by Pam Knapp

The ramshackle house had a forlorn look about it. Paint peeled and bubbled from its walls, grasses grew in clumps that spilt out of guttering and dirt lay so thick and gritty that windows looked like fly screens.

By the open gate, a handful of toy cars lay scattered about, some with blades of greenery spearing through their tiny doors, others were upended on the step and housed small beetles. Beside the short pathway, a doll lay on the ground, her fabric body, mottled with mildew, soil had collected in the shiny nylon curls fixed to her head. A single eye gazed upwards to the sky, the other stuck shut, its sparse eyelashes like stitches. Pink lips moulded closed.

The front door sat uneven in its frame; a broken latch replaced with a heavy sliding bolt. The patrollers knocked and called. Nothing stirred. Still calling, they pushed open the door to a living room. Bottles and cans on the mantle hid photographs of smiling children, behind them, a cracked mirror silently watched the room. Stained cushions from the couch were strewn on the floor and bore fraying wear that blended into sepia camouflage with the threadbare carpet, a great heap of detritus had been left to rot beneath it. Flies zig zagged their dance around an uncovered lightbulb, every surface crawling with their stuttering gait including a still life of shining, ripe fruit hanging precariously at an angle from a nail in the wall. Beneath it, a table leaning on two legs against the wall had papers and magazines littered about its legs.

To the left, a room with a bed and two cribs stood open. Faded lilac flowers on the wallpaper spoke in once homely tones. A toy bunny stared out through the bars of one crib at a stuffed elephant with different coloured ears, lying in the other. A quilt, hand sewn with patches of matching blues, lay crumpled and askew on the bed, a ragged tear to its seam, open and catching the motes that swam in the air. 

To the rear, a kitchen revealed sparsely stacked cupboards. Boxes and bags of dried goods lay exploded across the floor; rice, pasta, flour mixed with mice pellets and crawled with a host of feasting fauna. Unwashed dishes festered in the sink. A spider fleece, heavily specked with remnants of wings and legs, stretched over them. Its eyes and legs peered at the patrollers from deep inside the overflow. 
On the windowsill, a drinking glass held husks of wiry stems still holding on to crisp, curled leaves, their petal-less flower heads bent low at their crooked necks, the crusty ring of a water mark still visible. A broom and a dustpan stood sentinel by a scuffed, gouged back door that swung slowly open on its hinges. Shrapnel of a shattered handle lay on the floor with a battered and misshapen steel pan. 

The patrollers spoke quietly into radios crackling on their shoulders. Someone should come.