After getting home from school, I headed to my room immediately, throwing my bag on the rumpled sheets of my bed and searching for something to do to occupy my time until I headed to the library with Ayame. After cycling through reading, doing my homework, studying for class, watching TV, and playing video games–all of which, for some reason, couldn’t seem to hold my attention for any more than twenty minutes–I ended up downstairs in my kitchen, glancing occasionally at the ticking clock while sipping some water.
As I sat at the wooden table in the center of the room, tapping out a simple beat on the surface, I heard a soft “clink” behind me, and turned to see my mother standing at the sink, washing off a plate she must have just been using. I returned to my resting position, and resumed my erratically-tempoed rhythm.
“What are you doing?” my mom asked, her voice ringing above the dull thuds my fingers continued to produce. Although she had started with a single dish, I guess she had decided to take care of the remaining dishes in the sink. While she scrubbed away the remnants of the omelet I’d had that morning, she looked at me expectantly.
“Nothing, really,” I responded, giving up on my song and laying my palm flat on the surface of the table. “I’m going to go to the library with a friend soon, so I’m just waiting for them to show up.”
“Oh,” she said. “What are you going to the library for, a project for school?”
“Yeah,” I responded, figuring that it would be much easier to go along with that than to explain the real subject of our research. “We’ve got a science project coming up, and we have to get some information?”
“Alright, make sure you eat before you go,” she said, making her way to the doorway, most likely to get back to work. Before she made her full exit, however, she turned around, her eyebrows raised slightly. “Oh, by the way, who are you working on the project with?”
“That’s good, she’s a smart girl.” My mom nodded, probably remembering the fact that Ayame sat at the top of my class, beating me and a couple others out by an astounding margin. “Well, I’ve got a conference with a student coming up, so I’ll see you later. Don’t stay out too late.”
“Alright,” I said, wondering if she actually expected me to pull a late night at the public library on a weekday. “Have fun.”
With a chortle and an already distant “Sure thing” she was gone, leaving me alone in the kitchen once again. I took another glance at the clock–it read 5:40–and decided that I’d done enough sitting around, instead heading up to my room with the intention of making sure all of my electronics had been shut off.
As it turns out, they had been–my trip to turn things off had actually had the opposite effect, as I ended up turning on the lights–and ultimately I ended up sitting on my bed, waiting again.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the knock on the door to come–had I ended up just sitting around any longer I probably would have fallen asleep–and, after grabbing my wallet and phone, I headed down the stairs, making it to the front door in just a few seconds. Swinging it inwards, I was greeted by Ayame, her hand quickly withdrawing from its position in the air and returning to her side.
“Hello,” she said, with a small wave. As opposed to her school uniform, she now wore a plain black t-shirt and jeans. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I said, stepping forward and closing the door behind me.
“Sorry I’m a little early,” Ayame said as we began walking forward, taking a left after clearing my front yard. “I always overestimate how long it takes me to get to your house.”
“That’s fine,” I assured her. “I wasn’t really doing anything today, so I’m fine with heading out before six.”
“Oh, that’s good,” she said. A small breeze blew its way across our faces and, after quickly pushing her dark bangs out from in front of her eyes, she glanced at me. “So, where do you think we should start with the research?”
I put a hand in my pocket, closing my fingers around the mechanical pencil inside and realizing that I’d forgotten to bring my notebook, before giving her a slight shrug.
“We’ll see when we get there, I guess,” I said. “I thought about it for a while, but I can’t really think of a good way to start. Do libraries have ‘real-world ghost’ sections?”
The question was at least half a joke, and I’m sure Ayame knew that, but she decided to answer, anyway.
“Probably not,” she laughed, “but who knows? Maybe they decided to put one in since the last time either of us were at the library.”
“It has been a few years, for me, at least. If we’re lucky, the library has decided to stock up on informational books on dealing with ghost attacks in your teens since then.”
“We can only hope,” Ayame said with a smile. Of course, we both knew that the chances of finding anything to help us out that easily were slim, but it was nice to imagine it, at least.
For a while, we walked in silence, navigating the streets of our neighborhood with ease–even though it had been some time since I’d last visited it, I remembered the location of the library without any problems, mostly because it was on the way to Cat’s house.
Then, as I was stepping forward to cross the street, Ayame suddenly threw her arm out, forming a bar across my chest that prevented me from moving forward another inch. The force of walking into her outstretched arm knocked the breath clear out of my lungs and, as I attempted to regain the lost air, I turned quickly in her direction.
“W..what’s wrong?” I sputtered, glancing at the light to make sure we were free to cross, which we were.
Ayame didn’t respond at first, focusing on her bag as she dug her hand through its contents, searching for something. Eventually, and with a triumphant look in her eyes, she pulled her phone from the bag, and turned it on.
Then, she spoke.
“I completely forgot!” she said, her volume at least a few levels above normal. ‘When I got home from school today, I did a little research of my own, just to get an idea of what we’d be looking for at the library, and I found something that I wanted to show you.”
Turning her phone around in her hands, she transferred it into mine, and I glanced at the bright screen, where Ayame had pulled up a sizeable amount of text. I pulled it a little closer to my face, and began to read.
“How do you pronounce this word?” I asked, almost immediately after beginning. “Aptrgangr? What language is that?”
“I don’t know exactly how you pronounce it,” Ayame admitted, before moving closer to me and pointing over my shoulder at the screen, “but if you keep reading they tell you that they’re called ‘draugr,’ most of the time. I’m pretty sure it’s Norse.”
