The Spirit of Things

 

"Hey, there's a cat under the bleachers!"

At the sound of his younger sister's voice, Taichi looked up - and missed Daisuke's maneuver around him with the soccer ball as his younger opponent made a run for the goal.

"All right! Daisuke shoots - he scores!" The younger boy balled his hands into fists and thrust them into the air triumphantly.

Taichi grinned at him. "So… that'd make it Taichi: 15 - Daisuke: 2?"

"Aw, shut up!" Daisuke jogged over, returning the grin. "What were you looking at?"

"Well, Hikari suddenly said - "

"I found a cat." The girl emerged from behind the bleachers, carrying an average-sized black cat that had large yellow-green eyes with a bit of an evil-seeming slant to them. The cat stared balefully at Taichi and Daisuke, but made no move to free itself from the confining hold.

"Isn't she adorable?" Hikari gushed, pressing her cheek to the top of the animal's head.

Taichi rolled his eyes upward. "Didn't mom say no more pets?"

"Well, yeah…" His sister didn't seem concerned. "But who wouldn't love her? She's beautiful!"

Koushiro stepped down from the bleachers, sliding his laptop back into its case. "Are we finished here?" he asked, glancing meaningfully at where the ball had rolled, forgotten, past the goal line. "You're supposed to call Yamato in fifteen minutes to confirm when we're getting together with the others, aren't you, Taichi?"

"Oh, right!" Taichi smacked his palm to his forehead. "Good thing you reminded me - you know how he gets when you put him in a 'mood'." He grimaced. "Got your cell phone?"

"When does he not?" Ken commented, coming up from behind him. "Is it my turn to play against Taichi?"

"Hey, who says you're playing Taichi at all?" Daisuke frowned. "We agreed you're going to play the winner, right?"

"Right." Ken nodded, smiling just a little. "So… Taichi."

"The game's not over yet!"

"If you say so."

"Look at what I found!" Hikari held up the cat in Koushiro's direction. "She's cute, isn't she?"

The redhead gave the cat a dubious look. "It's a boy," he reported after a moment, but dutifully scratched its ears anyway.

The cat purred.

"Oh. He, then." Hikari beamed, holding it closer to her. "I'm going to call him 'Lucky' - because I'm sure he is. Otherwise I wouldn't have found him like this, would I?"

"Black cats are supposed to be unlucky, though," Daisuke pointed out. He reached out to pat the cat's head. "That's the way it works, right?"

Lucky laid back his ears, hissed loudly, and swatted at Daisuke's hand.

"Ow! Stupid cat!"

"You know what they say about animals sensing pure evil, right?" Ken commented, with an absolutely straight face.

Taichi covered his mouth and tried - unsuccessfully - to conceal his snicker as a cough.

"Thanks a lot," Daisuke grumbled, nursing his injured hand. "I'll bet that cat's possessed by an evil ghost. That's why it's so mean."

"She's not mean!" Hikari protested.

"He," Koushiro reminded her. "It's a boy, remember? And there's no such thing as a ghost," he added, raising an eyebrow at Daisuke. "Ghost stories are entirely fabricated - if you're willing to believe, even an incident with a perfectly logical explanation can seem to be supernatural activity."

"No, it's true!" Daisuke protested earnestly. "We've got a big book about it at home! There's all kinds of different types, too - like poltergeists and banshees… They haunt really old places, because their spirits have an attachment to - "

"Ridiculous," Koushiro interrupted flatly.

"It's not! It's the truth!" Daisuke was almost bouncing in place; he looked around with pleading eyes. "You guys believe me, right? Taichi?"

"Huh?" Taichi blinked - then glanced at his genius friend, who was regarding him with narrow eyes. "Oh - I don't know. I never thought about it. If I ever meet a ghost, you'll be the first to hear about it."

All in all, he thought it was a pretty good answer.

"You don't believe me!"

"You believe him?"

… Or maybe not.

"Hikari, you believe me, right?" Thankfully, Daisuke turned his eyes away and focussed on a new victim. "I saw it in a book! There really are ghosts!"

"That's absolute nonsense," Koushiro scoffed.

Hikari looked back and forth between them, then smiled. "Right," she said, and held up her cat again. "I should get her a white collar, shouldn't I? Then people can see it."

"Isn't it a male cat?" Taichi asked her, seizing on the subject change.

"Him, then," she corrected herself, beaming down at her new pet.

