Thursday, August 6, 2015

21. To See or Not to See Ghosts

The next day was Wednesday. It was the first official day of the festival and Yun was probably more excited than his students.
The first to get on stage was Ezekiel. Zoe was amazed how different he was up there compared to how he was usually; he was very confident and knew exactly when to look at the public or smile cutely at the cameras; he loved the squeals coming from girls who were admiring his voice or his face.
Next was Chen. They had a duet before Ezekiel left the stage. Their harmonies were delectable to the ear mostly because Ezekiel’s voice was higher and raspier than Chen’s.
Chen alone was a completely different subject. He was mischievous and a little sadistic in his jokes , but on stage he was like a shining beautiful being.
“Is he an angel?”
Ezekiel threw her a nasty look and scoffed. She didn’t say anything when he got off stage. Besides, he glanced at her from time to time when he was singing and she didn’t do anything; only watched with a poker face. Now, she was watching Chen with wide eyes and a lot of admiration.
Hans chuckled and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
“He does sing like one but when he will walk down he will be whining that you didn’t cheer for him and will say something that will either irritate you or embarrass you.” Hans explained and he was correct. Chen’s personality was far from an angel. “By the way, did anyone tell you about tonight?”
Ezekiel froze and made a sign for Hans to keep it a secret but the older man smirked.
“What’s happening tonight?”
“We’ve been assigned two places to sing. One is a shopping center and the other is a high school,” Ezekiel was trying to make Hans change the subject. It wasn’t working and he had to stop when Zoe looked at him. “I heard that the high school is haunted.” Hans continued.
She bit her tongue to suppress any desire to turn and kick Ezekiel.
“We should catch it on camera. We already talked about it. The girls don’t know the plan but I’m sure we can manage.” Hans ruffled her hair and left to prepare. He was next on stage.
“It wasn’t my idea.” Ezekiel said fast since he could feel her intense gaze. He rubbed his back and looked into her eyes. He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion when he noticed something weird. “You-are you wearing contacts?”
“Why?”
He leaned towards her and touched her cheek, a frown on his face.
“I swear I saw something yellow in your eye. Like, in the middle of your eye.”
She didn’t look surprised instead, she looked like she heard that before.
“It’s the lightning.”
Ezekiel crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned on his right leg.
“Maybe.”
He didn’t believe her. She wasn’t a good liar and she knew it. It was really hard to hide things from Ezekiel and Andy when they were so perceptive, especially when it came to her.

Hans’ song was upbeat and fun, therefore Zoe did cheer for him. That left Ezekiel and Chen behind her, scowling.
“I was better.” Chen started.
“I sung a ballad.” Ezekiel continued.
“When did they become so close, anyway?”
They were really curious when that happened.
The two boys were annoyed but she didn’t care enough to listen to them. She was amazed by a lot of the other contestants.
Two boys from Japan sung a ballad that gave her goose bumps. It was impressive how many people gathered there. The number of ghosts and familiars around the stage was quite large too. She had two fairies dancing at her feet and they were enjoying every second of the show.
“Wait. What are you two doing here?” She bent to them and narrowed her eyes at ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
“We heard that you went to a festival and we spuff-ed here. You know how much we like events.”
“Who’s here except you two?”
The two fairies glanced at each other and shrugged.
“Mehrdir is here, isn’t he?” They shrugged. “You’re not helping.”
“We’re not supposed to help. We’re only supposed to be around.” The female fairy gulped when she realized what she said. “I mean-“
“I got it. At least you’re better than Mehrdir.”
The fairies laughed and continued their dance. Zoe straightened her posture and glanced around.  She could feel someone stare at her with judging eyes and a lot of anger built up inside but she couldn’t see him.

