--- I ---I sigh as we pull up to the olde, red house. It looks like all the other houses in the suburbs that we’ve looked at so far. Far from home, Mom, and all my friends. But apparently being 17 means that I don’t get a say as to where I finish out my last year of high school. Apparently waiting a year and letting me finish school with my friends and then moving out on my own or going to college isn’t a good enough argument when confronted with ‘I’m your Father, I said so.’ Ass. So now I am stuck looking at new houses all summer with Dad and his new, fifteen-years-younger-than-him wife Mindy. Dad starts to say something, but I turn up my iPod to drown him out. He isn’t going to say anything new anyway, just the same bland, cookie cutter chat about this house like he has all the rest. ‘Ooh, look at the nice bay windows. Wow, real wood trees.’ I’d rather listen to my acid rock than him and Mindy banter back and forth about nothing. I sink into my seat in the back of the car and try to get more comfortable. Maybe take a nap or something. Dad keeps looking at the clock, I guess the broker is late. Oh well. Just as I close my eyes Dad taps my leg and motions for me to take the head phones out.
“Come on, there’s the broker. Let’s take a look honey,” he says with a broad smile. I don’t know if he is ignorant to my seething hatred of this whole situation, or if he is just ignoring my attitude. Takes a little fun out of the attitude though. I shrug and get out of the car, but I leave a headphone in. Mindy is already commenting on something banal as though it was the most interesting thing in the world. I try not to listen to her talk, to be honest. She’s so vapid. Dad clearly married her for her rack. I look from the well-manicured lawn in front of the house to the woman in the red jacket walking towards us, pushing what I assume is her mother in a wheelchair. The woman looks middle aged, some kind of Asian. Chinese? Honestly, she is overshadowed by her mother. The woman looks so olde, decrepit. Her head is covered in stringy, grey hair, though she seems to still have a full head of it. Her eyes are hidden behind milky, murky cataracts, and her skin hangs from her face and hands as though she’s over 100. As the broker and her mother approach, the scent of Bengay is overpowering, and I can’t even tell if the creepy olde woman is awake or not.
“Hello. Cecilia Chen,” she says as she offers her hand to my Dad, her voice thankfully breaks the momentary mesmerism that the creepy olde lady had over my. Yeah, she’s Chinese. “You must be Dr Browne?”
“Rick, please,” Dad smiles. He always acts so humble, but I know he’d be bitching up a storm behind the broker’s back if she addressed him as Mr. “And this is my lovely wife Mindy,” motioning to Tits McGee before introducing me as his lovely daughter. I smile begrudgingly.
“I’m sorry I am so late, but I forgot I was supposed to take my Mother out to a doctor’s appointment,” the broker informs Dad.
“Think nothing of it,” Dad smiles, “I know what the elderly mean to your people.” The broker lifts an eye brow at Dad’s racially insensitive comment, but lets it go. I wouldn’t have.
Cecilia shows us around the house, upstairs and down quickly before taking more time to revisit points of interest. The place is pretty spacious and actually pretty nice, but I’m not about to let Dad know. The broker parked her mother in the living room before showing us around. The olde lady has been eerily silent the whole time. I break off though when she takes them to the kitchen so I can check out the upstairs again, maybe make a claim on one of the rooms if this is going to be our new house. I don’t really care what kind of designer moulding is used in there anyway. The upstairs is nice too, and one of the rooms has bay windows and a balcony. Private bathroom too. Yeah, if we have to move in here, this’ll be my room. After a moment, I hear Dad calling for me, so I descend the stairs.
“Ready, honey?” He asks. I just shrug in response. The broker and Dad chat a moment longer as they all stand by the door. Cecilia’s wheeled her mother close to the door, though I still don’t think the olde woman has moved an inch on her own. I walk down to stand with Dad and Mindy while Dad talks a little more business with the broker. Cecilia gestures for us to leave before her. Mindy walks out, followed by Dad. I smile at the broker and turn to take my leave as well, but just as I turn to leave, the olde woman’s hand shoots up and clutches onto my wrist. Her grip is tight, her hands as cold as a grave, yellow nails press into my wrist. She cocks her head toward me, though her cataract gaze doesn’t quite meet my face.
“Mother!” Cecilia screeches, smacking at her mother’s death-claw with a rolled up stack of papers, “you let go right now!” The olde woman obliges, and Cecilia tries to apologize, but I quickly leave the house.
“Everything alright, honey?” Dad asks. I ignore him and get in the car. I can still feel my heart racing from the sudden attack. Looking at my wrist, I can see indentation into my skin where the olde woman’s nails pressed, but I’m not bleeding. I don’t know what that was all about, but I can see Dad out the window talking with Cecilia, the two keep looking at me. Mindy attempts to say something to me, but I put the headphones back in and start my music again. What did that lady say? Gweilo? I’ve seen enough Kung Fu movies to know what that means. But Dad made a racist comment, so I guess one comment deserves another. Once I calm down, though, I try to sleep on the way home. But every time I go to close my eyes I just see that creepy olde woman and can feel the marks on my wrist itch.
