©2005 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
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Synopsis: During a sensory deprivation experiment, Jane Lane reveals a talent for getting her freedom—in a very unexpected way.
Author’s Notes: This story is based entirely on a single work of art by Kemical Reaxion. Before, during, or after you read this story, go to this link:
And there you have it: this story’s inspiration. This tale takes place during the summer after the Daria TV movie, “Is It College Yet?” A recent PPMB Iron Chef fanfic contest on superheroes sparked my thinking here, but Kem’s artwork really did it.
Acknowledgements: Extra-special thanks go out to Kemical Reaxion for her marvelous picture of Jane as a pixie on her Glitter Berries website. This story is dedicated to Kem. You totally rule!
Special thanks also go out to the beta-readers for their valuable feedback. In no particular order, thanks to: Thea Zara, Brandon League, Deref, Crusading Saint, Marcello, Nomad X, and Latecomer. U r0oL 2!
Lesser but still important inspiration was gained from William Shakespeare (“A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”) and James Matthew Barrie (“Peter Pan”). Thanks, dudes!
And now, “Jane Unchained.”
“Okay, so what you’re saying is, you’re going to take part in this sensory deprivation experiment at Middleton College next weekend because it will make you more creative.”
“Exactly. It’ll force my mind to work harder in the absence of annoying reality.”
“I wasn’t aware that you were well connected to reality to begin with.”
“Which is why I work in my chosen field.”
“Uh-huh. So, you’re going to let Middleton’s psych department—which for all you know is staffed by the criminally insane—you’re going to let them put you inside a totally soundproof, lightproof, upright water tank wearing a wetsuit, an air mask, your eyes covered and ears plugged, and a catheter stuffed in—”
“Carefully—very carefully—stuffed in.”
“Whatever, and you’ll be lowered into this tank of warm water where you will float weightless for one day with no contact with the outside world at all, not a single external sense working, and you’ll get a hundred dollars and be written up in a science journal for it, assuming you aren’t put in an asylum afterward.”
“And this will make you more artistically creative when you start your classes at Boston Fine Arts College.”
“Or just bored and sleepy for a day. Not sure which yet.”
“That’s why we have research.”
“I’m doing it for the betterment of my creative spirit, not for science.”
Daria Morgendorffer sighed and shook her head. She took a bite of her pizza slice, chewed, and swallowed. “How is it that you get all the fun summer jobs, Jane?”
Jane Lane shrugged and put down her soda with a grin. “Just lucky, I guess.”
Daria drove Jane to Middleton and walked her to the psychology lab on the appointed Saturday morning that June. “I’ve got fifty that says you’ll wimp out by six p.m. tonight,” Daria said in what she hoped was an encouraging tone.
“Make it an even hundred, amiga, and I’ll do it,” said Jane, scanning door numbers along the hallway. “Hit the bank on the way home and have the moolah ready when you come get me tomorrow afternoon.”
“A hundred. I dunno.”
“Buck buck buck buck buck-AHH!”
“All right, damn it, a hundred, and you’re not going to owe it to me, either! You’re going to pay it out in toto when I dump your soggy butt at Casa Lane tonight.”
“If you want it in Toto, you’ll have to ask Dorothy for it first.”
“What? What does—oh, I hate you.”
“Of course, after it’s gone through Toto, you might not want the money,” said Jane, pushing open a door marked LAB 13-X. Jane slowed, reacting to the maze of equipment in the crowded room. “Whoa. Wow.”
Daria almost said the same thing as she followed Jane inside. It was an impressive set-up for a science lab, with banks of computers and machinery surrounding a tall, jet-black cylinder in the middle of the room, over which a light crane arm was suspended. A hydraulic lift was also by the tank to bring people and equipment to its top.
