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Big Bones

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Well. This was it.

 

Ashley West looked around her new living room in awe. Her first house. And she was only twenty-two! Everyone else she knew was either living in an apartment or renting a home with a roommate or two. But her? This was her house. “You’ve done good, Ashley,” she told herself proudly, hands on her hips.

 

It had been quite a deal. For such a gorgeous home, it had been dirt cheap. Apparently the realtors had been trying to sell it for ages. However, urban legend had it that the house was haunted. Ashley didn’t know the whole story, only that a child had allegedly died in the home some time ago. This had lead to no one purchasing the house, too afraid to risk a potential ghost encounter.

 

Now, Ashley wasn’t sure if she believed in ghosts. She was open to the possibility at the very least. But was that going to stop her from snagging up this grand three-story manor? Heck no! She was tiny and didn’t take up much space, so she figured if there was some spirit living here, they could just share. With a house this big, there was certainly plenty of room to go around. Plus, it would be kind of cool to live with a ghost. As long as they were friendly, that is.

 

...Perhaps she was getting too hooked on the whole “haunted” concept.

 

Well, whatever. Ghost or no ghost, it was still a great place to live.

 

In addition to the house being practically a steal, it came pre-furnished as well. Sure, all the furniture was super old and a bit drab for her tastes, but who was she to complain about free stuff? A chair is still a chair, so as long as it served its purpose, and Ashley was more than happy to use what she had been generously given.  

 

Ashley honestly couldn’t believe her luck finding this place. How had no one bought it yet? With luck like this, she figured there must be someone putting in a good word for her up there, and she silently thanked them.

 

The one downside was that the home was a good twenty minute drive from the nearest town and an hour and a half from the nearest city, so commuting was going to suck. Ashley figured it was a fair trade-off though. She never really got out that often to begin with and wasn’t much for big crowds, despite her profession as a performer.

 

The little town nearby, Ebottville, had a small theater, and she’d just managed to land a job as one of their regular performers. Was it a role on a big Broadway stage? No, but it was something. A start. She’d make it big someday. Today, though, she needed to focus on becoming a big fish in this small pond.

 

Ashley plopped down on the floor with a content sigh. She had so much space that she didn’t know what to do with it all. Not just the house, but the woods nearby too. She owned a good chunk of the surrounding forest. Now that was pretty freaking awesome.

 

Flopping down onto her back, her chestnut hair splayed out around her, Ashley looked up at the ceiling. It was so high! Hopefully she wouldn’t need to change any overhead lights anytime soon; she was only five feet tall, so she might not be able to reach it even with a ladder.

 

Her green eyes wandered around, absentmindedly making carpet angels as she did so. All of this was hers. All of it. She closed her eyes and sighed, a giant smile on her face. “All mine…”

 

A distant but surprisingly loud boom caused Ashley to sit upright, her eyes huge, like a deer after hearing a branch suddenly snap in the woods. “Thaaat was weird,” she mumbled to herself shakily, slowly getting up. She walked over to the nearest window and peeked out. Several birds could be seen taking to the sky, fleeing the treetops below. Ashley’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Huh. Yeah, that’s definitely weird alright.”

 

Ashley paused. “I’m talking to myself again,” she sighed wearily, rubbing her head. She really needed to stop doing that, especially now that she had a job. It was an old habit that had mostly formed due to loneliness; hearing her own voice was comforting, filling the too familiar silence with a one-sided conversation. She liked to imagine someone was talking back to her, only she simply couldn’t hear them. Still, in a place like this that was so isolated from the rest of humanity, she’d probably end up talking to herself more often than not, regardless of how hard she tried.

 

“So, investigate or not investigate. That is the question.” Ashley bit her lip. On the one hand, she didn’t know what the wildlife in this area was like at all, meaning it could be some kind of random wild animal that would shred her to pieces on the spot. That wouldn’t be good. “Or,” she rationalized out loud. “I could stay in this big house and keep talking to myself, slowly descending into insanity until I’m Jack Nicholson in The Shining .” She held out her two hands, palms up, weighing her options. “Ferocious beast...or mental madness…”

 

Ashley clapped her hands together. “Screw it! I’m going.” Better to lose a limb than a brain, right? She kind of needed that to function.

 

Putting on her brown boots, Ashley marched out of her new house, adventure in her step. This would provide a great chance to explore some of her little kingdom. Who knew what she might find? After all, there could be anything in these woods! She was determined to find whatever it was that had caused that loud noise, so bubbling with excitement and curiosity, Ashley dove into the ocean of trees.

 

It felt like she had stepped into an entirely different world. Ashley’s head looked every which way in awe. The trees were absolutely ginormous, stretching upwards for seemingly forever. She felt so tiny beneath their shade, but there was also a sense of comfort and protection.

 

A robin fluttered by, and Ashley smiled. Idly, she wondered what kind of birds inhabited the area. She’d always had a bit of a fondness for them; she often times would find herself just sitting outside, listening to the birds chattering back and forth. They were musical creatures, like herself, moving with grace and speaking in song. Maybe one day, she’d spread her wings and take flight too.

 

The terrain began to grow less even. Ashley wondered how far from the manor she was. Maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea. “No, shut up,” she told the worried voice in her head. “I came out here on a mission, and by gosh, I’m gonna finish it.” She began to pick her way over a particularly large log. “I am going to find whatever it was that made that incredibly loud noise. I will stand there. And I will look at it. And if I can take it, I will. If I can’t. Then. I’ll just go on my way. But I’ll be proud of myself. Yeah. Yeah!” Ashley cleared the log with a leap, stumbling a little bit as she landed. She brushed bits of bark off of her jeans and dark green sweater. “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Good plan, me!”

 

Abruptly, the ground rumbled a little bit. Ashley froze, eyes darting every which way. “Okay that was spooky. Last I checked this area was definitely not prone to earthquakes.” She bit her lip. “Maybe I should go back.” Her brow furrowed. “No, no, I can’t do that. I have to know what this thing is. I’ll only regret not finding out. Just like that time with the green lights coming from the woods.” She still thought there had been some kind of paranormal event going on that night, but now she’d never know for certain. She refused to let another mystery go unsolved. So, onward it was.

 

Ashley walked and walked, occasionally climbed, and walked some more. She looked up at the sky, frowning at the sun’s position. “Must be late afternoon by now, nearly dinner time.” Still, she continued forward through the maze of trees, putting off her first meal in her new home in the hopes of making a worthwhile discovery.

 

Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, she saw light ahead. A clearing!

 

Interest piquing, Ashley rushed forward, only to halt dead in her tracks at the treeline. Eyes wide, she dove behind the nearest tree and pressed her back up against it. Her heart was hammering, and she did her best to breathe properly. She did not just see that. She did not just see that. She. Did not. Just. SEE THAT.

 

Slowly, Ashley peeked around the side of the tree into the clearing.

 

Oh man.

 

She DID just see that.

 

Spread out in front of her was a giant skeletal corpse, lying on its side. Ashley sank to her knees, hugging the tree sideways. She was looking at a dead giant. Giants lived here, and she had just found a dead one. “Holy pancakes,” she breathed, mind whirling.

 

This was not normal.

 

Ashley’s brain was just a mass of seemingly never-ending questions. How long had it been here? Where did it come from? Were there others? Would they come back for the body? Were they dangerous? Why was the giant wearing slippers?

 

“Calm down, calm down, it’s okay,” Ashley whispered to herself, desperately attempting to steady her breathing. “It’s dead, it’s okay.” She took a deep breath. “There, that’s better.”

 

Ashley studied the skeleton from afar. The thing was absolutely massive. It had to have been at least sixty feet tall when it was standing. Of course, it wouldn’t be doing much of that now, but the thought was enough to give her chills. The dead giant really did seem to have the oddest attire too. In addition to the fluffy pink slippers, it had been wearing black basketball shorts along with a white turtleneck underneath a blue hoodie. That’s definitely not what Ashley had expected a giant to wear at all. Then again, two minutes ago, she hadn’t even known a giant could exist, so she didn’t really have anything to support her belief.

 

Ashley noticed something that gave her pause. The skeleton’s eye sockets: they weren’t two gaping black holes. They were closed . “That’s impossible,” she murmured, her face screwed up in confusion. Skeletons don’t have eyelids. At least, she didn’t think so; although it wasn’t her best subject, she had done fairly well in Biology. However, despite this knowledge, this one did, giving the corpse the appearance of slumber. Well, technically it was sleeping, but a different kind of sleep. The dead kind.

 

Ashley bit her lip, a dilemma brewing inside of her. How crazy was she going to be today? “Screw it,” she decided, rising to her feet; she simply had to look at this thing up close.

 

Stepping with the lightness only a trained dancer could manage, Ashley approached the fallen giant. As she approached the skull, a warm but pleasant breeze washed over her. She paused. That was...odd. Almost as if the skeleton were actually breathing. But that was ridiculous. She shook her head and continued forward.

 

Ashley stopped in front of the lidded eye sockets. They were enormous; had they not been lidded, she could have easily climbed inside and crawled around in the giant’s skull. Her heart pounded a million beats per minute. She was so tiny, and the thing was just so big!

 

After hesitating for a moment, Ashley placed a trembling hand on one of the eyelids. To her amazement, it really was solid bone. It was warm and soft and smooth, and she found herself running her hand back and forth, entranced by the strange feeling. “Wow,” she breathed.

 

Abruptly, the eyelid twitched. Ashley made a face. “What the-”

 

Without warning, both eyelids sprung open, revealing two black voids. Ashley quickly retracted her hand, taking a step back. A pair of bright white orbs appeared, one in each of the sockets. Together, the two focused directly on her. Ashley felt her heart stop, her eyes round with shock and fear.

 

“Sup.”

 

Face twisted with panic, Ashley turned to run but only ended up tripping and splaying across the ground with a yelp. She looked up in alarm.

 

The giant skeleton was sitting up, stretching with a yawn. Oh God, she hadn’t found a dead giant. She’d found some kind of zombie giant.

 

With a whine of terror, Ashley scrambled back to her feet. Curiosity sated! Time to go! Unfortunately, this caught the attention of the giant; its head snapped to her at the sudden movement.

 

As fast as she could, Ashley took off for the trees from where she’d come from. She was so close! If she could just get beneath their protective covering-

 

Suddenly, a giant wall of white slammed down in front of her, causing her to release a shriek. With a jolt, Ashley  realized that it was the skeleton’s hand. Oh God, it was as big as she was! Quickly, she tried to run the other way, but a second hand blocked her path. The fingers of bone locked, forming an effective barrier from the safety just on the other side. She was trapped!

 

Ashley spun around, pale and shaking. The skeleton flopped down onto its chest, causing the earth to shake violently, and it rested its chin on the ground. Its glowing eyes bore into her, and a broad, comical grin spread across its skull. “Hey there!”

 

Ashley screamed, backing against the hand wall, pressing her spine against the bones in a futile effort to break through. No, no, no! This was not good! She didn’t know what she had been planning on finding, but it definitely was not this!

 

“So, pipsqueak, you decided to wake me up from my nap, huh? That wasn’t too thoughtful of you, ya know.”

 

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry, sorry, so sorry!” Ashley choked out through panicked sobs. Oh God, she was gonna die because she woke up some giant skeleton from a nap! Sure, it would make a hell of a story to tell in heaven, but that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to be thinking about right then.

 

The skeleton’s eyes narrowed a bit.  “Oh, you’re sorry , huh? Well, that just makes everything all fine and dandy then, doesn’t it?” Oh God, he was really pissed now. She was so terribly screwed. “Let me tell you somethin: “sorry” don’t mean anything coming from your kind. It’s just another word you humans fling around without meaning.”

 

Ashley’s legs no longer had the courage to support her; they buckled, causing her to collapse to the ground. She cowered in absolute terror, body trembling, tears streaming down her face. “Please don’t hurt me! I didn’t mean to wake you up! I just wanna go home, oh God, please let me go! Please! Please don’t hurt me!”

 

The skeleton gave her a good, long, hard stare, his eyes gazing straight through to her soul. After what felt like an eternity, his expression changed into something more mischievous. Ashley couldn’t say whether this shift made her feel better or worse. He sat up, retracting his hands from behind her and stretched out his legs. Technically, she could make a run for it now, but something told Ashley that would be a very, very bad idea. Besides, she found that fear had rooted her to her current spot; running away wouldn’t even be possible in her current state. “You want me to let you go? Alright, fine. One condition though.” He paused. “You gotta tell me a joke.”

 

Ashley blinked up at him in confusion, eyes still watery with tears. “Wha-what?”

 

“Tell me a joke,” he repeated, grinning almost menacingly down at her. “Something funny.”

 

Ashley struggled to wrap her mind around the abrupt shift in the situation. Was he being serious?? “Funny?”

 

“Yep. Make me laugh.”

 

“Just...like that?”

 

“Just like that. Unless,” he loomed down closer, his shadow completely engulfing Ashley. She flinched backwards. “ You don’t wanna go home?

 

“Okay! Okay!” Ashley squeaked out, squeezing her eyes shut, clutching her head in her hands. She felt the earth move a bit beneath her, and when she opened her eyes, the giant had settled back into his previous casual sitting position.

 

Unsteadily, Ashley rose to her feet, her body vibrating with fear. Okay, this was no big deal. She was just performing for an audience. A very big audience. She only had one shot though, and the thought of what might happen should she choke and fudge it up made her want to vomit. Comedy was all about playing to your audience, but she had no idea how to play to a sixty foot skeleton. What would he even find funny?

 

Ashley gulped. Well, the longer she stood around dwelling on it, the smaller her chance of getting out of this alive grew. Time to pick something and go with it. That’s what acting was about: making decisions. She would make a decision and pray to every deity imaginable that it was the right one.

 

She could do this. This was why she went to college.

 

“H-how do you put an elephant into a ref-frigerator?” Ashley asked, stuttering a bit. Focus! Pull it together! This is a performance!

 

The skeleton gave her a lazy look. He seemed unimpressed. “How?”

 

“You open the door and put it in,” she stated matter-of-factly.

 

Silence.

 

The skeleton made a move to speak, but before he could, Ashley cut him off, “How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?”

 

The skeleton raised a browbone. “You open the door and put it in?”

 

Ashley smiled. “No. You open the door, take the elephant out, and then put the giraffe in.”

 

The skeleton’s gaze softened a bit. “Heh. Okay, not ba-”

 

Ashley held a finger up, silencing him. He blinked in surprise, not expecting the gesture, but patiently waited for her to continue while watching with curiosity. “Leo the Lion, as king of the jungle, has invited every living creature in the kingdom to his home for a big party,” Ashley went on, her prior fear replaced by the confidence of being in her element. “That, of course, includes you. You are excited to go but end up running a little late. On your way there, however, you come across a vast river. This river in particular is known to be the home of thousands of vicious crocodiles. There is no bridge or way around. And the river is too wide to simply step across,” she added, regarding the skeleton’s abnormal size. “You must cross the river, fully knowing the dangerous creatures that live there. What do you do?”

 

The giant scratched his head. “Crocodiles are those, uh, chompy lizard things, right?”

 

Ashley winced. Oh God! She hadn’t taken into account he might not know what a crocodile was! She quickly recovered though. “Yes! Their jaws are incredibly powerful and their teeth are razor sharp; they can and often do bite through anything, both flesh and bone. So, how do you plan to cross?” She still had this.

 

The giant seemed to genuinely consider the question for a moment before shrugging, his features amused. “I dunno, kid.”

 

Ashley gawked up at him in disbelief. “Why, isn’t it obvious? You just simply swim across!” He gave her a puzzled expression. Ashley grinned. “The crocodiles aren’t there, silly! They already went ahead to King Leo’s party!”

 

The skeleton’s smile grew. He was watching her intently. “So!” Ashley continued, standing tall, her eyes alive. “You, being the,” she paused, a thought striking her, “ lazybones that you are, finally get to Leo the Lion’s party. And, wouldn’t you know it, you’re the last one there! But as you look around, you realize there’s someone missing.” She gave him a confused look. “Who’s missing?”

 

The giant blinked in surprise, though the grin stayed. Ashley was beginning to wonder if it was perhaps just permanently like that. Maybe she’d live through this long enough to find out. At last the giant shook his head in defeat. “You got me. Who is it?”

 

Ashley let out an exasperated sigh. “You mean you don’t remember?! The giraffe! You left him in the refrigerator!”

 

She held her breath.

 

Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh-

 

The skeleton began to laugh, a deep, warm and rich sound that sent vibrations through the earth.

 

Letting out every ounce of oxygen she had in her body, Ashley crumpled to the grass below, body shaking. She gasped for breath. She’d done it. Holy cheesecake, she’d actually done it.

 

The giant beamed down at her, eyes glowing brightly. “I’ll admit, kid, that was pretty good. Nice payoff. Didn’t know what to expect. I liked it. Good job.”

 

Ashley let out a hard laugh. “Thanks,” she wheezed out, her body still trying to recover.

 

“I’m Sans, by the way. Sans the skeleton.”

 

She gave him a short wave, her breathing heavy. “Um, hi. I’m uh, Ashley West.”

 

The skeleton, Sans, watched her. “You, uh, okay, buddy?”

 

Ashley froze. She let out a panicked laugh. “Y-yeah! Yeah! Totally! I’m great!”

 

Sans’s eyes narrowed a bit. Shoot. As quickly as she could get her shaking body to do so, Ashley rose to her feet. “So! Um, I guess...I guess I’ll just...head on home now! Heh….right?”

 

Sans stared her down silently. Ashley waited, painfully aware of how close safety was. Finally, he blinked, nodding his giant skull. “Yeah, sure. A deal’s a deal.” He paused. “If you need me, I’ll be around.”

 

Ashley blinked in surprise. He almost seemed kind of...sad. She couldn’t dwell on that, though. Safety first. She gave him a nod. “Okay, sure! Nice to meet you...Sans. Bye!”

 

Hastily, Ashley scampered off into the woods. As soon as she was surrounded by trees, she bent over, hands on her knees, head spinning. Relief washed over her in tsunami-like waves, tears springing forth once more. “Oh my God, I just did that. I really just did that! Holy cheese balls!” Ashley sighed. “Calm down. You’re safe. It’s okay. You’re a moronic idiot, but you’re safe.”

 

...She was safe, right?

 

Nervously, Ashley turned around to look back into the clearing.

 

Sans was gone.

 

Chapter Text

This was not good.

 

This was SO not good.

 

This was bad. Bad bad BAD.

 

Ashley looked up at the sky in defeat. Or at least, what little of the sky she could see. Nighttime had fallen, and with the extra shade from the trees, her world was completely shrouded in darkness. She could scarcely make out her surroundings, not that it would have helped much.

 

Quite simply, Ashley was lost. Very, very lost.

 

She had no idea of the time, but judging by the noise her stomach was making, it was well past dinner. “Oh, quiet you,” she scolded her rumbling belly with a frown. “You’ll get food when we get back.” She looked up in dismay at the dark and unfamiliar forest around her, biting her lip. “If we get back.”

 

Ashley trudged forward, ducking underneath a low-hanging branch. “God, I hope I’m going the right way,” she murmured to herself, looking around nervously. The sound of a distant howl made her jump. Was that real, or was her paranoia just getting to her? She prayed it was the latter and continued on. Were there even any wild animals that stalked these woods at night? She hoped to God not. Or at least, none that wanted to eat her. She’d already filled her near-death quota for the day.

 

Ashley found her mind wandering back to the giant skeleton. That’s what he had called himself, “Sans the skeleton”. So, he wasn’t some kind of dead, zombie giant. Just a regular old skeleton giant. Nothing crazy.

 

Nervously, Ashley peeked over her shoulder, half expecting to see those strange glowing eyes of his. Of course, all she saw was the same darkness that had infested the rest of the woods. “Stop being paranoid, he’s long gone by now,” she mumbled to herself, shaking her head.

 

Ashley began rubbing her arms, a shiver running through her body. Although she was dressed relatively warmly, the temperature had begun to drop from the lack of the sun’s soothing rays, and she was starting to feel it. Idly, she recalled how oddly warm Sans’s eyelid had felt. Wasn’t bone supposed to be cold? How was that even possible?  Ashley blinked. “Why is that the thing I’m focusing on?” she asked aloud. “I meet a freaking huge skeleton, have to tell a joke to save my life, and I’m focusing on how his weirdo eyelid was warm. God, my mind is weird.”

