The large gate creaked on its hinges as the doors swung open, and Ino lowered her oversized shades to peer up at the two-story house at the far end of the driveway.
Sakura turned to her as she continued up the driveway.
"Can you wait until we're actually there before you judge it?"
Ino slid her sunglasses back into place and leaned back in the seat, lips pressed tight as they pulled around the semi-circle driveway in front of the house. Ino got out slowly, leaning against the open car door as she tucked her shades into her purse.
The house was old, to say the least. It had clearly been given a new coat of white paint, but it's age was given away in the stone work and wood accents on the exterior, the grey-tiled roof and the vintage sliding wooden front door. There was a tree by the door with a red sunshade beside it, and beige flagstones leading from the driveway up to the house.
"It's been in one family for a long time," Sakura replied, closing her door and digging in her bag for the keys. "It should be old."
"You're kidding, right?" Ino said, barely keeping the distaste out of her voice as she followed Sakura. "Does everything work, at least? I’m not sure a house this old is a good starter."
Sakura stepped inside and flipped on the light so they could both toe off their shoes.
"You’ll like the interior. There's a lot of renovations."
Ino sighed and resigned herself to a tour of the house. Sakura had been so excited to find it-large and suspiciously cheap, it was the perfect house for her to set up her private practice, but Ino hadn't realized that it was located on the older west side of Konoha, so far away from her.
Sakura lead her through the house, and while the polished hardwood floors were clearly original but well taken care of, the interior had been upgraded while keeping the classic style. The shoji doors had all been replaced with modern versions, lightly frosted glass in place of the paper, which created large squares of warm muted natural light on the floors and walls.
"Isn't the lighting great? When I saw it, I immediately thought of how much nicer it would be for patients over the artificial hospital lights." Sakura explained.
"I mean, you're going to be treating kids, right? Not sure they really care about that," Ino muttered.
Sakura rolled her eyes and ignored her as she continued to lead her through the house.
The rooms on the first floor were large and spacious, which were perfect for setting up waiting and exam rooms, the largest of which opened up onto a wooden back porch that spanned the length of the house. The backyard was grassy and had a narrow stream headed by a fountain and flanked by stones that led out to a sitting area beneath a cherry tree before ending in a high wall that wrapped around to meet the front gate.
Sakura pointed to the small bench beneath the tree.
"Do you think a gazebo would work out there? I could put lights inside, or maybe on the tree?"
Ino cocked her head and studied the space, her critical eyes sweeping over the landscaping before she nodded.
"And Camelia, against the wall for sure."
Sakura could see the wheels spinning in Ino's head as she mentally plotted out all the flowers she should plant, and she led her back inside before her friend tried to sell her the entirety of the Yamanaka’s family flower shop.
The kitchen was off the back of the house, and the only room with regular doors. The sink and range sat on the back wall under a huge window overlooking the backyard, and there was a second door opening up onto the porch. The appliances were stainless steel and the countertops quartz with pale grey cabinetry and tile backsplash. There was a variable-height chabudai included with the house that sat under modern glass light fixtures.
"Not so bad, right?" Sakura waved her hand to indicate the entirety of the kitchen.
"Mmm...I still think it's far," Ino mumbled, as she ran her hand over the finish on the chabudai. "You could get all of this in an apartment closer to the hospital, you know?"
Sakura sighed. “Come on. There’s some features I think you’ll love upstairs.”
She headed up the stairs off of the front room, the narrow floorboards creaking lightly beneath her feet. Ino followed, and they toured the master bedroom and two additional bedrooms, where the smallest would be easy to turn into her office. There was a newly renovated bathroom as well, done in modern white with warm wooden accents that Ino claimed was the saving grace of the house as she ran her finger along the marble double vanity top and gushed over the extra large freestanding tub and the glass-encased shower.
The last bedroom, while not as big as the master, was a corner room with a covered balcony through a set of slider doors and a perfect view of the backyard, and the city beyond the back wall. Sakura quickly decided it was going to be her new room and she could turn the Master into a really nice guest room.
"You got a smoking deal, Forehead." Ino said from the doorway of the master bedroom, an expression of mild confusion on her face. "Why would they do all these renos just to sell it so cheap?"