Lucky shut his eyes and purred.

"See that house over there?" Daisuke pointed across the street, to an abandoned home that appeared to be badly in need of repairs. "I'll bet that'd be a great ghost hangout! There's probably a million of them in there!"

Koushiro opened his mouth to reply, but never go the chance because a loud, piercing shriek suddenly cut through the air.

Coming directly from the house.

The cat in Hikari's arms suddenly tensed up, laid back its ears, and wrenched itself free of her hold. The moment it hit the ground, it went running for the source of the noise as fast as any cat could probably move.

"Lucky!" Hikari immediately chased after her new pet.

"I told you it's a ghost cat!" Daisuke's eyes were wide. "It went running over as soon as the ghost house called it - see?"

Koushiro - who had jerked a little in surprise - narrowed his eyes at that. "I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation," he replied. "In fact, I'll prove it." He moved past Daisuke, after Hikari. "Let's go."

"All right! Ghost hunting!" Daisuke bounded after him. "C'mon Ken, Taichi! We're gonna go find some ghosts!"

Taichi glanced at Ken, who shrugged.

"Well, I've still got about ten minutes…" The older boy followed after his bickering friends. "Besides, I can't call Yamato without Koushiro's cell phone anyway."

"It won't hurt to take a quick look around," Ken agreed. "As long as no one steals the soccer ball while we're not looking."

Taichi shrugged. "Hey, it's Daisuke's ball, not mine."

Ken chuckled at that, and the two of them moved up the front steps to the door.

"You see?" Koushiro was saying, as they moved inside. "It's a perfectly normal old house. The only thing that's at all strange about it is the fact that it's falling apart - and that's simply the result of poor care and old age."

"The windows are all boarded up, too," Taichi noticed, moving past the front door into the run-down building. "I wonder if they're tearing it down."

"The ghosts wouldn't have any place to live if they did that!" Daisuke pointed out.

Koushiro frowned at him. "There aren't any ghosts here anyway."

It was Daisuke's turn to have his reply interrupted, as the door slammed shut abruptly behind Ken.

Everyone whirled around to stare at it in astonishment.

"What the hell was that!?" Taichi demanded, moving past the dark-haired genius to tug it open again.

"See? See?" Daisuke's eyes were as wide as they could go; he turned around and stared at all of his friends solemnly, pointing to the door. "It's the ghost! It's trying to trap us in here!"

Koushiro sighed in frustration, crossing his arms over his chest. "It is not a ghost, and we are not - "

"Ugh!" Taichi pulled at the door, which was apparently stuck and refused to budge. "Looks like we're trapped in here for a while."

Daisuke nodded sagely. "I knew it. The ghost did it."

Koushiro rolled his eyes upward and sighed again, louder this time.

"Isn't there another way out?" Hikari had recovered her cat, and was once again holding the animal close to her. "I mean, all the windows in here are boarded up, but maybe there's a back door somewhere…"

"Good idea." Taichi nodded. "Let's go check it out."

The house was not only run-down, but - as a result of its boarded windows - was also quite dark. The slim bands of sunshine streaming in through the boards were the only source of light, and they didn't provide much. It was necessary for them all to watch where they walked to avoid tripping over loose boards and small pieces of the beat-up furniture that had been covered up with dusty blankets.

"What a lot of trash," Daisuke said casually, darting around a footstool he'd almost crashed into. "No wonder they leave the door open. Only a garbage collector would want to rob this place."

"Are you sure it wasn't the ghost who unlocked the door for us?" Koushiro said with more than a little sarcasm. He was following behind Taichi, not trusting his own eyesight.

"Hey, yeah!" Daisuke brightened instantly.

"Oh boy…" Koushiro let out a soft sigh. Taichi could almost see his eyes rolling upward in a comic expression of dismay.

"Maybe Lucky accidentally opened the lock while she was exploring," Hikari suggested, snuggling her cat.

"He," Taichi corrected.

"Oh, right. He, then."

"It's not entirely impossible," Koushiro remarked, in response to the girl's suggestion. "You'd be amazed at what some animals can accomplish when they really feel they must. Or even by accident."

"How come you guys just won't admit that I'm right?" Daisuke came up beside Taichi, frowning at them. "There's a ghost in here, and it just lured us in, and now we gotta hunt it down and figure out what it wants."

Koushiro's disbelieving snort was the only reply he got.

