Mags Bernard thought today was like any other day. Her alarm clock rang through the room like a shock and she turned over to see the reworked machine vibrating with excitement at the prospect of a new day. Groaning, Mags swiped it off her bedside table, the copper bells tinging against the dusty wooden floor. She threw the blanket off and rolled out of her single, sheet-less mattress and padded across the floor towards the dying embers in the fire. Once re-lit, Mags filled her ancient kettle and placed it over the jumping flames.
While waiting for the shriek, Mags jumped into the trickle of water she called a shower, dressed in her usual padded, long sleeved shirt, jeans, socks and large black boots. Then, she poured herself a bitter coffee.
Once the drink had settled in her stomach, Mags pulled her half head of copper hair into a scarf, covering her head, face and neck, so only her unnaturally light green eyes could be seen. Mags kicked the front door (it tended to stick) and took to the deserted street, while avoiding the masses of rubbish piled outside her home.
Most of the houses were like this now. Mags tried not to glance at the red—turned brown—houses with dried vines creeping up them. The once beautiful front lawns were now bare, the plants having perished with no one to care for them. The bricks were crumbling, some parts of houses having collapsed completely. Rubbish collected outside, waiting for the bin men that would never come, making the whole street smell like a landfill sight.
Every morning Mags was glad for the headscarf covering her nose. And, just like every morning, she thought she saw shadows in the windows, curiously watching her pass. She kept her eyes forward, keen on her destination.
Reaching the scrapyard, she hopped the chainlink fence and got to work. Mags had visited this scrapyard every day like clockwork. She collected broken machines, or parts, or metal she could weld.
This is what Mags loved. She had already fixed a rusty old jukebox, a typewriter and a printing press. She had been working on her current project for months. There was one final piece missing and she came to the scrapyard desperately hoping she would find it.
The place stank with rotting plastic, rusty metal and constant dampness. Mags thought of very little as she hauled large cardboard boxes, washing machine drums, plumbing tubes and even a misshapen pram. She considered a rusty bike handle before her eyes fell on a sheet of thick brass metal.
Her eyes widened and her stomach swooped with joy. It was a bit of a fixer-upper but it could work, she would make it work.
As Mags went to swipe it up, she heard a noise and froze. She narrowed her eyes and strained her ears. No animal had been here for years, even the rats had disappeared and humans never ventured outside. She heard a shuffle, a thud and something that sounded like a tut.
Mags’s brain worked quickly to assess the situation. Grab the sheet and risk being seen, or hide and hope the noise-maker doesn’t take the metal? Not a moment to soon, Mags dived behind a large plastic tube. She could feel her heart beating in flutters and her skin burn with anticipation. Mags had to resist the urge to peer around the tube to see the source of the noise as it came closer.
“Bloody bike.” Mags heard from about seven feet away.
She couldn’t help herself and she shifted her weight so she could watch as a boy around her age came storming through the path. He was lean with messy brown hair, a plaid shirt, tight jeans and canvas shoes.
Mags cocked her head, taking in his image. She hadn’t seen anyone like this in a long time. She stared, fascinated by his careless movements among the scrap. The sun, suddenly peaking through the clouds, shone down, creating blinking eyes at every corner. The boy turned, put his hand up to shield his eyes and slumped his shoulders, defeated. He looked so pathetic and tightly-wound that Mags felt sorry for him.
Don’t, she told herself, don’t do it.
But of course, she didn’t listen to herself. Standing with caution, she moved purposely out of her hiding place. Mags cleared her throat to attract his attention. Her stomach quickly knotted with anxiety, every inch of her prickled skin screamed for her to run. It was too late.
The boy spun around sharply, jumping at the sight of her.
He put his hand up to shield his eyes so he could look at her. Mags pictured what he was seeing. A tall, skinny girl covered with layers and a head scarf concealing her face, every inch of skin covered. She stared back at him, raising her chin, a strange act of defiance.
“Okay. Um…” He started. His expression was a mixture of confusion and awkwardness.
“Bike chain over there,” Mags spat through the blood pounding in her ears.
Mags’s innate curiousness was wearing off now and she was too aware of her own stupidity.
The boy didn’t move towards the area Mags had pointed him in. He was watching her with plain and undignified interest, as if she was an exotic bird at the zoo. Her stomach grew tighter and she shifted uncomfortably.
