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 thirteenth John Lane story

Richard Lobinske

Movie Magik

"Isn't she cute?" Jake Morgendorffer said while watching a videotape of his eldest daughter's third birthday party. The little girl in green sat at a table with a cake before her. Seated close by was a pink-clad toddler in a high chair.

"I'm so sorry," John Lane whispered to the auburn-haired teen girl sitting next to him on a sofa as they watched the video.

Daria whispered back, "Thanks, but someday, I'll make sure I see some of you."

"Don't bet on it. Being fifth in line has its advantages. Parents get tired of taking pictures and movies, even if your dad's a photographer."

"I hate you."

Also present was Daria's sister Quinn. She grinned to watch her sister's discomfort while her 18-month old image blew out the candles on the birthday cake before Daria's image could.

The young Daria said, "Hey! You're ruining my birthday cake!"

The teenaged Daria glared at Quinn, who shrugged.

On the TV, the child Daria cried out, "Make her stop!" as her mother entered the picture.

The recorded Helen said, "Oh Daria, she's just a baby; she wants to play too!"

John looked at the image, and then at Daria. "Except for the bangs, your mom's hair back then looks a lot like yours now, Daria."

Quinn gasped and leaned over to backhand slap John's arm. She harshly whispered, "You idiot!"

While Daria shot John a look that could almost kill, her taped childhood voice said, "Why can't I be an only child?"

Confused, John uttered, "Huh?"

Quinn slapped him again and hissed, "You don't compare a girl to her mother like that, it's…creepy."

"I was only…"

Quinn slapped him a third time. "Stop, you'll make it worse."

Daria turned slightly away to hide her smirk.

Jake stopped the tape and removed it from the VCR. He grinned back at John and said, "Isn't it great to sit here and see Daria and Quinn's lives unfold before your eyes?"

John rubbed his arm. "Great."

Jake grinned more and said while searching through a box of tapes, "Guess what? I also found a box of old home movies my Dad took of me when I was a kid! I'm having them transferred to video tape!"

"Dad?" Daria said, "Do you really think that's a good idea?"

"Sure it is." Jake found the tape he was after and took the cover off. "Oh, wow, Quinn's birth. Sorry that they wouldn't let a camera into the delivery room for Daria, but at least we got film of Quinn coming out!"

Quinn's eyes popped open and Daria buried her face in her hands. John hesitantly said, "Um, Mr. Morgendorffer, this is interesting and all, but I really need to get started on some…math homework."

Waiting in line outside the Playhouse 99 Theater under a banner that read, "Food in Film Festival," Daria told John, "Okay, getting us out of seeing Quinn's birth brought you up to knee deep."

"So, I'll have to get the rest of the way out the old fashioned way?"

"Begging and groveling works."

"You're enjoying this way too much."

They were interrupted by a male voice saying, "I don't see any vegetables!"

Behind them was Kevin Thompson, carrying a bag of produce. His overly-cheerful girlfriend Brittany Taylor stood next to him, twirling a lock of blond hair in her fingers. Daria quipped, "You should have my view."

John asked, "Vegetables?"

Brittany squeaked, "You know, to throw during the big food fight!"

"Food fight?" Daria cautiously asked.

Kevin pointed to the banner hanging from the side of the building and said, "Daria, are you thick or something?"

"Didn't you see the Rocky Horror Picture Show here last month?" Brittany asked. She held her boyfriend's arm and smiled at him, saying, "Kevin and I traded each other's underwear."

"You're not doing it today, are you?" John inquired.

Kevin slapped his forehead. "Aw, man!"

Daria shook her head at John and said, "Sorry, they're showing Andre Sakarynsky's Last Meal. It's not exactly an audience participation movie."

Brittany frowned, "What kind is it, then?"

John answered, "A thirties-vintage Russian art film. With subtitles."

Kevin and Brittany looked at each other in fear for a moment before Kevin handed the grocery bag to Daria and ran off with Brittany right behind him.

The look Daria gave John combined annoyance with a faint smile. "You managed to get yourself out of the hole you'd dug without any groveling. Dammit."

