Author’s Note: Oh, cool, another chap–wait a minute, is this in Cat’s POV? That’s right, now we get to hear about these crazy adventures straight from the girl who causes them! I hope you enjoy.
Volume 2 – Chapter 2
My alarm pulled me from my sleep, ringing in my ears like a trumpet-player hitting a high note, and I shot up, rolling to my side to avoid the sound and nearly falling off of my bed. But, before that could happen, I shot my arm out, slamming it on top of my nightstand and saving myself from a future laying face-first on my bedroom floor.
Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I took a look around my room, blinking slowly and trying, without any luck, to convince myself to sit up and get out from under the haphazardly-arranged sheets.
It was only 7:30, but rays of bright light already dominated my room, hitting the mirror on the far wall and reflecting onto nearly everything within it, from my closet door, to my laptop and even the dirty clothes strewn across the floor.
Scratching my head, sending small strands of red into my face, I thought about how hot the day ahead was probably going to be–if it was already so hot this early, I could just imagine what a blazing day I had ahead.
Just then, as I sat groggily in my bed, contemplating the day that had hardly even begun, I realized something.
Without a second thought, I leapt out of bed, heading across my large room–tripping over objects of all sorts every step of the way–towards the bathroom, which lay on the opposite wall of my bed. As soon as the door closed, I threw my pajamas off, topping off the pile I had amassed in the corner with the lightly-used articles, and jumped in the shower.
While the hot water washed over me, steam rising around my feet, I tried to figure out how my alarm clock had ended up set to ring at 7:30, rather than my usual time of 7:00. Although I couldn’t really believe it, I must have somehow slipped up the night before and input the wrong number the previous night.
“Oh man, I left Asher and Miller to walk to school alone, too…” I muttered, lathering my hair with coconut-scented shampoo. I imagined my friends walking to school without me, probably wondering what had happened to me, and I felt kind of bad–eh, but what could you do?
Deciding that they would definitely be able to get over it–they’d been fine when I went after Frogger, after all–I stepped out of the shower, drying myself off with a plush green towel as quickly as possible and bursting back into my room. My school uniform was hanging on my door, right where Mona, one of our cleaners, had left it the night before, right after telling me to make sure I set my alarm for school the next morning.
I’m sorry for letting you down, Mona! I thought as I quickly pulled some underwear on and put my school uniform on, hoping she could receive telepathic messages but knowing she probably couldn’t.
And, with that, I was out the door, grabbing my bag and phone on the way out, stray water droplets flying from my damp hair and coating my shoulders with small circles a shade darker than the rest of the fabric. Wasting no time, I kicked the door closed and ran as fast as I could down the ornate hall, nearly running into one or two fancy vases and actually knocking over an oil painting of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, but I forged on, hoping he would forgive me.
Finally making it to the steps after what felt like an eternity, I jumped down three at a time, checking the clock on my phone. It was 7:40–not bad time, overall–and I had maybe twenty minutes to make it to school without being counted tardy. With that thought in mind, I skipped the final four stairs, landing on the ground with a stud and breaking into a run once again, heading towards the kitchen.
The noise hit me before I even turned the corner, the clinking of silverware and the ring of several voices as they prepared breakfast for both my parents and the employees scattered about the house and the grounds. Making it to the large double-doors with small, steam-covered windows allowing a small glimpse into their work, I pushed forward, tumbling into a world of smell.
Shuffling around the various tables scattered throughout the room, the chefs carried trays of all different shapes and sizes, steam rising up and making its way to my nostrils, revealing glimpses of what lay inside, although the scents of bacon, ham, eggs, kulcha and especially cinnamon buns stood out to me the most.
While I stood there for a moment, lost for a moment in the embrace of the pure concept of breakfast food, the head chef, Luciano, came up to me, smiling to reveal large, well-set teeth hiding partially behind a thick brown mustache.
“Ah, Catriona!” he said, spreading his arms out in a gesture almost as welcoming as the food itself. “Have you come for your breakfast, my girl?”
“Mm-hm,” i said, nodding and licking my lips. “But I’m running a little bit late today, Luciano, so it’s gotta be quick. Can I just have a piece of toast, maybe with a little butter on top?”
“That’s all?” he asked incredulously–Luciano is no stranger to my appetite, and I’m sure he expected a little more out of me–but I nodded seriously, and he took the hint. “Of course, of course. It’ll just be a moment.”
It took exactly three minutes and eighteen seconds for Luciano to prepare the toast, a masterful invention with just the right amount of butter spread across its top, as well as a little something extra I couldn’t recognize, although I knew it would be delicious. I thanked Luciano quickly, taking a bite of the toast for good measure, and jogged out of the kitchen, avoiding trays and tables as I went.
The rest of the way to the front doors was pretty much a straight shot, and I headed down a few halls and through the main hall even faster, counting my steps and making sure not to lose pace. I met Wilson at the door and, seeming to sense my hurry, he opened it without any questions or attempt at conversation.
