""I'm gonna need you to go and disintegrate some ghosts"," grumbled Antonia in an irritated mocking of Valerie's voice, creeping down the corridor as slowly as humanly possible. ""Just do what I did earlier". "All you need to do is catch the ghost in one or both of your hands". Easy for you to say, ghost hunter."
So far, she hadn't met any ghosts. Whether that was good or bad, Antonia had NO idea. The only thing she knew was that it was just increasing her fear and cold anticipation to the point where she was now jumping every time she saw ANYTHING move, even her own hand.
Just as she turned a corner, she spotted a transparent shape floating near the ceiling. She let out a muted yelp and darted back round the corner, pressing her back against the wall.
After making sure her electrical gloves were on, in both senses of the word, she took a deep breath and charged out into the open, yelling, "C'MERE, GHOSTIE!"
The shape immediately disappeared.
Antonia blinked a couple of times, before sighing and growling. "OF course. I hate everything right now."
She turned slowly round in a circle, watching out for the ghost. As soon as she saw the shape appear near her, she leapt out and managed to catch hold of the ghost's tail. Immediately, she felt the gloves hum with electricity, but this feeling was immediately dampened by the ghost pulling violently against her grip. She held it with both hands, all her strength going into maintaining her grip on the ghost. She lost her footing and fell forwards, but the wraith didn't slip out of her grasp.
Luckily, the ten seconds were soon over, and the ghost shrieked and exploded with a quiet popping sound, leaving Antonia to fall onto her face. She groaned and sat up, rubbing her stinging nose.
But her pain was soon overtaken by her excitement. She cheered and hit the ground with her fist. "IJUSTTOOKDOWNAGHOST!" she screeched, letting go of the metaphorical breath she had been metaphorically holding since separating from Valerie and Kassidy.
She hoped the two ghost hunters would be proud of her achievement.
After a few minutes, she breathed out deeply and got to her feet, making sure her equipment was still working. The paranormal scanner had calmed down a bit; clearly there were no more ghosts in this area.
So she carried on down the corridor and was promptly met by another ghost, who was flying round and round the hallway, creating a cold wind that made Antonia shiver. She rubbed her gauntlets together, smirking. This'll be easy.
Unfortunately, the ghost sensed her presence and quickly fled. Antonia took off after it, only just able to keep the pace. She reached for the ghost's tail at least four times, but each time, she failed to grasp it.
After a while, she began to quickly fatigue. Using her last bit of strength and energy, she dived forward and managed to catch the very end of the ghost's tail, falling again to the ground as she did. The ghost continued fleeing, however, so she was dragged along as it tried to escape, which made her job of holding on so much harder.
After the ten seconds that felt more like ten hours, the ghost disintegrated with another loud shriek.
Antonia flopped on her back, closing her eyes and regaining her breath and energy. This is the most exercise I've ever done, and I've done a paper round since I was fifteen.
"Hey!" came a girl's voice suddenly.
Antonia yelped and looked up, startled.
Standing by her feet was a girl of about seventeen or eighteen, wearing a short brown dress, white leggings, and black school-style shoes. Her brown hair was in a plait down the back of her neck, and she was holding a binder against her chest.
"Hey," the girl said again sincerely. "Did you know that this place is haunted?"
Antonia stared up at her, her mouth hung open uselessly.
"I haven't gotten any hard evidence, though," the girl continued. "Just second-hand accounts of paranormal activity going on here since the place was built five hundred years ago. I don't know if there are any ghosts here at the moment, but I saw on the news that they think this place is being plagued by ghosts, so I had to come and see for myself. I haven't seen anything yet, though. Have you?"
After a good whole minute's silence, Antonia lay back, covered her face with her hands, and started laughing hysterically.
Have I seen a ghost?! Buddy, I've been attacked by ghosts, haunted by ghosts, learned a hundred times more about ghosts in the last hour than I have over my entire life, AND caught at least two by now. "Seen" isn't anywhere near the half of it.
But aloud, after she managed to stop laughing, she said, "Yeah, I've seen a ghost." She turned over and got to her feet, finding that she towered over the girl despite their small age difference. "Several, actually. This building is most DEFINITELY haunted."
"Really?" The girl's eyes lit up. "That's cool! I'm Taylor Henson and I like haunted buildings. I've never seen any ghosts for myself, but I want to. I want to be a historian when I grow up, but studying ghosts is my hobby."
Antonia noticed that Taylor was having some trouble communicating: she wasn't meeting Antonia's eyes, her voice was unusually quiet and flickered between two different pitches, she was stumbling over a few of her words, and she kept fiddling with the hem of her dress. If Antonia hadn't spent two years babysitting a different girl with similar signs, she wouldn't have recognised them.
