The castle looked empty enough. Yet the gate was ajar, almost as if inviting company. Outside the walls, vines and thick briar patches nearly obscured the structure, but there was no disguising that towering spire. As Levi entered, the first thing he noticed was that the tangled mess of branches did not extend into the interior. In fact, the courtyard was well groomed as if the castle had several goats and cattle to attend to it. The second thing he noticed was that there were lights on inside and the thought of roaring fires and warm candles made Levi clutch his tattered cloak tighter. And yet…the roads to this castle had been rocky and overridden and there was an aura of silence placed over the hold like a heavy veil. Levi could hear none of the telltale signs of castle life. No chickens, no cooks, no washerwomen, no young nobles playing with their wooden swords in the sparring ring. No one traveled here and yet, there had to be people living within the confines of the impressive keep.
“Hello?” he called.
He walked around the stables and froze when he came across a person.
“Hello?” he asked cautiously. “As one of the King’s knights I was hoping I may call on your hospitality. My horse fell lame in the woods and—“
The body failed to move. Levi thought it must be a man from the back of his head and he had knelt to examine the shoe of a horse that also stood rigidly still.
“Can you hear me?” Levi asked, walking around to the front.
They were statues. They had to be statues. And yet, they looked so lifelike. Levi squatted down to look at the man’s face. They were both painted so realistically, Levi could see the amber color of his eyes and his equine nose that rivaled that of the mare he was treating. Levi stood up and ran his fingers over the mare, expecting to tangle his fingers in a mane but finding it hard and cold. He knocked against it. No wooden horse here. It was made of stone.
Levi suppressed a shiver and continued on in search of life. He came across more statues outside. A shield maiden practicing with her heavy broadsword against a dummy, her face set in fierce concentration. The sword within her grip was real steel, Levi found, as was her armor, and the scarf she wore draped around her neck was a soft wool. Yet her flesh and hair and nails were all stone. He made his way through the stables. Every single horse and creature was stone. Levi even found a mouse working its way into a bag and it too was stone. Levi entered the castle through the kitchens and found another statue, her fingers kneading into bread in front of a burning hot oven. Hunger overtook him and he grabbed a loaf. It was warm and fresh. He bit into it and closed his eyes in appreciation.
What bizarre person had taken the time to sculpt and carve these statues and paint them so lifelike? Not a single one had flaking paint and all were busy completing tasks of normal castle life. Levi found many more statues. A valet polishing silver goblets for the table. A scholar or scribe busy cataloging an impressive library. A physician busy administering to a patient. Levi trailed to the largest room of the castle and found the woman who must have been the lady of this hold, busy brushing her blonde hair in front of a mirror and preparing for bed.
Levi continued wandering through the castle, grabbing a lit lantern, until he found himself ascending the spiral staircase to the large tower. The sun had set now and the stars lit up the moonless sky. Levi craned his head and looked above. He had shelter, he had food, and he could see to his joints. His body was exhausted. Three days with no food, one day without water and now here was a paradise. He could take his rest and refill his pack before moving on.
He’d need to see to his armor. His fingers were cold and stiff and the fasteners to the plate had become rusted shut by a week’s worth of rain. He shivered as the breeze from the cool night air hit him and looked out. What a beautiful keep. And to think it was being cared for by a madman who liked to carve human likenesses out of stone.
Levi sucked in a breath when he saw a figure up in the watch tower. He approached it slowly before realizing it was another statue. He held the lantern up close to the stone figure. The statue gazed out at the night sky with a serene, contemplative expression. Maybe the person who carved these statues wasn’t crazy. Maybe they were just lonely. Maybe they saw a beauty in the world and simply had to create it. Looking at the bright green eyes of the stargazing statue, the person who made him certainly had to have a lightness within their soul to create something so breathtaking.
Levi trudged down the steps and found a clean feather bed. As he fixed the goose feather pillows he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He whipped his sword around to challenge the stranger. A cat, dark as night jumped from the floor to a beautifully carved dresser and watched him, licking her paw.
