Original Stories
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Ghost Stories
Grave Importance
See Through To It


The World of Hybrids
The Stuff of Legends
The Birth of Legends [Worldbuilding]
Ideal With It
A Little Harmony
Out of My League


The World Made From A Wish
Type-Casting
The Final Front


Of Mana and Ether
Witch One?


Sisters of One Mind
An Open Book
Ever Mindful


Paths of a Fashion
Crossing Paths
Parallel Paths


Zzz... (Old, Iffy, Unsorted)
Focus
The World Was Made From A Wish
A Curious Kind of Tree





See Through To It

My afterlife was a generally quiet one. I had my old, familiar house all to myself, and I could pass the days in peace.

Yet Halloween night was a different story. My residence had become famous as a "haunted house attraction" for that particular day, and I was not one to let my visitors down. I had a job to do, and I did it well.

But I had never expected who would be spooking me.

——

It was October 31st.

"Trick or treeeat!"

No reply. The girl nudged her little brother. "Louder. I don't think they heard you," she grinned.

"Trick or treeeeeat!"

Still nothing. She tried the door, and feigned surprise upon finding it was open. "Let's just go in and get their candy. That's like, a Halloween rule."

"...Are you sure?", the boy asked, almost accusing in his doubt.

She shrugged. "I don't make the rules."

The sister stepped in first, and the floor loudly creaked as soon as she set a foot inside.

"Wow, this place is falling apart. You see any candy?"

"No... Oh!" The boy pointed across the room. "What's that sign say?"

"...Candy upstairs," the sister read. "Well now, that's just inconvenient. Look, you just go up and I'll stay here."

"W-Wha?", the boy stuttered. "But what if there's a... if there's someone up there?"

"Then you ask them for candy, duh. C'mon, you're a big kid."

The boy fearfully headed up the creaky stairs, while his sister remained by the door, chuckling to herself. No doubt she knew about this house, and brought her brother here to scare him.

Well, that didn't seem very nice to me.

While the boy was grabbing as much candy from the bowl upstairs as he could, he heard a scream from below. He hurried back down - I debated making the stairs crumble, and decided against it - to find his sister cowering, backed up into a corner.

"W-What happened?!"

"N... Nothing happened!! You're just hearing things! Forget the candy and let's go!"

"Oh, uh..." The boy held up his bag, significantly more full than it had been. "I got the candy, though."

"Good for you but let's go!!"

He consented, but gave one look back in the house, which appeared totally empty. "Did you see a spider or something?"

She glared at him. "No, of course I didn't see... a spider. Unrelatedly, I'm making a revision to those Halloween rules."

The two took off, and I shut the door behind them. Scaring one person directly and the other indirectly was a common approach I took with pairs like them, and it seemed particularly fitting in that case.

Before long, another pair came.

"Trick or treat!"

I said nothing. It was often best to wait and see what people did.

"I'm a dragon," the girl explained. "Or a dinosaur, whichever. That's my costume, I mean. It's cool! You should come see!"

I already could see it. It was pretty cute. While she patiently waited, someone who appeared to be her father kept trying to ring the broken doorbell.

Soon, though, they seemed ready to give up. Only when people started to wander away did I try to pique their interest and bring them inside.

The girl's father saw a light flicker upstairs. He cautiously opened the door, and -

"Ohh, hi! Trick or treat, gimme candy!"

I stared wide-eyed at the dinosaur girl, who was staring right at me in wonder. "E... excuse me? Why can you..."

She didn't seem to hear me. But she continued: "You do have candy, right?"

At a loss for words, I pointed to the sign. The girl gasped, nodded, and ran upstairs. Before long, she returned with her loot.

"Okay, thanks, ghost lady!", she waved, then politely shut the door behind her.

I leaned up against the door, and heard muffled conversation. "Hey, dad? Did you know there was a ghost lady there?"

"...No," he answered matter-of-factly.

"You think she always has candy, or..."

They soon went out of earshot, but I dared not follow.

In a rare move, I locked the front door.

——

November 1st was supposed to be a quiet day. They were all supposed to be quiet days, after Halloween. But this year was different.

I suppose that's not entirely accurate to say. Sometimes people would return for various reasons - to conquer their fear after being scared the previous night, say, or to look into who exactly organized all this every year. Wholly unrelated visits at other times of the year, too.

This girl's motives were somewhat different.

