Author’s Note: Wait, another new POV? That’s right, today’s chapter comes to you from Ayame’s point of view! Hope you all enjoy.
Volume 2 – Chapter 4
I was in what used to be a kitchen, examining the tarnished silverware that littered the floor and wondering exactly what it was I was supposed to be looking for, when I heard Cat scream. The sound was muted, travelling through the faded, stained ceiling before reaching my ears, but it was unmistakable, and I moved toward the door to the living room without a second thought.
Before I could even reach the doorway I heard a rapid thumping sound, both above and in front of me, which led me to believe that both Asher and Miller were already on the move.
Good, I thought, entering the cluttered living room and stepping over a dusty ceiling fan box and around a busted cabinet. At least they’ll be there.
As I took my first tentative step on the rickety staircase, I wondered what could be going on up there. In all of the time I had known Cat, there weren’t very many things that could elicit a scream from her–cute animals and honorable combat notwithstanding–and I could hardly imagine she had found a baby bunny or her long-time nemesis in the house.
For a brief moment, my thoughts flashed to all of the horror movies I had watched as a child, and my mind filled with images of hordes of rats, yellowed skeletons, and Freddy Krueger, but I pushed them out as quickly as they came. In this situation, the last thing I needed to do was freak myself out before even getting to Cat.
I continued up the stairs, and was nearly halfway to the second floor when the screams hit my ears again, only this time, rather than Cat doing the yelling, the shouts were male. Whether it was Asher, Miller, or both, I couldn’t tell, but it honestly didn’t make much of a difference.
The message was clear. Something bad was happening.
A small drop of panic rising in my chest, I contemplated calling 911, but the idea died before I could fully entertain it–I had turned off my phone in the car, and if I tried to turn it on then I wasn’t sure I could avoid the sound of it booting up. In the end, I couldn’t justify taking the risk, and I instead ascended the steps slowly, silently, questioning my sanity with each stride.
My plan, if you could call it that, was to reach the second floor, unnoticed, and get a view of what was going on before deciding whether it was necessary to jump ship or not. However, as soon as I made it to the top and caught a glimpse of the scene taking place, I knew that wasn’t happening.
To my immediate right, a dark blue, handle-less door had been thrown open roughly, revealing the events taking place inside of the small room once hidden behind it. Standing at the top of the stairs, my view unobstructed, I noticed with shock that Cat, Asher and Miller had all already entered the room, and all three of them were on the floor.
That was when my fear and panic for my friends took over, and I entered the room without thinking of the consequences. Stepping onto the hard wooden floor, my eyes moved to each of them: Miller sputtering and attempting to choke out indiscernible words, Asher shaking and clasping his ears, and Cat lying face-down, her hands tangled in her hair. I had no idea what in the world was going on.
But then I noticed the girl.
She was floating, my first clue that whatever was happening wasn’t normal, her translucent form drifting from left to right, her dark eyes locked onto the center of the room. As I looked at her, trying to wrap my head around the fact that she wasn’t touching the ground, her entire see-through body flickered, disappearing momentarily, followed immediately by another round of moans from my friends.
I took my eyes off of the girl quickly, instead focusing them on Miller, the closest one to me. Kneeling on the ground next to him, I grabbed onto his shoulders, tilting his face towards me. his eyes were squeezed shut, his mouth slightly open as he moved his lips silently, forming invisible words.
No matter how many times I said his name and , he wouldn’t respond, and I lowered his head gently back onto the ground. The girl, who from what I could tell was some sort of ghost–regardless of the fact that they shouldn’t exist–was once again floating in the back of the room, bobbing up and down next to an antique dresser. The hem of her dress and the strands of dark hair falling over her pale face shifted slightly, as if blown by a soft breeze, and I noticed her small hands clenching and unclenching, forming a fist and releasing it in a steady rhythm.
Looking at her, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Obviously, her presence was having some sort of negative effect on my friends–why it had no impact on me, I have no idea–and I had a feeling that if something didn’t stop her soon, the result wouldn’t be pretty.
With that thought in mind, I stood up, hands shaking, ragged breaths rising and falling in my chest and somehow escaping my lungs in the process, and did something I never would have expected of myself.
I walked forward.
The ghost didn’t move, continuing to float in the nearly empty room, shimmering occasionally and sending my friends into another fit of wincing and moaning, and I reached her in a few steps, coming within feet of her glowing blue form.
She was smaller up close, in almost every way imaginable. Her eyes, two dark discs spaced apart by a tiny button of a nose, stared forward, unfocused, as her thin lips parted, opening and closing as if she could not bring herself to talk.
