“Did you see it?! Did you see?!”
“I knew it! I was right, wasn’t I? It’s a ghost, right? Right?”
Looking back at the house—the empty mansion that sat in between the clearing and the woods—I saw the eyes again. In the upper floor’s window, I saw the yellow eyes. The lingering feeling of something lost. Of something in need of being found.
I could not say what it was.
“I don’t think it’s a ghost,” I said, crushing my friend’s hopes and dreams, quite coincidentally, really. “It doesn’t feel like a ghost.”
Ghosts don’t have that feeling of needing to be found, do they? When a ghost lingers, they linger for a reason. They aren’t lost, they don’t need to be found. They simply wish to be left to their own purposes. Left to fulfill their perceived duty.
They don’t look lost.
They don’t need to be found.
And they don’t look scared out of their whits.
When I returned to the house, I made sure I came without anyone else.
I figured more people would scare him.
When I entered the mansion, I didn’t shout. Didn’t knock. Didn’t announce my presence. Honestly, I didn’t think there was a need to.
I made my way immediately to the top floor. To the room where I saw him looking out. Where I last saw those yellow, glowing eyes.
I wanted to find him.
Ask him why.
Why he was hiding.
Why here, of all places.
Why he’d lost himself.
Ask him why he was so afraid.
The room I entered was big. Boisterous. Some kind of ballroom maybe, or a dinner hall meant for a hundred. The ceilings was abnormally high, quite unexpected really. After all, this room was in the top of the old mansion. Didn’t they usually put rooms like this on the ground floor?
I couldn’t be sure, but I felt fairly certain.
In the center, their was a wooden table. One that would fit a banquet, and then some. A grand table that was, probably, once glorious, but was now decimated. Smashed. Shattered, with tiny splintering pieces sticking out here and there. Despite the largeness of the table, I only saw three chairs, and they were in similar condition, but covered with more dust somehow than the table. And had a lot more mildew.
Stacked in the corner—or, more accurately, piled in the corner—was a bunch of pillows. Blankets. Comforters. A few sheets. They were bundled, sort of. As if a giant bird had made a nest in the corner.
Maybe that was the case.
I still didn’t know yet.
“Hello?” I asked into the giant hall.
The giant hall that was empty.
A chair moved.
Smacked against the floor, as if something had stumbled into it. Knocked against it accidentally.
I turned, immediately, to face the chair.
“I know you’re there,” I called confidently. Sure of myself. Unwavering. “It’s alright, I won’t hurt you. You saved me the other day, right? From falling through the floor below us. You saved me. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you, and I won’t judge. I’d just… like to see you, if that’s alright,” I asked the last part uncertainly.
Because, maybe it wasn’t alright.
Maybe he was hiding his whole person for a good reason. Maybe he was hideous. Or some medusa-like creature that would petrify me if I looked at him.
I had no idea.
But, in the next moment, the air shimmered. Moved. As if being filtered through a waterfall. The wall I was looking at disappeared as the air shimmered, showing, instead, a giant figure in front of it. A figure with horns, a beak, a cloak made of black feathers that covered his back, hunched over his shoulders. A tail, like a possum’s, protruded from the cloak, curling around his strange, squared feet. The creature was thick, clearly made of solid materials like muscle and bone. Though his face was—aside from the beak and the strangely yellow eyes—surprisingly human.
“Hello,” I greeted again.
He inclined his head. Acknowledging me. Greeting.
“What are you doing here? It’s kind of lonely, don’t you think?” I asked.
Once more, the creature didn’t say anything. Didn’t respond much, other than by tilting his head, showing how strangely shaped his horns were.
I nodded at him. “Okay, not much of a talker. That’s fine! I’ll just ask ‘yes or no’ questions then.”
When he didn’t respond, I gave my mind a moment to process. To think of what questions I wanted to ask, and how to ask them in a way that would get me a response.
“Are you human?”
He shook his head from side to side slowly, as if it was a great effort for him to do so and remain upright.
“I didn’t think so,” I admitted. “But I wanted to be sure. You seem more mythical and magical. More of a ‘magic creature’ vibe, less of an ‘escaped science experiment’ vibe.”
At that, he tilted his head, as if confused. His eyebrows drew closer, as if to affirm that.
“Never mind, it was a compliment. We’ll leave it at that,” I said, and meant it.
Instead of answering his unasked questions, I continued with my own.
“Can you speak? Not that I’m asking you to, I’m just curious,” I clarified, not wanting him to think I was pushing him.
He nodded, his antlers—or horns or whatever they were—dipping his head as he did. As if the antlers weighed quite a bit.
Nodding back, I muttered to myself. “Okay, that makes sense. There must be a reason why you’re not talking then. That’s fine. That makes sense,” I speculated. Then, to him, I said, “Are you lost?”
Again, his horns dipped forward, affirming.
“Are you wanting to be found?”
This time, his response took me by surprise.
He shook his head.
“Huh. Then, are you hiding here?”
This time, he nodded.
“From what?” I asked, but then remembered it wasn’t a “yes or no” question.
Which, actually, didn’t matter.
Because, in the next moment I received an answer.
A sound like a foghorn powering down—being struck by lightning, or being filtered through an empty tunnel—came from the forest. Shook the mansion. Hit the building so hard with its percussive sound, that the windows shook, and the chandelier began to swing back and forth.
It was not a pleasant sound. Didn’t leave you with a good feeling, that was for sure.
Judging by the look on the creature’s face, he knew what it was.
Clearly, it was as I’d thought. The impression of the sound being accurate.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
His yellow eyes widened, panicked. Rushing forward, his giant feet made no sound as he snatched me up. As he took off running, fleeing whatever it was with me in hand. He ran through the room. Leapt—quite gracefully—down the rafters, over the stairs. Vaulted, like a kangaroo, over it all, until he reached the main floor.
He didn’t stop moving.
With me tucked under his arm, he kept running. Through the entry way, into the left wing of the house, and into the place I nearly fell. Sprinted, right up to the hole, knowing. Certain. Which, of course, meant:
He jumped in.
Jumped right into that hole.
And I figured out, instantly, why he had stopped me before. Why he had saved me.
I wouldn’t have fallen through the floor.
I would’ve fallen into…
This… hell. This heaven.
This magical and strange world.
This magical and strange world that I was now part of.
Whether I wanted to be or not.
As we landed, I was assaulted by sights. Sounds. Colors. Smells. The whole forest seemed to lean, awake. Alive. This forest that looked prickly perfect. Glacier cool, and burning warm colors. That bled life, and, somehow, still spoke of death.
This world was… magic.
At least I understood—partially, anyway—why he was running. Why it was that he was lost, and yet, didn’t want to be found.
I felt it firsthand, that feeling.
As I took in the sight of it all—the purple sky, the never-ending twilight haze, the strange creatures and pink, fluffy trees—I understood him.
I didn’t want to be found.