If he was from a normal family he would actually follow what parents would advise their kids: don’t talk to strangers. Sadly, he wasn’t. Whether he was from a normal family or not, he would still talk to strangers because what parents say, children disobey.
Artemis Hopkins, combing his golden fringe back, stood silent as a mouse in front what people dubbed as “the haunted house”. The gates were closed but not locked. It looked rusty and old, wild vines grew curling on the bars. The eerie silence engulfing the house made him more curious. It was the sort of house one would see in horror movies, an abandoned place inhibited by apparitions. He was just not certain if ghosts were really living here. Though this place was uncanny in a nutshell, that—exactly—made it beautiful.
The blond dragged his bike as he trespassed in its lot. Due to his growing loneliness, he decided to pick up his bike and explore this town a few hours ago. It was his first time staying here and he thought it would be a nice day to familiarize himself in a place where he’d be living in for a whole year. So, he ended up standing in front the house his neighbours would always talk about.
“You must be lonely to find me.” Strangely enough, these were the very first words she ever had spoken to him. For two people who had not met before, such declaration was quite bold. Artemis turned and leaned his bike against the ivory-covered wall. There was a girl sitting under the shade of tree, her hair was short and dark—it was a weird hue of black—and from there she was smiling to him.
Don’t talk to strangers. He could hear the wind whispering that maxim to his ears, or maybe it was just his mind. Artemis dashed to her, wanting to ask why she was here. He did not know her personally, didn’t see her before, so her greetings wasn’t making any sense.
The girl was still smiling when he reached the shade. There was a blue bird perched on her right shoulder which was staring inquisitively at him. “What are you doing here? Do you want some tea?” she turned to her side and pulled up a cup and a stout teapot. She was about to fill the cup when he winced his head to refuse her offer.
Artemis focused his eyes on the house. It was a shell, a very ornate one at that, but it was bleak and void. Upon that realization, it dawned to him how close his resemblance to the haunted house. Did it sadden him? No. He was an empty shell too, seemingly fine on the outside but barren deep within. For a good half-minute he stood motionless there, thoughts ran ceaselessly in his head.
“This looks familiar, no? A house but no home,” the girl stood, brushing off the leaf blades stuck on her white dress. The blue bird fluttered its wings as she stood as though it was balancing itself on her shoulder. They exchanged words here and there—it was a very quick conversation though, but soon he found himself sharing a story to her.
Once there was a boy who lived in a house estranged from woe. However, as what the common adage used to tell us, all (great) things will come to an end. The house he used to fill with laughter crumbled into pieces, and now all that was left was nothing—nothing, not even ashes. No words could define the growing loneliness inside him and before he knew it, grief swallowed him whole. The boy only wanted to see his mom and dad together—to see all of them together—and live like the happy family they were once. In this bleak present though, he couldn’t see any possibility for such little dream.
Figuratively speaking, he was homeless. Artemis told Lufia that besides sulking in his room, he sometimes wanted to get out and have a stroll. Lufia warned the boy that their meeting was a mishap which would escalate to a terrible isolation he might not endure. The warning had no effect, it never scared him. He said, “I can’t be moved by any sadness anymore.” Laughing, she told him that in exchange of taking that risk, he would find what he was looking for.
“What is lost is gone forever,” he added. Artemis knew that there were things he couldn’t get back anymore. Like his parents’ relationship, that thing he couldn’t mend anymore. On one hand if it was her way of comforting people, that was rather a futile attempt. Say that not to someone who sees world this bleak; say that to anyone but Artemis.
“Things need to find their way back. Give it some time.” Lufia beamed at him, it was a face he would never forget. Though she was acting too friendly for his liking and speaking too odd for her age—sixteen like him—Artemis acknowledged her. Everyone’s entitled with his or her opinion.
Artemis would spend hours with her whenever he could just for the very reason that her company was enjoyable. They would sit quietly next to each other, sometimes he would ask her about things she seemed not to do—school, books, house chores. Lufia would answer him the best she could; for most of the times she would answer him with laughter. She was a laughter-loving girl. Sometimes it was her who would ask about the things he would always do—study, books and house chores—and hearing him answer delighted her. The afternoons he spent with her made him feel like he wasn’t homeless at all. Albeit they were polar opposites—she was optimistic and he, pessimist—their personalities worked out.