Sakura shrugged, crossing her arms and leaning on the doorframe. "I'm guessing it's because of the location. There's not much out this way anymore, and it's been on the market for a really long time."
Ino frowned. "How long?"
Sakura tapped her finger against her lips as she tried to recall what the real estate agent had said to her as she'd taken her first tour of the house a month or so ago.
"What?! Are you kidding me?" Ino gawked at her, but before she could start berating her for buying what was clearly a problem house somehow, Sakura heard the moving van pull up outside, and the slamming of doors.
"They're here!" She said as she skipped down the stairs, pointedly ignoring the growing scowl on her friends face.
She didn't have a lot of possessions, coming from a one bedroom apartment. There were two movers with the van, and after Sakura went through the house and marked off what each room was with a Post-It note, she left them to handle the furniture while she and Ino started putting the boxes in their correct places to unpack later.
The movers were done within a couple of hours, and once Sakura had watched the van pass through the gate on the security system cameras, she used the control to lock it behind them. Her cable and internet services weren't scheduled for install until the next day, so Ino turned on the radio while Sakura fished the rice cooker out of one of the three kitchen boxes and started throwing together something to eat.
Halfway through dinner, seated at the chabudai, Sakura noticed Ino picking at her grilled fish with her chopsticks.
“What’s wrong?” Sakura prompted hesitantly, already steeling herself for an argument.
Ino dropped her chopsticks with a sigh and flipped her hair back over her shoulder.
“Is this really what you want? You could stay in the city instead of way out here, work at the hospital, meet somebody…?”
“Ino—“ Sakura interrupted her with an exasperated sigh. “You know my work is the most important thing to me right now. This is the perfect place to start my practice, build my own name instead of just being Tsunade’s student.”
“Her best student,” Ino snorted with a roll of her eyes. “You already have a name for yourself. What about a family?”
“Now you sound like my parents, Pig.” Sakura checked her empty cup and got up to get more tea from the glass teapot on the stove.
“I’m a doctor. I don’t have a lot of time right now for a relationship, and just because you have Sai doesn’t mean I’m missing out.”
“I didn't say you were missing out,” Ino huffed. “I just...don’t want you to be lonely all the way out here. Your work doesn’t have to be your whole life, either.”
“I’ll be fine,” Sakura beamed. She brought over the teapot and filled Ino’s cup before sitting back down. “I’ll get the practice going, I’ll be busy, and I’ll be happy.”
Ino was quiet, her big blue eyes pointedly fixed on her best friend for about a half second before she scooped up her chopsticks. “Fine. But, you know you always can always come stay with us, if you know, this doesn’t work.”
After they’d cleaned the kitchen and done a little more unpacking, Sakura dug around in the bedroom boxes until she located the bedding, pulling out a sheet set and comforter for the spare bedroom as well as for her own bed. She set up Ino's bed first, then made her own before glancing around her new room again.
She was drawn to the sliders, loving the open view. The clouds from earlier had cleared, leaving a clear, bright night with a full moon that cast a soft glow over the entire yard. She glanced down to make sure the lock was engaged, and when she looked back up, movement caught her eye.
If not for the light of the moon, she probably wouldn't have even seen it, but as she stared down at her yard, she recognized the vague silhouette of a person standing there, staring at the house. She gave a startled gasp at the realization, heart racing against her ribcage.
They were oddly still, the only movement was what looked like hair or a scarf blowing in the breeze. The longer the seconds ticked by, the more alarmed Sakura became by the stock-still presence. She wasn’t exactly close to any neighbors, and the house was enclosed by the wall and gate. No one should have been in her yard.
"Hey Ino...?" She called, raising her voice to be heard over the radio downstairs, not taking her eyes off the figure. "Someone's in the yard!"
Sakura heard the radio go silent and Ino's steps on the stairs before her voice sounded from the door.
"This late? I thought you locked the gate?" Her footsteps got louder as she came closer. "Where?"
Sakura nodded toward the figure, not willing to take her eyes off them.
"I did lock it. Right there."
Ino scanned the yard before turning a finely arched brow on Sakura.
