Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 5)

Mark was still muttering as he rounded the backcorner of the house. What was he even doinghere?

It wasn't easy to get into the garden area fromoutside. He had to bushwhack through the overgrown

rhododendron bushes and blackberry canesthat formedadense hedge all around it. And evenwhen he

emerged from a tunnel of leathery greenleaves, the scene in front of him didn't immediatelyregister. His

momentum kept him going for a fewsteps before his brain caught up.

Hey, wait. There'sa girl here.

A pretty girl. Anextremelypretty girl. He could seeher clearly by the back porch light. She had hiplength

white-blond hair, the color that normally onlypreschoolers have, and it was as fine as a child's hair,too,

whipping around her like pale silk when shemoved. She was smallish. Little bones. Her hands and feet

were delicate.

She was wearing what looked like an oldfashioned nightshirt and dancing to what sounded like a

rent-to-own commercial. There was a battereddock radio on the porch steps. There was also a black

kitten that took one look at Mark and darted away into the shadows.

"Baaad cred-it,nooo cred-it, dooon't wor-ry,weee'll take you…." the radio warbled. The girl

danced with her arms above her head-light as thistledown,Mark thought, staring in astonishment. Really,

actu ally that light, and so what if it was a cliche

As the commercial ended and a country western song began, she did a twirl and saw him. Shestopped,

frozen, arms still above her head, wristscrossed. Her eyes got big and her mouth sagged open.

She's scared, Mark thought. Of me. The girl didn't look graceful now; she was scrambling to seize the

dock radio, fumbling with it, shaking it. Trying to find an Off switch, Mark realized. Her desperation was

contagious. Before he thought, Mark dropped the pruning shears and swooped in to grab the radio from

her. He twisted the top dial, cutting the song short. Then he stared at the girl, who stared backwith wide

silvery-green eyes. They were both breath ing quickly, as if they'd just disarmed a bomb.

"Hey, I hate country western, too," Mark said aftera minute, shrugging.

He'd never talked to a girl this way before. But then he'd never had a girl look scared of him before.

And so scared-he imagined he could see her heartbeating in the pale blue veins beneath the translucent

skin of her throat.

Then, suddenly, she stopped looking terrified. Shebit her lip and chortled. Then, still grinning, she blinked

and sniffed.

"I forgot," she said, dabbing at the corner of her eye. "You don't have the same rules we do."

"Rules about country western music?" Mark hazarded. He liked her voice. It was ordinary, not

celestial. It made her seem more human.

"Rules about any music from outside," she said. "And any TV, too."

Outside what? Mark thought. He said, "Uh, hi. I'm Mark Carter."

"I'm Jade Redfern."

"You're one of Mrs. Burdock's nieces."

"Yes. We just came last night. We're going to livehere."

Mark snorted and muttered, "You have my condolences."

"Condolences? Why?" Jade cast a darting glance around the garden.

"Because living in Briar Creek is just slightly moreexciting than living in a cemetery."

She gave him a long, fascinated look. "You've… lived in a cemetery?"

He gaveher along look. "Uh, actually, I just meant it's boring here."

"Oh." She thought, then smiled. "Well, it's interesting to us," she said. "It's different from where

we come from."

"And just wheredo you come from?"

"An island. It's sort of near …" She considered. "The state of Maine.

"'The state of Maine."'


"Does this island have a name?"

She stared at him with wide green eyes. "Well, I can't tell youthat."

"Uh-okay." Was, she making fun of him? Butthere was nothing like mockery or sly teasing in her

face. She looked mysterious … and innocent. Maybe she had some kind of mental problem. The kids at

Dewitt High School would have a field day with that. They weren't very tolerant of differences.

"Look," he said abruptly. "If there's ever anything I can do for you-you know, if you ever get in

trouble or something-then just tell me. Okay?"

She tilted her head sideways. Her eyelashes actually cast shadows in the porch light, but her expression

wasn't coy. It was straightforward and assessing,and she was looking him over carefully, as if she needed

to figure him out. She took her time doingit. Then she smiled, making little dimples in her cheeks, and

Mark's heart jumped unexpectedly.

