Winter fell over Sunset Valley, casting a blanket of snow across the town and freezing the surface of the various lakes scattered throughout the valley. The white-capped mountains sheltering them from the rest of the world stood majestically beside the house, silently guarding them from the harshest of the weather.
It was colder than previous winters, and even the ceaseless thundering of the nearby waterfall had paused, its waters frozen in glittering ice crystals. The plants had all gone dormant, and crystalline icicles adorned the house.
Inside though, the house was warm and comfortable. Soft music hung about, both from the stereo and the soft pings from the toy xylophone. In the kitchen, a steady drone filled the air as the dryer slowly but steadily spun the laundry dry. In fact, Chantia thought the familiarity was almost…peaceful.
“Renard!!” Arienne’s shrill scream came from the direction of the living room, causing Chantia to close her eyes in resignation. She should’ve known the peace wouldn’t last.
Amused laughter rang through the air, swiftly followed by footsteps running up the stairs, again followed by another pair of footsteps running up the stairs.
“Give her back!” Arienne’s highly affronted orders reverberated.
“Make me!” Renard’s challenge returned.
Chantia groaned. Renard had aged up in the beginning of the winter and ever since, it felt like the house hadn’t had even a moment of peace.
He was constantly running, despite Chantia’s firm and continued reprimands, and to make matters worse, he had discovered his new favourite hobby: sister-baiting.
Fortunately, he mostly limited his baiting attempts to Arienne, but even Lyra wasn’t completely safe. Thus far though, he had attempted his Lyra-baiting exactly once. The banshee-like shriek that had originated from the toddler the one time he stole her toy had given her brother a firm (and very effective) warning of what she would do the next time he tried to rise her ire. Chantia still got headaches just thinking about it.
A suspicious moment of silence filled the air before a loud slap rung through the house.
“I hate you!” Arienne screamed loudly, and footsteps ran down the stairs again. The footsteps were accompanied by loud sniffles.
Sam paused in his typing, sighing and momentarily closing his eyes. He was much mellower than Chantia, but even he had moments where his patience was tested.
“I’ll talk to him,” he promised Chantia in a soft murmur, relieving her of the duty. That left her with the duty of comforting her daughter. She was secretly glad about that. Renard rarely listened to her and she really wasn’t in the mood to try and get her son to obey her. Comforting Arienne would be much easier.
“What was the fight about, Arienne?” she asked patiently once the girl stopped crying. Arienne sniffled once before rambling off an answer.
“Hetooksparklesandsaidshesadonkeyandonlycrybabieslikedonkeys,” she rambled, causing Chantia to blink bemusedly, trying to decipher the sentence. She decided to start the questioning with something safe.
“Sparkles?” she asked cautiously, hoping she had correctly deciphered the subject involved. Arienne sniffled again and pointed to the stuffed unicorn lying on the floor, confirming Chantia’ suspicions that yes, the fight had been over a toy. Or rather, the fight had been over a toy getting called a donkey.
Chantia tilted her head slightly, trying to find more sense in the situation. Did children really fight over such petty matters?
“But why did you slap him?” Chantia asked, deciding to address the most pressing issue. Yes, Renard shouldn’t have insulted his sister, but it still gave Arienne no excuse to hit him. “You’re older than he is. Even if he did call your unicorn a donkey, you know it’s not true. You shouldn’t have hit him.”
Arienne pouted. “He called me a crybaby,” she protested.
Chantia lifted an eyebrow. “And by allowing him to upset you, you prove his point,” she pointed out. “He’s just baiting you, Arienne. You shouldn’t let it get to you.”
She stood up and helped Arienne get off the bed before wiping the still-sniffling girl's tears away and guiding her out of the room.
In the living room, Sam and Renard were waiting for them, Renard hanging his head remorsefully. Whatever way Sam had used to reprimand the boy had clearly been effective.
For several moments the two children stared at each other before Renard finally broke the silence.
"Sorry," he mumbled, "for calling you a crybaby."
Arienne glared at him, but Chantia merely tightened her hold on the girl's shoulder as a silent warning.
"I'm sorry too," Arienne finally relented. "For hitting you."
For another moment there was silence as the two stared at each other, unsure about what to do next.
Renard looked at the TV.
"So...you wanna play a game?" he suggested. Arienne looked at the TV as well and hesitantly nodded.
“Okay…” she agreed reluctantly.
Within minutes, they were completely absorbed in their game. If Chantia hadn’t heard the original confrontation, she would never have guessed they had fought in the first place.
Unlike Arienne, Renard had had no problem with going to school on his first day. He had been incredibly excited about it, eager for new challenges and new experiences. While Arienne had managed to make several friends on her first day, Renard had completely dominated his class.
He had more difficulties with his homework though. Sam had to explain some concepts several times to the boy before he finally managed to complete his homework.
Time passed, and before the family noticed, Snowflake Day arrived. It had snowed heavily the previous night, so it was a very white Snowflake Day, much to Arienne and Renard’s delight. In fact, it was still snowing by the time the entire household was up and about, but that didn’t curb the children's enthusiasm. Renard dragged his mother into assisting him with building a snowman, while Arienne roped her dad into teaching her a long-neglected skill: ice skating.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sam asked reluctantly. “It’s still snowing.”
“It’s just snow,” Arienne replied eagerly. Sam sighed, but indulged her request with a smile. Arienne found ice skating to be more difficult than she had expected though.
