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Diana In The Dark

By Ryk Brink All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Thriller

Come into my Head

Chapter 3 Come into my head

The steady metronome of waves gently beating the shore, the smell of the spray. I open my eyes but it’s just blackness and then a light comes on but it’s not a light, it’s a moon rising out of the sea. The sea, am I on a boat? I ask myself stupidly.

Then I can feel it, the cold cloying embrace of the ocean in answer.

I kick my legs but I don’t feel I need to, I’m bobbing, cold and wet, just with my head floating above the surface of the water.

I can’t see the shore, the ocean seems endless and the only noise I hear are the waves parting and my heart beating. A rising anxiety sets my teeth on edge and I can feel it all around me. Is this what it’s like inside? Is this its world? A cold endless black ocean. I can’t feel the bottom, why would it have a bottom?

I can feel something, something moving, circling, rising. Waves and bubbles rising to a crescendo peaked by an anticlimactic blub blub and something bobbing on the surface of the water.

It floats towards me and I know what it is before it the moon can cast its bright bitter smile down on it.

It’s a head.

A perfectly lopped head of a woman. It floats towards me and in the glare of the moon it rolls open and its wet hair parts like a flower and it’s my dear old aunt Mary Beth. I should feel things, I should feel earth shaking, bone clattering terror and cold sweat but I feel nothing, nothing but a joyful wonder. A question answered, a life revealed, a lie told and taken away just as swiftly and my heart races and in an instant. I’m surrounded by more perfectly lopped heads, floating and bobbing like rubber ducks floating in crude.

I wake up in the same cold sweat, no maybe even colder, as colder as that black ocean, or maybe I just left the fan on, yeah it’s the fan. I slop the sheets off my damp body and walk on over and turn it off.

I need a shower and maybe a ritualistic burning of my sheets.

The water washes over me and I’m expecting revelations, a brief aside into Jungian psychology. Did I even care what the dream meant, if it meant a thing?

The sea, the darkness, fear of the unknown, the oldest fear, pretty standard. If you’re not afraid of the unknown you don’t have a very good imagination. The moon, well that was easy. I felt my teeth clicking thinking about it, getting responses up my legs and back as I just let the water flow over me.

The heads were a gift from my new and anonymous friend, but why did I recognise them, why her? I often thought about my aunt, about how I would feel if she would die. To tell the truth, if I could love anyone it would be her. Her absence in my life would be the most notable. A sapping noticeable emptiness that could be called loneliness or sadness. Something close to that but sadness was a foreign concept to someone completely bereft of any feeling whatsoever. A blessing and a curse, a crisp clear almost chipper emptiness. Like a smile with no teeth.

Where did that come from? I turned off the water and towelled off, it was a Saturday so much less care was taken in regards to time and form. As I towelled my head I heard something like the door opening and whispering.

I opened the door and looked down the hall but all I could see was my aunt holding tight to the door and looking at whoever was there. I tried looking past her but all I could see were their feet, well one foot, the other seemed to be, well not there. The stump was pressed against the stirrup of a wheelchair. The other foot not looking much more useful next to it.

She whispered harshly and shut the door latching it with the chain and the deadbolt and scurrying into the kitchen.

It took me a few minutes to get ready. I ran a comb through my hair, when I found it and put on a loose t-shirt. Then a pair of jeans more hole than denim and walked down the hall of the minimalist bungalow we shared.

She was waiting for me in the kitchen nursing a mug of gourmet instant coffee and mumbling to herself as she was one to do when something was taxing her.

I’d ask her what was wrong but she’d usually outright tell me as I was the only one she could tell her in insular little world. She really needed to get out more, like me, at least in my dreams. She owned some kind of crystal hoodoo voodoo shop in town that was run by a couple of kids. She came in to visit occasionally but most of the time she didn’t have to. Especially not on weekends. The shop did well, that kind of crap always does in California.

