A dark and wickedly funny story by “the king of children’s horror” (Sunday Express)
Twelve-year-old Jools Bone lives in a run-down mansion, surrounded by a large collection of treasures gathered by his family of explorers and adventurers. When a TV crew arrives to film a new hands-on history series, Digging for Dead People, family friends the De Veres come to help, along with their three children, Ned, Helen and Billy.
As filming starts with the search for an ancient burial mound in the forest surrounding the Bones’ family home, the gang learn of the ancient legends surrounding the tomb of the lost prince, including tales of hauntings by the spirit of the prince himself. The children are much too rational to believe the stories: there’s no such thing as ghosts, of course. But when one particularly grim legend threatens to come true, the kids are faced with a life and death rush to prevent history repeating itself.
1. The Legend of the Lost Prince
Jools Bone came to the edge of the wood overlooking the house and saw the TV people arriving. Over the next few weeks they were going to film the search for the tomb of the lost prince, but this evening they were all getting together for a party.
It was early spring, and Jools was home for Easter. He had spent the day exploring the pine forest and the open heathland, keeping out of everyone’s way. It had been a good day, but the peanut butter sandwiches he had made himself for lunch seemed a long time ago now.
He watched the people arriving. The Bone House was Jools’s family home. All this land surrounding it was Bone land. These people were taking over his territory and he didn’t like it at all.
But there would be party food in the house…
“There will be all kinds of people,” his mother had told him that morning. “There’ll be … oh, I don’t know … that girl from Eastenders and I think there’s a newsreader coming. And there’ll be Fanny Albright, of course.”
Celebrities he’d barely heard of didn’t hold much interest for Jools, but the party food was calling louder and louder to his grumbling belly.
He watched more headlights coming up the long, straight drive. He’d never seen so many expensive cars.
Jools stepped out from the edge of the wood.
This was his house, and so it was his party, and his party food. He would go down and have something to eat, but he wasn’t going to be at all impressed.
Jools pushed at the front door and went inside.
After the woods everything suddenly seemed bright and loud.
People stood in small groups around the big entrance hall. The wide double doors through to the dining hall were open, and Jools could see more people through there.
The front door swung open again behind him and two people swept through. The man wore a black dinner jacket and the woman wore a long, sparkling evening dress.
Jools turned away from them.
Then he looked back.
That man … Surely he was Darren Beasley? He had spent two years in the Arsenal reserve team before joining Norwich City. Darren Beasley!
And the woman with him. She was a singer. The podgy one in Nite Gurlz who couldn’t mime. Or dance. Or, for that matter, sing.
They came up and stopped by Jools. He knew his mouth was hanging open. In fact it was so wide open his jaw must be resting somewhere in the middle of his rib-cage by now.
The woman – the one who had problems with tight clothes and who couldn’t sing or mime or dance – smiled at him. She took her wispy jacket off and dropped it in Jools’s arm. “There’s a dear,” she said.
Darren Beasley did likewise, except he said nothing and his coat was thicker and leatherier and not at all wispy. Then the two turned away and headed on into the house.
Jools stood there, touching the coat that had touched midfield supremo Dazzer Beasley.
He closed his mouth and remembered that he wasn’t going to be at all impressed. He turned and dropped the coats on a wooden chair.
He remembered that he was hungry, too, and so he followed Dazzer and wotsit from Nite Gurlz through into the dining hall.
All around him, people were kissing the air by each other’s cheeks and exclaiming loudly as if they hadn’t seen each other for a century or two. Jools was sure he recognised most of the people here. There was a weather man from breakfast TV, and someone who used to host a gardening programme. Even the people he didn’t recognise acted as if everyone should know who they were.
He spotted a plate stacked high with tiny triangular sandwiches and took seven. From a bowl he scooped a handful of nuts which he tipped into a pocket, and then he took some more sandwiches.
He saw his mother with her hair done up like a pineapple, laughing with a famous-looking man in a bad wig.
With them were two people Jools vaguely recognised from old family photographs.
The woman wore jeans and a Simpsons tee-shirt. The man wore cords and a badly-fitting tweed jacket. And muddy wellington boots. She had neat short hair. He had straggly grey hair and a big shaggy beard that was probably full of wildlife.
These were the De Veres, Jools remembered. Mack and Jenny De Vere had been at Cambridge with Jools’s mother Judith and his father, the late Sir Christopher Bone. Like his father, they were archaeologists, which explained their appearance.
Jools looked around and realised that there were other earth-grubbers here, too. This entire gathering was an odd mixture of shiny media types in designer outfits and without a hair out of place, and … well … the archaeologists.
Jools liked the archaeologists most of all. They knew what it was like to be out there in the real world. They knew how people lived, and how people had lived long before. They were real people with mud under their finger nails, and usually smeared over their faces and through their hair, too.
Jools tried to puzzle out how to eat his sandwiches when they were stacked up high in both hands. He could find somewhere to put them down. Or he could just try to tease the top sandwich from the stack with his teeth and his tongue and … slight misjudgement there … his nose.
He didn’t know what was in the sandwich, but getting the filling up his nose certainly made his eyes water. He rubbed his nose on his shoulder, dropping three of the sandwiches as he did so.
“Darlings, darlings!” called a woman, whose voice Jools thought he recognised.
He backed away into a corner of the room where a girl of about his age and an older boy stood guarding a plate of flaky pastry things.
“Darlings,” called the woman again, and Jools remembered that this was Fanny Albright. Fanny had first come to public attention as the posh one voted out of the Big Brother house. She had lasted about half of the series before viewers had had enough of her. Since then she had appeared on a variety of TV shows, some of which had even lasted into a second series.
