Fiction: Missing Child 2

Here it came. Another day with the kid. It was coming – oh God it was coming, and I really didn’t want it to come. But I’d – well, I’d promised, hadn’t I? I’d promised his parents that I’d do something to help the poor boy, even when I was getting rather sure that there was nothing that could help him. Especially since they were paying me forty dollars each day that I came in and tried to treat him. With all the money they’d been sinking in – money that they’d gotten by taking out a loan – I couldn’t let them down. Not after a month…

Today, I was planning to try something different. I hadn’t yet yielded a response by talking to him, and if I couldn’t yield a response by conventional means, then I was just going to have to try the unconventional. Everything that I could possibly think of trying this morning had ended up in my pockets, not to mention a couple of old tricks I’d tried earlier that might be worth trying again.

I breathed in, and then I breathed out slowly before raising my hand to knock on the unit’s door. Before I did, however, I paused and took in one more deep breath of air.

After a reasonably short interval, a woman – the mother – opened the door, smiling warmly at me. I gave her an acknowledging nod and then continued in through the door and to the lounge room. The father was sitting on the couch and resting his chin on his hand, seemingly staring off into space.

He always seemed to do that, these days…

I sat down in the same squashy armchair I’d always sit down on when I came here. And, whether to be professional or just by habit, I asked the two thoroughly-harrowed parents if their son’s state had changed.

I shouldn’t have bothered. Just as ever other day, he was as stiff, still, unmoving and unlively as ever. All he ever did was move for the absolutely vital processes such as sleeping, eating and breathing. Otherwise, he did not act as a normal hyperactive six year-old boy at all. He didn’t go outside and kick a football with friends. He didn’t vegetate in front of the television or a computer screen. He didn’t read a book, or become involved in any other activity.

He just sat there, on his bed, eyes unblinking. His parents had described them as lamps, because they never closed and just sat there, staring right through you and into the wall – like you weren’t even there

And he was never like this. Not until a month and a week ago.

Before I’d been called up to come and help, the boy – Michael – had been sent to school, just to see if that could possibly fix the problem. Unfortunately, however, it didn’t do anything at all. He did nothing in class. Not a word to his teacher… nor his friends. Anything he was told to do wasn’t done. The eyes just kept staring fixatedly at a certain spot, changing position only if he was moved.

He didn’t even go outside for recess or lunch; the teacher tried to get him to do so, but she just couldn’t get through to him. He did nothing in class. Not a word to his teacher… his friends. Anything he was told to do wasn’t done. The eyes just kept staring fixatedly at a certain spot, changing position only if he was moved. He didn’t even go outside for recess or lunch; the teacher had tried – oh, how she had tried! – to get him to do so, but she just couldn’t get through to him.

It was comparable to talking to a slab of cement.

But the real kicker here was that there was no apparent reason for the boy to be psychologically damaged. As far as anyone knew, the boy’s childhood was a perfectly normal and reasonably happy one. There was, simply, no plausible way to justify what was happening.

After spending a few more minutes talking to them, I gave up and realised that there was absolutely nothing different about his behaviour today in comparison with yesterday and the weeks before that.

It was time, yet again, to see the boy personally.

I continued down the familiar route through the hallway and to the boy’s room, where I carefully opened the boy’s door and then closed it behind me. Just as always, Michael was sitting on the side of his bed and staring blankly at his bedroom wall.

As always, I walked in front of him and kneeled down, just to get perfect eye contact. Since his eyes never even budged, it was the only way I could do it – and I often wondered if it made any difference, since it felt much like he couldn’t see at all. Like he was completely unaware of… of everything.

“Hello Michael. It’s me, Greg, again.”

He stayed silent. As always.

“You know… your parents are still very worried about you.”

At this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if a tumbleweed rolled across the room. It was time to experiment – after all, I’d tried the conventional, hadn’t I? There certainly wasn’t a thing to lose in it. In fact, I was slightly surprised I hadn’t tried any of these tactics beforehand. After all, they were quite simple ideas, but I suppose I thought that unconventional means would be somehow unprofessional.

I was mentally scolding myself now, for just being plain thick.

So I gave a sigh, and brought out an old-fashioned pocket watch that my uncle had left me several years ago. It was slightly unpolished and hung by an equally unpolished golden chain, but it would do the job I was wanting it to do.