The project head, four laboratory assistants, a nurse, and two medical technicians all shook hands with Jane and Daria, saving most of their chatter for Jane. They quickly prepared to give Jane a short class in what would happen over the next twenty-four hours in the sensory deprivation tank. Daria took that as a sign to head for home. She and Jane waved goodbye to each other, and Daria headed out of the building for her car in the campus parking lot. It was a long, lonely drive on the Interstate back to Lawndale, and it was difficult to push certain worries out of Daria’s mind about what might happen to Jane in the tank if something went wrong.
“She’ll be fine,” Daria murmured to herself. “She’ll call me tonight and ask me to come pick her up, and I’ll let her pay me fifty and she can owe me the rest, or maybe twenty, or whatever, I don’t care, as long as she comes back safe and . . . this is stupid. She’ll be fine. The nurse and med techs will be there all night monitoring her vital signs, and she and I will eat pizza when we get home and nothing will change.”
But what was a sensory deprivation tank really like? What possessed Jane to do it? Well, the money and a bit of fame, sure, and maybe it would jump-start her creativity, who knows? Stranger things had been shown on “Sick, Sad World.” Still . . .
Daria arrived back in Lawndale by one p.m. and stopped at the Cranberry Commons mall. After some aimless shopping by herself, she gassed up the car, went home, and was sitting in her room after supper trying to read the evening news off the Internet when she realized she hadn’t gone by the bank. She glanced at the clock on the computer monitor and groaned. The banks were now closed for the weekend. For some reason, this came through as a bad sign. I didn’t get the money because I was distracted, Daria told herself, but something else inside her whispered, you didn’t get the money because she won’t be coming back to collect it.
“Stop it,” Daria said aloud. “Stop it now.”
The thought returned.
“Stop it!” Daria got up and paced her room for several minutes, then lay down on her bed, facing the ceiling. It was still light outside. The phone hadn’t rung. Jane was supposed to put down the Morgendorffers’ phone as well as her own home phone as emergency contacts. The phone hadn’t rung, so nothing was wrong—unless Jane had forgotten to write down Daria’s number. She’d never forget to do that—but Daria had forgotten to pick up the money from the bank. She had never before welched on a bet with Jane. It’s not a problem, I can get the money tomorrow morning at the drive-through ATM, Daria thought irritably. Strange, how a few hours earlier she hemmed and hawed about a hundred dollars because it seemed like a lot out of her college fund, but lying on the bed alone, she had a wild thought that if she knew it would save Jane’s life, she would empty out her entire savings account in a heartbeat and never miss it.
Daria thought about calling the Middleton Psychology Department, decided against it, decided to do it, decided not to, and so on for many long minutes. She was afraid, and she couldn’t say why, and she hated it.
Come home, Daria thought. She took off her glasses and put an arm over her eyes. She was very tired and very afraid. Come home, Jane. Just come home.
Daria began to wake up. She thought someone had called her name. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, then found and put on her glasses.
“Fell asleep,” she muttered. She rolled over and sat up in her bed, feet dangling over the side. It was dark outside her window. The bedside clock said 11:16. She’d fallen asleep in her clothes and now felt grubby and sweaty. She let her elbows rest on her knees, removed her glasses again, and rubbed her face. Time for a shower, then bed. She’d wasted the whole day thinking about—
“Surprise, Big Eyes,” said a small clear voice beside her right ear.
She turned her head. Her vision was blurry without her glasses, but she saw—
Daria shrieked and rocketed off her bed. Her hip slammed into her television set and almost knocked it off its wheeled table. When she reached the padded closet door across from her bed, she spun around, her back pressed to the padding as she gasped for air. She realized then that she still had her glasses in her hand, and she put them on.
Nothing. There was nothing by the bed.
But I saw—!
There was nothing by the bed. Nothing above it, nothing around it, nothing but her usual stuff. Nothing.
Weak with terror, Daria sank back against the padded door. Her legs trembled. For just a moment, she thought she had seen—it had looked just like—
Daria put a hand to her forehead. No fever, and she was definitely awake. She struggled to slow down her breathing and pounding heart, finally taking a deep breath and holding it for several seconds. She let out her breath, feeling vaguely foolish though still in the backrush of that sudden jolt of unspeakable fear.
