For the first time since arriving at Burnley, we were all at breakfast. I hadn’t seen Nell in as many days and she still looked terrible. The last time I had seen her, she had been mumbling incoherent nonsense as we made our way to the manor. Black shadows now cupped the bottom of her eyes, which only emphasised the lack of colour in her cheeks. Her red hair was scraped back into a greasy, low ponytail. Nell had always looked immaculate.
No-one knew about my plan to find John, and I wasn’t about to tell them. Maybe it was out of fear they would try to stop me or think I’m crazy. I had woken this morning itching to go, it was as though he was drawing me to him somehow.
“You are looking much brighter this morning,” said Eleanor as I took a bite of some buttered bread.
“I am feeling much better,” I said.
Every so often I found Henry eyeing me strangely. After the fourth or fifth time I caught him looking at me, I asked him if everything was alright.
“Who is the Queen?” he asked.
“The Queen,” he repeated, gesturing towards the stamped image on my t-shirt. “Who is she?”
Eleanor mustered a laugh I knew wasn’t genuine, she exchanged looks with Phoebe who added her own high-pitched giggle. Henry looked more perplexed than ever.
“Of course you know who she is,” said Eleanor. “It’s Queen Elizabeth.”
“Woodville? I dare say the likeness is unremarkable.”
Eleanor’s laugh became more of a nervous teeter, she glanced at me with greying eyes. “Queen Elizabeth the Second.”
“I was not aware there had been a first.”
“You don’t know about Queen Elizabeth I? I thought everyone had to learn about the Tudors at school.”
“The Tudors?” Henry’s eyes narrowed in distaste. “Bastard half-brothers of the dead king, they are neither important nor significant.” He took a swig of red wine from his goblet.
“How long is this going to go on for?” spat Nell.
“What?” I asked.
Nell stared at me with dark eyes. “The sooner you work all of this out the easier it will be on all of us,” she sent the chair flying backwards when she stood and threw her knife down. It landed on the table with a thud. “Excuse me everyone, I don’t seem to have much of an appetite at the moment.”
Henry raised from his own chair as Nell left the room.
“What was that supposed to mean?” Nell had just confirmed what I already suspected. Everyone knew something I was being kept in the dark about. They knew what had been going on.
“She’s not been feeling quite right,” Eleanor explained.
“Just stop,” I snapped. “Stop it.”
“Anne!” Phoebe reproached me; her eyes wide.
“All of you know what’s going on. Why won’t you tell me? I’ve felt as though I have been losing my mind.”
“Let’s just tell her,” Phoebe sighed.
“No, it is not time,” hissed Eleanor. “You my child, are nowhere near ready to understand the forces at work here.”
“The fourteenth is nearly upon us,” cried Phoebe. “We are running out of time and she needs our help.”
“Need your help with what? Tell me what is going on here! And you,” I screamed at Henry. “You’re just sitting there taking it all in. I’m sure you know more than what you’re letting on. Why don’t you say anything? Why don’t you help me with whatever it is?”
Henry rose from his chair. He leaned over the table with both hands flat on the smooth surface. “Because I did not want you here in the first place.” Each word dripped with poison from his lips. He stormed from the room and slammed the door close with a bang.
My breath caught in my chest. Normally I would have cried, but I didn’t even feel tears flooding my eyes. I walked from the room.
“Anne, where are you going?” asked Phoebe.
“To someone who will give me answers,” I said. “I’m going to find John.”
I left the breakfast room in a hurry. Hearing voices coming from the main hall, I tiptoed up the handful of steps and down the narrow corridor. I kept myself in the shadows as I watched Henry and Meg.
Henry’s eyes blazed with a black fury I had seldom seen before.
“I remember the happy, golden child who would roam his father’s lands with a wooden sword in hand ready to slay the fearsome dragon of his imagination that did threaten the peace of Burnley,” said Meg. “Where has that child gone?”
“Vanished! Long ago!” he cried. “Has it occurred to you I do not want redemption?” he clenched his fists tight against his head, bleeding his knuckles white. “I did so much wrong and this is my punishment, so if you please I do not want her here and the sooner she leaves the better for us all.”
If felt like I had been punched the stomach. Obviously, it was the truth if he was repeating it to Meg and not just something spat out in the heat of the argument.
Meg gave a troubled sigh. “If you would but see her, speak to her, my Lord…”
He turned from her again in anger. “No, Meg, no. I will not see her again and I will tell her nothing. I know you want an end to all this and if I thought it possible, I would let it be. But we are to have no peace!”
Meg flinched at his words.
“But I am sorry,” he continued. “Truly I am but I never asked you to follow me into purgatory not you, nor Robin, nor Philip or any of the others. I was prepared to face my burden alone.”
“We followed you because we loved you,” she stepped forward towards him or as close as she dared. “And we love you because you are a good man, not for anyone would we give up a life of eternal peace but now we have a chance, you have a chance to make everything right.” She paused, searching his eyes, the same sombre piercing eyes. “You are so much like her; I am surprised she has not noted a similarity herself. Kate loves you,” she said at length. And at last there was a spark in his eyes that proved he still felt after all these years and hadn’t completely shut himself off from all emotion except guilt and remorse. But it was only a flicker and quickly the flame died.
