(Originally published at https://www.journeymouse.net/ on 13th July 2008)

Amy almost ran over the slumped form with the pram before she saw it. She stopped with a jerk then apologised to Janey and Snowdrop out of habit. The dog simply looked up at her, offence written all over her aristocratic, Westie face, while Janey pointed and asked, “S’that?”

“A person, Janey,” said Amy, while she weighed up her options. Should she turn and run, avoiding the crumpled shape and thus protect her young daughter from its potential dangers? Or should she see if the person – the woman, she realised, finally recognising the shape under the trench coat – needed help and set a good example?

Sighing, she unwrapped Snowdrop’s lead from the pram – just in case the silly thing decided to pull and ended up taking Janey down the lane – and made her way around the pram.

She knelt down and hoped the woman was not the kind of drunk who got violent, especially when disturbed. The eyes were closed and the face lax. Too much alcohol could be the only explanation.

“Excuse me?”

The body shifted and the trench coat fell apart. Just a little. But enough for Amy to see blood stains. The breath she took in was quick and noisy with the surprise of it. The woman was a wounded drunk.

“You need help. Let me get someone.”

As she started to rise to her feet, intending to retrieve her mobile and call an ambulance, a thin frail voice stopped her, “Leave me… Leave me be.”

From the tone, the only thing that had allowed the woman to get even that much out was sheer desperation.

Amy put her hand out and touched a trench coated arm, “You need help. I’ll get some. I just need to–”

The hand that grabbed Amy’s moved so fast, the shock of it pushed all other thoughts from her brain. She looked at it for a few heartbeats then looked up into wide but blank eyes.

Below the eyes, lips moved and a stronger voice than before escaped them, “You are unclean. I was once unclean, too.”

Amy began to pull away. A wounded drunk who also happened to be a religious nut. A nut who would not let go and held her hand firmly.

“Let me tell you my story.”

And everything went black.

Amy woke to Snowdrop pawing at her hand and whining. She stood, making the movement as slow and careful as she could as she rubbed her eyes with one hand and her temple with the other. For a moment, she could have sworn that “file dwonloaded” was written on the inside of her eyelids in after-image blue.

She looked down at the crumpled form, now still and lifeless, and remembered what she had been doing. She blinked, still trying to clear the strange after-image and then smiled with forced cheer at Janey as she fished her mobile phone out of her handbag and carefully pressed the nine button three times.

“I need an ambulance,” she looked back at the body, “And the police, too, I think.”

Amy nodded to the voice at the other end of the connection, forgetting that they couldn’t see her.

“I’ve found a woman’s body.”

Not that she could remember finding it. Or what she was doing out here with Janey and Snowdrop. Obviously, they were out for a walk but why? And what had she been doing before she had come out for the walk? Nor was she clear about what had just happened.

She shook her head, “Sorry what did you say? I got distracted.”

At the operator’s exasperated insistence, Amy described her location and after a few platitudes from the other end of the connection, she hung up.

She looked down at Janey and the little girl looked back at her with big, earnest eyes. Her daughter had apparently accepted Amy’s moment of unconsciousness in her stride – must remember to see the doctor about that, Amy thought, might be a symptom of something more serious – and was as calm as ever.

Then Amy frowned. Somehow, in the matter of seconds that she had been unconscious, her daughter had become filthy. There were smudges all over her face and hands. Her chubby, two year old legs looked like she had walked through puddles.

Amy reached out to brush the dirt off, not noticing that Janey’s clothes were still clean. Snowdrop barked but Amy ignored her as she laid her hand against her daughter’s cheek.

As if someone else had control of her voice, she said, “You are unclean. I was once unclean, too,” she paused as Janey blinked up at her, “Let me tell you my story.”

Janey’s eye lids dropped to cover her eyes with alarming quickness, the little body slumping further into the straps.

A new after-image danced in front of Amy’s eyes, “file uploaded”. She rubbed at her eyes and temple again as the dirt on her daughter’s skin began to clean itself away.

Janey stayed unconscious for about ten minutes, long enough for the sirens of the emergency services to have broken the rural quiet. By the time the little girl’s eyes opened and cleared, the policemen had arrived, their faces and hands – the only part of their skin on view – covered in dirt.