Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.

This is the ninth John Lane story

Richard Lobinske

Good Art Hunting

"Hey guys. Your poster's really drawing a crowd," Jodie Landon told John Lane and Daria Morgendorffer.

The three teens stood to one side of several display tables. On them were entries in Lawndale High School's "Student Life at the Dawn of a New Millennium" poster contest. Several members of the school board were gathered around Daria and John's collaboration. John had done a dual painting. On the left, a pretty teen girl sat on a chair and gazed into a mirror, on the right, a teen boy stood proud, showing his well-sculpted muscles. At the bottom was Daria's caption in verse:

She knows she's a winner,
she couldn't be thinner.
Now she goes in the bathroom
and vomits up dinner.

He knows he's the man,
muscles hardened and tan.
But steroid-caused impotence
wasn't part of the plan.

Daria said, "Ms. Li wasn't happy about it and Mr. O'Neill about lost his lunch."

"Which means we must've hit a chord," John added.

Jodie crossed her arms and looked again at the crowd. "I still can't believe you got away with it."

John rubbed the side of his face. "Ms. Li's still being careful around us after the Tommy Sherman incident."

"And milking it for all its worth," Daria muttered.

Jodie nodded knowingly. "I wouldn't put that past her."

"I'll take advantage of it as long as I can." John pointed to a woman taking notes on a pad and a man with a camera taking photos of the poster. "A blurb in the paper adds a little bit to my chances of getting into an art school later."

"There you are, Kiddo!" Daria's father Jake said from most of the way across the room. He balanced a paper plate of finger foods on a paper cup and walked over.

Daria quietly said to Jodie, "Okay, John has a point. We also got out of eating Dad's cooking tonight."

In response to Jodie's confused face, John said, "Work's been a little slow for him lately; he's taken to cooking…or attempted cooking. Either way, it has been a break from my efforts or frozen lasagna. But, things like that green macaroni were kind of funky."

"That's because it oxidized. Or, so Dad claimed."

Jodie dropped her voice to a whisper as Jake got closer. "The idea of your dad cooking sounds as scary as mine."

Jake grinned at Jodie. "Hey there. I'm Jake Morgendorffer. Are you a friend of Daria and John's?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm Jodie Landon."

Jake tried to shake Jodie's hand, but bobbled the plate and several items fell to the floor. "Dammit!"

Jodie suppressed a laugh. "Hi Mr. Morgendorffer."

John stooped down and picked up the loose food. "I got it."

"Thanks," Jake told him. Back to Jodie, he asked, "Do you have a poster here?"

"No sir. I'm here representing student government."

"That's great. Daria, why don't you try for something like student government?"

Daria looked directly at him. "Who would I represent around here?"

An attractive woman carrying an infant in her arms and with a diaper bag over one shoulder looked around briefly before spotting Jodie and coming over. "Jodie, it's time we took Evan home for bed."

"Okay." Jodie stood beside the woman. "Everybody, this is my Mom, Michelle and my little brother, Evan. Mom, this is Daria Morgendorffer, her dad Jake, and John Lane."

Jake smiled while holding up his plate and cup. "Hey there, Michelle."

"Good evening, Mr. Morgendorffer. Hi Daria, John."

Both of them said, "Hi," in response.

"Do you two have posters in the contest?"

Jodie's eyes flew open and she started maneuvering Michelle away. "Like Mom said, we should be going."

Michelle waved. "Nice to meet you." Before they had gone far, she said to Jodie in a lowered voice, "What is wrong with this school? Did you see that horrible poster about bulimia and steroid use? Thank God you don't associate with anyone who makes something like that."

John and Daria each grabbed one of Jake's upper arms and turned him away, with Daria saying, "Now where did you find those finger sandwiches?"

Over a breakfast of cereal, Daria folded the Arts section of the paper and handed it to John. "Typical myopic photography we've come to expect from the Sun-Herald, but it made it."

John quickly scanned the photo caption. "Wow, they even spelled your name right."

"But they left out the poster caption, so now it looks like a beauty queen and a football player."

"True," John agreed. "But didn't somebody say that any publicity is good publicity? If it makes people want to see the poster, then it'll get them to read your caption."

"Okay, it works for those that can get off their fat asses, the rest will only see visual without context."