 

Ashley passed through a trio of trees, hoping she hadn’t already passed them  this evening. She’d been walking for what felt like hours, yet she had no idea whether she was ten feet or ten miles away from her new house. Why hadn’t she paid more attention to her surroundings or left a marker or something? Anything!

 

With a flare of frustration, Ashley kicked a nearby tree. Upon making impact, though, she found herself letting out a yelp of pain. “THAT was stupid! Ow ow ow ow! Fishsticks! Ow OW!” She let out a weary moan. “Note to self: don’t kick the trees.”

 

Looking around, Ashley began to grow more and more desperate. Maybe for some crazy reason, someone else was out here. It didn’t make a lick of sense, considering the fact that not only were these woods private property, but they were her private property. At this point, though, she was willing to put hope in anything. That included some random person trespassing on her newly-acquired land. “Hello?!” Ashley called out into the darkness. She listened with bated breath.

 

Nothing.

 

“Is anyone there?!”

 

No response.

 

“Please!”

 

Silence.

 

“Help me!”

 

...But nobody came.

 

Exhausted and emotionally spent, Ashley fell to her knees, cradling her head in her hands. “God, you’re such an idiot!” she berated herself with a scream. This turned out to be a bad idea; her throat was already sore from all the screaming and crying from earlier. For a moment, all Ashley could do was cough in despair. God, she would have loved some water right then. “You just had to come out here by yourself and get lost, didn’t you?” she continued after the coughing fit had passed, though this time at a normal volume. “And now you’re never gonna get out. You’re probably gonna die out here, all alone, and nobody’s even gonna care. You’re so stupid! Stupid stupid stupid…”

 

To her amazement, tears began to quietly trickle down her freckled cheeks. Ashley didn’t think she had any more fluids left in her eyes after the frantic sobbing from before. It would seem she was just full of surprises today.

 

Ashley squeezed her eyes shut. “I just wanna go home,” she whimpered, hugging herself. “I’m lonely, and I’m scared, and I’m hungry, and I just want to go home. I just want to go home.”

 

There was a sudden, loud creak from nearby. Ashley raised her head in confusion. “Huh?” Abruptly, a tree about twenty feet away from her came crashing down with a resounding boom . Ashley let out a shriek, causing another coughing spell. She drew herself closer, fear boiling hot in her chest. God, even the trees were trying to kill her!

 

“Shit!”

 

Ashley froze, not daring to even blink.

 

“Sorry! You okay, kid? Kid?”

 

Slowly, Ashley turned around and looked upwards. Two giant bony hands were parting the treetops as if they were mere blades of grass. Above them hovered a giant skull with bright glowing eyes that were darting back and forth frantically.

 

Ashley’s first thought was to remain absolutely silent and wait for him to leave. She didn’t think she could handle another frightening encounter with the giant skeleton. But, something gave her pause. It was hard to tell because he lacked any sort of facial muscles, not to mention how dark it was, but Sans almost seemed to look...worried? Was he...worried about her?

 

Ashley bit her lip. She prayed she wouldn’t regret this.

 

“S-Sans?” Ashley called out, trembling a bit.

 

Instantly, the two glowing orbs found and locked onto her. Ashley flinched. Sans let out a sigh. “Hey, kid. Heh, thought I mighta crushed you there for a sec.”

 

Ashley slowly shook her head. “N-no, you didn’t. I’m okay.”

 

Sans looked her over. “You, uh, don’t look too okay.”

 

Ashley looked away, squeezing her arms. “I’ve been better, yeah.”

 

“I, uh, I heard ya,” Sans continued, rubbing the back of his skull. Ashley looked back up at him. “You, um, called for help?”

 

After hesitating, Ashley nodded her head, green eyes wide.

 

“So, uh, do you need help? Or was this just a clever ruse to, heh, see my handsome face again?”

 

She couldn’t help it; Ashley cracked a smile.

 

She bit her lip. Should she trust him? She didn’t know him at all; he could be a cold-blooded human-eating monster! But, if that were the case, wouldn’t he have killed her by now? He certainly could have earlier when he was angry. She had quite literally been in his hands, it would have been so easy! Instead, he gave her a chance at freedom by means of joke-telling, of all things. Even now, his entire demeanor seemed to have changed. Gone was the grumpiness and malevolence from before. Now, his voice was softer, gentler. At the very least, he didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt her.

 

Besides, what other options did she have? At this point, there was no chance of her finding her way out of these woods, and there certainly wasn’t anyone else around.

 

Acting was about making decisions. Usually, the bolder the decision, the stronger and better it was. It was time to make a bold decision.

 

With a gulp, Ashley nodded up at him. “I’m...I’m kind of lost,” she admitted, heart pounding. “I don’t know how to get back home.”

 

Sans winced, gaze soft. “That’s never fun. Being lost sucks.”

 

Ashley nodded. “Yeah, definitely.”

 

“Well, I can give you a lift out of the woods. Can’t exactly take you all the way back to your town, cause, uh, you know.” He gestured to his unusual size. “But I can at least get you outta here.”

 

Ashley’s eyes lit up. She sat upright, no longer folded in on herself. “Oh! That’s perfect! I actually don’t live in town, so that works just fine!”

 

Sans blinked in surprise and eyed her curiously, cocking his head. “You don’t? Then, uh, where exactly do you live?”

 

“Th-there’s this big house just on the edge of the woods,” Ashley explained, hope blooming in her chest. Perhaps he knew where she lived. “It’s three stories, and really old and elegant, but really beautiful! Do you know where that is?”

 

Something dark crossed across Sans’s face for the briefest of moments, though it was far too fast for Ashley to tell what expression it had been. Slowly, he nodded. “Yeah...yeah, I know the place. You, uh....you said you live there?”

 

Ashley nodded. “I just moved in today.”

 

For a long, quiet moment, Sans said nothing. Then, his smile grew and his eyes warmed. “Heh, well, welcome to my neck of the woods.”

 

Ashley smiled softly up at him. “Glad to be here, thanks.”

 

Sans looked away. “Um, sorry bout earlier, and everything. What with scaring you, and stuff. Not, uh, not exactly the greatest way to greet a new neighbor, huh?”

 

Ashley felt a stab of pity. He really didn’t seem that bad. “I shouldn’t have woken you, that was rude of me,” she told him. Sure, she could argue that she hadn’t expected to stumble upon a living, breathing skeleton . How on earth was she supposed to know he was sleeping? Regardless, the fact of the matter was that she had woken someone up, which in nearly any scenario is classified as rude. “I know you said you don’t think much of the word, coming from me, but I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, that is.”

 

Sans’s smile grew a bit. “You’re right, I don’t. But it’s the thought that counts.” He paused. “So, uh, do you wanna lift back to your house?”

 

Ashley hesitated. “L-lift?”

 

Sans raised a bone hand, wiggling his fingers.

 

Ashley bit her lip. Should she say yes? He really did seem kind of nice, like he just wanted to help. But seeing that giant hand of his sent her mind reeling back to just a few hours ago, when it had so menacingly slammed down right in front of her and trapped her like a bug. She found herself staring at it, unable to look away, the memory of her terror creeping up her back. Was she really willing to put her life in that thing?

 

Sans, noticing her hesitation, followed her gaze and winced. “I’m not gonna hurt you, ya know,” he said softly. “Or at least, I don’t want to hurt you. I’m going to try to not hurt you. Honest.”

 

Ashley studied him for a minute, looking for any signs of deception. “Promise?”

 

Sans hesitated before nodding. “Promise.”

 

Bold decision time.

 

Fear coursing through her veins, Ashley nodded up at him.

 

Ever so carefully, Sans lowered his left hand, palm up, to the forest floor. Ashley felt both her breathing and heartbeat speed up as the skeletal limb grew closer. Finally, with a light thud , the hand of bone came to a rest upon the ground.

 

Trembling, Ashley rose to her feet and approached the hand, step by timid step. She stared at it, heart pounding. How easy it would be for it to utterly crush her. Every instinct in her body was howling at her to run away as fast as possible without even sparing a glance back. She looked up at him. Sans was watching her silently, his gaze unwavering. Ashley turned back to the hand, biting her lip. Taking a deep breath, she stepped up onto Sans’s palm, diving straight into the depths of the unknown.

 

“I’m gonna lift you up, kay?”

 

Ashley simply nodded, too afraid to speak, her legs wobbly like jello.

 

Suddenly, her whole world shifted as air began to rush past her. With a yelp, Ashley’s already unsteady legs gave way, causing her to frantically wrap her arms around Sans’s thumb, squeezing her eyes shut.

 

“Sorry!” His hand’s rate of ascent dramatically slowed. Opening her eyes, Ashley looked up and saw that his fingers had reflexively curled inward some in a protective manner. “Heh, it’s, uh, it’s been a while since I last did this.”

 

Slowly and gently, Sans raised his hand with its precious cargo up above the treetops. Ashley watched him the whole way up, still hugging his thumb in a death grip. Finally, he stopped, bringing his hand to a halt at his chest, thumb facing outward. “You okay?” he asked cautiously, eyeing her worriedly.

 

Ashley nodded, tucking her legs beneath her. Despite his initial slip, Sans had been surprisingly careful. It was a bit mind-boggling how one so big could be so gentle.

 

He smiled down at her. “See? That wasn’t too bad, eh? You sure look a lot less bonely up here.”

 

Ashley couldn’t help but giggle at the silly pun, which caused Sans’s grin to grow even more so. “Alright, kid, let’s get you home.” With that, Sans began to walk forward, wading through the forest of trees.

 

Ashley watched Sans as he moved. He was able to keep his hand surprisingly steady, though there was still a slight but gentle rocking sensation. After a few minutes, she slowly pulled her arms away from his thumb, settling herself down into the center of his palm. Sans glanced down at her but didn’t say anything, simply continuing onward.

 

Ashley found herself growing steadily at ease with Sans’s presence. She wasn’t exactly sure of what it could be, but he just seemed to radiate this air of comfort and relaxation. It was hard to be on edge around him, or at least when he was like this and not being all mean and scary. With how tired she was and the gentle swaying, she probably could’ve fallen asleep right then and there. Of course, she wasn’t about to do that. She wasn’t quite ready to trust the giant skeleton that much just yet.

 

“So...you live out here?” Ashley asked him, forcing the stifling silence to go away. She hated silence. It all too often lead to thoughts Ashley had no interest in thinking.

 

“Yep,” Sans confirmed with a nod.

 

“Just you?”

 

“Just me.”

 

Ashley frowned. “That...sounds kind of lonely.”

 

San’s smile shrank. “...Yeah. It can be.”

 

The two grew quiet for a bit.

 

“So,” Sans said after a minute or two. “You said your name was Ashley, right?”

 

“That’s what it says on my birth certificate, yeah,” Ashley confirmed, placing a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

 

“Huh.” Sans seemed to mull this over for a moment before nodding. “Cool. I’ll just call you Ash then.”

 

Ashley looked up at him quizzically, grinning. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with Ashley?”

 

“Too long.”

 

“It’s only two syllables!”

 

Sans shrugged, winking down at her. “That’s one too many. You were pretty on the nose with the whole “lazybones” thing earlier.”

 

Ashley laughed. “You’re ridiculous!”

 

“I’m not ridiculous. I’m Sans.”

 

Ashley fell onto her back, the victim of a serious laughing fit. She had a feeling exhaustion from the insane day she’d had was to blame, but she didn’t care. In this tiny moment, she was wonderfully happy, and after several hours of being terrified out of her mind, she welcomed the change of mood and clung to it with every fibre of her being.

 

Sans tensed a bit when he saw that Ashley had fallen over, only to instantly relax when he realized it was simply because she was consumed with laughter. He smirked down at her. “And here you are calling me ridiculous. Joke wasn’t even that funny.” All Ashley could do was laugh in response. Sans chuckled. “I’ll admit though, you’re a pretty good audience.”

 

Ashley sat back up, finally recovering. “Ha ha, you are too,” she giggled.

 

Suddenly, Sans came to a halt. Ashley looked up at him in concern. “What’s wrong? Why did we stop?”

 

“We’re here.”

 

Ashley blinked in surprise. “What? Really?” Turning around, she peered over the edge of Sans’s hand. Sure enough, far down below them was her house. “Oh wow, holy cream puffs.”

 

Bit by bit, Sans lowered her back to the earth below. Rising once more to her feet, Ashley carefully stepped down, landing on the stone pathway that lead up to the front door. She turned to look up at him as he brought his hand back up, stuffing it in the pocket of his blue jacket.

 

Ashley smiled up at him. “Thank you so much, Sans. I...I don’t think I would’ve made it back home without you.”

 

Sans sent her a lazy grin. “S’no big deal. I’m happy to help a pal.”

 

Ashley bit her lip. Oddly enough, she was...rather sad to say goodbye. He was really nice, and she could use a friend. Even if he was a giant slightly-creepy skeleton. “Will I...will I see you again?”

 

Sans shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on whether you wanna see me.”

 

“I’d like that,” she replied, nodding her head.

 

Sans’s grin spread. “Well, then I’m sure that can be arranged.” He winked. “I’m around if you need me.”

 

Ashley grinned. “Well, I’ll see you again sometime, then. Goodnight, Sans.”

 

“‘Night, Ash.”

 

Ashley began to climb the front steps, every bone in her body aching with exhaustion. She was starving, but she didn’t know whether or not she’d be able to stay awake long enough to eat something.

 

“Hey, Ash?”

 

Surprised, Ashley turned back to the woods where Sans still stood, watching her. “Yeah?”

 

Sans paused. “Thanks. For...the joke. It’s...it’s been a while since I laughed like that.”

 

Ashley’s gaze softened. Sending him a gentle smile, she nodded her head.

 

Sans blinked and gave a short wave, wading back into the trees.

 

With a turn of the handle, Ashley opened the front door she hadn’t even bothered to lock earlier. After closing it, she turned to look at the large window to her left. Slowly, she approached it and gazed out just as she had done several hours prior. Besides the lighting, the view was the exact same.

 

However, this time, she knew what secret lay hidden in the trees.

Chapter Text

“I really hope I’m not crazy.”

Pale morning sunlight filtered through the treetops of the previously quiet forest, the silence having been broken by the very determined girl marching through the seemingly endless maze of trees.

Ashley stopped to turn and look at a wren as it landed on a nearby branch. “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”

The bird cocked its head with a chirrup before taking back to the air, fluttering off deeper into the woods.

With a sigh, Ashley watched it go. “Yeah, I’m definitely crazy,” she mumbled before carrying on, shouldering her bright yellow backpack.

Upon waking that morning in a bed much too big for her, Ashley found herself both extremely confused and extremely conflicted.

Had the previous evening really happened, or was it all just some sort of crazy dream?

It had seemed so real, all of it. The terror, the laughter, the thrills, everything. She wanted to believe it had happened so badly, she really did. After all, not everybody has a run-in with a giant skeleton! And yet, it was totally insane. How could it have happened? It should’ve been impossible! But still, Ashley found herself wondering and wondering: was yesterday real?

Her muscles told her yes, for simply getting up and walking around proved to be quite painful; her whole body felt overused and worn.

Her mind told her no, for in what logical universe could she have possibly have come face to face with a giant talking skeleton?

In the end, though, as usual, it was what she felt in her heart, her gut, that convinced her. Time and time again, Ashley’s acting professors taught her to let go of logic and reasoning and instead trust your instincts, forever tattooing the concept in her mind. The events that had occurred yesterday defied everything she had ever known. And yet, she felt a connection, a bond, something that couldn’t be simply imagined or dreamt up. It felt real. It was real. Last night had been real. Sans was real.

And now, she was going to find him.

Determination pouring out of her, Ashley had dressed for action: a white tee shirt with her brown bomber jacket over top, dark blue skinny jeans, and her favorite brown boots. In an outfit like this, no mission was too large for her to take on.

Ashley checked her watch for the time. Nine-twelve. Hopefully this wouldn’t be too early for the skeleton; she had always been more of a morning person.

“Hello?” she called out, looking around. “Sans? You there?”

Unlike last time when she had just boldly charged through the woods, Ashley took her time, examining her surroundings as she went. The air was quiet, and she found herself humming an upbeat tune to give the place some audible indication of life.

Ashley added the occasional skip and twirl to her steps, doing her best to keep her spirits high. If by some miracle she did manage to come across Sans again, she didn’t want to be in an unpleasant mood. He had seemed sad enough to begin with, and she felt maybe she could do something to cheer him up. After all, that’s what her job was all about: making people happy. Maybe, just maybe she could cheer up a giant skeleton too. “Successfully entertained a sixty foot skeleton,” she mused to herself with a grin. “Now that’s something I wanna put on my resume.”

At one point during her exploration, Ashley came upon a rather wide river that stretched across her path. She frowned. “Huh. Didn’t know this was here.” A sudden giddy smile spread upon her face. “ Water you doing here, Mr. River?” she asked the body of water.

The river simply chugged along at a rather rapid pace, gurgling and splooshing as it did so.

Ashley giggled to herself. “Aw, come on! That was funny!” Smirking, she began to head upstream. Eventually, she found a place where the river bent, allowing her to proceed forward deeper into the woods once more.

“Saaans? Oh Saaans? Sansy-Doo, where are you?”

Ashley made a face. “I better not be crazy. Or at least, crazier than normal.”

Abruptly, she stopped when a flash of color caught her eye. Ashley squinted, peering through the trees. Yes, she hadn’t been imagining things; there was definitely something big and blue up ahead. Heart racing, she took off.

As she got closer, Ashley realized that she was approaching the same clearing as yesterday.  Slowing down and eventually stopping at the tree line, she looked ahead with wide eyes. “Sweet gravy, I wasn’t crazy,” she whispered, a crazed smile forming upon her lips.

There, lying with his back to her, was the massive form of Sans the skeleton.

Ashley bit her lip with a frown, suddenly unsure. Should she wake him? The last time she had done so hadn’t exactly gone that well. She didn’t want to be rude.

“Well, maybe he’ll be waking up soon,” she reasoned out loud. “I’ll just...wait right here until he does. Yeah!”

Slowly and silently, Ashley approached Sans. She settled down on a patch of grass that wasn’t too close to the giant skeleton and began to wait.

Ashley watched him with quiet fascination. Unlike last time, she was able to notice the steady rise and fall of his side, indicating breathing. Why a skeleton needed to breath was completely beyond her; perhaps that was something she could ask about once he woke up.

Ashley slipped off her yellow backpack and set it beside her. She had made sure to come prepared this time, packing water, snacks, and other various supplies she might need. She was not about to let a repeat of yesterday happen again. At least, not the parts where she had been miserable.

Abruptly, Sans’s form shifted. Ashley lept to her feet, suddenly alert. He grumbled a bit before rolling over, facing her. Beneath heavy eyelids, his glowing eyes glazed over her form before becoming hidden once more underneath sheets of white.

Ashley frowned. Had he seen her?

The answer was yes.

In a flash, Sans’s eyes shot open. He sat bolt upright, his right hand slamming down uncomfortably close to Ashley. She fell back on her rump with a yelp. At the sound of her voice, he quickly retracted his hand, holding it shakily in the air.

He stared down at her.

She stared up at him.

They sat there in silence, just staring endlessly at each other, their eyes equally round with surprise and disbelief.

Sans blinked, breaking the spell. His eye sockets narrowed in confusion. “...Ash?”

Ashley, letting out a heavy breath, smiled and gave a short wave, her heart racing. “That’s me!”

Sans shook his skull, clearly puzzled. “Uh, what’s up? Do you...do you need somethin?”

Ashley sat up, crossing her legs. “No, not really.”

Sans glanced around uncomfortably. “Then, uh, why exactly are you here?”

“I just wanted to see you again,” she replied with a shrug.

Sans stared at her for a good moment or two. “You...you just...wanted to see me again.”

“Yep!” Ashley nodded with a grin. “Sooo, I came and found you!” She threw her hands in the air. “Surprise!”

Sans merely sat and stared down at the small human before him, his eyes running over her every feature.

Ashley slowly lowered her arms, smile faltering. “Unless...you didn’t want to see me?” she asked, a tinge of disappointment in her voice. Now that she thought about it, she had just kind of assumed that he wanted to see her again. He’d never said such a thing, only that he’d be around should she need him. Her smile faded. God, had she really been so lonely to think that someone she’d just met would actually want to be friends just like that?

Ashley bit her lip and grabbed her backpack, standing back up. “I’m sorry, I can just go. I didn’t mean to be a bother, honest.”

