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Specters of the Night

1

Chapter 001: The Return Home

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The day started with a heavy heart. I had just buried my father. The small gathering of relatives had dispersed. My friend Marcus insisted on accompanying me back to my childhood home to gather a few belongings.

 

I had moved to the city for work years ago, rarely visiting my hometown, a quaint village nestled in the shadow of an ancient forest a few hundred kilometers away.

 

This time, my return was prompted by the news of my father’s sudden and mysterious death.

 

His body had been discovered by a neighbor, who reported that it had been lying there for days.

 

The official cause was myocardial infarction, but something about the circumstances felt off.

 

Despite his deteriorating health, my father had never mentioned any serious illness during our regular phone calls. The police closed the case, leaving us with more questions than answers.

 

After the funeral, Marcus and I decided to return to the city. We packed a few essentials and set off in Marcus’s car, hoping the journey would distract me from the grief that gnawed at my soul.

 

The road from my village to the city was notorious for its treacherous twists and turns, winding through dense forest. It was known as the Old Hollow Road. The name that sent shivers down the spines of locals.

 

I drifted into a restless sleep as soon as we hit the road. When I awoke, darkness had swallowed the world outside. The headlights cut through the blackness. The trees loomed like ancient sentinels.

 

As we rounded a particularly sharp bend, Marcus suddenly hit the brakes. His face was pale with fear. In the glow of the headlights, a figure stood by the roadside.

The person looked lost, stranded in the middle of nowhere.

 

"What's going on?" I asked.

 

"It's been a hell of a night. We've passed several people trying to hitch a ride. It's strange, this road isn’t usually this busy."

 

"Let's stop and see if the person need assistance," I suggested.

 

Marcus rolled his eyes at me but chose not to argue. We slowed down and stopped next to the man. I rolled down the window, squinting into the darkness to see his face. But the darkness was too thick. I asked him where he was heading.

 

He hesitated, only gesturing with his hands. Marcus and I exchanged a look, assuming he might be mute.

 

"Hey, we’re in a rush. If you want a ride, get in. Just let us know when you need to get off."

 

The man nodded, murmured something inaudible, opened the car door, and climbed into the back seat.

 

The car started moving again, I glanced back. His face was eerily pale with dark, hollow eyes.

 

His clothes were mismatched and old-fashioned. Despite hearing stories of robberies involving hitchhikers, his frail frame didn't seem threatening.

 

The car continued its journey. Eventually, we left the old mountain road behind, but the hitchhiker remained silent.

 

Marcus broke the silence, "Hey, do you feel cold?"

 

A chill ran through me, and I pulled my jacket tighter. It was July, in the south, and the cold was unnatural. I dismissed it as just being tired and the night air.

 

But soon, it became unbearably cold. My breath came out in visible puffs. Just as I was about to comment on it, Marcus glanced in the rearview mirror and screamed, "What the hell is that in the back seat?!"

 

I whipped around, heart pounding, expecting a robbery. What I saw almost made me pass out.

 

The man was gone. In his place was a paper figure, the kind used in funeral processions.

 

It wore red paper clothes, green paper pants, and its face was as white as snow with black paper eyes.

 

"Where’s the man?"

 

Marcus was frantic, trying to brake, but the car wouldn't stop. His face was pale, mirroring my own terror. Just as panic set in, a strange cry came from the back seat.

 

Pale hands reached out, gripping our shoulders.

 

We turned simultaneously. The hitchhiker was there, his face inches from ours, crawling towards us.

 

Marcus screamed, losing control of the car. We crashed into the guardrail, and everything went black.

 

When I woke up, I was in a hospital bed. A nurse informed me that Marcus and I weren’t seriously injured and would be discharged after a few days.

 

Marcus’s family had already taken him away, while I stayed in the hospital. The police visited, suspecting us of causing the accident. I said nothing about the paper figure, sticking to the story of brake failure. Marcus, fortunately, backed me up.

 

Three days later, I was discharged. My first thought was to find Marcus. His phone was off, so I called his sister, Emily. She told me that Marcus had been more severely injured and had been transferred to another hospital. He had been repeatedly recounting the events of that night, which his parents found disturbing. To distance him from the incident and me, they moved him away.

 

Emily sounded worried, "He's not himself. He keeps talking about that night. I don't know what to do."

 

Emily's voice trembled over the phone as she explained the situation. Her parents deemed the incident unlucky, wanting to keep Marcus and me apart. Despite their superstitions, Emily didn't believe in ghosts or spirits. She saw things pragmatically, just like Marcus and me.

 

"Brother Alex," she said, using my nickname. "Marcus was terrified. He kept saying something about a ghost. Did you really see something out there?"

 

I stayed silent. Emily waited for a response. "Alex, are you there?"

 

"No, Emily. It was just a problem with the car. Nothing supernatural."

 

She seemed relieved.

 

"Oh, alright. My parents won't be at the hospital this afternoon. You can visit Marcus then."

 

The hospital was bustling with activity. I found Marcus's ward number, 603, and made my way up. The elevator ride felt interminable, each floor passing in agonizing slowness. When the doors finally opened, I hurried down the hallway.

 

I reached the ward and whispered, "Marcus?"

 

He turned, and relief washed over his face. Tears welled up in his eyes. He grabbed my hand tightly.

 

"Alex! I thought you were dead. No one would tell me where you were."

 

His grip was desperate, and I felt a pang of guilt. "I'm here, Marcus. I'm fine."

 

He looked around nervously. "We saw it, Alex. We saw a ghost!"

 

I wanted to deny it, to chalk it up to a hallucination or a trick of the light. But before I could respond, an old man shuffled into the room, looking frail and worn.

 

"Young man, you're in my bed."

 

Confused, I looked at the medical record card at the end of the bed. "Sir, my friend has been here for days. Maybe you're mistaken."

 

The old man insisted, "This is my bed. Look at the name."

 

I checked the card. It read "William Hennesy. Sir, please sit down. Let me check with the nurse."

 

The old man nodded, sitting reluctantly. I stepped out to find a nurse and fix this bed assignment issue.

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