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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 18


  “Hang on,” said Miranda. “What was that?”

  Sally’s light had glanced over something out on the floor, in the far corner of the room. She scanned the peeling floorboard until the light picked out the object again.

  “A piece of glass?” Sally said, walking toward it. “Or no — wait.”

  She bent down to pick up whatever it was, holding it up so Miranda could see. It was a clear glass button, as big as a quarter, trailing the frayed tail of a piece of black thread. Miranda reached out to touch it, her hand trembling. No, she thought. No, no, no.

  Someone was living in this attic, and that someone was Nick.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Sally said they should get back to the pub cellar before Rob got frantic with worry, and Miranda agreed with a silent nod of the head. She didn’t want to hang around in this attic a moment longer. Nick might come back. The ghost might appear. What the connection between them might be was starting to take shape in her mind, but it was still a gray cloud, like the ones that had loomed over York all week.

  The journey back along the underground passage didn’t feel any shorter, and Miranda managed to slip, halfway along, coming down hard on one of her knees. She was dirty, damp, and tired by the time she slithered back into the White Boar’s cellar, the smell of mold rank in her nostrils. She had to explain things to Rob and Sally. They weren’t going to believe her, but she had to try and explain.

  “Where have you two been?” Rob was stamping his feet with irritation. A redundant question, Miranda thought. “I’ve been going crazy in here. I was just about to call the police.”

  “We saw some other things,” Sally said, stroking Rob’s arm to calm him down. “Some words painted on a wall, and a glass button. I think …”

  She turned to face Miranda, pinning her down with that blue-eyed gaze. Rob made one of his hurry-up-and-tell-me-already faces.

  “I think they meant something to Miranda,” Sally said slowly. Now was the time, Miranda thought. If only she could muzzle Rob, she might be able to get the story straight.

  “Okay,” she said, not sure where to begin. “Just don’t start shouting at me, Rob. Let me speak, all right? I think … I think I know who’s living in the attic. It’s this guy I met. His name is Nick.”

  “The loser with the blankets and the attitude?” Rob glared at her. “I told you that guy was trouble. Of all the guys in this city, you have to meet a violent offender.”

  “We don’t know he’s a violent offender. He’s Lord Poole’s grandson.” Miranda glared back at Rob. At least that particular piece of information seemed to shut him up. “And the thing is … Look, I know neither of you are going to believe this, but please let me say what I have to say before you jump all over me.”

  “Nobody’s going to jump all over you.” Sally sat down on a barrel that was lying on its side. Her voice was calm. “Really, Miranda. Just tell us everything.”

  Miranda swallowed. Everything in her head was a jumble.

  “Well, you know, Sally, that I can see into the attic from my bedroom window. But I can’t see the other side, where the window’s boarded over. So I had no idea that Nick was sleeping up there. Living up there. He never told me.”

  “I bet he never told you that he liked to vandalize pub cellars or set fire to things either,” muttered Rob, but a stern glance from Sally silenced him.

  “The thing is, there was something I could see in that window. Someone, actually. Only at night. I’ve seen him many times since we arrived in York. I tried to tell you about it, Rob, but you wouldn’t listen. He’s a ghost. Sally, I can see ghosts.”

  “Miranda …” Rob began, in his most patronizing voice.

  “Ssshh,” said Sally. “Miranda, go on.”

  “You believe her?” Rob was incredulous. “You believe all this ghost stuff?”

  “Well,” said Sally matter-of-factly, “I’ve never seen a ghost, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And didn’t you ask me, Rob, if we had a cat at the White Boar? Remember, you said that Miranda had seen it that night your family came for dinner.”

  “What about it?”

  “I told you we don’t have a cat, and that was the truth. But Miranda’s not the first person to see it. A black cat, wasn’t it?”

  “Yes,” said Miranda, wondering if her guess had been right.

  “About forty years ago, the previous owners had some building work done, because a room had damp in the walls or something. Their black cat disappeared, and some people said it had got itself bricked up alive in one of the new walls. Over the years it’s been spotted, usually in one of the front rooms. And sometimes when people bring dogs in, the dogs go absolutely mental. Barking and jumping up at something that nobody else can see.”

