Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 8)

She waited another hour after he set off down theroad, heading east-doing what, she had no idea. There

was nothing that way except two creeks andlots of trees. And her house. She hoped he was goingto try

to walk into town, and that he didn't realize how far it was.

All right, he's gone, now forget about him. You'vegot a job to do, remember? A slightly dangerous one.

And he's not involved. I don't believe he knows anything about what happened to Mrs. B.

She got the shovel and started down the road west.As she walked she found that she was able to put

Ash out of her mind completely. Because all she could think of was what was waiting ahead.

I'm not scared to do it; I'm not scared, I'm notscared…. OfcourseI'm scared.

But being scared was good, it would make her careful. She would do this job quickly and quietly. In

through the gap in the hedge, a little fast work with the shovel, out again before anybody saw her.

She tried not to picture what she was going to findwith that shovel if she was right.

She approachedBurdock Farm cautiously, going north and then doubling back southeast to come in

through the back property. The farmland had gone wild here, taken over by poison oak, beargrass, and

dodder, besides the inevitable blackberry bushes and gorse. Tan oaks and chinquapins were moving in.

Sometime soon these pastures would be forest.

I'm not sure I believe I'm doing this, MaryLynnette thought as she reached the hedge that surrounded the

garden. But the strange thing was that she didbelieve it. She was going to vandalize a neighbor's property

and probably look at a dead bodyand she was surprisingly cool about it. Scared but not panicked.

Maybe there was more hidden inside her than she realized.

I may not be who I've always thought I am.

The garden was dark and fragrant. It wasn't theirises and daffodils Mrs. B. had planted; it wasn't the

fireweed and bleeding heart that were growing wild. It was the goats.

Mary-Lynnette stuck to the perimeter of the hedge,eyes on the tall, upright silhouette of the farmhouse.

There were only two windows lit.

Please don't let them see me and please don't letme make a noise.

Still looking at the house, she walked slowly, taking careful baby steps to the place where the earth was

disturbed. The first couple of swipes with the shovel hardly moved the soil.

Okay. Put a little conviction in it. And don't watch the house; there's no point. If they look out, they're

going to see you, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Just as she put her foot on the shovel, somethingwent hooshin the rhododendrons behind her.

Crouched over her shovel,Mary-Lynnette froze.

Stop worrying, she told herself. That's not the sisters. It's not Ash coming back. That's an animal.

She listened. A mournful maaaa came from the goat shed.

It wasn't anything. It was a rabbit. Dig!

She got out a spadeful of dirt-and then she heardit again.


A snuffling sound. Then a rustling. Definitely an animal. But if it was a rabbit, it was an awfully loud one.

Who cares what it is? Mary-Lynnette told herself.There aren't any dangerous animalsout here. And I'm

not afraid of the dark. It's my natural habitat. I love the night.

But tonight, somehow, she felt differently. Maybe it was just the scene with Ash that had shaken her,

made her feel confused and discontented. But just now she felt almost as if something was trying to tell

her that the dark wasn't any human's natural habitat. That she wasn't built for it, with her weak eyes and

her insensitive ears and dull nose. That she didn't belong.


I may have rotten hearing, but I can hearthatjustfine. And it's big. Something big's sniffing around in


What kind of big animal could be out here? Itwasn't a deer deer went snort-wheeze. It sounded larger

than a coyote, taller. A bear?

Then she heard a different sound the vigorousshaking of dry, leathery rhododendron leaves. In the dim

light from the house she couldseethe branches churning as something tried to emerge.

it's coming out.

Mary-Lynnette clutched her shovel and ran. Nottoward the gap in the hedge, not toward the housethey

were both too dangerous. She ran to the goat shed.

I can defend myself in here-keep it out—hit itwith the shovel….

The problem was that she couldn't see from in here.There were two windows in the shed, but between

dirt on the glass and the darkness outside, Mary-Lynnette couldn't make out anything. She couldn'teven

see the goats, although she could hear them.

Don't turn on the penlight. It'll just give awayyour position.

Holding absolutely still, she strained tohear any thing from outside.


Her nostrils were full of goat. The layers of oat straw and decomposing droppings on the floor were

smelly, and they kept the shed too warm. Her palms were sweating as she gripped the shovel.

I've never hit anybody … not since Mark and Iwere kids fighting … but, heck, I kicked a strangerthis

morning… .

She hoped the potential for violence would comeout now when she needed it.

A goat nudged her shoulder.Mary-Lynnette shrugged it away. The other goat bleated suddenlyand she

bit her lip.

Oh, God-I heard something out there. The goatheard it, too.

She could taste her bitten lip. It was like sucking on a penny. Blood tasted like copper, which, she

realizedsuddenly, tasted like fear.

Something opened the shed door.

