DISCLAIMER: This novelization of the movie Donnie Darko is not authorized by or written in affiliation with anyone officially involved with the film. Or even the movie industry. Also, nobody is getting paid for this sucker. I do it all for you, my... uh... Richard Kelly’s loving fans. I banged this out in about two days on June 22 '05, alone in my basement. Staying up ‘til 6:00 in the morning. Not eating, or drinking the required amount of liquids to sustain the human body.
Last updated: June 27, 2005
Based on the film “Donnie Darko” (2001)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Beth Grant
Produced by: Chris J. Ball
Directed by: Richard Kelly
Screenplay by: Richard Kelly
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The novelization draws from four sources: a) the production script (or, the Director‘s Cut), b) the shooting script (the original film), and c) my own interpretation. And of course, d) what I remembered from the movie. I took a transcript of the original Donnie Darko and pieced it together with bits from the production script that I felt were most appropriate to the medium. The links to these scripts are at the bottom.
There are 25 chapters at almost 60 pages, 12 font, single-spaced. More like a novella, actually...
Finally, I made up some scenes and dialogue to make the story seem more like a novel than a novelization. Yes, I am a heretic.
Dedicated to Richard Kelly for helping to warp my mind just that much more, and to Frank, wherever he may be.
Somewhere in the clouds there hangs a darkness
Somewhere in this town there lies a shadow
Both are bound in water, sealed in metal
And the sky will split within the mind of Donnie Darko...
-The Day After, revisited
October 1, 1988
11:00 AM Carpathian Ridge
...cleaving through the sky, sunrise giving way to white clouds in a blue sea, morphing rapidly into darkness peppered with fractional points of light; the moon waxing and waning, quicker and quicker until it catches fire, and the dead come out to play with the living under a crescent sun in the night...
Gooseflesh rubbed against asphalt, stones catching on T-shirt cloth. The air tasted like morning light, pale and sharp. He saw the faint outline of trees through his eyelids. Stirred at the persuasive rustle of leaves in the wind, the birds awake long before. The surface he was lying on felt curved, like a bowl. He imagined he was the last morsel of food at the bottom of the bowl, waiting to be plucked up by a hungry monster from the sky...
A sharp pebble gently poked his cheek. He stirred, opening his eyes. Slowly uncurled himself, joints popping in the crisp air. The world as seen through the top of the bowl eventually straightened itself into a tree-lined horizon. Forested area surrounded the cul-de-sac he was lying in. From this viewpoint, he could look off the cliff into empty space, where rock canyon opened into the modest little town below.
He blinked sleepily at it from the ridge, dew in his hair. His side ached from the gritty surface of the road. He clambered stiffly onto his bike, which had been lying on its side beside him, and began pedalling.
The air snapped at his clothes as he flew back down the path. The October wind was temperamental, but still warm. He squeezed his frozen knuckles on the handlebars, the chill of the ground lying dormant in his bones. Wondered if it was possible that his marrow might turn to ice.
A red Trans Am flashed by him as he re-entered Middlesex, a world very different from the one seen from the Ridge. From above, Middlesex laid out in the fog was a ghost town, an Atlantis lost beneath the clouds. Once inside, he could feel himself sinking back into the folds of reality. Old women jogging in their faded piped sweat suits. Older men watering their lawns. The kids usually hung out at the malls, or the scrub area surrounding the town. Murdering beer bottles with BB guns. Most of them were probably still asleep.
He passed a sign advertising the Middlesex Halloween Haunt festival, complete with dripping letters and a garish picture of a Jack-O-Lantern. The graphic was terrible. Surely they could have hired somebody better. He thought about the sketches lying unseen in his bedroom drawers, stuffed haphazardly under boxer shorts and pairs of socks. The image flew out of his head as he reached home.
Nobody seemed to notice his return. His father Eddie was out on the front lawn, teasing big sister Elizabeth with a leaf blower. She shrieked, flailing as the gust of filtered air hit her face. Blonde hair whipping around her makeup-darkened eyes, model's nose. She stalked off in a huff, passing ten-year old Samantha, who was busy jumping on a trampoline. Sproing. Sproing.
He clumsily dismounted his bike and went inside, ignoring the query written on the magnetic fridge board:
By the time dinner rolled around, the memo board had been long erased, and his absence went unmentioned. The Darko family sat at a table that rarely enjoyed full attendance. The atmosphere was stale and awkward as they ate leftovers, their mother Rose too tired too cook.
Samantha had peeled all the pepperoni off her pizza and was covertly handing them to Donnie to enjoy. He looked at the flaccid pieces of meat. They looked kind of like Seth Devlin‘s face. He ate them, making sure to chew long and slow.
Elizabeth tapped her glass for attention. "I'm voting for Dukakis," she announced smugly. Her father's pizza slice stopped inches from his face.
Stillness around the table.
"Well," Eddie said after some clearly bitter thinking, "Perhaps when you have children of your own that need braces, and you can't afford them because half of your husband's paycheck goes to the federal government, you'll regret that decision."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes incredulously. "My husband's paycheck?" Rose looked vaguely amused. "A woman of the eighties," she murmured. She looked tired, her dark hair fading a little. A glass of her usual dinner wine in one hand. Occasionally she glanced at Donnie, eyes haunted. Trying to see him.
Elizabeth continued. "Anyway, I'm not going to squeeze on out 'til I'm, like, thirty." The way she said it, thirty, it was clearly a dirty word. Donnie felt the sudden need to intervene.
"Will you still be working at the Yarn Barn?" he said to Elizabeth sarcastically, letting contempt filter through his voice. "'Cause I hear that's a great place to raise children."
Elizabeth glared at him. "Har, har"
Rose interjected. "No, I think a year of partying is enough. She'll be going to Harvard this fall-"
"I haven't been accepted yet, mother."
"Well, if you think Michael Dukakis will provide for this country prior to the point when you decide to 'squeeze one out', then I think you're misinformed." Rose sipped her wine.
"When can I squeeze one out?" Samantha asked in all innocence.
"Not until eighth grade."
Rose looked at him in disbelief. "Excuse me?"
"Donnie, you're such a dick!" Elizabeth exclaimed, having found an opening to pay him back for the Yarn Barn comment. Donnie rose to the challenge. "Whoa, that was a little hostile there," he said in mock alarm. "Maybe you should be the one in therapy. Then Mom and Dad can pay someone two hundred dollars an hour to listen to all of your thoughts, so we won't have to!"
Elizabeth countered fiercely. "Okay, you want to tell Mom and Dad why you stopped taking your medication?"
It was a low blow. The table stared at him. His fists clenched under the table. He could think of only one way to channel his frustration: "You are such a fuck-ass!"
Elizabeth burst into laughter. "What did you just call me?!" Provoking him to say it again. He bit his tongue as Rose turned on him.
"When did you stop taking your medication?"
"Well you can go suck a fuck!"
Donnie leapt back into the fray. "Oh, tell me," he said in a sing-song voice. "How exactly does one suck a fuck?!"
Eddie glanced from Samantha to the fight, pantomiming 'hear no evil'. Rose looked disgusted. "We will not have this at the dinner table!" she said firmly, picking up her glass. Donnie and Elizabeth fell into opposite corners of the ring, panting slightly, still prepared to leap at each other's throats. No one moved.
Silence reigned again until Samantha's concerned voice broke the spell. "What's a fuck-ass?"
Eddie snorted into his pizza.
That night Rose tried playing connect-the-dots with her children, but it was like they were each living in a separate universe. The trials of a mother. She dispatched her husband to lecture Samantha on the dangers of foul language, then cornered Elizabeth on the stairs. She was talking into her cell phone.
"Frank, I took a year off to be with you. No, don't get angry..." She sighed, hung up. Noticed her mother staring at her. "What?"
"How did you know?"
"I caught him flushing pills down the toilet. He knows you check the container." She shrugged. "I didn't realize it was such a big deal."
"Well, it is a big deal!"
Elizabeth said nothing. They stood facing each other. Stalemate. Elizabeth turned away.
Rose watched her disappear into her bedroom. Took a deep breath, climbed the stairs. This was the part she was dreading.
Her son lay in the depths of his room, surrounded by indecipherable cultural artifacts and rumpled posters. His bed light was on. He was reading a collection of Graham Greene stories, barely even looked up when she came in. The only sign he noticed her was a muttered "Get out of my room."
Rose held her ground. "Where do you go at night?" she said softly. "I wish I knew."
The longing in her voice made him want to throw something against the wall. When he didn't answer, she asked "Did you toilet paper the Johnson's house?"
He slapped down the book. "Is that what you came up here to ask me?"
"I stopped rolling houses in the sixth grade, Mom. Now get out."
Rose wouldn't relent. "You know, some days it might be nice to just look at you and see my son. I don't recognize this person today."
The truth wandered briefly through his head. Me neither, Mom. ...Mom, when I look in the mirror, I'm just as confused as you are. Instead, what came out of his mouth was: "Then why don't you start taking the goddamn pills?" Burying the things he wanted to say, like the sketches, under his mind. Rose stared at him. Moved off. Closed the door tenderly behind her.
She looked so sad. He couldn't resist.
Rose stopped outside the door, but didn't look back. Defeated. In his dim room, Donnie's victory felt like poison.
Eddie Darko looked up from his novel at the sound of the bedroom door opening. Rose entered quietly, arms crossed in front of her. Protective. She came and stood over the bed. He put down his book.
She smiled, nursing her pain. "Our son just called me a bitch," she informed him.
Eddie grunted. "You're not a bitch."
"You're bitching. But you're not a bitch."
Rose lay down beside him, pretended to sleep. All the while thinking of the person behind the door at the end of the hallway, wondering who he could be, what he was doing in this house.
Eddie felt her thoughts pressing on him, a killer in the night. Turned off the bedside lamp. Went downstairs in the dark. Sat in the La-Z-Boy, kept himself occupied with politics awash in the glow of the television screen. Dukakis was saying something about drug-running dictators in Panama. Son of a bitch. And there was Elizabeth, too. Her and her brother. Kids these days...
The first day of October was drawing to a close. In the bathroom, Donnie read the label on the bottle of prescription drugs. 'L. THURMAN M.D'. The name of his therapist. Thera-pissed. He retracted that; she wasn't so bad for a shrink.
He watched himself pop the pills in the mirror over the sink. Wondered if he looked like a drug addict. Maybe a little. Maybe it was his eyes. What would Rose say if he became a drug dealer? Probably nothing. Drug dealers made a lot of money. Seth Devlin claimed he did, anyway, and he was just a high-school pusher. If he had that much money, Donnie decided, he could move far enough away that he'd never have to hear his mother's voice again. He noticed that this thought did nothing to make him feel better.
Thoughts in freefall, Donnie went to bed. Thinking, Shit. Maybe I am crazy.
In the foyer, the clock struck midnight.
October 2, 1988
1:00 AM, Donnie Darko's bedroom
At first, he thinks he's lying in the Ridge again. No. Bedsheet smell. He swings his legs over the mattress, suddenly very awake.
[I'VE BEEN WATCHING YOU.]
Dizzy. Nervous. Out-of-body experience. The stairs are one long Wonderland fall, but he makes it down okay. Passes Eddie, knocked out in his armchair. Under the chandelier hanging in the front lobby. Out the front door, down the garden path. Listening.
What’s wrong with me? I took the pills, didn’t I?
The nausea rises, then falls; then again, like a tidal wave of sick in his gut. It disappears when he spots the tall figure standing in the distance. Backlit by moonlight, shrouded in shadow.
The voice issues from a rabbit standing ten yards away. Six feet tall. Grotesque, ratty grey fur. The head atop the body is a metallic skull, with exaggerated buck-teeth and twisted rabbit ears. More like horns. The suit looks almost patchwork, like a dime-store mascot. Milky eyes. The air turns monochromatic as Donnie steps towards it. Everything in blacks and greys.
The voice begins a hollow incantation.
[TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS. SIX HOURS. FORTY-TWO MINUTES. TWELVE SECONDS.]
Each syllable a measured beat. The rabbit pauses as if consulting its notes, then:
[THAT IS WHEN THE WORLD WILL END.]
Donnie struggles to understand. He feels light-headed. "Why?" he asks, a wide grin spreading slowly across his face. This is the best joke he's ever heard. He feels his head pounding in the back of his skull, twisting, pulling apart at the synapses. The dark figure pulses in and out of his vision, leaving rabbit-shaped holes in the air. He looks through one of them...
Elizabeth creeps into the house, face flushed, lipstick marking the side of her mouth. Carefully shuts the door, leaning against it. Tries to hold back exhaling her boyfriend’s kisses into the still air. Hears his car pulling away, stealing up the quiet streets.
The chandelier explodes. A crash from upstairs, like a hailstorm of lightbulbs. The house shakes. Books rain from the shelves. Elizabeth huddles against the door, hands over ears, mouth a smudged ‘O’ of terror. Eddie jumps up from his post in the living room, charges upstairs, where Rose is huddled on the bed with trembling hands over her face.
Their frightened breath fills the empty spaces.
Donnie spins. Something pulls away from something else and he follows it, lurching, hitting it with his elbow. Everything goes dark. He looks around.
Nobody answers. He feels gravity pulling at his ribcage. Cut grass poking through his shirt.
Lying on his side. He stirred, faintly.
"...son... Son... Donnie... Donnie Darko...."
His own name sounded strange, even to him. He almost laughed until he opened his eyes and saw where he was. Reposing on the seventh green, a golf ball lodged against his arm. Two concerned golfers stood over him, faces shaded against the bright clouds in the sky.
"What the heck is going on here, Donnie?" Local physician Dr. Fisher peered at him suspiciously, then turned apologetically to his partner. "It's Eddie Darko's kid. I'm sorry about this, Jim. Just some neighbourhood kid."
"I guess he was sleep-golfing?" joked Fisher's partner, whose face Donnie could not attach an identity to. The men laughed. "Watch out for that drool spot!" Setting them off again.
Donnie stood up unsteadily, hoping he didn't look too drunk or stoned. Decided he didn't care. Groggily, he noticed something on his left arm. A tattoo? He looked down at it. Scrawled down the inside of his forearm, in black ink:
He stared, fascinated. A black marker in his other hand. He must have grabbed it from the fridge memo. It took another second before he noticed Fisher and the other man ogling at him.
Fisher hesitated. "You all right, son? Let's... ah... stay off the links at night, okay?"
Donnie mumbled an apology, hiding his arm behind his back. As he turned away, stumbling off the green, he looked for the place the rabbit had been standing.
There. Right next to the flag.
He walked home, arms crossed over his chest. The sound of sirens reached him long before he caught sight of his house. Neighbours were already coming out of their holes, most still in bathrobes and slippers. Vultures for disaster. They formed at the edge of the scene, commenting in loud voices over the sound of splintering wood and megaphoned instructions from uniformed officials.
Alarm went through him in one swift motion; then he was through the gawking crowd and pounding past the police officer guarding the barricades, scanning the chaos for a sign of familiarity. Fire engines and police cars were scattered on Eddie's no-longer pristine lawn, like toys dropped by a careless giant child after playtime. A caterpillar crane hoisted some unidentifiable object from the wreckage of the roof. Bits of tile and plaster fell to the ground.
When his family caught sight of him, it was like he'd come back from the dead. Rose dropped her hands to her sides, breath catching in relief. Samantha, as usual, supplied the only useful commentary. "A jet engine!" she said enthusiastically. She pointed. "It fell in your room."
Donnie blinked at the surreality of the scene. A herd of suits strode briskly to their side. One introduced themselves as members of the FAA. They were requesting a private audience with Eddie and Rose.
As their parents signed forms, Elizabeth leaned over and said in a conspiratorial tone, "They don't know where it came from." Her eyes twinkled. Donnie watched the emergency crew lower the oversized chunk of scarred metal to a flatbed, pieces of shingle crunching underfoot. Deep at the heart of the engine was a red spiral. Water splashed over it from a fire hose, licking over the pocks in its surface.
Elizabeth said something about going to a hotel, but he was entranced. He wandered closer, until he was blocked by a man in a silver fire-proof suit.
"Woah, there. Better watch yourself."
The guy left. Donnie watched them cart away the jet engine. It felt, in some strange way, like a piece of his world was going with it, like a plug pulled out of a drain.
That evening in their hotel room, Donnie and Elizabeth forced a truce by numbing their minds with television. Samantha wanted to watch The Cosby Show, but Donnie and Elizabeth solidified their peace pact by ganging up on her and turning on the news channel.
"...Local and national transportation authorities have begun a nationwide search..."
Samantha was unimpressed. "If it fell from the plane, what happened to the plane?"
Donnie let Elizabeth field that one as he drifted. "They don't know, Samantha."
"...despite the fact that no airline will claim..."
Rose and Eddie were watching the same program in the adjacent room, but Eddie's mind was elsewhere.
"Frankie Feedler," he said suddenly. His wife's head was on his chest, and she felt him jolt slightly with surprise. "Mmm?"
"You remember him. From high school."
The reporter on the TV screen continued. "...The FAA remained tight lipped on the details of the current situation..."
"He died. On his way to the prom. Remember?"