“No no, wait.” Abruptly, Sans reached out to her with his hand, causing Ashley to flinch backwards. She looked up at him. Never before had she seen eyes as confused as his in that moment. “You’re fine. I just...you...came looking for me?”

For a moment, Ashley stood still. Then, she dropped her backpack and approached him, sitting down closer than she had been before. “Yeah, yeah I did.”

Sans shook his head. “Why?”

“Because you seemed nice,” Ashley replied with a smile. “And...lonely. And I’m lonely too.” She looked away, shrugging. “So, I figured, maybe we can help each other be, you know,” she looked back up at him, “Less lonely. Teamwork! Be...forest friends or something!”

Sans gazed down at her for a long while. Finally, he let out a quiet chuckle. “You’re something different, Ash.”

Ashley beamed up at him. “Yep! And I’m proud of it!”

Sans turned his body so that he was facing Ashley, crossing his bone legs to mirror her. “Okay, so how exactly do you plan to go about makin us less bonely?

Ashley giggled. “I dunno. Tell me something about yourself.”

“I’m a giant skeleton.”

She slapped her hands to her cheeks in mock surprise. “NO WAY!”

Sans gave her a cool look, a broad grin on his face. “Way.”

The two of them laughed, equally amused by the other’s silliness.

“No, but seriously,” Ashley said with a giggle. “I wanna know about you.”

Sans glanced away. “Heh, like what?”

“Like...like…” Ashley had so many questions, she didn’t know where to start. Where does one start with a giant talking skeleton? “Um, I know! Why’re you so big?”

Sans crossed his arms, raising a browbone. “Why’re you so small?”

“Because I was born this way!” Ashley answered indignantly. She jabbed a finger at him. “And you can’t tell me you were born that big...right?”

Sans paused before closing his eyes with a shrug. “Heh, you got me. Nah, I haven’t always been this big.”

“So what happened?” Ashley asked eagerly, leaning forward.

“It was an accident, really. A pretty big one.” He looked at her, eyes a bit sad. “It was a machine I built. I was trying to use it to go somewhere, but I guess my calculations were a bit off, heh. So, instead of getting me where I needed to go, it just made me freakishly huge.”

Ashley tilted her head. “Where were you trying to go?”

“A different dimension.” His gaze grew distant, his voice somber. “That’s where they are, others like me. My brother, friends, co-workers. Humans sent them there a long time ago. Didn’t want my kind existing in the same world as them. A couple of us got left behind by mistake. They’re gone now, though. They got picked off pretty early on. So now it’s just me.”

Ashley’s smile faded completely. “Oh...I’m sor-...that’s...pretty awful…”

“...Yeah, yeah it is…”

Slowly, Ashley rose to her feet and walked up to him. Tentatively, she rested a tiny hand on his monstrous leg bone. “Maybe...maybe you’ll see them again someday,” she said, looking up at him hopefully. “And at the very least, I can try to help fill the void they left?”

Sans smiled sadly down at her. “Yeah, heh, maybe.”

He paused. “Do you mind if I get comfy? Sitting up like this is pretty hard; it’s got me bone tired.”

Ashley snorted. “Sure, I don’t mind.”

Sans lowered his left hand palm up beside her. “Here. Hop on for a sec.”

“Wh-why?” Ashley asked, hesitating.

“Uh, just trust me,” Sans replied. “I know, that’s a pretty big request, but it’ll be okay.”

“Alright, if you say so.” Biting her lip, Ashley carefully stepped up onto Sans’s hand.

With a great deal of care, Sans raised her up into the air while he brought himself down to the earth below, lying down on his back. Propping his skull up on one of the nearby trees, he lowered Ashley back down to his chest. Timidly, she slid off of Sans’s hand, wobbling as she landed. With a quiet whoosh of air, he removed the limb and brought it along with his other hand back behind his skull in a casual manner.

Sans watched her, his smile easy and relaxed. “This okay?”

Ashley looked around her in wonder. She was standing upon an ocean of white fabric with two tall walls of blue on either side of her. Far ahead in the distance was the grinning face of her new companion. Her mind was caught in a whirlwind, struggling to take in her current situation. She was standing on another person . That’s how tiny she was! “Holy hash browns…” she murmured in awe. “Yeah...yeah this is good…”

Sans let out a laugh, causing his chest to bounce a bit. Ashley teetered but kept her balance. Thank goodness for dance training. “You sure you’re okay? You, uh, look a little uncomfortable.”

“No, no. I’m fine! It’s just…wow!” Ashley laughed. “This is...just a lot to take in. Never stood on a giant person before, you know?”

Sans smirked. “I can imagine. You seem to be handling it pretty well though. No screamin or anything.”

“Thanks, I’m trying.”

Ashley, deciding to make herself comfortable as well, plopped down onto Sans’s chest. Her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh, your sweater is so soft!” she exclaimed, running her hands over the carpet of white.

“Yeah?” Sans asked with a chuckle.

“Yeah!” Ashley flopped forward onto her stomach and gasped. “Holy sandwich, you are SO comfy!”

Sans laughed. “Okay, now you’re just being weird.”

“No, I’m serious!” Ashley buried her face into the fabric. “This is AMAZING! I could lie like this all day, I swear!”

“Heh, maybe we can have a mutual nap sometime, yeah?”

Ashley moaned. “That sounds so wonderful, you don’t even know.”

Sans rolled his eyes. “So, should I ask a question now, or are you just content to keep rambling on about how comfy I am?”

Ashley looked up at him, resting her chin on her arms. “No, no! Go ahead! Ask me anything you like!”

Sans smirked. “Alright. What are you doin living all the way out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“House was cheap,” she replied simply, shrugging a bit. “And nice. I mean, have you looked at it? It’s gorgeous! I feel like some kind of millionaire living in it! I guess the big reason though was because I got a job in town.”

“Oh yeah? What do you do?”

Ashley’s face lit up with pride. “I’m an actress!”

Sans stilled. “...An actress?”

“Yeah?” Ashley frowned at his strange response. “Is there...something wrong with that?”

Sans smiled. “Not at all. I’ve just, heh, never met a famous person before.”

Ashley’s smile returned as well. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m FAMOUS or anything. I’m still just getting myself started. Someday I’ll make it big though!” Her green eyes began to glow with a bright passion. “My name’s gonna be in big shining lights! Or-or maybe up on a giant screen! I don’t really know which type of acting I wanna get into, honestly. I’m leaning towards theater; the sound of a live audience’s applause, nothing in the world beats it! It makes you feel accepted and loved and just so alive! It’s wonderful! But, then again, I love working in front of a camera too. So, maybe I’ll make it big doing both! Who knows!” She glanced away, rubbing her neck. “But that’s all in the hopeful future. Right now I’m just trying pay the bills. I’m just your average, poor-theater-major for hire, ha ha.”

“Eh, I bet you’re still pretty good,” Sans said with a wink.

“Heh, I try.” Ashley pushed a lock of brown hair out of her face, blushing a bit. “I got hired at some theater in town. ‘The Doll’s House’? Think that’s what it’s called. Anyway, I start tomorrow.”

“Really? Well you’ll have to let me know how that goes.”

“Can do!” Ashley began absentmindedly kicking her legs in the air. “So! My turn!”

Sans nodded. “Your turn.”

“Yes! My turn! Um…” Ashley racked her brain. “Have...you...always been a skeleton?”

“Eeyup. Guess, heh, you could say I was... bone this way.”

Ashley giggled. “Oh my gosh, you’re such a dork!”

Tibia honest, you’re a pretty big dork yourself.”

“Stop! You’re terrible!” Ashley shrieked with laughter, rolling onto her back and clutching her stomach.

“What? Did I strike your funny bone?”

“Sans, I swear!!!”

“Ash, I think you knee d to calm down.”

“SANS!!!”

---

The two of them spent the entire morning and afternoon together, asking each other various questions while occasionally getting trapped in sinkholes of laughter and silliness. At one point, Ashley had to dive into her backpack to help herself to some lunch: a peanut butter sandwich without the crust along with a side of apple slices and a cookie. She’d offered to share with Sans, but he politely declined, simply saying she needed it more than he did. For hours, they talked and talked, laughed a lot, and talked some more.

Eventually, the sun began to sink beneath the treetops. Ashley had found herself back on Sans’s chest, lying on her side while facing him. Her eyelids were starting to get heavy. She really could fall asleep like this.

Sans smiled softly at her. “You still awake?”

“Mhm,” she hummed, closing her eyes with a smile.

“Doesn’t look like you’ll be for much longer.”

Ashley merely shrugged, burrowing her cheek deeper into his sweater. It was so soft…

“Heh, alright. Let’s get you back home, kay?”

She let out a grunt of disapproval. “Idonwannagoback…”

“Well too bad. You said you got a job to start tomorrow, remember? Can’t be doin that if you’re out here fallin asleep on me. And I don’t wanna be the one responsible for screwin up your first day.”

Ashley felt something gently prodding her backside, and when she peeled open her eyes, she saw it was Sans’s finger. She frowned heavily, releasing a mighty sigh. “Oh, alright. Fine.”

“There we go. Come on.” Sans’s hand came to a rest in front of her. Reluctantly, Ashley crawled on, too tired to stand up. “Heh, seems my laziness has really rubbed off on you.”

Ashley let out a rather obnoxious yawn. “If you say so.”

His features amused, Sans ever so carefully sat back upright, releasing a yawn himself as he did so. With his forefinger and thumb, he gently picked up Ashley’s bag and brought it up to her, dropping it in her lap with a soft plop.  “Thanks,” she told him with a sleepy smile. “Now I have a pillow.”

Sans rolled his eyes. By the time he had stood up, Ashley had made herself comfortable in his hand, resting her head upon her backpack. He shook his head, looking down at her. “You really are something else.”

“Just shush and carry me home, please,” was Ashley’s faint response, which got a chuckle out of Sans.

The walk back home was peacefully silent, and for once, Ashley didn’t mind the lack of sound. No dark thoughts attempted to pervade her mind; all was well. She had never felt so at ease, so calm, so secure. She knew Sans would keep her safe and that so long as she was with him, no harm would come to her. It was the most reassuring feeling in the world, and she loved every minute of it.

“Psst. Hey, Ash? You awake?”

“Hmm?” Ashley sat up, blinking her eyes blearily. “Whassat?”

Sans smirked down at her. “We’re here. You gonna be able to make it inside?”

With a tremendous yawn, Ashley nodded, waving a hand dismissively. “Yeah! Yeah! Course!”

Chuckling, Sans bent down, lowering his hand to the front steps. Slowly, Ashley climbed down, bag in hand. She stumbled a bit upon landing, but stayed standing.

Ashley grinned up at him. “I really enjoyed today.”

Sans, still lowered to the ground, returned the smile. “Yeah, I did too. Thanks for paying me a visit.”

“It was my pleasure,” Ashley replied with yet another yawn.

“Alright, sleepybones, go crawl into your real bed, kay?”

Ashley nodded. “Yeah, I hear ya. Goodnight, Sans.”

“Night, Ash.”

It was not until Ashley had set foot into her home and shut the door behind her that she heard Sans’s footsteps as he walked away. Weariness seeping out of every pore in her body, she climbed the steps and made her way up to her bedroom.

Had she not been so tired and ready to pass out, Ashley would’ve questioned the strange item she found resting on her pillow: an old hammer.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand?”

A very confused Ashley sat before her new boss, Craig Johnston. He rubbed his balding head, eyes closed behind his black glasses. “What exactly don’t you get, kid?”

“I...I thought this was a theater,” replied Ashley, shaking her head, her brow furrowed. Her hands gripped the bright yellow sundress she was wearing, playing with the fabric. Yellow was her favorite color, and she had worn it today in the hopes of it giving her a confidence boost. “You guys did Chicago just this past summer, right? You were just finishing it when I auditioned for you.”

Mr. Johnston opened his eyes, giving her a tired look. “Yes, we did. Each summer, we put on a theatrical production. However, you missed the boat for this year, so if you wanna be in a show, then you’ll have to wait until next year.”

“Oh...alright.” Ashley frowned in disappointment. Pizza rolls. This wasn’t what she had hoped for at all. Although she was a well-rounded performer, acting was the one facet she was passionate about. She’d been so excited about getting to be in her first show in the professional world, but it would appear she’d have to wait a lot longer than she had anticipated.

“Is there a problem with that?”

Ashley quickly recovered, shaking her head hurriedly. “Oh, no! Not at all, sir! I’m happy to be working here, really I am! I just thought...I’d get to be acting more is all.”

Mr. Johnston gave her a long look. “It really hasn’t registered yet, has it?”

“...I’m sorry?”

“Oh dear Lord,” Mr. Johnston pinched the bridge of his nose. Ashley shrank in her chair a bit, biting her lip. “Kid, this ain’t some mom and pop family theater.” When Ashley didn’t respond, he sighed. “It’s a Burlesque theater.”

Ashley’s eyes widened as everything clicked into place. “OH. Well...that would certainly explain some of the outfits I saw coming in, haha.” She had been wondering about the large amount of bikinis, feathers, and fringe she had seen throughout the theater.

“Is this gonna be a problem?”

Ashley bit her lip for a moment before confidently shaking her head. “No sir. Not at all. As long as I’m performing in front of an audience who’s willing to watch me, I’m perfectly content.” And, that was the truth. At the end of the day, if she was making people smile, then she had done her job. Besides, this would be a great way to boost her level of comfort in front of crowds; if she could flirt and tease folks by simply flaunting her body around, then no challenge would be too intimidating for her to handle.

Mr. Johnston laughed. “That’s good, I’m glad to hear. That said, you’re probably gonna have a tough time ahead of you.”

“Why’s that?” Ashley asked, cocking her head in confusion.

Mr. Johnston raised an eyebrow, looking her over. “Have you looked at yourself, kid? You don’t exactly have the body type for this line of work.”

Taken aback, Ashley glanced down at her small and slender frame, her cheeks heating up a bit. “Well, no, you’re correct on that I guess,” she told him, her insides burning with embarrassment. “But I can still perform just as well as any other girl here! Honest!”

“Nah, that’s not gonna be enough,” Mr. Johnston replied with a shake of his head. “You gotta make up for lost ground; you gotta perform better than the other girls. Otherwise, I’m gonna have to cut you.”

Ashley was speechless. She knew going into the performance industry she’d be type-cast and judged based off of her body, but she had never anticipated anything quite like this.

“On that note, I want you to understand that you’re on thin ice,” Mr. Johnston continued on, scribbling down something on a piece of paper. “I don’t mean it in a harsh way, but I run a business. If I’m not gaining money on a girl, she has to go. See, I’m taking a risk with you. You’re talented, really talented. But you don’t look like a Burlesque girl. You barely look old enough to even be allowed in the building. The last thing I need is to have to explain to the police that I’m not engaging in child pornography. I wanna believe you can do this, but I’m not sure you actually have what it takes.” He looked her straight in the eye. “Prove me wrong.”

Biting her lip, Ashley nodded with determination.

Mr. Johnston smirked. “Good. Now, for the moment, you won’t have your own set. You’ll be a part of the opening and closing group ensemble numbers, kay? I need you to learn the music and choreography for them by the time the week is up. Got it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Sasha Starr, our head girl, will help you with the training as well as get you fitted for costuming, so you’ll need to meet up and talk to her. She’s not here today though, so you’ll have to give her a visit tomorrow. In the meantime, I want you to go find Ricki and get her to show you around. Sound good?”

“Yes sir.” Ashley felt herself growing number by the minute. She was ready to jump out of her chair and flee the building without sparing a glance back, and it took every ounce of self control to keep herself seated.

Mr. Johnston handed her a small bundle of papers and a CD. “Here’s all the sheet music and the instrumental track for the opener and closer. This is your main priority, but in the event that you do in fact prove yourself and I give you your own act, I want you to have something put together. It should be roughly about three minutes long, no more than four. Can you do that?”

Ashley nodded, looking at the music in her hands. “I’ll get to work on it, Sir.”

“Good.” Pause. “Hey, kid?”

Ashley looked up. Mr. Johnston had a soft smile on his face. “I’m rootin for ya.”

Ashley managed a smile of her own and rose to her feet. “Thank you, Mr. Johnston. I promise, I won’t let you down!”

“That’s what I like to hear. Have a nice day, Ash.”

Ashley paused abruptly at the nickname, catching her off-guard. “Y-yeah, you too,” she replied, forcing a smile and walking out of his office, shutting the door hastily behind her.

Ashley let out a heavy sigh, taking a few steps away from the door and leaning against a wall. “Well, so much for starting off my acting career on the right foot,” she mumbled, kicking the air. This was definitely not how she had anticipated breaking into the performance industry.

“Honey, if you were planning on becoming some kind of a movie star or something, you came to the wrong place.”

Ashley looked up in surprise. A tall, dark woman in a black and silver sequined cocktail dress was approaching, smirking down at her. Her hair was long and black as a crow’s feather, and her eyes were as dark and lovely as a new moon. “You must be the new girl.”

Ashley nodded, holding the papers to her chest. “Yes! I’m Ashley West! Nice to meet you!”

The woman grinned. “Daisy Jo. Did you really not know what you were getting into by applying here?”

Embarrassed, Ashley shook her head. Why did she always charge headfirst into things like this without stopping to do some research or assess the situation? Sometimes, she really hated how impulsive she was. “I just kind of assumed you guys did more productions throughout the year. Guess I probably should’ve asked first, huh?”

Daisy Jo chuckled. “Yeah, that probably would’ve been a good idea.”

“Eh, it’s not like you’ll have to worry about it long.” An equally tall woman with bright red curls in a rather revealing sparkly pink swimsuit came strutting up. “I mean just look at ya. Where are your boobs?”

Ashley’s face heated up.

“Now come on, Mary,” said Daisy Jo, frowning at the woman. “Cut the girl some slack, it’s her first day.”

“Yeah, and she probably won’t have too many more of them, is all I’m sayin,” Mary replied with a shrug. A couple of other girls had begun to gather around the trio, watching with interest. “I’m just bein honest here. Folks come for the ass and the boobs, and honey, you ain’t got either of them.”

“W-well I don’t need them!” Ashley snapped indignantly, struggling to maintain her composure. It was hard to not back down to someone a foot taller than her. Maybe that was something Sans could help her with. “I’ve got enough talent to fill the whole audience!”

“Ha!” Mary laughed, brown eyes glowing. “A full house to see a skinny little shrimp like you? I’d like to see that!”

“Don’t worry, you will!”

“Alright! Alright! What’s goin on here?”

Ashley spun around to see a new face approaching from behind: an Asian woman (Ashley guessed Vietnamese) in a blue robe overtop a white lace dress. She was shorter than the rest of the girls though still several inches taller than Ashley, but she had a confident stride about her that forced everyone to take notice. This woman was clearly not to be messed with. “It’s too early in the day to be startin drama. Someone tell me what the problem is.”

“Hey, Ricki. It’s the new girl, Ashley,” Daisy Jo explained, crossing her arms. “Mary’s just wantin to start some drama with her, that’s all.”

Ricki gave Mary a tired look. “Really? Why you gotta be like that, Mary, I mean the kid is shorter than me for Christ’s sake.”

Mary threw her hands up in defense. “What? I was just speakin my mind!”

“Yeah? Well stop bein a lil bitch or else I’ll have to buy you a muzzle, kay?”

A quiet giggle passed throughout the ring of girls as Mary stood there, mouth agape and eyes wide. “Well I NEVER!” She jabbed a finger at Ricki. “You’re just a slanty-eyed freak, that’s what you are!”

“Hey, watch it,” Ricki warned, eyeing Mary dangerously. “Don make me go and tell Sasha you were givin the new girl a rough time.”

Mary leered down at Ricki, her eyes two machine guns shooting a barrage of bullets at the shorter woman. “Yeah, whatever.” Mary spun on her heels with a loud huff and marched through the crowd, not looking back. “I’m goin back to the dressin room. I need to add some tassels.”

Ricki rolled her eyes. “Don’t mind her, kid,” she told Ashley, causing her to look up at the woman. “She’s not that bad, she just likes to start drama where it don’t need to be.” She stuck out a hand. “I’m Ricki, Ricki Jean.”

Ashley beamed and eagerly returned the handshake, relieved to meet another friendly face. “Ashley West! Nice to meet you!”

Ricki looked her over. “So, I’m guessin you’re new in town. Can’t say I’ve seen any movin trucks around here recently though.”

“Oh! That’s because I don’t live in town!”

“Really?” Ricki asked, raising an eyebrow. “You comin from all the way out in the city?”

