Sometimes fear is the appropriate response.
-1, 9

Bringing the Fear

Daria opened her bedroom closet to find a void of nothingness beyond. Which she knew was a tautology, but she also knew that it wasn't the metaphorical void of nothingness that usually occupied her closet. It was a literal void this time, a gut-lurching emptiness that neither her eyes nor her brain could quite make sense of.

She briefly considered going downstairs and asking her family to come up and have a look, but there was no point in doing so. She had, after all, only just moments ago finished cutting them all up and stuffing their various body parts into various parts of the house. Quinn's eyeballs, for instance, had found a place of honor behind the bathroom mirror, a placement that Daria found nicely poetic.

Or was it actually ironic? She hated not being sure about that, almost as much as she enjoyed pointing out tautologies.

Tossing aside the bloody axe, Daria figured there was only one course of action that made any sense. She stepped forward into the void

and stepped out of her locker at Lawndale High School. The incongruity of the spatial relationship between herself and the much smaller area of the locker caused her sanity to chip and fracture substantially, though she didn't really notice any fundamental difference afterward.

"Hey, amiga!" Jane suddenly screamed in her ear, giving her a nasty jump-scare. "It's about time you showed up! There's something really strange going on around here, and I was hoping you'd help me investigate."

Daria thought it over for a moment, then shrugged in compliance.

"Great! Okay, let's split up and look for clues!"

Having secured her best friend's help, Jane turned and immediately left, apparently unaware of the seven-inch knife sticking out just below her left shoulder blade. Her red overshirt was deeply stained by a darker red pouring from the wound, a few small drops hitting the floor and leaving a trail behind her.

Daria shrugged again and headed the opposite direction. As strange as the day had been already, she took some comfort at least from the fact that the school seemed as normal as ever. The dimly lit hallway was festooned with the usual array of cobwebs, bloody handprints, and other, less identifiable substances. Here and there the overhead florescent lights were flickering, dropping those sections into a darkness that could be hiding anything within the brief seconds between heartbeats. A distant wailing could be heard drifting in from the classrooms, the promise of both pain and delights unimaginable weighing heavily upon every scream and moan.

Yup. Everything normal there.

Drawn by a particularly loud bit of audible human misery, Daria decided to open one of the doors to see what class laid in wait beyond. There, bound hand and foot to the ceiling and floor by rusting lengths of barbed wire, was Charles Ruttheimer III, affectionately known around the school as Upchuck. Which was, coincidentally, exactly what he was doing as Mrs. Barch slowly removed each of his fingers and toes with a pair of wire cutters.

"This is what you get, David!" Barch was snarling under her breath. Daria rolled her eyes at the display, wondering just how long it would take the misandrous science teacher to get over her failed marriage and stop taking it out on the male students.

Leaving them to their business, Daria poked her head into the classroom across the hall to find Mr. DeMartino giving a history lecture about the sacrificial rites of ancient Sumerian cults. Every once in a while he would ask a question about how these horrific rituals meant to pacify a pantheon of brutal gods related to current events, and when a student got the answer wrong, he would proceed to gleefully start zapping them with a cattle prod.

When he tapped one of them on the temple, causing their eyes to explode from the electrical discharge, Daria decided it was time to move on. Her hands and jacket sleeves were already covered in a crust of dried blood. She didn't need to add eyeball juice stains to the mix.

As she continued down the hallway, the PA system suddenly flared to life.

"Attention, students of Laaawndale High!" Principal Li's voice screeched from the rusted speaker box, sounding as if it was reaching across the gulf beyond the vast gates of hell themselves. "Will Micheal Mackenzie, Dawn Heights, and Tiffany Blum-Deckler please report to the school cafeteria. The school board has finally found a way to make up for the recent food shortage, and we need you to help the lunch staff, ah, bring in the new, um, supplements. Your succulence - I mean assistance - will be greatly appreciated. That is all!"

The PA then died, sputtering out a few dark chants in Latin before erupting in a hail of sparks and catching fire. Daria thought this was a little strange since it was Tuesday and the demon-summoning tracks were usually only played on Fridays.

