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Dark Souls 19
“He hadn’t seen him since he was nine,” Miranda said quietly. She thought of the story Lord Poole had told her, everything Nick had said. “Nick hadn’t seen his brother since he was nine. Even when he saw his brother’s ghost for the first time, in the churchyard where Richard was buried, he only saw the back of him, not his face. He was sure it was the ghost of his brother, but …”
“Maybe it wasn’t.” Rob finished her sentence for her. “Maybe it was some other ghost. They’re everywhere, right? Wandering around, attention-seeking, freaking out impressionable teenage girls?”
“That’s true.” Miranda decided not to rise to the bait. At least Rob seemed to be accepting the idea that ghosts existed. “It might have just been some other ghost in the churchyard, and Nick just really wanted him to be his brother.”
“Or it might have been his brother there in the churchyard,” Sally said. “But that was seven years ago. It doesn’t mean that the ghost in the attic is Nick’s brother. Or that Nick could even make a positive ID one way or the other.”
“See?” Rob said admiringly. “I told you she was Miss Marple.”
“Maybe,” Sally continued, ignoring him, “as Miranda was saying, Nick really, really wanted to believe the ghost in the attic was his brother. Sometimes if we want something badly enough, we’ll believe anything. You know, the way everyone here always believes that England will win the World Cup.”
“Nick said he thought he’d been called back here for a reason,” said Miranda. She felt sweaty now, and sick. A few days ago she’d thought that Nick was duping her, but now she was wondering if he was the one who’d been duped. “He was living in London, but he came back to York, where they grew up. It’s the seventh anniversary of his brother’s death. So if the ghost appeared to him, and said he was Richard …”
“And he only appeared at night, right?” Sally said, nodding at Miranda. “In a pitch-black attic where the only light is a candle. Nick wouldn’t be able to see him that clearly.”
“I guess,” she said. She’d been able to see him pretty well, through his window and hers, even with snow falling. That handsome face, smiling at her. Something so charming about him. Of course Nick would want him to be his brother. And it would make sense to him — he comes home to York, and there’s his brother appearing to him in the boarded-up house where Nick was sleeping. They’d found each other again, or so it might have seemed to Nick.
“Okay,” said Rob, clapping his hands. “So poem, painting — what’s up? Why is someone trashing this cellar? It’s not like it belongs to the bad guys at York Minster.”
“I don’t know,” Miranda admitted. “But go back a second. Say this ghost can’t talk. Some of them can’t, you know. Or don’t choose to.”
“Whatever,” Rob said.
“Really, listen. If the ghost held up the palm of his hand,” said Miranda, holding her own up to demonstrate, “then Nick would see the painting on it, the same way I did. But he wouldn’t be confused like me. He’d recognize it as the fire cloud from The Fall of Babylon because he would remember it from their grandfather’s house. He would think this was a sign. He would think this ghost, this Richard, was his Richard.”
“Can I just say one more time — ghosts can’t paint!”
“He could have painted it on his hand before he died,” Miranda pointed out. “It looked dark, like blood, when I saw it. Not fresh and bright like the painting on this wall.”
“And the words on the wall?” Sally asked. “Dark soul and foul thoughts?”
“Nick could have painted them. We know they had paint at some point, in order to do this.” Miranda gestured at the wild swirls of red and orange on the cellar wall.
“But how would Nick know those words from the Milton poem?” Rob looked skeptical. “Unless Lord Poole quoted them on a daily basis. And even then — I mean, Mom and Dad are always quoting things, and I couldn’t tell you a single line of a single poem. Or even the name of the poem. Or even if it was a poem.”
“Not everyone revels in their stupidity like you,” Miranda retorted, but Sally was waving her hands in the air, trying to get them to shut up.
“He had the book!” she said. “Remember? Miranda’s book. I picked it up from next to his bed.”
“His mother had a copy, too.” Miranda remembered Nick telling her this — it felt like a year ago, when it was only days. “Maybe the exact same book. She might have given it to her father when she moved abroad.”
