The child was lonely. All she wanted was company.
She lay on her side in the small dark bedroom, holding everything inside herself. Her thoughts, her fears, her wishes, her oxygen. All the same, in that they were worthless to everyone else. The light coming through the thin golden strip of open door fell across her pale face, a bright scar across her pensive expression. Her large brown eyes sparkled with troubled tears.
She often felt like she had lived beyond her six years on this Earth.
There were no stirrings from the room next door, no murmured sound from the TV downstairs which dictated life. It was the dead of night. She pulled the thick duvet, which just wasn't thick enough to keep the cold out of her delicate bones, back and swung her legs over the edge. She had to use her hands to stifle the gasp when she laid her small bare feet on the icy wooden floorboards.
The thin material of her old nightgown wasn't much good against the night's inescapable chill. The little girl pulled on the crumpled clothes from the pile on the floor of her unfurnished hideaway. Her auburn hair was pulled into stubby uneven bunches, choppy from inconsiderate home haircuts. Dressed, she pulled the tatty thin cotton curtain away from the window to look out. It was all black; the moon was out, but its reflected light couldn't penetrate the world's darkness.
She opened the door to her pitiful room, taking the shabby one-eyed teddy bear with her, and tiptoed down the stairs, clinging to the banister for fear of falling down into the abyss. Turning the light on would wake Mummy and Daddy - too many such mistakes had beaten the lesson into her. She often missed a step going down this way, and the terror and confusion as she lurched downwards always made her stomach twist with sickness.
Tonight she made it to the bottom safely, without mishap. That made her feel a little less afraid. There was something different about tonight. Even to a six-year-old child, something was in the air.
She had to drag a chair over to the back door to reach the key from the hook; she tried to be as quiet as possible but there were often scuffles and squeaks when the legs caught on the pockmarked linoleum.
Out in the night, the wind ruffled her hair and whipped around her, like an old friend. Welcome to the world of night. We hope you'll be happy here.
She walked for a while, wandering down the stretch of black surfaced road. The trees on either side may have seemed menacing to any other child in the darkness, twisted shapes reaching like gnarled witches' fingers, but she barely noticed them. Until she reached one in particular; no, two. A streetlamp on the opposite side of the backroad had cast a beam of light across them; their embracing figures gave the six-year-old an odd sense of joy as if they represented any harmony and happiness in the world. She touched the tree, brushing it with her fingertips as she went past into the blackness. She didn't realise there was water there until she waded into it; the seeping cold muck frightened her at first but it was shallow, and was only a few steps across. Shivering with cold and discomfort at the sopping denim clinging to her legs, the little girl clambered blindly up the slope.
She went over the top and found herself staring into a scene from one of her dreams. Here there was a hollow, lit by the moonlight where the trees weren't dense enough to shut it out; the landscape was silver, and there was a little house illuminated at the very bottom.
Most children were told not to wander away, never to go to strange places, never to talk to strangers. Nobody had ever cared enough to tell her. She saw the warm yellow glow of a light in one of the windows, and for the first time in a long while, her small rounded face was lit up by a smile.
She clutched her bear tight and set off down the hill.