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The Mark


Meghan Donner

Three weeks now, since we saw them. Three weeks of darkness since our eyes stumbled upon them, saw them feeding, ripping. With each day the shadows have grown, capturing our spirits as they turn day into night.

They are everywhere. No being is safe under the cover of day, as it once was. They entice by day, in the open, indistinguishable from the Innocents. In the sunlight they walk, seek; in the darkness they feed.

No one is safe.

We are together always now, the five of us who were fated to stumble upon the Lamia in their hour of darkness. We know now that we were seen that night, but only by one. Not one of us is ever left alone, for the fact that we are still alive is our one hope that we are not being hunted. 

I am awakened by Kat.

"William, get up," she says. "Juliet's found it."

I get up and rush over to where Dominick and Isabelle are crowded around Juliet, who has an ancient-looking book opened on her lap.

"Willow. Stab them with a willow stake and they turn to dust," she says, looking exhausted but pleased.

"See? Wooden stake, I knew it!" Dominick exclaims triumphantly.

"It must be willow, though. Its considered holy."

"So that's it? Bloody Christ, we could've killed dozens by now," Kat murmurs.

"Why? Why does it have to be us? Why can't we just stay here and... and wait for it all to just stop?" Isabelle cries, her eyes huge.

I turn to her. "They are killing, Isabelle. You've seen it! We've all seen it! Can't you remember? Can't you see it in your dreams? Tell me you don't remember, and then you can stay here and wait for it to stop!" I cry, half mad with fear. Isabelle begins to cry miserably.

"Listen," Juliet breaks in, "We've got enough to last another day. I agree that it would be slightly rash to go around stabbing random people with tree branches. We don't know anything about these things. We need to stay here and learn some more, and tomorrow we can decide what we're going to do. Does that sound alright to everyone?"

"No. No waiting. Ill go mad just sitting here, remembering."

"But Juliet's right, William. We will wait."

Darkness has fallen. We sit huddled together, Juliet reading aloud from the book. Isabelle sleeps uneasily, curled into a disturbing fetal position. Her eyelids twitch rapidly like a dog dreaming. I try not to look at her.

Our time spent trying to gain more knowledge of the Lamia has not been totally wasted. We've learned that they each bear a mark behind their left ear, a symbol of their kind burned into their flesh like cattle branded by farmers. With this new knowledge we can now distinguish the creatures from the Innocents. Score one for the good guys.

Late into the night we unwillingly close our eyes. I lay awake long after the light is extinguished, feeling hunted, my heart leaping at small sounds. I fall into a deep, comfortless sleep close to dawn with the howls of the wind echoing in my ears.

They have taken Juliet.

I was awakened in the cold gray light of morning by a bone-chilling scream that reverberated off the walls. I leapt up to find Kat, standing but bent nearly double as if in pain or shock, her hands clamped over her mouth, enormous wild eyes fixed on the floor.

"What? What?!" I shouted. My heart was pounding in my chest, my ears.

She pointed, her eyes huge, never leaving the sight they were riveted by.

There, in the corner where she had fallen asleep the night before, Juliet was not. In her place was the mark of the Lamia.

We are going to bring her back. We have left the shelter, and are now ripping branches from the great gray willows that stand in Dunover Park. We tear off as many as we can, frantically, and toss them into wicker basket-containers strapped to our backs like a quill for arrows. We have seen six Lamia already - the men are especially easy to spot because most of them have no hair covering the spot behind their ears. They do not notice us, or if they do pay no attention - except one. A tall, thin man turned his eyes to me just as I spotted the mark behind his left ear. They were cold eyes, of a blue so pale they were almost white, and they pierced me, caught me identifying him, impaling me so that my blood ran icy in my veins. I could not look away - and then the man turned, and I was released.

We do not know where they have taken Juliet. We do not know what they're doing to her. I try not to picture the things that we've read of the Lamia doing, or remember the things we've seen them do, but the images seem burned behind my eyes, like the superstition of a dead man's last viewed scene emblazoned on the back of his eyelids. It is hard to breathe.

