Tunnel of Bones – Victoria Schwab

The train rattles as it moves beneath the city. Shadows rush past the windows, little more than streaks of movement, dark on dark. I can feel the ebb and flow of the Veil, the drumbeat of ghosts on every side. “Well, that’s a pleasant thought,” says my best friend, Jacob, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Scaredy-cat,” I whisper back, as if I’m not also creeped out by the presence of so many spirits. Speaking of cats, Grim scowls up at me from the cat carrier in my lap, his green eyes promising revenge for his current imprisonment. Mom and Dad sit across from us with their luggage. There’s a map of the Metro above their heads, but it just looks like a tangle of colored lines: more like a maze than a guide. I went to New York City with my parents once, and we rode the subway every day, and I still couldn’t tell where we were going. And that time, everything was in English. Jacob leans against the wall beside me, and I look out the window again. I study my reflection in the glass—messy brown hair, brown eyes, round face, and the old-fashioned camera around my neck —but the space next to me, where Jacob should be, is empty. I guess I should explain: Jacob is what he likes to call “corporeally challenged.” Basically, he’s a ghost. No one can see him, except for me.

(And a girl we just met named Lara, but that’s only because she’s like me, or I’m like her, someone who’s crossed the line between the living and the dead, and made it back.) If it seems strange, the whole dead-best-friend thing, well, it is, but it’s not the strangest thing in my life by far. My name is Cassidy Blake, and one year ago, I almost drowned. Jacob saved my life, and ever since, I’ve been able to cross into the Veil, a place filled with the spirits of the restless dead. It’s my job to send them on. Jacob scowls at that. “Your job, according to Lara.” I forgot to mention that Jacob can read my mind. Apparently that’s what happens when a ghost pulls a human back from the brink of death—things get kind of tangled up. And if being haunted by a psychic dead boy isn’t weird enough, the only reason we’re here on this train is that my parents are filming a reality TV show about the world’s most haunted cities.

See? The fact that Jacob is a ghost is starting to seem normal. “Paranormal,” he says with a crooked grin. I roll my eyes as the train slows, and a voice on the intercom announces the station. “Concorde.” “That’s us,” says Mom, bouncing to her feet. The train pulls to a stop and we get off, making our way through the crowds of people. I’m relieved when Dad takes Grim’s carrier—that cat is heavier than he looks—and we haul ourselves and our suitcases up the stairs. When we reach the street, I stop, breathless not from the climb but from the sight in front of me. We’re standing at the edge of a massive square. A circle, really, surrounded by pale stone buildings that reflect the late-afternoon light.

Gold trim shines on every surface, from the sidewalk rails to lampposts, fountains to balconies, and in the distance, the Eiffel Tower rises like a steel spear. Mom spreads her arms, as if she can catch the whole city in one giant hug. “Welcome to Paris.” You might think a city is a city is a city. But you’d be wrong. We came from Edinburgh, Scotland, a nest of heavy stones and narrow roads, the kind of place that always feels cast in shadow. But Paris? Paris is sprawling and elegant and bright. Now that we’re aboveground, the drumbeat of ghosts has receded, and the Veil is just a light touch against my skin, a flicker of gray at the edge of my sight. Maybe Paris isn’t as haunted as Edinburgh is. Maybe— But we wouldn’t be here if that were true.

My parents don’t follow fairy tales. They follow ghost stories. “This way,” says Dad, and we set off down a broad avenue called Rue de Rivoli, a street lined with fancy shops on one side and trees on the other. People bustle past us in chic suits and high heels. Two teenagers lean against a wall: The guy has his hands in the pockets of his black skinny jeans, and the girl wears a silk shirt with a bow at her throat, looking like she stepped straight off a fashion site. We pass by another girl in glittering ballet flats and a boy in a striped polo shirt walking a poodle. Even the dogs are perfectly styled and groomed here. I look down at myself, feeling suddenly underdressed in my purple T-shirt, my gray stretchy pants, and my sneakers. Jacob only has one look: His blond hair is always tousled, his superhero T-shirt always creased, his dark jeans worn through at the knees, and his shoes so scuffed I can’t tell what color they used to be. Jacob shrugs.

