My name is Gia, and this is my story. It's a good story, but it's not a very nice story. No, not at all. If you've never heard of me and you find yourself a little confused, you should go read about my friend Kino first, especially "Reprise" and "Threnody." That's where I come in.
I wish my story was nicer, though it does end well. Some very bad things happened to me, and I'm gonna be forthright about 'em. Maybe you're not ready to hear about those things, and if that's so, feel free to go away and come back when you are. I'll still be here. Promise.
– White Line Nightmare
"Let's get this clear – I could kill you whenever I want!"
With that, the car seat jumped forward. The girl had no chance. Petite though she was, the steering wheel slammed into her belly and cut off her air. She shoved against it; she kicked the floorboard with all the strength she could muster. Then, uselessly, stupidly, she started flailing and beating her limbs.
The seat backed off a little, until the girl could breathe again. She reeled in shock. The car could talk, and it had her trapped inside its steel cage. It was as if some dreadful animal had swallowed her; it was strangling her.
The car that had trapped her was ancient. Gia had gaped in wonder at it because the vehicle, stopped at the trucker's rest stop, proudly defied time and glistened showroom-new beneath the halo of a streetlight. Such a vehicle had not been manufactured in... how many lifetimes? An old tune from long ago played on its speakers. The driver's side door hung open, and Gia had looked around for the driver. Her family had thought themselves alone here, so late at night.
So Gia peeked into the miraculously perfect interior, marvelled at the oxblood leather seats and impossibly gleaming chrome, batted her head to the rhythm. "Don't you know that I'll always be true..." a female voice sang, and before she quite knew what had happened she jolted awake from something like a hypnotic trance, found herself seated behind the wheel when the car door slammed shut, and the thing came alive all around her and sped off. That was the only word - the thing is alive!
Now even if Gia somehow squirmed free and outside, the monster would easily run her down. At the moment the hapless girl could see nothing from the windows but some brush illuminated by the headlights, and country dark beyond. She could hear nothing but crickets, hypnotic electronic organ music and the ringing in her ears. "This isn't... this can't be happening," she muttered to the night.
"I get that a lot."
"Must be the... dumbest thing I've ever heard of... a haunted car," she mumbled mirthlessly to herself. Automated systems that would give their drivers directions she'd seen. But I've only ever met one vehicle that could really talk: Hermes! The motorcycle had been the possession of a woman she'd met named Kino, though Kino treated her prissy contraption more like a partner. Before they'd strapped the bike to the back of her parents' truck, Kino had introduced Hermes without even a trace of irony. A talking bike, a haunted car... is there some connection? Is this thing like Hermes? Why is it here?
"Now let's start again little miss... what is your name anyway?"
"Gia," she answered, her breath wheezing in and out hoarsely. "It's—" she coughed. "...short for Georgiana." Despite the weirdness of her situation, Gia's voice sounded matter-of-fact, even to herself.
"Now Gia, I'm gonna ask you some questions. First, what's up with your hair?" The strange voice had a tone of mocking amusement. It can afford to toy with its prey.
Gia blinked. "My parents made me have an operation."
"To make me a grown-up," Gia answered as if reciting numbers from a phone book.
"...ooookay. You care to expand on that?"
"They cut the child out of me. Because I wasn't obe—" Gia coughed. "Obedient."
The car seat slowly fell back, but not completely. After a few breaths, Gia felt comfortable again. She fought the urge to pass out. Something dripped on her lip and she knew the nosebleed had started again.
"So your hair's only now just growin' back." The sly voice seemed to come from the car's speakers, and perhaps from the incongruous modern dash-mounted AV system occupying a slot once held by the radio.
"That's why you've got those scabby dents in your head, why your face looks all wrong. So now you gotta do everything your folks say? Is that right?"
"Uh huh," the girl said quietly.
The headlights flicked off. Gia could see nothing now, except for the green glow from the dashboard boring into her like eyes. She shivered.
"You wanna talk about it?"
Gia blinked. That was the last thing she expected the malevolent voice to say.
"Uhm... my folks took me there, to the hospital." she answered into the warm darkness. "It's in a town maybe a hundred miles back. Daddy told us he needed some medicine. Then the nurses said they wanted to do a blood test on me. I didn't know anything was wrong until these big orderlies strapped me down." Her vacuous tone contrasted with the vivacious malignance from the AV system.
"Then the nurse cut off all my hair. She shaved my head and put iodine all over my scalp. It was cold. I was screaming bloody murder but she didn't react at all. She just smiled this horrible crooked smile and told me in this monotone all about how the operation would make me a perfect grown-up, able to do jobs I hated. Just like her."
Gia winced; the headache she'd occasionally suffered ever since was back.
"She wheeled me into the operating room. The doctor shoved a needle in my arm and a mask over my mouth–"
"That's enough!" The voice sounded harsh, but Gia could tell somehow that the thing did not want to hear any more. "Yeah, that place. I know all about it. Your parents took you there, deceived you – why? Why'd they do that? What'd you do that was so wrong?"
"I... uhm, I liked girls. Mostly. But not anymore. Daddy told me never to do that again. So I can't. 'Cause I'm a grown-up now." Except I... don't feel grown up, she added to herself. I don't feel the same at all. I'm not Georgiana anymore.