"Those people would never get it anyway."

"Hmm. Yeah."

"I hate waiting. Why couldn't Ms. Li announce the winner this morning instead of after school?"

"It's a plot to torture you and you alone."

Quinn finished her breakfast and stood.

When she didn't move any farther, Daria asked, "Quinn, did you forget how to walk?"

Quinn stumbled over her words. "Um…the…uh…Fashion Club."

"Yes?" Daria prompted. "The Fashion Club, what?"

"We…uh…voted last night to say…thankyoufortheposter."

John very slowly put his spoon down. "Okay…I'm having hallucinogenic berry flashbacks."

Daria looked at Quinn in complete surprise. "I'd have thought your bunch wouldn't like it."

"Daria! Bulimia is not the way to stay beautiful. I mean, kneeling in front of a toilet and making yourself throw up? Eww! With a capital 'U.' That is so unattractive."

"So you'd rather starve?"

Quinn huffed in frustration. "Daria, we plan on staying attractive until we're old and like, thirty or something. Why do you think we eat all that healthy food and do yoga?"

Daria was taken aback. "Oh. Um…" She sighed. "I'm sorry. Thanks for the thank you."

Quinn had a satisfied smile and looked at John. "And steroids? Bald guys with boobs? Yuck."

John chuckled. "Thanks." He looked at Jake, still hidden behind the front page of the newspaper. "How does he do that?"

Ms. Li stood in front of the poster contest entrants, gathered in the school auditorium. Behind her, each poster was set upon an easel. "I want to thank each and every one of you fine, upstanding young people for bringing honor and glory to Lawndale High."

John leaned over and whispered to Daria, "Is she programmed to say that?"

"The school board had a hard and difficult job choosing a winner from such an outstanding group of entries," Ms. Li droned.

Daria whispered back. "Ms. Li an android; that would explain a few things."

The principal opened an envelope. "I'm pleased to announce the winner is…Brittany Taylor's poster, 'Cheering the Way.'"

The bouncy blonde jumped up in her seat. "I won! I won!"

John stared at the crudely drawn poster. "Now I think it's my turn to throw up."

Daria shook her head. "I passed on the human growth hormone, I'll pass on the steroids."

Sitting on John's bed, Daria asked him, "That poster contest's still getting to you, isn't it? It's been over a week."

John stared intently at a canvas set on the floor of his room, surrounded by drop cloths. Frowning, he grumbled, "Brittany's poster was horrible. Any of the others should've won before hers."

"You know what happened, don't you?"

He dribbled and splattered paint on the canvas and stepped back. "Yeah, they wanted something positive, upbeat and safe. With no substance at all."

"That pretty much describes Brittany."

"Hmph." John evaluated the paint results. "Not enough velocity." He looked back at Daria. "She was used as much as we were."

"Except she doesn't realize it."

He dipped a large brush into a can of paint and slung it at the canvas hard, delivering paint in a broad arc. "Good hit, but no control. Damn. And there's not much we can do."

"I can't even write a column for the Lowdown. A lot of people saw those posters and also must be wondering the same thing. But if I write it, it looks like sour grapes and undermines anything I say."

John looked at the window, threw it open and looked down. A hedge grew next to the house and a moderate wind blew in his face. "Frack! That won't work. Your folks would blow a fuse if I got paint on the brick outside or on the plants." He closed the window and shook his head. "And nobody else there will touch it?"

"Won't even go near."

He flipped open a plastic tool box and removed a plastic syringe. John filled it with paint and squirted it onto the canvas. "Nice possibilities but still have the control problem."

Daria dropped her chin onto her hands. "Control problem is right: Ms. Li."

John sat down and put an arm around her shoulders. "Sometimes I wonder if she ran a prison before coming to Lawndale."

Nearing the end of his history class, Mr. DeMartino said, "And finally, we will be teaming up with the Science and Language Arts departments for an interdisciplinary field trip to Jim's Paintballing Jungle."

John sat up in his chair.

Mr. DeMartino leaned over, directly in Kevin Thompson's sleeping face and ratcheted his voice up a notch in volume. "An activity that some of you may find more taxing than sleeping through class!"

Kevin started and sputtered, "Um... the League of Nations?"

