Two way street
Whatever the esoteric message of the photocopy meant I didn’t have enough time to make any sense of it. As a tight popping cracking noise of a microphone being tapped and tested and then a nasally voice filled the whole room.
“Folks, can I have your attention please.” Principle Maria Petro said. She stood looking over us from the balcony dressed a little like a character from the fifth element in a leopard print onesie? Cat suit? What are those called? Which actually fit with the neon space jungle theme. She was a short stodgy woman with a nest of badly dyed hair that looked a little like ramen noodles. She stood in what looked like a brightly lit star gate or arch, her hair done up as high as it would go. Thankfully it was high ceiling without any fans or low hanging lights. Her face a perfect mask of confidence and years of stored up aggression from dealing with the most spoiled kids on earth. All the make up in the world couldn’t cover up those frown lines. “Ahem Good evening everybody, I hope you’re all having a great time.” Paused for effect. Looking down at her subjects expecting an answer or maybe an uproarious applause. She cleared her throat and continued on without it. “It’s my pleasure to announce this year’s senior prom queen and king.”
I made my way back over to Paul, strategically elbowing people in their solar plexuses. Solar plexi? Swimming through the crowd, only spilling about half the contents of each cup on other people’s rented shoes. I handed him one. “Thanks”. He smiled for a moment and then stood bolt upright and his eyes got a little wider.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Don’t say shit” A coiled voice hissed.
“No it’s the fucking tooth fairy”
“What are you?” Paul asked looking over his shoulder keeping his neck stiff.
Wendy moved out his large shadow and poked him in the side with that deadly DG purse, her hand inside it. I imagined not clasped around her lip gloss. Her hair was coming undone, rogue strands now sticking in places to her patchy fake tan, running from the sweat. “Brodie stood me up” She said shooting me a glare like it was my fault. “They’re about to announce it now and the queen needs a king comprende?” She spat through her expensive bridgework. “So I’m just gonna borrow yours, you got a problem with that?”
“Err-“ I said eloquent and loquacious as ever.
“It’s ok, it’s cool.” Paul said as he tried his best not to look as stiff as Frankenstein’s monster with a hand up his ass.
“Walk” She said still looking at me.
He resisted the urge to raise his hands like a hostage and started to pad slowly towards the stage stairs.
There was no direct access to the stage. Wendy poked him through a set of stage doors and they disappeared hopefully to reappear on the other side of the star gate in one piece. But there was an awfully long pause and silence that followed.
“I’m happy to announce” Principle Pietro unsealed a sparkly envelope, very glamorous. She unsheathed a gold piece of card. “This years prom king and queen are-“ A sudden interruption, a dull pop and then another and then a shrill scream.
The room froze trying to recognise the sound.
Wendy burst out onto the stage the small pistol in her hand. A ruby red stream of blood flowing from a broken nose but no Paul to be seen.
“Gimme that!” she said as she snatched the studded prom queen tiara from Principle Pietro’s hand shoving her out of the way. She tried to pin it to her head with gun still in her hand. Once it was level she scanned the room of all the faces still frozen in stunned silence. Her existence now a morbid curiosity, a downward spiral, a car crash happening in slow motion and then she saw me looking up at her. The part of me that was really me wondering if Paul was still alive, the other part that was distinctly darker and couldn’t keep the smirk off my face. Here I was, a peasant in the crowd watching a debutante fall face first in the mud and I couldn’t stop the muscles in my face tensing into something like a smile.
“Fucking bitch this is all your fault!” She screamed and started firing wildly into the crowd I happened to be mingled in. The tiara drooping down and getting tangled in her hair as she cried.
Luckily at this range that little gun was about as deadly as a spud gun and there was just far too much confusion to hit anyone in particular. The crowd predictably woke from their frozen morbidity. Erupting into a flurry of fight or flight lizard brain comprehension. Stampeding towards the nearest exit. Climbing all over each other so as not to become the lucky recipient of a nine millimetre kiss blown from a killer queen.
My first instinct unlike that of a mere prey species was not to fight or to flight but to hide and wait and watch and see. I told myself I couldn’t leave without knowing what happened to Paul. He wouldn’t abandon me and I couldn’t let my mask slip off completely without at least trying to save it. What kind of girlfriend would I be if I just ran and melted into the maddening crowd of lurching farm animals and left him to bleed to death?
The exits were currently expurgating a constant stream of furious humanity. The true meaning of an ancient roman vomitorium now fully realized. Another fortuitous exit was marked out for me with a sign above the alcove that read “The glow zone”.
