Monster High (c) Mattel
Chapter 7: Empathy
Hoodude squeezed through the living room, barely having enough space between everything from the attic. Between boxes made of plain cardboard and wood, piled in with dark leather trunks stamped with intricate designs. Sorted by age and then by size - was all of this necessary? Hoodude knew better than to question it. The one next to him had metal clasps that had rusted long ago. The blue one he and Robecca found the other night must have been brighter once, but had faded with age. It lay open at the other end of the room, finally empty. He hadn't been wrong, it took hours to go through everything in it. The paper files, cloth bundles, the tangles of metal and wood had been packed in like layers. Just when he thought the trunk was empty, there would be more. He remembered asking Ms. Kindergrubber how someone could pack that much stuff into a trunk that size. The old witch just chuckled and said "Carefully."
At least the hallway was clear now. He pulled his foot free from being stuck, and caught himself on the old key cubbies hanging on the wall. They were left over from when the house used to be a bed and breakfast- or would that be 'dead' and breakfast, Hoodude wondered. Either way, the cubbies were empty, just like the house until he and Robecca had arrived. Sometimes, he would look at them and imagine they were full of keys. He took a step back and wondered what this house was like when it was full, of monsters and normies of all kinds, judging by all the stuff in the attic. Who owned the hatboxes that smelled like cinnamon? Had those suitcases ever travel far? Did that dress packed in paper ever get taken out? Maybe worn somewhere special? Or did it never have the chance. Thoughts like these would make him sad for reasons he couldn't explain. He felt like he knew the owners of these objects well, even though he'd never met them.
"If I have to tell her one more time about that penguin," a familiar voice muttered. Ms. Kindergrubber had finished straightening up the shelves. Everything was dusted and evenly spaced. Even here was a sense of rigid rules. As if the small figurines were forbidden to slouch and the picture frames under strict orders not to lean against the wall. She appeared from around the corner, her gray hair pulled back behind a green bandanna, not a strand out of place. "Best be careful."
Did she see him stumble? "I-yeah, sorry. I was just…" Just what? Over-thinking everything again?
A look of soft concern came over her face. "You need to look where you're going. Otherwise, you could wander places you shouldn't," She'd told him many times before, but this time it felt different. "What's going on, dear?"
"I think it's something with my voodoo powers again. I mean, I'm emotional already. I just feel a lot of things."
"Some are like that."
He was glad she didn't judge him for it. "But…it's been weird. I don't really know how to put it."
"What are you feeling now?"
"I've been feeling things that…aren't mine."
"Aren't yours? Who do they belong to?"
"Everyone. At school it happens mostly," To him school was an ocean of feelings; boredom, anxiety, competition, hope, all swirled together in the halls. At most, it was like background noise, but sometimes one or two would catch his attention. The first he noticed was Manny. The powerful waves of anger and frustration told him he was nearby before he even saw him. At what, he didn't know, but he didn't want to get close enough to find out. The same week he saw Heath trying to hit on yet another ghoul, oblivious to the discomfort that was practically pouring off her. The longer he watched, the more unease crept over him. He wanted to grab Heath by the arm and drag him away, and he almost did. Except fabric and fire didn't mix well. Good thing Deuce intervened.
Outside of school, he noticed it too. Ms. Kindergrubber for example, if he didn't know better he'd say her systematic search through the attic was just part of her legendary need for organizing. She was particular about, well, everything, but underneath the order was a wise reassurance that always made him feel better. He didn't know how old she was, (not like he'd ever ask), but Hoodude realized in all the stories Ms. Kindergrubber told, none of them were ever about herself. If she mentioned herself at all, it was in small fragments that he was just starting to put together. Sometimes parts of her life were added to the middle, or tacked on at the end, but they were rare and brief and not ever brought up again. Some things he could easily picture, and others he could barely imagine. They all seemed to center on making peace out of chaos. Righting wrongs and maintaining balance. Maybe that's why things always have to go her way…it's what she does…
Then there was Robecca. When she came to live with them, Hoodude got used to her right away. To him it was easy to feel when she was excited, curious, or in general high spirits. It was contagious! He could also tell when her smiles were little more than painted on, and those nights where she would feel hollow. A kind of empty that extra water and oil couldn't fix. He had to be careful, because that was contagious too. Hoodude never bothered her during those times, feeling lost because he wanted to help, but he didn't know how. I'd just make it worse. She probably wants her space.
Now whatever feeling he got from her was scrambled, like she had some wires crossed. Now that Ghoulia gave her that part back, he thought she would be back to normal. But so far something different was coming off of her, something he couldn't quite place.
"…and now with that stuff," he pointed to the living room. Feeling things from those he knew was one thing, but what about people and monsters he never met?
He sat on the edge of one of the trunks in the living room, his shoulders hunched. "Is this bad?"
