The North Wind Part 1
Hana first saw the Ghost on Tuesday, after the rain slowed. The weak morning sun broke through the silver and lilac streaks of clouds, turning the sky and earth soft oranges and vibrant yellows. The grass sparkled, the river flowing past nearly white as Hana pressed her nose against the chill glass and peered outside. She waited, listening, both to the churning of the flooded river and her mother’s voice on the phone in the kitchen.
“Do you—do you—” her mother’s voice broke, “Could this be him, Officer?”
Hana couldn’t hear the answer. Fighting the surge of feeling in her chest, she focused on how the river shifted and flew over the rocks along the sides of the bank. A mockingbird chirped close by, but as Hana brushed her curly hair aside drew the old curtain to search for it, the bird didn’t appear to be anywhere. Hana strained to hear the next words from her mother.
“Yes, I’ll be there right away. He matches the description you said, Officer? Yes, but maybe—yes, two years, I know. But there’s a chance….”
Hana leaped off the couch and jogged to the kitchen. Her mother stuffed her phone into her purse on the counter and then scooped up her keys. She turned a weary eye to Hana.
“Did you hear any of that?”
“Did they find him, Mom?” Hana gripped the bar top and studied her mother’s face, “Did they? Where is he? Where’s Marcus? Can I go with you too—”
“Hana,” her mother cut in with a sharp tone, “Listen to me! We’ve been through this, but you need to understand—”
“I know, but—”
“Hana, with how long it’s been….” her mother sighed. Hana bit her lip, knowing what she was going to say, but not daring to believe it.
“This is the only lead that’s led anywhere in two years, and if this isn’t…your brother,” her mother held onto the kitchen counter for support, her head down. Hana waited in the stiff silence. Her mother’s brown hair hung down like willow vines. She took in a deep breath.
“If it doesn’t lead to anything, then there might never be anything. The case could go cold.”
“No, don’t say that!” ordered Hana, sweat forming on her palms, “You can’t believe that, Mom, OK? There’s still—there’s still a chance. He can come back. They could have gotten the wrong person.”
“Hana, they found…” her mother broke off. The muscles in her face constricted, and she swallowed. She hurried to the front door and shoved the screen open, her eyes buttoned up to keep the tears back.
“Mom, I want to go with—”
“Get to the road and wait for the bus!” The screen door slapped shut. Another gush of the wind and a film of sparkling rain blew in onto the porch. Hana froze, wanting to pound the tiled bar top with her fists, but then she thought better of it. The mockingbird chirped this time, close to the window. Hana sighed and meandered back to the living room, where she had left her backpack on the couch. Grasping the strap, she glanced out the window one last time.
Hana squeaked in shock and dropped her backpack. A pair of friendly colorless eyes, as if they had been traced in white pen, stared back, framed by a thin face and two long hands. Behind him, through him, the river continued churning, only behind a grainy film of wavering white. The Ghost put his hands to his mouth, and the mockingbird called again, just as it had before.
Hana’s mouth hung open. The Ghost stared back, a hopeful smile on his face. With a flash, the Ghost disappeared, leaving the backyard quiet.
The bell jarred Hana out of her daydream. Slipping out of her desk and out the door of her math classroom, surrounded by other students who shoved their way around her, she somehow reached her locker before a certain sound cut through the chatter. It sounded like a bell, but the deep gong of a massive church bell Hana had only heard in movies.
Hana followed the sound with her eyes. Something white slipped into the air vent above her, near the ceiling. A pair of old leather boots faded into the air.
“Move!” A heavyset boy rammed his shoulder into her. Hana staggered against her locker, then woke from her scattered thoughts.
“Hey!” she called.
Another shoulder threw her to the side, this time forcing her head against the angled slits of the locker door. “Aw!” a girl’s whining voice mocked, “Look at Hana trying to be brave!”
“She doesn’t like being pushed around!” Another girl gripped Hana’s shoulder and pushed her back as the shock from the first hit subsided, and the dull pain rose against Hana’s temple. Hana balled her fists and glared at Amy, the one who held her back by the shoulder. Leah craned her neck over Amy’s broad shoulder, her eyes in slits.
“Leave me alone!” Hana snapped, trying to wrestle her sweater out of Amy’s grip.