I held it up in front of his eyes and let it sway from side to side; the goal of this wasn’t to hypnotise the boy – I’d never hypnotised anyone in my life – the goal was, simply, just to get his eyes to move. That alone would be a feat, right about now.

But contrary to what I’d been hoping, the boy’s eyes stayed cemented in place. There wasn’t even so much as a quiver to indicate that he was physically trying to avoid following the pendulum-like object – they just remained perfectly stiff.

I replaced the watch back into my pocket frustratedly. And then, without warning, I clapped my hands straight in front of his eyes with as much force as I could put behind them.

No blink.

Just like every other day I’d tried this.

I’d come to the conclusion a long time ago that this boy had seemed to have lost all outside perception, and appeared to be absorbed into himself on a massive scale – to a point where his body was practically acting as an empty shell with no soul.

Angrily, I ran my fingers through my own brown hair. If this was going to go on for too much longer, it was undoubtedly going to start thinning.

I was trying to think of what else I could do to help the boy, just short of sticking electrodes over his head – that had already been tried last week – when his mother came in, sporting two rounds of chicken sandwiches on a wooden tray.

While Michael never responded, he’d always do things that were vital for basic survival, like eating. I’d tried attracting his attention before as he ate, but I could just never yield a response. His eyes would stay glued in place, and so therefore his head would move if he needed to look at something, such as where the sandwiches were.

His mother left us to it without saying a single word, although did frown worriedly on the way out. I didn’t say anything to her, and instead watched Michael with blood-boiling intent as he mechanically reached for a sandwich. I was rather surprised that a bout of frustration such as this hadn’t surfaced before, but it was surfacing now and God-knows I was helpless to stop it.

“Look, just give me some indication that you know I’m here at all! Anything! Move a finger or blink or – or just do something!”

Michael instantly dropped the chicken-filled bread on the floor, and I moved backwards, not having expected such a reaction to even so much as occur. His head snapped so that his still-immobilised eyes could stare straight into – almost through – mine, and then he mouthed something without any use of his vocal cords.

And no matter where I moved, his head would move so that his eyes were always facing my head. Like he was completely locked onto me.

Decidedly shaken up, I quickly zipped out of the boy’s room and closed the door behind me. And then, with a shaky hand, I pulled out my mobile phone and dialled with trembling fingers.

“Hello, Claire? C-cancel the rest of my appointments today…”

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Fiction: Missing Child 1

And then I sat down on my couch, quite unsure of what to do with myself. There was a buzzing in my head that told me that I really need to do something – just something to keep me occupied.

My hands immediately reached  for the lampshade cord. With it, they twiddled around and weaved it through themselves into knots. But I realised that this was not the something I needed to do. Fiddling wasn’t substantial. Fiddling is what you do when you wanted to think, and right now, thinking was something I didn’t particularly feel like doing.

My roommate passed by me and stared for just a moment at the inactive television. My eyes then darted up and looked directly into his chocolate brown ones, studying an familiar look.

“Not watching television? Are you tired?”

I liked my roommate. He was kind and considerate and never made me feel uncomfortable, no matter what information I had to share. But this time, the lie slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it, and once I’d said, “Just a little bit,” I was rather fine with not doubling back and changing my answer.

It was always like this. I gave the exact same answer every night since…

The man gave a hard look before continuing on his way to the kitchen. What commenced was a bout of silence that somehow seemed quite a lot louder than the talking had. It may have been the steady whining in my ear, that you could always hear when things were almost unbearably quiet.

I sniffed. The room was dusty; I hadn’t done one particular part of my housework routine – the vacuuming – in over a month. I was getting slack and I knew it, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to bring out that old machine and use it to suck up the grit. I needed something to occupy myself, but I knew that it was not going to be the vacuuming. After all, vacuuming was something to be avoided, to procrastinate on…

If the silence wasn’t as deathly as it was, I would not have heard the only other person in the apartment whisper under his breath, “You always seem to be just a little bit tired…”. It sounded sceptical, but the words were also carefully laced with not just worry, but longing, too…

From all I’d told him in the past month, I was just having long days at work and nothing more than that. Truth be told, I was having long days at work, and it had been getting harder and more… I didn’t want to think about it. I really didn’t.

After unsuccessfully working with the child for a month, the confidence I’d once had had really drained out of my body. He needed my help, desperately. But I couldn’t provide it. Oh, the boy was there, sitting. But the boy? The boy?

He was inexplicably gone…