Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Daylight Haunting of Thomas Coram By Helen Wright

THE DAYLIGHT HAUNTING OF THOMAS CORAM

It was seeing his baby sister between two piles of steaming horse shit which broke his reverie. He blinked, and shook his head, as if to shake the ghost (no such thing!) from his sight. He looked again, and the little face was still there, gleaming out of the darkness, hovering above the cobbles, weaving slightly from side to side in the cold evening air.

He was going to be late now, and his wife would be vexed, but he had to investigate, otherwise he would think he was going mad. He crossed the road.

It wasn’t his sister (knew that!) It was a baby, and it was flesh. Its skin shone, with a distinctly unholy sheen of sweat. It wore a garment once white and now all shades of yellow, green and brown. Its little bare feet stuck out against the wet cobbles, and were mottled purple and white, like rotten beef.

The real horror was that it was alone. He looked up and down the street. There must be someone it belonged to, someone taking care (humph!) of it. What to do now? Someone would be along any minute, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they? Why did she look so much like Nan?

“Get away from her! “

A shrill female voice from behind him, a proprietorial voice. Thank goodness. He turned round, ready to suggest that it was a disgrace to leave a baby like that in the street, but the words curdled in his throat. How old was the small figure confronting him - seven? Eight years old? The child turned her back on him, hauled the baby up, then pushed past.

“Wait, girl! Where are you going?”

Quickened footsteps. He’d have to run after her (too old for this).

“Wait, I want to help.. (knee hurting like the devil) I’ll give you money if you’ll tell me where you’re going.”

That got her attention. But the baby slipped, its head lolling. He suddenly knew the baby was dying. The pallor, its poor clumps of hair stuck to its head, its marbled feet. And it was so quiet. Had it been so hard for Nan, the baby he left behind to go to sea at twelve?

“What’s she called? She needs a doctor, girl. She’s not well. Will you take her to a doctor if I give you a guinea?”

The guinea was pocketed and the girl was off, running as fast as she could with her burden. The baby’s face flopped and jolted on her shoulder, and he thought its eyes fastened on his for a second. No accusation in them, just resignation at the dying of the light.

What would the child do now? Where would they lie? Would someone steal the guinea? Would she be suspected of stealing when she tried to spend it?

Damn it and blast it to hell. He hadn’t helped at all. His wife was in for an uncongenial evening. Again.


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