Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 17

  The front of the White Boar was still boarded up. At the back door, Rob stood waiting.

  “Get in,” he said, practically dragging her by her arm.

  “Sally,” Miranda panted. “I saw Sally.”

  “I know. Come on — she just got back. She’s downstairs.”

  “Downstairs,” Miranda repeated stupidly. Sally must have run like the wind to get back so quickly. Odd that they hadn’t seen each other.

  “The cellar!” Rob exclaimed. He led the way through the pub’s kitchen and into the charred, now-empty front bar. Sally was clattering up the cellar steps.

  “Miranda!” said Sally, out of breath and flushed. She looked completely disheveled, her clothes and hair smeared with mud. “Has Rob told you?”

  “He’s told me nothing.” Miranda was practically leaping out of her skin. What was going on?

  “Jeez, give me a chance,” said Rob. “So, we were upstairs in the flat, and we decided to come down and get something to eat from the big kitchen, the one where they make the food for the customers —”

  “Get to the point!” Miranda shrieked. This was no time for Rob to be long-winded.

  “That’s when we heard it,” Sally said. “The noise in the cellar.”

  “Like something being dragged or pushed or whatever,” said Rob. “But the door down there was locked. I went outside, into the alley, to see if the trapdoors were open.”

  “We thought we could close them and bolt them, and whoever was in there would be trapped.”

  “And then we’d call the police,” added Rob. “So don’t start again about us putting ourselves in danger, okay?”

  “Were they open?” Miranda asked, and Sally shook her head.

  “Shut and locked,” she said. “The security bolt my father added after the fire — it wasn’t cut through or anything. When we went back inside, the cellar door was still locked and the noise had stopped. We couldn’t hear a thing.”

  “So we went down to look,” said Rob.

  “With the flashlight and the cricket bat.”

  Miranda rolled her eyes.

  “And?” she demanded.

  “There were footprints,” said Sally, her eyes widening. “Only a couple. Big wet footprints, and they seemed to just … to just …”

  “Come straight out of the wall,” Rob said, smacking the wall next to him for emphasis. “And it took us a while, but we figured it out. Where the footsteps started, one of the stones seemed to jut out in a weird way.”

  “We were pulling on it,” Sally explained, “and it moved. The stone moved! A whole panel, really — three big stones. It was some kind of secret passage: an entrance to a tunnel. An entrance to a tunnel!”

  “A tunnel?” Miranda repeated. Wow. A tunnel leading to the White Boar cellar. No wonder vandals could get in without a key. This was amazing.

  “So,” said Rob, taking over the story again, “we decided to follow it, to see where it went.”

  “Are you crazy?” This was even more stupid than the plan to stay in the cellar overnight, Miranda thought.

  “It was my idea,” Sally admitted. She looked sheepish. “Rob said we should call the police — really, he did. But I was so sick of all this. I just wanted to find out for myself.”

  “She was pretty determined,” Rob explained. “I couldn’t stop her. And I couldn’t … I just couldn’t make it very far along. It’s not really a tunnel. It’s more like a low passageway. Really low and really narrow. I couldn’t stand up in it.”

  “It’s low and it’s wet,” Sally said. “And dark. Horrible.” She shuddered, rubbing at one of the muddy streaks down her arm.

  “And you followed the tunnel all the way to that house on the Shambles?” Miranda asked. She couldn’t believe how brave — and foolish — Sally was. She thought of the handsome ghost of the apprentice, wondering if he’d been there in the attic. Sally had said nothing about him. But, of course, Sally couldn’t see ghosts.

  “I was going nuts, worrying about her,” Rob said. “I got quite a way along, but I just couldn’t … you know.”

  He looked embarrassed.

  “And the tunnel led to that house on the Shambles?” Miranda pressed.

  “To the cellar,” Sally told her. “At that end, the stones were pushed out of the way, so I could crawl in with no problem. I had no idea where I was. The cellar wasn’t locked, so I could get into the house, also no problem, but it was in total darkness. Nobody there. No furniture. No sign of life at all, except for the top floor.”

