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Chapter 1 Darkly Dreaming
My high heels tap on the wet concrete like anxious teeth clacking together as I walk. I’m walking, it’s dark, I’m alone and I’m scared. But not for me, 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 walk the street alone in the dark I can feel it like it’s all around me like the tropical heat of this California night.
I’m walking faster in a neighbourhood I don’t recognise, low slung houses, high fences with glass teeth. Dogs barking angrily at the arid heat of the night. Salsa music playing in the distance, muffled shouting in Spanish.
I’m swimming through its want, wading through its need. It calls to me, it’s hunger passed down through what feel like eons. An insatiable hunger. Teeth straining against bone, I taste blood and feel a surge of beastial power.
I hear a splash and it’s my feet hitting a puddle, I can feel it, feel it watching, feel it waiting, its hunger growing.
The moon reflected in the puddle, its smile so wide and manic. Those white teeth, sharp and ready, it’s just right, I can feel it on my back, filling me with that white pure light. Filling every corner, carrying me like a living marionette. My steps feel weightless and without agency, I’m being carried by a wave of lustful righteous anger.
I feel his eyes on me before I hear his silent voice.
A fluttering of dark angel wings. A leathery tightening inside as it whispers and laughs and tells me to keep going. Keep walking, keep making those sounds, keep breathing low. Telling me to be patient when I know that’s not a word it understands at all.
A cool breeze blows through the hairs on my neck.
He calls to me and I’m out of it for a second.
A man, I can’t see his face reflected in the glass of a bus stop with a huge hairline crack down the middle. He’s walking down the street on my side towards me.
I see myself, dressed in my best impression of a hooker from a nineties cop movie in the car window. The fishnets might have 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 calls to me again but I can’t respond now. My tongue is somewhere far removed and words seem pointless frail things.
Walking on and folding my arms like I’m cold, when I feel nothing but cool clear clarity and vicious joy. Walking faster now, I see in the puddles and the car windows he’s following. Looking around and following, how far will he go?
I’m walking along a pink stucco wall that seems to stretch on for miles, passing houses in muted coral colours, all with their curtains drawn tightly, small dirty lawns cluttered with broken children’s toys, dry dying grass.
The shadow inside shifts and wriggles like a kid in a bean bag chair. So excited, hissing and tossing, just where it wants to be, laughing and waiting - so close.
He calls to me, something crude in Spanish but I can’t react, not yet, a little further.
My heels clicking louder and faster, I’m almost running now and what do dogs do when you run?
They chase of course, and predictably he’s caught the scent of something he likes.
I know him, his name escapes me for some reason. His face seems 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?
I can feel his need too; I’ve watched him. A small petty monster, a dog chasing cars, not sure what he wants until he gets his hands on them. And he got his hands on a few, girls mostly, young, pretty, dark hair like mine, their whole lives of hooking and drug addiction ahead of them. He’s a bottom feeder, a wanton monster with no attempt to hide it, no need. How free he must feel, not like me at all.
Something inside me calls out to him but he can’t hear it, he’s just along for the ride.
I’m almost touching the pink stucco wall now, I want to touch it, scratch off the top layer of skin. To feel something, here and now, leave a trace, but I know I can’t.
I’m walking faster but I’m not out of breath, it’s getting colder and I feel brisk and tight. A quick check in another car window and I see he’s still following. Good, almost there now. One more block, follow me little rat.
The thing inside shifts like an eel in a glass vial. Happy and tensing and releasing a balled fist, electric with terse excitement. An unfolding falling feeling of impending release on the horizon.
He’s still following, muttering to himself, looking around, he puts his hood up, he’s committed now. The streets are dark and damp and desolate, and full of people that don’t like talking to cops about strange goings on in the dead of night under the palms. 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 ends abruptly and I turned 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 makes some sort of noise in his throat that somehow I can hear.
I’ve kicked off my heels already and tossed them in the open dumpster. It was neatly tucked away behind a chained metal fence until I came by earlier and freed it with a set of bolt cutters.
