Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 5

  “Does the book say how we get up to that?” Rob pointed toward the tower. “Not that this parking lot tour isn’t fascinating. The fumes, the public restrooms, the trash cans, the arguments over handicapped spaces …”

  Rising up in front of them, almost in the middle of the lot, was a deep-green hill, so perfectly smooth and conical that it looked fake. It was fake, Peggy told them, insisting on risking bodily harm by reading while walking.

  “It’s not a hill, it’s a motte,” she said, squinting at the book. “An artificial earth mound. William the Conquerer again. The city’s too flat, and he needed a hill for his castle.”

  “Little-known fact,” called Jeff, who was leading them toward the hill. “It’s named Clifford’s Tower in honor of Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

  “ ‘Henry Clifford, fifth earl of Cumberland,’ actually,” Peggy read. “ ‘The Cliffords were hereditary constables of the’ … oh, whatever.”

  She closed the book and stuffed it into her bag.

  “Are we there yet?” asked Rob.

  The only part of the castle that remained was a fat, rounded, roofless tower. It was perched like a stone crown on the top of the hill. The only way up was via a long, concrete staircase, slippery with icy damp. Apart from a pair of preoccupied geese pecking away at the grass at the top of the hill, and the ticket seller in the booth, the Tennants seemed to be the only ones there.

  Inside the tower was an empty shell, a stone-flagged open space flecked with patches of moss. Miranda was pleased, in a way. She liked the idea of ruins. It was so much easier to imagine how things used to look hundreds of years ago if there weren’t parts changed or added on, or — even worse — turned into rooms of worthy but dull exhibits. Here the tower had been left carved out and skeletal. A snaking stone staircase led to what used to be the upper level, where the king would have had his apartments.

  Now, in the absence of floors and walls and a roof, there was just the “wall walk,” where visitors could pace their way around the tower’s perimeter and look out across the city. Miranda’s parents, of course, went nuts at the prospect of a 360-degree view because — she’d often observed — anyone middle-aged thought that gazing at views and gardens and distant horizons was the most interesting thing in the world. But even Rob was eager to bound up the twisting staircase, despite its close confines, to reach the top of the tower.

  Miranda lingered downstairs for a while, reading the information signs and trying to imagine what this level of the castle looked like hundreds of years ago. William the Conqueror had built the hill but not this stone tower, she read. The original tower was wooden, and known as York Castle. It was replaced by William’s descendants two hundred years after it had burned down twice.

  The flagstones beneath Miranda’s feet weren’t exactly flat, and the uneven slope seemed to be giving her sea legs. She felt wobbly, and for a moment she worried she was actually sliding backward toward the entry gate. This was strange. She’d been walking around York all day, along cobbled streets and uneven pavements: She should be used to this by now.

  “What is wrong with you?” she muttered to herself. They were in York, not California; the ground couldn’t possibly be moving. It couldn’t possibly be … rumbling. The distant sound she heard couldn’t be coming from deep within the earth. It was probably a train, or a truck crossing the river.

  “Come up, honey!” Her mother was leaning over the railings two stories above. “You get an amazing view of the Minster from here.”

  Miranda stumbled rather than walked to the spiral staircase, annoyed with herself for being so clumsy. She also wished that the soles of her boots were thicker. Icy darts were prickling her feet.

  At the top of the stairs, Miranda took a few tentative steps, all too aware that the wall walk sloped as well. It felt as though it was drooping toward the empty space in the center. There were railings, of course, but they seemed very insubstantial — flimsy, even — now that Miranda was up so high. The ground beneath her feet still felt weirdly fluid, not firm and stonelike at all. Rob and her parents were wandering around with no problem, leaning over the low outer wall, taking pictures. They weren’t sliding around or desperately gripping the railings, as Miranda was now. What was happening? Was this what people called vertigo?