Her hair, dark as the night sky, now blew around wildly, twisting left and right, tangling and untangling within itself randomly, and I realized with a start that her hair was actually longer than her. Amazingly, I noticed that the girl barely came up to my chin, despite floating six inches off of the ground.
Although I had been in the room for at least a few minutes by that point, and had been standing near the girl for a good chunk of that time, I don’t think she noticed my presence at all until I was standing directly in front of her. As I looked her up and down, trying desperately to gain any hint of information as to what to do to stop her from hurting my friends, she shifted her gaze to me, observing me with the dark circles that passed for her eyes.
Then, she opened her mouth, and got ready to scream.
Luckily for me, I didn’t get to the point where I actually heard the scream. Instead, as her form flickered wildly, her mouth opening wider and wider by the second, I was transported into a different room in an instant, and found myself alone, both my friends and the ghost nowhere to be seen.
To be honest, the scream would have been a lot easier to process.
At first, I tried to find the others, heading back to the door, ready to burst into the hall and search the house, but that proved useless almost immediately. Although I was able to walk through the doorway at the end of the room, as soon as I did so I would find myself back in the center of the same exact room I had been moved to.
Like I said, the scream would have been easier.
Not knowing what else to do, and trying as hard as I could to avoid the feeling of dread bubbling in the pit of my stomach, I explored the room, wading through the piles of toys that littered the rough surface of the floor and looking for anything that might show me a way out.
Checking under the bed, which lie on the far wall, I found nothing but a few small pairs of shoes and one pair of slippers, and had similar luck in the dresser, which contained a large number of dresses and small shirts, but not much else. The toys, although they were interesting to look at–especially the animal-themed Russian nesting dolls–were similarly useless, and within a few minutes I had searched the entire room, with nothing to show for it.
Wonderful, I thought, sitting cross-legged on the floor and burying my face in my hands. First a ghost knocks all of my friends out, then it traps me in an inescapable room.
I sat there for a while, worrying about how my friends were doing, while at the same time wondering how I was doing, before I heard the whimpers. At first I thought I was hearing things, and continued to take solace in the darkness of my palms, but as they grew in volume, I was forced to recognize that it wasn’t just me imagining things. I took my hands away from my face, and looked around the room.
It was pretty much exactly the same, with the same mounds of toys lining the walls and covering the floor, the same matching bed and dresser rising up from the sea of wood, metal and plastic, and the same blank walls. However, in the corner of the room by the bed, one thing was different.
There was a girl.
I recognized her immediately–her small hands, clutched to her chest while opening and closing steadily, her thin lips and button nose and, most noticeably, her flowing black hair giving her away. Despite being recognizable, however, I saw that she looked nothing like she had when I first saw her.
For one, she was no longer translucent, and now simply held the appearance of a pale girl, rather than a blue see-through ghost. Along with that, a large change came in the form of her eyes, which were now a light shade of blue.
The biggest difference, though, was her expression. The straight-faced, otherworldly girl I had encountered only moments ago had all but disappeared, replaced by a sniffling, frail child who kept gazing at me from across the room with tear-filled eyes that shone like crystals.
Although I knew it might be a mistake, I felt the need to cheer her up.
While I was a little wary of getting close to the ghost who had injured my friends and transported me to some kind of alternate realm, the look on her face forced me to overcome the feeling, and I crawled towards the girl, who never once took her bright eyes off of me.
After shuffling forward a little more, scraping my knees on the hard wood of the floor and avoiding the occasional toy, I made it to the corner of the room where the girl was huddled, and sat up on my knees, folding my hands in my lap.
The ghost girl looked at me, the room around us silent all but for the sound of her sucking snot back into her nose. I looked into her eyes, watching the tears continue to well up, threatening to spill over, and one thing became clear to me.
This wasn’t just a ghost. It was a little girl.
With that knowledge came an entire new scope of feelings–my fear transformed immediately into compassion and, above all, protectiveness, and I became determined to stop her from crying. To find out what was wrong.
So, to start, I smiled.
“Hi,” I said, waving. “My name is Ayame. Do you mind if I ask yours?”
She didn’t respond at first, pulling her knees up higher and partially hiding her face, only allowing one eye to remain focused on me. I was ready to try again, but before I could, she finally spoke, her quiet voice muffled by her arm.
“Christine,” she mumbled, looking away quickly. I waited to see if she offered up any more, but after nearly a minute of silence I decided that was all she was willing to offer.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Christine,” I offered, transferring from my knees into a sitting position. She kept her face buried away and, after some thought, I decided to see if I could get her to open up. “Is something the matter?”
