The Dark has a Face

By Akaia Autumngold

Started 2/7/04

The chair was hard, the cheap orange plastic stuck to my skin in the blistering summer heat. Several small ants trundled over the grubby floor, one with a minuet piece of bread fallen from one of the tables.

"Darren? You're not answering my question." As always, the words came in a peculiar mix of accents.

I carefully avoided my friend's eyes.

"What's there to answer?" I mumbled.

".....my question?"

"....oh...."

My friend leaned over the table. "This has gone on long enough, mate. You need to get over her."

"I am. I mean, I have."

He sighed, then leaned back in his chair. Strong arms, tanned from the sun brushed the dingy wall of the café. "Oh, really?"

"Uh-huh. 100%. Totally."

".....you were always a bad liar."

".....well you didn't find out about the time when your sis had drawn over your face two years back, did you? Well, you did, but not until you went out on the street........."

My friend chose to ignore this comment. "Look, I'm telling you, the girl's a hellcat. I told you you was wrong to go out with her in the first place, didn't I?"

I shrugged. "I know.....but....."

He supplied the words for me. "You thought it would be different this time. Look, you've got to realize, there are nice people, normal people, and people who deserve to have their brains blasted out by aliens. And let me tell you, she's one of them."

"No, she's not!"

My friend raised his eyebrows disbelievingly. "Oh come on! She-"

He was interrupted by the nasal, faintly sing-song voice of the waitress. Throwing a grubby recite and a few coins on the unwashed table, she observed us archly. "Your change." She said sniffily.

I was glad for the interruption. Taking my chance, I got to my feet and retrieved my keys from the mouth of someone's dog. "Shaun, I've got to go or I'll be late for work." I mumbled. "See you later."

My friend made a face. "Yeah, you've got work. Dunno how you managed it, you big nerd!"

I smiled. "Well, I suppose the A+ did help....."

Shaun made a face as though he was going to throw up. "You know what, Darren? You seriously need to get a life!"

I grinned as I made my way to the door. "I already have one...."

To my surprise my friend followed me out. There was a look of great cunning on his face as he caught me by the arm. "Not so fast, my friend! I've just had one of my brilliant ideas!"

"........do I really want to hear this?"

"Of course you do! Well, I thought, as you need to get out more-"

"Shaun, let me remind you of the last time you had one of your 'brilliant' ideas. I ended up being sick out of the back of taxi going to Birmingham, remember?"

".....that was your fault! I never asked you to go and-"

"MY fault?! You put me on a taxi to BIRMINGHAM, and I had to PAY!"

".......so?"

I scratched my head. "Look, I'm really going to be late..."

Shaun ran in front of me. "There you go again, you goody-goody! Look, what you need is a bit of excitement. Make you forget Rebecca. I've been invited to a party tonight at Club Eight."

"Club Eight?!"

Shaun paused a minuet to examine his nails. "Well, I do have an extensive number of friends....unlike you."

"And?"

"You're coming with me."

"........no."

"Ah go on, Darren! You won't regret it, cross my heart and hope to die! I'll introduce you to all the girls I know, alright?"

"NO!"

"What? Ok, ok, no girls. But come on, how long has it been since you went to a party?"

".......since I was eleven?"

My friend groaned. "You. Are. Coming. With. Me. Tonight. Full stop."

My insides seemed to clench horribly. "But-"

"No buts! I'll come tonight at ten so I can make sure you won't kill yourself before it really gets fun."

".......is that likely?"

Shaun shrugged. "Knowing you, I'd say anything's likely. So that's settled. Tonight at ten."

"Wait a mo, nothing's settled! I'm not-"

"You are! Oh, and, Darren....."

"What?!"

My so-called friend gestured to his watch. "It's five o'clock..."

"What?! Oh man!" without another word I took to my heals. It was only a five minuet-walk to the store, and if I hurried........

Behind me, I could hear Shaun laughing.

Laugh all you like, I thought. I'm not going!

*******

Club Eight was a strange building. It had started out as a mansion of a wealthy merchant, then had been sold to the government when all his ships were lost at sea. At one point it had been a lunatic asylum; rumours floated around of a madwoman who'd jumped from the roof and now haunted the attic. For all that, it was legend to the young people of our town.

