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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 13


  All the awkwardness and embarrassment at the Minster yesterday — Miranda resolved to forget it. Tomorrow, she had to find Nick and try to talk to him. Whether he wanted it or not.

  On Friday morning, Miranda left the flat immediately after breakfast. Luckily, everyone was distracted, talking about the latest bad news from Sally. There’d been another break-in overnight at the White Boar. Once again, the cellar had been trashed — barrels overturned, beer sloshed all over the floor, and a new development: graffiti daubed on the walls. Once again, there was no sign of a forced entry. Rob couldn’t possibly be suspected this time because he didn’t have a key to the cellar anymore. Not that Sally’s parents ever thought he’d had anything to do with it: Sally’s mother had told Jeff and Peggy that Rob was “a lovely lad.”

  Miranda slipped away from the table, murmuring something about shopping she needed to do. She tugged her coat off the peg by the door, and shoved Tales of Old York into one of the pockets. Before anyone could ask any questions, she was out the door and bolting down the street.

  She’d woken up that morning feeling almost elated with anxiety, her mind spinning with what she’d discovered yesterday. It wasn’t going to be easy, Miranda knew, but she had seen Nick in the street twice before. The first time was when she’d arrived in York, and he was lurking in that boarded-up doorway in the Shambles. The second time was when she was in King’s Square, watching the juggler, and he’d waved to his Goth friends. True, since then he’d tended to surprise her by materializing — usually behind her — in a startling and often disconcerting way. But York wasn’t a big city like Chicago, and if she wandered the streets for long enough, Miranda was sure she’d find Nick again.

  This was the theory, anyway. Miranda spent all morning roaming central York, drifting down Coney Street, hanging around St. Helen’s Square, pretending to watch the enthusiastic troupe of street dancers entertaining people shivering in the line for the Jorvik Viking Centre. She strolled past the Treasurer’s House, staring through its locked gates for a while and thinking about the Roman soldiers marching every night through its bowels. She walked the city walls from Bootham to Monk Bar and back, even venturing briefly into the Richard III Museum, just in case. She strolled up and down Stonegate so many times, she could have recited the name of every shop.

  In the Minster, where Miranda had to pay the entrance fee to get in, wiping out half her remaining cash, she saw the ghost stonemason working on the door of the chapter house. She gave him a nervous smile and was surprised when he smiled back. His little dog stood up, wagging his tail, and gave an explosive bark in greeting. Miranda nearly jumped out of her skin, as did two women walking past at that moment.

  “Someone must have brought a dog in here,” one murmured to the other. “These British take their dogs everywhere!”

  Then one of them walked right through the dog, seeing and feeling nothing.

  Miranda wished that Nick was as easy to spot as the stonemason. After half an hour dawdling in the Minster, she was even considering walking back to Clifford’s Tower, though nothing would persuade her to climb those stairs again. She hadn’t even told Nick about that experience yet. Not about the ashy, scary ghosts in Clifford’s Tower, or St. Margaret Clitherow, or the handsome guy in the attic window. And now she might never see Nick again.

  Finally, in desperation, Miranda decided to seek out his friends, but the Goths weren’t hanging out in King’s Square today. Maybe they took Fridays off. Maybe it was the day they all sat at home polishing their piercings and re-dyeing their hair.

  That was it: home. Miranda realized, with a mental smack to the head, the first place she should have gone today. The flat with the green door, at the end of High Petergate. Nick had said he spent “some nights” there, at least. If he wasn’t home, maybe one of his friends would know how to find him.

  Miranda was almost running down Petergate, dodging shoppers and delivery vans, her breath puffing out in steamy bursts. But on the doorstep of the green door, she hesitated. Maybe Nick wouldn’t appreciate her just turning up like this. He was so intensely private and enigmatic. He might think she was still trying to persuade him to go to the concert with her on Sunday night, like some desperate stalker.