“Oh,” he said to the cat who looked around, disinterested by Levi’s presence. “You know I think you and I might be the only two real creatures here.”
He tried to scratch its chin, but it hissed and growled lowly at him. He couldn’t take off all of his armor and he was still somewhat skittish in the odd castle, so he fell into bed, clutching his sword next to him. Within moments he heard the familiar sound of a cat plopping into bed and curling up on the pillow next to him, purring madly, thankful for a warm body.
When he woke, the fire in the room was only coals, but he was warm for the first time in weeks. The cat was nowhere to be found. He rose and groaned when his back and joints ached. He’d need to find the baths later, but for now, breakfast.
He stepped out into the hallway and froze when he found a finger in his face. It was the statue from last night standing there in the hallways pointing at some unseen visitor. Levi walked around it and stood next to the man, trying to see what he saw. Whoever was doing this must know of his presence then. Well it was time for Levi to show he wasn’t afraid.
“AH!” Christa screamed, dropping the hairbrush.
“My lady?” barked her guard on the other side of the door. “What is it?”
When Christa didn’t answer, Reiner barged in.
“I just saw the most frightful face!” Christa sobbed into Reiner’s large chest. “Right there in my mirror! Like some kind of an elf or goblin!”
“Did you see it? Did you see it?” Connie asked, rushing by. “It walked right by and touched the horses, it took Jean forever to calm them down!”
“What in the—Connie!” Reiner shouted after him.
Mikasa ran by, sword drawn.
“I had it! I nearly had it,” she growled lowly.
“You stay here, my lady,” Reiner instructed Christa.
“You guys, you won’t believe what I just saw!” Eren shouted, hopping down the spiral staircase.
“We believe you,” Mikasa said, still stalking about agitatedly.
“It was hideous,” said Christa, coming up behind them, folding a dressing robe over her nightclothes.
“It was scary,” Armin said, having rushed from the library.
“It was amazing,” Eren sighed, eyes bright.
“Well what was it?” Reiner asked.
“THERE!” Eren shouted, pointing.
News of the ghost traveled quickly throughout the castle. A gathering was convened to discuss possible ways to do away with their spectral visitor. Some said its eyes glowed bright red, others said it had the face of a man but the body of a goat. Yet all agreed that it was short.
“There was no ghost!” Marlowe explained loudly. “You all just got yourselves excited over nothin’!”
“We all saw it!” Jean exploded. “Lady Christa saw it! Are you calling her a liar?”
“No I…my apologies my lady,” Marlowe said, flushing and sitting back down.
“That’s quite alright,” Christa said demurely. “I only saw it for a moment, it flashed in my mirror and then was gone.”
“It scared the horses!” Jean snapped angrily. “That ain’t a good omen!”
“More like your face scared them!” Marlowe said heatedly and Eren laughed in appreciation, Marco made to step between them.
“It could have been a ghost, but I thought it was a man, he came at me with a raised blade,” Mikasa explained quietly to the group.
“It ate my bread!” Sasha cried.
Everyone winced. Sasha’s claims did little to help the case for the ghost’s existence.
“What?” she asked turning around on all of them. “I’m not lying.”
“Armin saw it,” Annie said quietly.
All eyes turned towards Armin since he and Doctor Jaeger were the trusted individuals to go to for information.
“I saw…something,” Armin started and Marlowe groaned. “I can’t say what it was, but I honestly thought it was Connie and Eren playing a trick on me again.”
“You know, that’s a good point,” Reiner said seizing upon that angle. “How do we not know it wasn’t just another one of your pranks?”
“Because I would take credit for it!” Connie said, rolling his eyes. “It’s a really good prank!”
“Pastor Nick, do you have any words of caution for us about our ghost?” Christa asked, folding her hands into her lap primly.
Pastor Nick cleared his throat the way he always did before he began a sermon and Eren groaned loudly. Mikasa kicked him under the table.
