1. Diana  in distress after her rescue
Chapter One
9.00pm, Monday, 30 January, 2017

Startled awake by the bone-chilling cacophony, she shot erect gripping the edge of the car seat: hundreds of bugs of every shape, size, and color slow-motion creeping and crawling, singing, screaming, and screeching; multi-layered, covering the front and rear windshields and side windows inside and out. More hundreds clambered across the interior car roof, falling, jumping, or pushed onto her hair, face, and shoulders – water scorpions, bed bugs, and other blood-suckers crawling under her shirt, squabbling over territory, stinging, biting, drawing blood, her red-dotted clothes and torn skin evidence of their savagery. From the floor, a solid flow of bugs climbed her legs, the avant garde already past her knees.

Suppressing a wave of nausea, Diana sucked in a breath and screamed, helicoptering her arms and rapid-stamping her feet against the invasion. She pushed open the car door but the seatbelt pulled against her torso and someone standing outside the car yanked the door from her hand.

Demanding her attention, pincers clamped her cheeks hard against her teeth locking her head, while a lilac-waft and a familiar encouraging whisper pierced the insanity, contradicting the insect attack. “Diana, Diana!” Ivy leaning in, nose-to-nose, “They’re gone, my dear. All of them gone,” releasing her grip, backing off.

Frenziedly finger-combing her hair, darting eyes confirming they indeed all gone, every last one of them, Diana looked up at Ivy’s familiar face and calmed, dropping her hands onto the seat by her thighs and slumped back. She took the handkerchief that Ivy offered and wiped the sweat off her face. Clutching the linen in her right hand, she slumped back again and closed her eyes, feeling the winter come through the open door.

“Close it.” Ivy did.

Diana opened her eyes, turned her head, and looked out the passenger’s-side rear window, past Ivy. The darkness obscured almost everything, but Diana saw enough to know that she didn’t recognize the place; and to know that she didn't like it, wherever. Yet, Ivy here, Diana feeling safe; even comfortable.

Diana opened her window and breathed deeply, liking the cold and salty air blowing in, as well as the rhythm of attacking and retreating waves lunging over the sand or smashing against the breakers stabilizing the not-too-distant seashore off to her right.

“But where?” thinking, trying to penetrate the darkness, saying, "Where are we?" Diana’s own voice alien to her: how long since she last spoke aloud?

"A friend has made his home available to us for your recovery."

“Where-in-the-fucking-world-are-we, you moron?” Diana stiffening erect, eyes firing darts at her caregiver.

Through the open window, Ivy, “We’re at a private home in Truro, Cape Cod,”

Barely, but Diana did now make out the blurred mass of a large residence sitting at the apex of a horseshoe-shaped, crushed-oyster-shell driveway thinly outlined by a set of Christmas lights raised two inches above the ground, her eyes following the white autopath leading from their car, semi-circling past the front of the house, exiting the property forty-five feet in front of where they were parked.  

"Who gave you permission to take me here?"

"Your parents, my dear. Five minutes after we drove from that cursed cottage in Hyannis you fell asleep. I took the moment to call your parents in Tyngsborough. When your mother answered. I told her who I was and that you were safe; with me. She was totally thrilled, crying and screaming out to your father, ‘They found Diana.’”

“So they don’t know…”

“Before my call they knew only that five weeks ago you left a note saying you’d be right back. Instead, going missing for these several weeks. I told them that you were safe now – rescued from a kidnapping. Told them to wait for more details until tomorrow when you wake up. I think their relief trumped their curiosity.”

“Who picked this place for me?”

“I took it on myself.”

“A locked facility?”

“No. Your choice to go in or not. Once in, you can walk out anytime you want. It’s far from being a facility, however. Certainly, it’s not licensed. It’s just a house temporarily staffed with a half-dozen professionals brought here specifically to take care of you.

“But if you prefer, we will drive you back to your parents right now. Your choice, Diana.”

