Chapter 4:

The Lonely Girl in the Kensington, Sophie

The Love Triangle Between Me, The Class President, & The Spirit Possessing Me

I don’t faint. Yes, I get pretty dizzy and go weak at the knees, but I do stay conscious and I’m pretty sure I deserve a gold medal for keeping myself together as well as I do.

I mean, ghosts? Proof of life after death? It’s a lot to take in. What else am I in the dark about? Aliens? El Chupacabra? Santa Claus?!

“Gosh, you’re paler than I am,” the ghost girl says, sounding more annoyed than worried about me. “You better not faint! You said you were getting lost, so go!”

Walking isn’t gonna happen until my knees resolidify from whatever flavor of jelly they’ve turned into. The ghost isn’t too patient a girl, though, and she reaches out to shake me by the shoulders.

Unlike when I tried to grab her, her hands don’t cleanly pass through me. As soon as she makes contact, she vanishes, like a balloon popping. A chill runs up my spine and a wave of nausea cramps my stomach. It passes after a moment, though, and when it does I’m alert and able to stand. Apparently the shock to the system hit my mental reset button. Now I’m mostly just confused about where the ghost went.

Maybe she got so annoyed she stormed out on me, so to speak.

“Sorry to bother you,” I try, even though I’m probably talking to an empty room now and feel a little stupid. “You scared the crap out of me, that’s all.” That’s an understatement, though thankfully not literal. “Maybe I scared you too? I didn’t mean to. I really am going now, so, uh… bye?”

At this point, I really don’t care if Blaine’s outside waiting for me. At least a black eye is something I can wrap my brain around.

As I wobble on unsteady legs back down the hallway, I swear I can feel someone nearby, like someone’s walking next to me. If it’s the ghost, she obviously doesn’t feel like chatting any more than she did before. I guess that’s fair. She’s not doing anything scary, so I can leave and hopefully make it all the way to my bedroom before I have a total meltdown.

My eyes are used to the dark by now, so I don’t trip over any of the broken furniture or rotten boards strewn all over the reception area this time. I pause with my hand on the door handle.

“Hey, sorry again about barging into your… home?” I don’t really know what else to say, but leaving without saying anything feels weirdly rude. “I guess you could crash at my house sometime, and we could call it even.” It’s a lame joke, and I don’t actually want to be haunted in my own home, but I’m sure she gets what I mean.

Just loud enough to hear, her voice floats through the air. “You really mean it? After I yelled at you, and all?”

Okay, maybe she doesn’t get it, and if I say “psych” now I’ll hurt her feelings and I’ll have to deal with bleeding walls or something. “Yeah, I guess?” I say, clearing my throat nervously. “If you wanted?”

The ghost slowly takes shape in front of me, like frost forming on a windowpane. Thank goodness she’s given up on looking like a giant bug. Instead, her face looks a little hopeful… but mostly sad.

She clasps her hands in front of her. “Gee, that’s…” She lifts one hand to her mouth, stifling a small hiccup or cough. Or is she trying not to cry? Can ghosts cry? “That’s awfully kind of you, really. I wish I could, just to visit with somebody, just to see something different.”

“Well, why not, then?” My opinion on being haunted does a quick about-face, seeing how lonely she looks. A visit couldn’t hurt, right? She doesn’t seem evil, or dangerous.

In answer to my question, she approaches the door and reaches out her hand. As her hand gets closer to the door, I notice a faint glow appear and spread in front of it, glassy and smooth. When she touches it, it shoves her back into the room.

“If I try to get past the outer walls, or the roof, or go too far under the basement, this happens,” she says. “I haven’t been outside in… I don’t know how long. I don’t think I can.”

Well, this takes hikikomori to a whole new level, huh? Looking at the ghost’s flapper hairstyle and everything, she must be from around the 1920s. That’s a long time to go without fresh air.

“Has anyone tried to help smuggle you out?” I’m still reeling from the whole issue of ghosts being real, don’t get me wrong, but having a problem to solve always makes me feel more in control. And my parents raised me to help people who need it. “Maybe I could, I dunno, carry you?”

For a second, the ghost looks puzzled. Then her eyes light up. Literally. “Oh my goodness, I never thought of that!” She rushes over to me, feet floating a good six inches off the floor. “Do you really think that would work?”

“No idea,” I say, backing up a half step so she’s not completely in my face. “It can’t hurt to try, right?”

Nodding so hard her bobbed hair flies around, she makes to dive at me again, but stops herself short.

“Ah! My manners!” She bops herself lightly on the head and grins sheepishly. “I’m as wild as Robinson Crusoe these days! Here you are being my knight in shining armor, and I didn’t even introduce myself.” She extends a hand for a handshake. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance! I’m Sophie.”

“Pleased to meetcha,” I reply, the whirlwind of the afternoon making me careless enough to let my backcountry accent creep into my voice. “Name’s Clark.”

When I shake her hand, she disappears again. There’s that wave of cold and nausea again, but there’s something new this time. It’s hard to describe, but it’s not fun. Like… like eating in reverse. I don’t mean it feels barfy. I don’t know what I mean, but it’s not something I’d want to make a habit of feeling.

“Sorry, I’ve never really done this before.” I can’t hear Sophie’s voice, but she’s talking to me just fine anyway. My own internal monologue, with someone else at the keyboard, so to speak. It’s honestly disturbing enough to distract me from the nausea. “Is this okay? You feel pretty scared.”

