Brainworms is my ninth Daria fanfic, after The Whole Truth, Emancipation, Blood Oath Of Patriots, By Any Other Name, Smackdown, The Beaches of Barksdale, Le Dejuner Chez Daria, and Reindeer bait.  

Iíd like to thank my beta readers, Wyvern, NomadX, Robert Nowall, Devilkitty, Justin Smith, and Brother Grimace, without whom this story would suck a lot more.

 

 

BRAINWORMS FROM OUTER SPACE

A Tale of Young Daria by

Galen Hardesty

~~~

 

 

A not-too-old station wagon pulled into a driveway in front of a small tract house, indistinguishable save for street number and siding/shingles color combination from the many others in this housing tract. The house was fairly new, as indicated by the two small live oaks growing in the small front yard. Just beyond the back yards of this house and its neighbors, a vast field of milo (1) ripened under the hot Texas sun.

A youngish woman in a peach-colored business suit and a young girl in jeans, black Converse All-Stars and a dark blue t-shirt emerged from the front seat, then removed sacks of groceries from the rear seat. Nine-year-old Daria Morgendorffer unlocked the front door and held it open for her mother, laden with grocery bags, then picked up her two bags off the front porch and followed her in.

As Daria passed through the den into the kitchen/dining area, Helen was already efficiently putting the groceries away. Handing her daughter a package of hot dogs, Helen said, "Microwave us some of these, Daria. I need to hurry and get back to work."

"You shouldnít have to work on Saturday." Daria said as she placed a folded paper towel in the microwave.

"Sometimes if you want to get ahead, sweetie, you have to do more."

Daria looked at the package as she opened the cutlery drawer. "Chicken franks?"

"There was an introductory special, so I thought Iíd try them. And theyíre very low in fat, which is good for your fatherís blood pressure."

Daria put three franks in the microwave, set it for two minutes at a guess, and turned it on. "More time off would be good for his blood pressure- and yours, too." she thought. But she didnít say it aloud. This house, while not large, was bigger than the old one. Daria liked having her own bedroom. A lot. She felt a little guilty, but not for long. The franks were moving. Leaning closer, she watched, fascinated.

 

~~~

 

A week passed. Seven punks died in a drug deal gone sour. Eleven convenience stores were robbed. Three of the robbers were caught because they wore nametags or left their wallets or forgot to take the vanity plates off their getaway cars. The last one was caught when he tried to re-rob a store while the police were there investigating his previous robbery. Beavis and Butthead successfully stole two five-gallon plastic buckets from the rear of a bakery, but injured themselves by running away with the buckets over their heads to conceal their identities, and subsequently fell ill from cleaning them out by licking. Four hundred ninety-one husbands cheated on their wives. Two hundred eleven wives cheated on their husbands. All but three contracted STDs. It was a typical spring week in Highland, Texas. And then it was Saturday again.

~~~

 

Wearing jeans, black All-Stars, and a purple t-shirt, Daria sat in the den, reading Poisonous Plants of North America. Quinn had gone too far at school yesterday, and now she must pay. But so far, all the promising candidates required the victim to consume too large a quantity of herbage to look like a believable accident, or tasted too bad to pass for salad greens.

Quinn came in, dancing like a wood sprite on Demerol and singing a song whose lyric consisted of the syllable "la" repeated ad nauseam. She perpetrated her terpsichory mainly in Dariaís vicinity.

Ignoring her siblingís obvious, and brainless, attempt to annoy her, Daria turned a page. Ah, this looked interesting. Qu- err, the victim could absorb a lethal dose of the toxin simply by using a section of the plantís hollow stem as a drinking straw. There was a citation of a tragic incident involving two boys drinking cola. Now, where had she seen those growing? Daria glanced up to see Helenís car pull into the driveway. Sheíd be placing a quickie lunch order on her way to the bathroom. Daria rose from the sofa, placed her bookmark and headed toward the kitchen. Quinn followed, dancing bovinely and singing the echolalia song.

Helen entered and headed for the hallway. "Hi, angels. Donít have much time. Would someone start some hot dogs?"

Daria took the package of chicken franks out of the refrigerator and was heading for the microwave. "I will, mommy!" Yodeled Quinn, voice dripping aspartame, as she snatched the franks out of Dariaís hand.

Dariaís rising ire was short-circuited by a flash of inspiration. Ooh, wicked! If she could time this just right... She picked up a newspaper from the table and pretended to read. "Hey, listen to this. A Defense Department spokesman announced yesterday that extraterrestrial beings may well be invading the United States." Quinn put four franks in the microwave and turned it on.

