The Hidden Truth
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! Inspiration comes from the strangest places. This came into being because of a series of infamous Garfield comic strips released in October of 1989, where Garfield finds himself alone in his now broken-down home. The basic plot of this came from that, but there are several very different twists. I have to say, I'm quite proud of this little piece.
"And then you wrote a Story so the ghost could finally be at peace and move on!"
Ahiru smiled brightly, skipping down the cobblestone street alongside Fakir and Autor. At the moment she was looking at Fakir in awe.
"And you weren't even scared at all!"
Fakir snorted. "Of course I wasn't, idiot," he said. "Ghosts aren't anything to be scared of."
"That one was sure trying hard!" Ahiru proclaimed.
"Overall, that experience wasn't anywhere as serious as some of our cases," Autor mused, pushing up his glasses. "I believe the worst thing that happened was when I came up behind you and you were certain I was the phantom."
"Well, it'd just been rocking the chandelier and making the money dish move around and sliding the chair along!" Ahiru shot back. "Why wouldn't I think you were the ghost, when you put your hand on my shoulder right after that?"
"I apologize. Although it was interesting."
"Interesting?" Ahiru cried hotly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Autor smirked at her. "I've never seen you jump that high."
Ahiru stuck out her tongue at him. "I can jump higher than that!" she said. "If Neko-Sensei was still the teacher, or if he still remembered being the teacher, or something, he'd be proud of me!"
"He probably would be," Fakir said. "Especially since you're finally out of the beginner class."
"I've been practicing hard!" Ahiru said. "I can even dance en pointe! . . . Well, kind of."
Autor gave her a fond look. "You've certainly improved, to have even been given a small part in this year's production," he said.
Ahiru nodded. "Yeah! Autor, you should help me practice! You could play the piano while I dance."
As they arrived at the blacksmith's shop, Autor moved to walk away from the other two. "I'll see you both tomorrow," he said.
Fakir gave a single nod. "See you."
Ahiru waved. "We'll walk to school together tomorrow! Okay?"
Autor glanced over his shoulder. "Alright," he agreed.
Ahiru watched him walk out of sight while Fakir opened the door. "Solving these weird mysteries is really creepy," she said. "But I guess I kind of like it. Just because I can spend time with you and Autor."
Fakir grunted. "If we could pick things to bond over, I wouldn't pick the supernatural," he said.
Ahiru made a face. "I wouldn't either," she said. "But . . . that's kind of what we've always bonded over, isn't it? I mean, with Drosselmeyer's Story and all."
"Yeah. And I think it's time we made a change," Fakir said.
"Maybe you do, but the ghosts and the Stories and the other weird stuff don't," Ahiru said. "I mean, I'm not saying it's what I want us to do, but I don't think we're going to get away from it any time soon and . . ."
Fakir looked at her and shook his head. Ahiru flushed, studying the floor as she shut her mouth.
As they stepped into the kitchen, Charon glanced up from the stove. "Oh, welcome home," he greeted.
"Hi, Charon!" Ahiru chirped, her vigor abruptly making a comeback. "Fakir got a ghost to stop being mean!"
Charon's eyebrows rose. "That's quite a feat," he said.
Fakir looked away in embarrassment. "I didn't do much," he muttered. "All of us helped." He started to unbutton his jacket. "I'm going to go upstairs until dinner's ready."
Ahiru nodded. "It's been a long day. You should rest, Fakir!"
"I'll think about it," Fakir said.
It was actually just about all he could think about. He had not had much sleep, and Ahiru was right—it had been a long day. He climbed the old wooden stairs and made his way to his room, already half-asleep. Before long he was flopping across his bed and sinking into a deep slumber. Down below, the familiar sounds in the kitchen continued.
Sleep was still heavy over Fakir as he slowly opened his eyes sometime later. It was apparently night, judging from the level of darkness in his attic room. He gazed up at the ceiling, searching his scattered memories for some remembrance of what had happened before.
The last thing he could think of was that he and Ahiru had come home after spending the afternoon with Autor, solving one of the mysteries Autor had taken it upon himself to decipher. It had gone just fine, unlike some of their cases, and they had all made plans to walk to school the next day.
