We Came Along This Road

x-posted @ my a03 account

Fandom: Rule of Rose
Pairing: Wendy/Jennifer
Summary: On December 20, 1930, tragedy struck the Rose Garden Orphanage, leaving only one known survivor, nine-year-old Jennifer Brown. Years after the hideous event, Jennifer seeks to reopen the orphanage. News travels fast, and quickly piques the interest of a long lost dead girl who never forgot the promise made to her by her old friend.
A/N: This story is part of a 14-part album fic challenge, in which each song from a single album will serve as inspiration for the story. The album I chose is “And No More Shall We Part” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

WENDY
It was late, and the weather was poor. I should have been at home, half-finished with my nightly rituals, preparing myself for bed. Really, I should have been in my favorite nightgown, perhaps even crawling beneath the heavy blanket, sinking into the warm embrace of my glorious bed. Under less unusual circumstances, I certainly would have been.

Alas. I’m tired, but well awake, and instead of surrendering myself to the luxury of my soft bed, I have instead submitted myself to the indignity of the stiff, torn fabric of a bench seat at the back of a dreary bus. Trundling along at this indecent hour, looking for a girl I haven’t seen since I’d lead the dogman on the death march to the orphanage door, in the tender years of my own girlhood.

Jennifer.

Even now, her name fills me with such terrible longing.

If only she hadn’t betrayed me… chosen that filthy creature over me. Humiliating me not once, but twice. Without even trying, I still plainly remember the feel of her palm across my face, the heat in my injured cheek. The poisonous swill coursing through me, spilling black and viscous from the cracks in my heart, as I laid pinned beneath her on the floor, like a butterfly.

The memories are automatic, and unstoppable. The anger in her voice and the furious tears in her eyes as she demanded that I “give her back her friend”, even though I had not been taken from her, at all.

No… if only she’d understood, as I had, as all of the others had, that nothing of value had been lost to her… that the only friend she truly needed – after the lengths I had gone to just to prove to her the immeasurable depths of my devotion – was there already… everything could have been so much different.

We could have been so happy. All of us.

Royalty.

A family.

Instead, she’d been selfish. Cruel. Unbearably cruel. And in the end, it was she who was taken away from me, a second time.

I won’t lose her a third time, however. This time, she will be mine, and no one else’s, ever again.

I have been so patient.

Through the dirty, discolored window, there wasn’t much to see. Trees, mostly. The tedious landscape stumbled past on an endless loop. Trees and bushes, bushes and trees. How putrid. I sighed and turned my head away from the glass; I’d never really been one for the supposed beauty of nature.

Finally, the bus shudders to a halt alongside a bench I recognize immediately.

Once upon a time, I’d found a Stray Dog sitting there, waiting for his son.

I do not pause to linger on those memories. They are worthless to me. I leave the bench behind me without a second glance, as I follow the worn, dirt path up to the Rose Garden Orphanage.

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The Sorrowful Wife

x-posted @ my a03 account

Fandom: Rule of Rose
Pairing: Hoffman/Clara
Summary: Days, and years, and entire lifetimes have passed since Hoffman abandoned his post as the headmaster at the Rose Garden Orphanage, but those little brats are still a constant thorn in his side. But not Clara, his sweet Clara. His refuge, his salvation… his terrible sin. His sorrowful wife.
A/N: This story is part of a 14-part album fic challenge, in which each song from a single album will serve as inspiration for the story. The album I chose is “And No More Shall We Part” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.


It has not been easy.

I have not slept well since it happened.

Since I left.

I see it in my dreams, that horrid building. It waits for me, crouched in the corners of my wandering mind, looming in the creases of my eyelids, so that when I lie down at night and close my eyes, it drops heavily into view. I see it plainly, every inch and every detail. The enormous, rusted lock on the gate. The rows of darkened windows punched into the grimy walls. That odd picture they’d drawn of the dog, candy spraying from its screaming mouth.

