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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 14


  Nick frowned.

  “What do you mean, you found out?”

  “See — this is what I mean!” Miranda was annoyed with him now. “You don’t care when I say you’re lying. You only care about how I found you out. You always have to be in control, keeping everything secret. Well, how about this. I know your real name is Nick Fullerton.”

  “You never asked me my real name, did you? I would have told you.”

  “I don’t believe you.” Miranda pushed a hank of damp hair off her face. “You said you had no family here, but you do. Your grandfather, Lord Poole. I saw a picture of you at his house!”

  This news seemed to have more of an effect on Nick. He swallowed hard, and the shadow of something — guilt, nerves, doubt — clouded his face.

  “You didn’t tell him … you didn’t say anything about seeing me here?”

  Miranda shook her head. “No. Then I would have to explain how I knew you. But I wanted to tell him, I really did. He’s so sad, it’s just awful. I mean —”

  “Thanks,” Nick said, interrupting her. He clearly didn’t want to hear any more about his grandfather. “Thanks for not saying anything.”

  “Don’t thank me. Just stop lying to me. Stop pretending to be staying somewhere where they barely know you. And stop pretending to be real when I know you’re … you’re a ghost.”

  Nick’s eyes widened.

  “What?”

  “You heard me. I know you’re a ghost.”

  He gave an exasperated laugh and reached for one of Miranda’s hands, squeezing it hard. It didn’t feel cold at all. It felt just the way it did the other day — a little rough. Strong.

  “Miranda, I’m not a ghost,” Nick said firmly. “I thought that you, of all people, would be able to tell by now.”

  “That’s not what that … that guy said!” Miranda could barely speak, distracted by the sensation of Nick’s hand grasping hers.

  “What guy?”

  “The one who lives in the flat where you pretended you were staying! The flat with the green door.”

  “Him! He doesn’t know anything,” Nick scoffed. He squeezed her hand again.

  “He said you went to school with someone named Jim, and Jim told him you were dead. Are dead. Whatever.”

  “Well, maybe that’s what I wanted him to think. What I wanted them all to think.” Nick was speaking softly now. The more flustered Miranda got, the more calm Nick seemed. “But it’s not true. I’m alive, even though sometimes I wish I wasn’t. I’m not a ghost.”

  “Prove it,” Miranda said, and Nick pulled her toward him. She instinctively turned her head away, her heart skittering. But the two of them were pressed close now, the leather of his coat soft against her cheek. With one finger he tipped her chin up, turning her face toward his. She looked deep into his eyes — so dark against the pallor of his skin. And then he kissed her.

  His lips were soft, but there was a strength, an urgency to the kiss that was almost intoxicating. Miranda felt light-headed and floaty, as though her feet might lift up off the ground. Her eyes were closed now, but she didn’t need to see: She could feel the kiss. It was nothing like any kiss she’d experienced before. There was nothing tentative about it, nothing halfhearted. It was intense. It was real. Nick was real.

  “’Scuse me,” said a gruff voice, and Miranda opened her eyes. A man carrying plastic shopping bags was trying to squeeze past them.

  “Sorry, mate,” said Nick, wrapping his arms around Miranda and holding her close. When the man had passed, she slowly pulled away. Her cheeks felt flushed and her heart was still flip-flopping. She could barely bring herself to look at Nick.

  “I have something to tell you,” Nick said. He leaned back against the wall, still holding her hand. His cheeks were flushed, too. “I don’t know whether to tell you or not. I don’t know whether … whether I can trust you.”

  “Of course you can,” Miranda whispered.

  “You can’t tell anyone,” he said. “Especially not my grandfather. Not that he’d believe you. Nobody would believe you.”

  “Believe what?”

  Nick gave her a long appraising look, staring at her in that intense way she’d found incredibly disconcerting when they first met.

  “Richard,” he said. “My brother. He’s the reason I came back to York. I just had this overwhelming feeling about him. I knew I’d find him here.”

  “What do you mean, find him here?” Miranda was confused. Was the story of his brother’s death another lie? Had Lord Poole been duped as well?

