Chapter 6:

Chapter 1-5: What They Found

Between Life and Death

The next day, May 13th, was just like yesterday. During lunch, Shizuka went to work on student council stuff (bringing Yuuko along with her.) I once again visited the library to finish looking through the yearbooks. Needless to say, I didn't find a mention of Yuuko, but I decided to withhold the information until we were walking back home. Bookmark here

After two days, we still had zero information regarding Yuuko's past. It pained me to see the look on her face when we told her the bad news. We had gone through all the yearbooks in the school library as well as hundreds of obituaries that were posted in our area. And yet, nothing. It was just too difficult of a task, especially when our only clue was her name. Bookmark here

It seemed impossible. Bookmark here

And now, we have been assigned pages of homework to do for the night. Midterms were almost here and the teachers were doing everything they could to make sure we passed. Bookmark here

So even if it was just today that we received a ton of homework, next week we'll surely be up to necks in assignments. So by then, we'd barely have any time to solve Yuuko’s case. But even if it wasn't a time sensitive matter, I just couldn’t bear the look on her face. Bookmark here

Like if she was about to fade away. Bookmark here

As I sat at my desk with all these thoughts troubling me, I realized that I was only half way done with my homework. All this worrying had kept me distracted, and I could barely find the will to continue. But homework tends to do that anyway. Bookmark here

I dropped my mechanical pencil and laid my head on my notebook, letting out a slow sigh that made my body feel just a bit lighter and less tense.Bookmark here

In the direction my head was pointing, I found my phone sitting idly by. I didn’t have many contacts on it; just my parents, a few friends, and of course, I had Shizuka's number. I'm pretty sure there are also some relatives in there, but I rarely call them. Bookmark here

But out of the maybe two dozen numbers that were logged on my phone, there was one that was bizarre for lack of a better term. Bookmark here

It belonged to Claire. Bookmark here

I have to admit, when she gave me her number on Saturday, I was taken aback. I mean, you always think of vampires in mostly a Victorian era setting. Sure, there are all those corny, teen dramas about vampires that are set in modern times. But when people mention the word vampire, they usually refer to the former. Bookmark here

So when Claire showed that she was tech savvy—or at least knew how to use a cell phone—my whole interpretation of vampires had been flipped on its head. She even rented an apartment closer to the city. Bookmark here

I think she said she was around four hundred and eighty years old. With that much time on her hands, I shouldn’t be surprised that she has been able to get accustomed to modern times so easily. Bookmark here

Even so, Claire has never called me. I tried calling her yesterday out of desperation, but she didn’t answer. I thought that since Claire was a vampire, she might know something about ghosts, my reasoning being that they were similar. I mean, Claire and Yuuko both were entities that I once thought were just make believe. Bookmark here

So just maybe Claire knew something. Bookmark here

But she never returned my call.Bookmark here

Just as I let out another sigh, my phone's screen lit up and it started playing its default ringtone. Bookmark here

Sometimes you get blessed with fits of serendipity. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those types of coincidences. It wasn’t Claire returning my call like I might have hoped. It was just Shizuka. Bookmark here

"I didn’t expect to be call—"Bookmark here

"Yuuko is gone!"Bookmark here

"Wait, what do you mean." By now, my body had jerked back up. The mere tone of Shizuka's voice told me that this was urgent. Bookmark here

"She just left. I went to my mother's study to get a few newspapers and when I came back to my room, Yuuko was gone."Bookmark here

"Okay, okay. Slow down." She had spoken so fast my brain needed extra time to process what she said. "Are you sure she isn't just somewhere in the house?"Bookmark here

"Yes, I'm sure. I'm not stupid." If we were talking in person, I'm sure she would have yelled in my face. I could tell that she was frustrated, but most of all, she worried. "When I searched for her in the house, I found the door partially open."Bookmark here