“Did you lend it to him this week?” Rob asked. “I thought you’d just lost it.”
“That’s what I thought,” Miranda said. She thought of her and Nick standing together in the snickelway on Thursday night, pressed together, Nick’s arms around her. She’d thought he wanted to be close to her, but maybe all he wanted was to claim back lost property. “He could have taken it out of my pocket. I was carrying it around with me on Thursday and …”
She blushed. She didn’t want to go into the details of how, exactly, Nick could have extracted the book from her coat pocket without her noticing.
“But if he read what we just read,” said Rob, scratching his head, “then he might have figured out the whole Richard Martin thing, too.”
“Not if he’d already convinced himself that this ghost was his brother,” said Sally. “Back for the seventh anniversary of his death, asking Nick to help him. Isn’t that what you said, Miranda? Ghosts reach out because they want someone to help them.”
“But what would Richard Martin want weird Nick to do?” Rob was musing rather than asking, drumming his fists against his temples. “Take up where his crazy father left off and burn down York Minster?”
They all looked at each other. Figuring all this out had been exhilarating, but now all Miranda felt was a horrible sense of dread.
“No,” she said, closing her eyes. “No, Nick. No.”
As if in reply, something began banging and clanking on the painted side of the cellar wall.
What’s that?” Miranda said sharply. “What’s that noise?”
“I can’t hear anything,” said Rob, and Sally shook her head.
“Is there another cellar right next to yours?” Miranda asked. The banging was muffled, but still totally audible. She didn’t understand why Rob and Sally couldn’t hear it.
“I don’t think so,” said Sally. “Behind here is the yard, and then there’s an alley that runs down the back of all the shops.”
“You can’t hear it?” Miranda made her way to the far wall, clambering over upturned barrels. She pressed her hands against the painted stones. “They’re vibrating. Something … it sounds like something driving along a road. Really, you can’t hear it?”
She moved her hands to another stone, which felt as though it was practically jiggling. This reminded her of sitting outside the Treasurer’s House with Nick, feeling the ground vibrate as the Roman legion marched along deep below them. He’d said that if they were in the cellar, they’d be able to see them.
“Stonegate,” she said, not turning around. “It was built on top of a Roman road, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Sally replied. “It ran to the river, I think. Where the river used to be, in St. Helen’s Square.”
“And up to where the Minster sits now,” Miranda said, remembering what Nick had told her. She glanced back at Sally and Rob. “Part of the road’s still here. I can hear them marching along it, or something.”
“Who’s marching?” Rob was wriggling his way over a stack of barrels.
“I don’t know. Romans, maybe.” She pushed on the stone, dead in the center of the painted fire cloud. It moved. “Help me!”
Rob reached in, pushing hard on the stone. Sally was leaning in from the other side, pressing the stone beneath.
“It’s moving,” said Rob, through gritted teeth. “Here — let me use a barrel.”
Miranda stepped back so he could roll a barrel into place and use it to butt the stones at the center of the fire
cloud. A large slab edged back and then, when Rob kicked it, rocked open like a narrow door. He dragged the barrel out of the way, and Miranda leaned into the gap in the wall.
Another underground passage stretched to her left and her right. The cellar of the White Boar, Miranda realized, wasn’t any ordinary pub cellar. In York’s underground world, buried deep beneath the city streets, it was the crossroads.
Whatever ghosts had been marching or driving along the road had disappeared into the darkness, and the wall wasn’t shaking anymore. But this passageway was even more musty and dank than the one that led to the house on the Shambles. Miranda wanted to gag. In the slice of tunnel illuminated by the cellar light, the stones were furry with moss. Water dribbled from the low ceiling.
“Here,” said Sally, now crouched at Miranda’s feet and peering down the passageway, too. She leaned in, steadying herself with one hand, and clicked on the flashlight. A beam of light, shone in the direction of the river, revealed the passage narrowing to almost a crawl space. In the other direction, toward the Minster, the passage looked low but still navigable.