Were Ahiru and Charon home now? The house sounded so quiet. Then again, if he was in bed, it was probably late and they were asleep too.
Unless he was in bed because he had been hurt. But if that was the case, why weren't they here watching over him?
That was a stupid thought. He was not hurt. He felt just fine.
Coming to think of it, he had only been going to sleep until dinner. From the looks of it, he had missed the meal completely. His eyebrows knitted in a scowl. Why hadn't someone woke him up?
A cold breeze floated against his cheek. He started, turning his attention to what he could now see was a splintered and broken opening in the rafters. His mouth dropped open, all traces of sleep and pleasant memories fleeing his mind. In an instant he sat up, the quilt falling from his shoulders.
"What the? There's a hole in the roof!" he gasped. How had it gotten there? Everything had been fine when he had gone to sleep.
He looked around the room, trying to find any other signs of something gone amiss. It did not take long. Everything in sight was out of place. All of his books seemed to have been dislodged from their proper locations on the shelves; they were sprawled on top of and across the shelves and all over the floor. Each of his boxes was overturned. The old trunk lay wide open, its contents flung in every conceivable direction.
He could only stare at the mess. "I'm not sloppy like this," he said to his belongings. "What happened?" Whatever it was, he wanted to know . . . and yet the very thought sent terror up his spine.
In vain he tried to push back his irrational fear. "How long have I been sleeping?" he demanded of nothing in particular. "Why didn't I wake up with all the noise that must've been going on?"
Only then did he realize that his left forefinger was throbbing. With a frown he looked down at it. Again he was stunned. Blood was oozing from a small cut near the tip of his finger. Somehow he had gotten cut while lying in bed. Slowly he raised the offending finger to be level with his eyes. His heart thumped wildly in his chest. Blood. . . . There was something about blood that frightened him.
But for the life of him, he could not remember what or why.
He dug into his pocket for a handkerchief, which he awkwardly began to wrap around the finger. Crimson soon stained the first tier of the cloth. Clenching his teeth, he brought it around a second time, and then again and again until the entire thing was wound around one little finger and the end was tucked under the conglomeration. It was clumsily done and annoying, but it would work for now. Most importantly, he would not have to look at the blood.
Trembling, he swung his legs to the floor and pushed himself up. "Charon?" he called. "Ahiru?" His voice echoed in uneasy loneliness throughout the room and into the hall.
He stepped over the books scattered over the floor. He would have to pick them up later; right now he needed to get to the bottom of this craziness. But then he frowned at his decision. After a moment he bent down, gathering several volumes and stacking them on his bed. He was not as neat and organized as Autor, but he did care about his books.
On the other hand, maybe this time he was just deliberately stalling. The foreboding he had felt was freezing him in fear. He wanted to run back to his bed and throw the covers over himself. That was not like him at all.
Now he was angry at his behavior. But he still made a clear path before crossing to the doorway and wandering into the hall. The chill from the hole in his ceiling followed him like some kind of unwelcome ghost, bringing gooseflesh over his arms and legs.
But was it that chill? Or was the entire house unnaturally cold? The window at the end of the hall was shattered. And it felt even frostier in the direction of the stairs.
What had happened?
The question played over and over in his head like a scratched and broken record. But no matter how many times he asked, he did not get an answer. And from the increasing, sick feeling in his stomach, he was less and less sure he wanted one.
Ahiru was fine. So was Charon. There was nothing wrong with the house. If he concentrated hard enough, he would see it as it really was—brightly lit, occupied with his loved ones, and filled with the smells of food. Yes, that was it. He was going down to dinner now. Ahiru was laughing and dancing around the table and telling him to hurry up and come! Charon was chuckling in amusement.
For a split-second, he could swear that the vision was real. He could hear the laughter and smell the meal being placed on the table. But as soon as it was there it faded again, leaving him with the cold and empty building.
His eyes widened in shock. What was he doing? He could not change what was. The place was a complete mess. He could not make himself believe it was normal.
And yet . . . a nagging voice in the back of his mind said that was exactly what he could do. Maybe even what he had done.