They make a dull ringing sound sending the rats in all directions. I duck behind the spot I prepared. A pile of cardboard fortune cookie boxes was all I needed, I’m a slim girl. The smell sends shivers up my spine. Old shell fish, the smell of the ocean, the spray, maggots- refreshing- like smelling salts.
The alley was a long straight shot all the way through so looking down he might think I kept going with only that raw moon to guide him, he wouldn’t have seen the truth on account of the high walls and houses braced up against it.
He rounds the corner fast and confused, like he’s the only kid that doesn’t get the magic act at the birthday party.
I feel my lips parting, a curious smile, my heart beating, can he hear it? Can he hear the wings beating, can he hear the moons teeth clacking, feel it’s beaming manic smile?
I hope so.
He looks around, pulls his hood down angered. All those chemicals rushing, he was feeling it too, the chase, the thing inside of him feeding on my fear. Getting high off that night air, stumbling into my trap.
I take my cell phone out of my purse and I phone the number of the burner I put in the dumpster. It rings with mocking eight-bit mariachi band music. He hears it straight away taking offence at everything.
Something about it stirs up that voice, that hot rage against the cold canvas of the night. Dancing in the ambivalent moonlight.
It carries me, gives me a light feeling, goose bumps, goose bumps. Teeth chattering but I’m not cold, not even close, I feel nothing but pure icy potential.
He pokes open the dumpster with the barrel of a small boxy gun and he looks inside, I wait until he reaches in for the phone, he does, good boy.
I slip out of my hiding spot, feeling lithe and ready in a sliver of moonlight. I’m invisible, invincible, the stun gun in my hand as I move low and slow and sleek towards his back.
I try not to look directly at him but I can’t help myself. I glance at his back and he feels it, he turns but it’s too late the stun gun is on his neck and his legs go limp in an instant. I catch him taking the gun out of his hands like a child with a squirt gun.
I take him close, the full weight of his body on mine and I whisper in his ear “You’re mine now.” I hear not my voice but another voice vibrating just below the surface. He hears it too, a low visceral hum, that eternal voice that speaks to both of us.
I can feel his heart beat faster but he can’t move. I hike him up and leverage him into the open dumpster.
The gun still in my hand, my hearts beating fast; pumping all those good chemicals hard. I toss it and it bounces and scrapes into the gutter. Can’t risk some little kid picking it up and blowing his face off- that would be tragic.
I climb into the dumpster after him.
Diana the dumpster diver, c’est moi?
I’m afraid not.
For a dumpster is just a big metal box. It can be cleaned and prepped like any other space, my ever so humble audience.
And 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 and then there was light.
It still didn’t smell great, cramped and hot and 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 had been building. Making me tense and not quite myself.
I set up another light, I was blocking out a lot of it in that tight space. I made quick work of taping his hands and feet, cutting his clothes away with garden shears. Shaving and buffing out the areas I wanted to work in.
But what fun was that if he didn’t know, couldn’t feel what was about to happen, what was about to happen? I wonder.
I felt my tongue touching all of my teeth in turn; ‘it’ let out a little laugh.
I had to get the most powerful stun gun they had, he was out like a light, complete reboot.
I slapped him in the face and he made a noise and said something in Spanish that might have been ‘Ten more minutes’ mom’. I suck at Spanish.
I find the bag I stashed, it’s a small black overnight tote and I do plan to stay the night. Inside; a sharp fillet knife, a scalpel, a razor, a framing hammer and of course the boltcutter. “The gangs all here” I said as I put the bag next to his head.
The dumpster was cramped but I could move and I could lay him out flat. The restaurant it was attached to was closed today. So I had all the time I needed to clear out the dumpster and make it ready. Then leave my own trash behind in neatly wrapped packages ready to garnish the local landfill mixed in with some old mushu pork.
I slapped him again and his eyes opened wide and then rolled, I taped his mouth, because why not? He couldn’t scream, or utter muffled Spanish slurs now.
I showed him the knife and his eyes darted back to look at his surroundings. He may have well been buried six feet under already.