“We know nothing about this spirit. Perhaps he is just a traveler who has gotten lost on his way to the gates of our maker. He may just be passing through. We must pray that his visit is short and swift. Yet if he is a malevolent spirit we ask the maker to protect us and keep us from harm. Let us pray.”
This was followed by twenty minutes of intense praying.
“I don’t know how it isn’t a malevolent spirit,” Hannes said loudly when finally poked awake by his wife after Pastor Nick finished. “Sure sounds evil to me.”
“We know not the ways of spirits, nor is it our place to know,” Pastor Nick said mournfully.
“I saw it,” said Eren excitedly. “It was beautiful.”
Everyone regarded him with surprise for a moment.
“Doctor Jaeger, your own child has seen the spectre, what are your thoughts?” Pastor Nick turned to him.
“I think…” said the physician, putting his hand to his mouth in thought. “We should wait and see.”
Levi decided his first order of business was to fix the clasp on his armor. He wandered down to the blacksmith’s and grabbed a file. The statue of the blacksmith hunched over his burning fire, beads of glass sweat running down his face. Levi found he was becoming all too accustomed to the strange statues. He filed furiously at the section by his shoulder until he felt the clasp pop. He struggled out of his plate and it hit the ground with a clang.
“Oh, that feels good,” he groaned, rubbing at the sores where the armor had rubbed his skin raw.
He wandered over to where a washer woman was busy with her chores, her painted blue eyes passively viewing the warm water she soaked her hands in. The cloth in her hand was real and showed no signs of fraying. Levi thought the person or persons who positioned them must take care to move the statues each day, but how did they do this without being seen?
Levi stripped off his clothes and set about scouring them in the lye, then pinned them to the line to dry. He tried on dried garments until he found a blue doublet that fit him—well it was tight in the shoulders and arms, but it would have to do. He passed by the sparring ring again and found only one occupant, the cook drawing her bow. He tapped the bodkin point on her arrow and found it was exceedingly sharp. Judging by her target she was a good shot. He moved on. Levi made his way to the kitchens and grabbed several sausages and bread and cooked them in a skillet over the kitchen fire before sitting at the main table where the shield maiden from yesterday was busy working on her needlepoint with the lady of the keep. Both had their heads bowed over their work and Levi leaned over to examine it. She was busy stitching a name into the back of a shirt. Levi squinted. His eyes weren’t what they used to be and he’d never been too good with his letters but he made out E-R-E-N. Eren. The moss green shirt looked a great deal like the same one his stargazer had been wearing. Odd. Levi shrugged and grabbed a napkin to wipe his mouth.
He cleared his plate and passed by a curly haired statue, busy watching her companion clean out the fire grate. Levi belched loudly and immediately excused himself. Not that it mattered. The statues didn’t seem to care.
He located the baths in the west wing of the castle. The water had already been drawn and hot rocks dropped inside to heat it and a figure was standing with a towel about his waist, readying to enter the steaming water. Levi stripped and hung the borrowed clothes so they wouldn’t become soiled, then grabbed a towel. All other hooks and bars were occupied with the shirtless statue’s clothes.
“Here. Give me a hand,” Levi joked, draping his towel over the statue’s arm.
He slipped into the water and gave an audible groan.
After the initial sighting of the ghost, people started to feel embarrassed. Perhaps they had all overreacted? Weeks flew by and Eren forgot about the mysterious face he’d seen, too focused on training.
Yet odd things kept happening. Bert’s tools would vanish only to reappear in a completely different place than where he’d put them. Armin’s doublet disappeared and then reappeared in the baths. And then, one day when Mikasa was busy battering Eren’s shield, they heard Annie shriek.
Mind you, they only knew it was Annie’s scream when they ran and found her clasping her face in terror. No one had ever heard Annie make so much as a peep before, not when confronted with a hairy spider (which she quashed under her slipper without batting an eye) or when Reiner dropped a jumping frog down her shirt in the middle of another sermon from Pastor Nick. Yet there she was mouth agape, holding her pruned fingers to her pink cheeks.
