NOTE: I changed Matt’s name (Matt is one of the Grisbys’ adopted kids). He just didn’t feel like a Matt to me anymore. His name is Mihael now, or Miha for short. I updated the previous few mentions of his name to avoid continuity errors.
“So… these lanterns are carved to either ward off malevolent spirits or to show the way to good ones, correct?”
Amelia looked up from the jack-o-lantern she was carving to honour tomorrow’s Spooky Day traditions. Tad was looking pensively at the pumpkin in front of him. He had asked to join her, but so far he had seemed less interested in actually carving pumpkins and more focused on contemplating the reason to use vegetables for something other than food.
“I guess,” Amelia said, “It’s an Irish tradition, or so I’m told.”
“Yes, it is. They didn’t use pumpkins, though, I think. But pumpkins were plentiful here in SimNation.”
“Right. Nowadays it’s just a tradition, really.”
“Yes. Not many truly believe in spirits anymore.”
“I guess not. I think there’s some groups in bigger cities. They arrange séances and make drums and all that,” Amelia said.
Amelia thought about it for a while.
“Are there many spirits, then?”
“Of course,” Tad said, “Everywhere. I thought you knew by now.”
“Well, yeah. But are they just… dead things?”
Tad lifted a carving knife and poked the pumpkin in front of him with it.
“No. There are also many nature spirits who were never alive in the sense you see living. And then there are the demons…”
“Demons?” Amelia repeated, slightly alarmed.
“Yes. They have a much worse reputation than they deserve. Mostly they are just spirit beings that see life a bit more darkly. Sure, they can cause nightmares and sometimes amplify negative emotions, but they are not that bad.”
“Huh. How do they cause nightmares? Do they sit on the sleeper like in some old pictures?”
“They might, but the actual reason for demon-induced nightmares is not related to sitting,” Tad said, cautiously making a cut in the pumpkin, “They like dreams, so they take temporary residence in the mind. All beings who are not physical can do that.”
“Of course, if I wanted to. But the mind of a living one is private; it is not right to trespass in one. Not to mention someone like me being in a living one’s mind would very easily do a lot of damage.”
He tilted his head.
“Besides, going into somebody’s mind is to subject oneself to their will, in a way. A mind is a world that functions depending on the thoughts and beliefs of its owner. That is why the demons usually end up leaving quickly. After getting a small taste of dreams.”
He looked thoughtful.
“I am not sure, however, whether they are repelled by lit up pumpkins or not.”
“Well, they haven’t caused trouble here,” Amelia said a bit nervously, “How about ghosts? Like, dead spirits? Is Spooky Day really a time for ghosts and all that like in the stories?”
“When something is made into a tradition, it gains power, like I have told you. Spirits are drawn to the world on Spooky Day because people believe they are.”
Amelia chuckled nervously. Tad would be excellent at telling ghost stories.
“Well, I hope they won’t scare too many people… then again, Spooky Day is supposed to be scary.”
She frowned at the pumpkin in front of her. She wondered if a jack-o-lantern with a cat’s face was worse or better for spirits. She looked back up at Tad.
“But usually the real danger is just eating too much sugar…” she said, “or partying too hard in silly costumes.”
“I’m going to a party tomorrow, by the way,” Amelia said, trying her best to keep her hand steady while she carved a big kitty-cat smile in the pumpkin, “It’s at Jon Lessen’s place. Do you want to come too? I don’t think he’d mind.”
“I think I will pass,” Tad said, “It sounds… like a lot of people. You know I am not good with parties. And I think that you need a break from looking after me again.”
“I don’t mind…” Amelia started, but Tad glanced up at her almost sternly, effectively shutting her up.
“It is not good for you to become too absorbed by the world of the not-living,” he said, “You should go and have fun with real people much more.”
Amelia shook her head, but then sighed.
“Alright. If it makes you happy.”
“I hope you don’t get bored while I’m gone.”
“You do not need to worry about that,” Tad smiled. He had got quite good at smiling lately. It looked creepy only about half the time, “I will take a walk outside. I quite like Spooky Day. People put on masks and respect spirits – at least traditionally. I almost feel like I am a part of the crowd when I walk around then.”
