Chapter Five: Research

I watch lazily as Axel throws the lump of oily dough up into the air, twirling it expertly in his hands as he gives me a very solemn glare.

"So lemme get this straight. He's a ghost freak and since you can't say no, you're going to have to do a project on the legends of Twilight Town." He says for the fifth time in just as many minutes before turning his gaze back onto the pizza. It starts spreading in his fingers, allowing him to keep tossing it and stretching it apart.

I nod, looking back through the books that Pence had lent me for the project. "That's about right. And there's also this haunted mansion in the backwoods of town that we're going to be going into," I tell him softly, flipping through the book of urban legends with more than a little bit of disgust.

Having only read about a chapter into the book, I already was a little queasy. I mean, a sewer rat that someone thought was a dog? That's gross.

"And since I said I didn't know any legends, Pence gave me homework," I wave the book in my hand, shaking my head as I lean back in the stool and keep reading.

It had actually been pretty funny, Pence had been so outraged that he had run to the library just to check me out these books. I had never seen him run so fast, and judging from the shocked expressions on their faces, neither had Olette and Hayner. After that, school went by in a very long blur, I didn't remember a single thing except that conversation this morning. We had even voted. Olette had voted for the Mansion, as long as we got to do the other six legends of the town too. Something about 'propriety' being the goal of the entire project. Naturally, stupid Hayner voted with her. I don't even know what these legends are, but we're going to do them as soon as the others get here. I sigh and keep reading, feeling myself wince with each new word.

I hate scary stories, why is this book full of scary stories? Why can't there be a legend about someone who finds a pot of magic flowers or something?

Axel groans, slamming down his dough and kneading it out roughly."Come on, you've got to get out of this. This is not a good idea." He frowns angrily, shaking his head.

I raise an eyebrow, watching my brother as he carefully starts pinching the edges of his pizza to make a crust. He gives me a glare before reaching out for a pot that was on the stove, trying to grab a ladle sticking out from it without taking his eyes off of me. His fingers search the air, unable to find the damn thing. It kept sliding around in the pot and moving just out of his reach.

I look up from my book with a smile before gently nudging the ladle into his hand. He was so hopeless. Axel glances at me from the corner of his eye before smiling, scooping up a ladleful of sauce to pour it on his pizza. "Thanks," he grunts softly. "Thanks, Poppet."

"No problem, but what am I supposed to do?" I ask him as I finish the story about the rat dog and close the book. I glare at it with disgust and sigh, shaking my head thoughtfully. "I mean, I can't get out of it. We voted. They want to do the project."

Axel snorts. "If they wanted to jump off of a cliff, would you do it too, idiot?" My brother sneers playfully, reaching over to flick me between the eyes in order to stop me from grabbing a handful of cheese for the pizza. I flinch, shocked at being caught in the act and from the sharp tap of his nail on my head. OW. Defiantly, I reach for the cheese again, determined to get some of the cheddar deliciousness in my mouth.

This time, he slaps his entire hand onto my forehead, throwing me off of my chair and onto my feet, but keeping me a few feet away from the counter. An amused smirk flits across his face as he ladles the last bit of sauce onto the dough and starts scooping up cheese and sprinkling it all over the pizza. I growl, my gaze transfixed on the orange-yellow deliciousness falling down onto something that I wouldn't be having because one of the customers would be eating it.

"That's not fair!" I wail, struggling that much harder to get closer to the counter. But Axel's hand remains firmly on my stupid forehead, still keeping me from getting any closer because of my brother's insanely long reach. "You're bigger than I am!" I snap, watching in horror as he picks up the bowl that had the cheese in it and dumps it liberally over the field of sauce.

He smirks. "I'm also the one making the pizza, Xion. And this pizza's already been spoken for." Axel says in a teasing voice before picking up the pan and dropping his hand from my face so he could turn and stick the pizza in the oven. I watch him sulkily as he adjusts a few dials on the oven and then closes it, brushing off his flour covered hands in obvious victory.

Jerk.

I turn my gaze back onto the books, looking at them moodily as I ponder the situation. Sure, the cheese was delicious but that is only a distraction. I had to get out of this. I couldn't encounter these legends, even if they were fakes like I thought. The chances of a supernatural encounter were too high, I just know it.

