IF LOOKS COULD KILL

Ω

Part I: The Night That Fell Twice

April 30, 1998

It was so easy.

A town full of soft, empty people with more money than taste—or guts. To the rest of the world, Lawndale was just another sprawling suburb. To him it was a buffet. He just kept going back to try another house, then another and another after that.

These people were always out at their PTA meetings, cheering at their school football games, working late at their overpaid jobs. And even if they were home when he came in…well, then he could really have some fun. They were always too scared out of their wits to make any trouble. If they ever tried, he always carried a piece and didn't mind using it either. It wouldn't be the first time.

This had been a good town for him. He dropped by a house, grabbed all he could, and waited five or ten months for the media frenzy to die down before going back. This time would be no different, except now he was bold enough to strike deep in the center of town at one of the most tempting houses of all: a red brick job, with an arched window upstairs and an attached garage. Two cars, one of them a Lexus; two yuppie parents with spoiled teenage daughters. Perfect.

He could see their house from the third floor of the Dutchman Inn. He would wait until the cars were gone, then make his move.

Ω

"Quinn..." Sandi Griffin cleared her throat.

Her best friend gave no indication that she had heard. She sat curled up in an easy chair across the living room. Her dark eyes stared blankly out the window, her mind drifting far from the safe confines of Fashion Club protocol.

If she looked just 15 minutes ago, Quinn would have seen the sunset. She had to imagine it instead. While she was at it, she pictured herself too-hand in hand with a cute model, walking the beach as ocean waves lapped at their perfectly pedicured feet...

"Helloooo! Quinn!" Sandi droned impatiently.

"Huh?" Quinn did a double take and snapped back to attention. "Oh! Um, I know. You're so right, Sandi."

The brunette crossed her arms. "Really? What was I talking about?"

"Um...one-week suspensions for members who show up with gunky mascara?"

"Gee, Quinn. That was five minutes ago. Am I not holding your attention? If you think our meetings could be more interesting, perhaps you'd like to be President of the Fashion Ca-lub."

Quinn avoided that familiar trap. "Oh, Sandi, don't be silly! I could never make things more interesting than you do. I was just daydreaming a little about the spring sale at Cashman's..."

"Oh wow! You're right, Quinn. I totally forgot!" Stacy piped up from the couch.

"Just seven daaays awaaay," Tiffany smiled slightly next to her.

"Mmm," Sandi nodded grudgingly. "Be that as it may, we must focus on the business at hand. Er...Stacy! Kindly remind the rest of us what I was just talking about."

"Sorry...um, it was about how much overlap between spring and summer colors is acceptable."

Quinn Morgendorffer sighed and stared out Sandi's window again, fingering the purple silk scarf around her neck. She'd never seen night fall so quickly before. She was happy to have strong walls and a ceiling between her and it.

Sometimes when she let herself think too much, the night would still come through, creeping into her mind. Even when the sun was out it might be there, spreading slowly to every corner, molding to her shape like the best outfit ever. It might whisper things far worse than the latest gossip in Lawndale High School. Once in a while, it even told her to do things. Bad things.

Then Quinn would shut it out by taking off on a shopping spree or reading Waif magazine with Boyz-R-Guyz playing at full volume. That usually worked.

Except at times like this, when her mother's credit cards were off limits for the rest of the month. And she was tired of all her CD's. And...

"Gee, Quinn! Are you suffering from some kind of hearing problem that you are too embarrassed to disclose? Because I sure would hate for that to get around at school."

...And she wanted to slap that callous look off Sandi's face.

She thought about the new outfits she would buy, and the urge went away.

"I'm so sorry, Sandi," she performed flawlessly as usual. "I just remembered I have to get home right away! My parents are punishing my s-um, cousin, and I want to be there to watch. See you guys in the morning!"

The Fashion Club president eyed her suspiciously, but Tiffany and Stacy smiled and waved goodbye and she made a graceful exit.

It was a lie, of course. Daria wasn't even home tonight. Neither were her parents. They were all out of town looking at some college. Mom had left her some money, both as a stipend for minor shopping and a request that she not throw any parties while they were gone.

Fair enough, Quinn thought as she strolled down the dim sidewalks. Despite her reputation, she didn't care too much for parties and rarely stayed long. Hanging around anyone but her family, the fashion girls, and the three J's was starting to make her feel...stressed? Angry? Unfashionable?

Not just that. It made the darkness worse.

Last week, Brooke Watkins had approached her in the hall and begged for a membership in the Fashion Club. Quinn was repulsed. She smiled through her hatred for this girl, who would so degrade herself for something so meaningless, before gently putting her off. Then she went home and lay on her bed for hours, wanting to hurt her. Thinking of how many ways she could kill her. And then getting scared because she couldn't stop thinking about it.