Once again, she didn’t respond, and I feared I had messed something up–with only an older sister and no younger relatives, I had virtually no experience in dealing with children–but after a few minutes of my silent panic, she poked her eyes over her arms.
“Gone….” she whispered, staring at the floorboards without offering more.
“Gone?” I repeated. “Who’s gone?”
“Gone,” she said again, and lifted her face fully. Tears welled in her eyes, which had begun to blaze, shining like emeralds in a spotlight. Her voice rose, and the tears spilled over. “Gone! They’re gone! They left, and they won’t come back! Mom and dad are gone, they took the others, and now they’re going to take me too!”
Quickly, she turned and hid her face again, trembling slightly while I sat there, wide-eyed at her sudden outburst. Facing the wall, Christine began to sob, the force of the angered explosion catching up to her.
But, amidst her broken cries and half-spoken words, one rang out clearly.
Up until that point, I really had no idea what was going on, other than the fact that the girl was upset. However, once parents were added into the mix, the pieces began to fall together in my mind.
She was a ghost–I had accepted that–and, at the end of the day, that meant that she had died. If “They’re gone” was referring to the girl’s parents, I could assume that either they had left upon their young daughter’s death, fleeing their ghosts, or possibly died themselves.
Either way, it meant that Christine had been left alone.
Truthfully, at that point I was at a loss for what to do, but there was no way I could back out now. I had to help Christine, one way or another.
That was when an idea hit me. It was a little odd, maybe, and there was a good chance it would do nothing to help her, but I figured it was worth a shot.
“Is it alright if I tell you a story?” I asked, leaning forward slightly.
Christine didn’t answer, but she turned slightly to face me, her feet scraping on the floor. Taking that as the go ahead, I took a breath and began.
“When I was little,” I began, “I had a friend named Madison. We were in the same class, and ended up spending most of our time together. No matter what we were doing, it was so much fun, just because the two of us were together.”
She made no comments, and I couldn’t tell whether or not Christine was getting anything from the story, but I continued, either way.
“We were friends for years, but one day, while we were working on a project for school together, Madison told me that we weren’t going to be able to play anymore,” I said, images of flowing brown hair and a gap-toothed smile filling my head. “Her parents were moving, and she had to go with them. We were so young, so we didn’t exchange phone numbers or addresses. The next week, I said goodbye to her after school, and she left. I haven’t seen her since that day.”
Surprisingly, telling the girl in front of me the story brought back stronger feelings than I had anticipated. As I was staring at the ceiling, remembering, Christine’s voice came as a surprise.
“That’s sad,” she muttered, glancing at me shyly. I looked back, and gave her a small smile.
“It is sad,” I agreed, “but that’s not the end. After Madison moved away, I was alone for a while. It was hard to make friends, and for a while I didn’t think I ever would again, but then a new girl moved into my neighborhood. She was so loud, the first time she spoke the entire class pushed their seats back and blocked their ears.”
Christine smiled, and I kept going with my story, almost as much for my sake as for hers.
“One day, while I was doing my work, the girl came up to me and asked me my name,” I said. “I told her, and she said she was named Catriona, and then told me that we were going to be friends, and that we had to play later. I’m not entirely sure why, but I knew that she was right.”
Silently, I noticed, the girl in front of me had shifted, and was facing me straight on.
“Later that day, when I met with her, I found out that it wasn’t just us. Standing behind her, there was a boy with hair the same color as snow. I knew him from my class, but I had never talked to him before. Catriona introduced us, and within no time, we had all become friends,” I said. “A little later, another new kid moved into the neighborhood, and Catriona immediately brought him with us everywhere, too.”
I paused, took a breath, continued.
“When Madison moved, it seemed like I was never going to have any friends again,” I said, looking into Christine’s vibrant eyes. “But I was wrong. It took some time, but I ended up getting the three best friends I’ve ever had.”
My story completed, the cluttered room descended into silence, and I looked at the small girl in front of me, hoping she got something from my speech, but having no idea what that something might be.
As it turned out, that something was intense interest.
“You all became friends?” she asked, more energetically than I ever would have expected from the quiet girl. “You still are?”
After recovering from the stunned silence brought on by her sudden bubbly outburst, I laughed. “Of course we’re still friends. They’re the ones that were with me today.”
“Oh,” Christine said, her voice falling slightly. She glanced at the ground. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I said, hoping they were alright. “You stopped hurting them, right?”