  “His ghost,” Nick explained, almost in a whisper. “Richard’s ghost. He’s back. Here in York — he’s back.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “I’ve seen him. I’ve talked to him. I was right to think that I was being called back here. It’s seven years since he died — seven years on Saturday. He needs my help. There’s something he needs me to do for him.”

  “I still don’t understand,” Miranda said. “How can we help ghosts? Whatever happened to them happened long ago. Centuries ago, maybe. We can’t change the past.”

  She thought of the ghosts in Clifford’s Tower reaching out to her with their hands of crumbling ash, and of little Mary tugging at her jacket. How could she possibly help them?

  Nick stood gazing intently at her. She could still feel the imprint of his lips on hers.

  “I can’t explain,” he said at last. “Sometimes they want our help and we can’t do anything. But sometimes we can. Look, I shouldn’t say any more. At this point, the less you know, the better.”

  “Don’t do anything stupid, Nick.” Miranda didn’t know what he was planning, but she didn’t like the sound of this.

  “Wouldn’t you do anything to help your brother?” he asked her.

  “Not anything. Please, Nick. Don’t do something crazy or dangerous. Please look after yourself.”

  “I’ll look after me,” he said with a wry smile. He let go of her hand. “And I’ll look after you. See you round.”

  He headed off down the snickelway, holding his hand up in a good-bye salute. Miranda leaned back against the damp brick wall, breathing hard. Her head was spinning.

  “Next time,” she whispered at his retreating back, “I’ll see you first.”

  At dinner with all the singers, Miranda didn’t feel like talking much — not that she could have got a word in edgewise with the Second Witch, who insisted, despite general skepticism, that she was once practically engaged to Prince Albert of Monaco. (“Really! His mother — that’s Grace Kelly, darling — begged me to be his bride. But music was always my true passion.”)

  Later that night, full of pizza, Miranda again had vivid and unsettling dreams. She and Rob were in the bathroom, choosing from a cake trolley. Lord Poole’s Land Rover was driving at top speed through a towering, bright green maze that started off looking like hedges and ended up looking like waving corn. Her father was telling her she needed to go look for the dog before it got baked in a pie. “We don’t have a dog,” she kept telling him, but he wouldn’t listen.

  And then she dreamed about Nick. The green door on Petergate swung open, revealing a big empty room. Candles lined the windowsills, their quivering flames the only light. Nick, standing behind her, put his hands over her eyes. Then they were sitting in the Minster Quire again, but this time they were kissing. Nick pulled away, asking Miranda to remember him. Of course she’d remember him, she told him, but he kept shaking his head. “May my wrongs create no trouble,” Nick said, and then they both looked up. The Minster roof was open to the night sky, and Miranda tilted her head back, feeling the rain drum onto her face. Nick kissed her again, but now his lips felt cold and papery. She opened her eyes and saw that it wasn’t Nick she was kissing at all. It was the ghost in the attic across the street. When she recoiled, he pursed his lips and started humming, but all that came out was a horrible buzzing, like an angry cloud of wasps drawing closer and closer.

  This was what jolted her awake —
the incessant buzzing. Miranda rubbed her eyes and tried to sit up. Either she was still dreaming or the wasps were in the room, because the buzzing hadn’t gone away. She reached out wildly for her bedside lamp, bumping the shade before she clicked on the light. The buzzing, she realized, amazed at her own stupidity, was coming from her phone, vibrating in a jittery dance around the tabletop.

  Miranda picked up the phone.

  “Hello?” she croaked.

  “I’ve sent you five texts already.” It was Rob and he sounded furious. “What the hell are you doing?”

  “Sleeping.”

  “I’m standing around outside, freezing my butt off. I’ve got Sally’s phone. This is probably, like, an international call.”

  Miranda padded downstairs as quietly as possible, wincing when one of the steps creaked, holding her breath as she crept past her parents’ closed bedroom door. The time on her phone had read 2:18. Rob hadn’t even left the flat until after midnight: He was going to wait, he’d told her, until the lights were off and he could hear their father snoring. He hadn’t lasted very long in the cellar. No wonder he was in a foul mood.

