This was probably the hundredth time I’ve walked to the house. I would do so once every morning as the sun was rising and the sky a mix of hazy reds. That same early light lit the narrow path that leads to a house, hidden by thick trees and heavy scented smells of rotting wood. Wild plants grew around it and would otherwise trick others into believing the road led nowhere. That’s why of the many times I’ve walked the path, this was the first time I didn’t go alone.
There was a young girl in her late teens pacing ten or so steps ahead of me, wearing unkempt clothing, used and wrinkly. Her hair seemed to be the one thing she treasured with its dark hue and nice shine under the early light of the sun. I wasn’t sure if she knew I was behind her. It might have been the wind, maybe even the cicadas singing so early in the day that made my steps hard to discern. I greeted her. She turned, almost a second close to tripping and regaining her balance as I walked past.
“Who are you?” she asked, and I heard a uneasiness in her tone. I wasn’t here to harm her if that’s what she was getting at. I would look around on the side of the road for a puddle to see if I had a scary face, but it hasn’t rained in months.
“Ah—umm…” I didn’t actually know what to say, yet I wanted to smile but couldn’t. Still, I continued walking with her now behind. This was the first time someone turned to look at me when I spoke.
“I have never seen you in town before,” she said.
“Are you heading to the house?” I asked.
“… Are you the owner?”
“I don’t know who owns the place,” I said, pulling out a thin fishing string from my pocket. “I’m going fishing. There’s a river behind the house.”
“You’re going fishing…” she said, “with just a fishing line?”
“I need it to replace the old one that snapped,” I answered. “I have my fishing supplies near the river.” She wouldn’t say anything after that, and we had already arrived near the entrance, so I guessed this was where we split paths. “You should come see the fish. They have beautiful colors.” I walked around the house and she stayed by the front door that had pieces of wood missing, and moss growing on the sides. The last thing I saw was her bowing goodbye.
* * *
I bowed and realized I didn’t even get his name. I sighed and waited a few minutes to be safe, then opened the door that was followed by a high screech of metal at the hinges, accompanied by a smell of aging bronze. One step in, and the floor creaked in pain. The place was rather small with a narrow hallway leading to the kitchen and a backdoor next to it. One room on each side and dirt falling with every movement I made. I checked both rooms, but found that only layers of untouched dust covered everything; dark spots underneath the layers of it where the feet of a bed likely stood on. The one thing that changed in the last months was my own feet leaving prints the moment I entered.
In the kitchen, plates, pans, wooden cups, even a spoon and fork waited in the sink just to be washed by a never returning owner. There was also a closet standing tall next to the sink, and when I opened it, I couldn’t help but feel relief. There were small things, fishing bait of different shapes and color, even a pair of fishing poles that stood side by side. That man from before did say that there was a river nearby. The wood on the poles seemed ready to break. The lures too personal for me to consider selling. I looked around one last time and found nothing in the fireplace but soot where things were once cooked. There was a cabinet over the sink, a bit high for me to reach unless I climbed the sink itself, and so I did. I opened the cabinet to find two jars of honey! Still golden and clear. The price these could fetch brought out a smile in me, but one that lasted only an instant as I noticed a shadow next to mine. I froze in place the moment I looked back. It was him! It was him! His eyes were looking towards the shelf and at the honey.
“I—I,” I couldn’t help but stutter. I looked down to where his feet were supposed to be, but all I saw was the floor where my footprints marked on the floor. My hands shook over the jar of honey. He didn’t breath, he didn’t move an inch, and this was more than enough to shut my eyes tightly and convince myself I was alone. He isn’t here. I waited and waited, and finally, I opened my eyes. He was there, eyes full of pain and falling to his knees. I got off the sink and ran to the front door, looking back to see him vanish, also briefly catching a glimpse of something dark.
* * *
“Find anything useful?” asked an old man, who was selling items, trinkets, and anything of value behind a stall like many others on the streets. I nod. People passed by taking quick glances at what was being sold.
“There was a ghost in the house. I couldn’t take what I found and just ran,” I replied. The old man let out a chuckle.
“Yes, but it can’t hurt you,” he said. I glared at him and he sighs. I know spirits can’t hurt me. “It was most certainly a man that you saw in that old house, correct?” I nod again. “Then that must have been Daiko. I remember folks said they found blood by his kitchen sink, but the man was nowhere to be found.”
“So, his spirit?”
“Just proves he died,” he said. “Confirmation for a man unknown to be missing or dead.”
“Then,” I said, “what I saw?”
“His last moments, I’m sure,” said the old man. “If you spoke with him, then you were lucky. I hear stories of people able to speak with a spirit for a very short time. The rest, well spirits won’t react to change.”
“How long until he stops repeating?”
“He could be doing so for the rest of eternity, or it could be until someone finds his body and burns it,” he said. “And also.”
“What?” I asked, the old man turned to look at me.
“Be sure to take care of those eyes,” he said. “There are people out there that would kill to be able to see and speak with spirits, and are even crazy enough to steal your eyes while you still draw breath to pluck them out fresh. You must keep that a secret.”
