marked.

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it always takes me a moment or two to realize they're dead. a double take reveals it after a first glance doesn't. there's something in the posture that hints at it, and a hunger in the eyes that confirms it. i stay away from the hungry ones.

there are those who are already dead, and those who are going to be dead. that's all that matters, the two categories that divide one group of people from the other.

there are, of course, distinctions. within those already dead, there are those who have been dead for a long time. i can tell from the resolution in their gaze, the downcast, tired eyes. the ones who have died recently have a helpless, panicked look about them, almost like they don't quite know what has happened.

but i know.

worse than the people who are dead, are the ones who are alive. because i know when they are going to die, if it's soon or if they will lead a long and happy life. people near death are marked. it stalks them. it's only a matter of time. when i see someone marked by death, i turn my eyes away. sometimes, it's evident even to people who can't see what i can. vacant eyes, a shell of a body. those who will die from illness marinate in the mark of death.

but there is another kind of mark. a worse kind of mark. and when i see her, see the mark on her as her dark braid swings behind her, i know the truth long before she will.

someone is going to kill her.

-

her name is maya. i discover this by accident. i do not make a habit of following those that are this close to death, so when i see her at the bookstore i like to frequent, it is the sort of surprise that feels like i've missed a step going down the stairs.

"hey maya." there's another girl there too, with short cropped blonde hair and a shirt adorned with blue sequins. i realize with a start that she is marked too, though not with the mark of murder. hers is faint. she still has time.

i catch a glimpse of myself in the reflective glass of a display case. a pale face with pointed, unremarkable features, white blonde hair that sits at my chin. maybe pretty. maybe too bland to be pretty.

maya turns around and something in my chest wrenches when i see her face. she's young, late teens maybe. my age. she shows no signs of death. she looks as far from death as is possible, if i choose to think about it.

i think about it before i can stop myself.

"what?" she asks the blonde girl, her brow furrowed. her skin looks soft, smooth, glowing, life evident in the quirk of her eyebrow and inquisitive glance she tosses to the book held out to her.

"gavin would like this." the sequins in her sleeve ripple as the blonde girl holds the spine of the book out to be read.

"gwyn." maya's tone is displeased. "i'm not giving gavin anything."

but she takes the book anyway, flipping it over and surveying the title. her brow furrows. "he would like this, though. you're right. he never shuts up about this stuff."

from where i stand, just a few paces over, i can see the title: paranormal legends: the proof behind the tales.

something in my stomach clenches.

"you've said." there's a teasing note in gwyn's voice.

"oh, shut up."

i can't stop looking at maya. she looks too young, too bright, too beautiful to die. i'm reminded with very sudden clarity, why i avoid people like her.

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