She leaned forward thoughtfully onto the steering wheel. "I'm just 'Gia' now; I've been abbreviated."
The car mulled over what she had said.
"Huh! Shitters sucked your brains out through your nose... your own parents! How do you like that?"
"It's good," Gia said, feeling the surgery compel her to answer the question literally. "I'm not a disappointment to them anymore. I love my parents-"
"Horse shit!" The voice screeched. The seat slammed Gia into the steering wheel again. She coughed up every last bit of air and fought back an urge to vomit.
"Now you tell me the truth, half-a-girl!" the voice demanded. "You got enough brains left in your head to say what you really feel?"
"Huh..." Gia said.
"I huh... hut..." The eerily composed face crumpled inward. The seat loosened just enough for a sob to escape her.
"I HATE THEM!" Gia beat her fists against the metal steering wheel. "I huh... huh..." and the moment was over. The damaged smile reasserted itself.
"I love them. But I hate them," Gia said quietly, once again sounding like an automated phone-tree.
"Good. That was really, really good." And the seat loosened gently and completely. Somehow, Gia sensed that the danger had passed.
"I bet that was hard. Alright, Gia was it? I'm gonna ask a question. I want you to think very carefully before you answer. Will you do that?" The mysterious voice had lost its hostile edge. Now it sounded like an older, smarter sister whispering confidences and secrets.
"Of course," Gia said. And she sounded chipper again. She smiled, and the smile was crooked.
"I got tissues in the glove compartment."
Gia politely thanked the car, found the box and mopped the blood from her face.
"Okay, as it happens, turning you into street pizza would seriously hack certain parties off. That's why I set about hunting you, but... aw hell, this whole situation's gone six different kinds of fucked-up! Look, just for you... Gia, how would you like to just go to sleep in that seat and never wake up? I can do that." The husky female voice sounded gentle now, and sad. "Do you wanna die?"
Good question! She'd struggled because of panic, but the truth was her life was now a waking nightmare. Whenever her parents told her to do something, the part of her brain that let her stop to consider and to make up her own mind was missing. Just gone. She felt trapped inside a body that constantly betrayed her. Gia sat back. The plush leather was so warm and comfortable. She considered with all that remained for her to consider with... what would it be like to curl up in here and never have to leave?
"I don't know. I don't care either way. You decide."
There was a long pause. Even the crickets outside had fallen silent.
"Heh! Isn't that a thought..." the car muttered. "Taking you with me would torque 'em off even more, now wouldn't it?" The voice laughed, and the car's quiet laughter dripped with malice, like a cartoon supervillain. "Tell you a secret, Gia: I like girls too, sometimes. You know how to drive stick?"
"Yeah. My folks taught me how to drive the truck."
"Innocent," the voice laughed. "We'll work on that." The motor snarled awake all on its own, startling Gia. The headlights flared. The menacing song burst from the AV system and the voice sang along, "oh won't you come with me, as I walk this land? Please take my hand." The strange red vehicle pivoted under Gia until they could see in the valley below the lonesome rest area where her family had stopped, and the boarded-up diner where the car had waited for her.
"Your parents're still down there," the car said.
"...looking for me."
They watched together until her parents climbed into their truck and set off. Like a cat pursuing prey, the car abruptly leaped downhill to catch them.
"Oops! You'll wanna put on the seat belts. You're my new driver. You 'n me, we're gonna have some fun together. You'll see."
Gia scrambled to yank the racing belts over her shoulders. "What are you doing?" she asked, her voice distorted by the bouncing of the rough terrain under them. But she already suspected the answer.
"You know how to take a big truck like that apart with a car?"
The strange talking automobile found the highway. "Well I'm gonna teach you. Hit the gas. Now pay attention – the most fun way's to punch the exhaust system in just the right spot, then scare 'em into running. No no, c'mon! Floor it, girl, we don't have all night!"
The operation did its work, and Gia did as she was told. The car accelerated, faster and harder than anything she'd ever felt before. Gia felt sweat break out on her forehead. Her sick, asymetrical smile vanished.
"I've never driven this fast!" Gia protested. A quaver broke through her vapid tone. The road's white line pulsed by beneath them, in sync to the rapid guitar riffs buzzing wordlessly in her ears. In a few pounding heartbeats, their headlights gleamed from the back doors of her parents' trailer. "...Please slow down."
"Ain't seen nothing yet!" the car said. "Kick it into high gear, and punch that red button next to the shifter." Gia obeyed because she couldn't disobey, try as she might. Her foot stomped on the clutch and her finger hit the wide button. The monster hurtled down the highway with her, a great roaring chariot of steel possessed by... what? What had claimed her as its thrall?
Gia felt the transmission change and heard a subtle hiss. At the same instant the cabin light flicked on. Gia knew, with a sick feeling in her stomach, that the sadist into whose clutches she'd fallen wanted her parents to see her at the wheel.
"I am very pleased to meet you, Gia. I am the Fury Ti-sih-foe-nee." The car's dazzling brights ignited. The tires squealed and with a roar like an amazon's battle cry, the great engine lunged forward, pinning the girl to her seat.
"You may call me Christine."
"I'm trying to take you on a journey that's worthwhile and enlightening."
"If you can picture the exact opposite of that..."