The Utterly Bazaar was a roaring sea of merchants hawking, buyers haggling, and everyone in between fighting to make their voice heard over the rolling din of noise. Wooden stalls stood in the street to oppose the massive brick and mortar stores that flanked either side of the winding bazaar. The variance of the species within the throng was only outmatched by that of the goods around them, something the locals — if you could call a merchant who spent the night within his shop a local — were quite proud of.
Paddling through the peddlers was Finnegan, blissfully ignorant of the screaming around him thanks to a pair of faintly enchanted headphones. Instead he cycled through a playlist of an artist he had recently discovered, humming along as he went. It did quite a lot to quell the smashing in his chest from the pressure of the crowd, both physical and otherwise. But small bundle of spending money he had recently earned weighed heavy in his pocket, and without Aldon to present a project he was left to his own capitalistic devices.
Finnegan squeezed himself between a pair of bickering Clowns, his backpack momentarily catching on the latch of cage carried by the merrier of the two. He quickly excused himself and slid further into the crowd, not noticing he had inadvertently freed the contained Fun-Lover. Because he was essentially deafened, Finnegan didn't hear the loud popping noise accompanied by an ecstatic "Wowwee!" So instead he entered Ed & Al's Alchemist Emporium, unaware of the chaos he had just unleashed.
After purchasing a pinch of magnesium and two vials of O-negative he slipped back out before the brothers running the store could try talking him into more. To escape the crowd he turned off into a side street nestled between the alchemists' supply store and an interdimensional pet shop, and save for the merchants distributed through the alley he was almost alone. The shops forced into the alley ways often were little more than a carpet with all the merchant's otherworldly possessions laid out before them, forcing Finnegan to hesitantly tiptoe across the minefield of tiny skulls and jugs of potions.
It was not until he was half-past the one actual stall in the alley that something caught his attention. Or more accurately, his arm. Finnegan looked down at the cloth wrapped around his sleeve, following it to the mass of cotton and wool covering the merchant in question. Finnegan squinted into the gap where the merchant's head should have been. Instead he just saw the inside of the woolen hood.
The headphones on his head were displaced by a limb he couldn't actually see, and a whispering voice spoke to him in urgent tones. "How would you like to make some easy money?"
Finnegan considered his options. He could accept a job proffered to him in a back alley by a bundle of rags. Or he could eat ketchup packets when he got home. Tilting his head back and forth, he examined the stall. Every single item on it had the word "ghost" in its name. In some cases that was simply its entire name.
Finnegan took a short breath. "What would I have to do?"
A watch emerged from the cloth. Or something akin to a watch. Instead of an analogue or digital clock face it had a small meter with a black needle. Said needle was warbling very far into the red territory.
"Don't mind that, just picking up interference from my… uh, wares. I need you to take that and this filter here to this address, and collect all the ectoplasm you can. Really easy job. I'd go, but I have, uh… allergies."
Finnegan examined the large air filter. A sticker on its side claimed it to be doubly effective against both allergens and the various forms of ectoplasm. He took another look at the twitching ectoplasm detector and then looked back at the merchant.
"Yeah, I could do that."
Hinges squealed and light pushed its way through the must of the cellar. Finnegan squinted into the darkness through the visor of an old respirator. At first all he could see was dust flutter through the weak beams of illumination, giving the long-abandoned place a constant flurry of filth. He made sure his cuffs of his jacket sleeves and pants cuffs were taped down, that his gloves were tight, and that his hood formed a seal with the mask. After making sure his signature beret was firmly in place he scooped up the modified air filter at his feet with both hands and crept into the crypt. The needle of the device on his wrist slowly crept to the right.
The cellar was a mess of shelves and crates. Rusted metal and cracked porcelain jutted from wood and plastic, tempting him with the possibility of finding something worth salvaging. But he moved on, to the staircase leading into the house of the Birch family. Stairs creaked and and the railing groaned, but Finnegan pressed on.
