©2005 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daria and associated characters are ©2005 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: What was happening behind the scenes of the Daria show? Were the show’s artistic and script-related mistakes truly “accidental”? Who was the show really about? Discover the shocking answers in this fantasy crossover tale about a teenage girl whose Neverland was her own home town: Lawndale.
Author’s Notes: The following is an experimental Daria fanfic, inspired by the writings of Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin (The Lathe of Heaven), and James Matthew Barrie; the weird events, continuity errors, and animation-art mistakes introduced into episodes of the Daria show; a single comment by Jane Lane in “The Misery Chick” that had broad and startling implications; and Brother Grimace’s “take a scene from the show and make my eyeballs bleed” Iron Chef challenge on SFMB. It ran longer than the challenge allowed, but so it goes. This story appeared on PPMB and SFMB in May 2005. More information is in the “Author’s Notes II” at the end of the story.
FYI: Schloß (schloss) is German for castle. Just so you know it when you see it.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Brother Grimace for his Iron Chef, which I screwed up. Thanks also to James “CINCGREEN” Bowman, whose speculations on Jane Lane’s paternal-line relationship to various superheroes got me to wondering about her maternal line of ancestors; to E. A. Smith for finding the typo; and to Outpost Daria, which hosts an extensive list of all the animation errors in the Daria show (the “Oops” column) at:
A marvelous introduction to the fiction of Philip K. Dick and its terrific impact is at:
And, of course, thanks to James Matthew Barrie, whose most famous work is the foundation of this story.
What is real?
—Gaudior the Unicorn,
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle
What is real?
—Morpheus, The Matrix
Oh, do not ask, ‘what is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.
—“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot
* * *
Some stories, but only a few, are best begun in the middle.
* * *
Jane Lane knew she was dangerously pissed off because the locker numbers in front of her were changing at random. The lockers also changed between orange and light brown in color, and the lavender walls inside Lawndale High School had turned purple. Staying calm was paramount. If Jane lost her temper with the twenty-something asshole leaning against Daria Morgendorffer’s locker, anything could happen—literally anything.
At the moment, Daria was talking to Tommy Sherman, but her words were drowned out by the roaring in Jane’s head as she gazed in disgust at the oafish Lawndale High alumnus. It no longer mattered if he were real or dreamed in her subconscious. He had wreaked havoc in Jane’s grand live-performance life story and offended everyone he met, real or not. Jane knew all of Tommy’s misdeeds, as they had been witnessed and reported by her best friend and alter-ego, Daria. The crude proposition to Jane only a minute ago (or perhaps it was an insult, it was hard to tell) was nearly the last straw.
So, you might talk to me four hours into a kegger party, right? Jane fumed. With a hand on your crotch and a leer on your face, no doubt. Vomiting on your shoes would hardly slow you down. A lay is a lay, right? Well, Tommy boy, I’d like to see you get laid. I really would. Laid out cold and dead.
“Do you know who I am?” Tommy asked Daria with an incredulous grin. He tried to jog her memory, unaware of his peril. “Tommy Sherman?”
Daria had heard of Tommy that morning from Jane, who knew of Tommy from her big brother Trent. Trent and Tommy had graduated Lawndale High as classmates several years earlier. This was the primary reason Jane suspected Tommy was real and not an invented personality. You are a unwanted stranger in my strange land, ran her furious thoughts. And I hate strangers, I hate them to death, because a stranger chased me once a few years ago and he tried to—
As an evil memory surfaced, Tommy’s jeans went from blue to mauve-purple; his light brown hair turned medium gray, and the locker numbers went blank. Every student and teacher in the hallway abruptly vanished, leaving only Jane, Daria, and Tommy. Jane alone noticed, but the mass disappearance did not bother her. It often happened when she was concentrating very hard.
“I know the whole school’s turning itself inside out because of some egotistical football player,” Daria told Tommy with a cold glare, spilling Jane’s thoughts right out of her mouth. “And I’ve seen you insult or proposition just about everyone you come across. So, my guess is that you’re the football player guy. Congratulations. You must have worked very hard to become a colossal jerk so quickly.”
Tommy seemed taken aback to be addressed in this fearless way—by a sophomore barely over five feet tall, and a girl at that.
Not a real girl, though.
Way to go, thought Jane to Daria with dark pride. Let him have it. Tell this jerk what we think of him. He can’t do anything worse than insult us. She looked back at Tommy with narrow eyes. I’ll make sure of that.
Tommy pulled away from Daria’s locker and drew himself up. “You know what Tommy Sherman’s going to do now?” he said to Daria, his nasal, white-trash accent filling the empty hall. He pointed to a nearby exit that hadn’t been there a minute ago. “He’s going to go out onto the field and check out his new goal post. He’s going to read the plaque and think of all the people who admire him. But you wouldn’t know anything about that. You’re one of those misery chicks, always moping about what a cruel world it is, making a big deal about it so people won’t notice that you’re a loser.” He drew out the last word in a mocking tone, wiggling his fingers at Daria, then stalked off, muttering expletives under his breath. The exit door shut behind him. Daria looked after him with a stony face.
Loser? thought Jane. Her self-control gave way like an eroded dam. You called us losers, you worthless Neanderthal asswipe? I’ll show you a loser. In an instant, she wadded up the invisible fireball of her rage and launched it at Tommy through the exit door. She cursed and damned him, struck him down and wiped him out. Reality rippled from the psychic blow—but all was calm a millisecond later. Or seemed to be.
Jane turned to Daria. “I don’t think he likes you,” she said with a touch of sarcasm, picking up the threads of her live performance like a veteran actor.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Daria said in a bitter undertone, running on autopilot. “What bothers me is that jerk is going to be treated like a hero for the rest of his life.”
Jane knew better, but she grew nervous and self-righteous out of her rising guilt. “Well, maybe he won’t live that long,” she retorted, raising an eyebrow. I don’t care if it was wrong to zap him. He was a waste of space.
Daria gave Jane a tired look, playing her role to the hilt. “Come on, you know wishes don’t come true.”
How to answer that? You should know better, my naïve other half. Wishes do come true, they really do, they—
A loud, startling crash echoed down the empty hall from the exit door. Jane sensed the crash had come from the football field, a five-minute walk from Daria’s locker. Tommy must have walked through a spatial distortion to reach the gridiron in mere seconds. Her curse had doubtless brought the space warp into being. Whatever damnation had accompanied it had landed on its target.
People reappeared in the hallway, looking exactly as they had when they’d left. As the echoes of the crash faded, the startled students ran for the exit to see what had happened. Jane glanced uneasily at Daria. Then, above the chaos, Jane heard quarterback Kevin Thompson’s hysterical wails. His voice carried perfectly from the football field into the school through the spatial distortion. “Oh, my God! The goalpost fell! Tommy Sherman’s dead! He’s dead!”
He’s dead? Tommy’s dead? Jane and Daria exchanged shocked looks, Jane’s full of guilt and Daria’s full of horror. Jane knew exactly what Daria was thinking. It was impossible not to. Jane had created Daria in her own image, after all.
And now Jane Lane had killed one of the players in her gigantic live-in puppet show. Technically speaking, she was Tommy’s murderer—but technically speaking, she never touched him. Her murder weapon was unknowable, invisible, impossible, divine. An accident, the police coroner ruled the death. Tommy had been crushed by a huge wooden shipping crate leaning against the grandstands by the football field, leaning just as Tommy had leaned on Daria’s locker. The crate held the goal post named for him (vanity as its own punishment—the irony, the irony). A powerful gust of wind must have pushed the crate over, of course.
I’m a murderer. I’ve gone and done it again. Again! And he didn’t really even deserve it! How could I have done that? What should I do? What will Grandma J think if she finds out? Will she stop talking to me? What will become of me then?
Getting over her guilt and shame took days. Daria helped her through it, even coming up to Jane’s room to confront her and bring her out of hiding. Daria was the best of friends, even better than Jane had made her. Still, Jane regretted saying that Tommy might not live long. It was the closest she had ever come to confessing to her powers and deeds, and she didn’t want to confide that even to her own creations. “I don’t like it when I say people should die and then they do,” she told Daria afterward. “I don’t want that kind of responsibility—at least not until I’ve got a job in middle management.”
She covered herself well on the outside. Inside was another matter. Dread clung to her long afterward. Her maternal grandmother was very upset when she found out, but she did not stop talking to Jane. Jane’s relief was palpable. Grandma J alone understood the real Jane Lane. Grandma J knew what it was like to create a private world, an island of flexible reality, and visit it when you wished. Grandma J had done it herself, like her mother before her and her eldest daughter after. Everyone in the whole world knew about it. They didn’t know that the story was true, though. Jane did. The only difference was, Jane didn’t have to fly to reach her Neverland. Her Neverland was right where she lived.
Tommy Sherman was buried later that week. A new goalpost was erected in his honor, and a memorial tree was planted by the school in his name. Jane allowed it in order to remind herself to never kill again. She even made herself go one evening to the grassy meadow covering Lawndale’s landfill, where the air reeked of rotten eggs from the methane, and there she remembered the evening a few years ago when she had been out by herself, far from home, and a stranger tried to grab her, chasing her to the landfill and cornering her in a gazebo in someone’s backyard. He ran up to attack her, and that was when she killed him. She first wished he would stop moving. He stopped in place, paralyzed. She then climbed over the railing and wished he would go away forever, and the gazebo sank into the earth as the stranger’s eyes rolled in their sockets in terror. The ground closed over the gazebo and the stranger, and they were gone.
She never did know his name. He was the first. Tommy was the second. She did not want a third on her conscience.
As a consequence of that night, Jane began to explore her power and wish for other things. Lawndale was soon more than her home. It was her fief, her fortress, her quasi-real universe. It was often hard to get her wishes to come out properly, and she had to unwish certain things that didn’t work, but all that wishing and unwishing damaged the fabric of the local reality. Strange events multiplied, and the tapestry of her life became peculiar and colorful. Yet, crazy as things sometimes got, no one ever noticed the weirdness but her. She had wished it that way. Such as it was, life went on.
