by No. 13
Further warnings: focused entirely on Fuji and Tezuka
Author is no native English speaker (always glad to accept corrections)
Wednesday evening came as a dreary end to what had been a cold and rainy November day. The sun hadn’t shown his head for days, streets constantly been slippery and wet, and had anybody asked for Tezuka Kunimitsu’s opinion, he would have announced this a perfect time to stay at home. Maybe sit back with a good book and a warm cup of tea, simply spend an evening in perfect tranquility until, eventually, being soothed to sleep by the falling rain’s steady patter.
But no, here he stood, wrapped in his warmest winter coat, gloved fingers clutching a black umbrella, waiting at an iron-wrought gate for his parents to finish the exchange of pleasantries by pale lantern light.
There was little light here, now that both cars had shut off their lights. A wide, poorly-kept road, full of holes, lined with old and leafless trees overlooked by ancient mansions. Few of them were possessed inhabitants, most of them had long since fallen into disrepair.
A century ago, the gate behind his back might have been polished to a sleek, spotless shine, now it was dull and overgrown with vines of ivy. The mansion behind it loomed darkly, nothing but a black monument against an overcast night sky. It might have been of marvelous beauty, once upon a time, tonight it only looked old, worn and abandoned.
Tezuka turned away with a shudder and acknowledged his newly arrived companion with the slightest of nods.
“It’s an impressive building your family inherited there.” Fuji said, forgoing all words of greeting.
“Hn.” Tezuka nodded, unwilling to move his cheeks, by now stiff from the cold, any further. Fuji flashed a tired smile signalling understanding, before, he too, turned to where his sister and Tezuka’s family were exchanging all the polite pleasantries the two of them had neglected.
“And thank you very much for coming here at this time of the night.” Tezuka heard his mother say as the small group of adults eventually approached.
“I admit to having been curious myself.” Fuji Yumiko replied with a smile that lacked its common vibrancy. Maybe it was the November weather, maybe it was these lonely surroundings, but all looked so faded, toned-done and numbed. Night time had bleached the world off all its lovely colors; the blue family car looked like a heap of metal, an undefined shade of grey, the red convertible just another helpless protest, so dearly promethean in its intention to light a dark night.
And in the end all was for naught.
“So, there are rumors this place is haunted?” Yumiko was asking, while Tezuka Kuniharu stepped ahead, unlocking the iron gates with difficulty. The rain soaked up whatever noises there were, and even the ongoing conversation between the only two females present was only barely audible.
“…when we wanted to sell the place, they told us.” Ayana shook her head gently, stepping through the pathway of old tiles. Tezuka absentmindedly recalled that they’d appeared this gray even at his first visit to this place months ago.
“At first it seemed like rumors that would typically spread in a village as remote as this.” Tezuka Kunikazu said, climbing up the four stairs leading to the front porch, and closed his umbrella with a relieved sigh.
They’d all be glad to return to their respective, warm homes tonight. The place wasn’t ugly, just lonely.
“But as nobody even seemed remotely interested in acquiring the property, we decided to investigate.” Ayana continued, “The rumors, though, only became more outrageous. But from what I gathered, the people here believe that there is a malevolent spirit haunting this place.”
She chuckled, a bright, brilliant sound that was washed away by the rain as soon as it emerged.
“My husband and I, we don’t particularly believe in spirits.” Ayana continued, “But then, we don’t understand the mindset of people living here either.
No one present did, Tezuka contemplated. While the Fuji family might dabble into more spiritual subjects from time to time, he’d never thought that Fuji Syusuke felt serious about it.
“My father in law, though, recalled cases from his earlier job with the police force that had been solved with less than conventional methods. So we thought, perhaps we should ask somebody who actually understood something about the subject…”
Fuji Yumiko smiled, setting her umbrella aside before stepping through the door after the two males had crossed the threshold and turned on their flashlights.
“I hope tonight will wield satisfying results, then. Though, perhaps I should warn you, ghosts aren’t my specialty.”
Yes, Tezuka remembered, as he entered the mansion’s interior that was just as cold and wet as the outside. Only, it was far darker – only the flashlights they’d brought enabled them to see their way around. Fuji Yumiko had only ever done some sort of fortune telling – with ridiculously accurate results, according to Eiji at least.
Tezuka had never paid those things much mind, not until, a few nights ago, his grandfather had mentioned in passing, that there’d been a case, almost ten years ago, that might have – or not have – been solved only due to the help of an exceptionally gifted precognitive. One that might have or might have not been named Fuji Yumiko.
Under other circumstances Tezuka would have asked his grandfather for details, but the old man had been reluctant to part with information, so he had given up on his quest. He hadn’t yet asked Fuji Syusuke, wondering whether the other boy would be able to remember an event as such at all. His team mate couldn’t have been older than four, back then.
“No electricity?” Fuji softly asked beside him, his pale face barely illuminated by the flash lights. Tezuka shook his head.
“The house isn’t connected to this street’s main electricity supplier; the wiring is there, but it doesn’t work.”
“This is the entrance hall.” Kuniharu explained, waving his flashlight around in a room that was neither small, nor big. There were two doors, one leading to a library, the other a corridor with more rooms along it. One staircase lead to the upper story, two armchairs sat against the western wall – beautifully, original pieces that somehow had survived the decay that had befallen the rest of the building.
