Start With a Ghost
rating: +14+x

The city skyline had never looked so appealing as it did the night I first met a ghost. It looked black, choked with fog, and all-consuming compared to the vibrant streetlights around us, which emanated blinding neon shades of what used to be my favorite colors. In this glowing concrete maze I called home, the messiness of which I used to appreciate before it impeded my wild sprint, I dashed frantically through the streets and wondered if the smog was what allowed the ghost to appear despite all of the lights around. I thought of asking Darryl after we escaped. I would never get the chance.

I glanced to my left and saw the person running next to me. Darryl was a lanky young man who did not seem like the type of person to want—or have the strength to, for that matter—to dash through the streets and weave between cars and passersby to help someone, but that is exactly what he did for me. He didn't have to help me. After all, I was the one who triggered the chase, and the ghost wouldn't go after a second target after it had me. I knew he knew this, but he still refused to leave me on my own.

As we hurried through the city, I tried to suppress the torrent of emotions that could have caused me to lose my nerves completely.

I recall myself as a teenager standing in the basement of my grandparents' house. Or, rather, my grandmother's house now. Granddad had just passed on and I was visiting Grandmother to make sure she was mourning all right. It was a Saturday afternoon, however, and I forgot how she used to leave on those afternoons with her friends before her loss. In effect, I visited an empty house, but I didn't mind; she hadn't really stirred much since Granddad's death, and it was nice to see her going out again. I used a spare key to get in, deciding that I would wait for her to return, and wandered around the three-story residency for awhile until I came to the basement. I stood next to Darryl, who I invited along the way. Well, not exactly "invited". What happened was much more similar to him inviting himself and me reluctantly agreeing. At any rate, he had been excited—probably even thrilled—at the prospect of going to a house that once housed someone that recently died. His family dealt with what he called "Spectral Activity", and he wanted to attempt some of his weird demonic rituals or whatever. I hadn't been paying attention. Now, he was staring into the depths of the basement that served as additional storage space for the house. He was muttering something, akin to either an intense spell or a harshly said recipe for banana cake. I stepped a little closer to understand what was going on…

Darryl's light voice snapped me out of my thoughts. "Turn right right here, Liz." We had reached a calm intersection, mostly devoid of human presence. The intersection was near the border between the hectic center of the city and the outskirts of the city. I looked down the right street and was greeted by dilapidated buildings. The left had newer houses and shops, filled with tantalizing lights that warmed me to the core.

"Why not go to the left?" I wondered aloud, stupefied as to why we were heading towards a rundown row of houses for my death.

"Because you might not have to die after all—if you follow me." With that, he ran off down the right-hand path, not looking back to ensure I was following.

I looked behind me. The enraged ghost was only a blue speck on the horizon, but I knew that would change soon. I needed a way to save myself, but running seemed to be pointless. Darryl seemed to know what he was doing, though, and that was more than what I had. I ran after him, my feet pounding on the concrete, similar to how my heart was pounding in my chest.

During the dull patter of my feet, I slipped back into my mind.

As I approached Darryl, he turned to me with a grave face. "There's something wrong here," he said. "Give me a moment to think." He looked toward me, and I, not being able to withstand his gaze looked off behind him. I could make out a dim glow in the darkness; it was an eerie blue. "What's that—" I started. The blue thing began to move. It started to turn lethargically. In the next moment I saw its face and I almost screamed.

After about a minute of running, I managed to catch up with Darryl, who had stopped in front of a red-bricked building that vaguely resembled an apartment complex. "Why have we stopped?" I asked. "This doesn't seem like the proper place to hide from a ghost."

He responded, as cryptic as ever, "But it is the proper place to get to one. Hurry, now! Get in." He flung open the front door without further care and nearly leaped through the foreboding boundary. I stepped through carefully, starting to doubt the soundness of Darryl's solution.

Thinking back, Darryl must have known what was going on. Right after he saw my expression, he pushed me back up the stairs to the basement. "It's time to take our leave!" Darryl was practically shouting. We ran up and out of the house together in a frenzy, with me trying to ask questions and Darryl trying to convince me that it was not the time. The rest of it was a daze, except when the glowing thing creeped up behind us. We were almost out of the house when I heard a desperate groan. I turned to face the shade and my veins were filled with fear. It had the face of my grandfather, wrinkles and all, but the body of a hag. The thing wore stained robes, ripped at the edges and crawling with some presence I later found out was fear. Before I could be horrified any longer, Darryl stepped in between me and the specter and chanted faster than my mother did when she was berating me for leaving the house without telling her. The ghost was pushed back all the way through the house to the basement—only a one-minute walk. Once more, Darryl turned to me. "Let's go now." I didn't argue with him and leaped outside.

