A/N: This is my first story submitted to Fictionpress in a long while, and I hope you enjoy it. How it really ends is up to the reader to imagine, and I doubt I'll ever continue it – the point it ends is the point I finish it, unless it ends up being popular. Enjoy.

A decayed hand pulled the coarse, brown hood back slightly to reveal a gaunt face in the light of the street lamp. Dark hair – the hair of Monday mornings – hung over her face in greasy strands, the eyes left shadowed. Crickets chirruped in the darkness and the being's grey, gritty fingers twitched at the sound, before two shoulders relaxed and the figure let out a rattling breath. The hot night pressed in on her, yet the woman seemed not to notice it.

"You know," said a rasping voice, accompanied by irregular footsteps. The first figure's head moved, pointed chin tilting towards the sound. A hunchbacked figure, skin almost entirely invisible behind thick clothes limped up towards her. "Tara, we're wasting our time here. The girl's not going to come."

"No, Jackson," said the woman, cocking her head to the side slightly, a sly smirk spreading across her face. The skin on her flaking lips split as she did so, making her companion cringe lightly. "She has to come home. She has to."

"You sound overconfident," Jackson snorted behind his mask – brown cloth wrapped around his mouth and forehead, leaving only his eyes and hooked nose visible, wisps of curling, grey hair sticking to his skin – dry, despite the humid night. "I wouldn't count on her coming."

"She'll recognise us, love," said Tara, looking back up at the red bricked structure, unseen eyes fixed on an open window. Curtains, glowing yellow in the street light, blew out. "She has to."

"She hasn't seen us since she was a baby."

"She'll recognise us," said Tara. "Family resemblance."

"Shana is eight years old." Jackson's voice was an exasperated sigh. "She won't notice. Honestly, Tara, I don't know why I do this for you – "

"Shh," said Tara, suddenly growing still. "Listen."

The breeze picked up papers from the gutter, which swirled around the two figures, some litter clinging to the damp clothes. A newspaper, ink running down in pools from the recent rain, revealed bold, though smudged, headlines: UNDEAD: FACT OR FICTION? A passerby wandered – a teenager – stopping only briefly to stare at Jackson.

"I'm sick," said Jackson. "Piss off."

The teenager jumped slightly and quickened his pace, quickly disappearing around the corner. Tara smirked slightly, until Jackson hissed at Tara in a lower voice. "And what do you propose to do when we run away with her?" he said. "We're not exactly capable of giving her what she needs – "

"Shh," said Tara. Jackson's eyes rolled to the sky, before he tensed. He could hear a faint child's voice.

"Is that her?" said Jackson.

"Shh. It is."

"Mamma!" yelled out a small voice. Tara smiled.

"I told you," she said, still staring at the window. Yellow light filled the window frame as the sound of squeaking bed springs greeted their ears, along with a child's giggle. "She recognises me."

"Shana, it's time to go to sleep," said a young woman's voice.

Springs squeaked rhythmically, along with the gentle thump, thump, thump of something jumping on the bed.

"Mamma – "

"No jumping on the bed. Get off, or you'll break your neck."

"But Mamma – "

Squeak, squeak, squeak.

"Shana Newdale, stop jumping on the bed."

Squeak, squeak, thud as the child jumped onto the ground.

Tara's smile faded. Jackson looked at her almost sadly.

"She's got a new mother now," said Jackson, his voice soft. Tara sighed. "A new name as well… Not a Smith anymore."

"No matter," said Tara. She walked to the base of the wall, one hand on the drainpipe, head still tilted up to the stars. "We'll go get her now."

"You're going to climb up that freaking pipe?"

"Of course," said Tara. "Why not? Now shut up or we'll be heard. Or we could go around the side – there's another window into the room, near the bed, I saw."

Above, the voices continued.

"Mamma, can we finish the Papier-mâché before I go to bed?"

"It's eight thirty, Shana, it's your bed time."

"But I – "

"Leave the newspaper alone, sweetheart."

Jackson sighed. "Tara," he said.

"Yes?" the woman turned to look at him. More of her face was revealed from this angle, but her eyes were still hidden. A trail of glistening liquid down her cheek caught the light, and the dirt smudged as she wiped it away. Jackson sighed.