The sky was filled with dark storm clouds as John and Daria left the theater after the movie. John's stomach grumbled and he said, "I'm hungry. I wish we'd saved some of Kevin's produce before palming it off on those college students."

One of their teachers, Mr. O'Neill, stepped out of the theater and said, "Daria? John?"

In a low voice, Daria said, "Can't we get away from these people?"

John thought, At least he's not here with Ms. Barch. Those two together…now that's creepy.

Daria pivoted and said, "Hi, Mr. O'Neill."

Mr. O'Neill seemed to radiate nauseating enthusiasm. "Hi, kids! I'm just so invigorated! Great cinema is timeless. Couldn't that movie have been made today?"

"I guess," Daria said, "if you could find someone to exhume the actors."

After noticing the dark sky, Mr. O'Neill asked, "Can I give you two a lift home?"

Hiding the truth in her sarcasm, Daria shook her head, saying, "No, that's okay, we love to walk."

"Yeah, it's a perfect night for a nice long stroll," John added, just as a peal of thunder rolled over and heavy rain started. He looked up and said, "But then again, maybe not."

Driving through the rain, Mr. O'Neill nervously looked at Daria and John in the back seat. Daria rolled her eyes in a way that told John, "Why does the idea of us being together seem so weird to people?"

Mr. O'Neill said over his shoulder, "Uh, sometimes…it seems like film is a better mirror of the times than the novel. John, could that be from its greater verisimilitude?"

"Um, what's verisimilitude?"

Mr. O'Neill tried again, asking, "What about you, Daria?"

Daria shook her head. "Come on, movies are fast, easy, and somebody else reads the big words for you. It's no wonder that the unwashed masses prefer them over books."

Mr. O'Neill bubbled with excitement. "That's a fabulous class assignment. Daria, thank you for the suggestion!"

"Um, did I make a suggestion?" Daria's shoulders drooped as the reality sunk in. "I don't suppose you'd listen if I said taking the suggestion would hurt my self-esteem, would you?"

The next day in his sophomore English class, Mr. O'Neill said, "So class, everyone will be making their own movies, as an exercise in living literature. Everyone, please thank Daria for that exciting suggestion."

Daria grumbled, "There's that word again."

"And I'm sure you have a few ideas of what he can do with that word," John replied.

Mr. O'Neill picked up a notepad from his desk and asked, "Now before we split into movie making teams, would anyone like to direct?"

The rest of class loudly vying for Mr. O'Neill's attention drowned out Daria's reply.

Seated between John and Daria, Jake protectively held his hands over a camcorder. "Remember you two, this isn't the sort of thing one ordinarily lends a pair of teenagers. I'm trusting you."

"Dad, we'll be careful," Daria told him.

John said, "You've got nothing on my Dad about camera paranoia, don't worry."

"That's right," Jake said, "he must've already showed you a lot about camcorders."

John shrugged. "I kind of remember he played with one when I was little, but he's mostly into still photography. But I think between the two of us, we'll remember how to use it."

"Um, okay. Just…try not to wear it out."

John fitted and adjusted until he had the camcorder set in the shrub just as he wanted. "There. Street-cam."

Daria looked at the lens pointed down their quiet, residential street. "You're just going to leave it going?

"A couple days, to record everything through the shrub's completely objective point of view."

Daria watched a leaf blow across the road. "Wow."

John said, "Critics called it brilliant when Andy Warhol filmed a guy sleeping on the street for eight hours."

"You told me that was also back when Picasso intentionally painted crap and sold it at inflated prices to people that only bought it because of his name."

"Um, oh, yeah."

A dog across the street stopped and squatted down. Daria reached into the shrub and turned off the camera. "That is not going to be our climax."

John kicked the grass and said, "A script might be a good idea."

Daria sat on her bed, reading from a script, "And then you open the window, saying, 'Now I understand, I understand everything.' Then you jump, screaming on the way down, 'Life's a meaningless descent into the void.'"

"Can we change the window part a bit? John asked. "Maybe a flashpot under the window? I want to blow something up."

Daria bowed her head, shaking it. "Guys."

