The old woman had lied to me. The red snot she gave me did nothing to increase my luck. It had been weeks since I had put the stuff on my eyes, and I was still living in the same shitty apartment with the same shitty job. All it did was make my eyes annoyingly sensitive to light. Everything seemed brighter, more detailed. Looking at things during the day hurt my eyes, even with sunglasses on, so I stopped doing it. I took the nightshift and ran my errands at dusk so that I wouldn't be bothered by the sun. I had to say goodbye to the tan that I had picked up over the summer, but it was a small price to pay.
I also discovered that the guy living next door to me was completely insane. He only came out of his apartment in the wee hours of the morning, just as I was getting ready to go to sleep. He would leave for a couple of hours, but he always came back before the sun had completely risen. The first time I ever saw him was at four o'clock A.M. He was in the buildings small communal backyard. He was wearing a grass hula skirt and drawing something in the dirt with a stick.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked, leaning over the rail on my tiny balcony. He jumped up from his crouching position and smiled.
"Isn't it obvious?" he said, waving the stick back and forth. I could see now that he had drawn a turtle in the dirt. He turned and shoved the stick into the turtle's back and spat on it. "I'm praying to the gods for more rain."
"Why would you want more rain? It just rained a couple of days ago."
"My cats like it when it rains. It brings out frogs for them to play with."
"Ah. I see now." With that, I went back into my house and closed the curtain.
The next day, I heard a loud clanging noise just as the sky began to brighten. I went to the balcony again to see the guy from next door banging a spoon against a metal cooking pot. Even the weak morning sun made my eyes ache.
"Meow!" he shouted. "Supper's ready! Meow!"
"Your cat's name is Meow? That's very uncreative," I said. I was in my pajamas, getting ready to go to sleep. When he saw me, he smiled again, a big goofy grin.
"Oh, it's you again. No, not meow like m-e-o-w. It's Myau, m-y-a-u."
"What? That's even stupider. Why would you name a cat that?"
"It's Russian for 'meow.' Duh." He went back to banging on the pot, and I went to bed.
"Did you hear about that little girl who drowned in her parents' pool? It was on the news today. Such a shame," my coworker said. Her name was Mary-Kate and she got mad if you just called her Mary. She was a year older than me and was working her way through art college. She also happened to be my only friend. There were two other girls working the night shift: Karli, who was sixteen years old and five months pregnant and Melina, a thirty-six year old black woman with a loving husband and three kids. I knew many things about all three of them because they never stopped talking about their personal lives, but I was only friends with Mary-Kate. Karli was unimaginably obnoxious. Her only hobby seemed to be gossiping about people from her high school that I didn't know. Melina was a very kind woman, but she disapproved of me. She said that little girls like me should be living with their parents and that I should be grateful for all that my mother has given me and blah blah blah.
"It's so boring around here," I said to Mary-Kate as I washed the dishes. The night shift was always slow. Not many people liked to sit down and eat a greasy burger at two in the morning. People preferred to get their burgers from the fast food places so they could eat them at home. "I thought that coming to the city would be an adventure, but it's just like at home. I'm stuck in a rut again."
"Do you want to come look for ghosts with me?" she said, leaning on the counter. "Me and some of my buddies are going to this old tuberculosis asylum. It's gonna be sweet. If you're bored you can come along with us."
"Really?" I said, brightening up. "That's awesome! You can count me in."
The tuberculosis asylum was a hulking behemoth of a building. It loomed over us, dark and foreboding, daring us to come inside out of the cold.
"You guys ready?" said Chris, one of Mary-Kate's friends. He passed out flashlights and we headed towards the building.
"This is so totally going to rock!" said Sunshine, a small girl with green hair. "I can't wait to see some ghosties!"
"You are too adorable," Mary-Kate said, stroking the girl's mossy head. The front door hung open on its rusty hinges. The building hadn't been in use since the 1950s. Some rich car dealer had bought it recently, but hadn't done anything to repair it. They said on the news that there were plans in the works to demolish the place. I wonder what the ghosts would do if that happened. As we entered the sanatorium, a chill ran down my spine. Mary-Kate gasped quietly.
"Damn!" said Chris. "I think the temperature dropped ten degrees!"
"Yep, there's definitely ghosties in here!" Sunshine said cheerily. I pulled my coat tighter around my shoulders. When I first came to Empire City, it had been late summer. Now it was early fall and the air was growing bitter and chilly, especially at night.
"Okay, here's how this works," Chris said, turning on a small camcorder. "The first one to chicken out has to buy us lunch tomorrow, got it? Good." I already didn't like the way the old building made me feel. Yeah, it was haunted all right.
Chris led around the first floor, which was mostly offices and storage rooms. Everything was covered in about an inch of dust and the walls were slowly being devoured by mold. The ancient linoleum floors were coated in a greasy film that I couldn't identify and large portions of water-logged ceiling threatened to come crashing down on us. It smelled like death.
"I don't like it in here, Katie," Sunshine said, clinging to Mary-Kate's arm. She was like a small child in a small adult's body.
"You're not going to wuss out on us, are you Sunny?" Chris asked without turning around. She didn't respond. After a while, we went up to the second floor, where the patients had slept. It was even colder upstairs and the rooms were in even worse disrepair. Not to mention the place was about twenty times creepier than the first floor. Once in a while we would come across a lone shoe or a child's toy lying abandoned in the decrepit rooms. Most of the mattresses on the cots had rotted away, leaving behind rusted frames and springs. A thick blanket of melancholy hung over the entire place.
As we passed by a recreational room whose floor was littered with discarded needles and a couple deflated basketballs, I saw something strange out of the corner of my eye: a little girl running down the hall. Suddenly and without thinking, I took off after her. I'm not sure what force made my legs move. It certainly wasn't a willing action because every cell of my brain was screaming at me to stop.
"Larissa!" Mary-Kate called after me, but I was gone. I had disappeared down the hallway, leaving my flashlight behind. I didn't need it because the girl was glowing.