  Too bad. She summoned up all her courage and rapped the brass door knocker — once in a sort of pathetic, muffled way, and the second time giving it more gusto. Miranda waited. Nobody seemed to be home, but she decided to try again. Three raps this time, as loud as she could manage. Still no answer. Just as she was about to turn away, Miranda heard footsteps thudding down the stairs. After some mumbled swearing, and the jingling of keys, the door squeaked open, just wide enough for someone to poke his head out.

  “What?” said the guy in the doorway. He looked as though he’d just woken up — or been woken up by Miranda’s knocking. He wasn’t one of the Goths, she registered with surprise. He had wavy, sandy hair and his blue T-shirt read BATH RUGBY. He frowned at Miranda. “If you’re looking for the door to the English Language School, it’s the next one up Petergate. Just past the gallery, number One-A. I should put a bloody sign up.”

  “No,” she said quickly, because he seemed to be closing the door. “I’m not looking for the language school. I speak English already.”

  “Not properly,” he sniffed. He sounded like a member of the royal family, Miranda thought. “Look, I’m not interested in talking about becoming a Mormon, okay?”

  “I’m not a Mormon,” Miranda hastily assured him.

  “I thought all Americans were Mormons.”

  “We’re not. I’m just here looking for Nick.”

  “Who’s Nick?”

  “Nick … Gant.” Miranda’s heart sank. His real friends might know what his real last name was, but Miranda didn’t.

  “Never heard of him.”

  “He’s been staying here,” Miranda pleaded. “This week.”

  The sandy-haired guy rubbed his face, yawning so wide Miranda could see his fillings.

  “No one’s been staying here this week,” he said. “Classes have finished for this term. Everyone’s gone home for Christmas.”

  “Dark hair, really tall, really thin. Wears a long black leather coat. You don’t remember him?”

  “No. Oh — hang on.”

  “Yes?” Miranda was desperate.

  “Do you mean Jim’s friend — Nick Fullerton? The one he went to school with?”

  “Maybe,” said Miranda uncertainly.

  “I remember that coat. He never took it off. Said it belonged to his dead brother or something creepy like that.”

  “That’s him,” Miranda blurted, her heart thumping. It had to be Nick. It just had to be.

  “He hasn’t been here in ages. More than a year, at least.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Of course I’m sure. This is my flat!”

  “But … but …” Miranda didn’t know what to ask next. This guy was her one lead to Nick, and he wasn’t leading her anywhere useful.

  “Look, I don’t want to freak you out,” he said, leaning against the doorjamb. “But I thought Jim said that Nick Fullerton was dead.”

  “Then we can’t be talking about the same person,” Miranda told him. She felt a horrible churning in her stomach — nerves and dread and fear.

  “Maybe not,” shrugged Sandy Hair, as though he didn’t care one way or the other. “But he’s not here, anyway. Sorry.”

  He didn’t sound sorry, Miranda thought. She stepped back into the street, not sure of what to say or where to look, almost as dizzy as she’d felt in Clifford’s Tower. If the guy they were talking about was the same Nick, and Nick was dead …

  Then Nick was a ghost.

  It had started to rain, but Miranda didn’t care. She was wandering now without a purpose, without even trying to look for Nick. What was the point? If he was a ghost, he would show himself when he wanted to be seen. Wasn’t that what he’d said to her, when she said she’d see him around? “I’ll see you first.” O
f course he’d see her first. She was a real live person. He was a ghost. He could decide when, and when not to appear.

  Lord Poole hadn’t said anything about his younger grandson dying, but maybe he didn’t know. He hadn’t heard from Nick in years. And the Goths in King’s Square had seemed to “see” him, but maybe they were all ghosts themselves. Miranda had no idea. Obviously, she couldn’t tell a ghost from an orangutan.

  Her face was wet — rain, tears, whatever. She’d been completely duped. She’d thought she’d figured out the code, that she knew when someone was a haunting rather than a human. Nick’s hands were cold, but not that kind of cold. He’d touched her hand, and she’d felt him — not just his presence, but his actual hand, his actual skin. She’d leaned against his shoulder! He’d felt completely real.