  “So the black cat was a ghost,” said Miranda, and Sally nodded.

  “Why didn’t you tell me all this?” Rob complained. “Why didn’t you say, ‘Dude, for real, your sister is a ghost whisperer’?”

  “It was her business.” Sally flashed Miranda a conspiratorial smile. “And I was going to ask her about it myself, when we had a quiet moment, but everything’s been so …”

  “Crazy,” Miranda said. “I know.”

  “All right, then,” declared Rob from his staircase podium. “I don’t know if I buy all this, but go back to what you were saying. You saw some ghost in the window, allegedly.”

  “Yes.” Miranda nodded, trying to ignore his suspicious tone. “And I knew that Nick had an older brother named Richard. Nick told me himself, and so did Lord Poole. Richard was a lot older than Nick, and he died in some kind of mental hospital seven years ago, when he was twenty-one. He committed suicide — hanged himself.”

  Sally grimaced.

  “So you’re thinking,” she said, “that this ghost you saw in the window may be Nick’s brother? That they’re living together, in a way, up in the attic?”

  “Well, mostly I thought he was the ghost of this murdered apprentice,” admitted Miranda. “I read about him in my book. He’s been seen in a house on the Shambles several times.”

  “Oh, I know about him!” Sally exclaimed. “I’ve heard the tour guides telling the story, and one of our customers claimed to have seen him ages ago. But that’s not the house across from yours. It’s right down at the end of the Shambles. Overlooking Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate.”

  “That street name is another thing I just don’t believe,” said Rob.

  “He’s just a kid,” Sally added. “The apprentice, I mean. He was fourteen or something when he was murdered.”

  “ Wow — okay.” This was another new piece of information for Miranda to compute. So the ghost in the attic couldn’t be the murdered apprentice. The house was wrong. The age was wrong. Pieces of the puzzle were sliding into place.

  “Does this ghost look like Nick?” Sally asked.

  “Kind of,” Miranda replied. He was more handsome than Nick, she wanted to say. There was something much more charming about him. Debonair, her mother would say. “He has the same really dark hair and pale skin. And another thing — with ghosts, you know, you can often see how they died. You see the … the marks on them. He has a wound right here.”

  She drew her hand across the base of her throat to demonstrate. Rob flinched.

  “And then there’s that picture, The Fall of Babylon,” she continued. “They grew up with it at Lord Poole’s house. Nick and his brother stayed at that house all the time when they were growing up. And the other night, the ghost had a version of this fire cloud thing painted on the palm of his left hand. He showed it to me, in the window, but I didn’t realize what it was until tonight, when I saw the paint on the walls here.”

  “I wish we’d brought you to look at the cellar sooner,” said Sally ruefully.

  “There’s other stuff, too. Nick’s been saying lots of weird things this week….”

  Rob snorted with derision, which brought him another cool look from Sally.

  “Go on,” she said to Miranda.
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  “Things about how he’d come back to York because he felt his brother calling him. Because it was seven years since Richard died — seven years today, actually. Nick said his brother needed him to do something for him, that ghosts reach out to us because they want our help. Sometimes we can help them, and sometimes we can’t. But he said he’d do anything to help his brother.”

  “But why would his brother want him to break into our cellar and bust open all the barrels and paint on the walls?” Sally looked mystified. “And why would he want to set fire to our pub?”

  “I don’t know,” Miranda said. She really had no clue.

  “You said there were words painted on the wall in the attic,” said Rob. He was sitting on the stairs, leaning forward. Not scoffing at her anymore, at least. “What did they say?”

  “Dark soul something,” Sally said.

  “Dark soul and foul thoughts,” Miranda reminded her. “Sounds like Shakespeare,” Rob said. “Dad would know.”

  “Yeah — why don’t we text him and ask?” Miranda asked sarcastically. “Hey, Dad, we’re not exactly at the concert right now, but we have a literary question that can’t wait.”

