A vast and nameless rainforest spread itself over several islands in the warmer regions of the Ghost Zone, reaching out hungrily in all directions. Although the rainforest of the mortal plane shrunk, this forest only grew.
Many ghosts made their homes in this rainforest, and civilizations, too, empires, kingdoms, and tribes driven to extinction on Earth finding a second life among spectral branches and vines. Of course, one could say the same of nearly anywhere in the Ghost Zone. It was, after all, an afterlife.
Undergrowth also resided here. Along with his family.
"Why is he sulking this time?" asked Silvagenitus, lying along a reaching upper branch and peering down through the understory to the depths Undergrowth lurked in.
"What is he always sulking about?" asked Liana rhetorically. "As if those skyscrapers won't be trellises in another few hundred years or so. This is the ice age all over again."
"I don't know," said Canopy. "This seems different. And he isn't wrong that humans have destroyed a lot of forests the past few centuries."
"Here, let's ask Mycorrhiza," said Liana. "Oi! Mycorrhiza! What's Undergrowth sulking about?"
"I'M NOT SULKING!" rasped Undergrowth, clawing his way halfway up the nearest tree trunk.
"He won't say," said Mycorrhiza, quietly. "Something about humans."
"Well," said Silvagenitus, reasonably, "we can't help you if you don't tell us what's going on."
Undergrowth snarled and grumbled some more. "My children–" he started.
"Oh, here we go again," said Liana. "They aren't children if they don't think."
"Your what?" chorused the other ghosts.
Undergrowth sneered. "It's not like you care."
"It's hard to care if you don't tell us anything," said Canopy. "But a daughter, really?"
"A precious seed among human refuse," said Undergrowth with a sniff. "We only had a brief time together before she was unfairly lured away by that horrible boy, but I would do anything to get her back."
"Anything but ask your family for help," commented Liana.
"I will win her back–"
"Has your daughter actually been taken, or did she just leave?" asked Liana.
"It's that boy's fault. He's no good for her, that cold-hearted little weed."
"I hate to be the one to bring this up," said Mycorrhiza, "but did you actually ask her if she wanted to be your daughter? Or talk to her at any point? You do have to do that with real children, you know."
"You do have a bit of a consent problem," agreed Liana.
"I don't want to hear that from the two of you parasites."
"Excuse you, I'm symbiotic."
"Okay, so you'll do anything but ask for our help or actually talk to your daughter, is that right?" asked Liana. "What actually was your plan here? Because I don't get it."
"It would be helpful to know what you intended to do about this," said Canopy.
"I will unmake that pestilent city–"
"Ah, there isn't a plan, then," said Liana.
"You should have a better plan," agreed Silvagenitus. "Maybe a gift. What does she like? Any hobbies?"
"She has a great love of all things green and growing," said Undergrowth. "And I am not apologizing."
"We don't expect you to, honestly," said Liana.
"But we will help you, won't we?" said Silvagenitus, graciously.
"Of course," said Liana. "We are family, after all. I want to meet my niece, too!"
Mycorrhiza went first. They were more subtle than their siblings, better able to sink into the ground and sneak. Humans didn't often pay heed to what lay within the soil, and neither did their ghosts.
Also, the seasons were beginning to turn, and Mycorrhiza's siblings didn't deal well with cold. They could prepare the way for them.
"There are a lot of mushrooms this year, huh," said Danny, leaning over an indigo and orange toadstool. "I've never seen one like this before."
"It's because of global warming," said Sam confidently. "All these oil and coal companies pumping chemicals into the air with no thought to how that's going to affect the ecosystem."
"You might as well blame something closer to home," said Tucker with a scoff. "Like, you know, Undergrowth, Vortex, the portal to hell in Danny's basement…"
"Don't call the Ghost Zone hell," said Danny. "We've got friends there."
"Yeah, and Danny's parents should have been way more careful. Like, who knows what kind of crap the portal lets out into the environment? I mean, beyond the ghosts."
"Yeah, they could have tried a little harder to make things safe," said Danny with a sigh. "You don't have to tell me that."
Pamela Manson looked out her dining roo. window and scowled. "How much do we pay that gardener?" she asked.
"I don't remember offhand," said Jeremy Manson. "I'm sure it's reasonable. Why, dear?"
"Well, if they can't keep those awful mushrooms off our lawn, it's obviously too much."
"I think they're great," said Sam. "Weren't you the one complaining about how there isn't any color in the garden in the fall? This'll change things, won't it?"
"Samantha Analise Manson, if I find out you seeded our lawn with those weeds–"
"Mushrooms don't even work like that! They aren't plants!"
"I don't care what they are. They're ugly, and– Where are you going, young lady?"
"School!" Sam shouted angrily over her shoulder before slamming the door behind her. And good riddance!
"So," said Silvagenitus, clearly in a good mood, "what's your verdict? Our niece? This mysterious boy?"
"Our niece is lovely, and her human parents are awful. If Undergrowth hadn't already claimed her, I'd be tempted. As for the boy… Being angry with him is like being angry at winter. It's ridiculous."
"Undergrowth is a little ridiculous at times, isn't he? I suppose that is what little brothers are like."
Danny frowned up at the cloud of fog over the trees in the park. "Is it just me," he said, "or do those clouds look a little green?"
"Could be," said Tucker. He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt. "Hard to tell with the light. Do you think it's 'cause ectoplasm's gotten into the water cycle or something?"
