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Dark Souls 4
Miranda glanced away, pretending to be watching the juggler’s antics with his silly jingling hat. But she knew that this guy Nick had seen her — worse, that he’d known she was staring. Miranda felt stupid, like a gawping tourist. By the time she had the courage to dart a quick look over at the Goths again, Nick was nowhere to be seen. He’d come and gone, and his friends were still standing there. One of them was mock juggling with a couple of charred chestnuts, ignoring the glares of the chestnut roaster.
Little Bettys Tea Rooms — known, according to Peggy’s guidebook, for its bizarre Yorkshire specialties like fruitcake served with a slab of cheese — was housed in a small black-painted shop, the sign above the door shaped like a teapot. Its window was stacked with tea canisters, holiday chocolates wrapped in gold and red foil, and bowls of glazed buns. The line for the tearooms upstairs was long, so they got only as far as the tiny downstairs shop, buying a selection of fluffy scones and jam tarts to take back to the flat. Rob said he’d wait outside, until he spotted a pretty blond girl behind the counter. He loped over, asking inane and unnecessary questions about why their shortbread was so long and why they sold coffee when Bettys called itself a tearoom.
“So much for the claustrophobia,” Miranda teased him on the way out. White Christmas lights sparkled above her head, strung across narrow, stone-paved Stonegate. Ahead of them, York Minster soared into the bleak winter sky. It was massive, built on a much larger scale than any of these twee shops and low-ceilinged pubs.
“What do you mean?” Rob looked innocent.
“I mean, that place is way smaller than Margaret Clitherow’s chapel.”
“I’m just interested in the local cuisine,” he said breezily. “Unlike you, I’m intellectually curious.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Miranda retorted. “And pathetically transparent.”
“Stonegate, you know,” said Jeff, falling back to walk alongside them when Peggy paused outside another shop, “was once the Via Praetoria, a major Roman road that led to the river — and to the main entrance to the city.”
“You should tell Rob all this,” Miranda said. “Apparently, he’s intellectually curious.”
They made a few more stops in other stores, then returned to the flat. As Miranda was unwinding her scarf from around her neck, she realized that she didn’t have her gloves.
“I remember taking them off in the National Trust shop,” she told her mother. “I must have left them on the counter or something.”
She was annoyed with herself about doing something so stupid. The gloves were suede, a gift from her grandparents.
“After we eat, we can walk back over,” Jeff suggested, but half an hour later it was obvious that nobody felt like doing much of anything. Rob had found a soccer match to watch on TV, Jeff was falling asleep reading the newspaper, and Peggy had already dozed off on the sofa.
“I’ll go,” Miranda whispered to Rob, who was slumped in an armchair. “I won’t be long.”
“I’ll go with you,” Rob said. “You might have left them in Little Bettys.”
“No — I know I had them when we walked out of there. They aren’t being held for ransom by the object of your affection, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
He grinned, then looked back at the television. “Okay. Then you don’t mind going out by yourself?”
Miranda shook her head. She hadn’t seen Margaret Clitherow on the Shambles today. But maybe — just maybe — she’d spot the guy from the attic. Though she’d wondered, on the way back today, how he’d managed to get in and out of what looked like a boarded-up house. Not to mention what he was doing living in an almost derelict building.
All of yesterday’s snow had melted, yet it felt colder now — much colder. There seemed to be no ghosts (or guys) along the Shambles, so Miranda marched down Goodramgate, hoping it was the quickest way to get back to the shop. To her relief, the woman in the floral smock behind the counter remembered her, and handed over the gloves.
Back on Goodramgate, Miranda almost collided with a group of people — laughing, swinging shopping bags — emerging from one of the many little lanes wending away from the street. Maybe this was a shortcut to the Shambles. A snickelway, as Lord Poole said. Without stopping to think, Miranda turned into a very narrow alley, with high brick walls on either side and a low arch, where the lane passed under — or maybe through — a building, like a tunnel through a mountain.
