”Jabami! Stop pushing,” Mary exclaimed, irritated.
“But the line moved, you need to pay attention,” smiling politely, Yumeko gestured the blonde to move forward. “And the Vice President looks a bit lonely, you need to pay more attention to your date!”
Mary’s face was burning, Yumeko’s teasing made her unnecessarily nervous.
“This is not—Damn it, Jabami… Mind your own business!” Mary hissed between her teeth, trying to get her friend to stop talking nonsense. She then took a few hurried steps to catch up with the line and the silver-haired girl standing ahead. Ririka kept her eyes glued to the back of the person standing in front of her, she did her best not to show any signs that she had just heard the whole conversation behind her.
It had been a normal day at Hyakkaou Academy, Mary, Yumeko and Suzui had been eating their lunch in the cafeteria, Ririka had been sitting there quiet, as usual, when Itsuki had arrived at the table, waving a bunch of tickets in her hands. Tickets were a special Halloween evening event at the local amusement park. She had generously given four tickets for the people sitting at the table and Yumeko had instantly insisted the four of them would go together.
There they were, four of them standing in the line and waiting for their turn at the haunted house attraction. A lot of people at the event were wearing Halloween costumes so surprisingly few paid any attention to the Vice President in her mask. Random screams could be heard coming from the house and the people standing in the line were looking anxious.
Ririka was trying to hide her uneasiness, but despite her efforts, Mary noticed the girl flinching slightly when another shriek echoed inside the house. Any facial expressions were concealed behind the mask the silver-haired girl was wearing, but her ears were burning red as much as Mary could see in the dark corner of the amusement park. Ririka didn’t seem to notice the blonde staring at her. Her peripheral vision was a bit restricted with the mask and Mary kept standing slightly behind her. Ririka was too occupied focusing on her own attempts to hide her uneasiness to move her head.
Yumeko kept looking at the two girls in front of her with curiosity. Even with the mask on, Yumeko had noticed some clear signs of the Vice President’s feelings that she was pretty sure Mary was missing all the obvious clues. She knew her friend could be very tenacious, and it would not be easy for Yumeko to get the blonde admitting anything, at least not to her anyway. Yumeko had noticed Mary turned softer whenever the Vice President was involved, it was subtle changes in her behavior whenever Ririka was near. Seeing how the usually so feisty girl could not take her eyes off the silver-haired heiress and was thoroughly examining every feature in front of her, Yumeko knew the feelings were mutual. Yumeko mused herself for a bit longer, she knew she’d eventually have to give those two a nudge to the right direction. She was sure both were too awkward to do anything about it.
The line moved ahead again, there were only handful of people in front of them now. A park worker approached the people queuing and gave them small notes, when he walked past Mary and Ririka, he casually asked Ririka to remove the mask for safety reasons. Mary felt suddenly very nervous and started to read the small safety note slip to keep herself busy while the Vice President was stowing her mask in her handbag. The small hairs on the back of Mary’s neck stood up when she heard Ririka speak with her own delicate tone.
“What does the note say? I think I accidentally dropped mine,” Ririka asked and moved a bit closer to the blonde.
Keeping a close eye on the two girls, Yumeko was sure that Mary would jump a feet in the air when Ririka’s arm was close enough to touch Mary’s but Mary seemed to handle the physical contact without freaking out. Yumeko decided to give the two some space and focus on the neglected Suzui they had dragged along.
Mary tried her best to stay calm, even when she was very aware of the gentle pressure of Ririka slightly leaning closer to her. She cursed Yumeko in her head for giving her strange ideas about the motives for the night. However, the next batch of people inside the house started screaming and feeling Ririka flinch against her arm gave her a sudden urge to comfort the girl, deciding to ignore the feeling, she began to read the note out loud and tried to get to the most important ones.