  “What?” Miranda’s heart started thudding again. Sally had seen the ghost — is that what she was about to say? “What did you see?”

  “A mattress and a few odds and ends. Your book.” Sally lifted her sweater and pulled the book out; it was tucked into her jeans. “I saw it there, lying on the floor, and I remembered it from when you were in Little Bettys that day. But I still didn’t know where I was. All the windows were boarded up. There was just that one window, up in the attic. I walked up to it to look out, try to get my bearings. And that’s when I saw you.”

  “How weird is all this?” said Rob. Much weirder than he realized, Miranda thought. He didn’t even know about the ghost in the attic — if the ghost was even a ghost. Why would a ghost need a mattress? Or a book, for that matter. Maybe the mark on his neck was just that, a mark. Miranda’s head was spinning. Was he a ghost or not?

  “I tried the doors downstairs, but they’re boarded up. The only ways out of that house are along this tunnel and through a small trapdoor in the roof of the cellar. That probably leads into a yard, or an alleyway or something. But it was locked.”

  “Let me see,” said Miranda, grabbing Sally’s arm. “Let me see the tunnel.”

  “You’re not going to that house,” Rob said, frowning at her. “I forbid it.”

  Miranda rolled her eyes. “Sally, show me.”

  Sally looked hesitant.

  “I don’t know — maybe Rob is right. We should call the police now. Whoever’s vandalizing the cellar and setting fire to the pub — either they’re living in that house or using that cellar as an escape route. They might be dangerous.”

  The guy in the attic wouldn’t hurt her, Miranda thought. He knew her. He’d seen her at least, in the window across the way, and smiled at her. She’d wanted to be in the same room with him and now, at last, she might have the chance.

  “Let me look at the entrance to the tunnel, at least,” Miranda pleaded. She was so excited it was hard to keep her voice steady. No way was Rob going to call the police before she had a chance to see for herself.

  Sally gave Rob a long look.

  “It’s only fair,” she said to him, and he shrugged. Sally started down the cellar steps, and Miranda followed her.

  Miranda had never seen the cellar of the White Boar before. Rob had described it to her in his usual vague way — low ceiling, stone walls — and that was right. But the first time he’d been down there, he said, it was all very neat and organized. Now the metal barrels and their rubber tubes were in a jumble, some tipped onto their sides, so there was hardly any room to walk.

  To the left of the stairs gaped a jagged hole in the wall, the block of three big stones pulled out of place, just as Sally had described. The right wall was still daubed with the graffiti Rob had mentioned earlier in the week. It was the strangest tag Miranda had ever seen, just a wild smearing of paint — orange, red, gold — in some sort of big, crude rainbow.

  “See, the footsteps were leading out of here,” Sally was saying, pointing to the opening in the wall. Miranda stood in the center of the cellar, gazing back and forth between the two walls. “They’re a bit hard to see now, because Rob and I have tramped in and out as well. And if you look in here …”

  She gestured to the tunnel, and Miranda stepped forward, squeezing between two upturned barrels. But there was something about the painted wall, something about the abstract shape of it, the color. Miranda looked over, staring directly at it. Where co
uld she have seen it before?

  “There weren’t any paint pots in the house,” Sally told her, answering a different unspoken question. “I looked in every room. Which means, I think, that whoever did this isn’t living in the house — don’t you think?”

  “I don’t know,” Miranda said, still intrigued by the crude smear on the wall. Even though it was just a shape, there was something so familiar about it.

  “Don’t you even want to look into the tunnel?” Rob asked. He was sitting on the stairs. “Or did you just come down here for the art?”

  “I’ve seen it before,” Miranda said slowly. “It was …”

  On the ghost’s hand.