I broke from the herd and darted for the exit looking up to make sure she noticed I was distinct from the throng. She cursed in spanish and fired a warning shot over the bow of the balcony missing and chipping the horsehead ice sculptor, “Go Trojans”.
She banged the guard rail of the balcony and disappeared into the back.
I pushed past a door with a porthole in it, it flapped shut behind me like a saloon door, screeching loud.
I was in the lazer arcade equipment room, racks of lazer tag sets hanging from multi-coloured racks glowing with the magic of LED. An instructional video on lazertag safety was playing in a loop. A middle aged Hispanic man with a shaved head and set of terminator sunglasses appeared on screen. Instructing me on how to safely clip on one of the lazertag vests in a succinct monotone.
I decided against taking the vest, I didn’t expect a glowing piece of plastic on my chest would do me much good in a gun fight. Never bring a glowing plastic lazer gun to a gunfight Diana.
I pushed on through another door into the game area. The start of the game area was a feast for the senses. It was made to look like some neo-post apocalyptic sewer jungle. Cut out walls of plywood sprayed black and then painted with neon colours that glowed under the black light. Tropical plants and birds, a parrot swooping through what looked like bamboo shoots, that didn’t make much sense. Jungle sounds playing on the loudspeakers, monkeys chittering. The occasional tiger roar and birds chirping and a parrot squawk. Distinctly I heard the creaking sound of the door I just came through. My heart racing now but the dark dweller distinctly silent, the moon crying foul, a neon demon my only saviour now.
I ducked down behind a cut-out of a neon alligator overlooking a neon waterhole that looked distinctly like a toxic waste dump. My spot behind the alligator gave me a good view of the way I just came. I figured if I could double back I could go check on Paul and maybe buy me some time until the cops showed up.
She burst through the game door, her breath ragged in her throat. I could almost hear her blood boiling, her hair was all over the place and coming out in places, was that a weave? Her face was streaked with tears and sweat mascara goop flailing from her frantic face as She tried to look everywhere at once in this neon dystopian future-scape. After a moment of furious indecision she was seemingly dragged in one direction which happened to be right towards me. I ducked behind my neon pet and tried to still my heartbeat. Pressing my face against the cool rubberized floor flecked with neon paint like some cyborg had a nosebleed. Her heavy footfalls passed me by and I scurried low and quick back towards the entrance and the way I came. Unfortunately it was dark and the place was like a maze evidently on purpose.
But with no game masters to guide me I was lost in a dark neon ghost town or should I say fairy tale kingdom. I took a wrong turn into a section themed like a noxious glowing middles ages. Like someone dumped a ton of toxic waste on Camelot. Spinning strobes blitzing the entire room, it was pretty distracting.
The castles were just plywood cut-outs suspended by struts at the back like a back drop in cheesy dinner theatre stage play. I jumped over a painted neon moat and slid under a plywood portcullis. Peeking out around the walls of my castle fort made me feel oddly secure, despite the walls not being bulletproof or catapult proof.
I chose the castle in the middle because it had the most struts, or turrets, whatever they’re called, just a snap decision. Concentrate Diana, breathing heavy, the sound of high heels stabbing the soft plastic floor.
“Where are you, you fucking bitch?” Wendy said in a sort of rising tone like she was asking to borrow a cup of sugar from someone she was going to murder.
I of course was bereft to answer and instead flattened against the blank inside of my castle wall. My heart jumped into my throat as I heard a snapping sound and I lost my footing. Slightly bumping my castle causing it to teeter and wobble, you’ve gotta be kidding me. And like some ridiculous disaster comedy my castle of which I only just moved into was already falling down around my ears. Beginning to see why this place closed down.
The large plywood cut-out was light but large. It fell forward with an epic whooshing of air and dust and an ultimate snapping cracking noise and when the dust cleared I stood in the open.
Wendy standing in front of me a couple of inches shy of where the castle might have crushed the wicked witch of the west. Gun at her hip like some stereotypical bond villain.
My mouth open and dry choking on dust.
“My heel broke” I said taking off one of my shoes to show her.
“You mean my heel” She said triumphantly, fingering the gun.
“Oh yeah, forgot about the whole kidnapping and dressing me thing.”
“I thought you were my friend” The waterworks had started a while back but this it appeared was the second act of manic crazy tears. “I trusted you, I treated you like a sister and you were about to ruin everything-
You have ruined everything.” She said emphatically shaking the gun as if somehow I could still fix it like some murderous fairy godmother.