No response for a hundred and twenty count after which Diana smacked the headrest in front of her with the side of her fist still clenched around Ivy’s hanky, and wrestled the door-handle to a draw. The football player-sized driver, in dark suit and tie, released Diana’s door lock from the array of buttons on his door, saying, “One second. The handle sticks.” He got out of the car and walked around the front of it to Diana’s door, opening it, proffering his hand.

She noticed his elegantly long and perfectly manicured fingers, just like Ivy’s; he tall and lean like her, too. Diana looked up into his face, gorgeous but unsmiling. She thought of her own filthy, unkempt condition and thrust her head at him, “Will you just keep the frig away from me? That too complicated?” she waiting until he walked to the front of the car before getting out.

She used the car door to pull herself to her feet and, crunching into the oyster shells, she took two wobbly steps before closing the door. With her left hand, still holding onto the hanky, she steadied herself on the car roof, taking in the sand, the grass, and the bushes surrounding the home, listening to the sounds of the seashore beyond, saying, “The time? The hour, I mean.”

“Nine o’clock, Monday night, January 30, 2017,” Ivy’s feet soundless as she stepped to drape a winter coat over Diana, she wearing only a jersey and jeans. Diana noticed Ivy’s skin devoid of pigment, almost translucent in the darkness; and her pixie-cut hair, looking closer to white than straw; and her gossamer dress; and the floral envelope that encased her; and Ivy’s delicate grace.

Diana waved her away – she hadn’t showered or changed for five weeks. “Do I stink? I must stink. Especially to you.”

“You’re fine, my dear. But whenever you do feel the need, you have your own shower inside.” No response, Ivy continued. “Diana, you’re going to find this place perfect – staffed with well-trained medical people, including a doctor just fifteen minutes away who can prescribe something to ease any pain or craving.”

Diana stared away from the house into the pitch, “Pretty moronic, don’t you think? You want to free me from my heroin addiction by addicting me to some other drug? Then what? Go through another withdrawal from my new addiction? One’s enough, thanks. We’ll do it right the first time. The hard way.” She turned to face Ivy, “What about protection?”

“I’m sorry. From what?”

“From what? What’s the matter with you? How do you think I got here in the first place? I need twenty-four/seven protection, starting immediately,” Diana clenching her fists, “For crying out loud! Ivy! They chloroformed me, held me for five weeks, stuck me four times a day with enough friggin’ heroin to choke a horse.

 “You think you rescued me and game over? They’re giving up? Ivy, protection! Twenty-four/seven. They’re only waiting for me to let my guard down to attack me again.” She balanced herself and took three unsupported steps away from the house relying on muscle memory to stay on her feet. Clenching her fists, she shouted into the deep dark, “And I can’t wait. Come on! You freaking slime! You fu…” She turned her head down and to the side and, her voice breaking, “You creeps,” stepping back to the car, leaning heavily against it. She saw Ivy’s surprise.

“What? You thought me an American Girl doll? Dainty?” Diana pushed herself from the car to a ready position befitting her aggression, again facing the deeper dark away from the house, Ivy to her left. “A moment ago it seems, but a few weeks, I know, I was face-to-face with a four-hundred-pound monster that had just destroyed an army, covering the ground with body fragments and intact bodies of good people, dead, dying, and injured they, filling the air with the smells of rot, blood, and scurf, and cluttering the airways with pitiable, cacophonous cries for help.

“Help not coming, Ivy, just me in this white, designer holiday dress,” Diana hooking the material under her shoulder. “Of course, at that moment, the dress crisp and spotless, me in it, standing unnoticed in front of him, he sheathed in armor. My hundred and fifty pounds to his four hundred; my six feet to his nine – he had to bend his head to find me. I drew my sword, holding it up to challenge him, mano a mano. He pointed at me and laughed, looking around for his allies to join in the merriment, and they did, half the battle field; the other half despairing.

“Only halfway through the ridicule when he looked back at me, Ivy. Then! That moment! When I thrust my sword grating through his armor breastplate, cracking through his hard chest bones, muffling into his soft tissue, penetrating deeply into and through his heart.” As she spoke, Diana’s oversized left fist clenched and her arm jabbed upwards into the air, she holding it extended, focused at the tip of her imagined sword.