"Your mom could have just left open when she came home, no?"Bookmark here

"No, I heard the door slam shut as she walked in complaining about her job. She's been in the bath ever since." Sounds like a stressful job. But also, with everything we knew about Yuuko, I don’t know how she managed to open the door. Bookmark here

"Do you think she went somewhere?" Maybe the door was left partially open because it would have been too hard for her to open it fully. If that was the case, then Yuuko really had left. Bookmark here

"Yeah, I think so." I could almost picture Shizuka pacing back and forth in her room. "Before she left, I had told her that we had hit a dead end in the investigation. That trying to figure out who she was only knowing her given name was almost impossible. I had told her I wasn’t sure that we could figure out her past." She paused for a moment. Even if I couldn't see heard, I could still hear her. A sniffle and a wavering sigh could be heard before she continued. "When I told her that, she looked so devastated… Almost as if she was about to disappear," she trailed off. Bookmark here

So that’s why she sounded so distressed. She feared that because of her, Yuuko might leave forever. It's a problem that Shizuka has always struggled with. But now was not that time to bring it up. Bookmark here

"I'll go out to look for her," I said as I grabbed my jacket. Bookmark here

"So will I."Bookmark here

"Okay, you take the area north of the school and I'll take the south."Bookmark here

She agreed and I told her to be careful. It wasn’t the safest thing for a high school girl to be wandering the streets alone at 8 pm. Bookmark here

Not a minute passed before we were both out the door. Bookmark here

× × ×Bookmark here

Without much thought I dashed out the front gate of our home. The sun had already set, so all the street lamps lit up little areas throughout the residential streets. And under the one nearest to my house, a lonely silhouette sauntered along. Bookmark here

"I didn’t expect to see you out this late, Yuuta."Bookmark here

"Oh, Mrs. Satou? I guess I could ask you the same thing."Bookmark here

When she called out to me, I stopped completely in my tracks. I came out here in an attempt to find Yuuko, but instead I found someone else. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those fits of serendipity that I was talking about earlier. I wasn’t expecting to find Yuuko right away. Not that meeting Mrs. Satou was a bad thing, don't get me wrong.Bookmark here

"I was just at the convenience store picking up some missing ingredients," she explained, lifting the plastic bag in her hand. And with a tilt of her head, "But what's got you running out of the house in such a hurry?"Bookmark here

That would be anyone's question if they had also witnessed me basically throw the gate off its hinges. But I couldn’t just say I was looking for a ghost. So I just made up some semi-believable excuse. "I was just going to pick up a book I had lent to my friend. But I wanted to be back before it got too dark."Bookmark here

Her meek smile made me think that she didn't believe me at all, but she also didn't pressme any further. Bookmark here

"For whatever reason, I'm feeling like having a little chat with someone. Care to walk with me," she asked simply with a smile. "Plus, you can never be too careful when walking alone at night."Bookmark here

It's true that I had to look for Yuuko, but realistically, Shizuka had a much better chance of finding her than I did. And also, from what Shizuka had told me, Yuuko could have only been gone for about four minutes if she was walking. She would still be in the area Shizuka was searching. Plus, Mrs. Satou's home was only two blocks in the direction I was heading in anyway. So this was merely a happy detour. Bookmark here

But even disregarding all of that, how could I deny that smile of hers. Bookmark here

And so I matched her pace. Bookmark here

"You know, last night I had a dream," she started."I say it as if it were a weird thing. Of course, most people wouldn't say that having a dream while you sleep is a weird thing. But around this time of year, nightmares become the norm for me, as you know. That's why last night, I thought that it was strange for me to have such a pleasant dream."Bookmark here

"What was it about?"Bookmark here

"Just like with the nightmares, it was about my daughter." She smiled. Bookmark here

The daughter that had died before she could even meet her. Every time I had heard them talk about her, the mood shifted drastically to one that gripped your heart and wouldn’t let it go. In those instances, it sometimes seemed like Mrs. Satou would break down. But now, she seemed eager to talk about her. Bookmark here

