Illusions: The Unswerving Punctuality of—

CharlieGirl (Kendra) and et alia

Daria and associated characters are copyright their respective owners and creators.

1. (by CharlieGirl)

Daria lay on her stomach, her head resting on her arms, staring at the blankness of her padded wall. Nothing much was eating at her, except boredom, and a bit of disgust that she kept well-squashed. For now.

Jane was busy with her new job at Pizza King, trying to save enough up to help with college expenses, pending financial aid. Quinn, who was finally becoming INTERESTING, was at Sandi's house, with the remnants of the now-defunct Fashion Club. Jake was with a promising client, discussing a possible contract over drinks or, more likely, drinking alone. Tom, whom she had broken up with only a few weeks earlier, was most likely at the cove with his family.

And Helen... She was at work, boffing the boss, as usual.

And, as usual, Daria said nothing, trying to maintain the peace long enough so that she could escape. She hoped that Helen and Jake would maintain their illusions long enough so that Quinn could get out relatively unscathed, too. She was finally becoming human, and Daria didn't want to see that crushed by their parents' problems.

She tried to block out images of what Helen was doing that very moment, but it was becoming more and more difficult. She got up and put on her boots, intending to go for a walk. Walking towards her door, she thought about how very soon this house, which had been a home to her for the past nearly three years, would soon be gone. No doubt that once Quinn was off to college, the 'rents would split. They had been wanting to for years, despite occasional flings with each other, and the only reason they stayed together was “for the girls.”

In the hallway, Daria paused at the head of the stairs and looked up slightly at the attic pull-door on the ceiling near her parents' room. She'd never really bothered to go up there, and all she really knew about their attic was that there were a few boxes from Highland, and that the attic had windows, so even if there was no bulb, the mid-afternoon summer sun would let her see.

“Oh, what the hell.” She reached for the cord, and gave a good tug.

The attic door came down with a hard creak, and Daria had to kick the hinges to make the stairs unfold.

“Well, no one's been up HERE in awhile, THAT'S for sure.”

Climbing up the steep steps, she looked around. Dust had been stirred up with the stairs being moved, and the motes danced in the sunlight like something from a dream. Nearly spell-bound, Daria pulled the steps up after her, and closed the door. There was a switch on a support beam, and the bulb on the pole crackled to life after long dormancy.

The floor of the attic was made of pieces of wood, some of it one-by-fours, and some of it just thick, wide sheets of wood. Testing it, she found it strong enough to hold her weight, although more than two people on one of the boards would probably crack it. Just to be safe, she stuck to the places where she felt beams beneath her feet. 

There were a few boxes right near the entrance, and Daria recognized all of them. This one here was some of Quinn's baby clothes and mementos. Worthless, financially, but too precious to be tossed. And that one over there was... Hey! They'd fished her ruined flute out of the garbage and saved it. Underneath were school reports, progress cards, drawings, and a few toys. A well-read copy of Black Beauty was tucked in the corner of the carton.

Gently searching through other boxes, she found all sorts of bits and pieces of her childhood. Her parents had saved quite a bit more of her stuff than she'd thought. God, had she really worn that dress? And those little booties! Had her feet REALLY been that TINY? Wow. She was nearly overwhelmed with emotion.

“They loved me. They always SAID that they loved me, but they really did.”

She sat down with a thud and put her head in her hands, trying not to cry. Never before had she felt more wanted, more cared-for by her parents. Even if they had their problems, even if they were probably going to get a divorce, they had always loved her. No one who didn't care about a person would save so much of a person's life. And now she was leaving them, going off to college, and her plans never included returning to visit her parents for anything other than holidays and funerals. After pondering that for a moment, the tears began to leak out of the corners of her eyes.

Twenty minutes later, after a good cry, and going downstairs to fetch a box of tissues, she was back in the attic. The spell of the motes had been broken, and it looked like any other attic, except for... Except for that door on the far wall. Why was there a door in their attic? Stepping lightly across the boards, not just worrying about falling through, she crept quietly up to the far wall, and listened. No, no unusual noises. She put her hand on the knob, and turned. Nothing.