Stray Dog gives us sweets.

I took Diana by her shoulders and shook her until her head wobbled and her eyes filled with tears. “What is this “stray dog” nonsense?”

Stray Dog kidnaps kids.

“Answer me, damn you!” She cried out when I struck her, but only once. After that, there was only the sharp sound of my hand on her flesh, and the anger in my voice as I demanded an answer that she would not surrender.

The shame bubbles up in me, every memory is a slap to my own face. It is inescapable, what I have done.

Inescapable, yes. The irony of it. I left in the middle of the night like a coward and a monster, but I am still there. I can never go back, but I can never leave.

I am trapped there as surely as they were.

It has not been easy.

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Barefoot in the Dark – Prologue

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: A child goes missing without explanation; Eleanor resolves to find her. Also available at ao3.

It was vicious cold outside on the balcony, but she didn’t mind so much. It was just as vicious cold on the inside where Diana and Meg skulked and slithered; where Miss Martha the cleaning witch scolded and complained; where Mr Hoffman petted and whispered and slipped into the dormitory to watch them undress, insisting that he was simply there to keep them on task.

Hurry up and take off your dress, there’s no time for dawdling. When was the last time you changed your underwear, you dirty little wretch? No mummy and daddy is ever going to want a child who can’t take care of themselves. Give them to me, I’ll take them to the filth room for you…

Where everyone stopped what they were doing to point at her, the new girl, and hiss and snipe to each other as they stared at her with open distrust. The new girl, as if though she’d done it on purpose.

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Rule of Rose Gothic

( x-posted from my tumblr )

  • You wake up on the bus, your skin sticky cold from the dirty window. It’s dark outside. Was it dark when you got on? How long ago was that? You don’t know where you are; you’re not sure where you were going.
  • The little boy hands you a ragged, handmade story book. All of the pages are blank. For now.
  • You find scraps of paper, and scribbles on the walls. The legend tells of Stray Dog. Stray Dog gives kids sweets. Stray Dog kidnaps kids. There’s candy on the floor; where are the children?
  • The children greet you by name. You’ve never seen them before. They don’t bother to introduce themselves; you already know who they are.
  • The children put you in the box with your dear friend. Your dear friend is in the bag. Your dear friend isn’t moving. The box is.
  • You wake up on an airship. The airship is shaped like a whale. The whale is made of metal and glass. It swims between the clouds.
  • Money is obsolete. The currency of choice is Red. Red crayons, red roses. Red all over your dear friend. Red all over the bag. Red all over your filthy hands.
  • There is candy all over the floor. You eat it without question. They come in unpopular flavors, like “Dirty” and “Old”. You eat them, anyhow. You’re sick from the sugar.
  • The airship is massive; it’s impossibly large. Up and down the stairs, down to the belly and up through the blowhole, and all of the children are gone.
  • You search for the children. You can’t find them. The children are lost, the children are hidden. You are all alone on the metal whale, floating in the stars.
  • Animals roam the halls. Grotesque configurations. Rabbits, goats, pigs. They’re all wearing suits. They’re all holding weapons.
  • The children are behind the door. The door is locked. You ply The Door with gifts. A beautiful butterfly, but it’s not enough. A battered rabbit, but it’s not enough. The Red Bird of Happiness, but it’s not enough. An unmarried mermaid, but it’s not enough.
  • Scratchy music plays constantly. All of the rooms are empty. The record player is broken. The music is inescapable. It plays endlessly in every room.
  • The children stop talking when you approach. They look at you with those cold, expectant eyes. They lift their dresses, and bend their knees. They smile those wise, knowing smiles. They ask if you’ve found what you’re looking for yet; something dear to you. Well. Have you?
  • The Door is unlocked. Your dear friend is in the bag again. You deserve to be gobbled up.