"It was a short dream. But one that I remember vividly nevertheless. In the dream I was woken up late in the morning by the sound of hurried footsteps rushing down the stairs. When I went downstairs to see who it was, I would see my daughter in her school uniform putting on her shoes as she held onto the door handle to keep herself from falling over. She noticed me watching from the foot of the stairs and say 'I'm late for school.' Then she waved with a smile and hurried out the door."Bookmark here

The dream ended there, she said. Bookmark here

"I feel like you two could have been friends," she proposed with a grin. Bookmark here

"You and your husband are friends with my parents, so I'm sure we would have ended up like that sooner or later."Bookmark here

But who knew. Though I wished that she could be her so I could find out and so that Mrs, Satou's pain could go away, it just wasn’t possible. Bookmark here

I remember a few nights after I found out Mrs. Satou had lost her daughter, I had a strange dream. Well, the actual contents of the dream were quite normal but it was strange now that Mrs. Satou told me about her own dream. Bookmark here

I was just walking down the street on my way to school when I turned around to see a girl running in my direction. I don't know if she was trying to catch up to me or if she was just running in my direction because I remember nothing else about the dream. Bookmark here

So I guess it's more of a coincidence than it is strange. But I decided not to tell her. Bookmark here

"You know, when she walked out the door in that dream, she didn’t say goodbye. She just said I'll be back soon. But in a way, I'm glad she said that instead of goodbye." Bookmark here

"What do you mean?"Bookmark here

"I've let myself drown in my misery these past fifteen years. And I'll never be able to forget her even if I tried. Instead of watching her leave only for me to dread seeing her again, instead I think I'll yearn for her return, even if it's in a dream."Bookmark here

Holding her bag with both hands in front of herself, she began to hum a tune as she added a little bounce to her stride. I just kept silent and listened to the soothing sound. Bookmark here

I had no idea where but I had definitely heard the song before. It could have been during a visit to the Satou household or some other time. All I could remember was that it was a song that just faded into the backyard. Bookmark here

Then she abruptly stopped. The tune she had been humming cleared mind so thoroughly that I continued walking ahead even though Mrs. Satou had stopped. When I looked for a reason as to why she wasn't following, I realized we were in front of her home. Bookmark here

"I like to think that, in that dream, she was humming that song after she left."Bookmark here

I wanted to say something but I really didn’t know what I could say. I mostly stood silent as she looked at the moon. The sun had already set but the spring breeze continued to blow. It was a quiet and pleasant night. The night that followed the storm. Bookmark here

An ending. Bookmark here

And after that. Bookmark here

A beginning. Bookmark here

Before she said her goodbye to me, I decided to tell her "She didn't leave you without a smile. I'm glad that you realized that."Bookmark here

She was already heading toward her home, but even though I spoke to her, she didn’t turn to face me. Instead she just smiled and said "I'd want my daughter to be as kind as you." Bookmark here

I didn’t respond. It wasn’t something I expected her to say and it was something that was embarrassing to hear. So my mind just struggled to find the words. Bookmark here

But it didn’t really matter. Mrs. Satou waved goodbye and walked inside. Bookmark here

× × ×Bookmark here

I hadn’t forgotten what my original mission had been when I stepped outside. The moment Mrs. Satou passed through the door, I started sprinting down the street. At every intersection leading toward the high school, I checked the streets on my left and right to no avail. Bookmark here

I was starting to worry if I would even be able to find Yuuko when Serendipity decided to show itself. Bookmark here

I jogged quite briskly alongside the walls that separated people's homes and the street. So when I reached the next intersection, little time was left for me to react and I ended up crashing into the girl I had been looking for. Bookmark here

