Clark felt his wife’s arms wrap around his shoulders in greeting, her lips settling close to his ear. “Is this what got you up out of bed?”
Clark was sitting at the foyer desk, papers strewn about. He glanced at the clock resting on the desk’s surface; it read four in the morning. “Noticed I was gone, huh?”
He felt Lois nod. “I thought maybe a job for Superman had called you away, but here you are downstairs. What are you working on?”
The various papers Lois pointed at were all sketching’s Clark had been working on for the past several hours. They showed multiple revisions of the Victorian mansion from his dream in his attempt to recapture everything he could. His most current sketch was one he felt most satisfied with. He held it up for Lois to look at. “Twice now this mansion has been in my dreams,” he began to explain. “I needed to draw it so I could see it better.”
Lois took the drawing and stood up, examining it. “How long have you been up?”
“Since two-thirty. I couldn’t sleep.”
“Is this what you’ve been working on the whole time?”
“Mostly.” Clark grabbed another sheet of paper and gave it to Lois, who took it.
Lois stared at the drawing of the teenage ghost. “Who is she?”
Clark stood up from the desk and stretched. “Her name is Rose. She’s also been in my dreams.”
“She’s young,” Lois murmured thoughtfully.
Clark gave a sigh. “And she’s really unhappy.” He felt somewhat embarrassed to start into the details of his first dream, but as they moved toward the living room couch together, Lois listened quietly without judgment. Even as he moved on from the dream and went into the strange experiences of the bedroom door opening, the strange writing in the fogged mirror, and the wine glass breaking, she remained silent, though her expression had sharpened with alarmed interest. Clark knew what must be going through her mind.
She was recalling her own experiences with a previous ghost that had haunted her in their home. It was a woman who had been killed but was stuck in limbo, unable to find her murderer and move on. Between him and Lois, they had done some investigative digging and unearthed who the culprit had been: the secret mistress her husband had been having an affair with. It hadn’t been easy to deliver the news to the deceased woman, though, because she had grown fond of Lois—and in addition, she also enjoyed Clark’s affections he showed for his wife. The ghost attempted to possess Lois indefinitely so Clark’s affections would inadvertently pass to her, but he was able to convince the spirit to acknowledge her killer’s identity, and finally she was able to move on from her haunting past.
“Be careful, Clark,” Lois warned. “You don’t know what this ghost girl wants from you.”
Clark had expected this kind of reaction from his wife, and he had to admit, she was right. Their life tended to attract killers and thieves and all sorts of hoodlums. He reached out for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
“I know,” he said. “I don’t even know what this girl thinks I can do for her, but it’s clear she’s not at rest. For right now, all I want to do is see if I can find out if the house in my dream even exists. If it does, I want to know its background and see if she’s tied to it somehow. Then I’ll move forward from there.”
Lois bit her lower lip, something she did when she was uncertain about things. “Why did it have to be another ghost coming to bother us? Wasn’t dealing with one enough?” she fretted.
“I wish you could have seen the look on her face,” Clark said. “Her sadness pierced right through me, Lois. I’ve got to try. I don’t think she’s going to leave me alone until I do.”
Lois gave a soft sigh. “I know. And I understand, I do. Just . . . still, be careful?”
“I will,” Clark promised.
* * * *
Clark was hoping for a slow news day at the Planet, but Perry had assigned him and Lois to look into a series of small jewelry thefts. He had given the drawing of the Victorian home to Jimmy in hopes that the young man could do some research while he and Lois spent time calling and setting up interviews with the different jewelers.
Clark had finished jotting down the address and interview time for Mike’s Custom Jewelry when he reached for his coffee mug—before his fingers closed around the handle, it moved three inches, stopping with a quiet thunk as it nudged against the base of the telephone on his desk. Clark’s arm hung, suspended in air, as he stared intently at his mug.
No sooner had he thought those words when Jimmy’s voice called out. “Hey C.K., you’ve got a woman on line two for you.”
Clark looked up sharply. “Who is she?” he asked.
Jimmy shrugged. “She wouldn’t give me her name. Just that she needed to speak with you. It sounded urgent.”
Clark nodded. He eyed the receiver skeptically as he picked it up and pressed the button for line two.
“This is Clark Kent,” he said into the mouthpiece.
“Mister Kent?” a mature English voice said on the other end. It sounded like an older woman.
“Yes?” said Clark. “Can I help you?”
There was a small beat of silence over the line before she responded, drawing in a slow breath. “I do so hope we can help each other.” Her accent was soft and a little muddled, but still unmistakably English.
“What do you mean?” Clark asked.
Again, there was a lengthy pause on the other end. “This is a rather forward question, but are you looking for a young, deceased teenager named Rose?”
