Do you see what I see?
Chapter 2 Do you see what I see?
Paul drove his dad’s car when he was out in some middle-eastern hell hole doing what I could only dream about, literally. But in an altogether less neat and ritualistic way at the behest of his uncle sam.
That’s a level of trust you can’t kill for. His dad was obviously very confident in the offspring he’d carefully chiselled out of clay. That or he was indelibly dim-witted, allowing his only child to drive around in his top of line vehicle. Having only met him a handful of times, I couldn’t say which was the case.
It was an older model olive drab hummer with leather interiors that smelled like discipline and spearmint gum. The thing ran like it was brand new, the old man kept it in peak condition and his son took it just as seriously. I opened a bag of chips in her once on the way to an Ariana Grande concert and he made me get out and finish them on the side of the freeway. That was fun.
Did I mention another thing I love about Paul Alan Jnr? He rarely talks, sure there’s strong silent types. And then there’s this type, the type that’s conditioned to levels of ‘being seen and not heard’ that teeter on ‘culty’, is that a word?
His father taught him well, sometimes I wondered if he wasn’t as damaged as I was. But instead of breaking the mould he’d been hammered perfectly into it. A living Ken Doll with no visible cracks or creases. Thankfully unlike a Ken Doll, they’d seen fit to leave the important places ‘unsmoothed’, if you know what I mean – not that that really mattered to me, I might add.
I unlike most people am a big fan of comfortable silence but sadly in Orange County, near the coast, it’s in short supply. But inside the sealed air conditioned mobile command centre that was Paul’s dad’s car, it was preserved. Like some kind of orchid, hermetically sealed for freshness. I could almost taste it.
Just watching the anaemic palm trees and mid afternoon rollerskaters go by. Baking and cracking in the sun while I felt like a lizard on a cool dry rock, bliss.
And with a full stomach it was even better. He took me to this little taco place we like near the beach because it’s quiet and he knows that’s why I like it. I had the vegan taco, I’m not vegan but I like their food and for some strange reason I like animals. Not really people or kids, I realise people are kids but there needed to be a distinction. Although I don’t hate them. I just feel a callous indifference for everything that doesn’t walk on four legs. There’s something about them I like, their raw natures, their lack of pretence, lack of filter. Their natural instincts just accepted, not sanded away by school or television.
Although sadly the feeling is not mutual. Every cat or dog my aunt brought back would rather jump under a semi than let me pet them. I won a gold fish at a fair once, got it a bowl and a little castle, the whole bit. As soon as we put it in the bowl it climbed those castle steps and was never seen again. It chose a life of solitude like some hunchback. It starved to death rather than see me for all of the five seconds it would take for me to sprinkle food on the surface of the water.
He paid for the tacos, of course, perfect gentleman, did I mention that? Feminism what’s that?
“Are you mad at me?” He asked as he kept his eyes straight, hands at ten and two.
I looked at him and sighed, smiling with the corners of my mouth like a snake. “No.” suggesting that it could have gone either way. He looked good in profile, a strong chin, long straight nose, light dusting of designer stubble and the aviator sunglasses that were probably also his dad’s really finished off that ‘top gun’ look. Even his hairstyle looked vaguely like Tom Cruise’s from that movie, tight at the sides with a bit of gel assisted lift at the front.
“Is that a real ‘no’ or a woman’s ‘no’” He asked still refusing to take his eyes off the road, just smiling out at nothing.
“No as in no”. I just couldn’t get those dreams out of my head. Picturing the city under the blanket of night and me stalking its street like some carrion bird picking off the weak and the strong alike. It was a mix of horror and sheer splendour mixing in my chest. A feeling so unexplainable, to try seemed like blasphemy.
“You just seem-“ A sound of leather shifting, from the seat, he turned his head still looking forward poking his tongue into his cheek looking for the right word. “-Different”.
Should I tell him about my dream, maybe just to shut him up. I don’t have to tell him about the good bits, I can keep those to myself, locked away in Dear Diana’s vault of diabolical deeds.
I make a bit of a show of it, lick my lips so he can hear, maybe not over the air-conditioning. “I had this weird dream” I shrug and smile.
He readjusted the rearview mirror still with that dumb smile stuck to his face “What kind of dream?”
Two questions in one day, my aren’t we the inquisitive type today?
“I was walking- walking at night”. I said tapping my front teeth together anxiously. A creeping odd feeling of cold hit me and I rubbed my bare pale arms to warm them but my hands were just as cold.
“Like a vampire?”
“You really shouldn’t be walking alone at night Di – even in your dreams” He made a hawing laugh sound in his throat turning his head to smile at me.
He unwrapped a stick of gum and popped it into his mouth somehow without taking his hands off the wheel “You haven’t heard?” He said poking the gun packet in my general direction
“Apparently not” I say losing a sliver of patience, politely batting away the offer of gum.
