smile was wistful. “I may not be all dead, but I’m not gonna be much of a husband to you. I’ll keep an eye on you, yeah, but—well, you gotta live.”

It was like a stab to the heart. I knew I couldn’t live the way that he wanted me to. Not when I knew he was still partly alive. He said he’d keep an eye on me. Did that mean he’d be watching me find love again? Could I break his heart that way? Could I drive him away and not even know it?

“Ralph, I—”

He put up a finger. “Hold that thought, hon, until next time. Barry’s about to kick me out and I want to make sure I do this—” Barry leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. His lips weren’t Ralph’s; they were too warm and not full enough. But it still felt like a benediction. “See you around, hon.”

He sat down abruptly, shaking his head in short little bursts and blinking furiously.

“Barry?” I asked, hesitant.

“Yeah. It’s me.” Barry let out a breath with a whoosh. “Whoa. That was weird.” He smiled, that lopsided grin he’d given me before. “Did he say anything interesting?”

I was torn between telling him, “Yes, everything,” and “No, nothing at all,” because every word interested me and none of it would interest Barry. I settled for, “He told me he couldn’t get back into his body after he … died.”

Barry nodded. “Yeah, he told us that, too.”

Leaning back against the bed, I tried hard not to let the tears flow, but a sob escaped and that’s all it took. My tightly wound core of anger and frustration and downright fear was unraveling.

Barry sounded flustered; he jumped up and hunted around for a box of tissues. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s all good, Mrs. Dibny. I’m fine. You’re fine.” He found a box, deposited it on my lap, then stepped toward the infirmary’s opening. “Cait?”

Dr. Snow hurried over. They exchanged a couple of quiet words I couldn’t hear before exchanging places. She settled down into the seat Barry had just vacated. “So, I take it things didn’t go so well.”

“No, no, it went fine. More than fine.” I took a tissue and wiped my eyes, trying to get control over my emotions. “Barry. I have to thank him. It was definitely Ralph. He was channeling Ralph. I understand so much now.” My words kept tumbling out; I couldn’t stop them any more than I could stop my tears. “He told me what happened. He forgave me for cremating him. He-He’s going to watch over me but—” I blew my nose. “He wants me to go on with my life. My life with him yet without him.” Dr. Snow’s face blurred through my tears. “I don’t know that I can.”

If she was put off by this strange woman blubbering all over her lab, she certainly didn’t show it. “I think you can, Mrs. Dibny. You’ve been through a lot, thinking you were going crazy and everything else. Yet here you are, knowing you are perfectly sane and everything you’ve gone through has an explanation.” She paused, handing me another tissue. She seemed to look off into the distance. “You know, when the particle accelerator exploded, my fiancé, Ronnie, was inside. I thought he was dead.”

She had my attention. I wiped my eyes again, taking a deep breath to calm myself. “So, this happened to him, too?”

She gave a sort of half head shake and half shrug. “Not exactly. He became merged with a professor visiting the labs that day. Together, they became a metahuman Cisco christened Firestorm.” She smiled, but her eyes looked sad. “It took us a while to find him and come up with a way to control his powers.” Turning her attention back to me, she asked, “Did you hear about the breach over Central City a few months ago?”

“Yes, I did.” It was quite the Internet sensation at the time. Hundreds of videos went viral and quite a few conspiracy theorists declared it a Hollywood special effect. It didn’t matter to me which it was; I had my own troubles.

“Well, Firestorm went up and closed the breach. The professor lived. Ronnie didn’t—he didn’t survive.” Her sigh was soft and melancholy. “We’d been married less than an hour.”

I echoed her sigh. “I am so sorry.”

“Thank you.” She assayed a small smile. “It was hard at first. I worked at Mercury Labs for a while, hoping to put some space between myself and the memories. It worked for a bit. In the end, though, I came back here. The particle accelerator may never function again, but we still don’t understand how it created the metahumans. Besides,” she made a gesture encompassing the labs, “it’s home.”

She patted my shoulder. “Just rest here for as long as you like. When you’re ready, I’ll walk you out.”

I nodded. “Thank you.”

Dr. Snow smiled again, brighter this time, and left me to my thoughts.