“Thanks, Wilson!” I called as I rocketed past. “Say bye to mom and dad for me!”
He nodded, and I passed the threshold, jumping over the steps to the ground entirely and hitting the ground at a run. I looked at my phone once again, my old keychain-turned-phone-strap whipping around and hitting my wrist, and I steadied it with my other hand, checking the time.
Okay, you can do this, Cat. I thought, giving myself a much needed psych-up–I’d learned a long time ago that the best way to do the impossible is to just convince yourself that you can. My legs pumping and my heart racing, I upped my speed even more.
Although a lot of my walk to school is in a pretty isolated area without many buildings, which makes it easy to run through, that’s not the case for all of it: towards the end, I hit a pretty hardcore stretch of city, and that’s where things get difficult.
Running along the main street, I was forced to dodge passerby on their (generally leisurely) way to work, spinning and sliding to keep up my speed while doing so. It was hard work, I’ll admit, but there was no way I was letting myself be late again–if I was, I’d never hear the end of it from the teachers or Asher and Miller.
I kept up that way a while, dashing along the sidewalk and keeping out of people’s way as much as I could, but as I neared the school, something caught my eye that forced me to slow down for the first time since leaving my house.
To my right was a small stand, manned by a tiny old man with dark, wrinkled skin and a large straw hat sitting on top of his head. His attire was enough to make me look twice, but when I did, I noticed the actual contents of the stand: it was covered from top to bottom in newspapers.
Okay, I’ll admit that I’m not really the type of person that sits down and reads the paper once a day, but when something catches my eyes in it there’s no way I’m going to pass up taking a look.
And boy did that headline catch my eye.
On top of the thin gray page, nestled under the “Local News” heading, was a relatively small article, titled “‘Ghost’ Problem Escalates in Small Town,” which I was barely able to read, as I was still moving at a steady jog. However, as soon as I saw the word “ghost” I backpedaled, already reaching into my bag for my wallet.
The old man looked up at me, his eyes wrinkling in a smile and shifting the age spots on his face. “Are you interested in buying a copy, young lady?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, regaining my composure. Taking what was left of my allowance from the week before from the front of my bag, I paid for the paper and left at a jog, even more anxious to get to school than I was just a few minutes before.
I checked the small, pixelated time in the upper right corner of my phone screen. 7:55–more time had passed than I had expected, and stopping to get the paper hadn’t helped with that, but I was determined to get to school on time.
Exhaling in one large, hot puff of air, I doubled my speed.
Making it there on time was tough, but I was somehow able to make it to school, throwing myself up the stairs and trying my best to return the stray glances of the other latecomers, many of whom were running just as fast as I was.
It was close–I just wish that we had slow-motion video to document the occasion–but I made it through the door just as the bell rang, dashing to my seat and plopping down with a thunk. The fact that no one even looked up as I entered didn’t escape my notice, but I decided to ignore it, turning in my chair and getting the attention of my friends instead.
“Guys, you have to take a look at this,” I said, holding the newspaper to my cheek to give them a view of both the article and my smiling face.
They were all sitting down, staring at their papers as they worked the bellringer that was scrawled delicately on the board for our next class. Surprisingly, Asher, sitting directly across from me, was the first to respond, glancing over at me and raising his eyebrows.
“Your hair’s damp,” he said, finally, his gray eyes flicking upwards. “It looks more the color of cherries than strawberries now. Actually, it’s kind of fitting.”
My hand immediately flew up to the crown of my head, and I patted my hair which was, as he said, still a little damp. For a moment, I couldn’t respond, completely blind-sided by him declining to comment .
But it only took a moment for the familiar fire to rise in my chest, and I shot back the first response I could think of.
“You’re the last person I want to hear that from, Asher.” I said with a smile, maybe a little bit too loudly. “Just take a look at your hair. You’re practically a snowman!”
Asher didn’t reply, squinting his eyes and resting his chin on the palm of his hand. He looked deep in thought, and for a moment I wondered if I’d gone too far–although both of us joke about it a lot, Asher’s always been more sensitive about his weird hair color, and I try not to bring it up that often.
He continued looking forward, silently, for a moment, before turning in his seat to face the front of the room. Without a sound, he lowered his head slowly, touching his forehead on the desk and leaving his arms to hang loosely from his side.
“Yeah….” he muttered, patting the back of his head lightly. “You’re right. That comment was out of line. Sorry.”
Yep, probably too far.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” I said immediately, trying to get him out of his funk. “It’s alright, strawberries and cherries are delicious, so I’m fine with my hair matching them. And, you know, your hair isn’t that much like an old man’s….”
His shoulders slumped further, and I shut my mouth, deciding not to even try going further into it. Usually, Asher and I are pretty good about only joking about things we’re both cool with, but on rare occasions one of us will make a comment–oftentimes hair-related–that serves only as a punch in the gut to the other.
