RP Last Stop Home


Staff member
“Did you hear about Abe from 3-C?”

“Was he absent again today?”

“Yeah, Tamaki said she saw the police talking to his parents last night too.”

“No way, really?”

The waning sun painted the sky in deep hues of reddish-orange and bleeding purple, as the evening lights of Tokyo prickled along the landscape. The three girls sat around a pair of desks that had been pulled together, a pile of notebooks and loose papers between them. The two girls on the corner were chatting away about the latest bit of gossip as Seika leaned back in her chair looking out the window. The days activities were winding down, clubs in the sports fields gathering for final huddles as a trickle of students exited through the gates. Her study group too had been all but done for the last thirty minutes, kept in place by the inertia of conversation alone.

Didn’t he just run away?” Seika said, looking back at her friends.

Yeah! That’s what I thought, but they’re saying—“

Four chimes played overhead, interrupting the short haired Kaede. The in-ceiling speakers snapped to life with a familiar electronic hiss followed by a flat male voice.

”The time is seven PM, club activities are ending for the day. The gates will be locked in thirty, so please make your way home before it gets too dark. Thank you.”

“I suppose that’s enough for today then.” The taller Yuriko said. Seika agreed with a short hum and she flipped her notebook closed and slid it back into her messenger tote.

“We meeting again tomorrow?” Kaede asked.

“Mm, it’ll have to be without me. Got track.” Seika said, stretching out muscles stiffened by hours of leaning over books as she rose to her feet.

“In this heat? That sounds miserable.” Kaede said as she too got up to her feet.

“That’s summer.” Yuriko said, slipping her book bag onto her shoulders and tilting her head towards the door. “Shall we?”


By the time the trio had made their way to the school’s gate the oppressive, sticky, heat of the day was giving way to the coolness of early evening. The sun had vanished beneath the jagged skyline of Tokyo, and a gathering gloom filled the spaces where the streetlamps didn’t cast their gaze. A pair of crows sat on the pole closest to the school’s gate, their black eyes reflecting light as they watched the trio pass.

The conversation had moved on to weekend plans as they walked. It was a quiet night, or at least as quiet as this part of Tokyo ever was, as the thin line of students finished with their evening activities made their way back home. The bright lights of passing cars caused Seika to squint, though thankfully there were few motorists out and about. A humid wind carried with it the lingering heat which radiated from the asphalt. Soon enough and a few turns through cramped alleyways the thin stream of people was reduced to the three girls.

“I’m starving, do you want to grab a burger?” Kaede asked as they descended down a flight of stairs.

“Isn’t it late for something greasy?” Yuriko shot back.

“Isn’t that the best time for it?” Kaede said, getting a laugh from the other two.

“ I need to get up early.” Seika said with a shrug.

“I swear you’re never any fun.” Kaede stuck out her tongue before she looked back at Yuriko. “You’ll join, right?”

“Sure, sure, but I’m only getting fries.” The taller girl said as the trio stepped off the staircase into the lights of a convenience store below.

“Mm, I’ll join tomorrow, promise.” Seika said.

“Yeah, but what if we don’t go tomorrow?” Kaede said.

“I’ll see you two tomorrow.” Seika said, a grin splitting her lips as she raised her hand. Yuriko snickered.

“What? Hey!” Kaede responded, feigning a hurt expression, “we don’t go that often.” The three laughed as they said their goodbyes before going their separate ways.


The walk from the school to her house wasn’t a particularly long one, if you took the right shortcuts. One was through a small park which was nestled between two apartment complexes. During the day the park was a pleasant place to relax, but at night the light provided by the streetlamps was thin. Still, the space was wide open so it was easy to keep an eye out for someone suspicious. Or, at least Seika believed so, it wasn’t like she had ever really put that belief into practice.

The long branches of nearby trees swayed with the evening breeze as she passed. The ever present buzz of the city felt distant, muffled as it was by the surrounding trees. The night held a stillness to it, or, no there was something more wasn’t there? A quiet noise, something foreign yet strangely familiar. Seika slowed, a feeling of unease settling into her stomach. It was a low sound, broken by sudden sharp cuts.

A figure quivered on a bench resting beneath a dim light. A girl, about thirty steps away, who sat hunched forward her face pressed into her slim hands. Quiet, constant, sobs drifted in the air, broken up only by sharp pulls of air. Seika hesitated, a piece of her mind warning her away grappling with an empathetic pang. Her lips parted as empathy won out.

“Hello?” She called. The girl didn’t respond. Seika stepped closer. It was hard to tell how old she was, but Seika felt that the girl might have been a year or two younger. She wore a school uniform, but Seika didn’t recognize the design as any nearby school. That skittish part of her mind again screamed warning, but empathy granted her another couple of steps. “I’m sorry, can I help?”