We’re here to eat up all your sins…

x-posted from tinylies.org

I think I’ve finished the actual writing part for “Pain”. It’s only supposed to be a short response to a writing prompt, so I didn’t really go into detail or spend a lot of time on world-building, but I’d like to eventually revisit it sometime in the future. Motivation is always such a problem for me, though.

Take, for example, this post. I should be taking pictures right now to finish the whole damn thing off, and instead, I’m dilly-dallying about on wordpress, talking about what needs to be done as I actively avoid doing it.

Anyway, American Horror Story the other night was pretty decent. Gonna need significantly more Dandy and Gloria, and if I could get a scene of Dot impaled on a stick that is later revealed to be Maggie’s perforated corpse, I would be ever so grateful.

Excerpt #2

“We’re here.”

The house they arrived at seemed to be feigning abandonment. The yard was unused and phantom quiet, as still as a cemetery; the exterior was freshly painted and the front porch glowed in the eerie light provided by a small lamp outside of the windowless door. And yet there remained an uneasy suggestion of hollowness, as if though, despite the house’s tidy outward appearance, inside it would offer nothing but empty rooms and dusty sadness.

“Who lives here?” Bella asked, rubbing nervously at her bare arms.

“The Grunt family,” Olive responded, nodding at a dimly lit window where a blonde woman drifted past like a wraith. “The youngest son is terminal.”

Bella shivered, thinking of her own young son and praying that she’d never be called to her own front door on such an unhappy mission. “Can we save him?”

“No,” Olive said, softly. “That is not our place. But we can unburden him.”

For a long, tortured moment, they lingered on the cement path, side-by-side as they prepared themselves for the task before them.

Finally, Bella looked to Olive, and her eyes were burning from the inside out. “I don’t like pain.”

“No,” Olive shook her head. “But who does?”

Duchess

Duchess

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Diana sulking in the basement. Inspired by Jennifer’s revelation that Diana spent a lot of time in the basement, lamenting the fact that she wasn’t growing up the way she’d envisioned.

The basement was almost painfully cold, dimly lit and impervious to sound. It was filled with dolls that made the other kids nervous, and smelled of mold and decay and rodent leavings. Most importantly, it offered nothing tempting or exciting to combat the various negative aspects, which meant it was an ideal location to escape the chaos of the orphanage.

She was perched on the edge of a wooden stool more splinter than seat, one boot-clad foot dangling limply, swooping in small, lazy circles. Red hair spooled across the old, scarred workbench where her arms had been folded into a cradle of heavy fabric and bone, protecting her face from making any unnecessary contact with the filthy table surface.

The knuckles of her left hand pressed uncomfortably into her right cheek. A red crayon twirled idly between the fingers of her right hand, leaving red slashes In the ruined wood. When it accidentally slipped from her grasp, she let it; she watched it roll away until it disappeared from her line of vision, and then she closed her eyes. With nothing left to interest her, she let her fingers curl in until her nails dug into the soft meat of her palm, pressing until it hurt, squeezing until the bright sting of pain began to feel good.

She thought of the debacle still taking place upstairs. Of Hoffman, trying to piece it all together. Of the other children, scrambling to cover up their involvement.

She thought of his hands in her hair, stinking of shoe polish. Dry and grabbing and rubbing and poking and rubbing and

Jennifer watching. Staring at his hands from across the room, petting and rubbing and reeking of stale smoke, though he’d made such a scene out of it, that whole financial debacle that was supposed to force him to give up his precious cigars. All the while watching with that look of helpless stupidity that Diana had come to associate with her.

She thought of her helpless tears and of

Meg watching with clinical interest. Though she brought Diana and flowers and other worthless trinkets, though she professed her love and devotion, her eyes behind those oversized glasses had watched unblinking as their dear old headmaster had vivisected her with practiced hands, cut into her with bloodless knives, opened her up wide to reveal the writhing maggoty mass beneath the ribbons of smooth skin. She had seen Meg cry before, as often as not a direct result of something she herself had done, and she had looked away, because it was undignified, because it made her uncomfortable to have Meg snotting and weeping and tear-sodden in front of her; Meg had watched with unwavering dedication, savoring every second of her vulnerability. Craving those crumbs of humanity.