Rose shifted on her husband's chest. Rubbed her hand over his skin, drowsy with the effort of recall. She murmured, soothingly. Eddie went on.
"They said he was doomed. ...jeez..."
His voice got softer.
"They could be saying the same thing about Donnie."
He stopped, eyes dark. Rose rolled over, embraced him.
"...the engine, which appears to have detached..."
October 3, 1988
27 days remaining
Donnie got out of his mother’s Taurus, tucking in the white shirt of his school uniform as he went. Rose called to Samantha before driving away. “Don’t forget, Ms. Farmer will bring you home after practice!”
Samantha waved a cheery good-bye, but Donnie only turned away at Rose’s farewell. He followed his sister to the bus stop, where the usual crowd waited for some juicy gossip. Samantha’s friend Joanie James gushed at them. “Oh. My. Gosh. Tell me everything.”
“We’re not allowed to talk about it,” Samantha said professionally. She turned to a chubby Asian girl with earmuffs on her head. “Hi, Cherita!”
The girl responded immediately. “Chut up!” The words fired from her mouth like pieces of shrapnel. Ronald Fisher took Donnie by the arm, wearing his usual shit-eating grin.
“Darko cheats death!” he cried, mimicking a football touchdown. “You’re like a celebrity, man! I’ve called like a jillion times. Where’ve ya been?”
“We stayed at a hotel.”
Fisher‘s voice went lower. “Hey, uh... My dad said he saw you at the golf course. You sleepwalking again now, buddy?” He gave Donnie a little punch on the shoulder, to emphasize that they were friends and could tell each other anything. Donnie smiled. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
His other friend, Sean Smith, offered Donnie a cigarette. “And now that you’re famous, you gotta have a smoke!”
Donnie took the cigarette and pointed it threateningly at his sister. “What happens if you tell Mom and Dad about this, Sam?”
Samantha sighed, having gone this routine before. “You’ll put Ariel in the garbage disposal.”
“Damn right I will.” Donnie lit up, scowling. Joanie was mildly offended. “So grody,” she sniffed.
Ronald turned to the Asian girl. “Hey Cherita, you want a cigarette?”
Ronald and Shaun cackled. “Chut u-u-up!” Ronald repeated mockingly. Sean added, “Go back to China, bitch!” They laughed. Cherita imperceptibly shrinking, eyes dark holes.
Donnie held out an arm, warningly. “Just leave her alone.”
His two friends glanced at each other, then backed off. Ronald tried to salvage the moment by changing the subject. He nodded at the cigarette in Donnie’s mouth. “That’s some good shit, huh?”
Donnie exhaled smoke. “It’s a fucking cigarette,” and the way he said it made it suddenly seem so pointless. Ronald and Sean puffed in a blue funk until the bus came, and they boarded without another word with their troubled friend.
Stepping off the bus always felt like an otherworldly experience for Donnie. He couldn’t explain it. It felt like when he’d rode his bike back into Middlesex, where none of his fantasies up on the Ridge could ever properly manifest themselves. Dreams of becoming a success, a famous painter, a grade-A student... Zombie hands sprouted from the dirt, pulling it all back into the earth as soon as he passed that Halloween Haunt sign.
School had the same effect. Students, with their shiny white shirts and nicely pressed bottoms, streamed in and out of the building. Some stoned, some drunk, some smart, some flunked. Some beautiful, most average. A cross prominently displayed on the roof tower, a symbol too high for most of them to comprehend. Behind the statue of the school's bulldog mascot, affectionately dubbed The Mutt, Samantha practiced dance routines with her friends. She looked so happy. Donnie couldn't bring himself to watch her.
He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and nearly bumped into Seth Devlin, who snarled silently in his direction before leaving to snort coke with a pal in the shadow of his locker. The headmaster walked by, oblivious.
Behind the headmaster, though, was a newcomer. He wasn’t a teacher... Donnie remembered Dr. Fisher’s golf partner. Wondered what he was doing here. Hoped he wouldn’t remember the weird kid who slept on golf courses.
The bell rang, and students and staff funnelled themselves into their proper rooms. Doors shut all down the hallways. Donnie thought about the way everyone went to the same places and sat in the same seats every day, without even having to be told. It was more than a routine pattern. It was almost like fate.
Am I destined to sit in this seat, day after day? What would happen if I could change... just one little thing...
Karen Pomeroy stood imperiously at the front of the class, reading from Graham Greene’s short story, ‘The Destructors’. She could feel the students watching her every move, knew the image of herself they had styled in their minds. Hippie. The self-styled red hair flowing past her shoulders, the loose clothing, wide belt buckles and pierced ears- there could be no other title. But she enjoyed it, even as Kittie Farmer tut-tutted as they passed during staff lunches. Relished it, even. Her voice grew stronger.
“‘There would be headlines in the papers,’” she read gravely. “‘Even the grown-up gangs who ran the betting at the all-in wrestling and the barrow boys would hear with respect of how Old Misery’s house had been destroyed.’”
She looked around, seeing the rapt faces of her students as they hung onto her every word. Continued. “‘It was as though this plan had been with him all his life, pondered through the seasons; now, in his 15th year, crystallized with the pain of puberty.’”
She put down the book and began pacing the front of the room. “What is Graham Greene trying to communicate with this passage? Why did the children break into Old Misery’s house?” She pointed. “Joanie?”
Joanie was matter-of-fact. “They wanted to rob him.”
Karen expected giggles to circulate the room, but nobody laughed. She noticed Donnie Darko smirking in the front. Maybe he was the only one who’d read the book. “Joanie, if you had actually read the short story- which at a whopping 13 pages would have kept you up all night- you would know that the children find a great deal of money in the mattress.”
She looked dramatically around the room. “...But they burn it.”
“Oooh. Aaaah,” from the class.
“You suck!” Ronald whispered in Joanie’s ear.
Karen shushed them. “Donnie Darko, perhaps with your recent brush with mass destruction, you can give us your opinion.”
Everyone waited expectantly for the celebrity to talk. He bent his head, fiddled with his pencil. Finally began to speak.
“Well, right when they flood the house and tear it to shreds, they say that destruction is a form of creation. So the fact that they burn the money is ironic. They want to change things.”
The class was silent. Donnie played with his pencil, a faraway look in his dark eyes. He smiled distantly.
“They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart.”
Karen took a breath, but the door at the back of the class opened before any words came out of her mouth. Good. She hadn’t prepared anything to say, anyway. Students’ heads turned to the source of the interruption.
“May we help you?” Karen inquired coolly.
The newcomer was a slight girl, with brown hair past her shoulders and a pale, slender face. She looked uncomfortable. “Uh, hi, I’m Gretchen Ross. I just registered and they put me in the wrong English class.”
Karen raised an eyebrow. “You look like you belong here.” A few chuckles from the class, clearly enjoying this.
The girl shuffled nervously. “Um... Where do I sit?”
Karen pretended to consider it. “Sit next to the boy you think is cutest,” she said casually. The class went into an uproar. “Quiet! Let her choose.”
Gretchen looked around the room, which was suddenly full of leering boys. Ronald winked lewdly at her. Sean tried in vain to fix his hair. She scanned the rows of faces, finally settling on...
Karen watched Donnie and Gretchen staring at each other. Silently applauded the girl’s decision. “Joanie, get up.”
Sulking, Joanie gathered up her book bag and ended up in front of Sean, who immediately started blowing air down her neck. Gretchen slid into the empty seat, eyes still locked with Donnie’s. Donnie grinned widely, and it took five minutes for Karen to get the class to shut up. The pain of puberty, indeed.
“So. How was school today?”
“You learn anything?”
“Arts and crafts was a blast.”
Donnie stared out the window of the station wagon as Eddie accelerated down Old Gun Road, a back road leading out of town. We’re off to see the head shrink, the wonderful head shrink of Oz... His father appeared not to have noticed his sarcasm. Or maybe he was hiding his disappointment.
Donnie tried to start over. “They still don’t know?”
“Where it came from.”
Eddie grunted. “No. Apparently they can’t tell us what happened yet. Something about a matching serial number that got burned.”
Donnie rubbed his left arm unconsciously. Eddie chuckled. “I had to sign a form saying I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it.”
“So we’re not supposed to tell anyone what nobody knows.” They laughed.
“Yeah. But you tell your doctor-”
“Dr. Thurman, dad.”
“Yes. You tell Dr. Thurman whatever you want.”
Eddie looked over at his son, smiling reassuringly. Maybe things would turn out all right. Donnie was no Frankie Feedler. He was just a little-
“What?” he smiled.
Donnie lunged across the dashboard. “DAD!!”
Eddie spun around and slammed the brakes just in time. Father and son watched in disbelief as an elderly woman with a shock of white hair wandered back and forth in front of the Taurus, inches away from being mowed down in her slippers.
Donnie got out of the car as the woman hobbled her way to her ancient mailbox, bending down to inspect the contents. The red flag wasn’t up and hadn’t been for over forty years. The nameplate on the side read “R. SPARROW”.
Middlesex knew her better as Grandma Death.
He smiled sympathetically as the old woman closed the box. “No mail today. Maybe tomorrow,” he said, not sure if she could even hear him.
Suddenly, as if attracted by a strange new force, she turned around and limped back to him. Clawed fingers curled around his shoulder, pulling him down to her level. Her breath tickled as she whispered something in his ear...
Eddie came out to join his son, glancing at Mrs. Sparrow as she made her way back to her house. Peered at the look on Donnie’s face. Unsettled. “Well? What did she say to you?”
Donnie opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“I made a new friend.”
“Real or imaginary?”
“Would you like to talk about this friend?”
Forcing the name out. “Frank.”
“Frank. ...And what did Frank say?”
“He said... to follow him.”
“Follow him? Where?”
Hesitation. Fear of his own conviction. Look at his eyes.
“Into the future.”
“And then what happens?”
“And then he said... Then he said that the world was coming to an end.”
More hesitance. Drops the thread of conversation.
“Do you think the world is coming to an end?”
“No.” A small laugh. Unconvincing. “That’s stupid.”
October 4, 1988
26 days remaining
Ms. Farmer looked like a pruny little bird that had been force-fed lemons since birth. Everybody who had taken her gym classes hated her (with the possible exception of Samantha, but she wasn‘t smart enough yet to know what an asshole Ms. Farmer could be- plus, she coached Sam’s dance troupe), but her Health curriculum promised to be even more torturous.
Donnie sat watching the classroom monitor with the other hapless students. He tried to escape into his daydreams, but somehow his thoughts kept pulling back towards the video, which was painfully insipid. He knew who Dr. Fisher’s golf partner was now and wished he’d never found out.
His name was Jim Cunningham, and he was the host of ‘Controlling Fear’. The tape was supposedly a classroom supplement to Cunningham’s series of motivational books, ‘Attitudinal Beliefs’ and ‘Cunning Visions of Love’. Unfortunately, the video followed pretty much the same line as the books. The introduction to the video included a collection of interviews with ‘fear survivors’; one of a fat woman, and the other of a mother and her constipated-looking kid. Occasionally Cunningham would push his bland, smiling mug into the frame to deliver a grave monosyllabic line, no doubt to indicate the gravity of the subject and to illuminate his own self-importance. The only effect on Donnie was that it made him want to throw up.
For some reason, this revelation made him feel better. Surely it was normal to hate this guy.
[PAY CLOSE ATTENTION. YOU COULD MISS SOMETHING.]
“For my entire life, I was a victim of my own Fear,” the fat lady said earnestly. “Finally, I looked in the mirror. Not just in the mirror. I looked through the mirror. And in that image..." She paused, hands clasped to her chest in reverence. "...I saw my Ego Reflection.”
She said it like it was a religious experience. What’s the big deal? So you saw yourself through a mirror. Doesn‘t help you find yourself, even when you‘re inside the mirror. Look at what happened to Alice.
“For two years, I thought it was normal for a 10 year old to wet the bed,” said the next ‘survivor’. The class immediately burst into laughter. Ms. Farmer whirled, squinty little eyes ablaze.
"Sssh! Quiet!" she hissed.
"...But the solution was there all the time."
Jim Cunningham came back into the frame. "All over America, people have come together to join hands. People who believe that human life is absolutely too important, too valuable, and too precious to be controlled by Fear."
The man stepped closer into the camera until his face filled the screen. "Hello, my name is Jim Cunningham. And welcome to 'Controlling Fear'."
Donnie stared intently into Cunningham's face. Not into his face. Through it.
A dream brought you here.
Rushing water sound. A tidal wave indoors; puddling between lockers, drowning textbooks, purging biology lab chemicals. Wetting the graffiti.
Graffiti. A can of spray paint... and an axe.
[WAKE UP, DONNIE.]
The school comes into view. Huge. Looming. The cross on the tower staring down into darkened courtyards. Stronger than ever.
A dream of water. A metal head. Industrial pipelines in the beam of a flashlight. Follow the grey rabbit...
Swings the axe. Hears the blade bury itself in something. Swings again. Harder.
Something bursts. Rust flakes flying around him like dead leaves. Aerosol cans rattling hollow, leaving echoes, trailing a radioactive tongue over pavement. The hissing stops. Donnie, his head on his arm, on the couch in the living room. Eyes closed.
Rushing water sound.
October 5, 1988
25 days remaining
Donnie yawned as he listened to his sister read her school assignment to Joanie James. The bus stop gang glanced at him, noticing the hollow eyes, sallow skin. Hair slightly greasy in the thin morning air. He looked like he hadn't slept in months.
"...And the prince was led into a world of strange and beautiful magic. The end." Sam smiled proudly as Joanie gave her a thumbs up. Donnie snatched it out of her hand, read the title. “’The Last Unicorn, by Samantha Darko’,” he recited. Ronald and Sean laughed nervously as Sam jumped at him, screaming. “Donnie, give it back! You’re wrinkling it!” He gave it back. It was too nice a day for tears.
Sean looked at his watch, tapped it. “Hey, it's 7:45. The bus shoulda been here like twenty minutes ago.”
“Maybe Martha Moo finally went nuts and hijacked the bus.”
Sean began to get excited. “You know, there's this rule that we get to go home at 7:55.”
“There's no rule!”
“Fuck yeah there is!” Sean insisted. “If the bus doesn't show up in thirty minutes, you're supposed to go straight home.” He turned to Donnie for support.
Donnie nodded seriously. “Yeah... He's right. Because if we keep waiting, some guy in a van might pull up and try to molest us. And then our parents could sue the school board.”
They looked up and down the empty streets, each with hope in their heart. 7:55. No bus.
“All right! Everybody goes home!” Sean and Ronald jumped around the bus stop pole, howling.
The company started off in various directions, Samantha reluctantly stashing her homework in her backpack. Donnie looked back to the bus stop. Cherita Chen stood there, motionless. “Hey, Cherita! You should go home,” he called.
“Yeah, if you're still here and the bus comes, we'll get in trouble,” Ronald added.
Sean sneered mercilessly. “Hey, porky pig. I hope you get molested!”
The sound of sneakers on pavement approached, and they all looked around. Two Ridge girls ran towards them, cheeks flushed.
"Hey, you guys, guess what?" one said breathlessly. "My Mom said the school is closed today because it’s flooded."
Ronald was exuberant. "Holy shit! That’s the best news I’ve ever heard!"
"Know what else?” the girl said, eyes shining. “Someone took an axe to The Mutt's head! It was buried four inches in, I swear!"
"But that statue's solid bronze..."
"I know. Totally weird." The girl's voice lowered to a whisper. "And then whoever did it spray-painted ‘THEY MADE ME DO IT’ in big letters all over the grounds. The police wouldn't let us get closer than that, though."
Sean was impressed. "Woah, the guy's probably some kind of psycho!"
"How do you know it's a guy?
"Yeah, maybe it was Cherita! Hey Cherita, did you tag the school?"
Donnie lowered his eyes.
Gretchen felt them circle her, prowling. She clutched her books to her chest. Tried to block them out. One of them touched her hair and she flinched.
"Hey. Has anyone ever told you that you’re sexy?" one of them said softly. Vicious grin. He had rapist's teeth, junkie‘s eyes.
"I like your boobs."
The two guffawed. Their jeans hid knives.
She was about to respond haughtily, throat constricted. A new voice interrupted them.
"Hey. School was cancelled."
The three looked up and saw another kid standing there. Dark hair, darker eyes. The guy from English class. He was staring back and forth between them, with a kind of a frown on his face like he wasn't sure what was going on. One of her tormentors let go of her backpack strap. "Hey," she replied, surprised at how steady her voice was. "You wanna walk me home?"
The frown on his face turned into something else; she wasn't sure what it was, but relief washed through her when he said "Sure," and came towards them. Careful steps all the way. They walked out of danger together, feeling blades at their necks, boots in the side.
When they were at a safe distance away, Gretchen turned to her rescuer. "Don't look so freaked," she told him. He stared forward, slightly hunched over, hands in pockets. Tensed.
"I’m not," he said finally. "But you should check your backpack. Those guys love to steal shit."
She looked over her shoulder. "Yeah. ...Fuck! They took my ‘God is Awesome’ button.” She swivelled and flipped the bird back down the path. Praying they wouldn't come after them again. This kid at her side didn't look like he'd be much in a fight.
