Cradles the Brain: A Book of Short Tales

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Conductivity Ep 1 (Pt. 3)

Children sat in rows at thin tables, their knees almost touching as to save room in the large cafeteria. The food on their trays was identical and unidentifiable, just grey slop. They ate it, nonetheless. Children were called by tableful to take bathroom breaks, their bladders just about bursting. Five minutes in, then wash hands, and back out to the cafeteria to wait until class started again.

They all filed into their classrooms after lunch. Hayley sat in her arithmetic class. She stared her teacher dead in the eyes as he talked, as every student did unless he called attention to the chalkboard, not that the teacher noticed. Under his skin, metal and gears resided, twisting and grinding to make him function. Every day at one-sixteen in the afternoon, she noticed her teacher, Mr. Bramble, would slightly twitch. It was a different, small twitch each day, but it was just noticeable for her. It worried her.

In her home economics class—where the children learned to operate different home technology such as an automated chef or a laundry maker—Hayley noticed that her teacher always wore long sleeves and pants no matter how hot it was. She also noticed how jerky her hands moved. It was unnatural and unsettling to watch the young teacher grasp a small object. She blamed it on arthritis but Hayley thought that only happened in older people.

Henry didn’t notice much. He barely got by with a B, anything lower and the child would be sent to disciplinary school out of state, where many children never returned from.

Families were told to move on, and a generic excuse was given to reassure the parents that their child was in fact dead. Although, the body would never be recovered for the family’s burial preferences.

All Henry thought about during school was school, he had to bring his grade up in order to survive this hell.

Rebecca applied her red lipstick as a last touch to her ensemble: a black swing dress adorned with pink roses and black velvet heels to match. She grabbed her purse and looked for Stewart. She found him lingering in the kitchen.

“Don’t you dare spoil your dinner!” Rebecca hollered from the hallway.

“I’m not. I’m not.” Stewart waved his hand at Rebecca. “Are you ready, yet?”

“Yes,” Rebecca replied and twirled around. Her dress swung out around her knees. Her dark hair stayed fixed in its position after the dousing of hair spray it had received.

“Alright, let’s go,” Stewart said as he grabbed his car keys and wrapped his arm around Rebecca. They headed out the door as the kids yelled their goodbyes.

Henry watched his parents drive away from their home. He continued to sit in front of the window and stare at the street outside.

Hanna and Hayley were propped up in their room, coloring in their small coloring books. They filled out the shapes as if they were methodically scanning them, row by row. Occasionally they muttered things to each other as they colored in the lines, never escaping the bounds of the coloring book’s shapes.

Henry left the living room window and walked to his bedroom, a small, soil-brown room with one bed and a desk. He sat on the edge of his bed and stared out his window at the cherry tree that was out on their side yard. A blankness captured his body.

He heard the workers outside, installing the pool cleaner, so he left his bedroom and watched from the back door. His parents had told him not to go outside and to keep the doors locked, as there were many strangers working in the backyard. He didn’t listen, and his sisters soon followed suit.

Henry stood under the shadow of the back awning. His grey clothes made him dull and unnoticeable.

“Hi,” Henry said, startling one of the workers. He dropped his shovel and looked under the awning, finally noticing the fair-haired young boy.

“Oh, hi,” he warily replied. “What are you doing? I was told you kids were to stay inside.”

“We were, but we got curious,” Hanna and Hayley simultaneously said from behind Henry. At this, even Henry was startled. He quickly turned around to look at his sisters. They smiled at him, each of them missing a number of teeth.

Frank saw the children outside and panicked. He ran from across the yard and herded them inside. “Alright, kids. I won’t tell your parents about this if it doesn’t happen again, deal?” Henry eagerly agreed, knowing he couldn’t risk getting into trouble with his parents, but the girls weren’t so easy. They insisted that they stay outside and watch. They were curious as to how it was going to be put together. Frank rolled his eyes and after much begging from the young girls, he decided to let them stay out and watch them install it if they promised to stay out of the way. The crew was only going to stay about another hour or so, so he figured there could be no harm done if the kids watched from a safe distance.

Henry declined this and opted to stay inside. His thirst for knowledge on the subject was gone and he went inside. He pulled a chair up to the living room window and watched as a handful of cars went by or a person and their dog strolled past. His eyes stared blankly, much as they did when he was in class, and he didn’t really see what was going on outside.

Hanna and Hayley perched on some lawn furniture outback and watched the men work. Their smiles were gone as they focused on what the men were doing. Every now and then, one would elbow the other, whisper in their ear, and they would both giggle. But after they were finished, their smiles would vanish and the concentration would enter their faces again. Sometimes the men would try to start conversation with the girls, especially after a giggle fit, but the girls would simply shrug it off or give a curt answer.

The men began to clean up and the girls became very unhappy.

“What are you doing? You aren’t finished yet,” Hayley asked, concerned.

“Our work day is over, we’ll be back tomorrow at an earlier time and stay longer. Don’t worry about it,” a pale man in dirty coveralls answered.

“You ladies need to get back inside before your parents get home and give you a whoopin’,” Frank said and laughed.

“Our parents have never hit us,” Hanna hissed with her small hands on her thin hips.

“Oh, okay,” Frank laughed. “Well, you still need to get inside. I’m sure they’ll be home any time now. It’s been almost two hours.” Frank successfully herded the girls inside this time. “Don’t say a word about this, girls!” he called as he shut the back door.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. If they really want to know, they’ll check the security cameras,” Henry monotonously called from the living room window.

Hanna and Hayley froze up and Frank’s heart dropped a bit. “Shit,” he said as he shook his head. “Well, I’ll take the blame for you girls if they get into you about it, alright? Just don’t mention it and maybe they won’t know.” He hoped this would be the case. The girls nodded and rushed off to their playroom as their parents pulled into the driveway almost on cue.

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