His screams jolted me from my seat. He hovered outside the holding room while two orderlies swung their clubs at him. “He’s not a piñata guys, set him inside and shut the door.” They shot me a look. I guess they’d thought of that already.
A golden shroud surrounded the boy. Flickers of light, like lightening bugs zipped around him smacking into the orderlies. It’s not often something scares those brutes. Even the kid with the spiky skin went into the room with less fuss.
Although I could watch this all day, I cleared my throat and swallowed my amusement. “On three.” They knew the drill. I counted it down, pushed the kill button, and they grabbed and tossed simultaneously. The doors slid shut, and the screaming banshee hovered a little before crumpling to the floor. Silent.
I hate that button, but it works. Two seconds and whatever’s in the room goes down. Poor kid. The shroud still covered him, an energy blanket. The lightening bug things had retreated under it.
Grabbing my keypad, my fingers flew. The first minutes packed a lot. Cameras caught it all, but the researchers were right. A human’s “sight” and feel for a new intake relayed more than a recording.
Stirring, the boy moaned. He lifted his head, but kept his eyes closed. Except for the shroud and hovering, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Brown hair, medium frame, t-shirt, jeans, old sneakers. Maybe twelve at the most. . .I checked my inbox for his file…nothing.
Sitting up, he tilted his head back, eyes still closed. Much calmer, serene almost, he moved to a meditating position. Kind of hard to believe two minutes ago, he had two guards swearing at the top of their lungs.
His head swayed like Stevie Wonder’s, back and forth. Anger twitched at his face. Then, he stopped, leveled his face at the one-way glass, and looked past me. I froze. He cast an evil squint and then started screaming again. Great, a loud one. I turned the knob on the sound control.
“How’s he doin’?” The guy’s question bounced in before him.
“Nothing too weird. You his manager?” I didn’t get up. These manager types never wanted to meet me. They just wanted their data. “Welcome to Miracle Rides,” I said with my sarcasm perfectly pitched.
He completely ignored me. Even clearing my throat didn’t provoke a response. “I’ll upload my info into his file, if you’ll send it.” I double-checked my inbox. Nope. Nothing there.
“Oh, yeah, sorry.” He moved his finger across his fancy phone. It took him five seconds to do what he should’ve already done. Tall and slim, he made me feel kind of small, so I slipped my shoes on and stood next to him. He smelled good, a cologne mixed with clean-man.
I have seniority in the surveillance rooms. Well, not exactly seniority, but I know what all the buttons do. Normally, a manager asks me questions and hardly looks up at the kid. This guy couldn’t take his eyes off the shrieking brat.
I motioned toward the glass, trying to draw some of his attention. “So, I don’t think he wants to be here.” I hate it when I laugh at my own material, but this guy made me nervous. I giggle like an idiot when I’m nervous. Maybe an introduction would help. “And you are?”
He scowled at me. Technically, I’m supposed to check his credentials. He shouldn’t be giving me attitude.
“I’m Case Manager Murray.”
“Good to meet you. I’m Becky, the data collector. I haven’t seen you before.”
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ve met.”
My inbox binged, so I went back and scanned the file.
Oliver Randolph, 12 years old (Can I call it or what?), Foster Care for 10 years, physically and emotionally abused. Abandoned. Energy field, extremely dangerous if provoked.
“Did you write these notes?” The guy didn’t answer. Maybe he couldn’t hear me over the screaming. “Excuse me. Did you write these notes?”
He nodded his head.
“So you’re not one for much detail?” I joined him at the window. “I usually get a lot of backstory. It helps me figure out what to watch for.”
“You just need to write what you see. You don’t need to know his story.” He stayed glued to the glass.
“It would be helpful to know about that energy field. What is that?”
He grunted and pulled out his phone. “Can you open the door?”
“That one.” He sounded annoyed, but who opens the door when a kid’s still uncontrolled?
“Shouldn’t we calm him down first?” I reached for the intercom, sometimes a soft voice helps. But he put his hand on mine, and gently, but firmly pulled it away.
“Just open the door.”
I like my job, so I ignored his attitude and unlocked the door. The screams got louder. He wasn’t crying, just screaming.