I’ve learned from experience that, when that happens, it’s best to quit while you’re ahead.
“You know, I don’t think you two should worry about it,” Ayame said, coming in for damage-control as usual. I turned around to see that she and Miller had both looked up from their work, as well. “Your hair color is unique, of course, but I think that’s part of why it’s so cool.”
“Ayame…” I tried to muster more, but I couldn’t seem to form the words. The girl is so sweet, sometimes it’s hard to even comprehend.
To my left, Asher rose slowly, his paper-white hair coming to rest messily above his eyes, which, I swear, held a look of what I could only describe as determination.
“You’re right, Ayame,” he said, nodding. “These are the cards I’ve been dealt, and I have to learn how to appreciate them.”
“Well, now that we’re past the hair drama again, what was in that newspaper, Cat?” Miller said quickly, most likely trying to keep the conversation from proceeding in that direction. “There was something you wanted to show us, right?”
“Oh. that’s right!” I said, grabbing the newspaper from my desk and pushing it towards him. “Check out the first article under ‘Local.’”
Miller scanned the page and quickly found it, setting the paper flat on his desk so Asher and Ayame could do the same.
They were silent as they read, and I fidgeted in my seat as I waited for them to finish the article. It only took about two minutes, but it felt more like two hours, and by the time Miller lifted his eyes from the page I could barely contain it anymore.
“So, what do you guys think?” I asked. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“It’s interesting, yeah,” Asher said, glancing back at the paper as he tugged at his collar, “but why exactly were you so set on us reading it?”
“Why was I so set on you reading it?” I asked incredulously. Asher’s smart, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes he seems to have a hard time grasping simple concepts. “Because I want us to go and find the ghost, obviously.”
“Find the ghost?” Ayame asked, leaning forward. “Don’t you think it’s a little much to travel all that way just for a story?”
For a minute I didn’t understand her point, but then it hit me–Ayame hadn’t been with us when we met the ghost in Italy, and we had decided not to tell her. For all she knew, they didn’t exist.
“It does sound like a lot of work, without a lot of gain,” Asher said. “Most likely there’s just a stray cat in the town that one person mistook for a ghost, and the story got out of control.”
“You too, Asher?” It was hard to believe being shot down twice in a row, but I still had one chance. I looked at Miller. “What about you, Miller? You want to check this out, don’t you?”
He yawned, glancing at me and the others before shrugging his shoulders. “Well, it probably is just a story, but it’s not like I have anything else to do tonight. If you really want to, I guess I’d go.”
Yes! I pumped my fists in the air, blinking tears from my eyes. With one down, I just had to find a way to convince the other two, and I began running over my options in my head.
Ayame shouldn’t be hard to convince, as long as she isn’t busy. I thought. So, it’s just Asher that I have to break through.
Under normal circumstances, it would have been nearly impossible to sway Asher onto my side without much of a struggle, but this time it was different.
This time, we were talking about ghosts.
Asher tried to hide it, but ever since the fiasco in Italy, he’d been eager to figure out just what had gone on there, and why the three of us were attacked. Although the three of us had thought about and discussed it plenty, he was obviously more into getting to the bottom of it–I’d even caught him checking out books on the subject from the school library.
Knowing that, the battle had been decided before it even started.
“Well, Asher, even if it is fake,” I began, trying not to sound too victorious, “wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to check out an area known for ghost encounters? No matter what, I’m sure you’ll learn something.”
He didn’t say anything at first, probably trying to seem disinterested, but his eyes betrayed him. Making eye contact with me, he sighed.
“I guess you’re right. At the very least, it could be fun to hear all of the different stories.”
“Alright, then, it’s decided!” I said, clapping my hands. But still, I wasn’t completely done. “But what about you, Ayame? You’re free tonight, right, so are you going to come along?”
She seemed indecisive at first, glancing at her notebook as if it tethered her to evenings of boringness, but after a moment she forced it closed, smiling a little.
“Yeah, I’m free,” she said. “And I think you’re right. This should be a lot of fun.”
At that point, I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and I jumped forward, sliding over the top of Ayame’s desk and locking her in an awkward around-the-shoulders hug.
“Ayame, you’re the best!” I said, squeezing even tighter. She squirmed a little bit at first, but eventually accepted her fate, patting me lightly on the back. “You won’t regret this!”
“Okay, Cat,” Ayame whispered, her eyes flicking to the other members of the class, all of whom had shifted their gaze to us. “Class is starting. Will you let go, please?”
In the end, it was up to Miller and Asher to pry me off of Ayame and seat me back in my chair, just as our English teacher walked through the door, a pile of old books in his hands.
Although it looked like I was in for a tough day of classes, I didn’t care, because as soon as they were over it was going to be worth it–we were finally going to have a real adventure.
“Get ready, guys,” I whispered, as the voice of our teacher drifted around the room. “We’re going ghost hunting!”