I talk to my cats a lot now. That prevents me from talking to myself. - Edward Gorey

When Eloïssa woke it was still dark outside, and cold. She waited for sunrise on the balcony, a thin young woman wearing only a thin silk dressing-gown. Occasionally she shivered and brushed dew, crusty with frost, from her arms. She watched as the sky brightened and the stars disappeared one by one. A bird flew overhead, its shrill croaking fading as it went. Taking this as some kind of sign Eloïssa went back into her room and put on the special dress she wore when she visited Timothy, a ragged ankle-length black lace affair. She retrieved the letters she'd written to Timothy (hidden between bricks around the fireplace), slipped on her walking boots, found her sun-hat and her notebook and climbed over the balcony. She landed in the flower bed between the petulias and camellias, boot-heels sinking into the damp soil. The weeds she'd planted were back in full strength, despite her parent's efforts to remove them. Eloïssa felt that the garden was symbolic of her relationship with her parents, and she did anything she could to subvert their plans for it.

Her parents didn't approve of these visits. They wouldn't be awake for at least another hour, but out of spite Eloïssa tied a length of string from the front door knocker to the trellis. It would slow them down for a few minutes and would anger them; two good reasons in her view. "Perhaps I'll stay there this time," she muttered, walking down the gravel driveway.

She caught the first bus out of the suburbs. She was the only person on the bus, which took her far enough into the country-side that the foot-paths weren't paved and the narrow roads ran between huge open expanses of grass dotted by occasional grey sheep. She got out of the bus at the last stop, thin pale-faced girl with waist-length black hair and the demeanour of a fourteen-year-old, waved to the driver (who never waved back) and started walking down the strip of dust which ran down the side of the road. As the sun made its presence known she put on her sun-hat, a droopy broad black felt Holly Hobby abomination with two crow's feathers jammed into the hatband. She sang to herself as she walked, kicking occasional stones to the left or right:

"So meet me under white skies
don't bury your hopes with me...
Don't bury those words, and don't cry...
in December I'll wait for you
remember I'll be waiting..."

She made up rhymes:

"A is for Ashan who swallowed his tongue;
B is for Berenice, buried in dung;
C is for Cath, carried off by the storks;
D is for David, something something pitch-forks... perforated? Ventilated? Impaled on. Yes. Never did like David much. Or Cath."

She made up stories:

"Once upon a time there was a terrible, awful, horrible evil demon disguised as a little girl. This demon was kept captive inside a circle of power by two stupid, brutal, ignorant people who pretended to be the girl's parents. They made her go to school when she didn't want to, and they made her go to church when she didn't want to and they shouted bible verses at he when she did things they didn't like and they stopped her from having any friends until one day the demon escaped from their circle and it went to visit the only friend she had left who was named Timothy and who stayed in the country. And while she was visiting Timothy the stupid people's house burned to the ground and the demon went off to live with some other demons and they all lived happily ever after." She got off the gravel as the first car of the morning approached. "Except Timothy. He didn't live happily ever after, but he was beyond caring." She stuck out her thumb, gestured as the car approached. It kept going. "Oh well. That's one. Maybe they'd've stopped if I hadn't been talking to myself."

Later: "And that's two."

"And three and four."

"Five, six, seven, eight. Nine. Ten. Hey! I'm not invisible, you know! I saw you looking at me! Eleven. Bastard."

"Twelve... no? Yes? Yes!" Number twelve was a dusty, anonymous white station wagon driven by a plump, balding middle-aged man wearing sunglasses. Eloïssa bounced up to the passenger-side door and got in. "How far you going?" she asked, inevitably.

"Right up to the border," he said in a deceptively easy tone.

Eloïssa's heart sank. Even if they were disguised as country business-men in white shirts and brown slacks, she could spot the perverts a mile away. "I'd be grateful if you could let me out at the Linden Farm Road crossing, about half an hour along," she said, just as easily. Just as deceptively. She kept a watch out for oncoming traffic and trees on the other side of the road, already planning her exit. He didn't look like a pervert, but experience had taught her that looks were deceptive.

He cleared his throat. "So... what's a little girl like you doing out in the country this early in the morning?"