…Please leave any personal items, bags, hats, large jackets or other loose items to the lockers situated next to the entrance…
…Avoid running inside the house…
…If at any point you wish to leave and want our staff to guide you out, raise your light source high above your head…
…Maximum of 4 people in a group…
…Please, do not act aggressively towards our staff...”
After finishing the instructions, Mary glanced up to Ririka, who was still slightly leaning against her. Ririka took notice and blushed heavily but didn’t turn away. As their eyes met, Mary could feel her cheeks burn so she turned around abruptly.
“Hey guys, you ready?” Mary asked the two quarrelling friends standing behind them, feeling like she needed to keep talking to avoid awkward silence with Ririka.
“Uh… I’m not sure, Yumeko-san is scaring me— Aaaghh—WHAT?!” Suzui screamed when he felt a sharp elbow hit his ribs. Yumeko smiled innocently.
“How rare to see you without the mask, Momobami-san. You’re so beautiful, it’s almost unfair we don’t get to see this more often, wouldn’t you agree, Mary-san?” Yumeko said politely, pushing Mary’s buttons.
“JABAMI! WHAT THE HELL?!” Mary’s face was burning red. “Shut up!” she added with a high-pitched squeak. Ririka was blushing heavily and taking turns looking curiously at Yumeko and Mary.
“Forgive me, Vice President. Riling up my friend here is just too much of a temptation to resist, I sincerely hope you will have good time with us!” Yumeko said with the sweetest smile on her face.
“Uhm… R-Ririka.” The Vice President added shyly.
“What?” Yumeko looked puzzled.
“You called me Vice President, but Ririka is fine.” The silver-haired girl kept blushing while giving a small polite bow.
“Whoaa! Ririka-chan it is, then!” Yumeko said excitedly and added, “Glad to have you here today with us, right, Mary-chan?”
“Ugh, this again. Yes, of course.” Mary said, crossing her arms across her chest and looking irritated. She immediately realized she might have come off as rude and turned to Ririka. “I mean… Ugh… Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. Jabami is just—”
“No! It’s OK! I can see she’s just having a bit of fun,” Ririka gave a wide smile and Mary felt like she needed to say more nice things to get the adorable girl smiling again. They were interrupted when the group of people in front of them was finally entering the house. The group emerging from the house however, looked to be in shock and one of the girls had mascara running down her cheeks.
“Oh, wow. This looks really interesting!” Yumeko looked thrilled, grabbing the sleeve of a very frightened-looking Suzui, swallowing and laughing nervously.
Mary saw Ririka staring quietly at the group retrieving their things. A hint of panic flashed across her face only for a short moment but it was long enough for Mary to notice. She couldn’t resist the urge to comfort the scared girl anymore and touched her arm gently. Ririka turned her blue eyes and stared into the golden globes, intrigued by the sudden sign of affection.
“So… uuh… If you get like too scared or something, you can… uuh…” Finding the right words and the courage to say them out loud was getting difficult for Mary. She knew she wouldn’t be able to say what she wanted to if she kept staring at the blue orbs and the blushing cute face, so she averted her gaze away. “I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you can hold my hand. If you get scared, I mean…”
“OK, I will!” Ririka said, overly enthusiastic and noticed Mary was looking thoroughly uncomfortable. “So… You’re sure it would be OK?”
“Yes.” Mary kept staring at her feet, she was felt the blush burning her cheeks.
Yumeko had been observing the two in front of her and was on the verge of screaming from joy but managed to avoid disturbing the delicate moment unraveling in front of her eyes by violently squeezing Suzui’s arm.
“Yumeko, that hurts!” Suzui said with almost a whisper. It seemed he had also picked up on the mood. “But I totally agree, they are just too adorable!”
The park worker came and made sure all bags and items were stowed in the lockers and guided the group closer to the door. He confirmed that everyone had read the safety notes earlier and gave the group two flashlights, faded blueprints for the house, a stained letter and a small, old looking doll before disappearing behind a door.