Ashley shook her head. “No, no! I just moved into this old manor right outside of town? By the woods? Do you know what I’m talking about?”

It was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Ashley was suddenly aware that all eyes were focused intensely on her. Ricki gave her an odd look. “You don’t...heh, you don’t mean the old Dreemurr place, do ya?” she asked cautiously.

Biting her lip, Ashley nodded. “Um, yeah? Does this have to do with the supposed haunted thing?”

Ricki let out a loud, sharp laugh. “There’s no supposed to it! That place is more haunted than a…” She paused. “A graveyard. Or somethin that’s usually haunted. I don’t know. The point is, it’s really haunted.” She placed an arm around Ashley’s shoulder. “Trust me, you won’t be stayin in that house for very long, kiddo; no one does.”

“How long have you been there?” a girl with bright purple hair piped up.

“Um, today’s my third day,” she replied.

Ashley hadn’t thought the room could get more intense. She was wrong.

Ricki pulled away from Ashley, ogling her. “You’re lying.”

Ashley blinked and rapidly shook her head. “What? No! No, I’m not! Today is my third day living there, honest!”

“Today’s your third day...and you’re still comfortable living there?

“Yeah?” Ashley looked around at all the stunned faces nervously. “W-why? What’s wrong with that?”

“The ghost living in that house isn’t exactly fond of people,” Daisy Jo answered. “I never believed in spirits myself until I came here, but with that house, there’s no denying it.”

“It attacks people!” the girl with purple hair added. “I’ve heard it throws things like forks and knives at them!”

“I heard once it locked a lady in the closet for an entire day!” came another woman with blonde highlights. “When she finally got out, she fled in just her bathrobe and refused to come back for any of her stuff. Personally, I don’t blame her.”

“One time, I heard that it possessed someone,” whispered a woman with olive skin, brown eyes wide. “They said they couldn’t control their body at all and were flung throughout the house like a ragdoll.”

Ricki gripped Ashley’s shoulders tightly, their gazes locked. “You’re telling me that in three days’ time, nothing like this has happened?”

Ashley bit her lip. “Well, there was one thing,” she admitted.

All the girls in the room leaned in with keen interest, listening with bated breath.

“Last night, just before I went to bed, I found a hammer on my pillow,” Ashley told them slowly, uncomfortable at the strange amount of attention. “I didn’t really think much of it at the time because of how tired I was, but I don’t know where it came from or how it got there.”

Ricki stared at her for a long time. “That’s it?” she asked in disbelief. Ashley nodded. “It didn’t try to bash your head in or break your windows or anything?”

“No. It was just...lying on my pillow. Like a normal hammer. Except, not in a place a normal hammer should be.”

A quiet murmur suddenly broke out amongst the girls, some looking at Ashley in awe, others in silent terror.

“I’ll be damned,” said Daisy Jo quietly. “The ghost actually likes you.”

“I’m guessing this isn’t normal?” Ashley asked her.

Ricki released her death grip on Ashley and crossed her arms. “The house has been around since the sixties. After the original owners left, no one’s stayed in the place longer than a week, and they usually don’t even make it that long. This ghost ain’t no Casper.”

“So why am I different?” Ashley questioned, her mind reeling.

“That’s a good question,” replied Daisy Jo with a smirk. “Can’t say I’ve seen anything like this before. What about you, Ricki?”

Ricki shook her head. “No, this is definitely a first time. And I would know: I’m somethin of an expert on the paranormal round here.” She looked Ashley over. “I’m assumin you know about the history of the place, right?”

Ashley shrugged. “Just that a kid apparently died there. Or something. Right?”

“That’s...not entirely accurate,” Ricki replied. A grin started to spread across her face.

“Oh Lord, here we go,” mumbled Daisy Jo, shaking her head.

“In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Dreemurr, eager to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, built their dream home under the shade of Mt. Ebott.” Ricki had gone into full-on performance mode; the eyes of every girl in the room were focused intently on her with no signs of looking away anytime soon. “Mr. Dreemurr, the state’s former Senator, was weary from the stress of politics and sought out a quiet, peaceful life. So, he found it here, along with his wife and young child.

“For years, the family lived happily together. They frequented the town regularly, and everyone loved them, especially their child. Folks say the kid’s smile could melt even the coldest of hearts. For the Dreemurrs, all was well.”

Ricki’s face grew dark. “Then, in November of 1963, the child grew sick. To the Dreemurrs’  horror, the illness only grew worse and worse with each passing day. They called in every doctor in the state, begging for something, anything to aid their child, but nothing anyone did  helped.

“On one cold, rainy day, Mrs. Dreemurr went up the stairs to the third floor to check on her child. What she found made her scream.

“The bed was empty.

“The child was nowhere to be found. The whole town came out to aid in the search, hoping with all their hearts that they’d find the kid alive and well. However, what had begun as a mere spell of rain had turned into a torrential storm; it was too dangerous to continue looking. With heavy hearts, everyone was forced to return home, praying that things would turn out alright.”

The room was deathly silent. Ricki scanned the various faces with somber eyes. “Early the next morning, after the rain had finally stopped, Mr. and Mrs. Dreemurr opened their front door to a terrible sight. There, lying on the stone steps that led up to their house, was the still form of their child, eyes closed in the endless dream of death.”

Ricki stood up straighter, looking around the room. “Mr. and Mrs. Dreemurr never truly recovered from the loss of their child. Only a month after the event, the couple abandoned the home, leaving everything behind, unable to live with the depressing memories anymore. To this very day, it is said that the child’s spirit still haunts the house. What prevents them from moving onto the next plane of existence is a mystery, but one thing is certain: no one is allowed to live in Dreemurr Manor.”

Ricki locked gazes with Ashley. Ashley felt her heart stop and her blood run cold.

“No one, that is, except for you.”

Chapter Text

“...And this is the dressing room, nothin too fancy, just a place to take clothes off and maybe put some back on.”

Ricki had been leading Ashley on a tour of the theater, providing sardonic commentary on everything from the curtains to the bathrooms. It wasn’t very big, but it had a nice, cozy atmosphere to it. Everyone looked like they were right at home, forming small casual clusters here and there. Maybe in time, she’d be able to feel that way too.

Ashley had also been slowly meeting the theater staff as well, such as Joe (the sound operator), Joey (the lighting director), and Joseph (the security guard). “What Craig was thinking when he hired those three, I’ll never know,” Ricki had told her. “Watch, I’ll bet the next girl he hires is gonna be named Josephine.” All Ashley could do was laugh in response and pray she’d be able to differentiate the three “J’s” sooner rather than later.

Ricki was just showing Ashley the ticket booth and giving her a rundown of show times when  a C major chord rung throughout the area. Ashley looked around for the source but failed to find it. Ricki grinned, running a hand through her choppy black hair. “Oh good, Mike’s here.” She turned back to Ashley. “Come on, I’ll introduce ya.”

The two made their way to the orchestra pit, where one lonely grand piano sat. Seated in front of it was a rather tall young man about Ashley’s age with dark brown hair and glasses. He wore a white and blue striped polo and dark denim jeans. Ashley felt a flutter in her chest, and her heart rate increased a notch. He looked up with a friendly grin as the two girls approached. “Oh, hey, Ricki. How’s it going?”

“Eh, pretty good. Could use a nap, but that’s nothing new. How bout you?”

He shrugged. “Not bad, I guess. I’m just warming up for rehearsal.” He turned to Ashley and smiled warmly. “Hello.”

Ashley felt her cheeks heating up a bit, and she gave a shy wave. “Hi there.”

Ricki grinned. “Mike, this is Ashley, the new girl we’ve been hearin about. Ashley, this is Mike, our accompanist.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mike,”  Ashley said with a bright smile.

Mike’s smile grew, his eyes glowing. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you too, Ashley. And Ricki here is selling me a bit short. I, the Great Michael Lee Martin, am also in charge of all musical operations that go on here, such as acquiring pieces, arranging songs, the whole nine yards.”

Ashley raised her eyebrows. “Wow, that’s certainly a lot. Color me impressed.”

Michael shrugged. “It’s a living.” He winked at her. “I look forward to working with you.”

Ashley felt her heart momentarily stop. “As do I.”

A sudden hand on her arm made Ashley whip her head to the side. Ricki had a knowing grin on her face. “Aaalright, kiddo, let’s keep movin,” she drawled, leading Ashley along.

Michael grinned at them. “Bye, Ricki. See you later, Ash.”

Ashley giggled and waved. “Bye,” she responded, briefly turning back to him only to spin right back around, her cheeks rosy.

“Yep, had a feelin that would happen,” snickered Ricki once the two of them had made their way into the theater lobby.

Ashley pushed a strand of hair behind her ears, biting her lip with a smile. “I’ll admit, he is cute.”

“Damn right he is,” Ricki agreed. “Not quite my type, but he’s still a good looking specimen, that’s for sure.” She gave Ashley a nudge. “Who knows, maybe you two could work out together, eh?”

Ashley felt the ghost of a pain deep in her chest, and her smile faded. “Yeah...maybe. I’m not in any hurry to get with anyone though.”

Ricki gave her a long look before shrugging. “Fair enough. To each their own. I mean, I’m personally livin up the single lifestyle. Relationships are too much work, you know?” She looked down at Ashley with a sly grin. “Besides, I could never love just one man; think how disappointed the rest of them would be.”

Ashley laughed, relieved beyond belief that Ricki had been gracious enough to not press the subject, and the two carried on. There didn’t seem to be a dull moment when one was with the woman. She was certainly talkative, seeming to have some sort of sarcastic or snarky comment about everything. It was as if everything she did just oozed with a sort of cool charm. Ashley found herself enjoying her company and hoped they could perhaps be better friends in the future.

“So, kiddo, that’s about it,” Ricki remarked as they finished their tour of the theater, back where they began outside of Mr. Johnston’s office. “You got any questions or anything?”

“No, I think you pretty much covered everything,” Ashley replied, beaming. She was actually a bit sad their tour was over; she’d been having a lot of fun. “Thank you so much, Ricki. I really appreciate how welcoming you’ve been.”

Ricki waved a dismissive hand. “Eh, don’t worry about it. It’s hard to not wanna help a kid as cute as you,” she said with a wink.

Ashley laughed but then paused, a sudden thought striking her. “Actually...Ricki?”

“Hm? Yeah?”

“I actually do think I have a question, but it’s not related to the job.”

Ricki raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? And what would that be?”

Ashley bit her lip. “You said you knew a lot about paranormal stuff around here, right?”

Ricki crossed her arms with a confident smile. “Sure do. You got a question about that house of yours?”

“No,” Ashley answered, shaking her head. “Actually, there was something else.”

Ricki gave her a curious look. “Alright then, shoot. What’s eatin ya?”

“Do you know anything about...giants around here?”

Ricki’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “...I’m sorry, did you say giants?

Ashley nodded hesitantly.

Ricki furrowed her brow and thought for a moment. “...Not really, not that I know of. Closest thing I can think of was a run-in two drunk guys had back in the seventies with what they thought was Bigfoot. Turns out it was just a big hairy dude. Yeah, that one didn’t end too pretty.” She looked at Ashley. “I’m guessin that’s not what you’re interested in though.”

“No, not really,” Ashley replied, shaking her head. “What about skeletons?”

“Okay, are you gonna tell me what’s up with these odd questions?” Ricki asked, giving Ashley a pointed look.

Ashley shifted her weight uncomfortably. There was no way she could rat out Sans; who knew what might happen to him if she did. Friends don’t turn friends in. The last thing she wanted was for the government to swoop in and go all E.T. on him. Besides, even if she did, it was pretty unlikely that Ricki would even believe her. Saying that you have a sixty foot skeleton for a neighbor is a pretty hard pill to swallow, even for the most open-minded of folks. She wasn’t exactly keen on possibly scaring away her potential new friend, especially if it meant betraying her other friend.  “I can’t, at least not right now. But it’s really important, I swear.”

Ricki eyed her. “Really important?”

“Really really really important.” Ashley looked at her with pleading eyes. “Please, Ricki.”

Ricki gave Ashley a good, long, look over. “...No, I don’t know anything about skeletons either,” she answered at last. “But I’ll do some diggin around, see if I can find something.”

Ashley’s face lit up. “Good grapefruit, thank you so so so so much, Ricki! Just...thank you! It really means a lot to me.”

“Hey, don’t sweat it. Just consider it thanks for replacing me as the shortest girl round here, kay?”

Ashley laughed. “Fair enough.”

“And you better keep me updated on that house of yours, kay?” Ricki added, a look of almost wicked excitement upon her face. “Anything happens, anything at all, and you tell me straightaway, got it? The mystery of Dreemurr Manor might finally be solved, and I’ll be damned if I’m not there to see it.”

“I think I can do that.”

---

Ashley closed the front door and leaned against it with a heavy sigh, sheet music and CD clutched close to her chest. At last, she was back in her house. The house she was apparently sharing with a dead kid. The house that made her next door neighbors with a giant skeleton. She looked up at the ceiling in exasperation, running a hand through her hair. “I just wanted a cheap house, that’s all. Is that too much to ask for?”

Her question was met with silence.

Ashley sighed again. “Guess so.”

She wanted nothing more than to curl up on the floor right then and there and try to sleep all of her problems away in the vain hope that perhaps when she woke, her life would be boring and simple once again. Of course, there was no way of this fantasy ever happening, so there was no point in wishing for something that wasn’t even possible. She could do nothing but accept that this was her life now, strange as it may be, and keep moving forward.

That said, it could be worse. She seemed to be on good terms with the ghost for some inexplicable reason. Sans could’ve easily been a huge jerk and done something awful like kidnap her and make her his little performer slave. Ashley shuddered. Her situation was strange and a bit unsettling, but it was far from terrible.

Resigned to her fate, Ashley set her work items on the coffee table; she didn’t feel up to going through everything at the moment. Maybe later tonight when she had recovered some from learning about the history of her new house.

Ashley paused and looked around, biting her lip. Was the ghost watching her now? Did it even know she was here? Maybe they were just lonely and wanted someone to talk to. It was worth a shot at least.

“...Hello? Ghost kid? You, uh...you there?” Ashley called out with a great deal of hesitance. She slowly began to walk down the hallway that lead back to the kitchen, her eyes scanning every surface. “My name is Ashley. Ashley West. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself sooner. I don’t want to hurt you, honest, and I really really hope you don’t wanna hurt me. You haven’t attacked me or anything, though, so I guess maybe that’s a good sign?” She entered the kitchen, and her stomach pulled her towards the fridge. “We could be friends, you know. I like making friends! I don’t have a lot of them, but you’d make a great addition! We could totally be cool roommates or something. That sounds like fun, right?”

No response.

Ashley sighed, shoulders slumping. “Yeah, I guess I can’t really blame you. I wouldn’t really wanna be roommates with me either, honestly.”

She blinked and lightly slapped her cheek. “Shush, you,” she scolded herself. “Stop thinking like that. People do like being around you. Like Sans. And Ricki. Yeah! That’s at least two people. Yeah...”

Ashley opened the freezer door and made a face at how bare it was. She had meant to go to the store the day before, but she had ended up forgetting in her eagerness to see Sans again. She sighed. “Well meatloaf. Guess I know what I’m doing tomorrow after work.” Reluctantly, she grabbed a random frozen meal and got it started, popping it in the microwave.

A bird fluttered past one of the kitchen windows, causing Ashley to turn her head. Curious, she walked over to it and peered out at the thick wall of trees. “Wonder what Sans is up to…” she murmured to herself, half expecting to see his white skull pop out at any moment. She recalled that she had said she’d tell him about her first day at work. Maybe she could do that after dinner. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too dark then.

Feeling restless while waiting for her meal to finish cooking, Ashley began to aimlessly wander around, letting her feet lead her blindly. She ambled through various hallways, casually exploring all the different nooks and crannies of the house.

A sudden flash of yellow caught her eye and made her stop abruptly; alas, it was but a mirror, her yellow dress striking against the dark purple hallway. Ashley studied herself, her eyes taking in her every feature. It was true, she was no bombshell; she doubted she’d ever grace a magazine cover. But she certainly wasn’t unattractive . She was cute, pretty. Not hot, but definitely pretty. She turned sideways, studying her figure with a frown. “I do too have a butt,” she muttered with a pout, running her hands over her body. Granted, it was a small butt, but so was everything else. She had a cute butt, or at least she thought so. “I’ll wear something more figure-flattering tomorrow, see what Mary thinks then,” she murmured to herself, cracking a smile.

Abruptly, two loud thumps reverberated throughout the entire house, causing Ashley to freeze in place. “What the anchovies was that?” she whispered, eyes narrowed. Her senses on high alert, she crept back to the living room, eyeing every corner warily. Suddenly, two more thumps shook the house. Ashley’s head turned towards the source of the sound. They seemed to be coming from the front door. Curious, she cautiously approached the door, placing her hand on the handle. She bit her lip and opened the door, uncertainty bubbling inside of her.

The sight that greeted her was an enormous white index finger. Ashley froze up but quickly relaxed once her brain processed what she was looking at. “Sans?”

The finger pulled back, revealing a grinning skull hovering low to the ground. “Hey, Ash.”

Ashley looked at him quizzically. This was certainly unexpected to say the least. “Um, hi there,” she replied with an awkward laugh. “How are you?”

Sans shrugged. “Bout the same as usual. You?”

“Um, at the moment a bit surprised, but I guess I’m pretty alright overall.”

Sans nodded. “That’s good.” He looked her over. “You look nice today.”

Ashley’s eyes widened with surprise. “Oh! Um, thank you! You, uh, don’t look too shabby yourself, ha ha.”

Sans merely let out a laugh in response, smiling.

Ashley rubbed her neck, unsure what to do. “So, um, any reason you decided to swing by? Not that I mind or anything! It’s totally okay that you did, I swear! But, can I ask why?”

Sans’ expression shifted to mirror her awkwardness. He glanced away. “Well, you uh, mentioned telling me about your first day on the job and stuff. And, um, I just figured I’d swing by and save you the trouble of hiking out into the woods to find me, you know?”

Ashley blinked. “Oh! Right! Yeah, I had planned on going to see you after dinner! I was actually just getting ready to eat.”

“Oh, my bad,” Sans replied with a small wince. “I don’t wanna keep you from that then. Go on ahead and eat, I’ll wait for you, kay?”

Her eyes widened. “Oh no no no! It’s okay! Really!” She didn’t want to just turn him away like that, especially not when he had come over to see her. That fact alone was still a little bit mind-boggling; she hadn’t really expected him ever having any desire to visit.

Sans looked at her uncertainly. “You, uh...you sure? You must be pretty hungry. I don’t want you stayin out here cause you think I’m, heh, starving for attention or anything.”

In the background, Ashley heard the distant beep of the microwave. She bit her lip. “Just...wait right here for a minute, alright? I’ll be right back in just a sec, okay?”

Sans’ eye sockets widened with surprise, but he nodded all the same. “Yeah, um, sure. No problem.”

Ashley smiled at him before spinning on her heels and sprinting back into the kitchen.

Sans lazily waited outside as he had been told, sprawled out on his stomach, his head resting on his arms. He let out a quiet yawn, his eyelids beginning to droop. Fortunately, the sight of Ashley reappearing in the doorway was enough to make him blink himself awake. He grinned. “Welcome back.”

Ashley returned the smile. “Good to be back, thanks.”

Sans cocked his head, squinting at her. “What’s that you got there?” he asked. She was holding something, but it was too tiny for him to make out what it was.

Ashley held up a small black bowl. “Chicken alfredo!” she replied, beaming. “You want some?”

Sans chuckled. “Nah, that’s alright. That’s your dinner, remember?”

“Well, yeah , I know, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share.” She sat down on the front steps, setting down a water bottle and napkin beside her. Taking a bite of the noodles, she frowned at him. “Besides, you have to eat something , right?” Surely he couldn’t just live off of air alone. He was a living being who used energy, so he must get it from somewhere. He may defy numerous rules of science, but that was one he simply had to follow.

Sans watched her eat with a small smile. “Yeah, you got me there.”

“Sooo, what do you eat?”

“It’s a bit complicated.” He thought for a moment. “Tell you what: how about I show you sometime. Maybe your next day off or somethin. That sound good?”

Ashley beamed, swallowing a mouthful of food. “Yeah! That sounds great!” She couldn’t possibly imagine what Sans might have in store for her, so she was really excited to see whatever it was he had planned.

Sans grinned. “Cool.”

