Splash, splash, splash.
The leather boots of Quarter Queen, thirteen year old girl of Mexican origin, produced that sound every time they came in contact with the many puddles scattered along one of the main roads of the city.
It was said to rain only thirty-five days in a year in Los Angeles, and it seemed the girl had found exactly one of them. However, the shower that had taken the residents by surprise on that sultry August afternoon didn't stop her run.
Tu-tum. Tu-tum. Tu-tum.
She made her way through the passers-by equipped with umbrellas with the agility given by her young age as she held close two bags from the department store, where she jealously kept a mini-skirt, a yellow tee with a deep V neck, mascara and vanilla gloss. She shielded them from the storm with care almost excessive, for all her dreams of living her life like a normal teenager were kept in those bags.
A life that didn't include the bullying from her classmates, devoted to more superficial things. It sounded absurd to her how mere clothes could influence a person's life to such an extent. However, even she had to give in to the belief that "appearance rules all" in the end, and in a way she really hoped that much would be enough to change her life full of sad and empty days.
The contents of those bags were her everything now, and she didn't really care if her old leather boots got damaged stomping on the muddy water that sent slimy splashes flying with her every step, hitting different parts of the road.
Some of those splashes have reached the shoes of a man who stood still under a sign, waiting for the rain to stop. He didn't seem bothered by the mud that had dirtied him, for his shoes were so worn that those stains almost looked like a decoration to the filth that was already on them. His washed out jeans, soaking wet up to his ankles, weren't really the baggy type, but they almost looked a size too big for him and his thin legs. In the same way, he sloppily wore a black raincoat, where myriads of little transparent raindrops had collected. The same drops had ended up trapped in his mop of brown, unkempt hair. Some of his locks looked darker than the others: they were almost raven-black, indicating he had recently washed off a poor die job, one like the ones generally used by housewives.
He scanned the world around him with scarce interest, through a pair of blue eyes so cold and aloof they almost looked like rain pearl stuck by chance into his cold, world-weary orbs. For a few seconds, the man glanced at the girl, or rather at an vague spot a few centimetres above her head, where he read something other people couldn't.
"It's time" the young man whispered, as if to remind himself that his mission wouldn't allow any delay. Everything in its own time, and the time for that teenager who had just passed him by was over now.
Now, it was time for him to come into the picture.
Beyond life, there's nothing but death. This thought had accompanied him through all his life and not for one day had it stopped booming in his head like the thunder that was now rumbling in the distance. That was why he had decided to adopt the name "Beyond Birthday".
He could see death and that made him death itself.
He knew beforehand when the soul of a human being would leave its body, as well as he knew very well that no one could do a thing to prevent that from happening.
Witnessing or knowing about someone's death makes a person an indirect accomplice of that death anyway, that's why Beyond Birthday felt perfectly justified in taking one's life since that individual would have to meet the Grim Reaper in his predestined day anyway
If anything, his victims should've felt proud of dying by his hands, because they would be part of the most brilliant plan to ever go down in history: the victory of Beyond Birthday, the biggest criminal, over L, the best detective.
However, seeing his target, little Quarter Queen, run way he couldn't help reminiscing about a rainy day just like that present one, only several years earlier.
He had noticed her eye colour was almost the same as a kid he had encountered in the past.
Eyes as black as coal that couldn't find peace.
Before taking the next step towards the accomplishment of his plan, he lifted his eyes to the grey, rainy sky and he let the strength of that memory sweep him away like a roadroller.
Memories are torture without peace nor salvation.
He couldn't even remember how many miles or how long had he run anymore; what he really wanted was to forget what had happened at the Wammy's house that morning.
They had found the body of his best friend A., hanging from the beams in the attic, the only place where they could really be themselves, without any fear of being judged by Roger or the others.
The attic was also the place where they had met for the first time, but now it didn't matter anymore. A, his compass in life, was dead and he couldn't do anything to help his best friend or prevent this from happening.
It was written in the big book of destiny, similar to the ancient texts studied by prophets, but way crueller.