"The aliens are being introduced into the population in their larval form, often disguised as common food items. Heat or microwave energy activates the larvae and causes them to attack the nearest human by burrowing through the skull into the brain." Quinn set the ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish on the table.

"Once inside the brain, the alien worm takes control of its host and acts to spread the invaders to other humans. The public is warned not to attempt to cook or eat toaster pastries, chicken franks, burritos... Quinn! Donít cook those! They might be alien brainworms!" Daria waved the paper at Quinn for emphasis.

Quinn was removing a package of hot dog buns from the breadbox. She turned, looked at Daria, and said "huh?"

Daria pointed to the microwave. "Omigod! Look! Theyíre hatching! They ARE alien brainworms! Turn it off, Quinn! Turn it off!!"

Quinn looked into the microwave. The chicken franks were swollen and misshapen. They were writhing, twisting, rolling around. They began to split open. Shrill high-pitched noises came from them, like tiny screams. Daria cried "Turn it off, Quinn, before itís too late!"

Quinn emitted a shrill high-pitched noise of her own and bolted out the door. Grinning wickedly, Daria picked up the ketchup bottle from the table and squeezed some into the palm of her left hand.

"Quinn? Daria? Whatís going on out there?" Came Helenís disembodied voice.

"The franks are done. Quinn went out." Daria said on her way to the door.

"Why? Is she all right?"

"I think so. Iíll ask her." Daria replied. Then she threw open the door and dashed outside.

Quinn was cowering behind Helenís car. Daria ran around the front end of it and turned to look back over the hood at the front door. Terror was in her eyes. "Oh, Quinn, it was awful! They broke out of the microwave! One of them got Mom! It just... burrowed into the back of her head! Now sheís one of them... she tried to put one on me! What are we gonna... aaah! Oww! Oh, no!"

Dariaís hands flew to the back of her head. Panicked, she groped, grabbed, then attempted to pull a hank of hair or... something... out of her head. "Aagh! Help me! Get it off! Nooo! Get it OUT! AAAUUGH!!" With a scream of agony, Daria fell to her knees. Quinn stood behind the car, paralyzed with fear. "Run, Quinn! Save yourse..."

Suddenly, Daria ceased her struggles and fell flat on her back, twitching all over, her mouth open, tongue protruding slightly, eyes open but showing only white. Her arms lay helpless at her sides, also twitching, and then, all motion ceased. Her hands slowly unfolded, her left fingers and palm half-covered with crimson gore.

Just then the front door opened and Helen stepped out. "Quinn honey, your hot dog is ready. Come in and get it. Where is Daria?"

"Yes, Quinn honey, let us go inside." Quinnís head snapped back around. Daria was awkwardly getting back to her feet, an expression that was almost a warm, friendly smile on her face. Almost, but not quite. "Let us get our hot dogs before they grow cold." She said, in a strangely inflected voice. A line of drool ran down from the side of her mouth. She held out her crimson-stained left hand toward Quinn.

With an ear-splitting shriek such as only little girls can produce, Quinn spun and sprinted away down the street. Every dog within two blocks howled in pain.

Daria bent and wiped the ketchup off on the grass, then took a few steps toward the street, watching her sister go. She wiped the drool and the triumphant smirk off her face, then turned and walked back to the front door. "Is there a bug on me or something?" she asked her mother.

 

 

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Daria was starting to get hot. She and Helen had ridden around for a while, looking for Quinn and eating their hot dogs, then Helen had dropped her at the little strip mall where Quinn and her friends sometimes hung out, bought them each a can of soda, and returned to work. Daria had promised to keep looking and to call if anything came up, and had received a couple of dollars worth of quarters. Good thing nothing was going to come up.

From the strip mall, Daria had gone to two of Quinnís friendsí houses. Neither was home and now Daria could see why. They were both up ahead, standing on a street corner, talking to another Quinnís-friend-looking girl. "Hey, Mandy, Lacey, have you seen Quinn?" Daria asked as she came within hailing distance.

Daria halted several feet away from the younger girls, clued in by their looks that Quinn had told them something about brainworms. Looking as normal as possible, she said, "Mom wants me to find her and be sure sheís okay."

Lacey said "Um well, yeah, she said something about her mom had brainworms and you had brainworms, and she ran and hid when you guys drove by, and then a little later she said we had Ďem too and ran off that way." She pointed towards home. "Uhh, do you have brainworms?" She rubbed the back of her head as she looked at Daria.

"No, and I didnít get my head slammed in a car door either. Did you, by any chance, rub your head like that just before she freaked out and ran off?"

"Uhhh, maybe."