Daria sat at John's desk and read from another script in a squeaky voice, "Is there no way out?"

John looked down at another copy of the script while starting to shape some clay into a vaguely human form. Also squeaky, he said, "No exit my friend. It's just us, stuck in this room forever…ack!" John made a face and rubbed his throat. "That is not gonna work."

Daria sat back and frowned. "You're right. And hand-held clay puppets are going to give all the cinematic charm of no-budget public access children's shows."

John stopped and cocked his head when he noticed Quinn searching his closet. "What are you looking for?"

Quinn jumped a bit and said, "Can I borrow something to wear to the Fashion Club party tonight?"

Beside John, Daria said, "Check her for major brain trauma."

"Please, John?" Quinn pleaded. "It's for the Fashion Don'ts Costume Gala."

John crossed his arms and chortled. "I suppose you would consider me a walking fashion don't. Sure, why not?"

"Thanks!" Quinn grabbed one of John's red shirts. "Hey Daria, can I borrow one of your skirts?"

"If it officially declares my skirts fashion don'ts, yes."

"You guys are great!" Quinn rushed down to Daria's room.

John and Daria watched as moments later, Quinn emerged with a skirt and went straight into her room.

John wondered out loud, "A fashion don'ts party could be a little cinematic."

Daria shook her head. "It's still a party. No way. Quinn's gotten better over the last few months, but her friends…forget it."

John shrugged. "Just a thought."

Daria went back into John's room. "Well, keep thinking. We still need a movie subject."

"Don't even think it. I'm staying behind the camera," Daria told John.

After a quick knock, Jake stuck his head in the room and said, "John, telephone. Sounds like your brother."

John shook his head. "I wonder what crisis is striking the band this time?" He took the cordless phone from Jake and said, "Thanks."

"No problemo." Jake backed out of the room.

"Hey Trent," John said into the phone.

Sitting in the middle of a room that looked like an exploded laundromat, Trent said, "Hey Johnny, are you busy Saturday? We could use some help with setup at the Zon."

"Well, I…just a second." John covered the phone and said, "How about the story of a cutting-edge band on the verge of waking up?"

"I don't know."

"Hey, we won't have to write a script, and between the band and the audience, we should get plenty of entertaining footage."

"And all we have to do is risk severe brain damage."


"Hmm. It gets us away from here, it'll be point and shoot with minimal effort. I think you're onto something."

"Okay." Back to the phone, he said, "Trent, Daria and I are in. Do you mind if we bring a camera and film your set?"

Trent asked, "Um, like a music video or something?"

John grinned. "Yeah, a live music video. We're doing it for class, but I'm sure we can dupe a copy for you."

"All right. We're in." Trent said to Jesse, who was sitting on a deflating beanbag chair, "Hey, Johnny and Daria are gonna shoot a music video for us."


After dispensing the last of the food to everyone's plates, Helen busied herself with stacking empty take-out containers together to clear the table.

Aghast, Quinn looked at Daria and said, "You're gonna follow them around all day?"

John corrected, "Not all day. They don't know the meaning of morning. Hopefully they'll be moving by mid afternoon."

Daria said, "And after that, it depends on how much we can stand."

Helen finished her cleanup. "I so enjoy getting home early to make dinner for my family."

"My video transfers!" Jake came into the kitchen waving a videotape. "I can't wait to show everyone my childhood!"

"We can watch after dinner," Helen suggested.

"I'm going to write some narration before the grand opening. You know, to capture the whole feel of the period. Probably take a couple of days."

Worried, Helen thought for a moment and said, "You never seemed to have good memories of those days."

Jake shook his head and continued grinning. "It's all coming back to me and really makes me miss my childhood! Kids, enjoy your youth! They're the best years of your lives."

John scrunched his face and said, "Weren't you telling us after the Yeagers left not to dwell on the past and to live in the present?"

Daria gently elbowed him. "Shh. Don't try to get him to mix short and long term memories."

Jake settled onto the sofa directly in front of the television. An audio tape recorder was next to him and he was hooking up a small microphone.

