Simi opened one eye lazily, and found herself safely tucked in under a real duvet, in a hotel bed. A hazy recollection of the driver complaining about Edinburgh came back to her, followed by memories of wandering around the streets with a strange ease. As far as she could remember they had gotten to the bed and breakfast at almost ten, the very last check in time, exhausted.
Simi sat up, slowly, dragging the duvet with her. Zangi and Ravi were sharing a bed, laying on top fully dressed. Tiana was still buried under a duvet sleeping. Tahati’s bed was empty. An echoey snoring was coming from another room. Simi rubbed the blur from her eyes, and looked towards the noise. Past the last black painted wooden bed, there was an arch in the wall. Beyond the arch was the main door out, and beyond that, the door to the bathroom. It was ajar.
Through the gap Simi could see Tahati’s hair, bursting fully free, in the bath. She’d clearly fallen asleep in the tub before she could even use it. Simi smirked at her. She considered waking her up for prayers, but it was still early. Tahati could sleep for a while longer.
Simi set up everything she would need to pray in the mostly empty gap room between the beds and bathroom. All that was here was a mirror and table with a trey of tea supplies on it. Simi wandered into the bathroom to begin the wudu.
They were in the basement floor of this bed and breakfast so WIFI wasn’t strong enough to connect to. No one had posted on snapchat, or instagram, or uploaded anything to cloud. No one knew they were in Edinburgh. For a while, at least, they had found a safe haven to hide in.
The others didn’t wake up till almost eleven. Given that they had been waking up before dawn the rest of the week, they were ready for the lie in. By the time Simi had finished praying, Tahati still wasn’t up. Simi took it upon herself to switch on the shower hose and spray ice cold water at Tahati’s face. She woke up yelling.
The yelling woke up Ravi, who moaned loudly. “Piss off fam, I’m trying to sleep!”
Simi kissed her teeth at Ravi. Tahati opened one eye at Simi. When her eyes adjusted to the blurry new light, Tahati groaned.
“What’d you want man?”
“Say good morning to Allah,” Simi said like she was talking to a child.
Tahati groaned. She dropped her head back against the tub wall. Then she opened both eyes and looked down. It was then that it dawned on her that she was in a bath. Simi called her oblivious and pointed to the prayer mat she had left on the floor. Tahati was too lazy to set up her own, so she willingly took Simi’s.
Tiana was the last to wake up. She was shaken and poked until she woke up, because Zangi was hungry.
“Where did you put the boxes of food?” She asked when Tiana groaned.
Tiana opened her eyes slightly and took in the sight of Zangi keeling over her, and the others standing over her next to the bed.
“What?” She muttered.
“Where’s the food bitch!” Ravi shouted.
“Under the bed, what is this?” Tiana asked.
Zangi leapt off of the bed and dropped to the floor. She looked under each bed until she found the boxes of pastries Kelly had given them. Four were left at this point. After the locusts had had their breakfast until they were stuffed full, there were three. Rodger had predicted each box lasting three days. Rodger was wrong.
Once full, Tahati was awake enough to take in the detail of the room. From the maroon and cream theme, to the view outside. The carpet and walls were beige. Once they may have been cream but years of age had yellowed them. Evidence of damp dripped in from the ceiling. The ceiling was propped up by the same dark wood that the beds were made from. There were also three wooden seats with red cushions sat around a coffee table in the corner. Each bed was covered with a maroon blanket, with a pearl white pillow added on top. All of them had a perfect view of the small flat screen TV sat atop an antique desk by the wall. The maroon blankets matched the velvet curtains that covered the windows.
The windows ran from behind this desk to an inch away from the ceiling. The frames were painted black, and looked out onto the front garden. Because the hotel was on a street with no garden, they had turned the space beneath the street into a garden. Mostly it was cement paving’s, but moss and weeds grew through the cracks. It wasn’t well kept, certainly, by you could see stranger’s feet as they walked on by.
“We should be out there,” Tahati declared.
Simi looked over her shoulder. “Nah man, looks like a council house back garden.”