“Do I?” I say aloud, half for the comfort of hearing my voice come out of my mouth. “Thanks for letting me know.” Guess I have to keep a handle on my emotions while Sophie’s riding shotgun in my head. I take a few deep breaths. I’m not gonna be completely calm, because this is objectively freaky, but I try my best to do the mental version of cramming all the clutter and laundry into the closet and slamming the door.

Thankfully, Sophie doesn’t seem as interested in my brain as my body. … That came out weird. She’s busy moving my hands around and staring at them.

“Wow,” Sophie says in my head, and this time my lips move to match the words. “It’s been such an awfully long time. I feel so heavy!”

Honestly, aside from the inherent weirdness of the whole situation, her wonderment over something as boring as my hands, hangnails and all, is cute.

...Right up until she pokes me in the eye with my own finger.


I feel something intangible in my head shrink as I blink through tears. “Sorry!” Sophie squeaks in my brain. “I’m not used to moving like this anymore.”

I sigh. The pain is already fading, but I’m not eager to find out how else she can manage to mess me up. “How about I drive, huh?” If I try, it’s not hard to take back control. Maybe because she’s not trying to possess me for real, or maybe because I have a deep well of willpower I’m just finding out about now. The second option is cooler.

With one last pause to wipe my eye, I straighten up and face the door. “Ready to go?”

Sophie can’t nod my head, but the feeling comes across. “Aye aye, captain!”

I head for the door, and it takes about a second to notice something’s wrong. Every step feels like wading through a hip-deep pool of water. Then a pool of molasses. Then… I don’t know, wet cement, maybe.

It’s an effort to turn the door handle, and pulling it open takes me hauling back with my full weight. I step over the threshold onto the sidewalk.

No sign of Blaine, at least. By now the sun has set and the stars are coming out.

“Oh,” Sophie exclaims. “It worked! I can’t believe-”

Like a rubber band snapping back into shape, something launches us back into the hotel. I hit the floor and tumble over in a backward roll, ending up sitting on my butt staring back at the doorway, aching and confused.

The feeling of resistance and extra weight is gone.

I’m not the only one thrown for a loop. “Oh! Oh, horsefeathers!” There’s a wobble in her mental voice.

“We’re close,” I say, having no idea if we’re actually close to getting her out or not. I stand up again and dust myself off.

I was walking slowly last time. Maybe we have to reach escape velocity to get Sophie through whatever mumbo jumbo keeps her trapped in the hotel.

Dirt scrunches under my shoes as I take off sprinting for the doorway. If I run, I can punch a hole right through to freedom!

I make it one extra step outside. When the barrier flings me back into the hotel, it’s hard enough that I catch air for a moment before landing hard on my shoulder and tumbling head over heels through the dust.

“I should have known this wouldn’t work,” Sophie murmurs in the back of my head while I wait for the room to stop spinning.

Sitting up, I brush chunks of plaster and ancient cobwebs from my hair. “I’m the one getting knocked around,” I say, tasting grit on my lips. “Why are you the one giving up right away? We can figure this out.”

Clearly, going out through the door isn’t working. Maybe it’s something about the door?

I stand up. “Okay. Third time’s the charm!” All the windows on the ground floor are broken out after decades of kids throwing rocks through them. It’s simple enough to climb over the windowsill and outside.

… Or it should be. There’s no glass in the window, but nevertheless I press against resistance strong enough to bounce me back inside. So much for the door being special.

Sophie said she couldn’t get through the outside walls or the roof, but she also doesn’t have any mass. It’s possible that whatever keeps her here isn’t equally strong across the whole building. What if it’s strongest here, on the ground level? It might be weaker higher up.

A nervousness that isn’t mine pipes up at the back of my head as I pick my way up the grand staircase. It’s not in the best shape, and I’m careful to test each step before putting my weight on it, but it’s probably not going to collapse under me.

“It’s okay,” I say, when I feel Sophie’s anxiety get stronger at the top of the stairs. “I have another idea.”

I keep climbing up the intact stairways I find until I open the door leading out onto the roof. It’s here that I have some second thoughts. This roof has definitely seen better days.

Still, I’m no stranger to climbing around on rickety old things. Old houses and abandoned junker cars were practically playground equipment for us kids back in my hometown. At the edge of the roof, I find what I’m looking for: a gutter downspout that’s still securely attached to the wall. It leads far enough down that I can safely jump to the ground when I reach the end.

“I don’t think I like this idea of yours,” Sophie says, and I feel a fleeting urge to wring my hands. “As much as I’m happy to have company, I don’t want you ending up trapped here with me.”

I chuckle. “It’ll be fine. It’s not as high as it looks.” We’re six stories up, so we’re definitely high enough that it’ll be bad news for me if I fall. With that in mind, I take my time getting situated on the roof ledge, testing the gutter to make sure it won’t tear free from its bolts when I put my weight on it.

Hand over hand, foot by foot, I inch down the wall. Like I said, I know what I’m doing, even if this kind of thing was easier when I was little and weighed a lot less. This is still no worse than climbing the rope in gym class. Now and then the gutter creaks in a way I don’t like, but it holds firm.

Until I’m halfway down the side of the building, that is.

Three stories above the alleyway, the gutter shifts under my hands. Metal shrieks as it tears away from the brackets holding it to the wall, and I swing out into empty space.

There isn’t even time to shout. My feet slip off the gutter, then my hands. I fall.

Sophie screams in my head.