Chapter 2: You Always Start By Feeling Useless

“My research tells me that nothing out of the ordinary ever occurred in this house, besides the father of the previous owner having a borderline obsession with Thailand. The owner before him built the house in the late 1940’s during the economic boom, but soon after had to sell due to the recession. But our Thai fan made quite a living off of collecting and selling Thai antiques. He lived here till he died in 1996, afterwards which the house was empty until his son could sell it in 2003 to our client. Apparently the disturbances didn’t start until he had been here for a week or so. For a while he passed it off as some malfunction of the house and slept with earplugs until the contractors he had hired could find the flaw. Since they found none, and also with the development of the crying getting past said earplugs, our client grew desperate to be able to sleep in his own home and that is where we come into the picture.” Naru snapped the narrow black folder closed. “And before you ask, no, a baby hasn’t died here in the past, nor has any children at all.”

We had all gathered back to base, in front of the lone lit fire in the seemingly abandoned house, to eat our pasta and breadstick lunch and get the info from our boss. Takigawa, Ayako, and I enjoyed the deliciously comfy huge couch while Naru and Lin sat in their metal folding chairs. Naru could have not moved once from his spot since I’d woken up that morning, just staring at his laptop and listening to the screeching baby recordings over and over.

“Was there anything here before the house was built?” I asked, twirling noodles about my fork. “We did have that one case where the spirit didn’t inhabit the house itself, but a well that it had built over.”

“I’m currently looking into that possibility, but so far I haven’t found any records of the previous owners even having the same issue as our Mr. Hinogashi. Like I stated before: nothing extraordinary has ever happened in this house.”

“Until now,” said Ayako, daintily sipping at her tea. “Are you sure the owner isn’t running some secret baby killing clinic in the basement or something?”

“Who the hell would run a baby killing clinic?” I cried.

“The house doesn’t even have a basement,” said Naru dryly. “I’ve double verified this during my standard exam of the ground beneath. There isn’t even a hole, and I highly doubt our client is the type of man to have anything to do with children. He likes his quiet, which is partially the reason why we will have the house to our selves until the end of the case. With that in mind I would appreciate it if none of you did anything that might stain the carpets, such as slurping your spaghetti like a five year old.”

Just as he said that, the noodle I’d been sucking up smacked me between the eyes. I gave him my best big eyed, innocent look and prayed there wasn’t red sauce around my mouth as well. He just gave me the usual ‘you’re an idiot’ look.

Ugh, how did I ever fall in love with this man?

“Since you’ve gotten a feel for the house and the situation, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Takigawa-san?”

“Since you’ve ruled off a site-bound spirit, I think we might be dealing with a possessed vessel of sorts. Maybe the problem isn’t the house, but something the client owns. Do you think it would be okay if we looked through his stuff for anything that might hold the spirit of a baby?”

Naru nodded. “I’ve already called to ask just that. My thoughts were much the same. Ayako?”

“I think you best get on with that info on what might have been here before the house was built. It could be a spirit attached to the earth itself.”

“But that’s where it get’s strange,” Takigawa put his plate down and set his chin upon his folded hands, thoughtfully. “I’ve never heard of an infant ghost, because infants don’t know enough to be held back from passing on. They’re completely innocent—pure. No hatred, no jealousy, no anger or anguish.”

“Perhaps it’s not a baby,” I added. “It could be the spirit of a young mother whose death somehow connects with her baby, or the death of her baby.”

“And what, she could be broadcasting her baby’s cries to the rest of us and nothing else just for giggles?” Naru’s skepticism grated on me like sandpaper to old paint, and I scowled.

“Why not? You can’t know everyone’s reasoning or emotions, can you? Everybody’s different.”

“I was not denying your hypothesis. Just expressing how very unlikely it is.” Before I could think of another comeback to that—something about his know-it-all snootiness being wrong on occasion and when I had been right on those same occasions—he slapped the clipboard onto the coffee table. “Enough chit chat. We can make guesses all day, but the reason won’t matter so much as we can get rid of it. Takigawa, are you up to a cleansing? John’s busy, so I only plan on calling him for backup in case of an emergency.”

