I rolled my eyes. Chalet. As if. If this were a chalet, I wanted Swiss chocolate and a hunky ski instructor, not this lot and an empty belly.
‘There are some herbs in here,’ Lou said. ‘And instructions for how to use them.’
‘Go on then,’ Mike sneered at me. ‘You’re the expert. Open it up.’
‘I can’t.’ I slumped into a sitting position. ‘I’m too tired.’ If they had instructions and they could read, they really didn’t need me.
His mouth flapped open. Then his eyes hardened. ‘Fine. We don’t need you anyway. Come on, Harriet. Lou.’
The three of them hunkered down, picking over the herbs and discussing the spell. A few of their words drifted over. What they had to do was so basic that even if there were only one iota of magic between them, they’d manage it.
I dropped backwards with my spine on the ground. It was hard and cold and there was an icky wet patch somewhere near my right thigh but right now I didn’t care.
I let my head flop to the side. It really was very pretty around here. The grass was long and there had to be different varieties all growing naturally because the range of shades of green was extraordinary. There were long-stemmed daisies in one patch, and a lone bee buzzing around a clump of thistles. My eyes tiredly tracked its path as it abandoned the spiky plant in favour of something tastier. It flew over a muddy puddle, bypassed the rabbit droppings and the bloodstains, and headed up the slope behind the hut.
I sat bolt upright. Bloodstains?
‘It’s open!’ Mike crowed. He shot me a nasty look. ‘No thanks to you.’
I ignored him and scrambled to my feet. Maybe it wasn’t blood. Maybe it was something else. I ran over and knelt down, taking care not to touch the dark patch with any part of my body. Bringing my nose down, I sniffed then recoiled. It was definitely blood. Not just that – it smelled rotten, an almost exact match for the reek from the zombie-thing that Winter had killed only last night.
I sprang up in a panic. ‘We have to get out of here.’
The others didn’t hear me. They’d already gone into the small hut, although one of the cameramen had stayed behind to film me. I walked right up to him and spoke into the camera. ‘It’s not safe here. We have to leave now.’
He simply carried on filming. Gritting my teeth, I tried a different approach. ‘I need to see Barry now.’
There was a crunch of footsteps on bracken and I turned to see the man himself approaching. Clearly he’d been close by the entire time. ‘Good job, Ivy! I’m impressed you made it here so quickly.’ He wagged his finger at me. ‘You shouldn’t steal though. It’s very wrong.’
I ignored the twinkle in his eye that told me that I’d been right about the boat being a set up and grabbed him. ‘We’re in danger!’ I shouted. ‘There’s blood there! It’s the same as from the thing that killed Benjamin Alberts! If you don’t want any more deaths on this show, you have to get us away from here as quickly as possible!’
Barry’s eyes widened. ‘Blood? Where?’
I twisted round, pointing at the patch I’d just discovered. ‘There! And there was a sheep! Call Winter and get him here now. And get those three away before someone gets hurt!’
Barry darted over and crouched down, following my finger. He seemed to take his time. It was a wonder that the smell didn’t put him off. He really was a brave soul.
‘Ivy,’ he said slowly. ‘There’s nothing here.’
The other three, who’d heard my yelling, came back outside and stared. ‘What’s the problem?’ Lou asked.
‘You need to leave!’ I screeched at them. ‘You’re in danger!’
Lou’s hand went to her throat and she looked alarmed. Mike turned several shades paler under his orange tan, while Harriet swallowed and leapt towards the cameraman as if for safety.
‘Everyone needs to calm down,’ Barry said. ‘There’s nothing there.’ He glanced at me. ‘You’re seeing things, Ivy.’
‘I am not!’ I marched over to where he was and looked down. I blinked. He was right. What I’d seen as blood was nothing more than the shadow cast by a nearby bush.
‘What?’ I shook my head. ‘But the smell…’ I sniffed. There was nothing other than the rich scent of earthy goodness.
‘You’re tired. You’ve done a lot of magic today and you’re probably just hallucinating.’ Barry’s expression was kind. ‘We’ll get one of the medics to check you over.’
‘There was a sheep as well,’ I protested. ‘Lou saw it. She knows.’
The older woman shrugged. ‘It was just a sheep.’
Barry put his arm round me. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll get you looked over and get you some rest and then you’ll be right as rain.’
I stared dumbly at him. ‘I was so sure….’
‘You’re letting your imagination run away with you. The person who hurt Benny is dead, Ivy. There’s nothing to worry about.’
It was the dead part that frightened me. I ran my hands through my hair. ‘Maybe I should lie down,’ I said shakily.
‘That sounds like a good idea.’ He patted my cheek soothingly.
An engine rumbled towards us from the nearby dirt road. One of the show’s doctors jumped out, followed closely by Belinda and Bellows. When I spotted Winter in the back, his blue eyes fixed on mine, a wash of relief came over me. At least someone was here who knew what they were doing.
The cameraman kept filming while the doctor pulled me over to one side. He checked my blood pressure and looked into my eyes. Belinda watched with a concerned expression. ‘Can you tell us what the problem is?’ she finally asked, when it appeared that he had finished his ministrations.
‘She’s exhausted,’ the doctor pronounced. He raised his eyebrows in what I could only presume was admonishment. ‘Lay off the unnecessary magic spells and you’ll be fine.’
I mumbled an agreement. It didn’t make sense. I’d tired myself out on more than one occasion by going overboard with spells but I’d never hallucinated before. And the spells I’d conducted today hadn’t been all that elaborate, even if there had been more of them than I was used to doing. I’d been up half the night being attacked by a zombie up a mountain, though, so there was that.
‘Can she continue on as a contestant?’ Bellows enquired.
‘I don’t see why not,’ the doctor replied.
I could swear Bellows looked disappointed. I glanced over at him. ‘No cat?’
He pursed his lips. ‘It’s run off somewhere. It’ll be back. It knows it’s onto a good thing with me.’
I only just managed to stop myself snorting. Catching Winter’s eye as he finally got out of the car, I muttered something about a call of nature and struggled up to find a handy bush to hide behind. Fortunately Winter got the message and followed, albeit at a discreet distance. Going to the loo seemed to be about the only chance I’d have to avoid being filmed.
I walked as far I dared, realising my legs were remarkably shaky. The others’ voices drifted into the background. They’d be preoccupied for a while discussing my condition, so I reckoned we had a bit of time.
I halted and turned, waiting for Winter to catch up to me. It didn’t take long. He might not have been running but he was still striding towards me with the speed of an Olympic walker.
‘Are you alright?’ he asked, as soon as he reached me. He took hold of me as if I were about to collapse, grasping me by the shoulders and gazing into my eyes.
I passed a hand over my face. ‘I think so.’ I shook myself. ‘I don’t know. I was so sure that what I saw was blood.’ I bit my lip. ‘Do you think I was hallucinating as well? Am I just tired?’
‘Has it happened before?’
‘No.’ I paused. ‘Well, I might not know if it has happened before. I don’t think so. Is your magic telling you anything?’
His expression was alight with concern. ‘Something’s not right. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but there’s definitely something different.’ Something akin to anger flashed in his eyes. ‘There’s more to this than exhaustion.’