"What are you talking about?" There was clear confusion in her voice.
Sakura tore her eyes away to glance at Ino's puzzled face. "Oh my god, Pig! Right there! You seriously can't see--"
She jabbed her finger at the glass, turning back to the yard to find herself pointing to empty air.
The figure was gone.
The only thing visible was the outline of the rocks lining the stream and the cherry tree. She flipped the lock and yanked the door open, jogging out onto the balcony, looking over the railing at the yard below.
"But..." She went silent, listening for footsteps on the wooden walkway below, but she was greeted with nothing but the soft thunk of the bamboo fountain tipping into the stream below and fading caws of a crow. "I swear someone was standing there."
Ino joined her on the balcony and looked around, but Sakura could tell it was just to humor her.
"Those hospital hours must are getting to you! It’s been a long day, we could probably both use a good night's sleep. We can check for footprints in the morning."
Sakura tossed and turned, unable to sleep. After making sure the gate and all doors and windows were locked and the security system engaged, she and Ino had gone to bed. She was tired, and there was a vague ache in her muscles that told her she'd probably gotten a pretty good workout moving the book boxes with her medical texts around, but sleep would not take her. She got up several times to peer out the sliders again, but whoever had been out there did not reappear, and none of the alarms were triggered. She had locked the gate after the moving van left, and no one would have been able to scale it or the property wall.
Maybe Ino was right, and the excitement from the day coupled with being in a new, unfamiliar property had gotten to her.
She rolled onto her side and watched the numbers on her alarm clock tick by for another hour, mind alternating between her patient case files and the figure in the yard until she finally gave up and rose to use the bathroom, throwing the covers back with an exasperated sigh. She glanced at the closed door of the Master bedroom, where she’d set Ino up for the night. Sakura was pretty quiet, but her best friend was a notoriously light sleeper, so she made sure the bathroom door was closed before turning on the light so as to not possibly wake her. When she turned off the light and padded back to her room, Sakura yawned and was almost to her doorway when a creak from the stairs made her stop mid-step.
She waited, heart pounding and breath suspended.
"Ino?" Her whisper sounded thunderous in the sudden silence."Is that you?"
She was almost willing to chalk it up to an old house settling, except there was another creak, and another, and Sakura had been up and down the stairs enough earlier in the day to know the boards did not make a sound unless stepped on.
She glanced back to her room, where a set of kunai given to her by her parents waited in her bedside drawer. She crouched into a low stance, arm drawn back as her fingers curled into her palm, eyes locked on the pale shadows of the stairway.
Time ticked by agonizingly slow- seconds or minutes, she wasn’t sure which- as she remained frozen in the hallway, waiting for another sound or an intruder to show themselves, she only knew that it was until her shoulders ached with holding her fist ready to slam into anyone who dared break in her new home and threaten herself or her friend.
With no further creaking or appearances, she slowly straightened and took several deep, shaky breaths. Sakura had made less noise before and been fussed at by a half-awake Ino, but her door remained closed.
Old houses made noises that apartments didn't, she reminded herself. Better to not get so jumpy about it.
When she slowly got back in bed, she slid open the nightstand drawer and set one of the kunai next to her pillow, just in case. She forced herself to recount every muscle in the human body in anatomical order until she finally drifted off to sleep.
They scoured the yard after breakfast the next day where Sakura saw the figure, but there wasn't a single disturbed blade of grass. Sakura attributed everything to the combination of a new place, stress from opening her own practice and being tired from the move and her hours at the hospital.
Ino stayed the rest of the day, continuing to help unpack while Sakura dealt with the cable install and offered to stay the night, but Sakura shook her head. The house was hers, she just had to get used to its quirks, and Ino had her own responsibilities with her flower shop to get back to.
Over the next few weeks, Sakura forgot all about the figure and the noises. Absorbed in getting everything put away and getting most of the downstairs ready to open her practice, it was the last thing on her mind. She had enough of a financial cushion that she could take a few months off to get her practice started, but she remained on call with the hospital, so she often spent half of her time at Konoha General. In the little spare time she had left, she met up with Ino to pick out furniture and decor for the waiting room and ordered the exam table and necessary medical equipment and supplies for her treatment room.