I came in and leaned on the sparkly faux marble breakfast bar, none of it was new. It had all come with the house and I didn’t need her to tell me that. It has a sort of flat pack feel, like everything could be folded up and carried away at a moment’s notice.

I put some bread in the toaster and pressed the plunger down imagining it was some sort of small flat animal.

“What did I say about carbs?”

“That they’re delicious?” I said.

She scoffed and went back to her coffee and nothing.

“Who was that at the door?”

“Oh just the mail man, you know how chatty I can get” She took a sip waiting for my reaction “Poor guy couldn’t wait to get away.”

Now I was no expert on the hiring process of the postal service. But I was reasonably sure someone wheelchair bound and missing vital appendages couldn’t make up the required walking speed. So that was either the result of liberal diversity policies running amok or a sweet little lie rolling off my aunts lips to my ears.

“What were you talking about?” I prodded catlike, fighting a smile at the corner of my mouth.

“Oh you know, the usual stuff” She said tossing her long hair around in my face. She had it tied back with one of those seventies bands things that gave it a little lift on the top and a floral loose fitting dress. “So what are you doing today?” She asked, skilfully changing the subject as she sipped her coffee, the smell of which was driving me nuts.

“I was planning to go to the library and catch up on some studying” Of what was a need to know basis of course.

We lived in a nice but relatively secluded part of Orange County. Turtle rock was a picturesque little hamlet made up of cute little match stick houses. Street names that sounded like they came straight out of fairy tales. Sweetwater and rainbow falls, morning dew, Sandpebble, gumdrop lane, I made that last one up. It was a good area but in comparison to the homes around us we lived in a shack. It had privacy but was incredibly secluded. You couldn’t get anywhere without a car and that was something I was sorely lacking.

“Ok”

“So I was wondering if you could drive me there and I could maybe get a ride back?”

She seemed to not be listening to what I was saying and took another sip, her head bobbing and then caught like she skipped a beat. “Sure” She said giving me a laboured smile. “Wait the library? As in at your school?”

“Uh huh?”

“It’s fifteen minute walk versus a two minute car journey” She said pausing trying to register how much I cared about carbon emissions.

“Didn’t you hear? There’s a serial killer on the loose” I said trying my best not to glow as I said it.

“I heard” she said with a ringing tone in her voice like it jumped and fell down a well. “You sure you don’t want to go the mall or something, all that work on the prom and you haven’t bugged me for a dress or shoes.”

“I still have time” I shrugged.

“Ok” She said. She picked up her unwieldly key bang off the kitchen counter with a clattering noise. Various useless keyrings like peace symbols and weed leafs. Cool aunt persona mastered. “Shouldn’t you be out with your friends? It’s a weekend.” She said clapping the keys in her hands. She almost sounded hurt, like I wasn’t fitting into the fantasy she had for a kid my age. Frolicking through piles of maple leaves and having water fights with the local kids. Taking breaks in between licking giant circular lollipops and braiding my hair. Maybe her childhood was on rainbow falls but mine fell somewhere a lot darker on the map and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Who says my friends won’t all be in the library?” They weren’t, Paul was at basketball practice and Wendy was probably at a salon somewhere getting her nails ‘did’.

“Ok sure, I can get some stuff done in town and pick you up around six?”

“I was planning on staying late, I’ll just get a ride or catch a cab or something”

“How late?”

“As long as it takes, I don’t know, are you gonna take me or not?”

“Ok fine”

“Thanks” I said in my most chipper getting my way voice.

We left the house, it was still early afternoon, I slept til about twelve which was odd. I never usually needed much sleep but these dreams seemed to leave me feeling drained. The sun was hanging lazily in the sky and the birds saw fit to fill the silence of turtle rock with their incessant happy chirping.

Most people here didn’t stay on the weekends so the place was deserted apart from the sound of sprinklers hissing. They were probably all out on the beach with their jet skis making lots of noise.

