In Our Image – Volume 2 Chapter 3

Volume 2 – Chapter 3

School couldn’t end quickly enough, and I found it difficult to pay any attention at all as my teachers cycled through our classroom, reading from thick books and trying, unsuccessfully, to get the students in my class to participate. Mostly, I just alternated between pushing the lead out of my pencil and holding down the eraser to force it back in–sure, it was probably going to come back to bite me later, but I had more important things on my mind.

As soon as I got through the school day, we were going to look for a ghost. Finally, after weeks of looking back on what happened in Italy and skirting around the topic with Asher and Miller, we were finally going to do something about it.

In truth, I almost couldn’t contain my excitement, and before our science teacher was even able to pack up her books and markers after the bell rang I was out of my seat, pulling Asher and Miller by their wrists, trying to win an expert-level match of tug-of-war with their desks. They started out with a strong lead, but I was sure that, with time, I could best them.

“Come on, guys,” I said, tugging once more. “We’re losing daylight!”

“Just hold on, Cat,” Asher replied, pulling his arm away from my grip and illegally interrupting the match. Miller followed soon after, completely destroying my dreams of the championship. “Class just ended. We have plenty of time.”

“And besides,” Miller said,flexing his wrist, “don’t ghosts usually come out at night? It’s not like we have to be in any rush getting there.”

I thought for a moment. Technically, Miller was right–whenever you saw ghosts moving objects around and getting up to their other nefarious, otherworldly deeds in the movies, it was during nighttime, wasn’t it?. But, still, I didn’t take that to mean we had to waste time doing nothing before we left for the mission.

“Oh well,” I responded, having worked out my position in my head. “Even if we don’t have to get there before dark, why shouldn’t we? It doesn’t take that long to get dark at this time of year, anyway.”

Behind me, Ayame stood up, her bag slung over her shoulder.

“I agree with Cat,” she said. “If we take into account driving time and looking around the town itself, it’ll probably be close to dark by the time we’re ready to do any exploring. With that in mind, we should probably leave sooner, rather than later.”

I could have easily hugged her again, but I held off for her sake, figuring she wouldn’t want another intense public display of affection in front of the entire class. In the end, I settled with clasping her shoulder and giving her a quick smile.

“Well, you two, Ayame has spoken,” I said happily. “Let’s go.”

Although I couldn’t see their reaction, as I had already turned around and begun walking towards the door, I was sure they’d follow me. No matter how much they tried to argue that we should take our time to get ready, there was no way they would want to just hang out in the classroom alone while Ayame and I headed outside.

And sure enough, when I reached the doorway out of the classroom and turned my head, all three of them were coming with me, ready to get out of school and start our adventure for the night.

Without a word, I led them out of the school, navigating the familiar halls of the building with ease, avoiding throngs of students heading either home or off to participate in afterschool clubs. Within two minutes we were out of the front gates, and I pulled out my cellphone, speed-dialing Genji’s number with a click of the number “3” and waiting as the phone rang.

Looking behind me, I noticed Asher and Ayame also on their phones, most likely calling their parents to let them know about their plans for tonight, while Miller leaned against the outer wall of the school. In my right ear, the ringing halted abruptly, being replaced by Genji’s rough voice on the other line.

“Hello, Miss Catriona?” he said, using his best polite-voice. “Are you in need of my services?”

Although I knew he wasn’t actually that interested in what I might need, he did his best to try, and I had to applaude him for that.

“Hey, Genji,” I said, twisting my finger around my makeshift phone strap. “There’s somewhere I’d like you to drive me and my friends. Do you think you could come pick us up in front of the school thing, please?”

“Oh, of course,” he said. I heard movement in the background. “I’ll be right there, Miss.”

“Thanks, Genji. You’re the best!”

By the time I hung up and made my way back to the others in front of the school gates, Ayame had already finished her phone call, and Asher was just getting done with his.

“Yeah, alright,” he was saying, his back turned to us and his eyes pointed to the sky. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll call when i’m coming home, alright? Okay, bye.”

He hung up and turned to face us, shoving his phone into his pocket. Slipping his schoolbag off of his shoulder, he leaned against the wall next to Miller, sighing.

“Well, I’m good,” he said, unbuttoning the top button on his collar. “How about you guys?”

“My mom is fine with it, as long as we’re not back too late,” Ayame replied. Asher nodded, before tilting his head towards Miller.

“I’m assuming you’re good, too,” he said. “Your parents are pretty much cool with whatever you do, right?”

“Yeah, they’re not too hard on me.” Miller shrugged, glancing at the ground. “Not that they really can be.”

“And I called Genji!” I announced quickly, now that I they were all on board with the plan. “So, we are officially good to go.”

There were no cheers of approval or anything, like you could expect from a good crowd, but my friends did nod at the news, so at least I knew they could hear. With that knowledge in mind, I continued my speech.”

