When she opened her eyes, she knew exactly what she was expecting to see, and this wasn’t it.
In her defense, she hadn’t actually killed anyone, or at least, not in a way that they didn’t get better from. But there’s something about a softball bat swinging towards your face that makes you question some of your previous life decisions, and Cookie Girl had definitely made a lot of decisions that upon reflection definitely should have been questioned.
Like, yeah, Cookie Dude could be kind of a jerk sometimes, but she could probably have done with attacking him slightly less. But on the other hand, what are you supposed to do when someone comes up to you in middle school and says, “Hi, I’ve got almost the same name as you, except I’m cooler than you and I can regenerate,” honestly? Plus, he did kind of just kill her, and as much as she knew you couldn’t justify the past by the future, she felt kind of vindicated anyway.
What about that time to convince all her friends to fast? Nah, none of them even did, and while she might have had a resoundingly terrible swimming day, it was really only her own fault. And Cookie Dude’s fault too, for pushing her into the pool! She knew there was a reason she kept killing him.
Okay, well, she questioned her decisions, and her answer was that they were mostly pretty good. Still, she was expecting to open her eyes and see the whole ‘fire and demons and and Pokémon and rock and roll’ that Marbel was always going on about, and not floating above her own corpse, still face down in a pool of blood on the same hospital floor she was just in. There was still something weirdly compelling about the way that the trickles of liquid soaked into the cracks on the tile floor, the gentle splatters which spread out from her—
That was her—
She floated out through the ceiling. Existential angst was a new one for her, and it was especially bizarre to consider the fact that she was dead in such a graphic and personal way. Also, she was a ghost now? That rocks; there’s no point in having supernatural powers if you don’t use ‘em from time to time. Or, like, pretty much always.
It was a good thing she actually had them, though. She briefly imagined an alternate universe in which she floated up to the ceiling and hit her head instead of going through, which would have been incredibly awkward for a number of reasons. Or maybe it wasn’t? She still had no idea if anyone else could even perceive her, given that she was dead and wow she really was dead.
No corporeal form meant no more softball, no more hanging out with friends. Could she even talk to people? Was she just cursed to live forever, doing nothing but watching silently? Maybe this was hell.
An ice cream cone fell from the sky straight towards her head, and she reflexively closed her eyes before she failed to feel it hit her. Opening her eyes, she saw the pointed end of the cone sticking out a couple inches from her face, and the drips of melting vanilla caramel ran down through her ethereal torso, and she felt sick to her nonexistent stomach. She had to get inside, and fast.
She wasn’t sure why she instinctively flew to Ribbonista’s house, but she was glad she did; the moment she passed through the house’s walls, she collapsed on the floor, and the comfort from seeing the friendly paintings and bright colors of her friend’s living room was the only thing separating her from a complete breakdown. After absorbing enough of this atmosphere to calm herself, she closed her eyes, and suddenly she realized that aside from the faint sounds of cars passing in the distance, there wasn’t a single thing she could sense. It was as though the entire universe had been blocked off from her, so she stayed like that for a while, and then opened her eyes again. The room was slightly brighter, but beyond that, nothing else had changed.
Well, now was as good a time as any to try to get to grips with things, she figured. Metaphysics still being too uncomfortable a topic to deal with, she settled for trying to understanding just the physics. She could see and hear things, and she could pass through walls and float. What else was up her metaphorical sleeve?
She was on the ground. How was she not falling through the floor? Tentatively, she reached a hand down from her side through the floor, and was met with no resistance - at which point her entire body began to fall through the plush carpet and into the dirt. Panicking, she began to float, and gently moved herself up to her original location.
Okay, she thought, this floor used to be solid. It should be solid. When she tried the same test again, though, she noticed that her hand could no longer move past the floor; every time she tried to push past it, an invisible force repelled the movement. She wasn’t exactly able to feel the carpet, but moving a ghostly hand over its surface revealed a gentle flow in the force’s pattern which matched the carpet’s appearance, and there was something about that sensation that still kind of felt like feeling things. It wasn’t much, but Cookie Girl felt safe enough to consciously flip herself back over and rest her feet on the carpet.
She took a couple of tentative steps forward, and upon realizing the knack, burst out into a sprint throughout the living room and into the kitchen. She could still walk. That was enough like feeling human again that she was happy.
“I still wanna fly, though,” she said, floating up into Ribbonista’s bedroom and collapsing on the bed.
She didn’t ruffle a single sheet as she slept.
“Oh my god, it’s freezing outside… I should have got a coat a couple hours ago, but— this ice cream is just so cool,” sighed Ribbonista as she walked through her front door and shut it gently behind her. “Heehee, cool, because it’s cold too.” She smiled to herself as she said it; taking off her shoes at the door, she spent a moment enjoying the soft comfort of her socks against the carpet before spinning around and seeing her coat rack completely empty.