Her new programme, Digging for Dead People, was a big break for her. Prime time TV on one of the main channels with Fanny as the host.
“Darlings,” Fanny bellowed again, as if she was struggling to remember all the other words she wanted to say.
Jools stretched, and saw the top of Fanny Albright’s head through the crowd. It didn’t help that she was so short. It was always hard to stamp your authority on an audience when you were looking up their nostrils.
Suddenly, she loomed over everyone. Someone had found her a chair to stand on.
“Darlings,” she said again. Jools wondered if that might be all she would ever say.
“Thank you so much for coming to this darling little party,” said Fanny, suddenly remembering some of the other words that made up the English language. “And thank you so much to darling Judith Bone–”
That’s my mum, that is, thought Jools.
“–for hosting this party in her darling little country home.”
Jools looked around. There weren’t many “darling little country homes” with a dining hall that could comfortably hold a hundred guests, and with so many spare floors and wings that most of the place was locked up and covered in dustsheets.
“And thank you so much to the heroes on my production team – you know who you are – for this party marks the start of work on a series that will mark a revolution in the history of factual television. My new prime time series, Digging for Dead People, will do for the dusty old world of archaeology what nobody has done before!”
“I can hardly wait,” muttered the girl guarding the flaky pastry.
Jools braved another sandwich, careful this time not to get the filling up his nose.
When he looked up, Fanny Albright was holding what looked like a vase in the air over her head, as if she had just single-handedly won the FA Cup.
It wasn’t just any old vase, Jools saw.
It was an earthenware pot, reddish brown with a thick lip. You could see the lines around it where it had been built up from rings of river clay and then smoothed over. The top was sealed with a clay plug.
This was ancient – Neolithic, Jools thought. Probably Bronze Age.
It looked very much like one that Jools had seen in his father’s collection upstairs.
It would be priceless. Not that you would ever think of such a thing in terms of how much it was worth. It could never be replaced, that was for sure.
And Fanny Albright was waving it around as if she’d just snatched it off a stall at a jumble sale.
“Meet the Lost Prince,” she said, shaking the pot for emphasis. “Here we have the star of the first programme in my new prime time TV series, Digging for Dead People . Here: in this jug. The Lost Prince’s ashes.”
“It’s not a jug. It’s a funerary urn,” mumbled the girl with the flaky pastries.
Jools couldn’t help but agree with her. She may be hogging the pastries to herself, but she certainly seemed to know her Neolithic earthenware.
“According to local legend,” Fanny Albright went on, “somewhere nearby, deep in the darkest deep gloomy bits of the forest, there lies the tomb of the lost prince. The prince himself lived thousands of years ago, and even though he was only a boy he led his tribe to victory in a great battle while his father lay on his sickbed.
“The battle was won, the tribe was saved, but tragically the prince lost his life to the disease his father was recovering from. He was buried a hero and given a tomb fit for the king that he never became. Somewhere…”
Fanny clutched the pot one-handed and used her free hand to wave out, beyond the walls of the Bone House to the forest.
“Somewhere out there…”
The gathering had fallen silent as Fanny told this tale.
Jools knew the story, of course. His father had told him of the legend often enough.
“Darlings, the first programme in my new prime time show, Digging for Dead People, will tell the story of the lost prince. We’ll be filming here in the forest as my team of valiant researchers seek out the prince’s tomb. We aim to uncover it for only the second time since the prince himself was buried.”
A man somewhere near Fanny cleared his throat. “Ms Albright?”
She smiled at him.
“You just said this would be the second time the tomb had been opened?”
She nodded. “Several hundred years ago,” she said, “when the Vikings were doing all those things the Vikings did. You know. Well, anyway… All that time ago, a group of Vikings found the tomb and dug their way in. Probably hoping for gold and jewels and all that.”
“What did they find?”
“There may have been treasure. We don’t know for sure. But what they did find was the cremated remains of the brave prince – his ashes.”
As she said this, Fanny Albright raised the earthenware pot above her head again. “This pot,” she said, “has belonged to the Bone family for generations.”
That would explain why it looked so much like the one Jools had seen in his father’s collection, then.
“It is the pot stolen from the tomb of the lost prince,” said Fanny Albright. “It is…” She paused, and looked around the crowd. She waited.
This was clearly meant to be a dramatic pause. You know the kind. But Fanny left it too long. Long enough for people to start looking at each other, shuffling from foot to foot and wondering if she had actually finished what she was saying. Or had, perhaps, forgotten what she was saying.
Finally, she continued: “It is the pot that contains the ashes of the lost prince himself!”
She leaned forward, with the pot held high.
Which wasn’t her smartest move, considering the fact that she was standing on a chair. A rather wobbly chair, at that.
As Jools watched, he saw her expression change from one of fierce intensity to … eyes widening, mouth opening … surprise, panic.
As she tipped forward, the chair’s wooden legs made a loud groaning sound on the dining hall’s stone floor.
She cried out.
She threw her hands in the air and spread her arms to catch herself on the people right in front of her.
The earthenware pot!
Jools tore his eyes from the falling TV personality and saw the pot flying high across the room. It was a big thing, about the size of Jools’s head.
Which was a good comparison, because it was flying directly towards Jools’s head.
Somehow, he managed to duck, drop the remaining sandwiches, and raise his hands at the same time. A great weight suddenly struck his palms.
He looked up. The pot was there, in his hands.
“Nice catch,” said the girl with the flaky pastries. “Shame about the jumper, though.”