  “Dark soul and foul thoughts,” murmured Sally. “I should know this — I’m reading English at university.”

  “You’ve only been there one semester,” Rob said. “Can you get onto the Internet on your phone?”

  “Yes!” Sally tugged her phone out of her pocket and started tapping away. Miranda resisted the temptation to look over her shoulder.

  “Any luck?” Rob asked.

  “Hang on — sorry, the reception is awful down here. Wait … here, it’s loading. Yes! It’s John Milton. A poem he wrote called …”

  “Comus!” Miranda remembered where she’d heard the line before. “Lord Poole was talking about it the other day, when Dad and I went to his house. Reciting it. Something to do with the picture by John Martin. You know, The Fall of Babylon. Or … no! It wasn’t about the picture. It was about John Martin himself.”

  “I’m confused,” said Rob. “What do all these different Johns have to do with Nick’s brother’s ghost coming back to York after seven years or whatever — not that I necessarily believe all this.”

  “What’s the connection?” Sally glanced up from her phone. “Miranda, do you know?”

  “I think so.” Miranda felt a rush of exhilaration: At last things were starting to make sense. “John Martin had a brother named — something. I can’t remember. Anyway, this brother — he tried to burn down York Minster. And the lines from the poem had something to do with it. I don’t remember exactly.”

  “I could look it up,” Sally said, frowning at her phone. “But this thing is really slow right now.”

  “What about your book?” Rob pointed to Tales of Old York. It lay on one of the barrels, where Miranda had left it before venturing into the underground passage. “Maybe there’d be something about it in there?”

  “There’s a picture of the Minster burning,” Miranda said. Sally handed her the book. “I remember the caption,

  THE MADMAN’S FIRE, 1829. He was insane. Jonathan Martin — that was his name! Instead of hanging him, they sent him to Bedlam, the asylum. Lord Poole told us.”

  As she paged through the book, looking for any information on the 1829 fire, Miranda remembered something else. Lord Poole wasn’t the only one who’d talked about that fire of 1829. Nick had mentioned it, too, the day they sat together in the Minster’s Quire stalls. He knew all about the fire.

  “Here,” she said, finding the line drawing of York Minster, its wooden roof ablaze. “There’s something here….

  “Jonathan Martin, a religious fanatic who had experienced religious visions as a child and had once been incarcerated in Gateshead Asylum, left a series of threatening letters on the Quire gates of York Minster. These letters foretold the destruction of the church as divine retribution for the wealth and decadence of the Church of England’s establishment. On the first night of February, 1829, Martin secreted himself in the Minster after Evensong and, after it was locked for the night, slashed velvet from the pews in order to build a pyre, adding hymnbooks as the fire grew. By the time it was discovered the next morning, most of the Quire — including, sad to say, the great organ — lay in ruins. The terrible fire was not subdued for many hours. Only the collapse of the great Medieval roof above the Quire prevented the flames from spreading further, saving the Minster from complete destruction. Martin himself had escaped the burning cathedral by climbing scaffolding in the north transept, but he could not escape arrest.”

  “But that doesn’t explain the Milton poem thing,” Rob complained.

  “Hang on, hang on.” Miranda flipped the page. “Here — look. It gets mentioned here.

  “At his trial, Martin was smiling, calm and unrepentant, behavior which enraged the citizens of York. He insisted that his act of arson was performed as a service to God, quoting at length from John Milton’s A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, also known as Comus. Martin contended that he himself had “light within his own clear breast” whereas the Dean of York Minster was a man who “hides a dark soul and foul thoughts.” The services of a lawyer engaged by the defendant’s brother, the acclaimed artist John Martin, were barely required, as Jonathan Martin concurred with every allegation of the prosecution. The jury took but minutes to find him not guilty on the grounds of insanity.”

  “So why would these words have meaning for Nick and his brother?” Sally looked pensive. “Why would they be painting them on the wall?”

  “Ghosts can’t paint,” Rob said matter-of-factly.