He lifted his aviators and looked into the rearview mirror as he began chewing loudly. “You haven’t been watching the news?”
“Not if I don’t have to, boring show.” There goes another one.
He took in a deep inhale of breathe and continued to chew. “They found a couple’a bodies washed up on Huntington Beach.” He said looking in the rearview mirror again.
“Bodies?” Happens every other day here. Some fat tourist from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania goes belly up in a rubber dingy and we have to pretend to care.
“Headless bodies” He said making a chopping motion at his neck like I didn’t know what headless meant. “They think it’s a serial killer or something.”
Or something, something like a chip of ice breaking off, a cold laughter in the dark, a tinny voice speaking a language only I could understand. Those words setting my teeth on edge, my skin to a cool burn.
“Really” I said trying to sound like I wasn’t chomping at the bit to google this on my phone right in front of him. I swallowed, trying to pretend like it didn’t phase me at all like it wasn’t the most rapturous news I’d heard in my life. Like there weren’t alarm bells ringing all through Diana’s dark deep depths. Like a light didn’t go off in my head telling me somewhere somehow this is what I’d been waiting for.
But what else? Of course I need to feign some sort of fear, some kind of concern, for the victims for their family’s maybe. I realised then that it had been a minute since I last spoke. I just threw out a stock “That’s horrible – those poor people” I added for effect. No tears, no screams? Too much.
“Don’t worry – I’ll protect you” He smiled into the rear-view mirror.
“Did they find them?”
“Did they find what?” He said tipping his sunglasses down.
“The heads” I asked quietly, trying to restrain myself, biting my lip.
He started chewing out of the otherside of his mouth and said “Now that you mention it, I don’t think they said.”
“Oh, terrible, I’m so scared” I said almost shaking with excitement. What could it mean, why take the heads? Was it just a gang thing? Maybe it was the cartel. They love murdering random people and scattering them all over the place. Maybe some kind of sante ria voodoo hoodoo thing. But what happened to the heads?
Maybe they just washed away to become a house for a family of California Dungeness crabs. But not to find one, it could have just been Paul forgot but it seemed to strike a chord with Diana’s dark double. A shrill laughter, a tingle, a shiver up my spine, electricity on my fingertips. Every hair on the back of my neck standing up to salute the day, I had to check my lip to make sure I wasn’t drooling. Something seemed so right about it, something I had no idea I was waiting for.
I had to find out.
The moment he stopped the car I bound out the door like a dog seeing another passing car full of burning cats.
Tossing back a feeble kissing noise and something like “Bye babe, see you tomorrow”
He tossed something equally as vapid back as he did a u-turn around the tiny roundabout at the end of the cul-de-sac I lived in and drove off down the street in a cloud of diesel smoke. The maneuver something akin to the titanic trying to do a Mexican hat dance around the iceberg. He almost always just drove over it leaving muddy tiretracks and crushed flowers in his wake, which seemed to really piss off my neighbours for some reason. Oh well.
I quickstepped to the door of our ‘reasonably’ priced Orange county bungalow that looked like a little beach hut. Complete with beach towels drying on a spinner in the tiny front yard.
I was trying not to break into a full scale sprint. Trying to keep my hand loose enough so I didn’t break the key off in the lock. Also as to avoid any unnecessary time wasting conversations with my Aunt. I wanted to be free to sit down at my computer as quick as humanly possible.
The keys on my chain rattled and it took me too long to find the right one and get it to keep still enough to go in the lock.
I turned the key closing the door behind me and striding through the halls passed the living room which I followed with my eyes. The TV was on, the news, something about the killings. What a coincidence but something in me told me this had to be a private moment, shared with no one. Not even my own flesh and blood and I also didn’t want any spoilers, no fluff, or padding. Just raw stark reality, no artist’s impression for Diana of the Dark.
I hurried past slurring my words “Hey, I’m home, had a great day, no hungry, kinda tired, going to my room kthxbai!”
Bustling past what felt like a crowd in a train station but was just a bunch of squash equipment occupying the hall for some reason. I got into my room closing the door behind me and fighting a wooden hat rack I thought was cute on amazon but had yet to buy a hat for.
I know what you’re thinking, possible psychopath girl. Her room must be silence of the lambs, American psycho levels of neat freakery, well you’d be wrong. My room is for lack of a better word, a hovel.
Clothes, clean and dirty in piles throughout the room and on my bed. Posters of bands I don’t listen to anymore if I ever did in the first place peeling off the walls and ceiling. Containers of soft drinks and burgers, I never said I was vegetarian, I said I liked animals, big difference. They could be vegie burgers, I don’t remember.
The curtains were drawn and the room was dark and humid. I put on the fan and it started to cough and move warm air around my small room.