Mr. DeMartino spun and looked for another target. "And why are we going to engage in simulated combat? Daria?"

Bored, Daria said, "Because no high school education is complete until you've chased your fellow students around the woods with toy guns?"

Mr. DeMartino chuckled and said, "Your sarcasm amuses me, Daria. I hope it provides you comfort when you're cowering in a foxhole. No, we're going to study how warfare affects all aspects of culture. "

The corners of John's mouth turned up as he listened.

"Now, we're going to need parent volunteers." Mr. DeMartino half-shouted, "That is, if anyone can pull themselves away from their six figure jobs as sycophants!"

Kevin raised hand and stupidly grinned.

"Yes, Kevin?" Mr. DeMartino said, dreading what the student may say next.

Kevin told him, "My dad's not a sycophant, Mr. D. He's a contractor."

Mr. DeMartino narrowed his eyes and stared straight at the quarterback. "Kevin, stay close to me when you get to the paintball range, okay, son?"


Mr. DeMartino's laughed echoed in the room when the bell rang.

While leaving the classroom, Daria sighed and said, "Who would've thought the school could come up with something this moronic."

"Um…" John gave Daria a sly smile, "I want to go."

"You what? This has got to be the dumbest thing since Self-Esteem class."

"Trust me, I don't want to go for the reasons the school wants me to go."

Warily, she said, "All right, why do you want to go? Do I need to check you for a fever?"

John grinned with glee. "Jackson Pollack would've given up his left nut for a paintball gun."

A small, impish smile spread on Daria's lips. "You're not thinking…"

"About turning our fellow students into running works of art? Would I do something like that?"

"Without a moment's hesitation or hint of remorse."

"You know me too well."

John looked over the top of a paintball supply catalog at the television when he heard the announcer say, "Are fish using our oceans as their own private toilet? A Sick, Sad World exclusive, right after this."

Perched on her bed to read over his shoulder, Daria turned the TV off with a remote when she heard the door open. Noticing Quinn, she said, "The bathroom's down the hall, or there's an ocean that way."

Quinn ignored her sister pointing a thumb at the window. With a hint of teasing, she said, "Ugh. You two are even geekier in private."

Daria shot back, "I'm sorry, the room's already at maximum occupancy. Please exit through the front."

"Look, I don't want to know what you two do in private, but please don't tell Mom and Dad that they're looking for paintball volunteers, okay?"

John laid the open catalog against his chest. "Trust me, we don't want them to see what's going to happen."

"You're up to something, right?"

Daria said, "We'll neither confirm nor deny. However, all of us have a common goal: no mention of paintballing or volunteering to Mom and Dad."

Quinn nodded. "Agreed."

"Later," Daria told her, "After we've achieved this goal, we'll resume the age-old appearance that peace in this region of the house is impossible."

"Good plan." Quinn made a fast exit, stopping briefly at the door to say, "But you two still look cute together."

Daria pushed her glasses up and rubbed her eyes. "Does she have to keep saying 'cute?'"

John reached back over the car seat to grab a paper bag marked "Jim's Paintballing Jungle" that contained different color paint balls and a plastic bag with several cartridges of instant film. "Thanks for the ride, Trent."

One arm resting on the open window, John's brother said, "No problem. Good to get way for a bit. Maybe Axel's done with Monique's latest piercing job."

"You and her on the outs again?"

"Yeah. No big deal."


"Heard from Mom lately?"

"Not since she called about Uncle Max going on the wagon after spending a night at the family reunion listening to Wind."

Trent laughed and coughed. "It almost would've been worth the trip to see that."

"Nothing's worth putting up with the croquet tournament."

"Hmm, yeah."


"Yeah, later Johnny."

Trent drove off and John went inside the house and quietly went up to his room to stash the bags out of sight. In a better mood, he loudly thumped down the stairs three steps at a time.

Walking around the stairs to the kitchen, he heard Quinn cry out, "The Fashion Club put me in charge of figuring out a style to prevent helmet hair. I didn't know they were going to do it! I can't take all this pressure..."

"Don't beat yourself up," came Daria's voice. "You held out a good ten seconds."

Helen said, "Paintballing! That's exciting, isn't it, Daria?"