"I think you did." Said Mandy. "And I think maybe I did too. I mean, like, brainworms from space? Thatís kind of a headscratcher. So what?"

"She thinks the worms go in through the back of your head. Thatís probably what made her think you had them. So sheís probably thinking that if they got Mom and me, and the three of you, she canít trust anybody. So all she can do is hide. Where would you guys hide if you were Quinn?"

"Uhhh, a Dumpster?"

"Too dirty. A storm sewer?"

"Same. This is, like, tract housing. There arenít any places to hide."

Daria nodded wryly. "Youíre right. There arenít even any decent size bushes. Well, if you see her, leave a message on our machine."

 

-----:{}:-----

 

As she trudged homeward, Daria tried to put herself in Quinnís shoes. Her mother and older sister were under the control of alien brainworms, and hunting her down to put one in her brain too. Her three closest friends were probably also under the brainwormsí control. Two or more brainworms were roaming loose in her house. There wasnít a single human being she could be sure was free of brainworm control, and she had no place to hide.

Good grief. This was too much of a good thing. Daria had wanted to get back at Quinn, not drive her completely insane. She might run off to... anywhere, if she found the means. She might get hurt while trying to hide. She might...ohgosh... she might try to join a skinhead gang, if she could find one. Sheíd be able to check their heads for wormholes. Daria sincerely hoped Quinn wouldnít think of that. In Highland, she might well just disappear. And whatever happened to her, Daria would get the blame. She had to find Quinn, and quickly.

Daria thought of one place that might count as a hiding place. It was less than two hundred yards from the house. She and Quinn had been plainly visible when theyíd visited it in early February, but now Quinn would be hidden by the milo. Called a pan, it was just a low spot in an otherwise nearly flat field where rainwater collected and remained until it evaporated. The farmer knew that sometime during the growing season it would collect enough rainwater to drown any crops planted in it, so he didnít plant there.

In February it had been an oval patch of dried cracked mud about twice as big as their back yard, ringed by weeds, low bushes, and two trees. Daria and Quinn had easily reached it across the stubbly field and picked up some pecans. Now, with the milo nearly six feet high, access would be slow, difficult, and painful if oneís arms, legs, hands, and face were not protected from the tiny bristles and spines of the milo leaves. Quinn was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Daria was pretty sure she would not attempt to enter the house to get protective clothing. Would she brave the itchy milo to reach a puddle with a few bushes and two trees? It offered concealment, shelter from the sun and light rain, a place to sit, and maybe some berries. Daria knew sheíd have to check it out because it was the only place she knew Quinn knew about. The next best possibility would be finding and searching tool sheds.

 

 

-----:{}:-----

 

 

Daria, still a few feet inside the stand of milo, peered out between the rows. Around the trunk of a tree she could make out Quinnís hair and one shoulder. Cautiously backing farther into the milo, she returned to a place where she could, with difficulty, move two rows to the left. Approaching the pan again, she could now see Quinn more fully, enough to see that she was freaked. Her head was constantly turning, as if she expected to see brainworms or some other horror emerge from the milo or the weeds at any point, and come charging across the muddy verge of the pan at her. Quinn was standing in the middle of the biggest available open space, rubbing her arms, and Daria could tell she thought it was much too small. This wasnít going to be easy.

Daria crouchwalked out past the end of the row and slowly straightened up. Quinn saw her almost immediately and screamed. She looked around frantically for somewhere to run, but was obviously reluctant to reenter the cruel-leafed milo. Her shorts and short-sleeved shirt had not protected her arms and legs. After darting back and forth a couple of times, she settled on a position directly across the pan from Daria.

"Quinn, there arenít any brainworms. I was just kidding." Daria slowly removed her backpack and dropped it on the ground.

"Just kidding?!" shrieked Quinn. "What kind of... oh. Ha, ha, mister brainworm. Very funny!" There was a lot of white showing in her eyes.

"Those weiners were made from chicken. Chicken wieners just do that."

"You think Iím stupid, donít you? Even with a worm in your brain, you think Iím stupid! Well, Iím smart enough to know they donít make weenies out of chicken! Youíre not gonna get me that easy!" Quinnís voice was edged with panic.

Daria lowered the hood of her windbreaker and unzipped it. "They do now. Itís a new product. Mom bought them on an introductory special." She dropped the windbreaker on the ground. "Theyíre very low fat."

This seemed to catch Quinnís interest for a second, but she shook it off. "Well, if you were kidding, why did you chase me all over to tell me? Why not just leave me out here? That would be twice as funny!"

"No, it wouldnít. Youíd be insane by morning from the mosquitoes alone, not to mention the night noises and your imagination. Youíre hard enough to live with as it is."

