by Victor Giannini
forum: Air
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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           Dara snapped awake.  Her dream splintered and spread away from her mind.  She felt cold sheets sticking to the thin sheen of sweat on her legs.  She opened her eyes, swirled her tongue around the insides of her cheeks, and tasted the warm filth of morning on her teeth.  

          She reached over to the nightstand, grasping for the old cup of water she always kept beside her.  Some went into her mouth, the water being almost as warm as her breath.  Thin blades of sunlight struggled to get through the blinds and help wake her.  She glanced at the clock, saw that it was after three, and realized that she had slept all day again.

          It was hot and the air was stale.  Her window was shut as usual, but she never opened it.  She felt more comfortable when the room felt stagnant, controlled and safe from the outside.

           Dara looked across the room to her mirror.  It lay propped against a dresser that which was stripped of its drawers.  A river of cracks spread from the bare and brown center of the mirror.  Splinters of glass lay below, imbedded in the carpet.  

           Dara swung her legs to the side of her bed, feeling the humid air greet her skin as it left the smothering touch of her blankets.  The carpet felt greasy beneath her feet as she sighed and stood before the mirror.  She winced when she felt the sharp call of glass entering her foot.  She lifted her foot, examining the small trickle of blood.  She pulled the sliver of glass out and tossed aside, then returned her attention to the mirror.   

          “Who am I going to be today?” Dara whispered to her mirror.  

           A swarm of distorted reflections warped and twisted upon each other, staring back at her.   She turned to the cluttered nightstand, leaving a small smear of blood on her stuffed teddy bear lying on the floor.   She pushed aside the dirty cups and used tissues until she found a ragged notebook and a chewed up pencil.  

          She flipped through the book, seeing her notes on math and social studies.  The last entry was dated two months ago.  She flipped to the back of the book and sat down on her bed.  

          She began scribbling out the first thing that came to mind, a vague image that seemed familiar.  As the lead scratched across the paper, she recalled the image from the dream she had just had.

           She heard a knock at the front door, audible even in her bedroom. She heard two muffled voices, one older and kind, but edged with authority, the other young, virile, deceptive.  There was a slight pause, then a soft tapping on the door.  She quickly stuffed the notebook under her pillow.  The rotted wooden door slowly peeled open, letting a small shaft of light fall upon the bed.  The owner of the deceptive voice entered with a pile of books under her arm.  

           “Hey, Janice,” Dara said.  She stretched, then curled her body up as she shivered with pleasure.

           “Hey Dara, home sick still, huh?” Janice said.  She winked.  Janice placed the books on the nightstand, balancing precariously on the old cups, dirty dishes, magazines, and half-empty pill cases.  “You have to do sequential homework pages forty five to fifty, social studies read chapter three and answer the four questions and…”

           Janice was cut off as Dara stretched her hand out and looped one slender finger into the top of Janice’s pants.  Dara looked up at the plump young girl at the side of the bed.  The sunlight arched across her emerald eyes, danced off her auburn hair, and snaked down her neck to her breasts.  Dara gently guided Janice down to the bed, where Janice spread her limbs out to cover Dara.

           “Did you miss me today?” Dara whispered.  

           “Well, yeah, of course,” Janice said.  She ran her hands down Dara’s prickly legs as she spoke.  “I mean math class was really boring.  There was no one to pass notes too and I didn’t really have anything to do at break.”

           Her voice was cut off as Dara pressed her chapped lips against her.  A slightly parched tongue parted Janice’s mouth, teased her, and darted in and out with total delight.  Janice arched her hips against the side of Dara, inhaled through the small opening where the corners of their mouths met, then slid on top of her friend.

           Janice started laughing.  Dara arched her head away, letting a thin tendril of saliva stretch between their open mouths.

           “What’s so funny?” Dara asked as she smiled and stroked the back of Janice’s head.

           “Juan and Charlie asked me when you were gonna be back in school,” Janice said.

           “…so?  I don’t get it,” Dara said.

           “I told them you were gonna recover for a while.  Then they asked if I was gonna go see you again.  I said ‘yeah’ and then they started getting all weird and shit,” Janice said.  “They were laughing and acting real sketchy, like they were sharing a secret or something.”

           “I guess that’s weird,” Dara said. “You think they know about us?” 

           “Maybe,” Janice said.  She leaned in for another kiss as she snaked her hand down the length of Dara’s body.  “Does it matter?”

           Dara stroked Janice’s back, feeling the curves with the tips of her fingers, while using her other hand to unbutton her jeans.  She slowly slid them down, then ran her hands across Janice.  Janice responded by grinding her hips down against Dara, and at that moment the girls began to lose themselves right as Janice’s face brushed across Dara’s.

