01 – Haunted House
Seliph Chalphy enjoys his walk from school. The trees around him are lush and green and wild blooms yield pleasant surprises by coloring the sides of the street. The cross-country move was sudden, but getting used to his new school turned out to be less scary or challenging. The kids from school quickly recognize him as part of the group, and neighboring kids are nothing but kind to him so far.
It does not take long for Seliph to enjoy his academic year as an elementary student. At school he quickly finds his pack—courageous and cheery blond-haired kids who introduced themselves as Patty and Diarmuid, and at home, his neighbor Uncle Shannan occasionally visits on the weekend to see Uncle Oifey, bringing the twin Larcei and Ulster along.
It has been a little scary, but the rest progresses smoothly, and his pack starts growing as months pass by. It’s no longer the raven-haired twins going with him to school or the cheerful blondes who walk with him until their bus stop; soon it looks like the whole fifth-graders band together with him everywhere.
Little Seliph finds comfort listening to his friends’ stories, himself being hesitant to start first. At least his first friends share his love towards the greeneries, and nearly every day anyone who passes by their little friendship group can be sure of looking into a bunch of happy kids who laugh and chuckle under the sun, if not playfully pushing each other onto the grass. Little Seliph likes it when their smart orange-haired friend points at various plants and flowers they encounter along the way, mentioning their names—no, Latin names which he cannot even pronounce—without forgetting to tell them that her even smarter mother taught her everything she shared with them so far.
On one particular hot afternoon, Little Seliph declares that he may as well call himself an explorer at this point because his last outing with Uncle Oifey and Uncle Shannan gave him a chance to explore the city. “Test my knowledge,” he says, closing his eyes a little bit to enjoy the feeling of the breeze swaying his pigtail back and forth. “I won’t get lost easily after this! Larcei won’t need to look for me!”
“I don’t mind,” the raven-haired girl replies. “We are friends! We go to school together! Friends do not abandon each other.”
“Let’s see…” Diarmuid clasps his chin. With eyes equally bright like the sunlight engulfing them, he looks at Seliph before whispering. “The big house near the hill is haunted, don’t you know?”
Seliph pauses for a second, imagining the place Diarmuid mentioned. The big house near the hill? He did not even notice prior—of course he remembers the hill, though; from his own window at the second floor, it looks so proud and unyielding, especially when the sky is gray and raining. There were nights when Seliph secretly opened his window just to gaze at that hill, to have his sense of hope renewed each time he feels like giving up. After all Uncle Oifey is busy, and an empty house makes him long for his parents even more. Yet his friends like this pigtail-new kid, and catching a glimpse of a tired Uncle Oifey who took his shoes off after a hard day at work only strengthens his belief that there is nothing much he can do except keeping his good grades without having to turn to Uncle Oifey for help.
When it isn’t raining, however, Seliph sees beautiful colors—the brown soil with forests and bushes growing on it, the various vivid colors of flowers and intriguing mushrooms when he is nearby. Sometimes he can see rainbow arching around the hill. Sometimes he wants to wake up Uncle OIfey to take him to the hilltop for moon-viewing because… perhaps he will see his parents’ faces again, telling him that everything will be alright, telling him he will not be so lonely—all the while he is awake without having to bet on his luck to see them in his dream.
“I don’t know,” Little Seliph keeps his voice low, darting a quick glance at the hill. “It is so pretty, though.”
“Ha! Sorry, Seliph! Seems you will still need us around!” Diarmuid declares proudly, slapping his own chest a little bit too enthusiastic that he coughs after. “There is a ghost… a ghost lurking in that big house…” the blond-haired kid drops his voice, inducing eeriness around them. “That is why you should stay away from the hill after dark!”
“Hmmm. Do ghosts lurk when the moon is full?” Seliph scratches his head. “And I didn’t do anything. Why would the ghost be angry at me? Besides, the hill is pretty. The house looks sharp too!”