The lawns in this neighbourhood were still golf-course green, even though it was October. The sounds of sprinklers and garden hoses smattered the still air. Rows of houses divided the grass and blue sky. It had been pretty good weather so far.
They walked for almost a block until Donnie decided to get conversational. "So... Why'd you move here?"
Gretchen told him about her parents' divorce and her father's emotional instability.
Donnie perked up. "Oh, I have those too! What kind of emotional problems does your Dad have?"
"He stabbed my Mom four times in the chest."
She felt him falling into an awkward silence. "Oh."
A few minutes later. "...Did he go to jail?"
"No, he fled. They still can’t find him. But my Mom and I had to change our names." She smiled, to let him know it was all right, that she could talk about shit like this. "And I thought 'Gretchen Ross' was really cool."
Donnie mused, then said brightly, "I was in jail once."
Gretchen looked at him. He backtracked, adding, "I mean I accidentally burned down this house. It was abandoned, but I got held back in school and I can’t drive until I’m 21. But I’m over all of that. I... I..."
A pause. He jumped back in as if suddenly remembering. "I... I’m painting and stuff. Writing. I want to be a writer, or maybe a painter, I don’t know, or maybe both. I’ll write a book and draw the pictures. Then maybe people will understand me." He trailed off. "...Change things..."
She listened, fascinated. The words had come out in a jumble, like he was trying to say it all at once. He'd looked more animated all of a sudden. She knew that feeling.
They kept walking, the silence between them no longer strange. The sun seemed a little warmer. Gretchen waited for a moment, said with amusement, "Donnie Darko? What the hell kind of name is that? It sounds like some kind of superhero or something."
"What makes you think I’m not?"
Gretchen didn't know what to say to that.
"...Look, I'm really glad the school was flooded today," Donnie said after a while, grinning shyly. He was kind of cute when he smiled, though his eyes didn't light up much. They stopped walking.
"Why is that?"
"Because you and I would have never had this conversation."
He looked dismayed when she didn't smile back. "You're weird," she said. Frowning a little, staring him in the face. Trying to figure him from the outside in. He ducked his head, embarrassed. "Sorry."
"No, that was a compliment."
"Oh. Well..." He was about to say something else. She waited for him, patiently. A little girl down the sidewalk was skipping rope on her driveway. Vip. Vip. Vip.
"Look, er... You wanna go with me?" he said abruptly, almost apologetic.
"Where do you want to go?"
"No, I mean like ‘go’ with me," he insisted. Struggling to explain. "It's what we call it here. 'Going together'."
Finally she got it. Smiled. "Sure." Began to move off.
"Okay, I- Hey! Where are you going?"
"I'm going home!" Gretchen called back from the middle of the street. She turned away, heard him muttering to himself. "So... stupid... I'm... so..." Thinking he'd blown it.
She laughed to herself. She liked him.
"I’d like to try something new this time. Have you ever been hypnotized?"
Knocked out on the couch. Eyes closed, breathing normal.
"… and when I clap my hands twice, you will wake up. Do you understand?"
"So, tell me about your week."
"I met a girl."
"What is her name?"
"Gretchen." A faint smile. Proud. "We’re going together now."
"Do you still think about girls a lot?"
"How are things going at school?"
Wider grin. Eyelids fluttering. "I think about girls a lot."
"I asked you about school, Donnie."
"I think about fucking a lot during school."
"What else do you think about during school?"
A pause. Then, "I think about... 'Married with Children.'"
"Do you think about your family?"
"I just turn down the volume and think about fucking Christina Applegate."
"I asked you about your family, Donnie."
Hands reaching down, unzipping jeans. "No, I don’t think about fucking my family. That’s gross." Laughter. Breathing deep, steady.
"I’d like to hear about your friend, Frank."
Unzipped. Shifting on the couch. Hands reaching through his fly into...
Eyes fly open. Cheeks burn. Session over.
October 6, 1988
24 days remaining
Sam Bylen got up from his desk and picked up a piece of chalk. Wrote 'THEY MADE ME DO IT’ in large, loopy print on the blackboard, amidst the other handwriting examples of previous students. The Wall of Shame. Sam returned to his seat while the principal and police officials jotted something on their notepads.
Donnie stared into space and felt his skin going white. Tried to fade himself away. Invisible.
Gretchen gave a little wave as he got up. He didn't look back. Grabbed the chalk, scribbled the words in cramped scratches on the board. Sat back down.
The principal put a question mark next to his name.
In the bathroom, Donnie contemplated the graffiti already tainting the toilet stalls and tiling. Traced his fingers over them. Maybe someone who had 'called Josephine for a good time' or 'wuz here' could have been the culprit. Hitched up his pants, went to the sink. Heard a noise behind him.
Seth Devlin. "Hey, you fuck! Did you tell them that I flooded the school?"
Hey, you fuck. Did you try groping my girlfriend? "I didn’t say shit."
"Well, that’s not what I heard. They think I did it!"
Donnie kept his head down, watching his hands run through the water. He could feel his chest burning anyway. "Yeah, well, if you’re innocent then you have nothing to worry about, right?"
Coarse hands gripped his throat and a blade materialized in the corner of his vision. Then it vanished as Devlin held it to his neck and dragged him further into the bathroom. "Fuck you! You know what I think?"
Devlin leaned in and whispered in Donnie's ear. "I think you did it."
Donnie gagged and Devlin threw him into a hand-drying unit before disappearing. Banged his head against the wall. He leaned there, coughing, tears prickling his eyelids. Prayed that no one would walk into the bathroom, see him like this. If they came in he would yell, maybe scare them away. Wanted to scream, alone, but wouldn't give in; just held his stomach until the spasms passed. Soon, he hoped, Devlin would get run over or shot or fried in the electric chair. Not fucking likely.
[DON'T WORRY. YOU GOT AWAY WITH IT.]
He looked around for Frank's hulking, six-foot frame in the corners of the room. Nobody there. But... there, in the mirror over the sinks...
No. I took the pills last night. What's wrong with me?
Donnie gets up, pushes at the surface of the mirror. It caves inwards, then ripples out from the point of impact. Bwaump. Bwaump.
He hits it again, ecstasy and fear mounting. The whole world shimmering this time, prickles of energy shooting along the lines in his palms.
Frank stares at him from the mirror, impassively. Raises one paw, slams it against Donnie's hand on the other side of the barrier. Donnie's skin sticks against it like a suction cup, the hair on the back of his neck spiking out. The room constricts, falters. He rips away, gasping. "H-how can you do that?"
[I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT.]
[AND SO CAN YOU.]
An offer he can’t refuse. Donnie, drowning in his breath. Gaze fierce. "Why did you make me flood the school?" Questioning. Motives.
[THEY ARE IN GREAT DANGER.]
"Where did you come from?" The ground beneath threatening to collapse, the fluorescent lights dimming. Energy flowing without resistance into the barrier. Roiling stomach pressed into the sinks, forehead almost touching the liquid glass. A faint whistling sound like wind over an axe blade.
[DO YOU BELIEVE IN... TIME TRAVEL?]
A kid barged into the bathroom, stopping short when he saw Donnie at the sinks.
“Yo, man. You okay? Who’re you talking to?”
Donnie jerked back. Shirt damp from the water on the counter.
The kid watched him leave. Shook his head. Freak.
October 7, 1988
23 days remaining
Old Gun Road eventually led to the Ruins, a large area of scrub patches and rubble. Pieces of junk lay everywhere; half of a carburetor, a piece of refrigerator tubing, a swarm of candy wrappers. Occassionally one would find a used condom lying here and there among the brush; if you were lucky, a used needle. That evening, as in so many other evenings, the dry crack of a BB gun punctured the stillness. The sound of glass shattering echoed soon after. Target practice was in session.
Donnie raised the gun to his shoulder, aiming absently while listening to his friends as they discussed things on the ratty furniture behind him. They were having a typical Sean/Ron conversation, something to do with the sexual habits of Smurfs. A pellet burst open one of Sean’s empty beer bottles, the dark glass littering the ground around the partially demolished brick chimney. He reloaded.
“That’s bullshit,” Ronald snorted. “Smurfette fucks all the other Smurfs. Why do you think Papa Smurf made her? Because all the other Smurfs were getting too horny!”
“No, no, no, not Vanity. I heard he was a homo.”
Ron sighed in exasperation. “So she fucks them while Vanity watches. Okay?”
“What about Papa Smurf? He must get in on the action.”
“Yeah, he films the gang-bang. Later on, he beats off to the tape.”
Donnie coldn’t take it anymore. Sean’s eyes widened as he turned around, lowering the gun. “Donnie?”
“First of all, Papa Smurf didn’t create Smurfette. Gargamel did. She was sent in as Gargamel’s evil spy with the intention of destroying the Smurf village. But the overwhelming goodness of the Smurf way of life transformed her into the Smurfette we all know and love.
“And as for the whole gang-bang scenario; ha! It just couldn’t happen. Smurfs are asexual. They don’t even have reproductive organs under those little white pants.”
Sean and Ronald looked at him with their mouths open. Donnie barrelled blithely onwards.
“That’s what’s so illogical, you know, about being a Smurf. I mean...” Donnie took a hit of beer to illustrate his point. “...What’s the point of living if you don’t have a dick?”
His friends looked at each other. Sean threw up his hands in frustration. “Damn it, Donnie. Why do you gotta get so smart on us?”
Donnie was about to answer, when the blast of a car horn sounded in the distance. They swivelled their heads. “Grandma Death!” he exclaimed. The three boys took off running.
They watched from a slope as Ms. Farmer got out of her crappy Dodge and impatiently escorted the frail woman off the road. She was screeching to no avail. “Excuse me! Please stay off the road, Miss Sparrow. If this happens again, I am going to call Social Services!”
Ronald groaned. “Ugh, I hate that Ms. Farmer! She’s such a fucking bitch.”
“There you are, that’s a girl,” Ms. Farmer crooned as Grandma Death creaked arthritically to the safety of her porch. The gym teacher drove off in a cloud of dust.
“How old is Grandma Death, anyway?” Sean whispered as the old woman puttered around in circles. It was like watching a broken wind-up doll.
“A hundred and one.” Donnie’s friends glanced at him in disbelief. “She does the same thing every day. Just walks back and forth and back and forth to the mailbox. Nothing ever in there.”
Their eyes returned with fresh respect to the scene below. Grandma Death was wandering towards her house... Then, in mid-stride, she paused and turned back.
The three boys on the slope perked up. Sean took on the voice of a sports newscaster. “Oh, wait, wait, wait. She's going back to the box. We may still have mail.”
Ronald added his bit, chanting “Mail, mail, mail!” under his breath. They watched Grandma Death as she stretched out her arm, reached for the hatch...
...And closed it again.
“Ooooh!” the boys moaned. “No dice, Grandma.”
“Score, mailbox one, Grandma Death zero!”
Ronald took a swig of beer, burped his laughter. “Someone ought to write that bitch,” he said. Shaking his head in mock pity. They went back to their makeshift shooting range.
Donnie sat on an old footstool as Sean took up the BB. Crack. Missed.
“Hey Donnie, your folks know you took the gun out?”
“Nah, they went to that emergency PTA meeting. Fucking waste of time.”
Sean clumsily reloaded. “Pretty scary shit, though. Who do you think did it?”
“Devlin, duh,” Ronald snorted.
The guessing game went on. Ronald and Sean laughing, getting drunk, not noticing the dark stains on Donnie’s palms. Aerosol stigmata.
Rose Darko felt very much out of her element.
Parents and teachers buzzed fretfully around the auditorium, stepping on each other’s toes and shooting nervous glances at Principal Cole as he stood onstage. Newspaper headlines were traded, people not bothering to check their suspicion at the door. It was the fullest PTA meeting Middlesex Ridge had seen since one student had got himself killed in a drunk driving incident on his way to the prom. Kittie Farmer was handing out books of something to those still arriving. Eventually everyone was seated, but the palpable tension remained.
Principal Cole tapped the mike. “In cooperation with the county police, we have begun an active investigation into the cause of the flooding. We have no definitive perpetrators as of this time. However, our suspects include several of our own students-”
There was a minor torrent of whispering throughout the crowd, but no one was prepared for Kittie Farmer’s sudden outburst. She stood up in all her skinny, beady-eyed glory, brandishing a copy of the book she’d been passing out at the entrance.
“I want to know why this filth is being taught to our children!” she cried indignantly.
“That’s what I want to know!” yelled another parent, who had been flipping through it in back.
Principal Cole looked flustered. “Kitty, I would appreciate-”
“Let her speak for God’s sake!”
“If you would wait until the current matter is settled-”
Rose looked at her husband, amazed. He could only shrug in bemusement. Kittie waved the book under Cole’s nose. “Dr. Cole, not only am I a teacher, but I am also a parent of a Middlesex child. Therefore I am the only person here who transcends the Parent-Teacher Bridge!”
Cole gestured feebly. Obviously he didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.
Kittie turned to the crowd, appealing to her followers with righteous outrage. “I have in my hand Graham Greene’s ‘The Destructors’. This short story is part of my daughter’s English assignment!”
A mild uproar ensued. Cole rubbed his forehead, hiding behind his podium. Rose looked around at the angry faces surrounding her. There was something wrong. There was something she wasn’t getting here.
“...And in this story, several children destroy an elderly man’s house from inside out. And how do they do this?” The crowd knew the answer, but listened anyway. “They flood the house by breaking through a water main!!”
The noise level racked up a few notches. A few other parents got in on the act. “We pay good money for this school. It’s our children!” one yelled. The man was applauded, and he sat down, face red.
“I think that this garbage should be removed!” called another. Cries of agreement rebounded through the room, intensifying. Smothering. Rose raised her hand.
“Excuse me. What is the real issue here? The PTA doesn’t ban books-”
“The PTA is here to acknowledge that pornography is being taught in our curriculum!” Kittie retorted. Cheers from the crowd. Rose noticed one woman who was slumped in her seat, green eyes sparking. “It’s meant to be ironic,” the woman muttered. Rose guessed that she was the English teacher in disgrace.
“We have rights here!”
“Schools have a responsibility to keep their material free of-”
“If I wanted my children to read filth, I could do it at home-”
Rose raised her voice in desperation. “Kittie, do you even know who Graham Greene is?”
Kittie snorted, as if the answer was obvious. “Oh, come now, Rose. I think we have all seen ‘Bonanza’.” And with that, her head held high, Kittie was practically carried back to her seat on the shoulders of the mob; cheering, screaming. Thirsty for blood. The only things missing from the picture were torches and a library to burn.
October 8, 1988
22 days remaining
Donnie switched gears violently, throwing the Ferrari into first. The squealing tires sounded tinny as he raced through the Grand Canyon, pixellated dust billowing over the screen. He jerked the steering wheel. Out of control.
Gretchen played beside him, effortlessly sliding around a hairpin turn. Paying little attention to the game. “So when you sleepwalk, can you remember afterwards? Like, do you dream?”
“No. I just wake up and I look around, try to figure out where I am. How I got there.”
“My dad said never wake a sleepwalker... Because they could drop dead.”
He crashed, burned. The Ferrari folded into a tree. Game Over. The game offered thirty seconds to start a new race. He tried to describe the feeling.
“It's like this big force that's in your brain. But sometimes it grows bigger... it spread down into your arms and legs... and it just sends you someplace.”
She frowned. “So when you sleepwalk, you go somewhere familiar?”
“No. Every time, I wake up somewhere different. Sometimes my bike is laying there next to me. Like once when I woke up on the edge of this cliff up on Carpathian Ridge.”
“And you'd never been there before?”
Didn’t answer. Fumbled in his pocket for more quarters, gave up halfway through the attempt. She touched his arm.
“Do you ever feel as though there's always someone watching you?”
“Well... Maybe someone is giving you these dream steroids. And sleepwalking... is someone showing you the way.”
The timer reached zero, stuttering electronic klaxons reminding them their time was up. They left the arcade, arms linked. Protecting each other.
October 13, 1988
17 days remaining
"A storm is coming, Frank says.
A storm that will swallow the children
And I will deliver them from the kingdom of pain.
I will deliver the children to their doorsteps.
I will send the monsters back to the underground.
I will send them back to a place where no one can see them...
Except for me.
Because I am Donnie Darko."
After he’d finished reading his poem, Donnie hunched his shoulders. Trotted quickly back to his desk, head down. Karen Pomeroy regarded him, frowning. “Who is Frank?” she asked.
“A six-foot-tall bunny rabbit.”
The class burst into laughter. Donnie tilted his head towards Gretchen. Eyes half-closed. There was still Health class left to hurdle.
“It is time to breathe.”
“Thank you, Jim Cunningham,” said the fat woman with sacred admiration.
“Thank you, Jim Cunningham!” said the bed-wetter and his mom.
A beatific smile out of Hell filled the screen. “So now let us begin Life Line exercise number one. Please press ‘STOP’ now.”
The class watched with empty eyes as Ms. Farmer wheeled a chalkboard to the front of the room. There was a diagram drawn on it.
