Until Darcy was four years old, her parents left her in the care of a kindly, little old lady down the street, Ms. Samuels. She had a tight grey perm, bright eyes, and looked like everyone's idea of a Jewish grandmother. Ms. Samuels liked all children, she said. As long as the little ones would learn, they were welcome. They would flourish, if they would just fit in.
Darcy had always been a square peg in a round-hole world.
Sometimes when Darcy sleeps, she has dreams she doesn't understand. It's dark and the walls smell sharp, and there's nowhere to hide in the closeness.
Sometimes when Darcy sleeps someone carries her into the light.
Puente Antiguo, New Mexico
Iteration 00, January 3rd, 2010, 5:49pm
The knocking at the door interrupted her sleep. Filled with awkward, guilt-laden grief, the weird dreams had actually been a welcome respite.
There had been a lot about her roommate Darcy hadn't been super fond of, but there was tons about Sharon that she'd respected, even liked. They hadn't exactly been besties having sleep-overs with pillow fights, but for two people from totally different backgrounds they had managed to coexist peacefully.
Now that Sharon was gone, Darcy found that she missed her, because for all her girliness and random bouts of piousness, she was, had been straight-forward and honest, and unrelentingly herself. It might have sucked having a fucking Swear Jar, but Darcy respected the shit out of her for having convictions. Most of the time.
No one deserved what had happened to Sharon, who had by all accounts died horribly. Darcy hadn't really slept since she heard. The rumors were better than the facts, and the facts were grim.
Either way, her roommates purse and keys were missing, and the infamous They hadn't been able to reassign Darcy to a new room yet. The cops had been by three times, leaving a little less of the woman who had been Sharon behind when they left. Making her feel a little worse every time for declining to go to that stupid frat party.
After checking the peep hole, and seeing a UPS delivery guy, her pulse pounded furiously. Her hand shook when she moved the chair she taken to bracing under the door knob.
The chain was small comfort and pitifully cheap, but Darcy left it on. God, she hated this hiding, hated that she hated small spaces, but didn't want to leave her safe little cave, even though the walls were closing in.
It was a little awkward to make the UPS guy stick his electronic clipboard through the crack so she could sign her name, but he didn't seem phased at all by that or her request to just leave the package on the welcome mat.
The tightness in her chest was overwhelming her again, so she leaned against the door and let gravity do the rest of the work.
It was a long time later when she finally loosened the door chain and opened the door wide enough to get the package.
She cried, just straight up sobbed, when she saw her Mom's handwriting. The counselor said that it was healthy to cry, that it was okay to grieve, and that was just great, since she just kept freaking losing it.
The cookies almost have the waterworks going again, but instead Darcy just stuffs her face full of the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. Pepperidge Farm's. Mom couldn't really bake for shit, but she did know her daughter's favorite varieties. She tipped the box upside down to get a good look at her cookie bounty.
Cookie crumbs sprayed everywhere when the taser fell out. First time in days Darcy laughed and, also, felt marginally safer.
Iteration 3, December 26th, 2009, 1:34am
Yes, this is you. No, this isn't weird spam. I can prove it.
You liked the Backstreet Boys when you were six and wanted nothing more than to marry Nick Carter and be his choreographer and songwriter. You still kinda do, but only when you're feeling nostalgic and look at their old videos on YouTube.
You got your first period in the middle of Mrs Carter's third grade math class, and everybody laughed at the giant blood stain on your ass. Grandpa Lewis picked you up from school and made you sit on a piece of cardboard in the backseat of his 1987 Chevy Caprice station wagon. You sometimes like the smell of stale cigar smoke because of that car.
If asked, you'll tell people you like the Beatles, but you really only like a few songs, and harbor a secret hatred for Paul McCartney. You think his face is stupid.
You sing A-Ha in the shower when no one is around, and The Distance when you ride Scooty Puff, Jr to the store at three AM for Funyuns and Pepsi.
Delete this email right now if you don't believe me. Or, ya know, YOU.