The next week is pretty hectic. I spend most of my time packing, not that I want to, but apparently Dad, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen to move us across the State into that house that the Chinese woman showed us. I spend as much time as I can with friends, much to my Father’s chagrin. He keeps telling me I can stay in touch, and that in his day he didn’t have Facebook to stay in contact with his friends. I don’t know how many times I can tell him I don’t even use Facebook. Whatever.
I drop off my back pack as I enter the house. I waive at Tammy and Lisa as they peel off in Tammy’s new car. She gets a car for her birthday; I get to be away from my friends and family for mine. Mindy calls me for dinner. I try to shrug out of it, but Dad insists. Time for another craptacular, mostly microwaved dinner made by the vapid one.
“I made some steamed veggies,” Mindy informs me proudly as I sit down at the table in the mostly packed kitchen.
“Wow, all by yourself?” Dad shoots me a glare for my comment.
“So, how was your day?” Dad asks. I roll my eyes, great, more forced conversation.
“Fine,” I retort. Another glare shot at me. I guess I am being snippy, but I don’t really feel like talking to him about it.
“Did you see that new Lil Wayne video?” Mindy asks me.
“No. I don’t listen to that shit.”
“Becca!” Dad shouts, “language.”
“What? I don’t know how many times I’ve told her I don’t like that… crap.”
“Yeah, I forget how weird you are sometimes,” Mindy chimes in. I look at Dad, but colour myself not surprised as he ignores her comment. I kind of hope that the rest of dinner goes quietly, but it doesn’t.
“Are you planning on seeing your Mom before we move?” Mindy asks after several moments of silence. I glare, hoping that that will make her stop, but she doesn’t.
“We should go see your Mom before we leave,” Dad nods.
“I think I’ll stay home. That place always gives me the willies. All those weirdoes,” Mindy says before cramming some steak into her mouth, not even closing it as she chews.
“How ‘bout you shut the hell up!” I shout. Dad tries to reprimand me, but I storm out of the room. I know that I’ll be hearing about it later. I always do. Dad has told me a thousand times that he and Mindy had nothing to do with Mom’s break down. That he and Mom were already getting a divorce, that they’d technically been broken up for a few years, and were just playing family for my sake. But he’s full of shit. Yeah, they were getting a divorce, but it was because of Dad’s student turned mistress turned wife. Pig.
--- II ---The past week has completely sucked. I saw Mom before we moved in to the new house. She is further gone than last time I went to visit her. Dad didn’t even bother stopping in to see her. He just took the car to the auto place around the corner from the Hospital and waited there. Mom was almost completely unresponsive. I don’t think the doctors there really care that much about her. I guess I would start to get jaded too, though, if I spent all my working life in a mental ward. Mom pretty much sat there, looking out the window. She didn’t really acknowledge me for the hour I was there. It wasn’t until I put my coat on and got ready to leave that she looked at me. She smiled. I thought maybe she remembered who I was or what day it was, but then she just said: “Don’t paint cats on the gate.” Happy Birthday to me. I managed to keep the tears to myself until I left her room. Got them out of my system before Dad saw me, too. I gave up talking to Dad about these problemmes a long time ago, I just swallow them now. What’s worse, when we did move in, I got the crap small bedroom that overlooks the front yard out of a single small arched window. It feels more like a walk in closet at the top of the stairs. The best part? It is creepy attic adjacent. I care barely fit all my crap in the room. But apparently Dad and Mindy need the master bedroom, one of the rooms is for Dad’s study, and the other is for Mindy’s ‘art studio’. Seriously. They tell me I get the top floor, less the attic, so I have my privacy. So essentially all my stuff gets crammed in a 12’ by 10’ space while those two have the entire second floor to themselves. And Dad wonders why I’ve been so short with him during this move.
The nice thing about not helping him and his trophy wife is that my room is pretty much unpacked. Cramped, but unpacked. I bet the room would be bigger if I could use the closet, but the door is jammed, and locked. The broker informed me that apparently it has been locked for as long as she can remember, and that no one ever turned in a key. So for now I just have all of my clothing on a standing chrome wardrobe. Dad told me he’ll get the door opened as soon as the rest of the house is in some sort of order, though. I told him I could probably do it with a screw driver, but he doesn’t want the wood damaged. I guess it is all the original wood or something. Whatever. At least that would have given me a project. As it is, there is nothing else to do right now. I don’t know anyone here, school doesn’t start for a month, the satellite guys can’t get here until Monday, so that means no TV, no net access, no one to talk to and nothing to do.
Dinner the first few nights at the new place has been take-out. Tonight’s not any different. Chinese. Which is cool, I got some Buddhist Delight, I love the way the tofu tastes in it.
“After dinner we’ll tackle that door upstairs, OK?” Dad says. I nod. Can’t really respond with a mouth full of veggies after all. After dinner me and Dad head up to my cramped room.