I had worried since her departure that she would later return, but thought myself safe when she failed to show by noon; I neglected to consider that she had to go to school.

Late in the afternoon, she knocked on the door. "It's me!", she called. After a brief silence: "I'm not a dragon anymore, but it's me!"

I unlocked the door, then quickly hid. I would just have to handle her like I would any other Halloween visitor. With more attention paid to not being seen, granted, since for some reason this girl could see me.

She wandered all around the house, opening drawers and knocking on objects in search of me. In one of them, she found some very old family photos.

"Is this you?", she said aloud.

Suddenly, the whole house began to shake. A painting fell off the wall, its frame shattered, and I emerged from the shards in the form of a terrifying...

"Is this you?", she repeated, showing me the picture.

"What's it mean to you?", I mumbled, annoyed that my attempted scare had completely failed.

Then I recalled that the girl hadn't seemed able to hear me last night. I pointed downstairs, and led her down to the kitchen.

There, everything began to shake again, but this time with purpose. The sounds of pots and pans and cupboards and everything overlapped until, with perfect clarity...

"And what if I said no?"

For once, the girl looked at me with admiration. "Wow, that's fancy," she quietly remarked.

"Answer the question," I said via the same process.

"Well," she said, looking at the picture and back to me, "you look like her."

"Sounds like confirmation bias," I yawned, still by means of kitchenware. "How can you be sure you're not hallucinating me?"

"Doing what to you?", she said, baffled. "I dunno what that even means."

"...I mean that you may only be imagining I exist," I explained.

"Why would somebody I'm just imagining use words I don't know?"

...Gah. Did she really just outsmart me?

So that was - I suppose, if we're counting - two approaches shot down. Perhaps the third should have come first: to find out why she could see me at all.

"Say I am a ghost," I began.

"You are a ghost!", the girl happily stated, apparently taking it to mean that I needed reassurance of that fact.

"...If I'm a ghost, then why can you see me?" Indeed, I had never met any living person who could; but I left that part out, just in case I could salvage the "hallucination" tack.

"Oh, that. Well, my mom tells me I have a "finity" for ghosts, or something."

"Your mother? And how would she know that?"

"I guess 'cause she's a ghost too," the girl shrugged.

"...O... oh. I see."

There was an awkward silence. To think, it had always been eerie silences in this house.

"...I guess you don't wanna talk to me, huh. That's fine," the girl said sadly.

Then she looked up at me expectantly. "Should I come back tomorrow? Your house is just on the way back from school."

My eyes shyed away, unaccustomed to looking at anyone head-on. I gestured for her to leave, and she did. But before she went off with her father...

"Amber," I told her.

The girl turned back to me and smiled wide.

"Cheryl!"

——

November 2nd was supposed to be... oh, forget it. It was supposed to be a day on which Cheryl came over, and so it was. Although, while I had ended up giving her my name the day before, I was having second thoughts.

I didn't like this. Why was she doing this? I couldn't imagine any reason for a girl her age to take such a sudden... "interest" in me. There had to be something else going on, and I was terrified not knowing what it was.

My thoughts were interrupted by the door being opened. Cheryl came over to the kitchen and walked around the counter behind which I was hiding. And there she found a highly grotesque -

"Hi, Amber! ...You look different today."

"Yes!", I spoke after a pause, making the kitchen extra rattly. "This is how I truly appear, foolish mortal!"

"Oh. That's okay. ...I didn't realize makeup could make such a big difference, but I guess I don't know anything about that yet."

I groaned. Actually, the other reason I didn't like this situation was Cheryl's uncanny ability to easily sidestep everything I was ever good at.

"It's not makeup, Cheryl. I'm a ghost. I can just change my appearance to whatever I want. See, look." I went back to looking as I had the day before.

She seemed impressed. "Wow, that's fancy too! My mom can't do that. She just looks like my mom!"

I had a slight desire to talk about her mother, but didn't want to be the one to broach the subject. "...Well, does she ever need to look like anyone else?"

Cheryl thought about it. "I guess not."

"That would probably be why. Myself, on the other hand? It would get rather old scaring people in the same form every time."

Just then, something seemed to click in her head. "You scare people?"

"Most people, but apparently not you," I dryly remarked.

"Well, I might've pretended to be scared if I'd known that," she said with a goofy smile.

Then she looked a bit more serious. "So that's why you don't want me here, huh?"

"...Hm? I don't understand."

