Spring was newly arrived and the air was fresh with the scent of new growth. The pond next to their house had finally thawed and the roar of the waterfall streaming into the water echoed through the small valley their house was nestled in once again.
Chantia was only peripherally aware of it, though. She was far more focused on the scene in front of her.Arienne gave one look at her brand-new bed before shaking her head.
“Uh-uh,” she declared and buried her head in Sam’s shoulder, refusing to look at it any longer. Chantia sighed softly and closed her eyes in resignation. They had been trying for several hours now to get Arienne to sleep in her toddler bed, but the girl absolutely refused. The delivery people had been late in delivering the bed, so they had been unable to accustom Arienne to the bed before Renard had arrived. Now that he was here though, Arienne only focused on the fact that he was using her crib.
“Ari, sweetie, you’re a big girl now,” Chantia tried again. “Big girls don’t sleep in cribs. Babies do.”
“Uh-uh,” Arienne repeated obstinately. Chantia gave Sam a pleading look, silently asking him to try and convince the girl.
Sam gently swiped a tendril of hair out of Arienne’s face, causing the girl to look poutingly at him, something she had refused to do to Chantia.“Won’t you do it for Daddy?” Sam gently asked the toddler. Arienne absolutely adored him, and they had both noticed that the girl had difficulty refusing her dad. She pushed her bottom lip out further and hung her head, but sulkily nodded nonetheless, finally giving in.
Several minutes later, after being changed into her PJ’s and lowered onto the bed, she abruptly changed her mind again.
“Uh-uh!” she declared again and reached out to Sam, begging to be picked up again.Sam closed his eyes with a grimace, but still took the complication in stride, sinking down to the bed beside Arienne. She immediately scooted close to him, clumsily throwing her arms around him and hugging him tightly.
“I’m not going anywhere, okay?” he reassured her. “I’ll stay here with you.” He gently stroked her hair until she finally relaxed against him in sleep, allowing him to gently tuck her in.
The next morning she awoke before her parents and upon realising she was alone in her new room, she threw a massive fit. Sam tried his best to console her, but she remained out of sorts the entire morning, refusing to do anything and generally just being a right menace. Chantia had thought she knew exactly how to handle her child, but she suddenly found she was completely unprepared on how to handle Arienne’s current behaviour.Arienne calmed down once they arrived at her aunt’s house. The weather was quite warm for a spring day and Mia had asked Chantia to pay her a visit; both because she wanted to talk to her sister and meet her nephew. Arienne was still sulking when they arrived at Mia’s house, but she perked up at the sight of a new place to explore.
Mia was waiting for them by the door when they arrived.
“Thank you for coming,” she told Chantia after greeting her and cooing appropriately over Renard. “I've been meaning to talk to you for quite some time now, but things have been fairly hectic recently,” she explained with an apologizing tone in her voice.“Is there anything in specific you want to talk about?” Chantia asked as they made their way to the door. Mia hummed in agreement and inclined her head.
“It’s about the ghosts,” she confirmed, instantly gaining Chantia’s complete attention. “I think I might’ve found a way to reverse Damnation, but I’m going to need your help to confirm whether my theory will work or not,” she explained. “But more on that later. Let’s find a more appropriate place to talk.” With that she entered the house, expecting Chantia to follow her, but before Chantia could enter the house Arienne decided she had waited long enough. She stepped in front of her mother, preventing the woman from entering the house before eagerly toddling through the door herself.“She seems to be quite the handful,” Mia commented as she watched the child toddling into her house.
Chantia just sighed. “She is,” she agreed resignedly, thinking of Arienne’s poor behaviour of that morning, “but luckily not always. She’s usually rather very sweet, but she’s not very impressed with us at the moment.” She explained to Mia the entire situation about the toddler bed. Mia just shook her head in bemusement.
“I guess that’s another reason I’m glad I don’t have any children yet,” was her reply.
A little while later, the two women found themselves outside on the porch, finally ready to talk about the topic at hand.“You said you might’ve found a way to reverse Damnation?” Chantia offered, asking the other woman to continue the conversation. Mia inclined her head, agreeing with the statement.
“Temporarily, yes,” she agreed, “but it’s a little complicated. I’m going to need your help.”
“What do you want me to do?” Chantia asked. She was more than happy to help if it meant she could help her friends. Mia was silent for quite some time before she finally spoke again.
“Will-o’-the-wisps,” Mia stated before raising her eyes to Chantia’s. “Do you ever encounter them?” Chantia frowned a bit, unable to see where Mia was going with the line of questioning, but nodded nevertheless. She encountered them all the time. At Chantia’s nod of affirmation, Mia continued. “Have you ever wondered how they fit into the scheme of things? I mean, into the tale Charlotte told us when we were children.”
