The lights flicker and die. Cold air blasts through the room. In its wake, an icy chill rises, swirling through the apartment in clouds of fog. Rain pounds against the roof.
The door slams behind Yahaba, and he jumps. Lightning flashes, cutting through the darkness, revealing that Yahaba is no longer alone.
A figure stands before the couch. Their hair hangs limp in their face. Pale fists clench at their sides. Something dark stains the front of their shirt, and Yahaba stumbles back, bumping into the door.
The television turns itself on. White static fizzles across the screen, illuminating the figure. Blood splashes down before their feet.
Yahaba fumbles with the doorknob. He did not sign up for this. There was nothing in the lease agreement about souls of the damned or supernatural forces, and the landlord will be the next person damned if his deposit isn’t returned.
The ghost lifts their head. Shadows cling to lifeless bones. Dead eyes stare straight through Yahaba, and tears roll down their cheeks, dripping to the floor.
Yahaba waits, holding his breath. He closes his eyes. This can’t be real. Ghosts are not real.
Yahaba opens his eyes. The ghost stands inches away from him. He tries to move away, but the door is right there, and he slams his head against it. Stars cloud his vision. “Sahara means desert,” Yahaba blurts out.
The ghost blinks, looking almost startled.
“So... when you say”—his teeth chatter—“Sahara Desert, you’re saying desert desert.”
The ghost’s lips part, forming the word, “What?”
“I ramble when I’m nervous.” Yahaba chuckles, the sound forced and shrill. “Do you like trivia? You know, according to all known laws of aviation, there is no way that a bee should be able to fly—ah, dammit. Forget I said that. Uh...”
The ghost continues to stare at him, brows raised.
“Are you okay?” Yahaba asks. “You’re crying. Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s blood,” they say. Their voice echoes, hollow and cold, like the wind howling through a graveyard.
“You’re crying blood,” Yahaba agrees. “Can I, like, get you something for that?” He doesn’t know what he should use for tears of blood on a human, let alone on a ghost. Desperately, he grabs a napkin off the entryway table, hands shaking, and wipes beneath the ghost’s eye.
They draw back, taking the napkin with them. The hold it in their hand for a moment, and then flames erupt, burning it away.
“That... Well, that is,” Yahaba flounders for the right words, but there are no right words for situations like this. “That is certainly something.” He tries to smile. “Bet that is, uh, very handy at parties.”
“Are you seriously this stupid?”
“You’re right.” Yahaba holds up his hands as if they can somehow magically protect him. “Fire hazard. Not good for parties.”
The ghost looks around, as if expecting people to suddenly jump out and admit this is all a joke. “Why haven’t you run away?”
“I want to.” Yahaba lets out a breathy laugh. His head feels light. This is not good for his health. “But, I mean, you seem... nice?”
Wincing, Yahaba yanks the door open.
“What now?” the ghost sighs.
Yahaba turns and glares at them. “This is a hoax for the landlord to make money, isn’t it?”
“A hoax?” Fire dances in their eyes, green and horrifying. It puts the paltry orange flames from before to shame.
“I get it.” Walking to the kitchen, Yahaba grabs more napkins. “I run out of here screaming. The landlord keeps my deposit. You two split the funds.” New bloody tears have stained the ghost’s cheeks. Approaching them, he folds a napkin over and cleans their face.
“I will drag you to the depths of hell,” they hiss.
“Yeah, yeah.” Tilting their chin up, Yahaba dabs at the blood beneath their eye. “I already work there.”
His hands slide through the ghost suddenly, and he scowls. “Stop that.”
Their eyes widen in shock, and they regain physical form, allowing Yahaba to finish wiping away the blood. Satisfied, he brushes their hair out of their face.
“You know I’m real.”
“And you still think this is a hoax.”
“Right. Listen, I’ve got a hairbrush.”
The ghost grabs his wrist. “What the hell would I need money from your landlord for?”
“Dude, I dunno. Maybe for a manicure.” He frowns at the jagged and torn nails on the ghost’s hand.
Gently, he pulls his wrist free of their grip. “Let’s start over. I’m Yahaba.”
The ghost stares at him.
“And you are?” he prompts.
“Nice to meet you,” Yahaba says, the words strange and nonsensical to his own ears. “I am going to go to my bedroom and have an existential crisis now. When that’s done, wanna… play a video game?”
Shirabu opens their mouth and closes it a few times before finally shrugging.
“Alright.” He takes a step to the bedroom, making sure not to turn his back on Shirabu in case they transform into a monstrous demon and attacks him. “Quick question: are you a boy or a girl?”
“So, they-them pronouns?”
Shirabu looks around again, but with each passing moment, the reality that this is not a joke becomes more sickeningly apparent. “Uh, sure,” they mumble.
“That’s chill. If you need me, I will be screaming into a pillow.” With that, he runs to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. When the apartment doesn’t shake and the floorboards don’t erupt with hellfire, he breathes out a sigh of relief, pulling out his phone.
“Hey Shinji? Remember that bet about who has the strangest roommate? Pay up.”