Frank and Maria’s daughter had been sick for a long time. But recently, the eight year old’s fever and cough had gotten much, much worse. In the middle of a stricken suburb with more focus on weapons than welfare, the couple was running out of options. There was no way they could afford suitable medication for Anne and there wasn’t a chance in Hell of them finding a doctor that would do them a favour. Anne’s issue was a mystery. She’d just as often have carefree hours outside with the other children as she would have those sputtering in bed. The sickness simply wouldn’t go away.
A knock came on the door and Frank, already on edge, marched there in a huff.
“We’re busy now. Come back later,” he said through an opened door not much wider than a slit. The man on the other side smiled, as if understanding their situation.
“I can help you, Frank,” he said. “I’ll take this issue off of your hands.” Frank glared at the man sceptically but he didn’t close the door. “I’m a reverend, a holy man with an eye for educating the youth. If you allow me to, I can take your children on for free.”
Frank grumbled. “I don’t see how that helps Anne.”
The man at the door narrowed his eyes, something Frank noted immediately as sinister. “Medical facilities, my friend. Specifically, my medical facilities. As a trained medical professional, I can provide whatever help your daughter needs.”
Frank held the man’s gaze, breaking it only to sigh. “Listen, we’re not friends, guy… but I don’t have a choice here. I’ll get my wife on board and then… then we’ll follow you to wherever the hell you’re from… you better be legit, or else.”
The man shrugged. “Fair, good sir, fair.” A lock of hair floated across the visitor’s face. “I’ll wait here.”
It didn’t take much to convince Maria and even less to convince Anne. The sickly little blonde girl was tired of being bedridden and, more importantly, tired of being a burden on her parents. They doted after her day and night and they didn’t deserve this. No less than she did. The girl tried her best to hold onto the strange new man with golden hair as he mounted his bike and rode off, followed suit by Maria and Frank on her bike. The trip took a number of hours, hours broken intermittently by fuel stops and breaks.
They eventually ended up where the Western Cape used to meld into the Northern Cape. Those days, it was just a uniform wasteland, like a bombsite the size of a community. Only a lonely church building still stood, surrounded by little shacks and outbuildings that seemed to expand from the building itself. The blond man motioned towards the church, as if to declare his ownership of the place.
Maria seemed on the verge of tears. “We’d love to visit this place more but… the fuel cost and the distance and…”
The man raised a finger. “It’s alright, ma’am, I understand. Rest easy, your child is safe in my hands.” Anne’s parents nodded, bidding their daughter teary farewells as they got atop Maria’s bike again and rode back home.
The man led Anne by the hand through the massive golden doors of the church, their bodies assaulted by dust flown along violent winds. The gates closed with an almighty clang, grabbing the attention of a dozen other people inside the church. They were all seated on pews, Anne noted as she lifted her head to look at them. They were all children as well and almost all of them were younger than she was, maybe six at the oldest.
The rest of the church’s main body was blackened and worn by time. Even a place as venerated as this was not immune to the passage of time. Despite that, the pews were noticeably clean and varnished. Special attention had been paid to them. The children sitting on them were as confused as Anne was, seemingly brought to the place as recently as she.
The man deposited the girl onto a pew, one shared with a raven-haired girl with an eye-covering fringe. Anne was missing any sort of familiar face amongst her surroundings… she’d have to make new ones.