At that point, they reached the other side of the house, and the back door. Which had been covered in a thick wall of cement, with the windows on either side of it firmly boarded up.

"I don't believe this!" Taichi groaned. "The front door doesn't open, and now the back door's blocked off! What's with this place?"

"I read a story once about something like this," Daisuke told him, shrugging. "Some kids wanted to go exploring in an old castle, and they got lost. Couldn’t find their way back out at all. Know what they did find, though?"

Despite himself, he couldn't help wanting to know… "What?" Taichi asked, after a moment.

"All the bones of the people who'd gone exploring and got lost, just like they did," Daisuke finished, almost cheerfully. "And the ghost that haunted the place was breaking them up and chewing the flesh off them like - "

"Well, thanks for sharing, Daisuke," Koushiro interrupted, grimacing. "That really helps."

"If we actually were lost, Lucky would lead us out," Hikari assured him, rubbing her cheek against the cat's head again. The animal had a self-satisfied sort of look on its face.

"Great." Taichi scowled at the back door. "Well, there's got to be some way out of this place - let's go looking around upstairs."

"That's a sensible suggestion," Koushiro approved.

Daisuke looked around, and suddenly blinked. "Where's Ken?"

"He's…" Taichi took a quick survey of the room. There was no sign of the dark-haired genius. "You know, I couldn't tell you. Wasn't he right behind us a minute ago?"

"Maybe he didn't get inside before the door slammed shut," Koushiro suggested, thoughtfully.

"No, I'm sure he was right behind me." The older boy frowned. "But I didn't notice if he followed us when we went looking for a back door - did you guys?"

No one had.

"This is terrible!" Daisuke was practically bouncing in place again, his face a mask of anxiety. "The ghost got Ken! We gotta save him! Who knows what it'll do?"

"There is no such thing as a ghost," Koushiro said again, firmly. "It's more likely that Ken wandered off - perhaps he's looking for an exit in a separate area of the house. I'm certain if we continue searching for a way out, we will eventually encounter him."

"There is so a ghost!" Daisuke protested. "I'm sure of it! And now it's kidnapped Ken, and if we keep looking for an exit and don't look for him, then it'll probably eat him! We can't let Ken get eaten, can we?"

"Ken is not going to be eaten," Koushiro said flatly.

"We'll look for him at the same time as we try to find a way out, okay, Daisuke?" At the moment, Taichi was more worried about the time than where Ken had wandered off to. "I think I should give Yamato a call now - you've got your cell phone with you, right, Koushiro?"

"Of course." The phone was produced and handed over.

"Good." Taichi checked his watch, and grinned, satisfied. "And he says I can never time things right. Right on time! Take that, Yamato!" He turned the phone on and punched in the number.

But when he raised it to his ear, all he got was static.

"Huh? What gives?"

"Let me see." Koushiro reclaimed his cell, and held it to his own ear. "There must be some sort of interference," he concluded, after examining the device for a moment. "You'll have to wait until we're back outside and try it again."

Daisuke nodded, as if he had suspected this all along. "I'll bet it's - "

"Don't even think of saying it!" The redheaded genius frowned at him.

"Okay… we need an exit now." This was not an encouraging development. Taichi stuffed the phone away and moved past his sister and friends, heading back for the room where they'd seen the staircase leading up. "I'm not being late calling him this time. You know how moody he gets…"

"We'll find a way out," Hikari said reassuringly, following him.

"Maybe if we trick the ghost, it'll let us go," Daisuke offered. "That works sometimes in the movies."

"If we can get into the house, it's logical to assume we can leave the house as well," Koushiro said, ignoring the younger boy completely that time. "If all else fails, we should return to the front door and force our way through it."

"I'll bet the ghost won't let us do that."

"Would you stop talking about 'the ghost' already!?"

"Geez, someone forgot to take their medication…"

"Be quiet and help me look for a window or something!"

"You guys are upsetting the cat with all this yelling, you know."