  That was it! In a flash, Miranda could see it clearly. What had looked like a smear of blood on the ghost’s hand was more or less this shape. The colors weren’t as vivid as the paint on the cellar walls, but it was the same image, she was certain — just on a very different scale.

  “It was what?” Rob prompted, looking puzzled. Miranda didn’t reply. She didn’t know how to reply. She couldn’t tell him about the ghost, because he’d just scoff. And anyway, even if he believed her about the ghost, how could these pieces fit together?

  Because — surely — ghosts couldn’t paint walls. Miranda had seen the ghost stonemason at work in the Minster, but for all his activity, no changes were made to pillars and doors; there was no trace of his work when he disappeared. The palm of the ghost’s left hand may have been painted before he died. Perhaps that was why the paint looked dark as blood and not bright like these swoops of color on the stone walls. A ghost couldn’t buy cans of paint in the twenty-first century and use them to graffiti a wall, could he?

  Unless someone else did it for him.

  “WHAT?” said Rob again, now indignant.

  “It looks a bit like a sunset, I thought,” said Sally, wriggling into position next to Miranda. “Or maybe a big fire.”

  “A sky full of fire,” Miranda whispered. A piece clicked into place in her head. It wasn’t a picture, these livid streaks on the wall. It was part of a picture. An etching, actually, in black-and-white. She turned to the stairs, looking up at Rob with her mouth open.

  “Okay, now you’re just being annoying,” he said.

  “It’s a detail … a detail from a picture,” she said, stumbling over the words. “Something I saw — it’s called The Fall of Babylon. It’s a city under attack by God or the Persians or someone. It’s on fire, and there’s this big cloud of flame in the sky. And even though the picture’s in black-and-white, I swear to you — the shape of it looks exactly like this.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “The picture I saw at Lord Poole’s house.”

  “No way.” Rob looked startled. “Lord Poole is the vandal?”

  “No, idiot! But I think … I think I know someone else who’s seen this picture.” “Who — Dad?”

  “Okay, now you’re the annoying one,” Miranda snapped. “I’m talking about someone who knows this picture really well.”

  Nick and his brother had practically grown up in Lambert House. They must have seen the John Martin print hundreds, thousands of times.

  “Forget the police, Sal,” Rob said sarcastically. “Miranda needs to get an art critic on the phone.”

  “Rob, shut up,” she said, turning to Sally. “I have to go see the house on the Shambles. I think I know … I think I know …”

  “KNOW WHAT?” he yelled.

  “I think I know who’s living in that house.”

  Rob opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again: He looked totally puzzled. Sally glanced from him to Miranda, clicking on the flashlight.

  “I’ll lead the way,” she said.

  Miranda followed Sally into the tunnel. It was no surprise that Rob couldn’t cope with it: Miranda was stooped over, the moist stone ceiling brushing the back of her head. It was a passage so narrow that her shoulders were almost touching the walls. Underfoot, the stones were beyond slithery — so damp and mossy that Miranda seemed to be constantly slipping. She groped at the walls, willing herself to keep going. The only illumination was the pinpoint beam of Sally’s flashlight, and the increasingly distant cellar light behind them. Sally was trying to move quickly, but it wasn’t easy, especially with only one hand free to feel along the walls and keep herself steady.

  “It’s more or less a straight line,” Sally called back; her voice sounded high and hollow. “Are you okay? You’re not claustrophobic, too, are you?”

  “I’m fine,” Miranda shouted, though she didn’t feel fine. This passage — an old road, or a Roman sewer, maybe? — was enough to induce a panic attack, even if you’d never had one before. She tried to steady her breathing. They’d been making their way along for ten minutes, maybe. It felt like the longest ten minutes of Miranda’s life. They had to be almost there.

  “I can see the other cellar, up ahead,” Sally called at last. “I warn you — the entrance is small. It’s easiest if you crawl.”

  Miranda crouched, hauling herself, with dirty hands, through the gap in the wall. They were standing in another cellar, this one even smaller than the White Boar’s, and smelling of must.