"Well, I'd just get in the way if somebody came by for you to scare and I was here. I don't think I'd be any good at scaring."

I saw what her misunderstanding was. "No, you see, this house has a reputation as a Halloween attraction. All the people come on Halloween, and I scare them, because... that's what they've come to expect."

"Oooooh. What about the day after? Who comes then?"

"No one."

Silence.

"You mean... I'm the first?" She had a unique look of disbelief in her eyes, nothing like what I'd seen from her before.

"...More or less."

Cheryl stared downward in thought. "How can I be the first...?", she quietly voiced toward no one.

She looked back up. "But then, what do you do for the rest of the year?"

"Nothing in particular."

"For... like, for three hundred sixty-four days?!", she gasped. "And three hundred sixty-five on leap year!"

"It's not that long, honekhssh -"

My "voice" was distorted as Cheryl picked up one of the pots I was vibrating to interrupt me. How did she keep finding ways to throw me off-guard?!

"It is SO long! It's the distance between my birthdays! And let me tell you, that wait feels pretty - and wait, what about your birthday?! Unless that's on Halloween too?"

All of a sudden, Cheryl was asking me tough questions that perhaps shouldn't have been so tough. "I, um... I don't think so... but I don't really remember..."

"You forgot your birthday?!" She looked ready to cry.

I spoke as calmly as I could. "Listen, Cheryl. I'm a ghost. My "birthday" is meaningless to me now."

"...Only if you want it to be," she mumbled sadly.

After a long silence, she weakly asked, "Do you want to talk about anything?"

"No. Leave me alone."

She sighed in defeat. "Okay..."

Despite her best efforts, I wasn't shaken. She was still so young, and living; how could she possibly understand what it was like being a ghost, being me?

Right after she opened the door, she turned back to ask something, sounding a bit more cheery. "Hey, Amber? You can lock and unlock the front door whenever, right?"

"...Yes? Of course. Why would you even ask that?"

"Just checking," she said with a grin, then shut the door.

I gave the door a grumpy stare. What was she so happy about? How dare she just waltz in here and...

Oh. I see.

I let her waltz in.

——

November 3rd... When was the last time I even thought about a November 3rd?

Well, I was thinking about it now.

Cheryl came by at the same time she always did. The door was unlocked, of course. Still, though, I hid from her, despite being convinced by this point that Cheryl would always be able to find me eventually.

Before she even started to look for me, however, she shouted into the empty house. "Hi, Amber! Wanna talk today?"

I didn't reply, as I was both unsure of that and still felt like hiding. She continued: "I'm not really sure what kind of stuff makes you happy, but I brought some flowers. They're here on the table if you wanna see!"

After she set them down, she took a look around. "Hey, Amber? This is your house, right?"

Whose else would it be? She took the silence as confirmation. "Well, I'll look around and see if I can find out your birthday. Don't mind me!"

As she explored every inch of the house, I thought about what was even left for her to find. Surely some traces of my life in this house remained, but it wasn't something I often thought about, since it felt so irrelevant.

Then Cheryl gave a loud yelp upon making a discovery, and I was so surprised I threw the cupboard doors right open.

"Amber!", she exclaimed, running over to me with a notebook. "Oh my gosh, you didn't tell me you were from the future!"

"...I'm what?", I asked bemusedly.

"Look, right here," she said, opening the book and pointing to the corner of the page. "O-Oh, but I swear I didn't read anything, I was just looking at the dates..."

It was a diary, and I, too, didn't care to read the contents to find out whose it was. But as she was indicating, the entry was dated "4/8/18."

"Cheryl," I said, shaking my head slowly. "That's, um... think a century earlier."

Cheryl's eyes went wide, and she did some extremely quick finger-counting. "Then that means you're... that means you're, like...!"

"I'd hardly say that ghosts "age," but yes, I was surely born more than a century ago," I confessed. "My birth year is likely earlier than that one."

"There's nothing wrong with that!", she quickly told me.

I stared at her. "...Did anyone say there was?"

"Oh, well, no... but you didn't sound happy about it."

Yes, well, maybe I didn't care to be reminded how I died in this house old and alone.

...My mind went back to the flowers.

"So you want to make me "happy," is that it?"

Cheryl blushed, and for once seemed unable to look me in the eye. "W-Well... you'd like that, right? I can only assume scaring people makes you happy, but the rest of the year..."