And the hunt was on.

~~~~~~

The window was boarded up, but the curtains - soft, willowy off-white things with no decoration - were drifting as if billowed out by a breeze. There was a small, ancient-looking glass urn sitting on the sill that somehow caught the casual observer's eye despite its size. The room was cold and dark, and what little light came through the thick boards served only to highlight the dank emptiness that gave the small space a creepy look. The only furniture was a high-backed chair that had not been covered, but stood at the very center of the floor, as if it had been placed there for a purpose. It was the kind of room that gave people shivers of anticipation in horror movies.

Daisuke had fallen in love at first sight.

"Oh, wow!" The be-goggled boy looked awed. "Isn't this great? Just look!" He took a few steps into the room and looked around him with bright-eyed enthusiasm. "Dude, it's cold - probably because of all the ghosts! I'll bet this is the room where they sacrifice all the humans they catch!"

Taichi looked around. No phone. No exit. "Great. Well, time to move on…"

"We can't do that!" Daisuke's eyes went wide. "Not after we've finally found the center of all their evil powers! This is where they're hiding Ken - I know it! We can't run off and just leave him, can we?"

"You can stay." Taichi had already turned around, offering a parting wave. "I'm going to keep looking around for a way out - or a phone."

"A very practical idea," Koushiro approved, following him. "Infinitely more effective than standing around waiting for something to happen."

"Maybe we should each try opening different doors, instead of going to all the same ones together," Hikari suggested, glancing down the hallway where five more doors stretched out.

Funny… it hadn't seemed like the house was this big from the outside…

"Okay!" Daisuke had apparently decided to join them after all. "I'll go open that one," he offered, pointing to the far end of the hall. He started off for his chosen door before anyone else could respond.

Taichi glanced at the others and shrugged. "Well, maybe we'll find a phone before Yamato has a conniption fit," he said, and reached for the handle of the door in front of him.

The room he entered was too dark to see anything in, and there was a hissing noise coming from somewhere to the left. A thin tendril of smoke seemed to drift in front of his eyes despite the dark, and Taichi felt a light touch on his arm, as if the air were growing thick enough to grab at him. From somewhere in the darkness, there was a low growl.

Taichi backed out of the room and carefully closed the door behind him.

"Well?" Koushiro asked, from his right.

"I don't think there's a phone in there."

"And no way out, either," the younger boy added, letting out a short, frustrated sigh. "Is it just me, or is this place really starting to get annoying?"

Taichi scratched his head, glanced at the door he'd just closed, and shrugged. "Yeah… It's really weird. I mean, who doesn't have a phone in their house? And what about another way out, huh? It's just plain crazy."

"I guess the ghosts are all in hiding." Daisuke joined them, still looking around as if he expected pale floating things to come oozing out of the walls. "I haven't seen any, have you guys?"

"Of course not," Koushiro replied immediately, sounding annoyed. "It's impossible to see something that doesn't exist."

"But - "

"Taichi!" Hikari's voice called, from the room she'd entered. "I found something!"

"A ghost?" Daisuke was the first to jump at her command.

"An exit?" Taichi was next.

"Ken?" Koushiro guessed, following at a slower pace.

It turned out to be none of those things.

"A phone!"

Taichi snatched up the ancient-looking mouthpiece from its place on the table, and eagerly started dialing. However…

"Hey, it's not working! What's wrong with this thing?"

Daisuke nodded. "Probably because of all the interference from the ghost realm. I heard it messes up all kinds of stuff. Or maybe the ghosts living here don’t want us talking to people outside."

"Or maybe this is the reason," Koushiro said in a condescending tone, from where he was kneeling on the ground. He picked up the phone cord - which had been neatly sliced in half - and held it up so they could see.

"Yeah, but the ghosts probably did that so we couldn't call out."

"Damnit!" Taichi slammed the phone down, considerably annoyed by then. "What does a guy have to do to make a phone call around here?"

"I guess we have to get outside." Hikari petted Lucky's head and smiled. The cat looked suspiciously smug.

"Well, then, what does a guy have to do to find an exit around here?"

"Why don't we try my cell phone agai - hey!" Koushiro patted at his clothes, looking perturbed. "Where is my cell phone?"

"The ghosts are taking all our means of communication!" Daisuke shouted, clearly excited.

Taichi gave him a funny look. "Why would they steal a cell phone that doesn't work?"

Daisuke shrugged. "Beats me. Maybe they just don't think like we do."

"We still haven't run into Ken," Koushiro noted, frowning. "I wonder where he could have gone. Perhaps he's found another exit."

"How can he find another exit?" Daisuke was almost bouncing up and down. "He's a prisoner of the ghosts! They're gonna cook him up and eat him! And I'll bet we're next if we don’t stop them!"

"Hey, I'll bet we could pry the boards off that window in the first room!" Taichi suggested. He was starting to get somewhat desperate - if this didn't work, they definitely needed to somehow force the door open back downstairs.