What is real? The answer depends on one’s perspective.
In the infinite, unbounded realm of the cosmos, Jane Lane was insignificant.
In the tiny subdivision of reality called Earth, however, in the tiny portion of it known as Lawndale, Jane Lane was God Almighty.
* * *
Godlike as she was locally, Jane’s supernatural control over Lawndale was not absolute. At best her manipulations were effective but crude; at worst, they brought on chaos. An element of the unpredictable was always present when she or Daria were around. Odd things happened every day, minor but annoying glitches in the continuity of existence. These happenings seemed to be the aftershocks of Jane’s tinkering with the way things were. The bigger the changes made, the more pronounced the aftershocks.
The biggest changes to Lawndale began when Daria and her family appeared, the day after Jane wished with all her heart, once again, that she had a best friend. Despite her previous failures (Andrea, Brittany, Jodie, etc.), this time it worked. Nothing was the same after that, and reality let her know. For example, the black tights Jane wore over her legs sometimes vanished for minutes at a time—why the tights but nothing else, she never knew. The collar of her black T-shirt might turn gray, white or black. Her boot laces might disappear, and the rolled-up sleeves of her bright red overshirt were rarely the same length from one day to the next.
In addition, her black bangs might grow shorter or longer, the part in her hair might change sides, the three silver rings in each pierced ear might be whisked away or change sizes, and her irises might go from bright blue to gray or black. If her hair was mussed, red lipstick forgotten, and her clothes rumpled, she could return to her usual groomed appearance in an instant. Her voice even changed over time, long after puberty.
That Jane and Daria—and most inhabitants of Lawndale, for that matter—almost always wore the same clothing nearly every single day did not strike Jane as unusual. She liked wearing the same thing most of the time. The interesting part of life was the part inside, not outside—what went on behind the scene, not the scene itself—and her world tended to reflect her beliefs.
Glitches in reality also extended to Jane’s environment. Mirrors sometimes failed to reverse images or showed only a few of the objects before them. Jane’s food might reappear whole after she had consumed it, or vanish before she ate it. Books and writing, dinnerware, furniture, cars, and whole buildings (and sometimes even Lawndale itself) randomly moved from one spot to another, changed colors or shapes, disappeared and reappeared, or morphed into other things entirely. The high school was redesigned several times. People were more consistent, but they, too, disappeared, reappeared, and teleported about. Once in a while, a person was in two places at the same time. Clothes, hair styles, hair color, even faces and voices changed at random. Even the tattoos and goatee of her older brother Trent came and went.
The inside of the Lane home was subject to occasional tweaks, particularly in Jane’s bedroom, which had closets of varying sizes and contents, plus a queen-size or king-size bed. However, the Morgendorffer home, created whole from an unsold suburban lot, was as inconstant as a non-Euclidian lava lamp. The Morgendorffers’ abode had (sometimes) a basement, an attic, a dining room, a spare bedroom, a garage door from the kitchen, and extra closets. Furniture was hardly the same each time Jane entered, floors changed color and countertops changed height, and even the room-to-room layout warped at whim. Walking in the front door was an adventure in itself.
Random spatial distortions were widespread, shortening or lengthening all distances in Lawndale. Walking anywhere in town was usually a breeze. A bit troubling was the gremlin that occasionally made you walk or drive past the same buildings or features two or more times before you actually got past them, rather like running with Alice and the Red Queen in the land beyond the looking glass. Jane got annoyed when she had to walk through a door more than once to get into a room, but that was how it went some days. Playing god had a price.
Temporal distortions occurred, too, worsening with ever-greater alterations to reality. Clocks froze in place, lost their hands, or ran backwards. Calendars showed the same date for many weeks in a row. Football season never ended, and the weather was almost always mild and sunny. Most curious of all was the way the current year itself became indistinct. Jane knew she lived in the late 1990s, probably in 1997 or thereabouts, but part of her memory became blurred beyond that. She had first used her powers in 1994, and she was sixteen, midway through her sophomore year—but in what year had she been born, and in what month, on what day? And why couldn’t she remember?
Was Lawndale itself real? Jane was pretty sure it was, most of it. The giant strawberry was real, as she remembered it from childhood. The malls she was less sure of, and where the Interstate was she rarely knew. Some parts of town seemed to grow out of the ground overnight, and some parts existed but had no fixed location. That didn’t bother her. She had a long-held belief that Lawndale was a suburb of a major American city, but which city was less certain; Baltimore was possible, depending on each day’s events. There was that odd nearby desert, of course, and the mountains, and so on.
As Billy Pilgrim would say, so it goes. Jane liked to be entertained, and the unpredictable kept her in pleasant anticipation. And, no matter what happened, she always had her best friend, the best that anyone could ever imagine.
And she had the music. Jane’s musical tastes were much influenced by her brother Trent, and she often had alternative songs playing in the background of her life no matter what she was doing. Green Day, Tool, Nirvana, Garbage, Foo Fighters, Radiohead—she didn’t need a CD player or radio. She just thought the music into being and went with it. No one else heard it, so no one complained about the volume. Music sometimes came into being on its own, with an ironic tweak. The Beastie Boys played when Tommy Sherman died, for instance, and she couldn’t listen to them again for months thereafter.
Playing God wasn’t half bad. Believing that you were God, however, could be a problem. Even Jane knew that—sometimes.
* * *
The first time Jane saw Daria Morgendorffer was in Mr. DeMartino’s American History class, shortly after the start of her sophomore year in high school. The diminutive brunette in the front row flawlessly answered every question put to her, her cynicism and her command of facts both well up to Jane’s own personal and intellectual standards. A natural sponge for information, Jane knew lots of stuff, but she wasn’t interested in interacting with others to share it. She had good reasons not to trust those around her. Daria, though, talked as if she were just like Jane—which, in a manner of speaking, she was—and drew Jane’s attention in class like a nail to an electromagnet.
Is she my future best friend? Is she the one I wished for? The question nagged Jane unmercifully. She wasn’t brave enough to approach Daria at first, preferring to wait and watch. Previous failures had put her off. (Jodie was so close.) Then Jane learned that Daria had been involuntarily assigned to attend a self-esteem class after school. Jane stayed late that day and made sure she was there, too, though she wasn’t signed up for the class. The all-too-sensitive teacher, an unconscious creation of Jane’s like so many of the incompetents and morons who populated the high school, did not notice Jane’s unannounced presence. She could stay out late that night, too. Her unreliable parents were gone on separate globe-trotting trips, and Trent had been away the night before on a band gig and would probably sleep until the evening. No one would miss her.
Daria seemed irked to be stuck in the self-esteem class. She sketched a stick-figure picture of the teacher as the Stinky Cheese Man, one of Jane’s childhood favorite books—more proof that she was the one Jane sought (not to mention complementing Jane’s interest in art). After an irritable exchange with the teacher over the meaning of one of his New Age catch-phrases, Daria made a disgusted noise and leaned back in her chair—and Jane, sitting right behind her, spoke up. She wasn’t worried the teacher would hear her. He was on autopilot, and Jane had pulled a privacy bubble around her because some of the other students might be real. The minor warp caused the eyeglass lenses of the student to Jane’s left to turn from dark to clear, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“He doesn’t know what it means,” Jane said in a conversational tone to Daria, referring to the catch-phrase in question. “He’s got the speech memorized. Just enjoy the nice man’s soothing voice.”
Daria turned halfway around in her seat as the teacher continued his spiel. “How am I supposed to follow him if I don’t know what he’s talking about?” she said.
Please be the one I’ve been waiting for. “I can fill you in later,” Jane replied. “I’ve taken this course six times.” That last part was a lie, as Jane had never been near the class, but that was unimportant. They suffered through to the end, then walked home as Offspring’s “I Choose” played around them: What a nightmare come true / Or a playground if we choose / And I choose.
“So, then, after the role-playing, next class they put the girls and the guys in separate rooms and a female counselor talks to us about body image.” Jane knew all about the class syllabus from overhearing other kids talk about it.
“What do they talk to the boys about?” asked Daria.
Jane smirked. “A classroom full of guys and a male teacher?” She came to a stop. Daria stopped, too, and they said in unison, “Nocturnal emissions.”
For a fraction of a second, Jane stared at Daria in wonder. It was the first time anyone had ever said exactly what was in her mind, serious or silly. They continued on their way, discussing the class on the way to Jane’s place, intending to hang out there for a while until Daria had to go home for the evening.
They passed Schloß Morgendorffer on their way to Casa Lane. The two-story, red-brick structure was unfamiliar. Wasn’t that where the vacant lot used to be? “Where did you live before you moved here?” Jane asked.
“Highland, in west Texas,” said Daria after a moment of hesitation. “I had hopes that Lawndale was a step up on the evolutionary scale, but I’ve learned to live with disappointment.” She then regaled Jane with stories of her adventures at her old high school and the “interesting idiots” who were her classmates and teachers. Daria’s younger sister Quinn was ranked high among them.
They got to Jane’s home just in time to save it from being repossessed, because Jane’s wayfaring parents had forgotten to mail in the mortgage payments. (Jane made a feeble effort to barricade the house, then gave up and wished the problem away for a few months longer.) While Daria visited the bathroom, Jane checked an atlas and a collection of western United States maps left by her vagabond older sister, Penny. There was no significant place called Highland anywhere in Texas. A search engine on the Internet revealed several minor Highlands, none of which matched Daria’s description. The Highland, Texas, that Daria claimed to hail from did not exist.
The verdict was in: Daria was indeed Jane’s fresh-out-of-the-magical-bakery best friend. Jane knew she was alone no more. Someone of an existential bend might have questioned that: if Daria was merely a simulacrum of Jane, born of her subconscious by a conscious wish, wasn’t Jane still alone? Jane was fortunately not inclined to serious existential philosophizing. Her last day of solitude had come. The outcast duo was born.