  Miranda slithered down the last of the stairs and slowly unlatched the door. Rob was standing right outside the door, arms wrapped around himself, shivering. They didn’t speak until they were upstairs in his room with the door firmly closed.

  “What happened?” Miranda whispered. Rob flopped onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

  “What do you think?” he murmured. “I freaked out. I just couldn’t handle it. When we turned the light off, it felt as though the walls were closing in on me. The smell was getting to me as well. Stale beer and mold, maybe. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to black out. God, I’m such a loser.”

  “What did Sally say?”

  “She thought I was joking at first. Then — you know, she was concerned, and sweet and all. Said the whole thing was a stupid idea anyway.”

  “I’m glad she’s got some common sense.”

  “She was just trying to be nice. She’ll probably never see me again.”

  “I doubt that,” said Miranda.

  “We tried turning on the flashlight, to see if that helped, but that was even worse. They haven’t cleaned off the graffiti yet — I’ll offer to do it tomorrow. During the day, when you can open the trapdoors, it’s not so suffocating down there.”

  “I thought you said Sally won’t want to see you again.”

  “Yeah, well.” Rob sounded dejected. “I have to return her phone.”

  “What does the graffiti say, anyway?”

  “It’s not like tagging or words or anything,” Rob said, sitting up so he could pull off his sweater.

  “What, then?”

  “Hard to explain.” He peeled off his socks and dropped them one by one onto the floor. “It’s just like someone’s gone crazy with a paintbrush.”

  “Weird,” said Miranda, the word turning into a yawn. Rob looked tired, too, his eyes red.

  “Everything is weird about this,” he muttered, flopping back onto his back. “And now Sally knows that I’m weird, too. So much for pretending to be someone else this week.”

  “You should try to get some sleep,” Miranda told him. It was late and they were both exhausted. She whispered a quick good night, and then tiptoed back to her room and shut the door. She felt bad for Rob — she really did. But things would be better tomorrow. Sally didn’t seem the kind of girl who’d mock him about his claustrophobia, or decide to dump him because of it.

  A sliver of light shone into Miranda’s room through the gap between the curtains. The moon hadn’t been visible a single night since they arrived in York, and it was too late for the Shambles holiday lights. Miranda drew back one of the curtains, feeling that familiar twinge of excitement, curiosity, and dread.

  The handsome ghost sat in the attic window, a candle burning in its usual position on the sill. He was staring directly at Miranda’s window, as though he’d been waiting for her. Her heart was thumping. There was something so breathtaking about him, she thought, something sad, something magnetic. In her dream, she’d recoiled from his kiss. But was that what she’d really do? If somehow she could leap across the chasm between their two windows — their two worlds — would she hesitate? What would it feel like to kiss someone that perfect?

  Perhaps ghosts couldn’t kiss the living. Nick had kissed her to prove that he was real. Maybe if the ghost reached for her, pressed his face to hers, she’d feel nothing but a chill wind.

  Or maybe it would feel like the most intense, exhilarating thrill she’d ever experienced.

  The ghost started raising his hand to the window, as he did every time she saw him. Miranda pressed hers against the pane in anticipation of the jet of cold that would surge through glass and space and dimensions, the freezing shock that would tingle through her body. This time, she noticed, he was lifting his left hand. As he pressed it against the window, Miranda gasped, and not just because an icy tide was shuddering up her arm. The palm of his hand was dark with blood. Dried blood, a crude rainbow of it, as though someone had dragged their fingers through it when the blood was still flowing, swirling the blood in a wild, violent circle.

  The ghost seemed pleased with her reaction. He gave her a slow smile, his top lip curling in a way that was almost cruel. The cold pulsing through Miranda rooted her to the spot. She couldn’t take her eyes off the ghost — his haughty, irresistible face, his bloodied hand.