See? Can't stop reading, huh? I know my audience.
Someone assures me that I need to tell you this, and
Yoko Ono, this is way harder than I thought. As it should be, really.
There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna say it.
In ten years, give or take, the world is going to end.
I know it seems like a no-brainer and nuh-duh and unreal and you're feeling smug like of course humanity self-destructed, so jokes are being made, but, just don't. It's not funny or fair or even fate. It's terrible beyond belief, and I would have said nothing, except I was asked to by... never mind.
I'm just gonna say is it's not the rapture, or a Water World scenario or even the alien invasion we all suspect is going to happen, and actually does.
Don't worry. We kick ass, take names and shove a nuke up their space hole. The ass-kicking like three times and the nuke thing once, but who's counting?
The point is that you gotta stay alert, you gotta learn to pay attention, but make it look like you're a box of rocks. You smoke too much green right now (maybe ease up just a little?) to trust your memory of events, so you're going to tweet and post stuff on tumblr and Facebook, and Instagram, which totally blows up in a few months. (Just sayin'. I'm not above trying to give you a bit of financial advice, but I know you're too poor to take advantage and that mom and dad are afraid of the stock market, so boo, I'm destined for destitution).
In the fifth grade you and Mark William Hill passed notes back and forth in class. You checked the Yes box when he slipped a piece of paper in your hand after Science class asking to be your boyfriend. He kissed you behind the shed the school stored the lawn mowers in, and the smell of the grass made your allergies go nuts and you sneezed so hard you head-butted him and made his nose bleed. His friend Jordan gave you a break up note from him later that day.
It's too bad, because he was really the nicest of all our boyfriends. Remember the mall and Cinnabon?
Anyway, the alien thing? That's just one of the pieces. You'll figure it out.
So right now, all you really need to know is to remember the name Jane Foster. And you'll need to remember to brush up on your social engineering, maybe pass a few donuts out to the ladies down at the DMV. Network some friends in useful places, or something.
Oh, and buy a fucking taser and carry that bad boy everywhere from now on.
Mom put a copy of The Care and Keeping of You in our sock drawer when the girls started to come in...
Peace out, me.
PS. No telling, or it's the looney bin for you. You never did like small, enclosed spaces.
The sleep spell works a little too well, and getting Darcy into bed quietly is an effort he expects reciprocation for. When the time comes.
Iteration 1, January 2nd, 2010
Puente Antiguo Times
Section A, Pg 1
Police are baffled in the murder of two college students, Darcy Lewis and Sharon Harris. Witnesses place the victims at a new year party shortly before midnight, and police are requesting anyone who met the women that night to step forward.
Iteration 2, December 26th 2009, 11:23am
Darcy fucking loved coffee. If she had one true love, it was that magical brew. And since she morally objected to spending her hard earned money on Starbucks (her least favorite place of employment), she got her fix at a small shop near the college, located in a nearly abandoned strip mall. When she's feeling whimsical, she likes to call it the Land that Health Inspectors Forgot.
The faded, purple fiberglass dinosaur in the parking lot was a remnant of a long-closed, Chuck-E-Cheese knock-off type restaurant, and it was her second-favorite thing about getting her coffee here.
Her favorite thing was the coffee, duh. As long as you ignored the grime and urban decay outside, the mystery smell in the parking lot, and the customers from the strip club at the other end of the mall, Beans 'n Leaves was heaven.
Usually though, they didn't have her coffee already waiting for her on the little table next to her favorite chair. Her name was scrawled across the side in Josh's familiar hand, and it after dumping her jacket and scarf in the chair, she took a sip before heading to the counter to pay up and order food of some sort (a muffin, who was she kidding). It surprised her that the coffee was just what she'd planned on ordering, but it wasn't her usual.
Darcy went to the counter and Nina handed over a slightly warm lemon-blueberry muffin and a small dish of butter packets.
"Not that I don't appreciate the ESP going on here, but I didn't order this."
