Chapter 3: Stillborn

After the exorcism, Naru had the three of us search the house for anything that could have been a vessel of sorts for spirits. At one point Takigawa found a pull down ladder to the attic, and since Ayako hated dust and spiders like the plague and Takigawa was uncertain the decayed wooden rungs of the ladder would hold his weight, I was sent up with a flashlight.

“You’re such a baby,” I muttered loud enough for her to hear. “If I get bitten by a black widow and die, it’s going to be all your fault.”

“Technically it will be all Naru’s,” said Ayako with a sniff.

It took more than a little bit of courage to poke my head up past the floorboards. Nose full of the must of forgotten space and mildew, I brought up the flashlight. The edges of its beams were foggy, as though the air itself had gathered layers of dust. The roof had the traditional paper wrapped fiberglass insulation stuffed in-between the eaves, and, of course, streamers of cobwebs slung here and there like a spider party. Despite that, the attic was large enough to count as another floor in and of itself, with room to stand and more. I could even see a covered window at one end.

“See anything?” said Takigawa.

“A few boxes,” I moved the light towards the west side to see how wide the place was. Another wood paneled wall held up the idea that this could have been a room unto itself. Most attics I knew just had the roofs slope down until they met the floor. Along this wall were more boxes, and a few antique pieces of furniture. “And I think a dresser and table, maybe a half a dozen chairs or so.”

“Well, are you going to check them out or not?”

I shot him my best ‘are you freaking kidding me?’ look over my shoulder. He just sent me an equally incredulous look back.

“After all the things we’ve faced, you’re going to let some dried out house spiders and maybe a dead mouse scare you?”

“Shut up, Monk, don’t you know freaky stuff always happens in the attic? Attics and basements.”

“Then just use the warding magic I taught you. Besides, we did exorcise the house already, there’s probably nothing.”

“Except rats that could bite me and give me malaria.”

Ayako snorted. “You can’t get malaria from rats, now just get up there already. If anything happens I’ll shove Monk up with you.”

Takigawa grimaced. “Gee, thanks, though I don’t see you rushing in to help.”

I sighed through Ayako’s second round of excuses about phobias and nails and hair while climbing up onto the dusty floor. I stood up slowly, leery of sticking my head into a nest of cobwebs, used or unused and swung my flashlight across the wall of furniture and boxes.

“What am I suppose to be looking for anyways?”

“You’ve got a sixth sense, don’t you?” called up Takigawa.

“Ugh, for the last time, it’s not as reliable as you lot seem to think it is.”

“And for the last time, it is. Now hurry up. Wouldn’t want you catching malaria.”

I smiled as Takigawa chuckled at his own joke and Ayako scoffed.

After taking a few steps deeper into the attic, I allowed myself to fall into the cautious security that a tarantula wasn’t about to drop on my head. I did see a few daddy long legs scurry for cover when I moved the first box, but other than that the attic seemed to be rather clean. The heavy layers of dust seemed to only be on the floor and some of the boxes, which turned out to be filled with yellowing layers of old classified newspapers. Thinking they might hold at least a little more information on the previous owners, I shouted a heads up to those below and got ready to lift.

Warm and dark red. My world played a steady tho-rump—tho-rump one after the other, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, offset by the cadence of muffled voices, one of which always rumbled around me. I’d blink to darken my world, squeeze hands that didn’t always listen, and try to explore the planet I floated in.

But the dark red was growing a darker dark than I had ever experienced. A darkness off set with bursts of burning blue stars that swallowed the tho-rump. It hurt. It hurt. It hurt. I opened my mouth to scream, but of course, I had never screamed before, and what would there be to scream for? What could change?

Dark dark dark.

The box of newspapers dropped on my toes. I gasped, which turned into a cough as unsettled dust clogged my windpipe.

“Mai? You okay?”