"Okay," she said softly. "Mark. You're not silly, even though you're a boy. You're a good guy,


"Well. . ."Mark had never been called upon to be a good guy, not in the TV sense. He wasn't

surehow he'd measure up if he were. "I, um, hope I


Jade was looking at him steadily. "You know, I just decided. I'm going to like it here." She smiledagain,

and Mark found it hard to breathe-and then her expression changed.

Mark heard it, too. A wild crashing in the overgrown tangle of rhododendrons and blackberrybushes at

the back of the garden. It was a weird,frenzied sound, but Jade's reaction was out of all proportion. She

had frozen, body tense andtrembling, eyes fixed on the underbrush. She looked terrified.

"Hey." Mark spoke gently, then touched hershoulder. "Hey. It's all right. It's probably one of the

goats that got loose; goats can jump over any kind of fence." She was shaking her head. "Or a deer.

When they're relaxed they sound just like people walking."

"It's not a deer," she hissed.

"They come down and eat people's gardens a. night. You probably don't have deer roaming

aroundwhere you come from-"

"I can'tsmellanything," she said in a kind of whispered wail. "It's that stupid pen. Everything smells like

goat. "

She couldn't smell … ? Mark did the only thinghe could think of in response to a statement like that. He

put his arms around the girl.

"Everything's okay," he said softly. He couldn'thelp but notice that she was cool and warm at the

same time, supple, wonderfully alive underneath the nightshirt. "Why don't I take you inside now? You'll

be safe there."

"Leggo," Jade said ungratefully, squirming. "I mayhave to fight." She wriggled out of his arms and

faced the bushes again. "Stay behind me."

Okay, so sheis crazy. I don't care. I think I love her.

He stood beside her. "Look, I'll fight, too. What doyou think it is? Bear, coyote … ?""My brother."

"Your . . ." Dismay pooled in Mark. She'd just stepped over the line of acceptable craziness.


Another thrashing sound from the bushes. It was definitely something big, not a goat. Mark was just

wondering vaguely if a Roosevelt elk could have wandered down the hundred or so miles from Waldo

Lake, when a scream ripped through the air.

A human scream-or, worse,almost human. As it died, there was a wail that was definitely inhumanit

started out faint, and then suddenly sounded shrilland dose. Mark was stunned. When the drawn-out wail

finally stopped, there was a sobbing, moaning sound, then silence.

Mark got his breath and swore. "What in thewhat wasthat?"

"Shh. Keep still." Jade was in a half-crouch, eyes on the bushes.

"Jade-Jade, listen. We've got to get inside." Desperate, he looped an arm around her waist,

trying to pick her up. She was light, but she flowed like water out of his arms. Like a cat that doesn't

want to bepetted. "Jade, whatever that thing is, we need agun.

"I don't." She seemed tobe speaking through herteeth-anyway there was something odd about

her diction. She had her back to him and he couldn't see her face, but her hands were clawed.

"Jade,"Mark said urgently. He was scared enoughto run, but he couldn't leave her. He couldn't.

No good guy would do that.

Too late. The blackberry bushes to the south quivered. Parted. Something was coming through.

Mark's heart seemed to freeze solid, but then he found himself moving. Pushing Jade roughly aside.

Standing in front of her to face whatever the thing in the dark was.

Mary-Lynnette kicked her way through the blackberry canes. Her arms and legs were scratched, and

she could feel ripe, bright-black berries squishing against her. She'd probably picked a bad place to get

through the hedge, but she hadn't been thinking about that. She'd been thinking about Mark, aboutfinding

him as fast as possible and getting away from here.

0Just please let him be here, she thought. Let him be here and be okay and I'll never ask for anything


She struggled through the last of the canes into thebackyard-and then things happened very fast. The first

thing she saw was Mark, and she felt a rush of relief. Then a flash of surprise. Mark was standing in front

of a girl, his arms lifted like a basketball guard. As if to protect her from Mary-Lynnette.

And then, so quickly that Mary-Lynnette could barely follow the motion, the girl was rushing at her.

And Mary-Lynnette was throwing her arms up and Mark was shouting, "No, that's my sister!"

