"How do you know my name?!" Peter cried out while stepping back and swinging his bat threateningly at the woman. "Who are you?!"
The woman did not flinch at his attempt to be intimidating and once again closed the distance between them by gliding forward a few inches.
"Don't you remember me? I'm Gwen and you're Pak Hei. We were friends..."
Gwendoline came to a stop as Peter lowered the bat. They studied each other's faces and he soon noticed the ligature marks on her neck. That, along with her bobbed hair and flowing white nightdress, made it clear what he was dealing with.
"You're a ghost..."
"Yes, I know." Gwendoline replied, frowning in disbelief upon hearing him state the obvious.
"...I'm not finished. You're clearly a foreigner. How did you die here?"
"That's...that's why I've been looking for you. You're the only one who can really help me out..."
She reached out to grab his hand, only for it to pass right through and cause Peter to feel a paralyzing chill run up his arm. He stared at her in uncertainty.
"Help you? How?"
"You'll only understand if I start from the beginning..." She said quietly while making her way to one of the dining tables and pulling out a chair. "Are you willing to sit down with me and hear everything?"
Peter clutched the handle of his bat tightly and considered the likelihood that his parents were still fast asleep in the apartment. He checked his watch to find that the time was five past eleven.
"Okay, but I can't stay here too long. Will an hour be enough?"
"Yes. That amount of time should suffice."
Gwendoline sat down and waited for him to do the same before she cleared her throat. He found himself staring once again at where her marks were located and wondered if she found it painful to speak.
"I guess not. She doesn't have flesh or blood..."
"I...I was born in London in 1906. I was what my parents called a 'difficult child' and they didn't understand me any better when I grew up..."
She placed a hand up to her eye as if wiping away a tear, though it were physically impossible for a ghost to cry. Peter began to feel a little bit of sympathy for her while trying to imagine the sort of upbringing she may have had.
"My father used to tell me I'd be lucky if I ended up in a whorehouse. I proved him wrong when I met Wallace at age nineteen..."
"...He came into our room that night, drunker than I'd ever seen him before. I had a feeling something was wrong from the look in his eyes but I was too afraid to ask..."
Peter was now leaning on the edge of his seat, for hearing about how Gwendoline and the bellhop had become friends now left him fearing the worst sort of ending.
"He must have thought we were closer than we really were, because..."
"Wait?! What do you mean, 'we'?" Peter spoke up in alarm as soon as he realized her choice of English pronouns.
"You are him, aren't you?" Gwendoline firmly insisted. "You have his name, face and voice..."
"Maybe..." Peter said in response. "But there are a billion people in the Mainland and six million of us here. Of course there would be someone with the same name as me..."
"But you look just like him! And it's been exactly seventy years!"
He found it hard to think of a convincing argument for such a claim and decided to just attribute it to coincidence.
"Yes, well, that's possible too..."
Gwendoline lowered her head in despair.
"So you don't remember anything? Nothing at all?"
"As far as I can recall, I've never been anyone else..."
She stared straight into his eyes and paused for a few seconds before speaking again.
"But you can see me. That must mean something..."
Peter was at a loss of words. Surely, fate was only something the superstitious or naive believed in? He decided that letting Gwendoline continue her story would provide the best chance for him to understand his place in this strange business.
"I...I guess it does. Is there more you want to tell me about that night?"
"Yes. Where was I?" Gwendoline replied with some hesitation. "Wallace was drunk and acting strange. He looked at me like he wanted to play some horrible game and started bragging about... about how..."
"What happened? Go on..."
"About how he'd just killed a Chinaman."
Peter immediately regretted asking as his stomach began to feel heavy.
"I...I called him a liar before he grabbed me and swore to God that it was true. I tried to break away, but he pinned me down against the bed and the next thing I knew, his hands were around my neck..."
"So he strangled you?"
"It wasn't just that. He accused me of being a race traitor and told me I didn't deserve to live in this world... it was like listening to my father all over again."
Gwendoline's hand shifted up to her neck in a desperate attempt to conceal the mark of her violent death and Peter stood up without much thought.
"No, don't hide it!"
"Why not? I'm the one to blame for what happened to us. It's only fair that I should be ashamed..."
"You're wrong. It wasn't your fault at all."
"It was. You stopped visiting me because you were afraid, and I only responded by tracking you down myself..."
"Hey, listen. I don't care what happened to me in another life..." Peter argued as he glanced down at his watch to discover that it was almost midnight. "I wouldn't trade this one for another. For that, I have to be grateful..."
"So you'll forgive me? Is that what you're saying?"
"Forgive you?" He questioned in surprise. "O-Of course I do. Blame Wallace, not yourself."
"How...how could I? He was-"
"Not a good person. No man should kill his girlfriend because of that..."
"Then...what would you have done if you were in his shoes?"
"I..." Peter began to answer reluctantly as he thought of his classmate Jillian Kwok. "I think I would ask her why..."
Gwendoline gave a sniff.
"Wallace never gave me a chance to explain myself. I guess that was what really plagued me all these years..."
"So, does this mean you can move on now?"
"Not yet." She replied, her voice reverting to it's previous lilt. "There's another thing I need to tell you."
"What is it?"
