She Who Walks With Spirits
The morning began like any other with an alarm clock going off at exactly 6 AM. Hanako opened her eyes and slapped the snooze button to silence it, breathing in the morning air before slipping out from under the covers to get ready. It was a practiced routine she knew well enough to sleep though. It only took half an hour until she was in her school uniform and heading down the stairs into the kitchen.
Judging by the disaster that covered the table, her mother had already been through on her way to work. She sighed, clearing the mess away so she could make her own food. Her mother worked at company a few towns over and she never left the house on time. She’d always leave a trail of destruction during her mad dash out the door, leaving Hanako to clean it up.
She began making herself some breakfast and putting her lunch together, pausing only once to glance at the calendar. It was usually empty, save for a few dates her mother jotted down for her work, but this month there was one date that stood out. That was the 21st, her 16th birthday. She a little excited for the day, it was impossible not to be with the celebrations her mother planned. Still each birthday brought with it a reminder of just how alone she and her mother were.
Ever since she was little, there had always been tension between her mother and her family. That was why they had moved so far away. Her mother’s family had always said there was something unnatural about Hanako and there were times she thought they were right. She looked almost identical to her mother with the thick, black hair and facial structure. They could easily be mistaken for twins if it were not for the age difference and Hanako’s eyes. They were a bright blue that stood out no matter where she was, but not in a flattering way. Most people described them as inhuman, like the eyes of the spirits in fairytales. Of course that wasn’t something that many would say to her face.
She shook herself from her thoughts and quickly finished her breakfast, before loading up her bookbag and heading out.
The skies were a light gray as she stepped out of the house, locking the door behind her. She looked up, frowning slightly when she saw the cloud cover. Digging into the bag at her side, she pulled out her music player and turned it on. She slipped the ear buds into her ears and started off. Her appearance wasn’t the only thing that set her apart from others. Even now with the music in her ears, she could hear it. Murmuring. It wasn’t from the people around her, she knew that much. She could hear it even when she wasn’t around other people. Wherever it came from, it never seemed to stop and recently it had been growing louder.
The music was cut short suddenly, bringing her to a stop. She pulled out the small devise from her pocket and found it dead. She put it back into her bag; cursing her rotten luck as she continued on. She stopped short again when she heard a soft crying. It sounded like a child. She blinked and looked in the direction of the noise. It was coming from a small, abandoned shrine. Why would a child be there?
She looked around to see if there was any parent nearby, but saw no one. It didn’t seem right to just walk away without checking. She headed into the shrine, ducking a bit to avoid the low doorframe. It looked just as desolate on the inside as the outside. There were cobwebs everywhere along with broken floorboards and furniture. The crying seemed to be coming from the far back corner. She picked her way back carefully, trying her best to avoid the weak points in the floor.
There she found a child no older than five sitting huddled in a corner. It looked like a girl, which she confirmed when she saw the light pink kimono the child was wearing. That was odd, not many children, especially not in the city, would walk around in such an outfit. She knelt down about a foot away, not wanting to frighten the child. “Hey. Are you alright, little girl?”
The child stopped crying and slowly lifted her head, turning to face Hanako. Hanako gasped when she saw the child’s face. Her eyes looked like a snake’s. “You can see me?” As the child spoke, a forked tongue became visible in her mouth.
Hanako jumped back, her breathing quickly becoming irregular as she stared wide eyed at the creature. She scrambled to her feet and ran for the exit, hearing a soft “wait” as she made it out of the shrine. She kept running for about a block, fearing what would happen if she stopped. Soon her endurance reached its limit and she came to a halt, breathing hard. She looked back and saw only a few other people making their morning, but no children. It seemed the thing didn’t follow her. She felt her body shaking, though she wasn’t sure if it was from shock or exhaustion. She took several deep breaths to calm herself. There was no way she could walk into school looking like she’d seen a ghost, though there was a very distinct possibility she had. Another deep breath and she started off again, this time at a slower pace.
From behind her, two figures watched her from a rooftop. “Do you think that’s the one?”
“How many other humans can see our kind? Of course it is!”
“When should we retrieve her?”
“Later, after she leaves the place with all the other humans. She’ll be alone then.”