“I got nothing” I shrugged. I was going to die a smart ass better than dying a dumbass I guess.
“I’m gonna miss you Diana” She said sniffing.
“I’m gonna miss me too.” I said squeezing my eyes shut, my heart pounding and then slowing. I tried, I gave this whole life thing a shot, didn’t work out, maybe next time it would be better or maybe there was some Karmic wheel that would bring me back as a worm.
This the part of the movie where the bad guys gun is empty and we have an epic kung fu fight with chains and wood planks right? Wait who’s the bad guy again?
“Who is that? – Come out here!” Wendy shouted firing into the darkness.
I opened one eye a crack and Wendy was looking past me into the dark spotted with insane strobes of multi-coloured light. And then there was another creaking snapping noise.
“Who the-?” Wendy said as the other castle started to come down right on top of her.
Needless to say I didn’t stick around to see if her feet rolled up and munchkins rejoiced. I ran as fast as I could on one good heel. Actually screw that, I threw the other heel in the general direction of where Wendy was and kept running back the way I came barefoot.
Cutting back through the equipment room the bald Hispanic guy was in the middle of telling me how to hold the plastic guns. Sadly I was in a hurry and lazer safety was furthest from my mind, thanks anyway chief.
Back in the main staging area it was a ghost town, only the quiet beat of the hushed music playing, the floors littered with still red cups.
Cutting through the dance floor I headed to the back where I saw Paul enter only a moment ago-
“Stop right there!” I heard a not too familiar voice shout.
“I told you to wait in the car” Cartwell yelled.
I turned in my ridiculous dress, barefoot, and looked with my ridiculous over made up face at detective Cartwell pointing a gun at me. My aunt/sister behind him like the sidekick in some buddy cop movie. His gun was far less cute, sharp angular lines, a boxy tasteless gun that looked like it was made by cruel plastic robots in Germany no less.
“Diana, are you alright” My aunt shouted like I wasn’t in the same room with her.
“That was fast” I said. Slightly confused about the shipping.
“Don’t play dumb with me, I knew you were tied up in this shit.” He spat, trying to keep his lips as tight as possible as he pushed out every word with a tense needless difficulty. “Think that witness protection crap meant you could get away with murder?”
“Huh?” This time I was genuinely dumbfounded, found guilty of a crime I oh so wanted to commit but fate had yet to gift me with.
“I said don’t play dumb with me, I’m not buying the babe in the woods valley girl air head shit anymore.”
Valley girl? Moi?
“I’m not following.” I said my mouth open much wider than I thought normal procedure, eyes focusing on the ceiling fan spinning.
“Yeah well I was” He paused, very pleased with himself. “I put a tail on you the moment we got those pictures from the security cam. I had to pull it when we got that call from the feds but I kept on you and I got lucky.” He straightened up and started to chew the inside of his mouth. “I saw you take your Aunts car a ways to that gated community, what were you doing with the bag and the mask crawling through the hole in the fence huh?”
“Uh” I said, eloquent and articulate as always.
“Diana, did you take my car?” My aunt sounded boldly offended like she wanted to bend me over her knee at gun point.
“When you didn’t come out I figured you shook me so I came looking for you at home and your Aunt told me where you’d be.” He sniffed, a smile creeping at his corners of his mouth. “Now I’ve got you.”
“You told me she wasn’t in trouble, you told me you just needed to ask her more questions.” Mary-Anne looked indignant and started to get fidgety.
“I’m sorry Mary-Anne, your girls in a lot of trouble” Here’s me thinking they don’t know eachother and now they’re on a first name basis planning impromptu interventions.
“She’s just a kid, can’t we just-“
“I am your superior officer and I am ordering you stand down and do your job!”
Cartwell wasn’t paying attention anymore. He pulled out his cuffs and started edging closer to me like I was some poisonous snake that might have a concealed chainsaw or three to juggle. “Now I’m gonna throw these cuffs over and you’re gonna put them on.” He threw them at my bare feet now stained black from the rubberized floor of the lazer maze. I looked down at them like they were a Chinese crossword puzzle and then up at him and he tilted his head and I bent down.
“You told me she wasn’t in any trouble, that it was just a routine follow up.”
“Would you kindly shut the hell up?” He shouted over his shoulder and turned his head back to look at me. He chewed the inside of his mouth a little more and tensed his jaw “Now put them on and we’re taking a ride-
And I will personally, Washington or not make sure you’re put under a microscope for the rest of your life.”
