Early morning found Mai in the kitchen, making herself a cup of coffee. Though her sleep had been dreamless after the events she had seen and her conversation with Gene, she still did not feel rested. This was normal after an active night. More notably to her mood, however, was the enduring headache. ‘Damn it, Gene,’ She thought as she waited for the pot to finish the brew cycle. ‘I’m going to have to talk to him about that.’ It was possible that he didn’t know the repercussions of splitting a merged consciousness. Mai wouldn’t have done it if she thought she was endangering herself.
‘What is it with the Davis boys and forgetting that I’m not a novice anymore?’ She wondered as she fixed up her coffee with ultimately the best part of this case so far. Andrea was a coffee lover; she had many coffee options, liquid creamer instead of powder, sugar, and multiple bottles of flavored syrups for coffee in a little spin wheel holder. Mai was delighted. This case and Ayako’s stint as a roommate had made her sorely miss coffee. It wasn’t that Ayako hated coffee; she had just believed that Mai did not need it. “It’ll stress your heart.”
‘Only if I drink like seven pots of it,’ Mai thought as she stirred in caramel syrup and creamer. She didn’t mean to seem dismissive of Ayako’s worries; the worry that Ayako had displayed for Mai in those days after her release from the hospital had been touching. She had never doubted that Ayako cared for her, but the reminder had been nice if not annoying at times.
Her attention drifted from her coffee whenever Naru came into the kitchen. He still looked gorgeous but he also looked tired. One couldn’t tell by his facial expression but by his eyes. They had a slightly glassy look to them. “Breakfast or tea?” Mai asked as he made his way for the kitchen table. “I can help with one but not the other.” She commented as she sipped her coffee.
“Tea for now,” he sighed as he eased himself into the chair. He almost seemed to have had a worse night sleeping than she had. She set her still too hot coffee aside.
She started filling the kettle as she asked over her shoulder, “rough night?”
“Yes. Gene starting shouting down our link at around midnight and didn’t shut up for a while.” Mai flinched. She thought he had given up too easily. He must have tried to awaken Naru whenever Mai insisted she be left with the spirit of Anri. “I take it you dreamt last night?”
“Yes.” This was her opening, she realized as she got down the rest of the supplies for his tea. She could tell him now about her theory, about the direction she felt the case needed to go in; but each time she tried to form the words she needed to speak, she recalled his statement from earlier. Naru had said that he was trying to trust in her the same way she did him. If he was lead investigator and gave the orders she wanted to, she would fight him, but ultimately she would do as he asked because she had faith in him. Naru wasn’t there yet. “What did Gene want?” She asked instead just as the kettle started whistling.
“I think you already know the answer to that.” Naru answered. She could feel his eyes on her. The weight of his stare felt like a physical touch. She didn’t look over her shoulder at him. Instead, she allowed his answer and what it didn’t say to comfort her. Despite the amount of respect Naru had for Gene’s judgements and the longer relationship he had with his twin, Naru still ignored him and let Mai do what she felt was right. ‘He really is trying to trust me. I only hope that what I am about to do won’t derail that.’
“I’ll explain at the base. Lin will want to know too,” Mai answered his silent demand for information. ‘Besides, I’ll need him.’ “For now,” she finished poured the finished tea into the cup and brought it over to him, “enjoy your tea.” She demanded as she set it in front of him. He met her eyes as she withdrew. It was only for a brief second, but Mai could have sworn she saw disappointment in his eyes.
Naru drank his tea slowly and watched as Mai moved about the kitchen. It was an oddly domestic scene. Gene had been well and thoroughly panicked last night as he shouted down their link about Mai making stupid decisions and being in danger; Naru had been out of bed and at her bedroom door before he remembered his promise. With his hand on the door handle, he questioned his brother for more information.
Questioning Gene had led to him going back to bed instead of bursting into Mai’s bedroom and waking her; however, he hadn’t been able to sleep. He stayed up, both thinking and waiting. He wanted to explain himself to his twin and he wanted to know what Mai had to say in the immediate aftermath of her experience.
