Diana In the Dark

By Ryk Brink All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Mystery

Heads over heels

Chapter 4 Heads over heels

I squeaked my chair back an inch. I felt, I felt- numb, I felt like I was vibrating, happy, satisfied, complete. I felt like lighting up a cigarette and leaning against the board of a four poster bed. What was this, what was that? Could it have been real? It could have been faked, easily. Movie magic and all, clever editing, a fake head. But something in her eyes and something, that thing, deep inside, deep in the dark well told me it was all too real. Its tinny little laugh ringing like a hunchback swinging on a church bell screaming ‘sanctuary’.

My skin felt damp like I just got out of a pool, a refreshing tingling sensation going up and down. Working up my spine and down my legs. My heartbeat slowing, breathing going back to normal.

I’ll have what she’s having, or what he’s having.

I felt dazed, tension working loose on my muscles made them slack and weak and I shook as I logged off and stumbled goggled eyed out of the library. My arms felt like limp noodles, like useless pieces of string pulled along by a runaway kite.

I felt- good.

I almost ran, through the halls tripping over my own feet hearing only my shoes screeching against the cool silence in the empty school.

I stopped at my locker, I meant to get print outs of the newspapers and some of the juvie records but I forgot and it was already nearing closing time. Tomorrow is another day Diana I thought as I fumbled with the lock on my locker, it came off easy like I didn’t even lock it. I must have forgotten, in my daze. Not like I keep anything valuable in it unless futures in deflated volleyballs have sky rocketed in the last couple of hours.

I opened it and started to unload my satchel into it. The notepad and pens back in their rightful place.

Casting a wanton glance at the volleyball, almost like a mascot, I may as well paint a face on it and start talking to it. Then I noticed, in the corner of my eye.

There was already a face on it.

Someone had drawn a big smiley face on it with eyelashes in black marker.

Funny.

There was a strange noise like a pirate skulls lower jaw opening and there was a feeling like a giant boulder was going to roll down the hall to crush me. Like I’d stepped right on an X someone had carefully placed just for me.

The noise was coming from Wendy’s locker to the left of mine. I closed my locker and actually locked it this time. The door being out of the way gave me a good look at her locker which was now ajar.

The lock of which had been cut with a set of bolt cutters. Bolt cutters? But why use those on her locker and not mine, maybe I really did leave it open, or he knew the combination.

This was getting too much, I was getting carried away, this was silly, it was all in my head. Not everything is about me. I’m not the centre of the universe. I’m going to open this locker and there’s going to be absolutely nothing inside it because this was just a simple robbery. Maybe someone saw her leave a MacBook inside and just had to have it. A simple explanation for a simple buttoned down world.

Was I going to open it? I know that’s what he wanted me to do. Does that mean I should? Should I play his game, that’s what he wants, he wants to play.

I want to play too. I really do.

I felt a shiver up my spine as I thought that, as my true intentions became known even to myself. The darkness inside stretching like a cat, clawing the inside of my head playfully pricking me.

I put one finger inside the tiny dark opening and I nudged it open and let gravity do the rest. The door swung open slow, creaking all the way giving me that long pirate ghost laugh. Behold ye not so buried treasure.

I wanted to gasp but all my breath was stolen.

There it was.

There he was.

“Hello Benjamin” I said. My voice carrying an echoing that vibrated all through me. Both voices coming together and smirking as a puzzle piece fell into place.

A man’s head bisected at the neck was sat atop the top shelf of Wendy’s locker. There was no blood, the head was clean and perfect, it looked like a mannequin head, I could even imagine the colour it had. The cut was clean and even, one fast perfect kiss and it was free. It almost looked like it could be reconnected or it might start reciting Shakespeare.

I wanted to touch it, I wanted to keep it, it was for me wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?

I knew what I had to do.

I called the cops.

The cops were there within the hour. LA cops, especially in Orange County are notoriously laid back. And unless it’s an active shooter, a dead body, not even a full one just doesn’t get their juices going.

I know, I know, how terribly anticlimactic. But what else could I have done? They wouldn’t all fit in my locker.

Oh yeah, ‘all’ all four of them to be exact.

It took a step back to really see the full glory of it. The what do they call it? A Tableau?

Four lockers, four heads.