“You look pretty much unpacked,” he comments.
“Yeah,” I shrug. I don’t bother saying again that the room is so small. It only takes him a moment with his tools to get the door open. I can’t say that I am not a little pissed off that he used the exact method I was going to three days ago, but I let that go too.
“Do the honours?” He motions at the door. I shrug and walk over, opening the white door. As the door opens stale air wafts from the small closet. I jump back slightly and let out an unintentional shriek, though, as there, in the centre of the small closet hangs a rope. My heart pounds, I can feel the colour leave my face.
“What’s wrong?” Dad yells, jumping to my defence. I start to back away from the door. Dad looks into the closet then at me, his eyes expressing his perplexity at the situation. “Did you see a rat?”
“The..,” I start, glancing at him, then the closet again. I point. Dad, continuing to look perplexed, walks toward the closet and reaches in, pulling the rope. A dull yellow light flickers on as he lets go of the… string? It was just a string attached to the light. “Nothing, Dad, I thought I saw a rat, yeah. But I guess I didn’t,” I force a little laugh to cool the situation. Dad reassures me that it’s OK, even offers to help me put my stuff away. Normally I would push him out the door, but I am still a little freaked out, so I accept. We get all my clothing packed into the closet. It’s actually pretty big, though the ceiling does slope as it gets deeper. And it is cold. I guess there is no insulation in the closet.
The air is very cold. The entire field is grey, hints of moss green here and there. The sky seems overcast, I cannot see a single star, nor the moon. I can see more light up ahead, a shimmer in the sky reminiscent of a city in the distance. I hear a soft sigh, my attention immediately turns to the sound. There is someone else out here in this vast, cold grey plain. It’s a girl. She looks about my height, wearing a long white robes. I can’t see her face, she is too far away, and it is obscured by her long, inky black hair. She extends a hand and beckons me with a finger before she turns and starts to walk toward the distant light.
“Hey,” I shout at the girl. “Hey, where are we?” But she doesn’t respond. She just keeps walking. I start to follow, but as I do her speed increases. It doesn’t look like she is stepping faster, but she is moving faster than I am. I start to pick up my pace, “hey! Hey!” I shout, trying to get closer to her still. She turns to me, gaining my attention with a beckoning finger again before she turns and points to something in the distance, a vague rectangle shape some yards away.
“Who are you?” I call to her, getting closer to her. She turns toward me again, that delicate beckoning finger lifting and moving to her face, she begins to part her hair…
Bzzz! Bzzz! Bzzz!
I open my eyes and glare at the clock screaming loudly at me. 8:30. I shouldn’t be up this early. Guess I forgot to turn it off before bed. I grumble and turn the clock off before placing a pillow over my face. I can tell it’s of no use after laying there for five minutes or so. I’m not falling back to sleep. I sigh and decide to get on with my day. Dad is already gone off to work, Mindy is on her way out when I meander down the stairs. Going shopping no doubt. Leaves the house for me today. Not that there is much to do. After watching PBS while I chow on some cocoa puffs, I decide to poke around the house a little. Still not fully moved in. It’s a nice day out, the kind of day where I would spend swimming, but we don’t have a pool anymore. But we do have a nice yard with a deck, so on go the ear buds while I sit outside and sketch the trees.
For whatever reason I start to sketch a woman in a white dress with long black hair next to the tree. I feel like I have déjà vu for a moment before I start to recall my vivid, though somewhat surreal dream. Before I know it, though, Dad and Mindy are home and making dinner. Fantastic. I was really counting on something with flavour tonight. I’d really like for Dad to stop humouring Mindy into thinking she can cook. The food is, as always, bland. Dad tries to make some small talk over dinner. I am pretty short with him, but honestly it is only because I don’t have much to say. All I did today was sit outside and sketch. I retire early to my room.
When I get into my room I flick on the light. The closet door is ajar. I think Dad broke the knob when he pried it open, so I decide push it closed again. When I close it I notice there is something scrawled across the door. 為什麼. I have no clue what that means, but I know it wasn’t there before. After examining it for a moment I decide I can figure it out later, so I turn on PBS for some background noise, nothing interesting is on, but it’s the only channel I get right now. I walk over, flop onto my bed and look over my sketches. I sketched a few scenes. Strangely, each has a picture of that girl, woman, whatever, in it. Odd, I don’t even remember drawing her into the first landscape.
I catch something out of the corner of my eye, movement? I look over at my vanity only to see the reflection of the TV. I sigh and shake my head, all worked up for nothing. I don’t know what it is, but I sure have been freaking myself out lately. I blink a little, though, as I see the reflection of the closet in the mirror on the vanity as well. Door’s open again. I walk over and close it, but as I turn the latch loosens again and opens. I grumble some and close it, putting my shoes in front of the door so it stays closed. Plopping down on the bed again, I turn to the TV and turn it up a little. Some depressing documentary, but I kind of need to calm my nerves, so I watch.
