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Tara was nearly ten years old before she realised that most of the people she chatted to on a daily basis were dead.

She had always been a sociable and vocal child, ignoring her mother’s warning not to talk to strangers with a variety of justifications. The lady at the bus stop in the mornings, for example. She was there every day, so she wasn’t a stranger. She was always there before Tara, leaning on the bus shelter with her hands in the pockets of her long black coat. They chatted about Tara’s school work, mostly. The lady was very good at English, and could often explain things better than Tara’s teacher.

It was a cold and frosty morning when Tara finally figured it out. When she got to the bus stop that day, the lady was standing a little way down the road instead of leaning on the bus shelter.

“Morning,” she called to Tara, “come and have a look at this.”

Curious, Tara wandered over. The lady pointed to the hedge. There was a single rose growing there, perfect despite the frost. Tara leaned closer to get a better look.

“Hey!” She pulled the rose out of the hedge, pointing at its perfectly cut stem. “You just stuck this in there!”

The lady laughed. “You’re sharp,” she said. “I didn’t expect you to notice that so quickly.”

Tara was about to have a go at the lady for playing  a stupid trick when there was an enormous crash behind her. She whipped around to see a car where the bus stop should be, all crumpled and steaming in the early morning. The man behind the wheel fought away his air bag and opened the door.

“Thank God I missed you,” he muttered, his breath reeking of alcohol as it misted up in the cold air.

“No,” said Tara, “Thank her.”

She turned to the lady just in time to see her turn into mist and disappear.

© Kari Fay