She thought of her younger sister in the next room and sighed heavily. “Good thing I didn’t wake up Quinn.”
“She’s on a date and not yet in,” whispered the feminine voice by her right ear.
The shock of terror was so bad that Daria couldn’t move. A dreadful paralysis robbed her of the ability to lift even her fingers. She waited, staring at her bed but seeing nothing, listening.
A tiny breath was drawn by her right ear.
“The night is young, the heavens clear,” said a tiny familiar voice. It came closer. “Why don’t we both get out of here?”
Slowly, Daria turned her head.
The thing she had seen only inches from her face while sitting on the bed—that frightening thing was back.
It was Jane.
Jane, hovering in the middle of the air on whirring bumblebee wings that sprang from her back. Jane, only one foot high, a live Barbie doll wearing a short magenta gown with a ragged hem and magenta slippers on her miniature feet. Her wings moved so fast they could hardly be seen, buzzing softly in the still air.
Daria took a step back, then another, and bumped into a padded wall. She pressed back against it, her mouth wide open and eyes goggling in disbelief.
The tiny blue-eyed Jane smiled with glee and hovered a foot closer, her arms stretched out at her sides. “It’s me! It’s me! Good Jane is free!” she piped in a high but extremely Jane-like voice. “Please come outside and play with me!”
“Whuh?” said Daria.
“I’ve just escaped the lonely doom, that dreadful tiny darkened room, then crossed the great and starry night until I saw your welcome light!” shouted the Tinkerbell-style Jane. “I’m free, I’m free, and we’re together! Let’s go outside and test the weather!”
Daria blinked. She knew she had completely lost touch with reality. A psychotic episode—she was unquestionably awake, as her side still hurt where she’d hit the TV set—but she was hallucinating wildly, riddled with fear for her friend, and—
Tinker-Jane (as Daria was starting to think of her) put her hands on her hips, hovering in the air, and gave Daria a mock frown. “You ought to see the way you look. You’d think you’d read a scary book, or maybe even seen a ghost—” Tinker-Jane suddenly darted a foot closer, glaring “—but not the friend you care for most.”
Daria swallowed, regaining a little equilibrium. “I’m, uh, a little . . . slow tonight,” she said, her voice too high. “Sorry.”
Tinker-Jane grinned again, her glare gone. “Then let’s be off and brave the dark! There’s prob’ly no one in the park, so we can chase a firefly or eavesdrop where the lovers lie, or gaze up at the silver moon and dance below, or hum a tune, or maybe sing an aria!” Tinker-Jane gave a hopeful smile. “Please say you’ll follow, Daria.”
Daria licked her lips. “Okay, sure,” she said, not believing for a second that any of this was actually happening. She’d go along and just ride out the hallucination, wherever it led. Daria pushed away from the padded wall, standing straight. Tinker-Jane backed up in the air, then darted to the door and twisted the knob until it clicked. She struggled to pull the heavy door open, but in vain.
“Let me,” said Daria, walking slowly over. She reached for the doorknob, waiting until Tinker-Jane flew back from it. She twisted the knob herself and pulled the door open. No one was in the hallway outside.
“Coast is clear,” Daria said. What the hell did I just say? she thought. The last time I said that, I was a kid.
A tiny, whirring figure in magenta zipped past Daria and out the door, hovering in the hall. Tinker-Jane pointed to the stairs. “Let’s follow where adventure beckons!” she sang. “And leave your watch—we won’t count seconds.”
“Okay.” Daria undid her watch and tossed it on her desk as she left her room and closed her door. She glanced at her parents’ closed bedroom door. “Won’t they hear us or notice I’m gone?” she whispered.
Tinker-Jane snorted and rolled her eyes. “Your ‘rents will never know at all. They’re out like logs, post-coital.”