What happened then was that Mary-Lynnette

Something unholy was after her. Something thatsniffed like an animal but could open doors like ahuman.

She couldn't see what it was-just a shadowdarkness against darkness. She didn't think ofturning on the

penlight-her only impulse was to smash out with the shovel now, to get ft before ft could get her. She was

tingling with the instinct forpure, primordial violence.

Instead, she managed to hiss, "Who is ft? Who'sthere?"

A familiar voice said,"Iknew you were going to do this. I've been lookingeverywherefor you."

"Oh,God, Mark." Mary-Lynnette sagged against wall of the shed, letting go of the shovel.

The goats were both bleating. Mary-Lynnette's earswere ringing. Mark shuffled farther in.

"Jeez, this place smells. What are you doing inhere?"

"Youjerk,"Mary-Lynnette said. "I almost brained you!"

0"You said you were forgetting all this crazy stuff. You lied to me."

"Mark, you don't …We can talk later…. Did you hearanything out there?" She was trying to

gather her thoughts.

"Like what?" He was so calm. It made MaryLynnette feel vaguely foolish. Then his voice

sharpened. "Like a yowling?"

"No. Like a snuffling." Mary-Lynnette's breath was slowing.

"I didn't hear anything. We'd better get out ofhere. What are we supposed to say if Jade comes


Mary-Lynnette didn't know how to answer that. Mark was in a different world, a happy, shiny world

where the worst that could happen tonight was embarrassment.

Finally she said "Mark, listen to me. I'm your sister. I don't have any reason to lie to you, or playtricks

on you, or put down somebody you like. AndI don't just jump to conclusions; I don't imagine things. But

I'm telling you, absolutely seriously,that there is something weird going on with these girls."

Mark opened his mouth, but she went on relentlessly. "So now there are only two things you can

believe, and one is that I'm completely out of mymind, and the other is that it's true. Do you really think

I'm crazy?"

She was thinking of the past as she said it, of allthe nights they'd held on to each other when their mother

wassick, of the books she'd read out loud tohim, of the times she'd put Band-Aids on his scrapes and

extra cookies in his lunch. And somehow, even though it was dark, she could sense that Mark was

remembering, too. They'd shared so much. They would always be connected.

Finally Mark said quietly, "You're not crazy."

"Thank you."

"But I don't know what to think. Jade wouldn't hurtanybody. I justknow that. And since I met her

, ."Hepaused. "Mare, it's like now I know why I'm alive.She's different from any girl I've ever known.

She's ____ she's so brave, and so funny, and so … herself."

And I thought it was the blond hair, MaryLynnette thought. Shows how shallow I am.

She was moved and surprised by the change in Mark-but mostly she was frightened. Frightenedsick.

Her cranky, cynical brother had found somebody to care about at last … and the girl was probably

descended from Lucrezia Borgia.

And now, even though she couldn't see him, shecould hear earnest appeal in his voice. "Mare, can't we

just go home?"

Mary-Lynnette felt sicker.

She broke off and they both snapped their heads to look at the shed window. Outside a light had gone


"Shut the door," Mary-Lynnette hissed, in a tone that made Mark dose the door to the shed


"And be quiet,- she added, grabbing his arm and pulling him next to the wall. She looked

cautiously out the window.

Rowan came out of the back door first, followedbyjade,followed by Kestrel. Kestrel had a shovel.

Oh. My. God.

"What's happening?" Mark said, trying to get alook. Mary-Lynnette damped a hand over his

mouth.What was happening was that the girls were digging up the garden again.

She didn't see anything wrapped in garbage bags this time. So what were they doing? Destroying the

evidence? Were they going to take it into the houseand burn it, chop it up?

Her heart was pounding madly.

Mark had scooted up and was looking out. MaryLynnette heard him take a breath-and then choke.

Maybe he was trying to think of an innocent explanation for this. She squeezed his shoulder.

They both watched as the girls took turns with theshovel. Mary-Lynnette was impressed all over againat

how strong they were. Jade looked so fragile.

Every time one of the sisters glanced around the garden, Mary-Lynnette's heart skipped a beat. Don't

see us, don't hear us, don't catch us, she thought.

When a respectable mound of dirt had piled up, Rowan and Kestrel reached into the hole. They lifted

out the long garbage-bagged bundle Mary-Lynnettehad seen before. It seemed to be stiff-and surpris

ingly light.

For the first time, Mary-Lynnette wondered if it was too light to be a body. Or too stiff … how longdid

rigor mortis last?

Mark's breathing was irregular, almost wheezing.The girls were carrying the bundle to the gap inthe


Mark cursed.

Mary-Lynnette's brain was racing. She hissed,"Mark, stay here. I'm going to follow them-"

"I'm going with you!"