Night has fallen. We wander the streets despairingly, feeling like the helpless, lost children we are. We need to find a Lamia, and follow them - perhaps they will lead us to Juliet. But suddenly, the devils are nowhere in sight.

I am going mad, it seems. While searching the crowds earlier, I remember snapping snatching some random dark-haired woman, gripping her with hard hands, and tearing her long hair back from her head regardless of the pain I inflicted, searching for the branded mark of the Lamia. All the while I seem to recall someone screaming madly, "Murderer! Demon! Give her back! Give her back!" Kat told me later that the person screaming insanely was me.

Perhaps my madness will aid us somehow when the time comes to dispose of the foul creatures.

It is hard to breathe.

We have found one. A gaunt, stooped little Lamia with a jutted lower jaw and a shuffling gait who bears the mark. It is dusk - the sun has nearly faded into night. We are following the little Lamia, hoping that he will somehow lead us to Juliet.

He is in a hurry, it seems, jittery; jumping at small sounds and casting nervous eyes to his sides. He leads us down many streets, winding, turning at every corner as if to confuse any that might be following.

Darkness envelops us as we wind through the cold, now empty cobble stoned streets. A wind flaps at the dark cloak he wears and chills our bones. An owl screeches.

The Lamia has turned another corner and disappeared. We hurry after, trying to hold our breath so to not make a sound. The streets are eerily silent now.

We are standing at the mouth of a long, black alley. The stooped Lamia is nowhere in sight. We advance slowly. I keep one hand on the alley wall to avoid stumbling.

A harsh, loud bark of a dog shatters the silence, and we jump. Isabelle whimpers and covers her mouth with a hand.

We continue. My hand on the icy stone wall trails into something warm and sticky. I gasp, and snatch my hand back, holding it up to inspect it. It glistens wet in the dim moonlight.

I force back the bile that rises in my throat and scrape my hand against the wall frantically. Dominick's harsh whisper startles me, making me jump.

"William!" Dominick gestures for me to join him on the opposite side of the alley. I can just see him in the darkness, and I hurry to him.

He disappears. I look around frantically, my heart leaping against my ribcage. Kat, Isabelle - they have all disappeared. I am alone. 


Dominick sticks his leg out in front of him and waves it around. It doesn't touch the floor. He taps his foot silently on something in front of us below, and takes a step down.


Dominick descends first, followed by Kat, then me. After taking the first cautious step I feel Isabelle behind me grip my hand with a ferocious, clammy grasp. Thus I am forced to continue almost sideways down the steep, pitch black stairwell. We descend slowly, and I lose count of the number of stairs at around fifty. It is getting harder to breathe, the air around us growing humid, and hotter, it seems, with each step. 

Isabelle stumbles suddenly, falls a few steps before I catch her with my fingers biting into her arms. She clings to me a moment, and I can feel her heart racing. We continue.

A foul, festering stench is assailing our nostrils with each step lower. I breathe through my mouth, and that helps, but some of the others gag repeatedly, the rank growing stronger as we plunge, sweating, deeper into the black.

A sound. We freeze, not daring to breathe. My heart pounds so loudly in my ears that I am positive it is audible to others. We wait.  


Isabelle is crushing the bones of my hand, but I don't care. We continue once more, our senses heightened now, our ears alerted like deer being hunted in the woods. The stench grows, and that combined with the sweltering heat is making me more than nauseous. I sway on the stairwell, right myself, and force my feet to go on, keeping a steadying hand on Kat's back. 

Suddenly the stairs stop. Prepared to take another step, I stumble into Kat. I look up, and find myself and the others in a long, straight corridor.

There is a light at the end.

We look around at each other. My gut wrenches sickeningly at the sight of my friend's faces. They are twisted into pale, sweat-beaded masks of fear. I dread what my own looks like.

Wordlessly we continue. There is enough room in the corridor for two to walk abreast, but we stay in the same tight single-file line. The walls of the passageway are cold, rough gray stone, the floor dirt. As we near the end of the corridor, we see that it is lit by a single torch, and, rather than ending, splits into two new corridors. We reach the fork, and Dominick turns back to us, a grim, questioning look on his face. We search each other's eyes. How are we to choose?

