3. Whallop

            She got up and left the pub. It was bright and calm outside. A lovely, peaceful summer evening. Her eyes were itching with early hayfever, her cheeks were a little red from the sun she had caught walking from train station to office and back again. Outside the pub, people were sitting in shirt sleeves and t-shirts, laughing about stuff that seemed important.

Eliot felt unutterably alone, amputated from an everyday world she had used to enjoy ignoring on her way somewhere fabulous and unique. But then that was life before the Orphan Age.

She walked, not paying attention to much of anything, trying to lose herself in crowds that didn’t really exist this far off in the country. It was all idle schoolkids and quick-drink-after-workers, it was day-trippers and religious pamphleteers.

She stood facing the brick wall. Up it someone had spray-painted a dense cloud of twisting, invasive ivy, turning the wall into a green curtain, shielding some unthinkable garden. Staring at her from behind the curtain were dozens of eyeballs, curious and unblinking.

            Ivy

            Eye Vee

            Eye VD

There seemed to be more alien gateways in the world these days.

She could feel some of those gateways just inside her, just out of sight of everyone else. Pathways beneath her skin, alleyways in her brain. Branching forks where there had used to be consistency and persistence of vision. There was a version of her that had opened Christmas presents with her parents, there was a version of her that fucked Stuart because she was bored, there was a version of her that believed that her annual salary would always be her age. And of course there was a version of her that wanted to burn it all down. She would be graduating next year – it meant absolutely nothing, all of a sudden, that once-crucial objective was just a dead skein of shed skin she had stepped out of.

Eliot Rent had felt like this before, left to her own devices, when she failed to believe in her own beliefs. This was what lurked behind her fashions and philosophies: it was cold and alien and things looked out from it that she didn’t understand and was afraid of. This was her device: an explosion, held deep inside, beneath her meat, gestating. It was the opposite of ambition and planning, a million miles from hope and satisfaction. It was what her bones felt like.

She was crying. She was alone. She missed her parents. She didn’t want to see either of them ever again.

 

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