Jane’s slacker brother Trent woke up from his snooze to visit the bathroom and ran into Daria on the way there. It became clear after watching them together that Daria was attracted to the tattooed, twenty-something Trent, which pleased Jane enormously even if she had wished that that might happen anyway. Trent was the only member of Jane’s immediate family that Jane liked, because he stayed home instead of running off and acted like his little sister mattered. A crush would solidify Daria’s connection with Jane, who did not like leaving important things to chance in her unpredictable world. And if the crush led anywhere else, a best-friend sister-in-law would be welcome, real or not. Jane imagined she might one day build a whole new family in this way, to replace the family that had gone off and left her, the youngest, to fend for herself. Too bad Trent fell asleep in the middle of talking with Daria, but at least it was a promising start.
Jane and Daria were seen everywhere together after that. Daria even met Jane at her front door in the mornings so they could share a walk to school, though Daria had to walk an extra few blocks to do it. The reality glitches swiftly began to multiply. Fellow students teleported around the hallways or at parties that the two attended. Clocks ceased to keep the proper time. The bridge in Daria’s glasses vanished now and then, though the two halves of her glasses stayed on her nose. Jane smiled and said nothing. The fall and winter of that year remained warm and sunny; the trees stayed green. Jane brushed it off. Everyone in town began wearing the same clothes day in and day out. Jane was content. She made an effort to do more things on her own instead of wishing for them, to keep this pleasant reality stable, but otherwise she paid little attention to the issue.
Then came the summerlike morning when Daria did not show up at the front door to chat on their way to school. Trent was up, though, and talking about going to Alternapalooza that weekend with his best friend, Jesse Moreno. Alternapalooza was held every year in mid-August for a three-day weekend. With careful questioning and research (newspaper, television, Internet, Trent), Jane discovered that it was now the summer of the following year, just before she entered eleventh grade at Lawndale High. A stupendous temporal distortion had taken place overnight. It was the recoil from the effort of maintaining Daria’s existence and deepening her connection to Jane.
Having no other option (as wishing a recoil out of existence caused an even bigger mess, which Jane had discovered when she created Brittany), Jane played along. She called Daria and invited her to come over and watch TV while she glued together sculptures from assorted objects she found in her room that her future self must have collected. Jane liked art. It helped her think up new things to do with reality.
The art session was interrupted by the cacophony from Trent’s band, practicing in the basement, and the two girls went downstairs to investigate. Daria’s crush was still intact, one thing led to another, and that weekend Jane, Trent, Jesse, and Daria headed for the concert in a borrowed van. None of them had the $75-per-person admission fee required, but the van broke down on the way so it didn’t matter. Wearing lipstick for the first time, a blushing Daria spent some personal time with Trent and kept the crush burning. Trent’s tattoos and goatee vanished and reappeared, the numbers on the van’s license plate changed, the windows on the van opened when they couldn’t be opened, et cetera. Jane secretly beamed as she fixed the engine so they could get to the concert—which had already ended, to their surprise. Jane’s music played all around them anyway. All was right with the world.
Jane slept on the living room couch that night for the hell of it and woke up the next morning to a knock at the front door. It was Daria with her backpack on. “Aren’t you going to school today?” she asked, eyeing Jane’s half-dressed and disheveled condition. Reality had snapped back into place. They were sophomores again.
Jane shook her head and went upstairs to shower and dress while Daria waited. A little chaos now and then was okay, but this was not good. She knew she was going to have to cut back on her reality tweaks, or else she’d have no semblance of temporal or spatial order whatsoever—and her best friend might become a casualty of the next reality recoil. She buckled down and put an end to her wishes.
It was a good thing she kept to her vow, as another stressor surfaced within days: her father called from Argentina and asked Jane and Trent to attend the Lane Family Reunion that weekend, being held at his mother’s home in Sloatstown in the great American Midwest. Her father’s family (all of them real) disliked the Lawndale Lanes with marked intensity, far more than the same family members disliked each other, but her father explained in a reasonable fashion that Jane and Trent, being the youngest, might be accepted, whereas their parents and three oldest siblings had long ago worn out their reunion welcome. Plus, none of the other Lawndale Lanes were available or willing to go. Jane might have begged off, but Daria was being involuntarily taken away on a family camping trip that weekend, so there was no point in staying.
Money for the tickets was wired, and Jane and Trent did as they were asked. Mindful of the recent temporal spasm, and unsure if she would be able to alter reality to any extent outside the confines of Lawndale, Jane behaved herself as best she could when she and Trent arrived in Sloatstown Friday afternoon. She held out hope that someone in her extended family other than Grandma J would love her for who she was.
The hope was in vain.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” shouted Grandma Lane that night in front of everyone. “You act like a damn mental case, you’re wasting your life on your damn art—what the hell is wrong with you, Janey?”
No one said a word in Jane’s defense. Her cousins even laughed. Jane considered causing a volcano to erupt under the reunion site, but that would upset her father, and there was still a tiny hope left in her that her parents might come to their senses one day and prove that they loved her, instead of mouthing the words before they ran off to the ends of the earth for weeks at a time. Jane and Trent fled the reunion the following day in a rental car belonging to a bad-tempered aunt, none too soon for her tastes.
Daria returned to Lawndale thereafter with a fantastic story about her family going insane from eating toxic berries, which sounded like Jane’s reunion story in a way. It was curious how both their families went completely off the tracks at the same time. Perhaps, Jane reflected later, it wasn’t really a coincidence at all. Daria and Jane now shared a powerful psychic connection. Their lives were more similar than not, despite surface differences. If they shared the same thoughts, they could share separate but similar life experiences, too. It made sense, kind of.
Reduced to her last nerve, Jane returned to school. The student photo sets from Picture Day came back a week later, spoiling her recovery. She had ordered none, since no one she knew wanted a picture of her; she and Daria were content with seeing each other in person. It still bothered her to see other students trade photos in the hallways. Shallow idiots, she thought, depressed that no one would ask for hers, even if she had none to give. She went home in a funk. The next day, when she and Daria got to school, they found a long yellow banner hanging above the school’s front entrance. As Jane and Daria got closer, they could read the blue lettering on it.
LAWNDALE HIGH WELCOMES BACK
And everything went straight to hell.
* * *
The beginning of a tale, however, is not always the real beginning.
* * *
The old woman stood alone outside the front door of 111 Howard Drive when Jane Lane answered it. The woman looked vaguely familiar; there was something about her face that reminded Jane of her mother. Jane, four years old, filthy and barefoot and clad in bright green shorts and a dirty T-shirt, looked up with innocent interest, one hand on the doorknob.
The old lady smiled down at her, though she appeared distressed when she saw Jane’s scruffy condition. The lady’s long white hair was put up in a bun. She had brilliant blue eyes like Jane’s, surrounded by wrinkles, and a modest gray dress nice enough to wear to church—a well-to-do sort of person she was, not like the Lanes of Lawndale.
“You must be Jane,” the old lady said. Her pleasant accent made her sound educated and worldly.
Jane nodded, looking her over. “Who are you?” she said.
The old lady seemed anxious about responding. “Well, pet . . .” She took a breath and plunged on. “I am your mother’s mother, your grandmother. I was passing through and wanted to stop by and . . . and, well, say hello. Hello! Is anyone else home?”
Jane shook her head no. She had never thought of her mother as having a mother, as her mother never spoke of the rest of her family. The only grandmother she knew was her father’s mother, who lived far away. That grandmother did not care for Jane.
“No one’s at home?” The old lady seemed stunned. “No one at all?”
A smaller shake of the head.
“Are your brothers or sisters around?”
“Trent,” said Jane. “He’s in back, in his tent.”
“Trent, yes, I remember him. An interesting lad. What’s he doing in a tent?”
“He lives there.”
The old lady frowned, unsure if she had heard that clearly. “He doesn’t really live there, does he? Doesn’t he have a room of his own?”
Jane was unsure whether to nod yes or shake her head no. “He lives there,” she repeated. “I make sandwiches for him. He likes peanut butter and banana.”
“How old is Trent now?”
“Ten.” Jane’s face lit up. “You know how old I am?”
“No. How old?”
Yesterday I was three. Today’s my birthday, and I’m four.”
“It’s your birthday? Are you going to have a birthday party today?”
Jane’s face fell. “I don’t know.”
The old lady raised her head and looked past Jane into the ill-kept house. Dirty clothes, old cat food, wet towels, sheets of newspaper, rags, spilled cereal, small dried-up jars of watercolors, and used tissues were everywhere in sight on the floor.
“May I come in?” the old lady asked.
“Okay.” Jane left the door open and led the way back into the house.
The old woman closed the door and followed Jane to the kitchen, where Jane climbed into a chair and went back to work spreading peanut butter on a slice of stale white bread. Flies were everywhere. The garbage had not been taken out in at least two weeks, and it stank to heaven. Crumbs, dried-up soup spills, cat litter, moldy oranges, and fragments of a broken glass were scattered across the tile floor.
“Oh, my God,” said the old lady, putting her purse down on the table. She looked around the room in horror.
Jane finished the peanut butter part of the sandwich. The old lady’s concern made her nervous. Is she mad at me for making some of this mess? “I have to put the banana on now,” she said, pretending nothing was wrong as she reached for a foot-long butcher knife and a blackened banana.
“Wait!” cried the old lady. She took the knife away and put it on a shelf. “You should be very careful. Knives are sharp.”
“I know,” said Jane. She looked at her left hand and held it up. “See, I cut myself. Trent put the band-aid on. I cried, but not too much.”
Appalled, the old lady reached down. Jane let herself be picked up and carried though she wasn’t that small. The old lady was stronger than she looked. Carrying Jane, she went through the house, room by room, calling for Penny, Summer, Wind, and Jane’s parents, Amanda and Vincent. No one answered but the echoes. “Where did they go?” she asked at last.
“I don’t know. Penny went out but she said she’d be back. Trent’s watching me.”
“When did she leave?”
The old lady cupped a hand around the back of Jane’s head and pulled her close, so Jane’s head rested on her shoulder. The old lady smelled like garden flowers.