It hadn't been the first time. Nor was Brooke the first person. People like her had made Quinn what she was. They didn't create this mask, but they drove her to wear it, for her protection and theirs. And it was no longer such a good fit.

At least the anger was out of her system now, Quinn told herself. Even without her family around to distract her, she could find some way to stay busy.

Ω

Getting in was even easier than he thought. One of the windows was left open a crack to let in some late-spring air; forcing it up and climbing in took less than a minute. His van was parked down the street, close to the house but not too close. There was no need to load it up with televisions or a stereo; that would increase the risk of getting caught. With three women in one house, there must be plenty of jewelry upstairs that was more valuable and much easier to sneak out.

He avoided the other windows and the light switches, sticking to a low-intensity flashlight as he picked his way around the kitchen and family room. The breakfast nook was a mess of legal forms and cooking utensils. Most of them were too heavy to carry, but the burglar helped himself to the genuine silverware.

He glanced at a family photo on the entertainment center and sneered. A clueless man yelling at something away from the camera, a distracted businesswoman answering her cell phone, a frumpy girl with brown hair and thick glasses who would rather be anywhere else, and a spoiled brat posing like a model ready for her close-up.

Just as he thought, not one of them looked threatening, and they wouldn't show up till he was done if they knew what was good for them. He moved upstairs, where the good stuff was.

His search through the master bedroom was pretty rewarding, and he was just about to open the last dresser drawer when a noise from downstairs stopped him cold.

Ω

Quinn unlocked the front door and stepped inside. She yawned and rubbed her mostly bare arms. Was there a draft in here? It wasn't this chilly when she left. She looked around sleepily until she found one of the living room windows sitting half-open.

"Gees, Dad. Be more careful. You want me to catch new-ammonia?" she muttered, and closed it. Problem solved.

She tossed her purse on the couch and tried to think of something to do until her family got home. Mom said they wouldn't be back until late, so it would be a while. Maybe she could sneak a book from Daria's room, if any of them were interesting and readable.

But first, time to freshen up. Quinn didn't have any dates tonight, but there was no rest for the popular. She must always look her best—even if she felt considerably less.

Her makeup took longer than usual. She kept stopping and staring at herself in the mirror. She was cute. More than cute—beautiful, or she soon would be. Everybody knew it, her most of all.

Why don't I feel like it? Why does something seem so…different?

After finishing up in the bathroom, she turned toward her sister's room-but hunger pangs set in and she had to grab some carrot sticks first. She jogged down the stairs and opened the refrigerator door to see that the light was out. That was weird—Dad just replaced it, with Mom pestering him the whole time to make sure he did it right.

It was probably nothing, but she flicked the kitchen light switch just to make sure.

Nothing happened.

Quinn swallowed hard. Why would the power be out? The lights were fine when she left, and there wasn't any storm.

She was searching under the sink for some rubber gloves (eww, neon yellow) to look at the fuse box with when she heard the front door lock.

"Daria?" she called. The only person who would walk in without saying anything. "Is that you? The lights don't work! Go look at the switches or something, okay?"

No answer. Quinn sighed loudly, trying to ignore the odd sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she marched out to the living room. "DAH-ria…"

The complaint died in her throat.

A man was standing by the door, half hidden by shadows. Not her father—too tall, and too quiet. She caught a glimpse of a mustache.

"Hiya, sis." he said in a mocking rasp. He was holding a large bag at his side. "Got home a little early, didn't you?"

Quinn made a choking sound.

She didn't see so much as feel his eyes on her, hungry and penetrating. "But I sure am happy to see you."

Her spine froze; her heart sickened. Fear washed over her like a toxic wave, poisoning everything she was. This was wrong. Things like this didn't happen to her. She was the popular girl extraordinaire. She was the Vice President of the Fashion Club. She was…

He dropped the bag and sprang at her. It happened so fast she couldn't think. She just moved, dodging aside but stumbling on the carpet. He lunged again as she was getting up, grabbed her wrist and flung her onto the couch.

"Aw yeah," he snickered, kneeling over her. "Prettied yourself up just for me, huh? I saw you up there. Don't you be screaming now baby, or I'm gonna make this really fun."

She cringed. As he shoved her arms above her head, one of her hands touched her purse. Her purse...there was something in there. Breathing hard in dry sobs, she disconnected—forgot the dark, her paralyzing terror, his disgusting body on top of her. All that existed was her hand, the purse, and what she needed. It was small and thin, like a pen but shorter. She had to find it. She must find it.

He already saw what he wanted. All soft pinks and reds, his for the taking. Screw the jewels, this was priceless.