  “Like you’re the expert now on ghosts,” said Miranda, though secretly she thought he was right. “You wouldn’t even listen to me when I tried to tell you about them until Sally did.”

  “I wonder if they felt some kind of affinity with Jonathan Martin,” Sally mused, ignoring Rob and Miranda’s squabble. “Is Nick religious at all?”

  “No.” Miranda shook her head, thinking of her conversation with Nick in the Minster. He went there all the time but never, she suspected, to services. “Not religious. But he is quite bitter about the Church. When Richard died, he said, their mother wanted to have the funeral in York Minster. But someone — I don’t know who — wouldn’t give permission, and he was buried out in the country instead. That’s what Nick said happened, anyway.”

  “So Nick could have a grievance against the Minster.” Sally drummed her feet against the barrel. “And that means he and his brother could relate in some way to Jonathan Martin and his grievance. But hang on — there’s something not quite right about this. I understand it from Nick’s point of view. But what would Richard care about his funeral? He still had a church burial.”

  “That’s true,” Miranda said. She remembered Nick’s description of the funeral out in the country. It must have been the village near Lambert House.

  “And,” said Sally, warming to the subject, “obviously I don’t know as much as you about the world of ghosts, but it stands to reason that ghosts haunt places because of things that happen before they died, or perhaps because of the way they died. Not something that happens after they died, like a funeral.”

  This made sense to Miranda as well. The pieces of the puzzle weren’t falling into place quite so easily anymore.

  Rob stretched his legs out on the stairs.

  “And there’s nothing else in that book to give us any clues?” he asked. “Because you two may be overthinking, or underthinking. This all seems kind of random to me.”

  Miranda turned the page, skimming the rest of the short chapter.

  “There’s some more stuff about Jonathan Martin going to Bedlam,” she said, “where he died nine years later of natural causes. And there’s something about his brother, the painter John Martin, and his … and his …”

  “What?” asked Sally. Miranda frowned at the words swimming in front of her. It was just a coincidence, she told herself. That was all.
/>  “Something about his son,” Miranda said. “Jonathan Martin’s son. His name was … his name was Richard. Listen, I’ll read it to you.

  “Like his uncle, Richard Martin was a talented artist. The young man went to live with John Martin after the trial, to enjoy both his protection and tutelage. He had some early success, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London. But, sadly, he was also heir to the familial instability of temperament. Three months after his father’s death in Bedlam, Richard Martin slit his own throat. He was twenty-five years old.”

  “Nice family,” said Rob. “They make us seem normal.”

  “Same name as Nick’s brother.” Sally stood up — in fact, she practically bounced off the barrel. “Miranda, didn’t you say that Nick’s brother hanged himself?”

  “Yes.”

  “And the ghost you’ve seen, the one we think is sharing the attic with Nick, he has a wound across his neck. Like a bruise.”

  “Yeah, I guess so. It looks dark and at first I thought it was clotted blood, but that’s when I thought he was the ghost of the butcher’s apprentice. It could easily be a bruise, from a rope or whatever.”

  “But you said the wound was here.” Sally patted her throat. “Wouldn’t the bruise from whatever kind of noose Nick’s brother was using be farther up, under his chin? Think about it.”

  She used her hands, thumbs touching, to mimic a noose pulled taut around her neck.

  “You’re right,” Rob said, scrambling to his feet. He towered above them from his perch up on the stairs. “It would be way higher up than if you used a knife or a razor, wouldn’t it?”

  He mimed a slash across the base of his throat.

  “So you’re thinking that … what? The ghost might not be Nick’s brother?” Miranda remembered the ghost in the attic, that savage dark line across his white skin.

  “But where it all falls apart, Sal,” said Rob slowly, “is that Nick would know if this guy was his own brother or not. It’s not as if he could wake up in the attic one night, see this ghost, say, ‘Dude, are you Richard?’ and the ghost nods, and then it’s like, ‘Okay, let’s hate on York Minster and then go trash a pub if that’s what you want, big brother.’ He would know that this guy wasn’t his brother.”