It seemed an impossible thing. Everybody knew that little girls didn’t fall in through second-floor bedroom windows, especially when the window only opened so far as the palm of another little girl’s hand.
But there the girl sat, eyes wide as she shook shards of glass out of her frizzy hair. The pieces clinked along the wooden floor, spreading everywhere like the first dustings of frost.
Maeve’s mouth dried. “…are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” the girl said. “Sorry about your window. Don’t worry, I’ll fix it.”
“It’s not my window.”
The girl had the strangest eyes that Maeve had ever seen – one was as black as space, and the other as pale and bright as the moon.
“Are you an alien?” Maeve asked.
“Don’t be stupid, of course I’m not.” The girl stood up, brushing down her summer dress. “Can I hide in your wardrobe?”
The girl seemed to take that as a yes.
Not five seconds later, men’s shouts echoed down the street outside, along with the pounding of footsteps. “Split up! It can’t have got far!”
Maeve wetted her lips, before shuffling forwards towards the window so that she could get a better look. Her heart hammered in her chest.
Had her mum not heard the window break? Had no one seen the girl fall in? Why was no one coming?
“Someone must have seen it,” one of the men said. “Ask around, for god’s sake…”
Glass crunched under Maeve’s feet, but she stayed low, fingers seeking out a safe spot on the ledge. She peeked over the windowsill and down into the street, breathing heavy.
The sky had darkened.
Instead of the daylight Maeve had expected, it was abruptly night. A dull, smudge of night that only the brightest of the stars managed to pierce, but night nonetheless.
The street was empty except for a flashing police car that hadn’t been there two seconds before. The emergency lights tinted the whole bedroom an eerie blue, just like when they came to tell her mum the news about the accident.
Maeve froze, unease prickling down her spine and settling like a cold stone in the pit of her gut.
None of this made any sense at all! It should have been day, and she’d never heard any cars drive up the street. She never heard the siren wailing! The police car was just there, appearing like the night. It should have been lunch time.
She closed her eyes again.
The sky was still dark when she peeked an eyelid open, and the police car was still there. Nausea clawed up her throat.
Maeve checked her watch. 1:52am. All wrong.
Her stomach squeezed, all thoughts of the strange girl vanishing.
“Mum – Mum!” she fled for the stairs. “Have you looked outside? Did you hear-“ Maeve stopped short.
Her mother’s face twisted puffy with tears, her nails bitten raw.
A policeman stood at the bottom of the stairs. Sort of old and kind-looking enough, ruddy faced with a beer-belly, notepad in one hand and a wad of used tissues in the other.
They both stared up at her.
Her mum whimpered – a terrible, choked sound like someone had punched her in the throat.
“Is this your daughter, Mrs Millington?” The policeman’s brow furrowed.
“I-yes-that’s Maeve – that’s-where the hell have you been?” Her mother charged up the stairs, crushing her close. Fingers scrabbling into her hair, the other hand clutching at her back. “Don’t ever do that to me again!”
Maeve forgot how to breathe again, head spinning. “I’m sorry?”
Her mother’s fingers tightened in her hair.
“You can’t just run off and disappear like you did, Maeve,” the policeman said. “You had everyone very worried. The city is a dangerous place.”
Run off? Disappear?
“I was in the bedroom,” she said.
Her mum pulled back. “Do you think I didn’t check the bedroom?” She glanced back at the officer, eyes wild. “We checked the bedroom.”
The officer jotted something down in his notepad.
“Why don’t you tell us what happened, Maeve?”
“There was-“ Maeve stopped, a second time. Bit her lip. “Didn’t you hear the window break?” Her eyes darted between them, but the policeman’s expression didn’t change and her mother only paled again. She looked like she’d spent her whole day crying.
Most of the boxes were ravaged, as if a tornado had blown through the hallway. Not neatly unpacked or placed in the right room at all.
“When was the last time you saw me?” Maeve asked, voice shrinking.
“Maeve, this isn’t the time for one of your games.” Her mother’s breath hitched.
“Why don’t we all sit down in the kitchen?” the officer said. “Put the kettle on.”