She thought of his voice, so desperate and understanding, nearly begging her to give him some explanation with regard to his stupid beloved

mermaid

koi, the sole unlucky inhabitant of that disgusting aquarium that that always made his room stink of fish, begging, tell me what happened, tell me, but she wasn’t going to do any such thing, not with

Eleanor watching, or at least looking in her direction, the empty bird cage spinning half-forgotten in her hand. Clockwise, stop, counter clockwise, stop, clockwise, stop. Though the red bird it used to contain had since been lost to the ravenous demands of the Aristocracy, still it hung from Eleanor’s fist, that little prison as permanent as an appendage. Perhaps Diana would cut it off for her, and finally free her from that Forever Land foolishness that shackled her to the past.

All of them watching like Diana was something to be pitied.

They were wrong, of course.

She was

a beautiful mermaid

the Duchess, after all. Outranked only by the Princess, a bed-ridden little lump of frailty and sickness. Easily usurped should the desire arise. She didn’t expect it to, though – too much responsibility, none of which appealed to her. Let the phlegmy little worm be in charge. Diana had all she truly needed – plenty of power and ample opportunity to abuse it, and she was content with that, or at least as close to contentment as she would be able to attain.

The door opened unexpectedly, without so much as a courtesy knock to warn her that her moment of peace was about to be interrupted. Gray eyes slit open and focused on the figure standing in the door frame, empty cage in hand.

“What do you want, Eleanor?” Without waiting for a response, she turned and dropped her head back onto her arms with an audible sigh. Of course, it would be Eleanor. Her day simply hadn’t been dreadful enough.

“The Princess has called a meeting,” the Countess replied, sounding bored. It vexed Diana the way that the younger girl addressed her. It was insolent.

“What does she want, then?” Her voice sounded thick, muffled against the sleeve of her dress. She wished Eleanor would go away. She wished Wendy had sent Meg, instead. Meg would make excuses for her so she wouldn’t have to go all the way up to the attic.

“You,” she said, blandly, unoffended that Diana had balked at her proclamation. If their roles had been reversed, Diana would have been furious to have been challenged.

Groaning, she lifted her head slightly, so that she could speak clearly. “Is it important, at least?”

She supposed it was a foolish inquiry; nothing was important to Eleanor these days.

No response. Well, that was hardly surprising.

She dropped her head back into the crook of her arm with a groan. She was just so tired lately, and dealing with Wendy and her obsession with that pathetic rat Jennifer was exhausting.

She was probably going to be in trouble, anyway.

She was in no real hurry to be scolded.

Something shifted behind her. Hopefully just Eleanor finally leaving.

“Are you alright, Diana?”

Diana stiffened, shock rippling through her. Eleanor didn’t ask questions; Eleanor didn’t care.

When she looked back over her shoulder, the doorway was empty.

What —

Cold steel bumped against her bare leg, making her jump.

“Are you insane?” She hissed, resisting the urge to shove Eleanor backwards. She left that kind of unsightly behavior to heathens like the boys and Amanda, relying instead on covert brutality and more civilized punishments.

She’d just have to wait and find a good way to land Eleanor in the Onion Sack. She didn’t doubt that Meg would gladly help her in that pursuit. Once she’d dealt with Wendy, she’d find Meg.

“Get away from me.”

Eleanor cocked her head, not giving Diana an inch of space. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

Eleanor hesitated a moment, clearly undecided as to whether or not she actually wanted to pursue this conversation. Especially with the girl who had cut her bird open and filled it with rabbit shit.

Finally, her eyes locked on to Diana’s, and Diana felt the now familiar surge of contempt that Eleanor always seemed to inspire in her.

“Shhh,” she said, addressing the creepy little dolls that always got Jennifer all riled up. “The Countess has deemed us worthy and will now speak. We should be honored to be involved in this most historical of moments.”