We lived on the tip of a little cul-de-sac called Whitewater, probably the least fairy-tale sounding name in the area. It had a mini garden in the centre of what was supposed to be a roundabout but was a tad too small. But it left more than enough to allow whatever bike or hybrid car the neighbours were packing. The place was a little too metropolitan to have front lawns opting more for the shallay feel. Little neatly formed shrubberies and trees sticking out of perfectly shaped garden strips hemmed in by the bricked driveways. Their mail boxes all nicely shaded by god knows what trees, do I look like a tree surgeon?

The houses all looked the same or similar. The same matchstick wood with sandy coloured tiles matching the tone almost perfectly. They looked almost like unpainted monopoly houses in their uniformity.

Little balconies on top for relaxing two car garages that seemed to take up most of the space in the house.

She opened the garage and drove her little roller-skate car out of the needlessly huge garage. She saw fit to fill it with useless knickknacks, a foosball table we never used and some piece of ethnic art she picked up in a flea market. Anything to fill the void left by the tiny car in the huge garage.

The car was so small it was basically a motorized rickshaw but complaining would be pointless and eat up too much air in the car. I was getting a free ride after all. A chance I sorely needed to get a leg up on whomever was in the shadows of the internet so interested in little old me.

I opened the car door careful not to break it. I eat all my green vegetables after all. And settled in the front passenger seat, sans legroom. No complaints uttered. She started the engine and the dull hum of the electric motor made my fillings ache.

It puttered along like a milk float down the end of the drive turning right on Sweetwater. A left onto Sycamore creek and then it was another left and a straight shot onto Turtle rock drive. Only coming out of the neighbourhood noticing how much it looked like a cult compound from the outside. Trees planted there like it was a model of some Swedish fishing village and the grass cut so fine it looked like it was just papier mache painted green.

We drove for what felt like miles of an endless stream of near identical houses. Neatly topiared bushes pointing up at the bright clear pale blue sky. Were there any clouds in Orange County?

I couldn’t bare to look at their near perfection anymore. Choosing to just follow the bumps of the dry dusty hills on the other side, reminding us all that in fact we live in a giant desert.

I opened my window because of course AC was broken in the boxy car, I was lucky the window still worked. I poked my head out for some fresh air, taking in the smell of chlorine as we passed a walled off little compound. The tops of a slide poking over the high walls. Probably owned by some cartel money man that liked quiet Swedish fishing villages and indoor pools.

After about a minute of watching shadows slide over the almost non-existent crumple zone of the car. We were pulling into the flat patch of concrete that was the campus parking lot. Which was nice and empty with it not actually being a school day.

Despite all the space my aunt parked at a jaunty angle trying to take up three spaces. I got out and rounded the car to peck her on her cheek narrowly missing her pair of fake DG sunglasses. Planting a bird like poke of hard dry lips on her freckled sun kissed cheek.

“Don’t work too hard” She called at my back as I walked into the shade of the foyer.

“I won’t, thanks for the ride” I called back waving at the glare of the sun, covering my eyes with my forearm.

Now onto business.

The halls were empty and pleasantly cool, like some underground catacomb, sending shivers all up arms. Touching each mousey hair in turn. The school’s team colours almost everywhere. Blue, for those of short memories. Go Trojans.

I found myself almost marching to the library past the bank of lockers and the sullen empty classrooms. My feet screeching out a coffin din on the polished linoleum. For some odd reason now remembering I completely forgot to pick up those flyers. I blame those headless bodies.

Really, it’s no excuse to lose your own head Diana.

I stopped off at my locker out of habit alone, I opened it and looked at the half deflated volley ball on the top shelf and wondered why I hadn’t thrown it away. I picked up a pad and pen, I might want to take notes but I doubted it. I imagined anything I learned I’d remember vividly and probably wouldn’t want to leave evidence of lying around for my aunt to get to know the real me.

The library was quaint, very homey with a leather couch in the centre. Hexagonal tables surrounded by wooden chairs with grey cushions. There was one woman working the desk who occasionally glanced as she heard the squeaking of shoe rubber.