This seemed to catch Quinn off guard. She stood there for a few seconds with her mouth open, looking half convinced. Then her expression hardened. "Good one, worm. That sounded like something Daria would say." Her lip began to quiver and her expression turned very sad. She made a high pitched little sound that might have been "Ohh, Daria..."

It was Dariaís turn to be caught off guard. An expression of anything resembling affection from Quinn was the last thing she was expecting. Then she realized that Quinn was probably thinking of Daria warning her to save herself, even as the worm bored into her skull. Remorseful, Daria knew she had to straighten Quinn out, convince her somehow. "Letís go home, Quinn. I brought your windbreaker and your cap to protect you from the milo. And some Lanacaine for the itch."

"Ha! You messed up now, wormy! Daria would never be that nice!"

"Come on, Quinn. Iím your sister. Even when I hate you, I still love you. And you know itís true, because you feel the same, even though you donít act like it."

"That might have been true about Daria, but I sure as hell donít love you, worm!"

Daria stood very still, trying not to further agitate an already very agitated Quinn. "There are no brainworms, Quinn. It was a joke. A poorly thought out joke. I didnít realize how bad it would freak you out. Iím sorry."

"You messed up again, wormy! Daria doesnít apologize for her nasty jokes unless Mom grabs her by the ear and makes her!"

"Not true."

"Oh, yeah? You never apologized for the reindeer bait, to name just one!"

"That was funny, and nobody got hurt. You just had to wash your hands. You even looked cute, out there in the front yard, trying to get the reindeer bait to stay up on the roof. Youíll laugh at it yourself in ten years or so."

"No I wonít! And I always look cute." Quinn stared across the little pond at Daria, doubt, fear, and hope at war in her face.

Daria read her sisterís expression. She wanted to believe, to have her family back, to have her life return to normal, and she was more than half convinced, but she needed some proof. Daria had foreseen this, and had come prepared, but she didnít want to resort to it unless absolutely necessary. "Quinn, you donít really believe brain worms from outer space are trying to enslave humanity, do you? I got the idea from an old Star Trek rerun."

"Then why did everyone I told about it rub the back of their head?"

"Puzzlement at a strange statement. Itís a common gesture."

"But why did you do such a mean thing in the first place? You scared me half to death!"

"I was hurt." Daria said. "You told your friends at school I had brain damage from Dad slamming my head in the car door. In a day or two that will be all over the school. Why did you do such a mean thing? Isnít my life miserable enough already?"

Quinn felt a stab of guilt. "I didnít mean to hurt you. I just... didnít think it out before I said it. They asked me why you were so strange. Why do you always have to act so geeky?"

"If by Ďacting geekyí you mean reading, thinking, actually learning stuff in school, and behaving rationally, thatís how people with brains usually act."

"Jeez, Daria, how do you expect to convince me there arenít any space aliens when youíre obviously a Vulcan?"

Daria smirked. Quinn was convinced. She was treating Daria the way she always did. Now she just needed to be convinced that she was convinced. "Well, if there were aliens, specifically brainworms, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you trust?"

Quinn shuddered. That was the problem sheíd been wrestling with before Daria showed up. It wasnít fair! She was too young to deal with something like this! But she had no choice. They werenít going to put a worm in her brain if she could help it.

"I guess Iíll have to figure out a way to check the back of peopleís heads for holes. Iíll warn... hey! Iím not gonna tell you! Youíre the enemy!" Quinn so wanted to be able to trust Daria. Daria was a brain. Daria could figure out what to do. But Dariaís brain had a worm in it. If the space worms could control Daria and use her brain for their evil ends, the human race was probably doomed.

"Why donít you start by checking the back of my head? If I donít have a hole, and I donít, youíve saved yourself an awful lot of misery. Your world changes back to the way it was this morning."

Quinn wrung her hands and stared across at Daria as she paced the shoreline of the pan. If only that were possible! "I know you have a hole! I saw the blood on your hand!"

"That was ketchup. We were having hot dogs for lunch, remember? The ketchup was on the table."

"Youíre trying to trick me! You just want me to get close so you can grab me and worm me!"

Here it was. Daria sighed in resignation. "I didnít want to do this, because I know whatís going to happen." She bent down, opened her backpack, and slowly removed a piece of white rope.

"Aaah! What are you going to do with that rope?" Quinn almost shrieked.

"Iím going to tie it around my wrist, then Iím going to go put my arms around that tree. You will come to the other side of the tree and tie my other wrist. Then you can search my skull for holes to your heartís content." Daria made a loop in one end of the rope and tied it with a slip knot.

