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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
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Dark Souls 21
Miranda threw the leather coat over him, beating on it with her raw, singed hands. Her eyes stung. She was vaguely aware of Sally there next to her, helping her, a blurry shape in the smoke.
Nobody was going to die tonight, Miranda told herself. They had to get out of here, just like Rob had said. All of them, every single one. They’d have to lay Nick on his coat and drag him back along the tunnel.
“We have to get him out!” she shouted at Sally. Sally nodded, swaying as she stood up, reaching out to grab Rob. At least he was on his feet again, though his forehead was bleeding.
“Sal, you go,” he said, bending over Nick. “Fast as you can. We’ll bring —”
“Aaaahhh!” Sally screamed. The blast flung her across the crypt, skidding on her back all the way to the stone basin.
“Enough!” roared Miranda. She couldn’t even see the ghost when she looked up — the air was dense with smoke now — but the arctic cold of his presence sliced through her. “You have your fire! Let us go!”
Rob had managed to roll Nick over onto the spread coat. Nick was limp — passed out, maybe. Miranda couldn’t see him clearly. She felt weak and woozy, struggling to breathe in the thick smoke.
“I’ll drag him over to the tunnel,” Rob gasped. He grasped the collar of the leather coat and pulled Nick’s prone form a few inches. It would take forever to get him along the underground passage. Hopefully, Sally was okay — Miranda couldn’t even see her anymore. She couldn’t see anything but flames and smoke and her brother struggling to drag Nick’s body away. She had to help Rob.
Miranda staggered to her feet just in time to see the ghost materialize again, not high above her but inches from her face. He was smiling at her through the haze, his icy grip freezing her in place. He glanced over his shoulder at Rob still struggling with Nick on the makeshift stretcher, and the look alone had enough force, enough malevolence behind it, to wipe Rob out again. He lay on the stone floor of the crypt, as still and silent as Nick.
It was over, Miranda knew. She had no strength left. She’d tried, but she couldn’t save her brother, or Nick, or Sally. She couldn’t save herself. They were all going to die here, in this sealed-up tomb under the Minster.
She could hear distant shouts and knocks from somewhere outside — or underneath — the crypt. More ghosts, she thought. Ghosts everywhere. Miranda felt a heaviness descend. She’d be joining them soon, joining their strange netherworld. She and Nick and Sally and Rob. They were all going to be ghosts.
Intense cold still froze her in place. The ghost of Richard Martin was leaning toward her. He closed his eyes and she realized that he was about to kiss her. With the last of her strength, Miranda reached a trembling hand toward his face. She wanted to push him away, but it was impossible: Her hand passed straight through him. The scar on his neck was clotted with blood. His lips looked thin and cold and papery.
All this week, Miranda had wanted to be close to him. She’d wanted to see him face-to-face, not through the window. Well, now her wish was going to come true. This surreal, perverted fairy tale would have its inevitable ending. The ghost in the attic — so beautiful, so evil — was going to be the last thing Miranda ever saw.
Miranda had read somewhere that the afterlife was all bright white lights and the faces of your loved ones smiling at you. So was the hospital. The lights hurt her eyes, which were still sore because of the smoke. Her throat was sore as well, and her head was thudding. Smoke inhalation, said the nurse in the blue uniform. Sister, the other people called her.
“We had to keep you overnight,” Sister said, plumping up Miranda’s pillow. “Make sure you didn’t have any inhalation burns. Monitor your blood chemistry and your oxygen levels.”
“And my brother?” Miranda managed to speak. “Your hands will take a little while to heal, and he’s got a cracked rib or two. But you’re both going to be fine.”
“And Sally … Sally Framington?” Miranda croaked. The sheriff’s deputy had stood over her in the road through the cornfields, saying he was real sorry, telling her that her friend was dead.
“She’s going to be fine as well.”
“And …” Miranda started, wanting to know about Nick, but Sister shook her head.
“No — not another word! No more talking. You need to rest. You’re a very lucky girl.”