“How do I know? I’m not a ghost!” Diarmuid shrugs. “And I suppose that is the perk of being a ghost—you get to be angry at people you do not even know.”
“None of you ever checked?” Seliph frowns this time.
Really—scary? The house is an antique one, akin to a relic from an age old past. The courtyard even has a fountain spring with a dolphin statue, and the tight closed fence only adds more into the whole mysterious vibe. But during daylight the house is beautiful regardless, and Little Seliph cannot help but thinking if the interiors are just equally beautiful. Passing by the house to forage mushrooms with Uncle Oifey one time gave him a glimpse of a cleaning—antique couches with gold-colored wide leaves were taken out, and a splendid-looking hand-woven carpet was being dried outside. He did not see anyone, but needless to say the majesty intrigued him.
“Why would I? It’s haunted!” Diarmuid scratches his head.
“Look at what you did,” Patty glares at him. “He didn’t know and now he’s curious.”
“Seliph won’t do that, he’s smart,” Diarmuid flashes a grin. “Unlike you.”
Seliph fidgets with his shirt. He is smart, they said. Smart kids do not do dumb things. Like Uncle Oifey said, he should just care for the important things, like growing up healthy and well to make his parents proud. And Seliph would have thought being smart should be a way to do it. After all, Uncle Oifey praises his adeptness—with soft gaze yet heavy laughter he says that Seliph is good at chess, something his late father never was. When he took a seat to budget groceries, Uncle Oifey, again, with the same soft gaze, said it had to be from his mother, because the late Deirdre was always careful.
But Little Seliph hardly sees himself as smart. He only knows how to try—harder, harder, to not disappoint Uncle Oifey or his solid little band fond of him. Or Diarmuid who needs his copy of a homework, perhaps, after failing mathematics for the second time in a week.
On the way home after following the twins and their cousin to roast mushrooms, he passes by the old house again—still majestic and silent as ever, invoking such impression of mysterious elegance once again. Larcei and Ulster have loaded their baskets in Uncle Shannan’s car while he still clutches on them. Uncle Shannan has filled the basket with his own catch, nearly too full for Little Seliph to carry. For Uncle Oifey, he said, smiling when Seliph insisted to carry everything by himself.
“Can we stop?” Seliph grimaces. “I need to pee.”
The corner of Uncle Shannan’s mouth twitches as he nods. Taking Larcei and Ulster to the car, he tells Little Seliph to make it quick because otherwise it may rain soon. Rejecting the twins carrying his basket, Seliph runs to take a good cover behind the trees to answer the call of nature. He is ready to run back into Uncle Shannan’s backseat when something catches his attention.
The backdoor of the mysterious manor is open. Perhaps they are cleaning again. Perhaps not. Smart kids do not concern themselves of unnecessary questions. But smart kids think and find answers. And again, Little Seliph never sees himself as smart. If anything he dreads being seen as special—it reminds him of being an outsider, forever the blue-haired new kid in town with pigtail who lives with his uncle. Being ordinary means blending in. Being special means standing out, prone to stares and being regarded as an object of curiosity.
Seliph walks on his toes, half-crouching, the way he tries to catch Diarmuid off guard when playing hide and seek. He is smart. And smart kids do not do dumb things. One step, another… third step, fourth step… he has made it into the mysterious house’s backyard. At least the trees are behind him, and given the silence there is a lot of chance to save himself by quickly running to where he came from in case someone from the house catches him trespassing. In case this ghost Diarmuid talked about reveals itself to him. But will the ghost listen? He is there uninvited. He does not even know who lives there. And then he is there, treating the house like the object of curiosity it is, knowing well what it feels to be regarded one himself. Perhaps he is not smart indeed. Or perhaps he is because he isn’t concerning himself with these questions—instead, he presses forward, exploring deeper into the compound.
