It was a perfectly regular Tuesday morning when Daisy Walker withdrew all of her funds from her bank account.
The amount was not high; but it was enough to purchase a dress that had lain in the window of Pierre Sundry for the last six months, a block from Daisy’s work. The dress was light blue, crystals falling down the silk like a frozen waterfall, delicate tulle reaching up the collarbone of the mannequin.
Daisy faced the mirror, her body feeling incredibly out of place in the dress. Perhaps it was her dull hair and pale, nondescript face. So she made an appointment with the most expensive hair salon in the city, offering to pay double for a same-day appointment.
“You look stellar,” the overly smiley, garishly dressed stylist said as she fluffed up Daisy’s newly blonde, hollywood waved hair. Stellar was a nice word; Daisy liked it. Too many people said beautiful or pretty. But no, she looked stellar.
Of course, it didn’t really matter what this stranger thought. Or what anyone else thought, as a matter of fact.
After running a couple more important errands, Daisy took herself to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. She ate some form of macaroni that cost $100 by herself, ignoring the stares of the waiters and other customers.
Being rich seemed to be the same as being poor, just with more people staring. She did not feel any different after all of this. She had not expected to. That was not, after all, the point.
The moon shone bright that night. It must’ve been nights away from full, because there was a tiny sliver of blackness on the side, like someone had colored it in too hastily. For some reason this bothered her.
Daisy tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear, turning her back on the moon and the rest of life’s disappointment. There was a small alleyway to her right, and she made her way all the way down it. Facing the wall gave her an illusion of privacy. Like a child who blocked their eyes from the world and assumed no one could see them.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her earlier purchase, feeling its weight in her hand. It was smaller than she’d imagined.
The sky watched her as she wished she could just flip a switch and fall to the ground, like a discarded doll lost behind a couch, or in a strange alley in the city.
But as invisible as she already felt, she could not simply disappear with the snap of her fingers.
And so she raised the gun to her head.
“Don’t,” came a soft voice.
Daisy did not want to turn. But she also did not want anyone to grab her from behind and take away her autonomy in a world where this was the only thing left she could do.
“Don’t do it,” the voice said again, and Daisy was forced to turn.
But he was right – she did not want him to witness the inevitable spray of blood onto the brick wall. It would be very gross for him. And Daisy was nothing if not polite.
All in all, the situation was very awkward.
“You look very pretty.” He said it strangely, more reasonably than complementary. “You won’t if you do that.”
Daisy smiled. She did not care how she looked afterwards, when she was no longer anyone at all. But she did not say so. She did not say anything at all. She had long ago learned that nobody could hear her.
“Why don’t you come with me?” he said, his voice measured and slow. Daisy wondered if he saw her because of her dress and hair; people usually did not see her. Especially well-groomed men in suits.
Suddenly it occurred to Daisy that this man must be rich, and thought she was as well. What a funny predicament she had found herself in. Perhaps the dress had been a bad choice after all.
Please was an odd word. She had said it herself to the waiter precisely nine times that night. She had said it twice at the bank account, and once to the badly dressed hairdresser, too.
None of those times had it carried any weight. It was, after all, just a word, and words had so much less effect than people thought. At least in Daisy’s experience.
But this strange man in the suit, shadows obscuring the lines of his face, seemed to inject some meaning into his voice. Some drive.
What a nice man, Daisy thought. He really is trying to help.
It was a nice gesture – he couldn’t possibly know that she was beyond saving.
“Please give me the gun.”
Daisy frowned. Whatever would he do with a gun? “No, thank you.”
He put his hand out, and Daisy took a step back, hitting the wall. Rather embarassingly, her hand began to shake, and he put his hands up to show he did not mean to come closer, treating her like a wild animal in the woods even though she surely looked like a damsel from a vintage film.
But it was all wrong now. Not measured, and planned, and peaceful. No, he had turned it violent. The very wall had turned it violent. Her disobedience to his desperate request had made it violent.
“Please leave.” This time she meant her “please”, too.
“I can’t do that,” he said tensely. “Whatever you’re going through….this is not the answer.”
It was as sure an answer as 2+2=4, but he didn’t know that, and it was no use explaining.
“Think of your family, your friends…”
“I haven’t any.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
Daisy did not consider herself to be any master illusionist, but if he thought her capable of that, she might as well lie: “I’m not going to do it. You can leave now.” She even dropped the gun to her side.
“Give me the gun.”
“No.” Daisy put it back in her purse.
“I can’t just leave you.” With a sinking feeling like an anchor in her stomach, Daisy realized he was right. He could not – not with that pesky thing called a moral code.
“A roommate,” Daisy said finally. “I’ve got a roommate. You can walk me home. This has happened before; she’ll know what to do.”
The man considered, then reached out his hand again. Daisy took it, finding it much colder than she’d expected. She imagined for a moment it was the cold hand of death come to carry her into the great beyond.
But there was thankfully no such thing, and so she followed the man out of the alleyway she never thought she’d exit and back onto a street she never thought she’d again walk. As the walked along in the lights on the streets, Daisy focused on his face. He was much younger than she’d imagined back in the alleyway.