  The strange thing was this feeling that Nick had betrayed her. Miranda knew it wasn’t rational or fair. He simply hadn’t mentioned that he was a ghost, that was all. She didn’t know why she was crying. Maybe the cold rain was stinging her face, making her miserable. Or maybe it was … no. That was ridiculous. Today was Friday. A week ago, she’d seen Nick for the first time. Just one week. Only today, courtesy of the sandy-haired rugby fan, had she discovered his real last name. Miranda had no right to be sad about Nick. But sad was exactly how she felt.

  Back in the flat, her father was making coffee in the kitchen, whistling “Greensleeves.” Miranda darted up the stairs — wet, cold, and utterly defeated, not in the mood for any questions.

  On the landing, the bathroom door popped open and Rob loomed in front of her. He reached out one of his long arms and dragged her into the bathroom.

  “What?” Miranda almost shouted. She was sick of people jumping out at her or materializing behind her: It was turning her into a bag of nerves.

  “Ssshhhh.” Rob closed the door and leaned against it so she couldn’t get out. “I need you to do something for me. Ask for a spare key to this place.”

  “The bathroom?” Miranda asked sarcastically, peeling off her scarf.

  “No, dummy. The flat. Either Mom’s or Dad’s key — it doesn’t matter. They’ll be suspicious if I ask. You have to ask for it.”

  “Why would they be suspicious about you asking to take a key to the flat?”

  “They’ll know I’m planning to stay out way late tonight with Sally. They already think we’re getting ‘too serious.’ I heard them talking about it last night — in the kitchen, when they thought I’d already gone upstairs.”

  “They’re really happy about you and Sally.” Miranda sat down on the edge of the tub. She felt shaky after all the hours of walking around. “They think it means you’re all normal again, whatever that means. And anyway, if I ask for a key, they’ll want to know why. Where I’m going, who I’m going out with — you know what Dad’s like. There’s no reason for me to have a key. How late are you staying out, anyway?”

  “All night,” said Rob, as though it was no big deal. “After the pub closes tonight, Sally and I are going to lock ourselves in the cellar, so if and when someone tries to get in, we can nab them red-handed.”

  “That’s absolutely ridiculous. You won’t last ten minutes in that cellar, let alone all night.”

  “Whatever,” Rob said sulkily. He walked over to the window and slid it open, sticking his head out. He couldn’t even stand being shut in the bathroom, Miranda thought. He’d never cope with locking himself up belowground at the White Boar Inn. “Look, this is our plan and we’re sticking to it. If someone breaks in, we’ll catch them. If nobody tries, I need the key so I can sneak back here before Mom and Dad get up in the morning.”

  “You’re overthinking this.” Miranda sighed.

  “I thought you always said I underthink things.”

  “You’re either over or under. You’re never thinking things through in a rational way. What if whoever is breaking in is some kind of violent thug? They could beat you up or kill you.”

  “We’ll surprise them.” Rob closed the window partway to stop the drizzle from coming in. “We have weapons.”

  “What kind of weapons?”

  “A cricket bat and a really big flashlight.”

  “As I said, ridiculous.”

  “We’ll be fine,” said Rob, but even he didn’t sound convinced.

  “Rob, believe me,” Miranda pleaded. “You’re getting antsy in this bathroom. How are you going to cope with being locked in the dark in that tiny cellar?”

  “I have to get over this,” Rob said. “I have to. I can’t go through my life cowering because of … what happened. For Sally’s sake, I need to do this. If I don’t, she’s going to be alone in there tonight. I don’t want anything to happen to her.”

  “Look,” said Miranda, realizing she was never going to talk him out of this stupid scheme. “Just sneak out tonight, and whenever you need to come home, get Sally to send me a text. I’ll let you in.”

  “I thought we couldn’t get texts here.”

  “Not from the U.S. But didn’t you say Sally sent you a text the other day?”

  “Oh yeah.”

  “Problem solved.”

  “I’ll be okay in the cellar,” Rob said, now not sounding convinced at all. He closed the window all the way, shutting it with a bang. They both flinched. “I have to be. This is for Sally.”

  “You still haven’t told her?”

