Characters: Dee, Ryo
Setting: Vol. 2, Act 5, and before the manga.
Summary: Pissed at Ryo for dismissing his claim to have just seen a ghost, Dee thinks back to his first ghostly encounter, back when he was Bikky’s age.
Written For: The dw100 prompt ‘Phantom’.
Word Count: 2714
Disclaimer: I don’t own FAKE, or the characters. They belong to the wonderful Sanami Matoh.
Dee had thought that Ryo of all people would believe in ghosts, but apparently he’d been mistaken. Turned out Ryo Maclean not only didn’t believe, but he was the kind of guy who looked down on those who did. Well, bully for him! It must be oh so easy to deny the existence of something you’ve never seen, but Dee didn’t have that luxury. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen a ghost, and even though this one had the appearance of a sad young girl, that didn’t make the encounter any less terrifying for him, largely due to his prior experience.
Feeling miffed over his partner’s reaction to being told he and Bikky had seen the spirit of a dead girl, Dee’s thoughts immediately drifted back to his first encounter with ghosts. If Ryo had been there that night, if he’d seen the things Dee had seen… no way would he be so dismissive now! That kind of thing made an indelible impression; it wasn’t something you ever forgot, no matter how much you might wish you could.
Dee had been around Bikky’s age at the time, and just as sure as Ryo was now that ghosts didn’t exist, but boy, had he been wrong about that!
The building that housed Mother Maria Lane’s orphanage was old and run down, but perhaps because it was filled with so much love, a warm and friendly atmosphere permeated every room. The old tenement that stood across the street from the orphanage was another matter entirely; it was gloomy, forbidding, even menacing, and cold inside even during the hottest days of summer.
Some of the older kids from the orphanage used to hang out there with their friends from the neighbourhood. They called it their clubhouse, the only place they could go after school and on weekends to get away from the younger children. No little kids were allowed, but at ten years old, Dee was the odd one out. All the children under Mother’s care at that time were either under six or in their teens, and there he was, too old to play with the little kids, but considered too young to hang out with the older boys no matter how much he pleaded with them.
Finally Robbie, one of the oldest at sixteen, said that if he accepted a dare and proved he wasn’t a little crybaby, then maybe he could join them. Naturally Dee, fearless daredevil that he was, jumped at the chance.
“I’m not scared of anything,” he boasted. “What do I have to do?”
“Nothing much, just go up to the top floor of the clubhouse late tonight and stay there, alone in the dark, until after midnight,” he was told. “The rest of us have all done it, it’s like a club initiation.”
“That’s it? Spend a couple of hours in the dark by myself?” Dee scoffed. “I can do that easy!”
“You won’t be completely alone,” Robbie told him in a sinister voice. “You’ll have the ghosts for company. Top floor’s haunted.”
Dee snorted. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. You’re just tryin’ to scare me, but it won’t work. I’m not some little kid. I’ll do it.”
“Okay, if that’s the case, meet us on the front stoop of the clubhouse at ten tonight. Just one other thing; nobody else can know, especially not the Penguin, so you’ll have to sneak out without getting caught.”
“Like that’ll be a problem.” It wouldn’t be the first time Dee had slipped out without Mother knowing when he was supposed to be in bed. He had it down to a fine art.
He dutifully arrived in front of the old building, flashlight in hand, just before ten that evening, having climbed out his second floor bedroom window and shinned down the drainpipe. Stopping at the bottom of the steps, he announced, “I’m here.”
“So you are.” Robbie sounded amused as he ushered everyone inside and turned to study Dee thoughtfully. “You sure you wanna do this?”
“Yep! Said I did, didn’t I?”
“Alright then, off you go.” Robbie pointed across the room, dimly lit by a couple of old lanterns, to the staircase. “All the way to the top, the fourth floor.” He turned to one of the other boys. “Alan, go with him to the third floor landing, make sure he really does go all the way up.”
Alan nodded reluctantly. “Fine, but I don’t get why it always has to be me. Next time someone else can take a turn.”
Robbie turned back to Dee. “When you reach the third floor, you give Alan your flashlight and go the rest of the way without it. He’ll light the stairs for you from below so you can see where you’re going, but after that you’re on your own. Got it?”