When she emerged from the snickelway into another street, nothing looked familiar. Miranda couldn’t see any street signs, and there was nobody around to point her in the right direction. In front of her were several modern redbrick town houses, the most recently built things Miranda had seen in York. They looked very ordinary, almost suburban. The street through them was pedestrian-only, traffic blocked by shiny black bollards. There was just one streetlight, and someone had twisted a skimpy string of Christmas lights up the trunk of the small lone tree. It was so quiet here — hard to believe she was just a short walk from busy streets and stores.
Something tugged at the hem of her jacket. Once, twice, three times. Miranda reached down to brush whatever it was away and searing cold shot through her hand. She looked down, straight into the face of a child.
“What?” Miranda heard herself gasp. Her heart was thudding. The little girl, her pinched face blue-white with cold, her eyes a cloudy gray, stared up at her. One small clenched hand still grasped the hem of Miranda’s wool jacket.
“You startled me — I didn’t see you,” Miranda burbled. The child said nothing. She just stared up at Miranda. Her hollowed cheeks looked bruised almost.
The little girl held Miranda’s gaze but shuffled away a little, still holding on to the jacket. Miranda could see her more clearly now. Her hair was a soft brown, dank and dirty and plastered against her head. Her eyes were wide and scared. She wore no shoes. Hanging loose on her thin frame was a blue dress, worn through in places, its long sleeves ragged. Miranda had never seen a begging child before. Is this what beggars looked like?
“What?” Miranda whispered again, transfixed by the girl’s pale moon of a face.
“I’ll show you,” said the girl, her high voice so faint that Miranda could barely hear her. “Come with me.”
“Come where?” Miranda asked. When she’d tried to brush the girl off, she’d felt nothing. Nothing but cold. Nothing but that intense, piercing cold.
“The place,” the girl said. “I’ll show you where he locked them up.”
“No!” The word erupted from Miranda’s mouth. She was scared now — scared of this strange girl and her cold touch, scared of where she might be led. Miranda took a step back, and then another. She didn’t want the girl touching her anymore. She didn’t want to see where anyone was locked up. “Go … go away!”
The girl’s arm was still outstretched, but Miranda was free of her. She took another step away, too afraid to turn her back. She shouldn’t have wandered down here by herself. Just a few more steps, and then she’d run. Run back down the alley or snickelway or whatever it was, to the safety of lights and cars and other people.
“She won’t hurt you,” said a raspy voice behind her. A boy’s voice, with an English accent. Miranda spun around — her heart throbbing in her throat, practically choking her.
The guy in the black leather coat stood there, blocking the path to the alley. The expression on his face was part incredulous, part amused. He pulled a single match from a pack in his pocket and chewed on it as though it were a toothpick. Miranda stood dead still, not daring to move.
“How do you know?” she managed to say. He shrugged, throwing the gnawed match into the shadows.
“Stands to reason,” he said, his voice softer now. “After all, she’s only a ghost.”
“How do you know that?” Miranda asked him, trying to swallow down her nerves. A gust of wind blew a piece of litter along the ground. In the distance, there were car horns sounding and the Minster bell tolling the half hour. Even in the s
emidarkness, the eyes of the pale Goth seemed to bore right through her.
“How do I know she won’t hurt you? Or how do I know she’s a ghost?”
“Both.” Miranda shot a nervous glance to her left. The girl had disappeared.
“Well, I know that ghosts can’t hurt anyone. Spook us, maybe.” His mouth curled into a sardonic smile. “What’s she going to do — hit you? Her hand would just pass right through you.” With his left arm he mimicked a slow-motion punch into the air.
“But I felt her,” argued Miranda. The guy looked surprised. And maybe, thought Miranda, a little impressed.
“Aren’t you special?” he said, his tone mocking.
“So maybe you’re wrong about her being a ghost.” Miranda wasn’t going to let him patronize her. “If I shouldn’t be able to feel anything.”