I sighed to myself. Was that really all she was after, why she kept coming back? Because she wanted to make an old, decrepit ghost happy?

I had to show her her folly. Before, I'd taken on the youthful appearance Cheryl saw in my old family photos.

Now, I showed her how I looked at the age I died.

"Soon after my death," I explained, "people tried to buy this house. But having nowhere else to go, I couldn't let them. So I kept scaring them all away; it wasn't hard.

"Over the years, rumors about a haunted house turned to rumors about a Halloween setup. I delivered on that expectation, because that's all I know how to do.

"But "happiness" does not enter the equation. It's just me here. That's how it's always been, and always should be. Understand?"

Cheryl stared at me. "Wow... This house is that old? You've been here that long?"

"What, didn't you notice the constantly-creaking floors?", I scoffed.

She looked like she'd never been so shocked in her life. "I thought you were doing that!"

That misunderstanding aside, Cheryl looked distraught again, just like yesterday. How she could get so worked up over me, I had no idea.

"I know you must really love your home...", she assumed. "But don't you ever want to go outside? Especially since it's been so long..."

She should have known the answer to that, I figured, but apparently she didn't.

"Hey, Amber," Cheryl said, as if she just had an idea. "This place would be really cheap, right?"

"In terms of property value? Presumably, yes... No one wants it, what with the ghost always scaring them off."

"Then what if I buy the house? Then you don't have to worry about protecting it!"

"...That's... not exactly the reason..."

Cheryl was too swept up in excitement to listen. "And then we could go out places together! We could go to the movies, or a restaurant, or an amusement park..."

I slammed my hand down, accompanying it with a thud by spilling a pile of books off a shelf. "Stop talking and listen, please! You don't need to buy the house for us to - I mean, no, I'm not going to..."

I trailed off. She was beaming at me, clearly proud of her idea.

"...I think you would need to talk to your parents about this before anything else, Cheryl."

"More like you would," she corrected.

——

November 4th was different still. Not only did Cheryl bring her parents (though actually, her father had been waiting outside on all the previous days), but she came much earlier, because it was the weekend rather than a school day.

Weekends. Right. Those exist.

The family came through the door together, and Cheryl introduced us. "Hi, Amber! Mom, dad, this is Amber. Amber, this is mom and dad."

Her father looked around warily. "...Where is she, exactly?"

"Over here," I said from - and with - the kitchen.

"Didn't I tell you, dad?", Cheryl said to her startled father. "She can talk by just vibrating stuff. She's a pro!"

"That is rather impressive," her mother remarked. No one seemed to hear her, though, just me - and she did appear to be talking directly to me. I could already see how this would likely play out.

Still, I continued to talk such that everyone could hear. "Well, as you know, Cheryl has been paying me daily visits since... er, Wednesday, was it?"

Her mother nodded rather than speaking, so Cheryl could see. "Yeah... of course. I mean, I've been taking her here," her father commented.

"And it appears she wants to... well, ultimately, she wants to take me places outside this house. Which is something I'm unaccustomed to doing."

Cheryl's father shakily raised his hand. "Um... Sorry, can I excuse myself from this? I feel like you can handle this yourselves, and, uh... this whole vibration thing is kind of freaking me out."

I smirked. "Yes, I did have a feeling -"

"What did I just say?!", he shouted fearfully, holding a pan in place. Then he regained his composure and put his hands up. "Sorry. Sorry. I'll leave."

Cheryl watched him go, then remarked, "Yeah... Mom can't do anything like that, so he's not really used to it."

"If only I could," her mother said. "Back on topic, I'd absolutely be fine with Cheryl going on outings with you."

That came as a surprise. "...Really? But... she'd basically be all on her own. You don't let a kid that young go out alone, do you?"

"Alone? Hardly!", she smiled. "Not if you're as skilled a ghost as she tells me."

I folded my arms. "Listen, miss, you're putting a lot of stock in what your daughter thinks about some ghost she's known for less than a week."

She patted Cheryl's head. (Incidentally, Cheryl was infinitely curious what we were talking about, but appreciated the pat.) "Trust me, Cheryl doesn't just have an affinity for sensing ghosts. She can sense good-hearted people, too."

I shrugged. "Sure... whatever you say."

"She can handle herself, is my point. But I can accompany you two if you insist," she smirked. "Basically, I don't see any issue with her suggestion. Well, except... you don't want to go, do you?"