The two of them sat in silence, neither of them saying anything as Ashley scarfed down her meal. Noticing the lack of noise, she looked up at Sans. He was watching her, almost as if he were waiting for something. With a start, she realized that he was in fact waiting for something. “Oh ravioli, I’m sorry! You wanted to hear about my day, right?”

Sans shrugged in response. “Only if you wanna talk about it.”

Ashley nodded, taking another bite. “I told you I would, so I will.”

He cracked a smile. “Alright then. Go for it.”

She took a deep breath and dove in. “Alright. So. It’s not exactly what I thought it was going to be.”

“How’s that?”

Ashley pushed a bit of hair behind her ear. “Well, it’s a burlesque theater.”

Sans gave her a blank stare.

“...you don’t know what that is, do you?”

“Nope. Not a clue.”

Ashley sighed. “Well, it’s a theater that’s generally focused on performances that are more...sexual in nature.”

Sans eye sockets grew with shock. “Whoa whoa whoa, hold up. I’m gonna need you to elaborate a little more on that.”

Ashley winced a bit at his reaction. To be entirely honest, she wasn’t too thrilled about being associated with a burlesque theater, especially if it meant reactions like this. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and at least she had a job performing. “We don’t actually get naked or anything; it’s more about teasing, showing just enough. Acts often feature elements of comedy and music, to keep things interesting and fun.”

Sans mulled this over before nodding. “Alright, okay. That doesn’t sound too bad now that you’ve explained it a bit more.” He narrowed his eyes. “So wait. What about acting? Isn’t that what you said you wanted to do?”

Ashley nodded glumly. “It is, but I’m not gonna be able to. Not until next summer, at least.”

His expression softened. “I’m, uh, sorry to hear that, Ash. That really sucks.”

“Yeah, it does,” she agreed with a frown, taking a drink of water. She paused. “At least I have a job though.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Ashley’s face began to light up, a small smile appearing. “And I get to perform for an audience and make people happy. That’s what I love to do.”

Sans smiled as well. “Yeah, there you go.”

“And if I work really hard, I’ll get to have my own set in the show!” she continued, getting excited. “I don’t know what I’d do yet; probably a musical number or something. But just think! Ricki says I’ll get my own special costume and everything!”

Ashley set her now empty bowl down and jumped to her feet, unable to contain her sudden burst of energy. “Oh yeah! There’s this really cool girl at work named Ricki! She’s super awesome and funny and short like me! Well, she’s a bit taller, but still! She showed me around and stuff today and I hope we become really good friends!”

Ashley lept off the front steps, getting closer to Sans’ smiling skull. “And I met lots of other people too! Like Daisy Jo! And Joe! And Joseph! And Joey!” She threw her hands up in the air. “There’s so many ‘Joes’! An abundance of ‘Joes’! Will I ever keep them all straight? Who knows!”

“That is a lot of ‘Joes’,” Sans agreed, watching her with a great deal of amusement.

Ashley’s eyes widened. “Oh! And then there was this chick named Mary!”

“Mary?”

“YEAH!” Ashley got into a rather sassy stance. “She was telling me how I was gonna get cut because I didn’t have any boobs or ass, that nobody was gonna want to see me perform. But I’ll show her!”

“Yeah?”

“YEAH!”

Sans grinned broadly. “Yeah, show that bitch Mary how it’s done!”

Ashley’s eyes widened with shock and her smile instantly turned into a frown. “Oh no! Sans, don’t call her that, that’s mean!”

Sans looked at her with a great deal of puzzlement. “But, I thought you just said you didn’t like her?”

Ashley quickly shook her head, eyes round. “No no! Not at all! I just don’t know her yet! She was a bit rude to me, sure, but I’m certain that she was just having a bad day or something. There’s probably just something bothering her, so maybe I can help make her feel better.”

Sans’ eyes narrowed, his glowing pupils studying her. “But...why would you do that? Why would you even want to do that? Why waste your time with someone who’s just unkind to you?”

Ashley blinked in surprise, looking as if he had asked her why the sky was blue. “Because! It’s just the right thing to do. Just because she treats me one way doesn’t mean I have to treat her the same way back. Most of the time, people hurt others when they’re hurt themselves but are just too afraid to show it. That’s why you have to be the bigger person and look past that, find out what’s wrong for yourself. Otherwise, they’ll just keep on hurting themselves and others.”

Sans studied Ashley for a very long, quiet time. Finally, he looked away with a sad smile. “You really are somethin else, Ash.”

Ashley smiled a small smile as well. “So you’ve told me.”

He looked back at her. “Heh, I guess I just can’t get over it, is all.”

“You’ll get used to it in time.”

Sans’ gaze softened. “Yeah, maybe.”

Ashley suddenly found her face flushing as another detail came back to her. “Oh! Oh yeah! Um. I did meet someone else today.”

Sans’ raised a brow bone, noting the sudden change in demeanor. “Oh really? Gonna tell me who?”

Ashley bit her lip with a grin. “His name was Michael.”

Sans smirked. “‘Michael’, huh?”

“Yeah,” she replied with a giggle.

“And just what may I ask is so great about this ‘Michael’ kid?”

Ashley looked down, playing with the fabric of her dress. “ Well , he’s the theater’s main musical director, and he’s really really cute and nice and stuff.”

Sans chuckled. “Sounds like someone’s got a crush.”

She rocked back and forth. “Maaaybe.”

“Heh, so you gonna make a move on this Michael kid?”

Ashley’s smile faded a bit. She bit her lip and rubbed her arms. “Um, I dunno. Maybe. Probably not though.”

Sans’ expression shifted as well, growing a bit concerned at her sudden shift in mood. “Hey, uh, Ash? You okay?”

Ashley looked back up at him. After a moment of hesitation, she nodded.

Sans looked her over. “You sure about that? You know you can talk to me about whatever if you want.”

Ashley bit her lip with a frown. “...no, no, I’m okay.” Maybe someday she’d tell him what was troubling her. But not today. Not yet.

Sans watched her quietly for a moment before finally nodding. “Alright, if you say so.”

Ashley released a mental sigh of relief, grateful that Sans wasn’t going to keep digging into the issue.

“So,” Sans continued, “Was that everything that happened for your first day on the job?”

Ashley thought for a moment. Was that everything? It felt like everything. Wait. No, there was something else. But what? She furrowed her brow in concentration, earning an amused look from Sans. Suddenly, she lit up, the answer hitting her. How could she have forgotten? “My house is haunted!”

Sans recoiled, eye sockets round. “What??”

She nodded. “Yeah! I mean, I knew there was a kid who died here a long time ago and stuff, but it turns out this place really is haunted! Ricki told me all about it today!”

Sans gave her a curious, slightly wary look. “Oh really? And, uh, what exactly did she tell you?”

“She and the other girls were talking about how people have been spooked out of the house for decades. Like, they’ve been attacked with silverware and possessed and stuff!”

“Gee, that sounds pretty spooky. Enough to bring anyone’s spirits down.” Ashley giggled at the pun, resulting in a grin from Sans. “So, I’m assumin something of this nature’s happened to you too?”

Ashley rapidly shook her head. “That’s just it! Nothing has! Apparently this is the first time this has happened before.” She looked down with a frown. “The only weird thing was the hammer that appeared on my pillow.”

It took a moment, but Ashley realized Sans had gotten quiet. She looked back up to find him staring intently at her. “Could you, uh...could you repeat that?”

Ashley’s eyes narrowed with confusion. “Last night, I found a hammer on my pillow. I’d never seen it before and have no idea how it got there.”

“You’re absolutely sure of that?”

“Yes, I’m one hundred percent sure...Sans, what’s wrong?”

Sans looked up at the house with an expression Ashley couldn’t quite place. Whatever it was, though, she didn’t think she was a fan of it. In fact, she was starting to get rather worried. “Sans? Are you okay?”

Blinking, Sans looked back at her, seeming to remember that she was there. “Huh? Oh, um, yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”

Ashley frowned with concern. “Does the hammer...mean something to you? Do you know something about my house or this ghost?”

Sans hesitated before shaking his skull. He looked away. “Nah, not really. I know that nobody’s ever really stayed in this place for long, but that’s about it.”

Ashley’s frown grew, her eyes wide with disbelief.

Sans glanced back at her, wincing at her expression. “I, uh, think I need to go now. Lots of sleep to catch up on, heh. Hope you’re not hugely disappointed.”

She didn’t reply.

Sans eased himself up until he was standing. Ashley had to crane her neck up just to look at him. He gave an awkward wave. “I guess I’ll, uh, see ya later. Bye, Ash.” Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked off  into the woods, the ground shaking a bit with each step.

Ashley watched him go, a growing sense of unease forming in the pit of her stomach. She was an actress. She’d learned how to fool people, pull the wool over their eyes. In doing so, she also had learned the giveaway signs of someone not telling the truth.

Sans had lied to her.

The question was, why?

Chapter Text

“Hey there, kiddo! It’s me! Your good old pal, ─────! You ready to have a good time?”

“Can we play outside today? Pretty please?”

“...Well, we can play in the front yard! Yeah, that’s fine!”

“Oh...okay…”

“...Look, kid, that’s the best I can do. You know what your parents said. You’re not allowed back in the woods, not after-.”

“I know, I know. Not after I broke my arm.”

“I mean, I really wish I could help you. I’d be fine with taking you out there myself and keeping an eye on you, but I don’t really know how your parents would feel about that, and I really don’t want to get in trouble with them.”

“It’s okay, I understand.”

“...You know, you never did tell me how you managed to do that. You’re usually pretty careful. Your mom said this was the first time you’d even broken a bone.”

“...I don’t really wanna talk about it.”

“...Okay, fair enough, I guess… I know how much you liked it out there. I’m sorry you’re not allowed to go and play in the woods anymore, but sitting around and moping about it isn’t gonna solve much.”

“I know! I know, it’s just...I don’t wanna give up hope.”

“Hope for what?”

“That they’ll let me go back out there. If I just keep doing what they want, if I’m just patient, maybe they’ll come around.”

“...Maybe, yeah. Hey, I’ll be hopeful for you too, okay?”

“Thanks.”

“You know, I may have brought over Monopoly.”

“Really?!”

“Yep. You wanna play?”

“Duh! I call the hat!”

“Only if I get to be the battleship! Because I am about to destroy your little butt, ha ha!”

“What? No way! I’m so gonna win, ha ha ha!”

---

Ashley’s eyes opened, her brow narrowed in confusion. Slowly, she sat up in the too-big-for-her bed. “That was weird,” she murmured to herself, looking down at the sheets.

That dream had felt...bizarrely real. But not in the sense like she had been right there living the events herself. It felt like she had witnessed something that had happened or would happen. It was almost as though she had watched a vision of some sorts. But, that wasn’t possible, was it?

Ashley frowned. She had no idea who the people in her dream were, but one of them had been a kid. Could that have been the ghost child? Was it possible that she had just watched an old, forgotten memory? It sounded crazy, but at this point, she was willing to believe just about anything.

But how would that even be possible? She had next to no knowledge about the child. Ashley pondered the situation. Maybe the ghost had shown that memory to her. It was the only explanation that seemed to make sense. But why? Why that memory? Nothing important seemed to have happened. In fact, it seemed rather forgettable. What could possibly have been the significance? Why would the ghost handpick that particular memory to show to her?

Ashley sighed. As great as sitting around and trying to figure out this difficult conundrum was, she needed to get ready for work. She’d simply have to put the mystery aside to solve at a later time.

“Good morning, ghost kid,” Ashley called out, looking around hopefully. Perhaps this dream-vision was the ghost’s way of starting a more communicative relationship with her. Maybe they’d finally make their presence known. However, if the child had indeed heard her, it did not return the greeting.

Ashley pulled back the covers and slid out of the bed, dressed in fuzzy black and white polka dot pajamas. “I think I just had a dream about you. You seemed really nice,” she continued on, remaining upbeat despite the lack of a response. “I wish I could’ve known you back when you were still alive. But you were kind of born way before I was, though, so there’s nothing that can really be done about that. Still, I’m glad I at least get to know you now! Better late than never, right?” She really hoped someone was actually listening to her talking; talking to herself was bad enough, but talking to imaginary people? Now that was just crazy.

With a loud yawn, Ashley stretched a bit before shuffling out of her bedroom. “I really wish I knew your name. It doesn’t feel right just calling you ‘ghost kid’. It makes it seem like you’re not actually a person. But you are! You’re just a dead person is all. I bet no one’s called you by your real name in an awfully long  time, which kind of stinks. I know I don’t like it when people call me weird or mean names like shrimp, or pipsqueak, or crazy bitch...I don’t suppose you’ll share that information with me though, huh?” She stopped at the top of the stairs, waiting for some kind of response. Unsurprisingly, none came. “Yeah, didn’t think so.”

Step by step, Ashley descended down the staircase. “I’m sensing that you’re not much of a talker, huh? Or, maybe you just can’t talk. Or maybe you actually are talking but I just can’t hear you. See, I’m not a medium or anything, so I can’t see dead people.” She reached the landing and began to walk back towards the kitchen. “That’s alright though! I can do enough talking for the both of us!”

Ashley flicked on the kitchen light switch and made her way over to the fridge. “So, you like Monopoly? I like that game too! Haven’t played it in a long time though. That’s something you sort of need multiple people to play, and as you can see, I’m all by myself. In other words, no board games for me...”

She paused, frowning. “I really do miss playing games with people...I used to have so much fun. It was nice…” Ashley looked up at the ceiling. “I bet you must feel the same way too, huh? I can’t imagine you get to play too many board games when you’re a ghost. That really isn’t fair, especially since you’re just a kid. You should get to play games all the time with as many friends as you want.”

Ashley pulled out a small carton of eggs and brought it over to the counter by the stove. “Anyways, I always liked to play as the dog,” she went on, taking out the other various supplies needed to cook a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs. “Mostly because I really like dogs. They’re nice and cute and super friendly, and they don’t ask questions or judge you or anything. They just wanna be your best friend in the whole wide world, and they completely accept you as you are, no matter how much baggage you have.” She grimaced. “...I wish more people were like that, to be honest.”

Shaking her head with a frown, Ashley popped open the carton and chose an egg. She held it up and rotated it, inspecting the specimen. “But you liked playing as the hat, right? I wonder why. See, I’ve always thought that the token you play as says something about you as a person. It sounds silly, I know, but I think it sort of rings true. So why did you like playing as the hat? Did you really like hats? Or maybe you like having a sense of authority?” She looked up and around her, searching for a person who didn’t appear to be there. “I really wish I knew.”

Ashley sighed and raised the egg, preparing to crack it on the countertop. It would be kind of nice if the ghost kid talked back to her. She was really starting to get curious about them and wanted to know more about what they were like. However, it would seem as though despite her efforts at making conversation, today was not her lucky day. “Maybe someday you’ll tell me.”

Suddenly, just as she was bringing to egg down, a rather loud boom came from somewhere outside. “Baguettes!” Ashley yelped out in surprise, accidentally slamming the egg and shattering it. She blinked and looked around her, taking in the giant mess she had made. “Oh, graham crackers,” she groaned. The egg had gotten all over the counter and on her pajamas as well. “Ugh. Well this is just great.”

Narrowing her eyes, Ashley peered out the window with an annoyed huff. That had undoubtedly been caused by Sans doing goodness knew what out in the woods. Was it his fault that she now had a mess on her hands? Not really, but she’d still scold him later for it nonetheless. Hopefully this wouldn’t become a recurring problem.

Ashley frowned to herself. What had been his problem yesterday? One moment they had been laughing and having a good time, and the next he was leaving, acting incredibly shady while he did so. One thing was certain though: he had been hiding something. But what? If it had to do with her house, she would really like to know; she was kind of living here, after all.

She thought back to their conversation. Sans had started acting weird at the mention of the hammer she had found. Why was that? It seemed as though this mysterious hammer made everyone act strange. But why? Was it some sort of missing link to the mystery of the child’s death? Was it a symbol representing some hidden message? Or was there simply a broken door somewhere that was in desperate need of repair?  Ashley honestly had absolutely no idea. The only thing she was positive about was that somehow, that hammer meant something significant. If only she knew what.

Ashley looked back at the splattered egg remains. Her shoulders slumped as she remembered that she still had a mess on her hands. Well, time to clean this up. With a sigh, she turned to go and grab the disinfectant wipes but stopped short.

There, sitting on the counter as if waiting for her, was the very same yellow container she had been about to retrieve. Her eyes narrowed. Had that...already been out? She could’ve sworn she put it beneath the sink, and she definitely didn’t recall pulling it out previously. Looking around uncertainly, Ashley grabbed the container, pulled out a wipe, and began cleaning up the egg remains.

After a few minutes, the countertop was clean once more. Shaking her head, Ashley walked over to the trashcan and threw the used wipes away. “Alright, let’s try this again,” she murmured to herself, walking back over to the counter.

Ashley froze.

The container of wipes was gone.

“What on Earth…” Quickly, she checked the cabinet beneath the sink. Sure enough, the yellow container was back where she had originally put it, sitting innocently as though it had never left.

Ashley’s eyes darted around nervously. “Ghost kid? Is… is that you?” She found herself remembering all the horror stories about previous tenants. Was this it? Was this the start of her haunting experience? Was she about to get spooked out of her new house just like everyone else before her?

Slowly, Ashley stood back up, every sense on high alert. Just relax. Everything was alright. Nothing threatening had happened yet, so she shouldn’t assume the worst of her ghost-roommate. She would just continue to go about cooking her breakfast as usual. Yeah. No problem.

Ashley turned back to the counter and let out a small gasp.

The egg carton had disappeared.

Frantically, she scoured the countertop for some sign of it, but there was nothing. All she found was one singular, white egg resting before her.

A sudden thud from behind made her spin around, eyes wide, her hand clutching her chest.

The fridge. The fridge door had just closed. The refrigerator door had just closed.

Ashley bit her lip. “I was gonna make two eggs,” she called out uncertainly, her body rigid with tension.

Just like that, the fridge door opened, revealing the missing egg carton to be resting on the middle shelf. It sprung open, and a single egg rose up, floated all the way across the kitchen, and softly plopped into Ashley’s waiting palms.

Ashley stared down at the egg in disbelief, struggling to process and accept what had just occurred. Stunned, she looked back up. “Um, thank you?”

In response, the egg carton resealed itself, and the fridge door shut once more.

Ashley stood there, holding the egg in silence for a good, long moment.

“Holy cheeseburgers.”

Chapter Text

A foot slammed down on the brake pedal of the little blue Saturn as it slid into the parking lot. In a blur of motion, Ashley was out of her car and rushing into The Doll’s House, nearly tripping over the sidewalk in her haste to get inside. Bursting through the front doors, she began to frantically look around. Multiple heads turned to look in her direction, but none of them belonged to the person she wanted to see. Freaking coleslaw. Just her luck. Where could she be? She had to be here somewhere, right?

 

Suddenly, Ashley found herself colliding with another body, causing her to stumble backwards with a yelp and drop her bag---a rather large white purse with pink and purple flowers on it. “Ugh, chicken wings,” she muttered, trying to blink back to her senses.

 

“You alright there, honey?”

 

Ashley looked up to see Daisy Jo looking down at her, her face holding a mixture of worry and amusement. She blushed, hurriedly scooping her bag back up. “Um, heh, yeah. I’m alright, thanks. Have you seen Ricki Jean anywhere?”

 

Daisy Jo gave her a nod, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. “Last I checked, she was in the pit chatting with Mike. What’s the rush for though? You’re gonna end up hurting someone if you keep tearing through the place like that.”

 

“It’s really really important,” Ashley replied firmly, standing up a bit straighter. And it was. Paranormal activity occurring in her house was no small matter, especially when the ghost haunting your home was trying to make contact with you.

 

Daisy Jo smirked. “If you say so. Just try to watch your step, kay?”

 

Ashley beamed up at her. “I will. Thank you so much!” she chirped. It was always so nice when people were helpful. She started to resume her hurried search throughout the theater, but after glancing up at Daisy Jo and catching the stern look on the woman’s face, she slowed down considerably. There was no need to start any trouble, especially not with someone who seemed to at least somewhat like her. Plus, it would be kind of hard to talk to Ricki Jean if she ended up falling and breaking her face.

 

After a few minutes of brisk but careful walking, Ashley entered the main theater where she spied Ricki Jean and Mike casually talking down in the pit, just as Daisy Jo had said. Ricki, dressed in a white tee shirt and dark gray track pants, looked up as she approached. “Hey, Ashley! How’s it goin?”

