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Once a Year Ghosts

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Halloween had found its way into the Ark 's security center.

Not in any big way. Red Alert's sanctuary had been spared the layers of fake spiderwebs and morbid ornamentation that covered the rest of the Autobot Headquarters. The only trace of the human holiday was a small wooden owl perched on a console, gazing sternly at the room from under thick ridges above its eyes.

If Red Alert had to guess, he would say its watchful countenance was probably meant as a joke, or maybe a nod to the purpose of the room it occupied. He was also quite certain the creature's round eyes were following his every move.

“Hey, Red. I got a question for ya.”

Red Alert reset his optics, then turned away from a staring contest with the owl to frown at his visitor. “What is it, Cliffjumper?”

Cliffjumper entered the room slowly, his own optics narrowed suspiciously as he glanced around the room. “You can see the whole Ark from in here, right?” he asked, lifting his gaze to the bank of monitors above Red Alert's console.

“Oh... yes. Most of it,” Red Alert agreed, with a guilty glance at the monitors he had all but forgotten thanks to the owl. “There are a few blind spots, but getting approval for additional cameras is-”

“I just wondered if you’d seen anything strange today,” Cliffjumper interrupted.

“Strange?” Red Alert spun to face Cliffjumper properly, instantly alarmed. “Strange how?”

“Strange like…” Cliffjumper looked around again, then lowered his voice. “You know what day it is, right?”

Like Red Alert could forget when every room was crawling with plastic spiders and rubber snakes. But he leaned in close to his much smaller comrade, and instinctively matched Cliffjumper’s volume. “You mean Halloween?”

Cliffjumper nodded. “Yeah. Humans say it’s the one day a year when spirits come back to Earth. Y’know, ghosts and stuff.”

“Yes, I’d heard. What about it?”

“Well, don’t panic on me, but I think the Ark ’s haunted.”

“You what?”

Cliffjumper pushed past Red Alert and peered up at the screens. “Listen, things have been weird today. I thought I was just hearing things at first; too many horror movies, you know? But then I got attacked by a jumping rock.”

“A rock?” Red Alert turned to the monitors as well, searching anxiously for some hint that the mountain encasing most of the Ark was in danger of collapse. “Did something fall on you?”

“I’m telling you, it jumped .” Cliffjumper held up his hands, framing a space about the size of his head. “It was this big, and it was on the ground. Or it was until it jumped at my knees.”

Red Alert shook his head. “That certainly sounds suspicious, but I don’t understand how that’s evidence of a haunting.”

“That's 'cause you don’t know the half of it,” Cliffjumper replied. “That rock was just the beginning.”

“I thought you said it started with hearing things?” Something occurred to Red Alert. “What kinds of things were you hearing? We don’t have Decepticons in the vents again, do we?”

“No, Red, this wasn’t Decepticons," Cliffjumper said impatiently. "Wish it was so I could teach ‘em a lesson, but even they aren’t dumb enough to make so much noise when they’re sneaking around.”

“Well, how do you know it wasn’t them?” Red Alert demanded. “Did you see what was making the sounds?”

“Seeing things came later. This was footsteps right behind me. And when I looked, no one was there.”

Red Alert’s frown deepened. “Footsteps? Are you sure it wasn’t just-”

“It wasn’t my imagination,” Cliffjumper interrupted. “Like I said, I thought so at first. But there was rattling in the vents too, and before I came here I went back to my quarters. You know what happened there?”

Red Alert started to answer, but Cliffjumper kept talking.

“The lights went off on me. And before I could get 'em back on, my berth covers tried to smother me! I guess ghosts don’t know we don’t need to breathe.”

“It sounds like you’ve had a very trying day,” Red Alert began slowly, “but don’t you think you’re being just a little paranoid?”

Hurt flashed across Cliffjumper's face. "Paranoid? You think I'm making all this up?"

Red Alert held up his hands appeasingly. "No, of course I don't! I just think there's a more rational explanation than ghosts."

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Like a friend who's just messing with you," a familiar voice interrupted. A blue and white bot appeared behind Cliffjumper, seemingly out of thin air, and Cliffjumper spun around.

"Mirage? You were the one doing all that?"

Mirage smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, Cliffjumper. You wanted me to enjoy this whole ghost season thing, and I guess I got a little carried away."

"I'll say you did," Cliffjumper snapped. "What's the big idea throwing sheets at my head?"

Mirage's smile broadened. "Haven't you ever heard of a sheet ghost?"

"That's not what a sheet ghost is, ya lugnut!" Cliffjumper marched up to Mirage and grabbed him by the arm. "C'mon. I'm gonna show you a proper blanket ghost, and then you're gonna fix what you did to my berth."

"I suppose that's fair," Mirage chuckled as he was pulled from the room.

Staring after them, Red Alert couldn't help but feel like he'd missed something. But he just shook his head and turned back to the monitors, then paused as his gaze fell once more on the wooden owl.

He picked up the trinket and weighed it in his hand. It was lighter than it looked; too much so to be anything more than a chunk of wood. But he still tilted its face to the light, studying its eyes for any sign of life - or camera lenses. Finding none, he set it down again and lightly rubbed one of the small curved horns on its head with his thumb.

"Perhaps Cliffjumper isn't the only one being paranoid," he decided.

Even so, he turned the owl so it could watch the monitors instead of staring at him. Just in case.