And he was already late, damnit! Yamato was going to throw a fit.

"I suppose we could give it a try," Koushiro agreed, choosing to ignore Daisuke's ghost theories that time. "It might take some time, though."

"Well, it's not like we've got that many options," Taichi answered, leaving the room and heading for the first doorway they'd tried. He reached for the knob and pushed the door open. "We can just - huh?"

The room he was looking into was no longer the room they had first found when opening that door.

"What's going on!?"

"Hey!" Daisuke peeked in around his right side. "This is the room I was checking out after we all split up." He glanced back down the hallway, frowning. "How'd it get over here?"

"We're lost, that's how," Koushiro pointed out, in a flat tone that invited no argument.

The younger boy had always been good at inviting himself anyway. "I'll bet the ghosts are at work again - they're trying to move stuff around and trick us!"

"Ghosts do not exist!"

"I'm going looking for that room again," Taichi announced, cutting into the fight that was building between them. "Why don't we all split up again and start opening doors. It's bound to be around here somewhere."

"Good idea," Koushiro approved, resolutely turning away from Daisuke.

They split up. As it turned out, they really were either lost or something had switched the rooms around, because none of the other rooms were where they had been before, either.

"I'm starting to get really, really sick of this," Taichi muttered, closing the door on yet another dead end. It shouldn't be this hard to find a way out!

"Um… Taichi?" Hikari called out, peering around the corner of a room just down the hall. "I think I found it," she reported, a bit hesitantly. "But…"

"But what?" He abandoned his search, hurrying to join her. "Is there - oh."

"Oh?" Koushiro came up behind him - and froze.

"What are we looking at?" Daisuke squirmed in past Taichi, and joined Hikari at the front. "Whoa, dude!"

At the center of the room, near the armchair, was Ken.

Laying down.

Three feet above the floor.

"What the hell is with this place!?" Taichi demanded of no one in particular, staring up at the ceiling in exasperation.

Daisuke didn't even have a chance to come up with a predictable answer for that question, because the room went suddenly dark, and an eerie white glow began to emit from somewhere around where the vase sat at the windowsill. Ken's clothing was lightly ruffled by the same force still moving the curtains, but none of it seemed to reach the others.

"It's freezing," Hikari whispered, holding her cat close to her as she stared. Taichi didn't answer. It was almost impossible to take his eyes from the scene in front of him.

Okay… this is - different…

"Foolish mortals!" a voice suddenly boomed out, seeming to come from all around the room at once. "You have fallen for my trap, and entered this house - and in doing so have sealed your fate! This place will soon be your grave, even as it was mine!"

A burst of insane laughter followed that announcement - then silence.

"I knew it!" Daisuke crowed triumphantly, dancing an impromptu little jig. "I was right! See? See? Ghosts! And we're about to become lunch-meat! What'd I tell you guys?"

"Oh be quiet, Daisuke," Koushiro said almost absently, staring at the vase.

"Silence!" the voice ordered them. "Listen to me, you pathetic little insects! This house is my realm, and nothing shall happen within that is not a part of my design!"

"I think he inherited Ken's Kaizer personality," Taichi muttered.

"In providing me with this mortal, you have allowed me at last to harness the energy that will permit me to do that which I most desire!" The voice had grown exultant. "I will now be capable of leaving this imprisoning house and unleash my wrath upon the world!" Again, the crazy laughing came through.

Hikari turned to face her brother. "Isn't this the same plan the last villain we faced had?" she asked, glancing back at the still-snickering vase. The light flickered a bit to go with the laughing.

"I think these guys lack originality or something." Daisuke shrugged. "It's gotta be part of the qualification for the really bad guys. You gotta talk in an evil-sounding voice, you gotta have evil-looking eyes, and you gotta come up with an evil plot to take over the world."

"Well, maybe, but - " Abruptly, the cat that had been sitting placidly in Hikari's arms up until that point broke free with a violent jolt and made a break for the other side of the room. "Lucky!" she cried.

"I will rule the world! I will control all of mankind! I will kill those who - Wait, what's that cat doing? Stop - !"

And with a mighty leap, Lucky dove at the windowsill - knocking the vase down from the shelf and sending it to the floor with a loud crash. Pieces flew everywhere.

Abruptly, the creepy glowing light was gone, the room temperature reverted back to something semi-normal, and the billowing curtains stopped moving. Ken fell down to the floor with another loud thud, and lay there in a heap.

Taichi, Daisuke, and Koushiro just stood there and stared.

Hikari darted forward, and grabbed her cat again, cuddling him close to her. "I told you she was lucky," she said, and smiled.

"He," the other three corrected automatically, at the same time.

From the middle of the room, Ken groaned, pushed himself up on his elbows painfully, and blinked around at the room. "Uh… what just happened?"

Taichi shrugged, and glanced backward out into the hall. "You think there's an exit now?"