Goosebumps suddenly broke out along Clark’s arms, the hairs on his neck standing on end. He drew in a sharp breath, stunned. “How did you—?” he stopped abruptly, shock and caution warring with each other. He found himself staring at the coffee mug as if it had been the one to tell the woman over the phone about Rose.
The woman’s voice quickly rushed in. She sounded almost relieved at his confusion. “Thank God, I know how crazy this must sound, but I’ve been having dreams where she’s told me to find you. It took some time, but I came across your picture in the Daily Planet.”
It took a few seconds before Clark found his voice. “Who are you?” the question came out more harshly than he intended, but he made no effort to soften the edge that had crept into his voice.
Another small pause. “I’d rather not say just yet. I’m a terribly private person, you see. But this spirit is not leaving me alone, and well . . . I’m not keen on being haunted forever, Mister Kent. Perhaps you and I could meet and discuss how we can help this troubled spirit find peace and rest.”
Clark looked over at Lois, hoping to catch her eye, but her back was turned, her ear pressed to the phone and talking. “When can we meet with you?”
“We?” the woman asked, a frown creeping into her voice.
“Yes, me and my partner,” Clark clarified. “When can we meet you?”
“No,” the woman’s voice said matter-of-factly. “There was no partner in my dream. Only you, Mister Kent. I will only meet with you.”
Clark didn’t respond right away. It wasn’t wholly unusual for contacts to wish to meet discreetly, but the authority in the woman’s voice gave Clark the impression she wasn’t used to being told no.
“Okay,” he said slowly. “When can I meet you, then?”
“In fifteen.” Clark’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. Fifteen minutes? That’s quite a demand for a reporter.
He looked down at the interviews he had scheduled so far. He could make it. Even if Lois had scheduled any in the next hour, she could handle a few without him. The woman took Clark’s pause as a silent yes, because now she was rattling off the address of a café for him to meet her at, then she said goodbye and hung up.
Placing the receiver down, Clark looked up at Lois who was still on the phone. He walked over to her, trying to catch her attention. She looked up distractedly, mouthed the words “Bobby Big Mouth” and then spoke into the phone. “Any special requests on food when we meet?” She started to jot down several items on her notepad. “Geez, when’s the last time you ate? This morning? Okay, okay, be there soon.” She hung up, continuing to write more food items.
“Has Bobby got a lead on the jewelry thefts?” Clark asked.
“So he says,” Lois mumbled, tearing off her piece of paper. “We’ve gotta go to like three different places to get all of this junk. Where does he put it? I’d like to have his metabolism,” she grumped.
“Are you meeting him in the next hour?”
Lois nodded, giving him a quizzical eye. “You’re coming with, aren’t you?”
Clark shook his head. “I just got a phone call from a woman who claims she’s had dreams about Rose wanting her to find me.”
Lois’ eyebrows practically receded into her hairline.
Clark nodded. “Exactly. She wants me to meet her in fifteen minutes. She claims she’s being haunted by the girl, too. Wants to talk about what I can do to help put her soul to rest.”
Lois frowned. “I can’t cancel with Bobby. You know how grumpy he gets when we delay his delicate eating schedule.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Clark assured. “She wanted to meet alone with me. She seems a little . . . paranoid.”
“Well good luck,” Lois said.
Clark gave her a quick kiss on the lips. “I’ll meet up with you later.”
* * * *
Clark had changed into Superman and flown to Renaldo’s Café, where he was to meet the woman. He spotted an empty alleyway a short distance away, landed, and emerged from it as Clark Kent. Now he was standing in front of the small café, scanning for a woman he didn’t know or what she looked like. There were about five small tables outside, and three were filled, but none of the occupants seemed to be looking for anyone. He was about to move into the store itself when he heard his name.
Clark turned. The voice belonged to a male, not female. Looking around, he spotted a man dressed in a black suit and tie with black sunglasses. He wasn’t smiling, but upon capturing Clark’s eye, he dipped his head forward in greeting.
Curiously, Clark nodded back. He stood where he was, forcing the suited man to approach him.
“My employer is the woman you spoke with on the phone,” the man began by way of introduction, stepping very close and speaking quietly.
“Then why are you here instead of her?” Clark asked abruptly, looking around.
“She is a woman of privacy with ailing health. She does not make social calls, but for you, an exception has been made.” He pulled out a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and handed it to Clark, who accepted it. It was a small drawing of a teenage girl with long, curly red hair and vivid green eyes wearing a long, simple black dress. He instantly recognized her as Rose; the hairs on the back of his neck rose.
“Do you recognize the girl in this drawing?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Clark replied simply.
“My employer wishes for me to escort you to her estate, where she would like to discuss with you the details of this drawing.”
Clark’s eyebrows rose. “You mean she isn’t here?”
The man shook his head.