  With each step, Miranda felt as though she was about to be tipped into the abyss. The stones beneath her feet were alive, writhing and twisting out of place. Tendrils of frigid cold laced up her legs. Just a few steps away, the members of her family were pointing things out to each other; Rob was crouching to balance his camera on the outer wall. Miranda didn’t have the strength to cry out. All her energy was focused on staying upright, of not being jerked over the railings and down, down, down to the mossy stones below. Some force was tipping and dragging her, and she couldn’t stop it. With both her hands trembling on the slippery railings, she faced the pit of the tower, willing herself to stay upright.

  “Don’t look down,” Miranda told herself in a cracked whisper, trying to ignore her rising panic. Her skin was pulsing, prickling with cold, even though she was wearing a woolen jacket, jeans, and thick socks under knee-high boots. She had to step away from the brink. She had to throw herself on the ground if necessary, and claw her way to safety, fingernails digging into the crevices between the stones. The one thing she should not do was look down.

  But she was so dizzy now, so disoriented, Miranda couldn’t help it: She looked down. At first her head flopped and her eyes couldn’t focus. Rather than seeing anything at all, she heard the rumbling again, except now it didn’t sound at all like a train or anything mechanical. It was the sound of mumbling voices — lots of voices, rising up from the stones below. And there was whispering, too, like the rustle of trees in a summer breeze. A whole forest of trees, swishing and shaking in the wind.

  But there were no trees on this man-made hill. And below her, there weren’t treetops — or even stones. Where earlier there’d been a courtyard with a few signs and small gift shop, there were only faces. Dozens of faces. Hundreds of faces, all staring up at her. Gray faces attached to ashy bodies, crumbling, dissolving, and reforming in front of her eyes. Up they rose, a charcoal cloud of … what? Were these ghosts? If only Nick were here, to explain what on earth was going on.

  They didn’t look like the ghosts she’d seen before, like the farmer, or the woman in white on the Shambles, or the little girl ghost from yesterday — no clothes, no wounds. They looked like creatures of ash and smoke, not real people.

  Their hands stretched toward her, shooting cold beams into her body. All the faces looked stricken, as though they were the ones looking at a ghost. Maybe she was the ghost, Miranda thought, her mind racing. Maybe she’d died this summer in the cornfield, and everything after that had just been some grand delusion. But how could that be possible? How was any of this possible?

  Miranda closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at them anymore. She was leaning, she knew it, stretching over the top of the railings, unable to keep her balance. Any second now she would topple over and fall into the whooshing gray mass, that ashy pit of open mouths and reaching hands.

  “Did you bring your camera?” Her mother took her arm, gently pulling her back from the brink. Wildly, Miranda grabbed at her, eyes still clenched shut. “What is it, honey — are you okay? Don’t you feel well? Jeff! Come here! Miranda, you look so pale.”

  With her parents on either side of her, leading her away from the railings, Miranda opened her eyes. Walking was so easy when they were holding her. The mumbling and whispering faded away. One, two, three steps, and she was sitting on the ground, her back against the low outer wall. When her mother let go of her arm, Miranda grabbed her again, pulling her down.

  “Don’t let go,” she whispered. Her legs were still tingling with cold, and she was shaking. Her father leaned over, pressing the back of his hand against her forehead and then her cheeks.

  “You feel all clammy,” he said. “Maybe you’re coming down wi
th something.”

  Miranda nodded. That was the easiest thing to do. No point in trying to explain what she’d heard, and seen, and felt, because instinctively she knew that nobody else here would experience any of it. Rob was leaning over the railings at this very minute, taking a photo, not looking startled or appalled in any way.

  “One of those geese has managed to infiltrate,” he called over. “Looks like it’s settling in for the winter. Hey, Dormouse — what’s up with you?”

  “Nothing,” squeaked Miranda. Her parents had had enough to worry about the past six months without adding “daughter’s supernatural hallucinations” to the list.

  “Maybe a touch of vertigo,” suggested her father. “The height might be bothering you. This wall is pretty low.”

  “I wouldn’t have brought you two up here when you were small.” Peggy, crouching beside her, planted a soft kiss on Miranda’s hair. “Rob would have been headfirst over the wall by now. Or dangling from those railings.”

