For a moment, the light clouded Margo’s eyes. She passed through it, rubbing her eyes, and opened them. She and Quint were in the clearing – but it was not the same. It was night now, when a moment before there had still been some sun. The night sky overheard twinkled with green stars. The trees around them and the grass beneath them looked the same, but the air felt slightly colder. And the grave behind them, which in the world they’d come from had just been a weathered rock, was now a stone angel, leaning drunkenly to the side.
“Where are we?” Margo said.
“Below,” said Quint.
“It looks the same though.” She looked around – as far as she could see and except for the slight differences, they were still at Whitechapel. She saw the same garden, same fence, and the same house in the distance.
“It’s a reflection of the real thing,” Quint said, “All the lost parts of ghosts come here.”
“What do we do now?”
“We find Bale.”
Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, Margo set off in the direction of the house.
The thing that had once been the Bride – the Faded parts of her – sniffed the air.
She was hunting. She swept through the trees like mist; the ghostliness which the other version of her considered a drawback was a hunting tool in this world. She could make out three white wisps, the Dark Wren triplets, darting about the garden, chasing their prey. The scent of fear hung in the air, and it made the Dark Bride grin.
She vanished and reappeared, flying over trees and bushes. She liked making herself invisible: anyone looking would have just seen a shadow passing over the ground. She sensed other spectres shifting about the darkness, but they stayed clear of her. There was a food chain among the dead, and although the Dark Bride wasn’t at the very top, she was high enough. She could feel her quarry – a young spectre, bloodstained, running frantically over fallen leaves. He was just ahead, on the other side of the mausoleum, headed for the fence. That was a mistake. The Dark Bride liked to chase ghosts to the fence, where they couldn’t flee anymore, and then strike. The fence was her spider web of sorts.
She emerged from the trees into a flat stretch of Whitechapel’s large garden, and stopped. Two people were walking along it. Neither were spectres – one of them was even alive.
“Why’ve we stopped?” asked one of the Dark Wren triplets, appearing beside the Dark Bride. She looked similar to her counterpart Above, but her eyes were black and a drop of blood ran down her chin.
“Visitors,” the Dark Bride said.
“They look so young and innocent,” added one of the other Wren triplets, solidifying beside her sister.
“All the better for eating,” said the third sister.
“No, not eating,” said the Dark Bride. “Our leader was strict about how we treat visitors.”
It was then that Margo and Quint noticed the ghosts.
At first Margo thought she was looking at the Bride. But this ghost was too tall to be the Bride, too thin, and her nails were long and dark, almost talons. Her eyes were fully black, like giant pupils. The Wren triplets standing beside her also looked different – paler, bloody, and with shark’s eyes.
“We don’t mean any trouble,” Margo said.
“Don’t talk to them,” Quint said, stepping in front of her.
“Can I have that one?’ said one of the triplets, pointing at Quint and licking her lips.
“Hush,” said the Dark Bride. She floated toward Margo and Quint, and Margo found herself wishing she was anywhere but there.
“What are you doing down here?” said the Dark Bride sweetly, her smile too broad for her face. It was an alligator smile.
“It’s none of your business,” Margo said. Don’t shake. Don’t shake. Don’t shake.
“We’re just here to explore,” Quint said. “We don’t want to get involved in anything.”
“You’re quite rude,” said the Dark Bride, “You are children, I suppose. It’s to be expected. But what are we going to do with you?”
“I vote we disembowel them,” said one of the triplets.
“You’ll do no such thing,” said the Dark Bride. “These
kids are our guests. It would be very ill-mannered of us to let them go without
giving them a tour.”
“We don’t need one, thanks.”
The Dark Bride’s smile widened. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but her teeth seemed just a little bit sharper. “Thing is, this is James Bale’s property now, and you’re trespassing.”
“Then we’ll leave,” said Margo.
“No, no,” said the Dark Bride, “We don’t want to chase you away, when you’ve come from so far to visit our wonderful home.”
Something bat-shaped but far too big to be a bat swooped over Margo’s head, and vanished into the darkness.
“Bale has strict rules about trespassers. We’re to bring every one we find to him. He can decide if you mean trouble or not.”
Margo looked from Quint to this twisted image of the Bride, and to the gaps in the trees. She wondered how far they’d get if they ran.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the Dark Bride, holding out her hand, “Come with us.”