“I haven’t been in this house for . . . it’s been eight years,” the old lady murmured. “Trent was here with your older sisters, Penny and Summer. Your mother and father were far away then, too. You know where I live?”
“Mmm-mmm.” Jane liked the sound of her grandmother’s voice.
“I live in New York City,” said the old lady. “My mother lived in London, England. That’s a very grand city that’s across the Atlantic Ocean. My mother lived in London until she passed on some years ago. Did your mother ever tell you about my mother? She was your great-grandmother.”
“Oh.” The old lady sighed. “I was afraid of that. I had hoped she would, but . . . your mother and I don’t . . . well, it’s complicated. Does your mother ever tell you stories? Faerie tales?”
“Oh, dear. Does she tell you any stories at all?”
“Trent tells me stories about what happened in school. He knows a lot. He wants to be in a rock-and-roll band.”
“What do you do at home when no one’s around?”
“Um . . . watch TV.”
“Too much TV isn’t good for young minds.”
“I like it. It’s good for me.”
“Would you like for me to tell you a story?”
“Okay.” Jane relaxed against her grandmother. She was very comfortable.
The old lady’s footsteps paced slowly through the house, across time and space. “My story is about a young girl,” she said, “a girl who had two younger brothers. She was the oldest of the lot. They lived with their parents in London, almost a hundred years ago, and this is about the time that the little girl created a special place where she would—”
“Trent!” said Jane, sitting up in her grandmother’s arms. “I have to make his lunch!”
“Goodness. I’ll help take care of Trent.” The old lady walked back to the kitchen, to a window looking out into the backyard. Next to a gazebo was a worn pup tent surrounded by toys and cassette tapes. “Is Trent out there?”
“He lives there. He said that was his home.”
“It looks like he does live there, yes. Why does he live out there?”
“‘Cause he wants to.”
“But doesn’t your mother make him . . . oh, never mind.” The old lady sighed and put Jane down. She walked over to her knit handbag, which was as gray as her dress, and she opened it, pulled out a thick, fresh sandwich. She put it in a small paper sack that also came out of her purse, then folded the top of the sack over and handed it to Jane. “Take this out to Trent. Be careful where you step.”
“Okay.” Jane hurried out the half-open back door, looking back to make sure her grandmother did not disappear. She ran back a few seconds later.
“Did he like the sandwich?” asked the old lady.
“He’s asleep,” said Jane. “I left it . . . for . . . him.” She became very distracted as she spoke because the kitchen looked so different. It was clean. There was not a speck of dirt anywhere. She thought she had walked by accident into someone else’s home, but a look around confirmed that the furniture indeed belonged to her family. And the house smelled clean. Jane had never smelled that smell before.
“Are you hungry, my pet?” said the old lady, opening the refrigerator.
Jane was on the verge of saying yes, but she was sorry that her grandmother was looking in the refrigerator, because there was nothing there worth eating. The refrigerator door swung open and it had . . . food. And there among the glorious food was a small cake with pink frosting and four lit candles. Jane had never been so surprised in her life.
“What have we here?” said the old lady with an impish smile. She took the cake out and put it on the table. Jane climbed up on a chair and saw with wide eyes that her name was on the cake, with the number 4. The old lady sang the birthday song to Jane, then let her blow out her candles and make a wish. She did not ask Jane what she had wished for. She then cut a slice of cake for Jane and sat with her as she ate.
“I forgot where I was in my story,” said the old lady. “I shall have to start over.”
“Are you Mary Poppers?” asked Jane, her mouth full of cake. She meant “Poppins” but never got it right.
“No, pet, and don’t talk with your mouth full. It gets crumbs all over. Mary Poppins is make-believe. Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, all those people are make-believe. You know what make-believe is, right? Good. They’re not real people. You and I, we’re real people.”
“Are you magic?”
The old lady hesitated, thinking carefully about her answer. “You might say that,” she said. “Do you think Trent would like some cake?”
“He’s asleep,” said Jane. She looked at her cake. “We can save some for him.”
“Let’s do that, then. Do you mind if I stay with you for a while? Until someone else comes home, that is.”
“You can stay here!” shouted Jane, her mouth full of cake again.
“Manners, my pet, and thank you. I should like to stay all day with you. I remember your sisters and brothers. My family and I first came to visit your parents here a long time ago, a few years after they moved into this house. I’m afraid we’ve never quite . . . I don’t know how to say it. We’ve . . . well, never mind that.”
“Didn’t they like you?”
The old lady sighed. “It’s a long story. Perhaps it can wait for another day. It’s hard to explain.”
“You were going to tell me a story.”
“Indeed I was. Where was I?”
“I shall, my pet.”
“I’m not a pet!” Jane said, thinking she was being teased.
“Yes, dear, I know. When I say ‘pet,’ I mean it as if I’d said, ‘my dear’ or ‘sweetheart.’ My mother always called me ‘pet.’ People do that in England. Do you know what my real name is?”
Jane shook her head, watching her grandmother with great interest.
“My name is Jane, also. You were named for me, I believe, though I don’t quite know why your mother . . . oh, never mind. Your mother and I haven’t talked much in recent years. Anyway, I have a daughter, too, but she’s much older than you. Her name is Margaret. She went to school a long time to study about people. She’s married now. They have a daughter who’s older than you. You’ve never met them, which is a shame. I don’t see them very often, either. I don’t travel so much these days since my husband died. It’s not the same without him.”
“Is this the story, Grandma?”
“Not yet. I was explaining things first, though my mind wandered. Anyway, the story is about my mother, your great-grandmother. She’s not with us anymore, but she was very famous. You might have heard of her. She wanted everyone to know about her adventures, so she . . . she arranged to have a book written about her. It’s a true story, most of it, though people don’t think it is. You probably know the tale already.”
Jane shook her head no. She was done with her slice of cake and had pink frosting all over her face and hands. Her grandmother cleaned her up just in time to answer another knock at the front door. Jane ran to answer it, expecting tall, red-haired Penny.
Instead, at the door was a chimpanzee on a red tricycle. Helium-filled balloons were tied to the trike’s handlebars. The chimp pedaled into the house, circled the clean and orderly living room, then pulled a birthday card from inside his coveralls and handed it to round-eyed little Jane before pedaling off to crash into a wall and fall over on his back. He lay on the floor as if unconscious, a hand clamped over his eyes.
Jane’s grandmother put her hands on her hips. “I don’t know what I am to do with you, Darwin,” she said, looking at the ape with mock disapproval.
The chimp grinned at her, then climbed on the trike again and rode around the house once more. Jane followed in speechless amazement. The chimp soon dismounted, produced a pack of cards, and the three of them played a few hands of Go Fish on the kitchen table. They then played hide and go seek, but everywhere Jane hid, she discovered a birthday present for her. Soon she had four of them: a new watercolor set, a plush chimpanzee doll with red coveralls like Darwin’s, a bag of assorted candies, and a picture book of a children’s story Jane had never heard of. The picture book had her great-grandmother’s name in it, with pictures of her, and the last chapter even had Grandma J’s name, and her Aunt Margaret’s name, whom she had never seen.
Darwin then shook hands with Jane and her grandmother, mounted his trike, and rode out the front door, which closed behind him as if pushed by the wind. Jane ran over and opened the door again, but Darwin had disappeared. Magic. Jane was sure of it.
Grandma J, her name selected by mutual consent to distinguish her from the smaller Jane, checked on Trent and satisfied herself that he was safe. She then showed little Jane how to safely make different lunches for Trent without using sharp knives. She checked Jane’s bandaged cut, carefully cleaned it up, and re-bandaged it. And, with an understanding unusual for an adult in Jane’s experience, she talked about life and the world with an easy confidence that gave Jane the security she had craved for ages.
“You’re Mary Poppers,” said Jane before she went to sleep that night.
Her grandmother sat on the bed next to her. “No, my pet. I’m not make-believe.”
“I liked that story you told, about great-grandma. Did she really do all of that? Did she really fly and fight pirates?”
“Yes, she did, and so did I when my time came. I’ll tell you a secret, though—even though we grew up, we never lost the power we had to build our own worlds and hide them away from everyone else. The power passes from mother to daughter only. The book doesn’t tell about that, because it’s our secret only.”
“Can Mom do that, too? Can she fly and make worlds?”
Grandma J looked down, her face filled with sadness. “No, dear,” she said. “Your mother . . . she did things to herself when she was young that took away her powers. I don’t know how to explain it to you. You’re too young to know what I mean. I think your sisters Summer and Penny did the same things, because none of them went to Neverland, either, though they could have. If you take good care of yourself, you should be able to do what they could never do. Please promise me you’ll take care of yourself. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes!” Jane cried, but she wasn’t entirely sure what Grandma meant. Did her mother hit herself in the head? What was this all about?
“I’ll tell you another secret,” said Grandma J. “Your great-grandmother’s real name was actually Gwendydd—” Grandma J pronounced it gwen-deeth “—which is Welsh. She liked the shorter version of her name better, but her real name when she was a girl was Gwendydd Moira Angela Darling.”
“Oh, that’s a long name!”
“Yes, it was. I’m rather fond of being called Jane, aren’t you?”
“Yeah!” Jane smiled, but her smile faded. “Thank you for making Trent come in. He was outside for a long time, weeks and weeks.”
“He only wanted someone to invite him back in, I think. He wanted someone to care that much about him. That’s all.”
“I care about him!” Jane said.
“We both do. That made him very happy, that you cared so much about him to make his sandwiches. He always liked what you made, because you made it with love.”
The old lady leaned down and kissed Jane on the forehead, then began to get up. “Bedtime, sweet.”
“No, wait!” cried Jane in a panic, and she sat up. “Tell me another story!”
“It’s very late, dear. I can’t keep you up much longer.”
“Please? One more story?”
The old woman sighed, then sat beside her granddaughter again. Jane clutched her hand. “Please stay!” she said, her voice breaking.