Humming joined the screams, as a singing nurse floated into the room. Literally. Chiffon-layered, aqua scrubs wafted around her. With flawless ivory skin and jet-black hair clipped with a barrette, she resembled an Asian princess. And she floated. Her feet walked through air, defying gravity. I’ve seen lots of weird stuff. I mean, this place specializes in weird. The kids don’t come here unless they’ve got something going on that’s way beyond science or whatever physical laws govern all things natural and normal. But I have never seen an adult demonstrate anything like this. All the adults are normal.
The kid didn’t seem to notice her. She buzzed around him like a worker bee. His shroud kept her fingers from getting to his skin. Rhythmic and happy, her song changed when her fingers brushed his golden barrier.
“So what’s up with her?” I didn’t really expect the old guy to answer me. “I’ve never seen an adult like that, just kids.”
“Well, kids grow up.” His words stung.
Some of the ones who come through here don’t make it that far. I guess I’ve always assumed they grow out of it. Aren’t we here to “fix” them?
“They’re not freaks, you know.” It felt like he was reading my thoughts. He turned away from the glass for the first time since he’d entered the room. “They have these abilities, because of what they’ve been through. Sometimes it goes away as they grow. Sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes.” He turned back toward the nurse. “Sometimes they learn how to use it, helping others.”
“She doesn’t seem to be able to reach him.”
“Yeah.” He punched something into his phone. “Would you open the door again? The doctor is here.”
I smacked the appropriate button, and a rugged guy in a doctor’s jacket entered the cell. I usually stick with the average, white male, but this guy deserved another look. His dark skin, black eyes, and perfect hair capped off a tall, sturdy frame.
It took me a few seconds to realize, the kid’s screaming had died down. He turned his head in the direction of the doctor, and within sixty seconds stopped screaming completely.
The doctor gave him some simple commands, and the kid did them all. As he moved the stethoscope to the kid’s back, he whispered something, and the boy tensed.
“Uh oh.” I reached for my keypad. The old guy must have sensed it too. He jammed his phone into his pocket and headed for the door.
“Count to five then open the door.”
I guess he assumed I’d blindly obey him. I would, of course. I have no say in any of this. I just watch and record. It’s pathetic actually. Sometimes I think I could help these kids far more than these quacks.
Murray barreled in at five and half seconds. Now, all three of them were in the room. Before Murray got to the boy, the kid did three things simultaneously. He started screaming, stood, and brought his arms up above his head. The sparkly thing started again, but this time little plates, like golden armor, covered him. The nurse couldn’t touch him through it. It stung her more than the shroud. Murray raised his hand telling her to stop.
Oliver’s screams ended abruptly, and he sank to his knees. His quieting down didn’t feel like peace. I checked the monitors for energy levels, except for the spikes around the kid and nurse, nothing looked unusual. The cute doctor leaned toward him. Oliver gave him a sideways glare. I’d seen that look once before. Not at me, but toward an orderly right before a rather volatile patient ripped his arm off. Two opposing thoughts crossed my mind, hiding or trying to talk to the kid. Maybe I could help him.
Before I could make up my mind, the lights in the adjoining cell flickered, and Kip backed into the room pulling a wheelchair. Little whelps marked his skin from Oliver’s shroud thingy. The blinds were closed on Oliver’s side, but Kip kept his distance from the window and Oliver.
I flipped on the intercom. “Hey Kip, who ya got there.” He turned the chair toward me, and Kimber’s sweet face lit up the room. A string of drool attached her mouth to her shoulder. “Oh. . .she’s fallen back a bit. Why’s she here?” Kip nodded toward the other room, locked the brake on the chair and ran for the door.
“Kimber, sweetie. It’s Becky.” Kimber stared off into her vacant darkness. This kid had my heart in her hand. When she was awake and well, she shined like a star, very compliant and obedient. She displayed no weird abilities and posed no threat. I haven’t figured out why she’s in a place like this, but there must be something. Dropping off into these catatonic states might be reason enough.
A pop from Oliver’s room snapped me back. The lights on my control panel flashed. Oliver had mentally pinned the nurse against the wall and pressed the doctor against my window (hello, handsome). Murray walked untouched around the kid.
This might freak the normal observer out, but I’ve seen much worse. The weirdest thing wasn’t the doctor and nurse being immobilized by some unseen energy. The weird thing was Murray walking slowly around Oliver. The kid looked back and forth from the doc to the nurse, but didn’t acknowledge Murray’s presence in the slightest.