“Well . . . how far away is her estate?”
“Outside of Metropolis in the countryside. She wants to make clear to you that you will be compensated for the time this takes away from work, and thanks you for your assistance in a matter that is troubling both you and her.”
A flare of anger rose within Clark. Who did this mysterious woman think she was? The man wasn’t even asking if leaving this much work was a possibility for Clark.
“That’s not how she made it sound on the phone. I made time for a short visit, not a day trip,” he argued.
“Which is why she thanks you for your time and promises to compensate you generously for it. Spiritual unrest is something she does not take lightly.”
Clark felt his skin begin to tingle. Something felt funny about this, but he couldn’t put his finger on it just yet. He was irritated at the audacity of this woman to assume he would just take off for the day. She was obviously made of money; the whole situation screamed it. The man dressed sharply in black with absolutely no personality was not any ordinary middle-class employee. Clark scanned the parked cars along the side of the street and spotted a black Mercedes-Benz. It stuck out like a sore thumb against a white Ford truck, a green Honda accord, and a red Chevy cavalier. There was no guesswork needed to figure out the man in black was its obvious owner.
Clark was sorely tempted to say no, it must have shown as much on his face, because the man in black proceeded to speak again. “It is quite understandable if you have misgivings, she is worried that you might. She regrets that her health prevented her from meeting you here, and again will compensate you generously for your time.”
Clark could have cared less about the money, but it was hard to argue about someone’s health preventing them from travelling. He had to admit, he was curious about Rose, and so with a heavy sigh, he said, “Well, I need to notify my partner that I’ll be gone longer than I thought.”
The man in black nodded. “Of course. There is a phone in the car you can use as we start on our way.”
“Just one more thing,” Clark cut in quickly. “What’s her name, the woman I’m going to meet? Why the secrecy?”
“She is a woman of utmost privacy,” the man repeated. “She will introduce herself to you when you meet.” At that, the man in black gestured toward the Mercedes-Benz, and Clark, eyeing the man curiously, walked toward the car.
Clark very much wished he had been able to just fly to this place instead of being chaperoned to it in a Mercedes. Once they got out past the clustered streets of Metropolis and onto open road, Sunglass Man—who Clark had silently named as such because no other name had been offered—put down a lead foot and cruised. It was still a good hour and a half drive, something that could have taken Clark five minutes to get to as Superman if he was feeling particularly slow and under the weather. He’d left a note with Jimmy to give to Lois about the sudden change in schedule, but silently he was wishing she had been able to go along with him for the boring ride.
He’d had plenty of time to double-think just how great an effort he was going through in order to help out some spirit who had chosen two very unlikely people to communicate with. Still, at the back of his mind, he was starting to question if this mysterious woman he was meeting knew more than she had led him to believe.
Sunglass Man picked up the phone, and with Clark’s super hearing, he spied on the conversation, which turned out to be nothing more than Sunglass Man telling another employee that they would be arriving shortly.
If it were summer time, the trees along hills they had been passing for the past hour and a half would have been green and lush, but as it was now fall, their leaves sported brilliant yellows and reds and oranges as they fell from the branches and spattered the ground. Clark had enjoyed the view at first, but was now thankful to feel the Mercedes slow down and turn into a curve along the road that was dense with foliage.
Sunglass Man stopped before a massive black wrought iron gate, pausing to show his ID to the security officer at the booth. The next moment the gate swung open, and as they drove down an elegant curved road, Clark felt his heart beat hard and fast inside his chest at the view opening before him.
A mammoth sized multi-level Victorian Mansion with several turrets and high peaks loomed into view, with brick red exterior, white siding, green shutters and long, oblong shaped windows.
Clark’s mouth gaped open. This was the mansion from his dreams.
Sunglass Man drove up until he was in front of the grand entrance. A woman with graying hair wearing a pale floral dress and lavender sunhat sat in a wheelchair on the wide porch, accompanied by more men in black uniforms. Sunglass Man stopped the car and quickly came around to let Clark out of the car, then accompanied him up to the woman who was waiting patiently for him, a warm smile on her face that didn’t quite reach her pale blue eyes.
She reached out her gloved hand, and Clark shook it.
“Mister Kent, thank you ever so kindly for coming out all this way. I understand the inconvenience this might have caused, but I have had several health issues arise as of late. I do hope the ride was pleasant and that Mister Keplin has treated you well?”
Clark smiled politely. “Yes, the ride and Mister Keplin—” he glanced briefly at Sunglass Man, “—have been pleasant. I’m sorry to hear of your health issues, Miss . . .?”
The woman inclined her head. “I do beg your pardon for the theatrics. I am a woman of solidarity and do not mingle often with others. I treasure privacy greatly, but allow me now to introduce myself: I am Miss Wingham.”