Gentle sobs. Her body swayed with them. Seika froze in place.

”I don’t want to go home.” The girl spoke, her voice soft but clear in the evening air.

“Is that so?” Seika said. She could feel herself reflexively tensing and attempted to will her body to relax. “It’s okay, you know? I feel like running away sometimes.” Seika snapped her jaw closed. Why had she said that? Her heart fluttered in her chest. The girl stopped moving, her body frozen in an odd tilt.

Suddenly the girl sprang to her feet. Or, perhaps it was more like tumbling away from the bench. The girl’s hand reached out with incredible speed, her fingers grasping the bottom of Seika’s blazer before her knees struck the ground. Seika tried to pull herself away, but her feet felt rooted in place, her muscles refused even as her mind sputtered at her to run. The girl’s other hand slid up along her side, grasped another handful of cloth as she pulled herself up. She raised her lower hand, her fingers curling around Seika’s shoulder. Her hand was so cold. Seika’s lips parted, but no sound came.

The girl lifted her head inches from Seika’s, her pale eyes staring into her’s. Her skin was so smooth, as if it had never before been stressed by a smile or frown, never been touched by the sun.

“Really?” The girl said.

Seika tried to scream, but she felt herself falling into the night.
The crack of maple against cowhide scratched an itch between the hemispheres of Ayami's brain. It had been one of those days, the kind that made her feel stupid and flustered. She'd spent all of lunch with her homework sprawled across her desk, vowing not to touch a single scrap of food until she had enough of her assignment finished to earn it, but it never came. She just got more frustrated the more she tried to understand it.

Practice had been a lot clearer, running with the track team had been relaxing but still she wasn't batting her best. She was angry, and while she knew she wasn't supposed to take that on the field, all she could think about during fielding drills and the skirmish was the weight of her overdue assignments piling up.

It was later now, the sun had set and the dull lights of the batting cage had activated. Most students weren't allowed to stay after hours, but being the equipment wrangler for the coach meant she had a copy of keys and the authority to stay a bit later to "reorganize" if need be. Usually Ayami took this opportunity to get some quiet time alone and walk the field, or pop in some headphones and fight the batting machine for a while to clear her head.

Ayami hit her final ball and watched it lodge itself in the chain-link fence, she pulled down her headphones and sighed, she'd feign ignorance and deal with it tomorrow. It was time to head home, see her sister and try and get some rest for tomorrow. Ayami thought she'd take the long way home, get some more time to cool off and cheer herself up for when she got home, she'd might need to run the last few blocks to beat her parents home, but she needed the cardio anyway.

She shouldered her bag and had turned to walk out the gate by the home team's bleachers when she heard it first. The sound of soft, muffled sobbing coming from behind her. She turned slow, and spied a smaller girl sitting in the away team's dugout. She hadn't seen or heard anyone else come in, granted she was wearing headphones. It wasn't the first time someone had snuck in after school, but usually it was a couple of punks looking for somewhere to smoke or play "rebel without a cause" and vandalize their equipment shed.

But she seemed different, maybe she just wanted to be alone, to get away from something for a while. Ayami could understand that. The knot in her stomach softened as she watched the girl's head fall softly into her hands. Ayami turned and began walking towards the girl, her hands in the front pocket of her hoodie. She was younger than her, but it was hard to tell exactly.

Maybe Saori's age?..

"Um, hi there, are you okay?" She said softly as she stepped down into the dugout. The girl was seated in the far corner, sitting on the bench and quivering, hunched over and small. Ayami had seen plenty of school insignias and uniforms from her family's habit of moving around, but she couldn't recognize hers no matter how hard she tried to remember. She felt a tug in her chest to turn and run, but her stubbornness got the better of her. "I'm sorry... but the field is closed, do you live nearby? I could walk you home or call you a ride if you like..."

Ayami's feet felt heavy and the air fell silent between them. She could hear her heartbeat behind the gentle sobbing, the girl drifting and swaying with each cry.

”I don’t want to go home.” The girl said, her words breaking the crisp silence.

"Oh, well..." Ayami trailed off, unsure what to say next. She tried to back away and take a deep breath, but she felt her aching muscles grow tense beyond her control, "Well that's okay, sometimes I'd rather disappear than keep lying to them, maybe it's better that way."

She slapped her hands against her mouth and her eyes went wide, her jaw went slack. Those weren't her words, she hadn't said that, right? She needed to leave, her pulse pounded in her ears and the evening chill filled her.