When Oliver finally let them loose, they scrambled for the door. I beeped them out. Murray paused, looked back kind of sad and waited until I opened the door again.
“Any change?” Murray launched into the control room sounding kind of urgent. A strong smell of the old guy’s cologne mixed with sweat wafted in after him.
“Um. . .no. Were you expecting something?” It had only taken him a whole five seconds to get here from the cell. Not much had changed in those five seconds.
He hushed me and pointed toward the glass.
“What the. . .” I couldn’t believe it. Kimber had moved her chair and sat facing the blinds to Oliver’s room, drool replaced by a smile. Oliver yearned toward her. Sweet little Kimber had woken up. Rosy life filled her cheeks, and serenity and strength emanated from her. I didn’t have time to write this up, so I grabbed my recorder and spoke softly, describing the scene.
Oliver nodded, raising the blinds on his own and revealing Kimber’s shining face. He cocked his head to the side and squinted. Was that recognition in his eyes?
Murray heard me and leaned back whispering, “They were in the same home for a short time.” Kimber stood and pressed her hand to the window, happy tears streaming down her face. Jumping off the table, Oliver placed his hand opposite hers; then he looked back at me.
“He wants you to open the window.” I don’t know why Murray was whispering. They can’t hear us.
“How do you know? Can he see me?”
“What do you think?” Murray smirked. I think that meant yes. “Now can you open the window?”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” He didn’t answer me. “I mean, can he hurt her?”
“I’ve been with Ollie from the beginning. Kimber can take care of herself.” His short answers irritated me.
“I’m sorry, sir.” My inflection on “sir” meant something entirely different, but I didn’t care. This guy obviously didn’t know what he was doing. “You’ve been with that kid all along? Why didn’t you help him? I don’t get you managers. You don’t care about these kids. You experiment with them and use them. They deserve to be happy, not go from one bad thing to the next.”
Murray turned and faced me. “Becky. I know this is hard for you, but you don’t know everything. You are one piece of a huge operation with lots of moving parts. Just do your job and open the window.”
I wanted to scream. But instead, I muttered some choice words and flipped the switch to raise the glass.
Kimber squealed with delight. She could make the Grinch giggle. The boy just stood there. Still. Then, he moved his lips like he was talking, but no words came out. I turned up the volume, but nothing. Kimber answered him back the same way. The two carried on a regular imaginary conversation, complete with imaginary laughter. Oliver loosened up. The outer layer of his plate-like things faded away, leaving just a golden glow surrounding him.
Several hours passed. Fascinating at first, watching them grew boring fast, especially since they weren’t actually talking. Murray never strayed from the observation window. He watched the scene as if he were watching someone set the table, and he was starving.
“What exactly are you hoping for here?” I hadn’t gotten the words all the way out before he smiled.
“There. She’s doing it.” I followed his gaze. Oliver had poked his skinny arm through the golden shroud. His bare flesh hung in the air between them. She reached out and touched his arm, and he laughed out loud. That was a first.
Murray stepped back. “I guess it’s now or never.” He seemed less confident than before, almost fearful. I would’ve said something, but I had no idea what he was talking about or where he was going. It only took him a few seconds to get to Oliver’s cell. The intercom beeped, “Open the door.”
Completely lost in Kimber, Oliver didn’t notice him. But she noticed and beamed brightly.
“Thank you.” She spoke joyfully, louder than I’d ever heard her speak before. Murray nodded and stood behind Oliver. The boy turned, his bare arm still sticking out.
For the first time, the kid looked up into the eyes of the old guy. I could only see him from the side, but I think Murray smiled. The look they shared lasted a few seconds, and then Oliver pulled his arm back, lifted his hands and screamed.
Kimber stepped back, sad, fear etched on her face. “No, please. Please. Don’t.” She called to Murray.
Murray yelled above the screams. “Close the window and the blinds.”
Oliver went totally off. The rectangular plates covered him again. He paced throwing darts of energy toward Murray. The old guy took every hit, absorbing it on steady feet. I had a feeling Oliver was holding back.
Slowing his pace, he spoke. “I hate you.” Facing Murray, he repeated himself taking steps to close the gap between them. “I hate you.”
Murray jumped back, looked straight at me through the one-way glass with a sheer look of joy on his face. It shocked me so much I almost didn’t do what he asked.