 

“Um, good! But also a bit crazy, to be honest,” Ashley replied, walking down the carpeted steps to the pair.

 

Mike smirked as she reached them. “Is that a good crazy or a bad crazy?” he asked, leaning on his piano, his red polo standing out against the black surface.

 

“Er, I really don’t know,” Ashley responded, shifting her weight a bit. “It’s just...crazy.”

 

Ricki Jean crossed her arms, looking Ashley over. “What’s up?”

 

Ashley cast an awkward glance over at Mike. Nice as he was, she wasn’t keen on having him be privy of the paranormal happenings in her house.

 

Fortunately, Ricki was a rather observant person. “Alright, Mike, get outta here.”

 

Mike looked at her incredulously. “Wait, what? Why?”

 

“Because I said so.”

 

“But this is my work station!”

 

“Yeah? Well go take a little field trip; maybe you can go to the dressin room and give drag a try. That’d certainly spice the show up.”

 

Mike made a face. “Yeah, no thanks. Not that I wouldn’t totally work it, because you know I would.”

 

Ricki grinned and reached up, giving his cheek a pat, resulting in Michael recoiling a bit with a look of disgust. “With a cute puppy face like that, I know you would, Mikey-Poo.” Ashley couldn’t help but giggle, covering her mouth as she did so. Ricki smirked, giving her a wink.

 

After taking a moment to recover from the comment, Mike sighed, crossing his arms. “Seriously though, why do you have to kick me out? Can’t you two go anywhere else? It’s a big building.”

 

“No. We’re stayin right here.” Ricki put her arm around Ashley’s shoulders and waved him off. “We’re gonna have a little girl talk, so go on now. You can come back if you take me up on the whole ‘drag’ thing.”

 

“But-!”

 

“Shoo!”

 

“Fine!” With a groan and a pout, Mike turned to leave, but not before sending a wink and a grin Ashley’s way. “See ya later, Ash,” he called over his shoulder, walking off.

 

Ashley found herself stiffening a bit at the nickname. It sounded...weird coming from Michael. It was just a nickname, but it oddly felt like Sans had claimed it for himself. Hearing other people call her that  kind of rubbed her the wrong way, like they were intruding on some sort of special bond. It was silly, but she couldn’t deny her feelings.

 

Ricki Jean watched him walk up the steps and out the main doors. It was only once the doors had closed with a resounding thud that she turned back to Ashley, her face concerned. “Alright, kid, now what’s up? Does it have to do with him?”

 

Ashley’s eyes widened. Wait, did she think that Mike had something to do with this? “No! No, it has  nothing to do with him, honest!” She rubbed her arm a bit awkwardly. “I just didn’t exactly feel comfortable with talking about it in front of him.”

 

Ricki let out a sigh of relief, her expression lightening significantly. “Kay, good. Alright. So, what’s the fuss about then?”

 

Ashley leaned in closer, casting several glances around the theater to make sure they really were alone. Ricki’s brown eyes grew, sparking with curiosity,  and she leaned in as well. “I made contact with the ghost,” Ashley whispered, her body practically quivering with energy.

 

Somehow, Ricki’s eyes managed to grow even larger. “No way,” she replied, gripping Ashley’s arms for support. “You serious?”

 

Ashley nodded. “It happened this morning.”

 

“What?! What happened this morning?!” demanded Ricki, speaking in an excited whisper.

 

Ashley smiled, unable to keep from being caught up in her friend’s enthusiasm. “The ghost helped me make breakfast.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“It did!”

 

Ricki Jean fell back, leaning on the piano for support. “Jesus Christ on a crutch, this is insane.” Running a hand through her hair, she looked at Ashley, eyes full of disbelief. “Anything else happen?”

 

Ashley was about to tell Ricki about the dream as well, but she stopped short, biting her lip. For some reason, she didn’t want to share that. The dream had felt oddly personal, like it was something the ghost was trusting her with. Sharing that information almost seemed like it would be a betrayal of sorts. Ashley firmly shook her head. “No, that was it.”

 

Ricki let out a quiet, slightly crazed laugh. “Holy shitballs, this is nuts,” she murmured. Suddenly, with a gasp, her hands flew to her face. “Oh shit, do you know what this means?”

 

“Um, no?” Ashley replied uncertainly, not a fan of the look Ricki was currently giving her.

 

Ricki lunged forward, gripping Ashley’s shoulders tightly. “You’re on the ghost’s good side. Meaning, I bet we could probably communicate with it!”

 

Sadly, Ashley shook her head. “I tried talking to them, but that didn’t really work out.”

 

“Yeah, but did you try usin a board?” Ricki asked with a mischievous grin.

 

“You mean like...like a ouija board?”

 

“Yep!”

 

Ashley’s eyes grew. “Of course not! Aren’t those supposed to be like, kinda dangerous?”

 

Ricki released her hold of Ashley, waving a dismissive hand. “Yeah, kinda, but I’ve done it loads of times and I’m still here.” An eager, slightly manic smile spread across her face. “Whaddya say? Wanna give it a shot?”

 

Ashley bit her lip. “I don’t know, shouldn’t I do it alone? The ghost doesn’t know you; they might not want to talk to both of us.”

 

“Oh hell no!” Ricki snapped, causing Ashley to recoil in surprise. “That’s a big no-no, got that? You never , under any circumstances, do that kind of shit alone. That’s just askin for trouble.”

 

Ashley nodded her head quickly, eyes wide. “Got it. Good to know.”

 

Ricki relaxed some. “Seriously though, I don’t want you gettin hurt cause of some stupid shit like that. With this ghost, who knows what could happen.” She raised an eyebrow. “So, you wanna try contactin the kid or not?”

 

Ashley couldn’t deny her desire to talk with the ghost child. Just the mere thought of finding out about her roommate made her feel giddy with excitement. She didn’t know if ouija boards even worked or not, but she figured it couldn’t be too bad. After all, Ricki had said that she herself had used it many times, so she’d at least have someone who knew what they were doing. What was the worst that could happen? With an enthusiastic smile, Ashley nodded her head. “Yeah! Let’s totally do it!”

 

Ricki let out a shriek of joy, shaking her fists. “Yes! Oh man! This is gonna be so awesome! I’ve been wantin to do this for years! Finally, I get to try and talk to the ghost of Dreemurr Manor!”

 

“What’s this about Dreemurr Manor I hear?”

 

The pair spun around in surprise at the sudden voice. Ashley let out a quiet gasp, her eyes growing wide.

 

Walking down the steps towards them was what Ashley could only describe as the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. She was tall and long-limbed, each step filled with poise and grace. She was dressed in a light pink sports bra and black yoga pants, highlighting her hourglass figure. Her skin was pale, and her flowing hair was an equally fair white-blonde color, save for the tips of her side-swept bangs, which were a strikingly bright shade of pink. She had a rather Romanesque nose, giving her an almost goddess-like appearance, along with pronounced cheekbones and a heart-shaped face. As she grew closer, Ashley could make out her blue-gray eyes, which were sparkling with warmth and curiosity. They met Ashley’s green pair, and a smile spread across her face. “Ah! You must be Ashley! Hello!”

 

Ricki grinned. “Nice to see you too, Sasha.”

 

Sasha sent her a playful glare. “Oh hush. You know I was getting ready to say ‘hi’ to you too.”

 

Ricki nodded with a smirk. “Uh huh, sure.”

 

Sasha stopped, having finally reached them. “But yes, as you’ve probably figured out, I’m Sasha Starr,” she told Ashley, sticking a hand out. With an eager grin, Ashley took her hand and shook it. “I’m the head girl around here, but I’m also in charge of costumes and choreography.”

 

“Basically, although Johnston’s got the fancy office, Sasha here runs this joint,” Ricki added with a wink, leaning back against the piano.

 

“Now don’t say that, Craig does a lot of important work.” Sasha paused, a small smile appearing. “But you are kind of right.”

 

“Kind of? Sasha, if you hadn’t come here and worked your magic, this place wouldn’t even still be open!”

 

“Okay, okay, now really. That’s enough.”

 

“But it’s true!”

 

Rolling her eyes, Sasha smiled down at Ashley. “Anyway, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Ashley.”

 

“And you as well!” Ashley replied. She’d honestly been rather nervous about meeting Sasha, but now that she had, she felt completely at ease. The woman gave off this sort of warm, motherly vibe that made it hard for one to feel anxious.

 

Sasha turned to head back up the stairs. “Come on, we’ll head back to my office and get started. We’ve got quite a bit to cover.”

 

“Can I come too?” Ricki asked, standing back upright.

 

Sasha thought for a moment. “No, but can you send Mary my way? She’s always been better at doing measurements than me.”

 

Ricki’s face scrunched up in displeasure, but after a stern look from Sasha, she sighed. “Alright, alright, fine. I’ll go get the milk maid.”

 

“Thank you!” Sasha called out after her as she walked away, a bright grin of amusement on her face. She looked back at Ashley with a wink. “You coming?” Perking up, Ashley followed her back up the stairs and out of the main theater.

 

“I’m glad you came dressed to dance,” Sasha commented as they walked. Ashley glanced down at the electric blue tank top and black tennis skirt she had come in, her hair pulled up into a ponytail. “We’ll be going over the opener today, so I hope you weren’t expecting an easy day.”

 

“No, ma’am!” Ashley replied, sending a smile and a wave to Joseph (or was that Joey?) as they walked past. “I’m ready to tackle whatever challenges you have to throw at me!”

 

“That’s good, because I’m gonna be pushing you.” They turned a corner, exiting the lobby and proceeding down a rather narrow hallway. “You’ll be replacing Kisha, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill, both figuratively and literally.” She shot a grin over her shoulder. “Kisha sort of took the whole ‘exotic dancing’ thing to a different level. And by that I mean, she included her pet snake, Piper, in her act.”

 

Ashley’s eyes grew wide. “Wait, I’m not gonna have to do that, am I? I mean, I don’t have a problem with snakes, but that’s a little...extreme.”

 

Sasha laughed, stopping in front of a white door at the end of the hallway. “No! No, of course not!” she reassured Ashley, pulling out a key to unlock the door. “I’m just saying she had quite the memorable act. Meaning you’re gonna have to pull out all the stops if you want to make an impression.”

 

Ashley brightened up, standing up tall. “I think I can manage that! By the time the curtain falls, everyone’s gonna want to see more of me!”

 

Opening the door, Sasha gave her a warm smile. “I don’t doubt it. You’re already making quite the first impression on me.” She stepped inside, Ashley following behind her.

 

It was a surprisingly spacious white room with black carpet, though despite the neutral colors, everything else inside was bright and vibrant. Several mannequins, some with outfits on, stood along the right-hand wall beside a large desk with a rather expensive looking sewing machine on top. Rolls and rolls of colorful fabric rested up against the walls, a few of them lazily lying on the ground. Everywhere she looked, Ashley saw various design supplies, from scissors to sketchpads and more. At the back of the room was a large vanity, an assortment of makeup scattered across the surface.

 

Sasha let out an awkward laugh. “Sorry it’s a bit of a mess. I really should’ve cleaned up first,” she apologized, bending down to pick up a roll of silvery fabric that had toppled over.

 

“Oh no! It’s alright, you don’t have to worry about me,” Ashley reassured her, taking in the room with curious eyes. “You seem more like a designer than a performer though, if I may say.” It felt like she had stepped into a theater costume shop, and it was definitely not what she had expected Sasha’s office to look like.

 

Sasha gave her a small laugh and a sad smile, sitting down at the vanity. “I am. Or, that’s the dream, at least. However, that dream is currently on hold.” She pointed to one of the small wooden chairs sitting idly against the wall. “Go ahead and grab a seat, make yourself comfortable.”

 

Ashley did as she was told, giving Sasha an inquisitive look as she sat down. “I don’t mean to be rude, but why aren’t you pursuing your dream?”

 

“Family,” Sasha replied, grabbing a brush and running it through her voluminous hair. “Several years ago, my Nana started getting very sick. However, my father was over in Hong Kong at the time and my mother was busy working for Vanity Fair .” She looked down at her lap. “I was the only person readily available, so I sort of had to drop everything to help her.” A tiny smile graced her face. “My younger brother, Percy, came out here to help her too, even though he was at college studying fashion at the time. He’s my best friend, I can always count on him to have my back.”

 

Ashley gave her a gentle smile. “That was awfully kind of you. I’m sure your Nana appreciates it. And at least you’re not alone in this.”

 

Sasha’s smile faded. “Well, I wasn’t. However, Percy was recently chosen to be a part of a select group of people to try out this sort of foreign exchange program. He’d been really excited about it, and so I insisted that he go. He didn’t want to leave me behind, but what kind of sister would I be if I held him back from something like that?” She set the brush back down on the vanity. “So, now that he’s gone, it’s been just me taking care of Nana, and things have been a little hectic lately.” She frowned at Ashley. “That’s why I wasn’t here yesterday, sorry.”

 

Ashley placed a reassuring hand on Sasha’s knee. “It’s alright, don’t worry about me. Besides, yesterday was crazy enough as is. I don’t think I could’ve handled any more insanity.”

 

Sasha’s smile returned. “Don’t sell yourself short. Something tells me you have an exceptionally high tolerance for insanity.”

 

Ashley couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Yeah? I’ll definitely say that these past few days have been testing me, that’s for sure.”

 

After taking a deep breath, Sasha sat up straight, eyes gleaming. “Alright. So. I assume that Craig talked about you getting your own set, correct?”

 

Ashley nodded. “Yeah, he said I would if I made it past this first trial week.”

 

“That’s right,” Sasha replied, nodding as well. “Now, I’m not expecting you to have anything yet, but have you given any thought to what you might want to do?” Ashley opened her mouth to speak, but Sasha lit up, cutting her off. “Ooh! Wait, don’t tell me. You sang really well in your audition video, so I’m guessing you’ll do a musical act.” Her eyes narrowed, humming as she thought. “Hmm, you strike me as a fan of old Broadway. Some showtunes, perhaps? Like maybe Gypsy ? Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ? Guys and Dolls ?”

 

Ashley smiled shyly, shaking her head. “Actually, no. I originally thought about doing something like that, but I figured that would be too predictable. And...I figured that I needed to make a statement with something bold, not just do something that’s been done a million times.”

 

Nervously, Ashley pulled out a manilla folder from her purse and held it out to Sasha, who promptly took and opened it. Her eyebrows raised as she read over the sheet music inside. “Huh. Oh wow. Definitely not what I would’ve expected, that’s for sure.”

 

“I know it’s a bit different,” Ashley hurriedly explained, “But I thought that I could have a lot of fun with it.”

 

Sasha nodded, her eyes still glued to the music. “Yeah, it’s definitely different alright. Not a typical burlesque song.”

 

“You called for me?”

 

Ashley turned to see Mary strut in, only slightly more covered up than the day before in a lavender crop top and black gym shorts. Sasha nodded again, not looking up at her. “Yes, I wanted your help getting Ashley’s measurements.”

 

“No prob.” Mary walked over behind Sasha, peering over her shoulder. “What’s that you’re lookin at there?”

 

“Ashley was considering using this song for her set.”

 

Mary’s eyebrows rose. “Ohhh, really? That’s a good song right there.”

 

Ashley sat up a bit. “Really?”

 

Mary nodded, standing back up straight, a hand casually on her hip. “Yeah. Wouldn’t have thought you’d have picked it, but good choice. It’s hot and sexy, exactly like a burlesque song should be. I like it.”

 

Ashley smiled. “Well, thank you.” After yesterday, she honestly hadn’t expected the compliment from the woman, but she was grateful for it nonetheless. It was just as she had told Sans: Mary really was an alright person. She must’ve just caught her at a bad moment is all.

 

“Yeah, yeah, hop on up so I can measure ya, kay?” Mary replied, grabbing a nearby roll of measuring tape. Hastily, Ashley set her bag down and stood up, walking over. Mary turned to Sasha. “I can already tell ya she’s a size 32 A.”

 

Ashley blushed, her arms defensively crossing to cover her chest. “H-how do you know that?”

 

Mary smirked, looking back down at her. “Listen, honey, when you’ve got boobs like mine, you sort of become an expert.” She looked back over at Sasha. “You ready to write these down?”

 

Sasha, however, was still buried in the folder. “Um, no. Could you...could you write them down for me?” Without warning, she sprung up, rushing across the room and grabbing a sketchpad and a pencil, scribbling away as soon as they were in her hands.

 

“Damn, you got something already, Sash?” Mary asked.

 

Sasha absentmindedly nodded, fully immersed in what she was doing. “Yeah! Yeah....I definitely have something alright. Something ‘hot and sexy’...”

 

With a snort, Mary turned back to Ashley, wrapping the measuring tape around her stomach. “Is this...normal?” Ashley whispered, glancing over at an intensely focused Sasha, who had just picked up an orange colored pencil and was now furiously coloring.

 

Mary nodded. “Yep. That girl’s a real genius with designin. It’s like Jesus beams down images into her brain with some kind of heaven magic or shit. Or maybe it’s an alien. A Jesus alien.” She moved down to Ashley’s waist. “Huh, I’ll be damned, you actually do have an ass. A little baby one, but it’s there alright.”

 

Ashley smiled to herself, feeling triumphant in the small victory.

 

Mary stood back up. Casually, she grabbed a nearby sketchpad and pencil, jotting down Ashley’s numbers. “I’m leavin this here, kay?” she said, setting the items down on the vanity.

 

“Okay! Yeah! That’s...that’s good!” was Sasha’s distracted reply.

 

“That all you wanted?”

 

“Mhm!”

 

Mary rolled her eyes. “Alrighty then. Good luck, Sash,” she said as she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

 

A few seconds later, Sasha blinked, her head jerking up. “Thank you!” She looked around in confusion before turning to see the closed door. “Oh. She left.”

 

Ashley smiled softly. “Yeah, she did.” It was honestly rather endearing how passionate Sasha seemed to be about designing. It was a shame she couldn’t be out pursuing her dream, but at least she was given a venue to put her talents to good use.

 

Sasha let out an awkward laugh, pushing a stray bit of hair out of her face. “Oops.” Hastily, she set the sketchpad and pencil down. “I’ll finish that up later in my own time. Why don’t you and I get to work, alright?”

 

Ashley nodded, her grin spreading. “Sounds good to me.”

 

Beaming, Sasha clapped her hands together. “Perfect!”

 


 

 

It was late afternoon when Ashley began walking through the theater lobby, her body weary from dancing. Sasha hadn’t been kidding when she had said she’d push her. Despite her warm and cheerful nature, the woman was a perfectionist, demanding Ashley perform a sequence time and time again until it was absolutely spot on...only to then tell her to do the same thing nine more times. It was tough, but she would rather have someone who pressed to get the best out of her rather than someone who would accept mediocrity. She wasn’t here to be average, she was here to be the best.

 

Ashley shouldered her bag, wiping a bit of sweat off her forehead as she approached the doors to the outside. However, a voice calling out her name made her stop and spin around in surprise. Ricki Jean was jogging towards her, waving a hand. “Hey! Glad I could catch you!”

 

“What is it? What’s up?” Ashley asked, confused.

 

Upon reaching her, Ricki knelt over, gasping for breath. “Shit! This is why I don’t do anything physical in my set.” With a deep breath, she rose back to her full height. “Anyways...hey! I was wonderin when you wanted to do the ghost thing.”

 

Ashley’s eyes widened. Holy crabapples, she’d forgotten all about that. How had she forgotten about that? Man, she really did have a one-track mind. “Oh! Um, I dunno. When do you wanna do it?”

 

Ricki raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Maybe later tonight?”

 

“Tonight?” Ashley made a face. “I’m kinda gross, plus I need to stop for groceries.”

 

Ricki’s face fell a bit. “Oh, yeah. Totally, that’s cool. I respect that.”

 

Ashley’s shoulders slumped. Oh carrot cake. “I suppose we could do it tonight if you want to though.”

 

Ricki perked back up. “Really?”

 

With a tired smile, Ashley nodded. “Yeah, sure. Just give me some time to grab what I need and get cleaned up. I’ll call you, okay?”

 

Ricki let out a laugh of excitement, doing a little jump in place. “Sweet! I can’t wait! This is gonna be so awesome!” She walked past Ashley and opened the front door to leave. “See you later tonight!”

 

Ashley watched as her friend disappeared, the door closing behind her.

 

Well, it would seem as though she was in for an interesting evening.



Chapter Text

“Ugh. Freaking s'mores.”