She took a step back, but as she did the girl froze and twisted towards her, her face slowing lifting from her hands. Ayami's fingers slowly wrapped around the grip of her bat, half stuck in her bag. "L-look, I-"

The girl lunged towards her from the bench, her hand reaching out for Ayami's hoodie sleeve. She tried to draw the bat, she didn't know what good it would do but she was acting off instinct. The cold froze her arm in place, an impossibly chill touch. Her eyes locked on the girl's empty, bottomless gaze. The smaller girl began to scale Ayami, pulling herself up to her shoulders until they were face to face, close enough for Ayami's warm breath to crash against her porcelain cheeks, perfect and untouched by time or the elements.

"Really?" The empty girl asked.

Ayami had no response before she felt her feet give way and the shadows grew long and deep around her.

Without a whisper, the night had taken her.
Plip. Plip. Plip.

Her mind hovered in the vagueness that existed within the inbetween of sleep and consciousness, where the trudging dark beckons the tired mind to fade but for a moment. Thought was there, an odd sluggish thing that came as more feeling than word. She wanted to sleep just a little longer because as long as her eyes remained closed then there was no responsability. Her own breath seemed to respond, each pull of her lungs came slow and thick, air tinged with a not-quite-sweet scent that she couldn’t recognize. Her mind lulled, tempted her to slip into the welcoming yawning black, only something lingered like an unscratched itch. This too never came fully formed, only a lingering sense of incompleteness, like searching for a word that hangs on the tip of one’s tongue. A memory lost somewhere in the gap of where sleep began the conscious faded.

Plip. Plip. Plip.

Seika exhaled, her mind stirring as the murmur of a groan escaped her lips. Sensation came, dull and sharp, a coolness that pricked her skin and the grumbling ache in her neck that pressed for attention. She shifted, her muscles feeling slow to respond as if they too lingering in a haze. Still, wakefulness asserted itself, driving away the dark of sleep where it still lingered. Fluttering, one of Seika’s eyes cracked open, the blur of the world dispelled by several blinks and leaving her with a hazy sort of confusion. Where? Her voice didn’t escape her lips, only a sharp wisp of air as her throat failed to form the word.

Gloom surrounded her, the stillness of the room was betrayed by the faint sound of liquid dripping. She drew a breath, a heavy scent of metal lingered in her nostrils, and shifted in place. Muscles creaked, and joints protested against motion as if struggling against years of disuse. With an effort Seika raised herself up onto her elbow. Moonlight spilled through a row of long windows, granting shape and shadow to a row of desks. Seika remained motionless, searching through her clouded mind for a reason why she would be at school. Fallen asleep after class? Had she passed out? With another burst of effort Seika pushes herself up into a sitting position.

Her body felt stiff, no doubt from sleeping on the ground for so long. She stretched as she tried to remember, extending her arms and elbows, rolling her shoulders, rolling her back and neck this way and that until she felt as if she could move without every joint complaining. She had been walking home with her friends, right? And after that she had gone to a park? No she was passing though when she had…

Plip. Plip. Plip.

Seika’s eyes snapped open, and with the help of a desk she pulled herself up to her feet. She swayed uneasily as she quickly looked around the room. She didn’t see the little girl. Seika placed a hand to her chest as she breathed a sigh of relief, her breath curling away as vapor in the stillness. Had that girl brought her back to school then? Seika shifted uncomfortably, a shiver skittered up her spine as she crossed her arms over her chest.

Plip. Plip. Plip.

She froze in place as she carefully scanned her surroundings. Rows of desks, a blackboard covered in writing she couldn’t read on the far wall, small lockers behind her. It took Seika a moment to find the source of the dripping. A black stain spread across the ceiling, and liquid dripped slowly from a space where the tiles bowed slightly. Liquid pooled on the top of a desk, reflecting the moonlight from the outside. Seika took a step back before she turned sharply on her heel and hurried over to the door. She tested it lightly with the tips of her fingers, and finding it unlocked Seika slid the door open and stuck her head out into the hallway. A deeper gloom greeted her, both ends of the hallway vanishing into a distant dark.

Carefully she stepped out into the hall, the gentle sounds of dripping in the room behind her urging her forward. Left or right? The end of the hall to the right should have been a club room, so the stairs should be to the left. Seika squinted into the dark, searching for any shape, before she took a step down the hall.
The gentle warmth of sleep faded slowly as Ayami began to rise from her torpor. Her exhausted body and mind begged for sleep, but something told her she needed to rise, something was wrong. Her moments before her sleep were a blur and heavy eyelids slowly parted to look out into the darkness, she tried to remember what led her to being here.

Batting practice? Yes, she’d stayed late after the team left to be alone for a while. She liked being alone sometimes, just as she liked sleep or meditation. For those few precious moments Ayami could rid herself of the stress of the world around her, empty her mind of her worries and expectations and embrace solitude. Had she dozed off in the dugout? No, she had been cleaning up, right? Ayami couldn’t put her thoughts together, so she simply took a deep breath and let it go.

