Between Life and Death
"I didn’t know you were friends with older women." Shizuka looked at Claire, then looked at me with a disapproving stare.
"Why do you have to call me an 'older woman?' If we're going off of appearances, then I would only look to be a year or two older than you. Plus, you don't even know my age."
"Okay, then how old are you exactly?" Shizuka countered, accusingly.
Even if Claire answered truthfully and gave her ridiculous age of over four hundred, it would only prove Shizuka right. Because of that, Claire held her tongue.
Besides, I wasn’t quite sure if we wanted to reveal the fact that Claire was a vampire just yet. It wasn’t something necessarily world-ending but maybe it was better if we kept it quiet. I'm sure it will come up eventually. But until then.
"She's eighteen if you're wondering," I answered before the tension rose. At least that's the age she appeared to be.
Shizuka seemed to be satisfied by my answer, commenting "That can still be considered as being an 'older woman.'" But that only led to another question. "So how did you meet her?"
An obvious question to be asking a sixteen year old boy who claims to be friends with an "older woman," as Shizuka puts it. At this point, I was considering just saying that she was a distant relative or something. But I doubt Shizuka would be fooled by that, especially given the color of Claire’s hair which bordered on being completely white.
So I went with an answer that sounded just as unlikely. "We met at the library," I answered quickly, sounding doubtful of even my own answer. Claire bobbed her head up and down agreeing with me
But maybe Shizuka had some sense of trust in me because even after she pondered on the validity of my words, she hmm’d and accepted my story.
"Alright then," Shizuka said with a bounce.
I'm just glad she didn't ask why I had Claire’s phone number.
But we had more important matters at the moment.
"Well," Claire cleared her throat, "shall we step inside?"
Up until now, we had been speaking just outside a cafe. It was popular enough that it stayed open even through the night. Even so, when we passed through the door I noticed it wasn’t particularly crowded. Far from it. There seemed to be only three individuals at separate tables drinking their coffee or reading the newspaper.
The waitress greeted us and brought us to a table, though I had to specify that we needed a table for four.
"So I'm assuming you brought her along?" Claire asked after our orders had been taken.
"Can you not see her?"
"If you're referring to the ghost girl, then no, I can't see her."
"Oh, but maybe you'll be able to see her after a while, just like I did," Shizuka explained the occurrence from a few days ago, but Claire didn't seem to care.
"I don't particularly care if I'm able to observe her. It's not like I want to either way."
The way Claire emphasized it was quite cold. I could see Yuuko shrink in her seat from out of the corner of my eye.
"It's a bit like science," she elaborated. "It doesn't necessarily require you to believe. It merely requires an understanding of the topic."
Claire took the espresso that had just arrived and brought the cup to her lips. Due to her icy attitude, neither Shizuka nor Yuuko noticed Claire's sharp canines show themselves as she sipped her coffee. "So you found a ghost."
"Yes, but the problem is that she has no memory of her past," Shizuka explained.
"Oh, that really is strange. I've never heard of a case like that."
"Do you know a lot about these sorts of things?" I asked.
"When it comes to these sorts of things, ghosts are the only area where I am competent."
"How come?" After more than four hundred years of living, one might assume that she would be a genius. But I guess not.
"Well, it's not like I study much. Though I do read a great deal, they're usually fiction. So the information I'm able to share with you today is all second hand. They're various things an old friend of mine—an enthusiast on the topic—once told me. I'm not even sure if she's still alive."
Now that she brought it up, I knew nothing about Claire's past. This was one of the few times where she let something slip. It would make sense for the friend of a vampire to be another vampire, right? That made me curious. But now wasn’t the time.
"For me to give light to this situation," Claire continued after another sip of her coffee. "I'll have to explain things from the beginning."
She stretched in her chair and adjusted her posture. It seemed like it would be here for a while, so I also shifted to a more comfortable position.
"The first thing that you need to understand is that there are two types of entities in this world. Living Things account for all types of organisms that can sustain themselves. And Spirits which were defined by my friend as entities of pure energy and without form, their only purpose being to gain a form."