Daria stopped and stared at Tinker-Jane. “You didn’t really say that, did you?” she whispered, shocked.
Tinker-Jane gave Daria a “duh” look. “You’d disapprove and send me ducking? I never said that they were fffffffffffff—” Tinker-Jane finished by sticking out her tongue at Daria and blowing a very spitty Bronx cheer. She then covered her mouth with both hands and giggled, wings whirring away.
Daria shook her head, mortified, and went to the stairs. “Let’s get out of here before someone sees you—or worse, hears you.” I’m afraid someone will hear my auditory hallucination? She shook her head again and wondered what sort of medication she’d soon be getting. With luck, the antipsychotics would be cherry flavored.
Daria unlocked and opened the front door, letting Tinker-Jane outside before shutting the door with care behind her. It occurred to her that she could have just locked Tinker-Jane out, but she discarded the idea in a moment. She was becoming attached to the idea of wandering around with this faerie-like creature. Despite its habit of speaking only in rhyme, it sounded just like Jane—a grade-school Jane, but Jane.
Daria walked down to the sidewalk and looked around. A full moon rode the warm summer sky overhead (Figures it would be a full moon out tonight, Daria thought), and the subdivision was bathed in silvery radiance. Shadows fell everywhere, cast by the bright silent orb above.
Daria idly wondered how long it would be until the police picked her up for questioning. (“No, officer, I’m not a runaway. I’m following my foot-high flying friend, Tinker-Jane.”) Good thing her mother was a lawyer. She wouldn’t spend more than a night in the slammer or hospital psych ward before Helen got her out on a technicality.
“Where to?” Daria asked her hallucination.
“Out about most anywhere, above the earth, below the air, through the moonlight—where to play?” Tinker-Jane pointed. “Let’s take our chances that-a-way.”
The faerie Jane pointed toward Lawndale’s Village Green, a small park in the direction of downtown. Daria sighed and set out at a steady pace. Tinker-Jane kept up admirably, humming an unidentifiable tune with a Beach Boys quality.
A disturbing thought edged into Daria’s consciousness as she walked, eyeing Tinker-Jane all the while. She didn’t recall a lot about traditional faeries, except for the fact that in European folklore they were strongly connected with death.
“I have one question,” said Daria, trying to keep her voice level. “Are you here because something happened to—” She almost couldn’t finish the sentence “—because something happened to Jane?”
“Oh, no, I’m Jane—not orthodox, just all that could escape that box.” Tinker-Jane waved her arms in aggravation as she flew by Daria’s side. “I floated weightless, feeling bored, and wondered if that damn reward would be enough to compensate for wasting time inside a crate. No light to see, no music too, just yearning for some time with you.” Tinker-Jane looked significantly at Daria. “I’ve thought about you lots today: the dev’lish things you like to say, delivered with sarcastic touch—I fear I’ve missed you very much.” Tinker-Jane shook her head in sorrow. “I really thought this would improve my creativity, remove the cobwebs from my hobbled brain—I’d lose a day but what I’d gain would clear out my artistic rot.” She sighed. “It did not work as I had thought.”
“Oh,” said Daria. “I was sort of afraid that . . . something went wrong, and . . . forget it.”
“You worried for me, feared me lost, despite the hundred this will cost?” Tinker-Jane grinned at Daria in exactly the way Jane always grinned at her. “I really shouldn’t take your dough, but it was your bet, as you know.”
Smart-ass faerie, Daria thought in annoyance, though she was relieved as well. “Do you want to come out of the big box, then?”
“Oh, no, I’ll stay there till it’s through. Then come tomorrow, I’ll see you with wads of cash that will be mine, and then at Pizza King we’ll dine. I’ll laugh about it, play it small, and of my fears say naught at all. Just seeing you will set me right—”
“But don’t you see me here tonight?” Daria interrupted. She suddenly smacked her forehead. “I can’t believe I’m finishing your rhymes! Damn it!”
