Michael can tell when it's daytime. That's when the streak of light under the door creeps in brighter and brighter, when it's different from the yellow of the hallway lamp.
He thinks he's been here four days so far, but it's hard to be sure. He sleeps a lot, locked up alone in the dark. When he's awake, his ears are full of the sound of his own breathing as he listens for footsteps coming closer.
He tries not to make any noise, tries not to be noticed— tries not to be. He learned to cry silently on the first day, because Mr. Lazenby beat him whenever he heard it. He learned that they were "Mr." and "Michael," and that there were worse things than losing your family—worse things even than being dead.
Their mother has been gone three months now. That's how Michael thinks of it when he has to— that's she's gone. He tried the other words out a few times at the beginning, wanting to be ready in case anyone asked: "Mom died." But they stuck in his throat, a strangled squeak instead of a human sound. He doesn't try to say them anymore. Just thinking them still feels like betrayal.
After those people… after… he and Lincoln were taken to the Children's Home, led to a pair of beds that still smelled like the last kids who had used them. They'd been allowed to take some extra clothes and a few favorite things (and Michael was too old to take Fuzzy Monkey, but if he'd known he would have done it anyway), and that was all. What happened to the rest of their things, he doesn't know. They never went back home after that, not even after the funeral. They lost all say in their own lives from the moment their mother was gone.
Michael never expected to be separated from Lincoln. "Have a little faith," Lincoln had said by the lake that day, and Michael had believed him. He'd tried and tried, even though prayers hadn't saved their mother or even brought their father back home. Maybe he doesn't understand how this is supposed to work, because they didn't get a new family and they don't have each other now. If God's listening, why is Michael locked in this closet wondering when the next time's coming, wondering how much it'll hurt and if he'll be so scared he wets his pants?
There's a creak on the stairs, and he freezes, not daring to breathe. He used to cry out, hoping someone would rescue him, someone passing by who maybe wasn't Mr. Lazenby. That first night he called for Lincoln, and he knew Lincoln was clear across the city, but why didn't it work—why couldn't Lincoln hear Michael in his heart?
Now Michael just waits, silent and shaking, for the sounds that make his mouth go dry and his legs turn to rubber and—
There. Someone's right outside the door now, heavy feet that mean Mr. Lazenby's going to beat him again.
But it makes no difference. Even as the words fill his head, the doorknob keeps on turning.
----- fin -----