There goes no mention of paintball. John saw the three seated at the dining table and Quinn's hair was styled into a series of tight braids. He stepped into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. "At least it gets us out of class for the day."

Helen turned to him. "Oh, John. There you are. Are you excited about this?"

"Compared to Mr. O'Neill's class, watching a sloth race is exciting."

Helen shuddered, "That man is just so...creepy."

John saw Jake out of the corner of his eye. Keeping his hand low behind the counter, he motioned for him to stay back. Jake gave a thumb's up and quietly ascended the stairs.

Helen brightly said, "I don't suppose they need volunteers for this?"

All three teens said together, "No!"

Disappointed, Helen said, "Oh, darn!"

Dressed in olive drab fatigues with the extra paintballs and the Polaroid camera stuffed into pockets, John looked out the school bus window. He read a billboard out loud, "Only twenty miles to the Great White Shark." He contemplated a moment before going on, "Sharks don't normally eat humans, but since we're almost certain Ms. Li isn't one, maybe we could make a side trip."

Sitting next to him in a similar jumpsuit, Daria said, "You know how sharks don't bite lawyers out of professional courtesy? They probably have a mutual recognition agreement with school administrators."

"Oh, well. It was an idea."

"Maybe you can get a shot at Ms. Li today."

"You really are trying to cheer me up."

"You were starting to make me sound upbeat."

The bus ground to a halt and students began to file off the bus. Daria blinked her eyes several times. "Finally."

John covered a yawn with his hand. "You'd think somebody other than Jim's Paintball Jungle and the Great White Shark would buy billboard space on this road. A little reading variety would've been nice."

They waited for the line to pass and were the last to exit. Helen and Jake, dressed in khaki and desert camouflage, stood in front of them waving and calling, "Surprise!"

John wondered, "What are they doing here?"

Daria sighed in frustration. "I guess tormenting us in the privacy of our own home wasn't enough."

Mr. O'Neill came over to Daria and John. "Isn't this great? I called your mother about the school review board meeting, but she was going out of town that night and asked if we were looking for paintball volunteers! I only wish more parents cared enough to take such an active role in their child's education.

Jake chimed in, "Me, too!"

Helen tiredly said, "Yes."

Under her breath, Daria said to John, "Where's an air strike when you need one?"

Jim was a disreputable looking character in simple fatigues with cut-off sleeves. After gathering the students and chaperones together, he'd gone over the rules and issued paintball guns, helmets and goggles to each. Red or blue bandanas were tied onto everyone's arm and they started to the respective teams. Daria followed John over to the "Hanoi Hilton" replica that served as the range's main entry building and equipment supply, so he could surreptitiously check in his extra ammo.

John started over toward the red team. "See you in a bit, after we're dead," he said to her.

Wearing a blue armband but not yet moving toward her team, Daria returned, "If we end up in some kind of Valhalla, I'm not dressing up as a valkyrie."

"I'd have thought you'd enjoy choosing the slain."

"That part could be fun, but I'm not dragging their sorry butts anywhere."

"Hmm. Good point."

John wandered over to the team as Mr. O'Neill said, "So, seize this golden opportunity to say, 'Private Young Person reporting, sir or madam, ready, willing, and able to learn the true meaning of teamwork.'"

Brittany jumped up and gave a cheer. "Let's go, team!"

"That's it, Brittany!" Mr. O'Neill looked around, "Who else on Team Red wants to say something before we begin? John?"

John ignored him and looked at some of the other team members, Ms. Barch, Helen, Mack, Sandi, Joey and Jeffy were nearby.

Mr. O'Neill tried to coax a reply. "Now John, there's no 'I' in team."

Ms. Barch growled, "Oh, shut up!"

Mr. O'Neill stopped momentarily and then said, "Now, before we go out on the battlefield, would anyone like to share their feelings?"

Ms. Barch fired off several rounds into the air behind Mr. O'Neill. He sobbed and ran off behind a nearby shelter.

Ms. Barch dropped her gun to the ready. "Now that Mr. O'Neill has predictably deserted us in our prime, I will take command. Now, if we spread out in a long line and sweep towards the flag..."