She peered out from under the brim of her cap at her surroundings. Enough slumber party pranks had taught her to sometimes scope out her situation before letting on that she was awake. Only this wasn’t a sea of mattresses splayed out on her bedroom floor, instead she was laying with her back against the rear wall of her classroom.

No, another classroom. Another wing maybe? Her foggy mind couldn’t place her location, but it could’ve been in her school, the only logical explanation.

Where’s the girl?

She paused mid breath and sifted through her thoughts. She’d met a girl on the field. Had she brought her here? Must’ve been pretty strong to carry her if she had, but she was nowhere to be seen. Despite her best efforts to put together the events leading to her being here, all she could recall was the look on that girl's face… those eyes.

As she pushed herself off the wall and onto her feet, she felt the heavy tug on her shoulder, and realized her duffel bag was still around her chest. Ayami sighed in relief, it would’ve been a nightmare to find her equipment, and her family could not replace it all if it had been stolen.

She stepped lightly across the classroom floor, tracing a finger across the top of a desk as she passed, and coughed as a small cloud of dust followed her. The custodian would’ve dusted here, no? She wiped her finger off on her bag and approached the door, left ever so slightly open. Gently, she slid the door open, but stopped when she heard another noise down the hall.

The sliding of a door, and the gentle tap of a shoe in the hall.

She stood silent instinctively, afraid of embarrassment in front of a member of the staff. She bit her lip and resolved herself to her fate as she slipped out the doorway and into the dark hall.

“Hello? Is someone there?” She whispered into the dark, just enough to reach down the hall but not loud enough to be heard beyond it.
The air was dead, heavy in its stillness as Seika made her way down the hall. She took her steps lightly, but each tap of her heels sounded impossibly loud in a hallway so silent the girl was certain she could hear the faint rustle of her clothes as she moved. It made her skin prickle, the sounds of her own movement, if only because she found herself staining to hear any noise that wasn’t herself. No sputtering old AC unit despite the cold of the hallway, no sound of distant voice, or the rumble of traffic from the city beyond, nothing save the sound of her own breath.

She slowed to a stop next to one of the hallway windows and peered outside. Darkness greeted her through the grungy murk that covered the window, distant lights made into incoherent smears. She reached out, the tips of her fingers brushing across the glass. It felt slimy and left something sticky on the pad of her finger as she pulled her hand away. With a scrunch of her brow Seika took a step back and brushed her fingers against her skirt. Gross.

Hello? Is someone there?

Hushed words sliced through the silence causing Seika to draw in a sharp breath of surprise as she flinched. A voice? Another person? Seika turned quickly, her heart finding itself in a quicker rhythm. There was definitely someone else standing in the doorway down the hall. Was it the girl? The voice didn’t sound the same, but it had only been a whisper. She forced herself to release a breath she had been holding before clearing her throat.

“Hi, uh, hello,” Seika said, her voice a little louder in the stillness, though hesitant. She watched the other girl for the moment it took for her courage to return. She had the same uniform on, didn’t she? “I’m Seika Yanagi from class 2C, it’s nice to meet you.” If only out of force of habit she dipped into a quick bow.

“Would you… happen to know what’s going on?”

Overhead there was the sound of something heavy being drug across the ground.
Ayami held her breath and waited for a response as she the steps slowed and come to a halt at her call. Her fingers curled into fists as she anticipated the authoritarian tone of a teacher or custodian return. She took a step out into the hall, and winced as her shoe landed in a shallow puddle of something sticky and lukewarm. She side-stepped the stain and she planted herself in the hall, trying to not think about the smell.

“Hi, uh, hello,”

The voice called back a bit louder, and much younger than she expected. Even in the dark, hearing the voice of someone her age released some of the tension in her shoulders. She let out a quiet exhale and took a step forward, then another until she could see the other girl in the dim hallway. She was in a school-uniform, roughly her age and too pretty to be hanging out somewhere like this for fun.

“I’m Seika Yanagi from class 2C, it’s nice to meet you,” the girl said with a quick bow.

"Oh, it's nice to meet you too, Seika. I'm Ayami Yoshida from class 3B." She offered a short bow back and smiled politely.

“Would you… happen to know what’s going on?”

"Actually, I was hoping you'd know-" she began, but paused as the sound that echoed through the ceiling. Ayami hadn't heard that sound since her family had lived in the basement suite, but it didn't take long to get reacquainted.

Quietly she added, "I'm guessing you came here alone, right?" She gripped the strap of her bag harder and took another step closer. "Do you remember how you got here?"
Oh, it's nice to meet you too, Seika. I'm Ayami Yoshida from class 3B.