My laptop sat atop a throne of dirty clothes on my bed, half open like a clamshell.
I snatched it up and almost tossed it onto my dressing table slash desk slash landfill.
I turned it on and found a swivel chair with a sock wrapped tightly around one of the wheels. Its swivelling days were over it seemed as the sock had lodged itself deep in one of the wheels. I sat down and waited for my laptop to boot up which seemed to be taking much longer than usual.
Punching it wouldn’t make it go any faster. So I didn’t do that. Patience Diana.
It finally booted up and I quickly logged in. My fingers almost tripping over themselves to type in my password ‘Dahmer7’.
I opened a browser and typed in “Headless bodies, Huntington beach”.
There were a lot of results but the top results seemed to be the most recent. The Beachcomber had the slockiest title. And since the bodies were found on the beach I found the title of the newspaper amusing enough to start there.
The title read ‘Is there a head-hunter in Orange County?’ Jess Wode of the Beachcomber asked
I hope so Jess, I do hope so.
I started reading it and it was apparent from the outset that this person had no idea what was actually going. They were reading a police report and adding their own unique spin. Or more likely recycling a headline from another newspaper that also knew nothing. Nothing more than headless bodies were found on the beach and that sells newspapers.
I was grinding my teeth thinking about the prospects of a journalism degree. How much easier it would be to get access to all the morbid tripe I could get my hands on if only I were a cop or a forensic tech or something.
It was just trite speculation and useless filler and what’s more, no pictures. What a waste of time. I went through a few more sites before I realised the police must be keeping a really tight lid on this one. No leaks, no cracks, no crevices, not even a video on someone’s phone, a selfie of a morbid dog walker, nothing.
Well that was disappointing. Even more so realising that I would have to do the exact same thing as the newspapers in my blog.
I opened another window and clicked on the bookmark tab for my blog. It wasn’t very fancy, I’m ok with computers, what kid born post Y2K isn’t? A super script kiddy hacker, I am not, but I’m getting there. The blog was just your standard WordPress blog dolled up with emo fonts and cheesy blood spatter effects as a background. Mostly a serial killer fan site where I documented murders and weird goings on in the world at large. I ran it anonymously, obviously for the same reason I didn’t collect knives or listen to death metal. Not that there’s anything right with that but the connotations are the problem. It’s like I said, people’s impression of you really is everything.
And say I did go on a killing spree out of the blue, I’d make it way too easy on them. They could blame reality TV or Marilyn Manson or videogames instead of the harsh reality they’re hiding from. Which is, pray tell, Diana of the dark descent?
A shiver up my spine and that mocking chortle and the word I’m looking for is banal at best, ‘Evil’ doesn’t really cover it. When I think evil I think twirling moustaches and girls tied to train tracks. Some brawny hero coming to the rescue. This wasn’t so simple, it was never truly that simple.
And besides how selfish would I have to be to let my ‘appetites’ harm the good name of videogames and death metal?
I login and start to try and compose something, anything. No pictures, maybe I should just google ‘headless bodies’ in images. What kind of ‘leet’ hacker would I be if I didn’t figure out how to turn off my Aunt’s safe search in the fourth grade no less?
I felt dumb and dithering looking at that blank text box I was about to fill with smoke definitively from my ass. I thought to myself, this must be what it feels like to be a real journalist.
Sighing, my eyes wondered from the blank text box to my notifications of which there was one. I clicked it pretending I wasn’t mildly excited. Almost an addiction, checking notifications, expecting some great revelation. Some invisible back slap from a stranger or shit slung from some obtuse basement dweller or maybe even a picture of a dick. I’ve heard other women complain about this constantly, I don’t get the fuss. It’s just a dick. I get the distinct feeling they’d be more miserable if the conveyer belt of phallic imagery would ebb. Maybe around their late thirties.
It was a comment from one of the handfuls of subs to this small corner of the internet I call my own.
‘Spoopyshadowguy666 writes; Check your inbox’.
This guy again, he subbed to me maybe a month or two ago and he’s always sending me these weird cryptic emails. Like puzzles or riddles, games, and no pictures of his penis, woe is me.
Ok I’ll bite.
I opened my inbox and it was empty, funny, my room looks like a homeless shelter but I like to keep a tidy inbox.
I check the spam folder and I wade through all the fishing emails and things trying to sell me Viagra and dildos and wart remover. A combination I wouldn’t recommend.
His emails in the past didn’t really seem all that interesting at first. They were mostly pictures of people, their names and addresses. Odd things like their habits and their work schedules, where they liked to hang out. It was weird but it didn’t cross the boundaries of being really strange. It just seemed like the random fixations of a professional stalker. The standard fare for any fan of a serial killer page.