"It wouldn't surprise me, but I hope not," said Sam.
"Yeah," said Danny, shuddering. "Can you imagine? The hot dogs are bad enough, but what if all the roadkill in the city came to life? Or whatever is dead in the sewers and rain drains? Or you're eating a sandwich outside and it starts to rain, and now you've got to fight off bologna on rye… I'm going to check it out. You guys go ahead without me."
"Don't forget the English homework!" shouted Tucker after him as he flew up and towards the park.
"Ugh," said Pamela Manson, "why has there been so much fog lately? It's so dreary."
"The weather doesn't exist to please you, Mom," said Sam, rolling her eyes.
Although… Danny had called her last night and said that he'd felt something in the clouds, although he hadn't found a ghost. So maybe her mother had a right to complain after all. The fog had been thick in their neighborhood. On the other hand, the weather really was just like that, sometimes.
"How is it?" asked Canopy.
"What's 'it'?" asked Mycorrhiza, playfully.
"The girl, the boy, the city, the soil, the… artificiality. The pollution."
"Oh, it's not so bad as all that," said Silvagenitus. "Much better than… When was it? Fifty years ago? When were we last on this side of the veil?"
"Okay," muttered Danny, "I can accept the mushrooms, and the green clouds, but this? This isn't natural."
He and Tucker stared down the street, Danny floating a few feet in the air. Yesterday, the street had been an entirely unremarkable one, only of interest to Danny and Tucker because it led into Sam's neighborhood. Yesterday, it had a few normal trees - just barely past the sapling stage - and today, each of those trees had grown dozens of feet, tall upper branches reaching into the sky.
Those new branches dwarfed the original trees, and also had massively different leaves, each one dark, thick, broad, and waxy, unlike the smaller leaves of the trees they grew from.
"Yeah, I don't think this is structurally sound," said Tucker, gently pushing on a slender tree trunk. The whole tree swayed. "Undergrowth?"
"No," said Danny. "It feels different. It all feels different." He shook himself. "Ugh, my skin feels all prickly. It's like whatever it is has been here for a while, but I haven't been able to find them. Come on, let's go find Sam."
"So, your neighborhood's turned into a jungle," said Danny.
Sam rolled her eyes. "My parents consider it a personal attack. Figure out what ghost did this?"
"Not yet. I'm sure I'll get attacked sooner or later, though. What about you? How are you holding up? After all, you know, the whole thing with Undergrowth…"
"Come on, I'm not letting one bad week dictate my life and keep me away from the things I like. You guys haven't, after all."
"I still have nightmares," pointed out Danny.
"And you don't let them stop you. Besides, this is kind of cool, and also not hurting anything yet, right?"
"Yeah," said Danny. "That's true."
"Okay, you've got everything ready for me over here? Because I'm so tired of Undergrowth's whining."
"Yes, Liana, we're ready for you," said Silvagenitus, tiredly. "We've been ready for you for a month at least."
"Hey, no need to get snippy."
"Hey! Hey! Liana, you're here. Guess what? She thinks I'm cool."
"Wow, that's a first for you, huh?"
"Yeah," said Danny, glaring at the curtains of flowering, glowing vines. "I'm drawing the line here. Yoohoo! Ghosts! Ghosts! I'm talking to you! Come on out! I'm sick of waiting for the other shoe to drop! If it's Undergrowth– well, you'd better bet I'll be kicking your butt for coming back out here after what you did to Sam!"
"Hey, what about me?" asked Tucker. "I got one of those vines plugged into my neck, too."
"I don't know if this is a good idea, Danny…"
"I don't care! I've been stressing about this since the mushrooms, and you'd better believe I'm ready to fight!"
"Well," said Mycorrhiza, "if you put it like that…"
A circle of mushrooms sprung up around the three teens, and a glowing green portal opened inside of it. Two fell through, and the third dove after them.
They landed among ghostly branches, and four large ghosts grinned at them.
"So," said Canopy, "humans. Let's talk."
"Let me get this straight," said Tucker. "You're Undergrowth's siblings, and he recruited you to hold some kind of… family intervention so Sam will join him on his take over the world mission again?"
"Well, it's more that he complained so much that we got curious, but, yes, essentially," said Silvagenitus. He passed Danny a cup-sized and shaped flower full of nectar. Danny held it loosely, as if he was afraid it'd bite him.
"Who does he think he is?" demanded Sam. "He has no right to talk to me at all– He doesn't have the right to be anywhere near me, and he somehow thinks he's my father? Is he crazy?"
"What about the conquering the world thing?" said Danny, who looked vaguely ill. "Shouldn't we focus on that?"
Sam waved him off. "They've been here for over a month and haven't hurt anyone or anything except for my parents' sense of aesthetics. Besides, they've been great for the local ecosystem. Where was I? Right. That jerk Undergrowth–"
Liana sidled up to Undergrowth. "Hey," she said, smugly. "You'll be happy to know our plan worked. She's coming to talk to you."
Undergrowth brightened. "She is?"
"Well. It's more that she's coming to yell at you, and bringing her friends to beat you up, but baby steps. After all, you did start your relationship with mind control."
"I hate you."
"Sorry, I'm too busy for you to hate me. I'm too busy thinking up birthday presents for my niece– oh, but you don't even know when that is. Ha ha."
"Do you think sending Liana to tell him was the right choice?" asked Silvagenitus.
"Eh," said Mycorrhiza, "better to get it out of the way, now. Consider it softening him up for Sam."