©2005 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2005 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: A Halloween tale from an alternate Daria universe: There shall be done a deed of dreadful note (William Shakespeare, Macbeth, III, ii, 40.)
Author’s Notes: This story began with Ioxmo’s Iron Chef challenge in October 2005 to write a Daria fanfic in which a character’s hidden obsession was exposed. It drew upon many other sources, particularly Richard Lobinske’s story, “Chosin Fate”; websites about Ka-Bar fighting knifes and the U.S. Army Rangers in the Korean War; websites about self-mutilation among teenage girls; details on Highland High from the Beavis and Butt-head show; character data harvested from James “CINCGREEN” Bowman’s stupendous “Daria Encyclopedia 0.0” (http://dariaencyclopedia.blogspot.com/), the equally stunning “Daria Character Database” created by Mike Yamiolkoski and hosted at Kemical Reaxion’s Glitter Berries website (http://www.glitterberries.com/tvdb/TVIndex.htm), and Glenn Eichler’s first Q&A session with Kara Wild from 3/16/05 (http://www.the-wildone.com/dvdaria/glennanswers.html); MTV’s Virtual Lawndale webpage (http://www.mtv.com/onair/daria/lawndale/); episode scripts from Outpost Daria (http://www.outpost-daria.com/) for “Jake of Hearts,” “Of Human Bonding,” “Psycho Therapy,” “Is It Fall Yet?” and “Boxing Daria”; my book of Shakespeare; and, of course, Harlan Ellison tale, “The Deathbird,” winner of the 1974 Hugo Award for science fiction.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Ioxmo for the challenge, and to the four Angst Lords memorialized “at the corner of MacGillicutty Street and Wright Avenue, next to the storefront church with the broken-winged angel on the sidewalk outside,” across the street from the Renfield Building.
She was twelve when she found it, up in the attic on a lazy Saturday afternoon when everyone else at her grandmother’s house was dozing or watching TV. It lay at the bottom of a musty cedar trunk, under a pile of neatly folded Army uniforms and shoeboxes full of newspaper clippings and black-and-white photos from the 1950s. Beside it was a felt-lined wooden box that held an unloaded .45 Colt, a paper bag full of sew-on unit and rank insignia, a green case with three medals nestled inside on white silk, and an old map of Korea on which someone had penciled in arrows, crosses, and notes like “4/51” and “HQ12NKD” and “Ray died here.”
It was the only thing that registered in her vision. She picked it up, alert to the possibility of unwelcome footsteps on the attic stairs. Sweat dripped from her auburn hair and spotted the dust on it. It was sheathed in deerskin with the initials “M.D.M.” stamped on the outside. The leather-wrapped handle was five inches long and well worn. The black single-edged carbon-steel blade was seven inches and still had an edge. She ran a finger along the serrated blade and flinched at the sting. A bead of dark red swelled from the cut before she stuck her finger in her mouth. When the tangy taste of blood was gone, she put every item back into the trunk as neatly as could be, every item but one, and went back downstairs to the guest room where she and her sister were staying. Her sister was watching TV in another room and saw nothing.
When her family departed Grandma Ruth’s at the end of that summer weekend, the knife went with her, hidden inside a sock at the bottom of her suitcase. On the way home, her father ranted about his miserable childhood, her mother worked on legal papers from her office, and her younger sister listened to pop radio on pink earphones, head nodding and face blank, same as ever.
She who had taken the knife, however, looked out the window at the trees and houses and fences and farms, noticing nothing. She thought about how big the knife had felt in her hand, the killing knife that had belonged to her father’s father, U. S. Army Ranger Sergeant Matthias Daniel Morgendorffer, 1st Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne), veteran of Chipyong-Ni and the Chinese Communists’ May Massacre, the man that others had called Mad Dog.
She had never met him. He had died after her parents’ wedding, almost twenty years ago, but her father talked so often of him, she felt his presence even in the air she breathed.
The knife had felt strange in her hand, not comfortable, not right. Her grip was small, her handling unskilled. Yet there was a connection that could not be explained, a click. And now it was hers.
She thought about it all the way home. Everything seemed to be normal.