It’s still silent. Perhaps the owners are gone for the weekend. Perhaps there is no such a thing as a ghost. Seliph finds himself gluing his face onto a window, peeking inside the closest room from the backyard. Oh, such a beautiful kitchen as well! It appears rustically antique like the rest of the house, but needless to say everything is spotless and taken care of. So someone truly lives there, anyway. There is no such a thing as a ghost. See, smart kids find an answer. So perhaps he is smart after all…
That was before something caught his attention, however. Sounds of faint, faint sobs give him creeps. He can feel it; the hairs at his nape rise upon hearing the heart-wrenching sobs. Seliph’s heart jumps in his throat—is it the ghost? And is this ghost sad because he disturbed its long sleep?
Startled, Seliph takes himself off the window. His basket dangles in his grip as he races as fast as he can to reach Uncle Shannan and the twins. A soft squeal escapes him when a figure of a woman appears before him—she has beautiful flowing light purple hair she wears in a long ponytail, decorated with a hair tie which reminds him of one of those flower circles at the hill just now. She looks so sad, however, with her eyes looking far into a distance.
Seliph smiles. Politely. Just like how Uncle Oifey taught him, just like how he remembers his mother’s graceful gestures each time she received a guest. “G-good afternoon,” his words trail. The lady does not seem to care; her eyes engulf his like a wave which brushes ashore, washing over the sandy surface, taking some with it. “I—I…”
The lady shakes her head. Not saying anything she walks past him after giving a sad smile, making a detour to disappear behind the walls which separate the kitchen with the front part of the house. Seliph presses his face again against the window. His mouth parts in surprise upon seeing a little girl curling at the floor now, pressing her legs against her chest. The lady Seliph sees from prior enters the kitchen, approaching her without a sound. She sets herself on the floor, enveloping the crying girl with her arms without making a sound. The little girl does not move, and Seliph cannot tell if the consolation did not work or she is just so sad.
“Sssh. Sssh…” Seliph thinks he can hear the sad lady’s humming voice, as gentle as the breeze. But the little girl keeps crying, mouthing something like a cry for help as she whimpers.
“Mama, help me—I’m in pain…”
Seliph is tempted to rush inside now, but other footsteps rustle into the kitchen, stopping him at his track. Another woman comes into the kitchen. Her wicked long hair swirls as her coarse, heeled steps stomp against the floor. She shouts at the crying little girl, causing Seliph to blink because of how unnerving the way she called her, not to mention her high-pitched crass tone is unlike anything he ever heard before.
The sad-looking lady is gone, and at this point, Seliph knows he won’t fault her to take a flight like that—he even feels like escaping himself. Long-haired lady roughly plants her grip against the crying little girl. Her nails dig into her, causing the little girl to yelp as the long-haired lady drags her to the dinner table.
Seliph sees the crying little girl. Wicked long-haired lady has her back facing him, heating the pan, searing the oil and breaks the eggs to fry. He tries to attract the little girl’s attention—waving frantically, drawn by her sad face. The little girl slumps at the table, choking her own sobs.
“I feed you and you are still crying?! Ingrate!!”
“You better know that if not because of my husband, I’d rather see you out!”
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“Hey!” Seliph mouths against the window, picking up a small pebble to throw. He truly is horrified now. The little girl wears such ashen expression, and if anything else fails…
The little girl startles. What was that just now—pigtail? She watches the window again, closely this time, finding a small face of a blue-haired kid who waves at her, wearing a bandanna tied over his forehead. Her eyes widened when this kid simply waves—again, and makes a face; he pinches his own cheeks until they stretch like crepe dough on a hotplate, sticking his tongue at her and gives a kind smile after.
Slowly traces of sadness disappear from her face. Slightly rising from the chair as not to attract the wicked lady’s attention, she looks outside, finding Seliph’s thumbs-up dart at her. And with it, the blue-haired kid makes another face, sticking his tongue out, flatting his nose with his thumb, mimicking a pig. His poor attempt to say “Oink, oink!” fishes her tender chuckle.
