“Look, I know it sounds weird, but we've all seen things.”
Two Baltic States, Latvia-- short, cute, wavy hair and something of a button nose-- and Estonia --just as cute, but taller, with spectacles on a taller nose, blonde-- were walking up the path leading to the school. It was dark, the moon was high over head. The only lighting was a flood light near the gate, and the light of their flashlights along the path. It was so dark Estonia couldn't even yet see the stairs heading up into the building. All he could make out in the dim lighting was the gravel and his own feet.
“Yeah,” Estonia scoffed as he followed behind Latvia. “You've seen them too?”
“Yes, I did. I didn't believe it either. But I know what I saw. Vita and Niks were there too!”
“Right, and who are Vita and Niks again?” asked Estonia smugly as he pushed up his glasses. “Oh right, your little classmates.”
If Latvia bristled, Estonia didn't know because the smaller nation said nothing else. But he had a fairly good idea that the words got under his friend's skin from the way that Latvia's pace hurried. Estonia could picture in his mind the way Latvia would be glaring at that. He didn't mean to always hit Latvia where it hurt, and his size was deifnitely a sore spot, but it was so easy and a bad habit.
“Hey, Latvia... Latvia.”
Estonia looked up when he wasn't answered and jogged a bit forward. He could hear Latvia's feet stop crunching against the pebbles and his flashlights line of sight hit his back. Estonia came up directly behind him and immediately began a half hearted apology.
“Look, I'm sorry. But the reality is they are kids. Kids tell stories and--”
Latvia threw back his arm as he turned slightly hitting Estonia in the chest.
Latvia pointed up towards the window and Estonia followed the trail of his arm bought saw nothing but darkness.
“What am I supposed to be looking at?”
“Something moved... I saw it.”
“It's too dark to see anything. I mean-- hey!”
Latvia dashed off before Estonia could finish speaking. The small Baltic bounced up the stairs where he was able to open the door that should have been bolted shut. Estonia tried not to think of how that was possible as he followed, brushing it off as possibly a nation privledge.
When the large heavy wooden doors closed behind Estonia he was met with a empty hallway. Latvia was nowhere to be seen and a flickering light at the other end of the way too long hall was the only source of luminsence other than Estonia's flashlight. He took a step forward and the sole of his dress shoes echoed a little too loudly and bounced off every last bit of the wallspace.
“Latvia?” he called out. “Where are you?”
There was no sound coming from anywhere. All he heard were echoes of his own footsteps. He continued to go along. His flashlight swept to and fro illuminating various aspects of the room a circle at a time. He saw different notices and doors but still no sign on Latvia the further he got.
It was omnious how quiet it was. It was almost as if he were completely alone. Only his footsteps were heard despite the fact Latvia had to be in the building with him.
He stopped and listened at the foot of a stairwell, hoping in the silence he would hear something else but the sound of his own breathing.
He turned, placing a hand on the banister and began his ascent up the stairwell. It turned and he followed its lead until he reached the second floor of the building. Again he was greeted with dim hallways.
“Latvia,” Estonia called.
His voice reverberated towards him as well as a breeze that caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand on edge. He turned and flashed his light forward to see a figure quickly turn down the hall.
“Latvia, you turd if you're playing some trick on me I swear to god I'll--”
“I'm right here.”
The voice behind him as well as the firm grasp on his shoulder was recognizable but it didn't stop his body from responding with alarm. Estonia whipped around with mach speed, dislodging himself from the contact and shining his light right into Latvia's eyes. Latvia winced, bringing his arm up to shield his face.
“Stop it!” Latvia protested.
“Where the heck were you!?” Estonia asked, not caring about the clear edge to his voice.
“I had to go to the bathroom,” explained the other nation simply.
“I had to go to the bathroom,” mocked Estonia, before yelling again. “I thought you said this place was haunted.”
Suddenly Latvia's bewildered look turned amused, sly even, as he regarded Estonia with a smug grin.
“Oh, so you believe me now huh?”