With nothing for me to catch myself on, I fell to the ground and my hands were barely able to keep my face from scrapping on the floor. As for Yuuko, she fell along with me without making a sound once she hit the ground. I do want to clarify, though. This wasn't one of those clichéd scenarios you see in rom-coms where the protagonist lands on top of the girl with his hand on her chest. Bookmark here

No. Instead, when I looked below me to check if she was alright, (a redundant gesture given that she is a ghost) I found that my left hand had completely phased through her shoulder. My wrist and everything below it were obstructed by the sight of the school uniform she was wearing. For lack of a better word, my hand was inside Yuuko (kinda sounds weird). Not only that but it felt like my hand had completely vanished. No sense of warmth or chill. All I felt was the pavement beneath my hand. Beyond that, all senses disappeared. Bookmark here

Not being able to stand such an unpleasant feeling, I quickly stood up without making a scene.Bookmark here

Yuuko sat up and I offered my hand with a "Let me help you up."Bookmark here

For the second time now, I realized the redundancy in my words, but Yuuko took my hand without thinking. Though her hand slipped partially through mine, I was able to pull her part of the way up. But when her hand started to phase completely through mine, on instinct I grabbed onto her forearm with my other hand and managed to pull her up before she fell. Bookmark here

We were both a bit shocked—not because of the head-on collision with one another but more so because of what we had accomplished. Bookmark here

"I thought we weren't able to do that," Yuuko said as she looked at her hands. Bookmark here

"So did I." Bookmark here

Of course, we had tested the extent of Yuuko's object manipulation before. On the first day we took Yuuko with us to school, on our walk back home, we stopped by a park to quell some of Shizuka's curiosities. Bookmark here

First she started by grabbing on to Shizuka's hand. As we had thought, it was extremely difficult for Shizuka to get a grip on her, her hand almost completely phasing through Yuuko’s. And when Shizuka tried to pull on her, she lost her hold of her, as we expected. Next we tried the same test but with me this time. While we faced the same results, Yuuko did mention that she had a better grip on my hand, if only slightly. Bookmark here

We also tested her ability to hold objects. I bought a soda from a nearby vending machine. I asked Yuuko to cup her hands. I tried to place the soda can in her hands but it almost immediately slipped through them and crashed on the ground. The impact plus the carbonation were enough to make a hole in the can from which soda sprayed all over my shoes and pants. Shizuka and Yuuko proceeded to laugh their heads off. Bookmark here

Finally, we placed a small leaf on her hand which took two minutes to pass completely through. Our conclusion in the end was basically that unless you were made of paper or as light as a teacup, Yuuko could barely interact with you. Bookmark here

Regardless. Bookmark here

"We were both really worried about you, you know. Especially Shizuka. She thought you decided to leave because of what she had said."Bookmark here

"You shouldn't have worried," she said, averting her gaze, "because it doesn't matter."Bookmark here

"Huh?" What was she going on about? It definitely mattered that she had just left without warning. It had us worried sick. "What do you mean?" Bookmark here

"I mean it doesn't matter whether I leave or stay. I'm literally nobody," she elaborated. Bookmark here

But that explanation just didn't make sense to me. "What are you talking about? Of course you're not a nobody. You're Yuuko."Bookmark here

"But that's exactly it!" she countered. "That's all I am. All I have is a name. And a common one at that. How many girls out there are named 'Yuuko'? Probably thousands." Bookmark here

As she went on, her eyes started to become moist and her voice rose in volume. She was going to pour her heart out. She had reached the end of her limit and was barely holding on.Bookmark here

"N-not only that," Yuuko continued, her voice quivering. "I literally know nothing about myself. I don't know anything about my past. I don't know my family. I don't know where I came from. I don't even know my own age! And on top of all that, I'm a ghost! I don't even know how I died."Bookmark here

"We'll help you figure—"Bookmark here

"But you’ve already tried. I am truly grateful that you did, for my sake. And even so, we couldn’t find out who I am or at least, who I was. So it's like I said, I'm nobody. Just like in the five days before you found me, I'll be left to wander through the Earth without even being able to identify myself."Bookmark here