“Oh… I guess I’ll have to go upstairs, then.” Ribbonista made a note to herself to bring down a coat to leave on that rack, now that it was winter-y-er outside. Actually, make that two coats; she didn’t want any of them to feel lonely.
It had been a long while since she had done a thorough search of her closet, and this inspection revealed outfits she had almost forgotten about. Her Halloween costume! Back when she was still majorly crushing on Cones, and decided that dressing as his favorite animal and singing a song about him in front of the entire class was a good idea. God, she needed to be more subtle with her crushes; she took the rabbit costume and laid it gently on the bed. And how about her swimsuits!!! Summer fun time flashbacks, huh! She put them on the bed too, promising herself that she would come back later and put them away. For now, though, the excitement of wearing summer clothes in the winter and feeling cute was too much to bear.
And then this dress. Taking it off its hanger and spinning it around, Ribbonista took a moment to admire her handiwork. Fur lining and orange ribbons? Maybe not the most cohesive choice, but there was only so much extra material from the Spiderman play. Besides, she was only listening from backstage, and showing off for a day at the festival was definitely an experience. Especially given the only people who could even see her outfit were her classmates, which—
“Oh my god…” she whispered, nearly dropping the garment at her feet. It hadn’t really hit her until now exactly how devastating the last few days had been. She watched one of her friends die right in front of her, and if it weren’t for Furi’s quick action, she would have killed him. Demonica was hospitalized and barely survived, and her ex-boyfriend broke up with her, after he flew into space and abandoned her - not to mention the whole “being in a coma for several days” thing. Now that she was on her own, it became a lot harder to distract herself from those feelings, and her legs began to shake, then to buckle.
When Ribbonista woke, she saw Cookie Girl in front of her, desperately trying to comfort her in her own Cookie Girl way.
“Thank god, you’re not catatonic again,” she said, wiping a hand across her forehead. “You doin’ okay? Need me to beat up Cones for you? I’m a ghost now, so that might be a little tricky, but I’ll do my best.”
Ribbonista could only blink in shock. “A-a gh-ghost???” she whimpered.
“Relax! I’m one of the friendly ghosts. Like Casper!” Cookie Girl smiled and sat down on the floor, placing a pale, translucent hand on Ribbonista’s head. She couldn’t feel anything when it happened, though.
She stopped, and took a deep breath in and out. It only makes sense to be afraid of things that make sense. Her friend was still alive, even after she watched her die? Sitting in her room, trying to make her feel better? That definitely didn’t make any sense.
“Oh my god…” she whispered to herself.
Which meant, she was going to have to do her best to not be afraid.
“Don’t worry if you need some time to take it in,” Cookie Girl smirked. “It took me a little bit too; it’s actually really cool once you get used to it.” And with that, she fell halfway through the floor, flipped over so she was upside down, and then rose back up so the tips of her pink hair were just above the carpet. “See! Ghost powers.”
“Is-is this a dream?” It felt silly even as the words left her mouth, but Ribbonista was out of explanations.
Hearing her say that, Cookie Girl spun herself back around and sat down on the bed. “You know,” she said with a shrug, “I really don’t know. What time is it, quarter past seven? Is that morning or evening?”
Ribbonista looked up at her wall for the clock, and saw the same time there that her friend had just said out loud. “Uh, yeah, evening, I’m pretty sure.”
“Okay, so I’ve been dead for about fifteen hours. If this is a dream, I’d really like to wake up now.” She collapsed onto the bed, her body passing through the accoutrements of Ribbonista’s closet which had piled on top of the sheets. Then, with a start, her whole body jolted up a few inches, hovering just above the heap of clothes.
“Oh, hey, I recognize some of these!” Cookie Girl exclaimed. She had now turned her head over, staring down at the outfits on the bed. “What’s the occasion? Fashion party?”
Ribbonista blushed awkwardly before mumbling, “I was… looking for a coat.”
The only response she received for some time was a deliberate blink, followed by Cookie Girl closing her eyes again and… was she crying? Did ghosts even have tears?
“Right,” Cookie Girl said, interrupting her thoughts. Her ghostly expression looked determined. “Yup, it’s cold out. Because of the ice cream. You should grab one of those. Because it’s cold out.”
Confused, Ribbonista asked, “Are you OK, Cookie Gi—”
“How about that one?” she inquired, pointing to a thick, bright pink wool coat in the closet. “Perfect, let’s go,” she said frantically before disappearing through the wall.
“Wait! W-where are we going?” Ribbonista asked her friend.
“To see Marbel? Duh.”
Cookie Girl did another spin before flying back out of the room. Even outside, she couldn’t help but do a few more flips. It was just so much fun.