The four lockers on either side of mine. It was on odd scene, all four lockers open with mine closed in the middle. Evidence techs in full bodies suits going over it. Looking for trace and dusting for prints, spraying for blood and finding nothing. Needless to say I took the time to remove the deflated volleyball with the face on it, that was mine after all. I knew of course they’d search my locker so anything that could link me to this had to be disposed of.

What good would it do me to call this in and then put a big red X over my name? That’s assuming that there already wasn’t a big red X over my name just for finding them.

Four heads, one was missing, the woman’s head, the German barmaid without a name.

I wonder why.

Well I’m sure it’ll turn up.

“What is this girl doing here?” I heard a nasal voice say off to my right.

“She’s the one that called it in” One of the techs in the mask said without looking up.

“And why is she still in an active crime scene? Come with me miss, you shouldn’t have to see this at your age.” The man stepped to my right, he was a tall slim black man with a shaved head and a light complexion. A sort of dull friendly expression on his face like he’d forgotten how to frown. “Would you mind coming with me and answering a few questions? Has anyone called your parents?” He made one of those fake concern faces news anchors make when they’re pretending to care about tragedies. But the dim smile was still there as he made deep lines appear on his brow. Humans are odd things I thought as I stared at him.

“Err, I said” Eloquent and erudite as ever. “I live with my aunt.”

He lead me outside like I just came off the short bus with a light but firm grip on my upper arm. Told me his name was Detective Cartwell and told me again he was going to ask me some questions. Just to hammer the point home that questions were indeed coming.

“What were you doing when you found the umm?”

“-Heads?”

“Diana! Are you alright?” I heard my aunts voice say. She rushed to my side, her legs chaffing against her little bike shorts. She grabbed in a really uncomfortable hug like she’d just seen my face on a milk carton. She looked up at the cop and then back at me. “I heard your name over dispatch and I came as fast as I could” I believed her because she was still wearing her pointy cop bike helmet and shades. She tossed her ponytail over her shoulder to look at Cartwell. “Is she alright, can I take her home?”

He made a noise in his mouth like a punctured bicycle tire and then bit his bottom lip looking around. Then at me before reluctantly saying “Yeah, she can go.” His tensed his jaw and exhaled loud again.

I already left my name and address with the arriving officers so I was only a hop skip and a jump away. Slip the net once but the pool was small enough and I’m sure they could trust my true blue Aunt to wrangle me in need be.

Before I could make any sense of the evenings activity, I was back in the front seat of my Aunts car feeling like I was coming home from an especially stimulating field trip. And for some reason she wasn’t saying anything. She held the stolid nervousness of a getaway driver as she hunkered over the wheel. She began backing out of her crude parking spot and back onto campus drive.

The rest of the drive wasn’t much different. I watched her keep her eyes locked straight forward. Only glancing up to check the rear-view mirror. Her muscles only relaxing as we pulled out of sight of the school. I was still feeling sort of buzzed and happy so I didn’t feel like popping that bubble, silence it was for all of the two-minute drive home.

It was darker now, the sky bleeding red and orange, one way to waste a day.

It seemed like a jump and I was standing in the doorway of our house feeling out of place as my Aunt dithered locking and dead bolting the door, top and bottom. I just stood there feeling like I wanted to collapse on a chaiselonge.

She disappeared into the kitchen without a word and I heard frantic dialling of the kitchen phone. I looked in to see the receiver missing and she was behind the locked door of the bathroom in the laundry room.

I shrugged. My mental capacity being shagged and fagged and for all intents and purposes, used up.

I stumbled to my room kicking off my shoes ready to crawl under a pile of dirty clothes like some sort of happy insect who had been rolling dung uphill all day.

I looked at my phone, lots of missed calls from Paul and Wendy, I had it on silent- library. But after narrowly missing two awkward conversations in a row, I decided to quit while I was ahead and turn my phone off. Not like I was going anywhere. I didn’t really want to know how they’d found out so fast, word gets around easy enough around here.

Body parts start turning up around you and people find things to talk about and have to tell all their friends.

I got to the door of my bedroom and felt an odd jolt of electricity from the door handle, not just static. A warning, from the deep dark depths. The dark sea from my dream bubbling.

I opened the door cautiously.

My hovel of a room materializing one piece of trash at a time. It looked the same but it felt like I was playing a game with the mad hatter. As if everything had been picked up and swapped around and put back exactly in their places again. Only to give the illusion of things staying the same but keeping that static energy of a wicked prank.

