Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 7)

Finding Todd and Vic turned out not to be easy.

It was late afternoon by the time Mary-Lynnettewalked into the Briar Creek general store, which sold

everything from nails to nylons to canned peas.

"Hi, Bunny. I don't suppose you've seen Todd orVic around?"

Bunny Marten looked up from behind the counter. She was pretty, with soft blond hair, a round,

dimpled face, and a timid expression. She was in MaryLynnette's class at school. "Did you check over at

theGold Creek Bar?"

Mary-Lynnette nodded. "And at their houses, andat the other store, and at the sheriff's office." The

sheriff's office was also city hall and the public library.

"Well, if they'renot playing pool, they're usuallyplinking." Plinkingwas shooting atcans for practice.

"Yeah, but where?" Mary-Lynnette said.

Bunny shook her head, earrings glinting. "Yourguess is as good as mine." She hesitated, staring down at

her cuticles, which she was pushing back with a little blunt-pointed wooden stick. "But, you know, I've

heard they go down to Mad Dog Creeksometimes." Her wide blue eyes lifted to Mary Lynnette's


Mad Dog Creek. . . Oh, great. Mary-Lynnette grimaced.

"I know." Bunny raised her shoulders in a shiver."I wouldn't go down there. I'd be thinking about

that body the whole time."

"Yeah, me, too. Well, thanks, Bun. See you."

Bunny examined her cuticles critically. "Good hunting," she said absently.

Mary-Lynnette went out of the store, squinting in the hot, hazy August sunlight. Main Street wasn'tbig. It

had a handful of brick and stone buildingsfrom the days when Briar Creek had been a gold rush supply

town, and a few modem frame buildings with peeling paint. Todd and Vic weren't in any of them.

Well, what now? Mary-Lynnette sighed. There was no road to Mad Dog Creek, only a trail that was

constantly blocked by new growth and deadfall. And everyone knew more than plinking went on there.

If they're out there, they're probably hunting, she thought. Not to mention drinking, maybe using drugs.

Guns and beer. And then there's that body.

The body had been found last year around thistime. A man; a hiker, from his backpack. Nobody

knew who he was or how he'd died-the corpse wastoo desiccated and chewed by animals to tell. But

people talked about ghosts floating around the creek last winter.

Mary-Lynnette sighed again and got into her station wagon.

The car was ancient, it was rusty, it made alarming sounds when forced to accelerate, but it was hers,

andMary-Lynnette did her best to keep it alive. She loved it because there was plenty of room in back to

store her telescope.

At Briar Creek's only gas station she fished a scrolled fruit knife from under the seat and went to work,

prying at the rusty gas cap cover.

A little higher up . . . almost, almost . . . now

twist …

The cover flew open.

"Ever think of going into the safecracking business?" a voice behind her said. "You've got the


Mary-Lynnette turned. "Hi, Jeremy."

He smiled-a smile that showed mostly in his eyes,which were dear brown with outrageously darklashes.

If I were going to fall for a guy-and I'm not-itwould be for somebody like him.Not for a big blond cat

who thinks he can pick his sisters' friends.

It was a moot point, anyway-Jeremy didn't goout with girls. He was a loner.

"Want me to look under the hood?" He wiped his hands on a rag.

"No, thanks. I just checked everything last week." Mary-Lynnette started to pump gas.

He picked up a squeegee and a spray bottle and began to wash the windshield. His movements were

deft and gentle and his face was utterly solemn.

Mary-Lynnette had to swallow a giggle herself, butshe appreciated him not laughing at the pitted glass

and corroded windshield wipers. She'd always had an odd feeling of kinship with Jeremy. He was the

only person in Briar Creek who seemed even slightlyinterested in astronomy-he'd helped her build a

model of the solar system in eighth grade, and ofcourse he'd watched last year's lunar eclipse with her.

His parents had died in Medford when he was justa baby, and his uncle brought him to Briar Creek in a

Fleetwood trailer. The uncle was strange-alwayswandering off to dowse for gold in the Klamath wil

derness. One day he didn't come back.

After that, Jeremy lived alone in the . trailer in the woods. He did odd jobs and worked at the gas station

to make money. And if his clothes weren't as nice assome of the other kids', he didn't care-or he didn't

let it show.

The handle of the gas hose clicked in MaryLynnette's hand. She realized she had been daydreaming.

