My high heels tapped on the wet concrete like anxious teeth clacking. It’s dark, I’m alone. Scared. It’s a good kind of scared.
A fear of coming waves of something unexplainable, something inevitable.
I’ve felt it building for so long, and now as I walked the street, alone in the dark, it’s all around me like the tropical heat.
I picked up the pace, it’s a neighborhood I didn’t recognize, low slung houses, high fences with glass teeth. Dogs barking in the arid heat of the night. Salsa music played in the distance, muffled shouting in Spanish.
I swam through its want, waded through its need.
It called to me, it’s hunger passed down through what feel like eons. An insatiable hunger. Teeth strain against gums. I tasted blood, and it felt good.
I heard a splash, and it’s my feet hitting a puddle, it watched, andit waited, the hunger growing.
The moon reflected in the puddle, its smile so wide and maniacal. Those white teeth, sharp and ready, it’s just right, Projected on my back, filled me with that white pure light. Filled every corner, carried me like I was on strings.
My steps were weightless and without agency, like I was being carried by a wave of lustful righteous anger.
His eyes landed on me before I heard his silent voice.
I heard a fluttering of dark angel wings. A leathery tightening inside, as it whispered and laughed, it told me to keep going.
Told me to be patient even though that’s not a word it understands at all.
A cool breeze blew through the little hairs on my neck.
He called to me, and I’m out of it for a second.
A man—but I couldn’t see his face reflected in the glass of a bus stop because of a huge hairline crack down the middle. He walked down the street on my side, toward me.
I saw myself, dressed in my best impression of a hooker from a nineties cop movie in the car window. The fishnets might’ve been a little too on the nose but it seemed to have worked.
I caught a big fish after all.
Just the one I wanted.
He called to me again, but I can’t respond now.
My tongue is somewhere far removed, and words seem like pointless frail things.
I kept going with my arms folded like I was cold, when nothing but cool clear clarity and vicious joy washed over me. Faster now, the puddles and the car windows revealed he was following.
He looked around and followed, how far will he go?
I went along a pink stucco wall that seems to stretch on for miles, passing houses all with their curtains drawn tightly, small dirty lawns cluttered with broken children’s toys, dry dying grass.
The shadow inside shifted and wriggled, like a kid in a bean bag chair. So excited, it hissed and tossed, just where it wanted to be, so close.
The man called to me, something crude in Spanish, but I couldn’t react, not yet.
A little further.
My heels clicked louder and faster, almost breaking out into a run, and what do dogs do when someone runs?
They chase of course, and predictably, he’s caught the scent of something he likes.
I knew him, his name escaped me, and his face seemed familiar but unimportant right now. No eyes, no nose, no mouth, just a blank pale face not unlike the face of the moon.
Maybe I’m giving him too much credit.
Who’s hunting whom after all?
His need is palpable; I’ve watched him for a while. A small petty monster, a dog chasing cars, not sure what he wants until he gets his hands on them. A bottom feeder, a wanton monster with no attempt to hide it, no need. How free he must have felt, not like me at all.
Something inside me called to him but he can’t hear it, he’s just along for the ride.
I moved faster but I’m not out of breath, its hot night with a cool ocean breeze and I felt brisk and tight. I quickly checked in another car window. He’s was still shadowed me.
Good, almost there now. One more block, follow me little rat.
The thing inside shifted like an eel in a glass vial. Happy, tensing and releasing like a balled fist, electric, with terse excitement.
Impending release just over the horizon.
The man is still following, muttering to himself, looking around, he put his hood up..
The streets are dark and desolate, and lined with houses full of people that don’t talk to cops about strange goings on in the dead of night.
That’s why he picked this place, that’s why I picked it too.
A perfect playground for Diana the Dark Dabbler.
The pink stucco wall ended abruptly, and I rounded the corner fast down the back alley of a Chinese restaurant with bars on the windows, breaking line of sight.
Hidden in the shadow of the large smooth square building. The clear black sky overhead.
He made some sort of noise in his throat that somehow I heard.
I kicked off my heels already and tossed them into the open dumpster. It was neatly tucked away, behind a chained metal fence until I came by earlier and freed it.
That dull thudding sound to sent the rats circling.
I ducked behind the spot I picked. A pile of cardboard fortune cookie boxes was all I needed.
The odor sent shivers up my spine. Old shell fish, the smell of the ocean, the spray, maggots—refreshing—like smelling salts.
He rounded the corner fast and confused, like he’s the only kid that doesn’t get the magic act at the birthday party.