The library was shockingly inadequate but it had served me well enough in the past. The books were old and tiresome and really aimed at a younger age range. The décor was much the same, lots of bright colours and team banners hanging from the ceiling. There were only eight computers in the whole place in a tight row with small wooden partitions in between them. Lucky I only needed one.

The place was almost deserted, some Asian kids who probably kept their backpacks on in the shower. A couple of people using computers, probably playing WOW.

It begs the question really, what was I doing here?

What was I doing here? Surely not to learn any more than I could at home without the safety filter.

No, I wasn’t expecting miracles but I was expecting some form of order and silence that I couldn’t find at home. There was something I found peaceful about being almost surrounded by people who were compelled into silence. Like being in a monastery.

Something about it got my juices flowing like only a Zen garden could. The cool bitter un-awkward raw silence punctuated only by slight coughs behind hands maybe a sneeze or slurp from a soda can.

I needed to clear my head and be alone but I needed the anonymity of a near crowd, to slip beneath a steady ebb of near silent chatter. It was like listening to white noise. A slow rumbling murmur of foot screeching and nose wiping.

I couldn’t explain it, something about it cleared my head and allowed things that seemed obtuse to fall into place.

I needed to quiet my mind, put it on standby, let all those wasps under the lampshade calm down so I could see things clearly.

I mainly just needed to get out of the house and that sink of time and effort that was my ever growing landfill of a bedroom. Who can really think clearly with all that clutter?

I logged on using Wendy’s password of course. The girl talks a lot and I like to let people who like to talk- talk. I’m a good listener.

I wasn’t really worried about being caught looking at anything untoward, it just made me feel sly and quick and shaded. Covered, calm, invisible.

I started into a search engine, first doing something very narcissistic and googling my own name. ‘Diana Harrison’. Nothing really about me, I kept a very neat internet footprint. The only thing that came up was old newspaper articles about the car accident that killed my parents. Some drunk driver on the wrong side of the road driving a refrigerated truck full of cow halves. It didn’t really say much and the pictures of us together were alien things to me. The originals long shoved in a cardboard box in a storage unit somewhere.

My aunt and I weren’t the nostalgic type. One of the few traits in common we shared.

I type their names in separately Derek and Ronda Harrison. Nothing, just an endless stream of LinkedIn profiles and social media nonsense that has nothing to do with them. It’s almost comforting, they’re as lost in the crowd as I am. Swallowed up by the world like they never existed.

I googled the murders again taking more attention this time to narrow my search. Knowing any record of this outing would in fact be traced back to an actual murderer. Or so I assumed.

Did I actually want her to get caught? Did I really have any sense of justice? Hmm.

I let that thought fall out of my head as the results came up. It was mostly more of the same slock, a few more details. They didn’t mention the heads were found, a detail you’d think they’d mention. The police by this time had a made a statement and of course they believed the heads were removed by the cartel to hamper identification of the bodies. But in that case why keep the hands? Were they illegals? Maybe their prints weren’t on file. But then why hide their identities at all?

No identification of the bodies had been made except on two of the bodies. One guy named ‘Benjamin Barrow’ did some time in juvie for stealing medical supplies from a free clinic. His prints were on file. The other was Hector Viejas another juvie bird. Got a few months for a breaking and entering because he didn’t steal anything. The others must have had clean records. How nice for them.

I should have mentioned, juvie records are usually sealed but since they were dead I didn’t think they’d mind if I took a little back door peak. I said I was ok with computers, I may have undersold it. It’s not like we were living in DC, their firewall wasn’t fort Knox. And even if I got busted I’m sure Wendy’s sheer charm and obliviousness would have gotten her a slap on the wrist. Far less than she obviously deserved.

The bodies were all male but one, all similar heights, but that was it, nothing else linked them. Different ages, hair colours, ethnicities, jobs, sexes. But why would height be significant? If only I could see a medical examiners report wouldn’t that be handy? I should take note of that for future career paths. Now you’re thinking why couldn’t I use my Leet hackers skillz to find that, well that was asking a little too much. A juvie record is one thing but a medical examiners report was a bit out of my scope. Getting caught with that would warrant a little more than a slap on the wrist. And moreover what good would it do me, a season of CSI and I think I can make heads or tails of a medical examiners report.