“You’re doing fine, Arienne,” Sam assured his daughter. “Just continue like that. If you feel yourself losing your balance, lean forward.” The next moment Arienne felt her feet move out from beneath her, and instead of listening to her dad’s commands of “Lean forward!” she grabbed the thing closest to her (her dad) and threw herself on him. The added weight caused Sam to lose his balance as well and the two of them went down in a heap.
After that, ice skating lost most of its appeal and the two of them decided to join the rest of their family in building an igloo. Even Lyra attempted her best to help, clumsily packing snow against the igloo’s entrance. More snow fell off than stuck to the entrance, but her delighted smile and laughter clearly indicated how much she enjoyed it.
As the children grew up and the household became busier, it contradictively became smaller as well. Despite numerous difficulties, stubborn officials and getting stonewalled around every corner, Chantia finally fulfilled her promise to Helen; helping her deliver her testimony and getting her murderer arrested. Her murderer was an old man by then, but seeing him getting arrested was enough to finally allow Helen’s heart to be at peace.
“Thank you,” Helen told Chantia, gratitude clear in her voice. “You’ve been a true friend to me, and not just to me; to all of the ghosts out there. No one could ever ask for a better friend.” She gave Chantia’s hands a soft squeeze. “Know than when your time comes and you join us in the World of the Dead, we will greet you with happiness and welcome you with open arms. You’re a true hero, Chantia.” The ghost gave a soft laugh and Chantia couldn’t help the smile on her face from spreading. It was the first time she had ever heard the ghost laugh.
“It was no problem at all,” Chantia assured her friend. “You’ve brought me much joy over the years as well. I’m just repaying you for your friendship.”
“Nevertheless,” Helen said, “I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently. You have fulfilled a wish, Chantia, that few of us ever manage. I cannot tell you what a gift it is to be able to leave this world without regret. Perhaps, one day, you will understand, but I hope that it’s a very long time from now.”
A slight wind started blowing, and the slowly swirling snowflakes surrounding them started dancing around them. The Song, that beautiful song that always sounded in the back of Chantia’s mind, intensified, and Chantia suddenly realised that it wasn’t the wind blowing at all. It was magic, opening the portal for Helen.
“Farewell, Chantia,” Helen said her good-byes. “May you have a long and extremely happy life.” With that there was a bright flash of light, forcing Chantia to blink. When she opened her eyes again, Helen was gone, and there was no sign that the portal had ever existed.
For a moment Chantia remained staring at the spot Helen had been, but she was pulled out of her reverie when she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. Angelica smiled at her, and her smile held that same complex look of sadness, happiness and envy she had had when Clint, the first of them to go, had moved on so many years ago.
“She was right, you know,” Angelica informed her. “It is a very great gift, to leave this world without regret. You’ve given that to her.”
Chantia thought of the years she had been a ghost hunter, and all the ghosts she had helped move on in that time. There had been many, and she had heard all of their stories, but few of them had left without any regrets. Helen had been one of the very few who had left with a smile.
“I know,” she agreed, and she actually meant it. She might not completely understand exactly how much it meant, but she did understand that it was a very great gift.
Frederick continued staring at the spot Helen had been as well. He was clearly lost in his thoughts. It reminded Chantia that she still didn’t know his reason for lingering.
“Dreams…aren’t usually this vivid, are they,” Frederick muttered softly, as if to himself. Angelica gave him a startled look and Charlotte turned unreadable eyes to him, but Chantia thought she detected a small hint of hope in those colourless eyes. There was a long silence before Frederick got an answer.
“No they’re not,” Angelica agreed softly. She didn’t say anything else, but after a few moments Frederick gave a barely perceptible nod, and Angelica smiled reassuringly at him.
Chantia couldn’t help but think that something really significant had just happened.
The teenage ghost gave one last look to the place Helen had disappeared before drifting away. Angelica and Charlotte stared after him, a pitying expression on Angelica’s face and once again, an unreadable one on Charlotte’s.
That ghost is way too good in hiding her thoughts, Chantia thought absently. As if she could read her thoughts, Charlotte turned her colourless eyes to Chantia’s.
“Frederick is a bit of a special case,” she explained to Chantia, drawing her attention back to the enigma that Frederick represented. “He doesn’t believe he’s truly dead. He thinks he’s just asleep, and all this is just a dream. For him to admit that…it might not be dream…it’s a big step forward. Perhaps one day…” The ghost didn’t finish her sentence, but Chantia could derive the rest of it on her own. Perhaps one day he’ll accept it. Perhaps one day he’ll make peace with it. Perhaps one day he too will move on.
Chantia stared at Charlotte, mulling over her words. It did explain some of Frederick’s eccentricities, and why he hadn’t moved on yet. She might be able to help him, but in the end it would mostly depend on himself.
That left her with only one ghost whose reason for lingering she didn’t know yet.
She turned inquisitive eyes to the ghost standing beside her.
‘And you? What about you?’ she wanted to ask, but didn’t. The ghost was once again lost in her own thoughts and Chantia couldn’t get it over her heart to request an answer. Somehow, it just seemed too personal; and perhaps, if she was really being honest with herself, she was irrationally afraid that getting a confession would cause her best friend to move on.
She wasn’t ready to lose her friend just yet.
AN: Kinda makes me think of some kind of nursery rhyme: ‘Five little ghosts living in a house, one moved on, four were left. Four little ghosts…’ Well, there’s only three left now. I love the ghosts, but there is no place for them in my next generation, unfortunately. :( Except Charlotte, of course. She’s too special to let go just yet. :D