He didn’t seem too impressed with the knife, so I figured the bolt cutter might make more of an impression as the next item in show and tell day. Oh he didn’t like those, not one bit, his eyes got wide, his pupils shrinking. It seemed like he was getting it. His imagination doing all the work for me, just picturing what ‘bolt’ I might cut first.
The pretty girl thing might have thrown him at first, maybe it was a prank or a gag, maybe it was.
Maybe I was just waiting for a camera crew to throw open the lid of the dumpster and say ‘Surprise’.
I heard the mirthless tinny laughter inside and I think he heard it too.
It knew there was no turning back, one step on the dark path was enough.
I could almost hear it rushing inside of him, that disgusting hot sticky stuff, waiting to come out. Blood, a whole lot of it. Truly amazing how much was squeezed inside there.
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, like I said. I knew what he liked, young girls with wide scared eyes looking up at a knife or a gun or a set of bolt cutters. Feeling him on top of them heaving and sweating and then nothing.
He’d killed four in the last month and it was nothing to sniff at. Mostly prostitutes, he was an amateur, no procedure, no care, just pure bare need. A pathetic creature, but I didn’t hate him. How could I? We were the same, sort of, it was more than that, I loved him, he was a brother.
His eyes trying to reach inside me and find some small tear. Some buried motherly instinct that would battle the forces of darkness in the dungeons of my deep darkness. Seeing fit to take him into my arms and forgive him.
I was curious, bad form for a cat.
I ripped the tape off his lips. I didn’t like begging, but I was ready to hear anything.
He looked up at me and he said.
“Diana, you’re gonna be late for school”.
“Yes school” I heard my aunt’s indignant voice break through the cosy wall of the pillow over my head.
A dream? How you tease me. I can still hear the laughing, it’s taunting me. 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 … murderus interruptus.
“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 Mary-Anne, a fat girl’s name, but she wasn’t fat, not yet anyway. 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 that she nevertheless always tied back in a tight ponytail for work. Delicate straight features tv pretty people had but she never really like to flaunt it with make up or fancy clothes, I guess it runs in the family.
Oh yeah, best to get this out of the way. Hi, 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.” She said smiling with her hands on her hips waiting for me to fully ascend from my damp throne.
It’s not that I don’t like school, I in fact 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, did I mention I’m completely hollow inside? No, ok well there it is. 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 have 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 have 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 got out of my bed and trudged my way to the shower, down the hall from my modest bedroom. It’s hot today, it’s always hot in Cali. It’s why I keep my hair short, easy to clean, easy to dry and it looks cute, I think. And what does anyone else’s opinion matter anyway? Is a lie people tell themselves on occasion, I don’t, I’m not people. I know people’s opinions of you is all that matters. It’s the glue that binds this world together and 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? I need to write that down.
The things that you remember in the shower. I heard the water running over you stimulates creativity or some such other new age nonsense. Massages the chakras or stimulates the karma flow, vibrates the mediclorians. Mediclorians?
I towel off and wipe the mirror with my hand. I look at myself in the mirror, those empty blue-green eyes, I make a toothy fake grin, show those pearly whites. Such a practiced grin, straight out of the sears catalogue, 1997 to be exact. It’s easier for girls I guess, people don’t look too closely at a girls smile. As long as it’s there its good enough, a perfect disguise.
It steams up again and I’m gone, poof.
The test was easy, been and gone and I was already quickly forgetting what it was even about. The dream growing stronger and taking up more space in my head. Which should be the opposite. All I could think about was that cool crisp 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. Which meant it looked like a cross between a prison and a high end motel on the outside. Monstrous thin 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 and Caucasian and black kids, their motto of course being ‘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. And every day I was rubbing elbows with the future career criminals and politicians (Was there a distinctinction?) of the greater California area. 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’ the teachers were nice enough and 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, in fact 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 got out of class and made my way to my locker and I realised I forgot to eat breakfast, a common occurrence sadly. But that’s not to say I was anorexic, quite the contrary in fact. I loved 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.
Sleep walking I thought as I hovered in front of my open locker.
Nah, I shut my locker.
And who was standing behind it, none other than the notorious Wendy Vargas. How cliché’
Now another cliché would be that the most popular girl in the school and I would be bitter rivals. But nothing could be further from the truth.