"Excuse me, Ms. Barch?" Brittany raised her hand. "Since they can't see us very well because of the terrain, we can split up and they won't know where we are, then we can attack them from three sides, drive them out to the one side that they think is safe, and then set up an ambush so we can capture them all at once! Probably be a good idea to set up a secret observation post on the high ground so we can watch them without them seeing us."

Like the rest, John was surprised by Brittany's lucid tactical suggestion. Okay, where's Mr. Serling? I know we just entered the Twilight Zone.

"What?" Brittany said to the staring crowd.

Ms. Barch smiled at her approvingly. "That's very good, Brittany."

Brittany bounced and yelled, "Okay, team, let's go!" When she saw John standing still, said, "Come on John!"

"I'm more of the scout type. You know, fast runner working on his own type of thing. Go check things out."

Brittany nodded in approval. "Good idea, John. If Plan A fails, you can lead the rescue to us!"

Soft thumps of compressed gas releasing came from the nearby bushes and Ms. Barch said something that didn't make sense. John felt a sharp smack on his shoulder and saw blue paint splash. "Ow! Those paintball thingies hurt."

"Oh, no, you're hit." Brittany sadly told him, "You're out of the game."

John played things up. "Ah, Dammit!" He let the gun rest back against his shoulder and stomped away. Now the real fun begins.

John sat down among some bushes and loaded a mixture of different colored paint into the magazine of the gun. He also unpacked his camera and checked that the film cartridge was in properly. "Okay, these things hurt more than I expected, so I don't think anyone's going to be in a good mood for photography if I hit them a bunch of times. So, I guess we're doing landscapes instead." He carefully got up. "Well, maybe just a few people."

He saw Daria walking nearby, he carefully aimed and placed a bright yellow spot on the side of her helmet.

Daria wiped at the paint with a finger and looked at it. "What took you so long?"

John shrugged. "Eh, I took a while to reload."

"Nice head shot. Trying to tell me something?"

"Yeah, those paintball thingies hurt. I didn't want you getting any ideas about payback."

She reached into a pants pocket and removed a stout cylinder. "I thought you might like a little extra bang."

John took the object and saw "Gore Grenade 4000" written on the side.

Daria looked around quickly before risking a fast kiss. "The old buzzard that runs the place was sufficiently mercenary to accept a little extra to sell me one and keep it quiet. I'm sure you can find some kind of artistic expression for it."

"I'll have to wait for just the right opportunity. Let's find someplace where we can shoot up the landscape."

"I have to admit that there is a certain satisfaction with this," Daria said after she'd directed a full-automatic burst of paintballs at one of the fake hooches in the "'Nam village."

John carefully framed a multi-color pattern on another wall in his camera and took a photo, catching the ejected print and slipping it into a shirt pocket. "Oh yeah, Pollack would've loved these things."

A loud crash of someone running through the underbrush caught their attention and both snuck inside a hooch. One of Quinn's regular admirers, Jamie, stopped to catch his breath. "I…thought Ms. Barch was on your team."

His friend Joey came to a stop next to him. "Yeah, but she already shot me and Jeffy in the back."

Jeffy joined the others, mimicking Barch's voice, "Now head home to belch and scratch like the rest of your kind while the women do all the work!"

Joey said, "Fine by me, just to get away from that crazy woman."

"Hey," Jamie pointed toward one of the hooches. "Why don't we see if we can find Quinn around here?"

John turned to Daria and smiled. "Think we should discourage their search?"

"I think we should encourage them to search…somewhere else."



Both said, "Three," and stood, firing at full automatic.

With a loud, "Eep!" the three boys jumped and fled as several rounds hit each.

Daria pointed her gun upward and pulled the trigger. "Oh, well. looks like I'm empty."

"Tell me the truth. Didn't that feel good?"

Daria nodded. "Okay, some. You happy?"

"Gettin' there."

"Why don't we find something else you can technicolor?"

"Lead on."

Distant, random sounds of paintball guns and scattered shouts came from the surrounding woods as they wandered around the village. When something caught his eye, John would stop and observe from several angles before, with gleeful precision, he coated the target with paint. One of her understated smiles gracing her lips, Daria watched with bemusement as John rambled about like a boy with a new toy.