Fact: The spirit Mai had merged with on the plane had let her go the second Gene had touched her and had not fought to keep the link that ultimately could have allowed her a complete possession of Mai’s body and Mai’s soul being stranded on the astral plane. He would have to talk to her about how dangerous that was once the case was over.
Fact: Anri had only pushed Gene away from Mai whenever they were arguing. Not once did she attempt to harm Mai and calmed whenever Mai grabbed her.
Fact: Three women had been in the home at the time of the paranormal event. No paranormal activity had happened on this case since their arrival. ‘Men are bad.’ Anri had said. Gene had later said that Mai intended to invoke her title as lead investigator. While Naru didn’t have as much context as Gene had, he could infer what Mai’s decision was.
Conclusion: She was going to ask them to leave her alone in the house with two spirits and attempt to cleanse them herself.
The time he had spent awake after that realization had helped him to see the sense in the decision. As long as he and Lin were here, there would be no activity. Wasted resources and wasted time. However, there were so many unknowns that the thought of leaving Mai with the spirits made him feel unrest. On top of what he didn’t know was how freshly healed some of Mai’s injuries were. If the spirits got even a little heated, a little violent, it would be so easy for a bone to break again.
Whenever he had heard her leave her bedroom and start down the hall, he had resolved to talk to her before she reached the base. He hadn’t counted on her not being open with him. His eyes found her again. She was looking out the kitchen window; her side profile was softly lit by the rising sun. She brought the cup of coffee to her lips as if in a trance. He found himself unable or un-wanting to look away as the light brought out the light red strands in her hair. A quiet gasp of awe escaped her lips; so low that if the kitchen had not been completely silent, he would have missed it. Her tired eyes took a tender glaze as they traced things he couldn’t see from his seated position. The vivid pinks, purples, and oranges that the sun made as it rose were likely what she was tracing.
She didn’t look distressed by her dreams; this morning, she had seemed wholly herself. Naru looked away from her and down into his teacup. When he had made the decision to begin building his trust in her, he had not intended to tell her; but last night, he had found himself unable to keep it to himself. Perhaps, he wanted to be held accountable. If he spoke his decision into reality, then Mai would hold him to it. There would be no silent regression. However, she could use his decision against him to get her way. ‘You said you were trying to trust me,’ he could hear it now. She would say it in a moment of desperation whenever his logic was winning out over her emotions.
‘You are doubting her.’ Came immediately on the heels of the imagined Mai. He frowned. ‘It is not outside the realm of possibility for her to react that way during an investigation; however, accusations like that are rarely unfounded.’ He actively tried not to think of the one time that they were, but the accusation of ‘murderer’ still rang in his head from time to time. Mai had apologized and deeply regretted it; and he had forgiven her, but the sting of it still rose up from time to time. He lifted his teacup to his lips. It was almost empty. He lifted the small teapot and refilled his cup.
While he was impatient to learn what she knew about the elusive spirits of the house, he also knew how hard it was to prepare for the backlash that came from a decision you knew would be accepted poorly. So, he’d allow her this time.
“I’ll be in base whenever you’re ready.” Naru broke the quiet of the kitchen; she turned to face him.
“I’ll be there once I finish my coffee,” she reassured.
Once Naru was gone, Mai set about cleaning up. She washed the teapot and teacup then dried the cup. The teapot was hers. It was fine if she left it in the strainer to dry. She would back it up later. Mai tried to think of this decision as a good omen. It meant she was confident enough to think this case would end before Naru could develop the craving for more tea. She tried to be bolstered by it.
“Good morning, Mai,” she heard from behind her. She looked over her shoulder to see Andrea. The woman was already dressed for her day in a pair of khaki slacks and a light blue button-up. Mai checked the clock on the mantle. Andrea was about to leave for work. That took an added weight off of her shoulders. If Andrea was at work, then she couldn’t protest Mai’s plan.