The air is very cold. I peer around at the grey field, slightly confused. I don’t remember how I got here, but that thought quickly exits my mind as my eyes fall onto that white clad female I’d seen before. She’s not too far from me, her hand raises again and she beckons me with her finger. Still a little confused, I walk toward her. She doesn’t move from me this time though. As I get closer she lifts her hand to her face, pulling back those strands of inky black hair. She’s… she’s beautiful. The most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. Her porcelain skin is flawless, her almond shaped eyes the richest, darkest shade of brown. Her inky hair frames her face perfectly, giving her an air of mystery and elegance. Her lips are a dark shade of pink and they part slightly as she leans in toward me. My heart is pounding; I can feel my breath shortening as she presses her perfect lips to mine. My entire body quivers, my knees weaken. She breaks the kiss and smiles at me as she steps back, beckoning me with her finger once more…
Bzzz! Bzzz! Bzzz!
Damnit! Why did I leave the alarm clock set? I grumble and turn it off. The dream… It was so vivid. So much so that I still feel… good. Wow. I mean, I have been kissed before, but nothing like that. The rest of the day is great. Mindy and her incessant vapidness doesn’t even bother me. Maybe this move was a good thing. Maybe it’s a premonition? Maybe I’m… nah. Whatever, it doesn’t matter, I am actually pretty comfortable with this move now. The day can’t seem to end quick enough though, I really cannot wait to fall asleep, maybe see that beautiful Chinese girl once more.
--- III ---I find myself in that field again. I smile and look around for that girl in white. I see her soon enough, and she sees me. She beckons me to come near, and without a thought I bound towards her. She smiles at me as I get closer. Not a word, she leans in again and presses her lips to mine. I am more responsive this time, I know it’s coming. Maybe I am a little too eager, I bite at her lip. She giggles, smiles. Her kisses are hungrier than last night, but I reciprocate fervently. Her hands start to explore my body. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest as her cool hands touch my exposed flesh. I quiver again, more so. I feel weaker in the knees, butterflies and knots in my stomach. As she draws away from me, it is almost visible how she’s taken my breath away. She steps back a little further and beckons me with once more before vanishing. In her stead is a… a door in the middle of field? I step forward and stretch my hand out for the knob, opening the door. I can see a room beyond the door. Small. Empty. It’s very dark, but I can tell it’s my room. I see the slightest movement, her white dress pass from sight behind the closet door. Curious, I walk across the floor and reach for the closet door. It is slightly ajar, and I pull it open. There she stands. Her eyes are closed, sunken. Her skin pallid and emaciated, her white dress tattered, thick rope burns around her neck. All at once her eyes open and burn red, her beckoning finger, now bony, raises and points at me as her jaw drops and a hideous howl passes her jagged teeth. I feel a stark chill straight to my bones, I know I am screaming, but I cannot hear a thing.
Gasping, I sit up in bed. I can feel the sweat pouring off of me, heart pounding fast. I look all over the room, bewildered, terrified. The TV is blank, strips of colour and a low humming, the closet door is open. I don’t even care, I just grab my pillow and run down the stairs. By the time I get to the living room I catch my breath. I feel crushingly weak. I drop unceremoniously onto the couch. I can hear the birds chirping, light breaking into the living room. It’s early in the morning. I know I am not about to fall back asleep, but I feel better being down here. By the time I hear my Dad stirring I have managed to calm myself, though I am still very ill at ease. I go into the kitchen and pour some cereal and milk by the time he has gotten down stairs.
“You’re up early,” he yawns out at me.
“Yeah, heh,” is all I offer before eating some of the cereal. My stomach objects, but Dad doesn’t seem to notice that I only take one bite. It’s fine, I don’t want to tell him I had a bad dream and listen to him patronize me about it. He leaves soon enough. Mindy does as well, I assume to spend time at the spa and clothes shopping. She’s given up asking me if I want to go with. I would have gladly gone, though, because now I am in the house all alone all day. I say down stairs, I don’t even want to go into my room right now. In fact, I stay out of the room all day.
Dad calls me at around six, tells me to get some cash from his stash in his room and order pizza or something, he and Mindy met up and are going to have a date night. I do my best to be up in his room for as little time as possible before I rush back down stairs. I haven’t even showered, every time I close my eyes I see her standing there, that horrible visage howling at me, those eyes piercing to my bones. I order pizza and occupy my night with comedies, thankfully most of the DVDs are in the living room.
I must’ve passed out on the couch, because Dad wakes me. Although I start, I manage to supress a shriek. Glancing at the TV, I see the DVD is on the main menu. I wonder how long it’s been there. I don’t remember dreaming, thankfully.
“Come on, sweat heart. What have I told you about sleeping in front of the TV?” He ushers me up to my room before going off to get ready for bed himself. I can hear Mindy getting ready for bed herself. Dad wishes me sweet dreams and goes back down stairs after walking with me to my room. I don’t enter it, though. I just sit on the stairs and wait for them to go to bed before I creep back down to the living room.