The room hummed with potential. A cloistered violence clinging to the sheets. I could almost smell it. The pheromones of another monster stalking through, poking into the dark crevices and laughing.

It wasn’t a dream now, it was real. I saw the heads, I almost took one home. I don’t know where I would have put it. The pictures would have to do. Oh you think I’d leave without a souvenir? To come this close without even a picture would have been a crime.

Someone had been here.

No, I was being paranoid, tumbling down the rabbit hole of my own narcissistic personality disorder.

But did that mean the heads were a fluke? A cruel coincidence? Someone just happened to pick the day I went to the library and specifically chose to skip my locker when they were giving out heads.

Huh.

Maybe. I picked my laptop off my bed and smirked as I thought about all those articles from all those ‘real journalists’. How they couldn’t dream of pictures this good, this rife with meaning. Clean and crisp without their tacky headlines and small minded narratives and nicknames. Out done by some amateur hack, some nobody on the internet, scooping them and mounting them as the tired beasts they were.

I put my laptop on my desk and turned it on. Letting it boot up as I found my computer chair on its side just where I left it and wheeled it in front of my laptop as it took its sweet time to boot up.

Wait.

Then that feeling came rushing back, long cold and pointy finger tips working their way down my back.

The wheel - rolled - the sock was gone.

I jumped off my seat and let the chair fall and all the wheels spin.

I looked around my room waiting for some ghost faced killer to spring up out of the pile of clothes on my bed with a hunting knife gleaming in the wicked dim daylight.

But no such thing came, just a cool quiet calm and the incessant beating of crickets outside.

I went about searching my room for my own ease of mind, turning over wrappers and empty bottles. Nothing was taken, there was nothing to take. My laptop was the only thing of value in the room and evidently he found value enough in it to take a peek at it. But was that really it.

My closet was over in the corner, I rarely used it as my bed and floor seemed to be working out just fine.

I opened it and clicked the light on, the magic clicking of the lamp dispelling all evil spirits and cleansing the dark dingy space.

Laying on the floor was a Malibu Barbie I had when I was eight I think. It was of course naked and missing its head, but admittedly- that was me.

But I remember it being in a box with my other ‘victims’. Old toys in varying stages of dismemberment.

I was starting to feel silly again, getting caught up in coincidences. My Aunt probably moved the sock or I did it and forgot about it. But who took the doll out and who put its head on the top shelf staring at me?

The next day my aunt was herself again. She thought it would do me some good to get out of the house. Do some retail therapy.

“This is gonna be fun, when was the last time we went shopping together?” She was uncharacteristically chipper this morning, her teeth exposed in a disconcertingly wide smile she flashed in between swerving her little milk float car. “We’ve got all day to look at prom dresses and shoes and-”.

“I dunno, I kinda- don’t wanna go.” I said not really thinking about it, just staring at my phone in the passenger seat of her little hybrid hair dryer.

“But what about Paul and Wendy. I’m sure they’re going and they want to see you there, you have to think about people other than yourself Diana.” She said in almost a cartoon barnie the dinosaur voice.

Of course she was right. I did have to go, I can’t help organise the thing and then not show up. But that was life in all its bare brutal banality, doing stuff you don’t want to make other people happy who will probably end up hating you anyway. What a pointless dance it was.

But little did my Aunt know I was thinking about people. Just not Wendy or my dutiful dim boyfriend Paul.

I was thinking about one Antoine Ruez to be less obtuse.

Thinking and searching, two hobbies I rather like. And I seem to be rather good at them since I was staring him in the face as we speak.

I figured trying to get more info on the heads might just lead to five dead ends and I’d have a lot more fun tracking a live one. See where the thread took me, if they were even connected. Something told me they were.

Now did I scour some top secret database? Did I make contact with aliens and ask them pretty please would they let me use their secret satellite to scour the earth? Or did I just search for him on twitter?

If you guessed the later, you would be right.

@latin-hustler-1 the Latin spelled ‘laten’ and the ‘hustler’ spelt ‘hustla’ of course.

It seemed like he was quite social media savvy, doing a lot of business up front on the site using a simple code.

‘Mozzarella’ was money, that was pretty easy, ‘black olives’, I assumed were guns and ‘Pizza’ was most likely drugs or some other service. Not that any of that really interested me.