“Oh, you can feel things,” he said. There was only one button left on his coat, Miranda noticed for the first time. It was clear glass, and it was hanging by a thread: That was why the coat was always flapping open. “You’ll feel cold, for a start. Drawn in, maybe. But they need our help if they want to do any harm, to other people or to ourselves. Mary there, though, she’s not a troublesome one.”
“How do you know her name?” Miranda was still suspicious.
“I know your name,” he said. “Miranda, isn’t it?”
Miranda’s mind raced: Knowing about the icy touch of a ghost was one thing, but how could he possibly know this? Then she thought of the first time she saw him, when he was lurking in that doorway along the Shambles. Her mother had called for her, telling her to come in and meet Lord Poole….
“And I know your name,” she retorted. Two could play at this game. “It’s Nick.”
For the briefest of moments he looked rattled. Then he grinned at her and gave a sweeping theatrical bow. “Nick Gant. At your service, milady.”
“Miranda Tennant,” she said. “But how do you know this … Mary’s name?”
“Asked her, didn’t I? When I was about fourteen, mucking around here with a spray can, looking for some trouble. Lots of people know about her. The ghost tours come this way every night. If you stand here long enough, you’ll hear one of the guides spinning a tale about her and the other kids. Rubbish, mostly. Some of the guides know what they’re talking about, but most of them are just actors. It’s all top hats and terror with them. Wouldn’t know a ghost if one tugged on their coats.”
“What?” Miranda was startled. Nick had heard her mother call her name in the street: That, she understood. But how did he know that Mary had tugged on the hem of her jacket? Miranda hadn’t told him that.
“It’s what Mary does,” he said, looking surprised that she was even asking. “And then she offers to show you where the bodies were left. No point in following her, though. I’ve tried it, and she just disappears.”
“Who is she?” Miranda asked.
“Went to a ragged school here,” he told her. “That’s what they called them — ragged schools for poor kids. Late 1840s, I think. It was a slum then. Bedern. That’s the street’s name.”
“Oh.” Miranda nodded. She must have looked as confused as she felt.
“I say ‘here,’ but the building’s gone. It was a place for kids nobody else wanted — you know, orphans or runaways. The destitute. They’d get lessons and something to eat. People gave money to support it — the church, rich people. Some say the kids in this one were farmed out as slave labor around town as well, to clean chimneys, that kind of thing. I tried to ask Mary once about it, but she’s not much of a talker.” “I didn’t know ghosts could talk.”
“Some can, some can’t. Some you see only once in your life, and others’ll be hanging around every day.”
Miranda thought of Jenna. Miranda had been back to the cornfield dozens of times, but she’d never seen, or even sensed, Jenna ever again. No matter how hard she willed it, Miranda couldn’t make her best friend reappear.
“And why does Mary keep coming back to this street?” she asked.
“Why does she haunt it? The usual reasons.” Nick looked at her as though she were stupid. “Violent or unnatural death. Unfinished business, you know.”
Miranda shrugged, as though she knew all this already, when really she knew absolutely nothing about the ghost world. Meeting someone who understood all this, who could explain things to her — it was more than a relief. It was exciting.
“When any of the kids died, the man who was running the place didn’t report it. Didn’t want to lose the money for them, I’ve heard. Just piled up the bodies in some kind of cupboard, hoping the winter cold would keep the corpses from stinking.” “Horrible.” Miranda shuddered. “And Mary was one of those poor kids?”
“Sounds like it,” said Nick. He pulled his coat tightly around him. His hands were bare. He had to be cold. “You hear all sorts of wild tales from the tour guides about how the stench of it finally drove him mad, and how he stabbed all the other children and got carted off to an asylum. But then this place would be crawling with ghosts, I reckon.”
“And it’s not?”
“Just Mary and a few others. There’s one over there, by the drainpipe — see him? The little boy?”
Miranda peered, but she couldn’t see a thing except the drain and the brick wall. She shook her head in frustration.
“Interesting,” said Nick. “You can see Mary, but not him. I expect he doesn’t want you to see him, or need you to see him. They’re funny things, ghosts. Temperamental.”
