Between Life and Death
The girl named Yuuko had woken up in the middle of a residential district five days ago with no recollection of how she had gotten there. But her predicament didn’t end there. When she began to search her memories for a clue as to how she could have ended up there, she realized that she didn't remember a thing, nothing at all about her life. The only thing she knew for certain was that her name was Yuuko.
At first, she didn’t realize she was a ghost. She just figured that somehow she had just gotten an extreme case of amnesia in the middle of the road—however unlikely that might be.She did the logical thing and asked people on the street for help, but no one even cared to bat an eye. They all just completely ignored her.
A few hours passed and it was clear to her now that for whatever reason, people just wouldn't acknowledge her, choosing instead to just go about their days as normal.
Eventually, Yuuko came across a police precinct where she thought she thought she could get some help. But as she went to open the doors to the precinct, her hand slipped. Paying no mind to such a trivial occurrence, she tried again only for her hand to slip once more. She tried and tried again, even with her other hand, only to fail each time.
She described the interaction saying that she could grab on to the door handle but her hands just seemed to phase through.
Not knowing what to do anymore, Yuuko ran from the precinct and onto the sidewalk, yelling at the top of her lungs, hoping that someone might hear her.
But it was a futile attempt.
With head down and tears in her eyes she started running until she bumped into a passerby. Because she was in such a distressed state, her mind took a bit of time to register the hit. But that was when she realized she had barely felt a thing. Yuuko had run into him almost head on and she had barely felt an impact. The man she hit should have shown some kind of reaction, but when Yuuko turned back to check, he just kept walking as if nothing had happened.
With her mind coming up with one crazy idea after another, Yuuko walked up to the man and slapped him across the face—or rather, she attempted to. She had barely felt a thing and there was hardly a sound to it. It had simply felt like moving your hand through corn syrup. The man's face had barely moved and he showed no reaction to the slap.
It was then that Yuuko realized that she was a ghost.
x x x
"So, you've been speaking to a ghost this entire time?" Shizuka asked as she bit down on her donut.
Figuring that it would be better to talk about things while we sat down, I took both Shizuka and Yuuko to a cafe Claire had recommended to me yesterday. I don’t know why Claire would know that—I never would have imagined a vampire at a cafe—but that’s neither here nor there.
"Can you really not see her?" Even though Yuuko was standing right next to her. Shizuka was adamant that she couldn't see a thing.
"No, unfortunately I can't. But if you say she's there, I'll believe you for now."
"That’s good to hear. At least you don't think I’ve gone insane."
And with the sweetest smile I've ever seen, she said, "Well, you haven't shown me any proof yet, so the verdict is still out on whether or not you are crazy."
Great. Now I have to defend my sanity?! Shizuka was the last person I wanted thinking I was some kind nutcase.
Glancing over to the source of the problem I had stumbled upon, Yuuko hadn't yet sat down and instead stood idly listening to our banter. When my eyes met hers, she grabbed onto her right arm seemingly in an effort to conceal herself. She even averted her eyes.
It became painfully obvious that Yuuko was a very shy girl. Either that or maybe I truly was a nutcase and everyone unconsciously tried to avoid me.
Regardless, suddenly waking up and not being able to remember anything about yourself other than your name was understandably unnerving. I couldn’t blame her if she felt a little anxious.
When Yuuko failed to take a seat I asked "Aren't you going to sit down?"
"No… It’s just that…'' she stammered as she looked at the chair in front of her. "It's hard for me to gain a firm grip on things, especially heavier objects. I just couldn’t pull out the chair, is all…"
She was quite reserved as she spoke, almost as if she thought she would embarrass herself. Maybe it was just too hard of a fact to believe. Awakening as a ghost might seem unbelievable to her but it was one of those things that she was just going to have to accept
Just like me.
"If that was all it was, you could have told me so," I explained as I pulled out the chair for her while she quietly thanked me.
As I helped Yuuko into her chair, I caught a glimpse of Shizuka's dubious gaze watching me. "Don't look at me as if I'm crazy."
