Human life is a collection of things. Or, might I say, an amalgamation of things. That right there is the same thing. But, they can be said and acted in a different manner. That is to say, one might have a different propensity towards different words. But, in the end, as much as I’ve learned how to be human, I’ve learned that everything is a set of signifiers and signified. That is to say, I’ve learned a little about linguistic theory and literary theory. That is to say, as humans, not that I am a human, we would never be able to reach complete truth. As such, the entire world is a fake. For such a fake world, it’s also a fun world, and a beautiful world. For something so near the real, it’s almost overcome the real. This fake world, is undeniably real. Such is the same with my hobby, my propensity towards wanting to talk to people that interest me, and wanting to understand them and get to know them. But, if I stayed in the world of the living for too long, my room will come to get me. I must be careful of that.
“What’s your name?” Lottie asked me as she lead the way from the room at the back of the stairs of the abandoned home to the kitchen.
“Summer? That’s–” She paused, ruffled through a few cupboards before pulling out a sandwich bag of crackers, and then continued, “A really unique name.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your name?” She opened the bag, ruffled a cracker for herself, and one for me, and, upon accepting it, she said, “Lottie.” I flinched, and she felt it.
“You have a problem with my name?” I chuckled.
“Not at all. It’s just, a strange name, is all. Haven’t heard of it.”
“You make it sound like you’ve heard every name on the planet.”
“Clearly I haven’t.”
“It’s not a nickname or anything.” She turned and lead me to the front door. Before opening the door she said, “My full name, it’s Lottie. Not Charlotte. Not… Well, that’s the only other name that’s come up so far. But, it’s Lottie. Okay?”
“Sure thing, Lottie.” She opened the door, the sunlight beamed onto her face and, mine, as I walked behind her. The air of the town washed over me without warning. The abandoned home, unsurprisingly, was at the tail end of the town. It wasn’t that I knew the geographical structure of the places I visited. It was just that, as I stepped onto the uncut grass and took a look around the dilapidated fence, I noticed not a single home could be seen, and, if I squinted hard enough, to our right, up the road, was the first sight of civilization.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Anywhere, until night.”
“Can you stay up that late?” Before I answered, she turned, with her arms on her hips, and haughtily said, “Of course you can, you’re an adult. But–” she turned away again, the sky filled with clouds that seemed to move as slowly as the day. The wind picked up, making all the shards of grass around us dance.
“What is it?” I interjected. She shook her head.
“I can’t ask that of you.”
“Ask me what?” She shook her head again, somehow, more proudly.
“Let’s play, first.” When she faced me, she, somehow with the same proud stance, was downcast.
“Alright then. What do you want to play?” She went into thinking mode, her entire face contorting with a single breath, and then, once her face turned red, she puffed out, and, with her chest held high, and a finger pointed at me, said, “If I tell you, will you really know?” I tried hard not to laugh. We were having a moment.
“Just because I didn’t know hopscotch doesn’t mean I won’t know otherwise,” that was a lie. I probably wouldn’t. I’m a child, but I’m ill versed towards their happenings. That is to say, I didn’t often play with children. In another context, that might have been bad.
“Try me,” I added.
“Let’s play ghost hunting!” She still had the bag of crackers with her which seemed to bounce in delight along with her own giddy attitude. She was proudly giddy.
“Ghost hunting? Was that what kids do these days?” I couldn’t even think to laugh. I was just astonished.
“I don’t think so,” she answered, “but that’s only because no one but me knows the best places to go ghost hunting!” Upon further inspection, the entire tail end of the town seemed to be in disarray. Cracks of the road weren’t fixed, nature wasn’t kept, and across from us was a dense wooded area that seemed to connect into town.
“This way!” She said as she led me to that dense wooded area that seemed to connect into town.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked. It wasn’t that I believed in ghosts. It was just that they were real.
“I’ve never seen a ghost before, but, there are all kinds of rumors about the ghosts that roam this town.” She was sounding extra haughty as she said that, somehow. The bag of crackers she had in her hands were ruffling about with every step as she swung her arms in tune with her steps.
“Like the ghost of a lady who died in a car crash, or the ghost of a man who hanged himself in the middle of the road–” I questioned the validity of a man who hung himself in public, but, I wasn’t one to meddle in the affairs of humans, especially not from humans I didn’t know about. Perhaps it was customary to hang in public. That was how they did it in the past, right?
“Or even,” she paused for dramatic effect, “the ghost of the Wandering Child!” She wanted her voice to hang in the air, but the leaves of the trees absorbed the brunt of her best attempt at a chilling voice. Although Lottie didn’t much care to look where she was going, I did my best to make sure she wasn’t going to trip or scrap herself on loose branches or rocks. It wasn’t that I particularly had any extra affection for Lottie, just that I couldn’t be hurt myself, and so I divided my attention accordingly.
“The ghost of the Wandering Child?”
“Yes, the ghost of the Wandering Child! Scared yet?” I couldn’t be scared.
“Not really.” She flinched, and then cleared her throat. I wondered if she knew where we were going. It wasn’t that I could memorize our steps, so if she was lost, I was lost.