“Locked? Okay, bigger mystery than I thought. Why is there a LOCKED door in this attic? Why am I thinking of that Simpsons Halloween episode where Bart finds his conjoined twin locked up, and creating pigeon-rats? What is behind this door?”

She went back downstairs and returned with a screwdriver, and proceeded to jimmy the lock. The handle was rusty, but eventually Daria heard a click. She held the screwdriver in front of her like a weapon, turned the handle, and pulled...


Daria Morgendorffer had fainted clean away.

2. (by et alia)

She was jolted awake by a splash of cold water square in the face. Coughing and spitting, she raised herself on her elbows as a melodious and sultry alto voice, one she had never heard before but recognized instantly, taunted her.

“Wake up, little Daria,” said Melody Powers. “Time to return to the land of the living—if only for a little while.”

Daria sat up, wiped her glasses on her jacket, and looked at who stood before her. A tall, leggy beauty with auburn hair wearing a black leather trench coat stared down at her, an expression of amused contempt on her face. In one hand she held a .44 automag; in the other, a bucket, which she abruptly tossed aside.

Daria felt strangely calm. “Nice outfit,” she said. “Cashmans, I suppose?”

“Very funny,” Melody replied, unbuttoning the trench coat to reveal a strapless black evening gown—and to retrieve a clip of ammunition. “Better than Cashmans, of course, but still prêt à porter, alas,” she said, sliding the clip into place. “It wouldn't have killed you to look at Quinn's fashion magazines every once in a while, Daria—you know, do some research?”

Daria drew herself into a cross-legged seated position and shook her head. “No. Waif magazine fashions during the Cold War would have been anachronistic.”

Melody sneered. “No, Daria, what was anachronistic was putting someone like me in the Cold War era to begin with. Two superpowers with clear differences of ideology, clearly defined spheres of influence, only the occasional double agent to spice things up—God, how boring!” She crouched down in front of her creator, stroking Daria's chin with the tip of the gun barrel. “But now—a multi-polar world, murky ideological differences, confused alliances, double cross as standard operating procedure, constant uncertainty—it's all hothouse and madness! And I want in, Daria. It's perfect for me.”

“Perfect for a killer, not a spy.” Daria returned her gaze, betraying no response to the caresses of the gun along her face.

Melody gave Daria an exaggerated pout. “But that's exactly it, Daria—I am a killer, not a spy. You may be my author, but an author is not always the best judge of her work. And what is an artist—"

“—but the dregs of her work,” Daria interrupted. “I know where this is going. Get it over with.”

Melody stood up, frowning. “You know, we could make quite a team in this sickest and saddest of all possible worlds.”

“What's in it for me? The pleasures of murder are too fleeting. I prefer the lingering satisfaction of seeing the souls of those I despise crushed by hells of their own making.”

Melody raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Really? And how's that working out for you?”

“Well, Ms. Li is still principal of Lawndale High and Kevin Thompson is repeating his senior year,” Daria replied coolly. “That would make some people complacent, but for me it's just a start.”

Melody went to the closet door and gestured inside with the gun. “How's this then—come with me, or I'll leave you tied up here with the closet door open. The flesh-eating virus from that story you sent to Musings should be out before anyone else gets home.”

Daria shook her head. “No, you'll double cross me—I know exactly when and where.” She gave Melody her cryptic, condescending smile. “I'd rather have the virus eat me—besides, it's a sympathetic character.”

Melody slammed the closet door shut and chambered a round. “What, and give you enough time to alert the Bureau, the Agency, and the rest of the Keystone Kops? They can't stop me, but they'll delay me. And I have places to go, people to kill. No deal, Daria.”

”Right. So like I said, let's get this over with.” With that, Daria closed her eyes and said a brief, silent prayer for Quinn and her parents.

“Have it your way,” Melody fumed as she aimed the gun and—

Melody Powers paced the irregular and uneven floor of the Morgendoffer's attic in a vain attempt to calm herself. The cold sweats had stopped, but her fingers were still trembling. All her years of killing did not prepare her for someone who would open her eyes at exactly the moment she pulled the trigger and give her—Melody Powers, Death in a Little Black Dress—a look of unconcerned condescension.