“Not there man!” Tahati tutted, “Out in the city! Out exploring. There’s gotta be stuff to do in this city, and we’ve got the cash to do it with.”
“There’s Mary Kings Close,” Tiana suggested.
“What’s that?” Ravi asked.
“Ages ago, Edinburgh was such a dive that they decided it’d be easier to bury the city and rebuild it. Mary Kings Close is the only access to the old city,” Tiana explained.
Simi looked worried. “The buried city? Underground?”
“Usually, yeah,” Tiana nodded sarcastically.
“Screw you fam. We shouldn’t go underground,” Simi scoffed.
“We’re underground right now dude,” Ravi gestured to the window.
“Shut up, I don’t want to go where the dead people are,” Simi said sharply.
“Then you should leave Edinburgh. There’s a lot of haunting here,” Tiana said.
Tahati looked alarmed. “What?”
“Number three most haunted city in Europe!” Tiana lied.
Or maybe she didn’t. To be honest, she was making it up based on something she’d heard once. It worried the others. None of them would admit to believing in ghosts, because really none of them did. But it’s always good to be weary with things you can’t prove to exist, or not to.
“I’ll go. I wanna find the café where J.K. wrote Harry Potter,” Zangi declared.
“That’s on the other side of the city. Mary Kings Close is closer,” Tiana said.
“Can we get from Mary Kings Close to Harry Potter café by walking?” Zangi asked.
Tiana made an I-don’t-know sound and shrugged.
“Google it,” Ravi said.
“I ain’t got Wi-Fi,” Zangi said.
The others checked their phones. There was Wi-Fi available but it was password protected. Someone would have to ask for the password at the front desk. That prospect filled them with dread.
And then Tahati happened to glance at the key on the table, and spot the keyring bound to it. The keyring was a laminated card with the Wi-Fi name and password typed up clearly for them to access. Zangi almost wept with delight. She hated talking to strangers. Within seconds all five phones were connected to the internet. For five minutes.
Tiana swung her camera bag over her shoulder, pushed her camera down inside, and followed the others outside. Up the first set of stairs, around a corner, and up a couple of steps into a hallway with a front door. Tahati glanced around uncertainly for someone to open it. No one was around. She opened the door herself, and still felt like she was doing something she wasn’t supposed to.
They hurried out of the house and into the street like they were students in Madeline. It didn’t last. As soon as all of them were on the grey path, they bunched together like a blood clot to walk together.
As they went passed a large, green area, boxed in by bright pink hydrangeas, and crossed with paths that curved through the slopes. The paths lead from a huge, stone monument, to a goldish-yellow fountain, with the grand castle overlooking it all. The monument was a 200 feet gothic tribute to Scott Waverley. Tahati pointed to it, as if the others had somehow missed it. Perhaps they were looking at the train stations curved glass roof instead.
“Can we climb that?!” Tahati asked in awe.
Simi’s eyes lit up at the idea of physically climbing the stone spindles. “Can we?!”
“We’ll do it later yeah. When we’re running out of things to do,” Ravi said.
A steep set of stone stairs were nestled between buildings, carving straight up a hill. Being young and fit and healthy, they were confident they could climb them all easily. Tahati and Zangi made it into a race. Both shot up the first few steps, full of energy. By the time they got to the top they felt like rubber, and were both sitting on the cold hard ground.
“Is it much further?” Zangi panted when the others got there.
“Not really,” Ravi said.
Clearly neither had noticed that they were sat beneath a banner welcoming them to Mary Kings Close. All they had to do was stand up and pile into the small, square gift shop behind them.
As many pretty and eye catching historic based gifts were in that shop (and there was a lot of jewellery on display too) none were as beautiful as the look on the poor man’s face, as five girls tried to buy a family ticket in cash.
Once again there was a lot of arguing back and forth about age allowances. Sensing that this could take a while, Zangi slipped in with the large group lining up in front of them. She stared chatting with one of the boys, so it looked like they knew each other. That also saved her from some embarrassment as Tiana and Simi argued with the man behind the counter.