Tinker-Jane laughed. “Oh, sure! I see you! There you are! And—oops, excuse me! There’s a car!” As headlights flashed over Daria’s figure, Tinker-Jane whirred to Daria’s right shoulder and landed there. Daria flinched, startled that she actually felt Tinker-Jane’s tiny weight—or perhaps it was a stick that had fallen on her from a tree, or a pinched nerve from sleeping wrong. Daria then felt little Jane’s arms wrap around a lock of her thick brown hair and hold on. (No, she thought, my hair is snagged on something—it isn’t really her!) Jane’s wings stopped whirring. “Shhh!” she whispered in Daria’s ear. “Play it straight, whatever comes, and greet your sister and her chums!”
Daria stopped, noticing the car approaching her was slowing and stopping, too. The windows were rolled down. Puzzled faces peered out from the vehicle when it reached her.
“Daria?” Quinn called from the back seat. She stuck her head and shoulders out the window, frowning. “What the hell are you doing out here this late? Where’s Jane?”
“Uh,” said Daria, “I was just—”
“You’ve got, like, something on your arm,” said Sandi Griffin from the driver’s window, squinting at Daria’s right shoulder.
“Make it plain, made by Jane,” whispered Tinker-Jane, sitting motionless by Daria’s head while holding her hair.
“Jane made it,” said Daria, walking closer to the car. Sandi, Quinn, and the other two members of the Fashion Club stared and gasped.
“Wow!” said Stacy Rowe. “Jane made that? That is the coolest doll in the world!”
“Aren’t you a little old to be playing with Barbies?” Sandi asked Daria in disdain, raising an eyebrow.
“Heeey,” said Tiffany Blum-Deckler in the seat by Sandi, “does it have wiiings?”
“Yeah,” said Daria, inventing an answer on the spot. “They’re really hard to make. Takes hours for just one. This one’s got four, I think.”
“Awesome!” said Stacy in delight. “That is just too cool!”
“Duh,” said Sandi in disgust. “Let’s go and let whatzername finish taking her pet for a walk.”
“When will you be home, Daria?” Quinn called from the rear window as Sandi pulled away.
“Don’t know!” Daria called back. The car was out of conversation range in moments. She turned and walked for Village Green again.
“So I’m a pet? Well, just you wait,” hissed Tinker-Jane, looking back. “I’ll find a goblin you can date!”
“Leave her alone,” said Daria. “You know how she is.”
Tinker-Jane flew off Daria’s shoulder and faced the departing car, flying only a few feet away from Daria. She put her right thumb on her nose, waggled her fingers, and stuck out her tongue. Satisfied, she resumed her normal flight, with an occasional evil glance backward.
“I feel like I’m watching the Disney Channel,” Daria murmured, overcome with the unreality of the moment. “Disney crossed with Nickelodeon, maybe, or—worse—MTV. No, there would be a song, then.”
Tinker-Jane apparently overheard. She wiggled her posterior back and forth in midair as she paced Daria’s walking speed. “Shake, shake, shake!” she cried. “Shake, shake, shake! Shake your bootie! Shake your bootie!”
Daria nearly walked into a telephone pole watching Tinker-Jane’s antics. This isn’t real, she reminded herself. Bear with it, and you’ll wake up soon. I hope.
The two wandered until they reached Village Green. Having nowhere to go in particular, Daria walked up to the statue in the center of the tree-surrounded city park and sat on a stone bench there. Tinker-Jane amused herself by doing loop-the-loops and circling the statue’s legs at high speed.
“Maybe you could go into the superhero business,” said Daria, too stressed out to care anymore if this was real or not “You could call yourself . . . hmm, no, Tank Girl is already taken. So’s Wasp. Tinker-Jane isn’t butch enough. You need a name that will strike fear in the hearts of evildoers. And I need a cherry-flavored major tranquilizer with an hour of electroshock.”