"I'm going out to visit a friend." I'm not little. I turned twenty last month. Not that his matters to you, pervert.

"Your friend live out this way?"

Eloïssa rolled her eyes. For casual small-talk, this was pretty feeble. "No, but that's where they buried him." She resisted the temptation to glance over and see how he took this. If he tried anything, he would learn just how deceptive looks were.

Mister Pervert made his move about ten minutes into the trip. He didn't bother with any further small-talk or preamble; he just let his left hand rest on Eloïssa's knee. She sighed and tried to lift his hand off; he pushed down with more force and slid his hand up her thigh, bunching her lace dress and revealing her shins. Eloïssa put on her safety belt and waited until she saw a suitably large tree in the distance.

"You know... I'm not wearing anything under this dress," she said seductively and smiled at him. He turned to stare back at her, open-mouthed. She reached over towards his crotch, looked into his eyes and said "Besides, if you really loved me you'd let me eat your brain."

"Excuse me?"

Eloïssa didn't bother to explain her last remark, purely a diversionary tactic; she grabbed the lower spoke of the steering wheel and yanked it towards her. The car whipped around to the right, slewed sideways and skidded off the road, heading straight for the tree. Eloïssa clapped her hands and shouted "Whee!" as the car rolled onto its roof and slid into the tree, driver's-side first. The shrill scraping sound the roof made as it slid over the road and gravel was cut short as the car hit the tree, breaking it off at the ground. The windshield broke into a storm of hailstones with a thumping sound. The car continued over the fence and into the loose scrub behind it, finally coming to rest against a larger tree.

Eloïssa wriggled out from the safety belt and kicked the door open. She rolled out onto the torn-up grass and crawled around to the driver's side. Mister Pervert was caught in a bear-trap of crumpled metal, hanging upside-down with blood trickling from his nose and mouth. He clawed at the glass, eyes wide in shock, mouth working as if trying to speak. Eloïssa got to her feet and carefully kicked the window in. She kneeled in the scrambled mess of grass stalks, dirt, glass fragments and bark.

"You know, you should be more careful about the people you pick up. There's some real nut-cases out there." She idly picked up flat pebbles of safety glass, dipped them in the blood that was pooling in the roof of the car and stuck them to the side of the car, forming a row of dark red jewels. The driver's side rear-view mirror was hanging loosely; Eloïssa pulled it off and held it up to him. "Hey, you don't look too good. Don't worry, I'll send for help when I get home. That could be a while, so, uh, keep yourself occupied. Make up some rhymes." She gave him a sweet smile and tried to re-attach the mirror. It was too badly damaged, so she left it underneath Mister Pervert's head where the blood could drip on it and made her way back to the road. Her left hip felt as if it had been wrenched in the accident, but it felt better within ten minutes.

"... but the new one is really nice. Her name's Genevieve. She's a sociology student. She's a bit straight - I think she's shocked by the way I behave - but I sense the seeds of something really bizarre in her. She'll come around to our way before long. As long as that creep Rafael keeps his distance. What else has happened? Uh, Wyndham is still making fake spiders. Well, fake is probably the wrong word... ersatz. Yeah, that's more like it. I think he's stuck in a creative rut or something. I might suggest he get back into making furniture. Chairs. He's really good with chairs. What do you think?" Eloïssa paused and stared at the crumbling, mossy tombstone for a moment. "I agree completely. Well. As always, I've enjoyed this chat. I brought you some more letters to read while I'm away, because it might be a while before I can get back here. My parents are getting really fascist about these little excursions."

She took three purple envelopes out from the pages of her notebook and dropped them into a broken decorative urn next to the tombstone. There were already several other letters in there, swollen with damp; she had to poke the recent additions down with her index finger.

"Tell you what, Timothy. Next time I'll bring some of the gang. Make an event of it. Bring some music. How does that sound?" She paused again, head cocked to one side as if listening to a reply. She smiled and nodded. "Yeah. Sleep well, Timothy. I'll be thinking about you." She brushed her hand across the face of the tombstone, dislodging some moss, revealing ancient carved letters: OTHY. The rest of the name had crumbled away. Below this was a date - 1902 - and part of an inspirational verse which time and the elements had obscured.

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