I thankfully sleep shallowly for the night, because I hear my Dad coming down the stairs and quickly make my way to the kitchen to pretend I have been up making breakfast. He doesn’t buy it.
“Becca, I don’t know what’s up with you, but stop sleeping on the couch,” he scolds. I shrug and ignore him. He goes on to say more, but I walk out of the kitchen. He just shakes his head and mutters something about not having time for my attitude.
It’s not too long after that Dad leave, followed about fifteen minutes later by Mindy. I don’t know what the hell she does all day, she doesn’t work. But whatever. It isn’t too long after they both leave that the satellite guy shows up to do the installation. And after he takes his sweet time doing that, I get to be the first in the house to scroll through the 180 million channels we have now. I would usually watch the Disney channel or maybe Nickelodeon, but neither has anything good on right now. Then I see some channel playing some chop-socky film. ‘Curse of the Black Hand Bandit’. Sounds great. I pop some pop-corn and settle in to the cheesy effects and wire-fu action. The dialogue is, as always, atrocious. But then one of the guys says something. Gweilo. I know the term, but he is using it to describe… that’s right! It means ghost! That olde woman… was she trying to warn me? Did she somehow know? It’s a longshot, but I haven’t slept well in a few nights now. I stand up and take a whiff of my armpit. Yeah, I need to shower. But first I dart into the kitchen and grab the business card from the broker. I hear the gravel in the driveway rumble as Mindy pulls up. I have never been so happy that she’s home, maybe now I can shower without freaking myself out. I run up to my room to grab some clothing and take a picture of those characters on my closet door before I get in the shower. Unfortunately, my room has other ideas. As I open the door to my room there is, scrawled all over the walls in red, strange symbols:為什麼. 妹妹殺了我.
“Oh fuck no!” I shout and run down the stairs. I didn’t even mean to shout that, but seeing those characters in red all over my walls scared me almost as much as the dreams. I run past Mindy and into the basement. I know there is a box of clothing down there of mine. Unfortunately, all I find that fits is a pair of slightly tattered jean-shorts and a yellow and white striped halter top. I run back up the stairs to the bathroom and take a quick shower, pulling my hair back in a sloppy pony-tail and throwing on my clothing, I grab that business card and leave for the broker’s office.
I peer at the card, then at the building. Yeah, it’s the right place. The weather is pretty sweltering, but I don’t mind, because I am inadvertently dressed for it. I walk up the narrow walk way and push the door open to the small office building. As I do, chilly air cascades about my exposed skin and I shiver a little. As I walk in I hear a man address me:
“What can I do for ya, Miss?” A fat middle aged, pasty, mouth-breathing man with a chipped tooth asks me.
“I’m looking for Cecilia Chen,” I say with a smile.
“Oh, sorry, she’s not in today,” he responds. “Why are you looking for her? Irregardless, maybe I can help you?” His breath smells like winter fresh and garbage.
“Oh, uh..,” I pause a moment and fiddle with my fingers in my pocket. The jean-shorts are working against me, but I wriggle one of my rings from a finger and produce it. “She showed us our new house, but her mom dropped this ring. It looks expensive, so I just wanted to return it. Can you tell me where she lives?” He must have a thing for girls with braces who look under-aged, because not only did he not take his eyes off my chest for the entire conversation, but he gave out that personal information pretty quickly. Kind of a creep, but oh well, I got what I wanted. I thank him and make my way out of the place quickly. Really didn’t like the way that guy was looking at me.
Forty minutes and two bus changes later and I find myself in what I assume to be China Town. I glance at the info I wrote on the back of the card, I can’t be too far from the woman’s house. Strangely, though, as I get closer all I see is an antiques shop. But the address is correct, so I enter. The air in here is cooler, but also staler. Many curios about the place, a lot of statues of Chinese people, I assume anyway. A skinny, older man walks out from the back and greets me.
“Oh, hello Miss. How can I help you?” His accent it thick, but I understand him just fine.
“I, uh..,” I pause. I hadn’t thought this part out. “I am looking for Cecilia Chen. Well, her Mother, maybe?” I offer a really awkward smile. He looks at me a moment with a perplexed expression.
“Why you want to see her?” He sounds befuddled that I would be looking for the olde lady.
“I..,” I pause again, bite at my lip a little. Thankfully I don’t have to explain further, because I think the olde woman knows I am here. I hear her call to the man. He exits through a red curtain to the back for a moment before he returns.
“Please, come with me,” he bids, holding the curtain for me and waiting for me to walk into the back room. There are a few chairs back here, as well as an olde black and white television. On a table I see a few take out boxes, probably from a local Chinese place. The olde woman is sitting in her wheelchair. As I get closer she cants her head toward me. She motions to a chair and barks out: “請坐，請坐。” I take a seat near her.
