The bonfire is burning brightly now, its heart molten gold. ‘I’m a fire starter,’ says Cathbad.
‘Everything’s so dry,’ says Emad, ‘that’s why. It hasn’t rained all week.’
‘Boring.’ Emily throws leaves at him.
‘We should give thanks to the gods,’ says Leo. ‘We should pray to Grim, the hooded one.’
‘Leo,’ says Amber, who is sitting huddled in her blanket, ‘it’s nearly Easter. It’s Palm Sunday, for goodness’ sake. Have some respect.’
‘Easter was a pagan festival first,’ says Leo. ‘People have celebrated equinoxes and solstices since prehistoric times.’ But he smiles at Amber and, when the wine is handed round in plastic cups, his hand touches hers.
‘Grim’s Gaben.’ Leo gives the toast.
‘Grim’s Gaben,’ chorus the students. Only Mark mutters, ‘Grime’s Graves,’ rather defiantly. Cathbad is busy with the fire, using a long stick as a poker, allowing oxygen to feed the flames.
The barbecue is slower to ignite. It’s late by the time the vegetarian burgers are cooked. Crisps are circulated. Mark’s dog, Odin, comes to sit in the circle, tongue hanging out.
‘Don’t feed him,’ says Mark. ‘He’s on a diet.’
‘We shouldn’t be eating crisps,’ says Thomas. ‘It should be venison or haunches of lamb.’
‘I thought you were a vegetarian,’ says Amber. ‘I’m talking about the aesthetics of the thing.’
But when Cathbad takes the baked potatoes from the embers, they are found to be raw on the inside and gen- erally inferior to the offerings from the Great God Walker. Leo opens another bottle of wine. Darkness falls over the strange pockmarked fields. The nearby pine forest mur- murs. The campers move closer together. Thomas gets out his guitar and sings Beatles songs. All you need is love. Odin crawls towards Emily and starts eating her discarded burger bun.
Cathbad was right, thinks Emily, there is magic in a communal fire. Sitting with her friends in this sacred land- scape, drinking warm wine and listening to Thomas trying to remember the words of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, she thinks she has never been happier in her life.
Then a hooded figure emerges from the trees.
THE LAST REMAINS by Elly Griffiths. Copyright © 2023 by Elly Griffiths. Reprinted by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.