When Daria turned toward a group of shouts coming close, John was struck by the view of her standing with the paint gun resting on her shoulder, goggles pushed up on her helmet and the chinstrap hanging loose. She raised her free hand to the goggles to bring them down if needed. He grinned, pointed the camera, and clicked. Sergeant Cynic. He pocketed the developing image and waited as the sounds moved off in a new direction before seeking a new paint challenge.

"We better start heading back." Daria pointed to dark clouds quickly closing in.

"Just a minute." John pulled a zipper bag from one of his pockets and sealed the photos in it. He put the camera in a larger zipper bag and buttoned it into a cargo pocket on his pants. "Let's go."

Heavy rain hit before they'd gotten more than halfway back to the buses. Heads and shoulders wet from the rain, they crawled into one of the small shelters scattered around the game field. The rain hitting the corrugated metal roof drowned out any outside sounds.

John patted his pocket. "Glad I got photos. Everything will be washed away after the rain."


"Why I took photos."

Daria pointed to the small door. "Waiting out the rain in a shack, your education dollars at work."

"Who says we're not learning important life skills?"

"I always wanted to learn how to be homeless." Daria lifted the goggles from her fog-covered glasses. "Those did a lot of good. You got anything I can clean my glasses with?"

After a shake of his head, John said, "No, sorry."

She frowned and set them aside. "Trying to see through them like that gives me a headache."

After a while, John noticed Daria shiver and wrap her arms around herself. He put his arms around her and drew Daria close to him.

She leaned closer and said, "Thanks."

The sensation of Daria resting comfortably in his arms was wonderful. He kissed the side of her head. "I'm kind of hoping this lasts a while."

Daria closed her eyes. "I wouldn't object."

John squeezed gently and said, "We don't get to spend time together like this very much."

"No, we don't." Daria softly kissed his cheek.

He brought one hand up and cupped the side of her face, bringing his down for a kiss. John closed his eyes and concentrated on the silken touch of her lips on his as they held it for several long moments.

Daria looked at him with surprise and quietly said, "Wow."

"I could say the same."

She placed her arms around his chest and drew him in for another long kiss. "We should be careful that nobody comes by.

"I don't think anybody is out running around in this mess."

"Hmm. You're right."

"Daria…sometimes it's very frustrating. Being so close to you and barely able to do more than hold hands."

"I, um, know the feeling. I finally get to know a boy I really like and have to spend most of the time acting like you're my brother."

John smoothed her auburn hair away from her eyes. "But for a little while today…"

Daria slid one hand around the back of his neck and pulled him closer. "For a little while…"

"Ohhh, yesss! Yesssss!"

John and Daria started as the sound reached them through the lessening rain.

Daria asked, "What the hell was that?"

John looked in the direction of the sound. "Sounded like…."

"That's it, skinny!" the distant voice called.

Daria looked uneasily in the same direction. "…like Ms. Barch."

"Please don't joke like that."

A second distant voice said, "Oh Janet, I don't…mrmmph."

John fought down nausea. "That sounded like Mr. O'Neill."

Daria put her still-fogged glasses on. "I really don't want to hear any more."

"Let's get out of here before we do."

Holding Daria's hand, John led them from the shelter and toward the "Hanoi Hilton."

After a minute, they spotted a tent. John gently tugged on Daria's hand. "This way."

He saw Ms. Li come out of it and yell back inside, "You look fifty!" She spun and charged across the clearing to another tent and climbed in.

A wide, happy grin rose on John's face. "Daria, thank you very, very much."

"For what?" She said and tried to see where he was leading them.

John pulled the paint grenade from his pocket. "This."

"Was that Ms. Li?"


He walked Daria about ten feet past the tent and stopped. "When I say run; run." John pulled the safety on the grenade and tossed it into the small tent. "Run!"

A couple seconds later, they heard a loud, wet thump and Ms. Li holler, "What the hell!?"

John was able to get enough foliage between them and the tent before Ms Li barged out, yelling, "Who did that!?"

It didn't take much longer to reach the "Hanoi Hilton." Music blared from it and through holes in the walls, John saw figures dancing inside. He said, "I think I'll pass."

"Are the buses open?"

"Hey, they are."

"Problem solved."

Just inside the bus, John stopped and pulled a tissue from a box next to the driver's seat. "Clean your glasses?"