Ms. Kindergrubber ruffled his hair. "Only if you see it that way. It has it's uses and drawbacks just like anything else. But believe me, empathy's something the world could use more of."
"I just wish it wasn't so mixed into everything. It's just hard to feel where I leave off…"
"And others begin?" she finished for him.
The temperature had dropped the night before. Rochelle and Ghoulia walked down the icy path through the graveyard with Robecca leading the way. The heat from her boots helped melt the ice, but their smooth-soled shoes and the path's slight angle turned walking into a balancing act. At least they could see where they were going this time. It was still morning, but the daylight was dimming behind fast approaching clouds. Robecca could feel a few of the winds in her head settling down. Rochelle had kept to her word and took her, more like dragged her, to Ghoulia earlier that morning. According to her the transmitter was working, but that she would continue to look into things just in case. Overall, things had been quiet, until a few minutes ago.
"Ghoulia, that is not a safe thing you are doing!"
Ghoulia rolled her eyes- she could handle herself! Besides, hadn't they gone through this argument before? She knew Rochelle meant well, but sometimes she could just be so…
Robecca sighed and watched the cloud of steam from her mouth and ears evaporate. She swore the walk from the mausoleum took longer the other night. She tried to tune out her friends arguing behind her. Robecca agreed, the catacombs were dangerous. But on the other hand, if it weren't for Ghoulia where would she be now? She couldn't take a side this time.
"Oui, that is settled then."
Robecca turned around. "What is settled then?"
"Ghoulia wants to return to the catacombs, and I will be going with her."
She had told Ghoulia about her eyes, how they would flicker at random. Ghoulia said there might be another part that could fix it. One she hadn't found yet. She said if she went back to where she found most of Robecca, it would likely be there.
"That is not so urgent-" Her vision was fine, the flickers were just mildly annoying.
Ghoulia groaned on that Robecca's eye might be fine now, but something like this could get worse if left unchecked.
They reached the edge of Monster High's parking lot, the sounds of their feet echoing off the asphalt. Robecca glanced at her wrist and gasped. This was her one watch that hadn't been set a few minutes fast. She told Banejamin she was going back today and now she was running late. "Late again…" she muttered. Not unusual, but that didn't mean it didn't bother her. Too bad Ghoulia didn't know how to fix her internal clock. She had already helped her so much, she couldn't burden her further.
"Thank you very much Ghoulia, and you too Rochelle," she fired up her rocket boots. "I really must be going."
Robecca glided to a stop and shut off her boots. This road looked familiar, it had to be the right one. The gravel path crunched under her feet as she cut through it. The bare trees loomed over her as the sky grew grayer. Up ahead, she saw the bridge and was happy to know she was going the right way.
She headed under the bridge as another car passed overhead. The sudden sound of tires rolling smoothly over metal and stone didn't make her jump this time. She was feeling confident, a feeling she hadn't felt in so long. She stepped down from the low wall and fired up her boots again. Another flicker appeared in Robecca's eyes, but by now she was used it them.
A snowflake floated down and landed on her nose. The heat of her metal skin melted it right away. She wiped it off and turned her boots up higher. More snow began to fall around her. If she didn't hurry, the snow would soak into her clothes and between her seams.
Banejamin finished wiping the water droplets off his glasses and put them back on. It had started snowing again, in small flurries. He thought back to when he first heard of the Loewe Mansion as the iron gates came into view. He had heard the stories about this old place. They said the halls contained the path to hell itself. And what better place for a cursed ring to be hiding? Maybe if he believed the story hard enough, it would be true. Maybe the ring would really be in there somewhere. Those old thoughts clung to him like dusty cobwebs. His hands twitched under his gloves. Not like last time.
There was just enough snow falling to settle on his hair and coat, which he tried to brush off before it melted. The trees along the path did nothing to break up the flurries. He adjusted his bag hanging off his shoulder and reached out to push open the iron gate. Beyond it, he saw a set of smaller footprints that melted through the snow exposing the grass underneath. The footprints in the new snow led up to the same window. Is she here already?
"Robecca?" he called down the hallway. But there was no answer. "Robecca I know you're here. Where are you?"
He heard a faint creaking of floorboards from around the corner. "Miss me?"
She was wearing the same coat as yesterday, but now had pinstripe pants that were tucked into her boots. Her hair was also pulled back in a low ponytail. If any of it got wet in the snow it was dry now.
"What're you doing? I thought you said noon."
She was early for a change? That was a nice surprise. "Exactly what I said I would. My goggles went missing here and I am going to find them. And maybe that ring of yours too!" she passed him on her way up to the stairs.
"What about yesterday?"
"What about it? A few shadows and mirrors are not going keep me away."
(A/N: I had to rewrite this chapter three times! I also edited through it while listening to the Ren and Stimpy production music-not relevant to this story at all, but just so you know where my mind is. It's been a long week.)