Even though the freak heat wave was suffocating everyone with its hot, humid air, the day still seemed to be very short. By the time I had made it to the edge of the forest, dragging all the supplies I needed with me, the sun had already started to sink beneath the horizon.
Not wanting to waste any time, I followed the overgrown path which the girl had shown me earlier.
Empty houses in disrepair lined both sides of the path. Dark windows showed the lifeless interiors being slowly claimed by the forest. Bushes and young trees were stretching for sunlight through holes in the roofs. Walls were crumbling or rotting away.
As I walked, the houses became fewer, and after about a mile, I seemed to have passed the last one. An eerie quiet surrounded me, and the forest seemed to get thicker and darker. I should have asked the girl how far the temple was from the edge of the forest.
I kept walking, and about 10 minutes later, a tall building appeared between the dense bushes and gnarled trees in front of me.
The large wooden building had, like the houses next to the path, been claimed by the forest. With bushes and trees entangled in the building, it was difficult to tell where nature began and human craftsmanship ended. Eight large pillars with carved wooden dragons wrapped around them supported an upward curving double eaves roof. The once bright colours had faded, and the building looked grey and forgotten in the darkness.
Not wanting to go inside in case the whole thing decided to collapse on top of me, I found a little clearing close by with a full view of the temple and started unpacking all my stuff.
I quickly smeared some Sight Crème around my eyes and on my eyelids. The stuff would help me see any ghosts for the next 12 hours. Next, I unpacked one of the Ectoplasmic Blockers. Careful not to grab the five delicate strips of blessed silk too hard, I slowly tied a strip around each ankle, wrist and one around my throat. After making sure I had secured them correctly, I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths. On the last breath, I softly spoke the Greek word for protection. Opening my eyes again, I quickly checked that all strips of silk now glowed with a soft, golden light. The strips could ruin any outfit, but they would keep me safe if any mean ghosts tried to possess me. I grabbed three Solid-Spirit potions and carefully hooked them to my fancy multi-tool belt. These babies would let me sucker punch a ghost if I needed to, which I hopefully didn’t.
Making myself comfortable on the ground, I settled in for what might be a long wait. One hour turned into two, and absolutely nothing happened.
I checked my necklace to make sure it was recording – not that there really was anything to record, but if the ghost turned up, I wanted to be prepared.
Evening became night, and my butt had turned numb by the time something inside the temple caught my eye. It was a small movement. So intangible that I almost missed it at first.
A cool wind seemed to come from nowhere and made me shudder.
Creeping slowly out of the doorway was a translucent figure in the shape of a young woman. She walked down the stairs without looking around, her eyes fixed on the path leading to the city. Her colourless clothes seemed to be contemporary which made me suspect that she could be the first of the suicide victims. Around her neck hung a long, thick rope which dragged behind her.
Ever so slowly, she moved towards the path. She didn’t look like a mean ghost at all.
Not entirely sure what I was dealing with, I pulled out my phone and accessed S. Goldmann’s Supernatural Encyclopaedia.
Typing in ghost, rope, suicide in the hope Goldmann could enlighten me, I pressed enter. The first two entries looked unhelpful, but the third one had my pulse racing. It was a section about Chinese ghosts that persuaded people to kill themselves. A paragraph from an old Chinese folk tale had been highlighted.
“There are ghosts of many kinds, but the ghosts of those who have hung themselves are the worst. Such ghosts are always coaxing other living people to hang themselves from the beams of the roof.”
Bingo! This had to be it. The first victim must have started some old Chinese magic mumbo-jumbo when she hanged herself in the temple. But how did I stop her?
I looked up and realised that the ghost woman had almost disappeared between the trees. Not wanting to lose sight of her, I quietly followed whilst scanning Goldmann’s entry about Chinese suicide killer ghosts. There was a vague reference to stopping the ghosts by stealing their rope. The entry ended with a statement claiming that this method hadn’t been proven and more evidence was needed.
“Not helpful, Goldie!” Realising I’d said it out loud, I scrambled off the path and hid behind a bush.
The ghost woman kept walking without looking back.
And I was supposed to be a professional PI! Shaking my head, I put my phone in my belt and followed the woman.
When we reached the edge of the forest, it had just passed 3pm. Everyone seemed to have gone to bed because the houses were all dark, and everything was quiet.
The ghost kept walking, and I silently followed.
I was stalling for time because I didn’t know how to stop this thing. Did I just pelt it with Solid-Spirit potion and then try to grab the rope, or was a sneaky theft better? The houses around me started to look familiar, and I realised that the ghost had led me to the courtyard where I had spoken to thin air like a mad woman earlier today. Where the hell was this ghost going?
The woman stopped in the middle of the courtyard before she slowly started to turn around in a small circle.
I hid behind a stack of crates and watched her move. Her eyes were closed and her lips were moving, whispering words without a sound.
After a couple of minutes, she suddenly stopped and looked towards one of the houses. With a flash, she ran across the courtyard and disappeared through the door.