“Thank you so much for coming in this evening, Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer,” said Mr. van Driessen, nervously shaking their hands. He took a seat behind his desk and shuffled through a thin sheaf of papers. “Daria is of course one of our most gifted students here at Highland High, if not the most—”
“Damn right she is!” her father said. “Nothing wrong with her! Not like those idiot elementary-school teachers, always calling us in and complaining Daria was this or Daria was that, when there was nothing wrong with—”
“Jake!” hissed her mother, elbowing her father in the side. Fifteen-year-old Daria sat beside her mother and doodled in a notebook, trying to ignore the proceedings. She wore a black denim jacket and a knee-length red skirt with boots.
“Uh, right, exactly. A great kid.” Mr. van Driessen cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses. “Our resident Shakespearean. Creative use of . . . ah, invective. However, the reason I’ve asked for a conference is because of some of her recent writings, which—”
A portable phone rang. Her father gave her mother a pained look.
“I bet that’s the office,” said her mother, reaching into her purse. “Just a moment.”
Mr. van Driessen groaned and turned to her father. “Mr. Morgendorffer—”
“Jake,” said her father grandly. “You can call me Jake. Always glad to help.”
“Right, uh, Jake, and you can call me David. Now, your daughter was asked last week to write a one-page short story about love, and she turned in . . . this.” The teacher passed a single notebook page to her father. The paper was covered with red-pen markings. Daria looked up from her paper scrap, saw the page in question, and sighed. She returned to her scribbles.
“‘Red Nightmare,’” her father said aloud, reading the story’s title. “Wow! That would make a great movie, wouldn’t it? ‘Red Nightmare’! Isn’t she the best?”
The teacher winced and pointed to the paper, briefly eyeing Mrs. Morgendorffer, who was laughing at something someone had said over her cell phone. “Yes, certainly, but—please read the story, uh, Jake. It’s really quite . . . I don’t know how to describe it, it’s very . . . violent, I suppose you could say, very—”
“Huh,” said her father, glancing at the paper. He turned to his wife. “Helen! Helen, can you read this? Someone’s written all over it in red ink, and I can’t make out anything beyond the first couple—”
“Jake! I’m on the phone! Can’t you wait?”
“See,” said Mr. van Driessen, raising his voice, “instead of a love story, Daria’s written a story about, well, um, murder, a very violent sort of, ah, revenge fantasy, I guess you could call it, and the part at the end where the spy lady, Powers, traps her unfaithful lover who turns out to be a Communist agent, and, she uh, um, uses her, uh, Bowie knife to, uh, slice into his, ah—”
“Helen,” said Jake in a whiney tone, “for just one moment, could we work on parenting together?”
“Just handle it, Jake! I’m listening to a recorded deposition and they don’t have time to rewind it!”
“Oh, that’s the way it is, huh? Let Jakey handle it? Well, Jakey’s going to handle it, all right!” Her father stood up and tossed the paper back on the teacher’s desk. “My daughter’s perfect as she is! She could write for television and anything she did would be better than the gah-damn crappy crap they put on every night that’s thinly disguised as entertainment crap! What is it with people that they don’t understand good writing?”
Half-hearing her father’s latest rant without actually listening to it, Daria frowned. She had just doodled something odd. It would not have happened if she had not finished reading a science-fiction short-story collection that included Harlan Ellison’s award-winning story, “The Deathbird,” and it would not have happened if she did not so vividly remember the impromptu quiz in the middle of the story that began with the question, “Is there any significance to the reversal of the word god being dog? If so, what?”
There in her notebook, in her ninth-grade English classroom with her parents and teacher present, she had just written out two words, MAD DOG, and then reversed them to spell GOD DAM.
How odd, she thought in surprise. I never once thought about—
“If Corporal Ellenbogen had known anything at all about musicals, I’d be on Broadway myself, right now!” shouted her father. “But nooo, little Jakey’s not good enough to write musicals for Buxton Ridge Military Academy, oh no! And what does my old man say? What does he say when I call home because they’ve short-sheeted my bed for the third time that week?”
“Mr. Morgendorffer—Jake—there’s something else I wanted to speak with you about.” Van Driessen glanced uneasily at Daria, who gave him an unreadable look in return. “I’m concerned about . . . well, Daria is such an incredible student, I agree, and a gifted writer, but she seems so dedicated to, um, perfect performance, and . . . and she’s not very forgiving of her mistakes, and . . . does she seem a little stressed to you?”
