I finally caught her.
She was a mass of tangled hair, rags and spit, kicking and scratching when I carried her back to my hut. Here, where it bordered between Upper Layer and Lower Tier, I was a scrap-collector.
When I tried to wash her, she fought. I was assailed with doubt. Maybe it was wrong of me to bring in a … wild child. Maybe it was not right. Maybe I should release her and let her go back to whatever she belonged, lived, ate. I wondered what she thought of me: a tall young man or a slender young woman, pale because of the lack of sun.
Dirt came off her in a pool of black and brown, swirling into the hole. It was a struggle to wash her hair; it was all knotted and gnarled. Washed, it was long and curly, tinged with a natural brown. Where was she from? She looked like a child of four or five, but her eyes were intense, piercing. Like my amber glass shone through with light.
I first noticed her when I was salvaging glass pieces from the refuse heap mountain. Upper Layer created this mountain. Many Lower Tier people lived off it, marked their boundaries and territories, and used it as a conduit to Upper Layer. She was there, in the corner of my eye, crouched, watchful, as I picked the glass pieces and placed them in my bucket. Once she noticed me noticing her, she darted off like a frightened shadow.
She would watch me for weeks.
When I clothed her, she fought again, uncomfortable in clean garments. She hissed, yowled and tried to bite.
Then, she simply paused and stared.
She was staring at the glass pieces. I stood in a corner, watching her watching the mobiles move in the slight breeze. There was a large air vent where my hut was situated. Occasionally, it blew in hot air.
The light chose the moment to shine through the glass pieces. Green, gold, red, blue, black and purple danced on the wall, coated the sparse furniture, and on the wild child. She lifted her hands up, as if she wanted to touch the colored light.
She looked at the mobiles, in their various shapes and formations (because I made them when I felt like it and let the design flow through me), and turned to stare at me, her face suddenly thoughtful. It was a beautiful face, an oval face. Under the glass mobiles, she looked really fragile.
I gave her a small bed to sleep in. Instead she pulled the grey blanket to a corner, next to where I placed my sticks and wire for the mobile, and curled into a ball, her knees up to her face.
In the morning she was gone.
Morning for the land between Upper Layer and Lower Tier was a murky orange twilight. I usually got up earlier to wash with the precious distilled water and prepare my meal. In that particular corner was empty space. She had taken the blanket with her.
I didn’t see her for the next few weeks. I feared she might be taken by Lower Tier gangs or had starved to death somewhere. But she was tough. I knew it in my bones.
I started to see crude mobiles hung close to my hut. They were made of twigs, glass pieces and chicken bones.
Again, that darting shadow the moment I spotted it.
I smiled. The wraith child was still around.
Joyce Chng is Singaporean. She writes science fiction, YA and things in between. She can be found at @jolantru and A Wolf’s Tale (http://awolfstale.wordpress.com).