Ding dong.

Daria signed for the package and sat back on one of the blue couches in the Morgendorffer livingroom to look it over. She read with a frown through most of the script, but near the end her eyes flew wide and with a shouted exclamation of "WHAT?!" she stomped out of the house, slamming the door behind her.

--

"What the hell is this about?" Daria flapped the script about angrily and awaited an answer.

The room was dark, nearly pitch and was illuminated only by four tall torches burning at each corner of the room. At the back wall were three raised benches, as in a court room, the central bench rising a full yard above the other two. The seated figures were silhouettes, mere shadows with form nor name. They were execs from MTV, and though Daria knew she should be afraid and watch her tongue in their presence, she was too pissed off to care.

"You have received the script." Left Shade seemed amused; the voice echoed and reverberated so many times around the room, the distinction between male and female was impossible.

"Yes, I received the damn script! What the hell are you people trying to pull?! This--" again she flapped the script, and on the cover the words Daria Episode 413 Die! Die! My Darling! caught the low light. "would never happen! I would never do that to Jane, I'd die first!"

"We have written it." Right Shade was soft-spoken, but had no trouble being heard.

"So it shall be." Left Shade's voice was much stronger, almost dared Daria to object.

Daria's features set stubbornly, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed behind the lenses of her glasses.

"I will not kiss Tom. I refuse."

"Do you forget yourself, Daria Morgendorffer?" Central Shade spoke in a bellow which caused Daria to flinch involuntarily. "We have shown you charity and kindness when none other would. Or do you not recall where you were before we took pity on you?" Highland swam to the forefront of her mind, and she hastily shoved it away.

"I won't! I won't betray Jane like that! I refuse!"

"You are under contract!"

"Here's what I think of your damn contract!" Daria threw the script down and kicked it into the darkness, chin raised in defiance. "You can't make me work. You have two choices: either rewrite that script, or I wal--"

"SILENCE!" The torches flared, blue flames rising up and licking at the ceiling and a jet of scarlet shot out and lashed Daria's left jacket sleeve. Solarized shadows writhed over the stone floor, and she shrunk into herself in fright. "YOU TEST OUR PATIENCE, DARIA MORGENDORFFER! You will honor your contract."

"We have written it." Definite amusement from Right Shade now.

"So shall it be." Left Shade's amplified voice was silken with satisfaction.

"But Jane--"

"OUR WILL BE DONE!"

Central Shade raised a sooty hand and light flashed from the palm. Flame filled the room, then all was darkness.

--

Filthy and dazed, Daria found herself beside her mother's Explorer, script in-hand and the stink of singed hair hanging in the air around her. Her left arm burned like fiery vengeance, but she studiously ignored the long scorch mark reaching from wrist to elbow, instead climbed into the SUV's driver's seat and set off for home.

Twenty long minutes of laying face-down on her dingy bed did no good, and soon Daria fished the phone from her bedside carpet and dialed in a number long since committed to memory.

"Hey, Jane. Mind some company?"

--

Jane gazed sadly at her friend, took in her less than presentable appearance and smiled compassionately.

"You got the script, huh?"

Daria sat with her back against Jane's headboard, legs pulled up to her chest. Jane sat beside her and said nothing.

"This bites." Daria shook her head angrily, singed hair flying around her head in an auburn blur.

"Yeah." Jane frowned at her boots for a long moment. "If they were that hard-up for ratings, why not just end it? You know, go out with a bang?"

Daria shook her head, defeated and exhausted.

"This's exactly why middle-aged men shouldn't be allowed to speak for teenaged girls. Their solution to everything: make it a three-way."

"And it's not even a fun three-way." Jane sighed, then looked up with an expression of hope written across her heart shaped face. "We could always just quit."

Daria seemed to sag in place.

"No, we can't."

"Sure we could! Just march on up there and tell em to shove it!"

"No, Jane. We actually can't. We're under contract."

Jane's wide blue eyes moved to Daria's sleeve and comprehension set in.

"You already tried, didn't you." Daria made no reply. When Jane next spoke, her voice was soft and sorrowful. "Damn. I knew there was gonna be a catch when they asked us to sign in blood."

Daria would have laughed, if it hadn't been true.

A long silence reigned in the Lane household, and for a long time, neither friend could find the strength to break it.

"I don't even like Tom." Daria lamented when twenty minutes had passed, and Jane smirked. "Why the hell would I want to go out with him in the first place? Sure, he's rich and good looking, and sort of witty. But he's also a selfish, arrogant pain in the ass. I could barely get through taping with him as your boyfriend. What the hell'm I gonna do when I get saddled with him?"

Jane rested a comforting hand on her disconsolate friend's shoulder and offered a small smile.

"Might as well lay down and take it, amiga. We're screwed."

The duo shared a humorless smile, content at least in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever.

--

"Dammit! Dammit dammit dammit!" Daria's insides churned with the insuppressible knowledge that Daria had just jumped the shark. A door slammed, and a car pulled away.

As Daria walked into the house, her mind wandered in search of any possible solution to her current dilemma. None but one came to mind, and as attractive as suicide sounded, she knew it was a lost cause. She might even have offered her soul to the Devil, had she not suspected to find herself already in his employment. A trembling hand brushed over a tender left arm in thought and as she ascended the stairs that would bring her to the welcome sanctuary of her room, a line from a movie she had seen not long ago came to her.

It is better to be the right hand of the Devil, than in his path. Daria pondered this for a long moment as she pulled off her boots and tossed her jacket on the floor. Dry cleaning would take care of it later, and besides, it wasn't her dime. She could set the damn thing on fire, and another would be in its place before she had time enough to blink.

"Right hand of the devil." A thoughtful frown soon gave birth to a cynical smirk. She glanced at the discarded script on her computer desk across the room, and another movie came suddenly to mind. "Pay no mind to the man behind the curtain."

On a sudden whim, Daria replaced her boots and stood in the center of the room. Eyes closed, she mouthed a silent prayer and tapped her boot heels together three times. Click. Click. Click.

"There's no place like home."

A moment of eternity. Nothing changed.

There's no place like home. Daria lay on her bed, curled into a fetal ball and fought the urge to cry. Her arm throbbed in time to her heartbeat and far beyond her window, a nightingale trilled its lonely song. In her ears rang hollow laughter and the pregnant moon filled the night.

End.

Alpacca bites: The first quote was from The Mummy, said by Benny to O'Connel when asked why he was aiding the undead Imhotep. The second, obviously, was from The Wizard of Ozz. This was supposed to be a comedy, but somehow evolved into this. Don't really know how I feel about it, myself. But there you go.

As always, C&C welcome, reviews appreciated.

And all flames will be used to roast the marshmallows.

Laytuz.