“What?” Her father sat down and looked Daria over. The image of boredom, Daria flipped the page in her notebook to conceal her previous doodles. She glanced at her father and shrugged before looking down at her paper again.
“Well, I’m aware that she is rather intense but still a fairly temperate person, I can’t recall ever seeing her laugh or cry or anything, though she did smile once when we were talking about, uh, electrocution, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we at the school recently received from the state board of education a list of all the warning signs of—” Mr. van Driessen swallowed and nervously pulled his short beard “—of things like, um, depression—”
“Oh, Daria’s not depressed!” said her father. “She’s just quiet. Lots of smart kids are quiet. I think.” He gave his eldest daughter an uneasy look. “You’re not depressed, are you, kiddo?”
Daria rolled her eyes. “Am I depressed about being in this school?” she said in a monotone. “In this town? With my family?”
“There, told ya!” her father told her teacher with a grin.
“Yes, yes, that’s wonderful,” said Mr. van Driessen, who did not seem cheered, “but . . . does Daria always wear long-sleeved clothing?”
Daria’s head came up and her gaze snapped in his direction. Van Driessen jumped. The girl had a predatory look, as if waiting for him to say the wrong word.
“What?” said her father, frowning. “There’s nothing wrong with her clothing style. Lots of kids wear long sleeves. I wore long-sleeved shirts in military school, but I had to! Let a kid try something different, like a tie-dye T-shirt, and then watch the fun! Gah damn my old man for—”
Van Driessen withered under Daria’s serpentine gaze. “What I was trying to say was that—”
Her mother snapped off her cell phone and stood. “I’ve got to get back to the office. The deposition didn’t go well, and there’s going to be hell to pay.” She leaned over the desk and reached for Mr. van Driessen’s hand, shaking it. “Thank you very much for talking with us about Daria, and we’ll do everything we can to help her get along better with the other students, if we can. We have to go, Jake.”
“But I was handling things!” her father protested. “I was almost a parent here!”
Mr. van Driessen would not look up from his desk when they left, though Daria stared at him all the way out.
In the back seat of the car on the way home, Daria reached a hand inside her jacket and slipped her fingers under her T-shirt when her parents weren’t looking. Her fingertips ran over the dense series of parallel scars that began under the rim of her tee and ran down her chest, around and over and under her breasts. The scars swept out over her shoulders and midway down her upper arms, but they went no further than a phys-ed T-shirt would reveal. The scars were no problem in swimming class, as the athletics coach everyone called “Mister Buzzcut” simply didn’t care. The other students knew and avoided her. Daria felt a sense of calm as she touched the rough, raised lines. Soon her skin would be full, and it would be time to reverse the angle of the cuts, crisscrossing the older scars.
I should never have tried cutting my forearms last month, though, she thought. I got too close to the wrists, and Van Driessen noticed the marks. Can’t have that. Can’t let anyone see the damage. Can’t let anyone see the real me inside. Can’t let anyone know what I’m going through. God damn this rotten town and everything in it. God damn everything, everything starting with me.
She glanced down at her notebook. MAD DOG. GOD DAM. Is there any significance to the reversal? If so, what? And who the hell cares?
She let out her breath. Funny that Grandma Ruth said that Mad Dog was supposed to have a razor phobia. All the old photos of him showed him with a full beard. Why was he so afraid of razors? Why would anyone be afraid of a razor when he had such a great knife as he did? I’m not afraid of razors, or death. Her fingers ran over the field of parallel scars above her left breast. I’m not afraid of that stuff at all. I’m not the same as I was before I turned twelve, before Camp Grizzly, before I got my period, before middle school got tough, before high school, before my parents got weirder, before—
The need came back. She sighed in acquiescence. It would not be denied, but it would be only a few minutes until she could get to her room, lock her door, prepare the mirror and rags and antiseptic, and get out the knife. Only minutes until she would erase the fear and depression, conquer the need to cry. She was very good with that fighting knife, though only when using it on herself. She would never use it on anyone else, she knew, no matter what she wrote to the contrary. She hated no one quite that badly. No one but herself.
Her eyes closed. She saw herself kneeling on the floor by her bed, the tip of the knife above her small bare breast, then descending to press into the pale skin. She felt the deepest peace inside when the blood appeared.
Shakespeare, as always, said it best.
Speak, hands, for me.