FEAR |_________________________| LOVE
“As you can see,” Ms. Farmer said with mushy enthusiasm, “the Life Line is divided into two polar extremes: Fear and Love. Fear is in the negative energy spectrum, and Love is in the positive energy spectrum!”
“No duh,” Sean muttered. He jumped as Ms. Farmer’s beetle eyes loomed over him, her mouth puckering down into a little anus hole. “Excuse me? ‘No duh’ is a product of Fear!” she barked.
Sean looked blank as Ms. Farmer returned to the lesson. She held up a stack of cards with pictures and words on them. She passed them around. Devlin sneered and tossed his under a chair, but Ms. Farmer pretended to ignore it.
“Now, on each card is a character dilemma which applies to the Life Line. Please read each character dilemma aloud, and place an ‘X’ on the Life Line in the appropriate place. Cherita?”
Cherita Chen lumbered to the front and read awkwardly from her card. “‘Juanita has an important math test today. She has known about the test for several weeks, but has not studied. In order to keep from failing her class, Juanita decides that she will cheat on the math test.’”
She picked up the chalk and scratched two lines on the board. Donnie examined the diagram. His chest prickled.
FEAR |____X___________________| LOVE
Ms. Farmer nodded her approval. “Very good. Mr. Darko?”
Slowly, Donnie got to his feet. His card showed a badly drawn cartoon character of unidentifiable gender and terrible fashion sense. He read the scenario quickly. “‘Ling Ling finds a wallet on the ground filled with money. She takes the wallet to the address on the driver’s license, but keeps the money inside the wallet.’”
The pressure in his chest increased. He turned to the teacher. “I’m sorry, Ms. Farmer. I don’t get this.”
Ms. Farmer blinked twice rapidly and cocked her head, like he’d just ordered a cheeseburger in Swahili. “Just place an ‘X’ on the Life Line in the appropriate place,” she instructed.
“No, I mean...” He had their attention now. All of them. “I know what to do, I just don’t get this. You can’t just lump things into two categories. Things aren’t that simple.”
Kittie’s brittle smile never wavered. “The Life Line is divided that way.”
“But life isn’t that simple. I mean, who cares if Ling Ling returns the wallet and keeps the money? It has nothing to do with either fear or love!” Donnie’s voice rose perceptibly.
It was like chipping through a brick wall with a fountain pen. Ms. Farmer just stared at him, diminishing him. Her voice and face were blank. “Fear and Love are the deepest of human emotions,” she told him smoothly, as if stating a fact. Donnie stepped back, but only an inch. He raised his hands. Trying to break through.
“Okay. But you’re not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account, like the whole spectrum of human emotion! You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then deny everything else!”
Particles in the air stood still. Ronald and Sean looked like their eyes were about to pop out of their heads. The students at the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating the final blow. Ms. Farmer was stumped. Donnie’s fingers were curled around the dilemma card, wrinkling it at the edge. The two faced each other down, until Ms. Farmer broke the staring contest.
“If you don’t complete the assignment, you’ll get a zero for the day,” she told him primly, triumph in her eyes.
Donnie took a deep breath. Appeared to compose himself. Opened his mouth...
“Donald, let me preface this by saying that your Iowa test scores are... intimidating. So let’s go over this again. What exactly did you say to Ms. Farmer?”
Rose glanced over at her son, who was slouched in his seat between her and Eddie. He was glowering at his shoes. The principal arranged papers on his desk, waited patiently for an explanation. So far it was unclear exactly what had transpired in Health class that afternoon.
Before anyone could answer, Kittie came out of her seat in the corner, apoplectic. “I’ll tell you what he said!” she cried, almost in tears. “He asked me to forcibly insert the Life Line exercise card into my anus!”
Eddie went into a thinly disguised coughing fit. Rose felt her heart sink. Principal Cole and Kittie Farmer were looking at Donnie like he was from the Black Lagoon. Quietly, she asked to be excused. They filed out of the office, Kittie with her head thrust back at an eighty-five degree angle, Eddie with his arm around Donnie’s shoulders. Her two men left the building, Eddie chortling audibly.
She went to confront Kittie Farmer, who was discussing politics with a friend. Rose asked for a private audience and the friend backed away, glancing back with a knowingly raised eyebrow. Here comes the Bad Parent. Kittie waited reluctantly, arms folded.
“They’ve suspended him from after school activities for the next six months,” Rose said softly.
Kittie said nothing.
“Ever since this jet engine fiasco, I honestly don’t know what’s gotten into him…” She gestured helplessly. Kittie sighed as a guru would to an incompetent follower.
“Rose, I’ll tell you this because our daughters have been on the dance team together for two years, and I respect you as a woman. But after witnessing your son’s behaviour this afternoon, I have significant doubts about your-”
She must have seen the expression on Rose’s face and backed off. “Our paths through life must be righteous!” she pleaded instead, wrinkled hands clasped to her non-existent bosom. “I urge you to go home and look in the mirror, and pray that your son doesn’t succumb to the path of Fear!”
Donnie wandered into his new bedroom, feeling faintly sick and wanting to lie down. The weeks of construction following The Incident had given him a constant headache. Instead he found Elizabeth sitting on his bed, yakking into her cell phone. He stood by silently and listened to her.
“Wait. Do you remember that weird gym teacher, Ms. Farmer?” Elizabeth saw him and winked. “Yeah. Okay, well, my brother told her to shove a book up her ass today. And then my parents just bought him all this new shit.”
Elizabeth got up, shooting him a pointed look before turning into the hallway.
“Yeah, I know. I wish a jet engine would fall in my room.”
October 14, 1988
16 days remaining
[I CAN SHOW YOU THE WAY.]
Kenneth Monnitoff stacked textbooks in the dusty light of the classroom windows, shadows billowing in and out of his vision as students got up to leave for the day. A group of girls passed his desk, sneaking looks at him and erupting into giggling fits. “...so cute...” he heard Joanie shriek down the hall. Kenneth didn’t look up from his textbooks, but allowed himself a faint glow of pleasure. Not bad for a physics teacher. Smarts, good looks, and a beautiful girlfriend by his side...
He raised his head. Saw Donnie Darko standing there, looking uncomfortable. Kenneth smiled reassuringly. “Donnie,” he greeted. “How can I help you?”
“Um... I know is gonna sound kind of weird, but... Do you know anything about time travel?”
Kenneth raised his eyebrows. Through the clouded classroom window, he could see a darkened figure standing just outside the door. Earmuffs raised to eavesdrop.
Ten minutes later...
“...a wormhole with an Einstein-Rosen bridge, which is theoretically a wormhole in space controlled by man. So, according to Hawking, a wormhole may be able to provide a shortcut for jumping between two distant regions of space-time.” Kenneth leaned on the desk, really getting into it now. He tapped Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’, which he admitted he used more than the Bibles the school passed out every year.
Donnie picked up the thread and ran with it. “So in order to travel back in time, you have to have a big spaceship or something that can travel faster than the speed of light?”
“And be able to find one of these wormholes?”
“The basic principles of time travel are there. You’ve got your vessel and your portal, and your vessel could be just about anything; most likely a spacecraft...”
Donnie looked excited. “Like a DeLorean?”
Kenneth smiled, shrugged. “A metal craft of any kind.”
“I love that movie, the way they shot it. It’s so... futuristic, you know?”
The boy’s enthusiasm was catching. Kenneth decided to do him a favour. Bent down, rummaged in his book bag. Retrieved a slim volume, bound in red cloth. Leaned forward.
“Listen... Don’t tell anybody that I gave you this,” he said, lowering his voice. “The woman who wrote this used to teach here. She was a nun many years before that, but then- overnight, it seems- she became this entirely different person. She up and left the church and wrote this book.”
He passed it over like it was the Holy Grail. Donnie took it reverently, running his fingers over the gold embossed letters in the cover. “The Philosophy of Time Travel, by... Roberta Sparrow?” Donnie looked up in astonishment. Kenneth nodded.
Donnie flipped the pages in awe.
“What does philosophy have to do with time travel?” Elizabeth asked flippantly over dinner that evening. Donnie had just finished showing his family the book, but nobody seemed to be taking it seriously. He covered the author’s name, daring them to guess who wrote it. Eddie took the volume, peered at the cover.
“Who- Roberta Sparrow?!” He let out a surprised breath of air. “Huh! She wrote a book?”
Donnie nodded, more energetic than Rose had ever seen him. “Yep. Grandma Death wrote a book.” Almost proud, for some reason.
“Grandma Death is a terrible nickname.”
“We almost hit her with the car the other day,” Donnie said without thinking. Eddie glanced up from the book, eyes shifting.
“She lives up there in that piece of crap house and you know she’s loaded,” sighed Rose. Shook her head, sipped red wine.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Eddie added with relief. “She used to be known for her gem collection. Kids used to go up there all the time and try and steal stuff from her. She became a total recluse.” He tapped ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’ in wonderment. “I didn’t even know she was alive till we damn near knocked her down the other day.”
Donnie took back the volume and slid it into his backpack. “I guess she just lost faith in the world...” he murmured.
October 16, 1988
14 days remaining
Agitated. Constant shifting. Clearly distressed about something.
“She was just standing there in the middle of the road, frozen. So I got out of the car and I walked over to her to see if she was okay. And she... leaned over and whispered in my ear.”
“What did she say?”
Resignation? Unclear. Looking up into random corners of the room. Restless.
“I think Frank wants me to go talk to her, because the last time I saw him he asked me if I knew about time travel. And she wrote a book about it, so that can’t be a coincidence. Right?”
Desires reassurance. A lost look.
“Donnie, what did Roberta Sparrow say to you?”
“She said that... Every living creature on Earth dies alone.”
Eyes darkening. Slumped in his seat.
“How did that make you feel?”
A faraway look. Remembering. “It reminded me of my dog, Callie. She died when I was eight... She crawled underneath the porch.”
Convinced. “To be alone.”
“Do you feel alone right now?”
Lost again. Gesturing futilely. “...I don’t know... I mean, I’d like to believe I’m not, but I just... I’ve just never seen any proof so... I just don’t debate it any more.” Voice stronger. “It’s like I could spend my whole life debating it over and over again, weighing the pros and cons, and in the end I still wouldn’t have any proof. So I just don’t debate it any more. It’s absurd.” With finality. Hands collapse in lap, gaze straightforward. Pain.
“The search for God is absurd?”
The patient’s eyes glisten.
“It is if everyone dies alone.” Sorrow.
“Does that scare you?”
“...I don’t want to be alone.” Agony.
“...And it has been a disappointing night indeed for these Super Bowl champions...”
“...You’re right Dan. Coach Joe Gibbs is on the sidelines, water dripping off his glasses, but he’s gotta be thinking ‘What happened? What went wrong tonight?’...”
The images of burly men playing football was briefly obscured by Samantha, who was skipping in a circle around the room. She disappeared into the kitchen while Eddie swore at the television. “Shit, we need a quarterback.”
“And a miracle,” added Dr. Fisher, who had brought his son over to watch the big game.
“We need to go for a safety,” Ronald insisted.
Donnie dozed in the halfway zone between sleep and awake. The sports announcers sounded fuzzy and disconnected.
“Mark Rypien certainly has some big shoes to fill, that’s for certain.”
“He sure does. So what does the future hold for this Super Bowl MVP...”
Donnie turns to his left and to his amazement, there’s a spear protruding from his Dad’s chest. A big, liquid, spear-shaped soap bubble, iridescent with otherworldly colours.
The spear suddenly elongates; and in the seconds following, Eddie Darko grunts and stands up.
“You guys want anything?”
“I’m gonna get a beer.”
The spear stretches impossibly long, reaching into the kitchen. Eddie follows the path it makes until he gets to the fridge, where the spear collapses back into his chest. ‘Vote Dukakis’ is the new fridge board memo. Eddie snorts and the spear ripples faintly. It floats back to Eddie’s seat, Eddie trailing behind moments later. Nobody seems to notice except Donnie.
“Darrel Green again with a display of amazing speed…”
Another spear comes into view, this time a jagged waveform shape. It disappears back into Samantha’s body as she skips into it, and both spear and girl vanish into the kitchen. She’s singing tunes from ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
“Follow the yellow brick road...”
“First down and 10...”
“Good evening ladies and ghouls. Join us at the Middlesex Pavilion Hall for the Middlesex Halloween Haunt...”
Donnie feels something separate in himself, a dissolution of space and time. His own spear, growing out of his chest like a scene from ‘Alien’. He laughs, watching it rise from his body into the air, turning to beckon him with one long shimmering finger...
He follows his guide up the stairs to his parents’ bedroom. The spear hovers near the closet, pulsing with the rate of his own heartbeat. He opens the closet doors, kneels down. Finds a shoebox. Within the box, an object wrapped in greasecloth. Inside the cloth is a handgun.
A present? For me? You shouldn’t have. The spear shrinks, back into his chest, an invisible presence...
Eddie looked up as Donnie came back downstairs. “Where were you? You missed the kick-off.”
Donnie shrugged and took the Cheezies Ronald was proffering. “Bathroom.”
Samantha skipped by the TV again. “The sooner you get out of Oz altogether, the safer you'll sleep, my dear,” she said...
October 18, 1988
12 days remaining
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The sound of bodies hitting the floor of the gas chambers, Karen thought dismally, watching each student drop their Graham Greene books on her desk. Donnie was last to come up, letting the book dangle from his fingers before letting go.
She turned to retrieve another box of novels from the corner of the classroom. When she turned around, she saw Donnie slipping something into his backpack. Obviously, he wasn’t quite finished with Graham.
“It gives me no pleasure to deny you the right to read one of the great writers of the twentieth century. But, alas, I have not yet been elected Queen of the Universe. And until that day, I will be forced to obey the rules... And so will you.”
A few of the students groaned. Even the ones who hadn’t completed their reading assignments.
“If anyone is found carrying this book in school, they will be suspended.” Karen suddenly smiled, letting her students in on the great conspiracy. “But let's not worry. Someone has already pre-ordered several dozen copies at Sarasota Mall Waldenbooks.” Donnie looked as if he would cheer. “Now, in Mr. Greene's absence, we will be reading another classic: Richard Adams' ‘Watership Down‘.”
She dug into the cardboard box and began handing out copies. Beth Farmer’s eyes lit up when she saw the cover. “Awww. Bunnies!”
Karen whispered in Donnie’s ear as she rounded his desk. “Maybe you and Frank can read this one together.”
His face told her it wasn’t entirely a joke.
After school, Gretchen and Donnie traversed the forested borders of the Sarasota Country Heights golf course, ducking instinctively whenever they heard a “Fore!” echo through the trees. Dead leaves made loud their footsteps, reminding Donnie of the way his house’s roof had sounded under the feet of the construction crew. How long ago had that been? The crunch of brick and wood underfoot. The smell of plaster. Then the hotel room, the endless news reports...
He shook his head to clear it of memories. It seemed like a million years ago; a jet engine from the sky, almost crushing him as he slept. Even the news stations seemed to think it was getting old. There were still a few overly-suspicious neighbours convinced it was some sort of conspiracy, but the FAA had retreated from the scene and life had returned pretty much to normal.
And he had Gretchen now. This girl at his side, who thought being weird was a compliment, who gave the finger to shiv-carrying maniacs. Who was smart and, to him, beautiful, who could think deep thoughts and didn’t mind that her boyfriend was crazy. He couldn’t stop himself from feeling that maybe all was right in the universe, that everything would be okay from now on...
I’d give anything for that to be the truth for once.
He flinched as an airplane roared overhead, dispersing its trail into the clouds. Gretchen was talking to him. “...Babies cry because they're afraid of the dark. And because they have no memories, for all they know every night could be the last forever. Like, perpetual darkness. Could you imagine?...”
“Why not just buy your baby a night light?”
“That's not good enough,” she said firmly. “You've got to go back in time and take all those hours of darkness and pain and replace them... With whatever you wanted.” She spread out her arm, tilted her face skyward. “With something better.”
“Like images, or what?” The way the sunlight came through her brown hair was distracting.
“Yeah, like a Hawaiian sunset, or the Grand Canyon. Just things that remind you of how beautiful the world can-”
He could stand it no longer. “Look, we’ve been going together for like two weeks.”
Gretchen stopped walking and looked at him. “Yeah?”
“Well, I, er...”
She just stood there, watching him stumble. Then she said “Do you want to kiss me?”
Donnie took that as an offer and gratefully, clumsily, leaned towards her. To his horror he felt her backing up, her hands pressing gently against his chest. His face fell in despair.
“I... I’m sorry...”
“Look, Donnie. Wait.”
“It‘s just that-”
“I just want it to be-”
“I like you a lot, and-”
“-at a time when it...” Gretchen faltered. Spoke to the leaf-littered ground.
“When it reminds you how beautiful the world can be?” he said, getting it. She nodded.
“Yeah. And right now there’s some fat guy over there staring at us.”
They turned their heads. The jogger in the red tracksuit smothered his cigarette, adjusted his sunglasses and stalked back into the undergrowth.
Donnie sighed internally. The moment had been ruined, popped like a soap bubble. Maybe next time.
After he dropped Gretchen off at her house, Donnie wandered around the neighbourhood, thinking. His head had started to hurt recently. He was popping pills like a madman, but nothing worked. Maybe he was crazy because of a cancerous tumour in his brain. If it swelled big enough, his head would explode.