We were zooming through the building, with Darryl leading the way, when my pace halted suddenly as if I had no more steps in me. The walls around me had paintings strewn around them, some lying uselessly on the ground. Some leaned against the wall like they had no other option if they wanted to stay upright…

Where were we going? What was I doing? A ghost was after us for sure, and from all the tales that Darryl's told me, the next step is usually to find someone that's more experienced rather than run and hide into a closet…

Darryl was a few paces ahead, and he turned around after I stopped. "What's the matter?"

"What are we *doing*, Darryl? Why are we running to a place where there's nowhere left to run? Shouldn't we get some help?"

Darryl was panting a little. "Help won't be of use with your issue."

"And why is that?"

"Because exorcists deal with spirits that have no choice to stay. Your grandfather wasn't staying because of his own issues, he was staying because he was trapped in the basement. I only felt the encapsulation ward when I actually tried to contact the ghost, and I realized that it was a planned move." He moved closer to me, so I could see the worried look in his eyes. "I think it was planned, Liz."

My eyes had wandered off into one of the paintings next to him. An acrylic version of our city, bright and smoggy and all. "…So what are you proposing…?"

He took a deep breath, like he held a truth I didn't want to hear but was choking him even more. "I know that you know what happens to people that get cursed with ghosts…And I think that given what's happened…It's safe to say that someone's after you. Look don't say anything, don't think about it right now—" What an insane person—How could I not think of the *why*? "—But it could have something to do with inheritance, or secrets, or really anything, and without knowing more, it just isn't safe for you. As for why we're here…There's something like…Another dimension here. You know all those fairy tales with a portal or something of the sort? It's like that, but more oddly specific! Uh, well…I would explain but I need you to trust me."

I looked intently still at the painting; it's not that I didn't trust him, it's not that I was afraid of confronting him…I knew very well that he had a better grasp than I did, and after all, he was my friend, wasn't he? But that was the issue: I didn't want to leave the picture-perfect cityscape, I didn't want to leave all the people like him. Despite the dog leftovers, the random crimes, the old and young grumps, and, of course, the ghosts…

We continued through the building at a fast-walking speed, and this time I felt more security, more certainty, and frankly, more despair. Darryl assured me we could be a little slower now, especially since even if grandpa's ghost were in the building, ghosts take longer to navigate hallways than snakes. I almost explained that snakes can move fairly fast if needed, but I bit my tongue. I glanced at all the random fixtures attached to the wall as we strolled hurriedly and asked, "What is this building, anyway?"

"It's an art studio complex. Local artists and all that jazz. Except jazz, ha. Everything's locked down because of an accident and an investigation I think…Anyway, the only door that's not locked is the front one, and that's perfectly fine with me."

"Wait, what do you mean an investigation?" My heart spiked a little, and my voice showed it. "Are there more ghosts here?"

"No. I mean, that's what everyone first thought—that's how I heard of this place—but it's actually better. Oh, and we're here."

I shivered. We had stopped in front of a gaping stairwell, full of darkness and stone steps.

Darryl, why?

"Now I know what you're thinking. 'Darryl, this looks like another ghost hotspot!' Trust me, it's the portal. Now, I want you to stand here…Yeah, and turn around…" I complied, even though I felt nervous around the stairs. Turning my back on it would not have been my first action to take.

"Darryl, that's not actually what I was thinking. I was thinking that I would miss everything. That I would miss you." A beat of silence. "Are you coming with me?"

"It's not really possible for me to come with you, at least not easily…" He stepped right in front of me and leaned in. "I'm going to miss you, too…"

Then, with strength that Darryl shouldn't have, *he pushed me down the stairs*. Surprisingly, I didn't feel pain, I didn't feel stone, and I didn't feel like I had just been consumed by the demon of the stairs.

I opened my eyes, which I had closed because of my stupid expectations, and I looked around me. I did not see my family, I did not see a city, and I definitely did not see Darryl.

All I saw were shelves, stretching miles and miles around. And in front of me, a book titled A Collectione of Pamphletts to Defeeting the Undeade. It was on a table, strewn with charms and wards; two cups of tea, my favorite kind; a sweater that I thought I lost weeks ago; and two chairs, with soft personalities of their own. There was no one else around, and nothing was special about the lighting, but I felt safer. I took my eyes off the table and chairs and gazed again around me, at the shelves. This was the fantasy-land he talked about. He spoke like it was some strange world, or something that would throw me into another adventure, that's not what I saw. All I saw was hope. I looked back at the table and found my eyes lingering on another book. Sights to See in the Library with the People You Care About, Fourth Edition.

All I saw was Darryl, who was still with me after all.

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