The business-class section of the 747 had all the basic comforts a teenager could hope for while on a free trip with her father to a tax-deductible conference: lots of leg room, between-meal snacks, and a small-screen TV and earphones for every cushy seat. It had everything except something for the passenger terrified of flying.
“I love business class!” her father exclaimed from his aisle seat, drawing concerned stares from other passengers. “Complimentary cocktails, arm rests you can really get a grip on!” His maniacal laugh was followed by a half-whispered whine, and he grabbed his empty glass and thrust it at an approaching flight steward. “How about a refill here?”
Time for yet another caregiver intervention, thought Daria, sitting in the window seat beside him. Her father had been on edge for weeks, alternating between hysterical rage, depressed weeping, and wild panic attacks. Having him go screaming over that edge on a transcontinental flight would not make the weekend any brighter.
“Dad,” she said, gentle but firm, “you should go easy on the complimentary cocktails.” And see a psychiatrist when we get home. Stop trying to tough it out.
“You’re right,” said her father, handing his glass to the steward and waving off a refill. “Need a distraction, need a distraction,” he muttered, then picked up a book and began reading the advertising copy aloud.
I guess I can’t complain about being his part-time surrogate mother, Daria thought, pretending to listen to her father’s patter. He stuck up for me when I got that rash from daydreaming about my best friend’s big brother, and then he and Mom found out about my cutting. Damn nosey hospital staff. Dad’s as neurotic as he ever was, but he’s more supportive than Mom, and he doesn’t insist on searching me for new cuts—thank God—which I guess is both good and bad, depending on your point of view. And poor Mom will never figure out where the new cuts are. Serves her right, thinking that a strip search makes for perfect parenting. Good thing they never found the knife. One more strip search, though, and I’ll be tempted to . . . complain. Like I’d do anything else.
And speaking of stripping, Mom has been working a lot of overtime at the office lately. Eric, it’s always Eric Schrecter on the phone, always her boss making her laugh, making her blush, getting her hot. It’s so obvious. I bet Dad found out and it blew his ego. That would figure. I can tell something’s going on. Thanks a lot, Mom. Thanks ever so much. I know the magic has fizzled and you’re just going through the motions with Dad at home, but couldn’t you have held on just a little longer before—
She noticed her father was waiting for her to say something. She offered a non-sequitur response that seemed to satisfy him, then drifted back into passivity as her father chatted away about his book. I wonder what a good father would have been like for me. Not afraid to take risks, always there for you, doesn’t need his hand held . . . I wonder what that would have been like. Would I be any different? Would I still hate myself? Would I still cut myself? Why do I bother thinking about this? Why did my life change so much when I turned twelve? Hormones? Brain chemistry? Sunspots? Acts of God?
What would it have been like if Grandpa Morgendorffer had been my father? Would I be like Dad: broken, ashamed of my weakness, trying to hold up my head through failure after failure? Dad’s sister’s as bad as he is, always worrying if she’s done the right thing or worrying what other people think. Mad Dog left a mess no one could clean up. I could hate him for what he’s done. I could, if I’d known him . . . but I don’t, so . . . eh.
Why did Mom marry Dad, anyway? Right, like I’m ever going to figure that one out. Okay, Morgendorffer, break time’s over. Back to reality.
Her father’s monologue quickly became tiresome. She put her hand on her father’s wrist and squeezed. His ranting ceased. He gave an embarrassed smile, then put down the book and picked up a bag of peanuts. He did not seem so afraid of flying now.
There, there, Dad. Loyal Daria’s looking out for you. God, please let me go to college so I won’t get stuck doing this for the rest of my natural life. I don’t hate you, Dad. You didn’t do me wrong, not the terrible wrong some fathers do. You did your best. You tried. It could have been worse. It’s just that—it’s just that I hate my life so bleeding much, I can hardly—
“You know,” said her father with great heartiness, waving a legume, “the peanut really is a second-class nut. Now, cashews—those are what the big guys eat, the CEOs!”
