What a difference a day made.
Somehow, in the hot, hazy August sunlight the -next morning, Mary-Lynnette couldn't get serious about
checking on whether Mrs. Burdock was dead. It was just too ridiculous. Besides, she had a lot to
do-school started in just over two weeks. At the beginning of June she had been sure summer would last
forever, sure that she would neversay, "Wow, this summer has gone by so fast." And now here she stood
in mid-August, and she was saying, "Wow, it's gone by so fast."
I need clothes, Mary-Lynnette thought. And a new backpack, and notebooks, and some of those little
purple felt-tip pens. And I need to make Mark get all those things, too, because he won't do it by himself
and Claudine will never make him.
Claudine was their stepmother. She was Belgian and very pretty, with curly dark hair and sparklingdark eyes. She was only ten years older than MaryLynnette, and she looked even younger. She'd been
the family's housecleaning helper when Mary Lynnette's mom first got sick five years ago. MaryLynnette
liked her, but she was hopeless as a substitute mother, and Mary-Lynnette usually ended up taking
charge of Mark.
So I don't have time to go over to Mrs. B.'s.
She spent the day shopping. It wasn't until after dinner that she thought about Mrs. Burdock again.
She was helping to dear dishes out of the family room, where dinner was traditionally eaten in front of
the TV, when her father said, "I heard something today about Todd Akers and Vic Kimble."
"Those losers," Mark muttered.
Mary-Lynnette said, "What?"
"They had some kind of accident over on Chiloquin Road-over between Hazel Green Creek and
"A car accident?" Mary-Lynnette said.
"Well, this is the thing," her father said. "Apparently there wasn't any damage to their car, but they
both thought they'd been in an accident. They showed up at home after midnight and said that something
had happened to them out there-but they didn'tknow what. They were missing a few hours." He looked
at Mark and Mary-Lynnette. "How about that, guys?"
"It's the UFOs!" Mark shouted immediately, dropping into discus-throwing position and wiggling
"UFOs are a crock," Mary-Lynnette said. "Do youknow how far the little green men would have
to travel-and there's no suchthing as warp speed. Whydo people have to make things up when the
universe is just just blazing with incredible things that are real-"She stopped. Her family was looking at
"Actually Todd and Vic probably just got smashed," she said, and put her plate and glass in
the sink. Her father grimaced slightly. Claudine pursed her lips. Mark grinned.
"In a very real and literal sense," he said. "We hope."
It was as Mary-Lynnette was walking back to the family room that a thought struck her.
Chiloquin Road was right off Kahneta, the road her own house was on. The road Mrs. B.'s house was
on.It was only two miles from Burdock Farm to Chiloquin.
There couldn't be any connection. Unless the girls were burying the little green man who'd abductedVic
But it bothered her. Two really strange things happening in the same night, in the same area. In a tiny,
sleepy area that never saw any kind of excitement.
I know, I'll call Mrs. B. And she'll be fine, and that'll prove everything's okay, and I'll be able to laugh
about all this.
But nobody answered at the Burdock house. The phone rang and rang. Nobody picked it up and the
answering machine never came on. Mary-Lynnettehung up feeling grim but oddly calm. She knew what
she had to do now.
She snagged Mark as he was going up the stairs. "I need to talk to you."
"Look, if this is about your Walkman-"
"Huh? It's about something we have to do tonight." Mary-Lynnette looked at him. "What aboutmy
"Uh, nothing. Nothing at all."
Mary-Lynnette groaned but let it go. "Listen, Ineed you to help me out. Last night I saw something weird
when I was on the hill...." She explained as succinctly as possible. "And now more weird stuff with Todd
and Vic," she said.
Mark was shaking his head, looking at her in something like pity. "Mare, Mare," he said kindly. "You
really are crazy, you know."
"Yes," Mary-Lynnette said. "It doesn't matter. I'm still going over there tonight."
"To do what?"
"To check things out. I just want toseeMrs. B. If I can talk to her, I'll feel better. And if I can find
out what's buried in that garden, I'll feel a wholelotbetter."
"Maybe they were burying Sasquatch. That government study in the Klamaths never did find him,
"Mark, you owe me for the Walkman. For whatever happened to the Walkman."
"Uh..." Mark sighed, then muttered resignedly."Okay, I owe you. But I'm telling you right now,
I'm not going to talk to those girls."