Quinn couldnít believe it. "Youíre going to help me tie you to a tree?" Daria would never do that!"

"Under ordinary circumstances, no. And a Daria controlled by an evil alien brainworm would certainly never do this. But it was my prank that freaked you out. I feel responsible. Damn conscience." Daria slipped her right wrist into the loop and pulled it tight. Turning, she walked toward the larger of the two trees at the panís edge. "Come on, Quinn. If youíre going to have to examine the back of everyoneís head from now on, youíve got to start somewhere. Itís not gonna get any easier than this."

Quinn fidgeted with anxiety. "Youíre trying to trick me like you always do!" she whined.

"That would mean that Iím my usual self, which is good." Daria replied. Reaching the pecan tree, she put her arms around it. Her fingertips just more than touched. After several tries, she managed to flip the rope so that her left hand could catch it. Giving herself some slack and laying the rope over her wrist, she snaked her hand around it so as to put three coils of rope around her wrist. "No, I tricked you already. Now Iím trying to untrick you."

"Youíre gonna wait till I get close, then pull loose and try to catch me!"

"You donít believe that. Look, this is the best I can do. Either come over here and see for yourself that I donít have any wormholes in my head, or spend the night out here. Itís your choice."

Hesitantly, Quinn approached around the waterís edge. Fear stopped her twenty feet from the tree. Daria stood motionless, waiting. Quinnís eyes darted from side to side, as if she feared an ambush. She took a step back.

Daria concealed her irritation at Quinnís excessive timidity and called up her reserves of patience. "If you choose not to come and see for yourself, that will mean that Iíve failed. Iíll be forced to go back home and tell Mom, and sheíll call the cops. The sheriffís posse will hunt you down with tracking dogs. I donít know what Mom will do to me, but youíll probably be so messed up by the time they catch you and drag you back that youíll have to be institutionalized. Bad things happen in those places, Quinn. You may never be the same, after you get out. For that matter, you may never get out at all. Iíd hate to see that happen."

Quinn was horrified. "Dogs?"

"Trained to hunt down and capture criminals. Not the cute playful kind."

"Institushalized?"

"Straitjackets. Shock treatments. Lobotomies. Drug injections. Thatís why Iím doing this, Quinn. To save you from that."

"To save your butt from Mom and Dad, you mean."

"No. This wonít save my butt, just yours. Look, you really donít believe thereís a worm in my brain. So either letís go home now, or you come look and be sure, and then letís go. I really donít want to go home alone, but my arms are getting tired, and there are ants on this tree trunk."

"All right. Donít you move!" Quinn swallowed hard, walked quickly up to the tree, grabbed the rope, stuffed the end under the part between Dariaís wrists, and tied a knot. Then she tied another one, and another. Stepping around to the other side of the tree, she looked her sister in the eye.

Daria returned the look with her usual poker faced non-expression. "Go ahead, while the lightís still good." With that, she turned her head to face straight forward and rested her forehead on the rough gray trunk of the pecan tree.

Quinn set to work, minutely examining first the back of her sisterís head, then the rest of her scalp. Then she went over it all again by feel. At length she stepped back, hands on hips.

"Find any brainworm holes?" asked Daria.

"No, darn you!"

"Any dents or gouges from the car door?"

"Huh? Oh. No."

"So, are you done?"

"Hmmm... I just had a thought. Betcha canít guess what it is!"

"I knew what that thought was before I put this rope in my backpack. Youíre thinking this is a perfect opportunity to kick my butt."

"Gee, Daria, you are so smart!"

Whop!

"Ow!"

"Since youíre so smart and all, how many times am I gonna kick your butt?"

"Well, I decided that, if it would get you back home more or less sane, Iíd let you have up to three freebies. Any more than three, youíll pay for at a time and place of my choosing."

"Really? Thatís very generous of you."

Whop.

"Ow."

"But I guess two will do."

Daria smirked a little. Quinn hadnít put much oomph into that last kick. "So, if weíre done here, do you want to untie me?"

Quinn pretended to ponder. "Hmm... yeah, I guess." She went around and began working on the knots she had tied. After a minute, Daria said, "Um, Quinn? The ants?"

"Iím trying, but these knots are, like, real tight!"

Daria sighed. With her right hand, she took hold of the free end of the knot she had tied, and rotated her wrist counterclockwise to pull on it. The knot came apart, freeing her from the tree. Stepping away, she set about ridding herself of some overly familiar ants. "Good thing these werenít fire ants. Iíd have been in bad shape by now."

Quinn gaped at her. "You could have done that any time?! You tricked me!"