My lips parted and curved up; my heart beat hard in my chest, can he hear it? Can he hear the wings beating, can he hear the moon’s teeth clacking, feel it’s beaming maniacal smile?
I hope so. He will.
The man looked around, pulled his hood down tighter. All those chemicals rushing, he felt it too, the chase, the thing inside of him that fed on my fear. Got high off that night air, stumbled into my trap.
I took my cellphone out of my purse and dialed the number of the burner I put in the dumpster.
It rang with a mocking eight-bit Mariachi band song.
He heard it, and swung around taking offense at everything.
IStired up that rabbit in head lights feeling. Trapped in a beam of ambivalent bone white moonlight.
It carried me, gave me goose bumps- goose bumps. Teeth chattered, but I’m not cold, not even close, I felt nothing but pure icy potential. The thing inside purred and waited.
He poked open the dumpster with the barrel of a Glock and looked inside.
We waited until he reaches in for the phone. It took the wheel and we out of our hiding spot, lithe and ready in a sliver of moonlight. Invisible, invincible, stun gun in hand, as we moved low and slow and sleek toward his back.
I shouldn’t look..
He turned but it’s too late; It pressed the stun gun to his neck and his legs wentlimp.
We caught him, took the gun out of his hands like a child with a squirt gun. “You’re mine now,” I whispered and heard not my voice but another vibrating just below the surface.
He heard it too, that eternal voice that speaks to both of us.
His heart beat faster but he could’t move. I hiked him up and leveraged him into the open dumpster.
The gun held in my hand, my heart sped up, pumped all those good chemicals hard. The Glock bounced and scraped into the gutter from my toss. Can’t risk some little kid picking it up and blowing his face off—that would be tragic.
I climbed into the dumpster.
Diana the Dumpster Diver, c’est moi?
A dumpster is just a big metal coffin. It can be cleaned and prepped like any other space. Prepared it I have; it didn’t take that long, a little tape, a little clear plastic. A battery lamp hooked on a loop of duct tape.
Then there was light.
It still didn’t smell great, cramped and hot, with a faint smell of soy sauce. It wasn’t a room at the Cali Hilton but it’d do fine for about the four hours this would take.
Then home and a lot of showers later would let all those good vibrations course through my muscles. Loosening and straightening out all that bad juju that’d been building. Making me tense and not quite myself.
Set up another light, Iblocked out a lot of it in that tight space. Made quick work of taping his hands and feet, cutting his clothes away with garden shears. Shaved and buffed out the areas I wanted to work in.
He didn’t know, couldn’t know or feel what was about to happen. What was about to happen?
My tongue touched all of my teeth; I let out a little laugh.
Just Had to have gotten the most powerful stun gun they had; he was out like a light, complete reboot.
A quick slap to his face and he made a noise and muttered something in Spanish that might’ve have been, “Ten more minutes, Mama.” I suck at Spanish.
Found the bag I’d stashed there. It’s a small black overnight duffel, and I plan to stay the night. Inside, a sharp fillet knife, a scalpel, a razor and a framing hammer. The gangs all here!
The dumpster was cramped but I could move, as well as lay him out flat. The restaurant it was attached to was closed today. So I’d had all the time I needed to make it ready. Then leave my own trash behind in neatly wrapped packages ready to garnish the local landfill.
We slapped my friend again and his eyes opened wide. I taped his mouth shut.
He couldn’t scream muffled Spanish slurs.
We showed him the knife and his eyes darted back to absorb his surroundings.
He may have well been buried six feet under already.
He had to know he was ours.
The man didn’t seem too impressed with the knife, so the framing hammer was the next item in show and tell day. He didn’t like that, not one bit, his eyes got wider, his pupils shrinking.
It seemed like he was getting it.
We breathed out a cool controlled breath and we watched him shrink, his muscles tightened feebly against the tape, his veins popped, we breathed in his fear.
The pretty girl thing might’ve thrown him at first, or maybe it was a prank.
I heard the mirthless tinny laughter inside and I think he heard it, too.
There was no turning back, one step on the dark path was enough.
There would be blood, a lot of blood.
I could almost hear it rushing inside him, that disgusting hot sticky stuff, waiting to come out.
He was mumbling something; I could feel his panic rising. His longing for release reaching up and touching mine. His eyes were talking, he was drooling, his mouth moving.
There was something really important he had to tell me.
I was hungry for anything. I’d been watching him. What he liked, young girls with wide scared eyes looking up at a knife or a gun or a framing hammer. Feeling him on top of them heaving and sweating, then nothing.