"Wreck this shit," he breathed as he pushed her shirt up. It dimly occurred to him that he should be able to see her face too, but she was looking back at something and…

His eyes caught fire. The pain reached him before the sound did. First the burning agony, then the hiss of the canister. He'd felt pepper spray many times, thought he was used to it but it still hurt like a mother.

Quinn scrambled off the couch, coughing so hard she could hardly breathe. She really did have a guardian angel. He was rattling in her purse all along. Or at least since her last birthday when Mom and Dad gave her the perfect junior prom dress and Daria followed it up with…that. "Geeee, THANKS Dah-ria," she'd whined sarcastically.

Thank you Daria thank you Daria thank you, she thought now.

The man choked and heaved, crawling around on the floor. She could see him a little better now. Black clothes, brown hair.

"Oh, I know. I get it, bitch!" he gasped out. "Playing hard to get, huh? Maybe I'll soften you up. Like with a f***ing bullet!"

He had a gun?

Wait. You can't see, she thought to herself desperately. You're going to run away now. Then I can call the police and they'll find you and everything will be okay.

"I GOT YOU!" he raged, and now there was something in his hand. He staggered up. He could barely see but he would find her. He turned to a corner of the living room and there she was. A doe in headlights, too frightened to move. He fired.

The shot hit a new full-length mirror, splintering her reflection and punching into the wall beyond.

Quinn's mouth hung open, but her mind hung over a precipice. He had just tried to kill her. Not just force himself on her. KILL her...

This time, Quinn welcomed the dark. It enveloped her with unseen arms and whispered the truth.

You are fake. Empty. Dressing up for the boys, talking up the other girls. It's all a charade. What could anyone accomplish by killing YOU? You help no one. You hurt no one. And still, this man just tried to end your life. How pathetic is he?

What. A. LOSER, she answered hatefully.

Something let go inside of her. It happened as quickly and quietly as she fled from the living room.

The intruder swore, turning toward the flash of pink in his cloudy vision. His second shot hit the counter and left a suffocating silence.

He had to find her before she escaped from the house. There was no way out through the kitchen—one end led to the living room and the other to the stairs. He stumbled over to where he thought it was. His eyes and nose ran from the spray; he wiped them with his sleeve.

She was in there. Twelve feet away. Maybe ten. He could smell her fear over the gas, mingled with sickly sweet perfume.

"Come on out of there, girly," he whispered, leaning into the doorway. "Do it now and I'll make it quick. Don't you be afraid, now…"

"I'm not."

Behind him—pain exploded at the base of his skull. He went down like a lead weight, losing the gun as he hit the floor.

Ω

Quinn dropped the frying pan and sank to her knees, breathing in the night.

"I'm not afraid," she said in ragged breaths. "I'm not afraid…"

He was groaning, barely able to move. Quinn really should run away now. She should dash over to Jane's crying and screaming at her to call the police. It was what she would have done until a minute ago. How quickly things could change.

She sat down hard on his back, forcing all the breath from his body. She began to untie her scarf.

I'm not afraid to be real anymore.

"All black? That's so unoriginal, Mr. Robber," she whispered. "Like you have such great taste or something, when all you did was copy me."

"Get…off me…" he slurred.

Slowly, gently Quinn wrapped the scarf around his neck. She had always loved silk. It was soft and smooth, but tough. It would not stretch or slip on her skin. Or his.

"Here. This will make you look a LOT better."

"F***ing crazy…you little…pink…bitch—"

He gasped as she pulled back on both ends.

Oh, NO, the darkness laughed. He can't breathe now! Oh well, anything for fashion…

She pulled harder, listening to him choke and gag. She didn't want to shoot him; he deserved worse than that. With all the spray and that blow to the head, he could barely put up a fight. He reached up and tried to pry her hands away, but the scarf was too long and he couldn't reach her. He was desperate for air.

Quinn was breathing very fast indeed as she felt him struggling beneath her. If only Sandi could see her now. Actually, if she were here, Quinn might go after her next. Just for fun. She giggled at the thought.

Yes, Quinn...almost there...oh, you're going to LOVE this part!

The burglar's movements became weaker and more rhythmic. Quinn realized he was dying, and the rush of pure pleasure in her brain was rivaled only by a horrible sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She didn't even hear herself moaning. Sweat and tears stood out on her face as she finished him, helpless in the grip of this new sensation. It was better than any outfit, any sale. 15 years of nothing yielded to everything. There was no way back from this, but she didn't care.

It was so easy.

Ω

A/N: I got this idea around the time I wrote 'Layers.' It's been creeping through my mind for weeks and I can't get rid of it, so here it is. If you think this sounds like just a beginning...you're right. Who says Daria has to be the dark one?