"Quinn, if I were half mad with fear, and thought you were an evil alien who wanted to put a worm in my brain, would you put your life completely in my hands?"

"Hmmm... I guess not. But next time you get brainworms, Iím gonna tie all the knots!"

Daria had been picking at the knots that tied her left wrist, with no success. Instead, she tried sliding her hand out of the loop. It came out quite easily. "Yeah, these knots are tight, all right. Maybe Dad can undo them."

Quinn was gaping again. "How did you do that? Those knots were tight!"

Daria had been able to slip her hand out because Quinn hadnít removed two of the three loops of rope around her wrist before sheíd tied the knots. A little twisting and pulling had turned them into one big loop. But she saw no reason to tell Quinn that. "Donít look at me. You tied them."

She went over to her backpack and pulled out Quinnís windbreaker and cap and the bottle of lotion, and stuffed the rope inside. She thought it best not to let Quinn see the two chicken franks sheíd brought. Thinking it might help if she demonstrated the peculiar behavior of chicken franks, sheíd also brought a small pan, a plastic bottle of water, and some matches. But they werenít needed now.

"Here, Quinn, put some of this on. Itíll stop the itching" Quinnís arms and, to a lesser extent, her lower legs and face, were crisscrossed with thin red lines from contact with the cornlike milo leaves, and sheíd been rubbing and scratching at them. She gratefully accepted the bottle of itch-relieving lotion.

Daria wandered back over to the area under the two trees, where she thought sheíd seen... yes, there they were. Blackberries. She pulled very gently on a few that looked ripe, until one came off easily. She popped it into her mouth. Delicious. She searched for and found a few more that passed the pull test.

Quinn came over, curious. "Are those berries?"

"Blackberries, just starting to get ripe. Want some?"

"How can you be sure a bug hasnít walked on them?"

"You can be pretty sure bugs have walked on them. Thatís good, it means no pesticide residue. What you do is find a ripe one, and if thereís a bug still on it and you canít make him get off, let him keep it. Otherwise, eat it." Daria popped another berry into her mouth as an example. "Mmmm."

"Ew." Dubiously, Quinn pulled a plump berry and took a nibble. "Eewww! Itís sour!"

"You pulled too hard to get it. Point your finger at me." Daria took Quinnís fingertip between her thumb and first two fingers and pulled very gently on it. "Donít pull any harder than that, and all the ones that come off will be sweet. Leave the rest for another day. If a berry falls off when you just touch it, thatís the sweetest one of all. Pick it up, blow it off, and eat it."

Quinn tried again, and soon she was making mmm noises too. "So this will be a good place to come for the next week or two, huh? How come these berries are so much bigger than the ones that grow along the fence in the back yard?"

"I think itís because these are in the shade in the middle of the day. Too much sun dries them out. And this will be a good place to come all summer. These are wild plum bushes, and the plums will be ripe in about a month. See that small vine? Thatís a maypop, and theyíll have fruit in June and July. In the fall, this tree will have pecans, and that one will have persimmons."

"Eww! I thought persimmons made your mouth shrink up so you couldnít talk."

They will, if you try to eat one that isnít ripe. But the ripe ones are sweet as jam, and taste even better. I only had some a couple of times, and I definitely want more."

"Whereíd you learn all this stuff, nature girl?"

"A little from Girl Scouts, back in the old neighborhood. Some from watching Beavis and Butthead. They donít always get fed regularly, and theyíre pretty good foragers. Most of it from Cousin Luke in Texarkana. While you were drooling over their horsie, Luke and I were down in the woods, pigging out and catching varmints."

"Maybe Iíll come with you next time, if I can pass on the varmint catching part."

"Well, donít expect me to let you eat any of my varmints."

"Eeewwww! Daria!" Quinn smirked a little; pretty sure that last bit was a joke. Yeah, that was Daria, all right, she thought. The third strangest human being sheíd ever met, and she had to be her sister. Ah, well, she was kind of okay, every once in a while. And definitely better than Beavis or Butthead.

"Oh look, Quinn. This maypop vine still has some flowers on it." Daria carefully picked one and handed it to her sister.

"Oh, itís so beautiful! Iíve never seen a flower like that!"

"Itís a passionflower. The maypop is a native variety of passionfruit."

"What are these things?"

"Stamens and pistils. I donít know which is which on that flower." Out of a bulge in the center of the blossom, a single stalk arose. Half an inch above the bulge, five branches came off the stalk with little fuzzy pads at their ends. Up a further half-inch or so, three more stems branched off, tipped with other, bulbous fuzzy things. "Let me show you something. If you take off two of these three things on top, and then take off these two down here, and this one on the other side, you have a little ballerina. See, thatís her head and those are her arms, and the petals are her tutu." Daria slowly twirled the stem of the flower between her thumb and forefinger, and the Ďballerinaí pirouetted daintily.

