The smell of rot filled the home. It was filthy and dark, and rubbish was piled up everywhere.

Gastille covered his nose with the back of his hand as he picked his way through the mess.

“How can they live in a place like this,” he muttered.

“Not sure they actually do,” Sheston replied, her voice muffled by the mask she wore. Clever girl. She was always prepared. Naive, but prepared.

“They live here alright,” he said. “We’ve had it monitored. Life signs registered remotely, they only leave when they have to.

“That’s not what I meant,” she said, opening a door and shining her light in.

Gastille frowned. “What do you mean, then?”

She beckoned him over. He followed the beam of her torch to the figures on the bed. They were emaciated, caked in filth, and hooked up via an intricate network of wires to a small machine that hummed quietly in the corner.

“I mean, they’re here, but they’re not living here.” She pointed at the box. “They’re living in there.”

Gastille wrinkled his nose. “Ugh. What possesses them to just… check out like that?”

Sheston shrugged awkwardly. “It’s better in there. More vibrant. They stop being nobodies with nothing and become gifted indivuals. You’ve seen this place, even if it was clean, it wouldn’t be somewhere you wanted to live. Or bring up a child.”

Gastille turned on his heel. “Speaking of which.”

They opened the other door – there were only three rooms in the cramped building – and both stopped in shock.

The mess stopped at the door. Beyond, there was clean, plush pink carpet, natural light flooding in through a clean window, a box overflowing with toys and, on the bed, a little girl looking up from her book with an intense expression.

“Mama and papa aren’t in right now,” she said.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: The Three Word Wednesday prompts are Gifted, Intense and Rot.)