The Orphanage

My grandfather remembers his short time at the orphanage. The bleak skies and the chill winds blowing up the hill from the sea; he told me he never once felt warm. There was never any wood for the stoves. There weren’t enough blankets for the children. At night they would fight to get a blanket each; friends would share one but the weaker kids would shiver and cry through the night.

My grandfather would spend many hours in the surrounding woods, tracking animals, watching the birds and learning their calls. All too often he would return late for lessons and the Matron would beat him with a bamboo cane. He didn’t care. The lessons were ordeals and he would rather be outdoors.

One Autumn evening, as he approached the building, he knew he was late as he could see the lamps lit in the window. But he could hear no chatter of the children, nor the Matron’s boorish voice barking orders. The orphanage was silent.

He crept in the side door, and made his way down the corridor to the main hall where meals and lessons were held.

He opened the door to see the tables set, bowls of thin oatmeal and pieces of bread untouched throughout the hall. The Matron and the cook lay on the floor, their bodies twisted grotesquely.

He ran outside, gasping in panic. Through the dim evening light, almost out of view, he saw movement towards the edge of the woods.

It was a procession of children, in single file, marching perfectly together into the trees.

Leading the procession was a figure, a thin outline in black. Too tall to be a person. It looked like a performer on stilts, but stilts didn’t move like that, twisting and serpentine. It didn’t look real.

The figure disappeared into the woods and the children followed.

My Grandfather ran, not stopping until dawn.

I knew one day I would find the orphanage to see it for myself. When I was ready.


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