Seliph thinks his heart stop beating the moment the wicked lady sharply turns her head at the window. Her eyes burn into his as if she is cussing him in silence, as wrathful as a malicious hurricane. For a stranger he has never met before, the lady sure has a way to frighten him. Her red lips are tightly pursed, and the moment she leaves the sizzling pan to open the door, Seliph decides to be smart after doing series of what he is sure Uncle Oifey will consider dumb—he runs away.
He runs away. His small hands tremble when he throws himself onto the ground, releasing his grip over the majestic manor’s kitchen window. Tripping on his shoes Seliph runs as fast as he can, hiding himself behind a bunch of blooming roses and slipping outside through the opened backyard gate. He thinks his lungs are about to give up when he sees Uncle Shannan’s red sedan parked near the foot of the hill, and his friends’ long-haired cousin shoots him a worry yet displeased look.
He does not even realize he has been gone longer than he said he would. Ulster asks where he is because Uncle Shannan is deathly worried about him, and he can only shake his head, not even able to say anything even when the car pulls into his driveway.
“Where is your basket?” Uncle Shannan asks as he presses the bell.
Seliph clutches on the long-haired man. “A witch,” he mumbles. “There is no ghost. There is a witch.”
“Well, I need to let you know your nephew trespassed into my property, Mr. Chalphy.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it, Ma’am. Was anything damaged so far?”
“No, but I don’t appreciate having some curious squirrel watching me like a spy,” their guest of the day folds her arms. “Perhaps you should discipline him. You are too soft. That’s why kids these days…”
Seliph watches as Uncle Oifey frowns. He only sees him wearing such expression under headache, or when they laid down his father’s coffin to rest. And now for Uncle Oifey to wear such expression, he wonders—did someone… something… die, or is the witch giving him headache? Perhaps Little Seliph killed her food. Perhaps those eggs were burned. But despite the aromatic smell, remembering her long hair swirling before the sizzling pan makes his stomach churn. He loves eggs. Uncle Oifey made great omelets. His father made decent attempts of making one, but love always made them tasted alright. The witch lives in a grand house with a beautiful spotless kitchen. Clearly she is not lacking money. And she fried her eggs just like anyone else would—yet none of it sounds appealing in his mind now.
He faintly hears Uncle Oifey reassuring the lady that—yes, Seliph will not snoop into people’s houses again—but no, he is not going to discipline him in the way she suggested, and she better curbs that thought because it has no place around here.
Little Seliph does not understand. But then again he presses a pillow over his head, deafening the witch’s voice and sarcastic sharp laughter as she scoffs when Uncle Oifey denied her suggestion. “At least if you did that this would not happen.”
“He’s just a kid.”
“Exactly why, Mr. Chalphy!”
The witch leaves. Seliph peeks from his window, expecting a flying broom to take her back to the manor. But no—she drives an antique Cadillac, and Little Seliph is disappointed and relieved at the same time, even when Uncle Oifey gives him an earful of not snooping into people’s houses after that.
The next day he repeats his finding to Diarmuid because—again, there is no ghost, only a witch; a modern-day witch who drives a car instead of riding a flying broom or magic carpet. And those crying sounds had come from a little girl, a very sad little girl who curled up crying on the kitchen floor.
They want to believe him. After all, he is a smart kid. So they set up a plan, leaving on a noble quest, bearing witness to the power of the wicked witch. Uncle Oifey said not to snoop on houses or business. Uncle Shannan talked a lot about wild animals and accidents after dark. But none of these adults ever talked about witches and ghosts; there are only him and his faithful band of friends there, and Diarmuid being wrong or not, at least he knows that ghosts can actually exist. Lana talks about the so-called witch doctors—herbalists, she says, who treat people not with medicines but herbs and flowers procured from the wilderness.
“See, witches exist,” Little Seliph chimes in proudly.
“No. Witch doctors are nice grandmas,” Lana counters. “But my mother says they are called botanists and they are not always old.”