"I don't even know what this stupid Mansion story even is." I mumble darkly to myself, shaking my head as I pick up the abandoned legends book again, opening it back up to the page I had been. Turning to look at Axel pulling out more flour to make another pizza, I sigh and close my eyes for a moment. Leaning my head against my arm, I slowly drift off into bored daydreams.

I didn't want to think about the project, I didn't want to think about our grade, and I especially didn't want to think about going into a spooky mansion.

Run...

Must find...

Show... story...

Show Xion... story...

The words are spoken softly by a panicked voice, someone that was truly afraid. The sound of pages turning echo in my head like thunder, filling up the empty spaces with their normally inaudible noise. I sit up, turning to look at the stack of books I had abandoned on the counter.

My little guardian stood there, his eyes fixated intently on the books. He flips through one of them rapidly, scanning through its contents in a way that a normal five year old wouldn't have been able to accomplish. He actually understands the words he was reading and upon finishing the book, casts it aside for another. The little boy grabs at his blond hair angrily, his panicked face becoming that much more afraid as he read. He looked like he was looking for something but that he couldn't find it.

"Axel," I murmur softly, making my brother look up from his oven with a mildly annoyed expression. He nods at me, obviously wondering why I was bothering him instead of reading. I raise an eyebrow and waggle my fingers in an old signal I hadn't used since I was about four. Ghost here. His dark green eyes bulge out in horror as he notices the books flipping all by themselves. He normally couldn't see ghostly activities.

Axel's mouth opens to say something but all that comes out is a high-pitched squeak and so he closes it, instead reverting back to the gestures we used when we were younger and when I couldn't speak that well. He puts his hand on his head, his fingers facing behind him. He sticks out two fingers and waggles them like antennae and puts on a briefly pissed off face. I shake my head and sweep my bangs into a spiky hairstyle that looked a little like a pineapple.

My brother keeps staring as the little boy ghost hops up onto the counter, flattening some of the excess flour. When the pile of flour squishes down, Axel looks like he's about to faint but to his credit, he just pulls up a chair next to the flour. He repeats my gesture, sweeping a little bit of his own hair into those messy spikes.

"What's he doing?" Axel asks in a quiet voice, obviously worried about scaring the little guy off. The boy notices my brother's proximity now and begins to make gestures at him, insulting him for disturbing his work and not letting him finish. I struggle not to laugh and shake my head. "Making faces at you." I inform my brother, making him glare at me.

"He is not! What's he doing?" Axel says again before the book flops into his lap, opened up to a specific page. The little boy stares at Axel with a hopeful expression, as if he thought that all of his problems could be solved by my big brother. All that Axel does is look at the page and then he suddenly turns pale. He looks up at the ghost boy with a solemn expression and nods, though he couldn't exactly see where he was.

In exact unison, they hold their fists up and the little boy taps his against Axel's. I suddenly feel like I got punched in the stomach. They knew each other. Axel and my ghost knew each other!

"Don't worry about it, I'll take care of it." Axel says out loud and I know he's not talking to me. Dammit, Axel, how could you keep that from me! He's my haunting! I start reaching for the book, trying to see exactly what had freaked the little ghost out so bad but Axel was faster. Without even looking at it, my brother tears out the page he was looking at and the next couple, rapidly ripping them into shreds. He gets up and heads for the door, obviously going for the cafeteria of the pizzeria where we were going to have our first meeting. In his clenched fist, he had the pages.

"You're officially off the project, I'll tell Pence or Fence or whatever his name is," is all that he said to me before he slammed the kitchen door behind him, obviously telling me that I was to stay here while he talked to my friends. I stare at the torn remains of the book on the counter, unable to believe what had just happened.

… That was a library book...

Axel had taken most of the scraps of paper with him but there was one little scrap left underneath his chair. I briefly look at the ghost child sitting proudly on the counter, obviously pleased with what he had done. He was smiling brightly, humming a melody that I couldn't exactly hear to himself and weaving back and forth to this song. I growl at him. Little traitor. You're supposed to be my friend, you haven't even interacted with Axel in like five years! But I still sneakily bend down to grab the piece of paper, unfolding it to look inside.

The image of a screaming child on fire greets my eyes.