  “No need,” Rob said firmly. He checked his watch. “What time do we have to meet Mom at that Italian place? I said I’d help Sally’s dad for an hour before dinner.”

  “We’re meeting at seven,” Miranda told him, inwardly groaning. She’d forgotten about the dinner plans for tonight. All the singers would be there, talking in overloud voices. Miranda had way too much on her mind right now — tracking down Nick, worrying about Rob. There better be good pizza at this restaurant, she thought, dragging her feet out of the bathroom and up the stairs. And she’d better not get stuck next to the tubby guy or, even worse, the Second Witch.

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  You’re sure you know how to get to the restaurant yourself?” Jeff asked her for the hundredth time. Miranda nodded. Rob was already over at the White Boar, and one of her father’s Richard III cronies had turned up to lure Jeff out for a quick drink. All his weird early modernist chums had arrived in town for this weekend’s conference, and they had swarmed some pub nearby called the Lamb and Lion, probably driving out all the locals and other normal people.

  “I’ll be fine, Dad. I’ll see you at L’Avventura at seven, okay?”

  “I don’t like you walking around in the dark by yourself.” He frowned. “You can come to the Lamb and Lion with me, you know. Have some pop, read your book.”

  “No, thanks,” Miranda said quickly. “It’s not late, and there are tons of people out. Really, I’ll be fine. You go and have a good time. Just don’t be late for dinner. You know how Mom gets about that.”

  “If you’re sure you don’t mind …”

  “Go already!” Miranda couldn’t wait for Jeff to leave. She had exactly ninety minutes until dinner, and she planned to use every single one of them walking the streets of York again, looking for Nick. It was Friday night; on Monday morning, the Tennants were leaving York, and Nick would be gone as well. She had to talk to him, to find out — once and for all — if he was a real person, a ghost, or some figment of her imagination. And she wasn’t going to achieve anything sitting around in this flat, or stuck in the corner at the Lion and Lamb, surrounded by history-obsessed academics.

  She’d told her father the truth: The streets really were crowded at this time on a Friday night, some people still shopping, others going out after work, or heading to the evening concert in the Minster. It was Christmas party season, big groups parading around wearing tinsel headbands, hurrying into crowded pubs. Holiday lights sparkled overhead, and street musicians were out on King’s Square, and St. Helen’s Square, and along Stonegate, despite the bitter cold. Miranda marched along, hands in her pockets beca
use she’d left her gloves at home, head lowered against the chilly wind rising off the river. It was busier, if anything, than this morning. Nick was going to be harder to find — if he was even out here, of course.

  Time whizzed by, Miranda’s agitation increasing with every step. She had to start making her way to the restaurant if she was going to be on time: One minute late and her parents would send out a search party of hysterical singers to find her. Miranda turned up St. Andrewgate, almost stomping her feet with annoyance. She was never going to find Nick.

  Then someone grabbed Miranda’s elbow and yanked her hard, pulling her into the dank confines of a snickelway. She opened her mouth to scream, but Nick — of course it was Nick — clamped his other hand over her mouth. He loomed over her, his eyes wild and intense.

  “Calm down,” he hissed. “It’s only me.”

  She pushed his hand away, spluttering with indignation. Her heart was pounding so hard she thought she was about to hyperventilate.

  “Why don’t you just walk up to me in the street like a normal person?” Miranda rubbed her arm. Nick had practically wrenched it out of its socket.

  “I just wanted to talk to you in private,” he said, sounding bemused. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

  “Well, you did.” Miranda had been looking for Nick for hours, but now that they were standing close together in this dark, confined space — a narrow tunnel right here, stinking of urine and damp — all she felt was limp, useless.

  “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “There’s something else, isn’t there? Something’s wrong.”

  “Everything’s wrong.” Miranda felt miserable. “I’ve been looking for you all day, because I wanted … I wanted … I just don’t even know where to begin.”

  Nick stepped closer, his eyes boring into her, but he said nothing.

  “I mean,” Miranda continued, no longer sure of what she wanted to say, exactly, or how to begin saying it, “there’s no point, is there? Because I found out you just lie to me about everything.”