"That is so cool!" Quinn took the flower and spun it slowly as Daria had done, lost for the moment in childish wonder.

Daria straightened up and arched her back, then looked around. Dark clouds loomed in the southwest. "Weíd better head back. Looks like rain is on the way."

-----:{}:-----

 

Daria and Quinn were nearly out of the milo field when Quinn spoke again. "What did you mean back there when you said this wouldnít save your butt, just mine?"

"I think you know. Youíve been saved from the dangerous paranoid delusion that the human race is being secretly taken over by brainworms. The danger to my butt comes when Mom asks you why you ran off screaming at lunch."

"Yeah, thatís what I thought. If I tell the truth- which we should always do- even if Mom thinks I was silly to believe it, youíll get in trouble. But what else could I tell her?"

"You could say I had an ugly scary spider on my shoulder. As long as you donít make it too big, I might not have known about it."

"I guess thatíd work. Iíd look a little silly, but not too much." Quinn put on a coy look. "But why would I tell a lie like that, instead of the truth, like Iím supposed to?"

"Other than sisterly love, you mean? I can think of two reasons. One is that thing about you telling your friends at school that Dad slammed my head in the car door. He wouldnít like that. ĎSpecially if someone reports him for child abuse."

"Ooh gee, youíre right. Well, I can put a stop to that. Whatís the other reason?"

They were now almost at their back door, so Daria leaned over and whispered in Quinnís ear. Slowly, a smile spread across Quinnís face.

 

-----:{}:-----

 

That evening the Morgendorffers sat at dinner, listening to the sound of rain on the roof and the occasional rumble of distant thunder as they ate their lasagna. Helen noticed the two exotic flowers in a shot glass of water on the table.

"Arenít they beautiful?" said Quinn. "Theyíre passionflowers. Daria showed me how to make them into little tiny ballerinas!" She held up the one Daria had modified and twirled it.

"Theyíre lovely, honey. You didnít get them out of someoneís garden, did you?"

"No, they grow wild. In a month or two we can pick passion fruit."

"Goodness, Quinn, how did your arms get all scratched up like that?"

Quinn exchanged a surreptitious glance with Daria. "Oh, uh, picking blackberries, mostly."

"Thatís great, kitten! I used to love to roam the fields and woods and eat blackberries and may apples and pawpaws and stuff! But if the old man saw me, heíd turn it into survival and evasion drill! Make me eat tree bark and wild garlic and BUGS and WORMS! WHY COULDNT YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE FOR..."

"JAKE! Quinn, why did you run off like that at lunch? I was worried about you."

"Well, there was this big hairy spider on Dariaís shoulder and it was looking right at me and she acted like it wasnít there at all and I just ran!"

Helen gave Daria a sideways glance. Daria shrugged and said, "I didnít see one."

A flash of lightning followed by a nearer clap of thunder drew their attention. Jake said, "I hope this rain blows over by morning. We were gonna have a cookout tomorrow! Roast some corn, some weenies... I wish this house had a carport or a covered patio." Daria and Quinn shared another covert glance.

"Itís too early for roasting ears, Jake," said Helen. "Maybe we could get an awning."

 

-----:{}:-----

 

Next midday found the Morgendorffers gazing out the windows at a steady rain. Beans were baking... well, sort of... and Helen had made coleslaw, but it didnít look like there would be an opportunity to fire up the grill any time soon. Helen put a pot of water on the stove, dumped in a package of chicken franks, and put the lid on it.

Quinn, sitting at the table, shot Daria an anxious look. Daria sent her a wink and a sneaky thumb up. She waited a couple of minutes, then lifted the lid and peeked inside. The water was approaching the boiling point and the franks were beginning to expand. Time to start the setup.

Daria got the newspaper and pretended to read. "Listen to this. A Pentagon spokesman announced yesterday that Extraterrestrial beings may be invading the United States. The aliens are being introduced..." Quinn was trying to suppress a grin. Jake looked up from dicing half an onion. Helen was checking the beans.

Daria continued, drawing out her Ďnews itemí while keeping an ear and half an eye on the pan with the chicken franks. "...causing them to attack the nearest human by boring into the back of the skull..." Quinn was turning red, and biting her hand to keep from laughing. Jake was listening with a puzzled expression, and now Helen turned around and began listening too.

"...The public is warned not to cook or eat toaster pastries, burritos, chicken franks, egg rolls,..." the lid of the pan was slowly rising.