The man made a quick call and a black car rolled up. He opened the door for Daisy as she slipped inside.
“What’s your name?” Daisy asked as he entered the other side, his polite gesture reminding her of her own manners.
“You can call me Andrew,” the man said with a slight smile.
You can call me? Was that not his real name?
“It’s nice to meet you, Andrew.”
“It’s nice to meet you too, Daisy.”
It did not occur to Daisy until much later that she did not tell him her name. Or that she had not given him her address.
“I meant what I said. It’s a pretty dress,” he said, nodding to it.
“It’s my favorite.” It was her only.
“Can I ask you a question?”
Daisy glanced up at the driver, but he seemed not to want to acknowledge them.
He did not wait for permission, which Daisy felt was very out of character for him, though they had just met.
“Why were you in that alley?”
“I thought we’d been over that.”
“I don’t mean what were you doing. I mean why were you doing it?”
Daisy bit her lip, a nasty old habit, and stared ahead. “It’s quite a long story.”
“We have time.”
Daisy suddenly realized she had not given him her address, or any directions at all. She looked out the window – they were exiting the city now, on streets almost as dark as the alley in which they had met.
“Where are we going?” Daisy asked slowly. The locks clicked down and Daisy began to feel goosebumps on her neck, though maybe it was her new hair fluttering against her skin.
Daisy could not see any real point in speaking if she was being kidnapped, so she stared out the window, trying to remember each and every turn and flip it around in her head in order to get back to the city. Until she remembered – she still had the gun in the purse.
And it would only take two bullets to take the both of them out for good.
One, if she got the driver.
But even though Daisy had come to terms with a murder of sort (it really was very clinical, though – like she was simple a verternarian putting a pet donw) she did not quite think she was capable of real murder. Not even in self defense. And he wasn’t exactly coming at her, either.
They turned onto a strange side road that was almost entirely black. Daisy’s head whipped back and forth, trying to make out some kind of landmark, but all she saw were trees. They drove on a winding dirt road – or perhaps it was not a road at all – as Daisy counted the seconds.
We are probably going about 10mph, she thought. And I have counted five minutes. Five minutes is 1/20 of an hour. 1/20 of 10 miles is half a mile….
But it was too hard to do math and count at the same time, so Daisy gave up, estimating in minutes rather than counting in seconds. She was so nervous her count was bound to be off, anyways.
It took until Daisy’s ears popped to realize that they were climbing. She had rarely ventured out of the city, and not at all in this direction. She had absolutely no idea where they could be going. Was there a mountain, or a hill in the vicinity of the city? How long had they been driving?
They turned a corner and came upon an old, ornate gate, rusted from years of rain.
Huh. It did not regularly rain there.
But Daisy was soon distracted by such musings as she realized the structure in front of her was not another grove of twisted trees, branches like gnarled hands and stretching fingers to strange the life out of each other, but a house.
Well, house was not quite the right word.
“My god,” Daisy said.
The gates opened with a loud creak, and the car drove to the front of the estate, coming slowly to a stop. Andrew stepped out, and Daisy quickly reached her hand inside her purse. Did she dare?
But then Andrew opened the door with a smile, extending his hand. Daisy took it, letting the purse fall to her side as she looked up in awe at the veritable castle in front of her.
“You live here?” she breathed.
“We all do,” he said, a slight pull on her hands indicating that he was to bring her inside. Daisy had no idea what to expect – the outside was like something out of another century, and looked as if it had not been tended to for about that long.
When she entered, everything was pitch black. She squinted, trying to make out something, wondering for a moment whether Andrew was crazy and taking up residence in an old abandoned building. But then his hand left hers, and a few seconds later a fire was lit, seeming to float in the air. It was a tiny sun for only a small fraction of a second before dancing and racing across the room, like a pattern of dominoes suspended in the air. Fire splashed light all over the walls, reaching into every dark corner and turning it light. Daisy gasped, taking a step back and coming against the heavy door, which had closed unnoticed behind her. The driver had not accompanied them.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
Daisy did not have to lie when she nodded. For once, she did not feel out of place with her dress like falling snow and hair like fields of gold. She felt as if she was in a dream. Perhaps she really was already dead, after all.
“You’re safe here,” he said, turning to her and taking her hand again. His eyes were an intense dark golden color, flickering the fire back at her. “You can stay until you feel better. There are plenty of rooms.”
He smiled slightly. “You don’t have a roommate.”
She did not have anyone who knew where she was. Who would know to look for her at all. She had burned every bridge, and was utterly alone.
Even if the police got involved – they would find the simple note left on top of the fireplace and think she was dead.
She had unwittingly made herself the perfect target.
“Welcome home, Daisy Sanderson,” Andrew said.
And Daisy, feeling as wavering and unstable as the flames dancing around her, felt her purse slip from her grip and her body fall to the ground like a discarded doll, but not at all like a dead body in an alleyway.
Because she was still alive.