She would have completely forgotten about it if odd things hadn’t started happening around the house. It started when Sakura arrived home late from a thirty-hour straight shift at the hospital. As the gate rumbled open, in the distance she could see that the lights downstairs in the house were on. She was tired, but she was pretty sure when she’d left that she turned them off. Knowing she may be gone for a long shift when she did get called in, she made it a point to make sure that windows and doors were locked, lights were turned off and the alarm system was engaged.
She unlocked the door, turned off the alarm, and walked around the house slowly, checking each room. Nothing was out of place, and after completing her inspection, Sakura shook her head. She must have forgotten. She ate a quick dinner and went to bed early.
She was woken in the middle of the night by a distant thumping noise coming from downstairs. As she grabbed the kunai she had made a routine of leaving out on the nightstand and eased the sheets back, she heard the noise repeat itself, no louder or softer.
Three more times, then silence.
There was no chance of creeping down the stairs and sneaking up on any intruder that had managed to break in without setting off her alarm, so Sakura gritted her teeth and flipped on lights, heading down the stairs with determined steps. When her bare feet touched the smooth wood of the first floor, she took a quick backstep, wishing she’d put her slippers and robe on and reminded herself to check the thermostat, certain she had not left the air conditioner on for it to be so cold.
“Who’s here?” She demanded loudly.
Silence met her, and she glanced around only to realize the sound had been the interior doors. She left them all open since she was the only one there and had no need for privacy, but each one was closed. She couldn’t explain it with a draft, she’d left no windows open and the doors were heavy on their tracks.
She stormed into each one and slammed the doors open, flipping on lights and checking any closets or places a person might hide.
After two rounds of the house and one around the outside, she found nothing.
She double checked the alarm to ensure it was on, and turned off the lights before going back upstairs. She got back in bed, kunai in hand, and laid awake until morning, ears straining for any further strange noises.
The next night, it happened again. Sakura was awake, having taken a long nap during the day to make up for her lack of sleep and was up in the room she’d set up as her office flipping through a book on juvenile idiopathic arthritis when she noticed the atmosphere in the house change. It was hard to say what exactly it as that she felt, but the air became heavier, thicker, and then she heard the first door slide close.
Slamming the book down on her desk, Sakura ran down the stairs, determined to catch whoever was messing around in her home. As she hit the bottom step, she watched the door to the back room that opened onto the back porch close. She stopped for a moment, listening for footsteps. The old wood floors were in good condition, but the material did not muffle footsteps like carpet, and if someone was walking even barefoot in her house, she should have been able to hear it.
She heard nothing, and as she approached the door and tried to pull it open with the small handle on the modern door, she was shocked by how cold and slippery the metal was. She yanked her hand back and carefully reached for it again.
The handle was iced over.
Sakura drew her hand away, watching as a water droplet slid over the pad of her finger and fell to the floor.
She took a step away, and then another. Nothing about it made any sense. There was no ice to be seen anywhere else on or around the door, and the ambient air temperature, while colder than she remembered setting the air conditioner for, was definitely not cold enough for ice.
She checked the other doors, tapping the handles cautiously before finding them at room temperature and easily sliding them open. As she turned back to the frozen door, the same sound came from upstairs.
Sakura nearly screamed in frustration. There was no way anyone could have gotten up the stairs without her either seeing or hearing. There had been no obvious sounds, and she was in a hallway in clear view of the stairs only a few yards from the first step.
There was no one upstairs, her logical mind told her, but she’d just heard one of the doors close.
Taking the steps two at a time, she bolted back up them to find the door to the unused spare bedroom shut.
“What the hell?!” She questioned to herself out loud, sliding it back open to reveal an empty room.
None of it made sense. She was a logical person and she wracked her brain trying to put together a reasonable explanation for any of the strange occurances. The doors wouldn’t blow shut with a draft, but could the house be tilted? Was there some building code that hadn’t been met? Maybe in the rush to sell the house, the renovations had been rushed and done poorly. That had to be it, maybe that accounted for the cheap cost of the house. She wondered if it was possible that the pre-purchase inspection or the city permit inspector hadn’t caught the issues, and decided to get a contractor out to do another inspection as soon as possible.