"How old are you?" Antonia asked slowly.
Barely missing a beat, Taylor replied, "Eighteen." But again, she wouldn't look Antonia in the eyes.
That all but confirmed it to Antonia. "I'm sorry if this is a rude question, but are you on the autistic spectrum?"
Taylor hesitated, her fingers tapping on the edge of her binder. "Well, my dad is a doctor and he took me for a test and said I have something called "Asperger"."
Asperger's Syndrome, Antonia realised. That explains it. She IS autistic.
Antonia nodded slowly. "I get it. I'm Antonia Addams, by the way. I'm-."
"-the mayor's daughter," Taylor finished with her. "I know. I heard you tell that ghost hunter."
Antonia slowly frowned. "How did you hear that? Have you been spying on me?"
"Yes," Taylor replied unexpectedly. "From the vents. But I didn't mean to. I just overheard people talking and I wanted to ask if they had seen any ghosts but I couldn't work up the courage to speak."
Anxiety. That's what Bella had as well, Antonia thought. Social anxiety is common in people with Asperger's so I'd better be careful with what I say.
"How did you get into the vents?" she asked slowly.
"The same way your friend did," Taylor replied. "The red-haired lady, I mean. She can really climb a building. Also, I distracted the police so that she could climb in undetected, so if you see her, tell her it was me. I'd appreciate that."
If you were just hearing Taylor's voice, you wouldn't be able to detect that she had autism, apart from her tendency to stumbling over some of the longer words. Her voice had stopped changing between two pitches—Antonia assumed that had only happened because she was nervous about talking to someone new—but her voice was still quiet, as if she was constantly afraid of saying the wrong thing.
"I will," Antonia said. "What are you going to do now?"
Taylor looked up and met Antonia's eyes for the briefest of moments, before looking away again. "I heard there was an artfa…arteyfa…" She cleared her throat. "I heard there was an artefact from Ancient Roman times being displayed in the building, so I wanted to come and see it. I thought now would be the best time, since everyone has evacuated the building."
Antonia was frowning. "What happened there?"
Taylor tilted her head on one side. "What?"
"You seemed to be having trouble pronouncing "artefact" for a moment, there."
"Oh. That happens sometimes," explained Taylor. "Sometimes I can't pronounce easy words. I don't know why it happens."
And when that happens, you have to start the whole sentence again? Antonia wondered. Aloud, she said, "Oh, right. So what's this artefact you want to see?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Taylor admitted. "I think it's a laurel-wreath-decorated amphora that was given by Julius Caesar to the victor of one of the games."
"What's an amphora?"
Taylor suddenly stood up straighter. "An amphora is a type of container of a characteristic shape and size, descending from at least as early as the Neolithic Period. Amphorae were used in vast numbers for the transport and storage of various products, both liquid and dry, but mostly for wine. They are most often ceramic, but examples in metals and other materials have been found. Versions of the amphorae were one of many shapes used in Ancient Greek vase painting."
Antonia blinked in surprise, unsure of how to respond to that.
"I have a good memory when it comes to facts," Taylor said. "But I can't remember much else."
"That…That's cool," said Antonia lamely. "At least it balances out…?"
She really didn't know what to say. Her own memory had been fairly average for as long as she could remember, and she couldn't really imagine not having a good memory. Then again, she also couldn't really imagine having autism, either.
Taylor shrugged. "I guess you could say that."
After a moment's hesitation, Antonia said, "Well, good luck with finding that artefact."
"Thanks." Taylor smiled. "Good luck with whatever you're doing."
Slightly awkwardly, they parted ways.
As Antonia walked away, she spotted another shapeless being up ahead in the corridor. After making sure Taylor was gone, she crept up on the shape, but she was too late, and it disappeared into thin air.
"Not again," groaned Antonia under her breath, turning to try and spot the ghost.
"Na, na, na-na, na!" came a taunting voice that definitely didn't sound human.
This riled Antonia, who clenched her fists angrily. "Shut up! And show yourself so I can catch you!"
The same hissing, shrieking voice sounded again. At first, it sounded to Antonia like gibberish, but after a few seconds, she managed to discern that the voice was saying one thing over and over again: "You will die."
Antonia's blood froze and she raised the gauntlets nervously, her hands shaking. "Sh-Show yourself!" she yelled again.
She didn't realise how short of breath she was getting until she suddenly found that she could barely breathe. She shook the gauntlets off her hands and massaged her neck and chest at the same time, but it didn't help. Her throat was getting tighter and tighter, as if someone was strangling her with a thick rope. Coughing and choking and gasping for breath, she managed to let out a strangled scream before her vision went completely black and shut down.
A split second later, her brain followed.