However, the impressive scenery, did nothing to improve my temper.

"Remind me why I'm here again." I snapped at Shaun. He grinned, seemingly finding all this very funny.

"Well, you said no, and I said yes, and then you said no again, so I had to resort to other methods...."

"I think blackmail is the correct word." I said icily.

My friend laughed quietly. "Aye, maybe it is. But it was worth it, though! Hah, it's going be great tonight!"

".......I'm not drinking anything, I'm warning you."

".......fine. After your little trip up to Birmingham, I'm not surprised......."

"Oh, shut up!"

Shaun, for once said nothing. He unglued his lips as soon as we were inside, though. A little too much for my liking. As soon as he saw anyone he knew (which was practically everyone) he was introducing me, loudly shouting out my name and other details that I had would have much preferred to be kept private. The whole affair got totally out of hand, however, when he introduced me loudly as "Rebecca Wincherston's ex,"

By this time Shaun had been drinking more than was, in my point of view, completely nessercary, and he was swaying rather unsteadily. Upon shouting this comment out I dragged him into a corner of the room and yelled in his ear that if he kept on saying things like that, I would personally murder him the moment there were no witnesses around. He grinned, and said, "Well, you've got to make a name for yourself!"

I was about to make a stinging reply, when a gaggle of Shaun's friends came over, intent on meeting "Rebec's latest victim" as one of the giggling girls so nicely put it. For me, this ordeal was too much. I made some excuse and walked as unhurriedly as I could, away from them. To my relief, Shaun didn't call me back; I suppose he was rather busy- one girl had just walked over from the distance and had slapped him- and all I wanted at that particular moment was to be alone.

Unfortunately, a party full of wild teenagers, most of which had had too much to drink, was not the best place for being alone. One girl was eyeing me from the other side of the room; as soon as she saw I'd noticed she smirked saucily, then deliberately drifted towards the exit.

I didn't follow. Instead, I sought refuge in the rest room. There at least the vibrant music was slightly muffled, and I could think-after a fashion. One poor wretch was coughing as he retched into a toilet bowl, uncomfortably reminding me of my experience on the way to Birmingham. There was one girl (in the mens' bathroom!) reading a comic as she nodded her head in time to the beat from her walkman, and from the middle stall arose a rather suspicious cloud of smoke from behind the locked door. My head was hurting rather badly; I suppose it was because I was so blatantly unused to this sort of thing......

There was a thump from the middle stall, followed by a spate of cursing. The girl with the walkman looked up, remarked "Wowie!" for no reason in particular, then returned to her comic.

After a few minuets more of concealment, I decided I had to return to the main room-Shaun would kill me if he knew I'd been hiding while supposed to be socializing. Outside the lurid whirl of colour and sound startled me for a moment. Shaun was still surrounded by his group of friends; he now seemed to be passionately snogging the girl who'd slapped him. I sighed, found a place by the wall and stuck to it.

The next few hours were infinitely dull- I was bored out my skull, something that had only previously happened when Shaun started informing me about who he'd spent the night with yesterday......

In the noise I could feel my brain desperately scrabbling for something to occupy itself; and of course it settled on Rebecca. The horrible ring of thoughts always ended on one theme- that I wasn't good enough for her, and she'd wanted better.

In an effort to dispel the thoughts, I scanned the room again. Shaun was now dancing with a girl; another watched sulkily from the sidelines. The girl from the washroom had now sat herself down on a stack of piled-up chairs and writing something on the back of her hand. A friend of Shaun's I had met previously.....Matt, wasn't it? Was glaring at a tall guy with an orange bandanna who I knew to be Jake Joy, the crowned king of all electronic games and despair of the owners of all the gambling machines in the area. I permitted myself a smile- anyone who Matt hated was my new best friend.

There was nothing else of interest. I sighed as I looked over longing at the exit. I paused; there was someone standing just outside, as though waiting to be invited in. Something about this lone figure invited me to look closer. I felt my stomach clench- I didn't know this girl, but she was beautiful.