“Your mother has never encountered a witch,” Little Seliph isn’t willing to lose just yet.
So the twins tag with them, loyal as always while Little Seliph decides not to call Uncle Oifey. After all, Uncle Oifey was not so inclined to hear about ghosts and witches. After all, Uncle Oifey invited that witch into the house while Uncle Shannan seemed to care more about wild animals than… wild entities.
Their band of explorers find the house, with Seliph’s basket is still as intact laying on the ground. The witch did not even touch them—does Lana know a thing or two about botanists, herbalists—witches—who do not seem to harbor interest in mushrooms? He would have asked if Diarmuid did not already climb on a tree, hanging on one of the branches before throwing himself into the backyard.
They follow in his footprints, with Little Seliph holding up Lana over his shoulders while Ulster hurls himself first and takes her from behind the wall next. After Lana lands safely inside the yard, Little Seliph follows suit, climbing like Diarmuid. They trace the backyard again, braver this time now that they are going as a unit instead of a person.
“Did you hear that?” Lana whispers. “Someone is crying!”
“Sssh,” Diarmuid quickly silences her. “What if it is a ghost?”
“There is no ghost, it’s a witch!” Seliph insists while Ulster draws a string of garlics and odd-looking stones from his backpack.
“It’s called the hagstones,” he declares proudly. “They say if you carry these, you protect yourself from a witch that she cannot curse you or invade you in your dreams.”
“And what about the garlics?” Little Seliph inquires.
“What if she is a vampire?” Ulster insists. “She did not want your mushrooms. She cooked the egg for that crying girl. What if she does not even eat?”
“Makes sense,” Seliph nods, followed by the others. The blue-haired warrior leads his faithful band of knights to vanquish evil, taking them to the route he took yesterday, bringing them to the very same window where he glued his face onto.
“Nobody is there,” the courageous Ulster says after taking a peek.
“The crying sounds far away,” Diarmuid notes.
“But if we go in, my uncle will chew me out,” Seliph darts his glance into the distance, where the sad-looking lady previously took a detour.
“But we are here. Just one more try, promise?” Diarmuid nudges him. The warriors tread the battlefield once again, ready for a fog battle they are about to face. Ulster has his curse-negating equipment ready while Lana clutches on her first-aid kit box. Seliph has read everything he can find about witches and ghosts in a day, armed with obscure knowledge Diarmuid does not even know while the latter keeps his courage and faith burning. Larcei simply picks up a sturdy-looking tree branch to help them climbing their way out of the compound.
“S-someone is crying,” Lana whispers, clutching on her first-aid box tightly that her knuckles turn white.
“Deeper further, we are truly trespassing,” Larcei shifts uncomfortably.
“Hey, it’s the sad lady!” Seliph announces, catching a glimpse of the previous melancholic lady from yesterday. She is still the same—purple-haired ponytail wearing a dress matching the color of her hair and eyes, only that she looks even more somber now like melancholia has completely eaten her alive.
“Hey, wait…” Diarmuid calls, but there is no time to debate because Seliph catches after her—she takes the same turn like yesterday, and the kids find a back entry from the porch. Courageous Diarmuid slowly opens the door, looking like he hits a jackpot because the door has been unlocked. Perhaps the witch had been in a hurry like prior, not anticipating their warrior band would be back with a plan.
Seliph hops and treads, following the sad-looking lady. They find the little girl curling near the porch, and everyone gasps upon finding bruises and scratches around her. Sad-looking lady crouches once again, stroking the little girl’s hair with utmost compassion like it personally pains her to witness her condition.
“Oh gosh, you are in a bad shape,” Lana seats herself on the floor, opening her box. The little girl winces and grimaces when she washes her wounds, but bandages and ointments soothe her pain that she thanks them as she wipes her face.
“Y-you are the boy from yesterday…”
“Seliph!” Little Seliph extends his hand to her. “Why are you crying? Why—“
“M-my aunt is a discipline woman,” the little girl’s voice squeaks. “S-she does not like it when I could not do what she asked rightfully.”