“Are you afraid I’ll go away again while you’re asleep?” Grandma J whispered.
Jane bit her lower lip and nodded. Her eyes teared up.
“Well, I won’t. I intend to stay here a while. I’ll sit with you for now, until you go to sleep. Do you mind if I hum? I’m afraid I have a dreadful voice for singing.”
Her grandmother hummed a few children’s songs that Jane knew. Jane hummed with her, became drowsy, then woke up the next morning and found her grandmother was gone. She ran through the house crying, searching for her—and found Grandma J in the spotless kitchen with a sleepy-looking Trent, making breakfast.
“I’m not much of a morning person,” said Grandma J, covering a yawn as she calmed Jane with a long hug. “None of us are, but we’ll do the best we can, won’t we? Now, do you want maple syrup on your pancakes?”
Life continued in this heavenly state for three more days. The Lane home had never looked so good or felt so much like a real home. Even Trent looked better, though he was gone a lot visiting his friends. And then Jane’s mother came home from Alaska. And there was a fight.
“I don’t ever want to see you around my children!” Amanda shouted at her mother, not at all her usual carefree self. “Just get out! I’ve got a restraining order, and you know it! Get on your broom or whatever it is you do, and get out!”
Grandma J left quickly. She had only her purse to carry. Jane ran out of the house after her in a panic. Oddly, her mother did not try to stop her, merely standing outside the house in the yard and watching. “Don’t leave!” Jane sobbed.
Grandma J turned and knelt down to give Jane a final long hug. “I have to go,” she whispered in Jane’s ear, “but I am not leaving you. The gift my mother gave me, which I gave to my daughter, and my daughter to her daughter, was also given to you. If you need me, I will be there for you in your dreams. Trust me. I will always be there for you. Now, go back to your mother and be brave. You’re my wonderful girl.”
She cried all the more, but Jane went back. Her mother ignored her at first, scowling over Jane’s head in the direction her mother had gone.
“Faerie tales,” said her mother at last. “Those damned stories. They were all lies. She and Margaret lied to me. They never did all the things they said they did. No one ever came to take me anywhere special, no one but Mary Jane and Jack Daniels.” Her face began to relax. “Everyone grows up,” she said to herself. “You can’t live in faerie tales all your life. Everyone grows up, just like a butterfly. You can’t hold a butterfly for long, or it will die. You have to let it go. You have to stop pretending you can fly to Neverland, and move on. It was all pretend anyway. It was never real.”
Jane went into the house with her mother. Her mother went straight to the living room, took several twisted cigarettes out of a drawer, and proceeded to light and smoke them until she fell asleep on the floor next to the coffee table. Jane was accustomed to the scent of the smoke, but it made her light-headed. She went to her own room and shut the door. The house would get messy again soon, she knew. It depressed her to think about it. The house would never be clean again.
Penny came home that evening and smoked some of the same twisted cigarettes her mother did. They drank some wine, talked about nothing, and ordered out for Chinese. Jane and Trent got the leftovers. Some of the food fell on the living room floor, but no one cleaned it up. Amanda talked a great deal about letting butterflies go, but she never again mentioned her mother’s visit. Jane hid all of her birthday presents in her room and her memories in her heart. She never mentioned her grandmother again to anyone, not even Trent.
Her grandmother did return in her dreams, however. Grandma J had told the truth about that. She told Jane that she herself might one day have the power to create things, to build her own secret world as her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her aunt, and her cousin had done—but she would have to be careful. It was not good to let the world she built cross over into the real world very often, or it would make a mess of things. Grandma J did not specify how it worked, but she promised to show Jane what to do.
She also warned Jane not to drink or take drugs. If you use drugs too much, she said, it will change you. You won’t be Jane any longer. It happened to someone I loved. She fell in with a bad crowd and ran away and took so many drugs it damaged her mind, and she’s never been the same. She could never reach Neverland now. Please don’t make her mistake. Please be careful.
Jane knew after a while who Grandma J was talking about.
Grandma J visited Jane in her dreams once a week after that. She could not come more often, she said, without causing “problems.” When she and Jane were together, they talked, laughed, and held hands. Her grandmother’s touch felt warm and real, even in the dream. Jane told Grandma J everything, even when she made the man who chased her disappear into the ground with a gazebo. That story worried her grandmother. Jane’s power was coming onto its own, but it was very strong in her, and she was making changes to the place where she lived, not to a place far away that did not naturally exist.
Jane’s thinking began to change, too. Perhaps it was just her turning into a teenager, or perhaps it was a flaw in her genetics, or perhaps it was her mother’s drug use during pregnancy, or perhaps it was all of that combined with her emerging powers. Jane became a loner, an outcast unattached to those around her. Her emotional expression became flatter, her affect more deadpan; her reactions were often inappropriate or even cruel. She cared less about the larger world and grew apathetic and mocking. She felt that teachers and other students persecuted her unfairly at school, which was only partly true. She became angrier with her family, felt a loss of trust in everyone and everything around her except Grandma J, Trent, and later Daria. Music played that only she could hear. She took ever increasing liberties with the reality of her hometown, creating new places and inhabitants as if she were God. She began to joke to herself that she was God. She began to take those jokes seriously.
Grandma J tried from afar to keep tabs on Jane. Strangely, she always seemed to know more about Jane than Jane recalled telling her. How is that possible? Jane wondered. How does she know so much about me? Is she checking up on me with her magic? Am I telling her more than I know I am?
When Jane finally told Grandma J about Tommy Sherman, Grandma J did not seem surprised, though she was upset about what happened. She wanted to visit Jane and comfort her, to talk with her about the tragedy in person, but by then Grandma J was in a nursing home, her body undone by age and disease, her powers ebbing. All she could do was beg Jane to be careful and use her powers less often, and tell Jane she was loved, and ask her to pray for guidance and strength. “Whatever happens,” said her grandmother, “have faith in the future. Everything will turn out for the best in the end.”
Jane’s mother answered a phone call two days after that. Her mother said little into the phone except, “When did this happen?” and “Did she leave a will?” The Lane family received some money that was quickly frittered away. Grandma J never appeared in Jane’s dreams again.
The last person who truly understood Jane Lane was gone. Jane grieved in silence for weeks. Daria thought it was another reaction to Tommy Sherman’s death, and she tried to help. It was not enough. Jane eroded inside, and the erosion picked up speed.
Grandma J promised she wouldn’t leave me, but she did. I can’t trust anyone anymore. I can’t trust anyone. Everyone will betray me eventually. Life is like a big sit-com, all the laughter fake, nothing real or deep about it. That’s all it is, a big lie. That’s all it is. I hate the world. I hate my life. I hate everyone.
At least I have Daria. I created her. She will never betray me.
* * *
Jane ran until the landscape did not look familiar anymore. Hills, trees, farm houses—she was out in the countryside, circling the rural edge of Lawndale. Her legs were a blur rocketing over the deserted highway. A roaring wind snapped her hair and clothing. The center lines went by like lightning.
A stranger was gaining on her from behind. She did not dare to look back, but she was certain he or it was there. Her speed increased until the wall of wind tore at her and she could barely see through her tears. It was not enough.
The world was unraveling around her.
Who is behind me? What is it? What was I doing before I came out here? Am I going insane? I can’t tell what’s real from what’s not anymore. I don’t remember why I started running. Who’s behind me? Am I in danger? A hurricane howled in her face. Her feet hit the ground over a dozen times a second. What if this isn’t fast enough? What if that thing behind me is about to—
Panicked, Jane gave a spring, then came down hard on both feet and leaped. She roared away from the earth, her body tilted forward, her head up and arms out to her sides like wings as she climbed into the blue of the sky.
Nothing could follow her now.
In her relief, she remembered today was Friday. She had been working for the past week after school with children in the pediatric unit of the Cedars of Lawndale Hospital, teaching them arts and crafts. Under her direction, the kids had made voodoo dolls and painted over the murals of happy clowns to create mace-wielding Mongol barbarians. It was her angry fulfillment of an extracurricular task that her Stalinist high-school principal had dreamed up: helping others. Jane forced herself not to use any reality-altering wishes, dealing with the problem in the old-fashioned, time-honored, passive-aggressive way. The pediatric staff did not care for the voodoo dolls or the barbarians, some of whom carried the bloody heads of their victims. Last evening, Jane was made to leave the unit as soon as she reported in. She was done with her extracurricular, and she was proud of it. Screw the principal’s stupid assignments!
At this moment, however, Daria was visiting an old deaf woman in a nursing home, giving companionship when she was supposed to be watching TV in Jane’s room. Daria was doing good deeds for others. She wasn’t doing them for Jane.
“You’re just getting me back because I went out with Evan and I didn’t have enough time to be with you twenty-four seven!” said Jane, her voice rising over the howling wind. Trees and pastures swept by below her. “You’re supposed to understand about boyfriends! If you tried a little harder, you might have a boyfriend yourself! Trent’s still available, if Monique hasn’t snagged him! I can’t make him fall for you like I can make you fall for him, so get on the stick! You’ve got to try! You’re supposed to prove yourself! And you were supposed to be with me this afternoon! We’re a team, damn it! You’re my best friend! Why are you doing this? How can you do things like this without me? Why are you—why—”
Because she knows about Tommy Sherman, of course. That’s why she’s doing these things to distance herself from me. She knows I killed him, and she’s sticking me with it because she thinks she’s better than I am. She’s telling me that she can live without me. She acts like she doesn’t need me. She knows what I did to Tommy, and she doesn’t want me as her friend anymore.
Jane grimaced and shook it off. She knew that couldn’t be true—but it came back in an instant. She thinks she’s better than me. She has a family, and I don’t, and she has to rub it in. Everything was okay for a while after Tommy. Then Grandma J died, and weird stuff started happening. Daria was my lookout the night I defaced the school poster that Principal Li and Mr. O’Neill took from me and reworked on their own, but she almost screwed up our escape from the building to Trent’s car. She wouldn’t go down that side hallway past Mrs. Manson’s office, and we had to take another route and we almost got caught. I was ticked off for a while when she tried to explain why she did it but couldn’t. Then she gave up and apologized, and I forgave her. We’d solved the mess by ourselves, with a little of her mom’s help and without wishing for anything. It was great.