"Anything else?" Jeremy said. The windshieldwas dean.

"No … well, actually, yes. You haven't, um, seenTodd Akers or Vic Kimble today, have you?"

Jeremy paused in the middle of taking her twentydollar bill.


"I just wanted to talk to them," Mary-Lynnettesaid. She could feel heat in her cheeks. Oh, God,

hethinks I want to see Todd and Vic socially-and he thinks I'm crazy for askinghim.

She hurried to explain. "It's just that Bunny saidthey might be down by Mad Dog Creek, so I thoughtyou

might have seen them, maybe sometime this morning, since you live down around there…."

Jeremy shook his head. "I left at noon, but I didn'thear any gunshots from the creek this morning. Ac

tually, I don't think they've been there all summerI keep telling them to stay away."

He said it quietly, without emphasis, but Mary-Lynnette had the sudden feeling that maybe evenTodd

and Vic might listen to him. She'd never knownJeremy to get in a fight. But sometimes a look came into

his level brown eyes that was ..: almost frightening. As if there was something underneath thatquiet-guy

exterior-something primitive and pure and deadly that could do a lot of damage if roused.

"Mary-Lynnette-I know you probably think thisis none of my business, but … well, I think you

should stay away from those guys. If you really wantto go find them, let me go with you."

Oh. Mary-Lynnette felt a warm flush of gratitude. She wouldn't take him up on the offer … but it was

nice of him to make it.

"Thanks," she said. "I'll be fine, but … thanks ."

She watched as he went to get her change insidethe station. What must it feel like to be on your own

since you were twelve years old? Maybe he neededhelp. Maybe she should ask her dad to offer him

some odd jobs around the house. He did them for everyone else. She just had to be careful-she knew

Jeremy hated anything that smacked of charity.

He brought back the change. "Here you go. And, Mary-Lynnette …"

She looked up.

"If you do find Todd and Vic, be careful."

"I know."

"I mean it."

"I know," Mary-Lynnette said. She had reached for the change, but he hadn't let go of it. Instead

hedid something odd: He opened her curled fingers with one hand while giving her the bills and coins with

the other. Then he curled her fingers back over it. In effect, he was holding her hand.

The moment of physical contact surprised herand touched her. She found herself looking at his thin

brown fingers, at their strong but delicate grip on her hand, at the gold seal ring with the black design that

he wore.

She was even more surprised when she glanced up at his face again. There was open concern in his

eyes-and something like respect. For an instant she had a wild and completely inexplicable impulse to tell

him everything. But she could just imagine what he would think. Jeremy was very practical.

"Thanks, Jeremy," she said, conjuring up a weak smile. "Take care."

"Youtake care. There are people who'd miss you if anything happened." He smiled, but she could

feel his worried gaze on her even as she drove away.

All right,now what?

Well, she'd wasted most of the day looking for

Todd and Vic. And now, with the image of Jeremy's level brown eyes in her mind, she wondered if it

had been a stupid idea from the beginning.

Brown eyes … and what color eyes did the bigblond cat have? Strange, it was hard to remember.She

thought that they had looked brown at one point when he was talking about his old-fashioned family. But

when he'd said he liked a girl with spirit, she remembered them being a sort of insipid blue. And when

that odd knife-glint had flashed in them, hadn't they been icy gray?

Oh,who cares?Maybe they were orange. Let's just go home now. Get ready for tonight.

How come Nancy Drew always found the people she wanted to interrogate?

Why? Why? Why me?

Ash was staring at a yellow cedar weeping into a creek. A squirrel too stupid to get out of the sun was

staring back at him. On a rock beside him a lizard lifted first one foot, then another.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.

He didn't even believe it.

He'd always been lucky. Or at least he'd alwaysmanaged to escape a hairsbreadth away from disaster.

But this time the disaster had hit and it was a total annihilation.

Everything he was, everything he believed abouthimself … could he lose that in five minutes? For a girl

who was probably deranged and certainly more dangerous than all three of his sisters put together?

No, he concluded grimly. Absolutely not. Not in five minutes. It only took five seconds.

He knew so many girls-nice girls. Witches withmysterious smiles, vampires with delicious curves,

shapeshifters with cute furry tails. Even human girls with fancy sports cars who never seemed to mind

when he nibbled their necks. Why couldn't it have been one of them?