Tension left Seika’s shoulders as she released a puff of air. Yoshida, she was one of the girls on the baseball team, right? Or maybe it was basketball. The sport didn’t matter, but she knew she had seen the name in one of the school newsletters after a big game. Carefully Seika took another step forward so she could check out the other girl in the gloom. Ayami was taller by a few inches and she definitely had the build of someone who played a lot of sports. A smile worked its way onto the corner of her lips, though it didn’t linger there for long.

Actually I was hoping you would know…” Ayami said, and Seika felt something uneasy settling in her stomach as her eyes flicked up to the ceiling. They both didn’t know why they were here then? She swallowed dryly. The other girl spoke again, her voice quieter now as she took another step closer, what little light that leaked through the window cast her face in a sickly pale glow. “I'm guessing you came here alone, right? Do you remember how you got here?

“Yeah, I had just split up from my friends and was taking a shortcut through a park when…” Seika ran her hand along her shoulder as a chill prickled her skin. Her gaze lingered on the ceiling for a moment longer, the sound above continued slowly down the hall, before she looked back to Ayami. Her voice came as a whisper that felt far too loud in the stillness of the hallway. “There was this girl crying, I stopped to ask if she was okay then… I woke up here.”

She could almost feel it, the cold weight of the girl’s fingers grasping her shoulder. The sound above faded away into the hungry silence of the hall. The staircase was at the end of the hall in that direction, wasn’t it? Maybe it was just the janitor doing the nightly rounds of the building. For some reason the thought settled in her mind like dead weight. Seika’s lips parted and a puff of vapor escaped.

“She said she didn’t want to go home.”
“Yeah, I had just split up from my friends and was taking a shortcut through a park when…”

Ayami’s head tilted slightly as the girl paused and looked up. Her eyes followed, settling on approximately where whoever was moving would be. She took a deep breath and took a step closer to Seika, folding her arms across her chest anxiously.

“There was this girl crying, I stopped to ask if she was okay then… I woke up here.”

Ayami’s lips parted nervously as she tried to respond with something, anything. “I-I, um - I don’t know h-how to…” They couldn’t be the same, that would be too strange. There was only so much strangeness in the world, only so much that could happen to her and mean something. There was only so much strangeness in the world that could be real.

“She said she didn’t want to go home.”

“I saw a girl like that too - at the baseball field after school, she said she didn’t want to go home.” Ayami’s fingers gripped her sleeve and she leaned in close, as if anything beyond the faintest whisper would betray their location. “She grabbed me, I can’t really remember anything after that, but then I was here.” She looked over her shoulder down the dark hall, and peered at what she thought could’ve been the railing of a staircase, but she didn’t feel sure.

She turned back to the other girl and squared her shoulders for the task ahead. If she told herself she wasn’t afraid, she wouldn’t be. Right? “Seika, I don’t like it here, I think we need to leave very soon.” She gripped the strap of her bag and looked left, then right before settling in the direction where Seika had been looking, it was a start at least. "H-here, let's try this way."

She let out a heavy exhale through her nose and took her first step forward, then another. She looked over her shoulder to make sure Seika was following. "Let's try and stay close."
I saw a girl like that too…””

Seika’s lips parted as Ayami spoke, her voice a hushed whisper, sending a shiver skittering up Seika’s shoulders. Was that really possible? For both of them to have met the same girl? She could feel her heart finding a quicker beat in her chest. But, her story was the same wasn’t it? And even if it seemed all but impossible, they were both here, she couldn’t deny that. Seika pressed her hand her her chest, her fingers curling around the collar of her shirt as she forced her shoulders to relax.

Seika, I don’t like it here, I think we need to leave very soon…” the girl’s gaze shifted as she spoke, before she chose a direction. Seika nodded wordless agreement, and as she released a held breath she felt a touch of relief where dread had been gathering. This wasn’t right, but she wasn’t alone and that did something to dull the edge of panic. “…Let’s try and stay close.

“Yes.” Seika whispered. She followed the older girl as she began to move, motion betrayed by the gentle sound of cloth rubbing and the dull sound of shoes on the floor. It wasn’t far from where they had stopped, the opening of the staircase, but time seemed to stretch itself thin as Seika strained her ears to catch any sound from above. At first she thought there was nothing, but as the stairs revealed themselves in the gloom Seika couldn’t help but realize that wasn’t the case. There was a noise, a faint sound of metal ringing against metal. Seika slowed, she reached out and caught Ayami’s sleeve giving it a gentle tug.

Someone was above them, she was certain of it. Seika leaned in close to the older girl, her lips next to her ear.