He’d killed four in the last month, and it was nothing to sniff at. Mostly prostitutes, because he was an amateur, no procedure, just pure bare need.
A pathetic creature, but I didn’t hate him.
How could I? We were the same, sort of, but more than that, I loved him; he was a brother.
His eyes tried frantically to reach inside of me and find some small tear. Like some buried motherly instinct would battle the forces of darkness in the dungeons of my deep dreadfulness. Seeing fit to spare him and maybe take him out to lunch..
I was curious, bad form for a cat.
Didn’t like begging, but was ready to hear anything.
He looked up at me after the tape was ripped off. “Diana, you’re gonna be late for school.”
“Yes, school.” I heard my aunt’s indignant voice break through the cozy wall of the pillow over my head.
How you tease me. I can still hear the laughing, it’s taunts. Me, Dark Dreamless Diana.
I don’t dream, I never dream, it’s just serene blackness every other night, or I don’t remember. I miss the cool crisp void of sleep, the nothingness. What happened to my nothingness? Bring back the void.
Not to say the dream wasn’t, stimulating.
I moved the pillow off my face and started to rend myself of my sopping sheets. I was drenched in a layer of thick cold sweat.
It isn’t the first time, different people, men, women, different places, times.
It seemed like the dreams were getting more frequent and they always end the same way.
Unsatisfying, they always end just before…
“Didn’t you say you had a test or something today?”
“There’s always a test or a final or a quiz,” I tell my aunt Esther, a fat girl’s name, but she wasn’t fat, not yet anyway. Affectionately dubbed; Auntie ‘E’.
A soft and pretty woman, not much older than myself. Kind of a hippy dippy sort but a good soul, raised me from an egg to the velociraptor I picture myself as now.
She had that ‘good hair.’ The type that’s long and straight, a deep chocolatey brown she nevertheless always tied back in a tight ponytail for work. Delicate straight features TV pretty people had, but she never really liked to flaunt it with make up or fancy clothes; I guess it runs in the family.
I’m Diana, the poor orphan, boohoo. My parents died when I was just an innocent tot. Oh woe is me, the poor child, parents taken so young.
Is this a superheroes backstory? Afraid not.
Were they slain by a wicked murderer or super villain? No, not unless the truck that hit them was a Decepticon. A petty car accident robbed me from any parental love I was owed and cast me as the villain in my own passion piece.
“Well, that’s school for ya,” Esthersaid, she smiled with her hands on her hips as she waited for me to fully ascend my damp throne.
It’s not that I don’t like school; in fact, I love school. All those plastic minds clinging to some form of identity or another. Forming their own sense of self, all those people pretending to be human hoping the shape would stick. I fit right in.
Maybe I’m not very good at this, I feel like I skipped a step. I’m completely hollow inside. It sounds like teen angst, which is an easy way to pigeon-hole it since I am a senior in high school.
But it’s been this way since before I can remember. Since before I could think, I’ve felt nothing.
My aunt tells me, even as a baby I wouldn’t cry or laugh or smile, nothing. Every emotion I fake is for other people. I’ve been forced to become the perfect mirror of every person I’ve ever known, but I’m good at it.
I’m the best.
I trudged my way to the shower, down the hall from my modest bedroom. It’s hot today, it’s always hot in Cali. That’s why I keep my hair short, easy to clean, easy to dry and it looks cute.
What does anyone else’s opinion matter anyway? Only, that’s a lie people tell themselves on occasion. I don’t, I’m not people. Other people’s opinions are all that matters. It’s the glue that binds this world together. Without it, the world would be the perfect clean chaos of my dreams.
The world where that mocking laughter I hear comes from.
Lies we tell others, and the lies we tell ourselves, are what stops this world from falling apart and it’s what keeps me out of a sanatorium. Are there any sanatoriums in Long Beach? Probably some rich kid day spa with Vicodin vending machines that take hundred dollar bills. So Miley Cyrus can clean up for the next time she needs to squeeze her ass inside a rubber glove.
Rubber gloves, was I even wearing gloves in my dream? Need to write that down.
The things that you remember in the shower. Running water stimulates creativity, or some such other new age nonsense. Massages the chakras or stimulates the karma flow, vibrates the mediclorians. I toweled off and wiped the mirror with my hand. Empty blue-green eyes stared back. I made a toothy fake grin, showed those pearly whites. Such a practiced grin, straight out of the Sears catalogue, 1997.
It’s easier for girls I guess, people don’t look too closely at a girls’ smile. As long as it’s there, it’s good enough, a perfect disguise.