Words to live by. She examined her own peanut package. I don’t care if he’s afraid of heights, but he’s afraid to be afraid. He won’t even try to face his fears. Grandpa destroyed him, and I can’t fix him. That’s what’s so heartbreaking. Here’s the shattered remains of my father, and I can barely get up the courage to pick up two pieces and stick them together. It wouldn’t kill me. Shouldn’t I let down the barriers for once and tell him I think he’s a hero? A little lie isn’t going to hurt. He could have turned out like his father, he could have been a new Mad Dog and made our lives the living hell he knew. It took everything he had not to be like his father, everything he had to fight it, and all that’s left of him is a broken shell. I wish there had been just a little more there, but to save us, it took all he had. He really tried.
Maybe he is a hero, in a way. Maybe he’s my hero. He’s the first one to come to my defense, no matter what. He’s the only one in the family who thinks I’m the greatest. He’s embarrassing, he’s a clueless clown, he raves about squirrels plotting against him—but he would stand up for me at the gates of Hell. He’s been the best father he could be, even if it isn’t much. He reaches out to me, once in a while, and he’s there for me, sometimes.
It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse.
Thanks, Dad. You did your best.
Why can’t I ever say that I love you? Do I even know what love is?
Why can’t I ever cry?
She looked at the object she had pulled from the peanut bag. “How did a salted goldfish get in here?” she said in mock surprise, then popped it in her mouth and chewed. “Weird.”
I’m such a coward. I’m such a goddamned coward, I wish I were dead.
Hours passed, and the cabin grew quiet. Her father snored lightly beside her. She peered out the little window at feathery clouds, above and below.
If I was angry with someone, anyone other than me, who would I be angry with?
The thought bothered her. She had the feeling she was missing something, something obvious.
I don’t really hate anyone. I don’t like school, my teachers, my classmates except a few, my family for the most part, et cetera. If I did hate someone, who would I hate? My parents? I’m pissed at Mom for getting schtupped at the office, yeah, and I’m not all that tickled with Dad, either, even if he does care about me, and Mom does too, I know, and I don’t hate either of them enough to . . . forget it. I’m such a wus. I can’t make myself hate anyone.
So why am I worrying about this? Why do I feel like I need to . . .
She found herself thinking about the knife, which disturbed her. She could never stop thinking for long about that damn knife; it always came back. She frowned and crossed her legs. She wished she had brought the knife with her, but airline security would not have permitted it. The need for it was growing. She hoped she could hold out until she could find something at the hotel, a pin or razor, and get a few moments of privacy in the bathroom. There was still hope.
She sighed and decided to call her best friend when she and her father got to San Diego. Daria could not imagine how she would have survived one week in Lawndale without the help and sarcastic advice of her fellow outcast-in-arms, Andrea. A cynical, undersized brain and a bitter, overweight Goth: the perfect match, friends for life—and Andrea was a cutter par excellence. She knew of places to cut that no mother would ever find, and she knew the dark places in Daria’s soul hidden from everyone else. The Andrea-Daria, they called themselves, a ticket to disaster.
And Andrea’s big brother Damien—dark hair, dark eyes, cruel smile . . . Daria sighed in contentment, blushing scarlet at his memory.
He was to die for.
The summer after Damien dumped her, Daria went to work at a children’s camp run by one of her high-school teachers. She didn’t answer Andrea’s phone calls or e-mails. She came home every evening scratched to pieces, but briars did it, she said with a careless shake of the head: briars and barbed wire and bumping into splinter-filled posts and bratty kids throwing sharp things and squirrels and who knew what else. Her mother was concerned but let it pass.
The truth was, Daria never went outdoors at the Okay to Cry Corral. The camp director kept everyone inside. As for the scratches, the knife just slipped.
Sixty-seven hundred times.
November rains lashed the car windows. Andrea pulled her car into a space at a roadside diner called Mom’s just outside Lawndale, positioned a newspaper over her head as she got out, and hurried inside. Daria saw her coming. She got up from her booth and ran to the door to hug her only friend. Andrea hugged back even though Daria was soaked, her hair plastered to her scalp and clothing.
“Hey, shipmate,” Andrea whispered. “You okay?”
“Did you walk all the way out here by yourself?”
A nod. “Mom had the car.”
They sat down and Daria emptied out her life over coffee and cigarettes. Her eyes were lifeless and dry, her voice barely above a monotone.
“They fired her, just like that?” Andrea asked at the story’s end. “That’s a hell of a screwing.”