But there it was all out in the open, now I just had to find him. From the pictures I’d already gotten and the ones on his page, it was evident he was local. Palm trees, beaches, there was a video of him fucking with some bicycle cops over their shorts being so tight, hilarious vine bro.

“You know” She said taking a more serious tone as some guy in a dodge sped past us shouting muffled obscenities. “I never got to go to my prom, and I really regret- I just don’t want you to do the same, you only get one time to be a teenager, ya know?” She sighed.

“Ok” I said remembering I was half in a conversation.

“We’re gonna have a lot of fun, just a girls day, trying on dresses and sipping frappachinos, ok?” She said looking down at me with a smile like it was actually a question.

I looked up and noticed she’d taken ridgeline drive past the golf course to avoid the school. That must’ve really spooked her. I wondered if that was a normal human reaction to finding severed heads in a school locker. With no frame of reference I was left to guess. Concordia U was on the left, it was on the list of potentials after graduation.

She got on the San Diego freeway in her little roller-skate car, luckily it was a Sunday so the traffic was uncommonly light. No gun fights or friendly car chases today. L.A was a beautiful place but that didn’t stop it occasionally becoming a scene out of a mad max movie. But not today, today they were in church apologising for their reckless driving.

She was taking me to this bridal shop in Santa Ana, a bad neighbourhood in OC. I say bad, I mean a little less shiny.

It was where she took me to get my spring formal dress, where I had my first kiss, I think. At the spring formal, not the dress shop in Santa Ana. That would have been truly scarring.

I day dreamed looking out at the airport as we passed, all that flat open space, those big metal birds scratching around on the tarmac.

The blog was already up, got a lot more traffic than I usually get, must be the pictures of the severed heads that did it. Or maybe it was the just my peppy writing style, probably the heads. My admirer Mrspoopyshadowguy47 liked it but that was about it. No more emails, no more names no more delightful videos. Sad.

It was a cute little place on North Broadway, Orange county wedding dresses. A quaint hole in the wall with a deep crimson awnings, little flowers bordered the windows that had wedding and prom dresses on mannequins. Penned in by a music store and a jewellers all done in the same pastel palette. Little kid mannequins in bridesmaid dresses, it made me wonder what I was supposed to feel looking at that. Wedding bells? Was my heart supposed to melt?

The whole ordeal took much longer than I would have liked. The hassle of picking shoes and colours and making choices that weren’t really choices since my aunt would poopoo anything I chose. And it got to the point where I would just choose the ugliest thing I could find so she would just choose for me and save some time. At least an hour maybe two. It felt like three being stuck with pins by an angry squat Guatemalan that didn’t speak a word of English.

And when it was over I had a dress and some shoes and had earned a frappachino at the Starbucks on the corner.

We put the dress and the shoes in the car and got our ice coffee and planned to sip it sitting under a green umbrella in front of the Starbucks.

The sun was high in the sky now beating down, blinding me, holding up my cup in front of my face did nothing but spill frappachino on my jeans. I sat down on a metal chair out front and put my coffee down on the table while I rubbed the stain on my pants.

“I just forgot to ask about Tux’s for Paul, I’ll be right back.” I heard my aunt say as she rushed out into the street accompanied by the sounds of angry car horns.

“O-k, goddamit” I said as I rubbed spit into it.

“A lady should watch her language” A gristled voice said.

I quickly looked up and shielded my eyes from the sun and appeared a vision of the grim reaper himself or his second cousin.

Unbeknownst to me I’d sat at a table that already had an occupant.

“Oh I’m sorry, I’ll just-“ I said as I stood.

“No it’s alright” The man said as he wrapped a metal hook around my wrist and wheezed. The cold clamp sending me into gynaecologist flashbacks. “Sit back down” He said as he clamped down on my slender forearm with his cold alien instrument.

I did as I was told in a state of dumbstruck obedience. I felt a little like I’d walked into a David Lynch movie and he was gonna tell me about owls.

I looked around for my Aunt but she was nowhere to be seen.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” He laughed, his voice was deep and ragged, scarred by years of shouting or smoking or shouting at people smoking. I cast a fearful glance at him in the corner of my eye, afraid to look at him. You run into so many weirdos in L.A it’s best not to make eye contact and just remain still and hope they go away. Like a bear attack.