“But you’re not a family,” he insisted.
“We’re a family in spirit! Family doesn’t end at DNA!” Simi insisted back.
“I’m not sure I can allow-”
“How much does it cost for children’s tickets?” Tiana demanded.
He sighed. “£8.95.”
“So either I buy five-” Tiana began.
Simi muttered, “Four.”
Tiana corrected to, “Four children’s tickets, or I buy a family ticket.”
“I can’t allow that either.”
“Because if all of you are children you don’t qualify for a family ticket, and if you are old enough for a family ticket, then I can’t give you a child’s ticket!”
“But you won’t sell us a family ticket anyway?”
“Why won’t you let us give you money?!” Simi whined.
“I don’t know if I can sell a family ticket to someone that clearly aren’t a family,” He insisted.
Tiana groaned. She was very close to slamming her head on the desk in front of him. She took a deep breath and tried one last time.
“Your charging adults as 16 plus right?”
“Yes,” he stated.
“And a family ticket is two adults and two children yes?”
“So since...” she glanced between them to try and remember who was second eldest. In the split second she had to remember, she just grabbed any of them, which happened to be Ravi. “Since me and her are sixteen, and those two are fifteen, you should let us in on a family ticket, right?”
He sighed. “If I say yes will you just go away?”
“If you said yes earlier we wouldn’t still be here,” Simi spat.
“Then fine,” he sighed.
Cold hard logic always saves the day! Just in time too because a woman dressed like an old-timey maid appeared by the doorway.
“Is everyone here?!” She asked in a strong Scottish accent.
The girls shuffled into line, pretending not to know Zangi who was still ahead of them. The woman went into a spill about being Maggie, the daughter of a tradesman from 1832, trapped in one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Tiana raised an eyebrow. Maybe she hadn’t made it up...
“It won’t be dark, will it?” Simi asked Ravi quietly.
“Probably, it is underground,” Ravi whispered back.
“I don’t like the dark,” Tahati muttered.
“I’m sure there’ll be enough light to see by. Just stay close, and don’t get lost,” Tiana said.
Ravi reached for Tiana’s hand. She stepped forward to stay close to her as they descended the steps into darkness. The fresh, warm summer air was shut out behind them, replaced by a stale chilled replacement. Like a huge pantry. It took a few seconds for their eyes to adjust to the new darkness. Once they could see the yellow stone walls, they could see the lights mounted on them too. It was strangely reassuring. They were led into a small room lined with projections of oil paintings along both walls.
Zangi dropped the conversation with the boy to re-join the others. For the rest of the tour he kept trying to catch her eye. She acted as if she’d never seen him before in her life. The others found this funny at first, but it quickly grew uncomfortable. They all began to ignore him, or shoot dirty looks in his direction to put him off. Because of this, they were distracted from the tour guides explanations, and leapt out of their skin when the portraits started talking.
A picture of a middle aged, regal looking woman in purple clothes, was telling off Maggie the tour guide. Zangi was going to make sarcastic comments, but Ravi shushed her when she tried. Tiana, Tahati and Ravi were fixated on the portraits. They told the tales of real people who live in this city before it was underground. The three of them had chosen history GCSEs because they liked history. Simi and Zangi took it because their friends did, and it was better than citizenship.
When they moved on to the next room, it was even smaller. The creaky, clean wooden floor was replaced with uneven tiles from the original building. The air smelled sour. There were two beds set up, each with wax figures inside. One was a child, one was a mother. In the centre of the room, a hauntingly realistic figure in black with a white mask, hooked with a beak nose, sent a shiver down Simi’s spine. The Plague Doctor.
As Maggie explained the story of the family who had the displeasure to live in this cramped house, Simi was sucked in too.
“What we’re standing in now, is not a house. It is a paddock. We had farms close to houses so we could go to work early, and get to the pub faster!” Maggie explained.
She won a soft chuckle from the crowd.
“Poor mother here, died of the black death. Lucky Lassie here gets to live!” Maggie waited for the crowd to cheer before finishing, “all alone in the world, as an orphan.”
