As a writer, I go through phases during which one character is more appealing to me than another. At the moment, Danie holds a particular fascination for. She is one of my original characters and has changed form since I created her in 1994. (Can you blame me? I was only nine years old!) I posted about her on The Fall Girl a couple of months ago, listing reasons why I would love to be her for a day.
The Woman in the Fire is my chance to tell Danie’s story and to strengthen my writing–as is any opportunity. I hope you all like her. She is going to be bullheaded, rash, witty, insolent, and beautifully bitchy.
The only thing she remembered after the Incident was waking up in a stinking alley amid jagged soup cans and her own blood seeping from a head wound.
It had been cold; the thin layer of cloth she’d worn—a back-closure hospital gown—barely trapped her body heat, and the concrete had usurped any heat that she managed to maintain. Her muscles quivered violently. The pain radiating from her middle had been so immense that her head swayed against the weight of near-oblivion. Her legs had not been strong enough to support her; she had earned more bumps and bruises for trying to stand. There had been no clues to identify her current location or how she could have gotten home. She had been powerless.
It had been a sorry state of affairs.
She hated shit like that.
So she simply forgot.
* * *
Life improved marginally after that. She found herself assimilated into a group destined to save the world because of her gift.
Gift? you ask. Yes, our dubious heroine had an ability that had flared up like a bad rash during her life but turned out to be important. Imagine that. So burning down her big brother’s treehouse when she was six hadn’t been such an awful offense after all.
She had been taught to kick ass like by some chick who claimed to be a princess (she still didn’t quite believe it) and how to control her “power.” It had been sort of fun once you got past the hierarchy bullshit.
That is, until one of her group mates had been killed violently by an unknown assailant. The group had split faster than a strained butt seam. No one could trust anyone else. Since no one knew for sure who ended Sakura Tsukimori’s life, the possibility that one of them had done it could not be ruled out.
Bye, bye, superhero team. Hello, lone wolf.
* * *
“So you say you don’t remember what happened to you? That’s quite fascinating. I mean, it sounds almost impossible.”
Dammit. Not with this again.
It had been a little over two years after…the Incident. She was no longer the naïve seventeen-year-old left for dead in a Manhattan alley; no longer was she the fiery eighteen-year-old who had burned coifed rich boy Kaneshi Tsukimori. She was now a cynical, indolent nineteen—freshly so, as of one week ago—and matriculating at AudboneHeightsUniversity. She had no illusions about entering the workforce with corporate hopefuls and congregating around a water cooler. She merely lingered there to pass the time until she found something else to carry her to the end of her life.
It was the middle of the day, and she had one more class left: Contemporary Mathematics. She had been sitting in the StudentCenter with her Contemporary Mathematics book on her knee and a bottle of Mountain Dew in her hand under the guise of trying to study. In actuality, she was merely trying to pass the time in a cool place. She had given up trying to care about schoolwork. She had been approached by a classmate from her Psychology class. At first, the encounter seemed innocuous, but then he had ejaculated that statement into the air.
He didn’t know, the prying fucker, but the gloves were off.
There were not many things in this existence that bothered her. But this was on the list, along with fat-free sour cream and Britney Spears. Her past was forbidden ground, riddled with mines. If he had been aware enough (and not blinded by his infatuation), he would have seen it practically screaming from her eyes. Verboten! Danger!
Inwardly frustrated, she three-pointed the empty Mountain Dew bottle into a nearby trash can. Perhaps those weeks at basketball camp during adolescence hadn’t been for naught. A tiny triumph.
She turned to her companion, eyes filled with feigned inquisitiveness. “What’s your name again?”
He flushed under her unwavering stare. “Rob—my name is Rob. We, uh, were in the study group during the section about Sigmund Freud and the tripartite model in Dr. Webster’s class. You know…”
“Yeah…right.” She recalled the experience as being mildly annoying, but her sociable cousin had wheedled her into it as she did most social interaction these days. Her lips curved at the edges. A hint of contrived mirth. Rob should’ve been petrified. “Can I ask you something?”
Excited by the opportunity an exchange with a beautiful, elusive girl, Rob sat down, leaning forward with apparent interest. “Oh yes, of course.”
“Do I look like the kind of person who would make up some soap opera-esque bullshit about being found in an alley with no memory of what had happened to me just to pique your asinine interest?”
Rob blinked, blindsided. In his fantasies, this was not the direction things took. “Wh-what?”
“I hardly have the time or patience to exchange pleasantries,” she went on, voice going flatter as she spoke, “or share with you a time in my life that obviously is no one’s business, especially yours. So if you are finished wasting my time…?”
His face contorted with disgust. “Excuse me for saying, but you are a cold-hearted bitch.”