Rain was the perfect setting for his mood, and cold shivers shook his now soaked body. Water had even seeped into his shoes, making his socks heavy and clammy. Being it winter, dark had fallen quickly and had engulfed everything, making the streets of Winchester look gloomy and ghostly like an abandoned Wild West town. People had holed up in their homes, and chimneys smoked more than usual to contrast the humidity caused by the rain.
Beyond halted his run , exhausted, his clothes now clinging to his skin. He felt tired and sad and for the first time in his life, he was scared. He leant on a streetlamp for a while, letting raindrops hit him and opening his mouth to taste them.
What does rain taste like?
Bitter. Like death.
Stopping to think would have been even more painful, so he quickly started walking again, trying to orient himself in that place that looked foreign due to the awful weather.
Suddenly he saw ahead of him a kid just as soaked as he was, with shabby clothes, his hair almost covering his face. He stood still like a marble statue and he looked like he was staring at him.
Beyond looked instinctively at the name over his head, but what struck him the most were the kid's eyes.
Deep, black eyes, void and almost soulless.
That gaze stunned him, and he wondered if the other boy had recently lost someone dear to him, and if at that moment he had the same dull look himself. They stared at each other for what it felt like endless instants, not even noticing the rain that was wetting them mercilessly.
When he got his last energies back, he walked past the kid, not minding the movement of the other's lips, like he was trying to say something to him, only thinking about running away.
Years passed and Beyond Birthday, still in front of the mirror of his Los Angeles apartment, was glancing at the make-up and wigs he had just bought from a Chinese vendor. He had to find the right disguise to commit his killings without fear of being recognized and arrested by the police.
The memory of that kid he had met on that rainy day when Al had prematurely died came back to him. In that black gaze, he had seen himself and his own anguish at suddenly finding himself alone. That kid seemed almost like a ghost whose words he could not hear. Or maybe he was his own ghost wishing him good luck, or begging him not to run away.
"Walking by him was like crossing a puddle, seeing my reflection."
A purely emotional reflection, rather than physical.
At that moment, Beyond Birthday decided to take the form of that kid, interpreting that persona and meeting as the exact time when he abandoned his old lonely, scared self and took on a new persona, dull and indifferent.
He would have chased the pain away and he would have let himself be carried away by his vengefulness.
That's when he decided to become a ghost.
Quarter Queen had taken refuge under a bus stop shelter, sitting on a wooden bench and frantically searching for her cell phone in her bag: she had forgotten to call her mother, who was out to nurse her grandmother in the hospital. She was ready to put up with her mother's umpteenth lecture. She went through the numbers list and she clicked her mum's, waiting for the call to go through.
It didn't take long for her mother to answer and as expected, she complained about her daughter's delay. Quarter acted sheepish, limiting herself to a loud snort.
"Sì, mama, yo también te echo de menos. ¡Hasta mañana!" (="Yes mum, I miss you too. See you tomorrow!"), she ended the call brusquely, putting her cell phone in her pants pocket and resting her head against the laminated glass behind her. Rain always caused several inconveniences, and most of all it delayed the arrival of public transport, stuck in traffic jams.
Oof, I can't wait to go home!
"Has the bus passed already?" asked Beyond Birthday, crouching beside her while looking at the humidity-stained billboards.
Quarter started imperceptibly; despite her interlocutor's tone being quite low, it had snatched her from her musings all of a sudden.
"No, not yet" she mumbled, casting a quick glance at the guy near her. If her classmates saw her talking to that weirdo, they'd make fun of her even more. The day wasn't over yet, and she couldn't even imagine which surprises could possibly await her after her meeting with…
She didn't even know his name, but she wasn't interested one bit in learning more about him. Her mum always told her not to give too much rope to strangers.
"Got it, thank you."
A minute of silence ensued, when they could only hear the noise coming from the cars passing by and their windscreen wipers systematically cleaning the car glasses to give drivers a better view of the road.
Plic. Plic. Plic.
"Your bags are getting wet." Beyond apathetically pointed out, pointing his finger at some impertinent raindrops falling from the roof over the bench of the bus stop. His sentence alerted the girl, who immediately drew the bags back and held them closer to her chest.
"Oh, damn!" she cursed between her teeth.
