This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:
hideout :: transitory :: share :: full bodied :: problem
Little Girl Lost
‘It’s almost full bodied, isn’t it?’ Becky settled her head on her folded arms as she stared out the reinforced window, her vision getting lost in the howling dark. Nelson cleared his throat, wondering where she was going with this one.
‘How d’you mean, full bodied? Like, curvaceous?’ He licked his lips.
‘Nah, you twit,’ she said, turning to smile at him. In the candlelight, her hair was translucent. ‘I mean, multi-layered. Sort of lovely, if you look at it the right way. Full of hidden depths.’
‘If you say so.’ Nelson settled back into his chair. ‘Just looks like a pile of snow, to me.’
‘Yes. Well. You never did have an eye for beauty.’ She waited for his snort of laughter, but the crackle of the radio interrupted them.
‘Hideout? We’ve got a problem.’ Becky moved smoothly, on silent feet, to Nelson’s side.
‘Control? Hideout here. What’s up?’ Nelson’s voice was steady, but his fingers weren’t.
‘It’s the signal. It’s fluctuating,’ came the reply. Becky wasn’t sure who was speaking – the voice was unfamiliar. Control changed radio operators pretty frequently; nobody lasted long, up here.
‘Fluctuating? How can it fluctuate?’ replied Nelson. The set started to squeal, like an animal in pain.
‘…can’t explain it. It’s strong as ever one second, and gone the next. Have you…’ The rest of the message was lost in a scramble of static. Nelson fiddled with the controls as Becky bit back her urge to tell him to hurry. She clenched her fists and turned back toward the window again, the darkness drawing her eyes like water to a plughole.
Then, something hit the glass. Something small. Something pale.
‘Nelson!’ she said, in a half-hiss. ‘There’s something – ‘
‘Hideout? Hideout, are you there?’ The radio sputtered. ‘Be advised we’re getting readings… levels of radiation off the…’
‘Hello? Control?’ Nelson thumped the set. ‘Dammit! I can’t find the frequency. It’s like something’s bending the waves.’ Becky was only half-listening.
‘Nelson, there’s something out there,’ she said, her voice low. ‘Something alive.’ Nelson sucked his teeth in irritation and bent toward the radio again.
‘Your brain’s got frostbite, darlin’,’ he muttered. ‘Nothin’s able to live out there, Becks! You know that. Come and help me with this, willya?’
A small, pale shape slapped itself against the window pane, and then was gone again. It reminded Becky of a piece of paper caught in the jaws of the wind, a transitory message left unread. A downy feather, floating on a breath of breeze. A flash of sunlight through green leaves. A tiny face with dark eyes, lost.
She’d slipped into her jacket before Nelson even noticed she’d moved from his side.
‘Oi!’ he yelled, as a gust of frozen wind ripped through the hideout, upending equipment and dousing candles. Before he could move, Becky was out the door; by the time he’d suited up and made it to the threshold, she’d been swallowed by the emptiness.
‘Becky!’ he called, his breath fogging up his visor. ‘For God’s sake! Where are you?’ He took a couple of steps away from the hideout, trying to follow Becky’s tracks. He could only see a few feet, and he was terrified to move too far from the door. You could turn around in weather like this and get so lost you’d never be found, and Nelson knew it.
Already, he was getting tired. It had only been seconds, and his bones were starting to ache. He took two more steps, and then he fell to his knees.
Then, somewhere up ahead, something moved. Nelson’s heart skipped as he struggled to focus on it.
‘Becks?’ he shouted, realising as he did so that he was out of breath. ‘Becky!’
A child – a child? – appeared out of the whirling snow. Tiny, white, dark eyes, dressed in rags. Nelson didn’t know her, but that was the least weird thing about her being there. He struggled to understand as his blood turned to slush in his veins. Nelson blinked, and the child was beside him, her cruel teeth bared and her tiny ice-dagger fingers around his neck.
‘Next time you’ll share your warmness and your good stuff, won’t you?’ whispered the child as it stepped over Nelson, its bare feet blue. ‘Next time I won’t have to take what I need, will I?’
The only answer the child received as it closed and sealed the hideout door against the night was the hiss of the radio, still searching for a signal that would never come.