TITLE: The Sky-High Adventures of Never
GENRE: MG Historical (with speculative elements)
The last thing Never expected, on that rain-dark December morning, was for anyone to want to buy her.
She had lived at Tooley's for all of her eight years, and every so often, bickering husbands and wives or weather-beaten tradesmen would sweep through the orphanage, inspecting the children like sides of ham in a butcher's window. But she was always too skinny to be any use to the blacksmith, too pale to catch the eye of the elegant couple, too wild-eyed for the old lady in need of a maid. And so she had stopped looking up as they passed, stopped wondering what life would be like outside the grey, bare walls of the house on Castor Street. Stopped hoping.
It was Wednesday, which meant it was her turn to scrub the kitchen floor, and the thick stench of rotting vegetables and sour milk made her eyes water. She was concentrating so hard on not retching that she didn't notice the peculiar man in the top hat until he spoke her name.
'The child's name is Never?' The man raised a bushy eyebrow.
'Right little devil, that one. Anytime she's told to do anything, all she says is "Never!"' The matron pursed her narrow lips in disapproval. 'You sure you wouldn't rather take one of our other children, sir?'
You old bat, thought Never, don't you wish you could just drown me like a kitten. But she caught a twinkle of mirth in the man's eye.