Prompt 4: Half-Life – Youichi
We all have demons. That's a cliché that never loses truth despite its overuse. I know this more than anyone and in my view these demons are more than just abstract ideas. They are real. They are present. They are my friends.
I've never been good at making friends. When I was younger, I had trouble distinguishing real people from the unearthly ones that walk with us. I would go down the corridor and see two people side by side and it would make no difference to me if one person wore an Alice Academy uniform while the other wore a sokutai. It just made sense to acknowledge that both of them were there. If I choose to greet the ghost instead of the human, that is my decision and I don't think it's fair for people to look at me differently because of it. Nonetheless, when I grew up I learned to curb myself even though the apparitions are always there.
Sometimes my classmates would tell me I was acting strange, like I'm not myself on a given day. These are probably days when I have a significant brush with the afterlife. My Alice allows me to see and to manipulate ghosts but I didn't know how powerful it was until I grew up and realized specters still had minds of their own. There are days when I talk to them, listen to them. When I start to understand them, controlling spirits just isn't as badass as people think. It's cruel and if I'm not careful it could change me.
One day I went off on my own to a seldom visited location of the school: the Alice Academy Memorial Park. Yes, we had our own. The Academy is an entire community and there are people who live and die by their Alices. Some of us never fit in outside or never cared to try and these people choose to stay within the walls and pass away on the grounds. Over time though, this number dwindled. More and more students choose to venture outside upon graduation and so the cemetery never expanded. A few areas fell into disrepair and the Alices that lay here were soon forgotten.
Except by me. I could never forget.
"You shouldn't have come today, Youichi," a kind old woman spoke as she floated next to me. "He is not expecting you."
Mizuki Inoue, Somatic Alice, 1859 to 1952.
"On the contrary, I think he knows you're coming," contradicted a middle-aged ghost, carrying a wispy base guitar.
Ryouta Mori, Technical Alice, 1938 to 1975
"He's been wandering around his plot since sunup."
"I won't be long," I told them then proceeded with a sure step. "This should be easy."
Ryouta shook his head. "It's your funeral. Catch you on the flipside, kid."
I smiled as he faded away. Death jokes spoken by ghosts, the irony of it always amused me. Mizuki, ever fond of me since the day I wandered in here the first time, followed until I reached a gate located near the back of the graveyard. I've been there a number of times but I was still struck by the odd mix of magnificence and decay of the place.
It was a huge mausoleum, with embellishments that were once painted gold now faded into a brownish gray. It employed Grecian architecture so it dwarfed the more traditional Japanese gravestones surrounding it. Time did not respect its opulence and it fell into the same ruin as the other markers. Perhaps it was even more defined because of its size.
Daitaro Wakahisa, great first son, eternally young, 1964 to 1981.
"Youichi, what brings you here?"
This was spoken by a teenage ghost garbed in an old version of our Academy uniform. His hair was permanently windswept and he wore a smirk that I was accustomed to see. He was tall and incredibly thin, giving him a maladroit appearance. In death, it was difficult to tell what his coloring had been but I looked him up in the yearbooks years ago. Upon his passing, he was a dark-haired, blue eyed, enigmatic student— loved by his parents, excluded by his classmates. I wasn't sure why he was still in this graveyard. Nobody here knew why they lingered. That was a question they needed to answer themselves and those that managed to would cross over before they could share the wisdom with the others.
"Hello, Daitaro." I stepped past his gate then walked no further. "You have something I need to retrieve."
"I don't know what you mean."
"You know who I mean and that's all that matters," I said calmly.
Daitaro considered me for a moment and I knew he wanted to play his card longer to keep me there. We had that kind of friendship. He wasn't really spiteful. He just had a difficult life and his loneliness didn't grow any less in the afterlife. When I first met him, I was eight years old and I didn't know the danger of befriending a ghost that was still very much fixated on living. Sometimes, the absurdity of our situation struck me. Here I was, growing old wanting to slow down while he wanted to age but was forever seventeen.
"Of course, you came for him."
Daitaro swept an arm behind him and I saw a translucent figure floating right next to his nameplate. It was one of my classmates; a student that I knew had recently developed a drug addiction and was fighting to be rid of it. I spoke to him once and when he told me his story, about his hallucinations and his nightmares, I knew at once his demons were more than just figments of his imagination. It brought me here.
"Come on Daitaro, he doesn't belong here."
"He came with me willingly."
I knew that must have been half true. The spirit next to him hung morosely but it was nearly as clear to me as everyone else residing in that cemetery. Evidently, he already had one foot in the grave and he had voluntarily stepped in.
"Regardless, you need to leave him alone," I said at last. "He's having a hard time as it is but I know he could pull himself out if he truly wanted to."
"But perhaps I need a friend too…"
Daitaro, not exactly spiteful but had several bouts of selfishness. I've learned there's only one way to counter him and that was with a dose of selflessness I very rarely exercised.
"Won't you bargain with me?"
"Of course, Youichi," he said with glee. We both knew where this was going. "What will you give me in exchange for his life?"
I took a breath. Behind me, I knew the other ghosts were watching, some of them with pity, some of them with rancor but many of them with envy.
One day. It wasn't something to be trifled with. I was about to lose a day of my life and with it I give up full use of my entire person to another being. It was one day for him to go out and be with other people. It was one day for him to live again. I've done this before and it is only possible with me because of my Alice. They could never take over me completely and the seamless inhabitancy could never be done with another.
Daitaro smiled and though he was happy I made the offer, I could tell he wasn't entirely pleased for my loss. That too was part of the kind of friendship we had.
When I returned to school, I saw my classmate again. He seemed to be in better spirits and I left him to fight demons that this time I knew would be entirely his own.
That day my classmates told me I was acting strange. I'm not myself again, they say. They have no idea how accurate they are. It's true we all have demons. But I don't know when I chose it to be my lot in life to deal with my own as well as that of others.
Ghost Manipulation Alice. Who manipulates who, I wonder.