"Of course not," I spat. "Obviously I like to be alone. Why else would I choose an afterlife like this?"

A slight sorrow came to her bright eyes. "You know she wants to do this for you, right? Not for herself."

"Um... How's the conversation going?", Cheryl interrupted.

"Don't get your hopes up," I told her.

Her mother lightly sighed. "I'll have you know that Cheryl's helped me make the best of my afterlife. Obviously, it was a hard time for all of us when I died... especially for my husband, since Cheryl kept talking about seeing my ghost.

"But Cheryl got us through it. Without her help, I don't know what would have become of us all. Honestly, I value my daughter just as much after death as before.

"So you see, death doesn't have to change anything. ...Granted, it usually does."

Again with the weird quasi-platitudes... Cheryl was her daughter, all right.

"Well, I'm happy for you," I yawned. "I have no idea how your story has anything to do with mine."

She looked to Cheryl, then back to me. "She only wants to do the same for you."

I groaned. "Look, you can't make comparisons like that. You died young, didn't you? It's different."

"I don't see what age has to do with anything." She raised an eyebrow.

"It means that I'm not worth it!", I shouted, and Cheryl looked at me worriedly. "Say she goes through with this and manages to make me happy as can be. What does that get anyone?"

Cheryl's mother seemed to think the question didn't even need asking, its answer was so obvious. "You and her both being happy, mainly."

I stared at the floor. "...She would be happy, would she?"

"Well, of course." She paused, then her smile returned. "I'll let you two think about this."

Then she left us alone. After some thought, I spoke through the kitchen again. "Cheryl?"

"Yeah, Amber?", she asked excitedly.

"...Where to?"

——

It was still November 4th, and never before had a day felt so long.

And... I guess... that was a good thing?

When I told Cheryl that the wait between Halloweens wasn't that long, I certainly hadn't been lying. The days flew by, and it always came around again before I knew it.

But now... there was Cheryl. Every day, she came to visit at a fixed time and had to leave at a fixed time (though I'd made her leave earlier for the first few days). And every day with her was unpredictably different, and somehow memorable.

And I guess... that was a good thing.

Really, I had no choice but to mull over my own thoughts, because in the meantime, Cheryl was stuffing her mouth with ice cream.

"You sure you don't want some, Amber?", she asked with mouth still slightly full.

I put my finger to her lips, then wrote in the notebook she had in front of her. "Use this. Don't draw attention, and don't talk with your mouth full."

She didn't have anywhere to put down her cone to write, though, so she disregarded me and kept talking. "It's really good..."

"I'm sure it is, but for the last time, ghosts can't eat. Didn't your mother ever tell you that?"

"Yeah, mom can't, but I thought you might be able to. But I've brought mom here before anyway!"

I looked around, and surmised that may have been one reason why no one was batting an eye at her talking to thin air. How completely embarrassing.

We were in a mall food court, full of delicious treats the likes of which I'd never seen when I was alive. I would have loved to try some, if it were possible... so it felt more tortuous than anything.

So I could only watch Cheryl eat. Being that I hadn't even had taste buds in decades, I could only imagine the taste of the unfamiliar meal she'd had earlier, or of the cold, melty snack...

...Actually, it was very odd. Just by watching Cheryl enjoy the food, I felt like I actually could taste it. I didn't even know if it was something special about myself or her, or...

"Mmm! That was really good!"

"...It certainly was," I said, inaudibly.

"What was that?", Cheryl asked, since she'd seen my mouth move.

"Nothing. Let's just go," I wrote.

I neglected to ask where we were going, so as Cheryl led me through the mall, I looked around at all the shops she might have been leading us to. Many of them were equally unfamiliar to me.

The place we stopped at was not necessarily unfamiliar, but still baffling.

"Cheryl, this is absolutely preposterous. Surely you don't intend to buy me clothes..."

She heard the scribbling and opened up the notebook to read my message. "Well, yeah, I'm not stupid," she said aloud. "I know it'd be a waste of money to actually buy you a dress."

"Well then, why"

"But you can still try things on," she said as I was still writing, then closed the notebook and held it to her side.

I wrote "That's still so pointless...", but she didn't bother to read it.

Cheryl went around picking out outfits much too big for her, getting her some odd looks. She didn't seem interested in anything for herself, not that there seemed to be much for her at this particular store.

Once she'd gathered a good selection, she led me to the dressing room, and had me... um. Try them on.