And then more stuff started happening. What is it with you, Daria? You didn’t want to show the world what a vapid shell your sister Quinn is, though we had it all planned out. Instead, you edited the final copy of the movie and made her even more popular than she was before! How could you do that? How could you go against me like that, even after I tried to show you what a waste of space Quinn was?
“You’re supposed to be loyal to me! Daria!” she shouted. “You’re supposed to be my best friend, not anyone else’s!”
I gave you plenty of warnings about what might happen if I got pissed off at you, Daria. I shot you with a paintball gun, which was a little warning, like a joke, then I almost dropped the school library roof on your head, which was a big warning, but you didn’t get it. I got inside your dreams, made you dream of changing bodies with the Fashion Club, made you dream of dying when you were in the hospital with that love-rash you get when Trent’s around. And you never had a clue, did you? You never got the hint, never figured it out. What does it take to get inside your head to make your see reality, Daria? What does it take?
“I don’t want to hurt you, Daria! I don’t! I care about you! If I dared, I might even say I loved you closer than a sister, more than anyone alive, even more than Trent! I do care about you! Stop messing up and do the right thing, all right?”
Don’t screw with me! You’re getting on my last nerve, and you’ve got nothing like the power I have! I’m life and death, Daria! You’re carrying this thing about Tommy Sherman way too far!
“Daria! Can you hear me? I’ve been testing you! I’ve tested you for weeks! You’ve passed a lot of tests, Daria, but you’ve failed some, too!”
You passed that test with Ted, and you stayed loyal to Trent and to me! You passed that test when you chose to stay at Lawndale instead of going to Grove Hills! And you passed the test and stayed loyal to me when I went out for track and started to see Evan. You stayed with me even when I got a by on that math test. That was a test for you, too! You gave me a lot of grief, though, even when you knew how important it was for me to learn to run fast. You knew that, didn’t you? Running was all that saved me when I was being chased by that bad man, the one I sank into the landfill, so you had to know! I don’t remember if I ever told you about it, but you’re my best friend, so you should know what I do is important! You should know that, damn you! You should know!
But at least you passed the birthday test. I made up a day for my birthday, since I can’t remember when it is anymore, and you went out with Trent and got art supplies for me, and you got your navel pierced for Trent, so you were loyal to us both, but mostly to me. You did the right thing, and I almost forgave you. You said, “Anything for Jane,” and I almost forgave you, Daria! I was that close! Didn’t you get my warning? Didn’t you get my hint about who I really am, what I can do when I get really, really pissed off? You were working on your short story for O’Neill but having trouble with it, and I said—and you heard it from me!—I said, What’s the problem? Take people you know, and have them do whatever you want. I’d make them crawl, I tell you!
How could you miss that, Daria? How could you? You blew me off with an “Easy, tiger.” I almost zapped you right there, you idiot! Now you’re reading to an old lady—a deaf old lady, at that!—and I want to know what that’s all about. What is it with you? What is it?
Her rage began to slip. She felt dirty—the tired, upset, depressed, feeling-bad-inside kind of dirty.
I’m sick of this. Screw it. She doesn’t want me, and I don’t want her, either.
“I need a holiday,” said Jane. “I need every bloody holiday there is to get a break away from this.” She slowed her flight, then descended until she landed in the middle of Lawndale’s Village Green. No one noticed her arrival. Pushing her irritation aside, she walked the short distance to her home.
Daria, back from the old folks’ home, was waiting for her on the front step of the Lane home. “Want to watch some TV?” she asked, looking hopeful.
Jane took a deep breath, held it for five seconds, then let it out. “Sure,” she said in a low voice. “Come on up.”
Daria left to go home after an hour, but she soon came back with a wild story. Some of the holidays had taken material form as teenagers and were hiding out in Lawndale. Startled, Jane met them and found that several wanted to form a rock band with Trent. About halfway through the ensuing craziness, Jane wondered how this had come to be, since she didn’t recall wishing for anything. She’d merely made a remark about needing holidays. Now the wankers were popping up all over, entering town through a hole in the back of a Chinese restaurant. It was . . . well, crazy. Should I care that none of this makes any sense? Jane wondered. Even Daria noticed things had strayed far from normality, though Jane wondered if Daria was reacting only to Jane’s thoughts and not her own. Just how independent was Daria of Jane’s control these days? Daria wasn’t a robot, but she wasn’t entirely autonomous, either. How much of Daria was Daria and how much of her was Jane was an uncomfortable mystery.
Only after the holiday people were gone did Jane realize that she did not remember the passing of the actual Fourth of July that year, or even the last day of tenth grade. The entire summer between her sophomore and junior years had vanished, except for the out-of-place trip to Alternapalooza. A titanic temporal distortion had wiped out three whole months of vacation time, so Jane and Daria had gone directly into eleventh grade without a rest. Had simply saying that she needed a holiday drained out all the vacations at once, or had this distortion been building for a far longer time? Either possibility was frightening. Was this a problem she should try to fix? She decided not to bother. The less wishing she did, the better.
The lack of a summer ticked her off even if the weather was pleasant and warm most of the time, but she held her temper and controlled her paranoia for a brief time, and got involved in things at school while waiting for the lost time to reappear. She ran a dance party as a tribute to Jackson Pollock and made a fair amount of cash doing it, plus hung out with Daria and met a couple of cute guys who turned out to be cousins of a revolting classmate. Then, to show she still liked Daria, she created Val, the idiot editor of a brainless teen magazine, and had the twit torment Daria for fun. On a serious note, to remind Daria that a dreadful punishment could be lurking in her future, she had Daria’s career aptitude results show she would make a great mortician.
I am just like God, aren’t I? You are so under my thumb, Daria. I can do anything, anything I want. I could run a musical in the middle of a hurricane if I wanted.
—she did exactly that. About the time she and Daria were singing a prayer on top of the high school, begging for Lawndale to be blown away in the oncoming storm, Jane began to feel things were totally out of control. It was hard to think clearly; difficult not to think crazy, terrible thoughts; impossible to keep even a fingernail dug into reality.
I AM GOD! I CAN DO ANYTHING! ANYTHING!
PLEASE, SOMEONE HELP ME!
“Today was strange in extremes, and that’s put lightly,” Daria said near the end of the insane day, in the midst of a yet another song. She had once again noticed things were out of whack, even though Jane had long ago wished that no one, no one, would notice her alterations to the real world. Was Daria becoming immune to Jane’s spatial/temporal manipulations? Was Daria becoming a god, too? No, that can’t be! She was dancing and singing like everyone else, and she’d never be caught dead doing that—unless she were trying to trick me.
The craziness passed. Dazed, Jane returned home to an unwanted family reunion that put her in an even worse mood than before. Daria let Jane stay with her until the chaos at home passed, but it was only a calm period between storms. More of this insanity is coming, I can feel it. It’s popping up from my own verbalizations and thoughts, not even from my wishes. I really am God, but I have to be careful. I can’t just go around wishing for this and that. Reality has to rest, I have to give it a break—
—right after I give Daria’s dad a heart attack. Does she think she break free of my power with impunity?
Unreal situations followed. Jane set up another test, to see if Daria—a nervous, newly licensed driver—would get a pile of money and drive a hundred miles through the out-of-place desert near Lawndale, to get Jane and her brother out of jail. She spun a threatening paranoid fantasy involving aliens, Communists, and FBI agents. She had the whole school go on a ship cruise, then allowed the liner to hit a barge and frighten everyone with the possibility of death—without anyone actually drowning.
And she wore out.
Daria’s not much of a friend anymore. I’ve had it with her. She’s okay now and then, but this best-friend relationship isn’t going anywhere. I don’t know what’s gotten into me about her. She’s not God—I’m God. She’s just Daria. She’s boring. Something has to give.
Ignoring Daria at her side, Jane looked around at the evening crowd, at the rock club where Trent’s band was playing.
It’d be nice if I had a boyfriend.
One minute later, she did.
* * *
Jane opened her eyes. Dim light filtered through the thick maroon sheet hung over her bedroom window, heralding the morning. Another day, another bout with higher education. If I’m God, why do I even go to school? Grandma J told me I had to do it, no matter what. And Trent still wants me to go, as if graduating would do anything for me now. I should give it up, though. Grandma J’s gone, and Trent’s away a lot. I’ve wasted my time hiding my powers. I should be what I am, screw what anyone thinks of it—as if it would really matter what anyone else thought. This play-acting is getting old.
She rolled over to get out of bed, but hesitated for a handful of seconds. Her intuition awoke and murmured: Something is wrong. The wrongness was in the nature of her local universe, to which she had become finely attuned of late. She could not dismiss her premonition and so accepted it: something was wrong. Time would tell what it was. Pushing the matter aside, she showered, dressed, and had a quick breakfast before Daria knocked on her door for their regular walk to school.
No such knock came. The silence grew; Jane opened the front door and looked out. No Daria. Nor, said her intuition, would Daria be along in a few minutes. Something was very wrong, and Daria was its core.
To her surprise, Jane realized that she was not surprised. She had half expected this day would come. After waiting a little longer, she got her books and left for school on foot, to have time to consider her options. Outwardly she was calm, cool, and collected. Her stride was quick and purposeful. Inwardly, her thinking was clearer than it had ever been before, or so it seemed.
So, that’s how she wants it. She promised me last night she wasn’t going to go out with Tom, she swore she didn’t want to have anything to do with my boyfriend. Now she’s not here, which could only mean she feels too guilty to see me, which could only mean she and Tom have hooked up, and she’s going nuts trying to think of the right thing to say and do when she sees me. He must have picked her up in that junk heap of a car and put the moves on her, told her I was doing crazy things, then tried to talk about the two of them as a couple. She probably resisted at first, told him off, then she’d be vulnerable and forget herself for an instant—and go under like the Titanic. She’s wanted him for the longest time. He’s wanted her, too. I should have watched her after she left the house yesterday, but I decided to let things go where they would without my help. No sense in beating myself up over it. That’s how she wants it, and that’s how she’ll get it.