“Hit the button.” As Murray spoke, Oliver lifted his hands, his full energy force glowing between his palms. He meant to kill the man. I could see it in his eyes. I hit the button as the ball left his hands. It burst apart and fell to the floor, along with the kid and Murray.
“Kip, Johnnie, get in there and pull him out.” My heart pounded in my chest. When the orderly lost his arm last year, I got probation. I’m pretty sure letting a manager die would be the end of my career.
They pulled him around to the control room and tried to set him in a rolling chair. Not an easy job, even for two burly guys. Kip finally locked the wheels on the chair.
“You okay?” I tried to sound concerned.
“Yeah.” He perked up and got the goofiest grin on his face. “Yeah I’m great.”
“How’s that? From where I’m sitting, it looks like your little experiment failed miserably. That kid’s completely closed off.”
Murray bounded up. “Oh yeah. Look at him.”
Oliver paced in front of the blinds. He couldn’t get them open this time. I’d closed them on both sides. His face conveyed anger and desperation. His connection with Kimber had been broken. She had her hand on the glass, a vacant gaze seeping back into her eyes. Every few paces, Oliver would stop and put his hand opposite hers on the glass. It was pitiful.
“Yeah, I think you succeeded in breaking his heart, not tearing down his walls.”
“Well, there you would be wrong. He talked to me.”
“He hates you, and that fills you with joy. You’re sick.”
Murray grabbed me by the shoulders. “Becky, he saw me.” His words evidently meant something to him cause his eyes glistened with tears. “He hasn’t acknowledged me in a long time.”
“You were standing right in front of him, of course he saw you.”
“I know. It’s hard to understand.” He kind of choked. I think he was holding back from bawling. “I love that kid.” He released my shoulders “I love him completely. He thinks I don’t. He hates me. That’s good. That’s a step. I’ll take it, and I’m not going to let him go. He’s precious to me. There’s not another one like him. I love him.”
His voice trailed off as he repeated himself. Sort of touched by his little speech, I still couldn’t shake the image of Kimber, broken and sad. Maybe his backhanded approach helped the boy, but I’m pretty sure he messed our little angel up.
“What about her?” I nodded toward Kimber.
Wiping tears away, Murray chuckled. “Oh, she’s not the one to worry about.”
“You used her, and look at her now. She’s crushed.” Kimber had collapsed on the floor. “Yeah, maybe Oliver’s special to you, but if you knew Kimber, then you’d know she’s special too.”
“I know Kimber. I’m her manager too. That’s how I knew she might have some luck with those walls.” His confidence had returned.
“What? You used her. You sick, manipulative pig. I think I hate you.”
“Becky, Kimber’s going to be fine. It’s probably you we should be worrying about.”
That made no sense. “Me?”
“I’m staying with Oliver. Can you call the boys to move him?”
“What? You’re just going to leave her? Can’t you let them say good bye at least?” I knew he wouldn’t answer any of my questions. But I stood there, staring at him, willing my glare to hurt him. And he turned his tender hazel eyes on me. I hadn’t really noticed them before.
“Becky. I know you don’t understand my methods. I love him and her… and you.” Sincerity punctuated his words. “You’re coming at things from here.” Holding his arm out, he made a fist with his hand. “I’m coming at them from here.” With his other hand, he made a circle in the air around the fist, like he was casting a spell over his hand. “You either trust me or you don’t.” He dropped both hands to his side and gave me a crooked smile. “Your world is built on you. You have no idea the lengths I’ll go for him.” He meant Oliver, but for a second I thought he was talking about me. He didn’t wait for me to respond, but turned and left.
I made the call. They ripped poor Oliver away from the window. I had to hit the kill button twice, nearly gave Kip a heart attack. Once the commotion died down, I turned back to Kimber. She’d been pretty lifeless, but now she was sitting and looking up at the mirror like she was waiting for me.
“Kimber? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I want out of here.” Steady and strong, she didn’t sound like herself.
“Kimber?” I leaned toward the glass. Something wasn’t right.
“Becky?” She looked straight at me. This one-way glass definitely didn’t work. “Becky? Can you get me out of here?” An assertive vigor replaced her compliant disposition. Kimber was different. I think I liked the old one better.
Something in her eyes reminded me of Murray. His words echoed in my mind, and I couldn’t shake the feeling I needed something. Kimber smiled at me with those knowing eyes.
“C’mon Becky. We’ve got lots to talk about.”