"Sure, Darcy, that wasn't you on the phone 10 minutes ago," the tall goth behind the counter scoffed.
"Uhm, no, pretty sure I'd remember that," she said, but maybe her roommate had mentioned it to Josh, who she was sort of flirting with, and he'd just gotten it ready for her. Strange.
"So don't you want it?" Nina the goth barista said, obviously confused, hand moving across the counter towards the yummy smelling muffin.
Darcy snatched up the plate before Nina could get further, cradling it protectively, "No, no, uh, how much do I owe?"
She put the plate down and dug through her purse until she found the crumpled and crinkled plastic grocery bad she'd emptied the contents of her Swear Jar in (she was one of the more deserving charities she knew, so she donated half of the money to herself and the other half to RAINN). She stuck her hand in and pulled out a handful of random, wrinkly bills. Change tinkled merrily in the depths of hell, er, her purse.
Darcy handed over ten singles, and laughed when Nina remarks that she should really lay off the pot, honey. She had been, before finals, but it's winter break, and who is she to turn down Kurt's Yule log (the massive blunt he shared after their last study group yesterday- originally called Mr Hanky the X-mas Poo).
After Darcy sank into her seat, she took her laptop out of her purse, opened the awful Culver email account that nothing good ever came from and cleared her spam. When she settled back to respond to anything important, she got a little caught up in an email from her advisor, a reminder that she's missing a hard-science credit. Darcy suppressed a shudder at the thought of squiggly bits covered in biological matter and incomprehensible rocket science equations and let her fingers fly over the keyboard.
She kept her response as colorless, as bland as she could manage, and although there at least one paragraph in particular that begs for a "that's what she said" at the end, she resisted.
Basically, Darcy's reply boiled down to "I'm gonna go ahead and procrastinate on that till the last possible second, but thanks for the heads up."
Still, some morbid, slightly masochistic part of herself clicked on the first link her advisor had provided listing the staff who accepted internships.
She lost track of time clicking through the weirdo professors, the ones that were obviously trying to be cool and the ones who had been around since Lincoln's assassination. Darcy reached down, feeling for her cup. The bottom must've been a little sticky, because the napkin comes along for a ride when she puts the cup to her lips.
It tickled her chin, putting in mind the unpleasant sensation of a bug skittering across her skin. Started, Darcy flailed a little, saw the napkin and relaxed in immediate, slightly embarrassed relief. She lifted her knees to slide the laptop back into safer territory, and checked to make sure no one saw.
There was something written on the napkin and Darcy had no interest in what it said, mostly because Marvin the Magician kept bribing Josh to give her napkins with his name and number on them.
But it wasn't his handwriting, it was her own, and all it said was Jane Foster and one of her elaborate curlicue, doodled question marks. This is officially weird, Darcy thought, because she hadn't even pulled out her pen. She shrugged off the unpleasant sensation of deja-vu, and went back to what she'd been doing.
She glanced at the boring hyperlink list she'd spent ten minutes clicking through and getting lost. There were about a dozen other students using the Wi-Fi, so service was intermittently slow, and the next entry spent a while loading. She didn't notice that she slammed almost a third of her highly calorific White Mocha Peppermint Triple-shot Latte in one long swallow.
The page had loaded when she next checked her screen. It was the corner of a huge picture, showing blue sky and the corner of a really dirty building, and a tuft of dirty looking, spiky, mostly grey, but definitely was at some point blond hair. Darcy automatically makes the same observation she has since she started at Culver; that a four year old could have coded a better and more user-friendly intranet interface.
She scrolled past the massive .jpeg and glanced at the text, not sure anymore why she was bothering. Dr. Erik Selvig, Swedish, bla bla science and astrophysics. Basically stuff Darcy had only really started to understand when it was spoken in Morgan Freeman's dulcet tones with pretty graphics and dumbed down language.