“Morning bestie” She crooned in her best vocal fry valley girl as she opened her locker.
Honestly, it was as surprise to me too, I really have no idea why this girl likes me. It might have something to do with my painfully cringe worthy 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 cringe 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. It’s funny, it’s not even that hard. I can usually tell within the first meeting of 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.
The fact her locker was next to mine always tipped the scales of fate. I can’t remember exactly how we met or became friends but I assume the pure 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 inside of the of door or some other banal little detail I’d felt wasn’t worth storing in my head.
“Looking sexy as always, my love. Wendy, when will you marry me?” I say in a perfect mocking impression of her voice she will of course ignore and only hear the compliment.
“Thank you my dear but you know as well as I do, that I am taken and I am a one woman man” She said. Pursing her snake bitten lips. She was a beautiful golden goddess you 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 them. 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 would do whatever she said.
I still have no idea why she likes me. I really could have slipped right through the cracks right where I wanted to if it wasn’t for her. It might be the fact I’m the only one in the state that knows she poisoned her stepfather with anti-freeze and framed her mother. Probably should have mentioned that first.
Did she tell me? Not in so many words.
I’m not an accomplice, come on, how little you must think of me, poison? Not my style.
That’s such a ‘girly’ way to kill someone and I would never stoop so low as to kill purely for money. No, a passion is best left free like all the good things in life.
She didn’t tell me, but something did. That little voice, that little clawing thing rolling 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 is 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 quite 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.” She said taking a bow 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 said smiling like she was doing me a favour, her arms swaying at her sides as her voice peaked at the end.
Wendy was head of the prom committee, they put on the senior prom every year, and this time it was our turn. Another surprise dear reader, yes, I too, Diana, sweetness and light, am on the prom committee. All because it would have been too strange for me not to be 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, made up something about having one leg longer than the other or something, extreme corns perhaps. It’s also surprisingly time consuming. Which could prove a problem for my other ‘interests’. It made me wonder where she got it all, but you know they say time is money. Maybe it worked the opposite way too.
I look around at the fliers already up around the hall. They’re on almost every locker and bulletin board and class door. I cast sparring glances at people who don’t need conscious effort to be normal. What blissful cow like expressions they all have.
“What are wrong with the old fliers?” I ask in a robotic fashion already knowing exactly what she’s going to say.
“They’re old” She said shaking her head like it was obvious, which it was.
“Ok” I said without argument, what a waste of time and energy that would be.
She sucked her lips like she was tasting her cherry lip gloss and she liked it, looking over my head. “Oh well there’s a sight for sour eyes”
I looked back over my shoulder and appeared my stalwart boyfriend Paul. An ordinary name for an ever so ordinary boyfriend. He was 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. He was into sports, basketball mostly. An army brat through and through, his dad was almost always away on maneuvres. If I’m going to be painfully honest, I mainly liked him for his car and for the places he was willing to take me in it. I had my license already but had no use of a car of my own.
My aunt was 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 ever I went to visit we had the run of the house and from time to time his gun cabinet.
His mom was a mystery I didn’t care to explore. Seemed like a sore subject I had no interest in. Sobs stories really don’t interest me.
Most of all I liked him because he was normal. Painfully average, so much so that 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. Ug that sounded lame, like some shitty hallmark card. What I meant to say was, he was 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.
On the topic of urges; I really have no interest in sex. I have no hang ups about it either, we’ve had - sex.
Honestly I didn’t much care for it, sweaty messy thing, waste of time and sheets. But 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 wanted. 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.
He was presentable, neat and clean and always smelled good, never a blonde hair out of place, a blue eye in the wrong direction. A stern solid posture 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 at it as if to make sure. An air of callous indifference and a tut.
“Shit, gotta get back to class, see you guys later.” She said vocally frying her way down the hall. Swishing and swaying spreading a sweet scent along the hallway.
“Hey baby, what’s up?” He speaks.
Leaning in for a hello kiss, his arms wrapped around me I dutifully resiting pushing back against him to say without a hint of irony.
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