“Got it. What’re we waitin’ for? Let’s go!” Determined to prove himself to the older boys, Dee headed for the stairs, running up the first three flights, his flashlight leading the way. On the third floor landing he stood waiting impatiently for Alan to catch up, then tossed the little flashlight to the older boy and bounded without hesitation up the rest of the stairs, taking them two at a time.
The top floor was cold, empty, and bare of furniture. The floorboards squeaked and paint was peeling off walls stained with damp and mildew. He figured the scratching noises he could hear were most likely rats and mice, which didn’t bother him in the slightest; he’d never been afraid of them. As for the faint rustling sounds… Well, they had nothing to do with ghosts either. Probably just scraps of litter and dead leaves skittering across the floor on the errant gusts of wind that crept through gaps in the broken, partially boarded over windows. Despite the breeze the air tasted stale, and it hung damp and still around Dee, seeming almost too thick to breathe. It also stank, of rotting garbage and even less pleasant things. It was no wonder the other kids stayed on the lower floors.
Still, Dee didn’t care. He only had to stay here a couple of hours; that wasn’t a long time at all. One hundred and twenty minutes, give or take a few, and then he could go back down. The worst part of the whole thing was that it was going to be deadly boring, alone in the dark with nothing to do.
Yeah, famous last words. He was just a kid though; what did he know?
It was okay to start with. The building was exactly the same as all the other tenements on the block, so he knew the layout; the stairs came out halfway along a dingy corridor that stretched off to left and right, six cramped apartments in each direction, three on each side of the corridor, and a window leading out onto a fire escape at each end.
He mooched about a bit in the darkness, poking into the empty apartments and trying to peer through windows, until he got tired of feeling his way and bumping into barely discernible walls. Giving up all attempts at exploring, he returned to the main corridor and slouched against the wall near one end, where a hint of a breeze made the air a bit less rancid.
Shoving his hands in his pockets he felt a familiar shape crammed into the bottom of one and grinned to himself, pulling out the last stick of gum from the pack Jess had given him a few days ago. He’d forgotten it was there. Unwrapping it and shoving the gum in his mouth, he dropped the wrapper on the floor to join the rest of the litter and half closed his eyes as he chewed, listening to the scurrying of rats. Time passed slowly; he had no idea how long he’d been there, and was almost starting to doze off in the dark and quiet when he gradually became aware of something.
Abruptly Dee opened his eyes fully; an odd hush had settled over everything, even the rats had fallen silent. Why had they stopped their foraging? Rats weren’t scared of anything. The air felt thicker than it had before, clammy and still, and suddenly a lot colder too, making his bare arms break out in goosebumps. He could almost see his breath steaming in the air in front of him, faint wisps of vapour. It shouldn’t be so cold, not at this time of year; it was early summer and the weather, though a little cooler at night, had been hot and humid for the past couple of weeks. But now even the little gusts of wind through the boards nailed over the windows had died away to nothing. It was as if the building was holding its breath, waiting for something.
Then he heard it; footsteps, slow, heavy, and ponderous, walking along the corridor, coming steadily closer. He thought at first that it was one of the older boys trying to frighten him, but…
It wasn’t. The figure that came into view was tall, thin, and dressed strangely, his clothes old-fashioned like in the black-and-white movies Mother liked to watch. He was even wearing a hat, tipped down over his eyes. Dee had been staring at him for at least a minute before he realised he shouldn’t be able to see him at all in the pitch darkness, only… he was glowing. Not brightly, just a faint, greenish glow, enough for Dee to see the imposing figure… and the long-bladed knife he held in his right hand, wet with blood that dripped onto the dusty floor.
Dee gasped and the figure’s head swivelled towards him, one bloodshot eye fixing on him, because one eye was all that the apparition had; Dee could see now that half of its head was missing. Holding his breath and trying to press himself back into the crumbling plaster behind him, Dee froze in terror, positive he was about to die. Could ghosts kill living people? He didn’t know, and wasn’t in a hurry to find out. He wanted to run, to get away from the eerie figure as fast as he could, yet at the same time he didn’t dare move, not wanting to draw further attention to himself. Time seemed to come to a halt until at last the tall man turned away and moved on, pacing purposefully onwards, passing so close to him that Dee could almost have reached out and touched him.