“Yes,” she responded, fidgeting with the hem of her white dress. She looked up, opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again. “I was just…scared. They came in, and they were so loud, and bright. I wanted them to leave.”
I smiled, imagining the shock of seeing Cat and Asher’s bright hair in that dark room. “I understand. You stopped, that’s what matters.”
She looked down once again, tiny strands of her dark hair falling past her face and touching the floor. Although I would have liked to speak more–ask for the way out of the room and back to my friends–it was easy to see that Christine needed some silence. Time to think.
For a few minutes, I appraised the toys in the room, even finding a few that I recognized from my youth, but as I was in the middle of examining a plush alligator, the girl’s voice pulled me back to her.
“Ayame,” she said quietly, surprising me with my own name. “After the dark, my mom and dad left. It’s sad, but maybe like with you and Madison, I can find more people to have fun with. I might not have to be lonely.”
“That’s right,” I said immediately, almost reaching out to her but deciding against it. Christine looked at me, eyes twinkling.
“I have a question,” she said. “If sometimes other people leaving is okay, do you think it’s okay for you to leave, too?”
All around us, the room began to glow, as if someone was raising the intensity of the light bulb hanging over our heads.
“I think so, yes,” I whispered, knowing how important my words were. “It’s okay to leave, sometimes.”
“That’s good.” Christine smiled, blurring at the edges. “I’ve been here for so long, I want to go. I want to make more friends, like you.”
“That sounds like a great idea.”
The light was blinding, but I felt her move closer, just for a moment, and I reached my arms out. It could be that I missed her because of the light, because she had already been pulled away, but I like to think it’s because she had already turned her back and begun moving forward, leaving the place that had kept her behind for so long.
I like to think it was because she could finally move, freely, to wherever it was she wanted to go.
* * *
As the light faded, I found myself standing in the dark, dilapidated room at the top of the stairs once again. After a brief moment of disorientation, I turned around, ready to find my friends and make sure they were okay.
They found me first, Cat throwing her arms around me and calling my name while Asher and Miller each rushed forward, placing their hands on my shoulders.
“Ayame!” Cat said, her words muffled after travelling through my shoulder. “Did you beat it? Did you stop the ghost?”
“Huh?” I blinked, and looked to Asher for an explanation. He shrugged. “I didn’t beat the ghost, just talked to her. I think she left.”
Cat hugged me even tighter upon hearing that, although I put a stop to that quickly enough, knowing that once she got going it would be incredibly hard to peel her off. As she stepped back and straightened her clothes, Miller got my attention.
“Did you say you talked to the ghost?” he asked. His hair was a little disheveled, and his eyes contained a small spark of unease, but otherwise he seemed to be in good shape.
“Yeah, I told her a story and calmed her down,” I replied. “Then she walked away and I came back here.”
“Amazing,” Asher muttered, looking at me as if he were meeting me for the first time. “How did you do it? When the rest of us came in here the screams knocked us out immediately, but it doesn’t seem like they affected you at all.”
“I’m not sure,” I answered with a shrug, “but that’s not what’s important right now. How are you guys? Are you hurt?”
Cat had that one. “Don’t worry about us, Ayame. It takes more than a yelling ghost to take down a few old pros like us!”
Her eyes told a bit of a different story, but I decided not to press the issue. The situation was sure to be stressful for all of us, and it would probably be best to sort it out a little later.
Instead, I decided to keep things light.
“Old pros, huh?” I asked, arching my eyebrows, to which Cat smiled.
“Oh, yeah.” She nodded. “We haven’t told you about it yet, but back when we were in Italy, we r–”
“Let’s save that story for another time, Cat,” Asher said, cutting her off before she could surprise me any further. He looked tired. “I think it’s best that we get out of here now.”
“I agree,” Miller said, already moving to the door. “We found one ghost, and that didn’t turn out too well. I’d rather not stay and wait until we find another.”
“Ah, you guys are no fun,” Cat complained, heading to the door herself. “That’s a good story, too!”
Miller and Cat already out the door, Asher and I began to follow, but not before I shot him a look that I hoped clearly communicated “There’s no way you’re getting off the hook with not telling me about what happened in Italy.”
He got the message.
“I’ll tell you later, I promise,” he said. “But for now, let’s head out. If we don’t catch up to Cat, there’s a good chance Genji will leave without us.”
And that was good enough for me. As we walked out of the room for the last time, I glanced around, remembering the toys scattered across the ground, the bed with its rumpled sheets, and the girl who had finally worked up the courage to leave it all behind.