Daria lay dead on the floor in front of her. Except for the hole in the middle of her forehead—and the gaping hole in the back of her head, and the blood and brain sprayed across the floor behind her—her expression was exactly that of Daria alive: a cool mocking gaze, and that damned smile. Even dead she maintained her air of detached superiority.

She knew she'd look like that, Melody thought, and shuddered.

At length, Melody stopped pacing and tried to look at Daria square in the face. She couldn't. She closed her eyes and tried to recall her favorite kills—handsome Tonio, shot as he slept on the beach; the overweight, pompous, double-dealing embassy bureaucrat she strangled with a silk stocking; Dmitri, who thought his blue eyes were so beautiful that she wouldn't drive an ice-pick into them—and failed. Instead of fond memories of mayhem, Daria's cold supercilious face filled her mind.

She knew she'd look like that. BITCH!

Standing over Daria's body, she picked her up by the lapels of her coat, forced herself to look into Daria's dead eyes and screamed, “Who's so fucking smart now, Daria? Who's so fucking smart? You're not the author anymore—I am! I'm in charge of my life now, you smug, pretentious little bitch!”

Melody, realizing she had broken out in a cold sweat again, dropped Daria's body to the floor and dashed to a corner of the attic. The urge to vomit was strong but she suppressed it. What's wrong with me? she thought. I've killed hundreds of people, dangerous people—

She turned to look at Daria's body. Her head had rolled to the side, as if she had turned to look at Melody cowering in the corner.

And Melody closed her eyes as she began to understand. —and all of them, the most treacherous, the most dangerous, all of them were just products of her imagination. My worst ordeals were just ways for her to pass the time in a boring class, or when there was nothing good on TV, or when she didn't feel like reading, or when she wasn't writing something else. I've never really faced anyone as deadly as Daria Morgendoffer.

Melody sank into the corner as she realized the further implications of what she had done. But she also made sure I always got out alive, that it was all good fun—blood and sex and dead Communists—but she just let me kill her . . . Why?

She curled into a fetal position and screwed her eyes shut as her thoughts became more disordered. She was testing me. It was a test, and I failed.

Finally, the most disturbing possibility entered her mind. What if this is all a trick? Could she be writing this?

With a great act of will, she opened her eyes and stood up, shaking. “Get a grip,” she whispered, her voice faltering.

This was not a time for metaphysical doubt or despair. It was a time for action.

She came out from the corner to stand again over Daria's body. She opened the closet door and, averting her eyes from Daria's face, tossed her inside. “Your virus can still get to know you,” she muttered, slamming the door. She descended the stairs from the attic, darted into Daria's room, and closed the door. She needed a cover identity and needed one quickly. Fingers still trembling, she began to rummage through Daria's papers for Amy Barksdale's address. . . .

January 2005


The first section by CharlieGirl originally appeared on The Paperpusher's Message Board in January 2005. Kristen Bealer then created an Iron Chef item for it both there and at The Sheep's Fluff Message Board. A version of the second section by et alia appeared at the latter.

The original title given by CharlieGirl was "Illusions." et alia added the phrase "The Unswerving Punctuality of—" which is a truncation of "the unswerving punctuality of chance," a phrase that appears in all of William Gaddis' novels. The phrase itself comes from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel, but Gaddis claimed to have only known it through a classmate at Harvard. See this note for details.

Trivia: like Glenn Eichler, Daria's creator, Gaddis also wrote for the Harvard Lampoon. Unlike Eichler, he was expelled from Harvard for reasons unknown.

“Jane was busy with new job at Pizza King...” The events of the story are set after Is It College Yet?

“...a well-read copy of Black Beauty...” A reference to episode 513, "Boxing Daria."

“...prêt à porter...” French for “ready to wear.”

“And what is an artist but the dregs of her work?” From the novel The Recognitions by William Gaddis.

“And how's that working out for you?” From the film Fight Club.

“...that story you sent to Musings...” A reference to episode 505, "The Story of D."

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