Eleanor was unprovoked.

“Well?” Diana prompted, arms crossed. “Speak. I humbly request that you share your wisdom, Countess Eleanor of Forever Land.”

Eleanor didn’t so much as blink.

“You’re always down here by yourself. You barely talk to anyone –” Diana snorted at Eleanor’s audacious hypocrisy. “And you missed last month’s gift.” The smirk slid off Diana’s face, guilt sliding neatly into the vacancy. “Are you okay?” She repeated.

Diana glared at her. “What do you care?”

Eleanor shrugged. “I don’t. But you’re about to be demoted.”

Diana flared up, immediately indignant at the threat. “Because I missed one measly little gift?”

“Because you’re getting old.”

“I am not!” Clara’s miserable face flashed into her mind, but that pitiful creature she did shove away. “That’s ridiculous, and you know it.”

Eleanor turned her face away, twisting the cage one way, then the other. She offered Diana no opinion one way or the other. Typical.

A long moment passed, neither girl speaking. The red crayon she’d dropped earlier caught her eye, and she found herself reaching for it automatically. Rolling the thin stick of wax between her fingers, she felt an immediate wave of comfort roll over her.

It was short-lived.

“Wendy’s waiting.”

“Then she can keep waiting,” Diana snapped, thoughtfully tapping the crayon against the table before turning it over and beginning to draw. Head. Arms. Torso. “Tell her I fell on the way up the stairs and broke my elderly hip.”

The corner of Eleanor’s mouth twitched, but she remained stoic. Shrugging again, she turned her back to Diana and prepared to leave the basement, completely unimpressed by Diana’s show of defiance. She was only hurting herself. Let her.

The door shut quietly, and Diana was once more alone.

The crayon moved automatically, elongating the lower body into something almost serpentine. Two swollen petals at the bottom completed the tail.

Clara’s face swam back into her mind’s eye as she examined her drawing. Stupid, sniveling Clara with her mermaid fixation. Always babbling on about how they were all mermaids, or would become mermaids, or some other such rot.

That stupid girl, with her stupid fairy tales. All her nonsense about the King of Mer-land, drawn to the purity and beauty of mermaids.

The chimera disappeared beneath a sea of heavy red lines, the crayon clutched in her fist like a knife.

The King of Mer-land, hell. Rubbish.

She wasn’t any kind of mermaid, and never would be.

She was devoid of purity, and beauty.

She just had hands that smelled like fish.

Sorrow’s Child, chapter 2

Sorrow’s Child

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Game events from Clara’s point-of-view, probably. I actually have no idea where I’m going with this.

Chapter 2

Mr Hoffman bids us good morning. His voice crackles and breaks over the speakers.

I’m the last one awake; the others are already crowded around one of the long tables that crouch in the center of the dormitory, grinding crayons down to misshapen stubs as they hiss and giggle at each other.

The table is festooned with paper and colored sticks of wax. Scraps of paper lay scattered about, bearing the words “Boarding Pass” above a large fish. A scrawny mermaid lingers on a black slash of rock; an enormous pink pig idles in a sea of grass; a red bird strains for the empty sky, tethered to the wrist of a scraggly child, the words “Forever Land” carefully etched across the top of the page. Forever unreachable.

They go silent as I approach. Diana puts her crayon down and crosses her arms across her chest, and smiles at me with enough hostility to make me flinch and look away.

“We thought you were dead,” she says, sounding disappointed. Margaret presses her knuckles to her mouth and snickers, ever faithful to our tormentor.

They look at me across the table and wait for me to respond, but what can I can possibly say to diffuse their rage?

The door opens, and Jennifer slips in, her short, boyish hair still mussed with sleep as she tugs at the sleeves of her rumpled dress.

The door slams shut behind her. Diana and Margaret jump in their seats, startled by the noise. Their attention shifts, and takes their animosity with it.