Even in the privacy of the dressing room, with only Cheryl watching, I couldn't help but blush from sheer embarrassment. Not that ghosts naturally blush, but I made sure to so that Cheryl would hopefully get the message.

Yet she continued to egg me on to try on each successive outfit. "Have you considered being a model?", she remarked.

"...What do you think?", I wrote in the notebook.

"Well... I think you should."

I threw the dress aside - which I was, of course, wearing over the appearance of clothes already. "This is so awkward. I don't have a body. I'm just... holding the dress in the right shape."

Cheryl scratched her head. "Technically, living people do the same thing unconsciously..."

She went over to the dress and held it up to look it over, though she was too short to even keep it from touching the floor. "I dunno about you, but I'd love to wear something like this when I'm older."

"I'm sure you'd look great," I wrote without really thinking, though it was an honest remark.

"Might be a while before you get to see that, though," she mused.

"Hey, hold on," I wrote, pulling the dress out of her hands. "Who said I would be around that long?"

"You mean you're not planning on it?", she asked, looking a little surprised.

"Why should I? Look, don't answer that."

"You can't tell me you haven't been having fun," she said with a wry smile.

"Oh, I can."

"You can't!"

"And have you?"

"Of course!"

"...Well. Good. For you."

"For you, too!"

Cheryl just kept smiling at me. Ugh, why she did have to keep smiling at me?

"...Fine. Fine. We'll just see how things go tomorrow. Any ideas for tomorrow?"

And she just smiled.

——

Many, many days passed. But they did not pass quickly.

And that was good.

Cheryl couldn't get me to leave the house every day, but once we had exhausted a lot of the obvious places to go, she didn't always want to go out either. Sometimes we just sat and talked, though I was sure she could find someone who knew about more interesting and modern topics.

And for all her cheer, even Cheryl had sick days. Sometimes she would struggle to visit me even still, but if her father felt she was too sick to leave home, naturally, it wouldn't happen.

By the time the latter case first came up, I actually felt a bit lonely not seeing her.

I contemplated inverting the situation and coming to visit her for once, but it felt wrong. As a ghost, I could no longer get sick; what was I even supposed to say? And what could I do to help her that her family couldn't do just as well?

Of course, when she got better, she told me she missed me and wished I would have visited. So next time it happened, I did. ...But I still felt the same way.

Knowing my torment at being unable to eat food, Cheryl acted like Thanksgiving didn't even exist. However, she would later invite me over to her house for Christmas. Evidently it took her less than two months to convince herself I was like family.

I was unable to give gifts to any of her actual family, so I insisted I didn't want any myself. And while they ultimately complied, Cheryl was asking me nearly every day leading up to the 25th "what I wanted."

She kept her New Year's resolution secret from me. I couldn't think of one.

She did eventually find out my birthday: April 24th. I... forget the year. The primary constant in all celebrations of it was cake.

...It was always a delicious cake.

Her own birthday was June 6th. While she gladly received gifts from her parents, she didn't seek any from me, claiming my "company" was enough. Which seemed trite, if only because that was something she had nearly every day.

When Halloween finally came around again, it began to dawn on me just how big a part of my afterlife Cheryl had become, and myself a part of her life. She had realized this long, long before, of course.

"So what's the plan for tonight?", she asked.

"The same as every year, I suppose."

"Well, okay. But what about me?"

"What about you? You can just do as you please."

"But, like, should I stay here? Or go trick-or-treating elsewhere? I don't want to get in your way."

"...No, really. Do as you please. I won't mind."

She left around the usual time, which seemed to indicate she didn't want to stay. However, then she came back.

"Trick or treat!"

By now, I'd recognize that voice anywhere. I took a peek at her costume - it was the same thing as last year. But it seemed a bit small for her now. Or perhaps it always was?

Cheryl opened the door and warily proceeded up to the second floor. She spotted the candy bowl and began ransacking it, when suddenly she saw one of the pieces wriggling...

"Ahhhhh!!"

She fell over in surprise as the "candy" spilled out and crawled all over the floor. In the entire past year, I had never seen Cheryl lose presence of mind like that...

Then she turned to me and gave me a thumbs up and a smile. "That one was pretty good!"

Right. She had promised that, hadn't she.

——

Years passed in this similar way, yet never quite the same, and I witnessed Cheryl grow older. The kinds of dresses she'd shown interest in were still a distant target, but she was thinking that far ahead.