Estonia rolled his eyes, “Of course not. Not if you're willing to go to the bathroom in an allegedly haunted building.”
Latvia walked right past him.
Esotnia countered, “I am calm! Where are you going?”
“You felt it too, right?” Latvia asked.
He gestured with his flashlight down the hall.
“The chills... they're coming from down there. That's where Niks and I were when we felt it too. Let's go.”
Latvia walked forward and Estonia followed.
“H, hold on there!” Estonia collected himself. “Why exactly do you want to find this ghost again?”
Latvia's boss had told him to do a study of how the new standards were being implimented. Hunting a ghost was not supposed to be part of the job. Estonia joining wasn't either.
“Well, this ghost, I think it's one of my people, right?” replied Latvia. “I have to help it move on.”
“You're so dreary,” Estonia sighed at his companion.
“Huh? I thought it rather romantic,” rejoined Latvia.
“Well,” began Latvia. “Think about it. This ghost is tied to this school. Why? Why would a ghost align itself with a school? It might still be a child. What happened? Did it fail an exam? Did it lose in love? It makes me sad to think someone so young can't move on. The peak of its life happened here and they still can't get past it.”
Estonia listened in silence as Latvia spoke.
“School is tough. We all have compulsory schooling in our countries now, but have we really put ourselves in these kids shoes? There's so much pressure on them. For us it can seem silly, I mean we've been around for hunfreds of years but these kids, these human kids, this is all they know. It's really heavy stuff.”
“I never really thought of it like that,” Estonia said.
“Neither had I,” admitted Latvia. “When my boss wanted me to go undercover in a school and as a student no less, felt so humiliated. I'm not a kid, you know.”
Estonia's response came out sort of like a whisper. Latvia wasn't a kid. They all knew that, even if they somehow treated him differently because of his size. He was getting the same treatment from his boss too. That was something Estonia also never considered, the amount of pressure Latvia must feel. He must try so hard to look reliable in front of his people.
Estonia had gotten his fair share of it too. He'd heard whispers, upon some citizens seeing him for the first time. 'That's Eesti?' 'He's so skinny.' 'He looks a little dorky, huh?' 'I heard America and Russia are really strong.' 'It'd be nice if our nation were a little more... reliable looking.'
A door slamming shut brought Estonia out of his musings and he jumped looking forward in its direction. He reached out to grab Latvia's elbow to still him but the smaller Baltic was already running down the hall towards the sound.
Estonia took off after him as well, and with his lnoger legs, easily caught up. He grabbed again at Latvia, this time hooking him around the shoulders and pinning him against his chest. Latvia squirmed but was overpowered and subdued.
“It came from the science room. That's where we saw it earlier too.”
“It doesn't want us here,” Estonia reasoned.
Latvia countered it, “No. I don't think that's the case. I think it wants our attention.”
“I can feel it,” Latvia said.
Estonia loosened his grip and Latvia immedietly slipped out of it, panting a bit. The smaller nation turned to Estonia shining his flashlight at Estonia's feet as he looked up at him. Estonia looked down, meeting those wide eyes with his own green ones. For a moment he was transfixed, yet before he could say anything else Latvia turned away and Estonia let out a little sigh, his heart hammering in his chest from something other than ghost induced apprehension.
Once more Estonia followed after his friend, at a slower rate, until he was standing at the threshold of the room. It was a science lab. According to the sweet of his flashlight all of the breakable equipment had been placed away for the day and high stools were circled around long tables with sinks. Estonia found Latvia there in the front near the chalk board, so close that the light of his flashlight only illuminated the board.
“Do you see anything?” Estonia asked.
He walked in, and after 3 steps the door slammed shut behind him and an ice cold chill filled the room. Estonia turned and Latvia did too but what he saw caused his light to clatter to the floor revealing the translucent form of a forlorn child, scraggly, fading but somehow holding on to the world.