Diana smiles again and unfolds her arms.

“Well, Jennifer,” she says, “you’re as late as ever. Won’t Mr Hoffman be impressed.”

With their focus on fresher prey, I sneak out of the dormitory, my relief a dull ache beneath the throbbing shame of my cowardice.

But she would have done the same, I think.

Only Margaret willingly submits herself to Diana’s cruelty. The rest of us scatter like mice and pray that we’re quick enough to avoid the claws at our backs.

* * *

Wendy is sitting up in bed by the time I bring her breakfast in. She offers me a tiny smile before erupting into a coughing fit that rattles her fragile body.

“Good morning, Clara,” she says when it subsides. She sets aside a stuffed bunny to make room on her lap for the food tray. She frowns slightly at the sight of her morning meal, but doesn’t waste energy complaining; Jennifer would sneak her sweets throughout the day, supplementing her diet with candy and chocolate and biscuits. Oatmeal was merely a formality as this point.

I poke my fingers through the wire bars of Peter’s cage while she fiddles with her utensils and lets the food grow cold. The rabbit huddles against the back of the cage, wide-eyed and shivering. He watches me with cold distrust.

The rejection embarrasses me. I pull my hand away from the cage, a tiny spark of anger flickering to life in the middle of my chest.

Stupid rabbit. It shouldn’t even be allowed inside, its hutch is out in the yard. Animals belong outside. Wendy’s frailty affords her special treatment, though.

Wendy smiles at me across her untouched oatmeal. “Thank you,” she says, gently pushing the tray away. “It was very good.”

Peter’s face twitches. Red eyes stare dumbly ahead at nothing.

Stupid, wretched thing.

* * *

The kids are playing Airship in the hallway.

I suppose that’s what the boarding passes were for.

They abandon their game and go still and quiet whenever I approach.

I make up reasons to excuse my presence – Mr Hoffman needs something from some room, Miss Martha needs something else from another.

They just look up at me impatiently, eager for my departure.

I go back to the sick room.

The sheets are rumpled. There’s a small wet patch near the middle. I rip them back from the mattress, my fingers curled as I claw at them.

The stains are waiting.

* * *

Wendy is lying down when I bring her her dinner.

Peter watches from the back of his cage, eyes wild with helpless stupidity.

I shove the cage roughly with my foot as I approach the bed, softly calling Wendy’s name in an attempt to rouse her.

Her eyelids slit open; her blue eyes are pale seas of pity. “I’m not hungry,” she moans.

Another coughing fit.

I gather up a small mountain of candy wrappers and stuff them into my pockets; Mr Hoffman will scold the both of us if he finds out she’s been gorging herself on sweets instead of “proper” food.

“You should eat something,” I try, knowing already that it’s useless. She moans again and presses her face into her pillow. “For me?”

Nothing.

I dump the mealy vegetables into Peter’s cage before leaving.

He’ll eat them, or he won’t. Either way, his cage is so filthy they’ll hardly be a noticeable problem, even if they’re left to rot. Most importantly, Mr Hoffman will be pleased to hear that “Wendy” ate something healthy for once.

* * *

It’s still dark out when something spoils my sleep. A door opening and closing. My stomach curdles as I draw my knees up, curling into a tight ball of clammy skin and pulsing blood. Lying beneath the thin, scratchy blanket, I wait for the hand on my shoulder, the silent, undeniable command to follow.

Seconds tick by, birthing minutes.

I can’t help but look.

Despite the late hour, the dormitory is empty.

There’s a boarding pass at the foot of my bed.

Sorrow’s Child, chapter 1

Sorrow’s Child

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Game events from Clara’s point-of-view, probably. I actually have no idea where I’m going with this.

Chapter 1

It’s raining again…

All of the children are outside, even Wendy; she’s been doing much better, coughing much less frequently. Mr Hoffman said it would be okay, just for a little while… we need to indulge her from time to time.