And with that, along with a look of resignation, Yuuko began to walk along, like if she wasn't even there to begin with. But I couldn’t let her go. I wouldn’t let her. Even if it was what she wanted. And even if I was being a bit selfish, I couldn't let her go because she was wrong. Bookmark here

"I guess I can see why you would think that." Just before she was able to pass behind me, I grabbed Yuuko by the wrist. We didn’t care to realize it then but my grip on her was more firm than ever. And so I held on to her, the both of us not turning to face each other. "A ghost with no past, no memories, no clues pointing to who you are or were. You definitely are a nobody."Bookmark here

"Then—" Yuuko began to say as she broke free from my grasp and looked me straight in the eyes. But I cut her off. Bookmark here

"Even so, that doesn't mean you will always be a nobody. Just because you don't have a past doesn't mean you're not entitled to a future. From there you can be whoever you want to be."Bookmark here

Not being able to accept what I had told her, Yuuko balled her fists and looked at her feet, a few tears splashing on the ground. "That doesn't fix the fact that I'm still a ghost and that I will always be one. If we had never crossed paths, I would still be wandering through the streets all alone. No one would be aware of me and I would never be able to make them aware of me."Bookmark here

I couldn’t refute what she had said. She had no way of interacting with the physical world in a way that would make people notice her. And if I hadn't met her, who knows what would have become of a wandering ghost. Bookmark here

But. Bookmark here

"You're not alone. You met me, right? And then I introduced you to Shizuka. You have us, so you don't have to worry about disappearing." Bookmark here

At that, Yuuko looked back up at me, tears streaming from both of her eyes. She was at a loss for words. She wanted to find something to challenge my line reasoning but she couldn’t. All she could do was stand there and listen to what I had to say. Bookmark here

"I bet you're thinking how I can be so certain?"Bookmark here

She nodded. Bookmark here

"I'm going to die in about six months."Bookmark here

The sun had long set by now and not even it's light could reach over the horizon. The sky had become the moon's domain. A night breeze blew by as Yuuko's eyes opened up wide. Bookmark here

She would be the fourth person I would tell about this. Bookmark here

"There's nothing much I can do about. It'll just eventually happen." Bookmark here

I still remember the reactions of everyone I had told. Shizuka kept her calm demeanor but fell silent. I knew she was worried sick about me but my nonchalant attitude toward the situation must have rubbed off on her because since she has never brought it up since. Bookmark here

I had been good friends with Rikka for a while. Our opinions would often clash and we would always get into some good natured banter. We were made to annoy each other. But one day. Rikka noticed that I was acting strange. And at that point I had to tell her. She understood that nothing could be done and so she just continued her life not giving it much though. She sometimes joked about it like the time in the library. But it was nothing that bothered me because we both new where we stood as friends. Bookmark here

And then there was Claire. She couldn’t even understand what it meant to die. Bookmark here

"It causes a lot of worry for my parents and friends. But I try not to think about it too much since it'll only make them worry even more. But eventually the time will come when I can't avoid it, and soon after, it'll catch up to me completely."Bookmark here

I felt like I was just rambling. It wasn't something I liked talking about and it was also something that I didn't like to impose on others. That's why I had only told three people up to now. The expression that appeared on the faces of everyone who knew now showed itself on Yuuko's. Bookmark here

"W-why are you telling me this now?" Bookmark here

I don't think she meant it in the sense that she was mad at me for waiting so long to tell her. So I assume she was wondering why I had decided to tell her now of all times. Bookmark here

"Because, when you say you have no identity, you're just completely wrong. I'll be gone in a few months but, for example, would you forget about me?"Bookmark here

She quietly shook her head. Bookmark here

"Exactly. And I doubt that my parents will be able to forget about me. Same goes for my extended family, Shizuka and the rest of my friends. You could say that when I die, I'll practically be a ghost. Just an intangible idea. I'll be the same as you. I'll be nothing essentially."Bookmark here