Her long, thick night-black hair hung to just below her shoulders; she was slim and dressed in an oddly somber skirt and top. Her arms and neck were bare, and almost translucently white. But it was the eyes that made the difference, as I could see even from my seat near the wall. Two black pits of emotion that flashed joy or anger passionately for all the world to see.

But, at the moment, the only feeling I could see etched on the pale face was sorrow; more than that, grief.

I wondered about that girl many times in the following hours; she never moved, just stood a little to one side of the big doors. Several times I saw her make as though to go back, but she kept still just the same. The people entering and leaving through the doors never looked at her, nor she them.

An hour later saw me almost at the end of my tether. Shaun had not looked round at me once, I was hungry and would have been falling asleep if I hadn't been so uncomfortable. When I saw Matt finally loose his temper and jump on Jake Joy, I decided enough was enough. Slipping off my perch on the chairs against the wall, I made my way to the exit.

The girl was still there, and I couldn't help but give her a glance as I stepped out. She looked back at me silently. I had to pause. From afar her face had been remarkable; from this close it was stunning, the type of face that's engraved in your memory for all the years to come, the one that leaps out at you in a crowd. As I looked at her I saw that she was close to tears.

"What's wrong?" I asked her, surprised at myself as I did so.

She shrugged her shoulders, and lifted up her pale arms. "What's right?"

"Tell me about it."

She looked at me. "You can't help me. No one can."

".....oh....." Unnerved, I took a step back. She didn't say anything, just looked at the ground with her eyes full of tears. I turned around and set off in the direction of home, but before I could go three paces, I heard her voice again.

"No.......please....wait....."

I turned around. She had taken a step towards me. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude." She said, her lip trembling. "It's just so hard...."

"What's hard?" I asked, curious in spite of myself.

She looked at me, then shook her head. "Nothing, really. I'm just being silly."

"Oh....." I wanted to get to know her more, to find out what the matter was. And, inexplicably, I wanted to stop it. "My name's Darren. Darren Hedgehood."

"Oh....."

She didn't seem to be able to say anything, just looked up with those bright eyes, now full of wonder.

I decided to give her a prompt. "What's your name?"

"Oh! My name....my name is Helena."

"Erm....." why couldn't I think of anything else to say? Thankfully she saved me.

"Do you want to, erm, have a dance with me?" she said, blushing now beneath her paleness.

I stood dumb. Instantly the memory of Rebecca was in front of me. But she had turned out to be a lying, treacherous snake, hadn't she?

"Yes, I would."

*****

Something very strange happened that night. I no longer felt out of place in the happy, evanescent atmosphere. I no longer sat in the corner by myself. I wasn't patronized by everyone else.

In fact, I never even noticed them.

My attention was taken up on Helena. She seemed to like remaining a mysterious figure- my questions concerning her past, family, and friends were batted away subtly, somehow changing into musings of mere rhetorical value. There wasn't much chance for conversation in the lurid surroundings, but when there was she chatted about herself: her likes, her dislikes, pet hates and habits. She enjoyed talking about herself; there was a light in her eyes and tone of her voice that made that apparent, but as soon as either of us fell silent, melancholy would creep back into her face, and her eyes would grow hard.

I didn't realize the time passing until I looked around and realized we were almost the only ones in the whole room left; Shaun, I was interested to note, was no-where in sight. There was only one other gang scouting around hopefully for someone's lost keys; and a couple standing silently in a corner- but they were miles away.

I looked back at Helena. "It's late..." I said, surprised. Where had the time gone?

She laughed. "It's so late it's early." I could see a pink tinge under the pale skin, and her cheeks were flushed.

"You know.....er......." I couldn't help but pause. "It's...been fun tonight. I mean, this morning." Silently, I cursed myself. The words seemed so flat and stale, much too bland to express the whirl of feelings I was feeling.

Helena smiled softly. "Yes, it has, hasn't it?"

"Urm....er......do you...." Go on, you fool! No wonder Rebecca got sick of you..."Er...."

Silently, she watched me stutter on.