           “Ow, wait!” Dara gasped as she broke the embrace and wrenched her face away.

           “Oh my god, Dara, I’m so sorry,” Janice pleaded as she gasped.

           “It’s…it’s ok… it’s just … my skin is still really sensitive,” Dara said.  She began curling her body in on itself and brought her hands up to cover her face.

           Janice reached out, then paused, her hand trembling as it hovered over the raw scar tissue.  Dara looked Janice in her emerald eyes, and didn’t move away.  Janice’s finger tips descended, delicately caressing the half of Dara’s face that had been seared away.  She traced the bubbled and scarred skin with the care of a mother, before leaning in gently to kiss Dara again.

           “How can you touch me?” Dara asked.  Her one undamaged eye threatened to spill over with emotion.  Her other, unable to move or produce tears, just stared up at the ceiling as Janice’s lips moved across her neck.

           “Love is blind isn’t it?” Janice whispered.  “I loved you before you were changed.  I still do.”

           Dara shuddered.

           “How can you love me?” Dara gasped.  “How?”

           Janice sat up, still straddling Dara.  

           “I’m ruined, Janice.  My body’s broken,” Dara said as she bit her quivering lip.  

           “And mine is bent, Dara.  It doesn’t matter,” Janice said.  “You look different but on the inside you’re the same person.”

           Janice leaned back and passed her hand between Dara’s thighs.  She enjoyed the increasing heat, and let her fingers dance across Dara.

           “STOP IT,” Dara screamed.  “Stop it!  What the fuck do you mean your body’s bent?  How can you want something that looks like me?  What are you using me for?”

           “You’re so concerned about how I could love you?” Janice snapped as she sat upright.  “What about me?  I’m fucking fat, Dara!  How could you love someone who’s fat?”

           “You’re not that fat,” Dara said.  “Maybe you’re a little heavy, but at least you’re not a fucking disgusting freak like me!”

           “You’re not a disgusting freak…” Janice started.

           “Oh shut the fuck up,” Dara said. “You whine about being a little chubby, but what about me?  I was fucking pretty before and now I’m a fucking monster!  You’re just using me, because you know you can’t do any better than this!  You didn’t love me before and you still don’t, you’re just taking what you can get!”

          Janice stood up, her face twisted with disgust.

           “What the fuck has happened to you?” Janice yelled.  “I thought only your face had changed.”

           Janice began pulling her pants back on, straightened her hair, and gathered her schoolbooks.

           “Janice…wait…I didn’t mean…” Dara said while leaning out to her.

           “Don’t forget to do your homework,” Janice said as she slammed the door.

           Dara heard the same pair of muffled voices as before, her mother’s, questioning, Janice’s hurried, frantic to leave.  She heard the front door open and then close.  She leaned back on her bed.  The sheets were damp, stained with sweat and tears.  The sounds of traffic creeping along, people walking the streets, and machinery pounding with intensity crept, through the window as she tried to fall back to sleep.

          She lay there for a while, when a soft clanging echoed off the fire escape.  She watched excitedly as the window seal cracked, and a pair of rough, tan, hands pried it open.  Dara felt a gust of cool air sweep in and whip around the room.  The sounds of city life followed as two boys clambered in.  Their hair was dirty, their clothes too large and disheveled.  The smell of tobacco and pot clung to them as they entered the small, cluttered, bedroom.

           “Hey, Juan,” Dara cooed.  “Close that window behind you.  And watch the blinds.  Hi, Charlie.”

           Charlie dropped in behind Juan and slammed the window shut.

           “How you feeling, girl?” Juan asked as he sat down on her bed.  His sly grin was infectious, and already spreading to her.

           Dara stretched her arms and spine.  “I think I could use a check up.”

           “That’s funny,” Charlie said as he approached the other side of the bed.  “Because we were just talking about taking your temperature.  Hot, hot, hot!”

           “Shut up, Charlie,” Dara said laughing.  “You’re so fucking corny.  Lock my door and turn the music on, I don’t want my parents to hear us.”

           Under the cover of pop music, Juan lurched down and thrust his tongue into Dara’s mouth.  She accepted him enthusiastically while Charlie began rubbing her breasts and sliding his tongue down her neck.  Juan broke off the kiss, cupped Dara’s face with his rough hands, and looked into her eyes.
 “You have such a beautiful face,” Juan said.  “So perfect and soft.”

           Dara gasped as Charlie’s mouth began to explore her body.