It still didn't explain the icy handle, but Sakura forced herself not to think about that until she had someone look at the house.
She slept poorly again and woke the next day with a dull headache that she attributed to lack of sleep and stress. She washed aspirin down with a cup of tea and got to work unpacking the rest of her office, filling the bookshelves with her reference texts, medical journals and anatomy models. She finished a little after noon and went down to the kitchen to make herself lunch and then decided to go for a jog. Since moving in had taken up most of her free time, she hadn’t been as diligent about staying in shape, and a jog would definitely help clear her mind.
It was nearing dusk by the time she got back to the house, lungs burning and legs aching, but definitely feeling better. She decided a nice hot bath in the new tub after her run should definitely help her sleep, so after she finished off some leftovers from lunch, she went upstairs and started the bath while she gathered her towel and some bubble bath Ino had given her as part of her housewarming gift. The room quickly heated up with the full tub, and Sakura quickly stripped out of her clothes and put a toe in to test the temperature, sighing with contentment when she realized she’d gotten it just right. It had been a while since she’d been able to visit an onsen, but this was even better.
She soaked until her fingers were pruny, then quickly ducked under the water to wet her hair, lathered shampoo into it, and ducked under again to rinse it out. She swept her hands over her face and pushed her hair out of her eyes, then reached for the tub plug and stood to grab the towel she’d laid out. She wrapped it around her and tucked the end in then realized she’d forgotten to grab her robe from her room.
She took one step back in the bathroom and froze, clutching her robe tighter around her. The temperature had dropped low enough that goosebumps prickled along Sakura’s skin, and the room was eerily quiet. The gurgling of the water draining from the tub was gone, and she’d only been in her room a minute, maybe two at the most while she’d briskly toweled off and thrown her robe on.
She took another careful step toward the tub, craning her neck to see over the tall side to the bottom.
The water was halfway drained, and frozen solid.
Make sure. Make sure you aren’t seeing things, she told herself.
She grabbed the bar of soap from the soapdish by the sink and tossed it in the tub, where it hit the waterline with a solid thunk and went sliding across the surface. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and Sakura slowly realized that her shaky breaths were visible, streaming out before her.
The air in the bathroom changed, quickly becoming heavy and oppressive, reminding her of the ozone-rich charge of the air during a lightning storm in the heat of summer, and she slowly turned to the mirror.
There was someone standing behind her.
Like a picture seen through a foggy lens, her brain only processed minimal details of black hair and dark eyes in a pale face before she screamed and ran.
She bolted down the stairs and out the front door and only stopped once she’d hit the driveway, and there she stayed, staring at the house as she waited for any sign of the stranger coming after her. The shrill racket of the alarm going off startled her, and then she could hear her phone ringing as the security company called her. She wanted to grab it, but there was no way she was going back in the house and if she didn’t answer, they would automatically call the police.
She started down toward her gate to wait for them.
Twenty minutes later, a KPD patrol car pulled up to where Sakura was waiting by the gate, still grasping her robe closed at her throat and shuffling her weight from foot to foot in a mixture of agitation and fear, her eyes darting back to the house every few seconds as the alarm continued to blare.
The officer stepped out of the car.
“Are you the owner of the house? I’m Officer Yamato, we got a call from your security company.”
Sakura nodded. “Yes, I’m Dr. Haruno. There was someone in my upstairs bathroom...a..man. I don’t know if he’s still there, I just ran, but I haven’t seen anyone come out.”
“Are you alright?” He asked, kindly.
She nodded again, but her voice was shakier than she would have liked. “I’m fine.”
She watched his deep-set eyes sweep over her, taking in her wet hair, the robe and her bare dusty feet, before he opened up the back door of the squad car.
“Here. You can have seat and tell me what happened.”
Sakura climbed in, grateful to be off the rocky dirt, and recounted everything as he drove back up to the house. He asked her for the alarm code and told her to wait in the car. The alarm went silent a few moments later as he disappeared inside.