“We should take our shoes off.” She breathed, catching her right heel with the side of her left shoe and sliding her foot out as she spoke. She did the same for her other foot before bending over to pick her shoes up. The floor felt cold through her socks. Carefully she stepped over to the railing of the staircase and leaned over. Below her, gloom, and above? Seika turned her head and squinted. Was that movement? A trick of the eye?

It was likely just the janitor, right? And she was being silly, they both were just being silly.

Then, why didn’t he turn on the lights? Seika swallowed. She carefully stepped back from the railing and whispered again into Ayami’s ear.

“I think this is the staircase where the third step creaks.”
Ayami held her breath as she stepped softly, slowly shifting her weight from back to front as she slinked. The thrumming sound of her heart filled her ears as the tension in the air shook her. A knot formed in her stomach, moments dragged on forever as they inched closer to the stairwell. She froze and let out a small gasp at the tug on her sleeve, her head spun to look at Seika and she caught her breath with a long inhale through her nose.

Her mind wanted to feed into that anxiety, tell her how much trouble she'd be in with her parents or the school if she was found. All her classmates would know and find ways to make her the end of a joke like they always did. But not if she made it out safely, she'd slip out with Seika and take the shortcut home. Yes, it would all be okay, her parents may have still not been home yet if she was lucky, and if they were?

Well, she'd just have to cross that bridge when she came to it.

“We should take our shoes off.”

"Good idea." She knelt over slowly and untied her track shoes, slipping them off quietly before she tied the laces together and hung them off the strap of her bag. The cold floor met her toes and an uneasy shiver crept up the back of her legs. The atmosphere was oppressive, she felt the weight of the silence and other presence press down onto her. The sooner they were gone, the better.

“I think this is the staircase where the third step creaks.”

Perfect. She could only smile and huff quietly at her circumstances. "Should I go first, or will you?" Ayami whispered in response, and followed through with whatever Seika said was best, praying she would count the steps properly.
“I can go first.” Seika whispered. She took a moment to tie the laces of her shoes together as Ayami had, before holding them out for the older girl to take. “Sorry, I don’t have my bag, would you mind?” She asked, a faint flush of embarrassment coloring her cheeks. She paused for a moment for Ayami to deal with the shoes before stepping around her and to the staircase. She placed her hand on the railing and again couldn’t help but feel a touch silly with herself. Was not getting seen by the janitor worth all this trouble?

A shiver skittered up her spine as she thought about the dark liquid that had been dripping in the classroom, that lingering raw smell that hung in the air. She exhaled, vapor curling from her lips and vanishing into the gloom. Seika reached out and placed her hand on the railing before she carefully lowered her right foot down to the step below. She tested her weight against it, pressed down with her toes for a moment before committing fully and stepping down. Silence strained itself, save for the faint sounds of Ayami shifting. Right. She could do this.

Seika descended, a step at a time. She counted as she went, faintly under her breath, until she reached the step that creaked. Carefully she leaned forward, one hand on the railing to hold her steady as she skipped over the step onto the one below it. Her other foot followed and she was safe. With a smile Seika turned, holding a hand out to help Ayami over the step.

Naughty, naughty.” An ancient voice creaked from the landing above. Seika’s head snapped up. There came a scuffling sound followed by a low muffled groan. ”Didn’t I tell you to shut up?

Then, from the landing above there came the sound of laughter, dry and aged, like corded ropes being pulled taught.
“I don’t mind at all.” Ayami smiled sheepishly and slung the shoes on her bag. She flexed her toes and shivered slightly against the cold floor as she waited for Seika to take a first step. As she began to descend, she followed in her steps, making foot fall where the other girl’s had been.

She wasn’t sure what was making her more anxious - the trouble they’d be in for being in school so long after classes ended or the embarrassment they’d have when someone saw them sneaking down the stairs in their socks. Either way, Ayami’s heart fluttered in her chest as they creeped down the stairwell.

Ayami crossed her fingers and could only watch as Seika carefully maneuvered across the creaky step and gladly accepted her hand with a smile as she leaned to step down. Just as her heel lifted off the step, she nearly jumped to the landing as a cold voice crackled down from above them. Her neck tensed and she struggled to look up, fighting her survival instincts.

All she could do was lock eyes with Seika, and take her hand in a firm grip as she balanced with only the slightest weight on her front toe. She cupped her mouth and screamed silently - not that she could’ve made a noise if she wanted. As light as she could possibly be, she slowly crossed the creaky step and brought her back foot with her.
Seika’s breath caught in her throat, she could feel her heart throbbing in her ears, and almost instinctively her grip on Ayami’s hand tightened as the older girl flinched from the sudden sound. That helped, squeezing her hand, to quell her own desire to sprint down the stairs as quickly as her legs could manage. Who was that? What were they talking about? She forced herself to take a shaky breath as she caught the other girl’s gaze. That wasn’t the janitor, that couldn’t be the janitor, but it wasn’t like school was just full of dangerous people just because you’re still there after the bell, right? There wasn’t really the ghost of the girl in the fourth stall in the third floor bathroom.