 

Ashley danced on her tip-toes, desperately reaching for the box of cereal that had been ever so kindly placed on the very top shelf. “This should be considered a form of discrimination,”  she muttered to herself with a pout. She liked being short, but man, did it have its drawbacks.

 

“Need a hand?”

 

Ashley spun around, surprised to hear the familiar voice. “Michael?”

 

“In the flesh,” Michael replied, walking up to her with a grin. “What’re you doing here?”

 

“Um, shopping for groceries? Like everyone else?” she replied awkwardly.

 

Michael’s smile fell, his eyes widening. “Oh! Oh. Yeah! Right, that makes...that makes sense.”

 

Ashley giggled. There was something kind of endearing about the way he tried to come off as collected and smooth. “I’m guessing you’re here for the same reason?”

 

Mike let out an awkward laugh. “Uh, yeah.” He fixed his glasses and looked up at the cereal box. “So! Um, you wanted this?”

 

Shyly, Ashley nodded her head. “If it’s not too much trouble, yes please.”

 

Michael plucked the desired box off of the shelf with ease, no struggling required. Ah, how wonderful it must feel to be vertically blessed. With a smile, he handed it over to her. “Here you go.”

 

“Thanks,” Ashley said with a slight blush, accepting the box and placing it into her basket.

 

“So! Um, how did your first meeting with Sasha go?” he asked, trying to start up a conversation.

 

Ashley rocked back and forth. “Pretty good! She’s really nice. I’m definitely worn out though.” She was still in her outfit from earlier that day and couldn’t wait to get home; she felt gross and was in desperate need of a shower. A small part of her mind prayed that she didn’t reek of sweat; she wasn’t keen on turning off one of her new acquaintances due to bad body odor.

 

“Heh, that doesn’t surprise me. She accepts nothing but the best out of people,” he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets. “She’ll even snap at me if I’m not playing up to speed during rehearsals.”

 

Ashley laughed. “Will I be seeing any of that in the future?”

 

“Eh, maybe. Probably.”

 

Ashley laughed again, earning a smile from Michael. He shifted his gaze awkwardly. “Sooo, I was wondering…”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Um, heh...do you have any plans for later this evening?”

 

Oh dear. Ashley frowned. Why did he have to ask her now? “Sorry, I do, actually. Ricki Jean is coming over later tonight.”

 

Michael nodded and looked down, crossing his arms. “Ah, okay. That’s...that’s cool.”

 

Ashley bit her lip. Oh cauliflower, he looked like a sad little puppy. Or rather, a very tall sad puppy. “I’d love to hang out sometime though!” she added quickly, desperate to try and turn his frown upside down.

 

Mike’s head whipped back up, though technically he was still looking down at her. His brown eyes were glowing. “Really?”

 

With a shy smile, Ashley nodded. “Yeah. I think I’d like that a lot.”

 

A smile spread across Mike’s face. “Cool. Awesome. Great. Um, I should probably let you get back to your shopping now.” He shoved his hands back into his pockets and began to walk backwards. However, he ended up backing into the neighboring shelf, sending a good number of boxes of poptarts to the floor. “Oops! Uh, my bad, heh.” Frantically, he began to pick up the packages. He was about to put them back but stopped abruptly. “You know what? I’m just...I’m gonna buy these. All of them. Yeah.” He let out an awkward laugh before backing out of the aisle, an abundance of poptarts in his arms. “I’ll see you later, Ash.”

 

It took everything Ashley had to not burst out laughing at the display before her. “Bye, Michael,” she replied, grinning ear to ear.

 

Michael laughed before disappearing. Though she couldn’t see it, Ashley heard the sound of several items suddenly crashing to the ground. She giggled to herself before turning around and continuing her shopping adventure, a slight spring in her step.

 

 




At the sound of knocking, Ashley looked up from the kitchen sink. Setting her plate from dinner down to dry, she quickly made her way to the front door. Taking a deep breath, she opened it to greet an eagerly grinning Ricki Jean. Ricki held up a rather large cardboard box, her fingers gripping the sides. “Ready to talk to the dead?”

 

Ashley gave a tired smile and stepped aside. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied, watching as Ricki breezed right past her. Admittedly, she felt extremely drained from the day’s rehearsal and grocery shopping, and she would much rather be getting ready for bed, but she knew how much this meant to Ricki. So, despite her own weariness, she put on a smile for her friend.

 

Ricki looked around in wonder, tucking the box underneath her arm. “So this is the fabled Dreemurr Manor, huh?”

 

“Yep! This is it.”

 

“It’s so fancy,” she murmured, eyes wide. “I mean, everything looks as old as dust, but still.” She looked back at Ashley who had just closed the front door. “You gonna get some new furniture? Update a bit?”

 

Ashley shrugged. “I don’t have any plans to. This stuff works fine as is; there’s better things to spend money on.”

 

Ricki shrugged. “Eh, fair enough. Furniture costs a lot.” She took in Ashley’s attire. “Nice clothes.”

 

Ashley looked down at herself. While Ricki was still wearing her outfit from earlier that day, she had changed into her white and yellow duck pajamas. “I think they’re cute,” she replied, unsure whether Ricki was being sarcastic or not.

 

Ricki smirked. “Yeah, they are,” she agreed with a nod. Taking one last look around the living room, she marched forward towards the stairs.

 

Ashley’s eyes widened and she hurried after her. “Wait! Where are you going?”

 

Ricki stopped, left foot on the bottom step, and looked back. “The kid’s bedroom. If we wanna contact them, that’s the best place to do it.”

 

“But...I don’t even know where that is,” replied Ashley, shaking her head. She had explored pretty much the whole house, but she couldn’t recall seeing anything that even vaguely resembled a child’s bedroom.

 

“It’s on the third floor,” Ricki said knowingly, proceeding to resume her journey back up the stairs.

 

Blinking in surprise, Ashley began to climb the steps as well. “How do you know that?”

 

“That’s what all the reports say,” Ricki answered, rounding the corner at the top of the staircase and walking down the dark purple hall, taking in the house as she went. “Mrs. Dreemurr went to check on her kid on the third floor, but the bed was empty.”

 

“Well, I don’t think we’ll be getting to see it then,” Ashley remarked as they reached the second set of steps and made their way up to the third floor. After a bit of climbing, one lone door came into sight at the top of the staircase. “See, the door is kind of-”

 

“Locked?!” Ricki Jean jangled the doorknob in frustration. Alas, no amount of shaking made the door open. She spun around with panicked eyes. “Where’s the key?!”

 

Ashley merely shrugged. “No idea. Apparently it’s been missing for years. Or at least that’s what they told me when I bought the house. Sorry.”

 

Ricki let out a loud groan of frustration, glaring angrily at the taunting door. “Well this is just great,” she muttered crossly. She ran her fingers through her hair with a pout on her face. “I don’t suppose you wouldn’t mind me busting the door down?” she asked, glancing at Ashley.

 

Ashley’s eyes widened. “Um, please don’t. I only just got this house, I’d like for it to stay in one piece, thanks.”

 

Ricki Jean sighed. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

 

“Does this mean we can’t contact the ghost?” Ashley asked with a frown. She’d hate to crush Ricki’s spirits like that, especially after she had gotten so excited. Not only that, but she herself had been looking forward to doing this too.

 

Ricki Jean crossed her arms with a huff, looking back at the door with heartbroken eyes. “No, we still can. It just won’t be under the best of conditions, that’s all.” She grimaced, her mood slightly dampened. “I just really wish we could get in that room. Who knows what’s in there?”

 

Ashley looked past her at the mysterious door. She had to admit, she too was curious as to what lay hidden on the other side. Perhaps the answers to this entire mystery were sitting in that very room, and the only thing keeping her away was a giant slab of wood. Looking back up at Ricki Jean, Ashley gently placed a hand on her arm. “Is there anything else we could do to help with the connection?”

 

Ricki paused for a moment, thinking hard. “Do you have anything that belonged to the kid?” she asked at last. “Anything personal?”

 

“I...I don’t think so, no,” Ashley replied with a frown, shaking her head. “Anything of theirs would probably be in that room.”

 

Ricki Jean sighed. “Yeah, that makes sense.” She placed her hand on the wooden railing. “Alright then. Back down we go.” Ashley nodded, and the two began to descend.

 

CRASH

 

Both girls froze.

 

“What the bagels was that?” Ashley asked, heart hammering.

 

Ricki snorted. “You think I fucking know? It’s your house.”

 

Ashley rolled her eyes but chose not to comment. “It sounded like it came from my room,” she said, taking off down the hall and entering the last door on the left.

 

Looking around, Ashley noticed that her closet door was slightly ajar. That wasn’t right. Last she had checked, it was definitely closed. Was something in there? Or maybe...someone?

 

With narrowed eyes, Ashley cautiously approached the closet. “Hello? Is someone there?” There was no response, but that didn’t keep her from being afraid that something would jump out at any given moment. The last thing she wanted was to find herself in some kind of horror movie; a ghost child was already scary enough as is.

 

Ashley grabbed the doorknob with a trembling hand. Oh God, she really hoped this wouldn’t end poorly. Biting her lip, she flung the door open.

 

No monsters.

 

Ashley let out a heavy sigh of relief. Thank waffles.

 

“Everything okay?” Ricki Jean called worriedly from the entrance.

 

Ashley turned back to her and nodded with a smile. “Yeah! It’s all good!” Or at least, there were no murderers or vicious demons hiding in the closet. That was definitely preferable.

 

Looking back inside the closet, Ashley’s head tilted in confusion as she noticed something odd. “Hello, what’re you?” Bending over, she picked up a long, rather old box. Her brow furrowed. What was this? She flipped the package over and her eyes suddenly widened.

 

Monopoly.

 

Ashley looked up to the top shelf of the closet and noticed for the first time an assortment of old, dusty board games. The Monopoly game must have somehow fallen from up there.

 

“What did you find?” Ricki Jean asked, walking over.

 

Ashley turned around and presented the box to her. “I think this is what made that sound,” she replied.

 

Ricki Jean stared at the box for a moment before shrugging. “Huh. Well that was weird. Anyways, let’s go get started,” she said, walking back over to the door.

 

Ashley’s eyes lit up, an idea striking her. “No, no! Wait!” Ricki Jean stopped and looked back. “I...I think I have an idea.”

 

Ricki raised a curious eyebrow. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

 

Ashley glanced down at the box in her hand. “Why don’t we play this instead?”

 

“Wait...what?”

 

“Yeah!” Ashley went over to her bed and hopped on, taking off the lid and pulling out the board.

 

Ricki Jean watched her with confused, skeptical eyes. “I...I don’t get it. What’s this got to do with talkin to the ghost?”

 

Ashley grinned at her. “Just trust me! I really think this might work.” When Ricki didn’t move, she patted the bed invitingly. “Come on!”

 

Ricki sighed before going over and joining Ashley on the bed. “You know what? Okay. Sure. I’ve done weirder. What’s your idea, kiddo?”

 

Ashley dug through the box and pulled out a single token: the hat. “I want to try and contact the kid through this board,” she said.

 

“Wait...you mean...you wanna play Monopoly with the kid?” Ricki asked incredulously.

 

Ashley nodded.

 

Ricki let out a laugh. “Sheesh, Ashley, you’re even crazier than me.”

 

Ashley looked at the small metal hat in her hand. “I just...I have a really good feeling about this.” It had only been earlier that very morning when she had talked to the ghost child about playing Monopoly. Was this some sort of sign that they were taking her up on her offer? Perhaps...or perhaps the vibrations in the house merely knocked the board game down, and it was coincidentally Monopoly. But that was the boring answer, and things as of late had been as far from “boring” as one could get.

 

“Ooh! Hang on!” Ricki Jean suddenly sprung up and hurried over to the entranceway. With a bit of dramatic flair, she turned off the light switch, bathing the room in darkness.

 

“What are you doing?” Ashley asked with a laugh.

 

Ricki dug into her pocket and produced a small tea light. She flicked it on, the bulb casting a dull, rather ominous glow. “Just setting the mood,” she explained, rejoining Ashley on the bed and setting the light down in the center of the board. Grinning, she held out her hand. “Ready to do this?”

 

Ashley smiled back at her. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied, taking her friend’s hand. She was really glad she wasn’t doing this alone. Just having Ricki there made her feel so much better about the whole thing. She was definitely nervous and had no idea what to expect, but having a friend by her side helped relieve a lot of her fears.

 

She could do this.

 

Biting her lip, Ashley carefully placed the hat token down onto the board, right on the starting space. Ricki Jean looked around the room. “Hello. We would like to speak with the child of Alan and Victoria Dreemurr. Are you there?”

 

Silence.

 

The two watched the token, frozen in place.

 

The light flickered a bit, though it kept glowing without fail.

 

A gentle breeze blew inside from the nearby open window.

 

Ashley felt the hand that was holding Ricki’s grow a bit damp with sweat, though she couldn’t tell which girl it was from.

 

Outside, the sounds of cicadas filled the air.

 

The token moved.

 

 

The token MOVED.

 

Both girls gasped, sharing an excited glance.

 

“Holy fuckin shit,” Ricki whispered, eyes wide with disbelief. “Ash, kiddo, you’re a genius.” She took a breath in an attempt to calm herself down a bit. “Hello. We’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if that’s alright with you. If you could, move two spaces for yes, one for no.”

 

There was a moment of silence before the hat moved one...two spaces.

 

Ashley and Ricki’s grip on each other grew tighter.

 

“Okay, good. Shit. Umm.” Ricki looked at Ashley. “What should we ask them?”

 

Ashley thought for a moment. Was this really who they thought it was? She had heard about ghosts allegedly fooling people in the past. If they had the wrong ghost, then all of this would be in vain. “Are you really the child of the Dreemurrs?” she asked with a bit of hesitation. “Please, be honest.”

 

There was a long pause. The hat moved one space. Pause. Another space. Pause. Another space still.

 

“What?” Ricki’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Three spaces? What does that mean? Either they are or they aren’t, plain and simple.”

 

Ashley shrugged. “Maybe they don’t remember?” she suggested. That didn’t sound too farfetched.

 

The piece abruptly moved one space.

 

“Okay, so you do remember?”

 

Two spaces.

 

“So were they your parents or not?” Ricki asked, growing a tad annoyed.

 

Pause. Three spaces.

 

Ricki Jean let out a loud groan. “Ugh! This doesn’t make any sense!”

 

“Why don’t we just try moving on,” Ashley offered, unable to see how the situation could improve. They could worry about deciphering the child’s answer later. “Um, how old are you? I mean, how old were you when you, you know, died?”

 

The hat slowly slid around the board. Ashley counted as the piece moved along, property by property. Finally, it stopped. Ten spaces.

 

“Oh wow,” Ashley breathed, her heart heavy. “You were only ten? That’s not fair at all.”

 

“That’s life,” remarked Ricki Jean, her face grim. “Life’s never fair. That’s a real shame though. I’m sorry to hear that, kid.”

 

Ashley paused. “I’m sorry if this makes you uncomfortable in any way, but...were you...murdered?”

 

The hat moved forward one space. No.

 

Ashley nodded. “Okay. That’s good.”

 

“Dammit,” Ricki said with a pout.

 

“What?”

 

Ricki sighed. “I really thought someone killed the kid. It sucks hearin that my theory was wrong.”

 

Ashley gave her a gentle smile. “I think you’ll live.” She turned back to the board. “So, do you remember anything about the day you died?”

 

For a long time, there was no response. Ashley actually began to wonder if the ghost was even still there or not. Suddenly, the hat began to move backwards on the board. “What’s it doing?” Ricki asked, eyes narrowed. The piece backtracked until it stopped on the “Jail” space.

 

“You were...trapped somewhere?” Ashley tried, unsure if she was interpreting the ghost’s message correctly.

 

Much to her surprise, the piece moved forward two spaces.

 

“Trapped? Trapped where?” Ricki asked.

 

Without warning, something came flying out of the Monopoly box, hitting Ricki in the chest and landing in her lap. “Ow! Jerk…” She sent a glare Ashley’s way when she started to giggle, but then picked up the piece that had been thrown. “A...a house?”

 

Ashley looked. Sure enough, in Ricki’s hand was one of the little green cubes that represented houses in the game. “So you were trapped in your house?”

 

The hat moved forward two more spaces yet again, confirming her guess.

 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ricki murmured. “If the kid was trapped, then how did they go missing?”

 

“Do you remember anything else?” Ashley asked, hoping to gain some more insight.

 

There was another long pause before the piece rather slowly slid forward. Both girls sat with their eyes glued to the hat, watching as it steadily made its way around the board. At last, it reached its destination. “Water Works”.

 

“What could that mean?” Ashley wondered aloud.

 

“Well, it was raining that day. Really bad, too,” Ricki suggested. “Maybe that’s what it means?”

 

Abruptly, the entire house wobbled a bit.

 

“Geez! What the fuck was that?” Ricki exclaimed, looking around in a panic.

 

Ashley felt her heart lurch. Oh God no. “Um, it was probably just a minor earthquake. It’s happened a couple of times since I’ve moved here. They’ve never been too bad, though.”

 

Ricki looked at her skeptically. “If...if you say so.” She didn’t sound convinced in the slightest.

 

Desperate to move things along, Ashley racked her brain for another question. Her eyes lighting up, she reached inside the box and pulled out the battleship token. “The person who used to play with this piece, do you remember them?”

 

The hat moved forward two spaces. Yes.

 

The house shook once more, this time a little more violently.

 

“Ashley, are you sure we’re okay? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

 

“Don’t worry, it’s fine.” She hoped. She set the piece down on the board. “Did this person have anything to do with your death?”

 

Without hesitation, the piece moved forward one space.

 

RUMBLE.

 

“Ashley-”

 

“Is this person still alive?”

 

Two spaces.

 

Ashley gasped. “Ricki! Do you know what this means? There’s someone still alive who knew the kid! Maybe we can talk to them and find out some more information!”

 

No response.

 

“Ricki?” Ashley turned to look at her friend. Her face had gone pale, and she was staring straight ahead with horror-filled eyes. Confused, Ashley turned to see what she was looking at and instantly froze.

 

Through the open window, a single giant white orb was staring at them.

 

“Uh...sup?”



Chapter Text

Ashley had hoped that Ricki’s love for the paranormal would make her unintentional encounter with Sans go over smoothly.

 

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

As soon as Sans’ awkward greeting left his mouth, Ricki Jean let out a piercing shriek that was quickly followed by far too many swear words for Ashley to count. All she could do was watch in horror as her friend screeched and cursed, flailing her arms wildly as she fell backwards off of the bed with a THUD.

 

“Ricki! Ricki, oh my gosh, please! It’s okay!” Ashley tried desperately, leaning over the side of the bed to look down at her in worry.

 

Alas, Ricki wasn’t having any of it. She pointed blindly in the direction of the window and screamed, “What the fucking FUCK is that thing?!?”

 

Oh man, this wasn’t going well at all. Granted, Ashley herself had been just as terrified of Sans when she had first met him, but that had also been coupled with his intimidating behavior. He hadn’t even done anything remotely scary this time! Well, besides showing his rather creepy face. If Ricki was freaking out this much at the mere sight of Sans, then this didn’t bode well for how things would proceed. “Shh, Ricki, please! It’s alright, he’s not going to hurt you!”

 

All Ricki Jean did was continue to scream in response, her eyes the size of baseballs. “FUCK THAT SHIT! I’M OUT!!!” Frantically, she scrambled up to her feet and made a mad dash for the door.

 

She never made it there.

 

Without warning, Ricki’s body froze completely in place, mid-run. Her already gigantic eyes somehow defied nature and grew even larger. She looked over to Ashley in horror, wordlessly begging for an explanation. Ashley could only stare back, equally baffled. Suddenly, Ricki was sent rocketing backwards into the still open closet. The moment she was inside, the closet doors slammed shut, trapping her. Immediately, the sound of fists pounding furiously could be heard from within. “Ashley! Ashley, let me out! Please oh fucking God, let me OUT!!!”

 

“Oh my God!” Ashley leapt off the bed and ran over to the closet. “Ricki! Ricki, are you okay?!”

 

“Let me out, Ashley! Please just let me out, LET ME OUT!!!” Ricki Jean sobbed behind the wooden doors.

 

“Oh my God, oh my God!” Ashley grabbed both door handles and pulled with all of her might, her arms straining with the effort. However, it was no use; the doors simply refused to budge. She ran her hands through her hair, panic billowing inside of her. No no no! This couldn’t be happening! “Ricki! The doors won’t open! Oh God, I can’t open the doors!”

