The Mausoleum Opens
The stone caskets in the Bale mausoleum Above were long empty, the bones and dust and whatever was left of their occupants removed and reburied in some far-flung cemetery in Scotland.
The caskets in the mausoleum Below were not.
Margo’s hearing seemed to dull. Dragomir and Bale’s words faded out, and she became transfixed with the inscription on the opposite wall of the mausoleum. It read:
He who wishes to awaken lost friends
Knows not what he wishes for
Or, more correctly, she became transfixed with what was happening beneath the inscription. The lid of one of the caskets was wobbling.
“I didn’t recognize you that day at the Bridge,” said Bale. “But I’ve been exorcising ghosts, and taking their energy. Getting stronger. The strength’s been bringing back my memories. I remember you now, Dragomir. I know you’re a hunter. So are we going to continue this charade or converse like adults? It’s entirely your choice, Mr Dent.”
Dragomir glared at Bale. Slowly, he said. “We know what you’re trying to do.”
Bale smiled. “And what’s that?”
“You want the dead worlds to take over the living ones.”
“Exactly.” Bale raised his glass. “The genius of the spirit hunters triumphs yet again. That is exactly what I intend to do. This is the start of a new era,” Bale said, “one where dying doesn’t matter. Do you see how beautiful that this? Where everyone can live as a ghost forever, without Fading? Isn’t that so much better than the way things are? I’m offering a solution, the way no scientist or religion or bullshit Philosopher’s Stone ever could. This isn’t the opiate of the masses; this is the truth serum of the hallowed few. I’ve found a door, basically. That’s all. One that pain and loss and heartbreak and all the crappy things about being human can’t get through. On the other side of that door, we’ll be more than angels. We’ll be gods.”
Dragomir dragged on his cigarette. “You know, being in the Order, and being the child of one hell of a Catholic mother, it’s given me some respect for the sanctity of death. Now, you talk fine. Back where I grew up, there were some travelling preachers who would could probably convert incubi. They would be pretty awed by you. But I’m not them. Underneath everything you’re saying is one thing I can’t accept: that no one wants to live. Because that ain’t true. You can’t make everyone’s decision for them.”
“So you’re against me then?”
“At least you’re honest, I respect that,” said Bale, almost sadly, “but you know I can’t let you live.”
By now all the caskets were shaking. Dust fell from lids that had been shut for centuries. Spiders who’d spent their whole lives in the darkness of the coffins suddenly found themselves skittering away from light.
By then everyone had noticed that the occupants of the caskets were very much not resting in peace.
“What’s happening?” Quint said, leaping to his feet.
“I’m calling them,” said Bale. “You could call them to, if you wanted. You too, Margo. You could have the power. All you’d have to do is die, and that’s the easiest thing in the world.”
Now, many things race through the mind of a twenty-first century teenager when the bones in a mausoleum begin rising up with intentions that appear less than friendly. First, Margo thought of running. Then she thought of hiding. Thirdly, she almost opened her mouth to ask Dragomir for help (he had a crossbow, after all). Maybe for the teensiest of split seconds she thought of fighting them. What she did was none of these things. She stood still. She did not speak. Because Margo was – in the truest sense of the word, the kind that transcended species, time and space – scared shitless.
Casket lids clattered to the floor. Bony hands reached out of coffins. Skulls peered out from tombs, centipedes crawling through their eye sockets, and eyed (or, more accurately, eye-socketed) the people at the table curiously.
In a moment, all the bones once-entombed walked. Some were fleshy and well-preserved, others were rotten and tattered, dusty and falling apart. Others were nothing but bones. All looked angry.
Two hundred years of the Bale family tree watched Margo, Quint and Dragomir the way a pack of dogs might eye their prey, awaiting their master’s command.
They did not have to wait long.
With one last look at Margo, Bale said, “Capture them.” He paused for a moment, thinking, then added, “Actually, kill the man.”