“我知道你怎麼來了我家，” she sighs out deeply, her breath smells like a combination of olde person breath and stale soy sauce. “我得告訴你關於我敬愛的亡姐。”
“I.., I don’t understand.”
“She say she knows why you come here,” the man informs me. “She say she need to tell you about her older sister.”
“She say her older sister is dead. Killed herself in your new house.”
“我不知道她怎麼自殺了,” the olde woman sniffles. She raises a decrepit hand to her face and wipes a tear as the man tells me what she said:
“She don’t know why she did that.”
“她很美呀。很善意。我愛我亡姐。我愛我亡姐。” The olde woman starts to cry.
“She say her sister so beautiful, so kind. She say she love her,” he says. The olde woman motions him closer and says something to him.
“She say she very tired, she need to go to sleep.”
“Thank you,” I say to the woman. It isn’t much of a help, but it is something. The man smiles and leads me toward the door.
“等一等！” The olde woman shouts. “你不得不告訴那位女孩關於神荼！神荼也許能得了幫她呀！”
The man pauses a moment and nods. “You wait here,” he says to me, “I will come right back.” I nod and comply. He is gone for maybe fifteen minutes. I occupy my time looking over some of the curios in his store. I turn to meet his gaze when he returns.
“My mother told me to tell you about Shentu.”
“Shentu?” I blink.
“Yes. Shentu is very ancient deity in China. He is protector of doors and watches over ghosts. He maybe can help you. You wait a minute,” he insists. I nod. He walks over to a shelf and pokes around a moment, sighs, shakes his head and mutters something in Chinese. He pulls down a few olde looking books and opens one. He grabs a pen and some paper and starts writing something down furiously. “Ok,” he beckons, “this maybe help you. I need to translate it for you, though. Very olde Chinese. Hard to understand. You come back in one, two days.”
“Thank you,” I offer, but he ushers me out of the shop, changing the open sign to closed after closing the door. Strange.
I take the bus back to my house, the ride is long and pretty boring. I am thankful for my iPod, though, because it keeps the crazies away. If I can’t hear them, they don’t talk to me. I am dreading going home though. I don’t want to stay in the house until it is safe, until that ghost, spirit… whatever, is gone. One or two days? Well, I may as well try him tomorrow. That’s one day, right?
Home is worse than I expected. Dad is pissed off for some reason and making it impossible for me to camp in the living room one more night. He and Mindy are screaming at each other about something. I caught a good amount of it when I walked into the house. Apparently I am not olde enough to take a bus somewhere for the day. Apparently I am six and need to tell him where I am going to be every day. I shrug it off and sit at the top of the stairs, waiting for them to go to bed, but they don’t. I dread going into my room, but my batteries are dying, so I can’t drown them out with music much longer. I cautiously enter my room and flick on the light. I immediately notice that that writing is gone. My heart flutters some, not in the good way, more like in the way where you are pretty sure something is going to jump out and eat you. But I calm down. The closet is closed, the writing is gone. Maybe I can just hang out in here until they go to bed. After all, if I leave the lights on and don’t go to sleep, I’ll be fine. I turn on the TV and search around for something worthwhile to watch, yawn a bit and stretch.
I open my eyes, sharply taking in a breath. I can see the light up ahead in this field of greys and greens. It’s chilly. Colder than usual, and I swear it is getting colder still as I walk toward that light. Past a few trees and I can see a tall wooden gate with characters written on the top: 幽都. It seems… warmer toward the gate. It’s massive, red, the words in gold. It looks like something out of a Kungfu movie or a Miyazaki film. Ornate. Gorgeous.
I open my eyes and sit up, looking around bewildered a moment before I realize I am sitting at my vanity. I must’ve fallen asleep. Looking at the floor, I notice a silver box with some of my earrings has been knocked over. Must’ve been the crash that woke me. I scoop everything up and place the box back on the vanity when I notice in the reflection of the closet door in the mirror. It’s opened. I want to cry, but I slowly stand and make my way to the door, exiting for the living room. It’s late enough that Mindy and Dad have gone to bed, I can wait in the living room until morning and catch the first bus back to that olde shop.
--- IV ---The shop where I met Cecilia’s mother and her uncle or whatever is closed. Doesn’t open for another hour or so. So I sit on the stoop and rest my eyes a little, waiting for what I hope is good news. I hear some shuffling behind the door and open my eyes, standing, stretching, and turning toward the door, I see the sign has been changed to open and the man nods to me. I walk into the place, the cluttered room is colder than the outside.
“I have what you need,” the man smiles.
“You do! Already?” My exited tone betrays my attempt at a cool attitude.
“Yes,” he nods, passing me a yellow notebook. “Everything you need do is written in this book. You follow and you will have no more trouble with a ghost.”
“Thank you! Thank you so much,” I want to hug him, but I don’t.
“Ok. You go, you do what is in the book tonight.”