Will I be a lady or a tiger at first? A lady, I think, when she confesses. I know her better than I know the back of my hand. She’ll spill her guts when she sees me, tell me her sins in the hope that she can clear her conscience and get the bad stuff over with. She’ll take the blame and owe up to everything. I’ll listen. And then . . .
Exploding eyeballs? It looked pretty cool on the movie screen—might be cooler but messier in real life. I’ll see for myself. After that, the real tiger: my claws raking down her front, throwing her wide open so she spills her guts a second time, literally out on the nicely polished floor. I’ll watch her thrash about at my feet in a spreading lake of red, flailing and screaming—but she won’t die then. Not right then. Not until I’ve fed.
That will be the closing act of a long, sad play. Vengeance will be mine. Afterward . . .
Tom? She made a face. He, his home, and his family will spontaneously combust at my command and be ashes in seconds. He’s unworthy of prolonged attention. Then, Lawndale? Burn it to the ground, too? Look for a new home? Rule the Earth as is my destiny? Create a new world? Decisions, decisions. I can do anything except make up my mind. Luckily, I’ve got all the time in the world—and all the world, too.
One last day of school first—and settling accounts with the traitor. About time.
Jane grimaced at the thought. The last few months had been tense. With the appearance of Jane’s created boyfriend, Tom, poor Daria had been a study in anger, jealousy, and depression. Jane hardly blamed her. How must it feel for her to have been created to be the best friend of a deity, then find her job had been outsourced? How can a friendship ever compete with a romance? That had been Daria’s biggest test of all. She had failed it. There would be no retest, and no need for one.
Oh, we’ve had our ups and downs since Tom walked onstage in my life. I outdid myself when making him: witty, smart, handsome, rich, everything Daria could possibly be, with everything she couldn’t be, because he was a man. She tried to go her own way several times, but she always came back, and I always took her back because . . . well . . . because I liked her. I do still like her—liked her, I mean. I don’t like her now. She asked for this. She couldn’t afford to fail. She had passed so many other tests—sticking with me in that blizzard I conjured up in the mountains, when I pretended to be defeatist; sticking with me while I finally got over Tommy Sherman’s death so she couldn’t use it against me again (she tried to screw it up by helping Brittany plant that crutch to mock me—but that pink flower I made grow out of it really threw them for a loop later!); then sticking with me when I “went popular” and acted like I was about to become a cheerleader. That part bothers me, though. I wondered then if Daria and Tom might hook up behind my back. I had a vision of them together in the stands, mourning me because I’d become brainless and popular, and it hit me that they might actually be a matched set. How long could they resist each other? How long until I was left alone again?
I didn’t trust either of them after that. I threw them together at that homecoming parade, and they had fun. That was all I needed to know. Daria got a warning from me on that one, with that fire in her house, but when she came over to stay with me and Trent, she had a long and cozy talk with Tom again. I let them do it. I watched their chemistry. I knew the score. Daria got the screws put to her this week with that hair-dye test I gave her. She passed—right up until last night, when she left my house and promptly lip-locked with Tom. I wonder if they locked more than lips. Doesn’t matter. Funny how Ms. Defoe tried to get me to see the school shrink the other day, because I looked like I was steamed about something. Boy, if she wants to see steam, she’ll look into a volcano when I find Daria. Maybe I should paint Daria’s demise for Ms. Defoe’s class, see what she thinks of it. Nah. Not worth it. Ms. Defoe’s my only ally on the teaching staff, but I don’t need her support anymore. I don’t need anyone’s help now.
What was it Mom always liked to say? “If you try to hold a butterfly tightly in your hand, it will die.” Let’s find out if that’s true for bigger things, too—like ex-friends.
Lawndale High came into view. Jane entered and wandered the halls, following her instincts. She dropped her books on the floor, knowing she wouldn’t need them.
In a hallway intersection ahead, Jane noticed Daria heading for class. She smiled and shouted, “Hey!”
Daria flinched when she glanced back. “Oh,” she said. “Hi.” She slowed down so Jane could catch up, but her manner was distant.
Is that terror on your face, Daria? “What's up?” Jane said. “What's going on? How’re you doing?” Hurry up and confess, you backstabbing traitorous bitch.
“Great,” Daria mumbled, unable to make eye contact. Her shoulders were hunched and her hands were shaking.
Poor little butterfly. Jane raised an eyebrow. “No walkie to school today? What happened?” She could actually smell the sour odor of fear in the air. It was amazing. Daria was white as a sheet. “Hey, what's up?” Jane prodded. “Talk to me.” Her hands itched with unspent power, waiting to act.
Daria started to speak, but her voice caught. She cleared her throat, then said in a soft, high voice, “I talked to Tom last night.”
Jane felt strangely . . . disappointed. Hadn’t more gone on than talking? “You did?” she asked, looking surprised. “Where’d you see him?”
“I didn’t.” Daria’s voice quavered. “I called him on the phone. We . . . we talked about you.”
Jane came to a stop in the hallway, puzzled. Students around were looking at them. “You two talked about me?” Jane asked. “What about me did you find so interesting?”
Daria’s face was a shade beyond white, bloodless with terror. It came out with a rush. “I had to talk to somebody. I told him I wasn’t worthy of you. I was supposed to be your best friend, but I wasn’t. I told him . . . I told him that I’d betrayed you.”
Jane lost her breath. “You what?”
“I betrayed you.” Daria drew a breath and plunged on, her voice level. “I couldn’t help it, Jane. She got into me on the first day of school, and I couldn’t stop her. I tried, I tried so hard to keep her out, but she got into me and I told her everything. I’ve told her all your secrets, everything we did! I’m sorry! I couldn’t help it! I tried not to!”
Wordless, Jane stared at Daria. She had no clue what was happening.
Daria took off her backpack and unzipped a side pocket. From it, she pulled out a few small white pills, holding them out in her trembling palm. “I gave pills like these to you. They’re psychotropic drugs to control your moods and paranoia. I put them in your drinks when you weren’t looking. She made me do it. She said if I didn’t, she’d make me go away. She has that kind of power. She’d make me disappear, and that would hurt you more than anything. I couldn’t let her hurt you!”
The pills fell to the floor. “The pills didn’t work, anyway. Your body changes too rapidly for them to take effect, but she made me try again and again to get you to take them without your knowledge. She said I had to. She said if I cared about you, I’d do it.”
Daria’s brown eyes looked into Jane’s blue ones. “You’ve tested me so many times, Jane, and I’ve tried to do the right thing, but I’ve betrayed you from the start. She got into me the morning I got here, right in her office, then put me in that after-school class to see if you’d come get me. She said that you created me, that I’m not real and everything about me is fake, I’m like a dream made real, but it doesn’t matter. I still wanted to be your best friend, even when I sold you out day after day. I don’t deserve you. Tom does. She did this to me, Jane. She did this to us.”
Jane’s mind reeled. “Ms. Li did it? The principal?”
“No!” shouted Daria. “She’s blocked out her name in my mind, and I can’t say who she is! I could never go by her office again after what she did to me, and what she’d made me do! I know I’m not real, but . . . you’re the only friend I’ve ever had!” Daria fought down her tears. “Tom deserves you. I told him last night he was better for you than me. He really loves you. The best thing I can do is go away forever.”
Jane’s mouth was dry. “What . . . what are you saying? I don’t understand!”
“I can’t stand what I’ve done. I have to go away. All I can do is to give you this.” Daria unzipped her backpack and upended it, spilling its contents across the floor. Manila folders fell out, and a snowstorm of papers slid from them to the feet of the students crowded around them. “I took these from her office. Tom said I had to do it, to show you that what I said was true! I made myself go to her office this morning and break in to get these! Take them, quickly!”
Jane crouched and picked up a file folder. The typed label on the upper tab read: JANE: Grade 10—History #4. Inside it were some of Jane’s history papers from her sophomore year, homework and tests and even doodles she’d sketched and discarded. Notes were written on the margins in red ink, but not in her history teacher’s hand. Jane tilted her head to read the notes more clearly, flipping through the papers one by one.
Grandiose ideation (deification)—same pattern in Literature papers. Flight of ideas with manic features, paranoid themes. Class presentation was accompanied by flat affect and by minor bodily gestures, foot tapping, and motions as if listening to music or rhythm (auditory hallucination?). Idiosyncratic world-view built upon ideas of reference—everything happens to her, because of her, feeds into her, is all about her. Short essays, symptomatic of apathy/avolition, sub-minimalist responses. More delusions of grandeur and violent ideation (ref. themes in art class—get notes from C.). Loose associations, paranoid ideation, persecutions, plots (personality decline in progress). Note increase in distortions of time; existential cataclysm is probable, not possible. Change medication & try again w/ D, very important. Focus on control issues.
Jane let the papers flip together in her hands. A slip of paper fell out to her feet. She looked down and read the red-penned handwriting thereon.
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” —PKD. Is this true?
“I have to go, Jane,” Daria whispered. “She told me that you might find out one day what I’ve done. She said you’d be very angry with me, and she gave me a way to escape if you did. She said there’d be no pain. Just three words, and—”
“Daria,” said Jane very very fast. “Don’t—don’t—”
“I love you!” Daria cried.
Her image burned away like movie film on a white-hot bulb. Empty spaces appeared all over her, spread out like cancers, consumed her to the last green color of her jacket. She was gone.
Jane stood alone in the hall. She blinked at the space before her and reached out, her fingers passing through emptiness. Nothing was there, nothing at all.
“Daria?” she whispered. She looked down at the floor, at the manila folders and papers there—the papers with the psychiatric notes scribbled on them.
The school psychologist, Mrs. Manson.
Mrs. Margaret Manson.