I grabbed my purse from the table beside me and brought out my phone to check the time. As I suspected, I’d missed the appointment with the real estate agent. Ralph and I had planned to move to Central City; he’d set up his private investigator’s office here already. We’d even bought a house in a quiet, older neighborhood. Part of my business today was to put that house back on the market and shutter the office space he’d leased. The cases, as few of them as he’d had, would have to be closed, monies refunded and any evidence turned over to the police. There was so much to do and I had only allotted two days for all of it.

My world had tilted, that was for sure. I knew now why I’d been in such a state. Maybe now I could go back to the psychiatrist and—what? Tell him the truth? He’d never believe it. I made a mental note to call my own physician and ask how to wean myself from the anti-depressant. Or I could ask my friend, Jean. She was a nurse; she’d know what to do.

I glanced into the laboratory area. Cisco Ramon, sans visor, was on his feet, moving from screen to screen, a serious expression on his face. Dr. Snow watched another monitor intently, speaking into a microphone at intervals. Barry was missing; at least, I couldn’t see him from where I sat. I wanted to thank him for opening himself up to Ralph like that, preferably before I left. Still, if he wasn’t available, I could do something before I went home. A thank you note at the very least. Perhaps a fruit basket? I huffed a chuckle, shaking my head. How does one thank someone who did something so amazing and selfless? None of the etiquette rules Mother and Grandmother pounded into me seemed to fit.

Sighing, I reached for my shoes. “Well, Ralph,” I muttered. “It’s high time I got out of these people’s lives and got back to living my own, right?”

As I gathered my things, Dr. Snow noticed me. She smiled and came around from behind the desk.

“Are you feeling better?”

“Physically, yes. Emotionally? I don’t know yet. It’s all so new.” I found my coat “Is Barry available? I want to thank him especially.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m afraid not. He had an errand to run.”

“Oh.” I gestured to the desk. “I probably should get out of your hair.”

She frowned slightly and exchanged glances with Ramon. “If you’re up to it–”

“Yes.” I nodded, sliding my arms into my coat. “I think I am. I still have some business to conduct and an appointment to reschedule.”

“All right then. I’ll walk you out.”

I paused slightly I passed Cisco, offering my hand. “Thank you so much for your help, Mr. Ramon.”

He grinned at me and took it. “De nada.” As I walked out, he called, “Hey, I’ll let you know if I come up with a cool name for Ralph.”

I wasn’t sure why this was so important, but I nodded, a slight smile on my lips. “I look forward to it.”

We took the elevator down to the first floor. The corridors felt like a maze; their walls were unfinished concrete at first but segued into finished and painted drywall. Dr. Snow guided me easily and before I knew it, I was back at the little receptionist area.

She offered her hand. “I’m glad we could help you today, Mrs. Dibny.”

I shook her hand, truly smiling for the first time since I entered the place. “So am I. Thank you so much.” I glanced back along the corridor, already making mental plans to send along something to more properly express my gratitude. “Please pass my thanks along to Barry.”

“I will.” She opened the door for me. “Good luck with your business, Mrs. Dibny, and enjoy the rest of your stay in Central City.”

“Thanks again.”

As I stepped out into the frigid, dying afternoon, a young man approached the door. Well-built, blond, and handsome, he flashed a high-wattage smile at me.

“Ma’am,” he said as he ducked his head in greeting.

I put up a hand, but he was already jogging toward the doors. My nose twitched as he passed.

“Oh, no, Ralph,” I muttered as I turned back towards the car. “You are not passing that little tic onto me!”

As I reached my rental, I stopped and turned, gazing just beyond the accelerator building. The sun, nearly set, turned the cirrus clouds to shades of peach and lavender. Central City’s lights glittered on the river; the white and red of bridge traffic reflected in the light coating of river ice. I took in a deep breath of wintry air. There was snow forecast for the next few days but Opal City already had two feet with more on the way. Dr. Snow had spoken of putting space between herself and the memories. Might I do the same? Ralph said he was drawn back here more than once. I already had somewhere to live. Why not move and begin anew?

I climbed into the car, turning my attention to my appointment with the office building manager—and rescheduling my appointment with the real estate agent.


Author’s note: Ralph Dibny is well-known as the stretchy superhero known as the Elongated Man. However, relatively recent DC Comics continuity had both Ralph and Sue in a state much like that of DC’s Deadman character, invisible to the others in the story (but not to the reader) and able to interact with other characters only by possessing them. I thought going this route would not only be more original but would also explain Ralph’s absence in the show’s continuity. After all, his was one of the names Harrison Wells recited in 1×7 (“Power Outage”).

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