I nod and thank him again before exiting the shop. I look over some of the stuff I need and the directions. Apparently to invoke Shentu’s aid I am going to need to do a few things, herbs, some paint. A rope of reed? No matter what, though, I am going to do this. This haunting shit ends tonight. Unfortunately, looking over this list, I see I am going to have to go all over town to get my supplies and do this.
Paint a tiger on the closet door. For this I go to the art store and get some painting supplies, reds, yellows, oranges. A Tiger stencil, because I am not so good at drawing big animals, and I have a feeling a cute house cat painting isn’t going to keep the spirits at bay. The notebook explains that the tiger will protect the door from ghosts, making it so they cannot exit into our world.
The rope of reed is next. Seems to be some kind of grass. The notebook says that it doesn’t have to be ornate, just something small that I can put on a statue. It apparently binds spirits to the place. The woman at the plant nursery looks at me like I am some sort of degenerate. I think she thinks I intend to smoke this reed or something. But whatever, it’s not like I am ever coming back here again.
There isn’t too much information on the statue, just that it needs to be made from a peach tree. Weird. This is going to take some doing. I hit up a few second hand shops and another art supply store. The second hand stores have nothing, one of the women at one does try to sell me a horrible porcelain doll though. The second art store has what I need, thankfully. By this time, though, it is getting late and I am getting hungry. I decide to go and grab something to eat while I am out. I need some herbs as well, so I catch the bus that takes me up to the plaza that has a health food store and a Burger King. After my less than healthy meal of burgers and fries, I make my way over to the health food store. The woman manning the store is very eager to help me.
“What can I do for you, young lady?” She condescends. She looks to be in her forties, hair greying slightly, looks like she tries to cover it with over the counter dye. Considering this is a health food store, she is a little porky to be giving me advice on health food. But then, I did just eat fast food for lunch. She offers me about fifteen different products, not letting me get in a word edgewise before she finally asks: “what kind of multi-vitamine are you taking?”
“Oh,” I give a half-smile, “I don’t take any.” She starts to talk again, but I practically shout “what I need is valerian.”
“Oh, that’s very popular. Yes. It’s this way,” and she takes me to a shelf with a few different sized bottles. She motions to one and starts “now this one is~”
“I need the herb, not pills.” I don’t mean to get short with her, but I am getting annoyed.
“Oh, yes, we do sell it in herbal form,” she takes me down a different aisle to what looks like bulk containers, stopping at the one with a picture of a puffy, light purple plant taped to it. I get a scooper and put some of the browned, dried herb into a baggy and insist that this is all I need. I pay and finally exit that health food shop, adding it to the list of places I’ll never be back to.
After leaving the place, I put swing my backpack off my shoulder and crouch down to go over everything on my list. Paint and stencil for the tiger picture, check. Reed and a statue from a peach tree, check. Valerian to brew into a tea, check. Time to go home and start the ritual I need to enact in order to cleanse my room of this evil spirit.
When I get home I am accosted by Mindy. She insists I help her in the kitchen, help her prepare for an apparent party we are hosting tomorrow. News to me. No part of me wants to help her bake cookies or clean the house, but I don’t have a good excuse. I mean, I have an excellent excuse, what with not wanting to be killed by a crazed she-ghost, it’s just not one that she’ll buy. I drop my ghost busting supplies off in my room and charge my iPod before heading down to help the vapid blonde with her kitchen chores. Time passes slowly, probably because at this point I’d rather be in dream-hell than helping her. But I finally get the chance to get away as the cake is baking. Guess we needed a cake on top of all the cookies. But with the cake baking and the bathroom and living room clean, I manage to slip away up to my room to prepare for tonight.
I sit down with my supplies and stencil and get to work on the tiger. He is descending a mountain and looking fierce. If I was a spirit I wouldn’t want to mess with this guy. I smile as I put the finishing touches on him, burning yellow eyes and a big scary growl, teeth bared. I am a little proud of how it came out. I mean, sure, I used a stencil, but a lot of the tiger is my own work.
“I ain’t ‘fraid a no ghost.”
Next, consulting the notebook, I have to burn some incense. Luckily I have a bunch to choose from. Sandalwood seems appropriate to me, and the notebook isn’t really that specific with the kind I need. Plus, I love the way sandalwood smells. With the tiger drying and the scent of sandalwood filling the air, I head downstairs to start brewing my valerian into a tea to drink. I guess it is going to give me some edge that is necessary in making sure the spirit can’t cross over. It smells kind of bitter, but I opt not to flavour it further with sugar or anything else just in case it would adversely affect the ritual.
After my tea is brewed I head upstairs to my room to look over the notebook again, make sure I have everything covered before tonight’s showdown. I read over everything once more, looks like most of this will take care of itself. The last thing in the notebook tells me to look for 幽都, that it is a safe place. I don’t know what that means exactly, it would be nice if that part was in English. I just hope that all this works, I want to be done with this tonight. Once the tea cools I start to drink it. Kind of smells like olde cheese, and its flavour kind of, I smack my lips together displeased, like dirt. I sigh and pause, looking at the cup a moment before plugging my nose with my fingers and downing the rest of the liquid quickly. I gag a little, but I suppose strawberry smoothies are out of the question when it comes to fighting ghosts. That would be nice, though, I think as I let out a deep sigh and blink slowly. Slowly again. A little yawn. I lay back and close my eyes just a moment. They’re so heavy.