Darcy tried to swipe her touchpad to select the address bar in her browser, ready to type io9 (she'd gotten a hankering for something science-y, and on io9 there a 50/50 chance it would be of the fiction variety), but her poor laptop was getting pretty old, and her touchpad was on its last legs, and she ended up just resizing the page instead. Darcy automatically coo'ed at her laptop, trying to convince it to function properly, and ends up getting a good look at that enormous picture.
It was a picture of a beat up, old RV in the middle of the desert and two people. One of them was the dude from the description, he had to be the Swede, because he had that old Viking stereotype down flat. Not that he was wearing a horned helmet and armor or anything, but he had that Nordic thing going on, with the blue eyes and light hair and tall build. Though maybe he only looked so tall because he was standing next to a really tiny chick. She was pretty, despite the bad plaid, worn out baseball cap and a smile that said "Oh my god, take the damn picture already".
There was something about the picture that made her increase the font size, and reread the short text describing the Astrophysics Department and staff.
She felt a shiver down her spine when she saw the words "...and his colleague Jane Foster."
Darcy does a great deal really well. Among her greatest talents is her ability to parse the strange shit and deja-vu that occasionally happens to her into small, easily digestible nuggets of explainable normality. But this, this was starting to freak her out a little.
She closed her laptop with a decisiveness she usually reserves for those political articles that give her rage-strokes, and packed it away. Today was obviously a day when she holed up in her bed and binge-watched Duck Tales (woo-oo), instead of dealing with anything remotely odd. A shame she wouldn't be able to savor the rest of her coffee properly, but she'd console herself with a large, extra bacon, extra cheese extravaganza of a pizza and pretend like none of this happened.
She wrapped the enormous scarf she knitted herself at fifteen around and around her neck until just her eyes could be seen. Funny, but not ha-ha funny, how much morons like herself from New Jersey expect the desert to be hot. Yeah, fucking hilarious that she had to practically beg her mom to send that box of winter clothes she'd stored in the garage before she went to college.
("But you told me to put it behind the Chanukah decorations, Mom, remember? How was I supposed to know it would be colder than fucking shit, it's the desert! Yes, Mother, sorry, I know, yes, sorry, yes, I know I have a better vocabulary, and can do better than that language. Fuck's sake, Mom, where d'ya think I got it from? Please, please just send it, alright?")
She'd spent a very uncomfortable week that first winter in New Mexico waiting for her winter gear, because her parents loved her, just not enough to spend $400 overnighting 80lbs of her crap to her.
("Just you wait till you need an organ transplant or something, Mom. Or, ooh, a nursing home. It's a joke, Ma. Yeah, I know the jokes on me since you're undoubtedly going to send it by rickshaw now. Love you, too, Mom. Thanks.")
Also a poor choice for the desert? A scooter. Yeah. Good job on the old life-choices there, Lewis, she thought for the eight millionth time, as she slung her purse strap over her head and tugged on her helmet and goggles. Yes, she was aware of how they looked (goggles, really?), but really, they were necessary. Two words, and they were both sand.
Her scooter had once been minty green, but decades of abuse had rendered it a study in mostly Bond-O and duct tape. Still, she could fill up the tank for a fiver and it would last her all week. Her student loan covered not much at all, and she supplemented her meager bank account with a variety of part-time jobs, but it didn't leave much in her budget for gas. So in that sense Scooty Puff, Jr was perfect. Just, she sometimes wanted doors and a roof to go with her method of transport.
Her dorm room was small, and overlooked exactly nothing picturesque. A grey concrete parking structure that was perpetually busy was definitely not the majestic desert beauty that had been in all the official reading material.
She only had another two years to go, though, and she was determined to finish her degree regardless of car alarms and ugly-ass blackout curtains and temperatures that fluctuated between "I'm melting, melting!" and colder than a witches tit. She still wasn't exactly sure what she'd actually do with a political science degree when she finally gets that diploma, but she's put up with too much to give up now.