“We stared at each other, Ivy, the victor, that would be me, and the fallen, him. Surprised he, then, Ivy, just like you, now. But that surprise his problem.

“For me, I clenched my sword in place, watching him watching me watching him gurgle and fall to his knees.” She glanced at Ivy, still attentive. “Closer I stepped, my elbow bending, but the sword neither penetrating more deeply nor withdrawing an iota. I leaned over him as he toppled, leveraging the sword to roll him on his back, feeling his body freeze around the blade, watching his stiffening feet stretch themselves straight up to the sky, me unmoving, my feet anchored into the ground and my arm turned to stone.

“Deed done, me at ease.” Diana put her foot on his imaginary body, pulled out her imaginary sword, and threw it to the ground. Using the hanky, she wiped her face clean of imaginary sweat. And looked at Ivy. “You think freakin’ manners concerned me, Ivy? Not a freakin’ whit! I wanted him dead and I killed him. Dispensing death: what I do. What I’ve become.”

Her shoulders slumped and she took a step to stand erect. Instead, the movement precipitated vertigo and she wobbled in place taking short-steps describing a full circle before banging against the car and sliding to the ground to a sit. Her teeth chattered and she shuddered violently, wrapping her arms around herself for warmth. She buried her face in her handkerchief and cried until her tired hands fell into her lap. Ivy, too late to prevent the fall, draped the coat over Diana’s chest, tucking it between her shoulders and the car.

Diana’s voice two octaves lower, “They destroyed me Ivy. They gave me a desperate craving for heroin, needing some right now.

“But that’s not the harm. They destroyed me. Forced me to be what I’ve become; who I am: a killer; a monster,” Diana studying her feet.

“I remember being a nice girl, Ivy. Receiving First Communion, hands folded in prayer. I loved my mama; and Jesus; and America, too. I showered every night – used my mother’s cologne. She let me. And my aunt always combed my hair and put ribbons in it. She did it for my girlfriends, too, they always with me. Every year Aunt Clara designed holiday dresses for us, Ivy, always identical.

“I was spoiled, Ivy. But I was nice. I helped people. People liked me.” She went silent.

Ivy, “Diana, you can’t get down on yourself. Everyone is in awe of the things you’ve done and the suffering you’ve endured. We all love you. But right now? It’s too cold for you out here. Let me have our escorts…”

Diana continued sotto voce, “But even that’s not the harm. What they destroyed is my spirituality. I crave drugs. So bad. So bad. More than I love God. Heroin is my god. That strange god as in ‘Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.’

“They destroyed me. Because I’m stuck. I can’t just say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I can’t. Because, guess what? He’ll say ‘Okay.’ But it’s not okay. I did wrong. Very serious wrong. ‘I’m sorry,’ doesn’t cut it for me. I deserve severe punishment. But who’s going to punish me?”

Ivy’s face concerned – Diana turning blue – and she bent over offering her hands. “Let me help you inside.”

Diana looked around, unseeing, but gathering herself for the imminent ordeal.

“Hands.” Diana took Ivy’s hands and pulled herself up, shrugging Ivy away.

Ivy tried to slip her arm around Diana’s waist. Diana slapped her hand away, screaming, “I hate this place, Ivy. I hate you. Just stick out your arm.” Clutching Ivy’s arm with her left hand, still clenching the hanky, Diana tread cautiously.

The door opened as they reached it and they stepped into an alcove crowded with a free-standing clothes rack and a wooden desk that, after spending three generations servicing grade school kids armed with whittling knives, looked ready to give up the ghost, the pair stepping inside just far enough to permit the unsmiling thirty-year-old woman in traditional nurses’ whites, sans cap, to close the door. A large mat defending against snow and mud partially covered the glossy, lightly-saturated yellow-stained pine board flooring that ran throughout the house. Diana ignored the nurse’s outstretched hand saying to Ivy, “Who is she? Why is she here?”