“I do me,” he says, clearly unbothered. But it’s easy not to care what other people think when none of them can see you. I lift my camera and peer through the cracked viewfinder at the Paris sidewalk. The camera is an old manual, loaded with black-and-white film. It was vintage even before we both took a plunge into Lara: Gotten yourself in trouble yet? Me: Define trouble. Lara: Cassidy Blake. Me: I just got here. Give me a little credit. Lara: That isn’t an answer. Me: Jacob and I say hi.

an icy river back home in upstate New York. And then, in Scotland, the camera got thrown against a tombstone, and the lens shattered. A very nice lady in a photo shop gave me a replacement, but the new lens has a swirl, like a thumbprint, in the middle of the glass—just one more imperfection to add to the list. What makes the camera truly special, though, is how it works beyond the Veil: It captures a piece of the other side. It doesn’t see as well as I do, but it definitely sees more than it should. A shadow of the shadow world. I’m just lowering the camera when my phone chimes in my pocket. It’s a text from Lara. Lara Chowdhury and I crossed paths back in Edinburgh. We’re the same age, but it’s safe to say she’s years ahead in the whole ghost-hunting department.

It helps that she spends her summers hanging out with the spirit of her dead uncle, who happens—happened—to know about all things supernatural. He wasn’t an in-betweener (that’s what Lara calls people like us), just a man with a large library and a morbid hobby. I can practically hear the annoyance in her posh English accent. I lift the phone, make a goofy grin, and snap a photo of myself giving a thumbs-up on the crowded street. Jacob’s in the frame, but of course he doesn’t show up in the photo. Lara: Tell the ghost to move along. “You say hi,” he grumbles, reading over my shoulder. “I have nothing to say to her.” Right on cue, Lara snaps back with her own reply. “Ah, here we are,” says Mom, nodding at a hotel just ahead.

I tuck my phone back in my pocket and look up. The entrance is ornate—beveled glass, a rug on the curb, and a marquee announcing the name: HOTEL VALEUR. A man in a suit holds open the door, and we step through. Some places just scream haunted … but this isn’t one of them. We move through a large polished lobby, all marble and gold. There are columns, and bouquets of flowers, and a silver beverage cart stacked with china cups. It feels like a fancy department store, and we stand there, two parents, a girl, a cat, and a ghost, all of us so obviously, thoroughly, out of place. “Bienvenue,” says the woman at the front desk, her eyes flicking from us to our luggage to the black cat in his carrier. “Hello,” says Mom cheerfully, and the clerk switches to English. “Welcome to the Hotel Valeur.

Have you stayed with us before?” “No,” says Dad. “This is our first time in Paris.” “Oh?” The woman arches a dark eyebrow. “What brings you to our city?” “We’re here on business,” says Dad, at the same time Mom answers, “We’re filming a television show.” The clerk’s mood changes, lips pursing in displeasure. “Ah yes,” she says, “you must be the … ghost finders.” The way she says it makes my face get hot and my stomach turn. Beside me, Jacob cracks his knuckles. “I see we have a skeptic in the house.” A month ago, he couldn’t even fog a window.

Now he’s looking around for something he can break. His attention lands on the beverage cart. I shoot him a warning look, mouthing the word no. Lara’s voice echoes in my head. Ghosts don’t belong in the in-between, and they certainly don’t belong on this side of it. The longer he stays, the stronger he’ll get. “We’re paranormal investigators,” corrects Mom. The desk clerk’s nose crinkles. “I doubt you will find such things here,” she says, her perfectly manicured nails clicking across her keyboard. “Paris is a place of art, and culture, and history.

” “Well,” starts Dad, “I’m a historian and—” But Mom puts a hand on his shoulder, as if to say, This isn’t a fight worth having. The woman at the desk gives us our keys. In that moment, Jacob succeeds in nudging the beverage cart and sends a china cup skating toward the edge. I reach out, steadying the cup before it can fall. “Bad ghost,” I whisper. “No fun,” answers Jacob as we follow my parents upstairs. Back in Scotland, people talked about ghosts the way you might talk about your weird aunt or that odd kid in your neighborhood. Something out of place, sure, but undeniably there. Edinburgh was haunted from its tip to its toes, its castle to its caves. Even the Lane’s End, the cute little bed-and-breakfast where we stayed, had a resident ghost.

But here, in the Hotel Valeur, there are no dark corners, no ominous sounds. The door to our room doesn’t even groan when it swings open. We’re staying in a suite, with a bedroom on each side and an elegant sitting room in between. Everything is crisp, clean, and new. Jacob looks at me, aghast. “It’s almost like you want it to be haunted.” “No,” I shoot back. “It’s just … strange that it’s not.” Dad must have heard me because he says, “What does Jacob think about our new digs?” I roll my eyes. It comes in handy, having a ghost for a best friend.

I can sneak him into the movies, I don’t have to share my snacks, and I never really get lonely. Of course, when your BFF isn’t bound by the laws of corporeality, you have to lay down some ground rules. No intentional scaring. No going through closed bedroom or bathroom doors. No disappearing in the middle of a fight. But there are drawbacks. It’s always awkward when you get caught “talking to yourself.” But even that’s not as awkward as Dad thinking Jacob is my imaginary friend—some kind of preteen coping mechanism. “Jacob is worried he’s the only ghost here.” He scowls.