That was quite a bit to take in, not in terms of the amount 9f information but in terms of what had been said. Spirits have always been a part of various cultures all around the world. But now, due to Claire being the one to confirm their existence, that fact all of a sudden felt like a slash of cold water. Claire was already something that I long believed was certainly a myth. Furthermore, Yuuko was another sort of being that I also never believed in. But the proof for both sat beside me. So I was quick to accept what Claire had said, and Shizuka so to come to the same conclusion.
"While there are millions of species of living organisms, there are only two things Spirits can become ghosts, which we'll focus on today and gods."
If the previous revelation was like a splash of cold water, then this one was like getting shot. Though I did say I accepted what Claire had explained, this was harder to believe. I mean, gods?! I wasn’t a religious man, so I never thought of them. I guess you can say that I didn't necessarily believe in them, in that case. I did visit shrines from time to time like on New Years', but did that necessarily mean anything? So I had to ask.
"What do you mean by 'gods'?"
"Gods of any kind," she clarified. "Both ancient and modern."
"So like those of Greek mythology?" Shizuka asked, almost as dumbfounded as I was.
"Yep, and even the ones before them. Basically any diety you can think of."
"So I'm a god?!" Yuuko spat out as she listened intently. Of course, Claire couldn't hear her, so Shizuka passed on the message.
"No. Though ghosts and gods manifest through similar means, they come into existence for different purposes."
It seemed like now Claire was narrowing down the discussion. But I guess Yuuko's conclusion wasn't necessarily wrong since they were born from the same thing. Though it's still hard to believe.
"Moving along," she continued. "Ghosts come into existence through two different means, though neither is more prevalent than the other. First, when someone comes to the end of their life, their soul might yearn to stay. And if the soul has the strength of will necessary, a Spirit will hear its call and it'll attach itself to the unwavering soul, turning it into a ghost."
Hmm. Though Claire said that one method didn't happen more than the other, I feel like we're more familiar with the first method. It was reminiscent of a ghost that might haunt a house in a movie. A soup that might have been forever trapped due to a grudge. Or a ghost that isn't able to rest peacefully until their murderer is brought to justice.
"That explanation gives me chills." Shizuka gulped. "Knowing that ghosts are real, I can’t help thinking there might be a vengeful ghost lurking in my house." There might not be a vengeful one, but there was one stricken by amnesia. She should be grateful she came across the latter.
"But since the ghost you encountered seems to have no recollection of her past, the second method seems to be the more likely one for her manifestation—though neither method should leave her with amnesia."
"So what is the second method?" Shizuka asked.
"Instead of the dying soul itself having the strength of will to want to continue living, that strength instead could come about through the will of someone else. They so want to see their loved one once again that they literally project their perception of their loved one onto a Spirit creating a ghost."
"So a single person's will is able to create a ghost?"
"Well, not quite, but that's the gist of it," she clarified.
"So if we go with the latter, someone who knew Yuuko had such a strong will that they brought her back as a ghost," I surmised.
But something still bothered Shizuka. "That's great and all but it still doesn't explain Yuuko's memory loss."
We might have the method but as Claire had explained, neither meant the loss of memories through the transition from soul to ghost.
"In times like this, it's better to start off with the facts you've sure of," Claire suggested.
I looked back on the past few days we had spent with Yuuko. " So we know that she was most likely born through someone's will, that she is wearing the uniform of our high school, and that she's in the year below us."
"Could it have been the will of a school friend?"
"That would explain the uniform," Shizuka affirmed, making the argument stronger. "if it was a friend of Yuuko it would make sense since they would most often see each in their school uniforms. That's the image of Yuuko that would most likely be in their mind."
"But I never found a picture of Yuuko in the school yearbooks, so there has to be something else to it?"
Claire sipped her coffee before chiming in. "If I remember correctly, the school began a little over a month ago, no?" Shizuka and I nodded. "So maybe Yuuko and this friend of hers were supposed to start high school together. Girls often have dreams about high school with their friends. She could have been looking forward to spending high school with Yuuko only for her to die before they could."
