WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 5, 2005

12:14 GMT-3

VICKI CHURCH

GREEN WILLOW FARM | HALIFAX

The smell of burnt wood hangs in the air. Together with the cold chill, it reminds me of bonfire night back home — Dad’s annual event every November.

I let out a long breath as I look past the crime scene tape into the orchard. It’s a sad sight, row upon row of blackened trees. Only a few days ago, they were proudly displaying their fruit; now they’re nothing more than charcoal effigies of their former selves.

“You didn’t need to come,” Steph says as she unties the crime scene tape from the fence. She leaves it dangling on the ground, like a coiled yellow snake.

I pull my coat tight and follow her through into the former apple orchard. “I needed some fresh air.”

Coughing, Steph looks to the sky, taking in a deep breath. “I wouldn’t call this air fresh.” She walks across the orchard and kneels just in front of the first burnt tree. Pulling off her glove, she wipes her finger over the soil. “Look at this,” she says, holding up her red smeared finger. “Red soil.”

I focus on the patch of ground next to her. An almost perfect oval of grass is missing, exposing the soil underneath. It’s tinged red, like clay.

“There are more patches with the same soil,” Steph says as she wipes her hand with a tissue. Wandering further down the row of burnt trees, she kicks at a clump of grass to get to the soil underneath. “This is normal… It seems to be just those oval patches that have red soil.”

I walk down the row of blackened trees to join her, unable to shake the growing feeling of unease manifesting itself as goosebumps across my skin. A sudden gust of wind whistles between the spindly black branches of the burnt tree next to me, snapping off several of them. “I’m surprised the trees are still standing,” I say.

“I’m surprised by it all,” Steph says. “Look at the grass around the trees — it’s untouched, perfect.”

She’s right. I walk as close as I dare to the tree that just lost its branches. My boot brushes against one of them and it crumbles into fine ash, disappearing into the still green grass surrounding the black tree trunk. “This is so weird,” I say as I rub my hand through the tall grass.

Steph snaps off a branch and crumbles it between her fingers. “This is way too precise for an act of vandalism.” She steps between the trees and looks both ways down the next row. “There’s only one way this could be achieved.”

“Magic,” I say. “But why would Enchanters need to destroy an apple orchard?”

“Look at this.” Steph steps back between the trees and takes out a folded newspaper page from inside her coat. “This is the most recent front page from Miss Summers’s newspaper.” She struggles to unfold it as another gust of wind rips off more brittle tree branches.

I take the page from her. My heart beats faster as I read the headline.

 

Apple Spirals Return!

Halifax Orchard Hit With Weird Apple Spiral Phenomenon Again

By Penny Summers

 

“Spirals… on apples,” I stare at the accompanying photo of the perfectly carved spiral in the red apple. “Why didn’t we know about this?”

Steph sighs. “Your father knew,” she says, taking the page back. “From Miss Summers’s paper… The Bizarre News Bulletin was the only paper that reported the incident. All other news outlets just reported an ‘environmental issue’ here.”

Another gust of icy wind signals the soft snap of more disintegrating branches. “Does this have anything to do with what’s happening in Meridia Falls — with Logan?”

“We’re not sure.” Steph shakes her head. “Your father wanted me to check on these apple spirals…” She pauses and snaps off another crumbling branch. “But someone took care of the evidence before we got here.”

“Doesn’t Logan’s friend Marilyn live on an apple farm?” I ask.

Steph nods. “Seven Trees Farm — but there has been no sign of any spiral phenomenon or vandalism there.” She shakes her head. “I doubt we’ll ever find out what really happened here…” She pauses again, kneeling to rub her hand through the grass. “I’m still not a hundred percent sure there was any magic involved.”

I step back and point at the perfect grassy fringe under her hand. “Nothing man made can be that precise. You said it your—” My eyes fall on the patch of soil I’d been standing on — a patch with the red tint. A patch with three sets of dried footprints.

“What’s wrong?” Steph asks, her eyes opening wide. “The baby? Are you okay?”

I shake my head. “I’m fine.” I point at the dried footprints. “Those are not ours.”

Steph slowly places her boots in the middle pair of indentations. She glances at me, then down at the footprints, her eyes opening ever wider. “Stand next to me,” she says, holding out her hand.

I stand to her left, carefully positioning my boots in the footprints. Steph grabs my hand and then extends her other arm as if she’s holding hands with someone on her other side.

“A Trinity formation,” I say, staring at our feet. Penny’s research into local crime involving teenagers with glowing eyes flashes in my mind. “What the hell is going on around here?”

Steph lets go of my hand. She glances up and down the row of trees, then back down at the soil. “Certain Trinity combinations can affect the surrounding area…” She pauses, lost in thought. “We need to keep this to ourselves — for now.”

“Even from Dad?”

She steps back. “Someone didn’t want us to see the apple spirals here,” she says, nervously glancing over her shoulder. She kicks over the red-tinted soil, hiding our own footprints. “I want to find out exactly who that someone is before we tell your father. We don’t want to put him in any more danger than he already is.” She glances at her watch. “And we’ve got more pressing matters to deal with this afternoon.”

“Logan,” I say.

Steph nods and lets out a long breath. “Are you sure you want to stay in Meridia Falls with me?”

“I don’t have much choice,” I say, wrapping my arms across my stomach — across my baby.

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