Sakura waited for what felt like forever with her eyes glued on her front door as he swept the house and re-emerged, empty-handed.
“It’s safe, Dr. Haruno. I checked everything, and besides the front door, all of your doors are locked.”
Sakura stared at him for a long moment. That meant if they left, whoever her intruder was would have had to come out the front door, and she’d been watching it the entire time. Which meant, either they were still in the house and by some miracle had managed to hide from the officer, or, they hadn’t been there in the first place.
“I don’t,” she started to say, then trailed off. “...don’t understand. You checked everywhere?”
Yamato nodded. “Every room, every closet, the attic. There’s no sign of anyone.”
She wanted to ask him about the tub of ice, but something stopped her. If he didn’t notice it and find it strange enough to ask about, then she wasn’t going to bring it up since it only left one conclusion: He didn’t notice it because it wasn’t there.
She took a deep breath and thanked Yamato for checking. He took a report, and told her since he didn’t have another call yet, he would sit outside the gate and watch the property until then. She nodded and headed up the stairs, her feet feeling like concrete blocks as she took each step. From the top of the stairs she could easily see into the open bathroom door and part of the tub. While part of her dreaded stepping near it, the other part of her had to know. She inhaled sharply and made herself march straight up to the tub and look in, where the bar of soap rested against the drain of a completely empty tub.
After she rinsed off the dirt from the driveway in the downstairs bathroom and changed into old sweats and a t-shirt, Sakura lay staring at the ceiling for a long time. She undeniably saw another person behind her in that bathroom, but it didn’t mean they had actually been there. Her medical background told her there were any number of conditions that could cause hallucinations, and while she hadn’t had any head trauma, there was always the possibility of a tumor. There were no other symptoms, no fever or headaches, no seizures, no blurred vision, but her office was full of textbooks of all kinds of cases that presented both very clearly, and not clearly at all. Before falling into an exhausted sleep, she scribbled down a series of diagnostic tests in the notebook she kept on her nightstand.
The next morning, Sakura drove to Konoha General and found Shizune in her office next to Tsunade’s. As soon as Sakura walked in, Shizune lowered her tea.
“You look like shit.” She said brightly.
“Thanks.” Sakura said, plopping down in the chair opposite her desk and sliding the list of tests across to her.
“What’s this?” Shizune asked, picking it up to scan it.
“I need to have those done.”
Shizune lowered it to look at her, her gaze more scrutinizing.
“Sakura, what’s going on?”
“Is there any scenario where I don’t have to explain it? Because I’d really rather not right now.”
Sakura’s eyes slid to the desk, the bookshelves, anywhere but Shizune’s face. She really hadn’t been looking forward to telling her boss’s assistant that she was either medically unfit to practice medicine at the moment or having some sort of unexpected and completely unfounded psychological breakdown.
Shizune sighed and shook her head as she started filling out lab orders. “You know if there’s anything on the results, I have to tell her.”
Sakura nodded. “I’ll tell her myself.”
She spent the rest of her morning going through various tests- X-rays, CAT and MRI scans, and blood work, before ordering lunch for her and Shizune in her office as she waited for the results.
One by one, they came back without any abnormalities. Her bloodwork was the last to come in, and Sakura scanned it before breathing a sigh of relief. She was, as far as all of her tests were concerned, perfectly healthy. Which left only two conclusions; there was something in the house that was affecting her, or she was having a psychological issue. She was inclined to believe the first, since she experienced no auditory or visual hallucinations anywhere but the house. More determined than ever, Sakura looked up contractors on her phone and scheduled an appointment to have the house inspected again.
She spent the rest of the day picking up groceries and running errands before returning to the house. By then, she’d turned over every possibility she could think of until she narrowed it down to her first conclusion, that the same thing that was affecting the doors and the air conditioning had to be affecting her. Electromagnetic frequencies were definitely capable of affecting the human body, and if the wiring in the house hadn’t been done correctly, it would explain a lot.
By the time she had put her groceries away, Sakura had convinced herself that she’d figured out the strange problems and now just had to wait for the contractor to fix it.
That was, until she walked upstairs to find an ice cold bedroom and the stranger waiting for her.