Iteration 2, December 31st, 2009, 11:59pm
At forty-seven minutes left in 2009, and Darcy hadn't yet started to regret the minute and seemingly benign chain of events that led to this moment.
A few days ago, after a few hours of the McDuck clan, Darcy had fallen asleep with a candle lit, and to teach Darcy a safety lesson her roommate Sharon had black-mailed her into going to this kegger. Sharon had heard about it from one of the many party-boys, and had been excited about the invite to a real fraternity party. Darcy wasn't exactly sure why.
She also wasn't sure why she'd let herself be talked into going, since most of her friends seemed to be at another party. Darcy wasn't especially impressed with the music she overheard as she and Sharon were led to a kitchen nook on the third floor, where the beer was.
She thought she was smart for declining the Dixie cup of beer from the keg that someone thrust at her. She'd snagged a can of Miller Lite from the mound of them that was on ice in the sink, instead, and after slinging her coat and scarf on a couch nearby, she wandered around a bit.
That was four beers ago, and for a most of those four beers Darcy had put up with the company of Brian, a guy from her American History class. He had 'saved' her from the weirdly intense, clingy attentions of of a slightly disheveled, dark-haired dude. Dude had looked a little out of place and had a noticeable problem making his mouth form sounds into words that made sense.
If Darcy had to make a guess, she'd bet that he'd dropped enough acid to make Hunter S. Thompson proud. He'd been sort of cute, in an early '90's grunge sort of way, and he'd clearly been trying to communicate with her. Points over Brian there.
She totally could have handled him on her own, btw, but Brian had come over and explained that no one knew who Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was and that he had to take a hike. Weirdly pleading eyes or not, he had sort of smelled, and Brian, for all his faults, hadn't.
But as the minutes ticked by, bringing the end of 2009 ever closer, Brian also got closer and she was reminded over and over how much she tried to avoid him. She was tipsy, or drunk possibly, but she wasn't impaired enough to overlook his startling stupidity, and really, she was so not looking for anything physical at the moment.
Even if he hadn't spent the last fifteen minutes talking about all the stuff his dad had and had bought him, Darcy wouldn't have wanted much more to do with him, but now she wasn't even going to try to make a graceful exit.
When she tried to get up, she'd found she couldn't shake loose his heavy arm. He was too close, and his breath was a little on the "ugh, dude, eat a tic tac" side of things, and she wasn't sure how he did it, it had happened so fast, but he'd pressed her hand into his crotch, and she felt the hardness of him through his jeans, and he pawed at the front of her sweater, pinching nowhere near her nipple, but that was clearly what he'd been aiming for.
His mouth pressed awkwardly, painfully against hers, and Darcy knew she had done nothing to encourage him, she hadn't even laughed at his lame jokes. At all. She was shocked by this asshole who presumed to touch her. Her heart pounded and there was a ringing in her ears.
She didn't really remember pushing him off, didn't recall using his crotch for leverage, but she must've, since he'd yelped and hissed at her as she stood over him shaking. She hadn't needed to hear him over the deafening roar of the crowd as the countdown began to get the gist of what he's said. A twist on the Wicked Witches classic: I'll get you, you fucking bitch, and your little friend, too.
She grabbed her coat, almost abandoned her scarf, but tugged it as hard as she could from under the shithead, and took off through the dense crowd. No way was she going straight home after this, and have some wack-job follow her home. The bathroom on the second floor had seen better days, but there was markedly less puke around and in the bathtub than there was in the one upstairs, and the only other unlocked doors had housed varying scenes of debauchery, so Darcy counted it the winner.
Her hands were shaking, but she managed to unlock her phone and shoot a text to Sharon. "Stay away from Brian, crazy, possible rapist" sort of stuff and that she'd be heading home as soon as she heard from campus security. Darcy definitely breathed easier when she got a text back that Sharon was hanging with a bunch of super nice girls from the drama department.