In time, Cheryl's old proposal, ridiculous and childish as it had once seemed, did come to pass: her family bought the house. Renovations were made, but I was always included in discussions of such things to preserve the house's general aesthetic.

Eventually, Cheryl made plans to move from her parents' house for good.

One might say we were very happy.

One day, not long after she brought up those plans, I talked to her. "You've really grown, Cheryl."

"I guess I have," she smiled, more mature yet no less cheerful.

"So I think it's about time I move on."

Cheryl was thrown off at once. "Wait, what's that supposed to mean?"

"I suppose it means..." I sighed. "It's been wonderful, it's true. But maybe this shouldn't go on any longer."

"No, but, wait... "move on." What exactly does that mean?"

I ignored the question.

"You could do this for anyone, Cheryl. I could see that from very early on. ...You don't need to be stuck back here with me."

"Don't I keep telling you not to talk so negatively?", Cheryl reminded with a hint of annoyance. "Here is where I want to be. ...For you."

I looked away. "And why me? You have so much to live for still. Other people - living people - would love to know you, and they'd make you happier than I ever could."

"Well... Well, but that doesn't mean you have to..." She trailed off.

This hadn't been an easy topic to broach, and I couldn't find the words anymore; were I to do such things, I would have certainly been crying.

So I gave her a "hug" - immaterial, but she appreciated it nonetheless.

"...I understand. Don't worry. I'll stay with you."

Cheryl nodded, and her tears were kept at bay.



"...for as long as I can."

——

Nobody needed to tell me what day it was.

Was it Amber's favorite day? Maybe not, maybe not anymore. But I think it had become mine.

I got out of bed and put my feet on the floor. A different floor from the one my bed used to be on, but I was quickly getting used to it.

"Nice and creaky like always," I commented. "They should like that, huh?"

I went about my morning business, bathing, brushing, eating.

But I didn't see Amber anywhere.

"Are you going to make me look for you?", I chided. "It's not Easter, it's Halloween! You know?"

Oh well. She'd show up by night, I figured.

While I was upstairs, I noticed the candy was already set out. No doubt she was here somewhere if she'd prepared that.

Then it struck me: Amber must have been planning to actually scare me for once! Now that I couldn't wait to see - whether it was actually successful or just hilarious.

Before I knew it, I heard the doorbell, and still had not seen nor heard Amber.

"Trick or treat!"

I brought the candy bowl down and opened the door. "Hi there! Oh, cute costume!"

The two of them gave me an empty stare. "W... who're you?"

"Hm? I'm Cheryl. I live here."

"Someone... lives here?", the young man said, befuddled.

"Well, yeah! That's what people do in houses. Now, how about I give you what you came here for?", I said, reaching into the bowl.

"Uh, if you don't mind my asking, miss," the woman with him interrupted, "what happened to the... usual festivities, I guess you'd call them?"

"Ohh, the usual festivities!", I nodded with a smile as I handed the confused young man a handful of candy.

"...Yes. Those."

I smiled at them both for nearly a minute straight, then slowly shut the door.

"...Really different tactics this year, huh," the youth said as they walked away.

"Getting very psychological, yes."

Once they were gone, I slumped down on a chair. "I'm no good at scaring people, Amber. You know that. Come on, help me out."

But the night passed with many awkward disappointments at the door, and Amber was still nowhere to be seen.

"Is this about what we discussed the other day?", I questioned. "Are you going to hide until I find a boyfriend or something? Because you know, there is this guy..."

Still silence.

"No, seriously, there is! Come on, Amber, at least say something."

I gave the house another search, until finally, I found the notebook we - or she, at least - always used for communication while we were in public.

I flipped through page upon page of memories, and blank pages of things yet to come, until I found it on the very last page.



"You were seeing something that wasn't there."



I closed the notebook and shut my eyes tight.

"Okay, Amber," I said to, ostensibly, the abyss. "I'll move on. I know you want nothing more than my happiness. So I'll find a way."

I opened my eyes, picked up the notebook, and stood up to look around, as if I'd overlooked her somewhere obvious.

"But not because you failed in any way. Not because you didn't make me happy. Because... you did have a heart. No matter what you thought."

I gulped. I had to put the notebook down. I didn't want Amber to see me cry.

"Either way," I declared, hoping Amber was listening somewhere, "I'll see through to it."


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