I have a daughter, too, said Grandma J, but she’s much older than you. Her name is Margaret. She went to school a long time to study about people. She’s married now. They have a daughter who’s older than you. You’ve never met them, which is a shame.
More delusions of grandeur (ref. themes in art class—get notes from C.), said the note on her history paper.
Jane’s art teacher was Claire Defoe. She had a degree in art therapy, Jane recalled, so Claire was a psychologist, too—
“No,” said Jane, staring at the floor. “No way.” She knew everything, then. Intruders had been living in her Neverland, checking up on her. To accomplish their goals, they had used Daria as ruthlessly as she had. Daria had never had a chance.
How must it have felt to have been torn in two so completely? How must it have felt to have loved me with all your heart, knowing that I both loved and hated you? How must it have felt to have wanted to be loyal to me, when you were forced to be a traitor? How must it have felt to have been tested without reason, judged without rhyme, forced to sell out the only person you cared for? How hellish must it have been to have been you?
I am damned, Daria. I am damned beyond redemption by my own deeds. Your blood is on my hands, my only friend.
And they helped bring it on.
She stared at the floor where a friend had once stood. A new thought began to coalesce in her brain. A moment later, she looked up.
Every student who saw her screamed and ran.
“No way,” she said, her voice not quite drowned out by the screams. She looked about as if waking from a deep sleep, then turned around and began walking. Her steady pace picked up but never became a run. The halls were littered with books and papers and backpacks and shoes and pencils and pens and rulers and compasses and tests and quizzes and essays and homework and scraps and dust. She went up a stairwell, turned a corner, went down a hall, and came to the office of the school psychologist.
She put out a hand. The door blew into dust with a muffled boom. She walked in. On the floor were scattered papers, as if someone had dropped them in a terrible hurry to leave the room. All the papers were in Jane’s handwriting with psychological notes penned on them in red. Jane swept her right hand across the room. The surrounding walls vanished. No one was there. Jane turned and stared at the wall leading into the hall. The wall exploded and was gone in a split second. No one was outside in the hallway. She could still hear the other students fleeing in their panic. She wanted to hear their screams. She made them scream until they were hoarse from it, and run until they fell in exhaustion.
They finally see my power, she knew. They finally see my rage. She bit her lower lip until it bled. They saw my only friend die, the only friend I ever had, wronged unto death. They know what I did. She killed herself because of me, because of them. Her blood is on my hands. No water will ever wash me clean. I am a murderer again, times three. A murderer, times three.
I am damned and damned and damned again.
To hell with it all.
She turned in place and the entire school building disappeared around her. Her feet were planted in the air thirty feet above the ground. The myriad screams ceased. Where all the people of Lawndale had been were now thousands upon thousands of steaming puddles of boiling blood and carbonized bone. The wind was gray with the ashes of the dead. She turned in the air again, and the blood and the bone and the ashes were gone.
Where are you? Where are you, dear Aunt Margaret and cousin Claire? Where are you hiding? You could not be made to die as quickly as these did. You are Neverlanders, like me. Where are you, Margaret and Claire? Are you in your Neverlands, too?
She began to draw in power, soaking it up like atoms into a vacuum. A blue sun and red moon jumped across a yellow sky. Black leaves waved, white grass grew. Time ran forward and backward, stopped and started, skipped, and broke apart.
Where are you, Margaret and Claire? Come out, come out, wherever you are.
Whole blocks of Lawndale entered and faded from reality: skyscrapers and farm houses, superhighways and gravel roads, shopping malls and corner groceries. Jane drank in more potential energy, drank it out of atomic nuclei, drank it from the particles that held space and time together like glue. The glue weakened. Space and time began to unravel and pull apart.
Two vast rips opened in the violet sky on opposite sides of Jane. Out came Margaret and Claire, flying at her at fantastic speed with all their energies about them to capture her.
“Welcome!” Jane cried, grinning. She put out her hands. Miles-long lightning arced from every finger, left and right. “Welcome to me!”
Margaret shielded herself with clouds of darkness, Claire in rainbows. The lightning reached into the darkness and the color and tore through them until lightning fingers curled around her aunt and cousin. Still Jane drank in the power, an infinite well into which all the energy in the universe ran.
“If you hold a butterfly tight in your hand, it will die!” shouted Jane, growing larger by the second. Her fingers curled into fists. The lightning writhed madly and curled around Margaret and Claire as they fought to hold it back.
“You can’t do this, Jane!” cried Claire. “We were trying to help you!”
“You killed my friend!”
“She wasn’t real!” cried Margaret. “You made her up! She was a figment, an imagining from your mind! She never existed!”
“LIAR!” Jane was a thousand feet high and growing rapidly. Reality around her became foglike, a movie run at increasing speed with a million gaps and jerks and stops and splits, the color washed out of it.
“You made her up!” shouted Margaret. “You hallucinated her and gave her substance, but she was unreal! You are real! You need help, Jane! Don’t hurt us!”
“Don’t hurt you?” Jane’s scream cut through eternity. “Don’t hurt you?”
“You’re very ill! You need help! If you don’t stop, you’ll destroy everything! We’ve been trying to help you! You have to stop this!”
Destroy everything? Jane considered this. She could do it. She could destroy everything. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. She had murdered her only friend for no reason. Nothing was real to her. Nothing made any difference.
Yet in the hurricane whirling as reality began tearing itself to pieces around her, she felt something small stir, somewhere within her. She turned her gaze inward.
Within her mind was a baby, curled and asleep and waiting.
Jane looked on in wonder. It was true, she remembered. Daria had been a creation of hers, a part of her. She had forgotten that.
And, at the end, Daria had loved her.
So, I loved me, or she did? Was she real at last? What is real?
It was too confusing. Jane shook her head, but her thoughts would not untangle. She turned her gaze outward and saw that she held tiny Margaret and Claire in her fists. She was a titan of titans, miles high with her feet planted in a formless void that had been the world. The stars had gone out, and no sun or moon looked down from the endless gray sky. She had drained away almost all the power in existence that there was to take.
What can I do to make it better? She was dazed at the turn of events. What can I do to fix this ruined reality?
She looked down at Margaret and Claire as they struggled.
What can I do, now that I am truly God?
An answer came. It was very simple. She was surprised she hadn’t thought of it sooner. With regret, she drained away the screaming Margaret and Claire until they were gone, too. She needed every bit of potential energy in existence to pull this off.
All about her was chaos, endless and deep.
Jane lifted her head and spread her arms. It was time. She cried out:
Let there be
She exploded—and there was Light. . . .
* * *
You have to let it go. If it comes back, it is truly yours. If doesn’t, it never really was.
* * *
Jane opened her eyes. Dim light filtered through the thick maroon sheet hung over her bedroom window, heralding the morning. Man, that was the craziest dream I’ve ever had. I should have known better than to have eaten leftovers out of the refrigerator. The ending was rushed and didn’t make any sense at all. Last time I ever read the original Peter Pan before bedtime. Oh, well, another day, another bout with higher education. She rolled over and got out of bed, remembered the events of the day before with Daria and the hair dye and Tom and everything, then she pushed it out of her mind. She showered, dressed, and had a quick breakfast.
A knock came at her front door, right on time. She opened it and found Daria there on the step, looking distressed.
“What’s up?” Jane said. Her heart skipped a beat. Was this about Tom?
“We have to talk,” said Daria, her voice tense. “Tom came by my house last night after I left here. He asked me to get into his car with him. I told him no, and then he said he wanted to talk about us—about him and me. I flipped him off and left, but he called me later. I didn’t take the call when Quinn picked it up and told me. I had to tell you.”
Jane swallowed. Her face burned.
“I’m sorry,” said Daria, looking mortified.
“Sorry for what?” Jane managed to say.
“For telling you. I had to.”
Jane nodded. It was pure Daria. She had to do it. After a long, shuddering breath, Jane leaned against the doorway. Her legs trembled, and the world seemed to spin around her. Tom was after Daria, not the other way around. I’ve been such a fool.
“I’m okay,” she lied, sick to her stomach. “Better that you tell me now than have me find out later.”
Daria was a portrait of misery. “I’ll understand if you don’t ever want to see me again,” she said in a low voice.
Jane gave a laugh that sounded more like a cough. “You dope,” she said. “You’re my best friend.”
“But I’ve ruined everything.”
“No, you made everything right. It sucks out loud, yeah, what Tom did, but you made it better, a little.” She sighed. “I’ll have to make a side trip after school to see Tom and have words with him about this—or maybe something more than words.”
“Don’t take anything sharp with you.”
“Bullets aren’t sharp.” Seeing the anxious look on Daria’s face, Jane added, “Joke.” She ran tired hands through her hair. “I’ll be okay. Do you mind waiting for a few minutes while I go to the bathroom and have a quick cry before school?”
“I’ll be here,” said Daria, depressed again.
Jane looked at her, then reached out and hugged Daria without warning. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for everything.”
“You’re squashing me,” said Daria in a muffled voice.
Jane grinned even though she was already crying. “If you hold a butterfly tightly in your hand, it will—”
“Oh, shut the hell up!” said Daria, but she hugged Jane back. The great friendship passed its final test—and lived.
* * *
Beyond the boundaries of the cosmos above, God looked down upon Her creation and gave it Her blessing. Jane was in Her heaven. All was right with the world.
Author’s Notes II: This is a mutant crossover with Peter Pan. Not many people recall the end of the story, which offers the genealogy that is used here to add Jane Lane and several family members to the list of women able to create their own Neverlands. The ability appears only in women, never in men, and is passed from mother to daughter. I considered crossovers with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but Alice and Dorothy had their fantasy voyages while asleep—not while awake, as did Wendy.
Seen in a different light, the Jane Lane of this tale has many of the same symptoms as do paranoid schizophrenics, from auditory hallucinations (the music playing in the background of the show) to visual hallucinations (artistic errors and the “weird episodes” like “Depth Takes a Holiday”), plus delusions, apathy, and more.
Hope you enjoyed it. Cheers!
Original: 06/05/05, corrected 09/26/05