It is stealing her screams.
She can feel her diaphragm muscles pulsating thrusting her horror up and out of her, retching like a ravenous chick.
But Mads is silent.
The sound of her own screams come from the creature in front of her, escaping between its knotted and dripping black teeth.
A ball of fury, spinning fast then stopping to whirl back in the opposite direction, globs of mucus flying free along with dead bugs and leaves dislodged from its matted hair.
As each of her own curdling cries trumpet several feet away, Maddie feels needles piercing every surface of her body; into her eyes and ears. Her insides are ablaze in fire, her bones cracking and her bowels emptying there on the spot.
But she cannot move. She cannot cover her ears, or turn and run away. The creature has also stolen her motion.
Minutes ago life had been normal. Minutes ago she’d lived in a regular world of coffee shop lattes, yoga and social media updates. There were no monsters there. No supernatural terrors chomping on her nerves and sanity.
How had it come to this?
She’d been carrying stuff from the attic down to the bonfire, and had started watering the plants.
Mike had gone off to the council tip with a cheery smile and wave, their little hatchback straining at its metal seams stuffed with boxes of clutter that couldn’t be burnt.
They knew when they bought the house they’d have to shift all the junk. The lady had lived there her entire life, the estate agent said. But despite all the junk it had worked its magic on them. They loved its bright rambling rooms and dark wooden floors. They loved its unruly greenery filling the conservator and its crazy-looking plants they couldn’t name and hadn’t yet found online.
That was part of its charm.
A gagging smell of rotten milk outside had called her out to check on the bonfire.
And here she is.
This is how I die, she thinks.
One last scream she passes out.
Mike is lifting her, his arms are soft and warm like his tears falling on her face.
She feels safe as he carries her cocooned up the garden path, his steps gently rocking her with the comfort of a baby’s cot.
Her pain and screams are gone.
“It vanished,” he said.
“I put the fire out.”
Later he would explain how he’d forgotten his driving licence to show as ID at the tip, so had rushed back to get it.
Later they would question what they’d seen, and put it all down to some sort of shared hallucination never to be mentioned again.
But for now passing through the conservatory neither noticed the spiky leaf lying at the base of the potted Dragon’s Tooth.
She hadn’t noticed the leaf hanging by a hair, or knocking it free when she’d grazed past earlier with the watering can.
Neither knew things happened when its leaves fell, or that the bonfire had nothing to do with it.
And neither noticed the plant smiling, waiting for the time to come.