 

Ricki Jean screamed, banging even harder against the firmly closed doors. “LET ME OUT LET ME OUT!!!”

 

“I’m gonna get you out, okay?!” Ashley shouted to her, desperate to calm her friend down. “It’s gonna be okay, just hang on!”

 

Ricki merely cried in response.

 

Oh strawberries, this couldn’t be happening! Was this the ghost? Had her haunting finally started? But why? Why now? Everything had been fine, why was there a sudden change in demeanor? She had to get Ricki out somehow, but how?

 

Wait...Sans! Ashley’s eyes lit up. Sans was big and strong, maybe he could help somehow! Sure, he couldn’t exactly fit inside of the house, but perhaps he might know what to do.

 

Ashley spun around to face Sans, her breathing coming in short, frightened bursts. “Sans! Sans, I can’t get her ou-”

 

Ashley stopped.

 

Sans was still there, but he didn’t look...normal.

 

“...Sans? Why is...your eye blue?”

 

Sans’ giant eye socket winced, the normally white pupil glowing a strange, eerie shade of blue. “Um, heh, I, uh...I...uhh…”

 

Ashley looked back and forth between him and the closed closet doors, behind which Ricki Jean could still be heard sobbing. The dots connected, though she didn’t want to believe it. It couldn’t be, he couldn’t be...could he? “Are...are you doing this?”

 

Sans looked away.

 

Ashley’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Sans!”

 

“What?”

 

“This...you can’t do this! You have to let her out! Please!”

 

Sans looked back over at her. “I-I can’t!” he said in a surprisingly scared voice. “She’s seen me, she’ll tell others!”

 

“What?” Ashley looked at him incredulously. Was that really a big fear of his? It did make sense: if she were in his place, she wouldn’t exactly want her existence to be common knowledge. “No, no she won’t! I promise she won’t say a word!”

 

“You don’t know that!” he snapped. “You can’t speak on her behalf!”

 

Ashley flinched a bit at his tone but stood her ground, refusing to back down. Her face hardened. “Sans, you can’t keep her locked in the closet. The longer you keep her in there, the more afraid of you she’s going to be. That’ll only make things worse for everyone.”

 

“Ashley-”

 

“Sans! This is not up for debate!” Ashley shouted. “Let her out now!”

 

Sans’ eye widened, staring at her in shock. He probably hadn’t thought she was capable of being so assertive. Honestly, she was a bit surprised herself. Ordering people around, it wasn’t something she was used to. It felt strange to say the least. Still, it seemed to do the trick. The blue was drained from Sans’ pupil, leaving only the familiar white glow.

 

Not wasting a second, Ashley spun on her heels and yanked the closet doors open. Ricki Jean tumbled out, falling to her knees in a crying heap. Eyes wide, Ashley quickly bent down by her side and placed a hand on her back. “Oh my gosh, Ricki! Ricki, are you okay?!”

 

Instead of a response, Ashley suddenly found Ricki Jean’s hand clenched firmly around her wrist. Before she could even process what was happening, Ashley was being dragged out of her room and down the stairs. “Ricki! Ricki, stop! It’s alright!”

 

Ricki Jean wasn’t even listening. Gasping for breath, she pulled an unwilling Ashley through the house to the front door. Without hesitation, Ricki wrenched the door open and made a beeline for her car, a silver Subaru. Despite desperately protesting the entire way, Ashley found herself forcefully shoved into the passenger seat, the door slamming behind her. By the time she had somewhat regained her bearings, Ricki Jean was in the driver’s seat, frantically trying to put the key into the ignition.

 

“Ricki, you have to calm down, please!” begged Ashley, grabbing her friend’s hand to try and keep her from starting the car.

 

“Ashley, I don’t know what kind of fucking drugs you’re on, but I am NOT going to calm down!” she yelled back, struggling to free herself. “I didn’t sign up for this shit!”

 

Ashley flinched and bit her lip, a sudden burst of emotion exploding in her chest. Stop getting emotional, she’s just afraid. She doesn’t know. “Ricki, you don’t have anything to be afraid of, I swear!”

 

That last statement couldn’t have had worse timing.

 

Ricki Jean let out a shriek, pressing herself back into her seat in a hopeless effort to become one with the leather and disappear. Startled, Ashley turned forward and gasped, her own heart plummeting into the pit of her stomach.

 

Two monstrous hands gently grabbed the sides of the car and lifted it along with its helpless passengers up into the air. A moment later, two giant eyes were looking back at them, their glow bathing the girls in an eerie light.

 

Oh asparagus.

 

For a brief moment, Ashley found herself flooded with terror. It was certainly a frightening scenario she had found herself in. It felt as though the car had been turned into a giant Ricki and Ashley sandwich, and Sans was preparing to start chomping away. However, she quickly dismissed the notion. Sans would never do that, and she felt rather ashamed to have even imagined it.

 

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for her companion.

 

Panicking, Ricki Jean beat her hand repeatedly against the horn, causing the car to let out several ear-piercing honks. Sans’ eyes widened with surprise and for a frightening moment, his grip slipped. Fortunately, he quickly recovered, though he still flinched back from the obnoxious sound. He looked at Ashley, desperation in his eyes.

 

What sort of Twilight Zone madness had she found herself in? These two normally relaxed and composed people were both completely freaking out, escalating the situation further and further. If this kept up, then something really bad was bound to happen, and that was something Ashley had no desire in seeing.

 

Her face hardened. This had to stop.

 

Using what little strength she had, Ashley grabbed Ricki Jean’s wrists, squeezing them hard. “Ricki, you have to calm down right now!”

 

Ricki Jean wrestled with her, trying to regain control; it took everything Ashley had to not let go. “You’re fucking crazy! We’re about to fucking die! I will NOT calm down!”

 

“You have to!” Ashley hollered back. “You’re not in danger!”

 

“Do you see that fucking thing?! We’re like, fifty feet in the air, we sure as FUCK are in danger!”

 

Narrowing her eyes, Ashley’s head whipped around to face forward. “Sans, put the car down!”

 

Sans recoiled in surprise and fear. “But Ash-”

 

“Put it down! NOW!”

 

Hastily, Sans lowered the car back to the ground below, gently setting it down. Now instead of his giant face, they had a fantastic view of his fuzzy pink slippers.

 

Ashley turned back to Ricki, who was staring at the slippered feet in shock. “Ricki, look at me.”

 

Ricki Jean’s face whipped around. She was no longer fighting to free herself from Ashley’s grip. Her brown eyes were frighteningly large, her face practically as white as Sans’ bones. “Ricki, I know this is scary, but you have to listen and trust me, alright?” Ashley said, her voice quiet but firm.

 

After a moment’s hesitation, Ricki Jean nodded.

 

“We are safe, do you understand me? We are not in any danger.”

 

“B-but-”

 

“We are SAFE.” Ashley’s grip tightened. “I promise.”

 

Licking her lips, Ricki Jean turned to look out the front window. “This is fucking nuts. T-This kind of shit doesn’t happen. I can deal with ghosts and shit because they’re just people. They’re just d-dead people, that’s it. This...this is just insanity. I can’t deal with this.”

 

“He is a person, Ricki,” Ashley asserted. “He’s a giant skeleton, but he’s still a person too.”

 

Ricki shook her head. “I-I can’t do this, Ash.”

 

Ashley’s gaze softened. “Yes, you can. It’s alright. Now, we’re both going to get out of the car, okay?”

 

“What?!” Ricki’s head swung back to Ashley. “Fuck no, I’m not getting out!”

 

“Ricki, it’s gonna be okay. He won’t hurt you, I swear on my life. It’s all gonna be alright.”

 

Ricki Jean studied her face for several long moments before swallowing hard. She was shaking badly. “O-okay. I...I trust you.”

 

Slowly, Ashley let go of Ricki. To her immense relief, Ricki didn’t immediately try to start the car once more. She let out a heavy sigh and grabbed the door handle. “Okay, we’ll both get out together on three. Alright?”

 

Ricki nodded, her face filled with uncertainty. “Yeah, sure.”

 

“Alright. One.”

 

 

“Two.”

 

 

“Three.”

 

Both car doors simultaneously opened. Ashley stepped out and a moment later, Ricki Jean did as well. Together, they slowly made their way around to the front of the car, standing side by side. Ashley offered her hand, and Ricki grabbed it without hesitation. Ashley sent her a gentle smile before looking up at the looming figure before them.

 

Sans was anxiously watching them, his hands buried in his pockets. He fidgeted nervously, looking like he was too afraid to do anything lest he cause another panic. “Sans? Can you maybe come down here please?” Ashley called up to him. Ricki squeezed her hand tighter.

 

After a bit of hesitation, Sans ever so slowly lowered himself until he was resting on his knees, placing his hands on his legs. His eyes kept darting back and forth between the two girls, and though his usual grin was still there, it looked awfully strained. Ashley gave him a supportive smile, trying to reassure him. Despite being able to squish them like bugs, he was still just as afraid as Ricki. It seemed awfully strange, but when she thought about it, it did make sense. Just as she had said before, Sans was in fact a person, and like all people, he was capable of feeling fear.

 

An awkward silence filled the crisp evening air, making the tension all the more palpable. Ashley frowned. It would seem as though it would be up to her to make this right. Putting on a smile once more, she looked up at Sans. “Sans, I’d like you to meet my friend, Ricki Jean.” Ricki shot her a fearful look, but Ashley chose to ignore it. “She’s one of the other performers at the theater.”

 

Turning to face a rather pale-looking Ricki, Ashley gave her a patient smile. “Ricki, I’d like you to meet Sans. He’s my friend and neighbor.”

 

Gulping, Ricki looked up at Sans. “H-hey there,” she managed, smiling weakly.

 

Sans returned the uncomfortable smile. “Hi,” he replied, giving a small, awkward wave.

 

Silence.

 

Sans rubbed the back of his skull. “I’m uh...sorry for scaring you and um, trapping you in the closet,” he said, making a face. “Heh, probably not the best first impression in the world.”

 

“It’s, er, alright. I guess,” Ricki replied with a shrug. “I’m still in one piece.”

 

Sans nodded, looking away. “Yeah, that’s good.”

 

This was...not bad. No one was screaming or panicking. It had seemed some of the tension was broken. Ashley felt herself begin to relax a bit. Perhaps this whole situation wouldn’t be a complete disaster after all.

 

Suddenly, Ricki Jean frowned. Ashley looked at her in worry. Oh no, what was wrong now? Ricki’s face screwed up. “Wait a second...you trapped me in the closet.”

 

Sans returned his gaze to her. “Um...yeah?”

 

“You...you trapped me...in the closet.

 

Sans looked over at Ashley for help, but all she could do was give a small shrug and shake her head in confusion. She was just as clueless as he was about what was on Ricki’s mind. Unsure of where this was going, Sans nodded.

 

Ricki’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Releasing Ashley’s hand, she clutched at her head. “Oh my fucking God, I don’t believe it.”

 

“What? What is it?” Ashley asked, alarmed.

 

Ricki pointed up at Sans, letting out a hysterical laugh. “It’s you! It’s been fucking you all along, hasn’t it?!”

 

Sans’ eyes widened like he had been caught in some kind of horrible act. Ashley looked at Ricki in confusion. “Wait, what do you mean?”

 

A crazed smile spread across Ricki Jean’s face. “Don’t you see? He’s the fucking ghost! He’s been the one haunting this damn house all these years, not some dead kid!”

 

Ashley opened her mouth to defend her friend but stopped. Was it really possible? Now that she thought about it, it actually didn’t sound that farfetched. This new ability that Sans had kept previously hidden seemed to be capable of performing the acts of terror that the alleged “ghost” had committed in the past. She looked up at him, skeptical. “Sans? Is that...is that true?”

 

A look of shame washed over Sans’ face. Reluctantly, he nodded. “Yeah. Heh, not very spooktacular of me, huh?”

 

Ricki snorted. “Jesus, that was terrible.” She shook her head with a laugh. “A fucking giant skeleton was behind the haunting all along. You really can’t make this shit up.”

 

“Why would you do that though?” Ashley asked in disbelief, shaking her head. “That’s...that’s wrong! You’ve terrorized innocent people! You...you attacked them! With knives!”

 

Sans’ eyes widened. “‘Knives’?! I never did that! Spoons and a couple of forks, yeah, but never knives. I’ve never hurt anyone, I just gave em a good scare is all.”

 

Well, that was a bit reassuring. Still, the whole notion that Sans had been menacing people for years didn’t sit well with Ashley. “I still don’t understand why you’d go to such lengths to scare people though,” she said, frowning heavily. “Those people never did anything to you...did they?”

 

Sans winced at the look she was giving him and looked away. “Nah, they never did anything. I just didn’t want anyone finding me is all.”

 

That at least made sense. It still didn’t justify his actions in the slightest, but at least she could understand it.

 

“So why not kick her out then?” Ricki asked, jerking a thumb over at Ashley. “What makes her so damn special?”

 

Sans smirked. “She found me.”

 

Ashley’s eyes widened. “So wait. If I hadn’t accidentally found you that first day, you would’ve spooked me out too?”

 

“Er, probably. Yeah,” Sans said with a wince.

 

Wow. Ashley suddenly felt immensely grateful for her incredibly rash nature. If she hadn’t stumbled upon him, she’d be homeless with absolutely nowhere to go. The very thought made her head spin and her stomach feel a bit sick.

 

Sans must’ve seen the look on her face, for he suddenly perked up a bit. “But uh, hey! I guess this, heh, just ghost to show that we were meant to be friends...right?”

 

Despite herself, Ashley couldn’t help but giggle. Looking up at him, she nodded, smiling. “Definitely.”

 

“Well, this is all very touching,” said Ricki Jean, raising her voice, “But what I don’t get is why you put a fucking hammer on her pillow. What sort of ‘friendly act’ is that, hmm?”

 

Ashley blinked in surprise. She had nearly forgotten all about the mysterious hammer. Now that Ricki mentioned it, though, all of her prior questions came bubbling back to the surface. She looked up at Sans questioningly. “Yeah, I don’t really get that either. Were you trying to threaten me or something?”

 

Sans’ eyes widened. “What? No! I mean, maybe? I...ugh…” He ran a hand over his face, groaning in quiet frustration. “I don’t know.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘you don’t know’?” Ricki asked incredulously, crossing her arms.

 

“I mean, I don’t know, ” he snapped in response, a slight growl in his voice. Ricki took a couple of steps back, shrinking a bit. He looked back over at Ashley, his eyes softening. “Look, I came over to apologize for yesterday. For, you know, sort of ditchin you mid-conversation and stuff. It was a pretty jerk move on my part, and I’m sorry.”

 

Ashley’s eyes widened, but she nodded. “It’s alright, Sans, I forgive you. I just wish you hadn’t lied about why you left.”

 

“That’s the thing though,” Sans continued. “Yesterday, you mentioned how you had found that hammer, right?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I didn’t put it there.”

 

Ashley looked up at him in shock. “Wait...what?”

 

Sans shook his head. “I never put that hammer on your pillow.”

 

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” Ricki exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. “If you’ve been the ‘ghost’ this whole time, then how did it get there?”

 

Sans sighed in frustration. “I don’t know, kid. All I know is that it wasn’t me.”

 

“What about the Monopoly board?” Ashley asked. “Was that you too?”

 

Sans looked at her in confusion. “Monopoly? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

“That’s what we were doing when you showed up,” Ashley explained. “We were talking to the ‘ghost’ through the Monopoly board.”

 

“Well then it wasn’t me,” Sans replied with the shake of his skull. “I was coming over to apologize when I heard your voice coming from your window. Probably should’ve looked around a bit more and realized you had company, but I didn’t.”

 

“So wait, hold on,” said Ricki, her eyes growing. “If you weren’t the one behind the Monopoly board or the hammer, then that means…-”

 

“There’s still a ghost in the house,” Ashley finished, her face grim.

 

Ricki let out a huff, running her fingers through her hair. “Fucking Christ, this mystery just gets weirder and weirder, I swear.”

 

Ashley gave her a smile. “Hey, at least we’ve solved part of it, right?”

 

Ricki looked over at her and returned the grin. “Heh, yeah. Gotta say, not the answer I thought I was gonna find, but it’s still pretty cool nonetheless.”

 

Sans snorted. “Glad I’m at least somewhat interesting to ya.”

 

Nervously, Ricki looked between the two. She cleared her throat, absentmindedly fiddling with her hands. “So, uh, am I allowed to leave? Now that I know about all of...this?”

 

Ashley’s eyes widened. “Yeah! Yeah, of course!”

 

“Just don’t go talking bout this to other people, kay?” Sans added, glaring a bit at her.

 

Ricki flinched and nodded emphatically. “Nope! Not a word outta me! You won’t hear nothin! Swear!”

 

Sans gave a silent nod, though he still eyed her warily. Ashley gave Ricki a tight hug. “Drive home safely, alright?”

 

Ricki gave a small smile. “Yeah, don’t worry bout me, I’ll be fine.” She shot a suspicious look up at Sans and lowered her voice. “Just...take care of yourself, okay?”

 

Ashley frowned but nodded all the same. She couldn’t blame Ricki for being worried, even if there was no need to be. “I’ll see you later.”

 

Ricki grinned, walking over to her car. “Later!” she shouted, hopping into the driver’s seat. In no time at all, she and her little silver car had sped off into the night.

 

Ashley sighed with relief, her shoulders sagging. Potential crisis averted.

 

She looked up at Sans. He was watching the spot where Ricki had disappeared, a rather worried look on his face. She frowned. “What’s wrong?”

 

Sans blinked in surprise and looked down at her, almost as if he had forgotten that she was there. He sighed. “I really hope she doesn’t say anything.”

 

Ashley gave him a gentle smile and walked up to him, placing a tiny hand on his knee. “I trust Ricki. She won’t tell anyone.”

 

Sans nodded and looked away, though he didn’t look entirely convinced.

 

Ashley frowned. “Hey.”

 

Sans looked back at her.

 

“Remember what I told you? I said that I was gonna help you be less lonely.”

 

Sans smirked. “You mean less bonely?

 

Ashley giggled. “Yeah, that, you dork. Well, this is a part of that. You met someone new, someone who just might be a friend. Then you’ll have two friends, and two is always better than one, right?”

 

Sans chuckled. “I guess you have a point there.”

 

Ashley beamed up at him. “Glad you think so.”

 

A rather mischievous grin spread across his face. “Say, how were your eggs this morning?”

 

“They were really good!” Ashley paused. Wait. Her eyes narrowed. “How did you know I had eggs?”

 

Sans’ grin grew.

 

Ashley gaped up at him. “That was you too?!”

 

He chuckled, raising his hands in defeat. “Ya got me.”

 

“Oh my gosh! Sans!” Ashley playfully slapped his knee, laughing. “You scared me half to death, you jerk!”

 

“Aw, come on, Ash, I was just yolking around.”

 

“SANS!” Ashley, now consumed with laughter, leaned her head against his leg. After all of the craziness of the day, she definitely needed a good laugh.

 

“Heh, don’t laugh too hard now, you might hurt your shelf, ” Sans replied, watching her fondly.

 

“How did you even do that?” Ashley managed to ask in between laughs. “You weren’t even there!”

 

Sans smirked. “Maybe I’ll explain it sometime.”

 

“You’re certainly racking up quite a long list of things to explain,” Ashley pointed out, finally regaining her composure with a gasp for breath. She grinned up at him. “But I can wait.”

 

Sans returned the smile before looking back over at the house. His expression softened. “Do you really think that kid’s ghost is still in there?” he asked quietly.

 

Ashley looked at the house as well. “I...I think so, yeah,” she responded.

 

“Think they’re watchin us right now?”

 

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

 

Sans looked back down at her. “You got work tomorrow?”

 

Frowning, Ashley nodded her head. “Yeah, sorry.”

 

“Well, you better get to sleep then,” Sans replied, gently nudging her in the direction of the front door with his hand. “It’s gettin late. Don’t want ya to be bone tired in the morning.”

 

Ashley giggled, playfully pushing back against his hand. “Alright, alright, I hear you. I’m going.” She smiled up at him and waved. “Goodnight, Sans.”

 

“Goodnight, Ash,” he replied, smiling softly back.

 

As she started walking away, Sans turned to look at the house, studying every detail. What was he thinking about? Ashley thought about asking him but decided against it. It looked like he needed a moment to himself, and she didn’t want to deny him that. As she went to open the door, she heard a voice so faint, it could’ve merely been the wind.

 

“I’m sorry.”