Darcy McCellan was a woman who was described as having a strange beauty. Everything was put together in the right places and in a pleasing fashion, but something just always seemed off. Perhaps it was her way of slowly swaying side to side, even when she was supposed to be sitting perfectly still. There was a certain kind of coldness to her manner, which was borne of nothing mammalian. Her amber eyes were cold and distant, even in the heat of passion, and her smile was that of a rattlesnake as it coiled to strike.
Jacob was the one who described her in such serpentine terms, and he’d once been in love with her. That was before the break-up. Before she tried to strangle him with a telephone cord. They were both barely eighteen at the time. She hissed proclamations of how they were mated for life, and how he could not, how he would not live without her. Years after the fact, he would sometimes shoot up out of bed screaming, gasping desperately for breath.
He pressed charges and testified in full, exacting, detail as to what she tried to do him. The defense showed that Darcy was possessed with some sort of mania with an exotic sounding name, which absolved her trying to murder her supposed soulmate because he wanted to break up with her. It wasn’t her, after all. There was a monster behind her reptilian eyes that needed to tamed, if not caged, altogether. If anything, Jacob was at fault for being unwilling to try to help her.
So convincing was the defense’s argument that Darcy was sent to an institution. Maybe after a few years and some intensive therapy, her illness would be under control. Jacob made it a point to move away from Taos. He hoped to escape the coils of her madness and try and live a normal life once more, even if the persistent nightmares and constant urging to check over his shoulder prevented it.
Some five years later, in the small town of Prague, he met Sydney. Her dark, dark eyes were so much easier and more comforting to look into than the amber orbs of his x. He found himself willing to open up again. To love, which they did in abundance.
But Jacob was sickly. Having survived a bout of Hodgkin’s Disease in his early teens did not mean he would be so lucky as an adult. Sydney stood by his side, doing everything she could for him, as the disease devoured him. In those last weeks before his death, his nightmares intensified. He would tell her he was having visions. One of the last things he said to her was a plea; get as far from New Mexico, and from wherever he was laid to rest, as possible.
Until the memorial, Sydney had not completely believed in Darcy. Sure, there was the bad x. Everybody had at least one of those. But she sometimes wondered if the stories Jacob would only tell when drunk or stoned out his mind on morphine during his last days were not just a little over embellished. Darcy, it seemed, was more of a bugaboo meant to frighten small children into behaving than an actual flesh and bone human being.
At Jacob’s memorial, Sydney would later say, she met the Devil, and the Devil was a woman named Darcy McCellan. She did not walk in straight line, but moved in a zigzag pattern, like a sidewinder across the desert sands. Her cold amber eyes focused on Sydney with a sort of predatory intensity that only spoke in cold honesty; Darcy saw Sydney as nothing more than prey. Something to be destroyed.
“You did this!” She whispered in accusatory tones. “If it hadn’t been for you, he’d have waited for me. He’d have never gotten sick and died.”
“But…” Sydney wasn’t sure how she could talk reason to someone who was supposedly so unbalanced.
“You took him from me! And for that, you will pay!” Darcy hissed. “Take a good look, jackrabbit; this is your life…and I will take it from you. One piece at a time.”
Afterward, it was easy to dismiss the encounter as surreal. The memorial and high emotions and people from the past, certainly, strange and intense things would be said. Darcy disappeared again for almost a year.
But, then she was back; infiltrating into Sydney’s life in subtle ways; her job, taking an interest in men she might find attractive. Little bits of conflict, annoying drama at first, began to surface. Then the conflicts got worse over the next few years; her workplace becoming increasingly hostile. People in the circles she traveled started referring to her as a whore and questioned whether or not she was completely loyal to Jacob, even and especially once he became very, very sick.
Bear was the last straw. Bear, Jacob’s thirteen year old Australian Sheppard whom had also adopted Sydney as one of his people. Bear, whom would go with her on treks into the mountains and canyons and deserts to scatter ashes. Bear, whom she found lying dead on the kitchen floor one night after being so healthy and vibrant that very morning.
“Shame about the dog,” Darcy whispered the next day at work. “Jacob loved that beast the way I loved him. I’m sure you loved him too, jackrabbit, just as you did my Jacob. It’s so terrible when the things you love are stolen from you.”
If Sydney ever had any doubts about the stories Jacob told of Darcy’s malice, her words about Bear’s death dispelled them. From the stories, she knew asking for legal intervention was worthless; somehow, Darcy’s mania could be used as a defense, and she would just have to go into a hospital for a few years while Sydney would be portrayed as the villain. There had to be another way.
With her life in Prague being slowing destroyed, Sydney had been talking more and more with Desdemona. Colorado, Levant County, and, ultimately, Marrakech, seemed like a far more promising option. To throw Darcy off, she sent of her things she once shared with Jacob to a storage unit in Santa Fe. Then, she packed everything else she could fit into her jeep and a trailer for her drive to Colorado.
The things in the trailer got left at storage unit in Trinidad. Desdemona had arranged the place above Ira Milligan’s café. It snowed heavily that first night her new home. Sydney curled herself up in heavy blankets that still smelled of Bear, and even faintly of Jacob, and cried herself to sleep, hoping beyond hope the nightmare down in Prague was now over.
Lankin accepted wine being poured into his glass from Marty with a smile. A lazy summer afternoon on the porch surrounded them. There was a mention of grilling buffalo burgers in another hour. Desdemona mentioned something about getting a salad together, as well as appetizers. Apparently, Sydney was shopping for dessert down in Leeds.
“Funny she was called a jackrabbit,” Lankin mused. “I told her she acted like a frightened rabbit once.”
“I know,” Dessy said. “She told me about it, and it kind of hurt her feelings.”
“Snakes eat rabbits,” Lankin continued, ignoring what he was told.
“Which is why you saying that bothered her,” Dessy persisted.
“Probably,” Lankin finally acknowledged. “But I’m neither her dead boyfriend or his bad x.”
“I don’t know, Lazarus,” Dessy started, but then her phone began to buzz. She looked at the screen and smiled. “There’s our girl…” she said as she hit a button, suddenly, her eyes widened. “Oh, fuck me!”
She pushed the phone into Lankin’s face. His eyes narrowed and something resembling a growl escaped his lips as he read the all-capital letter message on the screen in front of him;