"Er.... why don't I walk you home?" I said, seizing on a thing to say.

To my surprise, her jet eyes hardened, and the wistful look came back into her face. "No, Darren. I mean, I'd love you to. But you.....can't."

I blinked. "Why not?"

"You just.....can't. I mean, I think it would be a bad idea."

At her words, I felt the old wound re-open. "But....." there you are. Back to square one. You've put her off, she doesn't think you're good enough. Again.

I turned away. Something of what I felt must have shown on my face, because she grabbed my arm in a surprisingly strong grip.

"No, please Darren.....don't go."

There was such loneliness in her voice that I started. "I thought......"

Helena shook her head. "No, I didn't mean it like that. Anyway, I was just being silly. I'd love you to walk me home."

For a moment I was unable to speak. Then, I smiled. I saw myself reflected in her jet-black eyes, and saw such hope and happiness in my face I was confused. Helena looked up at me with a smile and gave me a gentle shove towards the door.

******

Helena's house was in an old section of our town, a part that I didn't recognize. I had to resort to making furtive observations of landmarks for the return journey. The last thing I wanted now was to get lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood at 4 in the morning. As soon as we'd got into the night, Helena seemed transformed. Her luminous skin took on a certain brilliance, almost a faint glow, and she moved far more surely in the darkness than she had in the dizzying tumble of strobe lights.

Dawn came on bright and quick in front of us, staining the sky with different hues of green, blue and pink. At my side, I noticed Helena was shivering, so I gave her my coat. She smiled when I handed it to her, remarking on how some things, even now, would never change.

At last we reached a door that she said was hers. A tall, dark house, painted on top of the brick by the side of an empty road. A nice enough building, of which the owners were doubtlessly well-to-do if not exactly rich. Helena was looking at it with a curious expression- almost a longing. Feeling me staring at her, she turned around and gave me a quick smile.

"Well......." she let the word hang in the air.

"Er....."

She had moved closer. I saw an unspoken question in her eyes.

"Yes..."

For a fraction of a second, our lips brushed lightly. Then, she was standing back.

"Darren, you have to go..." she was agitated, fidgeting distractedly with her hair and staring at the pavement.

"What?" This again! Just what was the matter with me, that repelled every female in sight?

"You have to go. You must go. You shouldn't have come...." she cast a frightened look behind her as she spoke.

"Oh." Suddenly, I felt totally empty, devoid of all feeling save a dull kind of ache. There seemed nothing else to say or do. Hiding the turmoil in my head, I turned and began to walk away. Then, for the second time, I felt her clinging on to me. I looked down into her face and found it tense and full of passion. When she spoke, it was as if she weighed every word.

"After two days, come back to this house. Ask for Helena. After two days, but not before, all right?"

Dumbly, I nodded, trying to ignore the small root of hope burgeoning from my chest.

"Remember, after two days. No sooner." She released me then. "Goodnight."

It seemed an odd, flat way to end, but when I turned round to tell her so, she was gone. A mournful wind sighed down the street and stung the back of my unprotected neck. Shivering, I made my way back down the street.

"Two days...."

******

Duly, after enduring two days of work and Shaun's ever-more-annoying comments about "Lil' Darren who's finally got himself a girl!" I went back to Helena's house.

I was so excited as I approached the road. When I recognized the house, such a feeling of hope and joy combined flooded me that for a moment I was unable to move, just standing staring at the building.

When I had finally got control of myself, I made my way up the steps into the little porch of the front door (checking my hair wasn't sticking up again with the aid of a stationary car's bonnet). Getting up my courage, I knocked on the door.

The echoes ran a long way into the house, bouncing off a lot of shiny surfaces, I presumed. I had just about given up hope when there was the sound of clacking high heels approaching, and the door swung open to find myself staring into the face of a middle-aged woman, with a large, hooked nose.

"Yes?" she said unhelpfully.

"Er.....is Helena there? It's just, she arranged to meet me two days ago and told me to come here." Which wasn't quite true, I thought, but I didn't want to cause her any trouble with her evidently strict parents. However, this train of thought was abruptly cut of on catching sight of the woman's face. She had suddenly gone completely white, her lips totally without colour, her eyes staring in horror.