None of the people in the pictures seemed to be connected in anyway, different races, ages, jobs, sexes. If there was a pattern there I wasn’t picking it up so into the spam folder it went. But today I was feeling ready for a distraction. Anything that would save me from the blank text box and raking the bottom of my own skull for inane bullshit.
And there it was, the subject of the email was ‘Do you see what I see?’ and there were some attachments. I guess I was about to.
Here we go, finally the validation of seeing a nice hard cock of a stranger, can’t wait.
I clicked on the email and it was pretty much the same as before. Pictures of seemingly random people with little to no connection in the way they looked.
I clicked through them aimlessly, feeling silly for wasting my time. Then I saw a face that sent a little sliver of ice into the dark well and I felt it stir. A small flap of leathery wings, a tail uncoiling. The face seemed oddly familiar. It was a Hispanic guy, maybe in his late twenties early thirties, curly brown hair, small almond eyes, a flat nose and wide lips. The name on the image was Antoine Ruez. Ruez, that name also seemed familiar but it was a Hispanic name and I went to a school that had a sizeable population. Ruez’s were probably not in short supply.
I made a clicking sound in my mouth and decided I was being silly, it was meaningless. I was making a big deal over nothing. I could have seen this guy while I was eating tacos an hour ago. He could have been staring right at me while he was grating vegan cheese and I wouldn’t have noticed.
There was something odd about these photos though. They seemed different. The ones before were almost stock images pulled straight from Facebook or twitter. Selfies, pictures taken by friends of them standing with surf board or in front of lobster dinners or on vacation. These pictures seemed more intrusive and increasingly so as I cycled through them. Pictures of them from a distance, with their faces turned away from the camera as if they had no idea they were being taken.
There were no smirks of the impending picture taking, no glib grins of people trying to show themselves at their bests. Instead it was the harsh glare of the camera’s eye revealing them in their natural state, completely unaware.
The first pictures of this Ruez character made it obvious he was some kind of small time drug pusher or pimp. Pictures of him at night with girls. Clandestine exchanges with people in cars with tinted windows. Moving his gun around the waistband of his Jordans.
Quite a character it seemed.
A small shiver was conjured as the next image was that of a small single story house, not mine. That would have been really ‘spoopy’. No it was a lot more ‘low-key’ wider but with an unkempt dried out lawn and some desert plants in front. He’s really going to be hearing from the homeowners society. The pictures getting closer and looking through the windows at Ruez. It looked like some kind of party was going on, armed bouncers at the doors, people going in and out at all hours. The time stamps said as much.
Girls of the paid variety hanging around.
Quite the operation he has going on there it seems.
And then more, it seemed like the party was over and people were leaving. It could have been just my imagination but on a headcount it seemed like they were one girl short.
And then the next morning. He appeared pulling heavy duty black trash bags to the curb and putting them in the can for the pickup.
I clicked back and forth through the pictures like I was watching a video. Trying to separate reality from some daytime TV show with a cheesy title. ‘Appointment for murder’. Waiting for the penny to truly drop.
Was this a joke? A prank? Was someone playing a trick on poor delusional Diana? A trap? It didn’t seem to want to go in my brain, make the jump from pictures on a screen to actual things happening in temporal space.
Something inside told me it was very real, hyper real and right in front of my eyes. My teeth clenched wishing that there were some pictures of inside the trash bags but that’s where the pictures ended. What a tease.
I didn’t get it, who was this guy? Was he a cop? Was it some kind of message? A warning? Was I being investigated? It looked like surveillance footage and it looked like Antoine Ruez was the type that needed to be ‘surveilled’.
But why send these pictures to Dainty Diana, was it a mistake? It made no sense and the more sense I tried to make out of it I realised there was no sense to be made. There was a puzzle piece missing, deliberately so and there was no way I was going to find it here.
The email itself was blank but I scrolled down, right to the bottom.
All the while thinking about what this meant, if I sent it, what would I be trying to say? ‘Do you see what I see?’ I see it, I think I do, if ‘it’ was what I though it was. I see it like no one else can see it. But there’s something more than that, something deeper. Something talking directly to that part that no one else should know about and what is it saying?
What would I want to say? What would I want? To feel in control, to feel a step ahead of the person getting the email. To let them know you know them and they know nothing about you and you’re watching and waiting for what, for me? To do what? Who am I? I’m no one, less than no one. A high school senior with a tiny blog and a love for comfortable silences and Mexican food and occasionally living vicariously through famous serial killers.
Now I’m rolling my eyes back in skull, looking into that pure clear darkness. The blackboard where truth is wrote by my dark professor. It’s laughing now, a cold mirthless laughter that shakes flecks of cool sea water off its irreverent scales. What’s it teaching me? What does he want from me? What does he want me to do with Antoine Ruez?
What would I want it to say, not just, ‘Do you see what I see?’ But;
‘I see you’.
He sees me.