“Okay, before Genji gets here, I think we should go over our plan of action,” I said, slamming my fist into my palm. ‘We’ll have to split up, obviously, to cover more ground.”

“Split up where, exactly?” Miller asked, sinking down against the wall and sitting on the ground. “Aren’t we just gonna walk around the town and see if we find anything?”

“Of course not!” I said immediately, shaking my head. “We can’t just ‘walk around.’ This has to be a structured exploration of the epicenter of paranormal activity.”

“You mean the abandoned house they mentioned in the article?” Ayame asked, moving to the wall beside Asher and leaving me to stand at the front of the group.

I nodded vigorously. “Exactly, Ayame. I wouldn’t expect any less from you. We’re heading straight to the action and checking out the house where reports say it’s all going down!”

Asher, who had remained relatively quiet up until that point, finally decided to speak up.

“Okay, first of all, isn’t that illegal?” he asked. “I’m fine with checking out the area and listening to some stories, but I don’t think I want to break any major laws over this.”

“Some laws are meant to be broken, Asher,” I assured him, hands on my hips. “You always play everything so safe. Don’t you want to live a little?”

“I’m living right now,” he shot back, shrugging, “and I’d prefer to continue doing so out of prison.”

That was pretty much as classic of an Asher response as you could get, and I planned on giving him a thorough smack-down on the topic of the best way to spend your youth, but the sound of Genji’s tires roaring towards the school spared him his fate.

Just barely.

Within a few seconds Genji had parked the van directly in front of the school gates and stepped out, slamming the door behind him. He waltzed over, making sure to avoid his usual swagger (with good results), and stood in front of me.

“Hello, Miss Catriona,” he said, giving me the small bow he felt to be necessary due to my parent’s wealth. “Where are we off to today?”

“Ah, right,” I said, and fished the newspaper out of my bag. I handed it to Genji, who scanned the lines quickly, his green eyes darting across the paragraph as he read. After a moment, he handed it back.

“Okay, that’ll be an easy one,” he said, giving me a thumbs-up. “We’ll be there in an hour and a half, tops.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said, turning to the others. ‘Come on, guys. It’s time to go.”

Ayame followed quickly, but Asher and Miller hung back a few steps, obviously trying to avoid brushing up too close to Genji. Of course, when it comes to him, acting like that is the last thing you want to do, which Asher and Miller were soon to find out.

It only took a few seconds for Genji to catch on and, with a gleam in his eye, he slowed his steps, allowing Asher and Miller to catch up to him. I watched out of the corner of my eye as the two attempted to sidestep him and move forward, but Genji was too quick, throwing his long arms out and simultaneously ruffling Asher’s hair, sending the white locks flying upward, and poking Miller in the center of the forehead.

The two staggered back, bringing forth a great roar of a laugh from Genji, who even went so far as to grab his stomach and bob up and down as he did so. Asher and Miller both shot him a look that could curdle milk, but he remained completely unaffected.

“Come on, Mazawa,” Asher said, trying (without much luck) to fix the ghostly strands of hair rising two inches off of his head. “I didn’t even say anything to you.”

“How about you cool down, old man?” he smiled, dismissing Asher’s complaint with a wave of his hand. “You just looked so stressed, I figured I’d give you a few pets. It releases dopamine, you know?”

“Maybe for cats and dogs,” Asher grumbled, licking his fingers and patting a few more strands down.

“And what about poking me in the head?” Miller asked, patting his forehead gingerly. I wondered briefly if he was still sore from my super-powered flick a few weeks ago, but I pushed the thought aside.

“Eh, no reason.” Genji shrugged, which didn’t seem to do anything to alleviate Miller’s annoyance.

Although I was content to leave them at it until we got into the car, Ayame didn’t seem to be as cool with it, tapping me in the elbow and whispering, “Do you think we should step in or something? It looks like they’re all getting heated.”

“I don’t think we really have to,” I responded, glancing back at the group, who, from the looks of it, had begun a competition to see who could untie each other’s shoelaces with nothing but their feet. “They go at it all the time, but I think, deep down, they actually have fun together.”

Of course, if either Asher or Miller actually heard me say that, they’d have a different story to tell you.

In the end, partly out of consideration for Ayame and partly because I wanted to leave as soon as possible, I did end up calling Genji away from the two, and we each filed into the van, one by one. I took the front seat, eager to see the house as soon as I could, and the others arranged themselves behind me, Miller and Ayame in the middle, Asher at the back.

“Alright, ladies and gentlemen,” Genji said, turning the key in the ignition and adopting his best announcer’s voice. “Please buckle your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride. Estimated arrival time is in ninety-five minutes.”