"You don't have to talk to them. You don't evenhave to see them. There's something else I want
The sun was just setting. They'd walked this roada hundred times to get to Mary-Lynnette's hill-the only
difference tonight was that Mark was carryinga pair of pruning shears and Mary-Lynnette had pulled the
Rubylith filter off her flashlight.
"You don't reallythink they offed the old lady."
"No," Mary-Lynnette said candidly. "I just want to put the world back where it belongs."
"You want what?"
"You know how you have a view of the way theworld is, but every so often you wonder, 'Oh,
myGod, what if it's really different?'Like, 'What if I'm really adopted and the people I think are my
parentsaren't my parents at all?' And if it were true, it would change everything, and for a minute you
don't know what's real. Well, that's how I feel right now, and I want to get rid of it. I want my old world
"You know what's scary?" Mark said. "I think Iunderstand."
By the time they got to Burdock Farm, it was full dark. Ahead of them, in the west, the star Arcturus
seemed to hang over the farmhouse, glittering faintly red.
Mary-Lynnette didn't bother trying to deal withthe rickety gate. She went to the place behind the
blackberry bushes where the picket fence had fallen flat.
The farmhouse was like her own family's, but with lots of Victorian-style gingerbread added.
MaryLynnette thought the spindles and scallops and fretwork gave it a whimsical air-eccentric, like Mrs.
Burdock. Just now, as she was looking at one of the second-story windows, the shadow of a moving
figure fell on the roller blind.
Good, Mary-Lynnette thought. At least I know somebody's home.
Mark began hanging back as they walked down the weedy path to the house.
"You said I could hide."
"Okay. Right. Look, why don't you take thoseshears and sort of go around back-"
"And look at the Sasquatch grave while I'm there? Maybe do a little digging? I don't think so."
"Fine," Mary-Lynnette said calmly. "Then hidesomewhere out here and hope they don't see you
when they come to the door. At least with the shears you have an excuse to be in the back."
Mark threw her a bitter glance and she knew she'dwon. As he started off, Mary-Lynnette said suddenly,
"Mark, be careful
Mark just waved a dismissive hand at her without turning around.
When he was out of sight, Mary-Lynnette knockedon the front door. Then she rang the doorbellitwasn't
a button but an actual bellpull. She could hear chimes inside, but nobody answered.
She knocked and rang with greater authority. Every minute she kept expecting the door to open to
reveal Mrs. B., petite, gravelly-voiced, blue-haired,dressed in an old cotton housedress. But it didn't
happen. Nobody came.
Mary-Lynnette stopped being polite and began knocking with one hand and ringing with the other. It
was somewhere in the middle of this frenzy ofknocks and rings that she realized she was frightened.
Really frightened. Her world view was wobbling.Mrs. Burdock hardly ever left the house. She always
answered the door. And Mary-Lynnette had seenwith her own eyes that somebody was home here.
So why weren't they answering?
Mary-Lynnette's heart was beating very hard. She had an uncomfortable falling sensation in her stomach.
I should get out of here and call Sheriff Akers. It's his job to know what to do about things like this.But it
was hard to work up any feeling of confidence in Todd's father. She took her alarm and frustration out on
Which opened. Suddenly. Mary-Lynnette's fist hit air and for an instant she felt sheer panic, fear of the
"What can I do for you?"
The voice was soft and beautifully modulated. Thegirl was just plain beautiful. What Mary-Lynnette
hadn't been able to see from the top of her hill was that the brown hair was aglow with rich chestnut
highlights, the features were classically molded, the tall figure was graceful and willowy.
"You're Rowan," she said.
"How did you know?"
You couldn't be anything else; I've never seen anybody who looked so much like �� tree spirit. "Your
aunt told me about you. I'm Mary-Lynnette Carter, Ilive just up Kahneta Road. You probably saw my
house on your way here."
Rowan looked noncommittal. She had such a sweet,grave face-,and skin that looked like white orchid
petals, Mary-Lynnette thought abstractedly. She said, "So, I just wanted to welcome you to the
neighborhood, say hello, see if there's anything you need."
Rowan looked less grave; she almost smiled and her brown eyes grew warm. "How nice of you. Really.
I almost wish we did need something ... but actually we're fine."