“Sounds good. Hey, is your lantern ready? We can take these to the front porch.”
“I suppose it is. It is not a very accurate depiction of a ghost, but it is quite close to what people often draw them to look like.”
“It looks great! Come on, let’s try to get them around the house without breaking them.”
Sometimes Amelia found it difficult to believe that time had passed so quickly after the very eventful, almost disastrous summer. Leaves had lost their green colours, and trees were losing the leaves already. It was almost November, and nothing too strange had happened. Amelia actually felt like everyone was adjusting very well to the life that was as close to normal as it could get in their situation.
Tad’s vegetable garden had ended up being very productive. Amelia’s mum had been so excited to find gorgeous lettuce heads and potatoes, lovely apples and limes and plenty of herbs there during the time of harvest. She had graciously taken it upon herself to help Tad actually sell the produce, which had the benefit of saving Tad from awkward encounters with customers at the farmer’s market. And after the money had come in, Tad had proudly paid his rent. And they’d even had vegetables to spare for their own cooking.
Besides gardening, Tad was very slowly working towards finding the gemstone. Sometimes he disappeared for days, and Amelia wasn’t sure if he was taking one of his breaks or actually looking for the Deacons. Sometimes he zoned out and possibly talked to someone who was very far away, but otherwise he didn’t seem to actually make any progress. Amelia found that she was quite glad about that. To her, it indicated that Tad still wanted to stay for as long as he could. Sure, he had told her he wouldn’t necessarily leave after finding the gemstone, but Amelia had a stronger and stronger feeling that some of the other cosmic beings might actually force him to go. In Amelia’s opinion that was stupid. It didn’t require a genius or an omniscient being to notice that staying with the Spriggs was doing Tad a lot of good. He seemed happier, in his own ways, and much less burdened than before.
It wasn’t all unity and loveliness, though. Novak was gone from their lives for the moment. He had left in the middle of the night soon after Tad had returned from his first break. There were no notes, no sign that a criminal had even been in Amelia’s house. Amelia was surprisingly sad about him leaving. Sure, he made her nervous and she understood why he had left, and she could even reasonably think that it was for the best that he wasn’t here. But Amelia had almost begun to understand Novak and his odd sense of humour and slightly dodgy but deep down decent morals. And now he was gone and she had no idea where to – she had asked Tad but he had said it was better if he didn’t tell. And maybe it really was. But Amelia still worried; she couldn’t help it.
Julia was still talking about going away too. About returning to France. But she hadn’t actually got around to doing anything about it. Philippe was still there, hovering in the background or around Julia, still mostly just someone Amelia couldn’t connect with that well. He was nice, sure, and sometimes he asked Amelia for book recommendations, but Amelia just couldn’t yet feel like he was a part of the family. He was more than welcome to stay, but Amelia knew she still had a lot of adjusting to do.
It was funny to think how much easier it had been to accept the company of a criminal and the Grim Reaper than a regular, nice man. The problem was that said nice man happened to date Amelia’s widowed mother. Still, Amelia was ready to keep trying to readjust her thinking when it came to Philippe, because it was clear that he made mum happy.
Despite the little annoyances and worries, Amelia decided that life was going well. She thought back to all the good things as she and Tad stood in front of freshly carved jack-o-lanterns. She smiled.
“Wow, it’s so weird how much time has passed,” she said out loud, “It feels like we’ve found a routine.”
“Really?” Tad asked, “I hope it is a good routine.”
“I think it is.”
The Spriggs’ house wasn’t the only place where life had gone forward during the last few months. Life had been going on everywhere, because that was life’s job. The clocks were always turning, and change was as constant as endings. As were beginnings and growth.
Emily Sato had been growing a lot in these past few months. Her walking had quickly become steadier when she’d been given the Grisbys’ huge yard and beyond to run, jump and walk in. In late August she had finally dared to stay in kindergarten without too much trouble.