That made sense. But if that was the case, it made our search even harder. Now we had to look for a middle school student who would have died recently. It would be difficult, if not impossible to gain access to middle school yearbooks. And what makes the situation even worse is that the student of our high school didn’t just come from a single middle school. There could very well be a dozen they originate from. Searching through that many yearbooks would be impossible. And just asking around the school to see if anyone had recently lost a friend was a whole nother problem—as well as it being insensitive. The whole thing was just…
It was just impossible for the four of us. Our chances were basically null. It was a miracle that I even stumbled upon Yuuko in the first place.
That was when a new question popped into my head. I almost facepalmed myself for completely forgetting such a thing. And now that I thought about it, it was something that I should have asked from the beginning. And so.
"Claire, do you know why only Shizuka and I can see Yuuko? Or more importantly, why was it only me who could initially see her?"
"I was wondering why you hadn't asked that yet. I guess it just slipped your mind," Claire teased with a smug grin.
So she was aware that I had completely forgotten such an important detail and she didn't care to say anything?! But of course, since she was the one with knowledge of ghosts, to her it was a question that should not have gone unnoticed.
"There's a very simple explanation to it. For example," Claire turned to question Shizuka, "do you happen to know what the family who lives ten houses down from you are doing at this moment?" Shizuka shook her head. "Do you know their names?" Once again, Shizuka had to deny it. "Then for all you know, they don't exist. They are irrelevant with respect to yourself. The ability to see a ghost is fairly in that regard."
The three of us didn't fully understand Claire's analogy—it might have made things more convoluted in the end.
Noticing our confounded expressions, Claire took a sip of coffee before trying to make things easier to understand. "No one wants to see a person they don't care about. Therefore you have no reason to want to see the manifestation of someone else's loved one. Other people can't see Yuuko because they simply don't know she exists. Ghosts manifest because of someone's resolve to see them again. And so, they should be the only ones able to see them."
"So someone must have a connection to the ghost in order to see them. They must have a relationship," Shizuka concluded.
"But I know nothing about Yuuko. I had never met her up until a few days ago. No one in my life has died, so it would be a stretch to say that I'm related to her in some way. Nor did I manifest her."
"It's not like only one person grieves for the passing of someone. And in the case of ghosts, all it takes is for you to believe. That's why Shizuka was able to see Yuuko after some time."
"What do you mean?" Shizuka asked.
"It's because you believed in what Yuuta was telling you that you were able to gaze upon Yuuko. When you saw how fervently Yuuta pledged to help Yuuko, you ceased to have any doubts."
"That seems rather simple," I pointed out.
"It is, and it's quite a simple feat to achieve. Say that one day you are speaking to a friend about a girl you know—that girl being Yuuko. Over the course of a few days, you describe to them her appearance, her personality, things she says, and things she has done. Then you ask if they would like to meet her the next day. And so, when you bring along Yuuko and you present her to them, she will appear before them. All because they believed that she was someone real. They had built a connection, in essence."
"All it takes is for someone to believe…?" Yuuko whispered next to me. But it seemed she had nothing to say.
"You can try this yourselves if you want," Claire suggested. "Just tell your mother that you invited Shizuka and Yuuko over to study the next day. Describe to her who Yuuko is, and hopefully, when the two girls arrive the next day, Yuuko will appear before your mother."
Though it was a simple solution, it did make sense from a mostly philosophical perspective. If you believed in something, you accepted it as the truth. That's all there was to it was what Claire seemed to want to point out.
"Okay, that's great but all we are able to infer is that I am somehow connected to Yuuko." I glanced over at Yuuko in case she had anything to add, but she just shrugged.
Even so, I had another question that most people would consider the fastest and most logical way to resolve Yuuko's circumstances. I had discussed the topic with Yuuko before, but it wasn’t something that she was able to remember, so we just hit a dead end. I was hoping that Claire could shed some light by sharing new details. And so I asked, "When ghosts manifest, where exactly do they appear initially?"
"Another good question," she smirked. "They usually manifest where they most desire—or in her case, where they are most desired."
"Meaning they'll appear next to that person that willed them into existence," Shizuka surmised.
Claire, not seeing that as completely accurate tried to clarify. "Well, it's not always directly next to them. You can expect a spirit to always be within a meter of someone, so a ghost generally just appears nearby. And if there is no spirit nearby, they just won't appear."
