To the reader: I cannot promise that this story will exceed expectations and won't have grammatical errors. But, if you find it in your kindness to disregard those flaws and look beyond them to discover if this story is worth your time, I am very grateful in advance. ^^

TAGLINE: Would you rather be alone with ghosts or with life-size dolls that move and have eyes glowing at you in the dark?


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OVERVIEW

I really hate dolls.

If it's not because of my job, I would have rather stayed home.

But, Naru had agreed already to this new case, and I couldn't even protest to him or anything. I mean, he's my boss after all━my narcissistic, sarcastic, sharp-tongue, and egotistic boss.

Sigh, I couldn't even let him see this weakness towards porcelain miniature mannequins that have ogling fish eyes.

I had enough with the second case before. Now, I didn't want to deal with head-turning dolls again.

Why do I have to deal with all this uneasiness within me? Just why now of all times?

Goosebumps were running through my spine as I recalled what our client had said...

Help me, God.

END OF OVERVIEW


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WHAT HAS BECOME (DAY 6; 3:16 am)

I jolted and found myself gazing at blurred faces. They were talking…but I could not hear them…

I felt as if my consciousness was but a thin line of thread that would be cut off soon…for eternity. The feeling of detachment slowly grew…brusquely and slowly at the same time.

This is the nth time already…these near-death experiences…will they end and make way for the bridge that I shall cross…?

It wasn't the first time that things which I hadn't done while living rammed my thoughts. Back at middle school, when my mother died, I would have still hold unto my death wishes.

But, that was back then. Now…I realized that I had grown so attached with this tangible world…this world that made me so vulnerable but at the same time…happy.

I could taste the tears probably falling down my face as I remembered how many people I would miss…It would've been okay before…to die since it's just me after all…Nobody would cry for me…Because those who would have had, had gone ahead of me.

Yet, now, as I met a lot of people and our lives overlapped…I noticed how hard it had become.

It hurts…

God…I've taken a lot of chances and still I ask for more…Am I not so selfish…?...I'm sorry…if only…this temporary assignment will become permanent residence…

I want to live…I want to live and be with Obaa-san who took me in…I want to see Bou-san and Ayako bicker again then soon… finally confess their true feelings to each other…I want to see and hear John…his soothing voice…and genuine smile…How I want to see Yasuhara fool around again…and…Lin…even if he ignores me usually…How I longed to have a normal conversation with him…That Masako also…she might have treated me badly, but…I understand her feelings and I want her to know…I don't hate her…

Naru…why…why is it so hard…to die…? Why…does my heart tell me not to let go of this world…? …To let go of you…? I want to be with you…by your side…forever…

Why must I…love you so much? Why…as moments pass…I feel it's hard to let go…the depth of pain inevitable…?

I don't want to die…Can I not have more chances in life…?

Yet…I could feel the edge…the brink that I must topple over…My consciousness was slipping away like quicksand in an hourglass…

If only…

Sprawled on the floor, I drifted off into a whirl of excruciating recollection of the day it all started.


FLASHBACK

A man in his mid 40s arrived that scorching day. Despite the air-conditioning in the SPR building, I could still feel the heat through the steaming kettle that I prepared for Naru's tea. The man who entered, however, was wearing a suit and did not seem to mind the heat outside. I felt pity for him though. When I came to serve tea in the lounge (Naru's already there with Lin-san and his laptop), I noticed that the man's legs were shivering.

"How can I help you?" Naru said bluntly.

"I am Nezune Tenura," the man introduced himself. "I'm the housekeeper at an old castle ─"

"Castle!" I said in surprise. Naru glared at me and I bit my lip. "Sorry."

"What about this castle, Tenura-san?" Naru inquired.

"St-strange murders are ─"

"We don't take detective work," Naru interrupted straightforwardly, ready to stand and take refuge in his wholesome office.

"Naru, that's very rude," I remarked, imitating Madoka's tone, and he glared at me again.

I scowled at him back. Score. Honestly, he hasn't heard the man's whole sentence yet.

"Y-you don't understand," the man stuttered. "The killings aren't ordinary at all! A lot of our servants were killed of hemorrhage without knowing the cause of the cuts in their bodies. There was no evidence of a weapon used. Their corpses have become sunken as if – as if their souls were taken out."

Naru's eyes furrowed, but he didn't say anything. The man continued relaying.

"There was also the case of moving dolls," Tenura-san ranted. "Tenjou Kawabuki, the castle's owner, was the great-great grandson of rich merchants and artisans. He loves antiques, so he left the castle as it is: a museum of ancient artifacts that are actually heirlooms of his ancestors. We were hired to take care of the castle while he is away. Kawabuki-dono informed us that he and his family will be staying there for the summer, so we prepared it for him. As soon as the family came for vacation, the killings began."

"Rika-sama, the daughter of Kawabuki-dono, loves dolls in her young age. But when she came to the castle, she doesn't want to play with her dolls anymore and kept on saying that a moving life-size doll is visiting her room every night. Also, every time the doll visits her, one of our servants is found dead the next day. Rika-sama keeps on having nightmares too."

"Isn't Kawabuki-san worried about what might happen to his family?" I questioned with goosebumps climbing unto my spine.

"Kawabuki-dono…does not believe in what Rika-sama says," Tenura-san said sadly. "He thinks that Rika-sama is lying to him because she wanted to go someplace else for the summer vacation. The family is perfectly safe, and there has been nothing going on that may threaten their lives. On the contrary, our servants are being killed without proof of their murder. The son of Kawabuki-dono, Kirio-sama, has realized that the targets are usually females, so he accompanied Rika-sama in her room to protect her."