  “See?” Sally trained her light on the small trapdoor overhead. A lock that looked new, or at least recent, dangled down. “They could go in and out through there.”

  She flashed the light onto a rickety wooden staircase.

  “This way up,” she said. “We should be quiet, in case someone’s come back to the house.”

  But nobody was in the house. Miranda and Sally clung together, taking careful steps and gasping in unison when the flashlight’s beam picked up a mouse scuttling across the floor. It was a narrow building, dusty and empty. The ground floor was dark as pitch, and so were the two floors above. Every step made the stairs creak, but it couldn’t be helped. Miranda was amazed that Sally had already made this trip once, alone. She had a lot of guts.

  On the top landing, Sally paused to brush away a cobweb stuck to her hair. Miranda’s grip tightened on Sally’s arm. She wasn’t sure what she was going to see up here, if the ghost would decide to make an appearance. Of course she wanted to see him, to talk to him at last, if that was possible. But the prospect of meeting him face-to-face, without the protection of the window, was scary as well. And what if he wasn’t a ghost, after all? What if he was the cellar vandal? How would he react to two girls breaking into his house?

  Whatever happened, Miranda told herself to keep calm, even if she felt jittery and weak-kneed right now. She and Sally walked slowly along the narrow hall to the sole doorway. It was ajar.

  “As I left it,” Sally whispered. They stopped in the doorway while Sally shone her light around the room. “Nobody here,” Sally said, and Miranda could hear the relief in her voice. Miranda was relieved, too — relieved and disappointed at the same time. Where was the ghost? He’d shown himself to her so many times, through the window. Why not appear now, when she was here in his room?

  As Sally had said, there were a few signs of life in the attic, and they were all on the side nearest the door, where the dormer window was boarded up. A dingy mattress lay pushed up to one wall, devoid of any bedding. In one corner, crowded onto the seat of a wooden chair, was a burner — the kind you’d take camping — and battered saucepan. Underneath the chair lay an empty can of baked beans and a discarded plastic spoon.

  “No light,” said Sally, flicking the switch back and forth. “But there’s a candle over there.”

  She shone the flashlight over to the far wall, by the window Miranda could look into from her room. A stub of a white candle sat in a saucer, melted down to almost nothing. Miranda pulled on Sally’s arm, the floorboards groaning and shifting as they crossed the attic. She crouched down to finger the candle. Could this be the one the ghost placed in the window? Or did he have some ghostly candle, pilfered in another lifetime, that he used to reveal himself whenever he wanted? Was he in the room right now, watching them?<
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  “There’s your window.” Sally tapped on the glass. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you there.”

  “I couldn’t believe it either,” Miranda began, swiveling on her heels so she could stand up. Sally helpfully pointed the flashlight down at the ground and, as the beam dipped, Miranda caught sight of something scrawled low on the wall, underneath the window.

  “Hold the light still a second,” she whispered. “Here — look.”

  Sally directed the flashlight at the wall, stepping back so she could see what Miranda was pointing at. The marks on the wall were words, smudged and black.

  “Like someone was finger painting,” Sally said, thinking aloud. “What does it say? ‘Dark’ something …”

  “ ‘Dark soul and foul thoughts,’ ” said Miranda. Like the picture on the wall of the cellar, this was something she remembered, somehow. Dark soul and foul thoughts. Dark soul and foul thoughts.

  “This place is so creepy.” Sally shivered. “He must be a right nutjob, the bloke who’s living here.”

  “Lord Poole,” said Miranda, standing up. It had come to her in a flash.

  “Lord Poole lives here?” Sally looked at her, mystified. “I thought he had some big house in the country.”

  “No, no,” Miranda explained. “I don’t mean Lord Poole lives here. I mean, I heard those words at his house — he said them. He was quoting someone, some poet.”

  “Well, how does it … how does it explain all this?” Sally waved the flashlight, arcing the beam around the room. “I don’t get it.”