Tinker-Jane hovered low over a waste can and peered inside, wrinkling her nose. “I’m not the superhero type,” she said. “I’d never live up to the hype. Besides, I’d really hate to think that every day I’d need to sink myself inside a water barrel, popping out in this apparel.”
“You’d probably talk the villains to death, anyway,” Daria said absently. “The Anti-Crime-er Rhymer, that’s what you could call yourself.” She watched Tinker-Jane fly down, pick up an Ultra-Cola can and peer inside it, then drop it again. “Jane? Do you think you’re astrally projecting? You know, from inside the sensory deprivation tank?”
Tinker-Jane smirked at Daria and patted her rear. “Can I project my ass? You bet! But how I did it, I forget. What I recall is not in doubt: I got real bored and wanted out.”
“Are you aware of what the rest of you is doing in the tank?”
“Can’t say I do. For all I know, they’ve shipped my bod to Idaho. I’m not in pain, nor am I dead, so I’ll keep dreaming this instead.”
Daria raised an eyebrow. “You think you’re dreaming?”
Tinker-Jane laughed. The sound sparkled like water in the moonlight. “Is this a dream? Do I look real? ‘Tis just a break from my ordeal!” Her expression changed, her mirth fading to puzzlement. “All dreaming—though it be confessed, you look more real than I’d have guessed.”
This was a new wrinkle. “I thought I was dreaming when I saw you,” said Daria. “Then I thought I was hallucinating. Now . . . now I don’t know what to think.”
Tinker-Jane flew up to Daria’s face, hovering only a foot away, and she stared intently into Daria’s brown eyes. Daria did not recoil, instead taking a long moment to examine this new incarnation of her only friend. Tinker-Jane was flawlessly real in the illumination from Village Green’s overhead lights. Her onyx bangs were finer than silk. Daria carefully raised a hand and held it out, palm up, under Tinker-Jane’s feet. The pixie carefully lowered herself until her feet touched the palm. Her wings stopped whirring, and she stood, balanced and steady, on Daria’s hand.
Daria’s breath caught in her throat. Tinker-Jane weighed about a pound—a pound of real weight. The faerie creature quickly sat down on Daria’s hand, dangling her legs over the side of the palm. Daria felt the pressure of Tinker-Jane’s hips and thighs, the bounce as the tiny figure swung her legs back and forth in space.
“My God,” Daria whispered. A new shock sank in as every previous excuse for feeling Tinker-Jane’s presence failed. “You are real! This is happening! Oh, my God!”
Tinker-Jane patted Daria’s hand and felt her fingers. A strange look of awe came over her as she peered up at Daria’s face. “Your hand is warm, and smooth your skin,” she whispered. “Your fingers huge, and my arms thin. I’m half afraid that I was wrong, and dream it wasn’t, all along!”
“Why would you wear that dress, then?” Daria asked, unable to think of anything else to say.
Tinker-Jane looked down at her magenta outfit. “My clothing brings to mind the days of second grade, of two school plays in which I starred and Mother ran: ‘Midsummer-Night’ and ‘Peter Pan.’”
“So, you were once both Puck and Tinkerbell,” said Daria, dazed. “Yeah, I can see that—the merry wanderer of the night. That’s you. Maybe you brought up that memory while you were sleeping in the tank and transformed yourself, or your spirit, or your astral something, into . . . Tinker-Jane.” A new thought came to her. “Did you go trick-or-treating dressed like this when you were little?”
Tinker-Jane nodded. “On Halloween, I did indeed. From all that doubtless came the seed to fly about, just as I am. I wonder if—” Tinker-Jane abruptly seized the hem of her magenta dress and pulled it up to her neck, looking down at herself. She wore nothing underneath. “—I don’t! Hot damn!”