It, no, she wore glasses, wire like his, not the style of the time admitedly, her hair, sandy like Latvia's with a bit of curl, tangled and long tumbled in a cascade over narrow shoulders. She shifted, skin so pale it was like rice paper and Estonia could make out the threshold of the door through her form.
He stumbled back, flashlight forgotten and rolling towards the blackness of what should have been feet. Estonia was stopped by Latvia's body steadying him from behind. Latvia's thin arm warpped firmly around his waist and when Estonia turned to the side he saw Latvia looking out at the apparition before him with a sense of awe.
“You don't go here.”
The ghost spoke first and her words seemed to reverberate off the walls making the room feel hallowed.
“I do go here,” Latvia replied, loosening his grip on Estonia's waist and moving to step forward.
Estonia didn't let him go though, stopping the movement and trapping Latvia's arm at his side.
She shook her head and raised a finger to Estonia.
“You don't go here.”
“I do,” tried Estonia.
“You don't... I'd remember you,” the ghost said, she tilted her head and lowered her hand. “I remember everyone.”
She paused and shifted her head to regard Latvia.
“I know you, Raivis.” she said. “I know you, Vita, Klaudija, Niks.”
She said each name as if she was counting off.
“Those are my friends,” Latvia nodded.
The ghost moved then, to the right. She didn't turn her back on them she instead moved sideways as if floating and made a circle. Estonia and Latvia moved with her, still linked arm and arm as they turned in a circle to follow and finally she stopped in front of the window. The air was so cool it frosted the window. The moon was so bright they could barely see her but it formed a clear outline around her body.
“Why are you here?” Latvia asked .
She paused for a brief moment and when she spoke it wasn't in answer to the question.
“My name's Eda.”
“Hi, Eda” Latvia replied.
Eda the ghost seemed pleased by that, her contanance brightened perceptibly somehow and her very being seemed a little more solid and grounded though still very much translucent. A soft smile spread across her pale lips and then she disappeared.
The chill in the room went with her. The windows cleared. The room was silent.
The walk back out of the building was unenventful and quiet. Latvia closed the door behind them when they exited and as soon as their feet crossed the gate and they were out in the city street, that's when he spoke.
“Kids are lonely aren't they?” Latvia asked.
Estonia stuffed his hands in his pockets. Their footsteps fell in unison. Latvia sighed.
“What are we doing wrong?”
Estonia watched out the side of his eye as Latvia spoke.
“That girl, she must have felt so invisible. All she wanted was for us to notice her but we didn't; not when she was alive. We just pushed her, told her to work harder, to strive for more, to achieve, and when she died where else was she supposed to go if school's the only thing she knows?”
Hearing it said like that was rather sobering, and Estonia listened with a heavy heart, hands stuffed deep in trouser pockets. They didn't need flashlights anymore. The street was adequately lit, unlike the hallowed halls of the school building. Those halls were dim, no longer lit at that late hour by the false pretenses of children's hopes and dreams; aspirations force fed of what kind of future could be opened to them if only they'd learn more!
The visit to Latvia's school had been merely to humor the young nation. Estonia didn't intend to actually see a ghost, nor have his entire worldview shaken. But he knew he wouldn't be able to go back home and clense his mind of the things he had seen. Estonia had been changed.
He felt a tug on his sleeve and without glancing down he removed his hand form his pocket and felt the comforting warmth of Latvia's fingers interlacing with his own. There was a squeeze and he felt grounded. Estonia didn't have to ask. He was perceptive enough about Latvia's ability to read him. Latvia knew Estonia needed it as much as he did.
Latvia contiuned to speak, voice accusatory.
“We're letting them down all for the sake of what? Some idea of a grand future. We've got to remain competitive with the rest of the world.”
Finland to the west, South Korea to the East, Estonia knew too well about the mounting competition in the world and the struggle to kepe his peple relevant in academia. Brain drain was real too, and overwhelming, but he didn't know how to fix it. There was no hope of a panacea at that late stage. He was wise but he wasn't infallible. He made mistakes too and so did his government and people.
They had only wanted what was best for everyone.