This did seem like the best course of action, though. Leaving Ribbonista alone would probably mean she’d go catatonic again, and that was something neither of them were looking forward to. Besides, she couldn’t think of a more qualified expert on the occult than Marbel, and there was something about the idea of staying as a ghost forever that seemed less than ideal. Sure, flying was cool, but it was also probably the sort of thing that would get you kicked out of a softball league pretty quickly. And is life really worth living without playing softball at university, moving on to a long and slightly scandalous life in professional sports, followed by settling down with a former teammate in the countryside? Heck, she still wasn’t even sure if she’d be allowed back in school if she was dead.
The point being, she was going to talk to Marbel, and Ribbonista was going to come with her, and hopefully after a brief conversation and a minimal number of pentacles she would be alive again.
“Don’t suppose you know the way?” she asked.
“O-oh, yeah. Follow me,” replied Ribbonista as she looked around for a moment, then settled on a direction across the street and into the woods and started walking; Cookie Girl raised herself about a foot in the air and started lazily floating alongside her.
There was something truly embarrassing about crashing face first into a pine tree while being a ghost who can pass through solid objects. Humiliating, even. Clearly, she needed more practice with this whole disappearing and reappearing thing; for now, though, Cookie Girl simply elected to land on her feet and start walking hand in invisible hand with her friend.
She told herself it was just to make sure Ribbonista was feeling alright, but no amount of fallen ice cream could change the wild uncertainty of dark forests in winter; in all honesty, the littered vanilla caramel cones only made the whole forest seem like a scene straight out of a surreal horror movie. No wonder Marbel lived around here, or apparently she did; Cookie Girl's grasp on directions wasn’t the best, and it took until the two of them had left the woods and been confronted with the tall black spires of Marbel’s mansion that she felt like she was going the right direction.
Cookie Girl knocked gently on the imposing wooden doors, then with increasingly more force, frustrated that she seemed unable to produce a sound. “Okay, you need to knock for me,” she declared, before focusing and lowering herself into the front lawn. She stayed there until she heard the creak of the doors, and then Marbel’s voice expressing a confused greeting, and then she shot up from the ground and yelled “Boo!” as loudly as she could muster.
“Gasp! You’re alive!” Marbel responded, putting a hand over her open mouth. Despite this reaction, Cookie Girl was fairly certain that she was genuinely surprised.
“Well, not alive,” Cookie Girl corrected. “I’m still pretty dead, but that hasn’t stopped me from hanging around. You have any idea why?” As she spoke, she started gently bobbing in and out of the ground; partly just to prove her point, but also just to keep getting the hang of it.
Marbel slowly blinked at her, and then shut the door, calling out to her, “Come on in, then.”
Turning around halfway into the foyer, Cookie Girl turned back towards Ribbonista. “Do you want to join us? I won’t mind.”
“N-no thank you,” came Ribbonista’s response. “This feels like it’s gonna be spooky…”
A shrug was all Cookie Girl offered before flying back into Marbel’s house and following her through its hallways. She really needed to spend more time here; Marbel’s tendency towards the demonic when it came to decorating could be a bit overbearing, but there was something about the coffins and skulls littering the various rooms which seemed rebellious in a cool, teenage girl way.
Pulling a thick, leather-bound book from a bookshelf in the living room, Marbel lay down on the couch and started absentmindedly flicking through the pages.
Cookie Girl hovered.
A particular section caught her interest; she sat up and stared intently at the pages she had opened to, humming inquisitively and pointing to one paragraph with a smile. She nodded, flipped to the next page, and quickly flipped back, then set the book down on her lap satisfied.
Cookie Girl hovered.
“This is a really good book,” Marbel said finally.
“And the fact that your friend has been turned into a ghost and needs saving?”
“Oh! Yes,” she sputtered. “Well, the bad news is that I can’t resurrect your body while you’re hanging around as a ghost. It has to be a free spirit to work, you know.”
“And would this be a better or worse resurrection than the beach zombie?” Cookie Girl asked cautiously. “Because I don’t want to be like that.”
“His name is Pochi-san,” Marbel disapprovingly corrected, “and it would definitely be better.”
“So how do I stop being a ghost? It’s not like anyone can kill me again, I don’t think.”
Marbel sighed. “If only it were that easy… Nope, I’m afraid the cure to ghostliness is as old as time. You got stuck as a ghost ‘cause there’s something you still have to do on Earth.”
She pondered that for a moment. Something she had to do. The thought of continuing any part of the life she had planned still seemed so far out of her grasp. If she was a ghost, she couldn’t go to school, or play softball, or hang out with her friends in public, or—
“Are you okay, Cookie Girl?” Marbel asked, her hand moving through her friend’s translucent torso and onto the floor.
But Cookie Girl had already burst into tears.
“What do you mean I’m not allowed visitors?” Demonica asked belligerently. “What kind of policy is that?”