The four of them read the letter together, coming to a consensus that their goal was to find and rescue a young girl from her nightmares by giving her the toy. They then decided to divide to two pairs, Suzui’s face was white as a sheet so Yumeko agreed to take the other flashlight and insisted to take care of Suzui, who took the doll with him. Mary took the other flashlight and was paired up with Ririka and the blueprint map.
In front of the group were two doors, the other one was apparently the entrance, the other was the exit. The park worker returned and let the group inside a small dark room and told them to wait for 3 knocks on the door in front of them before entering and confirmed they understood what they needed to do. When he closed the door behind them, the room fell pitch black. Mary felt Ririka grabbing her arm while she was trying to get the flashlight working. Yumeko got her light on and helped Mary with hers.
“So now we just wait?” Yumeko asked, her face looked calm while she was pointing the flashlight around and checking the surroundings. The room was empty, walls were lined with decorative dark wallpaper and images of random black and white portraits were framed on the walls.
“Yeah, he said there’d be three knocks on the door when we can enter,” Mary answered, pointing the flashlight towards the door they were headed later.
“WAAAGHHH!!!” Suzui shrieked and jumped behind Yumeko. Ririka tightened her grip on Mary’s arm.
“What are you screaming for?!” Mary barked angrily at him.
“Waaaghhh, something just touched my shoulder…” Suzui said, hugging himself and trying to shake off whatever he thought had invaded his personal space. Yumeko laughed, a high pitched and evil laughter.
“Sorry, Suzui-san. Couldn’t resist the temptation. That was me,” Yumeko said cheerfully.
“Ugh, stop fooling around, guys!” Mary was annoyed but it only lasted for a second when a piercing shriek seemed to come right from the next room that gave everyone the chills. Mary felt her heart beat faster, though she was not sure if it was because of the sounds from the other room or the frightened girl clinging to her arm, making small humming noises out of fright.
Both flashlights were directed at the door when it suddenly creaked and started opening slowly. The next room was dark, Mary and Yumeko were the only ones brave enough to peek inside. When the door was fully open, they could see that there was nothing behind the door.
“Should we wait for the knocks?” Yumeko asked quietly. Both flashlights were still directed to the room ahead but it appeared to be quite empty too.
“EEEH!!! OVER THERE!! SEE???” Suzui was screaming and pointing something inside the room. He was closer to the door with Yumeko and from where Mary was standing with Ririka she couldn’t see anything. It was only a moment before the small figure came to their view as well. It looked like a small girl in a white night gown, moving quietly but quite swiftly in the room and soon disappeared from the view.
Loud knocks on the door made all of them jump a bit. Their focus had been on the moving girl in the room.
“Right… I guess now we need to go in.” Mary eventually said, after everyone started to settle down.
“We needed to find the girl, right? She passed the door to the left just now,” Yumeko reasoned and took a few careful steps towards the door. Mary started to follow with Ririka hanging from her arm. Suzui was sticking close to Yumeko.
They reached the room and Yumeko was pointing her light towards the spot where the girl had disappeared. Mary pointed her light around the room, there were some old broken furniture around, she saw a glimpse of something on the wall and returned her light back towards it.
“Hey guys! It says something on the wall, wait…” Mary notified the others and started to read the text written in dark paint across the wallpaper. “Nightmares will not stop before you face them! …what is that supposed to mean?”
Mary shined the light around the room but other than a new door in a far corner, it seemed to be quite empty. She could hear Ririka’s heavy breathing close to her ear and it was taking all her concentration away from the game.
“The corner where the girl disappeared to is empty. Maybe we need to move to the next room?” Yumeko started to walk towards the corner with a door. Others followed until they heard a loud ‘BANG’ behind them, the door that they first came through slammed shut.