He played with the fantasy, tweaking it. Frank’s warning about the end of the world. Twenty-eight days... Maybe that was the amount of time he had left to live. His unconscious mind was sending him subliminal messages in the form of a six-foot talking rabbit, telling him his biological clock was running out of time. He imagined himself running into Ms. Farmer’s class on the last day of his life, screaming ‘Ms. Farmer, your stupid exercises make my head want to fucking explode!” Then boom...
He felt something under his sneaker as he stepped on it. Looked around, dropped to the sidewalk. It was somebody’s wallet. He rifled through it; credits cards, spare change, lottery ticket. Donnie pulled out a piece of ID.
JIM CUNNINGHAM 42 POWDERHAM DRIVE MIDDLESEX, VA 23113.
[NOW YOU KNOW WHERE HE LIVES...]
A nearby lawn sprinkler was soaking his pants leg, but he barely noticed. He made a quick scan of the area, made sure nobody was watching. Pocketed the wallet.
Elizabeth reached into a decent-sized pumpkin, scooped out its innards and dumped them on the newspaper. Donnie noted the date. “The 18th?” he asked. “That’s today’s paper. Dad’s gonna be pissed.”
Elizabeth shrugged, deciding not to take the bait. “So I hear you have a girlfriend,” she said non-committedly.
“What’s her name?”
Donnie looked away from the pumpkin he was carving. Suspicious. “You're not gonna tell Mom, are you?”
“Why would I tell Mom?”
“Because you tell Mom everything,” he said accusingly. Elizabeth looked defensive. “No I don't,” she said. Then, relenting. “She worries about you.”
He went back to his pumpkin, slower with the knife this time. “Well, don't worry. I'm taking my medication.” Not that it’s helping any.
His sister shook her head. “It's not that. I mean mouthing off to your teachers. I'll admit, when Dad told me what you said to Ms. Farmer, I laughed my ass off.”
They grinned at each other. “I was just being honest,” Donnie said.
“Yeah... Well, that's not the way the world works. If you keep being too honest, the world will eventually find a way to destroy you.”
The sounds of metal on pumpkin flesh dominated the kitchen for the next few moments. Just when Elizabeth thought the conversation had ended, Donnie gave in.
“Her name is Gretchen.”
“That's a nice name,” she approved. Tapped her brother’s Jack-O-Lantern. “Okay, let me see it.”
With the faintest trace of pride, Donnie swivelled the pumpkin around to face her. Gaping eye sockets met her gaze, a scowling mass of laborious line work taking up the lower half of the face. The teeth were large, deformed. Like a rabbit that had eaten too many spiked carrots. It looked hideous... In a good way. “That’s really scary,” she admitted.
Now it’s the parents’ turn to feel gravity pulling at them from the therapist’s couch. Sitting uncomfortably, faced with someone who may know more about their son than they do.
More than they want to.
The mother speaks first. Eyes saying more than her mouth. “Thank you for seeing us at such late notice. We both felt it was time for us to come in and discuss...”
“What I think is going on with your son?”
“Yes. Well, he’s... Erm... You know about his past, and recently he was suspended from school for insulting his gym teacher.” A strange look. The challenge of a mother to criticize her parenting.
The father defends the son. “Well, I’m not really sure that’s a good example, Rose. I think he had just cause to insult her.”
“Let me just lay out what I believe is happening here.” Papers rustle. They sit up straighter. “Donnie’s aggressive behaviour, and his increased detachment from reality, seem to stem from his inability to cope with the forces in the world he perceives to be threatening.”
Try again. “...Has he ever told you about his friend Frank?”
Heads shake. “Frank?”
“Yes, the giant bunny rabbit.”
Twin headlights. “The what?”
The mother. This is death for her. “I don’t recall him ever having mentioned a rabbit...”
“Donnie is experiencing what is commonly called a ‘daylight hallucination’.” The bombshell drops. Hits tarmac, bursts flesh. “This is a common occurrence among paranoid schizophrenics.”
Panic. “W-what can we do?”
“I would like to do more hypnotherapy, and increase his medication.”
Clutching each other in an embrace born of helplessness. Cornered. At the mercy of this woman and her magic pills. Like children, again.
Voice breaking like water over sharp rocks. “Whatever will help him, really... Be...because that’s why we’re here. We just would like him to experience some relief. So, ah, if you think that more medication will do that, then...” A frightened shrug. “...then I think we should give it a try.”
Fear sets slowly, like concrete drying.
He looks wildly at his reflection, which warps under his gaze like a butterfly pinned to a board. Did the hydrochloride dance, the propanalol twist... The steps get faster, can’t keep up. There’s a butcher knife in his hand. Can’t remember how it got there. His mind a narrow tunnel, blocking out all but the darkness at the end.
Frank’s standing behind his reflection in the mirror. Donnie twitches. Murderous. Dead on his feet. He turns, lunges with the knife.
Blade hits liquid air. The knife rebounds, vibrating in his hand, sending tremors down Donnie’s arm. His thoughts are a mass of barbed wire and vein networks, exploding fireworks in his head. Puppet syndrome. His arm stings but he goes for Frank’s face again, bwoump, bwoump, each blow striking a pinprick of light into a milky grey eye
Frank tilts his head down, as if in pain. Donnie grits his teeth. Is he faking it? Goes for the right eye again, all the energy in his arm now, striking the barrier with a rapidly dulling knife. The point of light in Frank’s eye wound increases. Blinding both of them. The sound of crystal glass being struck by a red Trans Am driven by Smurfs, past Grandma Death’s house, please, my head really hurts now...
October 19, 1988
11 days remaining
Jim Cunningham leapt onstage, with a grin as big and full of shit as all-outdoors. He grabbed the auditorium mike and opened his mouth into it like a rock star. “Go-o-o-od morning, you Mongrels!”
A few students mumbled back. Cunningham cupped his hands to his ear, leaned into the audience. “Is that all the gusto you can mustah?!” he cried, pumping his fist like a lunatic. “I ssssaid... GOOD MORNING!!”
More students joined in. “Good morning!”
Jim nodded. “Now that’s a tiny bit better. But I can still sense some students out there who are actually Afraid to say good morning!”
The kids bellowed back. “GOOD MORNING!!”
On the sidelines, Principal Cole nodded his approval. Donnie sank in his seat, lips sealed shut. Tried to send Jim a telepathic message. I know where you live, asshole. I’ve got power over you. I’ve got you by the balls. Who’s gonna save you from me? A fucking Life Line exercise?
Jim appeared not to have received the message. “Yeah, that’s what I like to hear!” he enthused. “Because entirely too many young men and women today are completely paralysed by their Fears. They surrender their bodies to the temptation and destruction of Drugs, Alcohol, and Premarital Sex.” Some kids laughed at this.
“Now, I’m going to tell you a little story today. It’s a heartbreakingly sad story about a young man whose life was completely destroyed by these instruments of Fear. A young man, searching for Love in all the wrong places.” Jim turned to the projection screen beside him, flourished dramatically. Another badly drawn cartoon character appeared, clearly stoned to the gills. Jim read the caption beside it.
“His name... was Frank.”
The auditorium lights go down, then return to their normal level of brightness. But someone’s taken all the sound out of the room. Donnie feels like he’s underwater... He’s not breathing, he’s...
“Are you okay?” Gretchen’s concerned face.
“...Yeah. My head just kind of hurts.”
Jim was inviting students up to the floor mike to discuss ‘common indications of Fear-based lifestyles’ with him. A girl in Donnie’s English class skipped up and said into the mike, “Hi. Like, I sometimes worry that my stepsister eats too much.”
“Shut up, Kim!”
“Sweetheart, sweetheart, please,” Jim soothed.
The next kid was a tall, gangly jock. “How can I decide what I want to be when I grow up?”
Jim tutted. “That’s a hard one.”
“What do I do to learn how to fight?” asked a diminutive boy fiercely.
Jim shook his head sadly. “‘What can I do to learn how to fight’, he says. Son, Violence is a product of Fear! Learn to truly Love yourself.”
The kid thought for a moment. “Okay.”
“Get yerself up here!” said Jim, pulling him onto the stage with the others. “All right... Anybody else?”
Gretchen started as Donnie left his seat. There was a strange intensity surrounding him today, radiating from him like heat waves off a parking lot in summer. She watched curiously as he addressed Jim Cunningham. “Good morning.”
“Good morning!” Jim bellowed.
Donnie fidgeted at his post like a kid in a candy shop, hands jammed in his pockets. He seemed ready to burst into laughter at any moment. Unstable. “Hi, um... How much are they paying you to be here?”
Principal Cole uncrossed his arms.
Jim looked flustered. “Uh... Excuse me?”
“What is your name, son?”
“Well, Gerald, I think you’re Afraid,” Jim said seriously, with all the solemnity of a doctor pronouncing his diagnosis.
“Are you telling us this stuff so we can buy your book? Because if you are, that was some of the worst advice I ever heard.”
Jim looked around the room, eyes wide. “Do you see how sad this is?” he implored the audience.
Donnie ignored him. “You want your sister to lose weight? Tell her to get off the couch, stop eating Twinkies, and maybe go out for field hockey!”
Gasps from the crowd, most of them members of staff. Students started laughing. Spurred, Donnie blasted forth. “You know what? No one ever knows what they want to be when they grow up. It takes a little while to find that out. Right, Jim?” Jim didn’t answer.
“And you...” Donnie turned slowly to the short kid, eyes flashing. The kid looked cornered, pointed at himself. “Yeah, you. Sick of some jerk shoving your head down the toilet? Than maybe you should lift some weights or take a karate lesson.” He took his hand out of his pocket and made a fist overhead. “And the next time he tries to do it, you kick him in the balls!”
More gasping, drowned out by laughter from the student body. Even the short kid was smiling. Jim raised the mike, tried to regain control. He chuckled. The condescending little creep chuckled. “Son. Do you see this? This is an Anger Prisoner!”
Out of the corner of her eye, Gretchen spotted the principal heading towards Donnie, goaded on by staff members.
Jim circled the stage, arm extended in Donnie’s direction. “A textbook example. Do you see the Fear, people? This boy is scared to death of the Truth!”
To Gretchen’s horror, adults in the crowd began nodding their heads. She saw the distrust in their eyes, the pretension, the constructed sympathy. She wanted to shake them by the throats but couldn’t move from her seat.
“Son, it breaks my heart to say this, but I believe you are a very Troubled and Confused young man. I believe you are searching for answers in all the wrong places.” Principal Cole had gotten his second wind and was now halfway to the mike. But he was too late.
Donnie laughed, and it sounded bitter. “You’re right, actually. I am pretty troubled and I’m pretty confused. And I’m afraid. Really really afraid. But I...” He paused, throat suddenly dry. “...I think you’re the fucking Antichrist.”
Principal Cole’s hand closed around Donnie’s upper arm. “Let’s go.”
Students began whistling and cheering, treating Donnie’s expulsion from the room like a Royal procession. Applause rang throughout the auditorium. Someone, a teacher, yelled “Get him out of here! Who do you think you are?!” but he was drowned out by the voices that surrounded Donnie, lifting him up for just an instant, buoying him like a crowd surfer. The double doors slammed behind them, cutting them off, and he was back on Earth.
He sat in the outer office while Cole phoned his parents. The smirk lingering on his face.
“It’s amazing. The man thinks he’s telling the truth and everything he says is just a fucking lie! Everything!” Donnie steamed amidst his diatribe, pacing back and forth in front of the broken chimney stack. Gretchen tracked his movements without comment.
“Everyone think he’s so rad. He’s such a fucking chud. Everything he does-”
Gretchen finally spoke. “Are you okay?”
“Sit down,” she said, touching his arm. “Calm down.” He came over to sit beside her in the Ruins, breathing hard. Hunched over, brooding. She saw his shoulders sag.
“You ever hear of Grandma Death?” he asked from nowhere.
Donnie handed her a slim volume from his backpack. Gretchen examined it. “‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’,” she read aloud. “What is this?”
“She wrote it. Grandma Death wrote it,” Donnie said wearily, running his hands through his hair. About to confess. “I’m... I’ve been seeing stuff. Like, a lot of really messed up stuff. And there are chapters in that book that describe the stuff I’ve been seeing. And it can’t just be a coincidence. It can’t...”
Gretchen stared at him, this boy she had found. Suddenly finding herself unable to understand. She wrapped herself in her arms, inexplicably frightened, forgetting he was there.
October 20, 1988
10 days remaining
“Well, each vessel travels along a vector though space-time, along its centre of gravity,” Kenneth explained. His hand hovered, unsure of how to communicate it visually. Let it go.
“Like a spear?” Donnie asked.
Kenneth blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
Donnie grabbed the rainbow Slinky Kenneth had been using to demonstrate wormholes with. He placed it against his chest, stretched it away from him. “Like a spear that comes out of your chest.”
“Um... sure.” The kid sure had a vicious imagination. His questions seemed more than curiosity today. They had an aura of urgency around them that Kenneth could not identify. “And in order for the vessel to travel through time, it’s got to find a portal- Or in this case, a wormhole.”
“Could these portals just appear anywhere, anytime?”
“I think that’s highly unlikely. No, I think what you’re talking about is... An act of God.”
Kenneth was surprised by his own choice of words, but Donnie steamrolled over it like he knew it was coming. “So if God controls time, then all time is pre-decided!”
“I’m not following you.”
Donnie made an exasperated noise. He reminded Kenneth of an old professor he’d once had, whose ideas and thoughts came so fast and furiously that conversing with him was like trying to outrun a bullet train. People whose heads were too full for mere mortals to keep up with. “Every living thing follows along a set path. And if you could see your path or channel, then you could see into the future, right? That’s a form of time travel. Right?”
Kenneth leaned back in his chair. “Well, you’re contradicting yourself, Donnie. If we were able to see out destines manifest themselves visually, then we would be given a choice to betray our chosen destinies. And the mere fact that this choice exists would make all pre-formed destiny come to an end-”
“-But not if you travel within God’s channel,” Donnie interrupted triumphantly. Kenneth hesitated. “What’s wrong?”
“...I’m not going to be able to continue this conversation.”
Donnie was taken aback. “Why?”
Kenneth smiled weakly. “I could lose my job.”
The two stood in the empty classroom. Donnie took the Slinky from around his neck and carefully placed it on top of Hawking’s book, which lay undisturbed on the desk top. Nodded. “Okay.”
Kenneth watched the boy leave, suddenly fearful.
“...And they grow out of our chest... Our solar plexus...”
It’s everyone’s turn on the couch eventually. Even the therapist herself. Fingers run over the diagrams, the meticulous anatomical descriptions. Chapter headings.
The Tangent Universe.
Water and Metal.
The Artifact and the Living.
The Living Receiver.
The Manipulated Living.
The Manipulated Dead.
Urgent, erratic movements. On the edge of his seat. “Just like she described in the book; the way they moved, the way they smelled. It’s like they’re workers. Assigned to each one of us. They’re like liquid.”
Pause. Then, confidential. “I followed it into my parents’ bedroom.”
“What did you find?”
October 21, 1988
9 days remaining
“...So we call them IMGs,” Donnie explained, gesturing to their project poster. “Infant Memory Generators.” The poster: An open-mouthed baby, eyes obscured by a pair of rectangular glasses. He’d drawn it in soft charcoal, taking inspiration from the clunky 3D goggles that were once such a fad. “The idea is that you buy these glasses for your infant and they wear them at night when they sleep.”
Gretchen nodded beside him, adding “But inside the glasses are these slide photographs. And each photograph is of something peaceful or beautiful; whatever the parents want to put inside.”
Dr. Monnitoff popped Sweet Tarts like pills. Donnie blinked, a momentary lapse. “And what effect do you think this would have on an infant?” Monnitoff asked.
“Well, the thing is, nobody remembers their infancy. Anyone who says they do is lying. So we think this will help develop memory earlier in life.”
“And did you stop and think that maybe infants need darkness? That maybe darkness is part of their natural development?”
Donnie and Gretchen looked at each other, stumped. At the back of the class, Seth raised a languid hand. “No...” Gretchen started.
Seth snapped killer’s fingers impatiently. Monnitoff pointed at him. “Yeah.”
“What if the parents like put in pictures of Satan? Or dead people? Crap like that,” Seth asked with a toxic smile. His gang-banger pal Ricky leered beside him.
Gretchen’s voice quavered. “Is that what you’d show your kids?” she demanded.
Ricky shrugged dimly. “Well... Didn’t your Dad, like, stab your Mom?”
Seth made plunging motions in the air with his fist. “Ree! Ree! Ree!” Psycho music.
“Get out.” Kenneth pointed to the door. Donnie looked at Gretchen, whose eyes were as lost and distant as he usually felt these days.
After school, Donnie had to pound pavement to keep up with her. He caught her at the bottom of the steps, her face hidden by her hair. He gasped out an apology for everyone on the planet. The whole universe.
“Gretchen! I’m sorry, Gretchen. I’m sorry about those guys. They’re fu-”
Her hands grabbed the back of his head and held him there while her mouth came up to his. They kissed, and the world collapsed around them as Donnie held her, fully expecting liquid spears to fly out of their chests and pin them to that moment.
