From: szmagaj <>
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: penny dreadful
Date: Mon, 1 Dec 1997 22:22:19 -0800
Organization: Castle Wetware
Lines: 166
Message-ID: <Pine.SOL.3.96.971201222007.8642A-100000@wetware>
X-Sender: szmagaj@wetware

"What's your name?" I asked her when we first met.

"Penny.  Penny Dreadful," she replied with a little smirk that meant
stay out of my closets.

That was all the name she would ever give.  She came to live with 
us in the fall, trailed her black lace and the fragrant smoke of her
clove cigarettes across our lives for the space of one semester, 
and then was gone.

She smoked a lot and bought her black-and-gold cigarettes in fifty
dollar cartons every week.  She ate so little I would have thought she
was anorexic, had she not looked to have a perfectly healthy figure. 
She spoke even less than she ate, but that was to be expected.  We
were normals, she was a goth, and never the twain shall meet.  She 
attended classes sketchily.  We shared an evening class, to which she
showed up only on scheduled exam days.

A month or so into the semester, someone started killing female 
students.  First one, then another a few weeks later, then another.
It made national news and occupied the local headlines for weeks 
at a time.  A lot of parents pulled their daughters out of school.  
The campus police force was increased.  We were told to keep our 
doors and windows locked and not go anywhere alone after dark.

Most class nights, I caught a ride home with someone.  Everyone 
was eager to make sure no one was in any danger.  It's amazing how 
something terrible can pull people together and create a sense of 
unity where there was none before.  On exam nights, Penny and I 
walked home together.

She dressed provocatively.  For some reason, even though I didn't 
know her, it worried me that none of us knew where she was in the 
wee hours of the night and morning.  She went out all the time, told 
no one where she was going, and didn't seem to feel the least bit 
nervous about walking alone.  These evenings, it made me feel better 
to know that there was one less vulnerable female out there.

We lived very close to campus, so the walk was short.  We didn't talk 
much. We were together for convenience, not for companionship.  We 
exchanged a few words about the test we'd just taken--she always 
seemed to think the tests were ridiculously easy--we talked about 
the leaves changing color and whether it would rain the next weekend 
or  not.  Conversation always petered out after a few minutes, and we 
would walk the rest of the way in silence.

One night, close to Halloween, she persuaded me to cut through the 
cemetery that lay between our house and the campus.  It would cut five
minutes off the walk, she said, and besides, it was lovely.  The moon
was very bright that night.

"I always walk through here," she told me, looking back over her 
shoulder as she picked her way expertly through the headstones. 
"It's the best place to be.  It's quiet.  You can think here."  She smiled 
in an uncharacteristically friendly way.  She was wearing her usual
black lipstick and heavy eyeliner, and all I could see of her face was 
a white oval punctuated by three pools of darkness.

Seeing her like that made me feel strange, and I closed my eyes 
briefly to get my bearings.  In that moment, she disappeared.

"Penny?" I called.

There was no answer, but I saw some bushes moving to my right, so I
pushed through them, assuming she had gone that way.

She was on the other side, standing a short way from me.  She was
looking at two headstones, very old and crumbling, which leaned in
towards one another.  As I looked at her, the pools around her eyes
widened, and I realized she was crying and making her eyeliner run.
She looked up at me.

"It's David and Harriet," she said, as if these were names I would
recognize.  She pointed at the headstones.  I could barely discern the
indentations where the names and epitaphs must have been engraved.
Perhaps they were legible in daylight.  I went closer, stood beside her.

"Husband and wife.  They died within a week of each other.  Their
headstones have leaned together like that over the centuries, as if
they still long for each other."

It was sad.  Standing there in the graveyard with her, thinking about
these two lovers who would never touch again, I felt a twinge of what
it must be that made her dress all in black and think of nothing but
darkness.  I looked at her.

It's strange how moonlight can do things to people.  I saw her in a way 
I never had before.  She wasn't weird, she was a human being.  The wind
turned her hair into a cloud around her pale face, and she was beautiful.
I wanted her.  I wanted to be her.  The line between the two was so thin
I couldn't tell the difference and didn't care.

She looked up at me, and she was smiling like she knew exactly what 
I was thinking.  She reached out and touched my face, ran a fingertip 
across my cheek and lips.  Her touch melted me inside.  She came right 
up to me and put her face very close to mine.  I could see her eyes, 
which were very, very dark, gleaming.  They were dry; I must have 
imagined that she had been crying.  She smelled good--like cloves and
the Opium cologne she always wore.

"Don't worry, Amy," she whispered.  "You're pretty, too."

She saw through me, through all my life back to my little girl years.  It
made my head spin, and I closed my eyes again, trying not to cry and 
not liking how much I liked the way she made me feel.

She started laughing, but not in a mean way.  Her hand was cool against
my face for a second more, and then she was gone.  This time, I didn't 
look for her when I opened my eyes.  I just walked home alone.

We didn't see much of each other the rest of the semester.  I got rides 
home from night class and steered clear of her cemetery.  Two more
girls were killed, the last one, who was not a student, just before 
Christmas break.  The news of these depressed me even more than the 
ones before, and I avoided the papers and television as much as possible.

When we got back from break, Penny had disappeared from the house.

I never saw her again, neither on campus, nor in the town.  Maybe she
failed or dropped out, or maybe her parents pulled her out of school.

The killings didn't resume after the holidays.  Even though she had 
certainly just moved out--all her things were gone and she had left
a check for the last phone bill--I was secretly afraid that she had 
become a victim.  I said nothing about it to anyone, though.  It was
too wild to be anything but my imagination running away with me.

It wasn't until March, when I was putting my winter coat into its
plastic cover at the back of my closet, that I found what she had left

It was the kind of velvet that seems to suck the light into itself and
give it back only when it folds a certain way.  It was long and flowing,
and it smelled like her.  It was the dress she had had on that night in
the cemetery.  I put it on, and it fit me perfectly.

It was early evening, not yet completely dark.  I pulled on a jacket 
over the dress and walked to the cemetery.  It looked tame and 
pleasant, with a few spring flowers nodding around the bases of the
trees.  I went in and found my way back to David and Harriet's plot.

They were there, the stones leaning towards each other as sweetly 
and sadly as ever.  With the last little bit of twilight, I could read 
what was engraved on them.  David and Harriet Jones, died 1758.
There were some fresh carnations on the earth between the two 
stones.  I picked them up to smell them, and a small piece of torn,
faded paper fell out.

Even though I had been avoiding the news, I couldn't help recognizing
what was pencilled there.  Six women, each with a line drawn through 
her name.  Penny was not on the list, but then, I had never thought that 
was her real name.

Two thirds of the way down the list, a name had been written so hard
that the pencil tore through the paper in two places.  The name had
subsequently been erased, but it had left enough of an impression that
I could still read it.

It was my own.