The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery
Friday, September 4
Daria sat in the back of the ambulance and stared at her knees.
There was nothing particularly fascinating about them. The jeans covering them were one of a handful of pairs she owned, none of them much different from the others. She simply didn't have the energy to lift her head and stare anywhere else if she didn't have to.
Another day filled with strangeness had passed, and she'd made it out the other end alive. She told herself that that was the important thing. She was alive. Jane was alive. Their temporary ward Artie the psychic pizza cook was alive. The only person who hadn't survived the events of the day was the man who had attacked them, and good riddance.
But somehow none of that made her feel any better. The medicine working its way through her system, repairing bruises and soothing an adrenaline soaked system, did little to help lift the pall that had fallen over her like an uncomfortably warm blanket.
There were government papers to look over, police matters to settle, and other such annoying minutiae waiting for her, but it was all in a future that she couldn't bother to fully contemplate yet, so that had little to do with her sour mood. No, the bad feeling sitting on her neck, making her feel like she wanted to sleep for a year or two, was a series of reoccurring images that simply wouldn't leave her alone.
The whole day's mess had started when Artie had decided to prove the seriousness of his situation by pulling a full mind dump on Daria and Jane. Memories of all kinds - good, bad, indifferent - had played themselves out in the space of a second, including huge swaths of memories dealing with the family member that Daria had long felt closest to. Having those old wounds opened had almost consumed her. And though the edges of those wounds seemed to be sealing back up so very slowly, there seemed to still be every chance that they would drag her down if she wasn't careful.
So she stared at her knees.
And she tried not to think.
Nearby movement caught Daria's attention. She looked up blearily and saw Artie running up to her, excited in his overeager way.
Daria wasn't sure what to make of Artie, still. He'd been in her charge for most of the day and so she still felt some of that responsibility, but he had also been the one who had caused her soul-crushing grief to resurface. Jane seemed a bit fond of him, however - much in the way a master is fond of a new pet - so Daria did her best not to let out a banshee wail and start pounding his face into the pavement.
"Hey, Artie," she said faintly as he leaned over her.
"Hi, Daria!" he said. "Feeling better?"
"Not really," she told him. She tried half a smile and only managed a quarter.
Artie was visibly concerned at this answer. "I'm sorry," he said. "Really really sorry. If I coulda done this without involving you or Jane, I woulda."
"Don't worry about it." Daria covered her mouth and coughed. "Just keep those DENA people straight and we'll call it even."
"No no no no no," Artie said, shaking his head. "Not even, not yet." He shuffled a piece of paper he was holding from one hand to the other, then stuffed it in his back jeans pocket. "I have something to give you. Not the paper, no, that's for Jane. But I want to get your permission before I do it this time. It's gonna hurt, and I'm sorry for that, too, but it should be worth it. But I won't do it if you don't want me to. Do you want me to?"
A crawling sensation threaded its spidery legs up Daria's spine. She felt a sudden certainty that no, she didn't want whatever it was. He was going to touch her again, and she wasn't sure she could handle something like that a second time. She would go mad if he opened her mind up and showed it to her again, especially if it was just her mind and there was no Jane to help her through it.
But she felt her head nod. The feeling of dread that accompanied it was almost a release. She was deathly afraid of what he was going to give her, but she had to see. She had to know.
Artie sighed in relief. "You remember I said that your skin remembers everything?" he asked. "Cow skin does, too."
He reached up and grabbed the brim of her hat in one hand, then touched the side of her face with the other, and darkness fell.
She's not sure what that something is, but it's an object of some kind. She can't see, she can't hear, she can't taste, she can't touch, but she still has an odd sense of weight, of mass, of reality.
The barest flicker of something else brushes against her sterile existence. An image come and gone before she can fully grasp it. And then another, and another, and soon they're all blurred together, passing by like a vid set on fast forward.
Aaaaaaaand . . . stop.
She isn't sure how she can tell that time has stopped, but it has. The darkness around her is an absence deeper than darkness itself, a complete lack of anything.
Aaaaaaaand . . . start.
Time begins its flow again, slowed down to a tolerable pace this time. An image fades into view like a viewscreen slowly warming up. It's difficult to make out details, but eventually she realizes that she is in a store of some kind, and she is being held by someone. This someone lifts her up and puts her on their head.
At first she thinks someone else is standing in front of her and the first someone, but gradually it dawns on her that she is looking into a mirror, and she knows what is happening.
She's the hat, and she's sitting on top of Amy Barksdale's head.
Time starts flowing faster again, but at a much more bearable speed. She can't always get the fine details, but the broad strokes can be seen and comprehended, and they become easier and easier to pick up as time goes along. There are long moments of darkness, times when Amy is not wearing the hat, but the more she does wear it, the more color and vibrancy the world takes on.
Emotional content is slow in the coming, but gradually she starts to feel that, too. When Amy is excited, she is excited. When Amy is unhappy, she is unhappy. And when Amy is hurt, she is hurt, the physical condition bleeding over as well.
Staunching a knife wound. Enjoying an ice cream sundae. Yelling angrily at a police officer. Making love.
These feelings lift higher and cut deeper as more and more psychic residue is collected by the hat. After years have passed by, her perceptions have shifted.
She's Amy Barksdale, she's a bounty hunter, and she has a niece named Daria Morgendorffer that she loves very deeply. She never had children of her own, but she likes to think of Daria as being her surrogate daughter. She feels closer to the quiet young girl than she has to any other member of their family. She loves her more than she's loved any man, woman, or child alive.