“Donnie, are you coming to my talent show tomorrow?”
Donnie kept his eyes on his baked potatoes. Rose interjected. “He can’t, Samantha. He’s been suspended from after-school activities.”
“Way to go,” Elizabeth said without looking up. Rose shushed her. Turned to her son.
“Donnie, are you still with us?” Stopped. Dared to ask the other question. “How was your therapy session tonight?”
“Fine. You know, Dr. Thurman isn’t so bad a lady.” Donnie smiled inwardly, twisting the knife. “I can tell her anything.”
Rose’s eyes widened. She put down her cutlery, moved for the wine again. Eddie made as if to stop her, looked down at his food instead. Silence round the table once again. Relentless.
The Middlesex Ridge talent show was in full sway. The auditorium stage glistened with tinsel and construction paper, courtesy of Ms. Farmer‘s nearly obsessive devotion to her dance troupe‘s success. The shining eyes in the audience all belonged to the parents; the students were mostly bored. A chubby talent scout sat in the front row with an evaluation sheet on her lap, humourlessly watching the performers with a razor eye.
Cherita Chen’s heavy body moved almost gracefully across the stage. Clad in a white dress, face dark with stage makeup. A listless Robin Perry tossed fake leaves into a fan, where they swirled about Cherita’s silent dance; a reasonable approximation of a fall wind. Elevator music drifted from the speakers.
Karen Pomeroy watched with interest. Cherita spun slowly with a faraway gaze, no longer bound to Middlesex Ridge. It was Cherita without her earmuffs to block out the world, without a single ‘chut up!’ in her limited arsenal of defence. As far as she was concerned, her feet were not touching the ground.
The performance ended. The audience applauded like automatons, or out of sympathy. “Poor girl. That dress did absolutely nothing to hide her figure,” one girl whispered to her friend. Seth Devlin cat-called down the bleachers. “Get off the stage, Cherita!” Principal Cole turned, glared ineffectually.
Cherita fled offstage, and Jim Cunningham took her place. “Now that was really something. Thank you, Cherita Chen, with ‘Autumn Angel’.”
He raised his arms as the curtains were pulled back to reveal a sparkling silver display. “And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for is here...”
In the wings, Kittie Farmer tugged at her dance troupe’s glittering costumes; removing bits of fluff and surplus sequins, straightening frills, all the while giving her version of a pep talk. “Now girls, I want you to concentrate. Failure is not an option. And Bethany, if you feel the need to vomit up there... Just swallow it.”
Cunningham continued. “...It is my very distinct pleasure to introduce you to Emily Bates, Suzy Bailey, Samantha Darko, Beth Farmer, and Joanie James. They are... Sparkle Motion.” Jim did one of his trademark flourishes and stepped away from the mike. The house lights went down, came back blue. Duran Duran’s ‘Notorious’ crawled up from the depths as the girls walked onstage...
Rose clasped Eddie’s hand as they watched their youngest daughter’s performance. Elizabeth screamed like she was at a heavy metal concert. “Go Sparkle Motion!!” she yelled. A woman below them turned around and shushed angrily.
For a moment, they were all one big family unit. Then Rose remembered, her happiness flickering. Despite herself, she found herself wondering what her son was doing...
Donnie sits in a darkened movie theatre with Gretchen Ross on his arm. Pepsi stains on the carpet floor, discarded ticket stubs littering the aisles. The girl is asleep. Flickering light plays across her features. The Evil Dead on the immense viewing screen, first part of the double-bill Halloween Frightmare. Ash J. Williams and his friends are travelling to a remote cabin deep in the woods. Little do they know what horrible secrets await them.
He feels a quiet steal over him. Resists. Can’t. Looks over Gretchen’s head and sees his old buddy Frank, a Harvey from Hell. In his presence Donnie feels like a child. Grins foolishly.
“Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?”
Frank turns his head slowly.
[WHY ARE YOU WEARING THAT STUPID MAN SUIT?]
Donnie’s playful expression turns hunted. The paranoia is back in his eyes. “Take it off,” he whispers.
Frank obeys, lifting the metal headpiece from his head.
“What happened to your eye?” A gutted socket stares at the movie screen. Frank whispers.
[I‘M SO SORRY.]
It looks like Frank is weeping blood. Donnie’s own eyes fill with tears. He struggles with the words as they flit across his mindscape. Evasive. Irrelevant. “Why do they call you Frank?”
[IT IS THE NAME OF MY FATHER... AND HIS FATHER BEFORE ME.]
Donnie’s breath sobs in his throat, the screen above blurring into blobs of light. He chokes on his question, head in agony.
“Frank?” Still a child. “When’s this going to stop?”
[YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW THAT.]
Donnie’s fear unexpectedly gives way to a giggle. He does know. That’s what’s so hilarious.
[I WANT YOU TO WATCH THE MOVIE SCREEN. THERE‘S SOMETHING I WANT TO SHOW YOU.]
Above the their heads, the seated and dispossessed, The Evil Dead gives way to an immense hole. It fills the middle of the screen, opens into the sky. Light streams into the theatre. It’s the best special effect Donnie has ever seen. Gretchen does not wake up.
Frank’s voice takes on a guttural reverb. His handsome face, dark hair falling across one high cheek like a shadow on sand, looks up at the hole. As if he himself is in awe.
[HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A PORTAL?]
They watch as the hole widens, taking Donnie’s breath away. The screen disintegrates into a window, looking out onto a manor of a house. Too clear to be a projection. They gaze upon Jim Cunningham’s Tudor home. Frank’s voice is immense, a living thing. It fills Donnie’s ears like water. He can hear nothing else.
[BURN IT TO THE GROUND.]
Donnie pulls up his hood, leaving his face in shadow. Silently slips out of the theatre, looks back. Frank’s not there. Knows Gretchen will be taken care of.
The marquee lights watch him leave. Halloween Frightmare double-bill. The Evil Dead. The Last Temptation of Christ.
Gretchen woke to the sound of popcorn crunching. She blinked sleepily through her eyelashes. The credits were rolling. She turned her head, saw Donnie at her side. Smiled at him. “How long was I asleep for?”
They kissed again. Donnie smelling of gasoline.
October 22, 1988
8 days remaining
The air was getting drier, more snappish. The green of the lawns in their neighbourhood was fading, replaced with the more seasonal crimson and bronze. The skies were darkening sooner and sooner. Shadows coming early. As if the world was getting ready to close its eyes and sleep forever.
Donnie and his father were up at eleven, raking leaves onto a large tarp. They had to hurry, or the next gust of wind would undo all their work. Donnie scraped furiously at the ground, working up a sweat. Eddie watched him curiously from the corner of his eye. His son was filling out nicely. A little on the thin side, but no wimp. Be quite a package for the young ladies. He grinned to himself, recalling fond memories of meeting Rose for the first time. Woodstock, barefoot in the mud, smoking...
“I know everyone thinks I’m a nutcase.”
Eddie stopped raking.
“I’ve been getting a lot of weird looks from people lately.” Donnie had stopped too, back to his father, staring at the side of the house.
Eddie dropped his rake. “Who's been giving you weird looks?”
Voice a careful monotone. “A lot of people. Teachers. Younger kids. It's like they're afraid of me for some reason.” Deep breath. “But that's okay. I know I deserve it.”
Eddie tread cautiously through the grass, one hand hovering over his son’s hunched shoulders. Tried to think of something meaningful to say. “You're my only son-”
“I know, Dad.” Neither of them sounded especially convinced. Eddie sighed, stopped trying to think. Just opened his mouth and let words come out. “I know I'm not the best... communicator.”
“But whatever happens in your life... Whatever obstacles you come up against... You just say and do whatever is in your heart.” Eddie nodded with real conviction. “You be honest and tell the truth, even if they look at you funny. And they will. They'll tell you that you're wrong. They'll call you a fool.
“But what you've got to understand, son, is that almost all of those people are full of bullshit. They're scared of people like you. Because you're smarter than all of them.”
Elizabeth lay on the couch; bored, as they say, out of her gourd. Out the window, Donnie and Eddie were raking leaves in the yard. Having some kind of man-to-man talk. She clicked on the news, expecting to hear more about what the FAA weren’t telling anyone and whether safety regulations for commercial airplane assemblies was going to skyrocket. Instead, the screen popped onto an image of a man being led into a police cruiser. The location in the background looked familiar. Elizabeth listened for a few moments, then froze.
“Oh my God!”
Donnie had just entered he room. Sat on the couch next to her. “What’s up?” He caught the newscast, leaned forward, listening intently.
“...The blaze was extinguished sometime after 8:00 last night. Now fire-fighters have discovered what has been referred to as a ‘kiddie porn dungeon’ hidden behind a scorched canvas oil painting in the main hall.
“...Cunningham, who has become a recent celebrity for his books and motivational tapes, was arrested early this morning at the Sarasota Heights Country Club. Arson has not been ruled out as part of the cause of the fire. A group of Cunning Vision employees lead by self-proclaimed leader...”
Donnie’s skin drained of colour. Elizabeth shook her head in amazement. “Oh my God. Dad played golf with that guy.”
“...vehemently denied the alleged link to a child pornography publishing circuit. In a vicious statement, Cunningham attacked the Middlesex Fire Department officials, claiming a vast conspiracy...”
October 24, 1988
6 days remaining
Karen Pomeroy had once been a great believer of justice. Not the karmic kind, exactly, or the kind practiced by followers of the Just World principle. But she knew, deep down, that everyone usually got what they deserved in the end. Yet almost five years of teaching for this arch-conservative crapheap of a school, and this was her reward?
“I’m sorry, Karen, but we don’t think the methods you’ve undertaken here are appropriate.”
Karen shot Principal Cole a heated glare across his desk. “With all due respect, sir, what exactly about my methods do you find inappropriate?” she asked pointedly. It was just as she’d predicted; Cole was a pussy.
“I don’t have time to get into a debate about this, Karen. I believe I’ve made myself clear.”
“You call this clarity?” Karen threw up her hands in disgust. “I don’t think you have a clue what it’s like to communicate with these kids. And we are losing them to apathy, this... prescribed nonsense. They are slipping away.”
She tried to inject as much feeling and urgency into her voice as the situation would allow, searching in vain for a crack in Cole’s armour of self-delusion. The sounds of him dismissively shuffling papers told her it was futile.
“I am sorry that you have failed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another appointment. You can finish out the week.”
Karen stormed outside. Slammed past the chain-link fence. Roared impotently to the heavens.
...until her throat burned, lungs pleading for mercy. Tears stinging her cheeks. A little gasp behind her. She spun, frozen. Cherita Chen sat on a bench alone, holding a sandwich halfway to her mouth. Eyes wide.
Karen waved. The weather was beautiful. The trees were beautiful. Even Cherita was beautiful today. The world was still a crappy place to live. They both knew it.
Back in the building, Principal Cole made an important announcement over the intercom. “Good afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to announce that the Middlesex Ridge School dance team has been invited to perform on Ed McMahon’s Star Search ‘88 in Los Angeles, California. Congratulations...”
Karen went back inside, grabbing today’s copy of the Middlesex Times from the library as she went. Checked to make sure the headline she wanted was there. Took off down the hallway.
Sparkle Motion was surrounded by a group of exultant staff members, the most energetic being Kittie Farmer, who was pumping her scrawny fists into the air. “Yes! Yes! Oh girls, I knew you could...” She stopped when she saw Karen approaching. Eyes frosting over. “Yes? Can we help you-”
Karen coldly flipped the newspaper over. Watched Kittie’s expression go from indifference to horror.
The brown rabbit onscreen wore much the same expression Kittie had upon discovering that Jim Cunningham, patron saint of Motivational Speaking, had turned out to be a demon in disguise. Not everybody had heard the news yet, but word was spreading quicker than wildfire. As an English professor, Karen found this comparison deliciously ironic.
For now, she would carry on. No sense in letting her fury communicate itself. This would be her cross to bear. She drifted as her students sat in the flickering silence, riveted to the animated version of ‘Watership Down’. Everyone, that is, but Donnie Darko. He was lying with his head on his desk, making no attempts to disguise his fatigue. Gretchen Ross was watching him instead of the movie. Worry crooking her eyebrows.
He opened his eyes when Karen turned the lights back on. Just barely. He had dark circles under his eyes, his hair was unkempt. He rubbed at his face distractedly as the lesson wore on.
“...And when the other rabbits hear of Fiver's vision, do they believe him?” Karen asked the class. “It could be the death of an entire way of life, the end of an era.”
She intended to let that one sink in, but Donnie cut her off. Voice slightly ragged. His demeanour made him look like even more of a delinquent. “Why should we care?” he said, tersely.
Karen paused. She was in no mood for this today. “Because the rabbits are us, Donnie.”
“Why should I mourn for a rabbit like it was a human?”
“Is the death of one species less tragic than another?” she retorted. The class roused themselves. Front-row seats. It had been a pretty exciting month so far.
Donnie wouldn’t shut up. “Of course it is. A rabbit isn’t like us. It has no history books. It has no knowledge of sorrow or regret.” He was reckless with his scorn. Gretchen was looking at him like she wanted to slap him, but he was too busy ranting to pay attention.
“...I mean, I like bunnies and all. They're cute, and they're horny. And if you're cute and horny, then you're probably happy! Happy that you don't know who you are, or why you're even alive. But the only thing I've known rabbits to do is have sex as many times as possible before they die.”
His voice was unnaturally loud in the closed room. Nobody could think of a way to stop him, so he pressed his point home. “There's no point in crying for a dead rabbit who never feared death to begin with,” he finished. Empty eyes glowering.
“You’re wrong.” Heads turned. To everyone’s surprise, it was Gretchen Ross speaking. Weren’t those two going together or something? Was this some kind of weird academic lover’s spat? Karen knew it cut deeper than that.
“You're wrong about these rabbits,” Gretchen continued. “These rabbits can talk. They are the product of the author’s imagination. And he cares for them. So we care for them too. We care that their home has been destroyed, and that their lives are in danger. Otherwise we've missed the point.”
“But aren't we forgetting the miracle of storytelling?” Karen added. “The deus ex machina. The god from the machine. That is how the rabbits are saved.”
Gretchen shot Donnie a dirty look, which everyone in the room noticed but him.
They ran into each other at her locker.
“Hey. You want to skip fourth period and go to the Ridge?”
Gretchen couldn’t believe it. She slammed her locker shut, nearly pinning his fingers. “What’s wrong with you?” she hissed. Stalked off. Donnie watched her retreating back, collapsing. Went to the Ridge by himself. Imagined he was lying in a bowl made of asphalt, feeling the earth spinning beneath his body. On the lookout for holes in the sky. The universe’s last safeguard.
October 25, 1988
5 days remaining
Rose Darko leaned out of the open screen door, shouting at Samantha to be careful on that trampoline. Sproing. Sproing. The fallen leaves and drizzles of rain had made the taut surface treacherous to bounce on. Samantha yelled back, “I’ll be okay, Mom!” but the front doorbell had rung and Rose was already heading back inside.
She opened the front door, only to reveal Kittie Farmer on the threshold. Rose put her hands on her hips. “Kittie,” she acknowledged curtly. The gym teacher appeared not to have noticed the iciness in her voice, wringing her hands in dismay. An appeal for something. “Rose! We have a crisis. I’m sure that you’re aware of the horrible allegations against Jim Cunningham-”
“I know, I saw it on TV. Something about a ‘kiddie porn dungeon’...”
Kittie implored in that high, crackling tone of hers. “Please! Don’t use those words! It’s obviously some kind of conspiracy to destroy an innocent man! Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to spearhead the JCDC: The Jim Cunningham Defence Campaign.”
Rose wasn’t sure she was hearing correctly. “What?”
“Rose... I have to appear at his arraignment tomorrow morning. And as you know, the girls are scheduled to leave for Los Angeles in the morning. Now, as their coach, I was the obvious choice to chaperone them on their trip-”
There it was. Rose knew there would be a catch. “But now you can’t go.” She tutted sympathetically. Pretended to consider, hemming and hawing. Stringing it out.
Kittie leaped back in. “Now, believe me, of all the other mothers I would never dream of asking you. But none of the other mothers are available to go!”
Rose sighed. It was no use making faces at a blind woman. “I don’t know Kitty. It’s a bad weekend. Eddie’s in New York, and-”
Kittie‘s cry of outrage brought Samantha to the scene, and Rose had to shoo her back out. “Rose!! I don’t know if you realise what an opportunity this is for our daughters! This has been a dream of Samantha’s and all of ours for a long time. I made her lead dancer!”
Her words had become an injured howl. “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!” Kittie cried, tears welling in her shrivelled eyes.
By all that was fair in the world, Rose Darko would have been good to slam the door on Kittie Farmer’s face right there on the steps. But it was a beautiful day, if a little cloudy. And Donnie and Elizabeth could take care of themselves.
Yes. She would ignore the burning sensation in her gut and do it. Samantha was, after all, the lead dancer.