The mirror steamed up again, and I’m gone, poof.
The test was easy, done and gone and I was already forgetting what it was about. The dream was growing stronger and taking up more space in my head. All I could think about was that night and the ripple of the plastic wrap.
I looked outside; it was nice day. Every day was a nice day in California, starts to get boring after a while.
University High was the number one ranked public school in Orange County, go Trojans. It looked like a cross between a prison and a high end motel on the outside. Monstrous palm trees swaying behind sturdy chain-link fences. A backdrop of concrete covered in coral white stucco.
It was a standard mix. An even smattering of Hispanic, caucasian and black kids, the motto, ’Unity through Diversity,’ as supercilious a statement as the American flag outside.
This wasn’t America, this was some place all new, a fantasy island floating in the clouds where all the beautiful people and one or two monsters lived. Every day, I was rubbing elbows with the future career criminals and politicians of the greater California area. Was there a distinction? I felt blessed walking through the halls. A real rainbow family of love and diversity.
I had no idea how my aunt got the money to put me here on a rookie cop’s salary, but we have a don’t ask don’t tell relationship that seemed to be working for us even better as I got older.
She chose the school because the campus tour video gave off a distinct ‘cult vibe’ and the teachers were nice enough. They really went out of their way to pretend they cared, despite fading into the background in Dark Diana’s World.
I wasn’t bad at school, I was too good at it. It’s amazing the pointless facts and figures you can memorize when you don’t have all that teen angst or hormones or any emotions whatsoever clouding your mind. Pure emptiness to fill with whatever the school board wanted. The perfect clean slate.
I made my way to my locker before I realised I forgot to eat breakfast, a common occurrence. But that’s not to say I’m anorexic. I love to eat, but I could never put on much weight, compliments of a super-fast metabolism, must be genetic, or maybe I was a sleep jogger.
I hovered in front of my open locker.
As soon as slam the door shut
Whom was standing behind it? None other than the notorious Wendy Vargas. How cliché.
Another cliché would be that the most popular girl in the school and I would be bitter rivals.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Morning, bestie,” she crooned in her best vocal fry valley girl as she opened her locker.
. It might have something to do with my painfully cringe-inducing habit of flattering everyone. A trait I polished like the turd it is. I say things most people with any sense of dignity wouldn’t dare.
Happily, I lack any of those mortal inhibitions; my gag reflex was never there. When your goal is to blend in and make people like you, lacking any shame is pivotal. So I can tell everyone everything they want to hear and keep a straight face while I do it.
Funny, it’s not even that hard. I can usually tell at first meeting someone what they want to hear. No one even bothers to hide it, they might as well write it on a sign around their necks.
Wendy’s locker being next to mine also tipped the scales of fate. I can’t remember exactly how we met or became friends but I assume proximity is what allowed me to use my powers of butt-kissing to full effect.
Maybe I just complimented her on how she opened her locker. How she applied her lip-gloss in the mirror she had on the door, or some other banal little detail I’d felt wasn’t worth storing in my head.
“Looking sexy as always, my love. Wendy Vargas, when will you marry me?” I say in a perfect mocking impression of her voice; she will of course ignore that, and only hear the compliment.
“Thank you, my dear but you know as well as I do, I’m taken and I am a one-woman man,” she said, as she pursed her snake-bitten lips.
She was a beautiful golden goddess one might expect to see in some Spanish soap opera, with a set of expressions just as fake. Heir to a fortune in Cuban sandwich shops. Head of the cheerleading squad, of course, but also a strange passion for ‘nerdy stuff,’ as she called it. Mostly kitsch nerdsploitation, like The Big Bang Theory. Big lens less glasses, wearing comic book superhero T-shirts and pretending to like the new Star Wars movies.
It was all an act so she could rule over a hoard of thirsty geeks in the AV club who’d do whatever she said.
I still have no idea why she likes me. I really could’ve slipped right through the cracks right where I wanted to, if it wasn’t for her.
It might be because I’m the only one in the state that knows she poisoned her stepfather with anti-freeze, and framed her mother.
Did she tell me? Not in so many words. I wasn’t an accomplice or anything, either. Poison’s not my style.
That’s such a ‘girly’ way to kill someone, and I’d never stoop so low as to kill for money. No, a passion is best left free, like all the good things in life.
She didn’t confess to me, but something did. That little voice, that little clawing thing that rolled around deep inside the dark depths of Diana.