It was just about then that the end-of-period bell rang sharply, sounding not quite unlike the scream of a Fashion Club member who had accidentally mixed polka dots with plaids. The fact that the bell looked exactly like Stacy nailed to the wall with industrial bolts almost certainly had nothing to do with it.

Ghoulish creatures that definitely weren't zombies began to file out of the nearby classrooms and fill the hall with their moans for brains, flesh, and a variety of other body parts. Daria did her best to ignore them and continue pushing her way forward, but she was stopped by one particularly repugnant looking non-zombie.

"Oh hey, Daria!" said Kevin as he drooled heavily from his malformed mouth. "I know you probably don't care, 'cause, like, you're a braaaaaaiiiiiins and everything, but have you seen Coach Gibson? He told me to meet him after class to talk about switching sports teams."

Daria shook her head, much to Kevin's disappointment.

"Aw, maaaaaan," the disgusting creature whined. "Oh well, it was worth a shot!" He then pulled a hockey mask over his horrifying face, unsheathed a blood-stained machete, and started stalking the halls in search of fresh prey.

Not wanting to deal with the unwashed masses of the undead anymore, Daria ducked into a nearby classroom to wait for the crowd to thin out a little. Mr. O'Neill was standing at the whiteboard, smashing his bloodied forehead into its cracked surface repeatedly as unearthly colors that the rational human mind could not possibly comprehend swirled around him and whispered sanity-eroding secrets directly into his ever-more fractured psyche. Daria treasured the few moments of peace and quiet this afforded her before slipping back out.

The bell screamed its lament again as the new period started. Tentacles, long and slimy and covered in pulsating suction cups, whipped out of the classroom doors and started rounding up all of the tardy students. Daria remained unmolested thanks to the rune-laden pentagram she had been carving into the soft flesh of her belly every week since she had started attending Lawndale.

Just as the last student-thing was getting sucked into a personal hell of its own devising, a cloud of mist rose from the floor in front of Daria, stopping her in her tracks. The mist gradually took the form of Tom, who was dressed up in an old-fashioned suit, white gloves, and a black cape with a red inner lining.

"Check it out, Daria!" he said, grinning to show off his fangs. "I'm a vampire!"

Daria squinted disapprovingly at him and shoved a stake deep into his unbeating heart.

"Right, fair enough," Tom wheezed just before he turned into a pile of dust.

Stepping over his pathetic disintegrated remains, Daria resumed her search. She decided that looking through the nearby lockers might provide some insight but quickly abandoned that line of thinking after the first several only held the usual array of books bound with human flesh, brightly lit bottles of bubbling chemicals, and portals into the sixth dimension.

Her spirits were lifted, however, when at the end of the hall she found a rusted metal door surrounded by hand-painted signs dripping with gore, offal, and other viscera. They all had arrows pointing at the door and sported proclamations like MURDERER'S LAIR and CLUES HERE and NOT A TRAP, HONEST.

The lights inside the room weren't working, so Daria turned on her flashlight and peered into the gloom. Ignoring the door slamming and locking shut behind her on its own, she moved further in until a boot bumped up against her shoulder.

"Hey again, amiga!" Jane said, waving down at Daria as she swung slightly back and forth. "Yeah, so, it turns out I was the killer the whole time, and the revelation drove me so insane that I hung myself. OR DID I? Ha ha, yeah, I totally did. But I'm sure I'll be right back at it again tomorrow anyway! Want to go get a slice in the meantime?"

Daria nodded, hoping that the other girl meant pizza. She then pushed further into the room, leaving Jane to sway slowly in the fetid breeze coming from the AC. Her dying flashlight played along the back wall until it settled upon her bedroom closet's door.

The door, once opened, again revealed a void of nothingness beyond. Daria stepped through

and woke up in her bed, staring blearily at the ceiling. It had all been a dream, because of course it had been. Which was just as well, Daria reflected as she reached under her mattress to pull out the axe she had hidden there the previous night.

It meant she would get to relive the pleasure of chopping her family to pieces all over again.


Roland 'Jim' Lowery

January 23, 2018