It seemed like moments later, but that evening Rose found herself staring at the hallway calendar posted to the wall. It had suddenly seemed very important to know what day of the month it was, so she’d wandered into the house to check. And then she’d found this.
Donnie had tacked one of his pencil drawings over the cute pumpkins-and-witches photo that had originally been part of the calendar. The month of October now displayed a grotesque, melting depiction of a nightmare room, an acid trip in greyscale. A clock featured prominently to the side. In the foreground stood what could only be described as a large rabbit.
Frank. Rose felt tendrils of resent towards the name. This hideous... This creature... Whatever it was, it had come between her and her son. It was making him into someone else. Someone she could no longer talk to. She didn’t understand why Frank didn’t leave with the pills Donnie took. If he was still taking them. Rose sometimes made him swallow while she was watching, but he’d hated that and the tension between them only increased.
She stroked the picture gently with a finger. Some charcoal came off on her skin, darkening it. She felt another presence in the room with her and jumped. Donnie stood on the stairs, watching her.
They went upstairs to his room and sat on his bed. Rose explained the situation calmly, though her insides were still boiling. “I have to take the girls to Los Angeles tomorrow.”
“Do you get to meet Ed McMahon?”
“If I'm lucky. I won't be back until the first. Your dad will be back on Sunday, so I've put Elizabeth in charge until then. She has the car, so she can drive you to therapy tomorrow.”
Donnie shivered. Arms at his sides, limp. Vulnerable. “How does it feel to have a wacko for a son?” he said softly.
Rose hugged him as hard as she dared. “It feels wonderful.”
That night, Donnie wrote a letter. Sealed it carefully. Penned ‘EXTREMELY IMPORTANT’ in big red letters on the front, the name of the addressee in the middle. When he put it in the mailbox, he found that the red flag had rusted, stuck in the down position. Spent fifteen minutes pulling at it until it jerked free. Nobody came out of the house or shouted at him through the darkened windows. He pedalled off, satisfied.
October 26, 1988
4 days remaining
The talent scout who had attended the Ridge show brought an airport van into the Darko’s driveway. Rose dragged out the luggage while the girls were loaded into the vehicle, squabbling over who would get the window seats.
“So much for team spirit,” Rose joked, but the talent scout didn’t find it very funny. The wind was beginning to pick up, the smell of burning organic matter lingering in the nostrils. Grey clouds forecasted nothing.
Elizabeth hugged Samantha, whispering words of encouragement. “You're gonna win. I know it,” she said confidently, letting Samantha out of her embrace. “So do I,” Sam agreed. She turned to Donnie, who was watching impassively from the porch steps. Waved at him. “Bye, Donnie!”
Donnie waved back.
Rose hurried up to Elizabeth, pressing last-minute things into her hands. “Here are the keys to the Taurus. There's plenty of groceries in the fridge. And I left money on the kitchen table. And don't forget-” It was a classic motherhood routine. Elizabeth patted her shoulder.
“Don't worry, Mom. Just go, you'll miss your flight.”
She didn’t go. Not just yet. She looked past the van to her son, who didn’t move. Felt Frank there, tainting the important spaces between. Smiled and fluttered her fingers helplessly. He copied the move, vacant.
Donnie watched his mother stowing away her last bag. She moved to get into the van. He stood up. “Mom,” he said, an abrupt sound from deep in his throat. She stopped.
He gave her the purest smile he could dig up. Something comforting. He knew he was betraying her. But somehow, she needed to be on that plane. His skin prickled as they stood there, finding each other again.
“Come on, Mom!” Samantha shrieked. “We’re gonna be late!”
Rose’s eyes were gleaming. “I know!”
They drove off. Donnie seeing his mother for the first and last time.
He managed to catch Gretchen at her locker after school. Unfortunately, she was surrounded by a shield of other girls, making her almost impossible to approach. He trotted up slowly. Whispers. His name in there somewhere.
When it was clear he wasn‘t going to leave, the girls parted. “Will you please talk to me?” he said, trying to mask his voice from the eavesdroppers. Gretchen sagged. Not angry, or even pissed, like yesterday. She looked at him like there was no other choice.
“Not now, Donnie. It’s not a good time.”
“Then when? I have to talk to you.” There‘s a storm coming.
Gretchen lowered her eyelashes. Sorry. She left him in the hallway, frustrated, in pain. He wanted to shout after her, ‘This isn’t about the rabbits, is it? ‘Cuz it‘s a helluva lot worse than you think!’ but kept it inside. Held it in his stomach. Drowned it in acid.
He knocked on Ms. Pomeroy’s door. A scuffling sound, like roaches after the light is turned on. He twisted the knob.
Ms. Pomeroy was her usual hippie self, but there was a large cardboard box sitting on her desk. Donnie looked around. She’d begun stripping posters off the walls, dumping out drawers. “Ms. Pomeroy? What's going on?”
His English teacher sighed wearily. “Donnie... It's Friday. Shouldn't you be off with your friends, scaring old people?”
Donnie found it difficult to be amused at the moment. He pressed her. “Where are you going?”
“I don't know. That's a good question. But suffice to say that I am no longer your English teacher.” She straightened her red hair with her hand, blocking her face. “They fired me.”
“That's bullshit. You're a good teacher,” Donnie said, passionately.
She went back to throwing her books in a case. Donnie sat down at a desk, tapped his feet fretfully.
“So what do I tell the other kids when they ask about you?”
“Tell them that everything is going to be just fine.” She sounded released, somehow. Like she actually believed what she was saying.
He noticed something written on the chalkboard behind her. Two words. ‘Cellar door’. “What’s that?”
Ms. Pomeroy ripped her American flag out of its stand with a grunt, the last piece of identity in the room. Answered Donnie‘s question as she moved out the door with her belongings. “This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that ‘cellar door’ is the most beautiful.”
Donnie repeated it. Tasted it on his tongue. “Cellar door...”
Ms. Pomeroy gave one last smile in his direction, then wedged herself through into the hall and was gone.
He shuddered. It was like she’d suddenly died, right before his eyes. The next day, he might tell some people that she’d left and was never coming back... But who among them would really care? They would shrug and carry on with their lives, never realizing who in this world had changed them. Who their witnesses had been. To them, life wasn’t like atoms in a particle accelerator- full of tiny things bouncing off each other, coming into contact at the speed of light, altering and being altered with every impact. Any changes had to be big and noticeable. Otherwise, they were irrelevant.
Donnie wondered if Ms. Pomeroy would remember him. He felt sad to think she might not. He hadn’t exactly been the perfect student...
Coming out of the classroom, he saw Cherita Chen standing at her locker. Books and papers pressed tightly in her arms. He leaped to her side, saw her flinch away. Grabbed her earmuffs. Leaned forward, lips almost brushing her forehead.
“I promise that one day, everything’s going to be better for you,” he whispered fiercely.
Cherita backed out of his grip, leaving the earmuffs in his hands. Frightened of him, or something in him. “Chut up!” she cried, stumbling away. Dropping everything in her arms. Running down the hall, into the light outside.
Donnie looked down. Saw his own name doodled on a study book. Eyes tearing slightly.
He walked home wearing the earmuffs on his head. They managed to block out most sounds. He felt he was in a place where Frank could contact him anytime; a private, silent place.
“I want to talk about your past today.”
Deep in hypnosleep. “No.” Stubborn frown.
Try again. “I want to talk about… You and your parents.”
Sulking now. Petulant regression. “They didn’t buy me what I wanted for Christmas.”
“What did you want for Christmas that year?”
A pause, then: “‘Hungry Hungry Hippos.’”
“How did you feel, being denied these ‘Hungry Hungry Hippos’?”
“Regret.” Harsh. Choking on the word.
“What else makes you feel regret?”
Teeth bared. “That I did it again.”
“You did it again?”
Hiccupping laughter. Patient regressing rapidly. “I flooded my school and I burned down that pervert’s house. I only have a few days left before they catch me...”
Revelation. “Did Frank tell you to do these things?”
Convinced. “I have to obey him. He saved my life. I have to obey him or I’ll be left all alone. And then I won’t be able to figure out what this is all about.” Whispered. Fantasy constructs. “I won’t be able to know his master plan...”
“Do you mean God’s master plan? Do you now believe in God?”
“I have the power to build a time machine.” Hushed secret. A child hiding under the bed.
“How is that possible? How is time travel possible? Donnie?”
“Time’s up, Frank said.” Restless patterns forming. Increased breathing rate.
“When is this going to happen?”
“Soon.” Sobbing. “Soon.”
Flash of movement. Swinging off the couch, eyes staring. Catatonia. Paces to the other side of the room, whimpering. Rapid infantile regression. Arms clasped about self.
“What is going to happen?”
“Frank is going to kill.”
Heartbeats speed up. “Who is he going to kill? Who is he going to kill, Donnie?”
Screaming. “I can see him right now!!”
Hallucinations. “The sky is going to open up...” Pupils expanding. Black holes in space.
Something shifts. The rabbit in the room.
A tool. “If the sky were to suddenly open up there would be no law. There would be no rule. There would only be you and your memories... The choices you’ve made... The people you’ve touched. If this world were to end there would only be you and him and no one else.”
Sobbing now. Afraid in the dark. Afraid of the light. Clap, clap.
Donnie had his jacket on and was preparing to leave the office when Dr. Thurman called him back. “Donald?”
He turned around. Waiting.
“Your medication. They're placebos. Just pills made out of water.”
Considered this. Nodded. “Thank you.”
Dr. Thurman didn’t look like she would be much longer for this world. Her crow’s feet had deepened since their last visit. Her dirty blonde hair was dulling. What she said next made him stop in the doorway again.
“Donald, an atheist is someone who denies altogether the existence of a God. You are an agnostic. An agnostic is someone who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God... But does not deny the possibility that God exists.”
He turned away. “Goodbye, Dr. Thurman.”
October 29, 1988
1 day remains
Elizabeth met him in the kitchen. Her eyes were sparkling, and she’d let her hair fall into her face. It made her look sexy. “Hey. What‘s up?” he asked.
She grinned widely, hardly believing it. “I got in. I’m going to Harvard!”
“That’s great! ...Hey, we should totally throw a party. I mean, Mom and Dad are gone, and it’s Halloween Carnival tonight... We could totally get away with it.” He suggested it as if the idea wasn’t absolutely critical. It didn’t take much for her to agree.
“Okay. But it has to be small, all right?”
“Right.” Pushed away the knowledge that he was betraying again. “Just a small one.”
That night, the Darko residence swarmed with adolescent abandon. Costumes ranged from slapdash sheet-ghosts to more elaborate, carefully designed avatars. Rapunzel teased a gaggle of Renaissance freaks from the second-story balcony. Jason Voorhees traded pleasantries with Freddy Krueger as they slowly sank into a pot-induced mellowness. Kids scattered into the shadows when a fat guy in a red tracksuit shone his flashlight at the house, but maybe he just wanted a little weed. They ignored him after that.
“What do you guys got?”
Beer splashed over the porch railing. The Green Mummies were way too loud on the stereo. Donnie milled, a skeleton imprinted on his clothes from neck to ankles. Impulsively pushed his hood up. It still stank even after repeated washings. He answered the front door. Ronald and Sean stood beaming in the moonlight, dressed in cheesy monster masks from the local dollar store. They brandished various instruments of havoc in his face.
“We got eggs, water balloons, and a dozen rolls of toilet paper,” announced Ronald.
“I stole four beers from my Dad,” Sean added, not to be outdone.
“Well, we got a keg.”
Ronald snorted. “Keg beer is for pussies.” Nevertheless, he managed to down three paper cups full before anyone noticed.
Inside the house, the phone rang unheeded. The answering machine clicked on. Beep. “Rose, this is Lilian Thurman. It is extremely important that you call me as soon as you get this message. Thank you.” Click.
In the kitchen, Donnie thought he heard his therapist’s voice. Shrugged it off. Went to answer the front door again.
He found Gretchen on the front porch, close to tears. “Hi,” she said softly.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Meaning no. “My mom’s gone.”
“You wanna come in?”
He let her in. They snuck upstairs together. Headed into Eddie and Rose’s room. From the first floor, Elizabeth/Cleopatra watched them shut the door behind themselves. Allowed herself a nasty thought, smiled inwardly. Went back to her role as the gorgeous hostess.
“I don’t know, she... She didn’t leave a note and the house was all messed up.”
“But you’re okay? Did you call the cops?” Concern.
“Yeah, they said I should leave the house, and that I should go to a safe place. I’m just so scared. I keep thinking something awful is happening, and...” She sniffed angrily. Dampening his parents’ bed sheets. “It’s my fucking step dad, I know it...”
They could feel the music from below vibrating through the soles of their feet. Screams from downstairs. It sounded like Hell. But where was up here?
Gretchen wiped away her tears. Her eyes almost sightless, randomly roving the contours of the room. Her breath was soft. She tipped her head towards him, murmuring, “I guess some people are just born with tragedy in their blood...”
Donnie gently put his hand on her thigh. It crept, in the ensuing stillness, and the moonlight through the window struck them both as they kissed.
Elizabeth frowned, scanning the party goers without success. Someone dressed as Chewbacca was hurling into a potted plant in the living room. She prayed most of it would stay in the guy’s fur and went to go find a friend.
“Hey, have you guys seen Frank?”
The girls thought. “No. I think they said they were going on a beer run.”
A shiver went through Elizabeth Darko. “Shit.”
“If you’re there, please pick up.”
The rustle of clothes not quite shed, not quite separating. Gretchen had his hooded jacket pulled halfway down his arms, partially immobilizing him. She kissed him like that, knees pulled tight against his legs. Smiling into his lips.
“Oh well. Good news. The girls got three and a half stars, and they get to come back for the quarter finals.”
Their spears burst into and through each other, shimmering surfaces imploding on contact. His hand in her hair, on her back. Running the delicate ridges of her ribcage. The pain of puberty, crystallizing them both.
“It was amazing. Anyway, um... We’re going to take the red-eye back tonight, and we ought to arrive-”
Sam‘s voice. “Mom, the plane’s about to leave.”
Donnie pushed his nose into her neck, feeling how soft the skin was there. Thin. Her fingers twisted gracefully in the loops of his jeans. The mattress exhaled.
“Okay, okay. We’ll take the red-eye back tonight. We should arrive around 8:30 in the morning. Uh... I hope everything’s all right. I love you. Bye.”
In the foyer, the clock struck midnight.
October 30, 1988
6 hours remain
Donnie and Gretchen descend the stairs, back into the throng of the party. They hold hands. They’ve broken a mild sweat. One of them is doomed and he knows it. She doesn’t feel like a dead girl. She feels so alive, so full of human flaws and flawlessness that he knows doing it once won’t unlock the secrets of the universe. Her face is flushed. She’s breathing hard. He clutches her hand tightly, tracing the slender bones under the skin with his thumb. She pulls away, promising to be right back. She disappears into the bathroom.
He wishes he’d thought of that. His head is spinning, or maybe that’s his body. The sick feeling again.
A spear comes out of his chest. It leads him to the fridge, where the memo has changed once again. Now it reads:
FRANK WAS HERE WENT TO GET BEER!!
The letters jag all over the board. He turns around, can see everybody’s spears now. They zigzag and curve around and through each other, a perfectly choreographed dance that fills the air with radiant futures. The sound in the room is gone again. Music silenced. He steps back to the stairs. Watches as another portal turns the corner, stops a foot away. Offering itself.
He crouches down, ignoring another spear as it bumps against his foot, followed by a drunken Godzilla suit. He thrusts his head into the bubble, watches as his eyes fly away from his head, shooting him into the next world and beyond...
Gretchen regarded him with amusement. He was kneeling, his face a foot away from her breasts. “What are you doing?” Wondering if he wanted to... Again...?
But he grabbed her arm instead, sudden alarm spreading across his features. “Come with me,” he said. When she didn’t respond immediately, he pulled her by the hand. They both ran out the back door, picking up Ronald Fisher and Sean Smith on their way out.
“Where are we going? Donnie!” Gretchen yelped as they flew towards the shed. Donnie didn’t answer her question, only asking Ronald and Sean if they’d brought their bikes with them. They nodded. Blank with confusion.
“Look, we gotta go,” he told them as he unlocked the shed door.
He was hyper-focused. “You ever seen Grandma Death?”
“Why, is this about the book?” Gretchen asked, pulling her jacket tighter.
“No, it’s Frank.”
“ Donnie...” Ronald was looking with consternation at the abandoned party scene. Thinking of the hot older chicks he was missing.
Donnie shoved bicycles at them. “Time is running out! We gotta go.”
The four wheeled into Old Gun Road. It was a quarter to two by Sean’s digital watch. The trees were living up to the season, stretching their brittle, clawed shadows over the roads. The moon guided their midnight flight through the neighbourhood, offering just enough light for navigation. But Donnie seemed to know exactly the right paths to take, even when the clouds obscured the moonlight and they were travelling in near darkness.
They pulled up in front of the Sparrows house. Donnie gazed at it in awe. “Roberta Sparrow. Grandma Death,” he repeated to himself in a hushed voice. He put up his hood.
Sean didn’t like the looks of the place. “Donnie, nobody’s here. Let’s just forget about it.”