“Ugh, it’s stinky,” said Rob, his head inches away from Miranda’s. “What’s that?”
Sally’s flashlight had picked out a dark shape on the ground — too flat to be a body, thought Miranda; she was trying to keep calm. Too big to be a rat. And they didn’t have snakes in England, did they? She wriggled into the passage, banging her head, and took a few uncertain steps toward it. Sally kept the light steady.
“It’s okay,” Miranda called back. “It’s just … a blanket.”
She gingerly reached out to grab it with the tips of her fingers and drag it back to the doorway. The blanket was sodden.
“Maybe the Romans dropped it,” Rob said. He and Sally were squirming away so Miranda could squeeze back into the cellar. She pulled the blanket through the aperture and draped it over a barrel. The blanket was gray and a little worn, but its provenance was much more recent than Roman.
“What a stench!” Sally put down the flashlight. “It’s soaking wet. Smells of alcohol.”
“Smells of beer,” he said. He clicked his fingers. “Hey! That one time I saw Nick, when he was coming out of that store — he was carrying blankets, remember? A big heap of them.”
“But there was no bedding at all up in the attic.” Sally looked at Miranda. “Was there?”
Miranda thought of Tales of Old York, and its account of Jonathan Martin setting his fire. He’d ripped velvet from the pews and set them alight first.
She took a deep breath. “If the ghost is Richard Martin,” she began, “and if he’s talked Nick into finishing what his father started, then he’d need something to start the fire.”
“Old bedding,” said Rob. “You can thank me for the brain wave later.”
“And you think he dragged it here?” Sally asked her. “Along the tunnel from the Shambles?”
“It makes sense, right? Here in the cellar, he could pull the tubes out of the wall and douse all the blankets with beer, so they’d be more flammable.” Miranda couldn’t believe how calm she sounded when talking about all this made her sick to her stomach.
“And he had to move all these barrels out of the way so he could get to the other door,” Rob added. “He could use the paint to help start a fire as well.”
“Paint, blankets.” This really did make sense now, Miranda thought. Horrible, frightening sense. “He could drag them all along this tunnel until they were right under the Minster, ready to be used when the time was right.”
“And when would that be?” asked Sally, but the look on her face, of mounting horror, suggested she knew the answer. “Not … not tonight?”
“I have to go NOW,” Miranda said, turning around. Their parents were in the Minster. Sally’s parents were there. They were all in terrible danger.
Rob grabbed her by the scruff of the neck.
“You’re not going anywhere!” he shouted. “It’s way too dangerous. You don’t even know where this passage leads …”
“… to the Minster!”
“And what if you get there and the whole thing’s burning?”
“What if I get there and there’s still time?” Miranda tried to wriggle free of his grip. “I can talk to Nick. He knows me. He trusts me. I can tell him that the ghost isn’t his brother. I can get him to stop this.”
“We should just call the police.”
“And say what? There’s an underground passage they don’t know about, and a ghost, and some beer-soaked blankets, and a quote from Milton? … Just let me go, Rob! We’ve wasted enough time.”
“Take the flashlight,” Sally told her. “I’ll follow you. Rob, if I’m not back in twenty minutes, call the police.”
“Have you both gone nuts?” Rob was outraged. “I’m not letting you go off there to risk who knows what….”
“He’s right,” Miranda told Sally, grabbing the flashlight. “You should stay. There’s no point in two of us …”
“You may need help moving whatever’s at the other end,” Sally said firmly. “It took three of us to move this lot.”
“Well, then you need me.” Rob glared at Miranda. “Don’t you? Come on, then. Let’s go. Before that big old church burns down, with all our parents sitting in it.”
“But you can’t come,” Miranda told him. “It might be even worse than the other tunnel.”
“That’s my problem, not yours. If you think I’m going to sit around while you two play Nancy Drew, you’re mistaken. Come on!”
