There were thirteen of them. Placed at regular intervals among the rafters. Finding the first one had excited him. Flower-shaped, the intricately tied greyish strip of muslin resembling a rose – like something fallen from Miss Haversham’s wedding veil. It was obvious by the colour and texture of the material how old it was – as old as the schoolhouse that stood resolute against the winds that stripped bare this northern isle.
Intrigued by one, Mike found himself disturbed by thirteen. All as intricately tied, all distinctively different as though each referred to someone or something unique. He had removed only one from the thick layer of dust and ash that lined the loft, carefully bagged it, and taken it to the tiny island heritage centre.
The curator, Sam Flett, who wasn’t an incomer like himself, had welcomed Mike and asked what he could do for him. When Mike placed the muslin flower in its clear plastic bag on the desk, the result had been unexpected. The weather-beaten face had openly blanched, but worse was to come when Mike attempted to remove the flower from its bag.
“Don’t handle it,” Sam had said sharply, causing Mike to let go of the bag in surprise.
Sam, who’d appeared to be avoiding even looking at the flower, had asked, ‘Where did you find it?’
‘In the loft at the schoolhouse.’
‘Then my advice is to put it back,’ he’d said. ‘As soon as possible.’
‘But what is it?’ Mile had asked, apprehensive now.
Sam had hesitated, before saying, ‘On death, the hem of a child’s smock was torn off and fashioned into a magic flower.’
‘The flower represents the child’s soul.’
Mike had expected him to add of course, that’s just superstitious nonsense. He hadn’t.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lin Anderson has published 11 novels featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. She is also co-founder of the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, which is in Stirling from 9-11 September, www.bloodyscotland.com. None But the Dead is published by Macmillan, £12.99