The sick room is empty, except for me. The bed smells damp, like sweat and illness. The blood stains and drips and spots have faded, leaving a dull red-brown garden, and I can’t help but recall the way she’d screamed… calling for her father as roses bloomed beneath her.

Rain lashes at the window. Voices rise above it.

Laughter.

Screaming.

Then nothing.

I pull the sheets up, exposing the mattress. The stains are darker here. We didn’t try as hard to clean it.

It’s too late now.

I stretch the sheet back across it, smoothing it down with my hands.

The silence unnerves me.

I listen for the rain; it’s hard to find beneath the screaming.

But my head is full of it.

I pull the sheets back, exposing the mattress. The stains are waiting.

The silence eats away at my sanity, sometimes nibbling at the edges, sometimes pulling it away in chunks. At night I can hear it chewing.

I wish they’d come back inside…

Sometimes it’s like I’m all alone in here…

I don’t like… I don’t want to be…

My hands get tangled in thin fabric. Mr Hoffman hasn’t even bothered to turn on his scratchy old records… the ones he thinks create a “cheerier atmosphere” in this dreary land of tiny cast-offs, of unhappy forgottens.

A dusty, old lost and found bin where nothing was ever retrieved, because nothing lost was ever missed.

Faulty products.

Returned merchandise.

I wish…

I don’t know what I wish.

There’s no use in it, anyway, is there?

In wishing?

Wishing lives in a world dying; it opens the windows and doors, it lets in the hurting. The sheets are damp with it. I pull them back to expose the mattress. The stains seem darker this time.

It gets into the walls. It seeps into my clothes.

My skin is slick with it. The stains are darkest there.

Downstairs erupts like thunder. Miss Martha’s voice is feral; they’ve tracked mud into the house.

It’s no wonder, she shrieks, half-mad with fury and disbelief, it’s no wonder the lot of you are still here. Who on earth would be senseless enough to allow this kind of filth into their own homes?

No one, I suppose, though I wish she would keep that kind of cruel honesty to herself. They hardly need reminding. Even Olivia is well aware of the dwindling number of visitors hoping to select a hopeful addition.

I see the way the older ones look at me…

They may still… even Diana… someone might… she’s a pretty girl…

The door opens behind me.

Margaret smiles at me from behind her enormous spectacles. Her little teeth glisten in the menacing curve of her mouth. Her eyes glitter with malice. She bends her knees in an exaggerated courtesy, holding her skirt up with little pincer fingers.

“Miss Martha needs you,” she says loudly. She glares up at me like an insect. Our difference in height has always made her contentious; she seems to feel that I’ve grown older out of spite. “You’d be wise not to dawdle like you always do; Miss Martha is having a bird. You and that filthy rat Jennifer are expected to clean up the mess the boys made in the front hall.”

She’s gone before I can respond. The door slams shut behind her.

I pull the sheet back over the mattress. The stains disappear.

The doorknob twists in my hand; the hallway is as empty as the sick room, and twice as quiet.

The floor is crayon scarred. I step soundlessly onto the train tracks.

I can hear Miss Martha calling for me through the door.

The knob is as smooth and cold as bone beneath my fingers. I can hear the rain, still, clattering against the roof.

Laughter.

Screaming.

Laughter.

Miss Martha and Mr Hoffman yelling above the chaos, reminding everyone that their dirty clothes belong in the filth room, not on the floor.

Mr Hoffman smiles when he sees me. I cross my arms across my chest and watch my feet dragging me across the room.

The mud is waiting. The new girl is holding a mop and bucket, as if though she actually intends to use it.

Children and adults disband, until it’s only myself and the new girl. I join her amidst the mire and muck.

She hums to herself as she idly wipes at the same smudge of dirt, waiting for me to finish.

The speakers attached to the wall spring to life with a static-y whine and Jennifer’s humming gives way to an endless loop of scratchy music.

Our “cheery atmosphere” is covered in mud.