Well, it wasn't. And there was no point in wondering about the injustice of it. The question was, what

was he going todo about it? Just sit back and let fate ride over him like an eighteen-wheeler?

I'm sorryfor your family, Quinn had said to him.

And maybe that was the problem. Ash was a victim of his Redfern genes. Redfern never could stay out

of trouble; they seemed to tangle with humans at every turn.

So was he going to wait for Quinn to come backand then offer that as an excuse? I'm sorry; I can't

handle things here after all; I can't even finishthe investigation.

If he did that, Quinn would call in the Elders and they would investigate for themselves.

Ash felt his expression harden. He narrowed his eyes at the squirrel, which suddenly darted for thetree in

a flash of red fur. Beside him, the lizard stopped moving.

No, he wasn't just going to wait for fate to finish him off. He'd do what he could to salvage the situa

tion-and the family honor.

He'd do it tonight.

"We'll do it tonight," Rowan said. "After it's fully dark, before the moon rises. We'll move her to the


Kestrel smiled magnanimously. She'd wonthe argument.

"We'll have to be careful," Jade said. "That thingI heard outside last night-it wasn't an animal. I

think it was one of us."

"There aren't any other Night People aroundhere," Rowan said gently. "That was the whole pointof

coming here in the first place."

"Maybe it was a vampire hunter," Kestrel said."Maybe the one that killed Aunt Opal."

"If avampire hunter killed Aunt Opal," Rowansaid. "We don't know that. Tomorrow we should

look around town, see if we can at least get an ideawho mighthave done it."

"And when we find them, we'll take care ofthem," Jade said fiercely.

"And if the thing you heard in the garden turnsup, we'll take care of it, too," Kestrel said. She

smiled, a hungry smile.

Twilight, and Mary-Lynnette was watching thedock. The rest of her family was comfortably, settledin for

the night; her father reading a book about World War II, Claudine working conscientiously on a

needlepoint project, Mark trying to tune up his oldguitar that had been sitting in the basement for years.

He was undoubtedly trying to think of words to rhyme with Jade.

Mary-Lynnette's father looked up from his book. "Going starwatching?"

"Yup. It should be a good night-no moon till aftermidnight. It's the last chance to see some


She wasn't exactly lying. It would be a good night, and she could keep an eye out for stragglers from the

Perseid meteor storm as she walked to Burdock Farm.

"Okay; just be careful," her father said.

Mary-Lynnette was surprised. He hadn't said anything like that for years. She glanced at Claudine, who

jabbed with her needle, lips pursed.

"Maybe Mark should go with you," Claudine said, without looking up.

Oh, God, she thinks I'm unstable, Mary-Lynnette thought. I don't really blame her.

"No, no. I'll be fine. I'll be careful." She said it too quickly.

Mark's eyes narrowed. "Don't you need any help with your stuff?"

"No, I'll take the car. I'll be. fine. Really."Mary Lynnette fled to the garage before her family

could come up with anything else.

She didn't pack her telescope. Instead, she put a shovel in the backseat. She looped the strap of her

camera around her neck and stuck a pen flashlight in her pocket.

She parked at the foot of her hill. Before she gotthe shovel out, she paused a moment to look dutifully

northeast, toward the constellation Perseus.

No meteors right this second. All right. Keys inhand, she turned to open the back of the station

wagon-and jumped violently.

"Oh, God!"

She'd nearly walked into Ash.

Mary-Lynnette's pulse was racing and her knees felt weak. From fear, she told herself. And that's all.

"You nearly gave me a heart attack!" she said. "Doyou always creep up behind people like that?"

She expected some smart-ass answer of either the joking-menacing or the hey-baby variety. But Ashjust

frowned at her moodily. "No. What are you doing out here?"

Mary-Lynnette's heart skipped several beats. But she heard her own voice answering flatly, "I'm

starwatching. I do it every night. You might want to make a note of that for the thought police."

He looked at her, then at the station wagon. "Starwatching?"

"Of course. From that hill." She gestured.

Now he was looking at the camera looped around

her neck. "No telescope," he commented skeptically.

"Or is that what's in the car?"

Mary-Lynnette realized she was still holding the keys, ready to open the back of the wagon. "I didn't

bring a telescope tonight." She went around to the passenger side of the car, unlocked the door, reached

in to pull out her binoculars. "You don't need a telescope to starwatch. You can see plenty with these."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes,really."Now, that was a mistake, Mary -Lynnette thought, suddenly grimly amused. Acting

as if you don't believe me … just you wait.