"There must be something valuable in there" Beyond said nonchalantly, gnawing at his thumb.
"It's only clothes" the girl played down, shrugging. It was ridiculous that a person could be judged just by her clothes; but feigning disinterest in something the whole society idolatrized was even worse, almost paradoxical. Not to mention her own overprotective attitude towards the bags contents had betrayed her words.
"Even if they are just clothes, you spent money on them anyway…you should be careful not to let the rain ruin them."
The guy's arrogance was really starting to get on her nerves. If she had pepper spray with her, she'd have used it just to shut him up.
"That's true…but if clothes get ruined, you can always buy more."
"That's a bit of a shallow thought, don't you think?"
She couldn't say he was wrong: she thought the same herself. But despite this, she didn't want to give in to him and succumb to his theories. She would show him she could be up to this situation, and be a match for him.
"If anyone felt like this, fashion houses wouldn't be this rich." The girl pointed out with a hint of satisfaction because she had managed to follow suit.
"I think those people who spend lots of money on clothes actually lack heart." Beyond Birthday started off with his phlegmatic voice, "Their stereotyped personality, and the superficiality in their gestures make them look like nondescript mannequins that need an ever-changing appearance to stand out from the crowd. It's the only way they have to emerge from an ocean of similar individuals."
Quarter Queen was really impressed by the guy's argument, that – she had to acknowledge with difficulty – was right. She lowered her head miserably, staring at the muddy water trickle down a drain.
"It would be nice if my female classmates felt the same. They think looking nice and made-up is the only thing that counts, and everyone who's different from them is an outcast."
"Is that why you decided to conform yourself to them?"
The teenager watched astonished that man with his indifferent gaze. How could he understand what was troubling her just from the scanty dialogue started only moments before?
"It's hard to be laughed at just because you're a bit different from the others...I just want to be treated like a normal girl, I want to be on the same level as my classmates."
"If you have to lose yourself just to be on the same level with the others, then it's not worth it." The man retorted, moving his hands to his knees, "You would miss what you were, and you'd regret exchanging your essence with another that doesn't suit you. If you feel resentment, don't suppress it; use it to improve yourself and prove your real worth to the others."
Quarter didn't reply to this, lost in the words of that stranger that seemed to read her mind like the vampire from that movie whom her classmates had a huge crash on.
"Personally, I think everyone of us has a hidden quality, merit or talent that makes us unique and special. And I'm sure you're special too."
"I don't see how can a person like me be special." She countered sharply, fearing that stranger was making fun of her.
Instead, he saw it.
A zero as red as blood, floating over Quarter Queen's head, signalling the end of her mortal life that would have contributed to B's victory against his archenemy.
She too would have been remembered as a victim of the most brilliant killer in the world.
She didn't know how special she was, and she would become, in the eyes of everyone else.
"Maybe you don't see it now, but someone will, one day. Well, since the bus is not coming, I think I'll just walk." He said, getting up from his position.
"When it's raining like this? If I were you, I'd rather wait for half an hour more..." the girl stated, slightly confused.
"That is correct, but that would also make me a copy of you. I, on the other hand, am not afraid of being different. I want to be different." Beyond Birthday concluded, leaving Quarter Queen for good.
Some hours later, a black-feathered crow sprung over a frightened sparrow putting an end to its life, doubts and uncertainties.
On August, 4th 2002, on a rainy day, Quarter Queen was drugged and killed by Beyond Birthday who, with no apparent reason, also gouged her eyes out.
While munching on some panda-shaped cookies, L was going over the report written by Watari about the second murder committed by the Los Angeles serial killer. He sensed what was the reason why Beyond had gone that far, and he reminisced about the time when he had looked for him in the past, braving the pouring rain in Winchester after A's death. When he found him, he thought about persuading him to stay there, but he had decided to let him go in the end, thinking the best thing for him would be leading a different life, without L's burden looming over his conscience. He didn't stop him, instead he only whispered one word to him.
Sorry for all the evil you had to witness because of me.
What was done to me created me. It is the basic principle of the universe, that each action will have an equal and opposing reaction.
(V- "V for Vendetta")