And with that, we were off, rolling quickly across the earth, towards our destination. As we drove, I attempted to talk to my friends, but turning around every few seconds began to get me, and I resigned myself to talking mostly to Genji, and only joining them occasionally. The curse of shotgun–it’s a heavy burden, but it is a cross I must bear.

The ride passed quickly, and I spent most of my time staring out of the window and discussing mid-20th century boxing with Genji, a topic which he had a surprising amount of interest in. Behind me, I could hear Miller’s soft snores mixing with Asher and Ayame’s discussion–I think it was about some book series they had read–and I decided not to interrupt them as we continued travelling closer to our goal.

I think it was around when Genji was telling me about the symbolism in the 1938 Louis vs. Schmeling match when we got there, turning onto a small suburban side street and parking just before a small tree rooted in the sidewalk.

The house sat about fifty feet ahead, nestled behind two large weeping willows, a decrepit, dirty white building with nearly half of its siding stripped away with time. The yard, as compared to the various others present in the small town, was wildly overgrown–the grass and weeds were sure to rise at least to the middle of my shins.    

“Here we are,” Genji said proudly, glancing at the time. “And four minutes ahead of schedule.”

Immediately, I turned around. Asher and Ayame were both awake, looking out of the window at our surroundings, while Miller continued to doze. Luckily for me, he was close enough that I could get a hold of his knee, and I grabbed hold and shook it around until he opened his eyes.  

“We’re here, Miller,” I said, as soon as I was sure he could register my words. “Let’s go, everyone.”

I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the passenger door, before turning towards Genji.

“Thanks, Genji. Do you want to come in, too?”

“No, thanks,” he said quickly, leaning back in his seat and placing his hands behind his head. “I’m just gonna hang out here and take a nap. Come and get me when you’re ready to go.”

“Alright!”

With that, I jumped out of the car, not waiting for the others to catch up as I rushed towards the house. As per Ayame’s prediction, the sun was already setting in the distance, casting the entire town in an eerie glow, and I didn’t see any other people making their way around.

Good, I thought. More action for us.

Within a few seconds I was in the yard, wading through the tall weeds and dodging the pieces of rotting wood and rusted metal littered across the ground. What little light remained in the sky filtered through the ancient-looking willows, checkering the ground with patchwork lines of light, and as I passed under the nearest tree I reached up, letting the brown leaves slip through my fingertips.

They looked ancient, and I wondered at all that the trees must have seen in their time on this planet. All of the mysteries they held the answer to.

Hopefully, tonight, we would find out.

Eventually, I made it to the porch of the old house, and sat on a rotting step while I waited for my friends, who were picking their way carefully through the untended yard, to catch up. When they made it to me, they each glanced up at the house in turn, towards the broken, rectangular attic window at the top.

“So, we’re actually just going to break into this house, huh?” Asher said, squinting at the slumped roof, his voice slightly disapproving.

“It’s not ‘breaking in,’” I assured him, pushing myself into a standing position and forcing a hollow creak out of the decayed wood. “We’re exploring. Gathering information.”

He didn’t respond, continuing to examine the dark outline of the building. Miller and Ayame, who were standing just behind him, moved forward and each took a few tentative steps up the ancient planks, scraping their feet against the surface of the porch.

“Are we sure this is even safe?” Ayame asked, stomping her foot on the porch a few times. Her foot didn’t crash through, which I took as a sign of structural stability.

“I’m sure it’s safe,” I replied, joining them on the porch and leaning on the frayed railing before quickly taking my hand away and beginning to work out the splinter the action had caused. “Anyway, I’m going to go in. Feel free to follow me.”

Without another word, I walked forward with as much purpose as I could muster, placing a hand on the cold, loose doorknob of the front door and pushing inwards. Surprisingly, it wasn’t locked, and opened on my second push, the rusted hinges squealing slightly but otherwise giving way without any problems.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside, ignoring the dust that rained down on my head from the ceiling and forging my way to the center of the room. My friends followed close behind, Miller closing the door after he entered and lowering the amount of light available even more, lowering it to the equivalent of dusk.

Still, I could see, and that’s all I needed.

“Okay,” I whispered, looking at each of my friends in turn. “Now’s the time to split up and search. Look for anything mysterious, and report back here in fifteen minutes. Miller and Ayame, you take the ground floor. Asher and I can handle upstairs.”

They all agreed to my plan without much fuss, and we each went our separate ways, Miller and Ayame making  their way out of the main room to explore the rest of the lower floor while Asher and I moved forward, stepping around plastic covered furniture and a broken ceiling fan to reach the steps. Without a word, we ascended, moving slowly on the dust-covered steps.

“You know, I really hope this house wasn’t made with asbestos,” Asher said, glancing towards the ceiling, but I shushed him before he could say any more–we couldn’t have him disturbing the ghost.