"You have to tell Dad if anything happens to


"I'm going withyou."

There wasn't time to argue. And something inside Mary-Lynnette was glad to have Mark's strength to

back her.

She gasped, "Come on, then. And don't make asound."

She was worried they might have already lost the sisters–it was such a dark night. But when she and

Mark squeezed through the gap in the rhododendron bushes, she saw a light ahead. A tiny, bobbing

white light. The sisters were using a flashlight.

Keep quiet, move carefully. Mary-Lynnette didn'tdare say it out loud to Mark, but she kept thinking it

over and over, like a mantra. Her whole consciousness was fixed on the little shaft of light that was

leading them, like a comet's tail in the darkness.

The light took them south, into a stand of Douglasfir. It wasn't long before they were walking into forest.

Where are they going? Mary-Lynnette thought. She could feel fine tremors in her muscles as she tried to

move as quickly as possible without making a sound. They were lucky–the floor of this forest was

carpeted with needles from Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine. The needles were fragrant and slightly damp

and they muffled footsteps. Mary-Lynnette could hardly hear Mark walking behind her except when he

hurt himself.

They went on for what seemed like forever. It was pitch dark and Mary-Lynnette very quickly lost any

sense of where they were. Or how they were going to get back.

Oh, God, I was crazy to do this-and to bring Markalong, too. We're out in the middle of the woodswith

three crazy girls….

The light had stopped.

Mary-Lynnette stopped, holding out an arm thatMark immediately ran into. She was staring at thelight,

trying to make sure it really wasn't moving away.

No. It was steady. It was pointed at the ground.

"Let's get loser," Mark whispered, putting his lips against Mary-Lynnette's ear. She nodded and

began to creep toward the light, as slowly and silently asshe knew how. Every few steps she paused and

stood absolutely still, waiting to see if the light was going to turn her way.

It didn't. She got down and crawled the last ten feet to the edge of the clearing where the girls had

stopped. Once there, she had a good view of what they were doing.

Digging. Kestrel had shoveled the pine needles aside and was working on a hole.

Mary-Lynnette felt Mark crawl up beside her,crushing sword fern and woodfem. She could feel his

chest heaving. She knew he saw what she saw.

I'm so sorry. Oh, Mark, I'm so sorry.

There was no way to deny it now. Mary-Lynnetteknew. She didn't even need to look in the bag.

How am I going to find this place again? When I bring the sheriff back, how am I going to remember it?

It's like a maze in one of those computer fantasy games-Mixed Evergreen Forest in every direction,and

nothing to distinguish any bit of it from any other bit.

She chewed her lip. The bed of moist needles she was lying on was soft and springy-actually

comfortable. They could wait here for a long time, until the sisters left, and then mark the trees somehow.

Takephotographs. Tie their socks to branches.

In the clearing the flashlight beam showed a hand putting down the shovel. Then Rowan and Kestrellifted

the garbage-bagged bundle-Jade must beholding the flashlight, Mary-Lynnette thought-and lowered it

into the hole.

Good. Now cover it up and leave.

The beam showed Rowan bending to pick up the shovel again. She began quickly covering the hole with

dirt. Mary-Lynnette was happy. Over soon, she thought, and let out a soft breath of relief.

And in that instant everything in the clearingchanged.

The flashlight beam swung wildly. Mary-Lynnette flattened herself, feeling her eyes widen. She could see

a silhouette against the light-golden hair haloed around the face. Kestrel. Kestrel was standing, facing

Mark and Mary-Lynnette, her body tense and still. Listening. Listening.

Mary-Lynnette lay absolutely motionless, mouthopen, trying to breathe without making a soundThere

were things crawling in the soft, springy needlebed under her. Centipedes and millipedes. She didn'tdare

move even when she felt something tickle acrossher back under her shirt.

Her own ears rang from listening. But the forest was silent … eerily dent. All Mary-Lynnette couldhear

was her own heart pounding wildly in herchest-although ft felt as if it were in her throat, too.It made her

head bob with its rhythm.

She was afraid.

And it wasn't just fear. It was something shecouldn't remember experiencing since she was nineor ten.

Ghost fear. The fear of something you're not even sure exists.

Somehow, watching Kestrel's silhouette In the dark woods, Mary-Lynnette was afraid of monsters.She

had aterrible,terrible feeling.

Oh, please–I shouldn't have brought Mark here.

It was then that she realized that Mark's breathing was making a noise. Just a faint sound, not a whistling,

more like a cat purring. It was the sound he'd made as a kid when his lungs were bad.

Kestrel stiffened, her head turning, as if to locate a noise.

Oh, Mark, no. Don't breathe. Hold your breath-Everything happened very fast.

Kestrel sprang forward. Mary-Lynnette saw her silhouette come running and jumping with unbelievable

speed. Toofast-nobody moves thatfast .. .

nobody human….

