Chapter 7:

Some All-Nighter Thoughts, From An Expert on the Subject

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

It’s near dawn when the late-night anime block segues into the early-morning preschool cartoons. Sophie, having mastered the alphabet, colors, and counting to ten long ago, takes this as a sign that she’s done watching the moving pictures for today. With a great effort, she pushes on the button below the screen labeled “power,” delighted to find that this does indeed turn off the screen. Such a wonderful contraption! She’ll have to ask Clark to explain how the thing works.

A question is half-formed on her tongue before she remembered that Clark was asleep, and wouldn’t appreciate her waking him up. Poor lamb. He really did look exhausted, and the bruises on his skin were turning a frightful purple.

Sophie is still of a mind that he needs a doctor, but men could be so ridiculous about these things. Not that she has direct experience beyond some decaying paperback novels she’s read and reread a thousand times from dusty nightstands in the hotel.

Since she can’t talk to Clark just yet, Sophie’s mind drifts back over the moving pictures she’d passed the night with. Real thrilling stuff, even if it had been a bit frightening and crude at times. The star even cursed at points! But even so, it had been compelling. A rough and tumble young man with a good heart, given another go at the mortal coil after an untimely end so long as he fought against the wicked.

Curious, Sophie mimics the finger-gun pose the star used to strike down the villains. The Ghost Gatling, a mysterious martial arts technique from distant lands. Can she do anything like that? It’s never occurred to her to try.

Focusing hard on the tip of her index finger, Sophie coaxes every bit of gumption in her immaterial form into that one spot. A faint light grows in the air just past the tip of her finger, then fades. A measly reward for an effort that leaves her light-headed.

Girls her age don’t pout, so Sophie definitely doesn’t pout. To look on the sunny side, at least something happened. A faint light is better than nothing. Practice! That was the thing. And surely Clark knows more about it. Could it be that’s why he scooped her up out of that dungeon of a hotel? To help her make something of herself at last? Is that the sort of thing people do these days?

Clark… Does he see something worthwhile in her? He must. He’s gone to so much trouble to rescue her, after all. He even hurt himself for her sake. No one’s ever done so much for her before.

Here Sophie thought she’d known all she was capable of. In truth, she thinks she may have been getting bored and dull, trapped in that place all by her lonesome with only the insects and other vermin for company. Scaring off ne’er-do-wells and trespassers while waiting for her parents’ return is no way for a young lady to spend her time. When her mother and father do come back, surely it’ll be better to show them she’s doing something productive and improving herself.

Looking at Clark, Sophie wonders how much longer he’s going to sleep. Or perhaps he’s already awake, and merely partaking in that “meditation” jazz like the characters in the moving pictures enjoy.

Without a second thought, Sophie winds up a punch, knowing even her hardest hit will land with the force of a light tickle. Just to check, of course! Just to get his attention if he’s awake.

Or would that make him awfully sore at her? She doesn’t want that. At the last second, Sophie tries to divert her fist, her momentum tumbling her head over heels like a dandelion puff in the wind. She alights next to Clark on the bed, phased halfway through the comforter and cozy as can be. She doesn’t have any blood to blush with, but she gives it the old college try nevertheless.

Clark’s not the next thing to Valentino, for sure, but even with his face all puffy and bruised there’s a boyish sweetness to him. Maybe it’s just that Sophie hasn’t had a good look at anyone her own age in so long, but it feels nice to look at him, counting freckles and eyelashes and watching the sunrise light up dusty blond hair.

She considers leaning forward to give him a peck on the forehead, but she’s scandalized at her own thought. Golly, she was never so forward while she was alive!

Clark mumbles something in his sleep and Sophie nearly jumps clean out of her skin. Is he waking up? Oh, no no no! Flailing, she moves to get clear of the bed before Clark can see her there and mortify her so badly she dies a second time. Entirely without meaning to, her elbow catches Clark in the temple. Not hard, since she’s a ghost, but hard enough to conk him out in his already-fragile state.

She’s worried until she hears him snoring.

“Goodness,” Sophie murmurs to herself, sapped and sagging back down into the comforter. “I could go into fits at this rate.” She lay a hand over her heart, even though it obviously wasn’t really racing.

Too much excitement in one day. That’s what it is. She’s been living like a hermit all these years, and now she’s all in a tizzy. Maybe it’s alright if Clark sleeps in. It gives her a chance to settle herself down.

It’s silly, the way Sophie lets herself get carried away. She can’t fully blame that on the long years spent alone in the Kensington, watching polished brass turn green and wallpaper slough off moldering walls. Talking to cockroaches and believing in fairy tales were extremely Sophie things to do, living or dead. Her parents would often scold her for daydreaming. Trying to catch pixies on camera, having long conversations with cats and dogs in the vague hope they could understand her, telling a girl classmate she’d be the first to ride to the rescue in shining armor should the girl ever fall prey to a wicked sorcerer… There were many things Sophie did during life that were inappropriate for a girl her age.

The only difference now is that, given she’s a spirit, it’s gotten that much harder to maintain an accurate idea of where reality ends and fantasy begins. It’s not easy to stay grounded when her feet don’t touch the ground.

Of course, Clark isn’t a martial arts master who sits under waterfalls and goes out looking for ghosts to recruit into his noble cause. The thought never would have crossed Sophie’s mind if she hadn’t just spent several hours immersed in adventure stories about that exact thing. He’s a boy who stumbled across Sophie by accident, and was kind enough not to leave without her.

That’s quite fantastical enough without Sophie’s fevered mind heaping a load of nonsense on top.

It’s comfortable to lie still and watch the sunlight filter through the curtains on the window. Unbidden, Sophie recalls her mother taking her aside when she was around twelve or thirteen, admonishing her not to grow up into one of those girls who sleep around with men. She’d been afraid to ask her mother what that meant, but surely what Sophie was doing now wouldn’t pass muster, would it?

Sophie pictures her mother’s stern frown and disappointed glare. No. It wouldn’t.

Sighing, she rises from the bed, making for a more ladylike place to rest. She’s just settled on a spot near the bookcase when the room erupts into ear-splitting screeching noise.