Chantia frowned slightly. To be honest, she had never really thought about it. All she really knew about them was what she had learned back in university: that there were many myths and legends surrounding them, but nobody really knew what they were.“I’ve never really thought about it,” she admitted honestly. “My guess would be that they’re somehow connected to the Damned – maybe they are the Damned. Why do you ask?”
“That’s what I thought as well,” Mia agreed, “but when I thought about it, it didn’t quite make sense. If they are connected to the Damned, why are there so many? Surely there can’t be that many people who refuse to move on after death.”
“We’re talking about all deaths from the start of time,” Chantia pointed out. “That’s a long time, and a lot of people have lived – and died – since then.”
“I know,” Mia agreed, “but how long does Damnation continue? Doesn’t it stop somewhere? And if it does, where does it stop? What happens to those ghosts who had fallen so far into Damnation that they can’t go any further? Do they move on? Do they linger in this world? These questions continued to plague me, so I asked Charlotte a while ago. Her answers – though very philosophical – were…illuminating.”
Chantia sat down, drawn in by the intrigue of the conversation. “Oh?” she questioned curiously. “What did she say?”Mia gave a short laugh. “Quite a lot, actually,” she admitted. “Turned out I wasn’t too far out in my line of thinking. There is a limit to Damnation, but it’s not a physical one – it’s a metaphysical, emotional limit.
“You see, when a ghost falls into Damnation, they lose the ability to experience emotion. One by one, all emotion disappear, until only the one that caused them to linger remains. Everything they do – the way they think, the way they act – everything, is influenced by that one emotion. So in a way, indirectly, they become that emotion.”
Chantia held up her hand, interrupting Mia from continuing. “Hold up,” she stopped the genius. “How can people become emotion?”
“They don’t,” Mia agreed, “which is why I said they indirectly become that emotion. Humans are creatures driven by emotion. Everything we do is influenced by our emotions. We make our decisions based on our emotions. Even when we believe we are making our decisions based on cold facts, we are still relying on our emotions to justify our actions. Now imagine you are only capable of one emotion. All of your decisions will be made in such a way that that one emotion will intensify, because you have nothing else to base your decisions on.“Take for example, sitting on a chair. A normal person will think: ‘I want to sit down’. Why? ‘Because I’m tired’. Sitting down will reduce the energy expenditure, causing the person to feel ‘relief’. Now imagine a person only capable of fear. That person will think: ‘I can’t sit down’. Why not? ‘Because the chair will collapse beneath me’. You and I both know that won’t happen, because we trust the chair to be capable of holding our weight, but that person won’t think that. They will literally only be able to think ‘the chair will collapse’, so they will continue to be afraid of the chair, thus their fear will intensify.
“Logically, the next question would then be: how far can it go? How far can a Damned go until it’s not possible to intensify that emotion any further, until the very limit is reached? When you stumble upon that answer, that’s when you finally understand just what Damnation is. It’s not about ‘losing yourself’. It’s about being so far gone that there’s nothing left for you to focus on – you’re literally just a husk filled with one emotion. You can’t even think anymore. The Damned cannot ever move on to the World of the Dead, because they simply cannot realise it’s possible.”
Chantia frowned in confusion again. “And you believe you’ve found a way to reverse Damnation…” she enquired hesitantly, trying to get the conversation back on track again. “So you’re…what? Gonna give them back their emotions?”Mia shook her head, disproving Chantia’s guess. “No, that’s impossible,” she declared, “but I believe it might be possible to simulate the effects of some emotions, which will provide the Damned with a few moments of clear thought. If someone can convince them in that time to move on, then they can be whole again. There are no Damned in the World of the Dead, because the moment they enter that world they regain everything they had lost.”
Chantia leaned back in her chair, finally understanding what Mia required of her. “And you want me to try and convince them,” she stated.
Mia nodded in confirmation. “Well, eventually yes,” she agreed, “but that’s not what I need your help with right now. Right now, I need you to collect me will-o’-the-wisps.”
Chantia blinked in confusion and her mind stuttered to a halt. How did will-o’-the-wisps fit into all this again?
“Uhm, why?” she asked, trying to remember what Mia had said about the elusive little spirits.Mia sighed, apparently frustrated at Chantia’s inability to follow her line of thought. “You do realise will-o’-the-wisps are Damned, right?” she pointed out impatiently.
“That’s what I said when this conversation just started,” she reminded the genius. “You just spent this whole time trying to convince me otherwise.”
