This story is by Daniel Letchford and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I looked up at the people around me as I sat against Miss Joy’s fence. A laughing group passed by and greeted me with kind smiles on their faces which looked like bottled white ink. I waved at them, feeling the warm sun on me. A few others passed, greeted me by name and scratched Little Puss affectionately as the cat was curled in my lap.
Quietly I smiled down at her as I listened to the people around me. They asked how Mr and Mrs Pure were doing, and I replied saying that they were still very kind to me for letting me stay with them.
They were curious at what happened to my parents and I shrugged when they asked. Mrs Pure said they vanished one day and never returned. But I’m happy, I always have been. They’re my new family. I’ve never been happier I told them, though I said to myself that I don’t know if I’ve ever been upset or hurt.
As I listened to them I scratched Little Puss behind her ear, my white ink seeping into the cat’s ink. Little Puss purred in pleasure, nudging me. I looked down at her lovingly as I felt her joy seeping into me.
I giggled at Mr Shine who was mimicking his wife when I felt something pulling my hair. I shooed the invisible fly away but soon felt myself being stretched towards a hole like water draining down a pipe. Swiftly I clawed Miss Joy’s snowy fence, feeling my face being peeled off. I heard Mr Shine and Miss Joy’s cries of horror before my fingers slipped and I fell into the drain.
Horror. I had never felt it before.
I lay silently in the street; my eyes opened groggily as I seek for the warmth of the sun. I stared up at the sky, dark clouds rolling across it. Thunder rumbled above. I shivered, feeling a cold and withered finger running up my back.
Standing up, I looked around and held myself in my arms. Around me stood tall, cold and dark skyscrapers as if a bottle of dark ink was spilt across them. Moving around me people rushed about, bickering over something with another and others on their phone, shouting or crying into them. A man bumped into the man next to me, his coffee spilling across the pavement and their letters flying about as they shouted at each other irately. I stared at them, their bottled ink swirling angrily inside of them like a dark pool of water.
I sobbed softly, moving back away from the two shouting men. I cringed as a woman nudged me out of the way, glaring at me before answering her colleague beside her. I whimpered as I glanced down at my shoulder, a grey stain sinking into my ink. I ran towards the wall of a skyscraper and looked back at the crowds of bottled empty space.
Pulling my shoulder forward I observed the stain. It had stopped growing and it now sat on my shoulder like an ugly bruise. I sighed tiredly, leaning against the wall with my head in my hands.
What happened? Where am I? Why am I alone.
The thought made me shiver, sending a quiet tear down my cheek. A familiar meow and rubbing sensation against my leg caught my hope again, and I looked down joyfully at the cat. I gasped and grimaced at the cat’s filthy ink, strays of black voids flowing through her. Disgusted I kicked her away, holding myself away from it. The cat meowed in shock before scratching my leg irritated and then scrambled away, it’s stained white fur fading into a light grey.
I dropped down to the ground, tears running down my cheeks as I felt Little Puss leaving me. I covered the scratch with my hand, dark ink already spreading up my leg. I was alone. Truly alone. And it was my fault.
My hands. They were grey. Empty. I sighed, letting them drop to the ground. Days had passed while I sat on the side of the street, hungry and cold. People glared at me, and I watched in disgusted as they walk past each day. Slowly, my ink started to fade into grey as I thought bitterly, of people back home, how lucky they were to not live like this. I envied them.
Sighing I pressed back further into the wall, watching the bottles of black ink move about, giving each other unfriendly looks. A man tripped in front of me, his belongings scattered across the pavement. I watched as he sighed, obviously tired. He started to pick up his things, but people ignored him and kicked his wallet out of their way. A slip of black money caught a slight breeze and flipped towards me.
I stared down at it, it pressed against my leg as it fought against the breeze. I picked it up, and felt my stomach rumbling. Thoughts of the food I could buy with it rolled into my head,, and maybe a place to stay as well . I glanced at the man still on the ground, who grumbled under his breath.
I held my breath as I thought about the food, the home. Sighing with defeat, I stood. And reluctantly moved in front of the man.
He glared up at me, almost challenging me to hurt him like the others had. I bit my lip before handing money to him. His face froze, confused. I edged the slip of paper towards him, urging him to take it.
Cautiously he pinched it, and both of us watched in shock as the black paper turned white and smudged both of our hands white. I pulled my hand back, looking at the familiar whiteness of it. The white ink seemed to twirl around my grey ink, flowing up my arm as it tried to find what was left of my white ink.
The man also held his hand back, white ink twirling up his hand in the void. He straightened and stared at it before looking at me. I gave him a small smile and retreated to my wall, observing the white strands in my hands. It looked like there was a small galaxy in my hands.
I sat cross-legged, my hands in front of me as I observed the fading white galaxy in them. I sighed and dropped my hands down, the joy that the white ink gave was comforting in this dark world. Turning my attention to the street I watched the people as they continued their usual routine. Some even ignored me, saving their glares for someone else. I smiled slightly as everyone suddenly stopped to gape in awe. I looked around at them in surprise before glancing down the street to see what shocked them.
A group of people smiled back at the bottles of black ink, handing out cups of coffee and helping them as they stared at them. I blinked. Their ink was beautiful, as if their ink was a universe in a bottle. White stars and milky ways flowed through them changing the people they greeted and shared their coffee with. As the d the stunned people accepted the gift, the stars inside of them grew and the dark ink started to fade into a grey tone.
I stared at them in shock. How can someone like them live here? How can they act so kind to others?
A man, who was acting as if he was a group leader, smiled welcomingly and knelt between a couple who were arguing and picked up their phone and handed it back to them. They took it back, gawking at him before sniffing arrogantly and marching off refusing his kindness, their ink swirling inside of them angrily. The man sighed, then glanced towards me. I stared at him and he smiled as a flicker of recognition flickered across his face.
He raced towards me and I tensed as his shadow loomed over me. He knelt down in front of me, smiling and pulled a white piece of paper out from under his jacket and handed it to me. Relaxing, I took it slowly, blinking cluelessly. My fingers grabbed it, and my hand was flooded with white ink along with him. I stared at it, joyful at the comfort it brought.
The man stood up, smiling, and nodded. “Thank you, for your small act of kindness; it has changed my life in this dark world.”