“I saw it!” she gasped. “I really saw it!”
“What did it look like?” Connie urged. “Was his face grotesque and bloated? Were his eyes bulging?”
“Well I only saw the, er…lower half,” Annie explained, turning her head to the side.
“You mean his…?” Eren asked, pointing a finger downward.
All of the boys contemplated this, hands on hips and faces scrunched up.
“What did it look like?” Eren asked finally.
“Eren…” Marco shook his head.
“I gotta admit, I’m curious too,” Jean agreed.
“I mean, our ghost is pretty small, right?” Connie asked. “So naturally…”
“Yeah,” Annie agreed.
“Wait was it, you know,” Jean said, holding his wooden sword out by his hip at an angle.
“Well then you can’t say that it’s small!” Jean cried, throwing his hands up in the air. “Some guys need a little bit of…motivation before you can see what size they are.”
“Sure they do, Jean,” Eren said, trying very hard to keep a straight face.
“I’m just sayin’, don’t call a guy small until you’ve seen his…sword at its mightiest, you know?”
“I mean, it was proportional to his size,” Annie backpedaled quickly because Jean appeared very upset. “I’m sure it was average.”
“There you go, Jean,” Eren said, patting him on the back. “You’re average.”
“Shut up!” Jean shoved him off and stormed away.
It was another two weeks before the next ghost sighting.
“Oh! I killed him! Oh god!” Sasha cried. “I can’t look, oh god he’s dead!!”
It took them a whole hour to calm her down. When she finally did, she admitted she had been practicing her archery, which surprised none of them as Sasha was a crack shot and in competition beat out all takers. While practicing, Armin—or at least she had thought it was Armin by his blue doublet—ran in front of her arrow right at the moment she released her hold on the string. It was a fatal hit. It took her some convincing to believe that Armin wasn’t dead and only by placing his hands on her face did she finally sob in relief.
“Armin isn’t that stupid to step between you and a target,” Connie said soothingly, rubbing her back in circles.
“Or bread,” Armin said out of the corner of his mouth.
“I guess,” Sasha nodded sniffing. “Oh I was so scared.”
And there were other incidents. Hitch swore the ghost appeared to her and breathed flames.
“The stench were rank,” Hitch told an enthralled group. “Like hell itself spewed forth sulfur. Like Sasha after stew night.”
“I was right there and I didn’t see nothin’,” Marlowe crossed his arms over his chest.
The ghost’s methods were mysterious and hard for anyone to predict. For example, it seemed to take items and food. The items would reappear but the food would not.
“I thought ghosts don’t eat food,” Eren said.
“That’s not exactly true,” Armin said, holding a book. “I’ve been reading up on ghosts and they will consume the flavor of a meal, but cannot physically eat it.”
“So…it’s absorbing the flavor and then what? Burying it?”
And then other times it would do perplexing things. Like sweep out a chimney grate or clean dishes. Hitch started charging people a half pence to hold the ghost’s plate until Reiner forced her to knock it off. People began blaming the ghost for everything. Eren lied and said the ghost stole his chalk when Shadis asked him where it was. Shadis didn’t believe him and hung a slate that read “CHEEKY LIAR” around his neck for the rest of class.
However, they were forced to admit the ghost was violent when it attacked Marco. Marco had been preparing for a bath, which was his favorite time of day as he could meditate on the day’s happenings and various things like why was the sky blue or what the King must be like (Eren wasn’t sure what this part had to do with the story, but he didn’t interrupt Marco). When suddenly, the ghost began flinging towels at him. It scared him so badly he had run down in just his towel and not much else, shocking the ladies who were busy with their embroidery.
When they investigated the bath they discovered the bath drained and the towels neatly stretched across the line to dry. Not only that, but Marco’s clothes were carefully folded in a neat pile.
“This is a very odd ghost,” Eren said, staring at the scene.
“I think we might be dealing instead with a poltergeist,” Armin said, frowning.