After making it to the top of the steps, I stood to the side, motioning Asher forward. To me, the best plan of action seemed to be to each start on opposite ends and work our way towards the center, and it seemed that Asher agreed with me, as he walked to the other end of the narrow hall without another word.

Looking forward, I counted five rooms–two on the left and three on the right– and I decided to begin on the more crowded side, stepping to my left. I had hardly moved an inch, however, when something caught my eye.

On the right side of the hall, just off of the top of the steps was a door. It lacked a handle and was painted the same dark blue as the rest of the wall which, in the dark, made it almost impossible to discern, but once I caught sight of it I was sure.

That room was hard to see for a reason, and I had to find out what it was.

Spinning on my heels, I made my way to the door, resting my hand on the rough opening that, at one time, must have held a doorknob. After a split-second of hesitation, I took a breath and pulled, the worn-down wood of the door dragging against the carpet. After a few seconds of force and a lot of jiggling, I got the door open, and took a step into the room.

It was tough to see, as the room had no windows, but after giving my eyes a moment to adjust and pushing the door open as far as possible, I got just enough light to get the general makeup of the room.

The first thing that caught my attention was that it was almost completely empty, consisting of only a dark, dusty wooden floor, a rusty gold-colored bed frame, and a giant cabinet sitting on the ground at the opposite end of the room.

Then I noticed the zebra–a small wooden toy lying on its side at the base of the cabinet that looked like it belonged in one of those Russian doll sets. Under normal circumstances, it was the kind of thing I would just overlook, a toy left behind by a previous family, but something about the room drew me to it, made me want to see it up close.

I crossed the distance of the room quickly, and knelt on the hard floor in front of the cabinet. Slowly, carefully, I picked up the doll. Although it looked like it would splinter at the slightest touch, I was able to get a good grip on it and brought it close to my face.

Some of the paint had chipped off, revealing the light shade of wood beneath, but it was otherwise completely recognizable, covered in black and white stripes with two large black eyes printed on its face. Overall, it seemed like a normal, old-timey doll, but for some odd reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was more than that.

But I wasn’t in the dark for long. As I turned the doll about in my hand, I noticed something odd about the coloring. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, it was becoming lighter, transforming from a dirty white and black into light blue and, I noticed, it wasn’t just the doll that was changing color–my hands were, too.

Then, I realized what it was. Looking up, I came face to face with a little girl, her small, floating figure hovering inches above the ground, casting a soft, almost nonexistent blew glow around the entire room. Her transparent dress, flowing in an invisible wind, covered the doll and my hands, resulting in both the change of color and the rising chill I felt in my fingertips.

There were a thousand things I could have done in that moment, but I didn’t do any of them. Instead, I continued staring straight into the dark blue eyes of the girl, silently, the words “I found the ghost” ringing in my head like a bell. She blinked, stepping backwards in the air, and I smiled at her, trying to communicate that I wanted to be friends.

That’s when she started screaming.

It came out of nowhere–she didn’t even open her mouth when it happened–and the pure power of the sound knocked me backwards immediately, crashing on the wooden floor, clutching at my ears and slamming my eyes shut. The shriek was soul-splitting, primal, the kind of sound that would dwarf the uproar of a thousand nuclear bombs set off at once.

I continued to clasp my ears, trying to find an escape from the noise, but there was none–it shot past my hands, penetrating the deepest recesses of my mind, travelling through every inch of my body, shaking through my fingertips, vibrating each and every one of the two hundred and six bones in my body, even bouncing from chamber to chamber in my heart. The explosion of sound crashed through me, invisible waves shooting through my blood vessels, my veins, crystallizing and expanding, forcing their way outward.

Her shriek was consuming me. It went on for an eternity, and then again, until I could no longer tell where her screams ended and mine began before circling back again. I continue to lay on the ground, writhing in explosive agony, eyes shut, teeth clenched, ears blocked, trying to cut off every avenue of sensation.

Eventually, however, it became too much. The onslaught continued, and I could no longer stand the mental and strain of even attempting to avoid the sound. I let my hands drop to the floor, relaxed my jaw. I opened my eyes.   

The world looked different–shakier, less defined–but I could still recognize the forms of Asher and miller, lying on the ground a few feet in front of me, faces digging into the hard surface of the floor, fingers grabbing uselessly at their ears. They were caught in the same cycle I was, thrust into the world of endless sound, endless experience, endless agony.

And it was because of me. It was because we had found the ghost.

Although I could no longer feel any physical sensation–every one of my senses had long since succumbed to the all-encompassing scream–I felt warmth on my cheek. I took one last look at Asher and Miller, and hoped, somehow, they would get out of here. That they would take me with them.

My eyes closed once again, on their own, and I let out a slow breath, ready to submit to the sound myself. Ready to escape it, once and for all.

And that’s when Ayame walked in.  

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