“Good morning, Andrea-san! I made a full pot of coffee this morning.” She had not wanted to adjust the settings that Andrea had set. At her nod, Mai retrieved a mug from the cabinet and handed it to her.
“Thank you for letting us use your kitchen like this,” Mai returned. “I must admit I’m envious of your coffee haven!” She laughed. Andrea smiled.
“Yes, it comes in handy on mornings like these.” Mai’s smile faltered.
“Did you have a bad night?” She asked. After the words were out of her mouth, she was struck by the stupidity of the question. The woman’s house was haunted; her daughter was at her mother-in-law’s for the duration; and she was surrounded by strangers in a place she was supposed to feel safe. Of course she had a bad night. Andrea likely hadn’t slept well since the haunting began.
“Not exactly,” Andrea answered. “The house just feels empty without Ruri.”
“She’ll be back in no time!” Mai reassured. “We made really good progress on the case last night and I’m confident that we can move forward now.”
“Thank you, Mai. I hope you are right.”
Whenever Mai entered the base, she had her game plan lined out in her head. She would let the evidence of no paranormal activity and her dreams make the argument for her. Certainty in evidence made her feel so much more reassured.
“Lin,” Naru called as soon as Mai met his gaze. It was time. Lin booted up his laptop and turned to face them without leaving the monitors. Yasuhara looked up from whatever book he had been reading to give Naru and Mai his attention. Mai didn’t wait for Naru’s prompting. She wanted to get this conversation over with.
It wasn’t so much her dread over their reactions that urged her to get the point as it was a combination of Naru’s expression, Andrea’s desire to be reunited with her daughter in their home, Saki’s and Anri’s distress that there were men in the house, and her own selfish desire for the case to come to a close before her mother’s anniversary.
“I dreamt last night,” she said by way of explanation to Yasuhara. She sat down in the empty chair beside Naru’s and turned her body in the chair so that she was facing him. “Saki and Anri were kidnapped by Mineta and kept in the basement. Saki was allowed upstairs for dinner with Mineta but Anri was never allowed to leave the basement.” Slowly, she relayed Mineta’s unwanted attention towards Saki, how Saki and Anri were punished for her rejection, and how they were punished if they made noise or gave sign that they were there whenever men were visiting. “Given the information Yasuhara found, I can only assume that the men Saki often heard upstairs were investigators, not friends of Mineta’s.” She left out that she didn’t really think Mineta had any friends to speak of.
“I see,” Naru murmured. He offered nothing further. He just looked at her. Mai sighed. ‘This is his way of telling me he knows I have more. Who am I kidding? It’s Naru. The famous Oliver Davis. He likely predicted this…’ The thought both annoyed her and reassured her.
“Given that no activity has happened since you, Lin, and Yasuhara have been in the house, I think it is safe to say that there won’t be any activity as long as you guys are here.” Mai started slowly. “So, if we want to solve this case, you guys need to leave.” The lack of reaction from Naru confirmed her suspicion; Lin’s and Yasuhara’s reactions told her that he had not discussed this with them beforehand.
“You’re going to try and cleanse them on your own,” Naru assessed. “Once we are gone.”
“You already knew what I was going to say!” Mai accused, pointing at him.
“I speculated,” Naru said.
“Man! You could have said something!”
“I enjoy watching you squirm,” Naru said off-handedly. Before Mai could respond, his expression morphed from teasing to serious. “You realize that this means Saki and Anri are still in the basement, right?” Mai felt her mouth dry at the thought of encountering their bodies, but nodded. Her heart felt heavy at the thought of tiny Anri and Saki still being in the house even after all these years. It was mind-blowing to her that they had gone so long without being discovered. Investigators had been all over the house in the wake of Mineta's arrest and yet they had never found the girls.