As they continued down the ever-narrowing streets, the ruins remained towering over them. Maggie explained that this was to fit everyone in. poorest at the top, in scrawny one room buildings, with three different families using one bucket as a toilet, richest at the bottom. But no matter who you are, rich or poor, high or low, when the cries of “Gardyloo” came at 7am or 10pm, you had to get out of the way sharpish, because that meant people were throwing that toilet bucket out onto the street. From the top floor of their ancient skyscrapers.
Even Zangi couldn’t help being interested in the steep hill from the castle to Princes Street Gardens (that beautifully green park they passed on the way here) becoming a poo-covered slip’n’slide for criminals to be punished with. When they hit the skanking sewer lake that is now Princes Street Gardens, they would have to suffer through half an hour of stench from sun-baked sewage, before breaking the crust on top, and drowning in waste.
You have to hand it to the scots. They know how to prevent crime.
By the time they were moving on through the abandoned streets again, the girls were at the front of the crowd, utterly excited to see what was coming next. Simi stopped for a moment to fit up her hijab. It had come loose and was flapping on her forehead. she was on her own, just for a second.
Behind her she heard footsteps.
Light as a feather. Almost unnoticeable.
She heard them, and ignored them. Until she felt a small hand brush against hers.
When she looked up, there was nothing there. Just an overwhelming cold that made her a little bit dizzy.
“You coming or what?” Tahati’s voice echoed off the walls, making Simi jump.
As Simi got closer she entered a path of light. She looked shook. A sense of humour crept into Tahati’s voice.
“What’s with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” She said.
Simi said nothing. She shoved past Tahati and hurried after the others. They ended up in a well-lit room with fixed floor and neat benches. They sat together to watch a film projected onto a wall.
“She’s gonna do something to make us jump,” Zangi muttered.
“Obviously,” Ravi agreed.
“I ain’t gonna fall for it,” Zangi stated firmly.
Ravi said nothing. She’d been to horror movies with Zangi. In the dark of the cinema no one would hear her yelps of terror apart from Ravi who sat next to her. So when Zangi bragged about being fearless, Ravi kept her mouth shut.
As much as you could try to focus on Maggie, the presentation of the film, as well as the story, dragged your attention in. it stole your focus. So when Maggie’s staff fell…
“Sorry! I’d have jumped too if it didn’t happen at the same point every tour,” Maggie chuckled.
When they were lead into Annie’s room, the first thing they saw was the pile of toys. They cascaded from the table top to the floor. Baby faced porcelain Victorian dolls in dusty dresses, dainty Barbie dolls in different styles of dress from different decades, dozens of plush teddies in different shapes and colours, Disney characters made appearances, and fairy wands with silver stars poked out. Beside the toys was a box full of silver and copper coins.
“They’re collecting for wee Annie. She was an eight years old when she got the plague and was abandoned by her family who joined the city going above ground. Then a Japanese psychic asked her why she was still here, and she said she lost her dolly, so the psychic went over to the toy shop and brought her this tartan Barbie,” Maggie pointed to a Barbie with a tartan hat, peeping out from the centre of the pile.
Ravi scoffed. She was convinced there weren’t any ghosts. Zangi crept up behind her, and grabbed her by the waist. Ravi screamed and slapped at Zangi to get her away. Zangi doubled over laughing, while Ravi continued slapping her, and the others in the crowd looked amused. Simi on the other hand, was white as a sheet. She had only just beginning to convince herself shed imagined it. Now she was confronted with a ghost.
The others went skipping after Maggie as she headed onwards towards a photo opportunity. Simi was the last one in the room again. The coldness set in again.
“I don’t have any toys...” Simi muttered.
She felt a hand on her pocket. Her cut of the money was hidden there because it was a zip up. Simi pushed her hand through the zip. Between the folded paper notes, she felt cold coins. Pennies or pounds, she didn’t know, but she wasn’t having some little girls ghost follow her across the world. She dropped the coins in the box with a clatter, and raced after the others.
They got up to the surface again, and suddenly there was light, and it was blinding.