“Nice pun. She gets severance, some other stuff, maybe a ‘thanks for being such a great sport’ card from Eric. She’s so mad at herself she can’t speak. I’ve been waiting for this moment for years, the golden reign of parental silence, and now that it’s here . . .” Daria shrugged, looking out the window at the rain. “Kind of funny,” she added, with no trace of humor.
Andrea hesitated, then plunged in. “Any chance your folks’ll get back together?”
A shake of the head. “Nada. Dad doesn’t want to leave his apartment. He says he’s getting his life together, but I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t think he’s seeing anyone, not that he’s making a killer impression as a single. Doesn’t shower, doesn’t shave, dirty fingernails, all the turnoffs. His office doubles as a landfill, and so does his apartment. Trash all over the floor, food left out . . . it looks like four college guys live there instead of one middle-aged guy. Quinn won’t even go in there anymore. He has to meet us at a restaurant or something for our nights out.”
“What about your mom?”
Daria snorted and took a sip of coffee. “She says she’ll find another job somewhere else. Nothing’s going to happen to Eric, of course, he being a partner. She’s the one who screwed up and got emotional, as the company sees it. I think she’s going to sell the house and move out of state. She can’t stay around here and get work. Everyone knows about the affair. I’m surprised they didn’t put it on the evening news.”
Andrea knocked ash from her cigarette. Her Eye of Horus makeup was perfect, as always. “What about you and Princess Q?”
A fragile smile came to Daria’s face. “A poet and don’t know it. I dunno. We’d like to finish out the school year, but that means probably staying with Dad.” She made a face. “Could be worse, I guess. I could clean up the place once a week, make Quinn do it the other six days.”
“I could help for maybe half a day,” said Andrea. “It might inspire me to do a new batch of poems.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Daria. She stared into her coffee.
Andrea scratched her nose with her thumb, still holding her cigarette. “So,” she said, “what about us? See each other in school and say nothing, like the last couple months, or can we hang out again, have a little fun?”
Daria swallowed. “I’m sorry,” she said, not looking up. “I should’ve kept in touch.”
“I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry I didn’t kick Damien’s ass into Chesapeake Bay.” She took a drag off her cigarette. “He’s at college now. Bastard.”
“That he’s in college or that he’s a bastard?”
It was Daria’s turn to hesitate. “That he’s gone,” she said. Her hands clutched her coffee mug to warm her fingers.
For a long moment Andrea watched Daria stare into her drink. She then reached across the table with her free hand and touched Daria on the cheek, turning her head to one side.
Fresh scars ran up Daria’s throat to her chin, crisscrossing over the veins in her neck. Andrea counted over a dozen crusty brown lines. She let go of Daria’s cheek and took her friend’s arm next, pulling up the long sleeve of the green jacket several inches.
“Jesus Christ,” she said when she saw Daria’s wrist. “Jesus sonofabitchin’ Christ.”
Daria pulled her arm back and stared into her coffee again.
Andrea crushed out her cigarette, her face gray. “I had no idea. I should have called.”
“You did. You called a lot.” Daria exhaled. “I guess I should have answered. I didn’t know if you’d come by tonight. I don’t know what you might—”
“You’re my best friend, Daria. You’re my only friend. Why wouldn’t I come?”
Daria opened her mouth as if to answer that, but no words came out, and eventually she closed it. They sat together and listened to the rain, drank another cup of coffee each, talked about school, then went to Andrea’s car.
Daria took a long deep breath. “Downtown. I have to take care of something.”
“I can wait for you.”
“Just drop me off. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Is this about your Mom?”
“Will you be okay?”
A nod. “I’ll be okay.”
“Okay.” Andrea started the car. The heater came on full blast. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Wanna go by Good Time Chinese after school tomorrow, see who gets the highest score on pinball?”
Daria smiled, staring at her bare knees. “Sure,” she said.
Something wasn’t right. Andrea frowned and reached for her friend’s hand. Daria’s skin was as cold as a granite tomb.
“Good Time Chinese tomorrow,” Andrea repeated.
Daria nodded, staring at her knees or something beyond them, her smile gone.
Andrea let go of her friend’s hand. Her heart sank. “I love you,” she said, which she had never said to Daria before, or to anyone that she could remember.
Daria kept nodding. She said nothing in return.