Walking to the front door from the kitchen, Daria stopped and said, "Ready for your big voiceover debut, Dad?"

He turned and said, "That's right, Kiddo." Jake held up the mike and said, "I'm gonna lead you on a romp through ol' Dad's childhood."

"How about if I skip the romp and just observe?"

"Sure thing!"

From outside, John opened the front door and said, "Daria, Trent's here."

Daria said, "See ya, Dad."

"Okay, Daria. Can't wait for you to see this."

"Um, right. We'll call if we run late."

After the teens left, Jake started the VCR and the audio recorder. He spoke into the microphone, "It was a time of innocence, when you left your doors unlocked and candy bars cost a nickel. Not that those two facts are related, I'm…aww, dammit! Lemme start over here."

The video showed Jake as a six year old boy riding a bicycle on a street in front of a ranch-style house. On the sidewalk behind him was his mother, watching.

Jake tried again, saying, "It was a carefree time when a young boy could learn to ride a bike on sun-dappled streets."

On the playback, he cut a turn too sharp and fell to the pavement, crying. His mother waved to someone off-camera and walked away, seeming not to notice Jake's mishap.

Jake barked, "Hey! Hey! Why doesn't anybody help that poor kid? He skinned his knee!"

The child Jake wiped the tears away with his arm and climbed back onto the bike, riding again.

Jake's face started turning red and he yelled, "Oh I get it! 'Get back on the bike Jake, big boys don't cry. Crying is for girls Jakey.' You heartless old bastard! It's all coming back to me now!"

Outside, Daria looked at Trent's old blue Plymouth and said, "At least we're not getting shoehorned into the Tank."

"Oh, for small miracles," John said in agreement.

When they reached the car, they saw that Trent's girlfriend Monique was in the passenger seat. She waved and said, "Hey Johnny, hey Daria."

John opened the back door, looked inside and whispered to Daria, "Better let me get in first."

He slid over to the seat center to squeeze against the guitar case and loose cables piled on the rest of the seat. He nodded to Monique. "Hi."

Daria squeezed in and closed the door. "Hi Trent, hi Monique."

Trent looked up at the rear-view mirror to see his brother and Daria. "All right, Mystik Spiral's going video. Do we get fireworks or anything?"

"What is it with guys and fire?" Shaking her head, Daria sank back in the seat.

John half-grinned and said, "Fire's cool."

Eyes narrowed, Daria raised her head and gravely said, "Don't ever say that again."

Max's battered old black van was already parked by the back entrance to the Zon when Trent's car pulled up behind it. The back and side doors of the van were open and haphazardly stacked band equipment filled the space inside. Jesse sat on the bumper, eating a hamburger; Nick squatted, leaning against the building's wall while trying to untangle a knot of electrical cables and Max was doing something under the hood that involved a roll of duct tape.

Jesse waved and stood, ambling over to the driver's door. "Hey, Trent."

"I thought you guys were gonna start unloading," Trent said through the open window.

"Um, we have, sorta."

Monique got out of the car. "Yeah, you've unloaded your lunch."

"It's a start." Jesse finished off his burger with a large bite.

Daria tilted her head and said, "This looks promising."

Trent opened the door and stood on the edge of the floorboard, calling, "Hey Max, what's up?"

Max stuck his head out past the hood and growled, "Damn heater hose busted again."

John told Daria, "Meaning that the duct tape from the last time he fixed it ripped."

"Now I'm really glad we didn't ride in that thing to Alternapalooza."

"Hold on, hold on, hold on!" Nick snapped. "Gimme a sec, will ya!" He rubbed the side of his fist over the top of an amplifier, as if searching by touch for something. He rapped the box twice and told Trent, "Try it again."

A brash chord came from the speakers when Trent strummed his guitar. "All right."

A second chord, crackling with static, sounded as Jesse tried his guitar. "Bummer."

Nick shook his head and walked over to Jesse. He pulled the cable from the instrument and wiped the connector on his shirt before reconnecting it. After a measured twist back and forth, he said, "Now."

Jesse strummed and nodded at the note produced. "Cool."