He pushed it away, making several small advances in the direction of the stairs. The steps were falling apart. Some were completely torn asunder in the middle, while others had dangerous slits along the sides or in the center. The banister looked wobbly and unsafe.
He looked back over his shoulder at Ahiru's room. The door was open, the room beyond darkened and desolate. The window was either open or broken, allowing the wind to blow the torn curtains in a morbid, swirling dance. Even without going over to fully peer inside, he knew she was not there. And that filled him with enough terror to not even want to see what state the room was in.
"Ahiru?" he screamed, racing down the stairs as best as he could without falling through any of the splitting wood. "Ahiru, where are you?"
The sight in the kitchen made him stop and stare in utter, disbelieving horror when he reached the bottom. Cupboards stood open; pots and pans were scattered over the counter, stove, and floor. The table was overturned, its underside sporting several cruel and deep claw marks. Nearby, the vase lay cracked and broken on the stone floor. Worst of all, there was blood—on the walls, on the floor, even on the table legs and on its underside.
He stumbled, his heart gathering speed as he started to back into the wall. But even as he touched it, a cold realization flew into his heart. His gaze shot to his left hand. As it pressed against the wall, it was partially covering dried blood.
A scream of horror tore from his lips. He pushed himself away from the wall, panic-stricken. The blood was all around him—trapping him, closing in on him. There was no escape, unless he ran back upstairs and locked himself in his room. Maybe he was not even safe there.
And suddenly, in one horrible, crushing instant, it all came rushing back.
There had been a terrible disaster with a creature that had somehow escaped from a Story. Charon, who had never been found, had likely been one of its victims before it had made its fateful way to the shop. Fakir, Ahiru, and Autor had all fought against it, trying to either send it back into the Story or, if all else failed, kill it. In the end, they had only been able to destroy it with a price.
"Gone," Fakir rasped. "They're gone. I'm alone."
He sank to his knees, unable to stand any longer. He stared blankly at the splatters of blood, graphic images flashing in his mind. He saw Autor being clawed and crying out in pain as he was thrown across the room. Ahiru being kicked and then pinned to the floor, the monster hungry for human flesh.
Fakir ran at it, plunging Lohengrin's sword into it from behind. It roared, standing up and sending Fakir falling backwards. It turned, swiping at and missing him. Then the fatal wound overcame it. It crashed to the floor, giving one last roar as it died. Fakir could not bring himself to pity it, not after what it had done to his loved ones.
He went to Ahiru first. She was gasping in agony, her delicate body hopelessly mangled by the beast. She looked up at him, her eyes filled with sorrow and anguish as well as physical pain.
"Fakir, I . . . I'm sorry," she whispered.
He screamed at her, his voice strangled as he called her an idiot and told her that there was nothing to apologize for. She was going to be just fine.
But she was not. She only lasted long enough to tell him to check on Autor before she slipped away. Fakir was barely able to get his shaking legs to move across the room. He was in a total, denying daze. Ahiru could not be dead. She was not. She was unconscious. He had to get help for both her and Autor.
He dropped to his knees beside Autor's battered body, gripping the other boy's shoulder as he pled for some answer. But there was none. Autor was already dead.
Fakir shut his eyes tightly against the memories rapidly flashing through his mind. A cry tore from his lips as he dug his hands into his hair.
For he did not know how long, he had refused to accept their deaths and Charon's disappearance. He had locked himself into an intense state of denial, forcing fantasies of regular days into his mind until he believed they were reality. He still went to school with Ahiru and Autor. They solved strange mysteries and out of control Stories. They and Charon were all together as a family.
Only they were not. Tonight, maybe because of getting his finger cut and acknowledging that he was feeling and seeing blood again, the chill of the truth had finally reached him. He quaked violently, unable to stop the hot tears from running down his face and onto the floor.
"I'm sorry," he rasped. "I couldn't save any of you. I made myself scared of blood, associating it with your deaths. I couldn't even let myself remember what really happened that night. I've gone crazy—I've been desecrating your memory."