Only a glance was spared toward the detector, where it petered an eighth away from the left end; the place only had trace amounts of ectoplasmic vapor in the air. Something between caution and paranoia kept the mask on. Getting possessed was not exactly on today's itinerary.
The Birch home proper was not quite as bad off as its cellar. Its surfaces only wore a thin layer of dust rather than an inch-thick coat, upon which Finnegan deposited the large white device he had been carrying. The glass container snuggled into the filter slowly filled with a glowing green fluid.
The house was small, arguably tiny. Two bedrooms and one bathroom, and joint kitchen/dining room. A quick look into the cabinets earned nothing but cobwebs. The drawers were similarly empty. The fridge contained nothing but an array of jam jars. Pomegranate, if their labels were to be believed. Most of them looked coagulated enough to qualify as a solid. Turning the handles on the sink resulted in glowing jelly ejecting itself from the faucet.
He lifted the latch on the glass cylinder attached to the filter, and went about ferrying the goo from the sink and into the glass. The ghostly moan that accompanied each deposit did little for his mood.
It all struck him as doubly odd. Nobody had died within the Birch home within the last twenty years, and yet the place was chock-full of ghostly energy. Despite this, nothing was actually happening, outside of the usual ectoplasmic buildup. He supposed it was because he hadn't breathed enough of the air to allow a possession, and there wasn't much of anything left in the house suitable for a poltergeist. But there had to be something going on here he hadn't spotted yet. Once the sink was clean he turned the filter's power dial to max and went about exploring the house.
He found a bathroom and gave the sink an experimental use. More goo globbed out and slowly slid down the drain. Finnegan sighed. The entire plumbing system was likely backed up with ghost goo. He gave the toilet seat a lift to inspect the interior and promptly let it fall.
There had been a face in the toilet.
Muffled yelling came from beneath the porcelain, which Finnegan immediately took to ignoring. Fingers wiggled nervously while he considered what to do. Ghosts — or whatever these things qualified as — or not, a scientific approach was probably his best bet.
He walked back out to the kitchen and peered into the vial of ectoplasm the filter had collected. A tiny face looked back up at him from the liquid's surface. It gave him a high-pitched "ooooooo" for his effort.
Finnegan gathered a fair amount of saliva in his mouth and spit onto the floor. A face arose from the wet spot on the tiles. When it tried yelling at him he stepped on it. When he lifted his foot the face was still there, only now its tinny wail was chorused by a face on the underside of Finnegan's shoe.
Curiosity pushed him over to the fridge, and he slowly opened the freezer. Frozen faces stared back at him, warped into tiny stalactites. He breathed on them heatedly, earning a chilly wail in return. The moan petered out with his breath. He shrugged and yanked out what icicles he could, tossing them into the cylinder.
After wiping up the spit he went about exploring the house in full. A whole lot of nothing turned up until he entered the master bedroom. Sitting on the floor next to the indent marks the bed had made in the carpet was a white panama hat. It didn't look anything special, other than the fact that it was in good condition.
But something about the hat gave him a weird feeling he couldn't quite place. Blurry memories of the anart mecha competition in Japan surfaced, and an indistinct image of the Wanderer's Library sat just outside his mind's eye.
He twirled the hat idly while his brain tried to unravel why it was thinking what it was being made to think. It didn't work particularly well. The more he pushed at the mental blockage the stronger it seemed to become, compacting in his mindscape. He found himself unable to draw his attention away from it. As the mass grew more dense, it began drawing in surrounding thoughts and memories.
Finnegan felt his mind slowly collapse in on itself as his brain tried very hard not to do the same.
Enough neurons were out of its event horizon for him to drop the hat, and the captured memories went supernova. His mind exploded in a blur of all the colors, sounds, and scents he could remember ever experiencing.
And then he passed out.
Luckily he didn't land on the panama hat on the floor.