By Cherie Reich
The strangled scream startled Mandara. It lifted the hairs on her arms and nape of her neck. It reminded her of a banshee, only lower, masculine.
Adrenaline pulsed through her bloodstream as she dropped the croissant she was biting into. Breakfast forgotten, she sprinted through the hallways and into the garden.
Peter sat on his knees as a gut-wrenching "No" burst from his lips.
She skidded to a stop, her dress swishing around her ankles. The words "are you hurt" died upon her lips as she caught sight of his prize-winning roses.
Dead. All dead.
Dried rose petals littered the soil and walkway like autumn leaves. Blackened stems protruded toward the sky. Winter had come early, despite the sun's gentle warmth and telltale bumblebees lumbering through the air.
Tingles of horror washed over her, and she gasped for air while staggering toward him.
"Peter, what happened?" Surely he would know what disease could kill them so thoroughly.
He looked at her, tears sparkling along his cheeks. She hadn't seen him cry before, and it wrenched her heart. She flew to him, meaning to embrace him, but she stopped as his face contorted in rage.
"I don't know." He slammed his fists upon the ground. The cloying rose scent wafted toward her. It smelled tainted, dark.
"I'm so sorry this happened. I know how much those roses meant to you." She touched his shoulder.
His body sunk lower, as if the anger seeped into the soil and left him empty. "Did you see anything last night?"
She considered her nightly wanderings and was about to tell him she hadn't when thoughts of the seed surfaced. A blush warmed her cheeks. Surely a tiny stray seed couldn't have produced such madness. She tugged on her sleeves, yanking them over the thorn scratches.
"I didn't see a thing," she said, "but I'm sure we'll fix this."
He shook his head, dejected, sad.
She had to find a way and that seed. She wanted to bring magic in his life, not this.