It could smell it on her, not her guilt, not her shame, her complete indifference. She had a monster too, a dark secret, but it was a small and covetous thing, a greedy opportunistic monster.
“Where’s that handsome new beau of yours?” I enquired.
Wendy’s new boyfriend was some chad from out of state, what was his name? Bradie? Brodie? Brodo?
She tends to go through them quickly, but this new one had peaked her interest. He was a transplant from Miami, very exotic.
“He’s off collecting that order of red cups and plates for prom.”
“I sense, we’re about get down to business.” I winked.
“You’re senses are keen, as always, my young apprentice,” Wendy bowed with her hands pressed together, like she was going to Kung-fu me.
“I learned from the best, master.” I dipped my head.
“I need you to print off some fliers for me.” She smiled, like she was doing me a favor, her arms swaying at her sides, as her voice peaked at the end.
Wendy’wass head of the prom committee, they put on the senior prom every year, and this time it was our turn.
I, Diana, sweetness and light, am on the prom committee, too. All because it would’ve been too strange for me not to, being best friends with the head of the committee. Oh, sweet nepotism.
Part of the practice of being normal was doing things ‘normal’ girls do. I’m not a cheerleader, that was too much for even me to stomach, some things truly are beyond even me. I can’t remember how I got out of that one, must’ve made up something about having one leg longer than the other or something, extreme corns perhaps.
Cheerleading is also surprisingly time consuming. Which could prove a problem for my other ‘interests’. I looked around at the fliers already up around the hall. They were on almost every locker, and bulletin board and classroom door. I cast sparring glances at people who don’t need to make conscious efforts to be normal. What blissful cow-like expressions they all have.
“What’s wrong with the old fliers?” I asked in a robotic fashion, but I already knew exactly what she was going to say.
“They’re old,” Wendy shook her head like it was obvious; which it was.
“Okay,” I said without argument, because, what a waste of time and energy that would be.
She sucked her lips like shewass tasting her cherry lip gloss and she liked it, then looked over my head. “Oh, there’s a sight for sour eyes.”
I looked over my shoulder, and appeared my stalwart boyfriend Paul.
An ordinary name for an ever so ordinary boyfriend. Hewas practically perfect in every way, the male Mary Poppins of University high. Tall, but not too tall, smart, but not too smart, conventionally handsome but not too conventionally handsome.
Hewass into sports, basketball mostly. An army brat through and through, his dadwas almost always away on maneuvers.
If I was painfully honest, I mainly liked him for his car, and for the places hewass willing to take me. I had my license already, but no car of my own.
My aunt wass sort of an eco-nut, forcing me to take the bus when possible and if she did buy me a car, with the no money she had saved. It would end up being one just like her work car. One of those terrible eco-bubble little hair dryers powered by happy thoughts and bunny farts.
Did I mention his dad was deployed most of the time. So if I ever did go visit we had the run of the house, and from time to time, his gun cabinet.
His momwas a mystery I didn’t care to explore. Seemed like a sore subject I had no interest in. Sobs stories are no fun.
Most of all, I liked him because hewas normal. Painfully average, so much so, just being around him made me feel normal by osmosis. Like he absorbed some of my weird into himself, he was kryptonite to my superman. Paul is the perfect disguise.
His upbringing, one of strict discipline had forced him to become the perfect gentleman. Thus, his urges were dutifully restrained, not unlike my own.
I really have no interest in sex. I have no hang ups about it either, we’ve had sex.
Honestly didn’t much care for it, the sweaty messy thing, waste of time and sheets. The smell of it was enough to keep him by my side, and to drive me where I wanted to go and do most of anything I want.
Being a woman is pretty easy when you have no shame. Anyone that says different is a liar.
Men will put up with almost any shit from a woman if he thinks sex may possibly happen at some point in the near future.
Paul was presentable, neat and clean and always smelled good, never a blond hair out of place, or a blue eye in the wrong direction. A stern solid posture always maintained for some hidden watcher like someone stuck a broomstick up his ass without any KY.
The perfect scarecrow he was, scaring off all those hangers-on and beta orbiters that like to cling to pretty girls who don’t carry mace.
The bell rang, and Wendy looked up, as if to make sure. She had an air of callous indifference. “Shit, gotta get back to class, see you guys later.” She said as she vocal fried her way down the hall. Swished and swayed spreading a sweet scent as she went.
“Hey, baby, what’s up?” Paul said.
He speaks!He Leaned in for a hello peck, his arms wrapped around me.
I dutifully resisted, pushed back against him. “Hunger,” I said, without a hint of irony.