The new place had been terrifying at first, even though the adults there were nice. It was noisy and full of people, and Emily had found herself either frozen in fear or playing by herself. She still couldn’t talk with most people. Her words just got caught up somewhere in her throat, and an almost paralysing fear made her just stare helplessly at the person she was supposed to have a conversation with.
The adults at the kindergarten mostly understood that, but the other kids kept trying to talk to her until she got scared or angry at herself for not being able to talk and the other kids gave up and avoided her.
All except a girl named Malika, who had eventually dared to approach Emily and they had slowly formed a language of play and gestures that Emily gradually relaxed to use around her.
That had made things a little better.
Things were better at her new home too. Much better than at the scary public places. Emily still missed mommy terribly, and she kept having nightmares even as her fifth birthday drew closer and she didn’t feel so small and weak anymore. Her new family tried to help her, and that was good. She had started to like her new parents a lot, even though they weren’t mommy. They were nice. Yvette had helped her to adjust to the life at home the most while Walter was busy at work. They both had helped her communicate even without words – although even that felt too scary many times – and had given her a room and care as if they too loved her like mommy had. Before mommy had left, that is. That still confused Emily a lot. If mommy had loved her, then why wasn’t she coming back?
Her new siblings were nice too. There was Miha, who was usually very quiet and who liked reading books. Miha was seven years old, so he wasn’t much older than Emily. They often played together, and when Miha was doing his homework, Emily would often watch him write letters and words and point at the words so Miha could explain to her what they meant. Emily knew that Miha used to be Miha Fitch, but nowadays he was a Grisby. So he too was from a different family like her. He sometimes told her about his brother, who had been nice but who had gone away because his first parents had been bad. Then he got quiet and didn’t want to tell her more about it.
Miha also had nightmares. Emily wondered if he saw monsters too like she did. They didn’t talk about the nightmares much, but they often gathered together during the nights if they happened to wake up from bad dreams around the same time. They’d huddle under a blanket and Miha would read stories to Emily, and Emily would look at the words and slowly start to pick up letters and then syllables.
Her older sisters didn’t have nightmares, or if they did, they didn’t show it. Laurel was the happiest, and she painted pretty pictures and was always smiling and joking. Emily felt quite safe around her. She played with Emily and Miha often, even though she was also often busy with school.
Harper also had an old family, but she never talked about them. Emily only knew that her last name had been Lauryl, which sounded almost exactly like Laurel. Harper was often sombre and dark, but Emily liked her a lot. Harper wasn’t afraid to tell her even scary things.
Sometimes the scary things made Emily have even more nightmares, but Harper was always quick to assure her that her scary stories weren’t real. That made things better. Emily wasn’t sure if the monsters in her dreams were real, but she could believe Harper when she said something about her stories. Maybe that meant that even her dream monsters were just stories. Stories that her mind made up.
Some stories were nice, though. The kind that Emily wanted to be real. And tonight was a night of stories as well. Emily hoped they’d be good ones.
Emily looked down at herself one more time. Tiger stripes looked back at her, bright and reassuring.
“You look awesome, kiddo,” said Harper. She was dressed in some old winter clothes and had a hockey mask on. When Emily had looked at her questioningly, she had explained that she was a hockey player in a way that meant she wasn’t really but didn’t want to tell Emily the truth. So Emily figured it was something so scary that even Harper didn’t want to tell to little kids. Harper took one more look at Emily to make sure her face paint was good and then walked past her, patting her on shoulder, “Come on, we’re ready to go.”
The others had told her that it was Spooky Day. People had been talking about it for weeks now. In the kindergarten they had made bats and spiders out of construction paper, and had even carved real pumpkins. They had done pretty much the same here at the Grisbys. Now the pumpkins were at the backyard and Yvette had told them she would put candles in them when it got dark.
Emily didn’t remember mommy ever mentioning Spooky Day. Then again, they had only ever celebrated birthdays and Snowflake Day. Mommy had never been a party person. She’d said that and smiled afterwards, and then talked about something else. But now there were all these parties and loudness and all kinds of events. They were fun and exciting, but they were also scary.