Appalled, Daria tried not to stare at the faerie, who appeared to be anatomically correct for a miniature teenager. “Jane, this isn’t like when we had to shower together in gym class. Cut it out. And you’re sitting on me with your—um—”
Tinker-Jane let her dress fall back into place, looking up at Daria in surprise. She then pointedly shifted her position, rubbing her bare tush on Daria’s palm as she grinned wickedly.
“Oh, thanks loads,” said Daria with a glare. “I’m going to wash that hand with soap and hot water for hours once I get home. Maybe I should wipe it off on you.”
“You’d wrong me for my harmless caper!” protested Tinker-Jane, grinning. “Go find yourself some toilet paper.”
“Why don’t we find a bug zapper and see if it works on pixies, too?”
Tinker-Jane stuck out her tongue. After a moment, however, her smirk faded, replaced by a look of mild anxiety. “If this is real, we shouldn’t roam. You’ll need to get your sleep at home so you can drive to Middleton and pick me up at half-past one.”
Daria’s irritation disappeared. It came to her that she didn’t want Tinker-Jane to get up from her hand. The experience of being with her was too novel and wonderful. It would never happen again, and Daria knew it.
“We can take a few moments more,” said Daria softly. “I didn’t bring my watch, remember?”
Tinker-Jane looked relieved beyond measure. She gazed up into Daria’s brown eyes. “It’s lonely there inside the dark. I own the night and all the park, but feared that you would tell me, go . . . and you’re the only friend I know.”
Daria felt her face flush and her eyes water. She felt a response was required, but she hated to get emotional, even now. Still—well, it hardly needed to be said, but—
“And you’re the only friend I know, whatever your size,” Daria replied in a low voice. She swallowed. Her throat hurt.
“I have a secret, never shared,” said Tinker-Jane softly, her face both solemn and radiant. “Inside me hidden, never dared to speak it, write it, call it true. Please hear me say it!” Tinker-Jane reached her arms out to Daria, motioning her closer. Daria brought her face down to Tinker-Jane, whose tiny hands touched her eyeglasses, her hair, her cheek, and gently pushed to turn her head. Tinker-Jane rose up on her knees on Daria’s hand and leaned close to her left ear. Daria felt and heard the stir of a tiny breath, and then heard three soft words whispered in Tinker-Jane’s voice.
The air crackled just the tiniest bit.
Tinker-Jane’s weight vanished from Daria’s hand. Daria turned her head, surprised.
Tinker-Jane was gone.
Daria lowered her hand and looked around her. She was alone in the park.
“Jane?” Daria called. She stood up, looking all around her. “Jane?” No response. “Jane!” she shouted. “Jane! Don’t hide, Jane! Damn it, Jane, where are you?”
She ran halfway home before her energy deserted her. Two Lawndale cops in a patrol car found her panting and staggering up a deserted sidewalk just after midnight and took her the rest of the way. Quinn met her at the door in the middle of redoing her nails.
“Hey, where’s your doll?” Quinn asked, but Daria brushed past her and stomped up the stairs to her room without a word of explanation. As soon as the door was locked and she was alone, Daria grabbed the cordless phone and dialed information, then the Middleton psych department’s robotic directory. Two minutes later, she was talking with a medical technician at Lab 13-X.
“Miss Lane is fine,” said the yawning tech, once assured of Daria’s identity as Jane’s friend. “She apparently woke up about twenty minutes ago, from the recordings, but she’s asleep again. Everything’s okay. She’ll be ready for pickup at one-thirty tomorrow unless we call earlier.”
Daria hung up. She noticed her glasses were smudged and took them off, preparing to wipe them clean. She lifted them to a light to see where the smudges were—and froze, staring at the lenses. After a long moment, she put her glasses away in their carrying case and took out her emergency pair and put those on instead. She did not go to sleep until three a.m., when she lowered her head and closed her eyes while sitting at her desk, looking up Internet information on faeries, astral projection, and sensory deprivation—three topics that were, of course, not connected at all.