"Helena....?" she whispered.

I frowned, puzzled. "Yeah. Er....is something wrong?"

The woman, however, had quickly recovered her brisk, snapping manner. "I suppose you think this is funny, do you?"

"What?"

Her mouth hardened. "Oh, now you don't know anything, eh?"

"Know what?"

The woman's eyes bulged, and she said in a flat tone. "My daughter's name was Helena. Very amusing of you to remind me of her."

"What do you mean, 'was'?!"

She sniffed. "It was exactly a year ago today. She was killed after coming home from school. A car ran over her. As well you know."

"What the heck are you talking about?!"

"Oh, don't you take that tone with me! She was such a good girl, how would she feel if she knew you were making fun of her in that horrible, horrible way?"

"No! You're lying!"

The woman raised an eyebrow. "Why would I?" the voice was heavily layered with sorrow. "You think to have fun by reminding me of my poor sweet girl- you're cruel and heartless!"

"You're lying! I've seen her, two days ago, I talked to her, I danced with her-"

"Well, then, go to the churchyard of Saint Mary if you need proof!"

She slammed the door in my face. I could just hear her sobbing from behind the wooden door. My head reeled. It wasn't true, it couldn't be true- I'd seen her, she was alive, she wasn't.....

I suddenly felt very sick. It just couldn't be true. It couldn't have been a....

No, I don't believe in ghosts, I told myself.

Suddenly, I needed to find out for myself. The cold winter air stung my face as I dashed down the road, heedless of the rain.

I had to find out for myself.......

*******

The churchyard was small and quiet, as was the serene brick building in the centre. I'd never heard of the Church of Saint Mary before, and given its small size, I wasn't surprised. A few trees rustled in the wind surrounding the edge of the graveyard, and a blackbird flew off from its perch on a gravestone.

Feeling sick, I peered around helplessly at the memorials set here and there. I half couldn't believe what I was doing, convinced that I had got the wrong house, and if I just went back I would see Helena waiting for me.....

Yet part of me knew better.

As I looked around, something caught my eye; something brown waving in the air. I blinked. It seemed....no, it couldn't be!

Heedless of my surroundings, I started to run. Finally reaching the gravestone, I was able to recognize the item. I gave a small sound between a whimper and a groan. Then, I stooped down to look at the tombstone. The words were plain, unsentimental and precise, the meaning clear.

Sacred to the memory of

Helena Winstanley

Most beloved daughter of Maud and Henry Winstanley

Resurgram

I stared at it, a sharp ache of loss overcoming the disbelief. She wasn't meant to be dead; she was supposed to be alive, with me.......

Wiping my hand across my eyes, I stooped and lifted my jacket off the tombstone. For a moment I fingered the soft leather, the familiar smell. It seemed no worse for wear for a night and two days in a cemetery. Suddenly feeling cold, I threw it round my shoulders. A faint unfamiliar smell made my nostrils twitch. The essence of Helena.

A sigh echoed in my ears, a faint voice whispering words I couldn't comprehend. The tree branches rubbed together, groaning like a cello.

The anger inside me rose. It wasn't supposed to be like this! She wasn't meant to be dead, she and I belonged together!

As I thought the words spoken by a thousand other lovers, sometimes truly, sometimes trivially, I closed my eyes.

"Good bye, Helena."

I started walking away, part of me half-expecting her to come and stop me once again. Instead, the whispering in my ears intensified.

All love is precious. All love is sacred.

Thank you. I was scared, afraid. You gave me the strength to go on.

Darren, I love you........

I kept walking.

*

*

*

The end!

AN: Ok, so shoot me. I know I'm supposed to be writing Shadow Spinner. I'm just.....taking a holiday in the hotels of the other genres! I hope you enjoyed this little short story, and please R&R WITH COMMENTS AND CONSTRUCTIVE CRITISM!!! Oh, and peps who've just surfed into this fic, please, please, PLEASE check out Shadow Spinner, my ongoing fantasy saga of 28 chapter so far! ^_^ Thank you......