Later on, Tom would tell himself that his suspicions should have been aroused when he entered the huge, dimly lit office of Professor Slimeblott. Tom normally had a good nose for imminent danger. But on this occasion it failed him miserably.
“Sit down, Tom,” said the professor, taking a swig from his coffee mug. Professor Slimeblott had only been on the GhostHunting ASsociation’s Examining Board for a month, and Tom had never met him before.
“You’re the boy who works with Hetty Hyssop, aren’t you?” he asked.
Tom nodded. The professor’s eyes were strangely light, almost colorless, like everything else about him. Even his skin was as pale as faded paper, and his sparse hair, combed sideways across his bald head, was the same color as dried-out mud. This guy reminds me of a PAWOG, thought Tom. Exactly the same cold and self-satisfied look.
PAWOGs (PAle WObbly Ghosts) are best fought off with laughing gas, and Tom had to suppress a grin as he thought of it.
Slimeblott inspected him with his colorless eyes. “Does Hetty still work with that foolish ASG?” he asked. “Of course,” answered Tom, frowning. He didn’t like people insulting his friends. Although it was true that Hugo could be very foolish.
“Well, I hope that the CEntral COmmission for COmbating Ghosts will put a stop to collaborating with ghosts this year,” said the professor, drumming on the desk with a golden letter opener. “We’re supposed to chase and destroy ghosts: That’s our sole and honorable task. Ghosts are bent on harming humans: They envy us our bodies as well as our poor souls, which they destroy…mutilate…devour.” As he said these last words, the professor’s voice began to tremble, and he thrust the letter opener into his wooden desk with such force that it remained upright. When he noticed Tom’s surprised expression, he quickly put the letter opener to one side, cleared his throat, and took another swig from his coffee mug.
“Well. Right, then. We’ll leave it there, and move on to your diploma, Tom,” he said. “I must be honest and say that I think you are much too young to be taking final exams. The GhostHunting Diploma is normally earned by very experienced ghosthunters only. And you are, if my information is correct, a mere eleven years old.”
Tom turned bright red with annoyance. “That’s true,” he said. “But when all’s said and done, it only involves a Danger Category Three ghost.”
“’Only.’ Well, well,” said the professor. “You certainly don’t seem to lack self-confidence. You must be aware that this category also includes several extremely dangerous ghosts?”
“Yes, but they’re not that difficult to fight,” answered Tom. “And anyway, the only thing I haven’t done yet is the field test: identifying and catching an unclassified ghost.”
It’s always the same! he thought. People discover you’re a bit younger than normal, and they all start acting as if you couldn’t tell the difference between an ASG and an IRG.
(Gentle reader: ASG = Averagely Spooky Ghost; IRG = Incredibly Revolting Ghost, in case you imprudently skipped the introduction to delve straight into the story.)
The professor sighed, leaned back in his chair, and allowed his pale gaze to wander along the walls of his office. Much to Tom’s surprise, they weren’t red. Most ghosthunters choose this color because it scares off ghosts. But Slimeblott’s office had dark blue walls. Dozens of framed newspaper clippings hung on them, trumpeting his triumphs in the ghosthunting field.
“Well, I can see that you are quite determined,” said the professor, letting his gaze wander back to Tom. “Have it your way. Presumably you know the basic rules?”
For a moment, Tom thought he could see something close to malice in the colorless eyes.
Of course,” he answered. “I have to catch the ghost single-handed, but I can choose two, maximum three, helpers to observe it and to lure it in…”