"Tara. Since the accident she hasn't been ours. She's got a new home now. We can give her nothing."

Tara crumpled. "No," she said softly.

"Tara – "

"NO!" the woman clung to the drainpipe like a lifeline.

The female voice from above drifted down. "What's that noise?" The window above slid open.

"Doggy," said Shana.

"It's not a dog, you silly girl, it's probably some teenagers or – "

A figure froze, fingernails digging into the windowsill as a young, brown haired woman stared right into Tara's eyes, her own open wide. Tara stared back. She slowly let go of the drainpipe, stepping back.

Jackson swore loudly. "Run!" he snarled at Tara, and with only a longing glance at the window the woman obeyed, and both thieves sprinted into the safety of darkness. Above, the woman stared disbelievingly at the sickly figures. She sniffed. Was that sewage she could smell? No, not quite… Were they escapees from the hospital? The limper veered, crashing into the wall. Something large dropped off him, slipping through his long sleeve, but he didn't stop – the two vanished seconds later.

"Mamma?"

Above, in Shana's room, May came back to earth with a shudder. She stirred herself, working swiftly to pull the curtains back in the room and slam the window shut. The curtains bloomed against the closed window, until May strode to the white, spinning fan on the other side of the room and pressed the "off" button. Shana blinked.

"Mamma? What was it?"

"Couple of hooligans," said May. "Come on, Shana, get into bed."

"Story?"

"Not tonight, sweetheart," her hair mixed with the girl's golden hair as she kissed the girl's forehead maternally. She crossed the room swiftly and flicked out the light, looking back at Shana. The moonlight cast across her face revealed a pointed chin and hooked nose, though the unmistakeable line of a scar ran down the girl's cheek. The child had done so well since the accident. May smiled, before turning to pull the door closed.

"Mamma," came Shana's voice.

"Mmm?" May peered around the door.

"Can I have the fan on?"

"I'll leave the door open," said May. "and turn on the air conditioning. You know you can't sleep with the noise."

The child pouted. "I don't wanna sleep."

"Shh."

The quiet corridor welcomed her with its stuffy atmosphere. The night was hot tonight – unbearably hot. May couldn't understand how the male intruder was wearing such thick clothes. Mental institution escapees, perhaps? They didn't seem normal, with the strange smell.

Perhaps… what was it the limper had dropped? May walked through the kitchen, through to the dining room - stopping briefly only to aim the remote at the device on the wall and turn on the air conditioning - and finally the front door. She smiled slightly in relief at the cool breeze, but closed the door behind her, locking it. I'm not risking those bastards getting in, she thought. I'll only be out for a minute, Shana will be fine.

There it was. In the lamplight, what looked like… no. It couldn't be. A trick of the light, surely? May went to the object, crouching on the paved cement.

It had to be fake.

May reached out a hand and finally reluctantly picked it up. She sucked in her breath, falling back on her bottom as she dropped it.

It was definitely real. She put a hand on her chest, slowing her breath. In… and out… in… and out… Her eyes picked out the pale, crawling maggots, the rotted flaking skin… that smell again. Not as strong as before, but there. That was sewerage…

A single corpse's arm lay in front of her. A scrap of newspaper flitted by her on the breeze and upon a single glance at the headlines, the woman stood up and sprinted to the front door, fumbling with her keys. She dropped them on the mat, picked them up again, and finally fixed the key into the lock. She could feel a thousand pairs of invisible eyes on her as she slammed the door shut, locking it tightly behind her.

The window! Had she locked it? She couldn't remember.

She dashed up the stairs, two at a time, and wrenched the doorhandle open.

The curtains fluttered near the window, stirred by a breeze. The fan stood proudly, quiet and motionless. The bedclothes crumpled in a pile beside the wide open window – the one Shana had gazed out of into the side alley so often – and the now unmistakable scent hanging in the air… that wasn't sewerage… that was decay.

The Papier-mâché ball rolled as the wind disturbed it, across the strips of newspaper pre-cut up. May's eyes picked out a single word: FACT… The same haunting headline stared cruelly at the woman, and though a part had been torn off by chubby figures, May had seen its entirety before. The ball came to rest against the wall. Bold letters taunted her. OR FICTION?