The show was still ongoing and Jeremy was excited to take the microphone and show off. Yun was talking to people from the staff and the rest got lost in the crowd. Unfortunately for Ezekiel and Chen, Zoe got lost too.
However, the culprit was thankful that she got out of their sight. She could finally do whatever she wanted and enjoy her freedom. Zoe was an adult after all, even older than her friends and with a lot more baggage of life.
The crowd was getting even bigger and there were girls who were too short to see what was happening on stage. Zoe wasn’t that short but one girl caught her attention. She was swaying from side to side in order to see something and somehow, she ended up in front of Zoe. The girl got on her toes but the man in front of her took a sudden step back, making her stumble and fall over Zoe.
“Oh, sorry. I’m really sorry. Here, let me help you.” She grabbed Zoe’s bandaged hand and pulled her up.
“No problem” However, the girl still had a tight grip on her hand. “You can let go. I’m alright.” Zoe stated firmly. The girl laughed nervously and nodded.
“I’m sorry. It’s just-I lost my friends and can’t find them anywhere. I’m glad you speak English.”
“Me too but I’m sure they’ll find me. They always find me.” Her tone changed and the girl noticed. She was happy to be out of the secure zone.
“But isn’t it too crowded here? Let’s go in the back. I heard they see much better because they don’t have to squint towards the stage. The screens show everything perfectly!”
Zoe didn’t have enough time to respond because the girl grabbed her hand and pulled Zoe after her.
“By the way, my name is Suzy.” She added over her shoulder.

“Isn’t this a little too far?”
Suzy stopped when she crossed the street. She pointed at the screens and Zoe gasped. The view was perfect. She could watch the show just like on TV.
“Oh!” She exclaimed once she saw the huge screens.
“It’s a little far but no one pushes you around,”
Suzy seemed innocent but something was weird about her; maybe because she appeared at the right moment and it was too much of a coincidence or maybe because Zoe has been through enough 'coincidences' to know when it was the case and when it was planned.
“I should call my friends and tell them where I am.” She took out her phone and dialed Ezekiel’s number.
Suzy didn’t react and Ezekiel didn’t respond. He was probably busy being annoyed or he was simply having fun with his friends; anyway, she couldn't reason her paranoia.
“So, you’re here for the festival?”
Zoe put her phone back in the front pocket and nodded.
“It’s pretty famous. A lot of singers come and entertain people. I think it’s great that they don’t ask for money in return.” Suzy continued, her eyes locked on the screens.
Zoe smiled softly. That was something rare indeed. The festival was free for everyone and was encouraging people of different ages to listen to good music.
“The schedule is full but it seems they have a lot of fun anyway.”
Suzy raised an eyebrow.
“You mean the artists? Oh, you came with an artist?” Zoe wasn’t sure if she should spill the beans to her; she was a stranger.  “Me too. My brother is a teacher at K University in London. He called me and told me to meet him here. I’m a student in Tokyo.”
That explained a little but not enough. Suddenly, Zoe realzied something.
“Wait, K University? My friends are in K University,”
Suzy’s eyes widened in excitement and started to jump.
“Really? My brother’s name is Yun. Do you know him?”
“Yes. I came here with him and his students.”
Suzy hummed happily and wrapped her arm around Zoe’s.
“That’s awesome. Such a coincidence doesn’t happen every day.”
“Right,” Zoe mumbled, getting a sudden chill up her arm.
One strange fairy appeared on her shoulder and glanced warily at Suzy. Zoe noticed it but didn’t react and  didn’t want to make any suspicious moves. She was feeling the same way she felt after she got discharged from hospital: anxiously waiting for something bad to happen.

When the last singer got off stage, Zoe’s phone vibrated. The caller was unknown and she wasn’t feeling like responding to a prank call. However, the caller was very persuasive. The phone continued to vibrate for five minutes until she sighed and gave up.
“Get out of there.She’s one of them.” She frowned.
Suzy tilted her head to the side and watched Zoe closely.
“What’s going on?”
The caller hung up and left Zoe speechless. She had to lie but be careful not to be discovered.
“It was only a prank call,” Zoe responded and placed her hands in her jacket’s pockets. “Well, I better leave. I’m sure my friends are looking for me.” She only took one step before Suzy grabbed elbow. Zoe glanced at her form the corner of her eye.
“We should exchange e-mail addresses.” Suzy seemed innocent enough with her big brown eyes and round face.
Zoe snatched her phone and entered a fake email address before she gave it back and hurried out of there. Suzy stayed back with a triumphant expression.
“Be careful, Zoe Lestrade.”  She chuckled darkly and walked down the opposite direction.