Lucky. That was the word her parents had used, too. When she first woke up, she saw the lights and then their faces looming over her, and even through her haze of medication, Miranda saw that people could look agonized and miserable and relieved and happy all at the same time. She was relieved, too: Her parents were safe.
“We’ve come so close to losing you both,” her mother had sobbed. “Not once, but twice. In six months!”
“Everything’s fine now,” Jeff said, over and over. He’d also been crying. “We’re lucky. Very, very lucky.”
It was Monday, the day they were supposed to leave York. Miranda drifted into sleep again, and woke to find her parents back at her bedside. They were going to be released — like animals back into the wild, her father said, trying to joke — that afternoon. Sally would be discharged as well. Incredibly, she’d made it out of the crypt and all the way back to the pub. Crawling most of the way, Miranda’s parents said, on her hands and knees. She was in a terrible state, but she’d managed to call the police as soon as she got back. By then they’d already broken through the boards and unlocked the gates. One of the ushers had heard a dog barking madly and had gone to investigate; he couldn’t see the dog, but he had seen smoke and raised the alarm.
“I wish they’d found that dog,” Jeff said. “I’d like to shake its paw.”
The stonemason’s dog, thought Miranda. Nick had said that dog never liked him. He always barked like crazy whenever he saw Nick. Thank goodness, she thought. At last — a useful ghost.
Her parents knew certain things now — that there was an underground passage, and that Lord Poole’s grandson was somehow involved. Lord Poole’s grandson, still alive, in another ward of the hospital. He’d regained consciousness, they told her. His burns would have been much, much worse, they said, if Miranda hadn’t acted so quickly. Rob had told them that she’d beaten the flames out with Nick’s coat. Nick didn’t remember anything.
After lunch, when the detectives arrived to talk to Nick, Lord Poole came to visit Miranda. He’d been sitting with Nick all night.
“I lost my grandson once before,” he told her, settling into the plastic chair beside her bed. “I’m not going to lose him again. When all this is over, he has a home at Lambert House. He knows that now, at least.”
“Will he … will he have to go to jail?”
“It doesn’t seem so. Probably some kind of hospital where he can get help and recover. What he did was terribly destructive and dangerous and reprehensible. But he wasn’t in his right mind. You know that better than anyone.”
“He’s not a bad person,” Miranda told him. Lord Poole looked so sad and so old, she wanted to reach out and pat him on the arm. But it was impossible. Her bandaged hands stuck out of the sleeves of her hospital gown like giant white paws, throbbing with a dull pain. “He thought the ghost of his brother was telling him to do all this. None of this was his idea. As soon as he realized that he’d been duped …”
Lord Poole’s eyes were red. She hoped he wasn’t going to cry.
“I feel terrible asking you this,” he said, staring down at his hands. “But we might need your help, Miranda. It seems that … it seems that you knew Nick better than anyone in the days leading up to the fire. Anything you can tell the police and our barrister about Nick’s state of mind — well, it would be very helpful.”
“I don’t know if they’d believe me.” Miranda wasn’t sure if her parents would believe it all, let alone the police. “If he’s considered insane because he can see ghosts, then I’m insane as well. Because I could see the ghost just as clearly as Nick c
ould. If I hadn’t been able to, then I wouldn’t have been able to figure out what was going on.”
“Thank God you did,” Lord Poole said, his smile unbearably sad.
“So you believe me?” Miranda struggled to sit up.
“There once was a time,” said Lord Poole, “when I could see ghosts. When I was younger, much younger. Like you.”
“Oh yes. There was one particular fellow — flayed alive and nailed by the Vikings to a church door. Saw him every time I passed. He was always shouting and carrying on. I couldn’t stand the sight of him.”
“Really?” Despite the lurid description, Miranda smiled. Nick had seen that ghost, too. He was planning to take Miranda the night she’d had to stand him up.
“St. Margaret Clitherow, too,” said Lord Poole. “You’ve seen her, I think.”
“I have.” It was such a relief, finding an adult she could talk to about all this. “But how did you know that?”
“An inkling I had, that night on the Shambles,” he said.