  A police car’s siren sounded in the distance, its wail breaking the silence of the night. Miranda tried to steady her breathing. The ghost had never appeared to her for this long before. He’d never been waiting for her, either, the way he’d seemed to be doing tonight. She wondered why he was showing her the blood on his left hand for the first time. Ghosts reach out to us sometimes; that’s what Nick had told her. They think we can help them, he’d said, and sometimes we can. Was the ghost in the attic reaching out to her? How could she help him?

  Another siren joined the chorus — this one higher and louder. The ghost smiled again. Then, carefully, with the thumb and finger of his right hand, he extinguished the candle.

  “No,” Miranda whispered, the sharp cold of his touch draining from her hand. But he was gone, the attic window dark and empty. The second siren was getting closer. It wasn’t the only noise: Footsteps thumped along the hallway outside her room.

  “Miranda.” It was Rob, on the other side of her door. She peeled her hand off the window. “Miranda!”

  “What?” she said, opening the door. “Keep your voice down.”

  “Sally just called,” he said, brandishing her cell phone as evidence. He was struggling to pull his jeans on with the other hand. “We have to go.”

  “Where? Why?”

  “Stonegate,” he said, out of breath. “The White Boar is on fire.”

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  Ten minutes later, all four members of the Tennant family — hastily dressed and wrapped up against the cold — were striding toward Stonegate. Miranda could tell the precise location of the White Boar from the plume of smoke drifting into the sky.

  “Just one thing after another for those poor people,” Peggy was saying to Jeff, still pulling on her gloves as they hurried along Swinegate. Rob ran ahead, beckoning at them to hurry up. He was frantic with worry.

  Stonegate smelled like a bonfire. The fire engine had pulled up on St. Helen’s Square, blocking off that end of the street. The firemen were shouting, running up to the White Boar, maneuvering the hoses into position. An ambulance reversed in jerks down Stonegate, its back doors already hanging open. The police, in their domed hats and dark uniforms, talked into their radios, waving people away to the Petergate end of the street. Miranda couldn’t see flames — just smoke, billowing like smog from the chimney and the windows.

  Rob stopped to make a call to Sally, who was using someone else’s cell phone. Miranda kept walking.

  “Help me,” groaned a man’s voice, an
d she turned her head to look. He was sitting on the ground outside a bookstore. His head was crudely bandaged and he was wearing breeches of some kind, and rumpled leather boots. As soon as she caught his eye, cold radiated through her body. Not a victim of the fire, she realized — just another ghost. He groaned again, and reached out to her. Miranda recoiled, almost stepping on Rob’s foot. One of the man’s hands was simply a bloody stump.

  “Come on,” said Rob impatiently, jabbing her in the back. “You can look at books tomorrow.”

  Miranda walked on, staring back at the wounded man — a Cavalier from the English Civil War, maybe? — until she blinked, and he vanished. More people were out in the street now, stepping out of doorways, wandering down from Petergate. Jeff and Peggy had stopped outside a shop some distance from the pub.

  “This is as close as we should get,” said Jeff, slinging a protective arm around Miranda.

  “I have to find Sally,” said Rob. Peggy grabbed his arm.

  “She and her parents are safe, remember?” she said, sounding both calm and stern — her specialty, thought Miranda. “When she called you, they were already outside.”

  A wild lick of flame had darted through a window, flaring out into the street, and the watching crowd gave a collective cry. The firemen trained a steaming jet of water onto it, straining to keep the powerful hoses under control, and the orange flame disappeared as abruptly as the soldier ghost had, a thick cloud of smoke taking its place.

  “If the White Boar goes, the whole street could go,” someone nearby said cheerily.

  Jeff bent to mutter in Miranda’s ear. “I doubt that,” he said. “It looks as though the worst of it’s over. You can’t see any flames in the windows.”

  Firemen were moving in through the inn’s front door now, bellowing and signaling to each other. The whole sky was misted with smoke. Miranda’s eyes were watering. Rob stood with Sally’s purple phone clamped to one ear, his hand pressed over the other ear to block the noise.