A sound, very near, sends my heart leaping to my throat. It is coming from the corridor on the right. We watch, frozen with fear, and listen as scuffling sounds draw nearer.

A silhouette appears suddenly on the wall of the right corridor, lit by the torch between the two passageways. It is small and hunched, and is shuffling toward us.

We flee. Down the left corridor, the dim light of the torch fading but still enough to see as we run, run... 

A wall of solid dirt greets us.

A dead end.

We are trapped.

We sink to our knees, our backs against the end of the blocked corridor, quaking. Isabelle is crying, but Kat covers her mouth so she does not sob uncontrollably. Our only hope is that the light of the torch is now dim enough for us to hide in the shadows.

The Lamia shuffles into the corridor. We can now see that it drags its left leg behind it, and that is the cause of its shuffling gait. It is cloaked and hooded, so we cannot see its face or eyes. I am sweating. My heart is beating uncontrollably, right out of my ribcage. I can't breathe.

The Lamia stops. Why? Could it not see us? Impossible! The light of the torch illuminates the passage well enough for anyone to spot four frightened youths huddled in a corner - then why did it not look in our direction more than twice?

An odd snuffling sound comes from the hooded Lamia. It sounds almost as if it is scenting the air. Sniffing us out.

The Lamia raises its hooded head and makes the odd sniffing sound again. We are certain now. This Lamia is blind. It is scenting us out.

My gut twists horrendously as we watch the Lamia drop to its hands and knees suddenly, sniff the dirt floor. Sniffing, sniffing... it stops suddenly, lifts its head, sniffs the air in our direction sharply, then turns its black hooded head to us as if it can now see us, huddled, quaking. It sees right through me, sees my heart beating madly out of control

Without warning, the Lamia begins crawling toward us, its cloak trailing on the dirt floor, billowing out behind it as it paws the earth toward us, gaining speed closer, closer, clawing at the dirt, crawling toward me, scenting me, seeing me... 

A blood-curdling scream shatters the silence. The Lamia stops, lifts its head inches from my face, listens, then is up and scurrying away as the scream echoes in every corridor of this hellish hole.

We sag against each other, heaving, Isabelle sobbing uncontrollably. Dominick turns his head and wretches violently.

"Was that Juliet?" Kat whispers shakily a moment later.

"I think so." 

Kat nods grimly, rises. "Lets be off, then."

The rest of us follow her lead and begin to tiptoe back to the fork in the corridors. When we reach the entrance, Kat cautiously pokes her head around the corner to the corridor on the right. She looks at us, nods. 

"I think I've left my entrails back there," she whispers wryly as we scamper across the fork.

We have barely scurried into the other corridor when we hear it.

We freeze, look at each other, terrified. Isabelle shakes her head, sobbing, not wanting to believe it. But it is unmistakable.

Footsteps are on the stairs above. 

We break into a run, flying down the passageway, not trying to be silent anymore, just trying to get away, gasping, heaving, crying. I trip and fly forward, land on my face, cry out. Isabelle heaves me up and we're off again, but the footsteps are gaining on us. No longer on the stairs, not above us.

Behind us.

I look back, I'm terrified to, but I have to. They've heard us, smelled us. I see the edge of a cloak behind us just before I whip around a corner.

I have run a few minutes before I notice that the others are not in front of me. I whip around. The others are not behind me.

No, no!

I stand silently, alone, the black closing in around me. Maybe they will not find me here. If I am soundless, if I can keep my heart from beating so loudly that they can follow the sound of it to me, they will not find me. They will not find me. They will not find me. They will not find me.

Sharp claws bite into my arms from behind, tear my skin. I cry out, but the sound is cut off. Something large, needle-like, punctures my neck.

I can feel the blood running cold in my veins. Icy. Cold. Everything is cold.

The darkness is closing in on me. 

I am alone.

They will not find me now.

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