“GEEZ, do they have to scare us—” Mary started to get pissed off but then remembered that they were in a haunted house, so, yes, they had to scare them. The new door that they had now turned away from flew open and a tall figure emerged with speed. Ririka whimpered and Mary pulled her behind her back and pointed her flashlight directly to the figure approaching. The figure stopped.
“Shit, that was close. You OK, Ririka?” Mary asked the girl who was burying her face in the blonde’s hoodie.
“Mmmhm, yeah,” she replied with a small voice. Mary shined the light to the figure, it seemed to be a real person wearing dark hooded robe. She gave it a small poke, but it didn’t move.
They continued forward to the next room. Ririka kept close to Mary, who snaked her fingers around the scared girl’s, squeezing her hand in comfort. The cool and slender fingers tightening their grip in Mary’s hand got her to feel even braver than she was before. She felt like she wanted to protect the silver-haired girl, be it just a haunted house with actors and no real danger.
Room appeared to be rather empty, quick glance around came up with nothing else than another mysterious clue on the walls.
“The one who doesn’t smile, knows the answer. Ooh, this must be a clue like the one before. What was it again, Mary-san?” Yumeko asked.
“Uh—I think it was that we must face the nightmares to make them stop. I guess the guy back in the last room stopped when I pointed my flashlight at him.” Mary answered.
“So, I guess we should try the next room, I see nothing else here,” Yumeko said, while walking to the next door. She barely had touched the handle when soft thumps behind them got the whole group cringing. The sound was like a hoard of people running around in their socks on the floor and it came from the same room they were in. Mary didn’t have time to see what was happening when Ririka threw her arms around her and nuzzled against her neck. The blonde froze, not because she was scared, but because she felt Ririka so close she could smell the faint scent of shampoo in her hair. Mary’s other hand holding the flashlight was just idly pointing at the floor, the other as awkwardly hanging on her side as well.
“THE DOOR, YUMEKO!” Suzui screamed, high pitched.
“It’s locked,” Yumeko said rather calmly. Another wave of thumps came behind them and Yumeko chuckled when she turned and pointed her flashlight around. “Mary-san, you’re a bit useless, aren’t you? It’s just dolls on the floor, everyone. No need to be so skittish.”
Ririka eased her grip and backed off. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, it’s OK.” Mary hurried to reply, pointed the flashlight towards the said dolls and hoped her cheeks weren’t shining like bright red beacons in the dark. She stared to walk to see the dolls but realized the silver-haired girl didn’t move and turned back. She pointed the flashlight at her and saw she was just standing there in the dark with her eyes closed tightly and hands on the sides of her head covering the ears. “Hey, it’s OK now, just dolls.”
Ririka either didn’t hear or was too scared to do anything so Mary walked up to her and grabbed her other hand gently. Ririka flinched a bit and opened her eyes carefully.
“It’s OK, just come with us.” Mary repeated. Holding the scared girl’s hand seemed to work and they joined the other two.
“Eeeh~~ creepy smiles on these dolls,” Suzui said, almost whispering.
“Smiles, huh… They all appear to be the same.” Yumeko pondered while shining the light on different dolls and turning some of them with her foot to see the faces.
Yumeko and Mary kept searching for a doll that was not smiling, kicking the dolls around. Suzui was too creeped out to even look at the dolls and Ririka kept quietly following Mary around.
“There’s just so many dolls, what if—The doll! Suzui, you still have it right? Was it smiling?” Mary asked eagerly, pointing her flashlight to Suzui who blocked the light with his hand from blinding his eyes.
“Uh, yeah… wait,” Suzui said while reaching for his pockets. “Here… well, it’s like sad or anything, but it’s not smiling either.”
“Well? Is there a key on it?” Yumeko asked.
“Just give me a sec… I guess there’s some kind of zipper in the back… Wait… Yeah! There’s a key in here!” Suzui said and pulled a key out of the doll with grand gestures.
“Now get the door!” Mary urged, getting a bit excited of the game herself too.