He looked up with a jerk. A light had come into the room. Ahiru and Autor were standing in it, watching him in worry. He rocked back, shielding himself from the glow.
"Now I'm going to start imagining you're here again," he said. A hint of ironic bitterness had crept into his tone. "If I can't have you here one way, I'll have you another. It looks like I'm going to think of you as ghosts."
"We're not ghosts!" Ahiru wailed. "And you're not imagining, Fakir!"
"Angels then," Fakir said. His heart pounded in his ears. Was it . . . could it be for real this time? Maybe they had come to say a proper goodbye.
"You could say that," Autor said. "But that's beside the point. Quite frankly, Fakir, we're worried about you."
"I don't blame you." He shuddered, staring at them both with grief-stricken and heartbroken eyes. "I . . . I couldn't accept you were both dead. I made myself believe everything was fine. And now . . . I woke up to this. I'm finally having to face the fact that I'm all alone."
"Even now?" Autor returned. He stepped forward. "Honestly, Fakir, we've always been right here. You've never been alone."
Ahiru nodded. "Oh Fakir. . . ." She dropped to her knees beside him. "We'll never leave you. We tried to get through to you before, but you couldn't ever hear us." Tears filled her eyes. "You were so locked up pretending we were alive."
Fakir gazed at her. He wanted so badly to believe this was real. Yet, after he had been fooling himself for so long, how could he? His heart gave an anguished lurch that hurt his entire chest. "I didn't know angels could cry," he said, his voice breaking.
"Of course we can!" Ahiru retorted.
Now Autor came over the rest of the way, sitting down on Fakir's other side. "Fakir," he said, entirely serious, "I can't promise everything will be alright. What happened here was enough to break anyone. The only vow I can make is that Ahiru and I will continue to stay with you no matter what."
Fakir looked at him. He was the same as he had been in life, the sole exception being that he was not wearing glasses. Of course; angels would not need them.
"I couldn't do anything to save either of you," Fakir spat in despair. "I killed that thing, but not in time." He shook his head. "Before I started making up stuff in my head, I thought over and over about what I'd do if I could just go back and do it again. I'd get there sooner; I'd keep it from ever even scratching you. But I knew it was hopeless. And that's . . . that's why I . . ."
Ahiru longed to reach out and hug him. The best she could do was to wrap him in an intangible embrace that he could only feel as an energy force. The tears continued to fall as she held him in that unsatisfying way.
"I think about it too," she said. "I wish I could go back and get Autor and me away from it. Then we'd help you defeat it and everything would be okay and none of this would be happening at all!"
Fakir swallowed hard. "But there's no way any of us can do that," he said. "We can't change the past."
He gritted his teeth against the physical pain in his chest as it returned. Was his heart hurting so much emotionally that it was fiercely, corporeally affecting him?
"No," Autor agreed, cutting into his thoughts. "But we can change the future.
"Fakir, there is one thing you can do right now."
Fakir looked to him in surprise. "What is it?" he demanded. "Tell me!"
Autor reached and seized him as Ahiru moved aside. "Come back to us!" he commanded.
Fakir did not have time to even process Autor's words. His body gave a violent jerk. His eyes flew open as he gasped in stunned discomfort.
He was lying on the cold floor, the stones pressing into his back. Ahiru was kneeling next to him, sobbing and wailing something that he could not even make sense of. Autor was bending over him, pressing desperately on his chest. The other boy's glasses had slipped halfway down his nose, and his bangs were falling into his eyes, but he seemed to barely notice either inconvenience.
What he did take immediate stock in was Fakir's state. "Fakir!" he cried, easing up on the pressure. "Can you hear me?"
Fakir stared at him. "Yeah," he managed to say.
Ahiru gave another cry, this one of sheer joy. "Fakir!" she squealed. "You're okay!"
Fakir could only blink up at them both, completely bewildered. "What's . . . what's going on?" he mumbled. "You're not glowing any more. And Autor . . . your glasses are back."
"I can't see three meters in front of me without them," Autor retorted. "You know that, Fakir. And as for glowing. . . ." He exchanged a concerned look with Ahiru. "I can honestly say neither of us have any idea what you're referring to."