“But you couldn’t see her?”
“No. Not anymore. I haven’t seen ghosts for years.” “When did it stop?”
“Just before I married Mabel,” said Lord Poole. “I can tell you the precise year — 1960. I was so happy that I think I couldn’t see unhappiness anymore.”
“You think you have to be sad to see ghosts?”
“Perhaps there has to be some great sadness in your life to make you open to the unhappy currents of the spirit world. My parents died when I was quite young, and I think I was an unhappy, lonely sort of lad until I met Mabel.”
“I wish I could have met her,” said Miranda.
“She was a wonderful woman. No sightings of her as a ghost, I’m pleased to report. She’s resting in peace, the way we all hope to when the time comes.”
“I’m sorry …” Miranda began, and stopped. There was so much she was sorry for. She didn’t know where to begin. “I’m sorry for not telling you that I’d seen Nick. He asked me to keep it a secret, and …”
“You were a true and loyal friend,” Lord Poole said. He didn’t seem angry with her. “You tried to stop him from lighting that terrible fire. You did all you could.”
“But if there’s anything I can do now,” she said. Lord Poole’s kindness made her feel even more guilty. “For you or for Nick. Tell me. I’ll talk to the police — give them a statement — whatever you want.”
“There’s one thing you can do,” Lord Poole said, reaching out to squeeze her shoulder. “Nick would like to see you. Before you leave the hospital. Would that be possible?”
Nick was in a room by himself, his back turned to the view of a parking lot. A policeman sat outside the room. Nick lay in bed, wearing a pale green gown, his arms and head bandaged. He looked like someone else altogether. Miranda told herself not to cry.
He lay very still. His eyes were the only things that moved, following Miranda into the room. She nudged an orange plastic chair close to the bed, knocking it into position with her knee, and sat down. Nick looked at her and said nothing. He was on a lot of pain medication, the nurse in his ward had told Miranda. He needed to rest. She could only stay five minutes.
“Can you speak?” she whispered. They had to leave the door open.
Nick blinked at her. His eyes were dark and liquid, like ink.
“The last thing I remember,” he murmured, “is you telling me to jump. I think I knocked my head.”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Miranda said softly.
“And … your brother?” Nick rasped, swallowing with effort. “And the other girl?”
“Rob and Sally. They’re fine. Everyone’s okay.”
Nick closed his eyes, and Miranda wondered if he was falling asleep. He opened them again and they were red. He was blinking back tears.
“Your hands,” he said.
“Your hands.” The bandages on his were even more impressive.
“No more painting,” he said, with an almost smile.
“Good,” Miranda said, smiling back, though she wanted to cry. It was relief, more than anything. This wasn’t like the accident with Jenna. They were all alive.
“Can you come back and see me again?” he asked. Miranda shook her head.
“We leave today,” she told him. He adjusted his position in the bed, wincing with pain. “Are you okay? Can I … do anything?”
“You saved my life,” he whispered. “They told me.”
Miranda dropped her head.
“You should be thanking the stonemason’s dog,” she murmured, and Nick’s mouth twitched again, as though he wanted to smile but it was too much effort.
“They’re going to put me away for a while,” he said. “Till I get my head straight. Will you write to me?”
“Of course,” she told him. “When my hands work again. Okay?”
Nick smiled at her — a sad, sweet smile.
“I didn’t know you could see him.” He didn’t have to say “Richard” or “the ghost”: Miranda knew exactly who he was talking about. “I thought I was the only one. I had no idea he was … lying about that. Lying about every thing.”
“And I didn’t know you were living up there,” Miranda said. “Right across the street from my room.”
“We both had our secrets,” said Nick, rolling back a little and wincing with pain.
“No more secrets now,” she said. She wished he could touch her hand again, the way he did that day in the Minster.
“Time to say your good-byes,” the nurse called from the doorway. Miranda slowly stood up. She leaned over the bed, careful not to brush against his bandaged arms, and kissed him. Although Miranda meant to kiss his cheek, Nick twisted his head — in a way that must have hurt — so his lips touched hers, tender and cool.