She's Daria, and she needs more. She soaks the memories up greedily, pressing her mind to its limit, stretching it wide to fit every possible second of Amy's life in. So many frustrating blanks from when Amy was not wearing the hat, but every tiny minuscule bit of every day of Amy's life that is recorded in this unusual repository - no matter how amazing or how mundane - must be hers. It's like having her aunt back, but with so many new layers of context. It is the most profound experience of her entire li-
And then Amy is gone.
Someone killed Amy, and Amy is gone.
The entire scene plays before her eyes, and she rails impotently against the image. She tries to move, tries to change it, tries to do anything she can to stop it from happening. But she is powerless here. No arms to hit the attacker. No legs to kick. No body to place in the way so that she may take the lethal hit in Amy's stead.
But she can still feel the weapon as it pierces Amy's flesh. She can feel the blood flow underneath her breast, trickling down her ribs and across her belly to pool on the hem of her pants. And that rending of flesh comes again. And again.
Amy doesn't scream. Daria can't.
Together, they fall to the ground, wrapped around their wounds. Thoughts wind down. Limbs go numb. Blood pools. The world loses its definition, sliding backward into the dark oblivion of the hat's pure object reality.
There are more flashes of the outside world after this. The touch of a police officer. A coroner. A lawyer. But nothing as bright and vibrant as Amy's world.
Someone lifts her up and puts her on their head.
A tear rolled down her cheek, and she slowly came to the realization that she was clinging to Artie's shirt. A shuddering gasp ran through her body when she finally remembered to breathe.
She looked up at the strange little man and managed to hoarsely whisper, "Thank you."
Artie nodded sadly at her, then gently disengaged himself from her grip and walked away.
Wednesday, September 9
The contract negotiations between the Department of Extra-Normal Affairs and the law offices of Vitale, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Morgendorffer continued unabated. DENA meanwhile gave assurances that the Lawndale City Police Department's Internal Affairs division had begun the first steps of their witch hunt, and that no attempts to collect on the underworld bounty would be coming from that sector anytime soon. Things were proceeding slowly, but they were proceeding.
Let them take their time, Daria thought. I've got more important things to worry about at the moment.
The room that she was standing in was dark and empty, much like the other rooms in the apartment. She had been lucky to find it currently unoccupied. The liberal application of a knife blade made quick work of the earth-tone wallpaper, revealing the hardened plasboard underneath. She pulled the knife back and plunged it in all the way to the hilt.
She didn't worry about hitting anything important within the apartment's walls. Many of the memories that Artie had transferred into her mind were still fuzzy and indistinct, but this one at least was very clear. She knew exactly where drive the blade, exactly how far to cut down, and then across.
The square of plasboard grudgingly gave way. She dug her fingers underneath and pulled it away, impatient to extract the small box that lay just beyond.
The rectangular container was just large enough to fit in both her hands. The only distinguishable feature on its surface was a small scanner along one side. Daria pressed her thumb up against this small panel and waited patiently as it read the lines and whorls on her skin's surface. She knew it would work. The scanner's memory contained the patterns of only two people in the world, and she was one of them.
With a soft click, the lid unlocked and sprang up. She flipped it open fully and reached inside.
On the very top of the pile was a stack of hard currency. She knew the exact amount without having to count it.
Underneath, on one side, was a small jumble of memory chips containing several years worth of Amy's journals, photos, and other personal digital effects. They would only be accessible with the right password . . . a password that Daria had been given long before the memory transfer had occurred.
On the other side was a digipad, looking old-fashioned enough to be called quaint. It had been a gift from Amy's grandmother, and Amy had been considering giving it to Daria. Plans of adding it and the rest of the box's contents to the will had been on Amy's to-do list, but her death had left those plans permanently canceled.
Daria was about to close the box and leave when she noticed a small glint amongst the memory chips. Pushing them aside, she uncovered a small, unadorned ring. She picked it out and held it up in front of her glasses. The nightvision made it difficult to tell just by looking, but a quick scan reported back that it was made of silver with a scattering of a few other miscellaneous metals.
Amy's memories of the ring were vague. This in itself wasn't very odd, as Daria was continually coming across the odd memory here and there that wasn't fully intact. What was strange was that everything else in the box and the box itself was so sharp and clear in her mind. It was only the small band of metal she now held that seemed out of place.
It had been a gift. A very important gift, of that she was sure. But from who or how long ago, she wasn't, and any memory of actually putting it in the box was missing entirely. Daria could only assume that Amy had done so while she hadn't been wearing the Stetson.
But there was a very strong impression that it had been intended for Daria as well. Setting the small case and its contents back in the wall for the moment, she took the ring and slipped it on the middle finger of her right hand. Holding her hand up, she admired its simplicity. Even though she had no idea where it had come from or exactly what it had meant to her aunt, she somehow had the feeling that it was important.
The feeling quickly passed, and she pressed the ring further down until it was hidden under the edge of her fingerless glove. She took in a deep breath, expelled it, and picked up the case. The landlord would be pissed when he discovered the hole in the apartment's wall, but Daria slipped a few large bills from the wad of cash and set it inside the cavity. She idly hoped that it would help take the sting out.
Daria took one last look around what had once been Aunt Amy's bedroom. In her mind's eye, she could see where every stick of furniture had sat. Every spill that had hit the carpet. Every person who had shared the bed. Every breath that had moved the air within the small room.
But that had been another time. Another life. With Amy's last few possessions retrieved, all that was really left was the memory.
Daria closed the box and departed, leaving the apartment for its next tenants and new memories to come.
Roland 'Jim' Lowery
December 18, 2009