"You want to see light from four million yearsago?" she said. Then, without waiting for him to

answer: "Okay. Face east." She rotated a finger at him. "Here, take the binoculars. Look at that line of fir

trees on the horizon. Now pan up …"She gavehim directions, rapping them out like a drill sergeant. "Now

do you see a bright disk with a kind of smudgeall around it?"

"Um. Yeah."

"That's Andromeda. Another galaxy.But if you tried to look at it through a telescope, you

couldn't seeit all at once. Looking through a telescope is like looking at the sky through a soda straw.

That's all the field of view you get."

……………."All right. Okay. Point taken." He started to lower the binoculars. "Look, could we suspend

the starwatching for just a minute? I wanted to talk toyou

"Want tosee the center of ourgalaxy?" Mary -Lynnette interrupted. "Turn south."

She did everything but physically make him turn.She didn't dare touch him. There was so much

adrenaline racing through her system already-if shemade contact she might go supercritical and explode.

"Turn," she said. He shut his eyes briefly, then turned, bringing the binoculars up again.

"You have to look in the constellation Sagittarius." She rattled off instructions. "See that? That's

where the center of the Milky Way is. Where all the star clouds are."

"How nice."

"Yes, it is nice. Okay, now go up and eastyou should be able to find a little dim sort of glow…."

"The pink one?"

She gavehim a quick look. "Yeah, the pink one.Most people don't see that. That's the Trifid Nebula."

"What are those dark lines in it?" Mary-Lynnette stopped dead.

She forgot her drill sergeant manner. She stepped back. She stared at him. She could feel her breath

coming quicker.

He lowered the binoculars and looked at her. "Something wrong?"

"They're dark nebulae. Lanes of dust in front of the hot gas. But … you can't see them." "I just


"No. No. You can't see those. It's not possible, notwith binoculars. Even if you had nine

millimeter pupils …" She pulled the flashlight out of her pocket and trained it full in his face.

"Hey!" He jerked back, eyes squeezing shut, hand over them. "That hurt!"

But Mary-Lynnette had already seen. She couldn't tell what color his eyes were right now, because the

colored parts, the irises, were reduced to almost invis ible rings. His eye was all pupil.Like a cat's at maxi

mum dilation.

Oh, my God …the things he must be able tosee. Eighth-magnitude stars, maybe ninth-magnitude stars.

Imagine that, seeing a Mag 9 star with yournaked eye. To see colors in the star clouds-hot hy drogen

glowing pink, oxygen shining green-blue. To see thousands more stars cluttering the sky .. .

"Quick," she said urgently. "How many stars doyouseein the sky right now?"

"I can't seeanything,"he said in a muffled voice, hand still over his eyes. "I'mblind."

"No, I meanseriously,"Mary-Lynnette said. And she caught his arm.

It was a stupid thing to do. She wasn't thinking. But when she touched his skin, it was like completing a

current. Shock swept over her. Ash dropped hishand and looked at her.

For just a second they were face-to-face, gazes locked. Something like lightning trembled betweenthem.

Then Mary-Lynnette pulled away.

I can'ttakeany more of this. Oh, God, why am Ieven standing here talking to him? I've got enough ahead

of me tonight. I've got abody to find.

"That's it for the astronomy lesson," she said, holding out a hand for the binoculars. Her voice

was justslightly unsteady. "I'm going up the hill now."

-240She didn't ask wherehe was going. She didn't care, as long as it was away.

He hesitated an instant before giving her the binoculars, and when he did he made sure not to touchher.

Fine, Mary-Lynnette thought. We both feel the same.


"Bye," he said limply. He started to walk away. Stopped, his head lowered. "What I wanted to

say …"


Without turning, he said in a flat and perfectly composed voice, "Stay away from my sisters, okay?"

Mary-Lynnette was thunderstruck. So outragedand full of disbelief that she couldn't find words. Then

she thought: Wait, maybe he knows they're killers and he's trying to protect me. Like Jeremy.

Around the sudden constriction in her throat she managed to say, "Why?"

He shook his drooping head. "I just don't thinkyou'd be a very good influence on them. They'rekind of

impressionable, and I don't want them getting any ideas."

Mary-Lynnette deflated. I should have known, shethought. She said, sweetly and evenly, "Ash? Get

bent and die."