Relieved, Daria said, "Thank you," and accepted the tissue. After carefully wiping her glasses clean, she put them back on. "Much better."

After looking around the driver's seat some more, John came up with a roll of paper towels. "Care to dry off some?"

They dried themselves as much as they could before sitting in the middle of the bus, holding hands. John said, "Does your dad have a blow torch in the garage?"

"Now what are you planning?"

"I think that's the only thing that will scour the sound out of my ears."

Daria shuddered and said, "I'm never going to be able to look at either one without feeling nausea."

John put his arm around her shoulder. "But at least we had a little while."

"We did."

Soon the rain stopped and students began to filter out to the busses. To John and Daria's surprise, Ms. Barch and Mr. O'Neill were the first adults to appear, both rumpled and Mr. O'Neill out of breath. She went straight to her bus and he started counting students.

Mr. DeMartino, looking tired and annoyed, half-muttered, half-sang, "When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah, hurrah...," when he walked up to the buses.

Mr. O'Neill called out, "All right, is everyone accounted for?"

Quinn rushed onto the bus. "Yes. Okay, time to go!"

Ms. Li, covered from head to foot with lime-green paint, stomped past Mr. O'Neill. "We're leaving."

"Wait!" he said. "I don't see the Morgendorffers."

John tore the plastic bag open and pulled his camera free. He quickly aimed and shot a picture of Ms. Li before moving it out of sight.

Ms. Li said as she got on the other bus, "They drove here. They can drive themselves home. We are getting out of here, now."

"Yes, Ms. Li." Mr. O'Neill almost jumped onto the bus and told the driver, "Ready."

After the bus pulled away, Jodie leaned over from the seat in front of John and Daria. "Get the shot?"

John nodded.

Jodie gave them a knowing smile. "I'm sure there's a story behind what happened to Ms. Li. Make sure you tell me…after graduation."

John again nodded. "Let's just say; I've suffered for my art, now it's her turn."

Quinn dropped the pizza cheese onto the lid of the box sitting on the dinner table. "I wonder where Mom and Dad are?"

Seated at the table, Daria shrugged. "Maybe they're lost in the underground tunnels that Jim was so proud of."

"Maybe they didn't get the word right away." John said while lifting a slice. "Ms. Li did high tail it away from the paintball range in a big hurry."

Quinn giggled. "I know. You should've seen her on the bus trip back. I think she actually scared Ms. Barch."

John controlled his smile. "I didn't think that was possible."

Carrying her plate of pizza, Quinn started to walk away. "I kind of noticed you two were out of sight most of the day."

Daria kept a straight face. "We both got hit early in the game."

Quinn smiled. "Right."

John said, "Ask Brittany. She was right there when I was hit at the start."

"And I wandered around by myself for a while." Daria shrugged. "Ask Mom when she gets home, she saw me."

"Oh, well. I was hoping for a little fun in your lives. Look, after I eat dinner, I'm going over to Stacy's." Quinn said and walked away.

"That was close," John said in a low voice.

"Yeah, but at least we know we did have some fun today."

Daria was putting the leftover pizza in the refrigerator when they heard the front door open and Helen ranting. "I still can't believe that irresponsible witch left a student behind. That poor Sandi."

Jake was also ranting. "If I ever find out who stole the distributor cap to my Lexus!"

"Jake! At least you were sobered up by the time the tow truck arrived."

"I should hope so after you emptied two magazines of paintballs onto my butt!"

"That's what you get for drinking on a school field trip like that. You're supposed to set a good example."

"Like you set a good one by getting into an argument with our children's principal?"

"She said I looked fifty!"

"Ah, she's nuts. You don't look fifty…"

Helen's tone instantly changed to a coo. "You mean that, Jakey?"

"Oh, um, yeah…yes."

"Hmm. It doesn't look like the kids are home yet…"


After a minute of quiet, Daria and John cautiously looked around the corner. Helen and Jake were nowhere in sight. They looked at each other, and then looked up. Daria said, "There are earplugs in the garage next to Dad's power tools."

Dialog from: The Daria Hunter by Peggy Nicoll

Gore Grenade 4000 from The Daria Database by Peggy Nicoll

Thanks to Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading

August 2005