Mary-Lynnette realized that, with the utmost civility and good manners, Rowan was winding up the
conversation. Hastily she threw a new subject into the pool. "There are three of you girls, right? Are you
going to school here?"
"My sisters are."
"That's great. I can help show them around. I'll be a senior this year." Another subject, quick,
MaryLynnette thought. "So, how do you like Briar Creek? It's probably quieter than you're used to."
"Oh, it was pretty quiet where we came from,"Rowan said. "But we love it here; it's such a
wonderful place. The trees, the little animals. . ." She broke off.
"Yeah, those cute little animals," Mary-Lynnette said. Get to the point, her inner voices were
telling her. Her tongue and the roof of her mouth felt like Velcro. Finally she blurted, "So-so, um, how is
your aunt right now?"
That instant's hesitation was all Mary-Lynnette needed. Her old suspicions, her old panic, surged up
immediately. Making her feel bright and cold, like aknife made of ice.
She found herself saying in a confident, almost chirpy voice, "Well, could I just talk to her for a minute?
Would you mind? It's just that I have something sort of important to tellher...." She made a move as if to
step over the threshold.
Rowan kept on blocking the door. "Oh, I'm sosorry. Butwell, that's not really possible rightnow."
"Oh, is it one of her headaches? I've seen her in bed before." Mary-Lynnette gave a little tinkly
"No, it's not a headache." Rowan spoke gently, deliberately. "The truth is that she's gone for a
"I know." Rowan made a little grimace acknowledging that this was odd. "She just decided to
take a few days off. A little vacation."
"But-gosh, with you girls just getting here..." Mary-Lynnette's voice was brittle.
"Well, you see, she knew we'd take care of thehouse for her. That's why she waited until we
"But-gosh," Mary-Lynnette said again. She felt aspasm in her throat. "Where-just where did she
"Up north, somewhere on the coast. I'm not sure of the name of the town."
"But . . ." Mary-Lynnette's voice trailed off. Back off, her inner voices warned.Now was the time
to be polite, to be cautious. Pushing it meant showing this girl that Mary-Lynnette knew something was
wrong with this story. And since somethingwas wrong, thisgirl might be dangerous....
It was hard to believe that while looking at Rowan'ssweet, grave face. She didn't look dangerous. But
thenMary-Lynnette noticed something else. Rowan was barefoot. Her feet were as creamy-pale as the
rest ofher, but sinewy. Something about them, the way they were placed or the clean definition of the
toes, made Mary-Lynnette think of those feet running. Of savage, primal speed.
When she looked up, there was another girl walking up behind Rowan. The one with dark golden hair.
Her skin was milky instead of blossomy, and her eyes were yellow.
"This is Kestrel," Rowan said.
"Yes," Mary-Lynnette said. She realized she was staring. And realized, the moment after that,
that shewas scared. Everything about Kestrel made her thinkof savage, primal movement. The girl
walked as if she were flying.
"What's going on?" Kestrel said.
"This is Mary-Lynnette," Rowan said, her, voice still pleasant. "She lives down the road. She
came to see Aunt Opal."
"Really just to see if you needed anything," MaryLynnette interjected quickly. "We're sort of your
only neighbors." Strategy change, she was thinking. About-face. Looking at Kestrel, she believed in
danger. Now all she wanted was to keep these girls from guessing what she knew.
"You're a friend of Aunt Opal's?" Kestrel asked silkily. Her yellow eyes swept Mary-Lynnette,
first up, then down.
"Yeah, I come over sometimes, help her withthe"-oh, God, don't say gardening-"goats. Um, I
guess she told you that they need to be milked everytwelve hours."
Rowan's expression changed fractionally. MaryLynnette's heart gave a violent thud. Mrs. B. would
never,everleave without giving instructions aboutthe goats.
"Of course she told us," Rowan said smoothly, justan instant too late.
Mary-Lynnette's palms were sweating. Kestrelhadn't taken that keen, dispassionate, unblinkinggaze off
her for a moment. Like the proverbial birdof prey staring down the proverbial rabbit. "Well, it'sgetting
late and I bet you guys have things to do. I should let you go."
Rowan and Kestrel looked at each other. Then theyboth looked at Mary-Lynnette, cinnamon-brown
eyes and golden eyes fixed intently on her face.Mary-Lynnette had the falling feeling in her stomach again.
"Oh, don't goyet," Kestrel said silkily. "Why don'tyou come inside?"