Walking behind the desk the six-foot robust nurse with a Dragon-Tattoo haircut and no makeup, her deep voice incongruently Boston accented, looked directly at Diana, “I am Anna, a registered nurse specializing in addiction recoveries. I do the overnight stretches, seven-to-seven. I have a land phone and a cell phone, and am licensed and well-trained to carry and use this,” pulling a revolver from the desk drawer, her three middle fingers and thumb displaying it for Diana’s benefit, before returning to the desk and sliding the drawer closed. “I’ll see to it that the doors and windows are always securely fastened. When I’m needed, I’ll help Ivy tend to you.” Diana didn’t hide her disinterest.

While Ivy spoke with Anna regarding a round-the-clock double-police detail to patrol the outside, the aroma of the steaming coffee on the nurse’s desk titillated Diana, conjuring up homey memories of semi-illicit tastes of the brew stolen from her benignly neglectful parents’ cups, before interrupting Ivy, “Anyone else here?”

Anna, “Several other staffers, all well known to each other, to provide support services. We’re a team; you our only patient. For your recovery, your friends have put unlimited resources at our disposal.”

Diana turned to Ivy, “What about you?”

“I’m staying.”

“For the whole time?”

“Yes. Of course. Your body is already feeling the first effects of withdrawal. You’ll suffer some very bad moments. I’ll be here every time you look up.”

“You won’t leave?” an order.

“No. You’re stuck with me for the duration.”

“Because you go, I’m gone.” Diana took a deep breath, following it with a long exhale. She turned, “Listen. Anna. The rescue was a complete surprise to me, caught me totally off guard, unprepared. Before we start, I need a last hit; something to transition.”

For thirty seconds neither caregiver either spoke or looked at Diana while she looked from one to the other failing to making eye contact, Diana ending the standoff by smacking the paper cup on the desk sending lid, contents, and cup flying, the hot brew nailing Anna and Ivy both. Diana used her filthy white dress to wipe coffee droplets from her hand.

Framed in light oak, six prints of birds from Audubon’s Birds of America, a Diana favorite, in folio size, 18” x 24” by Diana’s measure, lined the staircase wall. Auspicious beginning. She slowly mounted the pine-board stairs, her right arm pulling on the shiny dark-stained bannister, releasing, taking hold again, pulling again as she climbed. She ignored the four closed doors on the second-floor hallway to the left of the stairwell, right-turning to the only open door on the floor. Despite the deliberate pace, the exertion from the ascent forced Diana to stop at the threshold of the room to catch her breath.

From the doorway, she looked inside the room – to her left, a small fire quietly danced a welcome. She watched. Appreciative. Brilliant. Two Shaker-woven rockers with matching footstools and Shaker side tables, and two Tiffany-styled floor lamps filled the fireplace’s surround – the whole an inviting nook perfectly-sized for the large bedroom. Directly opposite Diana, Venetian blinds and an abundance of curtains decorated the four large windows. Taupe floral wallpaper, neutral enough to backdrop six more prints of the Audubon bird series, covered the other walls.

To the right, fluffy country-bedding covered two full toe-to-toe beds separated by a four-foot aisle, each bed with a bureau, side table and lamp. She noted a closed door, a closet, probably, and a door ajar showing a large bathroom, clean and bright, with a tub, shower head, floral shower curtain, floor mat, and shelves of white fluffy bath towels. Diana crossed the threshold into her own Laura Ashley universe to rule for the next several days.

She commandeered the bed nearer the door, propped one of the two pillows against the headboard, tucked the wrinkled handkerchief under it, and sat. Swinging her legs onto the mattress proved challenging, each of her ankles seemed weighted with twenty-pound barbells.

Five minutes later Ivy walked in. “Can you get me some water?”

With an ‘Of course,’ Ivy returned downstairs.

Hands on thighs, Diana closed her eyes. “This is the way the world ends”...imagining him writing that… imprisoned in this very room…lying on this…