She brought a finger up to her lips as Ayami carefully went over the creaky step, her gaze only momentarily flicking back up to the gloom above through a gap between the staircase going up and the one going down. Once Ayami was safely on the other side Seika motioned that they should continue. She turned away, keeping Ayami’s hand firmly in her own. It was nice to feel that she wasn’t alone.

And then, the reminder that they weren’t alone sent a chill creeping up from the soles of her feet to prickle the hair on the back of her neck.

It should be nice and warm now.” Crooked laughter echoed in the stairwell, followed by the click of footfalls and the fabric ripple of something being dragged. The person stepped on the stair overhead. Seika tugged on Ayami’s hand, her lips mouthed the word ’move’ before she started taking the steps fast.
Ayami shook her head nervously and followed after her friend as fast as she could. In the back of her mind, she scolded herself. It was ridiculous, they were running away from a spooky voice like silly little girls. A grin peaked the edges of her lips and she giggled silently, but her feet never stopped. It was a joke, a silly little game and when she went home, she'd be chewed out by her mother for sneaking around the school after dark.

Down - down they went into the dark and the cold, their socked feet gently thumping down the stairwell.

Without Seika's hand and silent words, Ayami would've never left the landing, she would've stood there until the dawn broke or the shadows took her. She squeezed her hand to make sure she was really there, once every few minutes - just in case.

All she could think about was getting down the stairs, but with each hurried step the urge to look back grew greater and greater until finally - against her better judgment - she made a quick half turn at her neck, just barely peeking over her shoulder for anything behind her.
Footfalls overhead echoed off the walls of the stairwell, and each click sent a chill skittering across her shoulders. Panicking wouldn’t help either of them and the warmth of Ayami’s hand in hers felt like a lifeline. She had to keep her wits because she was guiding her friend down the dark stairs. Still, even as Seika did her best to ignore it, the sound of footsteps followed them with a constant drumbeat. Was the person getting closer? Was she imagining the sound getting louder?

As her feet hit the last landing before the ground floor Seika turned her head to look back at Ayami. She caught a flash of the second floor hallway, a murky light spilling through a grungy window. The figure above stepped into the pool of light, and for a moment it played across her features. Long white hair lay in limp pools around her shoulders, grooves of wrinkles made her face look incomplete in the dusty light, in one hand a crooked broom and the other the neck of a sack that Seika swore was squirming.

Seika tugged on Ayami’s hand as she mouthed the words ’left at bottom.’ Squeezing her friend’s hand she urged them forward down the final flight of stairs. She took them fast, her mind vaguely hoping that socks would be enough to mask the noise, that the sound of burlap sliding would be enough cover. She hit the ground floor and for a moment she felt a weightless panic and her right foot threatened to slide out from under her on the polished floor. More reflex than thought, Seika reached out and caught the hand rail with her free hand as she again squeezed Ayami’s hand in hopes it would help her from slipping as well.

Wide eyed Seika looked back over her shoulder. The shadows on the landing above seemed to twitch and shudder. Her feet back under her and hoping that Ayami would trust her, Seika caught her friend’s shoulder and pulled her with a little more force than she intended to the left, towards a pool of inky black shadow that pooled in the alcove under the staircases.
Ayami’s head whipped back for only a moment, but that single glimpse burned itself into her mind. The ancient shape drifted into view, revealing the form behind the terror. At first her mind refused to process the sight - but soon the primal instinct turned on, pattern thinking took over and she stared on and on until she felt a pull on her hand and her eyes fell back on her Seika. Left at bottom.

Left at bottom.

She silently repeated Seika’s words over and over as they neared the ground floor, as if the force behind them would strip the edge from her mind and lead her astray. Seika’s hand was a constant, the warmth and firm grip of her fingers pulled her towards safety.

As they hit the floor, Ayami’s eyes widened as Seika’s balance threatened to falter - her feet planted hard, the muscle memory of her batting stance locked in and she became an anchor for her friend, letting her catch herself against her hand and the handrail. With a reassuring squeeze that she was safe and Ayami’s descent would be safe she followed.

