Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Rated 16+ for Emi swearing once.
The road was just as empty as it had been when I had been walking home from the bus stop. The neighbors who usually spent their afternoons tidying up their gardens and yards were nowhere to be found; the heat was too much for even them. I hadn’t exactly expected to see anyone on a hot day like today, but it wasn’t all that reassuring to be walking through an empty street after seeing a ghost. I could use the comfort of another person.
I started to hum Livin’ on a Prayer underneath my breath. I knew I should have brought my earbuds on my makeshift trek, but the past was in the past. I’d have to trust my memory - and see if the song could last me until I reached the library. The more I walked, the louder my humming got. By the time I reached the street it was on, I had an entire performance going on - my body swaying to the tune, and the hum becoming a soft but audible cover of the actual lyrics.
Which was when I bumped into a man lingering in the shadows of one of the many trees littering the side of the road.
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “Watch where you’re going.”
The man had been staring at a house on the other side of the road with dark eyes – so dark that they were almost black. He turned to look at me with a mix of disbelief, confusion and exasperation. It was a look I was very familiar with. “You bumped into me.”
“You’re the one standing on the side of the road,” I argued.
“Is it a crime?”
The words should have had some sort of bite to them - it felt like he was trying to make fun of my insistence that he had wronged me. But something about the tone and how soft-spoken he was just seemed...innocent. Like he seriously didn’t know if it was a crime or not. Which, obviously, was a little weird, but he wasn’t a ghost. I hadn’t gone through him.
It was just two weird things in a single day.
“...No,” I grumbled. “It’s not.”
He let out a quiet, relieved sigh.
“I apologize for getting in your way, then,” he said.
Now he sounded amused.
I frowned and slipped past him.
There was a pause. A few moments passed. Just when I thought I was in the clear - and just when I was starting to step onto the library’s property - the man suddenly tapped me on the shoulder.
I spun around.
“What?” I said.
“I’m lost,” he admitted. “I’m here to visit a friend of mine, but I can’t find their house. Can you point me in the right direction?”
Something felt off and wrong about this. I could have gone rushing into the library. I should have gone rushing into it. But there was just something about him that made him intriguing; something strange that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
A sigh escaped my chapped lips.
“What’s the address?” I asked.
“35 Woodland Court.”
“...I see,” I said. “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your friend’s name?”
The man faltered.
I wasn’t sure why he wasn’t answering me on that one, but my suspicions had been raised. Maybe he really was planning on visiting a friend there. Maybe he wasn’t. Whatever the case was, I wasn’t planning on sharing any information with him until he answered some of my questions.
“You sound protective,” he commented. He wasn’t looking at me anymore. He was looking at some random speck on the horizon; I could practically hear the gears turning in his mind.
I crossed my arms and shrugged.
“I’m just curious,” I innocently replied.
His gaze returned to me.
“You don’t trust me,” he guessed.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The man sighed and ran his fingers through his surprisingly long black hair.
And then, suddenly, his expression changed. The frown that had been dancing across his lips turned into the beginnings of a smile. His eyebrows lifted up. And there was a kind of...twinkle in his eyes, like this was the best thing that had possibly ever happened to him.
“You live there,” he said.
Well, that little charade was up.
“Yeah,” I said. “No shit. Why else would I be asking so many-”
He was gone.
The man was gone.
I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and pinched my arm - wincing at the pain - for good measure. But no matter what I did, the man was nowhere to be found. He had vanished into thin air, just like that ghost had before.
A chill ran up and down my spine.
Even in the scorching almost-summer sun, I couldn’t help but feel cold.
...I rushed into the library.