the new child

“This child can’t talk, walk, or reason.” Brenner combed long fingers through his messy grey hair. “I am unsure whether keeping her will hinder further research. I can afford her little more of my personal time, I am certain. A new subject has been acquired which much take precedence. Perhaps he will yield more satisfying data.

“The girl will remain at the lab until she proves her uselessness. At which time, I may dispose of her.”

Brenner stopped the audio recording. He straightened his suit and smoothed his hair back into it’s gelled form. With a few deep breaths, he sauntered off to appraise his new subject.

Danny, a seven-year-old, sandy-haired, chunky boy, sat in a corner of the minimalist room Brenner afforded to any of the children. Stimulation would be specific and catered to the psychological development of the subjects. No accidents.

Brenner approached the small huddled child –Number Seven, he would be called. Sorrow did not take this child. The creases on his tiny brow warned of a stronger emotion.

“Seven, I know in time you–” Brenner stoped as a warble of solid air stopped his progress toward the boy. He looked from the child to the assistant who shrugged.

“No bloodwork has been possible,” the assistant offered. “Since he figured out this trick, we can only make sure he eats. He won’t let anything passed but food.”

“Why was I not informed?” Brenner studied the excess fan on the small child; food could be negotiated. Without another word, Brenner left. The attendant received severance pay, and was replaced with a man more suited to science than coddling.

Brenner returned to Seven after affording him several hours of solitude. The shield had grown larger, evidenced only by the resistance Brenner met within feet of entering the small room. The phenomenon pleased him.

“I suppose you need more time alone with your hunger.” Brenner turned to leave.

“Wait.”

Finally, a child who talked. Brenner smiled and turned to Seven. “Yes, my boy.”

“What is that?” Seven jumped up and rushed Brenner, who braced for the barrier to hit. But no invisible push preceded the child who pointed to the napkin-wrapped parcel in Brenner’s hand.

“This is mine,” Brenner took the covering off the donut he held, and bit out of the glazed treat.

The boy’s face grew red, and tears welled in his brown eyes. He retreated to his corner, and Brenner stumbled back, pushed by the boy’s trick.

“I earned this,” Brenner said, taking another bite. “Do you want to earn one?”

Seven nodded.

Brenner finished the donut, pulled latex gloves from his pocket, and pulled them over his hands. He walked toward Seven. The barrier resisted. Brenner shook his head.

“Maybe you want to be hungry until tomorrow.” With that warning, the boy ceased resisting. Such control. Beautiful. Brenner knelt beside the boy, and set down the bag that hung over his shoulder. He pulled out several viles, and then a needle. Once Seven saw the sharp metal, Brener found himself sliding across the floor, this progress stopped only by the wall. Glad for his strong grip on the needle, Brenner stood and left the room. Tomorrow, then. 

they said I’m quiet

Apparently I couldn’t speak. That’s what Brenner’s men said, time and time again. The child’s a dumb mute… don’t worry about the pain; she can’t scream… makes you feel safe about hurting her.

I remember those words, but the sentiment went back further than I can recall. If this case study you tell me is true. Nancy, this is too much even for me.

“I am sorry to leave you with this task,” Brenner’s voice scratched through the mostly-empty room. “She is rather uninteresting, but I need to fix that if possible.”

Maybel nodded.

“Good.” Brenner’s grey hair fell from it’s gelled form, and he pressed it back in place. Leaning over to the tiny toddler, he stood her up, let go, and watched her fall. No sound but the little thump from baby hitting floor. He shook his head, and left the child. He addressed Maybel once again. “Try to teach her,” he shrugged, “something!”

He left the room, and Maybel took a deep breath. She sat beside six; Brenner’s latest fail. She hoped something would be made of the child before they tossed her. More stupid children meant more messes for Maybel to clean up, and an abundance of sick days spent at home when the lab’s cruelty turned her stomach. Someday one of these children will fix this place. But for now…

Maybel turned six onto her stomach, and placed her on hands and knees. If the thing could at least crawl, maybe Brenner would lay off for a week or so.

Brenner did ignore the baby, just long enough for Maybel to force the child into some sluggish movement.

After the child crawled, she did only that. No further performance to impress lord of the lab. Maybel had more progress with the girl than others though, so she had the privilege of watching Brenner work his science upon the babe.

Mostly, he shouted, and pinched the soft, plush of the child’s skin. It was then Maybel started hearing the screams. The baby made no sound. No protest to the minor abuses. But Maybel felt she knew how the six would have sounded if she had mind enough to speak.

Brenner saw the girl more often, and Maybel’s episodes of internal child screaming started when the man began his work. Maybel felt compassion for the baby, that must be what caused the odd thoughts. For within two weeks of Brenner’s daily visits, Maybel heard in her own mind, a wailing baby as soon as he appeared. Then she started staying home sick.

The nightmares followed. Maybel dreamed of six spitting out monosyllabic no. Over and over. Just no. No. No. Maybel caffeinated herself to limit the sleep, but the crying started during the day, too. She feared telling Brenner, but the gag order she had signed prevented outside health or psychological care. She made an appointment with one of the lab psychologists, and hoped Brenner would be preoccupied and not notice.

She walked into the stupid-big office building, flashed her badge, signed in, and winced at the newest batch of financially-desperate or sickly-curious college-age kids being dropped at the Hawkins’s lab. She hurried into the waiting room for her appointment, and clutched her purse strap as the receptionist walked her back. Brenner greeted her.

He learned then, of the terrors in her mind, keeping her from sleep or daytime productivity. From work. She recognized Brenner’s feigned compassion, but accepted the pills he offered. Once clear of the lab, Maybel pulled her car off the road, and dumped the capsules, placing the orange bottle in her glove box. She couldn’t get caught turning down help, but would never give into Brenner’s drugs.

Two weeks after that appointment, they found Maybel hung by her banister. Dead.

Why are you pestering me?

There are other numbers out there, so I’m not sure why you’re so desperately intrigued by me. But, I will concede my story like an obedient little thing.

A thing is all I knew myself to be for my formative years. Brenner is crewel, and he controlled those years. Even so, I never mistook him for my Papa. I suppose some are more intelligent than others. In fact, until I reached thirty, I failed admitting a papa or mama existed in my past. My self as a number; that I could comprehend, but nothing more.

Other numbers had parents who cared, some too much, as poor Eleven learned. –And on that note, if you ask too many questions about that woman, I will give you a phone directory, and you can talk to Jane Hopper herself.– Where was I? Ah yes, mothers. Many of them needed removal from the picture (a feat Brenner enjoyed too much.) Their children disappeared, died, or never took their first breath; Brenner lied well. Right now, I would embrace my mother with gratitude for her brilliant idea to remove me from the picture. If her plan had worked, you could pester a different number for their story.

If my mom had her way, I never would have suffered existence. Abortion. Mmm, how I wish it had worked. You might think that an ugly word, but it would have been my salvation from a hellish life. There are fetuses who survive several moments of pure anguish as their underdeveloped and unprotected bodies give out, unable to scream out their pain. I would take that short and less painful road. But he was there.

One of Brenner’s goons taunted me once about the beautiful scene of a newly-pregnant surrogate carrying me safe in her womb while my mother bled out in a back-alley abortion clinic. . .

I don’t know how Brenner knew to target me, I just recall the years of frustration and disappointment when I did not develop as he wished.