Head spinning, I crouched back down to my box, hacking for air. What had just happened? Had I stopped breathing there for a moment? If it had been a vision, it had been nothing like those I’d had before.

Just as I caught my voice, Monk appeared at the top of the ladder, half-lit by the flashlight on the floor.

“Mai!”

“I’m fine,” I said as he made his way over. “Just caught off guard. Ladder break on you?”

“Surprisingly, no, but let’s not test our luck.” He crouched down to my level. “You really all right? You look like you’ve had a vision or something, and one of the bad ones.”

“I don’t know. It was…so weird.” I shivered with a sudden chill. “Whatever, can we just get this out already? Since you’re up here anyways you can check out the other stuff for whatever.”

There must have been something in the way I said this, for Takigawa didn’t argue and helped me down with an unusually solemn expression. I didn’t wait to help with the boxes, but left Ayako to catch the ones he tossed down. Lucky paper wasn’t that heavy.

I couldn’t stay. I had to go somewhere—get somewhere safe.

My arms wouldn’t stop trembling. Even back on the ground floor, where most of the heating was, I still felt cold. The throbbing tho-rump of the vision stuck somewhere against my back, as though it were a thing rather than a place that had jumped on for a piggy back ride.

The handles of the folding doors to base were warm against my fingers.

Naru at first glanced up as he usually did, as though intending to go right back to whatever he was doing once he knew who it was invading his space, but then he stopped.

“Mai?”

The moment I heard him speak my name I was across the room and at his feet, wrapping my arms tight about one of his legs. I craved the warmth of his calve through his pant legs. So cold, so dark—this was safe. Naru was safe.

He flinched. “What’s gotten into you?”

I couldn’t say. I didn’t understand myself. It wasn’t like I’d seen anything gruesome.

But then what was this empty, raw, unstable apprehension? Why couldn’t I stop shaking? Maybe I was possessed? No, that couldn’t be it. I had been possessed enough times to know what that would be like.

A book snapped closed above my head. “Get a hold of yourself. I’d like my leg back.”

My tight muscles protested as I yanked them back and scrambled to get back onto my feet with as much dignity as possible. “Sorry, I—”

My knees gave in like paper. Naru’s lap teetered with the world and I reached out to catch myself.

A squeak of a chair, and Naru held me by my shoulders. I could feel the heat of his fingers even through my long sleeved shirt.

I fumbled for my footing.

“Sorry…sorry…” Why did I still feel light headed?

“What happened?”

Another squeak of chair legs and Lin had turned from his laptop to us.

“Nothing! I-I’m just a b-bit thrown off by a vision thingy, just give me a moment.”

“You ran in here and hugged my leg,” he said flatly. “I know my legs are especially attractive, but I don’t see how that’s a comfort, unless what you saw was especially ugly. What did you see?”

I managed to straighten my legs long enough to push away from him and onto the squashy couch. The fire had warmed it. I could have purred. “Not much…”

Ocean-cool eyes flashed. “Mai—”

“I’m serious! All I saw was a bunch of dark-red, like blood, all around me, except it wasn’t wet or anything—though I guess I was also floating in…something…”

“What about you’re other senses? Hear? Feel? Touch?”

“Not much there either…” I dug my hands under my thighs, hoping to thaw them. I couldn’t shake the longing to be back on the floor, wrapped about his leg, just because it meant that I was with him, touch him, ‘grounded’ by him, no matter what he said contrary.

A thin log cracked in the fireplace, spewing orange bright sparks up the chimney.

Then I knew.

“I was in the womb.” I pulled out my hands and tucked them under my arms. My thighs weren’t working. “The heartbeat, the floating…”

Naru settled himself back onto his chair, serious scowl still in place. “Then what unsettled you so badly? Surely that wasn’t it.”

Shivering, fingers aching with the warmth of my arms, I looked up at him and wanted; his warmth, his presence, his acknowledgement, his affections…him.

I slammed my thoughts down there and swallowed.

“I…died.”


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