“…and a kitchen. Upstairs, there are two master bedrooms, each with an own bathroom, another living room and three guestrooms. Those all are practically empty, save for a few antiques pieces of furniture. Behind the library is the garden, but we hadn’t had time to take care of it yet.”
“I doubt we’ll actually have to look at all of them.” Fuji Yumiko said and Tezuka felt relieved. No climbing up narrow staircases in the darkness, no knocking on walls or whatever else they would have to do in order to find a ghost.
Fuji beside him, curiously enough, remained completely tense. His eyes kept wandering over the entrance room, eyeing the stairs suspiciously, before turning to the closed doors, contemplating whatever waited behind them. Casting those thoughts of as unnecessary worries, a picture hanging over the old armchairs caught his attention. Half-swallowed by long shadows, he barely was able to discern two human figures.
“If the spirit is indeed as malevolent as rumor has it, its presence will be easy to detect. A small poltergeist or just a restless soul however, is much more difficult to find.”
Seeing all the tense faces, cast in grotesque of black and white by the poor light, Yumiko hurried to add. “Those, however, are completely harmless. They don’t cause harm and nobody without an ounce of spiritual talent will ever be capable of detecting them.”
Another reassuring smile became disfigured by twilight, and Tezuka caught his father paling. Mother and grandfather were holding up well – probably, because both of them had never believed in ghosts and had no intention of starting now.
Fuji Yumiko meanwhile opened her purse, procuring several items and handed them to her younger brother, who stifled a cough.
“Please close all the doors and place a lit candle before them.” ,Yumiko instructed.
Wondering what it was good for, Tezuka took up a small candle and wandered over to the front door. Fuji set down an empty glass beside the candle and caught the questioningly raised eyebrow. Another muffled cough, and Fuji answered “to detect the spirit’s path” while filling the glass to the brim with water.
With a frown Tezuka turned away from the oddities, returning to the room’s center. At least, nobody was drawing pentagrams on the floor. Yet. With growing dread he watched Yumiko setting small silver coins on the floor. To him, there was no logic behind the pattern, but he could discern there was one, from all the care she used when choosing the places.
“It’s to make us invisible to the ghost.” Fuji explained softly, before padding over to his sister. They set up a small black box in the middle of the room – it looked more like a shoebox than anything used for occult rituals. Tezuka refrained from commenting, though. His mother, too, seemed slightly annoyed at the odd performance, while his father looked, of all things rather fascinated.
“What are we supposed to do?” Tezuka Kuniharu asked, as Yumiko spread some white papers at random across the floor.
“Nothing.” ,she replied evenly, “We’re just about set. Just do me favor and stay in the circle until I say otherwise.” She indicated the five silver coins.
“What is going to happen now?” Kunikazu asked, stepping back into the circle. Tezuka wordlessly followed, curiously observing Fuji settling himself besides the black box.
Yumiko caught his questioning glance. “Syusuke will be baiting the ghost. He’s got his own protective circle over there.”
And indeed, Tezuka caught sight of a further four silver coins on the floor around his team mate. Fuji was still holding onto the fifth one, obviously intending to keep his circle opened until the last possible moment.
Tezuka Kunimitsu wondered, whether this wasn’t a bit of a risky strategy, as he settled himself on the ancient wooden floor and shut his flashlight off. Then again, both Fujis seemed confident and went about their motions calmly.
And since ghosts didn’t exist, everything was nothing but ridiculous.
Yumiko nodded at his parents with a smile – one, that in the flickering candlelight, appeared oddly demonic. A certain unholy sparkle lit her eyes, when she requested everybody to turn their flashlights off now, because they were about to begin.
Abruptly, the room was cast in darkness. Not a sound from the outside penetrated the ancient walls; rain and wind had been banned to another world. Here was only blackness, stale air and unforgiving wooden floorboards underneath his jeans. He barely heard his mother breathing, and was only vaguely able to make out Yumiko’s silhouette, even though she sat right in front of him.
Nothing happened. The stillness was suffocating, extinguishing all life present, forcing him to remain motionless, fixed to his place as a statue. The darkness was stifling; he ached to move, to shift into a more comfortable position, to do anything to recall being alive – but he didn’t.
His hands felt numb from the cold he only slowly became aware of. Naturally, an uninhabited house wouldn’t be heated, but even through his thick winter coat he noticed the air’s icy bite. Dimly, he made out his breath fogging the air…
Temperatures had dropped dramatically since they’d sat down. His toes had lost all feeling, and dimly he wondered whether they were turning as blue as the candle wax.
A sudden flickering of light brought him abruptly out of his contemplations. All of a sudden, shadows were dancing, twirling, spinning, moving around in gleeful disorder. One doorknob flashed gold, a chair seemed to move, the staircase’s red carpet drenched in blood, a painting visible before disappearing in darkness, faces torn and twisted, blackness consuming what before had been tinted gold. Somebody gasped, a small sound carrying endlessly to the spacious room.
Tezuka saw Yumiko tense, sensed more than saw the sudden panic overcoming her features.
A sharp, icy wind raced through the room, silencing her desperate cry. All candles were extinguished, dimly Tezuka heard something shatter, a door smashing open so hard it rebound from the wall.
“What?” gasped Ayana wide-eyed.
“A flashlight! A flashlight!” Yumiko frantically ordered. Tezuka realized what his subconscious had been telling him all along, maybe even before the wind had picked up.
Something was wrong.
Dreadfully, dreadfully wrong.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it and if you have suggestions or comments, please share them with me.
On to Chapter 2!!