As he rose indignantly, she settled back into her seat and nonchalantly delved into Contemporary Mathematics again. “Damn straight, Bob.”
“And it’s Rob,” he spat over his shoulder.
As he stalked off angrily, she snorted to herself. “Shame only one of us cares.”
Exasperation. She felt it coursing through her veins. At the sound of Jennifer Dunne’s mezzo-soprano voice, her cousin suppressed a growl, and Contemporary Mathematics slammed shut with a thud.
“Leave me alone, Jen,” Danie said. “I am not in the mood to be chided.”
The blonde rounded the chair and came to stand in front of Danie, brandishing a sketchbook and a text on fashion during the twentieth century. She was impeccably outfitted in a peasant top and jeans. Danie would have felt inferior in her drab T-shirt and cotton pants, but she had grown out of such behavior.
“You are not going to have any friends if you keep treating people this way,” Jennifer pointed out. “Rob was just trying to be nice.”
“Rob”—she uttered the name with as much venom as she could muster—“is a passive idiot who was attempting to find a way into my panties by feigning an interest in my sucktastic life.” Jennifer pursed her lips together, cornflower blue eyes troubled. “Trust me, I was saving him a world of discomfort.”
“I’m sure he is thanking you right now deep down inside.”
Danie shrugged at Jennifer’s ironic tone. “It’s what bitches do. We shoot people down and shake them from their illusions, which is helpful in any case. Shit, I practically deserve a medal. Is there a Nobel Prize for Bitchery?”
Jennifer shook her head and rubbed a temple as Danie rose to her feet and stuffed her text into her backpack. She strode away, and Jennifer rushed to match Danie’s ground-eating stride.
“The Delts are having a party tonight,” Jennifer informed her cousin as they exited the StudentCenter. The late summer day was bright and hot. September had not yet cooled in the slightest. Danie rolled her eyes as she shielded them from the onslaught of the light until they could adjust. “I think you should come with me. It’ll be fun.” She looped her arm with Danie’s when she didn’t say anything. “Much more fun than working at the bar.”
“As if,” Danie countered. “I’d rather hang out with the dubious characters at the Rusty Elbow more than the puke-worthy sorority crowd.”
“Hey!” Jennifer protested. “Those puke-worthy people are my friends.”
“Here’s a news flash, cous: you have horrible taste in friends.”
Jennifer gave Danie a little shove. “At least I have friends.”
“Ooh,” Danie retorted, “I feel so wounded. Jen, you’re so mean. Lemme go slit my wrists.”
Jennifer gave up on being appalled and couldn’t stifle her chuckle. “Dee—”
Danie stopped right in front of the Vincent Hall, also known as the Engineering building, which housed her next class. She placed her hands on the shorter girl’s shoulders and peered at her meaningfully.
“Look,” Danie began, “thank you for taking me on as your community service project. I am sure the general population appreciates your efforts and you will be practically up for sainthood for dealing with me. But no thanks. I am fine, Jennifer.”
A hint of a frown marred Jennifer’s pretty features, but Danie did not linger to reassure her. She learned that the best way to stop Jennifer’s mother-like fussiness was to become elusive. In other words, to run like hell in the other direction.
Danie understood Jennifer’s compulsion to look out for her wayward cousin; as the youngest in her family, Jennifer hadn’t had a chance to lavish her protectiveness upon anyone. (Samantha, headstrong and tomboyish, would have balked at that faster than you could say eye shadow. Samantha was the oldest. Couldn’t be any other way.) And Danie was well aware of the fact that Jennifer most likely reported to her family about her well-being—something she didn’t have the patience or caring to do herself.
So she had turned into your stereotypical solitary vagina with a chip on her shoulder. She daily considered the possibility of getting PMS Life tattooed on her back.
Was she justified? Hm. Let’s recap:
- Was left for dead in an alley at seventeen
- Started burning people (Wait, that was actually fun.)
- Earned the distrust of at least nine other people—but she didn’t trust them either—ha!
- Had to deal with irritants like Rob My-Name-Is-Not-Bob
- Maintained the status of a social pariah
Well, the jury was still out on that one.
As she walked through the halls of Vincent Hall, no one stopped her for a quick conversation before class. She wove through the crowd, her long strides moving her quickly across the floor. Danie came to the door of her classroom and waited along with the rest of her classmates to get inside. As she lingered in the crush, an itch broke out between her shoulder blades.
She remembered this feeling. Someone is staring at me.
With little finesse, she whirled around to look behind her. Before anything suspicious could catch her eye, she heard the grunt of the person behind her. Oops.
“Hey watch where you’re going!”
If she hadn’t been so embarrassed she would have given him a piece of her mind. But as it was, she was in the wrong and she knew it. She frowned, but thought nothing more of it. There was no reason for anyone to follow her. She didn’t mean anything here.