Apparently this party was supposed to be a little scary. Somehow that made things better. And wearing a costume made things easier too. She wasn’t Emily now. She was a brave tiger who had no problem roaming outside among the others. Her new siblings wanted to go for a round of what they called “trick or treating”. They had explained that they’d dress in costumes and go from door to door asking for candy and other treats. It sounded fun. They had told her to come too, and she had nodded. They had all smiled. She liked how the others didn’t mind that the words got caught in her throat so many times. Some other people got impatient, and that just made Emily lock up even more. But her new family was always so patient with her. It made her feel safe.
Harper led her downstairs, where her brother Miha and her other sister Laurel were waiting. They were in costumes too. Laurel was a cowgirl, and Miha was a Llama Boy. Those were an occupation and a superhero, not half-cow half-girl and half-llama half-boy. Yvette and Walter told them to stay together and be nice and come back before eleven, and then they were allowed to leave.
Emily was usually told to go to bed much earlier. The thought of staying up so late felt really exciting. It was so exciting that Emily almost forgot to be scared when they walked outside into the darkening evening.
Trick or treating was fun. The adults who opened the doors were almost always nice and had some candy or fruit to give them. And they were outside! Emily loved being outdoors, as long as she didn’t have to go there alone. They came across other people in costumes – Emily even saw another tiger, and after they had passed, Harper said that Emily was definitely more badass than the other tiger. Emily had learned that Harper thought a lot of things were badass. Before living with the Grisbys, Emily hadn’t even heard that word. But she knew it was a nice word – even though Yvette sometimes told Harper not to use it too much. Emily smiled at Harper, who was probably smiling at her behind the hockey mask too.
When it was really starting to get dark, Emily’s legs were aching from walking for so long, but she was still happy and proud of herself because she had come all the way around the neighbourhood and then some with her new family. They stopped at a playground Emily loved playing in, and Laurel let out a deep breath.
“Whew, what do you say, everyone? Should we start heading back? Operation Sugar High is well underway, and it’s almost nine thirty.”
“Can we play in the park first for a while?” asked Miha, “We still got plenty of time!”
His eyes glinted like they did when he got excited. At those times he got much less quiet and could actually babble a lot. He leaned towards Emily and whispered:
“Besides, now that it’s Spooky Day, we could maybe see some ghosts!”
Emily blinked and looked at Miha questioningly. Miha laughed.
“You know, they say that a ghost wanders around somewhere in here. A lady in white. Someone who drowned into the river long ago, and now she’s looking for people to drag-“
“Miha!” Laurel said sharply, “Don’t scare Emily! There are no ghosts around here! Or anywhere!”
“Okay, okay! Sorry!” Miha said, “I was just kidding.”
Laurel glanced at Harper.
“You shouldn’t tell so many scary stories to Miha!”
“Hey, the kid loves them!” Harper said defensively, “He’s pretty good at them too, as you just saw!”
“Okay, everyone!” she clapped her hands, “We can stay here for a while. But play nice. And when Harper and I say we go home, we go home, okay?”
Emily nodded, and Miha punched the air triumphantly.
He smiled at Emily.
“An’ don’t worry! There’s not really any ladies in white. That’s just an over-used ghost story.”
Emily could only nod. She wasn’t sure if she was really scared or not. Maybe. She didn’t want to run into any ladies in white, but she didn’t want to really run into any strangers in general. Not without any friends for company, at least.
And now she wasn’t alone, so it didn’t feel all that scary.
They played in the playground for a while. Emily and Miha raced on the bumblebees that didn’t go anywhere except in their imagination. It was an exciting race with no real winners – except Miha when he stated that he won because he was older. Then he had raced to the swing set before Emily could protest. Not that she could have, anyway. Her words felt difficult again, even though usually talking to her new family was pretty easy.
Maybe she was nervous about meeting someone she shouldn’t meet, after all.