The spectres led Margo and Quint across the garden: the Dark Bride in front, the Triplets at the back. Margo thought of trying to escape, but then she imagined those talons in her back, and dismissed the thought.
Occasionally, one of the triplets would shoot hungry glances at Quint, who walked with his jaw clenched and his head up. Ahead, the Dark Bride was humming some sort of nursery rhyme. They passed other spectres too – rotting ghosts shambling aimlessly across the grounds, others cowering in corners, begging for help or mercy or their loved ones, and dark figures which said nothing and barely looked human at all. There were wails in the distance, now and then, or the tinkling of music. Margo even saw a skeletal dog scamper up to them, sniff at her, and run off. She was sure it held its own fibula in its jaws.
The house came into view. It looked as it did in Margo’s world – except it was cleaner, the paint brighter, and the chips and cracks and broken tiles had all been fixed, or perhaps never had been broken. Someone stood on the porch.
“Home so soon? I’m not disappointed to see my sweet bride, by no means, but you’ve hardly even left. Coming back early from a hunt means it was either very good or very bad.”
Margo couldn’t see him – he was silhouetted in the doorway – but the voice was unmistakably Bale.
“What would you know about hunting, you lazy bag of bones?” the Dark Bride laughed. It was the sound of dry bones being rattled together.
“I used to hunt people every day when I worked with missing persons,” said Bale, “People are the best game to hunt. When you hunt a boar you’re trying to think like the boar would think. The difference between chasing a person and chasing a boar is that a person tries to think like you too.”
“Perhaps we could reschedule the philosophy lesson,” said the Dark Bride. Bale laughed, and Margo shivered.
“And, to answer your question,” said the Dark Bride, “Our hunt couldn’t have been more successful. Take a look.”
The Dark Bride took Margo’s arm and pulled her forward. Margo could see Bale now. He leaned against the wall, an old-fashioned (although, it had probably been very much in fashion when he was alive) cigarette and cigarette holder in his fingers. His eyes met hers for a moment, cold. Then his face lit up.
“Margo Catherine Comeau!”
The Dark Bride was taken aback. “You know her?”
“Know her? You’re standing next to my accomplice.”
Bale peeled himself off the wall and swaggered down the porch steps toward them, cigarette smoke curling about him like a pet snake.
“Margo helped me open the Bridge. Without her, I’d just be a few lost puffs of ghost.”
Margo had expected a variety of reactions from Bale. This wasn’t one of them.
Bale took Margo’s hand and kissed it. His lips were cold, but his body was as firm as her own.
“We found them skulking around,” said the Dark Bride.
“Don’t be rude,” said Bale. “Margo’s a guest now. And her companion.”
Bale turned to Quint and held out his hand. “James Q Bale, former detective, current lover of fine scotch.”
Bale looked at Quint for a long while, as if trying to place him. “You look very familiar. Forgive me, but we haven’t met, have we?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Ah, good,” Bale clapped him on the back. “I’ve got a terrible memory for faces, so I worry, you understand.”
“And birthdays,” said the Dark Bride, “and chores, and things I’ve just said. For everything but where he’s left his cigarettes, basically.”
“As you can see, my wife’s strong suit is her kind nature.”
Bale looped his arm around the Dark Bride’s waist.
“We were just passing through,” Margo said, “looking for a place to stay. Do you know any places?”
“You’ll stay with us.”
“Thank you, that’s very generous,” said Margo, “but, um,…”
“Don’t be silly. You can stay in the spare rooms.”
“It’s a kind offer…”
“I’m not offering,” Bale said, “I’m insisting. Come on. I have a lot to thank you for, Margo.”
“What about the boy?” said the Dark Bride.
“What do you mean, what about him?” said Bale.
“You don’t know him.”
“Any friend of Margo’s is welcome to stay under my roof, provided he’s willing to play a game of darts with me and let me win,” Bale said, smiling. Margo imagined all the people he’d murdered.
The Dark Bride nodded and flashed a grin, but her eyes never left Quint.
“Come along,” Bale said, placing his hands on Margo’s and Quint’s shoulders, “you two need to get washed up before dinner. I hear we’re having black forest cake for dessert, and I’m not exaggerating when I say our chef is a veritable Rembrandt when it comes to icing. ”