           “Two beautiful blue eyes,” Juan said.  He traced the outline of her face as he spoke.  “Soft, curving nose, sweet brown skin…”

           “Great tits,” Charlie chimed in.

           The three of them laughed, then collapsed began into caressing and kissing one another.

           “Where’s Janice at?” Charlie asked as he let his jaw take a quick break.

           “She was here before,” Dara sighed as Juan played with her.  “She had to go though…”

           “Too bad,” Charlie said.  “Was there a donut sale or something?”

           “Shut up,” Dara said meekly.  “She’s a really sweet girl…sometimes.  And my best friend.”

           “You’re more than that,” Juan whispered seductively before he nibbled on her neck.  “Too bad she left, she’d probably want to join in.”

           “I don’t know how she’d feel about a threesome,” Dara said.  “Especially with little Charlie here.”

           “Yeah well, it would be more of a three and a half-some, wouldn’t it?” Charlie joked with a raised eyebrow.

           Silence choked the bedroom.

           “Dude, what the fuck did you just say?” Juan said, completely paused in his erotic embrace.

           Dara’s lips quivered as the rays of sunlight slowly left the room.  Outside the window, the sun disappeared behind the taller buildings, leaving Dara’s hurt face bathed in shadow.

           “Well I mean, fucking look,” Charlie explained with faltering bravado.  He motioned to the two stumps that wiggled below Dara’s waste.  “I mean I guess you’re more than half a person but…”

           “Yo, what the fuck is your problem?” Juan said, letting his voice reflect his anger.  He sat up and shoved Charlie.  “What are you being some kind of asshole for?”

           “Hey I mean, whatever, it was a bad joke, but it’s not like any of us don’t know she doesn’t have any fucking legs, man,” Charlie said trying to defend himself.  He was now off the bed, holding his hands out in front of him.  “I mean, how many times have we done this shit?  You can’t ignore something like that forever!”

           “Yeah there’s a thing called respect, man,” Juan said narrowing his eyes.  “You think she doesn’t have feelings?”

           “GET OUT!” Dara screamed.  Her sudden outburst sent both boys reeling back.  “GET OUT OF MY FUCKING HOUSE YOU PIECE OF SHIT!”

           She was now holding her self up on her arms, while her lower body shook from trying to support her weight.

           “How dare you come into my house and lay in my bed and…” she said

           Dara was cut off by the sharp crack of Juan’s fist destroying Charlie’s nose.  There was a muffled shout from the other side of the door.  The voice was distinctive.   “That was my father!  Get the fuck out of here!” Dara gasped as her perfect blue eyes widened in horror.

           Juan grabbed the neck of Charlie’s shirt and hauled him towards the window.  He shoved his dazed and bleeding friend out onto the fire escape, and then paused, crouched on the windowsill.

           “Sorry,” Juan said.  He looked down at the floor.  “You know you ain’t half a person to me, Dara.”  He grinned at her.  “I’ll come over tomorrow?”

           The door knob rattled as weight was pressed on it from the other side.  

           “Get out of here,” Dara whispered, looking down at the empty half of the bed.

           Juan leapt out onto the fire escape and disappeared.  Dara clenched her teeth and went over to the window.  She heard her father’s key turning in the door just as she slammed it shut.

           “What was that I heard?  Were you shouting?” her father asked.  His tall, overweight form was framed in the doorway.  “Why are you locking your door?”

           “I was singing along with the music,” Dara said.  “I get really excited sometimes.  It’s kinda embarrassing, I didn’t want you to walk in the middle of it.”

           “Dara, you know you should rest,” her father said as he approached her.  He walked over to the old stereo and turned the music down.

           Dara drew the covers up to her chin.  

          “The doctor says its going to be a while before you’re feeling better again,” her father said.  “So just try and relax.”

           He patted her head.  Dara rolled over onto her side, facing the window.  Her father stood beside the bed.  He stroked her arm, grateful that she had turned away.  He found it increasingly difficult to look her in the face.

           “You’re mother’s worried about you,” her father said.  “About how you’re adjusting and…”

           “Dad, stop,” Dara said.

           “We really want you to go back to class,” he said.  “We know it’s very hard for you, but it’s so important that you graduate high school and…”

           “Dad, please, just leave me alone,” Dara said.

           The large man looked down at the ruined body of his daughter.

           “I’m sorry about your arm sweetie,” he said.  He reached down to touch her shoulder.

          Dara curled up, inching away from his touch.  He left his hand motionless in the air, still suspended over her wound.

           “I’m a freak,” Dara said.

           “You’re not a freak,” her father said.

