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Friends on the Other Side

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Roxas knew from the start that this was a stupid idea.

Even when he’d agreed to it, he knew that it wasn’t going to be fun. Why had he let Hayner talk him into this? Maybe it’d been the late afternoon sunlight lulling him into a false sense of security, or maybe it’d been the promise of all the ice cream he could eat for a week once he’d sent proof that he’d done the dare. Either way, it’d all seemed silly and easy enough at the time.

“It’s gotta be a full moon, and it’s gotta be midnight. Just wait in the old courtyard for the last bell toll, send us a selfie with the mansion in the background, and then you’re swimming in sea salt for a week.”

He wasn’t afraid of things that go bump in the night. Ghosts and goblins didn’t exist, after all.

Apparently it only appears if you’re alone, otherwise we’d all go.”

Olette texted him at 11 to tell him he didn’t really have to go if he felt uncomfortable, but Roxas sent the group a selfie around 11:30 when he’d gotten to the mansion’s gate, proving that he was gonna go through with it. It was probably just as well that they hadn’t been there anyway-- getting over the wall had been quite a challenge, and he was glad no one had witnessed the embarrassing scramble.

“Some people say it’s the ghost of a kid who went missing ages ago. Other people say it’s something more supernatural, like ‘the silent watchers’, getting close to the boundaries between worlds.”

“What, you mean like elves and fairies? What are they supposed to be watching?” Roxas had asked, curious. Pence paused mid-description, closed his mouth to think on it. After a moment’s consideration, he just shrugged.

“Us, I guess?”

The courtyard had been empty when he finally got in, of course. He’d walked the perimeter, checking for places that people might jump out to scare him. He’d even tested the doors to the mansion but it was locked up tight against intruders, and for all the crumbling pillars, the walls and structures around the front courtyard were secure. There was no one here, and no one would be getting in without him knowing about it.

He shivered and checked his watch. 11:58. He wasn’t cold, per se; it was probably just the fact that he was out here alone, hanging out in the middle of a crumbling courtyard of a (possibly haunted?) mansion, waiting for the clock tower to strike midnight. There was no such thing as ghosts, he knew that. Whatever reports of strange shapes and visitors on the mansion grounds were probably just people messing around, if there were people at all. More likely it was just a breeze moving a curtain in the window of the abandoned house, or shadows shifting across the lawn because of wind in the trees.

Whatever it ended up being, when the clock tower finished its tolls he could snap a selfie to send to the gang and then run home to dive under the covers. Tomorrow he could yell at them for making him take on this stupid dare in the first place, and Hayner would owe him a week’s worth of ice cream.

He looked at his watch again. 11:59, may as well get into position. He’d spent some of the time when he’d gotten here figuring out the perfect spot to take his photo, although there weren’t that many options. Still, he’d found a spot that was great, situated in the front of the yard so he could get more of the mansion in the shot. And if it left him a little closer to the gate? Well, that was just a perk of the position.

The stillness of the evening broke when the chiming melody of the train station clock tower began to play, and he stood transfixed, listening for the bell’s first chime.

One.

He looked around the courtyard, not really expecting to see any sort of movement because ghosts didn’t exist. As expected, the area was quiet, not even a breeze to rustle the leaves. No shadows jumping out at him, no spectral companions.

The stillness might actually get to him before the ghosts-- he wasn’t used to things being so quiet. Without the chatter of birds in the trees or the distant sounds of town filtering through the trees, the courtyard felt kind of off, like it was waiting for something, too.

Two.

When Hayner had mentioned the mystery of the mansion, he’d first thought it was some sort of elaborate joke, maybe something set up with the other kids to test his mettle. After all, Roxas had been wiping the floor with them in Struggle, so playing a harmless prank might be their way of knocking him down a peg or two. That, or Seifer had mentioned something offhand with the intent of teasing Hayner-- it wouldn’t be the first time those goons had tried something like that.

In fact, Roxas had half-expected to find Seifer and his gang hiding on the premises before he got there, but he’d thoroughly checked the area twice. Just as well. What kind of lame photo would he get if Vivi photobombed him? Seifer would get a good laugh and boast about how he’d found Roxas being a loser, staying up past his bedtime and looking for things that went bump in the night.

Three.

Besides, the ghost was only supposed to show up if you were alone. If anyone else crashed the scene while he took his shot, that meant he’d have to come back again. Not that he was afraid, of course not, but since it was supposed to happen on a full moon that meant he’d have to wait a whole month before he could do this again, which would be a pain in the butt. Unless he could convince one of the others to do it next time, but they’d all probably think he’d chickened out, and he didn’t want them thinking that.