“Remember if you enjoyed the tour my name is Maggie and compliments can be given at the counter. If you didn’t and you’d like to complain, it’s the same counter, but remember my name is Agnes!” Maggie declared before allowing them to leave.
The girls spilled out onto the Royal Mile. Sunshine spilled across them, warming away the chill of the underground. Zangi couldn’t help imagining a tide of sewage running down the hill.
“Must have been rank,” Ravi voiced Zangi’s thoughts.
“It’s hard to imagine innit?” Simi agreed.
She was trying hard not to think of the ghost hands by pretending everything was alright.
“What now?” Tahati asked.
“J.K. Café!” Zangi punched the air on each syllable excitedly.
“Did you google it?” Tiana asked.
Zangi looked over at Ravi. Ravi huffed and grabbed her phone from her pocket. She tapped into Google and found the walk that was going to take five minutes. They hurried off together to see how Zangi’s favourite book was written.
As they stood outside The Elephant House, looking up at all the splendour that held the creative flow of the wizarding world they had all grown up with, they became completely overwhelmed.
Even Ravi, who had the lowest expectations given that she didn’t much like Potter, found this disappointing. They’d walked past it twice, before back tracking and looking around like meerkats. It had been Tahati who spotted it first.
The front window was encased by a brick red frame. The name was typed in complete lower case along the top, beneath a long cluster of flowers. Purple, white and deep pink flowers, set in hanging baskets and covered by green leaves, were at each side of the café front. Through the window they could see groups of people around tables, and more lining up. It looked too crowded to bother entering. None of them could imagine sitting in the corner table of that café and writing a modern masterpiece. Not even Tahati, and she was the author in the group.
Tiana took a picture anyway. Why not? It was something to see!
“Nando’s is that way,” Ravi said, pointing down the road to a sign that said “Nando’s”.
Immediately Simi started heading in that direction, without bothering to check if the others were following. She didn’t give them a choice.
“I’m not actually hungry yet,” Tahati said.
“Same,” Ravi admitted.
“At least we know where it is so we can come back later,” Tiana shrugged.
“Fam you sound like my mum,” Ravi smirked.
“Screw you fam,” Tiana stated.
“Look! A statue!” Zangi said.
The statue was a sweet little dog with a shiny brass nose, on a pedestal on the edge of the street.
Behind him was a pub named “Bobby’s Bar”, and behind that, Greyfriars Kirkyard. On closer inspection, there was a story written along the pillar.
A tribute to the affectionate fidelity of Greyfriars Bobby. In 1858 this faithful dog followed his master to Greyfriars churchyard and lingered near the spot until his death in 1879. With permission, erected by the Baroness Bardett Coutts.
Some of the lettering was worn away making it harder to read. It was cute, especially with its shiny nose, but not impressive.
“Loyal and dedicated huh? Everything you’re not,” Zangi said to Ravi.
“She’s dedicated! She’s been chasing one boy for almost two years!” Simi argued.
“Shut up fam! Yash and I are meant to be!” Ravi snapped.
Yash was trash. He was the scummiest of all scum found at the bottom of the scummiest pond, owned by Rupert Murdoch. He and Ravi were, fortunately, not meant to be.
“I’m bored,” Simi declared.
Just as she spoke, an open top tourist bus came along the road. A group of boys, and one girl, spread out along one side of the bus (who were rather drunk) made a lot of noise to get their attention and wave. The girls looked at them in confusion, but waved out of reflex. The moment they did, the boys erupted into cheers and yelled updated scores from their game.
“I’m sure I know that guy,” Ravi said to no one.
“Yeah right man, like you know anyone outside Sutton,” Zangi scoffed.
“I know people in Crystal Palace!” Ravi spat snidely.
“Wo-o-o-w,” Zangi sniggered.
Ravi kissed her teeth, “shut up!”
Ravi shoved her, to underline her point.
“Let’s go this way,” Tahati suggested.
Simi wrinkled her nose. “Why?”
“I dunno. Just looks like a good way to go,” Tahati shrugged.