“Oh, look!” Leah held up her hands, pretending to be surprised. Her multiple bracelets dangled like chimes every time she moved.
“She is brave! You know, I thought so. O-M-G Amy, what if she actually tried to hit you back?“
“I’d do it!” Hana felt her fist weaken under the weight of the fear rushing through her limbs. Her heart slammed against her chest the entire time. She didn’t dare look at either of them in the eye.
“Go ahead!” Amy shrugged, though she didn’t let go. Hana gritted her teeth, shut her eyes, and gulped. Digging her nails into her palm, Hana prepared to swing just as Amy and Leah let out derisive laughs.
The bell rang. Hana felt a surge of relief sweep through her. “That’s the bell,” she said in a rush, “Class is about to start. Teachers notice if I do anything—look, I’m doing you a favor!”
Amy pulled Hana back and then slammed her into the lockers again. The students began thinning out, oblivious to what she did. “There was no bell!” she barked. She barely belted out the last word before she let go of Hana and pulled her fists back.
The bell clattered again, this time right over Hana’s head, so close she felt a cold wind like a sharp exhale blow down her neck. In a second, Hana darted, flinching away from Amy’s fist and the Ghost that had followed her.
“Catch her, Amy!” shouted Leah behind her.
Hana raced through the crowd, shoving her away through the people and charging up the stairs. She didn’t care where she went, as long as it was somewhere safe. Her backpack slammed against her with every step, but she couldn’t hear Amy running after her. With deep gulps of air, Hana reached the top of the stairs and slowed down when she entered the empty upper floor. Above her, the real bell rang.
Then the Ghost copied it.
Hana jumped, letting out another squeak. She first spotted the janitor’s closet when she searched the floor. Without thinking, she yanked the door open, threw her backpack down, and slammed the door shut.
Hana encased herself in darkness. As she groped for the light switch just by the door, her shaking hands smacked a mob handle and sent it and half of the supplies against the wall clattering to the ground. Her foot nudged a mop bucket just as she found the switch.
Hana thrust the brooms and mops aside and took a deep breath to calm herself down. Inside, safe from everything else, the quiet steadied her nerves, giving her time to breathe.
“It’s all my imagination… it’s all my imagination….” she told herself.
Something slimy and cold crept onto her sock. Hana glanced down at the mop water with a sigh. She shook her foot and then felt the water squelch when she took a step, “Great!”
The lock on the door abruptly clicked. Hana flinched, “Who’s there?”
The lock clicked again and again, and in an instant Hana grabbed at the handle and threw the door open.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed into the empty hallway, “Leave me ALONE!“
Hana felt her throat ache as she shouted the last word with all the rage she could muster. Her voice echoed through the hallway long after. With her nails back in her palms, Hana waited to fight back, ready to shout again.
A sharp wind blew through her insides. A white flash covered all her vision for a moment, then faded like a camera flash. Hana blinked, grasping her arms as the cold closed in. Her breath came out in white puffs as the multicolored tiles drifted away, as if they were being carried away by a river one at a time, faster and faster, followed by the walls that fell away without noise and the ceiling that melted away like mist. The ground underneath became something more solid than anything Hana had ever experienced, like marble and steel and diamond all at once, purple as early morning. A high-pitched whining wailed over her head. Hana shut her eyes and covered her ears, terror breaking across her like a splash of ice.
Eventually, every other noise died away, leaving nothing but her shallow breath, her beating heart, and the siren scream.
“It’s all my imagination….” Hana’s voice cracked. She didn’t believe it, nor did she dare open her eyes.
The siren stopped just as a tiny voice nearby called for her. Hana unplugged her ears, listening with her eyes closed for the comforting sound again.
“And who are you?”
Hana opened her eyes. Two yellowed, faceless columns of stone stared back at her, higher than skyscrapers, as wide as tree trunks, both to her left, standing at attention. Even without moving or speaking, they seemed to Hana as if they could, or at least knew how, that they were conscious of their surroundings but still stones.
“Hello?” she called.
A small woman in black limped out from behind one of the pillars, looking flustered and slightly awestruck.
“Who are you?”
“Hana,” Hana glanced around at the empty expanse that stretched out in all directions, vanishing into an inky darkness on the distant horizon, “Where am I?”
“You’re in the Beyond, girl, and you’re the first human to get here.”