The blond secretly liked her smile. There was something in Lufia’s smile which compelled his sorrowful heart to open its lid and let joy pour in. It was as though spending time with her fills the hole in his heart, the wound he thought would never close, and the simple realizations such as this scared him a little. He was not used to happiness.
Rumours about the ghost in the haunted house spread like wildfire. Like her warning though, doors shut at his face. People began alienating him, mostly it was his classmates, and such treatment began when he was seen talking to no one in the haunted house. Artemis lost a friend or two; they believed he was ill and delusional. Perhaps it was the stress, some said. Maybe he was depressed, others claimed. No, he could see ghosts—this was the all-time favourite rumour, nevertheless.
Artemis was certain that Lufia was mysterious. She went by the name Lufia—just Lufia—and he never heard her spoke of her family. It was not also clear if she was living near the haunted house or she was, in fact, living in the Haunted house. What fascinated him the most was the blue bird she was always playing with.
One day he sat by her side, eyes boring holes on her back. She had the darkest hair he had ever seen before, it seemed unnatural. Artemis asked her if she was a ghost, and she responded with a laugh. “I am what you believe I am,” she told him when her laughing fit was over. “I exist—it is the world’s fault to miss me.” When he shot her a puzzled look, she continued, “I’m older than time to deal with trust issues, sunshine.” The girl reminded her of the isolation she told him beforehand. Perhaps it was beginning bother him, she said.
It was probable that Lufia was diverting the talk to something else so he did not ask further questions. Instead he believed what she said. There must be a reason why others could not see Lufia, he thought, and that seeing her was a privilege only he could have. One thing is for certain: Lufia was what he found when he was trying to fill the hole in his heart—she was a gift, whatever she may be, and he was grateful for that.
“I can’t be moved by any sadness anymore,” because what sadness could be lonelier than feeling it the second time around?
Yes, Artemis finally managed to be happy.
Tanya Tipett – he dreaded the sound of her name not because she was a new student, but because she was assigned to be his lab partner. Her hair was lighter than his shade of blond, eyes brighter than the azure seas. The knockout was truly kind-hearted. She was treating Artemis as though the rumours never existed. Tanya boldly claimed that Artemis was not mentally ill or delusional. Artemis Hopkins was a good person, she told them. This did not please the majority, however, and Ben told her the time when someone caught Artemis spending his afternoons in the Haunted House. Tanya wanted to prove Ben wrong. That afternoon then, she secretly followed Artemis after class.
The girl found Artemis in the haunted house. He was sitting under the tree beside a girl with ebony-black hair. A blue bird was perched on her shoulder, and her smile was noticeably charming. Was this the reason why they say terrible things about Artemis? Because he got to spend afternoons with a fair girl? Unreasonable. She decided to leave and scold Ben, but a hand stopped her departure. Turning, she saw the girl and Artemis standing behind her. He had a surprised look on his face too.
Lufia invited Tanya to join them and the blonde willingly went off with them. When the afternoon was over, Artemis asked Lufia why Tanya could see her. “Same reason why you can see me, sunshine. I show up to those worthy of my presence.” The ever confused Artemis begged her to answer something he could comprehend. “She is like you when we first met. She’s seeking me, though you’re the sadder version.”
He scowled. Lufia never answered him properly. “Do you know why I am Lufia, Artemis? My name’s from lufu, love. Isn’t that what you’re looking for before when you first came? The love your parents lost both for you and themselves?” She was petting her blue bird again, but this time she handed it to him. “Now, go. Take care of this blue bird for me.”
Artemis didn’t understand why she was giving the bird to him. He knew this was really important to her, that she wouldn’t be seen without it perched on her shoulder. Lufia gave him a parting smile and before he could thank her, she ran away. He glanced down on the bird and saw a note tied on its foot.
“There’s a blue bird in you. Don’t be afraid to let it show.”