Unable to tear his eyes away from the spectre, Dee could only watch as the figure moved away, feeling no relief as the distance between him and the phantom increased, because… Out of the same nowhere that had spawned the first one, more ghostly figures appeared at the far end of the corridor; a woman with two small children clinging to her skirts as they tried to hide behind her. A man stood in front of them, trying to shield them from the one with the knife, for all the good that did any of them. The tall man stalked towards them, slow, menacing, implacable. As he reached the other man he raised the knife above his head and then brought it down, slashing viciously again and again, spatters of blood flying from the blade, making abstract patterns on the walls, the ceiling, the floors. The man fell and the woman cowered, hugging her children close, desperate to protect them, her face a study in terror. Dee could clearly see that all three were screaming, although not the faintest sound reached his ears; then the ghastly figure raised his knife again…
It seemed to go on forever as Dee watched in horror, unblinking, his breath coming in shallow gasps, his hands clenched so tightly his fingernails were digging painfully into his palms. He scarcely felt it. At last the frenzied attack came to an end, leaving four of the ghostly figures lying dead on the floor in a spreading pool of blood.
He was sure he didn’t blink, but one second they were there and the next they simply faded away as though they’d never existed in the first place. There wasn’t so much as a drop of blood to be seen; only the tall man remained.
Dee fervently wished he wasn’t there either; he wanted to run, but it was as if his feet were nailed to the floor. Then the footsteps resumed, fading into the distance as the tall man walked away and vanished. Gradually the world seemed to resume a semblance of normality and Dee drew a shaky breath. The rats were scratching in the walls again, and the air felt much warmer than it had; the ghosts were gone, but Dee decided he wasn’t waiting around to see if they came back. He was outta there!
He stumbled blindly towards the stairs, bouncing off walls without noticing, and headed down, clinging to the banister to keep from falling. He’d had enough of this dare, and he didn’t care if the older kids made fun of him and wouldn’t let him hang out with them, because he never wanted to set foot in this building again. Not ever!
The older boys were lounging around on the first floor, on the old sofa and chairs they’d scrounged up from somewhere. They looked up at him as he raced down the final flight and headed for the door like the hounds of hell were on his heels.
“Hey! Wait up, kid!” Robbie shouted.
Dee paused, just inside the doorway. “Why? So you can laugh at me for bein’ a coward? You were right; ghosts are real, I saw them. Is that what you wanna hear?”
Robbie shook his head, checking his watch. “Hour and a half.” He nudged the boy next to him. “That’s longer than Eddie here lasted. He didn‘t even make it through the first hour. You did okay, kid, so you’re in, if you want.”
Dee scuffed one foot on the floor, considering, then shook his head. “Thanks, but no thanks. I think I’ve had enough of hangin’ out here. But… the ghosts…”
Robbie seemed to understand what Dee was asking. “Who were they? Story goes that back in the Twenties this was like all the other tenements around here, a place where poor immigrants lived. One night some guy showed up, an escaped convict, or a lunatic, or something, looking for his wife who’d run off with another man. Sliced and diced twelve people before the cops showed up and blew his head off. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’s what my older brother told me, and he heard it from a friend of his whose great grandfather was a cop back then.” Robbie shrugged. “Anyway, after that the building got sold a few times but nobody ever stayed in it for long on account of it being haunted, so now it’s just abandoned. The ghosts stick to the upper floors; top floor’s the worst. Never seen any down here. We leave them mostly alone, except for initiations, and they leave us alone. You sure you don’t wanna stick around? Took guts to stay up there as long as you did.”
Dee nodded. “I’m sure.”
“Well, you change your mind, you know where to find us.”
“Yeah, thanks.” With one final glance back at the stairs Dee left, heading home to the orphanage and his safe, cosy bed. But everything had changed for him because now he knew that ghosts were real, and he could only hope he’d never see another one for as long as he lived.
And he hadn’t, not until tonight. The annoying thing was, not only had Ryo not believed them when they’d told him what had happened, but he’d even had the nerve to accuse Dee of making up scary stories. That cut like a knife. Dee knew what he’d seen, and so did Bikky! Well, if Ryo was going to be so casually dismissive, not to mention insensitive, towards them maybe those who knew better should stick together.
“Let’s go, Bikky.” He let the kid climb up on his shoulders and made for the door, heading back to his room.
Ryo could sleep alone.