Dragomir loaded his crossbow. The silvery bolt glittered in it, then launched outward. The Vapoursteel sliced through a skeleton (the Honorable Jedidiah Bale, judge; according to the plaque on his coffin). All around them, various Bales in various states of decay advanced. There were shoemakers and soldiers, viscounts and criminals, doctors and woodsmen. Some wielded ceremonial swords, or shards of broken casket lid, or the fibula of another family member.
Margo barely had time to dodge as one such fibula crashed toward her face. The dead thing wielding it had long, rotting grey hair and wore a shabby dress. In a word, it was horrifying. But it was not weak. Margo tried to push it away but it grabbed her wrist, vice-like. Pain raced down her arm, and she cried out.
Quint heard her, and flew through two skeletons to get to her. He struck the corpse in the back of its head, and it fell, screeching.
“You need to get away,” Quint said, grabbing another skeleton and struggling to force it to the ground. It fought back, clawing at his face in a way that no human could survive. But its bony fingers just passed through Quint’s head as if he wasn’t there, and then Quint bashed its skull against the mausoleum floor.
It was then that Margo realized just how powerful ghosts could be.
“Run, Margo,” Quint said, as he tried to hold off another zombie (Caroline Bale-Weston, dutiful wife and beloved mother).
Margo did not (or could not) move.
Dragomir and Quint were a dam wall stemming a flood of undead. There were dozens of corpses, all stumbling or running or crawling toward them with zeal that most of them had probably not shown to any pursuit in life. On the other side of them, watching with slight amusement, were Bale and the Dark Bride.
Margo forced herself to move. She raced out of the mausoleum, and into the garden. She ran, trying to hold back tears, not looking where she was going, just knowing that anywhere was better than the place behind her.
She stopped, panting, beside the vegetable patch, the shouts and smashes of the fight in the mausoleum still audible across the garden. She slumped down beside a pumpkin, feeling scared, feeling angry, feeling useless.
Margo was frightened, she was so frightened, but stronger than the fear was the regret: regret for coming Below. She wanted to go home, to be with her parents – her infuriating, insufferable, magnificent, wondrous, dumb parents. She wanted things to be the way they were before the move, before all this, before the Worst Day.
And she wanted Quint to be okay.
She would’ve cried, if not for the adrenaline.
This was not the first time Dragomir had found himself surrounded by zombies.
He weaved between them, dodging bony fingers, throwing blows and firing crossbow bolts. He actually had to move away from the undead because a pile of bones was gathering beneath him, making it harder to fight. He was, after all, the best ghost hunter since Wolfgang the Purifier.
He’d purged living skeletons from the catacombs beneath Paris, he’d wrestled with shrunken heads in the Amazon – he’d even cast down the Lich of Prague.
But even he’d never encountered anything like Bale before.
The lord of Below watched Quint and Dragomir fight the dead with a slightly bored expression, while the Dark Bride whispered in his ear: every inch the emperor. Finally, tired of the show, he turned and left the mausoleum, headed for the house. His Bride left too: turning into mist and flying in the direction Margo had fled.
Dragomir caught a dagger headed for his throat, and drove his bolt through its owner’s eye socket.
“Can you hold them off?” he shouted to Quint, as the zombie collapsed at his feet.
Quint was trying to pull off a severed hand that had become attached around his throat, but he managed to nod.
Loading his crossbow, Dragomir set off toward the twinkling lights of the house Below.
The Dark Bride flitted through the shadows. She could smell Margo – the girl reeked of lies, fear and blood. It was a coppery smell. She licked her lips. She unfurled her claws. She would kill the girl tonight, no matter what Bale instructed. He wanted her alive, but the allure of splitting her open, of drenching the floor in her guts, was too strong. It pulled her through the night, toward the distant sound of Margo’s breathing, and it made her smile.
Margo knew she had to do something, but the difference between knowing and doing was a gap she couldn’t leap across. She got to her feet though, looking around for some escape, or help. And she heard a voice in her ear.
“You’re going to die tonight.”