“I never said you were,” Shizuka assured me. But her giggling didn't help with calming my fear.
While I had been speaking to Yuuko, all Shizuka could do was sit and sip her coffee. Of course to her it would just seem like I had gone crazy and was offering to pull out a chair for no one. So I couldn’t blame her for looking at me with such doubt.
Hmm. But how do I prove that Yuuko exists? From what she had told me, though she was a ghost, it seemed like she was still able to interact with objects, even if only a little. It was a simple solution, by all means.
Not being able to bear Shizuka's skepticism any longer, I emptied my teacup and placed it back on it's saucer. "You should be able to at least pick up the teacup, right?" I asked Yuuko as I slid over the cup and saucer.
"I'm not sure but I'll try."
With uneasy hands. Yuuko reached for the porcelain cup. As she gripped the handle, I could see first hand what she meant when she said that her body phased through things. Even with a careful and firm grip, her fingers seemed to disappear into the porcelain.
But in an effort to prove her own existence, she persevered and slowly but surely raised the cup. Yuuko rattled the saucer in the process, drawing Shizuka's attention, eyes now focused on the cup. Yuuko was able to lift and hold the cup a few centimeters in the air before her fingers phased all the way through and it began to fall. Luckily I was able to catch it before it hit the table. This was a rather nice cafe and I'm sure the teacups here weren't cheap.
Now I was able to prove things, or in other words, Yuuko just proved not only that she existed but also that she was a ghost.
Of course, when faced with a phenomenon such as a floating cup, one starts to ask questions rather than blindly accepting the occurrence. And that held true for Shizuka.
Not being too quick to just believe what had just happened, she closely examined every inch of the cup. She looked beneath the table and even checked for strings by moving her hand around the cup. Does she think I'm a magician or something?
Once her doubts seemed to be cleared, Shizuka sipped her coffee and said, "I guess you're not crazy after all."
"So you thought I was crazy up until this point?!" Unbelievable, this girl. And to think that we were supposed to be friends.
"It makes me a little uneasy to think that I'm sitting next to a ghost though. Still…" Shizuka questioned with her index finger to her chin, "Why is it that you are the only one that can see her?"
That was the question of the day, wasn't it. There was really no apparent reason for me being the sole exception here. I looked over at Yuuko in hopes that she had an answer but she shook her head.
"Well, we won't be able to find an answer if we don't do a little digging," Shizuka concluded. "Even though I can’t see or hear you, I’m assuming you can hear me, right?"
For the first time, Shizuka spoke directly to Yuuko. I looked over and she confirmed Shizuka's deduction and I passed it on.
"It's good that we have at least one person that can see and hear you. It makes collecting information much easier."
With that, for the first time Yuuko gave an expression other than shyness. In fact, she became so excited that she almost jumped out of her seat. "So you’re going to help me?!” she asked Shizuka. But of course, she couldn’t hear her, so I answered for her instead.
"Of course we are. We're the only ones who know about you. It would be horrible of us to not help you. You might be a ghost but even you deserve to know who you are."
It was decided.
Or rather, I had already made up my mind before we had even gotten to this point in the conversation.
Shizuka seemed to agree because she smiled and nodded.
"First and foremost," Shizuka started, "we should focus on any solid clues that we might have."
"Actually…" The only thing we knew about Yuuko—and for that matter, the only thing Yuuko knew about herself was her name. Even her age was unknown to her. Though, that was something that could be estimated at this very moment. "I didn’t mention this before but she's wearing the same uniform as us."
Even when I bumped into her over the weekend, Yuuko had been wearing our high school's uniform—a navy blue blazer with a black and white plaid skirt that fell just above her knees.
But like how someone's sense of fashion could give insight into their personality, a standardized school uniform did the same thing but for our grades. The year a student was in was differentiated by a colored garment unique to that year. Green for first years, light blue for second years, and crimson for third years.
And wouldn’t you know it, tied beneath her neck was the seafood green bow assigned to first year girls.
"So now we know that she's wearing a first year uniform from our school which puts her age at around 15 or 16 years old," Shizuka summed it up. "The only problem is…"
"She definitely doesn't go to our school."