I can't say if I believe in a higher power, so I can't say what will happen to me after death. I could very well turn into a ghost like Yuuko did. But before then, I wanted to help Yuuko as much as I could, so I thought it would be good if I got to the point. Bookmark here

"Even now, I'm a nobody to about 7 billion people. In a practical sense, I have no identity. But I'm something to the people who care about me. They give me meaning. I might have a tangible past but even if I didn’t have one, those same people would make sure I didn't lose myself. If I felt like I didn't know who I was, they would help me figure it out. Just like we're doing."Bookmark here

With her eyes tearing up more and more as I was finishing up, I got closer to her and wrapped my arms around her in an effort to comfort her, and at the same time to get my point across. Bookmark here

"That's why, Yuuko, as long as you have Shizuka and me, you'll always be somebody even if you might not think so at the moment."Bookmark here

I felt her nod, her face buried in my shoulder as she gripped onto me tighter. The silent night made her sobbing clear to my ears with me only being able to tell her that everything would be okay. Bookmark here

I can't imagine what it must have been like to have lived in a world that was effectively out of your reach. A world where you were basically nothing. Even if it was just a few days, I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying that would have been. I also can't know how happy she must have felt when she finally found someone who could see her. Someone who could confirm her existence and give her an identity. Bookmark here

For that reason I decided to hug her. To show her I wouldn’t let her disappear, even if she tried to herself. And I'm sure that Shizuka would say the same thing. Bookmark here

Because she met us, Yuuko was Yuuko whether she liked it or not. And I wouldn't let her forget it.Bookmark here

Almost as if to move us forward, a high-pitched jingle played in the midst of the silence. Someone was calling, and I'm guessing it's Shizuka looking for an update on Yuuko. I was glad that I could give her good news. Bookmark here

Though she had stopped crying, Yuuko still clung onto me. It seemed she wanted to stay like that for another minute or two. But when she heard my cell phone ringing, she loosened her grip, allowing me to reach into pocket. I didn’t try to push her away. Bookmark here

I brought the phone to my ear and was just about to give the good news when…Bookmark here

"I had given you my number as an easier means for me to find you. But I never could have imagined that you would call me. Did you suddenly start to miss me? If so, how sweet of you."Bookmark here

I was greeted with a familiar, mischievous, happy-go-lucky voice, one who loved to tease me. Now I really wished it had been Shizuka who had called me. Bookmark here

The person on the other line was none other than Claire, the vampire who I've gotten on friendly terms with even though we have only met twice. Bookmark here

"Quite the time to return my call. Did that ancient mind of yours forget how to use technology?"Bookmark here

"Sorry, but I was busy. And just so you know, I was alive when every major scientific breakthrough was made. So I know a thing or two."Bookmark here

"That still makes you ancient."Bookmark here

Anyway.Bookmark here

"So, did you need something from me yesterday," she asked, getting to the point. Bookmark here

"I was just wondering if you knew anything about ghosts, by chance?" Bookmark here

The line was silent for a bit before she answered. "It just so happens that I know a thing or two. Why? Did you have some questions concerning them?"Bookmark here

"Yeah. We have quite a mystery on our hands. I was hoping you could shed some light on it."Bookmark here

"Hmm… I'll answer any questions I have answers to. But we'll have to meet up right now. I'm busy tomorrow."Bookmark here

"Sure."Bookmark here

And with that, Claire said a charming "goodbye" and texted me the location of the place we'd meet at. I also let her know that Shizuka would come along. Bookmark here

Another fit of serendipity. Bookmark here

Even in the midst of a silent night there will always be a bit of chaos. But it's wrong to immediately assume that chaos is inherently bad. So whether the wind blows or the night stands still, as long as the moon is out, everything will be alright.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.