Walking back to her ward, walking out to the taxi with Rob and her parents, Miranda could still feel the kiss. She would always remember it, she thought. Long when she’d forgotten what it was like to be skewered by the freezing grip of a ghost, she’d remember that sad, soft kiss good-bye.
“Yeah, don’t worry about folding anything. Just stuff it all in.”
Rob was sitting on his bed, supervising Sally, who was packing his bag. She was the only one of the three of them who’d avoided burns, though she was badly scraped and bruised from getting hurled across the crypt, not to mention the trip back along the underground passage. She held up Rob’s vomit-stained sweater.
“Don’t you want to throw this away?”
“No,” he said, grinning at her. “Sentimental value. Ow!”
“What?” Miranda was standing in the door, trying to cross her arms and failing; the bandages got in the way.
“Everything hurts,” he complained. “Next time you see a ghost, could you make it one that doesn’t want to toss me around like an enraged bull?”
“Sally got thrown around as well. I don’t hear her complaining. Though I think she’ll be glad when we leave town.”
“Don’t say that!” Sally protested. “I don’t want Rob to leave. I wish you could all stay.”
“Mainly me, though.” Rob shot her his smuggest smile. Miranda didn’t know how Sally could bear it. Maybe it was hard to tell if guys were idiots when they had a foreign accent. Rob’s accent wasn’t as cool as Nick’s, of course, but she guessed he sounded vaguely exotic to Sally.
“The summer’s so far away.” Sally tucked a pair of socks into Rob’s duffel.
“What’s happening this summer?” Miranda asked.
“I’m coming over,” Rob told her, acting as though it was no big deal. “Plan cleared with the Parental Unit, before you start accusing me of anything.”
“Yeah, well, you hate to fly.”
“What — just like that?”
“Okay, well, in case you’ve forgotten, I’ve crawled my way through ten miles of underground tunnel. You know, to save the day.”
“Historical revisionism a
side,” said Miranda, rolling her eyes, “I don’t think you can overcome claustrophobia just like that.”
“No,” Rob agreed. “I guess not. But it’s a start.”
Sally zipped up Rob’s duffel and patted it.
“What’s going on across the street?” she asked. The boarded-up house had been swaddled in police tape all day.
“They took the boards off the front door,” Miranda reported. “And they’re swarming all over the place. I can see them through my window.”
“Oh! That reminds me. I have something for you.” Sally rummaged in the big silver purse she’d thrown under Rob’s chair. The suede jacket he’d bought her at the secondhand store hung on the chair back. “Here it is — your book. We left it in the cellar.”
Sally handed her Tales of Old York, Miranda grasping it as best she could with her bandage mittens. It looked slightly more tattered and falling-apart than it had just over a week ago, when Lord Poole dropped it off. Miranda was going to mail it to him when she got back to the States. It belonged to him, to his family. It should be sitting on the shelves at Lambert House when Nick got home, whenever that might be.
Miranda retreated to her own room to set the book on top of her carry-on bag. Her mother would have to pack it, just as she’d packed the rest of Miranda’s things. A policeman stood in the window across the street, in the same spot where the ghost had once watched her. He was apparently dusting the frame for fingerprints. Miranda resisted the urge to wave to him. The Christmas lights of the Shambles sparkled in the fading light of the afternoon. It was dusk — not a real time, Miranda thought, smiling. But the time of day when ghosts started coming out.
Her mother, complaining that the attic rooms were too stuffy, had left the window open. Miranda leaned out, gazing down into the street. A group of tourists, all wearing Minnesota Vikings jackets, posed for a picture outside a tea shop. A ghost-tour guide strode up and down waving his black cape in a melodramatic way, shouting that the only “true and authentic” walk around York’s haunted sights would begin at seven, outside the Roman Bathhouse. Two young girls, giggling and grabbing each other, were walking out of the photography store. Miranda wondered what they’d chosen as costumes. Cleopatra, Maid Marian, Victorian misses in crinolines and bonnets?