“Kate is dead,” he whispered leaning in a little closer to the old woman he towered by inches, the words just for her. “And I killed her.” With that, Henry stalked across the hall, boots tapping on the stone. He entered a room just off the hall and slammed it with such ferocity that the paintings leapt from the wall.
I stumbled backwards clutching at the grey bricks that made up the wall for support. “They’re ghosts,” I whispered. “They’re all ghosts.” I allowed myself time, a few moments to compose myself and then made my way out of there without even stopping for breath.
I trudged down the hill as fast as my legs would carry me, the way Henry had taken me that first day. To the garage. The garage where they had a telephone. I remembered the gaudy-red device hanging on the wall covered in grease and oil. Ghosts. I abandoned my plan to find John, I’d seen enough spirits to last me a lifetime. All I wanted was to speak to Aunt Lily and beg her to come get me.
Morning dew had softened the ground, and I sunk down into the earth with every step. The wind was bitter today, so I turned the collar up on my denim jacket and thrust my hands deep into my pockets. Hitting the solid road as I crossed the boundary of Burnley’s land made me feel nothing but relief. Like they couldn’t reach me here.
I sprinted the last few steps when the garage came into view. The dark blue doors were spread wide and Kevin, the spotty boy leant against one of them. He looked up as I neared, straightening himself and ringing his hands.
“You’re the ghost girl,” he whispered through blood-drained lips. His eyes darted from the garage’s interior and back to me. “The one who thinks she’s stayed at Burnley Manor.”
I frowned. “No, I’m not.”
“Well we haven’t fixed your car yet.”
“I know. I wondered if I could use your telephone to make a quick call, I won’t be long.”
He looked back inside the garage. “Dan, isn’t back yet.”
I forced a grin at him. “Great, then he’ll never know I’ve used it.” I barged passed him and went straight to the phone. I put my finger in the hole for each number and spun the dial. My breath bated as it started to ring. Then it stopped.
“Hello! Aunt Lily?” Her voice comforted me straight away. It seemed like I hadn’t heard her voice for years. I felt my shoulders relax as I leaned against the wall, one arm curved up high over the telephone, resting on the wall.
“I’m sorry, who is speaking?”
“It’s Anne.” I licked my lips. Perhaps the line was bad at her end and she couldn’t hear me properly.
“Anne? Mrs Foster’s daughter, Anne?”
An ache squirmed in my gut and I could feel the drumming of my heart begin to race. “No, I’m your Anne. Your niece.”
She let out a strange, strangled laugh. “I don’t have an Anne. Look, I think you have the wrong number. Try hanging up and dial again.”
“But I’ve lived with you for as long as I can remember.”
“I’m sorry. I have to go. Goodbye.”
The dulcet tones of the phone hanging up sounded. My shoulders dropped, and my head hung low as I hung the receiver back up. Hot tears pricked my eyes.
“She doesn’t know who you are. Not anymore.”
Deflated, I turned to see Phoebe standing in the doorway behind me. She had her hands thrust into the pockets of her jeans. Like me, she had turned up the collar of her jacket against the wind.
“Why me?” I sniffed, wiping stray tears away on my sleeve.
“Can you give us a minute?” She asked Kevin. I knew something had changed in Phoebe since we arrived here. She appeared older, more together. Distant from the best friend I had known in Yorkshire.
“I-I,” he stammered.
“Leave us for five minutes or I’ll bring the ghosts,” Phoebe snapped and with those words he left, scurrying from the garage like a timid mouse.
“They are ghosts,” the words barely escaped my mouth.
“They are halfway between the living and the dead. Purgatory. A constant state of nothing. They live each day as the last, doing it over and over again. Until we got here a few days ago that is.”
“Is the house there or not?” I asked. I ran my tongue over my dry lips. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to know the answer or not.
“Yes and no,” she answered. “To the rest of the world, the house and all the people inside perished in April 1471. To the descendants of those people, it still exists as a place of purgatory trapping the souls inside. Waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
I laughed. “Me? And what am I expected to do?”
Phoebe looked down at the floor. “I can’t tell you. I’ve told you too much already. Going to see John may be a good idea, he’s not bound by the same promises I am. He’ll be able to tell you more.”
“I’m not going to see him. I’m going home.”
Her head snapped up. “To where, Anne? Your Aunt Lily no-longer knows who you are. You have been wiped from her life as writing on a blackboard. She isn’t really your aunt, she’s not related to you at all, just a woman chosen to look after you until the time was right. Face it, you have no-one to go to. You can’t leave.”
“Henry doesn’t even want me here.”
“He was angry Anne, that’s all. Don’t forget that he’s had five hundred years to live with the guilt of what he did.”
“What did he do? And what about Eleanor? She came from Yorkshire with us, surely she’s not dead.”
“Go see John,” she urged.
“Fine, take me to him but then I’m leaving whether it’s with you or not.”