Authors: Stephen Messer
The two nothings sprang toward his shoulders.
Then there was a terrific whoosh, and two objects flew past Yorik. They caught the nothings in midspring with a tremendous
. Yorik thought it sounded like someone had punched a ball of dough. The objects sped onward, taking the Dark Ones with them.
Suddenly the vast hunger was no longer focused on him, but on something behind him.
There in the path crouched the tiny sticklike
figure of Erde. As Yorik watched, she reached her little clawlike hands into her mouth. They emerged with two dripping mud-balls. With a snapping twist of her body, she threw the mud-balls, and two more Dark Ones went flying from the bench with a magnificent
Instantly the Dark Ones abandoned Yorik and clustered around Erde. More appeared in the trees above her. He could sense waves of ravenous hunger washing from them to her, far stronger than their craving for him. And Yorik could sense something else. He could sense their triumph.
Erde twisted and whirled, but there was no escape. She curled down and made two more mud-balls and threw them, but there were too many of the hungry voids. They pressed close to her, dropping from the trees, growing larger as they neared, as though opening their voids to devour her.
With a rushing leap, Yorik jumped over the cluster. He landed in the tiny gap between them and Erde and reached for her. He felt her long fingers wrap twice around his fist, clenching so tightly it hurt. He looked into her eyes and saw
sheer and abject terror staring back from their deep brownness.
He lifted Erde into his arms and ran. The girl weighed almost nothing, and the world flashed by—carriage path, riding lane, forest, fishponds, shooting range, and then the aviary glade.
The Princess was there, in an orb of throbbing light. Her face was streaked with tears. When Yorik knelt and placed Erde on the ground, the Princess instantly gathered her into that glowing, silver, loving light.
Yorik turned. The protective light illuminated everything. There were no Dark Ones to be seen.
“Why?” the Princess was screaming. “Why did you leave? They could have destroyed you!”
Erde’s voice was muffled by folds of the Princess’s gossamer gown. “Looking for him,” she growled.
“You can never leave again, no matter what, never never,” cried the Princess angrily, sobbing. Then her eyes flashed at Yorik. “This is your fault!”
But Yorik was not looking at the Princess. He was looking toward the Manor, where Master
Thomas was, and remembering what Dark Doris had said about keeping Yorik’s murder secret. Those had all been lies—hadn’t they?
He left the safety of the Princess’s light and raced for the Manor.
orik entered the Manor grounds through the limestone wall by the kennels. The piled stones had a strong, musty odor he had never noticed in life. He half expected the old stones to tumble as he pushed through, but they did not seem aware of his passing. He peeked inside the kennels, but Mr. Lucian and the hounds were not there. He hadn’t thought they would be.
He walked across the frosty grass toward the hulking and massive house. He knew the hounds would come.
And they did.
He felt a presence to his left. He turned and saw Hatch watching him, enclosed in his green and glowing demon form. The hound rumbled and growled, deep in his chest.
Yorik knelt in the grass. He raised his balled fist. “Here, Hatch,” he called softly.
Hatch crept closer, his paws crunching in the frost, his fire eyes burning at Yorik. His muscles were tensed to lunge.
The hound leaned toward the waiting fist. His nostrils flared, and he padded around the boy, sniffing from all sides. Yorik sat calmly, feeling the hound’s bonfire breath wash through him. The green glow pulsed, and the whiff of burning phosphorus strengthened.
When he was finished, Hatch crouched on his haunches in front of Yorik and whimpered happily. The bold green tongue came out of his mouth and licked Yorik’s hand.
Delighted, Yorik reached out and stroked the
hound’s spirit self. His hand tingled as it brushed
the green fur. Hatch nuzzled him fondly with his spirit nose.
“Hello, Hatch.” Yorik grinned. For one moment he felt alive again.
The other hounds arrived, running low, gathering around Yorik. They made growls, whimpers, whines, and low barks. Yorik stood up. “Yes, I know,” he said. “You must go and guard the Manor from the Dark Ones.” He looked up at the sleeping mansion.
The pack woofed and raced away, spirit lights shining in the night.
Yorik made for the South Wing. He did not know the Manor, but he had heard that this was where servants entered. He reasoned that the kitchens must be nearby.
He passed high, arched windows and tall walls of stone. All the doors he saw had multiple locks. Beside a set of triple-locked wooden doors in the very back of the Manor he saw a pinpoint of firelight. As he drew near, he saw that it was Mr. Lucian, wrapped in his scarves and smoking his pipe.
The pipe lowered as Yorik approached the doors.
Mr. Lucian sniffed the night air. “Ah, I sense ye are near, young Yorik,” he said quietly.
Yorik said nothing. He knew that would be useless.
“The hounds have elected to let ye pass, so ye must no longer mean harm to the Family. And ye had the good sense to know it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lucian,” said Yorik, too polite not to respond, though his voice was only a moan in the night.
Mr. Lucian went on. “I must warn ye, then. There are Dark Ones inside. Some got through without me knowing, before I brought out the hounds. A few have slipped through since. Their power is in their words. Their lies can force ye to their will.”
No, they can’t
, thought Yorik, remembering the water garden. The Dark Ones had tried to influence him, to tell him no one needed him. And they had failed. What, then, was their true power?
“Good luck to ye, lad. May ye find yer peace at last.” Mr. Lucian raised his pipe once again.