“I won’t touch anything if I discover them,” she reassured. Even she knew that it was better to let the police move any bodies found during an investigation. “Also, we’ll leave the cameras set up so that any evidence that can be gathered while I’m alone will still be recorded. And I’ll contact you on the walkie-talkies whenever I’m finished so that you’ll know when you can come back in.”
Lin looked between Naru and Mai and then gave a deep, resigned sigh. A part of him truly wanted to convince Mai that her plan was not a smart one, but he could not argue with the evidence she had laid out before them. He also could not argue well with Naru. ‘If I had known he would take my words so seriously, I would have phrased them different. Perhaps it would be better if he did not give her absolute trust. It would certainly be better for my health anyway.’
Mai tried not to stare after her boss and the others as they left the base. Despite this being her wish and the direction the case needed to go, she felt nervous. She brought her hand up over her heart. ‘Saki and Anri haven’t been violent without provocation.’ She reminded herself. ‘I’m not in any danger.’ She felt that truth deep in her bones. It allowed her heartrate to lower to a normal rhythm and gave her the courage to stand from her chair.
“Right.” She whispered as she started for the door to the base. The second she passed through it, she felt the change in the air. There was an almost curious feel to the surrounding hallway. Saki was likely roaming the hallways. Mai swallowed. “They’re gone now,” she informed. Slowly, a spirit began to take shape in the middle of the hallway.
Saki stood in front of her. Her hair was longer than it had been in the picture in the file. The once mid-back hairstyle with bangs was now long enough to reach her bottom. Her bangs were gone, blended in with her hair. Her clothes, clearly given to her by Mineta, were baggy and hung from her malnourished frame. Her head was tilted to the side curiously.
“Why did you stay?” She asked.
“To help you,” Mai answered simply. Saki said nothing. She simply stared from sunken eyes. “Will you take me to Anri?” Saki nodded.
“She talked about you.” Saki made conversation as she walked down the hallway. “Is it true that Mineta died in prison?” She asked as she phased through the door down to the basement. Mai hurried to open the door. ‘It’s a good thing I didn’t lock it back once Andrea took Ruri to her mother-in-law’s.’
“The day he left, he pushed us into our hollow as he called it and told us to be silent. He had been paranoid all week. The meals stopped. He acted as if we didn’t exist.” Saki flickered. The temperature in the room dropped further. “For days, I actually hoped he would come back. But he never did.”
“Are…are you saying Mineta kept you guys for five years?” Mai breathed.
“Time stopped existing. I knew days passed only because he would come get me.” Saki said. Mai knew her question was accurate though. They had disappeared in 1962; Mineta was arrested for his crimes at the hospital in 1967. The information was staggering. Mai sat down on the bottom step just as Anri came out from underneath Ruri’s fort.
“Mai!” She called happily. It was somehow more heartbreaking to look upon Anri and realize that she was eleven and not six. Her growth had been so stunted by her captivity that she looked closer to eight. The girl threw her small arms around Mai’s shoulders. “You’re okay!”
“I am,” Mai reassured as she wrapped an arm around the spirit’s shoulder. Somehow, Anri felt solid. She choose not to linger on that. “Now, I’m here to help you.” She told her.
“You keep saying that,” Saki said. “How do you intend to help us?”
“It’s time for you to go,” Mai said bluntly. “You’ve both done so well to protect the women and children that move through this house, but it’s okay now. Your demon can’t haunt you anymore.”
“But men are bad!” Anri insisted; her arms tightening around Mai’s shoulders. Mai leaned her forehead against the girl’s.
“It’s okay,” she repeated. “You don’t have to take care of me, Anri. I’m so cared for that I can hardly get a scrape without someone coming to my rescue.” She told her. As she spoke, she found herself focusing on Ayako and the feelings she brought forth. Ayako, who sacrificed her walk-in closet and luxury comfort mattress just to stay with her whenever she was injured; Ayako, who patched up the minor scrapes she got on cases whether it be from her own clumsiness or spirit involved accidents; Ayako, who had become something of a mother to her in her own mother’s absence. She let the warmth and love she felt for Ayako fill her up and send those emotions into Anri. “Saki will keep you safe like she does for me.”