Max twisted and wiggled on his stool behind the drum set. He tap-tested several drums, scowled and scooted the stool over a couple inches. Repeating the test, he shook his head and scooted the stool a little more. The next test he nodded and said, "Oh yeah, percussion perfection."

Daria stopped recording and turned away from the band, saying to John, "Perfection?"

"In a tone-deaf kind of way," John explained. "Be glad you didn't hear them a couple years ago."

"They used to be worse?"

"They frightened the neighbor's pit bull. The same one that was hauled away by Animal Control for biting a chunk out of the mailman's tire."

Tucked behind a semi-protective barricade of stacked case boxes of beer, Daria was adjusting the camcorder tripod when she was startled by Trent saying, "Dad used to have one of those."


"A video camera. Don't know what happened to it."

"Sounds like your dad's experimented with a lot of different cameras."


"I suppose it was packed off to the art colony with your folks."

"Or, he could've hocked it. But I bet the tapes are there somewhere."

"Landscape videos. I bet those were big sellers."

"I was thinking about me and Johnny."

Daria's eyes twinkled with calculation. "Your dad videotaped John?"

"Yeah. I guess he was a cute kid."

Helen was surprised to find the living room dark when she got home from another wasted Saturday at the office. She saw Jake sitting on the sofa and walked up behind him. She noticed the video playing and said, "Oh, look at that cute little boy." She rubbed his shoulder. "And he grew up into such a handsome man."

Jake wordlessly held a martini in one hand and the remote in the other. When the tape showed the young Jake falling from his bike, Jake rewound the tape and restarted from the beginning of the scene.

"Honey?" Helen said. "Wouldn't you like a little more light in here?" After a couple seconds without reply, she said, "Okay dear, I'll be in the kitchen catching up on some things."

In the kitchen, John's two cats waited by their food bowls. Helen sighed and said, "I don't suppose you two have been fed." She grabbed a bag of food from a cupboard and poured some into the bowls. "I hope Daria and John are having better luck with their film project."

You're an angel in black, you sure have a knack,
for putting my heart on a shelf in the back,
I'm waiting my turn, oh, when will I learn?
My poor heart, you're giving it freezer burn.

Trent and Jesse cut into a lengthy, repetitive guitar riff to lengthen the sparsely-worded song.

Cigarette smoke, accented with clove and marijuana, drifted past John and Daria while they filmed, secure behind the beer case barricade. Daria made a face at the smell and said, "Ugh. I hope it doesn't get any worse."

"Wait until the crowd starts dancing and you mix in some ripe sweat, cheap perfume and overpowering cologne," John replied, only half joking.

"Charming. I'm sure the later accents of spilled beer and wine only add to the experience."

"You don't do well in crowded, smelly nightclubs, do you?"

"Let's just say it's not on my top ten list of things to do."

Trying to cheer her up, John said, "This way, you can say you've suffered for your art?"

"I'd rather somebody else suffer."

The guitar opus ended and Trent sang again.

Now a devil in black, eyes open a crack,
your icy cold heart's got me spread on a rack,
I've waited my turn, oh, why won't I learn?
My lost heart, you've saved it in an urn.

After a drum flourish from Max, Trent grabbed the microphone and said, "Hey, we're Mystik Spiral, though we still might change our name. We'll be back in an hour for our second set."

Daria stopped the recording and said, "They really write their own material?"


"Were they all dropped on their heads as babies?"

Endlessly repeating the same section of tape, Jake stayed on the sofa through the evening, getting up only to refill his martini. Helen stopped behind Jake, watching. After a couple replays, she sighed in resignation before going upstairs.

In the dim light, Zachary crept along the carpet, intent upon his target. At the edge of the sofa, the cat silently jumped to the edge and froze, eyes on Jake's reaction. Resuming his stalk, Zachary crouched low and slowly moved across the sofa to Jake. After a look up at his face, Zachary stretched over Jake's leg and settled down for a nap.

Jesse joining Trent in a duet didn't help matters during the next set.