That was it, all I’d gleamed from the official statement and the names, still I had nothing. To anyone else this would scream ‘random’. But a little bad birdy told me that it was the exact opposite. If only I had something I could use, something that would tell me how they died, the times how it was done. If it was cartel maybe it was all done at the same time, or maybe there was some guy living in Huntington Beach with a freezer full of heads. Maybe he was making a necklace of ears and pukka shells.

Feeling indelibly stupid despite my Russian hacker ‘skillz’. I sighed loud enough to break through the quiet din of the k-pop playing in the Dre beats sitting next to me. I shrieked my chair backwards planning to pace and drink soda. I got a can from the vending machine in the hall locking eyes with a particularly mean looking prawn cocktail sandwich. I could swear I felt a flutter, some murderous intent, leathery wings, maybe. Murderous sandwich.

I sat back at my little cubby with my soda taking tactical slurps and feeling no more enlightened than before. Just supping this syrupy mixture of liquid carbs trying to imagine the heads bobbing in the water.

I felt ridiculous, I was playing games, driving some narcissistic fantasy. The heads are probably in the belly of a great white or getting balanced on the nose of flipper as we speak. Maybe some fisherman caught the whole bunch with a school of grouper.

Then why couldn’t I stop thinking about them. I didn’t even know what the other three looked like.

I’d worked myself into an almost trance like state of the slurping and morbid introspection when the spell was broken by an odd tone from the computer.

I turned and saw that I’d received a message from the internal email server. I looked over at Mr K-pop, he was very much engaged in a game of Dota2, too bad the vending machine didn’t have mountain dew.

I looked around and there were only the exchange students and a few others milling about on their phones.

I looked at the monitor, it was some sort of video message. I’d learnt my lesson about this sort of thing long ago and I retrieved a set of headphones from my purse and inserted them cautiously into the jack.

I slipped the headphones in and felt a rush of blood as electric static filling my ears, dancing on the hair around my head.

My mouth started to fill with liquid and I swallowed hot gobs of it and wondered why, some Pavlovian response, was someone playing a dinner bell?

My hand hovered over the mouse. How could anyone know I was here? Why would they care? Why here?

I opened the message and it was indeed some sort of short video, the still frame of which was what looked like a grey concrete floor in a poorly lit room.

My heart was pounding, something deep inside was sending blood to all the places that ran hot. I was breathing heavier, and my lungs were heaving, getting hot against the beat of the air conditioning. A whisper of something, a shrill hiss and a mocking laughter.

My hand shook and I clicked play by accident and it started. The camera was a dead weight pointed at the floor, there was no sound but I kept the headphones in nevertheless. Something about it made the moment seem private, beamed directly into my head. Creating a safe bubble.

The camera was repositioned by someone out of shot and angled low at a row of things that were hard to make out in the dark.

There was a heartbeat of a pause and another light was turned on. Revealing what the row of things was in such theatrical splendour as to send shivers to my finger tips and a lot more spittle into my mouth. My eyes started to water, I didn’t want to close them. I felt a rapturous flutter of dark wings, of black feathers falling from the sky and burning right in front of me. Of the future and the past crashing together and bringing forth ragnarok. My heart pounding the drums of war and love and all things fair.

Knees.

A row of perfectly lined knees on the concrete floors. Jeans and cargo shorts and a skirt lined up kneeling with their hands tied behind their backs.

The camera panned up again and I could see them, five of them lined up kneeling. Still and quiet like chickens in a battery farm with the lights off.

Only slight twitching and harsh rasping breathing translated into a spasmodic shaking.

The hoods sucked in and out faster and faster. I wish I could hear them.