“My mother scolds me too sometimes but…” Lana wants to say something before gasping. “No. Nooo. Y-your aunt beat you up!”
“Y-you mean it’s not… normal?” the little girl squeaks again. “B-but don’t naughty kids get the belt?”
“Get the WHAT?” Diarmuid’s voice tears the vacuum around them.
The kids turn around. The witch is still there, and yes—a belt is rolled in her fist. Her gold-polished long nails appear like a wolf’s talons for Little Seliph, and without thinking he quickly grabs the little girl. “Ruuun!”
Like a bunch of rallied knights his little band quickly catches up while the witch shouts at them, talking how she is so willing to teach them a thing or two about respecting adults; how they are nothing but a bunch of unloved failure who can only trouble their elders. The little girl clutches tightly on Seliph, her hand shivers in his. The sad-looking lady is no longer around, and Seliph can’t help but thinking it will be nice if she is not leaving this time—after all they need an adult, and if she seems to care for the little girl, shouldn’t she stick around and help? They are still strangers. And the witch runs after them shouting names.
“Get back here, Tine! You ingrate!! You should have died like her!”
“Ah, so it’s your name…” Little Seliph somehow finds a bit solace upon hearing that. “That means you are not a ghost, right?”
“W-well, my hand isn’t cold, isn’t it?” the little girl chuckles awkwardly. Ulster throws his garlic stash at the witch, who lets out nerve-tearing yell while running after them.
“Keep the stones,” Larcei hurls herself onto the wall, giving the sturdy branch at Lana to climb. Little Seliph lets his friend escape one by one—Tine rests on his shoulders, ready to be given to the waiting hands of Diarmuid and Ulster. The witch cusses, earning horrified gasps from everyone else as she violently tries to tear the little girl off Seliph.
Ulster hurls his string of hagstones at the witch.
She screams—screams like a witch and probably worse when the stones hammer against her. And Little Seliph gasps once more upon seeing what happens—blood, blood oozes out of the witch’s scarred skin. Diarmuid pulls Tine while Seliph hops, tumbling outside the wall while the witch rips his shoes. The kids can barely take a breath when the witch frantically unlocks the gate to catch them, until…
Sirens and car lamps light on them, revealing Uncle Oifey and Uncle Shannan who hurriedly come after them. Seliph slowly registers everything—the sirens, the painted cars… “P-police?” Uncle Oifey hugs him while Uncle Shannan hugs the twins. The witch is taken away in cuffs, and while the kids stare in shock, the little girl they helped slowly lets out a chuckle.
At first it was faint. But soon after her faint chuckles grow merrier as her tears flow like uncontrollable leak, thanking Little Seliph a thousand times as the adults around him converse with words so foreign to him—child abuse? Neglectful guardian? This and that—who knows; what he knows is that never under any circumstances that his late father, mother, and Uncle Oifey had to threaten him with a belt. Ulster seems to quickly catch up because now that the tension has past, in a low voice he tells his cousin that the lady must have been human like them—otherwise, why did she bleed?
“How did you find me?” the little girl mumbles, her hand still entangles with Seliph’s.
“That sad lady guided me,” Seliph scratches his head. “I wish she would stay, though—I mean, didn’t she tell you anything? She comforted you when you were sad!”
“Yeah? The purple-haired… ponytail…” Little Seliph makes rapid motions with his hands, gesturing at his own body parts to give the little girl a vivid description. “What’s wrong…?”
Little Seliph stares in shock. Everything around him buzzes again, with Tine bursting into tears while Diarmuid chirps—I was right after all!—earning sincere smack from a displeased Larcei, because that is not the time to be proud like that. In between of undecipherable sounds while everything starts dawning on him, Little Seliph catches what one of the policemen is saying, who is talking to Uncle Shannan—
“… Yes, we believe that is the case. Tailtiu Friege died a couple of years ago because…”