I'm glad you're happy watching my pain,
burning crop circles on my soul's waves of grain.
We had no love scene but you've cut to the chase,
you're chopping off my nose to spite my face.
Ow, my nose! Ow, my face!
Ow, my nose! Ow, my face!

"I have to admit, the second set has provided us with more, um, entertaining footage," Daria told John.

With the camcorder, John followed a drunken patron who walked into the bathroom door and bounced off. "Alcohol in other people is great, cheap entertainment."

After two additional tries, the drunk succeeded in getting into the bathroom. "Do you think he'll be confused when he doesn't find any urinals?" Daria asked.

"Let's hope so, but I doubt it."

Daria shrugged and said, "But then, with the shape that bathroom's in, nobody would notice."

"That's why we call it the 'Slime Pit,'" Monique said, walking up to them. "And everyone learns the fine art of hovering."

The bathroom door flew open and the drunk was hurled out to land on his face. A woman's voice followed, yelling, "That's why there's a mirror in front of it!"

Belated, a bouncer arrived and picked up the drunk. "Okay, mate. Time for you to make a discreet exit." The bouncer carried the man to the side door and tossed him into the alley near the Tank. "Next time, show a little respect for the ladies."

Monique turned her attention back to John and Daria. "Hey, Trent and the guys are gonna head over to McGrundy's for a jam session after this." She glanced at Trent and said, "I'll give you a ride home."

"Yeah," John quickly said, "sounds like a plan."

"We'll leave right after the set." Monique spun and walked back into the crowd.

Daria asked, "Did I miss something?"

Nodding, John said, "Monique's royally pissed at Trent about something. We don't want to be around at McGrundy's tonight. Civilians do get hit by the shrapnel."

"Ah. Another of their legendary fights?"

"Oh, yeah."

Quinn jumped out of a green car, waved a fast goodbye to the driver and rushed into her house. After closing the door, she said, "Ugh, Barnacle Benji's Barbeque Oyster Bar? That has got to be the worst…"

She saw Jake still transfixed by the television, sipping from a martini with a cat on the sofa back, looking over his shoulder. Quinn started up the stairs, saying, "Um, I can tell you later."

"We've gotta make sure we send it off to TVM right way!" Max hollered to John and Daria as they got into Trent's car.

"Man, we shoulda used the fog machine," Jesse said. "It's cool."

Nick said, "That thing's gonna blow up one of these days."

"Hey, yeah. Fog and the machine blowing up, that could work," Trent said.

John had barely closed the door when Monique said, "You in?"

"Um, yeah," Daria replied with trepidation.

Monique stomped on the gas and backed the Plymouth out of the alley and onto Dega St. She shifted into drive and spun a rear tire as she drove away.

Daria grabbed onto John's hand and the front seat as her face paled. He whispered, "She's not as dangerous as she looks."

"Freakin' dammit!" The car skidded to a stop at a traffic light. "Bastard!"

Daria whispered, "It would be a bad idea to talk to her now, wouldn't it?"




"Why did we think this was a good idea?"

"Because the others were worse?"

"Next time, I'll let you blow something up."

A tight curve threw John against Daria as he said, "Sounds good, providing we live through this."

Monique parked in the Morgendorffer driveway. "Um, I hope I didn't scare you too much back there."

"I enjoyed watching my life pass in front of my eyes," Daria replied, holding John's hand painfully tight. "Well, except for the first fifteen years of it."

John said, "So, things improved this year?"

"A miniscule amount."

After John and Daria got out, Monique said, "Daria, don't put up with any crap from him. John, if I ever hear you've been acting like your stupid brothers, I'm personally gonna kick your ass."

John looked down. "I'll remember that. Thanks for the ride."

"Later. Now, I've got to go kick your brother's ass." Monique sped back down the driveway and onto the street without looking before roaring away.

Daria kissed John's cheek. "Nice to know I have some muscle to call on if you misbehave."

"Considering she'd probably drag in the rest of the Harpies, call that real incentive."

Daria turned toward the front door. "That's weird, the house is dark."

"You're right." John brightened. "Hey, maybe it's a sign they trust us a little more, not leaving a sentinel for us."