~~~~~~

"It opens!" Taichi flung the door open, jumping out into the sunlight. "Free! We're free! At last!"

Ken followed after him, looking thoroughly confused. "I still have no idea what's going on," he said, appealing to Hikari, who was right behind him. "How did I get in that room? And why was I lying on the floor?"

She blinked at him for a moment, then smiled, and offered her cat. "Want to pet her?"

He did not look any less baffled, but petted the cat's head. Lucky purred.

"This time you gotta believe me!" Daisuke insisted, coming out just behind Koushiro, who looked thoroughly annoyed. "We saw it! We heard it! There were real ghosts! Come on, admit it! I was right!"

"You were not! It was just…" For a moment, the redhead appeared to be at a loss - then a look of understanding pasted itself across his face. "I've got it!"

"Huh?" Daisuke gave him a weird look. "You've got what?"

"I know exactly what went on in that room up there," Koushiro announced, triumphantly. "It struck me as soon as I attempted to figure out why the lights and other effects were banished at the moment when the cat knocked over that vase. It was - "

"One of those spirit-vessel thingies." Daisuke shrugged. "I read about them in that book we've got. Ghosts need a physical thing in the real world to be able to stick around and not get sucked into the afterlife. Or something like that."

Koushiro ignored that. "It was a projector - both video and audio, in fact," he declared. "That would explain why Ken was absent for much of our excursion - he slipped away from the group in order to set things up and prepare for the trick he and Daisuke put together for us." He crossed his arms and looked back and forth from Ken to Daisuke. "Nice try guys, but it isn't that easy to fool me."

Ken just blinked at him. "Uh…"

"No way!" The younger soccer player stared at him incredulously. "What about the way the rooms switched around?"

"Simple misdirection." Koushiro shrugged. "It was easy to become lost up there, and you two could take advantage of that without much trouble."

"Well, what about your cellphone disappearing?" Daisuke demanded, obviously desperate to find something to prove that his theory was true. "Go ahead and search me - and search Ken too, if you want. Neither one of us has it."

Koushiro looked past him meaningfully.

Daisuke turned. In front of them, Taichi was busily dialing a number into the small cell phone he'd just pulled out of his pants pocket.

"Oh."

"Hello?" Someone had picked up on the first ring, apparently. "Yamato?" Immediately, the older boy held the cell phone as far away from his ear as he could possibly get it.

The reason for this became clear right away. "WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU!?" Yamato's voice bellowed, from the other end of the phone line.

Even standing as far away as they were, the other four couldn't help but wince.

"I was trapped in someone's old house!" Taichi shouted at the phone, still holding it at arms' length. "It's not my fault! The cell wouldn't work, and there was no - !"

"THIS IS THE THIRD TIME THIS WEEK YOU'VE BEEN LATE!"

"I'm sorry! It wasn't my fault! Stop yelling!"

Koushiro shook his head, rolling his eyes upward. "Let's start moving toward somewhere we can sit down and get some food," he suggested, pushing Taichi along as the older boy continued to argue with the phone.

"Yeah!" Daisuke brightened, hopping down the stairs to run after them. "All that ghost hunting made me hungry!"

"Don’t expect me to fall for that now…"

"Fall for what? It's what really happened!"

"I'll have to convince Mom to let me keep Lucky now," Hikari said brightly, moving down the front stairs at a slower pace. "Now we know she's really something special."

"He," Koushiro and Daisuke reminded her, at the same time.

"Right. He, then."

Left alone on the front porch, Ken blinked once, turned to look at the house, and sighed. "I really wish someone would tell me what was going on…" Shaking his head, he followed after the others.

And behind them, the front door creaked shut all on its own and the faint echo of insane laughter filtered out from the boarded windows.

 

The End