The doctor sitting at the foot of her bed simply shook her head. “Might I remind you, young miss, that the last time you had visitors, you tore out your IV catheter and ran away for several hours before being rehospitalized?”
“Yeah, so what’s your point?” she replied, genuinely confused.
Her doctor could only sigh. “My job… is to keep you safe. And when you bring along an entourage of guests, make a mess of the room, and run away in the midst of me trying to provide you with vital care, it becomes extremely hard to do my job.” Demonica could practically feel the frost from her icy words, and very nearly shivered.
“Ugh, fine. Can I at least get some privacy, then?”
“You know what? Sure.” The doctor stood up with a start and walked briskly to the door. “I could use a break myself, to be honest.”
As soon as she heard the click of the hospital door closing, Demonica leaned over to the window next to her bed and slid it open. The temporary chill from outside was unpleasant, and she pulled her blankets tighter over herself as she waited, but she knew that soon, Furi would show up and come visit and the two of them could hang out and wait that was Ribbonista what was she doing here what on Earth is going—
“Is my body still in there? ‘Cause I’m not going in there if it is,” she heard Cookie Girl yell from the distance.
Wait, Cookie Girl—?
Now she knew how Ribbonista felt, at least.
“Don’t worry, you’re good!” yelled Ribbon out the window before turning to her friend in the hospital bed. “Hi Demonica!! Cookie Girl is a ghost now. Ghoooooooooooooooooooooost.”
“O-oh! Hey, you two!” Demonica waved nervously as she saw Cookie Girl float in through the wall. She was past the point of questioning things at this point, and greeted her with a blank nod.
“So, here’s the deal,” Cookie Girl said flatly. “Apparently, dying at 15 means there’s something unresolved I’ve gotta do before I can stop being a ghost and Marbel can bring me back to life, and I don’t have many options as a ghost. You have any clues?”
Demonica took a deep breath.
“Well, if I remember correctly, in a lot of the ghost stories I’ve heard, the ghost is trying to find out something about how they died—”
“Yeah,” interrupted Cookie Girl, “and I already know that much. Cookie Dude beat me up because I didn’t reciprocate his creepy years-long crush on me and he was too dumb to realize that people who aren’t him can die.”
“B-but I thought you—?” Ribbonista tried to ask, before being similarly cut off.
“Everyone makes mistakes in middle school. Thinking I liked guys was just one of them. Let’s talk about anything else.”
Okay, maybe it was worth questioning this - Demonica had never seen Cookie Girl this upset. “Are you feeling alright?”
In response, Cookie Girl collapsed and fell through the floor.
When she rose back up a few seconds later, she had pale tears streaming down her reddening face. “Do you know how awful it feels to have all of your life’s dreams ripped away from you, having to watch all your friends move on without you, knowing there’s nothing you can do about it?”
There was another moment of silence before she burst into another fit of sobbing, gently falling to the floor face down by the door. Patches of red still stained the floor near her head from her last visit to this hospital room.
Demonica wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this situation, but there was one thing she definitely could do. Slowly rising from her bed, she walked carefully over to where Cookie Girl lay and knelt down next to her, the hem of her gown catching under her knees. She smiled a warm smile, outstretched a hand, and gave her spectral friend a pat on the back.
“Listen,” she whispered, “I may not understand what you’re going through here. I might not even be able to help. But you’re my friend, and I’m gonna stick with you, no matter what. I promise.”
Cookie Girl rolled over and tried to wipe the tears from her eyes, but only succeeded in throwing her arm through her face. At that, she giggled slightly, then looked up to Demonica and smiled back. “That really does mean a lot to me,” she replied. “Thank you.”
At that, Demonica breathed a sigh of relief.
“But,” Cookie Girl interrupted, “that still doesn’t change the facts of the situation. I’m still a ghost, and that still sucks, and I’ll probably be stuck like this forever.”
“What about the unfinished business that Marbel mentioned?” Ribbonista asked.
Cookie Girl rose to her feet, shaking her head. “There’s not really much I can do when I’m dead. Definitely not any of the things I planned to do with my life.” She reached over to a pencil on the desk next to her. “I can’t even pick up a pencil anymore,” she said sadly, picking it up.
And then dropping it to the floor with a stunned expression on her face.
“Ribbonista, tell Marbel to find my body. I know what it is now.”
She smiled, picked up her softball bat, and headed for her target.
His unmistakable blue hair stood out like a signal flare in a sea of white ice cream, and his head was still looking away.
A rush of moving air caused him to turn around, and the last thing he saw before impact was a spectral Cookie Girl swinging a bat at him.
Cookie Girl flew over the corpse, watching it carefully, and soon saw the bloody tears of flesh begin to once again stitch themselves together.
She grinned. She was going to enjoy every single second of this.