They drove to the downtown Starbucks at the corner of MacGillicutty Street and Wright Avenue, next to the storefront church with the broken-winged angel on the sidewalk outside. It was still raining hard. Daria got out, slammed the door, and retreated under the awning by the Starbucks door. Andrea waved at her. Daria raised a hand and held it aloft, palm facing outward. Goodbye. Then Andrea drove away.
And three minutes later drove back. Daria was gone. Andrea parked by the curb and got out in the rain, looking up and down the street. She ran into the Starbucks. No one had seen Daria around. She had never entered. She was gone.
* * *
Half a block from Starbucks, on the other side of the street in the Renfield Building, were the offices of Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter, Attorneys at Law. The front door opened to the correct pressing of a four-digit code on the keypad to the left of the door. Daria knew her mother’s code by heart, but she did not use it. She used Eric Schrecter’s code, which she also knew by heart, having seen him punch in that code on several past occasions. The lock on the glass door clicked. She pushed the door open and went inside.
Shakespeare, as always, said it best.
I am one, my liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incens’d that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world.
And I another,
So weary with disasters, tugg’d with fortune,
That I would set my life on any chance,
To mend it or be rid on ‘t.
No one was in the dim-lit lobby. It was very quiet. She glanced at the security camera over the front door, but she knew from her mother that it merely recorded what it saw on a long videotape that no one would see until morning, if even then. Punching in the security code had deactivated the motion sensors as well, if no one else were already in the building. She walked around the receptionist’s desk to the door behind and opened it and went through. She was now in a stairwell. She held the door so it shut softly, alerting no one to her presence.
Her mother usually worked late on Friday nights. So did Eric Schrecter.
There shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.
She took off her boots and left them at the bottom of the stairwell. At the third floor, she paused by the doorway and listened, hearing nothing. A peek through the door revealed darkness. She opened the door and went through, shutting the door in silence behind her.
The hallway leading down to the offices of Eric Schrecter and Maurice Riordan was dark.
The hallway leading to Helen Morgendorffer’s former office was lit, and she could hear movement in the distance there. It made sense. Someone was cleaning up after Helen. It would have to be Eric.
Daria nodded, then stepped into an open storage cubicle. There she removed her green jacket and lay it over a chair. She then removed her amber T-shirt, her black socks, her black skirt and belt, her necklace and watch, her bra, her underwear, and the deerskin sheath strapped to her right thigh. It was cool in the office, and goose bumps rose on her pale skin. She wore only her glasses, as she needed to see what came next.
She then slid the Ranger knife from the deerskin sheath and held it before her eyes. The dull black blade reflected nothing.
Is this full circle, then? she wondered. Is this why Mad Dog was so afraid of razors, why he left this knife at the bottom of his trunk of memories? Is this why his nickname spelled backward is a curse? Is this why he was drained of all things human, or had he let that happen of his own will? Is there power in this blade in my hand, or is it in my cells, a gene that skipped the generation of my father? Is Mad Dog here with me, watching me, helping me? Is what I’m thinking a delusion or a perception of monstrous clarity? Is this all I am, a living wound that nothing will heal but more wounds? What am I, after all? Who am I? What good am I?
I have no answers. I cannot heal my broken father. I cannot heal my wayward mother. I have no connection to my sister. I have forsaken my only friend. I am alone and so full of pain my cup runneth over, and even a flood of red cannot wash the pain away.
But I have to try. I cannot go on without trying.
She lowered the blade to her left arm and began. The caffeine and nicotine and adrenaline kept her conscious through it all. She never made a sound for the next twenty-three minutes, though her breathing shuddered and came in fits and starts, and she hissed several times through her teeth.
When she was done, she saw the blade in the dim light and it was the only thing around her that was not red. It was finished, the first part, and it was perfect.
She took a deep breath and let it slowly out. She was calm again and centered. It was time to finish it.
She stepped out of the cubicle, feeling light-headed, and walked silently toward her mother’s office, the knife in her right hand. She left a line of dark red footprints behind her in the carpet.
’Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.
The door to her mother’s office was half closed. She walked up to it and pushed it open and walked in.
The look on Eric Schrecter’s face when he fell back from her was all she could ask for. She continued walking toward him until she stood over him, raising the knife of Mad Dog to her own throat. And she finished what she had come to do. For the first time ever, she shared her pain.
He howled as her pain sprayed over him, a red nightmare.
I am not afraid, I’m not afraid, not afraid, not—