The Boy (First Page)

By Sophie Green

‘He won’t be missed,’ Hench grinned. ‘I found one no one wanted.’

The boy laid still, his eyes closed. A thick canvas strap secured him to a rusty hospital gurney, a label tied over one of its wheels read, ‘Property of Rorschach Asylum’. The boy’s clothes, a grey t-shirt and jeans, were worn-looking and too small. His ankles and wrists were bound with leather manacles.

A copper band rested against his temples, water trickled from the sponge that coated it, tracing paths down through his hair. Wires connected the band to a machine that hummed in the corner; a machine with dials, indicator gages and two rubber-handled levers. Behind the gurney two vials of colourless liquid hung from a rack. One of the liquids was moving through the tubing which looped below, dripping into the cannula in the boy’s hand.

A dolly lay across his chest, barely rising and falling with his shallow breaths. It was roughly made from white flour-sacking sewn with heavy black thread and stuffed with straw. A simple face had been stitched on, crosses for eyes, a straight stitch mouth and tacked to each of its fingerless hands was a tiny bell.

Two men watched over the boy. Vassal Hench and a man Hench knew only as Gallows. Both wore heavy rubber aprons over their suits; thick rubber gloves and shoes clad in galoshes. Their faces were covered with surgical masks and goggles, but they were easily distinguishable; Hench’s suit stretched uneasily over his hunched shoulders and his sapphire eyes glinted. Gallows was thin and precise, with long, graceful fingers and deep-set eyes that sank back under a hairless brow.

There was one other witness to the crime. Outside the long-abandoned paint factory, in an alley piled high with industrial-sized bins and old packing crates, stood a straggly, sand-coloured mongrel on four thin legs.

Headlights swept past and the dog’s shadow loomed before it as a Cortina made a U-turn and disappeared into the darkness. The dog pricked up its ears and leapt up onto the bin beneath the window. Stretched to its full height it could just rest its paws on the sill and peer in through a crack in the grimy glass.

What it saw made its ears pin back.

‘Check on the subject,’ ordered Gallows.

Hench leered down at the boy and poked him hard on the shoulder.

‘Out like a light.’

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