"Daria, what in the world are you reading?" demanded Helen. Jake said, "I donít remember reading that."

The pan lid hit the floor with a clang. Daria pointed and cried out "Aaah! Itís the alien brainworms! Run!" Quinn screamed. Jake and Helen whirled to face the stove.

Huge and horribly misshapen, the chicken franks were rising from the boiling water in a gruesome cluster, like an eight-fingered hand. Writhing, twisting, splitting open, hissing and screaming in their tiny high-pitched voices, they struggled to escape the pan. (2)

"Yaaah!" Helen backed into the opposite wall.

"Gaah!" Jake grabbed Daria and ran out into the den, but slowed and stopped as he heard the sound of Quinnís hysterical laughter. He looked into Dariaís face, realization and the beginnings of anger showing in his own. "Oops." Thought Daria. "Time for damage control." Smiling her sweetest smile, she hugged her fatherís neck and kissed him on the chin. "Just kidding, Daddy."

Jake melted, but not quite all the way. Setting Daria down, he gently but firmly pushed her back toward the kitchen. Helen was bending down and glaring under the table at Quinn, curled up on the floor, still laughing uncontrollably. Daria moved the pan of franks onto a cold burner and wiped up some water.

Helen turned on Daria. "What in the world did you do to those hot dogs?" she demanded.

"Not a thing, Mom. They do that all by themselves. I just provided some commentary."

"Goodness. Do you think theyíre safe to eat?"

Jake was reading the ingredient list on the franks package. "Yeah. I think they do that because thereís more water added to replace the fat. Steam buildup."

"Weíve already eaten one package of them." Daria noted. "And theyíre returning to normal now."

Jake looked at Quinn under the table, which made her burst out laughing again. He began to chuckle.

 

-----:{}:-----

 

The Morgendorffers were finishing their Ďcookoutí lunch. Quinn got up from the table and disappeared into the den. After a moment, Daria saw her peeking around the end of the divider wall, hoping not to be noticed. Daria guessed that she might still be suffering a twinge of paranoia. Uh-oh. That wicked little voice was whispering in her ear again.

Turning to her father, she said "Ash nazg durbatuluk."

Absorbed in the paper, Jake replied "Mmm."

"Gort. Klaatu varada nikto." said Daria.

"Thatís great, kiddo." Jake rejoined, scratching the back of his head.

"Ooh, nice touch." Daria thought. Turning to Helen, she asked "Compos mentos?", scratching the back of her head in turn.

Slightly puzzled, Helen copied the gesture. "Compos mentos. Et tu?"

Daria gave Helen a smile. "Comme ci, comme ca." Glancing at Quinn, she whispered "Donít look now, but sheís watching us again."

Jake and Helen covertly peeked at Quinn, which was just what Daria wanted. Daria peeked too. Quinn gasped and disappeared down the hall.

"What was that all about? Asked Helen.

Daria shook her head. "Sheís a strange kid."

 

La la LA la la.

 

Notes

1 Milo is a grain with itchy cornlike leaves, grown mostly for livestock feed.

  1. Lest you think I exaggerated past the range of believability, that last scene in the kitchen is very close to what actually happened the first time my mom boiled a package of all-chicken franks, at least as to the behavior of the franks.
  2. I lived in Lubbock, Texas from age one to age seven. I remember dust storms, tumbleweeds, and hornytoads. It was hot and dry, there was no shade, and they grew a lot of milo and cotton. There wasnít all that much uranium in the water, but there was so much naturally occurring sodium fluoride that drinking tap water would cause your teeth to turn green, and cause many serious health problems. Lubbock was used as the horrible example by the antis in the great water fluoridation debate. I drew on those old memories when describing Highland.

You know, when you get right down to it, fanfic writing is a desperate bid for approval, or at least attention. Lord knows we donít get paid in any other coin. So, if you got this far, please please please let me know what you thought of it. Iíll read it over and over. Iíll treasure it always. Iíll come to your house and thank you personally. Um, er, no, I wonít do that last thing. I wonít. No, really, I wonít. I promise. Awww, címon....

 

 

Disclaimer

 "Daria" and all related characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, inc. The author does not claim copyright to these characters or to anything else in the "Daria" milieu; he does, however, claim copyright to all those parts of this work of fiction which are original to him and not to MTV or to other fanfic authors. This fanfic may be freely copied and distributed provided its contents remain unchanged, provided the author's name and email address are included, and provided that the distributor does not use it for monetary profit. (as if.)

  Galen Hardesty [gehardesty@yahoo.com]