"Hmm. I think I understand." Then she turned to me. "But Yuuta, even if Yuuko manifested near a loved one, she already told us that she has forgotten where that was."
When we first asked her about it, she sounded like a lost tourist. You can't someone who had never lived in the area for not it in detail. So it was no wonder Yuuko just told us every street looked the same. Even if she remembered a specific feature of the road or a nearby house, it would take us ages to look through it all.
What we needed was an educated guess rather than brute force.
"If only Yuuko was haunting a house. Then we'd have no trouble finding where she originated from," Shizuka jokes.
"You could say that ghosts are a lot like humans," Claire began. "All that's different is that one is a fact and the other is an idea. In that sense, you can say that they think the same way in many cases. People, in many cases, at some point in thier lives return home. They are compelled home, you could say. Wandering ghosts are the same, I guess."
The moment Claire finished her explanation, I abruptly stood up sending my chair back while slamming my hands on the table. While both Shizuka and Yuuko were startled a bit, Claire didn't even flinch as she sipped on her coffee.
"W-what is it, Yuuta?!" Shizuka asked, a bit surprised. But I focused on Yuuko.
"Why did you walk in the direction that you did after you left Shizuka's house?"
It was something that had bugged me for a while now. Shizuka's home wasn't too close to my home, so it was surprising that I was able to find Yuuko so quickly. No, it was close to a miracle that I was able to find her in the time that I did. She could have gone in any direction, and yet she appeared only five blocks from my home, and even on the same street.
It wasn’t just a fit of serendipity like I had initially thought. And if Yuuko answered the way I was expecting her to, I would have my educated guess.
"B-because I felt the need to."
I stood in silence for a moment going over everything we had discussed.
"What about it? Did you figure something out?" Obviously, Shizuka would want to know why I had been so abrupt and reasoning for my question.
Still, even though I was ninety eight percent sure about my guess, there was still a possibility I could be wrong. In that case, I didn't want to give Yuuko any false hope.
I sat back down calmly as I cleared my throat. "Maybe, but it's a long shot, and I can't be certain," I explained, trying to sound as uncertain as possible. "We can go investigate tomorrow after school since that would be the best time."
"O-okay." They both acquiesced taking my word for it.
But I could see a hint of a smirk on Claire's lips as she watched the three of us. As if she were able to read my mind.
"Well, I guess we're done here." Claire finished whatever was left in her cup and stood up, ready to leave.
But before any of the rest of us could do the same, Yuuko stood abruptly and stared at Claire quite bashfully before she said “T-thank you, Miss Claire. Even if we might have only come up with one idea, I’m still grateful for your help.” And then she bowed.
I had no idea why Yuuko went through the trouble of thanking her. After all, it wasn’t like Claire could see her. Maybe she just wanted to get the sentiment out, like if she felt it was the necessary thing to do.
But just as I was about to relay the information to Claire, she turned around to face Yuuko. "You're very welcome."
We were all caught off guard and a moment of silence passed before anyone spoke.
"You said you couldn't see Yuuko," I asked, waiting for her explanation.
"What does it matter if I can see her? The result would have been the same."
It was a very roundabout answer that in the end failed to actually answer anything. But I didn't want to press her on the topic. We finished discussing the whole situation with Yuuko with ghosts. It was getting late, and I felt as the three of us needed a bit of time to process what Claire had revealed to us.
With the night nearing 10 pm, we need to head home soon. But just as I was about to follow Shizuka and Yuuko out the cafe door, Claire placed her hand on my shoulder. When I turned around to see what she wanted, pulled me aside and said in a hushed voice "About that thing we spoke about a few days ago, I’ll be able to tell you about it soon."
And with that, Claire pushed me along into the chilly night. We had only kept the girls waiting for a moment, so I doubt they even noticed Claire pulling me aside.
Claire gave a short wave and started down the sidewalk. Seeing as the cafe wasn't far from Shizuka's house, I walked the girls home before finally returning to my own.
Tomorrow I would have to confirm my educated guess. I only hope that I'm right in the end. With thoughts swirling around in my head, I sauntered home beneath the moon hoping that my guess was as certain as the sun rising in the morning.