He almost shoved her toward the low doorway.
“Rob,” Sally pleaded. “You know what happened last time.”
“It wasn’t life or death last time,” he said. “And if that lunatic Goth can drag his sorry self along here with all his blankets and paint and God knows what else, then it can’t be that narrow. Go!”
Rob was wrong, Miranda discovered very quickly. Her shoulders brushed the walls, and she was bent almost double in places. The only sounds were the dripping of water, the splashes of footsteps, and her own heavy breathing. She didn’t know how Nick had managed to make his way along here, especially trying to carry a can of paint, or a heavy wet blanket. He must have made many, many trips. Maybe that’s why he’d lit the fire in the pub, so the whole place would be sealed off for the final couple of days. He needed to go back and forth through the cellar without any interference. Thinking of Nick, and what he might be doing, made Miranda so worried and upset she wanted to scream. This was all a huge mistake. He was unhappy and lonely and adrift, and the ghost, whoever he was, had preyed on him. She had to find Nick and stop him, before it was too late. Before he damaged the Minster, and hurt people they loved. Before he hurt himself.
One hand gripped the flashlight; the other Miranda used to feel her way along the slimy walls. She had no sense of how long it would take to reach the Minster, or where this passage would lead, exactly. Walking along Stonegate itself, the journey would be ten minutes, probably less, but slipping along a dark underground tunnel was another story.
“Rob!” Sally cried out. Miranda slithered to a halt and trained the light back along the tunnel. Rob was on his knees, head down as though he was about to be sick. Sally crouched, her arms around him.
“Are you okay?” Miranda called, willing him not to black out. This passageway was vile, but for Rob it had to be utter hell.
“Yes.” He raised his head. His voice sounded wobbly, but he was getting up. “Keep going.”
Miranda pressed on, clawing at each stone, trying to ignore the dirt and slime. She skidded on something, bashing an elbow, and when she placed her free hand back on the wall, it felt different. Freezing cold.
Materializing through the wall on her right, like a mist taking human shape, was a man in an old-fashioned dark suit, his whiskers in huge bristling shanks down either side of his face. When he saw Miranda, he took off his hat and nodded. Cold rippled up her arm.
“Is this th
e way to the sewer?” he asked her in a low and solemn voice.
“I have no idea,” she said. He stood staring at her as though he was waiting for her to say something else. Really, Miranda had just about had it with ghosts. It was all about them, all the time — and time was in short supply right now. She had to get to Nick. When the whiskery man didn’t move out of the way, Miranda braced herself and took a big step right through him. Cold electrified her body: It was like walking through an ice shower. He was asking her the question about the sewer again, but Miranda ignored him.
She glanced back, but the man had disappeared — either through the other wall or into the darkness. Rob was behind her, staggering, and Sally was following him, reaching out a steadying hand, urging him along. He was making a superhuman effort, Miranda knew. The closeness of this space made her own head throb; she wanted to smack the walls and claw her way out. The distance they’d traveled and the distance that lay before them seemed endless, immeasurable. If anything happened to them down here, nobody would be able to hear them scream.
The beam of the flashlight caught a tumbled pile of stones, like a cairn. The end of the tunnel.
“Here!” Miranda called, but her voice was strangled. She hoped they wouldn’t have to move all these stones. Rob looked fit for nothing right now.
“Come on,” Sally was urging Rob. “We’re nearly there. You can do it.”
Miranda shone the light over the pile of stones: There was no obvious door, or a slab that could be moved. Panic washed through her, more potent than the chill of the ghost. What if Nick had sealed off whatever portal he was using?
Rob and Sally stumbled up, Rob grabbing at Miranda to keep himself vaguely upright. Milky vomit stains splotched the front of his sweater. Both of them were breathing loudly. Sally’s knuckles were scraped and bleeding.
“Okay, it must be here somewhere,” Miranda said, shining the flashlight along each wall. “We should press on the stones.”