“Where the heck were you?!”
She wasn’t sure who was madder: Chen and Ezekiel or Yun. However, she knew who was overprotective enough to hug a girl he met only a few days ago.
“We thought we lost you. You are my responsibility too!” Yun exclaimed, squeezing Zoe in his arms.
“I’m an adult.” She added quickly but it didn't have any effect.
Yunho scoffed and threw his arms in the air like a drama queen.
“That’s irrelevant!” He sighed and shook her shoulders lightly. “When you leave please call one of us and tell us exactly where you are. You might get in trouble.” She looked to the side guiltily.
After Yun let go of her and walked in front with Lau and Hans, Ezekiel and Chen cornered her. It was their turn and they weren't going to make a scene but they weren't going to let her off easily.
“You did get in trouble, didn’t you?” Chen whispered, placing his hands in his front pockets.
She bit her lip and didn’t glance at neither. Ezekiel rolled his eyes and Chen chuckled bemusedly. Those two were the same yet very different.

The night progressed very fast. They changed hotels and the roommates changed. Zoe was in the room with the rest of the girls and the boys had one room for themselves.
“It really feels like a pajama party, doesn’t it?” Sonia really wanted to have that girls night.
They were sleeping on the floor and Zoe was the unlucky one to get the seat near the window. She couldn’t understand why the girls were so scared of it.
“It’s the ghosts,”
That was the response from most of them. Zoe was actually the elder in the room so she was the one who had to act responsible and mature.
“Ghosts don’t exist. People become scared and anxious and they see forms in the darkness. But, there’s nothing there. Nothing but imagination.”
That was such an irony coming from her. She heard someone scoff but brushed it off since it was probably a fairy.
“You know, the boys can’t wait to get in that high school. It’s pretty famous for their ghost stories.” Clarice started.
Hayley nodded and pulled the pillow in between her hands.
“I heard it too. They said it’s haunted by a girl who committed suicide. And beside her, there is a girl who got pushed down the stairs and died and there’s more.”
They shuddered; well, except Zoe. She tilted her head to the side and blinked sheepishly.
“I think they’re lying. Isn’t that a good way to get students in your school? They lie in order to get sponsors too. It happened before.” Zoe had a point and a lot of people in the business were doing that.
“True. But wouldn’t that be amazing? To see ghosts?”
Zoe would have begged to differ. Seeing ghosts was neither exciting nor amazing. It was like a curse and it only brought sadness and guilt in her life. Even though she was surrounded by so many entities, she was lonely.

“I can’t believe we’re here,”
The next day, they had to go visit the high school early in the morning and get acquainted with the place and stage.
“This place doesn’t look as creepy as Hans made it seem.”
“That’s because he exaggerates. It’s probably as Zoe said. They use the ghost stories to attract students and sponsors.” Lucy scoffed, glaring at Hans from the side.
Lucy’s mind was working differently than Zoe first thought. She was a smart woman with a sharp mind and wasn't living off her parents' money. She was the only one who didn’t believe Hans' made up stories; she knew they were made up because she found him searching for stories on internet. Zoe laughed since Hans reminded her of Gabe. But that had a bad point too because Gabe got possessed because of his ghost story.

Zoe surveyed the place but she couldn’t see anything. It was silent and empty; nothing supernatural was lurking in the shadows, at least not at the moment. She smiled when she realized she had nothing to worry about.
“So, I talked to Andy and he said it’s clear.” Ezekiel spoke without moving his eyes off his phone.
“Are you talking to Alice?” She asked, her eyes set on his fast fingers typing nonstop. He blushed and turned his back to her. “Andy is not here so how did he assure you that it’s empty?”
He threw a nasty look at her over his shoulder.
“He sent me a text. He comes and goes. Doesn’t feel like seeing you, though.” The puppy human commented, his eyes not once moving off his phone.
Zoe raised an eyebrow and leaned against the window.
“I already said I’m sorry. Curiosity got the best of me.” She whined loudly.
“Don’t you know? Curiosity killed the cat.”
She walked behind him and leaned over his shoulder, “Then how come you’re still alive?” She whispered in a low tone.
Ezekiel froze and ignored her comment.

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