Static on the television screen lit the living room when they entered. John pointed to Jake on the sofa, snoring, with his head tilted back. "Or the sentinel's asleep. Think we should check on him?"

"We better. I don't like the look of that empty martini glass."

Closer, they saw that both cats were nestled on his lap and Jake's hands were resting on them. John placed the glass on the coffee table and used the remote to turn off the TV and VCR.

Daria shook her father's shoulder and said, "Dad? Are you all right?"

Jake's eyes flickered opened and he mumbled, "Huh?"

"Are you all right?"

"I had a boo-boo on my knee."

John raised an eyebrow. "Boo-boo?"

"I fell off my bicycle."

Daria asked, "I hope you're talking about your old movies."

"Yeah. Did anyone care back then? No."

John scratched Taylor's head. "Somebody likes you now."

Placing his hands on Daria and John's shoulders, Jake said, "They sure do. You can't put a price on closeness like this."

Uncertain, Daria said, "Um, right, Dad."

Jake pulled them closer, so that they sat down on the sofa with him. He looked up and barked, "See! You never had this, old man!"

John quietly said to Daria, "When did parental bonding include ranting?"

"My kids want to be near me! And the cats! Not like the dog biting little Jakey!"

To John, Daria said, "Only around here."

"And I want to be with them! You won't catch me sending any away to school! All three of my kids are staying here!"

Despite Jake's volume, John felt himself relax more about staying with the Morgendorffers. All three…

In his classroom, Mr. O'Neill was showing the completed student works. On the screen, Mack pulled Kevin away from a near-rioting group of strikers at the local Food Lord grocery store as Brittany jumped on one striker's back and pounded on him. The scene faded to the words, "The End. Though the fight for fair working conditions is never over."

Mr. O'Neill said, "Jodie, where did you learn to juggle symbolism like that?"

Clearly making it up on the spot to cover Kevin and Brittany's antics, Jodie said, "Um, I worked with storyboards. I think that helped."

Switching tapes, Mr. O'Neill said, "And now, a work by Daria and John."

The movie started with the threadbare Mystik Spiral banner and a title fading into view, "A Hard Night's Zon."

Driving his car, Trent looked over his shoulder, "We have a vision, man. Eyes on the prize."

Beside him, Monique said, "How about eyes on the road?" as the car approached a busy intersection.

"Um, oh yeah." Trent looked back and braked hard to stop at the red light. "Good catch."

Behind Trent, Max balanced a wobbly armload of loose drum kit parts. As he stepped down from the stage, a set of cymbals fell with a clang. Jesse picked up electrical cables and wadded them together while Nick looked on, shaking his head. Trent said, "Focus and dedication, man. That's how we're gonna do it."

"The End," faded into view as the screen went black.

"Wow," Mr. O'Neill said. "What a statement on the hard work behind success."

The class bell rang and everyone began filing out of the room. Jodie stopped John and Daria, saying, "That movie really kicked butt."

"To be precise, that's what Monique did to my brother after we were done," John said.

Jodie added, "I mean it. It takes a lot of guts to get on stage when you suck that bad."

"Or just be oblivious," Daria suggested.

Daria cracked a sly, understated smile when she read the return address on the thick envelope. She pulled a tab to open it and removed a videotape.

"What's that? Bootleg Sick, Sad World?" John asked as Daria headed directly for the television.

"Something better." In one motion, Daria lifted the remote from the coffee table and had the TV and VCR on before she reached them.

"In that case, I'll grab a couple sodas from the fridge and be right back."

When he returned to the living room with the drinks, John stopped in shock when he saw the television. A three year-old boy with unruly, black hair sat on the floor with both hands buried in a bucket of clay. He grinned as he brought up two handfuls that oozed between his small fingers.

Daria looked over her shoulder and held up the envelope for John to see the return address.

Amanda Lane
300 Colony Rd. Cabin C
Ashfield, PA

She nodded her head toward the TV. "Isn't he cute?"

Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.

Dialog from Monster by Neena Beber
Ice Box Woman from Road Worrier by Anne D. Bernstein
Ow, My Nose from Ill by Peter Gaffney

December 2005.