Daria waited at Lab 13-X from eight-forty a.m. until one-twenty p.m. on the following day. She fell asleep while reading an old library copy of Thomas Keightley’s The Fairie Mythology. A lab tech woke her up when they lifted Jane out of the tank at noon, set her on the hydraulic lift, and lowered her to the ground. Once stripped of her diving mask, Jane sent a tired smile to Daria but then looked away, as if embarrassed. Daria hid her book in her backpack and zipped it up.
Jane was whisked away for a checkup by the nurse and medical techs, reappearing after a debriefing and shower in a bright blue t-shirt, black jeans, damp black hair, and a weary face. Walking appeared to be a little difficult for her but was manageable.
“Well, that’s over with,” Jane mumbled in the corridor outside the lab. “I’m beat.”
“I’ll bet,” said Daria. She suddenly glanced at her right hand, then wiped it on Jane’s t-shirt sleeve.
Jane looked at her, puzzled. “Why’d you do that?”
“Wipe your hand on me.”
“It was dirty.”
“What?” Jane did a double take and stared at Daria with a strange look on her face. “Dirty?”
“Never mind,” said Daria. “Let’s go home.”
The drive back on the Interstate was light on conversation. Jane finally fell asleep, forehead pressed against her cool window.
Daria poked Jane in the arm when they reached Jane’s house several hours later. “Hey,” she said. “End of the line. Everyone out.”
Jane rubbed her face. Her half-dried hair was spiked out in all directions. “Oh, man,” she mumbled. “That was weird. And my crotch hurts from that damn catheter.”
“Really?” said Daria, and got out of the car. She helped Jane into her house and into the kitchen, where Jane began eating nonstop out of the refrigerator.
“That’s not necessarily good for you, you know,” Daria remarked, watching Jane finish an apple in one minute flat. “Take a break so your stomach gets used to it.”
“Mmm,” said Jane, killing off a slice of pie and a soda. “Okay, rest now.”
“I thought you spent the last twenty-four hours resting.”
“That was a hell of a rotten rest. I was bored out of my gourd. Man, I had the craziest dream, too.”
“Mmm, I bet,” said Daria impassively. “Feeling more creative?”
“What? Oh, I dunno. Wait and see.” She yawned. “I didn’t sleep well. It wasn’t uncomfortable, it was just . . . I dunno. Boring. Hated it. Wanted to get out early, but I made myself stick it out.” She winced. “Damn catheter.”
“Oh,” said Daria, reaching in a pocket of her jacket, “here.” She pulled out five twenties, fresh from the ATM, and put them in Jane’s hand.
“No, forget it,” said Jane, handing the money back. “This one doesn’t count.”
“I insist,” said Daria, not taking the money. “It was my bet, as you know.”
Again, Jane glanced at Daria strangely, but she finally pocketed the bills. “I want to be by myself for a while, if you don’t mind,” she said, looking uneasy. “Let’s get together later tonight, get pizza, same old same old. I have to tell you about this dream I had. It was . . . it was really weird.”
“Sure,” said Daria. “Oh, and there’s this.” She reached in her other jacket pocket and took out her glasses case. She opened it and held up her glasses. “Don’t touch the lenses. Interesting smudges, wouldn’t you say?”
Jane frowned and took the glasses by the earpieces, lifting them up to the light.
Across the outside of the left lens were two oily handprints, each the size of an adult human’s thumb.
Jane stared at the handprints for a long time. All expression faded from her face except for blinding amounts of shock mixed with fear and awe. She looked at Daria for a long moment, then looked at the handprints again. Her fingers trembled.
“How,” she finally croaked, her throat dry as a bone, “how did . . . how—”
Daria carefully took back her glasses and put them away again without touching the lenses. She snapped the case shut and put it in her jacket pocket.
“I have a secret, never shared,” said Daria, “but you know what it is.” She turned to go. “See you tonight.”
She got only two steps toward the door before her best and only friend caught her.
Original: 05/19/03, updated 04/07/05