“Stop putting words in my mouth.” I set Grim free, and he promptly climbs on top of the sofa and announces his displeasure. I’m pretty sure he’s cursing us for his most recent confinement, but maybe he’s just hungry. Mom pours some kibble into a dish, Dad sets about unpacking, and I drop my stuff in the smaller of the two bedrooms. When I come back out, Mom has thrown open one of the windows and she’s leaning out on the wrought-iron rail, drawing in a deep breath. “What a beautiful evening,” she says, ushering me over. The sun has gone down, and the sky is a mottle of pink, and purple, and orange. Paris stretches in every direction. The Rue de Rivoli below is still crowded, and from this height, I can see beyond the trees to a massive stretch of green. “That,” says Mom, “is the Tuileries.

It’s a jardin—a garden, if you will.” Past the garden is a large river Mom tells me is called the Seine, and beyond that, a wall of pale stone buildings, all of them grand, all of them pretty. But the longer I look at Paris, the more I wonder. “Hey, Mom,” I say. “Why are we here? This city doesn’t seem that haunted.” Mom beams. “Don’t let looks fool you, Cass. Paris is brimming with ghost stories.” She nods toward the garden. “Take the Tuileries, for instance, and the legend of Jean the Skinner.

” “Don’t ask,” says Jacob, even as I take the bait. “Who was he?” “Well,” Mom says in her conversational way, “about five hundred years ago, there was a queen named Catherine, and she had a henchman named Jean the Skinner.” “This story,” says Jacob, “is definitely going to end well.” “Jean went around dispatching Catherine’s enemies. But the problem was, as time went on, he learned too many of the queen’s secrets. And so, to keep her royal business private, she eventually ordered his death, too. He was killed right there in the Tuileries. Only when they went back to collect his body the next day, it was gone.” Mom splays her fingers, as if performing a magic trick. “His corpse was never found, and ever since, all throughout history, Jean has appeared to kings and queens, a portent of doom for the monarchs of France.

” And with that, she turns back to the room. Dad’s sitting on the sofa, his show binder open on the coffee table. In a display of almost catlike behavior, Grim wanders over and scratches his whiskers on the corner of the binder. The label printed on its front reads: THE INSPECTERS. The Inspecters was the title of my parents’ book, when it was just ink and paper, and not a TV show. The irony is that back when they decided to write about all things paranormal, I didn’t have any firsthand experience yet. I hadn’t crashed my bike over a bridge, hadn’t fallen into an icy river, hadn’t (almost) drowned, hadn’t met Jacob, hadn’t gained the ability to cross the Veil, and hadn’t learned that I was a ghost hunter. Jacob clears his throat, clearly uncomfortable with the term. I shoot him a look. Ghost … saver? He arches a brow.

“Awfully high and mighty.” Salvager? He frowns. “I’m not scrap parts.” Specialist? He considers. “Hmm, better. But it lacks a certain style.” Anyway, I think pointedly, my parents had no clue. They still don’t, but now their show means that I get to see new places and meet new people—both the living and the dead. Mom opens the binder, flipping to the second tab, which reads: THE INSPECTERS EPISODE TWO LOCATION: Paris, France And there, below, the title of the episode: “TUNNEL OF BONES” “Well,” says Jacob pointedly, “that sounds promising.” “Let’s see what we’ve got,” says Mom, turning to a map of the city.

There are numbers spiraling out from the center of the map, counting up from first to twentieth. “What are those for?” I ask. “Arrondissements,” says Dad. He explains that arrondissement is a fancy French word for neighborhood. I sit on the sofa beside Mom as she turns to the filming schedule. THE CATACOMBS THE JARDIN DU LUXEMBOURG THE EIFFEL TOWER THE PONT MARIE BRIDGE THE CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE-DAME The list goes on. I resist the urge to reach for the folder and study each and every location the way my parents clearly have. Instead, I want to hear them tell the stories, want to stand in the places and learn the tales the way the viewers of the show will. “Oh, yeah,” says Jacob sarcastically, “who wants to be prepared when you can just fling yourself into the unknown?” Let me guess, I think, you were the kind of kid who flipped to the back of the book and read the ending first. “No,” mutters Jacob, and then, “I mean, only if it was scary … or sad … or I was worried about the— Look, it doesn’t matter.

” I suppress a smile. “Cassidy,” says Mom, “your father and I have been talking …” Oh no. The last time Mom put on her “family meeting” voice, I found out my summer plans were being replaced by a TV show. “We want you to be more involved,” says Dad.

.

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