What are these girls?

Her vision came in flashes,as if she were under a strobe light. Kestrel jumping. Dark trees all around. A

moth caught in the beam.

Kestrel coming down.

Protect mark…

A deer. Kestrel was coming down on a deer. Mary-Lynnette's mind was filled with jumbled, careening

images. Images that didn't make sense. She had a wild thought that it wasn't Kestrel at all, but one of

those raptor dinosaurs she'd seen at the movies. Because Kestrel moved like that.

Or maybe ftwasn't a deer-but Mary-Lynnette could seethe white at its throat, as pure as a lace ruffle at

the throat of a young girl. She could see itsliquid black eyes.

The deer screamed.


I can't be seeing this….

The deer was on the ground, delicate legs thrashing. And Kestrel was tangled with it. Her face buriedin

the white of its throat. Her arms around it.

The deer screamed again. Wrenched violently.Seemed to be having convulsions.

The flashlight beam was all over the place. Then it dropped. At the very edge of the light, Mary-Lynnette

could see two other figures join Kestrel.They were all holding the deer. There was one last spasm and it

stopped fighting. Everything went still. Mary-Lynnette could see Jade's hair, so fine that individual strands

caught the light against the background of darkness.

In the silent Bearing the three figures cradled thedeer. Huddling over it. Shoulders moving rhythmically.

Mary-Lynnette couldn't see exactly what theywere doing, but the general scene wasf,miliar.She'd seen it

on dozens of nature documentaries. About wild dogs or lionesses or wolves. The pack hadhunted and

now ft wasfeeding.

I have always tried… to bea very good observer. And now, I have to believe my own eyes… .

Beside her, Mark's breath wassobbing.

Oh, God, let me get him out of here. Please justlet us get out.

It was as if she'd been suddenly released from paralysis. Her lip was bleeding again-she must havebitten

down on it while she was watchingthe deer.Copperbloodfear filled her mouth.

"Come on," shegasped almost soundlessly, wiggling backward. Twigs and needles raked her

stomachas her T-shirt rode up. She grabbed Mark's arm."Come onl"

Instead, Mark lurched to his feet.

"Mark!" She wrenched herself to her knees andtried to drag him down.

He pulled away. Hetook a step toward theclearing.



He was heading for the clearing.

No, Mary-Lynnette thought again, andthen shewas moving after him. They were caught now, andit really

didn't matter what he did. Butshe wantedto bewith him.

"Jade!" Mark said and he grabbed the flashlight.He turned it directly on the little huddle at the

edgeof the clearing. Three faces turned toward him.

Mary-Lynnette's mind reeled. It was one thing toguess what the girls were doing; it was another thingto

seeit. Those three beautiful faces, white in the flashlight beam …with what looked like smearedlipstick on

their mouths and chins. Cardinal red, thimbleberry color.

But it wasn't lipstick or burst thimbleberries. It wasblood, and the deer's white neck was stained with it.

Eating the deer, they're really eating the deer;oh, God, they're really doing it….

Some part of her mind-the part that had absorbedhorror movies-expected the three girls to hiss and

cringe away from the light. To block it out with bloodstained hands while making savage faces.

It didn't happen. There were no animal noises, nodemon voices, no contortions.

Instead, as Mary-Lynnette stood frozen in an agonyof horror, and Mark stood trying to get a normal

breath, Jade straightened up.

And said, "What are you guys doing out here?"

In a puzzled, vaguely annoyed voice. The way youwould speak to some boy who keeps following you

everywhere and asking you for a date.

Mary-Lynnette felt her mind spinning off.

There was a long silence. Then Rowan and Kestrelstood up. Mark was breathing heavily, moving the

flashlight from one of the girls to another, but always coming back to Jade.

"What areyoudoing out here; that's the question!"

he said raggedly. The flashlight whipped to the hole, then back tothe girls. "What are you doing?"

"I asked you first," Jade said, frowning. If ft hadJust been her, Mary-Lynnette would have started

towonder if things were so awful after all. if maybethey weren't in terrible danger.

But Rowan and Kestrel were looking at each other,and then at Mark and Mary-Lynnette. And their ex

pressions made Mary-Lynnette's throat close.

"You shouldn't have followed us," Rowan said.She looked grave and sad.

"They shouldn't have beenableto," Kestrel said.She looked grim.

"It's because they smell like goats," Jade said.

"What are you doing?"Mark shouted again, almostsobbing. Mary-Lynnette wanted to reach for

him, butshe couldn't move.

Jade wiped her mouth with the back of her hand."Well, can't youtell?"She turned to her sisters."Now

what are we supposed todo?"

There was a silence. Then Kestrel said, "We don'thave a choice. We havetokill them."