“You’re putting her on record but she didn’t do anything, you can’t just-” My aunt protested feebly.
He ignored her this time and hardened his face motioning at the handcuffs on the floor.
I bent down to pick them up, they were hard but surprisingly warm from being in his pocket, he must have been excited or he had some sort of glandular problem.
“Will they take her away from me? I can’t let them take her away again!” My Aunts complaints seemed to fade on the wind, Cartwell was just ignoring her and they didn’t help me much. Although it was nice to know she was on my side, she always did like to root for the underdog.
Looking at the cuffs for a minute, was I trying to buy time, buy time for what? Some dark knight to swoop in on a wave of bats and knock the law on its ass allowing me escape on convenient slide? Sadly I heard no trumpets or wings of any kind. Only a cold hard unblinking gaze and the endless opening and shutting of prison cell and future employer’s doors. I’d spend the rest of my life working at Arbys and my only release would be overcooking chicken or spitting in the marinara sauce, constantly under the harsh spotlight of the law.
“Well go on, put them on.” He rolled his shoulders, gun still pointed at me, jaw still tight and bulging.
I felt very juvenile for a moment, like a toddler. Almost like I was about to start the waterworks myself. Drop to the floor in full blown tantrum mode make him pull me out by hair. ’No mister big bad police man, you have it all wrong, I’m a good girl, I dindu nuffin officer, I swear.”
I clicked the first cuff on and suddenly felt all my powers of persuasion melt away, had no idea they made hand cuffs out of kryptonite these days. My knees felt weak, I felt like I might almost get away with it, well I thought I might actually get to do it first and then get away with it. But instead I was probably going to tumble down the systems many rabbit holes because Detective Cartwell didn’t like the cut of my jib.
He started to get closer “Good Diana, now the other one” He patronised. Suddenly a muffled shot grabbed his attention and then another, how many bullets did that gun have? I was almost certain Wendy was gonna swoop down from the rafters on a chain firing an ak47. Maybe shouting something thought provoking but after a moment of silence nothing happened and he turned his attention back to me.
“Do you have someone else with you?” He said looking behind me pointing the gun over my head.
“No, well, yeah but-“
He aimed the gun at my head again and I was sure he was thinking about shooting me but I was done for today trying to guess people’s intentions. I put my hands up, one with the handcuff dangling off of it.
He suddenly tightened up and I was almost certain I was about to be a headline but he stopped and got a maudlin expression on his face like he’d left the stove on somewhere. He looked down at the floor, his arms hanging loose at his sides. The gun falling from his fingers and he slumped after them like bad rag doll physics in a videogame, almost like he’d bounce.
Behind my Aunt/Sister stood with a tight incomprehensible expression. A blank still face breathing unsteadily like she forgot how. A kitchen knife with a bloodied tip at her side. She stared dreamily at Detective Cartwell as he wheezed on the floor in a slowly forming puddle of sticky messy, nasty blood. Which under the black light was a bright almost white colour.
I looked at her and there was nothing looking back at me, nothing at all. Just an empty space where a person should be, where a soul should dwell, just emptiness. I was starting to think I was very bad at this hiding in plain sight thing, in comparison.
She flicked me a mechanical smile and sniffed up some illusory tears and wiped her face. “I’m so sorry, I thought-”
“Is he?” I looked down in shock, like I just walked in on Santa Claus deboning a hooker under the Christmas tree.
She kneeled down beside Detective Cartwell. She ran the blade across his neck slicing it open like it was a slightly underdone rotisserie chicken, as in still flapping.
“I have to go find Paul.” I said dreamily, breathlessly grappling with whatever this was, whatever this thing that swallowed my family was.
“Go- I’ll clean up here- See you back at home” She said with that same blank stare and robotic smile. “I love you, Diana.”
“Yeah, see you” I said walking backwards, not taking my eyes off her until I was through the backstage door.
I tried to clear my head, the air backstage was fresher and colder and sharper, the smell of oil and left over noxious luminous paint. I looked about the stairs and hallway lit with its regular halogen bulbs.
“Paul!” I whispered loudly. “Paul!”
Coming upon the bottom of the stairs, I found the scene of the struggle. There was a shell casing or two and a little blood but not enough to say anyone died here, no body and no drag marks so that was a good sign. But it did kind of mean that my knight in shining armour might have just abandoned me to get sniped at by a crazy Latina. But considering the circumstances I could hardly blame him. I wasn’t an easy date.