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Specters of the Night

3

Chapter 003: The Unseen Passenger

7

By the time the bus pulled into the stop near my home, my head was pounding, likely a residual effect of my recent hospital stay.

 

I lived just outside the Orbital Road, in a rented apartment. Buying a house was still a distant dream despite my hard work.

 

The bus, packed with office workers like me, felt even more crowded as more people piled in at this stop.

 

I usually prided myself on my public morality, always ready to give up my seat for the elderly or those in need. Today, though, I felt too drained.

 

Still, an elderly woman with gray hair squeezed in beside me, and guilt gnawed at me. As the bus jolted forward, I glanced around, expecting someone else to offer their seat.

 

No one did.

 

Eventually, I stood up, saying, "Please, take my seat," but the old lady didn’t respond.

The young people around us stared at me, adding to my embarrassment. A boy quickly slid into my seat, ignoring my gesture.

 

"What are you doing? I gave this seat to the old lady!"

 

He looked at me with a mix of surprise and disdain. "Idiot!" he muttered.

 

Just then, the bus slowed down, throwing me off balance. I grabbed a handrail near the door, trying to steady myself.

 

From my new position, I could see the reflection on the window. My anger evaporated, replaced by a cold dread.

 

The old lady wasn’t reflected in the glass. I clung to the handrail, barely breathing, my eyes fixed on the spot where her reflection should have been.

 

The bus continued to jostle its passengers, but my focus was entirely on the old lady. She stood unmoving, her gaze unfocused, as if in a trance. The bus stop seemed to stretch endlessly.

 

Were these experiences targeting me alone?

 

I recalled the young man's reaction when he took my seat. He genuinely hadn’t seen the old lady.

 

Could it be that the strange events of the past days were aimed solely at me?

 

Finally, the bus braked again, and I saw my chance. As soon as the door cracked open, I bolted, but my haste caused me to stumble and fall to the pavement.

 

Laughter and exclamations followed, but I ignored them, scrambling to my feet. I glanced back, driven by a mix of fear and curiosity.

 

I instantly regretted it. The old lady, who had been in a trance, now stood behind me, her hands clasped over her belly, staring at me with a vacant expression. Panic surged through me. I ran, drawing stares from onlookers, but I couldn’t stop.

 

Running home felt like the most desperate thing I’d ever done in my twenty-three years of life.

 

In high school, running 3,000 meters left me feeling like death. But this time, pure adrenaline propelled me faster and farther than I thought possible.

 

It was as if my body knew that my life depended on it. A journey that normally took over twenty minutes on foot was covered in just seven or eight minutes of frantic sprinting.

 

I finally reached my rented apartment, which was tucked away in a dilapidated neighborhood.

 

Though shabby on the outside, the inside was decently furnished. Navigating the maze of alleys, I fumbled with my keys, my hands shaking uncontrollably.

 

The more anxious I grew, the harder it became to unlock the door. Countless curses ran through my mind. Only when I glanced back and saw no sign of the old woman did I feel a fleeting sense of relief.

 

I collapsed after bursting through the door, utterly exhausted. This wasn’t as terrifying as encountering the paper man with Marcus, but my nerves were frayed.

I stumbled into the kitchen, grabbing the largest knife I could find. I remembered hearing that knives could ward off evil spirits, though I couldn’t recall where or when. Some people claimed that placing a knife under their pillow prevented sleep paralysis.

 

With no other options, I decided to give it a try.

 

I placed garlic at the door and hung a mirror behind it. I’d seen something similar in horror movies and hoped it would work.

 

After setting up my makeshift defenses, I crawled into bed, pulling the quilt over me tightly and placing the knife within reach.

 

My entire body was on high alert; every tiny noise made my heart race.

 

Despite the tension, exhaustion eventually won. I fell asleep, drifting into a strange dream.

 

It was the day of my mother’s funeral. Relatives and friends came to pay their respects while I knelt beside her coffin, greeting them.

 

Suddenly, Marcus appeared, pulling me aside. He held a paper figure, his face grim.

“Why are you kneeling? Your mother isn’t dead!”

 

I was about to scold him for being disrespectful, but he pointed at the coffin.

“Look if you don’t believe me.”

 

The coffin lid was gone, but my mother’s body lay inside, untouched by decay. She looked as she did in life.

 

“I’m not asking you to look inside. Look at her.”

 

Confused, I raised my head. On the other side of the coffin, someone else was kneeling, just as I had been. She slowly lifted her face and smiled faintly. “Mom!” I shouted

 

I jolted awake, drenched in cold sweat. Relief washed over me when I realized it was just a dream.

 

But then my phone rang, startling me again. I felt ridiculous for being so jumpy.

 

Trying to calm down, I wiped my face and answered the call. It was Marcus.

 

“I’m outside your door,” he said. “I’ve been knocking for ages. Why didn’t you answer?”

 

“Wait,” I said, then hung up the phone. A quick glance at the screen showed I had slept through the day. Over ten missed calls from my office stared back at me, and I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be at work.

 

“Damn,” I muttered, frustrated with myself for forgetting. Opening the door, I found Marcus standing there. He looked wired, as if he had chugged several energy drinks.

 

Clearly, he wasn’t keen on staying in the hospital any longer.

 

“What were you doing? I knocked for ages!” he exclaimed, stepping inside.

 

“Sleeping. What else would I be doing? So, why are you here?”

 

“My mom. She sent me to get you.”

 

“The sun must be rising in the west today,” I said in disbelief.

 

“She found a fortune teller who said she could help us with our... problem. My mom insisted I bring you along.”

 

I couldn't help but think that Marcus's mother was more concerned about her son's safety than mine.

 

She wanted to rid us of whatever evil spirits plagued us, likely fearing I was the cause. Despite my reservations, I agreed. My job could wait—survival was more important.

 

After a quick wash, I still felt uneasy about leaving. My apartment, though boring, seemed safer. Marcus noticed my hesitation.

 

“Did something happen again?” he asked.

 

I shrugged, giving a vague response, not wanting to admit to the ghostly encounter I’d had on my way home. Though Marcus and I had been friends since childhood, I feared he’d distance himself if he thought I was cursed.

 

I slipped a small knife into my pocket. It was the kind many people kept on their keychains, more for psychological comfort than actual protection. As we stepped outside, I noticed Marcus’s father’s car parked across the street.

 

“Did your dad come with you?” I asked.

 

Marcus shook his head. “My car’s still wrecked from last time. Even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t dare drive it. So, I borrowed Dad’s.”

 

We climbed into the car, and as we headed out of the city, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy.

 

Marcus had a rich family and could switch cars whenever he needed. He noticed my expression and laughed.

 

“Stop daydreaming and get in,” he said. I snapped out of it and joined him, taking the passenger seat.

 

The car sped through the streets, soon leaving the city limits. As the urban sprawl gave way to countryside, I asked Marcus about the fortune teller.

 

“Mom found her. Apparently, she’s well-known in those circles. Her name’s Madam Kira. She’s a blind old woman, and people say she’s legit.”

 

“Sounds like something out of a horror movie,” I said skeptically. “Madam Kira? Really?”

 

Marcus smiled wryly. “I never believed in this stuff before, but now, after everything we’ve seen, I’m not so sure. Maybe we’re just unlucky.” 



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