She left the bumblebee alone and walked up to the fountain in the middle of the park. She liked it almost more than the things that were there to be played with. It was pretty; during the day Emily liked to watch sunlight glint against the fish scale tiles in the bottom of the fountain. The water was soothing. It flowed quietly and Emily was fairly sure that it didn’t spray violently ever like it had when mum had got hurt. When mum…
Emily frowned. She tried not to think about her nightmares when she was awake. Laurel had started playing music for her before she went to sleep some months ago, and it had helped, but the nightmares were still there. Monsters that sometimes tried to eat her up, and sometimes they wanted to hurt. And sometimes they were just confusing. The worst of the monsters was all of those. Emily shuddered. She tried to remind herself that she was a tiger now. She was a ferocious, badass tiger who didn’t need to be scared of monsters or ladies in white.
They weren’t real. The water was. Her new family and friends were real too. And most of them were here with her now. She had nothing to fear.
“Is there something very interesting in the water, child?”
Emily gasped and spun around when a voice rang out right next to her. It wasn’t a voice she knew. It was almost like the water, but not soothing. Emily turned and a white shape made her step back several steps.
The lady in white. She was real after all! Emily wanted to call out to Miha, to tell him it wasn’t just a story. And she wanted to call out to Harper and Laurel so that they would help her. But her voice wasn’t working. All she could manage was a strangled squeak.
I’m a tiger, she reminded herself again, I should roar and everyone would hear me!
But she couldn’t. She was just a girl in silly face paint, a girl who was trapped in her own fear.
The ghost smiled at her. Her lips were too red and when she raised her hands Emily saw that her nails were sharp. Like monster claws. Emily’s breath hitched.
“Worry not,” the ghost said, “I am not here to hurt you, or anyone else either.”
She looked at Laurel, Harper and Miha, who were still by the swings. Emily hoped the others would see the ghost too… or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she could convince herself that the ghost wasn’t real if the others didn’t see her. She opened her mouth again, and managed a small shout. Usually the others heard her easily and usually came by to see what was wrong.
But now they kept playing as if nothing odd was happening. Why? Were they leaving her too? Or did they really not hear her?
“I came here to warn you, little one,” the ghost said. Her eyes were lilac; they would have been pretty if they hadn’t been so cold, “You seem to have good people around you. Someone to keep you safe.”
Emily couldn’t move. She was frozen again. She managed to see the others out of the corner of her eye, but it was as if they were in a different place than her. They weren’t even looking at her or the ghost.
“Still, stay careful,” the ghost said, “Do not let yourself be fooled by kind strangers.”
“You… you’re a stranger,” Emily pointed out, surprised that her words worked. The ghost laughed. The laughter sliced through the air. It reminded Emily of the pipes that had burst in her home.
“So I am,” the ghost said, “And perhaps you should not trust me either. But I know things. I see things, and that should not be ignored.”
She trailed off and then looked around as if worried someone might catch her. She sighed.
“Well, this is all the time we get, it seems. Stay safe, Emily Sato.”
A light flashed, and Emily could feel a blast of cold air on her face. The light broke into small slivers that faded upwards into the sky.
Emily stood still for a long moment, and only then realised that her hands and legs were shaking. All of her was shaking, really. She felt tears in her eyes, and she tried to breathe through the blob of fear in her throat.
She wanted mommy. But mommy was… mommy had left her and hadn’t come back yet!
Emily looked up at the new voice. This time it was one she recognised and was very welcome. Uncle Tad had appeared as if out of nowhere. And he wasn’t a ghost. He made every place he went feel different just by being there, so Emily knew he was really there.
Emily’s frozen legs managed to move out of sheer relief, and she rushed to Uncle Tad, and he picked her up into his arms. Emily buried her face in his shoulder and tried not to cry.
“Goodness, you just keep growing,” he said quietly, gently. Then his voice changed, becoming more worried: “What is the matter?”
“Oh, hey, Mr. Dustpine,” said Harper, and Emily only now realised that the others had come up behind her, “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Hello,” Tad greeted them, “I was taking a walk and heard you. Is something the matter?”
“That’s what we were about to ask,” Laurel said, “We just noticed that Emily was staring at something. What was it, Emily? You looked scared.”
