The fishnet lead of the old attic window ensnared the scrub and pines of the forest beyond the front garden, lumpen with snow. But winter’s twilit chill didn’t reach Sam. In fact, winter never reached beyond the bushes, it seemed.
The gardenias were in bloom. Ten bushes that should be dead in this climate, glowed whiter than the duvet of snow, the liquid stink of them stronger, still.
They always made him think of Gran. ‘Don’t you let Sam touch my petals, Sal! He’s a sensitive wee soul…’
He’d never known what “my petals” were; Mum’d said it was just the hangover of a muddled memory echoing from Gran’s past.
Later, he stacked and re-stacked boxes, looking for the Christmas decorations. Instead, he found an old scrapbook, bulging with inserts and fold-outs, and pages headed in Gran’s scalloped handwriting:
To Bring Pressure to Bear on an Enemy; For Love; For Abundance; Consecration…
‘You mysterious old bird,’ he said to the rafters, smiling.
A dried petal fell out. Nine more, glued in a circle, decorated a page headed Witching Posts, and beneath where the petal had been was a sketch of a squared, timber post. He could make out others drawn under the affixed petals.
Mum slumped, gin-lulled, in a chair like a pile of laundry – so he stole into the dark, moving to the nearest gardenia. Heat oozed from it like a secretion, and when he poked his head in, he banged it on an ancient wooden post. At his touch it transformed into a charred thing, and from above came screams and the hungry crackle of fire. Sam ran indoors as if the very Devil chased him.
Before, the village’s name seemed rural, but now he understood just how rural Tenburnstake’s history was.