"But the next day, Kirio-sama began acting strange." Tenura-san trembled. "He said he saw the doll who visits Rika-sama frequently and that, watching them with its porcelain eyes, it stayed with them throughout the night."

I gasped and winced in fright as I visualized what Tenura-san was saying. I was not originally afraid of dolls. After all, they were mere lifeless creations for children. Yet, ever since Minnie in our second file, I didn't have the same assurance anymore. As my imagination became so vivid, I could not help being scared.

Moving life-size dolls? Who wouldn't be afraid of those?

"Why does Kawabuki-san insist on staying at the house?" Naru interrogated.

I squinted my eyes at Naru. It's a castle, you know! A castle! Though I don't know what kind of castle it is, but aren't you even thrilled that there's a Western castle in Japan?

But then, Naru's always like that.

Perhaps he'd seen a lot of castles in England that he doesn't care if there's one in Japan of all places…But…I wonder…how are we going to examine the whole structure? It would need a lot of equipments and…

"I-it's because when we searched the castle, there was no life-size doll found," Tenura-san spoke anxiously. "There were no dolls found when we cleaned the castle either that's why he doubted both Rika-sama and Kirio-sama's story."

"Isn't he even considerate of his servants' welfare?" I uttered quizzically and clutched my fists in anger. Or even his children's?

I saw Naru glance at me in amusement.

"W-well, Kawabuki-dono does not really come home to the castle that much, so I think it would be quite understandable if the children are lying to get his attention," Tenura-san responded with a shrug.

What?

"B-but, there are really a lot of eerie apparitions which the children have not spoken about but which are seen by some servants."

"But, what about the families of the victims?" I queried, getting irascible by the minute.

That man must at least feel somewhat responsible for his servants' death…! And to let his children suffer at what must have been a lonely castle…!

"Kawabuki-dono has already given what is due to the families of the victims," Tenura-san replied and wiped his somewhat sweaty forehead with a handkerchief.

"But did he even not hire detectives to scrutinize what's happening in that castle?"

Naru's right…It's more like detective work especially with those murders…How can we make sure it's a ghost who presides over the moving dolls and not a programmed circuit? Things may move not only through supernatural phenomena these days…

Though I would have wanted to help but…

"K-Kawabuki-dono already did…" Tenura-san sweat-dropped. "But, they were gone the next day. We've hired three detectives already…and they never came back."

Dumbfounded, I stared. Naru didn't speak again, and wondering what he should say next, Tenura-san blinked at him.

"Umm, Naru?" I called the narcissist, and he gave me a thoughtless look.

"We'll take the case." Naru loured. "We'll be going there on Monday morning exactly."

"T-thank you," Tenura-san mumbled.

Naru nodded. "Lin will take your address."

Tenura-san did what Naru instructed, and the housekeeper left quietly in relief. Soon, Lin-san went back to his office, and I was left with Naru at the lounge.

I whizzed to Naru. "Are you really going to take the case?"

"That's for me to know," he responded curtly.

I sulked. Can't you even say anything more productive? Sigh. To think I've confessed to him twice already…

I blushed, and I met his eyes when he looked up from the book, which he'd begun to read.

"You should stop staring," Naru smirked. "You can do it all day later."

I reddened darker. "I wasn't staring!"

His smirk deepened. "We'll see…"

Conceited jerk!

"Mai," Naru called, and I looked at him expectantly. "Tea."

He smirked again at my heating face before he slipped inside his office, and I clenched my fists.

That guy, honestly! He suddenly became so serious but only for some trivial chore!

He had become so perplexing ever since I started working with him again.

I don't understand him.

Sigh.

What was he thinking when he agreed to the case?

He didn't look even convinced to Tenura-san's story…

That wasn't like his usual self at all…

END OF FLASHBACK


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REWIND TO WHAT HAD BEEN (DAY 6; 3:10 am)

"Why? Why won't you hate him?" the spirit shouted at me, "KILL HIM!"

I tasted my tears. Tears had probably streamed my face as I met those ever deep blue eyes━those calm eyes I'd always admired and gazed at. Those eyes that could see my soul…

How can I hate him?

No matter how I tried to erase my feelings for him…No matter how I tried to reassure myself that nothing would work out between us…that he's better off with Masako than me…that I'dnever really have a chance to be the girl he'd be the one to love…I could not seem to…

I just couldn't hate him…

I just couldn't kill him when I love him so much…

"I-I c-c-can't!" I quivered.

My whole body was shaking terribly. I was overcome with deep sadness, but at the same time, fear enveloped my heart.

"KILL HIM!"

"I can't! I don't want to!" I exclaimed desperately, but my hands flew from my sides and involuntarily grasped a dagger that was thrust to me in midair.

I gasped as my body walked towards Naru.

"N-no! Please stop!" I sobbed and tried thrashing sideways as my body moved without my volition. "P-please…Naru…stay away…!"

Immobilized, Naru ogled at me, but his eyes showed hesitation and tension.

This isn't a time for reasoning!

My body halted moving, and the ghost was frustrated.

"WHY WON'T YOU KILL HIM?" the ghost shrieked, infuriated.

Moreover…why must I kill him?

"B-because I love him!" I responded, half-sobbing and shouting.

"THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS LOVE!" the ghost yelled, and I yelped as I was hauled with the dagger pointed towards Naru.

But, before it could hit him, I stabbed myself.

END OF REWIND


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