“No, I was explaining what they are and why there are so many,” Mia disagreed impatiently. “Weren’t you listening to anything I was saying?”
“Mia,” Chantia declared, “I know this might come as a shock to you, but I can’t follow your thoughts. You leave out a few too many vital steps for me to accurately follow you.”
Mia rolled her eyes and decided to forego the potential argument. “In anyway, I’ve developed a device – with a little help, of course – that will provide you with a means of collecting these spirits. If you can collect me several spirits of each emotion type, we can test out my theory and see if it works or not.” With that Mia disappeared back into the house again to bring Chantia the device in question and Chantia took the time to check up on her family.Arienne were seemingly worn out by her exploration of the house and were once again quite moody, but she seemed to have forgiven Sam for leaving her in the toddler bed that morning. Sam and Carl (Mia’s husband) were quietly watching TV together, so Chantia took the chance to give Renard over to Sam as well. She had the idea the device Mia had mentioned would require her to use both her hands.
Mia came downstairs with the device and Chantia immediately appreciated putting her child down. The device was huge. Neither of them wanted to bother the men or the children, so the headed outside again where Mia handed the device over to Chantia and explained how it worked.After that, Chantia spent several nights out in the town, collecting spirits whenever she could find them. There were a lot of spirits scattered throughout the town, but Chantia had difficulty locating spirits with intense emotions, with the result that it took much longer to collect the spirits than she had been anticipating.
“What exactly is it you do with these spirits?” Chantia asked Mia one day when she brought her the latest batch of spirits she had captured. To be quite honest, collecting the spirits and forcing them into the glass cages that contained them bothered her a bit. She understood the necessity of doing it if it meant they would be able to help the spirits later on, but she still felt bad about doing it.
“I’m studying them,” Mia replied. “In order to find a way to accurately simulate the effects of emotions, I need to scientifically analyse what a certain emotion consists of. Studying these spirits will allow me to identify the trends and patterns among them that will signify similarities or differences.”
“But does it hurt them?” Chantia asked concernedly.
Mia shook her head. “They can’t feel pain,” she assured Chantia, “but even if they could, I’m still not hurting them. I’m just taking energy readings off them. The only reason I need so many spirits is so that I can get a reasonable sample size and reduce error as much as possible. When I’m done getting my readings, I can start my experiments and see whether my theory will work or not.”
“How long is this research of yours going to take?” Chantia asked curiously. “I mean, I’ve been collecting spirits for several months now…”
“Who knows?” Mia shrugged in response. “This kind of research takes a long time, Chantia. It might be years before we get any results. In the meantime, just keep bringing me more spirits.”
Chantia’s life fell into a fairly comfortable rhythm. During the day, she took care of her children and continued working on Helen’s case as much as she could. Her progress was slow as she kept being stonewalled by people who thought she was only joking, but at least she still made some progress.
During the night, she continued working as a ghost hunter; banishing poltergeists and helping ghosts move on. Although she was paid extremely well for each case she worked on, there wasn’t that much demand for a ghost hunter’s services, so most nights she ended up scanning the town for spirits to take to Mia.
To Chantia’s surprise, she didn’t get any protests about her actions from the ghosts she shared a house with. The ghosts all avoided the spirits as much as possible, but none of them ever complained, to Chantia’s complete puzzlement. She had thought the ghosts would be extremely upset about the captured spirits.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” she asked Charlotte curiously during one of the few times the ghost looked at the spirits.
Her answer was a long time in coming, and when it came, it was utterly unsatisfactory.
“Bother me?” Another long pause separated the soft whisper that was the rest of her reply. “No.”
She drifted away, leaving Chantia to wonder about the truth of her words.
Angelica was a bit more elaborate, but her answer differed a bit from Charlotte’s.
“It’s uncomfortable,” the ghostly woman replied. “Seeing these spirits…it reminds us that it could be us, someday in the future. None of us likes it, but we understand why you’re doing it.”
“Charlotte said it didn’t bother her,” Chantia pointed out, hoping to get a better explanation for Charlotte’s enigmatic ‘no’.
Angelica hesitated before shaking her head uncomfortably.
“Charlotte is…well, it’s not my place to say anything, but…she is the oldest,” the motherly ghost replied uncomfortably. With that she too drifted away, leaving Chantia to conclude that it would be best to drop the topic.
It wouldn’t be fair of her to push the ghosts any further.
I don’t know much about toddler beds myself, but Ari needed to move into her room in order for Renard to have the nursery, so she got one. :)
I think I went a bit overboard with the explanation about the Damned. >.> I blame it on Mia being passionate about the subject.