“EEH?! No… Can’t someone else do it?” Suzui was offering the key around.
“Fine, just give me that,” Mary said, grabbing the key and walking towards the door, dragging Ririka with her.
The door opened and Mary took the key and placed it in her pocket, just in case. The next room was large and decorated like a bedroom. What was lining the walls on the left side though made Mary flinch a bit when the light revealed the row of masked figures in long robes. She heard the small ‘no,no,no…’ objections from Suzui when Yumeko pulled him to the room with them.
“So, guys, as long as we face them, they will not move, right… So at least one of us has to keep staring at them and the others can look for the girl, probably under the bed—”
“Help me~” A small voice came from the other side of the room. They all turned and shined their lights at the little girl standing in the corner behind the bed.
“EEEH!! SHE’S REAL!!!” Suzui screamed, pointing at the girl.
“Oh, right. Somebody look at the—” Mary barely had time to finish her sentence when the figures started moving fast towards them, Mary had just enough time to pull Ririka behind her and her first reaction was to punch the figure right across the mask. “OH NO, YOU DON’T!!!”
Her adrenaline was racing and heart beating fast, the figure fell backwards and landed on the floor with a small thump. She had been holding the flashlight while punching and it had died out. For a second, Mary thought she had punched an actual person, an actor, and her heart jumped to her throat, but then Yumeko shined the light to their direction. Mary noticed the robe was flat on the ground and there was nothing in it. The other figures had passed over the rest of the group and hovered next to the girl.
Yumeko was laughing so hard she was doubled over. “HAHA—Mary-san!!! You killed it!”
“Oh, just shut up, Yumeko!” Mary was blushing hard and tried to act cool and fiddled with her flashlight to get it working again. It flashed a few times but didn’t stay on.
Yumeko kept laughing and her light was bouncing off the walls and the floor.
“Hey, focus! We still need to finish this,” Mary said, feeling irritated she walked up to Yumeko and switched they flashlights and left the dark-haired girl laughing. “Oy, Suzui, you have the doll. Just give it to the girl.”
Suzui seemed a bit more confident and the figures were less scary now, so he went and moved one robe aside and passed the toy to the girl. He flinched when the rest of the figures fell on the floor and the lights were turned on. The girl pointed at a door that had been behind the figures.
“Oh, I guess this was it.” Suzui said and started to walk towards the door. Yumeko had stopped laughing and was drying her eyes in her sleeves.
Mary wasn’t sure she wanted the game to be over yet. She had been secretly hoping for another chance to get close to Ririka and was slightly disappointed that the house didn’t have any more scares to offer.
All four walked outside of the house and one of the park workers hurried to meet them.
“Sincerest apologies! Are you hurt?” the man asked Mary.
“Eeh? What? No. I’m sorry for the flashlight, it might be broken,” Mary said and gave the flashlight to the man. “And the masked figure might be broken too…”
“Don’t worry about it, it happens. You’re not the first one to get scared.” The man continued.
“W-what? I was not scared, I—” Mary was almost about to say she just wanted to protect Ririka but held her tongue or she wouldn’t hear the end of it from Yumeko. The park worker kept bowing deeply as they passed him and went to retrieve their things from the lockers.
Mary and Suzui were having a laugh over the whole thing and started to walk ahead once everyone had taken their things. Mary was about to follow but Ririka grabbed her arm to get her to wait. The blonde felt suddenly really nervous when she turned to face Ririka.
“Uh… I just wanted to say… Thank you.” The silver-haired girl was blushing and fidgeting restlessly.
“Heh… Well, I had fun, so…” Mary felt her cheeks burn again and found it hard to make eye contact. Her heart skipped a beat when the other girl hurriedly planted a small kiss on her cheek before running off to catch the others. A huge stupid smile spread across Mary’s face while she just stood there, waiting for it to pass.
“Hey, Prince Charming, are you coming or what?” Yumeko yelled, smiling mischievously.