"He...he hid my body underneath some floorboards afterwards and left here to save his own skin. If you can, find what's left of me and see to it that I get a proper burial."
Fulfilling such a request was beyond Peter's ability and despite the guilt it gave him, he had to decline.
"I'm sorry, but I don't think I can. If someone like me came forward with a skeleton, it would be suspicious. And everyone would think I was crazy."
"Alright, well I understand..." Gwendoline said in resignation, before leaving her chair and gliding back toward the door. "Thank you for your time..."
"Oh, one more thing!" Peter called out after her. She came to a stop and turned to look at him again.
"This place is going to be demolished soon. I don't want you to be homeless."
Gwen smirked knowingly, then vanished into thin air. Peter blinked and couldn't help but stare at the empty doorway for the next minute or so.
His sense of urgency eventually returned and he grabbed the baseball bat while preparing to make the journey back to the apartment.
Little did he know, his parents had become aware that something was wrong mere minutes after he'd left and disregarding his note, called the police when none of their acquaintances seemed to know where he was.
As if being unable to fall asleep on a summer's night weren't bad enough for Jillian Kwok, she knew that leaving the safety of her mosquito net fortified bed would mean having her flawless skin ruined and possibly contracting a horrible disease.
Because of this, she could do little but lie uncomfortably and stare at the wall while doing her best to ignore the obnoxious buzzing a few feet away. She always wondered how her parents could put up with such annoyances and as usual, attributed it their rural upbringings in Guangdong province.
The faint sound of pop music drifting in through the open window led her to assume that some people were having a party next door. It reminded her of how she'd gone to a karaoke bar with friends one weekend in May.
It had taken all of her self-control to not become completely flustered at having to sit next to the handsome but reserved Peter Tsui on the bus, something which didn't fail to amuse the others even as they got off and made their way into the building.
He had shown an unexpected side when it was his turn to sing and at the time, she'd believed it was her own wishful thinking that had made it briefly seem like his words and lingering gaze were directed solely at her.
"I'm so stupid..." She bemoaned in her mind. "Why would he be interested in me and not someone else? Other girls are prettier..."
She shifted into a more comfortable position before continuing to belittle herself.
"He must have been looking at Cecilia or Vicki. We were sitting close together..."
She heard the phone ring in the kitchen but decided to let her father be the one to answer it. The conversation soon sounded loud and clear through two walls and a door while she sat up to listen.
"What's that you say?! You think he's gone missing?!"
"Yes! The only thing he left us was a note!"
"Well, he definitely isn't here! Try asking someone else!"
"We already have! We're calling the police next!"
"Best of luck, then! I hope you find him soon!
"Thank you! We can't bear to lose our Pak Hei!"
Jillian felt an unfathomable sense of dread upon hearing the name. She remembered how Peter had become too embarrassed to continue halfway through his song and ran out of the room as a result. Perhaps the shame from such an incident had been so bad that he'd decided to end his own life rather than suffer.
"Wherever you are, please stop and think again. There are people who would be hurt forever if you..."
She burst into tears and assumed a fetal position in an attempt to compose herself.
Peter trudged out of the elevator at a quarter to one in the morning and walked through the corridor before coming to an abrupt stop. A policeman was standing right by the entrance to the apartment and trying hard to calm down his hysterical parents.
"I was only gone for two hours. Why do they have to overreact to everything?"
The policeman heard his footsteps and slowly turned to face him in confusion. His parents soon did the same.
"Mrs Tsui, is this boy your son by any chance?"
"Yes, officer! He is!"
Peter was being hugged tightly by his mother in no time and found he was no match for the power of maternal love.
"How could you sneak out so late at night?! We thought you'd been kidnapped!"
"Mom...didn't you read my note? I left my textbook at a friend's house and had to get it back..."
"Why not wait until morning?!"
"Because it's Monday?"
"Oh, it is."
She let go of him and took some time to wipe away her tears while the other two males watched in disbelief.
"Next time, just tell us? Your father and I would be more than happy to drive you. No price is too big for education..."
Whatever had happened in the inn was but a distant memory when Peter attended school a week later as if nothing unusual had ever happened. He did what anyone hardworking student concerned about their future would do, and that was paying attention to the teacher while treating any upcoming exams as battles in which failure could be roughly equated to death itself.
A paper plane flew across the room and landed on his desk shortly after the bell rang to signal the start of lunchtime. He spotted part of a familiar character between the plane's wings and unfolded it in curiosity to discover a message that looked too good to be true.
Kwok Jyu-Ling likes you. Go talk to her.
He put the plane down and turned to look hesitantly at Jillian while she hurriedly gathered up her books. He didn't feel ready yet to approach her by himself, let alone say what was really on his mind, so he ended up putting off the daunting task once again.
"Maybe next week. I don't feel up to it today..."
Jillian Kwok: Jyun Choi-nei
Cecilia Chan: Lau Piu-piu
Vicki Lo: Zhao Fangfang
Peter Tsui: Tom Hao
Mr Tsui: Albert Au
Mrs Tsui: Yun Zhifan
Mr Kwok: Cheung Wan-To
Mrs Kwok: Sandy Koh
Mrs Yuen: Miu Tsui-Fa
Gwendoline: Stephanie Reynolds
Wallace: William Boone