Mark made a point of walking slightly behind the two girls as they left school and headed for Erica's house. He was watching both of them with some suspicion, trying to wrap his mind around what was happening. Erica looked back at him, and raised an eyebrow.
"Any reason you're trailing behind, glaring at both of us like we're about to grow tails?"
Mark switched his gaze to the pavement, which hadn't done anything to deserve it. "It's not easy to have your entire perception of reality turned upside down and be told you're going to die violently," he mumbled, actually making a decent point. Erica dropped back and patted him on the shoulder companionably.
"You'll get over it," she told him in a friendly voice. "Or you might not," she added, somewhat less sympathetically. "You might be dead."
"Gee, thanks," Mark hissed, shoving his hands in his pockets bad-temperedly as they walked past an elderly man hobbling along with bags of shopping. Libby glanced at him, sniffed, and began to cry. It wasn't the harsh wailing she had used for Mark, but a soft, mournful sobbing; the elderly man, unable to see her, gave Mark and Erica a puzzled look and hurried past as fast as he could. Slightly unnerved, Mark glanced back over his shoulder.
"Uh...he's going to die?"
"Well, obviously," Libby said, wiping her eyes and snuffling. "Quietly in his sleep, tonight. Heart failure, I think. If it makes you feel any better, he won't know a thing about it."
Very, very unnerved now, Mark hugged himself and began to walk faster.
Their route took him past his own house, so he could tell his parents he would be out. His father was in the front garden, gardening; he was digging something up. As his son hailed him, he looked up and waved it at them cheerfully.
"Hey, dad, I'm going to Erica's," Mark called. "I'll be back this evening, probably. See you."
"Okay. Don't be a nuisance. And please do remember to phone if you decide to do something else, right?"
"All right, dad. Bye."
"Uh...sorry to be a bother, Mr. Wraysford, but is that parsley?" Erica suddenly asked, leaning over the gate. Mark's dad nodded, evidently pleased.
"Why, yes it is. Do you like gardening?"
"Uh, yeah, I do...what are you doing with it?"
"I'm moving it over to the back garden, it's taking over here. You know how parsley does that if you let it be for a while!"
Erica forced a laugh. "Yeah, it does. Well, I'll see you, then. I'll make sure Mark phones..."
She hustled the confused Mark away down the road, Libby following.
"What was all that about the parsley? What's parsley got to do with anything?"
"Well, it's just pretty much confirmed that you're going to die. If someone transplants parsley, someone in their family is going to croak. And I hate to say this, but on the evidence it's going to be you."
"Whaaaat? More death omens? Jee-zus, are they following me around or something?"
"Well, one of them is," Libby pointed out, wiping her nose. "Me. Let's get going so we can work out what's happening and I won't have to follow you about."
"All right, we're nearly there. I live down here."
As Erica led them down her road, Mark blinked.
"I had no idea you lived so close to me."
"Well, when exactly was the last time you talked to me? I'm a swot, right? It's bad for your image," Erica pointed out, with some irony. Mark blushed, and looked rather guilty.
"Yeah, well, you've got to be careful," he muttered to himself, following Erica and Libby into the building.