I went for a walk outside last night. It was drizzling and cool and thin clouds streaked the night sky and streaked across the moon like they were in the process of disintegrating. Which they were.
I could cough and see my cough fog up in front of my lips before slipping away like a ghost.
In the garden of each house on my street, there were small, limbless children, their eyes glowing at me like cat’s eyes. Where their limbs should have been were springs, on the ends of which were round black rubber balls a little larger than tennis balls.
At the end of the street I turned and looked back at my house but it looked exactly like the other houses on my street, and I wasn’t sure if I was looking at the right house.
A small sound came through the gentle rain-hiss, and in the middle of the road was a limbless child on its own, shining its eyes up at me, its springs rusted and squeaking in the rain and the wind.
It opened its mouth and sobbed a little and took two hazardous spring steps towards me, and under the street lamp it raised its spring arms to me and I saw its left spring arm was just a stump, a short wire jutting from its shoulder.
I didn’t know what to do. I fished around in my pocket and pulled out the remaining crumbs from a liver-flavoured chip packet I ate some time last week. I reached my palm out to it and it took another step towards me, wobbling and whimpering, and then it buried its face in my palm, tickling me with its slobbery tongue.
Then it nuzzled against my leg and wrapped its ball arm around my waist. I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life as I had right there. I didn’t know what to do. I picked it up. I cradled it in my arms. It smiled and glowed its eyes up at me and it blew bubbles from its spittle-dribble lips.
I walked to the end of the street and I wondered who this child could have belonged to, who could have left it in the street or failed to notice it wandering out of the garden. As tiny rain droplets clung to its poor little lashes, I felt angry at how reckless some people are, I felt mad at how abusive they can be. They probably threw it away because of its broken arm.
I was running. Without realising it, I found I had to get away from this neighbourhood as fast as possible. The child under one arm, I bolted down the streets, through a park (where three older limbless children were sitting on the swings and smoking) and I somehow ended back at the same street where I started. There was my house.
No, that can’t be right. I had been going in roughly the same direction the whole time. But this street had a dead-end just like mine. And there was my house. At least, I thought it was my house. It looked the same. Although the houses all looked the same.
The child bubbled under my arm. I lifted him up and pressed his head against my neck in what felt like a genuine hug. Then I felt something stab into my shoulder.
The sharp pain coursed through my body and I dropped the limbless child. It hit the road with a dull thump. Blood soaked my shirt and sprayed out onto the street. It hurt so fucking bad, and then I saw the piece of flesh hanging from its left-stump wire.
I stomped on its little body and yelled and bled. I kicked it until its teeth caved in and its chest caved in and its limbs were a twisted and tangled mess.
And then I ran. I tried to go back home, but I didn’t know where I was.
I walked back to the child and rolled it over to the gutter and retraced my steps back to the park where the children stopped smoking and watched me drag a bloody river behind me and retraced my steps back to my street where the cat-eyed limbless children watched me retreat to my house where I sat in the shower and turned the water on.