Yorik pushed through the padlocked doors and into the Manor.
He wandered through the South Wing. He
walked through doors and walls. He found rooms full of beds where servants slept. Everything was dingy and musty and cold. Wallpaper peeled from walls. Carpets were worn through. Twice, Yorik thought he saw another person out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned, the person was gone.
he wondered. But if there were others like him in the Manor, they were keeping to themselves. At last he found a kitchen—and Susan.
The Matron and several girls had risen early to ready the kitchens for breakfast. Several enormous stoves needed fire. Susan was at work in front of a vast field of eggs, cracking them into bowls. Beside her was bread for slicing and bushels of oranges for squeezing. All around, kitchen maids bustled.
Yorik longed to run straight to his sister. But the people, and light, and fire overwhelmed him. He shrank into a quiet, shadowed corner. His sister was singing softly; he could hear her clear voice under the kitchen din:
Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
The shooting stars attend thee;
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.
The Matron, passing by, put her hand on Susan’s shoulder. “ ’Tis a beautiful song, my dear,” she said. “Where did you learn it?”
Susan smiled wistfully. “My brother taught it to me, ma’am.”
The Matron nodded sadly, stroked Susan’s hair, then moved on.
Susan continued humming the tune as she cracked one egg after another.
Watching his sister, Yorik sang quietly:
No will-o’-the-wisp mislight thee,
Nor snake or slow-worm bite thee;
But on, on thy way
Not making a stay,
Since ghost there’s none to affright thee.
Then he saw Master Thomas.
Or rather, he saw Master Thomas’s eye, peering
from a crack in a doorway far on the other end of the cavernous kitchen.
Master Thomas was watching Susan.
The crack closed.
Yorik rushed through the wall. He darted through another wall and then another, to a corridor where Master Thomas’s round form was bumping up a stairway. But something about the round form was too round, too humped. Something about Master Thomas had changed.
Then Yorik realized why the form was wrong. He realized he could not get too close to Master Thomas, not yet.
He must not let the Dark Ones know he was there.
Two of their blobbish shapes squatted on Master Thomas’s shoulders. Yorik could hear them making urgent, murmuring sounds. From this distance, Yorik could not tell what they were saying.
He followed as close as he dared. They were no longer in the dingy, peeling, threadbare part of the Manor. The carpets were thicker now, the floors
polished. Mirrors hung on the walls. Glistening silver and paintings could be seen. Doorknobs shone.
They were climbing. Yorik crept up long, wide staircases with marble banisters, keeping Master Thomas’s hurrying form ahead of him. Once, he sensed a Dark One looking back, and he leapt through a wall into a musty sitting room.
Then Master Thomas went along another corridor, turned, opened a door, and went inside.
Yorik poked his head through the wall, just enough to see into Master Thomas’s lavish quarters.
Master Thomas was sitting on the edge of the bed, his hands clasped in front of him, rocking back and forth. He was crying fat tears that streaked down his face and plopped into his lap. His weeping face was torn with misery.
You must kill her
, said the Dark One on Thomas’s left.
She knows your secret
, said the one on the right.
She knows what you did. She will tell your father
Then the two chorused together:
And when your father knows, he will banish you. You have always disappointed him. You are useless and weak. He wishes
your sister still lived, so that the Estate could be left to her instead of you, you worthless failure
Master Thomas moaned.
“No,” whispered Yorik.
Instantly the Dark Ones turned their hunger onto Yorik.
He is here!
Yorik stepped through the wall into the bedroom. “Leave him alone,” he said.
, they whispered to Master Thomas.
Look! The ghost of the murdered boy has come for revenge!
Master Thomas sniffed. He blinked in confusion.
screamed the Dark Ones. Then they began to make noise, a high, whining, and monstrous sort of singing.
Though Yorik knew that Master Thomas was not aware of the Dark Ones on his shoulders, something about that piercing song seemed to direct the boy’s attention. Master Thomas peered into the dark corner where Yorik stood.
Their eyes met. Horror sprang onto Thomas’s face.
“No!” said Yorik. “Wait, the Dark Ones, they—”
But it was futile. Master Thomas leapt to his
feet. “Yorik!” he said. “No!” He stumbled backward.
screamed the Dark Ones.
Master Thomas ran through a set of doors onto his balcony.
Yorik wished he had Erde with him. She could do something about the two Dark Ones. Not knowing what to do, not wanting to scare Thomas further, Yorik began to leave.
Then, through the doors, he saw that Master Thomas was standing on the stone balcony railing.
The Dark Ones screamed of ghostly terrors, of a wrathful Yorik coming to seek vengeance.
Master Thomas wobbled on the balustrade. He seemed to think he could escape by leaping to the next balcony. But Yorik could see that it was too far, and Master Thomas, never a graceful boy, was going to fall.
Yorik ran onto the balcony, wondering if somehow he could tear the Dark Ones away before something awful happened. They were hissing more whispers into Thomas’s ears, urging him on with
You fool, you useless, cowardly, stupid, hated waste—you must jump!
Yorik reached hopelessly for Thomas as the Dark Ones shrieked in triumph and vanished.
Master Thomas fell through the night.
Yorik raced to the balcony’s edge and looked over.
Far, far below lay the body of Master Thomas. Yorik, having had one himself, could see that the boy had a broken neck.
Twelve-year-old Master Thomas lay on the hard, cold ground, dead.