  “Tired?” Rob sauntered up. He stood next to Miranda and nudged her with his knee.

  “I’m okay,” Miranda said, reaching up for his arm so she could pull herself to her feet. All she wanted to do was get out of there before the ash people came swirling up for her again, with their terrible agonized faces and crumbling bodies of smoky cloud. “Walk me down the stairs?”

  “Only a touch of vertigo,” her father said again, as though he were reassuring himself.

  “Great,” Rob muttered, so only Miranda could hear. “Just what we need in this family — another basket case.”

  Miranda’s father walked her back to the flat while Peggy and Rob set out for Little Bettys to wait in line for a table. She needed to sleep, she told her parents; she’d feel better after getting some rest.

  Waiting for them at the flat was a very small brown-paper package. It had been pushed through the brass slot in the front door.

  “It’s for you,” her father said, scooping it up and examining the faint spidery handwriting. “Miss Miranda Tennant.”

  There was no address on the package and no stamps; it must have been delivered by hand. Miranda leaned against the wall to rip it open. Her legs still felt like Jell-O, though the cold darts shooting up from the soles of her feet had disappeared as soon as she got out of Clifford’s Tower.

  By the size and shape of the package, Miranda could tell it contained a book. She slipped it out of the brown paper. It was as small as a notebook. Its faded cover was green, and some of the stitches in its spine had worked themselves loose. The words Tales of Old York were spelled out in Gothic gilt letters on the cover.

  “No note?” asked her father, taking the book from her and running a finger over the indented lettering. Miranda shook her head. But they both knew, without having to say it, that this was the book Lord Poole had mentioned. It looked about as old as he was, Miranda thought, and when her father flicked through the opening chapter, Miranda could smell the pleasant mustiness of the pages.

  “How nice off him to drop it off.” Jeff gave an appreciative sniff. “Look at these illustrations.”

  The pictures in the book were drawings done in intricate detail with black ink. The caption of one read The Timeless Shambles, which was true: The street looked pretty much the same as it did now, minus the tourists and holiday decorations. Jeff flicked forward to a doublepage spread of small, almost fussy drawings of columns, a large stone basin, and some kind of stone plaque carved with demons pushing screaming people into a giant cauldron licked by flames.

  “ ‘The Doomstone, from the crypt of York Minster,’ ” Jeff read aloud. Miranda shuddered, thinking of the desperate ashen faces at the tower, and her father snapped the book shut. “Sorry, Verandah. You’re supposed to be taking a nap. Sure you’ll be okay here by yourself?”

  Miranda told him she would. Sleep would help, she thought. The ghoulish faces of the ash people would disappear when she fell asleep. With any luck, she’d be asleep for a long, long time.

  When Miranda awoke, the flat was quiet. According to her cell phone, almost two hours had passed since she’d climbed into bed. The curtains were closed, something her father must have done before he went off to meet the others at Little Bettys. On the table next to her bed, he’d left Tales of Old York.

  Miranda picked up the book and flipped through, pausing at a full-page illustration of York Minster engulfed in flames. Her mother had said something about a fire there, after the Minster was struck by lightning and badly damaged — but that had been relatively recent, some time in the 1980s. This book was over a hundred years old, according to the date on its copyright page. Even older than Lord Poole, she thought, smiling. THE MADMAN’S FIRE, 1829, the picture’s caption read.

  She noticed that another page was hanging loose from the binding, and she opened the book to tuck it back in. The heading at the top of that page read MASS SUICIDE IN CLIFFORD’S TOWER. Miranda wriggled up into a seated position, jamming her pillows behind her and twisting to get as much light as possible.

