June was standing by the roadside under a purple sky at dawn, carrying a brown soft-leather satchel and wearing sandals a size too big for her. On the horizon a few spindly trees stuck up into the early morning light and the land looked as though it might finally give rise to some hills, but all around her it was flat, and quiet. Terribly, terribly quiet, as though something had killed all the birds and insects that would normally be going about their daily business of living and dying.
A open car pulled up beside her, as silent as the rest of the world around her, and June wondered if maybe the silence was in her head; maybe she'd gone deaf and not realised. Then the stranger in the car spoke, inviting her to get in, and she knew that she wasn't deaf, but that the silence was still an oddity that needed explanation. She looked at the stranger and felt a deep passion for her that she couldn't explain, but somehow no explanation was needed. Above them, the purple sky started to shade into pink, and delicate tendrils of cloud pulled themselves into wispy existence.
'What's in the bag?' said the beautiful stranger as June got into the car.
'I've no idea,' said June truthfully. 'It's been with me as long as I can remember now.'
The stranger tossed her head as though her crew-cut blonde hair had once been much longer, put the car into gear, and they moved silently off along the road. The car made no noise at all, but the wind caused by its passage hissed like a snake with bad intentions.
'I've travelled the world and the seven seas,' said the stranger, 'and I'm not sure I've met you before.'
'I'm an obsession,' replied June, her hands stroking the leather satchel now resting in her lap. The road had started to curve, the landscape at last growing a hill. Some more trees grew on the hill, like hairs growing out of an infected mole.
'I've abused everyone I've ever met,' said the stranger, but she didn't sound aggressive. She seemed just to be making conversation.
'Some people want you to abuse them,' said June.
'And some people want to be abused by me,' said the stranger.
'Isn't that the same thing?'
'Depends on your point of view.'
They drove on, and the tendrils of cloud resolved themselves at last into the tentacles of the day-squid that lived in the sky and glowed so that the people below could see what they were doing. It was less scary than the night-cuttlefish that also lived in the sky and glowed, but that seemed to eat things; maybe people, maybe planets. But it was scary nonetheless.
'Aren't you curious about what's in the bag?' said the stranger, her voice sounding melodic over the hiss of the wind. 'How long have you been carrying it for?'
'Ever since I can remember,' said June, her fingers stopping stroking it at last and lying flat on top of it. 'That's not very long though, I remember walking out into the desert a few hours ago, and I can remember being in a whorehouse in a small town some days before that, but there are holes where memories ought to be. I think there are memories where holes ought to be as well, but I don't know whose memories they are.'
'Yet,' said the stranger thoughtfully. 'But you could open the bag and find out what's inside it.'
'I don't think it's time to know that yet,' said June. 'I think I'll know when the bag needs to be opened.'
'Ah,' said the stranger, nodding and accelerating as the road straightened out once more ahead of them and the head of the day-squid seemed to nod contentedly in the sky above. 'Sweet dreams are made of fish.'
'I want you to abuse me,' said June quietly.
'I already am,' said the stranger, and laughter out of nowhere rolled around the car like manic-depressive thunder.