“So you’re saying … I can’t see all ghosts,” Miranda said, struggling to understand. “Just the ones who want me to see them?”
“Want you to see them, or don’t care one way or the other who does. There are some famous ghosts in York I’ve never seen, like the girl who’s supposed to wander down Stonegate in the middle of the night, looking for the lover who abandoned her. Women are the only ones who’ve ever seen her. People say she doesn’t trust men.” “And this little boy doesn’t want me to see him.” Miranda kept staring at the blank patch of wall, not sure whether to believe Nick or not.
“Don’t take it personally,” he said, his tone mocking. “You got Mary to talk to you. She doesn’t talk to many people, you know. Maybe you are special.”
“I don’t know,” Miranda said, feeling as stupid as she sounded. Something about Nick’s gaze made her awkward and shy. “I don’t really understand much about seeing ghosts yet. It’s only … it’s only been the last six months,” she blurted. “Since my friend died. I saw her — once. Just the one time. But never again. I don’t know why. I mean, I don’t know why I saw her the night she died, and why I never saw her again. I’ve seen some other ghosts. Since then, I mean. But nobody I know. It’s weird.”
Miranda didn’t know why she was saying all this to a complete stranger. She never talked about ghosts; she hardly ever mentioned the accident. And now here she was, standing in a dark street in a foreign country, blabbing all her personal business to a weird guy. A weird guy with a cool accent — but still.
“World’s full of unhappy souls,” Nick observed. “People wanting to be seen, or heard, or helped. Think of it this way — you should be glad you’ve never seen your friend again. Maybe she doesn’t need to haunt anyone or anywhere. Perhaps she appeared to you that one time because she wanted to say good-bye. That was her unfinished business.” Miranda bowed her head. She was glad it was dark so Nick wouldn’t be able to see that she was blinking back tears.
“I should be going,” she said, sniffing, trying to get a grip. “I should be getting back.”
“Are you … are you around tomorrow?” Nick’s tone had changed, and he was looking at her in a different way, as though he felt sorry for her. He’d seen her crying, Miranda realized. How embarrassing.
“Well, I’ll be doing some stuff with my family….”
“I guess…. Sure. Monday’s fine,” Miranda said slowly. What was she getting herself into? Was he …
asking her out?
“I’ll take you to hear something, okay?”
“A concert?” she asked, puzzled. Nick smiled, shaking his head.
“Not a concert. Something much more interesting. Meet me on High Petergate, by the city walls. Bootham Bar. Outside the green front door. You can’t miss it.”
Nick spun on his heel, his coat flapping open. Like a night bird about to take flight, Miranda thought, and disappearing into the darkness. Disappearing down the snickelway, at any rate.
“What time?” she called at his back.
“Dusk!” he shouted, without turning around. Miranda stood for a moment, talking herself through the confusing instructions. High Petergate. Bootham Bar. The green front door. And what did “dusk” mean? “Dusk isn’t a time,” Miranda complained aloud, and then she remembered that Mary might still be hanging around. She’d had enough encounters with ghost children for one night. She took off, running down the snickelway back to the reassuring bustle of Goodramgate. Although Nick had walked that way less than a minute earlier, he was nowhere to be seen.
The Sunday afternoon walk to Clifford’s Tower was longer than Miranda thought it would be, but maybe her father’s confusing and circuitous route was to blame. Luckily, they could see the tower from a distance, because they ended up wandering through a packed, mazelike parking lot for the last ten minutes.
Everything seemed smaller here, Miranda thought — the cars, the parking spaces, the lanes the cars were expected to squeeze down. It was just as well that they hadn’t rented a car for their stay: They’d never manage to negotiate a Legoland parking lot like this.
“Day-trippers,” joked her father, with a dismissive wave, as they rounded the line of parked tour buses.
“ ‘York is … the second most visited city in England,’ ” her mother read from her guidebook, promptly bumping into a car’s side-view mirror. “After London, I guess.”