The girl stopped a foot away from Mary-Lynnette.It was the little silvery-haired one, of course. This

dose Mary-Lynnette couldsee that she had green eyes and skin so translucent it almost looked like quartz


"Jade, it's my sister,".Mark said again, as if anxiousto get this established. "Her name's

Mary-Lynnette.She won't hurt you. Mare, tell her you won't hurther."

Hurt her? Mary-Lynnette didn't know what he wastalking about, and didn't want to. This girl was as

weirdly beautiful as the others, and something abouther eyes-hey weren't ordinary green, but almost

silvery-made Mary-Lynnette's skin rise ingoose pimples.

"Hello," Jade said.

"Hello. Okay, Mark, c'mon. We've got to go. Like right now."

She expected him to agree immediately. He wasthe one who hadn't wanted to come, and now herehe

was with his most dreaded phobia, a girl. But instead he said, "Did you hear that yelling? Could you tell

where it came from?"

"What yelling? I was inside. Come on." MaryLynnette took Mark's arm, but since he was as

strongas she was, it didn't do any good. "Maybe I heardsomething. I wasn't paying attention." She'd been

looking desperately around the Victorian living room,babbling out lies about how her family knew where

she'd gone tonight and expected her back soon. How her father and stepmother were such good friends

of Mrs. Burdock's and how they were just waiting at home to hear about Mrs. B.'s nieces. She still

wasn't sure if that was why they'd let her go. But for somereason, Rowan had finally stood up, given

MaryLynnette a grave, sweet smile, and opened the front door.

"You know, I bet it was a wolverine," Mark was saying to Jade excitedly. "A wolverine that

came down from Willamette Forest."

Jade was frowning. "A wolverine?" She considered. "Yeah, I guess that could have been it. I've never

heard one before." She looked at MaryLynnette. "Is that what you think it was?"

"Oh, sure," Mary-Lynnette said at random. "Definitely a wolverine." I should ask where her aunt

is, she thought suddenly. It's the perfect opportunity to catch her in a lie. I'll ask and then she'llsay

something-anything, but not that her aunt'sgone up north for a little vacation on the coast. And then I'll


She didn't do it. She simply didn't have the courage. She didn't want to catch anyone in a lie anymore;

she just wanted to get out.

"Mark, please …"

He looked at her and for the first time seemed tosee how upset she was. "Uh-okay," he said. And to

Jade: "Look, why don't you go back inside now?You'll be safe there. And maybe-maybe I could come

over again sometime?"

Mary-Lynnette was still tugging at him, and now, to her relief, he began to move. Mary-Lynnette headed

for the blackberry bushes that she'd trampled coming in.

"Why don't you go through there? It's like apath," Jadesaid,pointing. Mark immediately swerved,

taking Mary-Lynnette with him, and she saw a comfortable gap between two rhododendron bushes at

the back of the garden. She would never have seen it unless she knew what to look for.

As they reached the hedge, Mark turned to glance behind him. Mary-Lynnette turned, too.

From here, Jade was just a dark silhouette againstthe porch light-but her hair, lit from behind, looked

like a silver halo. It shimmered around her. MaryLynnette heard Mark draw in his breath.

"You both come back sometime," Jade said cordially. "Help us milk the goats like Aunt Opal

said. She gave us very strict orders before she went on vacation."

Mary-Lynnette was dumbfounded.

She turned back and reeled through the gap, her head spinning. When they got to the road she said,

"Mark, what happened when you got into the garden?"

Mark was looking preoccupied. "What do you mean what happened? Nothing happened."

"Did you look at the place that was dug up?"

"No," Mark said shortly. "Jade was in the gardenwhen I got there. I didn't get a chance to look at


"Mark … was she there the whole time? Jade?Did she ever go in the house? Or did either of the

other girls ever come out?"

Mark grunted. "I don't even know what the othergirls look like. The only one I saw was Jade, and she

was there the whole time." He looked at her darkly. "You're not still on this Rear Windowthing, are you?"

Mary-Lynnette didn't answer. She was trying to gather her scattered thoughts.