Ayami looked to the left, but Seika’s reaction left her uncertain and worried for her friend - slowly she began to glance over her shoulder, but before she could view the subject of her friend’s fear, Seika caught her shoulder and pulled her into the shadows. With warning she would’ve been fine, but flat footed and off guard as she was, Ayami came fell into the shadowy alcove stumbling into Seika. The shadows fell quickly and thick over the two of them, in the silence and darkness she swore she could hear their heartbeats join into a pounding duet.
She pulled and Ayami stumbled into the dark, Seika felt something hard jab into her side as Ayami’s body collided with hers. She stumbled backwards until she felt her back hit the wall, biting her lip to swallow a grunt of pain. She kept one hand on Ayami’s shoulder as she wrapped her other arm around the girl’s waist to pull her as deep into the shadow as she could. Her heart hammered in her chest and she could swear she could feel Ayami’s heart through the tips of her fingers.

Ohhhh?” The old voice rasped with the coying sweetness. The footsteps slowed and Seika couldn’t help but imagine that their owner was taking their time to be certain that they heared them. Did they make too much noise? Seika’s grip tightened as she squirmed backwards, trying to find space in the alcove for the two of them. If the worst happened then she could… if she sprinted out of here as fast as she could maybe she could distract whoever it was long enough for Ayami to get away.

Another step and Seika’s mind went blank as she swallowed a breath. She could feel her heart in her ears as the figure stepped out of the bottom of the stairs. They lingered there for a moment, just out of sight but there.

”My, my, do we have company?” Each syllable was slow and sweet in a way that made her stomach acid churn. The figure stepped forward, their gaze down the hallway. They were… an old woman, or she thought they were a woman anyway, their face leathery and wrinkled. They were tall, but they stood hunched over, and they wore a poorly fitting janitor’s overalls. With one hand they dragged a large burlap sack that Seika was certain was wrigglingand in her other was a long stick.

A broom that had its head broken off.

The old woman drew in a breath and clicked her tongue.

Perhaps, perhaps, I simply imagined smelling something sweet.” She muttered. She began to move again, slowly, as the sack continued to wriggle.
Ayami planted one hand over her mouth as the other held Seika's arm around her waist. She wanted to shrink small and disappear, to crawl away somewhere hidden and cease to be. She closed her eyes to pretend, but her friend's hands steadied her. Ayami was there beneath the stairs, hiding like a rat from something that couldn't be.

The figure slowed and Ayami tensed, her breathing becoming almost inaudible. Her eyes remained fixed on the bottom of the stairs, locked in a terrified vigil. As the figure stepped into view she took in each detail of the misshapen form. An old woman... but wiry and strange, impossibly old and dragging along a sack that shifted and wriggled as they shambled through the halls. Had it followed them on the floor above to the stairway? Perhaps... the sack and broken broom left a hard twist in her stomach.

Something sweet?

Could she smell the girls? The thought was uncomfortable. As the figure began to wander off, she watched the bag and felt dread grow in her mind. If they were caught, would they find themselves in that sack? Was someone else in there, another student? The thought made her shiver.

She slowly reached out for Seika and caught her shirt with her free hand, giving it a gentle tug to check on her friend.
Tap. Skrt. Tap. Skrt. Tap. Skrt. The old woman’s form vanished into the gloom around the corner, her footsteps echoing down the hallway. Seika remained tense as the sound slowly softened, and she strained to listen. Had she really not noticed them? And that sack, there had been a person in there, she just knew that there had to have been. Was that what the old woman was doing? Scooping up students who were staying too late? Seika could feel her head spinning as her heart jittered high in her chest. The footsteps, she couldn’t hear them, had that woman stopped? Had she come back for them?

A gentle tug on her shirt pulled her back, and Seika released a shaky breath she hadn’t known she had been holding. “Oh.” She said softly, feeling a flush warming the back of her neck as she loosened her hold on Ayami’s shoulder. “Do you think she’s gone?” The girl asked, her voice barely a murmur as she spoke into her friend’s ear. They’d need to check around the corner, wouldn’t they? Carefully she slid out from behind Ayami and stood next to her friend in the gloom.

“We should move, before that woman comes back.” Seika mouthed as she stepped carefully forward to the edge. She leaned forward and glanced around the corner. A door at the end of the hall closed with a loud click.
As the crone wandered elsewhere, Ayami let out a shaky sigh and fell back softly against the wall, her lungs ached and struggled to bring in air quietly. She didn't have time to ponder the bag or where she'd be going to, only how lucky she and Seika had been to avoid her. Her throat burned as she tried to whisper and recover at the same time, "that was..." she took in a deep breath, "the most stressful thing that has ever happened to me."

She stayed as quiet as she could and pulled her hoodie up over her mouth when she needed to exhale. "I don't know if she has left for good and I don't know if we should wait around to see..."

She gave a brief but certain nod and shadowed Seika as she peaked out looking for their pursuer. At the reassurance of the door closing, she stepped out of their hiding place and looked for a way out that did not lead towards her.