With that, I continued reading, scanning my eyes over the screen as Ayame read the article again beside me. Although she hadn’t told me the specific reason why this article had popped up while she was researching, I figured it out quickly enough–from what I could tell, draugar were reanimated corpses that would attack people for no reason.
After a few minutes, I finished reading the page, and handed the phone back to Ayame.
“So?” she asked expectantly, as she took the phone from my hands. I nodded.
“They sound really close to what we ran into,” I said. “At the very least, it’s the best guess we’ve had so far, and a good place to start off on. How did you find them.”
Ayame tilted her head. “I just searched around for a while. At first I was looking for different types of undead creatures from around the world, and found a page all about ancient vampires and vampire stories. Since draugr supposedly have some similarities with old vampire stories, there was a link to information on them on that page.”
In front of us, the light signalling for us to walk began flashing once again, and we made our way across the street, while I thought about the new information Ayame had discovered. Although I had spent weeks researching, looking for hints as to what we had encountered the day of the athletic event at school with no luck, it had only taken her one night to hit upon the best idea of what they might have been we’d had yet. Quietly, I looked at her in amazement.
“You know, I’m glad you thought of coming here,” I said, catching sight of the library in the distance. Ayame turned to face me, looking a little surprised, for some reason. “I think that, with both of us, we might actually be able to get closer to some answers.”
She exhaled, her shoulders rolling slightly with the movement, and she nodded. “I think so, too.”
Without another word, we took the few remaining steps up to the front doors of the library, and headed inside. After recovering from the unexpected blast of cool air rushing at us from the interior of the building, I looked around, wondering where to start searching.
The library itself was separated into two floors, the walls of which were lined with shelves of books, the spines varying in color primarily from red to brown, with spattered selections of brighter colors interspersed between. The center of the main floor was taken up mostly by rows of computers, as well as bins of used books, on sale both individually and in bulk, in front of which stood the only other visible occupant of the building, an elderly woman sifting through the yellowed pages of a decades-old romance novel.
“Okay, where do you think we should start?” I asked, scanning the room without much of an idea of which sections held the type of books we were looking for.
“I went on the library’s website before we came,” Ayame responded. “The two main sections that would have anything to do with what we’re looking for are the supernatural/mystery section, and the mythology section. It would probably be easiest to split up for a little bit and see what we can find there.”
“Alright, that sounds like a good plan,” I said, thanking the universe for Ayame’s preparedness. “Where do you want to look?”
“I think I’m going to look at the mythology section, as long as you don’t have a preference,” she said, almost immediately. “Any information on draugar should be there, and I want to find more out about them.”
“Okay, I’ll go check out the supernatural stuff, then,” I said with a nod, before moving off on my own to peruse the selection. Only after Ayame ascended the set of metal stairs to the right, heading to the mythology section, did I realize that I had never asked where the supernatural section was, which gave me a moment of panic where I thought I would have to ask someone.
Luckily for me, I ended up stumbling into the supernatural/mystery section only a moment later on accident, which helped to settle my nerves. As soon as I realized where I had ended up, I cracked my knuckles, and set to work without hesitation.
Some time later–I’m not entirely sure how much time–I was still searching, running my fingers along the spines of books, pulling out volumes that probably hadn’t been touched in years, flipping through hundreds of pages, all the while trying to find something, anything that could help me and my friends to better understand what had forced its way into our lives.
And, even after all of that time, I had still come up with nothing.
At first, I’d tried to remain optimistic, thinking that the more I looked the more I would be able to find, but that hadn’t actually been the case. Although I kept searching, the only books that including anything near what I was looking for concerning ghosts and the undead ended up being completely half-hearted and, in most cases, didn’t take the subject matter seriously in the slightest.
On one hand, I had kind of expected that–I doubted that there were many people in the world, if any, who had seen what my friends and I had and decided to write on it–but that didn’t stop it from getting frustrated at the grim reality of it.
Sliding my latest unsuccessful attempt at gaining knowledge back onto the shelf, I began searching again, scanning titles and looking hopefully for a spark of interest, even the briefest hint of something that could shed light on my situation.
Without really thinking, I knelt down on the floor, closing my eyes and resting my palm on the books in front of me. At that point, I could almost physically feel the weight of the past few months of not knowing catch up to me, right there in the library, surrounded by pieces of bound paper that did nothing to let me know what was going on.
How much longer would it be before I had any idea what had happened, what was going to happen? Sure, I had found a few names, as had Ayame, but what good did that really do, in the end? We had to get answers if we were going to be able to do anything, if we were going to be ready for the seemingly inevitable next brush with the supernatural. But how?
I didn’t know.
The pressure continued, rising in my chest and filling my lungs like liquid, the questions flowing through my mind in a wild rush, turning over on themselves, fighting each other for space in my head.
Then, I felt another pressure, lighter, softer, on my shoulder. I opened my eyes.
Ayame was kneeling next to me, her head tilted, eyes a haze of concern as vast as the ocean, hair spilling over her shoulder. She looked at me for a second and then, suddenly, stood, motioning for me to do the same.
“Come on, Asher.”
Not knowing exactly why, I followed her example, rising slowly to my feet and causing Ayame’s hand to fall from my side to hers.
“W-what?” I asked, my voice a little hoarse. I cleared it quickly. “Where are we going?”
“Just follow me, please,” she said softly. “You’ll see in a minute.”
I nodded and, as soon as she received that signal, Ayame grabbed hold of my wrist gently, and led me through the main floor of the library and out of the front doors, cold air filling my lungs as I looked up at slowly darkening sky and wondered where I was headed.