Iteration 2, January 1st, 2010, 2:39am
If people were mad at her for commendeering a bathroom, Darcy invited them most sincerely to eat a bag of dicks and, also, to blame the guy with the unwanted advances and bad breath. She'd still be drinking crappy beer, silently judging how the other half lived quite happily if that douchebag hadn't decided to play Where's the Nipple and Heeeere's Johnny.
And because it was New Year's, campus security was slammed and wouldn't be by for hours. Fucking useless bastards. She texted a few friends, got mostly well-wishes of the particularly useless sort, and decided the likelihood of Octopus-Hands Brian still being hung up on her was low. Or maybe hoped.
She climbed on top of the toilet, opened the small window and shivered as she looked down. The chances of her escaping that way were obviously slim, not least because her chest didn't feel like it would fit through, oh and also; it was pretty far to the ground. Through the door she'd go.
Halfway down the stairs, there was a sound behind her, but between the dueling bass drops from the first and second floor, she figured she must be hearing things. As she wrapped her coat around herself, she glanced around. Lots of drunken and drugged college students, but no one was paying her the least bit of attention.
Outside, the cold took her breath away. She huddled into her scarf, pulled her beanie down over her ears and headed in the direction of her dorm.
It was a long walk in the dark, and the huge open spaces between the buildings echoed the sounds of the various revels going on. Uber creepy. Her boots tapped against the salted sidewalks, and she kept hearing something behind her.
She spun around ready to scream and fight, half convinced she was a paranoid crazy person, while the other half was convinced she'd face the boogie man.
Ok, no one there.
She was nuts. Fine. She'd go home and repent... She just needed to get there safely.
Turning back, she never saw the blow coming. Darcy saw a blur, and her body shrunk back instinctively, but not enough to save her from being knocked over. Her butt landed against the slushy concrete with enough force for her teeth to clack together painfully. Cold water seeped in the back of her skinnies before she had a chance to figure out what had happened.
She scrambled to get up, heard feet pounding and some thumping and grunting. Darcy's knees were a little weak, and she was confused about why two guys were sort of rolling around in the slush on the ground. A glint of metal caught her eye and before she could make a sound, before she could react, she recognized Brian and he had slid a knife into a man, someone familiar.
Captain Acid McSpeech Impediment.
Just goes to show, things can always go further down hill.
"Oh, poor show, mortal. Bringing a knife to a God fight. I suppose I'll just have to teach you a lesson, now. Pay attention, please... Don't,-" he paused to grab a shocked Brian by the hair, "stab,-" and swung Brian's face into the pavement, "strange,-" planted his knee on Brian's cheek, "gods."
He pulled the switchblade out with a grunt and she heard an unsettling squelching sound.
Darcy's stomach kinda heaved a little, and she had a second to reflect how cultured and English his voice was when he wasn't gibbering, but he wasn't through yet.
In less time than it took her to blink after she had her little thought, the dark-haired man stabbed Brian through his hand.
And then he laughed.
Trippy Crazypants looked rather, er, psychotic; what with his clothes covered in blood and all (mostly his, her brain helpfully supplied) kneeling victorious on his conquest. Who was screaming really, really loudly.
"Oh, do be quiet, would you?" he said, and waved his free hand in some weird pattern over Brian, who just shut up. His mouth was still opening and closing and Darcy could see his throat working, but Brian only made a sort of pathetic wheezing. Darcy took a second to reflect that only the handle of the knife protruded from his hand.
Darcy was really good at weird. Strange, strange was a morning shift at fucking Starbucks. This, however, this was enough. She took off, stumbling off as fast as she could manage, fumbling in her pocket for her phone, intent on calling the cops, the real cops. Fuck campus security. People had been stabbed and shit.
"Buggering fuck. Well, that went poorly, thank you..." his voice was lost as she ran off.
Iteration 3, December 30th, 2009
Puente Antiguo Times
Section C, Local News, Pg 23
Police have yet to identify the assailant or assailants involved in the death of Missouri State Senator Norman Stern's son, Brian Stern. Anyone with information is urged to contact the PAPD.