“I bet it was a ghost,” Harper said jokingly.
“Enough with the ghosts! They aren’t real!” Laurel snapped, “This is probably all your fault for scaring Emily like that!”
“Hey, I keep telling her that she shouldn’t take my stories seriously!”
“She’s not even five years old!”
And there, among her new family and in the arms of her favourite friend, Emily was ready to believe that it was just stories. So when they asked again what she had seen and why she had seemed so shaken, she just shrugged her shoulders and managed to sign “nothing” with almost not-shaking hands.
The others left her be, then. Just made sure that she was really okay and then said that they should go home. They had a whole mountain of candy to go through, after all.
“Too bad we didn’t make it to your house, Tad,” Harper said when they started to walk out of the park, “We could have trick or treated you too.”
“I do have a couple of ginseng roots in my pocket,” said Tad, “And some ginger.”
“Oh, awesome. Mum loves to use those for cooking!”
“I find them quite tasty even raw.”
Emily stopped and glanced over her shoulder while the others talked. The park was empty. The ghost was gone as if it had never been there. That made her feel much better. She still quickened her steps so she wouldn’t get left too far behind.
We could end the stories of that Spooky Day there. To Emily meeting a ghost and deciding it wasn’t a ghost after all. And being right about that.
Or we could tell about Amelia’s Spooky Day party, where she had a pleasant evening with friends who were all dressed in silly costumes and talked together and ate delicious pumpkin pie. But that story wouldn’t be very interesting.
Then again, perhaps it’s sometimes better to have uninteresting moments that are just peaceful. And sometimes it’s perhaps even better to hint at the peacefulness instead of focusing on the little sorrows that would surely show when one gave things a closer look.
Perhaps that wasn’t the most satisfying or focused thing to end this part of the story on. But that’s life for you. It had no focus or set moments. It had surprises and fragmented little tales and uncertainty.
At least the weather was nice and peaceful that evening, signalling the last almost warm moments of the year before the quickly cooling November swept over Riverview.
Author’s Note: HEY GUYS did you know that I started a new story? It’s an Ambrosia Challenge –story, so it will involve ghosts and fantasy and such. It’s called Forget-Me-Not! It’s set in the same universe as Tango, but it will mostly feature totally different characters and has a very different story and tone. Though there will also be cameos of some familiar faces! If you haven’t checked it out yet and are interested, then now’s your chance!
I also started a side story to Tango, called Letters to Emily. You can find it on this blog, and it features a fifteen-year-old Emily, who gets some very interesting pen pals!
But now back to this story and this chapter: Yes, Tad does carry around random spices from his garden. Also yes, he likes to eat them raw sometimes. That’s a bit of his character I added when his Sim got hungry and decided that out of all the vegetables and fruits in his pockets, he wanted to eat a whole raw garlic. I mean, sure, I love garlic and it’s healthy and all but man, apparently Sims have mouths of steel.
Also random behind-the-scenes fact, all the kids the Grisbys have adopted have names that are partially references to some other video game kids who had unpleasant fates. Harper was originally Lauryl, named after a murdered orphan in Thief: Deadly Shadows. But after I decided the Grisbys would be the adoptive family and realised that there was already a Laurel in there, I changed Lauryl to be Harper’s old last name instead.
Miha Fitch’s surname is a reference to Scarlet Fitch from Silent Hill: Homecoming. She was also murdered and then manifested as a creepy, doll-like boss monster. Emily’s first name could be a reference to Lady/Empress Emily Kaldwin from Dishonored, though that’s a bit debatable since I wasn’t actively thinking about naming my Emily after anyone while I was first naming her, but I might have been subconsciously thinking of Lady Kaldwin, seeing how she too witnessed her mother’s death while she was young and is also favoured by a supernatural, godlike young man with weird eyes. 😀
I hope you enjoyed this, and I also hope I get the next chapter done a bit quicker than this one. I’m also going to work on a new Fey-chapter next. It needs a little bit of writing and then lots of editing, but all the pics should be taken already.
See you later!