I might only be a second year student but I have never seen Yuuko's face at school. Not only that but…
"There's no one attending our school with the name Yuuko." Shizuka also shared the same concern as me. She was the secretary of the student council. Her job was to basically know everything about the school, and that included the names of the students.
“That definitely makes this more difficult,” she continued. “Yuuko is wearing the same uniform as us but we have no memory of her.”
Such perplexing detail should have stopped most people dead in their tracks for a while, but Shizuka saw this as nothing more than a challenge. For her, every problem had its answer. If anything, this roadblock only made her think harder. It was a trait of hers that I both admired and wished she never had.
“Let’s start from the beginning,” she started after a few seconds of thinking. “One doesn’t just suddenly become a ghost.”
“Which means I must have died at some point in my life,” Yuuko answered after having been silent for a few minutes.
Of course, Shizuka couldn’t hear this, so I summarized. “She died then became a ghost.” But that only created another problem. “I don’t remember any of the third years having died recently.” And for that matter, I don’t remember any student having died since we started high school. We would have heard of such a morbid event.
Shizuka hmm’d cutely before giving her conclusion. “Then maybe she died before we ever attended the school.”
It was a possibility. And if that was the case, it would be fairly easy to find out who Yuuko was.
“I can look through some old obituaries on the internet and in the public library,” Shizuka suggested.
“I remember seeing some old yearbooks in the school library. Since you are busy with the school council during lunch, I can go through them and see if I can find her picture.”
As Shizuka and I came up with ideas on how to determine Yuuko’s identity, I started to hear someone sniffling off to my side. When I turned to see who it was, I found Yuuko tearing up with her head down, her eyes already red and full of tears.
“Yuuko, why are you crying? Did we say something wrong?”
“N-no,” she assured me as she wiped away her tears. “It’s just that...I’ve been wandering around for days now with no hope of receiving help. And now...from the moment I met you two...you were so eager to help me. I felt so relieved that I couldn’t help but cry.”
She struggled to explain herself through all her tears and sniffling and even continued to cry with her head on the table. But how could I blame her? The five days she spent all alone with no one being able to see or help her—they must have been terrible.
Almost on instinct, Shizuka placed her hand on Yuuko's in an effort to help her stop crying. It had the effect she was hoping for but for a completely different reason.
"Umm… Miss Shizuka…?" Yuuko called out, absolutely stunned.
"Yes?" she answered accordingly. But the moment she did, Shizuka looked at just where she had placed her hand and became just as shocked as Yuuko.
"Wait…! You can see Yuuko now?!" It seemed like we were all shocked. Who knew that such a small act could produced so much surprise.
With the sudden realization, Shizuka pulled her hand away as if she had been holding onto something that wasn't real.
"Y-yeah. It seems that way." She looked at Yuuko for the first time and smiled. The gesture only made Yuuko cry once again.
And just like every other time we figured out something new, it only served to create new questions like Why can Shizuka now see Yuuko? or How does one become able to see her? But if we wanted to go even further, straight to what started this, I could also ask why at first it was only me who could see her. Before this I didn’t believe in ghosts.
"Regardless," Shizuka continued with a determined look, "I promise we’ll figure out who you are."
Once Shizuka had finished her coffee, the three of us parted ways.
Yuuko assured us that she was fine wandering around town, and since she was a ghost, she didn’t need sleep. But Shizuka—being that saint that she is—invited Yuuko to stay at her home.
I thought it was a good idea—I didn't think that wandering around town at night made for the most pleasant of experiences. Yuuko was a ghost but she definitely didn't act like one. Plus, if Shizuka ever uncovered any info about Yuuko, we wouldn't have to go out and find her.
It was a win win.
And I doubt Shizuka's mother would notice a ghost in their home.
As for me, I still ended up going to the bookstore. But after our discussion at the cafe, it was already too late to go to the cinema.
As for food, my mom is a great cook. I'm sure some tasty food awaited me.
I just hoped that the next day brought with it some answers.