Wait, what was this? What was I watching? This can’t be real, this has to be a joke, a prank. There’s someone filming now isn’t there? I’m on America’s funniest serial killers. Maybe a really fucked version of Jersey shore. I took the headphones off and paused clicked off the video like I’d been caught watching porn. I wanted to stand up and shout and look around the room frantically tossing people out of their seats like I was in some Wes craven movie but I didn’t.

I calmly, mechanically, put the headphones back in my ears, like I was on rails.

I brought the video back up as a chorus of dark angels sang in my ears. Sending black harp music to my bitter heart, telling me this was too good to be true.

The cameraman stepped into shot but never turned. He had some sort of white silk mask on his head.

He approached the row of people, slowly, almost too slowly. Like he was walking through water, taking all the time in the world, soaking in it, wallowing in it. Their fear building silently.

Maybe it was me, maybe I was just watching it in slow motion. Counting the seconds as he wafted towards them the epitome of nonchalance. I could almost hear his cargo pants making rustling noises as he breezed behind them. He was wearing a slim fitting long sleeved shirt with buttons around the neck revealing only a tiny sliver of tanned white flesh.

He started from right to left.

Of course I thought, that’s exactly what I’d do. My heart almost coughed. A tickly feeling in my chest. I looked over at K-pop, he was still fighting some sort of gargoyle, laying down buffs like a man possessed and seemed in deep concentration.

He rounded them cool and calm. I could almost feel his easy smile, his eyes were shaded by the mask but I could feel them looking right through me.

The girl was on the far right, ladies first after all, what a gentleman.

He took her hood off fast, she gasped as if she was pulled out of the ocean. The bags were draw strings and he had pulled them tight to keep them docile.

She opened her eyes wide and terrified, her face flushed. She was young-ish, around mid-thirties, pale with egg yellow hair. Her face was dumpy and sort of square. She had a boxy firm figure. She looked like an ugly German bar maid working in a death camp cantina slinging bratwurst with her fatty arms to the camp guards. Her sullen downturned eyes had a delicious ‘why me?’ expression to them. He must have been eating it up.

She tried to turn her head and look at him but he took hold of it and kept it straight. Kept her looking at the camera. Her eyes were so wide and wet, I could see them shake in her head. Bulging out of her skull.

He showed her the knife, as if by magic it appeared and he ran it through the small window of her vision he allowed, all nine or ten inches of it to pass her by. Big boy.

I could almost feel her hope slipping away as the blade washed over her line of sight. She sagged onto her knees like she was melting or she was pretending to pass out. But he had her by the nape of the neck and her hair and he yanked her up and made her look. Her eyes lolled into her head like a dolls eyes and she looked at it long and hard.

Blubbering, spittle dribbling down her chin. She tried to cry but she couldn’t, her doughy face scrunching up and turning red.

He let her go and seemed to step out of frame. The camera started to zoom in on the woman who tried to look straight. Her terrified eyes watching him, never taking them off him.

Then they followed him around and she screamed a silent scream I could tell was hoarse by the veins on her neck. She could feel it coming, the inevitability, the pointlessness of fighting the coming waves. The rising tide of visceral impending release, like falling. Like a comet plummeting to earth.

I could see it, in her eyes, she saw it.

In an instant, the time it took for a camera lens to close and open again her head was loped off with a perfect downward strike. He stepped in and stepped out again and her head tumbled to the ground. There was no dramatic guiser of blood, no brutal jihadi style sawing, just one clean, too clean, cut.

One minute her head was there and then it was gone, shazam. It was beautiful, perfect, like something from an old samurai movie. A singular moment distilled into one swift action. It wasn’t the cold completion of an execution or the dull satisfaction of a cattle culling. It was the beautiful kissing from a happy thankful knife turning dirty wet flesh into pure and simple doll parts.

There was something so perfect about it, so poetic, short and sweet, like a haiku in blood.

Her body fell backwards and he walked behind the camera again. His hand came into shot and in it was perfectly cut blonde hair he separated in his gloved hand and then blew it away like it was the petals of a dandelion.

And that was it.

What a tease.

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