Under the Ashes

Shona was thin, with wiry hair and a bony frame, but she was one of the toughest women I had ever met. I remember once we were eating in a crowded cafe and a big guy in leathers jostled her elbow, spilling her coffee into her lunch. She gave him ten seconds to apologise, silently counting them to his back. Then she laid into him with a voice like a banshee, startling the whole cafe. Within a minute he was on his feet, buying her another lunch in front of everybody, while she stood and glared at him with fiery eyes.

She was so quiet most of the time. But I could see she was always thinking hard and for some reason that scared me.

It surprised me when Shona phoned to say she wasn’t coming that night. The call came around eleven; I sat staring into the dark and the prophetic rain as I listened. Her words were bitter and rehearsed.

“We’ve got nothing to feel guilty about,” she snapped. “Our intentions were pure at the start. The house corrupted us. It changed reality in some way we can’t understand. Going inside now is the worst thing we could do. You can’t repair the past in there. You can’t fight fire with fire.”

But her voice faltered at the end and I don’t think she really believed it herself. She just couldn’t face the house again.