“Hey, what about me!”

He leveled his ice blue gaze on Ayako. “Some protective charms for each of our rooms would be nice, just in case. Oh, and if you’re feeling up to it, I guess you can try your hand in exorcising the spirits.”

“You guess?” A tick had started somewhere above her left eye. “Why you bratty little—“

I broke in across her, raising my fork like a hand in the classroom. “What about me?”

Naru just crossed his arms. “What about you?”

“Don’t you have something I can do?”

The smirk he gave me was one I knew all too well, and which was less common then the ‘you’re a moron’ sneer. Even though I knew some smart-ass insult was about to follow, my gut still writhed with heat at the sight as a part of my mind brought up that same smirk in a much different situation, one which no girl my age with any morals should think about.

“How about you clean up your spaghetti face? Or do you need me to do that for you too?”

Luckily, the heat of my anger managed to cover the blush.

“Did you have to make it sound so insulting? Man, Naru, you are such a jerk! I was just asking what I could do to help!”

“Duly noted,” he turned back to Ayako and Takigawa as though I hadn’t just turned volcano in his face. “We’ll be watching from here.”

The priestess and monk nodded and headed out to get started. I waited, fists clenched, my teeth squeaking against each other. When he continued to sit there on his laptop like the arse he was, I threw up my hand.

“Fine! I’ll be in the kitchen doing homework. If you need me, don’t bother, because it isn’t like I’ll be any help fighting off spirits anyways.”

Before he could say anything—not like he tried—I stomped after Ayako and Takigawa and took a swinging left on the other side of the stairs, where another smaller hallway led to the spacious, modern, granite topped kitchen.

Even though Mr. Hinogashi had given us full reign of the kitchen, I still hesitated as I filled up the teapot of water and dug through one of the vast cupboards for a suitable tea—not earl grey, for sure. Only God knew how many cups of that I’d had to make for Naru the tea-addicted-narcissist.

While the water heated up, I jogged out and took the stairs two at a time to grab my homework from my room. The landing of the hallway stretched wide to either end, and a porch of sorts ended the west side, where my room was. If it weren’t winter outside, I would have loved to get out of this stifling rich house to get some sun. All the velveteen drapes, Persian rugs, and hardwood paneling had started to feel just a tad bit stifling. Even grabbing my backpack from besides the four poster bed I slept on the night before had a comforter I didn’t even want to know the price of.

The teapot was whistling by the time I got back. I pulled it off, filled my teacup, and boosted myself up onto the fine black granite counter to tackle my trigonometry. While math wasn’t my best subject, it also wasn’t my worse. I found the cold meticulous logic comforting at times when I wanted my brain to turn off, which of late happened to be often.

Because the buzz of a rejected heart is nothing but a nuisance.

Minutes passed in cautious mathematical peace. At some point I used my fingernail to trace a symbol of an angle in one of my triangle diagrams before taking a careful sip of hot tea. Mmm, peppermint. So not earl grey.

Three more equations, a triangle found all its sides, and the heater started humming hot air into the grates. The metal ‘S’s that held cupped lights on the ceiling didn’t flicker once. Every appliance gleamed with stainless steel, every cupboard made of the best wood.

So quiet. I couldn’t even hear the sounds of Monk’s and Ayako’s footsteps, or the whirr of Naru’s computers across the main hallway.

I took another sip of my tea. The tip of my pencil had frozen on a broken equation with too many variables. Why did they always use ‘x’? What was the point of even learning this stupid stuff anyways? It wasn’t like I wanted to go into computers or math or anything. It wasn’t like I even had a plan for my life other than…

Almost as though triggered by my train of thought, the whimpering mewls of a baby started up somewhere above me. A heavy aching twisted my heart, as though with wires.

There just aren’t ghosts of babies.

“I don’t think I even want to know…”

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