           “What are you talking about?” Dara snapped as she spun around and sat up.  She leaned forward on her arm, and then stood up on the bed so that she was just able to look down on her father.  “Look at me!  Of course I’m a freak!”

           Her father clasped his hands on each side of her, one hand wrapped around an arm, the other cupping a ribcage and bandaged stump.  

           “Calm down, sweetie,” he said.  “Just because you’ve lost your ….lost your…just because you have one arm doesn’t make you a freak.  It’s how you deal with…”

           “You’re just repeating what the doctor told you to say!” Dara shouted.  “You don’t believe it!  Nobody believes it!  It doesn’t matter what I am on the inside, I’m still disgusting and pathetic!  Even you and mom think so!”

           A concerned feminine voice called through the door.  Dara’s father turned toward it, then looked back to his daughter.  

           “Dara, you’re not just a body.  You’re more than your legs or your face… or your arms…,” he said.  “You are whatever you choose to be, and you are my daughter.  I love you.  You have a long life ahead of you, and one … terrible accident… well that’s just not the end of things, Dara.  You don’t have to suffer for the rest of your life.”

          He shut the door behind him, feeling an immense force tugging at his throat.  He looked up at the ceiling, rolling his eyes into the back of his head.  He knew there was nothing he could do for her, and it was getting so much harder to pretend that there was.

           Dara looked at her broken mirror.  She saw it all there.  She couldn’t hide anything from herself.  Compassionate words couldn’t make her whole again.  She reached under her pillow and pulled out her notebook.

           She began drawing again, above the picture of her dream.  She drew a body, twisted, with three heads.  The two heads on the side were chewing on the head in the middle, while the whole thing kept its hands between its legs, kneeling on the floor.  Dara started feeling sick again, her skin got hot and her hold on her pencil became shaky.  She reached over to the pile of pill cases and grabbed one randomly.  She popped two in her mouth and swallowed without water.  She then lay back against her pillow.

          When the door creaked open once more, Dara’s mother shuffled in.  Her hair was coarse and ragged; her skin was dark and aged.  She looked at the empty room and sighed.  It smelled old and stale.  She walked over to the broken mirror and reached around it.  

          She pulled the picture of her daughter off the dresser and held it in her hands.  The city’s lights fought their way through the blinds, leaving patterns of red, yellow, and green flecked across the picture.  The face looking back smiled with her mouth but not with her eyes.  Despite the humid air within, Dara’s mother felt her spine chill.  

          Her throat tightened and her eyes began to tear.  She placed the picture back behind the broken mirror, then sat down on the empty bed.  It had remained in the same disheveled state since Dara last touched it, and her mother was careful not to disturb the tangled sheets.  She leaned back on the bed and carefully ran her hand across it.  She stopped abruptly.  There was a notebook lying just underneath the pillow.  

           Her heart pounded in her chest.  It seemed to take a lifetime for her hands to reach the notebook and pick it up.  Her mouth became dry as she opened it.  Hoping to find some insight to her lost child’s mind, she found only equations for finding parallelogram angles and facts about the industrial age.

           “Did you see this book in here before?” she called to her husband through the open door.

           “What book?” he shouted back.

           She was about to answer when she reached the end of the notebook.  On the last page were two drawings and some words.  The first picture was of a three-headed creature, fighting with itself.  The picture below it was of a rabbit, but it had hideously bulging eyes and features that seemed uncomfortably human.  It was drowning in a pool of black water.  Her husband’s shadow cast over the page as he appeared in the doorway.

           “What book?” he asked cautiously as he approached her.

           Dara’s mother began to read the words aloud.

          “When her suitors came, and many did, they saw her many flaws though each was carefully hid.  Broken bones and twisted skin reflected how she felt within.  They touched her scars and kissed and cried, but she was never able to deny, she looked the same on her inside.”

          Dara’s mother clenched her fists and bit her lip. Her husband started to place his arms around her, but then gently let go as she rose.  She carried the notebook to the window.  She pulled up the blinds, and opened it to the night sky.  The smell of life rose up from the streets below.  

          “Wait, what are you doing?” her husband said.  

          He reached toward her as she tossed the notebook out.  She looked up at him, her eyes dry and strained, the soft wrinkles on her face more defined than before.

          “We should leave the window open,” she said.  “This room has to air out.”



copyright 2005 Victor Giannini.

Victor Giannini:
Trying to tackle Philip K Dick's ideas with Hunter Thompsons voice.  I make tons of comic books.

Previous Publications: Beach Plums, Purchase Independent, 5-0, Thrash Compactor