“I need that,” Mags indicated at the sheet of brass, desperate to find something to say or do.
The boy turned and looked. “Right,” he said as he bent to picked it up.
Mags coiled like a spring, ready to snatch it if he tried to take it from her.
“Here.” He moved deliberately, making a show of handing it to her.
Hesitating, Mags narrowed her eyes, unsure if this was a trick. She reached her hand out, nonetheless, and gripped the metal. She pulled it fiercely towards her chest. With the sheet between the two of them Mags breathed a little easier. Looking back at the boy, she noticed a frown crinkling the space between his eyebrows.
“What happened to your fingers?” He asked.
Instinctively she pulled them away and covered them. She used to wear gloves but found it hard to move scrap. Mags glanced down at her now covered hands holding the metal and her heart sank a little. She had forgotten it wasn’t normal for skin to be mangled and burnt, deformed and disgusting. She had been on her on own for such a long time she had grown used to it.
“It’s a long story,” Mags almost whispered.
She deflated slightly and turned away, preparing to hop over the fence again.
“Hang on!” The boy rushed forward and grabbed her elbow.
The grip was loose but it hurt Mags like several needles through her skin. She pulled away sharply, stumbling back slightly. Putting the sheet of brass under her arm, she rubbed her elbow absentmindedly and turned to stare at the boy.
“Sorry, did I hurt you?” His concern crinkled his brow. “It’s just… I’ve never see anyone here and I ride through everyday. I thought it was deserted.”
“It’s not,” Mags was wary of how close he was. She could smell the mint on his breath.
He smiled wryly, “I can see that. So what happened here?”
She sighed, looked at his deep blue eyes and said, almost desperately: “Does it really matter? No one knows we’re here. We’ve been erased from the map. Why don’t you ask your parents what happened?” She turned away but as an afterthought added, “and while you’re at it, why don’t you ask them why they did nothing about it?”
Without looking back she threw the sheet of brass over the fence and climbed over herself, and left the boy in the scrapyard, alone.
* * *
Alec stood where the strange girl had left him, an eery feeling spreading through his limbs. Shivering, he found the bike chain where she said it would be. It was black and rusty but it would get him home.
With so many questions, he fixed the chain to his bike and started the twenty minute journey home. The image of the girl’s unearthly green eyes flashed across his mind more than once.
He skidded up the driveway and into the garage of his moderately middle-class home. Alec dumped his bike and the chain instantly fell off with a clink to the ground. He picked it up and took it to his room.
He threw himself on the bed and ran the bike chain through his fingers. The image reminded him of the girl’s mangled skin on her own hands. Despite the bunt looking skin, her fingers had somehow been dainty and delicate. Alec tried to remember other details of the girl but he only saw the flash of her light green eyes again.
At dinner that evening Alec was unusually quiet and he could feel the looks passing between his parents.
“What’s wrong, Alec?” His father asked.
Stabbing a bit of potato, Alec took a breath and said in a rush, “what happened to that weird village?”
His parents raised their eyebrows in shock and shared a worried look.
“We don’t talk about it. We pretend it doesn’t exist.” His father said with a tone to end the conversation.
“What about the people that live there?” Alec pushed.
His father frowned, “No one lives there.”
Alec was becoming frustrated. “Yes, there are. I saw someone. I spoke to her.”
His father looked at his mother, concern written on his face, this was obviously news to him.
His mother shrugged, took a long drink of wine and said, “About twenty years ago it was revealed that the government practised chemical warfare in the factory that used to be where the village is now. It didn’t affect anyone for a while after the factory was closed and demolished. Then babies were born with deformed skin. Men became crippled and couldn’t work. The village just stopped. The government covered it up somehow. It turned into a ghost story — the creepy, deserted village where monsters lived. No one has seen anyone from the village since. Everyone just assumed they had died or left. We didn’t —” she glanced at Alec’s father. “We didn’t know people still lived there.”
“Is that why you didn’t help them? Didn’t give them resources or medical aid?” Alec almost shouted, completely outraged.
Before either of his parents could answer he pushed himself from the table with a loud scrape. He went to his room and fumed about the injustice of it all. It wasn’t her fault she was born on bad soil. He raked the bike chain through his fingers until they were dry with rust.