When I open them again I find myself in that field. It’s cold. But then, I seem to recall it always being cold here. No sign of that beautiful ghost girl. Ghastly ghost girl. I am both glad that I don’t see her and slightly upset. I don’t know why. No matter, I start to walk toward the light, that massive gate I’d seen last time. As I get closer and closer to that massive red gate I see the golden words again, 幽都.
“That’s it!” I should excitedly, “that’s where I need to go!” I recognize it from the notebook, the safe place I need to go to. I start to run toward the gate, I can feel the whole field warming as I get closer and closer. I hear a snap behind me, shuffling. I turn in time to see those flowing white robes, the inky black hair of the ghost haunting me. As she closes in I step back from her, my breathing stilted.
She parts her beautiful lips, “別進幽都啊！” She shouts at me. I can see her lips moving, but the words seem to come at me in stereo, like a loud whisper of the winds. I don’t care, I start to run from her. I run as fast as I possibly can from her. I am almost out of breath, my side is splitting, but the gate is almost within reach. I hear the whispering on the winds again:
I turn to look behind myself. I see her nowhere. Turning back toward the city, she is standing right before me, those almond eyes seem to pierce right into my soul.
“別進幽都！” She reaches out for me. I quickly back away. “你不得不聽懂我！妹妹殺了我，也要殺你！” Her tone is hurried, she looks… she looks almost as terrified as I do.
“你必須醒來呀！你必須醒來呀！你必須醒 up! You must wake up!”
I look at her bewildered a moment, “I… I understand you..,” I murmur.
“You can?” She pauses a moment, “then we haven’t much time! You mustn’t go to Youdu, you have to wake up!”
“Because it’s not safe here. Not for you.”
“But..,” I pause a moment, “I did the ritual, I am safe as long...”
“What ritual?” She interjects.
“I asked for Shentu’s aid, to trap you here,” I inform her, though I admit I am slightly perplexed. She looks at me with a gaze of pure dread, her tone changing from hurried, frantic, to a low and depressed tone.
“Then it’s too late,” the winds whisper. I see crimson tears fall from her eyes, the woman dropping to the ground.
“Why? What does this mean?” She doesn’t answer me with words, only by pointing. I follow her gesture and see the door. My closet door. I approach slowly, apprehensively taking the knob. Last time I opened this door here I couldn’t sleep for days. But I still hear her weeping behind me. I open the door and see my room, my room with all of my things. I see myself on the bed, asleep. There’s movement in the room, I see someone in my room. It’s so dark I can barely make anything out, but the person approaches me on my bed. Is it Dad? No, the person has a rope.
“Hey!” I shout, I motion to walk through the doorway. A terrible growl resounds in my head, a flash before me of large yellow tiger eyes, terrible teeth bared. I fall to the ground. Sitting up, I am finding it hard to breathe. I start gasping for air, feeling around my throat. It feels like something is constricting around my throat. My eyes dart out into my room, the figure around my bed stands, I see my body raising with the figure, rope about my neck. The figure is pulling my body toward the closet, toward me. It’s harder to breath, feeling like the rope is tightening still. The figure comes in closer, I can make it out. Stringy grey hair, milky cataracts and a wicked smile. It’s the olde woman, dragging my body to the closet, smiling as she strings my sleeping form up in the closet. I feel cold, I can’t breathe. Tears are rolling down my face as my vision blurs. I hear weeping, but I know it’s not mine. I feel a chill washing over me. Blackness.
I don’t know how long I have been here, but I can hear whispers, murmurs from time to time. My vision is cloudy, but I can see the greys and greens of that field. I hear murmurs, they are getting louder but I still cannot make them out. I see the closet door. I walk toward it slowly. I feel as though I haven’t taken a step in months. My legs are so weak. I soon find that my arms are as well, as I can only manage the slightest push at the door, opening it only a crack. The murmurs become louder, I can just make them out.
“The nondisclosure act requires me to tell you that there has been a death in this house,” the voice seems familiar.
“A death?” This one does not.
“Suicide, actually. A young girl. Pity, she was such a pretty girl. The family seemed so happy here.”
I peek through the crack in the door and see nothing, just an empty room with a few people exiting down the stairs. The voices continue, but I can’t hear them anymore. I don’t think I care to. I reach up to feel my neck, I feel the rope burns, but I don’t feel the pain. My heart isn’t throbbing in terror, anticipation, anything, my breath isn’t stilted, it isn’t even present. The stark reality is setting in. I sense someone coming up on me and turn from the crack in the door to see the beautiful Asian woman. She takes my hand, but says nothing as she leads me from the closet door toward Youdu.