Fakir tried to shake his head, but promptly clenched his teeth at the motion. "You were both dead," he said. "Don't you remember? That thing killed you."
"We aren't dead, Fakir!" Ahiru exclaimed, leaning forward. "Don't you remember? That horrible thing came through the ceiling and we were all fighting it and then when it was trying to hurt us you jumped on its back and stabbed it and you fell down the stairs with it!" Tears filled her eyes.
Fakir frowned. What Ahiru was describing was starting to come back to him. But after so many agonizing twists and turns, could he really believe that this was anything more than another attempt at denial by his tortured mind?
. . . His body certainly seemed to be backing up Ahiru's story. Every limb, joint, and muscle felt like it had just taken a rolling, sprawling trip down something steep and crashed at the bottom.
"Where's the thing now?" he asked.
"It vanished upon striking the hard floor," Autor said. "You were left lying where it had fallen on you. You were clinically dead, either from that or the fall . . . or both."
The color drained from Fakir's face. "Me?" he gasped. "I was the one who died?"
Ahiru nodded emphatically. "It was horrible!" she wailed, choking up again. "You were so still, and we were trying to get you to wake up and you couldn't, and Autor started doing that CRP thing. . . ."
"CPR," Autor interjected.
Fakir absently brought a hand over his heart. "That was the pain I started feeling," he realized.
Slowly he sat up, balancing himself on a shaking arm. "In the world I saw, the thing had hurt you," he said, emotion coming into his voice. "I stabbed it, but not in time to save either of you." He shook his head in sickened horror at the memories. "You'd both been mauled to death."
Ahiru let out a gasp. "But we weren't!" she protested.
"Wherever I was, you were," Fakir said. "And Charon was missing. I couldn't deal with it." He looked away. "I pretended you were all fine, until I woke up one night and found the blood everywhere. Then I remembered." He looked back to them. "And you two came to me as angels."
Autor frowned. "What happened then?" he asked.
"We talked for a few minutes. You said you'd always been with me and wouldn't leave me. The last thing was that you told me 'Come back to us.' And I woke up with you pounding on my chest." Fakir slowly shook his head.
"I did say that," Autor said. "Right before you gasped for breath and regained consciousness."
"Was it just a really vivid dream then?" Fakir voiced, frowning as well. "It felt so real."
"What else could it have been?" Autor returned.
"How do I know this is even real?" Fakir shot back. "What if this is me denying the truth again? What if you two really are dead and I'm nuts and I . . ."
"No!" Ahiru wailed. "No, that isn't true! We're alive. We're all alive! Charon too; he called from Raetsel's right before the thing came through the roof! Remember, Fakir?" She looked to Fakir, then to Autor and back to Fakir, in desperation. "You have to believe it, Fakir! You have to!"
Fakir slumped back, digging a hand into his hair. "I want to," he said. "What you're saying feels right. I think I remember that it's what happened. And yet, after the muddled mess I came back from, there's a part of me that's doubting my sanity right now."
He looked up and reached out, gingerly touching Ahiru's shoulder. She felt solid and real. When he reached for Autor, he made the same discovery.
He wanted to believe. He wanted to so badly. But could he? Could he trust that his mind and his eyes were showing him the truth?
For a long moment he stared at his friends. Then he swore, massaging the bridge of his nose. "I'm acting like an idiot," he said. "You're right; what else could it have been except a vivid dream?"
Autor paused. "There is the possibility it was some kind of alternate outcome or future," he said. "Perhaps you were stranded in that limbo while we tried to bring you back."
Fakir frowned. That was something he had not considered. If it were not for the weird things they experienced, he would dismiss it as ridiculous. Part of him still wanted to anyway. "Why?" he voiced.
"I don't know," Autor said.
Ahiru shuddered. "I don't think I care what it was," she declared. "Fakir, I'm just glad you did come back. You almost didn't." She pulled him close in a warm, sincere hug. "But you're alive. You're alive!"
Fakir stiffened. Then, slowly at first but soon quick and tight, he drew his arms around Ahiru, breathing a prayer of gratitude as he clutched at her.
This embrace was not just one of energy.