Donnie pointed to the side of the house.
Gretchen followed him inside. Ignored Sean and Ronald’s panicked expressions. Wondered where he was taking her. Trusting him anyway.
Donnie peered into the aging darkness of the cellar. Barrels and crates were stacked against the walls. Everything with a liberal coating of dust. He couldn’t see any gems in plain sight, and the boxes had labels on them like ‘COAL TENDER’ and ‘ABELMAN’S HOMEMADE JAMS’. Withered, lumpy things hung from the ceiling, knocking gently against his head as they explored. Paintings of indeterminate quality leaned against various objects. He examined an old mirror resting against the opposite wall. It was cracked and stained, barely reflecting his face.
A deep, ominous chord struck the room. He jumped, saw Gretchen over by an ancient piano. She grinned, tapped out a tune.
He turned back to the mirror, wondering if it could help him find what he was looking for. Tried rubbing a clean patch on it; a shard fell out of the frame. Donnie bent over to pick it up; glimpsed movement in the corner of the glass.
He fell sideways, just avoiding the point of the knife. Behind him, Gretchen was struggling. “Oh my God! Donnie! Donni-i-ie!!” she screamed. Legs flailing.
Their unknown assailants held them by the throats, dragged them back into the starlit outdoors. Donnie felt himself pushed to the ground, then sat on, arms pinned to his sides.
“Why the fuck are you here?!” growled a voice from above. To his left, a muffled shout. “Donnie!”
Sean and Ronald started in terror.
“Oh my God,” Roland moaned.
Gretchen’s attacker shoved her as hard as he could into the road. She hit the dirt semi-conscious, the air knocked from her lungs. Coughing, breathing dust. The hulking figure turned to confront Donnie’s trembling pals, ripping the stocking off his head.
“You’re dead!” Ricky Danforth snarled.
“Leave him alone!”
A knife glinted in the fading streetlamp above.
“Don’t fucking move! Don’t fucking move!” Ricky screamed, neck veins pulsing.
Donnie kicked and twisted, finally managed to get an arm free. Somehow avoiding the knife, he reached up and tore off the nylon mask. Seth Devlin blinked down at him, panting. Drool or sweat smeared across one cheek.
“Fuck!’ He jolted once on Donnie’s chest, forcing his breath out. Ricky turned away from Ronald and Sean, yelled a warning to his friend. “There’s a car!”
Gretchen rolled over, coughing.
“Get the hell out of here now! Seth, there’s a car coming. Let’s go!” Ricky forgot about threatening Roland and Sean, self-preservation instincts overriding all else. Seth hissed in Donnie’s ear. “I have a bigger knife now...” Held it poised in the air.
Ricky was panicking. “Come on, let’s go! He called the cops!” He ran off into the night.
“Did you call the fucking cops?!” Seth screamed. Spitting with over-fuelled rage.
Donnie hit a patch of oxygen. “Deus ex machina,” he gasped. Seth jumped up and down on him, waving the knife in meaningless shapes through the air. The erratic patterns of a corrupted system. “What did you just say? What the fuck did you just say?!”
Roberta Sparrow stands in her driveway. White hair blowing magnificently in the sudden gust of wind. Twin headlights blaze across the road, illuminating the whole scene in one enormous panoramic snapshot of fear and pain. Seth’s monster mask lying forgotten on the ground. A beer can, crushed underfoot. These are the things our lives bear witness to, and vice-versa.
The car speeds towards them. Seth threatens Donnie with a knife. Their friends have left them here, as well they should. They know not what they are doing. Yet they do it for a purpose.
Grandma Death stands in the road, watching. Waiting. The headlights catch her in time and the tires swerve through the gravel, searching for another target. Gretchen Ross lies coughing in a maelstrom of light and sound.
Donnie twists his head, ignoring the blade digging into his neck. Sees the future. Screams anyway.
Thumpitty-thump. A rabbit noise. Only this time it’s the sound of rubber and metal striking flesh and bone, and while one could argue they perform basically the same function, to Donnie it’s a supernova in his skull. A tear in the universe.
The car keeps going, does a neat U-turn in the middle of the road. Pointing back the way it came. Headlights fixed on tragedy. Donnie barely notices that Seth has fled, having played his part.
He runs over, no no nonono, kneels by her side. She’s not moving. He brushes her long brown hair from her face, sculpted marble in the moonlight. He doesn’t want marble. He wants...
“Gretchen?” A broken sound. Doesn’t know where it’s coming from, knows it can’t be him. Whimpering. “Gretchen...? Gretchen.” A car door slams in the night. “Wake up, Gretchen.”
Footsteps on the rocky path. Big, bulbous red shoes. A man in a clown suit, sad/funny face now twisted in horror. “Frank...”
Donnie thinks he can see Gretchen’s body heat coming out of her, floating into the air, just like the spears. Only it’s not just coming from her chest, it’s coming from everywhere and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Shakes her limp form. Runs the back of his fingernails down her cheek. “Wake up.”
“What did you do?” The clown’s voice, high-pitched with fear. More fear than Jim Cunningham could ever imagine. “What the fuck did you do, man?... You killed her, Frank!!”
More footsteps, from the driver’s side this time. A ratty grey suit of fur, misshapen and dishevelled. The headpiece, glinting malevolently/benevolently from its owner’s fingers. A handsome, human face without the mask. Long dark hair. An expression Donnie would not have recognized if he had been looking up.
The litany continued into the darkness. “Gretchen, wake up. Wake up. Wake up... Gretchen... Gretchen...”
“Is she dead?”
Not Frank. Scared, losing it. A human voice. Couldn’t be him. Couldn’t...
He could be Frank.
The guy was freaking out. “What were you doing in the middle of the road, huh?!” he screamed. “What were you thinking?!” Hysterical.
Donnie stood up from the body. Pulled at something in his hand. Ka-click.
Frank stopped yelling when he saw the pistol in Donnie’s hand. His eyes widened. Just an easier target.
The rabbit headpiece flies to the side of the road, turning over once to gaze at the stars. Frank’s head snaps back, spitting red at the sky, his body following its own graceful arc to the gravel. The ratty fur bristles slightly in the wind. The clown stumbles back from both bodies, in shock.
Donnie waves the pistol at him. In agony. “Go home!” he cries. “Go home and tell your parents everything will be okay... Go!”
The clown takes off, stumbling in his oversized shoes. Roberta Sparrow slowly turns from where she was frozen in time. Donnie’s letter flapping in one hand.
October 30, 1988
2 and a half hours remain
The party had left after casing the joint. Sticky puddles underfoot. A landmine of upturned popcorn bowls, some of which had not yet been puked in. Aluminium cans scattered like grenades across the floor. Here and there, figures stirred. He didn’t look at them. Ghosts from the past.
Carefully, Donnie reached into the jar in the kitchen, which by some minor miracle had not been pillaged. Withdrew the car keys. Elizabeth was slumped in a window seat, snoring. Her delicate nose brushed with Doritos dust. He stepped over. Kissed her forehead. She stirred, but the touch of the Receiver could not wake the living.
Gretchen was waiting for him in the Taurus. He started the ignition, backed out of the driveway. The early morning light paled everything it touched. Gretchen’s head lolled against the passenger seat window as he cut the corner of the Fishers’ lawn. She reminded him of the night in the movie theatre, sleeping in the dark. She looked much the same now. They could have been taking a little trip to the Ridge. Just a little...
Sirens and flashing lights filled the rearview mirror. Police officers got out of their cars, first upset at the carnage from the party. Then fingers pointed upwards. Mouths opened in astonishment at the funnel of clouds collecting ominously over the Darko house.
[THERE‘S A STORM COMING.]
The Carpathian Ridge overlooked the final hours of the world. Donnie sat on the hood of the Taurus, watching the darkness form over his house in the distance. A shadow covered Middlesex. At first, he didn’t know where it was coming from. Then he smiled. Shifted position on the hood.
My shadow. Of course.
“Six hours... Forty-two minutes... Twelve seconds.” He wished he’d taken Sean’s watch with him. It didn’t matter. He could feel the seconds in his body, he was an hourglass of flesh. The pain in his head increased.
[I‘M GOING HOME.]
Samantha slept with her head on Rose’s shoulder for most of the flight. Her arm was going numb, but she welcomed the pain. Gazed out the tiny windows. Wondering what the rest of her family would do while she was gone.
So in order to travel back in time, you have to have a big spaceship or something that can travel faster than the speed of light?
And be able to find one of these wormholes?
The basic principles of time travel are there. You’ve got your vessel and your portal, and your vessel could be just about anything; most likely a spacecraft... A metal craft of any kind.
Rose smiled, put away her thoughts. Raised her hand to smooth back Sam’s hair. As she did so, there was a loud BANG followed by a hideous shuddering down the length of the plane. The cabin depressurising. The flight attendants toppling over one another in the narrow aisle, intercom babbling incoherently. Sam jerked awake and mother and daughter held each other, luggage spilling onto their backs from above, as flight 2806 went screaming through the empty atmosphere. A machine from the heavens. Machina ex deus.
The detached jet engine tumbles through the portal, metal through water. Cloud formations flash by. Entries into other possible worlds. Frank shakes his head, once, twice. The engine crashes through.
Donnie slipped back into his seat. Looked at Gretchen’s still corpse. Remembered how she was. How she might still be.
Make her like that again, okay?
Her voice, still warm in his memory. Her lips, collarbone, ribcage, eyes. Cooling.
What if you could go back in time and take all those hours of pain and darkness and replace them with something better?
Donnie touched her cheek one last time. Took her cold, dead hand. The sky convulsed above him, but he kept his eyes on Gretchen’s face. Knowing they’d be together soon.
The universe dilates, heaves. Twins in a single womb. Fracturing as time pulls itself inside-out, screaming, serial numbers tattooed indelible on the backs of Donnie’s eyelids. Everything slows as the continuum struggles to reverse itself, regurgitating seconds, than minutes, then places, than people. Black becomes white. Death becomes life. Gravity remains the only constant as the Tangent Universe rushes to match the falling rate of the jet engine, the math equation to end all math equations. Donnie’s head opens up to catch the light...
As the Artifact plunges into the stratosphere of the Primary Universe, entropy is reversed. We can see it happening.
Samantha jumps on a trampoline.
October 30, 1988
1 second remains
Dear Roberta Sparrow,
I’ve reached the end of your book, and there’s so many things I need to ask you. Sometimes I’m afraid of what you might tell me.
Sometimes I’m afraid that you’ll tell me that this is not a work of fiction.
I can only hope that the answers will come to me in my sleep. I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief...
Because there will be so much to look forward to.
October 2, 1988
1:30 AM, Donnie Darko’s bedroom
Donnie Darko lies in bed. Laughing uncontrollably. Downstairs he hears Frank honking the horn as he drops Elizabeth off way too late at night. Can Donnie come out to play?
His shoulders shake with mirth. He can’t stop.
When he sleeps, he doesn’t dream. He drops his head onto the pillow, content. Plaster falls around his ears as he grins into the darkness.
Lilian Thurman opens her eyes. Cocks her wise head, listening. Deep in thought.
Sean Smith and Ronald Fisher play Nintendo deep into the night. The power shorts out just as Sean depletes Ronald’s Life Meter, and they groan together. Voices echoing in the chill.
Sean Devlin’s eyes roll back in their sockets, a slender spike embedded in an artery. His hand jerks, jamming the plunger too firmly. Air seeps out of his mouth. Ricky Danforth lunges for the phone a few seconds too late. He’ll never know what made Seth falter. He’s done it so many times...
Principal Cole sweeps Donnie Darko’s profile report into the trash. Not knowing why.
The ceiling develops hairline fractures down the middle. Creaking madly, the death-cry of particles ripping from each other. Chunks of the roof rain from the sky.
Karen Pomeroy pulls the sheets up to her neck, breathing heavily. At her side, Kenneth Monnitoff brushes her shoulder with his fingers, unease gripping his chest. He leans on one elbow. Disturbed. He’s always been sensitive to the way the world is put together, and how it functions. If there is a problem, he knows about it. There is no problem in the universe tonight...
Maybe that’s the problem.
The electrical system is next. The fuses pop like fireworks as the engine severs through wires and cords, snapping the veins of the house in a spray of sparks. Luckily, any small fires are buried under the falling plaster.
Kittie Farmer sits up on her embroidered pillows, each embossed with a cheerily encouraging platitude. They surround her in the dark nights, comforting. Now they just lie there, stuffed pieces of colourful cloth. She puts a hand to her mouth, trembling. Sees how false her life has been, how shallow. Worshipping false idols.
Splintering wood crashes into Donnie’s computer, killing it instantly. The bookshelf crushed. The jet engine mows into the floor, forcing the boards out of their struts. Beams stabbing into the smoking air. Into the bed.
A man sits naked on the edge of his bed, sobbing. His hands are stained. His eyes are greedy and his tongue is silvered. But for now, he’s just a grieving fool. After all, Jim Cunningham, that’s what’s so illogical about being a Smurf...
Donnie twitched, as if waking up. His head fell back, arms limp at his sides. Smiling as sparks cascaded in his eyes. Wood where his lungs used to be.
Frank glances from his nearly-finished Halloween costume to the mirror above his bedroom dresser. Shivers against the foot of his bed. Touches his right eye. An omen.
[What makes you think I‘m not?]
Cherita Chen sleeps. She dreams.
October 3, 1988
11:00 AM, Middlesex
Gretchen Ross pedalled down the early morning streets of Middlesex. People were just starting to come out their houses, bushy-haired and puffy-faced. Going about their daily business. A lot of that seemed to involve taking care of their lawns. She shrugged. To each her own.
She’d had a strange feeling when her mother decided they should move here. It was a nice enough town; a little boring, but that was a good thing. She couldn’t quite place the sensation that she’d been here before, which was impossible. She shook her head.
The sounds of disaster reached her before she saw the scene itself. A house crawling with so many police officials and ambulance workers and fire-proof suits, that it was difficult to tell what had happened. A number of construction vehicles were pulling up, too. A family of four stood on the sidelines. The older girl’s makeup was running down her face. A man whom she assumed to be the father cradled a little girl in his arms, gritting his teeth. The mother was leaning against a tree. She was smoking. Pain etched all over their features.
A little boy with blonde hair was watching from the opposite side of the street. He had a serious look about him. Gretchen biked over to join his company. They watched as a flatbed pulled away from the wreckage, a large pill-shaped piece of metal strapped to the top. Ambulance workers rushed into the hole the flatbed had left.
Gretchen leaned over. “Hey... what’s going on?”
The boy never took his eyes off the scene. Voice quietly respectful. “A horrible accident. One of my neighbours... got killed.”
They saw the body covered in a white sheet, being loaded into the back of an ambulance. “What happened?”
“Got smooshed by a jet engine.”
“Oh.“ Gretchen squinted. “What was his name?”
“Donnie. Donnie Darko.
Her breath caught in her throat.
“I feel bad for his family.”
They stood there, witnessing the proceedings. Gretchen caught the mother’s eye.
The little boy spoke. “Did you know him?”
Gretchen frowned in confusion. Shook her head. “...No.”
She and the mother locked gazes. Gretchen gave a little wave. The mother waved back, a small, sad gesture. Smoke dropping from her lips.
After a while, the little boy waved too. It was almost like a ritual.
They watched the jet engine as it disappeared into the maze of houses. Went back to their lives. Haunted by something they‘d never forgotten, but could not remember.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: So you're probably wondering: why did I decide to write this? By 'this', I mean the Author's Note. Does anybody ever read these things? Anyway...
I’m not a psychotic fan of Donnie Darko like some people are. I really liked the movie, and I own it, but my waking life isn’t consumed by it. That being said, you will watch the film or I will rip your throat out and feed it to the life-sized replica of Frank I’m building in my garage.
But I digress.
I suppose it really started when I watched the little piece ‘They Made Me Do It Too’ on the Director’s Cut DVD. All the neat artsy-type stuff people were doing with the movie was great. And I remembered Jeanette Barcroft’s completely unauthorized novelization of The Crow, which struck me as a huge thing to be able to get away with. So I was like, hey, why not? I’ve got a computer and two copies of the script. I’ll give it a try.
And darned if my efforts didn’t pay off.
Donnie Darko is such a subjective piece of work, but what makes it really sublime is the fact that is still makes sense, narrative-wise. It isn't just another art-house montage of random images and cryptic voice-overs. It's a story. A story about time-travel, the search for God, the search for love (and fear), Dr. Phil-style self-help guru-ism, doing what's right, doing what's true to yourself, high school, the education system, rabbits, what it's like to be a lonely teenager in the middle of a world gone mad (and is there any other kind?), the end of Reagan's era, motherhood, religion, therapy, sex, coming-of-age, vandalism, bullying, exploitation of the young, rejection of the elderly, sibling rivalry, and of course, the sexual habits of Smurfs.
And so much more.
With this novelization I hoped to bring a few more aspects of the puzzle into place while leaving other parts wide open, maybe even opening up fresh gaps in the mystery that is Donnie Darko. I hope you enjoyed my efforts.
Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Gem collections?
Stainless Steel Rat (shooting script)
IMSB (production script)
IMDB (cast list)