A darkened stateroom. At one end, a thin seam of light defines a door; directly opposite, a porthole set high in the wall contains only the night sky. The room’s rectangular space is as dark as it is narrow. Pressed hard against one long wall are three single beds, their white-painted, tubular metal frames and tightly tucked white linens, impart a sanitized, clinical aspect. There is no other furniture or decoration in the tidy room, and the beds do not appear to have been slept in. I sit in the dark at the foot of the bed beneath the porthole.
Muffled steps in the hall beyond the room. Sound upon the door – not quite a knock, but a scratching noise, low on the doorframe’s seam, more akin to fingernails, or claws. No time to wonder if the door is locked — a wedge of yellow light forms on the floor as the door slowly, noiselessly opens inward. Silhouetted in the door’s mouth crouch two children, a boy and a girl. She appears older than him, but they are both scrawny and unkempt – hair matted and tangled, clothing tattered.
I rise to approach as the urchins toss armfuls of random toys into the room. The objects bounce and scatter, and the boy and girl straighten, intent on entering under the pretense of play. Before they cross the threshold, I reach the door, grab the handle to narrow the angle of entry. I usher the two back into the dimly lit hall and, as they watch in silence, I bend to gather the toys up into green plastic grocery bags. The bags hiss and snick, swallowing each toy dropped within. Pulling the door shut behind me, I hand over the bags. The children are so small and gaunt and scraggly, it startles. The boy snatches the bags and scurries away down the hall, but the girl stands perfectly still, looking up at me with her hands clasped and resting on the front of her grubby dress. For a moment, her face is almost serene, devoid of emotion. Then, the pupils and irises vanish from her huge eyes, overwritten by a rapid series of forms and symbols — mathematical, scientific, utterly alien. The threat is apparent. Back pressed to the door, I fumble with the handle to return to the safety of my room.
“Urchin” — C.Birde, 8/16