Four.

How’d he even let them talk him into it, anyway? How’d things escalate from complaining about the lame explanations of the Twilight Town mysteries to build up to daring him into going to the old mansion, alone, to wait for the clock tower bell to strike midnight?

He liked ice cream, yeah, but he liked sleep even more, and he was definitely staying up past his bedtime to do this.

Five.

Did something just move? He thought he saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye, but he knew there was nothing there. There couldn’t be anything there. Except maybe Seifer’s gang, but even they would have to make noise, and the courtyard was silent, except for the echo of the bell.

Six.

It was Hayner’s fault. Roxas didn’t even think there was a ghost, he didn’t believe in that stupid spooky stuff. And Pence’s suggestion that it was elves or fairies or whatever was equally ridiculous. He and Olette agreed that it was probably just people breaking and entering for a bit of mischief and nothing else.

Seven.

A shifting shadow, maybe. Or a trick of his eyes, since he was tired. For a moment he swore he saw someone standing by the mansion’s doors, but there was nothing there. There was nothing here at all, except for him, and he was getting himself worked up over nothing, jumping at shadows. He knew that. Knew it to his core.

Eight.

So why did it seem to be getting creepier by the minute?

Nine.

Augh, he just wanted this over with, because, yeah, maybe it was a little spooky out here by himself. Nothing was moving but he felt like there was stuff shifting in the shadows behind and around him, like someone or something was pacing back and forth.

Ten.

But there wasn’t anything there, he’d looked. He’d even taken photos of the area to see if he could spot faces or those ghostly orb things people said signified ghosts in the area and there was nothing.

He checked his phone again, making sure the angle of the shot would catch his good side. That was the trouble with these stupid photo dares-- you were so busy trying not to look scared as you got the shot that you ended up looking dumb.

Eleven.

Well, whatever. Just another 10 seconds or so. He wasn’t scared, just tired and maybe a little creeped out -- I mean, who wouldn’t be?-- but all he had to do was wait a few more seconds, take his photo, and he’d be done.

Twelve.

He was looking back and forth, trying to see if anyone or anything had magically appeared once the bell finished ringing. The mansion was still dark, no sign of movement in the windows. Of course nothing had changed because ghosts and goblins and elves didn’t exist. No ghost, no strange lights, no strange shadows. Nothing. The courtyard stayed empty, the shadows unmoving. The final toll of the bell faded at last, and the yard was silent once again.

He let out his breath and tension he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in eased away. He straightened up, putting his phone back into selfie mode. He checked his hair and fluffed some of the spikes that had gotten flattened while he’d sat against the pillar, then walked over to his chosen position on the lawn. He held up the phone and adjusted, making sure the moonlight lit his face in a way that was aesthetically pleasing. He grinned and his finger moved to the button to take the shot.

Thirteen.

The toll’s resonance hung in the air, an echo that bounced around the courtyard that seemed to have frozen in place. He could feel it bouncing around in his head, and his head felt weird and tingly. He brought up a hand to prop himself up against one of the crumbling pillars, trying to hold off a wave of nausea and dizziness.

He shut his eyes and counted down from ten, feeling a little better after he’d managed to calm his heart a bit. In all the excitement and anticipation of the moment he must’ve miscounted the tolls of the bell, and hearing the actual twelfth knell had startled him. He must’ve been more tense and scared then he’d even let himself believe. Hopefully he hadn’t made a stupid face in the photo.

The photo! Crap!

He brought up the phone to check and see if he’d actually gotten a shot, or if the unexpected toll had caused the image to blur. He could take another shot in a minute, of course, but he wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible. There was something off about this place so late at night, and ghosts or no ghosts, he wanted to be out of here and home as quickly as possible.

It took a minute for the photo to load, and there is was.His face didn’t look too bad-- a little blurry, maybe, because he’d just started to look up towards the distant clock tower, but his face was clearly visible and well lit. It probably would’ve actually been a pretty good picture, if it hadn’t been for the fact that there was something very, very wrong.

There was someone with him in the photo.

He stared at his screen as his mouth went dry. A figure in black, startling and distinct in the bright moonlight, standing in the background. There wasn’t anything particularly menacing or ghostly about the figure-- he’d always thought ghosts were supposed to wear white or whatever-- but there was no laughing this off as a trick of the light or some random prank by one of the guys. It was clearly a tall, slender person dressed in a hooded coat. And even though he couldn’t make out a face or expression, it was clear that the figure had been watching him.

“Hey there.”

Roxas was definitely not alone.