  On the third day of September, 1189, Richard I, later acclaimed as Coeur de Lion after his crusades to the Holy Land, was crowned at Westminster Abbey, having banned all Jews from attending the service or playing any part in the subsequent feasts and celebrations. On the day of the coronation itself, a destructive anti-Jewish riot erupted in the streets of the capital, during which Jewish homes were plundered and burned, the mob believing itself to be acting on the wishes of the new monarch. Similar violent attacks followed in King’s Lynn and Norwich, but the most bloody of all took place in York in March of 1190. After the murders of the family of Benedict of York, several hundred Jews sought refuge from the mob in York Castle. As fury outside the castle gates mounted, with instruments of the siege about to burst through the locked gates, the families seeking sanctuary within chose to die by their own hands rather than face the violent rage of the mob. On the night of Friday the sixteenth of March, 1190, at the urging of their rabbi, the men killed their own women and children, and then set the wooden castle keep alight, so they might die, too, their bodies to be cremated by the great fire. Nothing but ash remained by the end of the night, the few survivors of the conflagration slaughtered without mercy by the enraged mob.

  Nothing but ash remained. Miranda sank back into her pillows. The stone tower — that was why it was built. She remembered the sign she’d read before the dizziness came on. The old wooden tower, the castle keep, had burned down. And now she knew the awful reason why. The Jewish people of medieval York had set it on fire, choosing to die there together rather than be murdered.

  Those were the ghosts she’d seen at Clifford’s Tower today, the spirits of ash rising up from beneath the flagstones. But why? Why rise up from the earth, like some kind of whirling dervish of despair, to try to drag her down into the underworld?

  Miranda thought about the things Nick had said about ghosts. Sometimes they reached out to certain people because they had unfinished business, because they wanted you to see them, because they thought you could help them. But she couldn’t help the ghosts of Clifford’s Tower any more than she could help Mary and the other workhouse orphans haunting Bedern, or smiling St. Margaret Clitherow serenely floating in the Shambles.

  Any more than she’d been able to help Jenna after the other car smashed into theirs.

  Miranda lay still, the book upside down in her lap. She was almost afraid to pick it up again. The thought of those desperate people dying there, of their ghosts haunting the place, was too awful. She absolutely didn’t want to see these ghosts. But apparently, whether she was in Iowa or York, Miranda didn’t have much choice. Maybe she could ask Nick some more questions about it when — if — she met up with him on Monday afternoon.

  And somehow she knew she couldn’t say a word about that to anyone. Like seeing ghosts, seeing Nick had to be Miranda’s secret.


  That night, Rob insisted they go to the White Boar Inn for dinner, even though there were othe
r restaurants that were much closer.

  “It’s the oldest inn in York,” he said over his shoulder to Miranda, striding ahead of her through the courtyard. The building looked pretty old, she had to admit, its whitewashed walls crisscrossed with beams of black timber. Weathered picnic tables were pushed to one side of the cobbled courtyard, out of use until the summer.

  “The white boar was Richard III’s personal emblem,” Jeff told them, pausing to fiddle with the flash on his camera. “Many inns changed their name from the White Boar to the Blue Boar after he was killed in battle. Didn’t want to be associated with the losing side.”

  “I knew you’d like it here, Dad.” Rob was holding the door open for them. “It’s a grade eleven listed building or something. There’s a sign over there.”

  “Grade two, idiot!” Miranda stepped past him into the warmth and noise of the inn. “I can’t believe you don’t know how to read Roman numerals yet.”

  “Now, now,” said Peggy, unraveling her scarf and surveying the warren of crowded rooms. All the small, round tables were crammed with people — eating, drinking, laughing — and some customers had drawn their stools up in front of the crackling fire. “This was a very good idea, Rob. Should we find a table first? Do we order food at the bar?”

  “I’ll go get us menus,” Rob offered, and promptly disappeared. What was his deal? He was like some one-man pep rally tonight.

  “It wasn’t this crowded at the place on Swinegate,” Miranda lamented, following her parents until they wound their way back to a just-vacated table near the door.

  “Yes, but …” Her mother flashed Miranda a significant look as they sat down. Jeff reached for Miranda’s coat, bundling it next to him on the long banquette seat. “The other pub lacked a certain something. Or should I say … someone.”