“Well, prepare to be scared, Summer, because today, we are on the hunt for the ghost of the Wandering Child!” Lottie stuck her hand out and began shifting her gait to be that of a march.
“What is this ghost anyway?” I didn’t need to see her smile to know she was grinning from one end of her face to the other.
“The ghost of the Wandering Child is one, if not, the most dangerous ghost this town has ever seen!”
“And you’re sure you didn’t make it up?”
“Of course not!” Her proud voice rang up through the roof, making it even less believable. I didn’t know how far or how long we were walking, but, I was half certain we were lost. Still, Lottie made a show to lead, and, she was confident, if anything.
“The Wandering Child was a little boy who accidently came here on a weekend. His parents let him off for the day when he said he was going out to play with his friends. But turns out–”
“He had no friends?” Was that a tactless joke?
“He had plenty of friends!” Lottie was quick on the defense and retort, and, stopped in her tracks for a few moments to recollect herself. When she was done, she shook her head and continued.
“But turns out he didn’t go play with his friends. Instead, he came to the shrine found in this forest.”
“There’s a shrine here?”
“It was an old church. No one uses it anymore since we have one in town, they took away most of the furniture there, but the shrine is still there.”
“Do you go there often?” She nodded.
“So what happened to the boy?”
“Rumor has it that he visited the shrine, and–” She paused for dramatic effect again.
“And?” I repeated.
“And then, the statue got him!”
“Got him?” I wasn’t very well versed in religion. It wasn’t that I wasn’t very religious. It was just that I saw no reason to study it. The occult, the supernatural, any of which a religion might find heretic was simply real. Though, I did know of some of the customs and stories found in contemporary religion.
“Rumors have it that a monster came out of the statue and took the Wandering Child away to a different dimension.” The theory was almost sound. It wasn’t likely that a monster would find its way into a statue. If Lottie’s story had any sense of credibility, it was probably a subset of a Gargoyle that ate the boy. I knew no talk of dimension shifting Gargoyles, but, I could be wrong. Of course, that knowledge was not for humans.
“Wait,” I started, “If the Wandering Child had been taken to a different dimension, how would his ghost be in this dimension?” I had to contain my laughter. Lottie answered with a smug ‘humph’ and stuffed her face with crackers.
“It would have made more sense if the Wandering Child had been eaten alive by the statute, that way the ghost hunting part of this would make sense.”
“Oh! You’re ri–” She stopped herself short with her mouth still full of crackers. Then, after swallowing every bit of it down, she cleared her throat, turned and pointed at me, “That is an astute observation, Summer. I’ll keep that in mind.” She turned, and walked in prideful strides.
“So, other than ghost hunting, why’d you want to come here?” I smiled smugly behind her, hoping she would turn, but she didn’t.
“It’s quiet,” she said almost in a whisper.
“The church. The abandoned church is quiet, so I like it there, okay? You have a problem with that?” Then, the trees cleared, and, before our eyes were the remains of what seemed to once have been a great church. All the forestry of the area began climbing back to its roots, but, the church itself was still recognizable. It wasn’t that I was afraid of Lottie being attacked by some kind of denizen of the underworld that could have possibly lurked in the remains of a church but I speeded along to open the door first. I was surprised at how easily I got the door to open. It seemed Lottie came by often. Inside, the church smelled of old wood. She was right, it was barren save for the shrine at the altar. I hoped the building wouldn’t collapse outright on us.
Lottie took a seat on the ground, which had vines sprouting up for the sky.
“I thought you wanted to play?” She shook her head.
“No ghost hunting?” She shook her head more violently. She placed the bag of crackers beside her, and stared at the altar ahead.
“So why are you out on a day like this by yourself?” I sat beside her. When I turned to look at her, she looked away. I couldn’t help but to laugh to myself. I found her quite adorable.
“It’s either here,” she started, “or the abandoned home. I like it here. This part of town is always so quiet,” I wanted to make a quip, but I refrained, “No one here can bother me, I can do whatever I want. So I go here whenever I can.”
“And when’s that?”
“Every weekend when I don’t have school. I come here to play by myself.”
“You don’t get lonely?”
“I’m not lonely. I like being alone.” There was a clear distinction in her words. She was alone, but not lonely.
“I see. But, I’m here now, am I bothering you?” She shook her head.
“You’re not like everyone else. You’re not like my parents. You’ll play with me and talk to me.”
“Your parents won’t do that with you?” She shook her head.
“Even now. They told me to play outside because they have guests coming in for business.” She wasn’t particularly sad, but the tone in her voice was devoid of any of the gusto she had before.
“Is that why you want to stay up till night?” She didn’t answer.
“That’s dangerous, even for a ghost hunter like you,” I chuckled.
“Why does it have to be till night?” She hesitated to answer, but then, turned over, and looked me in the eye. She was burning with conviction as she settled some kind of score within her. At the most, I knew she trusted me now, and, at the least, I wasn’t doing my job to collect shattered dreams. But, to an extent, I was doing my job exactly how I should have. My hobby was going to pay off.
“I want to be an adult. That’s my dream.”