AN: Yes, this prologue is very short. The later chapters will be longer, but they will be few and far between. I have two other stories I'm working on right now, and I'm only starting this to try and get it out of my system enough that I can concentrate on them.
The Child No One Saw
"'It is the child no one ever saw!' exclaimed the man, turning to his companions. 'She has actually been forgotten!'" The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
There are two policemen standing on a doorstep. One doesn't want to be there; it's his daughter's fifth birthday, but he was unable to get time off. He is impatient with the task, which he believes to be a false alarm, and he looks at the urban street with distaste. "This is pointless," he says.
The other is an older man, perhaps fifty. He has nothing to go home to but loves his job, and that makes him friendly and patient. "Don't whinge, John," he says with amusement. "That's Rachel's job." He likes children, and has baby-sat John's daughter Rachel many times.
"Let's try the back, Fred," John says, shifting agitatedly from foot to foot. "We've been knocking for ages."
"Fifteen minutes, if that," corrects the older man, but they go around back anyway.
No one has seen anyone enter or leave the house in three days, and the father hasn't been to work in the same amount of time. No one has heard from them or been able to contact them (or so says one of their busybody neighbours). The officers are there to look for signs of foul play. In John's opinion, they are there more to give said nosey-parker something to gossip about.
The backdoor is unlocked, and they go inside. The house has the quiet stillness of empty buildings, and they find themselves speaking in whispers as they explore. Everything seems to be in order, and the cupboards have been emptied of perishables. It seems like the family just went on a trip and forgot to tell anyone.
They check the house room by room nonetheless, working from the top down. It only takes them a few minutes to work through the upstairs rooms- all but one. In a strange piece of architectural planning, one room has a row of padlocks along the outside. Fred continues downstairs while John picks the locks.
Finally, he opens the door. It is a small room, filled with dusty, broken toys, forgotten or abandoned by the people who had lived here. There is a terrible smell, which seems to emanate from a pail in the corner. There is also a dresser, and a nightstand with a candle, and a rusty cot. On the cot is a pile of old blankets and sheets, which- to John's surprise- rise and fall gently, almost as if someone is breathing under them. There can't really be someone there, though, because the house has been empty for days, and the door was locked from the outside.
Watchfully, almost silently, he takes the few necessary steps across the room- very few, for the room is tiny. Tentatively, he reaches out and pulls back the top of the coverlet. He is met with the sleeping face of a young girl, around thirteen years of age, mayhap younger. She blinks open her eyes, awoken by the movement. Her eyes are a brilliant shade of green, but fever-blurred and dull.
His first instinct is to curse, but instead he kneels beside her and reaches out a tender hand to brush her dark hair out of her face and check for a temperature. She's burning up. "Hey," he says softly. "Are you alright, kid?"
She just stares at him, her eyes unfocused.
"Do you have a name?" he asks, still fighting the urge to curse. This is impossible. The house has been empty for nearly a week. Has she been lying in here for all of that time, with no food or water? He would take it as a case of child abandonment and abuse, but there had been only been one child in this house; an obese boy, just turned sixteen. This child is everything but that.
She closes her eyes, and her breathing returns to the gentle undulation of sleep.
John curses. Moving quietly out to the hallway, he shuts the door behind him and calls, "Fred! There's a kid up here!"