Anri pulled back just enough to see Saki. The woman had not moved. Her eyes were locked on Anri, who Mai noted had started to glow the soft golden light of a purified soul. A soul that was letting go of pain. Saki sniffled. Mai looked over her shoulder at the woman. Gold had begun to creep into the side that was closest to Mai, but she wasn’t as affected by Mai’s memories and words as Anri. No, what was encouraging Saki to let go of her pain was Anri.
“I know she will,” Anri confirmed warmly as she stepped back from Mai. Her small hands left her shoulders in favor of stretching out to the woman who had been her guardian through the most hellish years of her short life. Saki stepped forward; as her hand stretched forward, the gold fully encompassed her being. Saki folded her fingers over Anri’s.
“Thank you,” Saki said, turning towards Mai. Anri smiled widely at her before they both began to walk. Not toward the basement door like Mai had thought they would, but toward the corner just beside Ruri’s fort. They walked toward the wall and then…before they could hit it, their spirits faded.
Mai took a moment to compose herself before she stood up and walked over to the wall. She reached out and touched the wallpaper. Gently, she ran her fingers along corner. At first pass, she couldn’t feel anything different from the plaster. She frowned and looked around the room.
She had told Naru that she wouldn’t touch the bodies; she didn’t plan to. However, she knew from the Urado case that bodies needed to be present before the police would believe them. Even Hitora needed physical evidence and he had worked with them before.
After a few seconds of searching the room in the logical places, she found what she was looking for. A small toolkit had been tucked away in one of the cabinets; the box was just high enough that it was out of Ruri’s reach. She pulled the kit down and opened it. A sturdy flat-head screwdriver would work fine for what she had in mind. She moved back to the corner and stuck the flat end into the crack. She felt a little guilty for ruining Ruri’s haven, but she imagined the child would forgive her especially since something darker lurked in the wall.
“Mai?” The walkie-talkie at her hip crackled to life as she wiggled the screwdriver down the wallpaper, ripping it. She stopped to answer her boss.
“It’s done. I found where the girls were hidden,” she kept her answer short and sweet. Naru’s sigh came over the connection.
“Wait, I’ll come help you.”
What Saki had called a hollow was actually the gap between two support beams. Their remains had been found crumpled on the ground. They had been leaning so much on the panel that they had fallen out whenever Naru had removed the piece.
As Mai watched the coroner remove the bodies from the house, she felt a mix of emotions: happiness that Saki and Anri were at rest, closure now that the bodies were found, grief for what they had suffered, and accomplishment for what she had done on her own. She tucked the monitor into its position on the van and turned to head back for more equipment. Only Naru now blocked her path. His arms were laden down with two monitors stacked atop one another. She reached for the top one and placed it next to the one she had just loaded. Naru looked at her once he finished setting his down.
“Good work,” he complimented. Mai smiled.
“Thank you for trusting me,” she answered honestly. Naru didn’t say anything; his face didn’t each twitch; but his eyes told her that he was happy.
Later, whenever Naru and Lin were reviewing the footage from Mai's cleansing, a side effect was noticed. For two frames, Anri had been completely visible while Mai and sat on the steps. The spirit's and Mai's foreheads had been pressed together as they shared a moment-likely as Mai's cleansing of the child reached it's peak. A tendril of energy had flowed from Mai to the small child. In the small time allotted, Naru watched as the tendril enveloped the child in light before it settled into her soul.
It was a remarkable find for his ambitions to make paranormal research a scientific study, but the remarkable nature of it quickly turned to concern. What did this mean for Mai? Was it just a manifestation of her gifts? Did it simply mean she was becoming more efficient as a medium? Was it anyway linked to the energy that Gene had given her?
He determined then that the next case he took couldn't come fast enough.