We finished the conversation, more so that I was speechless. We parted ways. I made my way past the crowds buying whatever met their fancy, like the small fine strips of fresh fish, or spices that were shipped in the early hours, all until I was near one of the back alleys. Then I found myself about to bump into a small girl. Or so I thought, there wasn’t a clash of body to body, instead theirs goes right through me as I was about to apologize. I couldn’t help but stare as she continued with her business and walking through whatever got in her way.
I didn’t know what made me so afraid back then, when I saw Daiko in the kitchen, that I would freeze in place as if my body wasn’t my own. Just thinking about it had my hands shaking. I went to sleep that night and caught a measly four hours of it.
* * *
I started walking this path again, just like every morning. I could deviate slightly from my path, but there was always this compelling force to keep me on track and on time. If I were free from this, I would want to walk into town and ask about myself, about who I was. It would be great if could see something different from the same road and dirt, that one tree that always waited for me at the end of the road near the house, and even the same fishing pole I’d find myself trying to fix. After that, I could never remember what happened next. I returned to the same start of the road and make my way up in this infinite morning that had no end in sight.
If anything, the only thing I saw differently were footsteps from yesterday’s walk embedded on the ground, partially erased by the wind. There were two sets of them, one going to the end towards the house, and another set that was easier to see and more spaced out from one foot to the other, as if she were running. These could only belong to her.
Now I wished I knew her name. Just thinking about our short conversation made me happy. It’s also the first thing that has made me feel… alive. I stopped. I looked down just to be sure, and saw indeed that I wasn’t moving an inch. That doesn’t happen. Ever.
* * *
He stopped. Daiko didn’t move and hadn’t noticed I was following behind. He looked down to the ground and vanished. I looked around and saw him farther up the road, and I caught up. We reached the house and Daiko continued walking around as he did before. He made it look easy by passing through the tall grass and plants, and as I followed, my shirt was caught by the greenery that has made this place home. By then we reached an area with dry and cracked dirt that seemed to wish for water. Daiko was looking at his tools, no doubt the kind I couldn’t touch. He proceeded to remove the old fishing line and replace it, taking his time and making sure to roll the line into a circle until no string remained unrolled. This gave me time to really see him. Daiko’s hair was a nice shade of brown. Some of the strands of hair were transparent at the ends, eyes grey and focused on what he was doing. He stopped, and turn in my direction.
“Daiko?” I said. His eyes paid no attention to me, not even a hint of surprise to see I was close by. I called out his name again, but he didn’t react.
“I forgot my fishing bait,” he said, barely audible. He didn’t look me in the eye at all to acknowledge my presence and instead he walked back to the house. I followed. He reached for the back door and grabbed the knob to turn it. It made no sound, nor did the door open. Daiko passed through it and when I went to grab for it, the door was locked. I ran past the tall grass and plants that were in the way as I made a run to the front door. I opened it and saw Daiko standing and facing the kitchen sink doing exactly what he did the last time I saw him. The room grew cold, and unlike last time, my hands shook violently though I knew I wasn’t scared of Daiko. I was never afraid of spirits, but here I was, seeing something corrupt, dead, and malicious… full of evil.
Just behind Daiko, there was another spirit, only black and veiled in darkness. What are you? This thing, whatever it was, I could feel its presence strong, threatening, and disturbing. Then I noticed it holding something sharp, rising up high and plunging it towards Daiko’s back, stabbing him more and more as Daiko fell to his knees. Daiko vanished… but the spirit, that dark evil remained. It bent down and grabbed what seemed like nothing but empty space, but a second look I saw Daiko’s body had returned fainter than before, showing his waist to his torso laying lifeless. The dark figure dragged Daiko through the backdoor. I walked to the kitchen and unlocked the door. It screeched open to let me see the dark spirit again. Daiko’s body was laid down and the dark spirit began making a motion with its body, like it was digging under the house with every dig going deeper into the ground. This continued for another twenty minutes while I waited sitting by the door, then, the dark spirit shoved Daiko’s body under the house, letting it pass smoothly through the dirt. They both vanish.
I did my own digging, with sticks and a pan from the house, and within an hour I uncovered from a shallow depth.. Daiko’s bones. His skull stuck out with pieces of dead skin in patches. Hair remained the same dark brown, but filled with the smell of earth and not the expected scent of rotting death. After another hour of digging, I was able to drag every piece of bone I had found under the house.
“This is Daiko,” I whispered. His whole body was displayed for me and I couldn’t help but feel a little afraid just thinking that it would spring up and grab me. I then made a fire with sticks that were laying around and made sure his bones caught fire.
I sat my back against the house and had knees to my chest. I was hungry and tired from digging with sweat dripping down my cheek, but even so it was worth it. Now he can rest without dying over and over again. I made sure every piece of bone burn by the hot flames, even the ones that failed to catch fire.
* * *
I slept soundly that night. I even woke before the sunrise, all so that I could wait on that road to see for myself. Daiko didn’t show, just as I had hoped. This time I traveled the road to the house alone. My footprints visible from the times I had come here. It was quiet and starting to get cold as we were reaching the first days of snow in a month or so, and before that happens, I have to be sure to save up enough to make it through the season. I went for the kitchen and climbed on top of it, opened the cabinet and took my reward of honey.
“I remember,” I heard, and turned to see Daiko as he stood there by the kitchen sink. “Thank you.” He smiled, then vanished.
– I – Next Chapter >>