But of what I could see, he was an old man, could be anywhere between late sixties, early seventies. He wore a grey evening suit like a fed. From what I could see above the table he was sat in a wheelchair missing one hand. His face looked like a topographical map of Kurdistan. Hilly and craggy and an odd sandy colour with tufts of vegetation sticking out of the cracks. He had a full head of white hair parted by what seemed like deep scars. Despite all this he had an air of affability about him as if he were a man ten years his junior, a veneer of boyish charm in a single tired cheeky grin.

He cleared his throat and said. “The school sent me to council you.” He smirked.

I paused almost insulted by this obvious and off putting lie. “I’m sorry but how did the school know I was at this particular Starbucks, are they bugging me? And since when did my school become a subsidiary of Hydra?”

He let out a raspy laughter which turned into a bout of wet scratchy coughing. I was waiting for him to put on an oxygen mask or keel over, he did neither. He just wiped his craggy mouth and smiled.

“She told me you were smart” He smiled.

“She?” The cat’s mother has been talking.

“Your Aunt, she wanted me to meet you, check up on you.” He reached over to his cup of coffee and took a sip and I couldn’t take my eyes off his large pinky ring.

“And you are?” I asked.

“A friend of the family.” He put the cup back down and straightened up.

“Who’s family?”

“Yours”

“Oh”. I said sounding much dumber.

He cleared his throat again said “I used to” He paused and made a dry lip smacking noise “Work” He said almost like a question “Alongside your father.”

“Doing what?”

“It doesn’t matter, I wanted to know about the-”

“-Heads?”

He cleared his throat and turned his head looking at me for a minute with a puzzled expression “Did you know any of them? Were they from your school?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be asking me how it made me feel, giving me a shoulder to cry on?” I said sounding even dumber.

He made a noise in his throat, like a sigh or an irritated cough he held back.

“You’re funny, kids your age all this funny?” He smirked. His eyes got narrow and he said “Has he attempted to make contact with you before this?”

“Has who made contact with me? What are you talking about?”

“Don’t be stupid” he said, his voice tight and strong. Taking a long look at me as he scratched on the metal table top with his claw.

“I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore” I said as I started to stand back up.

“I know all about you, your search history.” His voice got scratchier and he looked at me and held back a cough “Yeah, I know about your little blog too, I know it all, so can we just skip the bullshit?”

He reached out for me with the claw but I drew my hand back fast and it fell hard on the metal table making a clinking noise like closing prison bars. Shit was he a cop? He had to be bluffing. My heart was racing, I’d been so careful. That claw felt like it was raking the bottom of that dark pit, dipping a silver finger into my secret dark abyss of dreams.

Then he swallowed and breathed and there was something there in his eyes. A ringing hollowness, an empty space behind his eyes where a very different monster lay sleeping until now. It bristled up like a good attack dog. A cool clear efficient monster that didn’t so much enjoy its work as it saw the brutal necessity of it. A garbage man monster. A clean unfeeling dispassionate job smith monster, a stone golem of pure malice waiting to fall on the right dance partner.

His veneer of charm faded away and he withdrew his claw and swivelled around to meet me and I saw he was also missing a foot.

“Just wait a minute, will ya, dammit, I don’t want to hurt you!”

I was too quick, led by the beats of a rabbit heart, too lithe for him. I speed walked past him without much effort and started tapping away at my phone.

“Hey, Paul, can you pick me up? I’m kinda stuck out here.”

“Yeah sure, of course, where are you, I’ll swing by with my dad’s hummer.” He paused “I heard about that stuff at school, are you-?”

“I’m walking south on North Broadway, hurry, I feel kind of- exposed” I said as I looked back and he wasn’t following me. Just watching me go with a cool tethered irritation sipping at his chai tea or whatever it was.

I walked for a couple of minutes before I saw his car, my heart still beating out of my chest. He lived on the border of Santa Ana so I knew it wouldn’t take him too long.

He saw me and stopped and I hopped up into his Dad’s fortress of solitude and just breathed some cool cycled air for a minute like a dying goldfish. Like the heat of Orange County in the afternoon was a pool of battery acid and I’d found a pocket of air in this mobile fortress. Allowing my heart to sink back down into my chest, black as it was.

“Hey whatsupp, you sounded kind of shaken on the phone. I-.”

“No, I’m ok.” He drove past the Starbucks, the old man and my aunts car were gone. Was that a trap, did my Aunt spring a trap on me?

“Where do you wanna go?”

“Anywhere”

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