I don't believe it. Butshe said it. Orders about the goats. Before her aunt went on vacation.

But Rowan didn't know about the goats before I told her. I'd swear she didn't know. And I was so sure

she was winging it with the vacation business….

Okay, maybe I was wrong. But that doesn't mean Rowan was telling the truth. Maybe they didfigure the

story out before tonight, and Rowan's just a lousy actress. Or maybe …

0 "Mark, this is going to sound crazy … but Jade didn't have, like, a cellular phone or anything, did


Mark stopped dead and gave Mary-Lynnette a long, slow look that said more dearly than wordswhat

he thought of this. "Mary-Lynnette, what'swrongwith you?"

"Rowan and Kestrel told me that Mrs. B. is on vacation. That she suddenly decidedto take a

vacation just when they arrived in town."

"So? Jade said the same thing."

"Mark, Mrs. B. has lived there for ten years, and she's nevertaken a vacation. Never. How could

shetake one starting the same day her nieces come to live with her?"

"Maybe because they can house-sit for her," Mark said with devastating logic.

It was exactly what Rowanhad said. MaryLynnette had a sudden feeling of paranoia, like someone who

realizes that everyone around her is a pod person, all in on the conspiracy. She had been aboutto tell him

about the goats, but now she didn't want to.

Oh, geta gripon yourself, girl. Even Mark is beinglogical The least you can do isthink about this rationally

before you run to Sheriff Akers.

The fact is, Mary-Lynnette told herself, brutally honest, that you panicked. You got afeelingaboutthose

girls for some reason, and then you forgot logic completely. You didn't get any kind of hard evidence.

You ran away.

She could hardly go to the sheriff and. say that shewas suspicious because Rowan had creepy feet.

There's no evidence at all. Nothing except … She groaned inwardly.

"It all comes down to what's in the garden," shesaid out loud.

Mark, who had been walking beside her in frowning silence, now stopped. "What?"

"It all comes back to that again," Mary-Lynnettesaid, her eyes shut. "I should have just looked at

thatdug-up place when I had the chance, even if Jadesaw me. It's the only real evidence there is …so I've

got to see what's there."

Mark was shaking his head. "Now, look-"

"I haveto go back. Not tonight. I'm dead tired. But tomorrow. Mark, I haveto check it out before I go

to Sheriff Akers."

Mark exploded.

"Before youwhat?"he shouted, loud enough to raise echoes. "What are you talking about, going

to the sheriff?"

Mary-Lynnette stared. She hadn't realized how different Mark's point of view was from hers. Why, she

thought, why he's …

-240 "You wanted to check out where Mrs. B. was-so we checked where Mrs. B. was," Mark said.

"They told us where. And yousawJade. I know she's a little differentit's like you said about Mrs. B.; she's

eccentric. But did she look like the kind of personwho could hurt somebody? Well, didshe?"

Why, he's in love with her, Mary-Lynnettethought. Or at least seriously in like. Mark likes a girl.

Now she was reallyconfused.

This could be so good for him-if only the girl weren't crazy. Well, maybe even if the girl wascrazyif it

wasn't a homicidal craziness. Either way, Mary-Lynnette couldn't call the police on Mark's new girlfriend

unless she had some evidence.

I wonder if she likes him, too? she thought. They certainly seemed to be protecting each other when I

walked in.

"No, you're right," she said aloud, glad that she'd had practice lying tonight. "She doesn't look

like thekind of person who could hurt somebody. I'll just let it drop."

With you. And tomorrow night when you thinkI'm starwatching, I'll sneak over there. This time bringing

my own shovel. And maybe a big stick to fend off wolverines.

"Do you really think you heard a wolverine over there?" she asked, to change the subject.

"Um …maybe." Mark was slowly losing his scowl. "It was somethingweird. Something I've never

heard before. So you're going to forget all this crazy stuff about Mrs. B., right?"

"Yeah, I am." I'll be safe, mary-Lynnette was thinking. This time I won't panic, and I'll make sure

they don't see me. Besides, if they were going to kill me, they would have done it tonight, wouldn't they?

"Maybe it was Sasquatch we heard yelling," Marksaid.