A beautiful stranger, a woman with crew-cut blonde hair and icy blue eyes, drove the open car along the highway; black asphalt disappearing beneath the scarlet tyres of the car. The car was utterly silent and shone like destruction; only the hiss of the wind of its passage made any noise. In the back seat June lay quietly, her hands and ankles bound with electrical flex, her skirt hiked up to mid thigh and new bruises flowering just above her knee. In her head, over and over, she could hear herself saying 'I want you, I want you.' Periodically the beautiful stranger would turn in her seat, lean over the back of it, and whisper,
'Something says Obsession,' to her.
The hiss of the wind changed subtly as the air around the car thickened like custard and the car began to slow. The highway, which had been a black snake through the desert around them, turned grey and the asphalt gave way to paving slabs. The desert itself surrendered to fecundity, and grass sprang up where previously there had been none. Trees emerged and threw out branches like drowning swimmers throwing up their arms. Leaves cascaded out and down, and somewhere in the distance was the glint of gold.
'Hold your head up,' said the beautiful stranger. 'They're crucifying an Elf tonight.' June lifted her head up, and the car surged back to life.
'Keep your head up,' said the stranger, 'we're moving on.'
The trees thickened into forest, and then silver shards of light darted through the trees and struck the chrome of the car. Brilliant hallucinations filled the air, and even the day-squid, high in the sky far above, was hard to see anymore. June's neck, aching now, relaxed and she let her head back down onto the seat. Again the air around the car thickened like custard, and it slowed down and stopped.
'Let's get out and walk a little,' said the beautiful stranger in her melodic voice, and she reached back and loosened the electrical flex. June sat up, rubbing her wrists and ankles, and eventually pulled the brown, soft-leather satchel from underneath her, gripped it carefully in the hand whose wrist felt strongest, and clambered from the car.
'Where are we going?' she said, her voice loud in the silence around them.
'To see the puddles,' said the beautiful stranger smiling. She lead the way, along a narrow path between the trees where no grass grew and roots were partially exposed. Shrubs and bushes pushed at the edges of the path, taking advantage of the trees retreating from it, but still suffering from a lack of real sunlight through the canopy overhead. Everything seemed tinged just a little with green, even the tiny white flowers on the smallest plants. The walked for a little under five minutes before the path ended at the edge of a large puddle, one big enough that June could have splashed almost all of the water out just by jumping into it.
There were lots of puddles here, spaced irregularly but distinctly, and it was the sunlight reflecting off the water that had thrown darts of light at the car earlier. June grinned, seeming ten years younger all of a sudden, and tensed her legs, ready to jump into the first of the puddles. The beautiful stranger grinned, exposing white teeth in what was very nearly a snarl, and laid a hand on June's arm, stilling her. June looked up, her eyes narrowing and her brow furrowing.
'There are puddlesharks,' said the beautiful stranger. 'Watch.' She put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a packet of shark-chum, vacuum sealed for extra freshness with the gaudy packaging in red and white and the flashy logo that screamed Now with extra pain!. She ripped across the top of the packet which tore with a shriek.
'There are monsters and there are angels,' said June quietly. The stranger reached into the packet of chum and pulled out a bloody lump of flesh, and tossed it casually into the air over one of the puddles. It hung there motionless for a second, long enough for June to see that it was a gobbet with long thin bloody tendrils that skirled around it like the only listenable bagpipe composition in the world and then the nearest puddle exploded into a kaleidoscope of rainbow droplets. Water expanded out like a bomb going off in a chandelier factory, and a shark easily 13 feet long arced through the air and seized the meat with a single snap of powerful jaws. It landed with horrible grace in the next puddle, sending up an additional spume of water, and then the water from the first puddle hit them both, drenching them to the skin and shocking June with its coldness.
'Puddlesharks,' she said flatly while the beautiful stranger shook herself as vigorously as an Alsatian.
'Every rose has its thorn, every cowboy sings his sad, sad song, and every puddle has its shark.'
They returned to the car, and June sat in the front seat next to the stranger, where it was easier to hold her head up and keep it up, and the beautiful stranger started the car again and soon they were moving on.